Chasing daybreak, p.18
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       Chasing Daybreak, p.18

           Ranae Glass
 

  I never returned Shane’s call, which wasn’t deliberate, just an oversight on my part. That didn’t stop him from tracking me down like a truancy officer on crack. I had just pulled up outside the Katz Lair, a strip club near the old naval base that I knew for a fact was owned by one of Xavier’s shell companies.

  Vamps had their fingers in all kinds of pies in Charleston, from the biggest banks and mortgage companies, real estate firms, and even medical labs, to the shady underbelly of Charleston nightlife. Bars, strip clubs, a couple of porn shops. But then, they’d had centuries to horde enough cash to buy their way into just about whatever they wanted.

  “Filling out an application?” Shane asked flippantly as he opened my car door, scaring the bejeezus out of me as I reached for the handle.

  “You know me, always looking to expand my horizons,” I snarked back, slipping out of the car.

  My boots clacked across the pavement as I turned my back to Shane and walked toward the glowing neon sign hanging over the nondescript front door. Except for the tall, bald man standing there with his hands clasped in front of him, which made him look like a wannabe Secret Service agent/Hell’s Angel, the parking lot was empty. A few barren cars dotted the lot, but there were no other signs of life.

  Shane slammed the car door and jogged to catch up with me, grabbing my arm and pulling me to a stop. He leaned down to bring his face level with mine. “Seriously, what are we doing here?”

  I pulled my arm out of his hand. “I’m going to go in there to see if I can talk to some of the girls, find out if anyone knows anything about this prostitution ring the victim was involved in.”

  “So, your plan is to walk into a known vampire club and start asking questions? Solid.”

  I turned away from the door and lowered my voice. “Look, I know this is one of Xavier’s clubs. I didn’t call you because I get that you can’t be involved in something like this. Okay? I’m not trying to piss in your Wheaties here, but I need some answers. So far, the only person who’s been able to provide them is Xavier. So just go back to the house and wait for me there.”

  I spun on my heel with the intention of leaving him standing there. Okay, so I was still a little bit bitter about the whole ditching me for Mercy thing, but my point was still a valid one. Shane had been my wingman for months and it’d been great, but he was about to be planted firmly on enemy territory, and I had to get used to doing things on my own.

  When I reached the door, however, I wasn’t alone. I could practically feel Shane standing behind me, his cool breath on the back of my neck.

  “Club doesn’t open ‘til seven,” the bouncer said, expression stoic.

  “I’m here to apply for a job.” I flashed my best sultry smile.

  The big man looked me over quickly. I’d opted for a shock-and-awe campaign, so I’d worn my best soft leather pants in jet black and matching faux-corset top. I looked badass and felt like S&M Barbie.

  He raised one eyebrow.

  Behind me, Shane sighed. “She’s kidding. We’re here to see Xavier. He in?”

  “Not yet.” The bouncer pushed the door open anyway. “You can wait in his office.”

  I muttered thanks and stepped past him.

  The club wasn’t what I’d expected. I wasn’t ashamed to admit my particular field of business took me into the occasional den of iniquity, and they were all pretty much the same. Mirrored walls and ceilings, gleaming brass poles, flashing colored lights, dark corners, and glitter every-freaking-where. But this place? This place looked like the Taj Mahal.

  The Katz Lair had a distinctly Arabian Nights theme going. The walls were hung with sheer, gauzy fabrics in an array of bright reds and purples. The floor was gold, not real gold of course, but the kind of color real gold should be. The bar was a solid piece of onyx with jewels inlaid along the edge, and the stage was round, poleless, and surrounded by empty gold chairs that looked like mini-thrones.

  Trying really hard not to be impressed with the joint, I sashayed up to the bar. Now, as a rule, I was against women who liked to play stupid or flaunt their assets to get attention, but this was legitimate strategy on my part. The men who worked in places like this tended to buy into the female sex-kitten stereotype. Playing into that stereotype would allow me to sort of fly under their radar. People were less threatened by—less suspicious of—things they considered the norm. It would give me the element of surprise, should the need arise.

  I really hoped it wouldn’t arise.

  I smiled sweetly at the man behind the counter. “Hi. I’m looking for Xavier. The guy outside said we could wait in his office.”

  He was olive skinned with tight brown curls in his hair. Not black exactly, but definitely some flavor other than vanilla. He looked past me to Shane. I watched in the mirror that ran behind the bar as Shane smiled, flashing fang.

  The bartender nodded toward the back of the building, behind the stage to where a row of what looked like one-way mirrors stood elevated over the entire floor.

  “Second door on the right,” he said, towel drying the counter.

  Shane nodded, and I winked in thanks.

  As it turned out, while the club itself was beautiful, it had nothing on Xavier’s personal office.

  The room wasn’t large, but it was impeccably clean. A brown leather couch on one side of the room looked out onto the stage area, and a large, white, granite-top desk dominated the center of the room. It was almost crescent-moon shaped, with a high-back leather chair tucked behind it. A slim laptop computer sat black screened on the desk next to a cut-crystal vase full of tall, red flowers that looked exotic and possibly carnivorous. There were no papers, no clutter for me to sift through as we waited. Not a single pen or paperclip. The urge to go rifle through the drawers taunted me. A quick glance around put the kibosh to that though. In two corners were small, discreet video cameras, red lights blinking.

  “Smile, Shane, we’re on Candid Camera.” I waved to the one-eyed surveillance equipment.

  Shane stood unmoving in front of the one-way glass, watching the nearly empty room below us. I slid onto the cushy sofa. It was softer than it looked, almost as soft as my pants, which was saying something.

  “We need one of these for the office,” I muttered absently, stroking the arm.

  Shane snorted. “Yeah. Someday when you land a millionaire client and don’t have to hand the check over to your mother.”

  I swallowed. He had a point, but it was still a crappy thing to say. I bit my tongue, understanding that he’d put himself in a tricky situation coming here to back me up like this. But I didn’t want to discuss personal issues in front of whoever was on the other side of those cameras.

  “Maybe I just need to find myself a rich husband like Mom keeps saying,” I joked.

  A moment passed before he answered, his voice barely a whisper. “I’ll be rich soon.”

  He was right, technically, but hearing him say it out loud still stunned me. Being part of the vampire community came with perks, and disposable cash was one of them. The vamps in charge considered it an investment in loyalty. Like the Mafia, they were pretty charitable with the cash, but then you owed them. Like forever.

  Most vamps were chosen to be turned, and they could afford to be picky with their recruits. Everybody was chosen for a reason. Some because of their connections, status, or wealth—some because they were artisans or tech-heads. Whatever the coalition needed at the time or was thought to be valuable enough to preserve.

  Shane, being changed without permission by a rogue, hadn’t been chosen. He was clawing his way into society the hard way, and we both knew that at some point, his loyalty to them would be tested. It was a test he had to pass, or he would die. For realsies this time.

  “You offering yourself up, Brooks?” I asked playfully, trying to break the tension that had his face too stern, his shoulders too tight.

  He didn’t answer for a minute, and I was afraid I’d offended him. Then he turned to me, smiling.


  “Yeah. ‘Cause that worked out so well the first time.”

  I only half-laughed. His words were like a knife in my heart, though I’d never let him see the cut.

  Shane opened his mouth to say something else, but he stopped short when the door to the office was flung open and Xavier strode in. In an instant, the entire room was transformed. The air was suddenly thicker, the smell of him, rich and dark like amber, wafted around me. I let myself breath it in, trying to slow my rapidly jumping heart.

  Even in jeans and a T-shirt, he’d look like he was wearing a tux, I thought appreciatively. It was just something in the way he carried himself, always so formal. Today, he wore a navy blue suit with subtle pinstripes and a crème-colored, button-down shirt. He didn’t seem to notice us, as in one smooth motion, he slipped off his jacket and hung it on the rack behind the door. He caught me looking him over and grinned. I shrugged, unashamed. Just because I wasn’t ordering the meal didn’t mean I couldn’t look at the menu.

  “What can I do for my favorite private detective this evening?” he asked, sitting down in his chair and flicking on his computer.

  When I didn’t answer, frankly because I wasn’t sure if he was talking to Shane or me, he looked up, giving me a once over in return. He raised one dark eyebrow. “Come to audition, I hear?”

  I snorted. “You wish.”

  Xavier’s smile widened, one dimple appearing on the side of his face, and clasped his hands under his chin, waiting. It was a gesture that was both innocent and seductive, making my stomach knot involuntarily. It was all I could do not to melt into a puddle.

  “I know that Lisa Welch was hooking for you guys. I was hoping you might be willing to help me get my hands on a list of her clients or at least speak to some of your dancers here, see if any of them knew anything.”

  Xavier put his hands down, the playful smile fading from his face. “No, I’m afraid not. Bad for business, giving out my associates’ information like that.”

  Shane remained silent.

  I pressed on. “A woman is missing, probably dead.”

  “So you said.” Xavier pulled open his bottom desk drawer, removing a pad of paper and mechanical pencil.

  I sat back, folded my arms across my chest, and sighed. “Don’t you care?”

  “I care about my people, the vampires I’m sworn to protect. If it comes down to a choice between protecting them and helping you, well…”

  My jaw clenched. Damn vampires. I stood, walking toward the desk where Xavier was scribbling absently on the piece of yellow paper.

  “Did you kill her?”

  He didn’t look up. “No.”

  “Did one of your employees?”

  “Not that I know of.”

  “How do I know you’re telling me the truth?”

  “You don’t,” he said flatly, still not looking up.

  I put my palms flat on his desk and leaned forward. “Look, I know you don’t care about the life of some human, but she had a husband, a family. They at least deserve to know what happened to her. Please,” I added for good measure. “If you know anything that will help me give them some answers, a name, a place, anything. Please.”

  He stopped writing, tore the paper off the pad, and stood up, face to face with me, his hands covering mine. A tingle of electricity passed through his skin, forcing a shiver deep into my body. I shook it off, hard. Whatever vamp charm he was pulling on me, I wasn’t gonna let myself fall for it.

  “If I could help you, Isabel, I would. Your father was a good man. I know what you risked coming to me, what you both risked.” His eyes flashed to Shane, and my heart sank into my stomach. “But there is nothing else I can do.”

  He let me go and stepped back. “Believe it or not, even I have to answer to someone.”

  He held my eyes, and I sucked in a surprised breath as I realized what was happening.

  Standing up, I nodded. “I understand. I won’t bother you again. Shane, let’s go.” Turning, I walked to the door without waiting for my partner.

  We were back in the parking lot before he stopped me with a hand on my arm.

  “I won’t bother you again? What the hell?” He pulled my eyelids back with his thumbs. “Who are you and what did you do with Isabel?”

  I slapped him. He stepped back, and I held out my hand. In my palm rested the tiny, crumpled piece of yellow notepaper.

  “Oh.”

  “Yeah. Oh.”

  Without another word, we got in the car.

  “Why do you think Xavier’s helping us?” I finally asked on the drive back to the house.

  “I don’t think he’s helping us; I think he’s helping you,” Shane said, carefully un-crumpling the paper.

  “Because he was friends with my dad?” I wondered out loud.

  Shane snorted. “Yeah, right.”

  I looked at him quickly, and then back to the road. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

  “Nothing,” Shane grumbled.

  I rolled my eyes. Whatever. “What does it say?”

  “It’s an address and a time,” he answered.

  “What time?” I looked at the dashboard clock. It was just after four, nearly time to meet Heather for dinner.

  “Midnight.”

  “What?” I asked, picking up the icy tone in his voice.

  “And it says, come alone.”

 
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