Kitty's Big Trouble Page 31

I scratched his ear and kissed his furry check. “We have to find Cormac and get out of here. Where is he? Where’d you leave him?”

He pulled away from me and trotted back the way he’d come. At the end of the block, he stopped and waited. Sighing, I hauled myself to my feet. I had to be healing because it was easier than the first time I’d tried it, after climbing out of the pit. But I’d never been so sore, all the way to the bone. However much I wanted to run, I could only manage to shuffle, wincing with every step.

When Ben saw me limping, he loped back and nudged me, whining, worried. His nose tracked all over me, searching for what was wrong, poking at the hem of the shirt until he found skin. His nose was cold and wet. I rested on him, lacing my hand into the fur of his neck. He came up to my hip and made a perfect crutch.

“I’m okay,” I said with another sigh. Together, slowly, we made our way to the end of the block and around the corner.

The alley ended ahead, and I recognized Grant Avenue. Ben put his nose down and sniffed, looking for a trail. I tried to imagine what had happened. Even through all the fighting we’d done, he hadn’t shifted. He’d kept it together. This time he’d either made a conscious decision to shift, or something had finally pushed him over the edge, and he’d lost control. I wanted to get him someplace safe and quiet, convince him to sleep instead of protecting me, and ask him what had happened.

But first, we had to find Cormac.

All the trails I sensed were old. My nose was pretty good, but Ben’s wolf’s nose would be better at this, and he was crossing back and forth, aimless, trackless. Ben had been back this way recently, but Cormac and Anastasia hadn’t, not since we first came here right after dusk. No sign of Grace, either. He trotted on to the end of the alley, made another pass, back and forth a couple of times—still no trail to follow.

I tried calling Cormac on my cell phone and wasn’t surprised when I got voice mail. I left a message. “Hey, we’re trying to find you. Ben’s here, we’re both okay. Call me as soon as you can.” Not that leaving a message would do any good, but it couldn’t hurt.

The street was empty; no one was around, not a car, not a traffic light, nothing. Seemed odd for a big city, even in the middle of the night.

When I tipped my nose to the air again, a cold thread of scent touched me. A familiar chill, it stabbed through the city’s background mist of cool air coming in off the water. A vampire—cold, undead. Not Anastasia. My imaginary hackles rose, my shoulders stiffening.

I looked behind me, down the alley we’d just left. A figure stood there, part of the shadows, visible only because he was backlit by some distant light diffused through the mist. He was male, with close-cropped hair and an angular shape to his features. He stood with his arm crooked, as if he rested his hand on the hilt of a sword hanging on his belt. But the stance was an illusion. He wore an overcoat. From a block away, he looked like a statue.

I knew him, I recognized him, that smell, that posture, the way I could feel him staring at me even when I couldn’t see his eyes. I stepped toward him, until my vision resolved his features and I was sure.

The vampire turned and walked away.

Ben whined. Back at the curb, he was looking back and forth, pacing, agitated. I went to him. “Ben?”

Roman—the figure I thought had been Roman—was out of sight now, but I still smelled the chill of vampire on the air. Ben loped to my side, brushing his flank along my thigh. I gripped his fur. He looked up at me with amber eyes, full of energy and determination. Run? he seemed to say.

Two vampires—different vampires—approached us along Grant from either direction. We’d be cornered in moments.

“I can’t,” I said, despairing. I squeezed my right hip, feeling the still-deep bruising. I wasn’t about to try to hobble away and get caught from behind. I’d rather face them.

Ben flattened his ears and tensed for battle.

The two newcomers strolled on the sidewalk as if they were average ordinary pedestrians. One of them even wore jeans. I tried to remember—had I ever seen a vampire wear jeans? He wore an embroidered Havana shirt with the jeans, and looked like he should have been drinking something out of a pineapple. The other wore a black turtleneck and gray slacks. They looked like a couple of young twenty-something hipsters. But they were still vampires, and they were coming after us. Ben and I stood side by side, our backs to the brick of the building behind us, and stared our challenges.

“We had word that some rogue wolves were running loose in town,” the Havana shirt guy said. “You must be it.”

My words caught behind a growl; I couldn’t talk. I wanted to shift and run away with my mate. Ready to rip and tear, claws burned inside my hands, which I clenched.

“What are we going to do with them, Joe?” Havana shirt guy said to turtleneck guy.

“Boss says haul ’em in.” His voice was low, calm, businesslike. He had no doubt about his ability to complete the task before him.

“Are you working for Roman?” I said, despair tightening my voice. I sounded close to tears. “Did he send you?”

“Roman?” the first vampire said. We blinked at each other. I ducked my gaze quickly, to avoid looking in his vampiric eyes. And because I was confused. He suddenly seemed bored, like this was a chore he could have done without. Which didn’t seem like Roman or one of his minions.

“So. You going to come quiet or make it hard on yourselves?” he said.

Ben’s face wrinkled, lips pulled back, showing his teeth in an epic snarl. All his fur stood on end, and he was braced to leap.

“Ben, no,” I murmured, clinging to his fur.

He jumped out of my grip and sprang at the vampire in the turtleneck, claws out and open jaw aiming for his throat.

The vampire was ready. He stepped aside, and Ben overshot his target and went sprawling on the street beyond. His claws scrabbled on the pavement as he worked to recover, change direction, and try again, but the vampire was too fast, too strong. In a stride he was on top of the wolf, digging a knee into his ribs, holding his front legs away with one hand and clamping down on his neck with the other, pinning him to the street. The wolf’s head was tilted up and away, leaving his jaws and teeth useless. No matter how he kicked and thrashed, he couldn’t break free of the vampire’s grip.

I attacked, because what else could I do?

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