Hell's Angel Episode One


Hell’s Angel

Episode One

She must feed off sinners to survive. But to feed is to sin, and to sin, is to be punished.

Misa Fairchild is a detective in the screwed up city of Saint Helios. She has a secret she’s kept since the day she was born. A secret that haunts her every step and breath.

She’s an Arc Angelus, a top-tier predator who must feed off sinners to survive. If the Government knew what she was, they’d kidnap her and brainwash her for their Arc Program.

Every day, she battles with her hunger as she hides among the police, using her contacts to find sinning Angelus so she can feed off them to live. She has no option but to kill – she has to keep her niece alive, and this is the cost of survival in this tortured world.

Her partner is Farley Jones, a man who lives behind a mask. A man who lost his humanity and kindness the day his family were killed in an Arc attack. He’s dedicated his life to tracking those monsters down, and he’s never given an Angelus quarter.

Farley and Misa are thrust together when a string of murders within the police force draws Internal Affairs into Saint Helios, and hot on their heels is Army Intelligence. The Government, it seems, is looking for something.

Once upon a time, Misa knew her heart around Farley, but that starts to change. And as it does, it draws her further into danger she can't afford. She tries to protect him, but it will come at a cost.

As forces align against them, Misa must kill to protect, but in doing so, she is unlocking something within herself that she can't hope to understand. A process that will change everything….

Hell’s Angel is an Urban Fantasy serial sure to please fans of Odette C. Bell’s The Last Queen.

Chapter 1

They say to live is to consume. They’re right. Trust me. I’m an Arc Angelus – the very top of the food chain. I’ve lived my life in hiding, killing only when I need to survive. But it’s a messy world that only keeps getting messier.

I live alone with my niece, an Arc just like me. We’ve only got each other in a twisted city that, if it knew we existed, would capture us and send us to the Army.

I won’t let that happen. No matter what I have to do. Even if I have to consume this city’s scumbags just to live, then that will be the just cost of surviving.

“Hey, get over here. I need you to take notes,” Farley says as he brings up a hand, cups his strong chin, and drums his fingers on his stubble. His bright green eyes are fixed on the body draped over the bed. From the way the arms are hanging limply over the mattress, to the dead, lifeless look in the poor son of a bitch’s eyes, the corpse looks arranged. Like he’s a well-placed dead rose in a bunch of flowers.

I’m still standing outside the main room, and I can only catch a glimpse of both Farley and the corpse through a gap in the bloodstained velvet curtain.

“Misa, get over here already,” Farley snaps. “I know you don’t like murder scenes,” his tone drops with momentary compassion before arcing right back up to the level V hurricane I’m used to, “but the corpse is still fresh, and we need to figure this out now.”

I don’t rush to his side. I stand there, arms held loosely by my sides, fingers brushing against my ill-fitting pants. No matter where I shop, nothing ever suits me without being taken in, and I don’t have the money to waste on getting anything tailored. I’m too short, tiny if you believe Farley. Ultimately, too small for the job.

A liability who just gets in the way.

Just before Farley can hit boiling point, I half close my eyes and as surreptitiously as I can, I breathe in the scent of death. Though my senses are more than sophisticated enough to pick up the smell of flesh starting to rot and blood congealing, that’s not what I’m interested in. What ignites the hunger within me is those last drops of light.

The last fragments of a soul ebbing away from the dead man only to be recycled through nature.

“Misa!” Farley loses his cool, jerks over with the sound of rubber-soled shoes squeaking against the carpet, and grabs the velvet curtain in a white-knuckled hand. He yanks it to the side and locks his fiery gaze on me. “I know you don’t like murder scenes, kid,” again his anger is stymied by a moment of compassion – but it’s one that can’t last as his jaw hardens and his eyes pound wide, “but that Angelus bitch is still out there, and we need to find her before she can strike again.”

Farley isn’t usually the kind to cuss. He’s one of those irritating upright men who got taught a set of behavioral rules from his daddy or some other trusted father figure. Act like a man, never show emotion other than anger, for God’s sake never hit a woman, and keep your nerve.

But the straitlaced, handsome, usually clean-shaven Farley has one complication. One thorn sticking out of his otherwise perfectly crafted persona.

His sister and mother were killed by an Arc. He never told me this – but you don’t work for the police department in Saint Helios without learning that. Farley is the best Angelus crime detective the police have. Singular minded, driven, and the kind of gritty bastard to track an Angelus down no matter how long it takes him and how far he has to descend into the cesspit that’s Saint Helios.

He has a little book on his desk that he writes in every day. The name of every registered Angelus in town is in it. If they commit a crime or are suspected of doing one, he writes a mark against their name.

You know who’s missing from that book? My niece and me. But if Farley ever found out what we are, he wouldn’t be the one to deal with us. They’d send in a full contingent of the Security Forces to capture us.

“Misa, come on, get your pad and pen out, for God’s sake.” He shrugs his shoulder toward the boudoir, his well-proportioned body catching the beading along the velvet curtain and making it jangle. “I’ll do the investigating. You just write down the notes. Okay?”

I catch it again. Just a glimpse of the compassionate Farley. A man who existed before he lost his family. But a man who is now under the tight control of the obsessive, dictatorial, driven detective.

“Okay, sir,” I say, voice small.

There are other detectives in the room, and not a single one pays attention to me other than to shoot me the kind of looks that tell me I don’t belong. It’s not because I’m a woman; it’s because I’m small and I act even smaller.

There’s a purpose behind that. Arc Angelus – especially those who haven’t been found by the Army – are extremely rare. It’s critical for us to hide our power. No one expects someone as small and apparently pathetic as me to have strength, so they don’t look for it.

I’m hidden in plain sight, right underneath my colleagues’ noses.

I cram a hand into my pocket, pull out the thick, bent legal pad, grab my pen from my other pocket, and pause, looking up at Farley.

His gaze ticks toward the body on the bed. His face is all hard, angled, stiff with tension and barely concealed anger. I watch his lips pull back against his teeth, catching a glimmer of white enamel.

Once upon a time, Detective Farley Jones was on a career path right to the top. His life was magazine-perfect. A happy family, a gorgeous fiancé who was the daughter of a local senator, and a meteoric rise it looked as if nothing could stop. Then Farley’s family was murdered, and finally they found something that could stop his ambitions. The man himself. Though he’s been offered promotions, he never takes them. Farley wants to be out in the field – needs to be out in the field, physically running down Angelus, dealing with them with his own damn hands and seeing them get their just desserts with his own damn eyes.

That right there is all you need to know about my partner.

“The body’s been sucked dry,” Farley begins his assessment, walking over to the dead corpse and getting carefully down on one knee as he avoids the blood splatters covering the lush black carpet. He leans close to the victim’s face. “Definitely an Angelus attack.”

“It’s gotta be the proprietor. She’s a registered Succubus. Why are we even bothering with this investigation?” One of the younger detectives, Jason Wolf, pops up from the opposite side of the room, a brush in one hand as he dusts for fingerprints. “This is a waste of damn time. The bitch is out front. Why don’t we just go capture her now?”

“Because without evidence, she’ll just walk free,” Farley growls in reply. He remains exactly where he is, his body held at an uncomfortable angle as he locks his knees on the only patch of floor that isn’t covered in blood. He leans as close to the dead man’s face as he can without touching the corpse.

The case is already cut and dried in Farley’s head.

Problem is, he’s wrong.

I smell the air, the movement controlled so no one can guess what I’m doing. There, shifting around with the air currents, laced between the almost overpowering scent of death, I pick up the taste of a Necro Angelus.

There are many varieties of Angelus. The Arc Angelus are at the top of the food chain. We’re the only Angelus who can feed off our own kind. Below us are the Necros and Succubuses, the Majes and the Gills. All feed on varying stages of human life energy. A Necro must consume the blood and life force of a recently deceased corpse. A Succubus consumes sexual energy. A Majes partakes in emotional energy, and Gills consume the flesh of the living. And so the cycle continues.

“Misa, why have you stopped writing?” Farley snaps.

I lock my gaze back on the point of my pen as I scribble down Farley’s inaccurate conclusion.

I can smell the scent of a Necro all over the scene. In those plush velvet curtains, trapped in the tread of the carpet, laced along the walls, and more than anything, embedded in the bedsheets. If I had to guess, the victim died of a heart attack. The Necro was lucky enough to be nearby, smelt it, and came to feed.

Which is an illegal act.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t follow the strict laws that regulate Angelus. If I did, I’d crawl into the local Army barracks, offering myself up to a life of being used as a heartless weapon.

But while Arc Angelus are strictly dealt with by the Army, the other four classes get to remain in society. If they’re registered, and if they accept to play by the rules. The rules, as you can imagine, dictate that an Angelus cannot feed without permission. A Gill can’t stop someone on the street and take a bite out of their neck. They can, however, work for hospitals, eating limbs that need to be amputated or flesh that’s gone necrotic. A Necro can work for the local funeral parlors, consuming the bodies of people who die without family and without money – a cheaper alternative to the State burying them. Majes work alongside trained psychiatrists, feeding off the emotions of those who can’t control them. And Succubus? Yeah, boudoirs. They say sex with a Succubus is out of this world, and a hell of a lot of people are more than willing to pay for that pleasure.

None of that explains what happened here. Some Necros can’t control their urges. Plus, extremely fresh corpses are their preference, tasting 100 times better than the old stale shit they have to suck down at the local funeral parlors. My guess is the asshole was walking past and couldn’t resist.

“Why do you think she cut him up so badly?” Jason asks.

“To hide her tracks – to make it look like the guy was murdered. My guess is she took it too far and stole his life energy,” Farley spits, darkness lapping at each word.

I pause, pen on my pad once more, gaze locked on the middle distance as I throw my attention into the scents I’m picking up.

Beyond the thousands of different smells that have penetrated this room – from the dirt on Farley’s shoes from when he jogged this morning, to the scent of cigarette smoke on Jason’s breath, to the thousands of different colognes that have impregnated the mattress of the bed – I catch something. A scent unique to the Necro.

Orange spice, coffee, sulfur, and blood. A mix of all four. A unique tag. With one more breath, I draw it deep into my lungs and lock it in place, capturing it for later.

I haven’t fed in at least a month. My last catch, I gave to Mischa, my niece. She’s growing, after all.

She needs more than I do.

As it is, I can only find us barely enough to scrape by.

If we joined the Army? They’d keep us well fed. The more an Arc feeds, the stronger they get. And the Army needs their weapons to be as sharp as they can be.

“Misa, did you catch that?” Farley snaps.

I jump, pretending he caught me by surprise. As I let the pad of paper tumble from my hand, it strikes the floor, splashing into a puddle of blood.

“Goddammit,” Farley spits, pivoting on his knee, standing, scooping up the pad, and staring at the blood. Still grumbling, he grabs a tissue from his pocket, wipes it off, then shoves the pad back at me. I catch a glimmer of compassion in his eyes, but this time it can’t even last a second as he snarls, “Keep it together. You look like a fool. You’ve seen worse murder scenes than this, Misa,” he adds, voice lightening a touch.

Yes. Yes I have. So many. My whole damn life.

You see, I’ve been fending for myself since I was a child. Since that time, I followed one golden rule to stay alive. I don’t consume humans. Unless they’re the worst of the worst. Serial killers, rapists, the scum who keep kids locked up in their basements. Human traffickers, torturers. I’ve seen them all, and yeah, I’ve taken their lives.

It’s the same with Angelus. I only consume the worst of the worst. But unlike a human, taking the life force of an Angelus will help me last longer. They’re richer in energy than a human, even if said human has dedicated their entire life to brutality.

An Arc Angelus technically consumes sins. We partake in twisted life force. The chaotic energy of those who would destroy for pleasure.

If you believe some of the esoteric conspiracy crap you get on the Net about my kind, we were God’s original soldiers. A force to keep humanity in place, to ensure it never lost sight of its innocence. For if it did, the life force – the soul – it had been given, would be taken back.

Me, I don’t believe in any of that trash. It’s just a fancy justification for something that doesn’t need it. Arc Angelus are predators, top-tier carnivores. You see the same theme replicated throughout the rest of the animal kingdom, from sharks to big cats to birds of prey. Creatures who keep the rest of the food chain in check, ensuring they can never grow beyond their food source.

But none of this is the point. The point is that tonight I’ll feed. On the Necro who perpetrated this crime, to be precise. It’s by specifically targeting Angelus who have committed crimes that I’ve managed to stay under the radar this long.

Farley gets back to assessing the crime scene, but not after a lingering look my way. I say lingering – it lasts several seconds, but for the quick Farley, that’s practically an eternity. I wonder what’s ticking through his mind. I don’t for a second think he’s suspicious of me. No, just disappointed that he brought a weak little woman like me along to this case.

Well, tonight, this weak little woman will solve it.

Chapter 2

“How was your day? Did you catch any crims? Did you solve any cases?” Mischa barrels into me as soon as I unlock the door and walk through into our tiny apartment.

She tilts her head up to me, her smile infectious. It momentarily wipes away the drudge of the day as I lean down, clap a hand on her head, and ruffle her hair. “It was okay. I didn’t catch any crims, though,” I say, voice dipping down low.

There’s something about my tone, and Mischa catches my subtext instantly. Her smile stiffens. “You mean… you’ve got a target?”

I walk past her, unbutton my jacket, and place it neatly on the small, old, rickety coat rack by the door. At the same time, I close the door carefully with the toe of my shoe, a meaningful expression on my face as I press my lips tightly closed.

Mischa wilts like a flower, staring at the door nervously until I can lock it. Even then, I take a step toward it, focus my attention, press my ear against it, and wait. When I conclusively pick up that no one was in earshot, I cross my arms, lean against the door, and arch an eyebrow.

Before I can tell her off for almost sharing our secret in public, she brings her hands up. “Sorry, sis,” she says. She’s always called me sister, even though I’m technically her auntie. I’m all she’s got. And she’s all I’ve got, too.

So I shrug it off as I walk past, tap her on the head tenderly once more, and head over to the kitchen.

I pour a glass of water and force myself to drink it.

I don’t need water or food to survive. I can consume them, however. I don’t have an ordinary digestive tract. They’re simply burnt up by the same system that would prefer to run on life force.

You’re probably wondering why I’m bothering to drink in the privacy of my own home, then. The answer is simple. Extreme paranoia. If the utility providers realized that there was lower than usual water consumption coming from this apartment, it might tip them off that the inhabitants aren’t quite human.

Maybe you think I’m going overboard, but maybe you haven’t had to scrounge to survive like I have.

I thrust those uncomfortable thoughts away as I slam the glass down on the bench without breaking it, lean back, stretch my shoulders, and smile at Mischa. “Learn anything interesting at school today?”

“Just the usual subjects. Math and science and English. I’m killing in all of them,” Mischa says as she proudly skips around in a circle.

“Good girl,” I mutter gruffly as I walk over to the table and glance at the mail. “Just as long as you don’t actually kill,” I add.

We both share a chuckle.

It’s the kind of chuckle that, if Farley were here to listen to, would make the detective explode with rage. Like I said, he lost his sister and mother to an Arc attack. But we’re different. Plenty of Arc Angelus get driven mad by hunger and kill any sinner they can find.

Not me. And not Mischa.

So yeah, it’s funny. And excuse me for trying to find humor in this dark goddamn world.

“We also had an Angelus awareness class,” Mischa adds, all hints of levity gone from her tone.

I’m halfway through scratching my neck. I pause, darting my gaze over to her. “Learn anything illuminating?”

“Just that it’s the duty of every loyal citizen to report anyone they suspect of being an unregistered Angelus.”

I snort. “Well, I imagine you’d get top marks in your class if you told them you knew of not one, but two unregistered Arcs.”

This joke is harsher, and Mischa can’t even manage a smile. She pats her arms uncomfortably, looking this way and that, eventually catching hold of the hem of her top and twisting it around and around one crooked finger.

I look up from the bills I’m sorting through to glance first at her hand, then at her ashen face. “What happened?”

“You know Mandy?”

“The girl you said you’ve been making friends with? The one who invited you to her party next week?”

Mischa nods, the move tight, her jet-black hair bouncing around her ears. Even though she’s only my niece, we look alike. I have a bob cut of perfectly straight, thick, glossy black hair that hugs my face and sways around my jawline whenever I make a fast move. I have a blunt fringe that skims the top of my eyes. Farley’s always barking at me, telling me to cut it so I can see better. I’m never going to do that. A fringe as long and thick as this helps to hide your expressions. No one can see your brow furrow. No one can catch your eyebrows whenever they descend and harden over your eyes.

And it’s little things like that that have helped me stay hidden.

“Yeah, that girl,” Mischa continues as she brings a hand up, latches it on the back of her neck, and presses her fingers into the muscles. You’d be an idiot not to see her tension.

I drop the bill I’m halfway through looking at, place it on the table, and twist around in my chair, the legs grating over the marked linoleum. “What happened?”

“She said her grandparents were killed by an Arc. We went around the whole class, and most kids had similar stories.”

I press my lips together. I stand. I walk over to her, I get down on one knee, and I look right up into my niece’s eyes. “Most of those… incidents would’ve been before the Angelus laws came in. Back when… our kind was more unregulated,” I say the word unregulated carefully. “Plus, you can’t judge yourself by their actions,” I say, voice spitting on the word their. I don’t explain who I’m talking about, and I don’t need to. I mean the other Angelus.

Mischa fixes her wide, dark, dark brown eyes on me.

“We’re different,” I say, voice dropping to a specific pitch. A certain rhythm. I’ve said this so many times, it’s practically a mantra for me. “We’re different,” I repeat once more, voice pitching up louder.

“We’re different,” Mischa manages in a quiet tone.

“We feed on those society won’t miss. We hand out justice, not death,” I add, gaze fixed. I wouldn’t blink even if someone slapped me. Mischa needs to understand this.

Because it’s something I never understood. Back when I was her age, I had no one until I was reunited with my sister. Though that meant surviving on my own and scrounging food and shelter with no help, that wasn’t the worst part. The torture was having no one to tell me that I was okay. That I wasn’t a twisted monster who didn’t deserve to live.

So I can barely swallow, my throat as stiff as a tightly clenched fist. I force my mouth to open as I repeat, “We are different. Never lose track of that, Mischa. We’re not monsters.” Somehow I keep it together long enough that my voice doesn’t waver. “We hold the natural order. We predate upon those Angelus who break the rules. And if too many Angelus break the rules—”

She looks right up at me, her eyes widening until I can see the whites surrounding her irises. “Then there’ll be a war, and we’ll all be wiped out.”

I reach a hand forward, clamp it on her shoulder, and nod. Silently, I stand.

I can feel Mischa’s eyes on the back of my head as I walk over to the table, glance down at the bills, and start rifling through them again to figure out which ones I can afford not to pay.

She doesn’t go back to what she was doing – rugged up on the couch watching TV – she continues to stand there and stare at me. She’s running her thumbs over and over each other, a sure sign of stress.

I turn over my shoulder. I smile. “If you want me to come to Mandy’s party, I’ll change my shift, and I’ll be there.”

I go back to sorting through the bills. I don’t need to jerk my gaze back up to Mischa to see that her mouth has exploded into a grin. I can hear her muscles moving from here. I can feel the change in blood flow, sense the increase in muscular tension.

The senses of an Arc are some of the most powerful predatory faculties in the animal kingdom. Once I’ve got hold of someone’s scent, they can cover themselves in bleach, and it won’t matter. They can head down into a volcano, and I’d still be able to catch their scent. The only thing that dulls my senses is air travel. Get a sufficient distance from me, and I might lose your scent. For a little. But once I’ve caught hold of a target, I don’t let go.

Mischa goes back to watching TV, and I hear the couch groan under her weight as she takes a standing jump onto it. She buries down under her blanket, pulling it over her head as she focuses her attention on the box.

Once I can feel that she’s fully distracted again, I walk over to the window behind the table, pretending to stare at the view. Quietly, I push a hand into my pocket. The legal pad from the case this morning is still there.

More importantly than that, the blood. Though Farley tried to wipe it off with a tissue, the paper is still stained.

I run my finger back and forth over it, scratching it with my nail. I pull my hand out, stare at the minute flecks of blood on my fingertip, and push it into my mouth. I wrap my warm, wet lips around it and catch hold of the unique taste like a man grabbing hold of a dog’s leash.

I lock my gaze on the city, I turn, and I get ready to hunt.

Chapter 3

Farley Jones

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I manage as I roll to the side, thrusting an arm out of my covers. I grope around in the dark, fingers sliding over the polished wood of my bedside table until I catch hold of my phone.

I wince against the bright light of the screen, swiping to accept the call as I flop back against my pillow. “What is it? It’s 3 o’clock in the morning,” I grumble.

“You know that Succubus we brought in this afternoon? The suspect in that murder case?”

“What happened?” I bolt upright, moving so fast my bed head smacks against the wall.

“Dead.”

“Sorry?”

“She’s been killed.”

“But she was in custody.”

“I know that, sir. But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m now staring at a dead Angelus.”

“Shit.” I throw my covers off and launch out of bed, my bare feet slapping against my worn floorboards with two thumps. Keeping the phone pinned against my ear, I muscle into the pants thrown over the chair by my door and loop on a shirt. “I’m on my way.” I switch ears as I finish buttoning my shirt and tuck it into my pants with a smooth, practiced move.

“No need. We’ve got this. Just thought you need to know. You are on call, after all.”

“I’m still coming,” I grumble as I shove my shoes on. I tie them and stand, dressing in record time.

I kick open my bedroom door, jerking a hand out and scooping my keys up from the hallway table beside me, even though it’s pitch dark out here.

“There’s nothing you can do. Internal Affairs is already onto it. Like I said, I was just informing you because you are technically on call.”

“Internal Affairs?” I stop, palm on the handle, keys tucked under two fingers. “Why have they been called? Wasn’t this a revenge attack?”

“There’s no evidence of entry.”

“What the hell?” My fingers twitch, my keys jingling as they bang against the old, chipped brass of the door handle.

“It’s the early stages of the investigation so far, but the Succubus’ cell was internal. No windows. Only one door. And there’s no evidence of damage to the door. Looks like someone used the key and code. And if someone used a key—”

“Then it’s one of our people who did this.”

“That’s what Internal Affairs is saying.”

I stand there, reeling as I let that fact strike me. I shake my head. “That doesn’t mean shit. It just means we’re dealing with a sophisticated Angelus. One with a real grudge. You know how it works – if too many Angelus break the rules and attract the attention of the law, they self-regulate,” I really spit that phrase out as if I’m worried I’ll choke on it.

That’s the official term. The unofficial term is retribution. Angelus don’t give a shit who they kill – humans or their own. But though they prefer humans, Angelus are smart. They know that if too many Angelus break the rules, it could sway public opinion, get people thinking that the so-called laws and regulations and registration system that are meant to hold the Angelus in check don’t do anything. If that happens, there could be an all-out war.

So when too many Angelus step out of line, the more powerful, senior members of the community act.

Usually brutally to make their point crystal clear.

“The cell was in the center of the police station, sir. For an Angelus to get in there, they would’ve had to go through multiple security points. Plus, there was no sign that somebody screwed with that door. We checked the logs, and the correct code was entered. The lock looks fine, too. Which means whoever killed that Succubus had a key and knew what the code was.”

“That’s a guess. It could’ve been an Arc.” I can’t hold my voice even as I say that. Never can. You won’t catch me showing emotion most days, but when I mention those cold, heartless abominations, then I show it. I can’t stop myself. Visions of my sister and mother covered in blood, lying dead in front of our house always flood back in.

I clutch the door handle, grinding the keys against it, not caring as the metal teeth of my house key digs into my palm.

There’s a significant pause. “There aren’t any Arcs left in the city. You know that, sir. You think if the Army even caught a whiff of an unregistered Arc they wouldn’t tear this city apart to find them?”

I stiffen my jaw and force myself to breathe. “Arcs are wily.”

“Sure. But they've got to feed. And you know how valuable they are to the Army – heck, you used to be in the Army yourself, didn’t you?”

I pause. I’m still holding the handle, grinding the keys against it. “Yeah.”

“So you know the length the Army is willing to go to to capture an Arc. And though, yeah, maybe an Arc could have gotten into that cell, stolen a key, figured out the code, and killed the Succubus without anyone else hearing, that’s pretty far-fetched. Internal Affairs think it’s an inside job. Somebody out for revenge.”

I open my mouth to spit back that that’s supposition once more, but I pause.

I have a reputation, a deserved one. There’s no other man or woman in Saint Helios who hunts Angelus like I do. There’s no one willing to go through as much to serve justice.

So it isn’t outside the realms of possibility that Internal Affairs would suspect me.

“Internal Affairs is taking the investigation from here. Just wanted to give you a heads up for tomorrow.”

“… Right. You sure you don’t need me?” I let my hand drop from the door, the keys scratching the paint as I let them drag down the wood.

“There’s not much to see. They’ve already cleaned the body and taken it away. I’ll have a report on your desk by the morning. Goodnight, sir.”

“Goodnight.”

It takes me a few seconds to pull the phone away from my ear. I let it drop by my side as I stare dead-eyed at my door.

I turn, dump my keys back onto the hall table with a jangling thump, and head back to bed.

I don’t sleep.

I can’t.

Misa

I follow the scent of the Necro to the city morgue.

It makes sense that the Necro needs another feed. That’s what satiating your appetite will do for you. If you haven’t fed for a long time and you catch a windfall, most Angelus won’t be able to stop themselves from hunting down another meal.

Rather than head in the front door, I’ve climbed up the side of the building. It wasn’t hard to pry open a window, and now I sit there in the shadows, hands pressed against the floor as I wait.

From further into the building, I can hear the characteristic clangs and thumps of the Necro breaking in. He’s already disabled the security alarm and the guard. Not permanently. Necros rarely kill. You’d think they would; they’re primed to feed on the flesh of the recently deceased. But they’re primarily scavengers, and always have been. Don’t get me wrong, you find the right Necro, and the bastard will kill. Your average, run-of-the-mill guy will much prefer to find rather than hunt.

My nostrils flare as I remain there, poised on the floor, ready to act.

I’m in the main room of the morgue, and behind me are the cold beds stashed in the wall. I’m hyper aware of every smell. From disinfectants to cold flesh.

It’s not the prospect of dead humans that sees a lick of saliva trail across my tongue.

It’s the Necro’s scent.

I can taste it in the air. Burnt oranges, sulfur, and flesh.

But beyond that, sins.

You wouldn’t think you could smell sins, and for an ordinary human, that’s true. For me… they smell dense. Like pockets of concentrated perfume. The nasal equivalent of coming across a sugar cube while you’re eating sawdust.

There’s a bang from just outside the door.

I crouch further back against the wall, my tensed shoulders hard against the cold metal.

I make no sound. And unlike the Necro, I don’t smell of anything. It’s not just that I forgo using perfume or any soaps or detergents, it’s that us Arcs can deliberately mask our scent.

Even Succubus, who are primed to pick up pheromones and can smell a potential lover half a city away, can’t detect an Arc. Not if we don’t want to be known.

“Come on, come on,” I hear the Necro chatter to himself like a neurotic bird as he kicks open the door, falls onto all fours, and scurries forward with the frantic, uncontrolled movements of a starved dog after a bone.

The guy doesn’t stay on all fours but pushes up to his feet. The soles of his shoes squeak against the clean floor as he throws himself toward the nearest body cupboard. Just as his sweaty fingers slide across the polished, reflective metal, saliva pooling down his open mouth, he pauses. He tilts back, leans his head to the side, and sniffs. His nostrils flare wide as if they’re buckets he’s using to gather air.

I don’t bother to shrink further back into the shadows. He hasn’t smelt me.

“Fresher. Something fresher. Just a few hours old,” he says, yanking his hand back from the metal, leaving a sweaty, glistening trail across the polished surface. He steeples his fingers together, stiffly drumming them back and forth as he follows his nose to a body shelf several meters away.

He latches hold of the handle, giggles like a junkie about to receive their last hit, and yanks the cupboard open. The move is so violent that the body inside almost tumbles out. Before it can strike the floor, the Necro darts in, shoving a hand forward.

The corpse is a young woman, and the Necro catches her head in one hand. I can see the side of his face. Even if I couldn’t, I’d still be able to feel how wide his eyes pulse as he brings his face down to the dead woman’s, and he sniffs. His nostrils grow even wider than before, so large the skin is close to splitting.

He opens his lips, he lets out a sigh, and he reveals his teeth.

He snaps in to rip the woman’s jugular out. I move. As quick as a flash. A blur of muscles, my hair flattening against my face and neck.

I reach him, latch a hand on his shoulder, and pull him back. He’s strong, but I’m much, much stronger.

There’s the crack of strained joints and muscle as I tug his head all the way back until I stare into his eyes.

My expression is impassive.

His eyes bolt open wide and bulge with fear. “If you want your own feed, pick one of the other corpses. I sniffed this one out first. Rule of the jungle,” he spits.

He goes to shrug me off.

I let him.

In other words, I let the bastard momentarily think he’s stronger than me.

He snarls, grabs the collar of his jacket, neatens it with a violent tug, then shoves out a hand and locks it on the dead woman’s neck protectively. Still baring his teeth at me, he rounds his shoulder and uses it to motion toward the body drawer to our left. “You want to feed, you’re going to have to leave the freshest to me.”

I’m standing there, hands held loosely at my sides, expression as blank and unreadable as an empty book. “How many times have you done this?”

He’s leaning down, glistening, saliva-covered teeth about to wrap around the woman’s jugular again, but he darts his gaze to me. “Why, want some tips? I ain’t going to share them. This city isn’t big enough for two uncontrolled Necros. You start feeding on the same flock I do, and you’re gonna bring too much attention. So I’m gonna be real kind to you and allow you one snack,” he gestures at the body shelf to his left once more with a tense arch of his shoulder, “before I chase you out of town. If I catch you feeding on my flock again and drawing too much attention to us, I’ll kill you myself.” He goes back to opening his mouth, his lips white, his teeth poised.

“Aren’t you already drawing too much attention? Didn’t you already feed today?”

You could justifiably ask why I’m playing with this guy. My hunger has reached a fever pitch. My natural Arc senses are screaming at me to kill this guy and consume his soul. But I hold back. Because I’m different. Just as I made Mischa repeat tonight, we’re different. We’re not the kind of Arc Angelus to feed indiscriminately. We only partake of the worst of the worst. So I need to establish this guy’s full guilt before I can snap his neck.

He shoots me a real peeved look, his gaze narrowed and his eyes blazing. With a hand locked protectively on the neck of the woman as her head dangles off the cold, silver metal bed, he growls at me. “Yeah, I fed this morning. How do you know that?” Suspicion flares deep in his soulless black eyes.

“I can smell it on you.”

Never removing his hand from the woman’s neck, the guy yanks his shirt collar, snapping it up to his nose as he takes in several deep, rattling sniffs. “I thought I washed,” he mutters to himself. His gaze darts back to me, his suspicion deepening. “You’ve got good senses to pick that up. You must be well fed to have that kind of acuity.”

I gently arch my head to the side and shrug. “It’s been a while, actually.”

“Where have you been feeding?” he demands, now trying to smell me, his nostrils rattling as he sucks in deep breaths. “How come you’ve flown under the radar for so long? Come to think of it, I’ve never seen you in the funeral parlors around town. You new here?”

“Maybe.”

“Where’d you come from? Ah, heck, I don’t care. All you need to know,” he takes a threatening step toward me, and as he’s a good foot taller than me, he easily looms over me, “is that you’re not gonna mess with me.”

I let my gaze slowly flick up his chest and lock on his eyes. “Why is that?”

“Because I’m part of the Arcadus Brotherhood,” he says with finality as he slaps his free hand on his chest. He does it with enough force that there’s a resounding thump that echoes around the room.

A member of the Brotherhood, ha? Figures.

The Brotherhood didn’t start in Saint Helios. It started in some of the more fucked up cities down the coast. A lot of the regulated Angelus have never forgiven the humans for the brutal crackdowns of the previous decade. The witch hunts, the murder. You might think that’s two-faced. Angelus predate off humans. But in the years before humanity found out Angelus existed, we self-regulated. We controlled our population, feeding on those who deserved it.

When humanity discovered what we were, it led to 20 years of instability. 20 years of murders and crackdowns. The government would concentrate on Angelus children. Catch them early. Experiment on them. Use them to lure in their parents. The things done to Angelus kids were unspeakable. To the humans, we weren’t anything other than animals. Which is funny, because to the Angelus, humans are animals, too.

The only thing you need to know is that even after the peace accords were struck and the Angelus became regulated by the government, there were those in our community who didn’t give up the fight. Some protested peacefully. The rest? They still want to fight. And by far the best-equipped and most violent of those groups is the Arcadus Brotherhood.

“Yeah, that’s right,” the guy takes another looming step up to me, his nostrils flaring as he attempts to smell me once more, “I’m protected by the Brotherhood. You do anything to me, they’ll kill you. Brutally,” he adds as he lets his gaze flick up and down my body, his eyes lingering over my torso. “And if you anger the Brotherhood, there’s nothing you can do. Nowhere you can run,” he adds with relish.

“Then I guess I won’t run.”

This guy’s obviously too overcome by the fact he’s about to feed to pay any attention to my tone and expression. If he had an ounce of sense left in him, he’d see I remain entirely unaffected by his words.

The Brotherhood doesn't scare me, though perhaps they should. They, like the Army, would kill to get their hands on an Arc Angelus. But I’ve lived in this city my entire life, and if the Brotherhood suspects I exist, they haven’t found me. And they won’t find me.

I take a step toward the guy. “How did you come across that guy at the boudoir?” I cut back to my main point.

“Like I said, there’s no way I’m sharing my secrets with you. Didn’t you hear? I’m protected by the Brotherhood.”

I sniff the air. Though most of the time when I’m in human company I hide, now it doesn’t matter. I tip my head back, allow my eyes to half close, and draw in the scent of this Necro. As I savor the smell, I pick up his guilt. It riddles him. His sins are weighing him down, making him weak, and more than anything, calling out to me.

I take another step toward him, my footfall light like a gentle rain.

The guy snarls, but then his lips flick up into a smile. “Is this you coming onto me? You can try your luck,” he growls down low, gaze lingering on my chest and neck, “but I’m still not going to share my feed.” He clamps his hand harder around the dead woman’s neck.

“What did you do to that man at the boudoir? Did you find him? Or were you just walking past. Or—” I taste the air again, driving my attention into it as I discern the increasingly complicated smell of this man’s guilt.

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe the corpse back behind that velvet curtain didn’t die of a heart attack after all.

“You killed him, didn’t you?” My eyes had flutter half closed, but now they open one by one.

“What the hell is it to you if I killed him? You’re not one of those Angelus who thinks they can rein in the rest of us in town, are you?” he spits. “The Brotherhood has already moved in on this piece of shit town, and they get to pick the rules now. Got it?” He finally wrenches his hand off the woman’s neck and closes the distance between us.

On the face of it, his build is imposing. My gaze ticks down his shoulders to watch his sinewy arms bulge and his thick, long fingers curl into his palms.

“I understand. But why did you kill him? And why did you kill him there in a Succubus’ brothel? Was it a grudge, or were you just hungry?”

“I’m sick of these questions.” Spittle flies over his lips and dashes against his perfectly pale, bone-white cheeks.

I tip my head back and sniff once more. His guilt permeates everything. This room will wreak of it long after I’ve killed him.

I don’t snap forward and relieve the man of his life. Yet. “Why did you kill that man, and why did you kill him there? Was it random or part of a larger plan?”

I’m not engaging in police work. The more I can establish this man’s guilt beyond my natural senses, the more I’ll be able to ease my mind when I finally kill him. And the less I’ll wake up in the middle of the night wondering if I’m a monster or just part of the natural order.

The guy has obviously realized something’s up.

He doesn’t answer my questions anymore. He goes for my throat. I can smell the scent of lactic acid building in his muscles as he uses his full strength and agility to close the last step between us and wrap his hands around my neck.

I don’t jerk away. With that same impassive, blank expression, I look up at him as if he’s done nothing more than reach a hand out to shake mine.

“You listen to me, you little bitch. I was happy enough to let you snack beside me. But you’ve really irritated me. So it’s time to say goodnight and goodbye.”

“Goodnight and goodbye,” I say compliantly.

The idiot tries to snap my neck. I feel his hands pulsing, his fingers tensing as far as the muscles and joints will allow. I hear the gristly sound of tendon grinding on cartilage, of muscle straining, of blood pumping. But no matter how hard this idiot tries, he can’t throttle me.

“What the hell?” he splutters as he leans over me, his bulging biceps pressing against his shirt, the muscles of his neck like rope.

I can smell his guilt. As he tries to kill me, it’s like I’m a bloodhound and he’s just opened a vein.

“Die, bitch. What the fuck? Just die,” he splutters, spittle flying over my cheek.

I bring a hand up slowly and wipe it off with my thumb.

“What—” he has time to say.

I reach a hand out and grab his neck. He doesn’t have time to move. He doesn’t have time to breathe. “Answer my question. Did you choose your victim randomly, or was it part of a greater plan?”

“What… what the hell are you?”

“Answer the question.”

“I told you, I’m part of the Brotherhood. You can’t fight them. Nobody dares to fight them.”

“The Brotherhood isn't here,” I turn my head over my shoulder, staring this way and that, “but you and I are. So answer the question.”

“You crazy bitch. You go against them, they will slaughter you. They’ll tear you limb from limb. I’m a valued member of the Brotherhood.”

“I doubt that. Otherwise you’d be more controlled. Even the Brotherhood don’t like Angelus getting out of hand and attracting too much attention from the authorities.”

His eyes bulge. “Wait… you… are you from the Brotherhood too?”

I tilt my head to the side, pressing my lips closed and remaining silent. It’s best to allow this guy to think whatever he wants as long as he tells me the truth.

“Shit. I’m under orders. Okay? From Preston himself. He told me to kill that guy, to make it look like the Succubus who owns the brothel committed the crime. Under orders,” the guy manages again, each word a gargling rasp as he tries to speak around my solid grip.

“What did you have against the Succubus?”

“I don’t know. I just got the order, and I did it. Where’s the harm in that? I’ve been completing hits for the Brotherhood for years now. I’m a loyal member,” the guy pleads.

“Years? Years of murder,” as I say that, I lean in, and I sniff him. I pick it up. All that guilt. All that murder. It smells like burnt bodies covered with the sweet smell of fresh blood.

“For God’s sake, I was following orders. You just need to ask Preston. You don’t need to fuck with me like this.”

“No. You’re right. You’ve told me everything I need to know.”

The guy visibly relaxes. “You can have the security guard. I left him unconscious. He was going to be dessert after the main course.” The guy shrugs toward the dead woman.

“Thank you, but I have to refrain. I can only consume the life force of sinners.”

“… What the—”

I lean in. And I spread my wings.

Though most Angelus pretty much resemble humans, unless they’re feeding, Arcs have wings.

They aren’t made of feathers. They’re made of circling bolts of energy that look like the tails of comets flashing past through space. Chaotic swirls of fractal patterns, sparking only to reignite in welts of flame. As my wings spring out from my back, my eyes change color. They glow, as luminescent as candles, as brilliantly beautiful as diamonds.

“No. No. No—” the guy begins, shaking against my grip, clawing at my hand.

Fear fills him. He knows what I am. So he knows what’s coming next. “You’ve sinned,” I say, my voice distant but commanding. “Too many sins. So it’s time for me to take them away from you and set you free.”

With that, I snap forward, and I feed.

Chapter 4

Farley Jones

By the time I get to work, I’ve got a raging headache. It feels like someone’s drilling in the center of my cerebellum. The muscles down my face and into my shoulders are tense, and every sound echoes around my skull and pounds into my jaw.

I can see the black Internal Affairs’ SUVs parked out front. A few of them even have agents inside, their dark shades hiding their identities as they work on their laptops and phones.

I make it in the front door to see Cindy Chen, my boss. She has a sour but controlled expression. A bunch of Internal Affairs agents are behind the main desk, ferreting through the filing cabinets.

As soon as Cindy sees me, she marches over. “I take it you got a call last night? A heads up?”

I nod.

“Internal Affairs is all over this like a rash. Third incident like this in three days.”

My brows jerk down. “Sorry? I haven’t heard that.”

“They kept it quiet. Last one happened in the precinct on Fifth Street. A Succubus was brought in. The guy didn’t make it through the night. Same situation. Closed cell, center of the building, no indication that somebody broke in to perpetrate the murder.”

I grab a hand to my mouth, letting my fingers sink into the skin. “Shit.”

“It isn’t like you to swear, inspector. You’re usually too upstanding for that.”

“Yeah, well, it’s been a rough night.”

“And it’s only about to get rougher. Internal Affairs has a mandate to search the station, head to foot. They’re going to be interviewing everyone who has access to the cells. And they’re going to start with the team that brought that Succubus in.”

“Got it.”

“Go talk to your team. Get them ready.”

“Yes, sir.”

Cindy doesn’t even bother to say goodbye. She turns on her heel and marches down the hallway, her wary gaze locked on the Internal Affairs officers as they set up camp on the floor, laptops in the way as they type out their notes.

Now it makes sense. I would’ve questioned why this case would have garnered so much immediate attention from Internal Affairs if it was only a single incident. But three other incidents in the space of several days?

“Shit,” I swear uncharacteristically under my breath once more as I clamp a hand on my mouth and let it drop. I pivot on my foot, head quickly up the stairs, and reach the detective office.

Though I’m not technically the one in charge, I have an informal sense of moral authority when it comes to the rest of the detective squad. It’s not that I’ve been here the longest. It’s that I’ve caught the most Angelus.

As I stride in, I see most of the team around the water cooler, their expressions grim. “Good, you’re all here,” I say as I stride purposefully toward them. “Wait, where’s Misa?”

I see a small, fragile hand dart up from behind a computer monitor. Misa is tiny. 5 foot with a slight figure that reminds me of Audrey Hepburn. She’s all bones without a pound of muscle on her.

How she made it through police training, I don’t know. Whenever she comes on a case, I live in fear that she’ll either get herself killed, or somebody else. I’m all for affirmative action, but Misa simply doesn’t have the physical strength and wherewithal to be a detective. Despite the fact she’s technically my junior partner and I should look out for her, I’ve made my misgivings known to my superiors on more than one occasion.

Misa finishes whatever she’s typing and stands up from behind her monitor. She’s wearing the same ill-fitting clothes she always does. I don’t know anything about Misa’s private life – she doesn’t socialize, and when we’re alone on a case, she barely talks. Even if she does have financial troubles, it’s always bugged me that she doesn’t pay more attention to her appearance. Forgoing a few luxuries for a week or so would presumably give her the finance to go out and buy something that fits.

“Jesus Christ, did you see how many cars are out front? And there are more rolling up now,” Jason says as he arches his head toward the window. “They’re treating us like we’re all suspects.”

“We are all suspects. Or at least, anyone without an alibi last night.” I shove my hands on my hips.

“What the hell? We dragged that bitch in. As if we’d kill her before the case could be wrapped up.”

“Firstly, stop referring to her as a bitch. Secondly, Internal Affairs doesn't think that way.”

“Yeah, well, if they had an ounce of sense, they wouldn’t be wasting so many resources on this. There’s gotta be at least 50 agents out there.”

“I wouldn’t fob this situation off lightly, Jason. View it from their perspective. This is the third incident like this in three days. That suggests an organized movement from within the police force against the Angelus. Think it through,” I growl, “if news of this were to hit the streets, the Angelus could have an uprising.”

Jason snorts. “And we’d just crush them like we did last time.”

I dart my gaze over to him. I don’t bother to spit that that’s a stupid thing to say. I let my hollowed out, dark gaze say it all.

I used to be in the Army. Unlike Jason who’s a career cop, I’ve fought Angelus. Back during the instability, as it’s known historically, I was on the front lines. I still dream of moving through darkened, destroyed cities, coming across Necros feeding on the bodies of my recently dead comrades. No matter what you do, no matter what joys you face in life, you can’t get images like that out of your head. They become ingrained, painted over the rest of your experiences until your world is just that little bit grayer.

“I guess Internal Affairs has its reasons,” Misa says, her voice and demeanor quiet.

She’s so soft, nobody pays attention to her.

Misa could probably bellow at somebody with the full force of her lungs, and I doubt they’d notice.

“I’m with Farley on this one,” Janine says as she crosses her arms and nods at me. Janine, unlike Misa, is 5’8, muscly, and built to act. She’s got a personality a lot like mine. I’ve seen her chase down Angelus after she’s been beaten to a pulp.

“Figures you would side with him,” Jason quips.

“Because he’s right, you idiot. Internal Affairs needs to take this seriously. Not only do they need to be seen to be doing something – so the Angelus don’t get pissed off and riot – but those who disobey the law to hand out justice as they see fit soon find themselves breaking other laws they don’t agree with. You give someone an inch, they’ll take a mile.”

“Nicely put.” I flash Janine a grin.

Janine arches an eyebrow. “Now we’ve figured out why they’re here, what the hell are we gonna do about it?”

“Is it a good idea to be discussing this before we’re interviewed?” Misa asks.

“We need to get our story straight,” Janine continues, her strong arms still clamped around her chest.

“I heard they’re going to interview anyone involved in the case first,” Jason points out.

Nobody pays the slightest bit of attention to Misa’s comment. Heck, I let it slide too as I nod, latch a hand on my chin, and start to think.

As for Misa, she turns on her foot and walks away.

I’m happy to ignore her, but I can’t say I’m thrilled for her to ignore us. I clear my throat hard. “We’re not finished yet, Detective.”

“Internal Affairs is here.” She shoves her hands into her pockets and nods at the door.

A second later, it opens. In walks Internal Affairs.

I’m usually the one with the sharp senses. I’ve always looked after my hearing. I won’t use headphones, and if I have to listen to music, I make sure it’s as quiet as possible. Hell, I’ve even practiced picking up the thump of footfall vibrating through the floor. But I didn’t pick up the footsteps of Internal Affairs.

Now it’s too late, and they’re here.

They sweep into the office without an invite and without introduction.

I stiffen as the guy at the lead’s eyes dart toward me.

“Detective Jones, may I ask what you’re discussing around the water cooler? I hope it’s the weather and not the incident. I would trust that you understand how serious this investigation is and that you would not directly,” his lips stiffen around the word, “or indirectly attempt to interfere with it.”

I straighten and jut my chin out. “I’m at your disposal, sir.”

“Good.”

The man isn’t someone I recognize. Not that that’s surprising. Internal Affairs is a secretive bunch. You aren’t meant to know who they are until it’s too late. Which underpins just how seriously they’re taking this case. With this many agents out in the open, it means they now have fewer resources for covert missions.

“We’ll be using your main interrogation room for the rest of the day. Do you have a problem with this?”

“Of course not, sir.”

“Good. Let’s start logically. You,” the guy nods at Misa, “we’ll start with you.”

Misa looks impassive. The same dour expression she always holds. My gut, on the other hand, clenches. It twists, knotting inward as if someone’s unwound my intestines and is trying to plait them.

Why the hell is he starting with Misa? She’s hardly the most important detective we’ve got. She only took notes yesterday, for God’s sake.

I don’t dare say a word of this out loud. I just watch as Misa compliantly follows the officer out of the room.

My eyes are on the back of her neck, on her slight form underneath her perpetually ill-fitting clothes. Ever since the day she started working for us, I could never shake the impression that Misa was more trouble than she was worth. A walking liability who requires more protection than she can give.

I just hope this Internal Affairs brute doesn’t go too hard on her.

Misa

This man smells like Internal Affairs. He doesn’t wear any cologne, and the detergent he uses is unscented – no doubt a trick he picked up from the Army. Internal Affairs works closely with the Angelus branch of the Army, sometimes more closely than they work with the police.

Even though he’s not wearing any scent, he can’t hide the odors that are peculiar to him. The smell of polyester fiber, the tang of coffee-laced breath. I can even detect what the guy had for breakfast – a bacon and egg sandwich. And if my expert senses are anything to go by, he finished chugging it down several hours ago. Which tells me he wasn’t in a rush. He didn’t receive orders to come to our station to begin his investigation bright and early this morning.

No, from his neat clothes to the rest of his appearance, he was expecting this.

I follow half a step behind him as he leads me straight to the main interrogation room. Which tells me something else – either this guy has been to our police station before – which is unlikely, as I would recognize him – or he studied the blueprints.

Though I keep my expression and body language completely even and neutral, a thrill of adrenaline jolts up my spine.

This is the kind of cold, hard efficiency I recognize from only one group. The Arc Detection Squad – that part of the Army tasked to take Arcs down, capture them, and ‘repurpose’ them.

The guy shoves a hand into his pocket, grabs out a loop of keys, quickly selects the right one, and opens the room.

He shifts to the side fast before I can dart my gaze away.

He clears his throat. “Yes?”

“I was merely noting that you selected the correct key quickly. The rest of the keys on that ring are all for the other rooms in this building.”

He looks at me evenly.

I look back. “It’s simply a comment that you appear to know what you’re doing, sir.”

He smiles slowly. The corners of his lips curl, pressing just a few millimeters into his cheeks. “Would you expect anything less from Internal Affairs?”

I don’t know how to respond to that comment, so I don’t. I take a step back, waiting for him to walk into the room first, but when he shoots me a pointed look, I turn and stride in.

The automated lights turn on with a buzz.

The interrogation room has a steel table and several chairs. The steel table has an embedded metal loop that you can fasten handcuffs to for particularly violent offenders.

There’s a set of handcuffs still looped into it. I wonder if the guy’s making a statement.

I sit down in the chair, the legs creaking over the unpolished concrete. I clasp my hands together and rest them near the handcuffs, my skin brushing up against the cold metal.

The guy doesn’t walk in immediately. He loiters near the door, and I can feel his eyes on my neck, on the side of my face, on my shoulder and body language. He’s assessing me.

I don’t move, and I don’t make eye contact.

With a hard breath, he walks in, sits down opposite me, arranges his hands neatly in front of himself, and leans back. There’s a specific, loud creak as the metal chair adjusts to his movement. He’s a big man. 6’2 with broad shoulders that would’ve made him perfect for farm work in days gone by. And, judging by the grisly, sinewy nature of his forearms, they make him perfect for an entirely different kind of physical work in modern times.

I catch the slightest hint of blood coming off his knuckles.

I doubt he cut himself shaving. More like he cut somebody else interrogating them.

My other colleagues wouldn’t think this way. Firstly, they wouldn’t be able to pick up the exquisite scents that I do. Secondly, they don’t have the same experience of this city. Anyone – and I mean anyone – who’s been associated with the Army has been taught to go to another level. They see themselves as the sole force that protects humanity against the Angelus. When it comes to Arcs, they see it as their national duty to track them down.

“Bill,” the man says with no segue.

“Nice to meet you, Bill,” I say automatically, not needing an explanation.

“Misa Fairchild, Detective Junior-Class. You’ve been working for the police for three years. You managed to just scrape by all your performance reviews.”

I nod.

He shifts further back in his seat, one hand drumming against the steel table, the sound ringing through the room. “A lot of people would try to deny that.”

“I’m aware of my limitations.”

Another small smile spreads his lips. “Indeed. You seem to be aware of quite a lot of things.” He pats his pocket, and his large ring of keys jangles. “Which is what I’m counting on. I want you to run down exactly what happened yesterday. Don’t leave a detail out.”

I launch into my version of events. Though he tells me not to leave a detail out, I ignore approximately 99% of them. From the smell of the place, to the guilty culprit. I just tell Bill exactly what he wants to hear.

He’s silent until I finish. He’s still tilted all the way back in his chair, the metal legs only just strong enough to hold his weight. Though the guy is easily in his early 50s – judging not just by his silver-flecked hair, but by the exact smell of his organs and tissues – that hasn’t stopped him from keeping fit. Whether it’s steroids or some other anabolic drug, I don’t know. The point is, he has a large, strong body, and he’s had a lifetime of learning just how to use it.

He stops drumming his fingers abruptly. “You seem to have missed a detail. An important one.”

My stomach clenches. Blood flow is diverted from my peripheral limbs to my core, a prelude to using my wings if I have to. But I don’t launch into full Arc mode yet. I control my expression and stare questioningly at Bill. “Did I? Which one?”

“You took evidence home yesterday, Miss Fairchild.”

Shit. He found out about that, ha? Obviously, this guy’s earned his stripes.

“Oh crap,” I say, feigning emotion. “I guess I did. I left the sheet of paper I was jotting down notes on in my pocket. It’s still here, though.” I cram a hand into my pocket and pull the piece of paper out, handing it to him.

When he doesn’t accept it, I place it down on the table.

I can’t get a read on this guy. I don’t know if he suspects me or someone else. And that tells me two things. I can’t let my guard drop in front of him. It also means whoever trained this guy knew what they were doing.

More evidence, in my head at least, that he’s had significant dealings with the Army.

He glances down at the paper and shrugs. “Thank you for being forthcoming. Now,” he leans in, the chair grating as it jolts hard on the floor and his old joints creak as he latches an elbow on the polished metal table and looks right at me, “I hope you can be forthcoming with a few more facts. What was your assessment of Detective Farley Jones during the crime scene investigation? I don’t mean of his competency level. I mean of his attitude. Did he use derogatory language? Did he appear at all to be biased?”

Yes and yes.

Either Bill is putting up a smokescreen and only pretending to be interested in Farley, or I was never his original target.

My slim loyalty to Farley tells me I should play this carefully. My assessment of Bill, however, proves that I can’t afford to hold back. Though all of my colleagues think they’re more competent than me, they lack my senses and cynicism. They’ll inadvertently share details about Farley, and if I don’t back those details up, I’ll be seen as a liar. So I shrug. “Yes.”

“Yes to which question?”

“Both. The Detective used derogatory language when referring to the Succubus as a potential suspect. Called her a bitch,” I add.

“I see. What else?”

“All of my colleagues,” I stress, “including Detective Jones, seemed to believe from the outset that it was the Succubus who perpetrated the crime.”

“And you didn’t agree?”

“I’m a junior detective, sir. I lack the experience to make these calls. But I do appreciate… that a large component of instinct can come into the early stage of an investigation.”

“That’s a diplomatic way of putting it. So let me reiterate my question without diplomacy.” He brings a hand up and slams it onto the table, the violent move echoing through the room.

I don’t jump. I could tell from the exact buildup of lactic acid in his muscles what he was going to do several seconds before he did it.

“Did Farley Jones have a point to prove against that Succubus? In your assessment, Junior Detective, however naïve that may be, did Farley Jones let his emotions dictate the course of this investigation?”

I don’t pause. “Yes.”

Abruptly, Bill relaxes his hunched shoulders, loosens his muscles, leans back, crosses his arms, and returns to casually rocking back-and-forth on his chair. “You chose wisely.”

“Sorry?”

“I’ve been trained to tell when someone is lying to me.”

“Oh,” I manage.

I look up at him, and I stare into his dark pupils. I take a surreptitious deep breath, hold it in my lungs, and I smell. Bill’s aggression, his arrogance, all of it. But none of it is directed at me.

This man may be trained to pick up lies, but he can’t for a second imagine the massive lie that’s sitting right in front of him.

“Thank you for your cooperation, Detective Fairchild. For what it’s worth, it seems your performance reviews have been harsh. Yet another thing Farley Jones may have chosen to follow his gut instinct on and not procedure.” Bill rises from the table, kicks his chair back into position with a rattling grate, and nods at me. “Wait here for a few minutes as I finalize things outside.”

I nod dutifully. I watch out of the corner of my eye as he walks outside, closes the door, and refrains from locking it.

My senses don’t just stop at the ability to detect scents that humans can’t register. All of my other senses are far more primed, too. So I can hear Bill out in the corridor, even though the room is soundproofed and the door is closed. “She was compliant. Not a problem,” Bill says. “Confirmed our suspicions. That shit is definitely hiding something.”

They have to be talking about Farley. Though there’s no love lost between Farley and me, and I know for a fact that he would kick me off the squad in a heartbeat if he could, my heart shakes. I don’t know why. Farley hates everything I am. He was in the Army, for crying out loud. If he had the resources and permission, he would dedicate his life to eradicating every Arc left out there.

Yet my heart obviously knows something I don’t, and it speeds into a thumping beat.

“Do we have enough information to get a warrant yet?” A woman with a light, feminine voice asks.

“Not yet. We’re still waiting on the files from the Security Forces. They should prove what I’ve heard.”

“And what was that, sir?”

“That even before Detective Farley lost his family members to an Arc attack, he wanted to kill them all anyway. A regular pro-human.”

The woman chuckles. “I haven’t heard that term in years.”

“I’ve always liked it. Sums up his kind entirely. They prefer to wipe all Angelus off the face of the earth.”

“To be fair, sir, it’s a view that’s repeated in the community.”

“Indeed,” Bill says, “but someone from the Army should know better. Someone with police experience should know better, too.”

“What are you talking about? There are plenty of people in positions of power who are pro-human. Heck, I’d say easily half of the police in this station would be. Wanting a different world without Angelus isn’t a crime, and we’re going to need more to bring Farley down.”

“True. But hunting down Arcs in one’s spare time and killing them, ah, that’s a crime. Treason, in fact. Depriving the Army of those glorious weapons is a crime punishable by death.”

I freeze. It feels like my heart has been torn apart by a predator. Maybe it beats, or maybe it tears itself out of my chest and runs away.

Farley hunts Arcs?

The woman whistles, the sound high-pitched. “Jesus Christ, you’re not serious, are you? That’s why we’re going after this guy? He hunts Arcs? Why the hell haven’t the Army pounced on him before?”

“Because, alas, the evidence is still insufficient. The Army can’t act rashly until they figure out exactly how he’s finding the Arcs. That, after all, is a skill. And if Farley has any he’s currently hunting,” Bill takes a rattling breath, and it turns into a deep laugh that I swear rumbles through the room, even though he’s still outside, “that will be a boon worth waiting for.”

“That bastard’s gotta be pretty twisted to hunt down those monsters. Sure, he looks like he’s got skills, but any man who can take Arcs on unassisted—”

“Is a man who must be brought to justice. But before that, used. Now, bring in the next witness. The Army is leaning on me to get this done by the end of the day.”

“Shouldn’t you discharge the witness still in the room?”

“Indeed, I momentarily forgot about her. What did the voice analysis detect? I can’t say I picked up any lies in person, but I might be getting rusty in my old age.”

The woman laughs jovially. “Old age, sir? I imagine you’ll still be doing this well into your 80s.”

“I was hoping to be of service to my country until my 90s, but if you don’t think I can make it, my 80s will have to do. Now, the report.”

“Voice patterns were normal. She’s either an extremely good liar who’s been trained by the best, or she was telling the truth.”

“And did the voice pattern analysis suggest she was holding anything back?”

“Inconclusive. She has a very even tone, and that can sometimes stuff up our readings. Her file’s clean, though. And to be honest, she doesn’t have the authority to get much done.”

“Indeed. Bring in the next witness.”

I hear Bill turn on his foot and open the door.

I compose myself. I never let myself fall apart, in fact. Externally, at least. I maintained the same even expression as I overheard that conversation. My body language didn’t change, and I didn’t make any indication that I was picking up what was being said.

I glance up at Bill as he walks in.

“You’re free to go, Detective. Good luck out there.”

I nod as I walk past him. “Thank you.”

I walk away.

Good luck?

I’m not the one who’s going to need it.

Chapter 5

Misa

My keys grate in the lock as I manhandle the door open, walk inside, slam it closed, and stare at the floor.

Mischa bolts up from the couch, looking like a Jack-in-the-Box. “You’re home. What is it? What happened?” She locks her hands together, wringing them tightly as she stares at my ashen face.

I bring up a hand, bend my fingers in, and let them drop down the back of my head. I scrape my nails against my scalp, encountering several knots in my thick bob but just ripping them apart as I let my hand drop. “Nothing,” I lie as I head straight over to the sink, pour myself my customary glass of water, and force myself to swallow it. Several droplets splash down my mouth, and I slowly bring up a hand and press my white fingers against my chin, wiping them away with a strong, deliberate move.

Mischa shifts back and forth on the balls of her feet nervously. “Something happened. It was at work, right? Did you… do something? Do you think they know who you are?”

I look right up at her. “If you think, for a second, I suspected my colleagues knew I was an arc that I wouldn’t have taken you and fled town, then I’m failing as an aunt.”

“Sorry. Then what happened?”

I hate being short with Mischa. She doesn’t deserve it. But I can’t get my thoughts straight. And it’s killing me because I don’t know why.

I lock my hands on the edge of the bench, lean down until my head’s between my shoulders, and I breathe.

When that doesn’t chase thoughts of Farley out of my brain, I smack my hand against the counter.

Then I do it again. But before I can do it a third time, Mischa closes the distance between us with the speed of an Arc, wraps her small hand around my fist, and holds me in place. “You’re breaking the counter,” she says in a soft voice.

I straighten up, look at the counter with hairline fissures through the granite, then up to her. “Shit.”

“You know, my mom always hated it when you swore. She said it was below you.”

I stop myself from pointing out that my sister is no longer here and that if she were, she would be swearing along with me.

I take a breath, settle my nerves, reach a hand out, lock it on Mischa’s shoulder, and force a smile to curl my lips. The smile can’t brighten my ashen expression, but at least it’s a start. “Sorry for being sharp with you, kid. It’s just been a really hard day.”

“What happened? Does it… does it have something to do with the rumors I’ve heard at school?”

I lean in, about to pour myself another glass of water, but I stop.

I’m not too overcome with my rage not to be able to pick up the emotion in Mischa’s tone.

I glance at her sharply and realize there’s tension locked in every limb. “What did you hear at school?”

Mischa brings up a hand, inserts it into the collar of her shirt, and scratches beneath it. “It was from several of the Army brats. I heard them gossiping on the other side of the playground.”

I lean down in front of Mischa, one hand still locked on her shoulder as my worried expression looms in front of her. “What did you hear?”

Though Mischa is still a kid, it’s a brutal reality of this world that I have to use her. The school she goes to has several kids whose families are in the Army. Every now and then, she picks up their conversations, and every now and then, the gossip is useful. “Maybe they were lying… but it didn’t feel that way. I couldn’t smell lies.”

I tighten my grip, then my fingers press into her arm firmly but tenderly. “Just tell me.”

“They said Army Intelligence is starting up a new campaign in the city. Said they were looking for something.”

I pale. My brows shoot up and disappear behind my thick fringe.

I know I should keep it together for Mischa, that I should try to hide my fear. There’s no way I can.

I stand up sharply, break my grip on her shoulder, walk away, and clasp a hand over my sweaty mouth. “Shit,” I spit through my fingers.

Mischa’s eyes are on me as she takes a nervous step my way, her arms jittering so badly, they bang up against the kitchen cupboard to her left. “They’re after us, aren’t they? We need to leave town, don’t we?”

I look at her seriously. I think. I shake my head. “I don’t think so.”

“Think?” Her voice punches high as she brings her hands up, clasps them together, and holds them until all the blood drains away. “You can’t take risks, sis. I can’t lose you. That’s what happened at work today, isn’t it? That’s why you’re so angry. You overheard something. They’re coming for us, aren’t they?” Mischa is working herself up into hysteria. Her face is as white as snow. Her eyes are wide, and tiny, almost indiscernible filaments of light are starting to spread down the side of her cheeks.

I snap in. I plunge down to one knee, practically skid in front of her, and wrap my arms around her back. I pull her into a hug. “You need to control yourself, kid. It’s not that bad. I’ve got everything under control. Trust me on that.”

“I am controlling myself.”

“I can see the light on your cheeks,” I whisper into her ear as I continue to pat her hair fondly.

Mischa seizes up, her muscles twanging beneath my grip.

It’s been years since Mischa lost control like this. Though the filaments of light that spread across her skin wouldn’t have been visible to humans, any ordinary Angelus would’ve seen them. And from that, they would’ve concluded what she is.

I keep patting her hair, my wrist and fingers tense, all locked up and seized as I try to soothe her hysteria. “You’re right. Something did happen at work today. But I don’t think anyone suspects us.”

“Then why is Army Intelligence coming back to the city? They only send Army Intelligence in if they’re going after Arcs.”

“There’s… a guy at work. I overheard some Internal Affairs investigators talking about him. They suspect… they suspect he’s an Arc Hunter.”

Mischa stiffens again, bucking against me. “What?” Her voice is so small, so strangled. It makes it seem like someone’s got their hands around her throat.

I can feel her fear. Her anguish.

Mischa’s parents weren’t killed by the Army. They weren’t captured. They weren’t consumed by another Arc. They were killed by an Arc Hunter. A civilian.

And they were murdered right in front of the two-year-old Mischa.

“It’s okay. It’s all right.”

“Is it him? Is it him?” Mischa never screams. Now she does.

I jerk around and cram my hand over her mouth, pressing my fingers in tightly. I shake my head.

I keep shaking my head until she flops down to her knees and starts to sob.

“Mischa. You can’t scream. Your voice travels too far.”

She brings up a hand and wipes away her tears, but she’s not quick enough as they rush down her cheeks and splash across her collar. “I know. I know. I’m sorry. I… is it him?” She stares up at me through her tear-streaked gaze.

I pause. Could it be Farley? Could he be the bastard who took Mischa’s parents from her when she was a baby?

My body seems to come up with its own conclusion before one can form in my brain. I shake my head.

“How do you know?”

“Because the guy I’m thinking of would’ve been too young.”

“How young?”

My lips pull to the side in a frown. I don’t have any idea how old Farley is, but I’m guessing he’s in his 30s. And considering Mischa is only 10, that means Farley wouldn’t have been too young at all.

But I just… I can’t see Farley having done it. He’s not strong enough, smart enough either. The brute who killed Mischa’s parents in cold blood was impossibly strong. Well-equipped, too. Though Farley has determination, he doesn’t have the other two.

I shake my head again. “Just trust me. It’s not him.”

“But what are we gonna do if the Army is coming?”

“Stay under the radar. We fed last night,” I remind her with a soft pat, “and neither of us has to feed for at least a month. That means you have to conserve your energy. No wasting it, you hear?”

She’s finally dried all her tears, and she lets her hands drop. She nods. “But what about you? You’re the one who actually uses your abilities. Won’t you get hungry? Plus, you barely fed last night. You gave most of the light you obtained to me.”

I stand and shrug. “It’s good for my figure,” I snort as I pat my practically nonexistent stomach.

Mischa looks disappointed and shakes her head. “Feeding doesn’t affect your physical appearance – it affects the power of your wings. If the Army is out there, and… a Hunter,” she spits the word out, “then you’re going to need all your power.”

“Mischa, it’s not going to come to a fight.”

“How do you know?”

“Because if it comes to a fight, we’re both screwed.”

Though seconds ago I was doing everything to calm her down, that comment is too brutal, and the tears brim in her eyes again.

I take a breath and take a step away.

“Where are you going?”

Mischa is good to have picked that up. I haven’t announced my plans, and she would be deducting my intentions based merely off my expression and body language. I grin at her. “You’ve been practicing, haven’t you?”

She nods. “But where are you going?”

“To investigate him,” I say flatly, staring into the middle distance as I take a hard breath.

“… You mean the guy who’s the Hunter?”

“No, I mean the guy they suspect is the Hunter.” For some reason, I emphasize the word suspect, my lips moving harshly around it.

Mischa pauses. “Do you like him?”

The question comes out of the blue, and I’m not ready for it.

I balk visibly, my eyes widening. “What? No.”

“Not like that. I mean as a colleague. As a friend. Are you loyal to him?”

I open my mouth to point out that Farley has never been anything more than a pain in my butt, but the words won’t come. I press my lips closed. I stare at the ground. “I’m not sure,” I answer honestly.

“Then you better go find out. Don’t worry, I’ll hold base here. How long do you think it will take to investigate?”

“An hour, tops.”

“You’re slipping. You used to be able to get a case solved in half an hour.”

I grin.

So does Mischa. I walk past her, ruffle her hair, and head out.

I didn't intend to investigate Farley tonight, but considering what I’ve learned from Mischa, I guess I have no option. It’s time to find out exactly what kind of man Farley Jones is before it’s too late.

Chapter 6

Farley Jones

I get out of the shower, and I’m no less tense. Grabbing my shoulder, shoving my fingers hard into the muscle, and trying to eke out the rigidity, I quickly give up.

I pull on a pair of sweatpants and loop my towel around my shoulders.

It was one hell of a day.

Goddamn haunting, in fact. I couldn’t shake the impression that Internal Affairs was after me specifically.

“Jesus Christ,” I spit to my empty apartment as I make my way over to my table. Ensuring my fingers are dry as I trail them across the plush fabric of my pants, I reach over, grab my laptop, and open it. The screen blinks into life, the glow bright against my dim lighting. It’s night, and I’ve always liked gloom. Bright fluorescent lights give me a headache. Plus, they always remind me of interrogations.

Senior Investigator William Coates grilled me for an hour. I got no work done today. The guy wanted to know everything about my life. Every single frigging detail. But more than anything? About my days in the Army.

Though I’ve opened my laptop to do some work – to catch up, considering my day – as my finger traces across the trackpad, I find my cursor pausing over the file labeled Army.

I know what’s in there. Nothing’s changed. It’s been years. Just photos. Reports. Medical assessments. Nothing interesting.

I open it anyway, scrolling down to a photo of my platoon. As I click on it and stare at it, my eyes quickly tick toward the men and women who are dead. One or two from natural causes, the rest from Angelus attacks.

I get lost for the next five minutes or so, trawling through every single photo, reminding myself of how many people I’ve lost.

When a little voice pops into my head and tells me it isn’t fair, I clench my jaw together, grinding my teeth like someone trying to sharpen a knife against stone.

I wasted so much time telling myself that lie. After the death of my sister and mother, I spent so long complaining to the universe that it wasn’t fair. I’d paid my dues. I’d done my time in the Army. I’d always been an upstanding citizen. So why the hell had they been taken from me?

What the hell had I done to deserve that fate?

But after two years of thinking that way, I realized it was a waste. All that anguish. All that anger. A pathetic waste of mental and physical energy.

I can still remember that dark day when I figured it out. I’d been chasing an Arc couple through town as part of a case – back when there were more Arcs in town and the Army hadn’t picked them dry like eyes from a corpse.

I hate this memory, but there’s nothing I can do to push it away, even as I bring my hand up, cram it over my eyes, and press my fingers in until I start to see stars.

“It’s been goddamn years – just get over it,” I spit.

But there are certain memories you don’t get over. You can’t forget them. You have to reabsorb their emotional power, let them change you from the inside out, and move on with your life. Because even a life haunted by regret is still a life.

Eight years ago, I hadn’t learned that yet. Eight years ago, I was still trapped by my grief. Every day I would wake up, and every day living would kill me.

Katie, my fiancé, had already left me, and most of my friends had followed suit. All I had was my job. And though I’d thrown myself into it, it had never been enough.

Then I’d come across that Arc couple, and everything had changed.

“Yeah, you learned that the only way forward in this twisted world is to grab it and untwist it,” I spit forcefully as I close my laptop with a thump. “Get your head in the game, for Christ’s sake. This is no time for reminiscence.”

As I finish my impromptu pep talk, I stand, walk over to the window, latch my hand on the sill, and stare out.

I can’t distract myself from the Internal Affairs investigation. I can’t afford to. If those idiots get the wrong end of the stick and think I’m responsible for murdering the Succubus, my career is over. I’ll be sent to prison. And considering I’m a cop, it’ll be lights out for me.

I only have one option – figure out who the plant is at the station and bring them to light.

“But who the hell could it be?” I lean forward, grab hold of the window latch, yank it to the side, and open the window.

The fetid city air hits me, and I have a good enough sense of smell that I can detect car fumes intermingling with the salty Chinese food from the diner down the street.

“I can’t imagine it’s a member of my team. Most of them are too young to try. And the older ones know better. Jason wouldn’t be that stupid, Janine’s too upstanding, and Misa….” My lips curl into a smile, I bring up a hand, clap my palm against my forehead, and laugh. “If Misa tried to kill a Succubus, it would rip her limb from limb. Hell, she’s probably the only one I can rule out from the get-go. How many people does that leave? Oh, only 200 odd officers. Shit.”

I go to lean back, to grab myself some old take-out from the back of the fridge, but that’s when I see something. Something dark. Something quick. Something that’s scaling the side of the building.

“Hey, what the hell is that?” I scream out loud.

The figure pauses, then puts on a burst of speed. It’s out of sight in the space of several seconds.

My heart pounds in my head and my ears ring as I jerk backward, skid over to my countertop, and snatch up my regulation gun. I have it out of my holster in a practiced snap just as I grab my mobile from my pocket.

I hesitate before I call the police. The last thing I want to do is draw more attention to myself. But that hesitation doesn’t last long. There’s an Angelus out there, and people are on the line.

I make the call as I yank open my door and run down the hallway, my gun at the ready.

That Angelus is gonna rue the day they picked my apartment building.

One of the most important lessons I learned from that day eight years ago was that no matter how broken you are, you pick yourself up and you keep pushing.

Chapter 7

Misa

I’m walking along the hallway, hands in my pockets, a hat crammed over my head. First things first, I’m gonna stake out the front of Farley’s apartment. He’s not a pushover. I know from years of working with him that he’s paranoid.

Before I mount the final operation, I’m going to need to know exactly what I’m dealing with.

I’ve known where Farley has lived for years. It’s not that I’ve been stalking the man – it’s that usually, when I learn a scrap of information, I don’t forget it unless I choose to. I’ve seen Farley’s license a couple of times, and his address is written on the back.

The apartment building is old and scummy. It’s about on par with mine, which means the people who own it only bother to do maintenance when they get a letter from a tenant’s lawyer.

The place reeks. Years upon years of cigarette smoke is ingrained in the carpet. Alcohol laces the furniture. The paint’s embedded with drugs, sweat, age, skin.

For an Arc, scent is such a crucial tool. It’s primarily what we use to hunt down our targets. But at the same time, sometimes you wish you could turn your nose off.

I reach the top of the stairs, heading onto the landing, knowing that Farley’s apartment is on this level.

I go to move around the corner and walk down the hallway. I stop, flattening myself against the wall as I hear pounding footfall.

A second later, I hear Farley’s voice as he screams to someone on his mobile. “There’s a perp in my building. I’m following him now. I need backup to the Fairview Apartments, Twenty-Third Street. Now.”

I jerk backward. Fortunately this apartment is large enough that it has a proper stairwell. Latching a hand on the railing, I vault over it and sail down. Air slams against my hair, whipping around my cheeks. It catches my jacket, furling it around me, sending it banging around my hips until I strike the base of the stairs with a thump.

I land with one hand pressed into the ground, and just as my hair swings around my cheeks and steadies, I dash forward.

Before I jumped, I smelled the stairwell, and I know there’s no one down here.

I twist to the side, spy a maintenance cupboard, yank open the locked handle, and throw myself inside.

And there I wait. For several heart-pounding seconds, I remain pressed up against the door, my eyes half closed, my head tilted back, and my sense of smell on overdrive as I attempt to pick up Farley.

After 30 seconds, it’s clear he hasn’t climbed down the stairs – he’s climbed up them.

Reading between the lines of what I heard from his phone call to the police, it seems he suspects there’s an Angelus in his building, and he’s obviously followed them to the roof.

Hesitating with my hand on the handle, I open the door and walk out.

There’s no one around. Yet. Farley may be under investigation, but that’s not going to stop the ordinary cops from jumping to the aid of their comrade. They’ll be here in five minutes, tops. Which gives me five minutes to get to Farley’s room.

Though I only came here today to do a preliminary investigation, I can’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

I’ve already done a sweep of this building, and I’ve confirmed that it doesn’t have any operating security cameras. Sure, there are a few dotted around the outside of the building, but they’re clearly only for appearance’s sake, as the cables look as if they’ve been cut long ago.

There’s nothing to stop me from climbing up the stairs at full pelt, my body a blur.

I reach Farley’s floor and slow down, entering onto it cautiously in case any of his neighbors have opened their doors to see what all the commotion is about.

They haven’t. Presumably living in a building like this has taught them that other people’s problems are other people’s problems.

I reach Farley’s door. It’s open, and it’s swaying in a gentle breeze. I shove a hand forward, catch it, and shoulder it out of the way.

My gaze darts toward an open window above the table, and from the acrid city air making it through, I catch the unmistakable scent of a Gill.

Considering Gill eat the flesh of the living, they don’t have the same overpowering scent of Necros. That doesn’t mean I find it hard to pick them up. It just means I must detect different scents.

Gills smell of blood. Of strong heme iron. My tongue tingles as I tip my head back, half close my eyes, and draw the scent into my lungs deeply.

This Gill, whoever she is – because she’s a she – has fed recently.

Gills are strictly controlled by the medical sector. They’re used in hospitals to get rid of biomedical waste and to assist with amputations and surgeries.

Gills working closely with Necros can sniff out a lot of conditions well before medical science can catch them.

But this Gill smells different. I’m detecting the scent of brain, liver too. Two of the tastiest kinds of human flesh to a Gill. And there is no conceivable medical reason for Gill to have feasted on brain.

“Murderer,” I comment under my breath as I push into Farley’s apartment.

Despite the fact my Arc senses are going into overdrive as I realize I’ve detected a sinner, I can’t allow myself to be distracted. I have less than three minutes until the police are on the scene. I have to assess Farley’s apartment and leave before that happens.

I kick into gear, throwing myself forward, opening my senses, and experiencing my partner’s apartment on overdrive. It’s exactly what I expected, and yet different at the same time. The clean, methodical lines of new modern furniture that sums up Farley’s personality to a T. And yet, it’s intermingled with curious old furnishings from doilies to China figurines.

Walking over to them, I sniff, my nostrils flaring wide.

I grab up one of the China figurines, turning it over and smelling again.

It smells like a woman primarily handled it, and yet that scent his old, overshadowed by many years. As I glance at the bottom, I realize there’s an inscription to Farley from his dad. A short, sharp message.

This was your mother’s favorite figurine. Keep it safe.

I place the China figurine back down and continue to assess the apartment.

I know why I’m here. To see if there’s any evidence at all that Farley is a Hunter.

And yet… I get trapped. Trapped in a world of smells and sensations that open up a door into the enigma that’s Farley.

I walk over to the small hallway that appears to connect his spare bedroom to his main bedroom. There are only two photos on the wall. One is a young Farley with what looks like his family, and the other is an older Farley and a frowning white-haired man.

I reach over, and before I know what I’m doing, I brush my fingers down the photo of Farley with his family.

His mother’s smiling, but not as much as his sister. His sister’s much younger than him and looks like she’s about Mischa’s age. And from that smile… it seems like the two kids would’ve gotten along.

I suddenly realize what I’m doing, and I jerk my hand down, the picture skewing slightly.

I glance once more at the picture of Farley with the old, white-haired man. Comparing the two photos, it’s easy to tell that the second photo was taken after the death of his family. There’s something gone from Farley’s eyes. Something that’s been replaced with an emotion I’ve been grappling with my entire life. The anger of someone who doesn’t have a choice in where their life is heading, of someone who’s had horror upon horror thrust onto their small shoulders with no reprieve.

I glance away from the photo, hearing the sound of sirens several blocks away.

No time to waste.

I see a laptop sitting on the table out of the corner of my eye. I grab it up, wrench it open, and see there’s a photo on the screen. A photo depicting a young Farley in the Army.

Minimizing the photo, I glance down the folders along the side of the desktop, and two pique my curiosity – Army and research.

My stomach starts to sink. The sirens get louder, and glancing out the open window, I can discern brighter flashes of red and blue light amongst the gloomy city.

“Time to run.”

Rather than head back out the door, I realize the window’s for the best.

I need to make a quick exit.

I rush over to it, yank it open further easily, and clamber out. I sit on the sill, my leg dangling out as the wind catches the cuff of my trouser leg and sends it whipping back and forth across my ankle.

I pause. I listen. I smell. I figure out that the coast is clear, and I jump.

I sail right down the side of the building, five whole stories until I slam hard against the pavement below. I distribute my force, calling momentarily on a flicker of my Arc power that sees the dimmest lines march across my cheeks toward my eyes. It’s the precursor to my full wings appearing. It’s all I need to soften my blow so I don’t strike the pavement with an earsplitting thump.

It also protects the laptop tucked under my arm. I press it closer to my chest as I run.

I’m not worried about Farley and the Gill. I know my partner. Or at least….

I glance down at the black hard plastic case of the laptop.

I think I know my partner. After tonight, I’ll find out for sure what kind of man he is.

Chapter 8

Farley Jones

I find the Gill. Just in time.

The bastard climbed onto the roof. It’s flat and there are a couple of old couches, even a few planter boxes back from a time when the body corporate tried to spruce the place up. When too many drunk people killed the plants by upending their grog into the boxes and flicking their ash onto the pansies, the communal space was abandoned. Now it’s just full of old couches and mattresses – junk the other people in my apartment couldn’t be bothered carting to the municipal dump.

I know junkies come up here, too. It’s easy, it’s out of the way, and if you’re smoking crack or some of the harder Angelus drugs, the plentiful wind will just carry the scent away.

I kick the door open to the roof, lurching forward, hands clasped tightly around my gun. My shoulder’s hard, my back’s arched forward, and my head keeps sweeping to the left and right as I open my eyes wide, catching as much light as I can.

It’s a dark night, even accounting for the fact that this city never sleeps. But there’s only so much reflected illumination that can come from the buildings opposite and the cars driving along the streets below.

I’ve got good night vision, though – and more than enough experience using it.

I expect to hear the quick patter of feet. Maybe a grunt as the Gill throws himself back down the side of the building, realizing he’s been sprung. That’s not what I hear. I hear a crunch. A wet one. The kind of noise that’s made when you stand on an overripe bunch of grapes.

The noise drills down through my heart and sends a burst of disgust and anger plowing into the center of my chest. “You bastard. You’re feeding,” I spit.

I lurch forward, frantic feet sending a pile of overturned beer cans scattering. They tumble out of the way, their hollow metallic clicks echoing around the roof.

I make my way around an old awning to the opposite side of the roof.

I see the Gill pressed over the back of a mottled couch, her shoulder muscle bulging out of her tank top as she pins a woman against the old, stained, moldered cushions.

The Gill has taken a bite out of the woman’s shoulder at the nape of her neck. Blood stains everything.

I fire.

No more warnings. If that Gill takes another bite, that woman is dead.

The Gill is fast. She’s just fed. Any Angelus grows immeasurably stronger in the minutes and hours after a feed. That’s why we had to dispose of the fallen bodies of our comrades back during the war. If you left too many corpses out on the streets, it was like leaving free ammo.

The Gill jerks out of the way, my well-placed bullet just grazing her arm. Her distinct blue-black blood splatters up the side of the couch and across the comatose woman’s face.

The victim’s pale, gaunt. It’s not just from the Gill’s attack. Judging by the marks up her arms, she’s a junkie.

Soft, easy target, hey? The Gill probably thought it would be a victimless crime. No one would miss this young waif.

Yeah, well I don’t know her, and I don’t want to. But that does not mean I’m gonna stand around and watch someone else take her life.

The Gill snarls at me, her eyelids opening much wider than a human’s can as they reveal her eyes in all their blazing fury.

Most of the time Angelus can walk amongst the human population without anyone being the wiser. It’s when they feed or they use their power that you can detect what they are. In Gills, their eyes turn completely black-blue like squid ink. No whites. Just the color of a violent, rain-filled storm at night.

The Gill’s in cut jeans, a tank top, and old sandshoes. One look at her, and it’s obvious she’s a street rat. If she had full-time employment at one of the local hospitals, they’d demand she dress better for health purposes.

I fire again, one shot to her left, then one an inch to the other side.

It’s a calculated move, and though the Gill easily avoids my first shot, as she jerks to the side, the remaining bullet snags her leg.

She screams as her blood splashes out in an arc and scatters over the old, moldy roof.

“Stay where you are. Get down on your knees. Disobey, and I’ll put a bullet right between your eyes and three into your chest.”

She hisses, revealing her teeth. They’re covered in blood, and I can even see a few chunks of unchewed meat – flesh from the junkie’s neck.

“You bastard,” I spit.

The Gill throws herself to the side in a complicated but graceful move. I fire, but a second too late. She rolls around the couch.

She grabs the junkie, hauling her off the couch as she kicks the sofa toward me.

The move is powerful, and the couch sails several meters toward me like a shot from a cannon.

I’m forced to jerk out of the way as I push into a roll.

I lurch to my feet. But the Gill’s faster. I see a flash of her arm, catch the scent of fresh blood, then her sinewy bicep wraps around my throat and hauls me to my feet.

I choke and splutter. I hear the unmistakable sound of her opening her mouth and her predatory teeth growing. Gills have two sets of teeth – the ordinary human teeth they use in normal company – and the secondary Angelus teeth they use during feeding.

My mind slows down as realization blasts through me. This is it – I’m dead. “The police are on their way. They’ll hunt you down for killing an officer.”

She hisses. She jerks back. “Farley Jones?”

“What? How do you know my name?”

“Ah, Farley Jones,” she hisses through a giggle. “Almost ate you. My bad. They need to question you. So come with me.”

“What—”

I feel the Gill plunge its teeth into the nape of my neck.

She doesn’t immediately rip out a chunk of flesh as big as a fist. Gill can sedate their victims. They don’t do it to stifle their victim’s pain. They do it on big prey to ensure the prey can’t get rowdy. It’s the same as a spider injecting poison into a fly.

My world starts to dim. Hazy fog spreads in from the corners of my eyes.

But something remains. Maybe it’s training – maybe it’s the torture of losing my family. Maybe it’s just that I’m a big man, and it’s taking a while for the poison to spread through my system.

My gun is still in my hand. Somehow, despite the fact my body should be paralyzed, I manage to turn the gun around.

The Angelus is kneeling beside me. Her knee is pressed up right against my side.

I shove the gun against it, and I fire.

Just as true darkness swamps my vision and I fall forward on my face with a crack, the Gill screams and jerks away.

I can see her clutching at her knee out of the corner of my eye.

“Asshole,” she screeches as she launches toward me.

At the exact same moment, the door onto the roof is kicked down. “Police. Stop.”

Bullets fly.

In my last moment of consciousness, I see the Gill turn around, launch toward the side of the roof, and throw herself off it.

I fall unconscious. One thought plays on my mind. That Gill came here for me.

Chapter 9

Misa

I’m walking through the alleys at the back of Farley’s apartment. The laptop is still tucked under my arm, and I have to fight the desire to pause and open it right here in this dank alley.

I have to wait until I’m home. Somewhere safe. Somewhere where if I have an emotional outburst at what I find, no one will see and no one will hear.

That being said, this alley’s abandoned. It’s far enough away from the apartment block that the police won’t bother coming this way.

I take another step.

I stop.

I jerk my head back to see something sailing down between the tall buildings either side.

A figure.

A Gill.

She lands on the pavement several meters behind me, the move heavy and cracking the bitumen with an echoing ring.

I turn over my shoulder slowly, my hair brushing over my cheeks.

The Gill has just fed. I can catch the scent of flesh on her. The scent of drugs, too. Obviously this woman, like so many other Gill, has taken a snack on someone she hopes society won’t miss.

She’s also injured.

One bullet wound to the shoulder, another to the leg. Both look glancing – nothing more than half inch-deep grazes. Her knee, however, has been blasted open by a bullet. Hardly a life-threatening injury for an Angelus. Though the bullet wound smells fresh, and I can still detect the scent of gunpowder, the Gill’s flesh is already healing.

It’ll take a day or two to get back to normal. Once she’s picked the bullet out of her patella, that is. But there’s a way to make it heal faster.

The Gill stands up, a few drops of her distinct blue-black blood trailing down her leg and splashing onto the cracked pavement beneath her with the slightest of sounds.

I watch her nostrils push wide as she tries to smell me. I watch her eyes grow even wider as realization strikes.

She throws herself at me. No warning. No growl. She needs to feed so she can heal.

With the laptop still tucked firmly and safely under one arm, I gracefully and easily twist out of the way as she launches at me. She hisses, sounding like a snake.

I don’t make a noise. Not even a breath.

I watch a pulse of frustration bounce through her body and stiffen her limbs as she growls, pivots on her foot, and throws herself at me again.

Once more, I dodge. My short bob slashes around my face, tickling the sides of my cheeks and framing my casual expression. “I’m warning you – you don’t want to start anything with me.”

“It’s too late, human. Wrong place wrong time. Sorry.” She slashes at me, and I catch sight of her open mouth – of her predatory teeth. They’re laced with blood. I don’t even need to taste the air with another long sniff to know that the blood belongs to two different people. A woman and a man.

That’s when I realize who the bullet wound has come from.

Farley.

Before I came out here, Mischa asked me point blank whether I have loyalty for Farley. The answer is he’s just a colleague. At work, when other people will see, yeah, I’ll protect and follow Farley, just as a good junior detective should.

But outside of work he’s nothing more than a man to me – and if the information I suspect is on this laptop plays out, he’s a brutal Hunter, not worthy of anything but my disgust.

And yet none of that accounts for what I do next.

My body reacts before my brain can catch up to it.

Just as the woman throws herself at me once more, I pivot to the side. Still keeping the laptop pressed under my arm, I draw my other hand up, reach forward, and clutch it around her throat. She may be a good several inches taller than me, and from the sinewy look of her muscles, she may have more visible strength. But there’s nothing she can do against my force as I yank her up off the pavement.

Her eyes blast wide open, more of her distinct black blue-blood impregnating them until they’re nothing more than dark, murky pits, like paths into the center of space. “What—” she splutters. She tries to scratch my face. Her nails are strong – Gills possess bones and keratin that could break steel. But as she attempts to rake her nails across my cheek and plunge them deep into my neck, I do nothing but stare up at her, her scratches glancing off.

“What the hell are you? Are you some kind of Army experiment?”

“No,” I answer, tone conversational as if we’re talking about stock tips.

“You can’t—” she begins. Something clicks in her head. I can see it reflected in her expression as it crashes like an expensive painting being torn apart. “You’re an Angelus. Shit. I didn’t mean to attack you. I couldn’t smell you. What the hell are you using to hide your scent?”

“My wings,” I say. I jerk forward and grab her.

“What…” she trails off. She goes limp in my hands. She stares at me in horror.

I impassively look back. “Did you kill him?” My impassivity ends with a snap, my lips tugging hard around my question, moving with all the speed of whip cracks.

“What? Kill who? Whoever it is, I’m sorry. If I’d known I was stealing food from an Arc, I wouldn’t—”

“Did you kill him? The man I can smell on your breath,” again my lips move harshly around every word. My fingers twist in harder, too, until I can hear the sound of the Gill’s usually impenetrable flesh start to crack like glass being struck with a hammer.

“You mean Detective Farley? Farley Jones?”

I stiffen. I swear my lips turn white even though I can’t see them. “Yes. Farley Jones.”

She shakes her head. “Just knocked him out. Wasn’t my brief.”

“Your brief?” I force myself to ask as relief floods through me. Truth be told, I couldn’t smell the scent of the Gill having feasted on Farley – just a taste of his blood along her teeth. That doesn’t mean she couldn’t have killed him. A bite to the wrong part of the body can be just as fatal as a bullet through the head.

“I’m under orders. Came here to find him. To bring him in for questioning.”

“Questioning?”

“Got distracted on the way. Found a snack.”

“That would be the drug-laced blood I smell on you, ha?”

“Junkie. Yeah. No one would have missed her. Not a crime, is it?”

I don’t answer. “Who told you to kidnap Farley Jones?”

“Brotherhood. They took me in when I ran out of food – when the hospital I worked for fired me. The bastards,” she spits, managing vehemence even though I’m still holding her off the ground by her neck.

“Who amongst the Brotherhood hired you?” I ask slowly, a suspicion forming in my mind.

“Preston.”

“I see. Why is he after Farley?”

“Farley has information on the murder.”

My brow clunks together hard. “You mean the Succubus who was murdered in the police cells?” I’m sharing details of the case with this Gill, but it doesn’t matter. This Gill won’t be talking to anyone.

She’s a sinner – and there’s only one thing an Arc like me can do to a sinner.

But first things first.

“What? Succubus? You mean Missy? It’s got jack to do with her.”

“Then what does it have to do with?”

“I… if I tell you, he’s going to kill me.”

I open my mouth slowly. Arcs may not feed with their teeth, but there’s something primal about showing them. Sure enough, the Gill’s eyes tick down to them, and I feel and smell her fear intensify.

“I would say that right now Preston is the least of your concerns.”

“Fine. Okay. I don’t know everything, though.”

“Then I suggest you quickly fill me in on what you do know.”

“It’s got jack to do with Missy. But I guess she was involved in a roundabout way.”

“Elaborate.”

“Loose end.”

“I appreciate you may have trouble breathing right now, but stop pausing,” I snarl.

I can smell another pulse of fear slam hard into her gut. All her muscles fill with more lactic acid, but there’s nowhere she can run. “I get it. I get it. Missy was a witness. Used to bring in information for Preston. From humans and Angelus, you name it. She was one of his many informants.”

“So why did he get rid of her?”

“Because she found out what he was looking for.”

“Which is?”

“I…” the Gill trails off, and even though her eyes are now pressed open so wide I can hear the skin around them straining, she manages to open them even more.

“Tell me.”

“An Arc. It has to do with the murder of an Arc. Two, actually.”

I jolt. I don’t drop the Gill, but I don’t hide my expression, and nor can I control the bolt of fear that slams down my back. “When was this murder?”

“A while ago, about a decade.”

“Tell me exactly,” I can barely push my words out. My anger is like a hand twisting around my throat and stopping my breath from getting any higher than the top of my chest. I feel like a bottle of rage. And when this Gill is finished, that bottle will burst.

“Eight years. It was eight years ago.”

Mischa’s parents. Celeste, my sister, and Antoine, her partner.

Their murder changed my life. Before then, I hadn’t exactly had it easy. I’d been on the run my whole life, and I’d always been looking over my shoulder. But when Celeste was alive, at least I wasn’t alone.

Now all I have is a child I must protect at all costs.

And this Gill knows something about that incident.

The Gill has become as quiet as the grave. Her cheeks are pale, and her expression couldn’t be more ashen. It’s clear she’s picked up from my body language that I know what she’s talking about.

When she doesn’t continue with her tale, I give her throat a shake, and her limp limbs jostle in the air.

“Okay, okay. Preston is after their kid.”

I swear someone has shot me from inside my skull, and the bullet has shredded my brain completely.

Fear and anger jostle for a place in my heart as my body tremors with rage. “Why?”

“She’s important. Got some kind of skill. The parents’ bodies were analyzed by the Army after their death. The Army is after the kid because they suspect she’s inherited something. Something they’ve been after for years.”

My skull is pounding, my ears are ringing, and it feels as if somebody is trying to drown me.

The thing I’ve been running from for the past eight years is happening. Mischa is in danger. And if I hadn’t run into this Gill, I would never have known.

That’s why Army Intelligence is back in the city.

They’re after Mischa.

“What does Preston want with Mischa?” I question, then my lips twitch as I realize I’ve revealed her name.

I really will have to kill this Gill now.

“Who’s Mischa?”

I stare at her sternly.

“Jesus Christ, you know the kid?”

I pare my lips back, clenching my teeth in a snarl. “Answer the question. What do they want with her?”

“But you’re an Arc… if you know her… what have you been doing? Keeping her safe all this time? Is that why they can’t find her?”

I give the Gill another shake, this one more violent. I clutch my fingers harder around her throat, shunting my grip further up until her chin is held at a truly uncomfortable angle. She has to stare past her nose to look at me.

“I get it,” she chokes. “Sorry. You just want me to answer your questions.”

“Yes.”

“Preston wants the same thing the Army wants. He’s got Angelus spies working inside Army Intelligence. I… after those two Arcs were murdered, the Army found their bodies. Experimented on them,” she adds quietly, her eyes locking on me as she obviously fears another violent reaction.

I stay completely still.

“… Turns out the mother was some kind of special Arc. Had an ability the Army’s after. When they heard reports that there was a kid at the scene, they started investigating, tracking down everybody who had anything to do with the murder and its aftermath. That’s why Preston wants Farley.”

I pale. My heart skips a beat. My bottom lip wobbles as it opens. “He killed them?” For the first time, an emotion other than pure rage cracks through my tone, and it’s vulnerability.

The Gill’s brow contracts with a spasm. “You know him too?”

“Just answer the question.”

“It wasn’t Farley. It was his partner. A man named Zachariah Hope. He was an Arc Hunter. The most prolific Saint Helios has ever seen. Ex-army and ex-police. Went renegade when they started using Arcs rather than killing them.”

“Is this Zachariah Hope dead?” I can barely shift my lips now. It feels as if they’ve been concreted into place.

“Don’t know. Went underground after he killed that couple, and no one’s seen him since. That’s why everyone wants to talk to Farley.”

“Everyone?”

“Army Intelligence are after him, too. He’s the only witness to that murder left.”

“So why are they only tracking him down now?”

“Because they only found out about it recently. There was a witness – not to the murder – but one who could place Farley at the scene. The guy had a real taste for Succubuses. Missy and a couple of the other Succubus mistresses across town under Preston’s payroll heard him bragging about seeing a double Arc murder. You know Succubuses – they have a real talent for extracting information from people.”

I arch an eyebrow. “Yes they do. But what happened to this man?”

“Died. Preston questioned him too hard. Now Farley is the only link left.”

“I see. What else do you know about the… Army’s experimentation on the bodies of those two Arcs? What skill are they after?”

She shakes her head. “I don’t know anything else. I told you everything.”

“Are you lying to me? Understand that I can smell lies.”

She shakes her head. “I know that, I know that, and I wouldn’t dare.”

“Good.” For appearance's sake, I take a long hard sniff, angling my head up and letting my hair trail around my cheeks.

I can’t smell a lie.

So it’s time for one more question. “Where’s Preston?”

“I can’t tell you that—”

“Preston is a Majes, from memory. Not that I’ve ever had that much to do with the Brotherhood. And in the grand scheme of things,” I bring my face closer to hers, open my eyes, tip my head down, and allow a few flickers of light to trace across from my ears to my eyes, “Arcs are much, much worse.”

The Gill tries to swallow against my hand. I tighten it.

“Preston’s always on the run. Has to keep on his toes. Army Intelligence is always after him.”

“How can I find him?”

“If you’re with the kid, he’ll find you.”

I crack.

No more games.

No more questions.

Because I see something in the Gill’s eyes. The predatory satisfaction of somebody who knows that their enemy – in this case me – will ultimately get what’s coming to them.

I let my wings spread.

Not to their full height and width – that would be too large and draw too much attention, even though this dark alleyway is completely abandoned. But with nothing more than a mere thought, I open myself up to the power that always resides within. I feel my wings blast around me, the chaotic, swirling patterns of light that constitute them sending shadows scattering down the moldered walls around us.

The Gill freezes, immobilized by fear, her sweat caked tank top sticking to her body.

“Please, don’t. I did what I had to to survive.”

“Indeed. So I must do what I have to to survive.”

I shift in, and I feed.

Chapter 10

Farley Jones

I walk in my front door, head over to my kitchen countertop, and dump my keys down. I let my hand slip down, and I clutch the edge of the bench as I lean against it and breathe.

“Goddamn does my shoulder hurt,” I spit as I bring my hand up and tenderly touch the dressing covering my injury.

I was in the hospital for two hours. It took that long for them to drain the Gill poison from my blood. Now, once the puncture marks have healed, I should be fine in a day or two. There was a quicker option offered to me – allow a hospital trained Gill to suck the poison out of me, but funnily enough, I declined that option, even if it means I won’t be fighting fit for several days.

“I have no idea what’s going on,” I begin, bringing a hand up and clamping it over my mouth as I let my sweaty fingers press against my lips.

I don’t have the chance to bemoan the fact this situation is getting out of hand and a Gill hunted me down at my apartment. My eyes tick toward my window. It’s open much wider than it was before I left.

A thrill of fear chases up my back, and my gaze darts toward my table.

I’m foggy from the medical procedure and the fact my life is falling apart, but I’m not so far gone that I don’t remember what was on my table.

I lurch forward, skid toward my table, and stare down.

“Shit,” I spit. Once upon a time, I was meant to be the guy that didn’t swear. It was meant to be beneath me.

Now it’s all I have to deal with my spiraling problems.

My laptop is gone.

I take an unsteady step back and let my limp hands fall beside me.

Then adrenaline kicks me into gear, I twist on my foot, and I start assessing my apartment room-by-room, drawer-by-drawer as I attempt to find out exactly how much is missing.

But there’s nothing else. I keep a little money in my bedside drawer, and I have some expensive tech equipment. They’re exactly where I left them this morning.

I walk out of my bedroom, head in a daze. I take several steps down the short hallway that connects the two bedrooms in my apartment to the living area, and I stop.

My muscles become rigid, my shoes squeaking on the hardwood floor as I turn to the left. I face the wall.

I’m an anorak. I like things to be straight, to be ordered, to be just right.

I reach a hand out, spread my fingers, and let them hover a centimeter away from the photo of my family.

It’s askew.

Someone’s touched it.

Shit. It was the Gill – it’s the only thing that makes sense. After she attacked me on the roof, she must’ve snuck in through my open window, found my laptop, and run off before the police could find her.

Goddammit.

“What the hell did she want from me?” I bring my hand up, slam it over my mouth, and speak through my fingers, my voice shaking badly.

There’s no one to answer, so my question simply burrows in deeper as if it’s a parasite heading for my heart.

I’m unstable on my feet as if I’ve just been struck on the head several times. I make it back to my kitchen, pour myself a glass of water, hunch over the bench, and grip it as I stare at my feet.

I’ve taught myself to be the kind of man who can maintain an even keel, no matter the weather. That’s my reputation at the police station, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter how dire the situation becomes, and it sure as hell doesn’t matter how many Angelus we’re up against – I will always hold steady.

But this is me falling apart.

I rock back and forth against the bench for several seconds until, with a rattling grunt, I push up. I down the glass of water, not caring as droplets spill down my chin and splash against the collar of my shirt. I slam the glass down so hard on my granite bench top that it cracks.

I don’t pick up the pieces. I turn around, walk into my main living space, stare down at my table, and think.

This situation has gotten out of hand. I have no idea what I’m up against. But there are two facts that I cannot ignore. Internal Affairs is after me, and so are the Angelus. You might think I’m jumping to that conclusion, but I’m not. That Gill wasn’t working alone. I saw the blast of recognition shoot through her expression when she found out who I was. She was clearly sent here to find me for someone else.

Whom? And why?

I haven’t faced a situation like this in eight years.

And just before I conclude that I have no one to turn to, not even the police, I stop.

I pivot on my foot, and I stare at the wall.

I haven’t realigned the picture of my family. It’s hanging askew, the top corner of the pale silver frame abutting the photo right next to it. The photo of me with my mentor – the man who changed my life and salvaged my personality after the death of my family.

Zachariah Hope.

I hear from him occasionally. He doesn’t pop by or anything, and the old goose is way too paranoid to send text messages. He sends letters, instead. Postcards with quickly scrawled messages along the back. He doesn’t even sign them off with his name. He was never big on formalities.

I turn, head over to the desk behind my TV, get down to one knee, and open the final drawer. I feel around until I bring out a wad of postcards.

I search through them, flicking toward the most recent ones.

The postcard depicts a tourist attraction in Saint Helios. Every postcard Zachariah has ever sent me depicts Saint Helios. He hates to travel. Despises it, in fact. He would always tell me that the only people who travel are those trying to escape what’s in front of them, and that’s a fool’s game.

“Come on. I know it’s here somewhere,” I mutter as I keep searching through the cards feverishly.

I discard several into a pile until, finally, I pluck out the right one.

It’s a view from down on the port. Industrial, but some people like that.

I quickly flick it over, the card grating between my sweaty fingers. On the back it reads home sweet home.

Checking the stamp on the card, it’s from about two months ago.

Though I know Zachariah’s itinerant, and hates staying in the same place twice, it’s a start.

I stand, letting the rest of the postcards I’m holding scatter around my feet.

Taking a step backward without looking where I’m going, my leg bangs up against my chair. It falls over, and I don’t bother to catch it.

I may be a neat man who likes everything in its place, but I’ve got other priorities now.

Gripping the postcard like it’s a lifeline, I go to head over to my table to check the picture on my computer. I stop, swear, and grab my phone from my pocket instead.

My thumb hovers over the screen as I go to type in the port district of Saint Helios into maps. I stop.

For all I know, Internal Affairs could be tracking my phone, and the very last thing I want is to lead them to Zachariah. Don’t get me wrong, Zachariah hasn’t committed any crimes. He chose to get out of the police force, and that’s a decision I need to respect. But with Internal Affairs breathing down my neck, if I suddenly make contact with a man I haven’t seen for eight years, that will pique their suspicions.

I shove my phone back into my pocket, head over to my bookcase, and pull out a visual atlas of Saint Helios. The thing cost me $0.50 from the local thrift shop, and I’ve always been tempted to get rid of it, but now I thank my lucky stars I’ve been too lazy.

I sit on the floor and flick through it until I find the exact view. Though I know most of Saint Helios like the back of my hand, it’s a sprawling city, and I don’t have that much experience with the port.

Once I get a place, I don’t bother jotting down the address. I don’t program it into my phone to look for directions, either. I remember it.

Then I stand. I breathe, bring a hand up, tap it on my injury, and breathe again.

Tomorrow I’ve got to work in the morning, but in the afternoon, it will be time to track down an old friend.

Though I could, technically, rely on the police to help me track down why that Gill was after me, if they can’t do it quickly enough, I’m screwed. And there’s only one man I know who can track Angelus, no matter how powerful they are or where they choose to hide.

Zachariah taught me that with nothing more than human ingenuity you can take down an Arc. So finding the Gill who stole my laptop and bit my neck should be a walk in the park.

I let my shoulders drop down, and I smile. It’s small and it doesn’t reach my cheeks, but it’s there. Because this? I pat my postcard. This is a start.

Chapter 11

Misa

I head to work, because I have no choice.

It’s going to be too suspicious for me to pack up and leave without any word. With Internal Affairs on the ground in the police station, I can’t take any chances.

If I leave abruptly and they suspect the reason why, they won’t stop hunting me.

And now I’ve learned… they’re so interested in Mischa, they won’t spare any resources.

I’m a mess. Internally, at least. I’ve had a life of practicing, and I can control my outward visage no matter how tumultuous my mind has become.

I draw on that now as I wait in the car patiently for Farley to finish grabbing his case notes.

I haven’t seen him all morning, and I was assigned a new case as soon as I walked in the door.

He finishes what he’s doing, walks over, opens the driver side door, and jumps in. He sits with a thump. I don’t need my extended Arc senses to know he’s had a hard night.

But I’ve got my own problems.

Farley goes through correct procedure, signing our car out in the logbook under the dash.

When he leans over to hand me the book back, he winces and shifts his shoulder.

I don’t even bother to glance up. I have my hand locked around the passenger handhold, my gaze fixed on the middle distance.

Farley clears his throat as he leans back and smooths a hand down his tie. “Aren’t you going to ask what happened to my shoulder? You’re usually more observant than this.”

I tick my gaze over to him. For politeness sake, I glance down at his shoulder and wince in sympathy. “How did you get hurt?”

“Angelus attack.”

“Oh,” I say, casting my gaze back to the middle distance.

Farley becomes quiet. It takes him several seconds to start the car and back it out of its car space. Whenever he reverses, he always locks a hand on the back of the passenger headrest. He does that now, and even though I should be expecting it, I twitch.

Because Farley – my frigging partner for several years – was there when my sister died.

Maybe he wasn’t the one to kill them, but he was there.

And his partner, Zachariah Hope, murdered them.

Farley picks up on my twitch, and he drops into a pensive silence. Once he’s finished reversing and he drives out of the police compound, I feel his gaze darting toward me several times. “You alright? You seem tense.”

“I’m fine.”

“Sure you are.”

My jaw twitches at that. As soon as this shift is over, I’m going to head into my boss’ office and hand him my resignation. I’ll cook up some cock and bull story about realizing I’m not good enough for police work.

Then?

Time to start a new life. Again.

I’m making calculations in my head, trying to figure out how much cash it will take to move us away, and exactly where we should go.

My preference would be to leave my stuff and get the hell out of town, because possessions will just slow us down. But again, I have to be cautious. If I leave all my furniture and belongings behind, it’ll tip somebody off.

Farley clears his throat. “I know we’ve never been… the closest partners, but if you’ve got something going on, you can tell me.”

“I’m fine. Just… thinking a lot lately.”

Farley snorts. He brings a hand off the steering wheel and drums it against his jaw. It’s his turn to stare into the middle distance with a faraway look in his eyes. “Join the party.” He winces, shifting his injured shoulder around until it sits straighter.

I know I should question him about what happened to him last night – even though I already know all the details. But I can’t do it just for appearance’s sake. I can’t frigging think right now. I just want this torture to be over.

I’ve kept Mischa at home today, telling the school that she’s sick.

I haven’t… told her what’s going on. I can’t stomach it. I’ve just warned her that she needs to be careful.

She knows the game. She won’t bring any attention to herself. She’ll stay at home, locked up safely in the apartment watching TV.

I can rely on her, you see.

Farley?

I looked at his laptop last night. Even though it took me a while to calm down from everything I learned.

There was nothing much of interest. Just personal stuff. The file labeled Army was just a bunch of photos and old medical certificates. Memories. Nothing to indicate he’s still on their books. And as for the file labeled research – it wasn’t about Arcs or other Angelus – it was family research. He was tracking down his lineage.

I haven’t yet had a chance to look through every single file, but I doubt I need to anymore.

I know what Internal Affairs is after, and I know why the Army is here.

He clears his throat again. “Like I said, we’ve never been that close, but… if there’s something worrying you, you can tell me.”

I don’t know why, but I snort. It’s not derisive, just frustrated.

Though someone lacking emotional intelligence like Jason would still take it as an insult, Farley is better than that.

I feel his gaze on the side of my face. “You know, no problem’s insurmountable,” he says. There’s a disconnected quality to the way he’s speaking.

Though I know I shouldn’t look at him and I shouldn’t engage, his words grab my attention, and before I can stop myself, I turn to face him. I look at his shoulder then up at his face. “Do you believe in your own advice, sir?” It’s a stupidly blunt question. One I shouldn’t be dumb enough to ask. But I can’t stop myself.

He holds my gaze. He looks away, and he looks back. I watch his shoulders deflate an inch as he drums his fingers on the steering wheel. “Yeah, it hasn’t been the best… couple of days. But I’ll get by.” He yanks his hand off the wheel, clamps it over his mouth, and breathes through his fingers before letting the hand drop.

I stare at him.

If Farley thinks he’ll get by, he’s mad. Then again, he doesn’t know exactly what’s after him.

Internal Affairs, Army Intelligence, and the Brotherhood. Farley doesn’t have a chance.

My hand clenches as I continue to hold onto the passenger hand rest. My fingers press all the way in, and at the last moment, before my Arc strength can take over and see me wrench the damn thing from the car door, I stop myself.

Farley takes a hard breath. “You’ve always been a bit of an enigma, Misa. You’re not like the other detectives.”

I don’t bother getting defensive. I don’t bother allowing my adrenaline to pique. Farley has no clue I’m an Arc.

He’s always been curious of me, but only because he doesn’t understand how a wimp like me can play with the big boys like him.

When I don’t answer and instead continue to stare at the windscreen, he lets out a soft snort. “Fine, I get it, you don’t want to talk. But you know… talking can help sometimes.” His voice wavers. Farley is the kind of man who knows his mind and says it directly. Now he sounds like he’s on the brink of something.

Out of nowhere, curiosity sparks through my gut. I may not want to talk to Farley and unload my considerable burdens, but you know what? Maybe I can learn a thing or two from him.

I turn to face him. “Do you want to take your own advice? What exactly happened to you last night? Was it a random encounter? Or did it have something to do with our case?”

Farley looks surprised. “Our case?” His voice shoots up, making it clear he hadn’t even thought of that possibility.

He drums his fingers on the steering wheel. “I didn’t think about that. Damn. Maybe it does.”

I watch him. Intently. My eyes detect every subtle movement of his muscles. I can feel the increase in heat coming off his body as his blood flow surges. Hell, I can practically smell the cogs in his mind grinding harder.

He goes to open his mouth, but he stops. Abruptly. He presses his lips together as if they’re a door he intends to close forever. “It doesn’t matter. I’ll figure it out.”

I latch a hand on my seatbelt and lean back, now facing Farley in full. “Why do I get the impression you’re fobbing me off? You should take your own advice, Detective, and unload.”

Farley’s not one for banter. Unless he’s trying to hide something. Which is precisely what he’s doing now. He arches an eyebrow. “Detective? You know we’re technically partners, and you don’t have to be so formal.”

Technically.

I’ve never had a single problem with the fact Farley thinks I don’t deserve to be in the police force. He’s right. An Arc like me doesn’t deserve to be anywhere but in the Army, using my skills to kill whoever my masters see fit. And if you’re wondering how an Arc can be forced to kill somebody who’s not a sinner, if you dig deeply, everyone’s bad. It’s all just shades of gray.

Now, for some reason, I can’t keep my mouth shut. “I get it, Detective,” I say pointedly, “you’ve never wanted me on the squad. You don’t think I’m strong enough or smart enough.”

It’s clear Farley’s not expecting a confrontation, and his cheeks pale, his brow crumpling and pressing toward his hairline. “That’s not true.”

I stare at him steadily. “Which part?”

He pauses.

I breathe hard through my nose. “It’s okay. I won’t be hanging around much longer anyway.”

“What? You in some kind of trouble?” His tone and demeanor change now, and again I catch that ever elusive flash of concern. That fleeting emotion that reminds me of what Farley once was before his life went to hell.

“No,” I control my tone. “I’m just sick of this city. From its inhabitants to the weather. I’m packing up and moving us up the coast.”

“Us? You mean your kid?”

Everyone knows about Mischa. It’s not like I can keep her hidden from my colleagues – she’s enrolled in one of the local schools. Plus it would be much, much more suspicious to not tell anyone about her. The increased utility usage in my apartment could tip the authorities off. Not to mention the neighbors hearing every time Mischa screams at the TV.

“She’s my niece,” I clarify.

“Oh yeah. Sorry. I’ve never met her,” Farley points out.

I stop myself from saying that I would never let him meet her. I descend into silence.

Farley drums his fingers on the steering wheel. “It’s not… to do with me, is it?”

“What?”

“That you’re packing up and getting out of town all of a sudden.”

“I’m afraid to say you don’t actually have that much influence over me.” It’s a snide comment, but it’s true.

Someone like Jason or Janine would get riled up at it. Farley just snorts. “I guess you’re right. Maybe that’s what’s really always bothered me about you, Misa – you might technically be small, but you don’t act like it.”

My stomach muscles clench. I’m already sitting far enough back in my seat that it’s not obvious as my back becomes rigid, but I have to force all of my attention into keeping my expression neutral. “No I don’t,” I say defensively.

My entire persona – at least when I’m not being an Arc – is built around me being small. Insignificant. Weak. The last person anyone would suspect of being a brutal Angelus.

You know before when I thought Farley didn’t have the brains to go after Arcs? I’m starting to question whether he’s got the intelligence after all.

He chuckles. “Listen up – I didn’t mean it is an insult. It’s a compliment, really. I can’t imagine having your figure. I mean, not that I don’t like your figure. Ah, never mind.” Farley clears his throat gruffly and wipes a hand down his mouth.

He’s flustered.

I’ve been working with this man for three years, and I have never seen him flustered. For some insane reason, it almost makes my cheeks redden.

“My point is,” he tries again, voice louder as he tries to distract from his fumbling, “I don’t get how you don’t run around scared all the time. For someone like Janine or me – for someone with inherent physical strength – it’s different, right? We know we can protect ourselves. For you…” he trails off, becoming increasingly uncomfortable. “Look, I’m sorry – none of that came out right—”

“I don’t think of it,” I answer his question.

“Sorry?”

“My size has never concerned me.”

“… Right.”

We descend into silence.

He looks at me several times, his mouth opening, making it clear he wants to continue the conversation, but it’s just as clear that he doesn’t know how.

We loop around the city and head onto one of the major arteries, and for a while, he concentrates on driving. But his curiosity about me is still there. It’s like a trapped bird in a cage, pecking at every bar to get out.

Eventually it gets too much for him. “Look, I’m sorry… that you’re leaving. It’s a shame.”

I arch an eyebrow. “You don’t need to pretend. It’s what you’d prefer. As you’ve already pointed out, you don’t think I’m a good fit,” I say the word fit with a puff of air, “for this job.”

“That’s not it,” he says, becoming impassioned. “It’s just… I wish you could tell me how to do it.”

I blink at him in surprise. For an Arc who can follow somebody’s physical symptoms to predict what they’re thinking, his comment comes out of the blue.

He looks right at me, showing his skills as a driver as he continues to keep straight in our lane. “How the hell do you keep going when you’re smaller than everyone else? When everyone else has all the power, all the resources?”

I had looked away, but now I glance back, my gaze wary.

I know what he’s talking about. It has nothing to do with my physical proportions. Farley, quite rightly, wants to know how the hell he can keep going, despite the insurmountable forces stacking up against him. Heck, he doesn’t even know the half of it. He knows about Internal Affairs, but he would have zero idea about Preston and the Brotherhood.

I open my lips, and I have no idea what I’m going to say.

Farley gets there first. He shakes his head, his neck muscles tense. “Sorry about that. I don’t know where it came from. It was a crazy question. And I apologize for continually referring to your size – that’s inappropriate. I guess my only excuse is,” he yanks his hand off the steering wheel and latches it onto his shoulder, “I got bitten by a Gill last night and the damn venom she pumped into my bloodstream is turning me crazy.”

This is where I should drop it. The conversation is over.

Farley has withdrawn, and he won’t be stupid enough to keep pushing.

But I can’t drop it. I can’t stop myself from turning to him. “Why was the Gill trying to kidnap you?”

Farley freezes, his body stiffening, his arms turning rigid. The car starts to swerve, and it isn’t until the taxi beside us beeps loudly that Farley regains control. He straightens up the car, swears softly under his breath, then yanks his attention straight back to me. “How did you… I mean,” he swallows, composing himself, “why would you think that?”

“Basic detective skills,” I pause, about to call him detective, but for some stupid reason wanting to call him partner instead. “Gills only use anesthetic on those they want to knock out, not eat.”

There’s a slight sweat glistening across Farley’s brow. It’s catching the light of the midmorning sun as it streams in through the windscreen. He pauses for several seconds, and considering the pressure building in his veins, I can tell he’s racing to think of an excuse. “Gills also use anesthetic on big targets. She was a small Gill. I’m a big man. I guess she didn’t want me thrashing about.”

“You’re not that big,” I say point-blank. “Plus, unless this Gill was a child, she would have more than enough strength to take you down.”

Farley opens his mouth. The mood in the car has changed. There’s an underlying edge of tension intermingled with the growing scent of Farley’s sweat.

“I… I guess I don’t know. Wait, I do.” His eyes dart open wide. “The police were on their way. She obviously wanted to knock me out so she could take me with her.”

“Wouldn’t she have just used you as a human shield?” With every new problem I point out, I scream at myself to stop. This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. I’m drawing too much attention to myself by playing the devil’s advocate. And the only reason I can think to explain my aberrant behavior is… what? That I want to point out to Farley that there were massive holes in his report? If Internal Affairs questions him about this, and he maintains that the Gill was merely trying to kill him, they’ll know something’s up.

Farley wraps a hand around his mouth and swears through his fingers. For a man who never used to cuss, it’s a testament to how much his life is going to hell.

Warily, he darts his gaze back to me. “Why would the Gill be trying to kidnap me?” he asks out of the blue, his question as direct as a slap to the face.

I stare at his eyes. He’s hiding nothing. His stress would be obvious even to an ordinary human.

It… disarms me.

“Maybe you saw something,” I suggest in a small voice.

“What do you mean?”

“You know how this works. You’ve brought in so many Angelus over the years. You’ve attended so many crime scenes,” I spit out the word crime scenes, my brain haunted by a flash of my sister’s smiling face, “and maybe you saw something at one of them. Maybe that Gill wanted to drag you back to her master for questioning.”

Farley stairs over the top of his white-knuckled hands at the road, his large eyebrows clamped hard over his eyes. “Or maybe she wanted revenge. Maybe she knew that Succubus – maybe she heard I was involved in the case. Yeah, that makes sense, doesn’t it?”

Not as much sense as my version of events. But at least I’ve got him thinking.

He swivels his gaze over to me. “Thanks,” he pauses. I know what should come next. Kid. Though I have no idea how old Farley is, he can’t be that much older than me. And yet, he’s always called me kid to emphasize his seniority. Now, he pauses. “Misa,” he adds. “I’m clearly not thinking straight.”

We descend into silence. A watchful silence. You see, even though my senses are locked on him, I suspect his are locked on me, too.

I may not be a human, but I can still be empathetic. I can pick up what someone’s feeling, usually far more quickly than even the most trained human.

So I know for a fact that Farley is softening to me. For him, this car ride will be a change in our relationship.

For me? It will be the last conversation we have. Because nothing’s changed. At the end of this shift, I’ll leave town. For good. I’ve given Farley a heads up – as much as I can, and as much as he deserves. Maybe he wasn’t the one to kill my sister, but he was there, and I’ll never forgive him for that.

And yet… I still help him out. Because Farley has no idea what’s after him.

Chapter 12

Misa

We pull up outside of a three-story building. Made out of cream breeze block, it’s got a well-maintained garden out front and a good view of the busy city street it fronts onto.

Farley hasn’t said a word to me since his revelation, but as he stops the car and yanks the keys out of the ignition, he nods my way. “I’m gonna need you to use your full skills on this one, partner,” he says, this time without pause, as if the thought of calling me kid didn’t even cross his mind, “because there’s something going on here.”

“I read the case notes. Accounting and finance firm. They’ve got a Majes on the books. She’s suspected of snacking on clients without permission.”

“Yeah, that’s what the case notes say. But…” Farley brings up a hand, grabs his chin, and taps his fingers against his jaw.

“But what?” I get out of the car, slam the door closed, and jump up onto the pavement. There’s a quick wind rushing through the city streets, and the trees planted along the verge rustle, their branches grating and grinding together like fire sticks.

“But intelligence suggests there might be more to this.”

“What are you talking about?”

Farley walks up onto the pavement beside me, locks the car with a click of the immobilizer, shoves the keys into his pocket, and nods at the building. “This company’s under investigation by the Financial Securities Commission,” he says, voice nothing more than a whisper, only just registering above the whistle of the wind.

“What’s that got to do with our case?”

“They’ve been getting their clients to invest crazy amounts of money.”

“And you suspect the Majes has something to do with it?”

“Yeah, I do. Or at least, that’s what intelligence suggests. Why else would you have a Majes on the books?”

“I believe the official response is that Majes are available to clients of financial firms to help make them more rational.” I bring up a hand, catch my hair as it whips across my face, and tuck it behind my ears. Farley’s gaze locks on the move for some reason. “If I cast my mind back to the tiny amount of economic theory I learned in high school, the more emotion you can take out of your decisions, and the more rationally you can follow the market and not your instincts, the better investor you will be. Majes are there to help absorb your emotion.”

“That’s the official line.” Farley shrugs his shoulder toward the building, and my gaze slips over the hard line of his muscles. “But the security commission wants to investigate how exactly this firm has been able to extract so much cash from their investors.”

“Perhaps their investors are merely being rational. Maybe they’re being offered good deals, and with the benefit of having their emotions kept in check, they’re jumping on the bandwagon before it’s too late.”

“Do you really believe that?” He arches an eyebrow at me.

“No, I’m just being devil’s advocate.”

“That’s the second time today. I didn’t realize you were so good at getting people’s head’s straight,” his voice drops and he converts it into a quick cough. “The point is, we’ve had one or two complaints to the station about this Majes, and we’re going to investigate it and hand as much information as we can to the Securities Commission.”

“Shouldn’t you have told me this in the car?”

He flashes me a toothy smile. “We were too busy bonding as partners. Now come on. I need you to watch my back. And don’t worry,” with his hand still in his pocket, he shrugs at me over his shoulder, “I’ll watch yours, too.”

I smile. My lips curl hard into my cheeks, and I even feel a blast of oxytocin – or the Arc equivalent.

For an Arc whose life is on the line, it’s a sweet moment of relief. One that doesn’t last. With a snap, I remind myself who this man is. He’s not my partner. He was Zachariah Hope’s partner. And that man is the reason my life is like this.

That thought hardens me as I follow Farley into the building.

Chapter 13

Farley Jones

I didn’t expect that conversation. It came out of the blue. Then again, I had no idea Misa was thinking of quitting.

Briefly I wonder if it has anything to do with the Internal Affairs investigation, then I remind myself with the mental equivalent of a punch to the gut that she’s not the target – I am.

Misa’s probably just smart and is getting out of town before this place turns into hell.

Still… I think I’ll be sad to see her go. I learned something in the car – something that’s been sitting under my nose for the past three years. Misa’s much more competent than I’ve ever given her credit for.

I take the lead, heading across the pavement and through the manicured front of the building. I can’t exactly say it’s got a garden – as it’s close to the road. But it’s got some tasteful well-proportioned hedges, and the small trimming of grass that runs either side of the polished stone path is just enough greenery to distract you from the oppressive browns and grays and blacks of the buildings and streets of Saint Helios.

I reach the door, feet moving quickly over the two short steps that lead up to it. I shove out a hand, but the door opens.

The hinges creak, reminding me of an owl hooting late at night.

I come face-to-face with a man. He’s dressed in a well-tailored suit that fits his tall, lanky frame precisely. He’s got black facial hair that’s liberally flecked with silver. Not a single hair on his beard is out of place, and that can be said for the rest of him too. His appearance is immaculate, matching the small garden outside. I wonder if he trims both his beard and his grass with a slide rule.

I clear my throat. “We’re from—”

“The police.”

“How do you know that?” My cheeks harden and my gaze becomes suspicious as I give the man another once over, pushing past my first impression as I wonder whether his obsessiveness to detail extends to acquiring money by any means, too.

“Your badge, officer.” He points a long, bony finger toward the badge nestled into the belt of my trousers.

“Right. We’re from the Angelus Detective Unit. We need to talk to you about your Majes.”

“I see. She’s coming. Sapphire is just upstairs.”

“Sapphire?”

“Our Majes.”

“An expensive name,” I comment. I always like to draw potential suspects into a conversation. The more banter we go through, the more I can get a feel for their personality. It’s also a great way to assess their voice patterns. I’m not a computer or anything, but I’ve been doing this job long enough to appreciate that you can hear people’s guilt. When they’re hiding something, when they’re outright lying, or when they have no idea what the freaking truth is. The more you teach yourself to attune to tones, the better you become at sniffing out suspects.

And this guy?

I can’t get a read on him yet.

“You will find Sapphire can afford her name. She is a woman of considerable means and taste.” The guy waves us forward as he pivots on his expensive, brown calf leather shoes and strides across the atrium.

The inside of this building is a heck of a lot more luxurious than the outside. The breeze block puts one in mind of some cheap apartment complex from the 80s. But in this case, it’s just a harsh outer shell like the drab rock of a geode hiding crystals within.

I let my gaze cut from the expensive, plush red carpet across to the veneer paneled walls, up to the art hanging in almost every space, then across to the polished marble countertop. There are three secretaries behind it, and they all stare at me warily.

Me, I care more about their clothes. Their uniforms are precisely tailored, and though I don’t know that much about fabric, even from here I can tell it’s not your average polyester blend.

The interior decorating and the state of the staff’s clothes are hardly incriminating evidence, but it does suggest that this firm has cash to splash.

The guy walks us over to a door halfway down a short corridor. He opens it and walks inside.

I follow, Misa several steps behind me. She’s so quiet sometimes, I have trouble picking up her soft footfall.

“Please take a seat, Detectives.” The man gestures toward two plush chairs.

Glancing around the room, it looks like some kind of souped-up reception area for expensive clientele. Though I don’t know that much about art, even I can tell that the paintings hanging on the walls aren’t cheap. The same can be said for the furniture. It looks antique.

“Where’s Sapphire?”

“She’ll be coming,” the man says.

I open my mouth to ask how he expects her to know we’re here, but I stop. She’s a Majes. Though they can’t exactly read people’s minds, apparently they have such an exquisite ability to differentiate between emotions that they can pretty much tell what someone’s thinking anyway.

“What’s your name?” Misa strides over to one of the chairs and sits in it. It’s a massive affair with carved arms and rich blue Jacaranda fabric. It swamps Misa’s tiny form.

“Matthew Walters – I’m one of the partners of this firm.”

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Walters. I’m Detective Misa Fairchild, and this is my senior partner, Farley Jones.” Though Misa is being polite, at the end, her gaze jerks violently toward the door.

I shift over my shoulder and watch a tall, stunning woman enter the room. Easily 6 foot with beautifully proportioned, long limbs, a slim waist, and glossy blond hair that sits around her shoulders, it’s obvious she’s Sapphire. It’s not her physique – it’s her eyes. They are some of the deepest blue I’ve ever seen.

And those eyes are on me as she walks in, her expensive black and gold high heels sinking into the plush pile of the carpet.

There’s something watchful… unusually watchful about her gaze.

Though I’ve been told I’m not too bad to look at myself, I doubt this woman has taken one look at me and decided it’s love at first sight. That doesn’t account for the sharpness behind her stare. She—

Misa clears her throat. “You must be the Majes.”

Sapphire takes a while to jerk her gaze off me. She barely glances at Misa. “Correct.”

“We are—” Misa begins.

“I overheard,” Sapphire says.

“Detective Misa Fairchild,” Misa continues anyway, tapping her chest before spreading a hand to me, “and Detective Farley Jones.”

Is it just me, or is there a… prying quality to Misa’s question?

Sapphire stiffens. I can only tell it by looking at the fabric of her dress. The hem of her skirt jerks a little closer to her legs, indicating her stomach muscles have clenched. “It’s nice to meet you, detectives. I take it you’re here for me?”

“Correct. We’ve had multiple complaints to the police station that you’ve been feeding on the emotions of this firm’s clients without permission.”

Though I’m usually the one to take the lead in investigations, Misa isn’t giving me the chance. Everyone else is standing, and she’s the only one who’s seated. It makes her look even smaller. But her voice?

I want to reiterate what I said in the car – that Misa doesn’t act her size. Once upon a time I thought she was weak. Now as I catch sight of her stern gaze, I realize it’s not that simple. It’s easy for someone of my size and stature to appear strong. You take that size and stature away, and I’ll wither up. Just like I am now under the dual pressure of that Gill hunting me down and Internal Affairs breathing down my neck.

I mean it. If Misa could tell me how she can act so strong, despite the fact she appears to have nothing to back her up, I think I might have a chance of getting through this.

If that doesn’t work, I’ll just have to track down Zachariah, which is precisely what I intend to do after this investigation.

“Our firm has not received a single complaint.” Matthew’s body language is easy. Or at least, he doesn’t make any overt signs that he’s being confrontational. Just like his beard, his arms are held at precisely the right angle as if somebody has measured them up. I get the impression that this man’s beyond obsessive. The kind of guy who would have a temper tantrum if a hand towel was left askew in the bathroom, let alone if one of his employees brought his firm the wrong type of attention.

I swivel my gaze from Sapphire to Matthew, expecting to see barely concealed anger in his eyes. That’s not what I pick up. The two of them barely look at each other.

Though Majes are arguably the most acceptable of the Angelus, especially in polite company, they still do feed off humans to live. And they are still covered by the Angelus laws. They must be registered, and they must be employed by approved institutions. If they are fired or if they choose to move cities, their employers must inform the government. It’s a double-barreled system. It means the authorities always know where to find each Angelus, and they know which ones to watch out for. An Angelus who’s been fired is 500 times more likely to turn to crime to be fed.

That doesn’t mean the ones with jobs don’t act outside of the rules. There’s something predatory about Angelus – and that fact will never change. They prefer to hunt out their prey rather than to have it delivered on a hospital bed or in a coffin or in the form of a nervous investor.

“Please take a seat, Miss Sapphire.” Misa nods to a chair opposite her.

Sapphire shifts past me. I catch the scent of her expensive perfume. I hear the tennis bracelet of diamonds clank around her slim wrist. More than anything, I feel her eyes on the back of my head as she walks over to the chair that Misa indicated and sits.

I have good instincts. Because I know when to rely on instinct and went to rely on facts. At the start of a case, when you’re floundering and you don’t know which direction to go in, it’s understandable to rely on what your gut tells you. Just as long as whatever evidence you have backs up your intuition. But during the later stages of an investigation when you have more data at hand, you follow that instead. It’s the best of both worlds.

Why am I telling you this? Because my intuition isn’t acting up.

It isn’t blaring in my head like an air raid klaxon. It isn’t pounding in my stomach like a prisoner rattling at the bars.

It’s dull.

Maybe the Securities Commission missed the mark on this one?

I walk over and finally sit.

Matthew moves to do the same, but Misa shakes her head, her black bob sashaying around her ears and delicate features. “Thank you for introducing us, Mr. Walters. You won’t be needed. For the time being, at least,” she adds.

I almost open my mouth to tell Misa off. It’s one thing asking people to sit, but it’s another asking a potential witness to leave the room. Though I can’t get a clear read on Sapphire, the more I throw my intuition into Mr. Walters, the more it tells me he’s got something to hide. And people who have things to hide, when given the opportunity, usually go and bury their secrets deeper. In other words, if I don’t keep my eye on Matthew, he might head upstairs and start shredding things.

Before I can tell Misa off and request Matthew stays, I pause. I remind myself of what transpired in the car. More than anything, of the conclusion I made. Misa is more competent than I’ve ever given her credit for, and it’s time to start relying on those skills – even if they won’t extend beyond today considering she’s quitting. Point is, she appears to suspect something’s going on, and I’m going to follow her lead this time.

Matthew controls his gaze and expression as he nods and walks out of the room. I can tell he’s controlling his expression, because the skin and muscles around his eyes and down into his cheeks appear stiffer. He’s middle-aged, and his face is marked with wrinkles. Those wrinkles deepen as he locks a breath in his chest and walks out without another word.

“I trust you will stay in the building, Mr. Walters. We will speak to you next,” Misa says professionally without even glancing his way.

Matthew pauses at the door. “Of course,” he manages politely. He opens the door, walks out, and closes it.

I just hope Misa knows what she’s doing. Because my intuition tells me Sapphire isn’t the problem here – her boss is.

Throughout my life, no matter how many hardships I’ve faced, the one thing that’s always been with me is my gut instinct. Though Misa is meant to be watching my back, I just hope she’s up to the task.

Chapter 14

Misa

The Majes is working for Preston. That much is clear. From the moment she walked into the room, I sensed her surprise at seeing Farley. She reacted when I mentioned his name, too – both times.

While Majes are primed to pick up emotions, Arcs aren’t bad at it, either. There’s nothing she can do to hide her continued shock from me. She isn’t showing many visible signs of it – she’s a professional, after all. But I can feel her emotion with the same acuity with which a human can see a car racing toward them.

This morning when I forced myself to go to work, knowing it would be my final day, all I wanted to do was get things over and done with. Now I realize there’s another possibility. I don’t know why Preston and Army intelligence are after Mischa. I don’t know what this so-called ability is that she’s meant to have inherited from my sister. But I do know that if we’re to have a chance of keeping on the run and staying out of trouble, it will be valuable information to find out.

If I play my cards right, get this Majes on her own, and question her, maybe I’ll be able to kill two birds with one stone. Or should I say two birds with one pair of Arc wings?

Keeping myself hidden from a Gill or a Necro or a Succubus is easier than keeping myself hidden from a Majes. The other three rely primarily on scent. Though emotions do have unique biological markers, depending on whether they elevate or calm down the central nervous system, the detection of emotional states relies on more than smell.

It’s a subtle art that combines very fine visual acuity with the ability to sense temperature and blood flow.

All of these have to be controlled to hide your mental state from Majes. As for hiding the fact I’m an Arc – this woman wouldn’t even suspect it. Nor would she be able to detect my identity from mere emotion alone.

“What would you like to question me about?” Sapphire looks straight at Farley. The woman is beautiful, truly glamorous and elegant by human standards. And that’s no mistake. Majes deliberately craft their appearance to generate emotional responses. I don’t mean they go out and have plastic surgery every other day. But from the way they hold themselves to the care they take in their appearance – it’s all primed toward one thing: eliciting more emotion so that they in turn can feed more.

“We received three complaints that you fed on the clients of this firm without their permission.” Farley finally takes a seat. As he arranges his limbs and gets comfortable, Sapphire attends to each and every movement like a lion assessing an antelope to predict when it will run.

“I will be happy to help the investigation in any way. What were the names of the clients?”

“We can’t disclose that information,” Farley says.

“Then it will be very hard for me to state my own case.” She smiles. It’s calculated. She’s waited until Farley’s guard is down. His defenses are dropping. It’s a combination of how beautiful Sapphire is and the exact tone of her voice. You will never meet a manipulator like a Majes. They’re reading you continually, always pushing you toward situations where your emotions will be drawn out. And when you become fatigued and washed out, they will simply move to the next target.

You might be wondering where the crime is in all this. It’s one thing for a Gill to take a bite out of an innocent person. It’s a plainly illegal thing. The same for a Necro to kill someone only to feast on their recently dead flesh. The criminality there is pretty obvious, and you wouldn’t have too many people complaining about serving Gills and Necros their just comeuppance.

Feeding on people’s emotions, at least on the face of it, seems like a watered-down crime. No one dies. No one is given permanent injury. Hell, in some cases – when people are manic or just being swamped by their thoughts and problems – a Majes can help.

But there can be significant continuing psychological and physiological effects of having a Majes absorb your emotions. Contrary to what most humans believe, emotions have a place in making decisions. Especially in regards to personal affairs, whether it be from choosing a mate to helping out people in need. If you strip back emotion, in its place, you don’t get the efficiency of rationality. What you often get instead is brutality. The kind of thinking that leads to genocide so you can clean up society like you would take out the trash.

Then there are the long-term effects. If a Majes continually feeds on the same victim’s emotion, they can find themselves almost incapable of experiencing that emotion for the rest of their life. A Majes can take a happy, truly loving person, feed on that love, and leave them as nothing more than a ball of spite. It’s like their brain simply can’t process those neural pathways anymore, and they are stripped of that feeling forevermore.

“I have client files. As required under Angelus law, anyone I am requested to feed off has a file with us. And every session is recorded. There’s always at least one witness. And they’re present throughout the duration of the session.” Sapphire is seated perfectly straight, her hands on her knees, her head tilted to the side, a half smile continually pressed across her lips, even when she’s speaking.

If you think that’s a near impossible anatomical move, you underestimate just how much Majes can control themselves to intern control you.

Farley rests further back in his seat, his shoulder muscles relaxing and his hands falling comfortably and loosely into his lap. He’s the very picture of a man without any more defenses.

Idiot.

When I leave tonight, he’ll have no one to watch his back.

In a flash, the smile he shot me when we walked away from the car blasts into my mind.

He has my back, and I’m meant to have his. That’s the nature of partners, isn’t it?

“If you can just give me their names—” Sapphire, who was already seated all the way forward on her chair, shifts forward even more. The result is that the short hemline of her skirt reveals even more of her toned legs. From the line of her dress to the color of her shoes, everything emphasizes her perfectly proportioned body. Majes, like most Angelus, are long-lived. And like all Angelus, they will spend their entire lives crafting their persona and hunting techniques. While for me that means honing my senses and detection skills until I can sniff out scents with the acuity of a bloodhound detecting a body a mile away, for Majes it means manufacturing every single aspect of their appearance and behavior until their victims can’t afford to look away.

You’d think Farley would know this. For heaven’s sake, he’s dedicated his life to tracking my kind down. But disappointingly the detective simply relaxes further, an easy smile pressing across his face. “Like I said, ma’am, unfortunately I can’t do this. This is a preliminary investigation at this stage. You claim to have full records of every single session you’ve had with clients. You’re going to need to provide these to us.”

“Of course.” She smiles. Even wider this time. Every movement is calculated to draw attention to the luscious red pigment coating her lips. That in turn has been selected to offset the glorious blue color of her eyes.

I open my mouth to reign this investigation in. I stop.

As I’ve already pointed out, my hearing has such acuity that I can pick up people’s voices even through a soundproof room.

So I have no trouble in hearing Matthew. He’s several offices down, muttering under his breath. It takes me a moment to realize he’s on the phone.

“He’s here. That’s all I can tell you. He’s in the damn building. Why didn’t you tell me we were under investigation? I thought you had plants in the police?”

Though my hearing is extraordinary, it has its limits, and I can’t hope to pick up the voice of the person on the other end of the phone.

I cast my gaze to the ground, pretending I’m momentarily interested in the pattern of the rich carpet.

“I don’t care if you didn’t think it was relevant. What the hell am I meant to do?” Matthew continues.

There’s a pause.

“No, he just has some small woman with him. She won’t put up much of a fight.”

There’s another pause.

“Sapphire is with them now. What do you want me to tell her to do? It’s going to look damn suspicious if both detectives go missing during this case. It’s going to bring my firm yet more unwanted attention.”

I hear Matthew angrily marching around his office. I even detect the sound of his rubber-soled shoes crushing the pile of his carpet. “Yeah, I’ll get Sapphire to stay still. Why? Are you going to come here yourself?” His voice shakes with an emotion halfway between awe and frustration.

Preston.

Maybe I’m jumping to conclusions, but I know he’s talking to Preston.

At the prospect Preston will come here, my heartbeat surges.

Sapphire’s gaze darts toward me. She’d be picking up on my momentarily unguarded emotions.

“Do you have something to say to me, Junior Detective?” She emphasizes the word Junior.

I push up and stand. I may be a full foot shorter than her and I may be diminutive to her statuesque figure, but that does not account for the hardened look in my eyes. “No, but I do have a request. I would like you to feed off my partner’s emotions.”

Farley splutters. He may have been seated casually back in his chair moments before, but now he jerks up, sitting as straight as a man on patrol. “What?” His voice shoots up high.

Sapphire’s façade breaks. Confusion and anger crumple her brow and make her eyes widen. “I’m sorry?” she asks through a frustrated laugh.

“I would like you to feed off my partner’s emotion – out in the open this time.” I press my lips into a smile. I also allow my hands to fall easily by my sides.

“Excuse me?” Sapphire can barely talk around her stiff lips.

“You’ve been feeding off my partner’s emotion ever since we entered the room. I thought, to test your skills,” I remain where I am, my head tilted to the side, “you could do it publicly this time.”

“I have not—” Sapphire rises slowly, her long, elegant body unfolding like someone locking together the components of a sniper rifle.

“Misa, what the hell—”

“For a man who was on edge before he entered the room, I find it highly suspicious that a mere several minutes conversing with you has made him as limp as a rag doll. So I’m going to extend this offer to you once more – please feed on my partner’s emotion in public this time.”

Farley’s about to get to his feet, but then I see realization cross through his eyes with all the speed of a freight train barreling down its tracks. His cheeks pale, he jerks his hand up, stares at it, then puts two and two together. This time when he looks at Sapphire, there’s the requisite suspicion that should’ve been there the second she walked in the room.

“You’re very good at your job,” I continue. “I’m sure a Majes like you who can put people at ease without them even knowing it is a valuable asset to this firm. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Sapphire is standing a meter from me, but even from that distance, she appears to have the ability to loom over me as if she’s ready to settle her white-knuckled hands around my throat. “This is supposition. You have no—”

“Evidence? I could easily obtain it. Snacking on a victim’s emotions,” my lips move around the word snacking as if I’m trying to chew on the word like a candy bar, “leaves significant biological markers. As the detective here was in the hospital yesterday and would’ve had his full bloods done, they would leave an excellent baseline against which to check your activities. If we find evidence of any elevated neurotransmitters associated with Majes’ feeding, why, then my supposition will be fact.”

Farley slowly gets to his feet. This time when he looks at Sapphire, all ease is gone from his expression. He also takes a step toward me, either out of solidarity, or in the confused hope he can protect me. One look at Sapphire and even an untrained newbie would appreciate she’s seething with rage.

She curls one of her perfectly manicured hands into a fist, her tennis bracelet jangling like somebody rolling a metal mug across prison bars. “This is defamation.”

“No, it’s an investigation. One which you are obliged to participate in. I’m sure you are aware that under Angelus Law 20 9A, warrants are not required when an officer of the law has sufficient suspicions that an Angelus is breaking the law. I have sufficient suspicions.”

“Even… if your blood test confirms the presence of those neurotransmitters, there’s no way to tie it to me.” She looks as if she wants to throttle me. Though, to be fair, that’s not how Majes show their anger. Why wrap her hands around my throat when she could just flop back down in her chair, stare into my eyes, and strip every emotion that makes me whole, one by one. Though the Army prefers Arcs, they also have several Majes on the books. There’s no better way to get people to talk. Strip them of their anger and passion and leave them only with their fear, and they will melt in your hands like butter.

“I haven’t met any other Majes since I was at the hospital last night.” Farley finally comes to his own defense. His expression is as cold and hard as rock.

Finally.

I’m being pulled by two distinct feelings. On the one hand, I know what Farley is, know that he was there at my sister’s death. And even if he wasn’t the one to kill her, that shouldn’t matter, right? And yet, even though I know that fact, it can’t sink in all the way through my heart and pull out every strand of loyalty I have for this man.

I get another lingering impression of the smile he shot me over his shoulder as he promised to have my back.

… Though it won’t be worth much, I’ll have his back until the end of today. After then, he’ll be on his own.

“A sufficiently powerful Majes can… snack,” Sapphire’s red lips jerk hard around the move as a hiss of breath escapes her teeth, “remotely. Even if you did not encounter a Majes, it doesn’t mean you weren't within sufficient proximity of one that they fed off your emotions.”

“I had extremely limited contact with people last night and this morning. All Majes are regulated within the hospital. It’s the same with the police station. Apart from that, I’ve only seen my partner.”

Sapphire looks like a cornered animal. Just not a bunny rabbit – a wolf. The kind of beast who will fight to get free.

She arches her head back, her blond, glistening locks shifting around her throat and framing the angle of her neck as she stares down her nose at me. “I will have you under defamation laws for this.”

“And I will have you under Angelus laws. Guess which one will win? Now, you will accompany us to the station.” I take a step toward her and plant my hands on my hips.

Sapphire arches an eyebrow and stares down at me with all the menace of an assassin. “If you think—”

“How you act now will be used against you in court. If you fail to comply with reasonable and just requests from enforcement officers, you will be punished.” Farley takes a swift step beside me, squares off his shoulders, and jerks his chin out.

His body language is completely different. But most importantly, his emotions are back to where they should be. The natural suspicion that’s never far from Farley’s heart is now pounding through his veins, constricting blood flow as he wraps his hands into two tight fists.

Sapphire clenches her teeth together and lets out a hiss of air. “Very well. But you haven’t heard the last of this.”

I can’t read minds. But with a combination of my Angelus senses, I’m close enough.

Sapphire is making plans to kill me. From the quality of the hate pounding through her, to her dark gaze, to the exact tension marching through her long muscles. She’s planning to murder me.

Which is funny, because I’m doing the same. Though when I feed on her, it won’t be classed as murder. It will be classed as an Arc consuming the wasted soul of a sinner.

At least it will be one less enemy after Farley.

“Come on.” Farley gestures to the closed door with a sharp stab of his thumb.

Sapphire’s deadly gaze lingers on me until she turns and walks for the door.

I need to get out of here before Preston shows up.

If he’s as desperate as he sounds to get his hands on Farley, then he may attack, regardless of the fact it’s the middle of the day and we’re two officers of the law.

I can’t allow that to happen. If Preston or Sapphire corner me and try to kill me, they’ll quickly find out what I am.

At the same time, I want to find out who Preston is so I can track him down tonight.

Maybe I’ll pack up and leave tomorrow morning. If I get a positive identity on Preston and take him out of the equation, that will be one less group hunting Mischa.

Farley frog marches Sapphire out of the room, down the short hallway, and toward the main door.

I keep my ears out, and as soon as the door to our drawing room is roughly opened, I hear Matthew pause his conversation on the phone.

There’s quick footfall, the door to his office opens, and he ducks his head out. “What’s going on?”

“We have sufficient evidence to suggest this Majes has committed a crime. She will be coming to the police station for further questioning.” I glance at him from under my furrowed brow.

“That’s unacceptable. What evidence? You don’t even have a warrant,” Matthew splutters. His voice twists with anger, but I sense a far deeper and stronger emotion bubbling beneath it. Fear. The despair, to be exact, of a man who knows he can’t afford to anger his master.

“We don’t need a warrant. As an employer of an Angelus, I would assume that you are completely conversant with the Angelus laws. All we require is sufficient suspicion to take this Majes into custody.” I shift to the side, positioning myself between Sapphire and her boss.

Matthew takes a blustering step out of his office. “That may be the case. But mark my words, you’ll be hearing from my lawyer about this. It is completely unacceptable to bring disrepute to this firm. You have bungled this investigation—”

“Your phone is still on, sir,” I force the word sir through a clenched jaw. “It is illegal to record police without their permission.”

“I’m not recording you—”

“We have no idea who’s on the other end of that call, nor can we confirm that they are not recording us. So turn off your damn phone.”

He makes eye contact with me. I see it again. The gaze of a man who would like to rip me limb from limb. While that may not be Sapphire’s style, I get the impression based on this guy’s scent that he doesn’t at all mind turning his hand to extreme violence.

His free hand tightens and drums hard against the immaculate fabric of his suit pants.

I stare at him without blinking as I wait.

He stalls.

Farley growls. “You heard the detective – turn off your phone. And once you do, you will be providing us with the caller ID.”

Matthew finally complies, sliding the call button without even glancing down at the screen.

“The caller ID.” Farley shoves out a hand.

“I am not obliged to provide you sensitive client information—”

“Like hell you are. Now hand it over.”

I see something hunted in Matthew’s gaze. The look of a man who’s being cornered from every angle. And yet a man who’s going to fight to the death.

I feel his thumb harden from here, hear the twang of tendons as he lets it hover close to the screen of his phone. While he managed to terminate the call without glancing at the screen, I doubt he’ll be able to delete the caller history as easily.

“If you do not comply with this investigation, not only will you be charged, but your Angelus license will be revoked. You will never be able to employ an Angelus again. All your existing clients will be informed that you had an uncontrolled Angelus on the books. They will be permitted under Angelus law to seek damages. Though,” Farley pauses to stare around the opulent furnishings pointedly, “you seem to be flush with cash at the moment, I’m going to take the opportunity to remind you that the District Courts always favor those seeking damages against Angelus attacks.”

Matthew growls. Low and sharp and quiet, I think I’m the only person who picks it up.

He walks over and roughly shoves his phone into Farley’s open hand.

All eyes are on us. There are no clients in the hall, but the three secretaries are standing up stiffly and alertly like meerkats watching a predator near their home.

“You won’t have heard the last of this, Detective,” Matthew growls as he straightens up. He’s close to Farley, and it’s clear he’s trying to measure up against the detective. Something else’s clear, too. From the exact note of darkness in his tone, to the sheer viciousness behind his gaze, he’s planning his revenge on Farley. And that revenge, one assumes, will come via Preston.

“Due to your inability to promptly follow our directions, you will be accompanying us to the police station, too. Misa, do you mind calling for backup?” Farley shrugs toward me with one stiff, locked shoulder.

I’m way ahead of him. I’ve already texted for more police. “It’s done. They should be here in five minutes or so – I made this a priority call.”

“Good. Now, which is your office?” Farley nods hard at Matthew.

“It’s just over there.” Matthew’s words are so garbled with held back rage, I can barely make them out. His lips are as white as snow.

“Misa, go check it out. I’ve got this until backup arrives.”

My back stiffens. I sense Sapphire’s relief at the prospect Farley will soon be alone and without mere there to watch his back. I have no idea just how far she will go to capture Farley, but as the situation is about to hit boiling point, I wouldn’t put it past her to do something desperate.

“Sir, I think it’s best we get these two into the car.”

Farley has been right behind me, backing up my every move since I pointed out what Sapphire was doing to him, but now his brow twitches. He’s always hated it when I’ve undermined him.

I wait for him to snap that I should follow his orders. He pauses. He gives me a look – one that tells me he’s reassessing me. It’s the same look he shot me out of the corner of his eye on the car ride over here.

“I guess you’re right,” he manages.

We all turn and head toward the door, with Sapphire and Matthew walking like two stiff manikins.

Walking behind them, I smell just how desperate the two of them are.

I haven’t heard that much about Preston. Just mentions of the name here and there. Enough to know that he must be seriously high up in the Brotherhood, if not the head of the Saint Helios Chapter.

I know he’s a Majes. That’s it. And considering he’s got such power in the Brotherhood, it makes sense that he’s an extremely powerful Majes.

Sapphire’s strong. Strong enough that she can snack on a detective of the Angelus Enforcement Squad without him even noticing. She’d easily be in the top tier of Majes. Preston will be even stronger.

Truly powerful Majes are almost impossible to control. They’re equally as hard to find. Which makes sense, because if Preston was a pushover, the combined forces of Army Intelligence would have him by now. With his exquisite ability to sniff out emotions from several blocks away, he’d always be able to scan his environment for threat.

One of the only ways to track a Majes as strong as that is to get other Majes to feed on your agents before a mission. The Majes can snack on every feeling of anger and passion until your soldiers are nothing more than automatons.

There’s another way to track powerful Majes.

Being an Arc.

If I capture and feed on Preston, I won’t have to feed again for three months.

That prospect doesn’t whet my appetite. It doesn’t have the chance.

We make it over to the door and open it just in time to see a car screeching to a halt right behind ours. It’s expensive. Some low-slung black Corvette that looks as if it doesn’t have a place on the packed, slows streets of Saint Helios.

The drivers-side door opens, someone jumps out with the sound of twanging muscles, and the door slams closed with an echoing crack.

I don’t know what Preston looks like. I couldn’t pick him up out of a lineup.

I don’t have to.

The man who walks toward me can’t be anyone else.

He’s young, maybe in his late 20s or early 30s. He has dark hair that’s shoulder length and sweeps around his jaw as he marches toward us. He’s dressed in an expensive gray suit with a black tie and a black shirt. Few men could pull it off, but he can. It’s not to do with the hard, statuesque angle of his jaw. It’s to do with the blazing, pinpoint look in his eyes. They’re dark brown, but they still remind me of two red laser sights like a sniper picking out his target.

And in this case, his target is me.

Preston marches right up to us.

“Excuse me, sir, but we are halfway through an investigation. Do you mind getting out of our way—” Farley begins.

“What the hell is going on here?” Preston spits, his body held like an A-frame with his stiff arms locked by his sides and his legs spread. He has the stature of a wrestler expecting a tackle. Or perhaps one about to attack.

Every semblance of politeness evaporates from Farley’s expression as he takes a stiff step forward. “Are you associated with this firm?”

“I am an Angelus rights lawyer,” Preston spits. Those two laser targets jerk back and forth over Farley. Preston has the attention of someone who’s about to eviscerate their prey.

There’s more than that, though. As Preston stares at Farley, I see the greed marching up his face, stiffening every muscle, and sinking into his jaw until it practically clicks.

I’m reminded of what the Gill said before I killed her. That though Preston had another witness to my sister’s murder, that witness was questioned too hard and died at Preston’s hands. That doesn’t surprise me. I feel the reflected rage lapping off him with all the power of somebody striding into a tidal wave.

Farley’s jaw stiffens as he loosens his shoulders and stands in front of Preston. “That may be the case, sir, but this investigation is none of your business. I would also like to know how you found out about what’s going on here?”

“This man is a customer of our firm; it would merely be a coincidence,” Matthew begins.

I speak right over him as I grumble, “I bet you’re the guy Matthew was on the phone to.”

“You have no evidence of that,” Matthew stutters, a good lick of fear shaking through his tone.

“I have your phone. If you’re lying, I suggest you stop. I shouldn’t have to tell you this again,” Farley’s voice drops down into a menacing rumble like far-off thunder threatening the storm of your life, “but failure to cooperate in this investigation is a serious crime. An even more serious crime is actively preventing an investigation.”

Preston’s gaze slashes from me to Farley to Sapphire, then back to me.

I feel Sapphire’s emotions surge. They’re accompanied with a quickening of her heartbeat.

I’ve never had that much to do with Majes, but I can appreciate that they can almost communicate without words. Considering they have such fine control over their emotions, they can produce them and modulate them to attempt to communicate with other Majes.

That’s what Sapphire is doing now.

I need to get the situation under control. Now. Judging by the sheer greed and repressed anger pulsing off Preston in waves, he’s not going to be able to control himself for much longer. And with two extremely powerful Majes breathing down his neck, there isn’t much Farley’s going to be able to do, either.

In my estimation, our police backup is at least two minutes away.

I don’t know what to do. I have to break this up before Preston can do anything stupid. But with backup still several minutes away, I’m fresh out of options.

And Preston?

He takes a step toward Farley, and Preston pushes his hands into his suit pockets. It elongates the hard angle of his neck, specifically drawing attention to the rigid edge of his jaw. “Sapphire here is my client. If you’re taking her to the police station, then you will be taking me. Mark my words, Officer,” he breathes through his teeth, “every single action you make will be judged and will be brought against you in court. Though your kind may think the Angelus have no rights, you’re wrong. And you will be charged under the very same laws you are using to abuse her.”

Farley stiffens and draws himself up to his full height. And that’s an inch taller than Preston.

But it’s an inch that counts for nothing.

I suspected that Preston was a truly strong Angelus to be one of the heads of the Brotherhood. I’m not wrong. Even now I can sense him manipulating Farley, feasting on Farley’s anger, and more importantly, his fear. Maybe you don’t think it’s a problem to eliminate somebody’s fear. Maybe you haven’t been in a situation where you need to fight for your life. There’s a reason that fear is one of the strongest human emotions. It’s the most likely to protect you in times of need. If you eliminate a soldier’s fear, you might turn him into a weapon that will follow out every order you give him, no matter how suicidal, but said soldier will completely lack self-preservation.

In other words, they will be nothing more than a tool.

Though I sense that Farley is trying to defend himself subconsciously, even the trained detective can’t have a hope against Preston. I can smell as Farley’s adrenaline starts to ebb. His heart rate slows, and the stiff edge of his shoulders is lost as they droop down an inch. “We’re following procedure,” he says. His voice is still technically hard, but it lacks the angry passion it had seconds before.

“As her lawyer, I request that I accompany my client to the station. Under the very same Angelus laws you are using to drag her in, I am permitted to accompany her as her lawyer. Am I not?”

Farley looks confused. I can only make out the side of his face, but that’s enough. “I guess you’re right,” he manages, voice weaker.

Preston takes another step closer to Farley. There’s something in Preston’s eyes, playing like a flint getting ready to burst into flame. It terrifies me. It tells me Preston is about to act. He takes a yet another step forward until he’s right in front of Farley, and if Farley had his wits about him, he’d realize the move is threatening. As it is, he’s looking smaller by the second.

Shit.

“You are permitted to accompany us to the station. However you will have to provide your own ride. Now, step away,” I growl, voice punching down low as I square off in front of Preston.

He doesn’t even glance my way. He keeps his manipulative attention locked on my partner. “There’s no need to act rashly in this case, Detective. My client has proven her willingness to cooperate. And it would reflect best on your department if you in turn cooperate.”

What Preston has just said is gibberish. Sapphire didn't cooperate. She had to be dragged out. But it doesn’t honestly matter what a powerful Majes says. It’s all in the way they say it. More importantly than that, in how steadily they keep your eye contact. As Preston takes another small step forward, he’s as steady as a plane.

Farley swallows uncomfortably. It isn’t an act of fear – which it should be at the prospect of a Majes hemming him in. It’s mounting confusion. Farley also brings up a hand and scratches the nape of his neck – a sure move that means he’s steadily losing hold of the situation. “I guess… I guess… you’re right,” Farley manages in the staccato voice of somebody who’s having to think hard of every word as he says it.

Preston smiles. There, in the center of his eyes, I see his predatory glee.

“Sir. Step back. This is your final warning. As I’ve already said, you are free to accompany your client to the police station, however, you will provide your own transportation. Now, get out of my way,” I growl.

“There’s no need to be harsh.” Finally Preston jerks his attention my way. Preston tries to absorb my emotion.

Me?

I take a step forward, and I square up in front of him. Right now I’m not thinking of the costs of my actions. I’m not appreciating that Preston is such a powerful Majes that if he can’t absorb my emotions, it’s going to twig him off that I’m not a normal human.

All I care about is the fact that my partner is on the line. All thoughts about fleeing the city tonight have been pushed to the back of my mind.

“For the last time – step away. Allow us entry to our vehicle. If you wish to come to the station, you can do so by your own means,” I repeat.

Preston’s brow jerks down, but he still opens his mouth and takes a harsh step my way.

This time I don’t bother hiding my emotion. As my heart beats with fear, I let the asshole know. I open my mouth to give him one final warning, and that’s when I hear it. The sweetest music of all. Police sirens.

Preston angrily jerks his head to the side as three police cars pull onto the road. They come to a screeching stop beside us, taking up a lane, but not caring.

Several officers jump out, and my heart sings with joy.

Preston may be able to manipulate a single target with ease, but it will be much costlier for him to do it on three squad cars full of cops.

Lady luck is smiling on me today – and it’s time to smile back.

I shoot Preston a satisfied grin as I jam my thumb toward his car. “Please move your vehicle, sir. You’re blocking entry for our cars.”

Preston gives me one last lingering look before he turns hard on his shoe, walks over to his car, gets in, and starts the engine.

He drives off without another word.

It’s a testament to how strong Preston’s Majes abilities are that even as the guy drives away, it takes a good minute and a half until Farley’s emotion is back. Even then, it seems blunted as if Preston’s somehow damaged Farley’s sympathetic nervous system permanently.

Farley brings up a hand, scratches his head uneasily, and frowns as several officers run up to him. “Is everything okay, sir? Who is that man you were talking to?” a uniformed officer asks.

“Yep… everything’s in order…. I think,” Farley stutters.

I take a strong step forward. “Both of these suspects need to be transported to the police station immediately. The Majes,” I tilt my hand to the side and indicate Sapphire with a dismissive flick of my wrist, “is a potential offender. She must be handled with care. I’ll take her in our car with Detective Farley here. You can take the proprietor of this business, Mr. Matthew Walters. If he chooses to converse with you in the car, take a note of what he says for your report later.”

Experience tells me that both Matthew and Sapphire will jump to their own defenses, crying foul that I’m treating them like criminals when they’re as innocent as puppies. But neither of them do. Hell, I catch sight of Sapphire shooting a lingering glance in the direction Preston’s sped off. Though her expression is mostly controlled, right at the corner of her gaze I see a tension that suggests she’d rather be smiling right now.

Well smile away. When I’m done with her, she won’t have her lips to curl.

When I feed, I usually do so impassively. That may sound strange considering I’m biologically primed to absorb sinners and the mere presence of someone who has committed heinous crimes sends my Arc senses into overdrive.

But what I’m trying to say is that it’s different this time.

I’m not just hunting down Sapphire and Preston because they’re sinners. This time, it’s for protection. Though I usually control my heartbeat, breathing rate, and pulse, at the moment, they’re skyrocketing.

All for a man I know I shouldn’t care about, let alone express any loyalty for.

“The sooner we wrap this investigation up and get the suspect back to the police station and into custody, the better. Everybody hustle. You,” I point at one of the squad car groups, “head into the offices,” I jam a thumb behind me at the building, “and start locking down the evidence. Be on your guard, though. And I don’t want anyone operating alone. You’re gonna need your pieces.” I nod at the guy in front of me and gesture to the gun in his holster.

“Officer,” though Sapphire has been silent ever since her master left, now she clenches her teeth and bares them at me, “don’t you think you’re going overboard? We’ve already demonstrated our willingness to cooperate with this farce of an investigation. There is no risk to your officers—”

I turn hard on my foot and look right up into her eyes. “Shut the hell up. Now, everyone knows what they have to do. Do it. Farley, you’re with me.” I nod at the car.

I can tell most of my colleagues are looking at me like they have no freaking idea what’s going on. Fair enough. They’ve known me for three years, and in those three years, I’ve never acted like this. I’ve always been the quiet one. The meek one. The one who has calculated her every expression and movement to ensure nobody suspects what she really is. Now, on my last day, I’m finally taking charge.

Maybe the rest of my team can sense something’s going on, because nobody questions me.

The guys who I directed into the office hustle past, their expressions grim.

Farley? He brings a hand up, clamps it on his shoulder, then jerks his head to the side. It’s clear he’s in pain. “Actually, I think I’m going to head back to the hospital. I’m not feeling so good.”

I pale. “I’ll take you there once we drop these suspects off at the station.”

He brings a hand up and fobs me off. “I’ll catch a ride with someone else. Ferreira,” Farley’s expression changes for a few split seconds as he points to Ferreira and over to our car, “you accompany Misa. Watch her back,” he adds with a growl. Then Farley returns his attention to me. He smiles. There’s that same soft edge he’s been showing me all day now. A flicker in his eyes too – as if he’s busy rewriting every single assumption he ever had about me. “You did good today. Now get going while the case is hot.”

Before I press my case, Farley walks around and jumps into the back of one of the squad cars.

Shit. This isn't ideal. At all. I don’t know where Preston is, but I guarantee he’s going to come back. But… at the same time, he wouldn’t be stupid enough to swoop down on a squad car full of officers, right?

I stand there, lingering, pressing back and forth on the balls of my feet as I watch Farley drive away.

Damn.

I hear Sapphire take a sharp breath. “I thought you were the junior detective?” she says pointedly with a snide tone.

I look at her.

I smell her sins. I don't tilt my head back, half close my eyes, and throw myself fully into the sensation. I just let it center my mind as I allow my Arc side to appreciate just how many wrongs this woman has committed. She’s gone against the energy of life that’s been gifted to her. It’s my duty as an Arc to take that light back.

“Get in the car,” I growl. I shift around to take the driver’s side, but Ferreira is already there.

“I’ve got this,” Ferreira says with a grin. “You can sit up back with the Majes. Considering you’re on fire today,” she adds.

I’ve always liked Ferreira. She’s a kind woman but hard when she needs to be.

I don’t grumble. It’s probably for the best. Sitting close to Sapphire will mean I’ll hopefully have the ability to control her emotional manipulation.

I pause on the side of the street until Matthew is taken away.

I open the door for Sapphire, watch her as she clambers in, then sit down beside her with a thump.

Ferreira pulls out, and we drive away in silence.

All the while I think of Farley. I hope like hell he made the right move. And I hope like hell I haven’t underestimated Preston.

The only problem is, I have.

Chapter 15

Farley Jones

I’m a mess. All over the place. I want to blame it on what happened last night, but… I don’t know anymore. My back itches, and there’s this cloying sweat spreading down my shoulders, along my palms, and across the nape of my neck. It makes me feel as if somebody has set snails slithering across my skin.

The officer who’s driving me to the hospital – a Dale Williams – is talkative. He’s excited by the case. It’s a scoop, after all. This is a big financial firm, and catching not just a Majes breaking the law, but her employer, is gonna hit the papers. If the case goes according to plan, we’ll probably be looking at commendations, too. Sorry, did I just say we’d be looking at commendations – Misa would be. She’s something else today. I’ve never seen her like this. It’s not just that she’s being uncharacteristically proactive. She’s seeing things I can’t. Yes, I was snacked on by a Gill last night, but no, that’s absolutely no excuse for me missing what that Majes was doing to me. She was working on my emotions right in front of me, and I had no damn clue as I smiled back at her pretty face like a 14-year-old boy gazing at his first crush.

If I was down on myself last night for how much I’d allowed my life to go to hell, now it feels as if someone’s cut my feet right out from underneath me.

I bring up a hand again and press my sweaty palm against my forehead, crinkling my fingers in and jamming them hard across my hairline.

Dale looks across at me. “You okay, sir? You look pretty pale. I heard what happened last night, too. The officers Jameson and Chang got to you just in time. That Gill was about to take a bite out of your neck and send you back to your maker. It’s a surprise you even made it to work today.”

I let my hand drop into my lap. I try to arch my shoulders, try to eke out the pain that seems to be climbing my back like a prisoner attempting to escape up a ladder. I’m not surprised when it doesn’t work, and my agony continues. “Yeah, well, I guess I’m a glutton for punishment. Plus, it’s not like Angelus crime in this city ever stops.”

Dale whistles. “This is going to be a hell of a catch. You’re definitely going to be promoted for this one, sir. It’s not everyone who could figure out what that Majes was doing. And it sure as hell isn’t everyone who could implicate her boss, too.”

“It wasn’t me. It was Misa.” My voice drops. It becomes artificially light. That controlled tone people use when they’re valiantly attempting to control their emotions.

“Misa?” Dale’s surprise is evident as his voice almost goes up by a whole octave. “You’re shitting me, right? Then again, she looked pretty feisty back there. Did that Majes snack on her and piss her off or something?”

“No, that Majes snacked on me, and if it wasn’t for Misa, I would be none the wiser.”

Dale snorts. “I wouldn’t have picked Misa for someone to save the day.”

“Neither—” I begin, but I stop abruptly.

It’s becoming abundantly clear that I never gave Misa the time of day. I took one look at her size and demeanor, and concluded she was beneath me. Now, as soon as I get out of the hospital, I’m gonna have to head around to her house with a bunch of flowers and apologize in person. Hell, I might even fall down to one knee to beg her not to leave. We desperately need officers like her considering how dangerous the Angelus have been getting lately.

“I hope you don’t mind me saying this, sir, but you look like shit,” Dale quips.

This elicits a soft snort – which is all I can manage as the pain continues to twist through me. It wasn’t this bad before I attended the case. If I was a suspicious man, I would assume Sapphire had done something to me. But I’m not an idiot. Though Sapphire appears to be a truly strong Majes, she’s not that strong. You need a Category One Majes to be able to inflict pain on someone simply by feasting on their emotions.

“However I look, I guarantee I feel—”

I don't get the chance to finish my sentence.

Something rams into the side of the car, spinning us across the lane.

I’m dimly aware of the airbags activating as my head jolts forward and my body is swung around.

My senses start to black out. They hold on long enough for our car to come to a screeching stop.

As blood trickles down from a massive gash in my brow and splashes along my lips, I look up. I see a figure dressed in a black mask marching across the road toward us, the steam and smoke from our car billowing around them. They reach our car, wrench open my twisted, broken door, and reach a hand toward me. I black out. Not before I can feel them unbuckle my seatbelt and drag me away.

Chapter 16

Misa

I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve made the wrong decision. I should never have allowed Farley out of my sight. It’s too late now. The best and only thing I can do is deliver Sapphire to the police station and then head to the hospital.

At the same time, my warring feelings over Farley come to the fore. I owe this man nothing. Not a damn thing. He hates my kind, and if he were ever to find out what I was, he wouldn't extend the same loyalty to me. He’d crush me, and presumably smile while he was doing it.

But as I’ve already told you so many times before, I can’t reason with my emotions.

Sapphire is seated perfectly still. She’s not being compliant. She’s being watchful. I can sense her attention periodically locking on the driver then shifting over to me. It’s clear she’s attempting to get a read on me, and hopefully it should be just as clear that I’m not going to allow her to.

“You’re a strange woman,” she says abruptly, breaking the tense silence.

“Thanks,” Ferreira says from the front seat, “but I don’t take advice from Angelus.”

“I was speaking about you, Detective,” Sapphire slides her gaze toward me, and I feel it like a hand slipping up my neck and latching hold of my cheeks. “I’m talking about the detective here. She certainly has strong feelings for her partner,” she emphasizes, her tongue actually slipping out of her bright red lips on the word strong.

My expression hardens. I feel Ferreira’s gaze dart toward me in the rear vision mirror.

“In the police we have something called loyalty. You should try it sometime. Then again, I’m sure you have. You appear to have quite a talent for snacking on people’s emotions without them being aware.”

“I’m not going to continue this line of questioning. Because it is a line of questioning. If you wish to further this investigation, then you will do so in my lawyer’s presence.”

“Suit yourself.” I cross my arms, settle further back into my seat, and keep my attention locked on the road as I mentally count how many more minutes it will take us to arrive at the station.

“Why are you so protective of your partner?” Sapphire leans in. She doesn’t touch me, even though I’m seated beside her. But the nature of the move is clear. A subtle reminder that she’s right there, and short of jumping out of the car, there’s nowhere I can go to get away from her.

Controlling the move, and deliberately timing each contraction of my muscles, I shift around, arching my neck as I let my gaze rise up her body before it locks on her eyes. “You can attempt to manipulate me all you want. It won’t help your case.”

“I’m not manipulating you. Nor am I feeding on your emotions. I’m simply pointing out the obvious. Your partner appears to be quite,” she licks her lips with a quick tongue, “weak.”

“Shut your mouth,” Ferreira growls.

“Watch the road,” Sapphire replies smoothly.

It’s true – Ferreira has pulled her attention off the road momentarily, and it’s enough that she has to slam her feet on the brakes as we skid to a stop in front of gridlocked traffic.

“Jesus Christ, where did all this traffic come from?” Ferreira snarls as she bangs her palms against the steering wheel.

Before I have a chance to reply, I see several workmen stride through the lanes of traffic. The emergency lane to our side is empty. One of the guys notices our squad car, walks over, and taps on the window.

Ferreira unwinds it. “What’s going on?”

“Mains leak. Is this an emergency?”

“Yes,” I answer for Ferreira.

“Then take the emergency lane. It’s blocked for maintenance traffic now, but we’ll let you through.”

“Thank you, sir,” Ferreira says as she tugs the wheel hard to the left and makes her way over to the maintenance lane.

Soon enough we’re driving again until we reach the site of the leak, and we have to detour down a quiet side street.

That’s when I feel it. I’ve allowed my gaze to lock on my hands clenched in my lap. I’ve allowed my mind to wander.

Then Sapphire’s heart skips a beat. A slight smile spreads across her lips. And a pulse of victorious joy leaps through her chest.

“No, Ferreira – back up—” I don't get a chance to finish my sentence.

Out of nowhere, a car rams into the side of our vehicle. It hits us with so much force, we’re spun around. With the sound of flesh rupturing and bone breaking, Ferreira dies on impact. Her blood splatters across the side of my face and marks the cracked window screen as it crumbles inward.

It takes a full 20 meters for the car to come to a stop.

My head doesn’t spin. My ears don’t ring. And not one fragment of my flesh is broken as metal buckles in from the front of the car and threatens to cut my legs off. Rather than slice through my flesh, the metal is rebuffed.

“Finally,” I hear Sapphire spit.

Our car is on its side. The sound of the silky fabric of her dress sliding over cracked glass and shattered metal meets my ears as she slithers like a snake out of the broken window beside her.

She stands up on the pavement with a click of her high heels.

This was no accident.

This is an attack.

Though our car’s on its side, I can still see through the crumpled front window. I watch a black car come to a stop and a certain Preston walk out of it. Though I can’t see the top of his head, I can make out his silver suit. “Are they both dead?”

“The driver is. Not sure about the other one.”

“Go check.”

I close my eyes and lie back.

I hear the unmistakable sound of Sapphire’s high heels as she comes over to me.

Though Majes don’t have the physical strength of Gills and Necros – let alone Arcs – they’re still strong. And if they feed as regularly as Sapphire does, they’ve got more than enough power to flip a car over.

There’s a grinding grate of metal as Sapphire grabs the car and yanks it down until it slams onto the pavement, the wheels and suspension groaning.

I remain limp as Sapphire wrenches open my car door, grabs me by the neck, and pulls me out.

She throws me onto the pavement several meters away. “Looks pretty dead to me, but there’s still life in her limbs.”

“Then finish her off,” Preston spits. “I just received reports from the other team. They’ve got Farley. I’m gonna need you there during the interrogation. This time, my dear, I’m gonna need you to stop me before I go too far. He’s our last chance to find that brat.”

Sapphire giggles. “But I like it when you get out of control. You taste so nice.” There’s a purr to her voice.

“It’s not the time, my dear. Now kill the little bitch so we can be on our way.”

I feel and listen as Sapphire strides over. She stops just behind me, then she kicks me. With all her power.

Her shoe impacts my back, and the heel breaks.

She overbalances and falls on her ass with a thwack.

“Sapphire,” Preston growls. “There’s no time for games. And why do you have to wear those ridiculous high heels? Just finish her off already.”

Sapphire gets to her feet, letting out a predatory growl as she marches over to me, grabs me by the neck, and lifts me up. “Wake up, little detective.” She shakes me violently.

Slowly, I open one eye.

She brings her face close to mine, spreading her lips wide in a vicious smile. “I’m going to be the last thing you see. But I just want you to know that I will personally hunt down your family and kill them.”

I stare at her impassively. “I was about to tell you the same thing.”

Sapphire’s eyes have just a second to pulse wide. I shove a hand forward, latch it on her neck, and break it.

The sound of bone snapping echoes through the abandoned street. Sapphire falls at my feet, a dead mess of graceful limbs and expensive clothes.

I turn. And I face Preston, a man who would hunt down my niece. And a man who has information I need.

But more than that? A man who now has my partner.

The end of Hell’s Angel Episode One. Hell’s Angel Episode Two is currently available.

iTunes|Amazon|Barnes&Noble|Kobo