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|Thirteen(Women of the Otherworld #13) by Kelley Armstrong|
I pressed my face between the bars, trying to see down the hall. When my heart stopped pounding, I could hear breathing. Raspy, labored breathing. Only it didn’t come from the hall. It came …
I turned slowly, then let out a gasp. Adam lay on the floor in the dark back corner. I ran to him and dropped to my knees. He was breathing—obviously—but still unconscious.
The blood had been cleaned from his face and there was tape over a cut on his cheek, but that was the extent of the medical care. Bastards. There are very strict rules for dealing with prisoners affiliated with another Cabal. Rules that do not allow beating them and dumping them in a dark cell.
So what did this mean? Would Lucas even be able to find us? Would Sean? And where was my mother? I squinted in the darkness, but there was no sign of her.
“Mom?” I called. “Are you here?”
A cough from somewhere outside. A hacking male cough. Nothing else.
I shook Adam’s shoulder. After a moment, he groaned.
“Adam?” I said. “Can you wake up?”
Another groan. He winced. Coughed. Winced again, hand going to his chest. I pulled open his shirt to see that they’d bound his ribs. He was hurt, seriously hurt, and they just dumped him here without even a cot to get him off the cold floor.
His eyes stayed shut, but his lips cracked open. “Water.”
I looked around frantically. I could hear water, but it wasn’t anywhere—
Wait. There was a pile of stuff just inside the bars.
“Hold on,” I said.
I hurried over and found blankets, energy bars, bottles of water, and a pail. What was the pail … ?
Then I realized.
I carried everything except the pail back to Adam. I uncapped the water and let him have a sip, telling him to go slow. Then I wet a corner of a blanket and wiped the crust from his swollen eyes. He opened one.
“Hey,” he said, his voice weak. “I feel like shit.”
“You look like it, too.”
A soft laugh, followed by a wince. “You should see the other guy.”
I smiled and gave him more water.
“They had guns,” he said. “Very unfair. They got one at my head before I could put up much of a fight. So I surrendered. Apparently, that wasn’t any fun for them.”
“Hmm.” His other eye opened. “Elena and Clay?”
“I didn’t see them.”
“Good. Means they weren’t caught.” He swallowed and I gave him more water. “Your mom?”
“I don’t know. She was with us. Now she’s not. So you came with Elena and Clay?”
“Yeah. Joined up in New Orleans. Keep an eye on you. Didn’t go so well. Elena’s smart. Knew we were outnumbered. Phone was blocked. Wanted us hanging back. I didn’t listen. Had to play the hero. Paid the price.”
I leaned over him and smiled. “I’d kiss you, but I suspect that would be painful.”
He looked at me. Tilted his head, and made my heart hammer. I told myself that I’d said it casually enough, if he wanted to think I was just kidding, he could and—He put his hand on the back of my head, pulled me down and kissed me. It was a light kiss, our lips barely touching, but it was sweet and sexy and slow, and when it finally broke, I was the one pulling back, worried that I was leaning on him, and hurting his ribs, but he kept me there, hand still in my hair, holding my face close to his.
“I guess that answers the question,” he said.
“Was there ever a question?”
I lifted my brows. “I’ve had a crush on you since I was twelve. I’m sure you noticed.”
“I did when you were twelve. And fourteen. And sixteen. But eventually …” He shrugged. “You grew up. We became friends.”
“So you figured the rest just went away?”
“Faded, I guess. Changed into something else.”
“No, I just learned to hide it better.”
I leaned over and kissed him again. Just a quick one. “That hurts, doesn’t it?”
“Not necessarily a bad hurt.”
I laughed and unfolded the blankets. I got one under him and one over him. Then he pulled me against him.
There was so much I wanted to say. So much I wanted to ask. So much that was completely and utterly inappropriate and unimportant under the circumstances.
We talked about what was important, filling each other in. That meant I did most of the talking. When we’d finished, I went over to the bars again and craned to see what was out there.
“Really could use Jaime’s mirror right now,” I said. “I heard someone coughing earlier. But I have no idea where we are or what we’re doing here.”
“You’ve been misplaced,” a man’s voice said. It was smooth and strong, too close to be the coughing man from earlier.
“Who’s there?” I said.
“You’ve been misplaced,” the voice repeated. “That’s more important than who I am. You wouldn’t know my name anyway. You’re too young.”
“How do you know that?”
A chuckle. It sounded vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place it. “I’m sorry if I offend you, my dear, but you sound young. That’s not a bad thing. Better than sounding old.”
Adam appeared beside me, grabbing the bars for support.
“You said we’ve been misplaced,” Adam said. “What does that mean?”
A pause. Then, “You’ve been hurt.”
“I can hear it in your voice. I’ve been in enough fights to recognize the sound of broken ribs. Go lie down, boy. You’ll need your strength in here.”
Adam’s mouth tightened. He didn’t like being called “boy,” but the voice didn’t sound sarcastic. Adam pulled the blankets over to the bars and lay down, then tugged my pant leg until I sat beside him.
“Misplaced is exactly what it sounds like,” the man said. “When the Nasts want to hide someone, they put them here. The paperwork, I presume, will say that you are in the usual prison cells. Then someone will go to find you and …”
“We aren’t there,” I said.
Adam whispered, “It’s just a game. Lucas will tell Sean what happened, and he’ll find us. They can’t hide us from Sean. Not for long anyway.”
The man heard us—a half-demon with auditory powers, I was guessing.
“The young Nast? Now that is a fortunate connection. Yes, if you know him, then this would appear to be a simple power play. An uncomfortable one, but you won’t rot down here.”
That cough again, from farther away, as if reinforcing our neighbor’s point.
“How many people are in here?” I asked.
“Hard to say,” the man mused. “You’re the first new ones in a few years. The rest … They aren’t what I’d call sociable. Sick. Crazy. A combination of the two, mostly. Locked away and forgotten.”
“You—you’ve been here for years?”
He chuckled. “No, my dear. Mere months in this place would drive anyone mad. I’m a regular but temporary visitor. A special case. I work for the Nasts. Not voluntary labor, but they keep me in reasonable comfort if I behave myself.” He paused. “I don’t always behave myself.”
“So they lock you up down here.”
“Yes, and it’s my own fault, as they’re quick to remind me. But I don’t do well with authority. Or with cages, however pretty. I won’t be here long. I hear they have a mission for me. If not, they’ll still take me out after a few days and put me on ice.”
A laugh now. “No, my dear. I’m too valuable for that. I mean put me on ice quite literally. I believe there are human laws against the use of prisoners for scientific experimentation. That doesn’t apply with Cabals. They make use of us. Cryogenics, in my case. Six months a year seems to be the safe limit. In my case, it has the dual advantages of keeping me under control for six months, and ensuring I don’t out-age my usefulness too soon.”
I’d have been shocked if I hadn’t already known all the Cabals were working on cryogenics, one of many scientific races they engaged in. The Cortezes had also managed to freeze subjects for up to six months.
So this wasn’t news. But it did spark a memory. Cassandra had been talking about cryogenic science a few years ago. No, she wasn’t interested in freezing herself to extend her shrinking lifespan. But she’d heard a rumor that the Cortez Cabal had captured two vampires and was using them for cryogenics experiments. Since vampires don’t age, something in their DNA might help perfect the freezing.
Benicio hadn’t admitted to kidnapping vampires, of course. He simply said that if such a thing ever happened, it would be off North American soil, that the subjects would be well treated and released without permanent damage.
A few days ago, I’d learned that the liberation movement planned to free Jasper Haig from Cortez custody. It was Jasper—Jaz as he was known—who’d killed Benicio’s two eldest sons. He was being allowed to live while they studied his unique chameleon-like power. When we confronted Jaz about this plot to free him, he’d hinted it was the Cabal scientists who’d approached him with an offer. Now the movement claimed to have developed a mortality vaccine using vampire DNA. Could it be the same DNA used in those cryogenics experiments? An offshoot of those experiments? Probably. So what else were they working on?
Our prison-mate didn’t talk much after that. He’d made contact. That seemed to be his only goal. Establish himself as a potential source of aid because we had connections. If it was me, I’d have done the same.
Hours passed. Adam and I talked a little, but I wanted him to rest. We had no idea what was happening, and dwelling on it would just lead to panic. Wait and see. It was all we could do.
A guard came by eventually with more water and energy bars. He gestured for us to stand in the back corner, unlocked a tiny grate, and pushed the supplies through.
The whole time the guard was there, Adam talked. No threats. Not even questions. Just trying to talk to the guy. Making an impression. Getting him to see us as people, not anonymous prisoners. The guy didn’t respond.
“Nice try,” said our neighbor when the guard was gone. “But you can save your breath, boy. Deaf and dumb. They all are. Not too bright either, I suspect.”
I walked over to the grate. I hadn’t noticed it earlier—it looked just like part of the bars. I bent and jiggled it. Then I cast an unlock spell.
“If that keeps you occupied, have at it,” the man said. “If you look closer, though, you’ll see that you wouldn’t get more than your head out.”
He was right.
“Relax and wait,” he said. “If you’re right, someone’s looking for you. If not, use the boy’s injuries. Make them worse and he’ll get medical attention. That would be a chance to escape.”
Adam dozed again. I was sitting, arms around my knees, staring into nothing, when he sat up beside me, hand snaking around my waist.
“It’s going to be okay,” he whispered.
He shifted closer. “Worrying about your mom?”
“Trying not to. At worst, she dies and goes back where she was. It’s only a matter of time before the Fates figure out how to recall her anyway.”
“That’ll be hard,” he said. “Losing her again.”
“At least I got to spend some time with her,” I said. “Not exactly quality time. But she belongs over there. That’s her life now.” I gave him a rueful smile. “Do I sound all calm and mature?”
“You do.” He kissed me. “Even if it’s not how you really feel.”
“I will. Eventually.”
I leaned against him and closed my eyes.
“The rest will be okay, too,” he said. “They’ll come for us. Elena and Clay would have followed us to the airport. They’d take the Cortez jet. They’d have arrived at the same time and figured out where Josef took us. From there, it’s just a matter of following their noses.”
Still … so many connections to be missed.
“What if Elena and Clay are down here, too?” I said.
“All the better, because that kitsune mojo of Jeremy’s will find them faster than any werewolf nose.”
A throat-clearing from our neighbor. “Excuse me? I don’t mean to eavesdrop, but it’s difficult for me not to. Did you say werewolf?”
I glanced at Adam.
“We aren’t werewolves,” Adam said. “If that’s what you’re worried about.”
That chuckle again. “I know you aren’t. Clay would be Clayton, yes? Danvers. And … the other one.”
“Yes. You know them?”
“Then my name might not be meaningless to you after all. My family name, at least. So I’ll introduce myself, in hopes that you will let Clayton know I’m here. Perhaps, as Alpha, he can negotiate my release.”
“Clay’s not Alpha. Jeremy is.”
A pause, then, “Still? I thought he would have stepped down by now.”
“He will be. Soon. But Clay won’t be Alpha. Elena will.” His silence told me he had no idea who that was. How long had this guy been locked up?
“Elena is Clay’s wife,” I said. “Mate. Whatever. She’s a were-wolf, and the Alpha-elect.”