Authors: C. T. Adams,Cathy Clamp
He moved slowly, using his second sight to scan the area, first on the ground, then in the trees above. It was her first night. She might glow. She might not. But he was going to use every tool in his arsenal to find her.
He heard something. Not an answer, but a sound that wasn’t
wasn’t one of the normal night sounds. He wasn’t certain what it was, or the exact location, so he stopped. He tilted his head back, scenting the breeze. He could smell her, but couldn’t pinpoint exactly where – she must, he figured, be upwind.
With a shrug of his shoulder he allowed the meat-filled duffel to fall to the ground. Reaching for his gun, he stepped away from the package to get a little farther from the overpowering scent of raw meat. “Catherine. I know you’re here. You
to answer me.” Gun in hand, he turned in a slow circle, dark eyes scanning both the ground and the trees, looking everywhere for the tawny, spotted form of a jaguar.
She struck when his back was to her: a dark blur of motion, too fast for a human eye to follow. She knocked him to the ground, sending his gun skittering across the leaf-strewn earth, before she grabbed the bag of meat in her teeth and leapt into the branches of an ancient elm. Nylon screamed as she shredded the bag and began devouring its contents. He’d been watching for a spotted cat, but she wasn’t.
She was the smooth, solid black of a panther.
Raphael stood, his movements deliberate and very, very careful. She could have killed him in that one leap. Normally, it took a bullet to
the head and the heart to kill an alpha – unless, of course the head was torn off the body, in which case all bets were off. Raphael had seen that happen.
Looking up at those bloodstained teeth and vicious claws he knew she could do it. Hell, he’d seen Fiona do as much, and Catherine was at least fifty pounds heavier – and impossibly fast. She was definitely Jack’s get, despite her coloring.
The jaguar looked down on him with slitted green eyes and snorted with amusement.
Raphael heard the thought in his head. His eyes widened. Could she have gained Jack’s talent of telepathy so quickly?
The cat stared at him another long moment then corrected herself.
Not dog. Man.
He watched as she gave a long sniff of her blood-soaked muzzle.
like a dog. A wet, stinky
He took a slow step toward the tree. She growled low in her throat, warning him away. He actually felt the effort as the cat fought to force a human word, more snarl than speech, past her teeth.
Raphael edged farther forward. The cat laid her ears back against her broad skull. Her eyes narrowed and she gave an eerie high-pitched growl. Her lips pulled back, baring long, curved fangs.
“Catherine?” He made it a question, his head tilted slightly to one side as he stared up at her.
kill.” She spoke the words out loud as well as in his skull.
“Fine.” Raphael answered, holding his hands away from his body in a placating gesture.
kill.” He took a step back. The great cat’s body relaxed fractionally. She kept her eyes fixed on him as she ravaged the meat. When she’d eaten it all she began licking the nylon fabric to get every spot of blood.
“Satisfied?” Raphael asked.
“Hungry,” she growled. He knew that talking was difficult for new turns, but it would get easier. Harder than forming the words would be finding them. The thoughts of cats were all of images, emotion, and instinct, none of which translated into human speech easily. Still, he could sense that she was trying, using the same part of her brain that had kept her from biting through his neck when she had had the chance.
“You want more?”
“More,” she agreed, her ears coming forward a fraction.
“Den,” he said. He hoped she would understand and translate the word to
– or at least, her aunt’s house.
The cat shook her head, looking disgusted.
Raphael repeated sternly. He was getting through to her, but he had to keep the concepts simple, the simpler the better.
The cat lashed her tail. She glared down at him, her ears flattening against her skull. She turned, looking away, distracted by a car passing by on the nearby road. When she turned back the man had moved over to retrieve his gun. She growled.
“More meat at den.” Raphael used his most soothing voice, but didn’t return the gun to its holster. Not yet. She wasn’t feral, not exactly, but she was still a two-hundred-pound, supremely hungry, very unhappy pussycat. He might need the weapon if she decided not to cooperate.
she argued, backing farther up on the branch and farther out of his reach.
She obviously didn’t want to hurt him, but there was no trust. She wouldn’t want to be touched.
“More meat at
Raphael assured her, projecting the truth of his statement forceably. There
meat, plenty more. No lie was necessary.
She answered, clearly struggling to form the words. “Vi… let… no… meat.”
Raphael was getting frustrated and impatient, and he could feel the moon tearing at him through his skin. Damn it.
would need to change, and soon. Yes, he could hold it off, but the longer he held back, the more it drained him. He had no doubt his eyes were already glowing, so he sent out a light wave of magic to make sure that no humans ventured close enough to see. If he could just get her
The aunt’s house was so
They could cut –
He stopped in midthought, feeling like a complete idiot as he realized what she’d just said.
It didn’t seem possible, a cat in her first change shouldn’t be able to think beyond food, let alone follow complex concepts, but he remembered a single line from the file that Raven had faxed him, about a local organization the aunt had founded and was still an officer in.
“Your aunt’s a
“Vegan.” One word, enunciated perfectly. Raphael blinked stupidly up at her. She’d turned on the branch to focus her attention down the trail, ignoring him as she waited for prey.
“Well, shit!” Raphael was stunned. Her first change and she was not only
feral, she was smarter than most of his pack members on their best day. This was one
of a woman. Charles hadn’t missed the mark when he’d called her exceptional.
“All right,” he said, no longer concerned that she wouldn’t understand normal speech. “I have meat in my car and my car is at your den.”
The cat turned her head slowly, her entire attention focused on him. Her eyes narrowed with suspicion. Her claws dug furrows into the tree bark, and powerful muscles tensed beneath her glossy ebony fur that was now starting to glow with a faint, pale light. It was so pale it was nearly white. “Liar.”
“Smell my scent. You’ll know I’m not lying if you let yourself trust your own nose.” He felt like an idiot standing here, and his neck was getting a crick in it from staring up into the tree. Thank God the spell was holding and nobody was around to see him. Fiona, Raven – hell,
let him hear the end of it if any of them ever learned he was having this conversation. But from mat tiny telepathic touch he’d gotten from her, he knew mat ordering her not only would be stupid, but would probably piss her off enough that she would hurt him badly.
So far he’d managed this without so much as a scratch. He’d like to keep it that way if he could.
“Look.” He decided to try reasoning with her. “I brought
meat didn’t I? What makes you think I don’t have more?”
He waited, watching for the tiny clues in her body language that would indicate trust. Normally her scent would have told him as much or more than her posture, but the scents of blood and raw meat were overpowering everything else.
“If you come with me back to my car with me there’s a second bag and you can have it all.”
The scent of suspicion flowed off of her in waves, and her body language wasn’t happy. But after a long moment of consideration, she dropped the shredded duffel to the ground and jumped down beside him in a fluid leap. Raphael forced himself not to flinch. She was being
This whole situation was going better than he’d dared hope. Still, he couldn’t help noticing just how
she was. His guess of two hundred pounds might have been a little low. Standing next to him he could see she was at least nine feet long from nose to tail, all gleaming black fur and solid muscle. Her shoulder came to his waist.
When he didn’t start moving immediately, she head-butted him hard. Her glow flared a bit with her annoyance.
“Give me a minute,” Raphael snapped. “We can’t just leave the bag here. People would ask questions. You need to learn caution about this new part of your life.”
She gave him a
Now he could scent her impatience over her musk.
He didn’t make her wait long. Her claws and teeth had been
thorough. Raphael gathered the few remaining ribbons of nylon into a tight package and forced the edge of it into the rear pocket of his jeans. He’d come back tomorrow during daylight disguised as park maintenance to make sure there was no other trace of what had happened here, but for now this was the best he could do.
Raphael turned to face the cat. She had settled comfortably onto the leaf-strewn ground and was using her paws to wash the last of the blood from her muzzle. “I have to touch you,” Raphael warned.
She hissed at him, laid her ears back against her skull, and glared at him with narrowed eyes. I don’t think so. The thought came directly into his mind with perfect clarity and the utter disdain only a cat can convey.
to,” he repeated firmly, reaching out with his left hand. “It’s necessary for the magic to work. Trust me.” He spoke softly, putting both magic and feeling into the words as he tried to insert the words in her mind. Raphael wasn’t much of a telepath, but he was
good at magical persuasion. Wolven had helped him train that talent into a tool.
She rose, backing away a half step, but her ears rose up a bit. She was trying to trust, compelled to do so, but he knew it was hard for her.
“Trust me.” Raphael repeated in nearly a whisper, letting his magic settle over her until he saw her shiver and felt her muscles start to relax. He reached ever so slowly toward her with his empty left hand. He needed to touch her, needed to project a nice, safe, unremarkable image around the two of them. Let the humans see something ordinary and unnoticeable. “Please?”
The cat snarled lightly, but allowed him to rest his hand on her shoulder. She wasn’t happy. Neither was he. They had no choice. Raphael couldn’t risk anyone seeing her as a jaguar, and he had to be touching her for his illusion to work. He closed his eyes and took a deep, slow breath, visualizing the ordinary image he wanted to project: a man walking his Great Dane. It should have been easy, but the moon was dragging at him. He hadn’t eaten, not
food, and the erratic mental images he was getting from the cat were intruding on his concentration.
Slowly, he felt the warm golden glow of magic spread over them. The illusion settled into place with an almost audible snap. As long as they acted reasonably in character, anyone walking by would see, hear, even
what Raphael wanted them to. But at a cost. When this was over he’d be exhausted, damned near useless. But it was worth it – he didn’t have to kill her.
He would have. It wouldn’t have even been the first time. But this wasn’t her fault. She didn’t ask for this. And Raphael wouldn’t have relished having to tell Charles afterward.
Catherine nearly knocked him off his feet with another headbutt.
He glared down at her. Not that it did any good.
Raphael berated himself for his inability to focus. He hadn’t had this much trouble controlling his magic or the moon in decades. What the hell was going on? He needed to get a grip before he got himself, or someone else, killed.
Adrenaline flooded into his veins at the thought of not only the danger he was in, but the danger the cat beside him posed. The Sazi couldn’t afford exposure. Catherine Turner might have been an innocent victim, but Raphael’s people couldn’t afford to let her run wild. She’d conform, or she’d die.
“Come on.” Raphael’s voice was gruff. “We’d better get moving.”
Raphael let Catherine lead him across the grass to the nearest sidewalk. Only then did he try to guide her along the concrete path. The cat’s instinct would place her on the quickest route to the den, but Raphael needed the two of them to act normally. People walking their dogs do not cut straight across their neighbor’s property. If the two of them acted too far out of character of the illusion they
The cat accepted his guidance wordlessly and stuck to the sidewalks. He let her lead. Casting the illusion was getting easier. Raphael knew there was something wrong with that, but his mind kept wandering. He couldn’t focus long enough to really be concerned. The silvered moonlight cast blue and white shadows across the jet black of the cat’s fur. Each movement had a fluid beauty that was captivating, mesmerizing.
The cat used her paw, claws only slightly masked, to push him away from the curb just in time to keep him from stepping out in front of a speeding car. He hadn’t seen it. Hadn’t heard it coming. “What in the
“Stupid dog,” the cat muttered out loud, giving him a look of utter disdain.
There was a long pause, during which she didn’t take her gaze from him. Jade-green eyes stared without so much as blinking. “Fine. Stupid