Chapter Eight
Maggie drove just above the speed limit, her gaze constantly returning to the device tracking Sir Pup’s location. He and James weren’t too far ahead—but not, Maggie had said, so close that James would spot their vehicle.
Geoff nodded, casting ahead in an attempt to find Sir Pup, and was surprised when she admitted, “It’s almost a relief. To know I was wrong about him.”
She’d said that she couldn’t talk about it yet, that it was too much. But maybe, Geoff thought, too much not to. At least a bit. “Wrong, how? The kill order was a setup.”
“Yes. That’s not what I—Not exactly.” She checked Sir Pup’s position, still on a steady course north. “I was afraid I’d have to choose.”
“Choose what?”
“I didn’t know.” He heard the long, shaky breath she drew. Saw her hand make an open gesture, grasping at air. “Choose something. Something that would turn out to be karma coming back to bite me on the ass. Something that meant I wouldn’t be going back home.”
Home. She glanced over at him, and he wondered if she saw his face. If she knew what she was looking at when she did.
“But now,” she continued, “I feel I’ve done what I could for him. And the rest isn’t my choice, or my responsibility.”
Geoff didn’t point out that it never had been. Saying it wouldn’t mean she hadn’t felt it hanging over her head.
“Anyway.” She took another of those long breaths, but this was deep, steady. “I don’t feel so tired now. Thank you.”
Surprise shot through him again. “What for?”
“For caring.” She searched his features, and this time he was certain she saw. “Don’t get careless, though. Or do anything stupid. And I won’t, either.”
She was in an emotionally weak moment. It was probably unfair to press her now. “After we retrieve Katherine, I want a week with you. Or two. Time set aside every evening. Even if we’ll do nothing more than sit in your garden.”
“I killed all of my flowers trying to discover if I had a green thumb.”
“I’ll not look at them if you don’t.”
The mirror caught the corner of her smile. “All right.”
He should have asked for a month. Geoff pushed ahead, found a driver, went farther—slipping into more than thirty people before the world exploded around him in sharp, brilliant detail. Each flap of a bumblebee’s iridescent wings as it flew past Sir Pup. Minute particles swirling from mufflers, the pits in the pavement rushing beneath his feet.
His head began to throb, but he didn’t want to lose the connection. Narrowing his own focus on the Land Rover helped.
“I have him,” he told Maggie, and that was all that was said between them until, ten minutes later, Sir Pup began to slow.
“James is turning right. It looks to be a shared drive, marked with a stack of yellow stone blocks. I—” He clutched his head, fighting nausea as everything blurred.
A house rushed by, a second. Then a glimpse of the boathouse Katherine had seen from her window before Sir Pup was standing, peering through green-leafed shrubbery at the driveway.
Low, Geoff thought. Lying or crouching.
“I believe . . .” He swallowed hard. “I believe he looked over the layout of the area. There are three houses, but they are a good distance apart and separated by trees and plantings of some sort.” His thumb was no greener than Maggie’s. “The driveway is lined with the same. He’s waiting there now, on a bend. He’s past the lanes for the other two houses.”
“We’ll be at the turnoff in about a minute.”
Geoff nodded. Good timing. “And there’s James,” he told her.
The vehicle moved along the driveway at a good clip. Sir Pup seemed to rise from the ground—then darted forward.
Tendrils of smoke rose from the tires as they skidded over the pavement. Geoff didn’t hear the crunch of the metal hitting flesh, but he saw the bumper dent from the impact, the drops of blood that splattered the black paint.
The world spun once, twice. Sir Pup rolled to a stop twelve feet from the vehicle, his unfocused gaze directed under the Land Rover.
Playing dead, Geoff thought.
His own body had clenched, he realized, as if braced for impact. He drew in a deep breath, then another. “Does he heal quickly?”
“Sir Pup?” Her voice had a sharp edge. “Why?”
“He jumped in front of the SUV.”
“Oh.” Her short laugh was high, relieved. “Yes.”
James’s booted feet appeared beside the Land Rover and jogged over to Sir Pup. The hellhound lay still until James knelt beside him.
To Geoff, it only appeared as if Sir Pup batted James with a forepaw. Then Geoff lost sight of him until the hellhound rose to his feet and looked over at the Land Rover. The windshield had shattered. James slid down the hood and crumpled to a heap on the driveway.
Geoff’s heart pounded and echoed in the suddenly hollow space between his ears. “And you say that while my uncle sleeps you’re alone with that dog?”
“I’ve never said that. Is James still alive?”
Sir Pup was sniffing at the man’s legs, his arms. At James’s throat, his pulse beat faintly beneath his skin.
“Yes,” Geoff said, then slipped back into Maggie’s eyes when she next spoke.
“There they are.”
Maggie rolled James over and stripped him of his weapons. Nylon cable-tie handcuffs bound his wrists behind his back, his legs at the ankles. With Geoff’s help, she loaded him into the back of the Land Rover.
She pulled off her jacket and tossed it on the front seat. “Can you shoot a gun?” When Geoff’s brows lifted, she said, “If the demon looks at you, you’ll be able to aim and shoot him. The bullets won’t kill him, but they’ll hurt him a little.”
And with luck, provide enough distraction that Sir Pup would be able to do his thing.
At Geoff’s nod, she fitted him with a 9-mm from Sir Pup’s hammerspace and screwed on a sound suppressor. Sleek and effective.
“We’ll drive up in the Land Rover,” she told him. “Sir Pup—you go on around.”
The driveway bent to the right and down a small rise. Maggie studied the house longer than she might have if Geoff weren’t looking through her eyes. A columned veranda wrapped around the front of the house. It rose three stories, topped by a widow’s walk. Exits in the front, she noted, and likely in the back.
For a demon, though, any window could serve as an exit.
“I walk ahead of you,” Geoff said. And before she could protest, he added, “So I can see where the hell I’m going.”
And when he could see where he was going, Maggie realized, he moved as smoothly and as confidently as any of the operatives she’d worked with. He took the front steps and moved to the side of the door. He held up his hand before she could kick through.
Geoff pointed to his eyes, then the door. It took her a moment to understand.
The demon was waiting for them—and looking at the door from the other side.
On the stairs, he mouthed clearly.
Her pulse raced, and she couldn’t stop her grin. The British and American governments had no idea what they were missing.
He reached down and depressed the door handle. It opened easily.
Maggie swept through low, aimed—and froze. Katherine stood on the stair landing. Tall and dark, just like Geoff. Her eyes widened, and she raced down the stairs.
Geoff came in beside Maggie and raised his arms. His gun.
Oh, Jesus.
“No!” Maggie launched herself at him—too late.
He fired. Katherine’s cheek opened up; blood spit across the wall beside her. She staggered, fell.
Maggie’s weight knocked him to the side. He caught his footing, caught her with his free hand.
“Maggie! What the bloody . . .” He stopped, and his brow furrowed. “What are you seeing?”
She looked back at the stairs. Katherine stared at them, her gaze clouded with death. Crimson soaked into the cream-carpeted stair pillowing her head.
Coldly, Geoff aimed again. “My sister’s eyesight isn’t that good, Maggie.”
And the wound on her cheek was healing.
The tricking, lying bastard. Maggie clenched her teeth and opened fire.
The demon lifted his head, the ragged wound opening with his grin. But he didn’t stay Katherine and let them shoot him full of holes.
And knowing that a demon couldn’t hurt them didn’t make him any less terrifying when he shape-shifted.
The change was instantaneous.
If Geoff was looking through the demon’s eyes, he wouldn’t see the scales that covered the massive body, the glistening fangs, the ebony horns that curled back over his head. Hands became claws.
But it was the knees that made Maggie want to sink whimpering to the floor and curl into a ball. They were just the wrong way. Like a goat’s hind legs, but she couldn’t look at them without imagining her own knees snapping backward.
Maggie instinctively stepped back as the leathery wings snapped open and air gusted over her face. Her heart jumped into her throat as the taloned wing tips slammed into the stair-well walls, forming a barrier.
The message was clear: The demon couldn’t harm them. But it didn’t have to let them pass, either.
Where the hell was Sir Pup?
Geoff’s gun clicked. Out of ammunition. And Maggie almost screamed as something brushed by her leg.
A dog. Golden retriever. Wearing a guide harness.
Oh, thank God.
“Yours, Mr. Blake?” The demon’s grin spread wide over his fangs. A sword appeared in his hands. “Foolish. The Rules do not apply to animals—”
Sir Pup shifted as he leapt. Maggie grabbed Geoff’s arm and swung him around, dropping them both to the ground.
She looked, but couldn’t follow what happened. The demon crashed through a wall. A painting thumped to the floor beside Geoff’s head, then tipped over them. The house shook. Sir Pup yelped, once, and the echoing growl that followed it turned her blood to ice.
Geoff squeezed her hand. Maggie pushed at the heavy frame. Beside them, a ripped piece of wing bled onto the floor.
“If Sir Pup uses his teeth,” Maggie began, then shrank back as something huge rushed by them—demon or hellhound, she couldn’t be sure. The floor trembled.
Geoff pushed her tighter against the wall, shielding her with his body as she finished, “If Sir Pup bites him, his venom gets into the demon. Paralyzes him.”
Paralyzes him was said into sudden, deathly silence.
Maggie sat up, and her hand flew to her mouth.
The once beautifully decorated house was destroyed. Plaster and drywall gaped open, exposing the walls’ support posts like wooden bones. Carpeting had been shredded. There was blood . . . everywhere. On the furniture, the floors, the walls. Her stomach roiled.
“Bugger me,” Geoff whispered beside her.
A shadow darkened the dining room wall. A shadow, Maggie realized, with three heads.
With his left head, Sir Pup dragged the demon beside him, knocking chairs out of his blooded path. He was limping, Maggie saw. Limping and bleeding.
The demon had the stump of a right arm and a bite taken out of his torso. And he was still alive.
She swallowed down the bile that rose and held back her shudder. “Hold him here, Sir Pup,” she said. “We’re going to get Katherine.”
Geoff went up the stairs ahead of her. The door was locked. He slammed his shoulder against it, and it splintered open.
Katherine stood on the other side, holding the heavy antique lamp like a baseball bat. Uninjured, but obviously scared out of her wits.
Maggie reloaded her gun through their hasty reunion.
They weren’t yet done.
Geoff dragged James inside while Maggie brought their rented vehicle to the house. Sir Pup could vanish the blood. They’d leave the broken mess.
Katherine found food in the kitchen and brought it out to the living room while they waited for James to wake up. Geoff’s sister didn’t kick the mutilated and paralyzed demon when she walked by him, stretched out motionlessly on the floor beside James. Which meant, Maggie thought, that Katherine was a better woman than she would have been.
Geoff spent twenty minutes on the phone with Ames-Beaumont. “Uncle Colin has canceled his and Savi’s flight,” he told them. “And has scheduled ours for this evening.”
Maggie nodded. It’d be enough time. James was already stirring.
“And he wants to know what they were looking for,” Geoff said.
Katherine frowned. “I told you. Dragon blood.” She looked at Maggie. “They said it was something that your congressman had. That he’d kept it since the war of the heavens, intending it for a time when it could be used. Now that your demon is dead, he wanted it.” She pointed at the demon. “It’s not much to speak of. A few drops trapped in a crystal rock.”
Maggie forced herself to look again at the demon’s missing arm, the wound in his side. How much power did a few drops have that the demon had gone through this?
“Do you know where it is, Kate?”
“Yes.” She flipped over a blood-spattered cushion on a sofa and sat. “And I’ll tell you where you can find it once we’ve reached San Francisco. You can hand it over to Uncle Colin, and he can give it over to the Guardians. If I don’t, I suppose I’ll soon be repeating this experience.”
Geoff’s face was grim. “And someone else will be forced into a demon’s service.”
It could have been me, Maggie thought. She sank into a shredded armchair and brought her legs up.
Langan would’ve known when he’d given James the assignment to kill Thomas Stafford that it couldn’t be completed. It might have even been plotted by both demons, so that they would have—if they needed one—a hold over a human who could carry out assassinations, who didn’t have to follow the Rules. It wouldn’t have been the first time Stafford had used a human to kill for him.
And knowing her psychological profile, they’d probably even predicted that she’d fake James’s death. But even if her resignation had surprised Langan, she had no doubt that her placement in Stafford’s house had been his idea. He’d probably been the one to give Stafford that picture of her and James.
If the Guardians hadn’t slain Stafford, what might have happened? Would she, too, have found herself trapped in a bargain—forced to kidnap or kill to save her soul?
She laid her cheek against her knees and closed her eyes. But it hadn’t happened. Karma, luck, or maybe something else . . . She had escaped that fate, and ended up with Ames-Beaumont instead.
And Geoff.
Opening her eyes, she looked up and met his. They were slightly unfocused; they were never like that when he was looking through her. Her gaze moved to Katherine. His sister’s stare was as intense as Geoff’s could be.
She heard him say quietly, “Just a few more seconds, Kate.”
How wonderful to have family, Maggie thought.
Especially this one.