Vampire Philip Archer and his team of successful art thieves -- black panther shifter Duff, ghost Rob, and Duff's human girlfriend Liddy -- are asked by the handsome Ian Croft, a potential client, to break with tradition and rescue a kidnapped child. When the caper turns out rather differently than expected, Philip is bitterly reminded why he has remained single for so long. Yet, surrounded as he is by loving friends, he is not desperate. This is why, when he meets the newly-made vampire Ephram, he suppresses his attraction and focuses on being a mentor to the Fledgling.
Ephram was turned by Virgil Ionescu, an ancient vampire known for casting off his Children before they are ready. Living off the streets, Ephram's future is precarious until he meets Philip. Ephram is immediately attracted to Philip and only too happy to be taken under his wing and taught the skills of surviving in modern New Orleans.
But Philip keeps secrets. Ephram can sense it, but he can't penetrate the thousand-year-old Philip's reserve. What will Ephram do when he discovers the big secret his new group of friends are keeping from him? Will his love for Philip trump all, or will he betray them? And, to complicate matters, Ionescu arrives unexpectedly in town, coming to check on his Child.
"I like the ambiance but the décor leaves something to be desired," I heard Ian say to Rob as we walked into the room. A room that only the most exploratory person would come upon. When you opened the door from that hall, all you saw was a storage closet, unless you ventured further in. Beyond the shelves to one side was a second door, although you wouldn't know it was more than a blank wall if you didn't see the slender notch three feet up, between it and the rest of the closet wall. Pull there and the door opens into the hidden room. Rob says it was used as a hideaway Lafitte and his men when necessary. I have no reason to disbelieve him.
"We'll have to do something about that," I said, pulling a chair away from the roughhewn wooden wall, spinning it around and sitting with my arms crossed over the back.
Liddy, being female, took possession of another chair and sat with her legs crossed at the ankles. Ian eyed her momentarily. "Definitely not business dress," he said.
She laughed. "I could have worn my short shorts but I didn't want to make Duff jealous."
Duff just snorted, pulling a chair up beside her. He didn't sit however. Just put on foot on the seat -- doing his macho male bit. Which given that he was an alpha shifter wasn't too surprising.
With only one chair still vacant, Rob gestured to Ian to take in before leaning against the wall with his arms crossed.
"Shall we get down to why we're here?" I asked once Ian was seated. "You said, if I remember correctly, that Bryce told you something about us that interested you."
Ian nodded, leaning back as he surveyed us. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but the four of you are retrieval experts."
I smiled. "That's one way to put it."
"I'd like you to retrieve something for me. Not your usual type of..." He paused, taking something from his pocket. I immediately recognized it as a bug detector. "Do you mind?" he asked. "It's not that I don't trust you, but I believe in better safe than sorry."
"Be our guest," I replied. "Will it locate any listening or recording devices you might have on you as well?"
That gave Ian pause, then he smiled. "I suspect it would. It beeps when it finds anything at all." He moved around the room, stopping by each of us in the process. At least he wasn't brazen enough to ask us to stand so he could sweep it over our bodies. Finally he said, "I'm satisfied," pocketed the detector and retook his seat.
"That was ... interesting," Duff said sourly. "Any reason why you felt it was necessary? After all, I think we should be the ones who'd be worried. Not you."
Ian tapped his lip. Apparently it was something he did while thinking about what to say next, as he'd done it while we were talking at the gallery. "I know you are able to steal paintings from art galleries. Not an easy task, as well secured as they are. Before you deny it, that's why Bryce told me about you. You've done it for him a time or two and he and I share the same ... shall we say 'hobby'?"
"We're not denying it. Neither," I smiled, "will we confirm it."
"Look. I'm not trying to entrap you, if that's what you're worried about," Ian replied. "I do need your services. Just not for that reason."
"What makes you think we'd be interested?" Duff asked gruffly.
"The challenge? The objective? The reason I want you to retrieve the object in question?"
"You're dancing around the issue."
"Sorry. I am. All right. One of my employees, Karen Ogden, just went through a messy divorce. Her now ex-husband is a total bastard. When she won legal custody of their son, he grabbed the boy from the day-care center and vanished with him."
"I take it she doesn't know where they went," Duff said.
"She has a good idea, and I agree with her. Steve, her ex, owns a hunting lodge in the Rockies. Not too far from Moose Mountain."
"Never heard of it," I said.
"It's about a five hour drive outside of Denver and you have to hike the last few miles to get to the lodge itself."
"He did that with a child?"
"Yes, if we're right about where he went. It's the most logical place, in my estimation. Virtually unapproachable without his knowing and very well secured since he only goes there during hunting season. Nicky is only three so Steve could have used a ... there's a name for them that escapes me at the moment."
"Child carrier backpack," Liddy told him. "My brother-in-law has one for their daughter."
"Thanks. Anyway, with one of those he'd have had no problem getting Nicky to the lodge. Steve is an experienced outdoor's man."
"Why haven't the police been brought in on this?" I asked. "I mean, I'm presuming they haven't been or you wouldn't be talking to us."
"Karen's ex is a deputy superintendent with the NOPD."
"That doesn't mean he's above the law," Liddy protested. Ian cocked an eyebrow and she sighed. "Okay, I get the picture."