Home > Ride the Storm (Cassandra Palmer #8)(14)

Ride the Storm (Cassandra Palmer #8)(14)
Author: Karen Chance

He looked at me in exasperation. “What else do you think I have that could handle something like this?”

“Handle it how?”

“Would you let me go?”

“Handle it how?” I repeated, because I’d seen what one of those weapons could do.

The only way to end the war was to invade Faerie, where the leaders of the group trying to bring back the gods had holed up. But for all its skill, the Silver Circle balked at the idea of fighting a war in another world, partly because they didn’t know enough about it, but mainly because their magic didn’t work there. Augustine’s did.

Being part fey and famously creative had put him on the list to make some of the weapons needed to fight a literal war of the worlds, and he had delivered. I knew this because one of my bodyguards had recently stumbled across a spell that hadn’t made it to the finished stage. Yet it had still been almost enough to kill a master vampire.

And if it could kill one of those, it could kill anything.

“We’re in a hotel full of people,” I reminded him.

“Security has probably evacuated them by now—”

“In a couple of minutes?”

“The drag is clear,” the Oracle guy said, from a chewed-up black wad on the floor, where I guessed Deino had spat it out. “The hotel employees scattered like rats off a sinking ship once they realized what was happening—”

“They’ve had plenty of practice,” Augustine muttered.

“—and security dragged off the few tourists who were up this early. We think it will work, lady.”

“And if any of that gets into the air-conditioning system?” I looked at Augustine, who didn’t look back. “Can you absolutely guarantee me it won’t kill everyone in the hotel?”

“They’re going to kill everyone in the hotel!” he snarled, gesturing at the army outside. “Or hadn’t you noticed?”

“The Circle will be here soon,” Carla said, biting her lip. And looking at her child, who was crouched beside her, watching everything with bright eyes. I would have expected the girl to be sobbing in fear, but it looked like she had her mother’s resiliency.

Which was ironic, considering that her mother appeared to have lost it.

Carla looked at me. “They will be here,” she said again, as if waiting for me to confirm it. To tell her that I saw us all getting out of this, her and the child she suddenly clutched against her side. “They will!”

“Maybe, but not in a few minutes,” Augustine said. “Twenty, and that’s if we’re lucky—”

“Twenty?”

“That’s what they told Françoise. They have to get across town, and they have to assemble a force first,” he said, glancing up. And noticing the desperate grip she had on the girl. “Although . . . although perhaps they can shave a few minutes off that,” he finished weakly.

“But the Pythia is here! Half the senate is here—”

“Not at the moment. They’re in New York,” I told her, trying to think.

“But they’re supposed to be here! Why is there no security?”

“There’s plenty of security for a hotel,” Augustine said. “Which is what this is supposed to be!”

He was right, and at the moment it was starting to look like insanity that the vampire senate’s West Coast headquarters was situated in a Vegas hotel. But after their old HQ was destroyed in the war, they’d needed a stopgap measure. And this place had been big enough, and the guy who built it had been a paranoid nutjob who used better-than-average wards, and it had recently been inherited by one of their own. . . .

None of which were sounding like such great reasons at the moment.

“And nobody thought to maybe improve the wards?” Carla demanded.

“They did—on the upper floors,” I told her. “The lower couldn’t have the best wards because they’re too sensitive—some crazy tourist could have set them off.”

“Why are we talking about wards?” Augustine demanded in a shrill whisper. “All we need to know is that they’re down. And without them, we’re sitting ducks. Do you have any idea what those people out there can do in twenty minutes?”

“But we have the Pythia,” the reporter repeated, looking between the two of us.

Augustine and I exchanged glances. “I assume you can’t shift back an hour or two and warn us?” he asked, looking like he already knew the answer.

“If I could, I’d have already done it.”

“Then can you shift us out of here?”

“No.”

“Then it’s as I said before—we have to get ourselves out of this.”

“Yes, but not this way.”

“Then I hope you have a damn good idea,” he snapped. “I’m all out!”

I stared at the broken doll bodies of the mannequins. And at my pulled pork sandwich trampled in the debris. And at Deino, pulling on a scarf that was still stuck to her, static cling–style.

“Yeah,” I said. “I have an idea.”

Chapter Seven

“Pythia!” The mage’s spell-enhanced voice boomed through the lobby. “Stop stalling! Will you surrender the girl or not?”

“I will.” I reappeared in the burnt-out hole of a front door. “How do we do this?”

“No!” Rhea shouted. “Lady, please—”

She cut off when the knife at her throat abruptly tightened.

“Have your people send Lizzie down,” the mage told me, nodding at the bank of elevators across from Augustine’s, near the lobby. “When she’s in our hands, you’ll get your acolyte back.”

“Yes, in pieces!”

“You don’t trust me?” He looked stricken. “And I thought we were having such a nice conversation.”

The short break seemed to have improved his temper. He was back to the faux genial crap that was somehow more nerve-racking than the brief glimpse of crazy. He was also smiling again, and just the sight of that was enough to make my blood curdle.

“We’ll meet in the middle,” I said, trying to keep the revulsion out of my tone.

“We will not. Do you think me so foolish as to let you touch her? You’ll shift her away, and as you said, I will have nothing.”

“I won’t shift her, because I won’t be there. Some of my associates will meet you, and see to her safety. When she’s in their hands—”

“No!” That was Rhea again, suddenly going from quiet passivity to thrashing fury. “No, don’t do it! Don’t give them—”

“Rhea—”

“You can’t,” she pleaded. “You know what she’ll do!”

“Rhea!”

“You can’t let him come back! Please—”

“Who knew your acolyte was such a spitfire?” the mage said, holding on to the struggling girl with difficulty. “You know, I’ll almost regret giving her back to you.”

“Just bring her here!” I snapped. “My people will meet you halfway.”

“Start the elevator, and I start walking.”

I turned my head and nodded at Augustine, who was standing behind the counter with the phone to his ear. The elevator started moving a moment later. And then so did the mage, dragging a still-struggling Rhea this way. At the same time, Françoise walked out of the shop with a newly dignified Carla beside her, a buttoned-up suit coat hiding the irreverent T-shirt, and her hair and makeup freshly done, thanks to the stylish blue beret on her head.

And trailing the duo were three considerably less dignified types, covered in mounds of dusty couture.

“Not them,” the mage said suddenly.

“They’re harmless—”

“Bullshit. I know what they are, and I know who they’re loyal to. They stay away or no deal.”

I glared at him for a second, but the elevator was on its way, and there was no time to argue. I nodded at the two women in the lead, who had stopped to look back at me. And who caught the three lumbering mountains as they passed, fanning them out in a line behind them: one to the left, one at the center, and one to the right of the shop.

   
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