Deadly Desire (Riley Jenson Guardian #7)

Chapter 11

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He was shifting his whole business for me? God, was there ever a greater sign of commitment than that? It made me feel intensely happy, and yet intensely selfish. I couldn't give him the same sort of commitment because there would always be one part of my soul that hungered for-needed-more.

Besides, he wasn't the first man to offer such a gift. Kellen had moved down to Melbourne for me, too, and look how well that had turned out. "Really?"

"Really." His dark eyes smiled. "Of course, the move will be gradual, as said redhead is keeping her options open when it comes to other werewolves."

"It's not like I'm going to the clubs and dancing every night."

"I know, and I appreciate it." He leaned down and kissed me gently. "But we both know there will come a time when I am not enough, and that will be a testing time for us both."

"I won't flaunt any other lovers in your face, Quinn. I promise that much."

He smiled and touched his fingers lightly to my cheek. The caress was tender and yet oddly sad. Just like the brief flare in his eyes. "I know. The problem lies with my instincts, not yours. A vampire doesn't like to share."

"What about an Aedh?"

Quinn had never been entirely human, even before he'd turned vampire. The Aedh weren't flesh and blood, they were beings of energy who sometimes took on winged human form to procreate. His father had been a priest of the Aedh, whose job it was to guard the gates that joined this world to the other.

He smiled. "The Aedh has sympathy for the vampire, but he's certainly the reason for the tolerance currently being displayed."

"Then I need to thank him." I reached up and kissed him again. His lips were warm and delicious, tasting faintly of coffee. "Shame you have business meetings to attend to."

"We have tonight." He pulled away from my grip. "Up woman, or you'll have Jack calling to hound you."

I muttered something unpleasant under my breath, but gave in to the inevitable. By the time I'd showered and dressed, Quinn was gone.

The eggs were cold when I got around to eating them, so I just ate the bacon and toast and then gulped down the coffee. I was almost out the door when my cell phone rang.

"On my way, Jack," I said, answering without bothering to look at the screen.

"Well good," my brother said. "Because it is nearly nine-thirty, and your ass should have been in the Directorate by now."

"So Jack has sent you to track me down?"

"No. Well, sort of. He's sending me undercover later today, so I told him I needed to talk to you first. You feel like breakfast?"

"I've had breakfast."

"What, you've never heard of a second breakfast? We're never going to make a good hobbit out of you, are we?"

I grinned. Rhoan and Liander had been on a Lord of the Rings kick of late, and could practically recite the old movies word for word-although neither of them had gotten around to reading the books. Rhoan wasn't much of a reader, and Liander had never gotten past the first few chapters-although he kept picking the book up, and did get a little bit farther each time.

"I'll be into second, third, and fourth breakfasts, you know that." All this good sex made a gal hungry. Besides, I needed to keep my iron intake up to avoid problems with the amount of blood Quinn was taking.

"Meet you at Beans in ten, then."

"Will do." I hung up and punched the call button. The elevator answered straight away, zooming me down to the parking levels.

Rhoan was already waiting by the time I got there, and drew me into a bear hug. "Nice to see you again."

"Says the wolf who's always off gallivanting with his mate."

He grinned and took my arm, guiding me to a booth. "The flat does get a little crowded with the three of us there all the time."

I slid into the booth, punched an order of hazelnut coffee and pancakes into the electronic ordering machine, then slid my credit card through the appropriate slot.

"So," I said, as Rhoan repeated the process. "Tell me about the undercover job."

"It's at a gay strip bar." Anticipation glinted brightly in his silver eyes. Like most wolves, Rhoan was a exhibitionist by nature, and he loved flaunting the wares.

But he was also addicted to sex-or rather, the danger of sex with a man who might well be his prey. He might be committed to Liander, but when it came to work, all bets were off. And Liander, knowing of his addiction, had given his blessing.

"Who's the target?"

"No one specific. Apparently the club is one Armel visited quite often. Jack wants me undercover there to see if there's any whispers as to what might have happened."

"Armel was bisexual?"

He nodded. "Apparently many old vampires are. I suppose restricting yourself to one gender does tend to limit your food source."

That was true. But it made we wonder if Jack, or Quinn, ever had male lovers. Neither of them had mentioned it, but I guess it wasn't something you just dropped into casual conversation.

"Why doesn't he just ask the owners himself? Or better yet, go there and do a mind sweep of the patrons?"

A waitress appeared with our coffees. Rhoan gave her a smile of thanks before saying, "Because the club is an underground one, and owned by two powerful vamps who run the business along the same lines as many wolf clubs. He's afraid that if we go in there in an official capacity, everyone will either disappear or clam up."

"So these vampires are older than Jack?"

"Apparently."

Hence Quinn's warning that Jack would be restricted in what he could do and ask. I sipped my coffee then said, "Have you talked to Liander about it?"

He smiled. "He was first cab off the stand. Sorry, sis, I love you and all, but he gives good sex."

I picked up a sugar packet and threw it at him. "Idiot. Of course you'd tell him first. He's your mate."

"Yeah." He paused, then said, "It takes a bit of getting used to, doesn't it? Having someone living with us, I mean."

"Yeah. But it's also good, because we have more than just each other now. We have Liander."

"I guess." He paused. "I sometimes miss the peace of you and me, though."

"Because it's only been a few weeks. We've been alone for practically forever." I glanced up as the waitress delivered my pancakes and Rhoan's fried breakfast, thanking her before adding, "You're not getting cold feet again, are you? Because I promise you, I will smack you."

He laughed. "No, everything's fine. As you said, it's just taking some adjustment."

"Imagine how Liander feels. He's gone from a supercool, roomy house to a messy two-bedroom apartment. It has to be his version of hell."

"Never really thought of it that way," Rhoan said around a mouthful of food.

I smiled. My brother had always tended to think of his needs and wants first. It was something of a family trait, I guess.

I tackled my own food with gusto, and it was only when I'd finished that I said, "So how long are you actually going to be undercover?"

"Don't know. The full moon is coming up, so I'll be no good to anyone then. Maybe a week, maybe less." He shrugged. "I guess it depends on whether I catch any whispers or not."

"Then Jack hasn't got anything concrete on Armel's murder?"

"Nope. Cole's apparently waiting on the magi to finish up their reports before he submits his complete findings."

I frowned. "They're taking awhile, aren't they?"

"Some things do." He shrugged again. "How's the zombie hunting going?"

"About as well as everything else is going," I said, then grimaced as my cell phone rang. "How much do you want to bet that this is Jack?"

Rhoan snorted. "Not biting on that one. The odds are too short."

It was Jack, and the news wasn't good. "There's been another zombie murder," he said. "Salliane's sending the details through to your onboard."

"It can't be the same zombie, boss. He was eaten by hellhounds. I suspect there's not much resurrection from a fate like that."

"Then whoever is raising these things obviously has enough power to raise more than one. Get over there straight away. And tell Rhoan I need him up here to learn his undercover history."

"Will do." I hung up and glanced at my brother. "You heard?"

Rhoan grimaced. "Yeah. Look after Liander until I get back."

"Just make sure you get back, bro."

He touched a hand to my cheek lightly, then rose and left. I finished my coffee then stood, but had to grab at the back of the booth as the room swum briefly around me. Maybe I needed more coffee.

I ordered a cup to go, then climbed into the car and drove across town to the next murder scene. Whoever was behind these didn't seem to be overly choosy about their location. First Fitzroy, then Coolaroo, now the green-living, artist-friendly hub known as Eltham.

I parked the car behind the other Directorate vehicles, then walked across the grass. This kid had been murdered in the trees near the railway lines and, like before, her neck had been slashed.

I stopped several feet away from her body. The metallic tang of blood mingled with the dying warmth of raw meat, but layered in between was a scent that reminded me of solvents.

"She had a gun?" I said, my gaze on Cole rather than on the bloody, broken body he was squatting beside.

"Yes." He didn't look up as he spoke. "And it may lead to an early capture of this particular zombie. She shot off one of the creature's fingers before it got her."

"Damn shame she didn't aim for the zombie's head. That might have done them more good."

He glanced up at me. "Not everyone is as efficient at killing as you guardians."

"And some of us guardians wish we weren't as efficient, either."

He snorted softly. "Jack would have a fit if he heard you say that. You are his protegee, after all."

"It's not a job I particularly liked or wanted, Cole, but I'm stuck with the damn thing and have to make the best of it."

He raised his eyebrows. "Even guardians can quit."

"Not this guardian. It's either this or military for me."

"Why?" he asked, frowning. "It's just a job. It's not a life commitment."

"Maybe not for the rest of you." I might have accepted my guardian role, and some part of me might even enjoy the hunting aspects of it. But I didn't want to be doing this for the rest of my life, and yet I could see no way out. The drug introduced into my system so long ago was still wreaking havoc, and until we knew what the full scope of those changes were, the Directorate was the safest place to be. They could at least monitor what was going on. "Buy me a drink sometime, and you just might tempt me to tell you the whole sorry tale."

His grin crinkled the corners of his eyes, and made his whole face light up. "And I suppose you're hoping a drink would lead to sex?"

"Werewolves aren't that easy. I'll have you know it'd take two or three drinks, at least."

He laughed. "Good to see your standards have risen."

I grinned. "Sorry to see yours haven't. You don't know what you're missing, Cole."

"I'll survive."

I was sure he would. "Did you get enough of the finger to get a print off it?"

He nodded. "I sent an image through to headquarters. They're doing a search."

"Finding the zombie probably won't help us find the master."

"You don't know that."

Yeah, I did. The woman behind these things was not only powerful, but clever. I very much doubted she'd be keeping barely animated carcasses close at hand for someone to see and report.

"Did you find out anything about the last zombie?"

"Not much." He shrugged. "But there doesn't seem to be any connection between him and the people he killed."

"No, but remember it isn't the zombie who's going after these people. It's the person who's raising them who'd have the connection."

"Well, there's no obvious link between the first two victims, and I doubt we'll find one here."

"There has to be something. We just aren't seeing it yet."

"Undoubtedly." He paused a minute to pick something black off one of the woman's remains and shove it in a plastic bag. "We found some feathers at the old warehouse. They're currently at the lab undergoing DNA testing. Interestingly, there were no prints of any kind on the gantry where the crow was resting."

"If she was in crow form, there wouldn't be."

"The gantry was covered in dust and grime, so there should have at least been claw prints. All we found was feather imprints."

"Meaning she had no legs?"

"Or her legs were useless and just hung lifeless. Any scuff marks they might have left were erased by her belly feathers."

So we were looking for a paralyzed shifter? That was rare, because shape shifting actually healed most wounds. "Maybe she's simply a lazy crow."

"Could be." He shrugged. "If the fingerprint doesn't bring anything up, you could do a search through police records and see if there's any more reports of grave vandalism. Whoever is behind this is using the freshly dead-or at least so far. They're easier to reanimate than older bodies. Their flesh still remembers life."

"Muscles don't have memories."

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