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|Thirteen(Women of the Otherworld #13) by Kelley Armstrong|
Sean and I spent the flight talking. I was worried about him. Really worried. He’d just lost his grandfather. He might be losing his Cabal. He’d severed any relationship with Josef, and I knew that stung, because while they hadn’t been on good terms lately, they had been close once. Josef’s son had died shortly after our dad, and they had bonded over their shared loss.
Now Bryce was sick. Very sick. If he died, what would Sean have left? Me? He loved me, I knew, but I was still the outsider who didn’t really understand where he came from, what it meant to be a Nast.
So I was worried. And I had no idea what to do about it except sit there and listen, and offer words of hope about Bryce and the future. So that’s what I did.
Troy pulled the SUV into a tiny lot near the private airstrip.
“We’ll sit out here and wait for the jet,” he said.
Paige nodded. If she got out, the guards in the SUV behind them would need to get out in order to watch over her. Then she’d need to make conversation with them. Maybe not “need,” but “should.” Any other time, that wouldn’t be a problem. But she’d passed the point days ago of being able to make small talk. She just wanted to curl up in the backseat and disappear for a few minutes.
When her cell rang, she was about to ignore it. Then she realized it was Lucas.
“Is this a bad time?” he asked when she answered.
She bit back her next words. The usual words she’d say when they weren’t together. I miss you. Now it would only remind him that this wasn’t one of their usual little separations, off chasing cases, hating being apart, but still loving what they were doing. There was nothing to love here, and with each passing day that weighed on him a little more.
“Is Savannah’s flight on schedule?” he asked.
“It is. She’ll be here any minute.”
“Good.” A long pause. Then his voice dropped. “I miss you.”
Paige gripped the phone tighter. “Miss you, too.”
She cleared her throat. “So … how’s the weather?”
A bubble of a laugh burst across the line. “The weather in L.A. is perfect, as always. And there?”
“Crappy, as always.”
A chuckle now. “I had a call from Mitchell DeLong. Do you remember Mitchell?”
“Vaguely. Necromancer. Lives in Seattle.”
“Correct. Except that last night, apparently, he was near Portland, heading to a cemetery to perform a summoning for a client. It was late, and he was tired and driving erratically. An officer pulled him over and discovered that Mitchell had forgotten to properly stow his summoning materials, including three desiccated human fingers.”
“Particularly when dealing with a small-town police force that doesn’t appear to understand that desiccated flesh indicates extreme age. They’re quite certain the rest of Mitch’s victim is nearby and they’re holding him until they find it. He’d like me to come in and clear the matter up.”
“Uh-huh. Did you tell him we’re a little busy?”
“I did. He hadn’t heard anything about the situation. No matter, though. He understands that we are otherwise engaged and therefore has offered to pay double our usual fee.”
Paige smiled. “Has he?”
“In light of that, I suggest we consider the offer. I’ll tell my father that while we realize that this end-of-the-world business is important, we do have a detective agency to run, bills to pay, a reputation to uphold, and so on. We’ll simply pop up to Portland for a couple of days.”
“Thanks.” She smiled and settled into her seat, curling her legs up under her.
A moment of silence, then he said, “We are going back, Paige. I know that’s the elephant in the room, the topic we are both trying so hard to avoid—whether all this will mean we can’t go back to Portland, to the agency, to our regular life. Whether my responsibilities at the Cabal will at last prove too great to ignore. They won’t, I promise. My father is healthy. The Cabal is healthy. This tragedy at the Nasts will ripple through all the Cabals, and will require some additional work from me, but once this is over, we’re going home.”
“Okay …” She said the word carefully, uncertainly. Go home. It sounded so simple. So obvious. Why wouldn’t we go home? We had a house, an agency, a life there.
But they had a life here, too. Even a home, having finally accepted a condo from Benicio a few years ago. They had work here, too. She used to think that only applied to Lucas. But, although she had no job title, no official responsibilities, her inbox and voice mail were always filled with messages from Cabal employees asking this or that, needing this or that. If they couldn’t get to Lucas, they came to her.
Did that make her his assistant? He’d say no. Emphatically. She was his partner. And yet to the rest of the Cabal, “assistant” was closer to the truth.
God, how she would have bristled at that ten years ago. Playing helpmate to her husband? Never. She was Paige Winterbourne, former Coven leader, leader of the interracial council. But life changes. Perspective changes. She’d come to understand that Benicio wasn’t going to award her a VP title anytime soon, and if he did, it would only be to please Lucas. She’d come to understand, too, that Lucas needed her help. He needed her support—her wholehearted support, untainted by envy or ego. He needed her to be there, at his side, the one person he could count on to keep him on the right path, call him on the bullshit and have his best interests at heart—always. As long as he thought of her as his partner and treated her as such, that was all the validation she needed.
“I mean it, Paige,” Lucas said after a moment. “I know my father will require our assistance once this is over. There is work to be done. But we’re going home first. He’ll get a few days of our time to deal with the aftermath. Then we go home. We rest. We take care of business at the agency. And when that’s done, we come back to do more … until we can leave again.” A pause. “Sound like a plan?”
She smiled. “It does. A good plan.”
“Then that’s what we’ll—Hold on.” He covered the receiver and murmured a few words, then came back. “That was Adam. I need to go. Tell Savannah he says hello.”
“I will. I think that’s her ride coming down right now.”
“Good. I’ll call when I can.”
Paige stood at the edge of the tarmac, as close as they’d let her get to Savannah’s plane. Closer than any regular person would ever get, even to a private flight. There are, admittedly, advantages to being Benicio Cortez’s daughter-in-law.
She found herself straining for that first glimpse of Savannah. She’d spoken to her on the phone earlier, but only for a moment or two, both of them surrounded by others, unable to really talk.
Was Savannah upset that Paige hadn’t gone to L.A. with Lucas? She couldn’t—he’d needed her to stay in Miami. Paige was sure Lucas told Savannah that. Even if it slipped his mind, Savannah would have understood there was no place for Paige at that hearing. But logically understanding wasn’t the same as emotionally understanding. Savannah had been arrested for treason by her father’s own Cabal. She’d watched her mother disappear from her life again. She’d seen one grandfather killed by the other. And Paige hadn’t been there for her.
But she was here now, eagerly waiting for Savannah to step off that jet. Was it enough? She hoped so. God, she hoped so.
When Savannah first appeared, there was a moment where Paige thought Eve had somehow stayed in their world after all. It was just that fleeting first glimpse, a tall woman with long, dark hair, her arm hooked through Sean Nast’s. Of course, it was Savannah. But somehow—chalk it up to exhaustion—Paige expected to see a girl get off that jet. The girl she remembered, the one who always needed her, as hard as she tried to pretend otherwise.
Paige didn’t think of Savannah as her daughter. She’d never tried to take Eve’s place. Being only a decade older than Savannah had always made that easy. Savannah was like a little sister and, eventually, as probably happens with most little sisters, she became a friend. When Paige watched her step from that jet, she realized the “little” part was gone now. Savannah didn’t need Paige to hold her hand and tend to her bumps and bruises. She could look after herself. Paige was happy about that. Proud of that. But maybe, just maybe, a little sad, too.
Paige turned her attention to Sean. He was coming down those steps, looking neither left nor right. He was the one who needed them both now. She watched him flinch when an engine roared off to the left, then shake his head as if embarrassed by how jumpy he was.
She hurried over to them. Her first smile was for Savannah, but she barely seemed to notice it, her attention focused on her brother. Paige gave him a hug and murmured that the car was near, that someone else would get his luggage. Savannah had let go of his arm and stepped back, as if relinquishing him to Paige’s care. Savannah met her gaze then, passing her a small, tired smile and mouthing “thanks” as Paige bustled Sean to the car.
Paige got him seated inside, with a glass of ice water and a shot of brandy. He picked up the brandy, stared into the amber for a moment, and downed it in one gulp. Then his lips twisted in a ghost of a smile.
Paige took out the bottle.
He held up his hand. “No, I shouldn’t …” A pause. “Maybe one more. Thank you.”
As she poured, she realized Savannah wasn’t getting into the SUV. She turned to see her still standing there.
Paige gave the brandy to Sean, then stepped back and closed the door. She barely had time to put her arms out before Savannah fell into them.
“I’m sorry for what happened,” Paige whispered. “And I’m sorry I wasn’t there.”
Savannah shook her head. “I’m glad you weren’t there. You’re lousy in a fight.”
Paige sputtered a laugh. “Thank you.” She pulled back to look up at her. “How are you doing?”
“Fine.” She tried for a smile, then swallowed and shook her head. “Not fine.”
She collapsed against Paige again and she hugged her as tightly as she could. Yes, the little girl was all grown up, but she still needed her. At least, for a while longer.
I would gladly have stayed asleep for a few hours. But it felt as if I’d barely drifted off on the ride from the airport before Paige was shaking my shoulder.
We were already parked and she and I were the only ones left in the vehicle. Outside, Benicio was telling Sean how sorry he was to hear of Thomas’s passing.
“We didn’t often see eye-to-eye,” Benicio was saying, his voice low. “But I’ve known him since I was a boy. He’ll leave a hole in our world that won’t soon be filled.”
I got my bearings and climbed out after Paige. Benicio left Sean and came over to me.
“We’ll get this sorted, Savannah,” he said. “You’ll be vindicated and avenged. You have my word on that.”
Vindicated and avenged. A couple of weeks ago, I’d have been burning for just that. Now the words seemed empty. I didn’t want justice with a flaming sword. I wanted peace and resolution. Fix this crisis. Fix our world.
We headed for the doors, Benicio’s longtime bodyguards, Troy and Griffin, moving in to flank us, Paige and Sean staying behind with the other guards.
“Troy will be with you for a few days, Savannah,” Benicio said. “Until we get this matter sorted.”
I glanced over at Troy, who mouthed, “Lucky you.”
“As much as I’m sure Troy would love to baby-sit me,” I said, rolling my eyes at him behind Benicio’s back, “he should stay with you. You could be targeted—”
“I’ll have Griffin and two of my backup men. I could be a target—you will be a target.”
“You’re twenty-one now, aren’t you?” Troy said.
“Good, then I can take you drinking.”
“Only if you can do it in the executive lounge,” Benicio said. “You’re going to be on lockdown for a while.”
Troy leaned behind Benicio to motion that we’d discuss it later and I had to laugh. Benicio sighed and shook his head. Griffin glanced back for Paige and Sean, but they hadn’t caught up yet, so we got on the elevator and he punched the button.
“Paige tells me your spells are coming back,” Benicio said as the doors closed.
“On and off. I’m dealing with it.”
I’m dealing with it. Shocking how casual that sounded. Even more shocking how casual it felt. My powers blew hot and cold, completely beyond my control, but I was learning to work with it. Maybe learning to live with it.
“I’d like you to reconsider that ritual Adam found,” Benicio said.
I almost asked “What ritual?” Then I remembered: the one Adam had dug up to restore my powers.
“He says there’s a time limit,” Benicio said. “I don’t want you getting so caught up in this crisis that you lose sight of that.”
“I’ll put it in my calendar.”
“I’m serious, Savannah. Adam said you’re holding off because you think your powers were taken to help you control them. But given what just happened, you need to consider the possibility that’s a lie. A trick. The demons have spies. They could have known Adam was on the verge of finding that ritual and made sure you wouldn’t use it.”