Kitty Goes to War Page 65

None of us shook hands, which wouldn’t have been normal werewolf behavior. When you approached a werewolf with your hand outstretched, you looked like someone getting ready to take a swipe with claws. This was more natural for us: we looked each other up and down, took in each other’s scents, and didn’t stare into each other’s gazes, which would have been a sign of challenge.

This wasn’t so bad after all.

“And your friends?” Christopher said, nodding toward my two companions.

“This is Ben, my mate.” I looked back, and Ben came forward at the cue, until his shoulder touched mine. He kept his head up and looked over Christopher and all his wolves, meeting each gaze before moving to the next. All he had to do was get across the message that he wasn’t worried and he wasn’t weak. He might have been channeling his inner lawyer as much as his inner wolf. Christopher nodded at him in acknowledgment.

“And this is Joseph Tyler,” I said, looking to the soldier. Christopher waved Tyler over.

In contrast to Ben, Tyler slouched as he walked to join us, and he kept his gaze down. Showing as much deference as a six-three guy who’d just gotten out of the army could show. He came to stand at my other shoulder, and I brushed my hand against his arm, a brief touch of comfort. The anxiety was transmitting. The wolves around us watched him, waiting to see what he’d do.

I glanced at Christopher for his reaction. Did Tyler make him nervous? Would he have to struggle to hide it?

No to both. If he was nervous, he hid it really well. He seemed relaxed—not a hint of hackles rising. But then that was how he got to be alpha of one of the country’s more stable packs. He gazed at Tyler calmly, appraisingly, without a hint of challenge. His stance made me relax—Tyler would be okay here.

“Joseph?” Christopher said. “What is it you want here?” The question had a tone of formality, of ritual to it. He wanted to put Tyler on the spot, to see how he would react.

“My family lives here. My mom, sister. They don’t—they don’t know what I am, what I turned into. They don’t have to know. But I want to be close. I want them to know I’m okay.”

It was a true answer. Christopher nodded.

“If you’re going to live in my territory, you need to live by my rules. We can give you a safe place to spend your full moons. We can help you cope. But you have to do your part to keep the peace. You must help when I call on you. Don’t cause trouble.”

“I don’t want any trouble,” Tyler said. “I… I just want to come home.”

“I know. Sometimes it doesn’t always work out that way.”

“I need help,” he said. “Can you help?” His voice was bleak, tight with sadness, like he expected Christopher to say no and send him away. I would take him back to Denver, I would let him into my pack, he had to know that. But this was home to him, before he’d gone away and traveled through hell.

Sarah looked up at Christopher, her lips pressed into a line, as if she wanted to say something but was waiting for him. We were all looking at him, waiting for a response. His expression was thoughtful.

“I think we can,” Christopher said. Tyler bowed his head and sighed. I let out my breath, too.

Ben took my hand and squeezed. “I think it’s time we go.”

He was right. We’d done what we came here to do, delivered our charge to his new home, and done it peacefully. And now we were invading someone else’s territory. Christopher and Sarah probably would have let us stay for a visit, maybe even given us the tour of Seattle if we’d asked. But making a clean break seemed like the thing to do. Let Tyler join his new pack without us around to divide his loyalties.

When Tyler looked at me, he had an expression I’d never seen on him—the tension was gone and he smiled. He was relieved. “Kitty. Thank you.”

“I’m not sure I did all that much. I think you’d have been okay eventually.”

“But it’s been nice having a cheerleader around telling me that,” he said.

We hugged tight, cheeks to ears. And I let him go. After shaking hands with Ben, he moved forward to his new pack. Sarah took his arm, held his hand, and led him to the others. One at a time, they touched him, putting their scent on him, adding his scent to theirs. I heard names, introductions, and Tyler smiled through it all.

I turned back to Christopher. “Be careful with him. He’s had a rough time.”

“Is that a warning?”

“No. I don’t know. I just don’t know what your next step is, and he’s not really ready to be on his own.” I didn’t want Tyler to ever think he was alone, to fall into that hopeless place again.

Christopher shrugged. “A bunch of us will probably head to my place, grill some steaks, sit around and talk.”

I brightened. “Hey, that’s how I’d handle it.”

Ben put his hand on my back. “She’s always worried that she’s doing the pack alpha thing wrong.”

“The way I look at it, if no one’s flying off the handle and getting killed, you’re doing it right,” he said. “If it makes you feel better, call me any time. If you want to check up on Joseph, or just to talk.”

“Thanks.” And my network got a little bigger, which made me feel a little better. I turned to Ben. “Ready to go?”

“Yeah, that sounds good.”

Christopher offered his hand then, and we both shook it in turn, like normal human beings. We could pretend to be regular people.

Ben and I drove south and east for a couple of hundred miles, until the knots in our shoulders faded, and we could step outside the car and not smell foreign wolves. We got a room at a motel near Boise, to sleep for a few hours.

Ben and I lay on top of the bed, leaning against each other, still in our clothes, too tired to move, too wired to sleep. I was at that stage of exhaustion where closing my eyes hurt. My body still vibrated from the road. Ben must have felt the same; he stared at the TV, flipping channels slowly, rhythmically, without seeming to comprehend what he was looking at.

I was thinking too much to really take in what was on TV. Settling more firmly against Ben’s shoulder, I started rambling.

“I’ve been thinking about history,” I said. “Werewolf soldiers aren’t a new thing. So I’m wondering where else they’ve shown up. What other wars. If we peeled back the veneer, what else would we find?”

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