Death and relaxation, p.9
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       Death and Relaxation, p.9

           Devon Monk
 

  We needed the help. He was offering. I would be stupid to turn him away. All I had to do was manage my heart, manage my feelings for him. Put him on opposite shifts from me, partner him to Myra. It could work. It would work. I’d done harder things in my life. Plenty of them.

  I could do this.

  “Your qualifications and our desperation landed you the job,” I said. “Welcome aboard, Reserve Officer Bailey.” I lifted my glass in toast and tried to calm my heartbeat as Ryder gave me a smile that made me tingle with heat.

  Or maybe that was just the beer. I took a sip.

  Nope. It was all Ryder.

  I could do this. I could ignore our attraction. My attraction.

  Jean slapped Ryder happily on the shoulder and he chuckled. The sound of his laughter stirred deep down inside me and I found myself staring at him. Wanting him.

  I could do this.

  He slid a glance my way. Laughter. Heat. And desire.

  I caught my breath. Oh, gods. What had I done?

  I was saved from that thought by Molly showing up with our meal.

  Chapter 8

  THE ROSSI and Wolfe crowd got a little rowdy, voices raised in argument.

  We all glanced over to see if we’d have to muscle them apart.

  Jame Wolfe stared down his brother, Tonner, doing that silent were-dominance thing again. Ben Rossi smoothly and firmly pulled Sven—who looked like he’d had several too many drinks—off to one side to have a private conversation with him.

  “Not good,” Jean said, popping the last bit of a carrot she’d dipped in chocolate into her mouth.

  I pushed back to stand.

  “We got it.” Myra’s hand landed on my shoulder.

  I let Jean and Myra stride over to check out the argument before it escalated into a fight.

  The Wolfes and Rossis closed ranks on opposite sides of the table and glared at each other in silence. This silence, filled with the ever-present tension between the families, was somehow much more worrisome than the quick shouting match.

  Myra walked over to talk to the Rossi clan while Jean approached the Wolfe family.

  “Still surprises me about Jame and Ben,” Ryder said.

  “Because they’re gay?” I said without looking away from the vamps and weres.

  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him shake his head. “Everyone knew that.”

  “I didn’t know it.”

  “You didn’t get hit on by Ben in high school.” He sounded like he was smiling.

  Finally, Ben and Jame brought Tonner and Sven back together. Ben’s hand was planted on Sven’s shoulder, and Jame had his arm around Tonner’s back.

  Tonner and Sven didn’t look like they were in a forgiving mood, but after a quick talk with Myra and Jean, money was exchanged between the two creatures and no blood was spilled.

  Jame and Ben both patted their stubborn relations on the back, and everyone went back to playing pool.

  Jean, I noted, had been invited to the Wolfe side of the game, so Myra lifted one eyebrow and gave her a challenging smile as she casually joined in with the vampires.

  The universal schoolroom you’re-in-trouble taunt of “Oooooooh” rose from both teams.

  Sometimes being a cop meant remembering you were just a regular person like anyone else in town. Even the irregular ones.

  “So why are you surprised Ben and Jame are together?” I said, picking up the conversation again. “Don’t think workplace romances are a good idea?”

  “Their families don’t exactly get along. Never have. I can’t imagine what major holidays are going to look like for them.”

  I lifted my chin toward the pool game. Sven and Tonner were laughing loudly as Ben flipped them both off with a flash of fang and then took his shot. Jame leaned against the wall next to his pack, watching his partner. After Ben’s shot and groan, Jame rolled his eyes and slapped a few bills into his brother’s palm.

  Someone, or maybe two someones, had just lost a bet. But in doing so, it looked like they’d restored harmony between the groups.

  “If anyone can make it work, it’s those two stubborn men,” I said.

  Jean was up, leaning over the pool table and shifting her butt just a little as she did so. As one, every Wolfe head tipped to the side, watching her butt like puppies watch a stick.

  I turned back to the table and picked at the remaining French fries on my plate. I was stuffed. I felt amazing. Full, grounded, satisfied.

  “Why haven’t I been eating lately? Eating is wonderful.”

  “That’s a good question,” Ryder said. “Why haven’t you been eating lately?”

  Terrific. I’d said that out loud. Another reminder that I’d been home, alone, talking to myself far too much lately.

  “No time?” I suggested.

  “No sleep?” he countered.

  I dragged my fingers back through my hair, and let it fall. He watched me, savoring every move, as if there was something about me worth savoring.

  I made a face at him, which broke the intensity in his eyes. He grinned and went back to pushing his remaining fries through a puddle of ketchup and Tabasco sauce.

  Thank gods. If he’d kept looking at me like that, I would have crawled over the table just to find out what Tabasco sauce and ketchup tasted like on his mouth.

  “Maybe you haven’t been eating because something else has been on your mind. Your dad?”

  Yeah, that. He wasn’t wrong. There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t wish he were still here with me. With us. His death had been so sudden.

  I loved him. I always would. But it was more than just his death that had disrupted my life. It was also this job, this family responsibility that I still wondered if I was handling as well as I should.

  “You want to talk about that?” Ryder asked gently. “You went pretty quiet.”

  I didn’t want to talk about what was really bothering me—the crazy secrets of gods and monsters in this town. My job to look after them all, and to be there when god power needed to change hands.

  But maybe I could talk about Dad.

  “I think about him every day. Think about what he’d do when I’m responding to a call. Keep expecting him to stop by and see me and my sisters. But I’m getting…well, better isn’t really the right word, but maybe I’m getting used to the way things are now?”

  “Grief is a terrible houseguest,” he said. “It shows up when we least expect it and leaves long after it’s overstayed its welcome.” His eyes darkened, and he stared into his empty beer glass.

  “Something wrong?”

  “No.” He was lying. Then he looked back up, some of the darkness gone from his eyes. “This is nice. Why don’t we do this more often?”

  “Because we are hardworking people who forget to put ourselves first every once in a while.”

  “About that.” He leaned forward, took my hand, and rubbed his thumb gently, maddeningly, across the back of it, soft, slow strokes. My breath bunny-hopped and I worked to pull it back under control. “I’ve been thinking. Maybe it’s time we put ourselves first.”

  “You mean burgers and fries every once in a while?”

  “I mean go out. Date. I’m asking you if you’d like to date me, Laney. Just to see…just to see where things could be between us.”

  Everything in me wanted to say yes. I’d been waiting to hear those words out of Ryder’s mouth since I was in elementary school and thought dating meant sharing the green M&M’s.

  But I paused. Ryder’s hazel eyes were filled with patience, softened by compassion and maybe something more.

  He licked his lower lip, biting it just a bit as he watched me.

  That look was filled with a lot more than compassion. It was filled with a heat and fire I wanted to lose myself to, wanted to be devoured by.

  “I thought you didn’t like workplace romances.”

  “I never said that.”

  My heart whispered with need. I’d never know if Ryder was the man I d
reamed he was, if being with him how I’d always wanted to would live up to my imagination if I didn’t try it. Dating was a good start. All I had to say was yes.

  I opened my mouth to say yes.

  “Delaney.” Myra strode across the room. “We need to talk. Now.”

  She was scowling. Pale. Jean was already jogging toward the door, her phone at her ear.

  Something was wrong.

  “What’s wrong?” Ryder asked.

  “Police business,” she said. “Not for you.”

  I stood, reached for the back of my chair, and only then remembered I hadn’t brought my jacket. “Sorry. I need to go. Report to the station tomorrow morning.”

  He stood too. “I can come along.”

  “No,” Myra and I both said. “We’ll get you sworn in tomorrow, officially,” I added. “Then you can come along. Tomorrow. Don’t be late.”

  I had to jog a little to catch up to Myra, who was already hauling it across the room and out the door.

  “Talk to me,” I said.

  “I’ll tell you in the car.” She wrapped her arm around my waist, which seemed like a strange thing for her to do as we stepped outside.

  “What?”

  Ryder jogged out the door. “You forgot your purse. Delaney?”

  Myra swore quietly.

  And that was when it hit me.

  God power.

  I’d never felt it before, not like this, not so strong. But I knew exactly what it was. God power, uncontrolled, wild. It slammed into me, trying to reshape me. Trying to change me.

  A wave of sensations swallowed me whole, pulled me down with electric fingers and explosions of color. I felt my knees give out, heard my moan as I fell. Ryder’s voice, Myra’s voice, were faint echoes behind a chorus of sound raised in raw power.

  The world shuddered under that song, then rebuilt itself to meet the call of this mighty, unstoppable, exquisite force.

  A universe of sensation—beautiful sensations, terrifying sensations—filled me.

  And then silence and blackness closed it all down.

  Chapter 9

  RAIN. A soft patter of it against a metal roof. The smell of gardenias—Myra’s perfume. I heard her voice too, building slowly, like someone turning up the volume in increments.

  “Right here with you. Just come back, Delaney. Just come back, right here.”

  “I’m awake.” Had to clear my throat a little and push hard to get my eyes open. I was lying in the back seat of Myra’s cruiser, the engine running, heater blowing full-blast, police radio on in the background.

  “I’m awake,” I said again. “What happened?”

  She glanced over her shoulder at me as she drove. “It knocked you out. I was worried that it might.”

  “What knocked me out?” I sat. It was warm in the car, but I shivered and pulled the throw blanket she’d covered me with over my shoulders. The tank top felt like a poor decision at this point. “Do you have a spare jacket?”

  “God power,” she said. “Jacket in the trunk.”

  God power. That meant that one of the gods, in their mortal form, had died.

  Oh, shit.

  “Who? When?”

  “Can’t you tell?” She parked the car, flipped off the windshield wipers, and turned back toward me. “You’re still white as a bone, Delaney. Let’s just sit here for a second.”

  I nodded, but was thinking about her first question. Couldn’t I tell what power had just hit me like a freight train?

  “Heimdall. Norse God. Herald of Ragnarok. Oh,” I said, putting it together with a terrible sinking feeling. “It’s Heim, isn’t it?”

  “Tourists found his body washed up on the shore about an hour ago. We don’t know how long he’s been dead yet.”

  “How long have I been out?”

  “About twenty minutes.”

  “So maybe he’s only been dead that long?”

  “I don’t think so. This is the first time a god has died since you became the bridge for power. I remember Dad saying it took some time for powers to focus on him until it had happened a few times. Each power left a bit of a mark, he said. So the next powers could more easily find him.”

  He had never told me that.

  “You talked to Dad about being a bridge?”

  Her profile was outlined by the faint streetlight filtering in through the rain-spotted windshield. In this light, the lines of her were softened into the kind of femme fatale I’d expect in a noir mystery, her straight, dark bangs the perfect counterbalance to the round edges of her eyes and cheeks.

  “I talked to Dad about a lot of things. Each of our gifts, yours in particular. I wanted to be prepared.”

  “Why mine in particular?”

  “Because I knew this wasn’t going to be easy. And I knew it would be me and Jean who made sure you got through it.”

  It was sweet. And a little annoying that she thought I couldn’t handle it.

  “I can handle this. It just caught me off guard.”

  The lights of a pickup truck swung past us, and the truck parked on the side of the road behind us.

  “Company?” I tried to get a good look through the rain-stained window.

  “Boyfriend.”

  “You have a boyfriend?”

  “No. You do.”

  And sure enough, that was Ryder’s truck. He got out and, with a drink carrier balanced in one hand, walked around the back of the cruiser to rap his knuckles on Myra’s window.

  She rolled down the window.

  “Didn’t I make myself clear, Mr. Bailey?” She was in full cop-mode. “This is a police matter. I need you to evacuate the area.”

  “Since I’m not sworn in yet, I’m bringing coffee in a non-official capacity.” He smiled and lifted the cups. “I thought you and Delaney could use it. Is she okay?”

  I opened the door and stepped out. “I’m fine.” My teeth chattered as cold rain hit my bare skin.

  He held out one of the coffees and jiggled it.

  I couldn’t help but smile.

  “Thanks.” I wrapped my fingers around the paper cup and took a gulp. “This is police business, Ryder. You’re not on the clock.”

  “I’m here as a concerned citizen, nothing more. I heard it’s about Heim? Is he okay?”

  Myra got out of the car and snagged up the other coffee on her way to the trunk.

  “Who have you been talking to?” I asked. Myra handed me a jacket and I practically crawled into it. It was too big for me, but the flannel interior felt wonderful on my bare arms and shoulders.

  “I’ve got a scanner,” he said. “Heard Jean talking to the EMTs she sent out here. Also heard the bay master. They’re bringing in the Gulltoppr.”

  The Gulltoppr was Heimdall’s boat.

  “When we need an amateur detective,” Myra said, “we’ll call you.”

  “I wouldn’t say no to that,” he said amiably. “If it comes with a cool hat and magnifying glass. Although a badge and gun sounds like a lot more fun.”

  Myra squared off to him. “If you get in my way, Ryder Bailey, I will lock you up for obstruction.”

  He held up both hands and took three steps back. “I’ll stay at a distance. I’ll even keep other people at a distance if they show up. I know how to stay out of the way.”

  “Really?” she asked.

  He tucked his hands into his coat pockets. “Most of the time, yes. Although, now that you mention it, I wouldn’t say it’s a strength of mine.”

  I snorted a chuckle into my coffee cup.

  His eyes flicked over to me, laughter and worry filled them in equal measures.

  I sighed. “Once again—I’m fine. And you aren’t fooling anyone, Ryder.”

  “Wasn’t trying to. Just concerned about you. That’s not a crime, is it?”

  No, my heart said. Caring about someone—me—enough that he’d go through the trouble to track down the call, and meet us here with coffee, wasn’t a crime at all.

  It was really ni
ce.

  “Not yet,” Myra said.

  “Good, then. We’re good.”

  Myra looped her arm through mine and we started down the trail that cut through the tough sea grass, the rise of the shore hunched up on either side of us.

  “Sorry,” I said. “I don’t know why he’s suddenly so worried about me.”

  “I do.”

  I waited.

  “I’ve never seen you go so cold and unresponsive, Delaney. When you passed out in front of Jump Off Jack’s, I thought you’d stopped breathing.”

  She said it in a matter-of-fact tone, but I knew her. She had, maybe only for a moment, thought I’d died. It could happen to someone who bridged god power, though usually the deadliest part of that transfer was when a new mortal had to pick up the power. If the mortal panicked, changed their mind at all, the bridge was left holding the power.

  Which was usually fatal.

  Dear gods, she thought I’d died.

  “Never like that.” I squeezed her arm still draped through mine. “Never going out that easy, that quick.”

  “Good.” She squeezed back for a second, then we both let go.

  “How far out did they find him?” I asked.

  “Just down the beach about a quarter mile.” She pointed.

  I pulled up the hood on the jacket and we started off that way. The wind was steady, strong, and sent rain and sand spattering across the back of my jacket and jeans. I was glad I’d decided on boots tonight. There was no way I’d be tromping through the sand in strappy sandals.

  Even in the rain and wind and darkness, it didn’t take us all that long to reach the body.

  The EMTs were already on the scene. They’d set up portable lights and had driven the ambulance down from the beach access just north of here.

  The tide was on its way out. It hissed and crashed a good thirty feet from the ambulance.

  Five people were at the scene, two tourists texting on their phones, and three responders—all of them vampires. Mykal, a short, dark-haired Rossi, drove the ambulance. He finished pounding a stake rather effortlessly into the sand so he could string bright orange webbing in a ring to close off the area. The other two Rossis were the twins, Page and Senta. Though not identical, both were ice-blonde beauties. Page wore her hair long and Senta kept hers trimmed in a short swing.

 
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