The police couldn't go after Smith for anything. There wasn't a body. The only crime they had evidence of was breaking and entering at the convenience store, and the suspect, Estelle, was gone. The Church caravan had pulled up stakes and left town by the next morning. If I hadn't had the recording of the show proving otherwise, I could have believed that none of it had happened. Nothing had changed.
The next day, another mauling death downtown, the fourth this year, made the front page of the newspaper. A sidebar article detailing the police investigation included an interview with Hardin's colleague, Detective Salazar, who happened to mention that one of the detectives on the case had consulted with Kitty Norville, the freaky talk show host. Did that mean the police were seriously considering a supernatural element to these deaths? Were they part of some ritualistic serial killing? Or did they think a werewolf was on the loose downtown? The police made no official comment at this time. That didn't stop the newspaper from speculating. Wildly. The press was calling him "Jack Junior," as in Jack the Ripper.
Sheer, pigheaded determination got me through the day. Putting one foot in front of the other, thinking about things one step at a time, and not considering the big picture. The life-and-death questions. I stopped answering my phone altogether, letting voice mail screen calls. At least the CDC/CIA/FDA government spook didn't leave any messages.
Jessi Hardin left three messages in the space of an hour. Then she showed up at my office. She crossed her arms and frowned. She looked like she needed a cigarette.
"I need you to take a look at the latest scene."
I sat back in my chair. "Why not get that hit man, what was his name . . . oh, yeah, Cormac? He knows his stuff."
"We got paw prints from three of the crime scenes. I took them to the university. Their wolf expert said it's the biggest print he's ever seen. It would have to be a 250-pound wolf. He says nature doesn't make them that big. The precinct is actually starting to listen to me."
"Oh, that's right. You said you didn't trust Cormac."
"If you could come to the scene, identify any smells, or whatever it is you do, that would at least tell me that I'm dealing with the same killer."
"Why don't you just hire a professional?"
She unfolded her arms and started pacing. "Okay. Fine. How did you find out that I talked to the bounty hunter?"
"He told me."
"Great," she muttered.
"He wants to pool information. He has a point."
"Look, at this stage I'm talking to everyone I can think of. I'm even consulting with someone from the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit."
I tilted my head. "You're treating this like a serial killer case? Not an out-of-control monster?"
"Serial killers are monsters. This guy may be a werewolf, but he's acting like a human, not a wolf. His victims aren't random. They're well-chosen: young, vulnerable women. I'm betting he picks them, stalks them, and kills them because they're easy prey." Oh, that was a choice phrase. "His MO is a serial killer's MO, not a wolf's. Or even a werewolf's. Yeah, I've been doing some of that reading you gave me. The wolves usually seem smart enough to stay away from people."
"Yeah. Usually. Look, Detective." I fidgeted, forcing myself to look at her only at the last minute. "I don't think I can go through that again. The last time really bothered me."
"What, did it look tasty to you?"
"Can't I be shocked and traumatized like anyone else?"
Arching an eyebrow skeptically, she said with a heavy dose of sarcasm, "Sorry."
I looked away, my jaw tightening. "I suppose I should feel lucky you aren't treating me like a suspect."
"I'm not being nice. It's a matter of statistics-serial killers rarely turn out to be women."
Saved by statistics. "I may know what he smells like, but I don't know how to find this guy."
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, like she was counting to ten or organizing an argument. Then she looked at me and said, "You don't have to see the body. Just come to the site, tell me anything you can about it. You have to help me, before more women die."
If this conversation had happened at any time other than the day after the show with Estelle, I could have said no. If she hadn't said that particular phrase in that particular way, I might have been able to refuse.
I stood and grabbed my jacket off the back of my chair.
The site of this killing wasn't far from the other, but the street was retail rather than residential. The victim was a late-night convenience store clerk walking home after her shift.
The media vans were there again, thicker than ever. The city had a serial killer, and they were all over it.
"How do they know where to go?" I said. "They must have gotten here the same time your people did."
Hardin scowled. Not at me this time, but at the reporters drifting toward us as she parked. "They listen to police band radio."
The shouting started before I opened the car door.
"Ms. Norville! Kitty Norville! What do you think is behind these killings? What are you talking to the police about? Do you have any statement you can give us?"
On Hardin's recommendation, I ignored them. She formed a barricade between me and the cameras and guided me to the corner.
She showed me the first splatter of blood at the end of the alley behind the row of shops. It looked wrong in the daylight. Too bright, too fake. Half a bloody paw print streaked the concrete nearby. The whole paw would be as big as my head.
The blood started a trail that led into the alley, where a half-dozen investigators worked intently. They blocked my view of anything else. My stomach clenched and I turned away.
Hardin crossed her arms. "Well?"
I smelled it, the same wolf, along with the blood and decay. Those smells were connected to him. Like he didn't bathe, like he wallowed in death.
My nose wrinkled. "He smells . . . damp. Sick. I don't know."
"Is it the same guy?"
"Yeah." I still didn't want to look at the body. I couldn't. "This is worse than the last one, isn't it? He's getting more violent."
"Yeah. Come on. I'll drive you back."
She'd parked around the corner. I stood at the car door for a moment, breathing clean air before I got in.
I caught Hardin watching me.
"Thanks," I said. "Thanks for not making me see it."
"It really gets to you, doesn't it?"
We got in the car finally, and she pulled away from the curb.
I said, "With the last one, the one that I saw, I could work out how he had done it. He wasn't shifted all the way to wolf. He could get the leverage to knock her over at the same time he ripped into her. I don't like knowing that I could do something like that."
"Being physically able to do it and being inclined to do it are two different things. You don't seem like the type."
"You only say that because you haven't met Ms. Hyde."
She eyed me with a mix of curiosity and skepticism at that, her brow furrowed and her smile uncertain. She dropped me off with the usual message: Call me if you find out anything. I promised I would.
I worked late. The building was dark and quiet when I left. Once again, it was just me, the late-night DJ, and the security guard. I hadn't slept well last night, and tonight wasn't looking any better. I didn't really want to go home, where I'd worry myself into a bout of insomnia.
I planned on walking back. It would make me tired and maybe numb my brain enough to sleep.
When I stepped out of the elevator and into the lobby of the building, I smelled something wrong. Something that didn't belong. I looked-a half-dozen people were waiting there, some standing, some sitting on the sofas pushed against the wall.
They smelled cold. They smelled like the clean, well-preserved corpses they were.
The elevator door closed behind me, trapping me.
Pete, the night watchman, was sitting at his desk in the back of the lobby. Just sitting there, hands folded calmly in front of him, staring straight ahead, not blinking, not noticing anything. The vampires had done something to him, put him in some kind of trance.
I flinched, startled at the sound of his voice. Arturo stepped to the center of the lobby, into the spot of illumination formed by the security light. It was like he'd designed this stage himself and timed his entrance perfectly.
Arturo appeared to be in his late twenties, handsome and assured, with shining blond hair swept back from a square face. He wore a black evening coat, open to show the dinner jacket and band-collar dress shirt underneath. He looked like he'd stepped out of an Oscar Wilde play, except that he moved too confidently in the modern era, looked too comfortable in the office lobby setting.
His entourage, three men and two women, moved from the sofa and the shadows to fan out around him, lending their own intimidating presences to his authority.
If vampires ever spend less time playing theatrics and living down to their stereotypes, they might actually take over the world someday.
One of the women was Stella, from the nightclub. She stood a little behind Arturo, frowning imperiously, like a statue. The other woman held Arturo's arm and leaned on his shoulder. She was lithe and pretty, dressed in a corset and a long, chiffony skirt, an image plucked from another century. She touched him like she couldn't bear to be parted from him.
The men stood on the fringes like bodyguards. Rick was among them. When I caught his gaze, he flashed a smile, seeming terribly amused by it all.
They all remained still, staring at me with detached ennui. That didn't mean they weren't paying attention.
"What do you want?" I tried not to sound scared, but my heart was racing and my gaze kept shifting to the glass doors and the street beyond. I tensed my feet, wondering if I could make a run for it.
"To thank you."
I blinked. "Why?"
"For helping Estelle. And for helping me. At least, for trying to." He smiled thinly and tipped his head in a small bow.
His words brought it all back, and I felt drained all over again. I rubbed my face and looked away. "I'm sorry. I don't know what else I could have done. I didn't want it to turn out like that."
"I know," he said, his voice soft. Without the pompous edge, he sounded almost kind. He straightened, discarding that hint of another self, and smoothed the lapel of his coat. "You might also like to know that any grudges toward you I may have acted on in the past are no longer a consideration to me."
I had to think about that for a minute. "You're not going to try and have me killed? No more threats?"
"For the time being. I do reserve the right to change my mind should your behavior warrant it. Good evening, Katherine."
He started to turn. I took a hesitating step after him. He paused and regarded me with a questioning tilt to his head.
It couldn't hurt to ask. Especially when he was being so nice-for him. I plunged ahead. "Did Meg back you in hiring Cormac to come after me?"
He narrowed his gaze, studying me. I glanced away, not wanting to get caught in his stare.
"Yes," he said finally.
I hadn't expected a straight answer. My stomach knotted. Somehow, I still wanted to think there'd just been a misunderstanding. That I'd wake up tomorrow and we'd all be friends again. "Could-could you tell Carl that?"
He chuckled without sound, showing the tips of fangs. "My dear, he already knows. If he hasn't acted on that knowledge, there's nothing I can do about it."
He strolled out the front doors, trailing vampires behind him. Rick was the last to leave. Before passing through the doors, he looked over his shoulder at me and pressed his lips together in a sympathetic smile. Weakly, I waved a farewell.
"What the hell was that all about?" I muttered. I was just filling space, breaking the intense silence, by saying it. By leaving his lair and going through the trouble of coming to see me, risking a potential breach of territory, Arturo had paid me one hell of a compliment. It was unexpected, to say the least.
I was still staring at the door when a voice said, "Kitty, you okay?"
Pete was standing behind his desk, looking like he was getting ready to come over to me and take my temperature. He seemed fine, mildly concerned-and seemed to have no memory of the six vampires who had just occupied his lobby.
"I'm okay," I said, taking a breath to bring me back to earth. "How do you feel, Pete?"
He shrugged. "Fine."
"Good," I said, forcing a smile. "That's good. See you later."
I left the building. My arms were covered with goose bumps.
I'd walked home at midnight, and later, plenty of times. I'd never thought twice about it. Most mundane threats I was likely to meet couldn't hurt me. So I wasn't paying as much attention as I probably should have. The breeze was blowing toward my apartment building. I was walking downwind. I would have smelled the wolf, otherwise.
He ran around the corner of the building full-tilt, his legs pumping, his body streamlined. A flash of fur and bronze eyes streaked at me, and a second later he knocked me over. I sprawled flat on my back, my arms guarding my face.
I thought I'd found the rogue. Vaguely, I reminded myself to call Hardin about it as soon as I could. I would have thought a rogue wolf would recognize what I was and know better than to attack me. But as soon as he breathed on me, I knew him. He smelled like pack. Not the rogue.
I shouted, "Zan, get the fuck off me, you asshole!"
Zan straddled me, his jaw clamped on my forearm. He shook his head, ripping into flesh. When I shouted, he hesitated, but didn't let go of my arm. If I tried to pull away, he'd tear it off.
At least he couldn't infect me with lycanthropy again.
With my free hand, I grabbed his muzzle and squeezed, trying to pry his head away from me. I wasn't strong enough to do that. But I squeezed hard. Cartilage popped under my hand. I twisted my grip, pulling his lips away from his teeth. He coughed, choking, unable to breathe through his nose. He let go.
I shoved away. When I turned, I landed on the injured arm, which gave out. Somehow, I got to my feet. Zan was right there, though, claws out and jaw open. This time when he tackled me, I rolled with him.
I pushed him to the ground and landed on top of him. He was a squirming bundle of muscle. His gray and black fur was slippery. I kicked him under the ribs. He yelped and burst away, all that strength flinging me like I was a feather.
From within me, from a space inside my ribs and heart, my Wolf responded, her own strength surging to break free. She was in danger, and she was going to do something about it.
I clenched my teeth and fought it. I hated losing control. But my bones were melting, my skin was sliding. Right now, it would be a better use of my energy to run like hell than to shape-shift. But she wasn't having it.
I screamed, hunching over myself with the pain of it, angry at Zan for making me do this. The puncture wounds on my arm stretched and seared. While I was huddled and immobile with the Change, Zan attacked me again.
His paws landed on my shoulders; his jaw closed around my neck. I elbowed him, wriggling out of his grasp. His claws dug into me, but his teeth didn't catch. By this time, I had claws as well. I sat on my knees, raised my forelimbs, now stout and ending in thick, razor-tipped fingers, and raked them down his exposed belly.
They snagged and caught with a satisfying rip. I grunted as I put more effort behind it. Six lines of blood welled and matted with his fur. Elation, glee, and joy surged through me-through her. This was her. This power, this joy, this blood. My mouth watered. Her mouth. I had thick canines. Fangs. She wanted a piece of him.
She could have him. He backed off, meeting my gaze. My vision had gone soft and glaring. The lights were too bright and the shadows too clear, but I saw him. We growled, lips curled back from angry teeth. An official challenge between us. I was halfway there, to her, my Wolf. Just let it go-
Like a cannonball, another wolf crashed into Zan. They tumbled, a mess of fur, claws, and furious snarls. I backed away, gagging, hugging myself, trying to hold on to myself.
Cold water. Ice. Clothing. Broccoli. Pull it in. I'd never been so far gone and pulled her back before. I had the list of words, things I thought of that made her go away, at least a little. Sprouts. Green. Daylight. Calm. Music. Bach, "Sheep May Safely Graze." Ha.
And she went away, but it hurt, like my guts were being dragged over razors, like teeth were chewing me from the inside. Bile rose in my throat, sank back, and my stomach churned.
The fight between Zan and the other wolf was over.
Where I had struggled for my life, fought for every inch of ground and barely held my own, the newcomer swatted him once and that was that. Zan whined, tail between his legs, crawling on his belly, smearing blood on the sidewalk as he went. His attacker snarled and bit his face. Zan rolled onto his back and stayed there. The dominant wolf stood over him, growling low.
The attacker was T.J.
As a wolf, he was slate gray, with silver hair like frosting on his muzzle, chest, and belly. His eyes were soft amber. He was big and scary as hell.
He was always saving my ass.
When one wolf showed submission to another, that usually meant they were done. The dominant wolf accepted the other's deference, order in the pack was restored, and they both went their separate ways.
T.J. didn't stop growling.
Jaws open, he dived at Zan. I flinched at the ferocity of the action. The dominant wolf tore into Zan's throat, gnawing without mercy. Zan twisted and yelped, screaming almost, as if his human side was trying to get out. His hind legs pumped the air, looking for purchase to claw into T.J. and failing. T.J. was too fast and ruthless. Arterial blood flowed and pooled on the ground.
With the other's neck fully in the grasp of his teeth, T.J. shook his head until Zan flopped in his grip like a rag. A dozen times he jerked his victim back and forth. Finally, he dropped Zan and backed away.
I fell on my backside, jarring my spine.
My shirt was so ripped up it was falling off. My left side, where Zan had clawed my shoulder, bitten my neck, and torn into my arm, was covered in blood. I cradled my arm to my chest. I couldn't feel it.
T.J.'s face and chest were bloody. Zan's body started shifting to human, slipping back to its original state in death. He lay sprawled, covered in his own blood. The claw wounds that I had given him showed as stripes all the way down his naked torso. His head was almost separated from his body.
He looked a little like Hardin's mauling victim.
T.J. gazed at me like nothing was wrong.
I tried to think of what he was thinking. Besides thinking of the taste of blood filling his mouth. He was tired of Zan, who had caused trouble too many times. He wanted to be finished with Zan once and for all. At least that was what I was thinking. Zan had been stupid coming after me like this. I embarrassed him in front of the pack, and he wanted revenge. So why didn't he challenge me in front of the pack?
I stared at the wolf sitting a few feet away from me. Smug. He looked smug.
"You jerk, I could have taken him! I was doing okay! You still don't think I can take care of myself!"
He probably understood me. He probably didn't care.
"How do you think this is going to look when the cops find a chewed-up body outside my apartment? Huh? Did you think of that? How am I going to explain this? 'Sorry, Officer, he just needed killing.' How is that going to sound?"
He looked at me, not twitching, not growling. Just watching me with utter calm and patience. Like, Are you finished? Ready to come home like a good cub?
"Yeah, well fuck you, too!"
This was pretty funny, me yelling obscenities at an oversized wolf.
I gasped a sob and pushed myself to my feet. I swayed, caught in a dizzy spell. How much blood had I lost? A lot. My arm was slick with it. I stumbled toward the door of my apartment building. I wanted a shower.
"Stop staring at me. I don't want to talk to you." I turned away from him.
He ran off. Gliding like a missile over the concrete, he disappeared into the dark.
Too late, I realized I'd told off my best friend. I needed him. How was I going to get through the night by myself? I hadn't been this hurt since the first night Zan attacked me and brought me into the pack.
Zan wasn't any older than I was. His hair splayed around his head like a crown, soaked with the blood that was pooling on the street. His mouth was open. His eyes were closed. He still smelled like the pack, a familiar, warm scent that jarred with the overwhelming wash of blood. Wrong, wrong. I gagged, but didn't vomit.
I managed to stumble to my apartment. I sat in a kitchen chair and tried to think. I was cold, shivering. Werewolves had rapid healing. I just had to wait for the healing to start. And go into shock in the meantime.
I was more hurt than I wanted to admit. I needed help.
I considered who I could call. No one from my pack. One of my pack had done this to me, and I'd just driven T.J. away. Not too many others would know what to do with me. I thought of Rick, then thought of what he might do when he saw this much blood drenched over everything. He might not have my well-being immediately in mind.
I called Cormac. Again, I called Cormac when any normal, sane person would have called the police. And for the same reason: How would I explain this to the police? To a hospital staff, as the nurses watched my wounds heal themselves? I wouldn't have to explain any of this to Cormac.
I dialed the number, and as usual he didn't answer until after half a dozen or so rings.
"It's Kitty. I need help."
"Where are you?"
"Home." I dropped the phone into its cradle.
I made my way to the kitchen sink and ran water over my arm. I watched the patterns, water turning the blood pink, the holes in my skin that were revealed when the blood washed away. If I stood quietly, I could watch them heal, like time-lapse photography; watch the scabs form and the edges of the holes come together, like dirt filling in a grave. Fascinating.
The next thing I knew, he was standing there. Cormac. I squinted at him. He might have been standing there for hours, watching me.
"How'd you get in?" I said.
"You left your front door open."
"What happened to you?"
"Sibling rivalry. Never mind."
He was as cool as ice. Never once broke his tough-guy tone. He searched the kitchen cupboards until he found a glass. He leaned over the sink, turned the faucet away from my arm, filled the glass with water, and handed it to me. I drank and felt better. A drink of water. I should have thought of that.
"You look like hell," he said.
"I feel worse."
"You're not hurt that bad. Looks like you're healing pretty quick."
"It's not that." Wolf was still gnawing at my insides for putting her on the leash.
"Have anything to do with the mangled body in the driveway?"
Shit. Had he called the police? "Yeah."
"Did you do it?"
"No," I said harshly.
"Anyone you know do it? Was it the rogue?"
"He-the guy outside-was a werewolf, too. Pack squabble." He watched me, frowning, his eyes unreadable. Like a cop at an interrogation, waiting for the suspect to crack. My throat felt dry. "Do you believe me?"
He said, "Why'd you call me for help?"
"I can't trust anyone, and you said you owed me. Didn't you?"
"Don't move." He went to the dresser on the other side of the room and opened drawers, looking for something. I stayed where I was, leaning on the counter until he came back. He had a towel over his shoulder and held a shirt out to me.
He turned away, staring at the opposite wall as I removed the shredded T-shirt and pulled on the tank top.
"I'm done," I said when I was finished changing.
He returned to the sink, wet the towel, and turned off the water. The place seemed quiet without the running faucet. He handed me the towel.
I sat in a chair and started cleaning the blood off while Cormac watched.
"Is Cormac your real name?"
"It seems to work all right."
The blood wouldn't come off. I just kept smearing it around.
Sighing, he took the towel from me. "Here. Let me." He held my wrist, straightened my arm, and started wiping off blood with much more focus and vigor than I'd given the task.
My arm had been numb. Now, it started to sting. Weakly, I tried to pull away. "Aren't you afraid of catching it? All the blood-"
"Lycanthropy isn't that contagious. Mostly through open wounds, and even then mostly when you're a wolf. I don't think I've ever heard of anyone catching it from a werewolf in human form."
"How did you learn so much about werewolves? How did you get into this line of work?"
He shrugged. "Runs in the family." Efficiently, as if he'd had lots of practice cleaning up blood, he washed my arm, shoulder, and neck. He even cleaned the blood out from under my fingernails. On both hands. Zan's blood, that time. "Don't you have a pack? Shouldn't one of your buddies be doing this?"
"I'm kind of on the outs with them right now." Feeling was coming back to the arm, which was bad, because it hurt, throbbing from neck to fingers. I started shaking.
"Jesus, I didn't think werewolves went into shock." He threw the towel into the sink, stomped to the bed and grabbed the blanket off it. He draped it over my shoulders, moving to my front to bring the edges close together, tugging me into a warm cocoon. I snuggled into the shelter of the blanket, sighing deeply, finally letting go of the tension.
Just how long had it been since I'd felt warm and safe? And how ironic, that I should feel like that now, with him. The werewolf hunter. He was right; I must have been in shock.
Before he could draw his hand away from the blanket, I reached for it. I was fast and gentle; he didn't even flinch when I pressed his hand against my shoulder. The pressure was there before he realized that I'd moved.
Members of a pack feel safer in groups. Touch holds them together. Two members of a pack can rarely be in the same room without touching every now and then, sometimes nothing more than the backs of their hands brushing together, or the furred shoulders of wolves bumping. Touch meant everything was going to be okay. For that moment, for a split second, I wanted Cormac to be pack.
Then the human voice came to the fore and noticed how freaking odd this must have looked to him. I pulled my hand away and looked down, shaking my head. "Sorry. I-"
He took my hand back. My eyes widened. He curled my fingers into his grip and squeezed. His skin was warm, still a little damp from the wet towel. The touch rooted me, brought me away from the pain. Everything was going to be okay.
He was still kneeling by my chair, which meant his head was a little lower than mine. I looked down on him, slightly. He was in the perfect place for me to kiss him.
I touched his cheek with my free hand and brushed my lips against his, lightly, just to see what he would do. He hesitated, but he didn't pull away.
Then he kissed back, and he was hungry. His mouth was warm, his lips active, grasping. I tried to match his energy, move my lips with his, letting the heat of attraction burn through my body, through my muscles. I wrapped my uninjured arm around his neck and slid off the chair, pressing myself to him. He held me there, his hands against my back. He moved his kisses from my lips to my chin, up my jaw, to my ear. Clinging to him, I stifled a gasp.
I hadn't been with a normal, nonlycanthropic human since I'd become a werewolf. I'd been afraid to be with a normal human. Afraid of what I might do if I lost it. But Cormac could take care of himself. Being with him was different from being with a lycanthrope. I hadn't realized it would be different. I was stronger than he was. I could feel the strength in my muscles pressing against him. I could hold him away or squeeze him until he cried out. It made me feel powerful, more in control than I ever had been in my life. I wanted to take him in, all of him. I could hear the blood rushing through his body, sense the strain of desire in his tendons. He smelled different from lycanthropes. More . . . civilized, like soap and cars and houses. He didn't smell like pack, and that made him new. Exciting. I decided I liked the way he smelled.
I buried my face in his hair and took a deep breath. I squirmed out of his grip so that I could work my way down his whole body, tracing the whole scent of him, down his neck, along the collar of his shirt, down his torso and the hint of chest hair through the fabric, across his chest to his armpit, which burst with his smell. I lingered there, then nuzzled my way down to the waistband of his jeans, and oh, I couldn't wait to find out how he smelled down there . . .
Grabbing my shoulders, Cormac pushed me away and held me at arm's length.
"What are you doing?"
"You smell fresh." I strained toward him, my eyes half-closed, wanting to plunge back into the scent of him.
He stood, putting space between us. "You're not human." He marched away.
I knelt on the kitchen floor, my knees digging into the tile, my heart pounding, reaching for the body that wasn't there.
After a moment, I wandered to the other half of the apartment. He leaned against the opposite wall, his arms crossed, defensive, staring at the door like he couldn't understand why he didn't just leave.
"I'm sorry," I said. I wasn't sure what I was apologizing for. For being what I was, maybe. I couldn't help that, though, so I didn't want to apologize for it. So I was apologizing for this. For calling him. For kissing him. For not guessing how he would react.
He started to say one thing, then shook his head. He looked at the floor, then looked at me.
"How did you get like this? You're not the kind that goes asking for it."
I sat at the edge of the bed and hugged my knees. My arm was getting better by the minute. The punctures were closed, covered with red scabs, fading to pink. The pain was turning to an itch.
What had that government spook asked me? Who did I go to when I needed advice, when I needed to talk? What would I say if someone called the show and told me my story? Tough break, kid. Deal with it. But that didn't assuage the anger I still felt. The anger I still hadn't dealt with. I'd never told anyone the whole story, not even T.J. or anyone else in the pack.
I wasn't sure Cormac was the right person to tell, but I didn't know when I'd get another chance to talk.
"Wrong place at the wrong time," I said, and told him the story.
Bill was cute. I'd give him that much. Sandy brown hair, square jaw, winning smile. But he was only interested in one thing from me. He was a frat boy type, and I was . . . well, I was confused. He impressed me because he was cute and arrogant.
We were at a Fourth of July party in Estes Park, in the mountains, where they launched fireworks into the valley and the noise echoed back and forth between the hills. He'd spent the whole time talking smack with his friends, while gripping me around the waist like I was some kind of accessory. That was what I got for being blond and looking good in a miniskirt. My face hurt from forcing it to smile at everyone. I didn't have a good time, and I was ready for the night to be over.
He spent the car ride back to town crawling his hand up my leg, trying to get under my skirt.
"I just want to go home," I said for the fifth time, pushing his hand away.
"But it's still early."
So he drove, and I stared out the window. When he turned onto a side road, it was in the middle of nowhere and there wasn't much I could do about it.
"Where are we going?" Scrub oak and pine trees lined the narrow road. It led to a trailhead near a river. "Turn around."
The place was popular with hikers and mountain bikers during the day. But this was midnight. Bill shut off the headlights and pulled to a corner of the parking lot shaded by overhanging branches.
I grabbed the door handle, but he pushed the automatic lock as he stopped the engine.
He moved so fast, I bet he'd done this before.
He held my arms, pinning them, and clambered to my side of the car, pressing me to the bucket seat. Two hundred pounds of Bill weighed on me, and no matter how much I squirmed, I couldn't get away. I started hyperventilating.
"Relax, baby. Just relax."
I kept saying, No, stop, no, please, the whole time. I'd never been so scared and angry. When he brought his face close, I bit him. He slapped me and pounded into me that much harder.
I tasted blood. I'd bitten my cheek, and my nose was bleeding.
With a sigh, he rolled away finally. It still hurt.
I scrabbled at the lock until it clicked, then I opened the door and tumbled out.
Bill shouted after me. "Don't you want a ride back? Christ!" He started up his car and pulled away.
I ran. Legs weak, breath heaving, I ran away. I only wanted to get away.
A full moon shone that night. Weird shadows lit the grass and scrub. This was stupid; I had no idea where I was, no idea how I was going to get home. I slid into the grass and sobbed. Stupid, Kitty. This whole night was stupid and look where it got me.
A picnic area lay a little ways from the parking lot. Shelters covered some of the tables. I sat down at one, pulling my knees to my chin and hugging myself. My panties were still in Bill's car. I figured I'd sit here until some jogger found me in the morning and called the cops. I could do that. Hug myself to stop shivering, maybe go to sleep.
In the distance, a wolf howled. Far away. Nothing to do with me.
Maybe I dozed. Maybe I thought it was a nightmare at first when the shrubs nearby rustled. A shadow moved. Its fur was like shadow, silvery and brindled. It turned bronze eyes on me. Canine nostrils quivered.
It stepped closer, head low, sniffing, never turning from me. The wolf was as big as a Great Dane, with bulky shoulders and a thick ruff of fur. Even with me sitting on the table, it could reach me without trying.
Later, I learned that the wolf could smell the blood from my injuries, and instinct had told it a wounded animal was near. Easy prey.
I trembled like a rabbit, and like a rabbit, the minute I thought of running, it pounced.
I screamed as its claws raked my leg and I lurched away, falling off the table. I kept screaming when its jaw clamped on my hip. Using that as purchase, it climbed up my body, scratching the whole way. My flesh gave way like butter, pieces of it flaying with every touch.
Panic, panic, panic. I kicked its face. Startled, it backed off for a moment. In an adrenaline haze, I jumped and grabbed hold of the edge of the shelter's roof. Gasping, clutching, gritting my teeth, I swung one leg up. The wolf jumped, scraped claws down the other leg. I screamed, falling-but no, I clutched the edge, the wolf lost its grip, and I caught one leg over the edge, then the other. Lying there, spent, I dared to look down.
The wolf looked back at me, but it couldn't reach me. It turned and ran.
I didn't have the energy to move another muscle, so I fell unconscious, one arm hanging over the edge of the shelter.
Something squeezed my hand. The sky was light, pale with dawn.
With a shriek, I pulled my hands close and started shaking. Blood caked my legs, my skirt, my shirt. Blood had pooled on the roof of the shelter, but it was dried. I wasn't bleeding anymore.
Carefully, I inched closer to the edge.
Hands gripped there, and a woman hoisted herself up. I scrambled crablike away from her, all the way to the other edge. I looked down to where a couple of men stood, watching me with cold eyes.
The woman knelt at the edge of the roof. She had long black hair, brown eyes, and moved with a dancer's grace, settling to a seated position without taking her gaze off me.
"What's your name?" she said.
I looked around. A half-dozen of them surrounded the shelter, men in various states of scruffiness, unshaven and uncombed, wearing leather or denim jackets, T-shirts, and jeans. All of them were barefoot. The woman also wore jeans and a T-shirt without much thought to style. Still, they all managed to intimidate, radiating strength just in the way they stood.
I didn't answer.
"The bites, the scratches-do they hurt?"
I had to think about it, which meant they didn't hurt. I touched my hip. It was tender, but not painful.
"Look at the wounds," she said. "What do you see?"
I pulled up my shirt, exposing where the wolf had taken a bite. A scar, red and healing, maybe a week old, puckered the skin. The gouges on my legs were pink lines, closed and healing.
I started hyperventilating again. I managed to gasp, "How do you know what happened?"
She said, "One of our people attacked you. We're here to take responsibility for his actions."
She crept toward me, her eyes focused on me, her nostrils quivering. I flinched, but if I backed away any farther, I'd fall off.
"I won't hurt you. None of us will hurt you. Please, tell me your name."
All I wanted to do in that moment was fall into her arms, because I believed that she wouldn't hurt me. "Kitty," I said in a small voice.
For a moment, she looked disbelieving. Then, she smiled. "Oh, that's rich. You're way too nice for this life, kid."
"I don't understand."
"You will. You'll have to. I'll help. T.J.?"
Hands appeared on the edge of the roof behind me. One of the men pulled himself up easily, like he was hopping onto a tabletop and not climbing up a seven-foot-high shelter. He crouched at the edge, one hand resting on the roof to steady himself. He was-God, he was gorgeous. Tanned, well-built, biceps straining at the sleeves of his white T-shirt, dark hair flopped around an intense face.
He radiated energy and scared the daylights out of me. I backed away, scraping my knees on the roof's asphalt shingles. But then she was there, just as intense, trapping me. I curled in on myself, on the edge of screaming. Something inside me started to rip.
"Who are you people?"
The man, T.J., said, "We're the pack."
A convulsion wrenched me, and I blacked out.
I fell in and out of consciousness for the next three days. I remembered a little-the smell of the park that morning, pine trees and dew. Someone carried me. Someone else-her, the woman-kept a hand on my shoulder. Voices, which I couldn't keep straight.
"She smells like sex."
"Sex and fear."
"There's blood. Not from the bites and cuts. Meg, look."
I shook my head and tried to struggle, but I was like a baby, arms flailing without gaining purchase, too weak to pull away. "No, stop, don't touch, don't touch . . ." I gasped.
"She was raped," the woman said.
"You don't suppose Zan-"
"It doesn't smell like Zan."
"Someone else, then. Might explain how she ended up out here."
"Wish she'd talk."
"She will later. She's got a couple of days of this yet." I groaned. I had homework, I couldn't-
I opened my eyes.
I lay on a bed. A sheet was tangled around me, like I'd been thrashing in my sleep. I wore a T-shirt-nothing else-and I was clean. I was cold, and sweat matted my hair. I took a deep breath-I didn't know how long I'd been sleeping, but I felt exhausted, like I'd been running. I didn't want to move.
The bronzed idol from the park was sitting in a chair by the bed, watching me. The woman moved from another chair to sit at the foot of the bed. I looked back at them, waiting to feel panic. I'd been kidnapped. Some cult thing. Did Bill put them up to this? None of that seemed right, and I didn't feel afraid at all. Somehow, I felt safe. Like I knew they were here to watch over me, to take care of me. I was sick. Very sick.
"How do you feel?" he said.
"Not good. Tired. Wrung out."
He nodded like he understood. "Your metabolism's all fucked up. It'll work itself out in a few days. Are you hungry?"
I hadn't thought so, but as soon as he said it, my belly felt hollow and I was starving.
"Yeah, I guess I am." I sat up.
He left through a door in what appeared to be a well-lit bedroom. Meg studied me. I looked away, feeling suddenly shy. T.J. returned carrying a platter with a steak, like he'd had it waiting. I looked skeptically at it. I wasn't much of a steak eater.
He set it on the bedstand and handed me a knife. Reluctant, I sliced into it. It bled. Profusely.
I dropped the knife. "I don't like them rare."
"You do now."
I thought I was going to cry. Glaring at him, my voice barely a whisper, I said, "What's happening to me? Why aren't I afraid of you?"
He knelt beside the bed. I looked down on him now, which was comforting. Meg came around to the other side and sat next to me, so close I could feel her body heat. I was trapped, and my heart started racing.
She took my hand, then raised both our hands to my face. "What do you smell?"
Was she nuts? But with our hands right in front of my nose, I couldn't help but smell as I breathed. I expected to smell skin. Maybe soap. Normal people smells. But-there was more. I closed my eyes and breathed deep. Something rich and vibrant, like earth and mountain air. It wasn't soap or new-age deodorant or anything like that. It was her. I calmed down.
Before I knew it, T.J. was sitting beside me, an arm around my shoulder, pressing his body close to me and breathing into my hair. It wasn't sexual; there wasn't anything sexual about it-that was so hard to explain to people who didn't know.
"This is our pack," Meg said, holding me from the other side. "You're safe here."
I believed her.
By now, Cormac was sitting on the floor. He seemed more relaxed. He didn't have that look on his face that he'd had when he left me, like he'd eaten something sour.
"That's shitty luck," he said finally.
I shook my head, smiling wryly. I'd made my peace with it. Telling the story, I realized who I'd been most angry at all this time.
I said, "Now ask me which one I think is the real monster. Zan-he was following instinct. He couldn't control it. But Bill-he knew exactly what he was doing. And he wasn't sorry." After a pause I added, "That's Zan, out in the street."
When I leaned back, I could see out the window. From the second floor, I could see the street, but not the spot where Zan was. I said, "You think anyone's called the cops yet?"
"Depends," he said. "How much noise did you all make?"
I couldn't remember. To the casual listener, it might have sounded like stray dogs fighting. I'd have to call Carl, to find out what I should do about Zan. I couldn't just leave him out there.
"You should get some rest. You may heal quick, but you still lost a lot of blood. You going to be okay on your own?"
I thought about it a minute, and thought I would be okay. Maybe I'd go to T.J.'s and see if he'd made it home yet.
"Yeah, I think so." I smiled crookedly. "I'm glad you're not the type to shoot all werewolves on principle."
He may have actually smiled at that, but it was thin-lipped and fleeting. "Just give me an excuse, Norville." He made a haphazard salute and left the apartment.
Man, that guy scared me. He also made my knees weak, and I wasn't sure if the two were related.
He was right, I was tired, but before I could sleep I had to call Carl. I was reaching for the phone when the door opened and Cormac returned.
Following him were Detective Hardin and three uniformed cops.