Kitty's Big Trouble Page 35

Dux Bellorum was how Roman named himself, when he wasn’t being sneaky: the leader of war. The general.

“We’re losing, Anastasia. In the last hundred years we’ve gained what, San Francisco? Denver? But how many cities have we lost? After you left I assumed you were out there, doing more of the same. Subverting his lieutenants, putting better Masters in their places. But I never heard a word. Meanwhile, Dux Bellorum has dozens of agents everywhere, all working to bring more cities in line.”

“Agents,” I said. “Like Mercedes Cook?”

“You know Mercedes?” Boss said.

“She came through Denver a few years ago.” And instigated the war that brought Rick to power. She had intended for Rick’s predecessor to destroy him, but Rick was better than she expected. He’d surprised a lot of people that night.

“Rick booted her out?”


“I always knew I liked that guy. You’re working for Rick?”

“Rick is my friend. I’ve met Roman. If there’s a war coming, I won’t be on his side,” I said.

“It’s been a long time since the werewolves had a leader step forward,” Boss said.

I rolled my eyes and sighed with frustration. “I’m not leading the werewolves, I’m not working for anybody, I’m just trying to do what’s right.”

“Then you’ve bitten off way more than you can chew, dear.”

I growled under my breath. I was ready to get out of here. Ben licked my hand, comforting me. As long as we stuck together, things couldn’t be so bad.

Boss turned to Anastasia. “So you’re here because Roman is here. Is my Family, is our place controlling San Francisco, in danger?”

“No,” Anastasia. “I’d have come straight to you if that were the case, I swear it.”

“Then…” He gestured, indicating that she should continue.

“There’s an artifact in Chinatown. The Dragon’s Pearl. Roman is looking for it. I need to find it first. He can’t be allowed to have it; it’s too powerful. This is bigger than you, or your Family, or San Francisco.”

“You should have come to me anyway, Anastasia. The city’s changed since you were here. I can help you.”

“You can’t defeat Roman,” she said.

He chuckled. “No, of course not. But I can protect San Francisco. It’s what I’ve promised, it’s what I’m able to do. Roman won’t find a foothold here. Maybe I can help you find this pearl of yours, since when the boys found you none of you looked like you were doing too well.”

Anastasia was stubborn. Her dignity was like armor. I had to wonder if she just didn’t like other vampires all that much. At least, the ones she didn’t create herself.

“Ask him about Grace,” I said to her. “It can’t hurt.”

Sighing, she nodded. “There’s a young woman, a magician named Grace Chen. She was helping us before we ran into some of Roman’s soldiers. We don’t know where she is now, and I need her to find the Dragon’s Pearl.”

“You want me to find her?” Boss said.

“If you can.”

“I’d be happy to help you, Anastasia,” he said, opening his arms. “Give us a couple of hours.”

“It’s only a few more hours until dawn,” Anastasia said.

“It’s the best I can do. Feel free to wait here. Make yourselves at home.” He stood, and his companions stood with him, flanking him. Boss waved at Henry. “You stay, keep an eye on things.” Henry nodded, straightened, and stood solid as a tree, his hands crossed before him in a clear bodyguard posture. The posse departed, leaving the room quiet.

Were we trapped? Prisoners? Could we leave? Was there a shower somewhere? A bathroom maybe? Anastasia wasn’t offering commentary. She seemed to be focused inward, stewing. Cormac was in “wait-and-watch” mode. Since they weren’t saying anything, I wanted to talk to Ben, who couldn’t talk. I rubbed his fur, and he leaned into my good leg.

Henry it was, then. “Are you here to guard us or to play host?”

“A little of both. Boss doesn’t trust you not to poke around where you shouldn’t.”

“He could have just asked.”

Henry only smiled.

“So. Do you have any Janis Joplin bootlegs?”

He chuckled quietly. “The rarest bootleg’ll never be as good as the real thing, live and in person. She was one of a kind.”

“Well, yeah. But … do you?”

Still chuckling, he waved me off, refusing to answer, which was as good as yes in my mind. Arrogant vampires …

That left us sitting around the living-room-slash-audience hall, waiting. Anastasia settled into an armchair. Crossing her arms, she stared at Henry, who crossed his arms and avoided looking at her. I chose a padded chair and stretched my leg out. In all the excitement, I hadn’t noticed that the pain had almost faded. Now, my whole leg and side just ached horribly.

Cormac paced over and loomed. “You okay?”

“You keep asking that.”

“I don’t like this,” he said. “We need to get out of town while we can.”

“I know, but I want to make sure Grace’s okay. And I’ll stick around if it means getting to take out Roman.”

“With everything you’ve told me about the bastard I’m inclined to agree.”

“If you see an opening, take it.”


Ben left my side and padded to the corner, where he turned in a couple of circles, lay down, and curled into a tight ball, paws tucked in, tail resting over his nose. He finally felt safe enough to sleep. Or at least, to try to sleep. He still didn’t look particularly comfortable.

I leveraged myself out of the chair and went to join him, settling on the floor and resting my hand on his back. He snuggled closer to me.

Cormac said, “I’ll keep an eye out.”

Then Ben seemed to relax.

I dozed, leaning against the wall, my arms draped over Ben, fingers laced in his fur. When he moved against me, I awoke and drew away as the fur under my touch thinned and shrank. I watched Ben come back to me.

Cormac said he’d keep watch, but he turned away when Ben started to shift back, when the fur faded and vanished, his skin stretched and bones melted into new shapes. It happened slowly, bit by bit. The Change back to human was like a sunrise—the sky paled, paled some more. Then—suddenly, you’d swear—it was daytime. Ben, naked and chilled, lay curled up, head and shoulders tucked into my lap, arms and legs pulled protectively close.

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