Okay, so what possible time could it be and where was the Red Roof Inn? The Red Roof Inn was about the only hotel franchise actively remaining in business. Any shack's roof could be painted red, instantly identifying it as a place to purchase a room for the night. Problem was, I hadn't the foggiest idea where there might be a Red Roof Inn in this area of Atlanta.

The Reapers struck me as a paranoid sort, the kind who would leave and arrive together. If I were them, I would depart shortly after their last fight of the day was over. They also kept Livie on a short leash. Her absence wouldn't go unnoticed for long. Derek was an idiot, but a bright idiot. He would realize this. He would meet her someplace close to their exit route.

Best-case scenario, they would talk and she would go back. Worst-case scenario, he had some sort of getaway vehicle ready for their joint escape. Which would end in disaster.

I kicked the wastebasket back under the counter, leaned the door to cover up the hole, straightened my dress, and emerged from the bathroom.

Saiman sat alone. He raised one eyebrow at my appearance. A gesture copied from me -

Saiman was annoyed. But not enough not to rise at my approach.

"Another minute and I would have had to request a rescue party from the management," he said.

"You are the management."

"No, I'm an owner."

Touche. "What's your beef with the Reapers?"

"I think you misunderstood the nature of our agreement." He offered me his elbow. "I bartered for your evaluation of a team. You're the one under obligation to disclose the information, and be assured I'm overcome with the desire to hear your report. I'm positively aquiver."


"Indeed. Shall we walk to our seats?"

I sighed and let myself be led from the deck. I was very tired of being kept out of the loop.

Chapter 9

WE WALKED DOWN TO THE FIRST FLOOR, TO ANOTHER luxurious hallway pierced with arches. Saiman picked one of the arches seemingly at random and held the heavy rust curtain aside. Beyond the curtain lay a small balcony. Circular and encased by a solid steel railing that came midway to my hip, the balcony offered four chairs upholstered in soft rust fabric and positioned movie-theater close.

I stepped past the curtain to the railing. A huge hall greeted me, too large to be called a room.

Oblong and vast, it stretched for at least a hundred and fifty yards. Its walls were honeycombed with arched balconies arranged in three rows. Each balcony held six to eight people and offered its own exit door, which, if our particular door was any indication, opened to the wide corridor. The management was trying to minimize the chances of a stampede if things went sour.

The walls plunged lower than the ground level. Sunken underground, the bottom floor had no balconies or seats. Bare concrete sloped gently to the center, where an oval arena of sand lay.

A heavy-duty chain link fence defined it, anchored by numerous steel posts. The Pit. Our balcony protruded from the wall much farther than the rest, and if I took a running start, I could have jumped to the fence.

The sand inside the fence drew my gaze. I looked away. "Special seats?"

"The best in the house. Despite our proximity to the Pit, we're quite safe." Saiman pointed above us. A metal portcullis waited above us, obscured by a velvet curtain. "I can drop it with a pull of the lever. And then of course, there are additional precautions." He pointed to the bottom floor.

To the left of us on the concrete sat an E-50, an enhanced heavy machine gun, mounted on a swivel base and manned by two Red Guards. Guns weren't my thing, but I knew this one: it was the Military Supernatural Defense Unit's weapon of choice when facing a loose vampire.

The E-50 fired .50-caliber ammo at more than three thousand feet per second. At two thousand feet, a round from this gun was deadly. At a hundred yards, it would rip through solid steel like tissue paper. At a maximum rate of fire, an E-50 spat out half a thousand bullets a minute. Of course, at a maximum rate of fire, it also melted the barrel after a few thousand rounds, but if you didn't take down a vampire within the first few seconds, you were dead anyway.

An identical gun waited across from us at the far right. Whatever was caught between them would be dead instantly. Unfortunately, even the best gun was only as strong as the guys manning it. If I wanted to cause trouble, I'd take the gunners out.

Just in case the tech failed, two additional teams of Guardsmen bided their time in the opposite corners: one with an arrow thrower and the other with an assortment of weapons.

"I see you don't want a repeat of the Andorf accident."

If Saiman was surprised at my knowledge of Games-related trivia, he didn't show it.

"We don't. But I assure you, we still get plenty of shapeshifter participation."

"How? Didn't the Beast Lord veto it?"

"We import shapeshifters from outside the Pack's boundaries. They fight and we pull them out before the requisite three days are up."

All visiting shapeshifters had three days to approach the Pack for permission to stay within its territory, or it would approach them and they wouldn't like it. "Sounds expensive."

Saiman smiled. "It's well worth it. The price of tickets alone covers most fighter-related expenses. The real money comes from betting. On a good fight the House takes in anywhere from half to three quarters of a million. The highest intake on a championship fight was over two million."

With hazard pay, I made just above thirty grand a year.

I stared at the sand of the Pit. In my head, the building vanished. The fence, the concrete, the guns, Saiman, all dissolved into the blazing sun, blindingly bright and merciless. I heard the noise of the crowd in the wooden stands, the quick staccato of Spanish, the high-pitched laughter of women, and the hoarse cries of the bookies calling out numbers. I felt my father's presence behind me, calm and steady. The reassuring weight of the sword tugged on my hand.

I smelled my skin, scorched by the sun, and blood fumes rising from the sand.

"Shall we sit down?" Saiman's voice intruded upon my reverie. Just as well.

We took our seats. Huge rust curtains slid aside on the far left and right of the chamber, revealing two entrances: the one on the right painted garish gold and its twin on the left in a cheery shade of solid black.

Saiman leaned to me. "The fighters enter through the Gold Gate. Corpses leave through the Midnight one. If you 'walk out gold,' you've won the match."

A long, deep bellow of a huge gong tolled through the Arena, calling the spectators to silence.

A slim woman in a silver dress stepped out of the Gold Gate.

Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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