Home > Hunter's Trail (Scarlett Bernard #3)(7)

Hunter's Trail (Scarlett Bernard #3)(7)
Author: Melissa F. Olson

I glanced back at Molly, who was still scanning the darkness surrounding the house. She was a little flushed. Molly had gone on one other job with me, but that had just been cleaning up a few chicken carcasses after one of the werewolves had decided he felt like chicken that night. A dead body was a different ball game. “Nervous?” I asked.

She smiled ruefully. “A little bit. I’ve never really spent much time away from big cities. This”—she gestured at the trees nearest the house—“is kind of scary.”

Of course. Molly the vampire didn’t even flinch at disposing of a corpse, but put some trees around her and it’s like she’s in a dogfight.

Well. Maybe that was a poor choice of words. “Nah,” I said laconically, leaning on the cane again as I poked along beside her. “Scary is what’s inside.”

Then I reached forward and turned the doorknob, giving it a gentle push. The door swung inward with a loud, theatrical creeeeeeeeeeak that would have made Vincent Price crap his pants. I glanced at Molly, who didn’t even miss a beat as she drawled, “Good evening,” in a fakey Dracula voice. We both chortled nervously.

“He’s gotta leave it that way on purpose, right?” I said, smiling a little. I stepped into the pristine rectangle of darker wood where I knew I wouldn’t get any blood on me and thumbed the penlight off. I put it back in my bag and leaned forward to reach around the doorway, feeling for a light switch. “I mean, how hard would it be to get some WD-40 and just . . .” My voice trailed off as I clicked the light switch. I felt the smile fall off my face.

Chapter 4

“We need to get inside,” I said quietly, moving forward. “Don’t step in the blood.” Molly crowded into the entryway behind me so we could get the door closed and I took a good look at what was on the floor.

It was small, first of all. You hear the words “human body,” you kind of expect it to be the same size you are, or at least pretty close. But from the chest to the knees, most of the . . . meat . . . was missing. The woman—it was obvious from her face and hair, if not her body—was lying mostly on her back, but bent just a little to one side like she was trying to curl up in a protective ball. She’d been wearing some sort of lavender top, so shredded and bloodied now that the visible purple material wouldn’t have covered the strap of my duffel bag. I was guessing she’d worn jeans on the bottom, but only because the denim waistband was more or less intact. He hadn’t taken her pants off her. I noticed a corner of the welcome mat beneath the body. Will had just hauled the whole thing inside, which was good. It’d probably protected his hardwood floor, at least a little.

Long experience with crime scene cleanup had taught me to automatically hold my breath when I first arrived somewhere, but I let it out now, and inhaled the scent of damp, drying blood. No rot, which I’d smelled before, or any other bodily fluids, which meant . . . I gagged a little. It meant she’d been killed recently, and whoever killed her had likely eaten her bowels.

Unable to look at the gore any longer, I moved my gaze toward her face. It was untouched, without even a droplet of blood. Given the circumstances, that seemed a little sick. She had been a little plain, with sunken eyes and a spray of freckles across a hooked nose. Her expression was flat—not peaceful, or terrified, or shocked. She just looked dead, her blue eyes staring sightlessly in the general direction of nothing. She had blonde hair cut in a chin-length bob with artistically shaded highlights. One lock of hair had fallen across the bridge of her nose, and I suppressed the urge to smooth it aside for her.

I checked Molly’s face to see how she was coping. The vampire looked sad. “She was so young,” Molly said softly, shaking her head. The woman looked older than me, maybe around thirty, but I suppose that’s young to a vampire. Molly looked up and caught me staring at her. “What?” she said self-consciously.

“You’ve . . . I mean, you know . . .”

“Killed people? Yes. Never on purpose, though,” Molly contended, a sudden fierceness in her voice. She hadn’t looked up from the corpse since we got inside. “And not like this. This woman died hard.”

I nodded. Vampires are built to be lethal, of course, but they usually don’t kill when they feed. Most of the time they press their victim’s mind to forget what’s happening as they take a little bit of blood, and everybody walks away happy. Newer vampires, however, have to . . . practice before they figure out how to control themselves. And even if the victim does die, he or she usually goes quite happily, still under the vampire’s thrall. This kind of brutalization wasn’t their style.

Molly finally tore her gaze away from the body to look at me. “Who would do this?” she asked, her voice breaking. She was human, in my presence, which meant that the natural detachment vampires develop wasn’t really influencing her.

“A werewolf,” I said quietly. “I think this was a werewolf.” It was a guess, based on the tearing at the edges of the wounds. But I’d seen werewolf bites before, and besides, the body had been dumped at Will’s house. It wasn’t exactly a stretch.

“We should get started,” I said absently. I needed to destroy all evidence that a crime had been committed here, and the clock was ticking. “I’ll do the worst stuff, I just need you to help with lifting.” I bent at the waist and unzipped one of the duffel’s pockets, pulling out surgical gloves. I handed a pair to Molly and pulled on my own. When mine were secure, I reached into the duffel’s main compartment for a box of megathick Hefty garbage bags.

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