Kitty's Big Trouble Page 30

“I thought it’d be a little easier on you if we took it slow.”

“Time’s an issue here. I’m fine.”

“What’s really going on? How’s Grace wrapped up in this?”

“How well do you know her?” I said.

“It’s not like we’re best friends or anything. I just know her. Is she in trouble?” He sounded curious rather than concerned.

I couldn’t explain it all. It was too complicated, and I didn’t understand much of it myself. “It’s nothing, never mind.”

“You seem pretty worried.”

I almost snapped at him, a wolfish gesture. Maybe I’d feel better if I Changed. Maybe it would help my leg. Yeah, Change and do what? Go where? Track Ben by scent? Run down and maul Sun while I was at it? He didn’t deserve that.

“I’m fine,” I muttered yet again.

When we arrived on the street with the video store, I didn’t recognize it—I’d only seen the place from the back. A big yellow sign over the front said Video, along with some Chinese characters; faded posters hung in the windows.

“Here we are,” Sun said. “Is Grace supposed to be here?”

“There’s a back door in an alley,” I said. “Do you know how to get around to the back?” I could probably find it. We had to be near where we met Anastasia in the first place.

“If you told me what was wrong, I might be able to help you.”

“I don’t think I can do that.”

“If it’s a secret—”

“No. I just don’t think I’m capable of explaining the last five hours to anyone.”

When I drew the next breath, I caught a scent, a familiar flavor at odds with the city smells around me. Wild, fur—werewolf. Turning around, I tipped my nose up to find where it was coming from and how far away it was.

The scent was strong, getting close fast, and it wasn’t another attack. My Wolf leaped in response. Warm, familiar, perfect—the smell was Ben. His wolf—a sleek shape of gray and tawny fur, narrow snout and long, rangy legs, tail out like a rudder, ears pinned back—raced up the street, taking huge strides, claws clacking on pavement. It should have been incongruous, seeing a large wolf running through the middle of a street in San Francisco. I should have been worried that Ben had shifted alone in the city, but I was too happy to see him. I stepped into his path.

Instead of coming to me, he angled toward Sun. His lips pulled back in a snarl, a challenge. He thought Sun was an enemy.

“No, Ben, it’s okay!” I ran to intercept him, diving at him because what else could I do. He was too fast; I didn’t tackle him like I wanted to, but managed to grab his leg and gave a good hard yank. And I yelped as another wave of pain racked my hip.

Whirling, he snapped at me, then dipped his head and tail and snuggled close. I wrapped my arms around his neck, burying my face in his ruff. He was so warm, and he smelled so much like home, I could have breathed in his scent all night.

“It’s okay, he’s not hurting me, he’s helping. Shh, I’m okay, I’m okay.” I wasn’t, because I’d wrenched my hip again, landing hard on the street and acquiring more bruises, and I was worried and tired and confused. But Ben was here, no matter what form he was in. For now, I was okay.

Deep in his throat, he whined. Nuzzling toward me, he pushed my face away from him so he could start licking, warm, soft swipes of his tongue up my chin and cheeks. He cleaned away the tears that were falling.

He leaned against me and I wrapped my arms around him. It was as close as we could get to a hug. His mouth was open, panting worried breaths, but his hackles had flattened.

Sun watched us. I expected him to run screaming at the sight of the big slavering wolf. Most people would have. But he didn’t flinch. Maybe he wasn’t even surprised.

“That’s a pretty big dog,” Sun said.

“It’s not a dog, it’s my husband!”

“Huh. That’s progressive.”

“Shut up, he’s a werewolf, too.”

“Yeah? Hi there.” Sun waved.

Ben glared at him over my shoulder—his eyes were amber, challenging. I had to take care of him, get him someplace safe where he could go to sleep and shift back to human. Where he wouldn’t hurt anyone. He was probably thinking he had to take care of me, protect me. We were deep in unknown territory here, and all we had was each other.

I rubbed him hard, burying my hands in his thick fur, wrapping myself around him to take in that warmth. “What are you doing, Ben? What happened? You shouldn’t be like this.”

But of course he couldn’t answer. Not in words. His emotions poured off him, though, in wolfish body language. He was anxious, relieved to find me. He wouldn’t stop pressing himself against me, and I didn’t want him to stop. I’d disappeared, so of course he’d come to find me. We were in trouble, we had to protect each other—everything else was secondary.

Ben had found a way out of the tunnels—or his wolf had, animal instincts cutting through the magic. Had the others been able to follow? I didn’t sense any sign of Cormac, Anastasia, or Grace. But Ben was here.

“You okay now?” Sun said.

“Yeah, I am,” I said.

“You want some advice?”

“I’m not really in the mood for advice,” I said.

“You ought to get out of here, go home, and stop messing with things you don’t understand,” he said.

Ben licked my face, as if agreeing with the sentiment.

“I’ll consider it,” I said.

“Well, good luck then.” Sun waved as he walked away.

Ben curled his lip, his hackles rising again, and his muscles going rigid.

“Shh,” I murmured at him. He started to lunge after Sun, and I held him, bracing my weight against him to keep him from attacking. Ben made an uncertain noise—part growl, part whine—in his throat.

I only glanced away a moment while trying to settle Ben. When I turned back to the street, to take one more look at Sun, he was already gone, ducked around some corner or into some shadow. I couldn’t even smell him on the air anymore, except for his scent lingering on my borrowed T-shirt.

As soon as we found Grace I was going to have to ask her about that guy. Now, about finding Grace …

Ben was still acting like we were surrounded by enemies—watchful, nervous, braced. Part of me wanted to join him—turn Wolf so the two of us could run, just get out of here and find safety wherever we could. Golden Gate Park had to be around here somewhere, didn’t it? At any rate, I was done with Anastasia and done with the Dragon’s Pearl, Roman, and whatever weird magic was operating around them. It wasn’t worth killing ourselves over.

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