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|Thirteen(Women of the Otherworld #13) by Kelley Armstrong|
“They let you keep the sword.”
“Mmm.” She twisted around. It was bound by a sparking red wire. “Major mojo. Cost a prisoner his life. It seems to be holding, though. Unfortunately. How’s Adam?”
I’d thought he was right beside me, but now I realized he’d stayed across the room.
“Are you going to introduce us?” Mom said.
Adam and my mother had never met. Even as I realized that, there was a moment where I thought I must be wrong. They’d each been such a huge part of my life, but of opposite halves of it. Although I’d had some contact with my mother for years—and Adam had been there when she’d been “around” in ghostly form, with Jaime mediating—they’d never met face to face.
I glanced over at him, now pouring soda into cups for both of us. I shoved my trembling hands into my pockets.
“It’s okay, baby,” Mom said, tugging one hand out and squeezing it. “I know.”
That’s all she said—“I know.” But when I looked at him, I knew she knew what Adam meant to me. My cheeks heated.
“Something’s changed, hasn’t it?” she said.
I started to nod, then shrugged, feeling like I was eleven years old again, when I’d told her about a boy at school who wanted me to come to the dance and I thought he might like me, but I wasn’t sure.
“Maybe,” I said. “I think so.”
“It has,” she murmured. “I can see it in the way he looks at you.”
I went bright red at that. As we approached, Adam set down the cups and turned to greet us. He smiled, but it wasn’t his usual grin. Not nervous, either. Guarded maybe? It wasn’t what I expected and it threw me a little.
“Adam, this, uh, is my mom,” I said.
“Are you sure?” His grin peeked out now. “Because I don’t see a resemblance.”
Mom laughed and she embraced him, catching him off-guard. As I said, Mom isn’t the hugging type, so it startled me a bit, too.
As she pulled back, she whispered in his ear, probably thinking I couldn’t hear. “I should have sent her back to Miami. I’m sorry.”
“No, that’s all—” he began.
“It’s not all right,” she whispered. “I’m sorry.”
When she stepped back, that guarded look had disappeared, and I understood that Adam had been angry with her for taking me along in New Orleans. He didn’t want to be angry—and he sure as hell didn’t want me knowing he was angry—but he had been.
“Will you eat now?” he whispered as he came over with my drink.
I nodded, took a plate, and loaded it up. Fast food—not much else open at this hour—but it’s not like I don’t eat the stuff by choice anyway.
We ate without saying much. Not much we could say, surrounded by guards. It was just past three in the morning. Sean would be here soon, Lucas and Paige shortly after. Would Thomas insist on waiting for a more reasonable hour, letting us all stew? No one knew. Or if they did, no one told us.
An hour later, there was a commotion in the hall. I hoped it was Sean, but the door stayed closed. Mom had wandered from the table. She’d seemed distracted, and I thought she was just restless, but when I glanced up she was standing in the corner, her back to me.
I walked over to her.
“—so it’s a mess,” she was saying. To no one.
She turned. A faint flush rose on her cheeks and she led me back to the table.
“Who were you talking to?” I asked.
“Oh. Um, no one. Probably. Just …” A shrug, then she put an arm around my shoulders and gave me a squeeze. “I’m tired, baby. Haven’t been tired in ten years. I think it’s affecting my brain. So what’s going on?”
“No idea,” Adam said as she sat.
I looked back at the corner. My father. She sensed him here. Was he?
Another commotion in the hall. The door flew open. In walked two massive bodyguards followed by two guys in suits that screamed “lawyer.” With the pomp normally reserved for rulers of despotic nations, they ushered in Thomas Nast.
I’d seen my grandfather before. Met him several times … if you can call it a “meeting” when you’re in the same room and he’s studiously pretending you don’t exist. But my first thought on seeing him today was My God, he’s gotten old. Thomas has always been old—to me, anyway. I remember the first time I saw him, tall, white haired, slightly stooped, and thinking “This is the guy? The one everyone’s so scared of? He doesn’t seem so bad.” He’d looked … grandfatherly.
Yes, I hate to admit it, but the first time I saw Thomas Nast, I’d felt a buzz of hope, because he looked like someone I could imagine as a grandfather. Proud and stern, but softhearted. Um, no. The only person who softened Thomas Nast’s heart was Sean.
As Thomas walked in, though, it was my other brother I thought about. I’d seen the way Thomas acted when Bryce was around—the same way he acted with everyone except Sean. Short-tempered. Overbearing. Irritated, as if they were all incompetents hell-bent on making his life difficult. The same way he treated the man who had followed him into the room. His younger son. Josef.
I’d never met Thomas while my father was alive, but I bet he’d treated Kristof the way he did Sean. The favored child. The heir. The only one who mattered.
I’d seen what such favoritism had done to Bryce. The choices he’d made. How miserable and angry he was. In thirty years, would he become another Josef Nast? Willing to kill me, not because I was any threat to him, but because it might have pleased Thomas. He might finally have pleased his father.
Neither Thomas nor Josef looked my way. I didn’t expect them to. Their people fanned out around them, getting their chairs just right, pouring them coffee and ice water, bending over to whisper and point out items on papers and digital displays. Shielding them from any need to acknowledge our presence.
The moment Thomas had settled, Mom stood. She stayed standing for at least three minutes. Daring him to look at her. When he didn’t, she started forward, chin up, sword glowing stronger, as if it fed off her resolve. Or her rage.
Thomas still didn’t look up. Others did. Until now, they’d struggled to pretend there was nothing unusual about having the long-dead alleged mistress of their former heir in their midst, a woman now whispered to be an angel. They turned. They stared. A few stepped closer, protecting their leader. More stepped back.
“Tho—” Mom began.
The door opened. Voices drifted in.
“I’m sorry, sir,” someone in the hall said. “But they aren’t permitted to join the proceedings.”
“They aren’t joining.” Sean’s voice. I exhaled in relief. “They’re here as observers. Ms. Michaels is a delegate—”
“I understand, sir, but we don’t allow her … kind—”
“The word is werewolf.” Clay’s southern drawl. “It’s okay. You can say it. It won’t bite.”
“There is a council delegate on trial,” Sean said. “Ms. Michaels is here to represent Adam Vasic and the council—”
The door closed, muting their voices. I caught just enough to realize they weren’t going to permit a werewolf in the hearing, and there were no provisions that required a council delegate to be present when another one was on trial.
Finally, Elena cut in, her voice raised enough for me to hear it. “We’ll wait out here, Sean. There’s no rule against that, right?”
The agent agreed that there wasn’t.
“Then we’ll stay here,” she said. “Where we can hear everything.”
I smiled. The agent sputtered, but there was nothing he could do. His own fault for not bothering to know enough about werewolves to realize they’d be able to hear from the hall.
I sat back and waited. Sean was here. Elena and Clay were here. Lucas was coming. It would be fine. It had to be.
When Sean came in, Thomas got to his feet. His gaze was wary, but there was no mistaking the sudden spark of warmth.
“Sean,” he said. “How was your flight? I’m sorry you had—”
“Bryce isn’t doing so well, Granddad. Thanks for asking. And thanks for calling to check on him. He appreciates that.”
“You’ve been busy.” Sean walked toward his grandfather. “The supernatural world is going to hell. Demonic spirits are breaking through everywhere. A hell-beast materialized in the New York subway. Supernaturals are racking up body counts faster than the demons and hell-beasts combined. Of course you’re too busy to check on Bryce. Yet somehow, with all this, you’ve decided you can take a break to put my sister on trial for treason.”
Treason? What? How?
“Miss Levine is not your sis—”
“She is!” Sean roared, making everyone draw back. Most had probably never even heard him raise his voice. “I’m told there’s a special escape route from this building secured by locks requiring Nast blood. Her blood opened them.”
“Don’t bother, Sean,” Mom said. “He can’t hear you. Won’t hear you.”
Sean turned. He saw my mother and blinked. “Eve.”
She walked over and put her arm around him, leaning in to whisper, “Your dad sends his love. Always.” Then she turned to Thomas. “Are you going to look at me now?”
He sat first, then slowly lifted his gaze. When his eyes reached hers, his face stayed immobile.
“Been a long time, hasn’t it?” she said. “Twenty-two years since our little chat.”
“We’ve never met—”
“Oh, cut the crap.” She stepped up to his table. His bodyguards kept their positions, but everyone else inched back as she swept aside the pages in front of him and planted her hands on the surface. “You remember that chat. You threatened to—” She stopped. Almost imperceptibly, she turned toward Sean.
“You scared me off,” she said after a moment. “I let you scare me off. I was young and I was stupid, and I let you screw up my life and Kristof’s life and our daughter’s life, and I’ve never forgiven you for that. I don’t care if you acknowledge Savannah or not. She doesn’t need you. But you are going to let her leave. Savannah and Adam will walk out that door, and you can keep me in their place and—”
A soft, metallic tinkle. The wire binding her sword had fallen to the floor. “About time, ladies,” Mom muttered as she reached back for her sword. “Strike that. Maybe I won’t stick around, Thomas. You’ll let me go and—”
She shimmered. Not just the sword, but her whole body.
“No,” she whispered. She looked up. “No!”
She shimmered again, almost fading completely before coming back, midsentence. “Give me five minutes—” Her gaze shot to mine, and I ran to her, ignoring the shouts of the guards.
Then she was gone.
I knew it had been coming, but it felt as if someone had slammed me in the gut. It was like every time I’d pictured her death. I’d never known what happened, but I’d imagined it, in all the ways a daughter could torture herself with thoughts of her mother’s murder. Yet nothing I’d imagined had felt as horrible as this moment. This moment when she was here. And then she wasn’t.
Adam got to me first, pulling me into his shoulder. I let myself collapse against him, not sobbing, not even crying, but wishing I could, the grief just building.
“Let Savannah go,” Sean said to Thomas, his voice low. “Please, Granddad, just let her go. Eve said she’s not going to fight you about recognizing Savannah. I’m not either. Not anymore. Eve was right. You don’t want to see it so you won’t see it. Just let her go. Let it all go.”
I lifted my head. Thomas wasn’t looking at me. Wasn’t looking at Sean. He was staring straight ahead at the spot where my mother had stood. He looked tired. Old and tired and frail, and I knew he didn’t want to do this anymore either.
Sean stepped in front of him. “I’m going to take her out of here, Granddad.” As he turned toward me, Josef broke the silence.
“She can’t just walk away. She participated in a terrorist act against the Cabal and she must face those charges—”
“Oh for God’s sake.” Sean spun on his uncle. “Nobody believes that but you, Josef, and you’re just trying to screw me over by putting Savannah on trial—”
“Mr. Nast is right.” It was one of the men in suits. The lawyer from the intra-Cabal agency. “The charges have been laid. Unless Mr. Nast wishes to formally withdraw them …” Everyone looked at Thomas. Finally he looked at me, and it was as if he’d looked into the eyes of a basilisk. He slowly but irrevocably turned to stone. “No,” he said. “I do not wish to withdraw the charges.”
Sean slumped a little, then recovered. “Fine. But we can’t begin until Lucas gets here. As the representative of the Cortez Cabal, under whose protection Savannah falls, Lucas Cortez must be here to witness the proceedings. As her lawyer, he absolutely needs to be here, to represent her.”
Josef glowered at Agent Stein, who stood, tugging at his tie.
“Yes, under normal circumstances, that would be true,” Stein finally said. “However, your family has protested his involvement on the grounds that as her former legal guardian and current employer, Mr. Cortez cannot be expected to be impartial in this proceeding.”