Kitty's Big Trouble Page 33

The hallway opened into a room, the tile gave way to thick, rich carpet, and the fluorescent lighting was replaced by the soft glow of low-wattage, shaded lamps in the corners. The sofas were leather, and there were plush armchairs, polished wood coffee tables, and hidden speakers playing soft music, light and jazzy. All the colors were dark, giving the room a sultry, denlike atmosphere. Someone should have been handing out cocktails. I took a breath, surveyed the room’s smells, and counted four vampires in addition to Henry and Joe. They wouldn’t be drinking any cocktails. One of the four was Anastasia, standing apart, arms crossed, looking annoyed. There was also a mortal human, living and breathing, carrying the distinctive scent of a worn leather coat. I knew that smell. Beside me, Ben whined a long, soft note; he recognized it, too.

“Kitty!” Cormac called. He was off to the right, next to Anastasia, in front of a trio of vampires lounging on sofas. In a couple of strides he was in front of me, holding my arm.

I gripped his arm in turn. “Are you okay?”

“Are you?” he said.

Ben’s sleek wolf maneuvered between us, leaning against my legs and nudging Cormac’s hip with his muzzle. At the contact, Cormac stepped back, and we broke apart. He watched the wolf warily.

“He gets a little territorial,” I said, resting a hand on Ben’s head.

Ben looked back at Cormac, nose tipped up, staring, but not doing anything further to threaten. The hunter pursed his lips, his expression closing down. I didn’t think he’d fully reconciled himself to the idea that Ben was a werewolf, even though he was there when it happened. It was hard to see the animal sitting in front of you and remember the man he usually was. Even when you looked him in the eyes.

“Come here, let me have a look at you,” said the man on the sofa. The three local vampires arranged on the chairs and sofas studied me with interest. Two were men, one a woman, and like Joe and Henry seemed to be hipsters, unassuming upscale urban types—but from the Jazz Age rather than the current era. They’d set up shop in the 1920s and stayed there. One of the men wore a double-breasted suit with a silk tie. His brown hair was slicked back, his smile was wry. The one on the sofa wore a suit without the jacket—red suspenders stood out against the white starched shirt. His gaze was inquisitive, and I had to work not to meet it. The woman wore a clinging gown, black, beaded, with spaghetti straps, and had her honey-colored hair in a perfect bob. Together, they looked fabulous, like something out of a movie. Exotic, even. Strange and intimidating all at once. I squeezed Ben’s coat for comfort.

Cormac returned to where he’d been standing. I limped over to join him, Ben stepping carefully at my side. He was watching the limp, along with Anastasia. I itched under their gazes, hating to show so much weakness. I was getting better, I really was. Ben stood tall and proud beside me, matching each of their gazes in turn as if to say, I’m looking out for her, don’t get any ideas. I leaned on him a little more, grateful for the support.

“What happened?” the hunter asked.

“I fell,” I said, my voice low, hidden. “I think I broke something.”

“But it’s healing.”

“Yeah, slowly.”

“Are you okay?”

It was the second time he’d asked in as many minutes. I still didn’t answer. “What happened to you guys? How’d you get out of the tunnels?”

“We followed Ben. His wolf side didn’t seem to have any trouble.”

“Why’d he shift?”

“You were gone.”

The door had shut, I’d shouted at him from the other side, he’d pounded on it, trying to get to me—and then I’d fallen. Vanished. Maybe they’d even gotten the door open but couldn’t find any sign of me on the other side. Or they’d kept shouting through the door and got no answer. And Ben had lost it. I stroked the thick fur along his back, and he turned his head back to give my hand a quick lick.

I couldn’t figure out the situation. Anastasia seemed unhappy but not nervous. Cormac was cautious, like he always was. His right hand rested in his pocket—clutching a cross, I’d bet. The stake would be hidden up a sleeve. Had the vampires even searched him for weapons? Joe and Henry stayed behind me, near the door, and seemed amused. I glanced over my shoulder trying to keep them in view. Then there were the three new vampires in front of me. One of them was no doubt the Master of San Francisco. Anastasia’s old ally, or her old nemesis? This felt like a tribunal of some kind, like we were being brought here to face some kind of reckoning. I couldn’t identify which one of them was in charge. All three seemed confident, and none showed deference to any other. I was used to seeing hierarchies among vampires, as much as I did among werewolves. Joe and Henry had talked about a boss—who was it?

“You’re Kitty Norville?” the one on the sofa, the suspenders-no-jacket guy, said. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, making him seem even more like a Prohibition-era gangster.

“Hi,” I said, waving my hand. “And you are?”

He waved the question away. “This is your mate?” He pointed at Ben, who growled.

I pressed his shoulder, quieting him. “Yeah.”

“Well. Thanks for joining us.”

“Did we have a choice?”

He smiled broadly, and the muscles across my shoulders twitched. “I have to ask, what are you doing in my territory?”

“Ask her.”

He glanced at Anastasia, his expression souring before he looked back at me. Maybe checking for confirmation, or fishing for a reaction. “Then you do serve a vampire? The gossip about you says you don’t serve anyone.”

I straightened, tipping my chin up in a show of pride, hoping to demonstrate that the gossip was right. And there was gossip about me? What gossip? What were people saying about me behind my back anyway?

“Actually, I’m really pissed off at her right now,” I said.

Everyone except me looked at her for a reaction; she didn’t oblige them, only spoke calmly in a cold, creamy voice, “She doesn’t serve me. She’s here as a favor. As an ally.”

“What the hell did you do for her to deserve a favor like this?” he said to her.

Anastasia and I glanced at each other, trying to egg each other on. For a moment I even thought, what had she done for me? But that wasn’t the issue. Favors weren’t currency you could line up and trade, one for one. At least, not to me. I was here because we both wanted to take down Roman.

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