I couldn't undo the damage but I could step up and take charge. I could make sure that while there was breath in my body, not another of my people would be harmed. Whether or not she knew it, Kate was mine now and I would save her or die trying. That is what I do, I am the Beast Lord. I stood and locked eyes with the girl.
"Julie, if you release me, I swear that I will not harm you, Kate, or any of my people."
"Will you help them, in the games?"
"Yes, I will."
"What?" What could I do for him that Doolittle could not?
"He is with them, fighting the creatures who hurt him. He is very brave."
Damn idiot. "Yes, but foolish as well." I wonder if she knows the whole story?
Julie grimaced. "Yeah, I know. It's about the girl. I will take care of her later, but I need you to promise about the others."
"Julie, I give you my word, I will do everything in my power to help our friends and punish our enemies."
She let out a breath she had been holding and smiled finally.
I have been the Beast Lord of Atlanta for half of my life. I am responsible for the lives of several hundred Free People of the Code. Some people will tell you that being in charge means telling other people what to do. That is only a part of it. Leadership means doing what you know is the right thing. In my experience it rarely involves doing what you want or like.
Tonight was no exception. I was attending a meeting between the Pack Council, the alphas of all the clans, and the People, necromancers who piloted the dead. Bernard's was neutral ground, a sanctuary where all of Atlanta's players came to be seen and feel important.
Violence was strictly forbidden. No problem we could dress up and play nice with Nataraja's corpse fuckers. For now there was no need for open conflict between the Pack and the People. The peace would not last forever and one day I would watch the light go out of his eyes while the Casino burned down around him.
Pushing that pleasant thought aside, I entered the main floor. Jim was waiting there with the other alphas, I nodded to him and he led the group upstairs. I started to follow them when I detected a familiar scent. It couldn't be. Why would she be here?
She had broken into my place, messed up my weights, and even put catnip into my bed. In retaliation I had glued that cute butt of hers into her office chair. In short we were doing the mating dance.
For a while I thought I had lost her for good, but in our own fucked up way we had swallowed our pride and reached out to one another. We both knew it would never be easy, but we were willing to try. I knew that Kate wasn't universally loved by the Pack, but they owed me. I bled for them, I fixed their petty squabbles. I had given them everything, they would give me this one thing. Or I would break it all apart.
As I reached the top of the stairs I saw Jim chewing one of his crew a new asshole. What the fuck? Maybe she was here. Kate was trouble and I wondered what she had done to piss Jim off. Maybe tonight would not be completely boring after all. I just hoped I wouldn't walk into the room full of my alphas with their asses glued to their seats.
I stepped into the room and looked for her. She stood by a table on the left and for a moment I think I forgot to breathe. Kate looked amazing, her hair was down, she was wearing make-up and that dress. It was cut low in the front and fit like it was made for her.
She stood next to Saiman.
She was here with him. She wore that dress for him. She looked like that for him.
It was like something hit me in the gut. The rest of the room ceased to exist. There was only me and him and the distance between us. Why him, why here? Did she want to hurt me in the most public way possible?
Jim was at my side, trying to tell me something. I stared at them, trying to make some sense of it. The son of a bitch smiled at me and said something to her that I could not make out. I strained and picked his smug voice out of the noise "..would mean war. He can't move a finger out of line."
I almost smiled then. He thought he was safe.
Jim's voice broke my concentration. "Not here."
I knew he was right but it didn't matter.
"I can make him disappear," Jim said next to me. "No one will ever find him. I can bring him to you in chains, or in pieces. Just wait. Don't do it in front of her. We can do it any time. We've got nothing but time."
I turned my gaze to her and she stared right back. The look was challenging. No, it was going to be right here and right now. She could try and stop me, hell they all could , but she was going to watch me tear him apart. I would paint the floors and walls with his blood before he died.
The freak laughed. "We aren't without similarities, Curran and I."
Oh, I had to hear this.
"We both fall prey to lust. We both guard our pride and suffer from jealousy. We both employ our resources to get what we want: I use my wealth and my body and he uses his position of power. You say I want you only because you refused me. He wants you for the same reason. I remember when he became Beast Lord. The boy king, the perpetual adolescent, suddenly at the head of the food chain, granted access to hundreds of women who can't say no. Do you think he forces them into his bed? He had to have done it at least a few times."
What? That slimy cocksucker was telling her I was a rapist. The guy who would fuck a snake if he could find someone to hold it still. I never, ever.
Kate, tell him it isn't true. Tell him you don't believe it. Tell him.
She said nothing.
I had wanted her, and I thought she wanted me. I was good, I waited. She was in the Keep, weak and wounded, but I never touched her. He would say or do anything. He would use her and throw her away when he tired of her. I had almost died during the games for her.
He leaned to her.
I could clear the distance between us in three leaps. Two seconds and I could twist his head off his shoulders and throw it at her feet.
He raised his voice. "You're all mine tonight. Kiss me, Kate"
He reached for her. She stepped away.
Something inside me snapped and then I was moving toward him. He would not leave this place alive. I couldn't make her love me, but she didn't want his hands on her. That sick fuck would never touch her again.
She stepped in front of him. He was so drunk or stupid that he still did not know what was happening.
"…won't hurt me. Not here."
I was almost there, I could smell the alcohol in his sweat. She swiped a bottle off a nearby table and moved toward me. Nice, but it would not be enough. Maybe if she had her sword…
"The People greet the Beast Lord."
Nataraja. It took everything I had but I stopped. If I killed him now, it would be war. In that moment I would have thrown my life away to feel Saiman's skull snap between my jaws, but he was not worth the lives of my Alphas. Saiman would never know it but that bald headed prick had saved his life. For the moment..
I stared at Kate and mouthed a single word. Later.
She stared back at me, her eyes clear. Any time.
I took a deep breath, turned my back on her and in a calm voice called out "The Beast Lord greets the People."
MAGIC STRIKES TEASER
Some days my job was harder than others.
I tapped the ladder with my hand. "See? It's very sturdy, Mrs. McSweeney. You can come down now."
Mrs. McSweeney looked at me from the top of the telephone pole, having obvious doubts about the ladder's and my reliability. Thin, bird-boned, she had to be past seventy. The wind stirred the nimbus of fine white hair around her head and blew open her nightgown, presenting me with sights better left unseen.
"Mrs. McSweeney, I wish you would come down."
She arched her back and sucked in a deep breath. Not again. I sat on the ground and clamped my hands over my ears.
The wail cut through the stillness of the night, sharp like a knife. It hammered the windows of the apartment buildings, wringing a high-pitched hum from the glass. Down the street dogs yowled as one, matching the cry with unnatural harmony. The lament built, swelling like an avalanche, until I could hear nothing but its complex, layered chorus: the lonely howl of a wolf, the forlorn shriek of a bird, the heart-wrenching cry of child. She wailed and wailed, as if her heart was being torn out of her chest, filling me with despair.
The magic crashed. One moment it filled the world, giving potency to Mrs. McSweeney's cry, and the next it vanished from the world without warning, gone like a line drawn in the sand just before the surf licked it. The technology reasserted itself. The blue fey lantern hanging from the top of the pole went dark, as the magic charged air lost its potency. Electric lights came on in the apartment building.
It was called post-Shift resonance: magic drowned the world in a wave, snuffing out anything complex and technological, smothering car engines, jamming automatic weapons, and eroding tall buildings. Mages fired ice bolts, skyscrapers fell, and wards flared into life, keeping undesirables from my house. And then, just like that, the magic would vanish, leaving monsters in its wake. Nobody could predict when it would reappear and nobody could prevent it. All we could do was cope with an insane tarantella of magic and technology. That's why I carried a sword. It always worked.
The last echoes of the cry bounced from the brick walls and died.
Mrs. McSweeney stared at me with sad eyes. I picked myself off the ground and waved at her. "I'll be right back."
I trotted into the dark entrance to the apartment, where five members of the McSweeney family crouched in the gloom. "Tell me again why you can't come out and help me?"
Robert McSweeney, a middle-aged, dark-eyed man with thinning brown hair, shook his head. "Mom thinks we don't know she's a banshee. Look, Ms. Daniels, can you get her down or not? You're the knight of the Order, for Christ's sake."
First, I wasn't a knight; I just worked for the Order of Merciful Aid. Second, negotiation wasn't my forte. I killed things. Quickly and with much bloodshed. Getting elderly banshees in denial off of telephone poles wasn't something I did often.