"We need the bag of Denny's clothes so he can get her scent," Edward said from his chair.
I drew back from Nathaniel and looked into his now gray eyes. I lowered my psychic shields, not to let him in but to stop keeping him out. With my animals to call and the vampires I was tied to, I actually spent more energy keeping them at a distance. It was like trying to hold a heavy weight overhead all the time, and now I could finally put it down and just let myself go.
He was hungry, but it was more the fear of the humans, especially Dunley, not the lack of real food. Dunley did smell like food, but we wouldn't eat him. Promise.
I dragged myself far enough back to be just me again. That was the danger, to sink so far into the other that you lost yourself.
I got his collar and leash, which he'd laid on the edge of the tub. The heavy leather collar that had been made for his neck in this form had a silver metal plate on it that read Pussycat. Our ex-lover and dominant, Asher, had had it made as a gift for Nathaniel. If we were going to work more often with the police like this, I really needed to get a second collar made that just read Nathaniel. Pussycat lacked a certain manly police attitude as a nickname.
I smelled lion suddenly, like heat and fur. It made me look up to find Olaf standing closer to Milford. He should have towered over her, but he'd lowered his head enough to get closer to the top of her head, and her hair. Hair holds scent better than skin, and he was smelling her fear. She wasn't afraid of him, but it didn't matter; it still smelled good to him. It still smelled like an appetizer or an aphrodisiac, depending on which way you were feeling at the moment.
Milford turned toward him and said, "Excuse me, Marshal Jeffries, is there anything I can help you with?" Good for her; she was confronting him, letting him know she'd noticed the invasion of her personal space.
"Not right now," he said, and his voice was already deeper than normal. Either his inner lion was peeking out or the scent of her fear had excited him enough to flood his body with extra testosterone and deepen his voice.
"Then take a step back," she said, and her voice was solid, steady. She was smelling less like food every second. Good. But now that she'd turned toward Olaf, I could see the back of her head. I'd known her hair was brown, but I hadn't realized her short hair wasn't short; it was just pulled into a tight bun at the back of her head. She was only a few inches taller than me, with long dark hair. Fuck, she fit his victim profile. I guess, come to that, so did Detective Dalton. So had Bettina; so did a hell of a lot of women here.
Olaf smiled at her the way we'd smile at a kitten or puppy that was trying to be fierce, but he took the step back and stopped looming over her like the scary, pale giant.
Nicky and Nathaniel moved a little closer to him, but it looked like they were moving toward Milford. She moved to one side, away from Olaf and them. Nicky petted the gigantic panther at his side.
Dunley shook his head and finally dropped his hand away from actually touching his sidearm. He wiped his hand against the side of his pants as if his palm was sweaty. I wondered if he had what it took to go monster hunting. "You're still shorter than me, which makes you a bad meat shield to hide behind," he said, smiling.
Nicky smiled back. "I get bigger."
"That's what all the men say," Milford added.
Nicky smiled. "Trust me, Milford, I won't disappoint."
She blushed but said, "That's what all the men say, too."
"I guess they do," Nicky said, smile fading. "I'll just have to prove it to you."
"How?" she said and sounded wonderfully suspicious.
"By doing what I said I'd do. If the monsters attack, I'll step between them and you."
She narrowed her eyes at him, not believing him, and who could blame her? They'd just met. Most men who offer to risk their life for you on first meeting either mean it sincerely or are lying bastards.
"All the monsters," Nicky said and looked past her to Olaf. The two men stared at each other. I stepped up beside Nicky and took Nathaniel's leash from him, and also managed to break their staring contest. I appreciated Nicky being all gallant, but honestly the thought of them fighting for real scared me. I trusted Nicky to win against almost anyone, but Olaf wasn't just anyone.
"Let's go bring Denny home," I said, and led the way toward the door.
"You are so certain of that?" Olaf asked as I moved past him with Nathaniel padding at my side.
"No, but I wish I was."
"You have seen too much to be certain of anyone's safety," he said. He didn't look at Nicky, but he didn't really have to.
"I know that death comes to everyone," I said.
Edward came up beside us as if on cue. "What kind of Horseman of the Apocalypse would I be if I didn't?"
"So the nicknames are true?" Milford asked. "You're Death?"
"Yes, ma'am," he said, in a thick drawl.
"I'm War, and"--I pointed a thumb
at Olaf--"he's Plague."
"I texted Hunger. He'll meet us in the hallway outside Denny's room. They've got the bag with her scent items waiting for our search-and-rescue leopard to sniff," Edward said.
Nathaniel strained a little at his leash, and I didn't argue. It was time to go.
THE LAST TIME I'd used Nathaniel to track a missing person had been in the mountains of Colorado in damn near pristine wilderness. It's gorgeous here in the Keys, but a pristine wilderness it is not. Nathaniel tracked Denny to the parking lot and then stopped. I thought at first that she'd gotten into a car and he didn't know how to track that, but Nathaniel made a low, unhappy sound. It made me look at him more directly, and he stared at me very purposefully. I took off my sunglasses, blinking in the bright light until I could see him clearly. He looked like a regular leopard, not that I'd ever stared into the face of an ordinary leopard from this close, but if I hadn't known his head and body were larger than those of a normal leopard you'd see in a zoo, I wouldn't have known any different. The bright sunlight brought out the black on black of his spots so you could see that he wasn't pure black, like he appeared most of the time. His gray eyes looked paler with the sunglasses off; it was probably the contrast of the black fur around them, like gray ice in velvet, except this ice was looking back at me with a weight of . . . what? Intelligence, humanity, something that I never saw in any animal's eyes. Nathaniel looked like a leopard, but what stared out of this shape was still not completely an animal. The weight and feel of his personality were still in there looking back at me. One second I was staring into that personality trapped in the eyes of a leopard, and the next I was seeing things inside my head that damn near made me fall down. I'd shared thoughts, feelings, and sensory input with him in every form before this, but it was like I was inside his head, or he was inside mine. It was as if every scent he was smelling slapped me in the face, and the difference in our color vision made me almost dizzy. It was incredibly disorienting. The smells were the most confusing, because a human mind doesn't have enough brain to process it. I didn't realize how distracted I was until Edward caught my arm to keep me from falling over.