Page 11

But Fiona had realized at an early age that evil came in all sizes, shapes and races. Human beings were capable of as much cruelty and torture as any paranormal being, and though she had suspected from the first that they were looking for a vampire, she knew that a human being was perfectly capable of the murder, even if not the method.

She had to stay on top of the situation, had to investigate as if she had been trained at Quantico. This was her responsibility.

And yet...

She was paradoxically glad to be sharing that responsibility.

With Jagger. Jagger DeFarge.

She left the balcony, locking the double doors behind her once she was back inside. This was a time to be careful, and she didn't intend to be taken unaware by anyone.

Or anything.

She had to get some sleep.

She lay back down, closed her eyes and wondered if anyone had ever really managed to fall asleep by counting sheep. She tried. It didn't work.

Instead she kept seeing Jagger DeFarge. The rugged and yet ascetic lines of his face. His eyes, gold and entrancing. The richness of his dark hair. The sense of security she felt when he was near. Surely, she told herself, that was only because he was tall and strong.

At last she began to drift to sleep.

But even then, she kept seeing his face, hearing his voice. She saw his smile of gentle amusement when he looked at her, the hardness that locked his jaw when she annoyed him. She felt his hand, touching her.

When she drifted to sleep at last, she was imagining his voice, husky in her ear, and his fingertips, stroking her. His lips were coming closer to hers as he whispered words she couldn't quite comprehend.

He was a vampire. She knew vampires. He was probably getting ready to sink his fangs into her throat and drink her blood.


She was imagining what it would be like if his lips touched on hers and he drew her close to him. He wouldn't be cold to the touch--that was a myth. He would be warm, maybe hot as fire. He would draw her into an embrace that was secure with vibrant warmth, hot and edgy and erotic. His kiss would be filled with passion, searing and wet, and crushed against his body, she would feel the electricity of his being....

The alarm suddenly rang, persistent and irritating. Fiona bolted awake, jerked from the arms that had seemed so real.

She was drenched in sweat. Swearing, she leaped from her bed and headed for the shower.

The ballroom where the luncheon was being held had seating for approximately a hundred and fifty people. The room was beautifully decorated with flowers everywhere, and a large banner stretched across the top of the small stage area boasted, In Honor Of Jennie Mahoney, Philanthropist Extraordinaire.

A jazz trio had played while they were seated and served their salads, followed by a main course of jambalaya, which was delicious. The hotel had always boasted top-notch food, even when serving hundreds of meals for a formal function.

After the entree, there had been several speakers. Some talked about Jennie's humanitarian work. Others spoke about her talent for poetry. Then Jennie herself spoke, reminding them all that New Orleans was unique, a breeding ground for art in all its guises. The coffeehouse they had managed to get back on its feet recognized new talent, from poets to visual artists, violinists to drummers to jazz musicians, as well as those who hoped to one day climb the pop and rock charts.

Her speech drew thunderous applause.

"Son of a bitch," Caitlin, seated to Fiona's right, suddenly muttered.

Fiona looked up to see Jennie Mahoney welcoming Jagger DeFarge to the stage.

She hadn't even seen him here.

Admittedly, the attendees were mainly women, but she had noticed a number of men there, as well. A few of the city commissioners were there, including their old friend August Gaudin. He was at their table, in fact, along with Jill Derby, Sue Preston and Sean Ahearn, who were a couple, and Mya Yates, shapeshifters like Jennie, and supporters of her philanthropic efforts.

The only vampire she'd noticed was Lilly Wayne, an octogenarian and philanthropist in her own right, well-loved by everyone, human and supernatural alike.

Fiona realized now that Jagger had been seated at Lilly's table near the stage, but her view of him had been blocked before he rose to take the microphone.

"How very odd," Shauna, at Fiona's left, said softly. She didn't sound suspicious or angry, just curious.

"What in God's name is he doing here?" Caitlin asked.

"Well, since he's about to speak, I'm assuming he was invited," Fiona told her dryly.

Caitlin's lips were pursed; she didn't answer, only looked on with disapproval.

"He's so cute," Sue, a pretty redhead, whispered to Mya.

"Dreamy," Mya agreed.

Dreamy? Who used that word these days? Fiona wondered, annoyed.

Like it or not, Jagger DeFarge was a presence. His height gave him an immediate advantage, and he had such dark hair. His shoulders were broad, making him stand out in any room. He moved with impressive agility for such a large man, and his smile could only be called compelling.

Because he was a vampire. A vampire with the innate ability to seduce his victims.

But to the best of her knowledge, Jagger DeFarge lived his life like a man. A human being. He worked for the city, a city he truly seemed to love.

They had that in common.

Caitlin made a sound of distaste. Fiona glared at her sister, who looked away, but her cheeks were touched with color.

Just then Jagger began to speak.

"Jennie, I'm here as an officer of law, one who speaks for us all, all of us who love this city and work for all the good things that make up the Crescent City, the Big Easy--our New Orleans. We honor you for the beauty and the creativity you tirelessly work to promote, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We've been through bad times in this city, but bad times teach us how we must cherish all that is fine in life, and for that we thank you. Now, I believe I'm the last speaker, and I think I'll stop here, so we can hear the Mountjoy trio spin their magic again--and enjoy the bourbon-pecan pie."

His words were met by thunderous applause, and Jennie went over to give him a big hug.

"Detective!" someone cried as he started to leave the stage.

He paused, then returned to the mike.

"Yes? Miss Chase, is it? Julie? What is it?"

"Do you have any leads on that bizarre murder?"

"Unfortunately, no, we don't have the answers yet. But we're pursuing the case twenty-four hours a day."

"Do you think there's a killer going after the...fallen women of this city? Are the rest of us safe?"

"Julie, I don't know yet, but we're pursuing any and all leads, and I promise you, we won't stop until this killer is caught."

Another woman stood up.

"Detective--is it true she was drained of blood?"

He didn't hesitate. "Yes. And before everyone starts running for cover, my advice to all of you is the same advice I always give. This is a big city, full of very fine people, along with some very unusual ones and, yes, an admitted criminal element. Ladies, be smart. Go out at night in groups. Lock your doors. Don't let strangers in. If you're at work late, make sure you don't walk to your car alone. Think. Always think. And be smart at all times. And now I'm leaving this luncheon to go back to work on the case--rejoining my partner, along with a team of top-notch officers and forensic investigators. As for you, go about your lives, just be smart, including street smart."

His words were met by another round of applause. Jennie Mahoney took his arm, waving a hand to indicate that there would be no more questions as she walked with him off the stage.

"Oh," Mya sighed, watching him flash a smile at Jennie as he seated her back at her table, then drew out the chair next to hers.

He'd not only been invited, he'd also been given a place of honor.

"I'd feel safe if he was sleeping with me at night," Sue said, grinning.

Caitlin made a sniffing noise. Fiona kicked her beneath the table.

Sean Ahearn laughed, having noticed the exchange, and reached across the table to cover Sue's hand with his. "Honey, please. I am right here, you know."

They all laughed then. "And you know I love you," Sue told him.

"I'm not in a relationship," Mya pointed out.

August Gaudin spoke up then. "Ah, my dear, I hear that a handsome young football player has his eye on you."

Mya flushed. "Randy Soames. Yes."

"And he's your kind," August said softly, as aware as Fiona and her sisters were that their table was filled with shapeshifters.

Sue flicked her hair back. "That, Monsieur Gaudin, sounds both prejudice and archaic, though I'm sure you didn't mean it to."

"He's right," Caitlin said, her tone hard. "Certain...aspects of society should simply remain separate."

"Oh, look! The pie is coming," Fiona said, wanting to hush them all. Her tablemates might be denizens of the underworld, but there were well over a hundred other people in the room, emphasis on "people."

Fiona rose as the pie was brought to the table, acutely aware that Jagger DeFarge was rising, too--ready to go back to work, if what he had said on stage was true.

"Excuse me," she murmured.

"I'll be right back."

She hurried out to the hallway, managing to get there just as Jagger did--with Jennie Mahoney right behind him.

"I'm so sorry, but I should have expected the question to come up," Jennie was saying. She stopped short when she spotted Fiona.

"Hello, dear. I'm so pleased you were able to come today." She was a very attractive woman, somewhere in her mid to late thirties, with flashing green eyes, deep auburn hair and a slim, shapely build.

Of course, she could have any build she wanted, but changing required effort, and most shapeshifters were consistent in the appearance they donned in their day-to-day lives.

"It was my pleasure, Jennie," Fiona said.

"I knew your sister was coming," Jennie said.


"I'm afraid I have to get going," Jagger said, interrupting. "I'm praying we can catch the killer before the city falls into a state of panic."