Caution: Spoilers for Full Moon Saloon ahead! If you haven’t already read Kira’s first adventure, check that out then come back here.
Still reading? Okay, here goes….
The tug of the full moon slapped me in the face with all the finesse of a stinky locker-room towel. Bar-interior dimness brightened as my pupils dilated. Hubbub faded as my attention laser-focused on the man serving pints half a room away.
Not just any man. If Thom ever wanted a break from his current gig as bar owner, he could make a go of it as a pinup model. After all, the muscles of his forearms were dreamily displayed by rolled-up flannel shirt sleeves. The rest of him was equally super-sized, but bulk didn’t equate to slowness. Instead, Thom crossed the room with all the speed and agility of what he also was—an alpha werewolf.
I hummed, fingers settling on the medallion between my breasts as I licked my lips. And—
“Out.” Thom shoved the man on the neighboring bar stool away from me. The guy—a human—uttered only one complaining syllable before he took a look at Thom’s face, changed his mind, and yanked out his wallet with shaking fingers instead.
Smart man. Obey the alpha werewolf. Give him space so he could wrap himself around my skin and.…
I snorted displeasure as an annoyingly familiar human woman joined our threesome. Subsided as she did what her role as pack hanger-on mandated—she moved the non-pack male along.
“On the house. Here, let me get you a doggy bag for the road. Do you like burgers? Fries? How about pie? We have lemon meringue and cherry.”
I didn’t bother watching Thom’s employee soothe the evicted human as she drew him away from us. Because Thom was in my personal space now, finally and fully. He’d settled onto the vacated bar stool, jeans-clad thighs splaying wide as he encompassed me in his alpha musk.
“Kira. Look at me.”
I hummed again. Thom didn’t have to ask for my attention. In fact, I thought it might be time for us to do more than look.
Would his stubbled jaw feel as roughly enticing as it appeared from a distance? If I reached out to test the terrain, would he open his lips and take my finger into his mouth?
My hand didn’t complete its journey, unfortunately. Instead, a hot fist manacled my wrist as Thom barked. “Bertrand. Get over here.”
A suited shadow blocked the light. “I can’t see why you two don’t just seal the deal. You’re into her. She’s into you. I’m sick of playing chaperone.”
“You think this is ordinary behavior?” Thom’s voice was so deep it vibrated his hand and my arm along with it. I leaned in closer, or tried to. His muscles flexed as he fended off my advance.
“I guess not,” the other man said after a moment. He cocked his head, snapping his fingers in front of my face then jerking them away as I clicked my teeth together irritably. “Kira. Focus.”
I hissed. Suit dude wasn’t the man I wanted. If I shifted, my needle-sharp teeth would make him think again about addressing me while I was busy.
I craved the alpha. I needed.…
“Hey, hey, hey, hey. Not here.” The unwanted man had his hands on my shoulders now. And Thom was gone, moving so fast I’d missed his exit. Dimly, in the distance, I heard the deep rumble of his voice:
“Bar’s closing. Family emergency.”
Feet shuffled toward the exit, which was irrelevant. What was relevant was Thom’s distance from my aching center. I could barely smell him. The loss hollowed out my core.
I yanked against my jailer’s grip, but it was as firm as his alpha’s had been. My voice rose into a yodel as I flung myself from side to side.
“She’s going to hurt herself.”
That was the woman. The woman who’d crept closer to Thom than I was. How dared she?
I lashed out, fingernails turning into claws as fur rose on a dwindling body. Soon I was smaller than all of them, approximately the size of a well-fed tomcat.
I wasn’t a tomcat, though. I was a fox. And that grip on my shoulders after one fast wriggle? Gone. Their ability to catch me as I slipped through grasping fingers? A joke.
Now it was my turn to take control. First order of business: the woman was going down.
Except I wasn’t the only four-legger in the bar. I skidded to a halt in front of a wolf who’d planted himself between me and the woman. A tie dangled from his neck and suit pants slid off his rump.
Which should have been humorous, but the wolf’s size wasn’t funny. His raised ruff radiated menace. The shadows beneath his legs were large enough to swallow me up.
Not that I intended to hide myself. Not between his legs. I’d gotten turned away from my target, but now I realigned myself. The alpha. He was still in human form, which was good. Shortly, I’d be human again, and naked. It wouldn’t take much effort to rip his clothes off as well.
Well, the belt might present a challenge since my brain was oddly muzzy. He could take care of that part. I took a step…
…and something soft and warm dropped over my nose and back. Enveloped me just like I wanted Thom’s arms to do.
But this wasn’t arms and it didn’t smell like alpha.
I spat and hissed, but the bindings just pulled tighter. Then the woman—I could smell her—scooped me up. The swaddling fabric that stunk of her man resisted the tearing of my claws.
“Give her to me.”
For a moment, cool air pressed through cloth bindings, then the warmth of body contact rekindled. I was no longer restrained by the woman. Instead, I’d found the arms of the alpha, my goal from the start.
“What’s going on?” This was suit dude, returned from wolf form to question his alpha.
I growled. You didn’t question an alpha. You obeyed him. Lay beneath him. Let him pet you until you shattered from pure pleasure and delight.
Like I wanted to. Hadn’t yet but would soon, unless.…
A distant memory of Thom’s months-old explanation filtered through the moon craze. “The Faris curse,” he’d confided. “Single parents going back at least three generations. I”—he’d cleared his throat—“need a committed relationship before I’m willing to be intimate.”
Now I was the one who shook my head, whipping irrelevant human words away and fragments of the past along with them. I wanted Thom and I’d smelled how much the alpha wanted me. It was time for us both to take.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” Thom answered suit dude, his voice slightly choked. Could he smell my arousal the same way I smelled his presence? If so, he knew I craved his skin slicking my skin. He knew.…
Thom took a step backwards, his voice hardening as he shared our private business with those irrelevant to us. “Two months ago, it started with flirtation. Last full moon, Kira wasn’t herself, but she held it together. Tonight….”
“I thought moon phases didn’t impact werewolves.” This was the woman. Why was she still so close to my alpha?
I struggled and Thom’s hand settled on my nape, caressing me through the fabric. My muscles eased.
Yes, he’d take me to bed shortly. I could wait a moment while he addressed annoying pack members, sent them away and won privacy for our tryst.
“Moon phases are irrelevant to us,” Thom confirmed, his rumble like a rocking boat lulling my senses into somnolence. “Shouldn’t impact kitsunes either. Something’s wrong, and I intend to stop it.”
The other male snorted then muttered, “Good luck with that.”
I woke to a pounding head, Pumpkin on my chest, and Charlie’s face inches from my eyeballs. “Rise and shine!”
For several seconds, I blinked confusion. Had the craziness of last night merely been a stress dream? The evidence seemed to suggest as much. Because here I was with my entirely human housemate along with Thom’s cat who slipped in to sleep with me every night before wandering back to the bar to be fed by his real owner. Meanwhile, the light—or lack thereof—pointed to this being just another ordinary January morning.
So why did my fingertips throb as if I’d used them in an attempt to rip away bindings? Why, as I sat up from a couch that released me reluctantly, did a quilt crumple to the floor and cold air slap my naked stomach and thighs?
Because that stress dream had been reality, despite the fact I had no explanation for my out-of-character behavior. It had been reality that faded into darkness after Bertrand and Dixie Lee left me and Thom alone in the Full Moon Saloon.
Well, alone except for my moon-crazed refusal to abide by Thom’s relationship line in the sand. My head fell into my hands. “Oh shit.”
Before I could indulge in full-on hysterics, a fried-egg sandwich nudged its way into my view field. The offering wiggled as Charlie misunderstood the reason for my distress.
“Yes, you overslept, and on the lumpy couch instead of in your bed. We all drink too much sometimes. Or were you feeling foxy? Whatever. Eat and you’ll feel better.”
My lips quirked at Charlie’s mothering, humor cradling me for one split second until my hand rose to the empty spot where Thom’s medallion should have hung at my throat. The jewelry was missing, just like my clothes. Missing…along with the bond it implied?
Eating abruptly felt impossible. I drew the discarded quilt up over me instead, an action Charlie’s keen eye didn’t miss. “Hey, you don’t have to cover up on my account. Casual nudity. Shifters. I get it.”
“You’ve come a long way since last fall,” I murmured, hugging the quilt a little tighter and hoping it would warm the cold hole in my belly.
“Shifters. Magic.” Charlie shrugged. “Once I accepted that the majority of the human body is made up of empty spaces between electrons, everything else was a breeze. Now eat.”
The trouble was, the cut egg yolk oozing out of my half of the sandwich was precisely the texture of semen. I had an abrupt urge to hit the bathroom and peer at my thighs in search of crusted substances. Because if Thom and I had broken our friends-only agreement…well, he might never forgive me.
“Kira. Food. I mean it.”
Charlie wasn’t going to let the matter slide. So I forced myself to pick up her gift, allowing the awfulness to drip onto the plate while I contemplated bringing it to my lips.
A bite was beyond me, but a word wasn’t. “Sure.”
And, apparently that was enough for Charlie because she took a deep breath then spoke a little too fast. “So…Jessie’s coming to visit this weekend. She’s bringing the whole family. You good with that?”
My eyebrows shot up, the question marks of last night fading for one split second. I hadn’t seen Charlie’s twin since college. Hadn’t seen Jessie’s husband either, which was very understandable since Ito was the reason the Raven girls and I had lost touch.
“Is Ito willing to see me?”
“He’s not unwilling,” Charlie prevaricated, polishing off the last of her sandwich then licking crumbs off her fingers. A dab of yolk on the corner of her mouth made my gorge rise. “He doesn’t blame you for not being able to find his brother, you know. You and Thom pulled out all the stops, uncovered everything there was to uncover. The trail is simply cold.”
While true, my recent failure to track down Charlie’s sister’s husband’s brother—and, yes, I knew how convoluted that sounded—only layered on top of Ito’s and my ancient history. History that culminated with my sister using his brother to fuel a spell that locked Kaito in a coma for over a decade. No wonder Kaito had fled after waking up three months ago, completely disappearing off the face of the earth.
Whatever Charlie said, given the fact that all my efforts to track down Kaito turned up goose eggs, I didn’t expect Ito to be keen on seeing me tomorrow.
“Maybe I should make myself scarce,” I offered, letting my half of the breakfast sandwich drift back down to the plate.
“No.” Charlie was halfway across the room now, pulling on her coat, hat, and gloves. “I want you here. It’ll be fine. Oh, and Thom asked me to give you this.”
My cell phone tumbled through the air between us. The phone…but no medallion.
I must have winced because Charlie breezed back over to pat me on the head the same way she used to when I was the younger tagalong to her two-sister posse. “Don’t worry about my brother-in-law. Ito is a teddy bear. Once you two spend a little time together, you’ll be BFFs.”
I’d actually forgotten about Ito already. And about the fact that Charlie’s sister’s visit wasn’t the only thing my housemate had wanted to discuss with me. I forced my voice to brighten. “You said we had two things to talk about?”
Charlie considered me for a moment, then she shook her head. “Later. Don’t want to make us both late for work.”
I wasn’t late for work, but only because I lacked a permanent job. I did have a login to an app from a temp agency, though, one that offered the best gigs to the earliest applicants to rise.
It was already half an hour past my usual check-in time, but I headed for my personal messages first. And there, at the top of my notifications, was a text from Thom.
My breath whooshed out in what was only half relief. Nothing happened…because Thom had stood firm against my wild advances? Because he’d brought me home and, what, sedated me?
And if nothing had happened, why hadn’t his mother’s medallion been sent back to me along with my phone?
Just like Charlie’s aborted conversation, Thom and I would need to talk at some point. But, right now, retreating ice beneath my skin turned that drippy egg yolk back into food I was ravenous for. I wolfed it down while opening up the temping app.
The best jobs went to the early birds and I’d overslept. Which is how, three hours later, I came to be standing on a cold street corner dressed like a slice of pizza while twirling a saucer of fabric that was supposed to look like dough over my head.
“Delicious pizza! Get your slice here!”
A couple of teenage boys walked past, snickering into their fists. “I’d like a slice of that,” one said just loudly enough that even a human would have overheard him.
I ignored the commentary and focused on the lines I’d been given. “Hot and ready! Deep dish!”
The next laugh was feminine, familiar…and behind me where no one should have been.
I spun on feet that weren’t as fleet as usual when bogged down by the non-bending crust of the pizza costume. My star ball—the magic that let me turn into a fox or materialize pointy as well as non-pointy objects—tingled at my fingertips, but I didn’t dare pull a weapon out of thin air at the moment. Not here among humans. Not in front of someone who had been known to put non-shifters to death for seeing things they shouldn’t see.
Instead, I greeted the woman who used to employ me with her name only. “Scarlet.”
When I’d seen her last, my ex-boss had been vanquished but not downtrodden. She’d tossed warnings back over her shoulder at me and Thom. Warnings that had teeth as sharp as any werewolf’s. Specifically, she’d sworn to gather more alphas to defeat us if we didn’t keep the magic of Gate City under wraps.
But the fox skull in the Full Moon Saloon’s crawl space was locked away beneath a newly formed trapdoor only Thom and I were aware of. The drama of a werewolf battle on city streets had faded as those not in the know accepted Thom’s reimagining of events.
Noses were clean. Scarlet had no reason to track me down. So I twirled my pizza with only a small twinge of trepidation while demanding: “What do you want?”
My ex-boss graced me with a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “I’m here about your darling niece.”
The dough splatted onto the sidewalk. “Chipmunk? What’s wrong with her?”
“Sniffles. A cough. I hear she cries half the night.”
And now my star ball was a stiletto. A knife small and thin enough not to be obvious to passersby, but wickedly sharp anyway as it dug into the skin above Scarlet’s left kidney. Rather than threatening with words, I released a vulpine growl.
Scarlet merely laughed. “Relax. I saw the baby when I asked your sister for a favor. She turned me down, so I’ve come to you.”
I snorted. If Mai didn’t want to assist Scarlet, I didn’t either.
Still, the fastest way to get rid of Scarlet likely involved hearing her out. “I’m listening.”
Of course, she didn’t tell me what she wanted immediately. Instead, she tried to reel me in first. “I’m in a bind that requires a kitsune and you have a hankering to meet your sister’s newborn. Make a deal with me and we can both get what we want.”
The knife sagged for one split second. I wanted that. I wanted that badly.
But it wasn’t happening. Pressing the weapon back into place, I shook my head. “Let me guess. You’re asking me to drink a werewolf’s blood on video and turn into a pariah while nearly bringing my family down with me. Oh, wait, that happened already. What else do you have planned?”
“You take things so personally. Last fall was only business.”
I dropped my voice as I let the knife dig in deeper. “Murdering an innocent was only business?”
“She was meat. Irrelevant.” Rather than taking evasive action against my very tangible threat, Scarlet flicked a speck of invisible dust off the sleeve of her silk blouse. “Do you want to be back in the packs’ good graces or don’t you? This is your path home.”
And I did want that, darn Scarlet anyway. I wanted to be able to see my niece in the flesh, rather than through a phone screen. I wanted to be able to smell her and hold her and have her understand I was present in a way she couldn’t via video chat.
I wanted all that…and at the same time I wanted to make sure my sister’s family remained safe. That my mistakes in the past didn’t color Chipmunk’s future. That angry werewolves didn’t invade the Fairwood territory to take out what many considered to be a threat.
Kitsunes. Our reputation for danger had doubled after I drank the blood of three alphas and forced them to do my bidding. Oops.
I stood by my decisions last fall, especially the one where I’d broken off official ties with my sister so my actions wouldn’t blow back on her. It was why I hadn’t been present for the birth of her daughter. It was why I was trying to make a place for myself in Gate City, even though half the werewolves there didn’t trust me and their alpha now likely considered me a loose cannon with a lit fuse.
Despite the awkwardness of last night, the thought of Thom settled me. What would he say in the face of Scarlet’s insidious offer?
Words that tasted like Thom rolled off my tongue easily. “I’d need assurances this time. That I’m acting in an official Lawkeeper capacity. That what I do is entirely aboveboard.”
Because that was the clincher. Scarlet had tricked me twice already. A third attempt at trickery was—as Charlie would have said—a statistical likelihood. I’d be an idiot to ignore that fact.
Sure enough, my ex-boss’s lips pursed. “Well, that’s the trouble. It won’t be aboveboard. You’ll be hunting on the land of one of the alphas whose blood you drank and who has no wish to see you living.”
Her words wound around me like slithering snakes as she continued. “But if you catch the fox who’s wreaking havoc, I give you my word I will do everything in my power to polish your reputation so you can safely go home to your sister.”
Her words reeked of truth.
I was going to do it, or at least I was going to stick my nose into the problem and hope to come out better than I’d started. I knew that even as I snapped back at Scarlet. “I’m surprised you don’t think Mai and I are responsible for whatever’s happened.” We were, after all, the only known kitsunes in the United States who weren’t currently stuck in the form of a fox.
And even though my tone had been as sharp-edged as the blade I still pressed into her side, Scarlet’s scent sweetened. She knew she had me. “Well, I would have made that assumption if the fox had been female.”
Curiosity tugged words from my lips before I could edit them. “That makes no sense. Kitsunes are always female.”
I didn’t bother to expand on the information, to tell Scarlet what became of the sons and cousins of fox shifters. Traditionally, male relatives were turned over to a different kitsune mistress to form her honor guard, boosting her magic with their mindless devotion. So, yes, in their own way, males were powerful. But they didn’t shift into fox form.
Of course, mentioning that semi-parasitic relationship to Scarlet was bound to turn me into even more of a dangerous outsider. I winced and Scarlet noticed because her eyes glinted.
She stuck to the point, however, when she answered. “That was my understanding also. But this fox? He was male.”
Male and, as I learned when Scarlet added more details, performing some sort of ritual in the Reed pack’s territory. Once a month, on the night of the full moon.
My breath must have caught at that point because Scarlet’s eyes narrowed again. “You know something about this already.”
“No.” I didn’t know anything. But I was drawing conclusions about the strange obsession that had come over me at the exact same time this male fox trespassed. And, perhaps, about Kaito, woken from his coma then disappearing off the radar a short time before the first tug at my libido that just happened to coincide with the November full moon.
If the fox in question was Kaito…. Well, any information Scarlet had would help me figure out how to approach the problem.
“You say he’s male,” I pressed, “so you’ve seen this fox. Why didn’t you deal with him already?”
For the first time, Scarlet showed signs of agitation. Her foot tapped. Her muscles stiffened. She wasn’t lying, just unhappy with what she was about to say.
“We didn’t see him,” she admitted after a pause. “We smelled him. The Reed alpha found his trail after the first incursion, patrolled and prepared then somehow ended up running in circles during the second full moon.”
“So they called in the Lawkeepers,” I guessed.
Scarlet nodded, a sharp jerk of her chin. “Last night, I was ready for anything. I had two wolves with me as backup. And all three of us ended up falling asleep in the forest, waking to the scent of an absent fox.”
Inhaling deeply, I let my knife seep back into my fingers. The danger from Scarlet was no less, but it wasn’t imminent. Instead, peril hung on the fine line I intended to walk.
Because I wasn’t about to turn Charlie against me. My human friend loved her brother-in-law and that brother-in-law loved Kaito.
But if Kaito was manipulating my emotions, I needed to stop him. To help him find another way to achieve whatever desperate end he was working toward.
Teaming up with Scarlet, however temporarily, might achieve that effect.
A shout from behind us interrupted my thought processes. “Hey!” My boss for the day, a plump woman with a drill sergeant’s voice, had burst out of her restaurant’s door and stood with her hands on her hips, glaring. “More tossing, less gabbing!”
And it turned out I didn’t need to make my case because Scarlet’s smile was almost feline. “You have twenty-eight days to find this fox,” she told me. “He needs to be caught before the next full moon. Miss this window and my offer is void.”
I could have gone hunting alone in an enemy werewolf’s territory, or I could have left my shift early and headed to Gate City to ask Thom for help in person. Instead, I took the middle road and texted him my plans.
Thom’s reply was quick and helpful. He wasn’t keen on the idea, but if I was going he was going. He was willing to strategize and even offered a GPS address at the edge of his territory, one that appeared to represent a place where we could park cars on Gate City turf and keep our trespassing to the bare minimum.
What he didn’t mention was anything more about yesterday. Nor did he clue me in that he planned to invite the entire pack.
Which is why I slammed on my brakes as I drove down the isolated forest-service road expecting Thom’s truck to be the only one in the pull-off and found a dozen vehicles crammed along the verge instead. Men of all ages were stripping, breath pluming in front of headlights but shivers irrelevant since fur was quickly forthcoming. Half were four-footed already, chasing each other through the trees in werewolf joy at running wild. The rest were well on their way to lupine form.
Except me, Thom, and the shifter who’d apparently left his only family member behind in Gate City.
“What part of all hands on deck sounded optional to you?” Thom demanded, his voice both firm and commanding. Raised by a human father, Thom had been a reluctant alpha. Now, though, his newfound combination of power and control drew me in closer. It wasn’t the moon this time that made my eyes soak up his form as if he was water in the desert. It wasn’t the moon, so I managed to keep my thoughts to myself.
Still I advanced. And as I did, I noted the moment my scent invaded Thom’s nostrils. Saw his eyes flick toward me then away again.
He didn’t spare me any words however. Not even a carefully weighted admonition like the one he’d lowered on his underling. I flinched. Clearly, even though he said nothing had happened, Thom wasn’t over last night.
The urge to clear the air with words was nearly overwhelming, but this was very much not the time or place. Especially since the shifter Thom had addressed was muttering a half-hearted explanation. “Kid wasn’t feeling good.”
With an effort, I transferred my gaze from Thom to Hank, taking in as much of the latter as I could with his ever-present cowboy hat blocking moonlight from his features. Even without a view of the shifter’s face, I could sense his recalcitrance. Saw it in the way his square chin turned away from his alpha. Smelled it in the acrid scent that lingered in the air.
That resistance to Thom’s orders was odd coming from a shifter who acted as a dependable protector to his decade-younger brother. By lone wolf standards and despite being only in his early twenties, Hank was a solid family man.
“I understand that you want to protect him,” Thom answered, his thoughts likely following a similar path to mine. “But your brother is old enough to shift and he’s part of this pack. I want him here.”
The proper response would have been an apology or at least an explanation. Instead, Hank shrugged. “Too late now. Kid’s in bed.”
He punctuated his statement by spitting on the ground in a mild act of insolence. The stream of fluid, I noted, was aimed well clear of his alpha.
Unfortunately, Hank hadn’t counted on my proximity. Perhaps hadn’t smelled me the way Thom had.
Whatever the reason, liquid splattered against the boots I’d drawn back on after shedding my pizza costume. Thom’s scent turned dark and dangerous as his fists clenched.
Up until the spit hit my boots, it had appeared that all other werewolves were busy kicking up their heels and reveling in their fur forms. But every action in the pack revolved around Thom. Even the most hardcore frolickers kept one eye tuned to their alpha as they played.
No wonder silence and stillness settled on the gathering like dust after an explosion. The only sound came from a single werewolf caught midshift who seemed to be afraid to move backward to humanity or forward to fur form. The stuck shifter’s pain nipped at my nostrils while his lupine hind legs scratched uncontrollably against the earth.
Despite being able to smell the issue as well as I could, Thom did nothing. Well, nothing other than loom and glower like the alpha he’d become over the last three months.
No wonder Hank’s cowboy hat bowed down in apology. “Forgive me, Chief Faris.”
Thom didn’t absolve him, but he didn’t attack either. Instead, he made a sound in the back of his throat that could have been acceptance if that’s what you were listening for, then he turned away to strip alongside the rest of his pack.
And I stripped too. Stripped and shifted, not to wolf but to fox form.
Fox with a magical backpack created out of my star ball. Because I wasn’t about to trespass without tools.
In this case, I chose to bring along my cell phone plus a vial of stolen werewolf blood that would hopefully keep the Reed alpha in line if we came face to face with him. I’d used the blood once before, last fall, to force invaders out of Thom’s territory. If I had to, I’d drink another sip and force Chief Reed to let our pack go today.
Even though my entire purpose in materializing the backpack was to protect us, Thom’s wolves still shied away from the luminous evidence of my difference. Teeth bared, they put space between themselves and the glowing star-ball magic. Their larger size was daunting in moonlight.
But there was no time to be daunted. Not when Thom was drawing us all into the darkness of tree cover. The pack avoided me at first, then accepted matters and enfolded me. Behind us, one by one, shifters left in charge of idling vehicles winked their headlights out.
I once read that wild wolf territories contain unused spaces running the length of boundaries, the no man’s land meant to prevent bloody battles. But werewolves are half-human with the two-legger urge to mark the exact edges of their property. No wonder I smelled piss on both sides as we leapt one by one over the line that separated Thom’s land from the domain of the Reed pack.
Now we were trespassing, silent save for frost crunching beneath our paws as we pressed deeper into Reed territory. In our planning texts, the ones where Thom had neglected to mention he was bringing along the entire pack plus a bad attitude, I’d suggested that he howl and draw the patrols away so I could sleuth solo. But he’d rejected that plan, wanting any discovery of our presence to appear organic. Now, we slowed our footfalls and spread out into a looser wedge, the better to be stumbled across.
Then I smelled it. The first hint of fox scent suggesting Scarlet hadn’t been playing with me. Scent not just vulpine but also undeniably male.
And now that I’d had time to digest Scarlet’s bombshell, maybe the presumed impossibility made sense after all. Yes, it was true that, unlike werewolves, kitsunes were always female while male relatives donated their latent magic to a mistress. They had no ability to form a star ball or to shift, but wouldn’t those males still smell a little foxy? Especially if they were performing a magical ritual, one that might or might not have forced me to make a fool of myself last night.
Whatever the reason, I smelled a male fox now. I couldn’t tell if this was Kaito, but I intended to follow that scent trail and discover what lay at the end of it regardless. Veering away from Thom and his pack mates, I leapt onto a fallen tree and used it to bypass a tangle of thorns and brush.
The fox scent beneath my feet was fresher than the wolf urine at the boundary, suggesting whoever I smelled was actively walking through the forest right at this moment. Which was a good thing. Maybe we could nab Kaito and be back at the cars before our presence was noted. Perhaps it would be simple to talk him out of whatever he was doing, simple enough that I could set Scarlet’s mind at ease without handing Kaito over to the Lawkeepers.
A howl rose from behind me. Another, then a sharp bark of warning.
No such luck.