Authors: C. T. Adams,Cathy Clamp
“Thank god,” Raphael
muttered as his quarry slipped into one of the better mall restaurants. It was a steak place, which meant he would actually get the chance to eat some meat. A good thing, too; he could feel the pull of the moon, and it was making him antsy and irritable.
All morning he’d been keeping an eye on the pair of them, watching as Catherine Turner shopped with an abandon he’d never seen before. And oh, how she looked like Fiona – the hair, die figure, the sparkling blue-green eyes – which was, no doubt, why Jack had chosen her for his victim.
It was in the lingerie store that he’d caught the first good whiff of the woman’s scent. She’d be a jaguar all right, if she survived. Right now the scent was still mostly human – but it had the unmistakably musky undertones of a large cat. There was no more doubt. She would shift tonight, or die in the attempt. Raphael didn’t dare lose track of her. He had to stay close.
Raphael waited a few moments, giving the woman and her aunt time to get settled in at a table.
He ran a quick comb through his dark brown curls and tucked the white dress shirt more firmly into the waistband of his best black jeans and waited until their backs were turned before walking through the door of the restaurant.
He stopped in the cool, dim entry and scanned the patrons until he found the cat. She chose mat moment to look up. Their eyes locked across the room, and he gave her his best dimpled smile.
“Oh!” Cat hadn’t
meant to say it out loud. Her aunt, however, turned to see what her niece was looking at.
Violet said with an exhaled breath that wasn’t quite a whistle, “is a man.”
Cat couldn’t help but agree. The man who stood in the restaurant entrance looked to be in his mid- to late twenties, but he moved with the confidence of a much older man. If she had to guess, Cat would have put his height right at six feet, but with a wonderful build: slender hips, broad shoulders. His hair was a little long, falling in curls that just begged to be touched. And that wicked grin of his was enough to make her knees weak.
His slow, thorough examination of her brought a flush to her cheeks and made her pulse race just a bit faster. It was a real struggle not to stare when the maître d’ seated him right in her line of sight. Never mind polite luncheon conversation with Violet. Cat simply couldn’t concentrate. She was just too aware of him. In fact, she was so distracted, it didn’t even occur to her that she’d ordered a rare steak until she heard Violet’s hiss of dismay.
“I’m sorry.” Cat tore her gaze away from the stranger.
“No.” Violet waved the protest away. “No, you’ve every right to eat what you like. I’d just
” Violet’s voice trailed off.
Cat felt a pang of sympathy for her aunt. Violet was so incredibly earnest. But Catherine was simply not cut out to be a vegan. She
meat. She ate plenty of vegetables, but meat and dairy products were staples of her preferred diet.
And if Violet hadn’t wanted her to order steak, why had Violet chosen a steak restaurant?
“I really am sorry,” Cat apologized again, reaching across the table to take her aunt’s hand. “I know it means a lot to you. But – “
“But it isn’t going to happen.” Violet sighed and patted her niece’s hand. “Ned and your father are the same way, dear. They both
have their steak and potatoes. I understand.”
Cat felt a stab of unexpected grief. It was like that sometimes. They’d be talking or doing something, and for just that one moment she or Violet would forget, and talk about her parents as if they were still alive. Just a half hour ago, when Violet had been picking up the ring she’d ordered for Ned, Cat had spotted a necklace in the shop window and called out to Violet, “Oh look! I’ve got to show this to Dad. Mom would love it for her birthday.”
“Oh, dear!” Violet’s distress was obvious to Cat the moment she realized she’d talked about her brother as though he were still alive. Her eyes widened, and her hand flew to cover her mouth, as though to stop more hurtful words from escaping.
“It’s all right.” Cat blinked back tears. “I do the same thing all the time. It just doesn’t seem
“No… It really doesn’t.” Violet sighed as the waiter brought their salads. Cat stuffed a bite of crisp lettuce into her mouth so she wouldn’t have to keep talking – but, truthfully, she wasn’t hungry anymore.
Raphael had done
a lot of thinking as he sat confined in the sleek red sports car parked in the shadows down the street from Violet’s house. After watching the girl for an entire day he understood a little better why Charles was so fond of her – she had attitude, verve. But that didn’t make the situation any less dangerous. She was young, obviously athletic and strong. She might actually survive the change.
Which meant there was a very good chance he’d be dealing with a two-hundred-pound feral feline when the moon rose.
But she may not go feral.
At the sound of a light tap on the window Raphael reached over to unlock the car door so that die woman waiting outside could get in. He’d weighed his options and decided that he would need help tonight if he had any hope of accomplishing the task Charles had set him. If he succeeded, there was a good chance that the Chief Justice would understand and overlook the indiscretion. If he failed, he’d be dead and beyond anything the old bear could do to him.
So he had used his cell phone to place a call to Dr. Betty Perdue. As the pack psychiatrist and backup physician she should be able to help tonight, even if it was only to patch him up after the fact.
Only rarely did an attack victim maintain any sense of humanity or sanity. But occasionally, when the person attacked had a particularly strong mind and will, she sometimes held onto enough awareness to prevent herself from getting lost in her animal and going into insane blood lust.
Betty lowered herself primly onto the passenger seat. She was a large brunette woman, and more than a little homely, but there was warmth and intelligence in her gaze, and she was an exceptional healer. She was subtle with her magic, but there was power there if they needed it. Tonight, they just might.
Raphael turned in the leather seat to face his passenger. “What do you know about attack victims? Not family members who get brought over accidentally. Real human attack victims.”
“I’ve seen one change that went badly, and dealt with one survivor.” Betty was utterly calm, both her scent and expression still and serene. She had to be wondering about the circumstances of this meeting, but she was able to control her curiosity. “Tony Giodone – ”
Raphael nodded. He recognized the name – almost everyone knew about Tony Giodone and his human mate, Sue. “Yes, but Mr. Giodone had been a wolf for several months before we knew about him.”
“Well, from what I understand, non-family member attack victims are pretty rare.”
“Not as rare as you think.” Raphael cast a glance out the rear window of the car. The sun was sinking rapidly over the mountains. He could feel the pull of the moon against his magic, feel his aura flaring with the additional power. He hated wasting time on explanations, but Betty needed to know what they were dealing with so she could help as much as possible.
He hadn’t talked to her on the phone when he called her at pack headquarters because he could hear Tatya lecturing Michael in the background. The last thing they needed was to have Lucas’s wife learn what was going on. She was even more territorial and bloodthirsty than her husband. She’d come in to kill the cat, and damn the consequences.
“Tell me,” prompted Betty gently.
“All right. A human gets attacked and isn’t wearing silver. First full moon one of several things is going to happen.”
“His body tries to change and tears itself apart.” Betty spoke softly. Raphael saw the flicker of emotion in her eyes. Apparently she remembered the sight as well as he did.
“Usually, but not always. Of the victims whose bodies manage to change, most go feral. They kill anything and everything in sight until they’re brought down. And of the few who do survive their first full moon, most go crazy and try to commit suicide.”
When Betty spoke again, Raphael could hear the tension she was fighting to hide, smelled a hint of fear rising off of her in a soft mist. “Raphael, why are you telling me this?”
“Jack Simpson has been a very bad boy.”
Betty’s eyes widened until he could see the whites around her iris. The ammonia scent of her fear flooded the car.
She clearly understood the implications, but he needed to say the words anyway. “While not as big as lions, jaguars are among the great cats. Fearfully powerful physically, a lone jaguar could take out a number of our lesser wolves before being brought down. But, as you know, magic makes it worse. Magic is always the wild card. Attack victims get half of their magical abilities from their own genetics, the other half comes straight from their sire. If this woman is
like Jack Simpson, we are in for serious trouble.”
“One of Jack’s victims lived?” Betty whispered. “Why didn’t you call Lucas and Tatya? They need to know this!”
Raphael hit the button to roll down the driver’s-side window. The scent of Betty’s fear, combined with the bags of meat he’d stuck in the backseat, was making it hard for him to concentrate, hard for him to hold on to his human form. Magic surged through his veins with an almost painful ecstasy. He dampened the magic by force of will, turning his attention back to the woman sitting beside him.
“I can’t do that.”
“Why ever not?”
“The Chief Justice asked me not to.”
Silence filled the car as the implications of that hit home. When Betty finally spoke again, her voice was soft, tentative. Her fingernails, however, were digging deep into the leather of the arm rest, and she couldn’t hide the tension in her scent.
“What exactly is it you want me to do?”
“If everything goes well, nothing. If the woman’s feral- – “
Betty interrupted him with equal parts horror and disbelief in her voice. “You want me to help you bring down
I’m good, but I’m not that good.”
Raphael gave a harsh laugh. “No. I want you to stay the hell out of the way. I’ll put her down.” Betty gave him such an unbelieving look that he was a little insulted. “I am not a lesser anything, Betty. I’m Second for a
All I want is for you to piece me back together again afterward.”
She took a deep breath. He watched her take in the scent of his feelings, catalogue them, and back down. “So what’s the plan?”
“First step is to seal the perimeter with magic. You’re better at that sort of thing than I am. We’re going to need to muffle as much sound as possible when the woman changes. I don’t want cops coming to investigate barking dogs – and there will be a lot of them – or gunshots.”
“You do realize that a shield that tight is going to interfere with our noses. We won’t be able to scent anything worth a damn.”
Raphael gave a nod of acknowledgment. He wasn’t any more happy about that development than she was, but they didn’t really have a choice. Keeping the humans from suspecting anything was the top priority.
“Fine.” Betty agreed. “I’ll take care of the shielding. But how will you get close to…
Raphael pointed between the leather seats to the large black duffel. “I’ve got two of those bags with about fifty pounds of meat each. I’m hoping it’ll distract her.”
“If you’ve got a better idea I’d love to hear it.”
Betty was saved from making a response by the buzz of his cell phone. Raphael pulled the instrument from his pocket and flipped it open.
“Raphael, it’s Charles.”
Raphael saw Betty’s eyes widen, and he couldn’t blame her. But at least she knew now that he was telling the truth. While it was difficult for alphas to lie to each other, it was
Raphael didn’t want to get into a discussion about how to do his job with Charles, so he kept his voice polite, and kept the conversation short and to the point. “Sir?”
“Catherine’s in the park. She went through the window in back while you were getting the meat.” Raphael swore under his breath. He’d been afraid something like that might happen, and wished that occasionally Charles’s gift for foresight wasn’t so damned close to the actual event. Five minutes of warning and he could have been waiting at that window – twenty and he wouldn’t have stopped for the meat. But, no, obtaining raw beef had been a necessary evil if he was to have any hope at all of controlling the woman and not having to put her down. So he’d taken the chance. Now it appeared he shouldn’t have.
Charles gave him concise directions. His voice was clipped, precise, and absolutely controlled. There was no sign of the emotions he’d shown in his earlier call. Then again, this call had a witness, and no doubt Charles knew it.
“Leave Betty inside the house. We need Violet alive.” Charles hung up before Raphael could ask any questions.
Raphael flipped the cell phone closed. Betty stared at him, her eyes still a little too wide. “I’m supposed to wait in the house? At the request of the Chief Justice?”
“Yup.” Raphael rubbed the bridge of his nose with the thumb and index finger of his right hand. He was getting a headache. He hadn’t had a headache in… decades. It was remarkable, really. As an alpha Sazi with healing abilities, he generally healed too fast. But the tension in his muscles wasn’t going away, so the process was continuous. “You heard what he said.”
“Yes, but – “ Betty started to protest, but Raphael held up his hand.
“We don’t have time for this,” Raphael snarled. “You heard your orders. Go protect the aunt.”
“Right.” Betty flung open the car door and climbed out. It was obvious she wasn’t happy from the way she slammed it closed again. But Raphael knew her well enough to know she’d obey the orders. No one who couldn’t obey orders got to stay with the pack.
She froze in midstep two steps from the car. “You’re not going anywhere unarmed.”
She smiled, and it was a baring of teeth. “An alpha is never unarmed.”
“Yeah, well it never hurts to have a distance weapon. I assume you know how to use a handgun?” Raphael reached between the bucket seats. The Colt was in his inner-pants holster, but he had that Ruger and the box of silver-plated ammo behind the passenger seat. He pulled the semiauto from its holster. It was a sweet weapon. He checked, making sure the gun was loaded, and the safety on before passing it butt-first through the window of the passenger door.
Betty looked at the weapon dubiously. “I hope I don’t need to use it. I’m not a great shot.”
Raphael handed over the weapon. “If we both make it through tonight I’ll start taking you with me to the range.”
“Right.” She took a deep breath. “Good luck.”
His eyes followed her as she hurried toward the house. Small, solar-powered lanterns lined the long brick walk that led to a front porch framed by a pair of rose trellises that were heavy with vines and fading pink blooms. The porch light was unlit, not that it mattered. Both werewolves had excellent night vision. Even from this distance Raphael could see that while the screen door was closed, the main front door stood wide open, despite the cold November evening.
“Betty,” he called softly.
Betty turned, one hand on the screen door handle. “Go deal with the victim. I’ll take care of this. She won’t remember a thing if I do it right.” She paused, emotions chasing across her rough features. “Be careful.”
The scent of worry drifted across the distance mat separated them. But she went through the front door before he could comment. As she disappeared from sight he felt the shifting of energies around the house. He concentrated, calling his second sight. It wasn’t often useful, but tonight he’d need it. He watched until the net of shimmering power fell into place around the building. Few shifters could see the colored auras that every living thing had. Raphael could – and it had taken years before he could turn
the glow that permeated the world. But after a lot of training, he now had a powerful tool.
Raphael dropped his cell phone into the glove box of the car. He’d need it later to make his report, and didn’t want it to get lost or ruined should he have to change forms. He grabbed his bomber jacket from beneath the second bag on the backseat – it would hide the gun. He just hoped he would be able to control himself with the moon out, that he wouldn’t wind up having to shift forms and lose them both.
There was no more time to waste. Raphael was as ready as he’d ever be. It was time to go. He grabbed the bag, slung it over his shoulder, and slammed the car door shut.
He didn’t run. That would be too obvious. But he moved at a walk that ate the distance without drawing undue attention. From what Charles had said earlier, the park wasn’t far from the house. That was a good thing, because the moon had risen.
His heart pounded with a heady combination of fear and excitement. God how he’d missed this – the rush of adrenaline before the chase. Boulder pack life wasn’t for him, with its back-stabbing and petty jealousies. And the
duties of a Second that so many envied… cold comfort indeed. Anonymous and near-anonymous sex for the sole purpose of breeding babies was hardly what he’d wanted for his life. Oh, he didn’t
and he certainly wouldn’t argue – but he had reached a point where he needed to
something. Get back into law enforcement. Find someone to settle down with. Build a
But he’d burned too many bridges trying to bring down Jack to do either – at least within the packs.
Damn Jack Simpson! God, how Raphael hated mat man! How many murders was the old cat responsible for? How many more lives had he ruined? He was a serial killer and they all knew it, but it didn’t matter.
Someday Jack would go too far, and, file or no file, the death warrant would be issued. Until then, Raphael had to live with the fact that the council considered the senator too powerful and too dangerous to cross.
A low inhuman growl escaped Raphael’s throat. He had to fight to remain in control. The moon called to him. Magic screamed through his veins until each sense was heightened to a fever pitch.
Raphael caught her scent at the edge of the park. Musky, female, and unmistakably feline. The scent was fresh. She had passed this point moments before. Raphael slowed his pace, scenting the breeze. He sent out his magic, watching with his second sight as it spread like a mist through the area. It was nothing complicated, just an aversion, something to send any humans in the area away from the park.
Though he had little hope she’d answer or understand, he called out the woman’s name. “Catherine? Catherine Turner, are you here?”