Autumn Whispers (Page 5)

I shrugged. “Knowing them, it’s probably a nonemergency. I know they’re vamps but they still remind me of overgrown frat boys.”

She shook her head. “Not frat boys—they aren’t hip enough for that. Overgrown vidiots?”

Stifling a snicker, I tried not to laugh but I couldn’t help it. “Roz and Vanzir would be just like them, if they’d been human to begin with.”

Camille groaned. “No . . . Roz and Vanzir would be the frat boys who beat them up.” And with that, she focused on navigating the slick roads, while I put in a call to Carter to let him know we were dropping by later.

Chapter 3

The Wayfarer was crowded, as usual. The early focus of the inn and bar had been on OW Fae, when Menolly had been set up as an undercover agent for the OIA. But two factors had shifted the demographics.

First, Menolly now owned the Wayfarer. And second, the minute she’d been chosen by Roman to be his consort, bloodsuckers galore began to hang out at the bar. Menolly wasn’t altogether thrilled with the change, but there wasn’t much she could do about it. She did, however, insist on reserving the rooms in the B&B part exclusively for Otherworld Fae coming in to visit the area.

We threaded our way through the throng, up to the bar. Camille whispered something to me, but even with our heightened hearing, the noise of the crowd overwhelmed anything she was saying. I shook my head.

Menolly was on the phone, and she looked worried. By her side, Derrick Means, chief bartender and werebadger, was going at it full throttle, serving drinks right and left. Digger, another bartender—a vampire sent by Roman to help—was also working up a sweat. Figuratively, of course.

The barstools were all taken, but I spied a booth that had just been vacated and made a beeline for it. Camille followed, motioning for Menolly to join us. As soon as she hung up, she hopped over the bar and joined us.

“Is something wrong?” By her expression, I had the feeling something was going on. “Did you get another letter?”

She shook her head. Two weeks ago, Menolly had received a letter from some law firm by the name of Vistar-Tashdey, offering a large sum of money from an unnamed client. Whoever it was wanted to buy the Wayfarer and the language had seemed semithreatening. Menolly had tossed the letter aside, but from the few times since then that she’d mentioned it, I’d gotten the impression that it had unnerved her.

“No, but . . .” She glanced around, then leaned in and lowered her voice. “I didn’t want to worry you but I’ve received two threatening phone calls—the second just a few minutes ago.”

Camille cocked her head, her gaze clouding over. “Who was it and what did they say?”

“I have no idea who it was . . . even whether it was male or female. The first time I thought it was some idiot teenager but now . . . I’m not so sure.”

“What did they want?” From my vantage point, I could see Tad and Albert threading their way through the crowd. “Tad and Albert are on the way.”

Menolly sucked on her lip. “Whoever it was threatened to burn down the bar and said that vamps deserved to charbroil in hell.”

Before we could say a word, Tad and Albert appeared by the side of the booth. They’d already stopped at the bar for bottled blood, which they were sipping discreetly.

With a warning nod to keep silent, Menolly switched over next to us, allowing the guys to slide into the opposite seat. I glanced at Camille, who looked as worried as I felt, but this was not the time to discuss it. Tabling the threats for after our meeting, I turned to the geek squad.

The pair were unlikely looking vamps, that was for sure. Nerds to the core, they wore Microsoft T-shirts, and ripped—but clean—jeans. Slender and lithe, Tad had a ponytail that trailed down his back, touching his ass. He was soft-spoken and funny, one of those sensitive guys who would never be an alpha, but that you couldn’t categorize as a beta male, either.

Albert, on the other hand, had been turned before he’d had a chance to shape up. He had a tidy beer belly on him. He sported a ponytail, too, though apparently he had just started balding when he’d been turned, so his hairline was receding. Last time we’d met him, he reminded me of the Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons. But this time, he seemed to have moderated his atttitude and had an almost pleasant look on his face.

They flashed us toothy grins. Their vampiric nature gave them an appealing feel and it flashed through my mind that they might actually be fun to hang out with; then I nixed that thought because even though I’d accepted my sister being a vampire, cozying up to the fangy set wasn’t a good idea in general. Their glamour was all too easy to misuse and abuse.

“Hey guys,” Menolly said. “How’s it hanging?”

“Long and hard.” Albert snorted as I blushed, but then his laugh slid away and a worried look filled his frost-colored eyes. “We have a problem.”

“What’s going on?” I pulled out my notebook and a pen. I always ended up typing our notes anyway, so I had finally put claim to the function of secretary for the three of us.

Tad blinked, his gaze coming to rest on my face. I recognized his expression. It was the same fear I’d felt when I was worried about one of my sisters. He leaned forward, lowering his voice.

“One of our friends has vanished. We’re really worried about her.” He pulled out his wallet and flipped it open, taking out a snapshot of a girl. She looked a little goth, a little geek, and was pretty in an odd sort of way. And then, as I looked closer, I knew what made her look strange. She was Fae—probably Earthside Fae.

“What’s her name? Are you sure she didn’t just go on vacation?” Always, always, get the mundane questions out of the way before chalking up a disappearance to foul play.

“Her name is Violet, and no, she didn’t go on vacation. We’re in the middle of deploying a new product. There’s no way she could get time off right now. She hasn’t come in to work the past two nights and I’m not going to be able to cover for her much longer. Albert dropped by her house when he left work this morning, before going home, but she didn’t answer the bell.”

Albert nodded. “I left a note on her door but I had to get home before the sun rose. When I dropped by again tonight before work, the note was still on the door, and still no answer. I have a key to her apartment—I feed her cat when she’s out of town. So, I decided to make sure she hadn’t fallen and hurt herself or something. There was no sign of her, and the cat was starving. I fed Tumpkins, and when I got to work, told Tad.”

Tad cleared his throat. “That’s when we decided to call you guys. We thought you might be able to find out what happened to her.”

I glanced at Menolly, then Camille. “Was anything out of place? Any of her things missing?”

Albert frowned, then shook his head. “I didn’t see her purse, but nothing else seemed amiss. Her bed was unmade and her nightgown was lying across the bottom. I glanced in her closet and there were two suitcases there. I suppose she could have grabbed a carry-on if she had to make a sudden trip, but she would have called me to take care of the cat.”

“We’re worried,” Tad added. “This isn’t like Violet. She’s conscientious about her work, and she knows we need her. And she adores that frickin’ cat. She would never let him go hungry if she could help it.”

Menolly frowned. “It does sound odd. When was the last time you talked to her?”

“Near daybreak, night before last. She was at work. Last night, she was a no-show, and tonight. We’re taking a long break here to come talk to you.” Albert played with his bottle of blood, pushing it around in circles, the concern still washing across his face.

Camille bit into one of the pretzels from the snack bowl. “She have a boyfriend? Parents in the area? And when she left work, did she mention any problems that she’d been having?”

At the word “boyfriend” a scowl raced across Tad’s face, but he shook it away. “She’s been seeing some guy—his name’s Tanne. He’s from Germany, a writer.”

“Got a last name for us?” I paused, pen waiting.

“Baum. Tanne Baum. Fir tree. Like the Christmas song. He’s one of the Black Forest woodland Fae.” Again, the grimace.

“You don’t like him, do you?” I grinned, having a feeling the sentiment wasn’t so much the Fae’s nature but . . .

Tad let out a snort. “Like him? Not so much.”

Albert gave me the faintest of grins. “He’s jealous.”

Even though that was a no brainer, I affected a surprised look. Camille let out a faint snicker, and Menolly stared at the ceiling.

“Jealous? And . . . why are you jealous?” Stupid question, but I knew better than to say what I was thinking, which was “You’ve got the hots for her, right?”

Tad shifted uncomfortably. “I . . . When Brenda broke up with me, I thought that I wouldn’t ever find anybody I liked as much. But then Violet came to work in our group. I’ve never met anybody like her. She’s vibrant, and witty. She thinks differently than any woman I’ve ever known. I think . . . I think I’ve been falling in love with her.”

“Dude, you like her that much but you never asked her out?” Camille gave him a disgusted look.

“She’s seeing this Tanne guy . . .” He squirmed. “I don’t want to be responsible for breaking them up.”

“So what? It’s not like they’re married, and besides, she’s Fae. The Fae aren’t monogamous by nature.” With a sigh, Camille bit into another pretzel. “Humans, even when they’re vampires, you guys are so uptight about sex. But, be that as it may, do you have Tanne’s phone number or address?”

Tad swallowed the last of his bottled blood and wiped his mouth, saying nothing. But Albert reached out, grabbed the notebook from me, and scribbled down both. When he handed it back, a wry smile on his face, I couldn’t help but like him a little more.

“We sort of did some checking on the guy. Just to make sure he was on the up and up.” Albert glanced at Tad. “Baum is what he says he is, that we know. He comes from the Black Forest and he’s . . .”

“What Albert is saying is that the guy is intense, but genuine. And Camille,” Tad said, looking straight at her, “if I thought I even had a chance of being part of her world in that way, even in a poly relationship, I’d jump for it. But I don’t think she’s into humans or vampires. When I’m around Violet, she treats me like . . . like a brilliant puppy dog. I’d have as much chance of bedding you as I would her.”

His tone was so sad that my heart went out to him. He was willing to share, he was willing to put his heart on a silver platter, but the object of his attention had no clue and now she was missing.

Camille must have sensed it too, because she reached across the table and rested her hand on his. “You don’t know that for sure, Tad. Don’t underestimate yourself. You need to ask her . . . once she shows up again. She might surprise you.”

Tad shrugged. “I guess. But mostly, right now, I just want to make sure she’s okay. Will you guys check into this? We’d go to the police but they don’t listen to vampires very much, and we want to keep this quiet until we know there’s a reason to get them involved.”

I glanced at Camille, who nodded. Menolly gave me the heads-up too and I turned back to Tad and Albert. “Sure. Give us what you have on her and we’ll take a look around. We should go over and have a look at her place.”

“I was going to take her cat home with me tonight, and leave another note for her. We can go now, if you like.” Albert pulled out a ring of keys that looked hefty enough to KO a bodybuilder. He dangled them from his index finger. The next thing I knew, he winked at me.

Swallowing my surprise, I flashed him a bemused smile. “Let’s go, then. You guys have rides?”

Tad nodded. “We’ll meet you there, unless you want to ride with us.”

Camille pulled out her keys. “Nah, we’ll take my Lexus. Kitten, you have the address?”

I held up my notebook. “Right here. Let’s book.”

And so, we slid out of the booth. Menolly told Derrick she was going to be gone for a while, and we headed out into the night.

• • •

Menolly sat in the back while I rode shotgun with Camille. As the car eased out of the parking space, I flipped through my notes.

After a few moments, I looked up. “So, do we start with the threatening calls, or do we discuss Violet?”

“Violet,” Menolly said. “I told you everything about the calls I can remember for now.”

“Okay, then, we’ll table the threat talk until we get home. As to Violet, if it weren’t for the cat, I’d say she got bored and skipped town. The Fae don’t always hold on to their possessions, especially ES Fae.” Camille eased right onto East Aloha Street. “Where to from here?”

I glanced at the GPS on my phone. “When we get to Fifteenth Avenue East, turn left, then make a right onto East Garfield. Her house is located right after Garfield bends into Seventeenth.”

Camille nodded, flipping the windshield wipers to high. The rain was coming down in sheets, and a crash of thunder broke through the night as lightning fractured the sky. The road was slick and traffic had slowed in response to the heavy rain, but since it was past rush hour, the streets weren’t bumper-to-bumper, and following Tad’s Porsche wasn’t hard.

As we passed through the shops that turned into suburbs, the street began to wind and curve. The further we went, the older the houses grew; more weather-beaten but also with more character. Some of them were almost mansion-like, but they gave off an aged feel—not falling apart, but they had definitely seen the decades pass.