“She’s heading for the tunnels!” I heard Fabian say.
My pace quickened, but my legs still felt wobbly. Damn lingering effects of my heart being punctured with silver. I hadn’t been this weakened after having my whole body pumped full of it.
“You said this building connects to the train station beneath the street?”
Bones nodded, slowing down to drape a hard arm around me, supporting me. He must have caught my slight wobble.
“The train station will have even more tunnels,” I said in growing concern. “We could lose her in the underground labyrinth, which must be why she’s running there.”
Smart girl, I thought, and felt a surge of pride even as I shook Bones’s arm off.
“You’re faster. Leave me and get her. I’ll be right behind you.”
“Katie!” Tate yelled, his voice starting to echo. “Stop!”
Bones raked me with a gaze, as if judging my capabilities, then turned and flew, streaking into the darkness ahead. I tried to fly as well—and promptly face-planted into the ground.
“Ugh,” I groaned before spitting out what I hoped was dirt. Then, with a slight stagger, I got up and began to run in the direction Bones had disappeared.
“If you’d listen to reason, poppet . . .”
Ian’s voice bounced off the walls before I heard a hard, thwacking sound, then an indignant, “Why, you little guttersnipe!”
His voice had held distinct undertones of pain and surprise. Despite feeling like death warmed over, I smiled. Looks like I wasn’t the only one Katie had gotten the drop on.
Bones’s voice, accompanied by a crack of power I felt though I was a couple hundred yards behind him. I ran faster, almost tripping over garbage and debris in my haste. When I rounded a corner that opened up into a boiler room, I stopped at the sight that greeted me.
Ian’s shirt had a wide gash, revealing a crimson slash on his pale abdomen that was still healing. By comparison, Tate had fared much better. He only had a red-stained slice in his shoulder and more fresh blood coating his forehead.
Bones didn’t have a mark on his all-black ensemble. He stood in the corner of the room, his hand held out as though hailing a cab.
Katie was suspended in midair about fifty feet from him, her legs kicking at nothing since the ground was nowhere near her feet.
I came closer, savoring my first full view of her that didn’t involve a grainy video. Her auburn hair was now almost black from dirt, old soot, or both. She’d tied it into a ponytail with a strip of plaid material she must have cut from the bottom of her too-big shirt. An equally large pair of pants were rolled up at the ankles and belted onto her thin frame with more plaid material. Her shoes also looked several sizes too big, but she’d wrapped string tightly around her feet to keep them from falling off.
If she’d gotten creative with her borrowed clothes, that was nothing compared to the knives she clutched in those small, pale hands. The blades consisted of broken glass filed down to precision points, with leather book covers and tape making up the handles. Silver glinted along the edge of blades, causing another swell of twisted parental pride. She’d almost killed me with one of her homemade knives, but damned if she didn’t have skill. It would have taken her hours to melt enough silver to coat those blades, and despite their weight being off with the handles, she’d still managed to throw one right into my bull’s-eye zone.
I came closer, wishing I knew what color her eyes were. At the moment, they were lit up with vampire green, their glow landing on my face as I approached.
So many emotions surged as I stared up at her. Protectiveness and concern I expected; she’d been through so much at an age where her biggest concern should have been losing her baby teeth. Fear and shyness I’d predicted; I so wanted her to like me, and, of course, I had no idea how to start building our relationship. Hi, I’m your mom was too much, too soon, and if I tried to hug her, she’d probably stab me again.
What I hadn’t counted on was the love that walloped me right in the heart. She might as well have hit me with Cupid’s arrow before, it was so sudden and strong. Me, who had trust issues a mile long and had refused to admit that I loved Bones until several months into our relationship, now knew with absolute certainty that I loved the homicidal little hellion staring down at me. With that knowledge, a big, stupid grin broke out over my face.
We were together now. We’d work out the rest later.
Wariness replaced her oddly stoic expression, reminding me to rein in the signs of my newfound joy. Grinning at her while she was trussed up in a telekinetic net probably made me look like a crazed villain.
“Hi,” I said in what I hoped was a neutral voice. “My name is Cat. Don’t worry, no one’s going to hurt you.”
She glanced at her suspended body, then back at me. Liar, her look plainly stated.
“Let her down,” I ordered Bones.
He stepped out from the corner, and her heart sped up. With his black clothes, long coat, dark hair, and gaze back to its natural brown, he must have almost blended into the shadows to her.
“I’m Bones,” he stated in a crisp tone. “It’s my power that’s holding you up there, and I could do far worse if I chose to.”
“Bones,” I hissed. “Stop scaring her!”
“I’m not scaring her,” he replied evenly. “I’m speaking to her in terms she understands.”
His cool gaze never wavered from Katie as he slowly lowered her with each step that he took.
“I know a bit about growing up under harsh circumstances,” he told her. “Makes you understand two things straightaway—who’s got the power and who doesn’t. I do, and you feel it as well as see it, don’t you?”
She nodded, her expression still giving nothing away. I’d seen people centuries old that didn’t have as good a poker face. That she could suppress displays of emotion at such a staggeringly young age was further proof of the warped way she’d been raised. Most children wore their feelings on their sleeve, but whatever Katie’s were, she’d locked them behind that mask of detachment.
That’s when it occurred to me that I couldn’t hear her thoughts. Maybe it was because I was still under the weather from the recent silver-staking she’d given me. I concentrated harder, but got nothing except a solid wall of blankness. Amazing.
Aside from her glowing eyes, she looked totally human. Her skin was too dirty to see if it had the same luminescence mine had when I was a half-breed, but her breathing, heartbeat, and scent all screamed mortal. No wonder it was so easy to forget that she wasn’t.
“Since I have this power,” Bones continued, “you can trust that we won’t hurt you for the simple reason that if we wanted you dead, you already would be.”
“Bones!” I snapped.
“Way to win stepfather of the year,” Tate muttered.
Katie, however, pursed her lips in the first display of emotion I’d seen: contemplation. Then her feet touched the ground as Bones finished lowering her. Once she tested her weight and found that she was standing under her own power, her eyes lost their preternatural glow and began to darken. When they turned to gunmetal gray, I almost let out a sob.
She had my eyes. My nose, too, and here’s hoping that edge to her chin was dirt instead of signs of the trademark Crawfield stubbornness. Without realizing it, I sank down until we were eye level.
And then she spoke.
“You heal like them, but you’re not one of them because your heart still beats sometimes. Why?”
I let her voice flow over me, storing it in parts I hadn’t known existed until now. Her vocabulary was years above her age, much like the rest of her traits, but her voice held the high, youthful tenor of a child’s.
“Because once,” I said huskily, “I was like you: part human and part something else. Special.”
Tate crouched next to me, smiling at her with a sheen in his eyes that he didn’t attempt to blink away.
“I know I look different since I shaved and cut my hair, but you remember me, don’t you? You crushed my neck five seconds after we met.”
“Six,” she corrected with a solemn little blink.
He grinned. “All right, six. The only other girl to kick my butt that fast is Cat. She trained me to fight, you know.”
Dark gray eyes met mine, causing me to draw in a breath. Would I ever get used to seeing my own eyes look back at me from that tiny face?
“I remember you from the base,” she stated. “You tried to make me come with you. You are very hard to neutralize.”
From her tone, that last part was a compliment, though I wasn’t sure how to respond. The person she remembered trying to “neutralize” back then had been Denise, shapeshifted to look like me. In actuality, Katie had only tried to kill me once, and she’d damn near succeeded.
“Thank you,” I settled on, adding, “you’re very tough, too, but you don’t have to be anymore. We’re going to take care of you.”
Then I couldn’t help it; I took her hand. She flinched, her fingers tightening on her knife. After a glance at Bones, her grip loosened.
I let her go. If her first instinct was still to stab me, it was obviously too soon for tactile displays of affection.
Tate’s gaze tracked what happened, too. He put his arm around my shoulders, giving me a firm squeeze.
“Cat is my friend,” he said cleanly. “I hug my friends sometimes to show I’m happy that they’re there. Or I take their hand like this.”
His fingers twined through mine, and he held our hands up. She stared as though he’d magically pulled a rabbit out of a hat.
I understood then, and couldn’t stop the tears. Katie had never been taught to touch anyone except in violence. No wonder she’d flinched when I took her hand. She thought I was about to hurt her.
“You poor little girl,” I whispered. “It’s okay now, I promise.”
“Isn’t this sickeningly sweet?”
The mocking purr didn’t come from Ian, though from his expression, he’d been thinking something similar. Tension rocketed through my emotions as Bones’s power erupted, firing toward that voice, only to have it dissipate like he’d funneled it into a vacuum.
“Ooh, do that again,” our unseen intruder urged.
I recognized him now, and everything in me stiffened. Trove.
Smiling, the demon walked into the boiler room, his red-tinged gaze flicking between me and Katie. He was dressed in a suit and tie, his steel-colored hair coiffed to perfection and trademark handsome features set in a pleasant mask. He could have been dropping in on another fund-raising event, he looked so pressed and polished, and since we hadn’t heard him approach, he must have used his teleporting trick to get here, damn his evil hide.
Bones lowered his hand. The demon would only grow stronger from another telekinetic blast.
“Cat,” Trove drew out in a satisfied purr. “Aren’t you going to introduce me to your daughter?”
I leapt up, standing between Katie and Trove without the slightest care that she had two silver knives, and I’d turned my back on her. Tate growled, flanking me. Ian pulled out his weapons, his mouth curling into a nasty smile.
If we were the picture of hostility, Bones looked like a study in Zen. He practically strolled toward the demon, both hands in his pockets as if he couldn’t be bothered to hold their weight up himself.
“What brings you here, mate?” he asked with remarkable casualness.
Trove grinned. The sight of those fancy white teeth made me fantasize about knocking them down his throat until he choked on them.
“A desire for mayhem, of course.”
I didn’t want to take my eyes off our unwelcome visitor. Then a small, clear voice asked, “Are you really my mother? The old man said she was dead.”
I couldn’t help it; I glanced behind me.
Immediately, I wished I hadn’t. The cautious hope in Katie’s gaze nearly brought me to my knees. I wanted to smother her with assurances that she’d never, ever be alone again, then I wanted to hug her until she forgot what it was like to feel afraid. The only urge stronger was my need to kill the filthy creature who threatened her.
Since I had to do that before the other, it gave me the strength to turn around, facing my enemy instead of my daughter.
“The old man lied. I am your mother, and I’m not leaving you again,” I said, my voice strong despite emotional walls breaking everywhere inside me.
Tate nudged me, glancing to the side. I followed his gaze, seeing a small door in the farthest corner of the room. Trove blocked the way we’d entered into the boiler room, but we weren’t trapped. This must lead to the tunnels Bones had mentioned. I didn’t think it was an accident that his moseying had placed Bones right in Trove’s path. Should the renowned politician attempt to stop us, he’d have to get through Bones first. Even if Bones’s telekinesis was ineffective against him, that would still take some doing.
Trove glanced behind us, as if guessing our intention. And then he smiled.
I felt the whoosh before that familiar earthy scent filled the room. Katie let out a small gasp.
When I turned around, over two dozen ghouls blocked the other door. From their power levels, they weren’t random guys Trove had teleported from some local undead bar. They were trained fighters, and their muscular builds only added to their air of menace.
“Did I forget to mention?” Trove asked with false innocence. “I decided to bring some friends with me.”