Chapter 15, Part 1

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She slammed the door closed. Bits of plaster came loose from the ceiling. They floated down like fresh snow. She strode up the carmine red carpet to her desk.

Gadon flinched. "Lilith, I—"

She struck him with all her force.

His head shook. His eyes opened wide. "But, Lilith, I—"

Again she struck. His head snapped to the side. His lip broke open. Blood trickled down his chin. He wiped it away with the back of his hand.

"You have failed me." She uttered the exact words Daeva had said to her.

"No ma'am, I—" He rubbed his stinging face.

Once more, she struck. "That wasn't a question. You have failed me!"

"Lil—"

"Stop. I've not given you permission to speak," she growled.

A knock came at the door. Marshall peeked inside. "Is everything all right in here?"

"Everything is just fine, Marshall," she said dismissively.

After a moment's hesitation, he retreated, then closed the door.

Gadon turned to Lilith. He opened his mouth as though to speak, then closed it again.

"That's better." She looked him over from head to foot. "First and foremost, don't you ever again call me by my given name," she fumed, her voice little more than a whisper. "I don't know what made me think that you—you could successfully stop Rowena."

"I—"

"Stop right there. I don't want to hear anything from you as yet. You'll speak when I say so and not before. Do you understand?"

He nodded.

She leaned against the back of her desk, glaring. "You have failed me."

He said nothing.

"You have failed me!" she screamed as though egging him on, as though expecting he would defend himself and give her cause to strike him yet again. Her red face matched the color of her dress. Her chest heaved with each breath. Her hands clenched into white knuckled fists.

Finally, her breathing slowed, though the force of her glare never waned. "So then, suppose we start at the beginning." She walked around her desk, pulled out her chair, and then sat.

He shuffled his feet.

"Now," she said, "you may speak. Tell me how you managed to miss her."

He relayed the story of his months on the run. He told about the pack of grut, coming under fire, and the barrier. He told of Drake and Maggie, and of how they'd conceded that Rowena and Dixon had visited them with an infant.

"What did you do with them?"

"Killed them, of course. I knew you didn't want any loose ends."

"What sent you to Polesk?"

"The old folks told us that Dixon and Rowena were headed there. I knew it was time to be checking in with you again, so I sent you word that we were headed to sanctuary there—that I hoped to see you soon."

"By which I understood you to mean that you'd been successful and were on your way back." She glared as she chewed on her lip. "So why didn't you get word of these events to me after I saw you in Polesk?"

"I had no idea how to do that. I looked for you in the gardens where we used to meet. I wanted to tell you that I didn't think you had all the relevant facts."

"Oh, so this is my fault? How was I to know you could be so utterly incompetent?"

He was silent.

"Why didn't you stay in Polesk and continue your search from there?"

"I thought you had other plans to get Dixon to give up Rowena's whereabouts. I had no other leads to follow, so I came here. I expected you'd call for me immediately, but . . . you didn't. Now days have passed. If Rowena has escaped—"

"It's not Rowena that concerns me," she interrupted. "Rowena is dead."

"Then who was the woman with Dixon? And what of the child the old people talked about?"

"I don't know who the woman was, but the child was Rowena's own."

"So now what?"

Grimacing, Lilith approached. "Well, it seems I can't trust you to get the job done, so I no longer require your services."

He looked long and hard at her. "Very well. Am I excused?"

She held out her hand. "I'll take the grut call."

He handed it over.

She drew forward, her face inches from his, forcing him to meet her gaze. "You are excused, but don't get any ideas. If you or any of your men speak a word of this to anyone, you will regret it."

He turned on his heel and left, closing the door firmly behind.

Lilith paced. What to do? What to do?


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