Hugh flicked his fingers. Nick and Uath backed off, took a couple of steps down the stairs, and waited.

Hugh pulled a glove off his hand and reached for the doorway. His defensive spell flashed green and drained down. His fingers touched the invisible wall of my blood ward. He pushed.

I kept cleaning my sword.

“Clever girl,” Hugh said.

“Learning as I go.”

He reached into his cloak and pulled out a small white bottle.

“What is it?”

“Ibuprofen,” he said. “For your headache. I know you have one.”

Hugh, a benign and considerate mass murderer. Always thinking ahead.

Hugh shook the bottle at me.

“No, thanks. I’ve had my daily dose of poison already.”

Hugh smiled.

“Something funny?”

“The more you struggle, Kate, the more I learn about you.”

“Learn anything interesting?”

He moved, stalking around the landing. He seemed to have gotten bigger somehow since our encounter in the Black Sea. Taller, broader, stronger. Maybe it was my memory playing tricks, or maybe it was the cloak.

“You can break my ward. This morning I knew of eleven people in the world who could. Now there are twelve.”


Hugh shrugged his shoulders. “You know what I hate about the winter in this city?”

The longer we kept talking, the more time I would buy for Derek, Ascanio, and Robert to take the ceiling apart. I raised one eyebrow. “Mmm?”

“It’s so damn cold, I wouldn’t let a dog out, but there’s no snow. There’s just this crud. It’s not rain, it’s not snow, it’s like freezing mud falling from the sky.” He rested one hand on the wall next to the side of the door. “I say we call it quits. The new Four Seasons has VIP suites. I stayed there on my last trip here. We’ll have them build us a nice fire and hide in the room, hot, dry, and cozy. We’ll order some food, some decent wine, and talk.”

“What would we talk about?”

“About the future.”

I pretended to think about it. “Pass.”

Hugh flashed his teeth in a narrow smile. Before a hungry tiger pounced on its prey, he would smile just like that.

“Where is Hibla?”

“Hibla has been reassigned.”


“Let it go,” he said, in that good-natured way as if we were sitting somewhere in a bar, sharing a drink, and I were venting to him about a co-worker who annoyed me. “She’s hard to kill and not worth the time.”

“When you see her, let her know I have a grave picked out for her. With a headstone and everything.”

“How about this: if you come with me, I’ll deliver her to you. You can play with her as long as you want. I’ll even heal you if she rips you up.”

“Still a pass.”

“You should reconsider. Just some friendly advice.”

“I don’t think so.”

Hugh leaned forward, his eyes amused, and looked me over, slowly, head to toe. “You look good.”

Spare me. “Nice touch letting Dorie go. If I don’t turn her over, you’ll start a bloodbath and I and the alphas will be blamed for it. If we do turn her over, we look weak and our own people will lose confidence in our leadership. Either way the Pack is destabilized and I’m the bad guy.”

“You’re beginning to catch on to how the game is played,” Hugh said.

“There’s a third possibility. I could kill Dorie and dump her dead body on your lap.”

“I don’t think so.”

He said it with absolute surety. Not a moment’s hesitation. Note to self: bluffing—learn to do it better.

“Why not?”

“Because it sends the wrong message. If you kill Dorie, every shapeshifter who has ever broken the law will wonder if they’re next on your hit list. If you go that route, nobody will follow you. I’m a bastard but even I don’t kill my own people, unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

“No, you just put them in cages and let them slowly starve to death.”

He rolled his eyes. “Of course, there is a fourth option.”

“And what’s that?”

“You come with me now,” he said. “And this whole ugly mess goes away.”

“I don’t believe you.” The words had come out almost on their own. But a look into his eyes told me he wasn’t lying. Shit. He really had come here for me. I was the sole reason Mulradin was dead and the Pack was now evacuating. Well, that was one mystery solved.

I didn’t need that kind of pressure. I had plenty to drag me down as it was.

Hugh shifted his weight, reached over, and drew a doodle on my ward. The magic nipped at his finger. It must’ve hurt. “I meant what I told you before. Their lives don’t matter to me. If I have to crush the coal to get to the diamond, I’ll do it.”

“Aha. And I’m the diamond?”

“You cut like one.”

Ha! “Flattery, really? Subtle like a hammer.”

He shrugged. “Why not? Do the shapeshifters take time to flatter you? Do they tell you how grateful they are for you sticking your neck out for their sake?” He touched the blood ward again. “Do they beg your forgiveness every time this precious blood is spilled?”

No, they generally didn’t. They mostly complained at me, but I wasn’t going to tell him that. “The answer is no.”

“No, they don’t flatter you?”

“No, I’m not leaving with you.”

“I suppose I’ll have to come and get you then.”

“Knock yourself out. I’ve got a sword I’m dying to introduce to your blood.” Wait. Knock yourself out. Funny I said that. An idea began to form in my head.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Robert leaning into the hallway. He was watching. He’d probably heard every word. Great. I could look forward to more questions I didn’t want to answer.

“Come with me,” Hugh said. “Let me show you the kind of power you’re missing. Nobody else has to die. He’s waiting for you.”

Every nerve in me came to attention. “Don’t see how he has the time for me, preparing for the claiming and all.”

Hugh’s eyebrows rose a quarter-inch.

I laughed quietly. “I see he doesn’t tell you everything. I think I’ll stay right here.”

He shook his head. “Seriously, what the fuck are you doing, Kate? Running around the frozen city in the night like some filthy bottom-feeder playing queen of the shapeshifters? Come to me. I’ll give you the city on a silver platter. A gift.”

Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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