Kitty Goes to Washington Page 65

I started to. Bradley was her great—dozens of great—grandson. And Tom, and Emma, who said her family had been with Alette for decades. Her contacts in the police department, in the government—also descendants. That loyalty came from ties of blood. Would the distance in relationship have made any difference in Alette's mind? I thought of all those portraits in the dining room, the photographs in the hall, in the parlor, all of them were her children. She kept pictures of her family throughout the house, like any doting mother.

“Alette, we have to hurry, they'll be back downstairs any minute.” Not to mention the sun was rising right in front of her. I held her hands and tried to pull her from the chair.

“Wait a moment, Kitty—”

“Geez, did a pipe break?” I'd been kneeling on the wet carpet. My jeans were damp.

“Holy water. I'm sitting in it. I can't walk.”

Her feet were bare. Not only that, they were burned, the flesh red and shining, rashlike. The red crawled up from her soles, touching every place that had gotten wet. Even if she'd been able to break free, she couldn't walk anywhere. I scented a whiff of damaged flesh.

She looked at me matter-of-factly, though the acidlike touch of holy water must have tortured her.

“Well, that's just great.” I looked around, trying to think. I hadn't come this far to be defeated by a damp rug. “If they had this much of it why didn't they just throw it on you?”

“It might not have killed me.”

And whoever did this wanted Alette to watch the approach of her own death, through the window, to torture her.

Glancing back at the pale sky, her face was ashen. She set her expression in a stoic mask.

I couldn't just close the drapes. They weren't open; they were gone, completely removed. I had to get her out of here. The footsteps continued upstairs, but the soldiers would be back down in moments.

“I'll carry you,” I said, kneeling by the chair. I thought she'd argue, muttering about dignity with her British accent and stiff upper lip. She didn't. Silently, she put her arms around my shoulders and held on as I lifted, cradling her. She was far lighter than I expected. She felt dried up and hollow.

I had no idea where to go with her. I couldn't take her outside, not with daylight so close and no shelter handy. Frantically, I looked around.

“There's a storage space under the stairs. The door is there, it's a hidden panel.”

When she pointed to it, I saw the line that marked the door. Setting her down, I wrenched open the thin plywood door, wincing at how much noise I made. Quiet, had to be quiet.

Alette leaned on me, unable to stand by herself. Together, we fell into the storage space. I pulled the door closed just as footsteps sounded on the stairs over our heads.

We lay curled together against a pile of junk, holding our breaths. At least I held my breath. We stared at the door ahead of us as if we could see what was happening outside.

Footsteps crossed the floor of the foyer and stopped at the entrance to the parlor. Another set of footsteps followed.

“Shit,” a male voice said.

“Maybe she's already gone,” a second voice said. “Burned up.”

“There's not any ash. There should be ash. A burning smell. Something.”

“You ever see one of them go in sunlight?”

After a pause, the other said, “No.”

“Look, even if she found a way to escape, it's too close to dawn. She won't get far—hell, she won't even leave the house. We'll look.”

“You don't suppose she turned into a bat or something, do you?”

“Uh, no.”

Footsteps crossed back and forth, moved to the back of the house, returned to the stairs. They didn't come near the door to the storage space.

The closet ran the entire length of the flight of stairs, narrowing at the end. Despite this, we didn't have much room to move. In the faint light that seeped through the crack under the door, I could see that the place was crammed with boxes, cleaning equipment like brooms, mops, and buckets, old baby strollers, a high chair, a clothes rack stuffed with coats. Like any normal family's storage space. I got the feeling Alette had clung to the model of a normal family life after becoming a vampire.

I wondered how Leo fit into that.

“My hero.” She looked at me and attempted a grim smile. Then, she slumped back, letting out a soft groan. If I didn't know better I'd have said she fainted.

I touched her, shook her shoulder. She was cold, stiff almost Panicked, I almost shouted her name. I couldn't lose he now.

She touched her forehead, wincing, for all the world like a distraught lady in a Victorian novel. We needed a fainting couch.

I hissed, trying to keep my voice to a whisper, “What's wrong? What's the matter? It's the sun, isn't it? It's too close to dawn—”

“I haven't fed tonight,” she said.

I stared at her, astounded. I was holding on to a starving vampire. Could I be any more stupid?

“Never mind that,” she continued, trying to sit up. “Leo is still in the house. We've got to find him, I won't have him destroying what I've built here.”

“You're not in any shape to go against Leo,” I said, thinking of her injured feet as well as her lack of food.

“We can't stay locked up here, cowering, all day.” She straightened, pulling herself out of my grip. She moved slowly, stiffly, like an arthritic old woman. “For good or ill, I must face him now. I don't expect you to come along. This is my fight. I'm the one who didn't see Leo's true colors. I don't believe it, almost two hundred years together and he picks now to stage a coup.”

She wouldn't last, not in her condition. I'd seen him move against Bradley.

“Would it help?” I spoke quickly, before I lost my nerve. “If you took some of my blood, would it help you?”

“Kitty, if you're suggesting what I think you are, don't—”

“Because I'm not letting you go out there alone in your condition. And I can't take on Leo by myself. Will it help you?”

She hesitated a long, strained moment before saying, “Yes, it would.”

“Then you have to.”

God, my heart was pounding like a jackhammer. It overwhelmed thought. Lots of people, human servants, did this all the time. Nothing to it.

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