Valhalla had always been shrouded in mystery.
The leaders of the sprawling compound, named for the home of the Norse gods, claimed that it was a safe house for those people too unique to live among normal society.
Of course, everyone knew that was just a polite way of saying that it was a home for freaks.
Witches, psychics, necromancers, Sentinels, and god only knew what else roamed the grounds protected by a layer of powerful spells.
For the past century, Valhalla had been a source of fear and fascination throughout the entire world, but most especially for the citizens of the small Midwest town who could see the shimmer of blue reflecting off the protective dome that hid the buildings from view.
Not surprisingly, there were citizens who called for the entire place to be nuked. The freaks were dangerous, they insisted, with powers that none of them truly understood. Who knew what the monsters would do if someone pissed them off?
Then there were others who said they should be locked away and studied like lab rats. Perhaps their mutations could be used to help normal people.
Most, however, preferred to ignore Valhalla and the high-bloods ... as they preferred to be called ... living behind the dome.
Until, of course, they needed them.
Kansas City, Kansas
Sergeant Duncan O’Conner was late to the party.
Nursing a hangover from hell, he took two painkillers with a gallon of hot coffee and steered his POS cop car through the light Sunday traffic and entered the gated community in the Southwest suburbs.
The call had hit his cell phone at three in the afternoon. An hour before, he’d hauled his sorry ass out of bed. It’d taken another half hour under the shower to peel his throbbing eyes open and get rid of the stench of cheap whiskey and even cheaper cigars.
His first thought had been to call in and tell them to find someone else. Wasn’t it supposed to be his damned weekend off rotation? Let Caleb deal with the latest stiff.
Then the thought that the entire station would suspect he’d spent the night of his ex-wife’s latest wedding getting shit-faced drunk sent him stumbling to his car. Yeah, like his bloodshot eyes and old man shuffle weren’t going to give the game away, he acknowledged wryly. But while he could take the razzing, he couldn’t take the thought of them feeling sorry for him.
He might be a pathetic loser, but he was a pathetic loser who was damned good at his job.
Entering the cul-de-sac, Duncan parked his car and headed into the brick house. He ignored the speculative glances from the neighbors who had gathered in a little clutch across the street. He was accustomed to females checking out his spare, well-honed body shown to advantage in a pair of faded jeans and black tee. Even with his short, pale blond hair damp from the shower and his stubborn jaw shadowed with a golden stubble, he had the look of a man who knew what to do with a woman. Match that with a pair of hazel eyes that sparkled with wicked charm and they were like putty in his hands.
The men tended to be more interested in the gun holstered at his side and the hard expression on his lean face that warned he only needed an excuse to kick someone’s ass.
His own attention was focused on the house as he stepped into the small but elegant foyer. Not the sort of house a young woman could afford without some help. From daddy. Or more likely, from sugar daddy.
Not that he was being sexist. He couldn’t afford a damned toolshed in this frou-frou neighborhood. Even if his old da chipped in every penny he made driving a cab.
He continued to size up the bold black and white furnishings as a uniformed officer handed him a file with the pertinent details of the case. A beat later another officer arrived to lead him to the back of the house and a sunny kitchen with a perfect view of the pool.
He grimaced as the late spring sunlight sent a stab of agony through his throbbing brain, then lowered his gaze to the female who was lying naked in the middle of the tiled floor.
He wasn’t surprised that she was beautiful. Stunningly beautiful with long hair that glistened with chestnut highlights, pretty features, and a slender body that was tight with the muscles of an athlete.
What did surprise him was the lack of any sort of violence. She looked like she’d simply lain down in the middle of the floor and quietly passed away.
In his experience, lovely young women who were killed on Sunday morning were beaten to death by a jealous boyfriend or raped and killed by a passing psycho.
Not ... what?
His brows jerked together as he took a swift inventory of the kitchen, noting everything was in pristine place, not so much as a coffee mug left in the sink. It could be the female never used the kitchen, preferring to eat out, or at her lover’s place. It could be she was OCD and her kitchen was always spotless.
But his gut was telling him that she hadn’t lived here long enough to stop caring if the place was a mess.
“Hola, O’Conner. Looking a little rough around the edges,” the silver-haired coroner drawled, unfolding a white sheet to drape it over the body. “Heard that Susan found herself a decent man to make an honest woman of her.”
Yeah, so decent he was banging her in Duncan’s own bed.
Flipping off his companion, Duncan opened the file and glanced through the meager info that had been gathered on the female.
“Who found the body?”
“A silent alarm was tripped.”
“Cause of death?”
“She’s missing her heart.”
Duncan froze, his gaze searching the victim’s unmarred skin and the obvious lack of blood.
“How the hell could she be missing her heart?”
“I don’t know,” Frank Sanchez admitted, the bite in his raspy voice expressing his opinion of “I don’t know.” “But I ran the portable MRI over her three times to be sure.”
The older man could be a pain in the ass to work with, but he knew his shit. Nothing got past his eagle gaze. If he said the female was missing her heart, then she was missing her heart.
Crap. Duncan hated mysteries.
“It’s clean.” Another growl as Frank gathered the tools of his trade to pack them in a black leather bag. “Too clean.”
“So a freak?”
“That would be my guess.”
Confused, Duncan read through the file.
Single, originally from Little Rock.
Current occupation, dancer at the Rabbit Hutch.
That would explain her location, he cynically concluded. Her salary as a dancer wouldn’t cover the rent, but the clients who frequented the high-end strip club would easily be able to afford this place to keep a current mistress.