Catwoman soulstealer, p.24
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       Catwoman: Soulstealer, p.24
 

           Sarah J. Maas
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  In the pitch black, he heard the hiss and click of her helmet coming off. Heard the soft sigh of her hair being freed. Felt the slight weight of the helmet as she set it on the mattress behind them. He waited, heart thundering in his chest.

  She said, voice low, “Take off your helmet.”

  Luke couldn’t help but obey. His side barked in pain at the movement, but he lifted his hands to either side of his head and pulled it off. Cool air kissed his skin.

  Both of them utterly blind here in the darkness.

  “I should arrest you,” he managed to say.

  “You should,” she agreed, and he could have sworn he heard her smile. “But you won’t.”

  “We shouldn’t be doing this.”

  “We’re not doing anything yet.”

  It was the wry humor in her voice that had him facing her fully. Had him lifting a hand to where he sensed her face would be and tracing her features. Soft, warm skin greeted him. And her hair, tied back from her face…Straight. Silken—thick.

  Luke ran a hand from her hair down the column of her neck. Could have sworn her breathing became uneven. He brushed a finger over the line where her skin met her suit.

  “Why did you bother saving me tonight?”

  Metal and leather hissed as she removed her gloves. Slender hands found his hand resting on his thigh. Turned his hand over and brushed over the calluses on his palm. “Because we’re two sides of the same coin.”

  “Really? You and I have a lot in common?” He couldn’t stop tracing the line of her neck. His thumb found the hollow of her collarbone and settled, letting her pounding pulse hammer into his skin. “You’re trying to destabilize my city. I’m trying to save it.”

  Through the barrier of his suit, he could barely feel her hands making a path up his leg, up his stomach, his chest. “Is there that much worth saving?”

  “You said there are good people here, that I should protect them.”

  “What about the corruption, the broken systems? Are they worth saving?”

  “They are a part of this city—and people like that always benefit from chaos.”

  “Not permanent chaos,” she said. “Just…temporary.”

  “Just long enough for you to sell whatever you stole from Nyssa to the highest bidder?”

  Again, he heard that smile in her voice. “Perhaps.”

  He opened his mouth, but she asked, “Don’t you ever get bored of fighting for the good side?”

  “No. It was a part of who I am long before I ever put on this suit.”

  Her hands explored down his chest, to the scar down his torso. Luke shuddered as her fingertips whispered over the thick scar tissue. “Such a noble hero.”

  She dragged a finger over that scar again.

  “Why are you here?” Not in Gotham City—but in this room. With him.

  Her fingers paused. And as her breath fanned over his mouth, he realized how close they’d drifted. Felt every inch of her thigh pressed against his, the warmth seeping from her. Not the coldblooded creature of shadows that she appeared, but someone alive and burning. “I can not be here, if you want.”

  She started to rise, and Luke’s body barked in protest as he lunged for her, grabbing her arm and dragging her back to the bed. The suit beneath his hands was flexible, yet hard, some material he couldn’t place. But the shape of her body beneath it—“Don’t,” he said.

  “Don’t what?” she purred.

  “Don’t leave me in the dark,” he said quietly.

  She knew he didn’t mean the request as simply what it was: Don’t leave me alone in the darkness. This place where we both exist, yet serve different callings.

  Her fingers ghosted over his face. His nose, his mouth.

  As she made to pull her hand away, Luke gripped her fingers in his, interlacing their hands, and kissed her.

  * * *

  —

  The kiss was soft, yet left no room for questions.

  And Selina realized she might very well have lost her mind as she leaned into it. Answering his kiss with her own.

  Warm—he was so warm.

  She could not remember the last time someone had held her.

  When she’d seen him on the roof, when he’d swayed and she’d spotted the blood leaking from his side, it had been blind instinct to save him. Just as it was now blind instinct to slide her arms around his neck and press close.

  Here in the dark, in the silence, she let him. Breathed him in.

  His tongue traced the seam of her lips in quiet request, and a small noise came out of Selina as he tasted her. Gently—then deeply.

  His scar, that brutal scar slicing down his chest…

  She wanted to tell him. That she knew.

  And that she also knew that they were as unlikely a pair as—

  He nipped at her bottom lip.

  Every thought eddied from her head.

  She didn’t care. Didn’t care about any of it, anything beyond this room and this man before her, and—

  No. That wasn’t true. Would never be true.

  He sensed the shift in her, and pulled back, his lips hovering over hers. “You okay?”

  His breathing was a jagged, uneven rasp.

  Not yet. She couldn’t afford to make mistakes yet.

  Selina leaned forward to kiss him. Once. Twice.

  His hands buried themselves in her hair, his body shuddering as he seemed to yield to that kiss, to her.

  She slid into his lap, his hands now grazing down her back, lower—

  He didn’t react fast enough, didn’t seem to realize that the click in the forearm of her suit meant all was not well.

  By the time the small needle punctured his neck, by the time he grunted in surprise, she’d leapt off him.

  “You—” he started.

  Stopped.

  In the pure dark, she couldn’t see, but she could hear as his breath left him in a rush and his powerful body fell back onto the mattress. Unconscious.

  Selina scooped up her helmet, setting it on her head but opting to keep the lenses away.

  It had been an unspoken promise of trust—not to look.

  So she didn’t. Even as she opened the bedroom window and vanished into the night.

  Harley’s hideout in an abandoned underground subway station was precisely the sort of place Selina would have imagined for her: chaotic, colorful, and stocked with various weapons.

  It seemed that the circus was the prevalent theme. Amid the various worn pieces of furniture were vibrant old posters of fire-eaters and tightrope walkers, strands of lights strung up across the vaulted stone space, and what seemed to be an old red-yellow-and-blue-striped tent canvas had been converted into a curtain to conceal a tiny bathroom in the far back of the round chamber.

  Selina didn’t even know what she was doing here. It was past three, and they were likely asleep, but…She needed to talk. To someone. Anyone.

  The thought of returning home to her apartment, to pacing across the immaculate floors for the remainder of the night, had been irritating enough that instead of heading north, she’d come here.

  Ivy had answered thirty seconds after Selina knocked on the dented metal door.

  Her red hair was up in a messy bun, black-rimmed glasses were perched on her pert, freckled nose, and an old sweatshirt with faded letters that read Plants Are People! dangled off one shoulder. “What’s wrong?”

  Selina had leaned against the grimy doorframe. “Can’t a girl say hi?”

  “At three-fifteen in the morning?” But Ivy beckoned her in, glancing around the dripping dark of the old train tunnel.

  Selina surveyed the space again, noting the desk against one wall, full of piles of those little circus-ball bombs. Some were only half formed, left in pieces beneath a magnifying glass a
nd light. On the desk chair, Harley’s bandolier of throwing knives draped to the floor.

  “She’s certainly got the madcap villain’s lair down,” Selina observed.

  “She views this as the ultimate form of self-expression.” Ivy waved a hand toward a vine-covered table shoved against a poster of a lion tamer. The table was covered in papers, books, and—plants. “That’s the only self-expression I’m allowed to have here,” she said, chuckling. “The only place Harley isn’t allowed to ‘decorate.’ ”

  The plants shimmered and writhed under the sunlamps humming above them. “Your pets?”

  “My friends,” Ivy said, padding over to the table and smiling at the seven potted plants. “Elizabeth, Emma, Fanny, Catherine, Anne, Marianne, and Elinor.”

  Selina’s brows crossed beneath her helmet. “You named them after Austen heroines?”

  Ivy beamed as bright as the twinkling lights strung overhead. “You’re my new favorite person. No one ever gets the reference—even Harley asked me what the hell I was talking about.”

  Selina slid the lenses of her helmet up as she studied the seven plants. “I’m more of a Brontë girl.”

  Ivy waved a hand. “Ugh, Mr. Rochester is gross. Darcy all the way.”

  Selina grinned, nodding her concession. “Why are you up, anyway?”

  Ivy pointed to the laptop half buried among the papers and books on the table. “Working.”

  “Where’s Harley?” No sign of her in this underground circus.

  Ivy slid into the swivel chair in front of the table and twirled around. “Don’t know. She left a few hours ago in a hurry. Hasn’t come back since.” Worry darkened her eyes. “But she does that a lot. I try not to pry.”

  It seemed like Ivy never wanted to pry, to push Harley. Silence fell, and Ivy stared up at her. Waiting.

  Selina blew out a breath. “I may or may not have made out with someone I shouldn’t have.”

  Ivy grinned rather wickedly. “Oh, do tell.” Selina knew the woman was well aware of who it had been.

  Selina paced across the worn, star-flecked blue carpet, past the three large mallets leaning against the red velvet fainting couch. “It just…happened. I don’t know.”

  “Was it good?”

  Selina sighed at the vaulted stone ceiling. “Yes. God, yes.”

  Ivy scanned her from head to toe. “So you came here to tell me all the steamy details?”

  “I came here…I don’t even know.” She glanced toward the metal door. “I should let you work.” She grimaced, desperate for any way out of this. “What are you working on, anyway?”

  “Refining the formula for that regenerative salve I used the other night. And don’t try to change the subject.”

  But Selina asked, “That formula—are you going to sell it?”

  Ivy waved a hand. “It would require so many stupid hoops with FDA approval that there’s no way I could really sell it. Especially with who I am.”

  “You could have a third party represent you—stay hidden.”

  “And have them get all the credit? No.”

  “So you’ll make this miraculous thing and not share it?”

  Ivy frowned, propping her bare feet up on the table. One of the plants—Emma?—reached out a green tendril and tickled her. Ivy laughed, toes curling. But the smile faded again as she said, “I started down this road. I have to face the consequences.”

  “You can change lanes—change the direction. There are…there are a lot of people who could really use that salve. You should find a way to share it with them.”

  “I know,” Ivy said, lowering her feet to the blue carpet. “I think it could be particularly successful with burn victims. At least, it’s worked on me.”

  Selina raised a brow, scanning Ivy’s expanse of smooth skin.

  Ivy winced. “I may or may not have experimented on myself—”

  “You burned yourself?”

  Ivy waved a hand. “Just a little one.”

  “Jesus,” Selina said. “You need to get into a real lab.”

  Ivy stiffened. “I did have a real lab. Until it was blown up.”

  “I mean with people. Other scientists to help you.”

  “You get a ‘real’ job, and I’ll get one, too.”

  Selina smiled. “Fair enough.”

  Ivy gave her a sly look. “You still haven’t told me about your make-out.”

  Selina glanced to the metal door behind her and started slinking toward it.

  “Don’t you even dare leave without telling me the details,” Ivy said. She marched across the room, dodging everything from discarded fishnets to pink wigs to a cymbal-playing monkey toy. Plopping onto the red fainting couch before an old TV, she patted the worn velvet beside her. “Time for some girl talk.”

  “I don’t know how to do girl talk,” Selina admitted, approaching the couch.

  “Good. Neither do I,” Ivy declared, smiling up at her.

  * * *

  —

  Luke groaned as he woke up, his head pounding, his side a throbbing, aching mess.

  Daylight leaked in through the edges of the curtains.

  Not his house. He didn’t know where she was, only that she’d drugged him and left him here, a faint, floral scent—her scent—still in his nose.

  Luke lunged for his helmet, biting down a shout of pain as the skin along his ribs pulled. He jammed the helmet onto his head, flicking the lenses over his eyes as he gathered up the scales of armor she’d ripped away, depositing them into his Utility Belt pouches, along with the stitching kit she’d used on him. No DNA left behind.

  Luke opened the bedroom door, kicking away the wool sweaters she’d used to cut off any light. Any trace of her beyond the feel of her body, the heat of her mouth, the scent of her hair and skin—

  He was grinding his teeth, buckling on his Utility Belt as he stormed for where he assumed the front door would be.

  Right into the kitchen of Commissioner Gordon. Where Gordon, his teenage daughter, and his young son were eating breakfast.

  Gordon’s daughter let out a murmur of alarm, his son a cry of delight, and Gordon himself…He dropped his cereal-filled spoon right onto the small kitchen table.

  “Good morning” was all Luke could think to say, and headed for the front door just past the table.

  Gordon recovered enough to say, “Good morning to you, too.”

  His son whispered, reverent and overjoyed, “Batwing.”

  Luke smiled beneath his helmet and went so far as to ruffle the boy’s dark hair as he passed.

  Gordon’s daughter spotted his ribs first. “Are you all right?”

  Gordon’s attention shot to the bare skin, the stitches. He rose from his chair. “Jesus—”

  Luke knew Gordon would never say anything—none of them would—but it wouldn’t surprise him if some of the shock on the man’s face had to do with the brown skin peeking through Batwing’s suit. “I’m fine,” Luke said, reaching the front door. “Totally fine.” He glanced toward Gordon’s son. “Just making sure all is well in the neighborhood.”

  They just watched him, wide-eyed, as he unlocked the door and headed into the hall.

  Oh, she’d known precisely whose apartment she’d brought him to. He didn’t know whether to be furious or amused.

  From the smile tugging on his mouth…Luke fought it and made a quick exit down the building stairs. As he headed for the nearest rooftop, Luke realized that he’d slept through the night. And hadn’t been woken once. Hadn’t had one nightmare.

  Harley was leaning against the brick wall of the alley when Selina and Ivy arrived the next night. No sign of the boy shorts and fishnets. Just two-tone leggings, boots, and a tiny ball-bomb in either hand.

  “New outfit?” Selina asked, but Ivy had gone still at her side. Nervous.<
br />
  “No more robberies,” Harley said, her face hard and cold.

  “Well, I’m sure the Gotham Antiquities Museum will be sorry to hear that our appointment tonight is canceled,” Selina said, sizing up the space between Harley and Ivy.

  When she’d called Ivy this afternoon with the time and location for their next rendezvous, she hadn’t hinted at anything between them being amiss, but—

  Selina halted a healthy distance away.

  Harley’s eyes remained on her, though. As if Ivy didn’t exist. “I want the Joker out of Arkham now.”

  Selina kept her arms within casual distance of her weapons, not daring to let her claws slide free. Not yet. It’d signal a fight, and getting into it with Harley tonight would not be good for her plans.

  She’d humiliated Gordon and the GCPD. Whether he’d figured out that Batwing had been dumped in his guest room by her didn’t matter. It was only a matter of time until they came for Catwoman. And only a matter of time before Nyssa and Talia’s army arrived, too. Bringing with it utter annihilation.

  “Wait another day or two,” Selina said calmly, her voice the portrait of boredom.

  “We do it now,” Harley snapped. “We proved twice now that we can break someone out. And I have it on good authority that my man’s aware of us—of our little shopping spree here in Gotham, and he’s pissed we’re taking so long.”

  Ivy flinched at the two words—my man. But Ivy countered coolly, “Arkham is a different beast than the city prison, Harley.”

  “You’re siding with her?” Harley demanded.

  Perhaps it was pity for the pain on Ivy’s face, but Selina said, “We need to sell some of what we’ve stolen first. We need more cash to bribe the right people—”

  “Get the damn cash. We do this now.”

  Harley aimed both of her bombs toward Selina.

  “Harley,” Ivy barked.

  “Shut up,” Harley snarled, not taking her eyes off Selina as she advanced, thumb on the small trigger atop each bomb. “Just shut up, Ivy.”

  Selina calculated the distance between them. Harley would not miss.

  “Wherever you’ve been hiding all the stolen shit, we go there now. Now.”

 
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