We walked down the hallways, deeper and deeper into the medical ward. "This ritual, how certain are you that it will work?"
" `Certain' might be too strong a word."
"And if it fails?" Doolittle asked.
"Then I will finally be out of your hair and you won't have to patch me up anymore."
Doolittle stopped and looked at me. For a moment he looked stricken, and then he crossed his arms. "There will be none of that, now. You are my finest work. If I ever go to one of those medmage conferences they keep inviting me to, I will take you with me. Look!" He held his hands out toward me. "Bone dragons, sea demons, rakshasas, and worst of all, our own people, and these magic hands kept her alive through it all. Look at her walk! You can't even see the limp anymore. As long as you don't open your mouth, you will appear as a perfect example of a healthy adult female. With your history, they'll be calling me a miracle worker."
I snickered. "I promise to keep my mouth shut."
Doolittle shook his head in mock sorrow. "It's bad luck to promise impossible things. How is the knee? Honest now."
"I'll take another look at it when the magic wave hits." Doolittle stopped before a door. "Ready?"
For what? "I was born ready."
Doolittle thrust a key into the lock and unlocked it with a quiet click. The door swung open, revealing a small chamber with a metal barrel in its center. Two feet wide, three feet tall, sealed with a flat lid. Doolittle approached it, twisted the metal clasp, and swung the lid aside. Cold assaulted my face. Inside, bags of red ice sat in neat rows.
"Erra's blood," Doolittle said. "After you and our lord fought her, Jim brought me her body. Before we buried her, I drained it dry."
I MADE MY WAY UPSTAIRS AND WASHED OFF ALL OF my grime. Doolittle said he'd need at least twenty-four hours to review my blood and Erra's. Normally by now Voron would be screaming warnings at me from the depths of my memory, but he kept quiet. Perhaps it was because I trusted Doolittle, or maybe because Voron's ghost no longer had an iron grip on me.
I stood under the hot water, letting it run over my skin. Julie would have to wait, and not just for Doolittle. First, we had to find the Keepers, because if they managed to activate the device within the range of the Keep, nothing would matter. Curran had already warned the guards to notify us the moment any important news came or the magic wave hit. I didn't know how much time we had, but whatever it was I wanted to spend it well. For all we knew, we'd all kick the bucket tomorrow.
When I slid the shower door open, the smell of seared meat curled around me. A garment bag hung on the towel hook. With my luck, it would contain a French maid outfit.
I toweled off my hair and unzipped the bag. A silvery fabric caught the light and shimmered with a gentle light, as if someone had captured a crystal-clear mountain stream and somehow bound it into the creamy white silk. I ran my fingers over it, feeling the slickness. So beautiful. I'd seen this dress in the window shortly after Christmas. The strapless gown actually made me stop. There was something magic about the dress, something ethereal and otherworldly. No matter how much I looked at it in that store window, I couldn't picture myself in it. Curran told me I should get it. I told him that I had no place to wear it and besides, where would I put my sword?
A tiny voice nagged me that we should be out there, searching for the threat, but then the entire magic population of Atlanta was already searching for it. Andrea and Jim had joined forces, trying to pin down Shane's hiding place. The Order was under constant surveillance. A domineering werelion and a loud-mouthed merc wouldn't make that much of a difference. I found the blow-dryer. A dress like that deserved dry hair. If I had been by myself, I would've turned in by now to conserve energy before the fight. But then things could go really wrong tomorrow. I had to make the most of tonight.
Twenty minutes later, hair brushed, eye shadow on, and mascara on my eyelashes, I slipped the dress on. It hugged my body, curving over my breasts, clasped between them with a small crystal flower, and slid over the curve of my hips all the way down. A long slit went from the floor to my upper thigh.
I opened the door. A pair of transparent shoes sat on the floor. I slid my feet into them. Perfect fit.
I stepped out into the kitchen. Curran stood at the table. He wore gray tailored pants and a white button-down shirt. The shirt was semitransparent, and it molded to his muscled torso like a glove. He'd shaved, and the light from the candles on the table played on his face, throwing faint highlights over his masculine jaw. He looked almost unbearably handsome.
He was looking at me with a kind of need that somehow managed to be raw and tender at the same time. He took my breath away.
We looked at each other, a little awkward.
Finally I raised my hand. "Hi."
"Hi," he said. "I made dinner. At least I made the steaks. The rest came from the kitchen ... Would you like to sit down?"
"Yes, I would."
He held out my chair and I sat. He sat across from me. There was some kind of food on the table and a bottle of something, probably wine.
"You're wearing a formal shirt," I said. "I had no idea you owned one." The way he looked at me short-circuited the link between my mouth and my brain. Formal shirt? What the hell was I going on about?
"I figured I'd match the dress," he said. He seemed slightly shocked.
"Do you like it?"
"It looks great. You look great. Beautiful."
We looked at each other.
"We should eat," I said.
"Yeah." He was looking at me.
Silence hung between us. I had to know why he was with me. I thought it didn't matter, but it did.
I met his gaze. "My mother had a power that made men do whatever she wanted. She brainwashed Voron. She cooked him like a steak, until he left Roland for her. She needed him to take care of me. Except she overdid it. Voron was so hurt by her death, he never cared for me. He just wanted to watch me and Roland go at it. He said that if he watched my father kill me, it would be enough for him."
"Where is this coming from?"
"The witch," I told him. "Evdokia. She and I are very distantly related. She's telling the truth."
Curran's expression turned guarded. "That's fucked up." "Before you and I mated, did you and Jim have a conversation about what it would mean for the Pack?" It would be something Jim would do. He'd suspected what I was, if he hadn't figured it out already.