Kitty Goes to Washington Page 16

“Alette,” I told him.

He shook his head and chuckled, but the gesture was humorless. “Alette, yes. She thinks we are rabble. Why have you spoken with her?”

I winced. “It's a long story.”

“You should meet others of your kind, hear their side. I will take you there. No matter what she has told you, you will be safe.”

I'd just met him. I shouldn't have trusted him, but my curiosity quickly overcame any sense of caution. And I felt something else—a warm shiver that had nothing to do with our lycanthropy. I hadn't let go of his arm. His body was close to mine, and he was cute.

“There's a problem. Alette sent Leo along to look after me. I don't think he'd be happy about this.”

He pursed his lips, serious for a moment, and glanced over his shoulder. “It isn't a problem. Come.”

He held my hand—his was warm and dry—and guided me away from the exhibit, around another corner to the service door where the catering staff passed back and forth with their trays of food and drink.

Luis said, “Some vampires have lived like nobility for so long, they forget about the servants. He won't be watching this door.”

Sure enough, we traveled down a plain concrete corridor to a fire door and emerged onto the nighttime street. No one followed us.

We walked along the Mall, which even at night hosted joggers, dog walkers, people strolling before or after a dinner out. After ten minutes or so I took off my heels and carried them. My feet tingled on the concrete sidewalk. Nighttime, and I felt like running. Full moon wasn't for another week, though. Luis glanced at me, gaze narrowed, lips in a wry smile, like he understood.

Next we rode the Metro for a few stops, ending up a mile or so north from where we started. Luis led me on for a couple more blocks before stopping.

“Here we are.”

A subtle shopfront sign, silver lettering on a blue background, lit by a small exterior light, announced the Crescent. Tinted windows didn't offer much of a view of the interior.

“Upstairs is a Moroccan restaurant. Decent, a little pricey, but don't tell Ahmed I said that. We're going downstairs.”

Sure enough, we bypassed the brick stairs leading up and took the set winding down to a garden-level door. “Ahmed?”

“He owns the place. You'll meet him if he's here tonight.”

I heard the music before Luis opened the door. Once he did, the sound opened up with all its richness and rhythm. Live music, not a recording. A Middle Eastern drum, a string instrument of some kind, and a flute. They weren't playing an identifiable song, but rather jamming on a traditional-sounding riff. It was fast, joyous, danceable.

Once inside, I saw the trio of musicians seated on chairs near the bar: one was white, one black, the other Arabic-looking. The whole place had an international feel to it, and I heard conversations in a few different languages. Cloth hangings decorated the walls, and while the area inside the door looked like any other bar, farther inside there weren't any chairs, but large cushions and pillows surrounding low tables. Oil lamps and candles provided light. I smelled curry and wine in the air.

A guy who couldn't possibly have been old enough to serve drinks was behind the bar, drying glasses. A few patrons sat nearby on bar stools, tapping their feet or nodding along to the music. A woman in a full skirt and peasant blouse danced—I supposed it was belly dancing, but my image of belly dancing was totally different. She was all about grace and joy of movement, not the I Dream of Jeannie fantasy. Her dark hair trailed in a braid that swung as she turned, and she wore a distant smile.

Another dozen people sat at the tables, watching the dancer or the musicians, talking among themselves, reclining on cushions, eating, and drinking. It was a calm, leisurely party, a nightclub of sorts, drawing people for conversation and atmosphere.

All of them were lycanthropes.

I stopped, shocked into immobility. I hadn't sensed this many lycanthropes in one place since I was with the pack. I had never seen this many in one place without them glaring at each other, stalking, picking fights, jockeying for position within the pack hierarchy. At the very least, if they weren't fighting they were cowering before the leader who kept them in line, who made peace by force. There was no leader here, not that I could see.

“Is something wrong?” Luis said.

“No, it's just—I wasn't expecting this. All of them in one place. It's overwhelming.”

“You have always been alone, then?”

“I used to have a pack. But it was nothing like this.”

He said, “Can I get you a drink?”

I probably needed one. “Wine. White. I think.”

Two filled wineglasses in hand, Luis led me to the back half of the club, where we could sit in relative quiet. His face lit when he came to a small group gathered in a corner.

“Ahmed! You are here.”

“Luis!” A large man rose to his feet more gracefully than I would have given him credit for. He displaced his friends to one side, who amiably continued their conversation without him. He managed to clap Luis on the shoulders without making him spill a drop of wine. He had a faint accent, thoroughly Americanized. “Good to see you, I was beginning to think you'd abandoned us at last.”

“I've been busy.”

Ahmed turned to me. He had olive features, black hair and dark stubble, a good deal of paunch without the impression of softness. It made him seem round and jovial. Over his shirt and trousers, he wore a flowing, pale-colored robe, which made him fit perfectly with the atmosphere of the place.

He was wolf. I pictured a great, grizzled old hulk of a wolf standing in his place. The image made me want to whine in terror and be on my best behavior. I suppressed an urge to inch closer to Luis and take shelter behind him.

Ahmed's gaze flashed, as if he knew exactly the effect he had on other werewolves.

“Luis, you seem to have gotten lucky tonight. Welcome, welcome!”

He offered his hand. Gratefully, I took it. I clung to normalcy when I could. He covered my hand with both of his and smiled warmly.

“Who might you be?”

“Kitty.”

“Kitty. Kitty Norville? The Midnight Hour?”

Heaven forbid there should be more than one werewolf named Kitty loose in the world. I grinned, stupidly pleased at the recognition. “That's right.”

Luis stared at me. “You're that Kitty? You didn't say anything.”

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