Catwoman soulstealer, p.30
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       Catwoman: Soulstealer, p.30
 

           Sarah J. Maas
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  “How many?” he asked as she settled her suit back into place.

  Selina buckled her seat belt. “Twenty-seven.”

  He blew out a breath. “Undefeated champ, huh?”

  “I hear you are, too.”

  Luke gave her a lazy grin. “Maybe.”

  Silence fell, thrumming and light. And his smile…Luke let it stay there. Felt it in his bones.

  “So, are you taking me to the nearest precinct, or…?”

  “Considering how poorly the last time you were arrested went for everyone involved, we can take a rain check.”

  Wariness flashed in her green eyes. “I’m waiting for you to yell about Arkham.”

  Luke snorted, pulling the car out into the quiet street and slowly driving down it. “You died. I figure that’s payment enough to settle the debt.” He glanced sidelong at her. “But are there any more upcoming escapades I should know about?”

  She considered. “Perhaps.”

  “What’s a girl to do, now that she’s rich and saved the day?”

  Her brows rose. “I’m not rich.” She watched the street passing. “The money went to Maggie—most of it. And the rest…”

  “The rest?”

  Selina sucked on a tooth and said, as if she didn’t want to admit to it, “I gave it to the children’s hospital. To pay off the bills for the families who can’t afford treatment.”

  Luke slowed the car to a stop at the red light at the corner. Put the car in park. “Robbing the rich, Robin Hood?”

  She cut him a glare. “If that is a new nickname—”

  Luke grabbed her face in his hands and kissed her.

  The light changed, and the car behind them began honking, but Luke didn’t move, didn’t really care about anything as her mouth opened to him and her hands slid around his neck.

  When he pulled back, her breathing was just as uneven as his. Luke brushed his mouth over hers. Once, twice. Unable to stop himself.

  “Let me take you out—a real date.”

  The words slipped from him before he could think.

  Selina pulled back, studying him. Luke finally moved the car back into drive and continued on. “No pizza and Jeopardy!, huh?”

  “You sound disappointed.”

  “I am.”

  Luke chuckled. “If you can sneak into the apartment building, then go ahead. Come over every night, if you want.”

  “You want a known criminal hanging at your place?”

  “I’ve been thinking about it.”

  “Oh?”

  Luke turned onto a broad avenue, the SUV blending with the cars around them. “Perhaps the future of Gotham City doesn’t lie in crushing the underworld in some endless Whac-A-Mole game.”

  When she didn’t answer, he looked over at her—found her face serious. Contemplative. But her eyes…full of light. The face beneath Holly, beneath that mask.

  Selina.

  Luke went on, “I’ll take a gamble and assume that this crime spree…now that Maggie is safe, disrupting the stability of Gotham City isn’t your endgame. Not while she lives here.”

  Selina said simply, “Yes.”

  “But the problem remains that you’ve made a hell of a lot of criminals think you are in charge. You tricked the Joker. They won’t forget that. Neither will he.”

  “And?”

  “And, in addition to this being a warning to you to be careful, I’ve been thinking that the future of Gotham City doesn’t lie in trying to hunt them all down one by one. But in working with the underworld’s new Lady.” He nodded to her with a wicked grin.

  She considered, chewing on her bottom lip in a wholly distracting way. “I would have pegged you for a hard-liner on the no-criminal-activity policy.”

  Luke reached over the console, offering his hand to her palm-up. “Oh, I am. But the darkness will always exist, in some form or another. Corruption is still rife—on both sides of the law. We could help fix it.”

  Selina nodded. “The GCPD has been overdue for some major changes for a while now.” She arched a brow. “Commissioner Gordon won’t be thrilled that you’re making an alliance with me.”

  “I’d think that would be an incentive for you to say yes.” When she didn’t answer, Luke added, “Gordon’s one of the good ones. He’d support us, want to improve things. The innocent need protecting.”

  Her green eyes danced. “They do.” He knew in her own way, she would protect them. “A working relationship,” she repeated, musing over the words as she eyed his hand.

  “If the Lady of Gotham City wants one,” he said, smiling broadly. “If she’s not already taken.”

  And when Selina interlaced her fingers with his…her answer was all Luke hoped it would be.

  “Those sunglasses make you look like a terrifying Audrey Hepburn.”

  “It’s the look I’m going for,” Selina said, brushing her dark hair over a shoulder and being surprised—for the tenth time this hour—to find the color changed. Back to usual. Since everyone would be looking for the blond Holly Vanderhees, dark-haired Selina Kyle blended in far better. “And besides, you look like a drunken beekeeper.”

  Ivy was indeed wearing an enormous floppy hat that concealed her face, giant sunglasses that rivaled Selina’s own, and a loose white tunic that fluttered in the autumn breeze alongside the riverfront café where they sipped their drinks. A latte for Selina, a soy chai for Ivy.

  No one paid them any heed—not that the hipster café would be a likely place for anyone to start looking for Catwoman and her cohorts.

  Ivy gestured down at her attire. “It’s my Sunday leisure suit.”

  Selina smiled and sipped her drink. Luke had slipped into her apartment last night to get her clothes, sneaking them down to where she waited with the League SUV. She’d dumped the vehicle hours later, but kept the bags full of stuff. And when she’d opened them…

  A letter had fallen out.

  Here’s to a working relationship was all it had said. She’d smiled for a good while afterward.

  She adjusted the lapel on her black blazer, then brushed an invisible bit of lint off her dark jeans, the outfit more casual than Holly’s power suits and dresses. Certainly more casual than her League-issued suit. She’d deposited it in the Sprang River this morning, having already decided not to retrieve her Death Mask from Arkham.

  It was time to create her own suit and helmet, designed exactly to her tastes.

  “So, you didn’t invite me to meet you here for overpriced drinks,” Ivy said.

  Selina looked up. Ivy had left the factory yesterday in her own stolen vehicle, missing her explanation to Maggie and Luke. But before Selina told her…“What happened to Harley?”

  Ivy’s eyes shuttered, and she swirled her chai in its cup as she studied the river. “I stayed until the GCPD showed up. Made sure they didn’t hurt her. By the time she woke up, I think she realized what she’d done—to you. Risking Maggie in the process. It…it was a wake-up call. About a lot of stuff. She went willingly with the police, bought me some time to run to you. Arkham’s a mess, so they took her to another facility. Where she’s getting therapy for…for those parts of her that are drawn to people like the Joker. She wants to get some therapy. And is awaiting trial.”

  “I’m sorry.” It was the only thing Selina could think to say.

  “I don’t blame you for what you did. And Harley…She is unwell. I’ve known that for a while, and she knows it now, too, but…” Ivy eyed Selina’s shoulder, where that blade had gone through. “My enabling her behavior—I can’t live with it. So even if it means her taking some time for herself, even behind bars…”

  “I know someone who can make sure she gets in front of a good therapist, and a good judge,” Selina offered. “Make sure she gets the right treatment and the support she needs.” Luke had
said as much last night. That he’d help with whatever sort of cleanup she needed. Get things in order so they could figure out how to handle this city.

  Because he was right: with Maggie living here, going to school…Over Selina’s dead body would crime lords rule the streets. There were innocent, good people in this city who needed someone to fight for them. And as Catwoman, as the Lady of Gotham City, she could help set the rules. Control the chaos.

  “Thank you,” Ivy said. She swallowed. “And you, with your sister, I get it. All of this—” Ivy waved a hand toward the skyscrapers flanking the river, the café, the space between them. “It was all part of your plan to save her.”

  “It was.”

  At Ivy’s expectant pause, Selina settled into her chair. And told her story.

  The sun arced above them, their drinks were replaced by the waitress, and the chill autumn air had wrapped around them before Selina finished.

  Ivy blew out a breath and whistled. “Well, that’s certainly one hell of a story.”

  Selina snorted. Ivy flicked her thick braid over a shoulder. “Was any of it real? What you—you felt for us. As friends.”

  “It wasn’t supposed to be,” Selina admitted. “But it was. It is.”

  Ivy finished her chai with a long gulp. “Will the League come after you?”

  “Oh, most definitely. Especially now that I destroyed the formula, the data—all of it.” What Ivy herself had gleaned, Selina knew she wouldn’t tell. As far as the League was concerned, Ivy had never been in that factory. “But until then,” Selina said, stretching, “I’ve got bills to pay.”

  “Oh?”

  Selina smiled. “I got a cat.” She’d found herself one, was more like it. That small gray alley cat. It had taken a heartbreakingly tiny amount of food to get her to jump into Selina’s arms last night. And stay there, purring the entire way home. She’d named her Jane.

  Ivy lifted a brow. “And cats are that expensive?”

  Selina’s smile turned into a grin. “Certainly. Especially when they live in the new hideout I plan to build with my villainous roommate.”

  She placed a set of keys on the table between them.

  Ivy laughed, picking up the keys and jangling them.

  “I got the idea from Harley’s pad. Two underground levels in another abandoned subway station—the lower floor can be converted into lab space,” Selina said. “Three bedrooms can be made out of the upper level.”

  “Three?”

  “One for guests,” Selina said. “Or another cohort. When the time is right for her.”

  A home. For all of them. To start living how they wished, on their own terms.

  Ivy blinked furiously, ducking her head and hiding her face as she said, “Thank you.”

  It was the least Selina could do. If Harley got out, if that good judge let her off easy and she received the help she needed and now wanted…For Ivy’s sake, Selina prayed Harley got better. Found some way to get beyond the Joker, the past that haunted and drove her. To see the woman right in front of her, who had been waiting for her all this time.

  And maybe not try to kill Selina in the process.

  But she’d think on that tomorrow. Another day. Another week.

  Ivy straightened, her freckled face lighting. “Making that sort of lair is going to be expensive.” She dangled the old janitor’s keys from a crooked finger. The metal sparkled in the sunlight. “What will our next heist be?”

  Selina looked toward the river, the sun just starting to set. And for a heartbeat, a calm, contented sort of quiet settled over her, wrapping around her bones, warming her blood. As if that sun sinking toward the horizon, the shadows growing…It was not an end. Not an end at all.

  And the city now cast in light and dark—it was hers for the taking.

  For the first time, all of it was hers. Open and boundless. A path to carve as she willed. As she dreamed it to be.

  And a home.

  Selina smiled. “There are a few museum exhibits I’ve been dying to see.”

  Being asked to write Selina’s story was such a tremendous honor, and from the start, it has been an absolute dream project. But it would not exist without several people. My deepest and eternal heartfelt gratitude goes out to:

  My wonderful husband, Josh: Nine lives wouldn’t be enough time with you. I love you.

  To Annie, my faithful canine companion (aka the Batdog): You make every day a joy (even when you demand endless snacks and treats). I’m sorry for the thousands of photos I’ve taken of you while you were snoozing, but you’re too cute to resist.

  To Tamar Rydzinski, my badass agent, who works so tirelessly on my behalf: You are a queen.

  To everyone at the Laura Dail Literary Agency for being the best group of people to work with. Ever.

  To Chelsea Eberly, editor extraordinaire, who made this project such a delight to work on and who shaped it into something that I am truly proud of. Thank you for everything.

  To the marvelous team at Random House: Michelle Nagler, Lauren Adams, Kerri Benvenuto, Hanna Lee, Kate Keating, Elizabeth Ward, Aisha Cloud, Kathy Dunn, Adrienne Waintraub, Regina Flath, Alison Impey, Stephanie Moss, Jocelyn Lange, Jenna Lettice, Barbara Bakowski, Tim Terhune, Mallory Matney, Felicia Frazier, Mark Santella, Emily Bruce, Becky Green, Kimberly Langus, and Cletus Durkin. Thank you all so much for your hard work!

  Thank you to the awesome DC/Warner Bros. team: Ben Harper, Melanie Swartz, Shoshana Stopek, and Thomas Zellers, who provided such key input and guidance. To Afua Richardson: Thank you for the beautiful Selina artwork.

  Endless love and gratitude to the marvelous Nic Stone for providing truly invaluable and thorough feedback. And a huge thank-you to Jason Reynolds for taking the time to offer such crucial insight.

  Thank you, thank you, thank you to Cassie Homer for being a brilliant assistant. To Steph Brown, Lynette Noni, Alice Fanchiang, Jennifer Armentrout, Roshani Chokshi, Christina Hobbs, and Lauren Billings: Thank you for being such fantastic friends. To Louise Ang: Thank you, as always, for your infectious excitement and kindness. To Charlie Bowater: Your art never fails to inspire and move me, and I’m so grateful that our paths crossed.

  To Jennifer Kelly, Alexa Santiago, Kelly Grabowski, Rachel Domingo, Jessica Reigle, Laura Ashforth, Sasha Alsberg, and Diyana Wan: You are all such special people, and I’m so lucky to know you.

  To my family, who provide such unwavering love and support: I am blessed to have you in my life.

  And lastly to you, dear reader: Thank you from the bottom of my heart for picking up Selina’s story. I hope it inspires you to raise a little hell (preferably the noncriminal kind!)—and have fun while doing it.

  SARAH J. MAAS is the #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Throne of Glass series, as well as the Court of Thorns and Roses series. Sarah wrote the first incarnation of the Throne of Glass series when she was just sixteen, and it has now sold in thirty-six languages. A New York native, Sarah lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and dog.

  sarahjmaas.com

  @therealsjmaas

  As Bruce rounded another bend, the wails suddenly turned deafening, and a mass of flashing red and blue lights blinked against the buildings near the end of the street. White barricades and yellow police tape completely blocked the intersection. Even from here, Bruce could see fire engines and black SWAT trucks clustered together, the silhouettes of police running back and forth in front of the headlights.

  Inside his car, the electronic voice came on again, followed by a transparent map overlaid against his windshield. “Heavy police activity ahead. Alternate route suggested.”

  A sense of dread filled his chest.

  Bruce flicked away the map and pulled to an abrupt halt in front of the barricade—right as the unmistakable pop-pop-pop of gunfire rang out in the night air.

 
He remembered the sound all too well. The memory of his parents’ deaths sent a wave of dizziness through him. Another robbery. A murder. That’s what all this is.

  Then he shook his head. No, that can’t be right. There were far too many cops here for a simple robbery.

  “Step out of your vehicle, and put your hands in the air!” a police officer shouted through a megaphone, her voice echoing along the block. Bruce’s head jerked toward her. For an instant, he thought her command was directed at him, but then he saw that her back was turned, her attention fixed on the corner of the building bearing the name BELLINGHAM INDUSTRIES & CO. “We have you surrounded, Nightwalker! This is your final warning!”

  Another officer came running over to Bruce’s car. He whirled an arm exaggeratedly for Bruce to turn his car around. His voice harsh with panic, he warned, “Turn back now. It’s not safe!”

  Before Bruce could reply, a blinding fireball exploded behind the officer. The street rocked.

  Even from inside his car, Bruce felt the heat of the blast. Every window in the building burst simultaneously, a million shards of glass raining down on the pavement below. The police ducked in unison, their arms shielding their heads. Fragments of glass dinged like hail against Bruce’s windshield.

  From inside the blockade, a white car veered around the corner at top speed. Bruce saw immediately what the car was aiming for—a slim gap between the police barricades where a SWAT team truck had just pulled through.

  The car raced right toward the gap.

  “I said, get out of here!” the officer shouted at Bruce. A thin ribbon of blood trickled down the man’s face. “That is an order!”

  Bruce heard the scream of the getaway car’s tires against the asphalt. He’d been in his father’s garage a thousand times, helping him tinker with an endless number of engines from the best cars in the world. At WayneTech, Bruce had watched in fascination as tests were conducted on custom engines, conceptual jets, stealth tech, new vehicles of every kind.

 
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