Kitty Saves the World Page 68

The wall of fire stopped. The flames stopped, wavered, the sheet of fire doubling back on itself, burning waves turning from some invisible wall that had risen up to contain them. Then, the fire roared. Exploded. And I thought this was it, the ground under my feet was about to open up, a million tons of magma bursting around me, and my werewolf healing wouldn’t save me this time.

That didn’t happen. The flames compressed, flowing into another wall of fire that tightened even further, becoming a battering ram that roared straight back the way it had come. Toward Roman, still kneeling by the shore.

Fire bathed his face in an orange glow. He didn’t have time to register any kind of expression before the explosion, focused like a missile, hit him.

The shockwave knocked me over. It felt like another earthquake, and I wondered if the ground under me would ever feel solid again. Face in the dirt, I wrapped my arms around my head, braced against whatever came next.

When the world fell silent, I lay still for a long time, hardly believing that it might possibly be over. That the world was still here. We hadn’t all burned up in a primordial explosion. The air smelled of ash and smoke, burned vegetation. I was covered in a layer of dust, earth that had been shaken loose and had settled back down. I was sore, but not hurt. Battered, but not broken. The cuts and scrapes on my arms and face would heal soon enough.

In a sudden panic, sure that he was right behind me with a weapon in hand, I jumped and looked to where Roman was, where he had been, to see what he was doing now.

The beach where he’d been standing looked as if a bomb had detonated on it. Trees smashed flat, fanned away from the point where the vampire had been standing. The ground was black with soot, scorched like the inside of a furnace, to a distance of maybe thirty yards. The magical signs had all been erased.

Fascinated, I moved forward. I wanted to understand what had happened. I had to see what was left. I stepped on crackling, baked dirt. Puffs of ash rose up from my steps. I coughed at the smell of smoke.

A body lay at the epicenter of the explosion. And the body moved, twitched. Propped itself on an arm as it tried to roll over, then collapsed as the arm lost strength. It was Roman. He wasn’t dead. Or rather, he was still alive. But he was a mess, charred over his whole body, bits of skin falling away, scalp peeled back to reveal skull. His eyes still gleamed, and grimacing lips revealed pale fangs.

I heard footsteps and dropped to a crouch, balanced on the balls of my feet and a hand, ready to flee, to spring away in whatever direction I had to. For now, though, I waited to see what happened.

The man who walked over the rise and toward the shore was Charles Lightman. He had his hands shoved into his jacket pockets and seemed to be wearing a wry grin. Or a sneer of disgust. Hard to tell, there was such a fine line between the two.

He was here to see to his general. He stopped a few feet away from Roman. Close enough to kick dirt on him, if he wanted. Roman had stopped trying to sit up and merely lay on his back, arms splayed out, staring up.

“Dux Bellorum. Gaius Albinus,” Lightman said. “Nice try, I suppose. I mean, who could have predicted the bitch had a trick up her sleeve? Regina Luporum. Shit.”

Lightman paused for a reply, but Roman didn’t seem to have anything to say. I could make out a smile on his cracked lips.

I was aware that I was lurking, a wolf among trees, and that they very likely knew I was here. But as long as they didn’t come after me, I didn’t move.

The man in the suit regarded his surroundings, a guy out for a stroll, unmindful of the chill. He looked like he was surveying the shoreline for a condo development. The wide expanse of the lake didn’t seem to impress him.

“So close,” he muttered. He kicked the toe of his shoe into the soot and grime. “Ah well. There’s always another time. Always another tool. I’ll wait.”

He glanced over and looked right at me. Shook his head with a kind of disgust, and walked away.

Go.

Wolf attacked, salivating at the thought of closing jaws around his throat, tearing skin, tasting his blood pouring over our tongue. Didn’t matter whether attacking him was possible, whether the guy even had blood. We will kill him.

I sprang, claws outstretched, ready to slash—

And fell hard against the ground, stopped cold by an outside force. Roman had grabbed the cuff of my jeans and held tight, pulling me up short.

I snarled, kicked at him. He didn’t have the strength to keep hold of me and I broke free. But it was too late. Ahead of me, Lightman had disappeared. I’d missed my chance. Not that I really would have been able to rip Lucifer’s throat out. But it would be nice to at least say that I tried. He was just gone, leaving me with his servant—still his servant, even after everything.

I crouched near Roman, jaws locked in a permanent growl. The old vampire didn’t watch Lightman go, didn’t call after him, didn’t say a word. Lying in the dirt, with burned bits flaking off his finger bones, he chuckled. Then coughed, as if the air had caught in his windpipe on the way out. The gleaming eyes flickered in my direction, then closed.

After a long moment of silence I said, “He just left you.”

“Of course he did,” Roman said, his damaged voice croaking. “That’s what he does. He’s the Betrayer.”

“Why did you follow him, then?”

“I didn’t have anyone else.”

I sat, hugging my knees to my chest. Not sure what happened next. I wondered what he would do. Maybe that was why I stayed, to watch. For the first time, I wasn’t afraid of him.

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