Kitty Goes to War Page 29

I touched Tyler’s arm, half expecting him to jump away and snarl, the first step to starting a fight. He just looked at me, at my hand on his arm, as if he was trying to figure out a code.

“It’s okay. They’re my pack. They’re friends,” I said.

He relaxed a notch, and so did Walters. I kept contact with Tyler for a moment—contact meant comfort within the pack. I didn’t know if he was quite pack yet. I didn’t know if that was what we were doing here—bringing them into the pack. Maybe we were. Tyler and Walters still watched the other wolves warily, and wouldn’t look at anything else.

“Let’s sit down,” I said, and steered them toward a table in back.

At the table, a weird kind of dance ensued. I just grabbed the first chair I came to. Ben stood back a little, as if he knew what was going to happen. Tyler and Walters slinked around me, looking over their shoulders, sidling along until they reached the chairs closest to the wall, which they pulled back and arranged so they were looking out. They weren’t quite sitting at the table, but they could keep everyone in the place, as well as all the exits, in view. It wasn’t quite natural, even for werewolves. I blinked at them, confused.

Ben leaned over and whispered, “Backs to the wall. It’s a soldier thing. Haven’t you seen Cormac do that?”

I’d only recently seen Cormac in a setting like this to be able to judge. Before then, it was all shadowy nighttime battles, and then the prison visiting room. But Ben was right. I suddenly felt like I was baby-sitting dynamite.

Tyler and Walters perched on their seats and glared out at the world. I settled in across from them, attempting to send out all the soothing vibes I could. Be calm, we’re all friends here.

Then Shaun came over.

This was a perfectly normal human situation: we were customers in his restaurant, he needed to take our orders. But he looked like a wolf on the prowl.

He reached the table, and Tyler and Walters stood, leaning forward, bracing. Ben and I stood along with them, out of pure instinct. We had to be tallest. And even if I wasn’t I had to act like it. But we all stood as part of a dominance display and our heart rates rose right along with us.

I took a calming breath. “Everyone settle down. Nobody’s getting into any kind of a fight.”

I sat first, glaring, making it clear I was lowering myself to show a good example, and they shouldn’t read anything into it. Tyler kept watching me closely, as if he was waiting for me to slip. The two soldiers slowly returned to their seats; only then did Ben sit.

“I’m Shaun,” he said, offering his hand for shaking. Tyler took a moment to figure out what to do with it. Shaun waited patiently until Tyler finally shook it, and Walters followed his lead. “What can I get for you?”

“What are you doing working here?” Tyler asked, accusing, maybe even confused.

Shaun chuckled nervously, equally confused. “Kitty hired me to manage the place. Is there something wrong with that?”

“But you’re a werewolf,” Tyler said.

“And what am I supposed to do, live in the woods and eat rabbits for the rest of my life? I still have to pay the rent.”

Tyler looked sullen. “This just doesn’t seem like the best job for a werewolf.”

Shaun glanced at me for a cue, or maybe even to take over the conversation. For my part, my heart kind of broke a little, at the thought that Tyler believed that as a werewolf he could only be a warrior.

“That’s kind of the point of coming here. There’s such a thing as a nonmilitarized werewolf,” I said. “I run a talk radio show. Ben’s a lawyer.”

Tyler and Walters seemed to ponder, but they also seemed to not quite believe us. They just stared as though they expected the whole setting to turn into a joke.

“Do you all want anything to drink?” Shaun tried again.

“My treat,” I said. “Go crazy.”

Walters looked at Tyler, almost asking permission. “I could really use a beer,” he said.

“Yeah, tell me about it.” Tyler actually chuckled.

“When was the last time you guys had a beer?” I said.

“When we deployed. No alcohol in the field, and since then…” He trailed off, shrugging.

“Maybe you’d better hold off,” I said. “Not until we know you’re not going to sprout claws and go bonkers.”

“Cokes all around then?” Shaun said. He probably liked the idea of not having a couple of military werewolves going bonkers in the restaurant.

Tyler and Walters acquiesced. Tyler wore a smile, a bit thin, a bit wry, as though he’d thought of a joke. Even with half the smile his face lit. “Is this all some big ploy to show us that werewolves are real people, too?”

“You haven’t actually listened to Kitty’s show ever, have you?” Ben said.

Neither one showed any sign that he had.

“That’s okay,” I said. “I don’t think I’m broadcast in Afghanistan.”

“Kitty’s the supernatural self-help guru,” Ben said. Tyler raised a disbelieving brow. I couldn’t blame him; it did sound a bit ridiculous.

“Why do you think Shumacher called me? I’ve faked knowing what I’m talking about for so long I’ve become an expert.”

“Sounds like the army to me,” Tyler said.

Shaun arrived with a tray of sodas, and the others managed not to flinch at his approach. I nodded, and Shaun left us alone; but he lingered behind the bar, glancing back at us, keeping an eye on us.

Walters didn’t pay much attention to the drink in front of him; he seemed distracted. I looked to where he was staring: to Becky. She was staring right back at him, and frowning.

“Walters,” I said. I had to say it again before he looked at me. “Stop staring.”

“I know her,” Walters said, nodding at Becky, quickly glancing away. “She was in the woods the other day. With you. The other wolf.”

“Yeah,” I said. “You kind of beat her up.”

He flinched, cringing. But his gaze inevitably crept back to her. “What’s she doing here?”

“I think she was hoping for an apology.”

Walters blushed and looked into his glass. But he glanced at her a couple of times in the space of a few seconds, with a longing, hungry gaze, looking for all the world like an awkward teenager. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking, and I was afraid to ask. Ben wore a smirk, leading me to think that he understood what was going on in the guy’s brain. Now, was that because he was a guy and this was a guy thing, or because Ben was a criminal law attorney and he understood the dynamic? I’d have to ask him about that later. I wondered if I should move to block Walters’s view of Becky.

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