I’d ridden with Uncle Joe to the park since he and Aunt Peggy had another fight. Discussions my ass. She’d been making small comments all day about how she wasn’t feeling well. The last time she said she might skip the run and asked me if I’d stay with her. Uncle Joe just looked at her and said if she wasn’t bed ridden she could damn well stay home alone. I would have stayed with her except she threw up her hands and said that she’d go but that if something bad happened it was on his head.
When Kate and Rayen stopped by just before dusk to grab the family’s food contribtion, she’d told Uncle Joe that they had insisted she go with them, but they sure looked surpised to me when she’d climbed in the back seat with Ryan. You’d think her Kate’s family would be used to things like this by now. Once inside the car she said something to Rayen and Kate. When they looked at me she said something else I could’t hear with closed brows and waved a clear indication that they should start moving. Too bad I couldn’t read lips.
We weren’t able to get out of the house until well after sundown. We’d gotten in the car about ten minutes after Aunt Peggy had left only to realize the keys were missing. Uncle Joe swore up and down that he always put it in his jacket pocket. We looked for fourty-five minutes before Uncle cursed half a dozen times, then went to his room and fetched his ‘spare’ keys. I’d followed him. He aparently had three ‘spare’ keys, all in different places and all but one were missing. That one was in the toilet tank of the half-bath on the first floor.
The car ride spent with Uncle Joe was silent. I’d thought it would be an uncomfortable silence, like meeting your boyfriend’s parents for the first time, but it wasn’t. It was the kind of silence where it almost feels like a trance, your mind wandering but never settling on one thought. There was no expectation of conversation.
I expected him to rant or complain about Aunt Peggy. To yell at slow drivers or flip of pedestrians. To grouse about his aches and pains. He didn’t. He just turned the radio to jazz and hummed along to the music.
“I didn’t know you could sing Uncle Joe,” I said.
He grunted. “Heh, who says I can?”
I laughed, “Fair enough.” His eyes crinkled with a half smile.
When a car cut in front of him just as our light turned green, I thought he’d curse, name call, flip the guy off, shout. Anything. He just sighed. It was a heavy sigh, but with anyone else that was the equivalent of them saying ‘they probably had a good reason’ or ‘maybe they made a mistake, we’ve all done it’.
“Is something going on Uncle Joe?” I asked. “You seem… off. Not yourself?”
“Hmm?” he grunted. “S’none of your goddamn business, boy.”
“Leave it be, dammnit.” He cast me a sour look.
Well, his surly mood was back. Oddly, it made me feel a little better. Whatever his issue with Aunt Peggy, it wasn’t as important as I thought. Another car pulled out in front of us from a side street only to pull into a gas station a couple blocks up. He just honked the horn. Well, I hoped it wasn’t important.
When we pulled in the parking lot there was still about a half hour until sunset and the parking lot was half full. Most of the people already here had kids. There were several benches along this side of the lake where kids were putting on or adjusting their ice skates. Adults were too but not many. Some of the older kids with the adults were pulling littles on sleds around the lake while others were teaching beginners how to skate. Many of the kids out there, however, had already learned and were having a blast.
Uncle Joe and I made our way toward one of the fires where George and Kate were helping Aunt Peggy work a metal grill full of steaks.
I bump George in the shoulder right as he went to flip a t-bone. “Mmm, something smells good.” The steak slipped.
“Shit, Keelan,” George hissed annoyedly, “that one almost hit the ground. Then where would we be.”
“Oh, stuff it, George,” Kate chuckled, motioning with a pair of tongs at a wolf laying on the other side of the grill, head on paws, watching the grill line with intent. “Sam’s been eyeing that cut since you tossed it on the grill. He’d’ve pounced if it had hit the ground. And if he didn’t, you know there are plenty people already shifted who’d think nothing of eating meat with some dirt on it.”
She had a point. Behind Sam were a few more wolves, a couple coyotes, mink, racoons and even a bear various states of feigned repose. Some of them were alphas.
I grinned at Kate. “Let’s test that theory.” Without thinking I snatched Georges tongues and picked up a piece of meat, and struck a pose with one hip cocked with a hand propped on it, one leg bent and turned out and my back arched. “Who wants it?” I asked, the grey wolf and the bear stood immediately, and tossed it toward between them. They both dove for it. They circled each other, the bear taking swipes at the wolf while the wolf moved in and retreated, dodging swiftly. While they were distracted a smaller brown wolf snatched it from between them and darted away.
“Keelan!” George snatched the tongues back and glared at me. “What the hell was that?”
I gaped, looking from George to Kate’s raised brows and wide eyes and back. “I-” I didn’t know what had come over me. It had been years since I’d done something so reckless as attempt to instigate a fight between alphas. In fact it was-
“Sorry, guys.” I took a step back, quicly zipping my coat up, flipping my hood and stuffing my hands in my pockets. “I gotta go.”
Without looking to see if they were angry or waiting until they’d stop me, I wound my way through the thick crowd making a beeline for the trees, praying I wouldn’t draw any alpha’s attention to the fact I was going into heat before I was safely away from the crowd. It wasn’t until I was in a clearing a little ways into the woods that I realized I’d completely forgotton to bring my supressants.
“Damn, bitch, you reek.”
I spun to face a man that looked like the essence of the word ethereal. He was small and his brown skin was kissed with starlight and the only thing he wore was a robe that seemed as if falling snow had been spun and woven to make it.
“I said you reek. You should really take your meds if you haven’t already. You are not gonna have a good night if you go on like this.” Then he tilted his head and eyed me up and down, smirking. “Or maybe you will.”
I ground my teeth, forcing my hands to remain at my sides.
He seemed to notice my lack of gear. His smile dropped and concern wrapped in irritation overtook his features. “Do you even have meds on you? You’re making my job more difficult.”
I looked him dead in the eyes my lips flattening. “Unless you’re willing to give me your meds, maybe you should just keep stepping.” It wasn’t likely he was an alpha, most weren’t like Nita. The wind shifted blowing his scent to me as if some force wanted me to confirm my theory.
“Oh-ho, look who’s the big bad bitch. Maybe you should be better prepared.”
I scanned him as he did me. “Oh? Look who’s talking. What kind of prep can you have in that negligee.”
“This old thing? Mmm, it’s just so comfortable,” he grinned and hugged himself, slipping his hands into the sleeves. They came back out one holding a knife the other an epipen. I widened my stance. “Chill, they’re both just for self defense. But here,” he tossed me the epipen which turned out not to be an epipen.
My eyes widened. “Woah, I can’t take this. Just one dose…”
“Ah, keep it. It’s close to its expiration date anyway. It wouldn’t make it to my next heat. I don’t know what brand you use but it should help even a little.”
I didn’t hesitate any more. I could feel my skin buzzing like a swarm of bees were trapped unerneath and it was becoming difficult to keep my brain focused. I’d used one once before, after my parents died. I pulled the cap off and jamed the needle end into my leg. I took in a few slow breaths. The buzz slowly dulled to a low hum. When I looked up to thank the rude stranger he was gone.
I was likely good for now, but it was better to play it safe and find a nice hidey-hole to lay low in until most people had gone home the next morning. I recapped the now-empty needle and tucked it in my coat pocket.
That done, I removed my clothes as fast as I could and tucked them in the crook of a split oak tree nearby and shifted into a mink. I was suddenly much warmer and I shook and stretched, settling the little used muscles into place. It felt good. Standing on my hind legs I began scanning the trees around me, searching for one with good roots for den potential. I’d likely be here for a few days.
Huh, for the first time in a long time I had people who might search for me if I didn’t contact them. No matter. I could go back for my cellphone tomorrow afternoon after everyone had gone home. I’d be a lot less likely to come across an alpha. That’s when I heard it. The screech of a bird of prey. I looked up and saw it diving toward me. So much for taking my time. I ran towards the nearest trees. Even if I didn’t find a hole to hide in, the eagle would be at a disadvantage with all the branches. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it that far. Talons wrapped around my middle and I was lifted from the ground. I twisted, trying to get out, trying to bite any part of the bird I could. I must’ve gotten a tender spot because he shrieked and dropped me like an active grenade. I gave a toothy grin. Until I looked down.