Kitty Takes a Holiday (Kitty Norville #3) - Page 36

I finished that phone conversation to see Ben sitting on the sofa holding his forehead like it ached and shaking his head slowly.

Ben and I were on the sofa, undressed, snuggled together under a blanket, basking in the warmth of the stove and drinking morning coffee. Didn't do much talking in favor of reveling in the simple animal comforts.

A tickling in the back of my mind disturbed the comfort. I lifted my head, felt myself tilting it—like a dog perking its ears up. And yes, I did hear something, very faint. Leaves rustling. Footsteps.

Ben tensed up against me. “What's wrong?”

“Somebody's outside. Wait here.”

I slipped off the sofa and into the bedroom to find some jeans and a sweater to throw on.

It couldn't have been my mad dog-flaying curse meis-ter, or the red-eyed thing. I'd never heard anybody actually moving around the house like this. Maybe it was some hiker who'd gotten lost. I could point them back to the road and be done with it.

Unfortunately, my life was never that simple, and dread gnawed at my chest.

I wished Cormac were here with a couple of his guns.

I went down the porch steps and looked around. Lifting my chin, I breathed deep. Didn't smell anything odd, but that didn't mean anything. Whoever it was could just be in the wrong place.

Something called through the trees, a low, echoing hoot. An owl, incongruous in the morning light. 1 couldn't see it, but it made me feel like something watched me.

Listening hard, looking into the trees, I started to walk around the house. Then I heard a crunching of dried leaves. Up the hill toward the road.

Knowing where to look now, I saw him. A short man, maybe forty, probably latino, his round face tanned to rust, wrinkles fanning from the corners of his eyes. His long black hair was tied in a ponytail. He wore a thick army-style canvas jacket, jeans, and cowboy boots. He wandered among the trees, hands on his hips like this was property he was planning on buying.

This was my territory. 1 walked toward him, stomping to make noise of my own, until he looked at me. He didn't seem surprised to see me standing in front of him.

I glared. “Can I help you with something?”

He glanced at me, not seeming at all startled or concerned.

“There was something

here—” He pointed to the ground, drawing a line in the air that arced halfway around him. “In a circle all the way around the house. It's all kind of blurry now. But it's like someone was trying to build a fence or something.”

He gestured right to where the ring of barbed-wire crosses had lain on the ground.

“There's been a lot of blood spilled here, too. All kinds. This place is pretty messed up, spiritually speaking.”

I stared. My jaw might even have dropped open.

“Who are you?” I managed to demand without shrieking.

“Sorry. Name's Tony. Tony Rivera. Cormac asked me to come out and have a look. I haven't had the time until now.”

Simultaneously, the situation became more clear and more confused. This guy knew Cormac how? “He said he called someone, but didn't say anything about you.”

“That surprise you? Is he here?”

“No.” Though he'd probably expected to still be here when he'd called.

“You must be Kitty.” He approached me slowly, obliquely, swinging a bit to the side—not directly toward me—and keeping his gaze off center, looking out and around, to the ground and the trees, everywhere but directly at me.

He was speaking wolf. Using wolf body language, at least. Giving me space and letting me take a good look at him. The gesture startled me into thinking well of him. i tilted my chin, breathed deeply—he wasn't a lycanthrope. He smelled absolutely human, normal and a little earthy, like he spent a lot of time outside.

“Hi,” I said, able to smile nicely while he stood in front of me. Before I realized I was speaking, I asked, “How'd you learn to do that?”

“I pay attention. So, what seems to be the problem out here?”

“You the witch doctor?”

“Something like that.”

1 gestured over my shoulder. “You want to come in for coffee while we talk?”

“Sure, thanks.”

Ben, clever boy that he was, was dressed and waiting in the doorway when Tony and I reached the cabin.

Tony saw him and waved. “Hi, Ben. Cormac said you were here.”

Ben's eyes widened. “Tony?” Tony just smiled, and Ben shook his head.

“Should have known.”

I said, “So, ah, I guess you two know each other.”

“He's my lawyer,” Tony said.

Small world and all that. I looked at Ben. He shrugged. “Guess I'm everybody's lawyer. Cormac didn't say it was you he'd called.”

Tony glanced at me with a sparkle in his eyes. “Cormac likes his secrets, doesn't he?”

“I'm going to get some coffee.” I went into the house.

I turned around with a fresh mug of coffee for Tony to find him and Ben studying each other. Ben wilted under the scrutiny, bowing his head and slouching, and I suppressed an urge to jump between them in an effort to protect him.

Tony said, “When did that happen?”

That. The lycanthropy. Tony could tell just by looking.

“Couple weeks ago, 1 guess. 1 was out on a job with Cormac.”

“I'm sorry. That's rough.” He pointed at me. “So you didn't—you're not the one who turned him, are you?”

“Do you think Cormac would have let me live if I'd done it?”

An uncomfortable silence fell. Tony took the mug I offered him, but didn't drink.

Tony wasn't here about werewolves, or about Ben. Cormac had called him here for the curse.

“Cormac thought you might know something about what's been going on. He thought it was some kind of curse.”

“Yeah, he told me some of it. You still have any of the stuff? The crosses or the animals?”

I shook my head and tried not to feel guilty about getting rid of the bag of crosses.

He said, “That's too bad. I might have been able to lead you right to whoever's doing this.”

“Yeah, well you try living with a dozen skinned dogs hanging outside your house.”

“Fair enough. You know anything about who might be doing this?”

“We decided it has to be someone local, since they seem to want me to get out. Cormac thinks whoever it is doesn't know what they're doing. It's been pretty messy, and it isn't working.” In a low, grumbly voice I added, “Much.”