Clay rode in the back seat of my Camero, still pretending to be my dog. Agent Steele took the passenger's seat. The other Pack, the Dog Warriors, had sent us and the DEA agents ahead to smooth their way onto a private campground. The closer we got to Stonehaven, the tighter my hands clasped the wheel and the whiter my knuckles turned in the already pale moonlight streaming through the windshield. Jeremy and Clay weren't going to stand for this. But I could think of nothing to do to stop it.
Mutts—non-Pack werewolves—feared Clay. He had a way of simply not caring about others and could detach himself and inflict gruesome torture. He was strong, fast, smart, and had never met a human or werewolf he couldn't handle. Yet the Dog Warrior had brought him back to me like a puppy, apologizing to his Alpha for letting himself get bitten. And not because he feared turning werewolf himself.
I couldn't handle one if he were alone.
And there were twenty.
Twenty of them, three of us—five if we got the whole Pack together.
I pulled into the driveway and raced into the house, Clay at my heels on the way to his bedroom to Change. I checked the study and cursed. Jeremy must already have gone to bed. I raced up the stairs and found him poking his head out his bedroom door. "Everything go all right?"
He usually waited for a yes and went back to sleep. "We've got problems."
His door opened wider, revealing his pajama pants and bare chest. "What's wrong?"
Before I could get words to form, the doorbell rang.
"Them?" he asked.
"If they're courteous enough to ring the doorbell, take them into the study. I'll be down in a minute. Take Clay with you."
"Because he can't hurt them."
Looking suitably alarmed, he backed into his room to dress.
I went back downstairs and showed the DEA agents into the study. My stomach felt as though it were twisting in knots; I hated to think how I'd have felt if the federal agents hadn't come first—if they were even on our side.
Ru studied everything he saw and sat on the couch when I invited him. "This is a nice place." He turned to his partner. "Kind of reminds me of Ukiah's office, you know?"
Agent Steele didn't answer.
Nor did I. I sat by the fireplace and rebuilt the fire. At least there was that much to do while I awaited Armageddon.
Jeremy and Clay came down together, two legs apiece. Clay limped a little and, leaning against the doorjamb, squinted at us through a swelling eye. Jeremy crossed the room to the agents. "Sorry I took so long; I wasn't expecting visitors so late."
"That's understandable," Ru answered as he and Steele rose to shake Jeremy's hand. "I'm Agent Hikaru Takahashi. This is my partner, Agent Atticus Steele. We're with the DEA."
Jeremy frowned. "I'm Jeremy Danvers. This is Clayton Danvers. I believe you've already met Elena Michaels." He took a seat in his recliner, and the others sat as well. "What brings the DEA to my house on a Saturday night?"
"A personal concern." Away from the Dog Warriors, Ru seemed to speak for the partners. That surprised me; I would have thought anyone who would stand up to his Alpha could speak just as well in front of others. "A gang called the Dog Warriors caught these two watching them in the woods."
"Are you sure? I sent Elena out to take the dog for a run. Clayton was here the entire time."
Agent Steele spoke up. "They found his ID. The scent was the same."
"How is that possible?"
The two exchanged a glare. Then Agent Steele continued, "We checked her DNA and found both wolf and human. They would have found the same on his wallet and clothes."
"DNA analysis takes hours, at the very least."
"Not necessarily." He rubbed his fingers together, as he had after shaking my hand, as Rennie had after touching my face. They'd been trying to figure out why I smelled like wolf by… reading my DNA? "We have a new instant analysis kit we use in field work."
"And you believe a result like that? Instant analysis must mean decreased accuracy."
"The results matched. It was his ID." He nodded toward Clay.
Ru jumped in again. "Regardless of whether it was a dog or Mr. Danvers, the Dog Warriors decided to move onto private property to avoid discovery by the FBI. We're still trying to convince them to cooperate with more authorities, but it's been a long discussion, and it's not ending soon."
"The Dog Warriors are not staying here."
"Mr. Danvers, we're not asking you. We're warning you. The Dog Warriors are on their way, and it's in your best interest to cooperate."
Without turning his head, Jeremy raised his voice. "Clayton, get the phone number for the closest FBI office."
"No, wait!" one of the agents sputtered, but Clay was already running off to find it. Or limping swiftly, anyway.
Run turned back to Jeremy. "Mr. Danvers, they kill any federal agent who comes after them. If you impede them, they'll kill you, too."
"And as a federal agent, you're okay with that?"
"As a federal agent, there's not much I can do. We can't stop them from hurting you without interrupting the work they're doing. As a human being, I can ask you to capitulate to them and not give them a reason to harm you."
I could see signs of Jeremy's agitation but only because I knew him well. "This property is a haven to a number of people. Outsiders are not welcome and have violated this only twice." He paused while his statement sank in. "I would prefer to limit those violations to intruders working with the law."
Ru nodded. "We share that preference. Unfortunately, we're in a similar position. I'm sure if I did the wrong thing, the Pack would kill me, maybe Atticus, too."
"You're okay with that?"
"Of course not, but it's what I have to work with." Ru sighed. "If it's a matter of having something back there you don't want people to see—"
"Then is it a matter of cleanliness? I've seen the way they leave their campsites: spotless. No trash, not one beer can or wrapper."
"While that's reassuring, it's not the same. As I said, this is a haven to my people—"
"To werewolves?" Agent Steele filled in.
Jeremy's eyebrow raised; I knew he'd be irate that I'd told them, but I hadn't. Somehow, they'd guessed. "To what?" he asked politely.
"As I said, we looked at the DNA—"
"You had no right to collect that."
"You're right. It's not admissible in court, but we don't plan to use it for legal action. I'm just saying that Ms. Michaels's very clearly contained both wolf and human in a peculiar arrangement, such that both are accessible." He sighed then added, "As does yours."
"What are you talking about?"
Agent Steele ignored the question. "We're all curious about you, of course, but we're not going to tell anyone else. If you keep your haven, so you don't hurt anyone, that's great. You're not going to hurt the Dog Warriors, either. Just let them camp for a week, tops, and then they'll leave."
"Just like that?"
"Just like that."
"No more wild werewolf accusations?"
Ru put a hand on his partner's knee to interrupt him. "We'll try to keep the wild accusations to a minimum."
The room fell silent, and we could hear the deep rumble of motorcycles in the distance, approaching like the horses of the apocalypse.
"Shit." Steele glared at the floor while he murmured to his partner. It was a quiet room; he had to have known we could hear. "Rennie wants to come in and pick up the werewolf thing."
"Tell him," Ru started then cut himself off. He turned back to Jeremy. "Mr. Danvers, the head of the Dog Warriors is named Rennie Shaw. He's every bit the kind of man you'd expect to lead the nation's most violent biker gang. We can't stop him from coming in here, but we can try to persuade him to remain nonviolent."
"Understood." Had Jeremy just spoken through clenched teeth? Maybe I had something stuck in my ear from the run.
Steele shifted forward nervously on the couch. "Look, Mr. Danvers, I need you to trust me on some things, so I'm going to trust you first, okay?"
Steele turned to me. "This information can't leave this house."
I nodded, too.
"The Dog Warriors and I have abilities we can't explain under an easy category like 'werewolf.' We're not…"
Ru picked up for him. "They're not your standard, everyday human, either. What you need to know is that they're telepathic with each other." He looked at me. "I'm sure you noticed."
I froze. When Rennie recited Clay's driver's license, I'd managed to convince myself it was a trick. If Ru was right, he'd actually been repeating what someone else half a mile away was reading.
Steele picked up again. "We also read DNA by touching it. When I shook your hands, I knew." He held his hands up. "I promise you anything I know about your DNA is completely inadmissible in court."
Jeremy sat in silence, inasmuch as the motorcycle engines allowed. Then, elbows propped on his armrest, he folded his hands in front of his face. "This is a new situation for us."
Clay padded back up to the door jamb, a slip of paper in hand that supposedly had the phone number for the FBI. Jeremy shook his head, effectively putting Clay on standby.
"I appreciate your honesty, if what you say is true."
His eyes fell on me, and I nodded. That made a lot more sense of the evening's events, even if all they'd done was sat it aloud.
"Then I'll reciprocate." Jeremy leaned forward in his seat, looking at ease but still in command. "We keep this property as a hunter-free zone and as a safe place to run. By keeping humans off the property, we ensure that they won't see us, run away, and be killed because we acted on instinct."
"That's very responsible of you," Ru acknowledged. "But you're not going to have to worry about the Dog Warriors at all. They won't run."
Suddenly, I heard the front door open and the sound of hard-sole boots on the foyer floor. Clay tensed, and I was sure he'd attack at any second, but he checked himself, settling into glaring at the intruder.
Rennie came into view, leather jacket hanging open over well-worn denim and creased boots, every bit the spry gang leader. Somehow, seeing him here, contrasted with the polished cherry furniture and clean walls, he looked more menacing than he did in the woods, surrounded by his own kind.
My stomach tightened its knot.
A/N. I've never been above bartering for reviews. You've now read more of this than I have in my notebook. I've got an end in mind but not quite the motivation to write it. You're welcome to encourage me!