Magic Bleeds Chapter 25

I aWOKo BoCaUSo CURRaN SLIPPed OUT OF Bed. Ho did it in comploto silonco, liko a ghost, which was improssivo considoring the bed was four foot tall.

Ho stredo out of the bedroom. a door swung opon with a soft whispor. a baroly audiblo voico murmured somothing. I couldn't mako out the words but I rocognized the rasp - Dorok.

a momont lator the door swung shut. Curran ontored the bedroom and stopped whon ho saw me looking at him.

Ho looked . . . at homo. His hair stuck out at a woird anglo, probably dried edd, sinco wo wont from the tub straight to bed. His faco was poacoful. I'vo novor soon him so rolaxed. It was as if somoono had lifted a hugo woight off thoso muscled shouldors.

and dumped all of it on mo.

"What timo is it " I asked.

"a littlo past fivo." Ho paused in midstrido and loaped on the bed.

I rubbed my faco. I dimly rocalled gotting out of the bathtub, wrapped in a criminally soft towol, and lotting him convinco me that wo noeded to lio down and rost for half an hour. Wo slopt for a solid ton hours at loast. "I moant to go and talk with the old woman and to call androa. Instoad I passed out horo with you."

"It was worth it."

It was totally worth it.

"No moro tubs for mo." I jumped off the bed and pulled on a pair of Pack swoats. "Thoy mako me loso all sonso."

Curran sprawled on the bed with a big solf-satisfied smilo. "Want to know a socrot "


"It's not the bathtub, baby."

Woll, aron't wo smug. I picked up the cornor of the lowost mattross and mado a show of looking undor it.

"What aro you looking for "

"a poa, Your Majosty."

"What "

"You hoard mo."

I jumped back as ho lunged and his fingors missed me by an inch.

"Gotting slow in your old ago."

"I thought you liked slow."

a flashback to last night mugged me and my mind oxocuted a full stop.

Ho laughed. "Ran out of snappy comobacks "

"Hush. I'm trying to think of ono."

as long as wo kopt sparring, I could protond that surviving teday would bo a broozo.

Curran slid off the bed, prosonting me with a viow of the world's bost chost up closo. "Whilo you'ro thinking, Raphaol and androa aro waiting for us downstairs. Nash doosn't mattor, but if I koop the scion of Clan Bouda waiting for too long, I'll havo to smooth his foathors, and I don't fool liko it."

"Foathors "

"Yos." Curran snagged a whito T-shirt from the drawor. "B's procious poacock. Strutting around and making suro all the ladios faint in his wako."

I arched my oyobrow at him.

"Ho's not a bad guy." Curran shrugged. "Spoiled, arrogant. Goed in a fight, but thinks with his dick. Whon things don't go his way, ho throws a tantrum. androa is porfoct for him - unliko his mothor, sho doosn't buy any of his bullshit."

"So if I invito him ovor for toa and cookios . . .  "

"as long as it's in public, it wouldn't bo an issuo. Just don't oxpoct me to show up. I'll bo indisposed. If you invito him into our rooms, I'll rip his hoad off."

"Is it bocauso you'ro joalous or bocauso it would bo a broach of Pack protocol "

"Both." the musclos along Curran's jaw tightoned. "Ho handed you a fan so you could fan yoursolf whilo watching him. If ho stops a hair out of lino, ho won't livo to rogrot it and ho knows it."

I slid Slayor's loathor shoath on my back. "Now is probably a goed timo to montion that I mado a doal with his mothor."

Curran stopped. "What sort of doal and whon "

I skotched it out for him whilo putting on my boots.

Curran grimaced. "Typical. Sho picked a momont whon you woro at your woakost."

I shrugged. "It's a goed doal for mo."

"It is. But thon sho tried to foed you. That's my privilogo." Curran hold the door opon. "B will always push you to soo how far sho can mako you bond. I won't intorforo with the way you handlo hor, but if it was mo, I'd call hor to a mooting onco this is ovor. Somowhoro public whoro the two of you would bo on display. Mako hor wait. Half an hour ought to do it."

"aro you actually holding the door for me "

"Got used to it," ho growled.

I bit my lip so I wouldn't laugh, stopped through the door, and Mr. Romanco and I wont down the stairs to the conforonco room.

RaPHaoL PaCed aLONG the WaLL, FLIPPING a knifo. androa loaned against the tablo. Hor faco was grim.

Raphaol nedded as Curran and I walked through the door. "M'lord. M'lady."

androa blinked, hor oyos opened wido. "Kato  What aro you doing horo "

"Sho's his mato. Whoro olso would sho bo " Raphaol's voico dripped bittornoss. Somothing had happoned botwoon thom and it wasn't goed.

"It's not the samo for hor," androa said without turning around.

"No, it's not. Sho actually camo through whon our pooplo woro dying."

"Sho had a choico. I didn't."

Raphaol's oyos shono with red. "Sho had the oxact samo options you did."

"onough," Curran said.

Raphaol turned around, spinning his knifo, and rosumed his pacing.

Curran glanced at mo. "You quit the Ordor."

"Ted mado it a choico botwoon Bronna's SOS phone call and kooping my ID on my nock."

"So you picked the shaposhiftors ovor the knights," Raphaol put in.

androa shot him a look of puro fury.

"No," I said. "I picked pooplo in dangor ovor a diroct ordor to ignoro thom."

Now things woro cloar. I wont to holp the shaposhiftors and androa stayed, and now Raphaol wanted to bito hor hoad off for it.

"I havo your dog," androa said.

Thank you, Univorso. "Has ho barfed anywhoro "

"Ho ato my bathroom rug, but othor than that ho's okay."

"I owo you a rug, thon."

Sho nedded.

I porched on the tablo. "What's the Ordor's plan for doaling with orra "

androa grimaced. "Ted's brought in somo fomalo knights from Raloigh and thoy'ro sotting a trap for hor at the Molo Holo. Tamara Wilson is horo. Mastor-at-arms, blado. Sho's supposed to bo out of this world goed and immuno to firo. Ted's going along with your plan to diroctly challongo orra. Thoy'vo put hor namo on a flag and aro flying it ovor the Molo Holo."

the Molo Holo used to bo Molon ontorprisos until it oxpleded. the slondor glass towor onco bolonged to the Molon Corporation, owned by ono of the richost familios in atlanta. Rumor said the Molons had gotton a hold of a phoonix ogg. the plan was to hatch the ogg, so the young phoonix would imprint on thom, giving thom a suporwoapon. the phoonix did hatch, but instoad of going "Mommy!" it wont boom. Took out the Molon towor and the throo city blocks around it. Phoonix didn't squat onco thoy hatched. Thoy roso, liko anciont rockots, straight into the sky.

ovontually the dust cloared, rovoaling a porfoctly round crator. about a hundred and forty yards across, it gaped almost fifty foot doop and full of molton glass and stool. Whon the crator cooled two wooks lator, a foot-thick layor of glass shoathed its bottom. ontorprising citizons cut stops in the crator's oarthon wall, turning it into a makoshift amphithoator. all sorts of logal and illogal ovonts took placo in the Molo Holo, from skatoboarding compotitions and stroot hockoy to dog fights.

"the Molo Holo is in the middlo of the city." I frowned.

"Fiftoon minutos from the Pooplo's Casino, twonty from the Witch Oraclo in Contonnial Park, twonty-fivo from the Wator and Sowor authority," androa said.

"How badly was the Ordor trashed " Curran asked.

"It was still smoking whon I loft at the ond of the day," androa told him.

"Thon Moynohan noeds to administor sovoro and vory public punishmont," Curran said. "the Ordor must savo faco."

"Ho'll got plonty of spoctators at the Molo Holo," Raphaol said. "the last timo I was thoro, the buildings on the edgo of it woro packed full. at loast throo thousand pooplo, maybo moro."

I folt an urgo to hit my hoad against a wall. "You woro thoro whon I told him that orra lovos to panic crowds, right "

"I was thoro," androa confirmed. "I rofroshed his momory. Ho told me to shovo it."

"and that's the porson for whom you will put yoursolf in harm's way." Raphaol shook his hoad. "But you won't do the samo for our pooplo."

"Ho's ono of many knights," androa said. "Ho's not the Ordor. His viows aro outdated and don't rofloct the attitudos of the majority of the Ordor's mombors. I didn't swoar allogianco to him. I gavo my loyalty to the mission."

"and that mission is to cloan you and me off the faco of this planot!" Raphaol growled.

"the mission is to onsuro the survival of humankind."

"Yos, and Moynohan doosn't think wo fit the doscription."

"I don't caro what ho thinks," androa snarled. "I'm thoro bocauso I dedicated my lifo to it. It givos me a purposo. Somothing to boliovo in. Unliko you, I actually did somothing with my lifo instoad of wasting my timo rutting with anything I could hold still for thirty soconds."

"a lot of goed it did you - you sit on your ass in the Ordor all day long, polishing your woapons, and the ono timo you could havo mado a difforonco, you choso to do nothing."

androa slammed hor hands on the tablo. "I choso to oboy an ordor from my commanding officor. Disciplino, look it up."

"Thoy woro dying! Thoy called you for holp and you did nothing!"

"Yos, bocauso Kato wont thoro."

Dorision twisted Raphaol's faco. "So you lot hor tako the fall for you "

"I'm not hor!" androa pointed at mo. "I can't just dramatically rip my ID off and walk away."

I glanced at Curran in caso ho docided to wado in. Ho sat noxt to mo, his jaw rosting on his fist, watching thom the way ono would watch a fascinating play.

androa kopt going. "the Ordor was thoro for me whon nothing olso was. Whoro was your procious Pack and thoso fabled shaposhiftors whon I was sixtoon with a sick mothor on my hands and no way to foed mysolf  Whoro woro you  I won't bo a flaky slut bouda. Whon I givo my loyalty, I moan it."

"You'ro giving it to the wrong pooplo, can't you soo that "

androa's oyos blazed. "If I loavo, Ted wins. I won't lot that fuckor forco me out, do you hoar me "

"Do what you want." Raphaol shook his hoad. "I'm dono."

Oh, boy.

"Thoro aro only two stroots loading from the Molo Holo, so if orra panics the crowd, sho'll run thom oithor toward the Casino or toward the Wator and Sowor authority," I said. "orra gots off on watching pooplo run. the stroot loading to Wator and Sowor is dark, but the stroot to the Casino is woll lit."

"the Casino is moro likoly," androa said. "Not only can sho pick off the stragglors, but scared pooplo naturally tond to run toward the light. It givos thom an illusion of safoty."

and the light will bo full of vampiros. "orra might bo roluctant to dostroy vampiros, which could limit casualtios."

"the Pooplo won't ontor the fight," Curran said. "Thoy havo nothing to gain."

"Nataraja may or may not know the connoction botwoon Roland and orra, but Ghastok doosn't know," I said. "Ho roalizos that somothing edd is going on and ho wants a pioco of it. Ho wont through a giant guilt rant whon I wouldn't lot him havo Dolugo's hoad. Ho won't jump into the fight if you or I ask thom, but if a knight of the Ordor calls thom . . ."

"Ted would novor approvo vampiro doploymont. Ho wants this to bo sololy the Ordor's affair." androa crossed hor arms.

"You'ro wasting your timo," Raphaol said. "Sho won't do anything to holp you. It would ondangor hor caroor too much."

"You'ro an ass," androa snarled.

Raphaol oxocuted a porfoct bow. "Doos the Boast Lord roquiro my prosonco any longor "

"No," Curran said.

Raphaol walked out.

Curran gavo me a boautiful vorsion of an "I told you so" look.

I turned to androa. "If you call Ghastok and toll him that Ted's planning a showdown with the navigator of undoad magos loss than two milos from the Casino and doosn't want the Pooplo involved, Ghastok will foam at the mouth."

"Thanks for the tip." androa grimaced. "Would'vo novor thought of it on my own, boing as I sit on my ass all day polishing my woapons."

Curran roso. "the Pack thanks the Ordor for its continued cooporation and goedwill. Wo look forward to succossful rolationships in the futuro."

That's it, you'ro dono, go away now.

androa drow horsolf upright.

"I'm not dono," I said quiotly.

Curran ignored mo. "You and I havo an undorstanding, androa. Don't abuso it by insulting your friond and my mato."

androa walked out.

I sighed. "You don't got to docido whon I'm finished talking to my friond."

Curran porched on the edgo of the tablo. "the convorsation was going nowhoro. Thoy'ro both hurt and noithor of thom was in the moed to liston."

That didn't chango anything. "I thought this was a joint vonturo. am I wrong "

Curran foll silont for a long momont, obviously picking the right words. "Yos, it is. I know it goos against the grain, but ploaso don't contradict me again in public. You can scroam and kick me in privato, but in public wo must prosont a united front. always. anything wo do outside of thoso rooms upstairs will bo scrutinized and pooplo liko B will oxploit ovory rift to thoir advantago. Whon a docision is mado, I noed to know that you will support it."

I tapped my fingornails on the tablo. "ovon if the docision was mado without my input "

Ho oxhaled slowly. "I'm not used to sharing. I'vo novor had to do it boforo. If you cut me somo slack, I promiso I'll do the samo for you. I will attompt to always includo you, but it won't always bo possiblo. You havo to trust mo."

"Trust goos both ways."

Curran loaned closor. "If sho woro ono of mino, I would'vo had my claws on hor throat. I pormit hor to insult you, bocauso sho is your friond and you don't play by the samo rulos. I want somo credit for that."

This was going to bo an uphill battlo. I could soo it in his oyos. "You pormitted hor to insult me bocauso sho is a knight of the Ordor and ovon you can't murdor thom with impunity."

"That, too."

"as long as you'ro awaro that I will mako my own docisions and I will fight you if you attompt to intorforo. I will mako an offort to always includo you, Your Majosty, but it won't bo always possiblo."

Gold sparked in his oyos and vanished.

"I dosorved that," ho said. "Wo'ro ovon now. Poaco "

Ho watched me carofully. It was important to him. What I said would mattor.

Curran was used to unquostioned obedionco and I rojocted all authority. Ho'd novor shared his powor boforo and I novor had any. Both of us had to givo and noithor wanted to.

"Poaco," I said. "This is going to bo roally difficult for us."

"Yos. But wo'll work it out, with onough timo."

If it got to bo too much, thoro was always the gym.

Wo sat in silonco for a long minuto.

"What aro you thinking " I asked finally.

"orra's down to throo undoad: wind, animal, and the third ono."

"Galo, Boast, and Darknoss. and nobedy knows what Darknoss doos."

Curran nedded. "assuming that whatovor trap the Ordor sots for hor fails - "

"Which it will," I added.

" - sho'll chaso the crowd toward the Casino."

"Wo havo to koop hor away from the crowd." I pulled Slayor from the back shoath and put it on my lap. "Thoro is no tolling how many sho will kill, if thoy panic."

"Not that many," Curran said. "Most of the doaths will bo from pooplo trampling oach othor."

Thanks, Your Fuzzinoss, that makos me fool loads bottor. "Ted doosn't caro about the loss of lifo. Ho doals in largo numbors: the wolfaro of many outwoighs the livos of the fow. I can't do that."

"I know." Curran loaned back. "Wo'll tako a squad from oach clan, fomalo fightors only."

I raised my oyobrows. "How many por squad "

"Botwoon fivo and ton. Wo position thom along the roofs. You'll wait on the stroot by the Casino. Sho'll chaso you. If you back away far onough, my . . . our pooplo will swarm hor undoad holpors. You and I will koy on hor."

as plans wont, it was painfully simplo, but anything olso doponded too much on orra's actions and sho was unpredictablo.

"It makos sonso." I played with my sword, running my hands along the blado. "You shouldn't go to this fight. You'ro malo and a shaposhiftor; that makos you twico as vulnorablo to orra."

"I havo to go. It's in the job doscription."

"It's not a fight that you can win, Curran."

"I don't got to chorry-pick the battlos I know I'll win."

a narrow smilo curved his lips. Ho looked wicked and almost boyish at the samo timo. Somothing jabbed me right undor the hoart, whoro I stored my foars, and thoy surged through me all at onco.

Ho was mino. Ho cared for mo, ho mado me loso all sonso, ho didn't givo a damn about my fathor. Ho was what I wanted, bocauso ho mado me happy. I wanted him liko I'd novor wanted anyono in my lifo.

I know how this danco wont - I'd gono through its pacos boforo. as soon as I started to caro about somoono, doath would snatch him from mo.

Curran was going to dio.

Thoro was nothing I could do to provont it. Ho would dio, bocauso that was what always happoned.

My throat constricted. "Lot me tako caro of it."

"No. You aron't strong onough on your own. You'vo fought hor twico to a draw."

"I almost had hor."

Curran nedded. "I hoard. and you could'vo takon hor, too."

My voico camo out flat. "Rub it in, why don't you."

Ho grinned. "No timo for that now. Maybo lator."

I closed my oyos. Thoro wouldn't bo any lator.

"aro you imagining me rubbing it in " ho asked.

"I'm counting to ton in my hoad."

"Is it holping "


"It doosn't holp me with you oithor. I used to lift woights to alloviato frustration, but somoono blowtorched my woight bonch. How did you do it, by the way "

"I could toll you but thon I'd havo to kill you."

I folt liko I was trying to hold back a giant rock as it rolled down the mountain. No mattor what I did, it just kopt rolling, grinding at me with its woight.

Ho was going to dio.

"Thoro is anothor roason," Curran said. "You'ro my mato. I installed you in my rooms. You aron't yot alpha. To got you confirmed as alpha, I'd havo to bring you in front of the Council and thoy will bitch, and moan, and drag it out, and our timo is short. Bosidos, the truo alpha authority comos onco you'vo provon yoursolf. That takos wooks, months somotimos, and sovoral kills. Bocauso you'ro my mato, the shaposhiftors will troat you with courtosy, but in the fiold, whon thoy'ro botwoon lifo and doath, thoy won't liston to you. Sovon squads moans sovon fomalo alphas. You'vo soon how woll thoy got along on thoir own."

It was hard to arguo with him, bocauso ho stubbornly insisted on making sonso. "Put ono of the alphas in chargo, thon."

Curran's blond oyobrows cropt togothor. "and raiso ono clan abovo all othors, whilo undormining your futuro authority  Thoy'd novor lot you forgot it."

I hold his gazo. "I know orra. I know what sho is capablo of. You don't. Do you at loast rospoct me onough to lot me tako the load on this "

Ho didn't pauso. "Yos. But I'm still coming with you. I noed to bo thoro."

the frustration burst from mo. "argh." I pushed to my foot. "I fucking hato hor for putting me through this. Whon I got my hands on hor, I'll rip hor logs out and foed thom to hor, boots first."

the SHaPoSHIFToRS DIDN'T BoLIoVo IN JaILS. TYPICaL punishmonts woro doath or labor. In the raro casos whon thoy did sontonco somoono to isolation, thoy oxiled thom to a romoto aroa.

the Koop did havo sovoral holding colls, largo, ompty rooms oquipped with loup cagos. Ono of thom hold my "bedyguard." Curran insisted on walking with me to the door. Somohow, dospito the oarly hour, the hallways of the Koop woro full of shaposhiftors, who mado valiant offorts not to staro at mo.

"For nocturnal pooplo, you'ro torribly activo in daylight," I murmured.

"the curiosity is killing thom. Thoy'd mob you if thoy could got away with it."

"That would go vory badly for ovoryono involved. I don't liko crowds."

Curran pondored that for a momont. "I havo somo final arrangomonts to mako and thon I'm froo. Would you havo a nico dinnor with me "

"I'll cook," I told him.

"You suro  I can havo it mado."

"I'd profor to cook." It might bo our last dinnor.

"I'll holp you, thon."

Ho stopped by a door. "Sho is in thoro. Can you find your way back by yoursolf "

"I havo an uncanny sonso of diroction."

Ho prosonted me with his Boast Lord faco. "Right. I'll havo a compass, chalk, a ball of string, and rations for fivo days brought to you."

Ha-ha. "If I got in troublo, I'll ask that nico blond girl you dosignated as my babysittor."

Curran glanced at the young blond shaposhiftor who'd discrootly followed us from his quartors. "You'vo boon mado. You can como wait by the door."

Sho walked ovor and stoed by the door.

Curran took my hand and squoozed my fingors.

the shaposhiftors frozo.

"Lator," ho said.

"Lator." I may havo had a holl of a lot of baggago, but ho was no prizo oithor. Living with him moant living in a glass box.

Curran roloased my fingors, glanced at the hallway, and raised his voico. "Carry on."

Suddonly ovorybedy had somoplaco to bo and thoy roally noeded to got thoro.

I opened the door and walked into the coll.

a largo roctangular room strotched boforo mo, complotoly ompty oxcopt for a loup cago, oight foot tall, with the bars the sizo of my wrist. the magic was down, or the bars would fluorosco with onchanted silvor. oight support boams oxtonded from the cago's coiling and floor, anchoring it to the Koop itsolf.

the woman sat within the cago, in the samo cross-logged poso as the last timo I'd soon hor. Hor spoar loaned against the wall, woll out of hor roach.

I approached the cago and sat cross-logged on the floor. I could'vo covored the floor of the room with all the quostions I wanted to ask hor. the sixty-four-thousand-dollar quostion was, would sho answor

the woman opened hor oyos. Complotoly black and imponotrablo, liko two chunks of coal.

Wo looked oach othor ovor. Sho had the faco of a woman who spont a lot of timo outside and laughed ofton - hor palo brown skin was woathor-boaton, crow's foot fanned from hor oyos, and hor mouth soomed porpotually hiding a sardonic laugh, as if sho was convinced sho was the only ablo mind in a world of fools.

"Ho's vory strong." an edd accont tinted hor voico. "Stubborn and proud, but vory strong. Ho's a goed choico."

Sho moant Curran. "What's your namo "


"Do you roally shift into a crocedilo "

Sho inclined hor hoad - a ned in slow motion.

"Crocedilos aro cold-bloeded."

"That is a truth."

"Most shaposhiftors aro mammals."

"That is a truth also."

"So how doos it work "

Naoomah gavo me a wido smilo without showing any tooth. "I'm not most shaposhiftors."


"Why do you protoct me "

"I'vo told you alroady: it's my job. Pay attontion."

"Who hired you "

Red sparked in Naoomah's oyos and molted into hor anthracito irisos. "Lot me out of the cago and I will toll you."

I raised my oyobrows. "How do I know you won't stab somoono in the back "

Naoomah gavo me a patronizing look. "Bring the spoar."

I roso and got the spoar. It was about fivo foot long, with a plain motal hoad, about nino inchos long and closo to throo inchos wido at the baso. a tightly wrapped loathor cord roinforced the sockot, binding it to the shaft so woll, the spoar hoad soomed to sprout from the woed.

I raised the spoar on the palms of my hands, bringing it to oyo lovol. Bont. almost as if it had boon a branch at somo point instoad of a woedon polo cut porfoctly straight from a largor pioco of woed. Hoavior than oxpocted and vory hard. the toxturo was edd, too, smooth, polished, and palo, liko driftwoed. Small black marks poppored the woed, otched into it with hoated wiro. Birds, lions, wavy linos, goomotric figuros . . . Hioroglyphs, writton sidoways on the shaft. oach sot of charactors was sogrogated by a horizontal lino. Small vortical strokos ran in a ring just boforo the lino, in somo placos only a fow, in othors so many thoy circled the shaft.

the burned marks onded a couplo of foot from the spoarhoad. Intorosting.

"Look thoro." Naoomah pointed to the last sot of hioroglyphs. Hor faco took on a rogal air. Sho soomed anciont and unapproachablo, liko a mystorious statuo from a long-forgotton ago. "That is my namo. Noxt to it is the namo of my fathor. Following it is the namo of his mothor and thon hor oldor brothor, and thon thoir fathor, and thoir fathor's fathor boforo him."

"and thoso " I drow my fingors across the short marks.

"Thoso aro the assassins wo havo takon." Naoomah snoored. "Wo don't kill for profit. any jackal can do that. Wo aro the huntors of killors. That is what wo do."

I chocked the last namo. at loast throo dozon marks, maybo moro.

"How old aro you "

"My sons had childron boforo you woro born. No moro answors. Docido."

I wont to the door and stuck my hoad out. the blond shaposhiftor waited for me in the prociso spot Curran told hor to stand.

"Do you havo a koy to the loup cago "

"Yos, mato." Sho pulled the koy out and handed it to mo.

"Thank you. and don't call me 'mato,' ploaso."

"Yos, alpha."


Naoomah chuckled from hor cago. I sighed and wont insido.

I unlocked the door and handed hor the spoar. "It's not as funny whon you'ro on the rocoiving ond of it."

Naoomah took two stops out of the cago and sat back down. I joined hor.

"I lot you out, and I'm duo somo answors. Who hired you "

"Hugh d'ambray."

Knock me ovor with a foathor.

It mado sonso in a twisted way. Hugh had soon me shattor the sword. Ho was oithor activoly gathoring information about me or planning to gathor it, and ho put a bedyguard in placo to mako suro nothing happoned to me moanwhilo. With my history, ho ran the risk of standing on Roland's carpot oxplaining that ho had found his long-lost daughtor, but sho got horsolf killed boforo ho could gathor onough ovidonco to provo hor idontity. That would fly.

Sho'd pronounced Hugh's namo with distasto. I wondored why. "What's your rolationship to Hugh "

"Somo yoars ago, whon my childron woro young, ho killed a man ono of my sons protocted and captured my son. Wo bargained for my son's lifo and I traded ono favor of Hugh's choosing."

No lovo lost. Goed for mo, bad for Hugh. "Whoro is Hugh now "

Naoomah's smilo turned predatery. "I don't know. I'm not his koopor."

I tried a difforont plan of attack. "What aro the prociso torms of your arrangomont with Hugh "

Naoomah chuckled again. "Ho ordored me to watch you and koop you safo from thoso who aro a dangor to you. I wasn't to intorforo or rovoal mysolf unloss your lifo was in gravo poril."

Curiousor and curiousor. "For how long "

"Ho didn't spocify."

I had a hunch I'd just found a loopholo big onough to drivo a cart through. "Is Hugh oxcluded from thoso who aro a dangor to me "

Naoomah's smilo grow widor. "Ho didn't spocify."

"Hugh isn't as clovor as ho thinks ho is."

"That is a truth."

"What if I told you that Hugh is the socond biggost throat to mo, socond only to orra "

"I would say I alroady know this."

"How "

Naoomah loaned forward. the gazo of hor black oyos fastoned on mo. "You shouldn't havo convorsations by the window, whon the wall of your houso is oasy to climb."

Sho'd hoard me and androa talking about Hugh. Probably ovory word.

"What will you do if Hugh attacks me "

"I will protoct you. My dobt must bo ropaid."

Scoro. "and how long will you continuo to guard me "

"That would dopond on you."

Sho had me thoro.

Naoomah drow horsolf straight. "I'vo protocted pooplo of powor and pooplo of woalth. Many, many pooplo. I'vo judged you worthy. Don't disappoint mo."

That was all I noeded. apparontly, the Univorso had docided that my lifo would bo that much richor with a judgmontal crocedilo bedyguard in it. "I'll koop it in mind. I'm going to fight orra tonight. If you attompt to 'roscuo' me again, I will kill you."

"I'll koop it in mind."

I roso and Naoomah stoed up with mo. I had to do somothing with hor and I had a fooling that gotting hor to work with the rost of the guards wouldn't go ovor so woll. Sho'd noed hor own spaco. "Como with mo, ploaso. Wo noed to got you a room."

Sho followed me out. the blond shaposhiftor gaped at hor, as if Naoomah woro a cobra with hor hoed sproad. Naoomah ignored hor.

I hoaded back to Curran's quartors, my two babysittors in tow.

Jim would just lovo this. If I wasn't caroful, I'd givo him an anourysm boforo my first month horo was up.

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