cover image

Fire Touched

Just a short teaser. . . there'll be another one in a couple of weeks.

“Okay,” I told Tony. “You should have two other werewolves here already. Adam's called in the rest of the pack, but it might take a half hour or more to get anyone else here. What do you need?”

“Can you kill this thing? Failing that, we need to keep it on the bridge until the National Guard gets here—about two hours at last check,” Tony said grimly.

He leveled an opaque look at Joel. This was Joel's first public appearance as a member of the pack. To Tony's credit, having a black dog that looked as though he'd been half-formed out of burning charcoal didn't seem to faze him long. He barely even paused before he continued to speak

“It doesn't seem to be inclined to leave the bridge, thankfully. At least here it's contained, but it has amply demonstrated that it's staying on the bridge because it wants to be there. Nothing we've been able to do does much more than annoy it.”

Adam gave me a sharp look.

“I've got this,” I agreed. “You and Joel can go find whatever's playing matchbox cars on the bridge.”

Adam started out, then hesitated and turned back, Joel attentive at his side. My mate looked me in the eyes, his own golden and clear.

“I know,” I said feeling his emotions sing to me through our mating bond. He should be able to feel mine, too, but sometimes words matter. “I love you, too.”

He turned and ran, the efficient lope of the beginning of a hunt rather than a racing stride. Joel kept pace at his hip.

Tony cupped his hand under my elbow and tugged me over to the gathered police officers, some in uniform, some in business casual, and some in whatever they happened to be wearing when they got the call. I recognized a few faces, recognized more scents, and Detective Willis, who was regarding me with an expression I couldn't read.

“Don't shoot the werewolves and the tibicena,” I told him — because that was the main purpose of my coming with Adam. “They're the good guys.”

“Tibicena?” Detective Willis tasted the unfamiliar word, but that wasn't enough to hold his attention for long He turned to look at the bridge, not at Adam and Joel, who had slowed to take advantage of the cover provided by the strewn-about cars. “What can you tell us about the thing on the bridge? Why can't we shoot it? It doesn't seem to do anything to it.”

“I don't know what your monster is,” I told him. “I haven't had a chance to see it yet. The tibicena is the scary, black, doglike creature running beside Adam. Adam is the werewolf, and the tibicena is a friend. Please tell everyone not to shoot them, okay?”

Willis gave a quick look at Adam and Joel, then frowned and narrowed his eyes, as if he'd finally realized that Joel wasn't just a weird werewolf. “That thing is a tibicena? What the hell is a tibicena?”

“My friend,” I said coolly. “Who is risking his life to help out.”

Willis grimaced at me. “Don't take offense where none is meant, Mercy Hauptman.” He put a hand to his face and pressed a button I couldn't see because he said, “Do not. I repeat. Do not shoot the scary black dog . . . doglike creature. Don't shoot the werewolves, either. They are on our side, people.”

Tony, who'd followed me over to Willis, said, presumably to me, “We have a couple of SWAT snipers up on top of the Lampson Building and a couple more on top of the Crow's Nest on Clover Island—for all the good that's doing us.”

Clover Island was a boating-and-tourist mecca just west of the bridge, lots of boats, lots of docks, and, on the tiny island itself, a hotel, the Coast Guard office, and a few restaurants. The Crow's Nest was the restaurant on the top floor of the hotel. “They can't get a shot, the wind is too high.” His voice was cool and controlled. “Pasco's got a couple of marksmen up on their side of the river, too. At this rate, we're more likely to shoot each other than whatever that thing is. And given how effective our bullets have been, it wouldn't matter anyway.”

“He's over the hump, and I haven't been able to see it,” I said. “What's it look like?”

“King Kong,” said one of the officers I didn't know. “If King Kong were green and covered in moss with a nose set higher than his eyes. And it is well and truly a him because that part isn't green.”

“Like Christmastime,” agreed a woman I'd seen before but hadn't been introduced to . “Red and green.”

“That's more than I saw,” said a guy in sweats with a long streak of dried blood on the sleeve. “I was too busy getting out of there with my battered civilians.”

“What's it doing?” I asked. “I mean, why is it still on the bridge and not somewhere else? Have the werewolves been keeping it on the bridge?”

“If it wanted off the bridge,” said an officer grimly, “it would be off the bridge.”

“Adam's people are doing a fine job of keeping it occupied,” said Tony. “According to the Pasco police, they've been distracting it whenever it seems to be thinking about heading off. But it really doesn't seem to want off.”

The guy in bloody sweats spoke up. “One of the victims I escorted out said it just stopped and ran back to the middle of the bridge. It's been back on our side a couple of times, Pasco, too— but mostly seems to be hanging out in the center section.” He looked at me. “That thing was coming right for me, and this big black guy ran past and hit it with a baseball bat. I figure I've played baseball most of my life, and I never saw a human swing a bat like that. Broke the bat, which I have seen, but not like that. He saved my life and the lives of the four people I was helping off the bridge, too. Is he one of your guys?”

Darryl. Darryl carried a baseball bat in his car, a baseball bat and a baseball. In Washington, it was illegal to carry only a baseball bat in your car. Darryl wasn't out as a werewolf at his work. I suppose that cat would be out of the bag after today.

“Probably,” I said.