“If I wanted the city, I would’ve taken it.”
“I love that snarl in your voice,” he said. “Sexy.”
I rolled my eyes.
“I like that, too,” he said.
“Just out of curiosity,” I asked. “Last time I checked, the cops frowned on the random murder of civilians. Do you think Atlanta’s Paranormal Activity Division will just let you blunder about hunting shapeshifters?”
Hugh pretended to ponder it for a long moment. “Let me think. Yes.”
Jim was right. He had made an arrangement with someone high in the police food chain. “Aren’t you smug?”
“That’s what happens when you play in the big leagues.”
“Big leagues, huh?”
“That’s right.” He winked at me. “Stick around, I’ll show you how we do it.”
“No need. I’ve already had the proper instructions from my aunt.” Big leagues, I’ll show you the big leagues. It was a gamble, but if it worked, it would buy us enough time to get the hell out of here. “Curran broke Erra’s ward, by the way.”
Hugh’s eyes narrowed. “It’s adorable when you try to manipulate me. I find it charming.”
“I’m not manipulating you. I’m stating a fact. The man I’m sleeping with broke Erra’s blood ward.” I indicated the ward. “Mine is still standing.”
In the bedroom Robert leaned out for a second to catch my eye. Yes, yes, I know what I’m doing.
“I’ve been waiting for you to break mine. I have to say, your technique is really different. Curran hammered at the spell until it broke. You just talk. Help me out here, what’s the strategy? Are you hoping the ward will get tired and kill itself so it won’t have to listen to you anymore?”
Hugh’s eyes turned dark.
I yawned. “I don’t know about the ward, but I’m done talking. I’m going to go and take a nap.”
“Last chance,” Hugh said. His voice lost all of its amusement. “Come with me, and I’ll spare your precious Pack. All your pets will go to bed safe and won’t have to worry about fighting for their lives in the morning. Or they can wake up to a slaughter and blame you when their kids and lovers start dying.”
I slid Slayer into its sheath on my back and crossed my arms. “Time for talking is over. Come on, Preceptor. The man I sleep with broke the City Eater’s ward. You just have to break one of mine. Do it, Hugh. Show me something.”
“Remember, you wanted this,” he warned.
I dug into my memory and pulled out the worst rebuke Voron ever used. He said it to me and he had said it to Hugh, because Hugh threw it in my face the last time we met.
“If you’re too scared to try, just say you’re scared, Hugh.”
Nothing was worse than not being brave enough to try.
Hugh pulled a knife out, sliced his forearm, and dropped the blade on the floor. Show-off. Why not use the knife?
He squeezed his forearm. Blood swelled, bright sharp crimson. Slowly he rubbed it all over his hands. His stare locked on me. Wow. Hugh was pissed.
I raised my eyebrow at him.
He leaned forward, his feet shoulder width apart, his arms bent at the elbows, fingers apart, pointing up. His whole body tensed, gathering together as if before a great jump. Muscles bulged on his legs. His biceps strained the sleeves of his sweater. His abdomen hardened. Thin streaks of blue vapor slithered from him, growing stronger and stronger, until pale blue smoke emanated from his whole body. I’d seen it before when he pulled Doolittle from the brink of death. The ward blocked me from feeling it, but I remembered the magnitude of that power.
Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.
On the stairs Nick crouched. Uath gripped the guardrail. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Robert, standing in plain view in a hallway.
Hugh’s eyes turned bright electric blue. Indigo radiance coated his hands.
“Today,” I called out.
He lunged forward with both hands. His fingers pierced the ward like talons.
The blood ward flashed with brilliant red light, the magic crackling like thunder. Hugh flew back ten feet and hit the stairway leading to the upper floor. The back of his head bounced off the steps. He slid down and didn’t move.
Ha! Serves you right!
Behind me Robert said, his voice completely deadpan, “Oh my.”
A wall of translucent red pulsed in the doorway and turned transparent. My spell was still up. I laughed.
Nick and Uath charged up the stairs to Hugh’s prone body. I turned around and hurried to the bedroom.
A hole gaped in the ceiling next to the bed. Derek waited by it. Ascanio swung down out of the hole and offered me his hand. I grabbed it and he pulled me up until I could grasp onto some wooden beams. Ascanio let go and climbed up, and I crawled up after him. My cracked rib was screaming. Derek followed me into the ceiling structure. Beams, broken brick, insulation, and more beams.
A cold drop fell on my head. I looked up and saw Ascanio’s feet disappear, replaced by the night sky. My fingers caught cold metal and I pulled myself outside onto the roof. Frozen rain sifted from the gray sky. In the distance Desandra in a warrior form crouched on the edge of the roof, like a sleek monstrous gargoyle.
“Did you know that would happen?” Robert emerged from the hole.
“I hoped it would.”
“And if he broke through?”
“Then we’d have to run away very fast.” Well, we still had to run away really fast. Hugh’s people wouldn’t move until he came to, but that head was really hard. He’d bounce back soon.
The roof, slicked by frost, sloped down at a sharp angle. The ground looked very far down below.
Ascanio ran across the slippery roof toward the wererat. My head swam. The roof teetered before me.
Don’t think about it. Just do it. I sprinted. My stomach lurched. Tiny black dots swam in front of my eyes. Okay, running might have been too ambitious.
The roof ended. A twenty-foot gap separated us from the next building. Far below, hard pavement promised a painful landing.
Robert leaped across the gap and scurried on.
Twenty feet was so beyond me, it wasn’t even funny. Well rested, on solid ground, and with some training, I could possibly come close, but right now, on a slippery roof, it might as well have been a hundred feet. I had to get off the roof. When Hugh finally managed to deal with my ward, the backlash would be a bitch. I needed distance, but I was stuck.
“Kate.” Derek grabbed me and leaped. The ground yawned at me and then we landed on the other roof.