Kitty Rocks the House Page 60

“And it’s not even my birthday,” he said. Peeling back the opening, he reached for the object within and drew it out to the open.

It was the vampire crystal skull. Rick held it before him, staring at it eye to eye. In the muted lamplight, the thing glowed golden. The little crystal fangs glinted.

“Alas, poor Yorick?” Rick said at last.

“I was hoping you’d say that,” I said, grinning.

“Well, happy to oblige. I expect it’ll make a nice bookend. Unless there’s some ancient Mayan curse on this I should know about?”

“Naw,” I said, turning it over to point at the base. “It has MADE IN INDIA etched on the bottom. I just didn’t mention that part on the show.”

“Thank you. I think.” He stood and went to the bookshelves on the wall, where he found a niche for it. But then he returned to the duffel bag and zipped it closed. “Angelo will look after the city while I’m gone,” he said.

Like I thought a kitsch item, however lovingly given, would convince him to stay.

“Angelo doesn’t want the job,” I said, standing, begging. “He’s a wreck out there. I thought he was going to cry.”

“He’ll grow into the part.”

I had my doubts about that. “As soon as they hear you’re gone, Roman’s minions will be all over the city,” I said.

“I don’t think they will,” he said. “They know you’re here, after all.”

“Rick—”

“Kitty. I have to go.” He came around the desk to stand in front of me. He seemed so calm. At peace, even. He ought to be on the edge of tears and shouting, like me.

When he stepped forward, arms open, I fell into his hug. We stood like that for a good long moment, me gripping his shoulders, him holding me.

“Take care of yourself, all right?” he ordered, as we pulled apart.

I nodded, unable to say a word.

* * *

AND THEN I left.

Angelo was still sulking by the outside door. He glanced up when I approached. “Well?”

“He’s leaving,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

“He’s an idiot,” he muttered. The anguish from before seemed to have fallen away. Now, he just seemed tired, slumped against the wall, frowning deeply.

I was going to have to deal with this guy on a regular basis. All that posturing, when he was a minion who got off on treating me like a stupid werewolf—we’d have to leave that behind. Water under the bridge. We had a city to protect.

“He’s a man with a mission. For what it’s worth, he seems to think you’ll do just fine as Master of Denver.”

The man’s chuckle was bitter. “It’s not being Master of the city I’m worried about. I can handle that. I can even work with you, if I have to. But I’m not sure I can stand up against Dux Bellorum the way you and Rick have.”

That was where the fear came from, then. He wasn’t even wrong to be afraid, even without knowing the whole story. My smile might have been a little stiff, thinking of the goggle-eyed demon and a theoretical Caesar.

“Oh, it’s not Dux Bellorum we have to worry about,” I said.

He stared at me as I walked past him and into the night.

Epilogue

WASN’T IT nice, having a literal pack of supernaturally strong guys to call on to help us move?

We did the whole thing in a day—loaded the truck, hauled it across town, unloaded it into the house we’d finally settled on. Southwest of Denver, closer to the mountains, but still with reasonable access to the city. The place wasn’t huge, but it was on a full acre of land, adjoining county open space. Like Carl and Meg’s place had been, but not just like. A more modern house, with an open layout, big kitchen, and high ceilings. I walked in and breathed easier. I’d been living in dorm and apartment-sized spaces since college. This was going to be an adjustment.

The pack finished, and I fed them like a good alpha should, with mountains of barbeque, sodas, and beer. I could throw parties in a place like this. I could have the family over, even. Cheryl’s kids could play in the backyard.

After everyone left, Ben and I sat on the patio in the quiet backyard, regarding our view of the sunset over the mountains. Clouds streaked orange and pink against a fading blue sky. Scrub oak marked the boundaries of the property, and wild grasses replaced the lawn. The yard needed a little work after a winter of neglect. I looked forward to it. This was ours.

“We did it,” I said, sounding more than a little startled. “I can’t believe we did it. Look at us, house in the suburbs.”

“Well, we still have to clean and rent out the old place, get the mail transferred, do something about this yard, finish the basement—”

“Details,” I said. “It’s all details.” I leaned over and kissed his cheek, and he smiled.

My senses stretched out. I smelled deer, rabbits, coyotes, fox, and a dozen other creatures on the wind. A feast, right on our doorstep. In my gut, Wolf stretched. She wanted out, to run through this space and mark it as her own.

Not now, I told her. Time enough for that later. Now, we were human beings with a house and a bed and all was well.

Ben’s hand closed around mine. “You’re feeling it, too?”

Our Wolves spoke to each other, smelling the need on each other’s bodies, feeling the tension in the other’s muscles.

“Next full moon,” I said. “It’ll come soon enough.”

* * *

I WAS as nervous as I had been meeting my own in-laws. Well, in-law. Ben’s mother was sweet and welcoming, if a bit sad. Ben’s father was still in prison on a decade-old weapons conviction. Not only was I not sure I wanted to meet him, I wasn’t sure Ben wanted me to meet him. They’d had a falling out, when Ben refused to represent him in court. He hardly ever talked about him.

Family was such a fraught thing. However tangled and difficult it was, pack was family. Trey was bringing his fiancée, Sam, to New Moon to meet us.

“This is weird,” I muttered at Ben. “They’re not looking for some kind of approval, are they? Because that shouldn’t matter, if they love each other that’s it, right?”

He was smiling at me, amused by my discomfort as he often was. Like I was this social science experiment playing out in front of him. Thank goodness one of us was laid back. More likely, I had a feeling he just hid his nerves better than I did. I had to talk about everything.

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