Reaching Answers by Erin R. Flynn
“Tamsin Vale, you need to come with us,” a deep voice announced not five minutes after my last final.
The sigh I let out could be heard several states away. I was absolutely sure of that. I turned to face whomever it was and was filled with amusement when I saw a group… Which included Mr. Holmes, Jordan Holmes’s father.
“What did I do now? Did you have questions about your exit package from Cherrywood? Leave some personal belongings there we tossed out? Want the logs of you using rooms to cheat on your mate and—”
“What?” a woman gasped, clearly his mate.
“She’s a liar and—” he tried to defend.
“You neglected to mention you knew each other,” the deep voice bit out, still focused on me.
I snorted. “I’m sure anyone from the Holmes family left out a lot. They do that. And use their money to buy themselves out of trouble or whatever they want.” I swallowed a flinch, remembering what had just happened and not having to guess what this was really about.
“I’m Captain Reddy with the supe police. Their son is missing.”
“Nice to meet you, Captain.” I dipped my head in respect, but then gave him an I don’t fucking care look that I didn’t even try to curb. “He’s probably committing another rape that his council won’t do anything about. Try the nearest brothel or sorority.”
“Why, you lowlife bitch,” Mr. Holmes hissed as he moved through the group faster than most on campus could. He was an adult vampire who was an elite and had trained with the best.
And showed his stripes how he treated women as he reached to wrap his hand around my neck with all those people there.
I easily grabbed his wrist in time and snapped his arm like a twig, raising an eyebrow at him as he crumbled to the ground with a wail. “I understand you and your son believe you can do whatever you want to women, whenever you want, but you can’t. Attempt to touch me again and I will take the arm next time, not simply break it.” I stuck my finger in my ear and wiggled it around. “Wow.”
“She did it,” Holmes bitched. “See how she’s like a rabid dog? She did something to my son!”
I blinked at him. “One, you came at me, asshole. That makes you the rabid one. Two, maybe lay off the dog puns when you brought in a wolf shifter from the supe police to help you, idiot.” I glanced at the captain. “What did I supposedly do now?”
He was still studying me, but I didn’t take offense. I was used to it. People wanted to see if I lived up to the hype when they got near me.
I would have done the same.
“Jordan said he was going to expose you,” Holmes bit out now that he was back on his feet, cradling his healing arm. “He promised he would get proof what you were and would restore our family’s position you took.”
“Or you lost because you backed your rapist son, but okay,” I drawled, crossing my arms over my chest. “Hurry this up. It’s cold and I want to start my winter break.”
One of the other officers snorted, trying to cover it up with a cough. He wasn’t the only one amused, and we’d drawn a rather large crowd now.
Drama spread around Artemis faster than wildfires through California.
“He said he’d set a trap for you and then we never heard from him again,” Mrs. Holmes blurted. “What did you do with him?”
I blinked at her, wondering if the woman was naturally stupid or years of being mated to Mr. Holmes had degraded her mind. I focused on Captain Reddy. “And you’re here to take me for…”
“Questioning as a suspect,” he finished.
“For…” I pushed.
“A suspect of misdeeds,” Mr. Holmes seethed. “Our council submitted the order and they have to carry it out. Clearly, you were involved.”
“First, a ‘suspect of misdeeds’ isn’t a real fucking thing,” I drawled. “You’d get further saying I was a suspect taking cookies from the cookie jar.” I scrubbed my hand over my neck. “Do you have any evidence he’s really missing?”
“We have the last location his cell put him and his friends,” Captain Reddy answered.
I bobbed my head. “And found?”
“Nothing. No trace of them. Not even their essences.”
I swallowed a flinch. I hadn’t known the supe police could track things like that. Shit. “And mine?”
“Hair?” I gestured to mine. “It stands out.”
His lips twitched. “No.”
“Perfume? Footprints? My phone being there?” I threw in that last one as I knew I’d left it at school and I was never that stupid… But then I realized I was as I kept mine blocked and off the radar.
He raised an eyebrow at that. “Your phone is so well cloaked from what I hear; several human governments couldn’t track it if they wanted to.”
I shrugged. “Yeah, well, if the vampires actually had their shit together and kept that sacred list to protect us actually sacred, that wouldn’t be needed.” I blew a raspberry. “So you have no proof of them being there, and you have nothing to tie me being there or having done anything. When did this supposedly happen?”
“A week ago,” he answered, amusement dancing in his eyes.
“So more than enough time to get everything going on a missing persons report and file stuff with the council to force your hand,” I muttered giving another sigh. “And those who still went here missed finals, so that was a big one.” I smirked at the Holmeses. “Jordan doesn’t. He couldn’t afford it anymore. I hear getting blacklisted from companies is hard. You shouldn’t have mortgaged so much.”
“Don’t,” an officer warned Mr. Holmes when it seemed as if the vampire might come for me again. He did one better and moved slightly in the way.
I kept my focus on Captain Reddy. “Well, I’d say that trap was pretty well sprung, wouldn’t you?”
“The thought had crossed my mind, yes.”
I snorted. Any cop worth anything would have thought the same.
Which I had counted on if those assholes had told anyone about what they’d planned before showing up that night. They might not have been live streaming it or had a call open… But they could have left a trail that would bust me.
I was smarter than getting taken down by them.
“What are you talking about?” Mrs. Holmes demanded. “Where is my son?”
“First, we should be having a conversation about how you just admitted that your son confessed to setting traps for women,” I drawled. “And I want specifics on that as it sounds like an actual crime.” I waited for that to sink in before spreading my arms wide. “And this is the trap, idiots. They set up their ‘disappearance’ like I was involved so I’d have to be pulled in for questioning.”
She frowned, shaking her head. “No, that’s—”
“What’s the first thing the supe police would have to force me to answer if I was officially detained for a valid reason, suspected of an actual crime?” I pushed.
“What species you are,” one of the officers answered, swearing when I tapped my nose. “We’re being used again.”
“Probably. They’re likely off on a bender and will pop up after it’s blown up all over supe news that it’s out what I am. Who will care about some misunderstandings about them being missing and thought harmed if that’s all over the news? He told his dad he’d expose me, get proof of what I am, and restore their family. What’s the going rate for whoever gets that and a council can get me under control?”
“A lot,” Captain Reddy confirmed, scratching his cheek. “From what I’ve heard, it’s a lot. Especially after all of this with Ainsworth and the Underground. McGrath is still leaking too much to the humans. There’s chaos all over, and too many in power are so worried you’re coming for them next, they’re laying all the blame at your feet. I heard the head of the Craftsman family offered twenty million for proof you’re a witch.”
I couldn’t even hide my shock. That was a huge payday. It gave me fuel though, smirking at Holmes. “Isn’t that about a quarter of your mortgages? I know you sold a bunch of stocks and let go of some mistresses but—”
Two officers caught him in time as he launched for me, roaring he was going to kill me and screw the money.
“Captain, when did this all supposedly happen that Ms. Vale could have been involved in?” a deep voice with a sexy British accent asked.
A voice I knew well.
I glanced over and saw my ex-lover, Julian Craftsman, looking delicious and chic, just as always. There was a valid reason all of the women on campus swooned for him that had nothing to do with his accent.
Though that really was the icing on the cake and put us all over the edge.
He stood there at six-two, wrapped in a parka that seemed to make him look more filled out and built somehow, where the rest of us simply looked puffy. His dark blond hair was damp from the snowflakes we’d had earlier… And his emerald green eyes shined with the promise of battle.
What was he up to now?
“Sure, Dr. Craftsman,” Captain Reddy replied, nodding to another officer who gave the date and time. “That’s when we got the last signal. The texts came in to the Holmeses right before then from around that location. The same with the other families. That’s the last contact.”
“Ms. Vale was at dinner until about then but after, we were working on a project until late. I believe almost midnight, but I cannot be sure. It was well past when we should have as we got lost in the subject.”
Captain Reddy studied him, slowly seeming to accept that. “And you’d be willing to go on the record and say that?”
“Wait, why are we getting to my alibi when—” I tried to cut in.
“I would. And with all due respect, Captain, everyone knows her attorney is Adrian Geiger. She’s not under arrest and—”
“He was contacted before we portaled over,” Captain Reddy interjected. “I believe he and his associate went directly for the vampire council knowing Ms. Vale could more than handle things here. Or she had other defenders here that wouldn’t allow her to be taken into custody. I’m not bringing her in, Dr. Craftsman, so you can back down your magic.”
“What?” Mr. Holmes roared. “Take that slut in now! I want my son and—”
“There is a witness that covers Ms. Vale for the time of the disappearance,” Captain Reddy snapped. “And I agree with Ms. Vale that this is the trap your son and his friends set up.” He gestured between us. “Now, I want to know what this is all about?”
One of the officers cleared his throat. “Sir, you were handling that huge issue with the Underground so you missed it, but it was all over the news and everywhere. Jordan Holmes and his friends tricked and drugged a vampire freshman to glamour herself to look like Ms. Vale and then they brutalized her, recorded it all to make it seem like Ms. Vale got drunk and it was a sex tape.”
I liked Captain Reddy a lot better when he turned up his lip at the Holmeses. “An upstanding student, huh? That was your son and his friends? You lied to me that he was never in any—”
“Not any real trouble,” Mr. Holmes snapped.
Captain Reddy broke his calm, cool cop demeanor as he took a threatening step towards the vampire. “That’s real fucking trouble to me, asshole. I would destroy any guy who did that to my daughters, and there were several of them.” He looked at me then. “You did something to them?”
I didn’t know how to answer that. Yes, I’d done lots, but I didn’t want to lie given I didn’t know how powerful this guy was and what else could get me caught.
“She bought Cherrywood Resorts with the dragon royals and kicked all their parents out on their butts from their cushy jobs lording over humans and getting tons of blood for the community,” that same officer explained, doing a double take when he saw my reaction. “You didn’t know that?”
“No. They did a good job of covering it up. We only knew about the rabid sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. We had hundreds of claims filed after we interviewed all of the human employees. So apparently they wiped memories of treating the employees like food, but not sex toys. And to be fair, it was women too, so all the wealthy vampires were doing whatever to humans.”
“Disgusting,” Captain Reddy bit out. “We’re done here.”
“No, you are not letting her walk when—”
“The only crime here has been committed by your son,” Captain Reddy snarled. “And I’m placing a warrant out for his arrest, along with his friends. This is a case of clear harassment to entrap Ms. Vale for profit. It’s fraud, and you could be on the hook for falsifying police reports. For now though, I’m adding you to the harassment and verbal assault, plus you tried to put your hands on her. Cuff him.”
I was not the only one shocked at the turn of events.
Mrs. Holmes ended up in handcuffs too when she scratched the shit out of the officer who tried to arrest her mate. Loyalty was one thing, but that was too far and… How could anyone be loyal to such a slime? Too many of the women in supe society put their heads in the sand and were victims because they never fought.
Still victims, but… There were victims who fought and kept fighting. Those were heroes. Those were the people we should congratulate and hug for being survivors.
Those who rolled over and just showed their bellies, accepted whatever because it was easier and they were too weak to even try or ask for help… They were victims to pity. Harsh, but it made sense in my head, and maybe it wasn’t a feeling that could be put into words without doing damage to some.
People made choices and I fought. I fought and fought, but if the time ever came, I would fall on my sword rather than accept someone getting me and using me for power to harm others. Some could keep fighting after caught, and I would respect that hope of getting free and not doing too much damage.
But anyone who rolled over because it was easier for them and didn’t care about all the people who got hurt because of it—I was pretty sure there was a special place in hell waiting for them and their selfishness. Again, it made sense in my head, and there were exceptions and special cases for sure.
Right then, I had no respect for Mrs. Holmes and only pity for a woman who couldn’t even fight for herself and kept her head in the sand.
Captain Reddy made an announcement to the massive crowd gathered that the supe police were interested in any information on the “missing” vampires, and people were to step forward or contact their office if they knew anything. Especially now that there were warrants out on them.
Then he thanked me for my time—something in his gaze that let me know he wasn’t buying I was totally innocent—and they left. As I watched them walk away, I honestly had to think a bit to count how many times the supe and human authorities had been on campus that semester.
And I was fairly sure I’d missed at least one.
That would have to wait as I had a bone to pick with someone, going right past Craftsman and telling him in my head we needed to talk. I didn’t slow down, heading right for his lecture hall, assuming it would be empty. I knew there were still more finals, but they were done for the day.
I was pretty sure there were only a few left the next day for master’s students, but I wasn’t certain.
I stopped by his desk and set down my bag, yanking off my jacket. “That was stupid. Really stupid. You don’t even know—”
“Yes, I do, because I saw the guilt in your aura that night and for days now,” he said gently.
“I don’t feel guilt,” I lied. I didn’t regret what I did, but I hoped I would feel guilty and bad for killing people. Justified or not, I didn’t want to become a cold, brutal person who that stopped affecting.
He simply smiled at me as he took off his jacket as well and tossed it on his chair. “I would do a lot more than be your alibi anytime you needed it.”
“They’re students. You couldn’t handle me hurting students.”
He let out a slow breath. “With what I taught you in that setting so brutally. I’ve long since dealt with that, love. Those gits hurt someone again, right?”
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to implicate him or drag him into this mess.
“I know they did. I trust you. You wouldn’t have done anything unless they had.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I do,” he argued, grabbing me by the arms and shaking me. “I know you.” He mashed his mouth to mine before I could think of what to say or even argue.
“Julian, that was unwise,” Professor Campbell chastised as she walked into the room… And found us kissing. “Julian!”
I shoved at his chest and broke the kiss, but he was slower to move away, seeming more annoyed at the interruption than that we’d been caught.
“When did this start?” she hissed as she hurried to close the door behind her.
It wasn’t until Craftsman gave me a curious glance when I stepped away that I realized I was an idiot as well. I shrugged as I put several feet and the desk between us as if that would help. “I smashed the mistress charm when we split.”
“Split?” Campbell exclaimed, her voice taking a higher octave than I’d thought the reserved teacher could reach. Rage filled her eyes as she stormed towards us.
But then I realized at the last minute she was coming for me. I had my telepathy off, resting my mind on instinct after all those people and such a high intensity situation. I was still taken aback from what Craftsman had done out there and now in here, and I wasn’t paying attention to her flipping out.
Well, until her hand connected with my face.
Then I was supremely focused on her.
And not in a way she would probably like.
“You trashy little bitch,” she hissed at me. “You know—how could you with a teacher when you knew—you hear everything—”
“I’m closer to his age than you are,” I reminded her. We were five years apart and they were at least six. “And I’m fairly certain ‘trashy’ is slapping a student, no matter what they’ve done.”
She flinched, but steam about came out of her ears. “Finals are done. I’m not your teacher right now and we both know it. I’m here as a woman. A woman you betrayed after all your rhetoric about being good to each other and—”
I snorted. “You’re right, I do hear everything. You don’t remotely respect me, so don’t give me that shit like you’ve been good to me and are the victim.” I pulled back my arm and let my fist fly, knocking her on her ass. “Since you’re not currently my teacher, that’s for wanting my lover’s last name more than him and being a bitch who chased after him when he told you he was with someone.”
“Not sure that helped,” Craftsman sighed, gesturing to Campbell who was now crying and holding her face.
“It helped me. I’ve been holding that in for a long time.” I shot him a nasty look. “You forget, I do hear too much and see it. I had to sit through her fucking class and listen to her thoughts about—too much before I could control it all. It was horrible. It was horrible to listen to her go on and on about how much you enjoyed talking crystals and magic with her while you were blowing off dates with me and…”
I turned to leave but he grabbed my arm, not letting go when I struggled.
“No, I will not let her come between us again,” he said as he hugged me to him. “I got lost my head but it was never about her. Yes, it sparked all kinds of excitement as I cannot produce those kinds of crystals yet. But a lot of it was researching them so we could have projects and experiment over the summer. I wanted to know them better so we could do more. Together.”
“I have to go.”
“No. Not yet. You were right we need to talk.”
“With your tongue down your student’s throat?” Campbell sneered as she stood. She glanced between us and she snorted. “I’m so stupid. You really are more like your family than I thought. All the lies you didn’t want anything to do with them and yet here you are, just like them.”
“Are you having a laugh?” Craftsman asked her, not understanding what she meant.
But I did. I knew assholes well, and I knew exactly what she saw when she looked at us.
“He actually wants me because I’m seriously fantastic in bed and can rock his world in a way you never could, Campbell. It has nothing to do with his family wanting the council seat or me being the brass ring. Nice you would consider it though. I’ve heard it in your thoughts several times. You’re the sellout, not him. He flat out refused his family and the council.”
“You’re more than a fantastic shag,” Craftsman grumbled. “She’d really sell you out?”
I snorted. “Oh yeah. She’s long since thought I wasn’t worth any of the hype and tired of all the drama surrounding me. She doesn’t like I’m the cool one in with the cool teachers and it used to be her. She doesn’t think our world is as bad as I say, content to leave her head in the sand. Even White is annoyed and disgusted with her. The council is forcing powerful witches to mate and Campbell just ignores it and—”
“That’s enough,” Campbell snapped, coming out of her shock I was saying all of that.
“Or what? You going to hit me?” I purred. I glanced up at Craftsman who was still holding me. “One, we’re not together, but I doubt that matters to her since she knows we used to be a thing. Two, she would tell everyone just to spite me or maybe to get you from your family, she’s getting so twisted up. She is not a woman who deals well with losing. Especially to someone like me.”
He spun me around so he could see my face, glancing between us. “What about you?” His eyes went wide as he saw something in both of our auras. “Disgusting. Vale is—”
“Nothing,” Campbell spat. “A street rat who probably stole that money she has or faked whatever paperwork for her inheritance. Edelman sensed her power and—”
“You’re going to take this memory from her, right?” I checked with Craftsman, smiling when he snorted. For the first time, I felt my ego stir since I’d learned the truth of my lineage. Here this prim and proper bitch of “good breeding” was seriously looking down her nose at me—nothing new—but it irked me because I’d thought she was a better match for Craftsman for the same reason.
She gasped. “Julian, you would never.”
“Of course I would,” Craftsman snapped. “I love her, and you’re an obsessive twat who loves my last damn name. I’ve always known that.”
Tears filled her eyes and she glanced away. “My feelings for you were real.”
“That’s true,” I confessed. “She truly felt something real for you.” They both gave me a shocked look but I wasn’t done. “She fully planned on changing just about everything that made you who you were so you’d be a suitable mate for her and she loved your last name just as much, planned on you getting a better position among your family like she would want, but her feelings for you were real.”
And that was why she was such a bitch.
“The truth was always right in front of you, Campbell. If your head wasn’t so in the sand, you could have figured it out,” I taunted. “White did.”
She rolled her eyes at me. “You’re a witch.”
“I’m not.” I took off my charms and set them down on his desk as I went over to her. I didn’t write a rune and threw up a barrier, locking the door as well. “Is that the magic of a witch?” I studied her as she still ignored what was in front of her. “Why was I so curious about the magic of Faerie? Why—just why stay undeclared when it would be so much easier to just fucking tell? I have the protection of the royals and now the head wolf elder. Why not tell?
“What could possibly be worse than saying I was a witch and your elders trying for me harder than they already are? What would have all the councils come at me worse than they are?” Still she blinked at me. “The fae dogs listen to me. They protect me. The hobgoblins love me like no other, no matter the excuses we give. I cannot stand to let them be hurt and kept captive. It’s all right there.”
Her eyes went bug wide. “No. No, you’re taunting me.”
I smiled at her. “Yeah, but I’m not lying. You can see enough of my aura to understand that, right? I took off the charm and I stopped using the fairy rune to mute my aura.” I chuckled when she went pale. “When they found me and I held the species crystal, it turned red and then shattered. That’s the big secret, Campbell. You want the real kicker? You want to know why you’re no one here?”
“You’re no one,” she whispered, her voice shaky.
“I’m not, and others know this,” I purred. “Vale is the last name used in this world for the light fairy royal bloodline. I’m Queen Meira’s daughter, smuggled out of Faerie during the war to save that world and all fairies, so I’d say I’m very much not no one, you stupid bitch.”
And just because Craftsman was going to take the memory anyways, I punched her again.