Nick lifted his eyebrows.
“I know. But I was eighteen. How level-headed and mature were you at eighteen?”
He shrugged. “Well, I was living on my own and putting myself through school.”
“As a person, I sort of sucked,” I admitted. “For years, I was just horrible to Cooper. Every time he came around, I made it as painful as possible for him. As in, I took parts of him off. It wasn’t enough for him to be run from his home. I didn’t think he was hurting enough. And it helped that Eli was there, pouring poison in my ear. ‘See,’ he said, ‘Cooper’s fine. He’s making a life for himself. He’s not even sorry.’ And then Mo came along. Cooper was the one who saved her from John Teague. Mo figured out what he was, and she didn’t care. She loved him. I saw how happy she made him. And somehow that made it worse.
“I figured, I was hurt, so he should hurt more, you know? Eli fed into it, and I didn’t realize how deeply I’d fallen. He pulled the strings, and I danced. He said all the right things in all the right ways. Turns out Eli was the one who brought Jonas’s pack down on us in the first place. Sort of an ‘I’d rather serve at the right hand of the devil’ thing. When that fell through, he settled for running the pack himself. But he didn’t think Cooper had moved far enough away. He was afraid Cooper would get over his guilt and come back.”
I explained Eli’s reign of terror, the attacks, and how they drove Cooper away from home, family, and the woman he loved. But when Mo was pregnant with Eva, Eli realized that Cooper was never going to leave permanently, that people in the valley would always be waiting for him to come back. He snapped. He went after Mo. He figured Cooper wouldn’t want to go on without her.
“If we hadn’t gotten there in time . . . well, it was Mo. Given that she was swinging a wrench at Eli when we showed up, she might have had a chance,” I admitted.
“She’s kind of a bad-ass under the apron,” I said, smiling fondly. “You know, this might be the most words I’ve ever strung together in my life. I don’t think I like it much.”
“You should do it more often. You say really interesting stuff,” he said, taking our plates to the sink.
“This is the part where I tell you that your body will never be found.” I walked across the living room and flopped onto the couch. “Werewolves don’t share their secrets with humans often. And if you screw me over, I’ll have to kill you. Not ha-ha, ‘joking around’ kill you. It will mean the actual end of your having a pulse.”
He blanched, as if during all of the information I’d just dumped on him, he’d forgotten that he wasn’t going to be allowed to share it with anyone.
“But this is what I’ve been waiting for my whole life!” he shouted. “Proof of an intelligent species besides humans! Proof that the folk tales, the fairy stories, the things that go bump in the night, they could all be real! This is one of those moments that redefines how we see our history. It’s electricity, the Rosetta Stone, and Darwin’s theory all in one!”
“All of which made the men who discovered them incredibly famous,” I noted dryly.
“That’s why you think—I don’t give a shit about being famous! Hell, I’ve already got more money than I know what to do with. I just want people to know what’s really out there, what’s possible. That there’s more to life than what we’ve been told.”
“Stop and think. You’re not the first human to know about us. Do you honestly think I would tell you this and just let you run to the nearest wacko tabloid? Do you think I would let you unveil the existence of my species on a whim? This is one of those sacred-trust sorts of things. We let you into our lives, and you keep our secrets . . . or we kill you. It’s not a particularly friendly sacred trust.”
“So, why tell me in the first place?”
“To keep you from wandering around in the woods, getting yourself eaten by random apex predators.” I sighed, scrubbing my hands over my face. “You’re one of those guys who won’t stop until they stumble right into the path of certain death. You want to know everything. Well, I’m willing to share that with you, but you won’t be able to tell anybody about it. You have to decide which is more important, knowing everything or knowing a little and being published . . . and then dying. I can’t emphasize that last part enough.”
“I—you—I can’t possibly decide something like that right now!” he exclaimed.
“Well, you kind of have to.”
“Can I have some time?”
I considered. There was a possibility that he could use that time to run to said tabloid. But he didn’t have photos or recordings, just some scribbled notes that made him sound like a crackpot. I nodded, edging toward the door. “Sure.”
“Is it weird that after all the death threats, I still sort of want to kiss you?”
I nodded again. “A little.”
He chuckled and leaned in anyway. Opening the back door, I pressed my hand against his chest and gave him a gentle shove back. “I can’t.”
“Why? I happen to remember, now that I know I wasn’t having a concussion dream, that we’ve already done this. Several times. And a little more, now that it’s coming back to me.”
I smiled ruefully. “I just can’t. If you decide that you can live with the consequences of knowing about us, I’ll tell you why.”
“That’s sort of cruel.”
I sighed. “Welcome to the wacky world of werewolves.”
Are Eyelash Curlers Banned by the Geneva Convention?
THE NEXT FRIDAY NIGHT, I climbed out of my mother’s SUV, pulling uncomfortably at my skirt and cursing the day I was born with two X chromosomes.
Yes, I was wearing a skirt.
I’d finally made time for another date with Clay, and it just happened to be the biggest social event of the season. Such as it was. Every year, Evie and Buzz hosted the Big Freeze at the Glacier, a sort of big last hootenanny before winter set in. The first heavy frost of year always came pretty early, in what most lower forty-eight residents would still consider fall. And although it would be weeks before the snows truly set in and made travel difficult, the people of Grundy put on their Sunday best and gathered for beer, dancing, and general merriment. For most of the people who lived on the fringes of town, it was the last chance to socialize before winter hit. I rarely went, since it was basically a way for unattached men and women of Grundy to find the person they planned on shacking up with during the cold months.
Normally, Evie scheduled the party right before the almanac forecast the first freeze. But this year, she and Mo had rescheduled at the last minute because some Food Network guy was coming by to film a segment about “Hidden Gems of the Northwest,” and they wanted to hold the party before the crews arrived. Clay had been pretty understanding when I told him that our date was suddenly semiformal and that I would have to meet him there, since I was dropping my mom off at Cooper’s so she could babysit. Which was just one more reason to like Clay.
Mom knocked on Cooper’s door, because she didn’t want to be “that” mother-in-law. I rolled my eyes and opened the door, despite her scolding. Cooper was standing in the living room, eager to hand the baby off before she could spit up on his good shirt.
“Hello, my sugar pie!” Mom cooed at Eva, who was all pink and rosy and recently bathed. That would last all of five minutes. As Mom snuffled and nuzzled her pride and joy, Kara and Mo came out of the bedroom and screeched to a halt. They were staring at me.
“What?” I said, looking down at my sleeveless black knee-length sheath. “You said to dress up. I’m wearing my dress.”
“Is it your designated funeral dress?” Kara asked, adjusting the strap of her own low-cut royal-blue number.
I huffed out an annoyed breath. I caught my mother, my own flesh and blood, standing behind me, nodding.
“Come on, sweetie, we only have an hour or so to make this work,” Kara said, pulling at my elbow.
“Make what work?” I demanded.
Mo and Kara hooked their arms through mine and dragged me toward the bedroom. Mo wasn’t playing fair. She knew I wouldn’t do anything in front of Kara. She knew I couldn’t just shake her off, phase, and run. Cooper came ambling out of the bedroom, looping his tie around his collar.
The coward turned on his heel and walked into the kitchen as if he hadn’t seen me getting frogmarched by the estrogen squad. “Hey! Don’t act like you don’t hear me! Seriously! Remember that time I hid a salmon in your truck and it stank for a month? Child’s play! My revenge will be swift and terrible. Damn it, Cooper!” I yelled as they dragged me into their den of girliness.
They threw me into a chair near Mo’s bathroom and spread out torture devices on the bathroom counter. They glared down at me like supervillians trying to pry information out of James Bond.
“She’s got such beautiful skin,” Kara said, lifting my chin and talking about my face as if I wasn’t even in the room. “No sense in covering it up. We just need to play up the eyes, tame the brows, and gloss the lips. A good, strong blood-red, I think.”
I snorted and muttered something about a quick hunt on the way to the dance, and Mo gave me the stink-eye. Without warning, they pounced. My dress was whipped over my head, and my hair was pulled out of its ponytail. The next half-hour was a haze of stuff rubbed on my face, my hair yanked, and my body pushed and pulled at as if it wasn’t even mine. I was tweezed. A lot.
“Can’t do much about the painfully sensible shoes,” Mo muttered as she safety-pinned the sides of my dress to give it a “silhouette.”
“It’s too cold out for sexy shoes.”
“Tell me about it. The one thing I miss about home is being able to wear peep-toes year-round,” Kara griped, giving my hair a gentle yank to remind me to keep my head up. She was arranging my hair into some weird cinnamon-bun shape on top of my head. I only hoped I wouldn’t walk out of there looking like Princess Leia . . . then again, Nick might dig that.
But I didn’t care what Nick liked, I reminded myself. Clay was my date. Nick was the guy who was currently considering whether he could be a silent witness to my family’s wolfy weirdness.
I hadn’t heard from the good doctor in a few days, and given the fact that the valley hadn’t been overrun with teams of commando scientists, I took that to mean that he was still considering my proposal. I’d had twinges of panic that first day after the “big reveal,” wondering if I’d made a huge mistake in trusting him. But the silence of the last few days had been a sort of balm. Surely, the first twenty-four hours after hearing something like that were the hardest to keep it a secret. But I couldn’t go looking for him to ask him what he decided. Every time I did that, I ended up naked in some way.
This might be harder than I thought. I frowned.
Kara stepped back to look at her handiwork. “She looks like a grumpy ballerina.”
“It’s a little too . . .” Mo took out the pins and shook my hair out, slicking it back with some citrusy goo. “That’s better. More tousle, less froufrou. She needs a smoky eye.”
“That sounds painful,” I said, and was ignored. I shied away when Kara came at me with what looked like a cross between pliers and a speculum. “What the hell is that thing?”
“It’s an eyelash curler.”
“How are you going to curl my eyelashes when that thing rips them all out?” I demanded, jerking my head away when she moved toward me with the sinister-looking device.
“Hold still, and it won’t hurt,” she said, clamping it down on my lashes.