This was the man who'd been in the witness viewing room with Tavia Fairchild. The same man who'd accompanied her past the television news camera crews at the press conference that morning. Chase watched the human make his way across the lot toward his car. He aimed the little keyless remote in his hand and a rust-speckled silver Toyota sedan chirped halfway up the row.
Chase dropped down from the roof, his church donation box boots landing on the cold asphalt without a sound.
"Got time for a chat, Detective?" Chase was already in the passenger seat of the vehicle by the time the human had opened the driver's door and plopped down behind the wheel.
"Jesus Christ!" He jumped, panic flooding his jowly face. His cop instincts kicked in at the same time, sending his hands scrambling to the service revolver holstered at his hip.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Chase cautioned.
Apparently thinking better of it, the officer lunged for the door handle beside him. As if he stood any chance of escape. He hauled on the lever but it didn't release, even after repeated tries to work the electronic locks with his other hand. "Damn it!"
Chase stared at him, unfazed. "That'll do you no good either."
Nevertheless, Avery went another round on the locks and door handle, unaware that Chase was holding them closed by force of his Breed will. Then the aging cop suddenly got desperate and dropped his elbow on the horn. The cheery Japanese bleat shot loose like a scream before Chase seized the human's arm and wrenched him to full attention. "That was unwise."
"What're you gonna do? Fucking kill me right here in the parking lot?"
"If I wanted you dead, you wouldn't be sitting here about to piss yourself, Detective." "Oh, Jesus," Avery moaned. "What the hell is going on? What the hell is wrong with your face?"
In the reflection shining back at him from the glass of the driver's side window, Chase saw the twin coals of his eyes glowing fiery amber in the dark of the vehicle. He looked monstrous, feral. Unhinged. Nothing close to human. He ground his jaws together, feeling the tips of his fangs graze sharply against his tongue.
The glimpse of his reflection sent his mind careening back to another, similar moment from his recent past. Back then, little more than a year ago, Chase had been sitting in a darkened vehicle, eyes glowing and fangs drawn for the kill, as he stared into the terrified face of a human drug peddler who'd sent his nephew Camden into a narcotic-induced, tailspin addiction for blood.
Chase had been so self-righteous then, so certain he could be the one - perhaps the only one - able to save Camden. Instead he'd been the one who destroyed him. His mind echoed with the blast of gunfire that had opened up the boy's chest that night. He could still feel the unforgiving chill of metal in his hand, the reverberation of his biceps in the sudden silence that followed. The stench of spent bullets and spilling blood rank in the air as the raw, grief-stricken scream of a woman he'd once wanted for his own split the night.
And now it was Chase who was the afflicted, the doomed. Not because of a reckless taste of Crimson - the substance that had ruined the lives of young Cam and some of his friends the autumn before last - but because of his own negligence and weakness. The culmination of a lifetime of failings. His selfish, insatiable, damning need to fill a void that gaped deep inside him was finally swallowing him whole.
He felt sick with it as the police detective gaped at his transformed face in abject terror. The human's eyes were wide as saucers, mouth hanging open in mute stupor before a choked groan erupted from his throat. "My God, what are you? What the hell do you want from me?"
Chase blew out a harsh curse. This wasn't how he'd intended it to go down here, letting the human cop see him for what he truly was, but it was too late for that. He'd deal with it after he got the information he sought.
"Where is she?" Chase leaned in close, the beast in him snapping at the scent of raw fear. "I need to find Tavia Fairchild."
Despite the fear and confusion swamping the detective's gaze, a spark of protectiveness flared. "You think I'll tell you that so you can kill her too? Fuck you."
Chase had to respect the man for that. Cop or not, there weren't many of his species who'd show that kind of allegiance to someone they hardly knew. Especially when they were staring into the face of a walking nightmare. In Chase's experience, only Minions could be counted on for that depth of loyalty, and theirs came at the price of their own souls. Detective Avery here was very much alive and very afraid, yet he was glaring back at Chase with what he could only assume was some inviolable sense of honor.
Chase had known that feeling once himself. So long ago he barely recognized it anymore.
Didn't really matter now. The man he truly was was the one sending this decent human being into a cower before him. "I saw you with her this morning," Chase said. "You were with another cop - a uniform. Dark hair, nasty scar running into one of his eyebrows. What's his name? I need to find him too. Start talking, Detective."
"I'm not gonna tell you anything. Least of all where Murphy took her."
Holy hell. So she was still with the Minion. "Where is she, goddamn it?" "Someplace safe." Avery practically spat the words.
Chase bore down on the man. "Safe from what?"
"From you, ya son of a bitch!" The detective started shaking, clutching at the collar of his rumpled white dress shirt and half-unhitched tie. "God almighty ... you can't be real. You can't be human. That's how you survived all those gunshots. That's how you were able to walk out of the infirmary last night ..."
Chase felt the terror rolling off the man as comprehension finally, fully, took root in the human's stricken face. He gaped now, as if he expected to be torn to pieces any second by the beast that Chase was.
This was the reason the Breed had protected the secret of their existence all this time. This bone-deep fear, fueled by myth and grim folklore - not all of it completely untrue - was the reason the Breed could never expect any kind of peaceful cohabitation with man. Humankind's fear of things that went bump in the night was too ingrained. Too dangerous to be trusted. Chase wasn't above using that terror to his advantage now. Nor would he hesitate to hurt this man in order to get the answers he came for. If Avery knew the kind of evil that was keeping company with Tavia Fairchild now, he'd need no coercion.
Then again, if this human or any other understood even half of the threat that Dragos and his followers presented to mankind's way of life, there might be no reasoning with any of them. Still, Chase opted for the unvarnished truth.
In frank, unsparing terms, he told Detective Avery everything.
When he was through, and after the aging officer wearily divulged Tavia Fairchild's location, Chase spared him the burden of carrying his awful knowledge beyond that moment.
He scrubbed the man's memory clean of it all and left him sitting alone, mentally numb but unharmed, in the dark cockpit of his Toyota.
TAVIA LINGERED in the hotel suite shower, unwilling to let go of the decadent, undisturbed solitude. It didn't bother her too much that she wasn't exactly alone. The pair of federal agents and the uniformed officer who'd brought her there that day were down the short hallway, in the living room of the spacious quarters.
Separated from her by two closed doors - her private bathroom and bedroom - the men were currently engrossed in a basketball game they'd turned on a few minutes before she'd excused herself to have a shower and take a nap until room service arrived with dinner. Under the warm spray of the water, she heard the tinny chatter of the television in the living room, accompanied by an occasional shout of dismay or a triumphant whoop from the men watching the game.
She'd been surprised when Officer Murphy informed her she'd be spending the night at the hotel - possibly more than one - under armed watch. The hard-eyed cop with the sinister scar across his eyebrow had been her close companion all day, since the moment he and Detective Avery had taken her away from Senator Clarence's office that morning. God, it was all so surreal. She had no experience being an eyewitness to a crime, let alone one in need of police protection at an undisclosed location.
In truth, though, it didn't seem much different from her usual home life: never left totally on her own, someone forever checking on her well-being, encroaching on her privacy whenever they liked, with the reasoning that it was all simply for her own good. She'd never felt particularly helpless or infirm, regardless of what Dr. Lewis and Aunt Sarah seemed to think. Admittedly, her body rebelled on her from time to time, whether in reaction to new treatments for her mystifying condition or in situations of heightened stress. Tavia had never quite figured out how to predict the onslaught of her "spells," as Aunt Sarah referred to them. Dr. Lewis said she had an unusual form of epilepsy, complicated by a host of other strange ailments that had required her to be in his specialized care from the time she was a baby.
The silver-haired physician had been as much a father figure to her as Aunt Sarah had been the only mother she'd ever known. Tavia hadn't seen so much as a photograph of her birth parents, having lost both of them in a vicious house fire that had somehow, miraculously, spared her.
All she had to remind her of the past she'd lost were the scars that covered nearly all of her body.
Tavia lathered the small bar of hotel soap and ran it along her arms and torso, then down the length of her legs. The scars tracked nearly everywhere she touched, even up onto her neck, painless for as long as she could remember. Based on how much of her body they covered, the scars should have looked more severe than they did. Dr. Lewis's treatments had worked some kind of magic on them, apparently.
They were still hideous to her, of course, a relentless webwork of pinkish tan skin that could be hidden only beneath turtleneck collars, long sleeves, and slacks.
The conservative dress code of her job with the senator had been a blessing; not even he had known of her extensive flaws or her complicated medical conditions. To him and to everyone else she came in contact with, Tavia was reserved, professional, and exacting. Her work life was the only thing she felt truly in control of, and she'd made it her mission to be perfect in every way possible.
God knew, she had no personal life to worry about.
Only Aunt Sarah, who had given up her own personal life to devote herself to looking after her dead brother's child. The older woman never spoke of her past or the dreams she might have held as a young woman. She'd never married, never regretted the fact that she'd gone without a family or children of her own.
Tavia often wondered why her aunt had made the choice to appoint herself lifelong guardian and caretaker of her niece. Not that she hadn't posed that question, more than once. Aunt Sarah would merely smile placidly whenever asked about those things and dismiss all questions with a kindly pat on Tavia's hand. "Don't you fret about me, dear. You're what's important. And I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be."
Too bad Aunt Sarah didn't feel the same about dissecting every action and thought of Tavia's. She wanted to know everything, always. But she never got angry or impatient - not in all the time Tavia had known her. She never complained, which made Tavia feel a bit guilty to be enjoying a few hours away from Aunt Sarah's constant attention now.
In twenty-seven years, she'd spent less than an accumulated month away from home, counting business trips with the senator and the occasional emergency overnight observation and treatment at Dr. Lewis's private care clinic. Aunt Sarah was never unconcerned on any of those occasions, but when Tavia spoke with her on the phone earlier tonight, after the news and cable networks had been broadcasting the report of Senator Clarence's murder on practically every station for most of the day, the woman was as upset as Tavia had ever heard her.
It had taken fifteen minutes just to convince her that Tavia was safe, particularly when the federal agents and officers had forbade her from disclosing to anyone where she was staying. Tavia was sure that if Aunt Sarah was given the hotel name or address, she would have been knocking on the door as soon as she could get there. She had fretted that Tavia wasn't telling her everything, which she wasn't.
"I don't understand, dear. Are you in some kind of trouble? Why would the police need you to stay somewhere overnight?"
"They have a lot of questions for me yet, Aunt Sarah. The detective in charge of the investigation thought it would be more convenient if I stayed in the city so we can talk some more tonight, then start again early in the morning."
"But they don't know about your condition. You're not well, Tavia. You should be home, not stuck somewhere for their convenience."
"I'm perfectly fine," she'd insisted, but it had been clear that Aunt Sarah hadn't totally believed it.
Ten more minutes had been spent assuring her that Tavia did, indeed, have her medicines - all of them, including the small stash she kept on hand in case of an emergency such as this that might delay her from getting home as expected - in her pocketbook.
Tavia didn't have the energy to explain she might be gone for more than one night. Nor did she divulge the fact that she'd convinced Detective Avery to send an unmarked squad car to Aunt Sarah's neighborhood to make sure none of the danger Tavia might be in spilled over onto her only living relative.
"Don't worry about me, Aunt Sarah," she'd told the old woman as gently as she could. "I'm going to be all right. I really will."
The conversation had left her feeling more stifled than protected. She hated begrudging Aunt Sarah's concern, but there were times when Tavia couldn't picture a future without her aunt in her life. Under the same roof. She felt trapped, suffocating with it, at the same time shamed by even this small resentment for a woman who clearly wanted only what was best for her.