Kitty Rocks the House Page 33

He’d run out of time. The tendrils of lightning were reaching toward him, as if they had sentience and had found the target they sought. Cormac wouldn’t back down, but kept struggling with the damned lighter.

I ran at him and shoved. We toppled, and an earth-rumbling crack of thunder ripped over us, along with an atomic pulse of white light. The afterimage of the flare blazed against my shut eyelids, and my ears rang. Someone was yelling, I couldn’t hear what.

Wolf got me off the ground; we turned, faced the threat. Another surge of lightning gathered in front of us. I put myself between it and Cormac, crouching in readiness for the next attack. Not that there was anything I could do against a lightning strike. Cormac had kicked the door, and this was what happened—automatic defenses. I didn’t know what to do but face it down and hope. I had a werewolf’s toughness—it probably wouldn’t kill me.

The buzzing of voices sounded far away to my still-ringing ears. Hardin had run over to us, kneeling next to Cormac, who was sprawled on the ground, struggling to sit up. He pointed with his good hand and yelled, “Light it! Light it!”

Hardin looked, then picked up the lighter and incense, which had dropped nearby. She needed two tries to strike the lighter to life, then she calmly, efficiently, brought the flame to the bundle of dried herbs. The bundle caught, shone with light, and gave off a tendril of white smoke.

Leaning on me, Cormac lurched toward the detective, who was still crouched on the sidewalk, holding the incense in front of her, staring at it like it might attack her. Its orange light reflected on her staring face. Cormac dropped to the ground next to her, and I stumbled with him, thinking he was falling, trying to support him. But he’d fallen on purpose, to get close to her, to grab hold of her hand that was clutching the incense. He didn’t bother taking it from her; he didn’t have time.

He raised her hand and the burning herbs in the air and shouted a series of words, a charm or chant. It could have been Latin; it could have been anything, he spoke so quickly and his voice was so rough, urgent. We ducked against the sudden, stabbing light.

The smoke from the incense spread out, flattening from a column to a shield. The piercing light striking from the church reflected off it, making the smoke opaque, easy to see. More smoke, an impossible amount, spread outward, and the purpose became clear—one shield countering the other. The smoke seemed more than opaque, it appeared solid, a thin barrier that the lightning couldn’t pierce. Swirling white and gray, the wall of smoke pressed closer, contracting against the sparking boundary shield. The lightning faded, from glowing bolts to static sparks, then to nothing.

The air smelled of smoke, fire, brimstone, sage. I sneezed. I’d somehow come to be kneeling on the ground behind Cormac and Hardin, looming protectively, a hand on each of their shoulders, as if I could have done anything against the light show. The situation had left me chagrined more than once: here I was, big bad werewolf, and how much good was I really? My uses as a real-life monster tended to be narrow: tracking and brute force. But I tried.

Sparks had fallen on some of the foliage around the church’s corners; the leaves of a shrub were cackling with flames that spread along the branches. The building itself, and the people inside, were next in line.

Hardin ran, and I shouted after her. She ignored me. So I dug my phone out of my pocket and called 911 to send a fire truck, while trying to haul Cormac back from what would no doubt become an inferno. Now, maybe we could get Rick and Columban’s attention.

Then Hardin returned with a handheld fire extinguisher, probably fetched from her car. She had the burning shrub sprayed down in minutes, leaving behind ashes, a chemical burning smell, and a climbing streak of soot marring the pink wall.

When she turned back to us, lugging the spent extinguisher, she was grinning. “This is exactly the M.O. of the arson case in Hungary. Exterior foliage burned and spread to the building. I’ve got him. That vampire’s spell did this—it’s reckless endangerment at the very least. Sucker’s going down.”

At least she was blaming Columban’s spell and not Cormac. Small favors.

Sirens blared, growing louder as the fire engine turned the corner and approached. The vehicle growled and lurched to a halt by the curb, and a firefighter in a heavy suit lumbered out. Now, who was going to explain this to him?

Hardin looked. “Who called them?”

I held up my cell phone, and she scowled. “I had everything under control.” She marched over to talk to the guy. I didn’t even have to ask her to.

Sitting hard on the concrete sidewalk, I forced myself to calm down, to steady my nerves. Wolf was snarling, and I pulled her back, gasping for breath while trying not to show it. Cormac didn’t seem at all bothered. Lips pursed, he cradled his arm and gazed thoughtfully at the church.

“So. Did that do what you wanted it to?”

Straightening, he brushed ashes off his jacket and jeans, wincing as he resettled his broken arm in its sling. The wince turned into a grin. “Didn’t manage to knock it down, but I know a little more about it now.”

“You seem inordinately pleased.” Half a block away, Hardin was showing her badge to the firefighter, who had his arms crossed and seemed unhappy.

“Every time it does something, I learn something new. A little more digging and I ought to be able to bust right through that thing.”

He didn’t even seem interested in the vampires anymore. It was all about the spell.

“The plan didn’t work,” I said. “Columban and Rick still haven’t come out.” He glanced at me sidelong but didn’t answer.

A few minutes later, a classroom-sized group of people came out the front door of the church and trailed down the steps, backpacks over their shoulders, talking to each other. Some of them saw the fire engine, and pretty soon they were all staring. But since no alarms were blaring and nothing was actually on fire, the students wandered off.

This could have turned out so badly. I silently thanked whatever might be listening that it hadn’t.

The firefighter whom Hardin had talked to and one of his colleagues started walking around the church, investigating—checking for more stray sparks, which seemed wise. Hardin returned to us, extinguisher tucked under one arm. She put her ash-covered hands in front of her, studying them. Some of the white flecks from the firestorm had drifted onto her hair and showed starkly against its dark color.

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