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|Thirteen(Women of the Otherworld #13) by Kelley Armstrong|
A phone buzzed. We both bolted up, blinking and looking around.
“Yours,” he said.
“Right. So where …”
He stretched over the edge of the bed, reached down, and pulled up my jeans. I tugged the phone from the pocket.
I answered. “Hey, Elena. Are we late?” I checked my watch. We’d been gone just over an hour.
“No, but Lester has decided he needs to leave pronto.”
“We’ll be right there.”
As soon as we were through the hotel front doors, we saw the rental car come flying around the corner two blocks down. Clay gunned it. We met him at the curb and jumped in, not even getting the door closed before he peeled away.
He made a quick right—nearly mowing down people using the crosswalk—and roared past two streets before taking the next corner, circling back the way he’d come. I saw the back of Lester’s town car turn a corner ahead of us.
“Keep back about a hundred feet,” Elena said. “There’s not enough traffic for us to get closer and we’re fairly sure we know where he’s going.”
“So what happened?” I asked as Clay fell into tailing position.
“We’d moved onto the patio to nurse drinks. We overheard Lester excuse himself. He came outside. He seemed to take a call. A very quick one. Then he went back in and said there was a situation at home.”
I remembered the conversation Adam and I had earlier that day. About getting called into work at convenient times.
“You said it was a quick call?” She nodded. “Very quick.”
“Did you hear it ring?”
She shook her head. “I figured it was on vibrate. But I see what you mean. It might have just been an excuse.”
Lester did head straight home, though not fast enough to suggest there was any situation there. The tactical team confirmed that—they’d been watching the house since we arrived that afternoon and hadn’t seen anything out of the ordinary. Just Lester’s wife and college-age son for dinner, then the high-school-age son bringing a friend over to play video games. After Lester went inside, he seemed to call it a night, meaning we were stuck outside, patrolling the perimeter with a squad of tactical guys who really didn’t appreciate our intrusion. Especially when their orders now came from someone who was both female and a werewolf. Elena acted as if she didn’t notice their reservations.
As for the house itself, I’d never seen Dallas—before my time—but Elena said she once had a foster family whose idea of family time was to watch the show, whether everyone wanted to or not. She was pretty sure Lester had his place modeled after JR’s ranch house. Or maybe it was the other way around. It was big. It was boxy. It was blindingly white and shimmered in the Texas heat.
Since the property was a ranch, there was a lot of acreage to be watched. If anyone was planning to break in, though, they weren’t hiding in the hay barn, because that’s where the tactical team had set up, on the unused second floor, a spot that gave them a good vantage point on the house.
The size of the property meant that while it was difficult for us to monitor, it was just as difficult for Lester to maintain proper security. His fence would deter deer and little else. Two guards were out on patrol. The rest of the security was on the house itself, much of it electronic. Two Cabal technicians had gotten access to the attic. By the time dusk fell, we’d be able to rappel across the narrow gap between the second floor of the barn and a dormer window.
The sultry June evening was perfect for a few beers on the back deck, which would put them in our sight line—but the Lesters didn’t seem to share my opinion. They’d all locked themselves in their monstrous house, and pulled the blinds.
“The teens are playing a video game with the volume jacked up,” Elena said. “The older son is complaining because he’s trying to do homework. Sounds like our place, after Uncle Nick bought Kate a drum set. She insists on playing Metallica riffs in the same room where Logan is practicing French.”
“Or Logan insists on practicing French in the same room where she’s practicing Metallica riffs,” Clay said.
“True,” Elena said. “They always want to be together. Which would be easier if they shared any common interests besides bunny rabbits. Typical kids.”
I grinned. “Yes, typical five-year-olds—playing Metallica and learning French for fun. As for the bunnies, I’m not going there.”
“Don’t. Anyway, sounds like situation normal at the Lester house tonight. The kids fighting, while Mom’s telling them to stop bickering before their dad comes down to chew them out.”
“Except at our place,” Clay said, “it’s me saying, ‘Cool it before Mom comes down.’?”
“Because I’m much scarier than he is,” Elena said. “Now if I could just convince every mutt in the country to see it that way.”
Adam said, “So Lester’s upstairs?”
“Oh, sure, bring the conversation back on track,” I said. “Spoilsport.”
He smiled. “Sorry. I was just going to say that if he’s alone upstairs, someone could get to him without the rest of the family realizing.”
“The house is secured,” said the head of the tactical team—a guy named Eagle. He’d been working away as if he wasn’t listening, but clearly he had been. “We have men watching every angle, and they’ve been at their posts since we arrived. After they were in place, we went over the house with heat scanners to ensure no one was already there, hiding. No one has entered that house without our knowledge.”
“So where is Lester?” Elena said.
“We have no visual of the house interior yet, ma’am.”
“But you said you have heat scanners and I know you have a floor plan. Which room is Lester in?”
Eagle barked a command to the guy handling the equipment, as if this was his oversight. A few minutes later, the technician was spreading the blueprints on the desk.
He pointed to the master suite. “Before he pulled the blinds, we managed to get a visual. That’s the bed, right beside the window. He’s lying down.”
“I don’t like the sounds of that,” Elena murmured. “What time is it?”
“Just past nine,” I said. “Seems early for bed, especially when he didn’t have a very strenuous day.”
“Could be reading or watching TV,” Adam said, and glanced at Elena. “Why the concern?”
Clay answered for her. “Because there’s one very good reason to leave dinner early, come home, and go to bed at nine.”
“If he’s feeling sick,” I said. “Shit. But when was he injected? We’ve been with him for hours.”
“Must have been before we got to him. Took a while to kick in.”
“Okay,” Elena turned to Eagle. “We need to get in that house. Now.”
“We’re waiting until dark—”
“Who’s in charge of this operation?”
“The Cortez Cabal.”
If I’d been on the receiving end of Elena’s look, I’d have run for cover. Eagle just stood there, smirking slightly.
After about twenty more seconds of silence, though, Eagle lost his smirk. He started to sweat. Elena let it go another ten seconds, then growled, “Try again.”
“You’re in charge of this immediate operation, ma’am, but I work for the Cortez Cabal, and I’m the guy with twenty years’ experience. Mr. Lester is resting. Or answering his e-mail. Or watching TV. We’re not going to blow my operation because you got hysterical—”
“Either we get your men’s help to enter the attic now, or we do it ourselves and increase the chances of blowing your operation.”
He hesitated, then said, “I need to call Mr. Cortez.”
“You have thirty seconds. Then I’m going in.”
Eagle phoned both Lucas and Benicio. Neither picked up.
“We’ll have to wait until they call back,” he said.
“We can’t.” She turned around. “Can anyone here help us get into that house?”
Eagle stepped toward her. “Don’t you dare—”
Elena had him by the neck, two feet off the ground, pinned to the wall, before he could get another word out.
There were two other officers plus the tech guy in the hayloft. Tech guy decided his equipment looked very interesting, and busied himself with it. The officers both turned to Clay.
“Don’t look at me,” he said. “I’m only getting involved if you decide to do the same. But remember, whatever our kids think, I’m definitely the scarier one.”
They stayed seated. Elena looked at Eagle, still suspended by his throat.
“I’m a reasonable person, so I let you try to contact the Cortezes. But it is not reasonable of you to expect me to wait for a callback when our target may be infected. Oh, and a word of advice?” She brought him down to eye level. “You may think it’s clever to accuse a woman of being hysterical, but it’s only going to piss her off.”
She dropped him. He landed on his ass, wheezing and clutching his throat. When she turned away, he muttered, “Bitch.”
I looked at Elena. “Note that he didn’t dare say that until you turned your back.”
“They never do.” She went over to the technician. “Can you contact the guys over in the attic? Tell them I know they aren’t ready, but we need to come in.”
She turned to the two officers and didn’t even get a chance to open her mouth before one said, “We’ll get the rappel system in place and have some men watch for the patrolling guards. You should be able to get over there quickly and safely.”
We did get over quickly and safely. At least Adam and I did. Clay took one look at the flimsy rig and decided to stay behind and handle radio contact. Elena was game—she’d done some rock climbing with us—but quickly realized she wouldn’t be fast enough on the traverse to avoid being spotted if my blur spell failed. She decided to stay with Clay.
Adam and I crossed and crawled through the dormer window into the attic, which was dusty and as hot as hell. I suppose no matter how wealthy you are, you don’t clean or air-condition your attic. It was also full of crap. Boxes of old clothing. Stacks of LPs and VHS tapes. Piles of toys and baby furniture. I had to wonder at the last. Were they planning to drag this old stuff down when they had grandkids? I think their sons—and certainly future daughters-in-law—would expect them to buy new, considering they were billionaires and all.
The technicians met us at the window and led us over to where they’d tapped into the security system. One showed us the laptop screen displaying the view of all six cameras. They were all aimed outside the house.
“Do we have any interior views?”
“We’ve been drilling holes and threading cams through. I can give you the boys’ rooms and the guest rooms.”
“What we need is the master suite.”
“It’s at the far end of the second floor. The attic doesn’t extend that far, so we haven’t managed to get a line in.” He picked up a pair of headphones. “We have sound, though. Just got that snaked through far enough to pick up decent levels.”
His partner grunted. “Which would be a lot more useful if that kid would turn off the damned video game.”
He was right. We could hear the music blasting even without headphones. One of the Grand Theft Auto titles, it sounded like.
“And here’s the upstairs,” the tech said, as he flipped a switch.
The music now sounded slightly farther away. Then, as I was about to take the headset off, I heard the muffled click of pumps growing louder.
“Do we have more than one feed on the second floor?” I asked.
“Is this the one closest to the master suite?”
He shook his head and hit a button on the laptop. “We’re still in the hall here, but this is a bit closer.”
When he switched the feeds, the pump-clicking quieted. Then it grew louder again as the footsteps approached the master suite. A pause. Then a rap on a door.
“Maury?” Mrs. Lester said. “It’s me.”
No answer. A faint jangle as she tried the handle.
“Maury? Why is the door locked? I told the boys not to bother you. They know you aren’t feeling well.”
Shit. He was sick. Injected? Or just too much barbecue?
She knocked again. Then she muttered, “Lock the door and fall asleep. Wonderful.”
As her steps retreated, Adam got Elena on the radio and told her what was happening. Elena thought Mrs. Lester might be going for a key, so she advised us to hang tight.
Mrs. Lester did return. She knocked and called again, though, before using the key. I suppose, in some marriages, not knowing what’s happening on the other side might be the only thing that keeps you together.
When Lester still didn’t reply, she went in, calling a warning as she did. She closed the door, too, which meant that her voice disappeared under the roar of the music.
“Let me listen,” Elena said through the radio.
I pulled off the headset and put it to the radio speaker.
“She’s looking for him,” Elena said. “He’s not in bed.”
A moment later, there was an exclamation even I could hear. “Oh! There you are. I—”
Silence. We waited through three more seconds, then Elena said, “Get in there, Savannah, take the lead. Blur spells and cover spells. Have Adam follow at a distance.”