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2. A Call To Action
I threw my notes down, grimacing as the sheets of paper took flight and fanned, unscrupulously, across the floor and all horizontal surfaces. Each one was a handwritten scrap from various websites and searches that I’d employed since we’d returned from the states. It was partly an exercise in keeping myself busy and partly to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
But, of course, I’d missed the biggest thing of all; the fact that Lia was still alive.
I rubbed a groove into my temple, trying to ignore the urge to stamp all over the useless scribbles. None of my research on Lia was worth anything. Not one piece suggested where she could be hiding with Simon. It was all useless.
I should have invested more time and effort into really profiling her, listing her contacts, pinning places of interest, but I’d been hoping the fire had ensured a hasty cremation. Indignation flared my nostrils. Only a vampire would be so determined to keep on living. And it wasn’t as if she’d left much of a trail to track her through from the 21st century to New York, either.
I’d been too focused on myself. I should have ignored the changes and concentrated properly on my work. If I had, then maybe I would know where she’d taken Simon. As for why she’d taken him…? My only theory was revenge, which didn’t bode well for my friend. If he was still alive, then I needed to move fast.
We’d killed Lia’s boyfriend and trashed their plans to become all powerful. Kidnapping Simon was probably only the beginning of whatever devious plan she’d cooked up. That meant I was likely to be seconds in a dish best served cold. Finding the bitch was imperative, before she struck again.
I rubbed my temple and collapsed into my office chair. Deep breaths helped clear my thoughts. There was no use getting worked up. This needed a cool logical view. I would just have to do some more digging.
My iCom chirped and then started to rumble against the surface of my desk, shimmying beneath an avalanche of papers. I scrambled for it, hoping that Maloney didn’t have bad news.
My fingers paused above the answer button. The expected ID wasn’t there.
My frown deepened. It could still be Maloney, but he was calling me from another officer’s phone, I reasoned. Only, if that was true, why would an officer have their number set to private?
Something didn’t feel right.
“Eonsen here,” I answered, tentatively, poised on the edge of my chair.
A rough, low voice hurriedly rattled off an address, sending an inexplicably thrilled shiver down my spine. I threw off the sensation, shifting my weight uncomfortably.
A held breath whispered of hesitation on the other end of the line.
I didn’t recognise the voice or even the speech patterns, but I couldn’t help feeling an uncomfortable twinge of familiarity.
Not just familiarity. My skin had sizzled with goosebumps and my pulse had skipped a euphoric beat as if I somehow knew the speaker, intimately.
The caller finally exhaled, repeating the address, and then paused before adding, “Your friend is there. Better hurry.”
Simon? They knew where Simon was?
My pulse kicked up another notch. Did that make them a friend or an enemy? And why did I feel like I knew them?
Was the caller Lia’s accomplice? The one from the CCTV footage? Were they watching me now? They could have followed me from Simon’s bar. I leapt from my chair to stare out of the window. Nothing but crows and dull suburbia greeted my gaze. Long term neighbours continued their daily business, unhampered by imaginary, shadowy figures.
If they had been watching me, wouldn’t I have sensed them nearby as usual? Even if they’d been careful, vampires still gave off a faint blip on my internal sensors. I stepped back into the shadows of my room, wary of the window panes, lines of darkness crossing my face.
“Who is this?” I murmured.
Another moment’s hesitation crackled over the line. They could have hung up by now, but they were lingering. Why were they lingering? The voice was male and there was a strange tang of an accent as if it had been half forgotten or consciously muffled.
Maybe that was where the familiarity had sparked. This wasn’t some anonymous stranger giving me a tip off. This was someone I knew. It had to be.
I swore I heard him lick his lips in anticipation. “An old acquaintance.” He paused, almost as if dragging the call out.
Usually, only psychopaths taunted the police, dangling carrots to show how clever they were, pointing out how they were too intelligent to be caught. And yet, it didn’t feel like that was what my caller was doing. It felt like he was holding something back, teasing himself, rather than me, just by being on the line. Who was he…?
“I suggest you move yourself, Violet.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Just ensuring that things work out the way they’re supposed to. The circle of life and all that.”
Another excruciating pause. My heart thumped, mind racing as I tried to unravel the riddle of who he was and how we were connected whilst my mouth ran dry with every husky curl of his voice. I should be stalling him, questioning him more, only my detective brain had turned to mush, fixating, instead, on why I felt so strangely excited. Surely, then, I knew this man? But who was he?
The caller was in no rush to help on that matter, however. He was focusing, strangely, on me, his voice sticking slightly. “You sound different on the phone.” A rush of heat filled my cheeks with the possibility of previous intimacy.
“Who are you?”
A short humourless laugh issued across the line before returning to heady rich tones laced with melancholy. “You know you should lock your door before you fall asleep, in future. You wouldn’t want anyone dangerous finding you unconscious and vulnerable.”
I held my breath, heart drilling against the inside of my ribcage. A lump had formed in my throat, jamming my ability to speak.
He hesitated further, lingering on the line far longer than he needed to. “And choose the skirt. It looks better on your legs when you’re running.”
A pregnant pause ensued. My mouth tasted like the Sahara. He’d seen me running? Who was this? Was it a real phone call or a prank? He seemed too serious for a prank. And who would prank me at a time like this? Rhiel? But his voice didn’t fit with the unerringly sexy undertones vibrating through the line.
“I have to go…”
There was an intake of breath that sent an unwarranted shiver down my spine. Panic warred within me. This stranger had somehow been in my house. And he’d been there when I was sleeping, no less. Was this the person that had carried me to bed and tucked me in?
The line clicked off.
My spine wriggled as if a thousand spiders had just been chased down my back. The thought of a stranger in my house, an enemy’s possible accomplice, was incredibly unnerving.
But not as unnerving as my crushed hope that our phone call would never end so I could continue listening to his voice. It was even more incentive to find Simon. Because finding him might mean discovering the identity of my gentleman caller. Especially if he was working with Lia.
But, if that was the case, why had he given me the address?
I tried dialling the number back, but it wouldn’t connect, the phone suddenly unreachable. Every bone in my body wanted to trust this possible ally, while every logical nerve screamed caution.
The question was still niggling me an hour later when Maloney and I were hunkered down on the opposite side of the street to the cited property, lurking under the shadow of a convenience store’s awning. It had begun to rain in thick sheets of silvery hate. I glared across at the house, not seeing its tiny frame or the way it was squashed in between brighter and happier facades.
My mind was still on the anonymous caller. I felt like I must know him, but his voice had been both oddly familiar and completely unknown to me. Only how could that be possible? My skin was still crawling with thoughts of him being in my house. And not just crawling. It was tingling, anticipating, aching. Worse still, were thoughts of him touching me without my say so or knowledge. Of being in my bedroom. Of–
“Are you alright?”
I glanced across at Maloney, reminded that I wasn’t alone. “Yeah,” I muttered, caustic and distracted. “Peachy.”
The imagined intimacy was getting to me. Had my caller been a one time lover? Or was this feeling of illusory sensual intimacy one borne from unconscious caresses I couldn’t be expected to remember?
“You realise this could be a trap, right?” Maloney asked, rainwater dripping off the brim of his hat. I glanced at the article of clothing, inexplicably offended by it and everything it stood for.
“Don’t patronise me, Maloney.”
“I’m not. I’m just saying.” I could sense his wariness, watching me instead of the house. My fist clenched at my side. “It’s not your fault that this happened, you know?”
“Why?” I snapped, rounding on him, suspicions kicking into overdrive. “Who said it was? Logan? Lightbaker? Rhiel?”
Maloney blinked. “Who? No. No, I…” He sighed and rubbed his face, dislodging a deluge of water from his odious hat again. “You’re just very defensive. Moreso than usual. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“Can we just get on with this? I don’t need a shrink.”
“Fair enough,” he conceded, giving me a whip of nervous side eye. “Did you get a look of that fella that just left?”
“No,” I spat, angrily, whirling around to see. I’d spent too much time concentrating on my irritation and the conversation rather than the job at hand. Was I losing my touch?
My eyes locked onto the only figure on the opposite side of the street. Their face was obscured by the clingy drip of their sodden hood. Shoulders hunched up as they strode, heading away from us, gait typically masculine. I took a step towards the road as the figure dipped down an alleyway. Was this the man that had called? Was this the man that had been in my house? A shiver trickled down my spine. Had he touched me?
“Cold?” Maloney asked, a slip of surprise to his voice.
“No,” I answered quietly, distractedly watching as the figure disappeared in the distant, rain slaked veil. “I think we’ve done enough staking out.”
I stepped into the road, moving fast and fluidly whilst Maloney spluttered, trying to catch up. Something about it being a police operation and him taking the lead. I didn’t care.
My knuckles hammered against peeling paintwork and old wood. Yellowing net curtains twitched. Eyes widened and then narrowed on me through the dirty glass. The curtains flipped closed. My fingers clenched the door handle, but it wouldn’t budge.
Maloney, just reaching my side, cried out and jumped back into the road as a blast of energy burst from my fingertips and splintered the door. It had been more than I’d meant to conjure, just like everything else these days, but I didn’t stop to contemplate it. Lia’s face at the window had fed the fire in my blood and she was already fleeing through the house.
I ran after her, catching a glimpse of Simon battered and trussed to a chair in a room off to the side. But I didn’t stop. Maloney would get Simon and I would get Lia. I was faster than the older detective, anyway.
She tried to slam the back door in my face, but I caught it and threw it wide, leaping down the thick steps into the concrete yard, rain thundering down on top of me. The bitch cleared the back fence in a single bound like some kind of superhuman gymnast. My teeth ground. I hated vampires.
Magic fired from my fingers. The fence panel splintered and broke into the alleyway ahead, shards of wood firing like shrapnel into the wall opposite. I sped after Lia, my fingertips tingling, scorched and sore. She was dashing through the slanting rain, laughing like a nutcase, cornering garden fences like she was the cart on some insane rollercoaster ride. I forced myself on, muscles protesting that they couldn’t go any faster whilst she lolloped ahead in less haste. Was she taunting me? Was it a game to her?!
She made the next turn much faster than I could. Cussing, I tried to catch up, only to find her lying in wait against the fence I was cornering.
Her elbow flung out, thrusting me backwards and knocking the air from my lungs, the hollow of my throat throbbing where she’d made contact. Concrete came up to meet me, body slammed backwards and earthwards. Only through years of training did I narrowly miss cracking open my head.
Lia tried to jump atop me, but I curled quickly to a side and flipped a shower of confused defensive sparks in her direction. On my feet again, I rounded on her, chest heaving, rainwater dripping down my face and rolling off my lips as I spoke. “Give it up, Lia. It’s all over. Time to hand yourself in.”
She laughed manically, a crazed glint in her eye. “Time to hand myself in? I don’t think so. But don’t worry, your time is coming. I’ll personally make sure of it.”
Her eyes flicked to something over my shoulder. I moved to grab the gun from the back of my trousers, but a voice whispered in my ear, sexy and rough, “Not yet.”
The blow to the side of the head was quick and decisive, giving me no time to react after the surprise of those words. I headed to the concrete again, hit hard enough, this time, that I was laid out cold, giving Lia and whatever accomplice she had ample time to escape.
Minutes later, I blinked into the rain, grit clustered to my cheek, vision readjusting. My hand was near my face and I could see blisters on the tips of my fingers, presumably from the magic I’d been throwing around. A shaky breath permeated my lips. What the hell was happening to me?
And what the hell had that ‘not yet’ meant?
So many riddles…
I picked myself up, muscles protesting, and tramped back to the house. My side was drenched from where I’d lain in the rain. Absently, I checked my gun, expecting it to be gone. It was still there, though. Why would they have left me with a weapon?
I rubbed my head, bypassing the fallout from my earlier battle with the fence. The steps back up to the property seemed steeper than I remembered. I followed the sound of voices through to the living room where Simon was rubbing his wrists and talking to Maloney strangely without the usual hint of dislike in his voice.
That was something else that had changed since my last case. The animosity between these two seemed to have dimmed, though it really had only ever been one sided. Was that because I’d slept with Simon or was that because he’d finally accepted there was never going to be a relationship between us?
And maybe he’d realised that I wasn’t interested in Maloney either.
The detective’s eyes caught on me through the open door. “Are you okay?” he asked, a shadow of trepidation following his words, as if he’d said them before he could stop himself.
“Fine. I took a bit of a headshot and they got away.”
“They?” Maloney prompted.
I shrugged. “I think there was someone else, but I didn’t get a proper look.”
“Okay,” he answered gingerly, like he was dealing with a tiger that had a migraine. “Well, I’ll go secure the perimeter and see if I can’t get some officers on the ground.”
I nodded as he passed me. He headed out of the back door, scooping his iCom from his pocket. I turned to Simon. He was picking his glasses up from a nearby table and wiping the lenses with his sleeve.
Cuts and bruises peppered his face. “Are you alright?” I asked, frozen in the doorway by the awkwardness of concern. I clenched my hand, fingers burning from their blistered tips. He looked up at me, lips pursed, but I cut him off. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, yeah. Nothing major. Mostly just my clock,” he said pointing at his face.
“I’m sorry. This is my fault.” My voice nearly wobbled. A hasty cough cleared my throat. “I thought she was dead. I let my guard down.”
Simon laughed. “Your guard?! I was the one jumped leaving his own pub. I should have been looking properly.” He gave me an appeasing smile. It didn’t make me feel any better.
In fact, it made me feel worse. If I hadn’t been wallowing in self pity the previous night then maybe I would have sensed something was wrong. Maybe I would have been able to do something. Anything.
“Do you know what she wants?” I asked, changing the subject and circling the dilapidated living room as if Lia would leave any clues. Simon watched me like a vulture ready to pick his corpse clean.
“No idea. It was weird.”
Weird. No weirder than my uncontrollably exploding a fence.
“She’s trying to find out about the week before I time travelled. Dates and stuff. Where I was. As if I remember that now.”
“That is odd,” I quietly assented, a shiver of foreboding drifting down my spine. But if that hadn’t spooked me, his next words did.
“And the time machine. She wanted to know where it was. How to use it.”
“Did you tell her?” I asked, almost holding my breath. My feet had stopped pacing, stuck to the floor as if caught in a superglue trap.
He started cleaning another smudge off his glasses, no doubt keeping his hands busy so he couldn’t wring them together. Nevertheless, he looked as uneasy as I felt. “How would I tell her? I don’t know where it is. Only the police know that now.” He cleared his throat whilst the tension rose in my spine. “Besides, it’s broken,” he tried to reassure himself, “and there’s no way to use it without causing a massive blackout.”
I swallowed. This was all adding to an uncomfortable conclusion. Clearly, Lia wanted to go back into the past and for whatever reason that had something to do with the last week Simon had spent in the previous century.
“And her accomplice? Do you know who they were?”
He shrugged regrettably. “A bloke, I think. I didn’t have my glasses on. I couldn’t see him.”
“What in the hell happened to the fence?!”
Maloney had returned, water dripping from the brim of his hat and his face askew with disbelief. I stuck my burned fingers into my pocket, hoping he hadn’t spotted them and calmly answered even though his eyes were popping as he continued to stare at me. “The vampire. She blasted it.”
I could almost see the words ‘bull’ and ‘shit’ forming incredulously in his mind.
“I didn’t know vampires could do that,” Simon muttered.
Maloney opened his mouth, but I cleared my throat loudly and cut across him before he could land me in it. This was something Simon really didn’t need to be concerned about right now. We had much bigger fish to fry than my insignificant problems.
“Before you say it, I’m fine.” Maloney’s eyes narrowed, lips almost paling to nothing. “I’m going to take Simon to A and E and get him checked out, but I need you to find out where that bloody time machine went. Our perpetrator could be after it.”
His jaw clenched, but he answered with a succinct, “You owe me, Eonsen.” And I knew he wasn’t talking about the case. Not risking him changing his mind, I ushered Simon from the rundown house and out into the rain. My broken supernatural powers weren’t the most pressing concern here.
Don’t forget, Taste Of Blood is out on Sunday 15th April! Preorder now to receive your copy as soon as it goes live!
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