Iron & Velvet (Kate Kane, Paranormal Investigator #1)

Iron & Velvet (Kate Kane, Paranormal Investigator, #1), by Alexis Hall
Author: 
eBook ISBN: 
978-1-62649-048-2
eBook release: 
Dec 16, 2013
eBook Formats: 
pdf, mobi, html, epub
Print ISBN: 
978-1-62649-049-9
Print release: 
Dec 16, 2013
Word count: 
77,200
Page count: 
296
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This title is #1 of the Kate Kane, Paranormal Investigator series.

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First rule in this line of business: don’t sleep with the client.

My name’s Kate Kane, and when an eight-hundred-year-old vampire prince came to me with a case, I should have told her no. But I’ve always been a sucker for a femme fatale.

It always goes the same way. You move too fast, you get in too deep, and before you know it, someone winds up dead. Last time it was my partner. This time it could be me. Yesterday a werewolf was murdered outside the Velvet, the night-time playground of one of the most powerful vampires in England. Now half the monsters in London are at each other’s throats, and the other half are trying to get in my pants. The Witch Queen will protect her own, the wolves are out for vengeance, and the vampires are out for, y’know, blood.

I’ve got a killer on the loose, a war on the horizon, and a scotch on the rocks. It’s going to be an interesting day.

Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:

Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.

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Chapter 1

Whiskey & Cigarettes

I woke to the taste of stale whiskey and the smell of stale cigarettes. Rolling over, I found a picture on the pillow—Patrick had been drawing me again. I stared into the face of the girl I used to be: someone young enough, pretty enough, and stupid enough to find that shit romantic. I’d dated a vampire when I was seventeen. It was a mistake I was still paying for.

The portrait wasn’t quite up to his usual standard. Normally he shaded every eyelash. I’d given up hoping he’d get bored, so he must have been interrupted.

I tried to go back to sleep, but knowing somebody had been watching took all the fun out of being unconscious. Giving up, I crawled out of the covers and went to close the window. It wouldn’t do any good, of course. I’d have to talk to Nimue about fixing the wards. But the last time I’d seen her, I’d been rebounding hard from Eve, so we’d been a bit busy for rituals.

I couldn’t be arsed to shower, so I threw on what had been yesterday’s clothes yesterday, and made myself a breakfast of reheated coffee and ibuprofen. The post was mainly bills. All right, entirely bills. And I hadn’t paid my TV license, which meant no more late night Diagnosis Murder marathons.

The truth was, since Archer’d died, since I’d let Archer die, work had been slow. Well, slower.

There was a voicemail from Dad on my laptop. I hadn’t sent anything back for a while, but the messages still came in every month or so. And my mum, or rather my step-mum—as I’d discovered around the time I went through my dating vampires phase—had emailed a photograph of their new garden. They were standing in front of a shed, smiling and waving, Dad with that slightly off-kilter look that came from not being able to see the camera. It’s weird to think of your parents having a life, but my dad was once the mortal consort of the Queen of the Wild Hunt. And by consort, I mean . . . yeah. Jenny—my step-mum—eventually got him out, but the Queen kept his eyes. They found me on the doorstep a few months later, wrapped in a wolf skin, in a basket made of briars. An honest-to-God faery princess. But since my mother’s the immortal embodiment of an abstract concept, it’s not like I’m going to inherit a magical kingdom any time soon. And she’d never shown up at parent-teacher night.

My headache had eased just enough that I thought I could probably face daylight. It was Sunday, but I was supposed to be in the office working on the bottle of Famous Grouse in my bottom drawer. I was getting on with that, juggling my caseload of zero and reminding myself to take Archer’s name off the door, when the incubus came in.

“Kate Kane?” His voice was sex and honey.

“Yeah?”

“The Prince of Cups commands your attendance.”

I hadn’t had much contact with the four princes who ruled the vampires of England. I knew they went by Cups, Swords, Coins, and Wands, and near as I could tell, Cups got people laid, Swords killed people, Coins bought people, and Wands kept the whole thing quiet.

“I don’t work for vampires.” I finished my drink and poured myself another.

His whiskey-gold eyes scanned my office. “It doesn’t look like you work at all.”

Zing.

There weren’t many reformed sex demons working for vampire princes in this town. In fact, there was exactly one reformed sex demon working for a vampire prince. So, this had to be Ashriel, right-hand man to Julian Saint-Germain, Prince of Cups. The word on the street was that he’d gone celibate, which made him about half as dangerous as most other demons but still twice as dangerous as, say, me. And, as luck would have it, he and his boss were two of the city’s supernatural power players I’d managed not to piss off. Probably because I hadn’t met either of them.

I leaned back in my chair and gave him the once-over, which even I could admit was no chore. The promise of sex rolled off him like too much cologne. He was beautiful, and deadly, and thankfully not my type. “Sit down, then. Tell me what this is about.”

He poured himself into a chair like bourbon over ice, hands folding primly in his lap. “I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to disclose any details. I’m simply here to escort you to the Prince.”

“Escort?”

That could’ve meant anything from a polite drive to a bag over my head. I leaned forward to pour myself a top-up, reaching with the other hand for the blade duct-taped to the bottom of my desk. I had a whole row of them: gold for vampires, silver for werewolves, iron for faeries, sanctified steel for demons. I hadn’t worked out how to kill an angel yet, but I’d only had to try once.

“Escort,” he repeated.

It wasn’t a bag-on-head tone, so I left the knife. Kept the drink.

“I’ll need more than that before I agree to anything.”

“You don’t have to agree to anything. You only have to come with me. And you will be compensated for your time.”

“Eight hundred a day.” I chinked my glass against the empty bottle. “Plus expenses.”

“That’s outrageous.” He sounded almost amused.

“It’s my ‘I don’t work for vampires’ rate. Take it or leave it.”

He stood, apparently taking it. “Shall we go?”

Not even an attempt to haggle. That meant one of two things. Either it was something pretty serious, or they were planning to kill me before payday. I went to one of my cupboards and slid back the false panel. The incubus drew in a soft breath. I had a lot of knives. Really, a lot of knives. And I liked people to know it.

Ashriel flicked up a brow. “There’s caution, and then there’s paranoia.”

“I’m a big fan of alive.” I took gold and sanctified steel. And a hip flask. “Where exactly will we be going?”

“The Velvet.”

No surprises there. If you wanted to drink, dance, or fuck in London, chances were you’d pay the Prince of Cups for the privilege, and the Velvet on Brewer Street was the heart of Julian Saint-Germain’s Empire of Sleaze.

“All right.” I pulled my phone out of my pocket and traced a route on Google Maps. “But this is the way we’re going.”

He stood and leaned over me to peer at the map. He smelled of clean skin and sandalwood, with an underlying sweetness you might want to lick from his naked body. If you were into that. “What? No. That’s ridiculous. We should go down Kingsway, not Drury Lane.”

“It’s my way or no way.”

“Fine.” He gave an exasperated sigh, but his orders probably involved getting me to Brewer Street, not bickering about the route.

It didn’t seem like a trap, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t one. And anyway, there were tolls on Kingsway.

I locked up and followed Ashriel’s taut little arse downstairs.

A metallic green Mini Roadster was parked on the double yellow lines outside my office. And here was me thinking that working for the prince of pleasure might actually involve some, y’know, pleasure. Where was the limo? The champagne? The twitchy-tailed bunny girls to drape themselves all over me? “Under-compensating for something?”

He grinned. All that and dimples too.

“Why me?” I asked, once I’d stuffed myself into the passenger seat, folding my legs up like reluctant concertinas.

Ashriel’s eyes slid sideways and caught mine for a moment. “Discretion. Skills. You used to be the best.”

“You used to shag your lovers to death. People change.”

“Their behaviour, yes. In essentials, no.”

He was still watching me, his eyes like pools of sunlight, drawing me onwards with promises of unimagined sexual ecstasy.

Been there, done that. I yawned.

“See.” He dropped the demonic crap. “Useful skills.”

I snorted.

Ashriel was texting one-handed with his phone pressed to the steering wheel. I reached instinctively for my knife, and he sighed. “I’m letting Julian know we’re on our way. Not calling down an airstrike or marshalling my army of PI-eating demons.”

It’s all fun and games until someone gets stabbed in the back.

“Mind if I smoke?” he asked when he was done.

“Knock yourself out.”

He pulled out a packet of unfiltered Camels and put one between his lips, and I reached my arm across the seats to light it for him, the flame from my Zippo defining the arch of his cheekbones in flickering gold. I should really get a new lighter. This one was a present from Eve and had the Serenity Prayer engraved on it. She always did have a cruel sense of humour. I used to find it pretty hot.

“Help yourself, by the way.” Ashriel reduced the cigarette to a column of ash in a single inhalation.

“Yeah, right.” Never take stuff from demons. Rule number obvious.

“Oscar Wilde,” he drawled, “wrote that a cigarette is the perfect type of perfect pleasure. It is exquisite and leaves one unsatisfied.” He paused. “Wanker.”

About ten minutes later, we pulled up at the Velvet. It used to be a strip club in the sixties, a history it flaunted like a pair of nipple tassels. It was red and gold on the outside and red and gold on the inside; dirty, decadent, and smugly ironic, as though it was flashing you and winking at you at the same time.

Ashriel led me past mirrored walls and geometric Deco fountains, golden balustrades and plush velvet booths. It was what you’d call an intimate venue—full of nooks and crannies with no line of sight. I hated intimate venues. And I could have done without the low ceiling and the endless horizon of me reflected by the mirrors. Fuck, I’d let myself go a bit.

There was a gallery concealed behind suspicious-looking red velvet curtains and a corner stage still sparkling with glitter and lost sequins. Beyond the bar (more mirrors and gleaming racks of bottles), we passed a fire exit leading to the alley outside, and went through a set of swing doors opening onto a stone staircase. Each step was edged by a stripe of fading yellow paint, and the walls were covered with health and safety notices, fire drills, staff schedules, and hand-scribbled memos. I was glad to get away from all that shiny.

The next floor was a dressing area. One wall had been given over to yet more mirrors, each set into a frame of bare bulbs, while the rest of the room was a carnage of discarded glamour. I catalogued racks of costumes, ostrich feather fans tangled with wigs in every colour of the rainbow, silk stockings and feather boas, haphazard piles of makeup, and dodgy props, including a six-foot martini glass with its own inflatable olive.

The final staircase took us up to a much smaller admin area. There were a couple of office workers here, tapping into their keyboards and answering the phones. But as soon as Ashriel stepped through the door, they stopped whatever they were doing and stared at him. He was standing close enough to me that I felt his body tense.

Demons can’t feel pleasure unless they steal it from someone else, which means they’re basically out-of-control junkies. And their hit of choice is people, the only drug that actually jumps up and down shouting, “Pick me, pick me!” I’d have felt sorry for him if I hadn’t seen how badly demons can fuck you over. And the more damage they do, the stronger they get and the harder it is to kick them back to Hell where they belong. It sounds harsh, but demons hurt people just by existing. I’d never met one that was trying to stop. If he really wasn’t feeding on anyone, Ashriel had chosen to make his own life a living hell. Poor fucker.

I offered him an alternative temptation. “Smoke?”

He pulled a cigarette from the packet with a crackle of paper that made me want one too. “Marlboro Lights,” he sighed. “Barely a peck on the cheek of destruction.”

“I’m commitment phobic.”

He bit off the filter. “Julian is waiting for you. Straight through there. I’ll be downstairs.”

Once he departed, office life slowly resumed with a clacking of keyboards. There was only one other door in the room. “Julian Saint-Germain – Manager” was embossed on it in gleaming gold. And just like that we were back in Shinyland. I went inside, only mildly reassured by all the knives I’d brought. Vampire Princes being what they were, I could have been stepping into anything.

But it was quite nice in there.

No orgies of androgynous bonk demons. No bloodslaves chained to the furniture. Instead, accents of gold on walls the colour of a really good merlot, lots of gleaming, honey-coloured wood, and the sort of heavy antique furniture you’re not allowed to make anymore because trees, conservation, blah. Between the exposed ceiling beams, a vast skylight framed the rooftops and towers of the London horizon against a sweep of grey morning sky. That was just showing off. Even though it didn’t physically hurt them, most vampires avoided direct sunlight because it weakened their powers. You’d only hold court under a giant window well after dawn if you were crazy powerful or crazy reckless. I was guessing the Prince of Cups was both.

Julian Saint-Germain was sprawled in a chair that was basically a throne, one leg hooked casually over the arm for maximum possible louche.

“Well,” she purred, her Bette Davis eyes sweeping me up and down, “you’re not quite what I was expecting.”

Huh.

That made two of us.

 

Chapter 2

Princes & Corpses

She was wearing the traditional uniform of that sort of vampire: tight leather trousers, knee-high boots, a plum velvet frock coat, and a sleazy grin. Her ridiculously ruffly shirt had slipped from one shoulder to reveal ivory skin and a hint of black lace. And I was staring.

There was no point wishing I’d showered this morning, but I wished I’d showered this morning.

“Well, you’re just what I was expecting, Ms. Saint-Germain.” I folded my arms and pointedly neglected her title.

“Call me Julian, sweeting. Let’s be intimate.”

“Let’s not. And don’t call me sweeting.”

She pulled her leg from its rest and leaned forward on her throne, elbows propped on her knees as she studied me. I dug through what little I knew about Julian Saint-Germain: vampire (obviously), probably about eight hundred years old, powerful, ruthless, and . . . hot? Really, really hot. She was giving me a use for words I’d never thought I’d need. Gamine. Sylph-like. Exquisite. Damn it. Damn it all to hell.

“You,” she said suddenly, “have extraordinary eyes.”

I do. They’re purple. Thanks, Mum.

But Julian’s voice came over me like a rush of silk, and it took me a long moment to remember that I was done with vampire bullshit. I turned to leave. It was mid-morning, so I was spared a full on vamp-bamf, but she darted past me anyway, an inhuman blur.

One day, a vampire will do that to someone and they’ll just keep walking. One day.

But not today.

I stopped just before we collided. We were so close that I’d have felt her breathing except she, well, wasn’t. She was shorter than me—most people are—but that just meant she had to turn her face up to mine as if she was expecting a kiss. Damn it. Damn it.

“You didn’t invite me here to practice cheap pickup lines.”

She grinned. “No, but I’m willing to be flexible if you are.”

“I’m armed, you know.”

“I do know.” She took a step forward, her body aligning itself to mine, cold but yielding in all the right places. “I enjoy dangerous women in fedoras.” She danced her fingers down my forearm, outlining the shape of my knife through my sleeve.

I sidestepped, and she followed as though we were dancing.

“Oh my,” she murmured. “Your heart is beating so fast. I can almost taste it.”

I leaned away from her. “Do you actually need a PI?”

She moved back and ran a hand through her hair, which was short and dark and looked like it would be as soft as feathers beneath my fingers. Which I wasn’t thinking. Not at all. “You distracted me,” she complained, as though it was somehow my fault that she’d jumped all over me. “There’s a dead body in the alley outside.”

“And it just slipped your mind?”

“No, I just decided to seduce you first.”

“Corpse first.”

“He’s dead, he’s not going anywhere.”

You’re dead.”

“Yes, but I’m better in bed.” She waggled her eyebrows.

I growled. “Tell me about the goddamn murder.”

“And Ash said you wouldn’t take the case.”

“Wait, what? I . . . haven’t taken the case.”

She smiled brilliantly, snow white teeth and cherry red lips. “Then why are you asking me about it?”

Well. Damn it. Damn it again. She had me there.

She sauntered off and took a seat on the edge of her desk, one leg drawn up to her chest, the other swinging idly. Lethal had never been so cute. “Obviously I’m paying for your discretion as well as your . . . services.” She did the eyebrow thing again. “The last thing I need is for the mortal authorities to start poking into my business, or for the press to get hold of this. ‘Man Horribly Killed While Trying to Have a Good Time’ is not going to sell out my venues.” Her expression turned momentarily thoughtful. “Or maybe it would, I don’t know. People can be so macabre. Anyway, find out who did it so I can stop them doing it again.” Her fangs flashed. “By killing them.”

“What makes you think it’s connected to you?”

“Sweeting, I’m a motherfucking vampire prince. Everything is connected to me.”

“Any actual evidence for that?”

“Killing on my premises is personally insulting.” Her eyes met mine. So very very blue. Ngh. “Take the case, Kate.”

I knew it would be nothing but trouble. I knew she would be nothing but trouble.

But.

Eight hundred a day plus expenses would make a change from zero a day and expenses.

And there was no denying it. Julian Saint-Germain was my kind of trouble.

I nodded.

Julian grinned. “Fabulous. Shall we shag to seal the deal?” She put her hands behind her and rested her weight on them, her body arching beneath the spill of lace and velvet like a cat’s.

“Dead body. Downstairs.”

She looked disappointed. “Well, I’ll be here if you change your mind.”

“I’m not going to sleep with you.”

“Not now.”

“Not ever.”

“Ever is a long time, sweeting. I should know.”

I left the room with great dignity, her laugher following me like smoke from a cigarette. Cigarette. I put one to my lips but thought better of lighting it indoors and made my way downstairs, telling myself I could have it after I saw the body. I’d forgotten how work could get in the way of your lifestyle.

Ashriel was leaning against the bar, hands in his pockets.

“Tell me what you know.”

He could have been a dick about me taking the case, but he let it pass, and I allowed myself to feel pleasantly surprised. Perhaps this was the start of a beautiful indifference.

“The body was found this morning by a delivery man. No witnesses, but we spoke to a homeless guy who said he was woken up by strange noises coming from the alley at about four this morning.”

“I’ll want to talk to both of them.” I reached into my inside pocket for a pair of latex gloves and tugged them on.

“That will not be possible.” A different voice from right behind me. I wheeled round.

Patrick was standing far too close and was glaring intently. Acting like he hated me was how he showed he cared. My dad’s favourite joke was that Patrick turned me gay. He didn’t. He was just a phase I went through, a phase I’d have really liked to leave behind. Sometimes I hoped he’d find some new faery-blooded, purple-eyed teenager to fall for, but I wouldn’t wish Patrick on anybody.

He was still gorgeous, in a boy-band kind of way: pale and sculpted, with glowing, tawny eyes and copper-touched hair that was always slightly tousled. But even though he hadn’t changed, I had, and I couldn’t find anything to like in him anymore, let alone love. I mean, the first couple of years were fine because there’d been plenty to get in the way of us actually being together. His profound self-loathing, people trying to kill me, and the Queen of the Wild Hunt trying to kill him. And then he went through a cycle of leaving me for my own good, until I finally realised we didn’t have anything in common and the sex did nothing for me, so I dumped him. Of course while all this was going on, I was also coming to terms with being half-faery, which meant I’d flunked all my A-levels and blown my chances of getting into a decent university.

So here we were. Me one vocational qualification, ten years, two demon invasions, and three thousand cigarettes older. And Patrick still the sort of Class A wanker who spouted ominous bullshit while standing directly behind you.

“For fuck’s sake, Patrick. You shouldn’t have blanked them until I was done.” There was absolutely no point arguing with him, but I couldn’t seem to stop doing it.

“They had nothing of value to say.”

“That’s my call, not yours.”

He looked very grave. “The preservation of vampire society is my responsibility, Katharine.”

Patrick is an agent for the Prince of Wands, which is kind of big deal for a vampire less than two hundred years old. Wands is basically head of vampire MI5. His business is secrets, including keeping the ones that had to be kept. Like pretty much everything about the existence of vampires. He didn’t always succeed, and people tended to find out about this shit because it was kind of massive, but there was still technically a no witnesses policy.

Patrick was involved in a mix of PR and recon. He fed information to the press to cover up supernatural snafus, monitored mortal institutions like the police and the government, and occasionally infiltrated high schools to keep an eye on teenage girls with otherworldly heritage. Which was what he’d been doing in my A-level biology class. His job was actually one of his few interesting features. Of course, when we’d been going out, he wouldn’t tell me anything about it. For my own protection.

The annoying thing was, he was probably right on this one. Eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable, especially when the supernatural is involved. But I hated being forced to rely on Patrick. He’d always been big on the sort of trust that only went one way.

I went to look at the body instead.

It was lying just beyond the fire escape in a contorted pose. Male, mid-twenties, attractive in an engineered-hair, dead kind of way. His clothing, the regulation club wear of dark-wash jeans and a dress shirt, was rumpled and probably designer. He had the sleek look of privilege about him and defensive wounds on his hands and wrists. From his colour, he’d most likely been exsanguinated.

Ashriel joined me. Patrick had probably gone to brood in a corner somewhere.

“Someone freak out and nom a patron?” I asked. The simplest solution and all that.

“No.”

“You’re that certain?”

“You met Julian. She doesn’t react well to being crossed.”

Do any of us? But he had a point.

I crouched down and carefully turned the head so I could take a look at the neck wounds. Normally I’d have been more careful about contaminating the crime scene, but nobody calls me in for a mundane kill. The skin here was a mass of mottled bruising and burst blood vessels, which didn’t look like a vampire bite. Then again, I’ve known vampires to tear a victim’s throat out to cover up the marks. Classy, right?

I leaned in to get a better look at the body, my senses sharpening. It was a reflex, as thoughtless as blinking, and another unwanted inheritance. My mother’s power is the strength of wild things, the hunter’s hunger, the taste of blood and fear. Some of it is inherent in what I am, and the rest of it I keep locked up tight in a box marked No Fucking Way. Faery magic is ancient and abstract. It’s about being and becoming. And, frankly, the idea of turning into my mother would be frightening enough if it wasn’t a literal possibility.

With my new unwanted super-smell, the mingled scents of blood, death, cigarette butts, vomit, back-alley action, and—oh joy of joys—a nearby sewer grate washed over me in a fetid, chaotic tide before I managed to block it out again. You’d think super-senses would be useful for a PI, but I’d learned pretty quickly that the world got ugly if you stared at it too hard. And you can’t concentrate when everything stinks.

Up close, I could see that the marks on the neck were concentric rings of tears and scratches, each with a deep puncture wound in the middle. Not a clean sort of puncture, either. The skin was puckered up like when you stick your tongue into an orange. If I hadn’t been dragged so mysteriously out of my office, I’d have brought my camera, but as it was, I had to make do with my phone. I snapped a few pictures and made sure not to socially network them. Not that I was in many social networks—not after Eve—but I didn’t want to accidentally invite my family to Like my Gruesomely Deceased album.

What I’d initially thought were defensive wounds on his hands and arms turned out to be the same as the marks on the neck. I took out a nail file and scraped under his fingernails, transferring the grey-brown gack I found there into one of my handy ziplock drug bags.

I was rapidly coming to the conclusion that whatever had killed this guy was icky.

Possibly even squamous.

That was it for the body. I went through his pockets and assembled the usual jigsaw of personal effects. There wasn’t much: a bank card, a money clip holding two crisp twenties, a single Yale key, a condom (Kimono MicroThin Ultra lubricated), a small quantity of recreational drugs, and an iPhone. He probably couldn’t have carried any more without ruining the line of his jeans.

I flipped over the bank card—the familiar green of Coutts of London, in the name of Mr. Andrew J. H. Vane-Tempest.

Well, fuck.

That was a corpse of a different colour.

The Vane-Tempests were the biggest werewolf family in the Southeast. And they probably wouldn’t be too thrilled about one of their own turning up dead on a vampire’s doorstep. This was worse than murder. It was politics.

And it meant I was going to have to voluntarily talk to Patrick.

I called his name, and he stepped out of the shadows. The alley was gloomy, but it didn’t take much to make Patrick’s skin shine like a pearlescent light bulb. I knew his oh-so-sexy roofie bite was a mark of his bloodline, but the stupid glittering was all his own.

“Bad news.” I stood up. “You’ve got yourself a dead woofle.”

“That is unfortunate.” His eyes flicked to the corpse. He didn’t exactly sneer, but he added dismissively, “A mere cousin.”

Lycanthropy is sex-linked, like haemophilia, so unless he had an extra X chromosome, Andrew Vane-Tempest could only have been a partial shifter, able to sprout a few fangs or claws or maybe even do the full wolf-man deal, but not transform completely. Though, since there wasn’t much sign of a struggle, he probably wasn’t even that.

“I don’t think that’s going to be much consolation to his family.”

Werewolves protected their own. Vampires protected their own. Mages protected their own. Faeries were just bat-shit crazy and dumped their kids on people’s doorsteps. It was a funny old world.

Cousins were technically the lowest rank of the werewolf hierarchy, but if you asked me, it was probably the best deal going. No responsibilities whatsoever, but a lifelong allowance. If it wasn’t for werewolf cousins, there’d be far fewer fashion interns, It boys, graphic novelists, bespoke shoe boutiques, and sushi-haggis fusion restaurants in the world. And what a loss that would be. Or perhaps I was just jealous.

“I will take care of this.” Patrick paused. “If,” he added with what was clearly a tremendous effort, “you are done.”

Sometimes he tried. It would have been endearing if he wasn’t such an arse.

“I’m done.”

“Katharine . . .” He stared at me.

“Oh, not now.”

“Katharine, this could be dangerous, especially for a mortal. You should not be involved.”

I sighed. Here we were again. “Not your problem.”

“I love you. That makes it my problem.”

“Always the romantic.”

“I will not allow you to do this.”

We’d had this argument. We’d been having it for ten years. And breaking up with him made no damn difference. At this stage, it was either punch him or ignore him. Punching him would be more satisfying, but ignoring him would be more effective. Decisions, decisions.

I turned to go back into the Velvet. I was so Zen.

“And you should stay away from Julian Saint-Germain,” he added. “She is dangerous.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“I mean it, Katharine. You cannot begin to imagine the acts she has committed or the secrets she holds.”

“Now you’re just trying to turn me on.”

“Katharine!” His hand closed round my upper arm.

I turned into his grip and pulled myself free. “Don’t touch me, Patrick. Don’t ever touch me.”

He looked deeply pained. Or faintly constipated. “You should listen to me. I warned you about that witch. And I warned you about Eve—”

I hit him.

My mother’s strength roared out of me, unintended and uncontrolled. Patrick’s head snapped back and he toppled over, landing in a pool of stale vomit. I heard his skull crack against the concrete.

I wondered how bad I should feel. But he was a vampire. He’d be fine.

Inside the Velvet, I unlocked Andrew’s iPhone and looked through the contents. I should probably have been grateful for social networking. Those Sam Spade days of creeping through someone’s apartment looking for clues were over. All you needed was their smartphone. And, wow, this was a man who liked his apps. Grindr, huh? I looked at his Facebook page and his Twitter feed and dug through his favourites. Party party party party. Real Made in Chelsea stuff.

A lot of his recent photos had been taken here. Just your usual drunken club shots of people getting hammered or getting off with each other. He had a whole collection of blurry arm’s-length self-portraits, grinning like an idiot, his head resting against the electric-purple wig of a truly fabulous drag queen. She looked oddly familiar, but I could count how many truly fabulous drag queens I knew on the fingers of no hands.

Huh.

I swiped through the photographs, trying to make the connection click into place.

And then I recognised her. She was only on the walls of the damn club. I must have been getting rusty. Miss Parma Violet, compere of the Velvet’s Friday burlesque club, Cabaret Baudelaire, and Saturday’s rather more direct Dragaganza. I made a mental note to follow up that lead later, then looked through Andrew’s recent calls. He’d made eight on the night he’d been killed, between two and four, to someone called Kauri.

Time for an awkward telephone call.

I pulled out my own phone and dialled the number. It’s received wisdom that you do this sort of thing from the victim’s phone because you might get A Clue from the way the person reacts, but since I’ve never yet had anyone answer with, “Hey, didn’t I just murder you in the billiard room with the candlestick?” it just seemed an unnecessarily shitty thing to do to someone who might genuinely care for the victim.

I’m cynical, not a complete dick.

It took a while for someone to pick up, but eventually a sleepy voice said, “Uh-huh?”

“My name’s Kate Kane, I’m a private investigator. Are you acquainted with a Mr. Andrew Vane-Tempest?”

There was a moment of silence. This was probably going to be complicated. As far as either of us knew, the other could have been any sort of psychopath, an assassin, an inland revue inspector, anyone.

And then, less sleepily, with a trace of a New Zealand accent: “What’s this about?”

“What’s your relationship to Mr. Vane-Tempest?”

Another measuring silence. At this stage, it had come down to a game of arsehole chicken over who was going to hold out longest. Kauri lost.

“He’s my boyfriend. Now what’s this about?”

Oh dear. I was sorry for his loss, but most people are murdered by their nearest and dearest.

“I’m afraid I have some bad news. Would you like to meet, or would you rather talk over the phone?”

“I’ll be there. Where should I come to?”

“I’m at the Velvet on Brewer Street. Have you been there?”

He gave a huff of laughter. “You could say that.” And hung up.

Huh.

I looked again at the posters on the wall. You didn’t keep that many photos of someone on your phone unless you really liked them. Or you really liked stalking them. As far as I knew, I was still Patrick’s wallpaper.

Ashriel was waiting by the bar. “What’s the deal with this dame?” I asked, jerking my thumb at Miss Parma Violet.

“Professionally, personally, or supernaturally?” His voice rolled over me again, warm and sweet as an Irish coffee, without too much of the coffee.

“Supernaturally?” This could be bad, very bad.

“When she isn’t working, his name’s Kauri. He’s one of Julian’s descendants. His philetor is Jasper Glyde, who is Julian’s third parastatheis.”

My eyes glazed over. Vampire family trees were practically fractal, and I always got the terminology muddled up. It didn’t help that no two bloodlines seemed to have the same name for anything. “Wait, rewind. Kauri’s a vampire?”

“A fairly young one. I think he’s dating one of the Vane-Tempests.”

Was dating.”

Ashriel’s brow twitched upwards.

You’d think vampires and werewolves would hate each other, but, assuming nobody gets murdered on anyone else’s doorstep, they’re actually on fairly cordial terms. That said, werewolves think they have this sacred mandate to police the other supernatural races, which meant that even if Andrew didn’t have enemies, his family probably did.

“Anyone here have a problem with the Vane-Tempests?”

“Not as far as I know.” He shrugged. “And besides, why would anyone waste hate on werewolves when there are so many mages running around summoning things that shouldn’t be summoned?”

“There’s genuinely nobody who would object to one of Julian’s, uh, grandkids getting it on with a woof?”

“Not that I would know about. I try to keep away from other people’s sex lives.”

“What about Kauri, then?”

“His too.”

“Ha-ha. No, I meant what sort of person is he?”

“Oh, you mean did he randomly murder his boyfriend in a fit of crazy vampire bloodlust?” Ashriel looked thoughtful. “In my estimation, no. Julian’s very careful about who she turns and who she lets people turn. And if something had gone wrong, he’d probably have come to us directly.”

And who in their right mind would kill their lover on their boss’s turf and then leave the body right outside?

At that moment, someone came running in. He was wearing black jeans and a black vest and the traces of last night’s makeup. Even without the glitter and glamour, he was striking, hard muscles standing out on his bare arms. Cultivated stubble framed the red smear of his lips, and there were dark smudges beneath his gold- and blue-painted eyes. This was probably Kauri.

He glanced between Ashriel and me. “What’s happened to Andy?”

“Take a seat.” I hated this part.

“People only ever tell you to sit down when it’s really fucking bad.” But he slipped onto a barstool.

“It’s Mr. Vane-Tempest.” I tried to pause in a sensitive sort of way. “I’m afraid he was killed last night.”

Kauri’s eyelashes swept across his eyes, but his expression didn’t change. I wasn’t really telling him anything he hadn’t already guessed.

“Was killed?” he repeated softly.

“That’s what I’m investigating. We think you were the last person he spoke to before he died.”

“Yeah . . .” Kauri looked bleak. “I was telling him to fuck right off.” I gave him a moment or two, and he went on. “We’d had this fight. One of his jealous freak-outs. And, hello, he hasn’t even deleted Grindr. Oh fuck, he’s dead.”

I gave him another moment or two. But this time he was silent, looking down at his painted nails.

“Any idea what he might have been doing in the alley?” I asked.

“He waits for me after the show. But I left him hanging for being a dickhead.”

He probably felt fifty shades of shit. I wanted to say something comforting, but I’m crap at that. “Did he have any enemies?”

“No way. He was a complete fluff-bucket.”

“Do you have any enemies?”

He pulled back his drooping shoulders and indicated himself with a sweep of his finger. “Who’d have a problem with this?”

Unexpectedly, I remembered Julian grinning at me. I’m a motherfucking vampire prince. I guess it ran in the family.

“Good point, well made.” That won a wan smile from him. Vampires tend to be pretty proud of their enemies, so I didn’t have any particular reason to disbelieve him. I guess not everybody shared my talent for pissing people off.

Everything about this murder said opportunistic. Unless the killer knew that Andrew would have a fight with his boyfriend, and that this would make him wait in an alley until four in the morning. I wasn’t ruling anything out, but that’s a lot of fuss for somebody completely unimportant. As much as I hated to admit it, Julian was right. It probably was all about her.

“What’s going to happen to him?” Kauri asked.

Ashriel answered for me. “The body will be returned to the family. What happens next is up to them.”

When I was a teenager, I’d hung out with this posh girl called Heather from the private school up the road. A little while after Patrick had shown up, I’d found out she was a werewolf. And a little while after that, I’d found out she had a crush on me, which I hadn’t really known how to handle. When her granddad had died, she’d had to go on some kind of sacred hunt thing to protect the body, but I was vague on the details. I didn’t think saying to Kauri, “Well, actually, I think something nasty might come out of the woods and eat him,” would help with his grieving process.

I’d learned just about everything I could here. Andrew had no enemies of his own and a boyfriend who didn’t look good for it, which meant it was either vampire stuff or werewolf stuff. Time to talk to Julian and let her know the score. My body remembered her in a flare of heat that travelled all across my skin.

Plan B.

“Ashriel,” I said, “tell Julian what’s going on. I’m going to speak to the werewolves.”

from Butterfly-o-Meter Books

[H]ighly entertaining. [A] fantastic start to a series.

from Leeanna.me

This is an f/f paranormal book, possibly the f/f paranormal book I’ve been craving.

from Smart Girls Love Sci Fi

IRON & VELVET stands as one of the best books I've read this year.

from Lily Element

This debut series has magic.

from Live Your Life, Buy the Book

[B]rilliantly written.

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