Kitty Goes to Washington Page 14

Thankfully, I was able to tell her yes, and we could talk about that for a minute or two. She sounded put out when I told her I hadn't been taking pictures.

“I'll send you a postcard,” I said. “Look, Mom? I'm really sorry to cut you off, but I don't have time to talk right now. I've got someplace I have to be.”

“Oh?” That unmistakable Mom question.

I relented. I felt bad for ditching her so quickly. “There's a reception at one of the art museums here. It sounded like fun.”

“Are you going by yourself?”

I had no idea how she managed it, how she could ask one question and convince me she meant something entirely different. It scared me a little that we knew each other well enough that I knew exactly what she was really asking.

“Yes, by myself,” I said with a sigh. “I haven't been here long enough to get asked out on any dates.”

“Well, you know so many people all over the place, I can't keep track of it unless I ask. I worry about you, traveling alone.”

This wouldn't be a good time to tell her that I was staying with a vampire. “I'm doing fine, Mom. I promise.”

“All right, I believe you. Call me before you leave town, okay?”

Mental note, mental note. “I'll try to remember.”

“I love you.”

“Love you, too, Mom.”

Finally, I was showered and dressed. I spent five minutes practicing walking in the new shoes and was ready to head downstairs.

Alette waited in the foyer at the base of the stairs. She might not have moved since I last saw her, except someone was with her now. She finished saying something to him and turned to watch me.

The one she'd been talking to, a man in a dark gray suit, stood behind her, leaning against the doorway to the parlor, his arms crossed. Not Bradley or Tom. In his mid-twenties, he was shorter, cleft-jawed, with spiky brown hair and a wry expression. He studied me slowly, pointedly dragging his gaze up my body, starting at the ankles and lingering over the interesting bits. His smile got wryer when he caught my gaze.

He smelled cold-blooded and no heartbeat sounded in his chest. Not just a vampire, but a smarmy one.

When I reached the foyer, I asked in a low voice, “Who's he?”

Alette lifted a hand to introduce him. “This is Leo. He will accompany you to the reception.”

A chaperone. Great. A vampire chaperone? Double great.

“You know, I'm sure I'll be fine.”

She gave me an arched-eyebrow look, the parental you stay in my house you abide by my rules kind of look.

She reached for him. Smiling, he took her hand, raised it to his lips, and kissed it lightly. Their gazes met and exchanged some long-practiced message of conspiracy. She said, “He's one of mine. You can trust him.”

But I didn't trust her. I was about to suggest that I pack my bags and get a room in the hotel after all, that this wasn't going to work out. She looked me over, stepping to one side and the other to take in several angles.

Finally she said, “You really can't go out looking like that. Wait here a moment.” All business, her heels tapping on the hardwood floor, she marched out of the foyer, into the back of the house.

I tried to figure out what was wrong with me. Everything fit, everything was straight—I thought. I craned my head over my shoulder to try to see my backside. Did I have toilet paper stuck somewhere?

Leo regarded me, openly amused. “So you're the infamous Kitty Norville.” Like Alette, he had a British accent, but his was lighter, a bit more drawling.

“Infamous? I don't know about that.”

“You should be flattered. Alette doesn't bother with everyone who crosses into her territory.”

“I am flattered, really,” I said, scowling.

Alette returned, holding something in her hand. “It's typical,” she said. “You lot spend so much time running about in the woods, you forget how to properly accessorize. Hold this.”

She carried a velvet jewelry box, which she opened and handed to me. While I held it, she carefully removed the necklace within, a diamond teardrop on a gold chain. At least it looked like a diamond. Not that I knew anything about them, my trip to see the Hope Diamond that afternoon notwithstanding. It was as large as my fingernail.

I'd left my blond hair loose. It lay in waves to my shoulders. It would start to look tangled and ratty as soon as I stepped outside, but I didn't know what else to do with it. Standing behind me, she took my hair in hand and lay it to the side, then clasped the necklace around my neck. The diamond lay an inch below the hollow of my throat, halfway between chin and neckline. Perfect.

“Now, you may be seen in public,” she said, stepping around to survey me from the front.

“Not silver.”

“I should think not.”

I smoothed my hair back into place. “My hair, is my hair okay?”

She grasped my hands and smiled. “It looks fine, my dear.”

Suddenly, I liked her. I worried a little that she was working some wily vampire trick on me. But this didn't seem like a vampire trick. This was about loaning someone a piece of jewelry. It was such an unexpectedly girly thing for a centuries-old vampire to do.

Leo offered his arm, and I stared at it like I didn't know what to do with it. I stood there long enough to feel impolite and embarrassed that I was impolite. By way of apology, I put my hand in the crook of his elbow. He smiled like a laugh was on the verge of bursting forth. I squared my shoulders and tried to muster some dignity. His arm was stiff, and I kept thinking there should have been a pulse under the skin.

Alette saw us off at the door like we were a couple of kids going to the prom. Bradley chauffeured us in the sedan, which was waiting at the curb. He stood by the open door to the backseat, and this was all getting ridiculous. Continuing with his formal actions like it was some kind of game, Leo assisted me to my seat and made a little bow before walking around to the other side of the car.

I was torn between feeling like an actress on her way to the Oscars, and the butt of someone's joke, so I kept quiet.

The Hirshhorn's main focus was modern art and sculpture. The gallery where the reception took place was stark, with white walls and a gleaming floor, lit by strategically placed track lighting. Sculptures and the odd multimedia installments stood here and there throughout the wide space, while paintings hung in scattered isolation.

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