Bat and the Bone by Alexa Gregory
"I'm really sorry for everything you've been through. I swear I will get you the justice you deserve. That's a Mila Starling guarantee."
I look down at the pile of bones on my glittering metal worktable and give the remains a comforting smile.
It appeases me to talk to my work like this.
Not that I ever expect a response from a cadaver. Not in the conventional way. Whatever I hear from the osseous matter comes strictly from the things I can decipher. Age, sex, any signs of trauma. That kind of thing.
It would probably make my life a hell of a lot easier if the bones did start talking to me. Alas, I have to rely on science.
That's better, anyway. People lie. Science doesn't.
The remains currently on my table have seen better days. Judging by the fractured disks, the neck was snapped. I search my brain for the obvious joke there, but nothing comes to mind. There are gouges and grooves along the humerus. It must have been anythingbuthumorous to have those wounds inflicted.
That's the thing about working with dead bodies all day long. I love my work, but things tend to get a little dark in my brain. Making jokes, no matter how inappropriate they are, helps to lighten my mood. Not that I wouldevershare these quips out loud. I'm not amonster.
I'm a forensic anthropologist.
Some might say that’s kind of the same thing, but they would be wrong.
I make all the necessary annotations about the state of the bones, documenting every unnatural indent in them. This is meticulous work, and it's easy to get completely engrossed in what I'm doing. I let the thundering booms of the music soothe me, and I bring the volume up a couple of notches. I'm not even concerned about disturbing anybody. The entire wing of this sub-basement floor is mine.
From my lab to my archives to the classroom across the hall and the airlock tombs where we keep the bones of unsolved murders, this kingdom is mine. At least, it is while I teach at the Furry United Coalition Newbie Academy.
I flip up the lens of my magnifying glasses to look at the clock. It's not even midnight.Good.
That means I have plenty of time to finish my work for FUC and the Academy. If I get it all settled in the next sixty minutes, then I'll have a few hours to work onProject Broken Mamabefore my students start streaming in for their forensic anthropology class at five.
The cadets absolutely hate the fact that the class is so early, but I appreciate the hell out of the Academy's director, Alyce Cooper, for scheduling it then. It works out perfectly for nocturnals like me, and the cadets who are non-nocturnals get the benefit of having their brains jostled early in the morning. It’s a good experience for life as a FUC agent.
"I'm going to put you away for now," I tell the bones, "but that doesn't mean I'll forget you. I'll find your identity and give it back to you." With gentle hands, I start putting the remains away.
"Agent Starling." My name spoken in a loud, deep baritone voice makes me squeak in surprise.
I whip around to see who has invaded my lab. It's too late in the evening to be one of my students stopping by. My office hours ended a while ago. I flip up my magnifying glasses, settling them on the top of my head. They slide into my hair, pining the long red streaks back.
Oh, sweet mother of Thor. Whois that?
"Do you think you could put a stop to that racket?" The stranger gestures to the air, no doubt meaning the song currently blaring from the lab's speakers. But that's only because I'm completely distracted by the huge blond god standing in my lab. My skin feels hot and flushed as I dig around through the pile of cases. Do they have to make remotes so small? Sure, I can find a hairline fracture in a bone, but remotes? Forget it.
“Ha!” I shout in victory, finding the damn thing and pressing pause on one of my favorite songs.
My instant attraction to the stranger takes me by surprise becauseTall, Gold, and Muscularis nothing like my usual type. Even though he's wearing a black thermal long-sleeved shirt and a pair of beige cargo pants, his muscles seem to be rippling like some kind of insane optical illusion. I even start to wonder what it would be like to run my fingers through his short, cropped beard. It looks soft, and my fingers itch to confirm myveryscientific hypothesis.
"Thanks." His voice is a sexy rumble that reminds me of rumpled up sheets and long, steamy showers.
"Not a fan of Cradle of Rot?" I bat my eyelashes, playing innocent. He sure doesn't look like someone who would even know that Cradle of Rot is only one of the best death metal bands in the world. This man might be a walking sex dream, but he is as straight-edged as a scalpel blade. It’s written on every molecule of his insane body.
"No, I can’t say I am," he answers, eying me in what can only be described as pure shock. It's okay. I'm used to that look. I come by it honestly. "How can you think when that is on?" he asks, furrowing his brow in complete consternation.
"It helps me clear my head for one," I reply. "And secondly, this is my lab, so no one dares to question my tastes in music. Especially not random dudes."
I'm taunting him again for his dig at my favorite band.Andbecause he is making my heart pitter-patter.
Truth is, if he has found himself in my lab, he was given clearance by Director Cooper to be in here. A special pass is needed to get through the three different security doors that lead down to the sub-basement.
"Right." He pulls out a badge from his back pocket, making his biceps bulge.
I can't help the way my eyes track the veins running along the corded muscles. There's a lot of healthy, delicious blood running through him, and I can't stop myself from noticing.
"I'm Agent Thrussell with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I'm the point agent between FUC and the RCMP. But that's not really why I'm here right now. We require your expertise on Sveta Markov. She's escaped from prison."
The tray of instruments I'm holding clatters to the floor in the loudest, most unpleasantclang.The sound rattles in my head as I blink at him, trying to make sense of his words.
Impossible. Shecouldn'thave escaped.
Judging by the frown on his handsome face and the tension in his beautifully wide shoulders, Agent Thrussell is telling the truth.
My mother, the most prolific serial killer of the century, has flown the roost.