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Fire Touched


Vampires, werewolves, and fae
Were never on the farm.
To Nanette, who drove combine
And did no harm while on the farm

Chapter One

I sat up in bed, a feeling of urgency gripping mystomach in iron claws. Body stiff with tension, I listened for whateverhad 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 hadawakened me hadn’t bothered my husband. If there were somethingwrong, his voice would have been crisp and his muscles stiff.

“I heard something,” I told Adam, though I wasn’t certain itwas true. It felt like I’d heard something, but I’d been asleep, andnow 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 throughthe pack, though I couldn’t follow what he learned. My link tothe Columbia Basin werewolves was through simple membership:but Adam was the Alpha.

“No one else in the house is disturbed,” he told me, turning hishead 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 myfist on the walking stick that lay against me. The action drewAdam’s eyes to my hands. He frowned, then crouched beside thebed 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 walkingstick. Until he’d drawn my attention to it, I hadn’t even realizedthat it had, once again, shown up where it shouldn’t be. It was afae artifact—a minor fae artifact, I’d been told.

The stick was pretty but not ornate, simple wood shod inetched silver. The wood was gray with age, varnish, or both. Whenit had followed me home like a stray puppy the first time, it hadseemed harmless. But fae things are rarely what they seem. Andeven very minor artifacts, given enough time, can gain in power.

It was very old magic and stubborn. It would not stay with thefae 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 havelearned 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 knowledgethat something was wrong had faded. Experimentally, Ireached out and touched the walking stick again, but my feardidn’t return.

“Maybe I just had a nightmare,” I told him. Maybe it hadn’tbeen the walking stick’s fault.

Adam nodded and set the walking stick on the top of my chestof drawers, which had become its usual resting place. Shutting itup in a closet had seemed rude.

He came back to the bed and kissed me, a quick, possessivekiss. 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 thatcould be triggering my instincts—or things I was worried about.

Maybe something was wrong with Tad and Zee—that wouldexplain the walking stick’s presence in my bed. The walking stickcould be concerned about them—they were fae. At least Zeewas fae.

When one of the Gray Lords who ruled the fae had declaredindependence from the human government, the fae had retreatedto their reservations. Zee, my old friend and mentor in all thingsmechanical, had been forced to go to the Walla Walla reservation,which was about an hour away.

The fae barricaded themselves inside the walls the governmenthad built for them. For a month or so, they’d let the humans figureout that the walls weren’t the only things that protected the reservations.The Walla Walla reservation had all but disappeared, hiddenby illusion and magic. The road that used to lead to it no longerdid. Rumor had it that when people tried to find it by airplane, thepilots forgot where they were going. Satellite photos were a grayblur for an area far larger than the reservation had occupied.

Then they released some of their monsters upon the humanpopulation. Fae that had been held in check by their rulers werelet free. People died. The government was trying to keep a lid onit, to avoid panic, but the media were starting to notice.

I closed my hands again on the gray wood of the walking sticklying across my lap, the one that Adam had just set on the top ofthe chest of drawers. The walking stick moved on its own, thoughI’d never managed to catch it in the process.

I hadn’t worried about Zee a whole lot at first—he can takecare of himself. Tad and I had been able to contact him now andthen.

Tad was Zee’s son. Half-fae, product of a mostly failed experimentby the Gray Lords to see if fae could reproduce with humansand still be fae, Tad hadn’t been required (or asked) to retreat tothe reservations. The fae had no use for their half-bloods, at leastnot until Tad had demonstrated that his magic was powerful andrare. Then they’d wanted him.

Seven weeks he’d been gone. Without Tad, I hadn’t been ableto activate the mirror we’d been using to contact Zee. Seven weeksand 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 thechest.

Sitting at the kitchen table the next morning, Ipaged through yet another catalogue of mechanic’s supplies andmade crabbed notes on the notebook beside me with page numbersand 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 contactZee or Tad. I also had no way to tell if the walking stick hadcaused 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, itwould happen whatever I was doing—and waiting around wassingularly 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 theheat would hit in full force, but for now we only had the occasionalwindstorm to complain about. I flattened the page and comparedthe specs of their cheapest lift to the next cheapest.

We’d managed to scavenge some tools out of my shop when avolcano god toasted it, but a lot of things got warped from theheat—and other things got demolished when the rest of the buildingcollapsed. It would be months before the shop was up andrunning, but some items were going to take a few months to orderin, too.

Meanwhile, I sent a lot of my customers to the VW dealership.A few of my oldest customers—and a few of my brokestcustomers—I had bring their cars out to the big pole building atmy old place. It wasn’t really tooled up, but I could take care ofmost 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. Theheadphones were an old compromise that predated me. Jesse hadtold me once, before her father and I got married, that she suspectedthat if she were playing Big Band music or Elvis or something, herdad wouldn’t have minded her playing it on a stereo. He likedmusic. Just not the music she liked.

She also told me that if she hadn’t told him that her mother lether play whatever she wanted (true—you don’t lie to a werewolf,they can tell), he probably wouldn’t have been willing to compromiseon the headphones. Werewolves can hear music played overheadphones, but it’s not nearly as annoying as music over speakers.

I like Jesse’s music, and I hummed along as I sorted throughwhat I didn’t want, what I wanted and didn’t need, and what Ineeded. When I finished, I’d compare the final list with my budget.After that, I expected that I’d be sorting through what I neededand what I absolutely needed.

Above Jesse’s music, I could hear male voices discussing thepack budget and plans for the next six months. Today was, apparently,a day for budgets. Our pack had money for investments andto help support the wolves who needed help. Our pack becausethough 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 goodthing to have in a werewolf pack. Werewolves had to work tocontrol their wolves, and too much stress made it worse. Lack ofmoney was stressful.

It was a fine balancing act between helping the people who neededhelp without encouraging slackers. Adam and his second, Darryl,and Zack, our lone submissive wolf because he was the one mostlikely to hear if someone in the pack was in trouble (in all senses ofthat word), were upstairs in the pack meeting room — Adam’s officebeing too small to accommodate two dominant wolves.

I couldn’t hear Lucia, the sole human in the room. She wasthere because she had taken over most of the accounting for thepack from Adam’s business’s accountant. She was quiet becauseshe wasn’t yet comfortable enough with the werewolves to arguewith them. Zack was pretty good at catching what she didn’t sayand 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 inthe air and his side rested against the bottom of the kitchen cabinetsa few feet away from where I sat at the table. Joel was theother nonwerewolf who belonged to our pack.

He was black, but in the strong sunlight, I could see a brindlepattern. Like me, he wasn’t a werewolf. His induction into thepack was my fault, though it had saved my life and probably his.Instead of turning into a werewolf—or a coyote like me—he sometimesregained his human form and sometimes took on the formof a tibicena, a giant, very scary beast that smelled like brimstoneand had eyes that glowed in the dark. Mostly, though, he lookedlike a large Pressa Canario, a dog only slightly less intimidatingto most people than a werewolf, especially if the people weren’tfamiliar with werewolves. We were hoping that someday he’d getcontrol of his change and be able to be mostly human instead ofmostly dog. We were all grateful that he wasn’t stuck in the formof the tibicena.

Curled up next to him, and nearly as big as Joel, Cookie, aGerman-shepherd mix, gave me a wary look. She was a lot betterthan she had been the first time I met her, as a victim of severe abusewho’d been rescued by Joel and his wife. Still, she avoided strangersand tended to view any abrupt movement as a cause for concern.

The sound of an unfamiliar car in front of the house pulledmy 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 voicesstopped. There was no doubt the car was for us because our housewas 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 someoneknocked.

I opened the door to see Izzy, one of Jesse’s friends, and hermom, who was carrying a large, teal, canvas bag. Izzy usuallydrove herself over, I wondered if there was something wrong withher car—and if I should offer to teach her how to fix it.

“Hey, Ms. H,” said Izzy, not meeting my eyes. “Jesse’s expectingme.”

As soon as she spoke, Adam and his budget brigade (as Darrylcalled them) went back to work—they knew Izzy, too. Izzy slidaround me and—“escaped” was the only word that fit-up thestairs. Cookie bolted after her—Izzy was one of her favorite people.

“Mercy,” said Izzy’s mom. I couldn’t for the life of me rememberher name. While I was fighting with my memory, she continuedspeaking. “I wonder if you have a few minutes. I’d like to talkto you.”

It sounded ominous—but Izzy had just run upstairs, so itcouldn’t be one of those “I’m sorry but I just don’t feel safe withmy daughter coming over here knowing there are werewolves inthe 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, bigand scary-looking, across the floor, until the only way to the kitchentable was over him. I opened my mouth to ask him to move, but Izzy’smom 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 steppedover him, too. Izzy’s mom sat down at the kitchen table, so I satdown beside her.

She pushed my catalogues away to clear a space, then pulled outa slick, teal-colored spiral-bound book the size of a regular notebookwith “Intrasity Living” scrawled in gold across the front.

She placed it gently, as if it were a treasure, on the table, andsaid, in an earnest voice, “Life is short. And we’re not getting anyyounger. What would you give if you could look ten years youngerand increase your energy at the same time? That’s what our vitaminscan do for you.”

Holy Avon, Batman, I thought, as worry relaxed into annoyance-tingedhumor, I’ve been attacked by a multilevel marketer.

Sounds from the upstairs quieted again, for just a moment, thenDarryl rumbled something that was nicely calculated to be justbarely too quiet for me to pick out. Adam laughed, and they wentback to talking about interest rates. They had abandoned me to facemy doom alone. The rats.

“I don’t take vitamins,” I told her.

“You haven’t tried our vitamins,” she continued, blithelyunconcerned. “They’ve been clinically proved to—”

“They make my hair fall out,” I lied, but she wasn’t listeningto me.

As she chirruped on enthusiastically, I could hear Izzy’s voicedrifting down from Jesse’s room. “Mercy is going to hate me forever.Mom’s gone through all of her friends, all of her acquaintances, allof the people at her gym, and now she’s going after my friends’parents.”

“Don’t worry about Mercy,” said Jesse soothingly. “She can takecare 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 thekitchen short of screams and gunfire. And I wasn’t quite desperateenough 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 certifiedby two independent laboratories as toxin-and allergen- free.”

If she hadn’t been Jesse’s best friend’s mom, I’d have gently butfirmly (or at least firmly) sent her on her way. But Jesse didn’t havethat many friends—the werewolf thing drove away some people,and the ones it didn’t weren’t always the kind of people she wantedas friends.

So I sat and listened and made “mmm” sounds occasionally asseemed appropriate. Eventually, we moved from vitamins to makeup.Despite rumors to the contrary, I do wear makeup. Mostly whenmy 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 mycheek.

I almost said, “What scar? Who has a scar?” But I restrainedmyself. She probably wouldn’t get the Young Frankenstein referenceanyway.

“I don’t usually wear makeup,” I told her instead. I had analmost-irresistible need to add “my husband doesn’t want meattracting other men” or “my husband says makeup is the workof the devil” but decided that any woman whose name I couldn’tremember probably didn’t know me well enough to tell when Iwas kidding.

“But honey,” she said. “With your coloring, you would be stunningwith 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 myhouse, my food, and, apparently, my makeup were full of toxins.

The world wasn’t so clean-cut, I mused as she talked. Therewere a lot of natural and herbal things that were deadly. Uraniumoccurred naturally, for instance. White snake root was so toxicthat it had killed people who drank the milk from cows who hadeaten it. See? My history degree was useful, if only as a source ofmaterial to entertain myself while listening to someone deliver amarketing speech.

Izzy’s mother was earnest and believed everything she said, soI didn’t argue with her. Why should I upset her view of the worldand tell her that sodium and chloride were toxic but very usefulwhen combined into salt? I was pretty sure she’d only point outhow harmful salt was, anyway.

She turned another page while I was occupied with coming upwith more toxins that were useful-and I was distracted from mytrain of thought by the picture on the page. A mint leaf lay on animprobably black and shiny rock in the middle of a clear, runningstream with lots of water drops in artistic places. It made me alittle thirsty—and thirsty reminded me of drinking. And thoughI don’t drink because of an incident in college, I sure could haveused something alcoholic right then.

Come to think of it, alcohol was a toxin—and useful for allsorts of things.

“Oh, this is my favorite part,” she said, caressing the dramaticphoto, “essential oils.” The last two words were said in the sametone a dragon might use to say “Spanish Doubloon.”

She reached into her bag and pulled out a teal box about the sizeof a loaf of bread. In metallic embossed letters, “Intrasity” and“Living Essentials” chased each other around the box in lovely calligraphicscript.

She opened the box and released the ghosts of a thousandodors. 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,” shetold me. “I used to have terrible migraines. Now I just rub a little ofour Gaia’s Blessing on my wrists and temples and “poof,” no morepain.” She slid out an elegant, clear bottle that held some amberliquid and opened it, holding it toward my nose.

It wasn’t that bad. I admit my eyes watered a little from thepeppermint oil. Joel sneezed again and went back to sleep. Butfrom upstairs came a gagging noise and loud coughing. Ben wasn’there, and I didn’t think Zack was the type. I’d have thought Adamand Darryl would both have been more mature. If I had any doubtthat they were teasing me, it would have been dispelled by the waythey were careful to be just quiet enough that Izzy’s mother couldn’thear them.

Joel looked at me and let his tongue loll in an amused expression.He stretched, got up, and trotted up the stairs, doubtless sothat he could join in the next round of fun. Deserter. Cookie gaveme a mournful look and then bolted after Joel.

“Gaia’s Blessing contains peppermint oil,” Izzy’s mother saidunnecessarily 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. Myhusband was an athlete in college, and for twenty years, he’s battledwith jock itch.”

I blinked.

I tried to keep my face expressionless, despite the laughter fromupstairs, as Izzy’s mother continued, apparently unaware of themeaning of TMI. “We tried everything to control it.” She dugaround and pulled out a few bottles before coming up with the oneshe wanted. “Here it is. A little dab of this every night for threedays, 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 imagesfrom lingering. It helped that I had never met Izzy’s father, butnow I hoped I never did.

The bottle label read: “Healing Touch.” I wondered if Izzy’smother’s husband knew that his jock itch was something that hiswife brought up in her sales pitch with near strangers. Maybe hewouldn’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 arejust one oil-lavender, jasmine, lemon, orange. But I think that thecombination oils are more useful. You can combine them on yourown, of course, but our blends are carefully measured for the besteffect. I use this one first thing, every morning. It just makes youfeel better; the smell releases endorphins and wipes the blues rightaway.”

“Good Vibrations,” I commented neutrally. I hadn’t beenpulled back to the sixties or anything; that was what the label onthe bottle read.

She nodded. “They don’t advertise this, mind you, but my managersays that she thinks it does more than just elevate your mood.She told me she believes it actually makes your life go a littlesmoother. Helps good things to happen.” She smiled again, thoughI couldn’t remember her not smiling. “She was wearing it whenshe won a thousand dollars on a lottery ticket.”

She set the bottle down and leaned forward earnestly. “I’veheard-but it hasn’t been confirmed-that the woman who startedIntrasity”— she pronounced it “In-TRAY-sity”—“ Tracy LaBella,is a witch. A white witch, of course, who is using her powers forgood. Our good.” She giggled, which should have been odd in awoman of her age but instead was charming.

Her comment, though, disturbed me and made me pick up thebottle of Good Vibrations. I opened it and took a careful smell:rose, lavender, lemon, and mint. I didn’t sense any magic, and mostlyif 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 anotherbottle—“this is one of my favorites, guaranteed to improve yourlove life or your money back. Does your husband ever have troublekeeping up?” She held up a finger, then curled it limply downwardas 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’tsaid, “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. “Notthat way. My husband is a werewolf, you know. So really not, ifyou 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 thewerewolves could hear every word we whispered.

I let out a huff of air and turned back to her. “You know, everynight is just fine. I’m good with every morning, too. Three, fourtimes a night? Well . . .” I let fall a husky laugh. “You’ve seen myhusband, right?” Adam was gorgeous. “But some nights . . . I’m noton 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 Ihoped would come out as a shy, hopeful smile. “Do you have anythingthat might help with that?”

I don’t know what I expected her to do. But it wasn’t whathappened.

She nodded decisively and pulled out an oversized vial with “RestWell” written on the label. “My manager’s father, God rest his soul,discovered the “little blue pill” last year. Her mother just aboutdivorced 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. Lavenderagain, 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’tquite chemical castration, but it will bring your life into balance,”she said, and she was off on her sales pitch as if the phrase “chemicalcastration” was a common concept—and something one mightconsider 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 abook I’d once borrowed about the fae. The herb could be used toprotect yourself and your home against some kinds of fae whenplaced around windows, doors, and chimneys. If it protectedagainst the fae, maybe I should see if we could get it somewhereand stockpile. Maybe we could grow it. Lucia had our flowerbedslooking better than they had in years, and she was talking aboutputting in an herb garden somewhere. St. John’s wort was an herb.

Eventually, Izzy’s mother finished her sales presentation andbegan the hard sell.

I have a strong will. I didn’t join up to sell Intrasity productsto all my friends. She could say it “wasn’t a pyramid scheme” allshe wanted, but that’s what it was. When she offered a 10 percentdiscount for names and phone numbers of friends, I thought aboutgiving her Elizaveta’s name. But I wasn’t all that keen on sendinga perfectly nice woman to the scary witch. I also wasn’t sure thatthe witch really counted as a friend.

I would let Elizaveta know that Tracy LaBella was stylingherself a witch to sell her products and let the old Russian dealwith it herself.

So I paid full price for one normal-sized and one oversized bottleof Rest Well, which was Izzy’s mother’s entire stock. I mostlybought it because it was funny, but also because I intended to seewhat 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 somethingto use against the fae.

I also bought a small vial of Good Vibrations. I hadn’t intendedto, but Izzy’s mother gave me five percent off because she’d used itas a demo. I could give it to Elizaveta to make sure it wasn’t reallymagical. 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 thatIzzy’s mother had beaten me. But the orange oil smelled reallygood. Izzy’s mother told me it was supposed to promote calmness—and itworked in cookies. I’d used orange extract in browniesbefore, but Izzy’s mother said the oil worked better.

I saw her out and put my back against the door once I closedit. Adam cleared his throat. I looked up to see him halfway downthe stairs. He was leaning against the wall, arms folded as he didhis best to appear disgruntled. But there was a crinkle of a smileat the edge of his eyes.

“So,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m too much for you. Youshould have said something. We might be married, Mercy, but nostill means no.”

I widened my eyes at him. “I just haven’t wanted to hurt yourfeelings.”

“When I give you that little nudge, hmm?” His voice took ona considering air. “Come to think of it, I’m feeling a little nudgecoming on right now.”

“Now?” I whispered in horrified tones. I looked up towardJesse’s room. “Think of the children.”

He tilted his head as if to listen, then shook it. “They won’thear 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 megravely, 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 ontop and vaulted it, right over the top of Medea, who was takinga nap on top of the forbidden territory. She hissed at him, but heignored her and kept coming after me. I dove under the table andout the other side, sprinted through the kitchen, and bolted downthe stairs, laughing so hard I almost couldn’t breathe.

He caught me in the big rec room, tripped me, and pinned meagainst the floor. He kissed my chin, my neck, my cheek, and thebridge of my nose before he touched my lips. He put our game rightout 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 outwhat he was talking about.

I dragged my thoughts from my enervated and trembling bodyand thought about how many people would know what we weredoing down here. “No?” I said hesitantly.

“What happened to not hurting my feelings?” he asked. Eventhough his body was evidently as excited as mine, and his breathingharder than our little chase merited, there was amusement inhis eyes.

“Izzy, Jesse, Darryl, Zack, Lucia, and Joel happened,” I said.If my voice was husky, well, I think anyone in my situation wouldhave had trouble keeping her voice steady.

He rolled off me but grabbed my hand as he did, so we lay sideby side on our backs with our hands clasped. He started laughingfirst.

“At least,” he said finally, “being a werewolf means I neverhave to worry about jock itch.”

“Every cloud has a silver lining,” I agreed. “Even being a werewolfhas its upside.”

I expected him to laugh again. But instead his hand tightenedon mine and he sat up and looked at me. He pulled my hand tohis lips, and said, “Yes.”

Of course, I had to kiss him again.

We went upstairs after that kiss, so i didn’t endup embarrassing myself. Sure, there were sly grins from the peanutgallery, but since nothing happened, I was able to keep from blushingas Darryl and Zack got ready to leave. Adam and the othershad apparently concluded their business while I was finishing upwith Izzy’s mother.

Darryl kissed my hand formally, and said, “You are endlesslyentertaining.”

I raised my eyebrow and gave him a “who me?” expression.Of course, that only made him laugh, his teeth flashing whitelyin amusement. Darryl was a happy blend of his African father andChinese mother, taking the best features of two races and combiningthem. A big man, he could do scary better than anyone in thepack, but with a grin on his face, he could charm kittens out oftrees.

Zack gave me a hug good-bye. Our only submissive wolf, hehad been really . . . skittish and worn when he first joined the packa few months ago. But as he’d gotten used to us, he touched us alla 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 wantedhim sad: a happy submissive wolf balanced the dominants andlowered tempers. So they’d learned to accept Zack’s ways.

I returned Zack’s hug, and he slipped something into my pocketthat felt like one of the vials I’d just bought. He stepped back, lookedme earnestly in the eye, and said, “To protect you from the nudge.”

Darryl high-fived him as he stepped out on the porch. It madeAdam laugh.

After I shut the door on the miscreants who didn’t live here, Iturned around to see Lucia, Joel at her side, standing in the doorwayto 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 Iwouldn’t feel left out. Why didn’t you tell her to go away before shegot started?”

“Because she’s Izzy’s mother—and that sort of thing can haverepercussions 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 theoil because you want to see if there’s real magic involved becauseyou’re worried about her,” said Adam.

I met his eyes solemnly. “No.” I patted my pocket. “I boughtthe orange oil for brownies, and I bought that other as a shield forthe 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, butI’m afraid it might be fatal for you.” Her manager’s father hadgotten a “rest in peace” after his name when she was talking abouthim, after all. “I figure the way it works is that I put it on me. ThenI’ll smell so strongly that you’ll stay away until you are really desperate.”

He threw his head back and laughed. Adam . . . Adam tried todownplay it with a military haircut and clothes that were subtly thewrong color—I’d just figured that one out—but he was beautiful.Like magazine-model beautiful. I didn’t always see it anymore, theinside being more interesting than the outer package, but with hiseyes sparkling and his dimple flashing . . .

I cleared my throat. “Nudge?” I said.

Lucia laughed and turned back toward the kitchen. “Get aroom,” she said over her shoulder.

Adam? He took a predatory step toward me, and his phonerang.

So did mine.

I checked the number on my phone, intending to let the voicemail catch it, but when I saw who was calling, I answered it instead.

“Tony?” I asked, walking away from Adam so my conversationwouldn’t get mixed up in his. Adam was talking to Darryl, whosevoice 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 hisvoice. “But we have a situation here. There is something, afreaking-big something on the Cable Bridge, and it is eating cars.”

“You and Adam” was short for “please bring a pack of werewolvesout to take care of the car-eating monster.” If they were asking forthe pack, they must be desperate.

“Mercy,” said Adam, who, unlike me, apparently had no troublekeeping track of two conversations at the same time, “tell himwe’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, whichhad 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 amonster, I’d almost died. It had taken me six weeks to stand onmy 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 clawwho mostly healed nearly as quickly as they could be hurt. I wasas vulnerable as any human. My superpower consisted of changinginto a thirty-five- pound coyote.

He still had nightmares.

I looked at him. “You’re going to be a werewolf. Darryl is goingto be a werewolf, and I’m assuming Joel is going to be a monstroustibicena, spitting lava and looking scary. I think you need someoneon the ground with the ability to shout things like “Stop shooting,those are the good guys.”.” I took a deep breath. “I won’t promisenot 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 thatallowed me to give up my independence and trust him. He had tolet me be who I was—and not some princess wrapped in cottonwool and kept on a shelf.

“Okay,” he said. “Okay.” Unself-consciously, he stripped outof his clothes because it would be easier to do that here than inthe car. “Joel? Are you coming?”

The big black dog, who already looked a little bigger, paddedout of the kitchen. I wasn’t certain how much control Joel hadabout what shape he wore except that it wasn’t much. We neededto get to the bridge before he started melting things in the car—thetibicena was a creature born in the heart of a volcano.

I opened the door, stopped, and ran up the stairs. I openedJesse’s door without knocking.

“Monster on the Cable Bridge,” I said. “Police are requestingassistance. Stay home. Stay safe. We love you.”

I didn’t give her time to say anything, just bolted back downthe stairs to Adam’s black SUV, where the others waited.

We were going to fight monsters.