LANA ARNOLD SPUN the dial on her home safe and reached inside. She was heading out on a new job and needed a backup weapon and cash. Her next job would take her to Mexico, and cash was king down there. And the gun was simple common sense.
She had her usual Sig, and, of course, she was never without a few knives hidden about her person, but more firepower was always better. That same principle meant she should be taking one of her bounty hunter dad’s guys along for the ride, but this was her job, no one else’s. She was a bounty hunter, too, and the contract hadn’t come to her dad’s agency, but to her personally. Besides, this was the kind of job she hoped to do more of. It was a job for a private investigator, not a bounty hunter. Not that she didn’t enjoy working for her dad; she just didn’t see herself chasing criminals for the rest of her life. So when the request had come in from the attorneys representing Cynthia Leighton and Raphael, she’d jumped on it.
At first glance, it seemed to be a simple missing person’s case. But she suspected there was nothing simple about it. First of all, Raphael happened to be a vampire—a very powerful vampire if rumors were true—and he wanted a message delivered to some old guy named Xuan Ignacio, who’d been hiding in Mexico forever. Second was the money. The fee they were offering was significant and would put a nice bump in the fund she’d set up toward opening her own investigation firm someday. Apart from a desire not to be chasing skips at forty, she wanted to forge her own path, to be someone other than Sean Arnold’s daughter.
She also figured the job must be important to Raphael, and if she did well, maybe they’d send more business her way. Of course, it was entirely possible that the high fee was only intended to compensate for the danger she might be walking into. But Lana trusted that Leighton would have warned her about any specific threats up-front, so that probably wasn’t an issue.
Apart from the money, though, there was a twist to the case that pretty much eliminated the idea that this was a simple job. And that was the letter from Raphael to a vampire named Vincent Kuxim, asking him to assist Lana in locating this Xuan Ignacio. Lana had Googled Kuxim, hoping to find out why Raphael would want him involved, but she’d come up with nothing. All she knew was what Leighton’s attorneys had told her on the phone prior to sending the documents. They assured her that, while Raphael’s note to Kuxim might appear to be a request, it was phrased in a way that all but guaranteed Kuxim would agree to help her. Lana wrote this off to vampire politics, since the request seemed perfectly ordinary to her, and no one seemed inclined to educate her any further on the subject. The lawyer had made it very clear, however, that Raphael wanted Vincent Kuxim with her when she found her quarry.
Lana wasn’t sure how she felt about that. She supposed that, ultimately, it would all depend on who Vincent Kuxim was. The only details the attorneys offered were that he was a vampire—no surprise there—and that he controlled the city of Hermosillo in Mexico. What no one had come out and said—but what she’d happily bet money on—was that Xuan Ignacio was a vampire, too. Supposedly, he’d been hiding out in Mexico a long time, and Lana was guessing “a long time” meant centuries rather than decades.
She tucked her backup weapon—a 9mm Glock—into her backpack and put the cash in an outside zippered pocket. On a whim, she grabbed a couple of flashbang grenades from the box in her safe, slammed the safe door, and spun the dial to secure it. She stood and got ready to leave, activating the alarm on her security system, then made sure the door was locked behind her. Within minutes, she was on her way to Hermosillo, Mexico.
She only hoped Vincent Kuxim was in town when she arrived. And that he was inclined to do Raphael a favor.
Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico
VINCENT WALKED out onto the balcony and stretched to his full height, heedless of the fact that he was completely naked. His house was on the very edge of a private compound, and his balcony looked out on nothing but silent desert. Although the balcony could have been in the middle of a busy city, and he still wouldn’t have cared about showing a little skin. Or even a lot.
He was in Hermosillo, in a private compound that was one of Enrique’s many properties in Mexico. Although the vampire lord hadn’t been here in years and probably didn’t even remember that he owned it. The Mexican lord’s personal preference was to stay in his villa in Mexico City, while Vincent’s preference was to hang out in whichever residence kept him as far away from Enrique as possible. Hermosillo was nice, and so was the estate on the water in Los Cabos, mainly because both were places where Enrique rarely ventured.
As little as forty years ago, Enrique had still been touring his territory on a regular basis, but these days, if any traveling was required, he usually sent Vincent. The one exception to that rule was anything involving the other North American vampire lords. Historically, that had meant Enrique had attended the once-a-year meeting of the North American Vampire Council.
But lately, the continent had been roiling, with old lords dying, or being killed, left and right. In the last couple of years, four of the territories had seen new lords ascend, and two of those ascensions had required special meetings of the Council. The other two new lords had been kind enough to time their takeovers to coincide with the annual meeting dates. A new lord’s ascension didn’t require the Council’s approval—power was the only thing that mattered among vampires. If a vampire could take and hold a territory, it was his. But it was customary for the Council to welcome their new colleagues . . . which was a polite way of saying the Council wanted to look the new guy over and decide if they could work with him. If not, his tenure would be very short. Because, while an individual vampire lord might be powerful, he wouldn’t stand a chance against the full Council. Unless that vampire was Raphael. No one really knew what Raphael was capable of, and thus far, no one had been foolish enough to try and figure it out.
Vincent drew in a deep breath of the bone-dry air. It was fresh and clean tonight. Some nights, if the wind was blowing the wrong way, he’d pick up the oil and metal stench from all the new industries popping up in Hermosillo. He knew it brought a lot of jobs to the locals and couldn’t begrudge them that, but he’d liked it better when Enrique had first set up shop here a century ago.
And just thinking that made him feel like a grumpy old man bemoaning the good old days of his youth. It was bad enough that he was an old man, even if he’d never look it. But he didn’t need to think like one, either.