Scully’s wool coat flapped against her legs as she strode across the field toward the small police presence gathered near the tree line. As a force of habit, she bore most of her weight on the balls of her feet to keep her heels from sinking into the soft earth, because she’d be damned if she was going to ask Mulder to slow his lanky stride so she could keep up. He walked beside her, tall and loose-limbed, his expression eager as a puppy but with the intensity of a bloodhound following a scent trail.
Overhead, the London sun had been blotted out by a hazy gray sky. The air was heavy with moisture, cool and damp, clinging to her skin and frizzing her hair. A white tarp had been erected over the crime scene ahead, and officers in white coveralls moved about beneath it, processing the scene. Off to the side, a blonde woman dressed all in black stood talking to two uniformed officers.
Scully and Mulder headed for this trio. He was convinced he was onto something big, and he’d convinced her to come all the way to London—on their own dime and vacation time from the bureau—to prove it. For once, she agreed with him, or she’d never have agreed to this trip, especially since it meant revisiting one of their most ridiculous cases. Well, and then there was the fact that both of them were dying of boredom now that Kersh had taken them off the X Files. If she had to spend another day running background checks…
It was a punishment. And it was working, because she was about to lose her mind, and Mulder had taken to sneaking off on unauthorized field trips—like this one—chasing down his never-ending list of conspiracy theories. She hadn’t been entirely convinced by the exsanguinated cows, but it had been enough to get her on the plane. When the body was discovered this morning, though, she’d felt a rare thrill. They might actually be in the right place at the right time for once. They might actually close this case.
As they neared the group of officers ahead, Scully straightened her spine and lifted her chin, steeling herself for what was to come. Mulder’s pace quickened, and she lengthened her stride to keep up.
The blonde turned, tossing her hair over her shoulder as she watched them approach. Her eyes locked on Scully’s, intense and startlingly direct. Scully’s heel caught in a tuft of grass, and she gripped Mulder’s arm to keep herself from falling.
His hand rested momentarily against the small of her back, steadying her, as he turned toward the blonde. He seemed to have drawn the same conclusion Scully had—this woman was clearly in charge. Authority radiated off her like a force field, adding to her already striking appearance. She was petite, probably not any taller than Scully, with blonde hair that hung halfway down her back in loose waves and piercing blue eyes.
“You’re the FBI agent I spoke with over the phone?” She directed this at Mulder, her voice like chipped ice, sharp, cold, British.
“Special Agent Fox Mulder.” He extended his hand.
“Detective Sergeant Stella Gibson.” She gave his hand a quick shake before turning her gaze on Scully.
“Special Agent Dana Scully.” She took Detective Gibson’s hand and shook, trying not to stare too hard, but there was something so magnetic, so powerful about her presence, Scully couldn’t look away.
The detective stared right back for a long moment. She was younger than Scully had initially thought, maybe even a few years younger than Scully herself. “I confess I’m still not sure why the FBI is interested in this case. Obviously, you have no jurisdiction here.”
“We’re not here in an official capacity,” Mulder told her as his eyes scanned the crime scene. Yellow tape marked a shallow grave the Metropolitan police had already uncovered and emptied. “But we think we may be familiar with your killer from a prior case of our own.”
Her eyebrows rose. “You think my killer is American?”
“Yeah, actually, we do.” Mulder had that look again—like an excited puppy—as he prepared to launch into a tale about vampires and pizza delivery boys.
Scully braced herself, determined not to roll her eyes at the absurdity of it all. Because, as crazy as it sounded, it had—at least in some capacity—actually happened. Whether or not the killer had been a flying teenage vampire or just a crazy, coldblooded killer, he had been a killer, and he had escaped, unpunished.
“About a year ago, Scully and I were called to investigate a case where the victims were found completely drained of blood, with two puncture marks on their neck, like fangs.” He emphasized that last part with a dramatic flair, and Scully couldn’t help it. She rolled her eyes.
Mulder gave her an impatient look. “The local authorities had initially overlooked the fact that each victim’s shoe laces had been untied, like the body you just uncovered.”
“Go on,” the detective said, her interest clearly piqued, and Scully could picture what would happen next so clearly. Mulder would adopt that flirtatious tone that made women swoon, weaving a tale of danger and intrigue, while Detective Gibson drew closer, pressing him for details, maybe resting a hand on his arm.
And it really shouldn’t bother Scully, because it happened all the time, and she knew Mulder never actually slept with these women. He was as clueless as he was charming. In fact, Scully wasn’t actually sure he’d had sex in the six years she’d known him. So, she wasn’t sure whether the hot surge of jealousy she felt swelling in her chest now was over the thought of Mulder flirting with Detective Gibson, or of Detective Gibson returning his affection.
Because Scully still found herself oddly captivated by the detective herself.
“It was Scully who noticed all the victims’ stomach contents consisted of pizza,” Mulder was saying. “And she realized the pizza delivery boy was our killer.”
“The pizza delivery boy?” Detective Gibson’s gaze was still cool, assessing. “But you didn’t have enough evidence to make an arrest?”
“Well, ah…” His gaze darted to Scully.
She gave her head a slight shake. Good luck explaining the rest of it without sounding completely insane. But, luckily or unluckily for her, Mulder had never much cared what people thought of him.
“The thing is, he’s a vampire.” He leaned forward with a conspiratorial smile aimed at Detective Gibson.
She blinked, hard, jaw jutting irritably as if she didn’t have the patience for any of this. “I don’t understand.”
“It was what drew us to the case in the first place,” Mulder said. “All the classic signs of vampirism were there, right down to the untied shoes. Did you know that most vampires are obsessive compulsive?”
The detective stared at him as if he’d just told her that…well, that vampires were real. Scully might have found it amusing if her own reputation weren’t at stake alongside Mulder’s.
“It was never actually proven that he was a vampire,” she interjected, trying as ever to be the voice of reason. “In fact, he was using a drug called chloral hydrate to incapacitate the victims before he drained them of blood, which would suggest he was quite human.”
“Then explain what happened in your hotel room that night,” Mulder said, smug.
She heaved a resigned sigh. “I was at the medical examiner’s office, conducting an autopsy on our second victim, when I discovered that the chloral hydrate was in the pizza they’d both eaten shortly before they were murdered.”
“At the same time, I was in Scully’s hotel room, eating the pizza she’d ordered…”
She glared at him, still annoyed that he’d eaten her dinner, even if it did almost get him killed. “Long story short, the pizza delivery boy, a local teenager named Ronnie Strickland, had drugged my pizza, which Mulder ate. I got there just in time to interrupt him before he could kill Mulder too.”
“I had been able to delay him for a few minutes by throwing sunflower seeds at him,” Mulder explained with another smile, turning the full force of his boyish charm on Detective Gibson.
She folded her arms over her chest, looking decidedly unamused, her gaze flicking to Scully’s. And suddenly, Scully would rather be swallowed up by the damp London soil beneath her heels than tell this woman the rest of the story. But Mulder was already explaining how he’d plunged a wooden stake through Ronnie Strickland’s heart.
“Bearing in mind that Agent Mulder was under the effects of chloral hydrate at the time, which may have affected his judgment,” Scully added. “The important thing is that Ronnie Strickland killed at least two people in Chaney, Texas, last year, and now we believe he’s killing here in London.”
“Thank you for bringing this to my attention,” Detective Gibson said, her tone clipped with impatience. “But I’ll take it from here.”
“Actually…” Scully stepped forward, and the detective fixed her again with that intense stare. “I’m a medical doctor. I autopsied the victims in Texas. Maybe you could just let me take a look at this body to check for similarities?”
For a moment, she was sure the steely-eyed detective was going to send her on her way, and then she’d be forced to follow Mulder wherever he decided to poke next, since she’d driven here with him, but then Detective Gibson gave a brisk nod.
“I suppose that couldn’t hurt.”
“Thank you,” Scully told her earnestly. “I brought the bite impressions from our cases with me from DC. Hopefully, we can get a match.”
“Great. You go look at the body, Scully. I’m going to check something out.” Mulder strode off in the direction they’d come from, his mind already miles away, focused on…wherever he was headed. If it wasn’t so perfectly, typically Mulder, she might actually scream in frustration.
Instead, she gave Detective Gibson a tight smile. Hopefully she didn’t mind driving Scully to the morgue.
* * *
Stella rested her hip against the doorframe, watching Agent Scully as she examined the body. She’d changed into blue scrubs, red hair gleaming beneath the harsh overhead lights in a most distracting way. She and Stella had observed the official autopsy, which confirmed that the victim—one Joe Morris—had indeed eaten pizza shortly before his death, and now Scully was getting the chance to make her own observations under Stella’s supervision.
She was newly promoted to Detective Sergeant, which at her age and especially as a woman, meant she had a hell of a lot of pressure to succeed on her shoulders. She absolutely could not afford to fuck up, not on this case and especially not with the questionable interference of Agents Mulder and Scully. Her gaze dropped to Scully’s gloved hands.
“Have you ever heard of a condition called Renfield’s syndrome?” she asked, tossing a glance over her shoulder at Stella.
“Sufferers have an obsession with drinking blood.” Scully bent her head to examine the bite wound more closely. “Some of them even believe themselves to be real life vampires.”
“So, you don’t think your killer was actually a vampire, then?”
Scully’s brows drew together, causing faint wrinkles to appear above her nose that only added to the professional yet sexy vibe she had going. “As a scientist, I would have to say no.”
“And as an agent?”
Scully gave her a sharp look. “There is the small matter of the way he walked out of the morgue once the medical examiner removed the wooden stake from his chest cavity.”
“The wooden stake your partner drove into his heart.”
Scully straightened, tongue darting out to wet her lips, obviously choosing her next words carefully. In the end, all she said was, “Yes.”
“Dana,” she interrupted, her expression softening as she met Stella’s gaze for a moment before returning to the body on the table in front of her. “I know it sounds crazy. I can’t explain it. But whether or not either of us believes Ronnie Strickland is a vampire, the fact remains that I think he’s here in London. See these puncture wounds?”
Stella pushed off from the doorframe and stepped closer, close enough that the faintly fruity smell of Scully’s shampoo reached her nose through the other, less pleasant scents of the morgue. “I see them.”
“He wears prosthetic fangs over his teeth.” She gestured to the two fang marks that punctured the victim’s neck. “I expect that once the lab comparison comes back, you’ll find that these marks match our victims in Texas.”
“Your bodies weren’t buried.” Stella met Scully’s eyes, intrigued by what she saw there, intelligence and determination sparkling in their blue depths.
“No. He left them at the scene in Texas, but he’s had almost a year to learn from that experience. Who knows how many people he’s killed and buried since then?”
“He’s become more sophisticated,” Stella said. “Assuming it’s the same man.”
“The puncture wounds, exsanguinated bodies, pizza in the stomach, chloral hydrate in his bloodstream, and the untied shoelaces are all a match for our case in Texas.”
“A lot of similarities,” Stella admitted. She’d been ready to write Mulder and Scully off as slightly crazy and way out of their jurisdiction when she’d first met them, but now she was willing to admit there was a strong chance their cases were linked.
“I expect Mulder’s out canvassing local pizza delivery places,” Scully said.
“He didn’t tell you where he was going?” Stella had never worked with a partner. The Metropolitan police assigned officers at random to each case, but her impression was that her counterparts in America worked quite closely with their partners.
But Scully was shaking her head, her expression a combination of frustration and amusement. “His feet sometimes work faster than his mouth.”
“I see.” Stella watched as Scully stepped back from the table, removing her gloves.
“I had a photo and profile of Ronnie Strickland sent to your office. You should show it around, see if he’s still delivering pizzas for a living.”
“I’ll do that,” Stella said. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Scully’s smile was brief but sincere.
“So, you believe he suffers from Renfield’s syndrome, then?” she asked, not sure why she was pushing the subject, but it fascinated her to see a woman of medicine, of science, otherwise so logical and rational, consider the possibility that their killer might be a mythical creature.
Scully drew a deep breath, pushing it out slowly, her jaw flexing as if she’d grown unfortunately accustomed to answering questions like these. “There were anomalies in his blood that I can’t explain, not to mention his apparent resurrection from the dead. I would have to examine him myself to be certain, Detective Gibson.”
“Stella,” she corrected.
“Stella.” Scully looked her dead in the eye, and Stella felt it in the pit of her stomach, a shivery heat that rose up to lodge in her throat. Nothing turned her on in a woman more than competence, intelligence, and right now, Dana Scully had her halfway convinced vampires were real.
“It’s possible that there’s a science to Ronnie Strickland’s condition that I’m not aware of,” Scully said. “It’s also possible he’s just another self-deluded psychopath.”
Stella led the way out of the morgue, waiting in the hallway as Scully changed back into her clothes. She emerged from the bathroom wearing the black trousers, white button-down shirt, and black blazer she’d had on earlier, running her fingers through her slightly ruffled hair.
Stella had driven her here from the crime scene and was prepared to offer her a ride back to her hotel as well, assuming the elusive Agent Mulder didn’t reappear. Her gaze caught on Scully’s slender fingers as she toyed with a button on her shirt. “Have you eaten yet, Dana?”
“What?” Scully darted a nervous glance in her direction.
“Would you like to get something to eat before I drive you back to your hotel?” she clarified.
Scully hesitated long enough that Stella started to consider alternate options to burn off the restless energy buzzing inside her, like going to one of her favorite bars to find a random man for the evening, or a swim, or even returning to the office to update her case file with the new information Scully had provided.
But she smiled as she buttoned her blazer. “I’d like that.”
“Perfect.” Stella couldn’t help the way her gaze drifted to the delicate curve of Scully’s collarbone beneath her Catholic cross pendant, the swell of her breasts visible beneath the open top button of her blouse. The way Scully’s cheeks darkened when she caught Stella looking. The slight toss of her head as she dared her to keep looking.
On second thought, Stella wasn’t in the mood for a man tonight, after all.