It was a familiar ache.
It had started when he was barely five and he'd realized that his brothers were destined to become his father's heirs while he was doomed to a suffocating existence in the middle of fucking nowhere, surrounded by superstitious serfs who'd taken one glance at his peculiar eyes and claimed his mother had slept with a demon.
Boris and Viktor had been easy enough to get rid of. The two had been ruthless bullies to Zak, but they'd also been as dumb as a box of rocks. And once Zak had started to come into his powers, it'd only been a matter of time before he could put them in their graves.
Boris had been disposed of by the simple process of having his dead lover make an appearance in the woods. The fool had tumbled from his horse in shock and broke his own neck. Viktor had been a little more difficult, but eventually Zak had stumbled across the body of a recently shot poacher whom he used to pull Viktor from the stables and snap his neck.
It had never occurred to him that his father would refuse to make him his heir. He was, after all, the only remaining son.
But the bastard had coldly informed Zak that he'd never allow a deformed brat to claim his title.
This time Zak had taken matters into his own hands, quite literally, strangling his father and hiding his body. Hours later he'd used his powers to ensure his father appeared long enough to formally proclaim Zak as his heir before he allowed his father's dead body to tumble to the floor.
From there he'd traveled to Saint Petersburg, confident he'd at last satisfy that sense of emptiness.
Instead he'd been consumed with fury as the nobles had treated him with the same contempt as his father. He'd managed to forge a place for himself at court with sheer cunning, but it hadn't been enough.
And then he'd met Anya, who'd revealed to him the power to make certain he'd never again be treated as anything less than a king.
As if the thought of Anya had conjured the witch, she stepped into the office and crossed to where he sat behind his desk. "You have the coin?"
"At last," he confirmed, his fingers continuing to stroke over the copper coin.
Anya leaned against the edge of the desk, her slender form barely covered by the microdress that was a brilliant shade of yellow.
Why she bothered to play the role of sex kitten defied logic. He never wasted his time or energy on a project unless it promised reward.
And any reward he'd gain by taking the witch to his bed had already been reaped.
"The female?" she demanded, placing her hand flat on the desk and leaning sideways to study the artifact in his fingers.
Zak shrugged. "Tony's disposing the body."
Anya wrinkled her nose. "The servant has seen more than is good for him."
"He still has his uses."
She reached a hand toward the coin. "May I?"
Zak smoothly rose to his feet and stepped away. "No."
Her face flushed at his uncompromising rejection. "You can't be afraid that I might try to steal it?" She gave a short, humorless laugh. "We need one another."
"Certainly you need me."
She muttered something beneath her breath as she pushed away from the desk and headed for the door. "Fine."
"Where are you going?"
She halted, glancing over her shoulder. "It's time for my pedicure."
"It will have to wait."
Her eyes narrowed. "Why?"
"I want you to take me to the temple."
The witch froze, her expression wary. "Now?"
"But . . ." She shook her head, licking her dry lips. "I haven't prepared the sacrifice."
He held up the coin. "Then get prepared."
She slowly turned back to face him, her movements wary, as if she feared his response.
"And what about you? Are you fully prepared?"
"What do you mean?"
"You have convinced yourself that you're destined to succeed, but have you considered the consequences of failure?" she muttered in defensive tones. "We can't be sure that using a surrogate will protect you."
He smiled with a cold arrogance. "Don't worry about me, witch. Take me to the temple and I'll become nothing less than a god."
Her eyes flashed with fear. "You should at least consider the danger."
"I would be flattered if I truly thought you cared, Anya," he mocked. "But we both know your only concern is losing your luxurious lifestyle." He carefully plucked a bit of lint off the sleeve of his white satin shirt before lifting his gaze to stab her with a lethal glare. "Or at least that had better be the only reason you hesitate."
Anya wrapped her arms around her waist. "Sometimes you frightened me."
He arched a brow. "Only sometimes?"
After being returned to Kansas City by Fane and his magical portal, Duncan made a brief stop by his apartment for clean clothes before heading to the station house to speak with the techy who was dissecting Calso's security tapes
. He forced the poor bastard to go frame by tedious frame until Duncan had the information he needed.
Only then did he head south of town to the mansion that was now a crime scene.
Parking a block away, Duncan blatantly trespassed through private yards to enter through the back terrace doors. A death in this neighborhood would bring out the vultures in hordes. He didn't want to have to shoot paparazzi. No matter how satisfying it might be.
Entering the kitchen, he was met by a rookie who looked impossibly young with his face flushed and his pale eyes shimmering with excitement.
Christ. Had he ever been that wide eyed and fresh faced?
Probably not. By the time he was four his special little talent had revealed just how often a face of an angel could disguise a soul as black as the pits of hell.
"You had the entire neighborhood canvassed?"
The young man squared his shoulders, his uniform perfectly pressed and his shoes shining.
"And nothing was seen except a silver Taurus parked a block south of here," a female voice answered as Molinari stepped into the kitchen.
A small woman in her early fifties, the chief of police didn't have the muscles or the bluster to intimidate others, but there wasn't a cop in the city who didn't quake beneath the dark gaze.
There was something in that glare that reminded him of the day he was busted by his ma for hiding a stash of Playboys beneath his mattress.
"Any one jot down the plates?"
Molinari shook her head, the dark hair that was dyed, sprayed, and pinned into a bun at her nape not moving an inch. Her tailored jacket and matching skirt were equally rigid as she stood in the doorway. "No."
"Of course not." Duncan rolled his eyes. "I can't sneeze in my apartment without old lady Rogers asking if I'm coming down with a cold. Where are the nosy neighbors when you need them?"
"Nosy neighbors aren't allowed in the communities where power brokers live," the chief said, her dark gaze flicking toward the backyard, which was as large as a football field. "They have too many secrets."
"So what were Mr. Calso's secrets?"
Molinari lifted a slender hand. "Follow me, O'Conner." She glanced toward the silent rookie. "Blackwell."
The cop audibly swallowed the lump in his throat. "Chief?"
"Make sure we're not interrupted."
Duncan followed Molinari through the house to the office where Calso had died. He smiled as he caught a glimpse through the windows at the dozen cops who surrounded the house, keeping the gathering jackals at bay.
"Trying to keep a lid on things?"
The woman moved toward the desk, making a wide path around the spot where Calso had . . . disintegrated.
Duncan didn't blame her. The memory of watching the body turn to ash was something that was going to haunt him for a long time.
"When it gets out that one of the richest men in Kansas City was killed by magic all hell's going to break loose," Molinari muttered, reaching to pluck a manila file off the desk.
"You left out the fact that the person casting the spell was a zombie who escaped from our own morgue."
That dark glare swiveled in his direction. "I've already named my first ulcer Mayor Stanford. Do you want me to name the next one O'Conner?"
"This whole damned thing is a nightmare just waiting to happen."
Just waiting to happen?
Duncan was fairly certain they were knee-deep in the nightmare.
"You can't keep this from the press for long," he said, waving a hand toward the window that revealed the line of news vans already blocking the street. "Not with such a high profile victim."
"Instead of stating the obvious, why don't you make yourself useful and assure me the freaks know who's doing this."
Duncan moved, studying the open safe, effectively hiding his expression. He was loyal to his job and to his chief, but he'd go to the grave protecting Callie and her connection to the case.
"Like us, they're following leads," he said, absently noting the stack of crisp thousand-dollar bills just begging to be taken.
Whatever the reason for Calso's death, it had nothing to do with money.
"And?" Molinari prompted.
"And that's all I know."
"You wouldn't be keeping anything from me, would you, O'Conner?"
He turned to meet her suspicious frown. "The Mave has her people trying to track down info on a necromancer capable of truly raising the dead. I assume they'll contact us when they discover anything."
The suspicion remained. "Hmm."
"Tell me about Calso."