Kitty Steals the Show Page 1

Author: Carrie Vaughn

Series: Kitty Norville #10

Genres: Fantasy

Chapter 1

THE PREY doesn’t know it’s being hunted. She stays downwind of it and steps slowly, setting each paw quietly on the forest floor, keeping her head low, ears and eyes forward. Out of her sight, more of her wolves are circling, closing in while the buck grazes, ignorant.

They’ve tracked several young males for an hour. Careless, this one has drifted away from the others. Soon, he’ll be cut off, helpless. Its fellows will run, using its misfortune as their chance to escape. They won’t even look back.

The moment of attack happens quickly. Her mate leaps from shadows. He is sleek and tawny, full of muscle and life, his gold eyes shining in the light of the fat moon. The prey bolts, spinning on its haunches to escape. But three other wolves are there to block its path. The rest of the deer run, disappearing into the woods. This one is trapped.

It spins again, toward her this time, and she snaps at its snout. Fearful eyes roll back in its head, showing white, and its nostrils turn red, heaving desperate breaths. The pack closes in, a dozen wolves surrounding the meat. Two of the males, warriors, strike at the deer’s haunches and bite, digging in with claws and teeth. Another wolf, jaw open and slavering, aims for the throat. The buck puts down its head and slashes with velvety antlers. Possessing only a couple of prongs, it’s inexperienced, but manages to clout his attacker. The wolf yelps and stumbles away.

She and her mate spring forward to take his place. She grabs hold of the prey’s muzzle, closing off its nose, digging with her teeth until blood spills onto her tongue. Her mate bites into its throat and uses his weight to twist its neck and bring the meat down. Neither lets go until the convulsions, the last desperate twitching and the last hope to escape, fall still. Even then, her mate still hangs on, teeth bared, blood flowing around his snout.

The sounds of low growls and ripping flesh rise up. She bounces forward, snarling, landing on the deer’s broad flank. The wolves who had been pulling at the meat’s hide flee, their ears flattened and tails clamped between their legs, then circle back to linger at the edges of the kill, watching. More wolves emerge from the trees and underbrush, older and weaker pack members who had not taken part in the hunt. They would have their chance; they’d feed, too, in their time. Her pack forms a circle around her, waiting for permission. One of them limps—the one the deer struck—and she flickers her ears at him, smelling. He licks his lips, bows his head. Bruised, he’ll heal. She turns her attention to the task at hand.

Her mate is chewing at the deer’s underbelly, the softest part of its gut, breaking through to offal and treasure.

They feed. They all feed.

* * *

I AWOKE to birdsong.

The sun hadn’t yet risen, but the sky was pale, waiting for the first touch of gold. The air smelled fresh, wet, woody. Overhead, the branches of conifers reached. If I lay still I could see the critters flitting among them, cheeping and trilling, full of themselves. Way too manic. I stretched, straightening legs and arms, pulling at too-tight muscles, reminding myself of the shape of my human body after a full-moon night of running as a wolf. My furless skin tingled against the morning air.

The birds weren’t the only ones having fun this morning. My movement woke Ben, who stretched beside me and groaned. Then his arms circled me, his skin warm, flush in contrast to the chill. One hand traveled down my hip, the other reached to tangle in my hair, and he pinned me to the ground, pressing against me with his lean body as my arms pulled him closer and I wrapped my legs around his.

Instead of sleeping with the pack, Ben and I had gone off by ourselves, as we did sometimes, to make love, naked in the wild, and keep the world to ourselves for a little while.

Eventually, the cool morning burned away and the air grew warm. Ben lay pillowed on my chest, arms wrapped around me. I’d been tracing his ear and winding my fingers in his hair. Finally, as much as I hated to do it, I patted his shoulder.

“I think it’s time to get moving.”

“Hmm, do we have to?” His eyes were still closed, his voice muffled.

“Theoretically, no,” I said. “But I think I’d like to go home and take a shower.”

“Maybe next time we can bring the shower out here,” he mumbled.

I furrowed my brow. “Like a camp shower? I think that’d be more trouble than it’s worth.” When I said shower I meant lots of hot water and a pressure nozzle, not just anything that happened to drip water.

He propped himself upright on one arm, keeping the other on my belly, idly tracing my rib cage, his fingertips leaving a flush behind them. “I’m thinking bigger. We could move out of Denver, get a house out here. Go out on the full moon and end up on our doorstep. I think I’m getting a little tired of that condo.”

Stalked by an unbidden memory, I froze. A house in the foothills, where the pack could gather—the idea brought back old, reflexive trauma.

“That’s what Carl and Meg did,” I said. When I took over the pack I promised I would never be like them.

Ben tilted his head to look at me. “We’re not them.” He said it with such simple, declarative finality.

If I separated myself from the memories, could I imagine walking out of my own front porch to a view like this every day? Yeah, maybe. “You sure you want to take the step away from civilization?”

“Ask yourself this: If you weren’t a werewolf, what would you want? Where would you want to live?”

I couldn’t trust my answer, because Wolf was always on the edges, nudging, pointing to certain preferences over others. I’d never eaten rare steak before becoming a werewolf; now, it was my dinner of choice.

“I used to want a nice house somewhere,” I said. “Probably in the suburbs. Big yard. Good shopping. But now? A house out of the city sounds awfully nice.”

“Yeah,” he said. “I grew up in the middle of nowhere, that’s half the reason I moved to Denver in the first place. But I don’t think I want to live in the city forever.”

“So you can see us living in a house out of town? Even without our wolves talking?”

“Yeah, I can,” he said. His smile was thin and wistful. I brushed his hair back from his face, an excuse to touch that expression, that little bit of his soul. He caught my hand and kissed the inside of my wrist.

“Hey, you guys fall into a ditch or something?” Shaun’s voice carried from the next cluster of trees.