Kitty and the Silver Bullet Page 67

I said, "Remember, don't look—"

"At their eyes, I know."

The door at the end of the hall was already open, into a room that looked like it came from another world. We inched forward and peered in.

The place was marvelous, with low ceilings and brocade fabric draping the walls. Bronze lamps gave out soft light, and the carpet was thick and lush under our feet The colors were luscious to the eyes, the furnishing opulent, and at one end stood an actual dais, a raised platform decked with Persian rugs and antique furniture. The central piece was a throne, upholstered in red plush with gilt carving on all surfaces.

Rick sat on the throne, gripping the scrolled edges of the armrests, and leaning forward. Arturo stood before him, a look of fury twisting his face. Rick had done exactly what he said he'd do: come here to wait for Arturo.

Rick said he only needed a few minutes alone with him. He should be leaping, attacking. Why was he hesitating? The longer he gave Arturo, the more chances Arturo had to speak, to act, the better chance he had of winning.

"It takes more than sitting in that chair to take my place," Arturo said.

Rick looked to the doorway, where we were standing. Hardin had her crossbow ready, but moved it back and forth between them, like she didn't know whom to shoot first.

"Stand down, Detective," he said. "I'm going to do this right, and that means not staking him."

Hardin shook her head. "You—" she spoke to Arturo, "are under arrest for assault."

Arturo spared a quick glance over his shoulder. "Katherine, have you changed your mind? My offer still stands."

I couldn't answer, not even to shake my head. Hardin and I needed to get out of here. This was more of a window into vampire politics in action than most people outside their world ever got. I was strangely fascinated. At the same time, I wanted to be anywhere but here. This was going to get very, very messy.

Rick spoke, his voice even. "The fact that I'm here, that you haven't been able to stop me, shows that you're weak. It's time for you to step aside."

"Are you giving me a chance to concede?" Arturo said, laughing.


Still smiling as if deeply amused, Arturo shook his head. "You are too soft for this, Ricardo. You're too weak to sit in that chair."

"Actually, I plan on replacing this chair with something a little more practical."

"Why is everyone ignoring me?" Hardin said.

"Because they think we're bugs," I reminded her. Rather than being frustrated, though, I wanted a bucket of popcorn.

Arturo said to Rick, "You don't have the years to do that. You don't have the time stretching behind you, supporting you. You need age to take my place."

"Oh, that's the game, is it? You have no idea how old I am." He was calm. Relentlessly calm.

Arturo's expression fell, and he said, angrily, "How old, then?"

I had pegged them both at about two or three hundred years old, by inference and rumor. Rick had controlled those rumors, evidently. With age came strength and power. He'd kept his hidden.

Rick—Ricardo, I suddenly saw the difference—studied his rival, as if he could peel back the skin, yank out the secrets he wanted simply by looking. When Arturo took a step back, his hand touching his cheek, rubbing it almost like it hurt, I missed what had happened, if anything had actually happened. Then I smelled it: blood in the air. Arturo looked at his hand, which was covered by a sheen of red. A film also covered his cheek, his jaw—all his exposed skin. He was sweating blood.

Teeth bared, fangs showing, Arturo stared at Rick in a panic. Was Rick doing this? Making Arturo sweat blood? Drawing the substance out of his body?

When Arturo glared back at Rick, attempting to stun him, or hypnotize him, or knock him unconscious like those vampires in the hallway, or draw blood through his pores—he couldn't. It didn't work. He didn't have the years, the power.

"I followed Coronado into this country, Arturo. I have age," Rick said.

Five hundred years old. He was over five hundred fucking years old. Arturo gaped at him. Arturo, who was only two or three hundred years old. Only.

Rick carried his five centuries well. He didn't let on that the weight of those years pressed on him. The old ones tended to get smug, becoming bored and arrogant as they grew powerful and isolated. Not him. He acted like he still had discoveries to make. Like the world was still fresh to him. He'd misled us all.

"You don't," Arturo said in a breathless tone that betrayed his belief—and his fear. He wiped his cheeks, rubbed his hands, smearing red over his skin, but he couldn't wipe it off.

When Rick stood and stepped toward the younger vampire, Arturo stumbled back, losing all his grace, almost falling. Rick pressed forward, grabbing hold of Arturo's collar, hoisting him upright, trapping him. He locked gazes with the other vampire, and Arturo froze. Like he was only mortal, a vulnerable human trapped in a vampire's stare.

Rick had intimidated him into submission. Holy cow.

"Ricardo. Step away from him, please."

A curve of color that had seemed just another part of a tapestry moved forward. Mercedes Cook, emerging from the shadows. Wearing a tailored jacket, long skirt, and heeled boots, she walked with confidence, head high, eyes half-lidded, like she was onstage, on show. And she left no doubt as to who was really in control here.

Of course she hadn't left Denver, not with the situation still unresolved.

"Mercedes," Rick said, grimacing. He didn't turn away from his quarry. "What's her price? How much are you paying for her to keep you in power?"

"Price? I'm not paying anything! She has no power here!" But he glanced at her, uncertain.

"Mercedes?" Rick said again, this time questioning the woman.

Her poise was deeply practiced, unflappable. The end of the world would not shake her. Humanity would destroy itself with nuclear bombs or rampant plagues, and vampires like her would stand among the ashes, imperious.

"Arturo and I haven't made a deal. Yet. Arturo? It's not too late."

Still dangling in Rick's grip, Arturo stared, his eyes widening. "It was you. All along, it was you."

And I saw it then myself: the nightclub attacks, the bodies left in the warehouse for the police to find, all of it giving the impression that Arturo was losing control. Indirectly, she'd inspired Rick to rebel. She'd made Arturo seem—and maybe even feel—weak. All so she could stroll in here and offer to rescue him.

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