Kitty Goes to War Page 23

“I’ve got a situation,” I said, and tried to explain. “It turns out the army’s had a unit of werewolves operating in Afghanistan. It’s kind of a long story. They worked as a pack, but then their captain—their alpha—was killed. The unit fell apart, the soldiers lost control. The survivors were brought back home. One of them is being court-martialed on murder charges—he killed three other men in the unit. I’ve been asked to help rehabilitate the other two. I’ve met them. They’re… I have no idea what to do with them. I’ve never seen anything like it. Every little thing triggers a reaction from them. They’re always right on the edge of shifting. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some post-traumatic stress going on, and couple that with the lycanthropy—they’re a mess.”

Rick rubbed his chin as he listened, looking into a middle distance before bringing his gaze to me. “This isn’t the first time werewolves have been used as soldiers,” Rick said. “There’s a long history of it, in fact. Werewolves tend to be fierce, indestructible.”

“So how do I help them? How do I get them to be people again, and not berserker monsters?”

“The problem is not too many people worry about making werewolf soldiers human again. They’re disposable troops.”

“Excuse me? Disposable?”

“To be unleashed when needed—if you’ll forgive the pun—and shunted aside when not. It explains a lot about certain attitudes toward them, though, doesn’t it? As well as how the culture of bounty hunters got started.”

I could only stare, appalled. At the same time, it made sense. Cultivate that instinct to kill, then set it loose. Everything else was extraneous.

“But… but I know a werewolf in D.C., Ahmed, who takes in and helps out-of-control wolves. And there are other safe havens, wolf packs that help—”

“New werewolves, Kitty. Young wolves, cubs who don’t know what they’re doing but can be taught. These are hardened warriors.”

“Then you’re saying there’s nothing I can do.”

“If anyone could find a way, it’ll be you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You are a very hopeful person. Those werewolves are in good hands. Or paws.”

I was glad someone thought so. I stared into my glowy martini. It’s never been done before was not the kind of advice I’d been hoping for.

Rick broke my depressed musings. “So. Have you heard from Anastasia lately?”

Anastasia. One of the baddest-assed vampires I’d ever met, the kind you didn’t want to meet in a brightly lit room, never mind a dark alley. She was a schemer, too. And not one of the bad guys. But I didn’t know I’d go so far as to say she was one of the good guys, either. She’d recently recruited me to be on the lookout for the actual bad guys, who were trying to take over the world, or something so equally awful that it didn’t make a difference. I kept saying I wanted to be left alone. Then I contradicted myself by taking on projects. Like Tyler and Walters.

“Not since Montana,” I said.

“Probably for the best.”

“Yes, probably. I expect when I do hear from her it’ll be because the world is ending.”

“I wouldn’t joke about that,” he said, and he wasn’t smiling.

I leaned forward. “Why not? You know something I don’t?”

“The end of the world is all some vampires have to look forward to.”

I hated that. Every vampire I’d ever met loved blithely throwing out these portentous proclamations of superiority and doom and they expected to have me shaking in my booties. I rolled my eyes.

“Are you one of those?”

“No. It’s not all that healthy to believe the world was put here for my entertainment.”

“Well. Kudos to you.” I raised my martini glass to him.

“Back to your soldiers. Are you planning on setting them loose anytime soon?”

It was a leading question—the full moon was coming up in a week. Were Tyler and Walters going to spend it indoors or out? I shrugged. “Depends. Do you want me to let you know if I do? Warn you?”

“That’s all right. I trust you to make the right decision.”

“Well. Miracles never cease.”

“Amen to that.”

Which, upon reflection, was a very strange thing to hear a vampire say.

Chapter 9

I BROUGHT FOOD to my next meeting with the soldiers. A bundle of take-out lamb kabobs from a Greek place, juicy meat and not much else. I hoped they’d go over well. Food always made things better, right? Tyler and Walters perked up when I set the Styrofoam boxes on the table, their noses working as the room filled with the smell of warm cooked meat. I wondered when was the last time they’d had a real meal.

Their expressions and stances changed when Ben followed me into the cell. Tyler at the table, Walters from his usual place hunched up on the cot, glowered at him, lips parted, like they were thinking of growling. Their noses wrinkled, as if they smelled something bad. Tyler flexed his hands, and his shoulders bunched up. When I introduced him, they looked up him and down, judging. While they recognized him from the scuffle in the woods, they hadn’t gotten a good look at him then. Now they were deciding whether they could take him down. Who was bigger, tougher, and all that. I wanted to cling to Ben, to say, You can’t have him, he’s mine, I’m his, hands off. Like Ben couldn’t stand up for himself.

This was where Ben’s human background served him well. As a werewolf, he didn’t look that tough: lean, wiry, unassuming. Not as built and hardcore as someone like Tyler. But as a criminal defense lawyer, he had that stare. That smirk. He’d spent a lot of time in jails and courtrooms dealing with not-very-nice people, and not a lot phased him. He projected that image now, and it made the tough guys look at him twice.

They didn’t shake hands or go through any of the Hey, what’s up, how’s it going greeting rituals that normally accompanied a meeting of total strangers. Instead, they exchanged a subtle acknowledgment of politeness: no one was going to get offended, no one was going to start a fight, no one was going to try to assert dominance over anyone else. Tyler nodded and glanced away, acknowledging Ben’s presence, not offering a challenge. Walters studied us while not engaging. He’d throw occasional glances—trying not to stare, which would have looked like a challenge. I couldn’t figure him out. I couldn’t tell if he was scared or just stubborn and refusing to play nice.

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