Rain and sleet streamed in rivulets down the leaded glass window of Tempeste Manor, making a sound like fingernails tapping on marble. Lightning flashed and thunder rolled; the light briefly illuminating the lawn below where the winter storm was rapidly washing away the slurry of ash and blood that had once been a large group of vampires bent on destroying the estate and killing Lady Valentina. The renegades had made it as far as the garage before being wiped out by Tempeste Security.
Raven watched the rain fall with a mixture of anger and frustration. Yes, it was helpful in washing away all the pieces, but it also made finding any clues as to who the leader of the new coven had been almost impossible to find. By morning, any trace evidence would be gone or useless.
On the other hand, it didn’t take a genius to know a Master had to be behind the attack. No one else in their right mind would attack the residence of the Mistress of the City now that Strohm was dead. There had been six attacks in the last month, each one growing more bold. Francois Du Guerre knew the layout of the house, the defenses, and just how many defenders Valentina had; on the other hand he knew he couldn’t hold the city as long as Valentina had so many loyal houses following her lead. No, Du Guerre was too smart for this. This was someone crazy.
Raven sighed and her eyes shifted to her own reflection in the glass. Red hair, so bright it seemed to glow, spilled down her back and framed a face that looked like it belonged on a very angry but delicate china doll. The silvered combs that had held it away from her face had been used as werewolf deterrents during the night’s battle and her hair now spilled in a fiery waterfall of anger and regret. The low cut black dress, a gift from her mother, Valentina, was barely hanging from one delicate strap and showed she wasn’t wearing a lot underneath. The six inch stiletto heels her mother had chosen to finish the outfit were lost somewhere in the yard. Raven took some pleasure in the loss of the ridiculous footwear. Valentina still thought that stiletto heeled Opera pumps were the height of vampire fashion and she bought them for Raven whenever she could – in spite of or maybe because of how much Raven loathed them.
Raven smeared a red-nailed hand across her reflection and leaned her forehead against the cool glass, Francois’ last words to her “I am so very sorry, my love. Forgive me,” echoing in her head.
“You gave me to Strohm on a platter. I will never forgive you,” she whispered, slamming a fist against the glass. “Never, you son of a bitch! I will see you burn and hold your ashes in my hands!”
She fought back the anger that threatened to consume her and turned to the ballroom behind her. Her mother’s defenders were scattered about the chamber, tending the wounded and mourning those who had been turned to ash by Strohm’s soldiers.
Raven stepped down and passed through the room, hugging some, offering her condolences to others and thanking them all for their service to the house. Though she hated it, it was her duty as Fürstin to keep up morale and ensure her mother’s guards were ready for the next fight. From the looks of things they would need to find volunteers to turn, an idea she despised but knew her sister Pandora would take care of. By the end of the week, their security forces would be back to full strength.
She ran a hand through her still-dripping hair and continued across the room. All she wanted was a hot bath and some cocoa, maybe with some marshmallows and enough pain killers to knock out a small demon. She was almost to the stairs when Dominique, her mother’s familiar and consort, appeared and lightly touched her elbow. Raven looked down at her and smiled. In spite of everything, the elfin woman shined in a gown of white and bare feet. “Yes, Dominique? Is there something mother needs?”
The girl bowed her head and then looked Raven in the eyes. “Ravenel, Childe, Detective Levac is at the door. He says you aren’t answering your phone and Lieutenant Frost has a new case for you. I have drawn you a bath and prepared your work attire, Detective Levac will be waiting in the side drawing room.”
“Thank you, Dominique. Please get him some coffee and a cheeseburger,” Raven said, heading up the stairs. “The man is always hungry.”
She reached her room a moment later, pausing only to place a loving hand on the door to her mother’s room. Valentina had adjourned shortly after the battle had ended. The war was taking a toll on her and her health, though she would never show it to the rest of the Court. Her powers were waning under the onslaught, though no one knew why.
Raven’s private chamber hadn’t changed much since she’d moved to Homicide. The antique bed, side table, and vanity her grandmother had left her had been moved to a different position, the curtains had been replaced with even darker ones, and between her posters of Casablanca, the Maltese Falcon, Each Dawn I Die and others hung framed newspaper clippings such as “Storm and Levac Catch Strangler!,” “Storm and Levac Put Mad Dog Crowe Behind Bars!” and “Le Storm Strikes Again, Night Caller Killed!” Raven was proud of the work she and Levac had done and she had arranged her room to show off their successes… not that anyone ever saw them. The last visitor had been DuGuerre and he certainly wasn’t going to be allowed back any time soon. Not unless he was filling an urn.
True to her word, Dominique had drawn a steaming bath. On the clothes rack hung a pair of black leather leggings, a bright blue tunic sweater, a black belt and a pair of knee high boots, stylish yet comfortable and approved for plain clothes police. Fresh magazines for her Automag also lay nearby, along with her badge and purse.
That woman is a miracle, Raven thought. I don’t know what we would do without her.
She quickly disrobed and slipped into the bath, letting the warm water wash away the blood and sweat while the tears began to flow.
* * *
Thirty minutes later Raven breezed into the drawing room, her wet hair pulled into a loose ponytail. As usual Levac was dressed in his battered beige trench coat over a grey suit that had been slept in for at least three days. His dark hair was matted to his head and mustard mixed with the five o’clock shadow that covered his chin. He was lounging on a pink settee that was as uncomfortable as it looked and playing some game on his phone. He looked up when Raven entered and smiled. Even through the rain and the mustard, it was a smile that made Raven feel warm inside.
“Hey partner. Took you long enough. I was almost ready for another burger. While you were getting forty winks Frost assigned us a new case,” he said.
“Hey Rupe,” Raven replied. “I’m sorry about that, I had to get freshened up. Things have been a little complicated around here. What did we get? Please tell me it isn’t a weird one.”
Levac took a deep breath and Raven knew she wasn’t going to like what he was going to say. “It’s a weird one. A body found behind the Oriental Theater.”
Raven frowned. “What’s so weird about that? It’s called Death Alley for a reason, people die back there every couple of weeks. That’s Murtaugh’s turf, why us?”
“I don’t know. Frost just said you were to ‘haul your ass there pronto.’ The new lab tech Aspen Kincaid is going to meet us at the scene.”
Raven glanced at her watch. “The kid is probably already there. Let’s roll before she paints a smiley face on the vic or something.”
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