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  • Home > Kelley Armstrong > Women of the Otherworld Series > Thirteen (Page 20)     
    Thirteen(Women of the Otherworld #13) by Kelley Armstrong
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    “I’m sure Elena saw what happened. I only hope they didn’t get grabbed by whoever’s out there.”

    “Oh, we know who’s out there. Benicio Cortez decided not to let us handle this after all.”

    “Lucas would never—”

    “Benicio would. And he’d go behind Lucas’s back to do it.” I’d like to think Benicio would never order a team to open fire while I’m in the vicinity, but it’s never wise to presume on your importance to him. But I could presume on the importance of someone else.

    “If he puts me in danger, he loses Lucas as heir,” I said. “That he can’t risk. With Hector and William dead, he’s only got Carlos, who’d find a way to overthrow him then run the Cabal into the ground.”

    My mother made a noncommittal noise in response.

    We continued our rounds. There were two more exits—one small door and one set of big, drive-in ones. Both locked. Both guarded, according to Mom’s sensing spell.

    “Okay,” I said as we came around to the front of the warehouse again. “I say we use the van. Break out the doors and keep going. I’ll drive—”

    “I’ll drive. You’ll be in the back.”

    “With the others.”

    “I don’t give a rat’s ass about—”

    “I do. Not enough to risk my life, but enough to take the time to tell them to get in the van.” I looked at her. “I know that’s not what you’d do.”

    She patted my back. “Like I said, you’re not me and I don’t want you to be. We’ll spare the extra minute to get them to the van. Jake’s got the keys anyway. Now—”

    Mom yanked me behind a pile of planks. We peeked out just as light seeped through the darkness ahead, the door opening. Two figures entered. When the door shut again, everything went dark. I could hear the faint shuffle of their footsteps.

    How could they see? Without Mom’s sword, we’d be blind. There weren’t any night-vision spells—

    Night-vision goggles. First sniper rifles, now high-tech surveillance gear. There was no way the anti-reveal folks were that well equipped.

    A Cabal would be. The Cortezes certainly were.

    Was I wrong about Benicio? No. Lucas says never underestimate his father’s capacity for duplicity, but nothing was as important to Benicio as his Cabal, shortly followed by his youngest son. I may doubt Benicio’s affection for me, however much that stings, but I don’t doubt Lucas and Paige’s.

    Betray Lucas and Paige’s trust by sending in snipers without warning me, and Benicio would lose Lucas and ultimately his Cabal.

    Could Carlos be behind this? He was pretty inept, but he had his supporters, those who’d rather have a guy in charge that they could control. They might do this for him. Then blame Benicio, and drive a wedge between him and Lucas.

    For now, it didn’t matter who these guys were, only that they could be from a Cabal, meaning very well armed and very well organized.

    To the van, then. First, though, to Will and Jake. We weren’t getting far without those keys. We also weren’t getting far with that big-ass sword glowing like a neon sign on Mom’s back.

    “I can do that,” she said when I suggested a blur spell. “But it’s still going to show in the dark. I should go back for the case …”

    She squinted into the gloom of the warehouse.

    “The glow doesn’t penetrate far,” I said. “Just use the blur.”

    She shook her head. “You go. I’ll distract and slow them down.”

    “No—”

    “Yes.” Her tone changed to one I remembered well, the one that said I wasn’t having cookies before dinner and if I kept bugging I wasn’t having cookies at all. “I’ll be right behind you, baby. Remember, the worst thing they can do to me is send me back where I came from.” She touched my cheek. “As much as I love being here with you …”

    “You want to go back.”

    She blinked. “I didn’t mean that. Only that—”

    “Yes, Mom. You want to go back. Not this second, but eventually.” I managed a wry smile. “I’m a big girl. I can handle that. Your life is there. He—Dad’s there.”

    She paused. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you call him that.”

    I hadn’t. But from the look on her face, I should have. Even if Kristof wasn’t “Dad” to me, that is what he was to her—father of her child, love of her life. She loved me, too, but he was there and her life was there, and she knew I was fine without her. We were fine without each other.

    “This is my fault,” she said. “I should have made you leave with Jaime. I was being selfish. I wanted more time with you.”

    I hugged her.

    “I’m sorry, baby,” she whispered. “I shouldn’t have let you stay when it wasn’t safe.”

    “I wouldn’t have gone.” I pulled back and kissed her cheek. “Try not to get killed too quickly, okay? I could do with a little more Mom time.” I paused to clear my clogged throat. “But I’ll understand if I don’t get it.”

    She squeezed me. “I’ll always find a way to stay in touch, no matter what happens.”

    “Good.”

    Another moment, lingering there, hugging each other. Then she sent me on my way.

    SEVENTEEN

    We should have left a trail of bread crumbs. All I had to see by was a light ball the size of a spark. I didn’t want to risk a bigger one.

    As for how Mom would distract our attackers, I expected a whole lot of banging and shouting and maybe some shooting. I heard nothing. Not even the sound of footsteps, which meant they weren’t coming after me. Whatever she was doing, it was working.

    I found Jake and Will after only checking two refuse piles. I motioned for silence, then whispered our plan.

    “You can stay here if you want,” I said. “When that van leaves, they’ll figure we’re all in it.”

    “I need a doctor,” Will said. “You’re going to get me out of here, then you’re going to take me to a clinic for half-demons over on—”

    “You’re not giving orders—”

    “Did you forget about these?” He dangled the keys he must have taken from Jake.

    I snatched them from his hand. “Thank you. Now come with us or stay behind. Your choice.”

    He came. So did Jake, who was still too lost in grief to question anything.

    As we crept along, I felt a tingle vibrate down my spine. It felt oddly like a perimeter spell being triggered. Except I hadn’t set any. Mom had, along with—A howl reverberated through the warehouse.

    “A werewolf?” Will spun on me. “Did you bring a werewolf—”

    I slammed him face first to the floor. “No, it’s not a were-wolf,” I whispered in his ear. “Now zip it.”

    A werewolf would have been nice, especially if it was one of the two lurking outside. But the howl was coming from the trigger hallucination Mom had set up at the rear entrances. An apparition of a hellhound.

    “Stay here,” I whispered.

    I crawled forward with my light spark. Both guys followed. I considered locking them in binding spells, but that would zap too much of my limited power.

    I didn’t need to go far anyway. We were closer to the back than I’d thought, and within a few feet I could make out the very dim outline of shapes moving in the near dark. I looked around, then ducked behind the closest piece of whatever and extinguished my spark. The guys stayed close.

    The “whatever” that we’d taken refuge behind seemed to be broken crates. I leaned out and tried to get a better look at the intruders. If they were from the Cabal, they’d be in uniforms. Intra-Cabal regulations. Each had to wear a distinguishable uniform, so they could be identified by another Cabal if they bumped into each other on a mission. Presumably, it was to keep them from killing each other, but I suspect the Cabals only agreed to it so they wouldn’t accidentally slaughter their own men.

    These guys were shapeless black wraiths against a dark gray landscape.

    I needed light.

    I calculated angles and trajectories and potential outcomes. Then I launched a small light ball in the invaders’ path, but drew it toward me instead of whipping it away. They saw it. And I saw them.

    I pulled back behind the crates.

    “It’s a Cabal.”

    “The Cortezes?” Jake whispered. “They came after you, right?”

    I nodded.

    “What?” Will said. “No, it can’t—”

    “Can’t what?” I said. “Can’t be the Cortezes?”

    “I just mean, you might be making a mistake. It might not even be a Cabal.”

    “I know the uniforms. Those are the Cortezes.”

    Will struggled to keep his breathing steady. Sweat trickled down his face, glistening in the dim light of my spark.

    “It’s okay,” I said. “I can handle this. It’s a mistake—they didn’t know I was here. I just need to tell them it’s me and you’ll be safe—”

    Will leaped up to run. I grabbed the back of his shirt and slammed him to the concrete floor. Then I straddled his back and pressed my palm against his shoulder—the one that had been shot. He started to yelp, but I stifled it.

    “Keep your mouth shut or I press again,” I whispered. “The Cortezes will come running. You really don’t want them to come running, do you?”

    “They won’t hurt us, right?” Jake said. “We’re with you.”

    “You’re okay. Will? He’s not so okay, considering he’s the one who set you up.”

    “What?” Jake said.

    “He cut a deal with the Nasts. That’s who he thought was out there. That’s why he wanted you running for the cars instead of into the warehouse. To make it easier for them to pick you off. Then he came in here after us so he could keep an eye on us. That’s why he got so worried when he found out I was a Nast. They might not be so willing to pay the big bucks if they find out one of the dead is Thomas Nast’s granddaughter.”

    “So you knew?” Jake said.

    “I figured it out when he didn’t like the idea that it’s the Cortezes out there.”

    But Will’s plan hadn’t failed. Not entirely. The security team combing the warehouse? It was the Nasts. I just didn’t want him yelling for help. I could tell him the Nasts would never let him walk out of here alive, but he wouldn’t believe me.

    “What do we do?” Jake whispered.

    “Find me something to bind him with. I saw a spool of wire to the left. If you can’t find it, I’ll use your shirt.”

    He nodded and took off. I winced at the patter of his sneakers, but everything else around us was silent, the security team long gone. Just bind Will and—

    The crack of a rifle. Then a thump, off to the left. Where I’d sent Jake. As I rolled off Will, I strained to hear. Will did, too. With his superhearing, if there’d been anything, even the rasp of Jake writhing on the floor, he’d have heard it. Instead he gave a satisfied little grunt. Jake was dead.

    I shouldn’t have let him go. Goddamn it, I shouldn’t have let him go.

    Focus. Don’t think about Jake. Think about myself and how the hell I was going to get to that van—

    Will stiffened. He tracked a noise. As I lifted my head, I saw something moving across the floor. A red spot. My tiny light ball? No, that—

    I lunged out of the way just as the dot from the rifle sight began to creep across me. A crack, so close it made my ears ring. The shot hit Will in the side and sent him smacking into the crate, the box tumbling, the crash drowning out everything else as I leaped up, hunched over, ready to run—

    “Stay where you are!” a voice barked.

    A gun barrel rose from the darkness. I turned to run. A figure stepped from the shadows behind me. Another to the other side. A fourth. Four masked and armed gunmen, their weapons trained on me.

    “I’m Savannah Levine,” I said, the words spilling out so fast they were barely intelligible. “The Cortezes know I’m here. Sean will know I’m here. My brother. Sean Nast.”

    Please, please let one of you be on Sean’s side. Let one of you at least believe he’ll be your next CEO. I don’t care whether you think I’m his sister or not. He thinks I am. That means something.

    Silence. Then one gun dropped. Two more inched down, uncertain. The fourth didn’t budge, but the gunman shifted his weight, his face mask turning toward his comrades.

    The squeak of another pair of booted feet approaching. The officer who’d lowered his gun turned toward the newcomer.

    “Sir, it’s—”

    “Shit.” The newly arrived officer muttered the word under his breath. Then he pulled off his mask. “Miss Nast.”

    The one who hadn’t lowered his gun made a noise deep in his throat and shifted again. The senior officer’s glare shut him down. I recognized the officer. His name was … Damn it, I couldn’t remember. Lucas always said it was important to know the names of everyone in a Cabal. It was a lesson he’d learned from his father, and one Sean emulated. Treat your employees with respect, starting with learning their names.

    As sweat dripped down my face, I really, really wished I’d listened. When four armed security officers surround you, knowing the name of the guy in charge made a big difference.

    “H-hello,” I said. “We met in San Francisco.”

    He nodded. Not rude. Not friendly either. Just polite. A couple of years ago, there’d been some security threat against the inner family, so Sean had to bring two extra guards on our weekend riding trip. This guy had been one of them, which made him Sean’s man. He had to be, if he’d called me Miss Nast. God, I hoped he was.

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