Kitty Takes a Holiday (Kitty Norville #3) - Page 8

“What happened?” Cormac said.

Ben was breathing, soft, quick breaths, and his heart still raced. I smoothed away the damp hair sticking to his forehead, turned his face toward me again. He didn't react to my touch.

“He passed out,” I said, sighing.

Slowly, Cormac let up his grip on Ben's legs and sat back on the edge of the bed. Ben didn't move, didn't flinch. He looked sick, wrung out, too pale against the gray comforter, his hair damp and his shirt bloody. I was used to seeing him focused, driven, self-possessed. Not like this at all. I was always the one calling him for help.

How the hell had this happened?

I didn't ask Cormac that, not yet. The bounty hunter looked shell-shocked, his face slack, staring at Ben's prone form. He pressed his hands flat on his thighs. My God, were they shaking?

I unbuttoned Ben's shirt and wrangled it off him, carefully peeling the fabric away where the blood had dried, pasting it to his skin. The adrenaline was fading, leaving my limbs weak as tissue paper. My voice cracked when I said, “What was he saying? About you killing him? Cormac?”

Cormac spoke softly, in a strange, emotionless monotone. “We made a deal. When we were kids. It was stupid, the only reason we did it is because it was the kind of thing that would never happen. If either of us got bitten, got infected, the other was supposed to kill him. The thing is—” Cormac laughed, a harsh chuckle. “1 knew if it happened to me Ben would never be able to go through with it. I wasn't worried, because I knew I could shoot myself just fine. But Ben—it was for him. Because he wouldn't have the guts to shoot himself, either. If it happened to him, I was supposed to take care of it. I'm the tough one. I'm the shooter. But I couldn't do it. I had my rifle right up against his skull and I couldn't do it. By that time he was screaming his head off and 1 had to knock him out to get him to stay in the Jeep.”

I could picture it, too, Cormac's finger on the trigger, tensing, tensing again, then him turning away, a snarl on his lips. He was grimacing now.

Even at a whisper, my voice was shaking. “I'm glad you didn't shoot him.”

“He's not.”

“He will be.”

“I brought him to you because 1 thought,

you're a werewolf and you get along all right, and if he could be like you—he'd be okay. Maybe he'd be okay.”

“He'll be okay, Cormac.”

With his shirt off, Ben looked even more pale, more vulnerable. Half his arm was chewed up and scabbed over. His chest moved too rapidly, with short, gasping breaths.

“We should clean this up,” I said. “He'll be out of it for a while. Maybe a couple of days.”

“How do you know?” Cormac said.

“Because that's how it was with me. I was sick for days. Cormac…” I stood and moved next to him, reaching out, tentative because he looked like he might break, explode, or tear the room apart. He was the same kind of tense as a cat about to spring on a mouse. He still had the handgun in his belt holster. I had to make him look away from Ben. I touched his shoulder. When he didn't jump, flinch, or punch me, I lay my hand on his shoulder and squeezed.

He put his hand over mine, squeezed back, then stood and left the room, disappearing into the front of the house. I didn't hear the front door open, so he didn't leave. I didn't have time to worry about him right now.

Armed with a soaked washcloth and dry towel, I cleaned up the blood. The wounds, the bite marks and tears in his skin, had all closed over. They looked like week-old scabs, dried and ringed with pink. His skin was slick with sweat; 1 dried him off as well as I could. Within half an hour, Ben's breathing slowed, and he seemed to slip into a normal sleep. If he'd been in shock, the shock had faded. Nothing looked infected. The lycanthropy wouldn't let him sicken. It wouldn't let him die, at least not from a few bites.

I took off his shoes and covered him with a spare blanket. Smoothed his hair back one more time. For now, he was settled.

I found Cormac in the kitchen, leaning on the counter and staring out the window over the sink. The sun had risen since we'd brought Ben inside. The outline of the trees showed clear against a pale sky. I didn't think Cormac was really looking at any of that.

I started setting up the coffeemaker, being louder than I needed to be.

The strangeness was too much. Cormac gave me this image of him and Ben as kids, talking about werewolves— that wasn't exactly a kid thing to do. At least, not for real. Not meaning it.

I'd always suspected Cormac was edging psychotic, but Ben was the levelheaded one, the lawyer. I'd always wondered how he took this world—lycanthropes, vampires, this B-grade horror film life I lived—in such stride, not even blinking. I'd been grateful for it, but 1 wondered. How long had he been living in it? Him and Cormac both?

I didn't know a damn thing about either of them.

I pushed the button, the light lit up, and the coffee-maker started burbling happily. I leaned back on the counter, watching Cormac, who hadn't moved. A minute later, the smell of fresh coffee hit with a jolt.

“Are you hungry?” I said finally. “I have some cereal, I think. A couple of eggs, bacon.”

“No.”

“Have you gotten any sleep?”

He shook his head.

“You think maybe you should?”

Again, he shook his head. Too bad. My day would be a lot easier if he'd just collapse on the sofa and sleep for the next twelve hours.

The coffee finished brewing. I poured two mugs and set one on the counter next to him. I held mine in both hands, feeling the warmth from it, not drinking. My stomach hurt too much to drink anything.

I had to say something. “How did it happen? How did you let him get—how did he get in a position to be bitten by a werewolf?”

He turned away from the window, crossed his arms, stared across the kitchen. I got my first good look at him since he arrived. He looked gaunt, caved in and exhausted, with shadows under his eyes. He hadn't shaved in days and was developing a beard to go along with his mustache. Dried blood flaked off his hands and spotted his shirt. He smelled of dirt, sweat, and blood. He needed a shower, though somehow I doubted that I could talk him into it.

“There were two of them,” he said. “I knew there were two of them. That's why I called Ben, so he could watch my back. But the whole thing was messed up, right from the start. They were killing flocks of sheep, but nobody ever heard anything. I saw a whole field covered with dead sheep, all of them torn to pieces, and the herders sitting in their trailer a hundred feet away didn't hear a thing. Their dogs didn't hear a thing.”