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|Thirteen(Women of the Otherworld #13) by Kelley Armstrong|
He motioned for the others to lower their guns.
“We’re on the same side,” I said quickly. “This guy—” I pointed to Will, dead on the floor. “He was your contact. I’d infiltrated the group. The Cortezes know about it—”
He lifted his hand, cutting me off, then turned to the others. “This is level-four security, boys. I’m going to need to take Miss Nast outside. I want you to continue combing the building.”
As he waved them off, he took my elbow and whispered, “Hurry.”
We got about five paces before a voice said, “Captain Kaufman. Who do you have there?”
Kaufman froze. He started to tell me to run, then snapped his mouth shut. I couldn’t run with armed men behind me. Kaufman’s gaze dropped in unspoken apology as he took hold of my arm.
“Sir,” he said. “It’s Savannah … Levine.”
The man standing ten feet away didn’t wear a uniform. Didn’t carry a gun. He didn’t need to. It was Josef Nast.
Josef Nast. My father’s brother. My uncle, though he’d never admitted as much. We’d only glimpsed each other in passing, his look always freezing any greeting—friendly or sarcastic—in my throat.
I got that same look now, a slow once-over of distaste and contempt.
“Savannah,” he said. “Can’t stay out of trouble, I see.”
“You’ve put yourself in a very dangerous position. Consorting with known terrorists. Running through a dark warehouse, where no one can be expected to see who you are.”
“You’ve caused enough trouble for my family, Savannah. Your paternity claims sully my brother’s reputation. The fact that Sean believes them makes my father’s chosen heir look gullible and weak. Now turn around.”
“If you’re going to shoot me, you’ll do it looking into my eyes, which tell you exactly who my father is, as much as you might hate to believe it.”
He didn’t look me in the eyes. He couldn’t because I was right—my eyes were his eyes, Nast eyes, that unmistakable bright blue.
“Get on your knees, Savannah.”
“Sir—” Kaufman stepped forward. “You can’t—”
“You and you.” Josef pointed at two of the others. “Take Captain Kaufman outside. Hand him over to Anderson. He’s being charged with insubordination.”
“No.” Kaufman moved to my side as his two comrades stepped forward. “I won’t stand by—”
Josef’s energy bolt knocked Kaufman off his feet. “Then you won’t stand by. You two, take him outside.”
“But he’s right,” said a voice in the darkness. “You can’t do this, Josef. And you won’t.” Mom stepped up behind Josef and put her sword tip to the back of his neck. “Can you feel that?” To his men, she said, “I’ll have his head by his feet before anyone can pull the trigger. Lower your weapons.”
“Don’t you dare—” Josef shut up as the sword dug deeper.
“Lower your weapons!”
When one raised his rifle, Mom kicked Josef in the back of the legs, then lunged and cleaved the officer’s arm off at midbicep. It happened so fast that he just stood there, watching the gun tumble to the ground in his severed hand. Then he started to scream.
I hit Josef with a knockback before he could rise. Mom planted a foot on his back and nudged the sword-tip along his spine, positioning it between his ribs. Then she nodded toward the injured officer, his screams now reduced to shocked heaves as he frantically tried to staunch the bleeding.
“Someone might want to help him before he bleeds out.”
Kaufman was the one who went to his aid. The others just stood there, gazes fixed on the glowing sword. One crossed himself and whispered under his breath.
“Yes, the sword is what it looks like,” she said. “And I’m who I look like.” She leaned over Josef, who twisted to stare up at her, as shocked as the injured officer. “Hey, Josef. I’d say Kris sends his regards, but he won’t be happy about this. He really won’t be happy. Now, Savannah and I are going to walk away and—”
“I can’t let you do that, ma’am,” said a voice behind us.
Floodlights flicked on and we saw another half dozen armed men surrounding us. The officer in charge stepped forward.
“I’m going to ask you to remove that sword and let Mr. Nast up. I’m only going to ask you once.”
She glanced over. A half dozen rifle scopes dotted my chest. She cast a quick blur spell, and I cast a cover spell as I hit the floor.
“Don’t you dare threaten her,” Mom said. “Do you know what this is?” She lifted the sword, her foot still planted on Josef. As half the men flinched, she said, “Yes, you do. You’ve sure as hell never seen one, but you know exactly what it is, and you know that if you touch my daughter, you won’t just lose an arm. I will cast your soul into the deepest, darkest hell dimension, and no one on the other side will stop me, because if you fuck with me, you are damned. Eternally damned.”
A few of the rifles dropped. The rest wavered.
“Lower your guns,” Josef said. “Savannah Levine is under the protection of my nephew, Sean, and I cannot allow her to be harmed.”
The officers who’d heard a very different story two minutes ago shifted uncomfortably, but kept their mouths shut.
“However,” Josef continued. “Miss Levine is also under the protection of the Cortezes, which makes her presence here—interfering with a Nast operation—in contravention of intra-Cabal law. Both Savannah and her mother will be taken into custody—”
“Like hell,” Mom said.
Josef looked her right in the eye. Whatever she read in that stare made her swallow.
Before she could speak, there was a commotion to the side. Two more officers walked toward the circle of light, staggering slightly as they dragged in a man in a T-shirt and jeans, unconscious, head slumped over. In the dim light, all I could make out were muscular biceps and light hair and I thought Clay. Then they took two more steps, coming closer to the light, and my heart rammed into my throat.
I jumped up, breaking the cover spell, ignoring my mother’s shout. The two men dropped their captive. He hit the floor hard, a dead weight, forehead cracking against the cement.
I grabbed Adam by the shoulders and flipped him over. His face was battered, bruises purpling, eyes swollen shut, his nose now bleeding from hitting the floor.
“We found him sneaking around,” one said. “Seems he burned a hole in the wall to get in. He resisted arrest.”
“You bastards,” I snarled.
When one grinned at me, I leaped up. Mom started for me, but Kaufman got there first, catching my arm and whispering, “Don’t.”
I glowered at the officers and knelt beside Adam again. He’d been beaten unconscious, but he was breathing. Thank God, he was breathing.
Josef walked over to stare down at Adam. “I don’t recognize this man. He must be one of the terrorists. Take him outside and shoot—”
“It’s Adam Vasic,” I said. “He’s a council delegate and under protection of the Cortez Cabal.”
He frowned. “I’ve met Adam Vasic. It’s hard to tell with all that bruising, but I’m quite certain that isn’t him.”
“It’s Adam, you son of a bitch,” I said, getting to my feet. “He disintegrated a wall to get in. How many Exustio half-demons are there?”
“Are we sure that’s what happened?” Josef turned to the officers who brought Adam in. “Did you see him disintegrate it?”
One officer smirked. “No, sir.”
I bent, rolled Adam onto his side, and yanked out his wallet. I shook out three pieces of ID.
“Here,” I said. “You want proof? Take this.”
He ignored my outstretched hand and looked at my mother. “Would you like me to take that ID from her, Eve? To confirm this really is Adam Vasic?”
“Kris is right,” she said through clenched teeth. “You are a heartless bastard.”
Josef’s blue eyes chilled. “My brother would never say—”
They faced off. Josef looked away first.
“Eve, if you want me to confirm this young man’s identity, you’ll lay down your sword and come along willingly. I’ll take all three of you into custody. Otherwise …”
Mom laid down her sword. Josef took the ID cards and gave them a cursory glance.
“Yes, it appears this is Adam Vasic. Put all three of them in the van. You there—” He pointed to an officer. “Take that sword.”
“You don’t want to do that,” Mom said as the officer walked over to it.
The officer hesitated. He wasn’t much older than me, and I could tell by his expression that he didn’t know exactly what it was, only that a glowing sword capable of slicing off a man’s arm wasn’t natural.
“The Sword of Judgment,” Mom said. “Take a good look, because if you ever see one in this dimension, it’s time for last rites. Very, very fast last rites. The only person who can touch it? An angel.”
The kid looked at Josef.
“Do you really think Eve Levine is an angel?” Josef said. “She’s the daughter of Balaam. Lord demon Balaam. That thing comes from his world. From hell. Now pick it up.”
When no one moved, Mom laughed. “You’re not reassuring them, Josef. Heaven or hell, it’s clearly no toy.” She bent, slid her hands under the blade, and lifted it like an offering. She walked over to Josef. “If you’re so sure it’s safe, take it.”
“Don’t test me, Eve,” he said, so low I barely heard him.
“I’ll take it, sir.”
One of the officers stepped forward. He grabbed the hilt and then let out a shriek so loud everyone jumped. He staggered back. Josef strode over and grabbed the officer’s hand. The man’s palm was covered in blisters and he trembled with pain.
“Sword lesson number two,” Mom said. “Don’t touch.”
“Set it down,” Josef said. “We’ll leave it behind.”
“Uh, that won’t work either.”
I’d been crouched beside Adam again, trying to wake him. Now I stood and stepped between them.
“Please don’t do this,” I said to Josef. “Two men have already been hurt. Just let Mom put the sword on her back and have the officers walk us out. She won’t reach for it. You can figure out what to do with it later.”
“Put the sword on the ground, Eve,” Josef said.
“If she does that, it’ll—”
“But the sword will—”
“Don’t bother, baby,” Mom said. “He’s as stubborn as your father. Unfortunately, not as bright. Why do you think Thomas passed him over for Sean?”
“Mom, please,” I whispered.
She met my gaze and nodded. Then she bent and laid the sword on the ground.
“Everyone stay back as I walk away,” she said. “Savannah’s right. Two people have been hurt already. Let’s not make this lesson a fatal one.”
She straightened and started walking away. Josef waved for the nearest officers to fall in.
“Beside her, please,” I said. “Or in front.”
The sword started to quiver, rattling against the concrete. As everyone stared at it, my mother kept walking. Josef barked for two more officers to take Adam and two to escort me. Kaufman came toward me and waved over the youngest officer. My gaze was still fixed on the rattling sword.
The kid started to cut across to me. Right between Mom and her sword.
“Don’t—!” I began.
The sword flew into the air. I leaped forward and yanked the kid toward me. He spun. The sword flew past. The kid let out a yelp. We hit the floor. As I scrambled up, he lay there, staring at his hand. The last joint of his pinkie finger was gone, blood flowing.
“Oh my God,” he whispered. His gaze went to my mother. The sword was on her back, attached to its mysterious holster. “Oh my God.”
I grabbed the kid’s hand, yanked a tissue from my pocket, and wrapped it around the bleeding finger.
“Be glad that’s all you lost,” I muttered. “She told you to stay clear.”
He looked up at me, eyes wide with shock, and managed a nod.
I awoke smelling blood.
Even before I could get my eyes open, panic shot through me, those scenes of blood-soaked devastation—the police station, the motel room—flooding back. I jolted up, limbs flailing, eyes opening to find myself …
A cell. I was in a cell.
I swallowed, flashing back nine years to another cell. The one where my mother had died.
I shook off the memory and lifted my hands. No blood. What I smelled was copper. I heard the distant plinking of water against metal. Copper pipes?
I sat up. There were bars in front of me. Thick, rusting metal bars. Concrete under my feet. Dim light from the corridor beyond. None in here. A stone box with metal bars. Not like any prison cell I’d ever seen. Definitely not the Nast cells.
I’d seen those once when Sean snuck me in to speak to a prisoner I needed to question for a case. They were so similar to the Cortez cells that they could have been made by the same designer. There were variations on the type—from utilitarian holding cells to the long-term, ultra-secure cells—but all resembled a hotel room more than a prison. No bars. No cement. No dark corners. No dripping water. This one needed only chains on the walls to make it a proper dungeon.