He was an idiot.
Silver slammed the hotel door shut behind him, startling dust motes into the air. He breathed in the dust and the stale stench of previous visitors. That the third floor was reserved for werekin only didn’t make the smell any more palatable.
He was an idiot.
He clenched his fists, took another deep breath, toes curling against the carpeted floor. No sound escaped from the room behind him but Silver could feel the girl in there, the warmth of her, the weight of responsibility. His inner wolf was close to the surface and hungry, excited – for what, he wasn’t sure.
He was an idiot.
The girl’s disguise as a werewolf wouldn’t last long. The necklace was only a temporary measure; anyone with a decent nose would sniff out her humanity in minutes. And when that happened, how would he explain the presence of a human, let alone a worm?
Silver glanced down the corridor, sniffing for trouble. Business was slow: out of the sixteen rooms in the hallway only two others were taken. He detected the scent of a couple wererats and a hyena, but nothing worth worrying about—his lingering scent at the door would warn them away. If the girl left the room, however . . . .
If she did, then she was the idiot, and not worth protecting.
He strode down the corridor towards the stairs, running through his options. The most likely explanation for the girl’s presence was that she was his slave, a bed warmer, although why a wolf would fuck anyone who wasn’t pack remained questionable. Besides, the girl was too conspicuous, too wide-eyed and innocent to play the role convincingly. It was best she remain hidden in the hotel.
How he would pay for the room was another matter entirely. His earnings from the theatre were still back in the dressing room with his clothes. The previous hotel receptionist had let the pack run a tab, but the Snake wouldn’t be so trusting. No doubt he’d take advantage of the situation to make demands of his own.
Silver padded down the stairs, scowling all the while. Perhaps he should report the girl to the trackers, let them deal with her. Yet the thought made him bristle defensively: the trackers wouldn’t take the girl underground, where she belonged. They’d make a real slave of her, and who knew what twisted asshole would get his greedy palms on her?
He needed time. Hell, he needed black market contacts, but those were near-impossible to find in Tulkan. His only option was to negotiate a deal with the Snake, a prospect he didn’t relish.
Silver’s mood soured further when he opened the door leading to the reception only to be greeted by a blast of noise. A flock of tera crowded the room, chattering nervously, their wings wrapped tightly around their bodies. Meat, his inner wolf thought. He smirked in agreement, showing more tooth than necessary. The tera nearest to him edged away. Giant bats, the lot of them.
Over by the reception desk, two tera were squabbling for the Snake’s attention. Both had the curved leathery ears and black button noses of their kind, but the similarities ended there. One was short, with dark fur and skittish movements. The other stood a good half a head taller and had red-tinged fur.
Silver scanned the room a second time, now noticing the boundary in the room – the red-furred tera on the right, the black-furred on the left. That explained the clamour and the arguing: the bats were territorial to the point of stupidity.
He reined in the impulse to shove through the crowd, pressed his tongue against his teeth to stop the fangs from coming through. As much as he hated to admit it, he couldn’t risk antagonising the Snake—not yet, at least. But the smell of so many fluttering pulses sent his heart racing. It was better to wait outside.
The fresh air was soothing. The cigarette he borrowed off a passerby was even better. Silver leant against the wall and glared up at the narrow strip of washed out sky. His mind kept looping back to the girl with frustrating, illogical intensity. How had she managed to get under his skin so quickly? He flashed back to the sight of her, trapped in that cubicle in the theatre, eyes wide and pleading as she’d spoken to him. What had she said? He couldn’t remember the exact words, lost amidst the clamour and the carnage. The words hadn’t seemed that important, anyway. It had been the sight of her, and the odd, sudden feeling that she was part of his pack.
He still couldn’t shake that feeling, the stubborn certainty that, despite her humanity, she was his. Where that conviction had come from was a mystery. She looked nothing like his previous lovers, her body vulnerable and fragile to touch. No doubt her skin would bruise easily. And she was young, in her early twenties at most, probably younger. Still, an insidious voice suggested, making his body thrum with excitement, he was only twenty-four: the age gap between them wasn’t a problem.
Silver cut off that line of thought immediately, grounding the cigarette under his heel with more force than necessary. There was little point in comparing the girl to his past lovers. He wasn’t interested in her that way; she was a worm, a human, the lowest of the low. By saving her life, she’d become his responsibility. That was why he kept thinking of her. There was no other reason.
From inside the hotel came the sounds of struggle—the two tera at the front desk were flapping their wings in a show of intimidation. How long would it take the Snake to calm them? Ten minutes, twenty? Probably long enough for him to get money and avoid entering into dangerous negotiations. Silver looked up at the sliver of sky peering down into the alleyway and guessed that it was early afternoon. There was only one place his pack would be in this city at this time: The Brewer’s Wharf.
He pushed off the wall and turned right down the street, glaring at any who dared cross his path. No one challenged him but whispers trailed in his wake. News of the massacre had already reached the city. The sooner the girl returned underground, the better.
The Brewer’s Wharf was at the end of the street, straddling the corner of the intersection. Its rounded brick architecture was at odds with the concrete square buildings on either side, but Tulkan was a mismatched city, too far from the Empire’s capital to be brought under control. The city’s actual population was impossible to calculate: it was a place of constant movement, of hooded runaways and temporary black market stalls. Only in the centre was there a strong contingent of permanent residents, and the centre was somewhere even Silver did not venture, for it was the stronghold of the WPL, or Witches’ Protection League.
Silver paused just inside the door of the pub, lifting his head slightly as he inhaled. The stench of beer, sweat and lingering smoke immediately assaulted him. Beneath it all was a trace of muskiness – the smell of wolf – with the underlying familiar scent of pack. By the time he spotted Dev and Rae in the corner, they had already noticed him, their noses acclimatised to the surroundings. Silver wasn’t the only one glancing their way: Rae’s lean, toned body and pale skin had aroused the interest of other men in the pub, while Dev’s solid bulk of muscle discouraged them from approaching.
He made his way over to their table, eyes on the floor to avoid antagonising Dev. Rae was curled up on the wooden bench beside him, all purring and pleasantness, wearing tight shorts and a skimpy top.
Silver slid into the seat opposite and grudgingly kept his eyes on the table. Dev wasted no time on preliminaries. “You’re back early.”
He kept his voice flat. “The job fell through.”
Dev’s hand clenched, pressing down on the tabletop. “Fell through?”
Had he not been clear the first time? Silver thought of the girl and forced himself not to snipe back. “Yes.”
“There’s still time,” Rae huffed. “Go get yourself another job. We need the money,” she added, as if he didn’t know. She tucked her blonde bob behind her ears, eyes trailing across the men in the room.
Dev sighed. “He can get himself another job tomorrow.” His gaze flicked over to include Rae. “We all can.” When she only shrugged in reply, he stood up. “Let’s get out of this city ‘fore they close us in.”
Silver didn’t stand. He kept his eyes on Dev’s chest. “I’m staying here tonight.”
“You . . . ?” Dev sat back down. His voice was hard. “Why? Selling us out?”
His sneer was impossible to mask. “As if I’d talk to the WPL. I’m just staying in town for the night.” He hated to ask but had no other choice: “And I need money.”
Dev growled low in his throat. “Dammit Silver, d’you care about our pack or not?”
Forget about being polite. Silver looked up, met Dev’s gaze full on. “I care.” He let a hint of menace creep into his voice, a reminder to them both. To his credit, Dev didn’t look away, but neither did he challenge Silver. He looked at him as an equal, one beta to another. Except Silver wasn’t a beta. Not anymore.
Perhaps a little honesty would help persuade Dev. “I need a hotel room,” Silver said grudgingly. “Just for tonight.”
“Why?” Rae demanded, breaking the stand-off between them. “Why not come back with us?”
Silver kept his eyes on Dev, and forced one word through gritted teeth: “Please.” He couldn’t explain about the girl; they wouldn’t understand. Shit, he didn’t understand.
“Why?” Rae asked again, tapping her long nails on the tabletop. “Got some cheap whore lined up? A non-wolf again, I bet. Dare I ask what? Another witch?” She leaned forward so that he could see down her top. “I personally don’t know what you see in non-wolves,” she said. “Don’t you remember the benefits?” Her mouth curved in a sensual smile.
“Whatever.” He didn’t want pack. He hadn’t for a long time.
Rae shifted away from Dev, lowered her lashes. “Kara left a long time ago, and there are many others in our pack who’d be very happy to satisfy your . . . urges.” She glanced up, tongue darting out to lick her lips, her attempt at seduction so obvious as to be laughable. Dev had gone still beside her, stiff with ill-concealed possessiveness, the muscles around his neck bulging.
The conversation was going nowhere; it was time to reveal more information. “I saved someone’s life today,” Silver told Dev evenly, ignoring Rae. “Her life is mine.”
It came as a relief when Rae sat back sulkily. Dev turned business-like. “She wants to join the pack?”
“She is . . . confused.” And human, but he couldn’t say that.
Dev frowned. “D’you want her to join the pack?”
“Yes.” The utter conviction in his voice was infuriating. A human, joining the pack? The idea was preposterous, but he needed to keep her safe and could think of no other way.
Rae looked amused. “Well, well, well.”
“Rae,” Dev said, a hint of warning finally creeping into his voice.
“What?” She batted her eyes innocently, her left hand slipping under the table as she leaned against him. “Silver’s got himself a mate. Who would’ve thought the abstaining loner would get caught?”
Silver let a hint of teeth show. “I’m not abstinent, I just don’t sleep with you.”
“Enough!” Dev grabbed Rae’s hand and placed it firmly on the table. “You too, Rae.” He scowled until they both dropped their eyes, then turned back to Silver. “You’ll need Al’s permission for her to join.”
Silver nodded. “I’ll ask tomorrow.”
“No. You come with us now and ask him today. That’s my condition.” He raised an eyebrow in challenge. “If we leave now, you’ll make it back before nightfall.”
Rae was smug, Dev stoic. All three of them knew it was a pointless condition, solely meant to reassert Dev’s authority over Silver.
Silver said nothing. Satisfied, Dev passed over two creased twenties. “Meet at the gates in ten.”
As he walked away, Dev called out after him, “She better be worth it!”
He didn’t acknowledge the comment. What could he say? Silver knew she wasn’t.