Kitty's Big Trouble Page 28

Fighting through the pain left me flushed and sweating. Even if the break was healing and hurt less, I wouldn’t be able to tell.

Finally, I reached up and touched the edge of the shaft back in the hallway. Just a few more steps brought the rest of me to the top. I slumped over and dragged myself away from the stairs, then lay gasping, whining with every breath like the hurt Wolf I was. My hands and face were scraped and sore from the climb. My hip and leg felt like someone had tried to rip them apart by slowly twisting them in opposite directions. Lying on my back, I looked around.

I wasn’t in the hallway.

The room was dim and cramped, like Grace’s video store, but bare. The floor was concrete, the walls painted off-white. I smelled ginseng and restaurant cooking, as if I was back on Grant Avenue in Chinatown. It almost seemed normal, except that I wasn’t supposed to be here. I didn’t think I had gotten so turned around. I’d kept the top of the shaft within sight the whole time. At least I thought I had. But I was somewhere else now. Ben and Cormac would never find me. I’d never find them. Maybe if I howled, Ben would hear me and come running.

I tried my cell phone again, and hallelujah it worked this time. This meant more than having my lifeline back—it meant I was out of the tunnels, out of the maze, and back in the real world. When I called Ben, though, he didn’t answer. Because he was still in there somewhere. When the voice mail clicked on, I took a deep breath to try to keep my voice steady. “Ben, I need help. I’m hurt. I don’t know where I am. I’ll try to figure that out and call you back. I hope you’re okay.” I took another deep breath to keep from bursting into tears. Time to get moving and figure out where I was. I needed to get outside and find a street sign.

In the front half of the narrow room, opposite the pit I’d just climbed from, a light was shining from a bare bulb suspended from the low ceiling. There looked to be some kind of apartment here—a minimal kitchen, cupboards built against the wall, a wash basin, table and chairs, even a cot.

A man was sitting in a chair, leaning back, studying me with an amused grin on a youthful face.

I rushed to sit up, clamping down hard on the throbbing bursts still racking my hip. I managed to get both feet under me and lurched upright, sticking my arms out for balance. I swayed, but didn’t fall over. So far so good.

The nearest door was on the other side of the guy in the chair. I wondered if I could inch around him and get away. That would have meant limping, which would have showed weakness. Wolf wanted to stand her ground and challenge him. I agreed with her this time.

“Are you okay?” he said.

I almost collapsed with relief, because he sounded so friendly, so concerned, so genuine. But Wolf held me steady. I stared at him, waiting, wondering if my leg would hold me if I had to run, if I had to attack him.

“Do you want to come over and sit down?” he said, gesturing back to the oasis of light. A second chair sat near the card table next to him. He was slender and had a controlled poise—he seemed relaxed, but his muscles were ready to move. I couldn’t smell any kind of emotion off him. Just maleness—jeans and black T-shirt a couple of days old, a meal with ginger and soy sauce lingering. He had a shock of black hair, an easy smile. He carried what looked like a bag over his shoulder, the strap lying across his chest. It reminded me of Grace’s bag.

“I’m fine,” I said.

“You don’t look okay,” the guy said. “You’re covered in blood.”

“It isn’t mine.”

“I’m sorry if that doesn’t make me feel any better.” He said it lightly, almost laughing. He didn’t sound worried, which made me nervous.

“Can you do me a favor and not call the cops?” Although I maybe should have called an ambulance. My leg was feeling better, I was sure it was. I could convince myself of that. But I didn’t want to have to explain the blood to anyone in a uniform.

“I wasn’t going to.”

I still had the feeling the guy was laughing at me. “And why are you avoiding the police, then?”

He grinned. “You really want to ask that kind of question?”

Falling from a supernatural underworld into a criminal underworld seemed like an improvement, considering.

“Where is this?” I said. “Where am I?”

“You’re safe,” he said. “Trust me.”

“I don’t even know you.” My voice came out rough, growly.

“I’m just trying to help. You’re the one who fell into my monster trap.”

“Wait, monster trap?”

“Yeah. You never know what’s going to come crawling through some of these doors.”

He said this with a complete lack of irony and humor. As if he expected monsters to invade as a matter of course, and was only mildly surprised to find a bedraggled blond woman in the pit instead. Or rather, in addition.

“Does that sort of thing happen a lot? Monsters crawling through the door, I mean,” I said cautiously, testing to see if he was serious or speaking metaphorically. Metaphorical monsters, sure.

“Not too often. Not anything I can’t handle, at least. But you’re not a monster, right?”

I stared. How to answer that question? I should have brushed him off. Unfortunately, I wasn’t thinking too straight. I blurted, “I’m a werewolf.”

He pursed his lips thoughtfully. “Really?”

Was this guy on something? Whatever it was, could I have some? “Yeah.”

“Then see, the trap works! You look like you’re about to fall over—why don’t you come over and sit down? I was about to make some soup—are you hungry?”

On the contrary, I still felt like I was on the verge of being sick.

“You might feel better if you had a little soup. Sit down and catch your breath,” he said. “You can hang out here for as long as you want. I’m not going to hurt you.”

I laughed, a short, anxiety-ridden burst. If he hurt me, I probably wouldn’t even notice at this point. He couldn’t kill me, unless he happened to have a stash of silver bullets or bombs, neither of which seemed likely.

Pulling myself as straight as I could, I hobbled to the corner living space with as much dignity as I could manage. Which wasn’t much, as it turned out. My face was stiff, locked in a grimace of pain. My right leg took some weight but throbbed with every step. My whole body was sore from bracing against the injury. But I could walk, slowly.

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