Death and relaxation, p.10
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       Death and Relaxation, p.10

           Devon Monk
 

  Senta was photographing the sand outside the fence, looking for footprints or evidence that would tell us if there had been any foul play. Page was inside the fence, photographing the body.

  “Hey-a, chief,” Mykal called out. “Myra. Cold night for it.”

  Since he was a vampire and couldn’t feel the cold, it was nice of him to sympathize with us mortals.

  “Are these our witnesses?” I asked Page.

  She glanced up, her eyes doing that bio-luminous glitter of her kind when they were in the dark and around fresh blood. “Couple from Eugene in for the Rhubarb Rally,” she said. “They’re staying at the Sand Garden and were out for a late walk.”

  “I’ll go talk to them,” Myra said.

  I watched her approach them. Their body language changed to one of relief. I was sure they would be happy to give statements so they could get out of the rain.

  Another movement caught my eye.

  Ryder stopped near the ambulance, hands tucked in coat pockets, knit beanie on his head. He stared down at Heim, his face lined with something sharp and dark. Concern. Maybe anger.

  I tried to remember how well they’d known each other. Not extremely well, I thought.

  He looked up, but not at me. Instead, his eyes scanned the cliffs and the hint of road weaving along it as if he were putting together a puzzle of his own.

  I took another gulp of coffee, then set my cup in the sand, twisting it to dig in a little. I ducked under the fencing and paused before moving farther. “We got shots of all this?”

  “In triplicate,” Page said.

  I crossed the short distance to where Heim lay on his back, one arm thrown up over his head, the other by his side. He wore a flannel shirt, thermal under it, Carhartts, and waders.

  In the harsh glare of the lights, I could make out no blood. His face was peaceful and relaxed into something that was almost relief. Not what I expected from a corpse.

  “Head trauma?” I asked as I knelt.

  Sage nodded and crouched on the other side of the body. “A couple hours old, I think.”

  “Think? I thought Rossis were better pinning down these kinds of things.”

  She flashed me a grin with a little fang. “We are. But I don’t think it was the head wound that killed him.”

  “No?”

  “I think he drowned.”

  I took a moment to study her face. She was not lying.

  “Yeah?”

  “We’ll run labs, of course.”

  “Good. Any other wounds?”

  “A few nicks on his hands—hooks, wood slivers, that kind of thing.”

  “His only large injury is the head wound?”

  “Yes. And water in his lungs. The scrapes on his hands are common for a fisherman.”

  “Have you heard anything about the Gulltoppr?”

  “It was adrift, all in one piece, unmanned, just north of here.”

  “Distress signal?”

  She shook her head, moonlight hair swinging.

  “Who found it?”

  “Coast guard. They brought it in. Not sure where it is right now—in the bay, I’d guess. I heard Jean tell them to close it off and to not allow anyone to touch it until we determine the cause of death.”

  “All right. Do you have a flashlight on you?”

  “Hold on.” She stood. Without saying anything or making any kind of signal that I could see, she caught the flashlight Senta tossed to her.

  Vampires and their intra-species mind-reading tricks.

  Never play Pictionary with them.

  She handed me the light. I blocked out the rain, the cold, the wind. I blocked out the sound of the ocean, the rumble of the ambulance engine and generator running the lights.

  I opened my senses—eyes, ears, nose, touch—to the dead man in front of me, trying to understand his story. Trying to understand how his life had ended.

  Shirt wasn’t torn; still had on the boots he always wore on the deck. No rope burns on his palms, no deep gouges to indicate he got caught in a winch line, dragged. The scratches and nicks Page mentioned really were just that.

  I didn’t move his hair to inspect the wound, since I didn’t have gloves in this borrowed jacket, but I took the time to pass the flashlight slowly over every inch of his body, trusting that if there was a detail the Rossis had missed, I’d see it.

  Nothing.

  If I had to file my final report right now, I’d say he hit his head, fell overboard, and drowned.

  “Can you smell alcohol on him?”

  Page leaned in, holding her satiny white hair out of the way. Sniffed.

  “I don’t think so. But other things are in the way of knowing. His heritage is bright.” Her eyes flashed blue with light again.

  By heritage, she meant god power.

  Yeah, that was the wild card in this. God power leaving a body could do all sorts of things to mess up the evidence and cause of death.

  I’d need to handle that—handle my part in dealing with the god power that no longer had a mortal vessel to inhabit.

  “Take him in,” I said. “Let me know what labs say as soon as we know. I want a full autopsy.”

  “Will do, chief. If there’s anything I can do. To help with…you”—she nodded—“say the word.”

  This was the first time I would have to bridge a god power. And since uncontrolled, unclaimed god power was more than happy to kill mortals and creatures alike—even the undead, like vampires—it was as much her unlife resting in my very inexperienced hands as it was the life of the mortals in the town.

  “I got this.”

  She patted my shoulder. “If you need the Rossis, we’re here for you.”

  “You might want to check with Old Rossi before you go promising a pact between me and your entire clan.”

  “He likes you.”

  “That’s not what he said last month when I told him jogging nude wasn’t allowed in the neighborhood.

  “I didn’t say he always likes you.”

  “How does he do that, by the way? All of you? The skin-in-sunlight thing?”

  It was a well-kept secret even my dad hadn’t gotten out of the local vamps. Sunlight didn’t seem to give them much trouble.

  “Ask Old Rossi.”

  Myra ducked under the orange fence webbing.

  “Anything?” she asked.

  “Head wound. Page suspects drowning.”

  “We’ll want to run full labs,” she said.

  “Yep.” I straightened into the gusting wind to face my sister. “What did the city folk say?”

  “Nothing new. Out walking. Thought he was sleeping at first. The woman has a flashlight app on her phone. She was worried he wasn’t breathing. The man checked for a pulse while she called it in.”

  “Did he find one?”

  “No. Cold to the touch.”

  “Okay.” The wind chopped across the sand, cold and biting. My gaze wandered over Myra’s shoulder to where Ryder stood, one hip leaned against the front bumper of the ambulance.

  He wasn’t watching the cliffs any more. He was watching me.

  A warmth that had nothing to do with the thick jacket, wrapped around me.

  “Delaney,” Myra said, “I think you should go home for the night. Take a nice hot bath. Get some sleep.”

  Honestly, nothing sounded better right now. I hadn’t slept in a day, and the blast of god power had made me much too alert, and jittery tired.

  But I was the chief of police and there was a dead god to deal with.

  “I’ll come into the station,” I said. “Write up my report.”

  “You’re beat.”

  “Nothing a dozen cups of coffee won’t fix.”

  She pressed her lips together and twisted to glance at Ryder.

  “Nope,” I said. “Do not drag him into this. I’ll do my job, then go home after.” I picked up my coffee, which had gone cold. Swallowed some along with the grit of sand caught on the edge of the lid.

  “Dad told m
e the power was exhausting,” she said. “That the first time nearly knocked him out for days.”

  “Good thing I’m not Dad,” I said with false cheer. I tugged her arm as I walked past her. “You coming?”

  It took a minute, but she finally caught up to me.

  “What’s it like?” she asked.

  I kept my head down against the wind, my boots sinking in the soft, wet sand. How could I put this in words? “It’s like a sound, a lot of sounds, all clashing together in my head. Voices, string, drum banging around under my skin. It’s loud and…uncomfortable. Like a crappy apartment neighbor who won’t keep the stereo down.”

  She huffed, not quite a laugh, then was silent as we walked. I wondered how hard it was for her to resist checking my forehead for a fever and maybe shining one of those little stick lights in my eyes. She tried to keep a cool exterior, but Myra was more maternal than any of us Reed girls.

  “What did Dad tell you it was like?” I asked.

  “Hell.”

  Great. Thanks, Dad.

  By the time we made it back to the car, I was breathing too hard and shaking from the cold and sweat. I was also considering the benefits of throwing up.

  Still debating that with my stomach, I leaned against the side of the cruiser and closed my eyes. I worked on breathing—in through the nose, out through the mouth—and tipped my face up, hoping the wind and dampness of the night would clear my head and ease my gut. I was used to pushing my body hard. I stayed in shape for just this sort of thing, but the impact of god power had taken more out of me than I’d expected.

  Arms wrapped behind my back and under my knees. My eyes snapped open.

  Ryder.

  The man was quiet when he wanted to be.

  “What do you think you’re doing?” I asked, searching his eyes. Was he going to kiss me? Because that might be a terrible idea, considering the state of my stomach.

  He lifted me off my feet. “Following orders.”

  “Wha— Put me down. This is not a good idea.”

  “This is not a bad idea.”

  “I’ll barf on you.”

  “I’m washable.”

  “I can make you put me down.”

  He had been walking toward his truck this entire time, and despite myself, all my muscles were relaxing into him. The scent of his cologne—something with coconut in it—wrapped around me, and all I wanted to do was put my head on his shoulder and sleep for a year.

  “I know you can make me,” he said calmly. Then he lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “Out of the two of you right now, I’m more afraid of your sister.”

  “Don’t argue with him,” Myra called out as she opened the cruiser door. “He’ll take you home.”

  “He’s not even our employee,” I said.

  “Yet,” he added.

  “See you in the morning, Delaney,” she said. “If you show up before nine, I’ll duct-tape you to the cot.”

  “I think she’s serious,” he said, stopping at the passenger side of the truck.

  Myra got in the cruiser and started the engine.

  “She is.” I sighed. “Put me down. There’s nothing wrong with my legs.”

  “True.” He somehow got the passenger door open without dropping me. “You have very nice legs. But your sister was clear with her instructions.”

  “Which were?”

  “Not to let your feet touch ground until you’re at your house.”

  “Oh, for Pete’s sake.”

  He gave me a grin. Then, with far too much ease, he tossed me gently into the front seat of his truck.

  “Almost like you’ve done that before.”

  He shrugged. “I am a man of many talents. At your service.” He gave me a slight bow then shut the door in my face.

  I watched him saunter around the front of the truck, the rain-shattered light catching at the hard edge of his profile and wide shoulders. He looked good in his skin. Confident in who he was, confident in his place in the world. In his goals. It was sexy the way he moved, shoulders and hips shifting with controlled power. Very male. It made me wonder how he would move on a dance floor. Or in bed.

  “So, Officer Reed.” He settled in the front seat and started the engine. “My place or yours?”

  “Mine?”

  He glanced over at me, the cool light of the street lamp doing amazing things to his eyes, his mouth. And when he bit his bottom lip, tugging before he smiled, something that felt like butterflies fluttered across my stomach. I shivered.

  “You don’t sound too sure of that. And there are a million steps up to your place. There’s nothing but an easy path to mine.”

  “You know what they say about taking the path of least resistance.”

  “Leads to temptation?” He wiggled his eyebrows. “I have hot cocoa.”

  I closed my eyes and pressed cold fingertips over my lids. “I totally set myself up for that, didn’t I?’

  He chuckled. “You totally did.”

  “That’s it. I am officially too tired to operate my mouth and brain.”

  “Does that mean you’re too tired for stairs?”

  I turned my head and gave him a small smile. “I’m not too tired to operate my feet. I should go home.”

  “Then home it is.” He eased the truck out onto the road and turned on the heater. Classic rock wafted through the speakers, turned down so low, it was almost a lullaby. I leaned my head against the side window and closed my eyes.

  “Hey, Lane,” Ryder said softly. “We’re here.”

  I opened my eyes with a start and tried to get my bearings. We were parked at the bottom of my stairs, the engine turned off, rain clattering across the truck’s roof.

  Lane. He hadn’t called me that since we were in school. I had forgotten how much I liked his nickname for me. “Tell me this isn’t the worst date you’ve ever been on,” I said.

  “Not even in the top ten worst.”

  “Top twenty?”

  He rocked his hand back and forth. “The dead body definitely puts it in the top twenty-five.”

  “Well, good. Wouldn’t want the night to be a total loss.” I tucked my hair back behind my ears and narrowed my eyes at him. “Thanks for the ride, traitor.”

  “Whoa. Traitor?”

  “You sided with my sister back there.”

  “You didn’t see your sister’s face when you passed out in front of Jump Off’s. She looked like a valkyrie.”

  “Valkyrie?” Chills ran down my arms. I knew the town’s only valkyrie: Bertie. Did he know? Did he know about the creatures in this town?

  “Norse myth. Warrior women who gather up the fallen heroes and take them to their final party place in Valhalla.”

  “Right. Sure. Norse thing. It’s been a while since I took that mythology class in high school.”

  He dipped his head to catch my eyes. Waiting until I met his gaze. “Myra’s worried about you. Since she’s your sister, and a cop, and isn’t the kind of person who overreacts, I’m worried about you. Are you really okay, Lane?”

  “It was just a fluke. Passing out. Must have had too much to drink.”

  “Two beers?”

  “I’m out of practice, apparently.”

  He frowned, his gaze searching my face. He didn’t believe me. Or he didn’t want to.

  I didn’t want him to find the truth—that I was tired, a little scared, and full of really noisy power. I pulled on the door handle and turned away. “Anyway. Thanks for the ride. Congrats on getting conned into helping out at the station, you foolish man. See you in the morning.”

  I got out of the truck before he could say anything and sucked in a hard breath at the temperature change. Cold, blustery, wet. Springtime in the Pacific Northwest.

  I crunched over gravel to the bottom of the stairs, put one hand on the railing, and started up. Halfway to my goal, I heard the truck door close and then the shuck-shuck of boots jogging up the stairs behind me.

  Jogging.

  Ser
iously.

  “You don’t have to follow me.” I didn’t bother looking back at him.

  “I promised Myra I’d make sure you were home.” He slowed to move in rhythm with me as I trudged up the stairs. His boots, my boots shuck-shucking as one.

  “I’m here. I’m home. You’ve fulfilled your contract with my pushy sister. You can go.”

  “I’m to give her a full report, and it is to include you taking off your boots and either getting into a hot bath or crawling into bed.”

  “For the love of Pete,” I said. “She told you that?”

  “I’m just a law-abiding citizen doing what the local law tells me to do. You don’t want me to break the law, do you, Laney?”

  “Brown-noser,” I mumbled.

  “What?”

  “Come on in, citizen,” I said with all the sarcasm I could shovel. “And watch the amazing Delaney Reed take off her shoes.”

  I opened my front door, strolled in to my living room. I was pretty sure he was laughing at me.

  “You should really lock your door. All sorts of people could just walk in to the place.”

  “Don’t I know it.” I turned around, held my arms out to either side. “Ta-da! I am here. I am home. And…” I held up one finger then toed off my boots and kicked them to one side. “I am de-booted.” I grinned. “Now you and my sister can get out of my hair, okay?”

  “Almost.”

  “Almost?”

  “There’s one more thing.”

  I tipped my head back and groaned. “It’s illegal to shoot siblings, right?”

  “Only inside state lines.” He crossed the distance between us in three easy strides.

  And then his arm was around my back, his other hand slowly rising to the side of my face, fingers tucking back in my hair to curl at the nape of my neck.

  “Just in case a workplace romance doesn’t work out, I thought we could start here.” His gaze held mine. I couldn’t move. Didn’t want to move. All the sound inside me went silent, still.

  Ryder was warm—hot, his jacket open so I could feel the heat of his body even through the coat I wore.

  When I didn’t resist, he lowered his mouth, softly, gently.

  His lips, warm with the taste of rain, found mine.

  Everything in me went upside down and the world somersaulted into deep water.

 
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