Kitty Goes to Washington Page 10

The decor didn't surprise me. Vampires lived for hundreds of years; they tended to carry their valuable collections with them. If the room reminded me of a Victorian parlor, it was probably because it was the real deal. As was its occupant.

A woman set a book down on a table and stood from an armchair that sat nearly hidden toward the back of the parlor, near a set of bookshelves. She was pale, cold, dead. No heartbeat. I couldn't guess her actual age, of course. She looked about thirty, in her prime and haughty. Her brunette hair was drawn back into a knot at the nape of her neck; her face was round, the lines of her lips hard, her gaze dark and steady. She wore a wine-colored dress suit with a short, tailored jacket and a calf-length, flowing skirt—a feminine-looking outfit that brought to mind Ingrid Bergman or Grace Kelly.

I decided she wasn't Victorian. She was older, much older. She had a gaze that looked across centuries with disdain. The present was only ever a stepping-off point for the really old ones. The oldest vampire I'd ever met was probably around three hundred years old. I couldn't be sure—it was rude to ask—but I bet this woman was older.

I had planned on being brazen. If she could disrupt my life, I could be snotty about it. But for once, I kept my mouth shut.

“Katherine Norville?” she said, an inquiring tilt to her head. She had a wonderfully melodic British accent.

“Um, Kitty. Yeah.”

“I am Alette. Welcome to my city.”

I still wanted to argue the my thing, but this woman had me cowed into silence. I didn't like the feeling.

“Bradley, Tom, any problems?”

“None, ma'am,” Bradley said.

“Thank you, that will be all.”

The two men actually bowed—smartly, from the waist, like trained butlers or footmen in a fairy tale. I stared after them as they left through the doorway to another part of the house.

“I do hope they treated you well.”

“Yeah. Well, except for the whole getting stopped at a police roadblock thing. That was a little nerve-wracking.” And this wasn't? I didn't think I could escape from her even with my claws out. What did she want with me, really!

“I won't apologize for that. It was necessary.”

“Why?” I said. “I host a call-in radio show—my phone number is public knowledge. You could have called.”

“I couldn't let you say no.”

I started pacing, which required maneuvering around an expensive-looking armchair to find a straight, clear path along the edge of a rug. Alette watched me. She was elegant and regal, and I couldn't help but feel like she was indulging me this little outburst.

“You know if you try to keep me here against my will, I've got people I can call, I don't have to put up with this.”

“Katherine—Kitty. If you'll please have a seat, we might discuss this in a civilized manner. I fear you're currently in danger of reverting to your other nature.”

Pacing was a wolf thing. I'd been stalking back and forth, my gaze locked on her, like an animal in a cage. Obediently, I stopped and took a place on the chair she indicated. I took a deep breath and settled down. She sat nearby, at the edge of the sofa.

“I have a little better control of myself than that,” I said sullenly.

“No doubt. But I am aware that I've placed you in strange surroundings and a possibly dangerous situation. I'd best not aggravate you, hmm?”

Carefully maintaining a calm to match hers, I said, “Why did you bring me here?”

Sitting with her ankles crossed, one hand resting on the arm of the sofa, she was no less poised and dignified than standing. She might have been a duchess or something, one of those proud noblewomen in a Gainsborough portrait, draped in silk and diamonds, calmly superior.

She gave an annoyed frown. “The werewolves here are wild and ungoverned. They might see you as easy prey, or an easy target to challenge and dominate. There is no alpha to control them. You'll have enough on your mind while you're here, I didn't think you'd want to worry about that as well.”

Got that right. But I was betting there was more to it. From what I gathered from stories, throughout history werewolves had either been vampires' servants or rivals. At best they came to uneasy truces when they lived near each other.

I had never seen what it looked like when there wasn't a truce. Sometimes I felt so ignorant. My old pack, my old alpha, hadn't taught me much about the wider world. With them, I'd learned how to cower. Then I'd learned how to take care of myself.

“What else?” I said. “What do you get out of it?”

She smiled for the first time, a thin and enigmatic expression. “My dear girl, this Senate hearing will be the first time in centuries that one of our kind—vampire or lycanthrope—has been summoned before a nation's government in any official capacity. You seem to have made yourself an authority on the subject.”

I shook my head, wanting to laugh. “I've never claimed to be an authority—”

“Nevertheless, many people turn to you. And now, so is the government. And when you speak before the Senate you will, however indirectly, be speaking on my behalf as well.”

I didn't want that kind of authority. I didn't want that responsibility. Before I could deny it, she continued.

“I've brought you here to take the measure of you. To learn whose interests you serve. Whose interests you will be serving when you speak before the Senate committee.”

Which web of political entanglements was I caught up in, she meant. She wanted to know who was pulling my strings, because in her world, everybody had strings.

She wasn't going to believe me when I told her.

“I serve my own interests,” I said. “I left my pack. I don't have any other associations. I'm not sure I have friends anymore. There's just me. And my show. Ratings and the bottom line. That's it.”

I was sure she didn't believe me. She narrowed her gaze, maintaining a vaguely amused demeanor. Like she didn't care what I said, because she'd figure out the truth eventually. She had time.

“I suppose,” she said finally, “that makes you less corruptible than many. True capitalists are extraordinarily predictable. But I've listened to your show, and there's more to you than that.”

“If you've listened to my show, then you know me. Because that's all it is. I parlayed my big mouth into a career. That's all.”

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