“I’m still saying this is a bad idea.” Duprees rubbed the nape of his neck and shook his head. “Eamon, you can’t tell me you’re too thrilled with this, either.”
“There ain’t nothing about this job that thrills me anymore ‘cept when one of these folks manages to break free of the curse.” Eamon pulled the toothpick from the corner of his mouth, studying the tip for a moment before reinserting it between his back teeth. “Of course, I can’t speak for them and how they feel about being used like common mutts but then again, neither can they.”
“I’m not sure if you’re making a joke or just being your usual crassly charming self.” I glanced Theo’s direction when he sniffed for perhaps the tenth time in the last three minutes. “Are you okay? You’re not getting a cold or something are you?” I paused and shifted my attention to St. Germaine. “Can you guys even get sick?”
“If by sick, you mean inflicted with the same sort of mundane illness which your fragile body is susceptible to—no.” The Comte stopped filing his nails and looked up at Theo. “You smell the loup garou. With your newly enhanced senses, their odor is especially… offensive.”
“And Jude, before you ask, that is not St. Germaine being his usually crassly charming self.” Williams withdrew a handkerchief from his jacket pocket, waving the linen square in front of his nose and coughing delicately. “These creatures are especially rank.”
“Will that be a problem in using them to track Hart?” Danie circled something on the massive map of the city spread across the Comte’s sixteen person—at least—dining table. “I mean, if you guys can smell them, we have to assume he can smell them.”
“True, although his senses may have been damaged by his time under the Mississippi. Generally speaking, when an individual comes out of stasis, there’s something of a recovery period before they are able to access all of their vampiric powers, for lack of a better word.” Williams folded his handkerchief before returning it to his pocket, clasping his hands behind his back. He wouldn’t have looked out of place at the front of a classroom—except, of course, for the fact he was lecturing on vampires and werewolves. “Then again, the fact he is not entirely in his right mind could give him access to a wealth of previously untapped strength.”
“If you were trying to make me feel better about this situation, you’re doing a pretty shitty job.” Eamon spit the toothpick the general direction of the trash can, apparently uncaring whether he reached his goal or not. St. Germaine glared at him but said nothing. The silence was actually more unnerving than the snide remark I would have expected concerning the lack of manners—at least to me. “If we’re going to do this thing, we need to get started. I still say we’d be better off hunting for the bastard during the day.”
“That would diminish the search party by a quarter.” I rubbed my temple and sighed, holding back a wince when the movement stretched the skin over my still healing wrist. I’d given up on trying to fight the dull ache where Theo had tried to rip out my throat. All my excess energy was spent watching my husband as he adapted to his new body. “You have silver choke chains and leads and all the handlers have guns filled with silver ammunition. It’s the best we can do.”
“Yeah, and it’s a sight better than I expected, considering how thrown together this entire thing is—but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.” Eamon shrugged, rocking on his heels. “I get y’all have seen some pretty gruesome things but until you’ve seen one of those monsters rip apart some idiot stupid enough to jump an electric fence to go frogging in the bayou, you ain’t really seen anything.”
“As someone who experienced the War of Northern Aggression, the so-called Reconstruction, and the era of Jim Crow, I promise you, I have seen quite a bit.” Williams’s smile chilled the air even further and I fought back a shiver. “I assure you, we will be able to handle any mess your charges might happen to make.”
“Do you think we can possibly postpone the pissing contest until later?” Duprees’s voice was ripe with annoyance as he crossed his arms and scowled at the two men. “We’re wasting moonlight here.”
“Agreed.” St. Germaine tossed the nail file on the table as he rose. Straightening his jacket, he said, “Eamon, do you still believe in doing introductions?”
“Introductions?” Danie scribbled something in the margins of the map. “I kinda got the impression we already knew each other’s names.”
“Danie.” Williams pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “The Comte is referring to the loup garou.”
“Oh.” Danie stared at her uncle for a moment before widening her eyes. “What?”
“I would like to meet them.” Celia spoke up from the doorway, smiling as we all turned to look at her. Her smile grew wider, her dimples appearing when she shifted her attention to Eamon. “May I, please?”
Eamon grinned back at her. “Sure thing, sweetheart.”
“Hold on a minute.” Crossing the room, I grabbed him by his elbow and dragged him in to the furthest corner. Even though I knew three of the six people watching us could hear me regardless of my volume, I still lowered my voice. “You’ve spent the last hour bitching and moaning about how you don’t think anybody should have anything to do with the loup garou. A five year old bats her lashes and says ‘please’ and suddenly it’s the best idea ever?”
“I didn’t say it was a good idea. I just said she could do it.” Eamon shoved his hands in his pockets and hunched his shoulders. “It’s the damnedest thing, I know, but I don’t think I can tell her ‘no’. And I’m pretty sure she’s older than five.”
“You would not be the first person to say something along those lines.” I started to cross my arms, freezing in place when various parts of my body protested the movement. I settled for tapping my foot and glaring at him. “How old are you?”
“Me?” He blinked. “Twenty five.”
“You realize by the time she’s old enough for you to even think about dating you’ll be almost forty.”
“First, dating her hadn’t even entered my radar—like you said, she’s only five. Second, whether I wanted to date her or not wouldn’t matter—it would be whether or not she wanted to date me.” He shrugged, apparently perfectly content with his fate, whatever it would turn out to be. “Right now, she’s just a scary smart kid who somehow managed to wrap me around her finger.”
“Well, if you’re happy being there….” I trailed off, shaking my head. “You know, when I was growing up in the orphanage with the nuns, I used to dream about having a family. A huge one.”
He laughed. “Careful what you wish for, right?”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” I looked over at Duprees. “This is the stupidest fucking idea ever. There’s no way we’re going to be able to use them in a search party without sending the entire city in to a panic.”
“This is normally the part where I would say something along the lines of ‘I told you so’ but since you’re already having a really rough week, I’m gonna bite my tongue.” Eamon fought back a smile. “Want me to load’em up and take them back?”
“No.” Duprees, Williams, and St. Germaine all answered at the same time. Danie seemed shocked in silence while Theo… I honestly wasn’t sure what Theo was doing. If I had to guess, based on the way he was circling the makeshift holding pen and sniffing the air, he was… hunting.
Swallowing down the sudden surge of bile, I turned my attention back to Duprees. “When you told us about the loup garou, you failed to mention they’re about four times the size of a normal wolf.”
“Well, darling, they’re not normal wolves.” Eamon shrugged his shoulders and pulled a face. “They’re humans who had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The curse makes’em bigger and meaner. It’s the only way it can be sure to keep getting passed on.”
“You talk about it like it’s a living thing.” When he didn’t respond, I blinked and widened my eyes. “Seriously?”
“You’re standing here within a stone’s throw of three vampires and a dozen loup garou and you’re giving me crap for believing another form of magic can think on its own?”
“Point taken.” I sighed and glanced over my shoulder, looking for Celia. The sooner she had her little meet and greet, the sooner she could be packed off back inside the house. I doubted doing so would really keep her out of trouble but it was worth a shot. When I didn’t see her, I frowned. “Celia?”
Danie coughed and cleared her throat. “Uh, Jude?”
I looked over at her. “What?”
“Don’t be angry.”
“Saying those words is practically a guarantee to make sure I am—angry, I mean.”
“Oh, fuck.” Duprees started to dart toward the pen, turning on Eamon with an impressive snarl when the younger man grabbed his arm. “Back off.”
“You rushing over there like that ain’t gonna help matters in the least.” He swallowed hard, his Adam’s apple jerking in place. “We just got to hope she’s as smart as she likes to think she is.”
“Eamon.” I waited until he looked at me. “Understand this—I don’t care if they are poor, unfortunate bastards caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. They so much as breathe on her in the wrong way and I will kill each and every one of them myself.”
Tuning him out, I shifted my attention back to Celia, standing only a few inches away from the pen. The loup garou paced in the enclosed space, snorting and snarling, clearly bothered by her presence. Much like Theo had done—was still continuing to do, I noticed with a start—she cocked her head one way and then the other, studying the animals intently.
As soon as she was out of harm’s way, I was going to give serious thought to spanking her.
One of the animals tried to snap at her, yelping when his snout connected with the silver mesh fence. Before any of us could warn her to not do anything, Celia pushed her fingers through the holes, patting the injury.
We all held our breath—those of us who were breathing, anyway.
The animal froze, standing perfectly still as she continued to soothe the hurt. After long minutes, it did the last thing I would have expected.
It licked her fingers.
Celia giggled, threading the fingers of her other hand through the fence. “We’re going to be friends.” Her giggle grew to a laugh when another animal nudged the first out of the way, sniffing her skin for a moment before licking her, too. “Yes, we can all be friends.”
Eamon cleared his throat. “I’m going to ask again—are you sure she’s only five?”
“Not one hundred percent.” I let out the breath I’d been holding, my shoulders slumping. “Well, now that one crisis has been managed, maybe we can finally get down to business?”