Aunt B turned to the two rats, said something with a smile, and together they walked into the side room marked PRIVATE PARTY. One by one the alphas followed her.

Saiman laughed softly. “We aren’t without similarities, Curran and I. We both fall prey to lust. We both guard our pride and suffer from jealousy. We both employ our resources to get what we want: I use my wealth and my body and he uses his position of power. You say I want you only because you refused me. He wants you for the same reason. I remember when he became Beast Lord. The boy king, the perpetual adolescent, suddenly at the head of the food chain, granted access to hundreds of women who can’t say no. Do you think he forces them into his bed? He had to have done it at least a few times.”

A muscle jerked in Curran’s face.

At the corner Jim nodded, and a couple on our left and the recipient of Jim’s chewing-out followed the Pack Council. Jim had pulled his people in. They were giving Curran a clean playing field. No Pack witnesses, so no shapeshifter could be forced to testify against the Beast Lord. Nice.

Curran’s eyes promised murder. I could practically see the headline: ORDER’S CONSULTANT TORN

APART BY BEAST LORD IN EXCLUSIVE NORTHSIDE RESTAURANT. I had to keep Saiman alive. I needed him to help me with my petition, and I had extended the Order’s protection to him when I agreed to this idiotic date.

I had no sword, no needles, nothing.

Saiman signaled for a new drink. “There is only one difference between us. The Beast Lord will lie to you. He’ll tell you he loves you, that you’ll always be the only one, that he’ll sacrifice everything to be with you and keep you safe. I won’t lie to you. I won’t make promises I can’t keep. Honesty, Kate. I offer honesty.”

How could a man so smart be so stupid? It was like he couldn’t stop himself. He’d gone beyond the point of reason. “Saiman, shut the hell up.”

“You’re all mine tonight. Kiss me, Kate. Let me nuzzle your neck. I bet it would send him over the edge.”

Saiman reached for me. I sidestepped.

Something snapped in Curran’s eyes. He started toward us, moving in an unhurried, deliberate fashion, his gaze fixed on Saiman.

If Curran got his hands on him, he’d kill him. I had seconds to prevent it.

I stepped in front of Saiman. “Stay behind me.”

“He won’t hurt me. Not here. It would mean repercussions.”

“He doesn’t care.” Saiman knew that society operated by certain rules, and as long as he stuck to those rules, he would be safe and respected. No emotion ever touched him deep enough to contemplate breaking those rules. He couldn’t fathom the fact that Curran could throw everything out the window just for the chance to grip Saiman’s throat.

Curran wove his way between the tables. I started toward him. Weapon. I needed a weapon. On my right a couple was laughing at the table, a mostly empty bottle of wine sitting on the white tablecloth next to them. I swiped the bottle and kept moving.

Curran’s eyes shone.

I showed him the bottle. You can’t have Saiman. I’m guarding him.

He picked up speed. I don’t care.

I hefted the bottle and picked a spot between two tables. Fine. Keep coming. You wanted to talk. We’ll talk.

A man entered the room. Slight of build, he wore a sherwani, a long Indian coat, heavily embroidered with scarlet silk and golden thread. Glittering gems punctuated the twists of the embroidery. His dark head was bare. He carried a cane tipped with a gold cobra head, which, knowing him, was probably the genuine article. Nataraja, the resident big kahuna of the People. He handled the People’s interests in Atlanta, reporting to Roland’s inner circle.

Behind him the gaunt figure of Ghastek emerged, next to Rowena, a stunning redhead, wrapped in a mindnumbingly beautiful indigo dress. Other Masters of the Dead followed. The People had arrived.

Nataraja saw Curran, grimaced, and called out in a slightly bored voice, “The People greet the Beast Lord.”

Curran stopped in midstep. The fury in his eyes simmered. He choked it back, bringing himself under control. It must’ve taken a monumental effort of will. It scared the shit out of me.

Curran mouthed a word at me. Later.

I tapped the bottle against my palm, and mouthed back. Anytime.

Slowly Curran turned his back to us. His voice was even and clear. “The Beast Lord greets the People.”

He held out his hand toward the private room and together he and Nataraja strolled into it side by side.

“WE HAVE TO LEAV E,” I GROWLED.

Saiman shrugged with elegant nonchalance. “You worry too much.”

Twenty minutes had passed since the People and the Pack Council had gone into their private room and I couldn’t for the life of me pry Saiman free. He kept drinking. Before he’d drunk to build up his courage, now he was drinking to commemorate surviving the ordeal.

Saiman lived in the bubble of his own egocentrism. Nothing was more important to him than money and influence. Breaking the rules of Atlanta’s elite would cost the offender both. No strong emotion disturbed or troubled Saiman enough to make him break the rules. He simply couldn’t comprehend that Curran would sacrifice everything for a chance to sink his claws into Saiman’s throat.

More, Curran was obligated to violence. Saiman had delivered a colossal insult in front of Pack members. Right now Curran sat in that private room, fantasizing about redecorating the dining room with garlands of Saiman’s guts. Sooner or later, he’d come out and I didn’t trust myself to keep Saiman safe.

I wanted a confrontation. I wanted to break the bottle over Curran’s head. But once we started at it, I’d forget Saiman was even there. I would be so intent on hurting Curran, I’d become oblivious to all else. There was a reason why the first rule of bodyguard detail said, “Know where your ‘body’ is at all times.” The moment you lost sight of the body you were protecting, he became vulnerable. Curran was a lethal bastard. I couldn’t afford to risk Saiman’s safety.

I tried reasoning. I tried threats. Saiman remained rooted to his chair, hell-bent on ensuring I ended the night cradling his corpse. Leaving him and walking out, hoping he’d follow me, was out of the question. For all I knew, Curran would burst out of that room the moment I stepped out of sight. And Saiman was too heavy for me to carry him out. Of all the times not to have supernatural strength. If I had Andrea’s strength, I’d sling him over my shoulder and drag his ass out.

Jim strolled out of the private room and headed our way. He moved with casual grace, just a friendly tough guy on the prowl. People discreetly shrank from him. It’s hard to shrink when you’re sitting down, but they managed.


Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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