Phone cradled between her shoulder and ear, Ivy Tamwood scooped another chunk of chili up with her fries, leaning over the patterned wax paper so it wouldn’t drip onto her desk. Kisten was bitching about something or other, and she wasn’t listening, knowing he could go on for half her lunch break before winding down. The guy was nice to wake up to in the afternoon, and a delight to play with before the sun came up, but he talked too much.
Which is why I put up with him, she mused, running her tongue across the inside of her teeth before swallowing. Her world had gone too quickly from alive to silent on that flight back home from California. My God, was it seven years now? It had been unusual to foster a high-blood living vampire child into a sympathetic camarilla, taking her from home and family for her last two years of high school, but Piscary, the master vampire her family looked to, had become intense in his interest in her before she developed the mental tools to deal with it, and her parents had intervened at some cost, probably saving her sanity.
I could keep Freud in Havana cigars all by my lonesome, Ivy thought, taking another bite of carbs and protein. Twenty-three ought to be far enough away from that scared sixteen year old on the sun-drenched tarmac to forget, but even now, after multiple blood and bed partners, a six-year degree in Social Sciences, and landing an excellent job where she could use her degree, she found her confidence was still tied to the very things that screwed her up.
She missed Skimmer and her reminder that life was more than waiting for it to end so she could get started living. And while Kisten was nothing like her high school roommate, he had filled the gap nicely these last few years.
Smiling wickedly, Ivy gazed through the plate-glass wall that looked out on the floor of open offices. Weight shifting, she crossed her legs at her knees and leaned farther across her desk, imagining just what gap she’d like Kisten to fill next.
“Damn vampire pheromones,” she breathed, and pulled herself straight, not liking where her thoughts took her when she spent too much time in the lower levels of the Inderland Security tower. Working the homicide division of the I.S. got her a real office instead of a desk in the middle of the floor with the peons, but there were too many vamps—both living and undead—down here for the air circulation to handle.
Kisten’s tirade about prank phone calls ended abruptly. “What do vamp pheromones have to do with humans attacking my pizza delivery crew?” he asked in a lousy British accent. It was his newest preoccupation, and one she hoped he’d tire of soon.
Rolling her chair closer to her desk, Ivy took a swig of her imported bottled water, eyes askance on the boss’s closed door across the large room. “Nothing. You want me to pick up anything on the way home? I might be able to wing out of here early. Art’s in the office, which means someone died and I have to go to work. Bet you first bite he’s going to want to cut my lunch short . . .” She took another sip. “ . . . and I’m going to take it off the end of my day.”
“No,” Kisten said. “Danny is doing the shopping today.”
One of the perks of living atop a restaurant, she thought, as Kisten started in on a shopping list she didn’t care about. Pulling her plate of fries off her desk, she set them on her lap, being careful to not spill on her leather pants. The boss’s door opened, catching her eye when Art came out, shaking hands with Mrs. Pendleton. He’d been in there a full half hour. There was a stapled pack of paper in his hands, and Ivy’s pulse quickened. She’d been sitting on her ass going over Art’s unsolved homicides for too long. The man had no business being in homicide. Dead did not equal smart.
Unless it was in manipulating us into giving them our blood. Ivy forced herself to keep eating, thinking the undead targeted their living kin more out of jealousy than maintaining good human relations as was claimed. Having been born with the vampire virus embedded into her genome, Ivy enjoyed a measure of the undeads’ strengths without the drawbacks of light fatality and pain from religious artifacts. Though not in line with the Art’s abilities, her hearing and strength were beyond a human’s, and her sense of smell was tuned to the softer flavors of sweat and pheromones. The undeads’ need for blood had been muted from a biological necessity to a bloodlust that imparted a high like no other when sated . . . addictive when mixed with sex.
Her gaze went unbidden to Art, and he smiled from across the wide floor as if knowing her thoughts, his steady advance never shifting and the packet of paper in his hand moving like a banner of intent. Appetite gone, she swiveled her chair to put her back to the room. “Hey, Kist,” she said, interrupting his tirade about Danny’s recent poor choice of mushrooms, “change of plans. By the amount of paperwork, it’s one of Art’s cleanup runs. I won’t be home till sunup.”
“Again?” she mocked, fiddling with a colored pen until she realized it telegraphed her mood and set it down with a sharp tap. “God, Kisten. You make it sound like it’s every night.”
Kisten sighed. “Leave the paperwork for tomorrow, love. I don’t know why you bust your ass so hard. You’re not moving up until you let Artie the Smarty go down on you.”
“Is that so,” she said, feeling her face warm and the chili on her tongue go flat. Tossing her plate to her desk, she forced herself to remain reclining with her booted feet spread wide when what she wanted to do was hit someone. Martial-arts meditation had kept her out of civil court, until now, self-control was how she defined herself.
“You knew the system when you hired in,” he coaxed, and Ivy tugged the sleeves to her skin-tight black pullover from her elbows to her wrists to hide her faint scars. She could feel Art crossing the room, and adrenaline tickled the pit of her stomach. It was a run, she told herself, but she knew Art was the reason for the stir in her, not the chance to get out of the office.
“Why do you think I wanted to work with Piscary instead of the I.S.?” Kisten was saying, words she had heard too many times before. “Give him what he wants. I don’t care.” He laughed. “Hell, it might be nice having you come home wanting to watch a movie instead of ready to drain me.”
Reaching to her desk, she finished her water, wiping the corner of her mouth with a careful pinky. She had known the politics—hell, she had grown up in them—but that didn’t mean she had to like the society she was forced to work within. She had watched it end her mother’s life, watched it now eat her father away, killing him little by little. It was the only path open to her. And she was good at it.
Very good at it. That’s what bothered her the most.
[. . .]