The house still smelled of death.
Two months had passed since Mom’s murder, but the air still echoed with her agony and I knew if I breathed deep enough, I’d catch the hint of old blood.
But at least there were no visible reminders. The Directorate’s cleanup team had done a good job of removing the evidence.
Bile rose up my throat, and I briefly closed my eyes. I’d seen her—had seen what had been done to her—and it haunted me every night in my dreams. But in many ways, those dreams were also responsible for me finally being able to walk through the front door today.
I’d done enough remembering, and shed enough tears. Now I wanted revenge, and that wasn’t going to happen if I waited for others to hunt down the killers. No, I needed to be a part of it. I needed to do something to help ease the ferocity of the dreams—dreams that came from the guilty knowledge that I should have been there for her. That if I had, I might have been able to prevent this.
I drew in a deep breath that did little to steady the almost automatic wash of fury, and discovered something else. Her scent still lingered.
And not just her scent. Everything she’d been, and everything she’d done—all her love and energy and compassion—filled this place with a warmth that still radiated from the very walls.
For the first time since I’d scattered her ashes in the hills that she’d loved, I smiled.
She would never entirely be gone from this world. She’d done too much, and helped too many people, for her memory to be erased completely.
And that was one hell of a legacy.
Still, despite the echoes of the warmth and love that had once filled these rooms, I had no intention of keeping the house. Not when all I had to do was step into the kitchen to be reminded of everything that had happened.
I walked along the hallway, my boots echoing on the polished marble floor. Aside from the few items of furniture placed to give prospective buyers an idea of each room’s size and purpose, the house was empty. Mike—who’d been Mom’s financial adviser and was still mine—had made all the arrangements, talking to the real estate people on my behalf and shifting most of the furniture into storage so I could deal with it later. Only the items in the two safes remained untouched, and that was a task only I could handle—although it was the one thing I’d been avoiding until now.
I drew in a shuddery breath, then slowly climbed the carpeted stairs. Once I reached the landing, I headed for Mom’s bedroom down at the far end of the hall. The air had a disused smell. Maybe the people employed to keep the house spotless until it sold hadn’t been as generous with the deodorizer up here.
But the soft hint of oranges and sunshine teased my nostrils as I walked into Mom’s bedroom, and just for a moment it felt like she was standing beside me.
Which was silly, because she’d long since moved on, but my fingers still twitched with the urge to reach for her.
I walked across the thick carpet and opened the double doors to her wardrobe. Her clothes had already been donated to charity, but somehow seeing this emptiness hit me in a way that the emptiness of the other rooms had not. I’d often played in here as a kid, dressing up in her silkiest gowns and smear- ing my face—and no doubt said gowns—with her makeup.
She’d never once been angry. She’d always laughed and joined the fun, even letting me do her face.
I swiped at the tear that appeared on my cheek and resolutely walked into the bathroom. Most people wouldn’t think of looking for a safe in an en suite, which is exactly why Mom had installed her second one here. This was where she’d stored her most precious jewelry.
I opened the double doors under the basin and ducked down. The safe was embedded in the wall and visible only because all of Mom’s makeup had been cleared away.
After typing in the code, I pressed my hand against the reader. Red light flickered across my fingertips; then there was a soft click as the safe opened.
I took a deep breath, then sat and pulled the door all the way open. Inside were all her favorite items, including the chunky jade bracelet she’d bought the last time she was in New Zealand, only a few weeks before her death. There was also a stack of microdrive photo disks and, finally, an envelope.
There was nothing written on the front of the envelope, but faint wisps of orange teased my nostrils as I flipped it over and slid a nail along the edge to open it. Inside was a folded piece of paper that smelled of Mom. I took another, somewhat shaky breath and opened it.
I’m sorry that I had to leave you in the dark, my darling daughter, it said, and I could almost imagine her saying the words as I read them. Could almost feel her warm breath stirring the hair near my cheek. But I was given little other choice. Besides, I saw my death long ago and knew it was the price I had to pay for having you. I never regretted my choice—not then, and most certainly not now, when that death is at my doorstep. Don’t ever think I accepted my fate placidly. I didn’t. But the cosmos could show me no way out that didn’t also involve your death or Riley’s. Or worse, both of you. In the end, it just had to be.
Live long, love well, and I will see you in the next life. I love you always. Mom.
I closed my eyes against the sting of tears. Damn it, I wouldn’t cry again. I wouldn’t.
But my tear ducts weren’t taking any notice.
I swiped at the moisture, then sat back on my heels. Oddly enough, I almost felt better. At least now I knew why she’d refused to tell me what was going on. She’d seen my death—and Riley’s—if we’d intervened. And I would have intervened. I mean, she was my mother.
And as a result, I’d have died.
Her death still hurt—would always hurt—but a tiny weight seemed to have lifted from my soul.
I glanced down at the letter in my hand, smiling slightly as her scent spun around me, then folded it up again and tucked it into my pocket. That one piece of paper was worth more than anything else in her safe.
I scooped up the remainder of the jewels, but as I rose, awareness washed over me. Someone—or something—was in the house.
I was half werewolf, and my senses were keen. Though I hadn’t actually locked the front door, I doubted any humans could have entered without me hearing. Humans tended to walk heavily, even when they were trying to sneak, and with the house almost empty the sound would have echoed. But this invader was as silent as a ghost. And it wasn’t nonhuman, either, because in the midst of awareness came a wash of heat—not body heat, but rather the heat of a powerful presence.
And he was in spirit form rather than physical.
My pulse skipped, then raced. The last time I’d felt something like this, I’d been in the presence of my father. Of course, that meeting had ended when two Aedh priests had gate-crashed the party in an effort to capture my father—who’d fled and left me to fight the priests off alone. Needless to say, the odds had been on their side, and I’d been taken and tortured for information. And while my father might not have led me into the trap, he still bore some responsibility for it. It was him they wanted, not me.
Hell, everyone wanted him. The Directorate of Other Races, the vampire council, and the reapers.
And they all were intent on using me to get to him.
Which pissed me off no end, but there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it. Especially given the deal I’d made with Madeline Hunter—the woman who was not only in charge of the Directorate, but also one of the highest-ranking members of the vampire council. Of course, she had managed to catch me at a vulnerable moment. She’d arrived uninvited as I said my final good-bye to Mom, had heard my vow for vengeance, and had all but blackmailed me into becoming an adviser to the council. In exchange, they would throw their full resources behind finding Mom’s killer.
I hadn’t walked away from the deal yet—not when finding Mom’s killer might well depend on the information the council could give me. They might be using me to get to my dad, but I sure as hell intended to return the favor.
Not that they’d given me a whole lot so far, but then I hadn’t done a whole lot for them, either.
Still, instinct said that would change quickly now that I’d set my sights on finding the killer.
Sometimes, having psychic skills like my mom totally sucked. Although I guess I had to be thankful that mine were nowhere near as strong as hers had been.
The sensation of power coming up from the floor below was growing stronger. Whoever it was, they were closing in fast. I needed help, and I needed it now. And the only person I could call on so quickly was the one person I was trying to avoid. Azriel—the reaper who was linked to my Chi. I hadn’t heard or seen him since Mom’s death, and part of me had been hoping to keep it that way.
I should have known fate would have other ideas.
Of course, Azriel wasn’t just a reaper. He was a Mijai, a dark angel who hunted and killed the things that returned from the depths of hell—or the dark path, as the reapers preferred to call it—to steal from this world.
But what he hunted now wasn’t a soul-stealer or even my soul.
He—like everyone else—was looking for my father.
And all because my fathe...