Thomas dropped the bag and moved forward, the line of his shoulders set. His eyes turned green. His nostrils flared.

Curran blocked his way.

For a second I thought Thomas would collide with him, but the alpha rat stopped an inch from Curran. The two men squared off. Thomas was six three and built like he could push trucks over, but in a fight Curran would break him.

Gold drowned Curran’s irises. “Look at me. This is a direct order. Stay put. If you go, you go through me.”

The two of them stared at each other for a long moment.

“Stand down,” Curran said, his voice quiet.

Thomas turned on his heel and swore.

“There are vampires south of us,” I said. “I’m going to set a blood ward. It will protect you as long as the magic holds. Jester Park is less than two hours away by car. Stay put. We will be back.”

Ghastek sat up on his blanket. “What’s going on?”

“And if you don’t come back?” Andrea asked me.

“Then you may have to fight your way out,” Curran said. “Roland’s people promised us safe passage, but I don’t trust them and you shouldn’t either.”

“How many vampires?” Jim asked.

“About two hundred.” I pulled Sarrat out of its sheath, cut my arm, and began making a circle around them in the snow.

The color drained from Andrea’s face. “Two hundred. Piece of cake.”

“Will someone tell me what’s going on?” Ghastek demanded.

The last drops of blood connected with the first. The magic stretched from me, pooling over the circle of blood. I severed the tie. A wall of red shot up and vanished. The blood ward was set.

Behind me the snow crunched. I turned. Landon strode toward me, his tattered red cloak like a ragged red wound against the snow.

Ghastek opened his mouth and closed it again.

Landon stopped a few feet away. The wind tugged on his cloak and long dark hair.

“I’m coming with her,” Curran said.

“That’s not possible,” Landon said.

Curran grinned and I felt an urge to step back. “Is Roland afraid of what I might do? Am I that scary?”

“Baiting me or him will accomplish nothing,” Landon said.

“Tell him that if he ever loved my mother, he will understand,” I said.

Landon murmured something under his breath. We waited. The wind bit at us with icy fangs. When they described dramatic standoffs in the snow in stories, nobody ever mentioned freezing your ass off. I hopped up and down, trying to warm up. If this got any more dramatic, pieces of me would start falling off.

“He’ll see you,” Landon said.

Ghastek rose.

“Mr. Stefanoff,” Landon said to him. “Your services and conduct during these events are greatly appreciated. Once the magic is down, a car will come to retrieve you.”

The familiar roar of an enchanted engine rocked through the plain. A silver Land Rover slid from behind the distant trees, heading for us. Curran and I began walking toward it. Landon caught up.

“You’ve used Kalina’s name,” Landon said. “For your sake, I hope you’re the real thing.”


LANDON DROVE. I rode in the front passenger seat, and Curran took the back. If things went sour, I’d get Landon’s attention and Curran would rip out his throat.

The sun had risen, setting the snow aglow. The ruins of another gas station slid past us, iced by the winter. Heat swirled inside the Land Rover. I had shrugged off my jacket before I got in and I rode in comfort, with Sarrat in her sheath across my lap. This would be my special present for my father. If I got a shot at him.

Thinking about our impending meeting set my teeth on edge. The pressure was almost too much. I wanted Landon to stop the car so I could run in circles through the snow as fast as I could just to burn some energy off. I settled for stroking Sarrat’s sheath.

I couldn’t win against my father. I knew it now. The problem was, I had no idea what choice that left me.

“Has he claimed Atlanta?” I asked.

“No,” Landon said.

So the claiming hadn’t come to pass. That meant I still had to somehow prevent it.

An old sign slid by. I-80 East.

Landon glanced at me. His smart eyes lingered on my face.

“Are you Apache?” Curran asked from the backseat.

“Navajo,” Landon said.

“I thought the tribes discouraged necromancy,” Curran said.

“They do. They didn’t like what I was doing, so I found someone who does.”

As Hugh once put it, that was my father’s greatest power. Outcasts and misfits flocked to him. He found a perfect place for each one and inspired them to greatness. Except his kind of greatness resulted in death, misery, and tyranny.

Landon was looking at me. If he kept staring, I would have to do a trick or something. “Yes?”

“You’re not what I expected,” he said.

“Who did you expect?” I asked.

“Someone with more . . . presence. You seem ordinary.”

“I’m sorry, was I supposed to arrive in a black SUV, wear a two-thousand-dollar pantsuit, and set my sword on fire for the encore?”

“You look terrible, which is to be expected after Mishmar,” Landon said. “But you’re simply not like him. There is a lot of resemblance in the face, but that could be coincidental. With him, when you’re in his presence and he’s happy with you, it’s like standing in sunshine. Your entire being is lifted. When he’s displeased with you, it’s like being in a blizzard. He freezes you out and there’s nothing worse. With you”—Landon moved his hand in front of me—“I get nothing.”

Good to know all of my magical shields were still holding.

“That’s the point,” Curran said. “You’re supposed to get nothing. Give her a chance to use her sword, and you’ll change your mind.”

Landon glanced in the rearview mirror. “You, on the other hand, are exactly what I had expected.”

“And what would that be?” Curran asked.

“An uncomplicated man who thinks that everything can be solved with a sword.”

“I think you’ve been insulted,” I said.

Curran smiled. “I’m crushed. I don’t even use swords.”

Landon ignored him and faced me for a brief moment. “If you are who he thinks you are, you change everything. If you are genuine, your presence alters the power structure of the entire continent. What can you do? What are you capable of? There hasn’t been another one like you for thousands of years. Are you going to support him or oppose him? Who will follow the daughter of the Builder of Towers? Am I driving a pretender to the throne or should I kneel? D’Ambray must’ve thought you were the real McCoy. I couldn’t understand the motivation behind his odd political machinations in Europe over the spring and summer, but now I see—he was building a trap, which apparently failed. But Atlanta? What he did in Atlanta was rash even for him. Contrary to all of his chuckling and ‘aw, shucks, I’m just a simple soldier’ declarations, d’Ambray is intelligent and ruthless. Something must’ve happened between him and Roland to push him into . . .”

Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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