Secrets in the Moon (Crescent City Werewolves #1)

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Cora sighed while pulling on a silk robe over her freshly scrubbed skin, already feeling miles better with the filth from the slaughterhouse washed away. The sunlight streaming through the windows warmed the vases of flowers in her room, tinging the air with refreshing scents of iris and tulip as she sat at her dressing table. Her reflection in the mirror grinned back at her, just as pleased the day had turned out so well.

She never could have imagined detective work to be so exciting, or so different from her usual sort of thrills. Laughter covering lies, bad behavior egged on to see who would sink into sin and who would become the queen of it, the reckless air of gambling… these were all sweet as sugar but melted away just as quickly. Sleuthing and the truth it unearthed felt so much more satisfying, so much more real, and she craved more.

Even the sting of losing a favorite outfit barely registered in her mind, and when one of the chambermaids arrived to take away her ruined clothes, she only said, “Oh, don’t bother trying to save them. There’s so much blood that they’d need cleaning spells.”

“Would you like them sent out instead, Miss?”

“No, that’s all right. The papers would be all over it if I did, trying to take pictures and who knows what else. I’m sure there’s already a pack of reporters outside.” Then she approached the nearest window to peer through the lace curtains.

The front gardens were edged by a row of hats and faces hidden behind cameras, marking the property line as neatly as a fence. “I hope none are trying to sneak inside this time.”

“Detective Hayes is speaking with them to make sure they aren’t.” It was Maisie who answered, passing by the other maid with a tray of coffee and shortbread in hand. “He also thought you might need something to steady yourself after this afternoon’s events.”

Cora felt her expression bloom into a smile. You silly girl, she thought to herself. You have fallen for him, and hard.

Just as she bit into a cookie, the bushes below the window rustled. Then there was a shout. Cora returned to it just as the line of cameras pulled back and broke up. Reporters ran in every direction as Hayes appeared in view, walking out from the house while dragging two men by their shirt collars. Cora leaned closer, nose nearly pressing against the glass as he shoved them into the street, ignoring their arguing.

One man soon slipped away, but the other remained, yelling at Hayes until his face looked purple against his starched white collar, growing even angrier when the detective remained so calm. Even as Cora hid her smile behind a hand, some part of her grew alert to the man’s pompous tones. They were intensely familiar, as was the way he straightened his tie with the sharp, angry movements of a cat that had just gotten its fur ruffled.

“Oh, dear,” she murmured. “I think that’s Mr. Forrester. Did I have an appointment with him today, Maisie?”

“No, Miss.”

“That makes things even more interesting.” Then Cora leaned through the window, uncaring of her disheveled state. “Hayes! Wait. My father knew him. Let him inside.”

Even from that distance, Hayes’ eyes flashed gold at her as he nodded, still impassive. When he stepped away from Mr. Forrester, the man grumbled a few last words and stalked toward the house, knuckles white against the handle of his briefcase.

“I’m sure he’ll let himself in,” said Cora, reaching for her coffee. Her gaze lingered on Hayes as he slowly followed the other man, scanning the grounds for anyone else who shouldn’t have been there. “Maisie, when you have the chance, have Hayes come up here. He should know who this is.”

“Here into your room, Miss?” The maid was too used to Cora’s behavior to pretend to be shocked by the request.

“Yes. We won’t have much time before Mr. Forrester really starts shouting.”

She remained by the window, sipping at her coffee until a brief knock came. When she turned around, Hayes offered her a lopsided smile, polite enough to wait in the doorway until she waved him inside. It was impossible not to notice how he looked slightly disheveled from chasing off reporters, collar and tie loosened and his hat missing. It was the roughest she’d ever seen him, and she liked it very much.

Yet he looked unmoved by her underdressed appearance, merely glancing over her room before focusing on her face and her face alone. She expected immediate questions about how she knew Mr. Forrester, but instead he said, “How are you?”

“Couldn’t feel better.”

When his gaze flickered down her robe and back up to her unstyled hair, still concerned, she understood the point of his question. “No, really, I’m feeling fine. You see, it always takes me ages to get ready. It started from wanting to annoy my governesses and then evolved into being fashionably late. Believe me, being this undressed has nothing to do with nearly being gored by cattle.”

She’d kept the words light, but he only tensed up, eyes darkening.

Deciding it would be better to change the subject, she quickly added, “But it is very sweet of you to scatter those reporters. I’m not in the mood to be photographed without an inch of makeup. And I had no idea Mr. Forrester was coming.”

Then she sat at her dressing table again, aware that the man in question would soon demand to see her.

As she started brushing out her hair, Hayes paced around the room, obviously on edge. “Who is he?”

“One of my father’s earliest business partners. Technically, he’s a lawyer, but also an old family friend. Well, as close to a friend as Father’s ever had.”

“When was the last time they met?”

The brush faltered in her hand. “Well, that’s strange. Now that you mention it, I don’t think I’ve seen him for nearly a year. Right around the time the sigil was put on me. Do you think there’s a connection?”

His response was a tilt of the head that could have meant anything. “Did any new business associates or friends take his place?”

“Not that I noticed.” Her fingers absently traveled up the back of her neck until they reached the familiar heat of the sigil. It pulsed against her touch like a second heartbeat, and she quickly pulled her hand away again, swallowing hard. “If he did have anything to do with it, I’ll know. They stripped my memories away, but my body still remembers what happened. Being near my father leaves me absolutely nauseous now.”

There was a pause before Hayes sat on the nearest piece of furniture, a pink, velvet footstool that looked ridiculously dainty against his sleek power. It left them able to face each other, and when he spoke again, his voice sounded gentler. “Did you know this fella was coming today?”

“Not at all. He wasn’t scheduled to. And I thought I signed all the papers needed to keep my father’s estate running while he’s missing, so I’m not sure why he’s here.”

“His attitude will tell us a lot.”

The simple use of the word us brought a smile back to her face. “You’re talking like we’re a team now.”

His eyes had been dark and musing, but now surprise flickered in them, as if he hadn’t realized it himself. When he straightened up in his seat, already starting to amend what he’d said, she added, “I rather like being your assistant.”

Her voice came out softer than she meant, and much more earnest. It left him silent. It thickened the air between them. Cora felt her heart start to hammer, felt a rush of sweet uncertainty that she hadn’t felt since her first kiss at fifteen, when she’d thought she’d found something that would make her feel alive and full instead of alone and ignored.

Just then, Mr. Forrester’s voice rose from somewhere in the rooms below, obviously shouting at one of the maids over being told Cora wasn’t yet ready.

She sighed, feeling the moment dissipate. “He’s a very rude man when he knows he has the upper hand.”

Hayes’ eyes still looked very serious, but his smile was wry. “And you’re sure it’s him?”

“Positive. Why? Do you think I’m still in danger?”

He raised his eyebrows. “Maybe Roy Alemeister isn’t too happy that we botched his job.”

“I don’t think he’d resort to murder.” Then she reached for her makeup, hoping to apply the bare essentials before Mr. Forrester threw up too big a fuss to ignore.

“The humans call him their King of Crime. I’m pretty sure the fella resorts to everything.”

“But I’m an old friend, and even better, an ex lover. We were together for five months. If that didn’t push him into killing me, then I don’t see how anything else could. No, I’m much more concerned about Father’s friend at the moment.” She studied her hair critically, wondering if she had time to style it into waves.

Then Mr. Forrester’s words rose into a roar.

Cora sighed, glancing down at the thin silk of her robe. “He’s always been so impatient. Do you know what he was called in his earlier days? The Beast. If I don’t go down now, he might come up and break the door in sheer rage.”

“He’d try, maybe.” Hayes sounded very casual, but she didn’t miss the flash of his teeth.

She smiled while rising from her seat. “Let’s not wait and see.”

Mr. Forrester was about her father’s age, with his hair going to silver and his face craggy as a mountain, but he still looked robust and powerful in the body. It was as if his belligerence had preserved his strength, preventing the stooped shoulders and soft paunch that Cora associated with most of her father’s associates.

He was also a man used to his imposing stature, to the point where he grew affronted when meeting anyone else taller. Hayes was one such example, and Mr. Forrester promptly ignored him as soon as they were all in the parlor together. The closest he came to acknowledging the detective’s presence was to clear his throat and intone to Cora, “My dear, this is a discussion of a very private nature.”

She didn’t miss how quiet his manner had become, or how she felt nothing more than her usual mild distaste toward him. It heightened her curiosity; he obviously wanted something from her. “Believe me, Detective Hayes is much better at keeping his mouth shut than I am. Let’s get started.”

The man sighed and minutely adjusted his tie. “Very well.”

Within moments, he had paperwork spread out over the nearest table, frowning when a maid brought over a tray of coffee and sandwiches. Despite his lingering surliness, he took both. “There’s not much to do. Merely sign a few papers to keep all the wheels running while your father’s state remains unknown.”

Cora thumbed through the pile before her, unable to pretend having any interest in it. “Didn’t I already do this back when he first disappeared?”

“Those were in case you were shortly charged with his murder. As that nasty business has been settled, these are to make sure the transition is smooth when he can be legally declared dead.”

“I suppose that makes sense.” Cora peeked at him from beneath her lashes, taking in his stiff shoulders and open frown. He did look decidedly nervous, and she doubted it was from sharing a room with a wolf. For the first time, she considered actually reading through the contracts she was about to sign. “There’s a lot here, isn’t there? I hope everything’s all right with my father’s finances.”

Mr. Forrester tried to grin. On him, it looked like a grimace. “These are precautionary measures, nothing else. All that’s required is your signature on the dotted line.”

“Maybe so, but a contract is a contract. I should really make sure I agree to what it says, shouldn’t I?”

“Very wise,” murmured Hayes from where he leaned against a recess in the wall a few yards away. “Any lawyer would approve of such caution.”

The comment drew an aggravated glance from Mr. Forrester. “I don’t see why you have him in here, Cora. Shouldn’t he be out doing his job? You’re certainly paying him well enough. I received the receipts yesterday.”

Cora flushed, angry that he had needled her so precisely. She decided to return the favor and press at a question that had been turning in her mind for quite some time, ever since her father had disappeared.

“Mr. Forrester,” she said, keeping her voice light and absent, keeping her gaze on the papers before her. “There’s something I’ve been wondering about in regards to my father’s many businesses.”

“Yes?” he already sounded wary.

“Did he ever engage in anything illegal through them?”

“What an idea. I’m sure it’s not yours.”

“Oh, it’s very much mine.” She smiled sweetly at him even while the sigil burned a little hotter for a heartbeat. “You see, I know of at least one thing he’s done that is very illegal. It made me interested to find out if you know of any others. After all, you’re his oldest friend.”

The man sputtered. “Miss Marshall, this is a ridiculous line of thinking, and I won’t engage with it. Your father was a shrewd man. He would know better than to get into anything that might damage his reputation and his empire.”

“What about potential ventures, then? Surely he would ask you for advice. Were there any that seemed unusual or risky?”

“There’s absolutely nothing I can say about it.” Even as he spoke, the man pulled out a handkerchief and mopped his face. “Why is it so hot in here?”

“I think it’s pretty cold myself,” said Hayes, circling around to Cora’s side. When she glanced up, she found him intent on the lawyer, eyes sharpening.

“Was anyone speaking to you? As I was saying, I—” Then Mr. Forrester’s body went stiff. He made a choking sound.

Cora gasped as his eyes rolled in the back of his head. Her breath came back out as a shriek when he slumped forward, scattering papers everywhere. Hayes said nothing, but kept her from reaching out toward the man.

“Oh, my God. Is he dead?” She stared at the motionless Mr. Forrester, facedown in his cucumber sandwich.

“No. Something’s happening. He smells like magic.” Then Hayes grabbed her and pulled her out of the chair, dragging her back until a few feet separated them from the table. Mr. Forrester had started twitching.

For a few awful heartbeats, his muscles jerked and jumped like he was being electrocuted. Just as quickly, he fell still and drew in a wheezing breath. When the man slowly straightened up, unresponsive to her hesitant query, Cora had the strangest feeling of watching a puppet move on its strings, the movements stiff and unnatural.

Mayonnaise from the sandwich covered much of his face, and yet it looked… well, yes, like Mr. Forrester, but the expression was completely unlike him and yet completely familiar. Cora found herself drifting closer, caught up by it until Hayes’ grip pulled her back. She didn’t fight him, didn’t even speak, because just then she understood what had happened, familiarity sharpening into recognition even as the man winked at her. “It’s been awhile, Dollface.”

“Roy?” she gasped.

“Who else?” He began wiping his face clean with a napkin. “Are you always this undressed around your pet detective?”

“Roy Alemeister, you cretin. And here I thought you’d stop doing this after we broke up. Couldn’t you have just met with me instead of possessing an innocent bystander?”

“Who am I in?”

“My father’s lawyer.”

“Then he’s not innocent.” Mr. Forrester’s—Roy’s—gaze flickered to Hayes. “So. You’re the one who killed three of my men.”

“I guess that’s introduction enough,” said Hayes, voice easy, but his hand remained near his holster.

“Yes, let’s talk about that,” added Cora, fresh indignation rising. “I’m very concerned about the two lovebirds you tried to murder this morning.”

“It’s a job, Cora.” Even his eyes looked the same despite being in a strange face, their sardonic gleam as alluring and infuriating as ever. “And anyway, who are they to you?”

“They’re mildly involved with my father’s disappearance. I can’t see how they’d be a danger to anyone… except for whoever hired you.”

Roy’s expression immediately closed up. “Can’t tell you anything. Sorry.”

“Oh, so we’re about to have our usual argument.”

“You always seemed to enjoy it, Kitten. Especially the ending.” Then he started rising to his feet, still looking at Cora.

Hayes stepped toward the table. “Sit down, Alemeister.” His voice sounded pleasant, but his stare wasn’t.

Cora watched Roy bring out the smile that always made people want to punch it. “Relax, wolf-man, or I’ll make sure you don’t interfere.”

“Roy, don’t you dare,” hissed Cora, understanding the implication. Panic swelled within her as the two locked gazes, Hayes standing easy and calm, hands in his pockets, and Roy in the body of Mr. Forrester, bracing his hands against the table as his muscles began to twitch.

Hayes remained still, watching as the twitching turned into shaking and then into Roy slumping back in his seat, panting as if he’d just run for miles. His smile had disappeared.

“Your tricks won’t work on me. I’m not human.” Then Hayes offered a grin of his own, one that showed all his teeth. “And it was four of your men. They’re having trouble pulling the last body from the offal vat.”

Even though it was on a different face, Cora still recognized the first crack in Roy’s attitude. “Is all this really necessary? Let’s at least be better as friends than we were as lovers. Can’t you help at all?”

Roy was still sweating. “If I don’t keep the job, the client will just go to someone else. Besides…” His voice resumed its wryness. “You already have help. It’s panting right beside you.”

“Don’t be cruel to him just because you think he filled your place. I didn’t see you reaching out to help when the rest of the city was calling for me to be charged, tried, and hanged. You never even returned my call, Pumpkin.”

A strange look came over Roy’s face: embarrassment. They both knew the things she’d done for him, and how much he owed her. “If you hadn’t turned up your nose at my offer,” he muttered, “You wouldn’t be in this mess.”

“Your offer?” Cora laughed. “Being a kept mistress would have felt the same as living with my father—stuck in a little cage until I was needed. Now perhaps some girls dream of such a stable situation, and I won’t begrudge them that, but I don’t see that as an offer so much as an insult. Although, I’m very sorry I dumped my drink on your head after you first asked me. Now let’s not quarrel any further, Pookie. Just leave those poor kids alone.”

“It’s not that easy.”

“Why?” said Hayes, watching him intently.

“Piss off, Furface.” Roy shot him a look but didn’t try to rise from the table again.

“Roy.” Cora put an edge in her voice that he would recognize, the one that signaled she was fed up and needed him to be serious. “Please. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time, that’s all. You of all people should know what that feels like.”

There was a disgusted sigh. “The best I can do is delay the job.”

“For how long?”

“A few weeks.”

Cora bit her lip and then nodded. “Is there anything you can tell us about who ordered the hit? Anything at all? Please, Boo Bear.”

“Will you stop calling me those things?” he grumbled, gaze not quite darting over to Hayes.

“I remember you used to enjoy all sorts of nicknames. Especially after we argued.”

It was extremely gratifying to see the self-proclaimed King of Crime flush like a schoolboy. She sensed amusement radiating off Hayes, but he kept his expression neutral.

“All right. One thing and then I’m gone. The client isn’t a fuzzball like your friend.” Despite the insult, for a moment Roy looked almost affectionate. “Stay sharp, Kitten. I can’t interfere again.”

Then Mr. Forrester’s eyes rolled back again. Hayes immediately approached the body.

Cora waited where she was, shivering slightly. In some ways, seeing Roy again had felt more exhausting than dodging bullets. “I really hate it when he does that. Sometimes they never wake up.”

“When has he pulled this on you before?” Hayes sounded amazingly calm while easing the lawyer upright and checking his pulse. “He’ll recover, by the way.”

“We used to argue a lot. Whenever I’d storm away, he’d follow me in different bodies until he got the last word in. We were a complete nightmare as a couple, and yet…” She shook her head, feeling her lips curl into a reluctant smile. “He always had this magnetism that was irresistible.”

“Can’t say I saw it,” said Hayes, dryly. “Are you sure he’ll keep his word?”

“Oh, yes, he always does. He thinks it makes him different from the upper levels of society he claims to hate.”

Just then, Mr. Forrester groaned. As his eyelids flickered open, Cora leaned closer. “Mr. Forrester? Are you feeling all right?”

“No. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I felt this terrible. My head is throbbing like someone took a sledgehammer to it.”

“That’s just me,” said Cora, smiling brightly. “Father always says I give him headaches, too.”

Mr. Forrester managed a grimace. “What were we just talking about?”

“How Isaac Marshall’s new business venture was a source of friction between you two,” said Hayes, affably.

Even as Cora looked over in confusion, Mr. Forrester paled. “I don’t know anything. As soon as he mentioned having an idea for a ‘shadow’ venture, I refused to listen to another word. We had a devil of an argument about it.”

Cora recovered enough to say, “Nonsense. You and Father are as thick as thieves.”

He looked at her with bloodshot eyes. “Miss Marshall, my entire career is to make sure things are legal and correct.”

“Does that include the papers you brought me?”

“There may be some… discrepancies. Not on my part, but on your father’s. The best thing to do is just sign where you’re supposed to and keep everything running until we learn more.”

“Why weren’t you going to tell me this?”

“Cora Marshall, I’ve known you since you were a baby. You couldn’t keep a secret if your life depended on it. It’s what disappointed your father more than anything.”

A wave of hurt rose up within her, but she pushed it back as the man rubbed at his forehead. “That’s all I know. Truly. Whenever your father chose to step outside lines, I wouldn’t follow. I couldn’t. Now if you’ll excuse me, I really must be going. I don’t feel well at all.”

Cora kept enough of her wits about her to see him to the door, but once the man was gone and they were alone, she turned to Hayes. “Was that a shot in the dark, or do you know something I don’t?”

He shrugged. “Educated guess. When an old business partner suddenly stops being involved, it usually means someone new was found.”

“You really are clever, aren’t you?” She smiled at him before smoothing out the wrinkles in her robe. “Well. I need to finish dressing. I’m itching to get ready and go.”

When she hurried up the staircase, he stayed put, voice drifting after her. “Go where?”

“Wherever we need to for new clues.” Back in the bedroom, she began pulling clothes from the closet.

In another moment, he appeared in the doorway. “After what happened this afternoon, I’m glad you’re not crying in a corner, but there’s real danger leaking into this case. You’re not coming along on any other leads.”

“What?” She turned to him, fingers clutching at fabric. “You can’t. You mustn’t. It’s been too much fun.”

“Fun?” he repeated, voice incredulous. “Miss Marshall, you almost died today.”

“But I didn’t. I can take care of myself, you know.” Then she stepped behind the changing screen near her closet and shrugged off her robe. She needed to transform this silly mood of his in any way possible, and with the nearby lamp on, she knew her silhouette would be visible.

As she hooked her bra into place, she added, “I proved that in the slaughterhouse, didn’t I? And by holding my own against Roy. When’s the last time someone embarrassed the King of Crime and lived to tell about it?”

“I don’t want the risk hanging over my head. Especially when there’s no good reason for it.”

He sounded much steadier than she liked, and she made sure to give her hips an extra wriggle while shimmying into her panties and then her lace garter belt. “What are you talking about? I’m essential to the investigation.”

“But not out in the field.” His voice definitely sounded rougher, and not from exasperation.

She bent over to pull on her stockings. “What about when the pack diplomat returns with their offer? She made it very clear that they wish to speak with me.”

“Frankly, Miss Marshall, I don’t like that, either. I’ve been trying to work out a way around you stepping onto pack land at all.”

“I can’t just refuse.” She straightened up again to attach the translucent silk to her garters. “And there’s no way we can find out what happened on their side without meeting them, is there?”

“I’m not willing to concede that yet.”

“You do seem very stubborn.” Then she walked out from behind the screen under the pretense of reaching for her dress. When she glanced at him, she saw a muscle jump in his jaw, but he showed no other sign of being affected. His gaze even remained on her face, serious and uncompromising.

She felt herself deflate, wondering if all the insinuations made by others were really true. “Is it the money? Because I’ll pay it all in advance if you’d like. You wouldn’t lose a penny.”

He stared, the gold of his eyes very warm and clear. “That’s not what I meant.”

Before she could ask what he did mean, the phone rang. In too much of a huff to wait for anything else, she grabbed for it. “Yes?”

“Miss Cora Marshall?” The icy tone of the Saxby Pack’s diplomat remained clear even through the crackling of a bad connection.

“You’re that diplomat, aren’t you?” said Cora, more to signal Hayes over than to confirm the caller’s identity. As he drew closer, she angled her face so they could both hear the she-wolf’s next words. “What do you want?”

“I’ve spoken with Alpha-king Saxby. Our terms are ready and final.”

“Let’s hear it.”

“We agree to meet on any pack land bordering ours. As I assume the traitor is still advising you, I won’t bother listing the packs in question. Our only condition is that it must happen within the week. We’ve wasted enough time with the city’s police force. We won’t make the same mistake with you.”

With Roy’s warning still ringing in her ears, Cora couldn’t say the time limit sounded like a bad thing. “How can I get back to you?”

“I’ll call again in precisely one hour. If you haven’t made a decision, it’s all off.”

“Which means?”

“A missed opportunity, nothing more.”

Cora glanced at Hayes. He looked absolutely feral, but said nothing. “Well… what happens if you don’t accept my first choice?”

“No negotiations on either side. We’ll accept whoever you choose.”

Hayes shifted suddenly, as if holding back a growl. Cora felt his tension heat her skin like electricity. “And this is just a simple interview with your investigators? Nothing more?”

“Of course. Do you think we would be stupid enough to hurt or kill you? One hour.”

Then the diplomat hung up. Hayes broke away to pace around the room. Cora watched, her fingers tapping against the phone. “That sounds like good news, but it isn’t, is it?”

He shook his head, eyes nearly yellow in the bright light streaming through the windows. “Anytime a pack offers you a choice instead of trying to take it away, it means you’ve already lost. No wolf gives up that easily. The Saxby Pack has figured out another way to get what they want.”

“What do they want?”

At that he paused, shoulders bunching beneath his suit as if he struggled against changing into a form with teeth that could maul and savage. “Anything you know, and they won’t care if you survive their questioning. We won’t be safe with any pack that borders their territory, because that’s exactly the choice they gave us. It means they’ve already made deals so that anyone you pick will double-cross us.”

Cora had to admit it sounded chilling. “How are you so sure?”

“Because…” His voice dipped into a brief growl before he forced himself calm again. “Just take my word for it. Please.”

“But what about that professional hostage you told me about? The one from the pack that kills anyone who kills one of their own? Do they think we won’t use that?”

“No, they know I’ll never give them an inch of trust. They’ll expect the Mange Pack to appear and destroy. Remember, it won’t be them. It’ll be the pack holding our meeting. And that pack will find itself stabbed in the back once the Saxbys kill us and trigger the Mange hostage into being killed as well.”

There were a few moments of awful silence before she said in a soft voice, “But we have to do something. Two weeks isn’t much time to figure out who’s behind this all. We need every piece of information we can get. And I’m still perfectly willing to walk into this.”

The words drew out half a laugh and half a sigh. “You really aren’t frightened, are you?”

She shook her head. “The only thing that terrifies me is being treated like a caged songbird. Singing when I’m supposed to and keeping quiet otherwise. You’ve probably noticed a pattern by now. How the men in my life never want me to be anything beyond what they expect.”

He nodded slightly, a hint of humor returning to those wild eyes. “Kitten.”

“Exactly. I hate it. I’d much rather somebody gave me the chance to show I can do things.”

“Is this where I come in?”

She smiled a little, but realized she felt very serious. “I don’t know. Is it?”

A breath of silence passed. He glanced away—an action she was beginning to recognize as his way to ease a tense atmosphere—and then back at her. “Well, I’d never call you Kitten. You seem more like a Bunny.”

It got her to laugh, and even as hope filled her, his expression turned thoughtful. “There’s one thing we can try. It’s not much safer. In fact, most would argue it’s even more dangerous.”

“Tell me.”

“The Frosthound Pack.” The way he pronounced it made it obvious that the very name should have left her reeling in shock. When she only shrugged, he added, “They’re one of your choices, but the Saxby Pack would never expect you to pick them.”

“Why not? If they’ve already made a deal, then…”

“Not with the Frosthound Pack. It’s just that they’re equally dangerous to us.” Then he sighed. “To make a long story short, the Frosthounds are a very powerful pack, and because of the alpha-queen, very unpredictable as well. She believes in a death goddess that also rules over fate, which means she sees any double-crossing that ends in death as an offense.”

Cora nodded. “That sounds safe enough.”

“I’m not finished. She believes the will of her goddess is more important than anything else. If she feels your fate should be tested by chance, then she’ll do it. You won’t be safe on their land just because you’re human. It’s risky as hell, but not the certain death that the other packs will offer.”

Just as Cora opened her mouth to answer, he suddenly stepped closer, bringing his face within inches of hers. “Cora, I will do everything I can to keep you safe, but if you step onto pack land, you might not leave it.”

It was the first time he’d used her given name, and for a moment she could only stare, shocked by the sweet rush of hearing it in his voice.

When she said nothing, he quietly said, “Are you sure you want to do this?”

“Yes.” Then she smiled. “I think it’s time people see that this bunny can bite.”

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