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A Perfect Blood (The Hollows #10)(92)

By:Kim Harrison

“Well, if it’s not Daddy Warbucks and Little Orphan Annie.” Eloy leaned his chair back on two legs, the picture of confidence and contempt. My eyes narrowed.
“By the Turn, you really are stupid,” Dr. Cordova said, and both Trent and the guy in the corner tensed as she reached into her bag. My pulse hammered and I felt Trent tap a line as she pulled out a big-ass, honking pistol the length of my arm. The thing could probably stop a vampire. My hold on the line strengthened. Maybe this hadn’t been such a good idea.
“You cost me my job,” she said, sighting down it. “I’m going to kill you dead.”
“No, Doctor, you’re not.” It was Eloy, the demand in his voice jerking her attention to him in annoyance. “There’s room in my truck for three.”
Dr. Cordova’s eyes flicked to Mark, then the guy in the corner, his hands out of sight. “I’m not going to jail,” she said, her aim shifting from me to the jogger.
I edged closer, pulling in enough energy off the line to make Trent wince. “Oh, I can guarantee that, Cordova,” I said.
White faced, Mark edged back behind the counter. I gave a quick shake of my head when he pantomimed having a phone to his ear. Maybe we were all stronger than we thought.
I jumped when Eloy’s chair thunked forward, back on four legs. “You can shoot her in the leg, though.”
Dr. Cordova smiled, the gun coming up again. “Rhombus!” I shouted, and Trent swore, hunching as I stood tall, my hand outstretched toward Dr. Cordova and the bullet headed for us. It twanged off my circle and a light in the corner shattered.
Dr. Cordova’s gun boomed again, her face ugly as she shot at the jogger. The-man-who-didn’t-belong had vaulted over the counter at the first shot, and she screamed as her gun went off a third time, leaving a splintered hole the size of a squash in the wall of the counter. I could see Mark through it, his face white as he skittered out of sight.
“Get the operative!” Eloy was shouting, shoving Cordova at the front counter where the-man-who-didn’t-belong had gone.
“Get your circle up!” I shouted at Trent, then dove through mine, feeling his energies licking my heels as I rolled to a stop, my hand deep in my bag as I looked for my magnetic chalk. I’d circle them like every other demon.
“Crap!” I exclaimed as I saw Eloy aiming at me. I fell onto a table, knocking it down to hide behind. A sharp ping of sound and the chimes hanging on the door behind me rang with a weird, choking peal, hit by the ricochet.
I pulled the line into me, my hands aching and my wrist throbbing with the pain Trent’s charm had dulled. Energy roiled beneath my skin, gold and black mixing in darkness and light. I heard Trent struggling, and I looked over the table. He was behind the counter. A burst of energy hit the ceiling like a cloudburst, and someone grunted. Eloy was taking aim at me again, and I threw my ball of energy at him, flashing a circle up with hardly a second to spare.
Eloy dove for cover as the black-and-gold ball hissed toward him. It hit the wall, spreading out in an ugly, almost electrical storm before subsiding. I kicked the overturned table out of the way, teeth clenched as my broken ankle twinged through Trent’s charm. Not yet. Give me a little more time. Eloy looked up from the floor, and I started to scribe a circle, my eyes never leaving his.
“Chubi whore,” he snarled, and I flashed a bubble in place. Expression ugly, he raised his gun at the ceiling. It went off in a series of three pops. Dust sifted down on my bubble, and I looked up.“Look out!” Trent shouted, and I cowered as the light fixture fell on me, bouncing off my bubble and sliding to the floor. Seeing me unhurt, Eloy bared his teeth and shot at me again.
I’d had about enough.
I stood, pulling in the line like it was a ribbon from a spool, gathering it in my soul until my hair started to float. My palms burned as I forced it into my hands and shoved it at Eloy like a beach ball. His lips parted as the head-size ball of energy broke through my circle and added my barrier’s energy to its own. I was vulnerable, and he took aim. “Dilatare!” I shouted, then dropped, covering my head.
The ball of energy exploded in midair, rocking the light fixtures and making the tempered-glass windows shake. I looked past my arms and saw Eloy sprawled on the floor. Heart pounding, I scrabbled to reach him, eager to do some personal damage.
“Stop!” Dr. Cordova shouted. “Stop right there, demon!”
I dove for Eloy as he moved to sit up. Sliding, I kicked the gun from him, then continued my foot’s arch to smack his head. Grunting, he slid back, before I connected, hatred in his eyes. I grinned savagely, and he smiled back.
“I said stop!” Dr. Cordova shouted again. “Or I kill the kid. Right here. Right now.”
I stopped.
My sour expression turned to fear as Dr. Cordova dragged Mark out from behind the counter, her arm around his neck and that honking huge pistol pressed into his temple. Shit, shit, shit! I’d really messed this up. Trent limped out from behind the counter from the opposite side and joined me. His hair was wild, and his eyes were dark with anger. Tense and jerky, he helped me to my feet, and I palmed my chalk to him in the process. “Where’s the jogger?” I said breathily as I watched Dr. Cordova yank Mark closer to Eloy and the back door.
Touching his lip and finding it swollen, Trent shook his head. “He pulled out. I think we’re on our own.”
At least he isn’t dead behind the counter. “Aren’t we always?” I said bitterly, scraping my resolve together. So we had to bring them in ourselves now. Damn it, they had Mark. The kid looked terrified. The memory of Winona surfaced, and my heart clenched. Not Mark. Not him.
“You want to take his place?” Eloy looked far too confident.
“Rachel, no.”
I shook Trent’s hand off me. “Finish that circle. Get them into it. Invoke it. That’s the plan,” I breathed, my heart pounding. I had to buy Trent some time. This was the only way.
Hands up, I stepped in front of Trent. “You’ve been a bad boy, Eloy,” I said. “Murdering what scares you. That’s not how grown-ups solve problems. And, Cordova? I’d like to have five minutes alone with you. Maybe show you up close and personal what that bastard did to Winona. You know Winona, right? Cloven feet, horns, red pelt? Can’t miss her.” 
Mark was frozen in her grip, too scared to move. His eyes were on mine, terrified. “Charms on the table,” she said, the strain obvious in her voice, and I took another step forward.
“Here’s the sitch,” I said, locking my knees so they wouldn’t see them shake. I wasn’t afraid, I was mad. “The guy in the corner just stepped out to get his buddies. He’s got lots of friends with really cool toys, and if you don’t let Mark go this instant, I’m going to get mad enough to do something I’m going to regret. I’m a demon, Cordova. Don’t push me.”
Cordova jammed her weapon into Mark a little harder. “Charms on the table. Now!”
Eloy was touching the back of his head where he’d hit the floor. His gun was again pointed at Trent. Mark’s eyes were clenched closed, and his lips were moving. In a charm? I wondered, my heart pounding hard. Probably a prayer.
A part of me said the hell with it. Take a chance. But the fear of becoming careless with other people’s lives was stronger. I had to be more careful now, not less, and I angled an arm down to let my bag hit the floor. Trent’s charms spilled everywhere, and my phone slipped out.
“Rachel, wait.”
It was Trent, and Dr. Cordova jammed the mouth of her weapon harder into Mark’s head, making him gasp. Eloy’s aim shifted to me, and I strengthened my hold on the line, ready to make a circle.
“Not now, Trent,” I said. “It’s me they want.”
“No, it isn’t.”
Mark opened an eye slightly, and I risked a quick look at Trent, standing beside me in his loose-fitting, head-to-toe black, smelling of wine and broken wood as he lifted his chin and dared me to protest. He looked ticked, but not at me. “What are you doing?”
He shook his head, looking far too calm and in control. “This is not utilizing our skills to their fullest extent,” he said softly, his hand on my shoulder, and then he sent his gaze past me to them. “I know how to stabilize the Rosewood enzymes,” he said loudly, and I stiffened. “I’m the one you want. Not her.”
“Trent!” I exclaimed, a thread of panic coming from out of nowhere to tighten around my heart, and he pushed me behind him, surreptitiously handing my magnetic chalk back. “What are you doing?”
“Something you won’t,” he said, and then his eyes touched on mine. “You’re a good person. Don’t change because I’m a bastard.” Anger and frustration filled him, and then . . . as he turned so they couldn’t see . . . I saw a thread of excitement running behind his thoughts, a desire to find justice, a need to prove to himself that he was not just his father, but that his mother lived in him, too. He had an idea—one he really liked and I probably wouldn’t.
Someday, you’re going to be glad I have that particular skill.
God save us. He was going to do something bad. Seeing my understanding, he leaned back, breaking eye contact as if it hurt. “Trent . . .” I whispered, and he handed me the battery pack and earbud.