He loved winter.
It started snowing that morning and hadn’t stopped all day. Now, the weak winter sun already low on the horizon, the world around him was covered in a blanket of the stuff. He tilted his head back, feeling the tiny pinpricks as the flakes landed on his upturned face. The cold meant almost nothing to him. He was a creature of the snow as much as he was a creature of the forest.
This wasn’t his first time in these particular woods, and he wouldn’t call them a proper forest. To his quick ears, the sounds of cars on roads just out of sight were obvious enough, even though he’d gone as far from them as possible.
No, this wasn’t the wild. But as far as cities went, Ottawa had green space enough to make even someone like him feel comfortable.
Or white space, as he supposed he should think of it. At least until late spring.
The trees around him were convincing enough that he felt the itch to pull off his boots, shed the rest of his clothes, and let himself run as the wolf he could be. Running would bring him back to those roads, though. This was a city where people occasionally saw a coyote and thought little of it, but he had no doubt a creature as big as he was would cause more notice than was wise.
A lone wolf learned early to stay hidden.
The sun’s light turned orange, setting the snow alight ahead of him. He took a deep breath, drawing on patience he’d taken years to acquire. The itch abated, and he relaxed. Soon he’d meet with his contact, get paid for what he’d been charged to bring to the city, and be on his way. He’d let the old man know he’d been paid, and the package would be delivered. Business as usual.
After that, he’d be rich enough not to have to be at anyone’s beck and call for a good long while. He’d already made plans and couldn’t wait to see the Northern Lights again. He could run as free as he wanted up north, and he intended to. Even the locals there liked him, impressed more with his skill as a hunter than they were disturbed by his scars or the scrawniness of his build. Up there, they didn’t care what you looked like. They cared what you could do. He was the best tracker most of them had ever met.
He wouldn’t have to set foot back in Ottawa—or Kingston—for months.
The light grew dimmer and a deeper red. Clouds and snow robbed the sunset of its own spectacle, snuffing it out early and darkening the world even more. His eyes were as keen as those of any of his kind, and he scanned around him. Soon his patron would be late.
That was never a good sign.
He took another long inhalation, turning to catch the wind. He always chose this place to meet for a reason, and this was it. He would be able to scent someone on the breeze before he could see them.
Another sniff and he was sure.
What he was smelling wasn’t right. It wasn’t right at all.
His patron would come himself. He wouldn’t send a proxy. And even if that had been the case, they had ways to let each other know.
And it certainly wouldn’t be the person he was smelling now.
He crouched and started to untie his bootlaces. Despite the very real possibility this meant he wasn’t going to get paid, he couldn’t help but smile. He’d wanted to run, yes.
He hadn’t even dreamed he’d get to hunt.
Curtis took a second to stomp his boots on the already soaked mat. He didn’t go to the coffee shop in the Glebe often. He was a tea drinker through and through, but for some people, Curtis was willing to drink what would undoubtedly be pretty bad tea.
It didn’t take long to spot David Rimmer. He was a tall, blond wall of a man, solid and imposing even when he just sat at one of the far tables with a cup of coffee. He was incredibly handsome, of course—Curtis was pretty sure incubus demons only came in the “wet dream” variety—but more, Curtis knew David Rimmer was different than most incubi.
For one thing, he was a cop.
For another, being a cop and everything being a cop stood for still mattered to him, despite the whole “being a lust demon” thing.
Those two reasons were why Curtis had dropped everything to come meet him, without even Luc or Anders, when he’d gotten a text from David less than fifteen minutes ago. His phone had buzzed when he’d turned it back on after his early morning lecture. He’d gone from listening to Professor Mann’s wonderfully deep voice espouse the virtues of ancient poets to racing off to meet a demon cop. It wasn’t the strangest thing he’d ever done. It probably wasn’t even in the top ten.
Curtis wasn’t sure what that said about his life.
The blond man saw him and smiled. It was a good smile, and Curtis was pretty sure some of the red in his cheeks was no longer due to the February wind. He tugged off his gloves, raised one finger to David, and went to the counter.
The blue haired barista took Curtis’s order for a tea. He tried not to groan when he saw her put the tea bag in first and scald it with the boiling water, and he opted for a bit of honey to temper the taste. He still dropped a loonie tip into the cup, though. It wasn’t her fault no one taught coffee snobs the way of the leaf. He carried the mug to the small table.
David rose, and once again Curtis was reminded of his own less-than-impressive height. To his surprise, David wrapped him in a hug rather than offering a hand, and Curtis returned the hug a moment later.
David smelled like soap and freshly cut timber and…
“Good to see you,” David said, sitting down again.
“Yeah. Yes. It is.” Curtis knew his face would be reddening. He sat. “It’s nice to see you, too.” He regarded the demon for a moment, wondering if David was using his demon whammy powers on him. He doubted it. Obviously something had gone wrong if David wanted to meet with him, but despite whatever the situation might be, he didn’t think David would use his allure to turn Curtis into a stammering idiot in his presence.
No, he was capable of being his own idiot.
“You okay?” David said. He looked good. Not just “I’m a sex demon” good, but “I’m in control of my own life” good.
It suited him.
“Yeah,” Curtis said.
“On your own today?” David’s voice was light, with a tone of mild curiosity, but Curtis could feel the extra meaning behind the words.
“Just me,” Curtis said. “I did have some friends with me when I got out of class, but I left them behind.” Over the last few months, Curtis, Luc, and Anders had all noticed people were paying attention to them. Since Luc had become the local Duc—the vampire head of the Ottawa area—everyone seemed to be more interested in what they were up to than before. Curtis had gotten used to seeing the well-dressed men and women who just seemed to be passing nearby his classes sometimes. He hadn’t needed to resort to magic to evade them when he’d spotted two outside his poetry lecture. He’d let the tunnels under the university—confusing enough in their own right—do the work for him, doubling back to the parking lot once he’d lost them. Curtis figured it was the Families—the five major bloodlines of wizards in the city—keeping tabs on him to make sure he didn’t ruffle any feathers.
Well. Any more feathers. But what had happened with him and Luc and Anders last year truly hadn’t been their own fault. Most of those feathers needed to be ruffled. It had strictly been a necessary ruffling. For self-defense.
David lowered his shoulders just a little. “Good.”
“Now that you have me to yourself,” Curtis said. “What’s up?”
David glanced around the coffee shop. It wasn’t a particularly nice morning, and the snow had been coming down since the night before, so the place was more or less empty. Still, he lowered his voice and leaned in a bit.
“We had a murder last night. Down by the canal, off the Market. Middle of the night, no witnesses, no line of sight to any cameras. The victim, Louis Flint, ran with one of the bigger packs.” David paused, looking at Curtis for a second to see if Curtis understood the implication.
“Pack like you and Anders, I’m guessing. Not the hairy kind,” Curtis said, keeping his own voice down. Pack could mean one of two things, but Curtis assumed David meant demon, not some sort of lycanthrope.
“Right,” David said. “Young guy, not the sort to get into trouble. Or at least, no more than any young…man.”
Curtis frowned. “Okay.” He wasn’t sure where David was going with this.
“The body was found by his friends. They called me.”
“Okay,” Curtis said again, still not sure what David wanted him to understand. Then it hit him. “Wait.” That wasn’t right. “Body?”
David cocked an eyebrow. He almost looked proud of Curtis for figuring it out so quickly.
Curtis exhaled. He’d come into his magic alone. As an Orphan, a wizard not born to the magical bloodlines but randomly to a perfectly normal family, he’d had no one helping him. As such, sometimes he felt his education was woefully inadequate. But Curtis had gone toe-to-toe with demons already, and he knew dead demons didn’t leave behind any bodies. The remains of a dead demon crumbled, the soulless shell consumed from within. A pile of grey ashes, yes. A body? No.
“How is that possible?” Curtis said.
David took a swallow of his coffee and shrugged. “No idea. But he was pretty ripped up. Chewed.”
“And some of his skin was gone.”
“Ew.” Curtis closed his eyes for a second.
“Yeah.” David’s lips were twitching, and he rubbed the corner of his mouth. “Ew.”
Curtis frowned. “Okay. It’s gross and awful, but why are you telling me this?”
David wrapped his hands around his mug of coffee. Curtis caught the faintest whiff of brimstone and knew the demon had just re-warmed his drink. Demons and hot coffee. It seemed to be a thing.
“Now I’m not a puppet for the Families there are some new cops in my station,” David said.
“Family cops, no doubt,” Curtis said.
David tapped his nose. “Sorcerers, I’m guessing. Flunkies. They are cops, though, and I’ve no doubt they’re reporting on everything they see me do. By luck I was alone when the call came to me directly about Flint, so I don’t think the Families know yet. The only way I can figure there’s a body left behind is by magic. I don’t know what kind, but magic is the only idea I’ve got. And the chewing? Makes me think wolf.”
Curtis groaned. “So, the Families and maybe a werewolf? Fantastic.”
David shook his head. “I don’t think the Families did it.”
“Really?” Curtis had no trouble imagining the Families killing a demon.
“If the Families were involved, I’d never have been called. They’re not pleased I don’t dance to their music any more. If the Families had done this, there’d be no body at all, don’t you think? Or if they were involved, they didn’t have time to clean up, and they won’t be happy the, uh, next-of-kin got me involved, no?”
“Crap,” Curtis said. So if magic was involved, it was probably someone like Curtis, who wasn’t affiliated with the Families. And add in a potential werewolf, too? Double crap.
David finished his coffee with two more swallows. “You see the problem.”
“If the Families did do this, and it’s their magic, then they’ll block you from finding out. If they didn’t do it, they’ll go ballistic over the rogue magic being used,” Curtis said.
“And if there is a werewolf involved, the demon packs will go hunting. As will the Families.”
“Are there any werewolf packs in Ottawa? I thought they stayed pretty much clear of the cities.”
David shrugged. “There’s a few nearby. A pretty big pack in Gatineau. And there are lone wolves. And some of the packs still have members who do business in the city, even if they don’t live here.”
“Crappy commute,” Curtis said. “Why cross the river just to kill a demon?”
“That’s the big question.”
Curtis frowned, still unsure about one thing. “So you’re telling me this because…”
“I don’t have a choice about the Families getting involved. Either way, they’re going to know about it very soon. I have a friend holding the body, but she has to make her reports like anyone else.” David took a deep breath. “I’m telling you because the list of wizards I trust is exactly one name long. I happen to know you’re a good guy.”
“Oh.” Despite himself, Curtis felt his face heat up again. Demon or not, a compliment from David Rimmer made his insides go a little bit gooey.
“I’d like you to come take a look, in case the Families take the body.”
The gooey feeling vanished. “You want me to look at an impossibly dead demon body that’s been chewed by a werewolf?”
“Yes. Give it a magical eyeballing.” He checked his watch. “It’s already been longer than I’d like. I figure we’ve got a small window before the Families get involved.”
Curtis stared at him. Not for the first time since he arrived, words were failing him.
“Oh,” David said, reaching into his pocket. He pulled out a small silver-wrapped candy, offering it to Curtis in his open palm. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
“You’re early,” Curtis said, but he took the chocolate.
“I like to plan ahead.”
Curtis unwrapped the chocolate and popped it into his mouth. Demon body or not, at least David knew how to make a guy feel appreciated.
Curtis tapped a message into his phone, hit send, and slid it into his pocket just as he and David got into the elevator. David raised an eyebrow.
“Luc isn’t up, obviously,” Curtis said. It was mid-morning. Even with their odd bond through the Triad, and Luc’s ever-strengthening habit of waking up before the sun set, it was far too early for the vampire to rise. “But I figured I’d try Anders. Just in case.”
David shook his head. “I doubt he’s up.”
Not for the first time, Curtis sensed something unspoken. He knew David and Anders had some sort of history. They were both demons and both gay, which normally would have made them outcasts and victims of the rest of the demons and wizards and whoever else wanted to kick them around. But Curtis had formed the triad with Anders and Luc, and David had formed his own pack. That they’d both survived meant something. That they could barely stand each other meant something else, but so far, neither had told Curtis what that might be.
“No,” Curtis said. The doors closed, and David pressed a button. They went down.
Something occurred to Curtis. “Hey, do you know what Anders does for a living?”
“Anders has a job. He gets paychecks. Quarterly.”
David shook his head. “No idea. I figured he just relied on tricks for cash.”
Curtis frowned. Darn. Well, one of these days, he’d figure it out.
The elevator pinged, and the doors opened. They were in the basement, and Curtis felt a sick kind of dread from the moment the doors opened. This part of the hospital was quiet, and not in a good way.
“Over here,” David said.
He led Curtis down the hall to a numbered door marked “Morgue.” Curtis took a deep breath, and David looked at him.
“I’ve done this before,” he said.
David tilted his head. “What?”
“My parents,” Curtis said, his voice tight. “I had to…” He waved a hand. “It’s okay. Really.”
David hesitated, but opened the door. He held it for Curtis, who forced himself to walk through the door. The smell was as he remembered: an overpoweringly strong blast of cleanser that still somehow didn’t quite cut less pleasant smells from underneath. At least this time nothing smelled burned. He had to close his eyes to keep moving, taking a step before he opened them again. He could do this. No matter how ruined this body might be, it wouldn’t bear the face of someone he loved.
Besides, he’d seen other bodies since. He wasn’t that kid any more. The Families had seen to it.
The room was L-shaped, with a divide of frosted glass creating a partition just at the entry. A woman sat at one of the pair of back-to-back desks with identical computers on them. She wore a white jacket over scrubs. She looked up at David, then frowned when she saw Curtis.
“Who’s this?” she said.
“He’s with me,” David said. “Curtis, this is Dr. Cragg.”
“Nice to meet you,” Curtis said. The doctor gave him an appraising glance. He was glad it was winter. His jacket was undone, but at least he had a hoodie on over his Ponyo T-shirt, which he was fairly sure wouldn’t have earned him anything more favorable than the already disapproving look she was aiming his way. She didn’t rise, which he tried not to take as an insult. He opened his mouth, not wanting to be so casually dismissed, doctor or not, when he realized with a start she was sitting in a wheelchair. He shut his mouth, but it was too late.
She’d seen him react.
After a moment, she said, “He’s not Family?”
Curtis heard the emphasis. She wasn’t talking about siblings or parents of the deceased. Huh. Interesting. “No,” Curtis said. “I’m not.”
She turned back to her computer. “Best guess? You’ve got maybe half an hour. I held off reporting as long as I could.”
“Thanks, Naomi.” David’s voice was warm and kind. “He’s just going to take a look. We won’t touch.”
“See you don’t.” She looked at David like she wanted to say more, but after a glance at Curtis, she turned back to her computer, typing again.
“This way,” David said.
Curtis followed David around the partition.
Curtis swallowed hard. The body of a man lay on one of a pair of examination tables. Stripped of clothing, the body itself could have been sleeping were it not for the deep tears through the neck and the strange strips of missing skin criss-crossed along the stomach, chest, and parts of the left leg, exposing the flesh beneath. The left forearm seemed shredded. And an angry-looking stab wound was at the center of the man’s stomach, near where a strip of skin had been removed.
Curtis breathed through his mouth. The last time he’d been in this situation, the stench of death and burned flesh had been overwhelming. This body also smelled of death, but it was nowhere near as strong.
And he’d had more experience since then.
“Naomi thinks the first wound was the slice to the stomach,” David said. “Defensive wounds on the arms and hands. The neck wound was the end of it.”
Curtis tried to look at each of the individual marks without seeing the whole. It was easier than remembering this used to be a moving, breathing person. A demon, sure, but alive. He reached into his coat and pulled out a pair of glasses. They weren’t prescription. He’d enchanted the plain glass lenses to show him various movements of energies and auras.
He put on the glasses and concentrated, fueling the enchantment he’d worked into them with just a sliver of his own magic. His vision blurred, and he had to force it back into focus with effort. He looked at his own hand until he could see a pale silvery highlight to the auras surrounding him. The energies that moved through almost everything reacted to wizards that way, and the silver highlight was the first aura he’d learned.
He looked at the body again. “Whoa,” he said.
“What is it?”
Curtis glanced at him, the purple-blue of a demon flickering around the tall blond, then he turned back to the body.
“There’s…nothing,” Curtis said. It was like all the natural energies of the world were refusing to touch the corpse at all. No aura remained on the corpse, and the soft wisps of other ambient energies filling the room seemed to curl away rather than touch the ruined flesh. “I figured I’d maybe see some leftover demon power or something. Or maybe a hint of lycanthrope, though to be honest I’ve never looked at one before with my glasses, so I’m not sure what that looks like. But there’s nothing. It’s an…active absence.”
“What does that mean?”
Curtis shook his head. He stared a little longer, then shrugged and pulled off the glasses. If he used them too long, they’d give him a wicked headache. Besides, he wasn’t seeing anything. “I have no idea. I’ve never seen something so…empty. It’s like everything about him that was alive or demonic or in any way powerful is gone.”
David exhaled. “What can do that?”
Curtis thought about it. “Understand, I’m not an expert,” he said. “I’m pretty much self-taught.”
“But you have an idea.”
“What can you tell me about the…uh…missing skin?”
David looked at the corpse again. “According to Dr. Cragg, it was done when he wasn’t conscious. The cuts were too even and careful. Definitely a skinning tool, like a hunter would use. Best guess? After the knife wound to the stomach, he would have been bleeding out, and the bites to the arms mean a short struggle, which would have sped things up considerably. After he lost consciousness, or at least the ability to fight back, the skin was taken, and then his throat was torn out.”
“There’s a law of magic,” Curtis said. “The law of constancy. Everything that was a part of something remains a part of something even after it’s removed.”
David nodded. “Like hair and fingernails.”
“Exactly,” Curtis said. He shouldn’t have been surprised David knew some of the basics of magic. After all, he’d been the pawn of the Families for long enough. “In magic, having someone’s hair is a great way to put magic on them, especially if they’re protected or defending themselves. It’s an edge. So, if I had to guess what happened to this guy, I’d say it was something to do with the skin and the law of constancy. Using magic to take the demon part of him, maybe, and removing it from his body. That would explain why the body didn’t crumble into ash like a typical demon death.”
David crossed his arms. “So you agree. It’s magic.”
Curtis shrugged. “I can’t think of another way to hold the body together after the demon died. I have no idea how you’d do it at all, but if it’s not magic, I don’t know what else to suggest.”
“And a shifter definitely took him down,” David said. “Probably a werewolf. Bites on the arm and the throat are pretty clearly from a wolf. Dr. Cragg says the bites are consistent across the wounds, too.”
“Let me try something else,” Curtis said. He took a deep breath and held a hand over the man’s face. He hadn’t wanted to look there before, and he couldn’t help but notice the man’s eyes were open. The eyes had clouded over, milky and surreal. Curtis tried not to think about it, waiting for the feathery coolness of his magic to tickle all the way down his arm, swirling in his palm. “Postrema visio.” He cupped his fingers, feeling the magic reach out to the eyes of the dead man…
He frowned. He repeated the words, speaking louder.
Curtis let the magic go. A spark of static snapped as he pulled his hand away. “Someone already took it.”
“Sorry.” Curtis shook his head. “I was trying to take a look through his eyes.”
David’s frown grew. “Trying?”
“It’s not a difficult spell, though from what I’ve read it’s not at all pleasant. You take the last glimpse from a body, and you…borrow it, I guess. You get to see the last thing the dead person saw. And then you put it back. Or you’re supposed to. Otherwise…” He frowned. “You know, I don’t actually know what happens if you don’t, but from what I understand, you definitely want to put it back when you’re done with it. I’m not sure, but I think someone took it already.”
“To make sure no one else can see it,” David said.
“Maybe,” Curtis said. “They didn’t put it back.”
“Gentlemen.” Dr. Cragg’s voice was a surprise. They both turned. She’d wheeled herself to the edge of the partition. “We’ll have company shortly.”
“Thanks,” David said. He turned to Curtis. “You should go. Thank you.”
“I don’t feel like I was much help,” Curtis said.
“You were,” David said. “If nothing else, when whoever the Family sends tells me they can’t find anything, I’ll know they’re not lying.”
Curtis looked back at the body, and despite his best efforts, he saw the person there. Louis Flint had been lean. He’d had a handsome face. He was fit, with a swimmer’s body.
He’d been torn, ripped, and violated.
“Let me know if there’s anything else I can do,” Curtis said.
Then he left.
Outside, Curtis turned his face up to the sky, letting the pale winter sun offer what warmth it could. It was bitterly cold, and it barely helped. He closed his eyes, allowing himself a few moments to recover, then pulled himself back together and headed for the parking lot. He wanted to be long gone before anyone from the Families showed up.
When he saw someone leaning against his car, he had a moment of worry. Magic gathered between his fingers, a coolness beneath his skin, ready to snap free. When he drew closer, he saw who it was and relaxed.
“You got my message,” Curtis said. He sent the magic off in a harmless breeze.
Anders turned. With a winter coat, the already broad-shouldered man looked positively massive. He had a face more masculine than strictly handsome—a deep brow, dark eyes, stubble a few days past five o’clock shadow, but when those eyes were aimed at him, Curtis never failed to feel a little thrill in his stomach. Anders was wearing a peculiarly knitted red, orange, and yellow cap with dangling ear flaps and a pom-pom. It made Curtis smile to see him wear it. It had been one of the presents Curtis had bought him for Christmas. The scowl, on the other hand, didn’t surprise Curtis at all. Anders hated the cold.
“Does David think you’re at his fucking beck and call?” Anders said. “Because you’re not.”
Curtis raised his hands. “Whoa. Someone woke up on the grumpy side of the bed.”
“It’s February,” Curtis said, but he pulled out his fob and unlocked the car doors. Anders got in the passenger side, and Curtis climbed in. He pulled on his seat belt and pressed the start button. Anders had already flipped both the seat warmers to “high.”
“What did he want?” Anders said.
Curtis put the car in gear. “He wanted me to take a look at a body. Magically.” He pulled out of his parking spot.
Anders turned, and a wave of concern, warmth, and annoyance passed through their odd link. It was such a typical Anders mix.
“I’m fine,” Curtis said, before the demon could ask.
“Whose body?” Anders said after a moment.
“What?” Anders’s voice was sharp.
“Exactly,” Curtis said. “Ever heard of that before?”
Anders just shook his head.
Curtis paid his way out of the parking lot and pulled into traffic. “Well, something bad happened to that guy. He got chewed on—David thinks werewolf—and strips of his skin were cut off. When I tried to get something from the body, it was like a black hole. Nothing magical there at all, no trace of anything. It was like the guy had been emptied.”
“Why did David call you?”
Curtis glanced at Anders. His jaw was set. “He’s a little short on wizards he can trust.”
“Is this the part where I point out the hypocrisy of your jealousy, or do you want to say something stupid first?”
“I’m not jealous,” Anders said. “I just think it’s a bad idea to get involved.”
“I get you’ve got no warm and fuzzies for other packs,” Curtis said. “But doesn’t it bother you someone mauled a demon and managed to gut him?”
“It bothers me whoever or whatever did it might find out you’re helping David Rimmer track them down and decide to take a bite out of you, too.”
Curtis blinked. “Oh.”
“Yeah. Oh.” Anders reached out and put his hand on Curtis’s thigh. He squeezed. “You matter way more than some dead demon.”
“Thanks. You should write that on a Valentine’s Day card.”
Anders slid his hand farther up Curtis’s thigh. “Would it work?”
“Don’t distract the driver,” Curtis said, but he was smiling.
“Fine.” Anders let go. They drove in silence for a while.
“I wonder if Luc has ever heard of a demon body that didn’t turn to ash.”
“Don’t get involved,” Anders said.
Curtis shrugged. “The only way I can think of to leave a dead demon body behind would be with magic. David thinks the Families aren’t involved, otherwise there’d’ve been no body to find. They’d’ve gotten rid of it some other way, after whatever they did to it. So the thing is, there’s a werewolf running around killing a demon, and there’s magic involved that has nothing to do with the Families.” Curtis looked at him. “As soon as they find out, the Families are going to be taking a long look at any wizards they don’t control, don’t you think?”
“Fuck,” Anders said.
“Yep.” To the best of Curtis’s knowledge, other than some Orphans out there who might or might not have been known to the Families, the list of wizards the Families didn’t have major influence over was just as long as David’s list of trustworthy wizards: one name.
“Once Luc gets up, we can make a plan,” Curtis said. “He’ll have an idea of what to do.”
“Right,” Anders said. The word was barely a grunt.
“I have ideas.”
Curtis spared a brief glance Anders’s way. “Hey. Don’t. If I needed a plan to wipe my enemies from the face of the earth in a rain of destruction as wide as the city? Or I needed to seduce, I don’t know, an army base or something? I know who I’d ask. But this isn’t that kind of problem.”
“A whole army base?”
“Or a rain of destruction.”
Anders’s gripped Curtis’s thigh again, giving him another squeeze. “You still got those camo pants?”
Curtis shifted in his seat. The heat the demon put out was somehow comforting and distracting all at the same time, especially when Anders’s hand had inched a bit closer to the inside of Curtis’s thigh.
“I’m driving,” Curtis said. His voice cracked a bit, though, which defeated the stern tone he was going for.
“When we get home,” Anders said. “You put on the pants, and I’ll drive, soldier.”
“You’re insatiable.” Then he grinned. “I like that about you.”
“I tend to agree with Anders,” Luc said.
“Someone note the time and date,” Anders said.
Curtis sighed. “I get it. I don’t want to get involved either.” He bit his lip.
“But?” Luc said.
Curtis looked at him, a small smile lifting the corner of his lips. “You know me too well.”
“Tell me what you want to do.”
“Someone killed a demon and did something pretty awful to him, magically speaking. I’m meeting with my craft night group tonight, and I thought maybe I could pick their brains about it. It can’t hurt, right?”
Luc regarded Curtis for a moment. He was obviously upset. Luc could feel it through their bond, a mix of concern and empathy typical of the wizard. And Curtis’s point about how the Families would react if this magical assault was indeed unsanctioned by their leaders was valid. Would the Families look at the three of them if things were indeed happening out of their purview?
Probably. He was loath to admit it.
“I could look into it as well. I am not without resources,” Luc said.
“Here we go,” Anders said. Both he and Curtis were on the couch. Anders had one arm wrapped around Curtis’s shoulder, and he hugged him. “Settle in for a royal speech from Ducky Lucky.”
Curtis patted Anders’s arm. “Don’t be so jealous. Luc may be an actual vampire Duke, but you’re still royalty to us.”
“Yes, every court has a jester,” Luc said.
Anders gave him the finger with his free hand.
“What do you mean, though?” Curtis said. “What resources?”
“As the Duc,” Luc said, ignoring the way Anders rolled his eyes and groaned, “I have access to the archivist and the other heads of the coteries as well. I’d intended to have a meeting with them in any circumstance, to discuss the lone vampires. I can ask them about this as well.”
“So we’re getting involved,” Anders said.
Luc raised one shoulder. “Technically, I should be involved anyway. This is my city to govern.”
“You govern the vampires.” Anders snorted. “You don’t govern demons. Or wizards.”
“Then I shall consider it community outreach.”
“You are the last person the demons would speak to,” Anders said. He gave Curtis another squeeze. “You neither, no offence. You’re both pretty, but meetings between you guys and demons haven’t gone too good in the past.”
“Hey. Self-defense,” Curtis said.
“Right. Lethal self-defense,” Anders said. “If we’re gonna get into demon business, it’s better if you two hang back.”
“So you’re to be our ambassador to the packs of Ottawa?” Luc said.
Anders grinned. “Think of me as Gandhi. Only sexy as fuck.”
“I don’t think Gandhi was ever actually an ambassador,” Curtis said.
“Whatever. They’ll bow down to me or I’ll kick their ass.”
Curtis blinked. “Anders,” he started. “Gandhi didn’t—”
“Sounds like a plan,” Luc said, giving Curtis a small shake of his head. There was no point.
Curtis blew out a breath. “Okay.”
Luc nodded. He checked his watch. It was still early in the evening. One of the benefits of a Canadian winter was how early the sun set. “What time will you be back from meeting your wizard friends?”
“We usually don’t go past ten,” Curtis said. He pulled himself out from under Anders’s arm and rose. “I should eat something before I go.”
“I’ll schedule my meeting accordingly,” Luc said.
Anders leaned back on the couch. “I’ll hit the Brass Rail.”
Curtis frowned. The Brass Rail was one of the bars in the Byward Market. “Is that a demon hangout?”
“No,” Anders said. “I need to see a guy about a blow job.” At Curtis’s sigh, he added, “after I’ll go figure out which pack the dead guy belonged to. How about that?”
“If you can squeeze it in,” Curtis said.
Anders got up, grinning. “I’ve got lots of practice with squeezing things in.” He swatted Curtis’s ass and left the room.
“He’s certainly mastered the single entendre,” Luc said.
Curtis’s cheer seemed a little forced, anxiety thrumming through the bond they shared.
“What’s wrong, lapin?” Luc said.
Curtis seemed to be taking a moment to gather his thoughts. Luc didn’t want to let Curtis’s nerves bother him, but Curtis was smart. If something worried him, it should likely worry them all. He had a way of thinking sideways at a problem, exposing different angles than others would consider.
“Okay,” Curtis said. “If you knew something about an Orphan wizard, say, and you thought I needed to know it, but you also really, really wanted to make sure I didn’t react a certain way or hurt the Orphan wizard, would you tell me?”
Luc crossed his arms. “I wouldn’t imagine you to hurt anyone at all if you could help it.”
“Which means you know something you think I should know about a lone vampire, I assume, drawing on your Orphan parallel, and you’re not sure you feel the same way about how I might react to such a person.” To Luc’s surprise, the thought actually stung. He was a predator, yes, and he believed himself to be a pragmatic sort, but the notion Curtis might consider him…what? Unkind? Cruel?
Yes. It stung.
“No, it’s not you,” Curtis said. “I know you. Hell, I lo—” He bit off whatever he was about to say.
The unspoken word hung in the sudden silence.
“I trust you,” Curtis said. “And Anders. You two are…” He stalled again. “I’m not saying this right.”
“Just tell me, lapin.”
Curtis took a breath. “You’re right. There’s a vampire. A vampire who isn’t in a coterie. And that vampire is important to someone I also trust and care about.”
“How did you find this…of course. The spell,” Luc said. When their clash with Renard had hit its peak, they’d worked a spell to locate him, and thanks to the aid of someone gifted with sensing the undead, they had succeeded beyond their intent. They’d created a literal map of where every vampire had been that evening, on the last of the three nights of a full moon, when the coteries gathered. Every lone vampire in the city had been marked in blood on a map.
“Right. The spell.”
“If there is any way I can avoid it, I will ensure this vampire is not mistreated. That’s the best I can offer, lapin, without knowing more. Assuming this vampire has done no harm to others, I should be in the position to make sure no harm is done in return. Now. Tell me. Because if I don’t know, I cannot help. Who is it you’re worried about?”
Curtis took a deep breath and began.
Luc regarded the office, schooling his features as best he could. He had faced truly trying moments in his long life. The ire of his maker when everything had gone fallen to pieces over the nights following Luc’s rebirth as a vampire. The forced debasement at the will of other vampires when he’d been caught without a coterie. The company of Anders. He had even faced down a warlock. But in the face of some things, even the greatest comportment could fail.
“You can redecorate,” Catharine said.
Luc allowed himself a small grimace. “Was I that obvious?”
Catharine’s laugh was almost musical. As always, the Lady Markham was the picture of grace. Her long, chestnut hair had been braided to fall over one shoulder, and her beautifully honey-colored eyes had only the barest traces of makeup around them. The dress she wore, a sleek navy design that left her shoulders bare beneath a white shawl, might not have been formal wear, but somehow she made it look like it was made for royalty. Luc wasn’t entirely sure if her title was inherited, married into, or even still applicable, but she bore it with every movement she made. Vampire, yes. Capable of destroying those she found despicable, absolutely. But she was in all things first a Lady in every sense of the word.
Luc had no doubt she felt the same as he did about their current surroundings. She had even known them when the occupant responsible had still ruled. Surely, that had been even worse.
The office of the Duc of Ottawa.
To say the former Duc Renard’s office was not to Luc’s taste would have been a vast understatement. It was possible, Luc supposed, for this much chrome and black leather to look professional or at the very least stylish, but the pieces Renard had chosen were anything but. They were garish. Pompous. Showy.
Frankly, they were tacky.
The desk loomed like an obelisk, a glass top on a blank ebony block. The chair behind it was completely unsuited to anything other than a cheap villain’s lair in one of Anders’s terrible action movies. It resembled a leather throne, complete with silver studding along the armrests. The three guest’s chairs on the other side of the desk, however, were small, short, and understated. The whole set-up screamed a message of power with a complete lack of subtlety.
“It’s deplorable,” Catharine said.
“Thank you,” Luc said. “I have pieces I can bring in. I will do so as soon as I can arrange it. My thought was to transfer my business dealings here. Curtis might like his father’s office back, and it would mean I would be here more often and available should any of you need me.”
“I am glad you’re going to use the space,” Catharine said.
Luc paused. He’d not done much as Duc since he gained the title the previous autumn, but that had been on purpose. He hadn’t wanted to create any friction with the other coteries. He’d received a few token letters of welcome from other cities, though none from those higher in the lignage than himself, but so far vampire politics had left him more or less alone. The vampires of Ottawa had suffered enough under Renard’s rule. Though Catharine had proven herself to be at least an ally, if not a friend, Étienne and Denis still struck him as ciphers. When he’d asked Catharine to accompany him to his office this evening, he hadn’t been sure what to expect.
The world’s ugliest office, apparently.
“Yes, well,” Luc said, remembering the reasons he was here. “I’m hoping not to call you all here very often. I’d rather not disrupt your lives if I can.”
“Something quite hard to get used to,” Denis said.
Luc turned. Both Denis and Étienne had arrived, a study in contrasts. Étienne was a compact, lean man with almost pretty features and a fresh, clean-shaven look, but Denis was stocky and taller, and had a habit of stroking his short brown beard when he was thinking. Luc bowed. They returned the bow, dipping lower and longer than he had, as was befitting his station. Even as it annoyed him as a pointlessness of vampire politics, it still provided his baser nature with a small thrill.
He held power over these three and, through them, all those in their coteries. Such a change of fortune in his existence.
He returned his attention to the office.
“Upon seeing this place,” Luc said, “I think if you are all willing, we will forgo sitting? I don’t think I care to try out that…throne.” He gestured to the high-backed leather chair. “But please, take off your jackets, get comfortable. I brought a bottle of wine, if any of you would like?”
Catharine’s voice was light. “That would be lovely.”
Étienne and Denis settled their coats in the wardrobe to the left of the office door, and Luc poured glasses of wine for them all. Even the former Duc’s stemless, square wineglasses were off-putting. For a man who’d been a vampire for a century, Renard had apparently courted the worst of the modern. Luc made a metal note to inventory the room before he left. At least the floor was a richly polished maple. Not everything needed to be redone.
When they all had glasses, Luc raised his. “To our first official meeting.”
They drank. From their facial expressions, Luc decided the wine had suited everyone’s tastes. He hoped it sweetened their dispositions for his next topic.
“I had originally brought you all here to discuss only one issue, but now I have two. The second might be easier to cover. What do you all know of any lycanthropes in the city?”
Catharine’s eyebrows rose in mild surprise. “Nothing, I’m afraid. Or nearly as much. My understanding is those few who do come to Ottawa are generally found in the Market, which is a bit removed from my spheres of influence.”
“She’s right,” Denis said. “I know of no lycanthrope packs in the city proper. There are two packs in Gatineau, I believe, and a fairly large pack in Merrickville. The only wolves who come into the city, though, are those with work.” Denis looked at Étienne. “You have more dealings in the Market than the rest of us.”
Étienne’s nod was slow and careful. “Yes.” He looked at Luc. “I personally know of three wolves with business in the city proper. A tattoo artist, a truck driver, and a wildlife veterinarian.” He paused. “Is there a problem with the wolves?”
Luc looked at the three vampires and wondered how much he could trust them. Their situations had all changed, and he had taken little time in the last few months for them to get to know each other—something he was now regretting, even though he believed it had been a good choice at the time.
“There has been an attack, and it appears a werewolf was involved,” Luc said. “While none of our kind were involved, I would prefer to be…in the loop with the investigation.” Luc watched their faces carefully, but if any of them had already known about the attack, none showed any sign. In fact, Catharine made a noise of surprise, and Étienne clenched his strong jaw.
“Who was attacked?” Étienne said.
“A demon.” He wasn’t going to volunteer the strange details of the demon’s corpse.
“My instinct would be to suggest it was a lone wolf,” Étienne said.
“How so?” Luc tilted his head. “Please tell me. You all likely know more than I do.” His admission sent a frisson of surprise across the features of the three other vampires. He supposed they were very unused to any admissions of ignorance from Renard.
“Well,” Étienne said. “The Gatineau packs have been at peace with each other and us for years, and the Merrickville lot are young and less powerful by far. None would want trouble. The lines are clearly drawn, and any wolf coming into the city would know better than to act out.” The soft-speaking vampire paused. “Now, if a demon had started something…” He shrugged. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see it escalate. Wolves can be…touchy.”
“Thank you,” Luc said, meaning it. “I’m glad not to discover some already underlying issue at hand. I have someone investigating from the demon side, and perhaps they’ll uncover more.”
“Your…friend Anders?” Catharine said.
“Yes,” Luc said.
She took a sip of wine. “It must be useful to have such access to the wizards and the demons.”
“I don’t think any of us have any illusions about how welcome Anders is with the other demons, nor Curtis with the Families in general.”
“Still,” she said.
“Still.” He returned to the topic at hand. “Do we have contact information for the wolves who work in Ottawa? I don’t know which of you Renard had as archivist, but—”
“He didn’t,” Denis said. “He had one of his own coterie in the position.”
Luc drew in a breath and exhaled. It was an affected gesture, and one he hoped conveyed his annoyance and frustration with the late Duc’s casual lack of regard for so many of the standards of tradition.
“The former archivist is no longer with us,” Catharine said. “However, prior to her assignment, Denis had the duty.”
Luc could have cheered Catharine for her grace in the moment. She’d released Denis from having to admit the Duc had taken the position from him and given it to someone far less worthy, but still she managed to let Luc know what had happened, and the resource he had at hand.
“I would be grateful were you willing to be restored to the position. You are the eldest here, then?” Luc said.
Denis nodded, glancing at Catharine and Étienne. “Of the three of us, yes.” His voice had a slight teasing note as he regarded Luc.
Luc revealed just a hint of fang. “Given I cannot be Duc and archivist both, my age becomes irrelevant.”
Catharine laughed. Even Étienne cracked a smile. This was a staple of the game of vampire politics. Still, Luc saw an opportunity to foster some regard among them. Though he knew it might also be a small gamble and was even perhaps giving something away he could have used to his advantage later, he took it.
“1759,” Luc said.
All three turned to look at him, and none schooled the surprise from their faces. He wondered if it was his age or the thought of surviving more than two centuries without a coterie that shocked them. Perhaps both.
“Quebec City,” he added. “As I will now have access to the archives, it seems only fair you three know about your Duc.” He paused. “And I suppose I will earn an entry myself.”
“Thank you.” Étienne spoke, but Luc could see similar sentiment in the eyes of the other two.
Not a mistake, he decided.
“I’ll look into the wolves,” Denis said. He glanced around the ugly office. “I’m aware of two out of the three Étienne mentioned, and I can easily track down the third. Moreover, lone wolves are known to come through the city. With your permission, I can also begin looking for whatever passed for the archives during Duc Renard’s rule. As it turns out, I have copies of everything I had gathered beforehand.” He cleared his throat. Strictly speaking, that was not the proper thing for him to have done, but Renard’s positioning of the archivist among his own coterie had already removed many of the rules from play. Denis’s actions were wise, and as they would now benefit Luc, he wasn’t about to argue their propriety. “I will email you unless I find something too sensitive, in which case we can meet again?”
“That would be perfect,” Luc said, grateful.
“The second thing?” Catharine said.
Luc wondered if he’d garnered enough goodwill already for this. Still, he had only one way to find out. “I have a thought about the lone vampires in our city I wish to put forth to you all.”
The three fell still. Luc might be phrasing it as though he was asking their opinions, but all in the room knew if it came to it, what he declared would be expected to be enforced.
“None of us wish to add to our ranks from those made in lesser ways or with lesser results,” Luc said. He worked to force any emotion from his voice, and succeeded through no small effort. Having been a castoff himself, despite his strong ability with glamour and through events not of his own making, he knew full well what it was like to be alone simply for being judged as unworthy in some way. “But it has come to my attention where and exactly how many of these lone vampires we have in Ottawa, and I believe I have a solution.”
They were all watching him sharply now. None of them knew how Luc had managed to find Renard’s place of rest the night their former Duc had been destroyed, and Luc was not about to enlighten them about Curtis’s spell. An unexpected side-effect of the scrying had been finding out where all the vampires of Ottawa had been that evening. Even if it was likely now that information was out of date, it had provided a census of a kind to him. There were nearly a dozen such vampires.
“I have a thought to allow them to form a lesser coterie. No representation here, of course, and subordinate to all of you. They would report through one of their own to one of you. My thought here is Étienne, who has the widest territory around the city proper. Having them gathered and bound to each other would add a measure of control. And it’s not without precedent.”
They absorbed his words silently.
“That sort of thing is usually only done in times of war,” Catharine said. “When there is no time to discover the quality of the creature sired.”
Luc knew that very well. He saw the flickers of understanding cross their faces. Quebec City. 1759. He met their gazes and waited for each to look away.
“How many are there?” Denis said.
“To the best of my knowledge, and I have no reason to doubt it, there are currently eleven. Not a low number, I realize. Likely some of that is due to our former Duc’s rule. And far more than the three required.”
“Do you have an idea of them at all?” Denis said. “Their character or ability?”
Luc shook his head. “Not really. Tracking them down would require a deft touch, as I imagine all would flee at the sight of any of our kind. Having been in the position of a lone vampire myself, though, I would hope they see the a chance to escape their current situation as a good deal.”
“Yes,” Étienne said, with enough feeling behind it that Luc wondered if the quiet man had also had a taste of a time without a coterie. He’d chosen Étienne not only for his territorial range, but because he’d known less about the man than the other two. He thought handing him leadership over a group would, in a small way, give him more influence and be a step toward forging a trust between them.
“I’m not sure I see a downside myself,” Catharine said. “None of us like knowing the things that could happen during the full moon, when the lone ones are so often willing to take chances.” She nodded. “I like the idea.”
“Yes,” Étienne said again. “I’d be willing.”
“It’s worth exploring,” Denis said, though he was more hesitant. “And I suppose it stops them accidentally finding each other and forming a coterie without our permission.” He glanced at Luc with a measure of contriteness. “Meaning no disrespect.”
“None taken. That’s exactly the desperation and disorder I’m trying to avoid.” Luc relaxed a fraction, but he felt real relief. “I’m glad. It will take time, and we’ll have to make contact carefully. We’ll have to consider territories and mentorship for those who may have been made and abandoned. Choose your advocates carefully. I will share the locations with you where you might have the most luck looking.” Luc had no intention of handing over the exact addresses Curtis’s spell had uncovered, but they’d all need something to work with.
Étienne seemed lost in thought. Denis narrowed his lips.
Catharine raised her glass. “We may have a werewolf on the loose, a dead demon, and a group of unfortunates to gather and train, but I for one can’t help but feel this was the best meeting we’ve had with a Duc in decades.”
Luc regarded her. The Lady Markham might have all the beauty of a rose, but he would never underestimate her. Roses had thorns. Of all of them, he knew she was the one most capable at vampire politics. Everyone raised their glass and drank.
She caught his eye and raised a single, elegant eyebrow.
Anders hadn’t come to Sintillation often. For one thing, the performers weren’t usually to his taste, what with the ladies being the ones on stage six nights out of seven. The men who came to ogle them weren’t exactly primed for his attention either, given most had come to get a glimpse of naked women.
But on Wednesdays, the strippers were men, and the clientele was mixed. Mostly women came to the all-male shows, but some gay men would sometimes come along with them. And on those evenings where Wednesdays had fallen on the three nights of the full moon, he’d come to Sintillation knowing he’d likely find a willing man who’d enjoy a man he could touch after hours of only being allowed to look.
He hadn’t been back since forming the triad with Luc and Curtis. Anders enjoyed the freedom of not having to settle, to find scraps enough to make it through another month. Besides, seeking out a challenge was more fun.
He remembered Curtis’s comment about seducing an army base and made a mental note to figure out where the closest barracks might be.
Sintillation defied the usual pitfalls despite being a strip joint, maybe because the Market was generally more upscale along its major thoroughfares. It was clean. The drinks weren’t watered down, and the ground floor was a high-class bar in its own right. And the strippers? They were considered some of the hottest acts around. Cynics declared it was thanks to Ottawa being a government town; none so lascivious as politicians, after all. But Anders knew better.
A good proportion of the strippers were demons like him. Drawing on the lust of the watchers might be a difficult trick—any demon doing so would have to be careful to hide their eyes, which grew black when feeding. But if done right, it was basically a buffet of souls to nibble on.
And hey, you even got paid.
Anders climbed the stairs to the second floor. The stage had three removable poles and pedestals as well as a runway leading from the main stage, with chairs set close alongside. A horseshoe of tables made a second ring of viewing for those who didn’t want to get directly up on the stage, and a bar was against the farthest wall.
Anders scanned the room. It was early, so no one was on stage, and the tables and chairs were empty. Two bartenders were busy behind the bar, stocking and prepping, he figured. They were both fit, bore identical white Sintillation logo T-shirts that clung to their upper bodies, and showed off pumped arms to great effect.
Anders approached the bar and tried to take measure of the two men. They seemed almost identical to him, dark hair, dark eyes, clean-shaven and sporting deep tans, but as he got closer he saw one had more of a baby face than the other, who bore a single silver hoop in his right eyebrow. Both were very attractive, but by the time he’d gotten to the bar, he was sure neither were demons. Baby-face was huffing a bit with effort putting cases of beer on top of the bar, a weight no demon would struggle with, and Eyebrow just didn’t have the right feel to him. Hot, sure. Fuckable? Definitely, in a quick-and-dirty way. But demon? No.
“Hey,” Anders said. Eyebrow faced him. Baby-face kept working.
“We don’t open up here until nine,” Eyebrow said. “If you’re looking for a drink, downstairs is open.”
“I’m looking for a friend,” Anders said. He let his allure burn, a heat that rose from his skin and washed out over the bar.
Eyebrow blinked once and looked at Anders with something like admiration. No lust. Not gay, then. Still, Anders’s allure would cast him in as favorable a light as possible.
“Who’s your friend?” Eyebrow said.
“Ethan. He’s pretty new.”
“Oh. Sure.” Eyebrow gestured to the left of the stage. “Through there. I’ll let them know you’re coming.” He pulled a small walkie from his belt and held it to his mouth, pressing it. “Ethan’s got a visitor.”
After a moment, a voice said, “Okay.”
“Thanks.” Anders crossed the floor. To the left of the stage was a door painted the same color as the wall and hard to spot at a glance. He knocked.
The man who opened the door was tall and black, and built solid beneath the loose grey sweatshirt and jeans he was wearing. His hair was military short, and he sported the most carefully groomed goatee Anders had ever seen. The heat the man generated was palpable.
Definitely a demon.
He looked at Anders with suspicion.
“You’re Ethan’s friend?” The man’s voice surprised Anders, softer than he expected.
“Friend might be pushing it,” Anders said. “But I need to talk to him. Tell him it’s Anders.”
The man narrowed his eyes. Anders didn’t react. Ethan might have spoken of him before, but he couldn’t do anything about that now. Besides, it was flattering.
After a moment, the man stepped aside. “Come on through.”
Anders followed him. The room ran the full length of the wall behind the stage, with obvious stations for dressing and makeup, and a series of doors Anders figured led to smaller changing areas. Wheeled racks of outfits were lined up, and a large whiteboard listed names and times beside the curtained area Anders assumed opened to the stage.
He spotted Ethan in front of one of the mirrors. When Anders had first met Ethan, he was a whiny little scrappy thing with no idea he was about to become a demon. Now his buzzed black hair didn’t make him look like a pool cue, but seemed to entice touch. His frame was filling out, too, and though he might never lose the youthful look he had, it would serve him well. That he was wearing a white sailor’s outfit, complete with hat and knotted scarf, didn’t detract from the whole.
Fact was, Ethan looked good. Healthier than the last few times he’d seen him, and more than that, he looked strong.
“Ethan,” Anders’s guide said. “You got a visitor.”
Ethan looked up, saw Anders, and grimaced.
“Hey, buddy,” Anders said.
Ethan rose from his table and walked over. “What are you doing here?” He had pretty blue eyes, when they weren’t glaring at you.
“Everything okay?” The big guy’s soft voice had deepened.
Anders couldn’t help but notice the big demon was now standing a little closer to Ethan. Almost protectively. That was interesting. Demons usually didn’t buddy up much. They sure didn’t often care about demons who belonged to other packs, let alone an incubus like Ethan, who was gay and more or less an outcast. Ethan’s group was the bare minimum of three needed to offer the protection of a pack. He was owed respect and autonomy for sure, but Mr. Tall, Black, and Butch was offering something more.
Ethan glanced at his protector. “I’m good, Kavan.”
With a nod, Kavan left the two alone, though he didn’t go far. Ostensibly, the big man was picking through the closest rack of outfits.
“He’s a sweetheart, eh? Got somewhere we can talk?” Anders said.
Ethan’s frown grew, but he nodded. “The office.”
Anders followed him through the first of the doors, and Ethan closed it behind him. The office was plain and functional. A desk, a computer, a couple of filing cabinets, and only one chair behind the desk. Neither of them took it.
“I like your look, sailor,” Anders said. “Tearaway pants? They really work for your ass.”
Ethan grunted. “Thanks ever so much.”
“You know why I’m here, right?”
Ethan sighed. “David told me. About Louis. Yeah.”
“You hear anything here?” Anders said. “You know which pack he belonged to?” Anders didn’t know much about the various packs in Ottawa. Demons weren’t big on hanging out with other demons, and when he’d been on his own, he’d spent most of his time hiding from the other packs, who’d have gladly fucked him up for shits and giggles.
“You just met him,” Ethan said. “Louis runs in Kavan’s pack. Ran, I mean.” The correction came with a flinch. “Did Curtis figure out why he was…y’know…like that?”
“Still a pile of meat instead of ash?” Anders said. Ethan paled. “Nope. Not yet. He’ll figure it out, though. What can you tell me about Kavan’s pack?”
Ethan let out a breath. “Most of them don’t talk to me—having you visit isn’t going to help, by the way. Turns out people don’t much like you, if you can imagine.” Ethan’s voice was dry.
“Jealousy,” Anders said. “You said most don’t talk to you. Some do?”
“Kavan does, for one.” Ethan paused. “He’s…nicer than usual, I guess.”
Anders raised an eyebrow.
Ethan shrugged. “I know, I know. David said the same thing. I’m not saying I’m going to trust him with my life or anything, but he didn’t give me shit for being a fag like the others did.”
Anders noticed the past tense. “Did?”
Ethan smiled. It wasn’t a pleasant smile, and Anders had to give the kid credit. If he wanted to, he could turn the youthful look he had going for him into something cold and hard, and not just a little bit mean looking. Ethan held out one hand, and blue hellfire burned bright and hot in his palm. It was a pretty impressive display, especially for someone still relatively new to being a demon.
“It turns out it’s harder to intimidate me now I’ve got a pack of my own,” Ethan said.
“Tyson’s working out, then?” Anders said.
Tyson was another demon, but not an incubus like them. Tyson was a rare male fury. His kind fed on wrath. Still, David and Ethan had formed a pack with him, thanks in no small part to Anders, and there were obviously benefits to having a wrath demon in the mix. The gleam of satisfaction in Ethan’s eyes was a welcome sight. Anders hadn’t much enjoyed Ethan’s whiny period.
“Suits you,” Anders said.
Ethan closed his fingers, snuffing out the flame. The scent of brimstone lingered.
“You hear anything about this Flint guy?”
Ethan shook his head. “Nothing that matters. He wasn’t one of the guys here. I never worked with him. He worked at the Senate.”
The Senate was a bar Anders had never tried. It catered to government types, and for the most part, Anders found government types some of the least sexy people alive. He wondered if Louis Flint had found enough willing ladies there, or if it had just been a job to pay the rent.
“Okay,” Anders said.
“The thing is, Flint wasn’t…” Ethan sighed. “He wasn’t important, is the general vibe I get from everyone. I call tell they’re more angry he’s dead because it means someone attacked their pack rather than they care about him being actually dead. The anger isn’t about Louis, it’s personal.”
Anders regarded Ethan, taken aback. The kid seemed pretty sure of himself. “What do you mean?”
“I can feel it,” Ethan said with a shrug. “I can’t make anger happen, not like Tyson, but ever since we made a pack, David and I can feel it. The same way I can tell when someone’s horny. Y’know.”
Anders did. It was how they fed, as incubi. But as a wrath demon, Tyson focused on anger, not lust. Apparently, adding him to the mix with David and Ethan was blending their abilities somewhat. Just like him and Luc and Curtis.
“So they’re mad.”
“They’re pissed,” Ethan said. “But it’s not like they’re pissed it was Flint. He didn’t matter. They’re just…pissed. It’s…” He seemed to be struggling for words. “It’s hard to explain. Tyson says they’re running hot.”
Anders grunted. It wasn’t the most helpful information, but it might be important. The last thing the city needed was angry demons running about. Maybe Curtis was right after all. Maybe it was a good idea to get a jump on whatever or whoever was behind the attack. Otherwise, pissed-off demons would be making things tough for all of them.
“Who found him?” Anders said.
“Kavan felt it when it happened, I guess. He led some of his pack right to where…to the body.”
“Kavan was nearby?”
Ethan shook his head. “Not really. He was here. Some of the women in his pack work here, and he likes to stay close when they’re working. They’re stronger than any fuckwits, but it just looks better if he tosses the unruly guys before they do. He bounces on nights he’s not performing. Like I said, he’s pretty protective.”
Anders frowned. “Kavan felt Flint being killed? From here?”
“Is that weird?”
“It’s…impressive. How big is his pack?”
“It’s the biggest. In Ottawa, anyway. I think there’s a larger pack in Gatineau, but I’m not sure.” Ethan started tapping his fingers. He got through both hands twice before he shrugged again. “About twenty, I think. Maybe more.”
It was definitely a large pack, which would give Kavan a lot of power to work with, but still. A balance was at play. The power boost you gained was shared among the group pretty evenly. At a certain size, the gain flattened out. Or at least, that’s what he’d been told. And Kavan seemed plenty powerful himself. Still, being able to sense another pack member, so specifically? As far as he knew, it wasn’t likely.
“Do you feel David? Or Tyson?”
Ethan seemed to grasp what he was thinking right away. “Not like that. I mean, I can feel them, sure. Like, I know our pack exists. And I’m connected. If I need to, I can pull power from them if they’re close enough. But it’s not like I can tell where they are. Or which direction? No.”
Anders’s bond with Curtis and Luc worked much the same way, though it was stronger. He could even tell how they felt sometimes, if he was nearby. But it wasn’t like a compass. There was no sense of “this way to Curtis” unless he was close enough to Curtis it wouldn’t have mattered.
Louis Flint had been nowhere near Sintillation.
So was it possible Kavan had known where the body was some other way?
Anders met Ethan’s gaze. The younger man was looking at him. “I don’t think he’d hurt one of his own.”
The kid was thinking the same thing. Huh. Wasn’t so fucking naive as all that, after all.
“I don’t know why anyone would hurt one of their own,” Anders said. Of course, plenty of people did anyway. And they didn’t have to be demons. Anders knew that truth particularly well.
Don’t think about that.
“I’ll keep listening,” Ethan said.
Anders forced himself back into the moment. When he saw Ethan looking at him a little strangely, he put a shit-eating grin on his face and saluted. “You do that, sailor. Mind if I stick around for the show? I’ve got a five dollar bill just waiting to see what color jock strap you’re sporting under there.”
Ethan rolled his eyes. “You’re such an asshole.”
“It’s part of my charm.”
When Anders stepped out of the small office, he saw Kavan had given up all pretense of being busy elsewhere and was leaning against the door that led back to the stage, arms crossed. Anders met him there.
“I don’t want anyone bothering Ethan,” Kavan said.
Anders crossed his own arms. “Neither do I.”
Kavan regarded him. “You’re the demon with the flick and the bloodsucker.” It wasn’t a question.
“The one and only.”
Kavan glanced past Anders. Anders turned and saw Ethan was back at one of the mirrors. Beside him, a man in a skin-tight leather cop uniform said something to him, but Ethan’s reply was to hand him something from the table. The faux cop moved on.
“I know why I look out for him,” Anders said, turning back to Kavan. “But why do you?”
Kavan exhaled. “I look out for trouble, period. Trouble for any of us is trouble for all of us.”
“Fair enough.” That wasn’t a particularly demonic point of view, but Anders couldn’t argue with the logic.
“What did you want with him?” Kavan said.
“It cuts through the bullshit.”
Anders was starting to like Kavan. Too bad he couldn’t trust him. “Just passing on a message from a friend.”
“The cop? From his pack.”
“I don’t think he’d call me a friend.”
Kavan seemed to want to say more, but he stepped aside after a moment. Anders reached for the door handle and pulled, but just before he opened the door, he stopped. “I’m sorry about Flint,” he said.
It wasn’t much. A widening of the eyes, a clenching of his jaw, and an almost reflexive tightening of the man’s shoulders. Kavan was too schooled to show much, but the reaction was there. And if it was genuine, then it damned well read like regret.
“Thank you,” Kavan said. “Whoever did it will pay. If the wolves think they can tear us up whenever they want, they’ve got another think coming.” His soft voice had hardened, with a timbre bordering on using his demonic allure. Kavan had power, all right. Anders could feel the heat radiating off him.
They’re running hot. That’s what Tyson had told Ethan. Sure seemed that way.
“No doubt,” Anders said. “Listen, if you think of anything, make sure you talk to David. He might have a rod up his ass, but when he wants something done, it gets done.”
“I don’t like the company he keeps. He and the Families go way back.”
“That was then.” Anders shrugged. “He’s not under their thumb right now.”
“Right.” Kavan didn’t sound convinced.
This was a problem he didn’t need. If Kavan knew something and didn’t want to tell David because of the Families, Kavan was making life more difficult for himself. And, by extension, Anders. No way was he was putting up with that shit.
“Look,” Anders said. “I’m trying to track down whoever or whatever took out your guy. If you know something…”
“Why would you help?”
Good question, Anders thought. This was why he didn’t go the Boy Scout route. No one ever believed him. Also, given the chance, he’d rather fuck a Scout leader than teach some little shits how to be better people.
“Self-interest,” Anders said. Why not try the truth? Curtis seemed to think there was something to be said for telling the truth. “Families’ll figure out there’s magic involved, and they’ll start looking at me and mine even though we had nothing to do with it. They’d fucking love to pin this on us somehow. I’d rather hand them whatever did it than let them eyeball us for the blame.”
Kavan took a moment to digest. “Magic. Because of the body.”
Anders nodded. “Right.”
Kavan blew out a breath. “I got a good enough look at Louis to know he was chewed up by a wolf. But you’re right. There’s magic, too. I figure we find the wolf, we make him tell us about whoever brought the magic.” Kavan’s smile was cold. “That wolf will hand over whichever Family piece of shit decided to mess with us, and they’ll pay in kind.”
Anders didn’t doubt that for a second. He also didn’t doubt more was going on with Kavan than he was telling. This was more than a pack leader pissed someone took down one of his demons. This seemed almost personal to him. Most demons had zero love for the Families, but that was just smart. Anders empathized. Kavan, though, seemed to hate them.
He’d love to know why.
“Mind if I stick around for the show?” Anders said.
“Just pay the cover. And nothing happens on the premises. You find someone, you take them somewhere else, got it?”
“Already had some fun tonight.”
“Enjoy, then.” Kavan turned to go.
“Hey,” Anders said. Kavan paused, but he didn’t look back at him. “If you think of anything you didn’t tell David, you can tell me. You tell me, and my word to you it doesn’t go to the Families.”
“Your word?” There was amusement in the voice.
“My word,” Anders said. There was none in his.
After a moment, Kavan nodded. Then he left, taking his palpable heat with him.
That is one pissed-off demon. One thing was for sure: Anders wouldn’t want to be wolf in this city right now. He turned to the bar. He wondered if Kavan was the one responsible for the beer selection. Sintillation had great beer. It was probably Kavan.
Demons knew important shit like beer.