Soren scrubbed a hand down his face and let the water run over his body. Three days of talking, talking, talking stiffened his shoulders and made him want to drive a stake through his own heart.
Worst of all, there hadn’t been a single lead on Theo’s whereabouts or doings. He’d been spotted in one club or another, schmoozing with the vampire populace and enjoying the local blood, but no amount of tracking gave up any clues to where he went to ground at night or what he was still doing in the city.
Soren could almost believe the lack of information was purposeful, except Faust shrank into moody despair with each passing night.
With a scowl, he gave the knob a savage twist and shoved open the glass door. The towel waiting for him was soft and fluffy and still scratched at him like a hair shirt. The clothes he donned felt like weights on his limbs. He needed to feed, but he couldn’t stand the thought of getting close to anyone let alone a breather.
What had Lida insisted until the day of her death? That he wasn’t some dumb brute and pretending to be one made him weak? There was more power to wield than the kind packed inside a club or ax or sword. Real, lasting power began as a whisper and grew to the roar shouted by others at his direction.
She should have been the one to take Salem, not him. He should have died while she lived.
Faust was waiting for him at the bottom step when he descended for the night, but the look on the gargoyle’s face didn’t fill him with hope. Soren shot him a warning look and stalked toward his office.
The door swung open to reveal a middle-aged woman with short, blonde hair studying one of the oil paintings on the wall. The moment she spotted him, she strode to the center of the room and planted her hands on her hips.
Son of a bitch.
Soren turned to close the door and directed a glare at Faust through the narrowing crack. There would be words with the gargoyle. Sharp words. Why the hell even have those damn waiting rooms if everyone treated his office as their own personal retreat?
He was all pleasant smiles when he turned back to the woman. “Soren Magnussen. How can I help you?”
“I know who you are,” she said coldly. “You’re the one who should have paid me a visit as sign of our cooperation. But here we are, three days in, and not a single phone call.”
Cecily Burroughs, Mayor of Salem, glared at his outstretched hand as if it was a viper poised to strike.
Soren gritted his teeth. He would not eat the mayor. He absolutely would not eat the mayor. “Apologies, Mayor Burroughs,” he forced out. “Sorting out my predecessor’s affairs has taken much of my attention. Perhaps we can schedule a proper discussion later this week?”
“Don’t give me pretty words.” She clicked her tongue and waved a hand through the air. “I have five missing persons over the last week. No sign of forced entry or a struggle, no items taken or missing. Just vanished in the dead of night. What are you doing about that?”
“Trouble, certainly,” Soren answered, rounding his desk. He flashed her an impatient look, then dropped his eyes to the piles of paperwork in a dismissal. “But maybe take that up with the proper authorities?”
Cecily bristled. “I am taking it up with the proper authorities. Or maybe you don’t care for the vampires they were spotted with before they disappeared?”
Soren dropped a hand over one stack of reports. Registration paperwork. Vampires entering the city, vampires leaving. Businesses owned and operated. Walking the streets had given him a feel for the place, but the actual dealings were buried in numbers.
How many times had his father told him to pay attention to the books? How many times had he scoffed at the advice and wished to have been born even a hundred years earlier to cover himself in the sort of battle glory Lida would have hated? The old bastard had to be laughing now in the depths of hell while Lida looked on with disappointment.
There were enough details in the paperwork to make his eyes bleed. And not a damn scrap mentioned missing vampires.
“Where are you hearing this from?” he asked, lifting his eyes to find Cecily studying him carefully.
“So you’re not the all-seeing, all-knowing lord of the city?” she asked with a smirk, then turned her attention to her nails. “I have my sources.”
“And what, exactly, do these sources say?” he asked testily. Without taking his eyes off her, he took a seat and steepled his fingers.
Cecily cocked her head and studied him for a long second. “There hasn’t been much--if any--movement on the former lord’s case. That there are agents of the queen--besides yourself--inside the city. That there exists a black hole of cases that never get assigned, looked into, or even acknowledged.”
Soren resisted the urge to sweep everything off his desk. Theo pulling his disappearing acts were bad enough. He didn’t know who had sided against him, which made everything given to him suspect.
Fuck. He’d known taking the job would be akin to keeping his balance on a log in open water, but he hadn’t expected anyone else to pay for his danger. At least not so soon. He’d hardly had time to ruffle any feathers or make any allies worthy enough of an attack.
The other possibility made those missing not connected to him at all, but related instead to Roderick’s murder.
“And,” she added with the hint of a mocking smile, “he’s agreed to talk to you. Tonight. If you’ll meet him.”
The back of his neck prickled. Roderick had gone out alone and ended up dead. But maybe he’d had good reason to keep his people in the dark. Maybe they’d been lying to him, too.
Maybe Cecily Burroughs was sent to lead him into a trap.
Trap or not, he had more faith in his own hands than any of those surrounding him.
Soren shoved to his feet and waved a hand to the door. “After you, then.”
And if he survived long enough, some house cleaning was in order.
“Is he coming or not?” Soren called.
Hands deep in his jacket pockets, he paced at the side of the idling SUV. He preferred to stay out in the open than locked inside with that woman. Safer, too, if she did turn out to be a trap. He could cover the length of the empty parking lot in seconds if he needed to escape. Harder to do that if the vehicle was surrounded with him still inside.
Cecily, seated with the door cracked open, simply rolled her head against the back of the seat. “You’re an impatient one, aren’t you, Lord Magnussen? I always heard that faded after a few lifetimes for your kind.”
The honorific sounded like a curse on her tongue. As did her assumptions. Maybe vampires were a touch more patient, a little more reckless. Long lives and rapid healing tended to make time insignificant and pain a thrill. They were still emotional creatures with the same flaws as they carried during their human years.
He turned from her and paced away again. Bright lights from downtown polluted the night sky and filled it with a dirty, smudgy yellow above the buildings. Even turning his face to the sky above him didn’t show off the deep, blue-black and pinpricks of stars he’d seen a hundred years ago.
How quickly times changed. Salem was proof of that.
The city had been the seat of fae power before the Unseelie King seized control. It’d been the last to fall before the fae were forced out of the world. He could smell the newness of the mortar between the bricks of nearby buildings. Even those were brighter than their older neighbors that had survived the fighting. Roderick’s predecessor had undertaken the rebuilding and restoring, aiming to put to rights what the supernaturals tore down.
Soren surprised himself by asking, “Did you know the former lord well?”
“Roderick and I had monthly dinners. Well, dinner for me. He sipped his bloodwine. Our worlds didn’t cross all that much, but it was a nice gesture to keep each other apprised.” She pursed her lips together, then added, “I think he found it a relief to have someone to talk to.”
“Is that an offer?” Soren asked blandly.
She scowled, but her retort stayed locked away with headlights cutting into the parking lot.
Soren tensed, but no other vehicles followed the first. Unless there were others packed in the back like a clown car, Cecily’s contact had arrived alone.
The driver parked a short distance away and seemed to hesitate before cutting the engine. The door opened with a creak, the sound loud against an otherwise quiet backdrop. Quick steps hurried him forward, as if with his mind made up he had no further time to waste.
Cecily dropped to her feet behind him. The difference in their footsteps was remarkable. Hers were scuffed and noisy, but the man approaching stayed almost entirely silent. One inhale was all Soren needed to know why.
“Officer Lachlan Blake of the Salem Police Department,” Cecily introduced. “Night shift, of course.”
Lachlan didn’t say a word, but his mouth tightened slightly at her addition.
Soren folded his arms over his chest. Gods, he could almost smell the sun on him, he was so young. He didn’t know if that made him more or less credible. Young ones didn’t have time to bury themselves in the shit of politics like he’d found himself, but they still rallied easily to the side of causes. Hard to shake the habits of human years while still living out one’s original lifetime.
“Do you know who I am?” he asked finally. At the other vampire’s nod, he jerked his chin at Cecily. “She says you have information for me.”
“Rumor says there’s a spot in the woods,” Lachlan began, sounding as if every word was pulled unwillingly from his chest. “You don’t need to follow the laws like you do in the feeder clubs. Go there if you want to drink or fuck ‘em to death.”
“You hear any screams, the neighbors will say it’s a haunted town, or some work in the quarry, or teenagers out on the prowl.” Lachlan fixed him with a flat look. “I’ve watched humans and vampires go into those woods. Can’t say I’ve seen anyone come out. Not alive, anyway.”
“Show him,” Cecily ordered.
Lachlan turned his head slightly to take her in. Soren narrowed his eyes at that, but stayed silent. As much as he wanted to bring the young one to heel, he had information he needed. Learning respect for the hierarchy could be taught later.
The vampire walked the short distance back to his vehicle and dipped inside. Something rustled, then unsealed with a pop, and Lachlan shut the door behind him. With another look to Cecily, he held out his prize proof.
Soren took the thick folder from Lachlan and flipped through the pages. Names, pictures, dates of birth. Dates bodies were discovered. Conditions. Bite marks and blood loss in the fresher corpses, bloating and animal desecration in the older remains.
Soren eyed him over the file. “You went to the humans with this information?”
“And have it buried? Again?” Lachlan shook his head, eyes flashing with barely suppressed anger. “You people have a way of making this shit disappear.”
“They’re your people, too,” Soren muttered. “Why should I believe any of this? How do I know you haven’t cooked this up to curry favor?”
He snorted. “Curry favor? Why the fuck would I want to do that?”
“Still not an answer.”
Lachlan let off a growl and stomped back toward his vehicle before spinning back around. “Respectfully,” he started.
His tone, his face, and the hands balled at his sides were anything but.
“Respectfully, I’m on the side of the living. Humans, stray dogs, anyone living this cursed existence,” he gestured at himself, “they all deserve the same respect. What’s happening to those people, leaving behind their loved ones without any fucking clue what happened to them, that’s not respect. So no, I don’t give a shit about favors. I want those cases solved.”
Soren stayed silent for a beat. The balls on the man would have been impressive if not for the utter disregard in his attitude. He needed to learn when and where to unleash all the fury, and when to keep it building without others knowing.
“How old are you?”
Lachlan puffed out his cheeks and slashed his eyes away. “I was thirty-three when I was—”
“Not your human age,” Soren snapped. “When were you made?”
A muscle jumped along the edge of his jaw as he brought his eyes to meet Soren’s. “Twenty-six years ago. I wasn’t made. I was murdered, along with at least fifty other souls that night.”
And there it was. The reason for his dark looks and hatred. He was one of Queen Roana’s greatest mistakes.
Turn them. Turn them all. It’s our only chance to win.
Soren shook off the memories and fixed Lachlan with a hard look. “Take me there.”
No objections slipped from his lips.
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From Book 1:
Ending a war makes her a savior to some…but a target to others.
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Is she his enemy … … or salvation? Only a soul mate can save him from turning rogue and setting humanity on fire.
When immortal dragon shifter Saberthorn witnesses his niece’s murder, and his brother sucked down into hell, his cry of vengeance is heard far and wide. In days he’s eliminated all responsible, except one. The witch he seeks eludes him. Ten years later, on the verge of losing his humanity, a portal opens. The dragon in Saberthorn roars.
Could it really be her?
The hunt is on. But when he catches up to his amber-eyed enemy she knocks him on his rear with a well placed fist. A deep craving awakens. Will Saber be able to follow through on his vow of revenge?
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