Kitty Takes a Holiday (Kitty Norville #3) - Page 43

“The wolf,” Cormac said. “It's not changing back.”

When a werewolf died in its wolf form, the body shifted back to human—returned to its original state. Cormac had put at least three bullets in it, and I knew he used silver. The thing lay in a widening pool of blood. It had to be dead. It even looked dead, a pile of dull fur rather than a glowing, rippling creature.

But it wasn't changing back. It had never smelled like a werewolf.

I crept forward. Wrong, this was all wrong, and my flesh crawled. I wanted to go inside and lock the door. But 1 had to know.

Cormac said, “Kitty, don't—”

i touched its neck. It felt cold and strangely pliant under my touch. Its chest was shattered, multiple flowering wounds on its back bleeding into one another. Cormac's bullets had found their marks. I ran my hand down its flank.

Fur. It was only fur.

I lifted back the head, and the fur and skin came off. Lifted right off, like it was a cloak. I pulled it all the way back and moved it aside. It was a tanned wolf hide, that was all.

A young woman lay before me, naked, sprawled on her side, exit wounds ripped in her chest. Her sleek black hair was long, tangled around her, matted with blood. Despite being marred by blood and destroyed flesh, her body seemed young, lean, and powerful.

“What the hell,” Ben murmured, on behalf of us all, it seemed.

“Dios,” Tony said.

He was on the other side of the clearing, with Marks, Joe, and Alice. They'd grabbed her before she'd gone too far. Joe held her around the middle, supporting her, because she seemed about to fall to her knees. Marks had had time to retrieve his handgun from his car, and he stood over them protectively.

Tony moved toward us, in something of an astonished daze. When he reached the body, he knelt, put out his hand, and seemed about to touch the woman's hair. Instead, he drew back and crossed himself.

“Dios,” he said again. “I've heard of this but never thought to see it in my life.”

“She's not a lycanthrope,” I said.

“No. She's a skinwalker.”

I'd read the stories, but wasn't sure I'd believed them. Everything started out as just stories.

Even seeing the evidence lying before me, I didn't want to believe.

Then, as if belatedly responding to Tony's near-touch, she moved. Her head tilted a little, her lips pressed like she wanted to speak, and her eyes shifted under closed lids. Something in her still lived—something inside that ruined chest survived.

“Oh my God, she's not—” I only started to say it.

Cormac's rifle fired again, exploding close by like a crack of thunder in my ears.

At almost the same instant, the woman's face disappeared.

Instinctively, my arm went up to cover my face. I fell back, but not quickly enough to avoid the spray of blood and bits that fanned out from her head and over my jeans, my arm—everywhere. Across from me Tony sprawled away from her in much the same way, arm protecting his face, spatters of blood on his clothing. 1 looked back at the woman under the wolf skin. Half her head, where Cormac's bullet hit, was now a jagged, pulped mess.

Nothing moved now, except blood dripping from the wound.

Cormac looked down at her over his rifle, finger tight on the trigger, like he still expected her to leap up and attack. He was ready for her to move again. I couldn't tell what appalled and frightened me more: his lack of hesitation in finishing her off, or the lack of emotion in his eyes over doing it.

I gagged, pressed my face against my arm, and managed to not throw up.

Marks aimed his gun at Cormac and approached him warningly.

Cormac's finger remained on the trigger of his rifle. He could shoot back in a fraction of a second. Marks had to know that. He had to know better than to start a shoot-out with the hunter. But for some reason it wouldn't have surprised me if he did anyway.

“Would both of you put your guns down!” 1 shouted. My ears still rang from the shot. Everything sounded muffled.

Cormac did, slowly. Marks didn't. But he did relax enough to glance away from Cormac and to the woman's body.

The sheriff said, “Who is she?”

“How should I know?” Cormac answered roughly.

Ben said, “You might check missing person reports out of Shiprock.” He'd taken my hand again, and I leaned into him.

“But you knew she was going to be here,”

Marks said to the bounty hunter.

“I've been tracking it, yeah.”

Marks said, “I'm going to have to arrest you. A formality, you understand.” But the look on his face said, Got you. He wore a thin smile-Surely that was a joke. Cormac had saved my life. Then he'd… I didn't want to think about that. The look on his face, the woman's head vanishing in a spray of blood. But Marks didn't like either one of us. He didn't care about me—he had a dead woman and her killer standing there with the gun still smoking.

Cormac leveled that cold stare, unreadable and unsettling, at the sheriff. Beside me, Ben tensed. He didn't know what Cormac was going to do, either. The bounty hunter was going to spook Marks at this rate. Cormac was like some kind of animal himself, and Marks wasn't going to wait around to let him pounce.

Cormac put his left hand around the barrel of the rifle and dropped the gun to his side. “I kind of expected that.”

Now, Marks approached him without hesitation. Still with his gun up and ready. 1 wanted to smack the guy. The sheriff held out his hand; Cormac handed him the rifle.

Marks holstered his handgun, tucked Cormac's rifle under his arm, and pulled out the handcuffs. Cormac handled it like he'd done this before.

“Don't talk until I get there,” Ben said.

“Yeah, 1 know the drill.” Handcuffed now, he went with Marks to his patrol car without argument.

“Joe, Alice, watch the body. Don't let anyone touch anything until the coroner gets here. Nobody leave until I get your statements,” Marks said. The two were clinging to each other. Quick glances told that they'd heard him, but they didn't move.

I felt like I'd landed in a bad episode of some prime-time police show. Dead body, unlikely circumstances, too much drama.

“You want to go inside and get cleaned up?” Ben said.

I supposed I ought to. I felt like I'd been through a shredder. “Yeah. Should you go with Cormac?”

He looked after the pair, uncertain, his lips pressed together. “As soon as you're okay.”