Janvier clenched his jaw, looked away before facing Raphael once more, a bleak hollowness to his gaze. “That is the thing . . . I don’t think anything could convince her to choose a life among immortals.”
Janvier picked Ashwini up at eight that morning. “You didn’t sleep well,” he said, eyes on the dark smudges beneath her eyes.
“It’s not the first sleepless night I’ve ever had—I’m fine.” Unable to resist the craving to touch him, she put her hand on his shoulder and swung up onto the bike. Warm and strong, his scent earthy and familiar, he made the bruises inside her hurt less, her muscles no longer as taut.
“I checked on the snowfall records,” he said. “Last fall in Manhattan before the body was found was around ten p.m., but there were earlier flurries.”
“That still leaves us with a wide window for the body dump.” She chewed on the information as she put on the helmet he passed over. “I don’t think this was done in the light.”
“No—there would’ve been too high a risk of being seen.”
“It’s dark by roughly six, but the shops in that area are open and busy till eight, the restaurants for longer. Even with the place next door to Rocco’s being closed at the time, I’d bet on the body being dumped very close to ten.”
“I agree.” He stroked his hand over her thigh.
She didn’t protest; there was something more tender than sexy in that touch and it closed up her throat. “The autopsy’s starting soon,” she managed to say, before putting her hand on his shoulder again. “Let’s go.”
“There isn’t a drop of blood left in her,” the pathologist confirmed thirty minutes into his examination of the body, “but if this was a vampire, he’s the messiest eater I’ve ever seen. I’ll do cross sections of her throat, but I don’t have much hope of finding deep tissue wounds that confirm fangs.”
“Her other injuries?” Janvier asked, echoing Ashwini’s thoughts.
“Long-term abuse.” The pathologist pointed to a set of scars on the victim’s breasts. “At least three months old, though I’d hazard they were made even earlier. And I’m sure you noticed the fang marks elsewhere on her body. Whoever fed from her didn’t bother to seal up the wounds except over major veins and arteries, and even there, he or she only did the bare minimum to stop the bleeding.”
Ashwini’s best friend had been kidnapped and kept by a predatory group of vampires for two long months. Honor had survived, but she’d been brutalized. Ashwini would never forget the wounds on her friend’s body when they’d found her, the despair in the midnight green of Honor’s eyes. A little longer and she might have lost her friend forever.
The woman on the steel table in front of her hadn’t been found in time, the monsters hurting her terribly before they killed her.
I’ll get justice for you, she promised silently, before looking at the pathologist again. “Were you able to confirm when she died?”
“It’s best-guess at this stage, but from the signs of decomposition in the tissue she does have left, I’d say it was within the past week.”
“Any distinguishing marks on her body?”
“Tattoo on her outer left ankle of what looks like a rainbow-colored dolphin. That has to be unusual.”
Using her phone, Ashwini took a close-up of the image with the pathologist holding the skin taut. It wrinkled in on itself as soon as he let go, and the sight was at once sad and enraging. No one had the right to treat another being as if they had no value.
“This is for your own benefit.”
“No arguments. This . . . thing inside you is never going to permit you to be normal. The doctors will change that.”
Shaking off the memory of the greatest betrayal of her life, she watched with care as the pathologist turned the pitiable shell of the body to check the victim’s back. “No other tattoos or distinctive scars,” the doctor said after laying her down in the supine position again. “But there’s something else you should know.”
Ashwini frowned as the man picked up a limp hand. “That wrist wasn’t broken when she was loaded for transport.”
“Exactly.” The pathologist picked up the victim’s other arm. “I’m sorry to have to do this, but you need to see how bad it is.” With a quiet murmur that Ashwini couldn’t make out, but which appeared to be directed at the woman on the autopsy table, the pathologist snapped the ulna like it was driftwood.
Janvier hissed out a breath. “All her bones are so weak?”
“I’ll do scans to confirm, but yes. They’re porous to the point that I broke her wrist while doing an initial examination.” Placing the victim’s arm back down gently, he said, “Her teeth are cracked, and her skin’s so delicate it’s like paper. See how the bone shard’s gone straight through.”
Pity and anger entwined inside Ashwini. “Anything else?” she said, fighting to keep her voice level.
“Not yet. I’ll forward you the blood test results and any other forensic evidence.”
“Her fingerprints could significantly speed up identification,” Janvier said, white grooves at the corners of his mouth.
“I’ll get started on them right away.”
Thanking the pathologist, Ashwini stepped out of the morgue and into the cool white corridor empty of all other life. It was odd; every time she came to the morgue, it was to exit into this cool quiet and yet it never failed to unsettle her, despite the fact that, to her ability, this place was almost peaceful. The dead kept their secrets.
Striding through the silence, she didn’t refer to what the pathologist had shown them; there was nothing to say, Janvier’s anger as white-hot as her own. “I’ve sent the image of the tattoo to the Guild computer team, asked them to run a search against all possible databases. They’ll do the same as soon as the fingerprints come through, liaise with the Tower team throughout.”
“What about the face?” Janvier zipped up his jacket as they stepped outside into the light snow that had begun to fall. “The Tower has access to an artist who can rebuild it.”
Zipping up her own jacket and flipping up the collar, she said, “Can he—she—do it without the skull? I don’t want to strip away the skin the victim has left.” She should be allowed that dignity at least.