Secrets in the Moon (Crescent City Werewolves #1)

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A Surprise At The Station

In what seemed like much too short of a time later, Cora found herself walking up the many stone steps to the Crescent City Police Department, Hayes by her side. It was a massive grey building, with towering, square pillars that ushered visitors to the front entrance. The back entrance, which was at ground level, was where suspects and criminals were dumped off to be processed and put into interrogation rooms or holding cells. Cora fervently hoped she’d never see that side of it.

As if sensing her growing tension, Hayes lightly brushed her elbow before reaching for the door handle. In the brief moment before the slab of reinforced glass swung open, she drew in a breath and tried to find some courage. She was surely flirting with disaster, putting so much trust into a man she hardly knew, a wolf, but the shadow of a noose already rested against her neck like a twisted necklace. What did she really have to lose?

And so she stepped inside with confidence, not missing nor minding how the detective’s hand hovered at her nearest elbow, guiding her through the swirls of people inside.

In contrast to the building’s outer appearance, its interior was old-fashioned, with yellowed light shining upon worn benches for visitors and wooden cubicles partitioned by glass near the back of the room. It looked more like a bank, this part of the station, except for the massive oak desk placed mere steps from the entrance. A police officer sat behind it, scribbling at paperwork while waiting to check in each and every visitor and direct them from there. Hayes simply steered her past him, offering a grin that flashed his teeth when the cop glanced up and then glared.

“Just what kind of connections do you have, Detective?” she murmured, as they took the hallway to private offices.

“I don’t. I just want to get straight to the point.”

The hubbub behind them faded as they passed by doors with frosted windows and brass plates bearing names. Cora found it increasingly hard to bite back questions while glancing around at the dull paint and cobwebbed corners. This was nothing like the corridor that led to interview rooms, which was marred with shoe scuffs and brightly lit to discourage shadows. This was much more like the quiet of a snakepit in slumber.

She found herself drifting a little closer to Hayes as their shoes sounded against the floor, surely alerting anyone and everyone working there of their presence. In response, he gave her elbow a slight squeeze. “Easy. I always hold to my promises. You’ll leave this place as freely as you walked in.”

Just then, they reached the end of the hallway and the door there to mark it. While he knocked, she read the nameplate and felt her heart thump faster. In the few private moments they had left, she hissed, “The police captain himself?”

“Highest man in the station,” he replied. “Only the police commissioner has more power, and I always avoid dealing with politicians and administrators if I can help it. Dempsey started out patrolling the streets and has the scars to prove it. It gives him a different view from most who make it to the top.”

Then the door opened, and Cora quickly rearranged her expression into a pleasant smile while facing Captain Dempsey, the man who wanted her neck in a noose.

He wore a scowl over the interruption, and it deepened as his gaze jumped between them. “Don’t tell me you picked up the Isaac Marshall case, Hayes. It’s just about wrapped up and tied with a bow.”

Hayes gave him a wolfish grin. “Always a pleasure when our paths cross, Al.”

The police captain didn’t look inclined to agree, but stepped back and waved them inside.

Cora looked around the office with unabashed curiosity, finding grimy windows that let in enough light to reveal a desk overflowing with paperwork and makeshift ashtrays. A haze of smoke filled the room, but she thought she could make out maps of the city tacked to the walls.

When the police captain pulled back one of the chairs facing his desk and gave her a sardonic bow, she sat in it with an ease that she didn’t feel, primly crossing her ankles. As Hayes settled beside her, he winked.

Dempsey noticed. “I should ban you from the damned building. Every time you skulk in here, you blow a case of ours to pieces.”

“I also catch the real killer.”

Dempsey pointed at Cora. “She had the motive, she had the means, and she had the opportunity.”

“And she is sitting right here,” said Cora, keeping her posture demure. “I know most people say I don’t have much of a brain, but I can keep up with a conversation easily enough.”

“You have enough smarts to hire him, anyway.” Then Dempsey sat behind his desk with a sigh. He was a handsome man, with a hard look to his eyes and the type of strong jaw that showed the darkness of stubble no matter how close of a shave it had. Grey streaked his hair, but he still looked fit and strong and steady, like a hound that had years of experience to hone its excitement while tracking game.

He lit a cigarette before glancing between them again, voice slowing a drawl. “DeLuca and Fuller are on the case. What did you tell this hairy bastard that you didn’t mention to my men? He only accepts clients if he thinks they’re really innocent.”

“No bodies found,” said Hayes, his voice remaining affable. “No witnesses, either. Your fellas built their case on the likely explanation, but I always dig for the real one.”

The police captain scoffed. “The bomb detonated in a lonely stretch of the forest and the resulting fire was so hot that everything burned to ash. But sure, let’s hear the theory on how Isaac Marshall escaped something that sent a 7,000-lb car hurtling up a hill.”

“I’ll have one after I look at the car. I know it’s being stored here as evidence.”

Cora kept her gaze on the police captain, curious about his reaction to such brashness. She half-expected him to go red in the face, or start blustering insults about a wolf demanding anything from a human, but he only took another drag from his cigarette. “There’s nothing that says you have to be allowed to see it.”

“No. But it’s always helpful to keep on my good side, isn’t it? Especially for those sticky situations where it’s wolf pack vs. city and no one from the police force can act without disturbing the delicate treaties and inter-territory laws that keep us all from killing each other.”

A slow, hot grin appeared on Dempsey’s face, and Cora felt herself stiffen in her seat. It wasn’t a nice smile at all, but instead one that silently said, Well, if you’re going down that road…

“You want to talk about helpfulness, Hayes? Then take on the mess with the Saxby Pack.”

For the length of a heartbeat, Hayes fell very still. “No, and you already knew that’d be my answer. You know my one hard rule with cases like that. I don’t—”

“Ever take on cases for us if they involve your old pack. Yeah, well, plenty of times we find ourselves committing to things we don’t want to.”

“Don’t do this, Al,” said Hayes, voice dropping low. Not quite a growl, but close enough. “Pushing me to take them on as a client will only cause a bigger mess for everyone.”

The police captain glanced over at Cora. “Might want to encourage him along, lady. We’re close to charging you, and every second he and I spend arguing is one that you lose.”

“I didn’t hire him to tell him what to do,” said Cora, glancing over at Hayes and hoping he could read what she felt from her expression. Don’t let these bastards bully you down.

But Hayes didn’t look back, instead focused on Dempsey as the man leaned back in his chair. There was a savage amusement in the police captain’s eyes as he said, “We both know how this has to shake out. One of us just isn’t ready to admit it. You can’t pretend to be free from slipping off whatever leash your old pack had you on. Just like I’m not free to throw their diplomat out on their ass whenever one comes in here. No one can do what they really want unless they’re willing to live alone in the woods. I don’t feel like picking ticks off me for the rest of my days. Do you?”

There was a short silence after that. Cora knew that if he’d said all that patronizing claptrap to her, she’d have responded by trying to choke him with his own tie. There was nothing she hated worse than a lecture.

But Detective Hayes looked unfazed, neither angry nor abashed as he said, “I’m not a rookie on his first beat, and this has nothing to do with fear or pride. I’m telling you no because it’s a terrible idea.”

“I wouldn’t prod you unless it was serious. It’s a weird one, Hayes. I’ve seen a lot, but never any like this.” Then the police captain sighed, all traces of humor fading from his face. “At least hear me out. If you do that, I’ll let you look at the car without another word.”

When Hayes’ eyes narrowed, the police captain jerked his head at Cora and added, “And I’ll get her out of the room if you don’t want anyone else hearing about it.”

She stopped a nervous glance at him just as he shook his head. “No. She’s fine.”

When Dempsey shrugged, Cora sensed herself becoming invisible to the two of them. Normally that would annoy her, but at the moment she was only curious to hear more about the dark details behind something as mysterious as a wolf pack in trouble.

After another hit on his half-burned cigarette, the police captain began. “A week ago, two human lovers were necking over by Beake River, right near the bridge that separates no man’s land from city territory. It was around midnight. Everything was quiet. And then—and this is where the witness descriptions get shaky—something chased them and tore that bridge to shreds doing so. Everyone ended up in the water, pulled downstream until the two lovers managed to crawl up the river bank. Problem is, they ended up in pack territory with the creature still after them.”

“Who survived?” Hayes sounded grim.

“The lovers escaped back on city territory. A goddamn miracle, considering how the pack was also on their heels. Whatever chased them was killed, but not quickly enough to keep it in pack land. It stumbled over the border and died slumping against the fence of a junkyard.”

“Wilson’s Wrecks,” murmured Hayes, as if to himself.

The police captain nodded and then leaned forward on his desk. His gaze had hardened into something deadly serious. “Sam, a few of my boys made it to the scene in time for its final breaths. I trust them when they say it didn’t look anything like a wolf. Too big. Too deformed. But when it died, it transformed into a human body right in front of them.”

Cora felt her mouth drop open. Only wolves could change into humans and back, and it was an act of their nature, something as instinctive and easy as a pair of jaws snapping shut. And if the body had changed after death… Well, that suggested some strange sort of magic at work. Perhaps some mad alchemist performing forbidden experiments. The burn of the sigil buried deep beneath her hair suddenly sharpened into a blistering pain, and she had to fight hard to keep her hand from darting to the back of her neck.

As she struggled to keep her breathing steady, Hayes rubbed at his face. “How many from the pack were killed by this thing?”

“The Saxby diplomat won’t say, but one of the lovers swore to seeing two wolves ripped in half. Barehanded.”

There was a long moment of silence before Hayes spoke again, hand still working at his eyes. “They want the body.”

It wasn’t a question, but Dempsey nodded anyway. “They’re not getting it. Anything that ends up with a pack is as good as dead to the human world, and even you aren’t slick enough to deny it.”

When Hayes said nothing, the police captain added, “They’re desperate, Sam. Getting pushy. You know the city can’t let even one pack muscle around the law. Show an ounce of weakness in that department and they’ll all lunge in for blood.”

“Who’s the diplomat?”

“Rowan Saxby.”

Hayes grimaced.

The reaction brought a glitter of humor back into the police captain’s eyes. “So you know her.”

Before Hayes could confirm the obvious, shouting cracked through the hallway, shattering the conversation like a rock thrown through a window. Cora jerked in her seat, turning toward the sound on instinct. Both Hayes and Dempsey rose from their chairs, already reaching for their side holsters. But then one voice rose louder than the rest, and Hayes dropped his hand, expression changing.

The police captain laughed. “Speak of the devil. I’d recognize that nasal yawping anytime. I don’t suppose you’re willing to try talking her down first?”

“I’d only stir her up more,” said Hayes, his head cocked toward the door. The glass pane shivered whenever the shouts reached a certain pitch. It sounded like two or three other people were also arguing, either with her or against her.

As Cora rose from her seat, too fascinated to be unnerved, Dempsey brushed past them with a sigh. “This is the third time in a week. Sometimes I’m sure that all you mutts are better off dead.”

Before Hayes could stop her, Cora followed the police captain. She’d never had an ounce of self-preservation, and it wasn’t about to guide her actions now. When Hayes hissed her name, she only walked faster, heels clicking down the hallway as the yelling strengthened, and was soon close enough for the voices to sharpen into distinct words.

“Let me simplify this for your thick skull. There is a body in your morgue that killed four pack members. It committed crimes on pack land. We need this body sent back to us so that we can—”

“Ma’am, it died on city property and therefore is under the care, duty, and law of the city. Any requests or claims for it require the proper paperwork.”

“We’ve given it.”

“It takes up to six weeks to process paperwork for initial approval or rejection, as I’ve said five times already.”

In the entrance room, the single officer behind his desk still scowled, but had also risen from his seat and braced his hands against the polished wood surface as if to turn his body into a shield against the diplomat and her three guards glaring at him. The rest of the room was cleared out, visitors ushered elsewhere, and several of the officers that had been behind their glass windows were now gathered around him in a bristling wall, stone-faced as they waited for the she-wolf to escalate from bark to bite.

Cora hesitated at the mouth of the hallway, giving Hayes the chance to catch her arm. Despite the excitement of the scene, she glanced up at him, expecting a rebuke. Instead, he only pulled her back a few steps, just enough to put his body between hers and the two sides of the argument—just enough to protect her.

“It’s about to get that bad?” she whispered, pushing her mouth close to his ear to make sure she’d be heard above the cacophony.

“Just be ready if it does.” He remained focused on Dempsey as the police captain stepped into the fray.

“What’s going on, Ogden?”

“Ms. Rowan Saxby of the Saxby Pack is here, sir.” The officer kept any notes of irritation from his voice, but his neatly combed hair had fallen into his face as if he’d swiped a hand through it more than once. “She wants to see the body.”

“Can’t do that and you know it,” said Dempsey, facing her square.

“Captain, the legal paperwork necessary to extricate the body back to pack land may take up to a year to be approved, signed, and sealed. It’ll be nothing more than bone by that point. We need to know what’s going on now.” The diplomat’s eyes still glittered with rage, but her voice had gained a chill that might have passed for politeness. She was all angles in her sleek, pinstriped suit, with dark hair slicked back into sharp, nearly geometric waves close to her skull, but any sense of cool efficiency was ruined by bloodshot eyes and a muscle jumping in her jaw.

“If we skip over everything and hand over the body, it’ll start a damn riot. We can’t show favoritism no matter how urgent the case is.”

“If it’s done quietly…”

“Yeah, well, you already made sure it won’t. Your voice carries across the entire station. There’s probably already a gaggle of journalists fighting over the phone booth across the street to get the details into their newspapers.”

When the diplomat hissed in a breath as if to say more, Dempsey sighed. “We’ll pass on anything we learn in our investigation over to your Royal Inspector. Like always.”

“That’s not good enough. Secondhand information from human sources is hardly suitable for my king.”

When Dempsey only shrugged, her voice turned hot. “At least give us information on the humans connected with the body. There were two that were chased by the killer. Several members of our pack saw them flee into human boundaries. They’re witnesses and our inspectors wish to interview them.”

“Lady, I wouldn’t give you the name of my worst enemy. I know what wolves have been doing to humans. My boys have been cleaning up the messes on the streets for almost a year.”

“Cross-fire casualties aren’t the same as investigating witnesses.”

Dempsey laughed. “Is that what you’re calling it?”

“Do you think this is funny?”

The police captain’s voice finally hardened. “I think you’ve got a lot of arrogance to come in here and act like your king rules over us. As far as I’m concerned, he’s an animal itching at fleas no matter how many jewels shine in his crown.”

The diplomat’s eyes constricted to pinpoints. “How dare you?”

In the hallway, Cora felt her breath catch from the sight of sudden fangs. Hayes pushed back the side of his jacket enough to hover a hand by his holster.

The police captain didn’t even blink. “Lady, I killed Rusties in the Tin War. Snarling like a junkyard dog won’t scare me.”

They drifted closer to each other like snakes, unblinking while both the pack guards and the officers twitched with tension, waiting for the first strike.

Then Hayes stepped out from the hallway, approaching them empty-handed. His voice cracked through the air. “Rowan.”

Cora watched the diplomat recoil at the sound of his voice. “You.”

“You know this isn’t the way to go,” he said, as easy and calm as Cora had ever seen him despite being under the scrutiny of everyone in the room.

“Pet,” she hissed, taking another step back. The guards rippled around her, various expressions of confusion and disgust crossing their faces. “Don’t speak to me. You’re nothing more than a tool for these humans.”

Then she stalked off, heels rapping against the floor as the guards slunk after her. One, a red-haired man with a scar on his chin, glanced back at Hayes with troubled eyes, but none of them stopped.

When the door slammed shut behind them, Dempsey pulled out a fresh cigarette and lit it before giving his officer a light slap on the shoulder. “You did good, Ogden. If the bitch files a complaint, it’ll come to nothing. The rest of you get back to work, too. If she follows her usual pattern, she won’t be back for a few days.”

As the officers dispersed back to the desks, the police captain glanced over at Hayes. The grin was back on his face. “One day, I’ll want to know what you did to get booted out. Every wolf who sees you acts like they’d rather run into a leper.”

“I left it. That’s good enough for most. I want to see the car, Captain.”

Something had come over Hayes, a sort of change that Cora couldn’t quite describe. It wasn’t the snarling bluster of the wolves who had just left, but he had still shed some sort of mask and now stood there sharp and tense and ready to move onto blood if any more words were used to prod at him.

Dempsey saw it too, and only nodded. “Sure. You know where it is.”

They took a different hallway this time, one that led to a stairway down. Cora cast sidelong glances at Hayes as their footsteps scraped against the rough concrete, trying to gauge his mood. He looked as cool and pleasant as ever while nodding to the officer who met them at the bottom, and his hand remained light at her elbow as they passed warehouse-like shelves storing evidence boxes. But once they were led to the room full of cars and left alone, his expression hardened into remote concentration. He obviously didn’t want to talk.

Cora tried watching him quietly, but after their excursion in the forest she already knew how he looked while studying something, and now grew bored. And it was so silent down there. She never knew what to do with herself when she wasn’t talking or listening to someone else.

She tried studying the pathetic remains of her father’s car for clues, although she wasn’t sure how the mangled lump of metal could help her case anyway, and found herself saying, “It’s such a shame.”

Hayes nodded. “I heard it was a real looker.”

“No, I mean… That everyone is so beastly to you.”

Now he looked more amused. “I sometimes come away from cases with bruises or broken bones. A few insults are nothing, Miss Marshall.”

“I suppose that’s one way to look at it,” said Cora, still doubtful, but she took the hint and turned her attention to the remains of the Royale. “Do you see anything that could prove it wasn’t a bomb?”

As he circled around to what she guessed was the left side of the car, he said, “Hard to tell. The fire distorted a lot. Except for…” Then his hand reached out as if to touch it. Just before his fingers brushed the twisted metal, they flexed and drew away again.

“What is it?”

“I’m not sure.” He sounded absent again, and she nearly huffed in indignation at his mysteriousness.

Then his head snapped toward the door, and his eyes darkened to amber, which she’d begun to recognize as a sign he was on edge. It took a heartbeat for her to hear the footsteps sounding against the hallway, and another to look over, too. It sounded like a man’s shoes, and she half-expected to see Captain Dempsey step through the doorway.

It wasn’t him. It was one of the guards who had hovered around the Saxby diplomat—the one who had looked torn up over the diplomat’s insults toward Hayes. In the harsh overhead light, his uniform was all dark leather and shiny brass buttons, and his red hair gleamed like a burnished penny.

The other wolf hesitated while glancing at her, but his posture remained rigid as he refocused on Hayes. “Sir.”

“You’re not supposed to call me that anymore, Brom,” said Hayes, suddenly sounding very tired. “Were you sent here?”

The guard’s silence was answer enough, but when Hayes shook his head, he quickly said, “I know the risks I’m taking and I’m here anyway. Please… Help us.”

Hayes hesitated. It was the first time Cora had seen him do so. Then he jerked his chin at the door. “Let’s go outside.”

His glance was enough to reassure her that they wouldn’t go far, and she politely turned away, pretending that she was still interested in the car. It worked well enough that she was able to sneak over to the slightly ajar door and listen without being caught.

“We need your help no matter what that jumped-up diplomat says. The king wants it solved, and that means all the higher ups want it solved bad. We’ve lost seven from the guard, sir.”

“All from the creature?” said Hayes, his voice turning sharp.

“No.” Now a trace of bitterness entered the guard’s voice. “Four from the creature. The other three… Failed in various ways to help the investigation. Their pelts are on the Royal Inspector’s wall. He needed to show the king he was doing something to save his skin.”

Hayes swore. “Is the diplomat still near the building?”

“Probably throwing up in a nearby alley. Her head’s coming off if she comes back with nothing.”

Before Cora could hear Hayes’ reply, Captain Dempsey’s voice sent her jumping back from the door. “You look like you feel sorry for her.”

He stood a few feet away, cigarette still in hand. Somehow, he’d slipped in through another door unnoticed.

“Captain,” said Cora, heart ramming against her ribs. “You gave me a terrible fright.”

He continued as if she hadn’t even spoken. “He’ll hate himself for it, but he also knew it’d come to this sooner or later.”

“What do you mean?”

The police captain laughed. “What story did he give you? Something that puts his situation in a happy light, I’m guessing. He was exiled from his pack, Miss Marshall. Most wolves give up and die from that. He’s managed to make himself a cushy career, at least.”

“It’s that hard for them?”

“Their pack is their identity and Hayes was close to the very top. The Royal Inspector. That’s a higher position than mine, but now he has to sit there and listen while I dick him around. And when he goes to wolves, he has to sit there and listen while they insult him for being a dog that heels for humans.”

Cora raised her chin. “And then he makes all of you look like fools by solving cases that no one else can.”

Dempsey smiled. “No one can pull it off every time. Though if you are innocent, I hope he proves it in time. I don’t like seeing innocent people swing.”

“You make it sound like you have nothing to do with it either way.”

For a moment, the police captain didn’t respond. He walked around the car, now letting the soles of his shoes sound loudly against the tile floor. “Everyone’s nervous with how pushy the wolves are getting, Miss Marshall. So many bodies are being found, and some of them are human. So many bodies, but not one of the murderers. It makes the regular Joe and Jane types who fill up this city nervous. They start demanding that something needs to be done, and that if it can’t get done, they start demanding for heads themselves. It’s making all the politicians and administrators sweat, because they’re the first to be targeted by the rage of the common fella. There needs to be something given to people to show that we can all still do our jobs. That justice can still be carried out, quick and smooth and righteous. Do you get me?”

“I think so,” said Cora, trying to keep her voice steady. “Charging and convicting me for my father’s murder will do just that, won’t it?”

Dempsey nodded, but didn’t look gleeful or even satisfied. Instead, he suddenly seemed very weary, as if there was a great weight on his shoulders and it had just turned into something crushing. “If it helps any, I sent for the best hangman around. He’s the chief executioner of New Obsidian. He knows how to tie the knot and place it so that your neck will snap as soon as you drop.”

She drew in a breath, wondering how much trouble she would get into for calling the police captain a jackass to his face. “No, Captain. That’s not helpful at all.”

He shrugged. “Just telling you how things are, lady.”

Then Hayes’ voice cut between them. “It won’t get that far.”

He stepped back into the room, alone once more, and added, “I’m taking the case, but I’ll only tell you everything if you give me unlimited access to all information and resources at your department’s fingertips.”

“Done,” said Dempsey, still looking tired. “It’s not like we can keep you out anyway. How the hell did you squirm into the files on Miss Marshall? Those were under lock and key.”

“We all have our secrets, Captain. I’ll visit the morgue after finishing up here.”

He waited until the Dempsey left before turning to her. For the first time since the pack diplomat, something in his face softened. “You all right? I didn’t mean to leave you alone with him.”

“I’m fine. He didn’t make me cry at all,” she said, flashing him a smile. “What about you?”

“Don’t worry about me.” He glanced away before adding, “I need to visit the morgue.”

“And I suppose I’ll have to stay here and wait for you out of respect for client confidentiality?”

“I haven’t signed anything yet. It’s more that the morgue isn’t exactly a pleasant place.”

She studied him, not liking the new, grim set to his mouth, and then tucked her arm into his. “It’s true that I’ve never seen a dead body before, but I can’t imagine it’s any worse than feeling my skin crawl whenever photographers take pictures of me now.”

The morgue proved to be bright and sterile, much more so than any other room they had visited in this furtive, subterranean level of the police station. It was cold of course, and smelled like disinfectant, but she’d frankly gotten worse scares while volunteering for charity work at the local hospital, even when they entered the autopsy area and met the medical examiner, Dr. Morris, who looked like a corpse himself with his pallid face and wizened body.

He frowned at her. “I don’t like her being here. Women always faint, or cry, or go into hysterics. Take her outside, Hayes.”

Cora managed to keep her smile in place as Hayes said, “You’ve been hanging around the dead too much, Morris. It’s shrunk your social niceties to nothing. She’s staying.”

With a final grumble, the medical examiner waved at them to follow him. Sheets covered bodies but left faces exposed, and Cora found herself looking at each one. It really wasn’t as bad as she’d feared. They looked dead all right, but bore no grotesque wounds or even an expression of pain.

“Here we are.” The man’s spectacles flashed as he reached the rows of metal lockers and pulled on the handle of one. As it slid out silently, the body fully covered by its sheet, he added, “The John Doe who came to us last week. I’m not surprised you’re here to see him, Hayes. He started a murder spree in pack land and ended up dead in city territory. Very messy.”

“Once they get him, it’ll be swept beneath the rug like plenty of other things,” murmured Hayes, stepping closer as the man folded back the sheet.

The words were evenly spoken, even colorless, but Cora still found her watching him instead of the medical examiner’s reveal. There was still something in the detective’s eyes—bitterness? Anger? Whatever it was, it hardened his gaze into a piercing amber attention. Then he leaned over to better study the body, and brim of his hat hid his face from view.

With nothing left to distract her, Cora reluctantly glanced over at the dead man, hoping it wouldn’t be too horrifying. Then the walls around her tipped and tilted. At her strangled gasp, Hayes’ focus snapped over to her.

“Ms. Marshall?”

She was too busy sinking to the floor to answer. He caught her before her head cracked against the cold tile, and her spinning senses grew further confused by the press of a body against hers and by the strong arm wrapped around her waist to keep her upright.

“I told you,” said the medical examiner, dryly. “Let’s hope she recovers without falling into hysterics.”

If he were a few steps closer, Cora would have tried to beat him with her purse. As it was, she couldn’t even keep her voice steady. “I’m all right. It was just a shock.”

Hayes’ free hand brushed her cheek, guiding her to look up at him despite the lingering unsteadiness of the ground. Lines of concern furrowed his brow, but when he spoke, the words were calm, even soothing. “You’re all right. It’s a dead body, kid. That’s tough to swallow for anyone who hasn’t hung around them much.”

“No, it’s not that. It’s… I know him.” Then she sucked in a shaky breath, unable to keep from looking over at the body. “That’s Tierney. My father’s driver.”

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