I'd never heard Bear Valley so quiet on a Saturday afternoon. Our slamming car doors echoed through the street, and my retort to Clay's antics died on my lips as all three people outside stared at us. They quickly looked away again, but only after sneers filled their expressions. One little incident, and Bear Valley would never let me live it down.
"Where is everyone?" Clay wondered.
I glanced at the grocery store, and my stomach protested our delay. But the parking lot was empty; I'd had my pick of parking spaces, when I'd usually be thankful for one at all. We had to find out why. Well, maybe not had to. It wasn't critically important, but we're curious by nature. "They say never to shop on an empty stomach. The Donut Hole?"
Like the rest of the town, Bear Valley's gossip joint was unnaturally hushed and less well populated than normal. It seemed to be a harbor against whatever had happened, though, as it still had more than ten patrons. Probably the only place in town.
While Clay selected two of the most calorie-rich donuts to hold us over, I sat at a table alone, trying to pick out individual voices in the restaurant's low murmur. It was more difficult than ever before, but my ears were up to the task.
"What are they doing here?" a gruff, female voice asked.
If they were talking about us, I swore—Beneath the table, I forced my fists to unclench. We wouldn't hurt them.
"No one knows, but they came into town for groceries. Then they left. From what I hear, though, they have a tendency to burn down houses for no reason."
That corner of the room fell silent. While I breathed a sigh of relief that they weren't discussing us, Clay set the tasty morsels on the table and sat across from me. His eyes glanced to the silent corner, and I knew he'd picked up on the same conversation.
As I bit into heaven, the conversation picked up again. "Is there any way to make sure they don't target you?" The man asking must have received a nonverbal answer. "And you said they're called the Pack?"
I nearly spit out my donut. They thought they were talking about us!
I managed to stifle my outburst until we got back outside. "That can't be us! We don't do things like that!" My steel-strong stomach turned at the images the gossipers discussed; supposedly, the Pack habitually burned their enemies alive. We didn't.
"It's not us, but it might be a couple of mutts posing as us."
"Just what we need—more mutts trying to pick up territory."
Clay didn't answer. If that was so, it was because we'd let a mutt have territory. I had talked Jeremy into giving a mutt territory. Now, there was a precedent.
"Do you think it's true that the police won't go near them?"
"That the FBI warned them off?" He shrugged. "It's the only reason I can think of that they wouldn't get involved. Not much keeps our Bear Valley police down."
He said it with a smile, but all I could remember was the Bear Valley police delaying the Pack—my Pack—from rescuing Clay and me from a band of ambitious mutts last spring.
"We have to tell Jeremy."
He nodded. "After groceries. If this escalates, we won't have time for shopping or being hungry."
A/N: Many thanks to Wen Spencer and Kelley Armstrong for their amazing characters and great stories!