Kitty Rocks the House Page 43

I slumped forward and put my head on my arms, just to rest for a moment.

Footsteps approached, and I caught the scent of werewolf before me. Darren. Chin up, shoulders broad, he smiled at me and sat in the chair across from me, the one where Titus had been a moment before. Ben moved toward us in a hurry.

The restaurant had emptied while Titus and I talked. The manager and a couple of staff remained, working to close up. Becky was still here, by the front door, hackles up. The moment seemed frozen—something was happening. I caught Ben’s gaze and shook my head, asking him to wait. I wanted to see how this played out. Ben stopped, but almost bounced in place, hands clenched, looking back and forth between Darren and Becky.

Darren ignored him and said, “It’s tough, isn’t it? Being in charge. Staying in control.”

I tried to puzzle out his intention. The obvious condescension in his tone wasn’t mean, but wasn’t very sympathetic, either. He mostly sounded like he was making a casual observation. Never mind that the words slipped a knife between my ribs.

“I didn’t realize I was being graded.”

He went on, “You’ve had to work very hard, haven’t you? Leading this pack, putting yourself out there.”

Ben leaned in. “You’re out of line—”

I held up a hand to stop him. Maybe we could good cop/bad cop this. “I do okay.”

Darren’s smile cut. “I mean you’ve had to work hard to be an alpha. Because you’re not, really. You certainly weren’t born an alpha. You were happier when you had somebody taking care of you, weren’t you?”

I flashed back on those years, bottom of the pack, everyone’s baby, everyone’s punching bag. Maybe that had been less work, but “happy” certainly wasn’t the word I’d use to describe that time. It was never as much work to roll over and show your belly as it was to stand up straight. But standing straight felt so much better.

I grinned, teeth showing. “That’s a little Calvinistic, don’t you think? Predeterministic? You don’t believe in upward mobility?”

“You can’t change your basic nature.”

A few feet away, Ben was just about trembling with anger. I tried to radiate calm. I didn’t want to get blood all over my nice restaurant. “That’s the big debate for the ages, isn’t it? Nature versus nurture. So you’re a nature guy, I take it?”

“All your talk just covers up your fears—you’re afraid I’m right.”

Talking had worked so far. I leaned back, not breaking eye contact—not giving an inch, not letting him think his challenge was working. I declaimed, “Some are born alpha, some achieve alpha-ness, and some have alpha-ness thrust upon them. You know, that actually has a nice ring to it.”

If I was getting to him—discouraging him, making him angry, maybe even amusing him—he didn’t reveal it. He would wear me down with impenetrable, paternalistic kindness. He was only trying to help, really. The more I argued, the more I’d prove his point.

Well, it was the only thing I knew how to do, really. “So, what are you doing? You think you can do a better job? You calling me out?”

“You’re the one who brought it up, not me.”

Ben started to lunge, but I stood and braced against him, stopping him. An aggressive response might have been instinctive, but it showed weakness, showed Darren that he could get to us. Never mind if any of what he said was true. This was all about appearances. This didn’t look too good.

I had an urge to attack him myself, really. I imagined the taste of his blood on my tongue, his flesh parting at the touch of my teeth. My heart burned with the thought, but the sound of voices calmed me. The manager in back, talking to the cook who was scraping the grill. This was the human den, the human place, where people sat in chairs, ate with forks, glared at each other across the table and didn’t throw punches, no matter how much they wanted to. This wasn’t the place for a fight. Not Wolf’s kind of fight. Surely I had that much control. I would not start a fight here.

“You can’t have Denver,” I said, startled at how petulant my voice sounded. I didn’t sound strong, but like a whining child, and this all felt like it was happening to someone else. I watched myself glare at him. I radiated challenge. But that was Wolf, not me.

Ben broke away from me, but didn’t get any farther than leaning across the table, teeth bared. Darren stood, knocking the chair back to the floor, mirroring the glare and snarl.

“You going to start something?” Darren said, eager.

“There will be no fighting in my restaurant,” I said. Not that I could stop them if either one of them decided to cross the table.

“Yeah,” Darren said, chuckling. “That’s what I thought. You don’t have it in you.” He walked away, flicking his hand in a way that made me think I was the one being dismissed.

Ben rushed him, and I grabbed his arm, held him back. Somehow, I stopped him. Maybe because I was trembling and close to losing it. My husband curled back to hold me, turning his startled gaze on me, searching for what was wrong. That was what stopped him: I was about to melt, and he paused to take care of me rather than fight the challenger. I leaned into him.

At the front door, Darren paused, waiting for Becky to scramble to his side. She hesitated, looked over her shoulder at me staring back at her—and she didn’t turn away. Her gaze, her stance, held determination. Challenge. Then they were gone.

Wolf trembled in my gut. Standing in disbelief, I didn’t know which of them I was more angry at. I wanted to murder them both. I almost ran after them, as if murder were not only a viable option, but something I could accomplish. And wouldn’t get prosecuted for when I was discovered on the streets of downtown after midnight next to two eviscerated bodies.

Ben lowered me into the chair. I was shaking, trying to hold Wolf in, trying not to howl in fury. If Shaun had been managing tonight, if any of the other werewolves had been here, I might have. They would have understood.

“Kitty,” Ben said, kneeling in front of me, holding my face, making me look at him. Bringing me back to myself. I pulled him into an embrace and felt better. He spoke in my ear, “Why didn’t you let me murder the bastard?”

“Because we can’t fight.”

“Of course we can, we’re werewolves. We’ve both fought, we can take him. We can take both of them right now. We have to—”

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