Curran smiled back. "I wish you'd scrape enough balls together to try. I'm already bored."

If Jarek managed to provoke Curran into physical violence, the fault would be with Curran. Even if Curran won, we'd have to go home empty-handed and Desandra likely wouldn't live long enough to give birth.

The Belve Ravennati entered the room and took their seats on the left side of the horseshoe. Aunt B waved at Isabella. Isabella studiously ignored her. Her two sons sat by her. The Italian brothers looked very similar: both dark-haired, both with intelligent, sharp eyes and a carefully shaped sprinkling of dark stubble on their jaws. The taller, leaner one had striking eyes, pale hazel and framed with dark eyelashes. They stood out in sharp contrast to his nearly black hair. The other was shorter, more compact, with dark eyes. One of them was Gerardo and the other Ignazio, but I couldn't remember which was which. I couldn't recall which had married Desandra either, but I was pretty sure the shorter of the brothers was the one who got slapped.

I leaned over to Desandra. "Which one is the father?"

"The handsome one," she said, her voice filled with mourning.

Thanks, that helps a lot. "Hazel eyes or brown?"

"Hazel. Gerardo."

So the shorter, slapped one, was Ignazio.

A moment later the Volkodavi came through the right exit and took their seats on the right side of the horseshoe. Good idea. Minimized the chances of them lunging across the table at the Belve Ravennati and trying to murder each other with their forks.

People were taking their seats. The dinner was about to start.

"You're not fit to sit at this table," Jarek said.

Round two.

"Make me move," Curran said.

"You're nothing. You will always be nothing," Jarek said. "Weak like your father."

You bastard. I reached over under the table and touched Curran's hand. He squeezed my fingers.

"My father has a son who rules the largest pack in the Southeast of the United States," Curran said. "How big is Budek's territory? Oh wait. Your son doesn't have a territory, because you murdered him."

A string of servants came in, rolling enormous barrels.

"Is that beer in the barrels?"

"They're called casks, Kate," Barabas said quietly behind me. "And I believe they're full of wine."

Lyc-V, the shapeshifter virus, treated alcohol like poison and tried to get rid of it the moment it hit the bloodstream. But if a shapeshifters drank fast enough and in large volume, they managed to hit a buzzed stage. Besides, there were some humans in the hall. This place already was a pressure cooker: one wrong word and it would explode. Why the hell would anyone want to add alcohol to this mix?

"The only reason you rule at all is because your country is filled with gutless dogs," Jarek said. "Here you're not fit to scrape shit off my boots. Come over here and I'll teach you what a real alpha is."

He just wouldn't shut the hell up.

"You've been scheming and plotting for thirty years and your territory will fit into mine ten times," Curran said, his tone slightly bored. "I could give the same amount away and not miss it."

On the left Gerardo was glaring at Radomil across the table. The wine barrels kept coming in. Could this get any worse?

"You had a chance to join me," Jarek said. "You spat on it. And you think you can come here and tell me what to do with my daughter?"

"Make way for the lord of the castle," a man called out. The djigits at the entrance directly opposite us came to attention.

"Your daughter is a grown woman," Curran said. "She can speak for herself."

"Until she belongs to another man, she is mine to do with as I please," Jarek said.

That does it. I leaned forward. "Hey, you. Either put your claws where your mouth is or shut the f**k up. Nobody wants to hear you yip."

Jarek's eyes bulged. Green flared in the depths of his irises, an insane hot flame. He opened his mouth but nothing came out.

"Yes, just like that," I told him. "Less talking, more quiet."

It dawned on me that Curran was sitting completely still, staring straight ahead with focused intensity.

"Lord Megobari," a man announced.

I turned. At the far entrance, between two djigits, Hugh d'Ambray strode into the hall.

Chapter 7

This wasn't happening. This was a hallucination, caused by stress. Hugh d'Ambray, Roland's warlord, wasn't here. He was back in the United States serving my biological father. This was his long-lost twin with the same height, build, and hair, who knew nothing about me.

Hugh looked straight at me and smiled. It was the smile of a fisherman who'd just pulled a prized catch out of the water and into his boat.

No, it was him. All this time I'd been breaking my brain trying to figure out what Curran or the Pack had done to be targeted for this trap. It wasn't Curran or the Pack. It was me.

"Please rise for the lord of the castle," the same man called out.

People around me stood up. I locked my teeth and forced myself to move. Curran was squeezing my hand so hard it hurt.

Damn it all to hell. Could I not catch a break just once in my life?

Hugh waved. His voice carried through the hall, a kind of voice that could be quiet and intimate or cut through the clamor of a battle. "Sit, please. No need for formality, we're all friends here."

He was real. He was here. Adrenaline rushed through me, sending electric needles through my fingertips. If he thought I would roll over and give up without a fight, he would be deeply disappointed.

Everyone at our side of the table went very still. They were all watching Curran and me, and they realized something was really wrong. Andrea's face turned chalk-white. She recognized d'Ambray. Before she left the Order of Merciful Aid, she had climbed high enough in its ranks to receive briefings about Roland, who was considered the greatest danger the Order would eventually face. She watched Hugh the way one watched a rabid dog. Raphael leaned closer to her, his eyes fixed on Hugh as well. He knew, too. She must've told him.

Hugh crossed the hall, coming toward us. Tall, at least two inches over six feet, he was muscled like a Roman gladiator, and his suit failed to hide it. He moved with perfect balance, gliding as if his joints were liquid. Before my mother and Voron had run off, Hugh had been Voron's protege. My adoptive father trained him, honing him into the perfect general to lead Roland's armies. Fighting Hugh would be like fighting my father. It would be the second-hardest fight of my life. The first would be my real father.

I scanned the doorways. No troops. Hugh hadn't called in the reinforcements. Did he think he could take me and Curran by himself?

Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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