Blue of Blood – Free Chapter

This is the First Chapter from Blue of Blood – A Nate Silver, Vampire, Hunter, Novel. Blue of Blood is the third book of the Nate Silver, Vampire, Hunter series. This is more than a trilogy so the story won’t end at book 3. The first book of the series is Nine Princes of Blood. That link will take you all three books of the series: Law of the Blood Queen and Blue of Blood as well.

Blue of Blood CoverPreview



by Wil Ogden (c) 2017

“Nate! What the hell?”

When Nate realized the woman’s voice he heard wasn’t that of the woman cuddling with him under the sheets, he woke up.

“Lanie?” Nate asked. Dreams he couldn’t remember hadn’t relinquished their grasp on his mind. He didn’t know if he’d spoken her name aloud. He asked again, “Lanie, is that you?”

“Since when do you sleep at Three a.m.?” Lanie asked. “When Dai texted you at Nine, I expected you’d be gone a couple hours. Your phone hasn’t stopped ringing or blaring out text notifications since midnight.”

“Huh?” Nate opened his eyes, trying to adjust to very bright lights. Lanie must have turned on every light in the room.

“That ‘J’ guy is contacting you frantically. He’s got a shipping container belonging to that criminal mastermind you’re trying to bust. Dougal, is it? He seems to think you need to be there now, and that was three hours ago.”

“Where is my phone?” Nate searched the bedside table. It vibrated as he found it. He didn’t have to ask Lanie how she knew when his phone got calls. She acted as his talent agent, and in that capacity, she screened his calls to keep his fans a safe distance. Only Lanie, Dai, and maybe two or three other people knew his personal number, the number Lanie didn’t screen. Should someone try to contact Nate, they’d call his professional contact number and their call would hit Lanie’s phone first before being forwarded, if Lanie approved. Sheriff’s business hit his phone on a separate number; all those calls and texts were screened by Lanie’s phone as well.

“Dai, what did you do to my boyfriend to tire him out?” Lanie asked. “Seriously, I want every detail.”

“I’ll tell you when Nate leaves,” Dai said. “Since I kept him for so long, I’ll let you watch me shower while I tell the tale. Well, tales.”

“You’ve got a deal,” Lanie said. “Can I wash your back?”

“No,” Dai said.

“Can I take pictures?” Lanie asked.

“No.” Dai climbed out of bed. She had on Nate’s old sheriff shirt—one from his TV costume, not one of his real Los Angeles County ones.

“Oh well, still a deal,” Lanie said. “Nate, get your cute butt out of here and on the job.”

“I am never going to understand this relationship,” Nate said.

“You don’t have to understand,” Dai said. “Like everything else in life, you have duties and you reap rewards when you perform your duties well. Tonight was more about my reaping rewards for performing your duties well.”

“Ooh, ouch,” Lanie said.

Dai’s words had been the first in months to suggest Nate had been slacking on his duties as the sheriff of Dai’s kingdom. The Kingdom of Heaven seemed to be fine, though Nate had been doing his best not to know for sure. Since the burning of Hallows and Zylpha murdering all his cast-mates from Midnite Starr, he hadn’t been anywhere near where Hallows used to be. Dai’s theatre, The Nocturne, stood only half a block from Hallows. Unable to get there without risking too painful a reminder of what he couldn’t have prevented, Nate hadn’t attended court at all since the massacre.

He expected that Dai would have given him instructions if she needed him to do something. She might have been respecting the distance he’d been keeping, and not demanding anything of him until he was ready. He wasn’t sure when that would be.

“I have human sheriff duties, too,” Nate said. “Dai insisted I legitimize the badge I wear, so it’s her fault I’m so busy. This Dougal guy falls right into the area I’m using as a cover for working nights all the time. It’s my job to track down crime lords like the Nine Princes, and Dougal, from what I’ve seen so far, certainly qualifies.” Dougal focused primarily on human trafficking, but dabbled in other forms of smuggling, such as weapons and drugs. In three weeks on the case, Nate knew he’d nearly missed getting a glimpse of Dougal four times and stopped exactly zero of Dougal’s crimes. “If ‘J’ is right, I need this break.”

“Is this a real case?” Dai asked. “If this ‘J’ is another booty call, I will have issues. Lanie isn’t the jealous type, but…”

“You are,” Nate said. “I’ve been stabbed by you. I do my best to not anger you so I don’t get stabbed again.” Dai’s reasons for stabbing him had nothing to do with her jealousy. He wasn’t sure she wouldn’t stab him should he invoke it. Nate didn’t know enough about J to describe even their gender. He assumed J was a guy, because the person worked as a henchman for a crime lord. “I wish I could tell you more about J, but I don’t even have a name, just the initial.”

“It’s a real case.” Lanie held up her phone and read the latest text. “Sheriff Silver, I hope you’re on your way. I’m risking my ass texting you and there are women chained in this crate. If you don’t get here before Dougal does, the crate may get loaded onto a ship and no one will see these women alive again.”

“Well, fuck!” Dai said. “Long Beach or L.A. docks?”

“Port of Los Angeles,” Lanie said. “He included a map in a few of his texts.”

“Nate, you have my permission to fly,” Dai said. “You won’t make it back downtown by sunrise. I’ll tell Katina and Azure you’ll be staying with them at their place.”

Nate grabbed his pants and pulled them on. He pulled his shoes closer with his mind as he strapped on his Kevlar. “The house in the cove?” He pulled a black sweater over the bulletproof vest.

“Their hotel room was undergoing renovations, last I heard,” Lanie said. “This is good timing; they want to see you. I keep meaning to tell you. It’s been in the works for a few weeks, but you must see them today.” She grabbed his foot and slid a sock over it, then started wiggling on a shoe.

“I guess fate is pulling me south this morning,” Nate said. “Lanie, will you be meeting me at Katina and Azure’s?”

“I have business to handle for most of the day,” Lanie said. “I’ll be down in the afternoon.”

“Lanie, send Cynthia that map,” Dai said. “Nate shouldn’t handle that kind of thing alone.”

“I guess you’ve got business to handle, too?” Nate asked Dai.

“I really didn’t have time to cuddle afterwards,” Dai said. “I have so much crap to do, it’s not funny. Lanie, you’re working for me this morning, right?”

“Yeah,” Lanie said. “My Six a.m. appointment is you. Eight is that security contractor for the real estate deal. Nine-Thirty and Ten-Thirty are inspections. Until Four o’clock this morning, I have time to watch you wash your hair, and whatever else you need to wash. Did you get sweaty?”

Vampires didn’t sweat as much as humans did. Their physiology didn’t let them waste moisture that way. Nate did remember a little sweat, though.

That Dai had cuddled, and if Nate recalled correctly, she’d been lying on his chest since sometime before one a.m., surprised Nate. Dai didn’t normally cuddle; she never had before. He’d have to get his mind straightened out and put the Hallows massacre behind him. Dai may not have needed him recently, but she would soon. He needed to be all-there when she did, even if it meant passing by the empty hulk of the building that once housed Hallows and his and Lanie’s apartment.

“Details after Nate leaves,” Dai said.

Lanie handed Nate his badge. “Sweetie, as much as I’d like to keep you here, too, I can’t. So, you need to hurry up and get out.”

“Nate, here!” Dai handed Nate his shoulder holster with his county issued firearm snapped in. His badge was affixed to the strap. “Fly!” she commanded.

Nate ran out of Dai’s apartment to the stairwell then went up one floor to the roof. He took out his phone and activated the map, then pushed off with his mind, flying off to the south. He knew how to fly in a city without being seen. Staying just below the rooftops and east of the taller buildings, he wouldn’t be on the scope of the airport’s radar. He had to avoid the buildings with balconies by at least a block. Outside of downtown, he stayed between seventy and a hundred feet from the ground over the brightly lit streets, and he flew fast. Streetlights face down and blind people to whatever’s above them.

With all the guidelines of how to do it without being noticed, Queen Dai had one law concerning flying in her city: Don’t.

Minutes after leaving Dai’s apartment in downtown Los Angeles, Nate landed near the container ‘J’ had mentioned, just beyond the edge of the light from the nearby building. He watched and waited. If ‘J’ was right, he might finally meet Los Angeles’ newest crime lord. No one he’d questioned had seen or spoken directly with Dougal. For someone with a reputation for being involved and heavy-handed, the only evidence of Dougal’s existence were texts on his lackey’s burner phones. He considered calling his FBI contact, Special Agent Hannah Dwyer, and letting her know he had a solid lead, but if Nate had to fight to free the women, there would be blood. With blood, Nate’s curse of the bloodeyes could take over and every human he could smell might die.

He waited for Cynthia because she had the tool to stop him. Nate didn’t like having a sword thrust through his chest, but he’d rather suffer that pain than endure the guilt of killing blindly.

By the look of things, he could probably save the women without hurting anyone. A single man leaned by the cab of a truck, smoking and watching a movie on his phone. He could hear six distinct women’s voices in the container on the back of the truck, but he couldn’t understand what they said. Four men inside the building were talking about their fantasy football teams. Nate couldn’t pick out many words through a wall from as far away as he was hiding behind stacks of plastic barrels. He sent a text to ‘J’, “I’m in place, just waiting.” He heard an alert from a phone in the building. That night, in addition to rescuing the women in the truck, he’d meet his inside man.

He then got comfortable and waited. If Dougal showed before Cynthia arrived, Nate hoped the steel of the container would keep the women inside safe from him. He considered rushing the driver and coercing him to walk home, but even a small chance the driver could make it messy was too much risk.

Half an hour passed with nothing happening except the driver went inside once to use a toilet. He didn’t stay inside. When he returned, he checked the container, making sure the lock had been opened. Dougal wouldn’t want any unnecessary delays in inspecting the women before shipping them off.

“Hey!” Cynthia said, jogging up to him. “Ready to be heroes?”

“We’re waiting on Dougal,” Nate said.

“You know he’s coming?” Cynthia asked.

“My contact is expecting him. The driver unlocked the back,” Nate said. “Dougal should be here to inspect his goods before they ship.”

“Women,” Cynthia said. “They’re people, not goods.”

“I know. I’m thinking like Dougal must,” Nate said. “My contact is expecting him.”

“Has your contact met Dougal?” Cynthia asked.

“Not yet,” Nate said.

“Dougal won’t show,” Cynthia said. “At least the odds are against it. That truck is running, though that might not be a sign they’re ready to go. It’s a diesel, they don’t shut those down if they don’t have to. But, they could be getting prepared to move soon.”

Nate didn’t know trucks were left running on purpose. “But, the back is unlocked. Wouldn’t they lock it while preparing to move?”

“Do I hear henchmen in the building?” Cynthia asked. She had far more acute hearing than a human, but she was a dhampyre, not a vampire. As a dhampyre, Cynthia had all the benefits of being a vampire, to a much lesser extent, but none of the drawbacks.

“Yes, four of them,” Nate said.

“They’re getting ready to get in the truck,” Cynthia said. “That truck holds three people in the cab, which means two of those guys are riding in the back.”

“Less than a year ago, you were a struggling actress getting ready to head home to Utah, and now you’re an expert on trucks and criminal tactics?” Nate asked. The question wasn’t looking for an answer. Nate meant to express his amazement.

“Unlike you, an Assistant Sheriff with a cushy job and no expectations to actually get directly involved in law enforcement beyond giving orders, I’m a deputy. I have to study four hours of training every week. I work fifty hours a week for the county and twenty hours a week for Dai.”

“I didn’t mean to…” Whatever he’d triggered, Nate wished he hadn’t. Cynthia wasn’t wrong to feel overworked.

“Hey, don’t get me wrong, I love the life of the queen’s personal bodyguard,” Cynthia said. “The money’s great. Never aging is awesome and you can’t beat being able to heal from any illness or injury. I’m just saying I worked for my knowledge. You deserve everything you have. You’ve earned it with effort, pain and blood. You’re just not really a cop. You’re a vampire king who plays at being a cop.”

“Vamp sheriff, not king. I don’t play at anything. I’m not on TV anymore,” Nate said.

“Season two of Midnite Starr premieres in November, less than a month from now,” Cynthia said. “You may never film another episode, but to the rest of us, you still play a part more than enforce the law. I’m sorry. I respect you for the hero you are, but this is serious law enforcement, and we need to go in while we have a chance to save the girls. The sooner we go, the easier it will be. That driver could jump in the cab and drive off. Then, any rescue involving a moving truck is a thousand times more dangerous than us going in now.”

“If we were doing this by the Sheriff’s Department protocols, we’d have called in backup,” Nate said.

“Well, we know why we can’t do that,” Cynthia said. “You’re still my boss, both as a sheriff and in the vampire world. You just need to tell me the plan.”

Nate’s tactical training involved going after one vampire at a time with a team of two or more hunters. He thought about asking Cynthia for her trained tactical ideas, but she needed him to be a worthy leader. Since every law enforcement tactic started with superior numbers, they wouldn’t be using Cynthia’s training. “You’re right,” Nate said, letting her know he valued her opinion. “We need to act now. Like they say, a bird in the hand, right?”

“Thanks,” Cynthia said. “So, we going in shooting or are you going to try to talk them into early retirement?”

“They work for Dougal,” Nate said. “They’ll fear him more than they fear the law. I’m going to go try to talk our way out of this, but there will be shots fired. Let’s hope there isn’t much blood.”

“Damn!” Cynthia said. “I left my sword in the car. Dai usually handles your risky nights. I haven’t taken the sword out of the sheath since we arrested Mikhail for killing Lady Brandy.”

“Brandy’s dead?” Nate asked. “Mikhail killed his own bloodmother?” Nate didn’t know either vampire well, but he remembered meeting them a few times. They both seemed close.

“Brandy kept Mikhail on a short leash and a shoestring allowance,” Cynthia said. “Dai didn’t take pity, she sent Mikhail to the roof. That was three months ago, back in July. Are you seriously that out of the loop?”

“I guess I am,” Nate said. “You’re going to go over to the left of the door. I’m going to go tell the driver to walk away and then I’m going to honk the horn of the truck. When the guys come out, I’ll try to talk them down. If I can’t, you shoot them. Kill shots. I can’t promise to deal well with living blood. If I go berserk, make sure I stay clear of that container. You know how to shoot past a vest, right? If I’m berserk I won’t be in the right stance to cover the gaps.”

“Armpits and through the neck,” Cynthia said. “I might just go for kneecaps.”

“Please don’t. Bones take hours to heal right and hurt like hell while they do.”

“I know you want me to do whatever I have to,” Cynthia said. “The important thing is the lives of the women in the shipping container. Go get ‘em. I’ll be in position when the goons come out to play.”

Nate unsnapped his holster, but didn’t draw his pistol. He stood and walked calmly towards the driver. The driver saw Nate as soon as he entered the light and drew a pistol from his belt. “You need to leave, bro!”

Still too far to assure enough eye contact for his coercion to hold, Nate tried anyway. While walking slowly forward, he said, “Go home. Take what money you have and move…”

The driver fired, missing Nate. Nate drew his gun and rushed close before the man could fire again. Nate grabbed the man’s wrist and aimed the man’s pistol toward the harbor. The man kept pulling the trigger, hitting only water. “Let me try this again. Drop the gun. Take your wife and kids, if you have them, and move somewhere far away, far inland. Go, now> Run until you can’t, then walk.”

The driver ran off. Nate didn’t have to get that specific. The man would kill himself running. Coercion couldn’t override natural instincts. It couldn’t even make someone do what they wouldn’t do. It straightened the thought process, creating a shortcut to whatever decision the vampire suggested, if such a decision could be reasonable for the person to make.

Nate didn’t even get the chance to bend over to pick up the driver’s gun when the door to the warehouse burst open and a man ran out shooting. Nate stepped farther from the truck and shot back, hitting the man in the thigh and shoulder, just as he’d aimed. His training taught him to shoot for the center of the chest, but he needed to make sure he had someone to question. The next three might come out as a group and Nate might not have the time to aim for non-lethal areas.

The next man came out and fell to his knees, throwing his gun.

The last two emerged together and one yelled at the man on the ground. “Get the hell up and shoot back!”

“Don’t be stupid,” the man on his knees said. “That’s Nate Silver. You’re not prepared to kill him.”

“Is he a vamp?” the yelling man asked. “Dougal wasn’t just being insane? Bas, run back inside and grab the machete. We’ll need it after I drop this guy with a couple of brain shots.” The yelling man’s head then sprayed forward, as did the other man who still stood.

Cynthia stepped up behind the man on his knees and said, “You better pray you’re the one Nate doesn’t want to kill. Are you his informant?”

“I am Julian, Petra’s human,” he said.

Cynthia fired again. Her shot tore into the chest of the man Nate had shot in the knee and shoulder. Julian winced. “Don’t feel the need to shoot me in the leg to make me seem less complicit. I’m a pet, it’ll heal too fast.”

Nate walked over and picked up Julian’s gun and then handed it to Cynthia. He had a brief realization that at least one of the men they’d shot hadn’t yet died. Nate smelled living blood. The world turned red.

When Nate came to his senses nothing around him had changed. He expected to wake as he usually did, among a messy pile of carnage. He only smelled vampire blood. His nose hurt like hell and blood ran over his lips—his own blood.

“You broke my nose?” Nate asked Cynthia.

“I’ve warned you not to stare at my chest,” Cynthia said, nodding slightly toward Julian. No one could know of his bloodeyes or even vampires would want him dead. Cynthia’s nods told him to go along with her ruse.

“I’m sorry?” Nate tried not to make it seem like a guess. He failed at making it sound like an apology. Nate’s informant wouldn’t be in a state of mind, with the recent gunplay, to notice.

“If I’d had my sword, I’d have stabbed you. But, I had to improvise.” Cynthia shook her hand. “If it makes you feel better, I broke at least two knuckle bones on your face.”

“You’re Dai’s dhampyre, aren’t you?” Julian asked. “I’ve seen you at court, but I’ve never been this close. I always assumed you were just a pet, but you don’t move like a pet. I didn’t believe she had the gall to keep a dhampyre. Most vamps and pets in L.A. think it’s just a rumor to make us afraid to cross Dai, like we need more inspiration than not wanting to suffer the wrath of Asmodeus or Nate Silver. But you’re not a vamp and you’re not a pet. Seeing you this close, I can tell. You are what they say. The devil among us, a dhampyre.”

“That’s me!” Cynthia said. “Sunbathing and vampire killing.”

“You’re fucking ruthless,” Julian said. “You just murdered these guys because they had five minutes of training in how to kill vamps.”

“To be trained, they had to know about vamps,” Cynthia said.

Julian shrugged. “They had been given tools to kill vamps. I bet until they saw Nate, they didn’t believe those odd orders were anything other than another of Dougal’s insanities. One time he sent twelve of us to guard Shamu’s tank in sea world.”

“Twelve of you for one tank? I guess the tanks are big,” Nate said.

“Well, it’s all confusing because when we got there, there wasn’t a killer whale named Shamu and there were about a dozen of them. So we each guarded one. I guess we did a decent job of whatever it is we were supposed to do. The next day we each got a thousand dollar bonus.”

“So, what you’re saying is that we didn’t need to kill anyone,” Nate said.

“Don’t go there, Nate,” Cynthia said. “Let’s not forget they were armed with machine guns and getting ready to shoot you. If we were to write this up with the sheriff’s office, we’d spend two weeks at a desk with daily counseling to help us get past taking a life, and then we’d get a medal.”

“I try to be better than being the guy who kills because I can,” Nate said.

“I’m Dai’s proxy here, not yours,” Cynthia said. “Dai would have killed them. And don’t try to back off the responsibility, here. You literally, just two minutes ago, told me to take kill shots.”

“Let’s face it, if you hadn’t killed them, I would have, just less elegantly,” Nate said. “I’m sorry, I take killing seriously, but there are times when it’s unavoidable without exposing us to far more risk than we should.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Cynthia said. “I’m no monster. I just know what needs to be done and I’m trusted to do it. Maybe that makes me a monster, but I don’t kill lightly.”

“I’ve got to run,” Nate said, noticing the sky seemed several shades lighter.

“Leaving me to the grunt work while you go off to play with your girlfriends?” Cynthia asked.

“The sun’s coming up,” Nate said. “I have an appointment with Katina and Azure.”

“I know, Nate,” Cynthia said. “I’m teasing you. You do know I’m your friend, right? I couldn’t give you this hard of a time if I didn’t like you.”

“It’s been so long since we’ve worked together,” Nate said. “I didn’t really get a chance to know you before Hallows burned and I haven’t seen much of you since.”

“You know where I am and when I’m there,” Cynthia said. “You really should be those places, too. This time I’m not messing with you. Dai won’t say it but I will. You have a lot of grief over losing Hallows and all your friends, but you also have duties to Dai and your kingdom. Dai hasn’t needed you for anything I couldn’t handle, but she might, soon. I’m not as strong as you and I don’t have your powers.”

“I’ll be back into things soon,” Nate said. “Take the truck to Nocturne and make sure the girls are safe and get them whatever they need to be healthy. Do you drive this kind of truck?”

“No,” Cynthia said. “I mean, I have the CDL, but no time at all in a big rig diesel.”

“I’ll drive,” Julian said. “You busted me. It’s not like you were just going to let me go home. I don’t know where vamp jail is, but I bet I’m heading there. Do I get a phone call?”

“Yes, there’s a couple cells,” Cynthia said. “Yes, one of them has your name on it, tonight. Of course, you get a phone call. It’s the best way to get Petra into the other cell. You should probably just tell her to meet us at Nocturne.”

“She’ll sacrifice me, and herself,” Julian said. “Dougal knows where Petra’s grandkids live and has been using Petra as his inside vamp. Dougal thinks the Nine Princes still run things in Los Angeles and, when he’s ready, he plans to go to war against them. Petra’s been feeding him lies about which prince oversees which part of town. Dougal is oblivious, I assure you. I spend two nights a week at Concentric, reporting on Satan and Asmodeus’ drug imports.

“Dai wasn’t into the drug trade,” Nate said.

Julian tilted his head and smiled at Nate. “She’s not into anything illegal, except that she kills anyone who interferes with her power over the city.”

“Careful,” Nate said.

“Her body count is way down, but she did lay waste to like a hundred guys from that civil war biker gang. Not everyone believes when Dirk’s bar burned that it was Zylpha. Why would a council member care about a bar in Los Angeles?” Julian asked.

There had been sixteen bikers, and Nate had killed them all while berserk from his bloodeyes. He didn’t feel it necessary to correct Julian’s details about the biker gang. Zylpha was a sore subject, however. Nate had to watch her execute three innocent people in cold blood. They’d been the last three survivors of her massacre of every single member of the cast and crew of his show, Midnite Starr. “I guess Petra doesn’t have any inside connections to the council,” Nate said. “Zylpha lost her own kingdom and…”

“Nate!” Cynthia said. “I’ll explain it all to Julian on the way to the theatre. You have to get to the cove and you probably have just enough time to run there without having to run faster than an early morning jogger. Two more minutes of jabbering with this pet and you’ll either be arriving smoking and steaming and stinky, or you’ll have to run faster than a human can. It’s already too light out to fly.

To Nate, it felt like over a hundred degrees, though the actual temperature was closer to seventy. “I’m going. Thanks for taking care of this.” He jogged off. As he approached the exit gates from the harbor, he slowed and walked past the security station. He pointed at his badge hanging from his shirt pocket, only because he carried his shoulder holster in the open and didn’t want to alarm the guards. They barely looked his way. As he almost got out of sight of the guardhouse, someone getting out of a car in the parking lot yelled his name.

“Sheriff Silver?” Nate hadn’t heard the voice except through the phone or over a video conference.

“Special Agent Dwyer?” Nate called back and jogged over to a woman in a suit. She had a physically imposing presence, standing as tall as Nate and nearly as muscular. She kept her blonde hair pulled into a short ponytail, which seemed far more severe and tighter, in person than it had over the video conferences she sometimes used to plan their investigation. Unlike most of the people Nate knew, at around Six a.m. Special Agent Dwyer would be just starting her day. Her ponytail hadn’t had time to loosen,

“It’s good to finally meet you in person,” agent Dwyer said. “You found something of Dougal’s in there?”

“I did,” Nate said. “My deputy is taking care of some human trafficking victims we found. No concrete links to Dougal, but I suspect he’s involved.”

“Good thing you didn’t follow the lead I sent you, then,” Dwyer said. “Though, a response would have been nice.”

Nate checked his phone. He had two messages from Agent Dwyer from just after midnight. Both gave the address of a parking garage in Hollywood and told Nate to be there between three and six. The second message also asked if he got the first message. “I totally didn’t see these,” Nate said. “It was a busy night and it’s not done yet. I really have to go!”

“You’re running off?” Agent Dwyer asked. “Surely, there is a crime scene to investigate and henchmen to question. By the bloody nose, I can see they didn’t go down without a fight. But, they did go down, right?”

“One got away. I don’t know what became of the other henchmen.” Nate hoped Cynthia found a way to dispose of the bodies and cover up any pools of blood. “I do have somewhere I need to be. I’m sorry I can’t discuss this right now. Call me, we’ll video chat after lunch. I’ll have more details then.”

“Need a lift?” Special Agent Dwyer asked.

Looking down the street, Nate knew he wouldn’t have time to make it to Azure and Katina’s home before the sun rose. He checked his watch. He had ten minutes until sunrise. “I’m headed to the third hotel down along the beach,” he said, remembering which hotels had the Night Watchman’s Suites. “A ride would be nice.”

“Hop in!” She got back in the car and pushed the passenger door open.

Nate climbed in.

“You know Nate, for someone who’s supposed to be my partner, I don’t have any missed calls this morning,” Agent Dwyer said as they pulled from the parking lot.

“That explains why we didn’t get any FBI backup,” Nate said. “I’ll have a chat with my deputy about why she didn’t call for assistance.”

Agent Dwyer asked, “Are you one of those old-fashioned sheriffs who doesn’t like to use your cell phone?”

“I was too close, physically, to make a phone call without risking detection,” Nate said.

“Sounds like a tactical error,” Agent Dwyer said.

“If you’ve heard I’m perfect or that I’m a savant at law enforcement, you’ve been talking to my girlfriend.” Nate looked toward the eastern sky. The bright colors seemed to make him sweat, or maybe he sweat from Agent Dwyer’s light interrogation. She drove slow, under the speed limit, slower than traffic, and far slower than Lanie drove. They had plenty of time to make it to the hotel, but Nate couldn’t help but worry he wouldn’t make it on time.

“You’re a good man, Sheriff Silver,” Agent Dwyer said. “You’re not a great cop. I’m having trouble believing you earned your position the normal way. Assistant sheriffs are usually in their fifties. I thought it was the webcam making you look young, but, seeing you in person, you’re half the age I’d expect of an assistant sheriff.”

“I don’t know how to explain it,” Nate said. “Maybe the sheriff is a fan of Midnite Starr.”

“What’s Midnite Starr?” Agent Dwyer asked.

“For an FBI agent, I’d have expected you would have done a full check of my past,” Nate said.

“You can bet I’m going to be spending my day doing just that,” Agent Dwyer said. She pulled under the overhang of the hotel. “Don’t get me wrong; I like you. You have a lot to learn about how to be a lawman. The first lesson is to call for backup before assaulting even just a handful of bad guys.”

“Even if it wakes you up, I’ll call you before I shoot anyone,” Nate said. “Thanks for the lift.” He gave her an unsure smile. He’d meant it to be friendly, but he felt his lips tighten, betraying his uncertainty with how he felt about her. He walked quickly into the hotel, the pre-sunrise light felt like steam.


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