department 57 rubies of fire

RUBIES OF FIRE

Department 57

 

 

Lynne Connolly

 

 

 

www.loose-id.com

Department 57: Rubies of Fire

Copyright © March 2012 by Lynne Connolly

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eISBN 978-1-61118-801-1

Editor: G. G. Royale

Cover Artist: April Martinez

Printed in the United States of America

 

Published by

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This e-book is a work of fiction. While reference might be made to actual historical events or existing locations, the names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

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Chapter One

“He looks good at a distance, doesn’t he?”

Roz turned away from Nancy to see what had sparked the light in her friend’s bright eyes. When she did, Roz knew her own eyes held sparks too.

She was right; he was very easy on the eyes. Tall, with an athletic build and short, crisply cut, near black hair, Andreas Constant was a walking fantasy. He headed for them without seeing them. Until he saw Roz.

The width of the street lay between them, but he didn’t look away when he stepped off the curb to cross the road. Roz didn’t know whether to admire his carelessness or despise him for stupidly risking the wrath of the New York traffic, but he got to their side of the road without incident and continued to walk toward them.

He swept his dark, intense gaze over her, then returned for a second look. Roz lifted her chin and stared straight back. Good looks didn’t excuse poor manners, as her mother had often said. If he’d been an average Joe, she wouldn’t have liked it, so she shouldn’t like it now. Except that she did, and that made her mad with herself for responding so easily to the man. Office Lotharios shouldn’t be so good-looking.

All he did was smile at her, one corner of his sinful mouth turning up and his gaze softening. Damn. Roz would have bet a week’s salary he had Irish blood in him. Nobody could do that sexy look of mischief quite like an Irishman.

She didn’t smile back. “He might be gorgeous, but there’s not a sincere bone in his body. That man is out for what he can get. Nothing else.”

“So what’s wrong with that? He’s fantastic to look at, and I bet he could show a girl a good time.”

“It’s all right for you. You’re safely engaged.”

Nancy chuckled, a wicked edge to her low laughter. “I wouldn’t say safely, and I wasn’t looking for it. It just happened. Play the field, girl. Dance with every man on the floor before you decide who your partner’s going to be for the rest of the evening.”

“Some mixed metaphor.”

“I never said I majored in English. So play the field
and
dance the night away.” Nancy nudged her when she tried to move away.

“Not with him. He moves on to another partner too fast.”

“None of the girls he dated have complained. He took them out, treated them well, and never promised them anything he didn’t deliver. My idea of a good man.”

Roz didn’t want anything to do with Andreas Constant. The fact that he was just her physical type made her even more determined to resist him, together with the unalterable fact that she was next on his list. He’d come on to her this week, so she knew he was interested, but too bad for him. “He’s dated every other woman in the office, even some of the married ones.”

“Probably because you’re the best, so he saved you for last. Lucky you,” Nancy murmured softly. “He wants you, sugar. Now get out there and dance! We’re going to work together, so what’s the harm in getting to know him better?”

Roz couldn’t help but laugh. Nancy could always defuse a situation, and what might have been tense turned into something that didn’t matter so much. She wouldn’t usually date a work colleague, but working alongside the sexy Andreas Constant hadn’t helped her resolve. And now they would be working more closely together.

He reached them and paused. “Hi, ladies. It’s a fine day, so I decided to walk.” He opened the glass door and went inside, striding toward the elevators at the rear.

Nancy patted her shoulder. “Go to it, kid. See you later.”

“Aren’t you coming up?”

Nancy gave her a knowing smile. “I need to make a call before work. I’ll see you inside.”

“Damn convenient call.”

Nancy’s only response was a wider smile. “With any luck, you’ll get him to yourself in the elevator all the way up to the eighteenth floor.” She leaned closer. Nancy shrugged and turned away, but swiveled abruptly back to Roz, the skirt of her flirty dress flying up briefly before settling around her knees. “Oh, I forgot to tell you. Mom’s changed her mind about the number of attendants she wants me to have.”

Roz grinned. “How many now?”

“She’s trying to double the original six to twelve.” Nancy grimaced. “I still think Vegas would be better.”

Roz’s grin turned into a chuckle. “If you do that, you’re taking me with you. No way am I facing your mom on my own.”

“Okay, I’ll warn you if we do.” Nancy’s face broke into a broad smile. “Probably from my cell phone after we’re safely on the plane.”

Still chuckling, Roz turned in to the door of her office building, a nondescript, not too tall, not too small building in the midst of architectural gems. New York was like that. A space never stayed empty for long; it was far too valuable. Crammed in between an art deco skyscraper and a modern glass and steel monster, her office building was like the Second Attendant in a Shakespeare play—you’d only notice it if it wasn’t there anymore.

The lobby was just as nondescript. Indifferently cleaned, tiled in fake marble, it might have been noticeable in a smaller town, but it seemed to know it didn’t stand a chance in this city of architectural marvels. Roz liked it. It was like her, trying to get by without drawing too much attention to itself.

Unlike Andreas, who stood by the elevators, waiting for the car to arrive. She was surprised one hadn’t arrived by now, but perhaps he’d let a couple go without him. She felt targeted, and not without reason. His smile of greeting barely creased his lips, but the warm look in his eyes intensified. “You busy today?”

“Kinda.” Closer to him, Roz felt a prickle of awareness. She wished she’d stayed with Nancy, but she hated the idea of lurking around just because he was there, waiting to step into the elevator on his own. She had as much right to use the elevator as he did.

She shifted her briefcase to her other hand, the one closest to him. Keeping a distance.

A light
ping
heralded the elevator’s arrival, and she watched the steel doors slide open. With a sideways glance at Constant, she walked forward, and he followed. Nobody else did. That came of getting to work half an hour early. She’d hoped to catch up on some paperwork she’d been too tired to finish last night and to avoid the rush when the other employees arrived.

She wouldn’t make that mistake again. She’d wait for the rush or make sure she got in the elevator on her own.

The elevator wasn’t large, but there was room for them to stand with half an arm’s length between them. Not that Constant even tried. He reached across her on the pretext of pressing the button. Instead of leaning back, he looked down and smiled. It warmed his eyes. “We have to stop meeting like this,” he suggested, his light, musical voice tinged with amusement.

Roz didn’t smile back. “We do indeed.” Unlike him, she meant it.

He smelled too good, something citrusy and himself, a spicy, masculine odor she found herself drawn to. His crisp white shirt revealed a slight shadow underneath. Chest hair and the suggestion of a nipple. Hell, wasn’t she supposed to tempt him with her nipples? Not that there was a chance of that under her buttoned-up suit jacket and light knit top, not to mention the lacy but substantial bra underneath.

“Or perhaps not.” He lifted his long, strong hand and touched her chin, urging her to look up at him. “You’re single. I’m single. What’s the problem?”

“With what?”

“Getting better acquainted. Knox wants us to work together, so maybe we should try it.”

Somehow, she didn’t think her boss had this in mind when he asked Andreas to join the team.

She stared up into his eyes, hoping she wasn’t betraying her speeding pulse and heightened senses in any way. This wasn’t what she was looking for. Not at all.

“You’re suggesting a date?”

His slow smile spoke of sin and wickedness. He reached over and pressed a button. The elevator came to a sudden, jolting halt, urging her against him. He pressed a few more buttons, and she knew he’d keyed in the code that stopped the security alarms going off. She was trapped in an elevator with him. So why wasn’t she screaming the place down? She didn’t need to look too hard inside herself to guess the answer.

He took the invitation she hadn’t meant to give, curling the arm not braced above her head around her waist. “Now, don’t you think it would help if you learned to relax around me?”

She stayed perfectly still. “I’m as relaxed as I need to be.”

“Maybe, maybe not. Why do you think he wants to see us first thing?”

She shrugged, or tried to. “Because something new has turned up. Maybe he wants to take you off the assignment. Why would he want you on the case? Your security cover is really low. You’re a grunt, a clerk.”

If she’d hoped to deflate his ego, she failed. He only grinned and moved closer. “Because I’m the only person who’s met Cristos, been inside Department 57. You need me.”

“Not for long.”

He laughed. “We’ll see. Cristos is a slippery customer. He’s evaded the authorities for years. Do you think he’ll be easy to catch? This operation could go on for a while, baby.” He touched her chin, stroked his fingers down her throat, and paused at the base. She stayed where she was, kept his gaze, but seethed at that “baby.” She was nobody’s baby. “We’ve been dancing around each other for the past two months. Don’t you think I’ve been patient?”

His heat, his closeness, all seeped into her as though her body was just waiting to welcome him home. Yet he’d never even touched her before, just watched her, talked to her. Roz was no longer sure if she was excited, nervous, or panicked. No one had ever made her feel like that before. She needed time to think.

She didn’t get it. When he lowered his head and that sinful, sexy mouth grew closer, she rose up to accept him, almost without thought. Natural, like breathing.

His lips caressed hers, gently moving where she had expected fierce passion and rough treatment. His gentleness unnerved her, but her whole being lifted to him, begging him for more.

She didn’t even
like
him. Andreas Constant moved and behaved with a confidence that amounted to arrogance, especially considering his lowly status as a clerk in the Department of Internal Business. He probably made love the same way. The thought both attracted and repelled her, and she couldn’t be sure which was the stronger emotion.

Before she quite realized it, she’d opened for him and let him taste her. His tongue slid into her mouth, his control absolute, so it was a slow, gentle seduction instead of a fierce taking.

The kiss turned deeper, and wildness curled low in her belly. She should have called a halt, turned in his arms, and hit the button to start the elevator, but she didn’t. She wanted more.

She wanted him. Now. Personality, hell. The man had the body of a god.

As though he heard her, his hand slid smoothly around her body to her breast, pushed aside her jacket, and stroked through the thin knitted silk and bra.

At the same time she felt something insidious slip into her brain. She froze. That was a psychic link, small but obvious to one of her kind. With Andreas caressing her, she had trouble concentrating, but the small, sharp, highly skilled query had been evident for a brief moment before the probe had withdrawn. It couldn’t have been Nancy. Roz knew her signature, the feel of her. She wasn’t sure it was Andreas. The probe felt impersonal, and she couldn’t get a bearing on its origin.

Besides, Andreas was stroking her to a fever of want, the need rising inside her and starting to take over every sense she had.

When he slid the jacket off her shoulder, she gasped, and he pulled back just enough to speak.

“You want it, don’t you?” That sounded like a statement, not a real question. A statement of intent. And crude.

He’d given her her second wake-up call, and for a girl fond of the Snooze button, her last. A chill swept through her when she realized how close she’d come to screwing a colleague in an elevator. The reminder was like a bucket of water dumped over her head. That and the psychic invasion killed the mood and brought her back to reality. “We can’t do this.”

“I think we can.” He slid open the top button of her blouse.

“No. Stop.”

He slid open the second button before he stopped. His eyes, previously half-closed in the spell he’d woven over both of them, opened fully. “You want so far and no further? What are you? A tease?”

“An idiot,” she muttered. Her hands still lay on his back. She lifted them and pulled them around his body to brace them against his powerful chest. If she had to, she’d try force, even though she suspected he was as highly trained as she in physical combat. The job required it. Wistfully she wished the sun still lurked under the horizon. She was stronger in the dark.

“I mean it. We work together.”

He gazed at her, eyes sharp. “Then why do it in the first place?”

Irrational anger swept her. That was too close to the truth. Should she admit she found him irresistible, hot, sexy as hell?

No, he already knew that; he was too arrogant not to. His shirt felt smooth under her hands; his aftershave smelled sharp without being overpowering. All well-thought-out, carefully considered. He knew, all right.

She tried a probe of her own, but he blocked her. Some mortals had natural defenses, barriers no one could work through. Some had none, and some had worked to develop strong barriers. Just as she considered forcing her way in and risking discovery, he opened to her, his barriers melting away just as they should if he wasn’t aware of her probe.

A man, no more. She saw no evidence of any psi activity, nothing except hot desire for her and a primal triumph that she detested. Briefly she swept his mind, finding nothing but the bare details of his life and a single-minded desire to see her naked. She would have noticed something; she was sure of that. Few Talents had her perceptive abilities.

She pushed against his chest, but she might have saved herself the effort for all the effect she had. She needed more leverage. Her strength wasn’t from physical power, not against a man his size, but from training in the martial arts and on the shooting range. Not that she planned to shoot him. Although the thought appealed a very little. Just graze his shoulder to hear him scream. Anything to unnerve him.

She must have smiled, because he leaned forward and touched his tongue to the corner of her mouth. Then drew back. “Two can play tease. If you want me, you’ll have to come get me. You won’t be able to resist for long. You know you won’t.”

Arrogance again. If that had been designed to tempt her, it had the opposite effect. She turned, trying to ignore the sexy slide of his hands against silk knit, and focused on the control panel, eventually locating their floor, more by habit than by sight. Her eyes were still blurred by passion, stunned by the events of a moment before.

She was better than this; she deserved more; she demanded more. Dragging her senses back under control, she turned to face him, nothing but contempt in her face. “Go to hell, Constant.” That should have made her feel better, but it didn’t. Whatever had she been thinking? “On second thought, you can go to hell after this meeting.” Then she’d tell Knox she wouldn’t work with him.

* * * *

Andreas strolled into the meeting room at the DIB, shrugging into his jacket. He inwardly grimaced at the way the cheap fabric rasped against his shirt, and slumped in the seat next to Roz. She turned away from him. He couldn’t blame her after what happened in the elevator, but at least he’d gotten a taste of her before he did his job and scanned her. He turned to the two other occupants, Don Harris and his fiancée, Nancy Carragher. “Do you know what we’re doing here?”

Harris shrugged, his powerful shoulders enhanced by the clever cut of his Italian suit, close-clipped, dirty blond hair glinting in the cold beam of sunlight striking it as though he’d paid it to. He gave Andreas a disdainful and swift survey. “Wait and see.”

Andreas decided not to break the silence again. He hunched over in his seat.

After a minute that felt like five, the door opened and the head of the department strode in. Andreas tensed. This could be a standard meeting, a setup, anything, but he’d better prepare for the worst.

Assistant Director Bernard Knox walked decisively into the room, a laptop computer tucked under one beefy arm. If he hadn’t been a CIA chief, Knox could have made a good living as a wrestler. Under the well-worn suits he wore for work, muscles bulged. He probably had difficulty finding neckties long enough to encircle that bull neck. His bulk matched his intelligence—both were impressive. He glanced around. “Good morning.”

While they murmured their responses, Knox put the computer down and plugged it into one of the power outlets set in the floor under the table. Then he turned around and picked up a hooked pole. He used it to pull down a screen.

Great. A picture show.

“We’re moving on with this operation. Department 57 is turning into a danger, but I need more proof before I take it further. The place is a wild card, and we’ve uncovered disturbing evidence that it works on its own at times, without reference to the proper authorities. The more we discover, the worse it gets. I have a few more pictures. Targets. Memorize the faces, people. Learn all you can about them.”

Andreas suppressed a flinch of recognition as the first picture flashed onto the screen.

“These people are what Cristos likes to call ‘consultants.’ Not full-time agents, and they coincidentally have jobs that take them all over the world. I want them tracked and, if possible, turned.”

Turned into agents for the DIB. Was there a word for that kind of agent? One who worked for one department and reported covertly to another? Andreas could think of a few words, but they wouldn’t pass official muster.

“This is Fabrice Germain. He’s an advertising executive out of Toronto. He has a French mother and French-Canadian father. Currently working in New York, but it’s for the same holding company that owns the Canadian ad agency he’s worked for since he left university. He’s also a consultant to Department 57 and he’s probably involved in covert activities for the Department. I want him tracked and shadowed, and I want to know what kind of Talent he is. You have a team, Don. Arrange it.”

Don murmured his agreement.

The next picture.
Christ!
“Anushka Baranski. Russian. She’s been seen more than once entering the Department.”

The DIB wasn’t supposed to know about these people. Like many of the deep undercover agents, the ones with other jobs, they always entered and left the Department by the garage entrance, the one with the most security and surveillance.

This was getting worse every minute. Andreas watched dumbly as several pictures passed through the computer and onto the screen. Dev Wyvern, art auctioneer and consultant. Laurie Friedland, soccer player and consultant.

Knox turned away and clicked the computer touch pad, putting up a picture of the outside of the Department, a block of offices next to the flashy headquarters of a large television company. He flicked the picture back to Cristos’s. “The Department has refused to give up the information it captured last year. It rejects any suggestion that it had a base in San Francisco. But our informant tells us they were at that disaster.” When Department 57 offices were firebombed. The worst disaster the Department had ever encountered, and although they’d captured the perpetrator, a lot of information had gone into the wild. And most of the people in that slide show had been there, so it had to be the link.

“Who’s the informant?” It was worth a try.

Knox glanced at him scornfully, thin mouth turned down in a sneer. “Oh no, not yet. I’ll give you any names you need when I think you need them. I can tell you that we sent a covert team in last year, just after the San Francisco incident, when the Department’s resources were stretched. They posed as independent documentary makers.”

The documentary maker, Michael Clarkson. The Company had asked Cristos to cooperate when a documentary maker had asked for access, and he’d diplomatically agreed. Clarkson had made controversial films about matters “dear to the US citizen’s heart,” as he put it, accusing football players of corruption and TV companies of cooperating with the government, and he got the authorities on the run. So the CIA wanted to appease him, or so they’d all thought, and Cristos had agreed to help, but effectively kept Clarkson shut down. Or so he’d thought.

If anyone unmasked Talents, Andreas would put his money on a maverick filmmaker to be the one to do it. Somebody from the outside, open to new and different ideas.

On the principle that they wanted Clarkson inside the tent pissing out instead of outside the tent pissing in, the CIA had reluctantly granted him access to some noncovert departments. Cristos had cooperated, up to a point. Department staff had suspected him and been careful around him. Had they been careful enough? Obviously not.

“Some of you wondered why we relocated two years ago. This is why we’re not in Langley, ladies and gentlemen, as we used to be. Department 57 is in New York, so we’re here too.”

Speculation had said the department that investigated other departments wanted to make space between it and its targets—rogue CIA officers. It shared the reputation all internal investigations departments in any agency tended to have, fostering suspicion in people who should have been colleagues.

The move had relieved most residents of Langley, but it only made Andreas’s blood pressure rise now. A two-year investigation. What could the DIB have discovered? How could Department 57 neutralize them? Cristos had made sure that his exit from the Department was messy and noticed, and his cover well established, tempting Knox to request his transfer.

Knox spread his hands, then punched the touch pad with more force than he needed. At last, Cristos’s picture was replaced by another. Andreas didn’t like this one any better.

A floor plan of Department 57. The central office area, the smaller offices around it. All labeled, all correct. Cristos’s office at the end of the large space, the big conference room, the smaller ones, and some of the laboratories. At the other side from Cristos’s office, the corridor that led to the more covert laboratories. At least this one didn’t show any details, just a series of rooms. He needed to communicate with his contact, Fabrice. Now.

“This is the Department 57 layout. Whoever I send in there won’t have to know this, of course.” Knox pulled a small, thin object from his pocket and pressed the catch at the end, so it expanded into a slim pointer. He tapped the screen where the corridor began. “We want you to find out what’s beyond here and to get into the system. Cristos has a discrete system as well as the usual network. We need the code to that and a means of accessing it from here. I have a team of analysts on standby, wasting time. We need to put them to work.”

Andreas’d been under orders to keep his psi strictly to himself, to scan the members of the DIB quickly and then closing down. He opened his mind and concentrated on Bernard Knox, rapidly scanning the man. Andreas could only enter the outer part. Otherwise, if Knox was psychic, he’d be able to tell someone was probing him. To go further caused a slight but recognizable pain.

Nothing. No identification, no awareness of his search.

Quickly, he risked communicating with Fabrice, and even quicker, he received a reply.
“Tonight. Usual place.”

After sending an acknowledgment, Andreas shut down, but as he did, he felt something moving in his mind, or rather
someone.

Someone had made him.

Shit on a stick.

 

ASTONISHMENT GRIPPED ROZ when she realized this man she’d dismissed as useless was a Talent. He used his psi with an assurance that told her he knew what he was doing. She’d been wrong earlier.

Surely her family would have told her if there was another Talent active in the DIB. She risked a look at Nancy, who met her eyes with a raised eyebrow, and she felt Nancy’s question.

“What is it?”

“Didn’t you feel it? Sense it?”

“No.”

“Talk to you later.”

Abruptly she cut the connection. She needed to concentrate on her boss.

“I want one of you to go into the Department. Whoever goes in, Constant will be your contact. He’s the only insider we’ve managed to get, so you’ll have to make the best of it.”

Glancing sideways at Andreas Constant, Roz smiled when she saw the chagrin with which he greeted that comment, but he said nothing and didn’t look at her.

“Don, I’ve assigned you a technical expert, one of the best we’ve got. Hook on to the private Department 57 system and see if you can break in.” He paused and looked from Nancy to Roz. “So which of you will it be? I need to know today so I can put your name on the transfer documents.”

Roz heaved a sigh and thought of doing it for her country. “Me. I’ll do it.” If Nancy went in on this op, she’d have to postpone the wedding or at least scale it down. Her mother would never let her hear the end of it. “I take it this is not a fast job. You’ll want your operative in place for as long as it takes.”

Knox watched her, his eyes gleaming speculatively. She saw the narrowed gaze, the sudden inspiration.
Fuck, what now?
“That will be fine.” He didn’t take his gaze away from Roz. “You and Constant can cover as an item. He can back you up much better like that.”

“But they know he works for the DIB.”

“Yes, and they’ll know he’s a schmuck, a lowlife, someone who won’t climb higher in the Company.” Constant made a sound, but Knox interrupted him. “You know it’s true, Constant. You don’t work hard enough to make a difference. You might have gone further, but you don’t have the dedication to do the job. If you hadn’t fucked the boss’s PA, that might have helped. But you can be liaison and backup, and you’re here to give us as much information as you can. If Roz gets into trouble, she can fake illness and they’ll call you to come get her.
Capisce
?”

“Yeah.” Constant didn’t sound any happier than she did. She’d only just shaken him off, and now she was stuck with him again. Whatever else, he was someone she could only despise.

“Move in together. Make like lovers.”

Could it get any fucking worse?

“My apartment isn’t in the best part of town,” Constant said. “I’m changing where I live, so I took a temporary lease on a small place.”

“You can move in with the two women, then.” Knox gave a bland, conciliatory smile. “You can claim the rent on expenses for the length of the case.”

Roz felt some relief, but not because of the rent. Because Nancy could help, even act as a buffer between her and Andreas. While she resented being reduced to one of the “two women,” she wanted this meeting over, so she didn’t object aloud.

When she finally looked at Constant, he grinned at her, but under the smile, she saw a promise. A dark, sensual promise she had no intention of accepting. Truly she didn’t.

Chapter Two

Following Andreas Constant had proved as easy as opening her mind and letting him in. So much so that Roz wondered briefly if he suspected anything and was making investigation simple for her. No, that couldn’t be possible. She’d read him, entered the forefront of his mind, and she found nothing there but lustful thoughts and work niggles. No sigil, the mental symbol all Talents had; no image of a shape-shifter’s other form, no family symbol that vampires used, no tense, electric tingling that she would have gotten if he’d had strong psychic gifts. Constant was just an extraordinarily handsome, sex-obsessed mortal. She had to be mistaken.

She’d picked up his trail right after she’d stopped in a back alley to feed from a college kid looking for kicks in this doubtful area. Being a couple of security levels above Constant had given her access to his files, so she knew where to start.

The district given as his address shocked her a little. Rather a lot, when she saw the stinking building it took her to in the middle of one of the worst areas of Manhattan, one of the few the authorities hadn’t cleaned up yet. Not so far for her to walk from her home on the Upper West Side, but a world away in every other sense.

Groups of teens lounged in the street, probably working when they should rightly have been in bed. If she weren’t Talented, Roz wouldn’t have dreamed of venturing here alone. But she fuzzed her presence well enough, blurring people’s vision of her so she looked like anyone else in this godforsaken rat hole, her nondescript sneakers and ragged hoodie fitting right in with the general wear of people here. No one took any notice of her.

She was beginning to think she had the wrong address, or that he’d lied, when a figure emerged from the block she was watching. She had to look twice to confirm the man really was Andreas Constant.

He wore a pair of perfectly cut pants and a leather jacket with something dark underneath, a shirt or T-shirt. No sign of the practical but deeply boring clothes he wore to work. His dark hair was free of the gel he used during the daytime, brushed back off his face in short, tousled locks. She supposed everyone was entitled to his or her secrets. Some secrets, anyway.

But not from her. If she was to work with him, she wanted to know more than he wanted to tell her, and that controlled touch to her mind this morning had made her wonder about him. She’d wait until he was off guard and read him deeper than she’d done so far. Before she began her assignment, she’d find out about her backup. Constant moved along the street with an easy stride, past people who should have mugged him for his jacket alone. Perhaps they knew him. Why he lived here, she had no idea. If he could afford to dress like that, he could afford a decent neighborhood. Perhaps it gave him some perverse pleasure to walk past these lowlifes every day.

He moved at a brisk pace, so she had to lengthen her stride to keep up with him. She tried a gentle mental probe, but she found his mind shuttered, even more than at work.

She paused, then had to hurry to catch up.

Half an hour later, she stopped for breath outside a fashionable nightclub in Gramercy. He’d walked all the way, and her legs ached with the pace he’d set. Also, she wasn’t dressed for fashionable nightclubs. She’d just about pass if she took off the hoodie, in her plain pants and white blouse, but it wasn’t the outfit she’d choose to party in, especially in a swanky place like this. She took off the ragged garment and rolled it into a bundle.

For New York, it was early, but she knew this club would be fuller than most others at this time. It was newly fashionable, and noncelebrities needed to arrive early. She fumbled in her pocket and found a credit card. She guessed the membership card would be about the same size.

Ignoring the long line of people neatly corralled behind red ropes, she walked straight to the front and held up her card to one of the door attendants. She didn’t bother to smile. Smiles weren’t for the muscle at the door; it made them suspicious.

Her standard white-blouse-black-pants looked like designer wear to the discriminating door attendant once she’d messed with his mind a little, and the gold card she showed him allowed her into any area she chose. He opened the door for her. She even got a smile.

Inside, she was as out of place as a demon in heaven. The fancy nightclubs she visited with her friends were livelier, even at this early time of night. No sign of the elaborate cocktails with paper umbrellas and fruit that the more ebullient crowd favored, no chalked list of cocktails with dubious names by the bar. Instead, she saw dimly lit tables with couples and threesomes sitting absorbed in anything but each other. They occasionally glanced around to see who had come in and who was heading for the roped-off area at the end, where the VIPs mingled with a purposeful air the main room lacked.

Except for one couple right at the end—two men totally involved in their conversation, leaning across the little table toward each other like lovers at a secret tryst. Roz hastily turned aside and found a place to sit, sliding into a seat as far away from the single, low spotlight as possible. They hadn’t seen her, but she didn’t want to take any chances.

Andreas Constant sat with his back to her. Facing her, though not looking at her, his features highlighted by the candle flickering on the table between them, was a face she recognized from the pictures from the briefing this morning. Classically beautiful, his blue eyes dazzling despite the dim lighting of the nightclub, Fabrice Germain stood out even here, in this place where beautiful people gathered. A Talent for sure, but what kind of Talent?

Cautiously she projected her senses. Just enough to eavesdrop. Blocking out the gossip around her took a moment, and then she honed in on the couple at the end table.

Her first shock came when she realized they were speaking telepathically. Her second when she realized she could “hear” them. They’d be speaking at a deeper level than the everyday, but that encounter in the elevator… She’d really gotten to Andreas. He’d let her in far more than either of them had realized at the time.

“There’s a mole in the Department.”

“What?”
Germain sounded rattled.

“I’m supposed to act as go-between for Roz Templeton and the DIB. They’re sending her into the Department.”

“We expected something like that. We’ll let her in.”

“I know. What you don’t know is that you, Anushka, Wyvern, and Takasc are specifically targeted. Knox briefed us this morning.”

A moment of shock, then,
“That could be from surveillance. Watching people coming and going, even if they use the back way.”

“They can identify most of the team from the San Francisco job, and they know too damned much. There’s a mole.”

She saw Germain’s slight shrug, the way his silk T-shirt moved like a second skin over his muscular shoulders.

“I think you’re imagining things, bro, but there’s no harm doing a second sweep.”

“Yeah. You do that. I’m moving to Roz’s apartment. Knox wants me to play the lover.”

She saw the chuckle, echoed in Germain’s mind.

“That shouldn’t bother you none. She’s a good-looking female.”

“I thought your kind weren’t supposed to notice that?”

Another chuckle.

“We notice just fine. We just don’t act on it.”

Fuck
. Fabrice Germain was a Sorcerer. Even worse, if he chose to stay a virgin, that meant he was the most powerful of their kind. Fabrice would make her in a minute.

They had to know she sat here, listening in. That was why she’d tracked Constant so easily. He’d let her. Their encounter in the elevator didn’t have anything to do with it. He’d picked up her presence back at his apartment and let her in to see what she would do. Let her follow him, let her in on their conversation, so the Sorcerer could latch on to her and perhaps even read her. They wouldn’t let her go. If  Germain wanted it, he could kill her with a thought.

Roz swallowed, concentrating on controlling her rising panic, and slid out of their minds slowly, a fraction at a time. If she could get away without them noticing, she could flash—teleport—back to her apartment. Flashing exhausted her, but she’d be safe at home. Constant hadn’t been to her apartment yet. He wouldn’t dare flash to an unknown place for fear of landing in the middle of a piece of furniture or even a person. Vampires flashed blind, and unless they knew precisely where they were going, it could mean instant death. But no one would be in her room, and she knew it well.

She could do it. Just a matter of slipping into the bathroom and flashing from there.

Watching the men carefully, aware that hunter had just turned into prey, Roz moved to the end of the seat and glided out of her place. She kept her attention on the two men, who looked at each other, seemingly unaware of her presence.

Forcing herself to move slowly, she headed for the bathroom, walking around the small and sparsely populated dance floor to avoid passing the two men.

The only sense she dared use was empathic, sensing their presence, making sure they didn’t move or watch her as she worked on keeping her pace steady and unhurried.

A strong, male hand clamped over her shoulder and turned her around, pushing her against the wall.

Before she could catch her breath, a hard mouth slammed over hers, preventing any cry she might have made for help, and a voice she knew well commanded her mind.
“Say anything and I’ll knock you out cold. Come with me. I need to talk to you.”

He flashed them to an alley. She felt the wind whip around them and sensed they hadn’t gone far. If he’d flashed, then he would be at least momentarily weak. She pulled away only to feel herself dragged back.

“So tell me what you were doing watching me and my friend so closely?” Andreas Constant demanded.

She glared at him. “How on earth did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“I kept tabs on you while I was walking to the restroom. You and your friend were still sitting at the table. How did you move without me tracking you?”

“You haven’t met many Sorcerers, have you?”

Her brows went up. “No.”

“He kept the illusion for me while I followed you.”

The sound came into both their minds simultaneously.
“Incoming! Prepare for attack!”

Andreas sprang back and pressed against the wall, gaze darting to either side of them.
“I see them. Roz, we have company. Truce.”

“Truce,”
she agreed tensely.

Dark figures slipped around the corner, three, maybe four. They weren’t friendly shadows.

Roz dropped into the pose her karate master had taught her. Beside her, Andreas did the same, but she felt an aura of danger emanate from him, terrifying if he’d aimed it at her.

“You want something?” he asked, his tone deceptively mild.

“Your wallet, for a start.”

Immediately Roz felt a piercing pain. Psychic attack, like fingernails down a chalkboard, paralyzed her senses for a brief moment. Long enough for them to attack.

A swift blow to the side of her head knocked her aside, but she recovered, snapping up her mental defenses as she should have done at the start of the fight. No time to scold herself for her stupidity, but she felt it just the same, embarrassment curling hotly through her body.

Her slip helped psych her up. Her job didn’t involve regular combat, but vampires were always on guard. One of their attackers held something that glinted in the light, smaller than a knife. She didn’t stop to identify it, just assessed the distance between the hand and her foot. Then there was no distance at all as she kicked out and struck the object away. She didn’t hear it fall, because by then Andreas was roaring in pure fury.