No. "No, please go ahead."

"Do I bore you?"

"A little."

"I'm sorry," he said.

I shrugged. "Please don't be. You're being yourself and I'm being myself. For you shapechangers are a new and interesting frontier. For me, they are a part of my work. They are violent, often cruel, paranoid, and extremely territorial. When I see one, I see a possible adversary. You get excited because they can change their bone structure, while I get pissed off because their jaws don't fit together well in mid-form and they drip spit on the floor. And they smell awful when they're wet."

Crest looked at me.

"Besides, I lack the medical expertise to understand most of what you've said during the last five minutes. I hate feeling like a layman. It's too much for my fragile ego."

He reached over and touched my hand. His skin was warm and dry and for some unknown reason his touch comforted me.

"I'm shutting up," he promised solemnly.

"You don't have to," I said. "Let's talk about something else, though. Books, music, something not related to work."

"Yours or mine?"

"Both."

The world skipped a beat as the magic crashed. The conversation at the tables died for a moment and resumed as if nothing happened. Our dinner arrived. My salad consisted of leaves of lettuce, tastefully arranged to frame the thin slivers of orange, and a scattering of other greenery. I poked at the lettuce with a fork. For some reason I wasn't hungry.

"How's your salad?" he asked.

I speared a slice of orange with my fork and ate it. "Good."

He smiled, pleasure evident on his face, and I recalled the advice given to me by someone a long time ago. If a man takes you to a restaurant of his choosing, don't compliment him. Rave about the quality of the food and he'll be thrilled, because he took you merc. It wasn't in me to rave.

We spoke for a few minutes about nothing at all, but the conversation kept dying. Whatever we had at Las Colimas had fled and we couldn't recapture it. I poked at my salad, looked up, and saw Crest glancing past my shoulder. "Is there a problem?"

"That guy keeps staring at you," Crest said. "It's going beyond polite. I think I might go over and ask what his problem is."

I turned and saw a familiar figure two tables down. Leaning against the chair, half-turned so he could have a better view of our table, sat Curran.

Why me?

A stunning Asian woman wearing a tiny black dress occupied the other chair at his table. The woman appeared nervous, her slender fingers twisting the corner of the napkin. She gave me a startled glance, like a gazelle at a waterhole, and turned away quickly. Curran appeared unconcerned.

Our gazes met and Curran grinned.

"I don't think talking to him is a good idea," I said.

"An old boyfriend?" Crest said.

"Lord, no. We've met professionally."

I motioned to the waiter and he glided over. "Yes, ma'am?"

I nodded toward Curran. "See that man over there with very short hair? Next to a beautiful woman?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Would you please deliver a saucer of milk to him with my compliments?"

The waiter didn't even blink, a testament to Fernando's excellent service. "Yes, ma'am."

Crest looked at me, obviously itching to ask for an explanation.

The waiter delivered the milk, murmuring to Curran. Curran's smile turned predatory. He took the saucer and raised it in a kind of salute. His eyes flashed gold. The gleam flared and vanished so quickly that if I hadn't been looking straight at him, I would've missed it. He brought the saucer to his mouth and drank from the edge.

"He looks out of place in jeans," Crest said.

"Trust me, he doesn't care. And nobody working at Fernando's is insane enough to bring it up." Actually, Fernando's didn't seem like Curran's kind of restaurant. I had pegged him for a steak-and-shrimp or Chinese place kind of guy.

"I see." Crest was trying to give Curran an intimidating stare. If he kept it up, Curran might collapse laughing. Suddenly I was angry.

Crest's gaze lingered on Curran's date. Something new reflected in his eyes, interest, admiration? Attraction, maybe? Curran winked at him.

Crest folded his napkin and put it on the table. At least half of his chicken breast remained on his plate. "I think we should go," he said.

I pushed away my mostly intact salad. "Good idea."

A waiter materialized by our table. Crest paid cash and we walked out into the night. Outside Crest turned to the left.

"My car is that way," I said, nodding to the right.

He shook his head. "I've got a surprise planned. Since we cut our dinner short, we might be early. Do you mind walking?"

"Yes, actually." Not in these heels and not with a red-hot needle in my hip. "Would you mind driving me?"

"It would be my privilege."

As we walked to his car, I felt someone watching me. I paused to adjust the strap on my shoe and made him across the street, leaning against the building. The leather jacket and spiky hair was unmistakable. Bono. Ghastek was keeping an eye on me, but this time instead of a vampire he sent his journeyman. Nice choice. Bono still had a grudge against me for our little chat at Andriano's. Had Ghastek found out that I'd squeezed the journeyman who had clued me in on Ghastek's unmarked vampires? Or maybe I was thinking about it all wrong.

Bono shifted slightly to keep me in his view. Why keep surveillance now, when Olathe was dead? Unless Bono had served Olathe. It made sense. If she had wished to take over Nataraja's operation, she would've tried to recruit young journeymen, and with her looks and power, luring them to her side wouldn't have been that hard. Was Bono here for revenge? Or was there another player to this drama and now Bono took orders from him?

It wasn't over. My instincts told me that it was too easy, too convenient, and now I had the confirmation from Bono. What did he know that I didn't? I thought about crossing the street and beating it out of Bono, pummeling him into pulp until he told me every last detail he knew. I could ram his head against the bricks and take him deeper into the dark of the alley. Or even better, smash him against the wall and take him to the car. In this neighborhood nobody would pay attention to a woman in an evening dress and her handsome companion that had a touch too much to drink and had to be supported by her. I could stuff him into the car and drive him someplace secluded.

"Kate?"

Crest's pleasant face came into view. Bloody hell.

"Which one is your car?"

"That one."


Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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