Derek shook his head, as if clearing fog from his skull. "Thanks."

"Don't mention it."

"I shouldn't have gone through the window." Derek measured the tower with his gaze. "I figured fifteenth floor, sure bet the window would be unprotected. But he's got the whole place booby-trapped."

"He had issues with breaking and entering a few years back. That's why I had to bodyguard him for a while." A vivid image of a man with a pencil through his left eye orbit flashed before me, complete with bloody smudges of my fingerprints on the yellow shaft of the pencil. Thank you, dear memory, for once again attempting to sabotage my conversation.

"Saiman takes his security very seriously."

"Yeah."

We reached my car. "There was a shapeshifter death on the corner of Ponce de Leon and Dead Cat. Jim was there and a Pack crew. Know anything about it?"

A dark shadow crossed Derek's face. "No. Who died?"

"I don't know. Jim wouldn't let me get within thirty feet of the body." I looked right into his eyes. "Derek, did you have anything to do with it?"

"No."

"If you did, you need to tell me now."

"I didn't."

I believed him. Derek had many talents, but lying wasn't one of them.

We stood by the car. Come on, boy wonder. You know you want to tell me what's going on.

"You shouldn't go with that freak." Derek dragged his fingers through his short hair. "He's dangerous."

"I gave my word. I have to go. Besides, Saiman is a degenerate. He's ruled completely by his appetites. For him, there is no higher goal than to satisfy his urges, and that makes him predictable. I'll be fine."

In the distance a dog erupted in an explosion of hysterical barks. Derek glanced in the direction of the sound. A faint yellow sheen rolled over his irises. He focused, leaning forward, light on his toes, listening to the night, the wolf crouching with hackles raised just beneath his skin.

Derek expected to be jumped any second. Something was seriously wrong.

"Derek?"

He had pulled the calm back on and his face looked inscrutable. But the beast refused to be completely tamed. It clawed and howled behind his eyes.

"Is this Pack or personal?"

"Personal."

"Does Curran know?"

Derek looked at his feet.

I took that as a no. "Anything I can do to help?"

"No."

"I came all this way to bust you out, and you won't even tell me what this is about?"

He shook his head and took off into the night. So much for the guilt.

I watched him fall into that particular wolf gait, long-legged and deceptively easy. He could run like that for days, devouring miles. Derek reached the end of the parking lot, jumped to clear a three-foot concrete wall, and changed his mind in midleap. It was a peculiar thing to see: he shot in the air, unable to stop himself, but instead of going long, he jumped straight up, landed in almost exactly the same spot, turned on one foot, and sprinted to me.

In a breath he halted by my side. "I lied. I need your help."

"Who are we killing?"

"Do you have a pen?"

I got a notepad and a pencil out of my car. He scribbled something on a piece of paper, tore it out, and folded the paper in half. "Promise me you won't read this. This is important. This is the most important thing I've ever done. At the Games there will be a girl. Her name is Livie.

She's on the Reaper team. There are only two women on the team and she has long dark hair.

Give this to her. Please."

A girl. He risked Curran's rage for a girl.

On the surface, it made sense. He was nineteen and wading through the sea of hormones. But I had never perceived Derek as the type to become blindly infatuated. He took stoic to a new level. More, he worshipped the ground Curran walked on. There had to be more to this.

Unfortunately, Derek's face was doing a wonderful impression of a granite wall.

"You tried to steal the tickets to give a note to a girl?"

"Yes."

I scratched my head. "I know you're in trouble. I can feel it. Usually this is the part where I threaten you with terrible bodily harm and promise to dance on your grave unless you tell me everything you know. There's just one slight problem."

Derek grinned and for a moment boy wonder was back in all his glory. "I won't believe your promises of breaking every bone in my body?"

"Precisely."

He barked a short laugh.

"Tell me what this is about. Whatever it is, I will help you."

"I can't, Kate. It's something I have to do on my own. Just please give her the note, okay?

Promise me."

I wanted to grab him and shake him until the story fell out. But the only way to stay in this game meant taking the note. "I promise."

"And swear you won't read it?"

Oh, for the love of God. "Give me the damn note. I said I won't read it."

He offered me the paper and I snatched it from his fingers.

"Thank you." A happy little smile curled his lips. He backed away two steps and broke into a run. Before I knew it, he was gone, melting into the darkness of the alley between the decrepit buildings.

I stood in the parking lot holding his note. A nasty chill crawled down my spine. Derek was in trouble. I didn't know how or why, but I had a strong gut feeling that it was bad and it would end even worse. If I'd had a drop of sense, I'd have opened the note and read it.

I sighed, got into the car, and stuck the paper into my glove compartment. Common sense was not among my virtues. I'd promised and I had to stick to it.

My back ached. Even my bones felt tired. I just wanted to lie down somewhere, close my eyes, and forget the world existed. I buckled my seat belt. I needed to know more about the Games and I needed the information before tonight. In the morning I would go to the Order and check their files. And check on that report from PAD. Nothing said the shapeshifter murder and Derek's mess were connected, but I'd feel better if I ruled that possibility out.

Even though the Pack was handling the murder. Even if it wasn't my case. And that didn't bother me one bit. Nope, not at all.

I sat in my car, feeling the fatigue wash over me, and thought of Curran. Two months ago I'd found the Beast Lord in my house reading a book. We made some small talk, I threatened him with bodily harm if he didn't leave, and then he moved like he would kiss me. But instead he winked, whispered, "Psych," and took off into the night.

He had made me coffee. I drank every last bit of it that night.


Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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