“The Guild Director stated she would take care of it.”
Leaning in, she examined the neck, trying to see only the pieces, not the whole. Not Celia, the girl who had been, but simply the brutalized flesh of a neck. And lower down, the ground meat of a chest that was still as flat as a boy’s. “He was feeding in a frenzy,” she murmured, “tore through her skin, ripped it up badly enough that he exposed bone.” Nothing unusual there, except that Ignatius hadn’t been in bloodlust. “Do you know why he’d feed like this if he was lucid?”
“Most vampires are neat.” Jason’s wings rustled slightly as he resettled them, and the sound was a welcome reminder that the painful silence of these woods wasn’t the only reality. “It’s a matter of pride—tearing up a body not only denotes lack of control, it means a vampire loses his or her willing partners very fast. Pain isn’t why most humans take a vampiric lover.”
A flash of memory, Dmitri’s dark head bending over the arched neck of a woman who’d been all but purring for his blood kiss. And later, in the Refuge, Naasir with his eyes of silver and scent of a tiger on the hunt, a woman’s shuddering moan. “Yeah.” She sat up on her haunches, her wings spread out on the forest floor. “Can you help me turn her?”
Jason did so in silence.
The girl’s back was unmarked from what Elena could see. “That’s fine for now. I’ll attend the autopsy, make sure I didn’t miss anything.”
Noises came from within the woods as they turned Celia gently onto her back once again—the murmur of voices, footsteps. It didn’t surprise her when Jason melted into the shadows until she could only see him because she knew he was there—unlike Illium, Raphael’s spymaster didn’t like the spotlight. Even tight-mouthed Galen had friends, a woman he appeared to love, but Elena had never seen Jason with anyone when it didn’t involve his duties.
“I heard a rumor you were back”—a familiar male voice—“didn’t believe it.”
Elena looked up to see death-scene investigator Luca Aczél doing a pretty good job of keeping his surprise at her wings to himself. With his silver-touched black hair, patrician features, and long pianist’s fingers, she’d always thought Luca would look more at home in a boardroom than surrounded by violence, but there was no question that he was brilliant at what he did. Celia would be in good hands.
“Luca.” Rising to her feet, she stepped aside and gave him a quick rundown of what she’d seen and done since her arrival on the scene.
Luca crouched down beside the body, his skin appearing darker than its usual honey brown in this light. “Is the vamp dead?” There was a hardness in his eyes that would’ve surprised many.
Elena had known Luca too long, seen him at too many crime scenes, understood that he’d always walked a fine line when it came to separating his emotions from the often heart-rending reality of his work. “Yes.”
“Good.” A pause. “Hell of a welcome back, Ellie.”
Elena touched her hand to Luca’s shoulder as she passed, intending to check out the primary scene one more time.
“Hey, Ellie.” When she glanced back, he said, “It’s good to have you back, notwithstanding the circumstances.”
The words, the quiet acceptance, meant everything. “I haven’t forgotten I owe you a drink.”
“It’s two now—interest’s a bitch.”
Five minutes later, the light exchange felt as if it had taken place in another lifetime. A lifetime in which she wasn’t standing in the middle of a room saturated with violence while the crime-scene techs worked with calm industriousness around her. It didn’t matter that the killer had been caught and punished, the scene still needed to be documented for both the Guild’s archives and the M.E.’s.
If, one day in the future, Celia’s parents demanded to know what had been done to gain justice for their little girl, there would be some answers for them. Nothing that would lessen the hurt, nothing that would bring their daughter’s laughter back into their lives, but answers all the same.
Just like Elena had had a file to read after she grew old enough to request it.
Shoving aside the jagged edge of memory, she looked around the room, her eyes skimming over the blue-overalled forms of the two techs. She knew one of them, but the other was a stranger. Both had nearly swallowed their tongues when she walked in, but Wesley had lightened the mood by saying, “Can I take a photo of you?” A flash of white teeth against night-dark skin. “Then I can sell it to the reporters as an exclusive and make enough money to pay my as yet nonexistent kids’ college tuitions.”
“Hate to dash your hopes, but I’m probably already on the air by now. The students,” she’d said in explanation when confusion colored those pale brown eyes.
That had been the extent of their conversation. Wesley and his colleague, Dee, went about their business with an efficiency that told her they’d been working as a team long enough to have developed a rhythm, while Elena stood in the center of the room, drowning in the echoes of violence. One of the bunk beds had sheets drenched with red turning to a dull brown that failed to mute the evil that had been done here, while more blood—arterial from the pattern of the spray—splattered the wall to its right, closest to the door.
Wesley was standing there staring at that wall. “Ellie, do you see?”
“Yes.” She turned in a circle, found the blood drips on the floor and wall near the window, felt her hand clench. “Dee, could you do me a favor for a second?”
The petite blonde rose to her feet, fingerprint brush in hand. “Sure, what do you need?”
“If you’d stand by the door.” Elena waited until she’d done so. “Bend down a little. That’s it.” Heading over, she looked at the spray. “That’s how tall Celia would’ve been while standing.”
Straightening, the tech looked behind her, her bones sharp against skin that hadn’t yet thrown off the pallor of winter. “Bastard took her out here, sprayed the wall.”
“Then who bled out on the bed?” Having moved to the bunk, Wesley lifted up the mattress with careful hands. “It’s soaked through. No way the girl had enough in her after splattering the wall that bad.”
Damn it. “Call your people, tell them the pond needs to be searched.” A vampire of Ignatius’s age—he’d appeared sixty at least—could’ve carried the slight weight of two young girls without a problem. Or ... he’d discarded one in the woods where the angels hadn’t spotted it from above, and Elena had bypassed because she’d been focused on the murderer.