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|Thirteen(Women of the Otherworld #13) by Kelley Armstrong|
When I told him there was no sign of Hope and Karl, he sighed. “Too many pokers in the fire, and too many fires. They must have reported in to the security center. Let me check. Perhaps they’re still close enough to come back for you two.”
I hung up and we waited. When I heard buzzing, I looked down at the phone still in my hand, then at Adam.
“Not mine,” he said.
He edged toward the front of the condo with me right behind him. The security truck had disappeared. We could hear the sound better now. It wasn’t a phone vibrating—it was one ringing, set on an annoying buzz tone. We followed the noise to the front door, where we could hear it right on the other side.
I quickly texted Benicio. The phone stopped buzzing. Two seconds later, mine vibrated with Benicio’s incoming call.
“That was you,” I said. “Shit.”
I explained what we’d heard.
“Let’s not jump to conclusions,” Benicio said. “I’ll try the guard again from another phone while I have you on the line.” A pause, then, “It’s connecting and …”
The phone inside the front door began buzzing again.
“We’re going in,” I said.
The front door was locked, and it wasn’t going to open with a credit card. Or an unlock spell. We hadn’t brought any tools, so we needed to pull out the big guns—Adam’s power. That meant finding another door to tackle: a burned-out front door might alert that security van on its next round.
Benicio had the floor plans on file from when the Cabal had bought the condo. He directed us around to the back, where the glass patio doors had been replaced by solid steel ones. I tried my unlock spell just in case, to save Adam from the energy drain if I could.
When my unlock spell didn’t work, Adam spread his hands on the steel, closed his eyes, and concentrated until sweat popped along his forehead. Then another pop, this one from the door, then it crumbled in a shower of metallic dust.
We stepped inside. Back when this had been a patio, I’m sure the door opened into the kitchen or living room. But while Benicio left the exterior alone—to conform with the condo board regulations—he’d had the inside gutted and redone. The back door now opened into a small vestibule with mats and shoes. A code was required to get through the next steel door. Luckily, Benicio had given us that.
Inside, it was completely dark. From the outside, it had looked as if the blinds were drawn. In here, I could see that the blinds were only a cover—the windows had roll-down metal shades, too.
I lit a light ball. It failed the first time. My fault—as hard as I was trying to play it cool, my heart was racing, and I couldn’t focus. I tried again and just as the last words left my mouth, I tripped. Adam caught me. The light ball sparked to life and I looked down to see an arm stretched across my path. It was attached to a guy in a suit. One of the security officers. Shot in the head.
To the left was another body: another Cabal guard. Right beside him was the corpse of a young woman dressed in black. One of the attackers.
I cast a sensing spell and picked up signs of life over our heads. I motioned to Adam that someone was up there, and we crept toward the stairs. As we stepped into the hall, I saw that the door to the front controlled-entry room was open. Propped open by the body of the third guard, the one whose phone we’d heard. There was a pizza box on the floor beside him. Ambushed by pizza delivery guys? I couldn’t believe Cabal security would be that easily fooled. There must be more to it.
I hurried for the stairs. Adam caught the back of my shirt, slowing me down. I nodded and paused at the bottom, listening. Then I looked up to see the body of another attacker draped over the railing, his eyes open, head wrenched back at an impossible angle.
“Broken neck,” Adam whispered. “Karl’s work. Good.”
I nodded. We climbed to the top of the stairs to find another black-outfitted attacker, neck broken, on his back in the hall. The master bedroom was right across the hall from the stairs. We stopped and listened, but there was no sign of anyone up here. I cast my spell again.
The pulse of life seemed to come from another room, farther down. When we reached the door. I peered through, but could see only darkness. Adam motioned for me to ready a spell. Then, on the count of three, he kicked the door wide open. We swung in, my light ball ahead of us.
The room was empty.
There was blood on the carpet. As I walked to it, I heard a whimper and whirled. No one was there. I shone my light ball around. I glanced from the bed to the closet to another door, presumably to an en-suite bathroom. All decent hiding spots if you’d been wounded. But not so good that your kidnappers would somehow fail to find you.
I strained for another sound.
“Help,” a voice whispered. I tracked it to the bed. “Please.”
Adam motioned for me to cover him. I readied a knockback as he made his way toward the bed, fingers glowing. Then he lunged. No one lunged back, and Adam dropped from sight on the other side of the bed.
I ran over to see him pinning a man to the floor.
“They left me,” the man whispered. “They just left me.”
He hadn’t even lifted his hands to ward Adam off. There was a gun right on the floor beside him, but he made no move to get it.
I noticed that his legs and arms were askew, awkward, and as Adam backed off, the man lifted his head to follow us. Nothing else moved. Just his head.
“Neck’s broken,” Adam whispered. “Karl snapped it and threw him in here.”
“They left me,” the man whimpered. “They knew I was here. They came in and they saw me. Then they just walked away.”
“Where are Hope and Karl?” I asked.
He only stared at me.
“Your targets,” I said. “Did they take them?”
“They left me.” He met my gaze. “They just left me.”
“He’s in shock,” Adam said. “We’ll get him to headquarters and they can question him.”
We headed to the hall. Through the partly open master bedroom door, I caught a glimpse of a foot.
I raced in and dropped beside the body of a dark-haired, barefooted man clad only in sweatpants. Lying in a pool of blood. With two bullet wounds in his back. More blood glistening in his dark hair. His face was turned to the side, eyes closed.
I bent beside him and swallowed hard. I flashed on him at headquarters, holding Hope, so worried about her, always worried about her. I remembered his expression. Lost. He’d looked lost. A man who always knew exactly what he wanted and exactly how to get it, faced with the knowledge that the woman he loved was hurting and there was nothing he could do about it. That she was in danger, and there was nothing he could do except stay by her side and fight for her.
He’d done everything he could. Gave everything he could. And still it wasn’t enough, because it was never enough, could never be enough.
It took me a minute to realize Adam was beside me, touching Karl’s neck.
“He’s been shot in the head,” I murmured. “He’s not going to be—”
Adam took my hand and pressed my fingers to Karl’s neck. Warm skin. Faint pulse. Oh God, there was a—
I leaped to my feet. “We need a medic. Fast.”
Karl was alive. Barely. The medics carried him out to a van. We went with him. I presume a second van took the paralyzed guy. Didn’t ask. Didn’t care.
The medic warned us that he didn’t expect Karl to survive the trip. The head wound was actually only a bullet graze. It was the shots through his back that had done the damage. The medic couldn’t tell exactly how much damage, only that his heart hadn’t stopped. Not yet.
It didn’t stop on the trip, which was surprising, considering how long it seemed to take. When we got there, the medics hurried Karl into the hospital ward, where a surgeon and her team waited.
I overheard the surgeon tell Benicio that it was a miracle Karl had lived this long and maybe they should just keep him comfortable and try to revive him long enough to say good-bye to his Pack. Benicio told her to get Karl into that operating room and make sure he lived long enough to say hello to his daughter. A tall order. One I don’t think even Benicio believed could happen, but his tone was the incentive the surgeon needed.
As soon as Karl was rushed into surgery, I went to sit with Bryce. He was still comatose, but I wanted to sit with him. Sean was back in L.A., dealing with the fallout.
When Jaime and the werewolves arrived, Elena took it the hardest—she was the closest to both Hope and Karl. Clay stayed at her side, but didn’t try to calm her down. Calm wasn’t what she needed. She took charge, getting all the details on Karl’s condition, even if she needed Jeremy to translate the medical lingo. Then she turned her attention to the efforts to track Hope, marching upstairs with Clay to see what was being done.
“You want to be with them?” Adam whispered as they left.
I looked toward the operating room. I wanted to know what happened in there, but sitting with Jaime and Jeremy wasn’t going to help Hope. As long as someone was here to speak for Karl, I needed exactly what Elena needed—action.
We got as far as the elevator before Jaime came after us.
“I know this might be the last thing on your mind right now, Savannah,” she said. “But your mom figured out who took your spells. It’s a long story, but the short version is that she’s working to make contact with him. That’s not easy. He’s …”
“Someone who’s not supposed to make contact with us,” I said. “A deity, right?”
“Er, no. Not exactly. He’s a eudemon.” She hurried on. “Which means he’s not the kind of demon we’re used to—” She glanced at Adam. “And why am I telling you this? You’re the demon-ologist. Sorry.”
“I know what it is, too,” I said. “Cacodemons are the type that make deals and babies. Chaos demons. Eudemons don’t have a chaos hunger, which means they have little interest in our world. They’re impartial observers. Not demonic, not celestial.”
“Yes, well this one has trouble with the impartial part. I think he’s been observing for too long, and he’s itching to get out of his seat and get involved. It’s not the first time he has. Both your mother and I have had run-ins with him.”
“Aratron,” I said.
“Yep. We don’t know why he’s done this. He’s been helpful before. This is not helpful.”
“Actually, he thinks it is. And he may be right.”
I told her about Aratron’s master plan—take my spells and teach me to learn to fight without them. “Lousy timing, it’s true, but I guess if he took away my spells when I was just manning the agency reception desk, I’d have no incentive to learn the lesson. And he hasn’t let anything catastrophic happen. When I needed to protect Cassandra in L.A., he gave me full power plus.”
I hesitated and glanced at Adam. He nodded.
“Tell Mom to hold off,” I said to Jaime. “If I need help, I’ll ask for it, but for now, I’m going to trust Aratron to let this play out. If he’s a eudemon, he’s not going to screw me over for a chaos feast.” I looked at Adam again. “Right?”
“Right. Historically, the role of eudemons is said to be one of balance. We’ve rarely seen them get involved, so they’ve been considered irrelevant. But in this case, it seems Aratron is fulfilling his role—trying to restore balance. We’ll trust him until he shows us that we can’t.”
Upstairs, we found Elena and Clay with Benicio interrogating the man whose neck Karl had broken. It looked like the guy was going to be paralyzed for the rest of his life, which was likely to be very short anyway—I doubted Benicio planned to fund long-term medical care for him. But no one was telling him that.
When we arrived, a doctor was reporting that they could move the man to the Cabal hospital for “further examination and treatment” as soon as Benicio was done questioning him. The doctor said nothing about his condition or prognosis, but his calm tone would suggest to the panicked man that treatment was possible, and that the sooner he answered Benicio’s questions, the sooner he’d get treatment. When you’re lying on a gurney, paralyzed, you’ll take your optimism wherever you can find it.
Brett—that was his name—started with the whole “it’s all gone wrong” lament we’d heard from Roni. At least she’d had the sense to turn stool pigeon and alert us to the attacks. Brett was only experiencing his epiphany now that his life was on the line.
In Brett’s case, his loyalty had one advantage. Giles seemed to have shut Roni out because he’d questioned her commitment to the cause. With Brett, he’d been more forthcoming.
“He’s going to use Hope Adams to summon Lucifer,” Brett said. “I’m not exactly sure how.”
“Just tell us what you can,” Benicio said.
“People started leaving the movement, but they didn’t completely break ties. They just stopped checking in regularly. They made up excuses. They needed to get back to work. Someone in their family was sick. Whatever. They’re keeping in touch, though.”
“Waiting for something to happen,” I murmured.
“Exactly. That’s what pissed off a lot of us. We’re doing the real work, the dangerous stuff, and they’re hanging back, waiting to see if we succeed before they’ll commit again. Giles promised he’d get them back. He just needed to do something really big.”
“Like kidnap Lucifer’s daughter.”
Brett nodded. “He was keeping it all hush-hush, so it’d be a big surprise. Once he had her, he’d let everyone know. If they didn’t return, they’d be kicked out.”