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A Perfect Blood (The Hollows #10)(93)

By:Kim Harrison

And then he turned away.
“Take me,” he said boldly, his hands at his sides, his fingers spread wide, making his missing digits obvious. “I can cut your research down to days.”
For three seconds, Eloy considered it. Dr. Cordova tightened her grip on her pistol, clearly reluctant to let Mark go. “He’s not a witch,” the woman said, and Mark’s eyes met mine, looking for direction. I had none to give.
A slow smile began to spread across Eloy’s face, and my heart pounded. He had his gun again, and he motioned for me to move. “Back up, Rachel,” he demanded, his voice dripping scorn, and Dr. Cordova shifted her feet, which made Mark stumble.“He’s not a witch!” she said louder, and Eloy gave her a look that told her she was being stupid. “If we take him, the entire country is going to be on us!”
“Exactly right.” Satisfaction in his every motion, Eloy gestured for Trent to put his hands on his head and come closer. “It will be on every news station in every U.S. city. Everyone will know that HAPA has struck back. They will know that we are no longer going to sit and hide, but that the animals that have enslaved and murdered us will again be hunted and slaughtered.” He shouted at me, righteous anger slamming into me like a wall, “You will back up!”
Mouth dry, I retreated, slipping when my foot hit the charms spilling out of my bag. Was that why Trent had taken my place? Did he know my magic was faster? Was he going to distract them so I could do something? Improvise? Damn it, I wish I knew what he was doing!
Dr. Cordova shifted from foot to foot. A gap of air showed between Mark’s head and the gun in her hand. I found my balance, spooling line energy until my skin hurt. There was nothing from the earbud dangling down my front.
“Get rid of that useless witch,” Eloy barked, and Dr. Cordova shoved Mark at me.
I reached out and caught him, keeping us upright as our feet scrabbled for purchase amid the spilled charms. He was a tad overweight, and we almost went down, even as he turned to face them, sweating and stinking of redwood.
I crouched to grab a charm, pulling to a stop when Eloy made a negative sound.
Hand reaching, I froze as I saw Dr. Cordova’s gun aimed at Trent’s middle. A shot there wouldn’t kill him right away, but it would kill him.
Trent just stood there, his lips pulled back from his teeth slightly, that same wild look I’d seen on him once before as Cordova’s arm wrapped around his neck, her gun pointed into his side. “I would have preferred Eloy, but this is acceptable,” he said, and then I stiffened when I felt a circle go up. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t Mark. It was Trent.
“No!” I shouted, reaching out helplessly as the gold shimmer wove a net around all three of them. Behind the haze, Trent became boneless, his dead weight making Dr. Cordova tighten her grip on him. The gun went off, and Eloy cried out, the shot ricocheting off the inside of Trent’s circle and slamming into Eloy’s shoulder.
Swearing, the man fell back against the inside of Trent’s circle, one hand on his shoulder, the other pointing his gun at Dr. Cordova.
“Ta na nevo doe tena!” Trent shouted, Dr. Cordova’s arms holding him to her.
Dr. Cordova screamed as Trent’s magic hit her. I backed up, horrified as I recognized the curse, the same one that had mutilated Winona. Where did he get the blood? I wondered when Cordova let go and fell, pawing at herself as her body contorted, her shoes falling off as hooves formed. Her head hit the floor, her brow heavy and misshapen. Small horns scraped the tile as she screamed, her voice cut off in a strangled gurgle of terror as she looked at her hands, now thick and short fingered. Terrified, her voice came in high-pitched squeals as a curly red pelt wormed its way out of her skin. 
Blood seeping from around his fingers, Eloy pressed against the wall of Trent’s circle. Gun forgotten, he stared in horror as Dr. Cordova turned into the mirror image of Winona. The woman’s thin tail lashed wildly, and he recoiled when it touched him. It worked on humans. The curse worked on humans . . .
“On the floor. Now,” Trent said to Eloy. “Or I’ll turn you into what you really are, too.”
His voice was cool and dispassionate, hard and unforgiving. I stared at him, seeing not a businessman out of place playing at something he was not, but the same man who’d perched atop a horse in the sunset, the world at his fingertips and justice waiting to be meted out—calmly, surely, and satisfyingly. Eloy dropped his gun, terrified.
I jumped when Mark accidentally bumped my shoulder. He was watching, wide eyed. “Wow,” he breathed as Trent’s circle dropped and Dr. Cordova mewled weakly, her little hooves scrabbling at the tile. “I almost didn’t come in tonight.”
Eloy lowered himself to the floor, his eyes never leaving Dr. Cordova. The woman was crying, dark streaks running down her black face. Her breath rasped in and out, and she cried out pitifully. Eloy jumped when Trent kicked his gun to me, then Cordova’s to a corner.
Cold steel slid across the tiles, and I stopped Eloy’s gun with my foot, not bothering to pick it up. “I thought you said I wouldn’t like your charms,” I said, and Trent grinned, reminding me, for some reason, of seeing him perched in a tree, crouched and dangerous. He hadn’t killed anyone, and a part of me was undeniably glad.
An unexpected burst of radio noise came from out of nowhere, and I twisted, finding the earbud on the floor. Something was happening.
In a surge of motion, Dr. Cordova scrambled to her feet, her hooves skittering on the smooth tile. Goat-slit eyes wide in panic, she tried to run only to reach for a table and miss, her jaw cracking on the flat of it. She slid to the floor and started to crawl, crying.
“Get her!” I cried, and Eloy lifted his head. In a fast crab walk, he lunged for Cordova’s gun, six feet away under a table.
“Look out!” Mark shouted, and I turned to the front windows—just in time to see six men boil in the front door. The-men-who-don’t-belong screamed at us to freeze as they surrounded all of us. Though dressed unalike and in street clothes, it was obvious they were professionals. It wasn’t the wicked-looking guns pointed at us, or the boots designed for running. It wasn’t the short haircuts, or that every single one of them looked like he could do a six-minute mile. It was their faces, as uncaring as if they’d have no problem shooting us even if it was a mistake.
“Gun! Gun!” I shouted, pointing at Eloy, but it didn’t matter. They already had him down, and as I watched, someone snapped his wrist when he refused to let go of his pistol. Eloy screamed, and I felt myself pale.
Remembering what the captain had said, I put my hands in the air. “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” I shouted as a very large black man walked in, his cap saying “captain” more than his confident walk. “I got nothing on me but chalk. Splat gun is in the purse. Where in the hell have you been?”
Trent started to kneel with his hands behind his neck, and one of the men grabbed him, shoving him into a booth. “Hey,” I started, affronted, and then shouted, “Hey!” again when the captain grabbed my biceps and roughly propelled me onto the same bench as Trent. “I thought we were working together!” I exclaimed, but my sudden pull on the ley line sputtered to nothing and my knees gave way.Smiling as if having expected it, the captain hauled me back to my feet, a silver amulet in the shape of an eagle suddenly glowing brightly. Dazed, I wondered if that was where my attempted blast of ever-after had gone. “Did you just . . .” I started, reaching for it, and he shoved me farther into the booth.
I hit Trent’s shoulder, and the elf grinned at me as he scooted over to make room, his hands carefully atop the table where everyone could see them. “You enjoying this?” I said, in a bad temper, and he smiled even wider, the scent of woods and wine spilling from him.
“It’s better than studying portfolios with Quen,” he said as Mark landed on the bench across from us, looking scared but relieved. My shoulder bag was next, sliding to a stop at the end of the table. The charms, I noticed, were being swept up with a huge, very quiet vacuum cleaner that was taking everything not nailed down: chunks of plaster, broken glass from the pictures, Dr. Cordova’s shoe . . .
People were still pouring in, some of them in street clothes, but most in nondescript blue work coveralls. Hats and clipboards, I thought, thinking they could walk anywhere at any time and get into anyplace, never seen, never noticed. And what was with that ley-line drain? I’d never felt anything like it. Watching the captain, I started to slowly spindle the line, taking it in a trickle.
“Knock it off, Morgan, or I’ll show you how we take down dead vampires,” the big man said without looking at me, and I let go of the line. Damn! Who had I just invited into my parlor?
“They’re fixing the damage,” Trent said as the dusty scent of wall spackle pricked my nose and a metal ladder clanked upward.
“You okay?” I asked him, and he nodded, his enthusiasm undimmed but getting harder to see as his usual calm control exerted itself. I could see it there, though, simmering.
“Yeah!” Mark said, leaning over the table toward us since we appeared to have been forgotten for the moment. “What just happened? What is she?” he said as Eloy and Dr. Cordova were literally dragged out the back door.