Catwoman soulstealer, p.15
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       Catwoman: Soulstealer, p.15
 

           Sarah J. Maas
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  Perhaps coming to this gala hadn’t been worth it, either. Hours in and no sign of Catwoman. Mark and Elise were off on a company fishing retreat in Vermont, and his parents hadn’t come tonight.

  His mom had laughed—literally howled—at brunch when he’d said he’d accepted the invitation. You’re in for a night of architects boring you to tears, she’d said.

  She was right.

  Luke drained his water. He’d driven himself, and stayed away from the booze because of it—and to keep his senses alert. But even if he spotted nothing, had no need of the suit he’d hidden in a large gym bag at the coat check, he’d made sure his Porsche had been left out front by the valet. Perfect for a quick escape. Not from Catwoman, but from the socialites.

  Like the two older-looking ladies who had just spotted him across the crowded space.

  Luke tried to pretend he hadn’t seen them, twisting back toward the glass bar. The ballroom was on the second level of the Hotel Devon, its enormous windows overlooking the southern edge of Robinson Park.

  Honestly, some small part of him was grateful when the wooden doors to the ballroom were kicked open.

  He had expected her to be there. Expected the battle-suit and helmet, expected the bullwhip in her hand as she strutted forward, the music halting. People shrieking or falling quiet.

  But the other two behind her…

  Shit. Shit.

  Poison Ivy, clad in an ornate bodysuit, bearing a duffel in one hand and some sort of vine moving over her other arm. Not to mention the gloves on both hands that seemed to be in bloom. Or the vine of orchids she wore like a bandolier.

  And Harley Quinn, clad in nothing but fishnets, boy shorts, and a baseball tee, armed to the teeth with what seemed to be an arsenal of small bombs.

  Luke hadn’t yet had the pleasure of dealing with them, but Bruce had. Through the keen-edged cunning Harley possessed, she’d managed to avoid capture and incarceration while working with the Joker. Bruce had warned Luke of her unpredictable moods—and her lethal aim.

  Apparently, she’d ditched the Joker and his henchmen for more interesting company. As for Ivy, Luke had read Bruce’s file on her arsenal of toxins.

  This did not bode well. Not at all.

  Everyone in the ballroom went still. No one dared move.

  Harley lifted an arm over her head, pointing with one of those small, deadly orbs to the ceiling as if she were only stretching, and said, “Who’s ready to party?”

  The trio paused near the doors. Luke sized up the obstacles and casualties in their way. As a vet, he could interfere as Luke Fox. He would be expected to interfere, but if he had his suit, he could do more. Save more people. It’d take him five minutes to slip out to the coatroom and return as Batwing.

  Catwoman snapped her wrist and the bullwhip answered. A crack, wild and wicked, cut through the room.

  People murmured in alarm, stepping out of the range of that whip.

  Luke began edging through the crowd. Thank God his parents hadn’t come.

  “Here’s the deal,” Catwoman said, her voice low and raspy. “You drop your jewelry, your watches, your cash into the bags. And we don’t hurt you.”

  “Trick or treat,” Harley said, lifting the empty duffel at her side.

  Ivy only strode up to a nearby man, a pale purple smoke leaking from her. The man’s eyes went glazed, his white face slack, and then he handed over his watch into Ivy’s awaiting duffel. His wallet and cuff links, too. The woman nearest him began doing so as well, her face equally slack. Entranced. Bruce’s file hadn’t exaggerated.

  Luke reached the small service entrance just as the crowd began to remove their jewelry and personal belongings in a flurry of glittering gems and flashing gold. He’d bet the security guards were likely unconscious, knocked out by Ivy’s cloud of toxins.

  Seven people stood nearby, a mix of staff and guests, all fixed on the unfolding scene. Luke motioned subtly to them.

  Out, out, out, he conveyed with mere gestures. The group wasted no time obeying, ducking low and hurrying through the door.

  The trio had yet to kill anyone. In fact, they seemed averse to killing those merely caught in the crosshairs.

  At least they had that going for them.

  Luke followed the small group of people, pointed them toward the back stairs, and sprinted for the coatroom, where the attendants were tied up at their posts with red-and-black-striped zip ties. Harley Quinn’s colors. Four minutes—he’d be ready in four minutes.

  He prayed all hell didn’t break loose before then.

  * * *

  —

  Selina’s bag was growing heavy as she prowled through the crowd.

  Where she moved, jewels and watches followed.

  The security guards remained down in the halls, courtesy of that living whip Ivy had wrapped around their throats—rendering them unconscious.

  Just people doing their job, Ivy had said when Harley demanded why she hadn’t made it fatal. Selina had agreed, earning an eye roll from Harley.

  Wimps, Harley had sneered, then asked Ivy, If you balk at dealing with them, what are you gonna do when it matters? When you go after those politicians?

  Ivy had stiffened, but said nothing.

  Selina had spoken up in her defense. She’ll deal with it. Just as we are now going to deal with this gala.

  Harley had clicked her tongue, striding ahead. But Ivy had given Selina a small, grateful nod.

  Selina had tried to ignore the slight warmth that kindled in her chest. The answering smile that bloomed beneath her helmet.

  But now, standing in this ballroom…Those were sirens wailing in the distance. She had to get them out of here.

  “We need exit music,” Harley said to the dead-silent crowd. She pointed toward the band standing motionless on the stage against the far wall. “Can I make a song request?”

  The bandleader was pale as death as he nodded. Selina chuckled, holding her duffel in front of an aging woman she’d chatted with merely thirty minutes ago. So good to see more old money here, the woman had trilled.

  It had been nearly impossible to keep from throwing her drink in the woman’s face.

  It didn’t stop Selina from now being rougher than necessary as she plucked the woman’s ruby tiara off her head and shoved it into the duffel.

  No sign of Luke Fox. Perhaps he’d already left. He’d seemed bored to tears when they’d danced earlier. But perhaps that was Holly’s effect on him.

  “ ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ by Queen,” Harley ordered the bandleader as the couple in front of her shed their jewelry like a snake with a second skin.

  Ivy clicked her tongue, her toxins continuing to leak out and ensnare those before her. They handed over their jewelry without a blink of fear. “Good choice.”

  Selina was inclined to agree. And hid her laugh as the band struck up the song immediately, the piano player missing the first few notes as his hands shook, but then settling into it. The singer was no Freddie Mercury, but what he lacked in range, he made up for with sheer bravado.

  The audio receptors on her helmet gave Selina an update: two minutes until those cop cars got here. SWAT team, likely.

  Harley was dancing to the music, braids swinging as she bounced through the crowd. Ivy was swaying along, too, that vine of hers slithering whenever someone seemed to notice her lack of gun and contemplate attacking.

  “Playtime’s over,” Selina said to them, zipping up her bag. Two echoing zips sounded.

  “Gimme a drumbeat,” Harley ordered the band.

  And holy hell, the drummer gave it to her. Right as the band paused, the singer putting enough attitude into the lyrics that Selina finally laughed as she faced the enormous windows overlooking the street below and park beyond. She motioned the crowd back against the far wall.

  Ha
rley hurled one of those colored balls right at the window. A blink, flash, and then—

  Glass slid to the floor, shattering into countless shards. Someone screamed.

  The singer didn’t miss a single beat.

  The band was enjoying it, Selina realized as Harley whistled and chucked one of those orbs to her. Catching it in one hand, Selina grinned and lobbed it at the chandelier in the center of the room. Perhaps the band was as sick of these rich pricks as Selina was. There was no way of faking that shredding guitar solo, not faltering as the chandelier came crashing down. Blocking access to the open window as Selina broke into a run, Harley and Ivy already a few steps ahead.

  The two launched out the window, people screeching over the music and crashing glass.

  As Selina reached the window, the main doors blew open again.

  Batwing appeared between them, glowing like he’d been freshly forged, arm raised to fire some weapon from his suit.

  Selina leapt out the open window, twisting as she fell. Turning back midair to meet Batwing’s gaze from across the room.

  And give him the finger with both hands.

  Free fall sang to her for two heartbeats before she hit the awning below, bouncing up to catch the hotel flag jutting out a few feet away. She wrapped her legs around it, slithering down. Right into the convertible where Harley and Ivy were already waiting, duffels overflowing with jewels. Right into the driver’s seat.

  Batwing reached the window as Selina punched the ignition, popped the clutch, and floored the gas pedal. His roared curse was sure to make some well-bred ladies behind him faint as Selina, Harley, and Ivy sped off in Luke Fox’s Porsche.

  They’d gone too far.

  He didn’t care about his car, top down and parked out front all night, keys left in it by the valet. No, that was the least of his concerns when people had been outright robbed and terrified. It didn’t matter what level of society these people existed in, or whether or not they could afford to replace their valuables. This sort of thing could not, would not happen on his watch.

  Luke glanced behind him to the panicked, stunned people still in the ballroom, the band that was now making a quick, guilty exit.

  He said to the room, to anyone listening, “I’m on this.”

  “She took my diamonds!” a woman shrieked, pale face livid. “Get them now!”

  Luke reined in the urge to roll his eyes, reminding himself that he was doing this to protect all of Gotham City as he launched himself out the broken window.

  He’d haul all three of them into the GCPD precinct.

  Starting with Catwoman.

  * * *

  —

  Selina hit sixty, seventy, eighty, the car opening up beautifully as they cruised through Robinson Park’s empty, curving road.

  Her roaring blood was a song inside her, sweet as the warm night air around them.

  No rules. No barriers. Nothing to hold them back.

  Selina leaned into the feeling, savoring it.

  Harley was cackling, draping herself in pearls and bracelets, and throwing a few over Ivy’s head.

  Behind them, red and blue lit up the night sky. Selina pushed the car faster, the engine a velvety purr rumbling through the trees.

  They rounded a curve, Ivy oomphing as Harley slid into her, jewels and pearls clacking against each other. Selina checked the rearview mirror, assessing those sirens and how close their lights were in pursuit.

  A black shadow cut across the sky.

  “We’ve got a bat on our tail,” Selina called to them.

  Harley and Ivy fell silent, whirling around in the back seat.

  Harley swore, scrambling for her bandolier of explosives as Batwing soared toward them with his wings—bat wings—spread wide.

  “Creative,” Ivy muttered, that long, deadly vine at her hip now dangling from her hand.

  “His suit is reinforced armor,” Selina shouted. “Go for the wings.” The retractable, mechanical wings that allowed him to glide long distances.

  A gamble to order them to shoot him down, but telling the women don’t kill him would involve too many explanations and questions.

  A long strand of opera pearls streaming behind her, Harley unhooked one of those smiling orbs and hurled it toward him with the skill of a pitcher.

  Batwing swerved, nimbly avoiding the ball as it exploded right where he’d been.

  If it triggered anything in his PTSD, it didn’t slow him.

  Harley lobbed another one, a third on its heels.

  Batwing again soared upward, dodging her shots. Gaining on them.

  “He’s still out of range for my vine,” Ivy called over a shoulder as Selina held the car steady. “If you hit the brakes—”

  Batwing lifted his arm, firing his own shot.

  Some sort of arrow aiming for the back tires.

  Selina swerved. Harley cursed, slamming into Ivy, whose vine wrapped around Harley to steady her.

  The arrow went wide, ricocheting off the asphalt.

  “This dude needs a major attitude readjustment.” Harley pouted, trying to free herself from the tethers of Ivy’s vine. Batwing raised his arm again, preparing another shot to their tires.

  Ivy pushed Harley off her, her vine sliding free. “I think you’re right,” Ivy hissed, and lifted her arm. “He’s gotten close enough.”

  Selina couldn’t agree more.

  “I’ll line up the shot for you,” Selina called to Ivy, taking another curve, then soaring over the small bridge spanning the Finger River, which cleaved Robinson Park in two. “Face forward and get ready.” She ordered over her shoulder, “Seat belts on.”

  She veered to the left as Batwing fired another steel arrow. Ivy and Harley grinned and saluted before they obeyed.

  And as they hit a long, straight bit of road, Selina slammed on the brakes.

  The seat belt bit into her, even through her suit. Harley swore behind her.

  Batwing zoomed overhead as they slammed to a stop. Exposing his back to them.

  Ivy unclipped her seat belt and leapt into the front seat, balancing her forearm on the windshield. Within a heartbeat, she fired two long green vines, spearing through the night. One to the left, one to the right. Explosives and gases, Batwing had no doubt expected. But a living thing launching at him?

  It seemed the element of surprise was on Ivy’s side as his wings flared, trying to halt and pivot him. Too late.

  Both of Ivy’s vines hit home.

  And whatever indestructible material Batwing’s suit was made of, his wings were not.

  The vines ripped through metal and wiring like a hot knife through butter, sending Batwing tumbling toward the towering oaks.

  Harley whooped, bouncing in her seat as she clapped Ivy on the shoulder. Ivy only grinned, small flowers blooming on her gloves.

  “Brilliant,” Selina breathed, risking a full glance over her shoulder. She found herself answering Ivy’s grin beneath her mask. “Absolutely brilliant.”

  Ivy sketched a bow—or as much of one as she could in her seat.

  Still grinning, Selina adjusted the clutch and slammed on the gas, the Porsche shooting like a star into the night.

  * * *

  —

  They ditched the Porsche on a side street, then took the subway back to the East End. When Selina stalked out of the car at a graffiti-covered aboveground stop, Harley and Ivy followed. They’d made sure to grab all the jewels from the convertible, the duffels they each bore now zipped up and nondescript.

  Save for their outfits. People had outright moved off the train the moment the trio entered the car. Whether the passengers had called the cops on them wasn’t a problem. They’d be gone before any patrol cars could arrive.

  Harley had been too busy on her phone to notice and remained so now, walking dow
n the platform, Ivy steering her out of the way of the steel beams and benches. “You should see this,” she declared, pale makeup illuminated by the light of her screen. “We are everywhere.”

  Selina paused by the station stairs as Harley held up the screen to show them the video that someone had filmed inside the gala. It showed the three of them prowling into the ballroom, armed and smiling. Or Harley and Ivy were, since their smiles were the only ones visible.

  “And look at this one,” Harley said, lowering her phone to scroll to another video.

  And there she was, leaping out the window, the footage in slo-mo, revealing Selina’s midair twist, her middle fingers raised to Batwing, to everyone in that gala.

  Selina blinked. She’d never seen herself…in action.

  For a heartbeat, that old picture of her flipping on the balance beam at that gymnastics competition flashed through her mind. How much had changed, and yet how little. She pushed away the quiet weight that threatened to drag her down.

  Ivy laughed as she studied the picture, nudging Selina with a hip. “Kitty has a fun side after all.”

  Selina nudged her back. “Let’s go. There are security feeds here.” She nodded toward a mounted camera monitoring them a few feet away.

  Harley tossed a small bomb.

  Bye-bye, camera.

  Selina chuckled. “Well, that’s one way to deal with it.”

  Ivy fell into step beside her as they strode down the filthy steps and toward the street below. “When’s the next hit, ladies?”

  “Three days,” Selina said.

  “Why not tomorrow?” Harley demanded, eyes bright with excitement.

  “Because we want those videos to get broadcast everywhere.” Selina nodded toward the phone Harley still held in one hand. “We don’t want the robberies to bleed into each other.”

  They reached the quiet, run-down street, their steps eating up the pavement. Ivy declared, “We’ll lie low until then. I’ve got some stuff to do at my lab, anyway.”

  “Good.” Selina paused. “That trance you put people into,” she said to Ivy. “Why not use it on us?”

 
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