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|Thirteen(Women of the Otherworld #13) by Kelley Armstrong|
“We’ll take you inside,” Sierra said. “If Giles is there, he might talk to you. He might not. Either way, remember that he’s a very busy man.”
As they led us through the side door I surreptitiously texted Elena to let her know where we were. Mom was busy explaining the bow case—she’d put it down to deal with the girl and only now did Severin and Sierra notice. Mom said it was exactly what it looked like—a bow. We’d been on the way to her archery class when we’d decided to swing past the meeting house and scope it out, and just happened to catch the escapee and win an introduction Was it a good excuse? No. But if we were trying to smuggle in weapons, we’d do something a little less obtrusive—and a little more deadly—than a bow.
When we got inside, I looked around. The last time I’d been in a SLAM meeting house, what struck me most was how serene it was. Like what I’d imagine from a cult or a commune.
Throw a bomb in the mix and that serenity gets blown to hell.
People darted from one door to another. I heard voices raised in irritation, in anger, in anxiety. Somewhere someone was shouting that he didn’t give a shit if it wasn’t possible to clear out in two hours—make it possible.
When Sierra and Severin came through, people slowed down and lowered their voices, clearly trying not to get noticed. As soon as we passed, the chaos rose in their wake. Finally we reached the one silent door in the hall. Sierra knocked. A woman cracked it open from inside. She was about my age, and so mousy she made the twins look like supermodels. Veronica Tucker, better known as Roni.
Roni had been my first introduction to SLAM, back when I’d been solving the murders Leah had committed. She’d been a witch hunter who just “happened” to be in town at the same time. There were no such coincidences, of course. She’d hunted me, then pretended she’d been set up, to lure me in and hand me over to Giles.
“He’s not seeing anyone,” Roni whispered. “You’ll need to—”
Severin slammed his open hand into the door, sending her stumbling back. Sierra pushed through and shoved Roni aside when she squawked.
The room was small and empty. Sierra headed to a second door. She rapped on it, and waited for a “yes?” then blocked the opening so I couldn’t see inside.
“There are a couple of new girls here. They—”
“Recruits?” a woman said. “In this mess, you bring us recruits?”
“No,” Sierra said, her voice chilly. “I bring you information. Potentially important information. Giles? The girls say that trouble at the police station has something to do with Shawn Roberts and Toby White. Do you want to speak to them?”
“Yes, yes.” Giles’s voice. “Of course.”
He murmured something, presumably to whoever else was in the room. A moment later, three people came out. I recognized two from when I’d been held captive. The third—a dapper man in his fifties—was a stranger. He stopped and gave us the once-over.
“My dears,” he said, extending a hand. “May I be the first to welcome you to the cause.” He turned to the doorway. “Giles? If you need someone to show these lovely young ladies around …”
“I have better uses for your time, Gord,” Giles said dryly, still from the next room. “I’ll see you as soon as I’m done here.”
They left. Severin held the door and waved Mom inside. I followed. The door closed behind us, Severin and Sierra staying in the hall.
At first I didn’t see Giles. Then I spotted him at a table, papers strewn before him. He rose and stepped toward us, hand extended, a welcoming smile on his lips.
Giles Reyes. Or, if the stories were correct, Gilles de Rais— a French nobleman who’d ridden with Joan of Arc. That military service was not, however, what put de Rais in the history books. He was tried and convicted in the deaths of at least forty children. I knew the stories of what he did to those children. I won’t repeat them. It is enough to say that now, seeing him for the first time since I’d heard whom he claimed to be, the first thought to enter my mind was I could kill him. If I could manage to touch him without throwing up. And that’s if I could kill him at all. He claimed to be immortal, and we had Cassandra DuCharme’s eyewitness account of him seventy years ago to support that claim.
All I could do was try to see him as the man I remembered—Giles, leader of SLAM, nothing more. Just a well-dressed guy in his thirties, bearded, dark haired, and dark-eyed.
“You’re clearing out?” Mom said. “Can’t say I blame you. I heard about the lab.”
His eyes darkened, annoyance creasing the corners of his mouth. “Well, we’re making some changes at least. You say you have information for me?”
His gaze moved back to his papers, as if he’d already decided that nothing we could tell him would be worth his undivided attention.
I answered before Mom could. I’d spent enough time with Giles to understand the man a little. He could play the friendly, unflappable leader, but poking him, as Mom had, was like prodding a resting cobra.
“We do, sir. I’m sorry we’ve come at such a bad time, but we do think this is important. Do you know Toby White and Shawn Roberts?”
“I have … worked with Mr. White. My sources suggest Mr. Roberts is a supernatural who doesn’t believe in my cause. I suspect you’re here to confirm that?”
“Roberts was part of a group who hijacked your arrangement with Jackie Medina. They planned to teach supernaturals that revealing themselves is a very bad idea.”
Now I had his full attention. He motioned for us to sit. I told him a little more about the anti-reveal movement. No additional names or details—I didn’t care if they were idiots, I wasn’t siccing this psycho on them.
“Sierra mentioned something about a police station?” he said when I finished. “I’m afraid I haven’t heard anything about this incident. What can you tell me?”
I reiterated pretty much exactly what Lucas had said was on the news. Then I said, “One of the bodies found was Shawn Roberts. He hasn’t been identified yet, but he was there. So was Jackie Medina.”
“It was that station?” He pushed to his feet. “Sierra!”
She opened the door.
“Why wasn’t I told that Jacquelyn Medina’s police station was in the news?”
“Jacquelyn … ? Officer Medina? We weren’t aware it was hers, sir. That’s not an excuse, I know. We’ll get someone investigating immediately.”
“Yes, you will.”
She closed the door.
Giles turned back to us. “What more can you tell me?”
“We also thought you should know about Toby White. He’s been picked up by a Cabal.”
Giles’s mouth closed in a firm line, as if he was fighting to keep from venting his frustration on us. First members of the interracial council blow up his lab. Then this anti-reveal movement takes out a police station under his control. Now the Cabals were in town, snatching up supernaturals. It had to feel like he was getting it from all sides. I knew how he felt.
“Which Cabal is responsible?” he asked.
“I only heard that he was picked up before the police station incident even hit the news, meaning one of the Cabals knew about it, and may have been responsible for making sure it wasn’t even bigger news.”
“Sierra!” he called again, bellowing now.
She opened the door. “Sir?”
“These young women have been very helpful. Please have Severin escort them to Odele. They’ll join her team in Atlanta.” He abruptly murmured his thanks to us, a duty his manners wouldn’t let him avoid. Then he stood, telling Sierra, “Get Gordon and the others back here immediately and bring everything we’ve got on this police station business.”
We were dismissed.
Severin led us deep into the building to a tiny lounge where he said Odele would be meeting us. He seemed inclined to just hang out with us there, asking Mom what she was studying in school, how she liked New Orleans. For a minute there, I could almost forget he wasn’t just a normal guy … until Sierra came and hauled his ass off to “discipline” the van-load of captives they’d brought in.
I was really hoping they’d just leave us there, unguarded and alone. They did—but not before Sierra warned us that the door was about to be locked and couldn’t be opened by spell-power. If I tried, we’d find ourselves in for a little discipline.
A young couple was passing in the hall as Sierra led her brother away. Holding the door open, Severin called them over.
Neither was much older than me, the guy light-haired, broad-faced and smiling, the girl tiny, with dark hair and a noticeable baby bump. Their hands were clasped, fingers entwined.
“You guys are with Odele’s team, right?” he said.
“Sure are,” the guy said. “Just waiting to ship out. Anything we can do for you?”
“Actually, yes. We’ve got a couple of recruits who’ll be joining you. Stay with them until Odele gets here.”
“Will do,” the guy said.
“I heard you caught the traitors,” the girl said as she joined us. “Good job. I can’t believe they turned on us like that. Two of them were members of our team. I never suspected a thing.”
“No one ever does,” Sierra said. “That’s why we have to be vigilant.”
The young couple nodded. Severin and Sierra left, closing the door behind them. The guy told us his name was Jake; his pregnant girlfriend was Lori. Mom and I introduced ourselves, then we all settled into chairs to wait.
“Did you say something about traitors?” Mom said after a few minutes of silence. “Were those the ones we saw Severin and Sierra bringing in?”
“Uh-huh,” Lori said. “They were members of the movement. Or so we thought. Then after the lab blew up, they tried to make a run for it. It didn’t take long to figure out why. They set the bomb. Apparently, they were Cabal plants.”
So SLAM was blaming its own members for the bombing? Technically true—one of their own had set it off, but she was only following protocol to avoid exposure and had died herself. Would Giles really blame innocent members to keep his group from knowing what really happened? Or were they not so innocent? Had that blast made them rethink their commitment and try to break from the group?
“This place is hopping,” Mom said. “Did they bring you all in because of the bomb?”
“Oh, no,” Jake said. “We were already here, training and getting ready to deploy. That bomb just means we’ve bumped up the schedule. The mission begins tonight. Lori and I were two of the first to join and, I’ll be honest, there were times when we weren’t sure it would happen. But Giles has done it. He’s perfected the serum and he’s about to usher in a new age of supernaturals.” Jake patted Lori’s stomach. “Just in time, too.”
Lori blushed. “By the time our baby comes, things will be different. That’s why we joined. To give our child a better life. One where he won’t need to hide his powers.”
I looked at them, their fresh-scrubbed faces glowing, and I didn’t see brainwashed kids. I saw two normal young supernaturals, in love, having a baby, genuinely doing what they thought was right for their child. If I told them to run, they’d think I was the deluded one.
“You said the serum is perfected?” Mom said. “That’s the immortality serum, right?”
“Right,” Jake said.
Lori leaned forward. “Can you believe it? Immortality?” She laughed softly. “When Giles first told us how old he is, we didn’t believe him. We figured it was a recruiting gimmick. But then when we saw how hard he was working on this serum, we started realizing he was serious.”
“But he discovered the cure for mortality centuries ago, didn’t he?” I said. “If he’s immortal himself …”
“But it wasn’t something he could duplicate. Not on a large scale anyway.”
That’s what we’d figured. I was going to bet his own immortality had something to do with the kids he’d killed in the fifteenth century. Not something easily repeated, but he must have had ideas how it could be done by other means and had been trying for centuries. When Cassandra met him during World War II, he’d seemed to be experimenting with some kind of zombie and vampire hybrid.
“So this plan,” Mom said. “Tell us about it.”
“And I think that’s all our new recruits need to know right now,” said a voice from the doorway,
In walked a tall, dark-skinned woman. Jake and Lori rose. We followed their lead.
“Hey, Odele,” Lori said, her smile unsteady. “Severin said Bri and Sami are joining us in Atlanta, so I figured it was okay to explain …”
“It is.” Odele clapped a hand on the younger woman’s shoulder. “But I think we can save the rest for the trip. It’s going to be a long drive to Atlanta and we really do need to be going.” She moved closer to Lori and lowered her voice. “Are you sure you’re up to it, honey?”
Lori nodded. “I want to be part of it.”
“Her job keeps her on the sidelines, which means I’m fine with it, too,” Jake said, putting his arm around her waist.
Odele turned to us. “Okay, girls. I know we’re moving fast here, but we’re going to need to hold off on the chitchat until we’re in the car.” She turned to Mom. “Sami, is it?” Then to me. “Bri?”