Wait! I missed chapter one! S’okay–go here.
Kit sat in the living room reading a book about the hundreds of things that could go wrong when you tried to create a human being and expel it, still alive, through a hole smaller than its head. It was grisly and horrifying, but she liked this book better than the fluffy ones. This book read like a Guild briefing on a dangerous mission. Motherhood was not for the faint of heart.
Fenwick sat on the ground. He held an allen wrench in one hand, dwarfed by his massive fingers. In the other hand he held the instruction manual for assembling the pieces of crib scattered in an arc on the carpet in front of him. Fenwick whistled and tightened the nut on a cross brace. He’d wanted to be a father as long as she’d known him, and he looked forward to the impending birth like a student who’d secured his dream job to start the day after graduation.
He smiled at her. “Whatcha reading?”
“Pregnancy book.” She had books on child rearing too, but she preferred the ones on pregnancy. Placenta previa, ectopic pregnancies, caesarians, breech birth, eclampsia. This book could be titled “The Worry-Wart’s Guide to Pregnancy: Everything that Can and Probably Will Go Wrong.” She could handle childbirth. Pain and blood? Bring it on.
It was everything after that she really worried about. How could she be responsible for another human being? How could she keep it safe? She hadn’t even owned a pet, except for Kaa, and Kaa fed and preened himself, living outside in the tree most of the time. Mothering seemed to be one of those instincts that most women were born with, along with shoe fetishism and germophobia and all the other feminine traits that Kit had tried unsuccessfully to fake over the years. She couldn’t fake this, though. The kid would figure out pretty quick that she had no idea how to take care of it.
She set the book down on the side table, then glanced at Fenwick. He was six-and-a-half feet tall, muscular and barrel chested, with fair hair pulled back into a pony tail.
“How’s it coming?” she asked.
“I’ll have it assembled by the release date.”
He didn’t sound worried at all. Did he worry? Maybe it wasn’t such a big deal for him, since the expectations were lower. Have a job and show up now and again, and you were a good father. Assembling a crib was extra credit.
But being a good mother? You had to attend to a squalling, shitting fragile creature day and night, without ever letting on that you didn’t love it completely. If you did it yourself, you were bound to either be smothering or neglectful (or both) but if you hired someone better suited to the job, you were a bad mother who (selfishly) put career ahead of your family. And your career would probably suffer, and your child would suffer too, because so many of those nannies were child torturers in disguise, weren’t they? Isn’t that what the TV news loved to tell stories about?
Fenwick looked up. “You’re worried.”
Fenwick got up. He plucked the book out of her grip and flipped it open. Scanning the pages, he flinched. He flipped to another page and flinched again. He shut the book with an audible clap and tucked it into the center of the pile of pregnancy books Kit had gotten from the library. “Don’t read that. You’ll just make yourself upset. You’re healthy, and we have a good doctor. You’ll be okay.”
Fenwick’s phone rang, and he reached into his back pocket to fish it out. He glanced at the ID and smiled. “It’s Laurel.”
Laurel? Oh. His cousin. Nice as pie, Laurel and Brad were so conventional and conservative that they addressed their Christmas cards to “Mr. And Mrs. Alan Fenwick,” and Laurel emailed Kit articles about homeschooling and canning your own vegetables. Women like Laurel did motherhood effortlessly. Women like Laurel were made to be mommies.
Earlier that year she and Fenwick had gone to visit them at their rural home in Montana. Kit had floundered to find a safe conversation topic. Family? She disliked her mother, didn’t know if her father and sister were alive or dead, had her brother give her away at her wedding. Religion? She considered herself a lapsed Catholic, but the Pagans in their town considered her a witch because she was the familiar of a forest goddess. Job? She worked for the Guild of Vampires, and was required by her boss to wear a gun at all times. Yes, even in Laurel’s kitchen, though she hid it under a loose cardigan and Laurel was too polite to comment if she noticed. No, she did not intend to quit her job when she gave birth.
My, these cookies are delicious. No, thank you, I’ve had enough. Tell me more about your genealogy research. Fascinating. Do tell. Yawn.
Kit spent the whole week feeling like a dog in a cat costume. These people socialized by gender, so lucky Fenwick got to go fishing with Brad. Kit got to help Laurel make scrapbook pages while Laurel chatted on endlessly about her life of placid domesticity. She should have been taking notes. Vitamin shots? Antibacterial hand lotion? Parenting: a strange country with a foreign language and mysterious artifacts. She picked up the next book in the stack and began to leaf through it.
“Both boys?” Fenwick asked.
His tone made her look up. Kit put her finger in the book to mark her page. Fenwick sat up straighter. The allen wrench and the instructions had fallen to the side.
“How long will she be in ICU?” The image of a bear flickered over Fenwick’s features, even though he was ten days past his last change. Unlike his cousin, he could change when stressed.
“I’m so sorry. And they don’t know?”
Kit put the book down. Her hand reflexively touched her side, where the holster of her gun usually rested.
“Yes. Yes. No. Absolutely. We’ll do whatever we can.”
Kit raised her eyebrows at him, but he shook his head.
“Okay. Here she is.”
Me? Kit mouthed, but she took the phone and answered it. She listened silently as Brad explained what happened. She listened to the description of the house, Laurel unconscious, the missing children, the tire tracks. Neighbors saw nothing. Police had no clues.
Kit’s hand absently stroked her abdomen. Who would do such a thing? Try to kill such a sweet woman and steal her children?
“Laurel wanted to talk to you,” Brad said. “Wait a minute.”
Kit waited, baffled, as Laurel picked up the phone. The hiss of a ventilator competed with her weak voice. “We want to—“ wheeze “—hire you. Find our children.”
“S’okay. Alan said you.” Her silence was punctuated by the hiss and ping of machines. “Can’t talk about your job. Secret spy stuff.” wheeze “You have disk?”
“Yes,” Kit said. The genealogy disk, full of all Laurel had dredged up about the Lundquist and Cook families. Kit hadn’t gotten around to throwing it away. It was probably still in the piles of crap on her desk.
“Werewolves,” Laurel said. “Werewolves took my boys. Find them. Track them down.”
There was a muffled sound, and Brad came back on the phone.
“I’m wiring a retainer,” Brad said. “Fifty thousand. Let me know if you need more.”
“Laurel wants this to stay in the family. She doesn’t want the FBI to know about her trait. It’s a family secret. Anyway, they won’t believe werewolves, might think we’re crackpots just for asking.”
That wasn’t entirely true anymore. The world was changing, secrets were slipping out, and even hyper-conservative types were starting to acknowledge that otherfolk existed.
But you didn’t contradict a grieving father. “I understand.”
“You’ll do it?” he asked. “You’ll find our boys?”
“Yes,” she said. She felt a thrill of anticipation, of adrenaline. A challenge. Courage. Pain and blood. She could do this. “I’ll find them.”
“Thank you, Kit. I know we’ll both rest easier knowing you’re looking into this.”
Like the book, but short on cash? New chapter next week!