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A Perfect Blood (The Hollows #10)(2)

By:Kim Harrison

My gut tightened, but I wasn’t helpless, even lacking half my magic, and Wayde was with me. Again my eyes touched on the band of charmed silver. I didn’t like being without ley-line magic, but I’d rather that than the demons knowing I was alive. I’d made a few mistakes during the last year, the least of which had caused a leak in the ever-after. The entire alternate reality was shrinking, and as soon as the demons realized it, they’d probably take turns at me.
The woman sighed in relief as she closed the partition behind us, her low heels clacking fast as she led us to the back offices. An elated, frazzled living vampire in a black dress suit sat behind a cluttered desk in one, her face flushed and her eyes bright. She was young, professional, and probably bored out of her mind with working in an office day in and day out if the photos of her skydiving and running zip lines that were posted to her three-by-two calendar on the wall meant anything. Her office was overflowing with stacked folders and files in a weird mix of organized clutter. She probably took on more than she could handle. Trying to prove herself at the office, maybe as she clearly liked doing on her weekends?
I’d guess her human heritage was Hispanic, with her long dark hair pulled back in a simple clip and her dusky complexion, dark eyes, oval face, very red lips, white teeth, and pretty eyelashes. Her fingers tucking in her blah-brown blouse were long and slender, her nails painted a dull red. I could sense her confidence as she looked up at our entrance, a strong thread of self that ran through her. She was a living vampire, but clearly not high on her master’s favorites list. I thought it odd that the more favored a living vampire was, the more emotionally damaged she was. This woman was clearly one of the forgotten. Lucky her. Being forgotten meant you lived longer, and having been forgotten, she’d probably lack most of the darker abilities that Ivy, my roommate, had developed in order to survive.
“Nina,” the supervisor said, and the young woman stood, by all appearances not interested in me as she stacked the papers on her desk in a vain attempt to tidy up. “This is Ms. Morgan, and, ah . . .”
Wayde stepped into the hesitation, extending his hand as he moved both of us into the small, cluttered room. “Mr. Benson,” the Were said. “I’m Ms. Morgan’s security. Pleasure to meet you, Ms. Ninotchka Romana Ledesma.”
The elaborate name rolled off his lips as if he’d grown up in the south of Spain, and surprised, I looked at the nameplate on the desk and decided I’d stick to Nina.
Nina blinked, her gaze going from him to me as if seeing me for the first time. “Ah, good to meet you,” she said as she confidently shook Wayde’s hand. She turned to me, hesitating as she saw my hands deep in the pockets of my red coat. “Sit if you want.”
I glanced at Wayde. Nina was excited, yes, but not about us. Was someone else coming? I thought, looking at the only open chair in the cramped office.
“Uh,” I started, blinking when Nina shifted her bra strap and took a peek down to make sure everything was where it was supposed to be. “Do we need another chair?”
“No,” she said abruptly as the woman who had brought us back here left, closing the door behind her. “Unless your security wants one. But don’t they usually stand?”
“I’m fine,” Wayde said as he took up a position just inside the closed door. “Ma’am, just what is it you want with Ms. Morgan?”
Tense, the young woman ran a hand down her hip and sat behind her desk, hiding her hands when she noticed her fingers trembling. “I don’t want anything. It’s not me, it’s him,” she said, and the tang of excited vampire reached out and smacked me. God, she smelled good, and I felt a tingle from the vampire bites under my perfect skin. “I’ve never done this before. I didn’t even know he knew I was alive, and now this!”“Ah, all I want is my license renewed and my car registered in my own name,” I said, shaken from the surge of pheromones. I’d been right. She lacked control, but if she had been forgotten, it didn’t matter much. “If you can’t help me, I’m leaving.”
Alarm flashed over the living vampire, and she almost stood. “Someone in the I.S. would like to talk to you,” she said, her eyes wide. “I’m the only one here he wants to work through. My cousin is in the I.S., and well . . .” Flashing me a nervous smile, she suddenly looked scared. “It’s an honor to be asked to channel a master.”
I felt for the chair behind me and sat down. “A dead vamp wants to talk to me?” I gingerly perched on the edge of the seat. Sure, it was daylight, but the dead ones were still awake, deep underground. Apparently one wanted to talk to me, one so old that slipping into an unfamiliar living vampire was possible. Not good. But maybe he could get my car registered for me . . .
Uneasy, I glanced at Wayde. He shrugged and fell into parade rest. “Fine,” I said. “But make it quick. I’ve got to ask Jenks to register my car since you won’t do it through me.”
Ignoring my sarcasm, she shivered violently, jerking once as her eyes became unfocused and she reached for the stability of the desk with a white-knuckled strength. Her breath came in with a slow, sensual sound, her hair falling forward as her head bowed. She sighed, her red lips closing and her gaze sharpening on her hands gripping the edge of the desk. Slowly her fingers let go and her hands dropped into her lap. She seemed to grow taller as she pulled herself straight and looked at me—smiling to show her pointy little canines. I shivered at the new glint in her pupil-black eyes. I couldn’t help it, and her smile grew wider still as she took in the shape of my face in a decidedly masculine fashion. It wasn’t Nina anymore.
I stiffened as she breathed in deeply, shifting her shoulders back as she tasted my unease, something Nina probably wasn’t skilled enough to read on the air currents. The slight grimace as she looked down at her clothes made me wonder if she was uncomfortable with being in a skirt, or because of the cheap fabric. Her confidence before had been within herself. Now it was the assurance that she could do anything she wanted and no one would think twice. From the door, Wayde whistled, his arms loose at his sides.
“You’ve never seen this before?” I asked, and he shook his head. I watched “Nina” look over the room, placing herself, hearing things I could only guess at, sensing things I’d seen on the way in. “I once saw Piscary take over Kisten,” I said softly. “Ivy hated it when Piscary took her over.”
Across from me, Nina smiled. “She enjoyed it,” she said, her voice sounding deeper, richer, more sophisticated. “Don’t doubt that.” 
Realizing I had crossed my knees submissively, I put my feet square on the floor and leaned back in my chair as if relaxed—but I wasn’t. This was eerie, seeing a man in a woman’s body, and I was sure the undead vamp was a man. Someone’s phone was vibrating, probably mine, and I ignored it.
Nina stood, gracefully catching her balance and frowning down at the scuffed heels she was wearing. Her hand came out to me in invitation, and I cursed myself when I found my hand rising to hers against my will, shivering as she breathed deeply over it, sensing what he/she was doing to me. “It’s good to see you again, Ms. Morgan,” she said slyly, and I reclaimed my hand before she tried to kiss it. God, I hated dealing with the old ones.
I glanced at Wayde, standing stiffly by the door. “You were the driver in San Francisco,” I guessed, remembering that the driver had been channeling an undead vamp of some importance, eavesdropping on coven business as he drove me out to take care of someone they couldn’t.
Smiling to hide her teeth, Nina inclined her head, looking devilish and seductive both as she took up a slightly wide-footed stance. It was really weird. This was not the flustered vampire who had been here when I walked in. And it wasn’t what Nina would become when she died her first death. It was someone else entirely, someone old.
“I don’t like not knowing who I’m talking with,” I said, trying for annoyed but hearing it come out as petulant.
“Today I look like Nina,” she said, settling back in her chair and grimacing at the dirty corners of the office and the lack of a window. “You may call me that.”
“Who are you?” I said more firmly, and she just smiled, steepling her fingers.
“Someone who can help you,” she said, and I rolled my eyes as Wayde coughed. From my bag on the floor, a tiny ping told me someone had left a voice mail. “If you’re willing to make an effort, that is,” Nina continued, ignoring Wayde. “We failed in recognizing you. We let you slip from us. You’ve done well, but you could do even better—with a little . . . structure.”
“I’m not coming back to Inderland Security,” I interrupted, flushing. Crap, if that’s what this was about, I might be in trouble. Saying no to them could shorten your life span. But all Nina did was send her pupil-black gaze to a paper on her desk. It was a copy of my license. Under it was a blank registration form. I sighed, remembering the world we lived in. Damn it, my phone was ringing again, too, but anyone important like Ivy or Jenks would know to call Wayde.