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|Thirteen(Women of the Otherworld #13) by Kelley Armstrong|
“He’s not meant to be impartial,” Sean said. “He’s her lawyer.”
“Yes, well, the intra-Cabal agency has ruled in your family’s favor on this matter. Miss Levine will be represented by Mr. Turin, one of the agency’s legal team. As for the Cortez Cabal’s interests, we are attempting to video-link in Benicio Cortez, but we’ve encountered technical difficulties.”
“Technical difficulties, my ass,” Sean muttered. “All right then, we at least need to wait until those difficulties are resolved before we begin.”
“No, we have decided that Mr. Cortez can be updated as soon as the link is established.”
Sean stood there, staring at Stein, who wouldn’t meet his gaze. Then he dropped into his chair so hard the clunk reverberated through the room.
The intra-Cabal agency—or key members of it—had been bribed, and there was nothing we could do about it. My heart started to thud harder. This was real. I was on trial for treason.
The Nasts’ head lawyer stood, cleared his throat, and began. “It is alleged that Miss Levine was in charge of a detachment of the reveal movement, having joined the cause to aid her grand-sire, Lord Demon Balaam …”
“What?” I whispered to Sean as the lawyer continued reading the allegation.
Sean glanced over, his jaw tight. Adam reached for my hand, but pulled back, and when I tried to take his anyway, his fingers were so hot I had to bite back a yelp. He shot me an apologetic look, flexed them, and whispered, “We’ll get this sorted.”
The lawyer droned on. The upshot of the charge? I was secretly a member of SLM and had been getting information for them from the Cortez and Nast cabals—hence the treason charge. Together with my mother—whom Balaam obviously freed from the afterlife—I’d joined up with SLM in New Orleans and had been leading a terrorist cell to Atlanta. At that point, the Nasts swooped in, saved the day, and arrested my mother, me, and Adam, whom they suspected I’d duped with my version of the events.
“My version?” I said. “My version is that my mother was brought over by Shawn Roberts, to aid the anti-reveal movement, which Jaime Vegas will confirm. Lucas Cortez will likewise confirm that I was infiltrating the reveal movement when you ambushed—”
“Lucas is your former guardian. Ms. Vegas is your friend and his,” Josef said, ignoring the lawyers’ attempts to quiet us both. “She will say exactly what he tells her.”
“And your version?” I said. “Where did you get this supposed proof that I’m part of SLM? You killed everyone at that warehouse.”
“There was a survivor. A necromancer named Andrea Patterson. She’s told us everything.”
“Please,” Stein said. “You’ll both be allowed to speak.”
He motioned to the Nast lawyer, who continued. “Now, as this witness testified, Miss Levine and her mother …”
I didn’t catch the rest of what he said. Someone was speaking behind me. I glanced over my shoulder, but saw no one.
“—damned well better figure it out,” the voice snapped.
“You owe us …”
The voice faded again, but beside me, Sean had turned too and was staring at the empty space. The expression on his face …
I must have had the same expression on mine yesterday, when Shawn Roberts made my mother manifest.
“Dad?” Sean whispered. His gaze shot to me. “Did you hear … ?”
“It sounded like—” I swallowed. “It sounded like him.”
The air behind us flickered, like tiny lightbulbs flashing, so bright I had to look away.
“—either you’ll make this work or—”
The room went silent. Sean’s chair screeched as he got to his feet. I looked up.
A man stood there. Late forties. A few inches over six feet. Broad shoulders and a thickening waist, both held in check by a perfectly tailored suit. Thinning blond hair. Bright blue eyes. Sean’s eyes. My eyes.
He looked exactly as I remembered him. Exactly as he had the day he died. The day I accidentally threw him against a wall and killed him.
His gaze went to Sean, and his stern face lit up in a smile so big it made my insides ache.
He reached for his son, but his hands passed right through him.
“Hmm,” he said. “Not quite what I was hoping for, but I suppose I should be glad they pulled it off at all.”
“Dad,” Sean said, his voice choked.
Kristof murmured something too low for me to hear. Sean responded. Then Kristof reached out again, as if to pat him on the back and said, “I’m hoping we get a moment later, but I don’t know how long the Fates can hold this for. I need to—”
Sean stepped aside. Kristof—my father—looked at me and gave me the same smile he’d given Sean and I stumbled to my feet, my heart hammering, thinking I killed you. You know I did.
It didn’t matter. He’d told me that before, through Jaime, but I hadn’t believed it. Couldn’t believe it until now, seeing it in his face as he came toward me.
He leaned toward my ear to whisper, “Your mom’s fine. Furious, but fine. I’m going to fix this for you. Okay?” He pulled back and met my gaze. “Okay?”
I nodded. He bent forward, air-kissing my cheek. Then he straightened, and strode across the room.
No one had spoken since he appeared. I think most of them hadn’t breathed.
He walked straight to his father’s table.
Thomas’s face was completely drained of color. He was shaking. One hand slid across the table top, slowly, tentatively, reaching for his son’s. “Kristof …”
“That’s not Kristof,” Josef said. “It’s an illusion. A demon’s trick. One of her tricks. Eve’s.”
His voice was like a mallet shattering glass, jolting everyone from a dream, lawyers and guards blinking, rolling their shoulders, whispering that Josef was right, it couldn’t be Kristof because that wasn’t possible, ghosts couldn’t just appear like this.
Thomas jerked back as if he’d been slapped, and when he did, it took all my willpower not to march over and slap someone myself. Slap Josef.
I didn’t like Thomas Nast. After what he’d done to his family and what he’d done to my mother and to me, I could never forgive the man. But to see that look on his face, that hope and joy crushed with a few words, was more than I would wish on anyone.
My father turned to Josef. “You don’t believe it’s me? Name your proof.”
“I’m not playing this game.”
“Then I will. When you were eight, you set fire to a batch of scrolls Dad brought home from a trip. Priceless scrolls that he’d gotten while in Egypt over your birthday—when he hadn’t even bothered to call you. You set them on fire. Deliberately. I told Dad I did it accidentally, practicing my energy bolt spell. I thought I was helping you, but I wasn’t, because you only hated me all the more when I didn’t get in trouble.”
He waved at Sean. “When Bryce was five, he was angry with me because I was late for a school play. The next time he was in my office, he shredded all the files on my desk. Sean tried to take the blame. I wouldn’t let him because I knew it wouldn’t help. Bryce was angry because he thought I cared more about work than about him. He got in trouble for the files, but I made sure I was never late for him again, however angry Dad got about my ‘misplaced priorities.’?’’
“Kristof …” Thomas reached out again, his eyes glistening with tears.
“Yes, Dad, it’s me. It’s been me before, too. Three times I had your necromancer pass along a message. Three times I told you Savannah was my daughter. Three times you ignored me.”
“I didn’t think it was really—”
“You thought what you wanted. You always did. You still do. And as Eve and Sean both said, the time for that is past. Believe what you want about Savannah. I’m not here over that. I’m here to tell you to let her go. I know what your end game is, yours and Josef’s, and I’m warning you not to make my son and daughter a part of that.”
“Son?” Thomas looked over at Sean. “I would never threaten Sean—”
“I have two sons, Dad, a fact you tend to overlook. Bryce is sick. He needs help. He needs you to work with the Cortezes to stop these people and find a cure for what they’ve done to him, because what they’ve done is terrible, and it’s only going to get worse.”
“The Nasts don’t work with the Cortezes,” Josef said.
“Fine. Pursue these people on your own. But do not put on this farce of a trial to blackmail Benicio Cortez. Do not endanger my son’s life so you can take advantage of this chaos to overthrow the Cortezes.”
“We would never—”
“I know you, Josef. And I know you, too, Dad. I see what’s happening here and—” He stopped short and glanced up. He scowled at the ceiling, then looked back at his father. “They can’t hold the spell much longer. When is the last time you’ve heard of a ghost appearing to anyone but a necromancer, Dad?”
“Ask Adam over there. It has happened, but the magic requires a thinning of the veil between the worlds. That veil has never been thinner than it is now. It is chaos over there. You cannot let it become chaos here, too, or that veil will rip and the world risks finding more than werewolves and witches in its midst.”
He leaned over the table again. “Let Savannah go. Help Bryce. Fix this problem with or without the Cortezes, but do not add to the chaos. Whatever you do, do not add to it.”
He cast another annoyed glance upward, and muttered,
“I know, I know.”
He walked back to Sean, bent, and whispered to him. I sat down so I wouldn’t eavesdrop. Then he came to me and knelt beside my chair.
“I wish I could stay and really fix this for you, Savannah.”
“It will be fixed. I’m giving them the chance to back down, but if they don’t … I have information. Blackmail material. They will back down, one way or another.”
“I love you. I hope you know that. I was wrong to ever try to take custody of you from Paige, and anything that happened as a result of that is my fault. Completely my fault.” He gave me a kiss on the cheek that I swore I could feel. “You set me free, Savannah. As much as I wish I could be here for you and your brothers, you helped me leave all this and find your mother again. I will never regret that.”
He stood and turned to Adam. “Take care of her.”
Adam nodded. “I will.”
He walked back to the place where he’d arrived. As he started to fade, he frowned suddenly, sharply looking over at the wall and saying, “What’s that? Hold on. Something’s coming—”
Did the trial end after that? Of course not. But the tone changed. As the lawyers droned on, Thomas’s attention turned inward, as if he wasn’t listening at all.
Josef didn’t give in so easily. Whatever grand scheme they’d cooked up, he wasn’t surrendering it just because his dead brother asked. Or maybe he wasn’t surrendering it precisely because Kristof had asked.
I’d seen what the family dynamics had done to my own brothers. Everything I’d heard about my father supported what I’d just seen—that he’d never favored either son. But maybe because of Thomas’s obvious favoritism—or maybe because Sean was more likable—Bryce had suffered. He’d grown up resenting his brother, even though he loved him. That was the push–pull that tore at Bryce. He genuinely loved the brother he wanted to hate.
Josef had no such conflict. Any love he’d felt for his brother had withered since his death. Now Kristof was simply an obstacle to Josef’s happiness, much the same as he might have been when they were boys.
So the trial proceeded. But it didn’t proceed for long before there was yet another commotion in the hall.
“Good God,” my inter-Cabal agency lawyer muttered. “Now what? Angel? Ghost? Hellhound?”
A scream cut him off. It came from the rear door. Before anyone could move, a familiar figure strode through the door.
“Severin,” I whispered.
Sierra followed him into the room, and in each hand she held the decapitated head of a young man.
“Are these yours?” she said.
She tossed them. One hit a lawyer, and he stumbled back, clawing at his suit. The other rolled to my feet. I stepped forward, fingertips sparking.
“Oooh, Savannah, getting your powers back? Maybe you’ll be useful to us after all.”
“Thomas Nast,” Severin said. “Lord Balaam has sent us to pass along a message. You ignored your son’s pleas on his daughter’s behalf. Maybe you’ll listen to her other grandfather. Lord Balaam demands that you set Savannah free. Immediately.”
Josef sprang to his feet. “All right. This goes too far.” He turned on his father. “Do you really expect us to think a lord demon cares about this girl? His grandchild?”
“Fine, don’t believe me,” Sierra said. Then she grinned. “It’ll be much more fun that way.”
“We came to warn you,” Severin said. “While I agree with my sister that it’ll be more fun if you refuse, it’s my job to strongly recommend you don’t.”
“We have to get Savannah out of here,” Adam whispered across me to Sean. “Balaam is up to something.”