I pulled on a pair of sweats and a T-shirt, wondering how long I would be apologizing for this latest misstep.
“Cooper wanted to know if you could drop by the Glacier in the morning.”
“Why not the house?” I asked, quirking an eyebrow at her.
“Well, there’s someone he wants you to meet, or at least see.”
I groaned at Mo. “Mo, please tell me he isn’t going to try to set me up on some lame blind date.”
“Not quite. There’s a guy who’s been coming around the saloon asking questions about the attacks last year. Cooper thinks he’s some sort of investigator. Nicholas Thatcher, PhDs. As in, he has more than one. He’s not your typical Paranormal State wacko. There’s not a dowsing crystal in sight. He seems to be doing actual scientific research. Since you’re alpha, Cooper wants you to come by and get a look at him, see what you think.”
I quirked my lips at her. “That was low.”
She grinned at me. I was the youngest leader in our pack’s history and eager to prove my mettle. I’d inherited the job under less than ideal circumstances from our previous alpha, creepy-ass—and by no coincidence thoroughly dead—Eli, who took over the job for my self-exiled brother.
It’s a long story.
I took my job as pack leader seriously, and Mo knew the best way to get to me was to appeal to my position. She could be a conniving, sneaky wench, our Mo . . . hence my being the tiniest bit fond of her.
“Why the big discussion? Let’s just get rid of him. Run him back to the lower forty-eight. Or we could go with a slightly less pleasant, but bloody and satisfying, second option.”
“Cooper and I think you should meet him before you jump to any conclusions.”
“Fine, I’ll meet him, and then maybe his tires develop problems while he’s in the saloon, and he ends up careening into a ditch, never to be heard from again.”
“You’re a werewolf, not a hit man.”
“It’ll look like an accident.”
My mother shot me a sharp look, snatching the kettle from the stove with a clatter. “How many family conversations are going to be interrupted by me telling you, no, you can’t kill someone and make it look like an accident? Now, would you two please sit down and drink this tea before it gets cold?”
“Yes, ma’am,” we chorused sheepishly, taking seats at the table.
“Way to go, you got us into trouble,” I grumbled.
“I wasn’t the one planning the cold-blooded murder of a complete stranger,” Mo stage-whispered.
“No, you only plan cold-blooded murders when someone takes the last chocolate chess square without asking.”
“A girl’s got to have her priorities,” Mo insisted.
I’m a Loser, Baby . . .
BY THE TIME I arrived at the Glacier, I’d worked up a pretty good head of steam.
I’d done a little bit of research on Dr. Nicholas J. Thatcher, and my Google results were disturbing. Mo was right. Thatcher wasn’t your typical lonely tech geek who fancied himself a paranormal investigator. He was calling himself a “zoological anthropologist.” He’d already decided that werewolves existed; now he just wanted to know how we came to be, how we lived. This was just the type of guy who would blindly stumble into proof of our existence, sell it to National Geographic, and send my whole family running away from scientists bearing tranq guns and skull saws.
Here’s the thing. I loved being a werewolf. I couldn’t imagine living in just one skin. And I was lucky to be able to turn into such a cool animal. I could have been stuck as a were-skunk or something equally lame. (They do exist. Poor bastards.) Werewolves changed day or night and had the most complete, dependable changes. And we had the stable pack structure, led by an alpha male mated to the female of his choice, who becomes the alpha female. Unless the alpha male handed his office over to, say, his much cooler and wiser younger sister.
And don’t believe all that crap Hollywood tries to peddle about being bitten and cursed by the full moon. You had to be born into our little club. No matter how many times we bit someone, that person would not go furry. They’d probably bleed a lot, though, and maybe get an infection.
Humans had no idea that we existed. Sure, we were the subject of lame movies, and every Halloween, we put up with little kids running around with fur glued to their faces, yelling “Grr!” But humans would freak out if they realized that they saw us every day at the grocery store, in their schools, in the woods. Hell, some wildlife experts could see us in wolf form and would never know they were looking at anything but a large, but otherwise normal, wolf. A picture of my cousin Samson made it into National Geographic the year before with a caption calling him a “magnificent specimen.” He’d been carrying the damn article around in his wallet for months, using it to impress werewolf chicks.
Basically, we’d gotten by undocumented with cunning and a lot of dumb-ass luck.
If people knew, really knew, that the things that go bump in the night existed, we’d be hunted. Simple as that. Our children would be taken from us and put in special detention centers. We’d be studied, dissected, chased.
Nick Thatcher would be lucky to leave Grundy with all his parts intact.
I took a deep breath and let myself wallow in the delicious, happy noise of the Blue Glacier before I had to get down to business. My cousin Evie owned the saloon, which was part diner, part bar, part dry goods store. The dining room was lit by picture windows and obnoxious neon beer signs. The scent of smoke from the black iron woodstove and potatoes fried in peanut oil had pictures of double cheeseburgers and apple-raisin pie dancing behind my eyelids.
Evie’s husband, Buzz, had churned out plain old burgers and fries from the saloon’s kitchen until Mo came along with her magical spatula. She overhauled the menu, started baking desserts from scratch, and turned out to be a bit of a marketing genius to boot. For instance, she figured out that while her new neighbors found “shepherd’s pie” to be pretentious and British, if she called it “mashed potato pot pie,” we’d lap it up. She even developed a signature moose meat loaf sandwich that got the place mentioned in some outsider foodie magazine.
Evie had even given Mo a stake in the place to keep her from quitting when she had the baby. I chose to believe that was why Mo and Cooper named the baby after Evie, instead of, say, a favorite sibling.
Trust my brother to mate with the best cook on this end of the state. Most werewolves are masters of the kitchen. If you can kill it or cover it in gravy, we’ll serve it and serve it well. It is a biological necessity. Our metabolism is so high that we have to scarf down calories all day just to sleep all night, like a mini-hibernation. If you were a member of PETA, you would not be happy at a werewolf Thanksgiving, because in terms of menu, we take “all of column A and half of column B” from the available woodland creatures. Still, none of us could compete with Mo in the kitchen. And trust me, several of my aunties tried.
I stopped to steal Alan Dahling’s cap from the bar and plopped it on my head. “Hey there, Ranger, you ever catch up to that bear with all the pickanic baskets?”
“Haha, mock the public servant,” Alan said, scowling at me and snatching the cap back. Alan had been one of the most eligible bachelors in our end of the woods until he’d hooked up with Kara Reynolds, who just happened to be one of Mo’s childhood friends. Kara had come up for Mo and Cooper’s wedding, jumped Alan, and never bothered leaving. Can’t say I blamed her, really. Despite their recent engagement and the fact that he regularly solved problems with bear traps, Alan was still a headliner in my personal fantasy rotation.
What? I like uniforms.
“Kara won’t like it much if she sees you eyeing Mo that way,” I said, nodding toward the kitchen, where Alan was watching Mo flit from counter to stove.
Not for the first time, I envied the way Mo moved. I was stealthy and quick. I knew how to land on my feet. But Mo moved with the kind of fluid grace that made you think of swans and toe shoes. Then again, every once in a while, she had a fantastically spazzy moment and ended up falling on her ass, covered in brownie batter. I felt that balanced the scales.
“I’m not eyeing the girl,” Alan told me. “I’m eyeing the sandwich.”
He grinned as Mo delivered a steak melt, piled high with her special beer-battered onion rings.
Kara appeared at Alan’s elbow, stealing one of his rings. She grinned and winked one of her china-doll green eyes at me. “It’s true. Since high school, I’ve never been able to compete with her lunch plates,” she said in that honey-and-whiskey accent that kept the local guys circling Mo and Kara like confused, horny bees.
I snickered and snatched one of the onion rings for myself while Alan was distracted with nauseating prelunch smoochies. They were perfectly matched, Alan and Kara. Blond, blue-eyed and tanned, although Alan was about three heads taller. It was as if Alan had ordered her out of a happy couples catalogue or something. Sometimes I looked at all the smug, settled couples around me . . . and I wanted to yark a little bit.
“There’s a joke in there somewhere, but I don’t have time to find it,” I said, rolling my eyes when Cooper started waving at me from across the bar.
Oh, right, I came here with an agenda.
“Where is he?” I demanded, taking the stool next to Cooper.
“Watch yourself. Here, you can’t make a bloody public scene while holding the niblet,” he said, holding out my niece like a tiny human shield.
“Darn your powers of cuteness,” I grumbled at the baby, who babbled and grabbed at my nose. I smiled despite myself. Little Eva was a sight to behold. I had never seen hair like this kid’s, a shock of blue-black that stood out as if she’d licked a light socket. She was born looking as if she was wearing a doll’s wig. Between that and the marshmallow cheeks, she was basically a living Cabbage Patch Doll.
As beautiful and adorable as she was, Eva’s birth was a blow for the pack. Cooper was born to be the alpha, our pack leader. He was the fastest, the strongest of us all. Being alpha wasn’t exactly a hereditary monarchy, but it tends to stay in families with strong wolf genes. You can’t get much stronger than Graham DNA. Despite the fact that he’d turned the alpha position down and mated with the thoroughly human Mo, it had been expected that his baby would be a wolf. The early signs were promising. As in any pregnancy involving werewolf DNA, Mo had the typical shortened gestation. Eva had been a sturdy nine-pound newborn with a ridiculous amount of hair. But here she was, four months old, and not a tooth in sight. She was completely and utterly human.
The pack loved her, as much as we loved any of our “dead-liners,” family members who had all the same genetic opportunities we did but none of the wolf magic. Eva was cuddled constantly at family dinners, to the point where she fussed if she was put in a high chair or anyplace but a warm werewolf auntie’s lap. Still, it was a bit of a disappointment that she wouldn’t continue the line. Which put that much more pressure on me to produce the next Graham werewolf . . . which sometimes brought up old resentments against Cooper . . . which made me feel no guilt whatsoever for stealing half of his sandwich.
“You know it’s extremely fucked up to keep your baby in a bar, right?” I asked, stroking her hair, making a game of trying to find her scalp.
“Easy, that’s my pup you’re holding,” Cooper warned me, cupping his hands over Eva’s ears.
“We’re in a bar,” I pointed out again.
“She’s a smart kid. She’s going to start repeating everything she hears any day now,” Cooper said. “If her first word is ‘goddamn,’ her mom will blame one of us. And I’m not above letting you take the fall.”
“You are so whipped.”