Kitty Goes to War Page 51

I tried to talk him down, as I told Tyler I would. Even though breathing hurt. “Sergeant Vanderman. You need to get ahold of yourself. If you expect to get out of this alive, stand down. In a minute this place is going to be filled with soldiers carrying rifles with silver bullets. They will shoot you. Please.”

“Van, come on,” Walters continued, backing me. His body acted on its own to give every submissive signal it could, at once. He fell to the floor, exposing his neck and belly even more, putting himself as low as he possibly could. He was trying to get the sergeant to stop and listen, to feel some compassion for this pathetic creature. To evoke some of an alpha werewolf’s instincts to protect the weaker members of his pack. “I came back for you—like we all promised. We’re in this together. We’ll get out. We’ll get away from here. They can’t stop us.”

Vanderman wasn’t listening to anyone anymore. The skin on his face furrowed as his nose wrinkled; his grimacing lips showed all his teeth. The expression was lupine. He was a very angry wolf. He stepped toward me, head leading, arms bent. On my hands and knees, I stepped backward. I just had to hold out until Ben or Tyler got here.

Walters whined. He’d tried to stop him the best way he knew, but Vanderman was too far gone to respond to the signals. So Walters attacked him. To protect me.

The smaller soldier jumped at Vanderman, and momentum shoved him over. In his next movement, Vanderman rolled Walters to the floor, pressing him down. The sounds they made weren’t human. Walters barely struggled, as if he knew this was how it would turn out, as if he believed he didn’t have a chance. Vanderman dived at Walters’s throat, teeth bared, releasing a guttural snarl. Hands with claws gouged into Walters’s belly. Blood spilled. Vanderman—partially shifted now, his face lengthening to contain wide, sharp teeth, capable of holding and ripping—clamped his jaw over the other’s throat and shook, tore, mangled, until red covered his face, chest, shoulders. Walters squealed, half human scream, half animal shriek of pain. He kicked, bucked, and tore at Vanderman with his own claws. But Vanderman had all the leverage—his claws were buried under Walters’s rib cage, digging for his heart.

I stayed out of the way, holding my aching stomach, favoring my hurt shoulder. Wolf knew better than to draw attention. Just stay calm, out of the way. I crouched low by the wall, one hand resting on the floor. But inside, I was crying out. Walters wasn’t moving anymore.

Tyler came up behind me. I glanced at him over my shoulder. He wasn’t looking at me, but at the scene of slaughter ahead. His lips were parted, his teeth bared, a sign of aggression. But the expression in his eyes was anguish.

He settled into a crouch and aimed Ben’s semiautomatic, bracing in his left hand and sighting down the barrel. With no fanfare, he fired three shots. All three struck Vanderman in the chest and head. Vanderman didn’t make a sound. He twitched and fell, rolling off Walters’s body. Then he lay still.

I turned to Tyler. “I tried talking to him. I tried.”

Grief furrowed his expression, his whole face taut to prevent tears from falling. His breath was coming in gasps, near to hyperventilating.

Then he squeezed shut his eyes and turned the gun to his ear.

“No!” I shouted. I flinched back rather than trying to go for the gun, to wrestle with that massive, professional arm. I didn’t want to touch it and have it go off accidentally, doing as much damage as it would have otherwise. All I could do was beg. “No, Tyler. Please don’t. Please.”

He didn’t put the gun down. But he didn’t fire. “I don’t want to turn out like him,” he said, his voice a whisper. “Like either one of them. I’m too dangerous to be around you. Around anyone. I’m too dangerous to be.”

“No, you’re not like them, you’ve already come so much farther. Look at you—after all this you’re still you. You’re okay, you’re going to be okay.”

The hand holding the gun wavered, and my heart swelled.

“Please put the gun down,” I said. “Don’t waste all this work I’ve been doing with you. I need to save at least one of you.”

Slowly, the arm dropped. The gun rested on the tile floor at his side. Carefully, I put my hand on it and pulled it away from his limp fingers, sliding it to the other side of my body.

“Thank you,” I said. “Thank you.”

I slid my hand up his arm, squeezed his shoulder, and pressed my face to his neck as I hugged him. With deep breaths I took in his scent, and with the language of wolves I tried to comfort him as he slumped into my embrace.

My ribs hurt with every gasp of breath. I didn’t know how damaged I was, but I trusted that my werewolf healing would take care of me. My Wolf was still poised to fight; she wouldn’t retreat. But she wasn’t on the edge of bursting free anymore. I tried to concentrate on comforting Tyler, letting my own pain fade by ignoring it.

I heard noises. The women behind the door ahead of us were still there. I could smell their fear, their sweat. Around the other corner, a door smashed opened and several sets of boots clomped on the tile, running toward us.

Tyler immediately pulled away from me and straightened. His gaze had turned grim, but determined.

“Don’t tell him,” he said. “Don’t tell Stafford I was going to…”

“But don’t you think you can get some help, some counseling—”

Shaking his head, he cut me off. “I do anything like that, it’s on my own. I don’t want to give him any excuse to lock me up.” Tyler drew a deep breath, gathering himself to get through the next few minutes. Then the few after that. And so on.

Right. Then at least for now, it didn’t happen. I tried to stand, but pain shot through my guts and ribs. Breathing still hurt; I settled back.

Several soldiers paced up the hallway and stopped to crouch in defensive positions, their rifles aimed at us. I just looked at them. Didn’t beg, didn’t plead, didn’t yell for them to stand down. Just looked. Surely they could see that it was over.

The one closest to me lowered his rifle first. The other four followed. Then they waited.

Colonel Stafford and Ben came up behind them. When I saw Ben, tears finally blurred my vision. He met my gaze, and I tried to tell him everything without speaking. I wasn’t sure I could speak.

He gave my anguish back to me with his gaze, which I felt like a hand on my arm. His expression tightened, full of worry. But he didn’t rush. Turning to Stafford, he spoke a few words.

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