Posted by: annmariegamble | February 2, 2010

A Corpse, a Cop, and Canines

The story began at Alanna Coca’s blog.

Chapter 4

Anthony growled a low warning and hoped the wolves would keep their distance. It would be scary enough for any human to have the pack circling. And this one was a nonbeliever—if anybody decided to shift before taking on the cat, Jessica’s night was about to get even more difficult.

Unfortunately, a lot depended on Katherina. She backed off when she realized how many wolves there were but she hadn’t hidden her tail. The way she purred and spat as she taunted Anthony, he wondered how tight a grip she had on her form; she’d made it clear that she didn’t care about Jessica.

He mirrored her movement around the clearing, circling so Katherina was no longer between him and the human. Katherina’s eyes flicked from side to side, in counterpoint to her tail, locating the wolves who hadn’t yet shown themselves.

“So luring humans into the woods is how you amuse yourself?” he pressed. There was a choked sob from the vicinity of the body; Jessica was conscious after the throw but not missing the import.

Katherina bristled at his accusation. “This mess has been left by amateurs. They don’t know when to stop, or how to keep from drawing attention to us.”

“Shifters did this?” Had someone gone rogue?

Katherina wrinkled her nose. “Your attributes are neither your brain nor your nose. Shifters are the target, Fido. And these junior mages finally got one.” She stepped toward the corpse until a couple of growls warned her back.

Anthony mentally thunked his forehead. The edge of a smell he’d noticed but hadn’t identified—the corpse was human now, but it hadn’t always been. Wolves released a blast of pheromones and adrenaline when they shifted. In the presence of a human corpse, he’d unconsciously attributed the scent to the women, or to the arrival of the pack. Before she’d died, this unknown woman had tried to shift; why hadn’t she succeeded?

As he put the pieces together, Katherina’s eyes glowed ice blue. He’d guess Siamese, but then checked his stance. Cats moved fast enough that they could survive on birds; it didn’t pay to underestimate them. “Why are you dragging a human into it?”

“She has a car,” Katherina purred. Her circles were bringing her within touching distance again. “And are her art student friends”—she said it as one might point out cockroaches, or bacteria—”looking for sculpture supplies or mage stones?”

“There’re channels for threats like this. You haven’t engaged any of them.” One of the wolves howled in derision when Anthony invoked shifter law, and he growled back. It wasn’t going to be rogue mages or modern life that did in shifters, but frickkin’ cats versus dogs.

Adrenaline rolled off the cat and his body was tightening in response. The air shimmered around both of them. He either had to get Jessica out of here—let the pack deal with Katerina and the body—or let her see one of them change. He stepped forward and Katherina feinted left, then sprang for the body. He was steps behind her and not nearly as light on his feet.

But Jessica hadn’t just been cowering in the brush. As the others sprang into motion, she stood and hurled a stone that gleamed in the moonlight. Her aim was more than perfect; the rock lodged in Katherina’s shoulder. The cat screamed and staggered back, caught or tripped by a couple of wolves.

As she writhed and howled, clawing at her shoulder, the hillock where Jessica and the corpse had lain shattered into flakes of something—light, he thought, but now the air was filled with silver leaves swirling through the clearing. A faint tinkling like bells cut through the barks and growls of the pack as they secured the space. Anthony swatted bits of silver aside to get to the human, but the hillock had been obliterated.

And Jessica had vanished.

On to the next chapter . . . Barbara Sheridan is a veritable dinosaur in the romance community having published her first paranormal during the previous century. She has since expanded her paranormal and historical loves to include M/M, erotica and multicultural elements.

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