Kitty Saves the World Page 49

“You know it.”

I hung up the phone and beamed at the others. Maybe I couldn’t work a crossbow worth anything, but I had my own resources. “Hardin’s in,” I said.

Half an hour later Hardin arrived in her sedan and brought a patrol car and two uniformed cops with her. Cormac, Tina, and Grant were going to look for Roman at Psalm 23, while Ben, Hardin, and I dropped by the lair at Obsidian and a couple of other downtown safe houses I knew about. If we found any of the Family’s human servants, we’d try to recruit them. We’d hope the aftershocks didn’t get worse.

*   *   *

THE GALLERY looked different in daylight hours. Plain, unassuming. Like a hundred other downtown storefronts and businesses that had been here forever. A little run down, a little lonely. Concrete and chipped paint. It seemed smaller. The earthquake hadn’t seemed to cause it any damage. I wondered if the tremor had affected the vampires downstairs at all. I supposed the building could collapse and bury them, and as long as they weren’t exposed to sunlight, they’d be all right.

“I don’t think he’s here,” Ben said, after he and Hardin and I had made a circuit of the building. The door at the base of the stairs was locked.

I didn’t smell Roman. I smelled generic vampire, but the place was saturated with their bloodless chill. In daylight hours, the scent was muted. If he’d come back here after the rest of us had left, we couldn’t tell with our noses.

“I didn’t think he would be,” I said. “But we had to check.”

“You said you had a couple of other places to try?”

“Yeah. The Family owns property all over town. A lot of vampires make their money with property investments. The places I know about, it’s mostly by smell. But the guy’s got to spend daylight hours somewhere.”

“Well, let’s check it out.”

The first address was a small apartment building north of downtown. The upper floors were rented out to regular tenants, but the basement apartments were reserved for vampires. Again, we made a circuit of the building, smelling what little we could. Detective Hardin interviewed the on-site property manager to see if she’d seen anything strange, or what she knew about who lived in the basement.

I hadn’t intended on getting separated from Ben. We weren’t, really—I was at the back of the building, and he was just around the corner—just around the corner—while we studied the blacked-out basement windows. I might have been out of his sight, but I wasn’t out of shouting distance. We weren’t really separated.

I heard something, a snapping of fingers down the alley behind the building. Someone standing around being bored. I went to look, moving around the Dumpsters in the back of the lot to the alley fence.

The last person I expected or wanted to see was there, one hand in a pocket. Charles Lightman snapped the fingers of his other hand, then studied them as if trying to figure out how they worked.

I stared at him. “What are you doing here?”

He squinted up at the sky, as if he wasn’t used to the sun, and smiled like this was a joke. “I was hoping we could chat. It won’t take long.”

“This really isn’t a good time,” I said, trying to catch my breath, mind stumbling. “In fact, it’s a pretty damn awful time. I don’t know if you noticed, but there’s been an earthquake. And how did you know I was here—”

“Yes, I see, I understand. But I can’t sit on this forever, Ms. Norville, Kitty. You knew it wasn’t a standing offer. But I’m here now, I’m willing to negotiate. Do we move forward? Think of it—expand your influence, your empire. You’ll have the kind of success that brings stability. No more guessing, no more taking chances. You’ll get away from all this. The very fact you’re stalling tells me you’re interested. It’s a hard choice, I know, but you’ve had time to think on it. I need an answer.”

Was he serious? He’d followed me in the aftermath of an earthquake to demand an answer? I couldn’t believe it. “You know, right this minute, if you really want to make an offer I can’t refuse? You know what I really want? I want my pack back home safe, and I want Roman’s head on a platter.”

This should have been nonsensical to him. He should have been confused. Asked who Roman was, what my pack was. But his smile didn’t waver. The light in his eyes turned hungry.

“Ah, I’m afraid I can’t do that. I knew your pack would be a great bargaining chip, but my opponents got to them first. Protected them. And you, from being manipulated because of them. And Roman’s head? No, I need that right where it is.”

My limbs went cold, and I stared. Something was about to go very sideways, I could feel it. “Who—”

“The TV show offer—that was the standard rich-and-famous deal. I didn’t really expect you to say yes to it. Truth be told, I expected you to say no right away. The fact you were tempted at all—I find that interesting. Ah well. You can’t win them all. This just makes it possible for me to move forward with the next plan. You know what they say about one door closing.”

“Ben—” I called over my shoulder, recognizing the need for backup, but it was too late.

A wind blasted me, like someone opened the bulkhead door of an airplane and sucked away the air. I smelled brimstone, fury, and darkness—

“Ashtoreth!” I called out, right as she appeared, stepping through whatever invisible portal had opened. I snarled, braced to fight or run, but the wind pinned me down, hunched over. If I tried to move or straighten it would sweep me away.

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