I could have strangled Cass for putting me in this position, but she was already dead, and she probably would have enjoyed it anyway. There was nothing left but for me to be honest with Boaz and hope he could still see his way to marrying me after I was done.
Comfortable with the role of interrogator, Boaz started me off easy. “How did this begin?”
It was as good a prompt as any, I suppose. “I needed the money.”
“Maybe I should have asked this first.” His brow furrowed. “How did you meet Cass?”
“She was in line behind me at the grocery store. I was short a couple of dollars, and she offered to let me work them off in very naked and very creative ways.” I smiled at the memory of our first meeting. “I thanked her, put back a box of K-cups, and paid my bill.”
“What was a vampire doing in a grocery store?”
“Stalking her prey.” I realized how that sounded and amended it. “A bounty, I mean. Not food.”
Though she had picked up dinner while she was out and brought him home with her.
“How did you go from sexual proposition to friends to coworkers?”
“We didn’t.” I rubbed my hands up my arms. “I went from stranger to employee to coworker to friend.” A smidgen embarrassed, I explained, “She came up to me in the parking lot and offered me a job cleaning her house a few days a week as an apology.”
Elbows on the table, Boaz leaned in closer. “Did you take it?”
Maybe he had expected me to play hard to get, or to bite my nails over the decision, but I had needed the money too badly to experience more than gratitude. “Yeah. I did.”
“How did you go from maid to bounty hunter?”
“I figured out what Cass did for a living pretty quickly. She wasn’t shy about it.” The leather catsuits she wore had me questioning if there was an underground BDSM scene in town before she clarified the outfits were reinforced to protect her from teeth and claws. The low cuts, however, were bait for her trap. “She answered all my questions, which was probably a mistake on her part. I found it fascinating, so I was always pestering her for details. Finally, she told me if I was so interested, I ought to come along with her.” I grinned. “She didn’t expect me to agree.”
Chin in palm, he absorbed my every word with very un-Elite interest. “And you…liked it?”
“I love my job.” I hadn’t mean to say so with such conviction, but there you go. The odds of Boaz allowing me to continue moonlighting were none to none, but a girl could dream. “It’s interesting, and it pays well. Partnering with Cass means we split the bounties fifty-fifty, so less than if I went out on my own, but she keeps me on my toes.”
“And vampire reflexes come in handy,” Cass said dryly from her spot on the stairs. “Undead strength helps too.”
Both points were valid, but I could have taken more low risk bounties solo and cashed in too. But where would the fun be in that? Surveillance was as dull as dishwater. Caffeine by the bucketful and a friend to poke you when you started drooping was the best way to survive those long hours of staring until your vision blurred.
“She’s gropey at the best of times and tends to show her love through sexual harassment, but she really is my best friend.” I felt the heat ignite in my cheeks when I tacked on, “And there’s never been anything sexual between us. Except for the harassment, which I’ve already mentioned.”
“Addie.” He placed his warm hand over mine. “Your sexual history up to this point is your business.”
“That is such a player move,” Cass scoffed, her voice louder—or closer. “He’s forgiving your sexual history right out of the gate so that you have to pardon him too.”
A faint pink tinged his ears until they must have burned, and he slid his hand off mine onto the table.
“I didn’t hear that,” I said to him, leaning down to hook his gaze. “Did you?”
A slow grin spread across his face when he saw I was earnest. “Nope.”
“I’m willing to extend you the same courtesy,” I said to him over Cass’s loud groan. “The past has no place in our future.”
A flicker of emotion lit up his eyes. I was scared to label it hope. I was too afraid I might be projecting.
“I’m trying to get your career choice to make sense, but you blasted the lid off the box I put you in.” He retreated back to the comfort of discussing me, safe from his earlier pesky show of emotion. “I didn’t see you as the bounty hunting type.”
“I corrupted her,” came from the hall, definitely closer, but we both ignored Cass.
“I wasn’t until I met Cass.” I glanced around the old house I had held together alone for so long. “I didn’t have many choices, and none of them were great.” I settled my gaze on him. “She changed my life for the better. She changed me for the better.”
The time I spent with Hadley, especially there at the end, left me with no free time for friends or social engagements. I hadn’t grown as I heard new ideas or changed as I viewed different perspectives. I had been stagnant until Cass came along and set my still waters rippling with a touch of her hand. An inappropriate touch, but still.
Boaz’s gaze tagged the mug by the sink, the one that smelled like bourbon even from across the room. “I’m guessing your dad doesn’t know?”
“No one knows.” I itched to rinse out the mug, but this conversation was about honesty, and there was no hiding Dad’s deteriorating condition. “Cass is the face of our team to protect my reputation.”
Digesting this, he nodded, clearly turning the information over in his head. “Your presence at the crime scenes were all bounty-related?”
“Yes.” I flatted my palm on the table. “We collected, or we will, at all three.”
Mouth gone tight, he worked his jaw. “I don’t know if I can keep your name out of this.”
“Yeah.” The blood drained from my face is a cold rush. “I figured.”
“I’ll throw as much of it on Cass as I can,” he promised. “I’ll make her the point of contact in my report.”
“But the kiss is going to make it a hard sell.” I exhaled. “They’ll know I’m involved in some way.”
Of all the times for Cass to go exhibitionist, she had to choose an active crime scene to plant one on me.
“It’s going to be okay.” He covered my hand with his, and I wondered if he thought that was why I had left it there. Maybe it had been. “You didn’t do anything wrong. We’ll figure this out.”
I hated the tremble in my tone. “We?”
“There are a lot of things in my past I’m not proud of, Addie, and I didn’t do them for the noble reasons you did.” He linked our fingers in a show of solidarity. “I’m still in this, if you are.”
“Are you sure?” I would rather have it out now than get waylaid later. “What if I’m exposed?”
“Then my sister will still get a second chance at life. She deserves it. Even if it’s as the sibling of a notorious bounty huntress.” One corner of his mouth twitched. “You and I will figure out the rest as we go.”
“Your family would gain nothing.” I had no control over my mouth, apparently. That or I was pathetically insecure. I could guess which, but I hoped he couldn’t tell. “Are you okay with that?”
“I care more about my sister than the prestige.” He glanced away from me. “I would have liked to restore the family name for my little brother’s sake, but he loves Amelie too. He’ll understand, when he’s older. I’ll make sure of it. We can weather the storm together, as a family.”
It hit me then, that the only person not getting a thing out of this bargain was Boaz himself. He was protecting his sister, safeguarding the future for his brother, and attempting to mitigate the scandal for his family. He was stretching himself thin to do it, but he was willing to sacrifice himself to make it work.
I could learn to love someone like that.
“We’ve been a step behind the killer this whole time.” I got chills thinking about it. “How do we get ahead of them?”
The sudden mulish jut of Boaz’s chin warned me he was about to caution me against further involvement, but he must have realized the damage had been done. He shut his eyes, inhaled, exhaled, and opened them with a new calm. “I’m not sure.”
A stupid warmth spilled through me chest at his reluctant acceptance of my offer to help him.
“We’ve beat the sentinels to the punch each time,” Cass said from the doorway. “We’re useful to you.”
“He didn’t say no,” I pointed out to her.
“But he’s weighing our skills against his instinctive dislike of putting those he cares for in harm’s way.”
Those he cares for made that warmth spread, right into my cheeks, like I belonged in the high school we just left.
“You might as well join us, you creeper.” I cast an apologetic glance at Boaz. “I would say she’s usually not this bad, but it would be a lie. Believe it or not, this is Cass on exceptionally good behavior.”
“I can believe it,” he said with a chuckle. “She’s definitely unique. I’ve never met a vampire like her.”
“Why, thank you.” Cass sashayed in to join us. “I consider myself one of a kind, but it never ceases to please me to have my hubris justified.” She reclaimed her seat beside me. “Have I gotten you in very much trouble?”
For such a bold and confident personality, Cass was shockingly insecure when it came to the relationships that mattered. That’s why she tried to sex away conflicts before they became problems. She figured if she made someone feel good enough, they would stick around as long as she kept making them feel good. That I didn’t trade her orgasms for friendship both puzzled and pleased her, but it made for awkward times, like now, when she would rather jump my bones than hear I was mad at her.
“We knew we’d slip up eventually.” I just never figured Boaz would be the one to catch us. “It’s okay.”
“I shouldn’t have kissed you.”
“No, you shouldn’t have.” I struggled not to let her off the hook too easily. It set a bad precedent for the naughty vampire’s already questionable behavior. “You knew what you were doing was wrong, and you did it anyway.”
“You know how I get.” She poked out her bottom lip. “That’s no excuse, but I didn’t mean to ruin us.”
“I do know.” Leaning over, I rested my head on her shoulder. “You’re very much you, and it’s one of the things I admire most about you.”
Her cool fingers brushed the hair falling into my face behind my shoulder. “Are we still…friends?”
“Of course we are,” I assured her. “I find your lack of filters and utter disregard for personal space endearing.”
Boaz afforded us as much privacy as he could with us having a conversation across the table from him. I could tell he was curious about our relationship. Not in a jealous way, but as if he was pegging our dynamic and how he might fit in.
Typically, a necromancer only had contact with vampires they had resuscitated. Even that was limited. Low Society necromancers didn’t have the juice to bring humans back to life, so there was no reason for them to interact with vampires socially. Cass and I were definitely an odd couple in that respect. I was lucky her master, Javier, found me amusing. And profitable. Otherwise, he could have put his foot down and prevented Cass from seeing me, let alone working with me, again.
Boaz, as my future husband, held the same power since I was marrying into his family and dependent upon him to provide for my dad and keep the house where I grew up from crumbling.
“Have you made your decision?” Cass eyed him with equal curiosity. “Will you work with us, or get out of our way?”
“I’m not going to tell you two how to handle your business when I have my hands full making bad decisions for myself.” He twitched a smile at me. “You’re a capable woman, Addie. I trust you to know your limits, and hers.”
“How progressive,” Cass demurred. “I expected more chest-beating à la Tarzan.”
“I’ve tried that with women,” he confessed, his tone thoughtful. “It didn’t end well.” He shrugged. “I thought I would try something new.”
“He can learn.” Cass tipped her chin toward him. “Perhaps you chose better than I first thought.”
Given how low she had ranked him, she wasn’t saying much, but I appreciated her effort to be nice.
“I would, however, appreciate it if you kept me abreast of new developments.” He spread his hands in a helpless gesture. “I’ll do my best to respect your independence, but I’ll still worry.”
“I can respect that.” I held up a finger. “If you agree to do the same.”
“I can do that.” He stuck out his arm. “Partners?”
“No.” Cass swatted his wrist. “She’s my partner, and you can’t have her.”
I stifled a snort at her territorial display, which earned me a hard stare from Cass and a smile from Boaz.
“Poor choice of words,” he amended, respecting my overprotective best friend’s claim on me. “How about we all agree to keep in touch with one another and not sweat the labels?”
“Works for me.” I regretted, a little bit, not having the excuse to hold his hand again. “Cass?”
“I won’t have to stay in touch,” she said loftily, “because I’m not leaving your side.”
A buzzing sound filled the room, and Boaz reached for his phone. “Pritchard.”
The slight tilt of Cass’s head confirmed she would hear every word and report to me later.
Holding up a finger, at her or me or both of us, Boaz mashed the speaker button and set his phone on the table between us. “Go ahead.”
“Angelo Willis didn’t make it,” said a woman’s smoky voice. “I just got the official word.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Clan Willis is reeling from the loss of two members.” She exhaled. “Things are about to get ugly.”
A subtler buzz drew my eye to Cass, who frowned at her phone. I raised my eyebrows in question, but she shook her head and jerked her chin toward Boaz’s cell.
“Thanks for the update, Honey.”
“No problem.” She hesitated. “I heard a rumor your lady friend might be involved.”
“I can keep it quiet for a few hours, maybe, but you’re going to have to bring her in to make a statement. Her presence at the scene, plus her relationship to you, will make the brass twitchy otherwise.”
A quiver in my gut made me sick to think how close I was to all this blowing up in my—and Dad’s—face.
“I’ll take her statement.” He flicked his gaze up to mine. “But I want her name redacted.”
“That’s not going to fly, and you know it. You’re hardly impartial.”
“Then you come take the statement.” He frowned at the phone. “You’re only, what, ten minutes out?”
“Anyone who knows us knows I’m hardly impartial where you’re concerned either.”
Fingers twitching like he wanted to mute the call, Boaz made a fist to steady them. “How about Parker?”
“I’ll see what I can do. If he’ll come, I can bring Abernathy and park him in the car. They’re the only two who overheard Ms. Nunez, as far as I know. If we can make Parker happy, he can sit on Abernathy.”
The call ended, and Boaz found plenty of places to look that weren’t at me.
Cass, of course, waded into the breach. “Honey?”
“And you two were an item?”
“For about a week, a few years back.”
“And you trust this fling to handle Addie like a dirty little secret?”
Boaz looked ready to spit nails at her tone, but he held his temper in check despite her poking at him.
“Honey is good people,” he said. “She’s also the lead on this case. We sell her on Addie’s innocence, and the sentinels will back off. They might take a harder look at you—hell, even me—in light of these new points of connection, but I can take it. Can you?”
Anger was an emotion Cass respected. It was honest, she always said. Not always deserved, but still.
“Selling Addie’s innocence?” Cass wet her lips, diffusing the tension. “That sounds downright lascivious.”
“That’s…not what I said.” Boaz cast her a dry glance, willing to play along. “Bad vampire.”
Maybe they wouldn’t kill each other after all. It would definitely make my life simpler if they got along.
“You have no idea,” she purred then reeled herself in. “We know the killer’s next victim.”
“You do?” Boaz asked as I whipped my head toward her. “We do?”
“Well, I do.” Cass stood, phone in her hand, thumbs flying over the screen. “Get in the car, losers.” She flashed us a pointed smile. “We’re going hunting.”
Want to support my free content?