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Despite it’s elderly, Bondo and Rust-Oleum covered exterior, the beater’s engine was in prime condition. It also, Summer suspected, was not original to the car’s frame. When Chuck pressed the accelerator, the car moved.
Summer was pushed back into the decrepit and fading blue fabric of Chuck’s car as he accelerated back towards the Pack’s homestead. She clutched the half-torn “oh shit” strap over the door frame and tried not to envision the worst.
Aunt Dittany’s words had been concise: “Attacked. Rose kidnapped. Help us. Please.”
There had been something in the way Dittany’s voice had hitched when she said please. An acknowledgment. She had known Summer almost her entire life. She knew what Chuck was. There had been tacit permission in that “please.” That, more than anything else, chilled Summer.
“Chuck, what if–”
“But–” she tried to start again and was cut off.
“No. We don’t give the ‘what ifs’ a voice.” He shook his head as he accelerated even more into a turn. “What do you know? Start from there and we’ll build a plan based on what we know, not what we fear.”
Chuck’s voice was as steady and smooth as marble. It was also as cold as marble in the depths of winter.
“I know,” she told him, “that the feral pack attacked not long after we left. Minutes.” Her throat tightened. She swallowed hard once then cleared her throat. “Auntie Rose has been kidnapped.”
“What is she to you? Family? Elder? Parent? Blood relation?” The words seemed to snap out of him.
“Pack Elder,” she told him.
“What does that mean?”
“We don’t have an Alpha. We have Elders. The oldest and most influential in the pack. They work as a collective to make and enforce rules in the pack. I mean, not like they’re hardasses or anything. They mostly sit around smoking weed and chatting.”
“Does she hold any extra sway in the group?”
“No. She’s old. That’s all. The oldest Elder, I think. I don’t know! We aren’t that formal.”
“Ok, the ferals must know and have assumed that being ‘oldest of the Elders’ makes you someone special. They took her specifically to send a message. Unless she holds any special meaning to you?”
Summer could feel Chuck dart a glance at her but kept her eyes on the road as is passed in a rush of roaring horsepower. “She’s kind to me. But, she’s the same as the rest of them. Auntie Dittany was the one who mostly raised me. Her and Saffron when Auntie Dee was on the outs with Uncle Mull.”
“So, not really a parental figure.”
Another statement, not a question. Summer nodded.
“Ok. They waited specifically until we were gone. They took the eldest Elder but not the one who raised you.” He veered hard around another corner, throwing them both against their seatbelts. “They’re sending a message, but what?” The words were snapping out of him again.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, she could see a young man calling into a radio for help, snapping out precise coordinates as he pressed a blood-soaked cloth to a wound. Although his voice snapped, she realized it was from a lifetime of pulling critical information under life and death circumstances. The realization allowed her a measure of calm.
“They don’t want to face you and me, but they take what they assume is their Alpha equivalent?”
Chuck nodded. “Yes, I’d buy that. They’re afraid of our strength, or they would have just attacked outright. They want us to know they see us, but don’t want to fight us directly.”
Summer inhaled sharply. “They want to parley.”
There was a moment of silence broken only by four hundred horses racing under a battered sheet of Detroit steel.
“They want to parley,” Chuck finally agreed. His shoulder dropped a fraction of an inch. “So, we take the fight to them. They’ve got Rose, but they’ll have left ‘emissaries’ we’re supposed to encounter who will direct us to their Alpha to talk.”
Summer watched his hand flex on the wheel. As they had driven out, he’d rolled his sleeves to the elbow, no longer caring what the pack saw, exposing his forearms. Those well-muscled forearms corded as he gripped the wheel. Summer held back a sigh.
“Are you willing to talk to them?” Chuck asked her, his voice still smooth as marble.
Summer felt something in her harden. “No.”
His voice dropped into a low, heated whisper. “What are you willing to do, Summer?”
She thought of Dittany’s “Please.” The something that had hardened in her broke and melted. “What I have to do,” she told him.
“Then what? It’s your pack; you decide how we play this.” Chuck stomped the brake and cranked the steering wheel, drifting them into the long gravel driveway to the Pack’s homestead. A spray of gravel and dust was lost to the night.
“We end them. Leave the bodies where they can be seen. That’s the message.” Summer’s voice hardened to steel. “You fuck with my family and I’m coming for you.”
“And your family? Do you care how they’ll react?” Chuck asked over the pop and crunch of gravel.
“Help us. Please.“
Summer gave a low growl, strange in a human throat. “No. They didn’t lift a paw to help themselves and they don’t get a say in how the mess gets cleaned up.” Somewhere deep in the back of her mind, an urge or run, rip flesh, and lap at blood tugged at her.
“It’s not a full moon, you gonna have enough power to do this?” Chuck asked as they skidded to a halt in the driveway.
Summer glared at him for a half a moment then flung herself out the door, ripping clothes off as she ran. “Clear the pups,” she called out. “Everyone inside and if you see someone not of this pack, you point them out!”
She dropped to her hands and shifted in a blink. Not the slow shimmering transformation she had done for Chuck the first night she met him. It was a quick, violent shift; she whimpered slightly as she stood on four feet.
Around her was chaos. Werewolves in human shape were fighting off feral wolves. They seemed to be unwilling or unable to shift reliably and many were in some sort of halfway form. Summer watched one person, jaws and claws elongated but only half furred and human height, grappling with a large brindled wolf. Nearby, a man herded a group of children into one of the small cabins. Summer nodded approvingly when she heard the snap of a lock inside the door.
“Can you tell who is pack and who is feral?” Chuck asked. He walked up beside her, holstering one gun with his left hand and another held ready in his right hand.
Summer gave a quick nod.
Chuck looked hard at her. “You know,” he said quietly, “I need to put a reflective collar on you or something. I’m used to seeing a wolf and shooting. This is going to be hard as fuck.”
Summer growled and nipped lightly at his ankle.
Chuck danced back, shaking her off. “Fine! Fine, no collar. But if I need to know it’s you, three yips and a howl or something. Don’t just growl at me!”
She gave a quick “woof” of understanding then surged into the chaos.
“Help us. Please.“
Summer focused on a pair grappling at the edge of the cabins. The half-changed man struggled to fend off a fully grown wolf, his hands only half transformed into claws. His clawed hands, fingertips elongated and tipped by claws, locked on the wolf’s snout as it drove at his neck. Summer flowed smoothly across the gravel path and leaped onto the wolf. Her jaws clamped on its neck, tearing into fur and flesh.
Knowing she had tacit permission to do her best, Summer’s fangs met fur and flesh. She didn’t even pause as she rent them asunder.
Summer had told Chuck that she retained her human mind when in wolf form, but it was only partly true. She retained human sensitivities, morals, and thoughts, but it was balanced against the wolf’s thoughts and instincts.
Right now, a member of her pack was in mortal peril, and the wolf’s instinct was in the driver’s seat.
Summer landed on the gravel path and whirled to leap again, not caring about the blood and gobbets of meat that hung from her jaws or the hunks of meat that lay strewn on the gravel path. She crouched, powerful hindquarters allowing her back feet to dig into the dig and bring her around. Her second charge let her teeth snap all the way through her foe’s jugular, severing it. She landed and turned to see her foe laying on the path, panting as the dry stones drank greedily of his life’s blood. Her half shifted packmate staggered back, trying to comprehend the violence that had played out in front of him.
The human part of her mourned the loss of life; the wolf only crouched and sought the next threat to her pack.
Her eyes locked on to the next pair grappling for dominance at the foot of the hewn wooden stairs to the next cabin. She attacked again.
Blood, fur, and meat flew, splattering the hewn wooden steps.
Splinters of bone, coated in unidentifiable gore, lodged into a hand-carved railing.
Something stuck in her teeth. Someone, she knew, but the wolf part of her mind ignored the gibbering screams of her human half as it annihilated any threat to her pack.
Occasionally, Chuck would assist her. Punctuating her dance of death with the tip of a knife or an elbow thrown at a strategic spot. But mostly, he let her work. Let her flow like blood coated death on four furry feet. Across gravel and grass, she danced, leaving only a path of dead foes and frightened packmates in her wake.
Summer finally cornered the last feral between the railing of the Pack House and its exterior wall. She was crouched to attack when Chuck called to her.
“Summer, interrogate him first,” Chuck’s voice sounded weary.
If she had been enervated by protecting her pack, he sounded wrung out. She glanced at her prey, seeing a quivering mass of flesh against a railing and back to Chuck, who had a knife poised to throw. Chuck was clearly holding the man shaped werewolf from running and offering her a hostage.
Summer took a half step back, dropped her head, and shifted back to human form. She rose, naked body dripping with blood like a long forgotten goddess of death. She looked to Chuck with the faintest hint of a smile. His eyes raked over her, taking in the smooth curve of taught muscle. The slow drip of blood across a flat belly and firm, muscled thigh. It was more than blood lust that burned in his eyes.
“Bind him. Gag him,” Summer told her packmates. “Throw him in a shed until I can shower and put clothes on,” she told Chuck. Power burned through her and command rang in her voice.
For a brief moment of friction burned the air. Around her, the pack scurried to obey as Chuck stood still.
He whispered two words, almost lost in the flurry of movement.
And Chuck bowed his head, ever so slightly.
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