Derek nodded at the vehicle. “Who is that?”

“Your replacement.”

He led me away from the front gate to a narrow side door.

“You replaced me with a shaved poodle?”

“He’s got mad skills.”

Derek’s eyebrows crept up.

“He can vomit and urinate at the same time and he doesn’t make fun of my car.”

He laughed under his breath.

We entered the door and started up a long winding staircase. “Let me guess, he’s up at the very top.”

Derek nodded. “Curran has the top floor to himself.”

“It’s good to be the Beast Lord.”

We kept climbing. And climbing. And climbing. Five minutes later the stairs finally ended in a large door. Derek opened it, inviting me into a small room, ten by ten. Another door blocked the exit at the far wall.

Derek waited a moment.

The second door swung open, revealing two shapeshifters, an older bald man and a woman about my age, both in superb shape. They gave me the evil eye.

Derek nodded at them.

They plainly didn’t want to let me in.

Amber rolled over Derek’s eyes. “Move,” he said quietly.

They stepped aside. Derek motioned me in. “Please.”

The boy wonder had moved up the ranks.

We passed between the shapeshifters into a hallway. On the left was a small room. A third shapeshifter, a man about Derek’s age, sat there.

We strode down the hallway, the older man and the woman shadowing us. Curran’s guards definitely had doubts about my presence here. They were right. I was up to no good.

“The gym will be on the left.” Derek nodded at the hallway, where the stone wall ended, replaced by glass. “His living quarters are upstairs. There is a small stairway down the hall.”

He pointed to the doors as we passed them. “Private meeting room. Sauna.”

“And that?” I nodded to another door.

The bodyguards looked like someone had stepped on their feet.

Derek’s face turned perfectly neutral. “It’s reserved for the female guests.”

I opened the door. A huge canopied bed occupied most of the room, gauzy curtains drawn up like clouds above the snow-white comforter. The furniture was pale, blond oak with golden accents, elegant and light, almost floating above the polished wooden floor. A large dresser stood against the wall, next to a vanity table with a three-panel mirror. The middle of the floor was taken over by an overstuffed sofa facing a fireplace with a thick white rug by it. A flat screen hung on the wall above the fireplace. The far wall was frosted glass, strategically interrupted by clear stretches forming a bamboo design. The door stood ajar and through it I saw a pristine hot tub.

“Where is Barbie?”

The female shapeshifter snickered and choked it off.

“Is there a stripper pole?”

The older man winced. Derek looked pained. “No.” “Speakers for the mood music?”

Derek pointed at the corner above a small refrigerator. I bet there was cold champagne in that fridge.

I stepped out, shut the door, and pulled on an oven mitten. The shapeshifters watched me with great interest. I untied the cord securing the flame-retardant cloth on Teddy Jo’s sword and handed it to Derek, revealing a thick, asbestos-lined scabbard. “Hold this, please.”

He took it.

I grasped the onyx-colored hilt and pulled the sword free. It was a classic Hoplite blade, leaf-shaped, about two feet long. A spark ran down the metal, from the hilt to the point. The blade burst into blinding white fire.

The shapeshifters jerked back.

Derek’s eyes went wide. “Where did you get this?”

“It’s a loaner from the Greek angel of death.” I aimed the sword at the lock and touched it to the door. Blue sparks flew.

“What are you doing?” the female bodyguard snarled.

“I’m welding the bimbo room shut.”

She opened her mouth and clamped it closed without a word.

I lifted the sword. The lock had melted into a blob of quickly cooling metal. Lovely. I held the sword straight up and turned to Derek. “Where did you say the gym was?”

They led me down the hallway into a large room. The gym was state of the art: a free-weight rack, filled with custom dumbbells, a curl bar for working the biceps, a station for dips and leg raises, and in the middle of the floor the bench press—a leather bench with a bar rest. You lay flat on the bench and raised a bar loaded with weights above your chest. Curran’s bar was already loaded. I checked the numbers etched on the disks—custom made, two hundreds and a fifty on each side. Five hundred pounds. The bar had to be specially made to support the weight. Curran truly was a scary bastard.

I smiled and lowered the flaming sword.

THE PHONE SCREAMED. I CLAWED MY EYES OPEN. Twelve minutes after 2 a.m. I had gotten in about two hours ago—Teddy Jo wanted to chat, and while we chatted, the magic crashed. It took me forever to get home, and my skull hummed like someone was beating a kettle drum between my ears.

I yawned and picked up the phone. “Kate Daniels.”

“That was a custom weight bench!” Curran snarled.

My voice dripped bewildered innocence. “I’m sorry?”

“You welded the press bar to my bench.”

“Perhaps it would help if you started at the beginning. I take it someone broke into your private exercise facility in the Keep?”

“You! It was you. Your scent is all over the bench.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about. Why would I vandalize your bench press?” Think, Curran. Think, you idiot.

A lion roar burst through the phone. I held it away from my ear until he was done. “Very scary. I feel it’s my duty to remind you that threatening a member of law enforcement is punishable by law. If you would like to file a petition regarding your break-in, the Order will gladly look into the matter for you.”

The phone fell silent. Oh God, I gave him an aneurysm.

Curran made an odd noise, halfway between a snarl and a purr. “There is catnip all over my bed.”

I know, I dumped my entire supply on your comforter. It was a hell of a bed, too, enormous, piled with thick mattresses until it was almost four feet tall. I had to literally climb onto it.

“Catnip? How peculiar. Perhaps you should speak to your head of housekeeping.”

“I have to kill you,” Curran said, his voice oddly calm. “That’s the only reasonable solution.”

Apparently, I had to spell it out. “There’s no need to be so dramatic. I understand that having someone enter your extremely well-guarded private territory, wreak havoc in it, and then escape, unscathed, can be quite upsetting.”

Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires