Kitty Takes a Holiday (Kitty Norville #3) - Page 5

Gustaf huffed a little. “Every vampire was once a human being. The best of us never forget our roots.”

Even if they had to suck those roots dry… “But you give the worst human beings the power and immortality of a vampire, and what do you get? The Third Reich— forever. See, you know why 1 think vampires haven't taken over the world?” God, I sounded snotty. I always hated it when people this called into my show. Crabby know-it-alls. 'Why?” Ariel said.

“Theatrics.”

“Theatrics?” Ariel repeated, sounding amused, which irritated me.

“Yeah, theatrics. The posing, the preening, the drawn-out stories of romance and seduction when the reality is Gustaf here was probably just some starry-eyed kid who got screwed over. You take all those petty, backstabbing, power trippy games that happen when you get any group together, multiply it by a few centuries, and you end up with people who are too busy stroking their own egos and polishing their own reputations to ever find the motivation to take over the world.”

Aloof, Gustaf spoke. “Have you ever met a vampire?”

“I know a couple,” 1 said. “And they're individuals, just like anyone else. Which is probably really why they haven't taken over the world. They couldn't agree on anything. Aren't I right, Gustaf?”

Ariel said, “Sue, you're sounding just a bit angry about all this. Why is that?”

I hadn't expected the question. In fact, I'd kind of expected her to move onto the next call by now. But no, she was probing. Which left me to decide: Was I going to answer her question? Or blow it off? What would make her sound like an idiot, without making me sound like an idiot?

I suddenly realized: I hated being on this end of a radio show. But I couldn't stop now.

“Angry? I'm not angry. This isn't angry. This is sarcastic.'”

“Seriously,” Ariel said, not letting it go. “Our last caller practically worships vampires. Why are you so angry?”

Because I was stuck in the woods through nobody's fault but my own. Because somewhere along the way I'd lost control of my life.

“I'm tired of the stereotype,” I said. “I'm tired of

so many people buying into the stereotype.”

“But you're not afraid of them. That anger doesn't come from fear.”

“No, it doesn't,” I said, hating the uncertainty in my own voice. I knew very well how dangerous vampires could be, especially when you came face-to-face with one in a dark room. I'd seen it firsthand. They smelled dangerous. And here she was promoting one like he was a damned philanthropist.

“Then what are you afraid of?”

Losing. I was afraid of losing. She had the show and I didn't. I was supposed to ask the difficult questions. What I said was, “I'm not afraid of anything.”

Then I hung up.

I'd turned the radio off, so the cabin was silent. Part of me wanted to turn it back on and hear what Ariel said about my—or rather Sue's—abrupt departure, as well as what else Gustaf had to say about the inherent nobility of vampires. In a rare show of wisdom, I kept the radio off. Ariel and Gustaf could keep each other.

I started to throw the phone, and amazingly refrained. I was too tired to throw it.

Afraid. Who was she to accuse me of being afraid? The one with the radio show, that was who.

* * *

I couldn't sleep. Part of me was squirming with glee at the mighty blow I had struck against my competition. Er, mighty blow, or petty practical joke? I'd been like a kid throwing rocks at the old haunted house. I hadn't even broken Ariel's stride. I'd do better next time.

The truth was, I was reduced to crank calls, followed by bouts of insomnia.

Run. Let me go running.

Restlessness translated to need. Wolf was awake and wouldn't settle down. Let's go, let's go—

No.

This was what happened: I couldn't sleep, and the night forest beckoned. Running on four legs for a couple of hours would certainly wear me out to the point where I'd sleep like a rock. And wake up naked in the woods, kicking myself for letting it happen. I called the shots, not that other side of me.

I slept in sweatpants and a tank top. The air was dry with the heat and smell of ashes from the stove. I wasn't cold, but I huddled inside my blankets, pulling them firmly over my shoulders. I pulled a pillow over my head. I had to get to sleep.

I

might even have managed it for a minute or two. I might have dreamed, but I couldn't remember about what. I did remember moving through cotton, trying to claw my way out of a maze of fibers, because something was wrong, a smell in the air, a noise that shouldn't have been there. When I should have only heard wind in the trees and an occasional snap of dry wood in the stove, I heard something else… rustling leaves, footsteps.

I dreamed of a wolf's footsteps as she trots through dead leaves on the forest floor. She is hunting, and she is very good. She is almost on top of the rabbit before it bolts. It only runs a stride before she pounces on it, bites it, and it screams in death—

The rabbit's scream was a horrible, high-pitched, gut-wrenching, teakettle whistlelike screech that should never come out of such an adorable fuzzy creature.

I jerked upright, my heart thudding fast, every nerve searing.

The noise had lasted only a second, then silence. It had come from right outside my door. I gasped for breath and listened: wind in the trees, a hiss of embers from the stove.

I pushed back the covers and stood from the bed.

Moving softly, barefoot on the wood floor, I went to the front room. My heartbeat wouldn't slow. We may have to run, we may have to fight. I curled my fingers, feeling the ghosts of claws. If I had to, I could shift to Wolf. I could fight.

I watched the window for movement outside, for shadows. I only saw the trees across the clearing, dark shapes edged with silver moonlight. I took a slow breath, hoping to smell danger, but the scent from the stove overpowered everything.

I touched the handle of the front door. I ought to wait until morning. I should wait until sunlight and safety. But something had screamed on my front porch. Maybe I'd dreamed it.

I opened the door.

There it was, lying stretched out in front of me. The scent of blood and bile hit me. The thing smelled like it had been gutted. The rabbit was stretched out, head thrown back, the fur of its throat and belly dark, matted, and ripped. The way it smelled, it ought to have been sitting in a pool of blood. It didn't even smell like rabbit— just guts and death.