Magic Rises Chapter 17

An hour or so before sunrise, Curran and I decided that we did need some privacy. We borrowed a couple of blankets and climbed the mountainside to a small ledge. We made love on the blankets and now we were lying quietly.

"Still mad at me?" Curran asked.


"Are you going to stay?"

I shifted my head on his biceps and looked at his face. "Yes. I'm stuck."


"I love you too much to walk away."

He kissed my hair.

"I'm used to watching for people with swords," I told him. "I never saw the knife. You were too close."

"Kate, I didn't stab you."

"Are you sure? Because it still hurts."

"I'm sorry," he said.

"I'm sorry, too. Did you really think I would leave you?"

"I thought I would lose you either way. I've known you long enough."

He deliberately put this whole scheme into action all the while thinking I would walk away. It must've sucked being trapped, his back against the wall, desperately trying to juggle me, Lorelei, and the three packs. And in his place, I might have done the same thing. Life was complicated.

"I almost pulled the plug on it," he said. "But then I realized that any conversation with you, no matter how bad, is better than talking to a hole in the ground."

"I don't know. A hole wouldn't argue with you."

I wanted him to laugh. Instead he pulled me closer. "There is nothing I wouldn't do to keep you safe," he said.

"I know."

We lay together, touching.

"I can't believe I let Hugh goad me into a fight. If you hadn't called me, I would've run him through, and then all of us would be dead."

A hint of a snarl raised his upper lip. His body tensed next to me, the violent urge traveling through it like fire down the detonation cord. "Every time he looks at you, I want to kill him," Curran said. "I've been picturing snapping his neck."

"I've imagined killing Lorelei. I guess your plan must've worked, because Isabella told me I have a look on my face when I see her."

"You do."

I turned to him. "What kind of look?"

"Murderous." He kissed me. "Barabas tried to attack me yesterday."


"When Aunt B and Keira came back. I saw it in his face. He was walking to me, and George tackled him and called me a cold bastard."

"Did you hurt him?"


"You're not winning any popularity contests lately. Maybe you should work on that."

"I know. Maybe I'll be lucky and get voted out of office. If I did, would you go away with me?"

"In a heartbeat."

He finally grinned. "Good."

"By the way, why use Saiman?"

He grimaced. "I had no choice."

"He wants to stab you in the back."

"As a person, Saiman is completely amoral. But as a businessman, he's above reproach. Remember when he signed the contract?"


"There is a provision in it that stipulates he will do everything he can to maintain our safety as a group and as individuals."

"Nice." Saiman was incredibly scrupulous when it came to business. He prided himself on it. We signed the contract and became his clients. Now the same ego that had nearly cost him his life made him work for us, because for him nothing short of a hundred percent effort would do. I just hoped his professional ethics would hold up.

The sky had grown pale. A golden glow spread from behind the mountain. The sun was about to rise. Soon we would have to go back to the castle and Hugh.

I loved Curran, and most of the time being with him was so easy. But when it was difficult, it nearly broke me. I wondered if it was like that for him, too. Being alone was simpler, but I couldn't give him up. He made me happy. So happy that I kept looking over my shoulder, as if I had stolen something and any minute someone would demand I give it back.

"This wasn't supposed to happen," I said.


"You and me. This wasn't in the plan. The plan was to be alone, to hide, and to kill Roland. Being happy was never one of the bullet points. Some part of me is still convinced it's a fluke and eventually it will be ripped away from me. Deep down I expect it. Any hint of it and I roll down the cliff. You're mine, you know that, right? If you ever try to leave me, it won't go well."

"I don't deserve you," Curran said. The same desperate thing I saw last night flickered in his eyes. "But I got you and I'm an entitled selfish bastard. You're all mine. Don't leave me."

"I won't. Don't leave me."

"I won't. If you ever disappeared, I would leave the Pack and I would look for you until I found you. However long it took."

I knew he wasn't lying. I could feel it. He would find me.

"I'll try not to disappear."

"Thank you," he said.

* * *

When the sunrise splashed over the mountains, Astamur guided us to town, where we said our good-byes. I asked if there was anything we could do for him. He just shook his head. "Next time someone comes to you for help, help them for me. I help you, you help them, we keep it going."

We climbed the road, me and the enormous lion. It was decided that fur was preferable to no clothes, and although Astamur had offered some, they wouldn't fit Curran and we both had a feeling the shepherd didn't have that many clothes anyway. The castle loomed before us.

I sighed.

"I know," Curran said, human words emerging perfectly from the leonine mouth. "We're almost done."

"I'll remind you of that the next time you see Hugh."

A low growl reverberated in Curran's throat.

"Temper, Your Majesty."

We both knew that picking a fight with Hugh was still out of the question. I still had no idea what his plan was. He'd gotten me into this castle. He wasn't trying to actively murder me. He flattered me and called me special. If things kept going this way . . . I shuddered.

Curran looked at me.

"Just pondering what Hugh's version of flowers and candy will look like."

"Like bloody mush," Curran said. "Because I will crush his head and his brain will ooze out of his ears."

I just wanted to know what the final plan was.

We walked through the gates. The cage had been moved from the inner courtyard. It now hung from a beam affixed to a guard tower, front and center in the courtyard. Hibla sat in it. I stopped. She stared at me with haunted feverish eyes, her desperation so obvious, I had to stop myself from walking over there and pulling her out.

"There you are," Hugh strode out of the opened doors of the main keep. "Safe and sound."

"Why is she in a cage?"

"Cages need occupants. This one was empty and she seemed like the best candidate."

Hibla had failed one too many times. She'd let me out of the castle and lost me, and now he'd stuck her into the cage for everyone to see. "Please let her out."

Hugh sighed. "What is it about the cage? Is there anyone I could put in there you wouldn't want to get out?"


He shrugged his massive shoulder. "It wouldn't hold me."

"Talk is cheap. Try it on, d'Ambray," Curran said.

"I'd love to, but as I've said, it's occupied." Hugh turned to me. "So where did you go?"

I looked at the cage.

Hugh shrugged. "Oh, fine. Someone get Hibla out!"

A djigit left his post by the gate and ran down to the cage.

"I went to some caves, fell in, swam around, and was rescued by an atsany and a local shepherd."

"Sounds eventful."

"I'm tired and hungry," I said.

Hugh smiled. "I'll see you later, then."

And why did that sound ominous?

Curran moved between him and me and we went into the castle.

Ten minutes later, I was sitting on our bed eating food George brought for me from the kitchen. Curran changed shape and put on clothes.

Mahon appeared at the doorway. "I'm glad you're okay," he told me.

A moment later Barabas walked through the door. A man followed him into the room. A cloud of silky hair, completely white, framed his narrow face. His skin must've been naturally olive, but now it had a slightly ashen tint. He looked to be in his midthirties, not just lean, but so slight that clothes hung on him the way they would on a coatrack. The man saw me and smiled. His entire face lit up, suddenly young and blissful, his blue eyes luminescent, at once beautiful and impossibly distant.

"Mistress," he said.

Whoa. "Hi, Christopher."

He came over and sat on the floor by my feet and sighed happily. "Beautiful mistress."

"How are you, Christopher?"

He looked at me with a blank smile and stared at my shoes.

"How is he?" I asked Barabas.

"What you see is what you get. He's here one minute, and then he isn't. I think we finally settled on the fact that he isn't dead. He insists that he used to know how to fly, but he forgot. He occasionally tries, so I have to watch him closely in high places."

Oh boy. "Christopher?"

He looked up at me.

"You're free."

"I am." He nodded. "I'll serve you forever. To the end of time."

"No, you're free. You don't have to serve me. You're welcome to stay, but you can go if you want."

He leaned over and touched my hand with long fingers. "Nobody is free in this world. Neither princes, nor wizards, nor beggars. I will serve you forever, my mistress."

Aha. "Let's come back to that later, when you feel more like yourself."

"Great," Curran said. "Another fine addition to your collection of uncanny misfits."

"I take offense to that," Barabas said.

"Don't worry, I count myself in, too," Curran told him.

"What did you do for Hugh?" I asked.

"I took care of his books." Christopher's fingers twitched as if stroking invisible pages. "He has the most interesting books. Do you have books, lady?"

Great. I rescued Hugh's librarian. "Some. Probably not as nice as Hugh's."

"That's alright." Christopher offered me a smile. "I will help you get more and then I will take care of them for you."

"Christopher, about the orange beast," I said. "The one who killed a guard, you remember?"

"The lamassu," Christopher said helpfully.

"You know what they are?"

"Yes." He nodded with that same faraway smile.

"Why didn't you tell me when I talked to you?"

"You didn't ask."

I turned and bumped my forehead against the wooden post of the bed.

"Okay, mistress needs a moment," Barabas said. "Come on."

"Does that help?" Christopher asked with interest.

Barabas took him by the arm and gently lifted him to his feet. "We should go eat."

"Real food?"

"Real food. Come with me."

They left the room.

"You know he's crazy, right?" Curran asked.

"Yep. He won't survive on his own."

"As you wish," Curran said.

* * *

I spent the day in bed, sleeping, eating, and then sleeping again. Curran stood guard over me, and any suggestion that I should go and guard Desandra was met with a stone Beast Lord face. He had a point. I was tired and my whole body hurt, as if I'd been through a meat grinder.

Ten minutes before six I woke up because someone knocked on our door. Curran blocked it. Beast Lord in hover mode.

". . . information," Hibla said.

I rolled out of bed.

Curran stepped aside. She walked into the room, holding herself very straight, her chin raised, her spine rigid. She couldn't have looked more fragile if she were on the verge of crying. I'd warned her. Be careful who you serve.

"What do you have for me?"

"A large group of strangers came to the mountains. They didn't use the pass or the sea. They came on the railroad tracks on foot. They passed a small village not too far from here." Hibla passed me a photograph. The body of a young man lying on his back stared at me with empty eyes. A bright red hole gaped where his stomach used to be, his flesh gouged out by claws and teeth. They'd fed on him. The second picture showed a close-up of his face. Purple blisters marked his features. I'd seen them before on Ivanna's face.

I held up the photograph and showed it to Hibla.

"The villagers said the bigger ones spit acid."

"What do you mean?"

Hibla shrugged. "We don't know. There were only six survivors. They had killed forty people and eaten most of them. I saw these marks on Ivanna."

"I saw them, too," I said.

"If she was attacked, why didn't she say anything?"

"Unless she was attacked by her own kind," Curran said.

I pulled a piece of paper out and began writing. "The first time I saw Ivanna was before dinner, when Radomil and Gerardo had a fight in the hallway. She saw Doolittle examining Desandra and she was upset."

I wrote it down and drew an arrow down. "Desandra was attacked." I drew another arrow.

"Meeting between the packs," Curran said.

I added it and drew another arrow. "Doolittle is attacked. Next morning Ivanna has purple blisters."

"If I were a lamassu, and assuming that one of Desandra's babies is a lamassu," Curran said, "knowing that a medic is examining her would make me nervous."

"One of Desandra's children is one of those things?" Hibla's eyes narrowed.

"Probably," Curran told her.

"Suppose Ivanna is a lamassu," I said. "She sees Doolittle take the blood. She knows that there is a chance he will discover that a child is a lamassu, and that will blow their pack's cover. She panics and tries to have her killed. Except someone in her pack, either Radomil or more likely Vitaliy, takes exception to that. The attack failed, they're down a shapeshifter, and they still want the child to be born, because they want the mountain pass."

"Of course they want the pass," Curran said. "They glide. Mountains give them a huge advantage. Vitaliy spits on her as a punishment and then decides to destroy the evidence Doolittle had collected instead."

"Doolittle said they smashed his equipment." It wasn't bad reasoning: no need to kill Desandra when you can just destroy the blood. "They also were the only pack that reacted when I asked for the blood test. The Italians and Kral wouldn't give me the time of day either, but the Volkodavi looked worried."

"But why do they eat people?" Hibla asked.

"It lets them grow bigger and sprout wings," Curran told her. I had brought him up to speed on the whole lamassu story. "There are likely a large number of them hiding out nearby. If the birth doesn't work out in their favor, everyone can storm the castle. That's how I would do it."

"I can arrest them," Hibla said.

"We don't have any evidence," I told her. "Besides, Desandra is still pregnant. Once a baby is born, it will be undeniable. We don't know it's them; we suspect. We have to watch them. Tonight at dinner, for example."

Hibla's face turned solemn. "This is why I came. Lord Megobari asked me to find out about the medmage's health and to ask if you would join him for dinner tonight outside the castle. Alone."

"No." Curran said.

Hibla took a step back.



"Tell Lord Megobari I'll be there."

Curran crossed his arms.

"I will pass on your message." Hibla turned and fled out of the room.

"No," Curran said. "You're not going."

"Are you ordering me not to go?"

"I can't order you to do anything. Nor would I try. You want to go alone to have dinner with a guy who killed your stepfather, who serves your father, and who gets a hard-on when you beat the shit out of him. How is this a good idea?"

That's my psycho. Blunt but fair. "He brought us here. You and me and all of us. I want to know why. I think he will tell me, because he wants me to know how big, bad, and smart he is. We need to know what we're up against."

"He puts people in cages and keeps undead in his walls."

"What is he going to do that he hasn't had an opportunity to do already? Before you went to talk to Lorelei on the balcony, he told me that it was all for me. He made this entire meeting happen. Don't you want to know how he managed to get all these packs together and orchestrate this? Aren't you curious?"

The muscles on his jaw stood out. I won.

"Take Derek. Hugh will bring someone with him."

He took a step forward. I could take one, too. "No problem. I can even bring another person if you want."

"Derek is fine," Curran said.

"I'll be back tonight," I told him. "It will be okay. Don't worry."

* * *

At seven, Hibla came to get us. We followed her down the road to a narrow mountain path that led north, to a low mountain thrusting up like a dragon fang north of the castle. The western half of it had been blasted to make room for the railroad, and layers of rock thrust out of the sheer cliff. The path reached the mountain and turned into a paved sidewalk that dived into the mountain's forested side.

Trees rose on both sides of us, not wild growth but carefully cultivated greenery, cut back to please the eye. Every few feet there would be a stone step. Short feylantern torches glowed on both side of the path, with bright sparks of deluded fireflies dancing around them. Unlike the lavender feylanterns in the castle, these were yellow, a color mages in Atlanta fought for but couldn't achieve. Magic wrapped around us. Hugh went all out.

The path climbed up, turned, climbed up again, and turned again . . . We kept zigzagging up the mountain until finally we came to a small sitting area: a wooden bench with a table and some meat and bread under a wire hood.

"You and I will wait here," Hibla told Derek.

"If anything happens to her, you'll die first," Derek told her.

Well, that settled that.

I climbed farther up the path. The greenery parted and I saw a large table set under the trees. The trees on the west side had been sheared and an evening sea stretched before me, azure and beautiful, as the sun slowly set into its cool waters.

Hugh sat at the table. He wore jeans and a black T-shirt. Lord Death at his most casual.

He rose and smiled at me. I sat across from him on the north side, while he sat on the south. My back was to the path. Argh.

"Nobody will be coming up," he said and raised a bottle. "Wine?"


"You don't drink much," he said.

"I drank too much for a while."

"I did, too," he said, and poured two glasses of water, one for himself, one for me.

The table held three platters: fruit, meat, and cheese. Everything a growing warlord needs.

"Please," Hugh invited.

I put some cheese and meat on my plate.

"Beautiful, isn't it?" He nodded at the sea.

It was. There was something ancient about it, something impossibly alluring. Thousands of years ago, people gazed at the sea just like we did now, mesmerized by the pattern of evening light on the waves. They had their own dreams and ambitions, but at the core they must've been just like us: they loved and hated, worried about their problems and celebrated their triumphs. Long after we were gone, the sea would still remain, and other people would watch it and be bewitched.

"The Volkodavi are lamassu," I said.

"I know," he said.

"When did you find out?"

"When I saw one fly out of your medmage's room. The Volkodavi have a good reputation back in Ukraine, but I've heard some stories. People disappearing. Monsters eating human bodies. I put two and two together. They came out of nowhere a few years ago, took over the local pack, and then the strange shit started." Hugh cut a piece of meat. "Your father hates the breed. He says they were badly made. I think they could be useful under the right circumstances, but they have very little discipline. Hammering them into usable soldiers would be difficult. You'd have to get them from childhood, and even then there is no guarantee."

"You're talking about them like they are pit bull puppies."

"Not a bad analogy, actually. It would take a few generations to breed the crazy out of the lamassu. Why bother? A properly trained German shepherd can kill as well as an undisciplined pit bull, and it's a lot easier to handle."

This conversation was getting under my skin. I drank my water.

"I like it here," Hugh said.

"It is beautiful."

"You should stay," he said. "After Desandra gives birth and the Beast Lord takes his pack home. Have a vacation. Live a little, swim in the sea, eat delicious food that's bad for you."

"I'm sure it would be a glorious vacation right up to the point where you serve my head on a silver platter to Roland."

"For you, I'd spring for gold," he said.

"Somehow that doesn't make me feel any better."

"Are you actually planning to fight him?" Hugh leaned forward.

"If it comes to it."

Hugh put down his fork and walked to the edge. "See that rock down there?"

I got up and stood at my edge of the table. He was pointing at a jagged boulder jutting from the side of the mountain.

Hugh opened his mouth. Magic snapped like a striking whip. An invisible torrent of power crashed into the rock. The boulder broke into shards.

A power word. Nice. When I used mine, it ripped me up with pain. Hugh didn't seem any worse for wear.

"I only have a tiny fraction of his power. You have no idea what it's like to stand behind him when he lets it go. It's like walking in the footsteps of a god."

I sat back in my spot. I'd heard that before.

Hugh studied the boulder below. "You've been alive for twenty-six years. He's been alive for over five thousand. He doesn't just play with magic; he knows it, intimately. He can craft impossible things. If I were to stand against him, he would crush me like a gnat. Hell, he might not even notice I'm there at all. I serve him because there is no one stronger."

Hugh turned to me. "I've seen you fight. I'm a fan. But if you plan to fight the Builder of Towers, you will lose."

I realized he wasn't bluffing. It hit home. If Roland came for me now, I would lose. Looking at it now seemed kind of absurd. I wasn't even thirty. I didn't know how to use my magic. What few tricks I had up my sleeve barely scratched the surface. In my head I always suspected that I wouldn't be able to hold him off, but the way Hugh said it made me pause.

"What makes you think he wants to kill you?" Hugh sat down.

"He tried to murder me in the womb, he killed my mother, and he sent you to find and kill the man I called my father. What makes you think he doesn't?"

"He's lonely," Hugh said. "It eats at him. He can age himself. It takes a lot of effort, and usually he stays around forty. He says it's a good age, mature enough to inspire confidence, young enough to not suggest frailty. He stayed at it for years, but now he is actively aging. Last time I saw him, four months ago, he looked closer to fifty. I asked him why. He said it made him appear more fatherly."

How sweet. "I'm not buying it."

"Think about it, Kate. You are deadly, smart, beautiful, and you are capable. Why wouldn't he want a daughter like that? Don't you think he would at least try to get to know you?"

"You're missing the point. I don't want to know him. He killed my mother, Hugh. He robbed me of the one person every child counts on for unconditional love. Do you remember your mother?"

"Yes," Hugh said. "I was four when she died. Three years later Voron took me off the street."

"I don't remember mine. Not a murmur, not a trace of a scent, no smudged image, nothing. Voron was my father and my mother. The Death's Raven was an undisputed authority in my life. The only authority. You knew him. Think about what that really means."

"So it's vengeance and a pity party at the same time," Hugh said.

"No. It's not vengeance. It's prevention. I want to kill Roland so there will never be another me."

"That would be a tragedy," Hugh said.

"That would be a blessing," I said.

"Let the shapeshifter sail off," Hugh said. "Stay with me for a while. No strings attached. No obligations or expectations. See if I can change your mind."

"I thought we already covered that ground. It wouldn't be a good idea."

"What's holding you to him? The man does care about you in his own stunted way, but you will never fit in with them, Kate. Deep down you know this. They'll always look on you as if you're a dangerous freak. People fear what they can't understand, but they can work with it. Animals can't. They shun the strange or try to destroy it. You can bleed for them for a hundred years and you won't change their minds. Make one small misstep and they will turn on you."

I turned and looked at the sea. Curran would fight to his last breath to protect me. If I asked Derek to walk into fire, he would do it. But then again there was Doolittle looking at me with horror in his eyes . . .

"It's slipping," he said.

I arched my eyebrow at him.

"Your cloak," he said. "Some of your power is showing. Just how much are you hiding?"

"I guess you'll never know," I told him.

Hugh rested his elbows on a table. "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

"If Roland doesn't find me?"


"In the Keep, doing what I'm doing now."

"How long will that last, Kate?"

"Hopefully for a long, long time."

"You're lying to yourself. Voron made us into serial killers. We can be okay without violence for a few weeks, but after a couple of months, the hand starts itching for the sword. You start looking for that rush. You get irritable, life turns stale, and then one day some fool crosses your path, attacks, and as you cut him down, you feel that short moment of struggle when he leverages his life against yours. If you're lucky, he's very good and the fight lasts a few seconds. But even if it doesn't, that short moment of triumph is like getting an adrenaline shot. Suddenly color comes back into life, food tastes better, sleep is deeper, and sex is rapture."

I knew exactly what he was talking about. I lived it and I felt it.

"You don't have to say anything," he said. "I know I'm right. You and I are birds of a feather. We weren't just born, we were forged, ground, and sharpened to be exactly what we are. You felt it when we sparred. I sure did. I don't know what you've got going with the werelion, but whatever it is, it will go flat and soon. I bet you already see signs of it. Some part of him enjoyed Lorelei's attention. It's flattering. A young, attractive girl, hanging on your every word, putting out all the signs that she's available to you alone. It makes you feel like you've still got it. He didn't do anything, but as another man, I can tell you he thought about it. Sex is a funny thing: it's always kind of the same, but you always want more of it and with different people."

I leaned on my hand and sighed. "Please continue, Doctor. Let me know when our time is up so I can write a check."

He chuckled. "The man is an egomaniac. You know this. He doesn't fully understand what you are, and he doesn't appreciate it. Give him a few years, and the next time a Lorelei swings into his orbit, he might bang her. He will tell himself it's not a big thing. It wouldn't mean anything. He won't leave you for her. The next time will be easier. The next easier still. Before you know it, it will become a regular thing. Why the hell would you want to put up with that?"

"Speaking from personal experience?"

"Yes. When I realized I'd stopped aging, I went for it. Let me tell you, no matter how creative you get-and I got creative-the mechanics of sex are always the same. The difference is passion. Passion makes it special. Having sex with an attractive woman is fun, but add passion, make her that one woman that you love or hate, and the whole experience changes. You feel something for me, Kate. Whether you want to admit it or not, something is there. I can guarantee we would never grow tired of it."

Wow. He'd put his best game face on and hit me with everything he had. "No."

His eyebrows came together. "No? That's it?"

"That's it."


"Because you put people in cages, Hugh. Even if I were alone and Curran weren't in the picture, I still wouldn't. You came here and did just as much as necessary to earn enough goodwill to build this castle twenty years ago. The people down in town live in poverty. Your werejackal castle guards are robbing strangers on the roads, and nobody comes to you and complains, because they don't expect you to do anything about it. You want to know the difference between you and Curran? If you gave this castle to him, within a month there would be a court, due process, and a working police force accountable to its citizens. Curran sees himself as serving the people he leads; you see yourself as being served. You brought stability to this place, but it's the stability of a scared slave who knows he will be pummeled with a stick if he holds his head up too high. You're content with things as they are, and when someone fails you, you stick them in a cage and slowly starve them to death."

Hugh leaned back and smiled, amusement curving his mouth. "You are his daughter," he said.

I wasn't sure how to take that. I leaned back and crossed my arms.

"You know what your father's best talent is? He can look at you and determine exactly where your best place is. That's why he wasn't thrilled when your aunt woke up. There was no place for her in this world."

"So he looked at you and said, 'You will make an excellent wrecking ball.'"

Hugh nodded. "Before there can be civilization, I come and I subdue. I crush resistance, I break their will, and then your father arrives and reins me in. He brings order, justice, and fairness. He is their salvation."

"Be careful, your charming mask is crumbling."

"There isn't much point in it now."

"Oh, so sitting through your sales pitch finally earned me the right to the no-bullshit version?"

He grinned, baring his teeth. "Here it is: I can't let you get on that boat."


"It will be a lot harder to pry you out of their fort. You force my hand."

"I didn't know you were so easy to push around."

"Before you left, I had my people load panacea onto your ship," he said. "Your boy got a note telling him about it and explaining that my welcome is withdrawn."

"I thought you promised no bullshit. Where did you even get that much panacea, Hugh? The packs guard it like gold. They would never sell that much of it to you."

"I have no need to buy it from them. My people make it."


"Your father was taught how to make it when he was young. It's a complex process, with a lot of magic done in correct order, so it was his equivalent of a graduation project." Hugh's eyes turned steel-hard. "I control the entire supply on this part of the continent. The only way for the Pack to get their paws on an ounce of it is to sail now, without you."

Curran wouldn't leave me.

"If he chooses to stay, the gloves come off." Hugh said. "I warned him. He knows if he stays, it's war."

"He will stay."

"God, I hope he does. I've been looking forward to killing him for three years. I will enjoy the hell out of it."

Hugh hadn't just taken advantage of Desandra's pregnancy. He'd engineered this whole thing. He'd pulled the strings and the shapeshifters had obeyed, because he held panacea over their heads. He'd manipulated everyone just to get me here.

"If you hurt him, I will kill you," I said.

"You'll try, and I will enjoy that, too. I meant what I said, Kate. You make me feel that interesting something. That's rare for me. And I like having you around. You're funny."

"Funny. Does your jaw hurt when you laugh?"

"'My hand won't shake,'" he quoted. "'My aim won't falter. My face will be the last thing you'll see before you die.' You're hilarious."

Those were the words I'd said to the Pack Council when Curran was in the coma and they'd tried to separate me from him. My skin crawled. Hugh had a mole on the Pack Council.

"I think we're done here." I rose.

"I always get what I want, Kate," he said. "That's how I'm wired."

I walked down the path and kept walking. Derek saw me, rose, and followed.

"The ship might not be there," I told him quietly.

"I heard," he said. "They will be there. Don't worry."

We kept going.

"Are you really Roland's daughter?" he asked.


"I don't care," he said. "Some people might, but they don't matter."

I didn't say anything, but the night grew a little brighter.

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