"Yes, ma'am." Julie snapped to attention.

"You're coming with me."

"Should I get my things?"

"No, we have no time. The Pack requires immediate assistance." Derek required immediate assistance.

This was Raphael's cue to swing down from his saddle, which he accomplished with breathtaking grace. He came up to Julie and inclined his head in a nod that felt more like a shallow bow. "Julie. The Beast Lord inquires if you're well."

Julie favored him with a very polite bow. "I am. Please give His Lordship my thanks for his consideration."

"You can thank him yourself. He will be most pleased to see you."

Raphael leaned down, offering her his palm. Julie didn't miss a beat. She stepped onto his hand and let him hoist her up onto Marcus behind me. Her skinny arms locked around my waist.

Raphael took a short running start and leapt onto his horse, hands-free. We swung our mounts and took off. We cleared the gates, roared down the path and around the bend, out of sight of the walls, and slowed to a brisk walk.

"That was the coolest thing ever," Julie said breathlessly.

"It should up your street cred. But you're on your own from now on. I can't magically appear and overwhelm your classmates with toughness every time somebody is being a jerk. Now if somebody asks you about what happened, you very seriously tell them that you can't speak about it. People can't stand it when someone knows something they don't. It will drive them nuts."

She hugged me. "Thanks."

"I really do need your help."

"What's wrong?"

"Derek is in trouble."

"No," Julie whispered and hugged me tighter.

Chapter 23

JULIE CRIED. SHE KNELT BY DEREK 'S MANGLED body and cried, silent tears rolling down her cheeks. I waited next to her. She needed to cry it out. It hurt to look at him and she had to get through it, or she wouldn't be able to help.

After about five minutes Julie stirred and swiped the back of her hand under her nose. I handed her a handkerchief. She wiped her eyes, blew her nose, and nodded. "Okay."

Jim and Doolittle approached from the doorway. I sensed others in the gloom, watching, Raphael being one of them. I had explained to him that aiding and abetting my sorry butt would land him into scalding water, but he'd just grinned and followed me and Julie all the way to the house. He and Jim had spoken for a couple of minutes and then he'd been allowed inside.

Jim crouched next to Julie and opened a small cookie tin. Two pale yellow shards lay inside on white gauze, one from the four-armed corpse which Dali had stumbled on, and the other from Saiman's victim. Doolittle had found the second shard during the autopsy, stuck in the Reaper's arm. He and Jim tried to explain to me what the body reverted to after they took it out, but I couldn't quite wrap my mind around it. Apparently, neither could they, because they stuck it into a body bag, locked it in some room in the basement, and strongly discouraged me from going to see it.

Julie picked up the shard and concentrated, her gaze fixed on the sharp sliver of yellow stone.

She looked at it for a long moment, dropped it into the tin, and looked at the body.

"Here." Her slender finger pointed at Derek's mangled thigh.

A scalpel flashed in Doolittle's dark fingers. He made a neat incision, pulled it open with his fingers, and dipped artery forceps into the cut. I held my breath.

He pulled the forceps free. A bloody shard gleamed under the harsh light of the lamp.

"Thank you, Jesus." Doolittle dropped the shard into the tin.

It's over. Finally.

"Here." Julie pointed to Derek's left side.

Doolittle hesitated.

"Cut here." The pale finger touched Derek's ribs.

The doctor cut again. Another shard joined the first.

"Here." The finger pointed to the center of Derek's chest, where the black burn scar crossed his pectorals.

Fuck, how many of those things did they stick into him?

Doolittle cut. "Nothing."

"Deeper," Julie said.

Dark blood gushed from the cut.

I flinched.

An eternity later Doolittle said, "Here it is." I heard the quiet sound of the shard falling into the tin.

"Are there more?" Doolittle asked.

"No," Julie answered.

I looked up. Nothing had changed. Derek lay unmoving. "What now?"

"Now we wait," Doolittle said.

I SAT IN DARKNESS, IN A LOW CHAIR, WATCHING Derek's body. It had been three hours since Doolittle had removed the shards. Derek hadn't moved. His body showed no change.

In the room across the hallway Doolittle slept in a La-Z-Boy, his face haggard and worn-out even in his sleep. He'd stayed awake for two days straight, trying to keep Derek alive, but it was feeling helpless that finally did him in. For the first hour after Julie had found the shards, we waited on the edges of our seats. Then hope slowly turned into depression. I watched it take its toll on Doolittle until finally he abandoned his vigil and retreated into the room. I had checked on him on the way to the bathroom: he was slumped in his chair, sunken deep into a dream.

Julie appeared in the doorway, carrying two mugs. She approached, handed one cup to me, and sat by my feet. I sipped from the mug. Hot tea, with lemon. I had taught her how to make it properly. Apparently, it stuck.

"Why the cage?" she said, pointing to the hole in the floor, where the silver and steel bars glinted weakly. "I almost walked into it."

"It's a loup cage. Every shapeshifter safe house has one, just in case." If Derek went loup, Jim and Doolittle wanted to contain him quickly. It wasn't a thought I cared to contemplate. And certainly not a thought I cared to discuss with Julie.

"How did you meet?" she asked softly.

"Hm?"

"Derek and you. How did you meet?"

I didn't really want to talk about it. Still, it was better than wallowing in my despair. "I was looking for Greg's killer. The Order had given me the last file my guardian was working on, and I had retraced his steps, trying to find out why he was killed. The file led me to the Pack. I didn't realize this at the time, but Greg had worked very closely with the Pack. There was a feeling of mutual trust between him and the shapeshifters. But they didn't know anything about me and I didn't know anything about them. I only knew that Greg had been torn to pieces by somebody's claws."

I took a swallow of my tea. "I had access to Jim - we had worked together in the Guild - and Jim told Curran about my investigation. Curran decided to find out what I knew and had Jim arrange to meet me. In Unicorn Lane of all places. It didn't go well."


Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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