"Let me see if I have this straight," Lassie said, voice perfectly neutral and eyes a pale, pale blue.
Every instinct pushed at me to flee. Fury radiated off his shoulders and flooded the room. I wanted to run but it was as if my feet had sprouted roots. He paced in front of me with the long, graceful strides of a predator.
"You believe a necromancer dug up Gregory's body, used his remains to create a glamour, and then used that glamour to gain access to Paul's house for the sole purpose of murdering him."
"It wasn't one person, remember."
A low rumble vibrated from his chest and sent a fresh wave of terror flooding over me. I could handle Lassie when he was shouting and snarling, but a deadly calm and focused Lassie scared the hell out of me. "Give me your specialist's number."
I blinked. Where had that come from? "No." I winced at his growl. "Why?"
"Because you have obviously suffered severe neurological trauma and are in need of immediate medical assistance." The strong hands that settled on my shoulders were surprisingly gentle. "Now, Grace."
"I'm fine. I admit that it sounds a little farfetched, but…"
I shrugged off his hands and twisted away. We were going to have to talk about Greg, and I didn't want to be within reach in case he did finally snap. I didn't care if he thought I was crazy, but it made sense in a twisted sort of way. "But why kill Paul? We had dinner Monday and he never said anything about being on a big case or having any problems at work."
"You think he would have told you?"
I fixed him with my fiercest glare. "Paul was my friend. We told each other things. It's what friends do. They talk. They don't keep things buried that only come out to bite everyone in the ass later. They don't hold onto information because they like to be the smartest person in the room."
Lassie's face went blank. His eyes paled a shade. "Perhaps he was trying to protect you."
"Paul knew better than that."
Bitter, ice cold laughter spilled from his lips. His fists were clenched at his side and his face was still as stone. "Logic has little to do with instinct, sweet Grace, and a Shifter's first instinct is to protect those he loves. No matter what it costs him in the end."
I didn't know what we were talking about, but we weren't talking about Paul. On any other day it would have been fine because we did need to disinfect the festering pit that was our relationship, but Paul's murderer was roaming the streets of our city and our niece had a big, old target on her back. Lassie's timing utterly sucked.
"Fine." I waved a hand, hoping to get us back on track. "Fine, let's go with that protection thing. If he feels compelled to protect me, how must stronger is that need to protect Lily? If something this dangerous was going on at work, he would have told me so that I watch out for Lily. He wouldn't have left her so vulnerable. Even if he felt like he still had to protect me, he would have told you."
Lassie inclined his head slightly in agreement with my logic. Bolstered by his silent encouragement, I paced a short path from the door to the table. My abilities hadn't returned, but I still had years of training to fall back on. Cop work wasn't all tracing magic signatures and dipping into minds. It was making conclusions based on facts, evidence, and gut feelings.
Paul was a noble, kind man. He was a devoted father, a loyal friend, and a brilliant lawyer. He gave to charity and did pro bono work for a couple of non-profits. I started to take his Shifterness out of the equation so I could treat him like any other victim but stopped. His being a Shifter didn't change anything, but his position in the hierarchy did. It was so obvious.
"You. It has to be you."
"Me?" He roared. The walls shook and the floor beneath my feet vibrated. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end, but I didn't cower. "Why kill Paul to get to me? To punish me for something?"
"Not you personally. At least, I don't think so. It's your position. Paul was your Second. He was an obstacle between the killer and the position of Rex." I stopped pacing and leaned against the door. It wasn't perfect, but it was better than taking stabs in the dark. "The timing though, that's what gets me. Why now? Why…?"
I trailed off and let my eyes drift shut. My memory was perfect. One of the perks, and downfalls, of being a telepath. The day I killed Greg was as clear in my head as it had been the day I'd torn open his chest and cut out his heart. I could feel his warm blood on my hands and taste his fear. His surprise. He'd been surprised. Not that I'd attacked him but that it had gotten that far. Surprised that…
"No one rescued him," I said, lost in memories of gasping breaths and accusing eyes. I'd stayed in Greg's mind until his last synapse had fired. It had hurt like nothing I'd ever felt before or after.
"Greg," I said. Lassie's snarl echoed in my ears. I opened my eyes and met his furious white glare. "He'd expected someone to rescue him. Right up until the last second. He didn't believe he'd die."
"It was rather hard for the rest of us to believe, too." His jaw was clenched so tightly I was surprised his teeth didn't crack. "But it was unlikely Greg was expecting me to rescue him."
"No, that wasn't…," my words trailed off as his statement caught up with my whirling brain. "Wait, what? What do you mean Greg wasn't expecting you to save him. You were his big brother. His Rex. Of course he was expecting you to jump in and save him."
Lassie took one floor-swallowing step toward me, invading my personal space. I pressed my back against the door, ignored the pain of the doorknob digging into my hip. He hid his predatory nature behind a veneer of civility and I'd bought into the illusion. I'd pushed him too far. I should have kept going with my theory and not stopped to assuage my curiosity. Unlike a cat, I did not have nine lives to waste on curiosity.
"Gregory murdered your sister in a particularly heinous manner with no provocation or justification. You were well within your rights to exact justice in a way you felt suited the crime." He sounded so matter-of-fact. It not for the rage radiating off of him, I would have thought we were discussing the weather or traffic.
"Not according to the law. I'm lucky you didn't press charges." I swallowed and said the one thing I should have said three years earlier. "Thank you."
"You acted in accordance with Shifter law."
I spread my hands, palms up. "I'm not a Shifter."
"Your sibling, the victim, was," he corrected, "and she was murdered by a Shifter."
I felt a pang of disappointment. I had been hoping he would say that I… I don't know what I'd hoped for, but that hadn't been it. It was a Shifter matter because the parties involved were Shifters and my humanness didn't cancel out what they were.
He cleared his throat. Some of the anger in his eyes faded. His fists unclenched and his tone softened. "Besides, you have been recognized by the Order as an honorary Shifter for quite some time now."
Heart pounding my throat, I shuffled forward. I tilted my chin up to hold his earnest stare. "For how long?"
We'd met just a little over twelve years earlier. I opened my mouth to respond but couldn't think of an appropriate response. I had questions about why and how and why hadn't he said anything, but I couldn't speak. I licked dry lips and swallowed back the lump in my throat. "Oh."
"Grace, I –," he started, one hand reaching for me.
"So why were you so pissed when I killed Greg?"
Just like that, Lassie's anger came surging back. Claws extended from the outstretched fingertips and hair sprouted on the back of his hand. His nostrils flared and his lips curled back to reveal sharp fangs.
"Why did you break in and kidnap him rather than come to me with a request for his head on a platter?"
I wanted to point out that I'd asked my question first. I was stubborn but I wasn't stupid. Without my abilities or my gun there was little I could do to hold back a rampaging Shifter. "You'd had him locked up for almost two days and you wouldn't give me any news on the investigation. I thought you were blowing me off and looking for a way to sweep it under the rug. I thought he was getting preferential treatment. I couldn't let him get away with it."
It had taken a year of therapy to make peace with what I'd done. Cold, calculated murder wasn't typically in my nature, but walking into Mercy's studio and finding the walls painted with her blood, the word "whore" scrawled over her lifeless body, had broken something inside me. I hadn't raged or wailed like Paul. I hadn't even realized how desperately I wanted Greg to die until Lassie had tried to bar me from the Tower. I'd been calm and collected and perfectly detached for everything until I'd had Greg in my grasp and I'd relived every moment of the murder through his unremorseful eyes.
"Did you ever consider that I was trying to keep from giving the impression that your family was receiving preferential treatment?"
"No." Why would I have even thought of that? He'd made it perfectly clear years before that he didn't view my family in particularly high regard compared to the rest of the Order.
"Greg made an accusation against Mercy as part of defense for his actions. I had to investigate that claim. I couldn't ignore it simply because the accused was your sister."
Because she was my sister, not because she was Paul's wife. There was a significance to that. I just wasn't sure why. At the time of Mercy's murder, we had been almost-maybe friends, but that was a far cry from the almost-maybe engaged we'd been seven years before the murder. Why hadn't he put more emphasis on the fact that Mercy was his sister-in-law?
"I'm sorry." It was a weak apology, especially considering I didn't know what I was apologizing for. He didn't hold Greg's death against me. Was he still mad because I'd made him look weak in front of his Shifters? "I shouldn't have stolen him right from under your nose, and I sure as hell shouldn't have left him on your steps. You had nothing to do with Mercy's death."
"You should have trusted me!"
Oh. Oh. Oh, Lassie. Of course. The only thing he ever demanded of anyone were: trust, respect, and loyalty. He gave his Shifters a lot of slack, but that rope snapped back if you violated one of his three tenets. He saw a lack of trust as a stab in the back. I'd thrust the knife all the way through to the other side.
"I'm sorry," I repeated, every word steeped in sincerity. "I should have talked to you. Trusted you. But you didn't see her, Nate. You didn't see how he left her. You didn't hear what was in his head. And she was my big sister. She always had my back. Always. How was I supposed to let Greg get away with taking her from me?"
I marched forward, hands up and ready to frame his head. If he wanted to know why I hadn't waited for him to give his permission for my justice, I would be more than happy to show him just why I'd acted so out of character. He didn't flinch when I placed my palms on his temples. I dropped my shield and extended my mind and nothing.
Nothing. I couldn't share my memories because my abilities were gone. I'd forgotten. I let my hands fall to my sides but I didn't move away.
"Show me, Grace."
"No. It doesn't matter. It was a long time ago, and it wouldn't make a difference now. Let's just say it was bad, and I let it get to me. That was wrong. As your friend and as a cop, I should have gone to you first and told you how I felt."
"I shouldn't have stonewalled you. I was trying to protect you, but I did not take into consideration how it looked from your perspective."
I wondered if my eyes looked as wide as they felt. An apology from Lassie? For withholding information? Perhaps I did need to see my specialist. I was obviously experiencing auditory hallucinations. I held out my hand for him to shake. "Truce?"
"I wasn't aware we were ever at war."
His hand closed over mine. The world shifted and spun. Stars danced behind my eyes. My heart thundered like a speeding freight train. My skin went hot and cold. That was odd. Even on the night of his quasi-proposal I hadn't had such an intense reaction to his touch. Pain exploded in the back of my head. Okay, so it wasn't Lassie. It was my brain trying to recover. Ouch.
I sank to the floor and pulled my knees to my chest. I switched that portion of my brain off. My abilities were important to me, but I couldn't afford to be out of commission while the pathways reconnected. "Greg's motive. I didn't want to think about him so I didn't try to find out what it was. Did you ever come up with anything?"
Lassie lowered himself so that he was seated across from me. He stretched his long legs out, the soles of his black dress shoes brushed the toes of my fluffy slippers. "No. He fabricated the tale of Mercy's affair. There was no history of jealousy or attachment to Mercy. He and Paul never fought."
"Greg was second in line after Paul, wasn't he?"
Damn Shifter power struggles. I hated them. They were bloody and violent and innocents often got caught in the crossfire. "Mercy had a doctor's appointment that afternoon. Paul was supposed to take her, but his meeting ran long so he called me in as a substitute. Paul was supposed to find her like that."
Lassie swore. I silently agreed. It had been a bloodbath. Paul had met us at the morgue. I'd had a team of specialists clean the studio before he saw it. He hadn't seen the way her body had been defiled or the hateful words his brother had written in Mercy's blood. Seeing such carnage would have turned sweet, joyful Paul into a rampaging, unstoppable killer.
"Paul would have killed him," Lassie said.
"Yeah." Paul wouldn't have waited two days, either. He would have tracked Greg down and ripped him to pieces along with anyone else who got in the way. Even Lassie. Lassie was the fiercest, most capable Shifter I knew, but adrenaline and grief made people do impossible things. "Or you would have intervened and killed Paul. Greg was tougher than Paul. If he had been prepared for, anticpated, the fight, he could have won. That would have meant one less person in his way."
He didn't deny the possibility. "Greg wasn't one for strategy. He couldn't have come up with the plan on his own."
"No. He had help. Wanna bet he had at least a necromancer and another Shifter on his side?" That still didn't solve Paul's murder. Greg was dead. Were his former accomplices looking to continue with the plan? Why wait three years though? "Lassie, something still isn't right. Why now?"
He folded his hands in his lap and stared up at the ceiling. "Paul expressed a desire to be removed from the line of succession. Four days ago I agreed to name a new successor. Next week I am going to name my cousin Phillip as my heir."
"Phillip the impatient type?"
"Three years ago he was a freshman in high school. He never knew he was in the line until Greg died."
That'd be a no then. Lassie rose and extended a hand to give me a boost. I didn't need assistance, but I wasn't going to turn down the chance to touch him. Especially not when the air between us wasn't so murky.
"We need proof before we can explore these theories further," he said.
"Let's go dig up a grave."