Kitty Goes to Washington Page 68

He grimaced, his mouth opened wide as he hissed and shook himself to get free of them. The crosses left welts on his cheeks and neck, like allergy-driven hives, like silver did to me. Still, he didn't let up his pressure on me. I couldn't get away.

I didn't know if Alette was in any shape to help me. I was on my own.

Change, you can fight him—Pain burned through me, Wolf starting to claw her way out. The full moon still shone. I still had power. My hands were thickening. Wildly, I thrashed, arching my back, because I didn't want to do this, I didn't want to be trapped, I hated that he was making me Change. Human or Wolf, I wasn't strong enough to fight him.

He laughed, and in another quicksilver move, he grabbed my hand, the one holding the crosses, and jammed it to the floor. He managed to shift until both my hands were pinned, and his knee dug into my gut. He leaned in close, his fangs brushing my neck. Every breath I took was a growl, and he didn't care.

“I'll have you for dessert, my kitten,” he said. He was in the perfect position to rip out my throat, and I couldn't do anything about it. I tried to work up enough spit to shoot at his face, since it seemed that was all I had left. My mouth had gone strangely dry, however.

“Leo.” Someone new had arrived. I knew that voice.

Leo looked up, hissing in surprise. Then, something whistled. I felt the air whine above me. In the same moment, he fell back, as if jerked on a chain.

Freed, I rolled out of the way, away from Leo, and scrambled back on all fours.

Paul Flemming stood at the base of the stairs holding some kind of spear gun. He lowered it from the ready position and watched his target.

Leo crouched on his knees, staring at his own chest with blank astonishment. A foot-long wooden dowel, like an arrow, protruded from his heart. No blood poured from the wound, even though the spear must have gone all the way through his chest. It looked ludicrous somehow, like it was a stage prop glued to the front of his shirt. The fabric puckered in around it.

So, Flemming was good with a stake. It seemed the spot at the top of the food chain was still up for debate.

I gasped for breath, trying to pull myself back into myself, to stay human. Alette had recovered. She sat up, legs folded neatly under her, and watched Leo die. She frowned, her gaze showing sadness.

Leo gave a short laugh, or the sound might have been the start of a sob. He reached for her, then slumped onto his side, his eyes open and staring. The body turned waxen, then ashen, then began to collapse in on itself, turning to dust, the decay of the grave taking place in seconds instead of years. It took his clothes, the stake, everything with him. Everything touching him turned to dust, including a blackened oval shape on the carpet. He was gone.

I expected Alette to regain her feet gracefully, to resume her regal bearing and once again take charge. Instead, she remained on the floor, her eyes squeezed shut, gripping the fabric of her jacket over her heart, as if it hurt.

“How could I be so blind?” Her voice was thin, pained. “How could I be so… so stupid?”

Those words had been spoken by every woman who'd ever been screwed over by a boyfriend. Immortality didn't change some things, apparently.

She ran her fingers through her hair, and finally opened her eyes to stare at the pile of ash that had once been Leo. Her face puckered, like she might start crying. But she shook her head, and shook the mood away. “He fought at Waterloo, you know. When I met him, he was a shell, broken by what he'd seen there. But he could still laugh. I liked that. I gave him a reason to continue. I gave him a place in my household. Then—I gave him everything. I trusted him. I thought—”

She loved him. I wouldn't have thought it possible. Vampires seemed beyond love. What was more, she thought he'd loved her back.

A wave of fear crossed her expression. In a rush, she stood and went to the bed, sitting beside Emma. She touched the young woman's face, felt her neck, then held her hands. She stared at Emma's face for a long time, and my stomach turned into a lead weight.

“Alette, what—how is she?” I didn't want to know. If I didn't know, I didn't have to react.

“She's not dead,” Alette said softly. She didn't sound pleased, though. She sounded resigned. “But—she's no longer precisely alive, either. On the third night she'll wake again as one of us.”

Leo had turned her, made her a vampire. Had he seen the opportunity to possess something of Alette's and been unable to resist? I remembered his laugh when Alette asked him what he'd done to Emma. Maybe he'd done it as a joke.

“What are you going to do? What—what is she going to do?”

Alette smiled sadly. “I don't know.” She leaned forward and kissed Emma's forehead. Emma didn't stir. Her face was white, bloodless.

Alette took a blanket from a trunk at the foot of the bed and spread it over Emma.

Flemming held the spear gun down by his side and slumped against the wall.

I swallowed, to make sure my throat was still human, that I still had a voice. “Why? Why are you here? Why did you do… that?”

“He was dangerous.”

“Dangerous to whom? To you? To your research? Aren't you worried about losing your recruiting agent?”

“But would he recruit for me, or handpick the people he wanted on the inside of an elite military unit? I know he was spying on me.” He glanced at Alette, then lowered his gaze. “I was being used. By everyone. Duke, Leo, the DOD—”

“Wait, what? The DOD?”

“Department of Defense. One door closes, another opens. Isn't that what people say? The military sees possibilities in my research. The NIH isn't going to continue my funding, not after this.”

“Damn straight. Why did you ever go along with Duke? He's a nutcase.”

“We both wanted government recognition. He wanted his control; I wanted funding that didn't come from the military. He was able to get my research a public hearing; I was able to give him his proof that the monsters are real. I thought—I believed that in the end, my science would trump his fanaticism. That Congress would take my proof and do some good with it.”

Good defined as funding for his own project. That was the trouble with politics, everyone only believed their own personal idea of what was good and right. And science could become its own brand of fanaticism.

Flemming continued. “Duke misjudged public opinion. He really believes you aren't human, and that Congress could enact laws to set bounties on you, to let people hunt you to extinction, like they did with wild wolves a hundred years ago. He wanted to be a national Van Helsing, and he wanted my help to prove that he was right.”

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