Avengers heat, p.8
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       Avenger's Heat, p.8

         Part #4 of Moon Shifter series by Katie Reus

  He watched her warily as she stepped into the room. She glanced around and didn’t see the girls she’d heard crying. He’d probably sent them to their rooms.

  “They’re upstairs with my sister,” he said, as if he’d read her mind. There was a slight French accent to his voice and he spoke much softer than she’d imagined for such a large feline shifter.

  She took a seat on a formal-looking high-backed chair across from the feline and cleared her throat. “I’m so sorry about your mate.” The words felt useless, but he gave her a semiappreciative half nod so she continued. “I know this is the worst time to be here, but I want to find out who is taking shifters in this city. If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask you some questions.” She’d planned to do it before they’d found his mate and as soon as she was done here she planned to speak to the other mates of the missing women. While the timing might suck—that being the biggest understatement ever—she had no choice.

  He glanced away from her, staring at the rich gold draperies pulled back from oversized windows. “I’ll tell you anything you want.” Before she could ask a question he turned toward her, pinning her with his dark gaze full of grief. “Kaigen was fifty years old and she and I were mated for thirty years. Well, mated and married. She wanted the human tradition too.” He smiled softly as his eyes glazed over. “She is—was—originally from Chile. Even though she was a beta and I’m an Alpha, she ran this house. She stopped working outside the home eight years ago when our oldest was born.”

  Erin was silent as he took a deep breath. Glancing around the room in the silence she could see the deceased female’s presence in the soft touches around the room. Bright, decorative throw pillows, oversized potted plants, and various pictures of Paris.

  While she already knew most of what he was telling her, she realized he needed to be free to talk about his mate. When he didn’t continue, she asked, “Can you tell me a little bit about her daily or weekly schedules? Did she drive your girls to school? What days did she do the grocery shopping? Or is that something you do?”

  He snorted softly at the last question. “She would never let me buy the food. She would go shopping every Monday morning because that’s when the best produce was delivered—or so she told me.” He went on to name the store she shopped at regularly, the times she dropped and picked up her kids from school, where she went for Pilates, which friends she regularly had lunch with, and the name of her ob-gyn—even though Erin already knew that one.

  After Erin jotted down everything he told her, she asked an obvious question. “What, if anything, about her schedule has changed in the past couple months?” Even though all the women had been taken within the last month they’d likely been stalked beforehand. The fact that they were all pregnant was the biggest link, but it wasn’t like shifters wore giant signs around their necks proclaiming them shifters. And as far as she knew, pregnant humans hadn’t been kidnapped.

  He shrugged, though the action seemed to almost pain him. “Nothing that I know of. We live very quiet, normal lives. We get along with our human and shifter neighbors, have dinners with them, go to neighborhood get-togethers. And we’ve never had any issues with vampires or any other supernatural beings, ever. We just live and let live. Life’s too short for . . .” He trailed off as if realizing what he was saying. Clearing his throat, he glanced back at the curtain.

  Erin could see tears glistening in his eyes and it tore her up inside. Standing, she made her way to the entryway. “Thank you for speaking with me. I want you to know I’m going to find whoever did this and make them pay.” She knew she shouldn’t make promises, but watching this man’s agony and hearing his children’s suffering made her want to rip the city apart until she found anyone involved with the kidnappings and Kaigen D’Amico’s death.

  Bertrand’s head whipped back around to face her. “If you find them, they’re mine.” His jaguar flashed in his eyes, the feline looking back at her with predatory menace.

  Erin didn’t respond before stepping out onto the porch. If he wanted justice for his mate’s death, she wouldn’t stop him, but she didn’t have control over how this case would play out so she couldn’t make any promises. She didn’t blame him for wanting to avenge his mate though. Noah wasn’t even her mate and if something happened to him, she’d destroy whoever dared to harm him and feel no guilt. She was completely aware what that said about her feelings toward Noah, but she ignored it as she had to do if she wanted to survive.

  The moment she stepped outside, Noah stood and Angus pushed up from where he was leaning against one of the beams of the porch. From the look of things she didn’t think they’d said two words to each other since she’d been inside.

  “Thanks for talking to the family first,” Erin murmured to Angus who just nodded. Then she looked at Noah. “I want to head to the Full Moon Bar and talk to Hector about his sister.” The bartender’s missing sister was only twenty-four, was an artist, and Erin wanted to see how her schedule and daily habits matched up with Kaigen’s. On the outside it didn’t seem as if they’d have much reason to cross paths since Kaigen was a stay-at-home mom and Leta didn’t have kids, but something had to connect them. Erin just knew it.

  Jayce had warned her how tedious investigations could be and while she’d known that on an intellectual level, it hadn’t prepared her for the burning need growing inside her to see results faster.

  As they headed down the walkway to her car, Noah placed a gentle hand at the small of her back. His spicy, earthy scent enveloped her, and though she knew it would come back to bite her in the ass later, she stepped a few inches closer, leaning into him. Surprising her, he leaned down and kissed the top of her head. “You’re not alone right now, Erin,” he whispered against her.

  For a brief moment she leaned into him, soaking up what he had to offer as if she were a sponge. “Thank you, Noah,” she whispered back because she didn’t trust her voice. She didn’t care that his father could see them. She didn’t care if anyone saw her leaning on the tall, strong shifter.

  This case had already brought up so many horrific memories and though she wanted to remain stoic and unmoved, she didn’t mind his support one bit. He had no clue about her past and he was still being supportive in every way she needed. Her own grief clawed at her insides, telling her that she could never have a future with this man. She cared too much for him to saddle him with her crap. Especially since in the long run he’d resent her shortcomings.

  Brianna unbuttoned her knee-length wool coat as she and Angelo entered Café Beignet. The place was charming with small round café-style tables and matching chairs with hearts shaping the backs of them. There were also booths and since the tables looked as if they were made of iron, she knew where she’d be sitting. Iron and the fae didn’t mix in the same way silver and shifters didn’t.

  As she slid her coat off, she spotted Marcus sliding out from one of the booths. Tall, not as pale as most vampires because he was a daywalker and because of his Italian heritage, dark brown hair, dark eyes, and a lean, yet muscular build. With his Roman nose and defined, almost sharp facial features, he was a very striking male. A few of the female patrons and one of the male baristas checked him out as he strode toward her.

  Marcus’s gaze landed on Angelo for a brief moment, then ignored her shifter as he clasped one of her hands and held it up to his mouth. He brushed a kiss over her knuckles, earning a growl from Angelo. Which was why she hadn’t wanted him to come with her. They did not have time for male posturing. She quickly withdrew her hand.

  “You look as beautiful as ever,” he murmured, his voice a seductive whisper.

  “She’s also taken,” Angelo said as he clasped on to Brianna’s shoulder and tugged her back.

  Marcus sniffed the air—not subtly—then looked at her with a frown. “You’re mated?”

  Brianna shook her head. “No, we’re not mates. And I did not come here to discuss my personal life.”

  Marcus gave Angelo a look that Brianna could
only describe as challenging. Frowning, she looked between the two men to see Angelo staring daggers at the vampire. The fae were much more subtle than these two species. She’d never completely understand them.

  Sighing, she stepped forward, ignoring the males and slid into the booth Marcus had come from. She smiled to see a plate of beignets and fig cookies already waiting for them. Angelo immediately slid in next to her, wrapping his arm around her shoulders. She leaned into his embrace, hoping she made it clear to Marcus that she was taken, at least at the moment. She and Angelo might not have a future, but she didn’t want him to experience any discomfort or emotional distress because he thought she was interested in another male.

  “I’m Marcus,” her vampire contact said to Angelo, a smirk on his face. “Who are you?” The question sounded rude, but Angelo simply smiled.

  Or more like bared his teeth. “Angelo Medina. I’m a member of the Armstrong pack and I’m here with Brianna as part of my Council and the Tuatha’s investigation.” The Tuatha were the royal class of fae and they ruled with an iron fist. Something Marcus would know.

  He nodded then subtly glanced around the café before focusing on them. “You’re here because of the missing pregnant shifters?”

  Brianna nodded, but kept her expression blank. “Do you know something?”

  His jaw twitched and he shook his head slowly. “As I said on the phone, I’ve been out of the country, but the topic came up from a contact of mine yesterday. I hadn’t realized this is what you wanted to talk about, but since you’re here with a shifter I’m guessing it is. . . . If I’d known, I would have been better prepared.”

  “So you know something about the missing females then?” she asked, watching his facial movements carefully. She might not be able to scent lies in the way shifters could but she could read people.

  Frustration clear, he shook his head. “No, but this will not be allowed to go on in the city. As far as I know our leaders are not even aware of this, which tells me my kind haven’t informed them. And I find that interesting.” The last word came out as an angry snarl.

  She frowned and next to her Angelo stiffened, his clasp on her shoulder tightening. “Interesting how?”

  He shook his head again. “I don’t know, but I intend to find out. I don’t know if you understand the hierarchy in this city?”

  “Angus seems to run everything here,” she said. At least that was her understanding from what Erin had told her and the information she’d received from her own people before coming here.

  “He does, for the most part. That Alpha is more or less the law everyone answers to. He also leaves the ancient vampires alone and we leave him alone. Bloodborns don’t take orders from anyone easily, especially not a shifter.”

  Brianna knew a little about bloodborns. They were naturally born vampires, not made. And very rare. They were also powerful. Marcus was definitely one. Something she would have known even if they weren’t acquaintances. He emanated a certain power that humans could probably feel, even if they weren’t aware what they were experiencing in his presence. “So why is this important?”

  He shrugged in a maddening way. “I’m not saying it is. I’m just saying that all the bloodborns in this city would be aware of pregnant shifters being taken, yet the Brethren haven’t been informed. At least not that I’m aware of.”

  The supernatural grapevine was sometimes more active than human social media. In a city where the different supernaturals interacted with each other more than elsewhere, it made sense that bloodborns would be aware. Not to mention those in power often made it their business to know everything that went on in their domains.

  The way Marcus said that the Brethren didn’t know about what was going on inferred that he would know if they’d been informed. Which told her he had frequent enough contact with them. And she found that interesting. “You have contacts with the Brethren?” Four powerful vampires who more or less ruled all vampires. They didn’t have a pulse on their kind the way the fae or shifters did with their own people though. Vampires were solitary creatures so it made sense.

  Marcus snorted, his eyes flashing to a bright amber for a moment before returning to their normal brown, but he didn’t directly answer. “I’m going to reach out to my contacts around the city, see what I can find out. I’ll call you when I know anything.” He glanced around again. “I don’t like how open this place is. It shouldn’t take me long to find out what I need to. If vampires have anything to do with the females being taken, it will end now.”

  She didn’t like the way he was just leaving. Not when she had more questions. “But—”

  He shook his head as he slid out of the booth. “I’ve already paid for the food.” When he reached for her hand again, no doubt to kiss her good-bye, she zapped him with a bolt of her energy. A bright blue spark arced between them, slamming right into his outstretched hand. His palm sizzled with smoke.

  He jumped back, surprise on his face. “I told you I’ll call you as soon as I have something concrete. I’m not brushing you off.”

  She simply gave him one of her rare, lethal smiles. The one she reserved for those who truly pissed her off. “You’d better. And that wasn’t for leaving, it was for being rude to Angelo,” she said softly, hoping her show of power reminded him that she might be young, but she was still a powerful member of her race. And Angelo was her partner right now. No matter how helpful this vampire might be in her search for the truth, she wanted him to remember that.

  After he’d gone, she looked up at Angelo to find him watching her curiously. She brushed a kiss against his cheek before picking up one of the fig cookies. “Are you hungry?”

  “Not for food.” His hazel eyes flickered between wolf and man for a moment, almost making her lose her grip on her cookie.

  Fighting a blush, she cleared her throat. “What did you think about Marcus? What he had to say, not him personally,” she clarified when Angelo’s face darkened.

  His expression slightly relaxed, but she could see the wariness in his gaze. “I couldn’t scent any lies but he’s an old vampire. I could feel his power. If he wanted to lie, I don’t know that I’d be able to tell. Someone like Angus would but . . .” He trailed off, shrugging.

  Nodding, she turned away and flagged down a server. They had time for a coffee before she needed to return to her small list of New Orleans contacts. She hated that Angelo couldn’t read Marcus any better than she could. She was good at reading people, but she wasn’t perfect. For all she knew Marcus was lying about being out of town and was involved with the kidnappings himself. Though she wasn’t sure she believed that. From everything she knew about him with her past dealings, he was an honorable vampire. She just hoped he came up with something they could use.

  “That bitch is getting antsy,” Malcolm growled under his breath.

  Chris Tyson glanced at his brother as they crossed over Chartres Street. “She’s fine. You need to calm the fuck down.” The human female they were using to help locate and kidnap pregnant shifters was acting like she always did. Nothing had changed.

  His brother was the one getting edgy. Wanting to pull out of their operation early like they hadn’t done this half a dozen times before. If he’d just calm down, he’d be able to see that. But Malcolm had always been that way. Hell, he was barely able to contain his anger issues from people.

  “Whatever. You really think there’s a female enforcer in town? I didn’t even know the Council had one.”

  Chris shrugged, ignoring the small sliver of fear twining through him. If the Council had sent an enforcer here it meant they needed to be extra careful. He and his brother were raking in so much cash it was sick and he wasn’t walking away for anything. Especially not some bitch shifter. But their human contact, Kelly, heard from a vampire she was screwing—not one of their rich patrons thankfully—that there was supposedly an enforcer in town and she’d been spotted at the Full Moon Bar. He and Malcolm stayed away from that place because it was owned by Angus

  Since this was technically his territory, he and his brother should have announced their presence but there were so many supernatural beings living in New Orleans the normal rules didn’t apply. And there was no way in hell they were making an announcement to anyone about their presence. They planned to get shit done, make their money, then get out when the pregnant females had been of enough use to them.

  Unfortunately he’d heard on his police scanner earlier this morning that a gnawed-on body of a pregnant shifter matching one of their last victims’ description had been found. It didn’t make sense since she’d been buried and they certainly hadn’t bitten the woman, but he wanted to follow up on that information later.

  “This way,” Chris murmured as they cut down a side street. Townhomes and a few businesses lined the quiet road and when they reached the stop sign at the next intersection, he pulled out a cigarette and leaned against the brick wall of a cheese shop that wasn’t open yet. He didn’t normally smoke, but he and his brother needed an excuse to loiter and peer around the corner toward the bar.

  As far as he knew the place was open practically 24/7. They served breakfast to early risers and those who still hadn’t gone to bed yet. There was no guarantee they’d even see this supposed enforcer, but it was the only lead they had and he sure as hell wasn’t going to start putting out feelers in the city. He could ask some of his vampire patrons, but deep down he knew that would be a mistake. If he tipped them off that someone was in town investigating the pregnant shifters they might stop buying his product. And if word got around that a couple of shifters were asking about the enforcer, he didn’t want to chance that this female tortured the shit out of a vampire who actually knew who Chris and Malcolm were. Better to lie low and check things out on their own for the time being.

  Half a pack of cigarettes later Chris was ready to give up and come back another time when a very familiar redhead stepped out of the bar with a giant male who was no doubt a shifter too. “Holy fucking shit,” he murmured, barely loud enough for his brother to hear. What was that bitch doing in town?

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