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|Thirteen(Women of the Otherworld #13) by Kelley Armstrong|
“You means she’s … ?” Adam began.
“Right here. In the flesh.”
More silence. At last Jeremy broke it, saying, “Hello, Eve.”
“Hey, Jeremy,” Mom said with a smile. “Long time no see. Well, I’ve seen you plenty of times, but maybe we’ll finally get a chance for a face-to-face now.”
“I …” Adam began. “I don’t understand. How … ?”
“We aren’t sure on the how,” Mom said. “But we have a pretty good idea why I was brought over. I’m not your average ghost.” She paused. “Jeremy, can you explain it after we sign off?”
I glanced over at Jaime.
“She didn’t tell him,” my mother murmured to me. “He figured it out.” She raised her voice. “Jeremy will tell you why I’m such a valuable commodity. Now, we really should let you guys get to work on cleanup duty. Savannah is …” She glanced at my bandaged throat. “She really shouldn’t be talking so much.”
“What?” Adam said. “I thought she was okay. Savannah?”
Mom winced. “She’s fine, Adam. Just a … blow to the throat. It’ll be sore for a few days.”
“Blow?” He swore under his breath. “Okay, tell us where you are. We’ll be right there.”
“We … can’t do that,” I said. “We need to lie low until we’re sure no one links us to this thing.”
“Then we’ll lie low with you. If you’re hurt, Jeremy should check you out.”
Mom took the phone and clicked it off speaker.
“Hey, Adam,” she said, as she put some distance between us. “I know you’re worried about Savannah, but I promise she’s fine, and she’s right, we need to lie low …”
Her voice trailed off. After a few minutes, she came back and handed the phone to Jaime.
“Adam isn’t happy, but Lucas agreed with us. He’s recalling them to Miami on the jet that’s coming for Bryce. We’ll follow as soon as we can.”
As we trudged through the forest after making the call, it finally hit me. Really and truly hit. My mother was here. Now. With me. I could hug her. Talk to her. Except I couldn’t. Not really. I could talk and I could touch, but not the way I wanted to.
I wanted to take her hand and find a place for us to sit down and say to her, “Tell me everything.” Tell me about your new life. How did you become an angel? What’s it like? Are you happy? How’s my father? What was it like getting back together after all those years? Are you happy? That was the big one: Are you happy? Of course I could have asked her that anytime Jaime contacted her for me, but I never did because I wouldn’t trust the answer unless I could see her face. Now I could. And I still couldn’t ask. It wasn’t the time or the place.
How many times had I fantasized about this moment?
When we’d been in that underground cell together, and she’d figured a way out, she’d made me stay behind until she was sure it was safe. I remember sitting in my cell. Waiting. Waiting. Then our captors came and told me she was dead and I thought They’re lying. They’d caught her escaping and they were keeping us apart to punish us. But as days and nights passed in that tiny cell, I’d had to face the truth. If my mother was alive, she’d have moved heaven and earth to come for me. So she had to be dead.
Yet I indulged the fantasy. After I went to live with Paige, there were plenty of nights that I’d lie awake and imagine the door opening, my mother there, come back for me.
Now she had, and it wasn’t anything like my dreams. Yes, she’d come back for me. Yes, she’d saved me. But I wasn’t a child anymore. I didn’t need my mother now to rescue me from a hellish life. My life was fine. It had always been fine—my issues with Paige had been ideological clashes and teen angst, long since worked out.
But this was still a dream come true. Maybe even better, because I didn’t need anything from her now. I just wanted to be with her. Spend time with her. Private, quiet time … completely impossible under the circumstances. So I trudged along through the woods and snuck glances her way, reassuring myself she was still there, and watching her do the same to me. Keep moving forward. That was all we could do. That and pray that the Fates would let her stay long enough for us to have some time alone together.
The forest trek wasn’t easy on Jaime, even in sneakers. Werewolf partner or not, she didn’t spend a lot of time in the woods. I did—plenty of camping and hiking trips with Adam. And Mom was holding up fine. I kept expecting her sword to snag a tree, but she dodged and sidestepped obstacles, as if it was part of her anatomy.
“When we get to town, you need to get rid of that,” I said finally, pointing at the sword.
It was slung on her back. Just slung there, stuck on a thin cord, as if magnetized. Physically impossible to do with a hunk of metal that big, but I guess the rules of physics don’t apply for celestial gear.
“She can’t,” Jaime said. “Big no-no in the angel corps.”
“Under the circumstances, I think they’d make an exception,” I said. “We needed to take it out of the station, because it was a murder weapon. But now we’re heading for civilization, and that ain’t a pocket knife. You need to get rid of it.”
“I know. It’s just …” She nodded and stopped walking. “I’ll try.”
As she pulled it from her back, I stepped off the path and found a shallow gully filled with dead vegetation. She plunged the blade in sideways. When she covered it, I could still see a glimmer. I waded in and reached down to push it under.
Mom grabbed the back of my jacket and yanked me back.
“Uh-uh, baby,” she said. “You’re not touching that without oven mitts. Industrial oven mitts.”
She pushed it down farther, covered it with more debris, then dragged a huge fallen branch over it. Seemed like overkill, but I left her to it. When she was done, she walked backward away from it, murmuring, “So far, so good.”
“It’s fine,” I said. “If you have to return for it, it’s marked. Now—”
A tremendous crack had me diving for the ground, arms over my head. As I dropped, I saw what looked like that massive branch sailing into the air, broken in two. A whirlwind of dead vegetation swirled up, then exploded, wet and stinking of rot. I clawed it from my face and looked around.
Jaime was crouched ten feet away. My mother stood where I’d left her. On her back, the sword glowed blue, so bright I had to look away.
“Damn,” she said. “I was really hoping that wouldn’t happen.”
She helped me up and brushed the dead leaves from my clothes.
“So you can’t leave it behind,” I said. “Literally can’t. That’s … inconvenient.”
Jaime stood, picking leaves from her hair. “You can hide behind a blur spell when we aren’t alone. Probably a good idea. You’re so used to being a ghost, you’re liable to walk into walls and plow down old ladies.”
That wasn’t an ideal solution—Mom couldn’t stay under a blur spell for very long at a stretch. We didn’t tell Jaime that. We’d figure things out when we had to.
We set out again, and I fell in step beside my mother. “So how long have you had the sword?”
“You mean, how long have I been an angel?” Her voice dropped. “I’m sorry. I know this is a big shock.”
“One that could have been avoided.” I glanced back at Jaime, trudging behind us.
“No,” Mom said sharply. She shook her finger at Jaime. “Don’t give her that look and don’t apologize.”
“I—” Jaime began.
“You feel bad and you shouldn’t.” Mom looked back at me.
“She couldn’t tell you, Savannah. Couldn’t. She would have been bleeped.”
“Cosmic interference. Yes, maybe she could have found a way around that, but if she tried, the Fates would have decided I couldn’t be her spirit guide anymore. And no one wanted that, right?”
“Right.” I glanced at Jaime. “Sorry.”
She nodded. Still looked guilty, though.
“So how come that sorcerer wasn’t censored?” I said. “He told me what you were.”
“No idea. Same as I have no idea how he got me to materialize.”
“It was a spell. I heard him doing the incantation. I didn’t recognize the language, though.”
“Hmm.” She kicked aside a branch and murmured, “I find it hard to believe such a spell could even exist. Way too dangerous. Which could mean it’s not just an old spell he dug up, but something …” She shook her head. “We’ll work it all out later.”
“If you’re still here,” I said. “When the Fates realized what happened, they’ll recall you, won’t they?”
You could disappear at any second. That’s what I meant. I couldn’t say it, though, as if putting it into words might make it so.
“I don’t know,” she said. She stopped. “Maybe we shouldn’t be in such a hurry. We’re far enough away from the station. Let’s take a rest.”
Let’s rest. Let’s talk. Let’s just be together while we can.
God, how I wanted that. But I knew we shouldn’t, and from her expression, she knew it, too. We’d left a massacre behind, one that reeked of the inexplicable and the supernatural.
“We’ll have time,” I said, and resumed walking.
“I’m sure we will.” She reached up and ruffled my hair, then laughed. “Not as easy to do that now, is it?”
I nodded and my throat tightened. She put her arm around my shoulders, gave me a squeeze, and we carried on through the woods.
We made it as far as the first motel, still a few miles from the city, and decided that was good enough. The place was a dump. But the desk clerk was happy to take sixty bucks cash and didn’t ask us for ID, credit cards, or even a name.
He probably took one look at Jaime and me, and decided we were working girls. I didn’t tell Jaime that. Her ego might not have survived. After being drugged and sick, seeing people torn to pieces and cut in half, then tramping through swampy fields for miles, she was not her usual glamorous self. I was worse. I don’t even want to think about how the motel clerk figured I’d hurt my throat.
My mother hid behind the building while we checked in. We found her leaning against the wall, looking far more cool and collected than either of us. Medina’s shirt was too small—Mom’s a fraction under my six feet—but the Levine women aren’t blessed with curves, so it fit snug and short. She’d come from the afterlife in a very unangelic pair of worn jeans and leather boots. Her straight dark hair hung to her midback. She looked exactly as I remembered her, which I suppose made sense. Ghosts don’t age. But she looked, well, let’s just say that seeing her now, I realized why everyone said we looked alike. I had slightly shorter hair and blue eyes. Better fashion sense, too—I was also partial to jeans and boots, but my tastes were more Fifth Avenue than Walmart. Other than that, it was like walking toward a mirror.
She was gazing over the field, frowning slightly.
“See something?” I said.
“No, just …” She glanced at Jaime. “I’m surprised Kris isn’t pestering the hell out of you by now. He must have gone straight to the Fates to plead my case.”
“Actually, no,” Jaime said. “He was around before you came, but there was a problem. Come on inside and I’ll explain.”
Mom tried not to be freaked out about my father’s situation. “He’ll find his way out. Eventually. The man is brilliant, but he has the worst sense of direction. Once, he promised me a trip to the beach and teleported us to the Sahara.”
“It has sand,” I said.
“Exactly what he said. To be honest, I had more fun there than I would ever have had at the beach.”
“But if he has a bad sense of direction …”
“That just means he gets lost a lot. Meaning he has to get unlost a lot.” Her fingers tapped the bedspread. Then she said, more emphatically, “He’ll find his way back. Okay, kids, so the next step is …”
“Resting,” Jaime said. “Please tell me it’s resting.”
“To rest, you need to actually sit down,” I said. “You’ve been standing there since we arrived. The beds are reasonably clean. Just pull back the spread and keep your clothes on.”
“Please,” Mom said. “For once, keep your clothes on.”
Jaime made a face at her. Mom tugged back the cover, then reached over and dragged Jaime to the bed, hard enough that she fell onto it.
Jaime rolled her eyes, but stayed put, and they bantered for a few minutes as Jaime got comfortable. Watching them was … odd. I knew Mom had been Jaime’s spirit guide for years, and I guess I knew they were friends, too, but seeing them together, so comfortable with each other …
Was I envious? I don’t know. But it did make me feel … odd. My mother once called me the center of her world. That wasn’t maternal hyperbole. I really had been the center of her world and she’d been mine. We’d moved from city to city, never staying in one place for long. She had contacts and students, but I rarely saw them and they never saw her outside of business. Even her friends, she kept at arm’s length. This relationship with Jaime was different. I was happy for her, though.