Kitty Takes a Holiday (Kitty Norville #3) - Page 65

Screaming a cry of pain and frustration, he struggled, his whole body bucking and writhing. I couldn't hold him. I almost did, but then his arm came free and he swiped. He struck, and wolf claws slashed my face. I gasped, more at the shock of it than the pain.

He broke away. In the same movement, the rest of the shift happened, his back arcing, fur rippling across his skin, thick hind legs kicking off his trousers.

“Ben!” My own scream edged into a growl.

This was only his second time as a wolf. He stood, and his legs trembled. He shook himself, as if the fur didn't sit quite right on his body. He looked back at me, and his body slumped, his tail clamping tight between his legs, his ears lying flat. A display of submission. I held the side of my face, which was slick with blood. His slap had cut deep. His wolf was sorry.

I was frozen. Wolf wanted to leap at him. His struggle called her out, and she wanted to run. Keep our pack together. But I was so angry. Anger burned through every nerve and radiated out. She was the alpha and she wanted to prove it.

He ran. The wolf knew better than to stick around to see what I'd do next, so he leapt around and ran, body stretched out, legs working hard.

I sighed, the anger draining out of me. I ought to just let him go. Except that I couldn't. Had to keep him out of trouble.

I wiped blood off my face, wiped my hands on my sweats, and ran after him.

Chapter 16

I could run faster and for longer than someone who wasn't a lycanthrope. But I couldn't hope to keep up with a lycanthrope in wolf form. I could only track him, hope he knew I was following, and that maybe he would think about slowing down. Fortunately, his instincts led him true: away from town, into the open desert.

The night was clear, the air crisp, but the moon was absent. The world was dark. Let me go, let me come out, I can see better in the dark.

No.

I smelled prey here—jackrabbits, quail. Ben had smelled it, too, and it slowed him down. I spotted him ahead, trotting now, his head low, his mouth open, and his tongue hanging.

He must have been tired. Afraid. His movements weren't assured. A wolf's trot should have been graceful, swinging, able to cover miles without effort. His feet were dragging, his tail hung low. He wasn't used to this—lucky for me.

“Ben!”

He

froze, lifted his head, his ears pricked forward. Then he turned and ran again.

I leaned on my knees, gathered my breath, and set off after him.

We must have gone on like that for half the night. He wasn't going toward anything. If I hadn't been chasing him, he might have stopped to try to hunt—I seriously doubted his ability to catch anything in his current state. But he was just running away, and I just followed. My face bled for a long time; I kept wiping the blood away and didn't think of it. I only noticed that I hadn't touched my face in a while when it started itching—scabs had formed and the healing had started. 1 could only concentrate on my lungs working overtime.

I'd lost sight of him, but his scent—musk and fear— blazed a trail. As long as I kept breathing, I could find him.

He came into view again when he slowed to a walk. 1 stopped following him then. Instead, I cut over obliquely from his trail. Like I'd stopped paying attention. Like I was circling back. I made a wide loop, and watched him out of the corner of my eye.

As I'd hoped, my change in behavior caught his attention. Now, I just had to tell him I was a friend. I almost wish I'd Changed so I'd have the throat to vocalize it. But I did what I could. I moved slowly, relaxed as much as I could manage, my gaze down and limbs loose. Just out for a stroll.

He watched, ears forward, interested. I kept walking, not moving toward him, not doing anything threatening. He should have been able to smell me—I should have smelled familiar, safe. Come home, Ben. Please.

He started trotting, taking a path that was parallel to mine. I walked a few more steps, then crouched and watched him. He circled me, not looking at me, swinging along, pretending I wasn't there. But his circles grew smaller, and he came closer. 1 didn't move, not even to watch him over my back.

Then, he stopped. He was off to my right. We stared at each other. This wasn't a challenge. Both his head and his tail drooped. Our hackles were down. I made a conscious effort to keep my arms and shoulders relaxed. We were asking each other: Well? What's next?

He gave the smallest, tiniest whine. A lost and tired breath wheezing through his throat. I stepped forward, crawling on all fours, and I wished I had a tail to hold out to tell him it was okay, that I'd take care of him. “It's okay, Ben. It's

going to be okay.” I'd been telling him that for two weeks now. I didn't know why he should believe me now.

He reached forward, stretching his body low, and licked my chin. I let him, closing my eyes and touching his shoulder. His fur was hot, his ribs still heaving with the effort of his run. I pressed my face to his neck and breathed deep. He leaned into me, whining softly with each breath.

I just kept saying, It's okay.

The wolf lay down, curling up next to me right there in the dirt—I was going to have to teach him how to find a safe place to bed down. But I supposed he figured that settling in next to me was safe enough. He fell asleep quickly. He dreamed, his breaths whining, his legs kicking out a couple of times. Chasing rabbits. Still running.

I'd taken it upon myself to look after him. To take care of him. So I did, staying awake while billions of stars arced overhead, against a velvet-black sky. More black and more stars than I'd ever seen, with no city lights to wash them out. All the cliches you could think of about the humbling vastness of the universe, the awe-inspiring sweep of sky and stars, seemed true now. The two of us might have been alone in the world.

The night was freezing cold, but I had a warm bundle of fur lounging against me and didn't mind so much. I buried my hands in his coat and watched the stars. Enjoyed the moment of peace, and hoped it would extend past this night.

I hummed to pass the time, something slow and classical. Slowly, Ben shifted back to human. This was almost gentle compared to the shift in the other direction. There, the wolf tore out of its human skin. But this, the wolf seemed to slip away, fading, limbs growing, hair thinning until only skin showed. By then, dawn had come, the sky growing pale. A bird sang, a series of high, watery notes— an incongruous beauty in the middle of the cold desert-Even in this desolate place, something lived and thrived.

Ben's skin looked gray, stonelike in the early light. Sitting close to him, I kept my hand on his shoulder, sheltering him. I sensed the moment he awoke; his arm twitched. He snuggled, pillowing his head more comfortably into my lap, which made me smile. I played with a strand of his hair, brushing it back from his forehead. He was awfully cute like this.