Chasing daybreak, p.10
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       Chasing Daybreak, p.10

           Ranae Glass
 

  The car was right where Tyger said it would be. Of course, the hubcaps were missing. I shook my head, not surprised.

  The great thing about Shane was that most of the time, we didn’t even have to speak. A look, a gesture, and we could read each other like books. Of course, sometimes that came back to bite me. Like right then.

  He must have seen me shake my head because he put a hand on my shoulder. “That’s what you get when you work with criminals.”

  I wanted to say something, to defend my childhood friend. But what could I say, really? Shane was right. So I did what I always did when Shane was right and I was… less right. I flipped him off.

  Lisa Welch drove a sickeningly cute VW Beetle in bright yellow. The plates read Abug8me. Shane and I donned our blue latex gloves and got to work. The doors were unlocked so we just slipped inside. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply while I riffled through the contents of the glove box. Nothing but the registration, an insurance card, a gum wrapper, and a small bottle of sunblock.

  Shane shook his head. He wasn’t getting anything.

  “Let’s try the trunk,” I offered, popping the latch.

  We got out and circled around front.

  Shane leaned forward, pulled the hatch up, and inhaled. His eyes flew open behind his dark shades. “This is the smell from the purse. Perfume. Gasoline. And definitely vampire.”

  He took another long sniff.

  “There was a vampire in the trunk?”

  He shook his head. “The scent isn’t so much inside the trunk as peripheral. On the edges. Like he—or maybe she, I guess—was putting something in the trunk. It’s very subtle.”

  “Would you recognize the scent if you smelled it again?” I shut the trunk and turned to look at him.

  “Oh yes. It’s pretty distinctive.”

  I didn’t ask what he meant by that as I locked the car. We took off our gloves, tossing them in my backseat as we headed to our next stop.

  Shane didn’t really need to go to the antique store with me, but I’d decided to make him suffer a little. Sure, I could have taken him back to the office, but I wasn’t feeling particularly generous towards His Paleness, so I made him tag along.

  The Broken Plow was nestled between a quilting supply shop and the post office, only a few blocks from my mother’s bakery. I considered stopping over there for lunch after we scoped the antique store out, then briefly wondered if I was that ticked off at Shane. I mean, threatening him with holy water was funny—subjecting him to my mother was just mean.

  The bell above the door jingled pleasantly, announcing our entrance. The store was set up sort of like a library with rows of shelves on either side of a central walkway. Only instead of books, the shelves held various knickknacks and baubles. Stacks of old magazines covered in dust, ornate plates, teacups, vinyl record albums, toys, jewelry, radios—if you could name it, it was probably on a shelf.

  Shane went rigid beside me. His shoulders pulled back, his jaw tightened, and the muscles in his neck and arms tensed. I could feel it radiating off him in waves of cold, like I’d just opened the refrigerator door. I swore the temperature in the room dropped ten degrees. Putting a hand on his shoulder, I gave him a questioning look.

  Before I could say anything, a saleslady appeared from nowhere.

  “Can I help y’all find something?” She smiled.

  I turned to look at her. She was tall for a woman, dressed in a flowing purple skirt and matching peasant top. Her pale blonde hair was in a loose bun at the top of her head. Several wild tendrils hung down.

  Before I could say anything, Shane rushed past me in a blur of vampire speed. When I blinked, he had the woman pinned against the back wall of the store, his fingers white around her tan throat.

  “Where?” Shane demanded.

  I tried to reach for him, but he slapped me away with his free hand while the woman struggled to wrench his other hand off her throat.

  “Where’s what? Shane, she can’t breathe!” I shouted.

  “Where?” Shane repeated.

  It wasn’t a question. I watched as the woman’s panicked eyes flashed to cat yellow.

  He wasn’t asking where. He was identifying the woman as a were.

  I’d never seen a were in person before. While the vamps had made themselves public, the weres had remained safely in the darkness. My father had a whole file on the local were community that I’d stumbled upon when I took over the office.

  A small pack roamed in Charleston, only five or six members. Besides things like breaking down the pack structure and notes on their strengths and weaknesses, my father’s file had only one other note in it. A warning that weres and vamps were natural enemies. Two apex predators sharing the same territory was a dangerous thing. Seeing Shane’s reaction to her, I realized my dad was right.

  “Shane… Shane!”

  He blinked twice, seeming to come back to himself at the sound of my voice. She slid down the wall as he released her. In a blink, she was behind us, crouched low with her hands extended, human fingers curled like claws.

  I stepped between them. “Enough. What is going on?”

  Shane sniffed the air. “I smell vampire and were. That way.” He pointed to a door in the back marked ‘Employees Only’.

  The woman stood upright, dusting herself off. “You must be the new blood. This area is restricted by order of the Council.”

  I knew she meant the Vampire Council, the governing body of the Undead. Shane stopped mid-step. I didn’t have to read his mind to know what he was thinking. If he defied the Council’s orders, the repercussions would be severe. As of now, he stood alone, rogue, but he was hoping to change that. Getting in trouble would put his status change in serious jeopardy.

  Luckily, I didn’t have that issue. Pushing past him, I opened the door. Beyond it was a staircase leading down to a lower floor. I flicked on the overhead florescent light, took hold of the rusty, steel rail, and headed down. The footsteps behind me were Shane’s. Behind him, the were woman followed, sounding more irritated than frightened as she told us again that the area was off limits. But she didn’t move to stop us. I wondered if she could—take on a vampire, I mean. Me, she could have carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey, even in her human form.

  The staircase led down into the underbelly of the building. Brick walls stretched into a room that held a rusty water heater, furnace, and ceiling-to-floor file cabinets. Behind the bottom of the stairs was another closed door. I put my hand on the knob, but Shane grabbed my arm, preventing me from pushing it open. He mouthed the word “vampire” and pulled me behind him. Before he could open the door himself, it swung open, and Xavier Ambrose stepped out.

  Xavier was the head of the vampire food chain in South Carolina. His official title was Chancellor to the Council, but his job description was more like that of a feudal lord. He ruled over the Conclave here and all the little vampires in it.

  Xavier’s was the voice on the phone that had called me to Shane’s side after his change. Xavier was the one who had sat me down and explained what had happened to Shane and his sire Irena. And Xavier was the one who had made me choose. I could either assume responsibility for Shane or they’d put him down like a rabid animal. That was the penalty for an unauthorized change.

  Looking like he’d just stepped out of some glossy men’s magazine, Xavier wore confidence like he wore his casual slacks and button-down blue shirt. He was much less formal than the first time I’d met him. His black hair was hanging limp, hints of waves falling on the pale skin of his face. He wore no tie and his sleeves were rolled to his elbows, but even so, he was completely drool worthy.

  It was a common misconception that all vamps were young and attractive, but it was one that worked in their favor, so they used it. Being so good looking, Xavier quickly became the vampire poster boy. It was his handsome face on TV pleading for equality, his earnest, green eyes swearing vampires meant humans no harm.

  Yeah, right.

&nb
sp; “Xavier,” I said, unable to keep the surprise out of my voice.

  I knew for a fact that he and the rest of his advisers had offices in the Bank of Charleston building. I also knew it had a basement vault, since Shane had been kept there after his change. So what was he doing in the basement of a were-run antique store?

  Xavier didn’t look at me, choosing to glare at Shane instead.

  “You should not be here,” he stated flatly.

  His tone was cool, professional. A stark contrast from the first time we met, the day he told me what happened to Shane. After the attack, he’d been taken by the Conclave. I thought he’d just run off on me. Somehow, the truth was both better and worse. Still, when he brought me the news, I cried. I cried like a little girl—like I hadn’t cried in years. And he’d wrapped his arms around me, holding me until the tears ran dry. It probably wasn’t Conclave policy, but it was more kindness than he should have offered a nobody human.

  I owed him for that.

  Shane bowed stiffly, still keeping one hand on my arm. “I apologize. We will be on our way.”

  “I told them it was forbidden,” the super-helpful were woman piped up.

  “Thank you, Catherine. That will be all.” Xavier dismissed her, turning to a file cabinet and pulling it open.

  Shane and I turned to follow Catherine, but Xavier’s voice stopped us. So much for sneaking out.

  “Why have you come?”

  I assumed he was talking to Shane, so I remained quiet.

  “We’re investigating a disappearance. The woman was last seen in this area. When we came in to ask if she’d been seen here, I smelled were…” Shane paused. “I wasn’t sure what to think. The were claimed to be under orders from the Council, but I was unaware we had ties to the were clans.”

  Xavier was fingering through the files. “Yes. Well, fledgling, there is much about the Council you are unaware of. That fact is not likely to change soon. I understand since you are still new, it would be your first instinct not to trust the were. However, you must understand that your actions do not reflect well on you.”

  I stepped forward, swallowing a dry lump in my throat. “This was my fault. Shane wasn’t going to come down, but he followed me.”

  Xavier raised one dark eyebrow. “Is this true?”

  Shane nodded. “I was afraid she might get into trouble.”

  Xavier mumbled something I couldn’t hear. Shane snickered.

  “What disappearance are you investigating?” With a fluid motion, Xavier tugged a manila folder out of the drawer, flicked it open, examined it for a split second, and then returned it to its place with a frustrated sigh. He moved on to the next drawer, flipping through the folder tabs with lightning speed.

  It was difficult to pry my eyes off him. Even from the back, Xavier possessed an almost magnetic charisma, not to mention an ass that just begged to be leered at.

  Shane glanced at me, snapping me from my half-formed daydream. I shrugged, forcing myself to look away.

  While Shane filled Xavier in on our most recent case, I took the opportunity to pace around the room. Most of the walls were lined with large, metal filing cabinets. In the back, a few crates were stacked up. I poked at the straw sticking out between the wooden slats and discovered the crates contained wine bottles. There were no windows. The only lights hung overhead in long, narrow tubes that produced a soft buzzing sound. Walking past the door, I craned my neck to get a peek inside. It was the size of a small closet with a simple wooden desk and black leather chair. On the desk sat a green lamp, an old rotary dial phone, and some sort of ledger lying open with a pen in the fold. I bit my lip, wishing I could get a peek at that book. There was no way the vamps weren’t involved in this somehow. Thankfully, Shane managed to leave the part about finding the vampire scent out of the conversation.

  After making my way around the room once, I returned to stand beside Shane. Xavier grabbed another folder—apparently, the one he’d been looking for—tucked it under his arm, and slid the drawer closed.

  “And you believe we had something to do with this woman going missing?” Xavier asked, this time looking at me.

  I took a breath. “This is the last place we tracked her to. It stands to reason that something of a paranormal nature happened. Soccer moms don’t just vanish without a trace.” Unless vampires are involved, I added silently.

  “Her name was Lisa Welch, you say?” He turned back to the file cabinets.

  “Yes.”

  Xavier opened a drawer and retrieved another file before slamming it closed and motioning with both hands for us to go upstairs. He followed, turning off the lights as we reached the top step.

  Catherine sat on a stool behind the register, reading a soap opera magazine. Xavier waved to her.

  “Thank you, Catherine.”

  She saluted sarcastically and went back to reading.

  When we reached the front door, Xavier pressed the second file into my hands. Our fingers touched for only a moment, but the connection was electric, giving us both pause, if only for a heartbeat.

  “This may be of some help. I want to assure you, none of my people would have done this thing.” His expression was serious—if reserved. He turned to Shane. “Shane, I look forward to your introduction next week. Until then.”

  He nodded curtly, and then he crossed the street to a sleek, black limo waiting at the curb. As soon as it sped off, I opened the folder.

  “What does it say?” Shane asked.

  I shook my head, unable to process what I saw. “You aren’t going to believe this.”

 
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