The doorbell rang.
That was the problem with her business. Too many people thought they could approach her at any time. Even oh-dark thirty, even though her hours were posted clearly on her door and on her Web site.
Of course, answering the door would be something to do other than sit in her study shivering in the dark. Not that her world was ever anything but dark. It was one of the reasons she hated bad dreams—she had no way of turning on the light. Bad dreams that held warnings of things to come were the worst.
The doorbell rang again.
She slept—or tried to sleep—the same hours as most people. Kept steady business hours, too. Something she had no trouble making clear to those morons who woke her up in the middle of the night. They came to see Glinda the Good Witch, but after midnight, they found the Wicked Witch of the West and left quaking in fear of flying monkeys.
Whoever waited at the door would have no reason to suspect how grateful she was for the interruption of her thoughts.
The doorbell began a steady throbbing beat, ring-long, ring-short, ring-short, ring-long, and she grew a lot less grateful. To heck with flying monkeys, she was going to turn whoever it was into a frog. She shoved her concealing glasses on her face and stomped out the hall to her front door. No matter that most of the good transmutation spells had been lost with the Coranda family in the seventeenth century—rude people needed to be turned into frogs. Or pigs.
She jerked open the door and slapped the offending hand on her doorbell. She even got out a "Stop that!" before the force of his spirit hit her like a physical blow. Her nose told her, belatedly, that he was sweaty as if he'd been jogging. Her other senses told her that he was something other.
Not that she'd expected him to be human. Unlike other witches, she didn't advertise, and thus seldom had mundane customers unless their needs disturbed her sleep and she set out one of her "find me" spells to speak to them—she knew when they were coming.
"Ms. Keller," he growled. "I need to speak to you." At least he'd quit ringing the bell.
She let her left eyebrow slide up her forehead until it would be visible above her glasses. "Polite people come between the hours of eight in the morning and seven at night," she informed him. Werewolf, she decided. If he really lost his temper, she might have trouble, but she thought he was desperate, not angry—though with a wolf, the two states could be interchanged with remarkable speed. "Rude people get sent on their way."
"Tomorrow morning might be too late," he said—and then added the bit that kept her from slamming the door in his face: "Alan Choo gave me your address, said you were the only one he knew with enough moxie to defy them."
She should shut the door in his face—not even a werewolf could get through her portal if she didn't want him to. But… them. Her dream tonight and for the past weeks had been about them, about him again. Portents, her instincts had told her, not just nightmares. The time had come at last. No. She wasn't grateful to him at all.
"Did Alan tell you to say it in those words?"
"Yes, ma'am." His temper was still there, but restrained and under control. It hadn't been aimed at her anyway, she thought, only fury born of frustration and fear. She knew how that felt.
She centered herself and asked the questions he'd expect. "Who am I supposed to be defying?"
And he gave her the answer she expected in return. "Something called Samhain's Coven."
Moira took a tighter hold on the door. "I see."
It wasn't really a coven. No matter what the popular literature said, it had been a long time since a real coven had been possible. Covens had thirteen members, no member related to any other to the sixth generation. Each family amassed its own specialty spells, and a coven of thirteen benefited from all those differing magics. But after most of the witchblood families had been wiped out by fighting amongst themselves, covens became a thing of the past. What few families remained (and there weren't thirteen, not if you didn't count the Russians or the Chinese, who kept to their own ways) had a bone-deep antipathy for the other survivors.
Kouros changed the rules to suit the new times. His coven had between ten and thirteen members… He had a distressing tendency to burn out his followers. The current bunch descended from only three families that she knew of, and most of them weren't properly trained—children following their leader.
Samhain wasn't up to the tricks of the old covens, but they were scary enough even the local vampires walked softly around them, and Seattle, with its overcast skies, had a relatively large seethe of vampires. Samhain's master had approached Moira about joining them when she was thirteen. She'd refused and made her refusal stick at some cost to all the parties involved.
"What does Samhain have to do with a werewolf?" she asked.
"I think they have my brother."
"Another werewolf?" It wasn't unheard of for brothers to be werewolves, especially since the Marrok, He-Who-Ruled-the-Wolves, began Changing people with more care than had been the usual custom. But it wasn't at all common either. Surviving the Change—even with the safeguards the Marrok could manage—was still, she understood, nowhere near a certainty.
"No." He took a deep breath. "Not a werewolf. Human. He has the sight. Choo says he thinks that's why they took him."
"Your brother is a witch?"
The fabric of his shirt rustled with his shrug, telling her that he wasn't as tall as he felt to her. Only a little above average instead of a seven-foot giant. Good to know.
"I don't know enough about witches to know," he said. "Jon gets hunches. Takes a walk just at the right time to find five dollars someone dropped, picks the right lottery number to win ten bucks. That kind of thing. Nothing big, nothing anyone would have noticed if my grandma hadn't had it stronger."
The sight was one of those general terms that told Moira precisely nothing. It could mean anything from a little fae blood in the family tree or full-blown witchblood. His brother's lack of power wouldn't mean he wasn't a witch—the magic sang weaker in the men. But fae or witchblood, Alan Choo had been right about it being something that would attract Samhain's attention. She rubbed her cheekbone even though she knew the ache was a phantom pain touch wouldn't alter.
Samhain. Did she have a choice? In her dreams, she died.
She could feel the intensity of the wolfs regard, strengthening as her silence continued. Then he told her the final straw that broke her resistance. "Jon's a cop—undercover—so I doubt your coven knows it. If his body turns up, though, there will be an investigation. I'll see to it that the witchcraft angle gets explored thoroughly. They might listen to a werewolf who tells them that witches might be a little more than turbaned fortune-tellers."
Blackmail galled him, she could tell—but he wasn't bluffing. He must love his brother.
She had only a touch of empathy, and it came and went. It seemed to be pretty focused on this werewolf tonight, though.
If she didn't help him, his brother would die at Samhain's hands, and his blood would be on her as well. If it cost her death, as her dreams warned her, perhaps that was justice served.
"Come in," Moira said, hearing the grudge in her voice.
He'd think it was her reaction to the threat—and the police poking about the coven would end badly for all concerned.
But it wasn't his threat that moved her. She took care of the people in her neighborhood; that was her job. The police she saw as brothers-in-arms. If she could help one, it was her duty to do so. Even if it meant her life for his.
"You'll have to wait until I get my coffee," she told him, and her mother's ghost forced the next bit of politeness out of her. "Would you like a cup?"
"No. There's no time."
He said that as if he had some idea about it—maybe the sight hadn't passed him by either.
"We have until tomorrow night if Samhain has him." She turned on her heel and left him to follow her or not, saying over her shoulder, "Unless they took him because he saw something. In which case, he probably is already dead. Either way, there's time for coffee."
He closed the door with deliberate softness and followed her. "Tomorrow's Halloween. Samhain."
"Kouros isn't Wiccan, any more than he is Greek, but he apes both for his followers," she told him as she continued deeper into her apartment. She remembered to turn on the hall light—not that he'd need it, being a wolf. It just seemed courteous: allies should show each other courtesy. "Like a magician playing sleight of hand, he pulls upon myth, religion, and anything else he can to keep them in thrall. Samhain—the time, not the coven—has power for the fae, for Wicca, for witches. Kouros uses it to cement his own, and killing someone with a bit of power generates more strength than killing a stray dog—and bothers him about as much."
"Kouros?" He said it as if it solved some puzzle, but it must not have been important, because he continued with no more than a breath of pause. "I thought witches were all women." He followed her into the kitchen and stood too close behind her. If he were to attack, she wouldn't have time to ready a spell.
But he wouldn't attack; her death wouldn't come at his hands tonight.
The kitchen lights were where she remembered them, and she had to take it on faith that she was turning them on and not off. She could never remember which way the switch worked. He didn't say anything, so she must have been right.
She always left her coffeepot primed for mornings, so all she had to do was push the button and it began gurgling in promise of coffee soon.
"Um," she said, remembering he'd asked her a question. His closeness distracted her—and not for the reasons it should. "Women tend to be more powerful witches, but you can make up for lack of talent with enough death and pain. Someone else's, of course, if you're a black practitioner like Kouros."
"What are you?" he asked, sniffing at her. His breath tickled the back of her neck—wolves, she'd noticed before, had a somewhat different idea of personal space than she did.
Her machine began dribbling coffee out into the carafe at last, giving her an excuse to step away. "Didn't Alan tell you? I'm a witch."
He followed; his nose touched her where his breath had sensitized her flesh, and she probably had goose bumps on her toes from the zing he sent through her. "My pack has a witch we pay to clean up messes. You don't smell like a witch."
He probably didn't mean anything by it; he was just being a wolf. She stepped out of his reach in the pretense of getting a coffee cup, or rather he allowed her to escape.
Alan was right: She needed to get out more. She hadn't so much as dated in… well, a long time. The last man's reaction to seeing what she'd done to herself was something she didn't want to repeat.
This man smelled good, even with the scent of his sweat teasing her nose. He felt strong and warm, promising to be the strength and safety she'd never had outside of her own two hands. Dominant wolves took care of their pack—doubtless something she'd picked up on. And then there was the possibility of death hovering over her.
Whatever the ultimate cause, his nearness and the light touch of breath on her skin sparked her interest in a way she knew he'd have picked up on. You can't hide sexual interest from something that can trail a hummingbird on the wing. Neither of them needed the complication of sex interfering in urgent business, even assuming he'd be willing.
"Witchcraft gains power from death and pain. From sacrifice and sacrificing," she told him coolly, pouring coffee in two mugs with steady hands. She was an expert in sacrifice. Not sleeping with a strange werewolf who showed up on her doorstep didn't even register in her scale.
She drank coffee black, so that was how she fixed it, holding the second cup out to him. "Evil leaves a psychic stench behind. Maybe a wolf nose can pick up on it. I don't know, not being a werewolf, myself. There's milk in the fridge and sugar in the cupboard in front of you if you'd like."
She wasn't at all what Tom had expected. Their pack's hired witch was a motherly woman of indeterminate years who wore swami robes in bright hues and smelled strongly of patchouli and old blood that didn't quite mask something bitter and dark. When he'd played Jon's message for her, she'd hung up the phone and refused to answer it again.
By the time he'd driven to her house, it was shut up and locked with no one inside. That was his first clue that this Samhain's Coven might be even more of a problem than he'd thought, and his worry had risen to fever pitch. He'd gone down to the underpass where his brother had been living and used his nose through the parks and other places his brother drifted through. But wherever they were holding Jon (and he refused to believe Jon was dead), it wasn't anywhere near where they kidnaped him.
His Alpha didn't like pack members concerning themselves with matters outside of the pack ("Your only family is your pack, son"). Tom didn't even bother contacting him. He'd gone to Choo instead. The Emerald City Pack's only submissive wolf, Alan worked as an herbalist and knew almost everyone in the supernatural world of Seattle. When he told Alan about the message Jon had left on his phone, Alan had written this woman's name and address and handed it to him. He'd have thought it was a joke, but Alan had better taste than that. So Tom had gone looking for a witch named Wendy—Wendy Moira Keller.
At his first look, he'd been disappointed. Wendy the witch was five foot nothing with rich curves in all the right places and feathery black hair that must have been dyed, because only black Labs and cats are that black. The stupid wraparound mirrored glasses kept him from guessing her age exactly, but he'd bet she wasn't yet thirty. No woman over thirty would be caught dead in those glasses. The cop in him wondered if she was covering up bruises—but he didn't smell a male in the living-scents in the house.
She wore a gray T-shirt without a bra, and black pajama pants with white skull-and-crossbones wearing red bows. But despite all that, he saw no piercings or tattoos—like she'd approached mall Goth culture, but only so far. She smelled of fresh flowers and mint. Her apartment was decorated with a minimum of furniture and a mishmash of colors that didn't quite fit together.
He didn't scare her.
Tom scared everyone—and he had even before their pack had a run-in with a bunch of fae a few years ago. His face had gotten cut up pretty badly with some sort of magical knife and hadn't healed right afterwards. The scars made him look almost as dangerous as he was. People walked warily around him.
Not only wasn't she scared, but she didn't even bother to hide her irritation at being woken up. He stalked her, and all she'd felt was a flash of sexual awareness that came and went so swiftly, he might have missed it if he'd been younger.
Either she was stupid or she was powerful. Since Alan had sent him here, Tom was betting on powerful. He hoped she was powerful.
He didn't want the coffee, but he took it when she handed to him. It was black and stronger that he usually drank it, but it tasted good. "So why don't you smell like other witches?"
"Like Kouros, I'm not Wiccan," she told him, "but 'and it harm none' seems like a good way to live to me."
He knew that Wiccans consider themselves witches—and some of them had enough witchblood to make it so. But witches, the real thing, weren't witches because of what they believed, but because of genetic heritage. A witch was born a witch and studied to become a better one. But for witches, real power came from blood and death—mostly other people's blood and death.
White witches, especially those outside of Wicca (where numbers meant safety), were weak and valuable sacrifices for black witches, who didn't have their scruples. As Wendy the Witch had noted—witches seemed to have a real preference for killing their own.
He sipped at his coffee and asked, "So how have you managed without ending up as bits and pieces in someone else's cauldron?"
The witch snorted a laugh and set her coffee down abruptly. She grabbed a paper towel off its holder and held it to her face as she gasped and choked coffee, looking suddenly a lot less than thirty. When she was finished, she said, "That's awesome. Bits and pieces. I'll have to remember that."
Still grinning, she picked up the coffee again. He wished he could see her eyes, because he was pretty sure that whatever humor she'd felt was only surface deep.
"I tell you what," she said, "why don't you tell me who you are and what you know? That way I can tell you if I can help you or not."
"Fair enough," he said. The coffee was strong, and he could feel it and the four other cups he'd had since midnight settle in his bones with caffeine's untrustworthy gift of nervous energy.
"I'm Tom Franklin and I'm second in the Emerald City Pack." She wasn't surprised by that. She'd known what he was as soon as she opened her door. "My brother Jon is a cop and a damn fine one. He's been on the Seattle PD for nearly twenty years, and for the last six months he's been undercover as a street person. He was sent as part of a drug task force: there's been some nasty garbage out on the street lately, and he's been looking for it."
Wendy Moira Keller leaned back against the cabinets with a sigh. "I'd like to say that no witch would mess with drugs. Not from moral principles, mind you. Witches, for the most part, don't have moral principles. But drugs are too likely to attract unwanted attention. We never have been so deep in secrecy as you wolves like to be, not when witches sometimes crop up in mundane families—we need to be part of society enough that they can find us. Mostly people think we're a bunch of harmless charlatans—trafficking in drugs would change all that for the worse. But the Samhain bunch is powerful enough that no one wants to face them—and Kouros is arrogant and crazy. He likes money, and there is at least one herbalist among his followers who could manufacture some really odd stuff."
He shrugged. "I don't know. I'm interested in finding my brother, not in finding out if witches are selling drugs. It sounded to me like the drugs had nothing to do with my brother's kidnapping. Let me play Jon's call, and you make the determination." He pulled out his cell phone and played the message for her.
It had come from a pay phone. There weren't many of those left, now that cell phones had made it less profitable for the phone companies to keep repairing the damage of vandals. But there was no mistaking the characteristic static and hiss as his brother talked very quietly into the mouthpiece.
Tom had called in favors and found the phone Jon used, but the people who took his brother were impossible to pick out from the scents of the hundreds of people who had been there since the last rain—and his brother's scent stopped right at the pay phone, outside a battered convenience store. Stopped as if they'd teleported him to another planet—or, more prosaically, thrown him in a car.
Jon's voice—smoker-dark, though he'd never touched tobacco or any of its relatives—slid through the apartment: "Look, Tom. My gut told me to call you tonight—and I listen to my gut. I've been hearing something on the street about a freaky group calling themselves Samhain—" He spelled it, to be sure Tom got it right. "Last few days I've had a couple of people following me that might be part of Samhain. No one wants to talk about 'em much. The streets are afraid of these…"
He didn't know if the witch could hear the rest. He'd been a wolf for twenty years and more, so his judgment about what human senses were good for was pretty much gone.
He could hear the girl's sweet voice clearly, though. "Lucky Jon?" she asked. "Lucky Jon, who are you calling? Let's hang it up, now." A pause, then the girl spoke into the phone. "Hello?" Another pause. "It's an answering machine, I think. No worries."
At the same time, a male, probably young, was saying in a rapid, rabid flow of sound, "I feel it… Doncha feel it? I feel it in him. This is the one. He'll do for Kouros." Then there was a soft click as the call ended.
The last fifty times he'd heard the recording, he couldn't make out the last word. But with the information the witch had given him, he understood it just fine this time.
Tom looked at Choo's witch, but he couldn't tell what she thought. Somewhere she'd learned to discipline her emotions, so he could smell only the strong ones—like the flash of desire she'd felt as he sniffed the back of her neck. Even in this situation, it had been enough to raise a thread of interest. Maybe after they got his brother back, they could do something about that interest. In the meantime…
"How much of the last did you hear, Wendy?" he asked.
"Don't call me Wendy," she snapped. "It's Moira. No one called me Wendy except my mom, and she's been dead a long time."
"Fine," he snapped back before he could control himself. He was tired and worried, but he could do better than that. He tightened his control and softened his voice. "Did you hear the guy? The one who said that he felt it in him—meaning my brother, I think. And that he would do for Kouros?"
"No. Or at least not well enough to catch his words. But I know the woman's voice. You're right: It was Samhain." Though he couldn't feel anything from her, her knuckles were white on the coffee cup.
"You need a Finder, and I can't do that anymore. Wait—" She held up a hand before he could say anything. " — I'm not saying I won't help you, just that it could be a lot simpler. Kouros moves all the time. Did you trace the call? It sounded like a pay phone to me."
"I found the phone booth he called from, but I couldn't find anything except that he'd been there." He tapped his nose, then glanced at her dark glasses and said, "I could smell him there and backtrail him, but I couldn't trail him out. They transported him somehow."
"They don't know that he's a cop, or that his brother is a werewolf."
"He doesn't carry ID with him while he's undercover. I don't see how anyone would know I was his brother. Unless he told them, and he wouldn't."
"Good," she said. "They won't expect you. That'll help."
"So do you know a Finder I can go to?"
She shook her head. "Not one who will help you against Samhain. Anyone, anyone who makes a move against them is punished in some rather spectacular ways." He saw her consider sharing one or two of them with him and discard it. She didn't want him scared off. Not that he could be, not with Jon's life at stake. But it was interesting that she hadn't tried.
"If you take me to where they stole him, maybe I can find something they left behind, something to use to find them."
Tom frowned at her. She didn't know his brother, he hadn't mentioned money, and he was getting the feeling that she couldn't care less if he called in the authorities. "So if Samhain is so all-powerful, how come you, a white witch, are willing to buck them?"
"You're a cop, too, aren't you?" She finished her coffee, but if she was waiting for a reaction, she wasn't going to get one. He'd seen the «all-knowing» witch act before. Her lips turned up as she set the empty cup on the counter. "It's not magic. Cops are easy to spot—suspicious is your middle name. Fair enough."
She pulled off her glasses, and he saw that he'd been wrong. He'd been pretty sure she was blind—the other reason women wore wraparound sunglasses at night. And she was. But that wasn't why she wore the sunglasses.
Her left eye was Swamp Thing-green without pupil or white. Her right eye was gone, and it looked as though it had been removed by someone who wasn't too good with a knife. It was horrible—and he'd seen some horrible things.
"Sacrifice is good for power," she said again. "But it works best if you can manage to make the sacrifice your own."
Jesus. She'd done it to herself.
She might not be able to see him, but she read his reaction just fine. She smiled tightly. "There were some extenuating circumstances," she continued. "You aren't going to see witches cutting off their fingers to power their spells—it doesn't work that way. But this worked for me." She tapped the scar tissue around her right eye. "Kouros did the other one first. That's why I'm willing to take them on. I've done it before and survived—and I still owe them a few." She replaced her sunglasses, and he watched her relax as they settled into place.
Tom Franklin hadn't brought a car, and for obvious reasons, she didn't drive. He said the phone was only a couple of miles from her apartment, and neither wanted to wait around for a cab. So they walked. She felt his start of surprise when she tucked her arm in his, but he didn't object. At least he didn't jump away from her and say "ick," like the last person who'd seen what she'd done to herself.
"You'll have to tell me when we come to curbs or if there's something in the way," she told him. "Or you can amuse yourself when I fall on my face. I can find my way around my apartment, but out here I'm at your mercy."
He said, with sober humor, "I imagine watching you trip over a few curbs would be a good way to get you to help Jon. Why don't you get a guide dog?"
"Small apartments aren't a good place for big dogs," she told him. "It's not fair to the dog."
They walked a few blocks in silence, the rain drizzling unhappily down the back of her neck and soaking the bottoms of the jeans she'd put on before they started out. Seattle was living up to its reputation. He guided her as if he'd done it before, unobtrusively but clearly, as if they were waltzing instead of walking down the street. She relaxed and walked faster.
"Wendy." He broke the companionable silence with the voice of One Who Suddenly Comprehends. "It's worse than I thought. I was stuck on Casper the Friendly Ghost and Wendy the Good Little Witch. But Wendy Moira… I bet it's Wendy Moira Angela, isn't it?"
She gave him a mock scowl. "I don't have a kiss for you, and I can't fly—not even with fairy dust. And I hate Peter Pan, the play, and all the movies."
His arm moved, and she could tell he was laughing to himself. "I bet."
"It could be worse, Toto," she told him. "I could belong to the Emerald City Pack."
He laughed out loud at that, a softer sound than she'd expected, given the rough grumble of his voice. "You know, I've never thought of it that way. It seemed logical, Seattle being the Emerald City."
She might have said something, but he suddenly picked up his pace like a hunting dog spotting his prey. She kept her hand tight on his arm and did her best to keep up. He stopped at last. "Here."
She felt his tension, the desire for action of some sort. Hopefully she'd be able to provide him the opportunity. She released his arm and stepped to the side.
"All right," she told him, falling into the comfortable patter she adopted with most of her clients—erasing the odd intimacy that had sprung up between them. "I know the girl on your brother's phone—her name used to be Molly, but I think she goes by something like Spearmint or Peppermint, somethingmint. I'm going to call for things that belong to her—a hair, a cigarette—anything will do. You'll have to do the looking. Whatever it is will glow, but it might be very small, easy to overlook."
"What if I don't see anything?"
"Then they didn't leave anything behind, and I'll figure out something else to try."
She set aside her worries, shedding them like a duck would shed the cool Seattle rain. Closing her senses to the outside world, she reached into her well of power and drew out a bucketful and threw it out in a circle around her as she called to the essence that was Molly. She hadn't done this spell since she could see out of both eyes—but there was no reason she couldn't do it now. Once learned, spells came to her hand like trained spaniels, and this one was no exception.
"What do you see?" she asked. The vibration of power warmed her against the cold fall drizzle that began to fall. There was something here; she could feel it.
"Nothing," his voice told her he'd put a lot of hope into this working.
"There's something," she said, sensations crawling up her arms and over her shoulders. She held out her right hand, her left being otherwise occupied with the workings of her spell. "Touching me might help you see."
Warmth flooded her as his hand touched hers… and she could see the faint traces Molly had left behind. She froze.
She couldn't see anything else. Just bright bits of pink light sparkling from the ground, giving her a little bit of an idea what the landscape looked like. She let go of his hand and the light disappeared, leaving her in darkness again.
"Did you see anything?" she asked, her voice hoarse. The oddity of seeing anything… She craved it too much, and it made her wary because she didn't know how it worked.
He wanted his brother and she wanted to see. Just for a moment. She held her hand out. "Touch me again."
… and the sparkles returned like glitter scattered in front of her. Small bits of skin and hair, too small for what she needed. But there was something…
She followed the glittering trail, and as if it had been hidden, a small wad of something blazed like a bonfire.
"Is there a wall just to our right?" she asked.
"A building and an alley." His voice was tight, but she ignored it. She had other business first.
They'd waited for Tom's brother in the alley. Maybe Jon came to the pay phone here often.
She led Tom to the blaze and bent to pick it up: soft and sticky, gum. Better, she thought, better than she could have hoped. Saliva would make a stronger guide than hair or fingernails could. She released his hand reluctantly.
"What did you find?"
"Molly's gum." She allowed her magic to loosen the last spell and slide back to her, hissing as the power warmed her skin almost to the point of burning. The next spell would be easier, even if it might eventually need more power. Sympathetic magic—which used the connections between like things—was one of those affinities that ran through her father's bloodlines into her.
But before she tried any more magic, she needed to figure out what Tom had done to her spell. How touching him allowed her to see.
She looked unearthly. A violent wind he had not felt, not even when she'd fastened on to his hand with fierce strength, had blown her hair away from her face. The skin on her hands was reddened, as if she held them too close to a fire. He wanted to soothe them—but he firmly intended never to touch her again.
He had no idea what she'd done to him while she held on to him and made his body burn and tremble. He didn't like surprises, and she'd told him that he would have to look, not that she'd use him to see. He especially didn't like it that as long as she was touching him, he hadn't wanted her to let him go.
Witches gather more power from hurting those with magic, she'd said… more or less. People just like him—but it hadn't hurt, not that he'd noticed.
He wasn't afraid of her, not really. Witch or not, she was no match for him. Even in human form, he could break her human-fragile body in mere moments. But if she was using him…
"Why are you helping me?" he asked as he had earlier, but the question seemed more important now. He'd known what she was, but witch meant something different to him now. He knew enough about witches not to ask the obvious question, though—like what it was she'd done to him. Witches, in his experience, were secretive about their spells—like junkyard dogs are secretive about their bones.
She'd taken something from him by using him that way… broken the trust he'd felt building between them. He needed to reestablish what he could expect out of her. Needed to know exactly what she was getting him into, beyond rescuing his brother. Witches were not altruistic. "What do you want out of this? Revenge for your blindness?"
She watched him… appeared to watch him, anyway, as she considered his question. There hadn't been many people who could lie to Tom before he Changed—cops learn all about lying the first year on the job. Afterwards… he could smell a lie a mile away an hour before it was spoken.
"Andy Choo sent you," she said finally. "That's one. Your brother's a policeman, and an investigation into his death might be awkward. That's two. He takes risks to help people he doesn't know—it's only right someone return the favor. That's three."
They weren't lies, but they weren't everything either. Her face was very still, as if the magic she worked had changed her view of him, too.
Then she tilted her head sideways and said in a totally different voice, hesitant and raw. "Sins of the fathers."
Here was absolute truth. Obscure as hell, but truth. "Sins of the fathers?"
"Kouros's real name is Lin Keller, though he hasn't used it in twenty years or more."
"He's your father." And then he added two and two. "Your father is running Samhain's Coven?" Her father had ruined her eye and—Tom could read between the lines—caused her to ruin the other? Her own father?
She drew in a deep breath—and for a moment he was afraid she was going to cry or something. But a stray gust of air brought the scent of her to him, and he realized she was angry. It tasted like a werewolf's rage, wild and biting.
"I am not a part of it," she said, her voice a half octave lower than it had been. "I'm not bringing you to his lair so he can dine upon werewolf, too. I am here because some jerk made me feel sorry for him. I am here because I want both him and his brother out of my hair and safely out of the hands of my rat-bastard father so I won't have their deaths on my conscience, too."
Someone else might have been scared of her, she being a witch and all. Tom wanted to apologize—and he couldn't remember the last time that impulse had touched him. It was even more amazing because he wasn't at fault: she'd misunderstood him. Maybe she'd picked up on how appalled he was that her own father had maimed her—he hadn't been implying she was one of them.
He didn't apologize, though, or explain himself. People said things when they were mad that they wouldn't tell you otherwise.
"What was it you did to me?"
"Did to you?" Arctic ice might be warmer.
"When you were looking for the gum. It felt like you hit me with a bolt of lightning." He was damned if he'd tell her everything he felt.
Her right eyebrow peeked out above her sunglasses. Interest replaced coldness. "You felt like I was doing something to you?" And then she held out her left hand. "Take my hand."
He looked at it.
After a moment, she smiled. He didn't know she had a smile like that in her. Bright and cheerful and sudden. Knowing. As if she had gained every thought that passed through his head. Her anger, the misunderstanding between them was gone as if it had never been.
"I don't know what happened," she told him gently. "Let me try re-creating it, and maybe I can tell you."
He gave her his hand. Instead of taking it, she put only two fingers on his palm. She stepped closer to him, dropped her head so he could see her scalp gleaming pale underneath her dark hair. The magic that touched him this time was gentler, sparklers instead of fireworks—and she jerked her fingers away as if his hand were a hot potato.
"What the heck…" She rubbed her hands on her arms with nervous speed.
"You weren't acting as my focus—I can tell you that much."
"So what was going on?"
She shook her head, clearly uncomfortable. "I think I was using you to see. I shouldn't be able to do that."
He found himself smiling grimly. "So I'm your Seeing Eye wolf?"
"I don't know."
He recognized her panic, having seen it in his own mirror upon occasion. It was always frightening when something you thought was firmly under control broke free to run where it would. With him, it was the wolf.
Something resettled in his gut. She hadn't done it on purpose; she wasn't using him.
"Is it harmful to me?"
She frowned. "Did it hurt?"
"Then it didn't harm you."
"All right," he said. "Where do we go from here?"
She opened her right hand, the one with the gum in it. "Not us. Me. This is going to show us where Molly is—and Molly will know where your brother is."
She closed her fingers, twisted her hand palm down, then turned herself in a slow circle. She hit a break in the pavement, and he grabbed her before she could do more than stumble. His hand touched her wrist, and she turned her hand to grab him as the kick of power flowed through his body once more.
"They're in a boat," she told him, and went limp in his arms.
She awoke with the familiar headache that usually accompanied the overuse of magic—and absolutely no idea where she was. It smelled wrong to be her apartment, but she was lying on a couch with a blanket covering her.
Panic rose in her chest—sometimes she hated being blind.
"Back in the land of the living?"
He must have heard the distress in her voice, because when he spoke again, he was much closer and his voice was softer. "You're on a couch in my apartment. We were as close to mine as we were to yours, and I knew I could get us into my apartment. Yours is probably sealed with hocus-pocus. Are you all right?"
She sat up and put her feet on the floor, and her erstwhile bed indeed proved itself to be a couch. "Do you have something with sugar in it? Sweet tea or fruit juice?"
"Hot cocoa or tea," he told her.
He must have had water already heated, because he was quickly back with a cup. She drank the sweet stuff down as fast as she could, and the warmth did as much as the sugar to clear her headache.
"Sorry," she said.
"For what, exactly?" he said.
"For using you. I think you don't have any barriers," she told him slowly. "We all have safeguards, walls that keep out intruders. It's what keeps us safe."
In his silence, she heard him consider that.
"So, I'm vulnerable to witches?"
She didn't know what to do with her empty cup, so she set it on the couch beside her. Then she used her left hand, her seeking hand, to look at him again.
"No, I don't think so. Your barriers seem solid… even stronger than usual, as I'd expect from a wolf as far up the command structure as you are. I think you are vulnerable only to me."
"Which means when I touch you, I can see magic through your eyes… with practice, I might even be able just to see. It means that you can feed my magic with your skin." She swallowed. "You're not going to like this."
"You are acting like my familiar." She couldn't feel a thing from him. "If I had a familiar."
Floorboards creaked under his feet as his weight shifted. His shoulder brushed her as he picked up the empty cup. She heard him walk away from her and set the cup on a hard surface. "Do you need more tea?"
"No," she said, needing suddenly to be home, somewhere she wasn't so dependent upon him. "I'm fine. If you would call me a taxi, I'd appreciate it." She stood up, too. Then realized she had no idea where the door was or what obstacles might be hiding on the floor. In her own apartment, redolent with her magic, she was never so helpless.
"Can you find my brother?"
She hadn't heard him move, not a creak, not a breath, but his voice told her he was no more than a few inches from her. Disoriented and vulnerable, she was afraid of him for the first time.
He took a big step away from her. "I'm not going to hurt you."
"Sorry," she told him. "You startled me. Do we still have the gum?"
"Yes. You said she was on a boat."
She'd forgotten, but as soon as he said it, she could picture the boat in her head. That hadn't been the way the spell was supposed to work. It was more of a "hot and cold" spell, but she could still see the boat in her mind's eye.
Nothing had really changed, except that she'd used someone without asking. There was still a policeman to be saved and her father to kill.
"If we still have the gum, I can find Molly—the girl on your brother's phone call."
"I have a buddy whose boat we can borrow."
"All right," she told him after a moment. "Do you have some aspirin?"
She hated boating. The rocking motion disrupted her sense of direction, the engine's roar obscured softer sounds, and the scent of the ocean covered the subtler scents she used to negotiate everyday life. Worse than all of that, though, was the thought of trying to swim without knowing where she was going. The damp air chilled her already cold skin.
"Which direction?" said Tom over the sound of the engine.
His presence shouldn't have made her feel better—werewolves couldn't swim at all—but it did. She pointed with the hand that held the gum. "Not far now," she warned him.
"There's a private dock about a half mile up the coast. Looks like it's been here awhile," he told her. "There's a boat—The Tern, the bird."
It felt right. "I think that must be it."
There were other boats on the water; she could hear them. "What time is it?"
"About ten in the morning. We're passing the boat right now."
Molly's traces, left on the gum, pulled toward their source, tugging Moira's hand toward the back of the boat. "That's it."
"There's a park with docks about a mile back," he said, and the boat tilted to the side. "We'll go tie up there and come back on foot."
But when he'd tied the boat up, he changed his mind. "Why don't you stay here and let me check this out?"
Moira rubbed her hands together. It bothered her to have her magic doing something it wasn't supposed to be doing, and she'd let it throw her off her game: time to collect herself. She gave him a sultry smile. "Poor blind girl," she said. "Must be kept out of danger, do you think?" She turned a hand palm up and heard the whoosh of flame as it caught fire. "You'll need me when you find Molly—you may be a werewolf, but she's a witch who looks like a pretty young thing." She snuffed the flame and dusted off her hands. "Besides, she's afraid of me. She'll tell me where your brother is."
She didn't let him know how grateful she was for the help he gave her exiting the boat. When this night was over, he'd go back to his life and she to hers. If she wanted to keep him—she knew he wouldn't want to be kept by her. She was a witch, and ugly with scars of the past.
Besides, if her dreams were right, she wouldn't survive to see nightfall.
She threaded through the dense underbrush as if she could see every hanging branch, one hand on his back and her other held out in front of her. He wondered if she was using magic to see.
She wasn't using him. Her hand in the middle of his back was warm and light, but his flannel shirt was between it and skin. Probably she was reading his body language and using her upraised hand as an insurance policy against low-hanging branches.
They followed a half-overgrown path that had been trod out a hundred feet or so from the coast, which was obscured by ferns and underbrush. He kept his ears tuned so he'd know it if they started heading away from the ocean.
The Tern had been moored in a small natural harbor on a battered dock next to the remains of a boathouse. A private property rather than the public dock he'd used.
They'd traveled north and were somewhere not too far from Everett, by his reckoning. He wasn't terribly surprised when their path ended in a brand-new eight-foot chain-link fence. Someone had a real estate gold mine on their hands, and they were waiting to sell it to some developer when the price was right. Until then, they'd try to keep out the riffraff.
He helped Moira over the fence, mostly a matter of whispering a few directions until she found the top of it. He waited until she was over and then vaulted over himself.
The path they'd been following continued on, though not nearly so well traveled as it had been before the fence. A quarter mile of blackberry brambles ended abruptly in thigh-deep damp grasslands that might once have been a lawn. He stopped before they left the cover of the bushes, sinking down to rest on his heels.
"There's a burnt-out house here," he told Moira, who had ducked down when he did. "It must have burned down a couple of years ago, because I don't smell it."
"Hidden," she commented.
"Someone's had tents up here," he told her. "And I see the remnants of a campfire."
"Can you see the boat from here?"
"No, but there's a path I think should lead down to the water. I think this is the place."
She pulled her hand away from his arm. "Can you go check it out without being seen?"
"It would be easier if I do it as a wolf," Tom admitted. "But I don't dare. We might have to make a quick getaway, and it'll be a while before I can shift back to human." He hoped Jon would be healthy enough to pilot in an emergency—but he didn't like to make plans that depended upon an unknown. Moira wasn't going to be piloting a boat anywhere.
"Wait," she told him. She murmured a few words and then put her cold fingers against his throat. A sudden shock, like a static charge on steroids, hit him—and when it was over, her fingers were hot on his pulse. "You aren't invisible, but it'll make people want to overlook you."
He pulled out his HK and checked the magazine before sliding it back in. The big gun fit his hand like a glove. He believed in using weapons: guns or fangs, whatever got the job done.
"It won't take me long."
"If you don't go, you'll never get back," she told him, and gave him a gentle push. "I can take care of myself."
It didn't sit right with him, leaving her alone in the territory of his enemies, but common sense said he'd have a better chance of roaming unseen. And no one tackled a witch lightly—not even other witches.
Spell or no, he slid through the wet overgrown trees like a shadow, crouching to minimize his silhouette and avoiding anything likely to crunch. One thing living in Seattle did was minimize the stuff that would crunch under your foot—all the leaves were wet and moldy without a noise to be had.
The boat was there, bobbing gently in the water. Empty. He closed his eyes and let the morning air tell him all it could.
His brother had been in the boat. There had been others, too—Tom memorized their scents. If anything happened to Jon, he'd track them down and kill them, one by one. Once he had them, he'd let his nose lead him to Jon.
He found blood where Jon had scraped against a tree, crushed plants where his brother had tried to get away and rolled around in the mud with another man. Or maybe he'd just been laying a trail for Tom. Jon knew Tom would come for him—that's what family did.
The path the kidnappers took paralleled the waterfront for a while and then headed inland, but not for the burnt-out house. Someone had found a better hideout. Nearly invisible under a shelter of trees, a small barn nestled snugly amidst broken pieces of corral fencing. Its silvered sides bore only a hint of red paint, but the aluminum roof, though covered with moss, was undamaged.
And his brother was there. He couldn't quite hear what Jon was saying, but he recognized his voice… and the slurring rapid rhythm of his schizophrenic-mimicry. If Jon was acting, he was all right. The relief of that settled in his spine and steadied his nerves.
All he needed to do was get his witch… Movement caught his attention, and he dropped to the ground and froze, hidden by wet grass and weeds.
Moira wasn't surprised when they found her—ten in the morning isn't a good time to hide. It was one of the young ones—she could tell by the surprised squeal and the rapid thud of footsteps as he ran for help.
Of course, if she'd really been trying to hide, she might have managed it. But sometime after Tom left it had occurred to her that if she wanted to find Samhain, the easiest thing might be to let them find her. So she set about attracting their attention.
If they found her, it would unnerve them. They knew she worked alone. Her arrival here would puzzle them, but they wouldn't look for anyone else—leaving Tom as her secret weapon.
Magic called to magic, unless the witch took pains to hide it, so any of them should have been able to feel the flames that danced over her hands. It had taken them longer than she expected. While she waited for the boy to return, she found a sharp-edged rock and put it in her pocket. She folded her legs and let the coolness of the damp earth flow through her.
She didn't hear him come, but she knew by his silence whom the young covenist had run to.
"Hello, Father," she told him, rising to her feet. "We have much to talk about."
She didn't look like a captive, Tom thought, watching Moira walk to the barn as if she'd been there before, though she might have been following the sullen-looking half-grown boy who clomped through the grass ahead of her. A tall man followed them both, his hungry eyes on Moira's back.
His wolf recognized another dominant male with a near-silent growl, while Tom thought that the man was too young to have a grown daughter. But there was no one else this could be but Lin Keller—that predator was not a man who followed anyone or allowed anyone around him who might challenge him. He'd seen an Alpha or two like that.
Tom watched them until they disappeared into the barn.
It hurt to imagine she might have betrayed him—as if there were some bond between them, though he hadn't known her a full day. Part of him would not believe it. He remembered her real indignation when she thought he believed she was part of Samhain, and it comforted him.
It didn't matter, couldn't matter. Not yet. Saving Jon mattered, and the rest would wait. His witch was captured or had betrayed him. Either way, it was time to let the wolf free.
The change hurt, but experience meant he made no sound as his bones rearranged themselves and his muscles stretched and slithered to adjust to his new shape. It took fifteen minutes of agony before he rose on four paws, a snarl fixed on his muzzle—ready to kill someone. Anyone.
Instead he stalked like a ghost to the barn where his witch waited. He rejected the door they'd used, but prowled around the side, where four stall doors awaited. Two of them were broken with missing boards; one of the openings was big enough for him to slide through.
The interior of the barn was dark, and the stall's half walls blocked his view of the main section, where his quarry waited. Jon was still going strong, a wild ranting conversation with no one about the Old Testament, complete with quotes. Tom knew a lot of them himself.
"Killing things again, Father?" said Moira's cool disapproving voice, cutting though Jon's soliloquy.
And suddenly Tom could breathe again. They'd found her somehow, Samhain's Coven had, but she wasn't one of them.
"So judgmental." Tom had expected something… bigger from the man's voice. His own Alpha, for instance, could have made a living as a televangelist with his raw fire-and-brimstone voice. This man sounded like an accountant.
"Kill her. You have to kill her before she destroys us—I have seen it." It was Molly, the girl from Jon's message.
"You couldn't see your way out of a paper bag, Molly," said Moira. "Not that you're wrong, of course."
There were other people in the barn, Tom could smell them, but they stayed quiet.
"You aren't going to kill me," said Kouros. "If you could have done that, you'd have done it before now. Which brings me to my point: Why are you here?"
"To stop you from killing this man," Moira told him. "I've killed men before—and you haven't stopped me. What is so special about this one?"
Moira felt the burden of all those deaths upon her shoulders. He was right. She could have killed him before—before he'd killed anyone else.
"This one has a brother," she said.
She felt Tom's presence in the barn, but her look-past-me spell must still have been working, because no one seemed to notice the werewolf. And any witch with a modicum of sensitivity to auras would have felt him. His brother was a faint trace to her left—something his constant stream of words made far more clear than her magic was able to.
Her father she could follow only from his voice.
There were other people in the structure—she hadn't quite decided what the cavernous building was: probably a barn, given the dirt floor and faint odor of cow—but she couldn't pinpoint them either. She knew where Molly was, though. And Molly was the important one, Kouros's right hand.
"Someone paid you to go up against me?" Her father's voice was faintly incredulous. "Against us?"
Then he did something, made some gesture. She wouldn't have known except for Molly's sigh of relief. So she didn't feel too bad when she tied Molly's essence, through the gum she still held, into her shield.
When the coven's magic hit the shield, it was Molly who took the damage. Who died. Molly, her little sister, whose presence she could no longer feel.
Someone, a young man, screamed Molly's coven name—Wintergreen. And there was a flurry of movement where Moira had last sensed her.
Moira dropped the now-useless bit of gum on the ground.
"Oh, you'll pay for that," breathed her father. "Pay in pain and power until there is nothing left of you."
Someone sent power her way, but it wasn't a concerted spell from the coven, and it slid off her protections without harm. Unlike the fist that struck her in the face, driving her glasses into her nose and knocking her to the ground—her father's fist. She'd recognize the weight of it anywhere.
Unsure of where her enemies were, she stayed where she was, listening. But she didn't hear Tom; he was just suddenly there. And the circle of growing terror that spread around him—of all the emotions possible, it was fear that she could sense most often—told her he was in his lupine form. It must have been impressive.
"Your victim has a brother," she told her father again, knowing he'd hear the smugness in her tone. "And you've made him very angry."
The beast beside her roared. Someone screamed… Even witches are afraid of monsters.
The coven broke. Children most of them, they broke and ran. Molly's death followed by a beast out of their worst nightmares was more than they could face, partially trained, deliberately crippled fodder for her father that they were.
Tom growled, the sound finding a silent echo in her own chest as if he were a bass drum. He moved, a swift, silent predator, and someone who hadn't run died. Tom's brother, she noticed, had fallen entirely silent.
"A werewolf," breathed Kouros. "Oh, now there is a worthy kill." She felt his terror and knew he'd attack Tom before he took care of her.
The werewolf came to her side, probably to protect her. She reached out with her left hand, intending to spread her own defenses to the wolf—though that would leave them too thin to be very effective—but she hadn't counted on the odd effect he had on her magic. On her.
Her father's spell—a vile thing that would have induced terrible pain and permanently damaged Tom had it hit—connected just after she touched the wolf. And for a moment, maybe a whole breath, nothing happened.
Then she felt every hair under her hand stand to attention, and Tom made an odd sound and power swept through her from him—all the magic Kouros had sent—and it filled her well to overflowing.
And she could see. For the first time since she'd been thirteen, she could see.
She stood up, shedding broken pieces of sunglasses to the ground. The wolf beside her was huge, chocolate-brown, and easily tall enough to leave her hand on his shoulder as she came to her feet. A silvery scar curled around his snarling muzzle. His eyes were yellow brown and cold. A sweeping glance showed her two dead bodies—one burnt, the other savaged—and a very dirty, hairy man tied to a post with his hands behind his back, who could only be Tom's brother Jon.
And her father, looking much younger than she remembered him. No wonder he went for teens to populate his coven—he was stealing their youth as well as their magic. A coven should be a meeting of equals, not a feeding trough for a single greedy witch.
She looked at him and saw that he was afraid. He should be. He'd used all his magic to power his spell—he'd left himself defenseless. And now he was afraid of her.
Just as she had dreamed. She pulled the stone out of her pocket—and it seemed to her that she had all the time in the world to use it to cut her right hand open. Then she pointed it, her bloody hand of power at him.
"By the blood we share," she whispered, and felt the magic gather.
"You'll die, too," Kouros said frantically, as if she didn't know.
"Blood follows blood." Before she spoke the last word, she lifted her other hand from Tom's soft fur that none of this magic should fall to him. And as soon as she did so, she could no longer see. But she wouldn't be blind for long.
Tom started moving before her fingers left him, knocking into her with his hip and spoiling her aim. Her magic flooded through him, hitting him instead of the one she'd aimed all that power at. The wolf let it sizzle through his bones and returned it to her, clean.
Pleasant as that was, he didn't let it distract him from his goal. He was moving so fast that the man was still looking at Moira when the wolf landed on him.
Die, he thought as he buried his fangs in Kouros's throat, drinking his blood and his death in one delicious mouthful of flesh. This one had moved against the wolf's family, against the wolf's witch. Satisfaction made the meat even sweeter.
"Tom?" Moira sounded lost.
"Tom's fine," answered his brother's rusty voice. He'd talked himself hoarse. "You just sit there until he calms down a little. You all right, lady?"
Tom lifted his head and looked at his witch. She was huddled on the ground, looking small and lost, her scarred face bared for all the world to see. She looked fragile, but Tom knew better, and Jon would learn.
As the dead man under his claws had learned. Kouros died knowing she would have killed him.
Tom had been willing to give her that kill—but not if it meant her death. So Tom had the double satisfaction of saving her and killing the man. He went back to his meal.
"Tom, stop that," Jon said. "Ick. I know you aren't hungry. Stop it now."
"Is Kouros dead?" His witch sounded shaken up.
"As dead as anyone I've seen," said Jon. "Look, Tom. I appreciate the sentiment, I've wanted to do that any time this last day. But I'd like to get out of here before some of those kids decide to come back while I'm still tied up." He paused. "Your lady needs to get out of here."
Tom hesitated, but Jon was right. He wasn't hungry anymore, and it was time to take his family home.