Authors: Ilona Andrews
Tags: #Fantasy, #Fantasy fiction, #Fiction, #General, #Fiction - Fantasy, #Science Fiction And Fantasy, #Occult fiction, #Contemporary, #Magic, #Werewolves, #Fantasy - Contemporary, #Georgia
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Telling this story wouldn’t have been possible without my editor, Anne Sowards. Thank you, as always, for your advice, guidance, and endless patience. I’m very fortunate to work with you, and I deeply appreciate your help and your friendship.
Thank you to my wonderful agent, Nancy Yost, for being a zealous advocate of my work and for having the patience of a saint and rescuing me time and time again.
Thank you to Cam Dufty, Ace’s editorial assistant, for fielding numerous, and sometimes unreasonable, requests for help.
A huge thank you to Michelle Kasper, the production editor, and Andromeda Macri, the assistant production editor, who made sure the manuscript became a book. Thank you to cover designer Annette Fiore DeFex and artist Chad Michael Ward for the spectacular cover.
Several people have read this book and were kind enough to offer an opinion on it. They are Bianca Bradley, Brian Kell, Brooke Nelissen, Elizabeth Hull, Heather Fagan, Jeaniene Frost (who threatened me with a posse), Jennifer Lampe and Jill Myles, Leslie Schlotman, Melissa Rian, Melissa Sawmiller , Meljean Brook, Reece Notley, Shannon Crowley, Stacy Cooper, and Vernieda Vergara (who wasn’t mad about Dali). Thank you so much, guys! You’ve made the book better.
Finally, thank you to the readers! You make it all worthwhile.
I DREAMT OF CURRAN SNARLING, “FIX HER!” AND Doolittle saying that he wasn’t a god and there was only so much he could do. I dreamt of Julie crying by my bed, of Jim sitting near, of Andrea telling me some frustratingly complicated story . . . The noises blended in my head until finally I could stand it no longer. “Would all of you just be quiet? Please.”
I blinked and saw Curran’s face.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey.” I smiled. There he was, alive. I was alive. “I was telling the people in my head to shut up.”
“They have medication for that.”
“I probably can’t afford it.”
He caressed my cheek.
“You came for me,” I whispered.
“Always,” he told me.
“You’re a damn idiot. Trying to throw your life away?”
“Just staying sharp. Keeping you safe keeps me in shape.”
He leaned in and kissed me softly on the lips. I reached for him and he hugged me to him and held on for a long moment. I closed my eyes, smiling at the simple pleasure of his skin on mine. And then my arms grew too heavy. Gently he put me back on my pillow and walked away. I curled under my blanket, warm and safe and so perfectly happy, and fell asleep again.
THE TORTURE BEGAN IN THE MORNING WITH Doolittle holding up three fingers to my face.
“How many fingers?”
“Thank God,” he said. “I was beginning to worry.”
“Where is His Fussiness?”
“He left last night.”
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I struggled with a ball of emotions: regret at not seeing him, relief he was gone, happiness he was well enough to walk. There truly was no hope for me.
Doolittle sighed. “Shall I tell you the usual? Where you are, how you are, and in what manner you have gotten here?”
I looked at Doolittle. “Doc, we’ve got to stop meeting like this.”
A sour grimace wrinkled his face. “You’re preaching to the choir.”
Jim was my first visitor of the day, right after I’d been poked, pierced with needles, had my temperature taken, and generally been driven to the point of wishing I had not woken up for a few more days. Jim came in and quietly sat by me, very much the Pack’s chief of security rather than my surly occasional partner. He looked at me with a solemn expression and said, “We’ll take care of you.”
“Thank you.” I couldn’t take any more care at the moment. Doolittle’s ministrations had nearly done me in.
Jim gave this strange little nod and left. Weirded the hell out of me.
Next came Julie, who crawled in my bed and lay there with a deeply mournful face while I chewed her out for letting Curran out of the cage early.
While she sat there, nodding to my lecture, Derek arrived.
“She left,” he said. “She thanked me, but she couldn’t stay.”
“I’m sorry,” I told him.
“I’m not,” Julie said.
“I didn’t expect her to stay,” Derek said. His face was a stone mask and his voice was devoid of all emotion. Despite everything I had said, he must’ve believed she loved him.
“I was her way out, nothing more. I’m okay with that. Besides, things have changed . . .” He pointed to his face.
Julie scrambled off the bed. “For your information, I don’t care!”
She took off. Derek looked at me. “Don’t care about what?”
My kid had a giant crush on my teenage werewolf sidekick. Why me? Why? What did I ever do to anybody?
I squirmed into my bed and pulled the covers up to my chin. “Your face, Derek. She doesn’t care what you look like. You go sort it out yourself.”
Then I slept, and when I woke up, Andrea came in and shooed Doolittle out. She pulled up the chair and looked at me.
“Where am I and how have I gotten here?” I asked. Doolittle had offered to clue me in, but I knew I’d get a lecture-free version from her.
“You’re in Jim’s safe house,” she said. “After rakshasas grabbed you, Curran went nuts. He pulled all of the shapeshifters out of the Arena—”
“There were more than us, Mahon, and Aunt B?”
“Yes, they were in the crowd. He thought the rakshasas might go for a big finish. Don’t interrupt. We followed Jim through Unicorn Lane into the jungle, chased after the vimana until it landed—the damn thing lands every couple of hours, I guess to rest its propellers or something. We stormed in. There was a fight. I don’t know what happened next. I was with the group that broke its engine. The next time I saw Curran, you were in his arms and you looked like shit.”
“Okay.” That was pretty much what I had figured.
Andrea fixed me with a hard stare and lowered her voice. “You shattered the Scarlet Star.”
Crap. I didn’t think she’d recognize the sword. “Eh?”
“Give me some damn credit. I’m this close to getting my Master at Arms, Firearm.” Andrea wrinkled her face. “I’ve had all of my security briefings already. If it wasn’t for Ted, I would already be a ranked knight. I know what that sword was capable of.”
“Did you tell the rest of them?”
“Yes, I did.” She didn’t seem a bit sorry about it. “I told them how it worked and that if it wasn’t for you, we’d be on the rakshasas’ dining table.”
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“I wish you hadn’t done that.”
She made a short cutting motion with her hand. “That’s beside the point. You broke it to pieces. It was forged out of Roland’s blood and you smeared it with yours and
it. I’m not stupid, Kate. Please, don’t ever think that I’m stupid.”
She had put two and two together. Only a blood relation would be able to disintegrate Roland’s sword.
“Daughter?” she asked.
It’s not exactly like I could lie. “Yep.”
Her face turned a shade paler. “I thought he refused to have children.”
“He made an exception in my mother’s case.”
“Is she still alive?”
“He killed her.”
Andrea rubbed her face. “Does Curran know?”
“Nobody knows,” I told her.
You’re my best friend. The only one I have. Please, please don’t force
me to kill you. I can’t do it.
She took a deep breath. “Okay,” she said. “It’s good that nobody knows. Probably best we keep it that way.”
I remembered to breathe.
“THIS IS RIDICULOUS,” I GRUMBLED.
“Quiet, you!” Andrea slid the key into the lock and opened the door to her apartment. “You’ll stay with me. It’s just for a couple of days. I promised Doolittle to watch over you for a weekend. I’m supposed to keep you from ‘storming any castles.’ ”
It was that or spend another forty-eight hours in Doolittle’s care. He was the best medmage I had ever had the honor to deal with. He was a kind and caring person, a far better human being than me. But the longer you stayed in his care, the more pronounced his mother hen tendencies became. He would spoon feed me if I let him. Staying at Andrea’s was the lesser of two evils.
“I still say you should have taken the flowers,” she told me, walking through the apartment.
“They were from Saiman.” Saiman, true to his modus operandi, had sent me white roses with a thank-you card, left on the doorstep of Jim’s safe house, the location of which Saiman wasn’t supposed to know. Jim nearly had an apoplexy when he saw it. The card told me that Sophia, the show’s producer, had confessed to providing the shards of the Wolf Diamond to the rakshasas. She apparently employed several dummy bettors and had placed large sums on the rakshasas from the start, when they were an unknown commodity and the odds were against them. Saiman didn’t mention what had become of her. Knowing him, nothing pleasant.
Andrea looked into her living room and froze. She stood still like a statue with her mouth hanging open.
The bag slipped off her shoulder and crashed to the floor.
A huge thing hung suspended from the ceiling of Andrea’s living room. It wasn’t quite a chandelier and not quite a mobile; it was a thin, seven-feet-tall, giant metal . . .
, a warped Christmas tree-like construction, made of brass wire and crowned with the works of Lorna Sterling, books one through eight, perched in a fanlike fashion at the very top. Below the books, several levels of wire branches radiated under all angles supporting dozens of delicate crystal ornaments suspended from tiny golden chains and twinkling softly when they bumped. Each ornament was decorated with a small ribbon and each contained a piece of fabric: white, pastel pink, blue . . .
As if in a dream, Andrea reached over and plucked one of the ornaments off the tree. It popped open in her hand. She plucked the peach fabric out, unrolled it, and held up a thong.
She stared, speechless, and shook the thong at me, her eyes opened wide like saucers.
“I’m going to go now,” I said and escaped. Doolittle would never know.
At least I knew where Raphael had vanished during the Midnight Games.
I rode a Pack’s horse to my apartment. I didn’t fall off her, which required a heroic effort of will on my
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part. The lack of adoring crowds, ready to greet me with flowers and medals at my door, was sadly disappointing.
I stopped by the super for the new key, climbed to my apartment, and studied my new lock. Big, metal, and shiny. Not a scratch on it. Even the key itself had a bizarre groove carved into it, which made the whole setup supposedly completely burglar proof.
Pick that, Your Majesty.
I unlocked the door, stepped inside, and shut it behind me. I kicked my shoes off, wincing at the hint of ache in my stomach. It would take a long time before it healed completely. At least I no longer bled.
Tension fled from me. Tomorrow I would worry about Hugh d’Ambray and Andrea and Roland, but now I was simply happy. Aaahh. Home. My place, my smells, my familiar rug under my feet, my kitchen, my Curran in the kitchen chair . . . Wait a damn minute.
“You!” I looked at the lock; I looked at him. So much for the burglar-proof door.
He calmly finished writing something on a piece of paper, got up, and came toward me. My heart shot into overdrive. Little golden sparks laughed in his gray eyes. He handed me the piece of paper and smiled. “Can’t wait.”
I just stared like an idiot.
He inhaled my scent, opened the door, and left. I looked at the paper.
I’ll be busy for the next eight weeks, so let’s set this for November 15th.
I want lamb or venison steak. Baked potatoes with honey butter. Corn on the cob. Rolls. And
apple pie, like the one you made before. I really liked it. I want it with ice cream.
You owe me one naked dinner, but I’m not a complete beast, so you can wear a bra and panties if
you so wish. The blue ones with the bow will do.