Kitty Raises Hell Page 64

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I spotted the figure on the sidewalk only because he was so pale, stark against the flashing police lights. He emerged from shadow, stepping toward me up the walk, regarding the scene with an appraising, military look. Like he was trying to figure out how to take it all apart.

It was the vampire, Roman.

Chapter 22

A frown creased Roman’s face as he studied the house. He seemed to glance at me only as an afterthought, then said, “Usually, a house that stands empty as long as this one has, there’s nothing to keep me out. I ought to be able to walk right in. But there’s something here.”

I stopped on the porch and stared, causing a bottleneck behind me. Just as well. I wanted to turn and tell them all to run, get out, get away from him. This couldn’t be good. But he couldn’t enter the house, the home. Something’s home. A ghost’s home? If the place really was haunted, did the ghost call it home? It made a weird kind of sense. It meant as long as we all stayed on the porch, or behind the door, the threshold, Roman couldn’t hurt us.

“Upset because the ghosts won’t invite you in?” I said. He didn’t credit that with a response. He only smirked at me. Softly, I said, “What are you doing here?”

“I’ve been following you. You know that. For longer than you think.”

I took a breath and prepared for a battle of wills. “Oh, really?”

“You saw me, even. In Dom’s penthouse. In the foyer outside the elevator. Do you remember?”

I remembered... vampires standing guard. Part of Dom’s entourage. The one that looked like a linebacker, and... the other, quiet one, with the short-cropped hair, the cold gaze. He’d looked like a bodyguard. He’d blended in.

When he came to Denver with his mission burning in his manner, I hadn’t recognized him.

“Oh, my God,” Ben whispered behind me.

I let anger cover up how off-balance Roman had put me. “You’re more than Dom’s bodyguard...”

He chuckled. “Of course I am. I hold Dom’s leash.”

“And the Tiamat cult?”

His smile fell. “That is a tool that has outlived its usefulness, I think.”

My mind tumbled over itself, and I started thinking out loud. “Dom’s a front, so no one will know who’s really running Vegas, and you gave the priestess—”

“Her name is Farida,” he said.

I didn’t break stride. “—a place to run her cult in exchange for... for her power? Her magic? What?”

“She’s one of my soldiers. Or, she was,” he said, scowling at the burnt vegetation around him. “I’m impressed. You shouldn’t have been able to banish that spirit.”

“I had a lot of help.”

“Trust me, I’ve taken note of it.”

I’d just put all my friends on Roman’s radar. What would he do to us? Rick was right all along, this was a conspiracy. I didn’t want this guy in Denver. But how to get rid of him?

I felt Ben at my shoulder, Tina, Jules, and Gary behind me. Hardin edged around me, her gun drawn. Roman gave her a dismissive glance. His frown held contempt.

“What now?” I said.

“I suppose getting control of this city will have to wait, for the time being.” Now he turned a smile, a smugness born of supreme, unassailable confidence, earned not just by decades of experience, but by centuries.

I swallowed against a tightness in my throat. Inside, Wolf was screaming, howling. Ben touched my back, his hand stiff. He touched for comfort, but it only accentuated our anxiety. His wolf was nearing panic, as well. We both recognized this man’s power.

“Who are you?” I said, my voice hoarse.

“Gaius Albinus, isn’t it?” a newcomer called. “A centurion with the Tenth Legion stationed in Judea. First century, Common Era.”

And there was Rick, standing on the sidewalk, relaxed, hands in his coat pockets, as close to Roman as Roman was to me.

“Roman,” I murmured, understanding dropping like a weight.

“It’s not his name,” Rick said. “It’s his nationality. A very calculating people. They kept good records.”

The elder vampire’s smile turned wry. “The provincial cultures that came after the empire left a lot to be desired. Spain, for example.”

Rick laughed. “I was never very patriotic, I’m afraid. I’ve always been happy with my own little piece of ground, wherever it happens to be. Unlike some people.”

“You’ve come to face me. Do you really think that’s a good idea?” Roman said. But he didn’t face Rick. He kept his back to him, like he didn’t consider the other man a threat. Roman never looked away from me. He studied me, trying to see through me. His gaze made me itch, made me fidget. I clutched the seams of my jeans. He was waiting for my guard to drop, so he could catch my gaze by accident. But I kept looking at Rick. Concentrated on Rick.

“No, it isn’t. I’m just going to ask you to leave Denver.”

“All by yourself? You’re just going to ask me?”

“No. Not all by myself.”

Others appeared. They might have been standing ready the whole time and I just didn’t notice. Like every Master of every city, Rick had his followers. I didn’t know much about the vampires in his Family. There were men and women among them, some slick and fashionable, som³ashvere a little more rough and tumble. But all were serious. Moving toward us along the street, from around the house, from behind trees, they converged on the yard of Flint House. Rick by himself didn’t have the age and strength to confront Roman. But a dozen vampires together? They might.

Rick said, “While I stand, this city is protected. You have no power here.” The words had power. I didn’t know if it was real magic, like what we’d used to trap the djinn in the bottle, or if it was the power of words spoken by a talented orator. But the weight of them fell over us.

And he was right. Roman had no power here. A vampire of his age ought to have been able to cow us all with a glare, but this wasn’t his city.

I met his gaze. Just for a moment. Cold gray eyes, pale skin crinkled at the corners. A two-thousand-year-old gaze. Eyes that might have seen Christ walk the earth. If I thought there was any chance in hell he’d let me interview him on the air, I’d have groveled for it, but I didn’t even try to ask.

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