Kitty Rocks the House Page 14

Wolf didn’t like him. She stirred in my gut, sent shocks down my limbs, and I imagined her claws curling into him. No reason for it. Just something about the way he smiled, looking at Ben like he wasn’t a threat. He thought he knew us, and I was pretty sure he didn’t, not really.

Shaun was waiting inside the glass doorway, looking out, hands clenched at his sides. He glanced at me for a cue, and I shook my head once, telling him to wait.

I approached, hoping the pause in my stride wasn’t too noticeable.

“You must be Kitty Norville,” the stranger said in a steady tenor, forthcoming and friendly, just as I was opening my mouth to speak.

He’d gotten in the first word, throwing me completely off my stride. My radio DJ aversion to dead air saved me from too much of a pause. “Right,” I said, putting a leash on Wolf so we could keep this as human as possible. We were all civilized here. “And who are you?”

“It’s an honor to meet you, finally,” he said, reaching out a hand for shaking. I did so, and he turned to Ben, who had to uncurl his arms before he could shake. “And you must be Ben. Good to meet you.” Ben raised a brow at me.

I blinked the unanswered question back at the stranger.

“Oh! I’m Darren. I wanted to know—do you have room in your pack for me?”

Chapter 6

WHAT ELSE could I do but invite him inside? We sat around our usual table in back and talked. I asked Shaun to bring waters all around. Not beer, not yet.

I wanted to ask Ben what kind of vibe he was getting from the guy, but I couldn’t. Doing so would make me look uncertain. Weak. Besides, Ben was playing strong and silent. He hadn’t taken his gaze off the new guy, and if the stare wasn’t an outright challenge, it was at least a warning. Not that Darren noticed. He was so self-assured, so unwary, even surrounded by unknown werewolves, I almost couldn’t believe he was one of us, despite his stance and his scent. Even the toughest were always looking over their shoulders for the next challenge.

I wasn’t here to challenge him, but to take the measure of him. Find out his story, then figure out what to do about it. Maybe I should look at this as a job interview. Tell me, what’s been your greatest challenge as a werewolf? Yeah, right …

“So. Darren,” I said. “What brings you to Denver?”

“Job offer from a cousin. In construction. Couldn’t say no.”

“You’re not on the run from something, or trying to elbow your way in?” Ben asked.

He tilted his head, questioning. “No. Does it look like I am?”

“I’m a lawyer, I assume everyone’s guilty,” he said. His smile showed teeth. Darren’s smile slipped a bit, which felt like a small victory.

Three members of my pack were on hand: Becky—a tough woman, slim, with tousled auburn hair—moved to the bar, sitting to watch with Shaun. Tom, one of the higher-ranking wolves in the pack, stood from the table where he’d been sitting. All three had grown wary, their bodies bracing for some kind of response, fight or flight. Waiting for whatever fallout was on its way. If I told them to pounce on this guy, they’d do it right here in the restaurant. They were waiting for my signal. Their attention made me itch. I made my smile match Darren’s and looked over to them.

“Guys, can you give us a few minutes?” I looked at each one of them, meeting their gazes, emphasizing the command. Tom sat and turned away. Becky hunched over her beer. Shaun gave me a raised-eyebrow, are-you-sure look, and I glared. Yes, I was sure. The manager found something to do at another part of the bar. It was nice that he wanted to help.

“They’re good people,” Darren said. “You should be proud of what you’ve done here.”

Did he think I needed his approval? I suddenly wanted to growl. I hadn’t had to work this hard keeping my back straight and my proverbial tail in the air in a long time. “Not that I asked or anything.”

“I’m sorry, we’re getting off on the wrong foot,” he said, but in a way that made me think he’d known exactly what he was doing and wanted to see how I would react. He continued matching my gaze. I couldn’t look away. “I’m a friend of Nasser’s. He said you impressed him. Denver sounded like a place where I might fit in, so I called my cousin, and he had the job. Easy.”

I didn’t know if that made things better or worse. “Nasser? He didn’t send you to keep an eye on us, did he? I told him we didn’t need any backup—”

“No, really, I’ve just been looking for a place to settle—a pack to join. From what he told me, yours sounded good. I’ve been on my own for a while, moving around a lot, doing this and that. It gets old. Really, Nasser knows I’m here, but he didn’t send me.”

Lone wolf—that made sense. He certainly knew how to carry himself. “Why do you want to be part of a pack now? You strike me as someone who’d do just fine on his own.”

“Why do you?” he returned. “You tried being a lone wolf, didn’t you? How long did you last?”

He must have listened to my show, to know a detail like that. Made me warm to him—a bit.

“Less than a year.” It would have been longer, but Ben had gotten infected with lycanthropy, I’d taken care of him, and we’d fallen in bed together. Not long after that we were back in Denver, running the pack. Darren was right, I hadn’t been happy on my own.

Could him coming to Denver be that simple? He just wanted a pack he could get along with?

“You see?” he said, arms open like it made perfect sense.

“Fish gotta swim, bird gotta fly, werewolf gotta have a pack?” I said wryly.

He chuckled. “I’m surprised you don’t get werewolves coming here all the time, wanting to be part of your pack.”

“Most werewolves know better, I think.”

“You sound sensible,” he said. “I wanted to see it firsthand. But if I flunk the audition, just let me know, and I’ll leave. No hard feelings.”

As if I were the one who needed to feel bad for rejecting him. I was getting to the point where I wanted to keep him around just to learn what made him tick. He was either the most well-adjusted werewolf in history, or he was up to something.

“You could have called ahead,” I said. “A little warning would have been nice.”

That smile of his never dimmed. “Maybe I wanted to see how you’d react if I just walked in. That kind of thing will tell you a lot about a pack.”

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