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Sometime between when she had issued her first command and now, the pack had discovered one last feral. The woman had been discovered, caught, and thrown in the potting shed, but in their rush, no one had bothered to tell Summer. She strode into the potting shed, damp hair still clinging to her neck from her hasty shower, and jerked in surprise when she spotted the woman.
“Who the fuck is that?” she asked as soon as she threw open the rolling door to the potting shed with Chuck on her heels.
“We found her lurking at the edge of the homestead,” Mullein told her.
Summer frowned down at the bound and gagged woman. She was sprawled beside and slightly on top of the male feral Summer had captured. Something in her pert nose reminded Summer of her Auntie Rose.
Rage flared in Summer. Blinding, pure hatred for this woman and everything she stood for rose up into her throat with the sharp tang of bile.
“Kill her,” she said bluntly.
The woman’s duct tape muffled howls punctuated the silence that followed Summer’s statement.
“Summer,” Chuck whispered, his hand lightly clasping her elbow. “She’s a valuable hostage.”
Summer quivered with barely controlled rage and stared the woman down. Pain and hate boring holes through her skull.
“Keep her. Make her watch the interrogation, then let her loose to be a messenger,” Chuck whispered hastily and tugged firmly on Summer’s elbow. “Don’t do this. Not now. Wait.”
With a frown, Summer nodded. “You know him?” she asked the woman and let her gaze go to the bound man.
There was a muffled, unintelligible grunt, but the woman nodded.
“Then, you have to watch.” Summer stepped closer to the pair, breaking Chuck’s lose grasp on her arm, and grabbed the woman’s wrists. In a display of raw strength that caught more than Chuck off guard, Summer hauled the woman completely upright in one tug. Summer looked her in the eyes then dropped her back to the hard-packed dirt floor of the potting shed. She stepped back, dusting her hands, and acting like she didn’t just haul a full-grown woman completely off the ground one handed.
“Are the pups in bed?” Summer asked the few people gathered around the shed’s open door. “It’s almost midnight, I assume they’re in bed now,” she said, checking her watch.
“Yes, Summer,” Mullein told her quickly.
“Good.” Summer brushed a few damp strands of chocolate hair back over her shoulder. “Set two chairs in here, one against each wall, and facing each other,” she directed. “Keep their hands bound. And bind them to their respective chairs, but make sure they can see each other.”
“Ok,” Mullein said, hesitation etched across his body.
“Unca,” Summer said. “Mull.” She said sharply when he didn’t move.
“Yes, ma’am,” he mumbled and left.
“Everyone else can get the fuck out,” Summer told the remaining folks, mostly Elders.
“We’re staying for this, girl,” Dittany said harshly.
Summer whirled sharply and faced down her Auntie. “Yeah? You’re staying to watch me torture information out of them? You? The Elders who couldn’t be bothered to lift a paw to help themselves, but you were willing to call me. You raised me yourself, Auntie Dee. You know what’s needs to happen now.” She frowned. “What has to happen now.”
The two women glared at one another.
“You know what you asked for, Dee,” Summer reminded her again, her shoulders set in a firm line and turned away from the older woman. “You know what I’m capable of and you knew what you were asking me to do.”
“No, Dee,” Summer cut her off. “Get the fuck out and let me do this.” She threw up her hands in anger the whirled to face Dittany again. “It’s what you wanted after all.”
Dittany’s mouth opened in her lined face, but she closed it again.
Summer, taking that as tacit permission again, turned away, and stared down at the two captives. Mullein stepped forward and started setting each of the bound ferals in the two chairs.
Summer tapped Chuck lightly on the arm and jerked her head towards the rolling door. He took her cue and followed her out into the night.
“Got a knife?” Summer asked him.
He handed her a palm sized folding utility knife with a texturized black plastic handle. “Slitting throats?” he asked lightly.
“That’s not my primary plan, but it’s good for show.” She tucked the knife into her pocket.
“Why did you spare her?”
Summer’s eyebrows rose. “You don’t believe I saved her because you asked? Fine, why did you ask me to spare her?”
Chuck shifted uneasily. “I, uhh, I spared her because she’s a woman.
“What? You saved her because she’s a pretty face? Geez, Chuck! Stereotypical much?”
“Fine, why did you listen to me?” Chuck said in a huff.
“Other than she’ll make a good messenger, send what I want back to her pack? They found her lurking; she didn’t fight hard. Probably didn’t hurt anyone,” she said, voice trailing off. Summer gave him a quick glance and a half smile. “Besides, she’s pretty. I hate to rob the world of beauty.”
Chuck gave her a stern look. “And I’m supposed to believe you like women?”
“Oh, like you’re straight?” Summer said with a rich laugh. “Weren’t you talking about all those men attracted to you on the ride out?”
“Wait, you aren’t?” Chuck’s voice held the disbelief that was palpable on his face.
“No. I don’t think so. I dunno, I guess I liked who I liked and never gave it much thought.”
There was a pause as they eyed one another.
“Ok, but seriously, you saved her because she’s pretty?” Summer frowned at him. “And me?” She quirked an eyebrow. “Am I only alive because I shifted naked in front of you?”
“No!” Chuck’s quick exclamation was punctuated by him taking a step closer to her. “Yes. It’s that, but it’s also that you could do it during a new moon.”
“Look, I didn’t lie. Your pelt is worth a lot to a lot of people.” He ran a hand through his rich, dark hair. “But I figured you had something I hadn’t seen before. And even if you weren’t what I’d been led to believe, it was worth it to keep you alive.”
“Just business, huh, Chuck?” she asked coldly.
“No, damn it,” he said in frustration. “Maybe it was. But I’ve been,” he hesitated, “aware of you for several months. I’ve been researching you. Tracking you. After a week, there was no way I could kill you. Even if you had actually been a feral werewolf,” he said in a rush.
“Why, Chuck?” Summer asked quietly. She met his eyes.
“You know why.” Chuck’s eyes blazed with a quiet intensity. They held the same kind of silent thunder that she’d felt when she had promised to answer three questions.
Summer opened her mouth to respond but was blocked by Mullein exiting the shed.
“They’re ready now, ma’am.”
Summer’s mouth pressed into a firm line and she didn’t take her eyes from Chuck. “Thank you, Mull. Thank you very much,” she ground out.
Summer took a step towards the shed, but Chuck snagged her arm, halting her.
He shifted his grip to take her hand. “There’s a reason I believed in you,” he said hastily. His hand gave a quick tug and his mouth met hers.
Summer allowed herself to be caught up in the sweet firmness of the kiss for only a moment before gently pushing him back. “Now? I’ve got people still stuck in my teeth and you kiss me now?” She searched his face.
He gave a half shrug and a mischievous grin. “Decades at war? Let’s just say I like my women wild.”
Summer rolled her eyes in exasperation but had to suppress a grin.
The strode into the potting shed together.
An hour later, they had turned from their male captive to the woman. Summer had hoped that interrogating the male feral in front of her would have proved good punctuation on the message she had wanted to send, but he had folded harder than the chair upon which he sat.
Just being threatened with violence had caused him to wet himself and the smell of piss had punctuated the interrogation from the start. Just one flash of Summer’s borrowed knife had made him quiver in fear and answer every question she’d asked.
According to him, his Alpha was a middle-aged man who had been a werewolf longer than him. Given that the former tax accountant had still been dutifully crunching numbers when Chuck had kidnapped Summer less than a month ago, this pronouncement didn’t hold much weight with Summer. Within the hour, Summer had dismissed him as nothing more than a delusional sycophant who would be dead in another week without her intervention. He had given up the size of the group, twenty-four after the losses from tonight’s raid. (And he seemed to include himself and his fellow captive in this loss.) He had stated that the group’s goal was to scare Summer’s pack enough to move into their territory without a huge fight or loss of life. Apparently, the Alpha considered Summer’s pack to be a group of weaklings who would be unwilling to fight him over the incursion. Privately, Summer didn’t disagree.
“He’s worthless,” she told Chuck. “Take him out back and kill him.” She snagged Chuck’s arm as he stepped forward and leaned in to whisper: “Make it sound awful. Leave him for a bit, at least.”
“Will you kill him?”
“Maybe. Not sure yet.”
It would be better if even Chuck didn’t know if she’d kill the man. If she did, then when she turned the woman loose, she told a story of Summer’s ruthlessness. If the woman turned out to be unredeemable, someone Summer couldn’t even trust to carry a message without risk she’d harm others, then she had a spare messenger.
Chuck gave her a hard look, but hauled the man off, sliding the door shut and forcing the crowd inside without another word. Within moments, there were the sounds of something hard striking something soft. A grunt of pain followed the soft whumping noises.
Summer kept her chin held high and ignored the sounds as well as the decreasing moans of pain. The small crowd shuffled uneasily. Summer suppressed a smirk. This only reinforced that they hated what she was doing but recognized the need and wouldn’t stop her from doing it. Summer shivered slightly in the now rumpled business clothes she never had the opportunity to ditch after work.
Chuck slid the door open with a bang. The assembled crowd jumped as one, all except Summer, who had expected it as soon as the man’s groans had faded.
“Done?” she asked, voice and face expressionless. Almost bored.
“I did as you asked,” Chuck ground out sullenly.
Summer turned to the woman, still bound to her chair, and she looked at her. She really looked at her for the first time. When she had first seen her sprawled on the floor, Summer had assumed she was older. Her hair was thin and damage, handing in lank strands around her face. Her cheeks had a sunken, hollow look and her skin pock marked. The woman’s face was also flushed, her breathing rapid, and her eyes were glazed in her sweaty face. Summer hadn’t known a lot of people who used narcotics, since the Aunties and Uncles preferred weed, but she knew the symptoms of withdrawal.
“What were you on?” Summer asked gently.
If Chuck was surprised to see her change in tone, he didn’t let on.
“Heroine,” the woman whimpered and licked her cracked lips. “Sometimes meth.”
“Did you get bitten to get more?”
“No. Yeah.” The woman shook her head. “Kind of?”
Summer stayed quiet, letting an uncomfortable silence stretch between them.
“I slept around—” the woman stared but hesitated. “The guys I’d see,” she licked her lips again and Summer could see the ravages of meth behind her cracked lips, “they’d give me stuff. You know, for the sex. It was easy. ‘Specially when I was stung out. Who gives a shit who puts what and where when you’re strung out, right?”
Summer nodded, not in agreement, but in acknowledgment, she’d heard what the woman said.
“One of my men, he said he could make me stronger. I could kick this habit and be stronger than the drugs. Just had to bite me,” she let her voice trail off for a moment as she squirmed against her bonds. “So, I let him bite me. I thought it was some kinky kind thing and I could use it to get more meth. Well, I done woke up a week later and I was furry as a god damn dog! Fucker’d made me a werewolf.”
“Then what?” Summer asked. She glanced sideways at Chuck.
“Dunno. When I was a wolf, I ran. When I was a person, they let me be strung out.” She shook her head, greasy hair shuffling around her face. “Ain’t got no idea what I done the last three months. I’ve been more fuck up and strung out than any drug I ever injected in my shit. No idea who’s got my kids or where the fuck I am.”
Tears started forming at the corners of her eyes, but Summer couldn’t tell if it was shame or the withdrawal.
“You seem in good shape for someone under the influence,” Summer stated quietly.
“It’s the god damn bite, they tell me. It keeps me healthy. I don’t look like I did before because the bite, but I still fucking want the drugs. It doesn’t go away,” she whined. “It never fuckin’ goes away!”
Summer took in the woman’s haggard appearance, horrified that the woman considered it healthy compared to before.
“Does it help when you shift? When you’re a wolf?”
“Yeah, but that’s only a few days a month. Even tonight I thought they was crazy because they wanted us to shift as much as we could. Hurt like hell and all I got was claws. I hid. I didn’t want this.”
Summer shot a quick glance at Chuck. “You can’t shift when it’s not the days around the full moon?”
“No. Of course not!” The calm she seemed to have gained over the last few minutes slipped.
“You can shift during a new moon,” the captive panted. “Tell me how. Tell me now!” Her drug-addled wailed echoed in the tiny shack.
“If you’d been born this way, you could do it too if you hadn’t been bitten, you poor dumb bitch.”
“Summer!” Chuck’s voice cracked through the small shed like a whip.
“What? She’s a female wolf, even if she’s only bitten, she’s a bitch. As am I,” Summer added as an afterthought.
“Summer,” Chuck said warningly.
“Walk with me,” she told him. “Keep her tied up. I’ll be back,” she told the few people in the shed.
She and Chuck strode from the shed.
“Him?” She asked quietly.
“Knocked out,” Chuck replied.
He paused, lifting his elbow slightly. Summer took it and Chuck strode forward.
“What are you playing at?” he asked, curiosity infusing his voice.
Summer could feel a tension in his arm as they strolled the homestead’s interior gravel path. “They want me to be something beyond them. They assume that because I was capable of that level of violence once, I am easily turned to it again,” she said quietly.
“And are you?”
Summer jerked, startled. “No. No, of course I’m not. I mean,” she paused, “part of me wants to beat this bitch to a pulp. I want to tear her limb from limb. A quiet part of me, a very wild part, wonders how good it would feel to have the kidnapper’s entrails clenched in my hands,” she shuddered. “But I’m not going to physically tear her apart.” Summer shuddered. “I mean, you didn’t hear all of it. She’s pathetic. Strung out on drugs and not totally aware of what she’s doing.”
“She hurt your people,” Chuck told her.
“She lurked on the edges, you even told me that. She isn’t a killer.” Summer frowned. “And I won’t be one just because they asked.”
“What will that do to your relationship with them?”
Chuck had articulated a question Summer had feared. “What do you mean?” her voice rose an octave when she asked.
“What happened when they realize you aren’t the killer they assumed you where?”
A long silence followed, punctuated only by the grinding of gravel under their feet. “Nothing,” Summer finally said. “Nothing changes what I’ve done. Or,” she said, considering, “who I really am.”
Chuck nodded and continued their loop around the homestead.
“And when tonight is over, then what?”
“I go back to my life.”
“You earned their respect and more than a few followers,” he told her. There was an odd note in his voice. “I would guess that more than a few of your packmates would support a change in leadership here.”
Summer shook her head sharply. “I don’t want it. Any of it.”
“Curious,” Chuck murmured quietly. His rich voice was pitched low, as not to carry, and it made Summer shiver.
“You aren’t what I expected,” he told Summer.
“What do you mean?”
Chuck gave an enigmatic smile. Something shot through Summer. A memory of their kiss lanced through her.
“Chuck!” summer admonished.
He shook his head with a half grin.
“And who are you, Chuck? The charmer or the gray man? Seducer or supplicant?”
“I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. Am I the man or the monster?” He looked down at the arm she held. “Who are any of us?”
Summer’s eyes followed, noting his freshly bruised knuckles. Probably bruise when he beat the male prisoner.
Their loop ended there, the doors to the potting shed open before them.
“Are you ready for what’s next?” Summer asked.
“I am. Are you?”
Something in his tone made her hesitate. She wanted to snap something witty, call out the inherent sexism of his question, but something in his tone stopped her.
“Yes.” Summer stepped through the door, Chuck almost silently on her heels. “Tell me about your pack,” she commanded the feral woman.
A half hour later, they had little more information to show for their efforts. The feral pack was headed to Baker, which they already knew. They were specifically targeting the Asteraceae Pack, Summer’s pack, which they also knew. And her pack also wanted the Asteraceae Pack’s land, people, and specifically Summer, who is to be unharmed to the point of offering one’s life for her unharmed state.
That, they didn’t know and explained why the ferals seemed so easy to kill and why they were willing to attack on a night when most, if not all, were unable to shift completely.
“Why are they looking for me?” Summer asked the woman.
The feral woman gave a lopsided grin, showing her meth ravaged teeth. Her withdrawal symptoms had her wavering between the here and now and a pain riddle reality Summer couldn’t follow.
“Why me?” Summer growled.
The woman flinched but seemed to keep drifting in and out of her own reality.
Chuck clasped her arms and looked deep into the woman’s eyes. His voice came out in a deep, almost hypnotic roll. “Why are you seeking this woman?”
When he stepped back, the feral woman’s eyes were locked on Chuck. He nodded once. “Why?”
The woman’s eyes, now too bright and fevered, stayed locked on Chuck, but she strained against her bonds, straining towards Summer.
“She’s the Pack Master’s daughter,” the feral whispered.
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