Author’s Note: So… I realize this doesn’t entirely stand on its own.
I picked this part because it’s the least spoilery (for both stories) so far.
I know it’s crazy. It’s sort of a sequel, sort of a crossover. It’s insanely fun to write. It’s all Reynolds’ fault. I can’t remember which story I started first, which Reynolds was the first one, Ben or Persephone, but since they shared the same last name, somehow they ended up related and created this complication. The Consultant and the Cat meets the Machine… Yeah. Um. I should probably be embarrassed, but I’m having too much fun.
“It’s getting creepy.”
“What, the leopard?”
Reynolds looked over at the cat in the middle of the room. “That, too.”
Perry leaned back in his chair, tempted to kick the other man’s seat. He didn’t want to think too much about the way Carrington had arranged part of his new home—his new shared home—into a replica of their office. Oh, it lacked the counters in the conference room, and Perry hadn’t seen a coffee pot yet, but the boards he used were there and the table, and it looked like Carrington had been planning on having a team here all along.
“You weren’t here the first time those two met. If you think this is a bit odd, it was tense and awkward as hell the first time. Randolph’s a damn good profiler. He pegged those crimes, and he pegged me and the guys I worked with, and he probably had a good read on the Machine. The Machine, of course, he can turn that right back on anyone, and when the two of them got into it, they got into it. The Machine didn’t get mad, but he got pretty quiet. That dangerous quiet that he gets. He said something about Randolph’s father that had Marciano dragging him out of the room before someone got hurt.”
“And the two ice queens?”
Perry glanced toward the women. “Simply put, Ben, we’re all screwed. We are doomed. The men are not going to survive this one.”
Reynolds groaned, putting his head down on the table. Perry patted him on the back, grinning as he saw the leopard crossing toward him. The cat put her head in Reynolds’ lap, and he jumped out of his chair with a bit of a squeal.
The women looked over, both of them laughing, and Carrington and Randolph turned. Randolph’s smile was amused. Carrington frowned. Perry clapped his hands together. “Priceless. I wish I’d been filming that.”
“There is no need for you to share his humiliation on the internet, Perry, though I suppose you would say that your wife should have seen it.”
“Well, Mo and Abby, yeah.”
Reynolds glared at him. “No. Absolutely not. I hate you, Perry. I’ll get you for this. I swear. Where was the warning on that one?”
“Oh, come now, Reynolds—I mean your cousin, Persephone, not you—Katya did not harm anyone. She is very attuned to moods, though, and she was trying to help. I have been told I should register her as a therapy animal. She is good at such things,” Randolph said, and his cat ran over to his side, rubbing against his legs. “Yes, love, I tried to explain. You didn’t intend to hurt anyone.”
“This is insane.”
“And what we did before was sane, Reynolds? We investigated crimes while being stalked by a serial killer. Compared to that, a leopard is quite tame. In more than one sense of the word,” Carrington said, turning back to his board. “Why these three, Randolph? If someone is looking for a pattern, they should be looking for more of a signature.”
“It’s not necessarily about how they died.”
“It’s who died. I see. Someone believes that these people are being targeted for execution?”
“So I am told, though I know that I’ve been lied to, at least in part,” Randolph said, rejoining the other man at the board. “When Reynolds called Persephone asking for a case, I thought this had to be the one since I know there is something wrong. I just haven’t pinpointed it. What about you? You usually do this a lot faster than I do.”
“It has been suggested that this machine needs a reboot,” Carrington said, frowning at the pictures. The leopard bumped his leg, and he glanced down at it. “My mood is fine, thank you. I do not appreciate being interrupted while I’m working.”
Perry laughed, but he stopped and stared as the leopard did something he thought he’d never see. Animals were supposed to sense evil and all, and most didn’t react all that favorably to the Machine. This one, though, she licked his hand and seemed to be… purring.