CHAPTER SIX

Oh my God, Scott thought, deliriously happy. Allison is going to kiss me all night.

She had her arms twined around him and they were making out like crazy. He kept pressing his forefinger and thumb together to check his nails—no wolfiness so far—so he kept going for it. He kept telling himself that in a couple of more seconds—or minutes—or maybe hours—he would suggest they go back to the car. There were a lot more things they could do in a car. But they could also leave in a car, and he was afraid he'd break the spell if he said a word.

And her kisses were so awesome. For someone who had never had a boyfriend before, she sure knew how to kiss.

She broke contact—no, he silently protested—and smiled at him. Then her eyes went wide as she gazed somewhere past him. He felt her stiffen.

"Scott," she whispered. "Behind you."

He cursed himself for being six kinds of stupid, taking a risk like this. In the instant before he turned around he realized that the sun was going down the shadows of the trees had lengthened and darkness brought with it a lot of secrets, and more danger.

He tried to sniff the air as he pivoted around, preparing himself for action against whatever threat presented itself. And what he smelled was an animal.

A . . . wolf.

It was the same one that he had faced that morning. It was beautiful, standing slightly above them on a boulder. As with their dawn encounter, the wolf was bathed in light, the silver gray hair catching the slanting afternoon sun. It gazed at the two of them calmly, with no hint of aggression.

"Oh," Allison whispered. "It's . . . beautiful."

"It's a wild animal," Scott said in a low voice. "Don't move."

She nodded breathlessly. He tested his fingernails again. His wolf was staying inside.

So far.

"Can you get to your phone?" he asked her quietly. His first instinct was for her to summon help. Dial 911. But what could anyone do if the wolf attacked right this second? They had hiked in at least a mile, deep into the tangled trees of the preserve, where no emergency vehicles could possible reach.

The wolf tilted its head and gazed at each of them in turn, Allison first. It locked gazes with Scott, holding, as if trying to tell him something. Allison's fingers tightened around Scott's. He squeezed back.

Then, just as it had done that morning, the wolf turned its back and ambled down the boulder. It disappeared among the trees. As if by mutual agreement, Scott and Allison didn't move a muscle. Scott could barely breathe.

After a minute or two, Allison relaxed. She wrapped both her hands around one of Scott's.

"That was . . ." she began.

"Intense," he finished.

"I've never seen anything more amazing in my life." She blew out a breath and looked at him, almost as if she'd never seen him before. "I can't believe I got to experience that."

"Got to . . ." He trailed off, surprised by her choice of words. His legs were rubbery. What would he have done if the wolf had attacked Allison?

I didn't think it would attack me, he realized. I think it knew.

Knew what I am.

She leaned her head on his shoulder. "When my dad shot the mountain lion, I told myself I should be happy about it. I mean, it had killed all those people. But it was"—she looked for words—"innocent. In its way. I mean, here we are, in their territory. And we build our houses, and drive our cars."

She moved her shoulders, a little embarrassed. "Right about now, my aunt would ask me if I am planning to give PETA a donation. I mean, we sell hunting rifles, too. We're not what you might call tree huggers."

Scott moved her hair away from her forehead. "The wolf," he said. "You, you thought it was . . . beautiful?"

She nodded. "All that hair, or fur, or whatever you call it. And those sleek muscles underneath its pelt. Did you see its eyes, Scott? It looked . . . wise." She made a face. "Okay, now I'm romanticizing it. Let's just say it was really cool to see a wild animal up close like that, and leave it at that."

She couldn't know how much her reaction meant to him. Derek's sister, Laura, had looked like a wolf in death. Maybe eventually he would look like that. And if Allison saw him, she would think he looked beautiful.

And not like the monster he changed into now.

"We should go," he said.

"We haven't looked for Jackson at all," she said, looking guilty. "Let me call Lydia." She pulled her phone out of her pocket. "Uh-oh. My reception is bad here. If my parents call her house, she won't be able to patch me in."

Suddenly he smelled smoke—the tangy odor of wood smoke, forest smoke. It was faint, not the firestorm of his dream. People were allowed to have fires in the preserve. Maybe Jackson had built it for warmth.

He glanced down at the WMP map. He couldn't tell if the fire was near Jackson. Maybe Derek would be able to trace it, but Scott didn't know enough about tracking using his wolf senses, at least while he was in human form.

Little fires can become big ones, he thought, a thrill of panic skittering up his spine as once again he thought about his dream. Flames all around him. Then the Alpha. And then, in real life, the wolf.

Then his phone rang. It was Stiles.

"Stiles," he said, so Allison would know who it was. "What's up?"

.

"My new best friend and I are at the hospital," Stiles said, twirling the listening end of a stethoscope in a little circle. So far he had been unable to hypnotize Derek with it. Nice werewolf, watch the watch . . . Maybe you needed a real watch to hypnotize people. Or a real person.

He and Derek were loitering in the stairwell of the cardiac wing of the hospital to get better reception for his call to Scott. "And you'll never guess what. You can get past hospital security if you steal a white coat out of the storage room and parade around with it and a clipboard."

Derek grunted. He was the one holding the clipboard, but he had passed on wearing a lab coat.

"Because there isn't any hospital security on this floor," Derek muttered.

"He says hi," Stiles added.

"Who? The . . . guy?" Scott asked cryptically on the other end of the line.

"The other guy," Stiles replied. "Our friend who is so cheerful." He lowered his voice. "The guy was awake. I went to ask him what kind of Jell-O he wanted for dinner and then I asked him what he saw in the window. And he told me he saw a monster. Between screams."

Scott was quiet for a moment. Then he said, "Got any more details?"

"No. He wasn't big on talking. Mostly screaming, and you know that brings the nurses. Sure, they say they'll be right there when you call for a bedpan, but if you want them to show, you really need to have a breakdown."

"Stiles," Scott said, sounding a little impatient, the way his father did when he began to ramble.

"Yo," Stiles said contritely. "Sorry."

"So how did practice go?" Scott asked.

Stiles covered the phone. "He can't talk about wolfie matters," he reported to Derek.

"Because he's with her," Derek said, looking even more dour than usual. Stiles had never realized there were so many degrees of the brood until Derek Hale had come into their lives.

Stiles was about to speak again when he heard Allison's voice in the background. "OH, tell Stiles we saw a wolf," she was saying.

"You guys saw a wolf?" Stiles repeated carefully, looking over at Derek. Derek did a classic double take. He started to grab for the phone, then stopped himself. Stiles knew it was better for all concerned—okay, for Scott—if no one knew that he and Derek were, like, wolf brothers. If Allison heard Scott yakking on the phone with Derek Hale, that would pretty much put the lie to their not being friends.

"There are no wild wolves in California," Derek muttered.

"There are no wild wolves in California," Stiles repeated. He covered the phone again. "So, are there you-know-whats that look like wolves?" he whispered to Derek. Of course, he and Scott knew the answer to that—a big fat yes—but Derek didn't need to know that when they had dug up his sister's body—okay, the top half of her body—she had been a wolf. Not a semi-wolf, like the werewolf looks they'd seen thus far. A full-on Call of the Wild wolf.

Derek didn't answer, only glowered at him. Maybe if he gave Derek a sugar cube—or threw him a piece of raw meat—Derek might cheer up. Stiles would have to try that someday. But today wasn't looking good for that.

Then, whipsaw fast, Derek grabbed the phone out of Stiles's hand. It happened so quickly that it took Stiles a moment to process that he was no longer holding the phone.

"Where are you?" Derek growled in an undervoice.

Stiles strained to hear Scott's answer, but Derek had turned his back. Stiles didn't have superenhanced werewolf hearing. He tried to read Derek's body language, but Derek's shoulders were hunched like always, and his free hand was in the pocket of his jacket, like always, pressing the clipboard against his side as if he might crack it in two. So no help there.

"Then get out of there," Derek said between clenched teeth. "Now."

He gave the phone back to Stiles and started to go down the stairs. Aware that he was about to speak to dead air, Stiles followed after Derek.

"Where are we going?" he asked.

"We aren't going anywhere," Derek replied.

.

"Hey, you have to take me with you," Scott's annoying little sidekick insisted as Derek stalked out of the hospital. Derek took a tiny bit of satisfaction in the way the human had to trot along to stay abreast. He was sick to death of taking the weaknesses of humans into account while formulating his plans. He respected power, and few humans had any.

The Argents did.

But what he felt for them was not respect.

He wasn't about to tell Stiles about his dream, or the real fear he felt when Allison and Scott had told Stiles about their encounter with a wolf. There shouldn't have been a wolf. Things were happening that Derek couldn't explain.

"You have to take me with you because I know how to find Scott in the forest," Stiles said.

"So do I," Derek shot back. "I'll scent him out."

"Well, I have an app for that." Stiles waggled his phone. "On this." Derek ignored him. "Which we should at least use to explain why we're there. What are you going to do, jog up to Scott and Allison and say, 'Oh, hi. I was just on my way to grandmother's house with this basket of goodies and I smelled you?'"

Derek kept walking, but he had to admit that the kid had a point. He slid a glance at him. "Show me how to use the app."

Stiles made a point of hugging the phone to his chest. "No way are you taking my phone without me," he said.

"Tell me or I'll rip your throat out," Derek snarled at him. Threats like that had produced perfect results in the past—at Derek's command, Stiles had almost cut off his poisoned arm rather than suffer his wrath. Luckily Scott had arrived with the antidote—a bullet he had stolen from Kate Argent. She had a box of ammo filled with Northern Blue Monkshood—wolfsbane. Derek had used the wolfsbane to cure himself.

Just another reason to hate Kate with all his soul.

"No," Stiles said. "Scott's my best friend, and you're not telling me everything."

I had a nightmare, Derek thought, and huffed to himself. There was no way he was telling Stiles that. Werewolves didn't share information with humans, ever.

Except for him, Derek Hale. He had shared information with a human. He hadn't meant to.

And the results had been disastrous.

"All right," he said. "We'll take your Jeep."

Stiles huffed. "Why can't we ever take your car?"

.

Jackson was lost.

Sensing imminent danger, he had bolted from Gramm's campfire, and now he didn't know where the hell he was. He tried to get a fix with his phone's GPS, but he wasn't getting a signal. Now he was scrambling over large tree roots and ducking low-lying branches, searching for a path, some partiers, anything. He had no idea why he'd gotten so spooked, and he was trying not to second-guess his decision to leave. Jackson had a gift for reading signals, which was one of the reasons he was so good at lacrosse. Sometimes he just knew which way to run, where the ball would land. It hadn't taken much to notice the difference in Scott McCall's performance, but he seemed to be the only person on the team who had figured out that Scott was on some kind of drug.

Or something.

He pressed his fingertips against the back of his neck, where those nasty scratches were. They were tingling or itching or something—he couldn't quite describe it—and that just added to his sense of urgency. Hell with this. He was getting out of the woods and going to spend the night with Lydia. All he'd have to do was tell her about he note and she would forgive him for blowing her off. Maybe.

If he could find his way out.

The sleepless night at that skanky hotel was taking its toll. Slumping against a tree trunk, he tilted back his head to draw in deep breaths. With all the smoke he smelled, he was amazed he hadn't run into anybody yet. Some kids partying. Up there the stars were shining in constellations and the moon was hanging low, but none of it would help him find his way back to his car. He didn't know anything about celestial navigation or any of that Boy Scout stuff. He knew about lacrosse.

Maybe if I call for help, he thought, but he shook his head. With his luck, some loser from school would hear him whining like a baby. He was resourceful. If he could just get his bearings, he'd be fine.

However . . .

He texted Lydia and hoped it went through. Time to mend some fences, or he'd be spending night number two alone.