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|Thirteen(Women of the Otherworld #13) by Kelley Armstrong|
Asmondai snarled and stalked off into the cornfield.
Aratron waited until he was gone, then said, “That, children, is his grudging agreement that our plan might just work. Now go. Put the wheels in motion, as they say. Before de Rais tires of waiting for his necromancer.”
Both Benicio and Lucas suspected Jasper Haig would want more than a day pass in return for saving the supernatural world. But it turned out I’d been right. He asked for nothing. If Hope was in danger, then by gosh he was going to save her. Or something like that.
So Jaz was coming. Under lock and key. Heavy locks and well-guarded keys.
Lucas had just gotten off the conference call setting this up. We were in the tent—him, me, Adam, Clay, and Paige—when
Jaime came hurrying over, Jeremy behind her.
“Eve’s found a break in the warding against spirits,” she said. “It’s a small one, but she can get through with Kristof. We’ll have eyes on the inside in a few minutes.”
“Finally,” Paige said, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
That relief didn’t last long. The first report was certainly positive—Hope was alive. She was being held under a doctor’s care. Group members were milling about. There was no sign that the summoning was imminent.
But we had hours to wait until Jaz arrived, and while it was good to have an inside view, it was nerve-racking, too. Every time my mother or father came back to report that something was happening, we were certain Giles was preparing to summon Lucifer. Then it would turn out to just be lunchtime, and we’d grumble and pace and settle back into watching and waiting.
Lucas was off with Paige, endlessly plotting and managing. If word came that the summoning was beginning before Jaz arrived, he needed a backup plan. I’m sure he had several. No one asked what they were. No one really wanted to know. They almost certainly didn’t end with Hope’s survival.
Finally we got word that the jet was about to land at the regional airport. Adam, Clay, and I took off for the landing strip and arrived just as the jet touched down. We stood in the airfield waiting for the door to open.
“Remember that scene in Silence of the Lambs?” Adam said.
“Where they bring Hannibal Lecter off the plane in a strait-jacket and mask? Kinda feels like that.”
“Except Lecter had to kill his guards and wear their faces to impersonate them. With Jaz, we don’t have to worry about the face ripping part.”
“He’s just a psycho with one special power,” Clay said. “It means you need to keep an eye on him. Doesn’t mean he’s any tougher to kill than anyone else.”
“Is that what you’re going to do when this is over?” I said. “Kill him before he goes back to headquarters?”
“Only if he tries to get away. You don’t think he’ll do that, do you?”
I smiled. “Of course he won’t.”
The door of the plane opened. Two guards came off first and walked stone-faced down the ramp, then took up positions flanking it. Jaz appeared.
Twenty-nine years old. Black curls. Long-lashed green eyes. Cast Jasper Haig in a movie, and he wouldn’t be the killer. He’d be the hot nice guy, the sweet friend that the heroine finally noticed once she got over her infatuation with the hot jerk guy. Which is probably the movie that ran in Jaz’s head every time he thought of Hope.
He wasn’t wearing a straitjacket. Or a mask. He wasn’t even shuffling out, chains rattling in his wake. It took a second to realize that thin cables ran between his feet and his hands. Modern technology. It really lacks drama.
There was, however, one nice touch that would play well cinematically. The werewolf at his shoulder, prodding him along.
“Shit,” Clay said, fumbling for his cell phone and checking for a missed message. “Something must have happened to Karl.”
Before we could answer, he loped off to meet Elena. We jogged behind him.
“Is Karl—?” I began.
“Karl’s fine.” By her tone, it almost sounded as if she wished otherwise.
“Fine?” I said. “But he was at death’s door this morning.”
“Oh, he still is. Apparently that doesn’t matter.”
Before I could ask what she meant, she greeted Clay with a quick hand squeeze and a tired smile. He murmured something I didn’t catch, and she nodded.
“Quite the welcoming committee,” Jaz said. His grin lit on Clay. “Clayton Danvers. This is an honor.”
“Want me to take this trash off your hands, darling?” Clay said.
Clay took Jaz by the shoulder.
“Good,” Jaz said as Clay led him away. “Your mate? Nice lady, I’m sure, but not very talkative. I’m hoping you’re the chatty one, because I have a lot to ask—Oww.”
I shook my head and walked over to Elena.
“We didn’t know you were coming,” I said.
“Neither did I. Normally, this is exactly where I’d want to be. But right now, I should be sitting at Karl’s bedside.”
“Benicio made you come?”
She snorted. “Benicio doesn’t make me do anything. Sadly, I can’t say the same for a certain conniving bastard who happens to be a member of my Pack. I’m not at Karl’s bedside because Karl is not in his bed.”
She turned to the jet door. As if on cue, Karl appeared, leaning heavily on a cane. A young man hovered anxiously behind him with a wheelchair.
“Sit in the damned chair!” Elena said. “Jasper already knows you’re in no shape to fight him, so the macho act is only going to ensure you don’t live long enough to meet your daughter.”
I expected him to snap something back. Or at least glower and ignore her. But he lowered himself into the chair and let the nurse roll him down the ramp.
“Too weak to argue, I see,” I said.
“Oh, he argues just fine. He’s playing along now because he already got his way.”
“Someone told him about Jaz, I take it.”
“Damned nurse. I could have wrung her neck. Or his. Manipulative bastard. He knew something was up. When I slipped out to talk to Benicio, Karl charmed her into telling him what was going on. I come back? He’s out of bed and getting dressed. I tried to get them to sedate him, but he’s on too many other drugs to risk another dose. They worried about an adverse reaction. So I was screwed.”
Clayton came back to meet us, Jaz now secured in the van. “I’d have done the same if you’d been taken.”
She grumbled something uncomplimentary under her breath.
“So you’re saying you’d have stayed in the bed if it was me?”
She sighed and uncrossed her arms. “It’s not that I don’t understand. It’s that I couldn’t stop him. He’s putting his life in danger by coming here. As Alpha-elect, it’s my duty to protect him. As a Pack wolf, he should have obeyed me. When I was kidnapped and taken to that compound, Jeremy made you stay behind. He was able to make you stay behind.”
“Different circumstances. I stayed while we planned. Once the attack was launched, Jeremy wouldn’t have tried keeping me back. You tried with Karl because he could kill himself. You could have tried harder, I bet, but you knew that the stress of being stuck in that bed could have killed him just as easily.”
She sighed again. He put his arm around her waist and steered her toward the car. They murmured together, too low for Adam and me to hear, and we hung back so we wouldn’t.
When they caught up to Karl in his wheelchair, we picked up speed to join them.
“I do appreciate this, Elena,” Karl said, his voice quiet. “I know it’s not what you wanted, but I’m grateful—”
“Stuff it, Karl. You’re here because you didn’t leave me a choice. Remember all those years of fence-sitting? Trying to decide whether you wanted to be in the Pack? You never really got over that, did you? Well, I’ll make it easy for you. If you survive this, you’re out.”
Karl didn’t respond. He just looked from the van to the SUV. “Where do you want me?” he asked Elena. “And, yes, right now I think I know the general answer, but more specifically …”
“Up front in the van. Where you will not speak to Jasper. That’s the condition you agreed to. Don’t forget it. You are here for Hope when we get her out. You will not interfere with the mission. You will have no contact with Jasper Haig. You agreed to all that.”
Elena pointed at the van and the nurse rolled him off.
“Bastard,” Elena muttered as we climbed into the SUV.
“Punish him later,” Clay said. “Or really kick his ass out. Your choice. For now, he owes you. Use that to keep him in line.”
“That’s what I plan to do. Now, fill me in. How exactly are we getting inside?”
Elena was not getting inside. A very limited number of people could be smuggled in with Jaz. I was going in—I knew the players and I’d been in this compound before. For backup, I needed a non-spellcaster, in case the wards extended farther than we thought. Lucas debated sending Clay or Elena with me, then decided, as useful as brute strength was, the ability to disintegrate a door might come in more handy. So, too, might the ability to pick a lock and disarm an alarm. So Adam would be my wingman.
Lucas took us aside after that had been decided.
“Will this still work?” he said. “With the change in your relationship, I’m not altogether comfortable putting you together on this.”
“Right,” I said. “Because couples shouldn’t be trusted on dangerous missions. You should tell that to Elena and Clay. Or to yourself and Paige.”
“It’s not a matter of trust, Savannah. It will be different now. I know that from my early days of working with Paige.”
“If you’re asking whether we’ll slip off midmission to make out, the answer is no.”
“I don’t think that’s what he means,” Adam said. “Being partners off the job could affect our priorities.” He looked at Lucas. “I didn’t just wake up yesterday and realize I have feelings for Savannah. Even before it was this kind of feeling, I cared about her. That hasn’t changed. Your situation was different. No offense to Paige, but when you two started working together, she needed someone to watch her back. Savannah can take care of herself.”
Lucas paused, then nodded. “All right then. Adam, you go and get ready. Savannah, can you hold on a moment?”
He waited until Adam was out of earshot, then said, “You’re angry with me because I’m not pleased with this new development.”
“Um, yeah. No one else seems to have a problem with it.”
“Because, it seems, they all foresaw this change in your relationship. I thought Paige was mistaken. Perhaps I hoped she was mistaken. Paige may joke about maturity levels, but there is still a significant age difference. He’s a year younger than me, Savannah. I’m not comfortable with that. Not at your age.”
“And when would you be comfortable with it. In a year? Two?”
He considered the question. “Ten. I would be more comfortable with it if you were thirty-one. Perhaps thirty.”
I glowered at him.
“You asked my opinion.”
“You’re worried about me,” I said. “I get that. I don’t think you’re the only one concerned about the age difference. I know Adam didn’t plan to let me know how he felt yet. He thought I’d died in that blast and he kissed me when it turned out I was still alive. The cat was out of the bag. He couldn’t stuff it back in and tell me to wait a few years.”
I met Lucas’s gaze. “Maybe I am too young. Maybe it won’t work. But this isn’t some random older guy I met in a bar. I’ve known Adam half my life. We’ve been friends—really good friends—for years. I think that counts for something. But however young you think I am, Lucas, I’m old enough to make my own mistakes.”
“I know.” He steered me toward the tent. “I suppose I’ll get used to the idea. But if he hurts you …”
“You’ll sue for damages.”
He smiled. “I will.”
The plan was simple enough—get in with Jaz, who would impersonate Gordon Scott, then work backward, eliminating security from the inside out to clear the way for the rest of the team to enter without alerting Giles.
Jaz had the most prep work. He had to become Scott. That wasn’t just a matter of adjusting his physiognomy to look like the guy. He had to dress like him, act like him, become him. As I realized what we were asking him to do, the sheer magnitude of the task hit me. He could do it in days, maybe. But we were scheduled to infiltrate in less than an hour. Inside, de Rais was getting anxious. He wouldn’t wait much longer.
Turned out the task wasn’t as huge as it seemed. Not for a guy who’d learned to flip in and out of identities the way Jaz had. Even before the jet left Miami, he’d told Benicio he needed every scrap they had on Scott. Not just information and photographs, but video. He really needed video.
Luckily, Scott was a perennial troublemaker. Our agency had a file on him. The council had a file. The Cortezes and the Boyds and the Nasts all had files. The Nasts—through Sean—supplied the video. They’d bought information off Scott twice and taped both interviews. Jaz had studied those tapes and the files on the flight.
When Jaz walked out of the tent, I kicked myself—hard—for not checking those photos myself. I’d met Scott. Three days ago. He’d been one of the SLAM members meeting with Giles when Mom and I infiltrated the group. Now Jaz was Gordon Scott, exactly as I remembered him from our one brief encounter. He’d mastered his walk and voice and mannerisms. Earlier, I agreed with Clay that the world was better off without Jasper Haig in it. Now, seeing the transformation, I could feel what Benicio must—that this was an incredible power, and incredibly valuable. Still didn’t mean I wouldn’t kill the bastard if he got in the way of rescuing Hope or stopping de Rais.