Kitty Saves the World Page 17

She looked like something out of a film clip, pale and beautiful, shining with her own light in the dark. Her red curls framed her ivory face and fell to her shoulders, and she wore a long, thick shawl over a black calf-length dress, an outfit that would have looked brilliant in New York City but seemed far too glamorous for this obscure stretch of desert. She glared across the space to Roman, her red lips turned in a smile. I started to dash forward—all I wanted was to get my teeth around her throat. Ben grabbed my arm, held me back.

Mercedes strolled across the asphalt, chin up and haughty, focusing her attention on Roman. Tina was backing up. Probably smart.

The actress looked down her nose. She had stage presence in spades and brought it all to bear, commanding attention. But the way her hands clutched her shawl, the tightness across her shoulders—she was angry, or scared, and trying to hide it.

She stopped and regarded Roman. I got the feeling that each of them was waiting for the other to speak, and neither wanted to break that silence.

“I’d heard you were here,” Mercedes said finally. She gave Tina the merest dismissive glance. “Recruiting.”

“Yes. And?” Roman said in a tone of annoyance.

That didn’t seem to be the response she wanted. “You could have asked me first.”

“That wasn’t necessary,” Roman said, his lip curled.

Mercedes rounded on him. “Not necessary? You need me, sir! You’d not have gotten this far without me!” Her fists were clenched; her bravado seemed to be masking terror.

“If not for you, I’d have found another tool,” he said, eyeing Tina as if to say, like this one.

What in the world was going on here?

I wasn’t going to find out, because Tina dropped, covering her head and hiding under the picnic table, and Cormac appeared from behind a nearby shelter, aiming the crossbow. He fired.

Roman turned to look, as if he’d heard the weapon’s string vibrate. He stepped, and almost dodged it. Stumbling back, he immediately straightened and glared at his attacker. He did not, alas, turn into a pile of decayed ash. The bolt hung from his right shoulder, a full handbreadth from his heart. The hit wasn’t going to kill him. So close.

Snarling, Cormac dropped the bow and swung the next off his shoulder, already loaded, and fired again. But Roman was running. I didn’t see where he went—he was a shadow, and all the shadows in the park seemed to get bigger, to swallow him up.

This time when I launched myself in a run, Ben didn’t stop me. In fact, he was right on my tail. I headed for Tina with some high-and-mighty notion that I could get in front of her and take whatever bullet was coming. I could take damage, she couldn’t, and we had to keep her safe. Ben aimed for Cormac. He had a stake in each hand.

Wolf could run faster. Wolf had better weapons for this. But I didn’t have time to shift.

Ben arrived at Cormac’s side and took a defensive covering position while Cormac winched back and reloaded the first crossbow.

Tina looked back to see me skid to a stop next to the table. I reached out with my hand, which she grabbed, and I pulled her out from under the table and shoved her behind me, backing away in an attempt to escape.

I expected Roman to appear in front of us—he’d be moving so fast I wouldn’t see him. He’d be a blur, a shadow shifting when a light turns on. I took short breaths, smelling as much as I could, tracking patterns in the air, which was suddenly filled with vampire. Calm, keep calm. I knew where Mercedes was, and I could only spot where Roman had gone if I could breathe and catch his scent. Standing tall, I hoped he’d go for me instead of Tina. A stray crossbow bolt wouldn’t kill me.

But Roman didn’t come after us. When he appeared again, a running blur, he went to Mercedes. She was ready for him, her teeth bared, her expression lethal. He made to slip behind her, arm around her neck for a quick snap and takedown, but she ducked, whirled past his shoulder, and got her mouth to his neck, fangs ready for a deadly cut. She wanted his blood, and therefore his power. If he’d been an inch slower, she might have had a chance, but his arm was up under her chin, shoving.

After that, I couldn’t follow the movements, which might have been choreographed, a dance instead of a fight, arms reaching, bodies slipping around each other. They dodged every strike the other offered, as if they could both predict a dozen or more moves ahead of what the other had planned.

Mercedes was the kind of person who recruited other people to do her dirty work. She usually watched from on high, her hands immaculate while chaos churned beneath her. I had assumed she couldn’t fight. My mistake. They were both old. Ancient, experienced, powerful. As much as I’d dealt with vampires, I hadn’t really understood.

“If they’d finish each other off, that would be ideal,” I murmured. I wasn’t macho. I didn’t have to get in the killing blow. It would be enough to watch.

Cormac must have thought this was a possibility, because he turned the newly loaded crossbow toward the car driver, who had a wicked three-foot-long spear in one hand and a semiautomatic pistol in the other. The pistol was up, aimed at Cormac and Ben.

“Ben, he might have silver!” I yelled, because he’d put himself in front of Cormac, thinking he could take the bullet. He couldn’t, not if the guy had silver bullets. I didn’t want Ben to test that.

“Police, drop your weapon!” Now Hardin was in on it, her own gun raised in one hand, her badge and ID held up in the other. Never mind that she was Denver PD, not Albuquerque, and didn’t have jurisdiction here. The driver didn’t know that.

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