From the Files of the Otherworlder Enforcement Agency - Book Three - by Tiffany Allee
Detective Astrid Holmes is a sensitive, a human capable of feeling the energy of otherworlders. When she is dispatched to the horrific murder scene of a local vampire, she expects it to be just another day on the job. But when evidence is stolen on her watch, she is removed—not only from the investigation, but from her job as a member of the Chicago police department’s paranormal unit.
Astrid’s only hope of reinstatement lies with her ex co-worker and almost-lover, Lycan Mason Sanderson. But convincing the OWEA agent to let her assist with the investigation isn’t nearly as difficult as staying alive when the murderer realizes that Astrid may hold the key to unlocking his identity.
Fighting to take down a killer could have deadly consequences for Astrid and Mason, but working together puts their already fragile relationship in jeopardy.
Title: Lycan Unleashed (From the Files of the Otherworlder Enforcement Agency, #3)
Author: Tiffany Allee
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Length: 162 pages
Release Date: January 2013
Imprint: Ever After
© 2013 Tiffany Allee
Bright lights poured over me as I strode up from the parking lot and across the small, dock-style entrance into the boat. I closed my eyes before crossing the threshold and let my attention shift from my five senses to my sixth—as a sensitive, I could feel the powers that otherworlders, or OWs, emitted. “Oh-dub” energy radiated from the boat, but most of it was too far in for me to get a good read. But the shadowy wave of vampire energy was unmistakable—there were several of them inside.
And I could feel the slight pinging of a banshee too, almost too far away for me to sense. Mac would probably be distinguishable from other banshees, especially full-blooded ones. But that wasn’t a theory I’d ever had a chance to test, since I’d never been around another banshee.
Casino Merveilleux floated permanently docked on the Fox River. Since it was technically a boat, it could offer gambling games to the residents and visitors of the greater Chicagoland area. New gambling ships were rare, but with the Chevalier money and influence behind the project, approval had not really been an issue.
Lieutenant Vasquez hadn’t mentioned anything specific about the crime scene other than the address, when he’d called me into his office with a brisk, “Astrid, get your ass to this crime scene.” So when I found my GPS leading me into the parking lot of a riverboat casino, I was a little ticked. Sure, the lieutenant wasn’t exactly the talkative type, but a quick mention of the location wouldn’t have been out of order. He’d probably been too pissed about Claude’s latest no-notice “vacation” to think to mention it.
Once I got on the ship, the last vestige of marine-style faded, and the feeling of being in a landlocked casino settled over me. Opulence abounded, with rich colors and flashing lights shining through the short hallway leading into the casino proper. Theoretically the Casino Merveilleux could probably still float downriver, but since it had been attached to the dock for a year, at this point it was hard to envision such a change.
The low hum of sound I’d come to expect from such a place was absent. No doubt the police had removed the guests.
I passed a set of elevators and a stairwell. A vampire leaned against a wall with his arms crossed—even if I hadn’t been a sensitive, I would have known him for what he was. Fear radiated from vampires, just like sexual appeal draped succubi and incubi. Unlike the insta-lust that succubi and incubi elicited, vampires made people around them instantly want to run the other way. And you didn’t have to be a sensitive to feel it.
Some were more bathed in this intimidation aura than others, and this vamp had a decent aura going. He was waiting to bring news to the Magister, no doubt. And to be available to answer questions about the scene for the police. I almost felt bad for the guy. Bringing bad news to one of the most powerful vampires in the country, and the leader of three states full of vamps, wasn’t my idea of a fun job.
My sensitive powers were able to discern one vampire from another, although they all smelled somewhat like coffee and appeared draped in shadows that played with my oh-dub vision. Some vamps were more distinguishable than others—and usually that seemed to depend on how powerful they were. This particular vampire was as generic as a vamp could be, and would probably be almost indiscernible from a similarly forgettable vamp.
Others were unforgettable. And that’s how I knew that the Magister wasn’t on scene. Or at least, he wasn’t within my, admittedly short, range.
A uniform moved forward to stop me before I reached the main area of the casino, but I flashed my badge and he waved me through, after writing my name on a form attached to his clipboard. Sweat touched his brow—probably from spending time so close to a vampire with an oppressive fear aura. No police tape blocked my path, but the boat had been emptied—at least the first floor.
It wasn’t hard to follow the line of officers and crime scene technicians flowing in and out of the high stakes’ poker room. And with one more flash of my badge, I was in.
The smell rolled over me as I approached. Death and the beginning of decay and rot. I swallowed hard and tried not to breathe through my nose. Luckily, the victim had been dead less than a day. Most of the really good smells were just getting started.
With Claude out of town, I’d expected to spend the day doing paperwork. And I would have been okay with that. Not that I’d ever let anyone know, if I could help it. Cops were supposed to love being out in the field, but I was perfectly happy going out only to check over scenes that had already been secured.
The victim had been killed before he was staked to the back wall of the room—feet dangling only a few inches off the ground—that much was obvious. But a stake through the chest—despite the old rumored ways to kill a vampire—probably hadn’t killed him. Vampires had to be drained of most of their blood or beheaded to actually die.
His throat had been slit, and that appeared to be the cause of death, but there was very little blood soaking into the carpet beneath him. He’d definitely been dumped here. Pinned against the wall, he had some sort of spikes sticking out of his wrists and chest. His arms were splayed out, but the spike through his chest provided the actual support for the body. Blood covered his neck, soaking his now-dried shirt in starchy red, but very little touched the garish carpet below.
No wonder Vasquez was pissed. The highest ranking vampire on the force, and the unofficial attaché to the vampire community, decides to take the week off a day before someone dies on a casino ship owned by the most powerful vampire family in the tri-state area.
The level of annoyance my partner could draw out of me while not even in the same town was amazing. Most cops didn’t have that problem, I was sure of it. Then again, most people weren’t partnered with a vampire who considered them to be a long-lost little sister.
Mac and her twitchy new partner, Kurt Jarvis, had beaten me here. By the looks of it, just barely. Jarvis was still removing his winter gloves. Mac was questioning a lab tech within an inch of his life while Jarvis’s gaze roved the carpet for evidence.
As a banshee, Mac radiated a certain power that never failed to draw my attention. She didn’t sound like a banshee to my oh-dub senses, but something like a wind chime. Sensitives like me felt otherworlder energy often, so unless the OW was actually using his or her powers or was particularly powerful, the OW usually faded into the background of my senses. And many times, I couldn’t actually get a read off of an oh-dub unless I was close and concentrating.
Unlike Mac, the tech being questioned seemed human, at least from a distance. As did Mac’s new partner, Kurt Jarvis. But Jarvis wasn’t human. Not even close.
Mac nodded to me and gave me something close to a small smile when I approached—practically a hug and a kiss from the woman. Jarvis spared me a quick glance before returning his gaze to the floor.
“What do we have?” I asked.
“Dead guy looks like a vamp,” Mac said grimly. “Still no ID, but we haven’t been able to search the body yet. Techs are still pulling evidence.”
I glanced at the body and took a couple of steps away from Mac and Jarvis. Jarvis’s jerky motions were distracting, but I reminded myself that he couldn’t help it. As an imp, he acted like a man on three pots of coffee. His presence was a bit unsettling if a person was at all nervous or paranoid—and cops were always paranoid—but his speed and cleverness were helpful. Imps were an odd type of otherworlder. They were fast and seemed to uniformly have cunning minds, but they weren’t much stronger than a human. And they were as easy to kill as any normal, if you could get them to hold still long enough. But their quick minds and movements made them good cops. And other than the twitchiness, they blended in with normals more easily than most oh-dubs.
Closing my eyes, I tried to ignore the smell that pressed my stomach into my throat, the murmurs of cops and techs around me, and the weight of the eyes watching me.
Mac’s power sang, but it was unique, identifiable. Easy to separate. Jarvis also pulsed, in the strangely erratic way imps did. Like a strobe light—a subdued one.
And something else. Yes. Shadowed and dark, hungry but not fierce in the way lycanthropes were—and smothering it all: intimidation and terror.
I concentrated on that thread of Other, and watched the energy that covered the victim. The darkness—like a liquid shadow—didn’t just touch the outside of his skin. Coated in a bitter scent I could only compare to burnt coffee, it filled him through and through. My eyes flew open. I dropped my left hand to my side and pushed down the embarrassing knowledge of how I’d probably looked—eyes closed and my arm raised toward the dead man.
“Definitely a vampire,” I told them. “Looks like someone was trying to give the Magister a message.”
“Seems pretty fucking likely. What a damned mess.” Mac glared at the victim as if he’d died to personally ruin her night.
Mac waved toward a man in a suit who had walked up to the line. He approached, obviously trying to keep his expression under control. He halted a good ten feet away from us and put his hand over his mouth, eyes wide with shock.
“Oh, yeah.” Mac glanced at the vic. “Let’s talk over there.”
I followed, out of curiosity more than anything. I was here for my sensitive abilities, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t curious. Jarvis held back, still glancing around the scene in his restless way.
“Can you walk us through what happened here tonight?” Mac said.
“This is the high roller room. It’s closed from five thirty until nine thirty every morning—for cleaning. One of the cleaning staff came in at nine, found the…” His eyes darted to the victim. “The man,” he finished.
“We’ll need to talk to her.” Mac made a note.
“So you didn’t get any reports of noise or anything from this room earlier?” I cut in. Mac raised an eyebrow at me, but I ignored her.
“No. Nothing. And we have people around here twenty-four hours a day. I don’t see how they could have—” His voice broke and he shook his head.
“Snazzy casino like this, you have to have some good security cameras,” Mac said.
He nodded, but his skin paled. “We lost power for a half an hour. The whole ship. We’ll give you the footage we have of course—”
Mac cursed under her breath, and I glanced back at the vic.
“That’s a lot of work for a half hour,” I said. But was it, really? Maybe. Maybe not. Not if he’d been killed elsewhere, which the slit throat with minimal blood seemed to suggest.
“Anything special going on last night? Anything different?” Mac asked.
The man shook his head. “Nothing.”
“Do you recognize the deceased?” I asked. Sure, he probably would have said it already if he did, but best to ask just in case.
He shot a quick glance at the body and grimaced. “No. I’m afraid I don’t. But we get a lot of people through here.”
My attention wandered after that, as I approached the cadaver hanging from the wall. It was easier to think of dead bodies that way. Not as people. Not as victims. But as a simple object. A body. A corpse. Not a man.
Or in this case, not a vampire.
I stopped a couple of feet away, grimacing at the smell even though I was getting used to it. Eyes firmly shut, I forced my flittering thoughts into the back of my mind and tried to keep my focus on the energy in front of me.
I breathed slowly and let myself fall into an almost meditative state—or as close as one could get two feet from a dead vampire with a nervous ME tech shifting on his feet nearby.
The corpse was definitely a vampire, and had not just been killed by one. Sometimes that happened—sensitives could pick up the type of powers that had killed a person in addition to the victim’s otherworldly aura. In humans, that’s all that would linger. It made identifying the killer easier when it worked that way. But too often, things were muddled. Especially with otherworlder victims.
But nothing about this victim felt like anything but vampire, and the energy was soaked through to his bones. I stood still and let my senses open more fully, but I couldn’t sense anything but vampire in the area. Dark energy—unmoving because it lingered on a no-longer-living object—saturated the room.
And on the edge of my senses I could feel the other oh-dubs. Mac with her odd swirl of power. Jarvis with his pulsing beat—his power was nearly as twitchy as he was. Some of the vampire’s power lingered on him too. He must have been in the room longer than I’d thought, and probably closer to the body than he’d want the evidence techs to know. If I’d gotten here a bit earlier I might have snuck a small touch myself.
In order to get something more specific off the body, I’d have to touch it. And the medical man stood close by to prevent that very thing until he’d gotten the okay from his boss.
I frowned. Something else was here too. Vampiric, but different. Clearer. Through my closed lids I could almost see it. A blot in my vision of black, dark and shadowy like all things vampiric. But somehow thicker and blacker than the vampire above it.
I opened my eyes and blinked at the sudden brightness of the room around me. I took a step closer to the body and searched the floor with my eyes. There. Several feet away something shone under a poker table.
“Mac,” I called out, and shuffling sounded from behind me as I crouched by the dark wood table leg.
“You got something?” Mac asked.
“You have a glove?”
Mac reached into a pocket and handed me a purple nitrile glove. I pulled it on even though I didn’t intend to touch anything but the floor, and then pointed to a large coin leaning against the inside of the table leg. It had to have rolled there, to get to such an awkward spot at such an angle. Details were difficult to make out in the casino lighting and at our viewpoint, but it didn’t look like any poker chip I’d ever seen. And the circular shape looked wrong somehow, imperfect.
“Are you getting anything off of it?”
“Kind of. But to be able to match it to the owner I’ll have to touch it—with my skin. Inanimate objects don’t carry the juice to radiate much energy.”
Mac waved a tech over to take pictures and collect the coin. “We’ll get it processed ASAP.”
I stood and frowned. “Someone’s coming,” I murmured. And unlike the dark, inky blackness that signified vampire, this otherworlder’s energy shaded the area around it with a silvery tint. Like an afterimage from looking into a bright light or a scene washed in moonlight. And he smelled of fresh air. Where vampire energy moved slowly—and this vampire vic’s moved even less than normal since he was dead—the lycanthrope’s aura was wild, strong, fierce.
And this particular one, I recognized.
Lycanthropes were similar to werewolves of legend in that they were a heck of a lot stronger than humans, even in their human forms. And while they could shift, it was a difficult process that some never mastered. And the ones who didn’t, simply couldn’t shift—at least not without the help of a full moon and a pack. The ones who did—well I’d never seen one shift. Although I’d heard stories from paranormal unit veterans—or freak squad veterans, as normal cops liked to call us behind our backs—about the aftermath of violent crimes committed by shifted lycans or lycanthropes.
Those crimes ended with cops struggling to identify pieces of victims.
Mac pulled a small notebook from the inside of her jacket and started making notes. “So we’ve got a dead vamp hanging in the high-roller room of the fucking Magister’s casino ship. This is going to be a shitstorm.”
“But it won’t be your shitstorm,” A low voice said from behind me.
Damn. He was here, all right.
A shiver crawled up my spine. I mentally winced, but kept my face clear. And I could even see the man in my mind’s eye. Dark gray eyes that reflected in the right light marked him as a lycan, but the handsome face was a credit to simply awesome genetics. He wasn’t overly tall for a man, but not short either. Still, he seemed to pour into a room, filling it with his presence. And he towered over my four-foot-eleven-inch frame. His light brown hair was only a few shades darker than my sandy blond, but his chiseled features in perfect proportion gave him an edge in the looks department. His power was wild and raging like the beast that dwelt within the lycanthrope.
I turned around, just in time to see a flash of pain when his gaze met mine, gone so quickly I might have imagined it.
Snow—large fluffy flakes of it—fell onto my car as I drove back toward my townhouse in the northern suburbs of Chicago. Not the first snowfall of the winter, but the second. The first had fallen a week before and melted in an odd warm-up, making the still unfinished tiny backyard behind my townhouse into a muddy swampland. A state this snowfall would surely remedy. Luckily, at eleven at night, traffic wasn’t an issue.
Mason Sanderson. The man poked holes in my defenses. Originally a paranormal unit veteran, he’d moved off the freak squad into a very unpopular internal affairs position after the squad had been taken over by a normal—Lieutenant Vasquez.
I’d missed the lycan after he left, even though we hadn’t worked together on a daily basis like I did now with Claude. Missed his serious eyes, his intense expressions, and his ruggedly handsome features.
I sometimes wondered if I hadn’t chased him out of the Chicago Police Department and into the OWEA, but that was pretty darn unlikely. It was probably ambition that pushed him into the Otherworlder Enforcement Agency, just like ambition pushed some human cops into the FBI. The man had only kissed me once. And just because it had been the kind of toe-curling kiss people wrote songs about didn’t mean it had affected Mason like it had affected me.
He’d called it a mistake.
We’d been friends, I’d thought. Laughed about the same things, chatted after finishing up with crime scenes and at events we had both attended. A few times we’d actually talked. About things bordering on serious. But then, it happened. After following me outside on a beautiful night during a Christmas party held at a fellow freak squad member’s house, he’d kissed me. And we hadn’t talked since. When he’d been forced to talk to me because of cases, his responses had been short. And humorless.
The change had shocked me. Not made of stone, I’d noticed Mason plenty. But the idea that he’d be attracted to me hadn’t really crossed my mind. The intense stares I’d occasionally catch him levying in my direction had been purely my imagination. Or just the way he looked. I thought I had been reading too much into it.
Apparently, I’d been wrong.
I shook my head, trying to eliminate thoughts of the man, and pulled into my garage. I trudged into the house, fed my cat, and put on a fresh set of work clothes. I might as well make myself useful. And lazing about my townhouse with thoughts of Mason Sanderson on my mind was hardly useful.
I drove back downtown and reached the evidence lock-up area adjacent to the main police department offices at three twelve, according to the brightly lit clock on my Accord’s dash. A lone SUV was in the parking lot as I pulled in, its brake lights shining. When I got out of my car, I saw Jarvis doing the same.
“Hey.” I gave him an awkward wave before dropping my hand to my side.
“Hi,” he said, voice jovial and a big grin on his face. I toned my smile down a notch. No need to give the imp the wrong idea. Jarvis was a nice enough fellow, but imps in general creeped me out. Far too excitable.
“What brings you here so early—or late?” Jarvis asked. He carried a small box. The last of the evidence.
“Just thought I’d come by and see if I could get a reading off that coin while we still have it. I’m guessing the OWEA is taking over the investigation since Mason stopped by the crime scene,” I said.
He waved me ahead and we walked up to the door. “Mac got into it with him after you left. Guess they want to take over. The Magister asked the OWEA to look into it—his boat and all. But we settled on a joint investigation.”
As one of the most powerful vampires in the world, the Magister got what the Magister wanted. “Guess he’d want the best out there,” I said, not even attempting to keep the sarcasm from my tone.
Jarvis snorted. He opened the door for me, bracing the box he carried against a hip, and we stepped out of the cold into a building that was less cold, if not exactly warm.
The inside of the warehouse was nearly empty, save for one police officer manning the caged-off entrance into the large storage area where evidence was held. A large man, he looked like he was in his early fifties, and though he’d probably been in great shape once, his muscle had faded to fat.
Not everything would have been sent to the chilly, large building so quickly if the OWEA weren’t taking over the investigation. Much of it would have made its way to a smaller area in the actual station. But, with the OWEA assuming responsibility, the evidence was no longer the Chicago PD’s problem, so it had been sent here.
The big officer behind the desk waved at me. I’d seen him several times before, but he still took down my badge number and had me sign in.
“Should have some evidence delivered earlier from the casino case,” I told him.
“They just brought some stuff in about an hour ago.” He reached onto a set of shelves directly behind him and grabbed a couple of boxes. “Not sure what all’s come in yet.” He nodded to Jarvis. “You need to log that?”
“Yep,” the imp replied, eyes shifting from object to object in the room in a most unsettling manner. Imps.
I took the boxes to a large table next to the officer’s desk and opened the first one. Officer Donaldson handed Jarvis a form to fill out, and then returned to whatever he’d been doing on his computer before I arrived. Given the current hour, I suspected Solitaire.
I closed my eyes and turned so my back was to the officer. I held my hands, palms down, over the boxes and concentrated on my breath. In and out. Slow and steady. There. The coin I’d found at Casino Merveilleux was inside one of the boxes. I could sense the other evidence too. Not its form, but the energies that lingered on the material. The coin had to be made of an older metal, silver or gold or bronze. Those metals held onto energy better than more modern blends. It took a while to soak in, but once it was there, the energy could remain for years.
Besides, with how saturated this coin was, I was almost certain that its owner had held onto it for a very long time. Carried it on his person for decades, at least. Wherever the vampire had gotten it, he had obviously prized the coin.
I frowned. It didn’t feel quite like the vampire victim had. It felt older for one, and the dark vampiric energy that clung to it seemed stronger than it had in the man who’d been staked to the wall of the casino. Nothing else in the box pulled at me quite so strongly, so I opened the lid and pulled out the small evidence baggy containing the coin.
It had already been fingerprinted and samples from the surface had been taken, but I left it in the bag anyway. I itched to take it out, handle it to get a better feel for its owner, but I studied it first. The OWEA would want it kept as untouched as possible in case they decided to run additional tests. Unlike most people, I wasn’t afraid of Mason Sanderson. But I didn’t want to be accused of mishandling evidence either.
The surface was well-worn, and while I didn’t recognize the imagery or lettering on the coin, it looked very old. Bronze maybe. I could make out hints of the original pictures, even with how rubbed down they were. The face on one side supported my very-old theory, as if the chipped edges weren’t enough. The man’s profile revealed a full beard with some sort of headpiece that tied behind his head. Not a modern crown, but regal all the same. And the lettering was odd too, but had been rubbed away so much I couldn’t be sure of the alphabet.
The opposite side portrayed what I could only call an angel. But judging from the age of the coin, the winged person with the low slung wrap around his waist might have been something very different. I kept my hands loose around the coin and closed my eyes. A tighter grip would have been better, but not as evidence-friendly.
Otherworlder energy soaked the thing, and I could see and feel it in my mind. Dark and practically dripping from the object, the energy was purely vampiric. And strong. Something about it was almost hypnotic. But there was something else niggling at the edge of my senses. Not vampiric. I needed to get it out of the bag.
“Can I get you some coffee?” A voice asked from behind me, far too loudly.
My eyes flew open, and I almost turned and snapped at the well-meaning officer. “No, thank you. I’m fine,” I said, instead. Couldn’t he see that I was working?
“Well, I’ll be right back,” he said, then disappeared into a door near his desk. I took a deep breath, setting the coin back into the box. I replaced the lid and bit my lip. A vampire owner for sure. I was willing to bet that it wasn’t the vampire who had been strung up—the owner had to be older and more powerful than the victim had seemed—so who did it belong to? In reality, even if the spot of blood marring the coin’s surface belonged to the victim, that didn’t necessarily mean that it was owned by the killer.
But I found that unlikely. The vampire who’d owned the coin had held onto it for decades, if not centuries. To keep something—probably on your person—for that long…no. The owner wouldn’t have simply left it on the ground. He would have come back for it. He would have searched for it. Unless he couldn’t come back to that room for some reason, like because he’d just hung a body over a poker table.
I shook my head. It didn’t matter, not really. The murdered vampire was Mason’s problem now. I’d file my report and let him handle the rest. Or let him and Mac arm wrestle for it.
But, just a small touch wouldn’t hurt anything. And Mason would likely want information sooner rather than later. With that thought in mind, I reopened the box and pulled the coin out. I turned to wave Jarvis over. But, to my surprise, he already stood right behind me, watching the coin with interest.
“I’m going to touch this to get a better reading. You’re going to observe so if needed, you can testify to the fact that I didn’t manhandle it or dip it in blood, or whatever.”
Jarvis frowned. “Are you sure that’s a good idea? Shouldn’t you wait until the OWEA confirms they’ve already done their testing?”
I glared at the coin. I needed to touch it. Just a few seconds and I’d be able to ID the vamp if they could find him. I was sure of it. “It’ll just be for a sec.”
Jarvis took a step back, as if my decision would somehow contaminate him. I gripped the edge of the baggy, ready to slip it open. Then a pop sounded, and the world went black.