Kitty Takes a Holiday (Kitty Norville #3) - Page 24

Then I was ashamed to realize I was looking forward to finding out. I was looking forward to having a friend along for the run tonight.

God, I'd be lucky if either Ben or Cormac were still friends after tonight. I laced my fingers in my hair and made fists, as if trying to pull the craziness out of my head. Ben was going through hell; I was not going to look on it as a good thing.

I must have stayed there an hour before I decided to wander back to the house. I dreaded what I'd find when I got there. So help me God if Cormac was cleaning his guns—

He wasn't. He was in the kitchen reading my copy of Walden.

I must have stood there staring at him, because he glanced up and said, “What are you looking at?”

I shrugged. “I guess I'd halfway decided you didn't know how to read.”

Ben, stretched out on the sofa pretending to sleep, snorted a chuckle.

Ah, the boy retained a sense of humor. Maybe there was hope.

“How are you doing?” I said to him, gently.

“Don't patronize me.”

“I'm not—” But what I'd meant and what it sounded like to him could certainly be two different things. I wanted to kick the sofa, knock him out of it. “You're making this way more difficult than it needs to be.”

He sat up suddenly; I thought he was going to lunge at me. I even took a step back.

He almost shouted. “You know how to make it easy? You want to tell me how to make it easier? 'Cause I'd sure love to hear about it. You keep talking about getting used to it, so if you know any tricks, now would be a great time to share!”

We glared at each other, eye to eye. My Wolf thought he was going to start a fight right here and wanted to growl. 1 closed my eyes and took a deep breath, to keep her in check. Let the human side deal with this. I just had to tell him to calm down. Had to be patronizing again.

Cormac interrupted. “Maybe I oughta shoot you both, put you both out of your misery.”

Why did that make me want to laugh? Hysterical, psychotic laughter, yes. But still. If it wasn't so serious, it would have been funny.

I was looking at Ben when I said, “Who says we're miserable?”

Something sparked.

He thought it was funny, too. At least part of him thought part of it was funny. He looked away, but not before I saw the smile flicker on his lips and disappear.

I pulled the chair from the desk and sat. I was in front of my laptop, not facing him. I'd planned on pretending I was working.

“Broccoli,” I said after a moment. He looked at me. “1 think about broccoli. And Bach. I think about things that are as far away from the Wolf as I can. Anything that keeps me human and makes the Wolf go away.”

“Does it actually work?”

“Usually. Sometimes. You ought to make Cormac give you the book. To distract yourself.”

“Don't tell me that's the only book you have in the house.”

I huffed. “What kind of English major do you take me for?”

I dug through the box of books and CDs I'd brought and set him up with a copy of Jack London. Which probably wasn't the best choice, but oh well. The philistine had scoffed at Virginia Woolf. Maybe he'd thought I was trying to be funny.

I managed to write something that afternoon. I wasn't sure how coherent it was. I didn't have the patience to read back over it. Time enough for that tomorrow.

I wrote for so long that I didn't notice when darkness fell outside.

“Kitty.” The word came out sharp and filled with pain.

Ben gripped the arm of the sofa; the fabric had started to rip under his hand. His fingers were growing claws. He was staring at his hands like they were alien to him.

I rushed over and knelt before him. I put my hands on his cheeks and turned his face, made him look away from the scene of horror to look at me instead. His eyes grew wide, filled with shock.

He said with a kind of rough laugh, “It really hurts.”

“I know, I know.” I hushed him, brushing his hair back from his face, which was starting to drip with sweat. “Ben, do you trust me? Please say you trust me.”

He nodded. He squeezed his eyes shut and nodded. “I trust you.”

“I'll take care of you,” I said. “I'm not going to leave you. Okay? You'll be all right. Just get through this and you'll be all right. We're going to go outside now, okay?”

He

slipped forward off the couch to fall into my arms, pressing his face to my shoulder and groaning. For a moment, I worried that he'd try to hold me with those hands turning into claws, but no, he'd pulled his arms in close and had gone almost fetal. Tears slipped from my eyes, stinging my cheeks. I hated this. I hated seeing him e this. “What can I do?” Cormac stood by, hands clenched into fists, watching us with an expression I'd never seen on him before. Helplessness, maybe?

“Stay out of the way,” I said. “Stay inside and lock the door.”

“Cormac—” Ben's voice wasn't his own anymore. His jaw was clenched, his breath coming in gasps, and his words were thick. “Watch, I want you to see. Kitty, he has to watch.”

I helped him stand, putting my arm around his back and hauling up. “Ben, I need you to walk outside with me. Stand up.”

Somehow, he lurched to his feet, leaning hard against me.

Cormac started toward us. “Let me help—”

“No!” I said harshly. Growling, even. “He's got claws, he might scratch you. Just get out of the way.”

Cormac stepped aside and opened the door for us.

Outside, the forest was silver and filled with crisp, deep shadows. Full moon night, bright and beckoning. The cold air sent a charge through my body.

I could feel Ben's body rippling under my arm, like slimy things moved under the skin. It would have been nausea-inducing, if I hadn't felt this happen to my own body. He was locked up with the pain; I half dragged him off the porch to the clearing in front of the cabin. We weren't going to get any farther than that. I let him drop to the ground, where he curled up on his side. Thick stubble covered his arms.

I took his moment of immobility to unfasten the button and zipper of his jeans. It took too long; my hands were shaking. But 1 had to get his clothes off before they tangled him up. That would only add to the pain and confusion. Taking both waistbands—jeans and underwear—at once, I pulled down as far as 1 could, then grabbed the hem of his T-shirt and pulled up, forcing it over his head.