Moon Called


Chapter 7


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I ventured out to the gas station the next morning in my borrowed coat and bought a breakfast burrito. It was hot, if not tasty, and I was hungry enough to eat almost anything. The young man working the till looked as though he'd have liked to ask questions, but I cowed him with my stare. People around here know better than to get into staring contests. I wasn't a were-anything, but he didn't know that because he wasn't either. It wasn't nice to intimidate him, but I wasn't feeling very nice. I needed to do something, anything, and I was stuck waiting here all morning. Waiting meant worrying about what Jesse was suffering at the hands of her captors and thinking of Mac and wondering what I could have done to prevent his death. It meant reliving the old humiliation of having Bran tell me the man I loved was using me. I wanted to be out of Aspen Creek, where the memories of being sixteen and alone tried to cling no matter how hard I flinched away; but obedience to Bran was too ingrained- especially when his orders made sense. I didn't have to be nice about it, though. I'd started back to the motel, my breath raising a fog and the snow crunching beneath my shoes, when someone called out my name. "Mercy!" I looked across the highway where a green truck had pulled over-evidently at the sight of me, but the driver didn't look familiar. The bright morning sun glittering on the snow made it hard to pick out details, so I shaded my eyes with my hand and veered toward him for a better look. As soon as I changed directions, the driver turned off the truck, hopped out, and jogged across the highway. "I just heard that you were here," he said, "but I thought you'd be long gone this morning or else I'd have stopped in earlier." The voice was definitely familiar, but it didn't go with the curling red hair and unlined face. He looked puzzled for a moment, even hurt, when I didn't recognize him immediately. Then he laughed and shook his head. "I forgot, even though every time I look in a mirror it still feels like I'm looking at a stranger." The eyes, pale blue and soft, went with the voice, but it was his laugh that finally clued me in. "Dr. Wallace?" I asked. "Is that really you?" He tucked his hands in his pockets, tilted his head, and gave me a wicked grin. "Sure as moonlight, Mercedes Thompson, sure as moonlight." Carter Wallace was the Aspen Creek veterinarian. No, he didn't usually treat the werewolves, but there were dogs, cats, and livestock enough to keep him busy. His house had been the nearest to the one I grew up in, and he'd helped me make it through those first few months after my foster parents died. The Dr. Wallace I'd known growing up had been middle-aged and balding, with a belly that covered his belt buckle. His face and hands had had been weathered from years spent outside in the sun. This man was lean and hungry; his skin pale and perfect like that of a twenty-year-old-but the greatest difference was not in his appearance. The Carter Wallace I'd known was slow-moving and gentle. I'd seen him coax a skunk out of a pile of tires without it spraying everything, and keep a frightened horse still with his voice while he clipped away the barbed wire it had become tangled in. There had been something peaceful about him, solid and true like an oak. Not anymore. His eyes were still bright and kind, but there was also something predatory that peered out at me. The promise of violence clung to him until I could almost smell the blood. "How long have you been wolf?" I asked. "A year last month," he said. "I know, I know, I swore I'd never do it. I knew too much about the wolves and not enough. But I had to retire year before last because my hands quit working right." He looked down, a little anxiously, at his hands and relaxed a bit as he showed me he could move all his fingers easily. "I was all right with that. If there is anything a vet gets used to-especially around here-it is aging and death. Gerry started in on me again, but I'm stubborn. It took more than a little arthritis and Gerry to make me change my mind." Gerry was his son and a werewolf. "What happened?" I asked. "Bone cancer." Dr. Wallace shook his head. "It was too far gone, they said. Nothing but months in a bed hoping you die before the morphine quits working on the pain. Everyone has their price, and that was more than I could bear. So I asked Bran." "Most people don't survive the Change if they're already too sick," I said. "Bran says I'm too stubborn to die." He grinned at me again, and the expression was beginning to bother me because it had an edge that Dr. Wallace's, my Dr. Wallace's, had never had. I'd forgotten how odd it was to know someone from both sides of the Change, forgotten just how much the wolf alters the human personality. Especially when the human wasn't in control. "I thought I'd be practicing again by now," Dr. Wallace said. "But Bran says not yet." He rocked a little on his heels and closed his eyes as if he could see something I didn't. "It's the smell of blood and meat. I'm all right as long as nothing is bleeding." He whispered the last sentence and I heard the desire in his voice. He gathered himself together with a deep breath, then looked at me with eyes only a shade darker than the snow. "You know, for years I've said that werewolves aren't much different from other wild predators." Like the great white, he'd told me, or the grizzly bear. "I remember," I said. "Grizzly bears don't attack their families, Mercy. They don't crave violence and blood." He closed his eyes. "I almost killed my daughter a few days ago because she said something I disagreed with. If Bran hadn't stopped by..." He shook his head. "I've become a monster, not an animal. I'll never be able to be a vet again. My family never will be safe, not while I'm alive." The last two words echoed between us. Damn, damn, and damn some more, I thought. He should have had more control by now. If he'd been a wolf for a full year and still couldn't control himself when he was angry, he'd never have the control he needed to survive. Wolves who can't control themselves are eliminated for the safety of the pack. The only question, really, was why Bran hadn't already taken care of it-but I knew the answer to that. Dr. Wallace had been one of the few humans Bran considered a friend. "I wish Gerry could make it back for Thanksgiving," Dr. Wallace told me. "But I'm glad I got a chance to see you before you left again." "Why isn't Gerry here?" I asked. Gerry had always traveled on business for Bran, but surely he could come back to see his father before... Dr. Wallace brushed his hand over my cheek, and I realized I was crying. "He's on business. He's in charge of keeping an eye on the lone wolves who live where there is no pack to watch them. It's important." It was. But since Dr. Wallace was going to die soon, Gerry should be here. "Livin's easier than dyin' most times, Mercy girl," he said kindly, repeating my foster father's favorite saying. "Dance when the moon sings, and don't cry about troubles that haven't yet come." His smile softened, and for a minute I could see the man he used to be quite clearly. "It's cold out here, Mercy, and that coat isn't helping you much. Go get warm, girl." I didn't know how to say good-bye, so I didn't. I just turned and walked away. When the clock in the motel room ticked over to noon, I walked out to the van, which Charles-or Carl-had parked just outside the door to number one. If Adam isn't ready to go, he'll just have to find another ride. I can't stand another minute here. I opened the back to check my antifreeze because the van had a small leak I hadn't fixed yet. When I shut the back hatch, Samuel was just there, holding a bulging canvas bag. "What are you doing?" I asked warily. "Didn't my father tell you?" He gave me the lazy grin that had always had the power to make my heart beat faster. I was dismayed to see that it still worked. "He's sending me with you. Someone's got to take care of the rogues who attacked Adam, and he's barely mobile." I turned on my heel, but stopped because I had no idea where to find Bran. And because Samuel was right, damn him. We needed help. Happily, before I had to come up with something suitable to say in apology for my too-obvious dismay, the door to room one opened. Adam looked as though he'd lost twenty pounds in the last twenty-four hours. He was wearing borrowed sweatpants and an unzipped jacket over the bare skin of his chest. Most of the visible skin was bruised, mottled technicolor with purple, blue, and black touched with lighter spots of red, but there were no open wounds. Adam was always meticulous in his dress and grooming, but his cheeks were dark with stubble, and his hair was uncombed. He limped slowly onto the sidewalk and kept a tight grip on a cane. I hadn't expected him to be walking this soon, and my surprise must have shown on my face because he smiled faintly. "Motivation aids healing," he said. "I need to find Jesse." "Motivation aids stupidity," muttered Samuel beside me, and Adam's smile widened, though it wasn't a happy smile anymore. "I have to find Jesse," was all that Adam said in reply to Samuel's obvious disapproval. "Mercy, if you hadn't arrived when you did, I'd have been a dead man. Thank you." I hadn't figured out yet exactly what our relationship was, and knowing that Bran had told him to look after me hadn't helped. Even so, I couldn't resist the urge to tease him-he took life so seriously. "Always happy to come to your rescue," I told him lightly, and was pleased at the temper that flashed in his eyes before he laughed. He had to stop moving and catch his breath. "Damn it," he told me, with his eyes shut. "Don't make me do that." Samuel had stepped unobtrusively closer, but relaxed when Adam resumed his forward progress without toppling over. I opened the sliding door behind the passenger seat. "Do you want to lie down?" I asked him. "Or would you rather sit up on the bench seat? Sitting shotgun is out-you need something easier to get in and out of." "I'll sit up," Adam grunted. "Ribs still aren't happy about lying down." When he got close to the van, I backed out of the way and let Samuel help him up. "Mercy," said Bran behind my shoulder, surprising me because I'd been paying attention to the expression on Adam's face. He was carrying a couple of blankets. "I meant to get here sooner to tell you that Samuel was coming with you," Bran said, handing the blankets to me. "But I had business that took a little longer than I expected." "Did you know that you were sending him with me when you talked to me last night?" I asked. He smiled. "I thought it was probable, yes. Though I had another talk with Adam after I left you, and it clarified some things. I'm sending Charles to Chicago with a couple of wolves for backup." He smiled wider, a nasty predatory smile. "He will find out who is out trying to create new wolves without permission and see that it is stopped in such a way that we'll not see a problem like this again." "Why not send Samuel and give me Charles?" "Samuel has too weak a stomach to handle Chicago," said Adam, sounding breathless. I glanced at him and saw that he was sitting upright on the short middle bench seat, a sheen of sweat on his forehead. " Samuel is a doctor and dominant enough to keep Adam from eating anyone until he gets better," responded Samuel, climbing back out of the van and snatching the blankets out of my hands. Bran's smile softened with amusement. "Samuel was gone for a long time," he explained. "Other than Adam, I think that only Darryl, Adam's second, has ever met him. Until we know what is going on, I'd rather not have everyone know I'm investigating matters." "We think the time is coming when we will no longer be able to hide from the humans," said Samuel, who had finished wrapping Adam in the blankets. "But we'd rather control how that happens than have a group of murdering wolves reveal our existence before we're ready." I must have looked shocked because Bran laughed. "It's only a matter of time," he said. "The fae are right. Forensics, satellite surveillance, and digital cameras are making the keeping of our secrets difficult. No matter how many Irish Wolfhounds and English Mastiffs George Brown breeds and crossbreeds, they don't look like werewolves." Aspen Creek had three or four people breeding very large dogs to explain away odd tracks and sightings-George Brown, a werewolf himself, had won several national titles with his Mastiffs. Dogs, unlike most cats, tended to like werewolves just fine. "Are you looking for a poster boy like Kieran McBride?" I asked. "Nope," Adam grunted. "There aren't any Kieran McBrides who make it as werewolves. Harmless and cute we are not. But he might be able to find a hero: a police officer or someone in the military." "You knew about this?" I asked. "I'd heard rumors." "What we don't need right now is a murdering bastard running free around the Tri-Cities, using werewolves to kill people," Bran said. He looked over my shoulder at his son. "Find the blackguard and eliminate him before he involves the humans, Samuel." Bran was the only person I knew who could use words like "blackguard" and make them sound like swear words-but then he could have said "bunny rabbit" in that tone of voice and weakened my spine with the same shiver of fear. But I shivered more from the cold than fear. In the Tri-Cities it was still above freezing most days. It wasn't particularly cold for November in Montana-for instance, my nostrils weren't sticking together when I breathed, so it wasn't ten below zero yet-but it was considerably colder than I was used to. "Where's your coat?" asked Bran, his attention drawn to my chattering teeth. "I left it in the room," I said. "It's not mine." "You are welcome to it." "I'm out here now," I said. He shook his head. "You'd better get going then, before you freeze to death." He looked at Samuel. "Keep me apprised." "Bran," said Adam. "Thank you." Bran smiled and brushed past me so he could reach in the van and take one of Adam's battered hands in a gentle grip. "Anytime." When he stepped back he shut the sliding door with just the right amount of push so it didn't bounce back open. It had taken me three months to learn how to do it right. He reached into the pocket of his coat and gave me a card. It was plain white with his name and two phone numbers in simple black lettering. "So you can call me if you want to," he said. "The top number is my cell phone-so you won't have to risk talking to my wife." "Bran?" I asked him impulsively. "What is it that Gerry is doing that is so important he can't come home to be with Dr. Wallace?" "Feeling sorry for himself," snapped Samuel. Bran put a hand on Samuel's arm, but spoke to me. "Carter's case is tragic and unusual. Usually when a wolf lives through the Change but doesn't survive his first year, it is because the human cannot control the instincts of the wolf." "I thought it was always a matter of control," I told Bran. He nodded his head, "It is. But in Carter's case it is not a lack of self-control, it is too much." "He doesn't want to be a werewolf," said Samuel. "He doesn't want to feel the fire of the killing instinct or the power of the chase." For a moment the sun caught Samuel's eyes, and they glittered. "He's a healer, not a taker of life." Ah, I thought, that rankled, didn't it, Dr. Samuel Cornick? Samuel hadn't been given to in-depth talks-although that might have been as much a function of my age as his inclination-but, I remembered that he had trouble, sometimes, because his instinct to heal was not as strong as his instinct to kill. He told me that he always made certain to eat well before performing any kind of surgery. Did he think that Dr. Wallace was the better man for choosing not to live with that conflict? "Unless Carter allows the wolf to become part of him, he can't control it." Bran's mouth turned down. "He's dangerous, and he gets more dangerous every moon, Mercy. But all it would take was for him to compromise his damn hardheaded morals just once, so he can accept what he is and he'd be fine. But if it doesn't happen soon, it won't happen at all. I can't let him see another full moon." "Gerry's the one who talked him into Changing," said Samuel, sounding tired. "He knows that the time is coming when someone is going to have to deal with Carter. If he's here, it will be his duty-and he can't handle that." "I'll take care of it," said Bran, taking a deep breath. "I've done it before." He moved the hand on Samuel's arm to his shoulder. "Not everyone is as strong as you, my son." There was a world of shared sorrow in his words and in his posture-and I remembered the three of Samuel's children who hadn't survived the Change. "Get in the van, Mercy," said Samuel. "You're shivering." Bran put his hands on my shoulders and kissed me on the forehead, then ruined it by saying, "Let the boys take care of this, eh, Mercedes?" "Sure thing," I said, stepping away from him. "Take care, Bran." I stalked around the front of the bus. The only reason I wasn't muttering under my breath was because the werewolves would all hear what I was saying. I started the van-it protested because of the cold, but not too much. I let it warm up while Bran said a few last words to Samuel. "How well does Bran know you?" asked Adam quietly. The noise of the engine and the radio would most likely keep the others from hearing us. "Not very well if he thinks that I'll leave things to you and Samuel," I muttered. "That's what I was hoping," he said, with enough satisfaction that I jerked around to look at him. He smiled tiredly. "Samuel's good, Mercy. But he doesn't know Jesse, doesn't care about her. I'm not going to be good for much for a while: I need you for Jesse's sake." The passenger door opened and Samuel pulled himself up into the seat and shut the door. "Da means well," Sam told me, as I started backing out, proving that he knew me better than his father did. "He's used to dealing with people who listen when he tells them something. Mercy, he's right, though. You aren't up to dealing with werewolf business." "Seems to me that she's been dealing just fine," Adam said mildly. "She killed two of them in as many days and came out of it without a scratch." "Luck," said Samuel. "Is it?" In my rearview mirror, I saw Adam close his eyes as he finished in almost a whisper. "Maybe so. When I was in the army, we kept lucky soldiers where they would do us the most good." "Adam wants me to help find Jesse," I told Samuel, putting my foot on the gas as we left Aspen Creek behind us. The conversation went downhill from there. Adam dropped out after a few pointed comments, and sat back to enjoy the fireworks. I didn't remember arguing with Samuel much before, but I wasn't a love-struck sixteen year-old anymore either. After I pointedly quit talking to him, Samuel unbuckled his seat belt and slipped between the front seats to go back and sit next to Adam. "Never argue with Mercy about something she cares about," Adam advised, obviously having enjoyed himself hugely. "Even if she stops arguing with you, she'll just do whatever she wants anyway." "Shut up and eat something," growled Samuel, sounding not at all like his usual self. I heard him lift the lid on a small cooler and the sweet-iron smell of blood filled the van. "Mmm," said Adam without enthusiasm. "Raw steak." But he ate it, then slept. After a while Samuel came back to the front and belted himself in. "I don't remember you being so stubborn," he said. "Maybe I wasn't," I agreed. "Or maybe you didn't used to try to order me around. I'm not a member of your pack or Bran's pack. I'm not a werewolf. You have no right to dictate to me as if I were." He grunted, and we drove a while more in silence. Finally, he said, "Have you had lunch?" I shook my head. "I thought I'd stop in Sandpoint. It's grown since last time I drove through there." "Tourists," said Samuel in disgust. "Every year there are more and more people." I wondered if he was remembering what it had been like when he'd first been there. We stopped and got enough fried chicken to feed a Little League team-or two werewolves, with a little left over for me. Adam ate again with restrained ferocity. Healing was energy-draining work, and he needed all the protein he could get. When he was finished, and we were back on the road, with Samuel once again in the front, I finally asked, "What happened the night you were attacked? I know you've told Bran and probably Samuel, too, already-but I'd like to know." Adam wiped his fingers carefully on the damp towelette that had come with our chicken-apparently he didn't think it was finger-lick'n good. "I'd pulled the pack in to introduce Mac, and to tell them about your adventures with his captors." I nodded. "About fifteen minutes after the last of them left, about three-thirty in the morning, someone knocked on the door. Mac had just managed to regain his human form, and he jumped up to answer the door." There was a pause, and I adjusted the rearview mirror so I could see Adam's face, but I couldn't read his expression. "I was in the kitchen, so I don't know exactly what happened, but from the sounds, I'd say they shot him as soon as he opened the door." "Which was stupid," commented Samuel. "They'd know you had to hear the shots-even a tranq gun makes a pretty good pop." Adam started to shrug-then stopped with a pained expression. "Damned if-excuse me, Mercedes-I'll be darned if I know what they were thinking." "They didn't kill him on purpose, did they?" I said. I'd been thinking, too. A gun with silver bullets is a much more certain thing than a dart full of experimental drugs. "I don't think so," Samuel agreed. "It looked like a massive allergic reaction to the silver." "There was silver in the dart Mercedes found? Just like Charles thought?" asked Adam. "Yes," said Samuel. "I've sent the dart off to the lab along with a sample of Mac's blood for proper analysis, but it looks to me as though they combined silver nitrate with DMSO and Special K." "What?" I asked. "Special K is Ketamine," Adam said. "It's been used as a recreational drug for a while, but it started out as an animal tranquilizer. It doesn't work on werewolves. Silver nitrate is used to develop film. What's DMSO?" "Silver nitrate is a convenient way to get silver in a solution," Samuel said. "It's used to treat eye infections, too-though I wouldn't recommend it for a werewolf." "I've never heard of a werewolf with an eye infection," I said, though I understood his point. He smiled at me, but continued to talk to Adam. "DMSO-Dimeythyl Sulfoxide. It has a lot of odd properties, but the one of most interest here is that it can carry other drugs with it across membranes." I stared at the road ahead of me and put my right hand in front of the heater to warm it. The seals on my windows needed replacing, and the heater wasn't keeping up with the Montana air. Funny, I didn't remember being cold on the way over. No room for simple discomfort when you are trying to save someone, I guess. "There was something in chem lab my freshman year," I said. "We mixed it with peppermint oil and put a finger in it-I could taste peppermint." "Right," said Samuel. "That's the stuff. So take DMSO and mix it with a silver solution, and presto, the silver is carried throughout the werewolf's body, poisoning as it goes so that the tranquilizer, in this case, Ketamine, goes to work without interference from the werewolf metabolism that would normally prevent the drug from having any effect at all." "You think Mac died from the silver rather than an overdose of Ketamine?" asked Adam. "They only shot him twice. I took at least four hits, maybe more." "The more recent exposure you have to silver, the worse the reaction," said Samuel. "I'd guess that if the boy hadn't spent the last few months in their tender care being dosed up with silver, he'd have made it just fine." "Obviously the silver nitrate and the Ketamine are relatively easily obtainable," Adam said after a while. "What about this DMSO?" "I could get it. Good stuff is available by prescription-I'd bet you could buy it at any veterinary supply, too." "So they'd need a doctor?" I asked. But Samuel shook his head. "Not for the veterinary supply. And I'd expect you could get it fairly easily from a pharmacy, too. It's not one of the drugs they'd track carefully. I'd expect they could make as much of their cocktail as they wanted to without much trouble." "Great." Adam closed his eyes, possibly envisioning an invading army armed with tranquilizer dart guns. "So they killed Mac," I said when it became apparent that Adam wasn't going to continue. "Then what happened?" "I came charging out of the kitchen like an idiot, and they darted me, too." Adam shook his head. "I've grown used to being damn near bulletproof-served me right. Whatever they gave me knocked me for a loop, and when I woke up, I was locked up, wrist and ankle in cuffs. Not that I was in any shape to do anything. I was so groggy I could barely move my head." "Did you see who they were?" I asked. "I know one of them was the human who accompanied the werewolf I killed at the garage. I smelled him in Jesse's room." Adam shifted on the bench seat, pulling a little against the seat belt. "Adam." Samuel's voice was quiet but forceful. Adam nodded and relaxed a little, stretching out his neck to release the build-up of tension. "Thank you. It's harder when I'm angry. Yes, I knew one of them, Mercedes. Do you know how I became a werewolf?" The question seemed to come from left field-but Adam always had a reason for everything he said. "Only that it was during Vietnam," I answered. "You were Special Forces." "Right," he agreed. "Long-range recon. They sent me and five other men to take out a particularly nasty warlord-an assassination trip. We'd done it before." "The warlord was a werewolf?" I asked. He laughed without humor. "Slaughtered us. It was one of his own people who killed him, while he was eating poor old McCue." He shut his eyes, and whispered, "I can still hear him scream." We waited, Samuel and I, and after a moment Adam continued. "All the warlord's people ran and left us alone. At a guess they weren't certain he was really dead, even after he'd been beheaded. After a while-a long while, though I didn't realize that until later-I found I could move. Everyone was dead except Spec 4 Christiansen and me. We leaned on each other and got out of there somehow, hurt badly enough that they sent us home: Christiansen was a short-timer, anyway, and I guess they thought I was mostly crazy-raving about wolves. They shipped us out of there fast enough that none of the docs commented about how quickly we were recovering." "Are you all right?" asked Samuel. Adam shivered and pulled the blankets closer around himself. "Sorry. I don't talk about this often. It's harder than I expected. Anyway, one of my army buddies who'd come back to the States a few months earlier heard I was home and came to see me. We got drunk-or at least I tried. I'd just started noticing that it took an awful lot of whiskey to do anything, but it loosened me up enough that I told him about the werewolf. "Thank goodness I did because he believed me. He called in a relative and between them they persuaded me that I was going to grow furry and kill something the next full moon. They pulled me into their pack and kept everyone safe until I had enough control to do it myself." "And the other man who was wounded?" I asked. "Christiansen?" He nodded. "My friends found him. It should have been in time, but he'd come home to find that his wife had taken up with another man. He walked into his house and found his bags packed and his wife and her lover waiting with the divorce papers." "What happened?" asked Samuel. "He tore them to pieces." His eyes met mine in the rearview mirror. "Even in that first month, if you get angry enough, it is possible to Change." "I know," I told him. He gave me a jerky nod. "Anyway, they managed to persuade him to stay with a pack, who taught him what he needed to know to survive. But as far as I know he never did join a pack officially-he's lived all these years as a lone wolf." A lone wolf is a male who either declines to join a pack or cannot find a pack who will take him in. The females, I might add, are not allowed that option. Werewolves have not yet joined the twentieth century, let alone the twenty-first, as far as women are concerned. It's a good thing I'm not a werewolf-or maybe it is a pity. Someone needs to wake them up. "Christiansen was one of the wolves who came to your house?" I asked. He nodded. "I didn't hear him or see him-he stayed away from me-but I could smell him. There were several humans and three or four wolves." "You killed two," I told him. "I killed a third." I tried to remember what I'd smelled in his house, but I had only been tracking Jesse. There had been so many of Adam's pack in the house, and I only knew some of them by name. "I'd know the man, the human, who confronted Mac and me earlier that night, but no one else for certain." "I'm pretty sure they intended I stay out until they'd done whatever they came for, but their whole plan was a botch job," Adam said. "First, they killed Mac. Obviously, from their attempt to take him at your shop, they wanted him, but I don't think they meant to kill him in my house." "They left him on my doorstep," I said. "Did they?" Adam frowned. "A warning?" I could see him roll the thought around and he came up with the same message I had. "Stay out of our business, and you won't end up dead." "Quick thinking for the disposal of a body they didn't know they were going to have," I commented. "Someone drove to my house to dump his body and was gone when I came outside. They left some people at your house who took off hell-bent-for-leather, probably with Jesse. I made it to your house in time to kill the last werewolf you were fighting." I tried to think about what time that was. "Four-thirty in the morning or thereabouts, is my best guess." Adam rubbed his forehead. Samuel said, "So they shot Mac, shot Adam, then waited around until Mac died. They dropped the body at your house-then Adam woke up, and they grabbed Jesse and ran, leaving three werewolves behind to do something-kill Adam? But then why take Jesse? Presumably they weren't supposed to just die." "The first wolf I fought was really new," I said slowly. "If they were all that way, they might have just gotten carried away, and the others fled because they couldn't calm them down." "Christiansen isn't new," said Adam. "One of the wolves was a woman," I told him. "The one I killed was a buff color-almost like Leah but darker. The other was a more standard color, grays and white. I don't remember any markings." "Christiansen is red-gold," Adam said. "So did they come to kidnap Jesse in the first place or was her kidnapping the result of someone trying to make the best of a screwup?" "Jesse." Adam sounded hoarse, and when I glanced back at him I could see that he hadn't heard Samuel's question. "I woke up because Jesse screamed. I remember now." "I found a pair of broken handcuffs on the floor of your living room." I slowed the van so I didn't tailgate an RV that was creeping up the side of the mountain we were climbing. I didn't have to slow down much. "Silver wrist cuffs-and the floor was littered with glass, dead werewolves, and furniture. I expect the ankle cuffs were around there somewhere." I thought of something. "Maybe they just came to get Mac and maybe punish Adam for taking him in?" Samuel shook his head. "Mercy, you they might leave warnings for-or try to teach a lesson. A pack of newbie werewolves-especially if they're headed by an experienced wolf-is not going to tick off an Alpha just to 'punish' him for interfering in their business. In the first place, there's no better way I can think of to get the Marrok ticked off. In the second place there's Adam himself. He's not just the Columbia Basin Alpha, he's damn near the strongest Alpha in the US, present company excluded, of course." Adam grunted, unimpressed with Samuel's assessment. "We don't have enough information to make an educated guess at what they wanted. Mac's dead, either accidentally or on purpose. They half killed me, and they took Jesse. The human you knew implies that it has something to do with Mac's story-and Christiansen's presence implies it has something to do with me. I'll be darned if I know what Mac and I have in common." "Mercy," said Samuel. "I forgot to tell you that I joined the secret society of villains while I was away," I told Samuel, exasperated. "I am now trying to put together a harem of studly, muscle-bound werewolves. Please. Remember, I didn't know Mac until he dropped in my lap sometime after the villains screwed up his life." Samuel, having successfully baited me, reached over and patted my leg. I just happened to glance at Adam's face, and I saw his eyes lighten from chocolate to amber as his gaze narrowed on Samuel's hand before I had to return my eyes to the road to make sure the RV ahead of me hadn't slowed down again. There were four cars trailing slowly behind us up the mountain. "Don't touch her," whispered Adam. There was a shadow of threat in his voice, and he must have heard it, too, because he added, "Please." The last word stopped the nasty comment I'd readied because I remembered that Adam was still hurt, still struggling to control his wolf, and the conversation we'd been having hadn't been designed to calm him. But it wasn't my temper I should have been worried about. Samuel's hand turned until his fingers spanned the top of my thigh, and he squeezed. It wasn't hard enough to hurt. I'm not certain Adam would have even noticed except that Samuel accompanied it by a throaty half growl of challenge. I didn't wait to see what Adam would do. I yanked the wheel to the right and slammed on the brakes as soon as the van was on the shoulder of the road. I unsnapped my seat belt and twisted around to meet Adam's yellow gaze. He was breathing heavily, his reaction to Samuel's taunt tempered by the pain my jerky driving had caused. "You," I said firmly, pointing at him. "Stay right there." Sometimes, if you tell them firmly enough, even Alphas will listen to commands. Especially if you tell them to sit still while they're too hurt to move. "You"-I turned my attention to Samuel-"outside, right now." Then I jerked my leg out from under Samuel's hand and jumped out of the van, narrowly avoiding getting the door taken off as a truck passed by. I wasn't certain either of them would listen to me, but at least I wouldn't have to try to drive with a pair of wolves trying to tear each other apart. However, Samuel opened his door as I stalked around the front of the van. By the time I walked a half dozen steps away from the van, he was beside me, and the van's doors were closed. "Just what did you think you were doing?" I yelled at him, raising my voice over the passing cars. Okay, I was mad, too. "I thought you were here to make sure no one challenged Adam until he was well-not challenge him yourself." "You don't belong to him," he snapped back, his white teeth clicking together sharply. "Of course not!" I huffed in exasperation-and a little in desperation. "But I don't belong to you either! For Pete's sake, Sam, he wasn't telling you that I belonged to him-just that he felt like you were invading his territory. He was asking you for help." Someone should have awarded me a Ph. D. in werewolf psychology and counseling-surely I deserved something for putting up with this garbage. "It wasn't a challenge, stupid. He's trying to control his wolf after nearly being killed. Two unmated male werewolves always get territorial in the presence of a female-you know that better than I do. You're supposed to be the one with all this control, and you're behaving worse than he is." I sucked in air tainted by the traffic. Samuel paused, then settled his weight on his heels-a sign that he was considering backing off from this fight. "You called me Sam," he said in an odd voice that frightened me as much as the violence I could still smell on him, because I didn't know what was causing him to act like this. The Samuel I knew had been easygoing-especially for a werewolf. I was beginning to think that I wasn't the only one who'd changed over the years. I didn't know how to respond to his comment. I couldn't see what my calling him Sam had to do with anything, so I ignored it. "How can you help him control himself if your control isn't better than this? What is wrong with you?" I was honestly bewildered. Samuel was good at calming the dangerous waters. One of his jobs had been teaching the new wolves control so they could be allowed to live. It is not an accident that most werewolves are control freaks like Adam. I didn't know what to do with Samuel-except that he wasn't getting back into that van until he had a handle on whatever was bothering him. "It isn't just that you are female," he muttered at last, though I almost didn't hear him because two motorcycles blew past us. "What is it then?" I asked. He gave me an unhappy look, and I realized that he hadn't intended for me to hear what he'd said. "Mercedes... Mercy." He looked away from me, staring down the slope of the mountain as if the meadows below held some secret he was looking for. "I'm as unsettled as a new pup. You eat my control." "This is all my fault?" I asked incredulously. It was outside of enough that he was scaring the bejeebers out of me-I certainly wasn't about to accept the blame for it. Unexpectedly, he laughed. And as easily as that the smoldering anger, the bright violence, and the dominant power that had been making the air around us feel heavier than it could possibly be floated away. It was just the two of us and the warm scent of Samuel, who smelled of home and the woods. "Stay out here and enjoy the diesel fumes, Mercy," he said as a delivery van in need of a new engine chugged past us in a cloud of black smoke. "Give me a few minutes to clear the air with Adam before you come back in." He turned and took two steps back to the van. "I'll wave to you." "No violence?" I said. He put his hand over his heart and bowed. "I swear." It took long enough that I got worried, but finally he opened the door and called me over. He hadn't rolled down the window because I had the keys and the windows were electric. For some reason I still hadn't tracked down, the windows only worked one at a time even with the car running. I scooted in the driver's seat and gave Adam a cautious look-but his eyes were closed.

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