Kitty Goes to Washington Page 67

Leo sat on the edge of the bed, leaning over the body of a young woman. Her brown hair lay loose over her shoulders, and her hands were folded over her stomach. She wore a college logo sweatshirt and faded jeans.

“It's Emma,” I whispered.

“He used her as a hostage. That was how he overcame me. He promised to keep her safe,” she said, sharp as steel, biting off the words.

Emma seemed asleep. I hoped she was just asleep.

Leo looked up. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand—an ominous gesture, though I didn't see what he wiped away. A snarl curled his lips. He stood, clenching his hands, and took a step toward us. He faced Alette across the room.

“You're supposed to be dead,” Leo said, his voice low, tight with emotion.

“I've been dead for quite some time, my dear.”

I left the stairs and moved from behind her, my back hunched like hackles rising, glaring warily.

His gaze met mine and narrowed. “Flemming set you loose, did he? He's too soft for the game he's playing.”

I wondered, if I got a chance to wring Leo's neck, would he tell me what that game was? I could wring it with little crosses on chains.

“You could do what you liked with me if you kept Emma safe,” Alette said. “What have you done to her?”

Leo laughed. “Wouldn't you like to know?” He rounded his shoulders like a prizefighter entering the ring. Alette seemed unaffected, standing poised and still as always.

“You sold me out, destroyed my home, my children. Why?”

Leo laughed, a sharp, bitter sound. “Why? That's simple. You are the worst waste of resources I have ever encountered. You command an empire, Alette. And what do you use it for? Nesting. You are an immortal goddess, and you can't seem to do anything but play the part of a stupid woman.”

Wow. Not like he was from the nineteenth century or anything.

Alette didn't even flinch. In fact, a new resolve seemed to settle on her, like something inside her had hardened. “Is that so? If you felt that way, why stay with me for two centuries? That's a long time to have to cope with stupidity. I should know.”

Leo's jaw dropped, like he was actually offended. I put my hand in my pocket, curling my fingers around the crosses there.

“He's only just now found allies with firepower,” I said. “Tell us what Flemming gets by sending his men to work for you. You couldn't have taken over the place without their help.”

He scowled. “I don't talk to animals.”

“Oh, give me a break!”

“Answer the question, Leo,” Alette said, cold and implacable. The “stupid woman” had commanded men for centuries with that voice. Even now, Leo couldn't break the habit.

“He gets a recruiting agent. Someone to help build his little army of the night. The Pentagon has already agreed to back his research when the NIH drops him. That's not what he wants, but he'll take what he can get. They've already given him a Special Forces unit to help run the operation.”

Alette gave a sigh that managed to sound feminine and indignant at the same time. “You've sold one master and bought yourself another, do you realize that?”

“Oh, no,” Leo said. “You're wrong about that. Flemming only thinks he's in charge. This goes far beyond him.”

Flemming was too soft, Leo had said. The scientist looked the part of an academic, but played at military intelligence and black ops. Which was the real Flemming? And if Flemming was out of his league, as Leo suggested, then whose league were we playing in?

“How far?” I said, my voice falling to almost a whisper. “Who's calling the shots if not Flemming? Surely not you. You're a natural-born lackey.”

Leo flashed his wicked, pretentious smile. “You'll never know, because you aren't leaving here alive.”

He flew at us. In retrospect, he probably only launched himself, springing at us with the energy of frustration and determination. But he did it so fast, he might as well have flown.

Alette must have been expecting it, or she must have seen it, somehow able to slow the time frame down in a way that I wasn't. She was also moving at his speed. She dodged, stepping aside with efficient grace. The move might have been choreographed. They were like two fighters in a Hong Kong action flick, and I was the hapless bystander who was only trying to cross the street.

The move also left the path clear between Leo and me. I couldn't get out of his way fast enough. I could feel my feet backing up, as if I were looking at myself from outside. But my steps were slow, shaking. A whimper started in the back of my throat. Submissive, be submissive, lower than him—

He wouldn't listen to that.

I held the fist full of crosses in front of me and braced.

He didn't reach me, because Alette put her hand around his neck. She shouldn't have been able to stop him. He should have just tossed her aside and kept going. But who was I to decide what a multicentury-old vampire could and couldn't do? She didn't seem to strain, even, and Leo came up short, like he'd run into a clothesline. Her hand squeezed around his throat; her tendons flexing was the only sign of effort.

“I gave you everything,” she said. “I'll take it all away.”

“No.” He gripped her wrist, scratching at it, trying to push her away. He was taller than she was, larger, rougher, yet she held him like he was made of cotton.

She couldn't kill him by suffocating him—vampires didn't breathe. She'd have to rip his whole head off. But she only stared at him, caught his gaze in hers, seeming to give him a chance to apologize, to beg forgiveness. To beg for his life. He began to thrash like an animal in a trap.

“No.” He gasped, choking, his voice failing. “You're not my mistress, not anymore, you're not—”

From a reservoir of anger, he lashed out. Arms together, both hands making a fist, he swung around and hit her arm at the elbow. The joint bent, breaking her hold on him for a moment—long enough. He ripped away from her and punched her hard, once in the gut, once in the face. Something cracked, like bone breaking. Alette's expression didn't have time to register surprise.

She fell backward and hit the ground. Didn't move, and my belly turned cold. Leo turned on me, striking with an intent to do damage.

I still held the crosses as a shield, but Leo toppled into me anyway. He planted his hands on my shoulders and shoved, running me to the ground, pinning me to the floor. I clawed at him, the chains still laced around my fingers. The crosses pressed against his face.

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