Excerpt from Carte Blanche

“Badge around your neck,” Hugo murmured. “And stake in hand. We’re not here to kill, but we better be prepared for anything.”

Grace nodded to show she understood, and readied herself as he had indicated. At her second nod, Hugo pushed the door open and stepped in first, calling out loudly:

“Keller Owens? I’m a Special Enforcer, and I need to talk to you. Do not attack, or you will be in breach of the law and I will have to kill you. All I want is to talk.”

There was no answer as they walked through the darkened living room. Venetian blinds on the window let in just enough light that they didn’t bump into the few pieces of furniture. The heavy scent of cigarettes made Grace’s nose twitch. Hugo stopped to look around, maybe searching for a light switch, and Grace continued to advance toward the hallway and the several doors she guessed were there. She tried to keep her breathing under control, but her heart continued to beat too fast. When she had been at the academy, she had dreamed of doing something like this. It had just dawned on her that a decade later, the thrill had not faded in the slightest.

A light flickered on ahead of her, and she moved forward. She stepped through the open door at the end of the hallway, entering a bedroom and discovering the most unlikely sight she could have imagined finding.

Ray was standing by the king-sized wooden bed. The sheets were tangled up behind him, but he was clearly alone—and naked, what looked like pajama pants in his hand. His eyes widened as he saw her, and his mouth opened. He didn’t say a word, however. Instead, he dropped the pants and smoothly lowered himself to his knees, his arms sliding in position behind him. Already, his cock stood at half-mast.

A flash of heat spread through Grace. There couldn’t possibly have been a worse time for this, but that didn’t stop her from feeling an intense rush of power at the idea that the simple sight of her could make him hard.

“Stand and get dressed,” she hissed. “Now!”

Relief flooded her when he obeyed without questioning her with more than a frown. Hugo’s voice rose from the hallway.

“Grace? Found something?”

He walked in behind her just as Ray was pulling on the drawstrings of his pants.

“I guess you did,” he said, his amused tone making it clear that he thought she had walked on a naked Ray. Raising his voice, he pointed at the badge hanging on his chest. “I am Hugo Tyler. This is Grace Alkins. We are Special Enforcers. Are you Keller Owens?”

Ray looked at Hugo, then his eyes came back to Grace, settling on her badge with a bemused expression.

“No. My name is Ray. Ray Evelt.”

Grace felt like she had to say something to let him know where they stood. It would be easy for him to betray her, and there wasn’t much she could do to stop him if he decided to.

“Are you a vampire?” she asked, meeting his eyes as calmly as she could.

His eyebrows twitched, and he came close to smiling. “How did you guess?”

“We’re looking for Keller Owens,” Hugo said. “Does he live here?”

“Define live.” Ray shook his head as he walked around the bed to pick up a pack of cigarettes on the desk to Grace’s left. “But if you mean does he reside here, the answer is yes. Usually. He’s not here now, though.” He lit up a cigarette, took a deep drag and looked back at Grace. “Although you probably guessed that, too.”

Thinking back on what he had told her the previous night, she understood what he wasn’t quite saying. Owens was his Sire, the Master he had told her hadn’t played with him in days.

“Do you know this woman?” Hugo continued, oblivious to the tension in the room. He pulled out the picture of MacAlair from his pocket and approached Ray, showing it to him.

Ray barely glanced at the picture before answering. “No.”

Right away, Grace knew he was lying. She didn’t know exactly what had clued her in, but she had heard him tell the truth before, and this wasn’t it. His voice was off in some way, or maybe there was something in his eyes. She just couldn’t call him on it, not with Hugo in the room. That would have raised too many questions she had no desire to answer.

“Where were you the night before last?” Hugo asked.

“At a club, two blocks from here.”

Hugo put the picture away and pulled out a slim notepad. “What club is that?”

“It’s called Carte Blanche.”

Another flash of heat coursed through Grace when she heard him say those two words. They sounded almost indecent, coming from his lips.

“Where is your…friend?” she asked, trying to focus again on what she was supposed to be doing.

“I don’t know. He’s been away for a few days.”

Grace noticed that Hugo was looking around the room. She wondered what he was looking for, but couldn’t bear to keep her eyes off Ray for very long.

“Do you have a picture of him?” Hugo asked when he didn’t find what he was looking for.

Ray laughed. “A picture? No, I don’t.” He chuckled a little more, but now he sounded bitter. “I really don’t.”

Curiosity devoured Grace, and it was all she could do to stop herself from asking questions that would have been fine at Carte Blanche, but that were unimaginable in Hugo’s presence. She settled for something that would be helpful to their search.

“What does he look like?”

Ray tilted his head as he considered her through a cloud of smoke. “My height, short brown hair, dark eyes.”

Hugo snorted. “You just described half the vampires I staked in the last thirty years.”

“I’ll suggest he dye his hair blue when I see him next, then,” Ray said, deadpan. “Will that help?”

“I could arrest you for impeding our investigation.”

The threat did not seem to affect Ray in any way. “You’re Special Enforcers, not cops. You can stake me if I kill a human, not arrest me if I don’t play your games. You didn’t even tell me what you want with him.”

“He’s a suspect in a murder,” Grace said, observing him closely for a reaction.

There was none, which only meant that he was controlling himself very tightly. She couldn’t tell whether he was taken aback by the accusation or if it came as no surprise to him. She wished she could have asked, but they would have needed to be alone for that.

That was when she saw it. His left eyebrow rose, just enough for her to notice after she had been watching him so closely. She looked at his eyes, and the invitation was there to see him later, and ask if she still wanted to.

If that was what it took, she supposed she could bear to go to Carte Blanche again. It wouldn’t be too much of a hardship. She nodded, and he smiled.

… continued in Carte Blanche

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