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|Thirteen(Women of the Otherworld #13) by Kelley Armstrong|
She nodded. In front was the reception area. To our right, another door hung partially open. As we headed for it, I noticed more blood streaked on the linoleum. Still wet. From the were-wolf, I presumed. I steered around it and kept going.
More blood ahead. Lots more. Smeared in front of the partly open door. Lines ran through it. Drag marks. Was the werewolf the only thing responsible for those blood trails? I wasn’t sure enough to go through that door.
“Other way?” Jaime whispered behind me.
I nodded. As we crept back in the direction we’d come, I kept glancing back at the blood smears by the door. What if someone was in there, wounded?
I shook it off. As I’d said, I was done playing hero. While I was sure that Paige-and-Lucas-fostered self-sacrificing side of me would erupt again, it wasn’t popping out while we had a dead werewolf in the back room. We had to escape. This was Medina’s mess. Let her deal with it. Or let the Pack do it—after we got to safety.
“Hello?” a man’s voice called from the reception area. “Is someone here?”
Jaime stopped and looked back at me.
“I want to file an accident report,” he called. “Hello?”
I motioned for Jaime to follow and we backed up to a block of filing cabinets. As I tugged her behind them, I caught a flash of something across the room. Jaime gasped. I wheeled.
There was nothing there.
Jaime had her eyes half closed and was taking deep breaths.
“What’d you see?” I asked.
“Just a ghost. Some kind of—” Another deep breath. “A residual, I think. It startled me. Sorry.”
A residual was a spectral image, usually the replay of a gruesome death, meaning Jaime had every right to look like she was five seconds from puking. But why had I caught a flicker of it?
The guy in reception called out again. I plastered myself back against Jaime. My heart kept thumping. I tried to calm down. It was just a guy. At worst I could play receptionist and get rid of him.
Yet the self-talk didn’t help because it wasn’t the guy making my heart race. I kept thinking about that flash. A niggling doubt in my gut told me to look again.
I peered out and jerked back so fast I elbowed Jaime.
“What—?” she began.
I clamped my hand over her mouth. My heart was thudding so hard now I could barely draw breath. She tugged my hand away and mouthed, “You saw it?”
I nodded. What had I seen? I didn’t know. My brain was throwing out bits and pieces like a jammed movie camera.
Not human. No, not humanoid. That’s what had my mind stuttering, because it wasn’t human and it wasn’t beast, and that wasn’t possible. I lived in a world of monsters, but they were all recognizably human. Only werewolves could change form. This … This wasn’t a werewolf.
Eyes. I’d seen eyes. Cold, unblinking, reptilian eyes scanning the room. Looking for us.
Forget what it was—it was looking for us now and when it found us …
Blood. I’d seen blood and gore dripping from misshapen jaws. I stared at the smear on the floor and now saw more than drag marks. I saw claw marks.
“Hello?” the man called. “Jesus Christ. Someone’s gotta be here.”
A creak. The door opening. A growl. An inhuman cry, half shriek, half snarl.
I leaped from my hiding spot. The thing flew at the man. Literally flew, leathery crimson wings billowing out. Its beak-like snout opened and it let out another horrible cry.
“Holy shit,” the man said. “Holy fucking—”
I hit the beast with an energy bolt. Or I tried to. What came out was a spray of harmless sparks that showered the thing. It gave a screech, more annoyance than pain, and reared back. Four taloned feet flashed. All four grabbed the man. Grabbed him and ripped. Blood sprayed. An arm landed by my feet. The man was screaming. All that blood, and that arm lying at my feet, and the man was still screaming.
Jaime had to drag me a couple of feet before I snapped out of it. I pushed her along ahead of me as we ran for the second door. My sneakers slid and squealed on the blood. A grunt from across the room. The beast. The man had gone silent now. Thank God, he’d gone silent. But that meant the beast had heard my shoes.
Jaime wrenched open the door. We tumbled through. I yanked it closed. The beast hit it with a thud, the wall shuddering. I held it shut with both hands, my feet braced. It threw itself at the door, over and over, shrieking.
Jaime grabbed my shoulder. I lifted my hand to brush her off, then realized she was holding out a steel baton. We jammed it into the handle. The door rocked twice more. Then stopped. Talons clicked on the linoleum as the beast retreated.
I glanced at Jaime. She didn’t ask what that thing was or how it got here. Right now, it only mattered that it was here.
“It’s looking for another way in,” Jaime whispered.
“Which means we need to find another way out.”
I turned. We were in an office. The chief’s office, I was guessing. Big, spacious, filled with natural light … all coming from skylights overhead. Barred skylights. No other exit.
There was a shout. Then an earsplitting screech. I spun toward the door.
“Holland!” I said. “We forgot about—”
A scream cut me short. The same kind of horrible scream I’d heard from the man who’d been torn apart.
Jaime gripped my elbow. “Too late,” she said. “We need to find a way out.”
I stood frozen as the scream was replaced by wet smacking and grunting as the creature devoured the young officer. Then everything went quiet.
I pressed my ear to the door.
Jaime tugged me back. “It just remembered there’s a bigger meal in here.”
I took a step, and nearly landed on my ass. I looked down at what I’d slipped on—the extension of the blood trail that came through the door.
It continued past the massive desk. I took two steps and leaned around to see what looked like rope on the floor. Another step. Not rope. Intestine, stretched out from what remained of a torso clad in …
“Medina,” I whispered, seeing the name plate on her uniform shirt.
That was the only way I would have recognized her. Her legs and one arm had been ripped off. As for her head, it was still attached, barely. Where her face should be, there was a bloody crater.
Jaime stepped around the desk. I blocked the sight.
“There’s someone behind her,” Jaime whispered.
I looked behind the desk. There were bodies there. Two, maybe three. It was impossible to tell. One face stared up from the pile. The blond witch, Keiran.
“Okay,” Jaime said, taking a deep breath. “We need—” She looked around. “Phone. We need to find the—”
Her eyes rounded. She lunged forward. “Savannah!”
Cold steel pressed against my throat.
“I’d say, ‘Nobody move,’?” said a raspy male voice. “But I think the knife makes that redundant.”
I started whispering a spell. The blade pressed into my windpipe.
“I’d call that moving,” he said. “Another word and you won’t be speaking. Or breathing.”
“There’s a thing out there,” Jaime said. “Some kind of beast.”
“Demon,” he said. “Demonic, at least. I was testing out a particularly tricky new spell.”
A sorcerer. One who knew witch magic, which explained how he’d appeared from nowhere. Cover spell.
“Who are you?” Jaime demanded, as if reading my mind.
He continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “That beast wasn’t quite what I hoped to summon, but I’ve sent it back now. With a full belly, apparently. Pity about Jackie Medina. A nice person to work with. So dedicated to the cause. So gullible.”
“She wasn’t drugging us to make us more compliant, was she?” Jaime said. “The drugs were supposed to drive supernaturals crazy. Why?”
“Is this the point where I explain my master plan? Um, no. Thanks, but I have more important things to do.”
“Like cleaning up this mess,” I muttered.
“That’s not on my list either. I’m sure either the council or the Cabals have a crime-scene cleaning team on speed dial. And avoiding fallout … ?” He chuckled. “Definitely not part of the plan. As for the plan itself, let’s just say it underwent a serious change when Ms. Medina called me and said she had Jaime Vegas and Savannah Levine in custody. The Fates must be smiling on me. Well, not the Fates, maybe, but someone is. I wanted a chance to test my spell, and you gave me a better one than I ever could have imagined. Now, Ms. Vegas, could you do me a favor and call Eve Levine? I know you have her on speed dial.”
“I can’t—” Jaime began.
“Yes, you can.” He gestured at the knife against my throat.
Being told to call my mother or I’d die? Serious déjà vu. First Leah O’Donnell, the half-demon who came back from hell. Now this asshole. Everyone wanted Mom. Which meant, while part of me said I should be scared, I was really just annoyed. And impatiently waiting for this sorcerer to get caught up in negotiations with Jaime and relax his grip enough for me to escape.
“You can call her,” he repeated. “And you will, because if you don’t, I’m going to slit her daughter’s throat and leave her on this pile of bodies.”
“You don’t understand,” Jaime said. “Eve is out of contact. Someplace I can’t reach her.”
“You mean she’s off on an angel assignment.”
Jaime let out a squeaky laugh. “Um, no. Trust me, Eve Levine is no—”
“She’s an angel. Ascended angel. Celestial bounty hunter.”
I looked at Jaime, and waited for a real laugh, not that nervous titter.
Her mouth opened. Closed. She swallowed. She looked at me and blushed.
Angel? My mother was an angel?
I wanted to laugh. Only I couldn’t, because it made sense to me—as much sense as the concept of my dark-witch half-demon mother as a divine agent could.
Leah had said my mother was on her tail. That Mom could keep her from going back to hell. Who could do that except an angel?
When my mother came for Leah, I’d seen her faint outline. I’d also seen something glowing at her side. Something she’d used to slice bloodlessly through Leah’s host body and send her soul back to hell. What could do that except a celestial sword?
Kimerion—a demi-demon who’d been helping us—said Leah must have gotten divine aid to escape her hell dimension. He claimed it was a collaboration between the angelic and the demonic. Then he’d asked about my mother.
That’s why Leah wanted her. That’s why this guy wanted her. Because my mother had a direct line to the celestial.
I felt … Confused. Then that fell away and what took its place wasn’t fear or pride. It was hurt. Hurt because this son of a bitch knew my mother was an angel, and I didn’t. Hurt because I trusted Jaime—trusted her since I was fourteen years old—and now I realized she’d kept something about my mother from me, something important.
Finally, Jaime said, “If you know what Eve is, then you understand that she’s not always at my beck and call. Six months of the year she’s an angel. I can’t summon her. I’m forbidden—”
“You can’t?” he said. “Or it’s forbidden? Those are two different things. If Eve Levine finds out that her daughter died and you didn’t have the guts to try calling her, she’ll reach through the dimensions and rip those guts out through your belly button.”
The blade slid across my throat. I felt the skin split. Felt blood run down my neck. Heard Jaime yelp. Tried to turn, but the blade was still there, cutting in deeper, his other hand wrapped around my hair now, wrenching my head up.
My eyes bulged as I gasped for breath. I found it. Somehow I found it.
I could still breathe. Blood oozed down my neck. But it didn’t spurt. I stopped struggling.
“Good girl,” the sorcerer whispered. “Ms. Vegas, the ball is in your court.”
She was already saying my mother’s name, the words spilling out as she yanked off my mother’s silver ring and clutched it. “Eve, I need you, please, Savannah needs you.”
She paused for breath, and he dug the knife in again and I gasped, eyes rolling in pain, a scream caught in my throat, not daring to let it out, barely daring to breathe for fear it would press my throat harder against the blade.
The sorcerer was murmuring something. A spell?
I stopped the thought. Squeezed my eyes shut. Don’t call her. Don’t call her.
Are you crazy? There’s a knife—
I can’t call her. I won’t. My mother was an angel. A god-damned angel, and if people knew I could summon an angel, I’d have a knife to my throat every week. I had to trust Jaime.
“I—I think she’s coming,” Jaime said. “I feel her, and—”
“Tell her to cross over there.”
He pointed. I tried to look, but the knife wouldn’t let me.
“I—I don’t under—”
“Tell her to cross there. Into the circle.”
Circle? I didn’t need to look now. It had to be something for binding a spirit.
“No,” I said, wheezing. “Jaime, don’t you dare—”
The knife bit in and I yowled. Couldn’t help it, even if it made the blade dig in all the more.
I could barely see Jaime through a haze of red. But I glowered at her, pouring every bit of rage and betrayal into that glare.