Rogue Page 28

The guys and I sat in the guesthouse in the dark, passing around two huge bowls of popcorn as The Howling played on their obscenely large flat-screen television. The movie was a house favorite, and the basis for a time-honored south-central territory drinking game—a shot for every howl in the film. Hollywood couldn’t resist a good werewolf flick, and neither could we.

Marc, Parker, Owen, and I had piled together on the old brown-and-yellow plaid couch, me on Marc’s lap, facing the television, with my legs stretched across the others’ laps. Ethan sat on the floor at our feet, his legs splayed across the scarred hardwood floor, his head resting against the side of my thigh.

Across the room Vic lay stretched out in his recliner, and Jace was folded into a lumpy, overstuffed armchair all by himself. He wasn’t obviously pouting, but neither was he happy or relaxed, in spite of the fact that he and Ethan had returned from their double date half an hour earlier in very good spirits, both reeking of fruit-scented lotion and recent sex.

“There she goes.” Parker shook his prematurely gray head in disgust as the on-screen heroine pulled on her robe in preparation to leave her bungalow. Alone. In the middle of the night.

“Off to check out strange sounds coming from the woods, armed with nothing more than a flashlight and a pretty smile.”

“A flashlight’s better than nothing,” I mumbled, remembering a night three months earlier when I’d left the guesthouse alone in the middle of the night, completely unarmed. Of course, I hadn’t been fol owing some ominous howl, thus had no idea there were bad guys waiting for me in the woods. I’d just been looking for a little privacy in which to think.

“There she goes, the moron!” Vic said, leaning forward in his recliner, full shot glass pinched between his thumb and first two fingers.

I smiled. I couldn’t help it. Bagging on the film was part of the tradition. The best part, in my opinion. Someone would make fun of the outdated effects, and someone else would scoff at the heroine’s startling naiveté and conveniently repressed memory. And inevitably, during one of several low-budget Shifting scenes, one of the guys would yell at the victim du jour to attack, for fuck’s sake—after all, shape-shifters are most vulnerable in mid-Shift. No werecat worth the cost of his own upkeep would ever Shift in front of an enemy. There was no faster way to die.

Well, there was one faster way to die, though the movie industry got that part all wrong, too.

Silver bullets. Ha. Still, you gotta love Hollywood for convincing the world that shape-shifters are damn hard to kill. How disappointed they’d probably all be to find out any ordinary lead slug would do the job just fine.

I leaned back against Marc’s chest and relaxed into the arm he wrapped around me. But then we both tensed as a long, piercing howl erupted from surround-sound speakers mounted all over the room.

Marc’s eyes lit up and Ethan stiffened against my leg, going completely still as he sucked in a huge breath. Then, all at once the guys joined in, throwing their heads back in sync and baying at the moon. Or rather, at the screen. They were pretty good, too, considering that cats don’t howl.

At least not like dogs howl, as a primal cry of victory. Or of warning.

Looking around at them, I couldn’t help but laugh. They were al dorks. Big, muscle-bound, furry dorks. But they were my dorks.

As the last sharp, baying tones faded from my ears, Marc twisted to grab two full shot glasses from the scratched and tilted end table on his left. He pressed one of them into my hand and lifted the other to his lips.

All around me, the guys did the same, tossing back shots as they had each time one of the TV werewolves howled. If they were human, they’d all be seeing double by then. But thanks to their carefully maintained tolerance to alcohol and their werecat’s metabolism, the guys were nowhere near drunk. At least, not yet.

“Throw it back, Faythe!” Parker ordered, refilling the shot glass Ethan handed him.

I hesitated, staring at the tiny glass in my hand. We were supposed to meet my father in the barn in twenty minutes to inspect the body of a murdered stray. To me, drinking seemed to be a very poor way to start such a meeting. But the guys saw the New Orleans corpse as a reason to indulge, rather than a reason not to. It was one of the ways they coped with the less-pleasant aspects of their job. A strict regimen of alcohol, anonymous sex—excluding Marc—and denial. They were keeping themselves sane.

Or maybe they were creating their very own brand of crazy.

Either way, they were determined to make me one of them, and I was less and less inclined to resist….

“Drink it!” Parker said, refil ing Owen’s glass.

I glanced at Marc, my eyebrows raised. He shrugged, so I opened my mouth and drained the shot glass—my first of the night. Tequila burned like hell going down, but it was better than whiskey. Marginally.

Smiling, I handed my glass to Parker. He traded the whiskey bottle for tequila and refilled my glass. It was official. I was one of the guys, for better or for worse.

“Now, see, that’s why werewolves didn’t make it in the real world.”

Vic leaned down to set a half-empty bottle of Jäger-meister on the floor to one side of his recliner. “They were too damn fond of the sound of their own voices.”

“What?” I gulped from Marc’s can of Coke, trying to squelch the flames scorching my throat. “Werewolves are just stories. Hol ywood cash cows. They were never real.”

“The hell they weren’t.” Vic was still smiling, but his eyes were serious. “They were as real as we are, and a damn sight more prolific than the fucking bruins.”

Prev Next