With this recollection, a feeling flooded me, a feeling of being too dumb to see what was under my nose, of being scared, hounded, and alone, dashing about the besieged city, blundering from one mistake to another while all around me people died. It grabbed me by the throat. My pulse raced and I swallowed, reminding myself that it was over. Back then, when I was drowning, Crest offered me a straw, and I almost dragged him under with me. He deserved to be happy. Without me.

"I'll ask," I said.

She exhaled. "Thank you."

"I don't know if I can convince Curran. Your lord and I have a tendency to infuriate each other." And every time we met, something of mine got broken. My ribs, my roof, my hammer...

She didn't hear the last part. "I know we can. Thank you so much. We're so grateful."

"Incoming," Maxine's voice warned in my mind.

A familiar lanky figure appeared in the doorway of my office. About five ten, he wore pale jeans and a light T-shirt. His brownish hair was cropped very short. He had a fresh, clean-cut face and velvet brown eyes framed in embarrassingly long eyelashes. If it wasn't for the promise of a masculine square jaw, he would be bordering on "pretty." On the plus side, if he ever had to fight through a room full of adolescent girls, he only needed to blink a couple of times, and they would all faint.

But his prettiness and smoky eyes were misleading. Derek was a killer. He'd seen more suffering in his eighteen years than some people packed into half a century and it had sharpened him to a razor's edge. I hadn't seen him since Red Point, when my big mouth managed to get him sworn to protect me with a blood oath. Curran had since released him from his oath, but a pledge sealed in blood didn't just go away. Its aftereffects lingered. That had been the first and last time I would ever screw with the Pack's hierarchy.

"Kate, hello." Derek said mildly. "Myong? What are you doing here?"

Myong jumped off her chair and cringed. Her shoulders hunched, as though she were expecting a punch, her head drooped, and her knees bent. She looked down on the floor. Had she been in her animal form, I'm pretty sure she would have peed herself.

Alrighty then, I guess we knew who stood higher in the Pack's chain of command.

"You don't have to answer him," I said. "Information disclosed to a representative of the Order is confidential unless subpoenaed by a court of law."

She just stood there, watching the floor. It was too much for me.

"You may go," I said.

She fled the office. A second later the door leading to the landing clicked closed behind her. I bet she was running down the stairs to the outside. Hopefully, she wouldn't break her legs in those stilettos. Her bones might take a whole two weeks to heal.

"May I come in?" Derek asked.

I pointed to one of the two client chairs. "Why is Myong scared of you?"

He sat and shrugged. "I can only guess."

"Do."

"I work for Curran directly now. She's probably afraid I'll snitch, because I think I know why she was here."

"Will you?"

He shrugged again. "It's her own affair. Unless she starts plotting some harm to the Pack, I'm not interested. Coming here wasn't her idea anyway. She's very passive."

"Oh?"

He nodded. "That asshole made her do it. I always said he was a slimebag."

"Your opinion is duly noted." Thank you, boy wonder, for the editorial on my "almost could have been" boyfriend. What would I do without the moral compass of a teenage werewolf?

"Why didn't he come himself? Shouldn't he be here saying, 'Hey, I know it didn't work out between us, but I need your help?' His ego's so big, he sent his fiancee to beg his former girlfriend to arrange his wedding. How weak is that?"

Pretty weak. "Not another word."

Derek sat up a little straighter. Yellow rolled across his eyes and vanished. That wasn't normal.

I pulled Slayer from its sheath and ran my finger along its length. The opaque, almost white metal of the saber nipped at me with faint magic teeth. Definitely a flare. Shapeshifters had trouble controlling their emotions during the flare. Great, just great. Perhaps Curran could be emotionally detached about this wedding problem? Ha! Who was I kidding?

"You look good," I told Derek.

"Thanks."

"You never come to visit me, though. Are you in trouble?"

"No. Is the room secure?"

"You're in a Chapter house of the Order. You can't get more secure."

He reached behind him and pushed the door closed. "I've come to extend a petition from the Pack."

I don't want to work with Curran, I don't want to work with Curran, I don't want to work with Curran. "I'm sorry, I didn't hear that right. I thought you said the Pack wanted my help?"

"Yes." Little tiny sparks danced in his eyes. "We were screwed and he didn't even kiss us first."

"How tacky of him. And this 'he' would be?"

"We aren't sure," Derek said carefully. "But you have his bolt on your desk."

I leaned forward. "Do tell."

"Let's just say that this morning one of our teams was jumped by a man using this specific type of bolt. He has stolen Pack property and we want it back."

"Aha. Why me?" The last time I checked, the Pack preferred to take care of their own problems. Hell, they didn't even admit to having problems most of the time.

"Because you have contacts we don't." Derek permitted himself a small smile. "And because if we start turning the city inside out looking for this person, certain parties will wonder why and the rather embarrassing facts of the theft might come to light. We don't want to air our dirty laundry in public. The Order always helped us without undue publicity."

Great. The battle was lost. Greg was the only person within the Order who had earned the Pack's trust. Now since he was dead and I had earned Friend of the Pack status, that trust naturally extended to me. The Order wanted to keep an eye on the Pack, I knew that much. Something told me the knights would view this petition as a wonderful opportunity to do just that.

"What did the crossbowman take?"

Derek hesitated.

"Derek, I'm not going to hunt I don't know whom to retrieve I don't know what. What did he take?"

"He jumped a survey team and took the maps."

I almost whistled, except that my Russian father would have risen from his grave and smacked me for whistling indoors. The Pack maps, legendary in quality, precise, up-to-date, with all the new neighborhoods and power zones clearly marked, every alley explored, every place of interest indicated. I knew at least a half a dozen people who'd give their left nut for a chance to photocopy the bloody things.


Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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