Kitty Saves the World Page 24

What did that mean, when you were playing host to the soul of a wizard?

Chapter 9

DENVER SEEMED suddenly dark. A layer of clouds hung low, bringing a chill and threatening a spring snowstorm. No storm was coming; the world just felt heavy. Even the traffic on the freeway seemed muted.

We went home. The house was fine, and part of the weight that had settled on me lifted. Our enemy hadn’t touched every part of our lives, only the most visible. With the new shape of our world a little more firmly established, we could move on.

Tina was comfortably asleep in the guest room. The temptation to crawl into my own bed was huge, but I wouldn’t be able to sleep until we figured out what happened with the pack. We stopped long enough to change clothes and get some food—heated up leftovers, devoured standing in the kitchen. A second wind, fueled by calories and anxiety, kicked in.

Our house was at the southwestern edge of town, backed up on open space—quick, if limited, access to the wilderness of the foothills. Late afternoon, the sun ought to be lowering toward the mountains, backlighting the pine forest. But clouds obscured the tops of the hills. The sky would just keep getting darker until night fell.

Ben and I went outside and walked slowly, skirting the edge of our yard to the tangled scrub oak we hadn’t made time to tend at the end of the property, and through a narrow gap that gave access to the meadowland beyond. The air was clear, dry despite the clouds. If anything had happened back here in the last few days, we’d smell it.

The yard smelled like us and our territory. We’d claimed it, marked it, and our scent was strong and indisputable. Any being with a good sense of smell would know this place belonged to us.

“Anything weird?” Ben asked¸ calling across the yard. I shook my head. Edging past the shrubbery, I continued searching. Our territory, our markings, extended out, all the way to the mountains. Nothing had disturbed that. This place still belonged to the pack, and the scent markers I sensed were generic, lingering. I didn’t smell the individual wolves. Shaun and the others hadn’t been out here, at least not in the last few days.

The whole pack didn’t often come out here. We had places in the mountains and east on the prairie where we went on full-moon nights. Together, we walked for twenty minutes, half an hour, a mile or so from the house. Still nothing. I looked into the hills as if I could see through them to find a message written in stone. When we didn’t find any sign of our pack at its human center, we needed to check the places the wolves called home.

“Ready for a drive?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said, already heading back to the house. “Let’s get some coffee first.”

*   *   *

FIRST WE checked Shaun’s apartment—no one was home. His scent was rich around the doors, in the stretch of parkland behind the building. But I couldn’t tell how recently he’d been here. We checked a couple of other pack members’ places in nearby neighborhoods. It was part of our job as pack alphas to know where everyone lived, to make sure everyone was okay.

I didn’t know if they were okay. I just knew that they weren’t here. So we had to search for them.

We took I-70 west, into the mountains. We had a patch of national forest land we called ours. At least, we used it a whole lot. Our den in the wild, the place our wolf sides would feel most at home. We were taxpayers, we had as much right to use the land as anyone, right?

Our usual spot was at the end of a winding dirt track beyond even the service roads. Ben pulled over; we didn’t see any other cars.

“They’re not here,” I said softly. “There’d be cars.”

“That just means they didn’t drive.”

That was a lawyer answer. He was right—they might have shifted somewhere else and traveled here after. In wolf form, we could run fast and far.

I got out of the car and started walking. Spring had started to seep into the mountains. Patches of snow still marked the ground, distant peaks were still snowcapped. But shoots were coming up from the ground, and birdsong was plentiful and purposeful. The air had a touch of warmth instead of the undertone of chill it had in winter. We’d still see a few more snowfalls, but they’d melt quickly, and on the other side of them the world would be green and growing.

This place was as familiar as New Moon. For our wolf sides, this was home. Close enough to Denver to be convenient to where most of the pack lived, but far enough away to not attract attention or bother anyone. Here, the forest opened out to high-country meadows, and a bare, rocky outcrop on the hillside offered shelter. We could leave our cars parked unobtrusively at various trailheads and turnouts and gather in peace.

Usually I felt better here. This place smelled like home, the scent of the pack thick and welcoming. I knew the area so well, had been coming here almost every month for years. But now it felt unfamiliar, like returning to the apartment you lived in ten years ago. I recognized it, but felt detached.

“They haven’t been here,” I said. The last time anyone had been here was the last full moon, a couple of weeks ago.

Ben had come up behind me. I felt him, smelled his scent on the air. “Would they come here if there was a problem? Or would they go somewhere less obvious?”

“If there’s a problem, why hasn’t anyone called us?”

“There’s a logical explanation. Look at it this way—the place doesn’t smell wrong, does it?”

I took a few more steps out, nose up, smelling. No, nothing smelled wrong. No fear, danger, anxiety, adrenaline, or blood. It smelled exactly the way it should have smelled. Normal.

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