Her name was Tabitha Sinclair. Two years turned and twenty-six in human years, she hadn’t lived a long life. However, she’d lived a full one. In part to her family’s affluence and their drive to help the poor, afflicted people of the many charities the Sinclair clan had a hand in, Tabitha was a very busy woman. On top of her duties as a volunteer, Tabitha managed to go to college, graduate top of her class, and then…
Adrian briefed himself on Tabitha during the ride over. More like he prepared, got acquainted with Tabitha’s brilliant green eyes that would forever haunt him like the rest. He ran a finger over his phone screen, tracing the vivid scarlet tresses that cascaded over Tabitha’s shoulders. It was a happy photo, one taken in a park on a sunny day.
She held a small dog in her arms. Her smile beatific and pure as she helped the humane society raise money, according to the t-shirt she wore. Adrian didn’t understand why anyone, even Redding, would want this woman dead. She wasn’t linked to any crime organizations, didn’t have a shady past, and didn’t fit into Redding’s killing spree.
Why her? Adrian rubbed his chin. Why kill an innocent woman when Redding seemed to be out to protect innocents? Adrian figured Briggs had been some sort of trigger to their killer, a direct link to Adrian, and Redding might have misunderstood their relationship completely. But something nagged at him, this wasn’t right and he still had yet to put together the pieces Redding had left for him.
Tabitha Sinclair would have to talk if they wanted to nab Redding. Adrian just hoped she was coherent enough in spirit to make sense. From what Feist said, she’d fought back with all she had and went down suffering. Adrian didn’t know whether to fear Tabitha Sinclair’s spirit or welcome her so they could put this case to bed.
Twenty-four hours ago he’d been ready to take the spirit world by storm to catch Redding. Now he didn’t have the support he needed, the support that birthed his confidence in the first place. In the front seat, Davis and Fontine’s attitudes were cold enough to turn water into ice. Sutton couldn’t be reached as he was with Tabitha’s parents and her father had to be sedated over the loss of his baby girl.
And Wes… Adrian glanced at his partner. Wes stared out the window, glaring at the steady stream of vintage façade office suites that made up the Flatiron District. He didn’t look back at Adrian, nor did he offer him a reassuring touch. It was like he’d taken a step away from his partner, turned around and then ran in the opposite direction. He’d left Adrian all alone. They all had.
They were liars. First they said they’d have his back and now they were ostracizing him because of something he didn’t understand. Mates? No way. Adrian wasn’t that compatible with anyone, not even Wesley Durren. And if in some backwards universe they were mates, and this is how he was to be treated, Adrian didn’t want anything to do with being one half of a whole.
Still, it hurt to be shunned. Being alone for so long, Adrian thought he could endure it, but it really hurt. He’d grown accustomed to these people and this life. He’d let his guard down and allowed himself to feel. He shouldn’t have let himself become weak and vulnerable.
How could he have done this to himself?
When they arrived at the four story office building, it stood out from the others on either side. It was old with dark brick and a weathered red door that reminded Adrian of some house on the Cape, not a residence turned office smack dab in the middle of New York City’s new technology district.
Three Bureau vehicles were neatly parked along the curb, no two the same make or model so as not to call attention from curious humans walking by. Luckily the Bureau had no need to call in Constance to work her magic; she was in charge of cover-ups that overlapped into the public eye as Head of Public Relations.
The boys covered the area just fine on their own; the office they stood outside of was wedged between an old insurance building for sale and an around-the-corner facing social network headquarters that was definitely closed until eight am. Four Guards manned the entrance and adjoining sidewalk. They nursed their coffees, silently acknowledging Adrian as he headed for the front door on his own.
If his team didn’t want him anymore, he’d protect himself and figure this case out alone. Redding was the only person left who wanted to socialize with Adrian, and it was Adrian’s intention to solve these murders so they could meet face to face. Inside the front door, Adrian was given cloth booties and a pair of latex gloves to wear by some no name from Forensics. But just because Adrian didn’t know the guy, didn’t mean the tech didn’t know him.
Apparently his reputation proceeded him as stares and whispers came his way. The technician nodded and turned his attention to the rest of the team with a little too much interest. As Adrian wasn’t “with” them any longer, he snapped his gloves on, pushed his boots into the elastic holes of his booties, and then started in the first floor main room where Feist was standing.
The leader of the task force had his hands on his hips and eyes focused on a flat screen television. He noticed Adrian come in and lifted his chin. “Got any reads yet?”
“That all I’m good for?” Adrian didn’t miss a beat. “Good morning to you too.” He stepped up to the flat screen. A video played, seemingly in real time if not for the short blip in the crisp picture to reveal the film’s pieced-together editing. What looked to be a line of snow-capped pine trees guarded the beginnings of a wild forest and a blanket of white was laid out like a welcome mat. Adrian thought the video would’ve been serene for clients had this place been a waiting area, had there been any furniture or employees, and had this so-called office been an office at all. From what he could see, there wasn’t anything except for this flat screen and its mighty tree video on the first floor, which meant the video had to be set up.
It had to be important to Tabitha’s death.
“Still nothing?” Feist said after Adrian turned around. Yeah, he felt Tabitha on the fourth floor like a buzz to his bloodstream. He also felt the spirit of a homeless guy across the street and an old woman where the insurance building was. And despite his heroic intentions today, Adrian wasn’t ready to acknowledge any piece of the afterlife right now. He needed to know all he could about the scene before he allowed himself to be taken over.
Adrian shook his head at Feist. He coolly passed Wes and headed for the tiny kitchen where two techs were searching the floor. “What do you have there?”
The techs startled. They immediately recognized Adrian. Someone probably had a Facebook page devoted to his freakishness, warning others not to come near. “Blood… We have blood.” The tech turned and whispered something to his buddy.
Fuckers. Adrian glared. “You may not have heard but I can’t understand you unless you look at me. Now that you know, is the blood hers?”
The older tech rolled his eyes, probably used to the abuse in both directions. “Traces of female here.” The vampire tech sniffed the cabinet and clicked shut a plastic vial containing a swab of the woman’s blood. “A few spots of male blood near the sink. Not much on the surface, but the drain reeks of bleach. He was definitely wounded when he walked out of here.”
“Run that and see if we get a match on his blood. He’s not a local, so think global, and human.”
“No… Vampire.” The tech sniffed again. “Definitely vampire. But there’s plenty of human residue around. It was a residence, after all.”
“I’m interested in the vampire. A vampire who’s wanted by international human authorities, and probably did some time before he turned. I need proof this is our guy before I kill him according to the rules. Everyone likes rule, right.”
“Right.” The older tech eyed his colleague. Unspoken dialogue passed between them. “Well, the real show is upstairs, might want to head up there.”
“Yeah, wouldn’t want to take up any more of your precious time,” Adrian sneered. He shouldered through the Guard traffic in the narrow hallway and made for the stairs.
Wes was waiting for him. “Get anything in there?”
“Evidence I’m not welcome, seems to be a theme around here.” Adrian ignored his partner, stepping around the bulk of a man to take the stairs.
A hand tugged him back. Wes looked up at him. “I meant… You know what I meant.”
Adrian looked from Wes’s hand to Wes’s face. “I did, and like a good little spirit hunter I’m on my way to see the body. Now get your hand off me before anyone thinks you care.”
“Adrian…” Wes gritted his teeth. “Knock it off. You know I—”
“No, you knock it off. I don’t have time for this, nor do I want to do whatever this is. I’m done,” Adrian leaned in, “like you’re done with me. Good with you, partner?”
Wes’s face fell. He removed his hand and took a step down.
“Great.” Without another word, Adrian jogged up the stairs. When he came to the second floor, he realized he was shaking, uncontrollably so. Thank goodness for the massive distraction his current surroundings provided or else he’d go mad thinking about Wes. Their relationship had become very important when Adrian wasn’t paying attention, and this emotional turmoil he found himself in, this ache in his chest was something Adrian declined to dwell on.
He stuffed his hands in his pockets and started to wander around, studying the yellow evidence tags along the banister. Eventually the tags led him to a framed picture on the wall.
Upon closer inspection, the framed picture was a black and white shot of a house in the snow. The frame lacked dust or marks like others would, but the most disturbing point of the entire set up was how Adrian knew for certain it was placed there by the killer. No furniture or decorative touches on the second floor either, this frame was supposed to be the focal point.
A pine tree lined wood. A dilapidated house sitting in the snow. A dead girl who’d somehow entered this twisted game. Adrian rubbed the sleep from his eyes, blinked a few times, and then gathered the courage to ascend the stairs to the third floor. The higher he climbed, the worse he felt. The more he sensed Tabitha Sinclair.
Unlike Briggs, Tabitha’s presence surrounded him immediately. She wanted to be known whether she knew she was dead or not. Her spirit began to manifest like cold, invisible tentacles penetrating the ceiling. Tabitha sought him out, was drawn to that subconscious part of Adrian he left unguarded to the spirit world.
Adrian braced a hand on the wall. He took deep breaths. He stared at the picture.
The photograph, when it made sense, hit him like a ton of bricks and left him breathless and afraid. For a long time Adrian had tried to forget. He’d blocked out the hardest bits and pieces, allowing his brain to form walls of protection around his horrified fourteen-year-old self.
Adrian grew up fast in the last ten years, but still he carried with him the child he’d once been. The two had never formed a bridge to recovery. They’d been at odds for a decade, swimming through rough waters as the child tried to reach out to be saved, and the man Adrian was now watched him drown.
The house in the picture was a place Adrian never wanted to return; a cold, dark shanty that held so much pain and suffering. Adrian rubbed his arms, able to recall the chill of that night, and mad as hell he had to remember it all. He worked so hard to forget! He’d pushed that night away, burying it deep enough not to remember the details. Why was Redding making him remember? Who was this man and what did he want?
Adrian lashed out at Wes when his partner tried to touch him. He’d forgotten where he was, what he was doing. He pushed Wes away and flexed his fingers so as not to give in to the urge to rip the picture down or punch Wes in the face. This was something he had to deal with alone now that he’d been cast aside. As of this morning, he no longer had a confidant or anyone to hold him up.
Adrian had to once again fend for himself.
He scowled at Wes, on the verge of breaking, and stepped away.
“A-D-R-I-A-N?” If Adrian didn’t know better, he’d have thought Wes did care. Those charcoal eyes burned with worry. Those large hands reached for Adrian again. But Adrian was no fool. Wes was a liar.
“Don’t touch me again.” Adrian eyed the eavesdropping Guard that stood near the stairs. “See anything good over there?”
“Sorry.” The Guard lifted his hands. He flinched when Wes stomped over to him. Words were exchanged between them, not that Adrian heard. But he did catch the Guard’s quick agreement and his swift exit up the stairs.
Wes faced Adrian. Why did he look mad? He had no right to be mad. Adrian did. Why was Wes looking at him like that? Wes moved in closer. Adrian tried to take a step away.
Wes snatched Adrian’s wrist between his thick fingers and tugged. Adrian pushed at Wes’s back this time. He had no intention of following an angry vampire off to a dark corner. He was too mad, too scared, and he’d probably do something he regretted very much. Besides, it wasn’t as if Wes was suddenly going to apologize and make Adrian’s fears go away.
Wes took every hit and kick Adrian had to give. He didn’t react to the childish fight until he reached the last door in the third floor hall. While Wes looked like he knew where he was going, he actually had no idea; clear to Adrian when Wes frowned at the bathroom he found himself in. The big man shrugged and pushed Adrian into the tiled room. He locked the door and faced off with Adrian.
“What do I do? What am I supposed to do to make you better?” Wes paced the three stall bathroom like a lion in a cage. He stopped feet from Adrian. His face so pained Adrian felt Wes’s agony. “I do care! I care enough to keep you safe and I am not safe for you.”
“That’s bullshit.” Adrian pushed at Wes. “You just want an excuse to get rid of me. And you have. I don’t want you anymore.”
Wes shoved back, Adrian’s spine slamming into the tile wall. “I want you. I’ve wanted you since the airport. But I care enough about you to put you at arm’s length. Ever since you met me you’ve changed. I like it, Adrian. I like how open you are, and how close we’re getting. But your life is in danger and you can’t afford to be distracted by me. Something happens to you… I’ll blame myself.”
“You should blame yourself!” Adrian slid down the wall and landed on the floor. “I thought we were partners. I didn’t think I was supposed to do this on my own anymore. And you just walked away, Wes. If something happens to me, it will be your fault because I don’t have anyone on my side, and I don’t know why.”
Wes got down on one knee in front of Adrian. He took Adrian’s hands in his and squeezed. “I don’t know how to do this. You think I have all the answers but I don’t, Adrian. I don’t know how to help you sometimes and it scares me because all I want to do is protect you, and if protecting you means waiting until this case is over, I will wait.”
“No, you threw me away. Everyone is mad at me and I don’t understand. You don’t get how I feel…” Adrian tried to breathe. Between Tabitha reaching out to him and Wes cracking his soul wide open, Adrian was ready to pass out.
“I won’t let you go back out there until we’re okay. So you tell me what you need.”
Adrian thought about it. He closed his eyes and pressed his cheek against the cool tile wall. Sick as his stomach was, nauseous as his head made him, Adrian was still alive and breathing. He tuned everything out, everything except for Wes’s scent. Adrian sniffed at his realization. He smelled Wes, not a passing whiff of cologne or sweat. He smelled the man in front of him like Wes was a piece of him.
Adrian opened his eyes to find Wes very close. Curiosity killing the anger he held for his partner, Adrian leaned in and ran his nose down the length of Wes’s jaw. His eyes rolled back, lashes fluttering as he huffed Wes into his body.
Wes’s arms went around Adrian, hands roaming his back, forcing Adrian between Wes’s open thighs; an awkward position in the corner of a bathroom for two men of their stature. No matter how awkward it was, being close to Wes was right in every way. One minute Adrian was pissed and fighting this development between them, and the next he was nearing Wes’s lips, staring into his partner’s seductive eyes. They’d both wrestled it. They’d both made excuses because like Adrian, Wes was just as confused. Neither of them thought they deserved it.
They were wrong.
Wes grabbed the back of Adrian’s head. “Fuck it. I’m a selfish bastard.”
“So am I,” Adrian whispered before he kissed Wes.
At first their lips were closed, a simple press of their mouths to test the waters. And then Wes opened his mouth over Adrian’s lips, dragging in air as the room warmed around them. Adrian had never had a kiss like this. In fact, he never kissed his sexual partners at all. Lip action was an attachment, a promise for more, a signature of the feelings both parties felt. He’d never felt a thing.
But kissing Wes… Kissing Wes changed his opinion.
He didn’t hear the shuddering groan bubble up his throat, but Adrian felt it. He opened his mouth to Wes and let him in. More than that, Adrian let Wes in to a place no one had ever been allowed before: his heart. He kissed Wes with vigor, tilting his head to deepen their connection, to seek and play with Wes’s tongue and to taste the man he called partner.
Every echo of ghostly presence ceased, evaporating with Wes’s arms protectively around him. Adrian’s fear and nausea dissipated. His body filled to the brim with unknown feelings. Like a tether had formed between them, Adrian refused to break away for fear his world would shatter without Wes near.
His partner’s raked his nails up Adrian’s neck. They tingled along his scalp until Wes twisted his fingers within Adrian’s curls. Wes’s lips were soft, so soft for a man who thrived on wearing such a stony mask. His body was made to punish, Adrian noticed, tracing up Wes’s shoulders and around to the broad plane of his back. He wanted to climb this man and stake his claim, scream from the top that Wes was his.
That scared him shitless.
And though the chaos remained, his fears of now losing something so precious he never knew existed, Adrian knew he would fight to keep Wes rather than give in to what everyone else thought was right. If anything, his guard would be higher than the highest point of Mount Everest because now he had to protect the man in his arms. Anything or anyone who stood in their way would pay the price of everlasting hell.
Including Leonardo Redding, if that was his real name.
Adrian’s aggressive side peaked. He snatched Wes by the collar and pulled him into the corner. He growled into Wes’s mouth and parted his legs for his partner to come closer. Wes was all for it, pushing Adrian against the tile to kiss him harder.
“Mine,” came a growl in Adrian’s head.
Fuck off. Go away! Adrian held onto Wes, scratching his partner’s neck with his nails. The ghosts could just fuck off for all he was concerned.
“I said shut up!”
Wes leaned back on his heels. His eyes swirled with arousal and concern. Adrian looked around the bathroom, trying to catch his breath. When nothing came jumping out at him or whispered his name, Adrian grabbed for Wes again. Whether Wes thought he was crazy or not, he didn’t say. He put his forehead to Adrian’s and whispered, “Mine.”
That time Adrian heard him. He heard him. Not in his head. Not from a ghost. He heard Wes speak to him, heard his throaty growl in a rich voice Adrian had longed to hear for weeks.
“Oh. My. God.”
“Adrian?” Wes touched his cheek. “What is it?”
This time Adrian didn’t hear him. He was pretty sure he’d lost his mind. “I… I…”
The bathroom door slammed open and Feist appeared. The rest of the team crowded him from behind. He was shouting at them, talking so fast Adrian didn’t catch a word. From the look of things, they’d been caught fucking around and the team wasn’t happy. Then again, when were they ever happy?
Wes got up, blocking Adrian with his body. His hands were working overtime, gesturing this way and that while he yelled back at Feist. Whatever he said to the team did the trick because they backed off slowly. Feist pointed at Adrian, then at Wes, said something and left them alone.
Wes turned back around. He offered Adrian a hand to help him up. “We have shit timing.”
Adrian nodded, still reeling from hearing a living person speak. Maybe it was a heat of the moment thing, where he wanted it so bad he imagined it perfectly. Stranger things had happened, like a deaf vampire being born. A deaf vampire who spoke to the dead, he corrected.
“Adrian, you okay?”
“Not really,” Wes answered honestly.
“Good. I thought it was just me.”
Wes sighed. “You regret it? What we—”
“Okay.” Wes looked up and his expression told Adrian he was just as lost. “Talk later?”
“Sure…” Adrian grabbed Wes’s arm before he could open the door. “Wait.” They stopped. “They may hate us. They may tell us were idiots and that what we’re doing is dangerous, but as long as you have my back I’ll have yours. You walk away from me again and I will end up dead. Stay with me, and I’ll deliver that fucker’s head to the queen on a platter.”
Wes turned around. He smirked. “Adrian, I’m not going anywhere now. Or ever.”
Wes leaned in and kissed Adrian. “Yeah. I’m sure.”
Adrian wiped his mouth and stepped back. “Good. Now let’s go meet Tabitha Sinclair.” He walked around Wes and pushed open the bathroom door. He was tired of being fucked with.
The room was clear of Bureau employees. The entire floor was left to the task force with the promise they wouldn’t touch any evidence without a tech present. The techs hadn’t asked why because they hadn’t been given a chance. No one was to know of Adrian’s ability except for his team.
Adrian had to give Feist credit. For being such a dick sometimes, and still mad at Adrian and Wes, he shadowed Adrian down the hall with his kid gloves on. Did he need anything? Was he sure he wanted to do this? Did he need candles or incense or holy water?
“I’m fine. Honest.” Adrian put a hand to Feist’s chest. “I got this.”
“Can we watch?” Feist rocked from heel to toe, hands behind his back, and glanced at the rest of his eager teammates.
Adrian checked with Wes. He wasn’t sure why he needed Wes’s reassurance, but things had changed. His partner was half his mind these days. Wes shrugged. “Your call.”
Tabitha was waiting. The moment he opened that door she’d slam into him like a wrecking ball and all hell would break loose. He’d probably lose his shit, weep like a little girl, vomit, or any number of embarrassing things. However, he’d already lost it in front of these men before. And when he woke up the last time, they’d been there to make sure he was okay.
Would they do it again was the question. Or were they still pissed enough to walk out?
“You can watch, but if you’ve got a problem with me or partner, you leave it at the door. You watch, you stay. Deal?”
Maloy smiled from behind Feist. “What problem is that?”
Davis punched Maloy in the arm. “They could’ve told us, man. What Bureau partners you know of that go together and still have a job?”
“It’s a risk, a big risk what you two are doing,” Fontine agreed. “We just don’t want the team broken up. We kind of like things the way they are.”
“And we don’t like wondering if you two are dead when you don’t answer the door or your fucking phones,” Feist butted in. “But I don’t think you two are going anywhere. Just because we haven’t had mated partners before at the Bureau doesn’t mean we can’t. Look at the Original and his mate. They fight side by side, so if anyone is gonna argue professionalism and that bureaucratic bullshit, take it up with them.”
Fontine chewed on his bottom lip. “We don’t want details, okay. We’d just like to know what’s going on, so we know what to expect and who to fuck up if they have an opinion on the matter. That’s how we roll.”
“We’re family.” Feist smiled. “So Kumbaya and all that shit. We done now? I want to get the fuck out of here. Place is cold.”
As soon as Feist mentioned it, his breath rolled out of his mouth. Adrian slowly turned to the closed door. “That’s because she knows I’m here.”
He put his hand on the doorknob. “Don’t pull me back until I’m ready this time. I want to know everything she knows.” He twisted the knob and walked into Tabitha’s nightmare.
Tabitha Sinclair was situated in a chair next to a café style table. A candlestick burned in a wooden holder next to a glass of red wine. A lipstick print rimmed the crystal as though she just taken a drink and died. If her heart hadn’t been missing, a giant hole right through her pretty black dress, and her eyes weren’t milky and fixated on the window, she would’ve looked like any other girl waiting for her date.
Adrian shivered as he approached the body. He noted Tabitha’s one wrist tied to the chair with a red ribbon, probably to keep her hand from falling away. Her other hand was positioned next to the wine glass, fingers on the stem with poise and the only thing that took away from her elegance was the lack of fingernails on a few of her fingers. A strip of metal ran up her back and her pearl necklace around it to keep her head in place and her body aligned with the chair.
Whoever had done this had put effort and thought into his work of art. He showed care for the victim as though her sacrifice was appreciated and her death not in vain. Adrian had no doubt Tabitha hadn’t been sexually assaulted before her death. The killer liked this victim too much. She meant something to him, or her likeness meant something to Leo Redding.
And yet the bigger picture escaped Adrian’s skills as a trained profiler. Pines trees. The house he knew but didn’t want to know. Tabitha in her pearls and pretty dress. Leonardo Redding and his madness. What did all mean? How did he know Redding?
Adrian struggled not to blow out the flame on the table. The pooling wax and the hours of slow burn, evidence of how long she’d been sitting there. And he wasn’t in this room to fight his fear of fire. He was here to talk to the women without a heart. With his team at his back and his support system in place, Adrian reached out and touched a gloved hand to Tabitha’s shoulder.
The flame flickered from an invisible breeze. The air thickened, making it hard to breathe. Adrian backed away, a sense of urgency told him not to disturb the body. She didn’t like anyone touching what was left. Although Tabitha hadn’t been raped, she’d been defiled. She refused to be touched again—even in the afterlife.
Hand lingering inches from Tabitha’s corpse, Adrian was struck in the gut by an unseen force. His body seized, back arching and hands reaching blindly for something to hold onto. The edges of his vision turned black. Tabitha was pulling him under and she wasn’t stopping.
Wes appeared around the table. “Adrian!”
“Don’t touch him, Durren,” Feist yelled. His voice echoed. Adrian heard him. He heard him!
Then everything went black. Time faded away and the smell of decay was pungent in the dark place Adrian found himself in. No walls or floor or ceiling to be touched, this place didn’t exist, and yet it did. This was new to Adrian. He’d never been pulled into a spirit’s realm before. Then again he’d never willingly or openly sought out a ghost before either.
A loud click sounded from above. A spotlight bathed a single rickety chair in light. As it was the only thing in this place of significance, Adrian walked to the chair and sat down. His breath rolled in a thick cloud away from his lips. His teeth chattered from the chill.
Tabitha was here, somewhere in the dark.
Adrian looked around, knew he was being watched, but he had only to wait for what was next. Another click sounded. This time it came from in front of him. A moldy canvas screen burst to life and a countdown began with the help of a projector that didn’t exist.
The screen beeped when it reached one and Adrian gasped. In a blink, he found himself in a lavish dining room overlooking Gramercy Park. How he knew that he had no idea, but he suspected Tabitha knew the area well. His suspicions were confirmed when the victim, healthy and alive, walked into the room and sat down at the dining table that was spread with china for what looked to be high tea.
She fixed her brilliant red hair, smoothed the skirt of her dress, and straightened her shoulders before another woman joined her. “Mother,” she acknowledged the woman who sat across from her.
Mrs. Sinclair didn’t respond. She unfolded her linen napkin and placed it over her lap. She looked angry, like nothing Tabitha did would diffuse her unleashed temper. “I received a disturbing call this morning, Tabitha.”
“Don’t play stupid with me, girl. How dare you interview for that fashion magazine job like I wouldn’t know about it!” Mrs. Sinclair glared at her daughter. “Writing smut for the humans and glamorizing filth. Staying out all hours, God knows where to schmooze with bachelors who have only one intention and call it networking. Dressing the way they do, exposing nearly everything… You are a respectable girl with a status to uphold, Tabitha!”
Tabitha gripped the hem of her skirt. She bowed her head in shame. “I’m of age now to make my own decisions. I’m two years turned, Mother.”
“Still a child in our world.” Mrs. Sinclair clucked her tongue. “An immature child who obviously can’t make the right decisions for herself.”
“Mother, I…” Tabitha closed her mouth.
Like Tabitha’s opinion didn’t matter, Mrs. Sinclair started to pour the tea. “Since you seem to need a bit of structure, as if your volunteer work doesn’t keep you busy enough, I’ve contacted a few friends of mine. Mr. Maloy was kind enough to mention he needs a daytime secretary at his office. Very good family, pureblooded Royal, and lots of influence—working under him will be the right path for you.”
“I don’t need to be a secretary. I worked hard to get my degree and I want to write.” Tabitha leaned away as her mother stood. She was terrified of her own flesh and blood.
“You will do as I say and report to Mr. Maloy’s office on Monday morning or I will send you to stay with your grandmother in the old country. No self-respecting Royal female of your status will go traipsing about like a whore with an opinion. You will work for Mr. Maloy. You will do as he says. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll find a male willing to have you, and once you’re mated he can decide what’s best for you.”
Tabitha’s bottom lip trembled. A tear hit her teacup. Adrian’s eyes widened when Tabitha turned to him. No longer green, but a milky white, her eyes focused on him. Blood filled the teacups, leaking over to stain the lace tablecloth. She stood up, the bottom of her skirt now bloody and tattered.
Mrs. Sinclair was paused with her teacup to her lips as Tabitha gestured for Adrian to follow her through the kitchen door. Reluctantly, he trailed behind her and pushed the swinging door open to see another pitch black space.
“Adrian…” Tabitha called in singsong. “Oh, Adrian. Come and see,” she whispered.
His heart racing, Adrian stepped into the dark and let the door swing shut. Tabitha was sitting at a desk outside a door with Maloy’s name on it. The office space was expensive, large glass windows with a view of Central Park, and artwork on the walls worth more than Adrian’s life.
Tabitha was dressed to the nines like a secretarial doll. Her hair twisted up and eyes sparkling with the help of makeup. But she didn’t look happy to be there. In fact, she looked scared. She put her hand to the wall and leaned in like a child eavesdropping on her parents.
Adrian heard, “What do you mean he’s dead?” Maloy paused. “He’s getting too close. I want the protection you said you’d get me with that donation.”
Tabitha put a hand over her mouth. She pressed her cheek harder against the wall. “Fine, I’ll take it. Send someone over, and I’ll see you in France. You too. Bye.”
Tabitha pushed into her desk and quickly pulled a notebook from the bottom drawer. As Adrian came closer, he saw the pages of notes she’d been keeping about Maloy. Numbers she’d put through to his office. Last names from the Caller ID. Code words she suspected were types of boys Maloy wanted sent over. Transactions he’d asked her to make, copies of checks he’d signed over to a particular charity.
Tabitha Sinclair had built a case against Ulysses Maloy with adequate proof. She knew who he really was and what got him excited. And it made her sick. But between her home life and her place of work, she was always being watched and always degraded. Who would believe her? And if they did, where would she run after the truth came out?
Tabitha slammed the notebook shut and shoved it into her laptop bag. Adrian could tell this was her moment. This time she had the name and number she needed, the head of the operation she’d labeled him, and she would leave Maloy to fend for himself when the authorities came knocking. She put on her coat and buzzed Maloy. “Sir, I’m stepping out for lunch. I’ve forwarded your calls to voicemail.”
“See me first.”
Tabitha took her bag into his office and closed the door. “Sir?”
Maloy lifted a gun from under his desk. “You never go to lunch. You always bring something in that little bag of yours.”
“Sir, I… please don’t.”
“You don’t think I heard you wheezing against the wall, listening to my private conversations. “ Maloy smiled. “What’s in the bag, Tabitha?”
“My laptop,” she cried. “I swear. That’s it!”
Tabitha shook her head and started to cry. “Please let me go. I won’t tell anyone.”
He got up and approached. “Won’t tell anyone what?”
Tabitha was forced to let go of her bag when Maloy slapped her across the face. The notebook slid across the floor, Maloy’s eyes going straight to it. “That doesn’t look like a laptop, Tabitha.”
He picked it up. He skimmed the pages before dropping the book and pressing the gun to her forehead. “If I kill you right now, I can’t explain it away. Cameras all over the place I don’t have access to. But one phone call and I could explain your father’s death, or your mother’s, or your brother’s. Simple robbery, Assassin attack, maybe your father had a few screws loose after your older sister went missing. Everyone thinks he did it anyway. That’s why your mother is such a bitch and obsessed with reputation.”
Maloy grinned. “So here’s what’s going to happen, my little charity case. You’re going to go back to your desk, pull out your lunch bag and eat your sandwich like none of this happened. You smile and take phone calls and keep your mouth shut, and maybe I’ll let you all live.”
Her evidence gone and death threats on the table, a teary Tabitha went back to her desk and tried to deal with the shock. Her hands shook on the desk surface. Her eyes were blank and glossy as she stared at the closed elevator door. Finally something clicked and life came to her face.
Very quietly, Tabitha fished her phone out from the middle desk drawer and texted: I’m in.
Her now black eyes flicked up to Adrian. She grinned, flashing fangs, and then pointed a finger to the elevator. The doors dinged open to another dark hole.
Adrian didn’t hesitate this time. He knew he was close to something big. She’d shown him so much. How she was involved with Maloy, linking her to Redding as a victim. Her family life, which Adrian was sure, meant something important beyond a connection to her employer.
Adrian walked onto a sidewalk from the darkness. He spotted the insurance building with the For Sale signs stamped everywhere and knew exactly where he was. Tabitha pulled up to the curb in a taxi. She got out and Adrian noticed the pearl necklace and her pretty black dress. She wasn’t here to meet Redding. She was here to meet someone she cared about.
But why at a place Ulysses owned? Did she know he owned it at all? Whatever her reasoning, she kept going inside, and Adrian followed. He walked the stairs forever like they refused to end. And when he reached the top, he heard her screams. Adrian threw the door open, but the killer was only a black shadow against Tabitha Sinclair.
Either Tabitha couldn’t deal with her killer’s manifestation, even in the afterlife, or she wanted Adrian to focus on her pain instead. She fought back, ripping her nails down his arm and kicking as hard she could. She bit him when he pinned her, and screamed for help when he rolled her onto her stomach.
He overpowered her by sticking a knife into her back. The killer withdrew the blade. Blood splattered his shadowy torso and he stuck the knife in again, piercing her heart. Life faded from Tabitha’s eyes. Blood spilled from her lips.
Tabitha Sinclair’s killer began to sob. He flipped her over and shook her shoulders.
“Stupid.” He slapped himself in the face. “I didn’t mean it. Wake up, Tabby. I didn’t mean it!”
The door flew open behind Adrian. “What have you done? Halverson, what did you do!”
Adrian couldn’t turn around. His body seized, breath stolen from his lungs. Tabitha rose from the floor, blood matting her hair. She sat down at the café style table that hadn’t been there before and lit the candle with her fingertip.
“Everything you think you know is a lie,” she told him ominously, and then Adrian passed out.
He awoke in Wes’s arms, surrounded by his teammates. Wes smoothed Adrian’s hair away from his forehead while Feist kneeled down with a bottle of water.
“Stay down for a while. You hit your head on the table when you fell. Just relax,” Feist said slowly.
Adrian lifted his hand to his head and felt the sting under his fingertips. A large bump had started to form. Did he have a concussion and imagine everything when he was passed out? No, definitely not, and now that he had a key piece of evidence—a name—he needed to get moving as soon as possible.
Wes’s arms tightened around him when Adrian tried to get up. “No, you don’t understand. We have to find him.”
Feist pushed Adrian back down. “Rest for a minute, buddy. We got time.”
“No, he’s gonna get away.”
“We don’t know where Redding is right now anyway.”
“Not Redding.” Adrian pushed Feist away and sat up. “Halverson. He’s one of the rookies. Halverson is the mole and he killed Tabitha Sinclair.”
Everything you think you know is a lie… Adrian looked up at Tabitha’s lifeless eyes and knew they were in for a hell of a ride.
To be continued…