Naberius eyed the dark windows of the apartment across the street as he stood in the shadows of the trees. The evening breeze brought a sweet scent to his nose, reminding him of a fruit blossom from the Daimon Realm. A flicker disrupted his appearance, a ripple across his human form. He breathed deep and stabilized. Looking around, he saw movement on the other side of the building.
On the second-floor breezeway, a small figure crouched by a window, trying to slide it open. Dammit, he did not want to deal with some teenager breaking into Bobby’s apartment.
He checked to make sure no one was around and sprinted up the stairs. Clamping his hand over the thief’s mouth, he yanked him away from the window in one swift move. Naberius tightened his arms hard around the kid, but the thief thrashed with muted grunts and the smell of flowers filled his nose. The kid’s face was hidden by a baseball cap.
“You breaking into my friend’s apartment? I think you need to leave now,” Naberius said roughly.
The kid froze in his arms. He could feel the fast inhales of the thief as he held him tightly. Naberius tasted the energy of his captive. Fear and…something else.
Shit. A feminine energy. Surprised, he relaxed his grip. The kid took advantage and spun in the opposite direction, slipping out of his arms.
“Help!” the thief screamed, whipping her head back and forth as she searched for an escape route.
It was a girl, all huge eyes and shaking fear. No, a woman. A pale heart-shaped face under the hat. Why did she scream for help? She was the criminal breaking into Bobby’s place.
Standing up straight to his full height, he scowled at her to freeze her into silence. She glared at him while she pulled something out of her pocket. A Taser.
“Step away from me.” Her hand clutching the device shook as she scrambled back from him.
“No. Do not Tase me,” he ordered authoritatively.
He held his hands to show her that he meant no harm, but not in surrender—he just hated Tasers. He’d rather meet a raging Berserker in battle. The pain of a Taser was inconsequential, like a mosquito bite, but it messed up his energy, draining him and leaving him exhausted. He had Tased himself once to investigate the effects and regretted it instantly, then even more so after puking his guts out.
“This is my friend’s apartment and no one’s home,” he said gently as one does to small angry women who wave Tasers. He thought he might know her or perhaps he had met her somewhere. There was something familiar about her face.
“Of course he’s not home,” she huffed and frowned at him. “Why would I be going through the window if he were home? I’m his sister.”
The Mad General of the Daimon Armies was being scolded. Wait, sister?
“Bobby’s sister?” he demanded. Bobby had talked about a sister—he remembered something about her being older and having an important job. He had tuned out when Bobby talked about family, perhaps from envy.
“Yes, I’m his sister. Who are you? Why’d you grab me?” she asked suspiciously—as if he did something wrong, like trying to climb in a window of a locked apartment. “Are you some neighborhood watch group person? Stay back.” She waved the Taser at him with an outstretched arm when he stepped closer to her.
“I thought his sister was older,” he grumbled. Why was he arguing with her?
“I am older.” She tilted her head, examining him closely. “Wait a sec. You’re Naberius Vasteras.” She tucked the Taser back into her jacket pocket. “But I’m only older by four years. Twenty-six is not that old.”
“How do you know who I am?” Naberius asked.
She pulled off her baseball cap and her curly, dark hair tumbled down. Her face was dominated by large brown eyes, strong eyebrows, and an aquiline nose. No wonder she looked familiar. She was a female version of Bobby.
“I recognized you from Bobby’s description the moment you said you were a friend, but you scared me,” she said, giving quick little nods as if encouraging herself. “But I know all about you, Naberius Vasteras.” She stumbled a little on pronouncing his last name.
“Vast-er-ass. It’s a Danish name.”
“Yes, yes. I know. I’m Jessalyn Weiss, but you can call me Jess if you like,” she said politely, as she stretched out her arm. She stood as far away as possible to still be able to shake hands.
“Jessalyn. I like your name,” he said. Pulling off his half-gloves, he shook her warm, little hand. Her energy tickled him like a feather, and the scent of fruit blossoms wafted up, smelling exactly like home.
She narrowed her eyes at him and pursed her lips. “Why are you randomly tackling people?”
Frowning, he waved his hand. “I simply mistook you for a thief on account of you trying to climb in the window. Let’s start again. Hello, I’m Naberius Vasteras. Can I help you get into your brother’s apartment?”
“Hey, do you know where Bobby is? His phone goes right to voicemail and he isn’t responding to texts. He never showed up at the airport to pick me up, so I took a taxi here.”
The idea of her waiting at an airport terminal made him clench his fists. Damn Bobby. He should have told someone his sister was coming.
“Your brother works at a bar owned by our mutual friend, Gusion. I’m a silent owner in the place, so I’m sort of his boss,” he explained. “When he didn’t show up at work, I came to see if he was sick or something. He isn’t answering his phone for me either.”
“Really? Now I’m worried.” Rubbing her arms, she shivered. “I thought we miscommunicated on my arrival time, or he spaced out surfing.”
Reaching into the pocket of his leather jacket, he handed her a set of keys. “Here, these are Bobby’s. He keeps them at the bar as backup, and Gusion gave them to me so I could check on him. Let me knock to make sure no one’s home.”
“I already did that.”
He ignored her and knocked loudly on the apartment door. Perhaps Bobby was with a woman. His sister walking in on Bobby in bed with a woman would be a disaster. Putting his ear to the door, he heard the hum of the refrigerator and nothing else. He didn’t smell anyone currently in the apartment. “No one home.”
Warily, she kept some distance between them while she edged around him. Inserting the key, she fumbled with the lock. She pushed the door open. “It isn’t locked correctly—Shit!” she exclaimed as she stepped back into him.
Grabbing her before she tripped on his feet, he steadied her by holding onto to her shoulders. He looked over her head and into a trashed apartment. A couch was ripped open, the cushions tossed around, the coffee table flipped over. Pictures, papers, and books were flung wildly across the floor, and glass shards glinted in the beige carpet.
He gently pushed her away from him and felt a ripple move across his body as his skin briefly glowed, the shimmering start of a transformation from human to Daimon. Sighing, he shook off the urge to shift and stayed in his human form. Luckily, she stood facing the apartment with her mouth open in shock.
“Stand back. Someone might still be in there.” He leaned into the doorway, breathing deeply to scent the air. He picked up men, acrid sweat, and cigarette smoke, but only faint reminders. Nothing recent. He needed to sweep the place to make sure it was clear.
She stood there, frozen, so he tugged her gently back out of the doorway. “Stay here. Let me check it out first,” he commanded.
She leaned around him to take a peek at the room. “Do you have a gun? Do you want my Taser? No, wait. Let me come with you.” Pulling the device out of her pocket, she gripped it hard.
Cute. All that nervous determination. Except she was going Tase him accidentally if she wasn’t careful. “Put that away and don’t point it at me. I’ll be fine.”
Stepping around the cushions and broken glass, he shoved the debris aside with his boot and moved swiftly to the half-closed bedroom door. Taking out his knife from a holder strapped under his jacket, he held the blade balanced in his fingers and pushed the door open with the handle. The bed blankets and sheets were ripped off, the pillows tossed on the floor and the louvered shades hung askew. He moved them aside and found the broken lock on the window where someone had entered the apartment.
He inhaled deeply and picked up a sharp scent of the people who had been here. Two men. One of the men wore a cheap and popular men’s deodorant, and the other man smelled like cigarettes. Checking the bathroom for a final all-clear, he slipped quietly back into the living room.
The back of his neck prickled as Jessalyn watched him intently from the hall. He flipped his knife in his hand and tucked it away in his leather jacket. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her sniff the air, then frown.
“You can come in, Jessalyn. They broke the lock on the bedroom window to enter, but they’re gone. It’s safe.”
She stepped carefully over fragments of ceramic and shards of glass. Broken beer bottles were everywhere, as if someone had stood in the kitchen and thrown them against the wall. Her shoes made little crunching sounds as she walked across the living room.
Standing by the fallen TV, she squinted at the room. “Weird. It’s like they randomly broke stuff but didn’t take anything. As if they were angry at him, like this was revenge.” She tilted her head, frowning at the smashed and splintered acoustic guitar with a broken neck still attached by strings. It lay on the floor at her feet with brightly colored guitar picks scattered among the debris.
She was observant. “Someone was angry at him but he was not here,” he agreed with her.
Her curls swung around her shoulders as she turned sharply to either side while she examined the room. “So, they were here to hurt him, and when they didn’t find him, they took it out on his stuff. We need to call the police. Immediately.” Her voice cracked on the last word.
“Let’s wait outside till the police arrive.” Pulling out his phone, he tapped the number and talked to the dispatcher briefly. “Done.”
As they waited, she twirled her hair on her finger. He wanted to reassure her. “So, he wasn’t here. He’s somewhere else, and he’s safe.”
She was silent for several seconds, then she nodded. “That’s it. Now we need to find him or wait for him to call.” She hunched her shoulders and frowned.
Naberius put his hand on her arm without thinking. Her body was warm under his fingers, but when she shivered, he wanted to pull her close. Her wild curls brushed his forearm, and breathing in, he inhaled her scent and tasted her energy. Sweet and sparkling mixed with worry.
Daimons generally exchanged energy as a matter of politeness. Without thinking, he almost took a sip of her energy before he abruptly stopped. Between Daimons, it was a benign exchange but since humans didn’t understand Daimon traditions, he avoided it with people. It was the equivalent of grabbing someone’s hand to shake it when they appeared reluctant to shake hands. He was unbalanced by this woman.
Gently, he removed his hand from her and she sighed, her breath hot in the cool evening air.
He wanted Jessalyn safe. Bobby missing was bad enough. But to make matters worse, Naberius had sensed an unknown Daimon following him twice this week before slipping away. They were observing him, gathering information. Maybe an assassin? Or an Ice Daimon seeking revenge? Whoever they were, they would be back and he needed to tell his men. He texted Maelcom. His phone pinged immediately with Maelcom’s response that he was on his way.
“I texted my investigator. He will come and help the police, and ensure the apartment is closed up properly and the landlord informed.”
“Who’s this person exactly?” she asked with a little wrinkle between her eyebrows.
“He does due diligence and general investigations for my company.”
“An investigator?” she asked. “He can help the police?”
“Ja, he’s licensed. Maelcom is like…my hand?” He hated when he forgot the correct use of an idiom. Not being able to perfectly express himself was infuriating.
One corner of her mouth lifted in a small smile. “You mean your right-hand man. I know about Maelcom. Bobby sent me a picture of them surfing—but it was taken from a distance, and I could only see vague shapes of people on boards.”
“Yes, we all surf together.”
“He told me about you, too. Do you know Bobby’s other friends?” she asked.
“Not really. I met several surfers at the beach, though. But Bobby—he’s easygoing, and we like him.” Bobby never asked questions about his men’s background, and that relaxed attitude had sealed the friendship for him and his men.
She smiled softly. “Yeah. He’s great.”
His eyes snapped to her mouth and that smile. Her face changed like the sun had come out. She reminded him of a painting he had seen of the Norse goddess Freya. The glowing smile, it was the same.
The buzz of her energy was interesting; she was a little high-strung, with an intense energy. Normally, he avoided that type and their drain on his energy. He preferred relaxed, sexually adventurous women—or, at least, he used to. He didn’t know what he liked anymore. This funny woman quivered and trembled, and kept her distance while waving a Taser at him, but she lit up when she smiled, and he couldn’t stop staring.