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Fuck this shit, Elise decided.

Without thinking, spurred by an aggression that was as uncharacteristic as it was manic, Elise jumped out from behind her cover, ran across the alley, and got as close as she could to the lesser.

Then she pointed … and fucking shot.

Blam! Blam! Blam!

Two hands, arms outstretched, eyes and body steady, she let the gun do the talking, black blood splattering back on her as she kept closing in and shooting and closing in and …

She didn’t know when to stop.

Wait, she couldn’t stop.

Even when the gun was no longer talking, when the clip or whatever you called it was empty, even when the slayer was so bullet-ridden it was a sieve, she stayed where she was, standing over it, that gun muzzle pointed at her target, her body trembling so badly her teeth were chattering, her knees knocking in their sockets, her breath sawing up and down her throat.

And her forefinger squeezing the trigger—

“Elise?” Axe said from a distance so far off she could barely hear him. “Elise … sweetheart … I’m right behind you.”

“Wh-wh-what—”

“I’m just going to take the gun, ’kay? Let me have the gun—no, don’t turn toward me. Stay where you are.”

His hands traveled gently down her arms and carefully released the weapon from her cramped fingers.

As soon as it was out of her grip, she turned to him and burst into tears. “I tried to save him, the Brother, I tried to—”

“We’ve got to go—”

Elise looked past his biceps at the dead body of the Brother: The blond-haired fighter was lying flat on his back, his arms out straight in a T formation, his heavy boots lolling to the sides.

“I was trying to save him, oh, God—”

“Elise, we need to go before the humans get here—”

Across the way, the female soldier picked Peyton up in her arms. “He’s not doing well. Where do we go—”

Human police cars screeched to a halt at the head of the block, humans swarming free of the vehicles and pointing down to where they were in the shadows.

“We can’t leave him—”

“Put down your weapons,” came out from a speaker system. “Put down your weapons now or we will shoot to kill—”

And then things got truly surreal. Like something out of a movie, the Brother’s torso rose up from the pavement. And he looked down his chest, cursed, and said something that sounded like, “I just had Fritz buy this fucking thing.”

Then he reached into what seemed to be his own flesh, picked out a bullet, and flicked it across the alley.

That was when he seemed to notice what was happening with the police cars.

“Fucking humans, not again.” He got to his feet and winced, but seemed otherwise fine. “You two, take the wounded and the female and go that way.” He pointed to the far end of the alley. “Manny should be coming—there he is.”

At that precise moment, a large, boxy vehicle pulled across the other end of the lane, where the humans were not.

“Go now!”

At the barking command, Axe grabbed her hand and started running. And the female with Peyton did the same, the four of them hightailing it down the slushy way to what turned out to be some kind of fancy van.

Just as its wide door slid open and she was about to jump in, Elise looked back. Flashes were flooding the sides of the buildings, and there were popping noises, but not from bullets being discharged.

The Brother was stabbing the slayers back to the Omega, she thought with awe. Holy crap, was she actually seeing this?

“Get in,” Axe said as he gave her a shove into a well-lit interior.

He followed and then dragged the door to a close.

“Hang on, folks!” somebody yelled from up front. “This ride is going to be bumpy—stay on the floor.”

There was a roar and a lurch, and then they were moving. And Elise collapsed back against Axe. How had … what had …

So fast. Her mind couldn’t comprehend how fast it had all gone down. It was like … one minute they were walking up to Peyton inside the cigar bar, and the next she was in an action movie, except it wasn’t a film set at all. It was real.

Looking across the way, Elise blinked away tears. The female fighter had Peyton in her lap, and had braced herself against a mounted table in the center of the space—this was an ambulance, Elise realized. A massive ambulance with all kinds of supplies tacked to its walls or packed in glass-fronted cabinets mounted on the sides.

“Is he alive?” Elise said.

The female didn’t look up. “Yeah. At the moment.”

There was so much blood. Oh, dearest Virgin Scribe … the blood …

But at least they seemed to be going even faster—hopefully to someone who could operate in here, Elise thought. And as they banged and crashed, things rattling all around them, Axe kept her from bowling-balling it, his powerful arms locked around her waist, one of his legs braced against the stand of that operating platform.

“How did he do that?” Elise mumbled. “How did the Brother … survive?”

“Bulletproof vest,” Axe said grimly. “He must have been wearing a bulletproof vest—and the damn thing saved his life.”

FORTY-FOUR

Axe’s adrenaline didn’t stop flowing until Dr. Manello’s mobile surgical unit pulled into some kind of downtown garage and the surgeon opened the sliding door.

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