|Home > Kelley Armstrong > Women of the Otherworld Series > Thirteen (Page 28)|
|Thirteen(Women of the Otherworld #13) by Kelley Armstrong|
Why is it when things go to hell, people still expect others to follow the rules? Any werewolf knows better. When it comes down to raw survival, rules are the first thing to go. It’s teeth and claws and every wolf for himself and his Pack. The Nasts would protect their own, and they’d made it very clear that Savannah was not one of their own.
Damn Benicio. Damn herself, too, for listening to him. Hadn’t she learned her lesson after that colossal fuck-up at the warehouse? When Savannah and Eve wanted to infiltrate the group, Elena hadn’t liked it. But after consulting with Jeremy, she agreed that the risks were acceptable, as long as they got in and out as fast as possible.
Then Savannah texted to say they were joining a mission to Atlanta. When Clay heard that, his reaction eloquently summed up Elena’s own. Hell, no. It wasn’t just a gut reaction this time. It was experience. As Alpha-elect, she knew a few things about leadership, and if this Giles was letting new recruits join a critical mission, he was panicking. A dangerous situation. Lucas had to pull them out now. Adam agreed wholeheartedly.
Elena knew she could have persuaded Lucas … if she’d been able to get in touch with him. But she was only able to reach Benicio, and he’d brushed off her concerns and then it was too late to intervene.
And now they were here, running for their lives, as the Nast Cabal imploded around them.
Elena bustled Savannah through the board room to the rear door. She put her ear to it. Booted feet thudded down the main hall. Someone yelled, “The stairs! They’re taking the stairs!”
“Are you sure?” someone else called. “Those ones are locked.”
“I’m sure. There’s a burned hole where the handle used to be.”
Savannah whispered, “Decoy damage.”
In other words, Adam had burned it intentionally, to make everyone think they’d gone that way. Good.
When the guard’s footfalls faded, Elena nudged Savannah through the door, then glanced back at Clay. They’d been together so long that’s all it took—a glance. He mouthed “Go on.” She nodded and led Savannah as he hung back to guard the rear.
They rounded the corner. Ahead was a stairwell, the sign warning Authorized Use Only.
“That’s it,” Savannah murmured.
“Good, we’ll—” Elena caught the sound of boots climbing the steps. “Shit!”
She glanced at Clay, thirty feet back, and waved for him to duck into a room as she jogged to the nearest closed door. She put her ear to the door, then slowly twisted the knob. Behind her, Savannah bounced impatiently, those footfalls on the stairs now close enough for her to hear.
“If it’s locked, I can probably cast—”
The door opened. Savannah nudged her, whispering to hurry, the guards were coming. Elena turned to tell her to cool it—she had to check the room first—but someone in the stairwell said, “Through here, sir?” and Savannah gave her a shove, knocking her through the doorway.
“Sorry,” she whispered, as Elena recovered.
Savannah turned to close the door behind them, and as she did, Elena caught a scent that made her brain short-circuit for just a second, telling her the impossible—that Jeremy was here, when she knew he was two thousand miles away in Miami.
“Don’t close that door completely,” a voice said. “It locks from the inside.”
Elena spun. They were in what looked like a staff lounge. The lights were dim and at first all she saw was a figure rising from a chair. That scent wafted around the room. Not Jeremy—she could tell that now—but smelling like him, that rich sandal-wood scent she knew so well. There was another familiar aspect to the scent, too. The distinct musky smell of a werewolf.
The man stepped forward into the dim light as her eyes adjusted. He was a little taller than Elena, with a muscular build. Black, silver-threaded hair. Blue eyes. In the eyes, she saw nothing she recognized. But when her gaze moved back to take in the whole of the man, her heart stopped. Just stopped and she stood there, frozen, as every hair on her body rose.
She knew that face. She saw a version of it almost every day—a longer version, more angular, with dark eyes, slightly slanted, different, yet familiar enough that it was like the scent—that first thing she thought was Jeremy. Yet it wasn’t just the similarity that made her heart stop. It was this face, one she’d seen when Clay first took her into the locked bedroom to try to help her understand Jeremy all those years ago. The face she’d seen again when they’d cleaned out that bedroom to make way for their children, Jeremy finally ready to let go—happy and relieved to let go. She’d seen this face in the photos in that room, and it didn’t matter if she’d never met the man himself. She hated the face and she hated the man who wore it and now, looking across the room and seeing it in the flesh, the only thing she felt was hate.
“Hello,” Malcolm Danvers said. “You must be Elena.”
“He’s—” Savannah began.
“Oh, let her guess,” the man said. “That’ll be so much more fun.” He stepped toward Elena, his nostrils flaring, drinking in her scent. “Do you know who I am?”
She forced the words through clenched teeth. “I do.”
“Really? Are you sure? I must be much younger than you expected. And much more alive.”
“Temporarily,” she said, a growl escaping with the word.
He laughed and walked toward her.
Malcolm Danvers. She was looking at Malcolm Danvers. The how, the why—none of that mattered. This was the man who’d made Jeremy’s life hell. The father who’d despised him and never let a day pass without letting Jeremy know it. The man who’d found Clay in the bayou and tossed him aside to die. The man who’d later decided, after Jeremy rescued Clay, that Clay was the kind of son he wanted. Clay never told her that, but she’d heard it from Nick and Antonio, how Malcolm tried to turn Clay against Jeremy. It didn’t work, of course. Madness to try. But Clay and Jeremy still suffered for it.
Now Malcolm was back? Not if she could help it. He was going to die in this room, and Jeremy would never be the wiser.
Elena watched him as he came toward her. As he circled her, she pivoted, following him, every muscle tight, gaze locked on his.
“Clayton’s chosen mate,” Malcolm said. “You’re what I would have expected. Pretty. Physically fit. Smart enough to know when to watch and listen. But giving me a look that says you’ll rip my spleen out as soon as I give you the chance. Yes, exactly what I would expect from Clayton.”
He laughed, and the sound was like claws scraping her spine, a perversely warped version of Jeremy’s deep chuckle.
“You’ll give my regards to your mate, won’t you?” Malcolm said. “Tell him I remember him fondly, despite his every attempt to ensure I wouldn’t. I look forward to seeing him again.” He glanced at the door and smiled. “Someday soon.”
He started toward the door.
Elena swerved into his path. “You’re not going anywhere. Jeremy and Clay think you’re dead, and I’d hate to disappoint them.”
He threw back his head and laughed. Then he dove at her. She slammed a fist into his gut. He doubled over. A good kick would have dropped him to the floor, but when she tried, he grabbed her leg and sent her flying into the wall. As she scrambled up, Savannah hit him with a knockback.
“Savannah?” Elena said, “stay out of this. Please.”
“Good advice, little witch,” Malcolm said as he recovered.
“The necks of pretty girls break like twigs. Did you know that?”
He would know. Elena had heard that mutts weren’t the only prey Malcolm Danvers hunted. No better than a man-killer, they’d said. Yet the Pack never kicked him out. In fact, they’d almost elected him Alpha. That was one of the many injustices that still dogged the Pack thirty years after Jeremy took over. Mutts had long memories.
Malcolm turned toward her. “Do you really think you can kill me?”
“I’m going to try,” she said.
He smiled. “Better wolves than you have given it their best, and gone to a shallow grave. You’re very valuable to someone I care about. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Then sit down in that chair and we’ll see if your neck snaps like a twig.”
He laughed, but there was no humor in it, “You’ve let this Alpha business go to your head, my dear. It’s a sham, you know. Clayton will be Alpha. You’re just the pretty fool who thinks she’s a big, bad wolf.”
“Then it should be easy to take me down.”
His smile turned into an ugly scowl. “I won’t kill you, she-bitch. I wouldn’t do that to Clayton. But it seems he’s neglected to teach you to respect your betters.”
“Oh, I respect my betters. But a Y chromosome doesn’t automatically place you in that category.”
“No? Well, maybe I’ll show you what it does mean. Teach you the lesson my boy failed to impart.”
Two years ago, that threat would have brought back memories of her hellish years as a foster child, and it would have done exactly what he wanted—it would have scared her. But she’d faced down those demons in Alaska and now she heard his words, looked in his eyes, and felt nothing but cold rage.
“Go ahead and try,” she said.
He charged. Elena stepped aside at the last moment, grabbed him by the back of the shirt, and yanked him off his feet. He broke from her grip, and hit her with a blow to the chin that sent her reeling. She blocked his next punch, then landed one of her own.
Earlier, she’d thought of the aches and bruises she’d feel tomorrow from the fight with the guards. But after a few rounds with Malcolm, they started making an early appearance—a shoulder throbbing when she threw a punch, a leg muscle screaming when she kicked, a blow that didn’t have the power it should, a dodge that wasn’t quite fast enough.
Having superstrength was a lot more useful against a human opponent. It didn’t matter how hard Elena worked out, biology dictated that she’d never develop the upper-body strength to compete with a physically fit male werewolf. Instead, she had to rely on speed and experience. Today neither seemed to be enough.
As Elena fought, she kept reminding herself that Malcolm had to be at least eighty. But he didn’t look like he was eighty, and he sure as hell didn’t fight like he was eighty, and she had no idea how that could be possible, but it was.
When she sparred with Clay, he held back a little. Even with his bad arm, he was still an experienced werewolf in his prime. If he gave it his all, she couldn’t beat him. Her brain insisted that Malcolm was an old man and she was Alpha-elect, damn it—she should be able to beat him. But she couldn’t. It was like fighting Clay full out … after she’d gone two days without sleep and fought off a battalion of trained Cabal guards.
Soon Malcolm was landing more blows than she was. Even with Savannah discreetly casting knockbacks to push him off balance, Elena was barely holding her own. Then a solid blow to the jaw sent her down. Before she could scramble up, Malcolm was straddling her, pinning her on her back. Savannah started forward, but Elena lifted her fingers, telling her to wait. She looked up at Malcolm, widened her eyes, and poured in every ounce of that old fear she could dredge up.
He smiled. His hand moved to her side, then slid up toward her breast as he bent over. “Is this what you wanted, my dear? I think it—”
She head-butted his jaw, catching his tongue between his teeth. As he snarled, she yanked one arm free and smashed it into his nose. Blood spurted. Elena shoved him off and sprang to her feet. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Savannah rushing in. Elena waved her back, but the move caught Malcolm’s attention and with one last rage-filled glance at her, he charged Savannah. Elena sprang at him just as the door flew open.
Clay came in, muttering, “Easy to find you two. Savannah left the damned door ajar—”
He stopped. So did Malcolm. Elena was already in flight and hit him square in the back. She pinned him this time, face down on the floor.
Then Elena looked up and saw Clay’s face. Saw the shock on it. Utter, stomach-dropping shock. She’d wanted to spare him this. If she couldn’t spare him, at least she wanted to warn him. But it was too late. It took only a split second for that shock to harden, his eyes going colder than she’d ever seen them. And in another split second, that look vanished, too.
Clay strolled over to them. “Well, if I ever had to see you again, Malcolm, I suppose this is the way I’d choose.” He crouched. “Taken down by a woman, huh? Probably rather just let everyone go on thinking you were already dead.”
Malcolm bucked and snarled, but Elena had him pinned by the shoulders. She moved her knee up his spine and pushed down. As he hissed, she grabbed a handful of his hair and ground his broken nose against the hardwood.
“You better call off your bitch,” Malcolm said, his breathing ragged with pain. “She already threatened to snap my neck.”
Clay rested on his haunches and looked at Elena. “Did you say that, darling?”
“I did. Of course, I was hoping to do it before you realized he was alive. But now’s a good time, too.”
He laughed, and when he did, his blue eyes glittered, all traces of hatred and rage consumed by something else. Anticipation. And when Elena saw that, she was glad she hadn’t snapped Malcolm’s neck.
“You’re not going to let her kill me, Clayton.”
“Oh, Elena pretty much does as she pleases.”
Malcolm snorted, as if to say that was where Clay had failed as a husband. “Perhaps, but if you wanted me dead, you’d have done it years ago.”