The Hollows series
Neck craned, I squinted up between the shadowed apartments. High in the sun, dragonflylike wings threw back the glow with the transparent sheen of glittery tissue paper. The sporadic traffic at the end of the alley was enough to cover the sound of Jenks’s wings, but I could hear them in my memory as the pixy hovered before a pollution-grimed window.
The moist-dirt smell of damp pavement was a hint under the light but growing scent of frightened vampire coming from near my elbow. I doubted Marsha was having second thoughts, but disobeying your master vampire could have lethal consequences.
Still watching Jenks, I surreptitiously edged away from Marsha’s tense, middle-class office professionalism. Her heels were this year’s style, but she wouldn’t be able to run in them. Her hair was a luscious handful that spilled over her shoulders in an ebony wave—again, it made her an easy target in a close fight. A curvaceous figure sealed the deal that she was beautiful. But as a living vampire, her looks had been selected for over the last two generations, and not for Luke’s benefit, the man she’d unfortunately fallen in love with. But she knew she was vulnerable. That’s why Ivy, Jenks, and I were here.
My neck was getting a crick, and I dropped my gaze to the passing cars, confident that distance and recycling bins would hide us from casual sight. A tight hum jerked my attention back in time to see Jenks dart from a winged shadow. A blue jay squawked, and the tips of five feathers spiraled down between the buildings. Flapping wildly, the sheared bird managed to get across the street before thumping to the sidewalk.
Having already dismissed the bird, Jenks cupped his hands around his face and peered through the window. His skintight, thief-black tights and knit shirt helped him blend into the shadows, and the red cap was to tell rival pixies that he wasn’t there poaching, a real issue this close to Eden Park. So far, no one had bothered him, but birds were a constant threat.
“I shouldn’t have to do this,” the woman at my elbow complained, oblivious that a third of the team here to keep her alive had just had a narrow miss. “It’s my apartment!”
I took a slow breath when Jenks lifted the flap to the bathroom vent and vanished inside. “You want to risk running into Luke?” I said, and she made a sound of frustration. Yes, she did, but to do so would mean her death.
A lingering sensation that something was off dogged me, despite—or perhaps because of—the ease of the run so far. Restless, I resettled my shoulder bag. I wasn’t a slouch when it came to looks, but next to this woman’s structured beauty, my frizzy red hair and low-heel boots fell flat.
Ivy’s confident steps against the hush of the side-street traffic tightened my gut. The vampire next to me stiffened at my increased pulse, and I gave Marsha a look to pull herself together. “Stay here,” I said, not liking that Jenks was still inside. “Jenks will tell you when you can come in.” Hiking my shoulder bag higher, I headed for the sidewalk.
“The hell I will,” Marsha said, then stepped as if to follow.
Spinning, I shoved her shoulder, sending her thumping back against the wall. Shocked, the woman stared, not a hint of anger thanks to a lifetime of conditioning. “The hell you will,” I said. “Stay here until Jenks says you can move, or we turn around and walk. Right here. Right now.”
Only now did her anger show, her pupils widening and the scent of angry vampire prickling my nose. Wanting to nip this show of dominance, I stretched my awareness out and tapped the nearest ley line. Energy flowed in, making the tips of my hair float as it spooled in my chi. My skin tingled, and I leaned into her space, proving I wasn’t scared of her little fangs or her greater strength. “You’re under a conditional death threat, sweetheart,” I breathed. “Once I verify that Luke isn’t in there, you can come get what you want. But if all you’re looking for is a way to die that doesn’t invalidate your life insurance, do it on your own time.”
Sullen, Marsha dropped her eyes, the rim of blue around her pupils returning to normal.
I rocked back, thumbs in my pockets, satisfied that she’d wait. It was unusual for a vampire to listen to anyone outside her camarilla, but she had come to us. Nodding, I looked up and made a sharp whistle. Immediately, Jenks peeked out of the bathroom vent and gave me a thumbs-up. “Park it,” I muttered, and the woman shrank against the Dumpster and out of sight.
Appeased, I started for the front entrance. The run had sounded simple enough when Ivy had brought it up over grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup last night. Helping a woman get her things out of her apartment was a no-brainer—until she told me the separation was being forced by two rival vampire camarillas and if Luke and Marsha didn’t comply someone was going to end up dead. No way was Ivy going to do this one alone.
This was doing nothing to bolster my already low opinion of the undead vampires, the masters who manipulated everyone and everything in their decades-long games. Once they noticed you, the only way to avoid being a victim was to die and become a player yourself.
But not Ivy, I thought as I emerged from the alley and she angled toward me. I wouldn’t let that happen to her. Unfortunately, the harder you squirmed, the more they squeezed.
Ivy’s pace hid a thread of tension I never would’ve noticed if I hadn’t been sharing living space with her for the past three years. Sleek in her black slacks and top, she strode forward with her arms free and swinging. Her long black hair was up in a hard-to-grab bun, and even from here I could see the rims of brown around her eyes were nice and steady. She jumped at the distant sound of a door closing two streets over, though. She’d noticed something was off, too.
Her shoulders eased as she fell in beside me, and we took the steps up to the front common door together. “Luke’s car is still in the lot,” she said as I pulled the door open and we walked into the foyer of the old apartment building as if we belonged. “By the smell of it, it’s not been run for two days.”
“So he’s doing what he’s been told and is still alive.” I glanced up at the camera. Jenks had been through the common areas, and according to him, they were fake. The scuffed tile floor was dirty in the corners, and I leaned against the stairway as Ivy leafed through Marsha’s mail, pulling out everything she might want before putting the rest back in.