Catwoman soulstealer, p.16
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       Catwoman: Soulstealer, p.16
 

           Sarah J. Maas
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  Harley lowered her phone at last. Ivy held Selina’s stare. “One, your helmet makes that impossible. But two…” Ivy shrugged. “It’s against my code. Well, part of it.”

  “Which is what?” Selina couldn’t help the question.

  Ivy ran a gloved finger over one of the orchids across her torso. “Don’t screw over your allies.” Her green eyes lifted, bright and intent.

  Selina nodded. Warning received. And time to go.

  She’d have to take a long, winding way home to avoid cameras picking her up. “I’ll give you the details on our next hit in a few days.”

  The two women halted their walking, frowning.

  Ivy asked, “What’s your name?”

  She wasn’t sure she even had one anymore.

  Names meant coming from somewhere, someone. And those things had either been erased for her, or were things she was glad to leave behind.

  “Catwoman is fine,” Selina said blandly, even as the question settled deep in her.

  Harley clicked her tongue. “Secrets, secrets are no fun….”

  Selina waved a hand in cool dismissal. “Three days. Be ready.”

  She glanced behind in time to see Harley loop her arm through Ivy’s. “Your place or mine, sweetstuff?”

  Ivy’s face flushed, but she said, “Mine.” Definitely more than friends, then. Even if it seemed they did not define whatever lay between them.

  As Selina melted into the shadows, something tightened in her chest.

  She’d never known what it was like—to have someone she could be like that with.

  It didn’t really matter now, not with all that glorious chaos she had planned for Gotham City, all the upending of its corrupt ways that she would do, but still…she wondered what it would be like.

  They’d gotten away. Outmaneuvered him, then sped off into the night.

  Luke was so mad he couldn’t sleep that night. Or the next.

  Which he supposed was better than his usual nightmare. But it didn’t help that the video footage kept playing on the news. The shot of the three of them strutting in, the shot of Catwoman leaping out the window, flipping him off.

  The image of all those frightened people in the ballroom who he’d failed to protect.

  Deep in sublevel seven, Luke growled as sparks flew from the second hole he was repairing in his suit’s wings. Ivy’s shots had been precise.

  And he’d lined himself up like a goddamn clay pigeon for them.

  The vines had withered and died before he could bring them back to the lab for analysis. But from the way they’d moved, how Ivy had commanded them…Jesus. Maybe the rumors were right: she wasn’t fully human. Bruce had never been able to confirm it, not in the one brief encounter he’d had with Ivy, but it had been listed as a possibility in the Batcave’s file on her.

  Luke didn’t want to consider what powerful forces might covet those abilities. Hone them into something worse than what Ivy had already become.

  The buzzer sounded, blaring over the hum of the welder, and Luke turned off the machine, propping his welding mask on his sweaty head. “What’s up?” he asked the speakers built into the walls and ceiling of the empty room.

  “A Miss Vanderhees is here to see you.”

  Luke cringed.

  His administrative assistant clarified, “In your eleventh-floor office. I informed her you were busy, but she said she’d wait.”

  Luke let out a low groan. What the hell did she want?

  “Tell her…” If he said he was too busy, she’d probably come back. Or start looking for him at home, which might lead her to hunt for him at odd hours, which might lead her to start wondering where he went all the time.

  Luke sighed. “Tell her I’ll be up in fifteen. Thanks.” He was covered in enough sweat and grime that it merited a shower. He had one in the bathroom down here, along with a change of clothes—a good suit, in case his dad called him into a meeting.

  “Will do, Mr. Fox.”

  Luke made it upstairs in twelve minutes, his charcoal-gray suit a bit tight across the shoulders. He’d packed on more muscle these last few months; he’d have to take it to his tailor.

  He was straightening the cuffs of his pale purple shirt when he strode into his corner office and found Holly waiting in one of the chairs before his immaculate desk.

  He’d made sure bland company memos and party invitations were the only documents stacked on the side of his desk, the surface adorned with photos of his mom and dad, Mark and Elise, and a shot of him after his first boxing victory at fifteen. Everything else, anything important, was locked down in sublevel seven.

  “Holly,” he said by way of greeting, edging around his desk. “Good to see you.”

  It was training and instinct to note the details of her appearance—the appearance of anyone who came his way: her salmon-colored blazer, set over a matching dress and navy pumps. Nothing out of the ordinary.

  Except for the hint of a smile. That gave him pause.

  If only because her smile also held a hint of a sharpness that he’d never noticed before. Her eyes…keen.

  That was the only way to describe her eyes. Keen and cunning. She might be an insufferable snob, but he had a feeling she wasn’t as shallow as he’d first thought. That she perhaps pretended to be, to her own advantage.

  “To what do I owe this pleasure?” Luke asked, settling himself behind the glass desk. And finding himself strangely glad for the barrier between them.

  She flicked those green eyes over him. “I wanted to see how you were. I heard about your car.”

  It was the least of his concerns.

  The Porsche had been tracked down, thanks to the tracing system he’d installed. A broken shell of a beautiful beast. He’d gladly handed it over to the GCPD for evidence.

  “I’m fine,” he said, waving a hand. And even though this conversation was the last thing he wanted to be having, especially with his suit still needing a few hours of repairs, Luke surveyed Holly again, the way her hands were white-knuckled on the chair. “How are you?” She’d been there two nights ago.

  She brushed a hand over her collarbone, as if she could feel the jewelry that she’d no doubt been forced to give away. “Shaken, but fine.”

  He knew a good number of people were still saying that, too. His fault—that shakiness, that fear. If he’d been faster…

  Luke said softly, “It was just a couple of criminals. They’ll be brought in soon enough.”

  A glimmer of something in her eyes. “Those weapons were serious.”

  They were.

  “Our building has good security,” he said. Some part of him wondered if she’d come here, to him, for some sort of reassurance. “And every gala from now on will have armed guards.” He offered what he hoped was a calm, if grim, smile, unable to suppress that part of him that still sought to reach out, to comfort and protect. The part he’d never been able to turn off. “They’ll be apprehended soon. I promise.”

  Apparently, that was all she needed to hear. She nodded, rising to her feet. Luke stood with her.

  Holly’s attention drifted to the busy street behind him, a stunning view of the city visible from nearly every angle of his office. “I don’t have any friends in Gotham,” she said at last, her voice softer than he’d ever heard.

  He wasn’t surprised. But Luke said politely, “Oh?”

  His mother would be so proud.

  Holly studied the cityscape for another heartbeat. “I heard that you and your mother are starting a nonprofit to help veterans by teaching them boxing.”

  Each tick of the crystal clock on his desk was audible.

  She shrugged with one shoulder. “I would like to help out.”

  Luke blinked at her. He cleared his throat. “That’s very generous of you.”

  “No,” sh
e clarified. “I—I mean…” He’d never heard her stumble before. “I mean, I’ll give you money, of course.” Was that a faint hint of color on her cheeks? “But I’d like to help out. With my time. Volunteer, I mean.”

  The offer stunned him. And for the life of him, he couldn’t detect a sign of anything but genuine feeling. The first he’d seen from her. Perhaps this was the person beneath the society-bred armor.

  But why now? Why after this robbery? The question must have been on his face, because Holly said, “I heard you helped sneak some people out of the ballroom the other night. Got them to safety.” He didn’t ask how she knew, who’d told her. “I realized…maybe we got off on the wrong foot.”

  An extended olive branch. And enough of a glimpse into who might lurk beneath the web of status symbols she used to navigate their world, to defend herself against it, that Luke found himself considering.

  He was sure he or his mom could find something for her to do. So he said carefully, “We’re not official yet, still in the planning stages. But I’ll keep you posted.” He added quietly, “Thank you.”

  Holly’s brows furrowed for a heartbeat. As if seeing him. Really seeing him. Something about it tugged at his memory, his chest. She shook her head a moment later, sunlight catching in her blond hair. “Of course. I’ll see you later.”

  She pivoted on one of her towering stilettos and aimed for the door.

  Luke knew it had nothing to do with his mother’s etiquette lessons, nothing to do with the fact that he needed to appear normal and make her think twice before wondering why he sometimes didn’t return home until late, as he took a step around the desk and asked, “Do you wanna come over for some takeout tonight?”

  Holly paused on the threshold. Luke realized the woman probably had never eaten takeout in her life, and opened his mouth to suggest an alternative, but she surprised him. “Pizza?”

  There was enough hope, enough relief in the question that he smiled. “Seven o’clock. Bring whatever you want to drink.” He only had beer and scotch, and he doubted she was the sort to drink either.

  Holly gave him a grin, so unlike any he’d seen from her before. “Thanks. See you then.”

  And as he watched her stride out, her steps smooth and unfaltering, Luke wondered if he’d opened a door he might not be able to shut.

  * * *

  —

  She’d needed an alibi for tonight.

  There was no party or dinner where Holly Vanderhees might be seen and noted. After the events of the other night, all the other galas had been postponed until further notice.

  So she’d gone to Luke Fox’s office in part to check in on him after stealing his car, and in part to remind him and the rest of the gossips that she’d been at the gala two nights ago, and had been terrified and so scared and blah blah blah.

  Selina certainly hadn’t expected to be caught off guard by his genuine consideration and gratitude for Holly’s offer of help. By looking at him, in that tailored suit, and realizing he’d indeed gotten people out of that room the other night.

  The size of his bank account had nothing to do with it. He hadn’t stopped serving the people of this country since coming home.

  She certainly couldn’t say that about herself.

  Selina knocked on his door at seven, her heartbeat a little more elevated than she’d like. Especially when he opened the door, wearing a tight navy T-shirt and jeans.

  Luke gave her a smile as he beckoned her in, his expression warmer than any she’d seen before. She’d opted for expensive yoga pants and a long-sleeved shirt and workout jacket. Casual, but the quality nice enough.

  “Any preferences for pizza?” Luke asked as he strode for his phone on the glass dining table.

  His apartment was nicer than hers. Warmer.

  She scanned the exits and windows. It was the same open concept as her own place: one massive room that contained a kitchen, living room, and dining area—all contained within floor-to-ceiling glass windows that opened onto a wraparound balcony. To her right, past the dining area, was a long hallway, the mirror to her own, that no doubt contained the powder room, master bedroom, and two other guest rooms, each with its own bathroom. The walls were painted varying shades of gray, his leather and chrome furniture offset with thick, warm rugs and gently curving lamps. A gas fireplace flickered beneath the enormous flat-screen TV, currently playing the intro to Jeopardy!

  If the plans were mirrored, then the safe would be in his closet, anchored into the wall.

  Not that she was planning on stealing anything else from him.

  “Nice place,” she said, following him to the open kitchen, bedecked in Carrara marble and black cabinets. “And—um…” The last time she’d had pizza…She couldn’t remember. It certainly wasn’t the kind they made in Gotham City. No, it had been the thin-crust, simple pizza in Italy, so good that you could cry. Before that, her favorite had been a dollar-slice shop in the East End—the memory of it still enough to make her mouth water. Not that she could tell him that. “Plain is fine.”

  “Mind if I get half with sausage and pepperoni?”

  She watched him dial the number. “Only if you get the whole thing with that instead.”

  Luke cut her a wry, amused look and then ordered. “Twenty minutes,” he declared.

  She nodded, sliding her hands into her jacket pockets.

  “You didn’t bring a drink.”

  “I’m not a big drinker,” she admitted. She wasn’t, not as Selina or Holly. She’d seen what it did to her mother. And though she sipped champagne at the galas and mimosas at the brunches…never too much. Never enough to make her out of control.

  “Fair enough,” Luke said. “Neither am I.” Another mark in his favor, she had to admit. He opened his enormous fridge, surveying its contents. “Soda? Juice? Water?”

  “Water is fine.” She took a seat at the marble island, watching the TV across the room.

  Trebek asked, “After England, more Shakespeare plays are set in this present-day country than any other.”

  “What is Italy?” Selina answered as Luke set the glass of water in front of her.

  The contestant provided the same answer. Luke raised his eyebrows but said nothing.

  Another question. “The last Grand Master of the Knights Templar.”

  Luke and Selina said together, “Who is Jacques de Molay?”

  She smiled at him, the expression not feigned at all.

  “I wouldn’t have pegged you for a Jeopardy! fan.”

  “Being well dressed means you can’t know some things?”

  Before he could reply, Trebek asked another question. “It’s the largest country in the world without any permanent natural rivers or lakes.”

  Selina answered just as Luke did: “What is Saudi Arabia?”

  Correct.

  Luke smiled slyly. “Loser pays for dinner,” he offered, light dancing in those dark eyes.

  Different, she realized. He was so different from the arrogant rich boy she’d assumed he was. No bravado, no need to flaunt that he was a true hero. He was gentle—kind. She’d known few men like him, she realized.

  So Selina, despite herself, clinked her water glass against his. “You have no idea what you’ve just started,” she purred.

  * * *

  —

  They tied. Answering a few questions even the contestants didn’t know. It was no surprise to Luke, since that occurred nearly every time he watched the show, but Holly’s own mastery of the trivia had been a delightful surprise. She’d answered all the questions correctly. By the time the pizza arrived, he was assessing her again.

  Had he assumed too much about her? But she’d done a damn good job of seeming like a bored, soulless heiress. But the person he’d seen in his office earlier…It had been a glimpse. Into this.

  There was no s
ign of those refined manners, either, as she devoured three pieces of pizza, downing them all amid gulps from her water. Luke could barely keep up.

  Jeopardy! moved on to Wheel of Fortune, and the competition began anew.

  By the time they’d finished, tied again, she was smiling at him. A real, quiet smile. The smile that he doubted the press and the who’s-who ever saw. It made her younger—prettier.

  Holly rose to her feet, both of them having moved to the L-shaped couch before the fireplace and TV thirty minutes ago. “Thanks for dinner,” she said, stretching her arms.

  “I’m shocked I managed to get any slices for myself.”

  Holly let out a low laugh. “We’ll order two pies the next time.”

  Next time. The words hung like an invitation.

  And as Luke escorted her to the front door, he found himself saying, “Next time, then.”

  He closed the door, listening for the sounds of Holly going into her own apartment and locking the door behind her.

  A few hours later, as he slipped into his suit and into the awaiting night, Luke was still smiling. Just a bit.

  “Hurry,” Ivy urged from halfway down the bank’s basement hall, frowning as Harley set the charges along the vault door.

  “I’m going, I’m going,” Harley muttered. “One wrong move, babycakes, and we’re toast.”

  Ivy tapped her booted foot on the marble floor. “I know how explosives work.”

  “Then why don’t you do this?”

  “My vines would at least crack through that concrete faster than you’re moving right now.”

  Selina stood near the steps that led upstairs, ignoring their playful bickering as she monitored the sounds of the darkened bank a level above. The alarms had been cut, avoiding triggering the heavy metal door at the top of the stairs. Ivy had downed the night guard with her flowers, and now…nothing.

  Selina lifted a camera in her hands as Harley strode back over to where Ivy waited, then set it on a tripod she’d carefully positioned. “Ready?” Selina asked the two of them.

 
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