Kitty Goes to War Page 42

It doesn’t fall, but the stumble is enough. A pair of wolves jump in front of it, cutting it off from its fellows who race on, unconcerned, uncaring. The victim dodges, twisting on thin, graceful legs. But everywhere it turns, there are wolves.

She races on now, leading her newcomers. The deer is exhausted, trembling, mindless. The attack takes seconds. She springs at its haunches, ripping into it with her claws. One of the newcomers, the big one, strikes at the deer’s nose, clamping its face with vicious teeth, yanking downward.

The neck twists; the deer falls. She crawls over it and bites into its throat. Its heart still beats, just for a moment, pumping blood into her mouth as she rips apart the veins and arteries. It twitches, then lies still, dead.

A glorious finish to a glorious hunt.

Then the growling and nipping start.

The newcomer—the talented hunter—glares at her, catches her gaze and doesn’t break it. His kill, he seems to say. His prize. She matches his stare: pack’s prize. Standing on the carcass, she looks down on him and bares her teeth. They’ve had this conversation already, her bristling hackles remind him. If he wants to run with the pack, he must follow the rules. They will all fight him if he breaks their peace.

He lowers his gaze and turns away.

There is enough meat for them all. She won’t let any of them starve, and proves it. Tongue lolling happily, eyes gleaming, her mate joins her, and they get to work, tearing past the tough skin into rich flesh and viscera. After she and her mate choose their pieces, they step away and let the others feed.

It is a good night, filled with the sounds of feasting. Her mate lies next to her and licks blood off her muzzle, which makes her smile, jaw open, ears flat.

Nearby, the newcomers settle, bellies to earth, licking blood from their paws. They’re all right, she tells herself. Everything’s going to be all right.

After feeding, leaving behind bone and skin for the scavengers, they run. For the fierce joy of it, they run, tails out, streamlined, wind flattening their fur. Even hidden behind clouds, the shining moon blazes a trail for them until it sinks westward. Then weariness pulls at her; the pack slows. Time to lead them home, to their den, to sleep. She and her mate circle back to where they started from.

She moves through them all, touching noses, brushing ears, counting, tracking scents, making sure they’re all here, all safe. Even her two new wolves, whose scents are no longer so very strange. In small groups spread throughout the glade, they sleep curled up, pressed against each other, noses on flanks, tails brushing faces, deep in warmth and comfort.

Someone’s awake. Calls out a name. The others shift, restless, half awake

I started awake because something was wrong. First, it was snowing. But that was just annoying. We’d woken up in snow before.

Across the grove, Tyler was climbing to his feet, the broad muscles of his back flexing as he turned, looking back and forth. “Walters!” he called again. “Ethan!”

A few yards away from me, frowning, Shaun caught my gaze. Ben’s hand closed around mine; his skin felt burning hot in the freezing cold morning.

I’d taken a count the night before, I remembered that—everyone had been here and safe. I quickly did so again, both by sight and by smell, even though I already knew what I’d find. Tyler, hands clenched, paced up to the rise to get a better look at the surrounding landscape. He called his squad-mate’s name again, and his voice echoed in the silent, snowy half-light of morning.

“Walters is gone,” I said.

Chapter 18

SHARED ANXIETY woke everyone up. Mornings after the full moon should have been relaxed, all of us mellow and smiling because our wolves had had their run, nothing had gone wrong, and the monsters inside us would stay quiet for a couple of more weeks. But this morning, everyone dressed silently in wet clothing, eyes downcast, sneaking glances at Tyler.

Still naked, Tyler moved around the copse of trees, hunched over, nose working, looking for scent.

“Find anything?” I asked. Stupid question. But I was afraid that if I didn’t keep talking to him, he’d decide to run off, too.

He shook his head. “The snow’s messing up the trail. Washed it clean.”

“You have any idea where he’s gone?”

“Yeah. I think he’s gone after Van.”

“He has to know he can’t get to him. Vanderman’s locked up, Walters would have to get through an entire city—”

Now that was a terrifying image. And why had I trusted Walters? Why hadn’t I seen this coming?

“I should have known,” Tyler muttered, echoing my thought. “I should have known, I should have stopped him.”

“Think maybe he’d planned this all along?” I said. “That he fooled both of us?” I found my clothes, grimacing as I pulled them on. The jeans were stiff and stuck to my skin, and the T-shirt sagged. Wet T-shirt, no bra—yeah, I was looking classy this morning.

Tyler shook his head. “I’d have known if he was planning something. He couldn’t hide it. I think maybe he never went to sleep. That he decided to run when there was no one to stop him, and he just took off.” He wrung out his damp T-shirt. “I have to go after him, I have to find him.”

“No,” I said, putting a hand on his arm. His muscles were taut as piano wire. “I need you upright and able to talk. Get dressed, please.”

“It’s my fault,” he said, his expression drawn, staring out at nothing. But he pulled on the shirt and found his sweats.

“Kitty?” Ben called from the grove. The pack, all dressed now, appearing relatively human, had gathered, everyone looking at me, waiting for instructions. Like I had any clue. I didn’t know what to do, but I had to act as if I did.

“Everyone go home,” I said. “I’ll call if we need help.”

“Let us know if you see anything strange,” Ben added.

My wolves moved off, leaving in small groups the way they’d come, jogging across the fields back to their cars. As the group dispersed, Becky faced me and stopped.

“Should I be worried?” she said.

I couldn’t honestly say no. Any reassurances would sound false, and that wouldn’t exactly put her at ease or make her trust my leadership.

But Tyler was confident when he shook his head. “He’s not after you. You’ll be all right.”

She nodded and seemed comforted. I touched her arm. “Shaun will take you home. Stick with him while I take care of this. Shaun?”

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