Kitty Goes to War Page 41

The biggest problem we’d have was if one of my wolves decided to challenge either of the soldiers for dominance. It was bound to happen—they looked like dominant wolves. They looked like threats. But if I acted as if they weren’t a threat, and if they in turn didn’t do anything threatening, we ought to be able to get through this. The point was to show Tyler and Walters what a normal, peaceful wolf pack looked like.

Becky grunted and fell to a crouch. Anticipation spiked through the air, and the scent of fur began to overpower the scent of skin. Experienced, she hardly made a sound when she changed, just a gasp of effort, and her body began to melt, a sheen of fur sprouting over her skin, bones sliding into new shapes. Others followed quickly after that, until a dozen wolves were shaking out newly grown fur, stretching limbs, and trotting, jumping, spinning to revel in new muscles, like pups at play. The wolves were free; it was a time of celebration. Some of them came up to me, heads and tails bowed and submissive. They rubbed against me, bumping my hips with their heads. Smiling, I dragged my fingers through their coats. Their bodies were furnaces in the freezing air.

Walters shifted first. Crying out, he fell and ripped his clothing off as if it was burning him. Tyler quickly went to him and put a hand on his shoulder.

“He’s never gotten used to this,” Tyler said. He kept a hand on Walters, whose body shifted under him, from human to wolf, from skin to fur. “Take it easy, man. It’s okay,” he murmured. The whole time, Walters’s teeth were bared in a pain-wracked grimace. He didn’t want to let go; his wolf was raging inside him, clawing at him, tearing its way free, and Walters struggled against it.

It hurt less when you just let it happen.

Then it was over, and Walters’s silver-furred wolf lay panting for a moment. Tyler backed away and quickly shoved off his pants. Breathing deeply, wordlessly, he glanced at me—asking permission. I nodded.

He curved his back, hunched over, and Changed. Unlike Walters, he knew how to let go, to let the Change pour over him like water. When his hands touched the ground, they were furred and clawed. When he turned his face upward, to the moon, he had a long snout and amber eyes. In a handful of heartbeats, he was a wolf, reddish and bristling. And he was huge, broad through the chest and shoulders, with hindquarters that could keep him running across the harshest landscape for days.

Walters looked at him and bared his teeth, and Tyler pounced on him, knocking him over. Walters rolled and showed his belly. Tyler outranked Walters and would keep him in line.

My wolves gave the pair a wide berth, keeping me between them. My own Wolf was howling inside me: run, hunt, now. My human side was wondering what I’d gotten myself into. Best to let that go and let Wolf be in charge. My skin tingled, as if the moonlight were tangible, caressing me.

Ben had taken off his clothes. His pale skin shone almost white under the pale moon, which even if we couldn’t see it, we could tell was high over head, calling to us, singing to us. It’s time, it’s time

Stepping up to me, he slid my shirt over my head, kissing me as he dropped it away. I tasted tension in him, anticipation. This was the best of nights. We were mates, this was our pack, our territory. I ran my hands through his hair, imagining a wolf’s pelt.

Beyond words now, I stepped away from him, closed my eyes, and let go.

Cold air sparks through her lungs. Moonlight gleams; the world is stark, wide open, waiting for them.

Her mate greets her, bumping her shoulder to shoulder, nipping her ear then licking her face to say he’s only teasing. She breathes in his musky scent and gives a yip. He play-bows, chest to the ground and haunches up, and she wants to tackle him. But now isn’t the time. She breathes into the ruff at his neck to tell him this is serious, then surveys the others.

Her wolves are milling, tracing the same paths back and forth, panting, whines caught in their throats—nervous, frightened.

The two newcomers, massive and wary, wait apart, legs braced, staring.

Stupid wolves, acting like they want to start a fight.

She runs to her pack and snaps, biting at their haunches, getting them to move. They pin their ears at her but lower their tails and hunch their backs—they don’t want trouble, after all. They’re scared, though—but she can deal with that. She knows what it’s like to be scared. They had to move, all of them, the whole pack, and focus their attention outward to the job at hand, rather than on each other.

Sitting back a moment, she tips her head back and howls, a short clean note, to call them together. Her breath fogs silver.

Her mate dances, then runs to the open plain. The pack follows, a river of fur, brindled, shadowed, edged with white. She brings up the end, herding the two new wolves, snapping to make sure they follow.

At the edges of the pack, wolves put noses to earth, searching for trails. This land may be cold, windswept, but it is rich with life, dense with the trails of mice and rabbits. But they’ll need more to feed them all this night. So they move on, searching for larger prey.

At no other time does she feel so alive. Her ears are raised, her nose active, her fur on end and quivering. Her senses spread out to join the larger pattern of the world.

Then she finds it, a bright blaze across the trails of scent—large creatures moving slowly, hooved footfalls cutting into the earth. They all catch it and begin circling, agitated, excited. She nips at them, urging calm, patience.

The silver newcomer, the smaller of the two, dawdles. She urges him back, snapping at his haunches to keep him with the pack. He lays his ears back at her, but listens. Several times, though, she has to run after him. The bigger newcomer helps her, when he sees it.

Her mate ranges ahead, then stops and pricks his ears. The rest of the pack crouches, waiting. She sidles up alongside him, and sees it: deer, three of them, young and hesitant, eating a few mouthfuls of dead grass at a time before lifting their heads to keep watch. They’re wary, but the pack only has to catch one. She brushes past her mate, body to body, and licks his face.

Crouching, she hides in the brush and waits. They all know their jobs, even the newcomers, who pace forward, huffing, limbs trembling, ready to run.

The pack creeps slowly until her mate, the other alpha, gives the signal by launching forward, leaping from the grasses in a flat run. Several of the others join him. The deer—heads up, snorting—spring away in a panic.

The chase is on.

Over the next half hour, the pack runs the deer down. Some of the wolves race, biting at the creatures’ heels, spurring them to greater heights of fear while the deer run hard, eyes rolling, breath steaming in clouds. Then those wolves fall back, and others take their place. The wolves can continue this chase all night; the deer can’t. One of them falters—that’s the one, the unfortunate victim.

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