Barabas barked a short laugh. "He's probably right."

"I prefer the other version," I said.

Saiman shrugged. "Romanticism will be your undoing, Kate. To answer your question, I'm not worried about suicidal Greeks, but about their more violent countrymen. The Aegean is a haven for pirates."

Romanticism will be your undoing, blah blah. "Isn't that why you have that gun mounted on the front? Or is it for other reasons, because I would've thought that a man with your powers would be past the urge to compensate."

Barabas grinned.

"I had forgotten that talking to you is like trying to pet a cactus," Saiman said dryly. "Thank you for reminding me."

"Always happy to oblige."

"I'm compensating for nothing. Pirates come in two types. Most of them are opportunistic, situationally homicidal, and driven by profit. They kill as means to an end. They evaluate a vessel of this size and realize that a sea battle would be too costly and their chances of winning it are slim. Unfortunately, there is the second type: the rash, the stupid, and the insane. The Rush wouldn't prove a deterrent; on the contrary, they would view it as a great prize. Capturing it would at once give them a flagship of decent firepower and allow them to make a name for themselves. They can't be reasoned with-"

A small cutter swung around the western edge of the nearest island. Saiman looked at it. Another boat joined the first, then a third, a fourth . . .

Saiman gave out a long-suffering sigh. "Right. Please go and get your brute, Kate. We're about to get boarded."

"I'll go." Barabas jogged away.

Over a dozen cutters now sped toward us. With magic up, the giant gun was useless.

A bell rang: three rings, pause, three rings, pause. A woman barked, her voice deep, "General quarters! All hands to battle stations! General quarters!"

"Shouldn't you be on the bridge?" I asked.

"The ship must have only one captain," Saiman said. "Russell is perfectly competent to handle any emergency, and I don't want to undermine him with my presence."

The shapeshifters spilled out onto the deck, Curran in the lead. Andrea brandished a crossbow. Raphael strode next to her, carrying knives. The boats headed straight for us. The Beast Lord braked next to me. "Are you planning to ram them?"

"That would be futile. Their boats are more maneuverable. They would simply scatter."

A person dived into the ocean off the lead boat. That must've been a cue, because the pirates began dropping overboard like their boats were on fire.

"What the hell?" Eduardo muttered.

"As I said, we're about to be boarded," Saiman said with afflicted patience.

Above us on top of the brig, two sailors manned a polybolos, a siege engine that looked like a crossbow on steroids. An antipersonnel weapon, a polybolos fired large crossbow bolts with deadly accuracy, and just for fun, it was self-loading and repeating, like a machine gun.

Sleek shapes dashed through the water toward us.

"Do they have trained dolphins?" George asked.

"Not exactly," Saiman backed away, toward the center of the deck.

The dolphins shot toward the Rush all but flying beneath the waves.

I pulled Slayer out.

"Form a perimeter," Curran called. "Let them get on the deck, where it's nice and dry. Don't let them pull you into the water."

We made a ring in the center of the deck.

"This is utterly ridiculous," Aunt B said.

Keira stretched. "Fun, fun, fun . . ."

Something smashed into the side of the hull. A deformed gray hand clutched the top edge of the deck and a creature leaped over the railing and landed, dripping water. Nude except for a leather harness, it stood on short muscular legs, hunched over but upright, the sun glistening on its thick, shiny hide. Its body was all chest with a smooth, wide trunk of a waist. Broad shoulders supported two massive arms with surprisingly small hands. Its neck, disproportionately thick, with a hump on the back, anchored a head armed with long, narrow dolphin jaws filled with razor-sharp teeth. Two human eyes stared at us from the thickly fleshed face. A big bastard. At least four hundred pounds.

A weredolphin. Pinch me, somebody.

Greek legends spoke of some pirates who'd captured the god Dionysus. They were planning to rape him and sell him into slavery. Furious, he transformed them into dolphins. Apparently, their descendants were alive and well and still in the family business.

The pirate glared at us. Hell of a neck. Strikes to the throat were right out.

Other pirates leaped over the railing. One, two . . . seven . . . thirteen. A baker's dozen. Wait, fifteen. Eighteen . . . Twenty-one. The odds weren't in our favor.

"Maybe they just came over to borrow a cup of sugar," I said.

Andrea barked a short laugh. Curran put his hand on my shoulder. "That's a lot of sugar. Must be a big cake."

The lead weredolphin opened his jaws, displaying teeth designed to pierce struggling prey and not let go. English words spilled out, sotto voce, accented and mangled. "Give us your ship and your cargo and you can go."

"He lies," Saiman said. "I lost two vessels to them in the last six months. They will butcher us like cattle for the sake of the cargo."

"Do you speak Greek?" Curran asked.

Saiman shrugged. "Naturally."

"Ask him if he thought this through."

A melodious language spilled from Saiman.

The weredolphin stared at Saiman like he had grown a second head.

"Leave this ship," Curran said, his voice deepening. He was about to explode. "And you will survive. This is your only warning."

Saiman translated.

The dolphin drew back and pointed at Curran. "First, I kill you. Then I rape your woman."

Gold drowned Curran's eyes. I've seen people put their foot in their mouth. This was the first time I saw a fin jammed into one.

Curran's body exploded. The change was so fast, it was almost instantaneous. One second a man stood next to me, the next a monster towered over me, fully seven and a half feet tall. Gray fur covered his muscular limbs, dark ghostly stripes crisscrossing it like the marks of a whip. The colossal leonine mouth gaped open, flashing scimitar fangs, and a huge sound burst forth, dangerous, rough, grating, primal in its fury and sheer power, like a battle challenge delivered by a tornado. It hit you straight in the gut, bypassing logic and thought, into the bundle of nerves that made you freeze. I've heard it dozens of times and it still shook me.

The weredolphins had never heard it before, and so they did exactly what most people would do when faced with an enraged lion. They cringed, paralyzed.

Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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