Fire Within - By Ally Shields

Chapter One

Eddie West, crime reporter for The Clarion, slumped in the hard plastic chair of the Olde Town jail’s visitor room. His round, human face, usually boyish and open, reflected exhaustion, even depression. And something else Ari couldn’t quite identify. His negative energy sent spider feet across the back of her neck, and she stifled an urge to rub the sensation away. To stop the distraction, she locked down part of her extra senses.

Ari studied the prisoner while she tried to think of what to say. Shouting and screaming wouldn’t help. Eddie’s freckles, usually an appealing feature which made him look much younger than his twenty-five years, popped out like chicken pox, and beads of sweat dotted his upper lip and forehead. Red-rimmed eyes looked everywhere but at her.

If it had been a normal interrogation, Ari would have relished his discomfort. Nervous suspects tended to give themselves away. But Eddie was a friend. A good friend. And a witch in her line of work didn’t have that many. Not everyone was willing to befriend a supernatural cop with powers that usually made humans twitchy. Ari turned her face away, waiting until she had control of her expression. Sympathy wasn’t what Eddie needed right now.

“I thought about this all the way over,” she began, shaking her head, “and I still don’t believe it. Murder?” She glared at him. “What the hell were you thinking? What kind of solution is that?”

Eddie’s gaze darted to her for an instant. His jaw set in a determined line. “You can’t fix this, Ari. It’s too late. Just leave me alone.”

She blinked in surprise. What was with his attitude?

Eddie wasn’t finished. “In fact, why the visit? I didn’t call you. Didn’t ask for help. Because I didn’t want to talk to anybody.” He hesitated and his Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed hard. “So, why are you here? Think you can make this go away with a little bit of magic?”

Ari snorted. For a guy who didn’t want to talk, he was rattling on about nothing. Nerves, maybe. He’d never been in jail before. She knew because she’d checked his rap sheet. Two old speeding tickets. She noted his copper hair was scruffy this morning; his jail clothes crumpled from tossing and turning in his sleep, if he’d slept at all. He’d spent the night in a cold, uncomfortable holding cell. In another person, that might explain the belligerent attitude, except this was Eddie—usually steady and easy going.

“It’ll take more than magic to get you out of this mess. You’re in serious trouble.” Ari sighed, crossed her legs, and pushed a strand of long blonde hair behind one ear. “You know why I’m here. You killed a vampire. That’s my territory, my jurisdiction. Did you think you wouldn’t have to face me?”

Eddie squirmed in his seat; one hand rubbed the knee of his ill-fitting blue jumpsuit. The hand trembled. Ari refused to concentrate on his obvious distress, ignoring her urge to offer support.

“There’s nothing for you to investigate,” he muttered. “I already told them what happened. Go home.”

“Oh. Well, fine. We’ll just let them lock you up for most of your life. Or worse. No reason to do my freaking job. Or worry about my friend. You’re being held for the first degree murder of a vampire. You know what happens if they find you guilty.”

Eddie flinched but said nothing. She took it as a good sign. Maybe he’d realized how bad this was. Under the 1990s amended version of the McFarland treaties—named after the first U.S. Senator who pushed for recognition—and the New Civil Rights Act, the vampires and other races with extended life spans had demanded control over the penalty phase of Otherworld murder cases. In exchange for immediate execution sentences for a number of crimes against humans by vampires, the vampires had received the sole right to determine the punishment for murdering a vampire. With a penalty that stiff, vampire hunting, once considered a safety precaution or even a sport, soon became nearly extinct.

Reactions to the treaties and legislation changes had been mixed—still were—but both sides had accepted that you couldn’t kill anyone without severe punishment.

Ari tilted her head in an effort to read Eddie’s face, maybe catch his gaze, but his focus remained glued to the table. “I heard you confessed. And they found you with Jules’s body. Do you have a lawyer?”

He shook his head. “Don’t need or want a lawyer. I can handle this.”

Ari gave an impatient flip of her hand.