Hunter, A Thieves Series Book 1
Print Book: Amazon
About the book
Kelsey Atwood is a private detective with a problem. She came from a family of hunters, growing up on the wrong side of the supernatural world. Tracking down bail jumpers and deadbeat dads may not make her a lot of friends, but it’s a lot safer than the life she turned her back on. She was hoping to escape from the nightmares of her past, but her latest case has brought them right back to her door.
A young woman has gone missing, and she didn’t go willingly. When Kelsey discovers that the girl is actually a shifter, she knows she should drop the case and walk away. But this shifter was a sweet kid, and she’s in serious trouble. More females are missing and the evidence points to a legendary killer. Bodies are piling up, and her case is becoming center stage for a conflict that could shatter the fragile peace between wolves and vampires.
As the hunt intensifies, she finds herself trapped between two men—Gray, a magnetic half-demon lawman, and the ancient vampire Marcus Vorenus. Both men call to her, but when a shocking secret about Kelsey’s family is revealed, it could ruin them all. To stop the killer, she will have to embrace the truth about who—and what—she truly is.
“I’m not really an expert at missing persons, Mrs. Taylor,” I said to the small woman sitting across from me even as I wondered what she changed into when the moon was full. I was betting it was something sweet and fluffy. She had that look about her.
With shifters, it’s always the eyes that give them away, but I couldn’t really explain it to you. You have to learn to read the signs. There’s something about the way they move and the depth of color in a shapeshifter’s eyes that’s different than a regular human being. If you watch a shifter long enough, their body movement will also give them away. They move with more fluidity than we do. But again, it’s something you have to be trained to see.
“I was told you were a private investigator.” Mrs. Taylor’s chin came up and I would have bet money that she spent some of her time as a deer. There was a grace about the way she held herself.
I was out of practice, but my every instinct screamed prey animal. Sometimes at night I have strange dreams which, given my unique background, shouldn’t be surprising. One of those dreams has to do with the police training exercises they put newbies through. They have you walk through a fake city street and little cutouts of people pop up and you have a split second to decide if you shoot or not. You want to shoot the bad guy, but not the mom carrying the baby. If Mrs. Taylor popped up, I would make the instant decision to not shoot. My father held a different worldview. He would shoot them all on the off chance the baby had a gun. You could never, never be too careful in my father’s world. This was precisely why I had gotten out.
“I’m a licensed private investigator, but I mostly help insurance companies investigate accidents.” I answered her, but most of my brain was working on how I would get her out of my office. I had some serious solitaire to play. Not to mention the fact that it was already one thirty and I hadn’t eaten lunch yet. I take lunch seriously. My brothers often joke that I eat like a hobbit. I had missed elevensies due to a line at the Hurst Police Department, and I wasn’t about to miss lunch.
Big brown eyes went all watery on me and I noticed that she had her purse in a death grip. It was a sure sign she was ready to explode.
“Maybe I could refer you to someone else.” I searched my brain for a name to give her. I didn’t get a whole lot of actual, in-person clients, so I was a little at a loss as to how to handle this one. My job mostly consisted of retrieving police accident reports for liability claims adjusters. I went out and took pictures of intersections and determined light sequences. Sometimes I interviewed witnesses when they were hard to find or refused to talk on the phone. I followed the “potentially less injured than they say they are” and took pictures of them doing various activities they shouldn’t be able to do. My favorite? The dude who was suing for two million due to complete loss of leg function dancing with strippers. I have it framed. I took on the occasional divorce case, but I tended to side with the women, so I preferred female clients. It worked out because most men in a divorce case didn’t go looking for a female PI.
“No,” Helen Taylor said as the tears started to fall. “It has to be you.”
I glanced around for anything I could use as tissues. I suppose most seasoned PIs keep a box on their desk, but I wasn’t that seasoned. I was twenty-six and had only been on the job for six months. Atwood Investigations was a one-woman operation. I didn’t even have a secretary. It was all Kelsey Atwood, all the time. I had lucked into the contract with Driver’s Insurance and I was riding that sweet wave of lower middle income because I didn’t have the energy to be ambitious. My mom was high school friends with the local district manager, and by chance the company’s former PI on retainer had recently retired. Unless you wanted someone to walk into a suburban police department and request a report, I failed to see how I was the only one to do the job. I was about to go to the bathroom for a roll of toilet paper when the blonde woman pulled out her own little pack of tissues and daintily blew her nose.
I was sympathetic, but resolute. I didn’t want to get involved in something messy. This client deserved better than I would be able to give her. She needed to be someplace that could really liaise with the police. I told myself a thousand different reasons why I wouldn’t help this woman and almost all of them were noble. Of course, only one of them was true and it wasn’t self-sacrificing.
I wouldn’t help her because she was a shifter and I wasn’t going back to that world.
“Please,” she said, her feminine voice tremulous. “She has been gone for five days. She’s never been out of touch for that long. We talk twice a day, Joanne and I. I work the nightshift as a janitor at a school. She calls every night to make sure I get home after my shift. Something bad has happened to her.”
And I totally sympathized. It must be terrible to not know where your daughter is. I tried not to think about my mother being in that situation, but I knew she had been. My father would take my brothers out for long periods of time and not tell my mother where they were. He’d only taken me on a trip once, and my mother had been hysterical by the time I’d called. She’d had the right to be, though I never talked to her about it. My brothers and I still kept those secrets from her even after all these years. It was better she never know.
Helen Taylor slid a photograph across the desk. She was small, but she had elegant-looking hands with long fingers. I bet she was really beautiful in her animal form. “Joanne missed her sister’s first dance. She would never let Nancy down like that. She’s a good girl. My girls…they’re all I have.”
Her speech moved me. It really did. I’m not heartless, though sometimes I wish I were. I looked down at the picture she had given me not because I wanted to but because, somehow, I was required to. I had two brothers and I knew where they were. It seemed wrong when my siblings were safe to not acknowledge this woman’s pain.
Joanne Taylor was a bright and smiling face in the picture. She was surrounded by her beaming mother and her little sister, who stared up to her like she was the sun in the sky. In this picture, Joanne was roughly seventeen or eighteen years old. She was wearing the black robe of a graduate and had her cap in one hand like she’d just gotten through tossing it up in the air. She was blonde like her mother and had big brown eyes. She looked like a girl with a lifetime ahead of her.
“When was this taken?” I heard myself asking before I could stop the question.
Helen Taylor sat up, obviously eager to answer my questions. “Two years ago. She’s a sophomore at SMU today. Oh, she’s so bright. She got a full scholarship. She’s studying to be a teacher. I work at the school she went to. She wants to give back, you see.”
That was great, but it didn’t solve my problem. I sighed. I was going to have to be blunt. “She sounds like a wonderful girl.” I slid the picture back across the desk and into Mrs. Taylor’s unwilling hands. She took it back but flipped it over and over, like she didn’t know what to do with it. “But I don’t take cases like this. Besides, I work here in the suburbs. I don’t work with Dallas police. I don’t have any contacts.”
It was a lie. My brother worked for the Dallas police as a contractor. I wasn’t about to mention that fact.
“But your brother James has plenty of contacts,” the woman said, looking confused.
I took a deep breath in and wondered who the hell had sent her. She knew so much about me. I didn’t exactly advertise, and certainly not in the supernatural world. “James works specialized cases for the police. He tends to work alone.”
That wasn’t a lie. Jamie preferred to work alone. The one partner he’d taken with him on a job had spent a little time in a mental hospital after the case. He only occasionally worked with his best friend, who happened to be a Texas Ranger. My younger brother, Nathan, had the good sense to get out altogether. He worked retail at a software store while he put himself through night school. He made less money than the rest of us, but he didn’t have to deal with this shit.
Mrs. Taylor stood. She looked confused, like someone had told her to expect one outcome and she’d been given something entirely different. She turned toward the door that would lead her into the parking lot and I thought I’d made it. I would close up shop as soon as she was gone and eat my turkey sandwich and go home. I looked forward to a nice, quiet evening sitting in front of the TV while I made lists of things I needed for this weekend’s renovation project. I was changing out the faucets in my little house. I found working on updating the three-bedroom ranch my grandmother had left me soothing.
All those plans were blown to hell when Mrs. Taylor turned around. Her brown eyes flared as she stared at me. “No, I won’t be brushed aside. You’re the only one who can help me and you will.”
I would have bet a lot that she didn’t rebel like this often. I was the lucky one who got to take the brunt of her frustration with a system that had probably ground her down for years. I threw up my hands and stood to face her. “Why? Why am I the only one who can help you?”
“Because you’re a hunter.”
I slumped back into my chair. She’d managed to say the one word that was sure to send me to the bottom of a bottle. I had promised myself I would break off my relationship with Jose Cuervo, but it looked like I would be having a one-night stand with my ex tonight.
“I am not a hunter. Not anymore.”
“You people think we don’t know you,” Helen said with a certain righteousness that put me on edge. “But we keep track of you. We have to. We have to know who is coming for us. My husband was killed by a hunter. He was so gentle. He changed into a buck. We played around the forest together. He was gunned down in the street because your kind can’t stand that we exist. He was thirty-five years old.”
God, I hoped it wasn’t my father who had done it. My stomach felt sick, but I tried to keep it together. “I didn’t have anything to do with that.”
Mrs. Taylor took a second. When she spoke again, she was quieter, more sympathetic. “Of course, you didn’t, Kelsey. I don’t blame you. I’m sorry if I made it sound like I did. I know how your father raised you. It’s a testament to who you are that you aren’t like him.”
I wasn’t so sure of that. I was a lot more like my dad than I wanted to admit. “How do you know so much about me?”
She sat back down and looked quite motherly. “I work with someone who knows you. When I told her my problem and how the police won’t help, she said you would. She said you were the best.”
I only knew one person who she could possibly be talking about. “You work at Olivia’s school.”
She smiled at the sound of Liv’s name. That wasn’t surprising. Most people who knew Olivia Carey brightened at the thought of her. I, on the other hand, was going to kick her ass. “Yes, she’s such a nice young woman. She hadn’t joined the school when Joanne was there, but I look forward to Nancy getting her for English next year. She works late sometimes and I talk to her while I clean her room.”
“What did the police say?” I asked, though I was pretty sure I knew what they had told the freaked-out mom.
Helen’s face twisted and I knew she was pissed as hell at the police. “They said she’d probably run off with a boy. They said it happens all the time. They took a report, but that was all they were willing to do.”
And it was all they would do for the daughter of a janitor. In my experience, justice was for the people in Highland Park. The police had bigger problems to deal with than chasing down some poor co-ed who by all statistics likely had simply run off with a boy.
“What do you want me to do?” I asked because she had me. I would do the job because if I didn’t, I would be adding Joanne Taylor’s sunny face to the rotating players in my nightmares.
“I want you to do what you do best.” Mrs. Taylor opened her purse and took out an envelope. She laid it on the desk. “I want you to hunt my daughter.”
Copyright 2015 Lexi Blake