This was an extremely unwise move. Somewhere en route, Ghastek was gritting his teeth. Keeping that many undead together in one place required iron control on the part of the navigators. There was a reason why the vampires spent most of their time under the Casino confined in steel cages and chained to the walls. Even a single loose bloodsucker was a disaster.
If I were ruthless, I’d take our renders, clear a path through the undead, and let my guys wipe out the People. Once the navigators were dead, the unchained vampires would swarm us. I wasn’t sure how many I could handle, but I was willing to bet I could control enough to push them off us and into the wilderness. They would make their way to the city and slaughter anything that breathed. By morning Atlanta would be the city of the dead. The blame would fall on the People and we would live happily ever after, at least until my father decided to engage in revenge for the shit storm this butchery would dump on his head.
Fortunately for Atlanta, I wasn’t Hugh d’Ambray. Atlanta wouldn’t die today if I could help it. Once the first vampire was sighted, the gates would be barred. I would do everything in my power to reason with the navigators, but if I failed, we would not attack. Curran had built this Keep to withstand a siege. If that was the way they wanted it, so be it. A line from my favorite book came to mind. Have fun storming the castle, Hugh.
A woman in faded jeans and a heavy jacket strode through the Gates. A hood hid her hair. She marched through the snow like she meant business: big steps, a determined set to her shoulders, and a straight spine. A tall man wearing a black robe walked next to her, carrying a staff on his shoulder. The top of the staff was carved into the semblance of a raven’s head with a vicious beak. I knew that staff. It had tried to bite me once. But then considering that its owner was a black volhv in service to an ancient Slavic god of dark and evil, ornery behavior was to be expected. I had it on very good authority that Roman also wore Eeyore pajamas, which made me reevaluate his character somewhat.
Roman was also Evdokia’s son, which meant the woman with him was likely a witch. My neutral witnesses had arrived.
The woman said something to Roman. He stopped, turned to her, and shook his staff.
She crossed her arms. I couldn’t see her face, but I read the body language well enough. “I shake my magic stick at you!” “Let me tell you what you can do with your stick . . .”
One of the shapeshifters, a muscular man in his forties, moved to block Roman’s path. Roman pointed at me. The man turned to look at me, and I waved them in. The shapeshifter stepped aside to let Roman and the woman pass.
“Jennifer would like to speak with you,” Barabas said.
Barabas stood in the doorway of the room behind me. He hadn’t slept for the last twenty-four hours, but it barely showed. His face seemed sharper than usual, and his hair had lost some of its spikiness, but other than that he was no worse for wear.
I crossed the balcony back into the room. “Have you been able to get Detective Gray on the phone?”
He shook his head. “We’re still trying.”
Among our contacts in the PAD, Gray was the most sympathetic to the shapeshifters. Normally he always answered the phone, but today he was proving to be elusive. I hoped it was a coincidence. If he was deliberately ducking me, I was in big trouble.
“What does Jennifer want?”
“She didn’t specify. Would you like me to tell her you’re busy?”
“No.” Might as well get this over with.
He nodded and opened the door. “The Consort will see you.”
Jennifer walked in. She looked haggard. Her sweatpants hung on her and she carried a water bottle in her hand. Judging by her eyes, there was probably something stronger than water in it. If my body processed alcohol as fast as hers, I would’ve found me one of those water bottles as well.
Jennifer’s blond bodyguard, Brandon, the one who’d mouthed off to me on the bridge, tried to follow her. Barabas blocked his way. Brandon backpedaled. Barabas followed him out and shut the door behind him.
“What can I do for you?”
Jennifer licked her lips. “I came to talk about Desandra.”
Right. The People and Hugh d’Ambray were practically on our doorstep. Now was the perfect time to bug me about her problems. “You want to have this conversation now?”
I leaned against the wall. “Okay. What about Desandra?”
She swallowed. “I want you to expel her from the Pack.”
Umm. “On what grounds?”
“She threatens the stability of Clan Wolf.”
“Do you have evidence of this?”
Jennifer bared her teeth. “She’s trying to force me out.”
I sat down on a bench next to the window. “You are not synonymous with Clan Wolf. She isn’t threatening the clan. She’s threatening your leadership of it.”
“A change of leadership right now will destabilize the clan. We’re still grieving over Daniel.”
Daniel had been dead for over six months now. She was still grieving and I understood that. But the clan had moved on.
“You’re asking me to interfere with the selection of the alpha for an individual clan. I have no authority to do that. Not only would the other clans scream bloody murder, but even if I could somehow influence the process, I won’t. It’s not my place to tell your people whom they should support and choose to govern themselves.”
“They support me.”
“Then why are you here?”
She struggled with it for a second. “I am the alpha. She is . . .” Jennifer squeezed her hand into a fist. “She’s vulgar. One of her sons is a monster.”
Desandra was right. Jennifer had no intention of letting a baby lamassu grow up in her clan. If I were Desandra, wild horses wouldn’t be able to drag me away from fighting Jennifer for the alpha spot.
“Desandra’s child is an infant and a member of the Pack.”
Jennifer kept going. “What happens when he grows up?”
“We’ll burn that bridge after we cross it.”
“I won’t let her push me out. It’s my place. I’m doing it for my child. For Daniel’s child. She’ll grow up to be the daughter of an alpha.”
She had that half-desperate, half-determined look in her eyes. Right. No intelligent life there. “Why is it so important to be alpha? Why not just step down?”
“Because it’s where I belong. Daniel chose me. He chose me out of all the other women in the Pack so I could stand by his side. Daniel didn’t make mistakes. He died, and now I have to lead the Pack in his memory, because otherwise he would’ve died for nothing.”