Just a warning before you start. This book is darker than my earlier Kit Melbourne novels. Terrible things happen to good people, children get hurt, and there are a couple scenes of sexual violence. It’s not as dark as Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, or Game of Thrones, but darker than Harry Potter.
Christine watched as the were-bear’s husband took the poisoned dog away in the minivan. Christine hadn’t wanted to kill the first two dogs, or poison this one, but she couldn’t think of a convincing enough argument for letting them live. Dogs could smell too well. A nice piece of luck that the husband took the dog away. With him gone, they had one fewer person to deal with. Get in, get the kids, get out. Two small children, no dog, one woman so weakly bred she couldn’t shapeshift on command.
The mom, a fresh-faced brunette with a middle-aged heft to her, wrung her hands as she spoke with her children. Her soft face contorted with worry. An apron strained to cover her ample bosom. Made from quilting calico, it had the words “What Would Jesus Bake?” appliqued on it. She’d probably done it herself, in her quilting circle with her human friends, while her changer children consorted with their human children. If her children were raised by this weakly bred sport, they’d probably grow up to marry humans, diluting their blood even further. She probably thought she was doing them a favor, raising them as humans. These women always did.
“We’re gonna have to kill the mom,” Nate said. His lean muscled body crouched in the undergrowth without a care for the sharp thorns or insects poking into his bare flesh. She loved that about him, the way he felt comfortable in his skin, no matter which skin he wore.
Christine nodded, and if her wolfish jowls allowed her to smile, she would have. When this was over, they’d get their own land where they could be as free as they wanted. Changing, hunting. Maybe they could adopt some outbreeder children and start their own pack. Money made all kinds of dreams possible.
“Sasha has the shotgun, Luke has the rifle,” Nate said. “I’m gonna change and go with you on paw. Michael’s gonna circle around the front with the car.”
Christine lifted her muzzle, eyes asking a question.
“His brother never showed up.”
She lifted her lips, baring her teeth.
“I know, baby,” Nate said. “But what do you expect from a pig?”
“You won’t have to,” he said, reading her mind as usual. “If he doesn’t come through with the safe house, I’ll tear his throat out myself.”
The mom was mixing some kind of batter in a bowl. They waited. Watched. The children threw a football back and forth, and the mom scolded them. Simple human lives. Such a waste. The mom poured the batter into a pan. By the time Nate finished changing and Michael texted to say he was bringing his car up the drive, the mom had put the pan into the oven and was starting to wash the dishes. She didn’t even look up as they approached.
Michael unloaded the first barrel of his shotgun at the window. The outer pane shattered, but the inner pane spiderwebbed and held fast. Someone screamed, but it wasn’t one of her pack, so Christine ignored it. Michael smashed the inner window with the butt of the shotgun, smashing a hole clear. Inside, the mom was ushering her children into a pantry. The reek of her fear mixed with the smell of breakfast sausage and the cake in the oven.
Michael knocked out the last of the glass. Nate and Christine leapt in unison through the remains of the window. The frumpy woman guarded the pantry door, a horrified look on her domesticated face. Christine leaped at her, snarling, and the woman backed away. Nate used a paw to push open the pantry door, and that’s when everything went wrong.
Christine watched in horror as the mom drew a serrated bread knife from the block. Time froze. The soft, frumpy housewife shoved the knife up under Nate’s throat. Christine couldn’t move. She was looking Nate in the eyes when the tip of the blade appeared through the back of his skull.
Michael shot the mom with his shotgun. The blast knocked her back, away from Nate. The mom slumped to the ground, grabbing the handle of the oven as she fell. Heat and the smell of peaches and cardamom wafted out of the oven. The mom’s chest bloomed red. Good. Christine had been afraid the blast had missed.
Sasha circled around the island, heading for the pantry door. As soon as Sasha touched the door handle, the mom sprang up with a roar. She grabbed a metal bar stool with one hand and threw it at Sasha. It bounced off her skull with a sound like a hammer hitting a block of oak.
Sasha fell. Brain matter peered through her broken skull.
Michael scooped up Sasha’s rifle and took aim. A shot rang out, breaking crockery and ricocheting off the backsplash. The mom spun around on her heel as the bullet clipped her. She roared and threw another bar stool at Michael, knocking his second shot wide.
Christine shook herself out of her panic. She lunged at the mom’s throat.
The were-bear woman got her arm up in front of her throat before Christine’s jaws could clamp down on it. Christine shook her head furiously, tearing until she tasted blood and felt the arm bones snap. Christine finally let go and lunged for the mom’s throat again, but the mom got her other arm up in time to defend herself. She grabbed a rubber spatula with her broken arm and began to hit Christine in the head with it. Christine whined in pain. Where was Michael? And why the hell wouldn’t this woman die? Michael drew back and kicked the mom in the head with his steel toed boot. Her eyes crossed, but she kept hitting. A second blow to the head made her strikes weaker, and when he kicked her the third time, the woman finally went limp.
Christine let go, panting and in pain.
She barely remembered how they got the boys into the car, whether she was in wolf form or human. She didn’t remember carrying Sasha’s body, or how they got to the Interstate. All she remembered was the brutal metal peering out the top of Nate’s head, like a third ear, and the taste of that wretched woman’s flesh in her mouth.
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