It only took three mistakes. Granted, there were probably easier ways to get yourself kidnapped by a pack of angry werewolves but honestly, I wasn’t really trying. So three screw ups wasn’t too bad, considering. My first mistake? Deciding to go to work despite the hangover I had acquired after a long night of convincing myself that alcohol poisoning was just a myth created by quitters.
I woke up that morning with the taste of my stomach lining tickling the back of my throat and my brain felt like I had nuked it in the microwave too many times, so while I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about the prospect of work, regrettably, I didn’t have much of a choice.
My boss, Cedric, had already threatened to permanently fire me — which was the nice way of saying that he’d gladly crush my skull into a fine powder with his bare hands– if I called out again this month. Even though I thought that he was being a tad melodramatic, the fact that he was a ceffyl dwr with a strong dislike of humans and their “obnoxious persistence to exist” made me think twice about pushing my luck.
Therefore, since I highly doubted that any of my fearsome empath abilities could save me from the wrath of a Welsh, shapeshifting horse fairy, I braced myself for the hard backslap of reality and dragged my sorry ass to work.
It was 8:30 in the morning and by some miracle, I was the first one to show up to Cedric’s Auto Sales, the little, unremarkable used car dealership which had the terrible misfortune of having me as an employee. We didn’t officially open until 9, which allowed me thirty minutes to groan like a mortally wounded animal as I slumped across the top of my desk.
My stapler burrowed into the most uncomfortable crevice in my armpit as I feebly attempted to extinguish the tragic dumpster fire that was my life and perhaps create something decent out of the foul smelling ashes.
By the time I managed to pull myself together enough to not look like the world had bent me over and roughly had its way with me, there was a young couple wandering around the lot. Our dealership had a rather limited selection which meant that it wasn’t long before the curious couple made their way to the main building and cattle prodded me into officially starting the waking nightmare that was working in sales.
Greeting them with a hollow smile reinforced with gold plated charm, I chatted with them awhile and they eventually expressed interest in looking at some crossovers. I pointed out a couple options for them and quickly left to grab some keys. After finding what I needed, I had just made a small detour to pour myself a cup of coffee so I could wash down about half a bottle of Ibuprofen, when I heard the werewolves pull up into the parking lot.
I hurried to my office window and peeked through the blinds just in time to spot a blacked out SUV narrowly avoid monster trucking over an entire row of coupes before the tires came squealing to a stop in the center of the lot. All four doors popped open and although I didn’t recognize the first four men that jumped out of the truck, unfortunately, I did know the fifth one.
Dominic Santora was the type of man that other monsters would fearfully check under their beds for, even if he didn’t have the claws and the big, scary teeth. If he was actively trying to hide the fact that he had been a mobster before he became the big bad Alpha of the Southeastern Coast Pack, then Dominic was doing a piss poor job of it. In human form, Dominic was five foot five of compact muscle, unruly black hair, and proud Italian bone structure.
Despite wearing a tracksuit that would have been more fitting for a high school gym teacher than the local Alpha, there was a lethalness in the way he moved and a predatory wildness in his stare that instantly filtered out the last remnants of alcohol in my system and replaced it with noxious levels of adrenaline and fear. There was a very, very small chance that all he wanted was a decently priced used car with great mileage and he did not, in fact, drive up to my job specifically to find me. But his unprovoked berserker rampage led me to believe otherwise.
Looking around and unable to locate me, Dominic roared “MAXIMILLIAN SHAW!” in a voice that would undoubtedly be narrating my future nightmares and proceeded to sling midsized vehicles across the dealership. Now, while I did have a natural talent for pissing people off in the worst kind of way, I generally tried to stay clear of werewolves. They were temperamental, prone to violence, and worst of all, I wasn’t exactly on the best of terms with this particular pack.
Surprisingly, our mutual aversion wasn’t even my fault. It was the result of my roommate’s mess that I had gotten tangled up in by association, meaning that Dominic’s profound dislike of me was simply incidental. But it was my name that he was huffing, puffing, and bellowing while he carried on his Godzilla-sized temper tantrum around the car lot.
I didn’t need empathic senses to see that the air was practically on fire from the heat of the Alpha’s rage. Dominic’s anger was bright and hot, cascading over me like smelted iron ore despite the fact that there was a brick wall and half a car lot between us.
His tailored suit wearing grunts were spread out and searching up and down the rows of cars, hopefully finding it difficult to pinpoint my location since my scent had to be lingering in every nook and cranny of the dealership. One of the wolves had the poor young couple backed up against a truck and appeared to be trying to get some useful information out of them even though they were clearly traumatized by Dom’s emotional meltdown.
Having seen all that I needed to see, I quickly inhaled a mouthful of coffee for the road, grabbed the keys to my car, and took off for the back door. I had absolutely no idea why I was on the Don Wolf’s hit list, but I also wasn’t about to stick around to find out. I figured I had a much better chance at finding out what was going on if I didn’t let the werewolves rip me open like a soggy piñata and feast upon my savory entrails. And that, inevitably, turned out to be my second mistake.
There was a field of tall grass behind the dealership but I stuck with my gut instinct and rejected the idea of slinking away on foot. If my life truly depended on it, I would damn well find a way to hide behind a single blade of grass and Mother Nature herself wouldn’t be able to tell I was there. But werewolves were just about the worst creatures to try and hide from.
They’d eventually track me down with their superhuman sense of smell before I could make my way somewhere safe, like the next county. So my best bet was to escape by car, assuming that Dominic hadn’t swatted mine across the parking lot yet. I snuck around to the side of the building and hugged the brick wall like I was trying to impregnate it. One wolf was at the door to the office building, peering inside, but Dominic and the others were still roaming the lot.
Ignoring the tiny voice inside my head screaming at me to run like the graceful T-rex in the opposite direction of the car shunting werewolf as fast as humanly possible, I held my breath and waited. I saw my chance the split second that none of the wolves were looking in my direction and, with a curse and a prayer, dove behind the car nearest me.
Other than my heart pounding hard enough to leave bruises on my ribcage, I made no noise as I carefully crept and crawled through several rows of cars. By sheer dumb luck, I made it to my car without being discovered. However, once I arrived, I realized that there was one minor problem that –in my haste to end the most horrifying game of hide and seek I’d ever played– I hadn’t thought all the way through.
I couldn’t get into my car without using the fob to turn off the alarm and unlock the doors. And that would instantly alert the werewolves and greatly increase the odds of me finding out what it’s like to live with my face hanging out the back of my skull. Werewolves were fast, scary fast, and I had every reason to doubt that I wouldn’t even get one clenched butt cheek on the seat before they had me surrounded.
Spiraling into a completely justified panic, I shoved my hands into my pockets to search for something to throw and hopefully distract the wolves or at least something that would help to identify my body at the morgue after my imminent mauling, but I discovered something even better. I still had the keys to three separate vehicles, the ones I had intended to show the couple.
It wasn’t an uzi full of silver bullets but I could work with this. Sliding onto my stomach, I scanned the ground for feet to get an idea of where the human faced wolves were. Dom was still batting cars around like an out of control pinball machine and his minions were eagerly hunting like hound dogs searching for a scent, minus the one that was probably trashing the office.
I scurried on hands and knees to the crossover closest to my location, which brought me nearer to Dominic than me and my cowardice were comfortable with. Taking several deep breaths and assuring myself that there would be plenty of time to hyperventilate later, I hit the unlock button on my key fob.
There was instant silence and then the faint sound of running in the general direction of my car. Without wasting a moment of the distraction, I jammed the other set of keys into the crossover and scrambled inside. I didn’t bother shutting the door; just stuck the key in the ignition, put it in drive, and gunned it. The young couple also saw the distraction as their opportunity to escape and, completely focused on running for their lives, darted out in front of the car.
I had to brake and swerve to avoid making them permanent speedbumps and in the meantime, Dominic and his pack had caught on to my little ruse. I damn near sumo stomped the gas pedal through the car, sideswiped a minivan, and drove like a madman towards the exit. If I had been dealing with normal, human gangsters that wanted to kill me, I might have made it. However, since that was not the case, I didn’t even get as far as the adjacent street.
I only had time to pull the driver’s side door shut in a desperate scramble before one of Dom’s wolves shoulder slammed the car from the opposite side. It was what I imagined getting t-boned by a full grown rhino at top speed felt like and there was nothing I could do but go boneless as the car flipped onto its side and skid several feet.
I wasn’t wearing a seat belt and the air bag had been about as helpful as a life jacket for a skydiver without a parachute, so my left side took the full brunt of the impact. I was thrown against door and found myself frantically struggling to make sense of the confusing sideways jumble my body was twisted in.
Sometime while I was spitting out scorching mouthfuls of vulgarities and trying to dislodge my foot from the cup holder, one of the wolves flung open the passenger side door. He stared down at me and hesitated, as if he secretly wished he was recording me as I tried to extract the gearshift that had somehow wedged itself into the gap between my shoulder blades. When he finally understood that it was going to be awhile before my attempts to reorient myself would stop being so cringingly pathetic, the wolf-man reached into the car and grabbed my ankle.
Having just made quite a few of them in the past couple of minutes, I knew a bad idea when I saw one and I shouted, “Wait! Hold on, wait!” as I kicked and flailed in some futile attempt to avoid the unpleasantness that was about to happen. But he had my ankle in his herculean grip and lifted me out of car like I was a prize in an arcade claw game. He let me dangle upside down just long enough for me to get a disorienting head rush, then casually dumped me onto the ground.
Ignoring the painful tingling of my spinal column that felt like an overstretched slinky unable to snap back into place correctly, I rolled onto my stomach and sat up on my knees. Dominic was standing a short distance away, and if it hadn’t been for the vein at his temple practically popping out of his head with every violent pulsation, I might have thought he had reined in his temper enough to act like a rational, levelheaded man-beast. Three of his wolves hovered behind him, doing a fairly believable impression of nightclub bouncer triplets.
And that left Mr. Jaws-of-Life wolf lurking somewhere behind me, a detail that was about as comforting as having a loaded gun pressed against the back of my head. Purely out of reflex, I held my hands up to further emphasize my complete surrender. But that didn’t feel quite right, so I put my hands behind my head. Very aware that I was being watched, I slowly placed my hands behind my back and looked around for guidance.
“I… I don’t know what to do with my hands,” I explained, shifting uneasily on my knees. “Usually in this situation, I’m very drunk, there’s flashing lights, and men in uniforms are yelling instructions at me.”
I had meant to say something a little less awkward, however, my brain and my mouth didn’t always cooperate when I was scared shitless. It was never a good idea to show fear in front of a predator– especially not Dominic who couldn’t care less about my selfish desire to remain alive –so I was doing my best to mask the scent of my distress with a convincing display of confusion. However, it was difficult to focus when I was surrounded by creatures that were looking at me like I was a bowl of meaty chunks in red gravy.
“Maximillian Shaw,” Dominic growled from somewhere in his throat that was more wolf than human.
He had used my full name again, which couldn’t be good. More often than not, when someone said my name like that, it was preceded by a four letter curse word and ‘you’. But from where I was, kneeling on the unforgiving pavement and unable to look away from the man wrestling with his inner beast, it sounded like saying my name the long way was the only thing keeping Dom this side of the humanity spectrum.
I clamped my lips shut tight, lest my mouth decided to start running again, and tried to help Dominic out by not looking as wounded and vulnerable as I felt. After a minute or so of tense silence, he finally collected himself enough to speak again.
“Where is she?” he asked, his voice deceptively low and coaxing. “Tell me where she is.”
I had been deliberately avoiding eye contact with the Alpha. There are just some nonhumans that you don’t want to make eye contact with if you can help it and werewolves are one of them. But I was so surprised by the question that I flinched involuntarily, my averted gaze darted up to meet his. Dominic’s eyes were russet brown with smoldering undertones of red and they were glowing the most beautiful shade of murder I’d ever seen.
The “she” that had Dominic all worked up in a tizzy could only be Desiree, the werewolf who I happened to share a sad, little apartment with and was quite possibly the only person I’d dare call ‘friend’. For several reasons that had nothing to do with me, Desiree was not a member of Dom’s pack and that seemingly minor distinction was what ultimately led to the fierce dissention between them.
There was a long list of things I could think of that Dez might have done to cause the Alpha to foam at the mouth, but they were highly unlikely. Both werewolves had been forced into a wary truce by the Conclave –the council of immortal big shots that presided over magical and supernatural affairs– however, it seemed like in Dominic’s blind rage that important factor had conveniently slipped his mind.
I was pretty sure he also knew that I was under the protection of the Conclave yet somehow I didn’t think that superficial tidbit of knowledge would prevent Dominic from chewing my face off. Although he was still vibrating from head to toe from suppressing the full magnitude of his wrath, under the veneer of simmering belligerence, I could sense that Dominic possessed a cold edged composure that was not entirely human.
And that made him the worst possible combination of man and beast: a clever predator and a patient hunter. Bearing that in mind, I chose my next words carefully.
“I don’t know where she is,” I said, calmly and deliberately with the slightest amount of emphasis on each word.
I didn’t mention that I could easily find out with my semi-useful empath abilities though. Werewolves were natural polygraph machines and could sniff out a lie almost as easily as I could sense them. Thankfully, lying by omission was something I did twelve times before breakfast on a daily basis, so Dominic was none the wiser. I probably should have chosen my next words just as carefully as before, but I rushed to divert focus off my confession of ignorance.
“I could send her a quick text if you want. I have no idea what’s going on or how I managed to incur the wrath of the werewolf inquisition, but I know for damn sure that there’s an emoji out there that can fix this.”
Mr. Jaws-of-Life gripped both of my shoulders and hauled me to my feet just as Dominic surged forward, snarling in my face.
“Two nights ago, something killed and ate a human family of four,” was his rumbling reply, lips pulled back to display a mouthful of perfectly white teeth. “The police and the Conclave seem to think that it was a werewolf.”
Stiffly, as if his body didn’t want to fully comply, Dominic took a half step backwards and I start breathing again.
“No one in my pack did it. I’d know if they did,” he continued, seeming to speak more to himself than me. “They accuse one of my wolves which means they accuse me. They’re poking their noses in my business and I don’t appreciate my Pack being dragged into something that we had no part in.”
His head canted in my direction, causing me to mentally squirm under his intense scrutiny. “But if they all think that a werewolf did it, I only know of one who lives in the area and isn’t in my Pack.”
Oh. Oh. The misdirected anger and the car flipping suddenly made sense. It was ridiculous and I was pretty sure there were more productive methods of working through his problems than terrorizing a poor used car salesman first thing in the morning… but it made perfect sense. At least for a creature with only half a human brain. Unfortunately for me, I would have to be the one to break it to him that detective work was best left to the mentally stable.
I shook my head slowly and said, “Dez didn’t do it. I know you have some kind of personal grudge against her, but you have to admit that this doesn’t add up. She just wouldn’t do something like that.”
Dominic’s eyes narrowed as he pointed at me like he planned on doing something very unpleasant with that quivering finger.
“You and I both know exactly what she is capable of doing.”
I didn’t have an answer for that but it didn’t change my opinion on the matter either.
“I don’t know what to tell you, Dom.” My shoulders rose and fell in an exaggerated shrug. “I guarantee you that Dez is innocent. I’ll do you a favor though and save you and the Scooby gang a trip: Dez will tell you the exact same thing I’m telling you. And she won’t be any more ecstatic to be falsely accused than you are.”
I waited, fully expecting a snarly and uncomfortably close response from Dominic. Instead, in an almost imperceptible movement that only his werewolf attendants would notice, he simply nodded his head. With unsettling synchronization, my helpful werewolf guard and another wolf took hold of my arms on either side. Trusting that his Pack would carry out his unspoken orders, Dom turned and began to head for their SUV.
“Is this the part where we exchange insurance information?” I asked hopefully as they started to walk me forward. There weren’t any cautionary tales about getting into an SUV with werewolves you barely knew but I really didn’t want to be the first.
“This is the part where you shut up and get in the truck,” sneered the man to my left.
Now that it had been confirmed that this was indeed a kidnapping in progress, there was no way I was about to just hop into a truck full of scary monsters like it was a trip to the mall, even if it was the most logical choice available to me. I was a coward but not a stupid coward. Or so I thought moments before I made my third, final mistake.
Although it was obvious that both wolves — who could probably deadlift me with their eyebrows — weren’t needed to drag me along like a reluctant toddler, I was glad for it. We were a little more than halfway to the truck when the wolf holding my left arm started weeping, quietly at first and then in body wracking sobs.
Mr. Jaws-of-Life at my right suddenly broke out in hysterical laughter, bending over to hold his sides and trying to catch his breath between fits of cackling. I was able to easily reclaim possession of my arms and step away from my handiwork.
Wasting no time, a dense bundle of white wires that only I could see stretched between my hands and I cast them out towards Dominic, trying to ensnare him in the soothing web of calmness I had crafted. However, I had miscalculated the breadth of the Alpha’s ire.
His fury was tempered with dread and devastating burden, far too volatile and entrenched far too deep for me to pacify with a wave of my hand and a hastily constructed attempt. The enraged werewolf was on me before I could close my eyes to spare myself the play by play of my own ass beating.
Despite being 155 pounds of non-aerodynamic mass, I felt my body slip the surly bonds of Earth and take flight. The first impact with the ground was like a full body concussion; a bone bruising shockwave that snatched the air from my lungs. The second time I hit the ground was undeniably more agonizing than the first. And by the time I finally rolled to a stop, I was a mess of raw meat and respiratory distress.
There was too much pain to figure out where it was originating from but I tried to move something, anything, just to reassure myself that enough of me was still intact to be able to move. Nothing responded to my feeble attempts. That was extremely disconcerting but luckily, I didn’t have enough time to worry about it since the dark fringes of my vision began to bleed black into my eyes seconds before I sank under the murky currents of unconsciousness.