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Vortex blues, p.2

Vortex Blues, page 2


Vortex Blues

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  He’d been a normal healthy male this morning. What the hell happened to him?

  “Are you listening, Guthrie?” Her voice burned across the desk like a laser.

  He smoothed his furrowed brow and met her piercing blue gaze. “Yes. You’re still a little defensive about your stint as Queen of the Nile. Got it.”

  She flashed him a sudden smile, surprising him. Cleo had beautiful even white teeth, which accentuated her dusky smooth features. Her sable hair was pulled carelessly back away from her face and secured with some type of hinged clip, allowing the rest of her mane to flow down her back and around her shoulders in one of those alluring styles women loved, and men appreciated. Her golden skin contrasted with her clear blue eyes, and he could understand how she’d captured the imagination of the pharaoh, Caesar and Marc Anthony as well as numerous playwrights, poets and novelists throughout history.

  “I like you, Guthrie. You’ve got grit. That’s why I asked for you.”

  Mitch nearly bolted from his seat as shock surged through him. “What the hell?”

  He thought Dodson sent him here to torture him. After all, what better place to punish someone who had watched their father die at the hands of a supernatural? But apparently, he’d given Dodson too much credit for once. “What do you mean, you fucking asked for me?”

  “I read the file on your last case before you decked Dodson. Good job, by the way—Dodson’s an ass. If it weren’t unethical, I’d give him to Squid as a play toy.” She picked up a pen off her desk and stroked the long line of it between her fingers, as if seduction were in her genes and not something she did consciously.

  Normally, Mitch would be sporting a hard on the size of Texas by now and imagining how those fingers would feel against his heated flesh. He bit back a sigh and returned his attention to his interesting new boss.

  “You risked your life to save that water dryad, when none of the other officers were willing to step forward to help. But I think it was more than that. He realized you have an affinity for the supernatural. That’s why Dodson busted you, wasn’t it? The report says you blew your cover and disobeyed a direct order when you ran into that burning building to save her. But I don’t think that’s the full story, is it? Dodson’s been pissed ever since Congress voted that the supernatural community has the same rights as humans.” Her lips curved and she leaned forward giving him a front row view of the best cleavage he’d ever seen—two perfect globes of feminine flesh that should’ve beckoned to him, but didn’t. “He’s an idiot, but since Dryads can’t speak, it wasn’t too hard to figure out that one of his own was a sensi-freak.”

  The events of that day played through Mitch’s mind like a feature film. The terrified screams of the dryad still pierced his heart. It had reminded him of all the helpless children he’d seen over his years on the force. “What the hell, lady? I heard that dryad screaming. And if she couldn’t speak, she couldn’t scream. That’s what alerted me to the situation.”

  She nodded, and her look turned smug. “Of course you heard her. But none of the others did. You heard her telepathically. That’s what a sensi-freak is, Guthrie, or part of it. And to find it in a human is very rare indeed. Think about it—what was Dodson’s reaction when you told him you heard her, or that she’d sobbed in your arms and said she owed you her life?”

  Shock slapped at him as he digested all she’d said. Dodson had questioned him extensively about the dryad’s screams and her reactions. Then he’d told Mitch he must’ve really hated his old man. After all, one of the supernatural freaks had killed him while Mitch watched, and yet Mitch had still risked his life and blew a four-month undercover operation to save her.

  Anger, shame, guilt and a boatload of other emotions had whipped through him, and the next thing he knew—his fist connected with Dodson’s jaw. The over-fleshed asshole flew back against the office wall cracking his head against several service awards in the process.

  Then when Mitch had been calculating how much money it would take to bail him out when Dodson pressed charges, he received word of his transfer to Sedona. He’d cursed the bastard for exploiting his weak spot, but had been unable to get the transfer stopped, other than to quit the force. And since joining the force had given him a sense of purpose and a way to keep other children from having to watch helplessly as one of their parents died—he couldn’t bring himself to give it all up. To Mitch, it was just his karma come to bite him on the ass.

  He took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he leaned back in his chair and studied Cleo. “You said you’ve read my file…”

  “You want to know why I would request a cop who probably has every reason in the world to hate supernaturals.” She laid the pen on her desk and steepled her fingers in front of her, the fluorescent lights winking off her blood-red nails. “One who would most likely rather see us all dead.”

  Neither was a question and unease curled in Mitch’s gut as he waited for her answer. Normally, he’d be furious, but for some reason, his gut told him to shut up and listen. He didn’t have to like it, but he knew he ignored his intuition at his own risk.

  “I’ll be honest with you, Guthrie. As I’m sure is obvious, this department isn’t run like any you’ve ever served in or probably even heard of. Let’s just say women who reach my age are a tad set in their ways.” She smiled at her own small joke, but something told him she wouldn’t appreciate any confirmation from him. “Supernaturals function a bit differently than the human population, and we’ve been afforded some leeway—especially in cities where there is an extremely high concentration of us.”

  He huffed impatiently and sat back in his seat, wishing she’d get to the point.

  She pursed her lips and waited a long moment before she continued, again reminding him of the nuns at Catholic school even if she sure as hell didn’t dress like them. “I’ve lived too long to enjoy idle chatter, Guthrie, so try to humor me, will you?”

  He didn’t bother to respond.

  “Anyway, as you might imagine, it’s difficult to get human officers to stay on here. Not only because they don’t understand the population, but also because they feel outnumbered and uncomfortable. So when I read your file, I jumped at the chance to get a sensi-freak human for this department.” She shrugged. “I figured if you didn’t quit the force to get out of the transfer, you’d be a good fit here. Besides, getting to know some of us might help you realize that one siren who decided your dad looked like a good snack, doesn’t mean the rest of us are a lost cause. After all, I’ve met several human killers, pedophiles, drug dealers and the like—and I don’t lump all humans into the same mold.”

  He clenched his jaw. It irritated him that she was right, but he had a right to his anger, and to his personal feelings. Having a sudden kumbaya moment with a department full of non-humans wasn’t his idea of a good assignment.

  “Regardless, you’re here now, so you may as well make the best of it—unless you’re afraid you might actually find out I’m right.”

  He ignored her obvious taunt and forced his mind back to the subject at hand. He was here because he saved a dryad. If he could admit it, at least to himself, he knew there wasn’t a human in that building when he ran into the flames. He shrugged as he shoved aside the memory of the tiny dryad’s screams. “Let’s say for the moment that you’re right, and I’m a ‘sensi-freak,’ so what?”

  She nodded as if deciding something. “It means you’re an asset to my department, Guthrie. And I never waste assets…or anything else.” She flashed a feral smile. “So, welcome to the SPOOK squad.” She slapped a Sedona police badge on the desk between them before leaning back in her chair. “I see you somehow got out of Dodson’s reach with your Glock, but I doubt he let you keep your badge. And since I need your special skills right away, your first case and your new partner are waiting.”

  He opened his mouth to respond, but she cut him off.

  “You report directly to me. As I told you, this department doesn’t function like you
re used to. SPOOK stands for Special Paranormal Operations & Otherworldly Kontact. And don’t even start telling me that ‘contact’ starts with a ‘C’. I wasn’t the smart ass who named the department, so deal with it.”

  He tried and failed to hide a smirk, which earned another glare from Cleo. Talk about flash fire mood changes. He wondered if all succubi were this unpredictable. “I was actually going to ask about my partner and the case.”

  Her full lips curved and mischief glittered inside the blue depths of her eyes. “Succubus on both counts. Your new partner, Molly, will fill you in. Enjoy.”

  Chapter Two

  Molly closed and locked her apartment door, then took the spiral staircase down to the main floor of the Vortex Bar & Grill. A long hot bath had almost succeeded in easing her tight muscles from her meeting with Cleo—almost. If news of a succubus serial killer got out into the mainstream media, all supernaturals could lose the rights Congress had given them. No matter that most people ignored them, at least they were recognized legally. Molly remembered only too well her shock when she’d been cursed into becoming a succubus, and how if felt to be treated with less rights and respect than even an animal.

  As she rounded the corner past the kitchen and storeroom, the deep gravelly voice of her bartender, Rocky, vibrated the floorboards beneath her feet, and she quickened her pace. Gargoyles’ voices tended to be on such a low vibration that they often resonated with natural materials causing them to vibrate, making Molly feel as if she were walking through an impending earthquake.

  The vibrations increased until she stumbled and had to catch her balance against a nearby wall.

  Shit! Please don’t let him have eaten another tourist! She wasn’t sure if her silent prayer would be answered, but she didn’t want another scene like last month. She still owed Cleo for helping her with that one.

  She pushed through the swinging door and stopped short. Rocky, her seven-foot hulk of a bartender who never smiled and almost didn’t fit behind the bar stood polishing glasses and…laughing. At least she thought it was a laugh. She never even knew gargoyles knew how—especially this one.

  Sitting across the bar from Rocky was the most amazing example of the male form she’d seen in well over a hundred years. Wavy hair the color of decadent dark chocolate drooped over one brow and hung over his collar, making her fingers itch to delve into the silky mass. Broad shoulders that almost equaled the hulking gargoyle’s nicely filled out a simple white button down shirt, open at the collar to show a white t-shirt and just the barest hint of dark chest hair.

  She allowed her gaze to skim down to the trim waist, where a simple gun holster hung from his belt next to his badge, and lower to the blue jeans and cowboy boots that accentuated muscular thighs. She wished he would stand so she could check out his ass. Just then he turned to face her and Molly’s breath caught inside her throat and every other thought scattered as if she’d just stepped through one of the Sedona vortexes her bar was named for.

  Green eyes, the color of the sea on a calm day, pinned her in place, giving her the impression he knew her every secret. Almost peripherally, she noticed the chiseled jaw, the straight nose and the sculpted lips that would make any woman think instantly of sweaty nights in his arms. He blinked, breaking the spell, and she finally noticed the confusion swimming in the cool depths of his eyes.

  I wonder where that came from?

  “Molly, this here is Detective Mitch Guthrie—your new partner. You should hear about his run in with Squid and Cleo.” The floorboards beneath her feet rumbled ominously as Rocky nearly doubled over with laughter.

  Mitch’s dark brow furrowed as he shot an annoyed glare toward Rocky. “Cleo needs to mind her own business.”

  Ignoring him, Rocky’s rumbling calmed to a tolerable level. “I just got off the phone with Cleo before man-meat here showed up. He’s got brass ones from what Cleo said. I think I like him. But I’d bet on you, my sweet Molly. Can I watch you digest him for breakfast?”

  Molly blinked as blood suddenly returned to her brain along with some semblance of reason. She stepped forward and offered her hand to her annoyingly sexy new partner, noting the clean masculine scent of his energy that only someone with supernatural senses would detect. “Welcome to the Vortex, Detective Guthrie. I assume Cleo told you I have no need and no desire for a partner?”

  As his large hand engulfed hers, she fought not to gasp at the sensations skyrocketing through her body. Her nipples hardened uncomfortably under her satin bra, and need gathered low in her belly like a slumbering dragon just stirring.

  Damn girl, get hold of yourself. You’re a succubus—not a fumbling virgin! But then, no man had affected her this way since the one who’d cursed her to her fate as a succubus long ago. Now men were just food or customers—nothing more, nothing less. She gave herself a mental slap.

  “Cleo didn’t tell me anything other than you were my partner and our case is about a succubus.” He smiled, flashing even white teeth and a boyish grin that threatened to buckle her knees and turn her into a quivering pile of goo on the floor at his feet. “Let’s just say when she wasn’t being prickly about her stint on the Egyptian throne, she was being a general pain in my ass.” He looked back at Rocky before returning his all-seeing gaze to her. “I wasn’t given a choice about this either, so why don’t we make the best of it, and forego the part of the morning where you digest me for breakfast?” There was pure steel under the soft words, and Molly instantly wondered what caused it before mentally shaking herself. I don’t care what caused it!

  She pursed her lips to avoid smiling at his very accurate description of Cleo and reminded herself she didn’t need any partner—especially one who affected her like he did. But she knew better than to defy Cleo openly. Maybe she could scare Mr. Hunky away all on her own. She took back her hand and squared her shoulders. “Cleo’s been a pain in my ass for a few centuries now—it doesn’t get any better. And as for my eating habits—they aren’t any of your business. Or Rocky’s.” She loosed her most lethal glare toward the gargoyle, but it seemed to bounce harmlessly off his stone hide—no shock there.

  She sat at the bar beside Mitch. “But since Cleo hasn’t given either of us a choice, I suggest that you stay out of my way, and we’ll get through this fine.”

  He pinned her with a direct gaze. “Before we start the territory pissing part of our working relationship, I’d really appreciate it if you could fill in the blanks for me. I might as well have a small clue what we’re doing, so I don’t get one or both of us killed.” This time the words dripped with bitterness, which Molly once again reminded herself not to even wonder over.

  “Rocky, hot tea please, and whatever Detective Guthrie would like.” When Rocky shrugged, his stone shoulders made a grating sound as they rubbed against his torso.

  “Black coffee. Thanks, Rocky.” His voice trailed off as he studied the gargoyle intently until Rocky bared four-inch jagged stone teeth and laughed when Mitch’s eyes rounded.

  Molly pursed her lips to keep from smiling. “Rocky is a gargoyle. He’s entirely made of stone, so that’s what makes the grating sound. And apparently, he’s enjoying taunting you. As long as you mean me no harm and don’t insult him, he’s harmless—and the best damned bartender in the state.”

  Rocky’s stone cheeks pinked a bit at the compliment, but he turned away to remove the teapot he always kept ready for her from the stove burner. He poured both tea and coffee before setting the white diner-issue cups in front of them.

  Mitch nodded and took a sip of coffee. “I’m still getting used to…everything.”

  “Get used to it fast. There isn’t a lot of time for on the job training where supernaturals are concerned. You learn or you die.” When Mitch’s eyes darkened to a forest green, but didn’t so much as flinch, she mentally cursed. Apparently, it wouldn’t be easy to scare this one off. In fact, he just appeared more determined. Might just have to deal with him and keep him out of her way. Wouldn’t be the first man
she’d charmed into doing her bidding—not by far.

  She nodded to Rocky as he set a pot of honey in front of her. She stirred a healthy spoonful into her tea and studied Guthrie over her cup. “There have been a string of murders recently, and all the evidence points to a succubus killer. If we don’t find the murderer, and soon, Congress could bow to peer pressure and reverse their vote. And since the police—or more accurately, Cleo—aren’t popular with the succubus community, it’s been difficult to get leads.”

  His eyes narrowed and she could tell he’d catalogued everything she’d said for later study. “Why isn’t Cleo popular with the succubus? And you’re a succubus too from what Cleo said. So what’s the problem?”

  She sighed as she searched for the quickest way to explain the complicated nuances of the succubus community structure. “It’s illegal for a succubus to do anything but take sustenance from a willing victim. However, for eons, the hunt, the seduction, and even the kill were at the very core of being a succubus—or an incubus, for that matter. They think Cleo’s sold out—especially since she joined the force.”

  “And what about you? Do they see you in the same way?”

  Her temper snapped and she didn’t bother to rein it in or erase the bitterness from her words. “Let’s just say I’m tolerated because I own a local business. But I’m not exactly up for Succubus Cover Model of the year.”

  “I need to ask enough questions so I understand, but damned if you don’t seem just as prickly as your boss. Is that a succubus trait? Or are all the women here bitchy?” He met her steady glare and drank another swallow of coffee before setting the cup back down on the bar. “I was almost a fear demon snack this morning, so I’m being careful where I tread. Surely you understand.”

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