“In Nichole Severn’s world of angels and demons, the lines of good and evil—and right and wrong—are blurred & that makes for a really sharp story.” – Heroes and Heartbreakers
NYPD Homicide Detective Veranika Russo used to hunt monsters every day on the job. Even though she’s been suspended from active duty, she can’t resist investigating her sister’s murder. But doing so triggers hallucinations that haven’t haunted her since childhood: demons. Only the demons are real. And one of them killed her sister.
Special Agent Grayson Wyatt of the FBI has signed a deal with the Deceiver himself to bring Nika to him by the next full moon. In exchange for his soul. But his seductive target makes him yearn for a life he hadn’t realized he wanted and, when it comes down to handing her over, he’s not sure he can give up the only woman capable of severing his deal with the devil.
On the run from the most powerful evil in the world, Nika and Grayson fight against time to track down the demon that killed her sister, but can she really trust the one man she fears the most?
Screw her suspension.
No one—not even the FBI—was going to take another case from her.
NYPD Homicide Detective—former detective—Veranika Russo followed the river of red streaks in the marble tile, nearly blinded by the flashes from the cameras documenting every shred of evidence within the bank’s vault. She passed the technicians one by one, their dark jackets mere blurs. All she had to do was keep her head down and her mouth shut.
Brown arcs and splatters—dried blood—stained the cream-colored walls like some sick Rorschach Test. She forced her gaze to connect with one of the rookie officers headed in the other direction for a clue as to what she was about to walk into. Dispatch had reported two bodies over her scanner—nothing else—but the disgust written on the poor officer’s face said it all. They’d caught a bad one. But would it be enough to lift her suspension when she solved the case?
The air changed as she neared the vault and Nika nearly gagged. Sulfur. That indicated age on these deaths. Maybe two or three days, but the coroner could tell her for sure. Her shoulder blades drew toward one another. Three days? Too long for the bank not to notice two of their employees hadn’t shown up for work.
Nika unburied her cell from her jacket pocket. No answer from Rachel. Then again, her sister wasn’t exactly known for keeping in touch. Especially after what’d happened between them last year.
“Detective Russo,” a deep, sexy, baritone voice said over her shoulder. “Didn’t expect to see you here.”
The hairs on the back of her neck stood. Recognition tensed every muscle running along her spinal column and she froze. Damn it. Why did he have to be here? She closed her eyes. No point in pretending he hadn’t seen her. He might be FBI, but he wasn’t as dumb as his job made him out to be. Spinning toward him, she forced a smile. “Agent Wyatt, I didn’t realize missing persons had an interest in this case.”
“Call me Grayson. And one of the victims is a regular of ours.” In the chaos of camera flashes and blood, Special Agent Grayson Wyatt of the FBI actually smiled at her. Sculpted brown hair defining an already sharp jawline only accentuated the electricity surging beneath her skin as she studied him. “But I don’t remember Lieutenant Turner calling you in for this case.”
Her heart rate picked up the longer she stared into those suspicious green eyes. Swallowing the dryness in her throat, she swiped her tongue across her bottom lip. Keep it together. The second he learned she’d been suspended he’d have her escorted from the scene. Like the good FBI agent he was supposed to be. Nika exhaled hard as her lower abdominals clenched. “He didn’t have to. I was already in the area.”
Grayson’s lips thinned into a straight line and accentuated the lines around those mesmerizing eyes. The playfulness she’d tried ignoring the few times they’d gone out for drinks after a successful case last year set into his features. “Your secret is safe with me. Although, you might want to avoid your partner taking a statement from the bank owner to your left.”
Tingling spread from behind her sternum. He knew about her suspension. How? And why would he help her cover it up?
“Reynolds is here?” Nika scoured the scene as a distraction. He might be attractive as hell, but if the FBI was involved in this case, they intended to take over and she’d lose any chance of getting her badge reinstated. Not happening. “Just what I need.”
“Care to take a look before your lieutenant walks in the front door?” He motioned her toward the group on onlookers surrounding the scene. His navy FBI jacket and dark pants stood out against his tan skin and a single crevice between his eyebrows shifted as he’d studied the scene. Even through his windbreaker, she’d noted muscled arms she most likely couldn’t get her hands around. Two Beretta M9s strapped into his black shoulder holster peeked from under his jacket. No sign of a partner, though. Odd. He usually traveled within a pack. Not exactly standard to take on a case alone. Heat swept through her the longer he stared at her and she swallowed hard. She wouldn’t credit it to him. She didn’t even really know him. Hell, she hadn’t even seen him in almost a year.
“Thanks.” The tiny hairs on the back of her neck stood on end, her entire body on alert as she took the lead. Warmth spread from her palms and up her arms. Grayson stood right behind her. The weight of his attention raised goose bumps across her skin. Or was that the air conditioner finally kicking on to clear the smell of decomposition from the bank vault? She curled her fingers into the center of her hand. She’d come to get her job back. Not play around with a federal agent.
Lines of dried blood from the edge of the lobby down the corridor revealed the bodies had been dragged into the vault. But who’d moved them? And why? Strands of black hair—so dark against the stained white and gray marble floor—slithered out of the first tarp covering the bodies. First victim was a woman. Nika crouched next to her, careful to avoid the blood CSI had yet to collect. “Any ID on the victims yet?”
“First victim, male, is Stephen Jacobs. Works security for the bank.” Grayson’s shined black FBI-issued shoes stepped into her peripheral vision. “And as for my regular missing person, our female victim is Rachel Ward, works as a teller here on work release from her treatment center.”
“Oh, my God.” Nika ripped the tarp back as panic consumed every cell in her body. Her sister, pale skin, slim figure, pretty aside from the gaping hole in the middle of her chest, stared up at her with wide, brown, dead eyes. No, no, no, no. Her vision blurred. She swiped the back of her hand under her eyes to keep her hands from trembling. Nausea churned her stomach and worked bile into her throat. She fought to breathe around the sob blocking her airway and cleared her throat.
This wasn’t happening. Rachel wasn’t dead. Couldn’t be.
“You know her.” Not a question. Grayson’s rough hand landed on her shoulder and squeezed, pulling her back into him. His clean scent washed over her and she clasped onto the small bit of comfort he offered as she wiped the tears from her face. “We’ll find the bastard who did this.”
Damn right she would. Not we. Her.
Her baby sister was gone. The woman on the floor in there wasn’t the reckless, easy-going, loving sister she’d turned her back on a year ago. Grayson squeezed her shoulder again. Small, electric pulses bolted through her collarbones as though trying to resuscitate her. And it did. Something familiar, comforting, released the vise around her ribcage. Warmth penetrated through her clothing and counteracted the chill that had set up residence in her bones. She regained composure and wiped her face with her jacket. She might’ve been suspended, but she was still a detective. Always would be. And she didn’t need the FBI’s help. Rachel wasn’t a missing person. She was dead. Nika stood, sliding out of his hold. “I need a minute.”
“Sure.” He maneuvered out of her way, giving her a clear shot to the bank’s main doors. “There’s still a few things I need to review with your partner.”
“Ex-partner.” Why correct him? If Reynolds or her lieutenant discovered her in the center of the crime scene, her ass would end up on the sidewalk on the opposite side of the do-not-cross tape. And add a whole other column to the charges currently stacked against her. Reynolds didn’t give a shit about her anymore. Maybe never had.
Grayson’s lips lifted into a supportive smile and, as though she’d been hypnotized, her body urged her to sink back into him. He spun away from her, but she shot her hand out, gripping his shoulder.
What was wrong with her? Crime scene. Sister’s death. And this guy might take any chance of solving Rachel’s case away from her. She blinked hard as though that would clear him from her head. No luck. “You never really answered my question. What does Missing Persons have to do with this case? Have you seen this killer’s MO before?”
Killer. The word had never held any real personal significance until now. Her lungs locked down so tight she couldn’t move air. Breathe.
Three distinct lines embedded themselves at the bridge of Grayson’s nose. “I’m just here to observe for now.”
“What is that? Federal talk for information that’s above my pay grade?” Didn’t matter. She had a case to solve—badge or no badge—and he’d only get in the way. Her heart pounded loud behind her ears. Dropping her hold, Nika stepped back. To prove she had control.
“Something like that.” He studied her from head to toe and a shiver chased up her spine.
No. Not going there. She tucked her chin to cut him from her vision and focused on the scene. She breathed through her mouth. Couldn’t take the smell again. In normal circumstances, decomposition didn’t phase her. This wasn’t a normal circumstance. Her training kicked in as she studied both bodies. No crying. Business only.
“Nika, you can’t barge in here like this.” Detective Michael Reynolds closed in on her faster than she expected. Digging his fingertips into her arm, he spun her away from the scene. The room blurred for a fraction of a section. They’d been partners once and respected one another. Hell, they’d slept together once or twice, but that’d been years ago. A lot had changed since then; him, the job, expectations. Reynolds lowered his voice. “You’re not a detective anymore. I could have you arrested.”
“Does it look like I give a shit about that right now?” Grayson’s laugh cut short as he covered his mouth with his hand and she wrenched out of Reynolds’s grip. Jabbing her hand into her leather jacket pocket, she retrieved a pair of latex gloves. “I have every right to be here and I’m not leaving until I look over the evidence.”
Reynolds hiked his hands to his hips out as if considering how much of a scene she would make in the middle of the bank. In the middle of his investigation. In front of the FBI. His blue gaze narrowed into slits and deepened the wrinkles around his eyes. “My ass is already on the line for letting you in. Do you have any idea what the district attorney will do to the case if he finds out you were here? That you disturbed the evidence? The lieutenant will spin off the deep end when he gets here. If he sees you—”
“I need to be here.” She inhaled slow through her mouth. Her ex-partner wouldn’t budge without provocation. He wanted to play that way? Fine. “Besides, you owe me. Remember?”
“This has nothing to do with your suspension.” Reynolds’s jaw flexed hard. That same stone-faced expression had shown up when she’d been accused her of corruption in the middle of her precinct. Reynolds hadn’t helped her then, and from the hardness in his eyes, he wouldn’t help her now. She might’ve been suspended two months ago, but she’d lost her partner long before then. Too bad. They’d made a good team, even better friends. But she didn’t come to rehash the past. “If the lieutenant catches you, I’ll tear you out of here.”
“Deal.” She shouldered around him and headed back to the scene. “Tell me about the second victim.” If she could focus on the other victim, she wouldn’t have to look at Rachel.
“Killed the same way within minutes after your sis—our female victim,” Reynolds said. “Evidence suggests they were killed in the lobby then dragged in here. Maybe to hide the bodies from the public? We don’t know yet.”
“I have a theory.” Grayson’s voice sent a chill down her back, but she refused to give into the distraction. “Your coroner is about to say those are claw marks across the victim’s chest. Like nothing she’s ever seen.”
Her spine stiffened. Guess that answered her question. The FBI had seen this kind of work before today. Could be useful to help identify a suspect. She licked her dry lips and forced herself to study the second body, although she longed to examine the man hovering over her right shoulder a bit longer. Massive amounts of torn skin and flesh consumed her sightline. What kind of animal did that to a person? She’d seen a lot on the streets, but never anything like this.
Except in her nightmares.
A flash of crimson eyes and large, black wings swirled nausea in her stomach. She drew a deep breath to lower her heart rate. Just a memory of her hallucinations as a child.
Not real. Not anymore.
The coroner snapped latex over her hands. Dr. Anderson pried one edge of skin away from Rachel’s—the victim’s—broken collarbones. The doctor’s long, light brown hair restricted Nika’s view for a moment, but released her from her sister’s empty stare. Not her sister anymore. “You’re right, Agent Wyatt. I’ve never seen anything like this. There are four distinct claw-like lacerations. Based on my initial exam they resemble an animal attack, but I’m not able to tell you an official cause of death until I get the bodies back to the morgue.”
“When will that be?” Nika crouched to get a better view of the injuries. Maybe she could identify a cause of death now instead of waiting for the report. Every second counted in a homicide, but she couldn’t screw this one up. Then there were the arrangements. Rachel would get a proper Catholic funeral. But first, her body had to be examined, dusted for prints, collected from, and x-rayed. She swallowed again, but the lump in her throat wouldn’t budge. Couldn’t run out a second time. Keep it together. She’d have to find a casket, order flowers, talk to the clergy, but her sister would need to be released before any of that could happen. And their parents… Oh, no. She had to tell them. They’d never forgive her for abandoning her sister now.
Grayson stepped into her line of sight. The hardware he’d strapped to his side swayed as he crouched beside her. Lean muscle bunched under his black slacks, strong, powerful.
And any other time she would’ve sunk her nails into him. But not now. She shook her head as though the movement could dislodge her thoughts. Didn’t matter. Enough was enough. She clamped her jaw to control the dizzy flood of awareness and stood. He straightened too. Her nails bit into her palms. Had he been assigned to keep tabs on her or something? This was getting ridiculous. “How many other cases have you seen with this MO?”
The same line between his eyebrows she’d noted a few minutes ago deepened as though he couldn’t believe they were having this conversation again. Well, it didn’t matter what he’d said before. He had information and she needed it to catch a killer. “Unfortunately, Detective, that’s a little above your pay grade. Remember? The less you know, the better.”
“You can’t be serious.” She closed the small distance he’d left between them. “That’s my sister on the floor right there. Do you really think—”
“Nika,” Reynolds said. “Don’t push it. The FBI—”
“Shut up, Reynolds.” She faced Grayson. God, what had she seen in him before? All feds were the same. Nothing mattered but the case. Screw the people involved. “If you have any leads on what could’ve done this, I need to know about it. How many more people are you going to let die because of this thing running free on the streets all because of clearance?”
Her head clouded as she imagined the excruciating amount of pain her sister and the second victim had experienced. It’d been a year since they’d spoken to one another. Over something so stupid too. Something that’d happened to them as children. She studied the victims’ wounds then narrowed her gaze on him again. His pupils dilated the longer she stared at him. Trying to tell her something without giving away more than he could maybe? Until…
“This wasn’t an animal, was it?” she asked.
Dr. Anderson shook her head in Nika’s peripheral vision, hair bouncing down her white lab coat. “No. It wasn’t. An animal wouldn’t only take the heart. They’re scavengers. They eat everything they can.”
The killer took the heart? Her lips parted on a strong exhale and Grayson’s attention dropped to her mouth for brief moment. She stumbled back a step.
Reynolds sketched a note in his notebook. “Rachel was reported missing yesterday by a neighbor. According to her, they were close and hadn’t talked in more than two days, which the neighbor considered odd. Rachel works late after hours sometimes, but the bank manager says nothing is missing from the vault. Doesn’t look like a robbery.”
Nika turned her back on her younger sister and analyzed the vault for the first time since she’d stepped inside. No more than ten feet wide and fifty feet deep, the room was packed full of once-pristine, white safety deposit boxes. High end. Exclusive to wealthier clients. Nothing suggested any of them had been touched.
“Nika?” Reynolds asked.
“Yeah?” She faced her ex-partner, exhaustion slowing her down. What did Rachel have to do with any of this? Had she been targeted?
“Your time is up.” He hovered his pen above that damn notebook. By the book. All the time. That was his problem. With the boyish, dark brown, close-cropped hair, Michael Reynolds didn’t look like a detective. His perfectly measured suits and ties helped. The wrinkles too. But those were new.
“Yeah. All right. Just promise me one thing, Reynolds.” She’d agreed to a deal and she’d stick to it. With another once over of her baby sister, she memorized everything she could about the scene. The blood around her sister’s eyes and mouth had been smeared, wiped. The killer wouldn’t try to clean up the face. At least not any killer she knew of, which meant there was a possible witness to track down. She’d keep the idea to herself for now. Maybe poke around the precinct later for details without Grayson hanging over her shoulder.
“Don’t let the FBI take the case.” With a quick glance at Grayson, she turned her back on the scene and headed toward the hallway. She stepped over the ridge of the vault door, attention on the bloodied path back to the lobby, and ran directly into a wall of hardened flesh. Stumbling back, she tried tramping down the disgust working up her throat and into her expression. No point.
“Veranika Russo.” Her back straightened as Lieutenant Turner’s gaze wandered to her breasts then up to her face. The disgusting perusal pitched her stomach into a roll. Ah, yes. There stood the second reason she’d been thrown out of her precinct’s doors two months ago. Slicked back hair and deep wrinkles battled with the pristine suit tailored to his six-foot-plus frame. “What in in God’s name are you doing at my crime scene? I cut your ass loose. Well, until you can prove you didn’t steal all that cocaine from your last case.”
She lifted her chin and sucked in a lungful of air. “Well, Lieutenant, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but that’s my sister over there with her heart torn out of her chest. Did you honestly think framing me for corruption would keep me away?”
Searching for possible eavesdroppers, Turner checked over his shoulder then stepped into her. He kept his voice low. His tall, lean form crowded her from head to toe, but she couldn’t back down. Not to this prick. “You weren’t able to prove anything in court and you sure as hell aren’t going to screw with me this time. Get out of my crime scene.”
“I was just leaving. But you can’t keep me from investigating, Turner. I’m not on your payroll anymore.” The confidence that coursed through her body waned as Turner’s brown eyes hardened. She’d closed more cases for his precinct than any other detective in the state, but because she hadn’t given into his demands like any other woman under his reign, he’d thrown her credibility out the window along with her badge. He’d reopened cases, searched for holes, and planted evidence in the trunk of her SUV. Turner’s vengeance knew no bounds and, for a second, she swore a slight hint of red flashed across his irises.
“You’ll never investigate again as long as I have something to say about it.” Turner lifted his hand and scraped the back of his fingers down her jaw. “By the time I’m through with you, you’re going to wish you never met me.”
“Don’t touch me!” Fire shot through her veins along with an electric prickling spreading under her skin. Something dark—something alive—connected her hands with Turner’s chest and she shoved as hard as she could.
The lieutenant flew through the air—five feet, six—and landed hard on his back. The momentum slammed him into the opposite wall and her mouth dropped open. What the hell? She hadn’t pushed him that hard. Stumbling back, she studied the faces of everyone frozen in the room. All staring at her. The tingling subsided as she held her hands in front of her.
“Detective Russo?” Grayson appeared at her side as though he’d been standing right behind her the entire time.
Her heart double-timed an uneven beat. Shit. Dropping her hands, she bit back the explosion inside and ran from the vault. CSI and officers alike ignored her on the way out, almost as if they were afraid to cross her field of vision. Couldn’t blame them. She’d assaulted Lieutenant Turner in the middle of a crime scene, effectively destroying what was left of her career. Her eyes burned. Everything she’d worked for, everything she’d loved, had been taken in the span of a few months, but she wouldn’t cry.
Cold air rushed against her as Nika shoved through the bank’s front doors. She stared down at her shaking hands, remnants of that foreign current of energy still boiling in her blood. What the hell was happening to her?