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|Thirteen(Women of the Otherworld #13) by Kelley Armstrong|
“I think you’ve beat it now,” Adam said. “Definitely if you include the Nast dungeon.”
“That was an arrest, not a kidnapping.” I looked at Elena. “What exactly did Roni say?”
“Well, that’s the problem, and the cause of the poor operator’s angst. Because we’ve got every Cabal line tied up on these missions, Veronica called the real business line, and got a guy who’s accustomed to dealing with laypeople trying to submit résumés or get corporate contact information. When he realized what was going on, he panicked and forgot to turn on the tape.”
“According to him, she gave her name and said she needed to talk to you. She insisted on leaving a message, which he jotted down. She gave the name and the address of the Houston target and said you needed to get there because, quote, ‘It’s all gone wrong. He won’t listen to anyone.’ Then some garbled stuff about the virus and the targets, which he didn’t get verbatim. The upshot is that they’re striking in Houston tonight and she wants you to stop it.”
“Any return number?”
“It was blocked and she hung up before he could ask for it. But the name and address matches the secondary Houston target Asmondai mentioned. I gave Aaron a heads-up. Nothing so far.”
Elena sidestepped a pile of horseshit without even a glance down. Her nose kept her shoes clean. Mine hadn’t been so lucky.
I walked along in silence for a moment, then said, “And you guys?”
“Lucas needs Clay and me in Dallas. He’s had a tip that the target’s whole family was infected. They’re not showing any symptoms, though, so he doesn’t want to act yet but he wants us there for when he does.”
When we got to the airport, the jet was waiting, cleared for takeoff. I could tell Elena was debating whether to follow through on Lucas’s request for them to continue on to Dallas. Having been a victim of Roni’s last cry for help, she didn’t like sending us into the breach with only vampires and a skeleton tactical team for backup. But before we could land in Houston, the situation in Dallas changed. At least one family member—a grown daughter—was definitely infected. They’d managed to capture her and were quarantining the others, but a second daughter and her fiancé had been out clubbing and had lost their Cabal tail. Jeremy was on it, but he needed Elena and Clay.
So Adam and I got off the plane in Houston alone. We’d just left the private hanger when we saw Cassandra hurrying toward us. Her boots clicked across the pavement as her long jacket snapped behind her. Sunglasses were perched on her sleek red hair, as if she’d pushed them up there and forgotten them after darkness fell. Cass forgets a lot of things these days. As far as anyone can figure, she’s passed the end of her semi-immortal lifespan and is hanging on by her fangs … and sheer stubbornness.
“Shit, Cass, you’re practically running to see me,” I called.
“Missed your detecting partner, didn’t you?”
“Actually, I was hoping to send you on your way again before it’s too late.” She peered toward the runway. “Has the jet left?”
“Damn it. Aaron tried calling. He texted, too. Both of you.”
I took my cell phone out. “We had them off for landing. What’s up?”
“Nothing, which is why I was trying to stop you from getting off the jet.” She waved us to a rental car illegally parked along the sidewalk. “After the outbreaks in Austin and Dallas, Benicio decided we should take secondary targets into custody, to be safe. Cabal operatives did that twenty minutes ago.”
“Are we sure that solves it?” I said. “The Dallas guy’s family was infected, too.”
Her arched brows shot up another half inch. “Did you read this man’s file? I know Lucas e-mailed it to all of you earlier.”
“Details,” I said. “I left that to Research Guy here.”
When Cassandra handed Adam the keys, he grinned and waggled them at me. “Gotta love the old-fashioned ladies. They know who belongs in the driver’s seat.”
“No,” Cass said. “We know who belongs in the chauffeur’s seat.”
I laughed and we climbed in, Cass and me in back.
“This guy doesn’t have family,” Adam said as he started the car. “His ex-wife lives back east. No kids. That’s why I think the group put him on the backup list. He’s influential and powerful, but there aren’t any family ties to exploit.”
“Oil?” I asked.
Cassandra fluttered her fingers. “Some kind of politician.”
“Lobbyist, actually,” Adam said.
“Yes, yes,” she said, as if it was the same thing.
Adam shook his head. “Lucas actually put the two of you on a case?”
“We worked quite well together,” Cass said. “Or we did, after you two started speaking to each other again. Please don’t ever send her to me when you’re angry with her, Adam. It’s dreadful. All that moping and angst. It’s like being partnered with one of those fictional vampires.”
Cassandra looked at me. “You aren’t even going to glare at me for embarrassing you in front of Adam?”
“Only if you say something embarrassing.”
“And that isn’t?” She studied my face. “Interesting …”
“Moving right along,” I said. “I’d better call Lucas and see what he wants us to do.”
I didn’t need to. The moment I turned my cell back on, Lucas rang. He sounded exhausted—Dallas was not going well. He refused to elaborate, except to say that he really wished Benicio could have gotten in touch with our pilot to take us straight on to Dallas.
“We can be there in three hours,” Adam called from the front seat. “We’ll swing by and grab Aaron, then hit the highway.”
Lucas agreed that was wise. With the jet gone, driving would be fastest.
I just started mapping the new coordinates when Cassandra’s cell rang.
It was Aaron. I could tell by her tone when she answered. The two of them had met back in the nineteenth century. Lots of time together, followed by lots of time apart. Cass’s fault, naturally. They’d been friends for about six years again now, and I was sure they’d been lovers for a while. You could tell by the way she talked to him.
That softer tone didn’t last long this time. She quickly said, “I’m going to put you on speaker.”
“—rather you didn’t,” he was saying as she clicked it on.
“Too late,” I said.
He sighed. “Yeah. Probably need to, however much I hate the damned thing. Sounds like everyone’s talking in a submarine. You guys are still in town, then? Good. We have a problem.”
“Of course we do,” Cassandra murmured. “God forbid we might have wanted to relax for the night, have a glass of wine.”
“I’ll grab you some wine later, Cass,” Aaron said. “I saw a carton at a corner store. I’m sure it’s a great vintage. Now, the problem. Ten minutes ago, the Cabal tech guys intercepted a 911 call from Jordan’s office.”
It took me a second to remember that Jordan—Ron Jordan—was the target’s name.
Aaron continued. “It was one of his assistants. She said she’s working late and she’s sick, really sick. So is the guy working with her.”
“Damn it,” I said. “No family, so infect the staff. How many of them have gone home already?”
“I’m really trying not to think about that,” Aaron said. “I’m five minutes from the building, hoping no cops are around to pull me over.”
“The Cabal intercepted the call, right?” I said. “So the 911 dispatcher didn’t get it?”
“Unfortunately, it went through. The dispatcher sent an ambulance, but the Cabal was able to call 911 back from what seemed to be the same address. The guy said he was the assistant’s boyfriend, and he was getting them to the hospital himself.”
I told Aaron we’d meet him there.
Anyone who saw Aaron Darnell never wondered why Cassandra had hit on Clay all those years ago. Aaron was also a blond, well-built, good-looking guy. He was bigger and not as drop-dead-gorgeous, but they could have been siblings.
Jordan’s office was in the kind of building you’d expect for a wealthy lobbyist. Central location. Tall and modern, with lots of steel and glass. A reception desk staffed by security guards who would know at a glance whether you belonged there. I suspect they would have buzzed Cass in without her even flashing an ID badge, but we didn’t have to get past them. The Cabal team had infiltrated the building when they’d first begun monitoring Jordan. We met them in the parking garage and they let us in.
“Status check?” I said when we were on the elevator.
The team leader—Estrada—said, “We’ve established that the floor is clear. No other late night workers. The door to Jordan’s office is closed and locked. We’re not hearing anything from—”
He tilted his head, listening through his earpiece. His expression went grim.
“Strike that,” he said.
He hit the floor button beneath the one he’d selected. The team had set up earlier in an unoccupied suite over Jordan’s office, where they could drill down for sight and sound. They’d left when Jordan had, then hurried back after the call.
When the elevator stopped, he said, “This is Jordan’s floor. You folks go on up to 1104. Someone will meet you there.”
I started getting off behind him. “We’ll—”
Aaron stopped me. “Actually,” he said, “I’m going to second the SWAT guy. If Jordan’s staff is infected, I don’t think someone’s stuck them all with needles.”
“Viral, you mean.”
“Which is what this thing is supposed to be. Better let the SWAT guys and the vamps handle this. I’m not worried about getting a shot of werewolf DNA. I always thought they had more fun anyway.”
“You would,” Cassandra said.
They got off the elevator. I looked at Adam.
“They have a point but … Shit.” He glanced at me. “They’re right. Tough as it is to run for cover, I don’t want you getting whatever Bryce has. Don’t particularly want to get it myself either.”
The elevator doors started to close. I reached out to stop them.
“I agree about the not-getting-infected part. But we can watch from here, right? Safe distance?”
“Except the elevator is going to sound an alarm if we keep holding that door.” He prodded me off. “We stay here. Where’s the nearest stairwell if we need a quick getaway?”
I pointed to the Exit sign over a door beside us.
“God, we’re getting responsible,” I said.
He smiled. “Being careful just means we’ll live long enough to have more adventures.”
The team broke into Jordan’s office. I strained to hear, but only picked up footfalls and hushed instructions from Estrada.
Then a low moan came from the other end of the hall. I glanced around for any of our team, but they’d all disappeared into the office. Adam and I crept toward the sound.
“Help,” a voice rasped. “Please help.”
A young woman was making her way along the hall, leaning against the wall as she came. She was covered in blood. I started forward. Adam grabbed me.
She saw us, and her head lolled as she struggled to make eye contact.
“Puh-please help me.”
She kept shuffling along, leaving a smear of blood along the wall. Her arms and face were covered in deep gouges that oozed blood. Her legs were scratched up, too, her pantyhose in shreds.
Adam clamped a hand on my shoulder and backed me up. “We need to get help for her—”
The woman stopped and started scratching at her arm, her nails digging bloody furrows as she moaned, “It burns. It burns.”
I remembered the laboratory. The patient swathed from head to foot, desperately trying to scratch.
“She wasn’t attacked,” I whispered. “She’s infected. I’m getting help.”
I raced down the hall to the open office door and burst through. There were two people on the reception floor. One was a man in a suit, his shirt in shreds, torso covered in scratches, the bottom half a sodden bloody mess. The other was a guy barely out of his teens.
Aaron was holding the young man down as a team member bound his throat, the blood pumping so hard I knew he wasn’t going to make it. Aaron struggled to keep hold of his hands, both slick with blood. One got free and went straight for his own throat, clawing. Aaron managed to grab it before he did any more damage.
“Stay back, Savannah,” Aaron growled without looking up. Almost everyone was doing that—standing back. The team member binding the young man was gloved and masked. The others stood around, watching.
“There’s a woman in the hall,” I said. “She’s infected.” Estrada sent one of the team out after her.
“A woman called this in,” I said. “Where is she?”
“In here,” Cassandra called from the next room.
I found Cass prowling around a big office. On the floor lay a woman a few years older than me, blond, dressed in a blouse and skirt. She was lying in a pool of blood.
“Did they shoot …?” Another step and my question was answered. The young woman’s face was partially changed, brow and nose misshapen, bloody teeth bared.