Chasing daybreak, p.21
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       Chasing Daybreak, p.21

           Ranae Glass
 

  Part of me wanted to ask why he didn’t just call his rich vamp girlfriend or soon-to-be boss man to bail him out, but I held back. Truth was, in some sick, co-dependent, Dr. Phil kind of way, I was glad he’d called me.

  “Keep your panties on. I’m on my way. Just relax and try not to eat anybody,” I quipped.

  In the background, I could hear a male voice tell Shane his time was up.

  “Isabel, just hurry, okay?” Nervous tension was thick in his voice.

  I quickly put in a call to Craig Gentry, a bail bondsman who’d done some work for my dad in the past, and made a beeline for the precinct.

  Shane was sitting on a wooden bench just outside the magistrate’s office, a young, nervous-looking officer standing behind him with a massive shotgun probably loaded with wooden pellets. Not fatal to vamps unless it took out the heart, but certainly enough to do some serious damage.

  The kid couldn’t have been more than twenty-one, and judging by his general pallor and sweaty forehead, Shane was probably the first vamp he’d ever seen, much less been tasked to guard. Seeing me walk in, Shane slumped just a fraction, visibly relaxing. It was a very human gesture. One of the many things I’d miss about him when he grew into his new life.

  I nodded, warning him with my eyes not to make any sudden movements that might spook the newbie.

  Reggie was waiting for me at the desk, chatting with Matilda, the night desk officer. He’d obviously been called in from home. Still wearing his Superman pajama pants and a gray sweatshirt, he cradled a cup of coffee with one hand and smoothed down his unruly bed head with the other.

  “Reggie,” I called, turning his attention to me.

  “Ah, Isabel. Good to see you.”

  “Same here.” I thumbed behind me. “Mind sending Skippy over there to get some coffee or something before he accidentally shoots my partner?”

  Reggie laughed, leaned forward, and called over. “Hey Weston, I got it from here.”

  The kid looked like he might argue, but then thought better of it and closed his mouth, walking away backwards, watching the back of Shane’s head the whole way.

  “Thanks. So what happened?”

  “Looks like Shane was over at the Quick Mart down the road from your place about midnight. Clerk thought he was acting ‘suspicious,’ so he called in the black and whites. Shane gave them some lip, and they moved to detain him when he flashed fang.”

  “Did he put up any resistance?” I asked, knowing as soon as the words were out of my mouth that it was a stupid question. If he’d resisted either he, or more likely they, would be in body bags.

  Reggie chuckled. “Nah. But he gave Weston a good scare.”

  “The store owner pressing charges?”

  “I doubt it. He was pretty pissed to get called in the middle of the night and dragged down here. He and Detective Richards are looking over the security footage right now. If the clerk jumped the gun, then most likely Shane will be free to go.”

  I turned and looked over my shoulder at Shane, who sat there wearing his best innocent face, then turned back to the desk.

  “Hey, Reggie, has anyone taken mug shots yet?”

  “No. If he’s cut loose, there’ll be no need to book him.” His eyebrow shot up as he noticed the wide, up-to-no-good grin spreading across my face.

  “Cause the thing is, I could really use some photos for the Christmas cards.” I smiled.

  Finally catching on, he erupted with laughter.

  “Why not? You go break the bad news to Shane. I’ll meet you in the back.” He pointed over his shoulder to the double doors and the magistrate’s office beyond.

  I walked over to the bench where Shane sat. “Bad news, the owner might be pressing charges. Reggie said you have to go get your mug shot and fingerprints taken. But he said I could go with you at least.”

  Shane stared at me, his mask of innocence morphing into sheer panic, then fading to mild boredom and resignation.

  “Fine,” he huffed.

  The clink of snapping metal echoed in the nearly empty hallway as he got to his feet before remembering he was handcuffed to the bench. He held up his hands. The links between the cuffs were broken in half. Shane shrugged, and I beckoned for him to follow me down the hall.

  By the time Joyce, the lady in charge of taking mug shots, was finished, Shane knew he’d been set up. Reggie and I were rolling with laughter. At first, Shane was confused, but then he looked at the nameplate Reggie had made for him and saw that it read, ‘Merry Christmas from Stone Private Investigations.’

  Shane’s momentary look of outrage made me pause, hoping he wouldn’t do something stupid, but he quickly recovered himself. Tossing the plate on the counter by the camera, he shot me a dirty look. I shrugged and continued to giggle.

  As it turned out, the store manager didn’t press charges, so I was able to take Shane home with only a stern warning about back talking the police—and a promise that Reggie would e-mail me the mug shots.

  By the time we got home, it was almost four AM. As tired as I was, I was also wound up, so I decided to relax with a bowl of ridiculously sugary cereal before heading off to bed. Shane was sitting next to me on the sofa when, without warning, he lurched off the couch and sprinted for the door.

  “Hey!” I complained, picking crunch berries off my jammie shirt and dropping them back in the bowl.

  A growl from the front door had me hastily setting the bowl on the table and rushing after Shane. It was pitch dark, so I flicked on the porch light. Shane was huddled over what looked like a fallen woman. He turned to look at me, fangs extended, eyes dilated. Lying on the ground at his feet was Miss Trudi Polk from the Gamblers Anonymous meeting, her unseeing eyes wide with terror, her throat shredded like raw meat.

  Bile rose up in the back of my mouth. I raced down the hall, barely making it to the bathroom before heaving my cereal everywhere.

  With shaky hands, I rinsed out my mouth and took a small jar of menthol rub from the medicine cabinet, smearing a glob of it onto a hand towel before returning to the porch. It wasn’t the smell of decay that bothered me—it was the raw hamburger smell of a fresh body that made my stomach turn. Maybe Heather was on to something with the whole vegetarian thing, I thought miserably.

  Shane had turned off the porch light and grabbed two flashlights instead. When he heard me coming, he shot me a look that didn’t need words. A look that was full of concern and a silent offer to deal with the body so I wouldn’t have to see it again. I shook my head, holding the towel in front of my nose, as I took a flashlight from him.

  “Go call the cops,” I said from behind the rag.

  “You sure?” Shane asked, shining a beam of light to Trudi’s chest where a big, white gift tag was taped, with my name on it, next to a large, red bow.

  My stomach heaved again, but I was able to hold it down. Not going to chance opening my mouth, I nodded, and Shane stepped past me and inside. I knelt down beside Trudi. I probably should have gone inside, but it felt wrong to leave her there. This poor woman, whose only mistake in life had been meeting me, had died a horrible death only to be left on my porch like some sick offering.

  It was like when a cat brought a dead bird to the door as a gift to its owner, I thought. There was rage, yes, but more something feral, instinctual about the whole thing. As if I were dealing with a child or a caveman. I sat there in the darkness, sniffing menthol and crying. Between the fear, the exhaustion, and the general feeling of not being safe in my own skin, I cried like the weak little damsel in distress I swore I’d never be.

  I must have been in a state of semi-shock when the police came out. Reggie, now in his official blue uniform, took our statements in the kitchen as I made coffee. There’d be no sleeping this night, not for any of us.

  “Isabel, can you think of anyone, anyone at all, who might be doing these things?” Reggie asked as he accepted the fresh black coffee I poured for him.

  I shook my head. I knew Shane suspected Xavier,
but it didn’t make any sense. Xavier was many things, but crazy didn’t seem to be one of them. He might send flowers, even candy, but he’d never send corpses. It was too déclassé for him. The only other people who stuck out to me were Charles Marlowe—who might be doing something like that to try to implicate the vampires—or Robert Welch, who might be trying to scare me off his trail. I gave Reggie both names.

  “But, I don’t know. It feels more, juvenile, you know?”

  “This isn’t a bag of flaming dog crap, Isabel,” Shane chastised gently.

  Reggie tucked his small notebook into his shirt pocket. “Normally, I’d recommend police protection, but Shane, if you’ll stick close to her, I’ll call that good enough.”

  Shane nodded, and the two men shook hands.

  Trudi was bagged and carted off to the morgue. The police finally finished their search of the house, yard, and neighborhood and took off. My bones ached with physical and emotional exhaustion, but there was no way I was going to bed now. I opted for a super-hot shower.

  When I opened the bathroom door, after using all the hot water, I ran into Shane. Literally. He had obviously been standing guard the whole time. I shoved my wet towel into his arms and pushed him backwards.

  “Don’t think this gives you license to stalk me, Fang-face.”

  “Oh, I think you have enough stalkers, don’t you?” Shane quipped, tossing the towel at the back of my head. I maneuvered around him to my bedroom door and slammed it in his face.

  “Wow. That’s mature,” he called from the hallway.

  I stuck my tongue out at the door.

  He laughed. “I saw that.”

  “Liar,” I said, rolling my eyes. I turned and pulled a fresh pair of tan slacks and a white cotton top out of my closet. When I’d dressed and opened the door, he was still there. I nearly barreled into him again.

  “Okay, seriously. Enough of that. It’s creeping me out.”

  He followed me downstairs. “Isabel, you know what this means? Anyone you know, anyone you’re close to, could be a target for this guy.”

  “I know. Reggie is gonna have patrol cars outside Mom’s bakery and at the house. Sarah is already back in school, so she’s safe at least. I’m also gonna put in a call to Duke, have him stick close to Phoebe for a while.”

  “What’s Duke gonna do?” Shane snorted, and I cringed. I hadn’t told him about Duke’s unique situation and had promised not to do so.

  “Just having him around and aware might deter anyone from trying anything. I hope,” I added softly, the lie stabbing me in the gut. I hated lying to Shane even more than I hated crying.

  After making a few calls and nibbling some dry toast, the only thing I felt comfortable eating on my weak stomach, I grabbed the car keys and headed for the door.

  “Where are you going?”

  “To pay a visit to Robert Welch’s office. Why?”

  “Because I’m going with you, stupid.”

  I shifted onto my heels. “That’s a great plan. Let’s take you to the office of a man who is not only a vamp hater, but also already pissed that we are even on this case—”

  “And possibly a homicidal maniac,” he added, folding his arms across his chest.

  “Just another day at the office,” I reminded him.

  “Besides,” he continued, ignoring my comment, “I need to stop by the tailor to pick up my outfit for tonight.”

  It took a full second for my brain to piece together the fact that tonight was Shane’s welcome ceremony. The one I had agreed to take part in. I mentally kicked myself. How could I have forgotten? But then, I knew the answer to that. I’d blocked it out, like some kind of PTSD, which was a condition I’d probably have for real tomorrow.

  With a huff, I turned on my heel and headed for the car, Shane close on my heels. We stopped by the tailor first, you know, just in case Shane was staked or something and the place closed before we could get out of the hospital.

  Priorities.

  His outfit was delivered in a jet-black box tied with a blood-red ribbon. I had no idea what was inside, but my mind was conjuring images of sweeping capes and frilly, white shirts.
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