More people were milling around town than usual when we parked near Sugi and Noira’s shop. Brown, Meda, and Gray were waiting for us when we walked inside. Claws padded to greet Meda to get his usual strokes and love.
Syn was sitting at a table with Chloe, one of the witches in my coven, and they both waved hello to us. Chloe wove tapestries and lived with her husband above their shop. The two women were downing Bavarian cream-filled donuts with their coffee before they had to open their stores’ doors for the day. Like all supernaturals, they didn’t have to worry about gaining weight since magic burned so much energy, but Chloe could eat more than anyone I’d ever met, and she was wispy thin.
I glanced at my watch when we sat with our friends. Brown was in uniform, which surprised me. “I thought we’d be the first ones here. We came early.” So early, I hadn’t bothered much with my hair and makeup. I’d pulled my long waves up into a ponytail to keep my hair off my neck and slapped on some mascara and blush. That’s it. Raven had still given me an appreciative look when I hurried downstairs in old jeans and a T-shirt.
Brown gave his dad an apologetic nod. “I just got a lead for the couple who killed the girl’s father. They used their credit card to pay for a motel yesterday. I want to drive there to make an arrest. Even if I can’t prove they hired the incubus, the crime techs found enough evidence to tie them to her dad’s murder. Once we have them in custody, maybe we can strike some kind of plea deal if they give us information about the P.I.”
Meda glanced at Brown’s dad, too. “We picked up Gray early to bring him here, but I feel bad about leaving him alone all day. Toothy and Paws said he could hang around their chicken farm, but they’d put him to work. I guess that’s better than wandering around town on his own.”
Syn looked over at us. “The four of you are leaving town today?”
Syn tossed Gray a sympathetic smile. “I’ve been to Toothy’s farm. I got a little crazy once and wanted to roast a duck to make a fancy Valentine supper for me and Yenene. He doesn’t just raise chickens for eggs. He raises ducks, geese, and pheasants, too. Even pigeons for squab. It’s an eight-hour job caring for everything with him and Paws working together. And some of it’s really dirty work.” She pursed her lips, thinking. “What if I close my shop for the day and take you around Muddy River instead? I’ll show you all the great places for shifters to run and hunt at full moons. Maybe you’ll be so impressed, you’ll stick around town to be close to your son and Meda.”
Meda gave her a grateful smile. She and Syn had always been close.
Gray frowned, considering her offer. “How did your duck turn out?”
“Dry as jerky. I’m no cook.”
Syn raised a black eyebrow. Her coloring was stunning with her ebony hair and porcelain complexion. “Are you a whiz in the kitchen?”
“Not really, but I kept the boy alive when he came to live with me. I can manage comfort food and the grill. We didn’t starve.”
She grew serious. “Do you miss having him underfoot?”
“Sure do, started wandering again.”
She pressed her lips together and swallowed hard. “I miss Yenene, too.”
Gray finished his coffee and went to sit at Syn’s table. “In that case, let’s have a fun day sightseeing while the four of them go chase criminals.”
Brown pushed to his feet, relieved. “We might be late getting back. Can we meet you guys at Derek’s for burgers tonight? The vampire has a decent line cook.”
“Just give us a call when you’re back in Muddy River,” Syn told him. “And good luck. Hope you catch your crooks.”
Raven and I jammed the last of our pecan rolls in our mouths and chased them down with coffee. Brown was in a hurry. When we walked outside and Raven started to the SUV, Brown said, “What if I drive for a change?”
There was no hesitation. My demon shook his head.
“He’s a terrible passenger,” I explained. “We can follow you, if you want to use your cruiser.”
Brown gave in gracefully. “No, I was just trying to be nice. Raven will get us there faster anyway. He goes so fast, no cop would try to clock him.”
Raven slid behind the steering wheel, scowling. “They all know I’m a law enforcer. They leave me alone.”
That explained it. I’d wondered why Raven didn’t have more speeding tickets than most people could afford. I grabbed a hold of the car handle as he shot from the curb.
Brown gave him directions, and we raced off.
“How will you arrest the couple you’re after?” I asked Brown. “There’s no room in the SUV to drive them to your precinct.” I wasn’t sure if a sheriff had a precinct, but I had no idea what actually happened when he made an arrest.
Brown grinned. “I’ll call in the authorities in the town they’re staying at.
That made sense.
The drive took less than an hour, and soon, we were pulling in front of a motel on the side of the highway. It was single story and had seen better days. The doors were a faded salmon-color and some of the room numbers were hanging crookedly. White, aluminum siding was beginning to look chalky. Raven pulled next to the office, and Brown went in to talk to the manager. When he returned, he said, “Room 7.”
Raven parked next to a silver Buick, and we all got out to walk to the door. Raven raised his fist to knock on it, and the door cracked open. No air conditioner hummed, so heat poured out, stifling. With the lights off and the drapes pulled, we squinted to see in the dim interior.
“Hello?” Brown called.
Silence greeted us. Brown knocked again. “Law enforcement! Open up.”
“Maybe they’re not here,” Meda said.
But I had a bad feeling. I pushed on the door with my toe and it swung a little wider. We could see the shapes of two people lying on the bed, arms and legs entwined.
Brown raised his voice. “Break it up!” He held out his badge.
I shook my head and flipped on the light switch. Two mummies were locked in a clench.
Raven cursed. “The incubus got to them first.”
Meda wrinkled her nose and turned away. Claws growled and went to stand next to her.
Raven ran a hand threw his dark hair in frustration. “The man we questioned yesterday must have called the incubus to let him know we’re questioning his clients. These two would fold under pressure. He must have decided to eliminate that problem.”
Brown’s shoulders drooped with disappointment. “I thought we’d finally caught a break.”
I stared at the grotesque couple, locked together. “What do we do with the bodies? I can’t think of any explanation for their deaths.”
Brown reached for his cell phone. “I have a friend who’s a medical examiner close to here, a tiny bit vampire. His crime scene crew are all part supernatural. He had to deal with a young shifter who didn’t make it through his first change, was part wolf and part human. He knows how to handle situations like this.”
I was surprised to learn that there were so many supernaturals with only small doses of magic who lived among humans. It gave me some encouragement. Not every supernatural had to hide themselves from mortals.
Raven began to pace. Not like him. “What is it?” I asked.
“As soon as Brown’s crew gets here, I want to drive to the man we saw yesterday.” His posture gave away how angry he was. “This time, I’m going to insist he cooperates with us.”
Brown nodded agreement. “I’ll talk to the manager, tell him that someone died in this room and he can’t use it until the techs tell him it’s clear. When the M.E. gets here and we fill him in, then we can leave.” He strode off and the rest of us waited impatiently.
Fifteen minutes later, the medical examiner and his team arrived. One of the techs put up yellow crime tape while the examiner conferred with Brown. Another ten minutes passed before we were clear to leave.
Once again, Raven’s foot smashed on the gas pedal, and we arrived at the low building where the man worked in under half an hour. But when Raven asked to see him, we were told he never came in today, didn’t call in either.
With a nod, Raven stalked back to the SUV and drove to the man’s house. Like yesterday, the garage door was open and the red Corvette sat inside. The space where his wife’s car must park was empty. We walked toward the Corvette, and Raven’s hands curled into fists. He motioned to the front seat.
The man held the steering wheel, but he was completely drained.
“The incubus isn’t taking any chances.” He turned on his heel and paced on the driveway.
I looked at Brown. “What about this body?”
“I’d rather not call it in. The deputy we worked with here had a horrible time answering questions about the accountant we found in his garden. If he has another body in the same shape, people might start looking for answers way too hard or panicking.”
“So what do we do?” Meda asked.
Brown sighed. “I’m going to call him and tell him what happened. Then, if he’s okay with it, we’ll drive the Corvette somewhere and smash it into a tree and have Raven burn the whole thing down to a few bones.”
Raven’s expression relaxed. He liked the idea. “The fewer questions, the better. Two people drained into mummies will cause too many problems.”
Brown made the call, and when he turned off his cell phone, he gave Raven a nod. “Who gets to drive the Corvette?”
“Go for it,” Raven said. “Once we find an out of the way spot, we’ll put the car in neutral and let Hester hurl it into a tree. Then I’ll torch it and the body.”
Meda refused to sit in the car with the dead body. She rode with us as we followed Brown. The rest was easy. When only embers remained, Brown called the deputy again to tell him where to find the remains of the wreck. We’d chosen a road with a sharp curve, so that it looked like the man was going too fast and lost control.
On the drive back to Muddy River, Raven said, “I want to follow up on the young couple on the hiking trail, learn who probably hired their hit.”
Looking grim, Brown nodded. “If the incubus doesn’t beat us there first.”
“They lived far enough away, he might think we don’t know about them. We might have a chance this time.”
“And if we’re too late?” Meda asked.
“Whoever hired him deserves to die anyway. We’ll try for someone else.”
My stomach rumbled, and I pressed a hand to it.
Raven looked stricken. “We forgot to stop for lunch. I’m sorry.”
I leaned closer to kiss his cheek. “I have a mouth. If I was starving, I’d tell you, but I am going to eat everything in sight for supper.”
He laughed. “Fair enough. I hear Derek serves great burgers and fries.”
“Cordelia’s husband’s the cook at the bar. He knows his stuff.” He’d better be fast, though, or he’d be dealing with one grumpy witch. Of course, his nickname was Speedy, so maybe vampires could flip burgers faster than anyone else.