It’s a New Year and I’m finally giving in to the pushing and prodding from some close friends — quit laughing, Sarah and Cedar — and will now be blogging on a regular schedule. So, to start things off, I’ll begin with some a snippet. Every Friday I will post a snippet. For the next month or so, the snippets will be from Nocturnal Interlude. Interlude will be the third full length novel in the Nocturnal Lives series (urban fantasy/police procedural). The first two books, Nocturnal Origins and Nocturnal Serenade, as well as the novella, Nocturnal Haunts, are currently available through Amazon and will soon be returning to other outlets.
So, without further ado, here’s the snippet:
“Someone had better tell me what the hell is going on!”
Mackenzie Santos slammed her fist down on the table with a satisfying thud. The only thing that kept her from flipping it over was the fact it was bolted to the floor. Angry as she was, even that might not be enough to hold it into place if she didn’t start getting some answers soon. At least the two men sitting opposite her looked no happier about the situation than was she. Well, too freaking bad. They were the ones who had taken her into custody and then refused to tell her why.
Breathing deeply, Mac leaned back and struggled for calm. This wasn’t the first time she’d been in an interrogation room. Far from it, in fact. But it was the first time she’d been in this position. Each time before, she’d been the one reading a suspect his rights and starting the questioning aimed at eventually getting a conviction. Now she sat on the other side of the table, so to speak, from two dark suited men with regulation haircuts that simply screamed “Fed”.
Not that they’d asked her anything. In fact, from the moment she and Jackson Caine had stepped off the jet way into the terminal at DFW Airport, they’d spoken probably fewer than a dozen words. They’d asked if she was Lt. Mackenzie Santos and then told her she needed to come with them. Before she could react, she’d been cuffed, searched and escorted outside to a waiting black SUV, another indication that they were feds. A moment later, they were speeding out of the airport and toward downtown Dallas and the federal building.
When she had demanded an explanation for her arrest, they’d said nothing. They hadn’t even looked at her. If she hadn’t used exactly the same tactic on who knew how many suspects over the last eleven years, she might have been worried. instead, her temper began a slow boil. It was obvious something had happened and she was in the middle of it – whatever “it” might be.
Damn it, this was why she never took vacations. Things always happened while she was gone and, apparently, this time the world had taken a sharp left turn into a nightmare she didn’t understand yet.
At least she was no longer cuffed.
A quick glance around the room provided no clues either. It was a standard interrogation room with white walls, battered table, equally battered chairs and a scuffed floor. The overhead light was recessed into the ceiling so a suspect wouldn’t be able to get to it easily to use either as a weapon or as a means to harm himself. The plastic bubble in the far corner housed one of the two cameras monitoring the room. The second camera was located directly opposite the door so it could capture images of anyone coming or going. What was different about the room was that there was no observation window for witnesses or other investigators to use to monitor an interrogation. Maybe the feds had gone to video monitoring now. Either that or they didn’t want a record of what happened and that was not something Mac wanted to think about.
Mac closed her eyes and counted slowly to ten. As she did, she let her senses expand. She didn’t dare shift, not in the middle of the federal building, but she could ease her control on her jaguar enough to enhance her hearing. Mutt and Jeff, the two men sitting across from her, were obviously nothing more than babysitters. They’d been tasked with bringing her in. She wouldn’t be surprised at all to discover they didn’t know why they’d brought her there.
That meant someone was watching, sizing her up before they came in to talk to her. While that didn’t give them an advantage, the fact she had absolutely no idea why she was there did. So did the fact Mutt – or maybe it had been Jeff – had taken her cellphone and tablet PC when they’d taken her into custody, leaving her no way to check in with her captain or even to scan the latest headlines for some clue about what was going on.
The only saving grace was they hadn’t pulled Jackson in. At least she didn’t think they had. That meant he’d been on the phone just as soon as they were out of earshot, calling first her captain – and their pride leader – and then anyone else he could think of. Hopefully, that also included an attorney because she sure as hell wasn’t going to talk without having someone there looking out for her best interests.
She heard the steps outside the door before her companions did. They weren’t the sounds of dress shoes like Mutt and Jeff wore. She’d have expected that. No, the sounds she heard were definitely made by boots, combat boots unless she missed her guess. And that most definitely wasn’t what she’d expected.
Mac’s heart beat faster as her mind leapt to the one conclusion she’d done her best to ignore. Had her secret been discovered? Why else would she have been taken into custody and yet not been read her rights or given her phone call? Fear spiked and only years of training kept her expression from betraying her.
Even as her fear spiked, she told herself she had to be wrong. They hadn’t taken Jackson into custody. If they knew about her, they’d have known about him. So she was overreacting. That’s all. There was another explanation for what was going on. She just had to keep her head and be patient.
Of course, that was much easier said than done.
Forcing herself to relax, Mac waited. The sounds of boots against slapping against the tile floor came ever nearer and yet her “escorts” gave no indication they heard. That was fine with her. She wanted to see their reactions to the newcomers. That would tell her a great deal about what was going on. But it was hard to just sit there. Her jaguar, already nervous and angry at being detained like a common criminal, pushed against her control. It wanted to fight, to make the men pay for chaining them and separating them from their mate. Cameras and technology didn’t matter to the jaguar and, if Mac were honest with herself, if she didn’t find out why she’d been detained and soon, they wouldn’t matter much to her either.
Damn it, what was going on?
Through half-closed eyes, Mac watched as the door knob turned. A split second later, the door flew open with a bang. Chairs slid across the floor as Mutt and Jeff shoved away from the table and surged to their feet, their hands reaching for the guns they’d locked away before entering the room. Then Mutt lifted his right arm to his mouth, urgently speaking into the mic located at his cuff. From the almost panicked look on his face and the way he reached up with his left hand to tap at earbud in his left ear, Mac guessed he either wasn’t getting any response or at least not getting the one he wanted.
Well too freaking bad.
Slowly, almost casually, Mac sat up. As she did, her eyes never left the figure that seemed to almost fill the doorway. The newcomer most definitely was not a Fed, at least not the same flavor of Fed her babysitters were. He wore the woodland patterned Marine Corps’ combat utility uniform . His pants legs were expertly bloused over the tops of his tan combat boots. If looks could have killed, Mutt and Jeff would have been nothing more than two piles of smoldering ash.
Instead, they were reacting, and badly, to a situation they obviously didn’t understand. While Mutt continued to try to contact someone, anyone, for orders, Jeff quickly moved around the table to stand behind Mac’s chair. His hands rested on her shoulders, his fingers digging painfully into the skin as he exerted pressure he didn’t need to in order to keep her seated. But it also put him in position to use her as a shield if necessary – and if she let him.
Mac considered her options. For the moment, until she knew what was going on, she’d sit there. She’d let the Fed she’d dubbed Jeff think he held the upper hand. But as soon as she saw a chance to get out of there, she’d show him just how foolish he’d been to put himself between her and the wall. It was a rookie mistake and she looked forward to teaching him the error of his ways.
Hopefully, the lesson would be a painful one – for him.
“Who the hell are you?” Mutt demanded as he drew himself up to his full height.
Mac couldn’t quite hold back her smile then. The Fed might be taller than the newcomer but she had no doubts who would prevail if push should come to shove. Things might just be getting interesting after all.
“ID!” the newcomer snapped.
As he did, another man, similarly dressed, entered the room. Standing next to the first man, he extended a hand and waited.
“Halsey?” Jeff’s fingers dug even more painfully into Mac’s shoulders as he looked to his partner.
“I don’t have to identify myself to you, but you sure as hell better tell me who you are and what you’re doing in our interrogation room!” The blond tried to stare down the two men only to have them look past him to where Mac sat.
“Lieutenant, are you all right?”
“Yes, sir.” She didn’t know what game they were playing – yet – but she had a feeling she needed to play along. “Or I will be as soon as this gentleman quits trying to dig holes in my shoulders.” A jerk of her head in Jeff’s direction.
“I would have thought you could deal with that, LT.”
There was a glint in Captain Mateo Santos’ eyes as he spoke. Mac grinned slightly and dug her heels in against the battered tile. A moment later, her chair slid back, forcing Jeff against the wall. As the chair came to a halt, she pushed up with all her strength, angling her head at the last moment so her shoulder instead of the crown of her skull, connected with the Fed’s chin. He gave a cry of pain and she felt a satisfying jar as his jaw snapped shut. If he bit down on his tongue, too bad. Then she was on her feet and away from the table, her back to the side wall and her eyes watching everyone as she waited for the next act to play out.
She saw Mutt’s muscles tense as he prepared to rush her cousin. At the same time, Jeff pushed to his feet. With a bellow, he leapt in her direction. Before she could react, the man who’d entered just after Mateo was there. He caught the Fed mid-air and body slammed him to the floor. Shaking her head, wonder and disbelief filling her, Mac watched as he then flipped the agent over and secured his wrists behind him with a pair of flex cuffs. Then her attention snapped back to Mateo who had one hand around Mutt’s – no, Halsey’s – throat and was lifting him so his toes barely touched the floor.
“I asked for your identification.” Mateo’s voice was calm but anger flashed in his dark eyes as the man’s hands dropped from where they’d been clawing at Mateo’s wrist to pat his pockets in search of his ID. A moment later, Mateo released him. Even as Halsey dropped to his knees, gasping for breath, Mateo’s companion was there to secure him just as he had the other agent.
“Captain, don’t get me wrong. It’s very good to see you, but would you mind telling me what’s going on?”
And if we’re going to have to fight our way out of here?
“In a moment, LT.” If he was trying to reassure her, he was doing a damned poor job of it. His expression was hard and his eyes dark with anger as he tossed the Agent Halsey’s ID onto the table. Then he nodded to his companion to lift the agent to his feet. “All right, Halsey. I’m going to say this only once, so you’d better pay close attention. Nod if you understand.”
Halsey nodded but he wasn’t happy about it. Not that Mac really blamed him. He had to be scared to death. At least he ought to be if he had a grain of common sense. Two armed men in combat utility uniforms had just made their way into a secure federal building, through several checkpoints and had just taken him and his partner down. Now they were the ones cuffed like common criminals and none of their fellow agents had come to even see what the disturbance was. If she happened to be in their shoes, she’d have been doing everything she could to get free and then to see what had been done to her fellow cops.
“My name is Captain Mateo Santos, USMC on detached duty to the Department of Homeland Security.” Now he produced his own ID and shoved it in Halsey’s face. “You and your partner violated orders when you took the lieutenant into custody. You were to simply meet her and her companion at the airport and escort them back here where we were to meet them.” Before Halsey could protest, Mateo held up a hand, effectively silencing him. “Don’t bother trying to deny it. I’ve seen your orders. Now, if you want to have a chance at all of saving your jobs, you will tell me why you took the lieutenant into custody, confiscated her cellphone and tablet PC and denied her her civil right to call an attorney.”
“They also confiscated my off-duty piece, sir.” And that had been the most insulting of all. No cop ever willingly gave up her weapon. The fact that she’d been arrested, cuffed and disarmed rankled more than she wanted to admit.
“LT, did they say anything about why they took you into custody?”
“No, sir. Not a word.”
He nodded, frowning. “Halsey, I’m waiting.”
“Go to hell.” He tugged ineffectually against the flex cuffs securing his wrists behind his back. “We don’t have to explain anything to you. In fact, I’ll have your ass as well as hers up on charges just as soon as we’re out of here.”
Mateo actually laughed. Then he reached down and grabbed Halsey by the collar, hoisting him to his feet. “You can try it.” With his left foot, he hooked the chair Halsey had occupied earlier, turning it around so he could shove the agent onto it. “Ask yourself why no one has come to help you and your partner. Or why no one answered your call requesting backup. They know you screwed up and that screw up may cost hundreds, maybe thousands, of people their lives. If that happens, I promise this will be one of the last days of freedom you and your partner will every enjoy.”
Mac stared at her cousin in disbelief. Surely that was all just some sort of cover story. She was a cop. None of her cases were such that they involved more than a few people. What he was talking about was on the magnitude of a terrorist attack or –
God, the or scared the hell out of her. Was it possible their kind had finally been discovered? No, that couldn’t be the case. If it was, Mateo wouldn’t be there. He’d be doing everything he could to protect the others. Her life, one single life, wouldn’t be worth risking so many others. So it had to be something else. But what?
“Captain?” If her voice shook a little, she didn’t care. She needed to know what was going on.
“Let’s get you out of here, LT. Unless you’d like a few minutes alone with these two gentlemen.”
As tempting as it was to take him up on his offer, she shook her head. She wanted as far from there as possible, as quickly as possible. Then she wanted to know exactly why the feds were supposed to meet her at the airport and why these two had disobeyed orders.
“Sir, we do need to know why they detained Lt. Santos,” the other man said softly.
“I believe you can get that information from them, Sergeant Lee. Once you have, turn them over to their supervisor for appropriate disciplinary action. Then report in.”
“Understood, sir.” The look he gave Halsey and his partner sent chills down Mac’s spine. “Don’t worry, ma’am, I’ll find out what went wrong.”
Mac nodded, not trusting herself to speak. As she turned back to Mateo, a man with greying hair appeared in the doorway. Without a word, he handed Mateo Mac’s cellphone, tablet PC and off-duty weapon. Then he looked at the two agents, both now sitting before the table. His expression hardened and he stepped inside.
“Halsey, Ferrer, you will answer their questions and tell them anything and everything they want to know. I’ve already authorized them to go through your electronics as well as your desks and lockers. When they are done with you, we’re going to have a chat of our own.”
“Thank you, Special Agent Ramirez. My sergeant is going to stay and ask them a few questions.”
“I’ll make sure the office knows to give him any information he needs, Captain.” He turned to look at Mac and she smiled slightly. She’d worked with Ramirez on several cases before and knew him to be one of the few feds who worked well with local law enforcement. “Lieutenant, my apologies for the actions of my agents. I assure you, they will be disciplined.”
She nodded. Much as she didn’t like it, this wasn’t her game to play. All she hoped was that someone filled her in on the rules soon, before it was too late.
“Let’s roll, LT. There’s a lot to do and not much time to do it in,” Mateo said as he handed her first her gun and then the rest of her things.
He waited as she slid the gun into her waistband at the small of her back and then he left the interrogation room. With one last look at the two agents, she nodded to the sergeant and then to Ramirez before hurrying after her cousin.
“Thank God, you’re all right.”
Jackson’s arms went about Mac the moment she climbed into the rear of the black van. For a moment, she let herself just enjoy the comfort of her mate’s embrace. She’d never forget the worry she’d seen in his eyes as she’d been led off by the feds or the anger. She knew without asking that it had been one of the hardest things he’d ever done not to go after them and force the men to release her. If their roles had been reversed, she wasn’t sure she’d have been able to exercise as much self-control as had he.
“Are you okay?”
She lightly touched his cheek, her eyes searching his. Even though Halsey and his partner hadn’t done anything to him, she’d been afraid another team of agents had taken Jackson away. The thought of anything happening to him, especially if it was because of her, made her blood run cold.
“I’m fine now that we’ve got you back.” He kissed her and then helped her into the seat directly behind the driver’s seat. A moment later, he was seated next to her.
“Mateo, what’s going on?”
Her cousin had taken his place in the front passenger seat and, before answering, he told the driver to get them out of there. “Mac, I promise I’ll answer all your questions, but let’s get well away from here first.”
“Damn it, Mateo!” She bit down on her anger. It was reaction to everything that had happened. She knew it. But that didn’t make his refusal to explain any easier to take. “I think I deserve to know what’s happening.”
“Mac.” Jackson reached out and turned her face so she looked at him. “He’s right. I only know the bare minimum and it’s enough to worry me – a lot. We’re on our way to a meeting where everything will be explained.”
“Jackson, I trust you. You know that.” She waited until he nodded. “But you’re asking too much.”
“Mac, I talked to Mike. He’s asked that we do as Mateo and his people say. Mike promised we’ll understand.”
Mac leaned back and scrubbed her hands over her face. Maybe this was just a nightmare and she’d awaken soon. Then she’d be back in Hawaii and everything would be all right. But that wasn’t how her luck ran. No, this was all too real and she was getting a very bad feeling.
“Fine. Just tell me this: is my family all right?”
“They are. Your grandmother and mother are waiting for you. The twins are on their way back from Austin with a couple of my men,” Mateo answered. “And, before you ask, Jackson’s family is safe as well. I promise.”
Mac didn’t know whether to be relieved or not. On a primitive level, relief won out. She’d come to understand over the last few months just how important family really was. But then the implications of what Mateo said hit her. Why would he, or at least someone he worked with, have already taken steps to insure that her family and her mate’s were all right? Had someone specifically targeted them or was the threat more widespread? And why had the feds taken her into custody?
Without a word, she opened the cover on her tablet PC. Before she could turn it on, Mateo reached out and snatched it from her hands. Eyes flashing, jaw clinching, she stared at him in disbelief. What in the hell was going on?
“Mac, you can’t use the tablet or your cell phone or anything else with GPS capability until we scrub them,” he said, his expression serious.
Okay, now she was starting to get scared. Worse, it was fueling her anger and that was making it more and more difficult to maintain control. It wouldn’t take much more for her to shift. She didn’t know about her cousin, but she didn’t particularly want an angry jaguar loose in a moving van. So someone had better start telling her something before that happened.
“Mac, he’s right.” Jackson’s spoke softly but she heard how worried he was. “Our families are safe but not all of our friends are. Someone has been moving against them for the last few days. We don’t know who and we don’t know why. All we know for sure is that at least half a dozen of our people are missing.”
For a moment, Mac stared at him, not sure she’d heard right. But one look at him was enough to convince her he spoke the truth, at least the truth as he knew it. After what happened at the airport, she wasn’t sure any of them knew the whole truth. Still, people they knew, maybe even people they loved, were missing.
“Who?” she asked even though she wasn’t sure she wanted to know.
“Pat’s one of them. Amy and Steve are also missing.”
If they hadn’t been in the van, Mac would have been on her feet and pacing. Three members of her pride were missing. Three people she cared about. She could almost understand why Pat might have been taken. She was a cop and a damned good one. If she’d been the only one taken, Mac would have assumed one of Pat’s cases from her days in Narcotics had come back to bite her. Pat was also the pride leader’s mate. And both were very good reasons why someone might take her.
But why take Amy and Steve? They were barely adults. College students. They had no real standing in the pride except as beloved members. They certainly couldn’t be involved with anything criminal. And there were others missing as well. God, this was a nightmare.
“Are they all from the pride?”
“No. There’s at least one lone pure missing as well as two members of the local pack,” Mateo answered.
“How long? How long since the first one went missing and has there been any sort of demand made?” She had to think like a cop. Ask the questions, eliminate the motives and zero in on the suspects.
What she couldn’t do was think about what the suspects might be doing to the people she cared about in the meantime.
“Two days and no demands, no contact of any sort.” Mateo sounded as grim as she felt.
“Mike? Is he all right?”
The thought of her captain, her pride leader, and the anguish he must be feeling just then kicked her worry up another notch. Because he was also Pat’s commanding officer, just as he was Mac’s, he and Pat couldn’t go public with their relationship. The fact that she was missing had to be killing him and it would be made all the worse because he wouldn’t be able to let his fear show. Add in the worry he had to be feeling about the others and Mac had no doubt King was wishing he’d soon wake up from this nightmare.
“He’s angry and scared,” Jackson replied. “But he’s coping so far. At least he says he is.”
“Mateo, I have a feeling there’s a lot more to this than you’ve said.” She waited until he reluctantly nodded. “Than you’d better accept the fact that I am in this until we find out what’s happened and we catch the ones responsible. Try to shut me out and I promise you won’t like the consequences.”
Damn it all to Hell and back again. This is what she got for going on vacation.