Kitty Takes a Holiday (Kitty Norville #3) - Page 64

“Ben?”

He turned his head, glancing at me over his arm. He was sweating, despite the cool air. He was so tense he was shivering. I was afraid if I touched him, he'd jump out of his skin. “This place is getting to me. I hate it. I completely fucking hate it.”

Sort of like I hated a certain hiking trail where I'd gotten stranded one full moon night, some four and a half years ago.

“Ben, keep it together.”

“Will you stop telling me that? It's not helping.”

Anything I said now would just be patronizing. “I know it's hard. It'll get easier. It gets easier.”

“I don't believe you.”

“Look at me. If I can hang on this long, so can you.”

He straightened, left the car, and started pacing. Pacing was a wolf thing, a nervous thing, the movement of an animal trapped in a cage. I wanted to grab him, to make him stop.

He said, “No. I don't think so. You're stronger than me.”

“How can you say that?” I almost laughed.

“Because you are. You're the one knocking on doors, you're the one keeping me moving. Me—I can't get my hands to stop shaking. I can't get my head on straight. If it weren't for you I'd have shot myself by now. Cormac wouldn't have had to do it.”

He hadn't broken yet. I was so proud of him because he'd made it through one full moon and hadn't broken. But he still could. Years from now, he still might.

I said, “You didn't see me after I was attacked. I was the same way you are now.”

Looking out across the desert, away from me, he said, “You deserve better than to get stuck with a guy like me.” He spoke so softly I almost didn't hear him.

Pain filled the words. A gut-wrenching, heart-stabbing kind of pain. Like his heart was breaking. We were pack; his pain became my pain. I thought I knew what caused it: he wanted us to stay together, and he didn't think we could. Didn't trust that I would stay with him.

I had to make a joke—I wanted to keep things light. To not face what was happening. I couldn't even articulate what was happening, it was all gut. Gut and heart. If I didn't make a joke, I'd burst into tears.

My voice

caught. “Are you sure it isn't more like you deserve better than to get stuck with a girl like me?”

“You could have anyone you want,” he said. He turned back to me. At least he looked at me.

I didn't feel like a good catch. 1 didn't feel like I had that much power. “Yeah, that's why I've been way single since before I got out of college.”

“You're still young. Plenty of time.”

“You're not exactly falling into your grave.”

“Feels like it some days. After thirty you start looking back and realizing you haven't done a damn thing with yourself.”

I wanted to tell him that he was worth the world. That he shouldn't have any regrets. But I'd really only known him for a year. I was only beginning to understand the baggage he carried.

Before I could say another word, he was walking to the door of the motel, leaving me behind.

Ben worked into the night, sitting at the room's tiny table, staring into his laptop, typing in notes, shuffling through papers, writing on them. His work spread out to the foot of the bed. I lay under the covers, trying not to disturb him. Not even pretending to sleep. I let him work instead of trying to get him to come to bed, like I wanted. I wanted to jump him and make him relax. I wanted him to forget about work, at least for a little while. I wanted him to believe he was worthwhile.

I flipped through some of the pages that had fallen within my reach. One of them was the coroner's photograph of Miriam's body. I studied it, trying to figure out who she had been. What had been going on in her mind, what had made her think that killing her sister and becoming a shape-shifter was a good idea. What had she been like as a girl. I tried to imagine the four siblings in better days: three sisters and a brother kicking a ball or playing tag in the dusty yard of that house we'd been to. I tried to imagine a young Louise before she'd become so frightened and desperate, laughing with a young Miriam who wasn't dead. Little girls in black pigtails. I could imagine it—but what I couldn't imagine was what had brought them to where they were today.

What brought any of us to where we ended up?

Ben sat back and blew out a heavy sigh. His hair was sticking out from him running his hands through it over and

over again. His shirt was open, his sleeves rolled up, and the job didn't seem to be getting any easier.

He left the table and stalked across the room. At first I thought he was heading to the bathroom. But he went to the door.

I sat up. “Ben?”

The door opened and he left the room.

I lunged out of bed, yanked on a pair of sweatpants, and shoved on my sneakers.

“Ben!” 1 called down the hall at him.

He didn't turn around, so I followed him. He'd already disappeared outside. I trailed him to the parking lot in time to see him take off his shirt and drop it behind him. He continued past the parking lot, through a trashed vacant lot to the desert beyond.

He was going to Change. His wolf had taken over.

We were too close to town. I couldn't let this happen.

“Ben!” I ran.

He was so focused on the path before him, on what was happening inside him, he didn't see me pounding up behind him. He wasn't in tune with those instincts yet, the sounds and smells, the way they bend the air around you and tell you something's wrong.

I tackled him.

I wasn't sure I could take him in a fight. He was stronger than I, but he hadn't had much practice. I half hoped he'd panic and freeze up. I jumped, aimed at the top half of his back, and knocked him over.

Probably wasn't the smartest way I could have handled that.

On the ground now, I sat on top of him, pinning him down, and tried to talk reason. I didn't get a word out before he growled at me—a real, deep-lunged, wolfish growl, teeth bared. His bones slipped under his skin—he was shifting.

“Ben, please don't do this. Listen to me, listen to me—”

Had to keep him on the ground. This had turned into a wolf thing, and this was how the Wolf would handle it. Keep him on the ground, keep on top of him, show him who's in charge.

I much preferred talking things out with the human Ben. The real Ben. But I couldn't argue that this was Ben—him with all the frustrations of the last couple of weeks coming to the fore, finally gaining expression and taking over. Deep down I couldn't blame him.