Magic Rises Chapter 4

I stood on the grassy hill. In front of me a garish sunset burned with violent intensity, the scarlet and crimson clouds floating like bandages in the open wound of the sanguine sky. Against the sunset, on the plain below, people were building a tower. Magic churned and roiled around them as the roughly hewn stone blocks rose in the air, held up by power and human will. Far in the distance, another tower stretched to the sky.

I wanted to stop it. Every instinct I had screamed that this was wrong. It was dangerous and wrong, and we would all suffer at the end of it. Something terrible would happen if it was completed. I wanted to go down there and scatter the stones.

I couldn't move.

Cold sweat drenched me. I couldn't look away. I just watched as the tower rose block by block, a monument to my father's growing power and ambition. It kept going up, unstoppable, like an ancient legion, like a tank crushing all that stood before it.

Someone moved to the right of me. I strained, trying to tear myself from the scene, turned, and saw Julie. Wind stirred her blond hair. She looked back at me, her eyes terrified. Tears ran down her cheeks.


I sat upright in my bed. Darkness reigned, diluted but not conquered by moonlight coming through the open window. My face felt damp. I brushed my fingers at my hairline. They came away wet. Sweat. Great. I used to have nightmares about Roland and being found, but they stopped when Curran started holding me at night. They were never this vivid.

Maybe Roland was trying to find me. I had a vision of him sitting several states away, broadcasting screwed-up dreams like a TV tower. I needed to have my head examined, except anybody who actually tried would run away screaming.

The covers next to me were rumpled. Curran must've slipped out of our bed in the middle of the night. Well, that explained it. He was gone, and watching Maddie going loup had rattled me. It was stress. Eventually my dear dad would find me, but not today.

I had to check on Julie. I wouldn't be able to sleep if I didn't. I slipped out of bed, pulled my sweatpants on, and went out, down the stairs. Julie's door stood slightly ajar. Odd. I rapped my knuckles on a skull-and-crossbones DO NOT ENTER sign that took up most of the door. No answer.

Janice, a shapeshifter in her late thirties, stuck her blond head out of the guardroom to my right. "She took her blanket and a pillow and went downstairs."


"About two hours ago."

That would be one o'clock in the morning. There was only one place Julie could've gone.

Five minutes later I walked into the dim room, moving quietly on my toes. The only illumination came from the glass coffin in front of me. In it, submerged in the green liquid of Doolittle's healing solution, floated Maddie. Several IV tubes ran from her arms to the metal stand with fluid bags. Julie sat next to her on the floor, slumped over on her blanket, her elbows propped on her knees, her face hidden in her hands.

Oh, Julie. I crossed the room and sat next to her. She gave no indication she heard me.

Maddie's bones protruded at odd angles, the flesh stretched over the distorted skeleton like half-melted rubber. Here and there patches of fur dappled her, melting back into human skin. The left side of her jaw bulged, the lips too short to hide the bone, and through the gap I could see her human teeth. Her right arm, almost completely human, seemed so thin, so fragile, little more than bone sheathed in skin.

When I sat there and watched her, my heart squeezed itself into a hard painful rock. It wasn't just Maddie. It was the haunted desperation in her mother and sister. It was the panic in Jennifer's face. It was the masked fear in Andrea, who had come to see Maddie last night. I'd watched my best friend as she crossed her arms on her chest trying to convince herself that this wasn't her future. She loved Raphael. She wanted children and a family, and both of Raphael's brothers went loup at puberty and had to be killed. When Aunt B said they would need panacea, she meant it.

It was the icy nagging dread inside me that said, This could be your child.

Maddie, the cute funny girl, whom we all knew and took for granted. We had to save her. I had to save her. If there was one thing I could accomplish, it would be giving her life back to her.

Julie straightened. Her eyes were red, the skin around them puffy. I wished I could do something.

"She isn't hurting."

"I know." Julie sniffed.

"I read to her. Her mom does too, and Doolittle's nurses. She isn't alone."

"It's not that."

"Then what is it?"

"I'm trying to understand why." Her voice broke. "Why?" She turned and looked at me, tear-filled eyes bright and brimming with hurt. "She was my best friend. I only have one. Why did it have to be her?"

The million-dollar question. "Would you rather it be Margo?"

"No." Julie shook her head. "No. She feels horrible, because she's okay and Maddie isn't. I hugged her and I told her that I was so glad that she made it."

"I'm proud of you."

"It's not Margo's fault that the medicine didn't work. I just don't want it to be Maddie. I want her to be okay. It's like this is the cost."

"The cost of what?"

"Of magic. Of being a shapeshifter. Like they're strong and fast and somebody has to pay the price for that. But why her?"

I wish I knew. I'd asked myself the exact same question when I found Voron dead, when I saw the ruin of Greg Feldman's body, and when Julie lay in a hospital bed, so sedated her heart was barely beating. I wanted so much to spare Julie from that. It killed me that I couldn't. I didn't know why some people had tragedy after tragedy thrown at them, as if life were testing them, and others lived blissfully, untouched by grief.

I told her the truth. "I don't know. I think it's because a child is the most precious thing we have. There is a price for everything, and it's never something you can afford to give up. It's always someone you love."

Julie stared at me. "Why?"

"I don't know. That's the way it always is."

Julie drew back. "I don't want it. If that's the way it's going to be, I don't want to have any babies."

Life had finally scarred Julie deep enough. Now my kid had decided not to have children, not because she didn't want to be a mother, but because she was too scared of the world into which she would be bringing her children. That was so screwed up. I wanted to stab something.

Julie was looking at me, waiting for something.

"Having children or not having them is your choice, Julie. Whether you do or don't, Curran and I will love you anyway. You don't ever have to worry that we'll stop."

"Good, because I don't want kids."

We fell silent.

"You're leaving," she said.

"Yes. Are you scared?"

Julie shrugged. "You're the alpha and you have to go."

"That's right."

"And if anybody will get the medicine, it's you. I understand." Her voice was tiny. "Don't die. Just don't die, okay?"

"I have no plans to die. I'm coming back with panacea and we're getting Maddie out of the healing tank."

"I heard Jim talking," Julie said quietly.

Oh boy.

"He said that it was a trap and you might not come back."

Thank you, Mr. Positive Peggy, we appreciate your vote of confidence. "Does the spy master know you're spying on him?"

"No. I'm very careful and he doesn't look up very often."

Eventually I'd have to figure out what that meant. "It is a trap. The people who laid it think that we're weak and stupid. I promise you that if they try to hurt us when we get there, they will deeply regret it. We'll sail away with panacea, and they will still be figuring out why they're sitting in a puddle of their own blood trying to hold on to their guts. You've seen me take on dangerous things before."

"You get hurt, Kate. A lot."

"But I survive and they don't." I hugged her with one arm. "Don't worry. We've got this."

"Okay," she said. "I just . . ."

She clenched her hands together, staring straight ahead.


"I have bad dreams."

So do I. "What do you dream about?"

She turned to me, her eyes haunted. "Towers. I see them being built on the grass. They are terrible towers. I look at them and cry. And I see you, and you're looking at me, and you're calling me . . ."

Oh no. Cold claws pricked my spine.

Why would we have the same dream? It had to be magic. If my dream was the result of my magic or the result of Roland looking for me, it shouldn't affect Julie. He couldn't possibly know about Julie.

The ritual. That was the most likely explanation. When I healed Julie, I'd mixed my blood with hers. Some of my magic had tainted her. Now we shared dreams. If we were lucky, this was just a by-product of my magic stretching itself while I dreamed. If we were unlucky, then Roland was trying to find me by broadcasting visions into my head, and Julie was picking up the signal.

Damn it.

It must've shown on my face, because Julie focused on me. "It means something, doesn't it? What does it mean, Kate? I saw you. You were in my dream. Did you see me, too?"

I didn't want to have this conversation. Not here and not now. In fact, I didn't want to have it at all.

"Tell me, please! I have to know."

I wasn't planning on going to my funeral, but one never plans to die. If something happened to me, Julie would be left without answers. She had to know something at least. In her place, I would want to know.

"Kate, please . . ."

"Hush, please."

The need to hide had been hammered into me since I could understand words. The number of people knowing my secret had gone up from one to five in the past year, and thinking about it shot me right off the beaten path into an irrational place where I contemplated killing those who knew. I couldn't kill them-they were my friends and my chosen family-but breaking a lifetime of conditioning was a bitch.

If I didn't tell her and I died, she would make mistakes. Roland would find her and use her. She didn't realize it yet, but she was a weapon. Like me. I had created her, and I had a responsibility to keep her safe and to keep others safe from her.

"What I'm about to tell you can't be repeated. Don't write it in your diary, don't tell your best friend, don't react if you hear about it. Do you understand?"


"There are people who would kill you if they knew about you. I'm very serious, Julie. This is a life-and-death conversation."

"I understand," Julie said.

"You've learned in school about the theory of the First Shift?"

"Sure." Julie nodded. "Thousands of years ago magic and technology existed in a balance. Then people began working the magic, making it stronger and stronger, until the imbalance became too great and the technology flooded the world in waves, which was the First Shift. The magic civilizations collapsed. Now the same thing is happening, but we get magic waves instead of technological ones. Some people think that it's a cycle and it just keeps happening over and over."

Good. She knew the basics, so this would be easier. "You heard me talk about Voron."

"Your dad," Julie said.

"Voron wasn't my biological father. My father, my real father, walked the planet thousands of years ago, when the magic flowed full force. Back then he was a king, a conqueror, and a wizard. He was very powerful and he had some radical ideas about how a society should be structured, so he and some of his siblings built a huge army and rampaged back and forth across what's now known as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, and eastern Egypt. The world was a different place then geologically, and my dad, the wizard-king, had a large fertile area in which to build his kingdom. His magic kept him alive for hundreds of years, and he succeeded in creating an empire as advanced as our civilization. And wherever he went, he built towers."

Julie blinked. "But . . ."

"Wait until I finish, please." The words stuck in my throat and I had to strain to push them out. "When the First Shift came, the technology began to overwhelm magic. The magical cities crumbled. My father saw the writing on the wall and decided it was time for a long nap. He sealed himself away, how or where nobody knows, and fell asleep. A tiny trickle of magic still remained in the world, and it was enough to keep him alive. He slept until the Shift, our apocalypse, woke him up. He got up, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and immediately started to rebuild his empire. He can't stop, Julie. It's what gives his existence meaning. This time he started with the undead."

"The People," Julie said, understanding in her eyes.

"Exactly. My father chose to call himself Roland and started gathering individuals with the ability to navigate vampires. He organized them into the People."

The People were a cross between a corporation and a research institute. Professional and brutally efficient, they maintained large stables of vampires and had a chapter in every major city.

"Nobody ever talks about Roland," I told her. "Most people don't know he exists. And almost nobody, not even the navigators, know that shortly after he awoke, Roland fell in love. Her name was Kalina and she also had powerful magic. She could make anyone love her. Kalina wanted a baby, so Roland decided to give her one. I was that baby."

Julie opened her mouth. I raised my hand. If she interrupted me, I might not get through this.

"My father always had issues with his children. They turned out powerful and smart, and as soon as they wised up, they tried to nuke him. Roland changed his mind and decided I'd be better off not being born. My mother knew that to save me she had to run away. She needed a protector, and Roland's warlord, Voron, seemed like a good choice. Voron was bound to Roland by a blood ritual, and my mother had to use every bit of her power to make Voron love her, so much so that she made Voron slightly insane."

"So she basically used him," Julie said.

"You got it. Together they ran away. My mother gave birth to me, but Roland was closing in on them. She knew that Voron was better suited to keeping the baby alive and Roland would never stop chasing her, so she stayed behind to buy Voron time. Roland caught up with her and killed her. Voron ran with me and then spent every moment of his life training me so one day I could kill my own father."

Julie turned pale.

I waited for her to digest all of it.

"Do you want to kill him?"

That was a complicated question. "I will if I have to, but I won't go out looking for him. I have Curran and you. All I want to do right now is keep both of you safe. But if Roland ever finds me, he will confront me, Julie, and I'm not sure I would survive. Remember the picture of a man I showed you? Hugh d'Ambray?"

I'd given it to her a few weeks ago and told her that he was an enemy. At the time I wasn't ready for long explanations.


"Hugh is Voron's replacement. He's Roland's new warlord. Not many people know about the lost baby, but he does. He stumbled across me and now he's very interested."

Now came the hard part. "When you were turning loup, I couldn't heal you. Nobody could heal you. So I . . ." Robbed you of your free will. ". . . cleaned your blood with mine to burn off the Lyc-V. It was the only choice. Without it, I would've had to kill you."

Julie stared at me.

"We're bound now. Some of my magic is yours. My blood contaminated you. I dreamed tonight. I saw a plain, a sunset, and towers. And I saw you and called you."

"What does it mean?" Julie whispered. "Does that mean Roland is in our heads?"

"I don't know. I don't know if we're seeing the past or the future or if it's my father messing with our minds from several states away. Whatever the hell it is, it isn't good. You have to take precautions. Don't leave your blood where it can be found. If you bleed, burn the bandages. If you bleed a lot, set the scene on fire or dump bleach on it. Hide your magic as much as you can. I'm not planning on dying. I will come back and I will help you sort this out. But if something happens to us, Jim knows. You can trust him."

A door swung open behind us. Doolittle stepped into the room.

"Doolittle knows, too." I told her. "There are some books in my room. I'll make you a list of what you need to read . . ."

Maddie stirred. A bulge rolled across her chest, like a tennis ball sliding just under her skin.

"Involuntary movements," Doolittle said. "Nothing to worry about."

I realized my hand was holding Slayer's hilt and let go. If Maddie went loup and lunged out of that tank at Julie, I would cut her down with no hesitation. That thought made my insides churn.

Julie's eyes were huge on her face.

"It will be okay," I told her.

"I don't think it will," Julie said. "Nothing is okay. Nothing will be okay."

She stood up.

"Julie . . ."

I watched her walk out. The door clanged shut. That didn't go the way I'd wanted it to. I wanted a do-over, but in life you rarely get those.

Doolittle was looking at me. "It's good you told her."

It didn't feel good. It felt downright crappy. "I need a favor."

"If it is within my power," he said.

"Curran and I have both written our wills. If I don't come back, Meredith will take care of Julie. I've already spoken to her. But if I don't come back, at some point, Julie may come to you for answers. I'd like you to have my blood. Studying it might help." He'd already done some analysis on it once. He would be the best person to study it more.

Doolittle rubbed his face, hesitated-as if deciding-and finally said, "This trip is a foolish endeavor."

"There is a chance we will succeed."

"A very small chance. We can't trust these people. They don't intend to honor their promises."

"I'll force them to honor them, if I have to. I can't sit by Maddie and watch her die a little bit every day. It's not in me, Doc."

"It is not in me either," he said. "I'm afraid we're drawing it out. Delaying the inevitable only leads to more suffering. That's why death must be quick and painless."

"You told me once that we don't have a choice in what we are. We do have a choice in who we are. I'm the person who must get on that boat or I won't be able to ever look Maddie's mother in the eye. Will you please draw my blood?"

Doolittle sighed. "Of course I will."

* * *


Curran's voice slipped through my dream. Mmmm . . . I smiled and opened my eyes, still half-asleep. Curran leaned over me. My handsome psycho. When I came back from speaking with Julie, I crawled into bed. I awoke a couple of hours later when he slid into bed next to me. He pulled me close, his body so warm against mine. We made love and I fell asleep on his chest.

"Kate?" Curran repeated. "Baby?"

I reached over and touched his cheek just to make sure he was really there. "You should stay in bed with me."

"I'd love to," he said. "But I just spoke with Barabas."

"Mm-hm." He really was ridiculously handsome in a gruff, kill-anything-that-moves way. Exactly how I liked it. "What did he say?"

"Saiman is waiting for us in a conference room. He says he owes you a favor and Barabas called him to invite him to the Keep on your behalf." Gold flared in Curran's eyes. "Would you care to explain this, because I'm all ears?"

Ten minutes later Curran and I marched down the hallway toward the conference room. When you live in a building with excellent acoustics populated by people with supernatural hearing, you learn to argue under your breath, which was precisely what we were doing.

A month ago I'd gotten a late-night call from the Mercenary Guild informing me that Saiman had been kidnapped. An information broker and a magic expert, Saiman was a shrewd businessman who had his fingers in all sorts of pies, from illegal gladiatorial combat to a shady import/export business. He charged exorbitant prices for his services, but because I amused him, he had offered me a discount in the past. I had consulted him a few times, but he kept trying to entice me into his bed to prove a philosophical point. I'd put up with it until he had the stupidity to parade our connection in front of Curran. The Beast Lord and I had been in a rough spot in our relationship, and Curran didn't take that exhibition well, which he expressed by turning a warehouse full of luxury cars Saiman had slipped past customs into crushed Coke cans. Since then, Saiman, who feared physical pain above all else, lived in mortal fear of Curran.

Saiman maintained a VIP account at the Mercenary Guild for times when he needed to use brute force, so when some thugs decided it would be a good idea to hold him for ransom, his accountant put the call in to the Guild, which in turn called me. I'd dealt with the kidnappers and rescued Saiman. In return he owed me a favor. Yesterday I'd called him and told him that I would like to collect.

I had successfully managed to hide the incident from Curran precisely because I knew he would go ballistic. Explaining all this now proved a little complicated.

"The clerk called and said Saiman was kidnapped. What the hell was I supposed to do, leave him there?"

"Let me think . . . Yes!"

"Well, I didn't."

"He doesn't care about you. If you died saving him, he wouldn't give a shit. Nobody even knew where you went."

"Jim knew where I went." Aaand I shouldn't have said that.

Curran stopped and stared at me.

"I took backup," I told him.

"Like who?"

"Grendel and Derek."

Curran's eyebrows came together. He realized that Derek knew and hadn't snitched. I shouldn't have said that either.

The best defense is a vigorous offense. "You're overreacting."

"You left in the middle of the night to rescue a man without any shred of conscience who cares nothing about your safety, who schemed and manipulated to seduce you, and when he found he couldn't, acted like a coward and put you in danger. How am I supposed to react?"

"Last time I checked, I was a big girl, all grown up and able to put on my shoes and swing my sword all by myself. You don't have to like it."


"He owes us a favor. A big favor."

"I don't need any favors from him," Curran snarled.

"Yes, you do. Do you remember that warehouse of luxury cars you demolished?"

Curran just looked at me.

"How did those expensive foreign cars get into the country?"

The realization hit Curran like a ton of bricks. His scowl vanished. "He shipped them in." He started down the hallway, accelerating.

"Exactly." I matched his stride.

"And he avoided customs because they came in on his vessel. He owns a fleet."


We turned the corner. A shapeshifter heading in our direction saw our faces and tried to abruptly reverse her course. Curran pointed at her. "Get Jim for me, please."

She broke into a jog.

"We don't even know if his ships go to the Mediterranean," Curran said.

"Yes, we do. During the Midnight Games he brought in a minotaur from Greece."

We reached the door and I opened it.

A beautiful Asian woman waited for us in the North Conference Room. She was on the cusp of thirty, of average height and flawless build, with a slender, delicately curved waist and long legs. A dark green sweater dress, complete with a draped cowl and a sash, hugged her figure, showcasing her beautiful dark hair.

A male shapeshifter was watching her the way one would watch a rabid dog cornered in an alley.

Curran didn't miss a bit. "Saiman, you look lovely. Thank you for dressing up."

The woman looked up and I saw the familiar air of disdain in her eyes.

"Did you come as a woman so Curran wouldn't hit you?"

The woman grimaced. Odd bulges slid over her face and arms, as if someone had struck billiard balls under her skin with a cue and they spun, rolling in all directions. I willed my stomach to keep still.

"No," the woman said, as her flesh crawled, stretching, twisting, and reshaping itself in a revolting riot. "I simply had a prior appointment."

Her hair shed, her breasts dissolved into a flat male chest, her hips narrowed, all moving simultaneously in a grotesque coordinated process. Acid burned my tongue. Shapeshifter change was an explosion, a quick burst of movement over in a couple of seconds. Saiman's change was a controlled methodical adjustment, and watching it never failed to make my stomach panic and attempt to empty itself by any means necessary. I closed my eyes for a long moment, opened them, and saw a slender bald man crossing his new arms. In his neutral form, Saiman was a blank canvas: neither ugly nor handsome, average height, average features, average skin color, sparse frame. The sweater dress made him look completely ridiculous. I had a sudden urge to laugh and clamped down on it.

"I've brought some currency." Saiman pointed at the suitcase next to him. "I believe the standard Guild fee for rescuing a kidnapped victim is ten percent of the ransom. Feel free to count it."

Of course. Money was Saiman's default response. Paying us off would be the easiest way to get rid of his debt.

Curran offered him a chair with a sweep of his hand. "We're not interested in money. Would you care for something to drink?"

"Is it poisoned?"

"It's Saturday," I said. "We only serve poison during the week."

"Yes, we're not complete savages." Curran sat. "Shawn, could you please bring some water for me and Kate, and a scotch for our guest?"

The male shapeshifter nodded and departed.

"Feeling better?"

Saiman didn't look at me. "I'm sorry, I'd love to answer that, but you see, if I attempt a conversation, your furry paramour will pummel me into bits."

Oh, you fussy baby.

"Not at all," Curran said. "I have no plans to pummel anyone this morning."

Shawn stepped into the room, bringing a platter with a pitcher of water, a decanter filled with amber-colored scotch, and three glasses. Curran took it from his hands and set it on the table. "Thank you."

Shawn left, and Curran poured water into two of the glasses and scotch into the third. "There is no reason we can't all be civil."

His tone was light, his face relaxed and friendly. The Beast Lord was in rare form. We really needed the ship.

Saiman sipped the amber liquid and held it in his mouth for a long moment. "So. You refuse my money, you serve me thirty-year-old Highland Park scotch, and we've been in the same room for approximately five minutes, yet none of my bones are broken. This leads me to believe that your back is against the wall and you desperately need me for something. I'm dying to know what that is."

In his place I'd be careful with my choice of words.

"I have a business proposal for you," Curran said. "I'd like to hire one of your shipping vessels to transport the two of us and ten of my people. We will pay you a reasonable rate."

"My reasonable or yours?" Saiman studied his drink.

"Ours. In turn, you will no longer owe the Pack and we will make your life less inconvenient. For example, we'll stop blocking your real estate purchases."

"You've been blocking his purchases?" I looked at Curran.

"Not me personally."

"The Pack and its many proxies." Saiman drained his glass and poured himself more. "If I choose to move on a project, the Pack will inevitably bid against me, drive up the price, and then abandon the bid, leaving me holding the purse strings. It's been most inconvenient."

I bet.

"You've always struck me as a man who enjoys attention," Curran said.

"That was completely unfair." Saiman pointed his index finger at him while still holding the glass. "Let's cut to the chase. I know that a delegation of shapeshifters disembarked in Charleston, I know that Desandra Kral, formerly of the Obluda pack, is having twins, and I know that you have been invited to act as her bodyguard and mediator of the inheritance dispute and that you will be paid in panacea to do so."

Saiman in a nutshell. I had no idea how he knew all of this, but he did.

"You need a ship. This vessel will have to be oceanworthy, will need an experienced crew, and will require cabin space for at least fifteen people. What's the destination?"

"Gagra on the northern coast of the Republic of Georgia."

Saiman blinked. "You mean the Black Sea? Do you really want to go to the Black Sea?"

"Yes," Curran said.

I nodded. "We do."

Saying things like We think this is a trap and We would rather cut off our left foot than go would endanger our ship acquisition and our badass image.

Saiman poured himself more scotch. "I can't help but point out that the three packs involved could've found someone in the immediate vicinity to act as a neutral fourth party."

"Your opinion is noted," Curran said.

"Have you ever tried to reverse engineer the panacea?" I asked.

"Yes, as a matter of fact I have," Saiman said. "I can give you the exact list of ingredients and quantities. The secret isn't in the chemical composition; it's in the process of preparation, which I'm unable to replicate. To put it plainly, they cook it with magic and I don't know the specifics. I'm also reasonably certain that the panacea is manufactured by a single entity or organization and then distributed throughout Europe."

"Why?" I asked.

"It's a well-known secret that five years ago your partner offered three hundred thousand dollars and Pack protection to anyone willing to sell him the recipe and demonstrate its preparation. If the panacea were manufactured by each pack individually, someone would've been desperate enough to take him up on his offer."

Curran grimaced. "It's five hundred thousand now."

"Still no takers?" Saiman arched his eyebrow.


Saiman swirled the whiskey in his glass. "Suppose I provide a vessel. Crossing the Atlantic is a dangerous venture. Between the hurricanes, the pirates, and the sea monsters, there is a very real possibility that your ship will sink and not at all in a metaphorical sense. I've been in shipping for over a decade and I still lose two to four ships per year. If you were to meet your untimely demise, your thugs would blame me."

"Most likely," Curran said.

"If you die-through no fault of my own, of course-the probability of my survival drops rather drastically. I'm expected to risk my ship, my crew, and my finances for some tenuous promise of possible goodwill. I'm looking for the silver lining and not finding any."

"You risk your ship, crew, and money, while we will be risking our lives," Curran said. "And since we're on the subject, I guarantee that if another vessel from your fleet pulls up next to out ship in the middle of the night and its crew attempts to murder us and scuttle our vessel to hide the evidence, you won't survive."

Saiman leaned back and laughed.

"What do you want?" I asked him.

"Friend of the Pack status," Saiman said. "Granted prior to departure."

Friend of the Pack would make him an ally. It guaranteed that shapeshifters would stay out of his business and protect him if one of them observed Saiman in imminent danger. It would also grant him the ability to visit the shapeshifter offices without being immediately detained.

"No," Curran said. "I won't give you that much access."

"Not only that, but if you become Friend of the Pack and then sink your ship with us on board, the shapeshifters can't come after you," I said.

"Do you really think I would drown you, Kate?"

"In a heartbeat," I told him. "You still owe me, Saiman."

"And I'm trying to work with you, but you must meet me halfway."

"No," I said. "You won't be getting Friend of the Pack status until we return."

Saiman smiled. "Then we're at an impasse."

We looked at each other.

"What if I come with you?"

"What?" I must've misheard.

"I'll join you on your wonderful adventure, Kate. That way, if our vessel does sink, I cannot be blamed, because I was on board."

"Why would you be doing this?" Curran asked.

"I'm overdue for a trip to the Mediterranean. I have business interests there."

"No," I said.

The two men looked at me.

"It's not a bad idea," Curran said.

"Have you two gone crazy? This is a horrible idea. First, the two of you hate each other."

"I don't hate him." Saiman shrugged. "It's too strong a word."

"If I hated him, he'd be dead," Curran said.

They were nuts. "How long does it take to cross the Atlantic?"

Saiman frowned. "Depends on the magic waves, but generally between twelve and eighteen days."

I turned to Curran. "We'll be stuck together on a small boat for at least two weeks. What happens when on day two he gets bored?"

"It will be fine," Curran said. "We can handle it. If he gets out of hand, we'll tie him to the mast."

Saiman gave him a derisive look. "We will be taking the Rush. It runs on enchanted water, steam, and diesel. It doesn't have a mast strong enough to hold me."

Curran exhaled. "Then we'll lock you in a cellar."

"Brig," Saiman corrected.

"Whatever." Curran dismissed it with a wave of his hand.

"Draw up a formal contract," I said. Saiman was egotistical and sometimes cowardly, but he had a ridiculously strong work ethic. If we could lock him in with a contract, he wouldn't break it.

"Oh, we will," Curran assured me. "Let's talk numbers."

Fifteen minutes later a satisfied Saiman left, escorted by Shawn. He was carrying his suitcase and ours. He was happy, the Beast Lord was happy, so why was I so uneasy?

"You'll regret this," I told Curran.

"I know. We don't have a choice. We have to get the panacea." He leaned over and kissed me. "I love you. Thank you for the ship. Thank you for doing this with me."

A little thrill ran through me. "I love you, too."

Getting the panacea meant that each baby born to the Pack would have a forty percent better chance of survival. It meant Maddie could become herself again. To make this happen, Curran would swallow his pride. He'd make a deal with Saiman, he'd bargain with Carpathians who had humiliated him, he'd cross the Atlantic and half a continent. And I would back him up every step of the way. Curran was responsible for the welfare of the Pack, and so was I.

"We have to get the panacea," I agreed. That was all there was to it.

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