Home > Ride the Storm (Cassandra Palmer #8)(12)

Ride the Storm (Cassandra Palmer #8)(12)
Author: Karen Chance

Not that I was sure what that was anymore. But I was fairly certain it didn’t include an almost-dead master vampire, who happened to be the font of energy for the extended family that ran this hotel. Including the group of senior-level masters who formed my bodyguard, and who were normally miniature armies all to themselves. But who had been left limp as rag dolls after he was forced to almost drain them to keep himself alive.

Which might explain why this attack was happening now.

And why nobody was answering the goddamn phone.

“CASSIE PALMER.”

“CASSIE PALMER.”

“CA—”

“Get back! Get ba—” I yelled at the reporter, who didn’t need it because she’d felt the same massive energy surge that I had. She grabbed her kid and threw herself to the side, just as the burst hit.

And all but destroyed the front of the shop, ward and all, splintering the windows and slinging a wash of glittering glass and burning wood through the air.

Straight at me.

And at Augustine, who I hadn’t noticed come up behind me until we were both blown backward off our feet. And through several racks of what had been expensive clothes and were now burning tatters. And into a decorative column.

Which we bounced off and hit the floor, face-first, about the time that the shield he’d thrown around us failed.

I looked up through a haze of blood and saw him raising a similarly messy face with a snarl. The half-fey designer had always looked a little girlie to me. The perfect hair, the too-pale skin, the flamboyant clothes had just never registered as dangerous.

I was revising my opinion.

Until he suddenly turned tail and ran for the back, disappearing through a curtain.

And, okay, I thought. Maybe I’d been right the first time. But I didn’t have time to worry about it.

Because someone else was calling my name.

And this time it wasn’t a spell.

Chapter Six

“Cassie Palmer?” The new voice wasn’t the harsh, almost metallic tones of the locator spell. Instead, it was quiet, calm, amused. “Is that really you?”

I got back to my feet, pushing shattered glass away from my bare soles. And picked my way across a minefield to the burning hole that had once been the front of the shop. And looked out.

And saw a man in war mage gear standing on the other side of the concourse, holding a knife to the throat of the terrified girl he’d positioned in front of him.

She wasn’t the unfortunate reporter from Witch’s Companion.

I knew that because I knew her.

She was my acolyte, Rhea.

She stared at me and I stared back. Her long white gown was pristine and freshly pressed, and her waist-length dark hair was just a little mussed. She looked like she should have been attending a Victorian-era lawn party, not standing stiff and careful and slightly off balance because she was having to pull back from the knife to keep it from eating into her throat.

I’d been in that position myself recently. Only, unlike Rhea, I’d been pretty sure the guy in question wasn’t going to kill me. Yet it had still been terrifying.

Rhea looked like she was about to throw up.

The war mage smiled.

The smile should have been attractive. He was, with blue eyes bright enough that I could see them from here, and dark brown hair worn stylishly long, just enough to touch the collar of a modern dress shirt. It looked a little odd under all the hardware.

Like the smile, which would have looked creepy on a corpse.

“Can I say,” he said, looking me over as well, “you’re not exactly what I expected?”

“I get that a lot.”

“I apologize for the rudeness of our introduction, but some of my associates are a little . . . keyed up. We thought we’d have a fight to reach you, but instead—” He waved his free hand in the air, to indicate the now missing announcement.

“Must be your lucky day.”

He smiled some more.

I turned my gaze back to Rhea, who was looking green, but also like she was starting to get it together. And she might, because she frequently surprised me. A member of Agnes’ old court, Rhea had been the only one, other than the kids, not to take the bait the gods were offering and go power-mad.

In fact, she’d risked her life to come here and warn me about the imminent return of Ares, and the pleasure that seemed to give five of her colleagues. Then, in quick succession, she’d gotten scared by a coffee machine, yelled at a senior-level vamp, intimidated another into taking her shopping for the young girls who formed the rest of my court, and fed, comforted, and defended them fiercely until I got back. And then panicked and teared up when she thought I was going to kick her out for being useless.

And all that had been in the first couple days. Since then, she’d continued to show flashes of both timidity and excessive bravery, and I never knew which I was going to get. I thought the former might be the false front, acquired over a lifetime of being ignored and discounted at the court her mother had presided over, because a Pythian love child doesn’t exactly have it easy in the world.

But frankly, a little timidity would stand her in good stead right now. Despite being a pretty formidable witch, she wasn’t going to beat these odds. Excess bravery right now was going to get her killed.

“Don’t look so concerned,” the dark mage said, watching me. “I assure you, I don’t mean any harm to Ms. Silvanus here. In fact, I fully intend to return her to you.”

“In exchange for?”

“You have a piece of our property,” he said gently. “We would like her back.”

“Lizzie.”

He inclined his head.

We were talking about Elizabeth Warrender, one of Agnes’ old acolytes and my current rogues. Out of the original five, three were now dead, one—Jo Zirimis—was missing, and then there was Lizzie. Who had turned dark and started playing for the other team apparently without realizing that her team considered her expendable.

The other rogues had sent her here yesterday to take me out of commission while they raided a vamp stronghold in New York. One that contained a potion capable of boosting an acolyte’s power enough to rival mine. And possibly enough to shift Ares past the barrier of my mother’s spell.

Lizzie had succeeded—sort of. I still didn’t understand how she’d known when I’d be back, stepping out of thin air at almost the second I returned, beat up and bleeding, from Wales. But she had, and, like Gertie today, she’d jammed a needle in my leg before I could stop her.

If it had contained poison, I wouldn’t be here now. But it hadn’t, because Lizzie was a little slow, and a lot fixated on becoming Pythia, while her savvier rivals had known the truth: once Ares returned, there wouldn’t be a Pythia. There wouldn’t be any magic workers, since he planned to kill us all.

I supposed that was one way to make sure no one ever challenged him again.

But they hadn’t let Lizzie in on their insight, and she hadn’t figured it out herself. Which meant she’d been under the impression that she couldn’t kill me, since no one who kills a Pythia can ever be one herself. So she’d drugged me instead, and been captured in the process. And I had woken up in time to prevent the acolytes’ plan in New York, mainly because they’d turned on each other while I was out, each wanting to end up as Ares’ champion.

And to become the goddess he’d promised to make the victor.

I almost felt sorry for Lizzie. Everyone else had been going after godhood, and she’d just wanted to be Pythia. And still did, I assumed, since I’d left her alive and drugged upstairs, intending to deal with her later.

Only it looked like somebody else had decided to do the same thing.

“And if I refuse?” I asked.

The dark mage made a small moue of disappointment.

“Killing Rhea won’t do you any good. You’ll still have to battle your way through the wards on the upper floors to get to Lizzie, and they were created by some of the best wardsmiths the Silver Circle has,” I told him, talking about the world’s leading magical organization and the parent body of the War Mage Corps. “I doubt you’ll find them as easy to fool as these.”

“Oh no,” he mused. “I shouldn’t think so.”

   
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