“I almost had her,” I told Doolittle.

“I know you did, child. I know.”

I wanted to get up, but I wasn’t sure which way up was and something told me I wouldn’t figure it out anytime soon either. “I have a concussion.”

“Yes, you do.” Doolittle cut through my sweatshirt. “Brenna, put your hands on her head and keep her from moving.”

“I almost had her. I could’ve taken her.”

Someone, probably Brenna, pressed her hands on the sides of my face. “Why does she keep saying that?”

“That’s just a little perseveration. People with head injuries do that. Nothing to worry about.” Doolittle peeled my T-shirt from my body. Draft chilled my skin.

“That’s your reassuring voice,” I told him. “That means I’m seriously fucked up.”

“No foul language now. Who patched you up?”

“A rabbi at the Temple.”

“He did a good job.”

“I almost had her. Did I tell you that?”

“Yes, you did. Hush now.” Doolittle began to chant. Magic stirred in me, slow and thick. He kept whispering, pouring power into the words. Slowly, like melting wax, magic grew liquid and warm and spread through me, flowing out from my chest all the way into my skull and toes.

“That’s nice,” I said.

“He said to hush.” Brenna’s hand brushed my lips.

“I almost—”

“—had her, we know,” Brenna murmured. “You have to be quiet, Kate. Shhhh.”

I closed my eyes. It felt like floating in a warm sea. Tiny hot needles stabbed my wound and danced inside my scalp. My side itched.

“I need to talk to her,” Jim’s voice said through Doolittle’s chant.

A sharp screech, halfway between roar and chatter, cut him off. It sounded either like a giant pissed-off squirrel or a small but equally pissed-off bear. The hair on the back of my arms rose. There was a word for that . . .

“Bloodcurdling.” I heard my own voice. It sounded slurred.

“If something is coming for her, I need to know what it is,” Jim said.

“Make it quick,” Doolittle said.

Jim leaned over me, his face a fuzzy smudge. That’s right, get closer so I can give you a piece of my mind.

“Who brought you here?” Jim asked.

“I almost had her.”

“Here we go again,” Brenna muttered.

I grabbed his shirt and pulled myself up.

“Shit!” Brenna clamped her fingers on my cheeks.

“I almost had her,” I squeezed out through my teeth. “I was a second from a strike and your babysitter grabbed me and dragged me up a building. You cost me my kill. Now all of you are fucked.”

“Damn it, Jim.” Doolittle grabbed my shoulders, pushing me down. “Keep her head stabilized.”

Jim’s fingers clenched my fist. “She wasn’t mine.”

“Bullshit. She was a shapeshifter and she brought me to your safe house.”

“Did you tell her where the house was?”

Jim squeezed my hand, but I was too pissed off.

“I told her to drop me. She said it was her job to protect me. Who else would order a shapeshifter to guard me?

How would she find your place? Did you put a sign above the door—SECRET PACK HOUSE HERE, STRANGE SHAPESHIFTERS BRING A HUMAN SNACK?”

Doolittle pressed a point just below my wrist, cutting off the circulation to my hand. My fingers went numb.

Jim pulled free. “We’re clearing out.”

Doolittle pushed me back down. “She can’t be moved.”

“An unknown shapeshifter punched a hole through the roof and took off before I could catch her. The house is compromised. How much time do you need to stabilize her?”

“Ten minutes.”

“You have them, then we move.”

Doolittle bent over me and began to chant.

Ten minutes later Doolittle clamped my neck into a brace and Brenna picked me up. She carried me down the stairs like I was a child. The stairs were impossibly high and swirling, like a spiral. I squirmed, trying to get away, but Brenna only gripped me tighter. “Don’t worry, Kate. I won’t drop you.”

She loaded me into a small sled. People from Jim’s crew moved around us. Doolittle strapped me to the sled, Brenna took the reins, and we were off.

I LAY IN THE BED, STRIPPED DOWN TO MY BRA and underwear, and watched the bag of O-negative empty into my veins. My attempt to explain that my head had cleared and I didn’t need extra attention, and definitely not the extra blood, bounced from Doolittle like dried peas from the wall. He pointed out that he had pulled me from the brink of certain death three times, and he apparently had given me blood transfusions before and he might be just an ignorant doctor, but as far as he could tell, I was still breathing and it would make his day if we could save some time and assume that he knew what he was doing. His life would be much easier if suicidal hardcases would take that into account, thank you very much.

My ribs still hurt, but instead of sharp stabbing jolts that made me growl, the pain fused into a solid heavy pressure.

Doolittle walked around my bed. “You will be the death of me.”

“I’m pretty sure I’ll die before you do, Doc.”

“That I don’t doubt.”

He picked up a mirror from the table and held it up to me. I looked.

Most of me was pale and a bit green looking. A dark purple patina covered the corner of my jaw, promising to develop into a spectacular bruise. The second stain covered my midsection, where my aunt had kicked me. I’d flexed my stomach, so my innards didn’t turn into mush, and the abdominal muscles took the brunt of the punishment.

“Green and purple, a stunning combination.”

Doolittle shook his head, unplugged me from the empty blood bag, and handed me a glass filled with brown liquid, resembling iced tea. “You look like you’ve had an unfortunate encounter with one of the gangs from the Warren.”

“You should see the other”—guy, no, wait, girl, woman—“person.” Somehow that didn’t quite deliver the snappy impact I had originally planned.

Doolittle fixed me with a stare. “Bed rest for the next twenty-four hours.”

“I can’t do that, Doc.” Knowing him, he’d try to sedate me. So far he hadn’t—I had watched my IV like a hawk. If I had things my way, I’d be up and running. Right now Erra was injured and at her weakest. It was a good time to hit her, but the chances of finding her, even armed with shapeshifters, were nil. My aunt was psychotic but not stupid.

Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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