Secrets in the Moon (Crescent City Werewolves #1)

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The Witnesses

Cora studied herself carefully in the mirror, trying to gauge whether grey was too drab without the flash of jewelry. It was, and she quickly stripped down to the lace of her lingerie, tossing the dress onto a pile of others on the floor. Her outfit needed to be perfect.

After so many interviews with the police, she knew how uncomfortable it felt to be questioned by grim figures. She certainly didn’t want to appear dour. But she also wished to be taken seriously, not dismissed as a frivolous socialite who only knew how to smoke, seduce, or scandalize. And most importantly, she needed to make Detective Hayes’ jaw drop the moment he saw her.

A skirt tried on and tossed off. A shirt dismissed as too fussy. She was just reaching for a seafoam green dress that would look striking with her hair when Maisie appeared in the doorway. The maid’s voice remained as crisp as her uniform as she said, “Excuse me, miss. Miss Violet Granbury is here to see you.”

“What? But why on earth would she…?”

The answer came in the form of Violet herself as she pushed the maid aside, still wearing her kid gloves and sable coat. “Because, darling, I saw the papers and just had to rush over and congratulate my dearest friend on getting away with murder.”

As Cora blinked, still shocked, the other girl swept her into a hug and kissed the air by her cheeks. Just as quickly, Violet spun away and sank into the nearest chair with a sigh, the movement parting her coat enough to reveal how she wore only a silk negligee beneath it. She really had come running over. Cora didn’t know whether to shriek or laugh at her oldest friend for disappearing along with all the others and returning only once the clouds of suspicion had cleared.

And to sit there and act as if she hadn’t avoided Cora’s letters, hadn’t sat in a different box at the theatre to keep from speaking to her, hadn’t told reporters that Cora Marshall was nothing more to her than a fellow party girl sharing the same social circles. “Vi, I ought to slap you silly for all the things you said about me to those vile journalists.”

Violet only smiled and lit a cigarette. “None of us can afford to keep grudges, ducky. Now really, how did you manage it? I want all the details, especially the sordid ones.”

It was hard to find a response that didn’t involve pulling the other girl’s hair out, and Cora gave herself time by trying on the dress. It looked fantastic, giving her a soft, carefree appearance, but her reflection’s expression still looked troubled. “There’s nothing to say. I didn’t get away with it because I didn’t do anything in the first place. I’m innocent.”

“Innocent? Is there such a thing these days?” As she spoke, Violet removed her sunglasses, revealing her face in full.

She was completely unlike Cora in looks, her hair a deep auburn that made her unusual violet eyes all the more striking. Her mouth was sharp and thin, perfect for the sardonic smile she always wore, and her long body had the starved elegance of a greyhound. Yet worrying signs were visible as well. Her ashen skin and smeared makeup suggested she hadn’t bothered glancing into a mirror, and her normally sleek bob looked like a rat’s nest.

Despite the knot of anger throbbing in her chest, Cora found herself drifting over to clasp the other girl’s hand. “Vi, are you all right? You look tired.”

“Don’t lie to avoid hurting my feelings. I have none. The only heart I have is this pretty little one right here.” Violet pulled her hand away to catch the gold locket hanging from her neck, and continued to play with it as she added, “What I look like is roadkill, and I feel just as awful. There must have been something in the drinks last night.”

“Where did you go?”

“Freddy’s, as always. The boy can never stop partying. He also saw the papers, by the way, and told me how much he hopes to see you. He’s throwing something else this afternoon—an event to watch him break world records in his new speedboat.”

So, they really were all acknowledging her again. The fact ignited strange feelings in Cora’s heart, far messier than mere indignation. A week ago, she would have killed for even a phone call from one of her friends. Now she was being welcomed back into their inner circle of gossip, parties, and sex, welcomed back into the right type of scandal, and yet when she pushed away that initial burst of anger… nothing replaced it.

Had she changed that much throughout this ordeal? She’d never minded hollow pleasures before, had never minded the fake smiles offered to her. Were they still enough?

At her silence, some of the archness left Violet’s face. “Come off it, darling. No one turns down an invitation to Freddy’s. Don’t pout just because we worried about you bumping off your friends next.”

Suddenly sure of what she wanted, Cora began searching through her shoes. “To be honest, it was all very vexing. But you’re right, there’s no use holding grudges. The plain fact of the matter is that I’ve already made plans today.”

“To what, try on your entire wardrobe?”

Cora flashed a smile at her, unable to contain her excitement. “To investigate.”

Then came the sound of a car pulling into the driveway.

Cora gasped. “He’s here and I’m not even ready.”

As she tore through her hat collection, Violet got up to peer out the window. “Oh, I see. This must be your private detective. My, my, he is a wolf.”

“Isn’t he fantastic? Just wait until you meet him.” She picked a cloche with a brim that swooped low, wanting to emphasize her eyes. “He’s very clever and perceptive, and nothing seems to shake him at all.”

“Meet him?” The other girl’s tone seethed with disdain. “Darling, you’re speaking as if he’s human. I know scandals are second nature to you, but it’s a bit mystifying to hear you’d rather keep company with a wolf than spend time with us. Didn’t you miss your friends at all?”

“Of course I did. But…” Unable to find the right words, Cora fussed with her hat instead.

Violet studied her, eyes widening. “Don’t tell me you’ve gone silly over him.”

“Well, and so what if I have?”

The other girl laughed, but it was a short, breathless one, as if the shock had driven the very air out of her lungs. “He won’t take you seriously. No one takes any of us seriously. We’re like stars, bright and hot and wonderful to look at… and then we burn out in one big flash. I mean, really, who would want to live with you or me? We know nothing, we do nothing, and we go through money so fast that if any of us live past thirty, we’ll be worth nothing as well.”

Cora blindly reached for some earrings, trying to ignore how the words stung at her heart like vicious little wasps. “Maybe I just want to pretend for a day or two that it’s not like that.”

“And then it won’t hurt as much when he bills you for the extra hours?”

Cora flinched. Then she turned away, facing the mirror and trying to ignore how her reflection’s mouth trembled. “What an awful thing to say.”

“The truth always is.”

In the heavy silence that followed, Violet joined her, dropping her chin on her shoulder just as they’d done since childhood. “Don’t misunderstand me, darling. I’m not saying this out of spite. It’s just… our kind of life is short enough. Why waste it chasing after something you can never have?”

A knock came at the door, the three raps that signified Maisie was about to open it. Cora wiped the tears from her cheeks just as the maid announced, “Detective Hayes is here to see you, miss.”

“Thank you, Maisie. Tell him I’ll be right down.”

Hayes waited near the front door, still in his hat and coat and obviously impatient to be off and running. Despite his sleek clothes, he looked more feral than usual, eyes glinting with a hunter’s excitement, but the closed expression on his face warmed as Cora and Violet descended the stairs. “Afternoon, Miss Marshall. Miss Granbury.”

Violet brushed past as if he hadn’t even spoken, instead giving Cora a parting glance over her shoulder. “I’ll keep in touch, ducky. And remember, Freddy’s invitation is an open one. In the meantime, have fun with your pet detective.”

“Violet!” Cora’s voice rose into an outraged gasp even as the door closed behind the other girl. “That’s unspeakably rude!”

“Your friend seems a little miffed at me,” said Hayes, the corner of his mouth quirking into a smile.

“I’m so sorry.” Her cheeks stung with heat as she looked up at him. “We had a fight and I’m afraid she can turn very nasty when that happens. But still, she shouldn’t have said that about you.”

“I’ve been called a lot worse.” Then he studied her face, long enough that she worried he might have noticed the redness in her eyes. Whatever he saw, he decided not to press on it. “Who’s Freddy?”

“Oh, she meant Freddy Davenport. He invited me to one of his parties.”

He let out a low whistle. “That’s a big name to have among your friends. Sounds like you’re popular again.”

“Apparently, it’s very different to get away with murder than it is to be accused of it.” Then she patted her hat into the perfect tilt and brightened her voice. “Anyway, what do you think? Does this look right for investigating?”

To her gratification, he couldn’t resist glancing her up and down. Although those gold eyes were still strange and thrilling to her, the look in them was very familiar, evaporating the hurt of Violet’s words even before he said, “The boots are a nice touch.”

She beamed. “Aren’t they gorgeous? I fell in love with them at first glance even though they cost a fortune. The man at the shop said the pearls can only be harvested from a part of Mulgrew Bay that’s in wolf pack territory.”

“Not at this point.” As they walked outside, he added, “The Upper Mulgrew Pack stopped existing, to put it gently, over five months ago.”

“Wasn’t that just awful? I was hoping to have some matching gloves made, too.” The sight of Hayes’ car chased away the last of the thoughts troubling her mind, and there was only sheer excitement in her voice as she said, “So. Who are these two lovers that we’re about to interview?”

She soon found out. Jack Sutton worked as a patent illustrator for a law firm in the city. His sweetheart, Mary Barlowe, was a secretary there. Neither wished to be interviewed at the firm, and had reluctantly agreed to instead meet Hayes at Jack’s home—a small apartment above a sandwich shop.

“Is there anything else I should know?” said Cora, as they walked up a metal staircase at the back of the building, which was the only way in from the outside. The air smelled like pickles and pastrami from the shop below.

“Just remember that people often lie. The trick is to figure out why.” Then he knocked on the door.

As they waited, Cora studied their surroundings with interest, taking in the various alleys and apartment windows that could be seen from their high position. A factory loomed like a giant in the near distance, belching steam and smoke as the ground shuddered from its machinations. Several squat buildings surrounded it, all of them as grim and plain as concrete blocks. It made the sudden low of a cow all the more startling, and Cora turned back to Hayes to see if he’d heard it, too.

He seemed to sense her unasked question. “There’s a slaughterhouse nearby. I can smell it. Probably feeds supplies to that meat pie factory.”

Then the door in front of them opened, revealing the suspicious face of a man about her age. Cora couldn’t say her first impression of him was favorable; he dressed neatly and his hair was combed back in the precise manner of a law firm employee, but there was a sullen look to his eyes and to his words, too, as he said, “What do you want?”

“Jack Sutton?” Hayes kept his voice friendly. “I’m Sam Hayes, the private detective you spoke with on the phone.”

The man nodded and pulled at his collar, a nervous habit judging from the ink stains there. The act left his watch flashing at them as his gaze jumped to Cora. “Who’s she?”

“His assistant,” said Cora, keeping her voice prim as she brandished a small notebook. “He hates taking notes.” Then she bit back a smile at the swift glance from Hayes.

After a beat of hesitation, Jack nodded and stepped aside to let them in. “Well, all right. Mary’s already here.”

The apartment and its furnishings were well-worn yet clean, without any sign of mold, infestations, or buckling walls that plagued many of the older buildings in the city. Instead, what caught Cora’s interest was the sheer amount of loose leaf paper scattered everywhere—finished artwork. There were ink portraits, field sketches, technical illustrations, and even a few watercolors. It was obvious that Jack Sutton truly loved to draw, and that he was good at it.

Mary Barlowe was near the kitchen, frantically pushing aside papers until she found a tray big enough to serve coffee and cookies. She was less dolled up than most secretaries Cora had met, with her hair simply pinned back from her pale face and her skirt and sweater practical instead of stylish. She also looked terrified whenever Hayes stepped into view, and shook so badly that Cora herself ended up carrying the tray over to the table to keep the coffee cups from chipping against each other.

As the percolator coughed and bubbled, Jack slouched forward in his seat, resting his elbows against the table while refusing to actually look at anyone. Mary moved about in the kitchen, trying to look busy to avoid having to sit with them. Cora took a cookie to give herself something to do and then glanced up at Hayes, who had remained standing. When their eyes met, he gave her a smile that was both wry and reassuring.

When it became clear neither witness would volunteer anything, Hayes reached for one of the newspapers that had been left on the table. “The papers are showing a lot of interest in what you saw that night.”

Jack scoffed. “Yeah, only because it’s now connected to that rich heiress who murdered her father. No one believed us at first.”

“The reporters certainly did,” said Cora, skimming through the article. The revelation about Tierney being the strange beast that puzzled both wolf and man was now public, and so was the fact that two human witnesses had seen him in his monstrous form. She hoped that in the coming days, the papers would be kinder to him than they had been with her. Even a dead man deserved better.

She glanced up and added, “At least your names weren’t revealed.”

Mary shook her head while coming over with the percolator. “We haven’t talked to anyone from the newspapers. They must have gotten our story from the police somehow.”

“Who didn’t do anything, anyway,” muttered Jack. “So why bother us for more information? This Tierney fella is dead and can’t hurt anyone else.”

Hayes offered them a slight smile, one that didn’t show his teeth. “True enough, but we still don’t know what happened to him or how he turned into that creature. Who’s to say it won’t happen again? To someone else?”

Silence fell. Mary and Jack’s faces paled. The hush lasted for several heartbeats before Mary rose from the table, her expression firming as she came to some internal decision.

As she excused herself and left, Hayes refocused on Jack. “This thing he turned into, the thing that chased you that night… what did it look like?”

“It wasn’t a normal wolf,” he said, still sounding shaken. “It had the fur, and a few things about the head, maybe… but no. I never could have mistaken it for a wolf.”

“It was far too big,” said Mary, returning with an artist’s portfolio tucked beneath her arm. “And when it moved, it looked nothing like any animal I’ve ever seen. Here. Show them, Jack.”

When he hesitated at taking the leather case from her, she urged it at him and added, “Go on. Your drawings of it are perfect.”

“It would be very helpful, Mr. Sutton,” said Hayes, drinking from his cup of scalding coffee without so much as a flinch. “What we saw in the morgue now looks like a normal man.”

Jack’s mouth remained set in a sour line, but something in his eyes softened as he glanced at Mary while taking the portfolio from her. With a smile, she sat next to him, one hand settling on the bared skin of his forearm while he pulled out a sheaf of papers and thumbed through them.

Cora felt a twinge in her heart at the sight of such quiet, easy intimacy. It was the ghost of a grief that she could never fully feel. Once, she must have wanted her life to be something similar, luxury cast aside like a fur coat to bare her heart to love instead. Leaving her father’s fortune behind—what did it matter? The weight of pearls couldn’t possibly compare to the sweetness of a familiar kiss.

The twinge came again, stronger this time, and Cora abruptly looked away, afraid she might make a fool of herself with tears that had no reason to exist. Her gaze found Hayes, hoping to draw on his steadiness, expecting to find him absorbed in the drawings.

Instead, it was she who was under his scrutiny, and his gaze was so intent that she felt herself flush. What was it about the wolf-kind that suggested their eyes found more than flesh and blood? Surely an animal would only see the raw meat and hard bone of a body. Yet Cora felt sure he had looked into her heart just then, and had seen the glimmers of that old pain. Had seen it and had understood it.

“Here,” said Jack, and Cora gratefully looked at the papers spread out on the table.

On every sheet loomed a beast too grotesque to imagine. Jack had a neat, precise way with his pencil, rendering the creature in detail as fine as any scientific illustration. The drawing nearest to her focused on the head of the creature. It had a misshapen muzzle, flatter and broader than a wolf’s, and enormous, bristling teeth. Its eyes were small and so were the ears.

Hayes stepped closer to pick one up. Cora also looked at it, skin prickling as she realized this drawing was of the full creature.

“It really does look half-man, half-wolf,” she murmured. The body was vaguely like a human’s, at least in the shape of the chest and hips. But the hands were overlarge, and had pads like a dog’s paw. And long, vicious claws...

“How did it run?” said Hayes.

“On all fours, but awkwardly. Lurching, like.” Mary shuddered.

Jack rubbed at her shoulder before adding, “It didn’t look any more at ease on hind legs.” Then he pushed forth another piece of paper, one that showed detailed sketches of the creature as it stood.

Hayes looked at it for a second and then circled away from the table, giving Cora a meaningful glance. She understood what it meant—he was about to try something. “Your drawings are very nice, Mr. Sutton. Chilling to even look at. How much are the newspapers paying for them?”

Jack stiffened in his seat. Mary gave an indignant gasp. “I already told you, we haven’t talked to anyone else.”

“You didn’t. He did.” Hayes’ tone remained level.

Cora studied the other man as he started to squirm. “Listen, I don’t have to take this from some dog. I—”

“Insults won’t work with me,” said Hayes. His voice still sounded calm but something in his eyes had changed. They looked sharp, feral, intent as if he were chasing a quarry and just saw it stumble. “There were details in this morning’s papers that weren’t in your police interviews.”

Jack pulled at his collar, the fabric now damp with sweat. “They added that themselves. Juiced it up to sell more copies.”

Then Hayes nodded at the other man’s wrist. “Your watch isn’t just new, it’s a brand way out of your reach. You couldn’t afford it just with your salary.”

Mary’s voice rose in indignation. “The head of his firm gave it to him yesterday for doing such fine work on a big account.”

Cora pointedly tapped a name in the newspaper article still on the table, but kept her voice gentle. “Do you mean Mr. Leyendecker? The reporter mentioned he’s Jack’s employer. I’ve met him, Miss Barlowe, and he’s a real penny-pincher. It’s just not in his nature to give ostentatious gifts. Why, for her past birthday, his wife only received some stationary.”

While Jack twitched, now freely perspiring, Hayes picked up one of the drawings. “These were carefully placed in a portfolio even though drawings and sketches are scattered throughout this apartment. You wouldn’t need to take these to work for any reason, so why are they set aside, ready to be pulled out and shown to people?”

“All right!” Jack’s shoulders slumped. “So what if I did?”

“What?” Mary stared at him. “Jack, how could you?”

“I don’t see what’s wrong with it,” he muttered. “The amount they offered for the drawings is more than I’d make in two years working under that old bastard Leyendecker.”

“You mean they already know these exist?” said Hayes, his voice sharpening.

“Yeah, but they tried underselling me, so I’m waiting for a better price.”

Cora watched a muscle jump in Hayes’ jaw as he started pacing. “Hayes, what is it?”

He sounded like he wanted to growl. “You let all this information slip, and now you’ve told reporters that even more is coming.”

Jack’s expression remained confused, but Cora suddenly shivered, catching on to what Hayes meant. “You believe that whoever’s behind this will want to shut them up, don’t you? Before anything else can be revealed to the public.”

But Hayes didn’t answer, instead stopping at the nearest window. When his shoulders bunched, Cora knew something was wrong. She was already rising from her seat when he lunged for her, his voice coming out as a snarl. “Get down!”

The windows exploded.

Cora found herself flattened to the floor, the weight of his body over hers as glass rained around them. Mary was shrieking somewhere off to her right as footsteps pounded up the metal staircase. Jack wasn’t making any noise at all, and blood spattered the floor near his chair.

“Hayes,” she gasped.

“Stay low.” The words vibrated against her ear as shots continued to puncture the walls. “The gunfire is coming from the street. Once I clear the back stairs, run.”

Cora had never felt so frightened in her life as silence fell, leaving the squeak of the door abnormally loud as someone opened it from the outside. She just caught the shape of a man before Hayes took him out with one shot, and her heart hammered as he eased forward to check for more gunmen. The air was thick with the smell of fear and metal.

Then Mary’s whimpering caught her attention. The other girl was hiding behind an overturned chair, her eyes as wide as a doe’s.

Cora veered toward her, trying to ignore how glass pricked her knees through the thin fabric of her dress. “Mary. Mary. Are you all right?”

The girl didn’t answer, merely twitched, but in the next moment Hayes murmured, “It’s clear. Get the hell down those stairs and take the nearest alley out, because there was more than one shooter and they’ll all be coming up here to make sure nothing’s left alive.”

“What about you?”

“The idiot survived being shot in the leg. I’ll help him get out.”

“But you don’t know how many there are,” hissed Cora. “You could be killed.”

“No time to argue.” His eyes flashed at her, dark and wild and fearless. “Help the girl get out, too. Hurry!”

Cora bit back a retort and reached for Mary. “Take my hand. Come on, we’ve got a chance to go.”

Mary still didn’t say anything, but in the next moment her fingers blindly fumbled for Cora’s.

Every second was precious, yet Cora couldn’t keep herself from glancing at Hayes one final time even as she stumbled to her feet. “Don’t you dare die.”

He gave her a faint smile while reloading his gun. “Get going, Miss Marshall. I’ll find you.”

Mary was out the door first, silent except for her panting. Cora quickly followed, wincing as their heels rapped against the metal stairs. Just as they reached the final step down, a muffled gunshot rang out from somewhere inside the sandwich shop. Customers poured out, yelling and shoving and trampling anyone who slipped and fell.

“They’re shooting up through the ceiling at Jack,” said Mary, her voice sounding strangled. Then it rose into a shriek. “Oh God, I see one of them.”

So did Cora, her gaze jumping to a big brute cutting through the crowd like a shark, his hat angled low to hide his face. When he saw them, his entire body stiffened like a hound scenting the fox it sought. Mary made a strangled noise and then took off down the nearest side street. Cora ran after her, voice dying on her lips as she realized calling the other girl’s name would only alert more of the thugs.

The cobblestones beneath their feet were damp with stagnant water and littered with trash. When the air thickened with the smells of animal and manure, Cora realized where they were going. “Stop! There’s nothing ahead but the slaughterhouse!”

Then a bullet hit the brick wall on their right, and Mary started screaming as they dodged sagging dumpsters and rotten crates. Her shrieking coaxed a few heads to poke out through upper story windows, but they quickly disappeared again at the sight of the gunman. Cora was gasping too hard to speak, praying her heels wouldn’t slip on the slick ground, but Mary never once slowed down, not even when they reached the cattle lowing in their pens, eyes rolling white with confusion and uncertainty as Mary ducked between the wide bars to hide among them.

“Oh, no,” muttered Cora, but a glance behind her revealed the hulking shape of the thug, panting from chasing them and already raising his gun. She quickly wormed her way into the pens as well, pushing past stamping hooves and shuddering hides. One cow shook its head, blunted horns lowering enough to catch her dress and tear it. Cora flinched but kept moving, hearing Mary shriek while waving frantically at the men funneling cattle into the mouth of the slaughterhouse one at a time.

“Help us! For God’s sake, help us!”

The two workers stared, as slack-jawed as the cows themselves. Then another shot rang out, and the cows surged, bowling into the men in sheer panic. Mary disappeared from view. Cora fought through the scrambling current of hooves and horns, expecting to be crushed at any moment, expecting to trip over the other girl’s broken body.

Then she caught a glimpse of Mary’s sweater, and darted through a gap between two shuddering cows to catch her hand again. Mary looked dazed but unbloodied as they ran into the mouth of the slaughterhouse, the stench already overwhelming.

They stumbled to a stop, their path cut off by a cow and the worker standing before it with the killing hammer. He stared at them in bafflement, lowering the massive iron head of his weapon.

“What…” he managed, and then a stray bullet caught him in the shoulder, sending him reeling back.

The other workers fled from their processing stations, sparing not a backwards glance.

“Cowards!” shrieked Mary, tears running down her cheeks, but Cora simply saved her breath, catching the other girl by the arm to drag her further inside.

They slipped and slid over the bleeding floor, heels scrabbling for purchase as skins hung on hooks swayed in front of them, raw and wet. Cora couldn’t bite back a shriek as one slapped against her, coating her entire side in congealing clots, but the sound of heavy panting somewhere behind them drove her on.

Mary had fallen silent, just as bloodstreaked as they ran past carts of offal that steamed in the air. Then rows of butchered carcasses swung before them. Cora caught sight of a long knife and quickly grabbed it while they both hid among the forest of hanging meat.

Footsteps approached, slow yet steady. Cora heard Mary whimper, but she only tightened her grip on the knife and waited for the bastard to come close enough. Finally, a shoe appeared within sight, within reach, and Cora lashed out. The blade caught him with a satisfying thwack, slicing above his ankle just as she’d hoped. The man went down with a yell, dropping his gun to clutch at his leg.

She scrambled for it without dignity, feeling like her heart might burst as she rose to her feet, already aiming at his head.

The man hissed something under his breath, inching backwards. “Think you know how to use that?”

“I have a wonderful aim.” Then she pointed the nozzle at his good leg. “Would you like me to prove it?”

He just panted for breath, keeping his head down as if still wishing to hide his face. Then Mary shrieked again, and Cora thought for sure she was dead.

But it was Hayes who appeared, hat missing and blood dappling his face. His eyes looked feral but his aim remained steady as he pointed his own gun at the thug. “Your pals aren’t coming to help.”

At that, the man sagged back with a grimace, finally giving a clear view of his face.

Cora gasped. “I know you! You’re part of Roy Alemeister’s crew.”

“Don’t know who that is,” muttered the man, but he refused to meet her eyes.

“That’s utter faff. Who told you to come after Jack Sutton and Mary Barlowe?”

When that question was met with silence, Hayes moved in close enough to step on the man’s bad leg, driving his voice into a scream.

“Okay, I’ll talk. I’ll talk, you bastard.” The man panted a few moments before adding, “But there’s nothing to say. I was just following orders.”

Cora huffed. “Well, you can still take a message back to Roy. Tell him these are Kitten’s friends and that she’s very displeased by all this.”

“Kitten?” repeated the man, face going blank.

“He’ll understand it.” Then she looked at Hayes. “Unless you’d rather let the police have him?”

He raised his eyebrows. “Are you sure Alemeister will listen to you?”

“Oh, yes. Very sure.”

As sirens sounded in the distance, Hayes jerked his head at the man. “Get out of here before I change my mind.”

The thug staggered to his feet and limped off. As soon as he was gone, Hayes holstered his gun and stepped closer to her. “Are you all right?”

The question was low and urgent, and Cora suddenly realized how awful she must have looked. Her hat was gone, the color of her dress was unrecognizable, and her boots were covered in muck up to her calves. “I’m fine. What about…”

Then she reached out and touched one of the spots of blood on his cheek. He let her, the gold of his eyes darkening. “None of it is mine.”

The words seemed to snap Mary out of her stillness, and she suddenly stepped toward Hayes, eyes glassy. “Jack. Is he…”

“He’s all right. The bullet just winged him. I told him to wait outside.”

They all left through the slaughterhouse’s shipping door, weaving among the abandoned trucks and crates. Workers and curious spectators milled around, gawking at the broken windows of the slaughterhouse and trying to understand what had happened. Then one figure broke out from the rest—Jack.

“Mary!” He stumbled to a stop in front of her, a handkerchief wrapped around the calf of his left leg. “God, you’re a mess.”

“Well, thanks a lot for asking how I am,” she snapped, eyes flashing. “I’m just fine by the way, except for being shot at by maniacs and nearly trampled by cattle.”

“I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just… oh hell, Mary, I thought you were dead.” Then he grabbed her and lunged in for a kiss, heedless of the blood smearing her clothes.

Cora turned away to give them some privacy, glancing up at Hayes as he remained beside her. “I think they really do love each other. Did you see the way he looked at her?”

“He’s still an idiot.” Then he shrugged out of his coat and offered it to her. His expression had gone very, very serious. “But maybe I’m not any better. I’m sorry, Miss Marshall, for putting you in danger.”

Cora pulled on the coat with a sigh, sinking into its warmth. “Don’t you dare apologize. This has been the most exciting day of my life. Besides, you weren’t to know, were you?”

She had a feeling there was more he wanted to say. His eyes certainly looked that way, their wildness taking on a different sort of intensity than the deadly glint she’d seen dancing in them during the gunfight.

But whatever he felt, he kept it to himself, and instead asked, “So, is there anyone in the city you don’t know? How do you have friends in the Bruisers?”

“I wouldn’t say we’re friends, but I’m well-acquainted with their leader, Roy.” Then she smiled. “Was that something else I should have told you right away?”

His voice turned wry. “Let’s just say I’m all ears.”

She wrapped the coat tighter around herself, starting to feel the chill of her sodden dress. “I’d rather have a long conversation after I’m cleaned up.”

“All right. I’ll come by tomorrow morning.”

“No, I didn’t mean that. Just come home with me right now and have a drink or something while I bathe. There are so many exciting things to talk about that I couldn’t possibly wait until tomorrow.”

He stared at her for a long moment. “Are you entirely aware of what just happened?”

“Of course. Someone tried to kill the witnesses, which must mean our investigation is making the guilty party extremely nervous.” Then she beamed. “And now we have a lead into finding out who it is.”

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Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.