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A Perfect Blood (The Hollows #10)(4)

By:Kim Harrison

“Miss?” the young voice on the other end of the line said, and the light turned green.
“Yes!” I said, glad I had an automatic as I crept forward through the intersection and tried to aim the heat vents at the same time. “I can’t make it. Not today, and probably not this weekend.”
My hair blew in the warm draft, and the woman sighed. In the background I could hear some progressive alternative rock. Takata’s latest, maybe? “I can take you off the books, but Emojin isn’t going to be happy.”
“I’ve got a job this week,” I explained loudly as I took a quick look behind me and swerved to the right to get around some old guy in a blue Buick. Sure, the run didn’t pay money, but getting my license and car registration back made me more than happy. Baby steps. I could do this.
Wayde grabbed the chicken strap, swinging with the momentum. “Ticking off your tattoo artist isn’t prudent.”
Frowning, I snapped, “Like saying no to the I.S. is any better?”
He shrugged, and I turned back to the road, slowing down. We were close to Fountain Square, and they usually had a cop on a horse somewhere. “When can you come in?” Emojin’s assistant asked. “These specialty dyes don’t hold their qualities forever.” 
I slowed more, my bumper almost on the car ahead of me. Crap, I could almost read the print on the tube of lipstick the driver was applying in the rearview mirror. “I’m sorry,” I said, feeling a touch of guilt. “I’ll be busy all this weekend and probably next week. I’ll call when I can come in. Okay?”
The light had turned green, but the woman ahead of me wasn’t moving. “Watch it!” Wayde shouted as I crept forward, and thinking we must be closer than I thought, I stomped on the brake. Our heads swung forward and back, and I grimaced. “You’re going to lose your license the same day you get it if you’re not careful,” he said, letting go of the strap and sitting straighter.
“There’s a good ten inches there,” I grumbled. “It looks closer because the car is small.”
From the phone came a faint “I’ll put you down for Monday, midnight.”
Is she not listening to me? “I won’t be there!” I exclaimed. “I wouldn’t have to keep canceling if you wouldn’t keep making appointments I can’t keep.
“Hey!” I yelped when Wayde snatched the phone.
“Give me this before you crack us up against a wall,” he said darkly, his eyes pinched and his expression cross, his red beard making him look like a Viking.
“I can drive and talk at the same time,” I said, indignant, then hit the gas to make the next light before it turned and we were stuck behind Miss-America-Wannabe again. Rearview mirrors are for seeing who’s behind you, not for putting on makeup.
“Not well, you can’t.” Wayde put the phone to his right ear. “Mary Jo? This is Wayde. Give Rachel my next appointment. I’ll get her there.”
I looked askance at him, and from the tiny receiver came a relieved “Thanks, Wayde. She’s a pain in the ass.”
Wayde and I exchanged a long, slow look over the small space between us, and my fingers on the wheel tightened. “Really?” Wayde said, his face deadpan. “I’ve never had any trouble with her.”
He hung up with a flick of the wrist, and my pink phone looked funny in his hand. “Would you mind if I put this in your purse?” he asked, and my irritation tightened. Get me there?
“Go ahead,” I said, glancing at his tattoos as he gingerly opened my bag and dropped the phone in. He wasn’t wearing a coat, and he looked cold. “You have an appointment at Emojin’s? I didn’t think you had a scrap of skin left to ink.”
Smiling now, Wayde rolled up his left sleeve, making a fist and showing me his well-muscled biceps. Damn. An Asian dragon wound around it, its mouth open to show a flicking, forked tongue. Some of the scales were glinting gold, others were drab and blurry.
“Emojin is touching up my dragon. Giving it a little shine. I was stupid back when I got it, not caring who inked me. Emojin is one of the reasons I agreed to take this job.”
Traffic eased the farther we got from the city center, and I risked another look at him, surprised by his eagerness. “Excuse me?”
Wayde rolled his sleeve down. “Emojin is one of the best inkers this side of the Mississippi, if not in the entire U.S.,” he said. “I wanted to be a part of what she does, and if I’m here . . .” He shrugged, resettling himself in his seat.
I thought about that as I turned onto Washington. My heart gave a tiny thump, and I shifted my grip on the wheel, finally warming up in the car’s heat. November was cold in Cincinnati.
“Standing her up is disrespectful,” Wayde said softly. “She’s an artist. If you don’t respect the art, at least respect the artist.”My breath came fast. “I don’t want a tattoo. I would’ve thought that was clear by now.”
Wayde made a rude sound. “It is,” he said sharply. “Put your big girl panties on and do it already. It’s been ages, and you’re being disrespectful to your pack. David—damn, if you were my alpha, I’d pin you by your throat and make you behave.”
“Yeah, well, that’s why you’re not an alpha,” I said, then wished I hadn’t. My tight shoulders eased and my head throbbed. “You’re right, though,” I admitted, and he stopped tapping the armrest. “I need to do this.” But it was going to hurt!
God, I was such a baby. At least I knew Wayde didn’t have a day off until next Friday. I’d have until then to screw my courage to the sticking point.
We had to be getting close, and the street was almost empty compared to the last street we’d been on. I slowed, looking for addresses. Maybe it was a church. A lot of the little ones had small cemeteries beside them.
“There,” Wayde said, and I followed his pointing finger to the I.S. van stopped at the curbside parking of a small city park. The music hall was across the street, but that wasn’t where the cluster of vehicles was. I didn’t see anyone among the trees and benches, but it was a six-acre park.
“Look, Ivy’s car,” I said, turning in to park beside her. I’d been hoping that she’d get here before me, wherever here was. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the hour and a half it had taken to get my license and registration had been an excuse to keep me away until the real work was done.
Deep in thought, I put the car into park and pulled my bag onto my lap. The charmed silver around my wrist thumped down. I missed the protection that being able to set a circle had given me, and I didn’t like crime scenes to begin with. Everyone made me feel stupid, and I always seemed to do something wrong. But I’d stand beside Ivy with my hands in my pockets and watch her work. She was great at crime scenes. She’d been the I.S.’s darling before she bought out her contract to go independent with me. I think it had saved her sanity. My thoughts darted to Nina, and I hoped that core of self she had would survive now that her master knew she was alive.
Wayde didn’t move as I opened my door. The cool air rushing in smelled faintly like garbage. I looked into the park and saw nothing but trees and the top of a large gazebo in the distance. “There’s no FIB here,” I said softly, still inside the car. Unusual. Nina had said that they’d been working on this for a couple of weeks. Perhaps the crime had been labeled as strictly Inderlander, no human involvement.
Wayde stretched out as much as a Were could stretch out in a compact car. “You need me, just whistle,” he said as he arranged his ball cap over his eyes against the sun leaking through the frost-emptied branches. 
After weeks of him accompanying me and my hating it, I hesitated. “You’re not coming?”
Lifting the brim of his cap, he eyed me. “You want me to?” he asked blandly.
“Not really, no.”
He dropped the brim and laced his hands over his middle. “Then why are you bitching? It’s a crime scene, not a grocery store. No one’s going to bother you, and they won’t let me in.”
There was that. Nodding, I got out, hitched my bag back up on my shoulder, slammed the door shut, and started up the sidewalk snaking into the park, hearing the radio chatter coming from the gazebo. My boot heels clicked, and I hesitated at a confident hail from the open I.S. van as I passed it. There wasn’t any tape strung up, but with all the official vehicles, it was obvious the park might be closed.
“Excuse me, ma’am?” It came again, and I turned back around, fluffing my hair and smiling. I had a bent and dilapidated FIB sign under my car seat that I could put in the window when I was at crime scenes, but that wouldn’t help me today. At least I had my license.
“Hi!” I said brightly, waiting until he asked for it before I dug it out. “I’m Rachel Morgan. From Vampiric Charms? Nina, uh, one of your bosses, told me to come out and take a look.” I had stopped in a spot of light, and squinting at the thin, overly aggressive witch in an I.S. uniform coming toward me, I tucked my hair back. “I should be on the list.”
“Identification?” he said, the word nasty and sharp. He was ticked that he’d been relegated to the parking lot when he wanted to be at the scene. I knew how he felt.