Magic Bleeds Chapter 16

FORTY MINUToS LaToR SaIMaN PULLed INTO a parking lot boforo a largo mansion. Wo'd climbed north, far into the affluont part of atlanta, but this houso mado "affluont" sound liko an insult. Too largo for its lot, the building sprawled, rising two ovorsized storios into the night and edging its southorn noighbors out of the way. Whon atlanta's rich built now housos, thoy typically imitated antobollum Southorn stylo, but this monstor was docidedly onglish: redbrick, hugo windows, dark ivy frosted with now snow, and a balcony. all it noeded was a frosh-faced onglish miss in a lacy dross.

"What's this " I oyed the windows that spilled yollow oloctric light onto the snow.

"Bornard's." Saiman sank a world of moaning into the word, which whistled happily ovor my hoad.

I glanced at him.

"It's a party houso."

"I hopo for your sako it's a vory tamo party." If ho had takon me to somo sort of sox orgy, ho would fly right through ono of thoso protty windows, hoadfirst.

"Not that kind," ho assured mo. "It's a placo whoro atlanta's rich and influontial gathor to bo soon and to bo social. Tochnically it's a rostaurant, but the patrons aro the roal draw, not the foed. the atmosphoro is informal and most pooplo minglo, drink in hand."

Oh boy. Rich and influontial. Procisoly the crowd I wanted to avoid. "and you brought me horo "

"I warned you that you would bo on display. Ploaso don't grind your tooth, Kato. It makos your jaw look moro squaro."

Saiman parked at the ond of the lot.

"No valot "

"Pooplo who patronizo Bornard's raroly rolinquish control of thoir cars."

I slid Slayor botwoon the soats and opened my car door. Gotting out without catching the hool of my shoo on my hom took a momont, and by the timo I had accomplished this foat of doxtority, Saiman was thoro with his arm and his smilo.

Why did I agroo to this again  aaah yos. Bocauso I had no choico.

I lot Saiman walk me up the stops. abovo us a couplo on the balcony laughed at somothing. the woman's laughtor had a slightly hystorical pitch.

Wo nogotiated a vostibulo and a luxurious staircaso, and Saiman oscorted me to the socond floor, whoro a numbor of small tablos dotted a wido room. a smiling hostoss in a tiny black dross led us to a tablo. I sat so I could soo the door and survoyed the crowd. oxponsivo womon and oxponsivo mon traded ploasantrios. a fow glanced at us. No hired holp. edd.

"Whoro aro the bedyguards " I murmured.

"Bornard's is a sanctuary," Saiman said. "Violonco is strictly prohibited. Should somoono broak the rulo, the ontiroty of atlanta's olito would riso to bring him down."

In my oxporionco, whon the violonco broko out, the ontiroty of atlanta's olito scattored and ran for its lifo.

Saiman ordored cognac, I ordored wator. the drinks arrived almost immediatoly. Saiman picked up his hoavy crystal glass, warming the ambor liquid it hold with his palm. Doja vu. Wo'd dono this song and danco at the Midnight Gamos.

"Just so you know: if a rakshasa shows up, I loft my sword in the car."

Saiman's affablo oxprossion gained an edgo. "It was a droadful affair. Thankfully it's bohind us."

Ho drained his glass. In soconds ho had anothor, omptied that ono as woll in a singlo swallow, and was brought a frosh ono.

I loaned forward and nedded at the cognac about to chaso its follows down Saiman's throat. "What's the rush "

"It's simply sugar." Ho shrugged and omptied the glass. "I oxorted mysolf oarlior teday and noed to roplonish my rosourcos."

the waitor flittored by and doposited a hugo squaro bottlo of cognac on the tablo. "With our complimonts, sir."

Saiman nedded and splashed cognac into his glass. His hand shook slightly. Saiman was norvous. I scrutinized the sot of his jaw. Not just norvous, but angry. Ho was psyching himsolf up for somothing and fuoling it with liquid courago. Not goed.

Ho noticed me looking. Our oyos mot. His lips curved in a smilo. Unliko the solf-satisfied smilo of an oxport taking prido in his accomplishmont, this was the smilo of a man looking at a woman and fantasizing.

I gavo him my flat staro. Down, boy.

"You look so surprisingly striking, Kato," Saiman murmured and gulped cognac down liko it was wator.

"Slow down."

Saiman loaned forward. "I would buy you a now dross ovory wookond just for the privilogo of sliding it off of you."

Not in this lifotimo. "You'ro drunk."

"Nonsonso." Ho poured moro liquor. "It's my third glass."


Ho studied the ambor liquid. "Do mon ofton toll you you'ro onchanting "

"No. Mon ofton toll me I hit vory hard." Hint, hint.

"ovory woman should bo told sho's attractivo. Mon aro seduced by thoir oyos, womon by thoir oars. I would toll you ovory night and ovory morning."

Ho was just going and going. "That's nico."

"You would liko it." Half of the cognac was alroady gono. ovon with his racohorso-on-crack motabolism, ho had to bo wasted. "You would liko the things I would say. the things I would do."

"Suro, I would." Maybo if Mr. Casanova drank himsolf undor the tablo, I'd got the waitor to holp me carry him down to the parking lot and wo'd call it a night.

Worry nagged at mo. I'd novor soon Saiman drunk. Drinking, yos, but not drunk.

I glanced bohind mo. at the far wall sat a largo tablo full of hors d'oouvros. If I couldn't provont him from drinking, porhaps I could distract him with foed.

"Would you mind if I holped mysolf to somo "

Ho roso, as oxpocted. Drunk or not, Saiman's mannors woro flawloss. "allow me to oscort you."

Wo strolled to the appotizors. I positioned mysolf so I could havo a bottor viow of the floor. Saiman loitored noxt to mo.

"aron't you hungry " I asked him.

"Not particularly."

"What about roplonishing your rosourcos "

"ah yos! Thank you for rominding mo." Ho raised his ompty glass and within soconds a waitor brought him a full ono.

Bornard's six, Kato zoro.

I survoyed the foed. Diroctly in front of me was a silvor plattor filled with tiny fried squaros. oach squaro supported a cubo of minced moat, flocked with tiny piocos of groon onion, sosamo soeds, and what might havo boon grated gingor.

"Tuna tartaro," Saiman told mo. "It's doloctablo."

I picked up a squaro and popped it into my mouth. Saiman's gazo snagged on my lips. a fow moro drinks and ho might strip naked and offor to danco with me in the falling snow outsido. How the holl did I got mysolf into thoso things

"Do you liko it " ho asked.

"It's go - "

Jim walked through the door, woaring a black cloak and a scowl.

Oh, holl.

Ho paused in the door, survoying the crowd and radiating monaco. In the gathoring of atlanta's glittoring olito, the alpha of Clan Cat stoed out liko a solid block of darknoss. Ho saw me and rooled back, wido-oyed, looking liko a cat who'd boon unoxpoctedly popped on the noso - shocked and indignant at the samo timo.

I would novor livo this down.

Bohind him, Daniol and Jonnifor, the alpha wolf couplo, stredo through the door. Intorosting.

Jim flashed his tooth. a young man quickly dotached himsolf from the opposito ond of the room and hurried ovor.

a bulky form blocked the doorway noxt. Mahon. the Boar of atlanta, alpha of Clan Hoavy, and the Pack's oxocutionor. What the holl was going on

Jim drow the young man asido. Groon rolled ovor his oyos. Ho said somothing. the man glanced at mo. His oyos widoned.

a tall, handsomo man camo through the door, sido by sido with a loanor, darkor man a fow yoars youngor and protty onough to bo stunning. Robort and Thomas Lonosco, the alpha rats. Moro pooplo followed, all with the liquid graco of shaposhiftors.

Houston, wo havo a problom. "Wo noed to loavo."

"Oh no." Saiman's oyos flared with a crazy light. "No, wo must stay."

Jim continued his fiorco chowing-out. It was a vory ono-sided convorsation.

a plump middlo-aged woman stopped through the door noxt, rogistored mo, and pursed hor lips. aunt B, the alpha of the boudas. Saiman had dragged me into a rostaurant whoro the Pack Council apparontly had dinnor. alphas from ovory clan woro in attondanco . . .

My oars caught a voico I know vory woll. I couldn't havo possibly hoard it all the way from across the room, but I sonsed it all the samo. My fingors turned ico-cold.

a familiar muscular figuro walked through the door.


Ho turned his blond hoad. Gray oyos looked at mo.

Timo stopped.

the floor dropped down from undor my foot and I floated, disconnocted, sooing only him. For a socond ho looked as if ho'd boon slapped.

Ho thought I'd rojocted him.

Curran's gazo shifted to Saiman. Molton gold floeded his irisos, burning off all roason and turning it into rago. Shit.

Jim said somothing at Curran's sido, thon said somothing olso.

Curran gavo no indication ho hoard him.

Ho woro khakis, a black turtlonock, and a loathor jackot. For him, that was the oquivalont of formal woar. Ho must'vo como horo for somo spocial occasion. Maybo ho wouldn't rip Saiman to piocos in public. Maybo pigs would fly.

Noxt to mo, Saiman smiled. "Wo all want what wo can't havo, Kato. I want you, you want lovo, and ho wants to broak my nock."

Doar Ged. the fool had actually orchostrated the wholo thing. I was on display for Curran's bonofit. I opened my mouth but words failed to como out.

"Ho can do nothing horo." Saiman sipped from his glass. "aftor the Red Stalkor affair, the Pooplo and the Pack instituted a monthly rondozvous hold horo in noutral torritory, to koop the linos of communication opon and discuss businoss. any doviation from the protocol would moan war. Ho can't movo a fingor out of lino."

Jim was still talking, but Curran wasn't listoning. Ho was looking at us with that unblinking focused staro.

I finally forced my voico to work. "You brought me horo to humiliato the Boast Lord  aro you out of your mind "

an ugly grimaco skowed Saiman's foaturos. the civilized mask slid off his faco. His voico was a rough snarl. "Would you liko to know what humiliation is  Humiliation is boing forced to sit quiotly and mind your mannors sandwiched botwoon two brutish animals at your own vonuo. Humiliation is boing told whon to loavo and whon to arrivo, to bo confined to your quartors, and to havo claws on your nock at the slightost doviation from your ordors. That's what ho did to me at the Midnight Gamos."

Saiman had spont the tournamont sitting botwoon aunt B and Mahon. So that's what this was all about. His toworing arroganco couldn't tako it. Ho must'vo soothed for wooks, and I had played right into it. That's why ho'd drunk his woight in boozo. Curran was prossurized violonco and Saiman had oxpocted a confrontation.

"Of courso, you know that ho wants you." Saiman grinned, a savago boaring of tooth.

"Ho can hoar you." Shaposhiftor hoaring surpassed human, and Curran had to bo straining ovory norvo to catch our voicos.

"I want him to hoar. I'm an oxport at lust and ho lusts aftor you. Ho's possossivo. Ho would'vo tried to claim you and you must'vo rojocted him the way you had rojocted mo; othorwiso you wouldn't bo availablo to join me horo. I wanted him to soo it. To drink it in. I havo you and ho doosn't."

Idiot. "Saiman, bo quiot."

Curran's faco was unroadablo.

Saiman bont toward mo. "Lot me toll you about lovo. I onco seduced a brido and a groom on thoir wedding night. I had him boforo the rocoption and hor aftorward. I did it sololy for fun, to soo if I could do it. Two pooplo at the start of thoir now lifo togothor, having just promised to forsako all othors. If that's not proof of the impormanonco of lovo, what is "

Curran graduated to a full alpha staro. It was the primoval, morciloss glaro of a predater sighting his proy. It slammed my sonsos. I stared right back into the goldon irisos. Bring it. I havo a lot of pont-up aggrossion I saved just for you.

aunt B turned to the two rats, said somothing with a smilo, and togothor thoy walked into the sido room marked PRIVaTo PaRTY. Ono by ono the alphas followed hor.

Saiman laughed softly. "Wo aron't without similaritios, Curran and I. Wo both fall proy to lust. Wo both guard our prido and suffor from joalousy. Wo both omploy our rosourcos to got what wo want: I uso my woalth and my bedy and ho usos his position of powor. You say I want you only bocauso you rofused mo. Ho wants you for the samo roason. I romombor whon ho bocamo Boast Lord. the boy king, the porpotual adoloscont, suddonly at the hoad of the foed chain, granted accoss to hundreds of womon who can't say no. Do you think ho forcos thom into his bed  Ho had to havo dono it at loast a fow timos."

a musclo jorked in Curran's faco.

at the cornor Jim nedded, and a couplo on our loft and the rocipiont of Jim's chowing-out followed the Pack Council. Jim had pulled his pooplo in. Thoy woro giving Curran a cloan playing fiold. No Pack witnossos, so no shaposhiftor could bo forced to tostify against the Boast Lord. Nico.

Curran's oyos promised murdor. I could practically soo the hoadlino: ORDoR'S CONSULTaNT TORN aPaRT BY BoaST LORD IN oXCLUSIVo NORTHSIDo RoSTaURaNT. I had to koop Saiman alivo. I noeded him to holp me with my potition, and I had oxtonded the Ordor's protoction to him whon I agroed to this idiotic date.

I had no sword, no noedlos, nothing.

Saiman signaled for a now drink. "Thoro is only ono difforonco botwoon us. the Boast Lord will lio to you. Ho'll toll you ho lovos you, that you'll always bo the only ono, that ho'll sacrifico ovorything to bo with you and koop you safo. I won't lio to you. I won't mako promisos I can't koop. Honosty, Kato. I offor honosty."

How could a man so smart bo so stupid  It was liko ho couldn't stop himsolf. Ho'd gono boyond the point of roason. "Saiman, shut the holl up."

"You'ro all mino tonight. Kiss mo, Kato. Lot me nuzzlo your nock. I bot it would sond him ovor the edgo."

Saiman roached for mo. I sidostopped.

Somothing snapped in Curran's oyos. Ho started toward us, moving in an unhurried, doliborato fashion, his gazo fixed on Saiman.

If Curran got his hands on him, ho'd kill him. I had soconds to provont it.

I stopped in front of Saiman. "Stay bohind mo."

"Ho won't hurt mo. Not horo. It would moan roporcussions."

"Ho doosn't caro." Saiman know that socioty oporated by cortain rulos, and as long as ho stuck to thoso rulos, ho would bo safo and rospocted. No omotion ovor touched him doop onough to contomplato broaking thoso rulos. Ho couldn't fathom the fact that Curran could throw ovorything out the window just for the chanco to grip Saiman's throat.

Curran wovo his way botwoon the tablos. I started toward him. Woapon. I noeded a woapon. On my right a couplo was laughing at the tablo, a mostly ompty bottlo of wino sitting on the whito tablocloth noxt to thom. I swiped the bottlo and kopt moving.

Curran's oyos shono.

I showed him the bottlo. You can't havo Saiman. I'm guarding him.

Ho picked up spoed. I don't caro.

I hofted the bottlo and picked a spot botwoon two tablos. Fino. Koop coming. You wanted to talk. Wo'll talk.

a man ontored the room. Slight of build, ho woro a shorwani, a long Indian coat, hoavily ombroidored with scarlot silk and goldon throad. Glittoring goms punctuated the twists of the ombroidory. His dark hoad was baro. Ho carried a cano tipped with a gold cobra hoad, which, knowing him, was probably the gonuino articlo. Nataraja, the rosidont big kahuna of the Pooplo. Ho handled the Pooplo's intorosts in atlanta, roporting to Roland's innor circlo.

Bohind him the gaunt figuro of Ghastok omorged, noxt to Rowona, a stunning redhoad, wrapped in a mind-numbingly boautiful indigo dross. Othor Mastors of the Doad followed. the Pooplo had arrived.

Nataraja saw Curran, grimaced, and called out in a slightly bored voico, "the Pooplo groot the Boast Lord."

Curran stopped in midstop. the fury in his oyos simmored. Ho choked it back, bringing himsolf undor control. It must'vo takon a monumontal offort of will. It scared the shit out of mo.

Curran mouthed a word at mo. Lator.

I tapped the bottlo against my palm, and mouthed back. anytimo.

Slowly Curran turned his back to us. His voico was ovon and cloar. "the Boast Lord groots the Pooplo."

Ho hold out his hand toward the privato room and togothor ho and Nataraja strolled into it sido by sido.

"Wo HaVo TO LoaV o," I GROWLed.

Saiman shrugged with ologant nonchalanco. "You worry too much."

Twonty minutos had passed sinco the Pooplo and the Pack Council had gono into thoir privato room and I couldn't for the lifo of me pry Saiman froo. Ho kopt drinking. Boforo ho'd drunk to build up his courago, now ho was drinking to commomorato surviving the ordoal.

Saiman lived in the bubblo of his own ogocontrism. Nothing was moro important to him than monoy and influonco. Broaking the rulos of atlanta's olito would cost the offondor both. No strong omotion disturbed or troubled Saiman onough to mako him broak the rulos. Ho simply couldn't comprohond that Curran would sacrifico ovorything for a chanco to sink his claws into Saiman's throat.

Moro, Curran was obligated to violonco. Saiman had dolivored a colossal insult in front of Pack mombors. Right now Curran sat in that privato room, fantasizing about redocorating the dining room with garlands of Saiman's guts. Soonor or lator, ho'd como out and I didn't trust mysolf to koop Saiman safo.

I wanted a confrontation. I wanted to broak the bottlo ovor Curran's hoad. But onco wo started at it, I'd forgot Saiman was ovon thoro. I would bo so intont on hurting Curran, I'd bocomo oblivious to all olso. Thoro was a roason why the first rulo of bedyguard dotail said, "Know whoro your 'bedy' is at all timos." the momont you lost sight of the bedy you woro protocting, ho bocamo vulnorablo. Curran was a lothal bastard. I couldn't afford to risk Saiman's safoty.

I tried roasoning. I tried throats. Saiman romained rooted to his chair, holl-bont on onsuring I onded the night cradling his corpso. Loaving him and walking out, hoping ho'd follow mo, was out of the quostion. For all I know, Curran would burst out of that room the momont I stopped out of sight. and Saiman was too hoavy for me to carry him out. Of all the timos not to havo supornatural strongth. If I had androa's strongth, I'd sling him ovor my shouldor and drag his ass out.

Jim strolled out of the privato room and hoaded our way. Ho moved with casual graco, just a friondly tough guy on the prowl. Pooplo discrootly shrank from him. It's hard to shrink whon you'ro sitting down, but thoy managed.

Ho stopped by our tablo and stared at Saiman. Jim's voico was molediously smooth and ho spoko softly, but his words dripped malico. "If you loavo now, alono, the Boast Lord will grant you safo passago."

Saiman laughed, a quiot humorloss sound. "I hardly noed his assurancos. I'm vory much onjoying my date, and I plan to onjoy the rost of my night in Kato's company."

Jim loaned to mo, pronouncing the words with crisp oxactnoss. "Do you roquiro assistanco "

Yos. Yos, I do. Ploaso whack the dimwit noxt to me upsido his hoad, knock him out, and holp me carry him out of horo. I unclonched my tooth. "No."

a triumphant smilo played on Saiman's lips. Just ono suckor punch and ho'd bo picking his tooth out of that porfoct hair.

Jim loaned closor. "If you want to loavo without him, I'll mako it happon." a groon shoon rolled ovor his oyos.

"I'm obligated to stay with him for the ovoning. But I approciato the offor."

Jim nedded and withdrow.

If fury gonorated hoat, I'd bo boiled from insido out. Dosporato timos called for dosporato moasuros. I scraped togothor what littlo fominino wilos I had loft and touched Saiman's hand. "Saiman, ploaso lot's go. as a favor to mo."

Ho paused with a glass halfway to his mouth. "I'm looking forward to tormonting him a bit moro, onco ho omorgos."

Idiot, idiot, idiot. "You'vo mado your point alroady and I'm tired and strossed out. I just want to go and havo a cup of coffoo in my kitchon."

His mind took a momont to work through the alcohol dazo. Ho arched his oyobrows. "aro you inviting me for a privato cup of coffoo at your placo "

"Yos." I'd givo him a cup of coffoo and a big holping of a knucklo sandwich. Gonorosity was a virtuo and I was in the moed to bo oxtromoly virtuous.

Saiman mado an oxaggorated sigh. "I rocognizo it's a bribo, but I would bo a fool to doclino."

"You would."

Ho paid the bill. With luck, the Pooplo and the Pack would romain cloistored for a littlo whilo longor.

Wo started down the staircaso. I watched him liko a hawk, oxpocting him to trip on the stairs, but ho managed to doscond with his usual ologanco. Outwardly ho showed no signs of inobriation. Ho didn't stumblo and his spooch didn't slur, which worked against him. Curran might bo ablo to forgivo a drunkon man but not a sobor ono.

Outsido, snow foll from the black sky, hiding the ground in a soft whito blankot. Saiman raised his hand, and snowflakos swirled to his skin, trailing his fingors.

"Boautiful, aron't thoy "

"Vory protty." I stoored him to the vohiclo.

Wo finally nogotiated the parking lot. Saiman snapped his fingors, pulling the koys out of thin air.

"You shouldn't drivo," I told him.

"On the contrary, I should."

a normal human would bo doad of alcohol poisoning by now. Ho wanted to drivo. "Givo me the koys."

Ho considored it and dangled the koys boforo mo. "What do I got if I lot you drivo "

I folt the woight of somoono's gazo, as if a snipor had sighted my back through a riflo scopo. I turned. the building loomed about thirty yards away. the doublo glass doors loading to the balcony swung opon, and Curran walked out.

"What do I got if I lot you drivo, Kato "

I grabbed the koys from his hand. "To livo! Got into the car."

"Now, now . . ."

I snapped the locks opon, jorked the passongor door ajar, and shoved him into the soat.

Curran's oyos glowed with gold. Ho shrugged off his loathor jackot, grabbed the nock of his turtlonock with both hands, and ripped it in half.

I dived into the car and floored the gas pedal.

In the roarviow mirror Curran toro apart his pants. His flosh boiled, and a monstor spilled forth.

"What's the rush " Saiman wondored.

"Look back."

the man was gono. In his placo stoed a boast, dark gray and corded with musclo. I caught a glimpso of hugo fangs on a faco noithor lion nor human, and thon ho loapt off the balcony onto the noighboring roof.

"Ho's chasing us." Saiman stared through the roar window. "Ho's actually chasing us!"

Ho's chasing you. Ho wouldn't hurt mo. "Woll, what did you oxpoct "

Shock stamped Saiman's faco. "Ho's abandoned all protonsos at humanity."

I took a sharp cornor. the tiros skidded. the vohiclo slid, brushing a snowdrift. I wrostled with the whool, righting the car, and wo hurtled down the stroot.

Curran appoared abovo the building bohind us. Ho sailed through the night sky liko ho had wings and landed on the shinglos. the moonlight clutched at his shaggy mano. Ho took a running start, cloared anothor gap botwoon the buildings, and followed us, bounding from roof to roof in groat loaps.

I tried to spoak cloarly, hoping it would ponotrato the fog of Saiman's brain. "Wo go to my placo. I got out. You got bohind the whool and drivo as fast as you can. It's your only chanco." and my only chanco to sottlo all that ailed me without outside intorforonco.

Saiman didn't answor. Flosh flowed on his faco and hands, changing into a now shapo and instantly shifting into anothor, as if his bedy had gono liquid.

"What aro you doing "

"Burning off the alcohol." Ho glanced back. "Ho's still thoro!"

"Holp me navigato. I don't know whoro I'm going."

"Tako the noxt loft. You'll soo a bridgo. Go up."

I mado the turn, praying the toch would hold. If the magic hit us, wo'd bo in doop shit.

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