Low Midnight Page 57

He stood for a moment, looking at his empty hands. He had to think for a second about what she was really talking about. Layne. This amulet.

“I’d just as soon walk away. Like messing with high explosives, we don’t need that shit.”

A tiny, reflexive scowl crossed her lips. She never said anything about it, but hard swearing grated on her antique sensibilities. He figured he’d have her swearing just as bad, sooner or later.

“Look at it this way, then,” she said. “Do you really want someone like Anderson Layne in possession of such a powerful magical artifact?”

No, no he didn’t. Wasn’t too long ago he would have figured it wasn’t his problem, one way or another. Wasn’t his business.

“It’s exactly your business,” Amelia argued. Cormac shouldn’t have been surprised the thought slipped out. Or, she knew him well enough at this point to guess exactly what he was thinking. “Maybe you can’t go out hunting rogue werewolves with silver bullets the way your father did, but you can do this. You may be the only one who can. What do you say to that?”

“I say you really want that amulet for yourself,” he said.

She seemed taken aback a moment, straightening and studying him. Then, she smiled. “Well, yes. But that doesn’t mean we won’t do a world of good in the course of getting it.”

He wasn’t usually in the business of doing good. No, that wasn’t true—that was how he’d justified every one of the kills he’d made. It was for the greater good, taking monsters out of the world. That was the job his father had given him. And whatever else he was, Anderson Layne was a certain kind of monster.

She stood tall with the strength of her convictions. “We’re stronger than Kuzniak. It won’t kill us.”

“We’re missing something.”

“You’re being cautious.”

“Yes. Yes, I am.”

“But you’ll do it. You’ll go after Layne and whatever this power is?”

He looked over his imaginary meadow and sighed. “Yeah.”

*   *   *

HE MADE the call. Barreling straight ahead without thinking too much about it, just like the old days. Layne answered after the first ring.

“Heard you wanted to talk to me,” Cormac said, casually.

“That’s right,” Layne said, cautious, rightfully so. “I figured we had some stuff to work out. We can come to an understanding.”

The guy wanted to shoot him dead on sight. “You want Kuzniak’s book back, I got it. Do you even know what to do with it?”

“That’s not the point.”

Cormac could just keep poking at him until he got so angry he hung up. But that wasn’t the goal here. “No, it’snot; you know why? Because the book’s not important. You’ve got something else. It killed Milo Kuzniak, and now you want to use it on me, isn’t that right?”

Silence. That was the trick to handling a guy like Layne—keep him off balance, so he never knew how much you knew, or how strong you were. Cormac’s reputation was going to carry him through this, if nothing else.

Cormac continued, “Do you even know what you have, or have you just been hanging on and hoping for the best?”

“You don’t know anything, you’re just mouthing off. I don’t know why everyone’s so scared of you. You were never all that badass, it was all your dad. You’re not half what your dad was.”

Nobody even remembered his father. They only knew the image of him, the myth. He was twenty years dead and didn’t have any power anymore.

If Cormac could flush the guy out right, maybe he could get him to just give it up. “Layne. I know you don’t realize it, but you’re way out of your league here. Why don’t you just hand the thing over to me and I’ll keep it safe.”

“Yeah, right. Tell you what—you want the cross so bad, you come and take it from me.” He spoke with a smugness that set Cormac’s hair on end. He was missing something. “I’ll meet you tonight. Midnight.”

Damn theatrics. Why did magicians always have to do this shit at midnight?

You must admit, it is atmospheric.

“Fine,” Cormac said. “Your place? You get it cleaned up good enough for company?”

“Let’s go where this all got started. The old mining claim. You know it.”

A place already saturated with old magic soaked into the ground. Not exactly neutral territory. But at least it was out in the open. “Fine,” he said.

Layne was talking fast, angry. “And no guns, Cormac. You don’t bring any guns, I won’t bring any. Just you and me. Got it? We’ll take care of this.”

“I don’t need guns, Layne.” He hung up.

I appreciate how you trust my abilities so much that you don’t even question if I’m capable of facing Anderson Layne in such a duel.

“Well, are you?”

I believe so. Yes.

She certainly sounded confident enough. He’d never doubted her.

Chapter 23

CORMAC MISSED his guns. The feel of them, the weight, the confidence they brought, the reassurance of his own power. He would reach under his jacket for a shoulder holster that wasn’t there, purely out of habit, and feel off balance. Go for the gun at his hip and grab empty space instead. He always would, he thought. Slowly, he stopped missing the actual ability to shoot. Because Amelia brought her own firepower to the partnership.

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