Death's Rival CHAPTER TWO

Oh, Goody. I Wasn't Gonna Get Sucked to Death

The pilot stuck his head out of the door above me, back inside, and then raced down the stairs. "I've called airport security and 911. They're sending an ambulance and the cops," he said.

I said something that would have gotten my mouth washed out by the house mother at the Christian children's home where I was raised. "Medical kit!" I demanded. But the pilot was ahead of me and knelt beside Tory, opening the small kit. With actions that were medic-fast, he ripped open boxes and plastic packages and applied a thick layer of gauze over Tory's wound. Over that he folded a blanket from the jet. The entry wound was low in the upper left quadrant, above his waist, below his ribs. I tried to remember what organs were there and came up with upper colon and maybe spleen. The exit wound was directly behind it and way bigger. The pilot adjusted Tory's limp body, stuffed another blanket over that one, and wrapped them in place with gauze and a sticky-wrap bandage. He leaned in, applying pressure, his knees on the tarmac. "Come on, boy. Don't die on me," he muttered. "Don't die. Fight. You can fight this."

I lifted Tory's feet and propped them on the steel step, got more blankets from inside, all treatment for shock. I'd taken an emergency medicine course between life in the children's home and life as an adult as the junior member of a security firm. I'd taken a lot of classes in a lot of things. Some of what I'd learned was even useful occasionally.

Needing to be doing something for the man who had thought I needed help, and knowing there was nothing I could do, I secured the unconscious attacker, hands and feet, with double zip strips, cleaned out his pockets, and made a fast reconnoiter of the area while I called Leo's to report in. Bruiser answered. "We've landed. Two blood-slaves - " I stopped. Yeah. Multiple vamps had fed off them. Blood-slaves, not blood-servants. Expendable weapons. " - attacked me as I got off the plane. I took them down, but the first mate, Tory somebody" - I slid a hand over my face. I didn't even know his last name - "jumped in to help. He's injured. The pilot called 911."

Bruiser swore. Vamps took care of their own, avoiding all human agencies when possible, but this time it was too late. "Dan's a part-timer. Leo's regular pilot is sick today," Bruiser said. The phone fell silent as he thought, probably going over the vamp-political implications of Leo's self-proclaimed and uninvited Enforcer killing someone in the city of another master. Unlike me, Bruiser had a political mind and an elegant surface in addition to his ruthless side, which was the reason he was Leo's real Enforcer. That and the fact that he had the blood-bond with Leo that I had refused. "Okay," he said. "I'll get someone there to handle things. You get to the Romanello Clan Home."

Which was what I'd known he would say, but the words were still cold and heartless. Something twisted deep inside me. As if he knew what I was feeling, Bruiser added, "Or you can stay and spend the next two days answering the questions of local law enforcement."

He was right. I knew it. Still . . . "Okay. But someone knew we were coming. That list is limited to the pilot and first mate, the pilot who called in sick, any of the vamps y'all told on your end, and Derek Lee and his guys on my end." Derek's old team all went by monikers based on vodka drinks: V. Martini, V. Lime Rickey, V. Chi-Chi, V. Hi-Fi, V. Sunrise, V. Angel Tit. Derek had been called V. Lee's Surrender - a joke with historic connotations. I trusted these guys.

"Derek has new men," he said.

I thought about that. In some way I had never questioned or understood, Derek was Leo's before he was my guy. And Derek was merging ten new men into his team, shooters fresh out of combat, honorably discharged, all with nicknames based on tequila drinks, like T. Sunrise, T. Cheek Sneak, T. Grenada, T. Blue Voodoo, T. El Diablo, and T. Firecracker. They were a mixed crew, not all from the same unit, as Derek's Vodka Boys were, but picked from several different units, or whatever the marines called them. I hadn't gotten to know them well enough yet to say what I thought of them, except they probably weren't part of our current stool pigeon problem. "Derek's new guys were in service overseas when we first got our leak back during the Asheville parley. No. It's not someone new, unless our bad guy covered his bases and used some big bad mojo to recruit two former military guys - which would be nigh unto impossible. So, I'm telling you, again, you got a leak in vamp security. You had one in Asheville, and you got one now."

"Noted. You have a mission. Get on it. And see if you can make the security footage of the fight disappear."

Post-9/11 means there are digital cameras at every mom-and-pop airport in the nation. I disconnected. Checked Tory. He was still breathing. I should have left, but I pulled my phone and called Reach.

"Evening again, Paycheck," he said.

"I need to make all the outdoor security footage from Sedona Mountaintop Airport disappear. Review it first and see if you can ID the blood-slaves who just attacked me."

He cursed, and there was a long silence on the other end. Then keys started clacking. "This is going to cost you, Little Janie."

"Yeah, yeah. Bill it to Leo. Can you do it?"

"Yes." The connection ended, but I had no doubt that Reach was ticked off. And maybe worried. If he got caught, it had to be a federal crime.

Security raced in on an electric golf cart, a red light on the top. I started laughing, and the sound had an edge, sharp and caustic. I cut off the laughter. Somehow, Tory was still alive ten minutes later, when the paramedics got there. I slid into the shadows as the real cops showed up, and made my way through the terminal, head down, away from cameras to the ladies' room, where I pulled off the jacket and washed my clothes, drying them under the hand dryer. It didn't take long. I had remarkably little blood on me, but I'd still smell like dinner to any vamp who got a whiff. And here I was, going into the clan home of one. My life was totally out of control. I dropped my weight onto the counter, the edge cutting into my palms. I stared at myself. I was shaking.

I'd just killed a man.

And my lipstick was still in place, vibrant against my coppery Cherokee skin. As if it never happened.

Nausea rose in my throat, but no tears started. My eyes didn't fill. They were glowing Beast-gold. I'd left the pilot and Tory to the cops. The blood-slave I'd tied up and the blood-slave I'd killed. I was a traitor and a coward. I closed my lids and breathed, finding a small calm place inside myself. Though he had attacked me, I offered up a prayer for the spirit of my enemy, Cherokee-style, to the Christian God I had worshipped for all the life I remembered. Wondering if there would come a time when God no longer heard me, or worse, when I no longer prayed. That happened sometimes when one wandered into unfamiliar spiritual areas.

When I opened my eyes again, they were my ordinary amber. I finished cleaning up. Jacket back over my weapons, I smoothed the wisps of black hair that had come free, up into the braid and fighting queue. Straightened the hair sticks. Tugged the jacket. I looked long and lean and fashionably unremarkable. No one noticed me as I exited the terminal, careful to avoid the metal detectors.

The car with my initials in the windshield, written in marker on a piece of white cardboard, was waiting out front, and I slid into the backseat. The driver pulled away but wanted to talk about the appearance of the cops. I looked behind us, as if just noticing them, and said, "Really? Huh." He took that as me not knowing anything, shrugged, and drove into the night.

* * *

The driver, gathering that I wasn't the chatty type, concentrated on the road, for which I was grateful. It took us over forty minutes to reach the Romanello Clan Home on the outskirts of Sedona, a long, silent drive. I opened the e-file of the Romanello family dossier and tried to read, but the dark pulled at me. As the city fell away, the sky was so black it looked like being in space, and I had never seen so many stars, not ever, anywhere, not even in the Appalachian Mountains a century ago, before electricity lit up the nights.

There wasn't enough light to sightsee, but I cracked a window and the smells kept my nose busy. The car's headlights lit red stone bluffs, spiky foliage, low trees, scrub. I was quickly able to pin certain smells on specific plants. A coyote trotted across the road, stopped, and looked at the slowing car before trotting on. I smelled rodents and maybe some kind of squirrel. Baked earth. Smelled an animal with a musky, odd underscent - armadillo roadkill -  half roasted from the late autumn sun.

The clan home of the former blood-master of the city was in a canyon, about halfway up, on a ledge. It was in a position that would have been easily defended in the eighteen and nineteen hundreds. The only way to attack it today, barring helicopter, parasailing, ultralight plane, or parachute, was the road. Or a really horrible hike, a mountain climb, and rappel down from the cliff behind the manor hall.

A mile out, a wrought-iron gate blocked the road. We slowed and stopped at a dynamic camera, one that could be operated via joystick from a security console elsewhere. It was a top-of-the-line model with every bell and whistle on the market: motion-sensor, heat-detector, low-light capability, a PIR sensor - passive infrared - and traditional optical. The screws holding it in place were fresh and shiny. The system was new. The fence that trailed out from the road had motion sensors on it and a current running through its wires.

I rolled my window down and heard a mechanical voice say, "State your business."

I repeated the words Leo had told me to say. "I am Jane Yellowrock, seeking shelter and hospitality, here under parley rules, sent by Leonard Eugene Zacharie Pellissier, Blood Master of the Southeastern United States. I am armed, an Enforcer, but offer my word and guarantee that none shall be harmed by my hand except in defense."


Well, that was sweet. The camera swiveled to center on my face. I let them stare while I drew on Beast's night vision and studied the house in the distance. Constructed of brick and the red stone of the land, it was large, with a wraparound porch, huge arched openings on the outside of the porch that protected matching arched windows on the house wall. The windows were uncovered, revealing the inside. Rugs and wood and plaster interior walls met my enhanced gaze, and though I couldn't see them, I knew there would likely be automatic steel shutters on the inside to protect against sunlight and attack - vamp security.

A red clay roof had a solar array on its south side and three windmills. Two were modern, tall pipes, white against the black sky, with whirling, spinning tops that looked like serrated blades encased in steel. The third one looked more like a traditional windmill, and on the night breeze I could smell water. Only a little water, maybe pumped into an underground cistern, but a sharp contrast to the arid land.

It was a place of wealth and power, two stories tall, nearly impregnable. I'd seen specs of the clan home, such as existed, drawings made by visitors, but I knew how poorly most people remembered exact dimensions. And no one had mentioned a lair, neither for the vamps nor for their chained-scions, young vamps still in the devoveo of madness after being turned. So there was a lot I didn't know about the house. I would be flying by the seat of my pants, which I was good at, but it was never safe, and eventually I'd pay the price for my lack of knowledge. I always did.

"Go ahead," the mechanical voice said. The gate opened with a soft whir and Driver Dude pulled forward, up the hill toward the house. As we moved, low lights along the sides of the drive came on, brightening our way, and screwing with my night vision. Deliberate, I was sure. I closed one eye, peering at the world through the lashes of the other eye.

At the top of the rise, in the shadows of the house, I spotted five men. Each carried guns I could make out in the low light. I couldn't tell what kind, but I could guess they were modified fully automatic and fully illegal weapons. Ducky. Just freaking ducky. My heart rate sped, and a slow trickle started down my spine. I took a deep breath and blew it out, forcing away the nerves. Fear - and anything close to fear - is not wise when one is in the presence of vamps. They can smell it, and they sometimes like to play with their dinner before sucking it dry.

A dark shadow stood out against a broken-rock wall just ahead, a black triangular shape with coppery glints where the stars picked out brass rounds. Even in the dark, I thought I recognized a belt-fed machine gun, maybe an HK 21 .308 Shorty, one with the standard nine-inch barrel. My breath caught, and, oddly, my fear subsided. If I was right, it was a rare gun and I wished I could just walk over and take a peek. But since it was pointed at me and the guy manning it was wearing nighttime camo and expected to be unseen, I figured that might get me shot. I grinned, showing teeth, feeling better for some reason I couldn't name.

The driver pulled to a stop in front of the house. Calmer, I studied the house's perimeter, taking in the rest of the security measures. Three men and a woman exited the front door and stood, widely spaced, in a semicircle around the car. If I planned to jump out shooting, I'd never get them all before I was brought down. Each of the welcoming committee was standing out of the way of direct line of fire of the gunmen. Excellent positioning.

Driver Dude turned off the car and tossed the keys over the back of the seat, which I caught. "I'll be hiking back to the road for my ride. You leave the car back at the airport. We'll pick it up."

My brows rose, though there was no way he could have seen my reaction in the dark. I hadn't been paying attention to actual turns on the ride, just the scents. Stupid move. I wondered how I was getting back to the airport. "This thing got GPS?"

"GPS-linked, voice-activated HDD navigation system. Just push this button and you're on." He opened his door and got out.

Ooookaaaay. I got out too and looked over the car. Lexus sedan, new, a fancy car. I'd have noted all this right away if it had been a motorcycle, and maybe oohed and aahed a bit. Cars were just transportation for me. I pocketed the keys. He waved to the welcoming committee and started jogging back the way we had come. In the distance, I saw headlights moving along the road. His ride, presumably.

I turned to the blood-servants and the vamp awaiting me and repeated the little speech Leo had made me memorize. When I was done, I shut my mouth and waited. No one said anything. The silence stretched. By pulling on Beast's hearing, I could make out night breezes soughing over rock, tough-leaved plants clacking together with a dry, slithering sound, and the click of insects, hard carapaces and chitinous legs noisy as they ran. I could count the breath of the humans and pinpoint the one, still vamp.

They let the silence build, and it felt dangerous on the night, but Beast was a hunter. Patient. Unmoved by ploys. And so I stood, appearing relaxed, waiting. Once upon a time, and not so very far in my past, this little game would have left me with my knees knocking. I was getting better at vampire games and didn't know if that was a good thing or not.

Finally the vamp said, "You stink of danger. Of the scent of predator, but not one I know."

"Fancy that," I said, my voice carrying no trace of emotion. The first time I met Leo and Katie, his heir, they had both hated my scent, but when Leo accepted me, all his vamps had done so too, without a word being spoken. Interesting tidbit to be dissected later. If I lived.

"And you stink of blood. A fresh kill, for Pellissier's Enforcer?"

The vamp's tone was harsh and pitiless and demanding. Pretty good for so few words. I said, "I was attacked at the airport. I was forced to kill a blood-slave." Before he could draw a breath to reply, I added, "Not one of yours, I'm sure." And I was sure, because I didn't taste the  -  slave's scent on the wind and hadn't detected any scent I smelled here on either attacker. But I wasn't gonna add that. Let my comment be considered a polite disclaimer with a hint of uncertainty in it.

"We were not expecting visitors."

I didn't reply to that, letting the silence work for me now.

"My mistress will not accept you in her sanctuary for long. You have a letter of passage?" the vamp asked. I detected a hint of accent in his tone, maybe Russian or one of the formerly Russian countries.

"I do. I carry a letter of concern for your mistress."

"Our mistress is unwell."

"So I hear. Leo sends his regards and his well-wishes to his longtime friend."

The night fell silent again for a whole minute, which is a long time in the dark with guns pointed at me, before the vamp spoke again. "Come this way." The light fell on him when he turned, and I recognized Nicolas Nivikov, a former vamp stray, from his photo; the Russian was Rosanne Romanello's heir. Ro took in all sorts of strays - vamps with no master and no hunting ground. This one had been a rival until they fell in love, and now he was her protector and her heir.

The blood-servants fell in behind me as I followed Nicolas up the low steps into the house. I didn't like that, but there was no way to refuse. The door opened, held by a blood-servant, ugly muscle who looked me over, taking in the weapons. He didn't like me carrying and wanted me to know it. I nodded once at him, a single downward thrust of chin. Duly noted.

The interior shutters I'd expected to see were in place, stacked back against the sides of the windows. The decor was done in Italian antiques juxtaposed against modern, southwestern art, with contemporary updates like comfy but traditional Italian leather furniture and soft Hopi-patterned rugs over Italian marble floors. Not that I knew much about Italian stuff, but the dossier on Sedona's master of the city had been detailed. Very detailed. The place smelled of leather and sage and blood and something vaguely sickly sweet I couldn't identify.

I was shown into the library, where the smell of leather was strong, mixed with the scent of old paper, ancient ink, and the mold that likes books. There, I waited for over half an hour as various blood-servants and house-vamps came and went, introducing themselves, offering coffee, tea, wine, a snack, a full-course dinner, and an opportunity to freshen my toilette, which I interpreted as a chance to use the little girls' room. I turned them all down. No way was I accepting anything to eat or drink in this place or back into a closed space with my britches down. I thought it was odd that Ro's Enforcer didn't show up and scope me out, but maybe he was watching on the well-hidden security cameras in the corners of the room. I thought about making faces at them, but controlled myself. I understood why the vamps and servants kept me constant company. The vamps wanted to sniff me, and the servants wanted to get a good look in case they had to kill me tonight.

At the thought, Beast rolled over deep in my mind, pulling her paws close under. It was a good position if she needed to launch her body - a strike posture, which meant she was paying close attention to everything, in spite of her silence. My growing sense of unease dissipated slightly knowing that she was awake and aware.

I was perusing the library's titles when Nikki-Babe appeared in the doorway. "This way, if you please," he said. I followed him through a receiving parlor into a small office, where a vamp sat in the shadows. The photo I'd seen of her had obviously been taken in this room, but Rosanne's illness had progressed since. Now she had pustules up her neck and across one cheek. Another was on her lip, as if the disease liked mucous membranous tissue.

She clutched a handkerchief, and blood dotted it. Her nose was bleeding. I had never seen a vamp bleed except from a wound. Had never seen one sick. Freedom from bodily complaints, illness, or needs - with the exception of blood and sex - was supposed to be a benefit of being a vamp. But no more, it seemed. The sickly sweet smell was Ro - the scent of disease and decaying blood.

The room was filled with an odd tension, electric and gluey, as if it stuck to me when it brushed past. I had paused too long, let the silence grow too deep. I didn't want to approach, but I had been schooled by Bruiser in Mithran visitation etiquette. I had to present my letters of introduction. I stepped to the table and laid the envelopes before her. The official one, Ro handed to Nik. She opened the privately addressed one, the one written in Leo's own hand with lots of old-fashioned flourishes, the words Ro, mi amore on the envelope. They both read, and when Rosanne was done, she folded her letter and placed it in her desk drawer, which she locked with a small key hanging on a chain around her neck.

"Nikki tells me you were attacked." Her voice sounded weak and whispery. "They were not mine."

"I know," I said gently.

"He also prepared me for your scent, but I find it not entirely unpleasant. You smell of predator and aggression, but also of contact with my Leonardo. He is well? I had heard . . ." She stopped to breathe, little desperate gasps, which nearly made my eyes bug out. Master vamps did not need to breathe except to talk and to fight, and this one had to stop and reoxygenate. Not good. "I had heard he had not recovered from the death of his son. I liked Immanuel immensely."

"He recovered," I said shortly. Leo's state of mind and the death of his supposed son wasn't a subject I wanted to talk about, since I had killed the creature masquerading as Immanuel. "He's now concerned about you."

Rosanne made a very Italian gesture, a slow throwing of her fingers, as if the subject was unimportant. "I was offered a Blood Challenge. I did not contest it. I have a master now." She shook her head, and with the movements, her sick scent floated into the room. "It has been long since I was . . . mastered. It was difficult at first. But he has left me in control of my own hunting grounds. He has made me his heir of this land."

This part was the tricky part. To mention her diseased state might be considered insulting. I'd been warned that if I was attacked after entering and being welcomed, it would be when I brought up the obvious. But she had mentioned Leo's illness, so maybe I had some leeway there too. "Leo is concerned that his old friend is not recovering as quickly as she should."

The tendrils of tension wrapped around me like the prickly webs of a spider, close and sticking. "I have been sent a treatment by my new master. However, there is only one, and I may not drink as often as I need."

I thought about that for a moment until I found the translation. The new master had sent her blood-servant or  -  slave who had the "treatment" in his blood, but if she drank too much he'd die. She had a human drug, a human antibiotic factory to feed on. She was getting enough to keep her alive, but not enough to heal totally. Talk about a way to control your subordinates. Her new master had probably been the one to make her sick and now only he had the power to heal, or at least to keep her alive. No way was she going to thwart him. "And his name?" I asked. When Rosanne didn't respond, I clarified, "The name of your new master?"

"I may not answer."

Without turning my head, I glanced at Nikki. His face was closed, as unyielding as a marble statue. No answer there either. Well, crap. "May I ask another question about your master, without giving offense?" What I'd like to do is beat it out of you, but I have my orders.

Ro chuckled, almost as if she had heard my thoughts. Vamps are as adept as any predator at reading body language and interpreting vocal tones as cues, so maybe in a way she had. "Do you know how you were infected?" I asked. "Is the disease associated with your new boss?"

Ro said nothing, but Nikki laughed, and the tone was not happy. "This illness is a scourge upon all of us."

Which I took as a yes, but that didn't really help me much. From my memory, I pulled up the formal words for my next request - which was the primary reason for my visit, and the biggest reason I might not walk out of here under my own power. "The Master of the City of New Orleans," which was Leo's less formal title, "has dependable and confidential physicians in his employ who might assist with finding a cure. He requests . . ." I took a steadying breath. This was the most dangerous part. ". . . that you allow me to draw a sample of your blood for testing."

Nikki stepped toward me, vamp fast. I stepped back, toward the door. Beast does not run from predators. The voice in my head reminded me that running from vamps activated the chase instinct. Not that it mattered. The opening was suddenly filled with a blood-servant - the big, bad, ugly guy who had held the door, all brawn and speed and no brains. The tension in the room shot up like a wildfire hitting a stand of dry pine.

On reflex, I ducked right, backed into the corner of the room, pulled the nine-mil and a vamp-killer, the one I'd killed the blood-slave with. I knew the vamps would smell the fresh blood, even after the thorough cleaning I'd given the blade in the ladies' room.

Nikki-Babe followed so fast I didn't see him move. He was so close I could smell who he'd had for dinner. I heard the distinctive click of fangs snicking down on the little hinged mechanism in the roof of his mouth. In a single heartbeat, his eyes vamped out. "Pellissier must still be caught in the dolore of grief to ask such a thing," he said, black pupils the size of quarters spreading into bloodred sclera. "He is insane still, from the loss of his son." No trace of white or iris remained in Nikki's eyes, and no trace of humanity. This was going to hell in a handbasket fast.

I shoved the gun up under Nikki's chin. "Silver shot," I warned, on a whisper. He stilled, his eyes twisting back to Rosanne. "Look, lady," I said to her, "I don't want trouble. Leo just wants to help. Girrard DiMercy is back with him, and Leo is sane again."

Ro lifted a hand. The pressure in the room died. "Girrard has returned to him?"

"Yes, and Leo thinks his private lab can find a cure to the sickness."

She thought about that for a moment. "You know how to do this taking of blood?" I nodded. "You may." Nikki-Babe started in with a barrage of oddly accented Italian, clearly disagreeing with her decision, but I ignored him. According to the Vampira Carta, she was in charge. I slid away from Nik, keeping him in my side vision, and stepped to the desk. Ro rolled up her sleeve. Oh, goody. I wasn't gonna get sucked to death.

I holstered the weapons and opened the small tote, taking out the blood drawing kit. I wasn't skilled at taking blood, but I knew how to do it. I pulled on gloves and tied the tourniquet around Rosanne's arm. The pustules were here as well, and the smell of the sickness was gag-inducingly strong this close to her. There was a vein right in the middle of her arm, slightly plumped by the tourniquet. I cleaned the bottles and tubes, each with different-colored tops and containing different anticoagulants, with alcohol, and then the sticking site with foamy brown soap and Betadine. I pulled the cap from the needle and stuck the sharp needle under her skin. She didn't flinch, though I wasn't experienced with the procedure. If it had been a stake, maybe then . . .

I stifled the thought and pushed the first bottle on, then the next, then four more tubes in succession. When I was done, I popped the tourniquet. Put a square of gauze above the insertion site and removed the needle. Flipped the safety cap closed.

I met Ro's calm eyes, and she smiled slowly, tilting her head the barest fraction. The expression on her face suggested that she had accomplished a goal, and I was reminded of the photo that arrived at Leo's from an anonymous source. Yeah. Ro had sent the photo and had known that Leo would send help. She might have preferred an armed rescue, but she trusted Leo or she wouldn't have allowed me to draw the blood. Vamps were sneaky. I liked that about them. I nodded back slightly to show I understood.

I held the site while I dropped the torn packages, the bottles, and tubes into a zip-lock baggie and sealed it up. I was supposed to label the tubes with name, date, and time, but that could wait. I was ready to get out of here and so was Beast. I could feel her unease padding through my mind like a lion in a cage, back and forth, back and forth.

Chilled moisture soaked my thumb and I glanced at the puncture site to see blood oozing up from beneath my grip. I grabbed more gauze, applied it, and held harder, but the blood welled faster. Vamps don't bleed. Not like this. "Crap," I whispered.

Nik pushed me aside and took Rosanne's arm. And he did something I'd never seen a vamp do before. Instead of licking it clean, he wiped the puncture site, tossing the bloody gauze into the garbage. A vamp ignored blood. Didn't lick it. And then he spat onto the wound. I almost said eeeewwww but caught myself in time. I realized he was worried she was contagious.

Vampire saliva closes wounds, causing the veins and skin to contract and constrict. It's usually applied with a tongue laving. This was weird. Okay. This gig was making me rethink everything I thought I knew about vamps, and I had been on a steep learning curve ever since I hit New Orleans.

The tiny wound stopped bleeding. Nikki-Babe looked at me and I nodded my thanks. "I'll be going now," I said.

"I don't think so," a voice said behind me. I turned and saw a man, human - or as human as the fangheads' dinners ever are. I knew this guy wasn't one of Ro's usual blood-servants; even if I hadn't been able to smell the new master on him, he wasn't in the dossier. He was maybe seventy years old, looked twenty-five, and was powerful - meaning that he had fed on the blood of a master for a very long time. Bald, six feet and a smidge, blue eyes, reddish beard needing a trim, casual clothes, shirt half-tucked, as if he'd dressed and gotten here in a hurry. He was a righty.

And he had a gun pointed at my chest.

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