The Order had to own other facilities too, but I didn't rate high enough to know their location or function. I wouldn't have known about the vault either if Ted thought he could hide it from me. If you put a door marked "Authorized Personnel ONLY" and me in the same building, sooner or later I'll try to jimmy its lock to discover what's so special about it.
"You can keep her here," Curran said. "We'll look after her."
"Thank you for the offer. I honestly appreciate it. But things are hunting her. She'll be safe in the vault and I don't want to be responsible for any deaths."
He sighed. "You do realize that you just insulted me, right?"
"You implied that I can't protect her or my people."
I looked at him. "That's not at all what I meant."
"Apologize and I'll let it go."
I kept my hands firmly on the iron rail before me. Grabbing the weight bar and walloping the Beast Lord upside the head wouldn't be the best diplomatic move.
"I'm sorry, Your Majesty." There. I was civil. It almost killed me.
"Will there be anything else?" Your Arrogance.
"No." He picked up an enormous dumbbell and began to curl, working his biceps.
I turned to leave and stopped. He was in a good mood. Relaxed. He didn't wig out at me. Now was as good a time as any. "Myong..."
A low warning growl reverberated in his throat. "I said later."
Technically it was later. "I think she loves him very much."
He snarled. "You forget yourself! Drop it."
"She's very passive and she's terrified of you. It took a great deal of courage for her to come and see me."
He tossed the dumbbell aside. It went flying and hit with a loud thud, leaving a dent in the pavement of the roof. Curran strode toward me, eyes blazing. "If I let her go, I'll need a replacement. Want to volunteer for the job?"
He looked like he wouldn't be taking no for an answer. I swiped Slayer from its sheath and backed away from the edge of the roof. "And be girlfriend number twenty-three soon to be dumped in favor of girlfriend number twenty-four who has slightly bigger boobs? I don't think so."
He kept coming. "Oh yeah?"
"Yeah. You get these beautiful women, make them dependent on you, and then dump them. Well, this time a woman left you first, and your enormous ego can't deal with it. And to think that I hoped we could talk like reasonable adults. If we were the last two people on Earth, I'd find myself a moving island so I could get the hell away from you." I was almost to the drop door leading to the ladder.
He stopped suddenly and crossed his arms over his chest. "We'll see."
"Nothing to see. Thanks for the rescue and for the food. I'm taking my kid and leaving." I dropped into the hole, slid down the ladder, and backed away down the hall. He didn't follow me.
I was midway down to the first floor when it finally hit me: I had just told the alpha of all shapeshifters that hell would freeze over before I got into his bed. Not only had I just kissed any cooperation from the Pack good-bye, but I had also challenged him. Again. I stopped and hit my head a few times on the wall. Keep your mouth shut, stupid.
Derek appeared at the bottom of the stairway. "It went that well, huh?"
"I take it you're leaving."
I stopped hitting my head and looked at him.
"Mind if I tag along?" he asked.
"I want the thief." Derek's face was grim. "He has a thing for you."
A werewolf who can outrun me, who can bend metal into roses with his fingers, and who could grab Julie in case of trouble and take off like a rocket never to be caught by freaky broads with deepwater teeth. Let me think...
"Sure. Be glad to have you."
MIRACULOUSLY THE PHONE IN THE HALLWAY OF THE shapeshifters' office worked. As much as I wanted to get the hell out of there, I didn't want to risk leaving on foot.
I got Maxine on the first ring. "Atlanta Chapter of the Order. How may I help you?"
"Maxine, it's me. May I speak to Ted?"
"Out? Ted's never out. Where is he?"
"He's on an errand."
Crap. "What about Mauro?"
"He's out, too. Most of the knights are out."
What in the world? "Is anybody there?"
Oh boy. "Can I speak to her, please?"
There was a click and then Andrea's voice said, "Hey, Kate."
Hi, Andrea I know you've been attacked by a loup, but can you come to pick up me and my teenage werewolf at a shapeshifter compound? I took a deep breath. Here's hoping she didn't suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
"I really hate to ask you this, but I have no choice. I'm trying to escort a little girl to the Order so I can hide her in the vault. I need three horses."
"No problem. Where are you?"
"I'm at the Pack's Southeast office." I cringed a little as I said it. "I'll meet you on the corner of Griffin and Atlanta Avenue. And I have a shapeshifter with me."
She didn't miss a beat. "Sit tight. I'll be right there."
I collected Julie, once again armed with my knife, and we left, Derek in tow.
"Where are we going?" Julie asked as we headed toward Griffin Street.
"To the Order."
Around us the city shrugged off the remnants of the magic-filled night. Technology had hit early in the morning, but the magic waves had flowed and ebbed all night.
"What are we going to do at the Order?" Julie asked.
"The Order's very well fortified. I'm going to leave you there with Andrea. She's a very nice lady."
"No! I'm going to stay with you!"
I gave her my hard stare. "Julie, this isn't a democracy."
I kept walking. "I have to go out and look for your mom. You do want me to find your mom, don't you?"
"I want to come with you."
On the corner of Griffin and Atlanta Avenue a crowd blocked the traffic around a crane. A skinny dark-haired girl with the buttery grace of a pickpocket was working the edges of the gathering. She drifted our way. Julie pulled out her dagger and gave the pickpocket a hard look. The girl reversed her course.
The crane groaned. The cable snapped taut, and a huge fish tail reared above the crowd, followed by a serpentine body covered with turquoise scales bigger than my head. The scales glistened with moisture. Something about that fish looked familiar...I couldn't recall where I could've seen a three-story-tall fish. Not exactly a sight I would likely forget.