Keith Devan entered the Governor’s Mansion and grimaced. In spite of the elegant furnishings, there was an air of desperation hanging over everything. The Governor’s financial losses, brought about by Dinie and the Vaamp Squads, had crushed the Devan family fortune. Dozens of heirlooms had been sold over the winter to help the Governor maintain his opulent standard of living. Keith, the Governor’s adopted son, had been urging his father to reinvest in the stock market. George flatly refused. He was no longer willing to take risks.
Governor George Devan’s personal Vaamps were gone. The nest had been destroyed in a massive explosion. Without the Vaamps to back him, the Governor’s cowardice had blossomed into a state of inertia. George was relying on his son Keith to save him. Keith had been taking care of his father’s wants and needs ever since he was ten years old.
“Hello?” Keith called out as he laid his briefcase on the marble floor of the entry hall.
“Here!” the Governor answered from the kitchen.
“Are you eating again?” Keith clucked his tongue in disapproval. His violet eyes strayed to the fireplace on the east wall of the living room. There was nothing hanging over the mantle. He ground his teeth then pushed his way through a set of glass paneled doors. He did a quick check to see that the crystal chandelier and antique cherry dining table were still in the dining room. Nothing but the painting was gone. He heaved a sigh then strode into the kitchen. He saw his father crouched on a stool in front of a long oval countertop. Wistful April sunlight trickled in through several oversized windows.
“Good morning,” Governor George Devan greeted his son then stuffed an entire piece of cherry pie into his mouth.
“You’re getting fat,” Keith grumbled at the mess. There were plates of food strewn haphazardly all over the counter.
“Good.” George swigged a swallow of brandy then cut himself another slice of cherry pie. “I’ll have to live off this fat when the voters toss me out of office.”
“What are you talking about?” Keith frowned. “Was there another drop in the polls?”
“Ten points,” George confessed miserably.
“You’ve got to pull yourself together.” Keith’s demeanor softened as he took a stool next to his father. “You’re going to be delighted when you hear my news.”
“What is it?” George picked up a chicken leg and dug in his teeth.
“I’ve made a breakthrough with my work,” Keith beamed.
“Is that all?” George shook his head and cut another slice of pie.
“Listen! I told you all I needed was more Vaamp DNA. I’ve found some.”
“So, get started! Find some victims to infect and we’ll be back in business.” George sat up straighter.
“I have something else in mind.” Keith shook his head.
“Why?” George blanched.
“You know what happened last time. The retrovirus disrupted the cognitive processes of the infected victims. They were little more than rabid dogs. I’ve done some preliminary studies at my lab in Karolyn Cove. I wasn’t sure when I started but now I know for certain. I can create another strain. A better one.”
“So what?” George shrugged.
“These aggressors will be smarter,” Keith promised with a steely glint in his violet eyes. “More capable of independent thought. And if I’m not mistaken, they’ll be able to work together like a team to achieve a common goal.”
“The only goal I’m concerned about, is getting rid of Geraldine Evans,” the Governor spat.
“Precisely,” Keith hissed. “If the new strain’s as potent as I suspect, Dinie’s going down hard.”
“Good.” The Governor rubbed his greasy food stained hands together.
“The only problem is that I’m going to need time to perfect the new strain. So we’ve got to come up with something to keep Dinie busy. Too distracted to figure out what I’m doing.”
“Otherwise she’ll stop you,” the Governor huffed.
“Not if we keep that brilliant mind of hers occupied,” Keith countered.
“I think you should just infect a handful of sturdy men with the Vaamp Virus.”
“Use your head!” Keith cried as he stared into his father’s face. “Dinie nearly wiped us out last time. We need something new to throw at her. A strategy that will knock her on her ass.”
“You know what’s funny?” A shadow passed over George Devan’s face. “I had a peculiar conversation with Jasper James this morning.”
“He called you?” Keith blanched. He could feel his palms beginning to sweat.
“Jasper told me that he was waiting.”
“For what?” Keith rasped.
“He wouldn’t say. But he mentioned that he was sending some people to Bonvie and he expected our full cooperation.”
“Then we have nothing to worry about,” Keith tried to make his words sound confident.
“Possibly.” George shook his head. “Jasper wouldn’t tell me what he was going to do but he told me this much. His long-term plans for Dinie have been set in motion. He said he needs something from you before he’s willing to… how did he put it. Dismember her psyche and bury her soul.”
“That man’s uncanny,” Keith whispered. He couldn’t suppress a small shiver as it snaked through his body. Jasper James had been backing the Governor for as long as anyone could remember. He was an enormously powerful man in Washington. But there was something decrepit and unnatural about him. As though his body had begun to decay and fester like a corpse, even though he was still alive. Keith hated the thought of involving Jasper in anything. The man made his skin crawl. But Keith had to get Dinie out of the way so he could work on his new strain of the Vaamp Virus. “What’s he going to do to her?” Keith’s violet eyes widened.
“Nothing too terrible, yet. He said something about sending FOP after her.”
“The anti-terrorist organization?” Keith paused.
“Jasper said there was enough evidence from the blast last fall to get her arrested. That’ll keep her busy for at least a few months. If we’re lucky, she’ll go to jail for a year or two.”
“I can’t imagine what Jasper has planned for her.” Keith shook his head. “With his money and power I don’t know why he hasn’t squashed her like a bug.”
“That woman has a nasty habit of coming out on top,” George complained.
“Not this time,” Keith insisted. “Not if Jasper James has anything to say about it.”
In a dilapidated building on the outskirts of Portston, Harry Masters was making last minute preparations to deploy his team of FOP agents. Harry, a small, brown haired man with beady eyes, had always wanted to work for the FBI. He’d fallen short of his goal due to a certain moral ambiguity in his psychological evaluation. Rather than accept defeat, Harry had used a few connections to get appointed to FOP. The Federal Organization for Protection. It was a fairly new branch of federal law enforcement. FOP had been created to handle the overflow of complaints against suspected terrorists. Any substantial threats were handled by the more well-established agencies. FOP was only given the most outrageous and ridiculous cases. Their suspects were usually exonerated or committed to mental health institutions. Harry Masters, FOP’s lead agent for the Eastern Seaboard, was going to make sure that his next case turned out very differently. The information he’d received about the head of Vamco, Dr. Geraldine Evans, had come from a very powerful, unidentified source in Washington. Harry’s supervisor Douglas Dale had made things very clear. Unless Harry found a way to put Dr. Geraldine Evans behind bars, he was going to be demoted.
Harry flashed a knowing look at three members of his team as he stood before them in a dingy conference room. Don Casco was a meek looking man with a degree in accounting. Clark Lawson was ex-army intelligence. And Tim Sutherland had trained to be an Olympic weightlifter. They were all seated in uncomfortable chairs around a folding metal table.
“As you know,” Harry began the meeting. “The request for this investigation has come directly from Washington D.C. This case could have gone to the C.I.A. but we’ve been asked to handle it. Don’t underestimate the importance of our work on this. Dr. Geraldine Evans is the most promising suspect we’ve ever had. You’re all well acquainted with procedure. I want it followed to the letter. Dr. Evans is a wealthy woman and very well connected in Bonvie. I’ve already been told to avoid interaction with the local police. Apparently she has them all in the palm of her hand. But that won’t stop us!” Harry’s face to on a look of feverish fervor. “I’ve been studying her patterns and her records. She’s a scientist and a successful business woman with dozens of extremely loyal employees. After scrutinizing several ways to approach her, I’ve decided to target her employees. I believe we can find a weak link. We’ve got to get someone in her organization to betray her. It shouldn’t be difficult. The evidence against her is impressive.”
“What’d she do Harry?” Clark Lawson leaned back in his chair.
“Um,” Don Casco pushed up his glasses. “It’s all in the brief.”
“I didn’t read it,” Clark blatantly admitted.
“Me either,” Tim Sutherland spoke up.
Harry was nonplussed. “Dr. Evans has been connected with a bombing that took place last November. And we have documented proof!” He held up a sheaf of papers. “That she’s been funneling large amounts of money into South America.” Harry put the papers down and looked at Clark, a tall slight man in his forties. “I have reason to believe that Stephanie Keeley might turn against her employer.” Harry held up a picture of Steph.
“Really?” Clark leaned forward to get a better look at the picture. “A pretty redhead?”
“I want you to shadow her then make contact,” Harry instructed.
“No problem,” Clark grinned.
“She’s the newest employee at Vamco, so she might not have as much information as we’d like. But the fact that she’s only been working there for a year means she’ll be less likely to have developed strong ties or get too fully involved.”
“Isn’t she the one who had to be hospitalized last year?” Don Casco wore a look of concern on his kind face. His light blue eyes darted around.
“That’s another reason why I chose her,” Harry elaborated. “She gave the hospital staff some cock and bull story about being in a hit and run car accident. I think she was injured in the explosion last fall. She was admitted to Saint Christopher’s Hospital on the same morning.”
“If she’s really important to the case…” Clark licked his lips. “Do you want me to do whatever it takes to get close to her?”
“Within reason,” Harry insisted.
“Of course,” Clark put his hand over his mouth to hide a smirk.
“Don?” Harry turned his beady eyes to the man at his right. “I want you and Tim to concentrate on Maximus West.” Harry held up a picture of a dark good looking man. “He was also admitted to the hospital on the morning of the explosion.”
“It’s in the file you gave us yesterday.” Don pushed up his glasses. “There were severe burns on his back.”
“I think it’s safe to say that he got what he deserved.” Harry crossed his arms over his chest. “He’s been with Vamco for years, so I don’t think we’ll be able to win him over by appealing to his sense of patriotism.”
“Um, what are you suggesting Harry?” Don wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead.
“I want you to find a way to get this man alone and talk to him,” Harry answered impatiently.
“Sodium Pentothal?” Tim was seeking clarification. He was sitting a few chairs away from Harry and the others. Tim was a giant of a man, six foot eight inches tall with thick, rippling muscles from head to toe. “Or do I get to persuade him?”
“Do whatever it takes.” Harry shrugged. “But don’t do any permanent damage. We can’t afford another lawsuit! Use drugs, intimidation. I don’t care. But I want to know about that explosion last fall. I’m certain that Dr. Evans was responsible for the blast. We have several witnesses who place a van registered to Vamco at the explosion site. A dozen people saw it driving through the area in North Bonvie just after the explosion. Dr. Evans insisted the van had been stolen. But she didn’t report the theft until after the explosion. So far, I haven’t been able to pin down any hard evidence against her. But if we dig, I’m certain we’ll get what we need to put her away.”
“Um, Harry?” Don Casco folded his hands in front of him.
“Yes.” Harry rolled his beady eyes.
“If you let Tim interrogate the man, you won’t be able to use the information,” Don quietly reminded him. “It won’t stand up in court.”
“It doesn’t have to.” Harry flashed a smug smile. “Judge Theodore Blake is a close personal friend of mine. All I have to do is show him one piece of irrefutable evidence. He’s already convinced that she’s guilty and he’s willing to issue a warrant for her arrest. Once she’s in custody, our superiors are going to make sure she stays there.”
“That could be considered unconstitutional,” Don pointed out.
“Terrorism is treason gentlemen. Conventional laws only marginally apply. It’s our job to protect the American public from violent citizens who are trying to tear apart the very fabric of our nation.” Harry held up a picture of an emerald eyed, auburn haired temptress dressed all in black leather. “Dr. Evans is a terrorist.”
“She’s hot!” Clark exclaimed as he drank in Dinie’s heart-shaped face and perfect figure. “Who’s going to get close to her?”
“Not you,” Harry hissed. “Dr. Evans uses Somerset Security guards to protect her mansion in Bonvie. One of my higher-ups has pulled a few strings to replace her most recent guard. The new man they’re sending over has been apprised of our situation and has agreed to help us any way he can.”
“What kind of stooge is willing to put his balls on the line like that?” Tim laughed.
“A man named Joe Caruso.” Harry shuffled through his papers then held up a mugshot.
“He’s a crook?” Don stammered.
“He was convicted of a felony. But we got him released on a technicality,” Harry elaborated.
“So he’s willing to do anything to keep out of the federal pen,” Clark nodded as he filled in the blanks. “Nice one Harry.”
“Everything’s in place,” Harry Masters gloated. “I want you to begin your assignments immediately. The sooner we put Dr. Geraldine Evans behind bars, the better.”
Stephanie Keeley’s hazel eyes widened as she looked at the flashing blue lights in the rear view mirror. Her hands shook on the steering wheel of her red convertible. She didn’t know how she’d ended up in the breakdown lane. Her gaze darted around. Where was she? Nothing seemed familiar.
All at once, her throat tightened. There was a tall disciplined looking officer coming toward her. She pulled open the glove compartment and took out her registration.
“Afternoon,” he drawled.
“Hi.” She tried to hide her trembling hands.
“Do you know why I pulled you over?”
“No,” Steph was telling the truth. She couldn’t remember a thing.
“Can you tell me how fast you were going?” he pressed.
“Um.” She bit her bottom lip and looked into the officer’s mirrored sunglasses. She was trying to remember. Suddenly her eyes fluttered closed as memories overwhelmed her.
She was standing in the kitchen of her condo. Max had come over with his usual Sunday morning treat. Donuts. Steph had made coffee and the two of them were playing a game of Cribbage when Dinie phoned. The head of Vamco asked Steph to take a solo assignment. The willowy redhead accepted. When Max asked her what was up, Steph admitted she’d taken an assignment.
“It’s too soon!” Max grumbled at her.
“That’s not your decision,” Steph ground through clenched teeth. “And don’t say you’re my Squad Leader. I’m sick of hearing you use that excuse to treat me like a little girl.”
“I don’t need an excuse,” Max growled. “You’re acting like a little girl.”
“How can you even say that?” Steph huffed.
“Because it’s true.”
“You want the truth? I’ll tell you the truth. You’re a control freak! You can’t stand that all the Vamps were killed in the explosion so the Vaamp Squads are out of a job.”
“Oh sure. That’s what I’m fucking worried about,” Max barked. “It has nothing to do with the fact that you’ve been a basket case ever since you got out of the hospital.” Max clamped his mouth shut. He regretted the words as soon as he said them. He didn’t want to hurt Steph. He was trying to protect her.
“I have good reason to be a basket case.” Her hazel eyes filled with tears but she knew they wouldn’t fall. She hadn’t cried since she’d been tortured by Vaamps.
“I know,” Max sighed. “But that doesn’t change the fact that the only thing that has to happen is for one of us to be captured. Every squad member and even Dinie herself! We’re all still carrying the Vaamp Virus. If Keith Devan gets his hands on any of us, he can start a whole new Vaamp Virus epidemic.”
“Thanks for throwing that in my face!” she fumed.
“I’m not throwing anything in your face!” Max countered.
“My plan to take out the Vaamps failed. Just say what you mean,” she baited him.
“It was a great plan! If it hadn’t been for your plan, we’d all be calling Governor George Devan, Mr. President!”
“Fine.” She thrust out her chin. “If that’s the way you feel, then treat me with more respect.”
“Until Dinie can perfect a serum that will keep Vaamp Squad members from spreading the virus, it’s too dangerous for you to go out alone.”
“Hey!” she barked. “I’ve been trained to take care of myself. Just like you!”
“Steph.” Max shook his head. “You haven’t been to the gym in months. You’re not in the same condition you were last year.”
“I can take care of myself,” she asserted.
“Steph…” Max’s features softened. “I’ll tell you the truth. Your self-defense skills were never that great. But last year you had speed on your side. You used to be able to run faster than anybody. You don’t even jog anymore. When you were in the Vaamp Nest, you shattered,” he continued to explain his position. “Like glass fragments of a mirror.”
“So now I’m worthless?” Her face was red with shame. “Is that it?”
“You’ve been struggling to put the pieces back together all winter. I can't let you go out alone. I’m your Squad Leader.”
“Dinie gave me this assignment.” She stood up. “I’m going!”
Suddenly Steph’s conscious mind flashed into the present. The cop was leaning closer.
“You were doing ninety.” He slid his mirrored sunglasses down and looked into her hazel eyes.
“I don’t know what to say.” She blinked as she handed him her information. “I’m sorry.”
“Yes ma’am. I’m sure you are.”
Steph watched the cop walk back to his cruiser. He was tall and muscular. But there was something odd about the way he strode off and climbed into his cruiser. Steph glanced at herself in the rear view mirror. There were deep, dark circles under her eyes. Highlighted by the gentle April sunlight that was beaming down on her from above. At some point she’d taken the top down on her convertible. But she couldn’t remember where or when. Her blackouts and memory losses weren’t going away. They were getting worse. All winter the doctors had put her through test after test. Medication after medication. Her condition hadn’t improved. The diagnosis always came back the same.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The doctors all said the same thing. She was suffering from PTSD and needed counseling. But the presence of Vaamps in the world was a secret. Dinie insisted that every Vaamp Squad member keep the truth under wraps. It was bad enough that Keith Devan and the Governor knew how to use Vaamps for their own nefarious purposes. What if word got out about the Vaamp Virus? Then every mob boss and underworld creep would be trying to capture squad members. Pulling blood out of their veins to infect innocent victims with the retrovirus. Or worse, forcing them to feed on people. With a hideous result. The retrovirus would accelerate and turn Squad Members into bloodthirsty Vaamps.
Steph grit her teeth when she remembered how she’d tried to get help through conventional counseling. She told therapists she’d been beaten. The therapists recognized that she was holding back. But when they asked for more details. She told them she couldn’t remember.
It was a lie.
She wished she could’ve forgotten what happened to her in the nest. Or at least been able to describe what had been done to her. She wanted her therapists to understand that the perpetrators who’d tortured her weren’t ordinary thugs. She’d been forced to endure unconscionable cruelties. And had the blood sucked out of her body hour after hour. Day after day. She’d barely survived. It might have been easier if she could’ve talked about it. But Steph understood why it was necessary to hide the truth. Even in therapy. It made her angry and depressed. Finally she gave up. She quit therapy and tried solve her own emotional problems.
For the most part, all she’d done was suffer in silence.
Steph bit her bottom lip so hard she nearly broke the skin. Then she blew out a long breath and told herself to be grateful. She was lucky to be alive. She’d been put through something that would’ve killed most people. And it was only thanks to Max giving her mouth to mouth resuscitation that she’d made it to the hospital in time for the emergency workers to save her life. All at once, Steph looked up. The cop was back.
“Everything checks out okay.” He nodded at her. “Miss?” His voice had changed in tambour. He looked like he was about to tear off the ticket when he unexpectedly flipped his notebook closed. “Are you feeling alright?”
“Um.” Steph’s mouth hung open. She didn’t know what to say. She was feeling dizzy and lightheaded. But that wasn’t the sort of thing she wanted to tell the police officer who’d just written her a speeding ticket.
“Would you mind getting out of the car please.” He took a step back, pulled off his sunglasses and pocketed them.
“Alright,” she agreed and opened the door. She moved slowly and tried to hide her nervousness. It was overwhelming. She was ashamed because she didn't know how she’d gotten pulled over. She had good reason to be acting the way she was. None of it was illegal. None of it was her fault.
But the truth didn’t matter.
People saw the way she was behaving and when she couldn’t offer any kind of explanation, they drew their own conclusions. If this cop did the same thing, she might be spending the afternoon in jail. Waiting for her Squad Leader to come and bail her out. Oh God, Max. If he found out she’d been pulled over, he’d have a fit. She looked at the police officer then closed the car door.
“Could you step over here please?” He pointed to the side of the road.
“There?” She cocked her head to one side.
“You’re a little too close to the traffic out here.”
“Okay.” She started to walk around the front of the convertible. She’d almost made it to the side of the road but the sandy surface of the breakdown lane was uneven. Her foot slid sideways and she turned her ankle.
“Look out!” The cop tried to warn her.
It was too late. Steph was falling. She reached out to steady herself on the hood of the convertible when two strong arms grasped her and lifted her off the ground.
“Sorry, about grabbing you,” he apologized as he carried her over to the soft new grass that was growing on the fringes of the highway. “But I couldn’t let you fall.”
“Thank you.” Steph softly sank down into the new grass. Standing up was out of the question. She wasn’t ready to test her balance and risk another fall.
“Do you want to tell me what’s going on?” The cop looked around then squatted down low so he could be eye level with her.
“It’s kind of complicated.” She bit her bottom lip as her brain scrambled for some kind of plausible explanation for her behavior. Unfortunately she was drawing a blank.
“I’m going to tell you something up front.” The cop picked a blade of grass then twisted it between his fingers. “I’m really good at reading people. And it looks like you’re trying to think up some bullshit story to tell me.”
“I…” she stammered.
“I’m giving you a chance to explain. But you have to admit you’re acting pretty strange. And after the way you were driving, if you lie to me, I’m going to have to assume the worst. I’d like you to tell me the truth. There might be something I can do to help.”
“Nobody can help.” The words were out before she could stop them.
“It goes that way sometimes,” he commiserated. “But as long as you tell the truth, I’m going to let it slide.”
“I see your point.” She looked into his eyes. They were a dark shade of umber with flecks of gold around the edges.
“What’s going on Stephanie?”
“How’d you know my name?” she swallowed.
“It’s on your license.” He flashed a comforting grin. “I take it you go by something else?”
“The guy in the red cape.” He gave a little laugh.
“Huh.” Steph was trying to stall. She wasn’t sure what she was going to tell this man. But she could see he was getting impatient. “I got into some trouble last fall.”
“What sort of trouble?” he pressed.
“A gang held me hostage for a week.”
“What else?” Clark prodded.
“When I finally got away.” She paused and took a deep breath. It was still hard to say the words. “I was almost dead. I had to be rushed to the hospital. They kept me there for almost a month.”
“Sounds pretty rough.” He blew out a long breath.
“The doctors say I have PTSD.”
“Are you on medication?”
“No.” She shook her head. “But I’ve been having blackouts.”
“So when you told me you didn’t know how fast you were going, you weren’t kidding.”
“I don’t have any idea,” she admitted. It was a relief to be telling the truth.
“Can you tell me where you were going?”
“I was supposed to run an errand for a friend,” Steph was approximating. Dinie wasn’t exactly her friend and it had been an assignment not an errand. But she figured it was close enough.
“What kind of errand?”
“I can’t remember.”
“Well Steph, I’m going to have to give this a little thought.”
“What do you mean?” she huffed. “You said if I told you the truth you might be able to help.”
“I meant it.” He threw the blade of grass on the ground then stood up. “And you might not believe this, but what I’m really concerned about right now is you.”
“Me?” she scoffed.
“Keeping you as safe as possible.”
Steph didn’t like the sound of that. She felt a surge of anger flowing through her. Suddenly her trembling and the weakness in her legs disappeared. She put her hands down then thrust herself off the ground. “You listen to me.” She poked her finger into his chest. “I’ll take the speeding ticket. I deserved it. But if you try anything else, I’ll fight you.”
“Are you threatening me Stephanie?” Clark narrowed his umber eyes.
“Take it any way you like,” she sidestepped the question.
“That’s a pretty bold thing to do to a cop,” he observed as he loomed over her.
“If you try to do anything except give me this ticket, I’ll fight you in court.” Steph looked him full in the face. “I have a good friend who’s a very prominent lawyer. If you press me, you’re going to wind up explaining your behavior to a judge.”
“Good for you.” Clark looked her up and down then grinned like a wily fox.
“What?” Steph took a step back.
“I was hoping you’d snap out of it. I really didn’t want to take you into protective custody. But I couldn’t let you go off alone when you were quivering and shaking and couldn’t remember anything.”
“I still can’t remember anything.” Steph was trying to figure him out. One minute he seemed to like her. The next it seemed as though he was going to arrest her.
“Yeah, but now it’s okay because I figure you can take care of yourself. I won’t be driving down the road afraid I’m going to find you in a ditch because I let you go with just a warning.”
“A warning, I thought you were giving me a ticket?”
“An official warning.” His mouth turned up at the corners. “To use more caution when you drive.” He pulled out his notepad and handed her a sheet of paper.
“Thanks,” she gaped at the warning.
“I have to admit your perfect driving record was one of the things that swayed me.”
“One of the things?” She could feel color rushing into her cheeks. “What was the other thing?”
“See if you can figure it out.” He winked at her then walked away.
Steph watched the cute cop drive away in his police cruiser. When he was out of sight, she climbed into her convertible, brought it to life then carefully pulled back onto the highway. She knew exactly where she needed to go. She took the next exit and headed straight for downtown Bonvie.
She switched the radio on low and basked in the wind blowing through her short red hair. She was enjoying the drive. She was also enjoying thinking about the cop who’d pulled her over. She liked the way he’d treated her. He wanted to make sure she was okay. But then he backed off. Not like Max.
Her Squad Leader had taken her imprisonment in the Vaamp Nest hard. He blamed himself for Steph’s PTSD. And as a result, he spent way too much time hovering over her. Second guessing her decisions. Not the cop. He’d listened to everything she had to say then backed off. He’d even winked at her. Her stomach did a little flip when she thought about it. She hadn’t had that kind of reaction to a man in a very long time. Her thoughts lingered on him. He was tall and toned. She especially liked his weathered face. He was older. She could tell by the laugh-lines around his eyes and the way his light brown hair was turning gray at the temples. She wondered if that was one of the things that attracted her to him. The confident bearing and masculine charm of an older man. Steph played their conversation over in her head. It was a little strange the way he’d almost threatened her then backed off when she told him that she was going to talk to a lawyer. There might have been something peculiar about it. But she shrugged it off. She didn’t have any reason to think he was lying.
Or that she’d ever see him again.
When Steph parked in her usual spot behind the Vamco building, she thought about putting the top up on her car. She let her hazel eyes drift to a faultless April sky. There wasn’t a single cloud. She climbed out of her red convertible and headed around the side of the building to the front entrance of 35 Tower Place, which was owned by Dinie. It housed all of Vamco’s research labs and offices. But there was another section of the building that very few people knew about. The sub-levels. It was from that location that Dinie managed all of her Vaamp Squad operations.
Steph smiled as she slid through the revolving door and entered the lobby. It always made her shoulders relax. There was something about the crisp smell and the look of the guards. So serious as they nodded to her when she crossed the shining marble floors. The polished and professional atmosphere was so very like Dinie, the sole owner of Vamco.
As Steph entered the elevator and turned her special key to go down to sub-level one, she thought back to her first few encounters with the Lady in Leather. She had to laugh at herself and her incredulous response to the chain-smoking, cougar owning, scientific genius who’d become her boss and mentor. Dinie could never be accused of being maternal. But she was a natural leader. She guided her Squads like a beloved commanding officer. With incredible amounts of thought, care and precision.
When the elevator doors opened, Steph took a step back. All at once she found herself face to face with Curtis Vale, Bonvie’s Chief of Police.
“Hello Stephanie.” Curt’s weathered blue eyes looked into her soul. “How are you feeling?”
“Just fine thank you.” Steph cocked her head and stared into the older man’s face. It was on the tip of her tongue to ask him if he knew a state police officer named Clark. But for some reason she didn’t. “How are you Chief?”
“Can’t complain,” he sighed as he stepped into the elevator.
“Have a nice afternoon,” Steph chirped and tried to sound like she hadn’t noticed how worried he seemed.
“I will.” He tipped his hat as the doors closed. “You too now.”
“Thanks.” Steph lifted her hand and was about to knock on Dinie’s office door when she heard a low voice.