A young. Someone to love. Something to focus on other than herself and her grief over Isobel—
Down the way, just past the exam room she’d been in, a door opened and two males filed out of what had to be a weightlifting facility. They were shirtless and sweating, and they paid no attention to Helania or Boone. They just walked off in the opposite direction—
Helania straightened, her body moving before her brain told it to change positions. Flaring her nostrils, she took a stumbling step forward. And then another.
The scent of one of them was familiar, even though he was a stranger. And the connection that was made instantaneously in her mind was terrifying.
Boone snapped to attention. “Helania? What’s—”
She pointed at the tall male on the left, the one with a Mohawk, and yelled, “You! It was you!”
* * *
Butch was all up in his head as he headed down to the training center’s office. Anytime Janie came up, in any situation, he always got rattled a little. But there was more to it than that. Somehow, staring into Helania’s yellow eyes, as she had put her faith in him with the same trust he put in his God, had rocked him to his soul.
You treat every victim like it’s your sister, don’t you. And every perpetrator like it’s her murderer.
On one level, it wasn’t that tough an extrapolation. Hello. Childhood trauma affecting the adult course of life? Particularly as it motivated said individual to get what had gone wrong in their own past right in the futures of others? Not exactly Einstein material. But still, to hear Helania spell it out like that?
Wow, did it make him want a Scotch. Or fifteen.
But the urge for a drink, and not in a cocktail kind of way, was not something he was going to act on. Using alcohol as an emotional eraser was part of his old way of life, and he’d be damned if he was going to fall back into that shit for even a night—
“—it was you!”
Butch pulled up short and turned around. Down by the weight room, Helania was advancing on two members of the Band of Bastards, her finger pointed in accusation, her body trembling.
As Balthazar and Syn likewise pulled a pivot at the shout, Boone jumped in between them and the female, holding his arms out to prevent Helania from getting too close.
With a curse, Butch instinctively reached for the autoloader he had holstered at his hip, but he kept the gun down by his thigh as he jogged back to the drama.
“What’s going on here?” he said evenly, slipping into cop-mode.
A quick glance at the two Bastards, and it appeared as if an attack from them was unlikely. Balthazar was looking confused, nothing but WTF on his face. And as for Syn?
“He killed the female! He killed my sister!”
Helania was talking fast but clearly, and that finger pointing at Syn was a lineup ID like you read about. And the Bastard’s reaction was interesting—because there was none. The warrior just stared down at the female, nothing changing in his face, his eyes, his stance.
“You were with that murdered female at the club!” Helania said. “I scented you then. You were the one who took her down to the lower level. And when I went down there after I smelled the blood, your scent was in the air! It was you!”
Syn continued to play the Sphinx card, his features remaining composed, almost bored. But Balthazar? The Bastard was now looking at his comrade with anger . . . as if maybe, just maybe, he had been through this before with the guy.
Butch glanced at Boone. “Do me a favor, take her back to the room we were in? I want to talk to Syn—”
“He did it!” Helania lunged at the male, but Boone held her in place. “You bastard! You fucking bastard!”
Butch stepped up to the female, and as he got her attention, he lowered his voice. “I believe you. I believe that you saw him with the female who was killed. I believe that you tracked him down to the lower level. Right now, I need you to let me speak with him, okay? And then I want to talk more with you.”
Helania was breathing heavily, her face white, her eyes wide. But to her credit, she calmed herself down.
“Don’t let him go,” she said harshly. “Don’t you dare let him go.”
“I won’t. I swear. On my Janie.”
Helania looked at Boone. After a tense moment, she let the male lead her away, the two of them walking off toward the interrogation room. She glared over her shoulder the entire time, and even after that door was shut, Butch could swear that he felt her accusing eyes through the fucking concrete.
Butch turned back to the Bastards. He found it curious that Balthazar had stepped in close to his comrade, like he was worried that the other male might do something stupid. But like there was anywhere to run to?
Then again, given Syn’s hard stare, maybe there were other kinds of “stupid” to be worried about.
“Well, that was unexpected,” Butch said to the Bastard in a relaxed tone. “You want to talk about what just went down?”
“Not in the slightest,” Syn drawled. “You need to speak to her. Not me.”
“I’m not sure I agree with that.” Butch closed the distance between them and met those eyes square-on. “I just had a positive ID on you being with a female who was killed, on the night she was killed, in the club she was killed in. And given the way your buddy here is looking so exasperated, I have a feeling this is not the first time you’ve been in this kind of trouble. Am I right?”
Syn shrugged. “I got nothing to say.”
“Are you going to play human world now? Read me some rights before you handcuff me and throw me in a cell?”
Butch didn’t think it was helpful to go into the fact that there were no jails for vampires, at least not in Caldwell. Now, out West, they had options, but the Nevada desert was a long, long way away. Then again . . . maybe they could squeeze the sonofabitch into a FedEx box, poke some holes in it, and ship his ass out to the penal colony.
After Butch figured out what the fuck was going on, of course. Balthazar glared at his comrade. “Either you start talking or I do.”
“I told the guy, I got nothing to say.”
There was a long silence. And then Balthazar focused on Butch.
“My friend here has a little problem with dead bodies. They seem to happen a lot around him, and they’re not always the ones we want.”
“That human man in the alley had it coming to him,” Syn muttered.
“But you didn’t have to do it the way you did.” Balthazar shook his head and crossed his arms over his chest. “If something happened at Pyre, you need to come clean.”
Syn cocked an eyebrow and then shrugged. “Fine. I was with a female at the club, but I don’t know whether or not she was the one who was killed.”
Butch frowned. “Why didn’t you tell me before now? I asked everyone to let me know if they’d been down there.”
“I didn’t think it mattered.”
Butch raised his chin. “I’ve got a dead female on a slab getting cut up right now by Havers for her autopsy. And you didn’t think it matters.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Well, see, here’s my problem. If you’d told me beforehand, I wouldn’t be thinking right now that you’re hiding something.”
Syn rolled his eyes and made like he was going to turn around. “This is boring me—”
Butch moved fast, grabbing the other male and shoving him back against the concrete wall. Pinning Syn at the throat with his forearm, he dropped his pad and put the muzzle of his gun at the Bastard’s temple.
“You think this is a fucking joke?”
Out of the corner of his eye, Butch saw Boone and Helania watching down by the door to the interrogation room, but he couldn’t worry about that. If he had to shoot the Bastard to get some answers, he would pull the trigger in a heartbeat. Losing an ear, for example, could be painful. So was getting a lead slug in the upper arm. The knee. There were plenty of nonlethal places to shoot, and pain tended to be a great opener of proverbial doors.
Syn, however, did not seem to be impressed by the show of gunmetal. His black eyes gleamed with intelligence, but absolutely no emotion at all.
“A female is dead,” Butch gritted out, “and you’ve just been accused of killing her. And you’re staying silent?”
“I have no comment, but I will do something.” Syn smiled in an evil way, that black stare suddenly glowing red as a blood moon. “How about making it a two-for-one on the dead bodies?”
The male was too fast for Butch to catch him. Syn grabbed the gun and shoved its loaded muzzle into his own mouth.
In his eyes, in his red, glowing eyes, there was one and only one message: Do it.
Down by the interrogation room, Boone just wanted to make sure that he protected Helania from any stray lead that got to flying.
But of course, that imperative became a moot fucking issue when Syn put Butch’s goddamn gun in his mouth.
The two males were both shaking as they stood locked on the verge of a trigger pull, the naked upper torso of the Bastard carved in high relief, Butch’s life-sized build that of a prizefighter’s under his slick clothes. And within a split second, as if a silent alarm had gone off, Brothers flooded in from the gym, the office . . . the other clinic rooms. Moments later, the gun was out of Syn’s oral cavity, the pair were separated, and Vishous was walking Butch down to the interrogation room.
As the pair went inside, Boone considered giving them some space, but Helania wasn’t having it. She marched right in after the Brothers—and that meant Boone was going in, too.
Vishous wheeled around and pegged the two of them with icy eyes. “Give me a minute with him. You don’t have to leave, but you both need to chill.”
Boone nodded as he and Helania backed up against the far wall. Together, they watched in silence as V forced Butch down into a chair and appeared to hold him in place with a heavy hand. They spoke softly to one another, and out of respect, Boone turned away so he was less likely to overhear.