“What?” She’d heard him, but doubted her ears.
Caught off guard, she went still, her only movement the intake of breath. She’d never known a vampire to give enough credence to the KM to even bring them up as a possible enemy, but then Octavian had been with Tatiana at Aliza’s. Maybe he’d figured out that’s what Creek was. She shook her head, unwilling to give anything away. “No.”
“You lie. I heard the skip of your pulse.”
“So what if they are who sent me? No one will believe you when you tell them that.”
He walked closer, stopping only when the point of her dagger was within striking distance. “I won’t tell them. The KM train us to reveal as little as possible.”
“Who do you think sent the picture of your brother and the invite to the ball?” He lifted Lilith from his shoulder and held her out to Chrysabelle.
The shock of the moment could be processed later. Right now, she needed to go. She dropped the dagger Mal had given her and untied the sash Nyssa had reworked into a sling for the baby, looping it across her body and retying it securely. Then she took Lilith from Octavian’s arms and settled her into the sling.
Octavian picked up the dagger, holding the hilt toward her to take when she was ready. “Quickly,” he admonished. “Tatiana will be here any—”
The door opened in the next room and Tatiana walked in, Mal right behind her. Rage glinted metallic in her eyes a second after she assessed the scene before her. “What the hell is going on?”
Mal had expected Chrysabelle to be gone by now. Octavian, eyes wide in shock—or terror—still held outstretched in his hand one of the daggers Mal had given her. How Chrysabelle had talked Octavian into giving up the baby, Mal couldn’t imagine. He followed Tatiana as she stormed through the living room and into the bedroom.
“I said what the hell is going on?” Tatiana shouted. “Why is she holding Lilith?”
Chrysabelle grabbed the dagger from Octavian as she whipped out her second blade.
“Octavian,” Tatiana snarled. “Do something!”
Octavian lunged weakly for Chrysabelle, but she dodged him, dancing farther back into the room. Tatiana reached for the top of her gown’s bodice and pulled out two long, slim blades.
“You, you’re…” She jabbed one in Chrysabelle’s direction, then swung around to glare at Mal. “Is that your comarré, Moreau? Why is she holding my child? Tell her to put Lilith down or I will kill her.”
Their cover would be blown soon enough. “Let me speak with her.” He stepped between Tatiana and Chrysabelle. “Get out now,” he told Chrysabelle in a low voice, throwing his arm out to block Tatiana.
With a nod, Chrysabelle started past, but Tatiana ducked under his arm. “Octavian, grab her.”
He did, latching on to Chrysabelle’s upper arm. She twisting and sliced downward, cutting through the upper sleeve of his jacket. Blood scent filled the air and his arm went limp, but the move spun her out of Mal’s reach and toward Tatiana.
In an instant, Tatiana struck, her narrow blade flashing as it sliced through the top part of the sling, leaving Chrysabelle bleeding across her shoulder and the baby hanging by a few shreds of silk.
Lilith began to cry.
Mal grabbed Tatiana’s blades with his hands. They bit into his palms but he yanked them away and tossed them, jerking Tatiana forward and sending her sprawling onto her belly. “Enough.”
The shock of his actions bought them a small window of time. Blood seeping down the front of her dress, Chrysabelle ran for the door, her arms hugging the baby to her while she kept a grip on her weapons. Tatiana shoved a foot out, tripping her. Lilith was tossed free. The fall sent her wailing to a deafening level.
“Lilith,” Tatiana screamed. She struggled to crawl toward her child, but Mal planted his booted foot on her back and pushed her down. She whipped her head around, pure hatred gleaming at him from her silver gaze. She thrust her metal hand out in front of her and it morphed into a sword. “You are about to die, Moreau. Samael protects us!”
As she positioned herself to strike, black smoke boiled in from the foyer, gagging them with the stench of brimstone. Choking, Chrysabelle tried to reach Lilith, but before she could, the smoke parted.
The Castus stepped out and roared his displeasure loud enough that the entire estate must have heard it. “Why have you called me? Why is my child crying?”
“Samael,” Tatiana cried. “Help us!” She pointed at Chrysabelle. “Kill her!”
Instead, the Castus ignored Tatiana and picked Lilith up. The baby stopped wailing instantly. He turned to look down at Tatiana. “We gave her to you to protect.”
“I am, I—”
“You are not.” Samael moved forward, the skirts of shadow covering his lower half undulating like a storm cloud, faces and reaching hands moving through the murky depths.
Mal took his foot off Tatiana and backed up. He knew when he wasn’t the biggest dog in the fight. At his side, Octavian sat on the floor, holding his bleeding arm and looking like he might pass out. Vamplings didn’t have quite the same healing power as older vampires.
“This,” the Castus hissed, “is over.” With that, he disappeared the same way he’d come in, a billow of smoke and stench, Lilith seated in his embrace.
Tatiana threw her head back and howled, a gut-twisting keening that brought the voices to life. Then she launched herself at Mal.