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|Thirteen(Women of the Otherworld #13) by Kelley Armstrong|
“Got it.” I turned to the techs. “Show me where to go.”
One of them led us to the trap door. We got it open. There was a set of stairs that could be lowered, but we didn’t dare use those. I leaned out, making sure the way was clear, then got in position to drop.
Just before I did, the other tech hurried over to exchange my radio for an earpiece. I slapped it in, then lowered myself through the hole. It was still a two-foot drop. No way to muffle the thump of my fall. Adam followed quickly. We waited for someone downstairs to come running, but our thuds must have been drowned out by the game sounds.
The second-floor hall was long and wide and central, with rooms off both sides and a sweeping staircase in the middle. Passing that staircase was the riskiest part—the master suite was at the far end. I moved under a blur spell. Adam kept his distance. I could have covered him, too, but that took extra juice.
When I got to the door of the master suite, I flipped my back to the wall, where I could see partway down the steps. I waved Adam over while I kept watch.
Adam took up position against the wall on the other side of the door. I reached for the door handle and slowly turned it. It wouldn’t budge. Mrs. Lester had relocked it. Damn.
I should have brought the picks. A spell was an extra drain wasted on a task I could do manually.
I leaned over and checked the lock. A simple household one. A flip of my credit card did the trick. I cracked open the door and listened. The damn music was still booming from downstairs. I thought I picked up a thump from inside the room, but that was it. I closed the door and whispered to Elena.
“Go in,” she said. “Keep a blur spell on and be ready to run if you’re spotted.”
“Where do we run?” I whispered. “We jumped through the trapdoor.”
Adam answered, “Elena? Tell the tech guys to ready the ladder. If we come running, get it down.”
I opened the door again, an inch at a time.
I could see the bed, with the covers in a snarl, half on the floor. Otherwise, nothing. I leaned in farther. There were four doors. Two were open, but the angle was wrong to see through either of them. I listened hard, but the rap music below had gone up another notch.
I double-checked my blur spell then eased into the bedroom. It was massive. Wasted space mostly, with nothing except a king-size bed and nightstands, along the far wall by the window.
The first open doorway was to my right. A sliding door to a walk-in closet, it looked like. Dark inside. I turned and gestured for Adam to be ready in case anyone came flying out of it when I passed. Communicating while in blur-form wasn’t easy, but he understood.
A sour smell rose from the sheets. I reached out and touched one. Soaked with sweat. No other signs of trauma, though. No signs of the Lesters either.
A crunch behind me. I spun. Nothing there. The music downstairs rose another notch.
“Can we kill the tunes?” I whispered. “Cut the power or something?”
“I wish,” Elena muttered. “If we cut the power that would definitely bring the boys running.”
I sidestepped toward the open door. It led into a narrow hall with a sitting room at the end, and a doorway to the right, partly open, showing a shower stall. The hall was decorated with some kind of funky art or wallpaper, a radiating pattern of black, like a sunburst.
I took another step and saw the lines weren’t black. They were red. More red drops below on the wood floor. Arterial spray.
I backed up. “Adam?”
I heard a sound from down the hall. This time it was an unmistakable crunch.
“I heard that,” Elena said.
A smacking sound, then a guttural snarl.
“And that,” she said. “I’m going out on a limb here and saying Lester’s infected, and the virus is working a helluva lot faster than it did with Bryce. We’ve got a werewolf.”
“Eating,” I said.
“Hmm.” I heard Clay’s voice in the background, then Elena murmured, “I know.” She came back clearer. “You know what happened with Bryce, right? The type of Change?”
“Wolfman not wolf.”
“Yes. We don’t know exactly what we’re dealing with and—” Clay’s voice in the background again. Then Elena said to us,
“You’re not hearing any signs that she … Mrs. Lester … that she’s still alive?”
I looked up at the blood spray. “No.”
“Okay, then I hate to say this but …”
“Let him keep eating.”
She sounded relieved that I wasn’t horrified by the thought. While Lester was feeding, Lester was occupied. We couldn’t take down a werewolf without a fight that would bring three boys racing up the stairs to their deaths.
Elena told us to stay in the bedroom and monitor the situation. Clay was readying a sedative and they’d brave the rappel system and bring it over themselves. They didn’t trust a team member to do it, not with a werewolf involved.
So we waited. One problem with knowing exactly what was happening in the bathroom? As loud as the music was, it wasn’t enough to cover the sounds of bones crunching and teeth clicking. A werewolf devouring his meal. We just tried to think of it that way. Werewolf and meal. Not a man eating his wife.
Less than two minutes later, though, we heard feet thumping up the stairs.
“Mom!” A voice called. “You gotta do something about Rob. Every time I ask him to turn it down, he jacks it up.”
I managed to get the door shut and locked before the kid reached the top of the stairs.
“We’ve got company,” I whispered.
No response through my earpiece.
The kid’s footsteps thudded down the hall. On the other end of the radio I heard nothing.
Adam had eased the bathroom hall door closed. Whatever condition Lester was in, any Change would make turning door-knobs very difficult. With any luck, that added barrier meant he wouldn’t hear—
The boy pounded on the door.
“Mom! You said you were just coming up to check on Dad!” A snort from inside the bathroom. Then a thump.
The kid pounded again. “Come on, guys. Locked? Really? I’ve been able to open this since I was six!”
And at eighteen he should damned well know that a locked bedroom door wasn’t to keep him out—it was to tell him not to enter. To give his parents privacy.
Another grunt from inside the bathroom. The scrabble of footsteps. Feet? Claws? I couldn’t tell. The more this idiot kid yelled, though, the more he attracted whatever beast his father had become. So I opened the door, grabbed him, and yanked him inside. I dragged the kid down. At first he struggled, but once he was on the floor with me straddling him, he just lay there, gaping.
I slapped my hand over his mouth.
I glanced over at Adam. He was poised to help but I waved him back. I was fine. The kid was just lying there. Judging by his build, he wasn’t on the football team. From the vacancy of his gaze, not on the chess team either. Or perhaps just in shock.
Over the music, I could hear Lester snuffling in the bathroom hall. He pushed at the door. Just testing it. More snuffling.
The kid started to struggle again. I leaned down.
“If you want out of here alive, you’d better—”
He bit me. As I yanked back, he said, “Do you know who my father is, you thieving bitch?”
I pulled a glove from my pocket and stuffed it into his mouth.
“It’s what your father is that’s the problem,” I muttered.
The kid bucked. I slammed him down, again, but he was struggling in earnest now, legs and fists flailing against the floor, grunting against the gag.
Lester growled and pushed at the door.
I locked the kid in a binding spell, then turned to Adam. He was already leaving to find Elena. He looked back. Lester had stopped growling and sounded as if he was just shuffling about, trying to figure a way past the closed door.
“He’s not going anywhere,” I said. “And neither is this one.” Adam nodded and took off, loping down the hall as silently as he could.
Fingernails scraped the door. Tentative at first. Then harder.
“Come on, Elena,” I murmured. “Before he realizes he can break that door down with one—”
Lester hit the door hard. I scrambled off the kid, locking him in a binding spell as I eased toward the bathroom hall door. Lester had resumed his shuffling and snuffling.
“Savannah?” It was Adam on my earpiece.
“He tested the door. I think he’s given up but … hurry.”
“I am. I’m at the trap door and—”
Elena’s voice sounded in the background.
“Got ’em,” Adam said. “Heading your way in—”
The en suite door flung open, knocking me back. Lester stepped out.
It was Lester. Not a wolf. Not a wolfman. Maurice Lester, an overweight, jowly man with dyed black hair, wearing slacks and a dress shirt with the tie loosened and thrown over his shoulder. Only his white shirt wasn’t white anymore. It was stained with blood.
I stopped midspell. Shit. He’d shifted back. Now what was I supposed to—
Lester lifted his head and his bloodshot eyes met mine. The pupils were mere dots in reddish brown irises. His nostrils flared as he inhaled. Then his lips curled and he snarled, flashing teeth threaded with bits of flesh. Okay, he hadn’t Changed back. He just never physically transformed in the first place.
I hit him with a knockback. Lester shook it off and charged. I tried to jump out of his path as I cast a binding spell, but he slammed his fist into my shoulder. It was like being hit with a lead bat. I sailed off my feet and into the wall with enough force to knock the wind from my lungs. As I hit the floor, I saw Lester’s son struggling to his feet.
Lester lunged. I clambered up. A binding spell was on my lips, but before I could get it out, Lester was on his son. The binding spell failed. I leaped on Lester’s back as his teeth sunk into his son’s neck. I cast an energy bolt on instinct. He roared and ripped his head back. His son’s blood sprayed.
Before I could cast again, Lester hit me with a pile driver to the side of the head. I flew off him. My stomach lurched. Blackness threatened, but I staggered back to my feet.
Adam ran into the room, hypodermic needle raised. He jabbed it into Lester’s back. Lester reared up. He swung at Adam. Adam ducked. I caught Lester in a binding spell, but I’d used up too much power and it only stopped him long enough for Adam to get out of the way.
When the binding spell snapped, Lester lurched into the hall. We followed. Elena was standing under the trap door as Clay lowered himself. When they saw Lester, they stopped, thinking the same thing I had—that he was in human form so he must have reverted. Then they saw the look on our faces and Elena started after Lester, Clay jumping down to follow.
Lester was already thundering down the stairs.
“The boys,” I said.
“I know,” Elena said as she tore past me. “Is the other son—?”
“Hurt. I’m going back for him.”
Adam stayed with Elena and Clay. I raced back into the bedroom. The boy lay on the floor, his throat ripped out, open eyes staring. I checked for vital signs anyway. None. He was gone.
I got downstairs to find Lester, snarling and yowling outside a locked door. The two boys were on the other side. They’d caught one glimpse of him and barricaded themselves in. Elena had managed to inject Lester with a second sedative, and he was finally fading. Elena, Clay, and Adam just stood there, watching.
When Lester finally dropped, Elena walked to the door, and with a gloved hand, jammed the knob so the boys couldn’t get out.
“What—?” I said.
She lifted a finger to her lips. Then she motioned for Adam and Clay to carry Lester’s body and we retreated.
It wasn’t until I was outside that I realized what she was doing. We had two survivors. Both had seen Maurice Lester covered in blood. Now they were trapped in there, where they’d remain until the police showed up to free them. All the evidence from the murders would point to Lester as the perpetrator, and he’d be long gone.
Working with a Cabal team might be a pain in the ass, but Elena did agree there was one advantage. She could hand over Lester and walk away. All the associated cleanup belonged to someone else. Which was good, because we had fresh problems to worry about.
While we were hiking to our distant parked rental, Elena apologized for vanishing when we’d tried to contact her. “I had a call when you were inside. Too urgent to ignore, and I’d been assured you’d stay patched into the line if you needed me.”
“Typical,” Clay muttered.
Elena nodded. “Anyway, you remember Veronica, right?”
“Ver—?” I began. “Oh, Roni. Right.”
“She placed a call to Cortez headquarters earlier tonight,” Elena continued. “She wanted to speak to you. She left an urgent message with the poor guy on the switchboard, who’s probably really wishing he’d called in sick today. He was shuttled into an interrogation room for an hour of grilling before they decided the message was legit. It seems Roni is in Houston with an infection team.”
“That’s where Cass and Aaron are, isn’t it? Monitoring one of the secondary targets?”
Elena nodded. “Which is why I need you and Adam there. Aaron can handle it, but I’m concerned that Cassandra may not take the threat seriously enough.”
“She’s been doing a lot better lately,” I said as we continued through the pasture. “But I agree Aaron could use more reliable backup. The question is whether Roni’s telling the truth. Last time she had me come running to her rescue, you got knocked around by guys with guns and I finally tied Jaime’s record for most kidnapped supernatural ever.”