35th was a grab bag of commercial businesses and hidden residences, along with various retailers all fighting for prime storefronts. Located in the Garment District, Wesley’s part of 35th was a carnival of open front boutiques, wannabe designer stores standing in the shadow of big label designers and their money dripping window displays. The prominent retailers were crammed between fabric wholesalers, yarn and bobble shops, bulging brick walkups with computer repair and copy centers, and a whole lot of nameless doors that led to God knew where.
One of those mystery doors belonged to Wesley. A grey slab of limestone with a slight arch above the blocky address number was all the explanation the Senior Detective needed to know he was home. No signage screamed at him for dresses under seven dollars, and no chalkboard easels artistically whispered the soup of the day on his doorstep. He liked it that way.
After they’d made a pit stop at the Donohue residence, and then another stop at the Bureau to check on Jones, night had eventually claimed the sky. Some businesses had already rolled down the metal security gates over their entrances for the night. But most of the smaller shops and cafes still retained a neon or florescent wash of light to their front windows, for those last minute stragglers on their way home or to their next point of entertainment. Wesley wasn’t interested in any of it. He was dog tired.
Between being summoned all the way to LaGuardia at Donohue’s request and getting slammed with a new partner, a different kind of partner, to running on fumes since that bagel with veggie smear at six in the morning, Wesley just wanted to crawl into bed and sleep off the week. Never thought he’d think so, but thank God he had the next two days off, although he was supposed to use them to get Adrian “adjusted” to his surroundings.
The kid would survive on his own if Wesley didn’t wipe his ass for the next two days—not that he’d get anywhere near Adrian’s ass. The young detective was more likely to stab him repeatedly and cut his body into little pieces than bend over. Instead of being maimed, Wesley was going to sleep all he wanted. Donohue be damned.
Okay, maybe sleep with one eye open, Wes thought, peering at Adrian from under his lashes.
Wesley set down Adrian’s ridiculously heavy suitcase, aware of his new partner standing stupidly behind him, and fumbled for his keys. There were three locks for his street facing door and three more for the door up the stairs. He’d opted out of one of those street facing security keypads everyone was installing these days. One person overheard your password, or stood behind you to see the code and you were fucked. Nope. Wesley liked his locks old school, just like he was old school. Or depending on who you asked, he was just plain old.
Adrian leaned against the limestone façade next to Wesley, gazing hopelessly across the street at Maji’s, one of the many 24 hour Chinese bakery slash restaurants in the city. Wesley could kill for a cup of fresh sesame balls and a cold lychee shake with black tapioca, but he wasn’t giving in to Adrian’s puppy dog stare. That shit was an act; Adrian’s hungry eyes could flip murderous on a dime if given the wrong look. Wesley wasn’t up for being dismembered in his sleep. They could have leftovers for all Wesley cared. The kid wasn’t a baby. He didn’t need his hand held to cross the street if he wanted Maji’s so badly.
Then again I have all his money because he could run off if he had access to it. Dammit, he is a baby. This is babysitting!
Wesley unlocked the blacked out glass door and held it open for his new partner. Smooth, wide concrete stairs began after a few feet of marble tile. The short set of stairs rose to meet the main hallway, splashed with light after Wesley flipped on the switch inside. He enjoyed the soft inhale from Adrian when the stairwell finished coming to life. The walls were covered with squares of brass, copper, and distressed metals that made a mosaic out of the narrow space. Light sifted through the squares, backlighting the generous piece of art and the connecting hallway.
Wesley gestured for Adrian to go first. He received an eye roll in return. What the hell is with this kid, Wesley thought. What is his problem with me? I thought I had a fan club at the academy. Then Wesley reprimanded himself, aware he had been giving it right back to Adrian since they’d first met, and then when Adrian had been forced into the back seat with him. Once again when he’d made Adrian at least stand at the front desk with a Guard at the office. Basically they’d butted heads since LaGuardia with no stop in sight. Problem was, they were both stubborn and both wanted the lead role in this show. Unfortunately for Adrian, Wesley held the reins and the seniority in this partnership. Kid would have to deal.
Wesley was almost one hundred and ninety-four years old, a born and raised farm boy from the Midwest. At the age of twenty-two he joined the North in the Civil War, and became a military medic turned vampire solider after he’d used his gifts to take him overseas as a messenger. Many long years later he became a veteran detective for the Bureau. Adrian was a rosy-cheeked, rumored badass who wore a suit too big for him and probably still wore Superman pajamas to bed. Bloodstained Superman pajamas, Wesley added.
Adrian was still human to the rest of the world, unturned, and had a strange defect no other vampire had been born with to date. He was fresh out of the academy and looking for action, a move that would see him dead if he wasn’t careful. Wesley could almost reach out and touch the tragic backstory. He saw the need for revenge in Adrian’s eyes a mile away. Wesley had been there. They all had.
And with Wesley’s aggressive nature, coupled with his past pseudo-therapist relationship with Sutton, old Cap thought they would be a match made in heaven. In short, Donohue wanted Wesley to mentor this little shit and put a smile on his face while he did it. Maybe Wesley felt a bit guilty as he stood there glaring at the young man that had wolfish blue eyes and dark pink lips like some Disney princess. Then again Adrian wanted to be treated like everyone else, and Wesley wasn’t exactly friendly with anyone other than Sutton and his brood, and a few guys down at the Bureau. So Adrian and Wes stood at a crossroads—or on a sidewalk of busy 35th—and continued to stare at one another.
“You gonna go first or do you wanna stare at my ass as I lead the way?” Wesley said slowly so Adrian could pick up every word.
And Adrian did, catch on. Adrian’s scowl deepened. He slung his duffel through the threshold like a child wielding a battleax and marched up the concrete steps to the next floor. Wesley noticed Adrian’s suit jacket might be too big, but the pants were just right where it counted, stretching tightly over Adrian’s well-formed backside. Wes smirked and rolled Adrian’s suitcase into the foyer and locked the glass door up tight. He reset the motion activated security alarm and then purposely thumped the heavy suitcase up the stairs just to piss off his sexy, moody shit for a partner.
At no time in his life had Adrian had a permanent residence or the prospect of one. To him, remaining in one place longer than a week was to be caged. Having a key to a lock he would use over and over, feeling the need to clean a place and not because of blood stains and having a bed that recognized the shape of his body scared him senseless. How did people manage this fear, he wondered. How is it possible to live a life in the same place every day and not get caught?
He had to remind himself for the thousandth time that he wasn’t on the run anymore—hadn’t been for a long time. No one was being chased or caught any longer. Adrian’s life had changed drastically. He wasn’t taking it very well.
He avoided Wes’s probing stare and moved away from the front door so the giant could unlock it. The lighted wall behind them cast their shadows against the floor, soft silhouettes in a hallway that was warm and smelled strangely of tobacco smoke and dryer sheets, of home.
I’ve never been home, Adrian thought. I can’t do this.
The man next to him radiated heat, forcing it upon Adrian. Adrian tried not to squirm in Wes’s presence, fought not to look to the right and catch those dark gray eyes that looked like a storm on the horizon.
If ever a man looked like a high ranking detective, it was Wesley Durren. Black pants, white dress shirt and black tie under his thoroughly used khaki trench coat. The hint of a gun holstered at his hip and the slight bulge along his forearm where a thin knife sheath fit perfectly. Broad shoulders and a strong chest not even the trench coat could hide. Salt and pepper with a shock of silver near his temples, Wes’s hair was short and cut into a sharp, straightforward military style that stood to attention near his hairline.
It made Wes’s facial features more pronounced, the way his short sideburns gave way to the strong line of his square jaw. The way the small peak in his hairline arrowed down, begging anyone to scan the steep slope of his long nose, and further down to his sensually curved lips. But it was Wes’s eyes that scared Adrian more than anything. Back at the airport when Wes had reeled Adrian in from running away, those charcoal eyes had locked onto his and Adrian swore he could feel every bit of himself seize in shock.
There was something alluring about Wes’s eyes—and not because he was a vampire—that Adrian never wanted to see again. He would look anywhere but into those eyes for the rest of his stay, until Nina wizened up and gave him his Hunter status back. Not going to happen, you idiot. You can’t go back there. She made it impossible. Adrian scowled at the wall until his exhaustion made it physically unbearable to stay angry. He forgot where he was for a moment. Only until a hand touched his shoulder and Adrian jumped, reaching for his sidearm out of habit.
The gun Sutton had given him before they’d parted ways was out and pointed at Wes’s face. Adrian was surprised to find the muzzle of a Glock G21level with his nose, maybe a Gen 7 or possibly… Adrian’s eyes lit up. He pushed his own gun back into his holster and flipped the snap shut. Adrian ignored Wes’s rigid stance and the fact that a loaded gun was pointed at his face to tilt his head at the weapon.
This is a Gen 8. Holy mother, I wish… Adrian ran his finger in a circle over the muzzle, spellbound by the cold, silver metal and the extended barrel length of five point six inches, as well as the latest modular backstrap design hidden by Wes’s fingers that offered a seven way grip. Seven ways to kill... This is art!
Before Adrian could continue his exploration of the Glock, it was whisked to Wes’s side, out of Adrian’s reach. Adrian huffed. He snarled up at Wes, and then regretted his mistake. Those charcoal eyes bore into him, cut him a look full of what the ever-loving fuck. Wes looked from his gun to Adrian several times before he pushed the door open and just waited. He said nothing, only stared at Adrian like he had three heads and was speaking in tongues.
The first time they could have shared something together and Wes shut Adrian down. That’s because Wes is not your friend or anyone to share anything with. He’s her eyes. He’s the one who will report back to her and your uncle. He doesn’t care what you want. You don’t have friends here… or ever. This isn’t home. Don’t forget that.
Adrian eyed the Glock with longing. He took his duffel bag, slung it over his shoulder and entered Wes’s home, his new prison. Adrian imagined Wes to be just like the others, enjoying a pretentious household full of antiquities and trinkets of old, or squandering away his money on state of the art modern digs. Adrian was astonished to see neither.
The scent of tobacco was heavier in the main room. A giant glass ashtray sat alone on a side table. A clunky black chest was placed in front of a black leather sofa that had seen better days. The three pieces of furniture sat atop a red area rug, and on the main wall of the living room was an average size flat screen television, a dark rectangle of metal underneath it. Soft track lighting ran in a strip across the ceiling and that was it. This was Wesley Durren in a box—minimal, practical, and void of any personal touches.
Just like me. Adrian turned enough to see Wes move around the front door area. The Senior Detective shut the door, locked it up tight, and then took off his coat and hung it on a rack on the wall. His keys went into his pocket, a sign of distrust as Adrian had noticed Wes going for the side table before he thought better of it. To Adrian’s further surprise, Wes turned to him and signed, “I will get a set of keys made for you tomorrow.”
Reading Wes was easy and hard all at the same time. While Wes’s body spoke in a way Adrian was accustomed to deciphering, Wes’s face was a blank slate. Something about the way Wes’s shoulders relaxed when he signed told Adrian he was sincere. But the intense way he stared when he moved his hands for Adrian was stern, kind of like Adrian was being stripped to the core, bared naked in front of a stranger.
The naked part he could handle if they were talking clothes and Adrian would never see Wes again. But there was an intimacy to Wes’s gaze, the way his eyes bled virtually black; his inner monologue probably a hell of lot more interesting than what he had going with his hands. Adrian shivered under scrutiny. He moved his bag near the trunk to keep busy, to get the fuck out from under Wes’s all-knowing eyes. He waited for what seemed like forever for Wes to move.
Wes simply stepped in front of him again. “Keys. You want them or not? When I ask you a question, I would like an answer. It’s called conversation.”
Adrian shrugged. Maybe I don’t want to talk to you, asshole. He shivered again. And it’s cold in here, too cold to sleep. Tell me you have heat and this place isn’t as old as you act.
Wes went to the metal box under the television and kicked something at the bottom of the wall. At first nothing happened. Adrian thought Wes was about to get angry with him as Adrian seemed to bring the frustration out of anyone. And then the box flickered, a tiny flame behind a glass screen. Adrian took a step away, his gaze locked on the small flame as it grew. Another joined its brother. Adrian took a larger step backward.
When the electric fireplace lit up in all its glory, Adrian gasped and plastered his back against the wall. He couldn’t breathe, air refused to fill his lungs. Paralyzed with fear he choked a plea for Wes to make it go away. His fingers hurt from curling into fists. His throat was dry with a silent scream. There was no telling what Wes was saying, or screaming going by the look on his face.
The Senior Detective blocked Adrian’s view of the flames. His hands gripped Adrian’s shoulders, shaking the Hunter until he was limp in Wes’s arms. Over Wes’s shoulder, Adrian was able to see the flames dance and lick at the glass screen. His imagination twisted each tendril of fire until he saw his father’s face inside. He put his face in Wes’s neck, forced to endure those thick arms around him because they were all that kept him standing.
Minutes ticked by with his eyes shut, his fingers burrowing into Wes’s back, anything that allowed Adrian to calm down. He realized Wes’s grip had softened and his hips moved back and forth, rocking Adrian’s fear into submission. Adrian yanked out of Wes’s arms and faced the wall. He pointed to the fireplace, or in the vicinity as he couldn’t directly see it.
“Turn it off,” he croaked. He had no idea if the words sounded right or what Wes’s reaction was to hearing his voice. But he took a chance for the sake of his sanity.
Fire was Adrian’s nemesis above any fear or weakness he possessed. He would rather go cold than warm himself next to a fire’s heat. He hated candles and fireplaces, he hated lighters and blowtorches and matches. Anything with a flame, he wasn’t having it. While it limited his methods a bit, Adrian had found ways around his fear like most people used a nightlight for their fear of the dark. But a full blown fire when Adrian was already at maximum stress capacity had done him in, and revealed his secret to Wesley Durren.
First stripped of his status, then stuck with Wes, cradled in his arms and rocked like a baby all in the span of a few days and Adrian was about ready to blow his brains out. To further escalate his need for a caretaker, his stomach rumbled under his hand. Adrian cursed silently and braced his hand against the wall while he panted for air. I can’t take anymore. Please, no more right now.
Wes was standing behind him. His presence heralded by a shift of air and the smell of light cologne. Adrian turned but didn’t look at his babysitter. He moved past the now darkened fireplace to explore on his own. He wasn’t giving Wes a damn explanation. They weren’t having “the talk”. One look at Wes… Yeah. Not going there. Adrian didn’t get very far before Wes stopped him by grabbing his shoulder.
And there it was: concern. Wes wasn’t going to let it go, and had Adrian been a man like Wes, someone who lived a normal life he would have been concerned too. Fact was: Adrian wasn’t normal, far from it.
“Care to share?”
Adrian shook his head. He narrowed his eyes, targeting a point over Wes’s shoulder. Wes’s finger tapped Adrian’s chin, forcing the newly inducted Guard to give Wes his attention.
“Can I turn up the heat for you?”
Yes. Oh, yes. Adrian huffed softly, floating on a cloud as Wes did his voodoo stare again. Adrian blinked, snapping out of it before his scent gave away something that smelled like arousal. He shook his head.
Wes arched a brow. “I’ll turn it up. You’re shaking and I’m cold too.”
You’re worried about the cold? And you don’t have an opinion on my freak out? I just bet. Adrian narrowed his eyes at Wes, challenging back. To his deranged dismay Wes went through a set of narrow French doors on the right and turned on the light. A kitchen was illuminated. Not some modern foodie paradise but a modest kitchen made for the standard way of life. It was small yet somehow not crammed, and painted a dusky blue.
An old fashioned thermostat rotated under Wes’s hand near the wall, and a corresponding kick sounded from the vents throughout the place. While he was at it, Wes opened the refrigerator. Adrian licked his lips but didn’t beg for his dinner. It wasn’t like Wes had much to offer anyway. A cup of yogurt and some dead, leafy green thing on the top shelf didn’t sound appetizing in the least.
Wes finished in the kitchen and brushed past Adrian, taking his duffel bag away from him. Adrian didn’t understand the hospitality. He wasn’t accustomed to having strangers be nice to him just for the hell of it, normally a busboy would pay extra attention to him for a few bucks, or the bitter old women behind the desk of the local inns wouldn’t give him the time of day unless he flashed them some cash.
Probably doing his job for Nina, Adrian groused. He probably has to like me for the sake of his paycheck. Or maybe he thinks I’m going to kill him if he isn’t nice to me. He has to know by now. He probably got his own little black envelope with my picture in it. Adrian frowned at Wes’s back as they walked through another room with a set of metal stairs. Remember, Adrian, he isn’t your friend. Don’t let your guard down, no pun intended.
His stomach protested hunger again. Wes checked over his shoulder quickly, but kept walking. Damn him. What the fuck does he want now? He probably thinks you’re crazy, Adrian. First you pull a gun on him. Then you freak out over a fireplace. And now he’s checking to see if you’re readying a shiv while he isn’t looking. He should be scared of me. I’m supposed to be scary. But not anymore, right. I’m supposed to be dull. I’m supposed to fit in and work this job like everyone else.
For once Adrian was happy with the silence. He was glad he didn’t hear Wes mutter something awful about him—not to say he would care. Though a small part did care, what Wes thought was imperative to Adrian’s status report to Nina. And maybe… maybe it wasn’t so bad to have a partner this time. Maybe he’d been alone for so long that he just now felt how alone he was here in the city, and this companionable silence was a good thing, meant just because they weren’t speaking they didn’t know the other was there.
Fuck that, Adrian. He’s hot, so what? That’s all this is, you think Wes is sexy and possibly smarter than he lets on. He’s the enemy here, Nina’s ass kissing monkey boy. Do your job and get out of here as fast as you can, and stop getting cozy. This isn’t home. He isn’t your real partner—that man died ten years ago.
Wes stopped abruptly. Adrian almost slammed into him. He played it cool and leaned against the wall, although, his heart was beating loud enough for any vampire to hear. He squinted at Wes’s questioning look, and nodded at the door. Wes shook his head, rolled his eyes, and slid open a pocket door to a small room at the back of the apartment. The light flicked on, nothing special to be seen. A full sized bed with a handmade quilt. A dresser that came up to Adrian’s waist. And a closet with a door half the size of a normal one. It was the perfect cell for Wes’s new inmate.
After dropping Adrian’s bag on the ground, Wes turned to Adrian. “Not much, but the bed is comfortable. If you need more furniture or a… lamp or anything, let me know. Plenty of places to get that stuff around here.”
“A lock for the door?”
Wes rubbed his face, and shook his head again. “Won’t take one. The doorframe is too small to have a regular door, and I’m not trying to renovate. Sorry.” He shrugged.
“I bet you are,” Adrian blurted before he could stop himself. He narrowed his eyes at Wes, like it was his fault, and then looked away quickly.
Instead of touching Adrian again, not risking his life after the last incident, Wes stepped into Adrian’s line of sight and bent down to get his attention. He stood up as Adrian turned to him. “I didn’t want this either, A-D-R-I-A-N. But so far it’s not bad, better than my last few partners. You can actually use a gun.” Wes smiled a little. “I don’t want to fight over something I can’t change. And you don’t want to end up in prison. I’m not threatening you. I’m trying to make this work, for both of our sakes.”
Leary of his situation, Adrian avoided those thoughtful charcoal eyes and sighed. Prison, now there was a place he refused to go, and he’d been everywhere the earth could handle him. Prison was a sentence worse than death. It would be a place he had no rights, or freedom, or hope. Even Hunters had hope—hope got them through another day, the hope of being alive long enough to carry out another mission.
And as rough as his social techniques were, Adrian still realized when he was in the wrong. He wouldn’t admit that to anyone, but none of this was Wes’s fault. Torn between giving in to this stable lifestyle where Wes would become an important part of his world, and giving up the dream of becoming a Hunter again was hard. He couldn’t have it both ways. Adrian knew that. Nonetheless, he wanted them both. He’d always wondered what it would have been like to be a normal vampire child with a normal home and normal parents, to one day hold a job like this, a detective.
But he hadn’t been raised that way, and so he criticized the other half’s lifestyle even though he didn’t know much about them. All he’d seen was the worst of the worst, been exposed to death and vanity and power since birth. Giving up his Hunter status was to give up on his family’s purpose. And deep inside he already knew Nina had no intention of letting him go back.
But he wasn’t ready for this—a bed, a friend, a place to call his own, a life that connected to that of many others and tied him down. His epiphany was harsh, a kick in the gut. He wasn’t going back.
Adrian looked down at the handmade quilt and swallowed. This room, this place… his queen wanted him here instead. He mourned his past silently. He was afraid to look at Wes because showing emotion in front of a stranger was bad for his game, and with the fire incident Adrian had a few marks against him already. Adrian knew the minute he saw Wes he would lose his strength, the thin veil he hid behind as his world shattered into thousands of tiny pieces.
They stood there at an impasse, Wes staring at Adrian, and Adrian staring at his bed. “When you talk to her, tell her I’ll do this.” Adrian glanced over his shoulder, comfortable to keep his eyes on Wes’s lips. Whether Wes’s deep frown was because of Adrian’s ugly voice or at the significance of his statement, Adrian didn’t know and he tried not to care. “And tell I’m sorry I’m so terrible she couldn’t tell me herself.”
“Who are you talking about?” The Hunter untangled Wes’s words from those tempting lips.
Adrian scoffed. He paced to other side of the small room to get away from Wes. Mid growl, Adrian spun on his heel and pointed at Wes. “Don’t mess with me!”
Wes’s brows shot up. He lifted his hands, palms facing Adrian. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He locked eyes with Adrian, and it was like a light went off in his head. He inhaled sharply. The fight brewing in his eyes dissipated and his shoulders slumped. “You mean her, the Queen.”
“You know damn well who I meant. Do us both a favor and don’t play stupid with me. She certainly isn’t dumb. She knows exactly what she has done to me, and I know why you’re doing this.” Adrian hung his head, studying his hands that curled into fists.
It wasn’t until Adrian was able to see Wes’s boots stop in front of him that he looked up. Wes shook his head. He didn’t touch Adrian but the former Hunter felt Wes’s presence like hands on his body. That made Adrian uncomfortable, for a man to make such an impression on him, sexual or otherwise. He’d never deviated from his routine before, never spoken aloud so often or easily, and he’d never reacted to another person like he did Wes. One look at Wes’s eyes seduced Adrian away from his carefully built internal fortress inch by excruciating inch.
Not that Wes was trying to coerce him into anything sexual. Actually Wes looked rather tired and grumpy. The man merely oozed erotic promise Adrian was all too eager to collect on, bags under the Senior Detective’s eyes and all. Adrian scowled, willing away his overactive imagination and stepped back from Wes.
Wes rolled his eyes, a habit Adrian noted he did a lot. Maybe that was just for him. “I’m not working for her. Well, I mean, I do technically.” He shrugged and licked his lips. “But I’m not under any orders from her to be nice to you. I took you in because you looked like you would rather eat broken glass than stay with your Uncle. Am I right?”
Adrian sniffed and looked away. He crossed his arms, aware he came off as a spoiled brat. He didn’t much care. He knew he wasn’t spoiled. Just set in his ways like any normal male. “They lied to me. He lied to me.”
Calloused fingertips guided Adrian’s face back to Wes. The gesture made Adrian’s skin crawl. He hated gentle and kind like he hated roaches in a slummy motel. More than the gesture itself Adrian despised how, if he wasn’t skilled in the art of deception and didn’t have better control than most, he would have dropped his guard to have that hand linger against his chin a little longer. “He lied to me too. But he is still my friend, and you are still his family. And right now you don’t have a choice in the matter.”
Wes’s fingertips felt like they were burning through Adrian’s chin. A thousand things came to mind when Adrian thought of what to say to Wes, what hateful words he could spit back like venom to this complete stranger who had taken a chance on a killer and allowed him into his home. But when Adrian tried to speak, none of the words seemed right. Not one angry slash of his hands could describe how he felt right now. He didn’t even know how he felt. Confused. Lonely. Angry and betrayed… He couldn’t decide on just one.
Adrian had never been a gracious man or a forgiving kind of person. That wasn’t his nature or how he’d been raised. Although, when it came to Wes, Adrian knew Wes was the first person he’d encountered who didn’t approach with caution, who didn’t treat him like a contagious disease. Wes didn’t ask questions but he still got results, and still managed to weasel answers out of Adrian.
“Aren’t you afraid of me?”
Wes smiled, a small twitch of his lips. He nodded, followed with a broad shouldered shrug meant to ease the tenderness between them. Wes switched it up, forgoing speech for his hands. “We are all afraid of things we don’t understand. I might be afraid of you, but you should also be afraid of me.” Wes searched Adrian’s eyes, decided he wasn’t getting an answer, and then went to Adrian’s bedroom door. He turned, enough for Adrian to read his lips. “I’m going out. I’ll be back shortly. Bathroom is across the hall and don’t forget your shit in the living room. Try not to burn the place down while I’m gone.”
Adrian flinched, imagining the entire building in flames. Wes didn’t notice. Adrian watched in amazement as Wes turned sideways to fit his shoulders through the narrow door. After the wood panel slid shut Adrian spun in a slow circle and stopped again at the door. Wes had left him alone. He had left the man he was supposed to babysit alone in his house to do whatever he pleased, unworried of the consequences. Adrian put his hands on hips, trying to think of a reason for this. Was it a test? Or was this not actually a prison, and he really wasn’t an inmate after all.
Maybe, just maybe, Wes was giving him time to breathe like any decent person would have after what Adrian had been through. Deep down, Wes had to know Adrian was as far from decent as one could get, and didn’t like to be pitied because he didn’t deserve anyone’s kindness. Jumbled and alone, Adrian pondered his new situation. He didn’t quite grasp what this all meant, what Wes was to him or how this would work from here on out.
He did know he was intrigued by Wesley Durren. And in the strange silence that followed for the next forty-five minutes, Adrian established he was equally afraid of Wes as Wes was of him. The unknown was a hard thing to swallow for someone who always had control of every situation. Nevertheless, Adrian decided he was going to take it day by day because he was no longer the man in control.
With his suitcase and duffel bag unloaded and stored, Adrian took a shower and walked back to his room, absently drying his hair with a towel. He stopped at the door, suspicious of the white plastic bag with a giant smiley face on it. Adrian crouched near the ground. He inhaled deeply, pleased by a delicious aroma that could only be one thing. Upon further inspection of the bag, he hungrily eyed three white take away containers, a plastic fork and a Styrofoam cup with a straw.
Adrian checked the darkened end of the hallway. Bluish light flickered through the open archway, washing the wall with fuzzy movement. Wes was watching television, a luxury Adrian hadn’t the time or the need to indulge in. Not up for another awkward conversation, Adrian carefully picked up his dinner and slipped inside his room, where he scarfed down the Chinese food without even tasting it.
It was the best meal he had ever had and the first meal in a long time he hadn’t procured for himself. In fact, it was the first time he’d had dinner at dinnertime. And the hundredth time today he was reminded that Wes’s gesture was not out of the ordinary, but normal, a normal thing people did for each other. The remnants of Wes’s peace offering were still on Adrian’s tongue when he snatched the quilt off the mattress, turned off the lights, and then slithered underneath his bed. For the next two hours Adrian watched the sliver of light from underneath his door for signs of movement.
Wes hadn’t slept well. All of his plans for slumming through his two days off were dashed when he couldn’t go back to sleep upon waking up at six in the morning. A strange burst of energy had him up and showered and starting a list of groceries all by seven. By nine he’d loaded down the front hall with grocery bags and basic provisions he hadn’t stocked in a while. With the help of a well tipped cabbie, all of the bags made it inside.
Wes purposely kept himself distracted from thinking too hard all morning. When he finally found himself with a clean house, a well-stocked fridge, and absolutely nothing on television, he started to panic. The house was too quiet. Adrian couldn’t still be sleeping. Or maybe he could. Was he still in the house at all? And if he was, what was he planning now?
Last Wes had seen of Adrian, things had gone from bad to downright terrifying. It had been a little after midnight when Wes had gone to check on his new roommate. Spy, check on, whatever. Through a crack in the door, Wes had been alarmed to find Adrian not in his bed. The bedding was gone, yet all of Adrian’s belongings were still there.
Only after Wes had spotted a tuft of blanket peeking out from the end of the bed had he crouched to the ground and put his head near the floor. There under the bed had been Adrian. The warrior was rolled up in his quilt, clutching a gun in both hands with the muzzle pointed at the bottom of the door, which happened to be near Wes’s forehead.
Wes’s heart had stopped for a minute. He’d made sure Adrian was really asleep before pushing to his feet, and tiptoeing to the door as quietly as he could. After that there was no way Wes could go back to sleep. And now, hours later, he was starting to tire. Instead of going back to bed to let Adrian roam unsupervised when he did wake up, Wes started making a late breakfast.
He had scrambled eggs going in one pan and some bacon in the other when his phone went off on the counter. “I thought I had the day off,” he answered.
“I’m afraid plans have changed,” Sutton returned somberly. “I’ve already sent Adrian a text, don’t wake him yourself if he’s not already up. Trust me.”
“Thanks for the late warning. Found Kill Bill under the bed with a gun pointed at my head earlier. You’re lucky he was still out or I would have haunted your ass for eternity.” Wes thought back to last night’s game of hide and seek under the bed. He looked out the tiny kitchen window at the barrage of delivery trucks in the alley. Everything was normal, except for Wes’s best friend. Sutton was too silent. He didn’t reciprocate Wes’s morning banter as he often did, or offer up any explanation to Adrian’s strange behavior which was also unlike him. He didn’t leave people in the dark, and if he did there was a good reason to. “Want to tell me what’s up?”
“An Academy Instructor was found dead this morning, had been dead for at least two days. Our overseas investigators are positive he died graduation night.”
Wes set down the spatula, breakfast could wait when work came calling. He curled his fingers around the edge of the stove. “On the premises or…? Please tell me this wasn’t public.”
“It was an inside job, Wesley. On Academy property, by someone who knew the layout and the victim, and by someone extremely skilled. Briggs’s corpse was found in basement storage where he kept his office by a janitor. No one alerted us of his disappearance until today because Briggs had put in for a full week’s vacation after graduation. Classes didn’t resume until after break anyhow, made sense to want some time off.”
Wes tensed. Briggs had been an instructor at the academy ever since it opened. He was a kind, patient, and deadly man, perfect for molding soon to be vampires and new turns into the next line of protection for the Queen’s army. He would have known if he was being stalked after that many years of experience. “You think the killer knew Briggs? That could be anyone, Sutt. He was a very well connected man.”
“Either that or Briggs was taken by surprise. And I’m sure I don’t need to tell you to take Briggs by surprise would require effort and skill; expertise surpassing that of an academy student.”
Wes transferred the food to two plates when he heard the shower start up down the hall. He glanced into the empty hall and eyed the bathroom door with suspicion. “Cause of death?”
“The heart was cut out, a clean removal, Wesley. Whoever did this knew what they were doing, surgical enthusiast or had been in the field. As it stands we don’t have an ID on the killer, no motive that makes sense and nothing concrete to go on until the techs at the academy finish sending us video footage. In this line of work we have enemies. That said Briggs was in a safe, contained environment for the past thirty years. The surrounding community is quaint and family oriented, looked after by a large team of Guards. If Briggs had really upset someone they would have killed him years ago. Why now? Why Briggs? How, in our own house could this happen?”
“I don’t know.” Wes leaned against the counter. As much as he wanted to process and grieve Briggs’s death, they didn’t have time for that. “You say the janitor found him? What do we have on this guy?”
“Clean record. He’s worked for the academy since 2011. One human-turned parent changed in the late nineties by his mate. And both his parents are still alive and well, living in Belgium; they spoke highly of him, good son, doting uncle, no past trauma or incidents. The janitor was questioned and passed his interview, not one lie, Wesley. And we’re still trying to locate Briggs’s phone and computer. The janitor and his room were searched. They found nothing.”
Wes shut his eyes at the sound of the shower curtain dragging along the metal bar. “You know we’re not going to find them. If Briggs’s death was the beginning of a terrorist move on the academy, don’t you think the murderer would be after insider knowledge, including access to a secure database? Every Guard, every Royal with lineage to speak of, safe houses, Guard movement… That’s valuable to anyone across the tracks.”
Sutton sighed. “I thought you might come to the same conclusion. I wanted your perspective before I went any further. I didn’t want to break out the big guns, or jump on the terrorist train until I’d talked to you.”
“I’m not the Captain here. You are, Sutt. My perspective—”
“Means a lot to me, my friend.”
Wesley froze on instinct. Slowly, he turned to find Adrian seated at the breakfast bar on the other side of the counter. He’d opened the shutters that separated the kitchen from the living room, and was now lifting his plate to the bar. Adrian stopped when Wes turned around, and looked from Wes to his plate. Water droplets hit the counter every few seconds, dripping from Adrian’s damp curls to puddle near his plate. Hot and scary—that about summed Adrian Donohue up.
Admittedly startled, Wes still urged Adrian to start eating with his hand. He gave Adrian his back again, eyes wide. Fucking spook. “What are we dealing with here, Sutton?”
Sutton hummed. Wes heard him clicking away at his computer. “There isn’t an operating enemy coven or traitor cell in the academy’s vicinity. We would have known about them and cleaned house the moment we heard chatter. Either our murderer knew Briggs and they had something going on, or this was the work of a sent assassin from a coven abroad just getting started. I believe cutting out the heart, a seemingly personal way to die, was a message left for another recipient.”
“Dramatic death—could mean a bunch of things, Sutt. Lovers, a broken heart, Briggs stole their heart and didn’t want to participate. But I think you’re right, it’s a message for someone else. The killer had to have known we’d find Briggs’s body that way, and appreciate the time and effort that went into extracting the heart.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of. If it wasn’t a personal vendetta against Briggs to take him out, who was the message meant for, Wesley?” Sutton growled. “I’m calling everyone in today. Feist is already pissed at me for pairing him with Boy Wonder as he calls him, maybe he’ll be pleased to find out there’s going to be a task force after all. We have a dead Instructor, a killer at large in the vampire community, and the Guardians will not come scooping this up from up. We are Guards. We will avenge our own.”
“I get you want our perspective as a whole on this, Sutt. I understand the need to nab this guy and string him up by his ankles for everyone to throw rocks at, but why are you involving the American-based Guards? This will be high profile. Aren’t the Guardians supposed to be in on this action? It happened in France, Sutt…”
“I said I didn’t know why this was done or who exactly this was a message for.”
“What aren’t you telling me?” Wes shivered when Adrian put his plate in the sink and looked up inquisitively. Wes hadn’t heard him move at all. Wes held up a finger to his sleepy eyed partner. “Spit it out, Sutt.”
“We received an anonymous package at the front desk less than an hour ago. This became our case when Briggs’s heart showed up on our doorstep.”
Wes couldn’t hide the surprise from his face. He had no idea what to say to Briggs’s former student, who poked his arm. Wes looked at Adrian. He frowned and then rubbed a hand over his jaw. A heart? A freaking heart?! Merry Christmas, Adrian. “We’re on our way.”
Adrian’s hair was still damp and smelled of simple soap as Wes walked by and took his plate into the living room. He heard Adrian’s bare feet slapping behind him. Wes heard the questions even as silence reigned supreme. This wasn’t the first time Wes had been the bearer of bad news, death notices, primarily to loved ones. And while Briggs hadn’t been family to Adrian, or what one would call close, there was always a certain bond between student and teacher, especially Guard and Instructor. It was like the Karate Kid losing Mr. Miyagi, only ten times worse.
Briggs had been a highly respected man by everyone who met him. He let a man be himself out there but he also made sure his men were equipped with every bit of knowledge he had. Losing Briggs was a bigger deal than Wes could explain. Somehow he knew Adrian would feel the same.
Adrian left the seat next to Wes empty in favor of sitting on the trunk in front of Wes. For a man who liked his space, Adrian sure was getting in Wes’s personal bubble a lot. “Where are we going?”
Wes ate a few bites. He looked up, wondering how such an innocent looking man could be so lethal. He was scared to tell Adrian. Wes didn’t know how he’d react. “We were called in on assignment.”
“What is it?” Eager—Adrian was eager to sink his teeth into a case. His warm, sleepy appeal took a back seat to the scent of action, perking his blue eyes right up. The situation would be even shoddier for Wes since this was bound to be a personal ordeal to Adrian, a freshly graduated rookie. Briggs’s death would pluck some kind of reaction from Adrian, most likely a terrifying one.
“There’s been a high profile murder,” he mouthed.
Adrian squinted. He took Wes’s plate from Wes’s lap and stole his fork, stabbing it into some eggs. “Who?” he demanded.
“Briggs.” Wes held his breath. He watched subtle dreams of attempted murder fade away from Adrian’s eyes. Adrian’s jaw relaxed and he sat back on the trunk. And then he swallowed and stood up. He walked away without a word, leaving his pilfered breakfast plate behind.
“I don’t know if that’s better or worse,” Wes muttered, taking back his breakfast. Eyes fixated on the living room archway.
A few minutes later Adrian came back fully dressed with a beat up leather jacket in place to hide his guns. Some combat boots on his feet, all laced up to keep his knives hidden. Wes thought wearing knives that low to the ground was dumb and made for a dead Guard. But in Adrian’s case, he was a hell of a lot more flexible and quicker than Wes. Who was Wes to tell Adrian where to put his knives? Wes wasn’t a former top secret hit man for the queen. And he wasn’t stupid enough to tell a killer in some strange phase of grief how to operate.
“Get dressed.” Adrian smacked his hands together. A snarl flared his nostrils that sent Wes into gear. Wes gulped down a few bites of eggs, took a piece of bacon for the road, and then headed up the stairs in the small room off the hall to his bedroom. He heard what sounded like Adrian sliding down the wall in the living room. Not exactly the way he’d envisioned this going, but Wes would take it. He knew his rookie partner had held back his real reaction, the unshed violence just boiling his veins up to let it out. For whatever reason, Adrian had walked away from Wes; his version of counting to ten.
That took a lot of control in Wes’s book. For a minute Wes thought he was goner. Who the hell knew how close Briggs had been with Adrian? Wes got his answer, a pained shade of blue in Adrian’s eyes before he stormed off. Whether Briggs knew what he’d meant to Adrian or not, Wes could only hope for that kind of respect from Adrian. A killer that mourned silently… How lonely.
A Bureau vehicle came around Wes’s place fifteen minutes later. They drove to headquarters with Davis playing chauffeur. Fontine sat next to his partner up front, silent as a statue. Between the thick tension and Adrian’s fingers fluttering over the pulse at his wrist every few seconds, Wes was about ready to scream. He shook his head, sitting back for a long ride through traffic.
“Gonna be like this all day or what?” he muttered. Wes glanced at Adrian and grabbed his fingers in a tight squeeze. “Cut it out,” he mouthed.
“Forgive us for not intruding on the honeymoon back there,” Fontine said.
“Honeymoon?” Wes barked a laugh. He swatted at Adrian’s hands, fending off an attack. Finally he bested his partner, grabbing both of Adrian’s wrists in an iron grip.
Adrian leaned into Wes. His blue eyes were a bit smoky due to the sunglasses atop Wes’s nose, but there was definitely some kind of heat coming from the kid. His face neared like he was going in for a kiss. At the last second, before their mouths could meet, Adrian’s lips brushed over Wes’s jaw line. He craned his neck, hot breath rolling across Wes’s ear. Wes could only stay very still while his cock hardened below. “I’ll fucking kill you,” Adrian whispered, and then yanked Wes’s hands up and brought his right knee into Wes’s chest. Hard.
Fontine and Davis cheered from the front when Wes roared. “Point for the rookie!” Davis cracked a smile in the rearview mirror.
Wes seethed. He let Adrian go to rub his chest where his partner had whacked his kneecap like some samurai yogi. How was there even enough room to do that back here? Wes looked sideways at Adrian. Sitting side by side, Wes was the taller of the two. He used his scant inches to lean over Adrian, cramp him into the corner, and all while shielding his balls with a ready hand. Wes moved in close, close enough to lick Adrian’s lips for him. “Not if I kill you first.” Wes winked and eased back into his seat. Point made.
The two stared at each other from opposing corners for the next half hour. Smiles died. Silence thick as molasses filled the vehicle. All four Guards couldn’t wait to get to out of their four-door confines. Wes was just anxious. Adrian wasn’t going to be a piece of cake. Briggs’s death meant something to the rookie; it meant something to all of them. What disturbed Wes more than Briggs’s death was the predatory gleam in Adrian’s eye; like he couldn’t wait to slit throats and take names to avenge his deceased instructor.
It dawned on Wes then. Adrian wasn’t some stone cold killer. Well, maybe he was in some sense. But the death he brought about had a purpose, a way of unburdening his soul. Adrian had been raised to avenge. He’d been raised to hunt villains, spooks, and monsters under the bed. He’d been conditioned to be unafraid, to be selfless on his never ending quest for justice.
Every hero had a fear—even Adrian. Adrian’s problem with fire made sense to Wes, if his conclusions were accurate on that account. But Wes wanted to know what really scared Adrian, what fueled him to keep going, why he continued to crave death like air. All Guards wanted to kill their enemy and keep their people safe at the end of the day. They also wanted to go home to their families or simply take a load off and recuperate, try to forget the blood and dead bodies.
But Adrian, this was his life. He knew nothing apart from Hunting. He didn’t know how to talk to others, share in the camaraderie, or crack a genuine smile that didn’t allude to the darkness inside him. He didn’t know when to cool his jets and kick back. It was go, go, go for Adrian Donohue. Sure, Adrian had a rough go of it lately, but damn, didn’t he want time to breathe before he sank his teeth into more action?
Wes snuck a glance at Adrian. Adrian was still watching him, thumb still rubbing over his wrist like a nervous habit. He’s scared, Wes thought. He’s been scared this entire time. Adrian had been plucked from a controlled environment, once from a lifestyle where he was able to carefully circle his prey and make all choices for himself, and again from the academy only to be thrown to the wolves. Adrian didn’t trust anyone because he couldn’t count on what would happen next, who would abandon him, where he would be ordered two days from now.
He was scared of being a part of this, the Bureau, a part of someone’s life, being out in the open. And Wes couldn’t blame him one bit. A reputable hard ass, Wes still had a heart. He stole a look at the rearview mirror to see Davis concentrating on the road. Fontine was playing on his phone. All clear of watchful eyes, Wes stretched out his hand to touch Adrian’s knee. Adrian looked from Wes’s hand to Wes’s eyes. His blue eyes were slits, his hands ready to deliver a blow.
Wes smiled and shook his head. Adrian’s heart fluttered a mile a minute under Wes’s hand, beating throughout his entire body like a warning cry. “Trust me. You can trust me,” Wes mouthed.
Adrian looked at his lap. He sighed, a forlorn expression drifting through his blue eyes, before he lifted his hands like he was about to sign a heartfelt reply. Then he stuck up his middle finger. Wes was graced with that sardonic smile again. The Senior Detective balled his hands in his lap and faced forward before he screamed.
“Fucker,” he whispered just as they pulled into the parking garage kitty corner from the Bureau. Davis parked the Navigator at the back. Wes unbuckled, righted his trench coat and turned to find Adrian gone. He hadn’t even heard the door shut. Hadn’t felt the cool air outside rush over him. “The hell?”
Fontine frowned from the front seat. He edged his ass over his seat and got out, scanning the garage nervously. Wes tried not to worry that Adrian was part alien, or that he was maybe a wizard who could teleport. Wes got out of the vehicle, following Fontine and an unconcerned Davis to the entrance. Adrian had no choice but to go with them, he would turn up.
About ten cars into their walk Wes smelled Adrian’s soapy scent. His senses went on high alert. His senses failed him, not even a hyperactive sense of smell came to his rescue. From behind the rear of a sedan came a foot that tripped Wes onto the dirty concrete. He hadn’t seen it coming until it was too late.
Wes rolled over onto his back, the air knocked from his lungs. He wheezed up at Adrian, who stood over him. Adrian smiled. “Trust is bullshit. It’s you and them, that’s it.”
“Hey, Durren, I think your baby needs a nap,” Davis joked on his way by.
“Or maybe a good old fashioned spanking,” Fontine added. He nearly spit his coffee as Adrian took a step toward him, ready to break Fontine’s balls. “Fuck that—he needs a leash!”
Wes groaned, sitting up to dust off his dress pants. He peered up at his new partner with the fire of all seven circles of hell. Adrian shrugged and walked off. “Oh no you don’t.” Wes pushed to his feet. He marched up to Adrian and slapped him upside the head, a lesser punishment to what the little shit actually deserved. He yanked Adrian around and shoved him into a concrete post. “Pull that shit with me in there and I’ll put your ass in a grave. I am your partner. You will treat me like one, starting now.” He gave up when Adrian’s eyes had to do double time to keep up with Wes’s lips. Wes signed, “No one is on your team in there right now. You earn respect with them to be a part. I am all you have, A-D-R-I-A-N. Those two think you are an idiot, they don’t think what you just did was funny. They feel sorry for me. Do you see? You are a joke to them.”
Adrian bristled. He turned to see Fontine and Davis jogging across the street to an alleyway. The big bad Hunter suddenly seemed small in his surroundings. People walked by the garage in swarms. City traffic buzzed up and down the street. And one man looked lost among many, New York City sought to swallow him right up.
Wes knew Adrian had once been an important person, if only to himself. Now he had to rely on others to get through the day, work in a team and follow orders. He was acting out, not taking his position very well. And it was more than obvious he didn’t like being forced to fit in with his new coworkers. He was trying to prove how big of a badass he was, to scare people because he knew they wouldn’t like him anyway. He didn’t want anyone getting too close.
Adrian turned back to Wes but wouldn’t meet his eyes. He folded his arms over his chest.
Wes lifted Adrian’s chin. “Your Uncle can’t help you here. You will be punished for acting out like any of us would be. It’s not you and them. If you would like, for now, it can be us and them until you feel safe.”
Adrian fidgeted, tapping his toe, glancing at the street every few seconds. He was thinking, and he was good at hiding his emotions from a vampire. Wes barely latched onto one train of thought before he was whisked away on the Adrian train to another. Finally Adrian grumbled, scrubbed a hand over his face, and then confronted Wes.
“I’m not a freak.” The Hunter lifted his shoulders helplessly. “I work alone. It isn’t personal, because I’ve heard about you for four years; I know what you’re capable of. But this isn’t me, this job, the way you live… I can’t be put in a box. That box will kill me.” He pointed to the Bureau building.
“You will be in an iron box if you don’t cool it, a box you’ll never get out of.” Wes heaved a sigh. “Be honest with me, are you fighting me because you think I’m a spy for N-I-N-A, or because you are mad about B-R-I-G-G-S and you can’t go out there and find who did it on your own?”
Adrian glowered. “Both.”
“Suck it up, A-D-R-I-A-N. I want to kill them too. I want them dead.” Wes pounded a fist into his open palm. “We have to do that a different way. You and I can do that together now, with those clowns in there.” Wes hitched a thumb at the Bureau building. “Forget about your Uncle for a second. Forget about the Queen. You and I have work to do.” Wes slapped Adrian’s chest lightly. “Not behind a desk, I assure you.”
The young man contemplated Wes’s words for a minute. He paced the concrete. He stopped again at the mouth of the entrance. “Fine. But if he says one more thing about spanking…”
Wes growled. “I’ll fuck him up for you.” He clapped Adrian on the back and headed into the sun.
They were briefed on Briggs’s death and the investigation by a Junior Detective called Feist. He “thoughtfully” handed Adrian a paper packet with all the information he needed. Not one pair of eyes wasn’t trained on Adrian as he flipped open to the first page. The conference room was a big top and he the circus clown. Maloy’s presence curbed Adrian’s craving to strip each and every detective of their eyeballs, but only just a little. Their relationship or whatever it was still in infancy, Adrian couldn’t blame Maloy for being preoccupied with their first big case. Couldn’t blame him for wanting justice for Briggs either.
So that left Wes as Adrian’s only line of defense against the mob.
It wasn’t so much being a walking spectacle that pissed Adrian off, it was being surrounded by people and being forced to stay in the eye of the storm. It was reading page after page on their current investigation, all centering around Briggs’s death. Now Briggs wasn’t a father figure by any means, he was more like Adrian’s center of gravity for the past four years. He was the guy who didn’t take crap from the other men when they mocked Adrian. He was the guy who’d given Adrian the privacy of his own room, a sweet haven of peace after being surrounded by nitwits all day long.
He was the guy that with a single look caused Adrian to think before he reacted on the mat. He was just Briggs; he was that guy you could count on to smooth the rough edges in a rough situation. And Adrian hadn’t even realized all Briggs had done for him until today. Sure it was small shit, but Adrian had no solid comparisons of kindness to go on. Briggs had been a nice guy, a great warrior, and a patient teacher. He hadn’t deserved this ending.
Enduring the next forty-five minutes was like chewing nails for Adrian, painful. His own personal hell came in spades when his new Captain got up from his seat in the corner and started dishing out orders to the forming task force. Feist, a wild looking man that came to maybe Sutton’s shoulder stood next to the Captain. He kept nodding his head, lifting his coffee in agreement like the Styrofoam Cup King, and then pinning Adrian with a green-gold stare like he couldn’t believe Adrian was allowed in the same room as him.
Adrian narrowed his eyes until Wes knocked knees with him and gave him a warning look. Wes lifted his chin to someone standing next to Adrian, and Adrian glanced up at the same man who’d become his silent enemy. Sutton sat on the edge of the table as the room cleared out. “Junior Detective F-E-I-S-T.” He pointed to their earlier speaker. “Head of this task force.”
“Fuck,” Adrian muttered. He was going to have to take orders from this prick? Not in Feist’s dreams.
Sutton pursed his lips. “You will report to him for the remainder of this investigation, and he will report to me unless something changes.” He pointed at the glass windows, where Fontine and Davis huddled over a file in the hallway. “They will be working with two of you and M-A-L-O-Y as lead detectives. Feist will take point. You will never follow up on a lead alone. You will not draw your weapon or head into a fight without following proper protocol, or without your partner or adequate backup. All evidence will be bagged, tagged, and sent back to the Bureau immediately. You will report all information at the end of the day by using one of these forms.” Sutton lifted a printed sheet of paper and Adrian wanted to bang his head on the table. His Uncle was being so formal, so withdrawn from the man Adrian had always pushed away. He’d be lying if he didn’t admit to himself that Sutton’s Captain-like presence scared him a little, unsettled Adrian with the clear fact that personal and business didn’t mix according to Sutton. Not to say there was anything personal between them—Adrian had never allowed it. It was just… strange.
Wes had been correct. Adrian’s Uncle had no intention of playing favorites, letting things slide because Adrian was new and different, or because they were family. Sutton expected him to behave as any Guard should, to respect ranks and be professional as he performed his duties. Duties that included bringing in a killer, Briggs’s killer.
Sutton broke Adrian’s thought bubble, snapping his fingers in Adrian’s face. “Is this clear?”
Adrian nodded. He snuck a look at Feist. His new superior raised a brow, a cocky smirk riding his lips. Adrian gave Feist a cool smile. Man did Adrian want to shake Feist until his brain fell out. Everyone already thought Adrian was a sideshow act, but Feist took his distrust to another level.
He made Adrian all too aware of his handicap with his condescending gestures and stares. Adrian’s deafness was a sensory loss he’d been born with and sometimes forgot, as he’d been on his own for many years. He was, after all, an intelligent being, more than capable of survival without hearing. But to Feist the loss seemed graver. One would have thought Adrian was a stump of a man, no arms or legs to speak of, instead of receiving commendation for his achievements and how far he’d come despite his inability to hear.
Feist thought Adrian incompetent, a risk that would get his Guards killed. But the truth of the matter was: Feist was nervous. Adrian knew the difference between the mask Feist wore for his coworkers and the looks he threw Adrian’s way. Adrian had all the attention on him right now, he understood why, being one of a kind. But Feist was now running his very first task force, a job that if done well would lead to his Senior Detective promotion. And no one was paying attention to poor little Feist.
“Evidence room. Fifteen minutes.” Sutton nodded once and left the room, a trail of light aftershave and coffee lingering in his wake.
Feist counted the seconds by tapping his fingers on the table. Under Adrian’s observation, those green-gold eyes scanned the cubicles, following Sutton’s bobbing head until he disappeared into the elevator. There were two ways Adrian could play this out. He could unleash the steam from his ears and the claws from his hands and give Feist his happy ending. Or, Adrian looked at Wes’s profile as he studied the paper packet, Adrian could rely on his partner to buffer Feist’s prickly attitude and work this investigation like a real Detective would.
Wes caught him staring. He gave Adrian a barely perceptible smile, but it was there and it was all for Adrian. Wes’s thick, dark brows lifted, his eyes glanced up, over Adrian’s head at something. Adrian was still watching Wes, strangely moved by his partner’s response and the slackening of the knot in Adrian’s stomach when Wes frowned at Feist. Wes’s upper lip flattened. A crease appeared between his brows and frown lines cut deep around his eyes. He looked ferocious. Turning around, Adrian realized why.
Feist had been holding a conversation with Wes since Sutton left, a discussion meant only for Wes’s ears. Something had been said, and Adrian didn’t need to be psychic or hearing to deduce what it had been about. Feist was standing too close, checking Adrian over from head to toe. His eyes bright, swirling with unleashed rage, Feist pointed a finger in Adrian’s face. “I don’t know who you are or what you are up to, but I swear to God if you had anything to do with this I will end you. If anything happens to Wes, I’ll use your body parts to start a bonfire.”
All synapses firing off, Adrian had to swim through all possible decisions to reach the one that would help him the most in the long run. Although he wanted to filet Feist right here on the conference room table, Adrian knew he couldn’t risk going to prison. And he couldn’t muck up the only chance he had to find Briggs’s killer. Most important of all, Adrian almost closed his eyes due to the warm presence at his back, he’d lose the fragile trust of the only person who acted like they cared. Dammit, he’d lose Wes.
Wes stepped around Adrian to tower over Feist. He was shouting. The back of his thick neck was flushed bright red. His shoulders rolled under his dress shirt as his hands flailed with wild, silent accusations that seemed to bring home a point with Feist. The head of the task force yanked his jacket off the back of a chair, pulled open the glass door and flipped Wes off on his way down the hall. Fontine and Davis gawked at the conference room from outside. Adrian stood there, frozen to the spot, unsure of what to do now.
Hadn’t he done the right thing? He hadn’t said a word to Feist, hadn’t provoked a fight, hadn’t done shit to rile Wes up or attract more attention to himself than he already had. He crossed his arms over his chest, a chill racing up his spine. Adrian stared at the table, at the packet of paper that had started all of this, had made him a magnet for trouble. Nothing he did, right or wrong, would save him from being the enemy at the Bureau. They didn’t know anything about him. These Guards, even the rookies, they viewed him as a threat. But how? Why? Who had fed them the details and how much did they know? This was more than about being deaf.
Hands pulled Adrian’s attention away from the table. Warm, solid hands squeezed his shoulders. As much as he wanted to flinch away from the unfamiliar touch, the unwelcome emotions those fingertips dug into his skin, Adrian had to submit to normal social tendencies. He had to become one of them, had to react as any of them would. He had to look up, bestow Wes the courtesy of an acknowledgement, and then drown in those charcoal eyes.
Wes was close, too close. His forehead almost touching Adrian’s as he leaned down, disquiet in his eyes, his lips parted. The Senior Detective was a wall of a man, sculpted of hard muscle that complimented his enormous size. Arms strong like steel but comfortable like a favorite sweater around Adrian’s shoulders. He wanted to protest, should have said no and pushed like he always did. He just couldn’t.
“You okay?” Wes searched his eyes.
Adrian swallowed thickly. He twisted away at the last minute. Acting for the sake of freedom was one thing. Going against the one thing his father had ingrained in his head since he was young was another. His father couldn’t take away something created of nature: a person’s attraction and the way their body responded, the way they thought about a person they found sexually appealing. But Adrian’s father had sure as shit conditioned him not to act on it. To love, to care, that was to lose. Everyone died around Hunters. Vampires were no exception. It was too dangerous; too many enemies and violent situations to keep someone close to your heart.
Adrian had a front row seat to his father’s breakdown over the years, the way his mother’s death slowly ate away at his father’s heart. The Queen’s prison had nothing on that kind of pain. Adrian didn’t want to experience that heartache either. The longer he stayed here the more he would have to regulate his relationships with others. He would not allow Wes to get inside his head, inside his heart, if that was a possibility as Adrian didn’t know much about his heart. Adrian would be civil, he would return Wes’s protections as they were partners and roommates, but he refused to become anything else.
Therefore he was left unnerved by Wes’s embrace, his very public embrace. Did partners do this sort of thing? Did they look at each other in such an intimate way, like all others didn’t exist? Adrian shot Wes a half smile so Wes would stop fussing over him, and gathered his few things while trying to ignore the two nitwits still in the hallway staring at them.
Wes was supposed to be a menacing presence here at the Bureau, a take-no-prisoners detective the others feared. Adrian had been told the stories in snippets of conversation, the legends so to speak from Wes’s salivating fans at the Academy. Wes had had so many partners they could have been called flavors of the week. So what was he doing defending Adrian after they had only spent a day together? Why was he trading his signature scowl for hugs in front of his coworkers? Did Wes even know why?
Fontine and Davis were probably wondering the exact same thing. Adrian didn’t have any answers for them. He didn’t have any answers at all. But he was going to get them. The only way to do that was to suck it up and walk next to Wes, eyes straight ahead, to the Evidence Room. Maloy, Fontine, and Davis took up the rear when they got out of the elevator in the basement.
Adrian’s gaze slid over a plastic plaque next to a keycard secure door. FLD, the Feral Lockup Department. Normally, being able to observe a feral behind a protective window would interest Adrian. But not today, not right now. Every second he spent in this place stressed him out. Seeing others who had no choice in their future would put him right back on edge.
He was tired and frazzled, still hungry, and now cold. Ever since Adrian entered the building he noticed the chill, at first attributing the cold to the massive amount of technological devices required to be kept at a certain temperature. Now he wasn’t so sure. Now he was paranoid, sending out feelers around the basement just to make sure he wasn’t in for a paranormal visit. Zilch. Nothing. Not even a blip on his radar, which was strange; he could always sense them around, death was everywhere.
So did they always keep it this cold at the Bureau? A basement being chilly Adrian could understand, but the entire building? He zipped up his leather jacket and shoved his hands in his pockets. Wes rubbed his arms next to Adrian, casting him a look of understanding. Wes blew into his hands to warm them up.
Adrian breathed a sigh of relief, thankfully it wasn’t just him. No ghosts today. Not here. Not now. He smiled a little and kept walking. Wes went into the open doorway marked Evidence Room first, sliding his plastic security card through a reader as he went. All Bureau personnel were held to the same security standards. Evidence was no exception, because on the other side of that door were rows and rows of names, of deaths, of connections to the enemy. Not just anyone could go in this room. Adrian wasn’t just anyone, he was now Junior Detective Adrian Donohue, and he had a case to solve… with his team.
Adrian checked over his shoulder for a reassuring glance at Maloy. The blonde nodded kindly. Fontine and Davis did not. Adrian grunted and turned away from them. He dug through his pockets until he found his security card and then swiped it through. He followed Wes into a large, underground storage facility. A caged platform near the front of the room held a table and chairs and a few computers and free standing flatscreen monitors.
This was no ordinary evidence room. This was no ordinary case. Whatever secrets they were digging up with Briggs’s death had become so confidential that they would need to keep the case underground for now. No leaks. No outside tampering. Just the men gathered around Adrian and their skills to solve their problem.
Sutton was already waiting for them, as was Feist, aka Commander Dickhead. Determined to keep his cool, Adrian took a chair opposite the Junior Detective in charge of the task force and waited like a good little boy. Wes slid in next to him and the others took their seats. Sutton talked as he signed quickly. “Welcome to Evidence.” He lifted his hands at the endless storage around them. “This will be your command center for the duration of this investigation. I don’t think I need to tell you how quiet this case is to be kept. We have a high profile death that we’ve managed to keep out of the public eye, and I intend to keep it that way until we have answers for them. Understood?”
Adrian nodded. He laced his hands together on the table and leaned forward as Sutton clicked a remote in his hand. A flatscreen behind Sutton filled with Briggs’s Academy badge picture. “Meet Armedes Briggs. Born to a Welsh couple of our Royal decent the fall of 1802. Born a vampire the spring of 1826 after being accepted as a student to his uncle in the Queen’s army. After maturing in the field and serving his Queen for almost one hundred and seventy-five years, he was chosen to run the newly built Academy in France to train young hopefuls wishing to serve their queen as he had and still did up until his death. A very high honor in our line.”
Sutton clicked the remote again. Pictures of Briggs at last week’s graduation service played on rotation slowly. Briggs in his Guard formals, completely decked out with ribbons and medals of service as he posed with students and faculty, with the Guardians and dignitaries made Adrian sick to his stomach. That had been his teacher. That had been, in some twisted, never formally recognized way, his friend.
“Briggs was last seen alive the night of graduation by Assistant Head Instructor Mitchum Yardley when Briggs wished Yardley a good night and said he would see Yardley after his time off. Briggs had previously filed for a week off after graduation and would resume his duties when the classes started back up the following week. Briggs was seen by Yardley heading to his office, and that, gentlemen, is the last time Briggs was seen alive.”
Sutton held up the remote again. His eyes registered sadness with a dash of hostility. “What I’m about to show you is quite graphic, and I understand each and every one of you has seen your share of blood, but I will understand if you need a moment to collect yourself after viewing this. We all knew him. That’s all I can say.”
Adrian braced himself as Sutton hit play on the next file. The video showed a team of Guards that Adrian recognized from the Academy standing in a dim, narrow hallway. The camera turned to Yardley, the one filming, and he said something that Adrian could only gather was for official documentation of what was happening. Then the camera was angled back to a door off the hallway where Briggs’s name was clearly painted on the glass.
Adrian wanted to shut his eyes. He couldn’t. It was as if his eyelids were forced open and he was victim to his childhood horrors all over again, losing someone he hadn’t meant to be attached to, didn’t realize he even was until now. The room came into focus on the screen, and there, sprawled on the floor was Briggs. Flashes from a digital camera went off around the room. Markers had been set up at every point of evidence near the body.
But the main attraction was the perfectly cut hole in Briggs’s chest. Someone had forgone breaking open the rib cage to saw through each rib, to take the precious organ that gave Briggs life like it was a piece of art. The killer had been proud of his work, posing Briggs in a relaxed, almost sleeping position had it not been for Briggs’s open, milky eyes. What blood there had been was gone, painstakingly blotted away or sucked up with some sort of vacuum. It was all too clean for death, too precise to be real.
After several minutes of footage, Sutton pressed stop and the room fell silent.
“I need photos of the body,” Adrian blurted. He shook off a shudder and looked around before settling on Sutton. If he didn’t get it together he wouldn’t be of any use to them. “As close up as I can get.”
“Done.” Sutton slid a black envelope across the table at him.
Feist caught it before Adrian could grab it. “You sick fuck. We just saw our Instructor with his heart cut out and you can’t wait a damn minute before you want to see close ups? What is wrong with you?”
A hand squeezed Adrian’s knee, Wes’s silent warning to him. Adrian took a deep breath and then yanked the envelope away from Feist. “The sooner you start looking at him as a victim and not as your mentor, the sooner we can find his killer. If you have a problem with that then you shouldn’t be here.”
Adrian met Feist’s eyes. He understood why Feist was angry, why he was throwing his weight around. Briggs had meant something to Feist and the soon to be Senior Detective wanted to do his superior proud on this case. But they had to find some common ground to make this work. “I don’t think you don’t want to be here. I think you really do, which is why we need to start looking at all the evidence now, get used to seeing his dead body, and then make some headway.”
Feist opened his mouth to say something but stopped. He looked up at Sutton, sighed, and nodded. Feist stood up. “Fine, but we aren’t done just yet. The reason this case became ours and didn’t stay in France’s jurisdiction is because the heart showed up at the Bureau this morning.”
Maloy’s eyes widened for a second. He looked at Adrian, but Adrian couldn’t mirror his shock. What did they expect? The heart was cut out for a reason. It was only natural the killer would seek to gain more attention by sending them more pieces to the puzzle.
Feist fetched a locked black crate from under the table and carefully put it on the surface. Sutton unlocked the crate and flipped the lid up. He signed as he spoke, “No note attached. No prints or rigged explosives. Just this.”
Sutton stared at Adrian for longer than he needed to. Adrian knew what he was saying, knew what Sutton wanted him to do, and Sutton was the only one alive that knew Adrian’s other secret. Sutton was giving him a minute to decide whether or not Adrian could be in the same room as a dead man’s heart. Because where there was a heart detached from its body, there was surely one hell of a spirit lurking about.
Was he ready to do that for these people, to let them know him so intimately? He’d done okay so far, keeping his mouth shut, getting in line with the others. Adrian would go as far to admit he accepted Wes at his side, as a partner, because Wes had been right. Adrian didn’t have anyone else. But this was crossing lines, revealing he could commune with the dead. They’d think he was crazier than they already thought he was. They wouldn’t understand. He would be afraid, openly cowering in the face of a murdered man turned vengeful spirit.
Suddenly the cold made sense. It wasn’t a basement kind of cold. It was a cold so chilling that everyone could feel it, everyone connected to Briggs. Briggs had been trying to manifest this entire time, trying to tell them something. And now Adrian was the only one who could listen. But was listening worth the risks?
Either because Sutton thought Adrian was ready or because he was forcing Adrian to be ready, the Captain took a large glass jar out of the crate and put it on the table. Wes’s hand was still on Adrian’s knee, squeezing, warm and real. Adrian sucked in cold air and looked at Wes as everything began to tingle. Those charcoal eyes regarded Adrian at first with a serious tone, and then confusion as Adrian curled his fingers around Wes’s.
“I’m not a freak,” Adrian reminded Wes before he became unable to say a word through chattering teeth. He held on to Wes’s hand as shadows bled from the glass jar on the table and the heart inside began to pump against its confines. No one else could see what Adrian saw. No one heard the jar cracking or saw the blood ooze between the glass to pool like thick sludge on the table. The others didn’t hear the wind pushing through the cage walls or hear the heavy breathing that echoed around the Evidence Room.
Adrian knew they were all watching him, knew they thought they were witnessing his mental breakdown. But all that mattered to Adrian was that Wes never let go, wasn’t letting go, and only held him tighter. Within Adrian’s line of sight, Sutton moved around the table. It was apparent on his disturbed face how much he regretted what he’d just done, but there was no turning back now.
Because once Sutton turned out of his place at the head of the table, a man who hadn’t been there before stood with his back to the Detectives. His skin was pale, covered in a clammy film Adrian felt coat his body as if he wore the same skin. Waiting for the spirit to turn around was agony. Faced with the unknown, Adrian was forced to prepare himself. Should Briggs not understand what was happening, Adrian could be haunted for the rest of his life. Briggs could be one of the spirits who was so ghastly, so violated that they could only respond with violent confusion and screams only Adrian could hear. Bloodcurdling screams that twisted his insides.
And then Briggs turned around, slapping a pale palm to the table near his heart in a jar. Adrian opened his mouth and screamed. Briggs eyes were drained of color, off white and glazed over. The cavern in his chest where his heart had been oozed blood, droplets of black splattering onto the table as Briggs’s corpse crawled onto the surface like an animal. His shoulders popped and rolled with each slow move of his hands over the table towards Adrian.
Adrian tried to breathe, strained to scream again, but his fear rendered him incapable. He was aware of Wes pulling on him, tugging him into his lap, aware of the chairs scraping away from the table and the deep booming commands taking place in the distance. But Adrian’s focus was on Briggs, the murdered man who crawled to him, closer and closer until their faces were almost touching.
Briggs’s screams were muffled by a dirty gauze wrap around his mouth, a scrap of fabric the dead man didn’t think to remove. Probably because it was part of his death and he was as scared and confused as the Hunter turned Detective. Adrian knew this was a sign, knew he had to take the gauze off to get an answer, but he was terrified. Looking into Briggs’s lifeless eyes as they stared someplace not here or there, Adrian lifted a shaking hand to Briggs’s mouth.
The scrap was wet and reeked of chemicals as Adrian plucked at the fibers. He put a hand over his own mouth to keep from throwing up, and then yanked the last of the gauze free. Briggs inhaled a few times; harsh wheezing that filled the room, before he bent forward and heaved. Amidst the bloody projectile on the table were a few solid objects Adrian knew were answers.
Against his better judgment, Adrian reached beneath Briggs’s bent head and pulled the little pieces of plastic to him. They were laptop keys covered in blood, each with a letter of significance. The room grew colder, drawing clouds of air from Adrian’s mouth. His vision started to dim and his energy was almost gone as he shakily flipped each key over.
Adrian stared at the message, scanned the keys from start to finish several times before he could look at Briggs’s face again. A spark dawned in Briggs’s eyes, some form of recognition like he really knew who Adrian was. Adrian reached out to touch Briggs’s chin, to tell him how sorry he was, that he didn’t understand. He needed more information.
Briggs’s jaw cracked, opening his mouth far wider than any human could. He made a sick clicking noise with his tongue, and then screamed at the top of his lungs. His spirit started to fade, being sucked into a stream of shadows attached to the glass jar. The shadows funneled through the glass until nothing remained except the cold.
With tears in his eyes, Adrian leaned back into Wes’s body. He looked up into Wes’s horrified face and squeezed his hand. “He’s coming,” Adrian said, relaying the message with the last of his energy.
The jar in the middle of the table burst open, spraying every Detective with blood. That part wasn’t in Adrian’s head. The last thing he saw before he passed out was Feist pushing blood out of his wide, shocked eyes.
“Somebody want to tell me what the hell just happened?” Davis stomped up the stairs of the cage, tugging on an old workout t-shirt. He threw himself into one of the spinning chairs and crossed his arms.
If Wes could open his mouth and not hiss, he would ask the same question, but he was too mad at whatever can of worms Sutton had opened to even think about saying a word. Next to him on a cot of pulled together chairs was Adrian, all cleaned up and still passed the hell out. Feist had helped Wes wipe up the blood from Adrian’s face and arms, and even gave Adrian a clean Bureau t-shirt to change into. Well, Wes had to do the changing as Adrian not in a state to help. And damn, had that taken every ounce of Wes’s control not to get hard at the sight of Adrian’s delicious chest. Thank God no one else had the same reaction, or Wes felt like he’d have to piss in the corners to stake his claim, whatever crazy claim he had to begin with.
Maloy was stunned into a state of shock in the corner, and Fontine was about to piss his pants he was so excited over the paranormal phenomena. Now they were waiting on Sutt to deliver some answers.
He had them. They knew he had them.
“Well, Cap, you gonna make us sit here and put our story together or you wanna spill the beans? This is a serious investigation. If newbie over there is crackpot crazy and you’re holding back on us, I think we have a right to know.” Davis gulped down water from a fresh bottle like he’d run a marathon. “I mean, shit like that isn’t real. It was purely coincidental, a sudden temperature change and the glass couldn’t handle it. You gotta give us something!”
“Davis!” Sutton slammed the crate’s lid shut. “Shut the fuck up!”
Wes watched his boss and best friend crumble. Tears glittered in Sutton’s dark eyes. His hands curled around the crate like it was his lifeline to reality. “I shouldn’t have done that to him. It’s bad enough everyone thinks he’s unstable, and I’m to blame for that too. I didn’t prepare any of you for him. I should have made him more welcome, should’ve made him understand we are his team and we are his support.”
“What are you babbling about?” Davis sneered. His dark hands clenched and unclenched as he shook his head. “Have something to do with the fact that up until I ran a trace on the kid’s student ID, no one had ever documented a thing about him? He a ghost, Donohue? Are you hiding him out here so they don’t find him out there?”
Sutton’s head snapped to attention, his eyes targeted Davis as he clipped around the table and halted in front of the Senior Detective. “You ran a trace on Adrian?”
Davis squinted. His lips curled into a grim smile. “You are, aren’t you? That’s why his file is swiped of info, why he doesn’t exist, why you’ve got us all scared of him. So we don’t go looking into dark corners for Adrian. Tell me, is he fresh out of a coven, trying to turn himself around by going to the Academy. Or does he have valuable intel he wasn’t supposed to have. What is it, Sutt?”
Sutton backhanded Davis across the face, stunning every man in the room. He pulled his hand back and stepped away, surprised by what he’d done. “There is little that leaves a bad taste in my mouth, Detective Davis. But one thing I cannot swallow is disrespect for my superiors. If you ever talk to me like that again, I’ll strip you of your title and your badge.”
“Yes, sir,” Davis whispered from behind his hand. He lowered his head, afraid to look up.
Wes had had enough of the testosterone showdown. He stood, placing his palms on the table and cleared his throat. “You owe us this, Sutton. You owe me, especially. You say we are his team and his support. The same goes for us. We need you to fill in the blanks so we can better help each other. I’m not gonna lie and say I’m not angry as hell at you right now, because I can’t explain it, but I know you did something to him when you pulled that jar out. And I’m not gonna deny feeling that boy’s fear for you, because I could practically taste it, Sutton. Him, Adrian, this super badass you warned me about… he held onto me for dear life. Whatever he saw scared him enough to let us see how terrified he was. He wanted our help coming back from it. And I will be damned if you don’t give me the tools to pull that boy back from the devil. Do you understand, Sutton?”
Sutton’s arms relaxed to his sides. He wore the face of a defeated man, and for a second, his age and exhaustion showed through his youthful exterior. “I thought I could do this, Wesley. I thought once he was settled he would be more comfortable using his gift. Nina and I had talked about it. When he grew up, we would revisit using his talent to help the Bureau get information. And when he started to go off the deep end we saw it as a perfect opportunity to acclimate him socially, get him around males his age in an environment he could handle—”
“My God,” Wes murmured. “She didn’t throw him in the Academy because she thought he would be a menace to society once he turned. She put him there to groom him for this, for whatever this is. You were both using him!” Wes slammed his fist on the table. Rage unfurled in his body, springing up so quickly he didn’t know what to do with the power he held in his fists.
He hadn’t known Adrian for very long, but he knew what it was like to be used for his talent, to be a prisoner to it. On top of that Wes felt bonded to Adrian. At first he’d thought it was pity, a growing need to protect and shelter the ugly duckling that no one wanted. Now he wasn’t so sure. Here he was going to toe to toe with his best friend, his boss, and he wasn’t backing down. All for Adrian, the man unconscious to any of it.
“How could you do that to him?” Wes demanded. “Why!”
“You think I’m some selfish bastard?” Sutton spat back. “You think I planned all of this like some nefarious villain, Wesley? Bullshit! He is my blood and I wanted him with me, to guide him when he came of age to take the turn. You think this is bad now, Wesley? Give it a month, maybe a few months, and he’ll turn. This, whatever it is as you so eloquently put it, will amplify with his turn. I will not shun him for being the only creature in existence with a power like his, a rare gift. I will help him tune into it, use it for good, and nurture him like he should have been all along.”
Sutton ran a hand through his sweaty black hair. “I’m not the bad guy. I’m a male who seeks to find my friend’s killer, to find the fucking murderer who took Adrian’s mentor away from him. I thought if he had a major role in finding out the killer’s identity it would give him confidence, help him trust others and in turn they would trust his talent. I was giving him a safety net for when he can’t contain his talent in secret any longer. Because the day will come, Wesley, when holding his hand just won’t do.”
“He talks to the dead,” Maloy broke the silence after Sutton backed off. “Adrian… he can talk to the dead.”
“Oh that’s nothing. I can move shit with my mind.” Davis rolled his eyes.
Sutton shot Maloy a nervous glance over his shoulder, a warning look if the right person was watching. And Wes was certainly watching. Something was wrong, really wrong.
“I’m not best friends with any of you but Sutt. That said, you took an oath to protect each other, myself included. I’ve been your backup and you’ve been mine. Short of the new guys here, I trust you all like my own blood. So this stays in this room. No microphones. No cameras. Just us.” Wes searched the room, studying each man staring back at him. He stopped at Maloy. “You in, New Kid?”
“Yeah. I’m in.” Maloy stood and started to pace.
“Tell us what you know, Maloy.” Wes held up a hand to Sutton. “Don’t worry about Cap here. You go ahead.”
Maloy took a deep breath and then started talking. He talked for twenty minutes straight, telling the task force all about Adrian and his Uncle’s death and the note delivered by Adrian on graduation night. “I’ve never told anyone about that except for my brother, and only because he went through it too. And my Uncle would never say a word of it to anyone. They’d have his head in a heartbeat. The only reason I’m telling you what happened to me… is for Adrian. I owe him my support.”
Maloy gasped, looked down at his hands and realized he was shaking. “He did that for me because my brother told him to, knew I couldn’t go through that night without that kind of freedom, without my Uncle breathing on me and looking at me like he always does. I know it. I knew it at the ceremony, like I could feel my brother with me that night. I can’t explain it, and you don’t have to believe me, but Adrian avenged my honor that night. He became my brother and you can call me crazy, you can lock me up, but I would trust him with my life from now until forever. Because of him I can breathe again.”
“Holy shit,” Fontine breathed.
Holy shit is right, Wes thought, rubbing a sweaty hand over his face.
“Ulysses Maloy’s death was ruled a suicide,” Davis returned flatly. “I stood there while they cremated the body.”
Sutton sighed. “Did you see the body before it went in, Davis? Did you ever question why cremation at all instead of giving the body to the family for burial?”
Davis closed his eyes and rested his face in his hands. “No, sir. I was following orders—stand there and watch until it was done.”
“Then I’m telling you in an official capacity, and because I also trust you with my secrets and my life, that Ulysses’s death was no suicide. I can tell you that because I allowed Adrian to take care of that man after we found an underage boy in Ulysses’s hotel room with his legs chained together, crying for mercy. It is what Adrian does best, avenging our race and taking out the trash. It is what he has done his entire life, and I do mean his entire life. He was what you would call a mercenary for the Queen.”
Wes snorted. “And now he’s not because he was taken away from that life and thrown into this one with no choice. He doesn’t know how to act around us. He doesn’t know what to do or what to say or who to trust. His inability to hear has nothing to do with how good he’ll be as backup, it has everything to do with how strong he is, and it’s the reason why I agreed to partner with him. Because let’s be honest, boy’s got skills. And I think this little show we just saw proves just how much skills we’re working with.”
“A trained killer who’s also a Ghostbuster? Man, I don’t even know what to do with that. How do we know this is for real?” Fontine rested his chin on his fist. “That’s a lot to process.”
“I think he had to process quite a bit on his end too.” Wes raised his brows at Fontine.
Davis groaned. “Oh stop your preaching. We get it, you like him. He’s your amazing, perfect little partner and you’d punch our lights out if we disagreed. Poor little Adrian put on a pedestal because he’s had a shitty life gunning down bad guys on the Queen’s dime. And you’ve known him all of what, a day, maybe two? Get off it, Durren. Jesus. Let us take it in a second, would ya?”
“We should wait until he wakes up,” Feist finally spoke. “If he can really… talk with the dead… I can’t believe I’m even saying that, but if he can, we wait and see what Briggs said that scared him so bad. To tell you the truth, boys, if we have a male on our team who can get answers from our vic after he died… I say that’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard.”
“No doubt,” Fontine whispered. “Sure beats another butterfingers who can’t cop a feel on the trigger.”
Wes sank back into his seat. Everyone stared at Adrian, huddled in the fetal position on his chair cot. “We should order lunch. I have a feeling he’s gonna sleep for a while.”
“No way am I eating after I had a heart bust all over my face,” Feist lost his awestruck glow. “Kidding me with that, Durren? I’m gonna hurl.”
“I could go for a burger,” Fontine agreed.
“Fuck yeah, and some onion rings.” Davis nodded.
Sutton breathed a sigh of relief. He went to the remaining crates in the corner and started doling out evidence envelopes as the men began to regain their wits. “Maloy, get the lunch order. The rest of you, let’s get started while we wait.”
Wes didn’t miss how Sutton quickly brushed Adrian’s hair out of his eyes on his way past or the gentle way he handed Wes his envelope like an unspoken apology. The question was, why wasn’t Wes being reprimanded for his outspoken speech a few minutes ago like Davis had, and why was Sutton apologizing to Wes at all? In the next hour it took to get lunch, Wes noticed how no one approached him when he was near Adrian. No one approached Adrian at all. He started to get angry about it until Maloy sat down next to him and opened the Academy sign in log from graduation night.
Maloy ducked his head. “It’s not because we’re afraid of him.”
“Huh?” Wes asked quietly, sneaking a look from under his lashes to make sure the others were fully immersed in video footage, headphones securely over their ears.
“We aren’t afraid of Adrian.” Maloy gave him a sidelong glance. “Personally speaking, and forgive me if this sounds like me being a rookie, but… I don’t want to cross you. I just started here, okay? I’m not looking for a fight.”
“I don’t want to fight you?” Wes took a sip of his Coke and shrugged.
“Really? Then why do you tense up every time one of us comes near him? You’ve got alpha on the prowl written across your forehead. No offense.”
Wes nearly spit his drink. “Do not. The fuck are you to tell me that?”
Maloy smiled softly. He got up from his chair and started towards Adrian. Something in Wes snapped, something that wasn’t there before. His fangs dropped in his mouth at the thought of a male going near Adrian in such a vulnerable position. He shot to his feet and had Maloy by the upper arm before he could even blink.
“No,” he warned the young Detective. “No…” he started and then stopped, the fight fading away upon seeing Maloy’s victorious smile.
“Yes. You are.” Maloy pulled his arm away and sat back down to finish his lunch. His point made.
Wes stood there, unsure whether to be humiliated that he couldn’t control the instinct, or horrified that he had an Adrian instinct at all. He swallowed thickly, grabbed his jacket from his chair, and proceeded down the stairs. “Taking five,” he called over his shoulder and then went outside for a smoke, a much needed smoke.
To be continued…