Home > Hunter's Trail (Scarlett Bernard #3)(15)

Hunter's Trail (Scarlett Bernard #3)(15)
Author: Melissa F. Olson

Tears stung my eyes. Under ordinary circumstances I probably would have been angry, but I’d been caught off guard, and besides . . . that was exactly what my mother would say.

“It’s not that easy,” I said helplessly. “There were people counting on me, and I had to help stop—”

“Let someone else help,” she interrupted, voice firm. “You are getting your ass kicked.”

It was such a coarse expression from such a cultured accent that I laughed out loud, a feeble, painful sound.

“You have no idea,” I told her.

Chapter 7

Detective First Grade Jesse Cruz was very sick of people.

He’d spent all of the last two days conducting interviews on a hit-and-run homicide just off Fairfax. A dark red—or maybe brown, or maybe purple—minivan had sped off after clipping a nineteen-year-old actress/waitress who had been rushing across the intersection to get to her shift at IHOP. The van had sped off, and the teenager had bled out at Cedars-Sinai after seven hours of surgery. The intersection was within view of three different high-rise apartment buildings, and Jesse and his squadron had been going door to door, asking the same useless questions of useless people. He was tired and defeated, and as he headed back to his department-issued sedan Jesse wanted nothing more than to not speak to anyone for a few hours.

But it didn’t work out that way.

A late-model Mercedes S-class was parked illegally at a fire hydrant directly behind Jesse’s vehicle. As he neared it, the Mercedes’s door opened and an enormous black man began to climb out of the vehicle, his movements purposeful and efficient but not aggressive. Jesse froze on the sidewalk, marginally aware that his right hand now rested on his weapon. The stranger wore a black polo shirt, pressed chinos, and what looked like an empty shoulder holster. He closed the car door gently and held up both hands in the universal gesture for “I mean you no harm.” A business card was trapped in the fingers of his left hand. “Detective Cruz?” the man rumbled. A pleasant, professional smile was tacked on his face.

“Yes?” Jesse said cautiously.

“My name is Hayne.” The black man extended his arm, holding out the business card. “Mr. Dashiell sent me to get you.”

Jesse automatically reached out to accept the white paper rectangle. It was his own card, with the department’s official logo and his name, title, and contact info. He flipped it over. On the back was an all-too-familiar address, and the name Dashiell in elegant cursive.

Jesse dropped his hand from his gun and looked up at Hayne in disbelief. “He’s just . . . summoning me? Right now?”

“Yes, sir.” Hayne opened the back door and looked expectantly at Jesse, who only gaped.

“I can’t come now; I’m working,” Jesse protested.

“Your shift ended twenty minutes ago, sir,” Hayne said easily.

Anger rippled across Jesse’s back, tightening his shoulders. “He’s keeping tabs on me? Screw that. I’m not at his beck and call.”

He started away, toward his own car, and Hayne’s professional smile wavered. “He said you’d say that, sir,” Hayne said quietly, forcing Jesse to stop so he could hear the other man. “He said to tell you it’s about Miss Bernard.”

The manipulation was obvious, but effective. “What about Scarlett?” Jesse asked sharply. “Is she going to be there?”

When Jesse made no move toward the car, Hayne closed the door again and leaned against it, probably trying to look harmless. Instead, the man seemed about to dent the car door. “I don’t have that information, sir. But Mr. Dashiell said to tell you that she’s in trouble.” He stood and reached for the door behind the driver’s again, holding it open, and Jesse stared at him for a long moment, trying to read intent in the bigger man’s expression. Finally Hayne sighed. “It’s not a trick,” he said quietly. “Not a trap. Dashiell just genuinely needs to talk to you. Sir.”

“I have a phone,” Jesse reminded him, trying not to sound sullen. Something about Dashiell always made him feel like an insolent teenager, and it apparently happened whether or not the vampire was actually present.

Hayne broke into a grin, and for the first time his expression seemed real. “And Mr. Dashiell has a way of doing things, sir. You’ve survived this long, you must have figured that out by now.”

Jesse stared at him for a second more, then relented. Ignoring the open door to the backseat, he walked around the Mercedes to the passenger door and climbed in.

Smog hung low over the city’s skyline, but the temperature had dropped so low that Jesse could almost pretend it was a nice clean fog instead of man-made airborne poison. The sunlight had faded behind the city by the time they pulled up to Dashiell’s Spanish-colonial mansion in the old-money portion of Pasadena. Hayne bypassed the main part of the driveway and pulled the Mercedes into a four-car garage at the back of the property. He hopped out of the Mercedes, but Jesse was faster, getting out of his own side before the man could open his door. Smiling benignly, Hayne guided Jesse toward a service entrance that lead into a Spanish-tile kitchen that he had seen before. They went through the kitchen, and Jesse suddenly found himself back in the same living room area that led out onto the patio.

He blinked. Dashiell was in the living room, having a quiet conversation with Will Carling, the leader of the Los Angeles werewolf pack, and a stunning woman who appeared to be in her late thirties. His wife. Jesse had seen her before.

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