Kitty Raises Hell Page 38

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The vast catalog of possibilities gleamed behind the bar, but I couldn’t face that kind of escapism at the moment. “Just coffee. Thanks.”

Rick called the order to the bartender, and a steaming mug arrived a moment later. I clung to the warmth and breathed in the fumes. The sensations anchored me.

“We can’t tell Roman no,” I said. I’d been practicing this speech. I couldn’t let Rick turn Roman away. “I need his help. I don’t have time anymore to figure this out on my own. I can’t let it kill anyone else. It’s my job to protect the pack—I took on that responsibility, and I’ll do whatever I have to to keep them safe.”

Rick turned away, and my stomach sank, because it meant he didn’t agree with me. He was going to argue with me. He wasn’t going to let Roman stay and help.

“Rick, please—”

“Anything. Even if it means giving up your freedom? The pack’s freedom? My freedom?”

I glared. “What are you afraid of? Why does this guy scare you so much?”

“I’m not scared,” he said, too quickly, too defensively. “Maybe paranoid, as you like to say. But Kitty, look at what’s happening. It’s too convenient. He knows too much. You said it yourself: What if this is a con game? What if he’s working with the Band of Tiamat? What if all this is his doing, for the express purpose of coming here and gaining a foothold? Getting control over us? I won’t let him take this city from me.”

“This isn’t about you. Why do you vampires always think it’s about you ?”

He arced a brow and glared back at me. “I’m going to tell Roman no. I’m going to tell him to leave town. We’ll stop this thing on our own, Kitty.”

“How? Do you have any ideas? Know anyone who can do a good exorcism? Because I don’t think you do.”

He had the grace to bow his head, because I was yelling now. A week’s worth of stress had piled up and burst out. The bartender—human, normal, she may not even have known what Rick was—glanced our way, then went back to wiping down the bar.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

I wiped away angry tears that had leaked out. Crying was the last thing I wanted to be doing right now. “You have to protect your own little empire, I understand that. But I keep wondering what that means to you. You’re practically immortal. When you protect yourself and your people, you’re protecting something that could last for centuries. I won’t live for a fraction of your years. So do you look at the rest of us and think, well, we’re all going to die in a few years anyway. Do we all seem expendable to you? Disposable?”

“Kitty, no. It’s not like that.”

My turn to look away.

He leaned forward, like he was going to say something else. Explain to me how vampires saw the world, once and for all. But he looked up.

Roman had arrived.

Tonight, along with his overcoat he wore a button-up shirt, black, something soft and rich, probably silk, and tailored slacks. Touchable clothing. He held his hands folded in front of him and quirked a wry smile.

“May I sit?” he said. We were both staring at him like idiots. Rick hadn’t heard him approach. His vampiric sixth sense hadn’t warned him that Roman was here—maybe because my blubbering had distracted him.

Quickly, I straightened and took a sip of coffee, pretending that nothing was wrong.

Rick gestured, offering Roman the empty chair opposite him. Roman sat.

“Have you had a chance to discuss my offer?” he said.

“I’m afraid we can’t accept.”

“ You can’t accept,” I muttered. Unable to look at either one of them, I turned away and glared at a spot a foot out from my face, which I tried to keep a mask.

Roman acknowledged my addendum with a very slight tilt of his head.

“You don’t trust me?” he said, to Rick.

“Of course not,” Rick said. “Not unless you want to tell me how you’re connected to the Band of Tiamat.”

I rolled my eyes at the assumption Rick was making. Roman remained inscrutable.

“I understand,” he said. “But you realize you have very few options here.”

“So you say.”

“What does our esteemed alpha werewolf say about this? She has a greater stake in this than you do.”

“She might, but I don’t trust—”

“I can speak for myself,” I said, glaring at Rick. “To be honest, I think I’m up shit creek. But if Ricardo here says we can handle this without you, who am I to argue?” That came out snottier than it probably should have, but I was in no mood to be polite.

“You aren’t very diplomatic, are you?” Roman said, sounding amused.

I agreed with a tight-lipped smile. “You know what the worst part is? We know this is revenge against me, but it’s not just coming after me. It’s about pain and chaos, so it’s going to kill my pack one by one. It’s going to destroy the places I love, and the people I love, until I have nothing left. And that’s evil. ”

Roman glanced at Rick, as if to say that was all the explanation we needed. It was all the explanation I needed—I’d do anything to stop this thing in its tracks—but vampire politics trumped my own issues, apparently.

“I can’t let you stay in my city,” Rick said.

“Very well. If that’s where you stand, I can’t argue,” Roman said. I wondered how I was going to chase after Roman and beg him to help me behind Rick’s back. I wondered what I could give him that Rick couldn’t.

Roman stood, businesslike, without hesitation. He wasn’t going to waste his dignity by trying to talk Rick out of his decision. “It was good to meet you both. You have such interesting reputations.”

I almost giggled at that. “That’s what everyone says.”

He held his hand out for Rick to shake, but Rick didn’t. Instead, they held a minutelong staring match. I couldn’t tell who broke contact first, because I was the one who blinked. One moment they were locked in a battle of wills. The next, Roman was holding his hand out to me.

“Kitty,” he said.

I did shake his hand, because maybe Roman was only trying to be polite. The pressure of his hand was firm, steady. Not unpleasant. Not challenging. Just polite. Then he let go, gave us one last smile, and was gone.

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