Kitty Goes to Washington Page 9

But there was something about them, something cold. They made my shoulders bunch up, and the hairs on my neck stand up—hackles rising. I gripped the steering wheel, white-knuckled. I met the driver's gaze. Couldn't show weakness.

His gaze dropped first.

He offered my license back to me. “Ms. Norville? Alette, the Mistress of the City, wishes to extend her hospitality. If you'll step out of the car, please?”

I stared in disbelief, and a wave of spent adrenaline washed through me, making my muscles feel like rubber. The fear left with that wave, but now I was annoyed. Severely annoyed.

“Mistress of the City? As in vampire?” I said, and I realized what I'd sensed about them. They weren't vampires, but they had a little of the scent on them. Human servants, who spent far too much time with vampires than was healthy. They were too pale.

“Yes. She's pleased that you're visiting her city and is anxious to meet you.”

“Her city? The U.S. capital and she's calling it her city?” But then, what did I expect from a vampire?

The MIB pursed his lips and took a deep breath, as if collecting himself. He was probably under orders to be polite. “Will you accept Alette's hospitality?”

“Why should I?”

“She fears for your safety. You don't know the situation among your kind here. You lack protection. She wants to keep you safe.”

“How did she know I was coming?”

“It's her city.”

I wondered what she thought she'd get out of keeping me safe, because she surely wouldn't offer me protection out of the kindness of her undead heart. I also wondered what exactly the situation was that would put a lone wolf like me in danger. It meant there was an alpha here who didn't like intruders on his territory.

Right now, an alpha werewolf out for blood scared me more than a vampire.

“All right,” I said.

“If you'll please come with me, I'll drive you to meet her.”

“What about my car?” I loved my car. We'd been across the country together. “And my hotel reservation?”

“We took the liberty of canceling your reservation. Tom will drive your car to the building. We'll keep it safe for you while you're here. Free parking in D.C., Ms. Norville. Not something to refuse lightly.”

Actually, this sounded like one of those offers you weren't allowed to refuse at all.

I put my phone away and got out of the car.

The other MIB, Tom, slipped into the driver's seat as soon as I was out of the way. I looked longingly at my reliable little hatchback, like I was never going to see her again.

The first guy escorted me to the sedan.

I said, “Just so we're clear: the city's vampire Mistress has the D.C. cops in her pocket, or at least enough of them in her pocket that she can order a roadblock on one of the major arteries, just to find one person.”

“It would appear so,” he said.

“She could have just called me, you know.”

He glanced sidelong at me, and I rolled my eyes. This was a vampire we were talking about. It was all about theatrics.

At least as a passenger I could look for recognizable landmarks a little more safely. After making sure Tom was following us with my car, I leaned over the dashboard and peered out the windshield, searching.

“The other guy's Tom. What's your name?” I asked.

After a pause he said, “Bradley.”

Tom and Bradley. Didn't sound very sinister and Men In Black-ish.

“So, Bradley, where's the Washington Monument?”

“We're going the wrong way to see it.”

I sat back and sighed, not bothering to contain my disappointment. How frustrating, to be so close to a major national landmark and not see anything.

Bradley glanced at me. Sounding amused, he said, “Give me a couple minutes and I'll swing back that way.” He flicked on the blinker and made a sharp right turn.

Wait, was he being nice to me?

Back in Colorado, I could see. The sky was big, and I could look west and always see the mountains. I always knew where they were, where I was. I needed landmarks. Here, and pretty much everywhere I'd been back East, I felt vaguely claustrophobic. Thick trees grew everywhere and blocked the horizon. Even in autumn, with their leaves dried and falling, they formed walls and I could only see the sky by looking up, not out.

We turned a corner, and Bradley said amiably, in tour-guide fashion, “We now approach the famous Washington Mall. And on your right, the Washington Monument.”

I pressed my face to the window. My gut gave a little jump, like it did when I saw someone famous. It was just like the pictures, but bigger. The towering obelisk was all lit up, and the lights gave it an orange cast. In the center of the vast swath of lawn that was the Mall, it stood alone in the dark.

“Wow.” I watched it until we turned another corner and left it behind.

I kept track of our route. We ended up driving the opposite direction, back toward the freeway, but we veered off and continued farther west until we came to a quiet row of townhomes in the area Bradley said was Georgetown. Even in the dark I could tell it was nice, and old.

Tree-lined streets held rows of brick houses, with slatted shutters and window planters, painted doors, and fancy wrought-iron fences out front. Georgetown University was nearby. Bradley turned into an alley, then into a cobbled driveway wide enough to hold several cars. My car was already there.

I didn't get much of a sense of what I'd gotten myself into until we entered the town house, up a set of steps and through a back door.

That surprised me. Most vampires, even the heads of Families and cities, made their homes underground. It reduced the chance of them or any of their retainers suffering sunshine-related accidents. But Bradley and Tom led me into the house, through a hall, and to a parlor. This vampire held court in a room with windows—covered with heavy brocade drapes, but windows nonetheless.

The place managed to look cluttered and opulent at the same time: crammed with furniture, chaise lounges and wingback chairs, mahogany sideboard tables, end tables, and coffee tables, some with lace runners, others with lamps, both electric and oil. Curio cabinets held china collections, and a silver tea service was on display on the mantel above the fireplace. Persian rugs softened the hardwood floor. All the lamps were lit, but softly, so the room had a warm, honey-like glow. Scattered among the other decorations were pictures, small portraits, a few black and white photographs. Faces stared out of them all. I wondered who they were.

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