He leaned forward. "I'm leaving. Last chance."

"Myong came to see me."

"Oh," he said. "That."

The muscles on his jaw went tight. We sat in grim silence for several minutes. I waited until I couldn't stand it any longer. "Myong," I said gently.

"You know who she wants to marry?"

She wants to marry my "ex - could have been" boyfriend whom I accused of kidnapping, sexual torture, and cannibalism. "Yes."

"And you're okay with it?"


"Bullshit," he said.

"Maybe I'm not as okay with it as I want to be. But I don't want to keep them from each other." Seeing Myong, well, it stung. I shouldn't have cared that Crest clearly thought she was better than me, but it did bother me a little. She was without a doubt more beautiful, elegant, refined. But she was also so...so dying swan. The kind of woman who, if asked to make tea, would return from the kitchen to tell you the water was boiling and expect you to deal with that emergency while she waited demurely next to you.

"I think I've been rather reasonable about this whole situation," Curran said.

"How do you figure?"

"They are still breathing, aren't they?"

Maybe he truly loved her and losing her hurt. Maybe it was his ego talking: a proud alpha, left by a beautiful woman for a normal human, a wimp, pretty much disliked by every shapeshifter who met him. I wished I could make it better for him and for me. But the only way to do so lay through setting them free.

"Please let them go."

He rose. "We'll talk about it later."



"You'll feel better if you cut them loose."

"What makes you think it bothers me?" He almost said something else, but changed his mind and left the room.

I felt very alone sitting on the bed by myself. The last time I had felt so alone was when I found out that Greg was murdered.

I untied my robe and laid down. The expedition to the bathroom followed by a tense conversation wore me out. I wanted Curran to let them marry, so I could be done with all of it.

Something moved outside the window. I raised my head. Nothing. Just a rectangular view of the sky, barely brightening before the sunrise. We were on the second or third floor. No trees nearby. I put my head back on my pillow. Wonderful. I'm hallucinating now.


A reeve? Couldn't be - those gals didn't knock. I slid off the bed and walked to the window. No bars. No alarm. I guess when you can smell a drop of blood in five quarts of water, you don't bother with alarms. And only a total lunatic would risk breaking into a house full of monsters. I turned away.


Alright, fine. I'll play. The latch on the window was of the old variety, heavy and metal. I'd have to use both hands to get it open. I put Slayer on the windowsill.

Beyond the glass, an empty street stretched into gloom. I unlocked the latch and slid the window up. Below me lay a small ledge, barely more that an ornamental row of bricks protruding from the wall.

Bran popped into existence on the ledge right in front of me. His hands clamped my hands, pinning them to the windowsill. "Hello, dove." He grinned at me. "Look at that: you don't have your pretty knife and I've got your hands. What are you gonna do now?"

I rammed my head into his nose.

"Ow!" He lost his balance, let go of me, arms swinging, and I caught his jacket just as he was about to plummet. My hand brushed the familiar plastic packet. Unbelievable.

I yanked him into the room, swiping the packet of maps from the waistband of his leather pants. The effort nearly dropped me to my knees. I struggled not to fall and growled. "You stole the maps again? Do you have a death wish?"

He blew some blood out of his nose. "I can't fucking believe it. Busted my nose twice in one day. You owe me for this." He surged to his feet and lunged at me.

And stopped when Slayer's blade made contact with his chest. I was weak but I was still fast. "Who are you, what are you doing here, who is Hood, why does he want Julie, and where is Julie's mother?"

"Is that all?" He wiped the red smudge off his lip with the back of his hand.

"Yes. No. Why is the cauldron important, where did it go, how is Morrigan involved, where do you go when you disappear, and why do you keep stealing the maps? Okay, now that's everything."

He pushed a little against Slayer. "I see now. You just want me for my mind. Who's Hood?"

"White robe, tentacles?"

His eyes lit up. "I tell you what, you put the maps right there on the bed. On the count of three, we each grab them. If you win, I'll tell you who he is. If I win, I'll get you."


He winked. "Cute bow, by the way."

I glanced down. Sure enough, my robe had come open. The whole world now knew I had a bow on my panties.

I pulled my robe closed. "You get me for how long? Forever?"

He gave me an appraising stare. "No offense, but you're not that hot. There are other fish in the sea. A night will do."

I had to give it to him, to flatter and insult a woman in one proposition took talent. "No disappearing into the mist to grab the maps?"

He raised his hands. "Fine, fine."

"Swear on Morrigan's name that you'll pay up if I win."

It was a gamble. I watched for his reaction and got it: he hesitated. To him, Morrigan's name carried weight, which meant she was likely to be his patron goddess.

"I swear by Morrighan to uphold the bargain." He pronounced Morrigan oddly, which was probably the right way to say her name.

I tossed Slayer on the bed, never taking my eyes off of him, and put the maps on the sheets. "Back away, three steps."

We stepped back in unison, he to the middle of the room, and I to the wall by the chair.

"On three. One," he said, bending forward like a runner. "Two."

He lunged for the maps. I grabbed the chair and hit him with it. He went down. I hit him again to make sure he stayed that way, stepped over him, and picked up the maps. "I win." Now if only the room would stop spinning, I'd be all set.

He groaned and a torrent of obscenities burst from him.

"Your problem is, you underestimate me because I'm a woman." I nudged him with my foot. "Hood's name?"

"Bolgor the Shepherd, of the Fomoire." Mist swirled and he vanished.

My legs gave out and I crash-landed on the bed. Fomoire? Fomorian. Morrigan's old adversaries. Now the fish stink made sense: of course, a sea-demon would stink like fish. I frowned. Bran served Morrigan and Morrigan and the Fomorians hated each other. That made perfect sense. But what did this Shepherd want with Julie?

Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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