Other stories in this universe:
WISHFUL THINKING (high school Ember)
DANGEROUS AND BRIGHT (graduation night with Ember and Darius)
Darius slammed his phone down and stared out the window at the palm fronds gently swaying in the ocean breeze. It was a great night: full moon, white sand beaches, the surf’s gentle song, the local PD was cooperating with the operation, and no one had tried to kill him in nearly a week. That had to be it. Everything was too perfect. So the universe tried to throw a wrench at his head and conspired to give his ex-girlfriend his phone number.
“Someone hates me.”
“Obviously,” came the dry reply from across the room. Ember Li was the Miami police department’s liaison with Miami Society – a magic users who lived in around the South Florida city – and when the death threats came in he’d been given the choice of working with her or her boss. Since Miss Li answered to a dragon he’d gone with the one option that didn’t risk getting his head literally chewed off.
Which meant working in close confines with a woman he’d known since they were pimply teenagers. She’d been easier to deal with then, tall and gangly and prickly as a cactus. If there was such a thing as a time travel spell he would have gone back and warned himself that the quiet ones were always the deadliest.
She leaned over the map spread out on the table, trying to pin down a time line of the assassination attempts, and her white shorts molded to her perky rear end. Darius pulled his eyes away, only for his gaze to snag on the gold ankle bracelet glittering over her bare foot. Long, milk chocolate legs sculpted to perfection, curves, black hair with hints of cinnamon, a creamy white shirt that left one shoulder bare... A groan escaped his lips.
Ember shot him a quizzical look over her shoulder. “What?”
“I’m hungry.” That had to be it. Low blood sugar was the only reason he was thinking about licking her like an ice cream cone.
“Fridge is over there.” She pointed off to the left in case he’d forgotten in the last ten seconds. They were in a private resort suite used by Miami PD on the very rare occasions they needed a safe house no one had heard of. Or so Ember said. He strongly suspected her draconic boss owned the property and was letting him hide here because there were magic wards strong enough to make even a fae high lord think twice about invading.
Darius rummaged around and found a salad left over from lunch. Popping the lid off the container he decided to dump his problems on his unwilling companion. “That was my ex on the phone.”
“Does she want you dead?” Ember asked as she made another mark on the map.
“She wants me to get back with her.”
“So, this is a pointless conversation and you’ll stop yammering now?”
He stabbed at his salad. “I guess. I... do your exes pop back up from time to time?”
“Nope. I don’t dig shallow graves.”
The clock ticked in the following silence. Darius stood frozen, fork full of lettuce half way to his lips. “Um...”
Ember froze, then slowly thawed, her back arching with sensual grace as she stood up. “Did I say that out loud?”
“Oh. Awkward.” She turned with a little half-smile. “I was joking. I hardly ever kill my boyfriends.”
“Hardly ever isn’t the same as never.”
She pressed her lips together and batted her big, black eyes. “Nobody missed him?”
He took a bite of his salad. “Did I know this guy?”
“No! He was a college boyfriend, not someone from Society.”
“You don’t date anyone in Society.” He’d checked. Regularly. Ever since their paths had crossed one night in Atlanta he’d felt a desire to keep tabs on her social life. Once she moved back to Miami he’d taken their working relationship as an excuse to ask around. For security reasons.
Ember wasn’t ranked as a sorcerer and so in Society she was seen as a minor player. Having seen what she could do with Earth magic, Darius privately ranked her as one of the top ten deadliest people in Miami.
He waited for her to explain. “You’re not trying to kill me, are you? This isn’t some elaborate ruse?”
“Are you dead?”
“Then I’m not after you.”
He finished his salad in silence and when she still hadn’t divulged any more information he went and sat on the table. “Spill.”
“What? You’re my confessor now?”
“I’m the enforcer for Miami Society. Eventually, I’ll find out. Why not explain why you’re ex is six feet under now and save us both time?”
She frowned at him, a delicate look filled with disapproval and mild disgust. “He’s not buried. He was cremated.”
“By the state of Louisiana.” She rolled her eyes and sighed. “You aren’t going to give up, are you?”
Ember pulled a chair over and sat back. “So, my sophomore year at Tulane there was a serial killer in the area. He drugged his victims, raped them, and then gave them an overdose of one of the more popular party drugs. Everyone thought it was bad parties until one of the girls found dead was a known anti-drug activist and lesbian with a long-term girlfriend. Since she clearly would be having sloppy sex with boys during a drug rage people started asking questions.”
His stomach twisted. “You didn’t tell anyone at home about this?”
“His targets were all white girls. I thought I was safe. And I’d just met this really nice guy. We had biochem together. We studied together a few times. Ate dinner out once. And then he asked me to go see the local theater production of Guys and Dolls. I thought it would be fun, and it was.”
Ember shrugged. “During the intermission he brought me back a water he’d already opened. I didn’t think anything about it, but it tasted a little bit off. Almost stale, like it’d been sitting in a hot car all day. I drank a little, but not much. On the way home he kept nagging me to drink more water. Telling me I’d get dehydrated or whatever. So I drank it.”
Darius’s fists balled up. “What’d he do to you?”
“He walked me into my apartment and started groping me. I told him to knock it off and threw a hex at him. A little one. Used a little bit of alder powder. It should have made him run off. It killed him.” Her lips twisted in a studious frown. “The drugs he slipped in my water upped my natural powers.”
“Fear does that too,” Darius said quietly.
“So I’ve heard.” She shrugged. “Anyway, I called my friends, we drug him to the car, drove across town, and dumped him in a bad part of town. The police found the body in the morning, wrote it off as an overdose, and when the DNA test came back matching him to the rape victims no one mourned his passing. I’m a little more careful now.”
“A little?” Darius smirked. “Have you dated anyone since then?”
“Nope.” She turned back to her map. “Can’t seem to find anyone who interests me.”
He walked around the table to peek over her shoulder. “Liar,” he whispered in her ear.
The look she tossed over her shoulder was heated, seductive, and promising. “You wish.”
Darius reached out and caressed the thin gold chain hanging around her neck until he caught the pendant, a small gold seahorse. It had been a graduation present, an apology for the four years of hell he’d put her through. She’d worn it that night in Atlanta when he finally stole a kiss. And she’d worn almost every day he’d seen her since her return to Miami. “Sometimes, I think you like me more than you’ll admit.”
“Sometimes, I think you’re right.” She pulled a picture from the suspect pile. “But right now, I’m going to worry about arresting your would-be killer. Guess who?”