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|Thirteen(Women of the Otherworld #13) by Kelley Armstrong|
Sean added. “As for the Nasts, I’ve been in touch with a few senior executives. We’ll be joining your efforts, together with a contingent of staff loyal to me.”
Benicio nodded. “I believe we’ll see more help from your organization as the shock passes and they realize this is not, sadly, the time for grief. Nor is it the time for a battle over succession.”
“I hope so,” Paige murmured beside me.
She didn’t sound too optimistic, and based on what I’d seen, I wasn’t either. We could get men apparently loyal to Sean onside, but they couldn’t be given any access to Cortez information or positions of authority, in case they were spies for Josef. By the time the average Nast Cabal employee decided to throw in his lot with Sean, it might be too late to help.
“Speaking of these attacks, I have some good news,” Benicio said. “We managed to avert situations in Boston and Denver, based on Hope’s visions.”
“There,” Karl said. He was sitting on a sofa at the back of the room, with Hope curled up beside him. He turned to her. “You were helpful. You’ve been thanked. Now you can go back to bed—”
“I need to—”
“You need to rest.”
Hope had looked run down the last time I’d seen her. Now she looked as if she’d been run down, hit by the same steam-roller that had squashed me. Her dark curls were lank. Her face was thinner, bones even more defined. The bags under her eyes had graduated to full-size luggage. But her eyes were bright, alert, and determined. Very determined.
“I need to listen to everything, so I can put my visions in context,” she said. “And I am resting.” She curled up under Karl’s arm, resting her head on his chest, her hand on his leg. “Resting and safe, as long as you’re here.”
Karl rolled his eyes at such an obvious play. But it worked, too. He shifted to make her more comfortable and settled in with a sigh.
Sean and I were up next. Everyone had questions, and there seemed to be some dispute over whether the demon who’d killed Thomas was actually Balaam. No one liked to believe the lord demons were taking such an active role in this.
“This is the second time Balaam has come to me,” I said.
“Everything we’ve learned so far tells us that this fight goes right to the top of the demon hierarchy. They all think they have something to gain or lose if supernaturals are exposed. Balaam is for it. Asmondai is against it. Those seem to be the two factions. I don’t know about the other lords, but the one they all want on their side is the one who’s gone AWOL.”
“Lucifer,” Hope murmured. “He’s MIA and I’m getting all his voice mail.”
“Or he’s the one sending you the visions,” I said. “Trying to help without taking sides.”
“Then I wish he’d damned well man up and take one,” Karl growled.
I turned to the Cabal execs. “According to my mother, it’s not just the demons who are choosing sides. We’re getting celestial interference, too. Whether you believe any of that or not doesn’t really matter. Anything you thought you knew about our world? Forget it. Someone has tossed out the rule book. Ghosts can cross the divide. Hellhounds can manifest. Demi-demons can possess living children. Lord demons are taking a hand in Cabal politics.”
I looked at Benicio. “What about the original bad guys? What have Giles and his liberation movement been doing since I left them?”
“We’re trying to find out,” Benicio said.
He explained that he’d dedicated his best resources to finding Giles and his crew, who’d vacated their New Orleans meeting house before the Cabal could invade.
I said I wanted to go back in the field. I knew Giles and his people. They all knew me. Presumably I was still useful to them. So at the very least, I’d make good bait to draw them out.
Benicio said no. Lucas said no. Paige said no. Even Sean—who’s never played the overbearing big brother—said he’d really rather I didn’t. They all insisted there was plenty I could do at headquarters. Only, there wasn’t. I wasn’t a researcher or a strategist. I belonged on the front lines. Here, I was no more useful than any admin assistant.
Yet as long as I was a spell-free target, I was ordered to stay under twenty-four-hour guard. I couldn’t even go back to Paige and Lucas’s condo for the night. Several offices had been cleared and transformed into bedrooms. Benicio was staying on site. While Lucas was away, so was Paige. Only the were-wolves got to take their significant others and leave, and even they had to agree to stay in secured condos and accept armored cars, along with a small army of guards.
So I got a futon in an empty office. Troy got a cot outside the door.
Adam called before I went to sleep. Larsen Dahl had been at the location Bryce had given us, but he’d been moved. They were trying to find out where. Or Lucas was. Adam had been sidelined to rest, like me. If only we were “resting” in the same place, it would have been a lot more tolerable.
I woke up early, feeling as if I had to be somewhere. Then I remembered I wasn’t going anywhere, and lay back on the futon, staring up at the ceiling.
Eventually, I realized sulking wasn’t going to do anyone any good. I might as well get up and figure out how I could make myself useful.
There was a suitcase of my stuff in the corner. I dressed and eased open the door. Troy was sitting on the edge of his cot in a T-shirt and boxers, running his hand through his sleep-rumpled hair.
“You don’t have to get up,” I whispered.
“Yep, I kinda do.” He yawned and shook himself. “Compared to Benicio’s schedule, this was actually sleeping in. Just give me a sec to dress.”
I withdrew into the office to wait. I felt bad making Troy get up, but he was used to it. Normally, bodyguards would alternate night shifts, but Griffin was a single parent—his youngest not yet in college—so Troy spent most nights in a bedroom outside Benicio’s.
Troy didn’t have kids. Or a wife. I’m sure he had company when he wanted it—he was decent-looking for a guy in his forties and a big, brawny bodyguard is going to have his appeal at any age.
I’m not the type who thinks people can only be happy with a family, but … Well, maybe I am. A family of some sort. I guess Troy has that with Benicio and the Cabal. He nearly died a few years ago, protecting his boss from Jaz and his brother Sonny. Afterward, Benicio had given him a huge bonus and beefed up his pension, which was his way of saying “If you want to retire, I understand.” Troy hadn’t, of course. I supposed he wouldn’t, not as long as Benicio was alive.
Troy tapped the door when he was ready. He was not only dressed, but looked a helluva lot more awake than I felt.
“Coffee,” I said.
He grinned. “That I can do.”
“I don’t suppose there’s any chance of going out to get it.”
The smile faltered.
I lifted my hand. “Sorry. Not your rules, I know. As long as I can get caffeine, followed by a shower, I’m good.”
Caffeinated and clean, I was walking through the executive suites, Troy trailing me, when Karl swung out of a doorway behind us.
“You,” he said. “Come here.”
“I have places to be, Karl,” I said. “And you’d get a better response if you actually bothered to learn my name.”
“Savannah,” he said. “Please. It’s Hope.”
That please got my ass moving. Karl was already back in the room by the time I got to the door. Hope lay on a sofa. She just lay there. Eyes open. Unblinking.
“I’ll get help,” Troy said behind me.
“Please get Paige,” I said. “And Jeremy.”
“I’ve already called him,” Karl said. “He’s on his way. She just collapsed.”
I leaned over her and checked her pulse.
“She’s alive,” he growled, as if he wouldn’t be just standing around if the situation was that dire. “Breathing fine. Pulse rate fine. But she’s locked in a vision and I can’t snap her out of it.”
“A vision? How—?”
“Her eyes,” he said.
They were jittering back and forth, as if she was watching something moving very fast.
“It’s like REM sleep,” he said. “Only her eyes are usually closed and I can always bring her out of it.”
Then Hope convulsed. Her hands went to her swollen stomach as her back arched, teeth grinding so hard I could hear them. Karl shoved me out of the way and caught her by the shoulders. He lifted her and sat on the couch, stretching her across him, massaging her back with one hand and stroking her cheek with the other, murmuring under his breath.
Just as she seemed to relax, her stomach moved and I jumped.
“It’s just the baby kicking,” Karl said. He laid a palm on her abdomen as the baby continued to kick hard enough to make his hand move.
“Feisty little guy,” I said.
I looked at him.
“It’s a girl. Hope wanted to know.” He paused. “No, she knew I wanted to know.”
“Because a boy means a werewolf. You were hoping …”
“For a girl,” he said firmly. “I would have been fine with a son, but I would prefer a daughter.”
He kept rubbing her belly. Any trace of the sophisticated, debonair guy I knew as Karl Marsten was long gone. His clothing looked like he’d slept in it. His cheeks were stubbled. There were lines around his mouth and eyes. From the looks of his hair, I doubted he’d showered since his last shave.
“I’m sorry she’s going through this,” I said. “But I’m sure the baby will be fine.”
“It’s not the baby I’m worried about.” He rubbed a hand down his face. I could hear the scratch of his stubble. “Of course I don’t want anything to happen to our daughter, but … It’s not her I’m most worried about.”
“I just wish …” His jaw worked. “I wish Hope didn’t have to go through this. Any of it. The chaos hunger and the visions keep getting worse and she tries so hard—so damned hard—to cope with it, and nothing seems to make it better, and …” He looked at me. “You said you met Balaam. Well, if I ever meet Lucifer …”
The old Karl flared for a moment in his eyes. Then he looked away, because there was no way to finish that threat. What could he do to Lucifer? Give him a piece of his mind?
The children of Lucifer were rare. Blessedly rare, most would say, though not in front of Hope. Just like no one would remind her that, at thirty, she was the oldest known Expisco. The oldest survivor, Adam said once, before catching himself. But it was the right word. The curse of Lucifer was something his children had to survive. Most didn’t. Not for long. Certainly not long enough to bear their own children.
Karl’s gaze stayed on Hope, lips tight, almost angry, as if annoyed with himself for confiding in me. But when he looked up, the anger was gone, his expression neutral. “You can go if you like. They should be here soon.”
A nod. “Thank you.”
Silence for a minute, and I wasn’t sure if I should say anything to distract him or if I should just keep my mouth shut. I was about to risk speaking when Hope shot upright. Karl grabbed her by the shoulders. I leaped forward, but he stopped me with a curt, “No,” then a more conciliatory, “She’s fine. It’s just more of the same.”
She sat there, eyes open, pupils jittering, as Karl rubbed her back, telling her it was okay, she was fine, wake up, she should just wake up.
She said something. I didn’t catch it and leaned forward, but stopped at Karl’s glare.
She spat a rapid-fire line of … something.
“Is that … Hindi?” I asked.
“She doesn’t know Hindi. Not more than a few words.”
Karl knows more languages than Jeremy, which is a feat since Jeremy used to work as a translator. Karl’s knowledge is conversational, though, picked up on his travels.
“I don’t recognize—” he began.
She spoke again, the words coming out so fast they could have been English for all I knew, until—
“Latin!” I said. “And … Greek, I think. I don’t know them, really, just in spells, but there were a couple of words … Damn it, we should—” I stopped and tugged my new cell phone from my pocket. “I can record it.”
Hope started again, her voice rising, the words coming ever faster, nearly shouted, like a revival speaker on speed. I fumbled with the damned phone and finally got it recording. Her eyes were starting to water, her voice going hoarse. She heaved for breath, talking too fast to catch it.
“Hope! Wake up!” Karl shook her as hard as he dared, his own voice spiked with panic. “Please, you need to—” He turned on me. “Go get—”
I was already going, my phone on the floor. I threw the door open. A few helpful staff members were clustered around it.
“Move!” I said.
They started to, then were nearly bowled over by Jeremy, who was coming at a run, Troy behind him.
“She’s—” I began.
“I hear her,” he said, his tone grim.
He ran to Hope’s side. She was still shouting, red-faced, coughing now as she struggled to breathe.
“Get the doctor,” Jeremy said to me. “She needs to be sedated.”
“If it’s a message, presumably she’ll stop once it’s imparted,” Benicio said as he stepped in. “We should let—”