Then her lush lips twitched and annoyance swept through me. She'd been warned often enough not to try her tricks on Directorate personnel but she liked to push. And given she was currently more of a help than a hindrance, there was nothing I could do about it.
I strode forward. Vinny watched me. She was an ordinary looking brown haired, brown eyed woman of medium height and build, but there was nothing ordinary about what she could do. As an emo vampire in charge of a huge nest - which was the only one we knew of in Melbourne - she was more dangerous than she looked. She had an aura similar to a werewolf's, and was totally capable of seducing anyone she chose, willing or unwilling. She'd come damn close to seducing me, and had even won a kiss from me - although that was more from a desperate need to get information than any emo geis.
The scent of blossom and springtime got stronger the closer I got to her chaise, and it mixed warmly with the heavy scent of desire stirring the air. The toga-clad teenagers watched me with languorous expressions, their pupils dilated. Meaning they'd recently fed, and were now sending the vibes out to the rest of the nest. Which explained the hum of excitement I'd felt downstairs.
I stopped when there was still a good ten feet between us. This close, Vinny's skin looked almost luminous, as if the richness of moon itself glowed from deep within her...
I blinked. Damn it, she was doing it again.
"Vinny," I warned softly.
She laughed - a rich sound that sent warm shivers up my spine - and unfurled her legs from the hem of her long dress. Her shoes were red and glittery, reminding me Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz. "What can I do for you, Riley?"
"We've two dead women on our hands," I said without preamble. "Both died of unknown causes, and in both cases, there was an extreme aura of desire and lust lingering in the room."
"Meaning they had sex before they died." She paused, mirth sparkling in her chocolate eyes. "Lucky them. But why do I need to know about these deaths?"
"Because we suspect an emo vampire might be at large."
"And I have the only known nest in Melbourne."
She rose unhurriedly, her movements grace itself. Her long skirt billowed briefly around her - a cloud of pale organza that seemed to catch the flickering sprays of rainbow light from the chandeliers and gleam like the inside of an oyster shell. Those same sprays of light danced across her skin, leaving a luminosity...
I dug my fingers into my palm, using the pain to battle the caress of her aura, however light it might be at the moment.
"It is a waste to kill a lover," she said softly, moving around me, her body so close I could feel the heat of her. "A dead lover is of no use to the nest."
"They are if they bequeath you their estate."
She laughed, and her breath stirred the hairs at the back of my neck. I forced myself to remain still, and she reappeared on my left side. Her skirt swirled around my leg. It felt as sweet as a caress.
I flexed my fingers and ignored the urge to get out of here.
"I can get that without killing them," she said. "All I have to do is ask."
"It's against the law to use your abilities for monetary gain, Vinny."
She laughed again and stopped in front of me. "Everyone who has bequeathed me their possessions or money has done so willingly. Just ask them."
Something flickered in her eyes. Annoyance, perhaps. "Then you know I have done no wrong. So why are you here?"
"Are there any other emo vampires or nests in Melbourne? Nests that we don't know about?"
It was flatly said, and I could sense no lie in her words. Of course, Vinny was such an accomplished liar that I probably wouldn't. And while in any other situation I would have tried to read her mind, telepathy was useless in this place. This room acted like a big black hole when it came to psychic energy. There were no deadeners involved, nor did it appear to be any kind of natural psychic shield. It was just a hole. Or maybe it was more like a black hole, because it seemed to suck away any sort of mental resonance.
Jack had theorized that it had something to do with an emo's control over energy, but Vinny certainly wasn't about to confirm or deny that.
"Would you know if there was another emo or nest in the city?"
"Would you tell us if there was?"
She smiled. "Perhaps."
Meaning only if there was something in it for her. I stepped back into cooler air. "If you do hear anything, let us know."
"If I hear anything and let you know, I expect something for my troubles." She cocked her head slightly. "Why do you taste so tense?"
"It's the company, I'm afraid."
She waved the comment away. "That tension is all part of the fun of having you here. This is different." She considered me for a moment. "Your soul is weary. It fights, and yet it tires of the fight. There is a tension in you I have not felt before."
And wouldn't feel again, as long as I could figure out a way to get Kye safely out of my life. "I don't know what you're talking about."
She smiled again. "You lie, guardian, but I appreciate the effort. Its taste is sweet."
Great. Now she was feeding off my emotional output, no matter how little I was trying to put out there. "Time for me to go," I said briskly, backing away further. "Remember; contact us if you hear anything."
She merely smiled so I turned and got the hell out of there.
I'd barely made it down to the ground floor when my phone rang. I knew without looking that it would be Jack.
It was that sort of day.
I plucked it free from my pocket and said, "What's up boss?"
"I want you to get over to Dante's straight away." My stomach sank. "Not another beheaded vampire?"
"Nope. This time it's a human. A drained human and a very ugly crowd of onlookers." His voice was grim. "The shit has hit the fan big time."
The shit, as Jack had so aptly put it, really did look nasty.
I parked half a street away from Dante's, but even so, as I climbed out of the car, the noise hit me. It was voices and anger and nastiness all rolled into one, and I hoped like hell they had more than one cop down there. Cole and his team might be able to protect themselves, but they shouldn't have to. They were only doing their job.
As was I.
But that didn't stop some fool lobbing a full can of beer straight at my head as the cops hastily cleared a way through the thirty-strong crowd for me. I caught it with one hand and met the gaze of the drunken fool who'd thrown it. His blue eyes were full of anger, his expression daring me to throw the can back. I raised it, but crushed it one handed instead - length wise, not through the middle. His eyes widened a little
. Obviously he hadn't thought a woman could be that strong. The cops opened the barriers to let me through and I walked across to the three figures huddled around a small, somewhat forlorn looking body.
Cole looked up as I joined them. There were shadows under his eyes, and I very much doubted they were from spending time with his new lady love. "It's not a vampire kill."
"What? But Jack said - "
"Yeah, I know. It was reported as that, but its not." He reached out and shifted the dead man's neck, revealing two neat holes.
"It sure as hell looks like a bite to me." I hesitated, and leaned closer. "Except that there's no redness, and no skin reaction."
"Exactly," Cole said heavily. "This is an imitation. A damn fine one, but an imitation all the same."
I squatted down beside him. "Meaning we'll find another wound somewhere on the body."
"Probably. We can't be sure until we get him back for an autopsy."
I studied the frail old man for a moment, wondering if he'd been selected simply because the sight of him would garner more anger and sympathy than someone in his prime. My gaze came to rest on his left leg. A faint hint of blood rode the air, and there seemed to be something bulky wrapped around the upper part of his thigh under his pants. I was betting on a bandage. "Strip him here."
Cole looked at me like I was mad. "The crowd is going to love that."
"The crowd is the reason I'm suggesting it. Do it."
Cole shared a look with both Dusty and Dobbs, then nodded abruptly. As they started stripping him, I rose and stalked over to the mob. They weren't pressing against the barricades just yet, but they were hurling abuse and litter at the cops who stood behind it. It wouldn't take much for this whole situation to explode.
"You, you and you," I said, pointing to three of the men who appeared to be the ringleaders of this nasty little crowd. "Get over here."
They pushed forward belligerently - big, handsome men with an ugly attitude.
"What?" the middle one said. He was the tallest of them by about three inches, and towered over me by a good five.
"You think vampires did this?"
"We know it. Like we told those men over there, we saw the car. It was a vamp car."
Meaning the windows had been fully shielded against sunlight. "And you know for certain that it was a vamp either driving or being driven in it?"
He frowned. "Who else would fucking drive one of those things?"
"I see." I stepped forward, grabbed him by the shirt, thrust my other hand on his crotch, and none too elegantly hauled him up and over the barrier. He wasn't a small man and it was a huge effort, but it had the desired effect. The crowd fell silent.
"You two," I said, dumping the stranger back on his feet and pointing to his two friends, "Join us."
They did. Fast.
With my grip still on the big man's shirt, I dragged him over towards the body. The other two followed without being asked.
Cole and his team had stripped the body and were in the process of unraveling the bandage as we arrived.
"What the fuck?" the big man said, his face an angry red. I couldn't actually tell if it was anger over my treatment of him, or anger at being dragged so close to a corpse. Some people were funny about things like that. "We don't need to see this."
"Ah, but you do, because we don't need your sort spreading untrue rumors."
I hauled him to a stop as Cole pulled the final bit of bandage free. The wound on the old man's leg was obvious - a clean, crisp stroke that sliced from the top of his thigh to down near his knee. The wound split as Cole moved the old man's leg, revealing the layers of fat and muscle and then bone. There were small clots inside the wound, and the skin had a slightly darkened appearance, as if someone had hastily washed the area.
"What do you think that is?" I said to the man.
"A knife wound," he muttered.
"A knife wound that sliced through major arteries and would have caused him to bleed to death," I retorted. "Now, I can't imagine a vampire wasting blood like that. Can you?"
"Maybe whoever did it wanted us to think it wasn't a vampire," one of the men behind him said, his voice belligerent.
I released the tall man and grabbed his buddy. He squawked as I yanked him forward, moving around the body until we stood near his head. Cole obligingly moved the dead man's neck so that the bite was more evident. I could feel the waves of amusement coming from him, yet you'd never know it from his expression. Dusty and Dobbs were studiously avoiding looking at anyone.
"Do they look like real vampire bites to you?"
"I don't know," he muttered, his gray eyes darting between the body and the crowd, as if he couldn't bear looking at the old man for more than a second. "I'm no expert on vampire bites."
"Well, these men are. Do you care to hear what they say, or are you merely interested in stirring up unfounded trouble?"
"I don't want no trouble. None of us do."
"Sure as hell could have fooled me." The crowd behind us was still very silent. "Cole?"
Cole cleared his throat, a brief twitch of his lips the only indicator of the amusement I could still feel. "When a vampire bites into flesh, analgesic elements in their saliva reacts with the skin, causing a swelling around the wound. On the dead, this swelling does not abate. These wounds were very likely punched into the skin by a thick needle or the end of a knife. An autopsy will provide the answer either way."
"Meaning," I said, giving the man a bit of a shake, "that someone wanted idiots like you to think this man was killed by a vampire."
"Well, we weren't to know he wasn't," the bigger man whined belligerently.
His voice was loud, carrying easily, and a murmur went through the crowd. The tension and anger, which had already begun to dissipate, subsided still further.
"Which is why it's always dangerous to jump to conclusions," I said. "Now, why don't you all leave, before I decide to arrest your asses?"
"What?" someone said. "You can't do that!"
Which was true enough. I couldn't, because they were all human, and the rules that applied to nonhumans certainly didn't apply to them. But they obviously weren't the sharpest tools in the shed, so a little twisting of the truth wasn't going to hurt. Not if it got them to restrain themselves the next time they saw a body being dumped in the street.
"The Directorate has a whole lot more power than the police, and you three were inciting violence against both the police and Directorate personnel. Consider yourselves damn lucky I'm feeling generous today."
They slunk off. By the time they'd gotten over the barriers, the crowd had begun to disperse. I blew out a relieved breath.