It was raining in Chicago that Wednesday evening. How fabulous. I felt right at home. Rain rain, go away, I thought. I considered asking Andreas to disperse the clouds, or to teach me how to do it, but I decided that would be a petty request, and a waste of time. Besides, I loved the rain. I just didn’t love it when I was traveling to new and potentially interesting places. We stood outside the O’Hare Airport and flagged a taxi.
“I don’t see why we don’t just call one of your people,” I protested.
“Because outside of Felix, my people don’t even know we’re here, and I’d like to keep it that way,” he said crossly. “Someone is after us, and until we know who it is, the less people who know where we are and what we’re doing, the better.”
A taxi pulled up to the curb. “You mean someone is after me,” I corrected him, as we loaded our overnight bags into the trunk.
“No, I mean us,” he said. “If they’re after you, they’re after me, too,” he reminded me. We climbed into the cab, where it was nice and dry.
“Right, right,” I muttered. “Connection and all that,” I said with a yawn.
“Where to?” the driver asked.
I had no idea. Andreas gestured for him to wait, and flipped out his cell phone. I was still amused that angels used cell phones. “Felix, what do you have?” He asked into the phone. “She is? Where?” He listened for a moment, and then hung up. “Driver, head to the James Hotel, please.”
I looked at him and arched an eyebrow. “The James, huh?” I said, as if I was impressed. I had never heard of the place.
“Yes,” he smirked at me. “They allow pets.” I elbowed him in the ribs.
We headed toward downtown Chicago. I knew it was downtown by the fantastically tall buildings. I must say that the architecture in Chicago was absolutely stunning. Having been too distracted in New York to pay attention to my surroundings, I decided to make the most of my brief trip to the Windy City to make up for it. I was in awe, staring out the window of the taxi cab at the mélange of architectural styles that made up the city, especially as we drew closer to downtown. Impossibly tall stark skyscrapers were intermixed with brick and stone art deco style buildings. There were sky scrapers that were nothing but pillars of glass, and others that wore their structural frames like suspenders on the outside. Round buildings, square buildings, buildings that looked like leggos stacked together. I knew little about architecture, but I instantly understood how Chicago had become so famous for architecture and had its own style named after it.
We turned onto Michigan Avenue. Crossing the Chicago River, I eyed the drawbridge curiously. It was flanked on both sides by squat brick control towers that looked more like they belonged in a medieval castle than a metropolitan city. We were on “The Magnificent Mile,” our cabby told us, the heart of downtown Chicago, with the best dining, nightlife, and shopping. We didn’t bother to point out that we weren’t here as tourists, and probably wouldn’t be taking advantage of the easy walking distance to the Art Institute (which apparently housed more French impressionist paintings than France did, although I wasn’t taking our driver’s word as the gospel truth), the John Hancock Center (although someday I really did want to visit the top floor of that building. Kat went once, and said the view was phenomenal.), or the Historic Water Tower (which, our driver informed us, was the only building left standing after the great Chicago fire).
The James Hotel was just a couple of blocks off the Magnificent Mile. It was a fairly tall beige brick building, although short and squat by Chicago standards. The exterior might have been old fashioned, but the interior was very modern. Very clean lines, lots of steel and white, and touches of blonde wood.
Andreas headed straight for the elevator, not even pausing when one of the bell boys asked if he could take our bags. I trotted after him. We rode all the way to the top floor, and he headed for the penthouse suite. He knocked twice, and Aislinn flung the door open. “It’s about time you got here,” she said by way of greeting, in her lovely Irish lilt.
I smiled wide with delighted surprise. I liked this petite elf when I first met her, she had a knack for putting me at ease. She led us inside. I briefly took in the interior: more of the same steel lines and pale upholstery, although the wood accents were a darker oak shade. Very Scandinavian, I thought.
“What are you doing here?” I asked her, sitting on the cream couch.
“Felix sent me,” she said simply. “With this,” she added, handing Andreas a thick manila folder.
Andreas tore it open, dumping its contents out on the glass coffee table, examining everything thoroughly from the vantage point of a black and white armchair on the opposite side.
“He thought you could use me,” she added. “I’m an infiltration expert.” She said that with broad grin.
Andreas looked up from his studying. “A good thief,” he added dryly. “Elves are related to fairies, after all.”
Aislinn seemed a little miffed, but didn’t deny the comparison.
“Come see this, Rhiannon,” Andreas beckoned me. Felix had sent Aislinn with all the information he could dig up on the Chicago address. Apparently the warehouse belonged to the estate of John Liander. He asked me if that name meant anything to me.
I shrugged, clueless. “Never heard of the guy. Who was he?” I flipped through some of the documents. John Liander, it turned out, hadn’t been anyone special in his life. He had amassed a small fortune in property in the mid-west, had never married, and had no living relatives. He died at the age of 84 within a week of my parents. I eyed Andreas suspiciously when we discovered that. We both were wondering if there was a connection. The warehouse was presently being managed by a property management company named Windy City Management.
“That’s all well and good, but who’s leasing it?” I asked. Andreas frowned, shuffling through papers trying to find the answer.
“Aha, here it is,” he said triumphantly, holding up a copy of a lease agreement. “MLA Corporation,” he read out loud, with a frown.
I sighed and rolled my eyes. “Never heard of them, either,” I said.
“It’s a front,” Aislinn informed us. She sat down next to Andreas. “A shell corporation. Go ahead, look for yourself.”
Andreas delved through the Corporation’s papers quickly. “No products, no real business, the share holders are all corporate entities,” he finally said with a sigh. “What is it a shell for?” he asked Aislinn.
She smirked. “Not what, but whom. Marshall Lewis,” She said with a big grin. Like that name was supposed to mean something to me. I gave Andreas a clueless look, and he gave one right back to me. We both turned to Aislinn and shrugged.
Aislinn rolled her eyes and sighed exasperatedly. “He’s the CEO of TerraGen Industries,” she added emphatically.
I eyed Andreas again. We both shrugged again, not recognizing the company.
“Holy mistletoe on a stick, you two!” she exclaimed. “It’s only the most powerful bioengineering company in the world,” she finally explained.
A small alarm went off in the back of my brain. Andreas must have had a similar mental alarm, judging by the expression on his face. I didn’t know much about medical science, but bioengineering was not an unfamiliar term, and with what had happened to me recently on a biological level, courtesy of Andreas’ botched save attempt and an overdose of angel blood, the correlation was definitely enough to send up mental alarms.
Aislinn leaned forward and searched through the scattered papers on the table. “Follow the paper trail,” she suggested. She mapped it out for us, pulling out document after document from the pile. “Marshall Lewis is the only shareholder that all the corporations holding shares in MLA Corporation have in common. It’s the only link tying them together,” she pointed out, showing us the proof. He was either a direct shareholder, or associated with a corporate shareholder. The tangled mess of shareholders went deep, and by the time she finished mapping it out for us my brain was aching from making sense of it all.
I sighed, rubbing my temples. “How did – what did you say his company was? TerraGen? How did they find out about me?” I wondered.
Andreas cursed underneath his breath. “There’s only one way I can think of: the blood sample Ariel took.”
Aislinn shook her head. “Impossible. Ariel is too smart. She only employs angels and otherkin that she trusts implicitly.” I noticed Ariel didn’t employ the fae. For some reason that bothered me. I had noticed a distinct prejudice against the fae amongst the rest of the supernatural community.
Andreas raised an eyebrow. “Are you so sure about that? This means she must have a mole.” He muttered a curse again. “They’ve got your blood, Rhiannon, they could know everything!”
I shook my head. “No, that’s impossible. The first time they attacked me was two days before you took me to meet Ariel and she drew my blood. It can’t be that.”
“Maybe those were just ordinary muggers,” Andreas suggested.
I stood up and paced. I was finding pacing more conducive to thinking lately. “No.” I shook my head again. “They jumped me in an alley. These guys, Andreas, they singled me out. Three of the same guys jumped us yesterday, I recognized them, remember?” I exclaimed. “Lucas was there, ask him. We beat them up, and Lucas wouldn’t let me call the cops. Maybe there’s a reason for that, too,” I said darkly.
“Damn that vampire,” shouted Andreas. “I knew we shouldn’t have trusted him, he could be mixed up in all of this somehow!”
I sighed and sat down, conflicted. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t, I didn’t know. I sincerely doubted he was, though. He had been nothing but courteous to me, and goodness knows when he had me all to himself last night there was plenty of opportunity to kidnap me and drag me off to wherever these people wanted to take me. Maybe we were just seeing smoke and mirrors now and reading too much into things. Maybe we weren’t. But then there was the fact that he was so very insistent about not calling the cops that night. What was up with that? Thinking about that just made me suspicious all over again.
“May I make a suggestion?” Aislinn asked cooly. “We might have a name, but we don’t have a full story. TerraGen Industries is a very large and powerful company, and they are going to hunt you forever unless we do something about it,” she finished pointedly. She was the only one of us who was calm, just sitting mildly on the couch, her arms folded neatly in her lap. She looked cool as a cucumber. I felt harried and ragged.
I took a cue from her and took a deep breath, trying to relax. “What do you propose we do?” I asked.
She shrugged. “If there truly is a mole in Ariel’s company, find out who. Get your blood sample back, destroy all the records regarding you, destroy any proof, and find some dirt on this Marshall Lewis. A man this powerful… you don’t get to be CEO of a company this large without dirtying your hands at some point.” She leaned forward. “What you need, to get them off your back, is leverage,” she said slowly with emphasis.
“Great.” I rolled my eyes. “We’ll just invade the enemy and conquer. Yeah, that’ll be easy.”
“It gets even worse,” she said grimly. “Trust no one, not even Ariel.”
Andreas shook his head, frowning. “We might be in the wrong city after all.”
Aislinn raised an eyebrow. “We won’t know until we look inside that warehouse.”
“And I need to talk to Lucas,” I said, feeling confused and hurt.
“Alrighty,” Aislinn said, jumping up and rubbing her hands together gleefully. “Let’s get ready for a little B&E!”
I laughed, startled out of my confusion. “I’m way out of my league here. I don’t know anything about breaking and entering, I’m just a gardener!”
Aislinn grinned wide at me. “Stick with me, kiddo, this is my specialty!”
Andreas leaned over to whisper in my ear. “They’re closely related to fairies.”
“You already said that,” I whispered back to him. “Alright, Aislinn,” I said louder, swallowing my trepidation, “What do we do first?”
“Scope the place out. Andreas, you remember the drill?” She had taken the air of a well-seasoned boss.
He stood up. “Same stuff as usual?”
She nodded. “It’s at my place. I couldn’t pack it all in my suitcase, but you can manage, can’t you?” She flashed him a winning smile and batted her eyelashes.
He laughed. “Yeah yeah, leave it to the teleporters to be the beasts of burden.”
Aislinn really had a knack for making a grim situation brighter. I liked that. I liked that a lot. I smiled.
Andreas turned to me. “You stay put. You’ll be safe with Aislinn for a little bit.” He closed his eyes, and teleported elsewhere, to wherever Aislinn called home.
“I’m going to go change,” Aislinn announced, and headed off to one of the bedrooms. As soon as she closed the door, my cell phone rang, as if the caller was waiting until I was alone. I didn’t recognize the number, but I flipped it open anyway.
“How is my cheesecake doing?” Lucas’ voice asked. My pulse raced. Speak of the devil!
I forced myself to remain calm. “I’m good, what’s up?”
“You know that little deal we had? Well, I’ve got some information for you,” he said.
“Where are you at?” A plan was forming in my mind.
“At my office at my club, why?” He replied.
“Which club? Are you alone?”
He laughed warmly. “I am absolutely alone for the moment, my dear, and I’m at Splash, if you feel like popping in. I would love to see you.”
I hung up the phone and went and knocked on the bedroom door. “Aislinn? I’m sorry, I’m leaving, but I’ll be right back!” Before she even had time to object, I focused on the numen, and teleported myself to Lucas’ office.
I felt instantly drained, with a huge headache coming on, but that only fueled my anger. Lucas was at his desk, but the instant I appeared, he jumped up, surprised and delighted to see me.
I, however, was neither surprised nor delighted. I threw myself across the desk and slammed him up against the wall. “You bastard, you set me up!” I shouted.
He was unphased. He gave me a smoldering look, and the corners of his mouth turned up into a slow smile. “Darlin’, how did you know I liked it rough? But your dirty talk leaves a little to be desired.”
I snarled and shoved my forearm into his neck. He lost his good humor. With a growl, he grabbed my arm, spun me around, and slammed me face first into the ground, pinning my arm behind my back. It happened so lightning fast that I couldn’t even react until it was too late, and he had me securely trapped underneath him. He leaned down over me so close I could feel his breath on my neck. “You will never best me in a fight, so don’t even try.” His knee pressed into my rear, and I knew I had been had. I struggled, but to no avail, and I was pretty sure he was enjoying my struggling. Finally I sighed and gave up. “Now are you going to tell me what the hell is going on, or am I going to have to hurt you?” he asked softly. “Don’t think I won’t. I promised that damned angel I wouldn’t kill or turn you, but I never said anything about a little pain.” His voice had a distinct menacing overtone, and I knew he was serious.
“Did you set me up?” I said, my voice muffled by the floor.
“What are you talking about?” he asked.
I sighed into the floor. “Lucas, would you let me up so we can talk like civilized beings? This is ridiculous.” My arm was starting to cramp.
“I’m not the one who started this,” he said begrudgingly, but he climbed off of me and helped me to my feet. He had a furious glint in his eyes, and his usual sensual lips were pursed with annoyance.
“Thank you.” Obviously my harebrained scheme of coming here to confront him in person was a bad idea. I had underestimated his strength, or underestimated my own, or just hadn’t thought things through fully, or all of the above.
“Now what on earth are you going on about? I have been nothing but straight forward and honest with you,” he said tightly.
I sighed. “The night we met, those guys who jumped me in the alleyway… why didn’t you want me to call the cops?”
He laughed. “Is that what all this is about?” He sat down, visibly relaxing. “Rhiannon, I’m not human. I knew then that you weren’t completely human, either, although I didn’t know what you were. The last thing I needed was human authorities butting their ignorant heads in my business.”
That actually made sense. I felt somewhat foolish. “I can’t believe I let you talk me into that, either. And then I just went straight to bed without giving the entire incident a second thought!” I shook my head. “That’s just not me.”
He smiled. “That is because I charmed you into it, my dear. It is hard to say no to a vampire.”
I dropped my jaw and gasped, shocked. “You did what?” I shrieked. “Never mind that,” I muttered. “It still doesn’t explain how those men could have known about me before my blood got tested,” I said pointedly. “The same guys attacked me yesterday before you picked me up.”
He looked genuinely alarmed. “Why didn’t you say anything about this last night? And why on earth did you have your blood tested, are you a fool? Now that data is out there for anyone with the know-how to find,” he pointed out, tight lipped.
I sighed. “Because it didn’t occur to me until today, and because I didn’t know what I was getting into!” I flopped into one of his guest chairs. “If you had nothing to do with it, then how on earth could anyone have known before then?”
He shrugged. “Obviously someone had been watching you before your little trip to New York. Think about it: I discovered you weren’t exactly human that night, surely someone else could have earlier, as well. All I had to do was taste your blood,” he pointed out.
I gave him a sheepish look, feeling very chagrined. “I wish that had occurred to me earlier, too.”
He looked mollified. “And deny me the privilege of wrestling you to the ground? I won’t hear of it!” He winked. “Although for future reference, you might want to avoid egging me into wrestling matches. It’s a dangerous game. As much as I enjoyed twisting your arm behind your back, please don’t tempt me, my dear,” he said sternly. “Now that we’ve taken care of that, would you like to hear my news?”
At that moment Andreas popped into the room, royally pissed. He jumped on Lucas, fists swinging. “You bastard!” He shouted. “I knew we could never trust a bloodsucker!”
Lucas threw his arms up, deflecting the blow, and I jumped on Andreas back. “Andreas! Stop!” I pounded his shoulder. “He didn’t do it!” I might not have been as strong as Lucas, but I still had some residual vampiric strength coursing through my veins, and Andreas couldn’t quite throw me. I thought of peace, of flowers, of ocean waves crashing, of teddy bears and puppy dogs, emoting as strong as I could, hoping he would pick up on my peaceful thoughts.
Andreas backed down, shaking with contained anger. I climbed off of his back. “He didn’t break his promise,” I said softly. “He didn’t do anything, Andreas,” I pled. “Please, just sit down,” I said, and pushed him down into a chair.
He looked at me, furious. “Everything is ok. I don’t need a rescuer, I can take care of myself.” I crossed my arms and glared at him. He actually let out a short bark of laughter, and Lucas did as well.
“My dear,” Lucas said, laughing, “I have yet to meet someone who needed rescuing as frequently as you.”
I stared down my nose at him, or at least I tried to. It wasn’t easy to stare down my nose at someone a foot taller than me. “You aren’t helping.”
He smiled, but sat down.
“Would someone please tell me what the hell is going on?” Andreas demanded.
I did exactly that, and I shared Lucas’ point that doctors aren’t the only people who can solve a medical mystery, since he knew long before Ariel did that I wasn’t quite human. Hell, for all I knew the doctor who treated me at the hospital was a traitorous spy working for dastardly devious companies that were out to get me. The whole thing was starting to sound like a bad conspiracy theory.
“We jumped to the first conclusion, and it was one that was full of holes,” I said softly. “Sorry, Lucas.”
He sniffed. “You can make it up to me later. Now can we get back to business?”
“By all means,” I said. “What do you know?”
He nodded. “Well, my investigation of the local vampires didn’t turn up much, other than the disappearance of a fairly young vampire by the name of Warren O’Dell. The last time anyone saw him was, coincidentally, the same night your parents were killed.” His eyes gleamed. “Now, a murder like theirs really isn’t a vampire’s style, so I am doubtful that it was committed by one of us, but it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility.”
I frowned. “What does this mean now?”
He shrugged. “Who knows. Maybe O’Dell did it and then cleared out of town to avoid blame. I wouldn’t put it past him. But no one I have contacted in other areas has seen or heard of him in four years either.”
“Maybe someone paid him to do it and then killed him to cover their bases,” Andreas suggested grimly.
Lucas nodded. “That, I feel, is probably more likely. I shall keep my eyes and ears open, but unless my cheesecake wants to be nibbled,” he said, staring at me intently, “you’re better off leaving now, especially before you start feeling too vampiric yourself.”
I had been running too high on adrenaline, but he was right, I was already feeling that pull. “Thanks,” I said to him, and teleported back to the hotel room.
I dropped to the floor in agonizing pain. It felt like someone was drilling holes into my skull with a rusty cork screw. My eyes teared up. I tasted bile, but I didn’t retch. I gritted my teeth and pulled myself to my feet, and pulled Excedrin out of my overnight bag.
Andreas appeared a second after me. He looked furious. Aislinn came rushing out of the bedroom, angry as well.
“It’s not Aislinn’s fault,” I rasped, gulping down pain killers.
Andreas rubbed his temples, my headache wearing off on him. “You’re a fool for jumping at night,” he accused me. “Save those for daylight hours when you can easily recharge.”
My head was pounding, but it wasn’t unbearable. “Why? You did four,” I pointed out.
“Six, actually, but it comes naturally to me and I’ve been doing it for 300 years,” he snapped. “Although thanks to you I’m pretty tapped out.”
“Well this didn’t exactly come with an instruction manual,” I said tartly. “I’ll be fine, can we just do this thing?”
Aislinn put a hand on my shoulder. “Don’t do anything that stupid again, ok?” she said gently. “Now let’s just get ready, the night is young. It’s best to do things like this under the cover of darkness, and I don’t want to waste another day.”
Andreas nodded his agreement.
“Come on,” she said to me. “Let’s get you suited up. Andreas already got most of the equipment in place.”