Kitty Rocks the House Page 59

“You think you have to replace him in the Order of Saint Lazarus of the Shadows.”

He bowed his head. His hands, resting on the desk, clenched into fists. “I—I would like to meet the other members of the order. It’s important to me.”

“But you’ll be back?”

The pursed lips, the glance away, were something of an answer.

“Would you like to sit?” He gestured to the sofa on the other side of the room, and he joined me there. I perched on the edge of the cushion, wondering what I could possibly say to change his mind. Surely I could say something.

I just couldn’t think of what.

He radiated the chill of his bloodless, undead vampire nature. It should have felt unnatural, making me nervous, but he was just Rick. He’d always been like that. No heartbeat, no breath. But still human, somehow. He studied his hands, resting on his lap.

He said, “Father Columban told me a very strange thing—the order knew about Fray Juan, the vampire who made me. He used to be one of them, but turned apostate and fled. They assumed he had been destroyed during the Inquisition. Many vampires were. But they never imagined he’d fled to the colonies to start his own empire. Columban actually thanked me for destroying him and preventing that. Because Columban didn’t just know Fray Juan—he was the one who made him a vampire. So Columban was my grand-progenitor. I could have learned so much from him.”

“You and Columban were shut up in there for days. Is that what you did all that time? Talk about history, where you came from?”

“Isn’t it enough?” he said. “We talked, told stories, prayed. Confessed. A lot of sins to confess, after five hundred years. Many acts of contrition to say. It was … good. To feel some sort of absolution.”

“A Catholic vampire. Well then.”

“So you understand why I must go, to tell them what happened. To learn whatever I can, to help them.”

“I don’t understand.” Except that I did. He’d had a glimpse of something he thought he’d lost. He wanted more. I shook my head. “I’m sorry about what happened. If I hadn’t set Cormac on the trail—”

“Blame doesn’t solve anything. Only forgiveness. You did what you thought was right. So did Cormac and Detective Hardin for that matter.”

“That woman—the demon—she would have killed us, if Cormac hadn’t stopped her. I’m pretty sure a few of her knives were silver.”

“Yes. Father Columban knew that the three of us were in danger,” he said. “She was after us, the vampires and lycanthropes.”

“Why?”

“Because of what we are. Is there another reason?”

I pondered that. As if I didn’t have enough to worry about. “Is she gone for good, or will she be back?”

“I don’t know. We have enemies, we already knew that. The details hardly matter.”

Unless the details told us how to kick their asses. I imagined Rick was taking the long view here, as usual.

“Do you remember when we first met?” I asked.

“I do,” he said, a smile playing on his lips. “I think you’d been a werewolf for all of six months. Everything terrified you.”

“Can you blame me?” I had almost forgotten those days myself. Repressed them. I had no idea what it must have looked like from the outside. But Rick would remember.

“Not at all,” he said. “Around all those hardened wolves you were so…”

“So what?”

“Unworn. Fresh. It’s an odd piece of fate that threw you among Carl’s folk. Trial by fire.”

“Wasn’t so bad,” I said, but the words felt false. I only said that because I knew now, after meeting dozens of other werewolves and seeing other packs, how much worse it could have been. Or I honestly didn’t remember how bad it had been. Just as well, probably. Darren was more right about me and how I started out than he knew. “But that wasn’t what I expected you to say. More like inexperienced. Naïve.”

“It’s a matter of perspective, I think. Others saw you as weak. I thought you had a lot of promise. You were a survivor.”

I looked at my hands twisted together, because my eyes had started stinging. I didn’t want to cry, not here. “The first time we met, you were the only one in that crowd, all the werewolves and vampires jockeying for status and position, who treated me like a person. You didn’t care if I was weak or strong, you didn’t expect me to behave a certain way. You asked how I was doing. And then you listened. I don’t even remember what I said, I think I rambled for a long time about nothing in particular.”

“You said you were doing all right, but you weren’t. You were sad and nervous and confused, but couldn’t say it so you talked around it.”

“And then you backed me up when I started doing the show. Everyone else wanted me to quit.”

“That was about the time you stopped being so confused.”

“I’m still confused.”

“But not about who you are. Not like you were then.”

“Is that because I’m more comfortable with the werewolf thing, or because I’ve gotten older?”

“Yes,” he said, his smile turning lopsided.

“I guess you would know about getting older.”

“I would.”

Rick had become one of my favorite people in the world. Bloodsucking vampire and all. How had that happened?

I bit my lip. “Angelo told me you’ve never made another vampire. You may be Master of the city but you don’t have vampires of your own. Is that true?”

“Angelo must be smitten with you, to start telling you my secrets.”

I chuckled. “I don’t know about that. So, is it true?”

“It’s true. It’s simple, really. Why would I inflict on anyone else what happened to me? It would bring me power. But no. I wouldn’t put that burden on my soul.”

“You’re a good person, you know that?”

“I’ve at least come to believe that I’m not entirely damned.”

There wasn’t going to be a good moment for this, but I’d dragged the thing all this way so I might as well go through with it.

“I brought you a present,” I said, retrieving the paper bag and handing it to him.

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