Kitty's Big Trouble Page 13

“I wonder if any of them are lycanthropes?” I said.

“Excuse me?” Ben said.

I was studying the smaller ones that seemed as if they only weighed as much as an average person as opposed to the massive ones that weighed hundreds of pounds—and trying to catch the right smell to indicate that there was something supernatural going on.

“You know, were–sea lions.” I’d met a were-seal once, and was open to endless possibilities.

“Why would a were–sea lion hang out with a bunch of the real thing?”

“Hiding out? Maybe Roman has were–sea lion minions.”

“I think you’re stretching,” he said.

We continued on, leaving the waterfront and sea lions behind to enter the grid of streets and buildings with kitschy souvenir shops, crowded restaurants, and tourist traps. Telegraph Hill and its ornamental Coit Tower lay to the south. If we kept walking, we’d enter the hills and warrens of the next neighborhood. So far, no werewolves. This wasn’t exactly werewolf territory. I wasn’t disappointed. We had plenty of other neighborhoods to check.

After a couple of blocks, Ben’s phone rang. He answered, and Cormac’s voice responded.

I waited while Ben made yes and no noises and suggested getting back to the car and heading to Chinatown. We’d left the crowds behind on the Wharf. The sun was setting; dusk fell faster among the buildings, away from the water. Lots of corners, shadows, and hiding places here. It made me think of a forest, with wide trees and deep ravines. We were strangers here, outside our territory. My shoulders stiffened, like hackles rising. All I could smell was city and ocean. I paced a few steps up the street and back, as if that would make me see into the shadows more clearly.

“You okay?” Ben said, shutting off his phone and slipping it into his pocket.

“Just nervous.”

Picking up on my cues, he lifted his chin, gazing around, searching as I had. “Let’s keep moving, then.”

Hand in hand, we walked down the street and back toward the waterfront parking lot where we’d left the car. “Did he spot anything?”

“It didn’t sound like it,” Ben said. “He didn’t say much.”

Cormac never did.

Another characteristic all big cities seemed to share was a visible homeless population, and San Francisco was no different. The street people here looked the same as they did everywhere, bundled in ill-fitting clothing, hunched over, tired-seeming. Identifiable not just by the way they looked but by the way they moved, at a different pace and with a different purpose than the people around them. My inner Wolf perked her ears when we passed them, because they didn’t quite fit. They were eddies in the flow of life on the street.

A man with a matted beard, knit gloves, hat, and a green coat of heavy canvas was slowly making his way up the other side of the street. I glanced at him, started to look away, then paused. Wolf didn’t just perk her ears; my shoulders stiffened, hackles going up. Something was definitely wrong. Ben’s hand tightened on mine.

“Are we being followed?” I murmured.

“Look,” he murmured back.

A second figure, this one with a stubbled face, wearing jeans and a flannel shirt, had joined the first, who had changed direction. They were now walking shoulder to shoulder—moving with purpose and direction. They didn’t look like street people anymore, and that put Wolf on alert. Under their loose clothes they were broad-chested, powerful.

At this distance, and with all the interference, I couldn’t smell them. But with their steady pacing and bunched shoulders, they walked like werewolves. We were being stalked.

We didn’t change our pace or direction, giving no indication we’d spotted them. At the moment we were on a side street, little traveled and currently empty. In a few minutes we’d be near the water again, where there was more traffic and more people. Not to mention we’d be heading toward Cormac. Get our pack together, then turn on them. Ben reached for the gun.

But these were wolves on the hunt, which meant some of them had the job of getting us to run and chasing us down. And somewhere, another wolf had the job of flanking us.

That one stepped around the next corner and into our path.

Chapter 5

TALL AND FULL of muscles, he was a white guy with a dark crew cut, square jaw, and a wry smile. His T-shirt was tight, his jeans faded. Bully. Enforcer.

We stopped, squaring ourselves before him. Somehow we managed to stay calm. Tilting my head as if curious, I regarded the stranger. Ben smirked as if bored. We were posturing, showing dominance—but we couldn’t hide our emotions. He would hear our heart rates speeding up, smell the sweat of tension breaking out. See our shoulders tightening, stiff as hackles. But we stood our ground. Running would only encourage him. Ben held the gun at his side, finger on the trigger.

“Is there a problem?” I said.

Ben glanced over his shoulder—the other two werewolves were crossing the street, moving in behind us.

“I have a message from Roman,” the guy said.

When Ben started to raise the gun, I touched his arm, forestalling him. “What message?”

The guy bared his teeth and sprang, hands outstretched, fingers clenched like claws. I ruined Ben’s first shot with my arm in the way, and the second missed because the guy was fast and already on top of us, knocking the weapon out of Ben’s hand. I went sideways, dodging—Ben dived in the opposite direction as the two others grabbed at him. I couldn’t see where the gun had gone.

The big guy snagged me as I swerved, taking hold of my arm, swinging me around the corner and into the side street he’d come out of. I slammed into the wall, banging my head and seeing stars. Falling, I dropped into a crouch and growled, glaring up at my attacker.

Ben tackled him.

Caught off guard, the big guy fell, and the two rolled onto the pavement. The other two jumped on top of him. Letting out a guttural shout, I lunged into the fray, slashing with inadequate fingernails instead of claws. My only thought: to get them away from Ben, to drive them off. Taking hold of a handful of hair, I yanked back—the first henchman’s face came up, his teeth bared to show the start of fangs, which snapped at me, millimeters from my arm. I let him go and raked claws across his cheek. The second henchman kicked me, and I fell against the wall again.

We all looked human, but we fought like wolves, with lupine strength and speed. Instead of throwing punches, we slashed, snapped, wrestled. Instead of grunting and shouting, we growled and snarled. I could feel Ben’s anger lashing out at them; my own rage narrowed my vision to the three enemy wolves and my need to rip into them.

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