Silver Borne Chapter 2


WE STOPPED AT A STEAK HOUSE FOR DINNER FIRST.

He'd left the bloodstained coat and formal shirt in the car and snagged a dark blue T-shirt from a bag of miscellaneous clothes in the backseat. He'd asked me if he looked odd wearing a T-shirt with tuxedo pants. He couldn't see the way the shirt clung to the muscles of his shoulders and back. I reassured him, truthfully - and with a straight face - that no one would care.

It was Friday night, and business was brisk. Happily, the service was fast.

After the waitress took our orders, Adam said, a little too casually, "So what did you see in your vision?"

"Nothing embarrassing," I told him. "Just one time when I brought cookies over to you."

His eyes brightened. "I see," he said, and his shoulders relaxed a bit, even if his cheeks reddened. "I was thinking about that."

"We okay?" I asked him. "I'm sorry I intruded."

He shook his head. "No apologies necessary. You're welcome to whatever you pick up."

"So," I said casually, "your first time was under the bleachers, huh?"

He jerked his head up.

"Gotcha. Warren told me."

He smiled. "Cold and wet and miserable."

The waitress plunked our food down in front of us and hurried on her way. Adam fed me bites of his rare filet mignon, and I fed him some of my salmon. Food was good, company better, and if I had been a cat, I'd have purred.

"You look happy." He took a sip of his coffee and stretched out a leg so his foot was against mine.

"You make me happy," I told him.

"You could be happy all the time," he said, eating the last bite of baked potato, "and move in with me."

To wake up next to him every morning . . . but . . . "Nope. I've caused you enough trouble," I told him. "The pack and I need to come to . . . detente before I'm moving in. Your home is the den, the heart of the pack. They need a place where they feel safe."

"They can adjust."

"They're adjusting as fast as they can," I told him. "First there was Warren - did you hear that after you let him in, several other packs have allowed gay wolves to join, too? And now there's me. A coyote in a werewolf pack - you have to admit that's quite a lot of change for one pack to take."

"Next thing you know," he said, "women will have the vote or a black man will become president." He looked serious, but there was humor in his voice.

"See?" I pointed my fork at him. "They're all stuck in the eighteen hundreds, and you're expecting them to change. Samuel likes to say that most werewolves have all the change they can deal with the first time they become wolf. Other kinds of change are tough to force on them."

"Peter and Warren are the only ones who've been around since the eighteen hundreds," Adam told me. "Most of them are younger than I am."

The waitress came and blinked a little as Adam ordered three desserts - werewolves take a lot of food to keep themselves fueled up. I shook my head when she looked my way.

When she left, I took up the conversation from where I'd left off. "It won't hurt us to wait a few months until things settle down."

If he hadn't basically agreed with me, I'd have been sleeping in his house already instead of making do with dates. He understood as well as I did that pulling me into his pack had caused a lot of resentment. Maybe if it had been a healthy, well-adjusted pack beforehand, things wouldn't have gotten so tense.

A few years ago, some of his pack had started harassing me - a coyote living next door. Werewolves, like their natural brethren, are territorial, and they don't share their hunting ground easily with other predators. So to put a stop to it, Adam declared me his mate. I hadn't known at the time why the harassment abruptly stopped - and Adam hadn't been in a hurry to tell me. But pack magic demanded that the declaration be answered, and Adam bore the cost when it wasn't. It left him weaker, crabbier, and less able to help his pack stay calm, cool, and collected. By bringing me in as a member of his pack at virtually the same time our mating bond connected, Adam hadn't given his people a chance to get their feet underneath them before throwing them back onto uncertain ground.

"One more month," he said finally. "And then they - and Samuel, too - will just have to get used to it." His eyes, the color of bitter dark chocolate, were serious as he leaned forward. "And you will marry me."

I smiled, showing my teeth. "Don't you mean, 'Will you marry me?' "

I meant it to be funny, but his eyes brightened until little gold flecks were swimming in the darkness. "You had your chance to run, coyote. It's too late now." He smiled. "Your mother is happy that she'll be able to use some of the stuff from your sister's wedding that wasn't."

Panic swelled my heart. "You didn't talk to her about this, did you?" I had visions of a church filled with people and white satin everywhere. And doves. My mother had had doves at her wedding. My sister had eloped to get away from her. My mother is a steamroller, and she doesn't listen very well . . . to anyone.

The wolf left his eyes, and he grinned. "You're okay with marrying a werewolf who has a teenage daughter and a pack that's falling apart - and your mother panics you?"

"You've met my mother," I said. "She ought to panic you, too."

He laughed.

"You just weren't around her long enough." It was only fair that I warn him.
* * *

WE WERE LUCKY AND GOT OUR SCORING TABLE TO ourselves, as the women who had the lane to our left were packing up when we got back from choosing our bowling balls from the available stack. Mine was bright green with gold swirls. Adam's was black.

"You have no imagination," I told him smugly. "It wouldn't hurt if you found a pink ball to bowl with."

"All the pink balls have kid-sized holes in them," he told me. "The black balls are the heaviest."

I opened my mouth, but he shut me up with a kiss. "Not here," he said. "Look next to us."

We were being observed by a boy of about five and a toddler in a frilly pink dress.

I raised my nose in the air. "As if I were going to joke about your ball. How juvenile."

He grinned at me. "I thought you'd feel that way."

I sat down and messed with player names on the interface on the scoring table until I was satisfied.

"Found On Road Dead," he said dryly, looking over my shoulder.

"I thought I'd use our cars as names. You drive a Ford now. F-O-R-D."

"Very Woo-hoo?"

"Not a lot of cool words start with a 'W,' " I admitted.

He leaned over my shoulder and changed it to "Vintage Wabbit," then into my ear, he said, "Very wicked. Mine."

"I can live with that." His warm breath on my ear felt very wicked, all right.

Until Adam, I'd always felt like his black bowling ball - boring but useful. I'm nothing special in the looks department, once you get past the slightly exotic coloring my Blackfoot father gave me. And Adam . . . Heads turn when Adam walks by. Even in the bowling alley, he was attracting attention.

"Go throw your boring black ball," I told him sternly. "Flirting with the scorekeeper won't help you because the computers keep score now."

"As if I needed help," he smirked, walking backward a few steps before he turned around to pay attention to the poor, helpless bowling pins.

He bowled with the deadly earnestness and decisive style with which he did everything else. Controlled power, that was Adam.

But I started noticing something other than admiration in the gazes of the people who were beginning to look at us. At Adam. He wasn't really a celebrity; he tried to stay out of the news. But Adam was one of the wolves who was out to the public - a sober, successful businessman whose security company protected American nuclear technology from foreign hands: a good guy who happened to be a werewolf. All fine and dandy when they read about it in the newspapers, I guess. But it was different to see a werewolf at their bowling alley.

They are afraid of him.

The thought was so strong it felt as if someone were whispering into my ear, bringing with it worry.

Look at them. I saw the men bristling over their women, the mothers hastily gathering their children to them. In a moment, there would be a mass exodus - and that was assuming that some of the young men I saw coming to their feet about four lanes down didn't do something stupid.

He hasn't noticed yet.

Adam gave me a sly, pleased grin at his strike as he walked back - a strike more remarkable because there were no shattered pins, no broken equipment. Too much power can be as great a disadvantage as not enough.

Look beside you.

I took up my green ball and glanced at the people next to us. Like Adam, they were too involved in their game to notice the growing murmuring. The young boy was crawling under the chairs, and his parents were bickering over something on the score-board. Their too-cute toddler - with her pink dress and little pink lions in the two-inch ponytails that stuck out from the back of her head - had climbed up on the bowling platform and was playing with the ball return blowers designed to dry sweaty palms. She wiggled her little hands over the cool air and laughed.

Adam will feel bad when he notices that people are leaving because he's here.

Sweat gathered on my forehead, which was ridiculous because it was cool inside. I paused halfway to the throw line (or whatever it was called) and, imitating Adam, I brought the ball up and held it in the middle of my chest.

Perhaps there's a way to show everyone that he's not a monster, he's a hero.

I glanced over my shoulder and watched the toddler bang on the air vent. Her brother had wandered back through the seating area and was playing with the balls on the racks. His mother had just noticed he'd gotten away from her and had gotten up to go get him.

I turned my attention back to the pins.

"Are you watching?" I asked Adam. The urge to do something for Adam was so strong it made my hands clench.

"My eyes are peeled," he said. "Are you going to do something amazing?"

I swung the ball awkwardly, as if I'd never bowled before, missed the release, and sent it zipping backward toward the little girl playing with the air.

As soon as it left my fingers, I couldn't believe what I'd done. Sweating, shaking, and horrified, I turned. But as quick as I was, I'd missed the action.

Adam had caught the ball a good two feet short of the toddler.

She looked up at Adam, whose noisy fall to the ground had disturbed her play. When she saw that there was a strange man so close, her eyes got big, and her bottom lip stuck out.

Adam is mostly uninterested in children (other than his own) until they are teenagers or older and, as he told me once, capable of interesting conversation.

"Hey," he said, looking very uncomfortable.

She considered him a moment. But she was female and Adam was . . . well, Adam. So she put her hands in front of her mouth and giggled.

It was adorable. Darling cute. He was a goner, and everyone who was watching could see it.

The miniature conqueror squealed as her father grabbed her up and her mother, little boy in tow behind her, babbled out thanks.

And you are the villain of the piece. Poor Mercy.

Of course I was the bad guy; I'd nearly smooshed a toddler. What had I been thinking? If she'd taken a step back, or if Adam hadn't been fast enough, she could have been killed.

She wasn't in any danger. You didn't throw it at her, just rolled it past her. It wouldn't have hit her. You saved him, and he didn't even notice.

He frowned at me after we moved over a lane (for the safety of everyone, though the anxious manager didn't actually come out and say that). We restarted the game, and he let me bowl first.

I carefully rolled the first ball down the gutter, where it wouldn't be likely to hit anyone. I don't know if I did it for my own sake or to reassure anyone watching me.

All you were trying to do was keep Adam happy. And this is the thanks you get.

Almost squishing babies wasn't exactly an act I expected thanks for. I rubbed my forehead as if it would help clear my thoughts.

It wouldn't have hit her. You made sure of it. Even if Adam had missed, it would have rolled harmlessly past.

Adam watched me thoughtfully, but he didn't say anything to me as I engineered my loss by a hundred bazillion points. I could hardly bowl well after my spectacular failure, or someone would figure out I'd done it on purpose.

I had done it on purpose, hadn't I?

I couldn't believe I'd done something like that. What was wrong with me? If Adam had looked more approachable, I might have talked to him about it.

He doesn't want to hear what you have to say. Best just keep quiet. He'd never understand anyway.

I didn't mind, didn't object anyhow, to the way Adam made sure to stand where he could field my ball if I lost control again. After all, his rescue of the baby looked better if he seemed to think I was an idiot, right?

Four turns in, Adam stepped in front of me, and said in a low voice that wouldn't carry beyond us, "You did it on purpose, didn't you? What in the hell were you thinking?"

And for some reason, even though I agreed with him, his question made me mad. Or maybe that was the voice in my head.

He should have understood sooner. He should understand his mate better than anyone. You shouldn't have to defend yourself to him. Best not to say anything at all.

I raised an eyebrow and stalked past him to pick up my ball. Hurt fed anger. I was so mad I forgot myself enough to get a strike. I made sure it was the last point I made in the game - and I didn't say a word to him.

Adam won with a score over two hundred. When he finished bowling the last frame, he took both our balls back to the rack while I changed my shoes.

The teenage boys (by then five lanes away) stopped him and had him sign an autograph for them. I took my shoes back to the desk and turned them in - and paid for the game, too.

"Is he really the Alpha?" asked the teenage girl behind the counter.

"Yep," I said through clenched lips.

"Wow."

"Yep."

I left the bowling alley and waited for him by the side of his shiny new truck, which was locked. The temperature had dropped by twenty degrees as soon as the sun went down, and it was cold enough to make me, in my heels and dress, uncomfortable. Or it would have been if my temper hadn't kept me nice and warm.

I stood by the passenger door, and he didn't see me at first. I saw him lift his head and sniff the air. I leaned my hip against the side of the truck, and the movement caught his attention. He kept his eyes on me as he walked from the building to the truck.

He'd thought you'd deliberately endanger a child to make him look good. He doesn't understand that you'd never do such a thing. She wouldn't have gotten hurt; the ball would have rolled past her harmlessly. He owes you an apology.

I didn't say anything to him. I could hardly tell him that the little voices made me do it, could I?

His eyes narrowed, but he kept his mouth shut, too. He popped the locks and let me get myself in the truck. I paid attention to the buckle, then settled back in the seat and closed my eyes. My hands clenched in my lap, then loosened as a familiar shape inserted itself and my hands closed on the old wood and silver of the fae-made walking stick.

I'd gotten so used to its showing up unexpectedly, I wasn't even surprised, though this was the first time I'd actually felt it appear where it hadn't been. I was more preoccupied with the disaster of our date.

With the walking stick in my hands, it felt as if my head cleared at last. Abruptly I wasn't angry anymore. I was just tired and I wanted to go home.

"Mercy."

Adam was angry enough for the both of us: I could hear the grinding of his teeth. He thought I would throw a bowling ball at a little girl.

I couldn't blame him for his anger. I moved the walking stick until the base was on the floor, then rubbed my thumb on the silver head. There was nothing I could say to defend myself - I didn't want to defend myself. I'd been recklessly stupid. What if Adam had been slower? I felt sick.

"I don't understand women," he bit out, starting the car up and gunning the gas a little harder than necessary.

I gripped the fairy stick with all my might and kept my eyes closed all the way home. My stomach hurt. He was right to be angry, right to be upset.

I had the desperate feeling something was wrong, wrong, wrong. I couldn't talk to him because I was afraid I'd make everything worse. I needed to understand why I'd done what I'd done before I could make him understand.

We pulled into my driveway in silence. Samuel's car was gone, so he must have headed into work earlier than he meant to. I needed to talk to him because I had a very nasty suspicion about tonight. I couldn't talk to Adam - because it would sound like I was trying to find excuses for myself. I needed Samuel, and he wasn't here.

I released my seat belt and unlocked my door - Adam's arm shot in front of me and held the door closed.

"We need to talk," he said, and this time he didn't sound angry.

But he was too close. I couldn't breathe with him this close. And right then, when I could least afford it, I had another panic attack.

With a desperate sound I couldn't help, I jerked my feet to the seat and propelled myself up and over the front seat and into the back. The back door was locked, too, but even as I started to struggle with the latch, Adam popped the lock, and I was free.

I stumbled back away from the truck, shaking and sweating in the night air, the fae stick in one hand like a cudgel or a sword that could protect me from . . . being stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Damn Tim and all that he'd done for leaving me stupidly shaking while I stood perfectly safely in the middle of my own stupid driveway.

I wanted to be myself again instead of this stranger who was afraid of being touched - and who had little voices in her head that made her throw bowling balls at children.

"Mercy," Adam said. He'd gotten out of the truck and come around the back of it. His voice was gentle, and the sound of it . . . Abruptly I could feel his sorrow and bewilderment - something had happened, and he didn't know what it was. He just knew he'd screwed up somehow. He had no idea how it had gone so badly wrong.

I didn't want to know what he was feeling because it only made me stupider - and more vulnerable.

"I have to go in," I told the stick in my hand because I couldn't look up at Adam's face just then. If I'd looked at him, I think I would have run, and he'd have chased me. Some other day, that might have been fun. Tonight, it would be disastrous. So I moved slowly.

He didn't follow me as I walked to my door but said from where he stood, "I'll send someone over to stand guard."

Because I was the Alpha's mate. Because he worried about me. Because of Tim. Because of guilt.

"No," he said, taking a step closer to me, telling me the bond was stronger on his side at that moment. "Because I love you."

I shut the door gently between us and leaned my forehead against it.

My stomach hurt; my throat was tight. I wanted to scream or punch someone, but instead I clenched the walking stick until my fingers hurt and listened to Adam get in his truck and back out of my driveway.

I looked down at the walking stick. Once - maybe still - it made all the sheep its bearer owned have twins. But it had been fashioned a long time ago, and old magic sometimes grew and developed in strange ways. It had become more than just a walking stick with agricultural applications. Exactly what that meant, no one really knew - other than it followed me around.

Maybe it was a coincidence that the first time I'd felt like myself since walking into the bowling alley was when I'd grabbed it in Adam's truck. And maybe it wasn't.

I've had a lot of fights with Adam over the years. Probably inevitable given who we were - the literal as well as figurative Alpha male and . . . me, who was raised among lots of dominant-type males and had chosen not to let them control me (no matter how benign that control might have been). I'd never felt like this after a fight, though. Usually, I feel energized and cheerful, not sick and scared out of my skin.

Of course, usually the fight is my idea and not someone using the pack bonds to play with my head.

I could be wrong, I thought. Maybe it had been some new kind of nifty reaction to my run-in with the not-so-dearly-departed Tim - as if panic attacks and flashbacks weren't enough.

But, now that it was over, the voices tasted like the pack to me. I'd never heard of pack being able to influence someone through the bonds, but there was a lot I didn't understand about pack magic.

I needed to shed my skin, free myself for a little while of the pack and mate bonds that left too many people with access to my head. I could do that: maybe I couldn't get rid of everything, but I could shed my human skin and run alone, clear my head for just a little bit.

I needed to figure out for certain what had happened tonight. Distance didn't always provide me with solitude, but it usually worked to weaken the bonds between Adam and me - and also between the pack and me. I needed to leave before whoever he decided to send over to guard me arrived, because they certainly wouldn't let me run off on my own.

Without bothering to go to my bedroom, I stripped. Setting down the walking stick took more effort, which told me that I'd already convinced myself that it had served to block whoever had been influencing me.

I waited, ready to pick up the walking stick again, but there were no more voices in my head. Either they had lost interest because Adam was gone and they'd succeeded in their efforts. Or else distance was as much of a factor as I believed. Either way, I would leave the stick behind because a coyote carrying such a thing would draw too much attention.

So I slid into my coyote-self with a sigh of relief. I felt instantly safer, more centered, in my four-pawed form. Stupid, because I'd never noticed that changing shape interfered with either my mate bond or pack bond in the least. But I was willing to grab onto anything that made me feel better at this point.

I hopped through the dog door Samuel had installed in my back door and out into the night.

Outside smelled different, better, clearer to me. In my coyote skin, I took in more information than the human me. I could scent the marmot in her nearby den and the bats who nested in the rafters of my garage. The month was half-gone, and the moon was a wide slice that was orange - even to my coyote color-impaired eyes. The dust of the last of harvest was in the air.

And a werewolf in lupine form was approaching.

It was Ben, I thought, which was good. Darryl would have sensed my coyote, but Ben had been raised in London and had lived there until a year and a half ago. He would be easier to fool.

I froze where I stood, resisting the temptation to drop flat or hide. Motion attracts attention, and my fur is colored to blend in with the desert.

Ben didn't even glance my way, and as soon as he rounded the corner - obviously heading toward my front porch - I took off through the sagebrush and dry grass, off into the desert night.

I was on my way to the river, to a rock beach where I could be alone, when a rabbit broke out of the brush in front of me. And it was only then I realized how hungry I was.

I'd eaten a lot at dinner - there was no reason for me to be hungry. Not just a little hungry. Starving. Something was wrong.

I set that thought aside as I gave chase. I missed that rabbit, but not the next, and I ate him down to the bones. It wasn't nearly enough. I hunted for another half hour before I found a quail.

I don't like to kill quail. The way the lone feather sticking up on top bobs in opposition to their heads when they walk makes me smile. And they are silly, without a sporting chance against a coyote, at least not against me. I suppose they can't be that vulnerable because I'm not the only coyote around, and there are a lot of quail. But I always feel guilty about hunting them.

As I finished my second kill, I planned what I'd do to the person who made me so hungry I had to eat quail.

A werewolf pack can feed off of any of its members, borrowing energy. I wasn't sure exactly how it worked, though I'd seen it often enough. It's part of what makes an Alpha wolf more than he was before he took on that mantle.

None of that had ever affected me before I'd become a member of Adam's pack, so I hadn't worried about it. No one had been able to get inside my head and make me think that throwing a bowling ball at a toddler was a good idea. Or make me take out my frustration on Adam.

Finished and full, I made it to my final destination without further incident.

I don't know if anyone owned this little bit of the river; the nearest fence was a hundred yards away, the nearest house a little farther than that. There were a few old beer cans scattered around, and if the weather had been a little bit warmer, I might have run into people.

I climbed on the big rock and tried to feel the pack or Adam. I was alone. Just me, the river, and, far up on the Horse Heaven Hills, the little lights from the windmill farms. I don't know if it was the distance, or if there was something special about this little bit of ground, but I'd never been able to feel the touch of mate or pack bond here.

Thank goodness.

Only when I was certain Adam couldn't hear me did I let myself dwell on how creepy it was to have someone else in my head, even Adam, whom I loved. Something I would never, if I could help it, allow Adam to know.

Oddly, because Adam had been a wolf for longer than I was alive, I accepted him as a werewolf more easily than he did himself. Knowing that I was freaked-out by the greatest gift any wolf could give another wouldn't surprise him (as it did me), but it would hurt him needlessly. I would adjust in time - I didn't have any choice if I wanted to keep him.

If I had to deal with only the mate bond between Adam and me, it would be easier. But he'd made me pack, too, and when the link worked as it was supposed to, I could feel all of them there, with me. And with that bond, apparently, they could suck energy from me and make me fight with their Alpha.

Alone in my head, it was easy to look back and see how it had happened - a nudge here, a push there. I would do a great deal to keep Adam from being hurt, but not endanger an innocent - and I have never in my life given anyone the silent treatment. Anyone who offends me deserves to hear exactly how they trespassed - or needs to be lulled into a false sense of security before the sneak attack when they aren't paying attention. But silence had been Adam's ex-wife's weapon of choice.

Whoever had worked on me was trying to drive us apart.

So who had it been? The whole pack? Part of the pack? Was it deliberate - or more that the whole pack hated me and was trying to force me away? Most important of all, to me anyway, was: how did I stop it from ever happening again?

There had to be a way - doubtless if a werewolf could influence a pack member as easily as they'd influenced me, Alphas would have much tighter control of their packs than they did. A pack would run more like a cult and less like a bunch of testosterone-laden wild beasts momentarily subdued by the threat of immediate death under their leader's fangs. That or they'd have killed each other off entirely.

I'd needed Samuel to be home so I could ask him about how things worked. Adam doubtless knew, but I wanted to go into this conversation knowing how to approach him.

If Adam thought one of his pack members was trying mind-influencing tricks on me . . . I wasn't certain what the rules were for something like that. That was one of the things I wanted to find out from Samuel. If someone was going to die, I wanted to make sure I approved, or at least knew about it before I pulled the trigger. If someone was going to die, I might just keep this to myself and create a suitable punishment of my own instead.

I'd have to wait until Samuel got back from work. Until then, maybe I'd just keep a good hold on the walking stick and hope for the best.

I stayed out on the little rocky beach watching the river in the moonlight as long as I dared. But if I didn't get back before Ben realized I was gone, he'd call out the troops. And I just wasn't in the mood for a pack of werewolves.

I stood up, stretched, and started the long run back home.
* * *

WHEN I ARRIVED AT MY BACK DOOR, BEN WAS PACING back and forth in front of it uneasily. When he saw me, he froze - he'd started realizing something was wrong, but until he saw me, he hadn't been sure I wasn't there. His upper lip curled, but he didn't quite manage a snarl, caught as he was between anger and worry, dominant male protective instincts and the understanding that I was of higher rank.

Body language, when you know how to read it, can be more expressive than speech.

His frustration was his problem, so I ignored him and hopped through the dog door - much, much too small for a wolf - and straight to my bedroom.

I changed out of my coyote form, grabbed underwear and a clean T-shirt, and headed for bed. It wasn't horribly late - our date had been very short, and my run hadn't taken much longer. Still, morning came soon, and I had a car to work on. And I had to be in top form to figure out just how to approach Samuel so he wouldn't tell Adam what I was asking.

Maybe I should just call his father instead. Yes, I decided. I'd call Bran.
* * *

I WOKE UP WITH THE PHONE IN MY EAR - AND THOUGHT for a moment that I'd completed the task I'd decided upon before falling asleep, because the voice in my ear was speaking Welsh. That didn't make any sense at all. Bran wouldn't speak freaking Welsh to me, especially not on the phone, where foreign languages are even harder to understand.

Muzzily, I realized I could still almost remember hearing the phone ring. I must have grabbed it in the process of waking up - but that didn't explain the language.

I blinked at the clock - I'd been asleep less than two hours - and about that time I figured out whose voice was babbling to me.

"Samuel?" I asked. "Why are you speaking Welsh? I don't understand you unless you talk a lot slower. And use small words." It was kind of a joke. Welsh never seems to have small words.

"Mercy," he said heavily.

For some reason my heart started beating hard and heavy, as if I were about to get some very bad news. I sat up.

"Samuel?" I addressed the silence on the other end of the phone.

"Come get - "

He fumbled the words, as if his English were very bad, which it wasn't and never had been. Not as long as I'd known him - which was most of my thirty-odd years of life.

"I'll be right there," I said, jerking on my jeans with one hand. "Where?"

"In the X-ray storeroom." He barely stumbled over that phrase.

I knew where the storeroom was, on the far end of the emergency room at Kennewick General, where he worked. "I'll come for you."

He hung up without saying anything more.

Something had gone very wrong. Whatever it was, it couldn't be catastrophic if he was going to meet me in the storeroom, away from everyone. If they knew he was a werewolf, there would be no need for storerooms.

Unlike Adam, Samuel was not out to the public. No one would let a werewolf practice medicine - which was probably smart, actually. The smells of blood and fear and death were too much for most of them. But Samuel had been a doctor for a very long time, and he was a good one.

Ben was sitting on my front porch as I ran out the door, and I tripped over him, rolling down the four steep, unyielding stairs to land on the ground in the gravel.

He'd known I was coming out; I hadn't tried to be quiet. He could have moved out of my way, but he hadn't. Maybe he'd even moved into my way on purpose. He didn't twitch as I looked up at him.

I recognized the look though I hadn't seen it from him before. I was a coyote mated to their Alpha, and they were darned sure I wasn't good enough.

"You heard about the fight tonight," I told him.

He laid his ears back and put his nose on his front paws.

"Then someone should have told you that they were using the pack bonds to mess with my head." I hadn't meant to say anything about it until I had a chance to talk to Samuel, but falling down the stairs had robbed me of self-control.

He stilled, and the look on his body was not disbelief, it was horror.

So it was possible. Damn. Damn. Damn. I'd hoped it wasn't, hoped I was being paranoid. I didn't need this.

Sometimes it felt like both the mate and the pack bonds were doing their best to steal my soul. The analogy might be figurative, but I found it nearly as frightening as the literal version would have been. Finding out that someone could use the whole mess to make me do things was just the flipping icing on the cake.

Fortunately, I had a task to take my mind off the mess I was in. I stood up and dusted myself off.

I had planned on waiting and talking to Adam directly, but there were some advantages to this scenario, too. It would be a good idea for Adam to know that some of the pack were . . . active about their dislike of me. And if Ben told him, he couldn't read my mind to figure out that I wasn't weirded out only by the mind control, but also by the whole bond thing, pack and mate.

I told Ben, "You tell Adam what I said."

He would. Ben could be creepy and horrible, but he was almost my friend - shared nightmares do that.

"Give him my apologies and tell him I'm going to lie low" - Adam would know that meant stay away from the pack - "until I get a handle on it. Right now, I'm going to get Samuel, so you're off duty."
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