Kitty Takes a Holiday (Kitty Norville #3) - Page 18

I put my hands on my hips. “That defeats the whole point of you coming along. And I need you to help carry groceries.”

He lurched out of the car, slouching in his coat like a sullen teenager, his hands shoved in the pockets. I walked across the dirt parking lot, and Ben fell into step beside me. Halfway to the front door, though, he paused and looked up, turning his nose into the faint breeze. His brow furrowed, faintly worried, faintly curious.

I could filter it all out, the hundred smells that I encountered every day: spilled oil, gasoline, asphalt, the garbage Dumpster, drying paint from the shed around the corner, somebody's loose dog, a feral cat, the earth and trees from the edge of the woods. A normal human wouldn't be able to differentiate them at all. Ben was smelling it all for the first time.

“You okay?” I asked.

After a moment, he nodded. Then he said, “What do I smell like to you?”

I shrugged. I'd never tried to describe it before. “Now? You smell like a werewolf. Human with a little bit of fur and wild thrown in.”

He nodded, like that sounded familiar—he could smell me now, after all. Then he said, “And before?”

“I always thought you smelled like your trenchcoat.”

He made a sound that was almost a chuckle.

“What do I smell like to you?” I said.

He cocked his head for a moment, testing the air, tasting it. He seemed puzzled, like he was still trying to figure out the sensation. “Safe. You smell safe.”

We went inside.

Ben hesitated at the door, once again looking around, nose flaring, wearing an expression of uncertainty and also curiosity. I looked, hoping to see Alice, bracing for Joe and his rifle.

Behind the counter, Alice looked up from the magazine she was reading. She smiled. “Hi, Kitty, how are you today?”

“Oh, fine. I have friends visiting. Alice, this is Ben. Ben, Alice.”

Alice smiled warmly and extended her hand for shaking. Ben looked stricken for a moment—to the wolf side, it was not the most harmless of gestures. In fact, it looked a little like an attack. I waited to see how he'd react and let out a bit of a sigh when he recovered and took her hand.

“Good to meet you,” he said. He wasn't smiling, but he behaved in a straightforward enough manner.

“Let me know if I can help you find anything,” she said.

“Actually, I did want to ask you something. Do you know any blacksmiths around here? Someone with a forge who could melt down a bunch of metal for me?”

“Well, sure. Jake Torres is the local farrier, he's got a forge. What kind of metal?”

This was going to be hard to explain without sounding like a loon. But I was crazy, according to Ben anyway. Maybe I should just embrace it. “I've got a bunch of pieces of barbed wire that I'd love to see completely destroyed. You think he'd do that for me?”

She creased her brow. “Oh, probably. What kind of pieces?”

“They're in the car, I'll go get them. Ben"—I grabbed a plastic shopping basket from the pile by the door— “here. Find some food. Whatever looks good.”

He took the basket, looked at me quizzically, then headed for the shelves.

Feeling like 1 was finally accomplishing something, I ran to the car, grabbed the bag of crosses, ran back to the store, and dropped the bag on the counter in front of Alice. It landed with a solid, steely thunk. She pulled out one of the crosses, studied it, and looked increasingly worried. That made me worried.

“Something's wrong,” I said. “What is it? You look like you've seen one of these before.”

Shaking her head, she dropped the cross back and quickly tied up the bag. “Oh, you know. Folklore, local superstition. Crosses are supposed to be for protection.”

“Yeah, well, someone's been dumping them in a circle around my cabin and I don't feel very protected. Friend of mine thinks it's part of a curse. Like someone isn't happy with me being around.”

Alice's eyes widened, startled. “That's certainly odd, isn't it?”

“I just want to get rid of them. Melting them down seems the way to go. You think your farrier will do it?”

“Jake stops in here once a week. He's due in a couple of days. I'll ask him myself,” she said with a thin smile. She put the bag under the counter. It

was out of my hands now.

That was easy. A weight lifted from me. “Thanks, Alice. That'd be great.”

I went to check on Ben. He was standing with the still empty basket in front of a shelf full of canned soup, chili, and pasta sauce.

“Nothing sounds good,” he said. “I just keep thinking about all that venison in your freezer. Is that normal?”

I patted his arm. “I know what you mean.”

We stocked up on the basics—bacon and eggs, bread and milk. Ben gamely carried the basket for me, and Alice rang up the goods, her demeanor more cheerful than ever. We made it back to the car without incident.

“There,” I said as I pulled the car back on the road, “that wasn't so hard.”

After some long minutes of driving, Ben said, “I could hear her heartbeat. Smell her blood. It's strange.”

I wet my lips, because my mouth had gone dry. Even smelling him, smelling him change into something not quite human, even seeing the bite wounds and knowing intellectually what was happening to him, it didn't really hit me until that moment. Ben was a werewolf. He may not have shape-shifted yet, he may have been infected for less than a week. But there it was.

“It makes them seem like prey,” I said, aware that I was talking about people, normal people like Alice, in the third person. Like they were something different than Ben and I. “Like you could hunt them.” Like you could almost taste the blood.

“Does that happen every time you meet somebody?” he said.

“Most of the time, yeah,” I said softly.

He didn't say a word for the rest of the trip home.

When entered the house, Cormac was awake, sitting at the kitchen table, cleaning a gun or three. As soon as the front door opened, he stood and turned to us. I'd have said he was in a panic, if I didn't know him better.

“Where'd you go?” he said.

“Shopping?” I said, uncertain. Both Ben and I hefted filled plastic grocery bags, which we brought to the kitchen. “You want to help unpack?”