Kitty Rocks the House Page 10

“Shall we sit?” Rick finally said, gesturing to the table.

The man looked at Ben and me, standing off to the side. “Should they remain here while we talk?”

“It’s their restaurant.”

“Then you allow wolves to learn your secrets?”

“Not only that, I feel better with them watching my back.” Rick gave me a quick look, nodding. I straightened, pleased with the vote of confidence.

Columban’s expression darkened, as if he’d discovered a part of the universe had fallen out of alignment. “Very well,” he said, with a pointed sigh, as he sank back into his chair.

Rick sat across from him, and I inched over to Ben. The two of us stayed standing, where we could at least pretend like we had some dominance over the situation.

Columban continued. “I suppose I should thank you, then, for speaking with me at all.” His voice held something like wonder, or maybe confusion.

“Father Columban. That’s an affectation, of course,” Rick answered.

“I assure you, it isn’t.”

“Then you were a priest before. I know priests can be turned—”

“No. I became a priest after.”

“How?” Rick said, curt and disbelieving. “Surely you don’t carry or wear a crucifix—”

“I carry the symbols in my heart. Before I answer your questions, may I ask a question or two about you? I have heard only a little. You are Spanish, yes? From the seventeenth century?”

Rick hesitated, looking as if he was about to lay down a hand in a game of poker. “Sixteenth.”

“How long have you been in the Americas?”

“Five hundred years.”

“Then you were here from the start.”

“From the first wave of Spanish colonization, yes.”

Columban leaned back, nodding as if impressed, and pleased. As if he had found what he was looking for. “Then you are Catholic.”

Rick turned a wry smile. “It’s difficult to be very religious at all in my condition.”

The so-called priest’s hands were on the table. He leaned forward and asked, “Yes or no. Are you Catholic?”

A long, anxious moment followed, and my heart thudded, racing on Rick’s behalf. Why did this feel like an inquisition? What answer was this man looking for? I’d known Rick for years, and I didn’t know what he was going to say.

Rick’s voice caught before he murmured, “Yes. Still. Somehow. Whether or not God thinks so. When you haven’t actually taken communion in five hundred years—”

“This isn’t about God. If the pope says you’re Catholic, you are, yes?”

Rick seemed taken aback at that. “If you insist on leaving God out of it—I suppose it depends on the pope.”

“You’re making this too complicated,” Columban said. “If we are wise, we judge men by their actions. Not by the labels other people use on them.”

“I’m fairly certain my drinking human blood on a semiregular basis justifies at least one of the labels used on me.”

“But do you believe in one holy and apostolic Church? Are you Catholic?”

“Are you here to tell me that if I do, then I am? That if the pope says I am—”

“Yes,” Columban said.

I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. “The pope knows about vampires? Has the pope always known? Have all the popes known? What has the pope got to do with vampires?”

“Kitty, maybe you should let them talk,” Ben said.

“But—” They were all looking at me now, so I shut up.

Columban turned to Rick. “You have not asked what order I belong to.”

“A liberal one, obviously,” Rick said.

“I belong to the Order of Saint Lazarus of the Shadows. Those who return from the dead to do God’s work on earth.”

“That’s not the original Order of Saint Lazarus,” Rick said. “The leper knights of the Crusades—”

“We were hidden among them. Now that lepers and crusades are not as common as they were, we are all that remain.”

Rick stared. “An order of vampire priests? That exists with the blessing of the pope? Really? That’s…”

“Crazy. Yes. It is, rather. Ricardo, I am here to ask you a question: Would you like to become one of us?”

Chapter 4

I HAD collected Rick’s story in bits and pieces over the years. He had arrived in colonial Mexico in the early 1500s, a young Spanish nobleman seeking his fortune. Like hundreds of others, he joined Coronado’s expedition to find Cibola, the City of Gold. The expedition failed, but Rick—Ricardo—remained in Mexico. Soon after, he encountered a vampire and was turned against his will. The rest, as they say, was history. He made some kind of peace with his condition and eventually found that fortune he’d been looking for. Until recently, he’d kept to himself, and his existence had been quiet. Now, he was Master of Denver and attracting the attention of people like Father Columban, who apparently was on a mission from the pope.

As a young Spanish nobleman, of course he would have been Catholic. Could that kind of faith last for five hundred years? When most of the church’s symbols were weapons against him?

If Columban had just told him he could be made human and mortal again, Rick could not have looked more astonished. I kept my mouth shut, waiting for Rick’s answer. I tried to picture the calm, elegant man before me, who I’d known for years now, as a priest. Oddly, it wasn’t too difficult. He’d be the kind of priest you could confess anything to, and he wouldn’t even have to prompt.

“Why?” Rick said finally.

“We need more allies. When you became Master of Denver, you came to our attention. You are already fighting for our cause—think of how much more you could do as part of our order.”

“And what of Denver?”

“Surely others can look after one city.”

“You know of Roman? Dux Bellorum?”

“We have known of him from the beginning.”

“And you couldn’t stop him before now?” I blurted.

Columban gave me the kind of look he’d give a small child who’d just brought a frog into the house. Disgusted, dismissive. Obviously, I didn’t know what I was talking about. So I looked to Rick for an answer.

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