Catwoman soulstealer, p.25
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       Catwoman: Soulstealer, p.25
 

           Sarah J. Maas
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  Ivy’s face had gone pale. Use your gases, Selina silently willed her. Stop this—

  Harley kept a safe distance away. Knowing that if she got close enough for Selina to reach her, those bombs would be out of her hands. “Lead the way, Cat.”

  Selina looked to Ivy, who shook her head in warning. And in apology.

  Love—as venomous as one of Ivy’s plants.

  “Let’s go, then,” Selina said, and started into a walk.

  * * *

  —

  This particular warehouse in the docks was so decrepit even the lowlifes didn’t bother with it. Didn’t sniff around, or look at the hidden lower level, the trunks inside.

  Harley kept her bombs at the ready the entire time Selina unloaded whatever smaller stolen items the duffel bag could carry, Ivy’s hands shaking as she helped. And when they were done, Harley ordered, “Go find a buyer.”

  So Selina did. With Harley breathing unevenly behind her, she led them through the maze of the slums, to the abandoned fish-processing plant at the river edge of the Bowery. She’d placed the call with a burner phone to the number of the man who used this place to sell things that couldn’t be traded in legal markets. And as they entered the cavernous, reeking space, Selina said, “Now we wait.”

  “How long,” Harley demanded. Her eyeliner had smudged, some running down the side of her face in a mockery of tears.

  “No more than an hour,” Selina said calmly.

  Ivy stepped up to Selina’s side. “Harley—put the bombs down. We’re here now. It’s fine.”

  Harley only turned one of those bombs on Ivy. “The hell it is.”

  Selina let out a quiet laugh, temper straining. “What does that bastard have on you to get you to so easily turn on your friends?” On Ivy, who loves you for whatever reason I can’t see?

  Harley’s own laugh was broken—jagged. “When we unleashed the Joker’s men, you know what they did? They went right to my mom’s house.”

  Selina’s heart stalled a beat. “Batwing brought them in.”

  Harley mimicked, “Batwing brought them in.” She spat on the ground. “Your little boyfriend didn’t get to them fast enough. They had hours. And since my boyfriend knows who I am, he made sure those bastards went to my mama’s house first.”

  Selina’s stomach turned over. That’s where Harley had been last night, why she hadn’t been at the apartment. “Is she all right—”

  “Don’t pretend that you give a shit.” Harley’s chest heaved. “He told her to tell me that if we don’t spring him free immediately, he’ll make sure my mom receives his own brand of justice.”

  Bile coated her throat as Selina pleaded, “Put the bombs away, Harley. If they’re dragging your mom into it, we won’t mess around. He’ll be out tonight. Just put those bombs away.”

  Panic flared in Harley’s blue eyes, right beneath the rage. “He is going to hurt her—”

  “I know,” Selina breathed. “And I won’t let that happen. I swear.”

  “Your promises are shit,” Harley hissed. “You think we don’t know where you went last night? Who you went with?”

  Selina shot Ivy a look. So much for a code of not screwing over allies. Ivy mouthed, I’m sorry.

  Selina said to Harley, “It’s not what it seems.”

  “Part of the game?” Harley mocked. “Hooking up with the enemy?”

  “Put the bombs away, Harley,” Selina said.

  Ivy was shaking beside her, looking like she’d vomit over the stained concrete. But she said, voice clear and steady, “If the Joker is out, Harley, you know how bad things might—”

  “He won’t touch you,” Harley snapped at Ivy. “I told you that. You, my mom—you’re safe.”

  “But what about the other people?” Ivy demanded, voice trembling. “What about them?”

  “Who gives a shit?” Harley’s left thumb shifted on the bomb.

  “I do,” Ivy breathed. “I do, Harley!”

  Selina cut in, “If the buyer sees those bombs, you can say goodbye to the bribe cash.”

  Harley leveled a seething look at her. “How about we show him whatever’s under that mask instead—”

  The warehouse doors blew open in a cloud of smoke, the windows exploding a second later.

  And a SWAT team from the GCPD stormed in.

  Selina had marked the exits and defensible locations in the warehouse. She rolled toward a hulking tower of machinery as Harley lobbed her bombs, swearing.

  They detonated with a flash and bang that shattered windows and sent dust raining from the ceiling. Ivy sprinted for Harley’s side, thumbing free a few of those beautiful flowers. She hurled them toward the police, smoke instantly filling the space.

  But the GCPD had marked them, too. And the SWAT team that burst through the doors were all wearing gas masks. Ivy lobbed more flowers toward them anyway, vines snapping into the fog, the smoke now near-impenetrable.

  The police had the exits guarded. Gordon was taking no risks.

  But the window closest to them, twenty feet away…“Here!” Selina shouted through the smoke to Harley and Ivy. “Now.”

  Harley had slid on a gas mask courtesy of Ivy, and as she emerged, throwing bombs blindly into the smoke, police shouting orders to fall back, to cease fire, a trickle of blood was sliding down her arm. She’d been clipped. Nothing bad, but Ivy was pressing a hand to Harley’s wound. Blood coated Ivy’s pale fingers, her wrists.

  They slid to a stop behind the machine that Selina was braced against. Selina pointed toward the window. “Another squadron is outside, waiting. We make a run for it—we can surprise them if we leap through.”

  “They’ll shoot us before we clear the window,” Ivy said, sizing up the distance, the squad no doubt in the alley beyond.

  “I’ll buy you time,” Selina panted. “You keep running. Don’t stop.”

  Harley studied Selina as the shouts from the SWAT team across the factory floor grew closer. “What about you?”

  “I didn’t think you cared.”

  Selina could have sworn something like regret flickered in Harley’s blue eyes. But Ivy ordered, “We need to move. Now.”

  Selina didn’t give them another warning as she charged for that window. A trap—a big one—lay outside.

  She drew the blade from down her back, bullwhip clenched in her other hand. At her side, through the smoke, green flashed—Ivy’s own vine-whip.

  Selina reached the window. “Blow it out, Harley!”

  A bomb answered—Harley’s last. Glass was still shattering as Selina leapt atop the crate beneath the window, grabbed the sill, and swung herself through and out.

  An armed SWAT team waited by the back door a few feet away, guns pointed, masks over their faces as they whirled toward where Selina landed.

  “DROP YOUR WEAPONS AND—”

  Selina didn’t hear the rest. She snapped her whip through the air, catching the nearest gun and ripping it out of the officer’s hands.

  The others hesitated, as if surprised at the unusual weapon, the movement—

  Twin sets of feet landed behind her. Harley and Ivy.

  They wasted no time, Harley hurling two throwing knives at the shocked officers in her way, a brazen charge that Selina half noticed as she snapped her whip again, knocking another gun to the ground—

  Ivy and Harley were through the line of fire. A few leaps had them atop a dumpster, then jumping over another line of cop cars, Harley throwing another knife with lethal aim, Ivy’s vine whipping through the air.

  Selina didn’t look to see if they made it beyond that—to where the Sprang River flowed past the warehouse at the edge of the docks. But she heard the twin splashes, barely audible over the shouts of the officers now before Selina.

  The element of surprise gone. Guns now pointed at her
face.

  “Drop your weapons,” the officer before her ordered, stepping closer. The door behind her slammed open, SWAT officers pouring out behind her, surrounding her completely. Thirty men. Armed. Granted permission to kill.

  Selina took in the countless guns, the Kevlar.

  Her sword clattered to the ground.

  Then the whip.

  And slowly, Selina raised her hands skyward as GCPD pressed in.

  Luke was up and in the gym before dawn. Just in time to turn on the early-morning news and see the headline that had him turning off the treadmill.

  Cat Claws Way into Arkham Asylum

  Luke couldn’t move. Couldn’t lunge for the exit, to his apartment and his closet, where his suit was, couldn’t think of what to do as he saw the blurry footage.

  Catwoman: thrashing and screaming, utterly wild as she was hauled into the armored police van. Not at all the calm, cool woman he’d known. No, this woman did not go gently into that van, her claws gouging deep lines into the metal as she was shoved in, handcuffed, chained down. Shrieking, laughing—

  Arkham Asylum.

  Some had tried to rename the facility and ditch its outdated title, but the name still hung around, the whispers of fear with it. A place where the criminally insane were sent—the worst of the worst. Its security systems and protocols were unmatched, even by Blackgate.

  But there she was, the news footage now cutting to a live feed from Arkham. The media were invited to what seemed to be a small interrogation room. Luke knew that familiar, cold interior. The fluorescent lights, pale walls, and low ceilings that made everything look greenish, sickly.

  Made even worse by all the press crammed in there, focused on the empty table, void of anything save an anchor for handcuffs. Chains.

  There was nothing he could do. As Luke Fox or Batwing. Even if he called Gordon as Batwing right now, there was no way in hell that call would reach him in time. Stop him.

  She’d made a laughingstock of the GCPD, and had pushed and pushed until—

  Until the door to the room opened, and she was led in, still wearing her helmet and suit, cuffed and at gunpoint, a small army of SWAT team officers pushing her into the chair before that table.

  Facing all those cameras.

  The district attorney strode in after her. His face like granite.

  And Luke knew. What was about to take place at this table. Why the media had been invited.

  “Here in Gotham City,” the DA said to the cameras, coming up behind where Catwoman was being chained to the table, “we don’t tolerate those who threaten the security, happiness, and well-being of our people.”

  Arkham Asylum—it had to be a conscious choice to put her in there, too. To undermine her control over her actions these past few weeks.

  “Are Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy in custody, too?” one of the reporters inquired.

  The dark-haired DA stared down at Catwoman, sitting so still in that chair. Waiting. Ready.

  Luke wished he could read her face. See whatever was going on beneath that mask.

  “They remain at large, but once they see the example we set today, perhaps they will find it wise to turn themselves in.”

  Luke’s stomach churned, his heart thundering in his chest. “Don’t do it,” he whispered into the whirring silence of the gym. “Don’t do it, man.”

  “For too long,” the DA said to the media, “the criminals of this city have hidden behind masks. Used them to garner fear and chaos. But they are not all-powerful. They are not gods.”

  The DA laid his light brown hands on either side of her helmet. “And today, we take a step toward revealing them for the mere mortals they are beneath.”

  Luke’s feet were rooted to the gym floor, his breathing shallow and uneven.

  The entire room seemed to be holding its breath as the DA lifted the helmet from Catwoman’s head.

  Luke saw the blond hair first.

  Then the green eyes, full of cold emerald fire.

  And his knees gave out from under him, sending him sinking onto the floor, as he found himself staring at Holly Vanderhees’s face on the screen.

  The DA recoiled in shock. Holly smiled slightly up at him. Then turned to smile at the camera.

  Luke didn’t wait for the media to realize who she was.

  He raced through the gym, up the stairs, and into his apartment, his aching side protesting the entire way. He paused only to grab his tool kit from a kitchen cabinet and was out of his apartment in a few seconds. He stalked right up to Holly’s door, some small part of him grateful that his hands held surprisingly steady as he picked the lock.

  Her apartment, still shadowed in the early-morning light…Clean. Unremarkable. A mirror image of his own, though the furniture and art had a more feminine feel. She had probably rented the place furnished.

  He stormed for her bedroom, barely hearing his steps over the roaring in his ears.

  Holly—Holly, who he had danced with, laughed with, tried to kiss.

  I’m not what you need, she’d said. Knowing what she was, the rich boy she believed him to be…

  Living next door to him. All this time.

  Her bedroom was clean, her large bed made, not a thing out of place.

  But the closet…

  Luke strode in. Scanned the racks of clothes and shoes until his eyes landed on the mirror in the back. He went right up to the mirror and slid his hands over the wood. There were no catches, no buttons like in his own apartment.

  A mirror image of his own place. The button was on the other side.

  He found it instantly.

  A hiss and click, and the secret compartment door swung away. Revealing a dim room, lights flickering to life.

  Revealing each detail as they warmed up:

  The assortment of weapons on the walls.

  The chrome worktable with her tool kit left scattered over the surface, wires and bits of metal everywhere.

  The glittering heaps of jewels in the far corner. The piles of cash.

  The shoe boxes full of gold bullion.

  Shoe boxes.

  How many times had he seen her walking into and out of this apartment with shopping bags full of them? They had always looked so heavy. And when he’d offered to carry them for her, she’d refused.

  Knowing the weight would give away that she didn’t have shoes inside.

  Two sides of the same coin, she’d said.

  She had to know that he was Batwing. That they were both pretenders, liars—one serving the light, the other the dark.

  Holly, with that sad smile. Who seemed to hate the rich and powerful, and yet lived among them.

  Luke racked his brain. He’d never heard of Holly Vanderhees until this fall. Never. She’d arrived on a private jet in August, as if she were a ghost emerging from the clouds. A wraith.

  A ghūl.

  Holly was a League assassin.

  And—Holly had never really existed.

  Luke was about to turn on his heel when a sliver of paper on Catwoman’s worktable caught his eye.

  Luke stepped farther into the space, her scent lingering—that same floral scent that he’d awoken with.

  His name was on it.

  Luke.

  He picked up the slip of paper, heart pounding. His mouth went completely dry as he flipped over the paper and beheld the three words there:

  Protect this city.

  Luke was moving before he could think it through. He was dressed and in his loaner car—a silver BMW i8—within minutes. Speeding down the streets of the city moments after that.

  Heading to Wayne Industries.

  It crossed the line to even think of getting her out of Arkham. Bruce would kick his ass for it. More than that, it was illegal. But…she’d wanted him to find that paper.


  As if, should this ever happen to her, she wanted him to know. That she fully realized who had been living across the hall from her. And that her command from all those weeks ago still held.

  Protect this city.

  Luke’s stomach clenched, as if recoiling from the ghost of the touch she’d brushed down the scar along his torso. Knowing it was shrapnel that had torn him apart. Bringing him to that room, kissing him, because she knew that as Holly, she couldn’t start down that road, but as Catwoman…

  What had been real?

  A bad breakup had brought her here, she’d said.

  Not with a guy, but with the League.

  He had to know more.

  Starting with finding out everything about Holly Vanderhees.

  It had been so easy to create Holly Vanderhees.

  She wasn’t particularly sad to see her go.

  Selina knew that the world was wondering: Who is this socialite crime-queen?

  Harley and Ivy were probably wondering it, too.

  And as she sat in her filthy solitary cell in Arkham, counting the hours and guards who leered at her, sorting through the shouting of prisoners down the three-storied cellblock, Selina herself wondered if Harley and Ivy would forgive her. For the lies. For being one of the rich assholes they so hated.

  By now, the media would have found the social media profiles she’d crafted months ago: summers in Provence, winters in St. Barths, parties with her face seamlessly Photoshopped into group shots around gala tables or on yachts or in clubs. For a woman who’d never existed, Holly had led a remarkably public life.

  The hours passed, one by one.

  They’d taken her suit, her helmet. Shoved her into a white jumpsuit. In the changing room, even before she’d donned the long-sleeved shirt they gave her to wear beneath the pale threads, the female officer didn’t comment on her tattooed arms. And in the chill cellblock, Selina hauled the rough wool blanket around her shoulders as she sat on her cot.

  At least they hadn’t put her in the sublevel below—the one for intensive-treatment inmates. But the cold, reeking air still seemed to reach her, rising up from the floor. As if it were a beckoning grave.

 
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