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|Thirteen(Women of the Otherworld #13) by Kelley Armstrong|
I wanted it to be different. That’s a given. I’ve been waiting all these years for it to become something different, but nothing ever changed between us until this morning.
Had it really been just this morning? It seemed like a week ago.
But this morning, Adam had kissed me and it hadn’t been just a peck on the cheek. Not a “I’m happy to see you didn’t perish under a pile of rubble” kind of kiss. It’d been a real one, the kind I’d been dreaming of since I was twelve and he walked into my cell to set me free, and burned my name in a heart on my prison wall. Burned his name on my heart, too.
It figures, doesn’t it? Finally get to kiss the guy, and before you can find out if he really means it, you’re whisked away. Thrown in jail. Escape jail. Escape a hell-beast. See your mother resurrected from the dead. Escape demon-possessed children. Terrorize an informant. Have drinks with a hooker. Rush off to infiltrate enemy ranks before they skip town. It’s like the universe is conspiring to keep us apart, even if it had only been—I checked my watch—less than ten hours.
I thought of calling him instead of Lucas. But this was work and Lucas was in charge, and passing along a message through Adam wasn’t just cowardly—it was unfair, asking him to make a decision about my safety.
So I just texted him back: Will call as soon as I can.
As soon as I hit send, I realized that wasn’t enough. So I sent a second one: Can’t wait to see you.
I hit the button. My fingers were trembling, heart thumping, as if I’d just texted a declaration of undying love. I flexed my fingers and swallowed, and stared at that damned screen, waiting for the bleep of a return message, telling myself he probably wouldn’t even get it until he had a spare minute and—
The phone blipped. The message appeared: Ditto.
“Ditto?” I whispered, a laugh caught in my throat. “Seriously? Ditto?”
A second blip. A smiley face.
I muttered under my breath, calling him a few names, even as I couldn’t wipe the smile from my own face.
I nodded as my cheeks flamed. Mom smiled at me, then steered us into the parking lot.
I called Lucas. While he wasn’t thrilled with me staying, he understood that this operation had a better chance of success if one of the infiltrators actually knew the parties involved.
Proceed with caution, but proceed.
We were in another coffee shop, sitting in the window, watching a couple approach. They weren’t walking hand-in-hand. He didn’t have his arm around her waist. No outward sign that they were indeed a couple, unless you looked closer and noticed their hands brushing as they walked.
Mom leaned over the table. “Gotta admit, as good as Clayton Danvers looks from the other side, he looks even better in person.” She paused. “Just don’t tell Elena I said that.” Another pause. “Or your father.”
I smiled. “Nothing wrong with window shopping when you aren’t looking to buy. Elena’s used to it. Clay’s the one you don’t want noticing you checking him out. He does not take that well. Just ask Cassandra.”
Mom made a face. “Vampires.”
Clay and Elena walked in. Both are blond with blue eyes. Both were dressed in jeans, sneakers, and T-shirts, none of it less than five years old. It didn’t matter. They still looked like they stepped out of a magazine spread for Outdoor Living, fresh-scrubbed, athletic, and attractive. Both were on the far side of forty, but blessed with a werewolf’s slow aging and fast metabolism.
I stood and waved. Clay noticed first. He gave me a blank look. When I smiled and beckoned him over, he scowled and looked away and I had a moment of consternation before I remembered we were still in disguise.
Across the table, Mom chuckled. “You’re so right. There’s a man who does not appreciate attention, even from cute girls.”
Elena looked over at us, and after only a moment’s pause, smiled and whispered to Clay. His scowl vanished. I moved over beside Mom and let them take the booth seat across from us.
“Good disguises,” Elena said.
“Thank you,” I said. “And, as a bonus, I got to see how Clay acts toward the rest of the population. That scowl? Really not attractive.”
Elena laughed. “I think that’s the point.”
Clay snorted and took the biscotti from my plate.
“Hey,” I said. “Can we go back to being rude and dismissive? At least I get to eat my food, then.”
He broke off half. I reached for it. He handed it to Elena.
“I’ll go get us more,” Mom said, waving me out. “Coffee for you guys?”
“Yes, but let Savannah grab it,” Elena said. “She knows what we like.”
Elena handed me a twenty, but that was the extent of her “asking.” I didn’t take offense. I’m pleased that she treats me as part of the Pack. I’d grown up spending summers at Stonehaven with the Pack and I understood the mentality. Children are pampered and cosseted, which is wonderfully safe and cozy, until you hit the age where you balk at that coddling. That’s when you begin the transition to an adult Pack member, which means—since it’s a hierarchical structure—you start at the bottom. As Alpha-elect, Elena could order anyone except Jeremy to get her coffee.
As I left for the counter, I heard Elena introducing herself and Clay, and I kicked myself for forgetting that they’d never met my mom. Mom must have said hi through Jaime before, but that wasn’t the same thing.
When I came back, Elena’s face was grave, her eyes troubled. Even Clay—sitting back, taking the beta position—looked concerned. Mom’s voice held an odd note of uncertainty.
“What’s up?” I said.
They looked up, as if startled. I set the coffee and biscotti down.
“Seemed like an intense conversation.” I looked at Elena. “You didn’t just send me away to get coffee, did you?”
She met my gaze. “No. I wanted to get your mother’s opinion of this mission.”
“Elena doesn’t like it,” Clay said. “I agree. This psycho de Rais wants you for his collection, Savannah. You’ve already escaped him once. Now you’re going back?”
“So you think Giles really is de Rais?”
“Does it matter? Even if it’s not the guy who slaughtered children a few hundred years ago, it’s still the guy who’s been slaughtering supernaturals today—”
Elena cut in. “I’ve told Benicio and Lucas my concerns, and they’ve assured me that the risk is minimal. They trust that your glamour spell will hold, and if anything goes wrong, we’ll be ready to go in. You’ll also have Eve there, with her sword. I’m still not happy, but your mother has explained why you need to be there.”
She took a sip of her coffee, then set the mug down. “I’m going to ask that you keep this mission brief, though. We’ll find the building. You’ll infiltrate it. You’ll get a few details. And then you’ll exit, pronto.”
“We will,” I said.
We only had the street name of the meeting place, which would have been a lot more useful if it was a short street. We split up, and started at opposite ends, searching for an office-front that screamed “activist cell inside.” None did. It was just a boring street of boring low-rise office buildings.
As we walked, Mom used her Aspicio powers as discreetly as possible to peer into buildings, but saw nothing. Then a van turned into a lane a block away. A plain whitepanel van. Just like the one SLAM had used to transport me from their meeting hall.
I told Mom this as I propelled her along the sidewalk. We broke into a jog. When we reached the lane, we heard a man’s and a woman’s voice, and the hair on my neck rose before I even consciously recognized them.
“Severin and Sierra,” I muttered.
The twins were Giles’s enforcers. I’d first encountered their work at the home of a supernatural named Walter Alston. Giles had wanted Alston to summon Lucifer. He couldn’t. Severin and Sierra had made sure he was really certain of that by torturing him to death. Fire is an amazing power, but for sheer nastiness, there’s nothing like an ice demon.
“So these are the two who are working with Balaam?” Mom said. The bow case glowed blue, the light seeping out. She looked perfectly calm, but that sword was better than any mood ring.
“Yes,” I said. “If we can grab them, I say screw infiltration.”
I motioned to the narrow lane where they’d driven the van. We took another step. Then, from down the lane came a gasp of pain. An oath. Sierra snarling, “Get her!”
A young woman raced out in her bare feet, a cord dangling from one wrist. She veered our way, almost crashing into us. She stopped. Our eyes met. Mascara ran down her cheeks. One of them was marred by a white line where the skin had been frozen.
When running footsteps sounded behind her, I knew what I should do. Grab the girl. She wasn’t going to escape the twins—they were too close behind. Stop her and hand her over and win ourselves an introduction. But I thought about what had remained of Walter Aston, eyes gouged out, fingers and teeth lined up on the desktop. I froze.
Mom yanked the young woman off her feet as someone came barreling around the corner. It was a nondescript guy a few years older than me. Severin. He skidded to a halt when he saw Mom holding his target.
“This yours?” Mom said.
I’d never seen anything faze Severin—the guy really did seem to have ice water in his veins, but when he saw Mom holding the girl, he blinked. Then he stared.
Her glamour’s gone, I thought. Oh, shit. If mine is, too …
Sierra rounded the corner. She looked straight at me and my gut clenched, ready to launch a spell. Annoyance flickered over her features, then she turned to Mom.
“That’s ours, blondie,” she said.
I exhaled in relief.
“I know,” Mom said. “I was holding it for you.” She looked at Severin. “Where do you want it?”
“We came to see Giles,” I said. “We have information for him.”
“No one sees Giles,” Sierra said.
“Skip that part,” Mom said, her gaze still on Severin. “Where do you want your captive? Preferably before she has the sense to scream and draw a crowd.”
The girl’s eyes widened. Before she could utter a sound, Mom clapped her free hand over her mouth. Severin grinned. Sierra scowled.
“Take her over there,” Sierra said, waving toward the van, “with the others.”
As we stepped into the lane, we saw two guys helping other captives out of the van. A third man headed our way. I glanced at Mom. Back to plan A.
“So you came to see Giles,” Severin said as he followed Mom.
The third guy backed up to the door and helped the other two herd the captives into the building. As we walked, Severin made no effort to help Mom with her charge, just followed along behind her, seeming to enjoy watching her maneuver the struggling young woman as casually as if she were carrying a bag of trash. As they walked, his gaze dropped to her ass.
Sierra’s eyes narrowed and she sent ice daggers into Mom’s back. I’d suspected her relationship with her brother broke the oldest taboo, and that look pretty much confirmed it.
I cleared my throat. “That’s right. We—”
“What’s your name?” Severin asked Mom.
“Sami,” Mom said. “And my friend there is Bri. We’re students at Delgado. Some friends from UCLA told us about you. When we got some information you might find useful, we decided it was time to meet Giles.”
“If you have information, you’ll tell us,” Sierra said. “No one talks to—”
“What’s your power?” Severin cut in, still addressing Mom. “Half-demon, I’m guessing. Fire? Ice?”
He laughed. “Right.”
“I’m an Aspicio.”
Now Sierra laughed. “A daughter of Balaam? Bullshit.”
I tensed and looked at Mom.
Mom tossed me the young woman. “Hold this.”
She strode to the van, peered through the metal side, and described what she saw. Then she walked to the door the others had gone through. She waved aside the guy at the door, looked through the steel, and described what she saw.
Then she turned on Severin and Sierra, and waited.
“Holy shit,” Severin said.
“Not possible,” Sierra said. “There are exactly three Aspicios living and we know where they all are.”
“Do you?” Mom said. “Seems Lord Balaam doesn’t track his conquests as carefully as he should.”
Now even Sierra stopped scowling. I’m sure she was thinking of how delighted Balaam would be if she presented him with this gift. A long-lost child. Ready to join the fight when his granddaughter was being such a bitch and refusing him.
Sierra waved for the guy at the door to take the girl from me. He did, then radioed inside for someone to come get her.
“So what’s this news you need to tell Giles?” Sierra asked.
“Do you know Toby White?” Mom asked.
Their expressions said they did.
“Shawn Roberts?” she said.
“What about them?” Severin said.
“I’m not sure if you’ve been listening to the news, but there was a problem at a cop shop just outside the city. A problem involving a whole lotta dead bodies. One of them was Shawn Roberts.”
“And White?” Sierra asked.
“A different but connected issue.”
Severin swore under his breath.