Second book in The Feathered Princess series will be out 12/16. First book, The Girl in the Fountain is FREE on Amazon, every Saturday leading up. Check it out!
The stairwell was empty. But their good luck runs out when they reach the parking lot. There are two EMTs walking away from the ambulance bay. Something about them strikes Kate though. Maybe the fact that they don’t seem the least perturbed by the alarms still blaring. Maybe the measured strides, long and confident. Maybe... the hand hovering over their hip, both of them, as they walk. Like people who are used to a gun being holstered there.
And then Finch presses Elisabeth back into Kate’s arms, and presses the both of them carefully behind her, and calls out, “Ethyl?”
The ‘EMT’ with a long grey ponytail through her ball cap turns, and pulls a gun, and shoots, all in one motion.
Finch presses Kate and Lissy back behind a car and shoves Kate’s shoulders down with the whole of her strength. Kate can’t help but cry out as her injured knee bends beneath her, but she realizes it gets her down, fast, covered behind the car as the familiar bang and swish and snick of bullets swarm around them. Lissy is screaming against the noise and Finch is cursing and glancing around the lot like for once she doesn’t know exactly what to do. Even if her usual answer is violence, Kate realizes her hesitance now is hardly comforting. Decisive Finch might mean viscous Finch, but at least it means the three of them seem to come out of situations like this alive.
They don’t need a girl who looks heartbroken and scared and confused right now.
They need a killer.
Kate wonders, suddenly, how many other moments have boiled down to the same realization? Have other people seen Finch ‘the scared girl’ too, but knew they needed Finch ‘the assassin’ instead? How many other people have made the same choice Kate is going to make right now? How many other people have sacrificed the girl so that they might live?
Kate damned the girl for her violence five minutes ago. But now she looks down at Lissy in her own trembling arms, and she reaches a hand up to Finch. Those wenge eyes are wide and... God... even wet. Finch looks devastated. But there’s no time for that. Kate squeezes the girl’s hand, hard. She meets that wide, wet gaze with a hard stare and a clenched jaw and it’s amazing how much can be conveyed with no words at all when bullets are flying.
It seems their gaze is locked a long moment, as bullets snick, snick, snick into the concrete wall behind them, as feet pound, pound, pound closer...
And then Finch has levered herself onto the top of the trunk and she’s vaulting off the roof of the car straight into the oncoming hail.
There’s the impact of bodies and two more shots go off. Kate’s not sure if she’s relieved or terrified when two female grunts follow the sound of the gun clattering away. She settles on terrified when Finch cries out in pain and she realizes, deep down, she wants Finch to win this fight no matter the how. If Finch has to execute a woman she apparently knows by name, to get them out of this garage, then so be it.
How easy, Kate mourns, it is to choose the assassin over the girl...
When the chips are down, the assassin has more use, doesn’t she?
A thousand moments just like this one over the years, probably.
And Finch must have chosen the assassin every time.
Or she wouldn’t be here.
Finch’s cry of pain turns to a growl and a hiss like a great and terrible snake coiling and then -
The hollow thud of someone’s head meeting pavement.
The other pretend EMT was a boy. He looked young, but his voice sounds younger after he cocks his gun, says, “Don’t move. I will shoot you Ama-” He corrects himself. “Finch.”
Who was she to these people?
How many names has she had?
That first night she told Kate ‘Finch’ was the only name she’d ever known.
But by how many other names has she been known?
And which is the truth?
“I don’t want to kill you, Hart,” Kate hears the girl sigh up to the boy with the gun. “You make the best lasagne this side of the Atlantic.”
“I make the best lasagna on either side of the Atlantic.” Something hidden. An easy familiarity between them. A ghost of times joking, eating together, haunting these words they speak now. “But I don’t think you’re in any position to kill me right now, Finch.” This time no hesitation on the name. This time that single word spit with hate. Like that one word is responsible for the death of those better times, perhaps a taint on all the memories so that even the lingering spirit is an open wound... “Up against the car.”
And he calls out to Kate then. “Katya Miloslav, come out from there with your hands where I can see them.” Lissy is still crying, but she has exhausted herself with screaming and the high-pitched, airy noises now just paint an eerie backdrop to the words spoken in the foreground. “You can leave the baby on the trunk. I’ll - ”
There’s the hollow thud of a second head meeting pavement.
The boy shouldn’t have distracted himself with Kate until Finch was good and cuffed.
That was stupid.
And so was, apparently, mentioning Lissy.
Kate would be surprised at the harsh tone except -
She’s pretty sure she already knew.
How Finch cradles the baby like something to be cherished.
The strange, small reason Kate can’t seem to help but trust the girl.
She growls down over the sound of - Kate stands behind the car and can see her - dragging the boy’s body across the parking space: “You won’t touch Elisabeth.”
She notices Kate watching and seems surprised, even blushes. But she only shrugs when the awkward moment carries. “You don’t fuck with kids,” is her eloquent explanation.