Only Human : chap 2

" she announced. "What have you brought me?"

Lily handed her the prettily wrapped box. She opened it with hands that showed her age more than her face did, though the nails were long and painted screaming red. "Ah!" Her smile was as delighted as a child's. "A graceful piece, and the jade is good quality. It will go in my collection." She handed the little statue of a cat to a middle-aged woman who sat beside her, addressing her in Chinese, then turned back to Lily. "I am pleased. You may introduce your escort now."

Lily rose and moved to one side. "Zhu Mu, this is Rule Turner, prince of the Nokolai. Rule, I am honored to present to you my grandmother, Madame Bai He Tsang."

Rule knew an audience when he was granted one. He stepped forward, clamping down on the anger. "Madame Tsang, I am honored."

Keen black eyes took a head-to-toe journey over him. "So you're the lupus my granddaughter chose to bring to my party. You're terribly pretty."

"Thank you."

"It wasn't a compliment."

"I know," he said gently, as one might to a child who flaunted her poor manners.

Unexpectedly she chuckled, and he glimpsed Lily in the amusement in her eyes. "You have style, I'll give you that. Much more durable than mere prettiness. More entertaining, too. That doesn't mean I approve of my granddaughter allying herself with you."

"Respectfully, Zhu Mu," Lily said, "one date is a very temporary alliance. And entirely my own choice."

"I wasn't speaking to you." The old woman glanced back at Rule. "I don't like the way you treat your women."

"You know nothing about how I treat my women." He couldn't smell a damned thing. Anger curled in him, stretching, trying to reach past his control.

"You are lupus. This means you treat them in the plural, I

know that much. You wish to keep them ... what is the saying? Barefoot and pregnant." Her thin lips curved in a feline smile. "I hope the smoke from the incense isn't bothering you. Some people don't care for the scent."

"I can't say I notice the smell." Not anymore.

Lily glanced from the brazier to her grandmother. Her eyebrows lifted as if she'd figured out what was happening.

"Ah, do you not? I find it a trifle strong. Hong," Tiger Lady said, turning her head toward the fiftyish man to her left. "Take the brazier away. I am tired of it." Then, without another word to Rule, she began conversing with the woman on her right in Chinese.

He was dismissed. Rule wondered if he was supposed to salute or retreat backward so as not to turn his back on Her Highness. He ought to be amused, but felt more like snarling than laughing.

Lily spoke quietly. “The incense had some effect on you, didn't it?"

"Nothing permanent." He sounded more grim than he wanted to. "I won't smell anything for a few hours."

"I am sorry. Grandmother... well, she is a law unto herself. I suppose losing your sense of smell is as disturbing as it would be if I were suddenly deafened or blinded."

"It doesn't truly incapacitate me." It just made him feel vulnerable. Bereft. And angry with himself for not having obeyed his instinct to retreat to the beach. "And it is only temporary."

"Can you stand meeting one more of my relatives? My father's here. He's much nicer than Grandmother, I promise."

Of course he had to meet her father. Walter Yu turned out to be a pleasant man not much taller than his daughter, with clever eyes, a wispy mustache, and gold-framed glasses. He was a stockbroker, and soon engaged Rule in talk of the market, which had yet to recover from its recent tumble. Rule had no trouble responding appropriately, but a good portion of his attention was elsewhere.

Why hadn't Lily warned him that her esteemed grandmother was a witch?

That was an assumption, of course, but the old woman had power. That much was certain. And the use of frankincense to baffle a were's senses was common lore in several branches

of magic, as he knew from a delightful association a few years back with a green witch. Obviously Lily's grandmother had been afraid a lupus would be able to sniff out which brand of magic she practiced, which raised some interesting questions. Many spells and some branches of magic were illegal.

Did that explain the attitude of Lily's family about her being a police detective? It might be another reason Lily had chosen homicide—so she wouldn't risk being faced with investigating the old woman someday.

But dammit, she needn't have tricked his sense of smell away from him. Rule couldn't have sniffed out what type of magic the old woman practiced. That was a myth. Unless she were actually casting a spell, all he would be able to sense was her power, and he didn't need his nose for that.

Very few people realized that, though, he admitted grudgingly. It suited his people to keep their secrets.

No doubt it was unreasonable to complain if others preferred to keep secrets, too. And in truth, although the Gifted hadn't been persecuted as severely as his people, the old woman would have grown up hearing tales of burnings, brandings, purges. To be Gifted remained a stigma.

But it was difficult to be reasonable when he couldn't smell.

The buffet was lavish, but the plate he filled held no appeal. He pushed a bite of swordfish around on his plate and pretended to listen to Walter Yu discussing the euro.

Lily leaned closer and said quietly, "So, how long are you going to pout?"

"Pout?" Rule lifted his brows slightly. "If I'm not eating, it's because food lacks flavor when I can't smell it." Even humans knew that to be true.

A smile tugged at her lips. "Not eating, not. speaking— sounds like pouting to me. Or a snit. You did say the effects were temporary?"

His sense of humor nudged at him. "Nonsense. Princes don't pout. We may sulk occasionally, but we don't pout."

"I see." She nodded gravely. "I suppose the difference between sulking and pouting is obvious to a prince."

"It's obvious to a man. All men sulk on certain occasions." He leaned closer. "You see, if I were to kiss the place where your neck curves into your shoulder, I wouldn't be able to

smell your skin. I've been thinking about that. Also the backs of your knees, and other places you would probably prefer I didn't mention. When I take you home tonight and kiss you, I want to be able to inhale your fragrance while I'm tasting you. It makes me quite sulky that I won't be able to."

He saw the small shiver that left goose bumps in its wake, but she lowered her eyes, hiding from him. "Does this mean it would be safe to take that walk on the beach you mentioned earlier?"

"Of course not. I'm sulking, not stupid. I have other senses."

Her husky laugh might as well have been teasing fingers. "Trust me, you weren't going to make it to the backs of my knees tonight."

"But the kiss .. . ?"

"You did say you had other senses."

Hunger rose, strong enough to choke out the moon's song. Yet her words relaxed him, too. Or maybe it was the look in her eyes, honest as the kiss she admitted she wanted. “Tell me. Will your grandmother feel compelled to burn frankincense every time I see her?"

"I never try to predict Grandmother. Do you expect to see her again?"

"Oh, yes." He reached for her hand and closed his fingers around it. “That is, unfortunately, inevitable. You are very close to your family."

 

LONG BEFORE DESSERT, Lily accepted that she'd lost her mind. She was going to have an affair with Rule. The decision hummed in her blood and made her thoughts hop around like popcorn in a hot skillet.

This risk was huge. Lupi had a closed, wholly masculine society, for heaven's sake. They were more chauvinistic than her father. They didn't even believe in monogamy. Well, she would make it clear to Rule that while they were involved, he would have to bow to her beliefs on this one issue. No other women. For however long it lasted. Oh, God. She rubbed her stomach, where nerves were jumping. No matter how sensible she tried to be, she wouldn't walk away from this unscorched.

And she didn't care. Not really.

Rule would be honest with her, she thought as she spoke

with her aunt Caroline, who was a grandmother twice over now and smug about it. He would tell her if he couldn't promise even a temporary fidelity.

It wasn't as if she were going into this blind, she assured herself as her cousin Lynn complained about the man she'd been dating, her mother, and her job. Her father had taken Rule to meet someone—Larry Hong, she thought. The only one of her cousins with a career even less respectable than her own. He was a mostly unemployed actor.

Lots of women had affairs with men they didn't intend to marry. Lots of women had affairs with Rule Turner, to be specific. She was making too big a deal of this.

Then she saw Rule making his way to her and her throat went slick with need. The lights were suddenly brighter, the edges crisper, and the colors brighter. She wanted to skip or sing. Or maybe hide in a closet.

No, she wasn't making too big a deal out of this. It was big—huge, scary big.

"Would you mind if we left now?" he said when he joined her. "I've an early appointment in the morning:"

"No," she said through a too-tight throat. "I wouldn't mind."

They took their leave of Grandmother, who was still out on the

terrace. The old woman was thoroughly enjoying her party and pleased with herself over something—maybe the way she'd tricked Rule. It was hard to say with Grandmother. Lily intended to have a talk with her soon.

"Is she really eighty?" Rule asked as they waited in the small vestibule for his car to be brought around.

"As far as I know. With Grandmother, very little is certain. I really am sorry about what she did. Have the effects worn off at all?"

"Not yet. What she did wasn't necessary, but I understand why she did it."

She doubted that. "I really need to talk to her. You may have guessed that some of the information I have about lupi came from her. Obviously she didn't tell me everything she knew. She didn't mention frankincense."

The valet returned and handed Rule his keys in exchange for a few bills. "Frankincense does affect lupi," he said, open-

ing the heavy door. "But I couldn't have sniffed out what type of magic she uses."

"You said something about that before—that magic doesn't have a smell, except when it's active. Is that true for innate magic, too?"

"What do you mean?" He held the door for her.

 “Well, the sort of thing you do isn't a spell. It's innate. Does—"

Flashes—blinding, leaving purple ghosts swimming in her vision. A swarming, shoving crowd of people. Questions shouted. A microphone jammed near her face.

"How long have you been dating?"

"Does Shannon Snow know about your new—"

"Prince, what do you think about the killings?"

"—lupi really superior lovers?"

"When the chief told you to work with the werewolf prince, did he know you two were—"

"Detective Yu, how do you explain your relationship with a suspect?"

Rule recovered faster than she did. He slid an arm around her waist and started forward, smiling easily. "You've taken us by surprise, I'm afraid. I don't have a statement at this time."

Maybe it was the way Rule moved, the assurance that others would remove themselves from his path. Or maybe even reporters were wary of crowding a lupus too closely. For whatever reason, he was able to clear a path, though the reporters still swarmed close, questions popping like sniper fire.

"No comment," Lily said. And, "Mr. Turner isn't a suspect." Then, finally, they were in Rule's car, the doors closed on the avid faces, the engine started.

"I hope this was the last little surprise your grandmother had planned for me tonight," Rule said grimly as he pulled away from the restaurant.

"Grandmother? Oh, no." Lily's fingers clutched her purse tightly. She wanted to hit something. "She's going to be furious."

"I sure as hell didn't tip the reporters."

Lily didn't say anything for a long time, turning over the facts, trying to make them fit some way other than the obvious. The valet must have been bribed to let the reporters know

when Rule's car was brought up. She hoped they'd been generous—the young man would be out of work by morning. But that didn't explain how the reporters knew he was there, with her. Finally, reluctantly, she spoke. "One of them knew the chief had told me to work with you. My family doesn't know that. Yours?"

"Aside from my father, no. And there is no possibility that he phoned the press about my relationship with you."

She sighed and pulled her cell phone out of her evening bag. "Then I'd better make some calls, because someone well up the food chain at the department did."

 

Chapter 8

BEING AMBUSHED BY reporters had blown Lily's mood and her confidence. She'd been ready to turn Rule down when he walked her to her door, but he'd forestalled her, damn him. He hadn't even tried to kiss her, leaving her with a mouthful of arguments and no one to use them on but herself.

She'd done that, all right, tossing and turning until nearly three in the morning. Finally she'd snarled, flung back the covers, and grabbed her running shoes, a pair of shorts, and Worf's leash.

Pounding the pavement had pounded a little sense into her head. The best she could hope for with Rule was a hot affair that didn't leave her too singed when it ended. Having a fling with him could do real damage to her career now that the newshounds were watching. It might even rebound on the department. Some reporters equated investigative journalism with slinging mud at the police.

The plain, cold truth was that the price of an affair was too high.

Either reaching a decision or exhaustion had done the trick, and she'd dozed off at last. When she blinked her eyes open again, the clock read nine-thirteen.

It was Saturday. All over the city, people were mowing lawns, packing the kids to the beach, hitting garage sales, or sleeping in. Lily considered anything pastnine o'clocksleeping in, so she'd observed one of the weekend traditions. She intended to be at headquarters byten o'clock.

Her first clue about what kind of day it would be came atnine thirty-fivewhen she raced, dripping, from out of the shower to snatch the ringing phone. Her mother told her to look at the morning paper, then hung up.

It could have been worse, Lily thought when she saw the headline. Her mother might have stayed on the phone.

The article itself couldn't have been much worse. The reporter didn't quite accuse Lily of covering up for a killer because she was sleeping with the Nokolai prince. She just made a lot of insinuations. She also hinted at graft in the police department and possibly the mayor's office.

Then Lily saw the article below the fold. A man had been badly beaten near the scene of the second murder. In front of witnesses. Turned out he was especially hairy, and someone thought he was a lupus.

The second page had a story about the infamous lupus rampage back in '98, heavily salted with some of the more sensational lore about werewolves. Lily shoved her chair back and stood. "Dammit, don't they see what they're doing? People are scared enough without this crap."

She paced, trying to think of anything she could do that she hadn't done. Three people dead at the hands—or teeth— of this killer. One man in the hospital because the killer was still loose. And what did she have? A list of lupi registered in the city five years ago. Two witnesses who'd seen a man near the scene of one murder. And a date she couldn't repeat.

Lily scowled. It was a good thing she hadn't gone to bed with Rule. If she had, the hotheads slamming her and the department would have live ammo. Right now they were firing blanks.

She grabbed her keys and tried to be relieved about that, but the phone rang before she reached the door. She almost didn't pick it up, thinking it might be a reporter. But the caller ID told her it was her downstairs neighbor. Mrs. Hodgkin took Worf out most days around lunch so he could relieve his bladder, and sometimes at supper, too, if Lily was working late.

Mrs. Hodgkin claimed that her arthritis was acting up and she wouldn't be able to manage the stairs anymore to take Worf out.

Since the older woman tied herself into yoga pretzels regularly, Lily doubted that inflamed joints were the problem. No doubt Mrs. Hodgkin read the paper, too.

Why were people so quick to judge? They knew nothing about Rule except that he was a lupus. And they believed the myths—that lupi were indiscriminate killers. Or crazy. Or both.

The myths were based on fact, she reminded herself as she slammed out of her apartment. Some lupi did kill. Not as often as the more sensational press liked to claim, but the rampage the paper had dragged up had happened. For reasons ho one had ever known, a lupus inConnecticuthad gone berserk. Sixteen people dead, thirteen injured. And Rule himself had said that adolescent lupi couldn't control the beast.

Lily scowled and clicked the "unlock" a dozen feet from her Nissan.

"Ms. Yu?"

Lily turned. A pretty young teenager with a spiky haircut was running across the parking lot toward her. Lily identified her automatically: Cili Yosamoff,apartment614A. Two younger sisters, and a father who worked nights. She had a fondness for black—clothes, lipstick, and eye makeup.

Cili stopped in front of her, breathless and smiling. "I wondered—would you mind—I mean—oh, here!" She thrust out a pen and pad of paper. "Could I have your autograph?"

Lily blinked. "My what?"

"And maybe you could ask the prince for his, too? I mean, he's so rad, isn't he? I was just maxed out when I read that you're, like, dating him!"

"Oh. Sure." Why not? Lily thought, taking the pen and scrawling her name across the paper. Maybe the girl would decide that cops were cool, too, if one of them could date a rad guy like Rule. "I'll ask the prince to sign something for you next time I see him," she said, handing back the pad.

"Jenny is just going to die when I show her the prince's autograph." Her friend's imminent demise gave her great satisfaction. "Is it true that lupi, like, don't do drugs or alcohol or anything?"

Lily had no idea. "Absolutely," she assured the girl gravely. "They have too much respect for their bodies, in whatever form." Her name might be dirt with some people—like her mother, her downstairs neighbor, any number of reporters and fellow citizens. But it looked like she could count on support from the fifteen-and-under set. "Would you be interested in earning a little running-around money?"

"Well... yeah. Probably." Heavily mascaraed eyes blinked at her dubiously. "I guess it would depend on, you know, what you want me to do."

"I need someone to walk my dog."

 

AT HEADQUARTERS LILY noticed a distinct chill in the air. A sergeant who usually greeted her looked away. A patrol cop made a crack to his partner about people who would do anything for their five minutes of fame. And it was quiet— much too quiet—when she walked into the Homicide bullpen. Only three officers were there, and all were terribly busy. Too busy to look up, much less greet her.

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