Home > Brimstone Bound (Firebrand #1)(10)

Brimstone Bound (Firebrand #1)(10)
Author: Helen Harper

I crouched down, doing my best to remain dispassionate. I didn’t do a very good job. I reached out, brushing the sticky blood that coated the grass with my shaking fingertips. It wasn’t even completely dry. I swallowed hard. We’d covered bloodwork at the Academy and, while I only knew the basics, I still reckoned that from the size of the bloodstain I’d lost a good six pints. Whoever had slit my throat must have ended up covered in it.

I raised my head and glanced at the nearest gravestone. Thomas Santorini. Born 1826, died 1899. Sorry, I mouthed. I didn’t mean to sully your resting spot.

‘Who are you?’

I jerked upwards at the sound of the cold voice then I spun round, ready to defend myself to the death again if I had to. Standing less than five feet away was a man. He was a few inches taller than me, with inky-dark hair, liquid black eyes and high cheekbones. His skin gleamed; if that wasn’t enough of a clue, he was coat-less despite the cold February air. I gaped at his immaculate white shirt with its frilly cuffs.

‘Vampire,’ I murmured. I lifted my chin. ‘This is consecrated ground. What are you doing here?’

He gave a mild snort. ‘There is no such thing as consecrated ground. We go where we please.’ He waved a hand. ‘Even in daylight.’ He took a step forward. ‘And right now, this is where I please.’ His voice hardened and his eyes raked my face before dropping briefly to my exposed neck. ‘I will repeat my question. Who are you?’

‘I’m with Supernatural Squad.’ It wasn’t really a lie. ‘A woman died here last night, and I want to make sure that supes weren’t involved.’ I met his gaze, challenging him to argue with me. I had more of a right to be here than he did – and if he was looking for a fight, I‘d give him one. I could do with the distraction.

‘There are only three humans currently with Supernatural Squad,’ he said. ‘And none of them are you.’

He didn’t know as much as he thought he did. ‘I’m a trainee detective on temporary rotation,’ I told him, with only a faint sneer.

The vampire quirked an eyebrow. ‘Are you indeed? And they let you out on your own?’

‘Apparently so.’ I glared at him. ‘Why are you here?’

‘For the same reason as you. A woman died here. I’ve been … tasked with finding out more. Sudden violent deaths aren’t good PR for our kind.’

Except it wasn’t a vampire who’d killed me. A vampire wouldn’t have used a blade. ‘Well,’ I said briskly, ‘you can stand down. Supernatural Squad will take things from here.’

His gaze flickered with amusement. ‘Will they?’

I opened my mouth to answer him but, before I could, the main church door opened and Reverend Knight appeared. ‘Hey!’ he called sharply. ‘Stop disturbing that spot! The police—’ He looked at me and his voice faltered. ‘You.’ He paled. ‘But—’

I interrupted before he could say anything else. ‘Reverend Knight. Good to see you again. I’m just scanning the area for evidence or clues that last night’s crew might have missed.’

He didn’t move a muscle. I wondered whether he was the person who’d found my body. Probably. It had to be quite a shock seeing me again. He should try walking in my shoes.

I looked from him to the vampire and back again. ‘Well,’ I said briskly, ‘I’ve seen all that I need to for now.’ I raised my eyebrows at Reverend Knight. ‘I’m with the police, Reverend. Can I come inside and ask you a few questions?’

I wasn’t foolish enough to wait for his answer; instead, I took advantage of his shock and ducked under the police tape again. I needed to interrogate him before he recovered his equilibrium and refused to talk to me.

I’d barely taken three steps when the vamp’s hand shot out and curled round my forearm. I stiffened at his touch.

‘I think you and I need to talk,’ he said.

I snatched my arm back, wrenching it away with surprising strength. ‘That makes one of us then.’ I sniffed, and sent a meaningful look in Knight’s direction before walking into the church. The reverend stumbled in after me. Thankfully, the vampire chose not to join us. Small mercies.

‘I … I … don’t understand,’ Reverend Knight stammered, once the heavy church door had closed behind us. ‘I thought I saw you… I thought you were… I…’ He sat down on the nearest pew, clutching at the armrest for support.

‘I know what you saw,’ I said. ‘And I’d like to be able to explain it but right now I can’t.’ I injected a mysterious edge into my voice, hoping that Knight would draw his own conclusions and stop freaking out.

‘You said you were with the police.’ His words were slow as he did his best to come up with a rational solution for what he’d witnessed. ‘Is this some kind of sting? An undercover police operation? Because you were dead. I was sure you were dead.’ He shook his head, whether in disbelief or amazement I wasn’t sure. He reached out and poked me gently, checking that I was solid and not a figment of his imagination.

‘As I told you,’ I said without flinching, ‘I can’t explain it right now.’

‘Of course.’ He blinked rapidly. ‘Of course you can’t.’ He inhaled deeply. ‘I spoke to your colleagues last night and told them I hadn’t seen anything or anyone. You and I met and chatted. I left the church an hour or so later to head home, and that’s when I saw you lying on the ground.’ He lifted his eyes to mine. ‘You were very convincing.’

I put my finger to my lips in an elaborate gesture of sharing a secret. In theory, he could be a suspect; he certainly had the means to kill me, if not the motive. However, he would have been thoroughly questioned last night and I didn’t sense any sort of threat from him. The fact that he’d deluded himself into thinking I’d deliberately faked my own death as part of some crazy police plot helped with that. It’s fascinating what we can make ourselves believe when we need to.

‘Did you see anyone else hanging around the church last night?’ I asked, focusing on facts rather than forced delusions.

He didn’t hesitate. ‘No. Only you.’

‘And afterwards? After you found me?’

‘There was no one. I checked your pulse and couldn’t feel anything, so I called an ambulance straight away. The sirens drew a small crowd. As soon as the paramedics went to work on you, I came in here to give them space. The police spoke to me, but I wasn’t much help. You’d only given me a nickname and they had nothing else to go on.’

I gazed intently at him. Reverend Knight might have been only feet away when I was being murdered, but he hadn’t seen a thing. He knew even less than I did. ‘Thank you for your time,’ I said finally.

Relief spasmed across his face; he couldn’t wait to get rid of me. He was in shock right now, but that shock would turn to fear as soon as I left. And quite possibly fury. My very existence would threaten him.

He glanced around and then, his voice quavering, said, ‘Him. Outside. Is this to do with him?’

‘The vampire?’

Reverend Knight flinched.

I thought of Tony and his text message. ‘No,’ I said quietly. ‘This is all about humans.’

Chapter Eight

Further investigation of the crime site would have to wait until I was certain of solitude. At this point, it didn’t really matter – it was obvious where I had to go next.

The only reason I’d been at St Erbin’s Church was because Tony had lured me there. Then he’d failed to show up. It didn’t take a detective to know that he was suspect numero uno – a child would have sussed that. I might not want to believe that he’d killed me, but I wasn’t naïve enough to think that the police were all shining heroes. Corruption existed everywhere.

The only thing that gave me pause was lack of motive. Try as I might, I couldn’t think of any reason why the old detective would want me dead. One minor werewolf fuck-up wasn’t sufficient reason for murder. Still, I knew I’d learn a great deal from the expression on his face when I walked in through the door of Supernatural Squad. It was quite possible that I’d solve my own death within the next ten minutes.

I was also aware that I should be careful. Tony might well try to attack me again. At this time of day, though, both Liza and Fred would also be in the building. It wasn’t remotely credible that all three of them could be involved.

I furled and unfurled my fists as I ran through various scenarios in my head. Whatever happened next, I was ready for it.

I strode into the Supernatural Squad building, marched down the corridor and burst into the main room on the ground floor. Liza glanced up with nothing more than vague interest; Fred didn’t bother removing his eyes from the television screen.

‘Where’s Tony?’ I demanded.

‘He’s not come in today,’ Liza said. ‘I thought he was out with you.’

I stared at her. She didn’t look anything more than mildly surprised to see me – and neither did she look like she was lying about Tony.

‘Fred, have you seen Tony today?’ I demanded.

He barely stirred. ‘Nope.’

I stalked forward until I was standing between the sofa and the television. With considerable reluctance, Fred met my eyes.

‘I have not seen him,’ he said, enunciating every word. He sighed. ‘Look, I know you’re full of enthusiasm and excitement, and you want to do great things, but this,’ he flicked his hand around the room, ‘this is what life is like in Supernatural Squad. You should enjoy the peace and quiet while you can.’

I stayed exactly where I was. ‘Have you phoned Tony to see where he is?’

With what appeared to be a great effort, he pushed himself up to a sitting position. ‘A woman was killed last night at St Erbin’s Church,’ he said. ‘A Jane Doe. He’s probably over at CID right now, arguing why we should get the case. He’ll lose.’

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