Authors: C. T. Adams,Cathy Clamp
Raphael padded barefoot
across the front lawn to where he’d parked the Mitsubishi. He needed to retrieve his cell phone and have a cigarette, and have just a few minutes away from the cat to think and relax. By now Charles was probably frantic. Or not. Last night his gifts must have come back online long enough to track the cat to the park. Maybe Charles knew everything that was happening. Maybe he’d
known. But why would he caution Raphael
to tell Lucas, and then tell him himself just a few hours later? It made no sense as far as Raphael could see. Then again, Raphael had never figured out how the seer gifts worked. Hell, he wasn’t even sure
knew. He was just damned glad that neither fore- nor hindsight were among his talents. He liked living in the present, thank you very much.
He hit the speed dial for Charles, who picked up on the first ring and snapped, “Report.”
“She survived, and you were right. She wasn’t even close to feral.” Raphael took a long drag on his cigarette.
He heard an audible sigh and a cough that might have covered emotions much deeper. After a few moments of silence, Charles asked, “Did you explain the facts of life to her?”
“I gave her the first lecture.” Raphael searched for the right words. “Actually, she didn’t strike me as the type to
so I decided to try what Nana did for me when I was a child.”
“I didn’t realize you were a strong enough telepath to do that sort of thing,” Charles said. Raphael flattered himself to think there might have been a bit of amazement in his voice of his leader.
“I don’t think
am,” Raphael admitted. “She seems to have inherited a few gifts from her sire. But it was worth a try. After all, worst case I’d just wind up telling her after all.”
“It worked? No problems?”
His voice was satisfied, as though a question had been answered that had never been asked. “So she probably does have some talent. Good. She’ll need it.”
Raphael shuddered. Goose flesh climbed up his bare arms. The woman had talent all right. She’d dragged him so deep into the vision that he’d seen, felt, even
the blood and gore, everything, as if he were living it in truth for the first time. “Definitely.”
“And the aunt? How’s Violet doing?”
Raphael hadn’t been looking forward to this. Which was why he told the Chief Justice the good news first. “She wasn’t
Charles’s slow growl sounded like a burst of static over the wire. But Raphael knew better. “But – “
He inhaled deeply on his cigarette and then let out the smoke slowly. “She apparently saw Jack change before she fainted.
And when she came to and saw the blood and damage to the
kitchen – “ He let the sentence trail off.
“I see. How bad is she?”
“Bad.” In fact, it had been all he could do to keep a shield up , so that the neighbors wouldn’t hear her shrieking. “Tatya put her under for a bit. But I’m concerned about how she’s going to do when she finally wakes up.”
“Call Ned Thornton,” Raphael’s eyebrows rose at the suggestion. Ned’s family had once been prominent in the shapeshifting community, but the magic seemed to have left their bloodline. There hadn’t been a wolf in their family for a couple of generations. Still, he knew the Sazi secret, and was a respected family , member. The suggestion was a good one.
“Ned and Violet have been dating for most of a year. He’ll be able to help her cope and explain things to her. Have him meet you at the pack hospital.”
“Sir – “
“We need Violet alive, Raphael. I would never have risked you, Betty, or Tatya otherwise.”
Raphael leaned against the passenger door and tapped one finger on the windshield for a moment, letting the long line of ashes from his cigarette fall to the sidewalk. “Speaking of Tatya – “
Charles sighed. It was obvious he had anticipated Raphael’s objections, had even been waiting for the younger man to voice them, but Raphael plowed on.
“Sir,” Raphael struggled for the right words. Diplomacy had never been one of his best skills. “Having the cat stay here – “ He dropped the cigarette butt and ground it out with the toe of his boot. “I’m not sure – “
Charles spoke gently, but firmly. As usual for him, he chose to approach the problem from an oblique angle. “Raphael, I know it’s always bothered you that your major talent, the one you’re best known for, is a destructive one.”
He flinched. Charles wasn’t saying anything other than the absolute truth, but that didn’t mean Raphael had to like it.
talents, your training, and even your
– they all make you uniquely suited for dealing with an angry and confused new turn. That was why I insisted Raven live with you after his first change, and is why Catherine will be staying in Boulder and training with you for the next few months. Not with the pack, as Tatya believes, but with
He felt cool air on his tongue as his jaw dropped in surprise. He’d never trained a female new turn, and barely knew anything at all about training cats. “But…”
“No buts, Raphael. This is a direct order from the Chief Justice and a directive from the council. If Mrs. Santiago doesn’t like it she can take it up with me.”
Raphael didn’t say a word, but it wouldn’t surprise him if she did.
He reached into his pocket and retrieved the last cigarette from the pack. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d smoked so many in a row so quickly.
“I’ll be checking in periodically to see how Catherine’s doing.” The tone in Charles’s voice said that it would be soon, and that there had better be
in her training.
He cleared his throat. “Yes. Of course, sir.”
“Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.”
Raphael slid the cell phone into his back pocket and pulled out his lighter. Once he’d lit up, he walked back over to the Wildethorne house, ignoring the nasty look Mrs. Zabatos was giving him as she used a hose to water the pots of geraniums that lined her front steps. She’d need to move them inside if she wanted them to survive the winter. Then again, she did seem the type-When he reached the front door he hesitated. He could hear Holly and Catherine talking in the living room. It had been a shock to find out that they’d known each other, even if only slightly. Apparently the Turner woman had been stopping in at the Joint for breakfast periodically over the past couple of weeks.
He tried to convince himself he didn’t want to interrupt them, but the truth was something else entirely. The cat was a living, breathing distraction for him. It wasn’t what she did – it was who she was. She had the whole package: looks, brains, and a sense of humor. Her scent almost made him high. The power of the magic that had flared between them when he’d touched her to share the vision had been absolutely incredible. Combined with the visceral attraction he had for beautiful women, and his natural preference for cats,
animal’s reaction to her being near heat – God, just being in the same building with her was damned near overpowering. And Charles wanted him to train her.
Raphael fought down a thrill of nerves as he stepped away from the front door and followed the sidewalk to the back of the house. A part of him didn’t want the responsibility of training the cat. But a bigger part of him did. And that was
a bad idea, for
But Lucas was going to be out of town most of the time dealing with Wolven. There really wasn’t anybody else powerful enough in the territory to deal with the woman if things went wrong. And Charles had made himself
clear. Raphael didn’t dare refuse or fail on this assignment.
The good news was that Jack had been injured – badly enough that he probably wouldn’t be able to come after the woman until he’d had time to go off and lick his wounds. But she was his chosen prey. He
Raphael just hoped the woman would be capable of defending herself when the time came. Catherine had done surprisingly well in the battle last night. A good bit of mat had been due to the advantage of surprise. Next time, Jack would be expecting her to put up a good fight.
Raphael sighed heavily. He’d do his best. But frankly they were hog-tied. He couldn’t let her kill Jack – even in self-defense. Not until the Sazi were safe from the contents of that file.
And Raphael would lay odds that Catherine could come up with a plan to do it. He didn’t know why, considering how many had tried and failed. But he just knew she could.
Raphael allowed himself to revel in the possibility. A world without Jack: where he could go through life without constantly looking over his shoulder, without worrying how many more young woman would die while he stood helplessly by.
He sighed, the illusion shattering. It was much more likely that, sooner or later, Catherine Turner would die when Jack came back to finish the job.
In the end that was the reason Raphael planned to never pursue the attraction he felt for her. Because if Jack even suspected there was something between the two of them, he would make the woman suffer in more and worse ways than Raphael could even imagine. She’d beg for death before he gave it to her.
Raphael would just have to ignore the attraction he felt for her, keep his trousers zipped and take very cold showers.
Raphael stepped off of the concrete into the lush grass of the backyard. The ground felt cool beneath his feet, blades of grass tickling his toes as he searched to find what was left of the things he’d been wearing before his change last night. The clothes were toast. The leather jacket hadn’t disintegrated, but neither had it been heavy enough to withstand the magic. His boots were still in one piece, but badly scorched. That pissed him off. It was always hard to get a pair of boots broken in, and this had been his favorite pair.
But the loss of his favorite boots didn’t bother him nearly as much as the next bit of bad news. Despite searching carefully, inch by inch, he could
find his gun. Which meant that unless Tatya had the presence of mind to pick it up, Jack probably had it – just because he’d gone through the window in cat form didn’t mean he’d
in cat form, and nothing would amuse him more than to shoot Raphael with his own weapon.
Raphael clenched his jaw hard enough his teeth made a grinding noise. Just his luck – his worst enemy had his gun
silver ammo, too. He swore vigorously under his breath. There was no help for it, but that didn’t make him any less angry.
The sound of a familiar van pulling into the driveway distracted him. Mike had left earlier, taking Tatya’s vehicle to go for the cleanup crew. As usual, Holly’d been the first to arrive with breakfast. But now the boys were here. Mike, his best friend, Peter Black, and another one of the boys they hung out with had come with the replacement kitchen furniture Tatya had requested. What was that boy’s name? John something? It didn’t matter really, but it bothered Raphael that the pack had gotten big enough that he didn’t automatically know everyone by name and scent anymore. He was supposed to be their leader, damn it. They were his people.
He shook his head. The name was just gone – if he’d ever known it at all. But he resolved to do better at getting to know
of the pack members over the next few weeks while he was serving as alpha.
Right now there were other things to worry about. They needed to get the house back in shape without setting off the neighborhood snoop. Sometime later today a glazier would arrive to fix the French doors and the back door window. With the new furniture and some curtains, everything should look fine. He hoped.
Raphael motioned for Pete to come over. The other boys began carrying a pair of kitchen chairs into the house through the back door.
Pete was a good-looking kid. He was a little bit larger than Raphael as a human, standing a solid six foot two. He was built big, and all of it was solid muscle. He wore his sun-streaked blond hair just a little long and was constantly brushing it away from eyes the blue of a summer sky. He was alphic, but not particularly aggressive – smart, but not intellectual. Somehow he had managed to be everybody’s buddy and still advance within the pack until he was fourth among the men, after Lucas, Raphael, and his own father, Martin Black.
He kept his gaze down as was proper. “Alpha, we came as fast as we could.”
“I know. I appreciate it.” Raphael gave the boy a reassuring smile. His eyes went over to the van and he got an idea. “Pete, the Second Female and another woman are asleep upstairs. Dr. Santiago put them under to rest. I need to get them to the pack hospital
He nodded toward the blue paneled van. “Think you could help me out?”
The boy didn’t hesitate. “Of course, sir.”
“Thanks. You and Mike load ‘em up. I’ll ride in the back just in case. There shouldn’t be any problems, but neither of you have much healing ability.”
“No problem.” Pete gave the appropriate nod of respect and went back into the house calling Michael’s name.
Raphael watched him go, wondering for the thousandth time how in the hell Daphne and Martin had managed to raise a
kid. Must have been the triumph of nature over nurture – it was the only possible explanation.
Raphael gathered up the remnants of his jacket and boots and dumped them in the trash can leaning against the wall of the double garage.
He needed to report to Wolven, and sooner rather than later. But he didn’t relish dealing with Lucas.
promised to be an uncomfortable conversation. Raphael practiced what he would say in his head for a few seconds before pulling the phone from his pocket. But before he could even hit the first number he heard shouting inside the house, and Holly’s panicked voice calling his name.
Raphael sprinted through the back door, ignoring the shards of glass that dug into the bottoms of his bare feet. They’d heal. He dashed through the kitchen, diving through the swinging glass doors into the living room, and into the middle of an ugly confrontation.
“Who the hell are you, and what do you think you’re doing with my aunt?”
Peter was on the bottom step, Violet draped across his arms. Michael stood two steps up above him, carrying Betty. Catherine stood in front of them, blocking the way with her body.
“Get the fuck out of the way!” The third boy, John, stepped forward, intending to shove her away bodily.
She moved into a traditional defensive martial arts posture that Raphael immediately recognized. It should have looked ridiculous, since she wore nothing but a robe. It didn’t.
In fact, she practically glowed with power, and Raphael could feel the heat of her magic beating at him from across the room.
The boy’s lips pulled back, and a low growl rumbled from his throat. His handsome features hardened, becoming bestial. He was almost exactly Cat’s height. But while she appeared slender, he was squat and heavily muscled. It didn’t matter. Cat’s eyes narrowed. She began shifting her weight subtly.
“Catherine, no! They’re just trying to help,” Holly pleaded.
“That is enough!” Raphael commanded and his words took on the rolling rumble of his wolf. “Everybody stand down!”
Peter froze and stayed utterly motionless. If Violet’s weight was a burden, it didn’t show. Then again, most Sazi had extraordinary strength, and Violet wasn’t a large woman. Mike was out of the way. Holly wasn’t a problem. But neither Catherine nor the other boy snowed any sign of backing away from each other.
“What is the problem?” Raphael asked.
“We were following your orders to take them to the hospital,” Pete spoke carefully. “But she,” he nodded toward Catherine, “got in the way. She said her aunt wasn’t going anywhere.”
Raphael grimaced. It had been stupid of him not to let Cat know what they were doing. There was no reason for her to trust any of them.
“All right. This is my fault.” All three of the boys looked shocked at the admission. He stepped toward Catherine. “I’m very sorry, Catherine. I should’ve told you what I had planned.”
“My aunt is not going anywhere with a bunch of strangers.” Cat’s voice was cold and hard.
“Look, I’ve got my cell phone.” He showed her the cell phone in his hand. “You can call Ned, ask him if it’s all right for Violet to go with us. If he vouches for us, you stand down. If he doesn’t, we’ll put Violet right back up in her bed. Fair enough?”
knows you, too? Why in the hell have I never heard of
of this before now?” She reached out her hand for the phone without ever taking her eyes off of the man who had threatened her. In fact, she’d positioned herself in a way that all of them were within line of sight. No one would be sneaking up behind her. Whoever had trained her had done a fine job, and she’d obviously paid attention to the lessons.
It was easy to hear the beep of the cell phone buttons in the thick silence of the room. Ned’s voice, too, came through loud and clear.
“Ned, it’s Catherine.”
He paused. “Catherine, you sound odd. Is something wrong?”
“There’s a man here who says his name is Raphael Ramirez. Do you know him?”
“Yes,” Ned said cautiously. “Will you put him on the line?”
Raphael took the phone from Catherine’s hand. “Ned.”
“What the hell’s going on, Ramirez?”
Raphael looked at Catherine, who was watching him through narrowed eyes. He knew she could hear every word Ned was saying. “The cat that attacked Catherine and her family was one of ours.”