"Want my identification?" he asked silkily. "Here it is." Then his eyes changed to glowing emerald green while fangs slid out from his upper teeth, extending to their full length like mini ivory daggers.
"Let us pass, or we'll leave, and you can explain to your boss that the visitors he expected had better things to do than have their time wasted."
The guard who'd demanded our ID hesitated for a loaded moment, then stepped aside without another word. The twin fangs gleaming from Bones's teeth retracted, and his eyes bled back to their normal dark brown color.
I put my wallet back in my pants. Guess I wasn't going to need my driver's license after all.
"Wise choice," Bones commented. I brushed past the guards, with him following behind me, my uncle still muttering that he didn't like this. No shit, I thought, but didn't say it for more reasons than not wanting to appear like I was talking to myself. This was Don's first trip back to the building he'd run for years and ultimately died in. Now he was returning in a supernatural form that most of his colleagues couldn't even see. That had to be discomfiting in more ways than I could imagine.
We went down the hallway toward the elevator, and I mentally catalogued the differences since the last time I'd been here. There used to be two busy offices in this section, but now the only sounds of activity were our steady footfalls on the linoleum floor.
When we got in the elevator, I pressed the button for the second sublevel, where the staff offices were located. A poignant sense of deja vu washed over me as the shiny doors closed. The last time I'd ridden this elevator on the way down, I had been rushing to Don's bedside to say goodbye. Now he stood next to me, the other side of the elevator hazily visible through his profile. Life certainly had some bends in the road that I never would have anticipated.
"Just so you know, if I see a bright light while I'm here, I'm running into it without waiting for you to say a damn word," my uncle said, breaking the silence.
The wryness in his tone made me laugh. "I'd be cheering you the whole way," I assured him, glad his sardonic sense of humor hadn't vanished despite the roughness of the past several weeks.
The elevator stopped, and we got out. I instinctively wanted to turn toward what used to be Don's office but made a left instead. Tate said he didn't feel right moving into Don's old office even though it was the largest and had a mini command station in it. I didn't blame him. It would feel like grave robbing to strip Don's things out of his office when he was still technically here, though only a handful of people in the building were aware of that. My uncle hadn't wanted anyone to know of his new, ghostly status, but I'd refused to hide the information from any undead team members who could still see and talk to Don.
Tate's door was ajar. I went inside without knocking though I knew he wasn't alone. Someone with a heartbeat was in there with him. A heartbeat, and too much cologne for a vampire's sensitive nose.
"Hey, Tate," I said, noting how stiff his posture was despite the fact that he was sitting. The reason for his tenseness must be the tall, thin man who stood a few feet away from Tate's desk. He had graying hair cut in the same high-and-tight style Tate favored, but something about his bearing suggested his hair was the only military influence he had. His stance was too relaxed, his hands boasting calluses that I'd bet came from pens versus weapons. His startled glance up revealed that he hadn't known we were here until I spoke, either, and while vampires were stealthy, I'd made no attempt to conceal the sound of our approach.
The arrogance in his stare once he recovered from his surprise made me mentally reclassify him from civilian to government desk jockey. Usually just two things accounted for such an immediate, overconfident attitude at a first meeting: a wealth of bad-ass undead abilities, or a person who firmly believed that his connections meant he could make his own rules. Since Mr. Cocky was human, that left the latter.
"You must be the new operations consultant," I said, smiling in a way that would look friendly to someone who didn't know me.
"Yes," was his cool reply. "My name is-"
"Jason Madigan," Don completed the sentence the same time as the gray-haired government contractor. My uncle's voice sounded strained, almost shocked. "What is he doing here?"
I kept my attention on Madigan, not looking over at Don even though it was my first instinct. Mustn't let on that there was a ghost in the room, and the question had been rhetorical since Don knew Madigan couldn't hear him.
"Cat Crawfield . . . Russell," I introduced myself. Okay, Bones and I weren't married according to human law, but by vampire standards, we were bound together tighter than a piece of paper could ever make two people.
A wave of pleasure brushed against my subconscious, drifting out from the shields Bones had erected around himself as soon as our helicopter landed. He liked that I'd added the last name he'd been born with to my own. That was all the officiating I needed to decide that I'd be Catherine Crawfield Russell from this day forth.
Even though I hadn't needed Don's reaction to deduce that Madigan was going to be a pain in my ass, years of strict farm-bred manners made it impossible for me not to offer my hand. Madigan looked at it for a fraction too long before shaking it. His hesitancy revealed that Madigan had a prejudice against women or vampires, neither of which endeared him any further to me.
Bones stated his name with none of my hand-offering compulsions, but then again, his childhood had been spent begging or thieving to survive the harsh circumstances of being the bastard son of a prostitute in eighteenth-century London. Not being endlessly drilled about manners and respecting your elders like mine. He stared at Madigan without blinking, his hands resting inside the pockets of his leather coat, his half smile more challenging than courteous.
Madigan took the hint. He dropped his hand from mine and didn't attempt extending it to Bones. The faintest expression of relief might have even crossed his face, too.
Prejudice against vampires, then. Perfect.
"You were right, weren't you?" Madigan said to Tate with a jovialness that rang false. "He did come with her."
For a second, my gaze flicked to Don. Good God, could Madigan see him? He was human, but maybe Madigan had some psychic abilities . . .
"With vampires, if you invite one spouse, the other is automatically included as well," Bones replied lightly. "That's an age-old rule, but I'll forgive you for not knowing it."
Oh, Madigan meant Bones. I stifled my snort. What he said was true, but even if it weren't, Bones wouldn't have stayed behind. I didn't work here anymore, so it was not like I could be threatened with anything if Madigan didn't like my attitude. And he wouldn't, I could promise him that.