Kitty's Big Trouble Page 59

“May we talk?” Roman said. As if this was just a chance meeting among friends.

“I think I’d rather we didn’t,” I said.

Roman arced a brow.

“What do you want?” Cormac said. His jaw was set, angry—he held a stake tucked back against his arm; he wasn’t even trying to hide it, and Roman didn’t seem at all concerned about standing before the hunter.

“The Dragon’s Pearl. Where is it?” Roman asked.

“Anastasia has it,” I said, frozen, unblinking.

“And where is she?”

Slowly I shook my head. “I have no idea.”

“No idea at all?”

“None,” I said, smiling a little because it felt like a victory.

Roman pursed his lips, all the anger he was likely to show. “You have an opportunity to walk away,” he said. “Stop these games, these quests of yours. Stop getting involved, and I’ll let you alone. You’ll never see me or mine again. The war will be over for you. Here and now, we’ll call a truce.”

Wasn’t that exactly what I kept saying I wanted? Just walk away, stay in Denver, stay safe, look after my own little world. Think about starting a family. Anastasia had left me a very large mantle—eight hundred years of fighting this man who stood before me. But I didn’t have to take it on. I couldn’t fight Roman. We both knew that.

But if not me, then who?

“You wouldn’t be asking for a truce if you weren’t worried about me, at least a little,” I said, pulling out all the alpha attitude I’d learned over the last few years. Stand tall, stare hard, and show a little bit of fang.

He bowed his head, hiding a smile. Normally, looking away from my stare would have meant that he was conceding a point—recognizing my strength, bowing out of a challenge. But with him, I couldn’t be sure that interpretation was the right one. Even staring at him, I wasn’t meeting his gaze—I hadn’t made a real challenge. I got the feeling he was laughing at me.

“I’m just trying to save myself the trouble of dealing with a nuisance,” he said. “You’re a nuisance, Ms. Norville. Nothing more.”

You have been battling demons for a long time now, and holding your own among gods.

“Then you obviously have nothing to worry about,” I said.

“You wolves are slaves. You’ve always been slaves. In the end, you’ll see that you’re no different.”

“Thank you for the history lesson,” I said.

“You’re welcome,” he said.

Behind us, a door opened. Next to me, Ben flinched, turning and snarling at the new threat. Cormac shifted to try to look at the door while keeping Roman in view.

A few doors down, an older Hispanic woman, her graying hair braided behind her, leaned out, squinting into the light. She held a blue terry-cloth bathrobe closed at her throat.

Closing his coat around him, Roman glanced over us one last time, then strode to the doorway at the end of the hall, leading to the emergency stairs. He went through, and the door thudded closed behind him.

I smiled an apology to the woman, who ducked back into her room, shaking her head, muttering.

Shivering, I squeezed shut my eyes and hugged myself. I’d been holding myself up by sheer force of will, and now I turned into a puddle of melted nerves. Ben put a hand on my arm and drew me into an embrace, which I slumped into. Cormac was staring at the door, after Roman. He still held the stake ready.

“Why doesn’t he just kill us all?” Cormac muttered finally.

For the same reason we couldn’t stake him in the middle of a hotel hallway, I was guessing. Roman wasn’t used to stepping into the light.

We went back to our rooms long enough to pack and clear out, then checked out of the hotel. We were more than happy to pay for the night we would not be spending there, just for the chance to leave.

* * *

WE HAD to track down the car we’d left parked near Chinatown, which had been towed because that was what happened when you left a car in a pay lot for thirty-plus hours. As problems went, this one was slight and easily mended. Not like battling gods and demons. But when all you wanted to do was go home, every obstacle felt like a great, thick wall with a firmly bolted door. Which was why it seemed to take forever to bail the car out, pile in it, and head east as quickly as possible.

Once we’d left San Francisco, we all breathed easy again.

Dawn arrived while we were somewhere in Nevada. Cormac was the one who broke the thoughtful, tired silence we’d been driving through. “I’m trying to figure out—did we win or not?”

Ben was at the wheel. I’d been dozing off in the front passenger seat. I’d assumed Cormac had been doing the same in back. Apparently, he’d been thinking instead. Funny, I’d been trying to avoid thinking.

“Define win,” Ben said.

“We’re all alive, we won,” I said curtly. That was all the argument that mattered—the pack was safe. Right?

“I guess so,” Cormac said. “Then why does it feel like we got handed a booby prize?”

Because for all that we’d done what we came to do—help Anastasia protect the Dragon’s Pearl, turn back Roman’s forces—and learned a few things in the process, the future seemed incredibly hazy. Because I was still thinking that Roman was right and I should stay home. Not get involved.

Not raise an army to fight him, like Anastasia wanted me to do. That was the booby prize.

“What do we do about it?” Ben said. We answered with more silence, until he glanced over at me. “You’re being quiet.”


“That’s not like you.”

I said, “I like how we’re talking about this as ‘we.’ What are ‘we’ going to do about it. Thanks for that.” I smiled at Ben and craned my head to smile at Cormac over the seat. I wasn’t surprised that he wouldn’t look at me.

“Somebody’s got to look after you crazy kids,” Cormac said, gazing out the window to the gold-tinged landscape, plains gilded by a brand-new sunrise, scrolling by.


BACK HOME, BEN made me go to the doctor. I didn’t want to—my hip was fine now, I could walk, run, shape-shift, no problem. Since becoming a werewolf I hadn’t ever bothered with health insurance, because, why? I never got sick, I never got hurt. At least not permanently. But Ben wanted to know. So I went, roughly explained the situation (“I fell and hurt my hip awhile back,” I said, using as few details as possible), and the doctor ordered X rays.

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