“Nothing.” She shook her head, forcing herself to hold his knowing gaze. “I don’t want anything from you.”
For the longest time, he just stood there, measuring her. Looking right through her. God help her if he ever saw the truth.
“When you’re ready, I want you to tell me what happened here, Nova. All of it. As for the rest…” His deep voice trailed off, and he gave a weary shake of his head. “You know how to reach me.”
She stepped away from the open door. “Good-bye, Mathias.”
He walked out.
As soon as he had, she closed the door behind him and threw the bolt.
Then she sagged back against the battered black steel and released the shaky breath that had been burning in her lungs.
At barely five a.m. the next morning, Nova stood outside the green doors of the Southwark coroner’s office employee entrance in a baggy gray sweatshirt and jeans, her hair concealed under a knit cap. She rapped twice, her breath steaming as she waited in the pre-dawn chill.
The door creaked open, revealing a reed-thin man in a white lab coat. His graying, dishwater blond hair was caught up in an elasticized plastic cap, baring his neck and the edges of the extensive tattoos that weren’t quite concealed by the collar of his coat.
“Thanks for doing this, Stan.”
“No worries,” her long-time client said. “I’m the only one on shift right now, so come on in.”
She’d called him last night, immediately after Mathias Rowan left the shop. Stan hadn’t asked any questions about why she was interested in the recent arrivals at the area morgue. That she wanted to come down and have a look had been explanation enough for one of Ozzy’s regulars.
Even better, Stan wasn’t going to require her to present ID and sign in, the way she’d have to if her visit had been anything but covert.
“This way,” he said, leading her inside to a cold room of white tile and stainless steel. The place reeked of antiseptic and death. “All of the John Does are in those coolers on the far wall, Nova. Take as much time as you need.”
She gave him a nod, then waited until she was alone in the room.
She walked over to one of the latched cabinet compartments and opened it. The drawer clicked as she pulled it out, the only sound in the place, now that it was just her and the dead.
The body on the refrigerated stainless steel slab emerged feet-first, a toe tag proclaiming him Unidentified Caucasian Male. Nova tugged the drawer out the rest of the way, and in moments she was looking over the face of the thug from the other night at Ozzy’s.
The name tasted like acid to her senses, the memory of his ugly sneer and terrifying threats chilling her even more than the cold air in the morgue.
She wasn’t interested in him now. He wasn’t the reason she hadn’t been able to sleep last night. He wasn’t the reason she had come to the coroner’s office on an investigative mission of her own.
She had to know more about the others.
Why were men with scarab tattoos suddenly turning up in London?
Had they known she was there?
Doyle had stumbled upon her by accident, but what if there were others in the city now too? Others who might come looking for her, if they weren’t already…
Nova had a thousand questions, but there was only one she could resolve here.
It was someplace to start, at least. If she were lucky, she might learn if her secret was safe, or if she needed to run again.
She could hardly bear the thought of leaving Ozzy after all he’d done for her. The old man had been her only family for almost half her life now. And Eddie, the kid brother she never had.
Her heart hurt to remember another brother, one she knew a long time ago. Older than her by a lifetime, it seemed, Aedan had been the sole kindness in a beautiful, glittering house full of hideous, private brutality and unspeakable abuse.
A Breed male born to the monster who’d adopted Nova when she was a young child, Aedan never knew what she’d been going through. She’d been forced to smile and act her part, keep all of her toxic secrets bottled up inside. And then Aedan left their Darkhaven home, never to return, and from then on she’d been truly alone.
Ozzy and Eddie were the family she made for herself in the time since, and after last night, she’d dragged Oz into the violence and ugliness of her past too.
Not that he hadn’t known the worst of it before then.
She looked down at the tattoos he’d skillfully made on the backs of her hands when she turned seventeen. She’d begged him for the ink–her first–and he’d reluctantly agreed only because he understood what it meant to her.
The mark on the back of her right hand, the tattoo she’d pleaded with Oz to conceal, was barely visible anymore, obscured by his beautiful art.
Nova rubbed her thumb over the exotic Egyptian eye and artful flourishes that had once been an entirely different image–one she hated with every fiber of her being.
A black scarab, identical to the one on Orin Doyle’s right hand.
The ones she knew she was going to find on the hands of the other dead men in this room.
Nova shoved Doyle’s body back into its cabinet and closed the door. She opened the compartment next to him and pulled out the drawer. The man’s face was unfamiliar, but he had the scarab mark on his hand, just as Mathias had told her.
Nova opened two more coolers and found two more scarab tattoos. All of the thugs had been in service to her adoptive father.
She shook off a chill that went deep into her marrow. She didn’t want to know more, but she couldn’t stop now. For her own safety, she had to understand what was going on.
And for that, she would have to call upon the dark ability she’d been born with as a Breedmate.
Steadying herself for what was to come, she reached out with her right hand and took hold of the waxy fingers of the dead man closest to her.
A jolt of memory hit her the instant she touched him.
Not her memory, but his.
The awful talent she despised had lost none of its power. It rose up swiftly, vividly, giving her a crystal-clear picture of the dead man’s final moments.
Images flooded her mind as if she was living them herself: she saw the dark water of the Thames under a night sky, a large steel shipping container being unloaded onto a dock.
Someone spoke to her–to the man who would be dead before long–Russian words she couldn’t comprehend. More men stood nearby, speaking urgently, making some kind of deal, from what she could discern from their body language and gestures.
Then the sharp report of gunshots nearby.
Anxious shouts went up, and Nova’s line of vision swung around abruptly as the man whose gaze she was seeing through suddenly turned his head. Orin Doyle stood there, a pistol raised at forehead level in front of Nova’s eyes.
Doyle grinned, then fired.
Nova’s connection cut short as the man dropped to the ground, shot dead at point-blank range by someone he knew and trusted.
“What the hell?”
Sick from the power of her gift and what it showed her, she let go and moved to another of the bodies to repeat the process. Doyle killed him too, another shot ringing out elsewhere at the same time, dropping one of the Russians just before Nova’s connection to Doyle’s victim severed.
She moaned, unable to continue.
Using her ability always left her nauseated and weak. After so many years away from it, and after the grisly visions she’d just witnessed, it was all Nova could do to return all of the dead back to their coolers and close everything up.
She staggered into a vacant restroom down the hallway, her head pounding ferociously, stomach rebelling with each step.
She hit the first stall and retched into the toilet.
As she slumped against the cold metal wall, her mind spun with even more questions than when she’d first arrived at the morgue.
What were Doyle and the other men up to at that dock?
Why had he turned on his own?
And most troubling of all, how could Nova answer any of her questions without risking herself and everyone she cared for?
Fresh out of the shower, Mathias pivoted his head over his shoulder to get another look in the mirror at Nova’s handiwork on his back.
A sword, for fuck’s sake.
A gleaming, perfectly rendered, realistic-looking blade that extended tip-down along the length of his spine.
The kind of sword a knight would carry.
Mathias chuckled wryly to himself. She’d called him Galahad, after all. Apparently the joke was on him–literally.
Whatever her intent, he actually liked the tattoo.
He like her too, and that was a fact that had been eating him up ever since he’d returned to Order headquarters the night before.
His interest in her was a problem he didn’t want to acknowledge, but it was rather hard to deny the way she’d stirred his interest last night. Feeling her warmth leaning over him for two hours while she worked on him had been torture.
Her gloved hands all over his naked back, sure and steady, as she’d created a work of art on his skin had made him long to feel her touch in other places.
The subtle, fleeting graze of her lovely little breasts, so precariously contained within the zippered black leather vest she seemed to think passed for clothing, had given him a hard-on he had barely managed to rein in.
He’d wanted to kiss her, and no doubt would have, if she’d been anything but prickly and evasive with him. He might have done more than kiss her, had she not been the wiser of them and all but tossed him out on his ass and slammed the door behind him.
So, instead, he’d gone back to base with an uncharacteristically bad attitude and a need to be left alone to lick his damaged male pride and reassure himself that fiery, enigmatic Nova was a problem he damned well didn’t need.
He was still trying to convince himself of that today. Not a good potential, considering it was going on sundown and just the thought of her had his cock rising to attention all over again.
What would his old friends back in Boston tell him to do about Nova?
He had half a mind to call and find out.
Then again, he could predict most of their reactions without consultation.
Leave the female alone.
Mind on duty, not your dick.
Find another distraction–one that wasn’t a person of interest in a homicide.
Of course, there were no less than ten of the most seasoned Order members who wouldn’t have been able to follow their own sage advice. Mated warriors, each with their own blood-bonded Breedmate that they loved more than life itself. Some of the Order had even fathered children in the twenty years Mathias had known them.
All things he’d never aspired to, never paused long enough to consider he might want.
Not that he wanted any of that now.
And certainly not with a difficult, secretive woman like Nova.
What kind of name was that, anyway?
Who was her family?
She’d been living with Ozzy at least since she was seventeen, according to what little she’d divulged. Mathias guessed she’d been under the old man’s wing for longer than that. He just didn’t know the how or why of it.
Just as he didn’t know who had been responsible for the hurt she’d shown him–however briefly–when she’d admitted to him that nothing could be done to her that she hadn’t already endured.
Who the fuck had wounded her so deeply?
Christ, every time he thought about her, it raised new questions. Stirred more curiosity in him to peel back the endless layers of secrets and camouflage she seemed to hide behind.
Mathias didn’t want to think about what he would need to do if peeling back any of those layers proved her guilt in the killing of the man who confronted her in Ozzy’s shop.
He would be duty-bound to surrender her to JUSTIS and let the system decide her fate.
Somehow, he didn’t think she’d stand by and wait for that to happen.
Nova’s headstrong, defiant gaze in the shop last night had told him that much. No, she would run before she’d let herself be shackled. But would she do anything more desperate?
Mathias dreaded being the one to find out.
His head was still churning on that troubling scenario when his comm unit buzzed with an incoming call. He grabbed it off the counter, recognizing his friend Gavin Sloane’s number.
“Don’t tell me you fished another scarab out of the Thames,” he murmured by way of greeting.
“No,” Sloane said. “But we may have a lead on the seven on ice down at the morgue.”
Mathias’s senses went taut with attention. “How so?”
“They had a visitor early this morning. Coroner’s got surveillance video of a woman being admitted into the morgue by one of the graveyard shift employees. She seemed to know at least a few of the victims, held their hands for a couple of minutes before rushing out of the room like she was going to lose her shit.”
The blood in Mathias’s veins started hammering hard with warning. He’d told Nova about the bodies in the morgue. She had seemed shocked, even troubled. But could she have known those men? Could she be mixed up in not just one slaying, but all seven of them?
Ah, fuck. Everything Mathias stood for demanded that he voice his suspicions to his friend, here and now. Yet there was a part of him that wanted to shield Nova from that kind of trouble.
He wanted to be certain before he tossed her into the fray.
“Do you have a description of this woman?” he asked, his voice sounding wooden, even to his own ears.
“It’s not great footage to work with, unfortunately,” Sloane said. “She was wearing a hat and baggy clothing, no doubt to conceal her appearance.”
Mathias gripped his comm like a life line, despising himself for the relief that coursed through him. “Damn, that’s too bad. It might’ve been helpful to find this woman and bring her in for questioning, see if she can give us any IDs on the dead.”