Kitty Rocks the House Page 36

The prey here smells different, wrong, of oil and trash. Prey living trapped by concrete. She is angry, starved for blood. Blood will staunch the anger, so she hunts. So many trails to follow—raccoon, rabbit, fox, even coyote. But the musky, feline scent catches her attention because it is different.

Her target is fast, agile—a challenge. Makes her more fierce. Her blood thunders, her mouth waters, she bares her teeth to the sky. And pounces. It lets out a high-pitched yowl, but only briefly. She devours it, ripping through skin, picking past dense fur. The meat is stringy, there isn’t much of it. She finishes it in moments, cracking bones and gnawing them until nothing remains but a smear of blood, fur, and viscera on the ground.

She licks her lips and paws, cleaning herself, then looks at the sky again and howls. No one answers. How lost is she?

Only thing to do is run, her sides heaving and skin quivering.

She runs until exhausted, as the sun drops across the sky. In a hollow under a stand of cottonwoods, she finds shelter, an inadequate den where she lies, panting. Too unhappy, too insecure to sleep.

After minutes or hours or some other vague length of time, a scent crosses her awareness—of home and safety. At the same time, she hears a call.

“Kitty.” A low, steady sound. Calming.

She pricks her ears, raises her head high.

“Kitty,” the voice says again.

Her mate, his sharp and welcome smell cutting through the noise, stinging in her nose. Without thinking, she stands and runs to him.

He is on two legs, which doesn’t seem right. Lowering her head, she paces, uncertain. They should be hunting together. She loops a wide circle around him, waiting for him to join her. But he waits, standing calmly, his gaze turned, his body relaxed.

She is not hunting, she is fleeing. But he smells safe. Maybe she meant to flee toward him. The thought calms her. Her tail and head droop.

“You okay?” he says, and she doesn’t know what the words mean. She keeps moving, pacing step by step, waiting for him to react. He only watches.

“We should get home, Kitty. You ready to sleep it off?”

The familiar gentleness of his voice keeps her from fleeing again. But she isn’t ready to come to him.

He walks to a stunted scrub oak and sits, propping his back against it. The urge to curl up against him is strong. But so is the urge to keep running.

Finally, with daylight fading, with the air cooling, she rests, curling up on the prairie ground, tucking in her paws.

Chapter 13

I’D HAD a very bad dream. Funny, because I didn’t remember going to sleep. I remembered—not very much, as it turned out. But the evidence around me filled in some of the blanks. I was naked. A bed of dry grass pressed into my skin, crunching under me when I breathed. Ben sat nearby, not touching me, his scent and body heat projecting toward me. He was fully dressed, fully human. I could smell his clothing, hear the rustle of his shirt when he moved. We hadn’t been hunting together. Which meant I had Changed and run on my own. My stomach rumbled, my nerves quaked. An awful, tinny taste coated my mouth, a thin film of blood remained on my teeth. I’d caught something, who knew what, but that wasn’t what bothered me. The anxiety and fear did.

“Hey,” Ben said softly.

“Ben?” I murmured, my voice scratching. As if I couldn’t believe he was here, or that I was.

“I’m here.”

I opened my eyes. The sky was dark, the glow of the city lighting the horizon. The air was cool, sending a chill of gooseflesh across my back. I hugged myself.

Ben was sitting just out of reach, back against a tree trunk, one knee propped up, an arm resting across it. He’d been watching me, but glanced away when I looked up. A calming gesture.

“I’m not sure what happened,” I said finally.

“Not surprised. You must have run off in a hurry.”

“How did you know to come after me?” I said, after wetting my lips. I needed a drink of water.

“Cheryl called. Said you looked really upset. I knew it had to be bad, so I checked a map, found the park nearest to her house, came over, and started walking. I knew you wouldn’t have gone too far.”

“I tried.”

“I know.”

I imagined how angry I must have been, that Ben had left me alone, that Wolf hadn’t curled up next to him, leaning against him so he could brush fingers through her fur. That he had waited rather than reach out to us. Tears stung in my eyes, thinking about it. I propped myself up, stretching awkward kinks out of my muscles, and scooted toward him. He put his arms around me and gathered me close. His embrace was like a blanket, and I flushed at his touch. I could stay here all night.

“You okay?” he murmured after a moment, and I rubbed my eyes dry.

“Cheryl must be really pissed off,” I said.

“I think she’s worried,” he said. “She’s not sure what happened.”

How could she even guess? The memories came back: the argument, the way everything crashed in my mind at once—too many demands, too many accusations. I had to acknowledge a seed of anger still there, burning.

“I’m sorry,” I murmured. Couldn’t think of anything else to say. Of course, I’d have to call Cheryl and say the same thing.

“Ready to go home?”

“Yeah.”

He moved, revealing a pile of clothes. “Found your clothes. And this.” He held up the chain I wore my wedding band on. The gold ring turned, shining silver even in the dark—white gold, Ben’s idea of a joke. After almost losing my engagement ring in an unexpected, uncontrolled shape-shifting incident, I wore my wedding ring around my neck so I could take it off in a hurry. It must have fallen to the side with my clothes when I pulled my shirt off. I took it from him and squeezed it in my hand before sliding the chain over my neck. The ring rested on my sternum, right next to my heart. Cheesy, but its weight felt like the pieces of the world coming back into their rightful places.

“Thanks,” I said, simply, and he brushed back a lock of my hair.

“I don’t know how useful these are actually going to be.” He held up my jeans, which had a big rip in the waistband. The shirt had parted along one seam. They were both probably, technically wearable. But I was glad when he also held up his overcoat.

“So,” I said. “How many times now have I ended up half-naked in torn-up clothes wearing your overcoat?” I slipped on the shirt—more of a blouse than a pullover now—and started on the jeans.

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