Authors: C. T. Adams,Cathy Clamp
“I’ll be right down!”
Raphael hustled down the staircase
into the living room.
“Guard the back door,” he whispered to Michael. The wolf padded quickly through the swinging doors. As soon as he was out of sight, Raphael opened the front door.
There were three figures standing in the circle of light from the porch lamp. Two wore crisp dark uniforms and serious expressions. The third, a woman of late middle age, wore a hot-pink pantsuit that was stretched taut across an ample frame.
“Who are you! Where’s Violet? Where’s Catherine?” She spat the words at him, dark eyes blazing with suspicion.
The police officer moved her back and to the side. “Please, ma’am. We’ll handle this.”
Raphael chose to ignore her and her questions. He was much more concerned with the police.
“Sorry it took so long. I had to put my dog in the kitchen.”
“Your neighbor has reported a disturbance,” said the female officer. She was obviously the senior of the pair. Her dark hair was silvered, and she had the flat, emotionless eyes of a veteran who’d seen it all. Raphael recognized the look. Her partner was still new enough to be wet behind the ears. A good-sized man, he was taller than Raphael, with the build of an athlete. He didn’t have the obvious bulk of a football or hockey player. Muscular, but lanky: basketball, maybe swimming. He had an all-American look to him, but tough.
man isn’t my neighbor,” the older woman said aggressively. Each word was punctuated by an aggressive yip from the lap dog under her arm. “He’s lying! Where is Violet?”
“We were watching a movie – “ Raphael began.
“I know what I heard! I heard
The neighbor’s jaw thrust forward aggressively.
The female officer rolled her eyes and stepped forward a pace, putting the neighbor behind her. “If you don’t mind, sir, we’d like to speak with either Violet Wildethorne or Catherine Turner.”
Raphael opened his mouth to respond, but Tatya’s voice from upstairs beat him to it.
“Raphael, whatever is going
down there?” Her voice held just the perfect trace of exasperation. Somehow the tone of just those few words hinted at sexual escapades being rudely interrupted. It was a masterful performance.
“The police are here. Apparently the TV was too loud and we disturbed the neighbors.”
“Of course not.” Raphael agreed. “Sweetheart, they want to see Catherine.”
“Oh, for the love of God! Give us a second to pull on some clothes!”
Out of the corner of his eye Raphael could see the male officer’s mouth twitch as he tried to stifle a grin, his eyes shining with suppressed mirth. The female officer was more suspicious and much less amused.
A moment later the two women appeared at the top of the stairs, Tatya’s arm protectively around Catherine’s waist. The two of them were quite a sight. Tatya, a petite silver blonde with a spectacular figure, was wearing only a powder-blue teddy. The color was perfect for her silver-blue eyes and milk-white skin. Catherine wore a burgundy satin floor-length robe that had been tied tightly enough around her to hide the worst of her injuries, but gaped enough when she moved to show there was nothing underneath it.
Catherine struggled to focus, her eyes lighting on the neighbor. “Oh, Mrs. Zabatos – “
The scent of disgusted disapproval poured off of the older woman in waves.
“Is that Catherine?” The older officer directed her question to the neighbor.
“Yes.” Mrs. Zabatos, turned her back to the scene, her voice outraged.
“Ms. Turner, are you all right?” She turned her attention sharply to the woman on the steps.
Catherine looked down at her body, her expression confused. She looked up again, her eyes locking with Raphael’s. “I… I’m fine.” She sounded surprised.
Raphael let out the breath he had been holding. It wasn’t a ringing endorsement, but, combined with the little push of magical persuasion he was using, it would probably be enough.
“Is there anything else we can do for you officers?” Raphael asked.
“Just keep the noise down,” the older officer answered. She was shaking her head as though annoyed by a buzzing insect in her ear. That happened sometimes with strong-willed humans, so Raphael pulled back his magic a little bit. It seemed to calm her. He could tell she wasn’t happy with the situation, but she wasn’t going to pursue it. Her partner couldn’t – he was too busy fighting a losing battle with his amusement. He waited until both Mrs. Zabatos and his partner were out of earshot. Taking a long, appreciative look at the women on the staircase, he turned to Raphael. “You are one
“You have no idea.” Raphael grinned and elbowed the officer, who grinned back, and pulled the door closed behind him when he left. Raphael was so relieved his knees felt weak.
“Come to bed, Catherine.” Tatya ordered, her arm still around the younger woman’s waist. Raphael could feel the surge of power as Tatya exerted her magic to influence Catherine.
“No.” Catherine pulled away, shaking her head, almost stumbling on the hem of the long robe. She never took her eyes off of Raphael. “I remember you.” She spoke slowly, and with great care. Her expression was confused, and he could scent worry. He didn’t blame her. The images she was probably remembering wouldn’t make any sense to a human who knew nothing of the Sazi.
“I’m not surprised.” Raphael answered, raising a hand to signal Tatya to silence. “But
still need to change, and eat. You
need to go to bed. I’ll explain everything in the morning.”
“Promise?” Her plea was almost childlike.
She allowed Tatya to lead her upstairs then. Raphael, gratefully, pulled off the sweatpants and let the moon take him.
The blood was
pooling in the dips of the metal floor of the rental van. Thick and almost impossibly red, the smell of it filled the small space. Jack lay still, breath wheezing in and out of his injured lungs. The silver bullets had done their work, and Ramirez was as good a shot as ever.
“I still don’t understand why you insisted on coming here.” There was tension in the woman’s voice, and veiled anger. Veiled, because Jack did not tolerate insubordination from anyone, no matter how useful she might be. And she was, admittedly, useful.
wouldn’t understand. All you have to know is that I wanted to.” Jack didn’t say anything further. It hurt to talk. Nor was he willing to let anyone know the full extent of his plans. The female wolf, Betty, had been an unexpected complication. Worse, it had all nearly been ruined when he’d come face to face with Ramirez. The temptation to end it, then and there, in the Wildethorne kitchen had nearly been too much to resist. But no, it was better to wait. He could afford to be patient, to let things develop naturally. In the end his revenge would be complete and utterly satisfying.
He hissed as she laid dark hands on the torn and bloodied fur, but didn’t lash out. The pain was phenomenal. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been hurt this badly. Maybe that time in Madrid. At least this time there was a healer nearby. Closing his eyes against the blinding glow of her aura, he let the heat of the magic wash over him as she began her work.
* * *
“Eat,” Tatya ordered.
They were in the living room of the house. It was a pretty room, done in soft blues and grays. The furniture looked comfortable – lived in, but not shabby. The drapes were drawn. The thick navy panels blocked out the moonlight he knew was gleaming brightly beyond the glass.
Raphael forced himself to take a bite. Tatya had gone out to the car for the second bag of hamburger and steaks, and a fair-sized stack of meat was bleeding onto the beautiful china platter she’d set on the carpet in front of him. The smell was heavenly, but he barely had enough energy to chew. He felt as though he’d been pounded – which made no sense whatsoever since neither Jack nor the woman had laid a claw on him and he should already have recovered from expending so much magical energy.
“She’s healing. She’ll be fine in a couple of days.” Raphael heard, rather than saw, Tatya fling herself onto the floral couch on the opposite side of the room. She kicked off her heels. Each landed on the thick carpeting with a muffled thump.
“She came to for a bit,” Tatya continued, “just long enough to tell me to thank you – and let me know where the meat was.”
me? After I almost got her killed?”
“You couldn’t have known Jack would be here,” Tatya pointed out.
Raphael grimaced. “I guessed it might be a possibility when Charles said we needed to protect the aunt.”
said?” Tatya glared at Raphael. “Is
the one responsible for you keeping information from Lucas and me?”
Raphael considered his next response very carefully. Tatya might not be able to fight with him about what was
bothering her, but that wouldn’t keep her from starting an argument. For all he knew, she hadn’t had time to change yet, and that was enough to make anybody cranky. Still, he needed to remind her that she wasn’t in charge here.
“When Lucas is out of town,
rule, Tatya – not you. It was my decision to make.”
She growled a little, but not as though she truly meant it. “In other words, yes, Charles said jump, but you would’ve done it anyway. Damn it, Raphael, we’re pack! Packs work
Under most circumstances, that would be true. But Raphael wouldn’t have wanted to bet his life, or Catherine’s, on it. Saying that, however, was out of the question. Raphael considered his next question very carefully. His first thought was that Charles had called her, had seen that Jack was here. But if not, then… who?
“Don’t take this wrong. I’m grateful as hell you showed up, but how did
“Lucas called me.” That stopped him cold. Raven never would have talked, and Charles was adamant that Lucas not know. How in the hell – “Charles called him in Paris and told him to send me. I would’ve been here sooner,” Tatya continued, “but I was already halfway up the mountain. Then I couldn’t find the damned address!” Silence fell between them, the only sound the cracking of Raphael’s teeth against a steak bone while he considered his options.
When Tatya spoke again, her voice was as thick with emotion, and the cold rain smell of her hurt filled the room. “You could have been killed!” She whispered the words, afraid her son might hear from the other room. Michael might know the story of his mother’s past with Raphael, but that was abstract. The pain in her eyes and voice wasn’t, not at all. She didn’t voice the accusation but it hung in the air between them:
Why didn’t you call me?
Raphael didn’t answer. There was nothing to say. Lucas was mated to Tatya. They were married, and had been for many years. It didn’t matter that Tatya was mated to Raphael and would give her life to protect him. Wolves mated for life, and Lucas had known the situation when he’d married her – which meant the three of them had danced a very delicate measure for the past few decades. One wrong word, one wrong step, and they’d all be dragged down in ruin.
Raphael was determined that
would not be the one to make that misstep.
Not this time.
“I sent for more meat.” Tatya’s voice was taut, but controlled as she struggled past the fact that Raphael wouldn’t answer her – wouldn’t look at her. She paused for a second, but continued. “And for a cleanup team. The aunt is fine. She’s sleeping on the bedroom floor – I figured Betty needed the bed more than she did. I want her to rest a couple of hours to build up her strength before we move her to the pack hospital. The
will be fine.” Her tone said it all, told him more than an outright statement ever could. Tatya considered Catherine a threat, both to the pack and to her feelings for Raphael. But for the life of him, he couldn’t figure out what might have caused her attitude.
She took a deep breath. Her next words were even more tightly controlled than the last. “Lucas called me to send me here and to tell me that
have been instructed to raise and train the new kitten. Charles somehow managed to get a council directive.”
Raphael’s eyes widened in shock. How could Charles possibly have managed to get a council quorum in the space of a few hours? Then the reality sunk home. Monitoring her first change was one thing.
the woman was at least a six-month commitment. Cats and wolves didn’t get along at the best of times. The tensions within the pack would be enormous.
Raphael stared at her, opened his mouth, but couldn’t find the right words to say.
“Don’t look at me like that!” she snapped. “It certainly wasn’t