Kitty Goes to Washington Page 35

As to profession, he answered, “Spiritual adviser.”

Which was about as surreal as when Jeffrey had said “communications facilitator.” For some reason no one felt they could come before the Senate and say he was a professional medium or a faith healer.

Duke said, “I understand that you serve as a spiritual adviser to a specific group of people. Could you describe them?”

“They're vampires and lycanthropes, Senator.” He spoke coolly, with maybe a hint of amusement.

I'd heard him before, from a distance over a tenuous phone connection. Even then his voice had had a haunted quality, hypnotic. He drew listeners to him, like any good preacher could. There was something else, though, in the way his voice hinted at mysteries to be revealed, at the dark secrets he would tell.

In person, that sense was doubled, or more. I leaned forward, head cocked, determined to hear every word. I wished the room's ambient noises—papers rustling, people coughing—would stop.

“And how do you advise them, Reverend Smith?” Duke said. This was the most respectful Duke had been of any of the witnesses. Did he actually think Smith was a good Christian preacher?

“I help them find their way to the cure.”

Henderson spoke next. “Earlier this week, Dr. Flemming testified that he'd had some difficulty discovering a cure. Are you saying you've had better luck than medical science?”

“Senator, these states of being cannot be fully explained by medical science. They have a spiritual dimension to them, and the cures lie in the spiritual realm.”

That was what I'd always thought. I wondered if it would be rude of me to move chairs so I was sitting closer. I didn't want to miss anything Smith had to say.

“I'm not sure I understand you.”

Senator Duke turned to his colleague. “He's saying what I've been telling you, these people are cursed, possessed, and they need to be exorcized.”

“We're not living in the Dark Ages, Senator Duke.” Henderson returned to his witness. “Reverend Smith?”

He said, “I believe that those afflicted may look within to purge themselves of the taint of their… diseases.”

“Through prayer,” Duke prompted.

“In a manner of speaking, yes.”

Prayer, yeah. That was all I had to do, it sounded so simple. I wanted to talk to him, to learn from him, because I'd struggled all this time to find some kind of peace in this life but he made it sound so simple—

“Kitty!”

My brain rattled. I blinked, disoriented. Jeffrey was shaking my arm. He'd hissed into my ear loud enough that the people in front of us looked back.

“What? What's wrong? What happened?”

Ben was staring at me, too. “You looked like a clich there for a minute. I think you were even drooling.”

“I was not!”

But both men watched me closely, worriedly. Despite his flippant remark, Ben's brow was furrowed. Had I fainted? Passed out? I'd just been listening to the testimony, to Smith—

That steady, haunting voice filled the room. I could feel it against my heart.

“Oh, my God,” I murmured. “Is it just me? You guys don't feel it—”

Jeffrey shook his head. “Not like that, but I can see it. It's like he's on fire. It started when he spoke.”

Something about his voice sounded so reasonable, so pure. It hardly mattered what he said, because what I heard was, Here is someone I can trust.

I put my hands against my temples, quelling the headache I suspected I was developing. “This is seriously twisted.”

“I think I understand his church a little better,” Jeffrey said.

“No doubt.” The cure was only the start of his power, it seemed. He could draw vampires and werewolves to him just by speaking. He hardly needed to cure them, if all he wanted was a flock of devoted followers.

If he had that power over me across the room, how was I going to get close enough to learn more about him?

Did I dare bring him onto the show for an interview, and broadcast his voice across the country?

Then we were done for another day. The hearing adjourned.

Smith immediately came down the aisle between the two sets of chairs, his escort trailing him devotedly. I watched him the way a wolf watches a hunter approaching with a rifle: head down, eyes glaring, lips ready to snarl a challenge if the intruder comes too close. If Jeffrey and Ben hadn't been there, I might have followed along after him, as eager and devoted as his pets.

I wasn't anybody's pet.

As he passed by, he caught my gaze. For a half a second, his lips twitched a smile—a cold smile—and his gaze held triumph.

He knew he'd gotten to me.

Some vampires and werewolves liked to say they were top of the food chain. Stronger than mortal humans, able to hunt mortal humans.

But we might have found the thing that could top us. I had to find out what he was. If I didn't risk getting closer to him, I'd never learn.

I scrambled past Jeffrey to get to the aisle. I was too late to intercept him, but maybe I could catch up.

Ben called after me, “Kitty, what are you—”

I'd only taken a couple steps toward Smith when the werewolves turned on me. Their lips pulled back in grimaces, their shoulders tensed, bunching up as if they were preparing to cock their arms for a punch. A couple of werewolves, getting ready to rumble. A shot of panic charged through me; I couldn't take these guys and my Wolf knew it. I had to work to stand there and not look away. Not cringe and cower. Please don't beat me up…

I looked past them to Smith, who had turned to see what the disturbance was.

“Hi, Reverend Smith? I'm Kitty Norville from the talk show The Midnight Hour. I was wondering, could I ask you a few questions? I think my audience would be very interested in learning more about you. Maybe you could come on the show.”

He stared at me for a long time, and my heart beat faster and faster, in anticipation of what he might say, and what his words would do to me. Fight or flight. I should run. I should get out of here.

“If you come to me as a supplicant, I will answer all your questions.” He smiled a thin, knowing smile.

They were true words; I knew they were. If I came to him, gave myself to him, I would have no more questions—at least, no will to ask them. But I couldn't. I couldn't go to him, I couldn't do it, because I'd lose myself, and I'd fought too hard to claim myself. My own two feet stood on the floor, and I was anchored to them, and I would not let his gaze swallow me.

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