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|Thirteen(Women of the Otherworld #13) by Kelley Armstrong|
“Not tonight,” she said, moving his hand away before she changed her mind.
His brows shot up and she sputtered a laugh.
“Never thought you’d hear those words from me? Sorry. But you’re distracted and I’d rather wait until you’re not. Otherwise …” She lowered her voice. “It’s less than perfect.”
Now it was his turn to laugh. That was the thing about Karl that others didn’t understand. His ego might barely fit in a room, but he knew it. It was like that muscular body, developed as a way to deal with his world, so much a part of him that it didn’t take much to maintain. Karl knew what he was. A first-rate fighter. A peerless jewel thief. A wealthy, cultured, powerful, handsome man. Not a bad catch, really. If you could get past the ego part.
Hope told him so as he slipped under the sheet and lay down beside her. He only laughed and tugged her against him, head on his arm.
“If you were concerned about my ego, you shouldn’t have agreed to marry me,” he said. “Or have my baby. Beautiful young wife. Beautiful baby on the way. Two more reasons for me to be very, very pleased with myself.”
“She might not be beautiful.”
His brows shot up again. “Genetically impossible.”
Hope laughed and moved closer, closing her eyes to luxuriate in the heat of his body. His hand moved to her stomach.
“How is she?” he murmured.
“Sleeping, I think. I haven’t felt her move in a while.”
His hand massaged her stomach.
“Are you trying to wake her up?”
“No, of course—”
The sheet bobbed as the baby kicked. She glared over at him. “Happy?”
He rubbed the spot. She sighed, but only to be dramatic. These days, she should know better than to tell him when their daughter had gone quiet. It only worried him, and he had enough to worry about.
Hope thought back to the first time she’d met Karl Marsten. At a museum fund-raiser where he’d been determined to steal something and she’d been determined to stop him. Had someone told her that she’d be married to Karl Marsten one day, she’d have laughed herself to tears. She might have grown up as a socialite, but Karl was exactly the kind of man she’d spent her life avoiding. Even after they became friends, the thought of winding up here, in his bed, wearing his ring wouldn’t have occurred to her. Okay, maybe the “in his bed” part. But definitely not the ring. And the baby? Unfathomable. Karl Marsten was not the kind of man to be tied down with a wife and child.
On their wedding night Hope had raised the issue of children. She’d done it jokingly—okay, we’re married now, so when do we take the next step? She could still remember his face when she said it. His expression. Not shock. Not horror. Longing, quickly hidden as he stammered and mumbled. Yes, stammered and mumbled, two things she would have insisted were beyond Karl Marsten’s capabilities.
When would they start a family? Well, he wanted one. That is, if she wanted one. He hoped she wanted one. But there was no rush. Not really. She had her career, and of course, when she was ready, he’d take his share of responsibilities. More than his share, if that helped. But it really was up to her. Entirely up to her. So … when did she want to start a family?
Now. That’s what she’d said. Now. And while there was no way of knowing for sure, no one would ever convince her that their daughter was not conceived that night. Their wedding night.
“You should sleep,” Karl said, pulling her from her thoughts.
“I know. I’m just … I guess you’re not the only one who’s distracted.”
“I’m less distracted now,” he murmured, his fingers dropping between her thighs. “Why don’t you let me see if I can help with—”
A cell phone rang. Karl leaped up—one second she was resting against him, the next he was standing beside the bed, having somehow managed to not even get tangled in the bedsheets. She rose to say that it was just one of the guard’s phones—theirs were on the bedside table, silent. But when she opened her mouth, he motioned her to stay quiet.
She sighed and lay back on the bed. And just when she’d been about to take him up on that offer. The truth was that Karl wasn’t going to be any less distracted until every member of the reveal movement was dead or locked in a Cabal prison.
Hope sighed again. She supposed that protective streak was the price you paid for being with a werewolf, but even Clayton seemed positively nonchalant about his family compared to Karl. She didn’t even want to think what it would be like when their daughter was old enough to date. It might be wise to fit her for a nun’s habit at birth.
Karl was now standing in the hall, leaning over the stair railing, straining to hear the conversation. He didn’t need to strain. The guard was one of those guys, usually encountered on public transit, who doesn’t quite trust the amplification qualities of modern technology and practically shouts into the receiver.
Even Hope could hear him say “What?” into the phone.
Karl tensed, but the guard’s tone didn’t give any cause for alarm and she wasn’t picking up any chaos waves.
“It’s nothing,” she said. “Come back to—”
He lifted a finger, still asking her to be quiet.
“Sure,” the guard said. “Bring it over.”
“What’s going on?” Karl called down when the guard rang off.
“Nothing, sir. Peters next door offered to bring over some pizza. He has extra.” A pause. “Would you like some?”
The guard seemed relieved when Karl said no. She didn’t blame him. While Karl was careful not to eat too much in public—even with those who knew he was a werewolf, he considered it uncouth—the night guards had arrived to find the fridge bare. As high as a normal werewolf’s metabolism runs, it has nothing on a stressed-out one.
Karl retreated to the bedroom, closed and locked the door. She pulled back the sheet and he climbed in, pulling her into a kiss that made her decide maybe he wasn’t as distracted as she feared and—
The doorbell rang. Karl growled at the interruption. Hope laughed, wrapped her hands in his hair, and pulled him back down—
The room swirled into a dark vision. A flash of light. A voice said, “What the hell?” There was the soft whistle of a silenced gunshot. Another flash. A man lying on the floor, eyes open and unseeing, beside his head a pizza box, slices spilling out.
Hope jerked upright. Karl swore and reached for her shoulders, massaging.
“Relax,” he murmured. “Just relax. It’ll pass—”
“No.” She wrenched away from him and scrambled up, words tumbling out. “It’s real-time. A chaos vision. Downstairs. The guard. He’s—”
Karl was off the bed before she could get out another syllable. A split-second pause while he listened. Then he grabbed her, fingers digging into her arm, hauling her out of the bed even as he murmured apologies. He threw open the sliding closet door and pushed her inside.
“Do not come out,” he whispered. “No matter what happens, Hope, do not come out. Do you understand me?”
She wanted to say No, don’t go. Come with me. Hide in the closet. Lock the door and hide, just hide, please hide. She knew it would do no good. As she blinked back chaos flashes from downstairs, she knew what was happening. The guard from next door had betrayed them and they were under attack and it didn’t matter how many guards were on their side, how well trained they were, Karl had to go down there and he had to fight.
So she nodded and reached up on tiptoes to kiss his cheek, but it was too late, he was already turning away, not noticing. She wanted to call him back. Just wait. Wait one moment. Please, please, please.
The closet door closed. His footsteps whispered across the carpet. And he was gone.
She moved to the door, went to press her ear against it. A blast of chaos—light and sound and terror and rage—sent her crashing into it, and she stumbled back as fast as she could, before anyone heard. Another chaos blast. A flash of Karl, grabbing a black-clad man at the top of the stairs and breaking his neck before throwing him over the banister. Hope took a deep breath and forced herself to back into the corner, then lowered herself to the carpet, knees up as far as they would go with her swollen stomach. She huddled there and closed her eyes and let the visions sweep over her.
Chaos. It was food and drink to a demon. It was a drug to her. There’s good chaos—happy confusion, joyous celebration—but that was like watered wine to an alcoholic. She needed the stronger stuff. Hate. Rage. Fear. Pain. As the battle raged below, Hope should have been in heaven, drinking it in. But she felt nothing. A blessed defense mechanism—if the chaos threatened her or those she loved, she felt nothing. Nothing more than anyone else would feel, locked in a closet as her husband fought for their lives. Terror. Frustration. Helplessness.
She didn’t want to cower here. She wanted to be at his side. But she knew that even if she had the energy to fight, if she showed her face outside this room, they’d stop what they were doing and refocus everything on getting to her—and her daughter.
Benicio had asked them to stay at headquarters. They’d given in at first. But Karl couldn’t rest and she couldn’t sleep and neither of them could shake the feeling that they were prisoners and that Benicio only wanted them there so she could be watched for fresh visions. Karl demanded new arrangements. Benicio had taken her aside and begged—begged—her to reconsider. She’d refused. Make it safe someplace else, she’d said. They’d be fine there. She’d have Karl, and Jeremy would be right next door. Only Jeremy wasn’t next door tonight and they weren’t safe and—The bedroom door opened with a click. Hope stiffened. It wasn’t locked? Why wasn’t it—?
Of course he hadn’t locked it. That would be like sticking up a sign saying “Hope is in here!”
She should have grabbed a weapon. Something, anything, so she wouldn’t be cowering there, waiting to be discovered. All she could do now was be still and silent.
Footsteps rounded the bed. They stopped at the closet. She clenched every muscle, ready to leap up, to attack. Another two steps. Going past? Was he really going to—?
The sliding door opened. The one beside her. Caught off guard, she staggered to her feet and stumbled, her back to the wall, hands raised. There stood a man with a gun, but seeing her, he turned the gun away.
“It’s okay,” he whispered. “We’re not going to—”
He looked sharply to the left and aimed the gun at her again just as Karl shot into view.
“We aren’t going to hurt her,” the man said.
“Then lower that gun,” Karl growled.
“I will, just as soon as you step back, sir. I don’t want to hurt her, but my orders are to bring back the child. We have a doctor outside, ready to deliver the baby if anything goes wrong.”
“You son of a—”
“I do not want to hurt your wife. Please just step—”
A shot. Hope staggered with the blow, feeling it hit her, pain ripping through the back of her skull.
Back of her skull? No, that wasn’t possible. She was facing the … She looked at the man’s face. The shock on it as he stumbled out of the way. Out of Karl’s way. Karl pitching forward. Karl falling.
Another shot. Karl’s body jerking. Jerking as the bullet hit him. That was it. The only reaction. No flash of shared pain in her brain. No slamming fist of chaos.
Karl hit the floor. Hope leaped out, screaming, and dropped beside him. She saw the blood on the back of his skull. Saw the bullet hole. She saw it and she searched desperately for the faintest hint of chaos from him. One hint of pain. One hint of fear. One hint of anything. Anything.
But there was nothing.
I called Benicio to tell him about Giles’s new target as we left the plane. He told me that Hope and Karl were at their condo, which wasn’t surprising, given the hour. There were five bodyguards already there—two on sleep-shift next door—since Jeremy and Jaime were still in Dallas—and three in the condo itself. Benicio would get them all on duty hustling Hope back to headquarters.
“Karl isn’t going to like that,” I said. “He’ll want to take Hope and run. Protect her himself. Is Elena on her way back? Karl listens to Elena.”
“The jet just left Dallas. I’m going to try to persuade Karl, but if that fails, I’ll have Elena head straight to the condo.”
“I’ll go over and talk to him.”
Silence on the other end of the line. Across from me, Cassandra arched her brows.
“Yes, I know he doesn’t respect me the way he does Elena, but I might be able to talk to him. Worst case, we’ll hang out on his doorstep until Elena arrives.”
We split up. Adam stayed with me, and Cassandra and Aaron went back to headquarters.
The three Cabal-owned condos were part of a gated community, and our driver hadn’t brought the access ID, so he dropped us off a block away. To get in, we hopped a four-foot fence. Apparently, around here, they were only worried about trespassers with vans for robbing the places.
When we got to the house, Adam double-checked the number. The place was pitch black.
He rapped on the front door, then rang the bell. No voices answered. No footsteps either.
“Gone,” he murmured. “Karl must have been too tired to argue.”
“Damn. We’re never going to get a cab out here at this hour. Really wish someone had let us know before we got out of the car.”
A white SUV marked Security turned the corner. Adam and I ducked around the side of the condo as I called Benicio.