Nightshade Page 71

We spread out, noses low to the ground, moving at an easy lope, searching for scents that were out of place, clues I knew we wouldn’t find. Knowing that we had nothing to search for but evidence of me and Shay made tracking an exercise in tedium. I caught his scent early on our patrol, knowing it would be unrecognizable to my packmates. I dutifully led Nev, Mason, and Sabine through the motions of a hunt, all the while wondering what was happening in the cavern.

Can we grab something to eat? Mason’s voice interrupted my own thoughts. I saw a grouse back there and I’m starving. I don’t think there’s anything to find. Just a stray wolf who’s been wandering in this range.

Though I’d expected it, Mason’s assumption about the unfamiliar wolf sent a wave of relief over me.

That’s all I’ve got too. I vote for lunch, Nev answered. Not grouse, though. I hate the way feathers stick to my tongue. What about rabbit? I love a fat rabbit.

You two need to focus, Sabine snapped. We should wait to eat until we finish patrol. If there’s a new wolf pack coming into this area, we’ll have to chase them out. It will get too confusing.

It’s just one wolf, Sabine. Stop showing off for Calla, Nev responded. I’ve hunted with you. You’ll go after the first rabbit we see.

She sniffed the air disdainfully. Hardly.

My own stomach rumbled, reminding me that we’d been at our pointless task for hours.

I was about to answer them when a howl stopped me in my tracks. Ren’s long, keening cry pierced the mountain air, summoning the pack to their alpha. All the ease I’d felt knowing that Shay’s identity would remain hidden vanished. In a few minutes I’d face Ren, and I didn’t know what he’d found in the cave.

Maybe that’s the lunch bell. Mason wheeled in the direction of the howl.

Let’s find out what he wants. I turned, leading the way back up the mountain.

Ren, Bryn, and Ansel were waiting when we arrived. I shook my ruff nervously when I saw the place he’d selected for our rendezvous—the very meadow where I’d first saved Shay’s life. I pawed at the dirt, not wanting to share this place with others, suddenly wishing that Shay were here and my packmates weren’t. Trying not to seem skittish, I approached Ren cautiously. He appeared calm, silently waiting for the rest of the pack to arrive.

Fey and Cosette darted out of the eastern forest.

Where’s Dax? Ren’s voice filled all our minds.

He got hungry, Fey answered, looking over her shoulder.

Dax appeared from the woods, dragging a freshly killed doe with him.

Three cheers for Dax. Nev darted forward, sinking his teeth into the deer’s haunch to help Dax drag the carcass the rest of the way.

Ansel’s tongue lolled out as he trotted toward our meal.

Alphas eat first. Dax lowered his muzzle, baring his teeth at my brother.

Ansel dropped to the ground, ears flat. Sorry, Ren.

Don’t worry about it. Ren padded to my side, laying his muzzle atop mine. Hungry?

He nuzzled my jaw, giving no sign of hostility. Maybe he hadn’t found anything. Reassured by Ren’s easy manner, my stomach rumbled at the suggestion of fresh meat. I guess.

What’s your favorite part? He nudged me toward the deer.

The smell of fresh blood edged out my irritation. The ribs. I licked my chops.

Have at it.

I tore into the carcass. Ren settled beside me, pulling chunks of flesh from its shoulder.

The rest of the pack joined us, keeping a respectful distance.

I know you’re all enjoying the food. Ren’s voice reached us even as he continued to eat. But I need to fill you in on some things, so pay attention.

What was in the cave? Dax asked, his muzzle crimson with blood.

You won’t believe it, Bryn said, hackles rising.

A very big, very dead spider. Ren tore the deer’s leg from the shoulder joint.

That sounds awful. Sabine strayed away from the gorging pack, either not hungry or put off her meal by the idea of a mutant spider.

How big? Mason asked.

Dax times three. Ansel licked Bryn’s jaw.

That’s Logan’s idea of a pet? Nev snarled, tearing more ferociously into the deer’s flank.

I think it was more of a sentinel than a pet, Ren replied.

Nice to know he has such confidence in our ability to defend the cave, Sabine sniffed.

Ren flashed his teeth at her. Anyway, it’s dead and Logan asked me to call him immediately if the cave was no longer guarded by that thing.

When did he ask you that? I looked at him, not recalling any such conversation.

He called last night, after we left your house.

I laid my head on my paws, wondering how many times Ren would get orders that I didn’t know about.

He wasn’t happy, Ren continued. My father, Logan, and Efron are on their way to the cave now. They wanted to look at something else, but it’s something that doesn’t involve us.

Haldis. I rose, pacing around the group, trapped in my own thoughts. They were coming to check on Haldis. They had to be.

Did any of you find anything on patrol? Ren asked.

There’s a lone wolf on the mountain. Fey stretched back, shaking her ruff. I haven’t seen it yet, but that’s the new scent. Otherwise it’s just us.

Shay. They’d also found Shay’s trail. My hackles rose.

No Searchers, though, Dax added, gulping down a massive hunk of venison.

We didn’t find anything either. Nev rested on his haunches.

Not even a fat rabbit. Mason nipped at Nev’s ear.

Let’s keep tracking down the slope, just in case. Ren walked away from the deer, which had been reduced to bones. Bryn, go with Dax’s group; I’ll join you too. Ansel, you track with Calla.

You’re the boss, Ansel replied, craning his head to scratch his ear with his back paw.

The pack split, moving off toward the woods.

We’re right behind you. Ren sent the thought to the group. I need to talk to Calla for a minute.

I watched my packmates disappear among the pines before turning to face Ren.

What’s up?

Ren came close to me, locking me in his charcoal eyes. Why were you in the cave?

My pulse jumped, but I sniffed at the ground, feigning disinterest. I don’t know what you’re talking about.

He lunged forward, knocking me onto my back. I tried to roll over, but he was above me, pinning me down, my belly exposed. His jaws locked around my throat, pressing on my windpipe, making it hard to breathe.

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