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Authors: Kelley Armstrong

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BOOK: Men of the Otherworld
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As tempting as it would be to flee town afterward, it was too dangerous. Peter couldn't remember who, if anyone, at the party had seen him leave with the girl, so he couldn't disappear at the same time she did. He'd have to return to work and, if all seemed fine, give his notice and work out his two weeks. Jeremy and I would stay in Los Angeles with him for the first week, to help him through any complications that arose. Then Peter would hole up at Stonehaven with us while Jeremy negotiated his return to the Pack. A solid, straightforward plan… and one that was about to hit a very big, very determined obstacle.

Every adult member of the Pack knew how to dispose of a body. Normally, though, the task involved a dead mutt and took place in a forest. Even a mutt knows that if he wins the battle, he'll have a body to get rid of, so he won't pick a fight in a public setting.

Cleaning up a murder scene in an apartment was more difficult, but Jeremy knew more than the average person knew—or
should
know—about crime scenes. Body disposal was taught to werewolves approaching their first Change, and since these lessons were now Jeremy's responsibility in the Pack, he'd done what he always did—learned everything he could about the subject.

He also had hands-on experience. That lab tech may have been the first human he'd ever killed but, thanks to his father, it wasn't the first human body he'd disposed of.

All this did not, however, mean that he was an expert in the matter. He made mistakes that day, including returning to the
murder scene without first making sure the crime hadn't been reported. For all we knew, someone had found the bodies, and the police were staking out the apartment, hoping the killer might return.

Luck was with us that night, though. The girls lived in a rundown tenement, the kind of place where no one would pay much attention to a scream or a thump in the upstairs apartment. And they didn't lead the kind of lives where an employer or friend or family member would start worrying if they didn't show up for a couple of days.

The apartment was exactly as Peter had left it. Or so I assume. I never saw it. The educational portion of this trip ended well before I got a look inside that room. Jeremy set me up in an alley next to the building, where I was to stand watch. This was probably just an excuse to keep me out of the apartment, but I played my role to the hilt, keeping my eyes, ears and nose on alert.

Jeremy and Peter presumably cleaned the room as best they could. Then they brought the wrapped bodies down to the car, which was parked in the back alley, loaded them up and we left.

After we buried the bodies—okay, after
Jeremy
and
Peter
buried them while I played lookout—we had one more job to do: burn Peter's bloodied clothing. Jeremy knew not to dispose of it anywhere near the bodies, so we headed out of the city. First we dropped Peter off at a nature preserve Jeremy had found on the map. Before we found a motel for the night, Peter had to Change. No matter how difficult it might be with the drugs still in his system, Jeremy insisted on it.

While Peter went for his run, Jeremy and I disposed of Peter's clothing a few miles away. As we did, Jeremy talked the situation over with me, making sure I understood what had happened and why.

Neither death was excusable. Even the second, ending a threat, while seemingly acceptable under Pack Law, was not, because Peter had caused the danger himself, like Malcolm bringing that young woman to the house, then killing her.

Jeremy explained his decision and why he'd made it—that he didn't condone what Peter had done, but he'd made a mistake and should be given a second chance. While at the time I was too young to really understand, it made sense to me.

As for the rest, Jeremy no longer worried that I might be traumatized by death, nor seemed surprised when I wasn't. At first I'm sure he wondered whether this was a cause for concern, maybe a sign that I lacked a conscience. By now, though, we'd been through enough for him to understand the truth. I couldn't grieve for those two dead girls any more than I could ever grieve for any person, human or werewolf, that I hadn't known.

That didn't mean that I couldn't understand the tragedy of their passing. Every death should have a purpose. If it doesn't, then it is tragedy, and anyone who commits such an act has violated a basic law of nature. The only excuse for killing an animal is for food. The only excuse for killing a human is protection of self or Pack. Even if I could stand there, stone-faced, as Peter and Jeremy disposed of two bodies, that didn't mean my brain wasn't processing the tragedy of it, and that I wasn't storing this lesson away in my memory. What I'd seen that day shouldn't have happened and I'd make sure I never let myself get into a similar situation.

Once we'd burned the clothing, we returned for Peter. Jeremy parked a quarter-mile from the nature preserve. Then we climbed the fence and headed into the woods. Jeremy followed Peter's trail to a pile of clothing haphazardly shoved under a
tree. He inhaled deeply, sampling the wind. I did the same, and couldn't pick up a fresh scent, meaning Peter was still running.

“Can we go, too?” I asked as Jeremy pushed Peter's clothing farther under the bush.

“I suppose so,” he said. “Just remember—”

“Hide my clothing better than that. Yeah, I know. Can I go find him as soon as I'm done? Or do I have to wait for you?”

Jeremy chuckled. “Since when have you ever had to wait for me?”

Jeremy was right. Even at Stonehaven, where I could gain a few minutes by tossing my clothing wherever it landed, I could never Change faster than him. No one in the Pack could, though, so that was some consolation.

When I finished, Jeremy was lying outside my thicket, head on his paws, eyes closed, as if he'd been waiting so long he'd fallen asleep. I pounced, but he rolled out of the way easily, sprang up and pinned me by the neck before I even had time to think of my next move. I sighed, breath billowing out in the cold air. He gave a low tremor of a growl that I'd learned to interpret as the wolf version of his chuckle.

He released my neck and turned, as if to run, presenting me with his flank. I shouldn't have fallen for it. Only the most incompetent wolf would turn from his opponent like that. I was young, though, young and hopeful.

When Jeremy turned, I scrambled up and dove at his flank. At the last second, he dropped to the ground and I flew over his back and pitched muzzle-first into the ground. While I lay there, sulking with a noseful of dirt, he prodded my hindquarters and gave a soft growl, telling me the game was over. We had to go find Peter.

When I got to my feet, Jeremy jerked his head up, then right. Communication in wolf form is never easy, but we've learned to supplement the basic growls, yips and snorts with enough motions to get across a more complicated message. Jeremy was telling me that the game wasn't really over; it had just changed form. Since there was no rush to find Peter, we could make a tracking sport of it. One of us would go left, the other right, neither following the trail Peter had left. We'd see who could find him first. I answered by tearing off.

After about a hundred feet, I set to work. Tracking by secondary clues is much harder than following a trail. You have to use all your senses: listening for twigs crackling underfoot, sniffing for a scent on the breeze, looking for movement in the shadows. Being overanxious to beat Jeremy, I took off after the first noise I heard and startled a couple of field mice. That was embarrassing. I forced myself to take a sixty-second breather, then I set out again.

I found a path and padded along it, nose and ears twitching for some sign of Peter. I'd gone about fifty yards when there came a noise so loud that I dove for cover, fearing gunfire.

When my heart stopped thudding, I realized something was crashing through the undergrowth. Had Peter frightened a buck? A stray dog? Whatever it was, it was large, and it was running full out, not caring how much noise it made.

I crept from my hiding spot and moved a few cautious steps down the path. The wind shifted then, bringing a scent that made my eyes widen in shock. Jeremy?

No, Jeremy would never crash through the forest like a panicked deer. I snorted, clearing my nose to sniff again. Then I caught Peter's scent… and that of another werewolf, one who definitely shouldn't be out here.

A yip rang out—the high-pitched yelp of a surprised wolf. I
didn't recognize the voice, so I knew it was Peter. A growl followed, one I
did
recognize.

I shot forward, running as fast as I could. I veered off the path to take the shortest route. Twigs whipped my face. One caught my left eye, the sudden sting forcing it closed. I narrowed the other eye and kept running.

I made it to the clearing first. There, inside, was a wolf with dark red fur—Peter—lying on his back. Looming over him was a massive black wolf.

Peter twisted and bucked, hind legs kicking, but Malcolm had him pinned. Malcolm growled, lowered his face to Peter's and looked him square in the eye. Peter struggled wildly and managed to claw Malcolm in the belly.

With a roar, Malcolm grabbed Peter by the neck ruff and dashed him headfirst into a boulder. Peter went limp. Malcolm stepped over Peter's prone body and pulled his head back for the throat slash that would end Peter's life. Then the bushes behind him parted and Jeremy leapt through.

Player

Jeremy sprang at Malcolm and hit him in the flank, knocking him to the ground. Malcolm's surprise lasted about a millisecond. Then he jumped to his feet and charged.

Jeremy tried to feint, but the momentum of his spring left him off-balance and Malcolm hit him square in the rib cage. Jeremy skidded sideways to the ground. Malcolm lunged for a throat hold, but Jeremy managed to scuttle backward fast enough to get out of his way.

As Malcolm swung around again, Jeremy leapt to his feet and dove out of his path. Jeremy barely had time to recover before Malcolm twisted around and rushed him. This time, when Jeremy tried to evade, Malcolm was ready. He swerved in mid-lunge and caught Jeremy by the hind leg, throwing him down.

As much as I wanted to believe otherwise, I knew Jeremy was no match for his father. Malcolm was a werewolf in his prime, having the experience of age yet none of its disabilities. The only wolf in the Pack who could beat him was Dominic, and even that was being called into question as age slowed Dominic's reflexes.

Mutts came to Stonehaven for one reason: to challenge the best. That “best” was not, and never would be, Jeremy.

I waited out the first few minutes, hoping I was wrong, and afraid of getting in Jeremy's way. Jeremy recovered from the first throw-down and managed to slice open Malcolm's foreleg, but that was the only hit he scored. Within five minutes, Jeremy was bleeding from his hind leg and his left ear, and the froth around his mouth was tinged with pink.

I knew then that no amount of luck was going to get Jeremy through this. So I leapt in, snarling, and threw myself on Malcolm's back.

For a full-grown wolf, this is a good offensive move, pitching your weight onto your opponent and bringing him down. For a pup, it was like dropping a terrier onto a bullmastiff I executed my leap perfectly and landed square on his back, fangs finding purchase in the loose skin behind his neck. And all Malcolm did was huff in surprise, then fling me off.

When I got back to my feet, I changed tactics. If I couldn't be formidable, at least I could be annoying. While the two wolves fought, I darted around Malcolm's legs and tail, nipping and tripping him. It distracted him enough to prevent a quick victory, but not enough to let Jeremy win.

Finally, Malcolm tired of snarling and snapping at me. With one full-on charge, he knocked Jeremy flying into the undergrowth. Then he turned on me.

I should have run. But running would mean leaving Jeremy behind, and I'd never do that. I pulled myself up to my full height, braced my forelegs, lowered my head and snarled. Malcolm stood there, watching me, head slightly tilted, an unreadable expression in his eyes. Then he lumbered over, lowered his head until we were muzzle to muzzle and growled. I growled back.

Malcolm met my eyes and I swear he smiled. Then Jeremy hit him from behind, knocking him away from me, and the fight began again.

Any hope we had of besting Malcolm faded fast. Jeremy was hurt, and getting worse by the minute. I was only wearing myself out. Soon Malcolm had Jeremy pinned by the neck.

I went wild, attacking his head with every ounce of strength I had left. He just pinned Jeremy with his forepaws and threw me off. By the time I recovered, he had Jeremy by the throat again.

Jeremy's eyes were closed. When I saw that, everything in me went cold. Then I saw that Jeremy's chest continued to rise and fall. Malcolm loosened his grip and lifted his head. The fur around Jeremy's neck was wet, but with saliva, not blood. Malcolm hadn't bitten Jeremy, only choked him until he lost consciousness. Malcolm backed off then, gaze fixed on Jeremy.

Had he realized, in that last moment, that he couldn't kill his son? Yes. But only because, if he did, he would lose everything. Edward Danvers's will not only gave Jeremy Stonehaven and all its assets, but stipulated that on Jeremy's death—no matter how he died—the estate would go to charity. And, perhaps even worse, a letter would be delivered to Dominic or his successor, detailing crimes that would guarantee Malcolm's execution. Should Jeremy not die but be permanently incapacitated, the same provisions took effect. So Malcolm was trapped. His life and his livelihood depended on the continued good health of his son.

After a long, regret-filled stare at Jeremy, Malcolm turned to me.

I raced forward, swerved past him and wheeled, positioning myself over Jeremy's head. When he stepped toward me, I lowered my head and growled. He took another step. I snapped at his foreleg, teeth clicking hard when he pulled back. For a moment,
he just looked at me. Then he turned to his original quarry: Peter, who was still unconscious.

I waited until he was far enough from Jeremy that I could be sure he wasn't trying to divert my attention. Then I sprang over top of Peter and growled. Malcolm stopped short, eyes widening. This, I suppose, he hadn't expected. Again, he stepped toward his prey. Again, I warned him off, forelegs braced, fur on end, making me look, oh, at least a good five pounds heavier.

BOOK: Men of the Otherworld
8.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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