The breeze off the lake had died by the time we made our way back to Brown’s cruiser. My spaghetti strap top stuck to my body, and sweat trickled down my spine. We all looked hot. While Brown slid behind the steering wheel of his car, I went inside and returned with three cold beers.
The men slugged back greedy swallows before Brown turned back to his dashboard, frowning. “The car was stolen,” he said. “The two victims have warrants out for their arrests. They’re suspected in the beating death of the girl’s father. He kept lots of cash in his house. It’s gone.” He grimaced. “We won’t be able to get any fingerprints off the bodies. The skin’s too shriveled. I’m going to have to wait for dental records to make positive identifications.”
Raven wiped sweat from his forehead and emptied his beer bottle. “We can’t let a scene of crime team see the bodies. Nothing normal mummifies bodies a few days after they died.”
“I need their teeth,” Brown repeated. “Besides, the couple we found on the hiking trail looked pretty much like these two.”
“What did the crime team decide?”
“They didn’t. No one knew what to make of it.” Brown rubbed his chin. “Odd, though. The couple we found on that trail were involved in a criminal investigation, too. They’d pressed charges against a highly respected businessman in their city.”
“Do you think there’s a connection?” I asked.
“I can’t see how, but I’ve learned to dig deeper when there are coincidences that tie crimes to each other.”
I glanced back at the cabin where the bodies lay. “We stopped looking for trails the minute Claws got a scent. There has to be another one, one the killer made.”
Raven swiveled to trudge back again. “Let’s do another search.”
This time, Claws found a trail off the front porch. He followed it to the dirt drive that led to the lake, turned, and followed it to where the drive met the country road.
“Maybe the killer had a car waiting here,” I said.
We spread out to look, and soon Raven pointed to grass and wild flowers that had been smashed at the side of the road. “Someone drove here, walked to the cabin, killed the two people, and then returned to his car and drove away.”
“But how did he know where to look for them?” I asked. “They’d stashed their car out of sight. They even hid the food they kept in the cabin.”
“I’d still like to know what killed them,” Brown said, “a vampire or an incubus.”
I’d thought about that and had an answer. “Caree could tell us, She’s a witch in my coven, a healer. She works at Muddy River’s small hospital. She can scan bodies by feel.”
“Could she make dental impressions, too?” Raven asked.
“I’ll ask her.” I pulled my cell from my jeans pocket and made the call. When I asked about the couples’ teeth, I got an affirmative and nodded to let the men know. When I hung up, I said, “Her husband’s going to drive her to the lake. If someone killed two people here, he wants to keep an eye on her.”
Raven gave a nod of approval. He was a bit protective himself. “Good man. Does he know he’s up against an incubus or vampire?”
“He’s a full shifter,” I said. “Unusual. He changes into a griffin with a huge wingspan and a sharp beak. Name’s Gryff. And Caree’s part of my coven. She might be a healer, but all of us are strong enough to defend ourselves. Between the two of them, an enemy would be foolish to challenge them.”
We had an hour before Gryff and Caree reached us, so we returned to the cottage and settled in the kitchen—out of the heat. I put the shrimp cocktail out for us to snack on while we waited, and before Caree and Gryff reached us, it was gone.
When Raven heard Gryff’s pickup tires crunch in the driveway, he was on his feet to meet him. Brown and I scrambled after him. Claws rose and stretched, leisurely following us.
“Thanks for coming right away,” I said. Caree was still dressed in her blue nursing scrubs. She must have closed down the hospital to race here. A photographer, Gryff wore old jeans and a T-shirt.
Caree shook her head. “This sounds like a sordid murder. If you can find who did it and stop him, I’m glad to be of any help.”
Gryff scanned the lake and cottages. He grinned. “Nice. Did you buy the whole set-up, Raven?”
My demon nodded. “I wanted to surprise Hester. I didn’t intend for our getaway to turn into a crime scene.”
“Yeah, that part sucks. But I gotta give it to you. This is a perfect place to skip town and relax.” Gryff’s gaze turned to Brown.
“This is Sheriff Brown,” Raven said in way of introductions. “We’ve worked together before.”
At Gryff’s scowl, Brown hurried to say, “I work with mortals, but I’m half shifter. No one else knows—well, at least, they didn’t—except for my dad, Gray, and Raven.”
Gryff’s black eyes sparkled. “Gray’s your dad? We were friends a long time ago. Leaving you and your mom was the hardest choice he ever made. Devastated him. He had to roam to keep from going back to her.”
Brown shoved his hands in his pockets and swallowed hard. Voice hoarse, he said, “Let’s go look at the bodies. See what we’re dealing with.”
We followed the lake shore to the far end, not saying much, trying to give him time to work through emotions that obviously still plagued him. A fish jumped nearby, and Claws waded into the water, trying to gauge where it turned deeper. My ocelot didn’t mind getting wet. When he decided the fish was too far out to catch, he ran to join us again.
When we reached the last cabin, Raven motioned inside at the bodies. Caree and Gryff went to take a closer look. Caree knelt and ran her hand over each body, high enough to keep from touching them. “An incubus or succubus killed them, drained every ounce of life energy from them.”
Brown frowned. “What about the blood? There’s not one drop on the floor. Where did that go?”
“The blood vaporizes as the incubus sucks in the life force. He gets it all.”
Brown grimaced. “And the teeth?”
Caree reached into the pocket of her nursing scrubs to remove a top and bottom mold. She wrinkled her nose as she gingerly opened the man’s jaws and pressed the molds against his teeth. She returned them to a plastic bag and sealed them before working on the woman. She handed the bags to Brown when she finished.
“Did you notice anything unusual?” Raven asked. “Their car’s stolen. If there’s any identification that’s unusual, it might help us.”
Caree immediately said, “The man had juvenile diabetes before he died. I can fix that, but mortals still have to deal with it.”
“You can tell that?” Brown asked. “Even though he doesn’t have any blood?”
She nodded. “His pancreas wouldn’t make any insulin. I can feel that.”
“You’re a miracle worker. Thanks for coming.”
Gryff smiled proudly at his wife.
“We have plenty of food if you’d like to stay for supper,” Raven told them.
Gryff shook his head. “Can’t. I had to leave the kids with our poor neighbor. Our older boy got Caree’s gift, but the four-year old takes after me, part griffin. When he’s upset, he shifts and flies away. I’m the only one who can catch him.”
“Sweet Hecate.” I couldn’t imagine having a kid who could sprout wings and take off when he wanted to.
Gryff smiled. “Our life never gets boring.” He looked at Caree. “You ready?”
At her nod, we started back to our cottage. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d walked so much, but Claws was loving it.
When we waved them off, Brown crossed his arms over his chest. “Look. If I call in my crime team, that will make the second suspicious death in southern Indiana where we found mummified remains. I don’t want to panic people. I don’t want mortals to start snooping around, trying to find out what happened. I have their dental impressions. How can we fake their murder so people don’t start asking questions?”
Flames rippled over Raven’s fingers. “Fire cleans up a lot of evidence.”
“Then fire, it is.” Brown stalked toward the far cabin. “Bring your SUV. We need to move the bodies.”
Really? After all my years of magic, I wasn’t squeamish, but moving two recent mummies didn’t appeal much to me. It had to be done, though, so I squared my shoulders, determined to help.