Kitty Takes a Holiday (Kitty Norville #3) - Page 1

Chapter 1

She runs for the joy of it, because she can, her strides stretching to cover a dozen feet every time she leaps. Her mouth is open to taste the air, which is sharp with cold. The month turns, and the swelling moon paints the night sky silver, lighting up patches of snow scattered throughout the woods. Not yet full moon, a rare moment to be set free before her time, but the other half of her being has no reason to lock her away. She is alone, but she is free, and so she runs.

Catching a scent, she swerves from her path, slows to a trot, puts her nose to the ground. Prey, fresh and warm. Lots of it here in the wild. The smell burns in the winter air. She stalks, drawing breath with flaring nostrils, searching for the least flicker of movement. Her empty stomach clenches, driving her on. The smell makes her mouth water.

She has grown used to hunting alone. Must be careful, must not take chances. Her padded feet touch the ground lightly, ready to spring forward, to dart in one direction or another, making no sound on the forest floor. The scent—musky, hot fur and scat—grows strong, rocketing through her brain. All her nerves flare. Close now, closer, creeping on hunter's feet—

The rabbit springs from its cover, a rotted log grown over with shrubs. She's ready for it, without seeing it or hearing it she knows it is there, her hunter's sense filled by its presence. The moment it runs, she leaps, pins it to the ground with her claws and body, digs her teeth into its neck, clamping her jaw shut and ripping. It doesn't have time to scream. She drinks the blood pumping out of its torn and broken throat, devours its meat before the blood cools. The warmth and life of it fills her belly, lights her soul, and she pauses the slaughter to howl in victory—

My whole body flinched, like I'd been dreaming of falling and suddenly woken up. I gasped a breath—part of me was still in the dream, still falling, and I had to tell myself that I was safe, that 1 wasn't about to hit the ground. My hands clutched reflexively, but didn't grab sheets or pillow. A handful of last fall's dead leaves crumbled in my grip.

Slowly, I sat up, scratched my scalp, and smoothed back my tangled blonde hair. I felt the rough earth underneath me. I wasn't in bed, I wasn't in the house I'd been living in for the last two months. I lay in a hollow scooped into the earth, covered in forest detritus, sheltered by overhanging pine trees. Beyond the den, crusted snow lay in shadowed areas. The air was cold and biting. My breath fogged.

I was naked, and I could taste blood in the

film covering my teeth.

Damn. I'd done it again.

* * *

Lots of people dream of having their picture on the cover of a national magazine. It's one of the emblems of fame, fortune, or at the very least fifteen minutes of notoriety. A lot of people actually do get their pictures on the covers of national magazines. The question is: Are you on the cover of a glamorous high-end fashion glossy, wearing a designer gown and looking fabulous? Or are you on the cover of Time, bedraggled and shell-shocked, with a caption reading, “Is This the Face of a Monster?” and “Are YOU in Danger?”

Guess which one I got.

The house I was renting—more like a cabin, a two-room vacation cottage connected to civilization by a dirt road and satellite TV—was far enough out from the town and road that I didn't bother getting dressed for the trek back. Not that I could have; I had forgotten to stash any clothes. Why would I, when I hadn't intended to Change and go running in the first place? Nothing to be done but walk back naked.

I felt better, walking with my skin exposed, the chill air raising goose bumps all over my flesh. I felt cleaner, somehow. Freer. I didn't worry—I followed no path, no hiking trails cut through these woods. No one would see me in this remote section of San Isabel National Forest land in southern Colorado, tucked into the mountains.

That was exactly how 1 wanted it.

I'd wanted to get away from it all. The drawback was, by getting away from it all I had less holding me to the world. I didn't have as many reasons to stay in my human body. If I'd been worried about someone seeing me naked, I probably wouldn't have shifted in the first place. Nights of the full moon weren't the only time lycanthropes could shape-shift; we could Change anytime we chose. I'd heard of werewolves who turned wolf, ran into the woods, and never came back. I didn't want that to happen to me. At least, I used to think I didn't want that to happen to me.

But it was getting awfully easy to turn Wolf and run in the woods, full moon or no.

I was supposed to be writing a book. With everything that had happened to me in the last couple of years— starting my radio show, declaring my werewolf identity on the air and having people actually believe me, testifying before a Senate committee hearing, getting far more attention than I ever wanted, no matter how much I should have seen it all coming—I had enough material for a book, or so I thought. A memoir or something. At least, a big publishing company thought I had enough

material and offered me enough money that I could take time off from my show to write it. I was the celebrity du jour, and we all wanted to cash in on my fame while it lasted. Selling out had sounded so dreamy.

I put together about a dozen “Best of The Midnight Hour” episodes that could be broadcast without me, so the show would keep going even while I took a break. It'd keep people interested, keep my name out there, and maybe even draw in some new fans. I planned to do the Walden thing, retreat from society in order to better reflect. Escape the pressures of life, freeing myself to contemplate the deeper philosophical questions I would no doubt ponder while composing my great masterpiece.

Trouble was, you could get away from society and learn to be self-reliant, like Thoreau advocated. Turn your nose up at the rat race. But you couldn't escape yourself, your own doubts, your own conscience.

I didn't even know how to begin writing a book. I had pages of scribbled notes and not a single finished page. It all looked so unreal on paper. Really, where did I start? “I was born…” then go into twenty years of a completely unremarkable life? Or start with the attack that made me a werewolf? That whole night was so complicated and seemed an abrupt way to start what I ultimately wanted to be an upbeat story. Did I start with the Senate hearings? Then how did I explain the whole mess that got me there in the first place?

So I stripped naked, turned Wolf, and ran in the woods to avoid the question. As hard as I'd struggled to hold on to my humanity, that was easier.

The closest town of any size to my cabin was Walsenburg, some thirty miles away, and that wasn't saying a whole lot. The place had pretty much stopped growing in the sixties. Main street was the state highway running through, just before it merged onto the interstate. The buildings along it were old-fashioned brick blocks. A lot of them had the original signs: family-owned businesses, hardware stores, and bars and the like. A lot of them were boarded up. A memorial across from the county courthouse paid tribute to the coal miners who had settled the region. To the southwest, the Spanish Peaks loomed, twin mountains rising some seven thousand feet above the plain. Lots of wild, lonely forest spread out around them. The next afternoon, I drove into town to meet my lawyer, Ben O'Farrell, at a diner on the highway. He wouldn't drive any farther into the southern Colorado wilds than Walsenburg.