Rene nodded to the guy on her left. He set a small duffel bag on the table. Rene pulled it open. Five stacks of bills looked back at me.

"Ten grand now and ten grand plus expenses when Adam and/or the device are returned to us. Twenty grand if Mr. Kamen is alive and free of life-threatening injuries."

Twenty grand and an endorsement from the best bodyguard outfit in the city or sitting on my ass, drinking motor oil coffee. Let me think ...

Rene watched me. There it was again, an odd flicker of distress in her eyes. This time I was ready for it and I caught it--fear. The woman who used to run security for Midnight Games was scared out of her wits, and she was trying her best to hide it.

I glanced at the two men behind her. "Can we speak in private?"

Rene waved her hand, and the twin walking arsenals departed.

I leaned forward. "There are several experienced PI firms in the city that would be happy to take care of this for twenty grand. The Pinkertons, John Bishop, Annamarie and her White Magnolia, any of them would take that paycheck and say thank you. But you came here."

Rene crossed her arms on her chest. "Are you trying to talk me out of hiring you? A peculiar business strategy."

"No, I'm stating a fact. We both know that my reputation is now shit, because Ted Moynohan told anyone who would listen that I was the stray rock in the gears of his great plan."

On the right Andrea's jawline hardened--she'd clenched her teeth.

"Moynohan says a lot of things," Rene said. "He's damaged goods, and nobody likes excuses." "I have no formal investigative training and my r?sum? is short. My point is, if I had lost a valuable object and my career were riding on retrieving it, I wouldn't hire me. I might hire Andrea, because she has both experience and formal training. She can tell you the height of the attacker from the trigonometry of the blood spatter, while I'm fuzzy on what trigonometry is. Hiring us because of Andrea would make sense, but you had no idea she worked here until you walked through the door. The only time you've seen me do my thing was in the Pit." Where I killed things with much bloodshed.

Rene gave me a flat look. "Go on."

"You didn't come here looking for a detective. You came here looking for a hired killer. So why don't you level with me. Why do you need me?"

A strained silence hung between us. A second passed. Another.

"I don't know what Adam was building," Rene said, her voice barely above a whisper. "I know that when I told my direct supervisor that Adam and the device were missing, he called his family and told his wife to pack the children, throw the bare essentials into the car, leave for North Carolina, and not come back until he called them."

"He told his family to get out of town?" Andrea blinked.

Rene nodded. "My brother is bedridden. He can't be moved. I can't take him out of the city. I'm stuck in Atlanta." She leaned forward, her face grim. "You care about your friends, Daniels. Enough to jump on a sword for them. You have a lot to lose and if you get worried enough, you'll strong-arm the Pack into helping you, which is a lot more manpower than I can muster. Find Adam and find his device for me. Before the thief turns it on and does something we both will regret."

THE DOOR SHUT BEHIND RENE. ANDREA ROSE AND moved to the narrow window, watching her and her goons cross the parking lot to their vehicle. "I've been hired for two hours and we already have a client and a job from hell."

I took five thousand dollars out of the bag. Andrea moved away from the window, and I handed the duffel with the rest of the money to her.

"What for?"

"Gun budget."

Andrea ran her thumb, riffing through the stack of twenty-dollar bills. "Cool. We need ammo."

"Did she look scared to you?" I asked.

Andrea grimaced. "She is a cold bitch and she masks it well, but I spent my entire childhood reading faces so I'd know where the next punch was coming from. And I'm a predator. I lock onto fear, because it signals prey. She's really rattled. We're probably going to regret this." "Maybe we should take the other offer. Oh wait. We don't have another offer."

"You are so witty, Miss Daniels. Or is it Mrs. Curran?"

I gave her my hard stare. She barked a short laugh.

I set my bag on my desk and unzipped it to check the contents. Dead bodies had the annoying tendency to decay. The sooner we got to the scene, the better.

Andrea checked her guns. "So Ted told everyone you ruined his parade?"

"Pretty much."

"One day I'll kill him, you know."

I glanced at her. She was deadly serious. Killing Ted would unleash a storm of catastrophic proportions. He was the head of the Atlanta Chapter of the Order. Every knight in the country would hunt us down to their last breath. Of course, Andrea knew all that.

"I'm over it." I swiped my backpack off the desk. "Ready to go?"

"I was born ready. Where is this workshop anyway?"

I checked the directions Rene had given me. "Sibley Forest."

Andrea swore.

Chapter 5

I OWNED TWO CARS: AN OLD BEAT-UP SUBARU NAMED Betsi that ran during tech and a horrid nightmare of a truck called Karmelion. Karmelion took twenty minutes of intense chanting to warm up and made more noise than a gaggle of drunk teenage boys in a bar on a Saturday night, but it ran during magic.

Unfortunately the Beast Lord had condemned both vehicles as unsafe and instead I now leased a Pack Jeep I called Hector. Equipped with dual engines, Hector worked during magic or tech. He didn't go very fast, especially during magic, but so far he hadn't stalled on me either. As long as our high-speed chases stayed under forty-five miles an hour, we would be all set.

Andrea eyed Hector. "Where is Betsi?"

"She's back at the Keep. His Furriness made me lease Hector from the Pack instead. Betsi didn't meet with his exacting standards." I climbed into the driver's seat.

Andrea popped the passenger door open and Grendel bounded into the space behind it, where there once was a rear seat and now was space where I stored equipment. "Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. I believe the exact words he used were `a deathtrap with four wheels.' We had a glorious fight about it."

She grinned and patted Hector's dashboard. "You lost."

"No, I chose to gracefully accept the Pack's generous offer."

"Aha. Keep telling yourself that."

Careful, thin ice. "A third party explained to me in detail that when you're running a business, people judge how successful you are based on your appearance. If you're driving a shabby vehicle, they think you need money and your business is struggling."

Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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