Home > Marked in Flesh (The Others #4)(8)

Marked in Flesh (The Others #4)(8)
Author: Anne Bishop

As he reached the front door and rang the bell, a car pulled into the driveway. Officers Karl Kowalski and Michael Debany, two members of his team, got out and hurried to join him just as the door opened.

“Lieutenant,” Kowalski said, giving Monty a nod before looking at the man filling the doorway. “Captain.”

Douglas Burke was a big man, an imposing figure with blue eyes that usually held a fierce kind of friendliness. His clothes were always pressed, and the dark hair below his bald pate was always neatly trimmed. Never having seen him outside of the job, Monty couldn’t picture the man in anything but a suit, couldn’t see him wearing jeans and a ratty pullover to mow the lawn or dig in the flower beds. In fact, the lack of the suit coat and the rolled-up sleeves were as close to casual dress as Monty had ever seen.

“Come in, gentlemen.” Burke stepped aside, allowing them to enter. “We’re in the dining room. Help yourself to coffee and pastries.”

Monty glanced at the living room as he followed Burke. It looked masculine, comfortable, and minimal. He wouldn’t be surprised if the furniture, what there was of it, was high quality, maybe even antiques.

Not a room that welcomed children.

Not so odd a thought since Monty’s seven-year-old daughter, Lizzy, had arrived in Lakeside last month and was now living with him. All the secrets Lizzy had brought with her to Toland had been revealed, and she was safe from whoever had killed her mother. But that still put him in the position of having to figure out how to be a single parent and a police officer. For now, Eve Denby, the new property manager for the Lakeside Courtyard, was willing to look after Lizzy along with her own two children.

Monty walked into the dining room and hesitated when he spotted Louis Gresh and Pete Denby sitting at the dining room table, filling small plates with pastries and fresh strawberries. He wasn’t surprised that they had become part of Burke’s trusted circle.

The real surprise was the other man sitting at the table.

A toilet flushed, water ran, and then another man joined them. Shorter, leaner, and younger than Burke, the man had a full head of slightly curly, medium brown hair—but the fierce-friendly look in the blue eyes was similar enough to say family.

“Gentlemen, this is Shamus David Burke, a relative of mine who’s visiting from Brittania. He’s in law enforcement over there, so I thought his insights might be useful. Shady, this is Lieutenant Crispin James Montgomery and his officers, Karl Kowalski and Michael Debany. They handle most of the interaction with the Lakeside Courtyard. The man carefully inspecting that pastry is Commander Louis Gresh, who’s in charge of the bomb squad. The pastries are fresh, Commander. Nothing for you to worry about.”

“That you don’t check food for unwelcome surprises just proves you’ve never had children,” Louis replied. He bit into the pastry and chewed with care.

“The other man poking at his food is Pete Denby, an attorney who recently relocated from the Midwest Region.”

“Who also has children,” Pete said, smiling.

“And the only man unconnected to law enforcement is Dr. Dominic Lorenzo, who is currently working on the governor’s task force to assist the cassandra sangue in this part of the Northeast Region.” Burke waited until they were all seated. Then he folded his hands and rested them on the dining room table. “Lieutenant Montgomery already knows what’s at stake. Before we discuss anything, you all need to understand that you can’t share this information with anyone, for any reason. Not friends, not family, not colleagues. If you can’t agree to that, walk away now because . . .”

“Because everyone in Lakeside will be at risk,” Lorenzo said, sounding irritable. “Same song, different day.”

“Actually, every human on the continent of Thaisia will be at risk,” Burke said, the mild voice at odds with the bright fierceness in his eyes.

Silence. Then, matching Burke’s mild tone, Shady said, “Are we talking about extinction, Douglas?”

Burke nodded.

Lorenzo swallowed hard. Pete pushed aside the plate with the pastry.

Louis let out a shuddering breath. “Gods above and below, talk about a bomb. What are the odds that we’re going to lose control of this?”

“About even,” Burke replied. “Maybe less.”

Monty looked at his men. “This isn’t a surprise to you.”

“Not really,” Kowalski said. “We’ve noticed—”

Burke raised a hand. “Let’s be clear about who is staying before we get into this.” He looked at Lorenzo.

Lorenzo thought for a moment, then pushed his chair back and stood. “I’m carrying enough secrets. You need to keep what you know within a tight circle, and I’m no longer sure when someone asks me questions about the Lakeside Courtyard or about blood prophets if they’re asking out of curiosity, out of professional necessity, or because they’re a member of the Humans First and Last movement trying to ferret out information that can be used against the Others. When I have to travel for the task force, I’m traveling alone. It would be too easy to be waylaid and . . . interrogated.”

Monty wanted someone to make a joke, to say that Lorenzo was building a plot worthy of a thriller with talk of interrogations. But no one made a joke—mostly because Pete Denby had been run off the road, presumably by members of the HFL, when he’d packed up his family and bolted for Lakeside after helping Burke uncover information about a man called the Controller.

   
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