Blake jumped and realized he’d fallen asleep in his chair, the same moment he realized it was morning already. He glanced around at his office door. Anna Maria had her head around the door, looking at him. “You clocking off?” he said, glancing at his watch. Six a.m. Her night shift was over.
“You okay, boss?” she asked.
“Long night,” he said, trying to make it sound like he did this all the time. He stood up, stretching carefully, feeling the bones in his neck.
“’Kay. Night, boss.” She let the door shut itself.
He looked out the window. Daylight was trying to break through thunderclouds outside his windows. A soggy, fetid, miserable August day that matched his mood. He glanced at the three in-trays on his desk, all of them overloaded. They stood next to his computer, which was another two hundred and sixty gigabytes of hell screaming at him for attention.
What was happening in his city? Twelve years in the department and he no longer thought he understood New York and its denizens. He’d spent all night doing basic regression analysis. And the numbers frightened him. If things went on this way, New York would turn into an uncivilized all-out crime zone in about six weeks. The police department was slowly losing ground. It just didn’t have the numbers to cope. Rape and murder were the top two favorites, with decapitations being numero uno on the hit parade. But number three on the New York Times Best Seller List right now was Missing Persons. People were vanishing without trace in numbers higher than six hundred percent more than any time in the last three centuries…and that included two world wars, famines and plagues.
And the police couldn’t do a damn thing about it, except record particulars and wait. They were overtaxed by the murders and rapes already. A missing person was a lesser concern.
Blake pushed his hand through his hair. God, what a fucking nightmare.
The other lieutenants in the other departments across the boroughs made light of it. They were mostly older and had seen tough times before and while they all heard the same unsettling rumors about the cults, the gangs, the animalistic behavior, they were in denial. They didn’t want to look at the big picture.
The figures Blake had projected last night didn’t lie, though. Something was going on. But right now he couldn’t see what it was. Despite all the information flowing into his desk, it eluded him. Sometimes, like now when his energy was low, it felt like there was someone else out there manipulating the information that reached him, so that he couldn’t see the truth. Not all of it, anyway.
He bumped his forehead against the window and felt the chill spread across his flesh. It reminded him of how hot and tired he was. He’d been in these clothes for over twenty-four hours. He needed a break. So did his mind. He was slipping into paranoid delusions.
He picked up his jacket and logged off the computer. A few hours sleep, a shower and food, then he’d head back here. Things would look different, then. Maybe.
He clocked out and walked home to his apartment, feeling at odds with the day. Manhattan was just firing up for a busy day of commerce, while he was going home to sleep. He glanced up at the skyscrapers as he passed them. It all looked so innocent and normal.
Who’d’ve thought there was such a time bomb ticking away in her guts?
* * * * *
When Mia came bustling into the boardroom, Alexander felt his heart jump. Even after a year, she still managed to make him pause to catch his breath when she arrived after a small absence. She was here in his life. And she was never going away again.
He kept reminding himself to be thankful to whatever entity or force designed the trinities and chose him to be part of them. Him, Mia and Wyatt. How had he got so lucky? He was careful never to question that good fortune, but to grasp it with both hands and to work his ass off in service of the trinities and Seaveth, in gratitude.
Mia came up to him with the small smile she kept for him and Wyatt alone. “You’re brooding,” she said.
“I’ll shake you about it later,” she said. “Right now, we need to head to the keep for the assembly. The car is waiting.” She looked at the huge watch on her wrist. “And Wyatt still hasn’t shown up. Did he call you at all?”
“No call. No text. But he knows he has to be here. He’ll show, Mia. In a year, has he never not shown up for an assembly?”
“There’s always a first time,” she said darkly, thumbing through her Palm Pilot. She had become the staffing agency’s chief executive officer and completely indispensable, running both the private and public personas of the agency like clockwork and liaising with the Earthwing clan’s seniors and Seaveth’s portfolio with seamless efficiency.
Wyatt had returned to hunting but even there, Mia had left her mark, organizing and commercializing his ventures and bringing recruits to his doorstep. Now Wyatt’s hunting was an organized trade, with tools, equipment, partners and income. Wyatt had been stunned that demon hunting could raise revenue in a human world but Mia had shown him how to bring in profit for himself and make it attractive to other demon hunter and vampire investors and just like that, Wyatt had found himself an entrepreneur.
Mia glanced at her watch again. “Time to go. I’ve texted Wyatt and told him to go straight to the keep.” She chewed her lip. “I hope he’s okay.”
Alexander took her face in his hands. “He’ll be fine,” he said softly. “Stop it, Mia.” He kissed her to stop her fretting and slipped his tongue against her lips. He drew back when he tasted blood. “You just fed?”
She blushed. “Sorry, yes. I should have warned you.” This was one of the changes he’d had the hardest time accepting. As a result of the bonding, from time to time, Mia had to feed on blood, like a vampire. She ate normal food and excreted it like a human but every few months or so, like a vampire, she hungered for blood. Alexander had been devastated by the knowledge. Instead, Zachariah and the other vampires had taught Mia how to ingest the artificial blood developed by the clan.
At least she had no incisors. He was spared that.
Alexander hugged her, instead and let her go. “We were running late, I believe?” he reminded her.
“Damn, yes.” She straightened her business skirt back into place and threw him a dirty look. “I wish you would stop kissing me at work. You know I hate that.”
“While I can make you look like a cat on catnip, I’ll keep kissing you whenever you’re within reach,” Alexander growled softly as they hurried through the office to the elevator bank. The armored stretch limousine would be waiting for them in the lower basement. Max, the driver and one of the Earthwing clan, would have the engine running and his bolo tucked between the seat and the door, watching the street ramp. “Zack and Diego aren’t coming with us?” Alexander asked as they passed the other two partner offices without pausing.
Mia shook her head. “Zack is…he wanted to be with Seaveth today. Diego just didn’t show up this morning.” She frowned. Diego’s dedication to playing the role of a normal human was flaky, at best, despite the combined pressure Alexander and Zack tried to exert upon him. Diego had spent centuries unfettered. He was taking a longer time adjusting to Seaveth’s demands for assimilation than most. But they both knew he would be at the full assembly. Even he would not dare risk Seaveth’s wrath by missing that.
“He’ll come around,” Alexander assured her. “Diego is just…” He tried to find the right world.
“Savage,” Mia said succinctly. “I’ve heard the gossip. There’s a reason for his last name.”
“There is,” Alexander said flatly. “But whatever you’ve heard, it’s wrong.”
She glanced up at him, a furrow between her brows but she couldn’t ask him a more direct question for they had reached the foyer and were surrounded by strangers for the ride down to the basement.
In the elevator car, Alexander was swamped by memories of the day Mia had reappeared in his life, here in New York. She swiveled her head to look up at him and smiled and he knew she was thinking the same thing. She pressed closer to him in the crowded car.
She was getting many admiring glances from others in the car, who skimmed her high heels, smart skirt and jacket, silk shirt and shoulder-blade-length hair she refused to either cut or wear up in a bun despite the weather and the hourglass figure that the suit did nothing to hide.
She’s with me, Alexander thought. At last. And he curled his hand around her hip.
The car was empty by the time they reached the last basement and they looked out cautiously. The limousine was waiting as promised. Mia swapped her briefcase over to her left hand and they stepped out, heading for the limousine.
There was a rattle of metal to their right and Alexander turned, his animal instincts flaring. Max was already leaping from the driver’s seat, his bolo in his hand.
But Mia was faster. She had the gun pulled from the holster at the small of her back and out, ready to fire, before Alexander had completed his turn.
Her reactions were faster than his.
She dropped her briefcase and threw her arm out across Alexander’s path to prevent him from moving forward. “Stop. It’s Wyatt,” she said, putting the small caliber gun away again. She ran forward into the shadowy basement and was enfolded by the dark figure there. Alexander could not make out the details but she had been able to. This had been another of her changes. Not only were her reaction times faster than his, she could see and hear better than a vampire.
And Wyatt was stronger than one. She was leading him forward now but he did not look like the strong hunter who had gone off the day before to Quebec to hunt a gargoyle. He was hunched over, an arm to his stomach. Alexander felt his heart seize. He hurried forward.
“What happened?” He and Mia between them bundled Wyatt into the limousine. “The keep, Max.”
“Aye.” Max climbed in and got the long vehicle rolling with minimum fuss, pulling out into the traffic without delay.
Alexander was grateful for the smoked windows and air-conditioning. He and Mia stretched Wyatt on the seat. “What happened?” he repeated again as he tried to pull aside Wyatt’s shirt to see his stomach.
“Demon was working with the gargoyle. The damn things are ganging up together these days.” Wyatt rolled his head back.
“Why aren’t you healing?” Mia cried.
Alexander winced and leaned over to the back of the driver’s seat. “Sorry, family business, Max.” And he hit the button for the privacy screen, which slid up behind the driver’s seat, a blacked-out window of total privacy between them and Max. It was soundproof and bulletproof.
Alexander turned back to Wyatt and looked at the long crimson gashes on Wyatt’s stomach.
“You’re supposed to have vampire healing powers now,” Mia said, tears rolling down her face.
“He does,” Alexander said quietly, studying the wounds. “These were much worse, twelve hours ago.”
Wyatt swallowed and nodded. “A mate drove me down from Ontario through the night. I had trouble convincing him not to take me to hospital in Toronto but when I didn’t die on him right away and was still talking when we hit the New York border he was starting to put it together. He was happy to get rid of me, I think. I scared the crap out of him. And he hunts demons.” He tried to laugh and it turned into a series of coughs that looked painful. He finally took a deep breath and opened his eyes. “God it’s good to see you both.”
Mia threw herself on his chest and Alexander kissed his forehead. Wyatt held Mia to him and eyed Alexander. “I’m guessing the war ain’t over, if the ass-kicking I just took is any measure. No sign of the infamous third trinity?”
He shook his head.
“Fuck.” Wyatt sighed. “The elves are going to eat Seaveth for dinner at the assembly.”