Kitty Goes to Washington Page 15

The art was, for the most part, incomprehensible without referring to the notes. Whitewashed papier-mache-looking objects projecting from the wall, spindly bits of found material built into the shape of a chair, that sort of thing. The reception was being held in honor of one of the artists, an unassuming middle-aged woman standing in a far corner of the room, surrounded by admirers. I hadn't figured out which pieces were hers, yet. Wasn't sure I wanted to, in case I was called upon to speak intelligently about them. I was more likely to say something monosyllabic like “Neat,” or “Whoa,” which probably wouldn't go over well.

I parked by a Jackson Pollack painting, because I recognized it. Or recognized that this particular set of splatters was by Jackson Pollack.

I looked at the art. Leo looked at everything else. His behavior was oppressively bodyguardish, though with his indifferently amused grin no one but me noticed. He appeared to be a laid-back guy whose girlfriend had dragged him along to see Culture.

“So, Leo,” I said, “where you from?”

“To start? Leeds,” he said. “Haven't been back in ages.”

Which could have meant anything to a vampire. “A few decades? A century? Two?”

“I wouldn't want to deprive you of the mystery.”

“How long have you been with Alette?”

“Isn't that the same question?”

Well, couldn't fool him, could I? “Do you miss it?”

“What? Why would I want to be there when I'm lucky enough to be here playing nanny to you?”

Sue me for trying. I turned back to the wall and pretended he wasn't there. I couldn't, very well. His presence was like a rock in a stream, a cold solid place that all the life and movement in the room flowed around, avoiding. Without any overt gesture, he managed to keep himself apart from the crowd. I caught him staring at a woman across the room. She was young, dressed in slacks and a green blouse with a plunging neckline. She held a wineglass and absentmindedly ran a finger around the rim. She laughed at something the woman next to her said; her chin tipped up, exposing a slim, clean throat.

Leo's stance was watchful, focused, and his gaze was hungry.

Vampires hunted by seduction. Youth and beauty attracted them; they in turn made themselves attractive to youth and beauty. Leo was handsome, in a rakish, English way, dressed conservatively but smartly, and more importantly richly, and he'd most likely had decades to practice his pickup lines. She'd think she was being swept off her feet, and wouldn't know what really hit her.

“You take a step in her direction, I'll run right over there and let her know that while they couldn't prove anything at the rape trial, she ought to keep her distance.”

He tried to keep his smirk in place, but his glare wasn't at all amused. “No one ever accuses you of being the life of the party, do they?”

“You're never going to find out.”

He stepped closer and spoke so his breath touched my bare shoulder. “Werewolf blood is quite the delicacy. You might think of giving me a try. The experience isn't as one-sided as you might imagine.”

A shudder charged up my spine and my heart rate doubled. I took a step back, almost stumbling over my own feet. It was pure instinct, wolf backing into a corner and preparing for an attack, bracing for a chance to run.

Leo laughed. He'd known exactly what button to push. I closed my eyes and straightened, taking a deep breath and trying to relax. Embarrassing, certainly. This was also proof at just how close to the edge I really was, how fine the line was between the two parts of my being. A little nudge like that, and I slid right over. If he'd pushed it, I might have started Changing right there, in self-defense.

“Jerk,” I muttered. “I need to use the ladies' room. I'll be back in a minute.”

“Take your time, take your time,” he said and pointedly turned to continue visually menacing the woman across the room. I marched away.

I didn't really have to use the bathroom. I leaned on the tile wall and pressed my hands to my cheeks, which were flushed and burning. I'd let him get to me, and I was more angry at myself than him for it. I liked to think I was better than that.

I waited until my heartbeat had slowed and I felt calm again. Checking myself in the mirror, I smoothed out my dress and nodded, satisfied. I'd just ignore him.

On the way out the door, I ran into a man exiting the men's room. I'd had my head down, not paying attention—not as calm and collected as I'd thought. I stumbled, and he grabbed my arm to steady me.

I started to pull away and apologize, but I caught his scent, and it was wild. Fur and wilderness, open country under a full moon—not quite human. My eyes widened and my back tightened, like hackles rising.

He stared back at me, eyes also wide, his nose flaring to take in my scent. He'd sensed me just as strongly as I'd sensed him. He was tall, with a strong face, brown eyes, and dark hair.

For a moment, I tensed, ready to run, to flee what might have been a challenge; our wary gazes locked on each other. I didn't want to fight. I took a step back, but then his lips grew into a wondering smile. The expression said welcome. He didn't want to fight either.

“I don't know you. Who are you?” He had an unidentifiable accent, though his English was crisp and clear.

“Kitty,” I said. “I've been looking for you. I mean, not you specifically, but—” He was a lycanthrope, but not a wolf. I couldn't identify the odd edge to his scent. “You're not wolf. What are you?”

The smile turned playful. “Jaguar.”

“Really?” Awe filled my voice. That was so cool. “I had no idea.”

“That's clear. My name is Luis. I work at the Brazilian embassy. You—are you visiting Washington?”

“Yes.” We were just around the corner from the party. From Leo. I glanced nervously in that direction, expecting the vampire to walk in on us at any moment. I pulled Luis closer to the wall, as if that would hide us. “Luis, I was given to understand that the lycanthrope situation here is sort of unstable. Dangerous for strangers just passing through.”

His brow creased. “Who said this?”

My hands wanted to clench, I was so nervous. I had so many questions, and I didn't know him at all, didn't know how he'd react, didn't know what I was getting myself into. But I was desperate for another source of information.

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