Hugh laughed.

Yeah, yeah, your flunky knows how to squeeze the trigger. Bite me. I pulled the last undead toward the renders. A single person sprinted from behind me to the table. She leaped over the vampire corpses and landed by Mulradin’s body. Desandra. Damn it.

The renders tore into the last vampire.

The man with the guns turned and I saw his face. His stare punched me. Nick. Dear God.

“Desandra!” I snarled.

Nick sighted Desandra and fired. The guns roared, spitting bullets in quick one-two bursts. Desandra jerked, spun around, and ran straight for me.

The renders dropped the last two vampires to the floor. Desandra shot past me into the doorway. The renders closed in, blocking me from the People’s view with their bodies. I turned and sprinted out into the hallway. The last thing I saw was Ghastek’s face from the other doorway. He looked like a man who had just witnessed the start of a war.

The hallway was deserted. Twenty yards away, at the end of the hallway, the moon shone through the shattered windows of the sunroom. Jim stood to the side, snarling as the shapeshifters leaped out the windows one by one. I jogged to him, the two renders covering my exit.

“Run!” Hugh thundered, his voice chasing us. “Run to your pathetic castle! You have until noon tomorrow to give me the murderer or I’ll end you! If I see you in our territory, I’ll kill you!”

I wanted to turn around and break every bone in his body before I cut his head off. He’d killed my stepfather, destroyed Aunt B, and broken Curran’s legs. He would pay. I turned back toward the room. If I just killed him . . .

“Consort!” Jim called.

If I killed him, the shapeshifters would pay for it for years. And I had no sword. Argh.

I forced my way through the fog of blinding rage and ran to the shattered windows. Hugh expected me to enter the People’s side of the city. This wasn’t a warning, it was a dare.

The broken sunroom windows loomed before me. Three stories, a big fall.

Jim grabbed me and leaped through the broken window. My stomach jumped into my throat. We landed on the ground and he dropped me on the pavement. I hit the ground running and jogged to our cars.

Jim thrust the key into the car door.

A vampire plunged from above and landed on the Jeep’s roof. The insane red eyes glared at me. I grabbed its mind with mine.

Before I could do anything else, a weremongoose shot into view, red fur standing on end, the pink eyes with horizontal pupils looking demonic. Claws flashed. The vamp’s head went flying one way, its corpse the other. I jerked the door open and slid into the passenger’s seat. Jim shoved the key into the ignition, and Barabas dropped into the seat behind me. The engine purred.

The magic wave hit. Wards ignited on the walls of Bernard’s, glowing pale green. The engine sputtered and died.

Damn it all to hell and back.

Jim swore.

It would take fifteen minutes of chanting to warm up the car and start the engine that ran on enchanted water. Every second we delayed, the People’s reinforcements would be getting closer. We had to get the hell out of here and get to Mt. Paran Bridge before this incident grew any bigger.

• • •

I JUMPED OUT of the vehicle and slid Slayer into the sheath on my back. “We go on foot.” I turned and ran, not looking back. A moment and the two renders drew even with me. Behind me Jim called, “Form a line. Sarah, point. Rodriguez, rear guard.”

We ran out of the parking lot.

“I can carry you!” Demon-Barabas offered from behind me.

“I’m good.” As long as they didn’t run at full speed, I could keep up. I wouldn’t be able to do it for very long, but I wouldn’t have to. Mt. Paran Road was a mile and a half away. That was where Jim’s backup waited. We would regroup and then I’d make Hugh regret ever finding Atlanta on a map.


THE COLD AIR burned my lungs. Around me trees crowded the road. Plants loved magic; it spurred their growth like supercharged Miracle-Gro, and the trees around us looked decades old, their limbs braiding into a single mass of branches.

My muscles felt warm and loose under my clothes. We’d been running for nine minutes and the shapeshifters on all sides of me seemed no worse for wear. For them, this was jogging pace. For me it was a fast run.

In my mind I killed Hugh d’Ambray for the fourth time. Fantasy wasn’t as satisfying as the real thing, but thinking about sliding Slayer into his chest made me run faster.

The timing couldn’t have been worse. We were at less than half strength and Curran was gone. Hugh was a planner. He never left things to chance. Either he had a really good intelligence source within the Pack, which would be in line with his highly placed mole on the Pack Council, or he’d engineered this whole thing, which meant Gene and his Iberian wolves were in Hugh’s pocket and Curran had walked into a trap. Fear squirmed through me. I picked up speed. The shapeshifters accelerated with me.

Curran could handle himself. He wasn’t exactly a shrinking violet. If they were dumb enough to try to trap him, he’d come home to me covered in their blood.

Behind me an undead mind flickered into range. This one wasn’t loose. Someone was piloting it. Another vampiric mind joined the first. Then another. An escort to the border. How thoughtful of the People.

The vampires drew closer. I glanced over my shoulder and saw them, three nightmarish shapes, loping in a jerky but fast gait down the road.

I sprinted, squeezing every drop of speed out of my legs. The road turned and I saw the Mt. Paran Sinkhole, a football-field-sized gap like a giant’s mouth half-open in the ground. The sinkhole had been born during a strong magic wave, and Northside’s wealth made sure that a single-lane bridge had been built over it almost overnight. The moonlight bathed the stone railing and the six shapeshifters waiting on the bridge with three familiar-looking Jeeps.

One shapeshifter stood in front of the others. His jacket was off. He leaned forward, his dark eyes fixed on the vampires behind us with a cold predatory expression, his muscular body coiled like a compressed spring. I used to call Derek “boy wonder,” but “boy” no longer fit. He was nothing but hard muscle wrapping bones connected with sinew. His body might have been nineteen, but his eyes under the dark eyebrows were thirty-five. Well, I did tell Jim to put someone solid in charge of the backup unit.

A second shapeshifter perched on the bridge’s stone railing to the right of Derek. The light of the moon slid over his face. The bane of my existence. Figured.

Derek and Ascanio. As long as they were separated by the length of a football field, they got along just fine. Getting them into close proximity to each other was like bringing a lit match into a house full of gas fumes. It’s a wonder the bridge didn’t explode under the pressure.

Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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