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|The Reckoning(Darkest Powers #3) by Kelley Armstrong|
“No.” I knelt beside his body and reached into his pocket.
“Chloe?” Derek moved closer, frowning.
I took out Liam’s cell phone. “Someone called him. Someone who seems to have set the whole thing up, someone who knew me, my name.” I looked at Liam’s ghost. “Who is it?”
He choked on a laugh. “Seriously? I just died. Your boyfriend there killed me. You really expect me to stick around and chat? Love to, but I’m a little traumatized right now. Maybe later.”
He turned to leave. I raced into his path.
“You’re about to go to the afterlife,” I said. “This is your last chance to do something good.”
“Huh, well, since you put it that way…” He rolled his eyes. “I’m not interested in second chances. I didn’t do a thing that I regret. If you want answers…”
He stepped up, towering over me. I resisted the urge to back away, but I must have stiffened, because Derek moved closer and whispered, “Don’t let him harass you.”
“Harass her?” Liam said. “She’s the one who can’t get enough of my company.” He looked down at me again. “As I was saying, if you want answers, find them yourself. And try to have some fun while you’re at it, because I have a feeling I’m going to be seeing you again real soon…over on this side.”
Derek’s hand tightened on my arm. When I tried to pull away, he leaned down and whispered, “Let him go. It’s not worth it.”
“Listen to your boyfriend, cutie,” Liam called as he strode away.
I pulled myself up straight. “What did you think of my zombies?”
Liam stopped, turned slowly.
I waved at the dead dog. “Do you know how I did it?”
“Do I care?”
“You should. Necromancers raise the dead by sending a spirit-a ghost, like you-back into a corpse, where it’s under my control, as you saw. It works the same for animals and people. So either you answer my questions, or I’m shoving you back in there.” I pointed at his dead body.
He laughed. “I’d say you’ve got balls, but that’d be kinda inappropriate.”
“Do you think I’m kidding?”
He answered by turning his back and walking away. I closed my eyes and imagined tugging him toward his corpse, just a little pull.
“Hey,” he said. “Hey!”
I opened my eyes to see him straining against an unseen force.
“Did you think I was bluffing?”
I ramped it up a notch and he stumbled. I gave another tug. His ghost shot a few feet toward his body.
“Okay, fine,” he spat at me. “What do you want to know?”
“Who hired you?”
“You’ve got the phone. Figure it out.”
I told Derek what Liam said, then asked, “Was it the Edison Group?”
His face screwed up. “The electric company?”
“Was it a man named Marcel Davidoff?”
“He’s right,” Derek whispered. “You’ve got the phone. Ask something else.”
“When you found us the first time, in the playground, you said you’d pulled off the road and picked up Derek’s scent. That was a lie, wasn’t it?”
“Everyone lies, sweetheart. Get used to it.”
“Someone hired you to get rid of Derek.”
“You’ve figured it out. So you don’t need me-”
“Why do they want him gone?” I asked.
“Because I’m a werewolf,” Derek said. “Like Andrew said, no one wants us around.”
“Bingo, pup. It’s a lesson best learned early. They’re all afraid of us.” He strolled over to Derek. “You’re trying to be a good kid, aren’t you? You think that’ll show them they’re wrong. So, how’s that working out for you? Guess what? They don’t care. To them, you’re a monster, and nothing you do-or don’t do-will change their minds. My advice? Give ’em what they want. It’s a short, brutal life.” He smiled. “Live it up.”
Derek stared straight ahead, patiently waiting.
“He can’t hear a word I’m saying, can he?” Liam said.
He swore. “Here I try to impart some final pearls of wisdom to the next gener-”
Liam disappeared. I jumped, startled, then looked around.
“No, he just-” I kept looking, but couldn’t see any ghostly shimmer. “He was talking and then he vanished, like someone yanked him over to the other side.”
“What did he say?” Derek asked.
“Nothing we didn’t already-”
Derek wheeled. A man appeared twenty feet down the path. Ramon. Derek stepped in front of me.
Ramon raised his hand, palm out, showing he wasn’t armed. His broken arm hung at his side. As he walked toward us, I could see bruises on his jaw and blood soaking the side of his shirt. With every step, he winced.
“I’m not here to fight you, kid,” he said. “If you insist, I’ll give it my best, but I’d really rather call it a draw.”
Noticing Liam’s body, he stopped and shook his head.
“It was an accident,” I said.
“Yeah, well, I’m sure he had it coming.” Another head shake, but there was genuine grief in his eyes. After a moment, he tore his gaze from the body and looked up at Derek.
“So now what?” Ramon said.
“We call it a draw, like you said. But if you ever come after either of us again…”
Ramon gave a tight laugh. “Do I look like I’m in any shape to hunt you? Nah, this was Liam’s scheme. Crazy son of a-”
“Someone hired you two. Who was it?”
“Ask him.” He hooked his thumb at Liam. “He’s the man with the plan. Always was. I just go along for the ride.”
“So you have no idea who hired him?”
“Some supernatural. A healer guy.”
“Sorcerer?” I said. “Shaman?”
“No clue. I’m not into that stuff. Anyway, someone put Liam in touch with this guy who wanted a werewolf to track you down”-he nodded at Derek-“and hand you over to the Pack. Just so happened we were already in trouble with the Pack-on account of Liam, as usual.”
“And this was the perfect solution,” I said. “Give Derek to the Pack, blame him for the man-eating, and get paid for your trouble. If you couldn’t take him in alive, that was okay, too.”
“Not at first. The guy wanted you handed over to the Pack, seemed to think that would be okay. Or pretended to, anyway.”
“And if the Pack turned out to be killers, that wasn’t his fault,” Derek said.
“You got it. After we lost you the first time, he started getting antsy. Just wanted you gone one way or another. You want my advice?” He looked at Derek. “Take your girlfriend and start running. Whatever you’re trying to do here-live with other supernaturals, pretend you’re one of them-it won’t work. They’ll always be watching you, expecting you to lose control.” Ramon shook his head. “You know much about wolves, boy?”
“There’s a reason they live as far from humans as they can. Centuries of experience. People don’t like other predators around. Makes them nervous. When they get nervous, they try to eliminate the threat. Now, I’m going to say good night and take my buddy there.”
“And give him a proper burial?” I said.
A sharp laugh. “We don’t get luxuries like that. I’m going to take the down payment on the job, then I’m going to take his body to the Pack, settle up with them. And, yes, it’s a helluva thing to do to a friend, but out here, it’s survival of the fittest.” He met Derek’s gaze. “For us, it’s always survival of the fittest.”
With Derek’s help, Ramon managed to get Liam’s body over his shoulder, teeth gritted against the pain of the extra weight. Then he hobbled off into the night.
WE RETURNED TO WHERE Derek left his clothes before his first Change. As he dressed, I checked Liam’s cell phone. Derek walked up behind me and looked over my shoulder.
“He used initials for the name. RRB. But it’s a 212 area code. That’s New York City, so it could still be the Edison Group, using a local contact for the job.”
“You don’t sound so sure.”
He looked in the direction of the house.
“You think it’s one of them?” I said. “But we met Liam on the way to Andrew’s place.”
“They could have known I was on my way, sent Liam to stake out the bus route.”
“How? At the time, Andrew was being held by the Edison Group. He didn’t know we were coming, meaning no one in his group did either.”
“They could have been watching his house, seen Simon and Tori, figured out we were on our way, made a few calls to the bus companies, found out two kids got off in Albany the night before. It’s a stretch. But…” He shrugged.
“It’s a possibility.” I checked the initials again. “Did you catch Russell’s last name? Ramon said the contact was a healer. Russell’s a shaman. Unless Ramon meant a sorcerer.”
“Sorcerers aren’t healers. Witches are, kind of, but if it’s a guy, he’s a shaman.”
“We need proof. And I know how to get it.” I raised the cell phone.
Derek shook his head. “Too risky. I’m no good at imitating voices.”
“You won’t have to. Liam said if the guy wanted anything else, he should text him. So, presumably Liam might also text him.”
“Good idea.” Derek reached for the cell phone. “I’ll tell him-”
I pulled the phone out of his reach, and I looked at him. He got the message, rubbing his chin and nodding.
As I typed, he stepped back and tried not to watch over my shoulder. It wasn’t easy-he kept rocking forward to peek. But he managed to resist the urge to take over, and I appreciated that. Afterward I let him read what I’d typed and he approved.
According to the message, Liam had Derek and the girl cornered. He might be able to take them alive, but if he tried, he could lose them again. What did the boss want Liam and Ramon to do?
Whoever was on the other end must have been poised over his cell phone, waiting, because the reply came back in seconds. Five words. Just take care of them.
I sent back another, to be absolutely clear, saying if he wanted us to dispose of the bodies, that’d cost an extra 10 percent. Again, a quick response, one word this time. Fine.
I looked over to see Derek staring at the message. Just staring, like he still believed Liam and Ramon had only been trying to scare us and their orders were to leave me alone and deliver him to the Pack.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
He nodded. But he didn’t look okay, face pale, eyes fixed on the screen.
The phone vibrated. Another message, from the same sender, wanting to clarify that the extra 10 percent covered disposal of both bodies. And if they did take Derek alive, I had to disappear.
“Because if I go back, I can tell Andrew what happened,” I said. “It’s better if we both vanish, and it looks like we ran off together.”
I glanced at Derek. He’d gone an odd greenish shade, like he was going to be sick.
“I’m so sorry,” he said finally, the words little more than a whisper. “They were going to kill you because you came out here with me. To help me. I asked you to come.”
“And how’s that your fault?” I didn’t mean to snap, but I was mad. Not at Derek, but at them-everyone who made him feel like this. Before I could apologize, he blinked hard, the shock falling away, and I knew my anger had worked better than any words of reassurance.
“They targeted you because you’re a werewolf,” I said. “That’s it. It’s nothing you did, and nothing you can change. It’s their problem.”
“But if I know it’s a problem, I shouldn’t endanger anyone else.”
“So you should have come out here alone? That’s-”
“Not just that. I put you and Simon in danger just by…”
“By being here? And what’s the alternative? Take off? Give up on finding your dad? Leave Simon behind?”
He blinked. “No, I wouldn’t leave…but I feel like…”
“Feel like what?”
He shook his head, looking away. I walked around in front of him.
“Feel like what, Derek? Like you should leave? Like we’d be better off if you did?”
He rolled his shoulders in a half shrug, then looked away again. I was right. He just didn’t like hearing the thought voiced; it sounded too close to self-pity.
“No one is better off if you leave,” I said.
“Yeah.” He mumbled the word, unconvinced.
“Simon needs you.”
He nodded and stared into the forest.
I need you. I didn’t say that, of course. How could I, without it sounding weird? But I felt it, heart hammering against my ribs, and it wasn’t some romantic I can’t bear to be without you nonsense. It was something deeper, more desperate.
When I thought of Derek leaving, the ground seemed to slide under my feet. I needed something to hold on to, something solid and real when everything around me was changing so fast. Even if there were times I thought it would be easier without Derek there, ready to tear a strip off me at my every misstep, in some ways I relied on that-someone to keep me thinking, keep me striving to do better, keep me from burying my head and praying it all worked out.