"I'm special," I told him.

Curran had gone through the bloodward fire. Twice. To get me. Idiot.

"You won't tell me."

"No."

"That's gratitude for you," he sighed with mock sadness. "After you were brought here, I spent roughly four hours repairing your body, most of which" - he glared - "were spent on fixing your stomach."

"Third degree burns," I said.

"Yes. You haven't heard a word I said."

"I heard everything: four hours, stomach, hip, blood loss. You didn't do a blood transfusion, did you?" There was no telling what the magic in my blood would do to foreign plasma.

"Heaven forbid. I do believe you think me to be an amateur."

He ended "amateur" with a "tuar."

"What about bandages?"

He shook his head. "I've sworn a medmage oath, my lady, and I have yet to breach it. Your bloody bandages, clothes, and all such were incinerated personally by me."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome."

"A third degree burn means that all the layers of skin are burned," I said.

"That's right." Dr. Doolittle nodded. "It looks bad but it feels much worse."

"On a scale of one to ten?"

"About eleven."

I closed my eyes.

"Our lord developed a lovely golden crust," Doolittle's soft voice said. "I do believe he could have gotten a part in an old-fashioned horror picture. He's quite comfortable now, floating, I imagine."

"Floating?"

"I prescribed the tank. It's an oversized aquarium, filled with a certain solution yours truly developed in his youth. If His Majesty were an ordinary person, the only way to restore his epithelium would be through grafting. Since he's not an ordinary person, he will float in the tank for a few days and then come out with new skin. His shoulder will take longer. Which reminds me." He rose, walked to the door and stuck his head out. "Tell the Bear our guest is awake."

He returned and rummaged through the vials on the table.

"Shoulder?" I asked.

"I gather a small piece of a ceiling had the misfortune to land on him. Crushed his left shoulder blade."

He turned, a syringe in his hand.

"No," I said firmly.

"The tech hit twenty minutes after I was done with you," he said. "You're in pain and I'm goin' to give you an old-fashioned pain killer."

"No, you won't."

"This is Demerol. It's quite mild."

"No. I don't like Demerol. It makes me light-headed." It's not enough I was weak and in the middle of the Pack compound, now he wanted to mess with my head, too.

"Nonsense. Be a good girl and take your medicine." He stepped forward.

"You come near me with that needle," I said, putting as much malice into my voice as I could muster, "and I'll shove it up your ass."

He laughed. "Precisely the thing Jennifer said when I tried to put stitches on the cut across her buttock. Luckily for me, I don't have to stick you with this needle."

He showed me the empty syringe. I blinked and felt a rush of soothing cool. He must have squirted the bloody Demerol into my IV. Asshole.

I closed my eyes. I felt light-headed and tired. And I still hurt.

Heavy footsteps echoed through the room. I had a visitor and there was only one shapechanger that didn't bother to move like an assassin.

I opened my eyes and saw Mahon nod to the good doctor and say in his deep, quiet voice, "Well done."

Mahon approached, pulled up a chair, and sat next to me, his massive forearms leaning on his legs. His huge back stretched the black fabric of an oversized T-shirt, but despite barely fitting him in the shoulders, the shirt was a foot too long. The shapechangers had a fondness for sweats, and Mahon was wearing gray sweatpants and no socks. His hairy feet rested on the sun-warmed floor.

His brown eyes met my gaze. "The Pack appreciates your sacrifice."

"There was no sacrifice. I'm alive." And Curran is burned to charcoaly crispness.

He shook his head. "The sacrifice was intended and we're grateful. You have earned the trust and friendship of the Pack. You may visit us when you wish. You may ask us for help in a time of need, and we'll do our best to aid you. It's no small thing, Kate."

I probably should have said something formal and flowery, but Demerol kept tangling my thoughts. I patted his big hand and mumbled, "Thanks."

Mahon's eyes were warm. "You're welcome."

IT WAS FRIDAY AND I WAS WALKING. DRESSED IN matching gray sweats and sneakers that were too wide, both courtesy of the Pack, I conquered the hallway at a slow but persistent pace. I was dizzy and had to fight off the urge to spin right, which would have rammed my head into the wall.

Doolittle's wizardry had doused the pain in my stomach, muting it to a dull ache that gnawed on me when I bent the wrong way. He promised minimal scarring on the abdomen and I believed him. My thigh wasn't so lucky. The vamp had bitten off a chunk of flesh, and despite Doolittle's efforts, I'd carry a reminder for the rest of my days. I didn't care. I was grateful I had any days left.

The hallway opened into a wide room the size of a large gym. Assorted devices filled it, positioned with care on the stone floor, some born of technology, others of magic, and a few convoluted hybrids of both.

A wiry, medium-sized woman about my age sat on a padded square cot by the door. The cot resembled an oversized dog bed. The woman munched on saltine crackers. Probably a wererat. They ate constantly.

The woman glanced at me through a cascade of tiny dark braids. A wooden bead secured each braid.

"Yeah?" she said.

Friendly.

"I have an appointment," I told her.

"So?" she said.

I shrugged and walked past her. She didn't stop me.

The tank sat near the left wall, half-hidden by a large slab of stone on which someone had written cabalistic symbols in chalk. The symbols looked to be bullshit: a misshapen veve that should have been drawn in red; two Egyptian symbols, one for Nile and the other for Canopus; and something vaguely resembling the Japanese symbol for dragon.

I skirted this waste of space and approached the tank. Eight feet tall, it was cubical in shape. Its glass walls contained an opaque greenish liquid and I could make out dim contours of a human shape hanging motionless in the green water.

I knocked on the glass. The body moved and Curran surfaced with a splash. He took the oxygen mask from his mouth and held on to the edge of the tank for support, which resulted in the rest of him pressing against the glass. Just what I needed. Pasty Beast Lord in all his nude glory against the backdrop of swamp water.


Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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