Catwoman soulstealer, p.12
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       Catwoman: Soulstealer, p.12

           Sarah J. Maas
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  Selina knew that. Had anticipated that. Selina squeezed one last wad of cash into the bag before zipping it shut. She slid another bag toward Ivy in silent offer—it was hers to fill. “I’ll make her an offer she can’t refuse.”

  Ivy began filling her own duffel and asked tightly, “Which is?”

  Selina slung the bag over her shoulder, letting her balance adjust to its weight. “I’ll get the Joker out of Arkham.”

  A greenish pallor overtook Ivy’s face, and Selina doubted it had anything to do with the fact that she was partially plant-based herself. “That’s impossible.”

  “Some would have said making a fool of Batwing was impossible.”

  Ivy shoved cash into her duffel. “The Joker needs to stay behind bars.” Selina could have sworn Ivy’s hands trembled slightly. “His kind of anarchy isn’t the kind that…” She shook her head, red hair flowing. “It’s not the kind I like. Or want.”

  “He doesn’t care about the trees?”

  Ivy cut her a glare. “He’s a bad man.”

  “People believe the same of us.”

  Another fierce shake of the head. “I want to help the planet. He…” She went back to shoving cash into her duffel. “There are no lines for him. He’s soulless.”

  “Well, you’d better get off your high horse, because if you want a cut of the millions we stand to make”—Selina jostled her cash-heavy duffel for emphasis—“I’ll only do it with Harley as our third.”

  Ivy stared her down for a moment. “Where did you even come from?”

  A neighborhood two miles north. But Selina just shrugged and said, “Some might ask the same of you. You graduated from college at nineteen—just last year. A prodigy at botany, toxins, and biochemical engineering.”

  No pride in Ivy’s face at the words. No shame, either. Just wariness.

  So Selina asked, “Why’d you decide not to go to grad school?”

  Ivy finished with her bag, zipped it up, and strode out. “Some things happened that made it impossible for me to go.”

  The icy, distant tone offered no space for questions.

  Selina stepped out of the vault, listening for any signs of alarms, of the police. Nothing. She asked carefully, “How’d you get into science, anyway?”

  Another hesitant pause. But then Ivy said, emerging from the vault, “My mom was a scientist. Dad, too. Before they both got offered mega jobs and fat paychecks by a drug company. Turns out their love of science was as shallow as the rest of them.”

  Wealthy, emotionally distant parents—how had they even produced someone as passionate as Ivy?

  Together, Selina and Ivy stalked up the stairs, the bag of cash weighing heavily on Selina’s back. “What sort of science did they study before they changed careers?”

  “Plant regeneration. They met in the lab. Called me a lab baby thanks to it.” A slight smile. “It was only a matter of time until the drug companies came sniffing. They sold their work to the highest bidder and never once looked back. At the science stuff or at me.”

  Selina could think of quite a few countries that might be interested in that sort of science, too. “I’m sorry.” Brutal—no matter the training that had been instilled into her, it didn’t lessen how hard it must have been, and still was, for Ivy.

  Ivy shrugged, as if it could somehow erase the weight of her past. “My aunt basically raised me after they sold out. She encouraged me to take all the science classes that I wanted. But it got boring, even in college.” A short pause, as if debating what to say. How much to say. Selina kept still and quiet, giving her space to decide. Ivy pulled out a flower—a yellow bloom this time—and studied it. “So my last semester in college, I signed up to work with a scientist on a more…radical experiment regarding the human connection to plants.”

  Selina had a horrible feeling she knew where this was headed.

  Ivy pocketed the flower. “Turned out, I was the test subject.” Her green eyes turned hard as stone. “To explore the possibility between human-plant hybrids.”

  “What happened?” Selina’s question was a push of breath.

  Ivy’s smile turned a bit cruel. “I happened. And the lead scientists learned exactly what someone like me could do once they applied their sciences to my body. Their first and last successful experiment.” Ivy studied the vines on her hands. “I realized soon afterward that as awful as it was, maybe it had happened for a reason. Maybe it had happened so I might use these…powers”—she stumbled over the word—“to help our planet. Try to right it from its current collision course.”

  Selina didn’t shy from the mirror she now saw before her. Two clever young women, taken and molded into something else. Something worse.

  But she wouldn’t tell Ivy that. Not yet. Instead, Selina said, “So the life of crime beckoned.”

  “Life beckoned,” countered Ivy, following Selina toward the back door she’d used to slip inside. “I was nineteen and had never gone to a party, had never kissed a girl I liked, had never done anything. And they had taken it all away from me.”

  Understandable. Completely understandable. Selina asked wryly, “And now you do all that?”

  She heard, more than saw, Ivy smile. “Definitely the girl-kissing part.”

  Selina snickered. “Priorities.”

  She quietly shut the metal door as they stepped into the alley behind the behemoth store, the street in the heart of the shopping district near-silent on either end.

  Ivy lifted a brow at the shut door. “You going to leave a calling card, or should I?”

  Selina flicked out the claws on her glove.

  Screeching metal and two slashes of her nails down the back door was her only answer. Claw marks.

  Ivy studied Selina’s handiwork. “Simple but efficient.”

  Selina sheathed her claws. Motion down the alley triggered her helmet’s warning system, and she whirled—

  Night-bright eyes, silent feet, an upright tail came into view around a sagging cardboard box. Ivy followed Selina’s line of vision and snorted. “Relative of yours?”

  Selina smiled beneath her helmet and crouched as the small alley cat approached, her gray coat blending into the shadows. Selina extended a gloved hand, and the cat sniffed at it, whiskers twitching.

  “You’re too thin, friend,” she told the cat, ignoring Ivy’s question, and scratched the cat under her little chin.

  “I feel like I should be taking photos of this,” Ivy said.

  The cat pulled her face away, and Selina ran a hand down her slender spine, the cat arching into the touch. “I thought you loved animals.”

  “I do,” Ivy said. “But I didn’t expect you to.”

  The cat, satisfied by the attention, scampered off into the alley. Selina rose, watching the cat disappear into the darkness. “I always wanted a pet. Never had one.”


  She couldn’t answer that. Not when it required explaining so much. Too much. Secrecy was vital, another weapon. Even among allies. “I moved around a lot. Was never settled enough to get one.”

  Not entirely a lie. But she’d had her hands full those years, and a pet, no matter how much Maggie had pleaded for a cat, was another mouth to feed. Vet bills could add up. It hadn’t been responsible to get a pet. Still wasn’t.

  “We should go,” Selina said, scanning the dark skies above. “I disabled the alarms, but someone might spot us.”

  Ivy pointed a thumb over her shoulder, down the alley. “I’m that way.”

  Selina lied and pointed with her chin in the other direction. “I’m that way.”

  Ivy nodded once. “How do I get in touch with you?”

  “You’ve been stalking me for two nights. Seems like you have no problem finding me.”

  Ivy laughed again. “Use this number to give me a heads-up on your next target.
She pulled a piece of paper from one of her bodysuit’s pockets. “It’s a burner phone, but I’ll have it for a few more days.”

  Selina took the paper, gloves scratching. “Get Harley on board. Or don’t bother to show up.”

  Ivy gave her a mocking salute and lifted her heavy bag. “Thanks for the payday.”

  Selina didn’t leave until Ivy had vanished into the shadows, her steps fading away.

  A long night ahead. And she was just getting started.

  Seated in bed, bracing for another sleepless night, Luke stared at his phone like it was about to bite him.

  Bruce: Everything all right over there?

  He’d seen the headline. Bruce might be on a vital mission, but there was no way he wasn’t keeping tabs on his city. Their city.

  Luke slid the phone over to himself, unplugging the charger, and typed back, Nothing to worry about.

  He conveniently forgot to mention that tonight he’d found himself staring at two slash marks on a jewelry store door, the cache of money and jewels stolen. Wiped clean, except for some of the lesser-priced pieces. Someone with a discerning eye.

  Or oversized lenses.

  No one harmed, at least. But when the frantic store owner had seen the claw marks, he started shouting at him about why someone hadn’t put a leash on this Catwoman.

  Bruce’s typing bubble popped up. Let me know if you need anything.

  Luke wouldn’t. Not just because Bruce was on a mission but because he wanted to handle this on his own.

  He typed back. Will do.

  Luke debated asking how the mission was going, but…he and Bruce had never really engaged in small talk. Hadn’t been the sort of friends who watched a game together, though they certainly had shared a few drinks at various galas they were obligated to attend as sons of Gotham City.

  Sometimes Luke felt as if they were both already old men. Weary and jaded and worn at the edges.

  So Luke set down his phone, plugged it back in, and switched off the light.

  The piece of art Catwoman had stolen was insured, but the fact that she’d not only evaded the trap he’d laid but had done it so publicly…He gritted his teeth.

  He’d find another way to snare her. And learn who was beneath that helmet.

  * * *


  Selina bustled out of her apartment around eleven in the morning, as befitted someone with nothing to do with their time, the shopping bags dead weights in her hands. Considering that the shoe boxes stacked inside were full of cold, hard cash and jewelry, she was praying they didn’t break on her way to her safe-deposit box at the bank.

  The door across the way opened. Selina debated turning right back around and pretending to be coming in, when Luke Fox appeared.

  She instantly settled into Holly’s persona, tossing her hair over a shoulder. He was the portrait of casual, graceful money in his white fitted polo—immaculate above gray slacks. A pair of sunglasses shielded his eyes, but he politely lifted them atop his head as he surveyed the bags. “Coming in?”

  Was that a note of hope she detected in his voice? To avoid riding in the elevator with her?

  Selina gave him a simpering smile. “Going out,” she clarified, lifting the bags, the tissue paper covering the boxes rustling. “Need to return and exchange a few things.”

  He gave her a look that said it seemed she had a lot of things to haul with her, not a few. But ever the gentleman, he asked, “Can I carry your bags to your car?”

  She was tempted to say yes, because Holly certainly would, but if he was as smart as everyone claimed he was, then he’d no doubt realize that the weight of the bags didn’t add up to a few pairs of shoes. “I’ve got it, thank you.” She made a show of hefting the bags. “Good workout.”

  He gave her a bland smile before striding for the elevator, pushing the button in silence.

  She followed him, trailing at a casual pace. “Are you going to the Save the Bees Gala tomorrow?” Seats started at ten grand a plate.

  Luke glanced sidelong at her as the elevator shot up the building. “Maybe.”

  Oh, he really didn’t like her. She gave him what she called her Holly Smile: coy, aware, self-obsessed. “And will you turn me down again if I ask you to dance?”


  “Is that the only word you know now? Maybe?”

  Something close to humor danced in Luke’s eyes as he met her gaze head-on and drawled, “Maybe.”

  Perhaps not as completely arrogant as she’d thought. Despite herself, Selina laughed quietly. Her fingers were starting to go numb from the weight of her bags, and she was grateful for the ding of the elevator as the doors opened and they strode in. She leaned against the railing, setting the bags down lightly—to avoid the clunk that was sure to sound if she dropped them.

  “I heard about your painting being stolen,” she said, unable to resist. “I’m sorry.”

  Luke slid his hands into his pockets. “It’s fine. Worse things happen to people in this city every day.”

  She avoided the urge to blink. Definitely not the answer she’d expected.

  “You were in the Army, right?” A vapid, light question, if only to get them back on equal footing.

  And an entirely wrong question to ask, from the way his back stiffened. Sore subject, then.

  But Luke said, “The Marines.”

  She batted her eyelashes. “Is there a difference?”

  His jaw clenched. “Yeah. There is.” She knew there was, and part of her writhed under the vapid, inane weight of being Holly.

  They reached the basement, and Luke was truly enough of a gentleman to hold the elevator doors while she swept out, aiming for the black Mercedes her driver had left for the weekend. A click of her fob had the trunk opening, revealing a pristine interior.

  Luke headed toward the gray Porsche beside her car. He paused as he opened the door, as if the manners drilled into him yanked on his leash. “Enjoy your shopping,” he said tersely.

  Selina waved a manicured hand. “Enjoy your…whatever you’re doing.”

  He slid into his car. “Brunch with my parents. A Sunday tradition.”

  Another surprise: it didn’t sound like a chore when he said it.

  For a moment, she debated telling him that he was lucky—luckier than he knew—that he had parents who loved him, wanted to see him.

  She debated scratching her key deep into the side of what was surely his beloved car, just for the fact that he had parents who gave a shit.

  She hadn’t bothered to look her mother up once. Didn’t want to know. Even with the League’s resources, she didn’t want to know what her mom was doing. Where she was. If she was even alive.

  And her father was a dead end. She sometimes wondered if he knew that he had a daughter. And if he did, would he even care?

  At least Maggie was safe, cared for, in her new home in the suburbs. Even if all of this, what Selina was doing in Gotham City, meant that she had to stay far, far away from her sister.

  It didn’t make it any easier, though.

  Pathetic. She was absolutely pathetic for thinking such things. For that quiet, distant ache that still lurked deep in her chest. For the rage that made her want to put on her League gloves, flick open those claws, and start shredding.

  Luke turned on the car, its thunderous roar filling the garage. It sounded an awful lot like the bellowing in her head.

  Selina kept her face neutral as she slid into her own front seat and found him waiting. Stalling.

  It took her a moment to realize Luke was waiting for her to leave. To make sure she got out of the garage safely.

  A bit of an arrogant rich kid, but still a gentleman. She gave him another inane wriggle of her manicured fingers before backing out of the spot. Carefully—like how a rich woman unused to driving herself
might maneuver the vehicle.

  Not the graceful swoop her muscles screamed at her to do. The driving lessons on the deadly S curves of Italian roads had been one of Selina’s favorite parts of training at the League.

  She inched along, out of the garage, Luke finally pulling his Porsche out to follow. He rode on her tail, as if he could barely keep the car from containing its impatience.

  She debated letting her own vehicle roll back to tap his as she ascended the ramp onto the busy, sunny street, but it’d mean a delay in getting the money to the bank, and the possibility of getting her trunk opened up.

  So she merely turned right while he went left, watching him vanish around a corner in her side-view mirror.

  Perhaps she’d have to do something about him. Make sure his apartment became unavailable to him. Because having someone around asking questions, especially if he was a trained Marine, was not good.

  She’d think about that later.

  * * *


  The alley in the Coventry district that night was quiet. Secure.

  Selina had arrived early to ensure that. She’d bought her own burner phone today to contact Ivy, giving her the time and place. Nothing more.

  Gotham City was stirring again. The rich were uneasy and the underworld was sitting up, paying attention.

  Look. Look how easy it is, she’d been purring to them these two weeks, with each robbery. While you cower and run, look how I make out.

  Her plan was coming together. Not as fast as she wanted, as she needed, but…it was weaving together. Talia would be proud. Perhaps even Nyssa. In the muted, cold way both of them expressed such things.

  She’d often wondered whether the sisters had been born that way or if they’d had all traces of warmth and humanity trained out of them.

  Footsteps sounded down the alley.

  Selina’s helmet scanned the approaching person and found nothing.

  She could see the female figure slipping from the darkness, but the suit’s normal feed of intel provided her with more: heart rate, height, weapons…nothing.

  And Selina knew. Before the woman fully emerged into the dim light of the alley, Selina knew that it was not Harley or Ivy.

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