The distance between us and the vampires shrank. The undead were gaining. The air turned to fire inside my throat. A moment and we pounded onto the bridge. A white line drawn in chalk crossed the stone—the border. We cleared it.

The leading bloodsucker was so close, if we stopped it would be on us.

Derek shot past us like a bullet out of a gun.

I glanced over my shoulder. The vamp stepped over the chalk line. Derek leaped and kicked the undead. His foot connected with the vampire’s head. The impact knocked the abomination back twenty feet. It fell, sprang back up, froze, and trotted back to the rest of the living corpses waiting for it on the sidewalk.

I kept moving past the line of shapeshifters, slowing to a walk. I really wanted to bend over but I was on display, so I forced my body to remain upright. Breathing is like riding a bicycle. You never forget how to do it, and eventually my body remembered that it too could breathe instead of biting the air and swallowing it down in great big gulps. I walked on, past vehicles, until the bulk of the Jeeps hid us from the bloodsuckers’ view. The rest of the group followed me.

My mind finally processed what had happened at the Conclave. Hugh d’Ambray had come for me. Everyone associated with me had just acquired a big target on their chest. He would kill them one by one or a dozen at a time, whatever it took. My memory replayed Hugh’s voice. “It’s his will. Let it happen.” My father had targeted the shapeshifters before, but never so openly. Roland knew I was here, and he’d sent Hugh to break the Pack’s back and pry me loose while he was at it. The thing I’d been dreading had come to pass. My friends would die because of me.

Acknowledging it was like dunking my head into a bucket of cold water.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In my plans Curran was always with me. In my plans we stood together, we fought together, and we did it on our terms. Instead Curran had disappeared into some Appalachian wilderness, and I was stuck here, with a murder on my hands and fifteen hundred people to keep alive. I was the Consort. I had a job to do. I had to quash this war.

I would have to take it one step at a time. Step one: find the killer.

Jim matched his stride to mine. “What the hell was that back there? You almost let him goad you into walking right back to him.”

“I need you to find Curran. Hugh hates him and he likely knows exactly where Curran is. Best-case scenario, Gene is keeping him away from here. Worst case, it’s a trap.”

Jim bent toward me. His gaze met mine. “Hey. Look at me.”

I looked.

“Curran will be fine. He’s got this. They would have to have sent an army to North Carolina in order to bring him down. I have people watching Gene’s territory. Nobody came in or out.”

That’s right. Jim would have someone watching them.

“Hugh will try to fuck with your head. Don’t let him. Do your job. You’ve got fifteen hundred people depending on you.”

“Awesome pep talk.”

“If you want a pep talk, get yourself a cheerleader. Did you recognize the crusader with Hugh?”

“Yes.” I’d recognized Nick, alright. I saw him shoot Desandra.

“Why did we run?” a man demanded behind me.

I stopped and pivoted on my foot to face him.

It was one of Jennifer’s bodyguards. In his early twenties, he was large, with a head of wild blond hair, athletic. His eyes shone yellow, catching the moonlight. His lips trembled, baring his teeth. Right, all the lights are on and he’s exhaling aggression with every breath. Adrenaline junkie. Bad choice for a bodyguard.

“We had the numbers on them. We could’ve taken them.”

“Make him sit,” I told Jennifer. “Or I will and he won’t like it.”

Jennifer’s expression was blank.

“We look like fucking cowards,” the blond snarled. “We should’ve . . .”

Desandra shot forward, grabbed the blond by his throat, and slammed him on the stone surface of the bridge. His back slapped the rock. Desandra’s voice was a ragged snarl. “Do not question the Consort! Do not shame your clan in front of your alpha!”

The blond gasped, trying to breathe.

One does nothing, the other does double. I didn’t know who was worse.

Desandra pulled the blond up to his feet and stared in his eyes, her face an inch from his. “Look at me.”

The man stared at her, his face shocked.

“Jennifer is lenient. Search my face; do you think I’m lenient?”

The blond swallowed. “No, Beta.”

“Do you want me to demonstrate that I’m not lenient?”

“No, Beta.”

“When you earn the right to question the Consort, you can speak. Until then, when she gives you an order, you shut your mouth and obey, or I’ll rip out your tongue. I had it done to me once and it takes six months to grow back. Are we clear?”

The blond nodded.

“Enough,” Jennifer said.

Desandra opened her hand and ducked her head at me. “Our apologies, Consort.”

“I don’t need you to apologize for me,” Jennifer said. “Watch yourself.”

Desandra’s spine went rigid for half a breath, then relaxed so fast I would’ve missed it if I wasn’t looking for it. She shrugged, looked down, and purred. “I’m sorry, Alpha.”

I didn’t have time for their games. “We have less than eighteen hours until Hugh d’Ambray and the People attack the Keep. Once war starts, it will be difficult to stop.”

The People and the Pack had never seen eye to eye, and both sides had plenty of idiots who thought they had something to prove.

Desandra shrugged off her jacket and turned her back to a male wolf. He pulled a knife out and sliced her back open. She bared her teeth for a tiny second. The bullet was probably still in her body.

“We have to prevent the war,” I said. “Mulradin’s body, thoughts?”

“The killer’s a shapeshifter,” Jim said. “Not a bear. They tend to crush. The body had punctures consistent with canine or feline teeth.”

“I agree.” I looked at Jennifer. I needed a consensus, because none of them would like what I was about to say. “What do you think?”

“It’s possible that it was a shapeshifter,” Jennifer said. “Someone outside the Pack. I can’t imagine any of our people doing it.”

“I got a good whiff of the body. It’s a wolf,” Desandra said. “One of ours.”

Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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