Kitty Raises Hell Page 54

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I managed not to scream, though I really wanted to. The only thing that kept me from running, as fast as I could without thought to direction, was my car sitting thirty feet away. I really needed to get to my car, like someone in a bad horror movie, fumbling with the keys, trembling. Except I had this feeling that a creature made of invisible fire and the scent of ashes stood between me and it. To move forward was to move toward doom.

I retreated until I pressed myself flat against the wall of the building, behind the invisible barrier. Here, the air smelled safe. I stared out. I couldn’t see anything, but my heart was racing.

I could stay here forever, lock myself inside the house and never come out. But I wanted to get this thing. I tried again, moving cautiously, paralleling the building as I set out toward my car.

The feeling of heat and the oppressive scent of danger confronted me immediately. I nearly dropped to my knees, overwhelmed, convinced that I was going up in flames. My breath came out in a sob. I clutched my chest.

What would it feel like to burn from the inside? Is this what Mick felt?

Turning, I stumbled back to the building, back behind the safe barrier, thinking, Yeah, okay, I could stay inside for the rest of my life. No problem.

A strong voice called across the parking lot in a foreign language. In a panic, I tried to think—was this the voice that channeled itself through Tina? Was the language, the words, the same? I didn’t think so, but I couldn’t tell—the alien words slipped in my mind like water, I couldn’t recognize or hold them. But the meaning was clear: a command, filled with authority and anger. Like a priest performing an exorcism.

Maybe exactly like a priest performing an exorcism.

Roman marched across the parking lot. He almost seemed to be marching toward me. But his approach veered—he was talking to a space in front of me. To a thing that wasn’t there. He called to the space, his eyes blazing, his hands clenched into fists. I’d never seen a vampire so ready to do physical battle like this.

He repeated the words again, pointing this time, arms outstretched.

A roar like a flamethrower sounded, but without fire. Because it wasn’t flame, it was this thing’s voice, a scream of protest. The sound of a creature made of fire giving voice to rage.

I thought: What had I ever done to deserve this thing’s anger?

At least it wasn’t directed at me now. Roman had really pissed it off. The demon roared again, and Roman actually seemed affected, stepping back, turning his face aside, as if he had encountered a blast of fire. Fire was supposed to be one of the things that could kill a vampire. I wondered if that was true, if they burned as well as anything else organic.

Roman called out again, repeating the same forceful words. He commanded with the will and confidence of someone who was used to having his orders obeyed, who wasn’t used to being questioned. No wonder he’d been annoyed with me.

This was a battle of wills. Roman stared ahead at his opponent, like he actually could see the demon’s shape.

The sound of billowing flame answered him again, but weaker this time. I still couldn’t see the form of the creature making this sound. I kept thinking if I squinted, I would see a shimmering outline, a wavering humanoid shape, like a heat mirage.

He repeated the phrase one more time, and the sound of flame vanished. Roman’s head tilted back, his gaze flickering upward, as if he watched something fly away. Then he frowned, flexing his hands, massaging them together, like they were sore, aching.

I ventured outside the safety of the protective circle; the brimstone smell was gone.

Roman glanced at me. His cold, frowning gaze made me flinch. “I just saved your life,” he said.

I took a deep breath before speaking, to keep my voice from shaking. Not sure if it worked. “Um... thanks?”

“This is temporary. It will kill you eventually if you don’t do something.”

“Do you know what it wants?” I said. “You can really tell what it wants? Then why don’t you tell me?”

He scowled, his chiseled face turning hard with frown lines.

When he kept silent, I continued. “What was that you said? What language?”

Now the stone face shifted to a smile. “Per vi mei, averte.”

I heard the words, but I’d never remember them to look them up. I wished I had a tape recorder. “You going to teach me that little trick?”

“Now that you’ve seen what I can do, will you let me help you?” he said.

That made me angry, the idea that he had the power to stop this thing, but he wouldn’t do it without me promising a big chunk of my soul in return.

“This could all still be a show for my benefit,” I said. “The con game again. You could have staged all this in a last-ditch effort to get me to agree to your terms.”

He turned away, muttering, but my hearing was good and I picked up what he said: “Stupid wolf.”

I so didn’t have the time or patience for this. Setting my shoulders, I stalked forward, past him, not sparing him a glance.

“You’re being foolish,” he said.

I turned, scowled. Knew better than to launch myself at him, fingers curled like claws, as if I could really do him damage or even intimidate him. I’d seen a vampire drop a werewolf twice as large as I was without flinching. Roman might have been just waiting for me to lose my temper.

“Here’s the thing,” I said in my calm, careful DJ voice, like I might use to explain dirt to an idiot. It was the best way I knew to attack anyone. “You don’t care what happens to me. This demon could shred me limb from limb right now and you wouldn’t care.” I refrained from glancing worriedly over my shoulder. That was just what I needed, to have the demon lurking nearby, waiting for an invitation of the Murphy’s Law variety. “You could make this thing vanish anytime you want, and I believe you. I also believe you don’t care about stopping it. You’re using it as a stepping stone to something else, taking advantage of a difficult situation to get what you want. And that makes you a manipulative, amoral son of a bitch. Now tell me why I should put myself in the position of owing a manipulative, amoral son of a bitch a favor?”

I expected a retort, something along the lines of usual smug vampire haughtiness. Or more accusations and name-calling. Either way, I’d just turn around and walk away. I had nothing else to say.

But Roman didn’t reply right away. He regarded me with that annoyed curl to his lips and studied me, like he could see through me. I turned and walked away because I couldn’t take that stare for another second.

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