Kitty Goes to War Page 64

And the final bit of information: Franklin had been known to place good-luck charms at various Speedy Mart franchises. He personally visited each new building at least once during construction, and the lawyer had a signed statement from the foreman on one project saying he’d seen Franklin placing strange items in the foundation. He didn’t know what. The specifics weren’t important at this point. Franklin really was doing freaky magical stuff at Speedy Marts all over the country. It wasn’t libel. Franklin’s lawyers tried pressing the case. The judge threw it out.

Franklin himself sold his company and retired, citing health concerns. By all accounts, he returned home from Denver a broken man, physically damaged by hypothermia, mentally wracked by vague nightmares. I never got Cormac to say exactly what he—and Amelia—had done to him. Probably just as well.

A MONTH after the storm, Tyler got his medical discharge and even qualified for disability benefits. He’d done enough, sacrificed enough, it was decided. Ben and I took him home to Seattle.

Werewolves are territorial. Tyler couldn’t just fly home and set up shop without ruffling a lot of fur with the local wolves. With his intimidating stature, he would set the locals on edge. They might see him as a threat, someone who was powerful and who might try taking over. We all knew that wasn’t what Tyler wanted, but the Seattle pack would need convincing. He’d have to tread carefully and give plenty of warning.

I knew a little bit about the Seattle pack. It was supposed to be one of the safe havens, one of the packs that was willing to take in runaways and refugees, to take care of wolves who needed a little extra help. I hoped they wouldn’t look at Tyler and decide that he was too much of a threat to help. Instead of making Tyler navigate the situation on his own, I decided to act as an intermediary.

I called my contact, Ahmed, the werewolf in Washington, D.C., who ran the local lycanthrope scene there. He passed along the contact information for Christopher, the alpha of the Seattle werewolves, and I called him to explain the situation. As I’d feared, he was wary about taking on Tyler, a Special Forces veteran. I couldn’t really blame him; this was uncharted territory for all of us. “Just meet him,” I’d said, trying to sound confident and reassuring rather than pleading. He agreed to a meeting, and I liked to think it was my incredible powers of persuasion that convinced him. The fact that Christopher turned out to be one of the good guys and willing to take the chance probably had more to do with it.

Ben, Tyler, and I drove straight through to Seattle a week after his discharge. Ben and I took turns driving; Tyler spent most of the drive napping or looking out the window, face right up to the glass, taking in the world. He’d spent most of the last month or so locked up in a hospital room, with occasional excursions. Driving the interstate with the scenery sliding past had to feel as much like freedom as anything.

We reached Christopher’s meeting place, a regional park northeast of Seattle, at dusk. I’d called a couple hours out to let him know our ETA. He’d directed us to a parking lot and picnic area, against a backdrop of a thick pine forest. Even in the middle of winter the place was green, and I could smell the rich scent of evergreens touched with icy snow. He and a number of his pack were already there, waiting for us. I’d have done the same thing if our positions had been reversed. Stake out your territory, show your strength, take the high ground, and so on.

I didn’t know all that much about werewolf packs. I’d heard a lot of stories through the radio show, and through rumor and hearsay. My own experience was mixed—my pack was part of the best of times and the worst of times, as they say. Some cities didn’t have packs at all, just loose confederations of likeminded lycanthropes. I’d been warned away from some areas entirely because a chaotic, warlike environment dominated. There were almost as many different kinds of werewolf packs as there were individual werewolves.

I’d never really met another werewolf pack with a solid alpha male and his followers lined up behind him. This was going to be educational. I was nervous but tried not to show it. Confident, suave, hip—that was me.

The three of us got out of the car. “Wait here a minute,” I said to Ben and Tyler. “Let me talk to them first.”

“I should be with you,” Ben said. He was looking at the leader, standing out in the grass, and at the men and women arrayed in a semicircle behind him like an entourage. “You can’t face that all by yourself.”

Tyler tipped his chin up a little and took a deep breath. “I can smell them. This whole place smells weird. Different.”

Alien. Another pack’s territory. I could sense it, too.

“They can see you,” I told Ben. “Let ’em think I don’t need backup, right?” I grinned. Ben looked like he was biting his tongue.

Christopher was a handsome man, older, close to fifty, maybe, with thick graying hair swept back from his face. Really fit. He had his arms crossed, showing off sculpted muscles. He wore jeans and a short-sleeved, button-up shirt. Among his entourage, a woman stood at the end, red hair twisted up in a braid, laugh lines creasing her eyes. She looked at Christopher rather than at me, watching for his reaction, his cues. His alpha female, then. Everyone else was young, tough, glaring, their shoulders tense, on the verge of bristling like hackles. He’d brought his fighters with him, rather than any older, wiser wolves that might be part of his pack. They smelled like pine trees and salt air, as well as musk and wild.

I stopped about a dozen feet in front of Christopher and stayed relaxed, loose. Tried not to feel small and vulnerable. They were trying to intimidate me, because that was just what werewolves did.

“Hi!” I said, way too cheerful, as if I was about to offer them Girl Scout cookies.

Christopher gave a huff, like a silent chuckle. “So you’re the notorious Kitty Norville.”

“Hey,” I said. “I thought it was more like infamous.”

Then he did chuckle, amused. “Kitty. It’s very nice to finally meet you.”

“Yeah, likewise.” I glanced at the rest of the pack, watching to see if they relaxed. They seemed to, nominally. But if I breathed on Christopher wrong they’d be on me in a second. I wondered: would my pack look like that, if our places were reversed? Hm.

The alpha female stepped forward to join her mate. “This is Sarah,” he said.

“Hi,” I said simply. She smiled a wry greeting, as if she was saying, Nice to meet you, but I could totally take you. I wasn’t going to argue. If all this went well I’d be gone by morning and the point would be moot.

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