“Didnít you like dinner?” asked Christy, as I passed her, drawing everyoneís eyes to my almost-full dinner plate.
“I had a late lunch.” I continued on to the kitchen. “And then there were all those dead people afterward. Hard to keep the smell out of my head.”
That shut her up. I think that all the talk about the dead bodies really had bothered her. I was letting her make me petty.
I kept my movements slow and even as I scraped my plate off into the garbage. I loaded my dishes into the dishwasher and walked with deliberate steps up the stairs; by then Darryl was carrying the narrative. I didnít run, didnít even move with speed, but every step was in as direct a line with my bedroom as I could manage. I shut the door behind me and caught a deep breath.
If her stalker didnít kill Christy soon, she might just drive me to it. At this point, I wasnít even certain how much of it was her fault and how much of it was me being jealous. Not of Adam, Adam belonged to me, soul and wolf. If it were just Adam, Iíd have more control. It was the pack.
Pack magic, Iíd learned, was real. And if enough of the pack wanted you to do something, it was difficult not to do it. When I hadnít been aware of it, some members of the pack had made Adam and me have a fight. They couldnít do that anymore, but I could feel them pressing upon me. I suspected that if enough of them wanted me out of the pack badly enough, they would succeed. What I didnít know was what that would do to Adam, but I was certain it wouldnít be good.
I walked over to my chest of drawers and unfastened the chain around my neck and set it down, so I could look at it. It had been a graceful piece of jewelry when Iíd only had the lamb on it. Even my wedding ring— which I wore on my finger only on formal occasions because I didnít want to lose a finger when something caught on my ring while I was at work was beautiful. The engagement ring had a single, large, pear- cut diamond. My wedding ring was plainer, just two small yellow topazes Adam said were the same color as my eyes when I went coyote. The rings had been brazed together so that the topazes flanked the diamond. It was the dog tag that turned the necklace from jewelry to statement. The tag hadnít been pretty to start with, and after nearly four decades of wear and tear, it was battered and rough. Adam wore the other tag at all times.
I closed my hand on Adamís dog tag as the door to the bedroom opened and quietly shut again. Adamís arms came around me, and he bent so he could put his head on my shoulder. There was a mirror on the top of the dresser, so I could see his face— and his eyes in the mirror met mine.
“Thank you,” he said.
He smiled, a peaceful expression that lightened suddenly with mischief. “For keeping the peace. You donít think that I donít know you could wipe the floor with a lightweight like Christy? You battled with Bran when you were just a kid and came out on top. Christy? Sheís not a tithe on Bran.”
I snorted. “I donít know where you get your information, but I didnít win any battles with Our Lord and Master Bran Cornick who is the Marrok. No one does. Thatís why heís the Marrok.”
He snorted back. “Thatís not what Bran says.”
"Then heís doing it for his own reasons,” I told him. “Donít put too much weight on his stated opinion. More than likely heís just trying to get you to do something you donít want to do.”
“Peanut butter,” Adam said, deadpan.
“He made my foster mother cry,” I said.
“That didnít work so well,” I told him. “But I did learn not to arm my enemies.”
Shocked, I turned around, so I could see his face instead of just the refection. “No one knows about the shoes. Bran doesnít know.” I hadnít thought that Bran knew about the shoes.
“I donít know if Bran does,” Adam said. “Samuel said that he and Charles cooperated to keep Bran guessing because he was really enraged about the shoes.”
Charles had covered for me? Iíd known that Samuel had seen me and not said anything— but I hadnít known about Charles. Truth was that in my heart of hearts Iíd been a lot more scared of Branís son Charles than Iíd ever been scared of Bran. I just never believed that Bran would really hurt me. Charles. . . Charles would do whatever he had to. I was still more scared of Charles than Bran, but not as scared because Adam had my back.
"The shoes were not the brightest idea Iíve ever had,” I admitted. “But I was provoked.”
I met Adamís eyes, and we stared at each other for a minute,then I started to snicker. He laughed and pulled me into his body. I relaxed— and it felt like the first time Iíd relaxed since Christy came to stay with us.
“The shoes didnít really have anything to do with Bran,” I told him.
“Leah is his mate,” he said. “Of course it had something to do with Bran. Especially when he couldnít figure out who was steal-ing her shoes.”
I laughed again, tried to stop, while I said, “Only one shoe.”
“One of each pair. At a time. Forty- three shoes gone over a five- week period. Sometimes two or three shoes in the same day. Not a scent trace to be found. Just like a wizard had conjured them away.”
I blinked away tears and tried to stop laughing. It wasnít that funny— it was the release of the tension that had been building up for days. “I actually canít remember what it was Leah did, specifically. But Iím sure it was something worse than making me Enemy Number One because I let her tablecloth get stained.”
“Samuel said Leah put out a bounty on the shoes and the thief.”
That sent me off again.
“Her face,” I managed. “If only I had a photograph of her face.” Though I had a pretty good memory of it. “I thought she was just going to spontaneously combust right there in front of us— barefoot.”
“When Samuel told me about it, he asked me to find out how you managed it without leaving your scent behind. He said that when he asked you, you told him that you were keeping your secret in case you had to do the same to him someday.”
“Fishing pole and a big hook,” I told Adam because Iíd do better than shoes if I had to get back at him for something. “The hardest part was shutting the closet without going into the room.” I thought about it. “Okay, the closet door and getting out of the house forty- odd times without getting caught. Thank goodness I spent a lot of legitimate time over at that house, so I didnít have to try to cover up my scent except to keep it out of Branís bedroom.”
“What did you do with the shoes? Samuel said Bran searched your foster parentsí house for them.”
I snickered again. “Searched every day, sometimes twice a day— every time a shoe disappeared. Bryan got mad about it eventually, but Evelyn thought it was funny. I dumped the shoes in a glacial lake that was about three miles from our house. In between trips, because I couldnít quite manage to make it there unseen every day, I hid them in the bed of Charlesís truck.”
“I thought you were afraid of Charles.”
I nodded. “So was everyone else, though. And he only drove that truck when he absolutely had to.”
“You said you tossed all of them in the lake. I thought one of those shoes returned a few years later? Where did you hide it?” His eyes were happy.
“In the lake with the rest.” I shivered in reflex. “It took me four hours of diving in that lake to fnd a shoe— and that was a glacier-fed lake. Most of the shoes had rotted into mush, but there was a steel stiletto with this wiry mesh stuff that looked pretty good. By that time, Bran had quit looking, so I didnít have to be so careful.”
Bryan and Evelyn had both been dead then, too, and Iíd been living alone in their house that no longer really felt like my own. Not even their ghosts had lingered with me. I didnít tell Adam that, he was too perceptive, and I was too prone to self-pity with Christy living on the other side of my bedroom wall.
I cleared my throat. “I had to work on that stupid shoe for months before it didnít look like it had spent two years in water. But her face at the sight of it sitting on top of the Christmas tree was so worth it.”