He stopped by our table and stared at Saiman. Jim’s voice was melodiously smooth and he spoke softly, but his words dripped malice. “If you leave now, alone, the Beast Lord will grant you safe passage.”

Saiman laughed, a quiet humorless sound. “I hardly need his assurances. I’m very much enjoying my date, and I plan to enjoy the rest of my night in Kate’s company.”

Jim leaned to me, pronouncing the words with crisp exactness. “Do you require assistance?”

Yes. Yes, I do. Please whack the dimwit next to me upside his head, knock him out, and help me carry him out of here. I unclenched my teeth. “No.”

A triumphant smile played on Saiman’s lips. Just one sucker punch and he’d be picking his teeth out of that perfect hair.

Jim leaned closer. “If you want to leave without him, I’ll make it happen.” A green sheen rolled over his eyes.

“I’m obligated to stay with him for the evening. But I appreciate the offer.”

Jim nodded and withdrew.

If fury generated heat, I’d be boiled from inside out. Desperate times called for desperate measures. I scraped together what little feminine wiles I had left and touched Saiman’s hand. “Saiman, please let’s go. As a favor to me.”

He paused with a glass halfway to his mouth. “I’m looking forward to tormenting him a bit more, once he emerges.”

Idiot, idiot, idiot. “You’ve made your point already and I’m tired and stressed out. I just want to go and have a cup of coffee in my kitchen.”

His mind took a moment to work through the alcohol daze. He arched his eyebrows. “Are you inviting me for a private cup of coffee at your place?”

“Yes.” I’d give him a cup of coffee and a big helping of a knuckle sandwich. Generosity was a virtue and I was in the mood to be extremely virtuous.

Saiman made an exaggerated sigh. “I recognize it’s a bribe, but I would be a fool to decline.”

“You would.”

He paid the bill. With luck, the People and the Pack would remain cloistered for a little while longer.

We started down the staircase. I watched him like a hawk, expecting him to trip on the stairs, but he managed to descend with his usual elegance. Outwardly he showed no signs of inebriation. He didn’t stumble and his speech didn’t slur, which worked against him. Curran might be able to forgive a drunken man but not a sober one.

Outside, snow fell from the black sky, hiding the ground in a soft white blanket. Saiman raised his hand, and snowflakes swirled to his skin, trailing his fingers.

“Beautiful, aren’t they?”

“Very pretty.” I steered him to the vehicle.

We finally negotiated the parking lot. Saiman snapped his fingers, pulling the keys out of thin air.

“You shouldn’t drive,” I told him.

“On the contrary, I should.”

A normal human would be dead of alcohol poisoning by now. He wanted to drive. “Give me the keys.”

He considered it and dangled the keys before me. “What do I get if I let you drive?”

I felt the weight of someone’s gaze, as if a sniper had sighted my back through a rifle scope. I turned. The building loomed about thirty yards away. The double glass doors leading to the balcony swung open, and Curran walked out.

“What do I get if I let you drive, Kate?”

I grabbed the keys from his hand. “To live! Get into the car.”

“Now, now . . .”

I snapped the locks open, jerked the passenger door ajar, and shoved him into the seat.

Curran’s eyes glowed with gold. He shrugged off his leather jacket, grabbed the neck of his turtleneck with both hands, and ripped it in half.

I dived into the car and floored the gas pedal.

In the rearview mirror Curran tore apart his pants. His flesh boiled, and a monster spilled forth.

“What’s the rush?” Saiman wondered.

“Look back.”

The man was gone. In his place stood a beast, dark gray and corded with muscle. I caught a glimpse of huge fangs on a face neither lion nor human, and then he leapt off the balcony onto the neighboring roof.

“He’s chasing us.” Saiman stared through the rear window. “He’s actually chasing us!”

He’s chasing you. He wouldn’t hurt me. “Well, what did you expect?”

Shock stamped Saiman’s face. “He’s abandoned all pretenses at humanity.”

I took a sharp corner. The tires skidded. The vehicle slid, brushing a snowdrift. I wrestled with the wheel, righting the car, and we hurtled down the street.

Curran appeared above the building behind us. He sailed through the night sky like he had wings and landed on the shingles. The moonlight clutched at his shaggy mane. He took a running start, cleared another gap between the buildings, and followed us, bounding from roof to roof in great leaps.

I tried to speak clearly, hoping it would penetrate the fog of Saiman’s brain. “We go to my place. I get out. You get behind the wheel and drive as fast as you can. It’s your only chance.” And my only chance to settle all that ailed me without outside interference.

Saiman didn’t answer. Flesh flowed on his face and hands, changing into a new shape and instantly shifting into another, as if his body had gone liquid.

“What are you doing?”

“Burning off the alcohol.” He glanced back. “He’s still there!”

“Help me navigate. I don’t know where I’m going.”

“Take the next left. You’ll see a bridge. Go up.”

I made the turn, praying the tech would hold. If the magic hit us, we’d be in deep shit.

CHAPTER 17

THIRTY MINUTES LATER WE SCREECHED TO A halt before my apartment building. I jumped out into the snow, Slayer in hand. Saiman lunged into the driver’s seat. The wheels spun, spraying snowflakes. I jumped back. The car reversed, rolling over the spot where my feet were half a second earlier, and sped into the night.

He almost ran me over. Coward. Let’s have a partnership, Kate. I offer honesty, Kate. I don’t have to outrun the Beast Lord I just pissed off, Kate. I only have to outrun you and hit you with my car as I hightail it out of here.

The dogs down the street exploded with frantic barking. Speak of the devil . . .

I needed to attract His Majesty’s attention and take this off the street. In the open, he could take a running start and bulldoze over me. In my apartment, he’d have a harder time maneuvering and I’d have the home turf advantage.

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