Muddy River townspeople welcomed us home with a carry-in when we returned after battling an incubus, gone rogue. We’d defeated him and his mercenaries in an ugly battle.
“Time to celebrate,” Silver Loper informed us. “The town isn’t the same when our key players are off doing their thing.”
Their thing. My thing was teaching the young witches of our town at my school for magic and leading my coven. But since I’d mated with Raven, our town’s enforcer, my relaxing summers were a thing of the past. Derek, our gregarious vampire who ran the town’s bar, had insisted on helping us this time, since the odds were stacked against us. And his wife, Prim—a Fae—wouldn’t let him go without her. Four more people had joined us, and we grateful they had.
It felt good to know the town had missed us. They’d set up tables down the center of Main Street, and there was more food than any of us could eat, along with music and dancing. Raven pulled me into his arms and proved he had more moves than a fire demon should be allowed. Detective Brown and Meda, a member of my coven, were dancing and laughing alongside us, happy to put the investigation behind us. We were ready to return to routine, to enjoy our everyday lives again, but Prim Tallow and Derek didn’t join in the fun. Unlike them. Derek loved to have a good time.
Finally, their solemnness worried me, and we returned to our table. “What’s up?” I asked.
Prim bit her bottom lip, clearly upset. “You remember the new settlement that Derek and I were supporting? The one we sent money to?”
How could I forget? It was always good news to hear that young supernaturals had set out to create a settlement of their own. It meant that supernaturals, in general, were thriving. “Have they hit a roadblock of some kind?” To make more money to send, I’d volunteered to create more products for Prim to sell at Muddy River’s Saturday marketplace, where mortals and supernaturals alike could shop.
Worry lines etched Prim’s forehead. “I’ve been trying to get in touch with them for days, but no one answers their cell phones. Not one person.”
“Could they have lost reception somehow?” Raven asked.
“For three days?” Derek sounded skeptical.
Raven leaned back in his chair, stretching his long legs under the table. He rubbed his chin, giving the problem more thought. “You said they live on the other side of the Mississippi River in Missouri, right?”
“I worked with a supernatural marshal a few times who patrols the entire river area, Nyte Myrage. He’s a third vampire, a third Fae, but the combination gives him some weird talents.”
Prim glanced at Derek, a bemused smile tugging at her lips. “If we have a child, it would have the same mix. It would be interesting to meet Nyte.”
Raven pulled his cell phone from his pants pocket. As always, he wore black. I’d tried to convince my demon that black wasn’t always necessary, but with no luck. “I can call Nyte,” he said. “Ask him to check on your friends and get back to us.”
Prim leaned forward, a look of relief on her lovely face. “I’d appreciate that. Do you think it would take long to hear back from him?”
“Muddy River’s not that far away from the settlement. If Nyte’s tied up in a case, we can go check on them ourselves.”
“Thank you, Raven.” She looked like a terrible weight have been removed from her shoulders. The music was still playing. Maybe she could put her worries aside for a while and come party with us.
My hunky demon shrugged and punched a button on his phone. A few minutes later, he closed the call and said, “Nyte’s driving there now. He’ll let us know as soon as he learns something.”
“In that case…” Derek pulled Prim to her feet. “Let’s have some fun.”
Now that was the Derek I knew and was fond of.
An hour later, I was breathless from dancing, ready to head back to our table, but a slow song started. Raven tugged me close, resting his chin on the top of my head. We were melding into each other and the music when his cell phone rang. He reached for it and held it to his ear, a small smile still on his lips. As he listened, the smile disappeared and his jaw hardened.
Oh, crap. Bad news. Holding hands, he led me back to our table.
Derek and Prim, along with Brown and Meda, had watched us and joined us there.
Raven closed his call, looking grim. He met Derek and Prim’s gazes. “Everyone in the settlement is dead. It looks like someone attacked them while they were sleeping. Every person was dressed in pajamas, and it looks like they were running, trying to escape their houses. No one did.”
Prim stared. “None of them? What killed them?”
“They’re covered in bites. Nyte can’t tell if a swarm of something invaded the town, or if someone or something went from house to house. He’s asked for help. I’m going to drive there to meet him.”
“Now?” I know I sounded like a wimp, but we’d just gotten home after fighting a hard battle, and I was exhausted. “Can’t it wait until morning? I mean, the people are dead. We can’t help them now.”
“The sooner I get there, the fresher the clues. I’d rather see the victims before anything’s contaminated.” He ran a finger down my cheek. “I’ve already dragged you into one case after another. If you want to sit this one out, I understand.”
I raised an eyebrow. Like I’d let that happen. I shook my head. “I’ll sleep on the way.”
Claws padded to my side. My familiar went where I went.
“We’re going, too,” Prim said.
Derek nodded agreement. “I’ll get someone to cover the bar for me.”
Silver Loper had come to see what was up and overheard us. “Slinky and I will help.” The two shifters always pitched in whenever and wherever they could. “Speedy can tell us what to do.”
Speedy was half-vampire and Derek’s line cook. He was married to Cordelia from my coven. He’d make sure the bar ran smoothly while Derek was gone, even though Derek himself was a lot of the draw that brought customers in. Our lanky, charming vampire kept things interesting when townspeople stopped for a drink or two and some food.
“Thanks, Silver.” Derek raised his hand to high-five him. “I’ll owe you free drinks for a week.”
“Wouldn’t mind a burger or two thrown in,” Silver said with a grin.
“Done.” Derek looked at Raven. “Ready?”
With a nod, Raven turned to leave.
“Do you need more backup?” Brown asked. “Meda and I can come, too.”
“Not this time. I’d rather have some law officer in town while I’m gone. And I’m not sure what we’re dealing with, but if I need you, I’ll call.”
Satisfied, Brown stayed put, and we climbed in our vehicles to hurry home and grab a few things for our trip.
“I’ll swing by your place,” Derek told us. “You’re on the way out of town, and we’ll follow you from there.”
A half hour later, Raven set off, driving my SUV west toward the Mississippi. Claws curled on the backseat, and I fell asleep with my head propped on a pillow, pressed to the passenger window. Raven had told me once that he could go days without sleep when he was on a case. Witches might not have to sleep, but I sure enjoyed it. And I was a lot less grumpy when I could get my eight hours.
That wouldn’t happen tonight. Raven didn’t know a speed limit, so we’d cross the Mississippi into Missouri sooner rather than later. My night’s sleep would feel more like a nap. But I’d be with Raven. And that’s what mattered.