Kitty Goes to War Page 13

The wolf jumped at me. I fought instinct, which told me to either run or cower, to curl my back, roll over, and show my belly or get the hell out. I didn’t. I lunged right back at him, knowing I was going to get hurt. But if I backed down, we were all screwed.

We crashed into each other, and I grabbed at him, digging my fingers into his fur and shoving, twisting out of the way, using his momentum to get him away from me. His jaws were open, saliva gleaming on long, bared fangs ready to bite and tear, but he swung out. His claws reached for purchase and scraped down my arm, which I had raised to protect myself. I lost more skin that way

I clenched my jaw to keep from screaming.

It was chaos. The silver-gray wolf had taken his leader’s cue and attacked Becky; the knot of wolf bodies and fur writhed a few feet away from me. The alpha was gathering himself for another jump, and I turned to face him, because what else could I do? Nearby, Tyler had doubled over, fists pressed to his temples. He was fighting the Change, groaning through clenched teeth.

Before leaping again, the alpha hesitated, looking outward, ears perked up. I smelled it before I heard or saw it: newcomers, human scents on the breeze. Machinery and gun oil. Then I heard the voices, and people crunching through the forest.

“Kitty!” It was Ben. He came running over the ridge and braced against the trunk of a pine.

The alpha wolf swung toward him, teeth bared. No, not Ben, stay away from him—

I was about to hiss and pounce on the alpha when a whip-crack stabbed through the air, and the wolf in front of me yelped.

Stafford and Shumacher were on the ridge, bracing air rifles. And so was Cormac. They’d given him a third tranquilizer gun.

“Not that one, she’s ours!” I heard Ben say.

A second shot whined out, and a third. Tyler got the next one, and the alpha got another. Tyler arced his back and fell, and that last shock sent him over the edge. He screamed, and the teeth he bared were wolf fangs. He tore his shirt, struggling to get out of it, and kicked at his pants. The tranquilizer didn’t seem to be slowing him down any.

Didn’t the military have a few choice technical terms for situations like this?

I was bleeding, panicked, and desperate. Wolf scraped her claws down the inside of my body. Stabs of pain seared my gut, but I had to ignore it, I couldn’t shift, I couldn’t. I looked around, assessing. The alpha had slowed; he looked like he wanted to attack, but his limbs kept slipping out from under him. Good.

Becky and her opponent didn’t seem to notice the commotion. She kept extricating herself from his grip, and he kept attacking her, pouncing, trying to get his teeth over her neck. He’d get his body over her, and she’d slip away. I couldn’t tell if he was trying to rip her up or rape her. I wanted to jump in and tear at the guy myself. That would only make the situation worse; they couldn’t hit the male with the tranquilizer while the two wolves were tangled up.

“Becky, back off! Get away from him!” I shouted.

Twisting, she bit at his face, kicked away from him, and ran. He got up to chase her, but more darts followed. He flinched and yelped as they struck his haunch. He tried a few more steps. Then he fell.

It seemed to take a long time for calm to settle over this corner of the forest. We all paused, waiting for something to happen. We only started moving when nothing did.

Tyler had turned before the tranquilizer took hold. He was a reddish-tawny wolf, huge like the others, half tangled in his clothes, slumped to his side, tongue lolling. I stood in the middle of a group of drugged-out wolves.

Across the carnage, Becky looked at me, her back and tail low, panic in her eyes. Blood marred her snout. I couldn’t tell if it was hers or his. I nodded at her and whispered, “Go. We’ll find you.”

She ran. Running for a few miles—or ten or twenty—would calm her down. We were close to home; she’d find our den and settle down. And I didn’t want Stafford and Shumacher getting their hands on her.

“Wait a minute—” Stafford called, pointing at her.

“She’s mine, you can’t have her!” I shouted at him, baring my teeth.

Everybody froze. I took it all in, each person: Dr. Shumacher, wide-eyed and frightened; Stafford, tense and uncertain, along with a pair of accompanying soldiers; and Cormac, holding the rifle loosely in both hands. Classified each as predator or prey, ones I had to worry about and ones I didn’t. Wolfish thinking. Shumacher: prey. Stafford: wasn’t worried about him, which struck me as ironic. But Cormac—I could imagine him raising the weapon and firing in a heartbeat. Despite the set, unflinching expression on his face, I could see him deciding whether or not to fire.

Then came Ben, sauntering down the slope toward me, gaze down, ready to circle me, all of his signals calming. “Kitty. It’s okay. Pull it together,” he said gently. Mate to mate, he spoke to me, and I listened. I stood for a moment just breathing, pulling myself back into myself.

I could look around and see past the chaos. This had probably gone as reasonably well as I could have expected. But I had secretly hoped the rogues would actually listen to me.

If it had just been Tyler, we’d have walked out of here without a scratch. As it was, my right arm was covered in blood.

Ben reached me, and we stood face to face. The look on him was wry, full of worry and exasperation. “Are you okay?”

I tried to scrape off some of the blood and more welled up. “Yeah.”

“He got your face, too.” He rubbed a thumb across my jawline; it stung. Ben’s hand came away bloody. The alpha must have nicked me there when he sideswiped my cheek. I kept telling myself it could have been worse. I leaned my face on Ben’s shoulder and let him pull me into a hug.

“Mr. O’Farrell,” Shumacher said, her voice panicked. “Be careful, her blood’s contagious!”

I hadn’t told her about Ben. She hadn’t spotted him as a werewolf. I giggled into Ben’s shoulder.

“It’s okay, Doctor,” Ben called to her over his shoulder. “I’m not worried.”

“But—”

“I think you should be worried about them.” He nodded at the unconscious wolves, bulky shadows in the fading daylight.

Shumacher had to leave us alone. In Ben’s arms, I came back to myself.

When I was finally ready to stand on my own, I pulled away. But I kept hold of Ben’s hand.

“Was all this worth it?” he said.

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