I raised my bandaged hand and put it on his fingers, smothering the glow. So many people died because of me. Every time I thought about it, my chest ached, and I wanted to grab onto someone and make them tell me it would be alright, the way I wanted to hear it at my father's funeral. But there was nobody left. And if someone did reassure me, they would be lying.

I always went out looking for other people's trouble. Strangers hired me to solve their problems. I've spent years making sure problems did not ram my door and tear my life apart. And it didn't work. So much time wasted. And what did I have to show for it, except the body count?

"Responsibility is a bitch," Nick said.

"Yeah."

He took my hand off of his. A faint white radiance still danced on his skin. He shook his head, as if in wonder. "If I were on my own, packing some power, and for some reason not wanting to be found, I might lay low for a while. But I'd know that sooner or later I'd have to come out and play, because whoever's looking for me would eventually find me. I'd start building some connections. The thing about a lone wolf? Once you corner it, it has no one to turn to."

He put a small rectangle of paper on the blanket and walked away. I swiped the card. A phone number without any name or address. I stuck it under my pillow.

"Curran?" I called after him.

"He made it," Nick said.

Later Doolittle came to visit me. He replaced my bandages, helped me to the bathroom, and told me how Mahon had sent a scouting party looking for us despite Curran's orders and how the scouts missed us because of the enchantment placed on Red Point. We might have died where we lay if Nick hadn't stumbled out of the gates.

They had found sixteen women in Red Point, battered and abused to the point of near death. For seven others we had come too late. Their corpses escaped the horror of the Red Point in body bags. They found Derek too, locked in one of the small rooms.

Someone finally called the cops and the Paranormal Activity pision had descended onto the old prison like a pack of dogs onto a lost kitten. They unearthed a graveyard of human bones in one of the cellars, enough skeletons to keep the morgue busy for the next year.

Doolittle forbade me to mess with my bandages for another forty-eight hours and left, promising to send a nurse in his stead. While he was gone, the magic hit and I spent two hours muttering the chants to repair my hands and the wards about my house. By the time the nurse arrived, the defenses were up and she couldn't get in. I listened to her yell for about twenty minutes and then she left.

I didn't want anyone with me. Solitude felt good for now.

I lay in bed, once in a while making a heroic journey to the bathroom, and thought a lot. There wasn't much else to do but think.

Later, I received a visit from the Paranormal Activity pision, whom the ward, unfortunately, didn't deter. Two plainclothes detectives alternatively tried to charm and bully me into giving them a statement without a Guild representative present. I lost my patience forty-five minutes into our conversation and pretended to fall asleep, forcing them to leave.

The next morning I was walking, not very well, but walking. Considering my rapid progress, I pulled the bandages off my hands. I had no nails, but other than that, my hands looked normal. Very pale, but normal. If it wasn't for magic, they would've taken months to heal. But then if it wasn't for magic, I wouldn't have ended up in this mess.

Anna called. We spoke and after a few minutes our conversation grew increasingly strained until she said, "You've changed."

"In what way?"

"You sound like you've aged five years."

"A lot happened," I said simply.

"Will you tell me about it?"

"Not right now. Later sometime."

"I see. Do you need help?"

I did, but I didn't want her there and I wasn't sure why. "No, I'm fine."

She didn't insist and I was grateful.

The next evening brought another visit from Doolittle, who fussed until I let him in. He released my ribs from the bandages, revealing a long jagged scar snaking its way across my ribcage. He thought it might dissolve in time. I didn't think so. Even if it did, the damage to my person was already done and no amount of magic would wipe it away.

A week passed without any news. As soon as I was able to manipulate a pen to my satisfaction, I wrote a long report detailing the investigation, tied a pretty blue ribbon around it, addressed it to the Order including a request to forward a copy to the Guild, and left it for the mailman.

My nails started to grow, for which I was grateful. My fingers had looked odd without them. The pile of unopened mail grew too, slowly building in the basket by my door. I ignored it. There were bound to be some bank notices in there, threatening to do horrible things to me unless I fixed my overdraft. I didn't want to deal with them.

I thought a lot while sitting in the sun drinking iced tea during the day, and coffee in the evenings, and read. Anna called again, but sensing that I didn't want to talk, she kept the conversation embarrassingly short.

During one of those sunshine-filled days, I raided the cabinet where I kept my wine and dumped it into the sink, leaving myself a single bottle of Boone's Farm Sangria. For a special occasion.

The next Sunday I awoke early, disturbed by a loud banging. It echoed through the house, ricocheting from the walls. I listened to it for a few moments, making sure it wasn't a figment of my imagination, then grudgingly hauled myself out of the bed and went to investigate.

A quick reconnaissance identified the sound's point of origin, namely my roof, and I went into the yard to get a good look at it. The sun was already up and beginning to grill the ground. I looked at the top of the house and saw the Beast Lord in a torn T-shirt and paint-stained jeans. He held a hammer in a very businesslike manner and was applying it to my roof. Derek sat next to him, dutifully passing him shingles.

The world had gone insane.

"Can I ask you a question?" I called.

Curran stopped hammering and looked at me. "Sure."

"What are you doing on my roof?"

"I'm teaching the kid a valuable skill," Curran said.

Derek coughed. I chewed on that for a moment and opened my mouth, but before I could say anything, the phone rang.

"Get off my roof," I said and went to pick it up.

"Ms. Daniels?" said an unfamiliar male voice into the receiver.

"Kate."

The hole above my hallway was almost gone. Curran showed no signs of stopping.

"Kate, this is Detective Gray with PAD."

"You would be which of the two bulldo... law enforcement professionals that came to my house?"


Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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