I sat up in bed, a feeling of urgency gripping my stomach in iron claws. Body stiff with tension, I listened for whatever had awakened me, but the early-summer night was free of unusual noises.A warm arm wrapped itself around my hips.
“Mercy?” Adam’s voice was rough with sleep. Whatever had awakened me hadn’t bothered my husband. If there were something wrong, his voice would have been crisp and his muscles stiff.
“I heard something,” I told Adam, though I wasn’t certain it was true. It felt like I’d heard something, but I’d been asleep, and now I couldn’t remember what had startled me.
He let me go and rolled off the bed and onto his feet. Like me, he listened to the night. I felt him stretch his awareness through the pack, though I couldn’t follow what he learned. My link to the Columbia Basin werewolves was through simple membership: but Adam was the Alpha.
“No one else in the house is disturbed,” he told me, turning his head to look at me. “I didn’t sense anything. What did you hear?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know. Something bad.” I closed my fist on the walking stick that lay against me. The action drew Adam’s eyes to my hands. He frowned, then crouched beside the bed and gently pulled the walking stick away.
“Did you bring this into bed last night?” he asked.
I flexed my fingers, frowning with annoyance at the walking stick. Until he’d drawn my attention to it, I hadn’t even realized that it had, once again, shown up where it shouldn’t be. It was a fae artifact—a minor fae artifact, I’d been told.
The stick was pretty but not ornate, simple wood shod in etched silver. The wood was gray with age, varnish, or both. When it had followed me home like a stray puppy the first time, it had seemed harmless. But fae things are rarely what they seem. And even very minor artifacts, given enough time, can gain in power.
It was very old magic and stubborn. It would not stay with the fae when I tried to give it back to them. Then I killed with it —or it had used me to kill something. Someone. That had changed it. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I’d given it to Coyote.
My life so far has been a learning experience. One thing I have learned is: don’t give magical things to Coyote. He returned it, and it was . . . different.
I opened and closed my hands several times; the fierce knowledge that something was wrong had faded. Experimentally, I reached out and touched the walking stick again, but my fear didn’t return.
“Maybe I just had a nightmare,” I told him. Maybe it hadn’t been the walking stick’s fault.
Adam nodded and set the walking stick on the top of my chest of drawers, which had become its usual resting place. Shutting it up in a closet had seemed rude.
He came back to the bed and kissed me, a quick, possessive kiss. He pulled back and looked at me, to make sure I was okay.
“Let me just take a look-see around the place to make sure.” He waited for my nod before he left me alone.
I waited for him in the dark. Maybe it had been a nightmare, or maybe something was wrong. I thought about the things that could be triggering my instincts—or things I was worried about.
Maybe something was wrong with Tad and Zee—that would explain the walking stick’s presence in my bed. The walking stick could be concerned about them—they were fae. At least Zee was fae.
When one of the Gray Lords who ruled the fae had declared independence from the human government, the fae had retreated to their reservations. Zee, my old friend and mentor in all things mechanical, had been forced to go to the Walla Walla reservation, which was about an hour away.
The fae barricaded themselves inside the walls the government had built for them. For a month or so, they’d let the humans figure out that the walls weren’t the only things that protected the reservations. The Walla Walla reservation had all but disappeared, hidden by illusion and magic. The road that used to lead to it no longer did. Rumor had it that when people tried to find it by airplane, the pilots forgot where they were going. Satellite photos were a gray blur for an area far larger than the reservation had occupied.
Then they released some of their monsters upon the human population. Fae that had been held in check by their rulers were let free. People died. The government was trying to keep a lid on it, to avoid panic, but the media were starting to notice.
I closed my hands again on the gray wood of the walking stick lying across my lap, the one that Adam had just set on the top of the chest of drawers. The walking stick moved on its own, though I’d never managed to catch it in the process.
I hadn’t worried about Zee a whole lot at first—he can take care of himself. Tad and I had been able to contact him now and then.
Tad was Zee’s son. Half-fae, product of a mostly failed experiment by the Gray Lords to see if fae could reproduce with humans and still be fae, Tad hadn’t been required (or asked) to retreat to the reservations. The fae had no use for their half-bloods, at least not until Tad had demonstrated that his magic was powerful and rare. Then they’d wanted him.
Seven weeks he’d been gone. Without Tad, I hadn’t been able to activate the mirror we’d been using to contact Zee. Seven weeks and no word at all.
“Is it Tad?” I asked the walking stick. But it sat inert in my hands. When I heard Adam on the stairs, I got up and put it back on the chest.
Sitting at the kitchen table the next morning, I paged through yet another catalogue of mechanic’s supplies and made crabbed notes on the notebook beside me with page numbers and prices.I hadn’t forgotten last night, but I could hardly sit and do nothing, waiting for something dire to happen. I had no way to contact Zee or Tad. I also had no way to tell if the walking stick had caused my panic over something real, or if I’d had a nightmare, and that had called the walking stick.
If something dire was going to happen, in my experience, it would happen whatever I was doing—and waiting around was singularly useless. So I worked.
The wind rustled the pages gently. It was early summer yet, cool enough to leave windows open. A few more weeks, and the heat would hit in full force, but for now we only had the occasional windstorm to complain about. I flattened the page and compared the specs of their cheapest lift to the next cheapest.
We’d managed to scavenge some tools out of my shop when a volcano god toasted it, but a lot of things got warped from the heat—and other things got demolished when the rest of the building collapsed. It would be months before the shop was up and running, but some items were going to take a few months to order in, too.
Meanwhile, I sent a lot of my customers to the VW dealership. A few of my oldest customers—and a few of my brokest customers—I had bring their cars out to the big pole building at my old place. It wasn’t really tooled up, but I could take care of most simple issues.
Music wafted down from upstairs out of Jesse’s headphones. Her door must have been open or I wouldn’t have heard them. The headphones were an old compromise that predated me. Jesse had told me once, before her father and I got married, that she suspected that if she were playing Big Band music or Elvis or something, her dad wouldn’t have minded her playing it on a stereo. He liked music. Just not the music she liked.
She also told me that if she hadn’t told him that her mother let her play whatever she wanted (true—you don’t lie to a werewolf, they can tell), he probably wouldn’t have been willing to compromise on the headphones. Werewolves can hear music played over headphones, but it’s not nearly as annoying as music over speakers.
I like Jesse’s music, and I hummed along as I sorted through what I didn’t want, what I wanted and didn’t need, and what I needed. When I finished, I’d compare the final list with my budget. After that, I expected that I’d be sorting through what I needed and what I absolutely needed.
Above Jesse’s music, I could hear male voices discussing the pack budget and plans for the next six months. Today was, apparently, a day for budgets. Our pack had money for investments and to help support the wolves who needed help. Our pack because though I wasn’t a werewolf, I was still a member of the pack— which was unusual but not altogether unique.
Not all packs had the resources that we did. Money was a good thing to have in a werewolf pack. Werewolves had to work to control their wolves, and too much stress made it worse. Lack of money was stressful.
It was a fine balancing act between helping the people who needed help without encouraging slackers. Adam and his second, Darryl, and Zack, our lone submissive wolf because he was the one most likely to hear if someone in the pack was in trouble (in all senses of that word), were upstairs in the pack meeting room — Adam’s office being too small to accommodate two dominant wolves.
I couldn’t hear Lucia, the sole human in the room. She was there because she had taken over most of the accounting for the pack from Adam’s business’s accountant. She was quiet because she wasn’t yet comfortable enough with the werewolves to argue with them. Zack was pretty good at catching what she didn’t say and relaying it to the others, though, so it worked out.
Lucia’s husband, Joel (pronounced Hoe-el in the Spanish tradition), sighed heavily and rolled over until all four paws were in the air and his side rested against the bottom of the kitchen cabinets a few feet away from where I sat at the table. Joel was the other nonwerewolf who belonged to our pack.
He was black, but in the strong sunlight, I could see a brindle pattern. Like me, he wasn’t a werewolf. His induction into the pack was my fault, though it had saved my life and probably his. Instead of turning into a werewolf—or a coyote like me—he sometimes regained his human form and sometimes took on the form of a tibicena, a giant, very scary beast that smelled like brimstone and had eyes that glowed in the dark. Mostly, though, he looked like a large Pressa Canario, a dog only slightly less intimidating to most people than a werewolf, especially if the people weren’t familiar with werewolves. We were hoping that someday he’d get control of his change and be able to be mostly human instead of mostly dog. We were all grateful that he wasn’t stuck in the form of the tibicena.
Curled up next to him, and nearly as big as Joel, Cookie, a German-shepherd mix, gave me a wary look. She was a lot better than she had been the first time I met her, as a victim of severe abuse who’d been rescued by Joel and his wife. Still, she avoided strangers and tended to view any abrupt movement as a cause for concern.
The sound of an unfamiliar car in front of the house pulled my attention away from the merits of a four-post lift over a two-post lift. Joel rolled over and took notice. Upstairs, the men’s voices stopped. There was no doubt the car was for us because our house was the last one on a dead-end, very rural street.
It wasn’t the mail carrier or the UPS lady—I knew those cars, just as I knew the cars the pack usually drove.
“I’ll check it out,” I told Joel, knowing Adam would hear me, too. I was halfway to the front door, Cookie at my heels, when someone knocked.
I opened the door to see Izzy, one of Jesse’s friends, and her mom, who was carrying a large, teal, canvas bag. Izzy usually drove herself over, I wondered if there was something wrong with her car—and if I should offer to teach her how to fix it.
“Hey, Ms. H,” said Izzy, not meeting my eyes. “Jesse’s expecting me.”
As soon as she spoke, Adam and his budget brigade (as Darryl called them) went back to work—they knew Izzy, too. Izzy slid around me and—“ escaped” was the only word that fit-up the stairs. Cookie bolted after her—Izzy was one of her favorite people.
“Mercy,” said Izzy’s mom. I couldn’t for the life of me remember her name. While I was fighting with my memory, she continued speaking. “I wonder if you have a few minutes. I’d like to talk to you.”
It sounded ominous—but Izzy had just run upstairs, so it couldn’t be one of those “I’m sorry but I just don’t feel safe with my daughter coming over here knowing there are werewolves in the house” talks. Those usually happened over the phone, anyway.
“Sure,” I said, taking a step back to invite her in.
“We’ll need a table,” she said.
I led her back to the kitchen, where Joel had stretched out, big and scary-looking, across the floor, until the only way to the kitchen table was over him. I opened my mouth to ask him to move, but Izzy’s mom stepped over him as if he’d been a Lab or a golden retriever.
Joel looked at me, a little affronted at her disregard of his scariness. I shrugged, gave him a small apologetic smile, then stepped over him, too. Izzy’s mom sat down at the kitchen table, so I sat down beside her.
She pushed my catalogues away to clear a space, then pulled out a slick, teal-colored spiral-bound book the size of a regular notebook with “Intrasity Living” scrawled in gold across the front.
She placed it gently, as if it were a treasure, on the table, and said, in an earnest voice, “Life is short. And we’re not getting any younger. What would you give if you could look ten years younger and increase your energy at the same time? That’s what our vitamins can do for you.”
Holy Avon, Batman, I thought, as worry relaxed into annoyance-tinged humor, I’ve been attacked by a multilevel marketer.
Sounds from the upstairs quieted again, for just a moment, then Darryl rumbled something that was nicely calculated to be just barely too quiet for me to pick out. Adam laughed, and they went back to talking about interest rates. They had abandoned me to face my doom alone. The rats.
“I don’t take vitamins,” I told her.
“You haven’t tried our vitamins,” she continued, blithely unconcerned. “They’ve been clinically proved to—”
“They make my hair fall out,” I lied, but she wasn’t listening to me.
As she chirruped on enthusiastically, I could hear Izzy’s voice drifting down from Jesse’s room. “Mercy is going to hate me forever. Mom’s gone through all of her friends, all of her acquaintances, all of the people at her gym, and now she’s going after my friends’ parents.”
“Don’t worry about Mercy,” said Jesse soothingly. “She can take care of herself.” Jesse’s door closed. I knew that with the door shut, the kids were too human to hear anything that went on in the kitchen short of screams and gunfire. And I wasn’t quite desperate enough yet for either of those sounds to be an issue.
“I know there are other vitamins out there,” Izzy’s mother continued, “but of the twelve most common brands, only ours is certified by two independent laboratories as toxin-and allergen- free.”
If she hadn’t been Jesse’s best friend’s mom, I’d have gently but firmly (or at least firmly) sent her on her way. But Jesse didn’t have that many friends—the werewolf thing drove away some people, and the ones it didn’t weren’t always the kind of people she wanted as friends.
So I sat and listened and made “mmm” sounds occasionally as seemed appropriate. Eventually, we moved from vitamins to makeup. Despite rumors to the contrary, I do wear makeup. Mostly when my husband’s ex-wife is going to be around.
“We also have a product that is very useful at covering up scars,” she told me, looking pointedly at the white scar that slid across my cheek.
I almost said, “What scar? Who has a scar?” But I restrained myself. She probably wouldn’t get the Young Frankenstein reference anyway.
“I don’t usually wear makeup,” I told her instead. I had an almost-irresistible need to add “my husband doesn’t want me attracting other men” or “my husband says makeup is the work of the devil” but decided that any woman whose name I couldn’t remember probably didn’t know me well enough to tell when I was kidding.
“But honey,” she said. “With your coloring, you would be stunning with the right makeup.” And, with that backhanded compliment, she was off and running, again.
Izzy’s mom used “natural” and “herbal” to mean good. “Toxin” was bad. There was never any particular toxin named, but my house, my food, and, apparently, my makeup were full of toxins.
The world wasn’t so clean-cut, I mused as she talked. There were a lot of natural and herbal things that were deadly. Uranium occurred naturally, for instance. White snake root was so toxic that it had killed people who drank the milk from cows who had eaten it. See? My history degree was useful, if only as a source of material to entertain myself while listening to someone deliver a marketing speech.
Izzy’s mother was earnest and believed everything she said, so I didn’t argue with her. Why should I upset her view of the world and tell her that sodium and chloride were toxic but very useful when combined into salt? I was pretty sure she’d only point out how harmful salt was, anyway.
She turned another page while I was occupied with coming up with more toxins that were useful-and I was distracted from my train of thought by the picture on the page. A mint leaf lay on an improbably black and shiny rock in the middle of a clear, running stream with lots of water drops in artistic places. It made me a little thirsty—and thirsty reminded me of drinking. And though I don’t drink because of an incident in college, I sure could have used something alcoholic right then.
Come to think of it, alcohol was a toxin—and useful for all sorts of things.
“Oh, this is my favorite part,” she said, caressing the dramatic photo, “essential oils.” The last two words were said in the same tone a dragon might use to say “Spanish Doubloon.”
She reached into her bag and pulled out a teal box about the size of a loaf of bread. In metallic embossed letters, “Intrasity” and “Living Essentials” chased each other around the box in lovely calligraphic script.
She opened the box and released the ghosts of a thousand odors. I sneezed, Joel sneezed. Izzy’s mother said, “God bless you.”
I smiled. “Yes, He does. Thank you.”
“I don’t know what I would do without my essential oils,” she told me. “I used to have terrible migraines. Now I just rub a little of our Gaia’s Blessing on my wrists and temples and “poof,” no more pain.” She slid out an elegant, clear bottle that held some amber liquid and opened it, holding it toward my nose.
It wasn’t that bad. I admit my eyes watered a little from the peppermint oil. Joel sneezed again and went back to sleep. But from upstairs came a gagging noise and loud coughing. Ben wasn’t here, and I didn’t think Zack was the type. I’d have thought Adam and Darryl would both have been more mature. If I had any doubt that they were teasing me, it would have been dispelled by the way they were careful to be just quiet enough that Izzy’s mother couldn’t hear them.
Joel looked at me and let his tongue loll in an amused expression. He stretched, got up, and trotted up the stairs, doubtless so that he could join in the next round of fun. Deserter. Cookie gave me a mournful look and then bolted after Joel.
“Gaia’s Blessing contains peppermint oil,” Izzy’s mother said unnecessarily because that was the one making my eyes water, “lavender, rosemary, and eucalyptus, all natural oils, blended together.” She capped it. “We have remedies for a variety of ailments. My husband was an athlete in college, and for twenty years, he’s battled with jock itch.”
I tried to keep my face expressionless, despite the laughter from upstairs, as Izzy’s mother continued, apparently unaware of the meaning of TMI. “We tried everything to control it.” She dug around and pulled out a few bottles before coming up with the one she wanted. “Here it is. A little dab of this every night for three days, and his jock itch was gone. It works for ringworm, psoriasis, and acne, too.”
I looked at the bottle as if that would keep inappropriate images from lingering. It helped that I had never met Izzy’s father, but now I hoped I never did.
The bottle label read: “Healing Touch.” I wondered if Izzy’s mother’s husband knew that his jock itch was something that his wife brought up in her sales pitch with near strangers. Maybe he wouldn’t care.
She opened that bottle, too. It wasn’t as bad as the first one.
“Vitamin E,” she said. “Tea tree oil.”
“Lavender,” I said, and her smile wattage went up.
I bet she made a mint on her multilevel marketing. She was cute, perky, and very sincere.
She pulled out another bottle. “Most of our essential oils are just one oil-lavender, jasmine, lemon, orange. But I think that the combination oils are more useful. You can combine them on your own, of course, but our blends are carefully measured for the best effect. I use this one first thing, every morning. It just makes you feel better; the smell releases endorphins and wipes the blues right away.”
“Good Vibrations,” I commented neutrally. I hadn’t been pulled back to the sixties or anything; that was what the label on the bottle read.
She nodded. “They don’t advertise this, mind you, but my manager says that she thinks it does more than just elevate your mood. She told me she believes it actually makes your life go a little smoother. Helps good things to happen.” She smiled again, though I couldn’t remember her not smiling. “She was wearing it when she won a thousand dollars on a lottery ticket.”
She set the bottle down and leaned forward earnestly. “I’ve heard-but it hasn’t been confirmed-that the woman who started Intrasity”— she pronounced it “In-TRAY-sity”—“ Tracy LaBella, is a witch. A white witch, of course, who is using her powers for good. Our good.” She giggled, which should have been odd in a woman of her age but instead was charming.
Her comment, though, disturbed me and made me pick up the bottle of Good Vibrations. I opened it and took a careful smell: rose, lavender, lemon, and mint. I didn’t sense any magic, and mostly if magic is around, I can tell.
LaBella wasn’t one of the witch family names, as far as I knew, but if “Tracy the Beautiful” was her real name, I’d have been surprised.
“Now this little gem”— Izzy’s mother pulled out yet another bottle—“this is one of my favorites, guaranteed to improve your love life or your money back. Does your husband ever have trouble keeping up?” She held up a finger, then curled it limply downward as her eyebrows arched up.
The silence from upstairs was suddenly deafening.
“Uhm. No,” I said. I tried to resist, I really did. If Darryl hadn’t said, “Way to go, man—for a moment I was worried about you,” I think I could have held out. But he did. And Adam laughed, which clinched it.
I sighed and picked an imaginary string off my pant leg. “Not that way. My husband is a werewolf, you know. So really not, if you know what I mean.”
She blinked avidly. “No. What do you mean?”
“Well,” I said, looking away from her as if I were embarrassed, and I half mumbled, “You know what they say about werewolves.”
She leaned closer. “No,” she whispered. “Tell me.”
I had heard the meeting-room door open, so I knew that the werewolves could hear every word we whispered.
I let out a huff of air and turned back to her. “You know, every night is just fine. I’m good with every morning, too. Three, four times a night? Well . . .” I let fall a husky laugh. “You’ve seen my husband, right?” Adam was gorgeous. “But some nights . . . I’m not on the right side of thirty anymore, you know? Sometimes I’m tired. I just get to sleep, and he’s nudging me again.” I gave her what I hoped would come out as a shy, hopeful smile. “Do you have anything that might help with that?”
I don’t know what I expected her to do. But it wasn’t what happened.
She nodded decisively and pulled out an oversized vial with “Rest Well” written on the label. “My manager’s father, God rest his soul, discovered the “little blue pill” last year. Her mother just about divorced him after forty years of marriage before she tried this.”
“God rest his soul” meant dead, right? I took the vial warily. Like the others, it didn’t feel magical. I opened it and sniffed. Lavender again, but it was more complex than that. Orange, I thought, and something else. “What’s in it?” I asked.
“St. John’s wort, lavender, orange,” she said briskly. “This isn’t quite chemical castration, but it will bring your life into balance,” she said, and she was off on her sales pitch as if the phrase “chemical castration” was a common concept—and something one might consider doing to one’s husband.
And she looked like such a nice, normal person.
I sniffed the vial again. St John’s wort I knew mostly from a book I’d once borrowed about the fae. The herb could be used to protect yourself and your home against some kinds of fae when placed around windows, doors, and chimneys. If it protected against the fae, maybe I should see if we could get it somewhere and stockpile. Maybe we could grow it. Lucia had our flowerbeds looking better than they had in years, and she was talking about putting in an herb garden somewhere. St. John’s wort was an herb.
Eventually, Izzy’s mother finished her sales presentation and began the hard sell.
I have a strong will. I didn’t join up to sell Intrasity products to all my friends. She could say it “wasn’t a pyramid scheme” all she wanted, but that’s what it was. When she offered a 10 percent discount for names and phone numbers of friends, I thought about giving her Elizaveta’s name. But I wasn’t all that keen on sending a perfectly nice woman to the scary witch. I also wasn’t sure that the witch really counted as a friend.
I would let Elizaveta know that Tracy LaBella was styling herself a witch to sell her products and let the old Russian deal with it herself.
So I paid full price for one normal-sized and one oversized bottle of Rest Well, which was Izzy’s mother’s entire stock. I mostly bought it because it was funny, but also because I intended to see what kind of an effect the St. John’s wort would have on a fae.
With Zee and Tad stuck on the reservation, I might need something to use against the fae.
I also bought a small vial of Good Vibrations. I hadn’t intended to, but Izzy’s mother gave me five percent off because she’d used it as a demo. I could give it to Elizaveta to make sure it wasn’t really magical. It wouldn’t hurt anything if I tried a little of it myself first.
It was when I bought some orange oil that I acknowledged that Izzy’s mother had beaten me. But the orange oil smelled really good. Izzy’s mother told me it was supposed to promote calmness—and it worked in cookies. I’d used orange extract in brownies before, but Izzy’s mother said the oil worked better.
I saw her out and put my back against the door once I closed it. Adam cleared his throat. I looked up to see him halfway down the stairs. He was leaning against the wall, arms folded as he did his best to appear disgruntled. But there was a crinkle of a smile at the edge of his eyes.
“So,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m too much for you. You should have said something. We might be married, Mercy, but no still means no.”
I widened my eyes at him. “I just haven’t wanted to hurt your feelings.”
“When I give you that little nudge, hmm?” His voice took on a considering air. “Come to think of it, I’m feeling a little nudge coming on right now.”
“Now?” I whispered in horrified tones. I looked up toward Jesse’s room. “Think of the children.”
He tilted his head as if to listen, then shook it. “They won’t hear anything from there.” He started slowly down the stairs.
“Think of Darryl, Zack, Lucia, and Joel,” I said earnestly. “They’ll be scarred for life.”
“You know what they say about werewolves,” he told me gravely, stepping down to the ground.
I broke and ran—and he was right on my tail. Figuratively speaking, of course. I don’t have a tail unless I’m in my coyote shape.
I dodged around the big dining table, but he put one hand on top and vaulted it, right over the top of Medea, who was taking a nap on top of the forbidden territory. She hissed at him, but he ignored her and kept coming after me. I dove under the table and out the other side, sprinted through the kitchen, and bolted down the stairs, laughing so hard I almost couldn’t breathe.
He caught me in the big rec room, tripped me, and pinned me against the floor. He kissed my chin, my neck, my cheek, and the bridge of my nose before he touched my lips. He put our game right out of my mind (along with any ability to form a coherent thought), so when he said, “Nudge,” it took me a second or two to figure out what he was talking about.
I dragged my thoughts from my enervated and trembling body and thought about how many people would know what we were doing down here. “No?” I said hesitantly.
“What happened to not hurting my feelings?” he asked. Even though his body was evidently as excited as mine, and his breathing harder than our little chase merited, there was amusement in his eyes.
“Izzy, Jesse, Darryl, Zack, Lucia, and Joel happened,” I said. If my voice was husky, well, I think anyone in my situation would have had trouble keeping her voice steady.
He rolled off me but grabbed my hand as he did, so we lay side by side on our backs with our hands clasped. He started laughing first.
“At least,” he said finally, “being a werewolf means I never have to worry about jock itch.”
“Every cloud has a silver lining,” I agreed. “Even being a werewolf has its upside.”
I expected him to laugh again. But instead his hand tightened on mine and he sat up and looked at me. He pulled my hand to his lips, and said, “Yes.”
Of course, I had to kiss him again.
We went upstairs after that kiss, so i didn’t end up embarrassing myself. Sure, there were sly grins from the peanut gallery, but since nothing happened, I was able to keep from blushing as Darryl and Zack got ready to leave. Adam and the others had apparently concluded their business while I was finishing up with Izzy’s mother.Darryl kissed my hand formally, and said, “You are endlessly entertaining.”
I raised my eyebrow and gave him a “who me?” expression. Of course, that only made him laugh, his teeth flashing whitely in amusement. Darryl was a happy blend of his African father and Chinese mother, taking the best features of two races and combining them. A big man, he could do scary better than anyone in the pack, but with a grin on his face, he could charm kittens out of trees.
Zack gave me a hug good-bye. Our only submissive wolf, he had been really . . . skittish and worn when he first joined the pack a few months ago. But as he’d gotten used to us, he touched us all a lot. Some of the guys had been taken aback when he’d started, though his touch had nothing to do with sex. But no one wanted him sad: a happy submissive wolf balanced the dominants and lowered tempers. So they’d learned to accept Zack’s ways.
I returned Zack’s hug, and he slipped something into my pocket that felt like one of the vials I’d just bought. He stepped back, looked me earnestly in the eye, and said, “To protect you from the nudge.”
Darryl high-fived him as he stepped out on the porch. It made Adam laugh.
After I shut the door on the miscreants who didn’t live here, I turned around to see Lucia, Joel at her side, standing in the doorway to the kitchen with her arms crossed and a big grin on her face. I frowned at her.
“Don’t worry,” she said earnestly. “I didn’t hear the whole thing, but Zack courteously kept me apprised as it was happening, so I wouldn’t feel left out. Why didn’t you tell her to go away before she got started?”
“Because she’s Izzy’s mother—and that sort of thing can have repercussions for Jesse,” I told her.
“And because you didn’t want to hurt her feelings,” said Adam. “Which is why multilevel marketing works. And you bought the oil because you want to see if there’s real magic involved because you’re worried about her,” said Adam.
I met his eyes solemnly. “No.” I patted my pocket. “I bought the orange oil for brownies, and I bought that other as a shield for the nudge attack.”
He raised an eyebrow. “So, do you wear it, or do I?” he asked.
I frowned at him. “I couldn’t actually tell from her story, but I’m afraid it might be fatal for you.” Her manager’s father had gotten a “rest in peace” after his name when she was talking about him, after all. “I figure the way it works is that I put it on me. Then I’ll smell so strongly that you’ll stay away until you are really desperate.”
He threw his head back and laughed. Adam . . . Adam tried to downplay it with a military haircut and clothes that were subtly the wrong color—I’d just figured that one out—but he was beautiful. Like magazine-model beautiful. I didn’t always see it anymore, the inside being more interesting than the outer package, but with his eyes sparkling and his dimple flashing . . .
I cleared my throat. “Nudge?” I said.
Lucia laughed and turned back toward the kitchen. “Get a room,” she said over her shoulder.
Adam? He took a predatory step toward me, and his phone rang.
So did mine.
I checked the number on my phone, intending to let the voice mail catch it, but when I saw who was calling, I answered it instead.
“Tony?” I asked, walking away from Adam so my conversation wouldn’t get mixed up in his. Adam was talking to Darryl, whose voice sounded urgent.
“I don’t know if you and Adam can help us,” Tony said rapidly. In the background, sirens were doing their best to drown out his voice. “But we have a situation here. There is something, a freaking-big something on the Cable Bridge, and it is eating cars.”
“You and Adam” was short for “please bring a pack of werewolves out to take care of the car-eating monster.” If they were asking for the pack, they must be desperate.
“Mercy,” said Adam, who, unlike me, apparently had no trouble keeping track of two conversations at the same time, “tell him we’re on our way. Darryl and Zack are almost on-site.”
I repeated Adam’s words, then said, “We’ll be right there.”
I hung up and started out the door. The Cable Bridge, which had another name no one remembered, was about a ten-minute drive from our house.
“Mercy,” said Adam tightly. The last time we’d faced down a monster, I’d almost died. It had taken me six weeks to stand on my own two feet, and it hadn’t been the first time I’d been hurt. The werewolves were two-hundred-plus pounds of fang and claw who mostly healed nearly as quickly as they could be hurt. I was as vulnerable as any human. My superpower consisted of changing into a thirty-five- pound coyote.
He still had nightmares.
I looked at him. “You’re going to be a werewolf. Darryl is going to be a werewolf, and I’m assuming Joel is going to be a monstrous tibicena, spitting lava and looking scary. I think you need someone on the ground with the ability to shout things like “Stop shooting, those are the good guys.”.” I took a deep breath. “I won’t promise not to get hurt. I won’t lie to you. But I do promise not to be stupid.”
His cheeks whitened as he clenched his jaw. His eyes shadowed, he nodded slowly. That was the deal that we had, the thing that allowed me to give up my independence and trust him. He had to let me be who I was—and not some princess wrapped in cotton wool and kept on a shelf.
“Okay,” he said. “Okay.” Unself-consciously, he stripped out of his clothes because it would be easier to do that here than in the car. “Joel? Are you coming?”
The big black dog, who already looked a little bigger, padded out of the kitchen. I wasn’t certain how much control Joel had about what shape he wore except that it wasn’t much. We needed to get to the bridge before he started melting things in the car—the tibicena was a creature born in the heart of a volcano.
I opened the door, stopped, and ran up the stairs. I opened Jesse’s door without knocking.
“Monster on the Cable Bridge,” I said. “Police are requesting assistance. Stay home. Stay safe. We love you.”
I didn’t give her time to say anything, just bolted back down the stairs to Adam’s black SUV, where the others waited.
We were going to fight monsters.