Kitty's Big Trouble Page 24

“Ben?” I crept toward him, hesitant, waiting for the groan to turn to a growl, for his arms to take on a sheen of fur and start to melt into a wolf’s limbs. “Stay with me, Ben,” I murmured.

Blood covered our hands. I wanted to hang onto him, but slipped. He hunched over, his back heaving as he tried to catch his breath, as he tried to hold onto himself. I took hold of his face. He was injured from his fight with the wolf, claw slashes crossing his cheek, and a dark bruise colored his left eye.

He clenched his arms, trying to hold on. And his body didn’t break. He stayed human. I brushed my hand along his arm, smearing blood as I went. Human hands. I watched my own hands, making sure they stayed human. Finally, he turned his face to me, appearing exhausted but in control. I smiled weakly. If we’d been any closer to the full moon, we might not have been able to pull ourselves back.

I licked blood off his chin, moved up his cheek, bringing him back to himself, and back to me. Wolf to wolf, I spoke to him. He turned his face, and for a moment we shared breaths, which slowed as we calmed, and his arms closed around me—human arms with hands and fingers that clenched my shirt. I kissed him, and he sighed.

“Doing this twice in a day is too much,” he said, his voice rough. “Are we okay?”

“I don’t know.”

I didn’t want to look, but I did, in time to see Anastasia drop the bloodless corpse of the last werewolf. She stood and brushed off her clothing, arranging herself and regaining her poise. She hadn’t spilled a drop of blood. Unlike Ben and me, who were swimming in it.

Cormac stood behind her, stake in hand, raised and ready to strike.

He could take care of himself. He knew to stay out of the way—but now he saw a threat. His whole life had been about taking care of threats.

She ducked and swung, planting an elbow in Cormac’s gut and pivoting into the clear. Cormac’s swing went over her shoulder and missed. Grabbing his arm and using it for leverage, she slammed him into the floor. The stake skittered away from him. She stepped her nice sharp heel on his chest—and he punched her knee, wrenching the joint the wrong way. Grunting, she fell, and Cormac scrambled to his feet.

“Stop it!” I shouted. “Get away from each other and just … just stop it!” My voice had dropped—it sounded like a growl, a lupine snarl.

They stopped. Anastasia looked at me, eyebrows arced, lips pursed, as if she was amused that I would be giving orders. As usual, Cormac didn’t reveal anything in his expression—a cold gaze and a calm bearing hid any emotion. I could never guess what he was thinking.

The hallway smelled like blood. I couldn’t smell anything else. Not sweat, anxiety, incense, or anything. I paced, fast, back and forth across the hallway as if I could plunge through the walls to get some fresh air, to break free and run. I clenched my hands into fists, a growl stuck in my throat.

Ben put his hand around my ankle, and I stopped. He didn’t grab, didn’t force, didn’t squeeze. Just held me with a firm grip, and the touch warmed me, anchored me. Reminded me that I wasn’t alone. That we had to stay calm.

We had three dead bodies on the floor. Ben and I were covered with blood. It was congealing on my clothing and skin, getting sticky, itchy. I shivered inside my clothes, trying to better fit into my human skin. Sick of this place, I wanted to get my pack out of here. Ben stood and put his hand on my back, and I sighed, my muscles unclenching.

“Well,” I said finally. “Are we finished here? Now that we’ve built the set for our own B-grade horror flick?” I glanced at Cormac, hoping for some clue about what he thought of all this. Of me and Ben almost losing it and digging into a dying wolf with our bare hands.

His gaze was downturned as he went to the body of the werewolf Anastasia had killed. With his second knife, he cut off a big scrap of the man’s shirt and used it to retrieve the silver dagger from the now-human corpse that Ben and I had ravaged, with gaping wounds in its neck and belly. It was the man with the matted beard we’d seen earlier. The now frail-seeming body looked like an animal had been at it. He cleaned the knife, careful to scrape out all the cracks and seams where the blade joined the handle. Then he tossed the bloody cloth away. He didn’t say a word. Didn’t look at Ben and me.

It wasn’t like he’d never seen us covered in blood before.

Anastasia’s skin had taken on the warm, almost healthy sheen of the newly fed vampire. Quickly she crouched by her victim and searched, patting down his few pockets, feeling under his shirt for anything hidden. Nothing. Standing again, she hugged herself as if cold. “They must have already delivered it to him. It’s lost, it’s all lost. Roman’s won.”

It sure felt like it, but I couldn’t believe it. We were alive, which was a point in our favor. Grace was safe, I assumed, which was another point. This wasn’t over by a long shot.

I shook my head. “No. Something else is going on here. Maybe they locked up the nine-tails, but they don’t have the pearl—they were still looking for it. Which means Roman doesn’t have it. Someone else took it. There’s a third party.”

Ben chuckled. “That’s the good news, isn’t it?” He hunted around the floor for the gun he’d tossed aside, found it shored up against the wall, and covered in blood. Picking it up with two fingers by the very end of the grip, he said, “I’m really getting tired of this. Why’d I bring this again?” Cormac tossed him another scrap of shirt, and he started wiping it down. The scene was looking increasingly ghoulish. We needed to get out of here.

“Do we need to clean up the bodies?” Cormac asked.

“No,” Anastasia said. “The tunnels take care of themselves.”

Now I really wanted to get out of here. “Who else wants this pearl?” I said to the vampire.

“Anyone who knows about it would want it. Any magician, wizard, any other vampires. The gods.”

“Gods? Seriously? Let’s not make this more complicated than it has to be. What’s our next step then? Go looking for the pearl?”

“Take a shower?” Ben said. “Go home?”

“That gets my vote,” Cormac said. “This isn’t our fight.”

Anastasia didn’t say anything to that. I expected her to argue. She didn’t, maybe because Cormac was right. But that wasn’t how I felt. Roman was my enemy, too. Here or somewhere else, he’d come after me and mine again.

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