Home > Meant to Be Immortal (Argeneau #32)

Meant to Be Immortal (Argeneau #32)
Author: Lynsay Sands

Prologue

Mac had just finished setting up his centrifuge when he caught a whiff of what smelled like smoke. He lifted his head and inhaled deeply; there were the astringent cleaner he’d used on the counter surfaces, various chemical and other scents he couldn’t readily identify that were coming from the boxes he had yet to unpack, and—yes—smoke.

A frisson of alarm immediately ran up the back of Mac’s neck. Where there was smoke there was fire and fire was bad for his kind. It was bad for mortals too, of course, but was even worse for immortals, who were incredibly flammable.

Straightening abruptly, Mac stepped over one unopened box and then another, weaving his way out of the maze of unpacking he still had to do and to the stairs leading out of the basement. He took them two at a time, rushing up the steps to the special door he’d had installed several days ago. It blocked sound, germs, and everything else from entering the lab he was turning his basement into. He’d also had the walls sealed and covered with a germ-resistant skin. Apparently, his efforts had been successful. Even at the top of the stairs, he was only able to catch the slightest hint of smoke in the air, yet when he opened the door he found himself standing at the mouth of hell. The kitchen on the other side of the door was engulfed in flames that seemed almost alive and leapt excitedly his way with a roar.

A startled shout of alarm slipped from his lips as heat rushed over him, and Mac slammed the door closed at once. He nearly took a header down the stairs in his rush to get as far away from it as he could and crashed into a box as he stumbled off the last step. Pausing then, he stopped to turn in a circle, a mouse in a blazing maze, searching for a way out.

His gaze slid over the small half windows that ran along the top of the basement wall on the back of the house, skating over the flames waving at him from the burning bushes outside, and then he turned toward the rooms along the front of the house and hurried to the door to the first one. It was a bathroom, its window even smaller than the others in the main room. It was also covered with some kind of glaze that blocked the view. Even so, he could see light from the fire on the other side of it.

Rushing to the next door, he thrust it open. This was an empty room about ten feet deep and fourteen wide, with two half windows that ran along the back of the house. Mac stared with despair at the flames dancing on the other side of the glass. He was trapped, with no way out . . . and no way even to call for help, he realized suddenly. There was no landline in the basement, and he’d left his cell phone upstairs on the kitchen counter to avoid interruptions while he set up down here.

I’m done for, Mac thought with despair, and then glimpsed a flash of red light beyond the flames framing and filling the nearer window. Moving cautiously forward, Mac tried to see what was out there, and felt a bit of hope when he spotted the fire truck parked at the top of the driveway and the men rushing around it, pulling out equipment. If he could get their attention, and let them know where he was . . .

Turning, Mac rushed back into the main room, wading through the sea of boxes until he spotted the one he wanted. He ripped it open and dug through the bubble-wrapped contents until he found his microscope. It was old and heavy, and Mac pulled it out with relief and then tore the bubble wrap off as he moved back to the empty storage room. He didn’t even hesitate, but crossed half the room in a couple of swift strides and simply threw the microscope through the nearest of the two little windows. Glass shattered and Mac jumped back as the flames exploded inward as if eager to get in. They were followed by rolling smoke that quickly surrounded him, making him choke as he yelled for help.

He was shouting for the third time when dark figures appeared on the other side of the fire now crowding the window. He thought he could make out two men in bulky gear, what he supposed was the firemen’s protective wear, and then someone shouted, “Hello? Is there someone there?”

“Yes!” Mac responded with relief. “I am in the basement.”

“We’ll get you out! Just hang on, buddy! We’ll get you out!”

“Get somewhere where there’s less smoke,” someone else shouted to him.

“Okay!” Mac backed out of the room, his fascinated gaze watching the fire fan out from the window as the drywall around it caught flame. It would spread quickly now that he’d given the fire a way in, he knew. The smoke was already filling this room and pouring out into the main room, but he could deal with that. Smoke couldn’t kill him. Fire would.

Cursing, he turned abruptly and returned to the bathroom next door. There was no fire or smoke in the small room yet, but would be soon enough. Moving to the cast-iron claw-foot tub he’d had refinished before moving in, Mac plugged in the stopper and prayed silently as he turned on the taps. Relief slid through him when water began to pour out. The fire hadn’t stopped the water from working yet, and the taps and faucet were old enough not to have an aerator to reduce the speed at which the water jetted out. It gushed from the tap at high pressure, filling the tub quickly, or at least more quickly than his tub back in New York would have filled. There it would have taken ten or fifteen minutes to fill the tub; here it took probably half that, but they were the longest minutes of his life and fire was beginning to eat through the wall between the bathroom and the storage room before it was quite finished.

Mac didn’t wait for it to finish filling, but stepped into the quickly heating water in his pajama bottoms and T-shirt when it was three-quarters full, and submerged himself up to his nose. Smoke was coming into the room now, pouring through the air vents, making breathing hard, and the water was hotter than hell, the fire heating it in the pipes on its way to this room and the tub. But it was only going to get hotter. The one wall of the room was now a mass of flames, and the fire was eating its way into the two connecting walls as well. The linoleum tile on the floor was catching flame and curling inward toward the tub. The water he was in would be boiling soon, by his guess. He now knew how lobsters felt when dropped in boiling water. It was one hell of a gruesome way to die . . . But it wouldn’t kill him. As long as he didn’t catch fire, he would survive, but Mac suspected he’d wish he was dead before this was over.

One

The reception room of the police station was empty when CJ entered. Not a big surprise. Small-town police stations usually had minimal staff at night. The counter that ran along the back of the room had a bell on it, but she didn’t end up having to use it. Even as she started toward it, an older man stuck his head out of the door behind the reception counter and raised his eyebrows at her.

“CJ Cummings?”

CJ nodded. “Captain Dupree?”

“That’s me,” he assured her, and then added with no little bit of irritation, “I’ve been waiting on you.”

CJ allowed her eyebrows to rise slightly, but merely said, “It’s not quite midnight. We agreed I should be here at midnight when Jefferson got off shift.”

“Yes, we did,” Dupree acknowledged testily. “But when we made that plan, I didn’t know some firebug would take it into his head to burn down one of my citizen’s houses while he was still in it. Had I known that was going to happen, I’d have gotten a contact number from you. I’ve been stuck here waiting on you before I could go out there and walk the crime scene.”

CJ’s eyebrows had risen higher and higher as he spoke. Now she said, “I don’t really see why you felt you had to stay here, Captain. It’s Jefferson I’m here to interview. You don’t need to be present for that.”

“I may not need to be, but he’s one of my men and I intend to be,” he told her firmly. “But that’s no never mind anyway since Jefferson is the one who caught the call about the fire on his way back to the station. He’s out there now waiting for us to join him.”

“Us?” CJ echoed with surprise.

“Us,” he said with a firm nod. “I need you there.”

“Why?” she asked at once.

“You’re a detective, aren’t you?” It wasn’t a question and he didn’t wait for an answer, but continued, “Well, I was a detective before I was captain, but that was twenty years ago. Evidence gathering may have changed since then. This is the first murder Sandford has seen, and I don’t intend to mess it up.”

“Surely one of your men—” CJ began, only to be interrupted.

“My only detective dropped dead of a heart attack last month. I haven’t hired a replacement yet, and while one of my younger fellows is taking a training course in detective work, he’s just started that. I need someone who knows their business out there to help with evidence collection. So—” he paused and raised his eyebrows “—I figure you can come tell us what to collect and how to bag it and ask Jefferson your questions while you’re at it.”

CJ was shaking her head before he’d finished speaking. “Captain, I’m not a cop. I’m with the Special Investigations Unit; we’re a civilian organization. We investigate cops; we aren’t one of them. I’ve got no business being at a crime scene,” she said firmly.

“You may not be a police officer now, but you used to be,” Captain Dupree said with unconcern.

CJ’s eyes narrowed at these words, and only continued to do so as he proved he’d looked into her background by adding, “In fact, while you started out on patrol like my boys, you moved up to homicide detective before shifting over to CSIS, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service. I gather there you were blazing a fine trail of successes as one of the best detectives they had before you switched over to the SIU.”

He didn’t say “and became a traitor to the boys in blue,” but CJ could hear that in the words. Investigating the police for corrupt or illegal activity did not make you a lot of friends. At least not with the police. They tended to see CJ and the people she worked with as traitors to fellow officers. As far as other police officers were concerned, the members of the SIU were one step up from slugs. Or maybe one step down.

   
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