Are you ready for Honor’s second adventure? Be sure to read Moon Stalked first since everything below this point is a spoiler….
All done? Alright, without further ado….
The second werewolf I’d ever seen limped out of the forest. From a distance, his scent had been wild, bitter, terrifying. But the beast himself was grizzled and bleeding from deep gashes on his chest, belly, and flank.
The stranger was barely able to shuffle, let alone jump us. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he keeled over on the spot.
My own lupine shoulders drifted downward. This wasn’t the terrifying skinless I’d been scared of since childhood. I’d overreacted. Just like when I first met Luke.
I let my eyes skitter sideways, expecting the first werewolf I’d ever seen to grace me with an amused smirk. Only…Luke’s glare was so firmly fixed upon the older wolf that he seemed to have forgotten I was present. Not just his ruff but the fur along his entire back lifted up threateningly. Then the tiniest thread of a growl, more menacing for its quietness, rumbled out of his chest.
My gaze slung forward in search of danger. The old werewolf stumbled then lurched another step forward. I cocked my head, struggling to understand how a shifter who seemed one second away from collapsing could be a danger to us both.
Oldie might appear past his sell-by date, but I trusted Luke. So I braced my paws, preparing for battle…then whimpered as attack came not from the newcomer but from the skinless I’d come to trust.
Earlier today, Luke had presented me with a sword, the gift rife with unspoken promises. Later, he’d accepted my refusal to be protected when the scent of werewolf came upon us. He’d padded up to stand shoulder to shoulder beside me in a show of true partnership and strength.
Now, Luke lashed out without warning. Well, no, that’s not quite true. The old wolf barked out a bell-like tone one millisecond before Luke attacked me, the sound rubbing my nerve endings raw. In answer, Luke’s teeth clamped down on the soft flesh of my neck, drawing blood before I understood what was happening. Lightning sparked hot and electric underneath my skin.
Words emerged inside me at the same moment, silent yet fully understandable. “Honor.” The syllables of my name reverberated in Luke’s deep baritone. “I’ll fix this.”
I pawed at the strangeness, trying to dislodge his voice from inside me. This was new…and not particularly palatable.
Stranger yet was hearing someone else’s words—Oldie’s?—flowing through Luke and into me. “It’s time for you to stand up and do your duty, son.”
“Do my duty?” Luke’s rejoinder was pure fury. “You killed my brother and threatened me with death if I didn’t leave my home and family.”
Oldie—Luke’s father—shrugged. “Changed my mind. Alpha’s prerogative.”
“And the bite?”
My ears perked up. My neck bled, but, strangely, the sensation was pleasurable. Like when Luke’s fingers stroked through the long fur of my shed pelt.
Still, the old wolf had forced the bite, whatever it represented. So I growled out unity with Luke’s demand for further information. Took a step forward to match the one Luke had already taken.
By this point, the old wolf was barely able to lift his head. But his voice in my mind was both smug and powerful. “Your sister was sufficient sword maiden for me, Luke. But you’ll need all the help you can get.”
Rather than answering this time, Luke continued advancing upon his father. His world had narrowed, I knew, because my own sight was strangely doubled. I saw Luke before me, and I saw his father as if through Luke’s eyes.
“A mate who’s also a sword maiden,” Oldie continued. “That will calm the pack. Especially once you beget an heir.”
Beget? I would have raised an eyebrow if I’d been human. But the archaism slipped past me as two more skinless slunk out of the summer greenery.
Luke hadn’t seen them. He was too intent upon his father.
So I barked a warning…only to have it emerge as silent words spinning between us. “Luke, behind you!”
And Luke understood. Didn’t glance around wildly. Just spun to face the oncoming wolves.
The newcomers were a male and a female, the former with dinner-plate paws at the end of skinny legs promising he hadn’t yet grown into his adult strength. It was the female who led, however. The female who unfolded upward into a mid-twenties woman and speared Luke with eyes as stormy blue as his own.
This was the aforementioned sister, I guessed. Not just because of the obvious physical resemblance, but because of her greeting. A single word, full of decades of shared knowledge. “Luke.”
Luke’s sister was naked, of course, with no pelt to shield her. That’s what it meant to be a skinless rather than a woelfin. They kept their lupine nature inside while transforming. Kept the wildness of the beast simmering behind their eyes even while walking upright.
I’d been told that nudity was irrelevant to skinless, and this woman certainly made no effort to shield her privates. But her nakedness was far less shocking than the network of scars crisscrossing her body. It looked like she’d fallen through a razor-lined net.
I felt rather than saw Luke wince in reaction. “Ruth.” He stepped past his father’s slumped body, making connections faster than I was able to. “Why didn’t you call me? I would have prevented this.”
This? The scars, I guessed. Which related to their father’s mention of a sword maiden, maybe? I itched to shift upward and request further information, but it was too dangerous to share the presence of my pelt.
While I puzzled together guesswork, Luke leaned forward as if he intended to hug his sister. But she was having none of it. Ruth straight-armed him away even as she replied.
“That’s precisely why I didn’t call you.” Her eyes narrowed. “The pack didn’t need your help. We have an alpha, a sword maiden, and an heir.”
With the final word, she gestured toward the young male, who was transforming into humanity far more slowly than the others had. “Or we did,” she added. “Now we just have a mess.”
Between Luke’s failed hug and Ruth’s words, the air grew even more electric with tension. I sidled forward until my forepaws landed one inch away from Luke’s bare foot. If his family went furry and attacked him, I’d be ready to drive them back.
Instead of attacking, though, the boy emoted as soon as his wolf fur faded and human vocal cords settled. “I’m not doing it!”
He looked just like Luke might have fifteen years ago, before life hardened up soft edges. This had to be Michael, the newborn brother Luke had barely met before being cast out of his pack for the crime of trying to save their oldest brother from death.
Tears glimmered on the youngster’s lower eyelids. Luke, in contrast, appeared calmer than he smelled as he confirmed my guesswork. “It’s the only way to become alpha, Michael. Do you want to be alpha?”
For one long moment, Michael was silent. Then, he spoke through a sob. “No.”
In the tense silence that followed, the wily old wolf leapt.
Oldie didn’t go for Luke or Ruth. No, that would have been too obvious. Instead, he aimed for Michael…or tried to. I struck him broadside the instant all four of his paws came off the ground.
Human, I was slower than any of the skinless. Lupine, I matched them step for step. So when Oldie twisted midair to go for my jugular, I lashed out with one paw. His existing wound was a mass of exposed nerve endings. Four claws ripping into raw flesh was bound to slow him down.
It didn’t. Instead, Oldie ignored the pain. Wrapped around me so we came down on the ground tangled together.
His teeth fumbled through fur, seeking my windpipe. But it was the rock biting into my hindquarters that made me yelp.
Then Luke was between us. Human, he grabbed the old wolf’s tail, ignoring the stupidity of such an action. One hand on the tail then the other on the ruff, he shook the injured wolf so hard his teeth rattled.
A single word was all Luke uttered, but it was harsh as any wolf’s growl. “Mine.”
So many blue eyes struck me at once that I took a step backward. The old wolf’s nostrils flared. Ruth’s eyebrows rose so high they got lost in her bangs.
Michael was the one who demanded: “Introduce us.”
“No.” Now Luke’s naked calves blocked my vision. He was standing between me and his siblings just as he’d tried to do when we first scented werewolves. The gesture should have seethed with protectiveness, but instead it made me feel like our relationship had taken one long stride back.
Especially when Luke changed the subject entirely. “How close is the pack?”
Misdirection didn’t ease the ache in my belly, but it worked on Michael. The boy swiped hair out of his eyes as he rebutted Luke’s assertion. “No one followed us!”
An almost-smile from Luke. Calming words. “Will you check for me? Scout your back trail? Howl if you see anyone?”
The boy was being sent away from the upcoming conversation for his own safety, and the scuffing of his feet among old leaves suggested he knew it. Still, he nodded. Forced himself through the laborious return to wolf form then slunk back into the trees he’d emerged from not long before.
“You can see the problem,” Ruth said once the boy was too far away to hear her. “He doesn’t look like it, but Michael has what it takes to be alpha. He puts the pack first. He just needs to finish growing up.”
“And you want me to be alpha in the interim.” Luke nodded. “I told you when we were kids that I’d come back any time you asked me to. Just….”
Now he did step out from in front of me. “You can shift now, Honor,” he told me. When I hesitated, he added: “I trust Ruth with my life.”
And his father? I spared another glance for the old wolf, noting the depth of his gut wound and the laboriousness of his breathing. I saw Luke’s point now. He hadn’t mentioned his father because the old wolf didn’t have long to live.
So I shifted. Inhaled wolf and exhaled human. My pelt slid off my back, but I caught it before it hit the ground.
And Ruth exploded. “You really are an idiot, Luke. What were you thinking?” Now she was the one advancing on her sibling, but with fists raised instead of a hug offered. “A woelfin as a sword maiden? They’ll gut her then the pack will fall apart.”
Luke’s arm came around my shoulders, half protection and half restraint. As if he expected me to tear into his sister physically in response to her aggression.
Which is probably what a werewolf would have done. But I was woelfin. I fought words with words and ignorance with questions. “What’s a sword maiden?”
My effort to defuse the tension worked, ironically as it turned out when Luke explained. “She’s a pressure-release valve for the pack.”
The rumble of his voice sank into my skin even as a burst of his signature cinnamon surrounded me. “But that’s not what my bite made you, Honor. It’s half of the mating ritual. A form of protection.” He glared once at his father, then returned his attention to me. “Albeit a weak one. Ruth is the only one I trust to see you this way. When Michael howls, shift back.”
That wasn’t a request, but rather an order. Still, I gave him a pass on his wording. It wasn’t every day a dying father showed up on your doorstep along with a sister demanding you drop everything and accept the reins of a werewolf pack.
There wasn’t time to take offense, anyway, with Ruth snorting out disbelief. “You’ve been gone too long, Luke. Have you forgotten that a mate is the first choice for sword maiden?”
“Was pregnant with Michael when the role opened up, and she didn’t last long afterwards. Even so, the pack wasn’t pleased to have a daughter be sword maiden when I started. That’s why Father had to kill off so many competitors.”
“Not enough.” The rusty voice rose from beneath us. No longer lupine, the old shifter lay on his back, eyes closed and one hand pressed against a wound in his belly that looked even worse with no fur to shield its extent. “I didn’t kill enough competitors”—his breath caught for a moment, then he pushed through the pain—“or I wouldn’t be in this state.”
“Who did it, Father?” Ruth dropped to her knees beside the old man, Luke and I forgotten. It wasn’t love passing between them, precisely. But something powerful linked the two nonetheless.
Her father shook his head rather than answering. “Someone too weak to call an Alpha’s Hunt.” His eyes closed as he dredged up the memory. “I couldn’t see who in the dark.”
I’d been trying to keep quiet and let Luke deal with what was clearly a family problem, but that was bullshit. “You’re skinless. You could smell them.”
Ruth tensed as if she wanted to slap me, but the old man just shrugged as best he could. “It’s irrelevant now. The pack needs an alpha.” His eyes latched onto Luke’s. “Tag.” His smile was full of wolf-sharp teeth. “You’re it.”
“We can do this, Luke.” Ruth didn’t return to her feet, but her back lengthened enough that she gave the impression of being in command anyway. “You’ve missed a lot, but I’ll act as your sword maiden and advisor. We need to find whoever injured Father and execute them publicly. Not just in front of our pack. We’ll invite the neighbors also. Make it a public spectacle….”
“No.” Luke’s interruption struck me the same way his father’s bark had, like a physical blow rocking me back onto my heels. His arm was barely enough to hold me upright.
“No what?” Ruth demanded.
“No, I won’t govern the way our father did.”
The veneer of civilization that had clung to Luke as long as I’d known him seemed to slip aside the same way my pelt did when I shifted. Was this the real Luke taking advantage of his superior height to glare down at his sister?
Abruptly, I remembered my father’s warning. “Skinless are all about power,” he told the four of us when we were eleven. “Their lives revolve around dominance. Don’t be lulled into thinking they’re like us.”
The lesson had never felt more true than when Ruth sprang to her feet and took a step closer. She and Luke were nearly eye to eye, Ruth only two inches shorter. “You won’t govern the way our father did,” she bit out, “or you can’t?”
“Is that why you begged me to leave after he killed Gabriel?” Luke rebutted. “Because you don’t believe an alpha can lead with justice and compassion?”
I opened my mouth to break into the sibling’s argument, but their father got there first. “Try if you want, boy.” His voice started low and quiet, then gained momentum once he had both of his children’s attention. “Try ruling this pack with peace and love. By the end of the first season, lone wolves will be circling like jackals. You’ll end up killing half your pack mates in an Alpha’s Hunt. All-out warfare. No rules. Just one surviving dominant—you, if you’re lucky.”
The old man shook his head. “So much work to prove you’re powerful enough for the role you could take now easily. Smart move, son. Very smart.”
Luke’s arm fell away from my shoulders as his fists clenched. “I won’t be you, Father.”
“You think?” The old shifter coughed once, so hard I thought he was finished. Not just speaking, but possibly also living.
Then he inhaled a raspy breath and his voice grew stronger rather than weaker. “Threat of an Alpha’s Hunt not enough to deter you? You’ll change your tune when the neighbors catch wind of pack rot. Remember the Vanguards? Remember how their new alpha failed at consolidating control after stepping up as pack leader? We seized their women, their territory, and burned down what wasn’t worth seizing. You think that can’t happen to us?”
“The pack needs you to step up to the plate, Luke,” Ruth said once it was clear their father was finished. The air between the siblings sizzled. But Ruth’s eyes drifted downwards, the gesture easing the tension in Luke’s shoulders a bit.
Only then did Ruth continue. “After the pack settles, you can make changes slowly. Designate Michael as your heir. Soothe the pack until you can speak to each member in their mind. Then it’ll be safe enough to bring back your woelfin. Or Michael can become alpha and you can leave if you want to. We just need to unite the clan first.”
Luke was still beside me, but his face was unreadable. The wound in my neck throbbed once, hard.
Ruth took a step closer and Luke turned until they were toe to toe, leaving me outside their tiny circle. Her voice was low but firm as she reeled him in. “You’ve had a decade to live your own life, but Michael has had no time. You have to choose, brother. Pack or mate.”
They were going to thrust Luke into this morass of skinless. Force him to emulate someone he’d worked his whole life to differ from. That was just wrong.
The pang in my shoulder said it was wrong for us to separate as well.
So I forced my way into their conversation despite there being no obvious gap for me. “I can help you with your family, Luke, the way you helped with mine.” My hand rose until I could finger the bite on my neck. The pain there felt strangely good. The notion of living among skinless, daunting an hour ago, no longer seemed impossible. Being Luke’s backup was the right choice.
It wasn’t my decision to make, though. It was his.
Luke inhaled slowly. I waited for his blue eyes to meet mine, but they remained trained on his sister when he answered. “I have to deal with this on my own, Honor.”
Ruth’s muscles relaxed even as mine tightened. Still, I remained silent, allowing Luke to choose our path forward.
And he did…in such a way that no one could forget he was a skinless.
Kneeling down, he lifted his father’s panting body in human arms. The motion was gentle, but the old man moved restlessly as if trying to break free of his son’s grip.
The non-verbal complaint didn’t deter Luke. Neither did the puddle of blood on the leaves and the new stain of red on his own skin.
Brushing wrinkled fingers aside, he wrapped both hands around his father’s neck, at first gently then harder. And harder.
Veins stood out on Luke’s forearms. His father’s heels beat furiously against the leaf litter.
It took a solid minute for the old man’s eyes to glaze over. Apparently, the first step in solving the family dilemma was patricide.
Michael howled at the same moment the old shifter’s head thunked down, lifeless against the soil. Had the boy felt his father’s passing?
No. When Luke and Ruth exchanged glances, the latter nodded. “I’ll slow them down. Get rid of the woelfin.”
“Honor,” Luke interjected. “Her name is Honor.”
But he didn’t argue with the “getting rid of” part. Instead, he shimmered down to four legs, his voice echoing inside my head as I used my pelt to follow suit.
“I’m sorry. I wish we’d met a year ago. Or a year later. But I have to do this. My family needs me.”
The cascade of images that followed were like scenes from a movie condensed to the point where the montage of actions made little sense. I caught the emotion beneath it, however. Luke was terrified of bringing a woelfin into a world where strangling wounded fathers was the wheelhouse of the good guys. He was walking into a hornet’s nest and couldn’t handle the notion I might get stung.
Thankfully, Luke knew a shortcut that returned us to Wolf Camp—Luke’s seasonal gathering place for confused skinless, currently nonoperational—in minutes rather than hours. Because I didn’t trust this new telepathy between us enough to use it for a difficult conversation. Instead, I shifted as soon as we reached a roofed picnic area. Here, no one but Luke could see the pelt curl away from my shoulders as I donned my human skin.
“You don’t need to protect me.” Without waiting for Luke’s reaction, I strode naked across the courtyard, heading into the closest cabin to gather up weaponry. Adrenaline exploded through me more powerfully than ten shots of espresso. I was ready to do battle as Luke’s partner. I was ready….
Luke’s hands on my shoulders stopped me in my tracks before I could push back outside. “I won’t ask you to be my sword maiden,” he told me silently, tapping his ear in warning that skinless could hear conversations from quite a distance away. “It’s too dangerous. The pack won’t react the way I did to your pelt.”
“I’m willing to take that chance.” I countered.
“I’m not. You can’t be here when they come.”
A tectonic rift opened in my stomach. That was the only explanation I could give for why I suddenly found it hard to keep my body erect. Three words were all I could manage. “I get it.”
And I did get it. After all, Luke and I had been acquainted for just over a week. He was skinless; I was woelfin. The only physical intimacy we’d shared was a theatrical, fake kiss.
Of course his family would call and he’d leave me to rejoin them. What had I expected? A vow of his undying love?
Luke growled rather than answering. He yanked me in closer, fingers biting into my biceps. Even with human nostrils, I could smell his barely restrained rage.
Then, he spat out his own three words. “No. You don’t.” Added on four more: “You don’t get it.”
His lips pressed hard and sweet against mine, forcing me to admit that he might just be right.
The kiss—our second, the only one shared without the intention of convincing an audience—would have been earth-shattering all on its lonesome. But the images that flowed into my mind along with the physical sensation weakened my knees.
Scenes from our shared past, but filtered through Luke’s memories. Our first meeting, when I literally fell from the sky…and for one split second he rethought his disbelief in angels. The instant bond that drew him to me, the sure knowledge that I was his pack.
“I’m yours.” His lips didn’t have to leave mine to make the claim. Still, he pulled back so he could see me, his breath feathering finger soft across my skin.
I wanted to draw him back in and kiss him forever. To suck up Luke’s sweet cinnamon and wrap my arms so tight he couldn’t get away.
But we were interrupted by a long, hard series of knocks. “Are you in there?” Ruth demanded.
Luke’s eyes closed, his lips curling into a reluctant smile. “Patience has never been your strong suit, Ruth.”
“I’ll be patient,” she countered, “when I’m dead.”
While they bantered, I forced myself to twist out of Luke’s grasp and clothe myself. Whether I stayed or went, I needed to maintain the illusion that I was one of the skinless. So I wrapped my pelt around my waist before pulling a shirt over my head. Tucking the shirt into jeans, I turned to face Luke once more.
“Does this outfit make me look fat?”
His eyes squinted into a sunset half-circle for one split second. He understood what I was asking and was amused by my wording. Then he reassured me with a single shake of his head.
There, that felt normal. So normal, in fact, that I opened my mouth to reopen the debate he’d staved off with his stealth kiss attack.
Luke was way ahead of me. “This will get much worse before it gets better. If you....” His words broke apart as a howl outside reminded us we were far from alone. I caught only bits and pieces of the rest of his explanation. Something about “choice” and “scars” and “more death.”
I wanted to pin him down and demand a real explanation. Or even to get the explanation he was trying to hurry through, unaware that the link between us was broken.
But the howls outside were growing louder. So I only asked: “You have to deal with this? For the sake of your family?”
“And would my presence here make things worse?”
Another, even more reluctant, nod.
I inhaled once, closed my eyes and wished the world was different. Then I exhaled and let dissatisfaction disperse along with the outflow of carbon dioxide.
“Okay, then.” I started packing. Not that I had much here in the first place. Some clothes, my sword, my cousin’s letter. Electronic odds and ends.
And, apparently, a set of keys. Or so I discovered when Luke’s scent enveloped me a second time.
“Take my car. Go as far away as you can. I’ll call you when it’s safe. It might be…a long while.”
A long while like days? Weeks? Decades?
Luke didn’t need those questions however. As I squelched them, a pang ran through me. Starting at the bite in my neck and slithering lower. It felt both right and severely wrong at the exact same time.
Outside, a wolf yipped. Something told me this was neither Ruth nor Michael.
There was no time left for explanations and promises. No time for anything except reaching up and pulling Luke’s chin down until I could reach him.
Then I gifted him with a farewell kiss.
“You’re washing it.”
The words were so full of disappointment that I turned from my spot in front of the bathroom sink to see who was speaking. Luke had left one moment earlier, and I’d granted myself what I sorely craved—a few seconds to wipe away the pain of parting with running water. Now, though, I released the liquid cupped in my hands. I’d been intending to splash it on my face. Instead, water gurgled down the drain as I twisted the faucet shut.
“Washing is a problem?” I asked the stranger who stood in the open doorway of my cabin. She was naked and sagging in the breast and belly areas, but wrinkles didn’t quite cover up pale lines criss-crossing her skin.
So Ruth wasn’t the only scarred female in the pack that had once belonged to Luke’s father. Was this the real reason he was sending me away? Did he think I was afraid of physical imperfections?
There was no time to ask those questions, however, when the woman in front of me was already answering my first one. “Of course not. It’s your choice.” She sighed. “Perhaps you wanted romance? You must understand why my grand-nephew was in such a hurry. I assume he asked your permission before he bit?”
My finger slipped down beneath the collar of my t-shirt, feeling for the wound that Luke’s teeth had created after his father barked at him. I couldn’t quite touch the raw flesh because my shed skin had pressed up against the affected area. As if my pelt was protecting the wound from my tentative fingers. As if my pelt liked the fact I’d been bitten.
“No, he didn’t ask my permission,” I answered the stranger—Luke’s great-aunt?—while trying to figure out why I’d accepted the bite without question. Why, if I was honest, I agreed with my pelt.
The trickle of sticky dampness on my neck didn’t feel wrong, even if its creation hadn’t been entirely Luke’s decision. Instead, it felt very right.
“Oh.” The woman’s features pinched together. “Well, that’s unfortunate. But you must understand why he chose the old way. The pack will think twice about touching you if you smell like their alpha.”
Before I could explain that Luke’s father had intended the bite to do more than protect me, my companion laughed the dry chuckle of someone who’s put their foot in their mouth. “And now I’m telling you things you know already. I’m sorry. Bad impressions all around today, I’m afraid. I’m Aunt May. Acosta, obviously.”
I wiped my hand on my jeans and accepted her shake. “Honor Warren.”
I wanted so badly to request more information about this bite that I was already supposed to know about. But Aunt May’s head cocked to one side, then she abruptly changed the subject.
If I’d been one of the skinless, I would have heard something. A howl maybe? Or a voice in my head?
As it was, I had to trust Aunt May’s senses and Luke’s analysis of the situation. Grabbing up my duffel and Luke’s car keys, I pushed past the old woman and into the summer sunlight.
Hopping off the porch, I landed on driveway gravel just in time to be caught up in a tide of running wolves.
They streamed into camp. Furry heads, backs, and tails packed so close together it was impossible to tell where one ended and another started. I thought I caught a glimpse of Ruth’s scarred muzzle at the edge of the crowd, but Luke and Michael were lost in the midst of the skinless.
Until, that is, something fist-sized and furry flew out of the pack’s center, smacking to the ground an inch from my toe.
Aunt May’s arm slid around my waist as she tried to steer me away from the wolves. “I suspect he wouldn’t want you to see this part, dear.”
But Luke had been the one to toss the thing toward me. I’d caught the gleam of his black fur one second before the furry lump arced through the air.
Now speech emerged in my head, staticky yet familiar in Luke’s deep rumble. The intrusion smelled faintly of cinnamon as select syllables materialized into words. “…Alpha’s Hunt…sword maiden…tokens….”
I couldn’t tell what he was getting at, but I could twist out of Aunt May’s grip and kneel down to see what Luke had thrown in my direction. At first, the object was unidentifiable through the blood and mud caked around it. Then I turned it over and caught my breath.
This object was a paw.
Something else flew out of the center of the pack now, floating feather-light onto the top of a nearby cabin. There was no way I could climb up to examine it, but I understood what I was seeing. That second object was an ear. And based on the paw’s scent, both came from the wolf—the father—who Luke had recently killed.
Aunt May was right. This was what Luke hadn’t wanted me to be part of. Lunch tried to make a run for it and I swallowed down the sharp tang of bile.
“Is there a kitchen in this place?” Aunt May rested one hand on my shoulder, as if her joints were unwilling to let her join me near the ground but she wasn’t quite ready for frailties of age to determine her behavior. “You could use a cup of tea.”
Tea. The notion was unbearably strange while skinless frolicked around a carcass. An entire leg flew off to thunk wetly against a porch post. The yips of the pack resembled coyotes’ laughs.
And, in my head, Luke’s voice continued to whisper. “…Away…danger…I need…choice….”
I shivered. Luke had wanted me absent before this awfulness started. I turned…then froze as it became obvious that I’d been noticed by another member of his pack.
A gray wolf curled away from the roiling mass even as Luke’s voice in my head went silent. The stranger raised his snout, nostrils flaring. Then his lips drew back into a toothy snarl.
“Oh dear,” said Aunt May. The expression on her face was all I needed to understand the situation.
She wasn’t just chagrined. She was frightened.
Without hesitation, I drew my sword.