Kitty Goes to War Page 12

Then they shut the pincher. One of them, the silvery one to the left, sprang and tackled Becky. The two of them rolled, a tangle of fur and snarling, wolfish lips pulled back from fierce teeth.

I yelled, my voice loud and grating, “Get away from her!”

The first wolf—the darker, shadowy one whose color I couldn’t quite determine—swerved, dodging between Becky and me, separating us. I stopped. He planted himself in front of me and stared, and there it was, the other mark of a werewolf: not just his great size, but the shine of human intelligence, the way I could almost hear him say, “Gotcha.” His wolf body language showed he didn’t think much of my ability to take him. I bared my teeth at him—showing I didn’t think much of him at all.

In the middle of their tangle, Becky slipped away and ran—she remembered the plan and rocketed toward the trap. I dodged out from the shadowy wolf’s gaze and cut around him. The two wolves only stayed surprised at our slipperiness for a moment. Becky’s pursuer shook himself and kept going, and mine launched likewise. There was only so much ducking and dodging Becky and I could do to keep away from these guys. We had ourselves a regular showdown. I didn’t want to have to pull out that gun.

I had stopped looking for the third wolf. I didn’t expect the hulking human figure to dash out from behind a tree and grab hold of me. I screamed a shocked burst of sound.

He held on to my shoulders, and we glared at each other, eye to eye, challenging. He had dark brown skin, with a broad face and square jaw, dark eyes, head shaved bald. His muscles strained against a gray T-shirt, and he wore camouflage pants. He also went barefoot. He wasn’t linebacker big—he was only a couple of inches taller than I was—but he had weight to him, a solidness that wouldn’t budge. Sergeant Joseph Tyler, according to Stafford’s dossier.

“Who are you?” he said through a snarling mouth. His nostrils flared with his hard breathing.

“My name’s Kitty, I want to help you.” I hoped my voice stayed steady and confident. I didn’t want to seem weak, I didn’t want him to think I was challenging him. We were just two wolves having a chat, right?

Becky, bless her, stopped when Tyler caught me. She was maybe fifty feet away, and holding off the two wolves with pure force of attitude. She was snarling at them, bouncing stiff legged every time they approached. The two of them circled, as if trying to figure out how to get through a prickly thicket. She couldn’t keep them off forever.

Tyler studied me, brow furrowed, confused, as if he was trying to figure something out. Human brain arguing with wolf instincts. His hands on my arms were firm—his grip didn’t hurt, but he wasn’t going to let me go. He leaned forward, bringing his nose close to my neck, smelling me. He was careful, even gentle. Uncertain, he turned my scent over in his nose, considering it, cataloguing it. I was betting I was right—he’d never smelled a female werewolf before.

I kept talking, hoping to nudge him more toward human. “Colonel Stafford told me about you. They’re looking for you. Now I don’t want anyone to get hurt, but you’re heading into my territory and I have to look after my people, so I’d really appreciate if you’d back off, tell your buddies to back off, and we can talk about this. There’s no reason we can’t talk about this.”

He smelled of sweat and exhaustion, and anxiety strained his face. He didn’t seem afraid, but he did seem like a guy at the end of his rope. He didn’t know what to do. He looked over to the shadowy wolf.

This wolf was huge, and he was also tense, all his hackles up, his fur standing on end—furious. But he hesitated, braced between me and Becky, trying to decide which way to jump. When Tyler looked at him, the wolf drew back his lip to show teeth and flattened his ears.

Tyler quickly looked away and stared at the ground. He wasn’t the alpha. Because he managed to stay in human form, I’d assumed he had the most control. But the shadowy one was Vanderman, who’d murdered his squad-mates when they challenged him. He was the one I had to watch out for. He could bite my head off without thinking about it.

Tyler moved behind me and presented me, prisonerlike, to the dominant wolf. That’s right, boss, it’s all her fault. Great.

Would I seem like a complete dork talking to a big, fanged, angry-looking wolf? Probably.

“I just want to talk,” I said calmly. “But I’m not going to show you my belly. We talk as people, we work this out, and nobody gets hurt. Nobody else gets hurt.”

I didn’t know if the wolf even understood me, or if he only heard my voice as alien buzzing. But Tyler’s grip on me relaxed. He was listening to me, and he let me go. I stood my ground.

During the lull, Becky took the opportunity to slouch, tail and ears drooping, limbs buckling, bringing her closer to the ground, in the hopes that the other wolves would read the submissive cues and leave her alone. That was just fine—I wanted them to leave her alone, so she’d get out of this in one piece and with no more emotional scars than absolutely necessary.

I wanted them all to pay attention to me. I was the alpha, I had to act like it. And I had to completely ignore how terrified I was, staring down the three biggest, meanest werewolves I’d ever encountered.

“I know you’re looking for a safe place. You’re looking for your own territory, and you found this one. Mine. Maybe you even think you can take over and have a pack of your own. But you can’t. This is my territory, my people. If you want to stay here, you have to do it on my terms.” My stare was a challenge. We both knew it. The shadow wolf’s lip curled, showing teeth—no way could I intimidate this guy. I tried anyway.

“Colonel Stafford is here. He’s coming after you one way or another. I say we do this the easy way. You all settle down, and we talk.” I couldn’t turn away from the alpha to look at the others, but I sensed them. Becky occupied the other wolf’s attention, and the human one, Tyler, was behind me, lurking just a couple of feet away, his muscles tense, heart rate and breathing fast. He was anxious, but he was listening. I was talking to him as much as I was talking to the alpha. Maybe Tyler could talk Vanderman down if I couldn’t.

“No one here’s out to get you. You’re safe, now.”

The wolf gathered himself, and the look in his eyes turned murderous.

“Van, no.” Tyler said it low, like a growl.

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