Catwoman soulstealer, p.7
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       Catwoman: Soulstealer, p.7

           Sarah J. Maas

  “Luke,” his dad said by way of greeting.

  Walking through the private parking lot beneath his apartment building, Luke smiled. As he always did, likely always would, when he heard his dad’s dry tone. “Morning, Dad.”

  He could practically hear his father taking a sip from his daily green smoothie. Brain food, his mom called it. She insisted his father drink one every day. And she’d tried to make Luke start, too, going so far as to buy him a juicer. He hadn’t the heart—or nerve—to tell her that in the three months since, he hadn’t taken it out of the box.

  His dad asked, “Will I see you at the office today?”

  “On my way over now.” Luke unlocked his gunmetal Porsche 911 with a click of the key fob. He waited until he was sealed in the plush interior before saying, “I wanted to see if you had an hour or two free before you get too busy.”

  “New experiment?” He could also practically see his father sitting up in his leather chair. It had been an honor—and a much-deserved one—to have Bruce tap his dad to be CEO, but Lucius made little secret that his true passion would always lie in the Applied Sciences division.

  Luke set his phone in an empty cupholder, buckled his seat belt, and switched the call over to the car’s Bluetooth. “Unfortunately for you, no.”

  A long-suffering sigh.

  Luke grinned, revving the engine and backing out of his spot. “I’ve got a bullet that I need analyzed—is that machine still there?”

  “Might be a bit dusty, but it should be.”

  “Good. Could you—”

  “Already asking maintenance to have it sent to seven.”

  What the people who worked in Wayne Industries saw when they entered level seven…Luke knew his father paid them well. But he also knew that loyalties were bought in this town, which was why level seven mostly appeared to be an empty concrete chamber. Until a few buttons revealed it wasn’t.

  “Thanks, Dad,” Luke said, pulling up the garage ramp and into the morning traffic that would likely make his two-mile drive an eternity.

  He expected his dad to ask him about the bullet, so the next question caught him by surprise. “Will you be at the party on Sunday?”

  “What party?”

  “Our Labor Day party.” His dad added quietly, “No fireworks. Even from the neighbors. I made sure the town enacted a noise ordinance on behalf of the local wildlife.”

  It meant more to him than he could say that his dad broached the subject for him and had gone to such lengths to make sure he was taken care of. So it filled him with no small amount of guilt as he said, “I can’t. I gotta work.”

  His dad knew what he meant. “Even for one night?”

  “Did Mom tell you to guilt-trip me?” Luke avoided the urge to honk at a car that idled in the left-turn lane while the green light came and went. Even with the Fox name attached to him, it didn’t erase certain realities. Like the fact that he’d been pulled over by a pair of cops last month, even when he’d been going the speed limit.

  He could still see the two officers flanking his Porsche. Still feel the way the seams on the steering wheel dug into his palms as he kept his hands in clear sight, gripping hard against the fury seething in him. Still feel his pulse raging throughout his body as he spoke as clearly as he could, keeping his temper on a tight leash. He’d made sure to slowly, so slowly, reach for his wallet and registration.

  But the moment the cops had seen his name and address that afternoon, their eyes widened. The officer on the driver’s side had gone brick red, his mouth tightening before he muttered an apology as if every word tasted like sour milk.

  It had taken Luke a few hours to shake the tremors and simmering anger, so fierce his hands shook. Even now, it set his teeth on edge. And not just for himself.

  “I am certainly not trying to guilt-trip you,” his dad said drily, “but I know precisely how sad your mother will look when I have to tell her you won’t be there, and I’m trying to avoid it.”

  Luke sighed. “I would—but with Bruce away…I can’t.”

  “Bruce came to the party last year. So did you. Who looked after Gotham then? Alfred?”

  Luke clenched the steering wheel. “Why is it so important I go this time?”

  A lengthy pause. “We might have invited a few young ladies who—”

  Luke groaned. “Jesus, Dad. Really? Again?”

  He loved his parents more than anything in the world, knew he was tremendously lucky to have them, but…they had been trying to set him up from the moment his boots had touched the tarmac at the airport. They often conveniently forgot his no-dating policy, too.

  His dad chuckled.

  Luke winced. “There’s been a string of high-end burglaries. Labor Day weekend seems like the perfect time to strike, with half the city away at the beach. Especially the rich ones.”


  “You don’t sound disturbed.”

  His dad hummed. “The possibility of certain individuals being set loose from Arkham Asylum disturbs me. Someone robbing a few places? I’ll take that any day over the alternatives.”

  Luke would, too. Major shit had gone down in Gotham City while he’d been overseas. He had no idea how Bruce had dealt with it alone.

  “I’ll make it up to you—and Mom.”

  “By going to the Gotham Museum Gala next week.”

  Luke groaned again. “You have this all figured out, don’t you.”

  His dad laughed. “I’m not CEO for nothing, you know.”

  Luke managed about twenty feet of cruising down the broad avenue before traffic brought him to a standstill again. “Tell Mom I’ll go to the gala.”

  And an event like that…An idea sparked, making his brain go rapid-fire more than any cup of coffee. Oh, an event like that might have some interesting opportunities.

  “Good. Your mother and the young ladies will see you there.”

  Despite himself, Luke laughed. “Fine, fine.” He grimaced at the traffic. “I’ll swing by your office in twenty.”

  “Bring me a hot dog, will you?”

  Luke’s brows rose.

  His father said, “This spinach smoothie tastes like cold garbage.”

  Luke chuckled all the way to Wayne Tower.

  * * *


  He didn’t find anything on the bullet. Not a trace. A ghost bullet.

  And nothing—absolutely nothing—happened over Labor Day weekend. As if the criminals had gone to the beach, too.

  Had everyone left town?

  Luke felt like a jerk for even thinking it, but a week later, as he rode up the elevator of his apartment building, tux freshly pressed and in the garment bag dangling from his hooked fingers, the last thing he wanted to do was go to the annual Gotham Museum Gala in a few hours. The first event of gala season—the flashiest and most publicly broadcast.

  But he had his reasons to be there, ones he prayed paid off, since the thief had been quiet this past week as well. But with an item so tempting laid on the table, perhaps that would change. Luke smiled to himself as the elevator doors opened, revealing the sunny penthouse hallway.

  And the knockout blonde walking down it.

  She was young—probably somewhere around twenty, just a few years younger than him—and she stopped short as she beheld him. Luke mastered himself enough to offer a half smile as he stepped off the elevator and kept the door open for her with an extended arm.

  “New neighbor?” he asked as she resumed approaching, a small smile curling her mouth.

  Yeah, knockout was an understatement. Long, lean legs not at all hidden by the workout gear she wore. And her light exercise jacket that also displayed a tapered waist. As she stopped before him, he got a look right into those green eyes, and…Wow.

  “I was wondering when we’d meet,” she said, her voi
ce low and cool. Not a trace of an accent—likely from European boarding schools. Swiss, if he were to put money on it. She extended a tanned, manicured hand to him, palm down—the same way he’d seen his mom and the other fancy ladies of Gotham City do. As if it wouldn’t be unexpected for him to kiss it. “Holly Vanderhees.”

  The light calluses on her palm were unexpected, though, as he opted for a quick shake. She probably did CrossFit. Even with the long sleeves of her jacket, he could see the strong, sleek shape of her arms. “I know who you are,” he said with a hint of a smile that usually made ladies go red or start giggling.

  She only angled her head, that mass of golden hair tilting with her. “I suppose you have the upper hand, then.” Not a giggle or blush in sight. A woman used to handling men—or making them blush. Interesting.

  So he went for option B: the roguish grin. “Luke Fox.” The elevator started beeping, an incessant demand to get out or in.

  “You can let it go,” she said, and the tone…A woman definitely used to giving orders. And having them obeyed. Definitely old money—maybe even some Old World titles to go with it.

  Luke let go of the elevator doors, and they slid shut. “I’m sorry I haven’t come over to say hi.” He lifted the garment bag for emphasis. “Been a busy summer.”

  Holly flicked those killer green eyes over him once. “Are you attending the museum gala tonight?”

  Only for work purposes, he was tempted to say, but Luke tapped the garment bag. “Just heading in to get ready.”

  She arched a brow—darker than her blond hair. “You need three hours to get dressed?”

  Luke choked on a laugh. “And if I did?”

  “I’d offer to bring over some face masks and make it a party.”

  Luke chuckled this time. “Are you going?”

  A nod. “Any tips for a newcomer?”

  Many. Starting with never getting involved in the gala circuit. But she’d likely been born and bred for this sort of thing. A bit of a disappointment, if he was being honest with himself.

  “Avoid the raw bar after Jaclyn Brooksfeld arrives,” Luke said. “She picks up every shrimp and then puts the rejects back.”

  Holly laughed, a husky sound. “Disgusting.” She glanced over a shoulder toward his door. “You live there alone?”

  “My parents are at their place out in the suburbs.”

  “Your parents, hmm? Do they get you a babysitter while you’re in the city?”

  He rolled his eyes. “Funny.”

  Holly let out that low laugh that rippled down his body, then leaned past him to push the elevator button.

  He asked, “Where do your parents live?” You look young enough to still be in college.

  He knew it was the wrong question when she stiffened. “They passed away years ago.”

  Luke winced. “Sorry,” he said. “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

  He couldn’t imagine it. Even with all he’d gone through. That loss…He’d never recover.

  Holly studied the rising elevator floor numbers. “Thank you.”

  Silence fell, heavy and awkward. So he found himself asking, “You need a ride to the gala later?”

  “No, thank you.” Again, that little smile returned. “I have my own ride.”

  He blinked at her. Normally, they said yes. Normally, they asked him. “What brings you to Gotham?”

  Holly examined her manicured nails for any flaws—a bored expression growing on her face that he’d seen a thousand times, from prep school to galas to brunches. “Europe got boring.”

  Only someone with too much money and too little to do would say something like that. Someone who’d never been hungry or frightened or bothered to think how the rest of the world lived.

  Or what they could do to help it.

  He might have grown up with the world at his feet, but his parents hadn’t. And they’d made sure he never took any of it for granted. Working as Batwing, being in the Marines, had only reinforced that awareness and gratitude. And made Holly’s lack of it even more apparent.

  Any sparkle in his blood simmered out.

  “No job to entertain you?” he asked tightly, hoping she’d prove him wrong.

  Again that bored look. “Why would I ever bother to work?”

  He’d heard enough. Seen enough. He’d met her kind a hundred times. Had grown up with them. Why bother to work? Why bother to volunteer at a charity when money could just be handed over and bragging rights gained? Donations were more for tax purposes than kindness—how often he’d heard that notion. Holly was no different.

  Luke lifted his tux in farewell. “Well, I hope we entertain you.” He strode down the hall, aiming for his door.

  He felt, more than saw, her turn to watch him.

  As the elevator doors opened and he slid his key into the lock, Holly said, “See you later, Luke Fox.”

  He heard the promise in her voice and debated telling her she was now the last woman in Gotham City he’d bother letting through this door.

  But he opted for ignoring her, knowing it’d rile someone of her ilk more than any insult.

  He threw a glance over a shoulder at her as the elevator doors slid shut.

  But she was already studying her nails again, frowning at whatever flaw she found.

  A disappointment and a waste.

  Gorgeous but spoiled.

  Arrogant and well aware of his charm.

  That’s how Selina decided she’d describe Luke Fox.

  It had been disappointingly easy to deceive him. To make him believe the pathetic, spoiled words that came from her mouth. He was the same as the rest of them, who saw what they wanted to see.

  And what he wanted, she’d read in about two heartbeats. Someone to entertain him.

  Oh, she’d known what mark she was hitting with the Europe got boring and Why would I work? comments. Knew she was playing into what he hated, what he likely was trying to escape from so badly that a new neighbor seemed interesting, but…Selina was willing to admit she’d been hoping he’d be a little more suspicious. A little more aware that the nails and hair and non-accent were fake.

  Sometimes it felt as if there were nothing left of Selina Kyle at all. As if she were well and truly gone, her body now little more than a shape-shifter’s skin. Holly’s skin. To be donned and wielded.

  The thought clanged through her, hollow and cold.

  None of Gotham City’s richest, in the two weeks she’d already been here, had noticed that she was an imposter, either. Show up at the right restaurants, the right fund-raisers, and the invitations pour in. Flush with foreign cash, Holly Vanderhees was well on her way to being the socialite of the season.

  She wondered if the idiots would ever realize that the same parties she’d attended were ones where people had gone home to find an emerald bracelet or a Rolex missing.

  But those little thefts were just to make them uneasy. Start questioning each other.

  She’d learned most of the sleight of hand when she was a Leopard.

  Selina still remembered that first robbery, though. Still thought of it often.

  Her hands were shaking.

  It was all she could think about as she sat on the park bench in the midday sunshine and monitored those passing by. How her shaking hands would get her caught. Thrown into jail.

  People streamed by her, and she sorted through their faces, clothes, attitudes. Elderly people, kids, and anyone who seemed poor were instantly dismissed. She hadn’t told Mika about the rules she’d created, but she doubted the Alpha would care. As long as Selina brought back something worth selling. Something that proved she deserved a spot here.

  Selina slid her trembling hands into the pocket of her ancient gray sweatshirt, her backpack on the bench beside her. She’d been sitting on this bench for an hour now—had arrived just pr
ior to the lunchtime rush of people desperate for a few minutes of fresh air before returning to their soul-sucking jobs in the offices towering high above the small city park.

  She’d get a cut of the money, Mika had told her. From whatever she stole—she’d get a cut of the money. Maybe enough to get Maggie a decent dinner. Maybe even dessert.

  A man in a suit approached from beneath the towering oaks. Selina avoided the urge to sit up as he strode down the busy park walkway, his head bowed over his phone as his thumbs typed away at the screen.

  Expensive-looking suit. Polished shoes. Slicked-back hair. And a total lack of interest in or fear of his surroundings.

  She scanned his pants. No sign of a wallet in the front pockets, but…she noted the way one side of his suit jacket seemed to sway a little slower—heavier—with each step nearer to where she sat.

  She scooped up her backpack over a shoulder, pulling out her flip phone and letting her thumbs start tapping at the buttons as she launched into a swift walk.

  Right into him. Hard.

  The man cursed, phone falling to the concrete, and Selina’s backpack went flying, spilling the pens and dented notebooks across the asphalt path. She let out an oomph as she hit him, clutching at him.

  A beat of guilt went through her as the man twisted to steady her, opting for her well-being over that of his phone. But he only gave her a passing glance before looking to the debris now scattered before them, his phone among it.

  Selina’s heart pounded so loud she was surprised he didn’t hear it as she said, “I’m so sorry—”

  She pulled away from him, the wallet he’d tucked into his interior jacket pocket sliding away with her carefully positioned hand. Selina waited for him to notice the lack of weight. To notice that she’d deposited his wallet into the pouch of her sweatshirt.

  But he was too busy scowling as he rushed to pick up his phone. “Watch where you’re going, moron,” he snapped as he realized his phone’s screen had splintered.

  Asshole. And the way he sneered at her, noting her worn jeans, her frayed sweatshirt…He deserved to lose his wallet.

  Selina maintained her feigned blinking at him as she began scooping up the contents of her bag, which she’d left half unzipped. “Sorry,” she murmured again.

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