Kitty Rocks the House Page 22

“Hey,” Shaun called. “Everything okay?” Leaning against a tree with his arms crossed, babysitting the rabble, he wore a T-shirt, jeans, and went barefoot.

“Got a late call. It’s okay,” I said.

“The gang’s antsy.”

“I expect so.” Wolf kicked out, a stabbing pain under my rib cage. I winced and hugged myself against a sudden chill. It’s time …

“So where’s the new guy?” Shaun asked. Becky, in a tank top and yoga pants, had come up behind him. She’d been looking back and forth between us and the path behind us, as if expecting someone else to arrive.

“He’s not here? He didn’t get a ride with you, Becky?” I’d half-expected to see him next to Becky. I looked around, marked every face, taking in the scent of the gathered pack. In the cool night air I was able to sense every little odor; nothing smelled out of place. And that was the problem, because I should have been able to smell Darren’s new, foreign scent. He’d need a couple of full moon nights of running with the rest of us, piling together as wolves and sleeping until morning, before he smelled like pack.

“I thought he’d be with you guys,” she said.

“Damn. I should have called him,” I said. “He said he’d be here…”

“Maybe he decided he didn’t want to be part of the pack after all,” Shaun said.

Becky worriedly bit her lip. “No, he would have told someone, he wouldn’t have just left.”

We all looked at her, and instead of wilting she stood up a little taller. I sighed. “We can’t worry about it now.”

Still frowning, Becky turned away, pulled off her top, dropped it on the ground as she shoved down her pants. Naked, her lithe form was a shadow in the moonlight. She was still walking when she started shifting, back hunching, limbs bending, fur sprouting over skin. As she dropped, she grunted once, and the Change passed over her like water. Rolling his shoulders back Shaun stripped and followed Becky. The world’s focus grew sharp, narrow. Nothing else mattered but the pack and the forest.

One of the pack came toward me and Ben. Shirtless, he slouched, head bowed, slinking low and submissive. He wanted something and was afraid to ask for it. Now wasn’t the best time. My lip curled, but Ben brushed his arm against mine, calming me.

Ben said, more calmly than I would have, “What is it, Trey?”

“I need to talk. About Sam.”

Sam, Sam, who was Sam … Oh, his girlfriend. Right. I steadied myself. “What’s wrong? Did you talk to her?”

“Yes. It … it didn’t go well.” Anxious lines marred his face, and not just from the stress of keeping his wolf at bay. He was worried, on the edge of shifting, trying to stay human so he could get out the words.

“I’m sorry,” I said, the only thing I could think to say. “We should talk. In the morning.” In moments, none of us were going to be able to say much of anything.

“Yeah. That’s all I want.” He nodded quickly, ducking again. He was afraid we’d be angry with him.

I brushed my hand over his hair; he leaned into the touch of comfort. “In the morning,” I said. “Go now.”

He spun and ran, a ripple of dark fur sprouting along his back.

Next to me, Ben pulled off his shirt, folded it distractedly, and set it on the ground. Then he stood in front of me and tugged up the hem of my T-shirt. Like a little kid, I raised my arms and let him pull it off. I wasn’t wearing a bra, and the cool air brushed deliciously across my skin. Fur strained to burst through in a million pinpricks.

Ben hugged me, skin to skin, and I could have melted against him. “I love you,” he said.

“I love you,” I whispered.

He convulsed once in my arms, then dropped to all fours, grunting.

I stood there, staring into the trees—still resisting, until that growling voice inside me barked, Now.

Yeah, now.

* * *

THE NIGHTTIME forest is freedom. The hunting pack is like a storm, a wind through the trees, constant and unstoppable. A rainbow wash of scents greet her: live wood and dead leaves, air that tastes of distant rain, and prey, large and small, from mice to rabbits to deer and elk. Alive, quivering, filled with meat and blood. Her mouth waters.

Feeding the pack takes larger prey. Since they hunt together, they can be ambitious. Her mate finds a trail, nips her flank to gain her attention, urging her and the others to follow. But she snaps back. The thread of another scent has caught her attention. Foreign, alien, stabbing through their territory, this draws her far more than her hunger. This is a threat.

Circling around her, and it, her mate finds it, too. They brush shoulders, bury noses in each other’s fur to reassure themselves of their familiar marks. The rest of the pack mills, uncertain. Their anxiety has spread. This invading scent is alien, but familiar. She knows this wolf, which somehow makes the intrusion worse. This is an invitation refused.

She tips her nose to the sky and lets loose a thin howl, hoping for response—for explanation.

The pack waits for a reply to travel through the silvered night, but none comes. So she puts her nose to the ground to follow the scent, and the pack follows her.

They are wide-ranging, fanned out through the forest, claiming their territory, watching for danger. Prey of every sort crisscrosses their path, and her wolves yip at her, telling her they’re hungry and that food is close. Time enough for that later. She trots on, and the stranger’s scent grows stronger.

They leave the forest and reach an open meadow, a rolling field of grass tucked between hills, glaring with the brightness of the moon. She hangs back, unwilling to expose the pack without more information. They pace behind her. Her mate nudges her shoulder and looks over the wide space with her.

Far ahead, there is movement in the grass. The stranger is here. She also smells blood, freshly spilled. A growl sticks deep in her throat when she realizes what has happened. At the far edge of the meadow, a wolf is eating, moving around a carcass, ripping away mouthfuls. But it’s the wrong prey—a scent they have always avoided. Rich prey, so easy to kill, but they have never hunted it, they can’t, not if they want to stay hidden.

Her hackles rise stiff as boards. She howls again, a long note that falls away. The distant wolf, gray and tawny in the moonlight, pauses and looks up. He sings back, a bright tone that leaves her confused—it’s a greeting, a call to wolves who share territory. Not an invader at all. At least he doesn’t think so.

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