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Iron Kissed


For Collin:
Collector of all that is Sharp and Pointy
Dragon Slayer

Chapter 1

"A cowboy, a lawyer and a mechanic watched Queen of the Damned," I murmured.

Warren -- who had once, a long time ago, been a cowboy --snickered and wiggled his bare feet. "It could be the beginningof either a bad joke or a horror story."

"No," said Kyle the lawyer, whose gorgeous head was proppedup on my thigh. "If you want a horror story you have to startout with a werewolf, his gorgeous lover and a walker . . ."

Warren, the werewolf, laughed and shook his head. "Tooconfusing. Not many people still remember what a walker is."

Mostly they just confused us with Skinwalkers. Sincewalkers and Skinwalkers are both Native American magicalcreatures, I can sort of understand it. Especially since I'mpretty sure the walker label came from some dumb white person whocouldn't tell the difference.

But I'm not a Skinwalker. First of all, I'm from the wrongtribe. My father had been Blackfoot, from a northern Montanatribe and Skinwalkers came from the southwestern tribes, mostlyHopi or Navajo.

Secondly, Skinwalkers have to wear the skin of the animalthey change into, usually a coyote or wolf, but they cannotchange their eyes. They are evil mages who bring disease anddeath wherever they go.

When I change into a coyote, I don't need a skin or -- Iglanced down at Warren, once a cowboy and now a werewolf -- themoon. When I am a coyote, I look just like every other coyote. Pretty much harmless, really, as far down the power scale of themagical critters that lived in the state of Washington as it waspossible to get. Which is one of the things that used to helpkeep me safe. I just wasn't worth bothering about. That hadbeen changing over the past year. Not that I'd grown anymorepowerful, but I'd started doing things that drew attention. Whenthe vampires figured out that I'd killed not one, but two oftheir own . . .

As if called by my thoughts, a vampire walked across thescreen of the TV, a TV so big it wouldn't have fit in mytrailer's living room. The vampire was topless and his pantsclung inches below his sexy hipbones.

I resented the shiver of fear that surged through my body. Funny how killing them had only made the vampires morefrightening. I dreamed of vampires crawling out of holes in thefloor and whispering to me from shadows. I dreamed of the feelof the stake sliding through flesh and fangs digging into my arm.

If it had been Warren with his head on my lap instead ofKyle, he would have noticed my reaction. But Warren wasstretched out on the floor and firmly focused on the screen.

"You know," I snuggled deeper into the obscenely comfortableleather couch in the upstairs TV room of Kyle's huge house andtried to sound casual, "I wondered why Kyle picked this movie. Somehow I didn't think there would be quite so many bare manlychests in a movie called Queen of the Damned."

Warren snickered, ate a handful of popcorn from the bowl onhis flat stomach, then said with more than a hint of a Texasdrawl in his rough voice, "You expected more naked women andfewer half-clothed men, did you, Mercy? You oughtta know Kylebetter than that." He laughed quietly again and pointed at thescreen. "Hey, I didn't think vampires were immune to gravity. Have you ever seen one dangle from the ceiling?"

I shook my head and watched as the vampire dropped on top ofhis two groupie victims. "I wouldn't put it past them, though. I haven't seen them eat people yet either. Ick."

"Shut up. I like this movie," Kyle, the lawyer, defendedhis choice. "Lots of pretty boys writhing in sheets and runningaround with low cut pants and no shirts. I thought you mightenjoy it, too, Mercy."

I looked down at him -- every lovely, solar-flexed inch ofhim -- and thought that he was more interesting than any of thepretty men on the screen, more real.

In appearance he was almost a stereotype of a gay man, fromthe hair gel in his weekly-cut dark brown hair to the tastefullyexpensive clothes he wore. If people weren't careful, theymissed the sharp intelligence that hid beneath the prettyexterior. Which was, because it was Kyle, the most of the pointof all the facade.

"This really isn't bad enough for bad movie night," Kylecontinued, not worried about interrupting the movie: none of uswere watching it for its scintillating dialogue. "I'd have gottenBlade III, but, oddly enough, it was already checked out."

"Any movie with Wesley Snipes is worth watching, even if youhave to turn off the sound." I twisted and bent so I couldsnitch a handful of popcorn from Warren's bowl. He was too thinstill; that and a limp were reminders that only a month ago he'dbeen so badly hurt I'd thought he would die. Werewolves aretough, bless 'em, or we'd have lost him to a demon bearingvampire. That one had been the first vampire I'd killed -- withthe full knowledge and permission of the local vampire mistress. That she hadn't actually intended me to kill him didn't negatethat I'd done it with her blessing. She couldn't do anything tome for his death -- and she didn't know I was responsible for theother.

"As long as he's not dressed in drag," drawled Warren.

Kyle snorted agreement. "Wesley Snipes may be a beautifulman, but he makes a butt-ugly woman."

"Hey," I objected, pulling my mind back to the conversation. "To Wong Foo was a good movie." We'd watched it last week at myhouse.

A faint buzzing noise drifted up the stairs and Kyle rolledoff the couch and onto his feet in a graceful, dance-like movethat was wasted on Warren who was still focused on the movie,though his grin probably wasn't the reaction the movie makers hadintended for their bloodfest scene. My feelings were much morein line with the desired result. It was all to easy to imaginemyself as the victim.

"Brownies are done, my sweets," said Kyle. "Anyone wantsomething more to drink?"

"No, thank you." It was just make-believe, I thought,watching the vampire feed.


His name finally drew Warren's gaze off the TV screen."Water would be nice."

Warren wasn't as pretty as Kyle, but he had the rugged-manlook down pat. He watched Kyle walk down the stairs with hungryeyes.

I smiled to myself. It was good to see Warren happy atlast. But the eyes he turned to me as soon as Kyle was out ofsight were serious. He used the remote to raise the volume, thensat up and faced me, knowing Kyle wouldn't hear us over themovie.

"You need to choose," he told me intently. "Adam or Samuelor neither. But you can't keep them dangling."

Adam was the Alpha of the local werewolf pack, my neighbor,and sometimes my date. Samuel was my first love, my firstheartbreak, and currently my roommate. Just my roommate --though he'd like to be more.

I didn't trust either of them. Samuel's easy-going exteriormasked a patient and ruthless predator. And Adam . . . well, Adamjust flat scared me. And I was very much afraid that I lovedthem both.

"I know."

Warren dropped his eyes from mine, a sure sign he wasuncomfortable. "I didn't brush my teeth with gunpowder thismorning so I could go shooting my mouth off, Mercy, but this isserious. I know it's been difficult, but you can't have twodominant werewolves after the same woman without bloodshed. Idon't know any other wolves who could have allowed you as muchleeway as they have, but one of them is going to break soon."

My cell phone began playing "The Baby Elephant March". Idug it out of my hip pocket and looked at the caller ID.

"I believe you," I told Warren. "I just don't know what todo about any of it." There was more wrong with Samuel thanundying love of me, but that was between him and me and none ofWarren's business. And Adam . . . for the first time I wonderedif it wouldn't just be easier if I pulled up stakes and moved.

The phone continued to sing.

"It's Zee," I said. "I have to take this."

Zee was my former boss and mentor. He'd taught how torebuild an engine from the ground up -- and he'd given me themeans to kill the vampires responsible for Warren's limp and thenightmares that were leaving fine lines around his eyes. Ifigured that gave Zee the right to interrupt Friday Night at theMovies.

"Just think about it."

I gave him a faint smile and flipped open my phone. "Hey,Zee."

There was a pause on the other end. "Mercedes," he said,and not even his thick German accent could disguise the hesitanttone of his voice. Something was wrong.

"What do you need?" I asked, sitting up straighter andputting my feet on the floor. "Warren's here," I added so Zeewould know we had an audience. Werewolves make having a privateconversation difficult.

"Would you drive out to the reservation with me?"

He could have been speaking of the Umatilla Reservation,which was a short drive from the Tri-Cities. But it was Zee, sohe was talking about the Ronald Reagan Fae Reservation just thisside of Walla Walla, better known around here as Fairyland.

"Now?" I asked.

Besides . . . I glanced at the vampire on the big-screen TV. They hadn't gotten it quite right, hadn't captured the real evil-- but it was too close for comfort anyway. Somehow I couldn'twork up too much sorrow at missing the rest of the movie -- ormore conversation about my love life, either.

"No," Zee groused irritably. "Next week. Jetzt. Of course, now. Where are you? I will pick you up."

"Do you know where Kyle's house is?" I asked.


"Warren's boyfriend." Zee knew Warren; I hadn't realized he hadn't met Kyle. "We're out in the hills of West Richland."

"Give me the address. I will find it."

Zee's truck purred down the highway even though it was olderthan I was. Too bad the upholstery wasn't in as good a shape asthe engine -- I shifted my rump over a few inches to keep awayward spring from digging in too deeply.

The dash lights illuminated the craggy face that Zeepresented to the world. His fine white hair was mussed a little,as if he'd been rubbing his hands over it.

Warren hadn't said more about Adam or Samuel after I'd hungup because Kyle, thank goodness, had arrived with brownies. Itwasn't that I was bothered by Warren's interference -- I'd doneenough interfering in his love life that I figured he had aright. I just didn't want to think about it anymore.

Zee and I rode mostly in silence from West Richland, all theway past Richland and on though Pasco. I knew better than to tryto get something out of the old gremlin until he was ready totalk, so I let him alone until he decided to speak -- at leastafter the first ten or fifteen questions he hadn't answered.

"Have you been to the reservation before?" he asked abruptlyas we crossed the river just outside of Pasco on the highway toWalla Walla.

"No." The fae reservation in Nevada welcomed visitors. They had built a casino and small theme park to attract tourists. The Walla Walla reservation, however, actively discouraged anyonewho wasn't fae from entering. I wasn't quite certain if it wasthe feds or the fae themselves responsible for the unfriendlyreputation of the reservation.

Zee tapped unhappily on his steering wheel with hands thatbelonged to a man who'd spent his lifetime repairing cars, toughand scarred with oil so ingrained not even pumice soap wouldremove it.

They were the right hands for the human that Zee hadpretended to be. When the Gray Lords, the powerful and ruthlessbeings who ruled the fae from secret, forced him to admit what hewas to the public a few years ago, a decade or more after thefirst fae had come out, Zee hadn't bothered to change his outwardappearance at all.

I'd known him for a little over ten years, and the sour oldman face was the only one I'd ever seen. He had another, I knewthat. Most fae lived among humans under their glamour, even ifthey admitted what they were. People are just not ready to dealwith the fae's true appearance. Sure, some of them looked humanenough, but they also don't age. The thinning hair and thewrinkled, age-spotted skin was a sure sign that Zee wasn'twearing his true face. His sour expression, though, was nodisguise.

"Don't eat or drink anything," he said abruptly.

"I've read all the fairy tales," I reminded him. "No food,no drink. No favors. No thanking anyone."

He grunted. "Fairy tales. Damned children's stories."

"I've read Katherine Briggs, too," I offered. "And theoriginal Grimm's." Mostly looking for some mention of a fae whocould have been Zee. He wouldn't talk about it, though I thinkhe'd been Someone. So finding out who he'd been had becomesomething of a hobby of mine.

"Better. Better, but not much." He tapped his fingers onthe wheel. "Briggs was an archivist, her books are only ascorrect as her sources and mostly they are dangerouslyincomplete. The stories of the brothers Grimm are more concernedwith entertainment than reality. Both of them are nur Shatten .. . only shadows of reality." He looked at me, a quick searchingglance. "Uncle Mike suggested you might be useful here, Ithought it was a better repayment than might otherwise come yourway."

To kill the sorcerer vampire, who was gradually being takenover by the demon that made him a sorcerer, Zee'd risked thewrath of the Gray Lords to loan me a couple of the treasures ofthe Fae. I'd killed that vampire all right, and then I'd killedthe one who'd made him. As in the stories, if you use a fairygift once more than you have permission for, there areconsequences.

If I'd known this was going to be repayment for favorsrendered, I'd have been more apprehensive from the start: thelast time I'd had to repay a favor hadn't ended well.

"I'll be all right," I told him despite the cold knot ofdread in my stomach.

He gave me a sour look. "I had not thought about what itmight mean to bring you into the reservation after dark."

"People do go to the reservation," I said, though I wasn'treally sure of it.

"Not people like you, and no visitors after dark." He shookhis head. "A human comes in and sees what he should, especiallyby daylight, when their eyes are easier to fool. But you . . . The Gray Lords have forbidden hunting humans, but we have ourshare of predators and it is hard to deny nature. Especiallywhen the Gray Lords who make our rules are not here -- there isonly I. And, if you see what you should not, there are those whowill say they are only protecting what they have to . . ."

It was only when he switched into German that I realizedthat he had been talking to himself the last half of it. Thanksto Zee, my German was better than two requisite years of collegeclasses had left it, but not good enough to follow him when hegot going.

It was after eight at night, but the sun still cast her warmgaze on the trees in the foothills beside us. The larger treeswere green still, but some of the smaller bushes were givinghints of the glorious colors of fall.

Near the Tri-Cities, the only trees were in town wherepeople kept them watered through the brutal summers or along oneof the rivers. But as we drove toward Walla Walla, where theBlue Mountains helped wring a little more moisture out of theair, the countryside got slowly greener.

"The worst of it is," Zee said finally switching to English,"I don't think you'll be able to tell us anything we don'talready know."

"About what?"

He gave me a sheepish look, which sat oddly on his face. "Ja, I am mixing this up. Let me start again." He drew in abreath and let it out with a sigh. "Within the reservation, wedo our own law enforcement -- we have that right. We do itquietly because the human world is not ready for the ways we haveto enforce the law. It is not so easy to imprison one of us,eh?"

"The werewolves have the same problem," I told him.

"Ja, I bet." He nodded, a quick jerk of a nod. "So. Therehave been deaths in the reservation lately. We think it is thesame person in each case."

"You're on the reservation police force?" I asked.

He shook his head. "We don't have such a thing. Not assuch. But Uncle Mike is on the Council. He thought that youraccurate nose might be useful and sent me to get you."

Uncle Mike ran a bar in Pasco that served fae and some ofthe other magical people who lived in town. That he was powerfulI'd always known -- how else could he keep a lid on so many fae? I hadn't realized he was on the Council. Maybe if I'd knownthere was a council to be part of, I might have suspected it.

"Can't one of you do as much as I can?" I held up a hand tokeep him from answering right away. "It's not that I mind. Ican imagine a lot worse ways to pay off my debt. But why me? Didn't Jack's giant smell the blood of an Englishman, for Pete'ssake? What about magic? Couldn't one of you find the killer withmagic?"

I don't know much about magic, but I would think that aReservation of fae would have someone whose magic would be moreuseful than my nose.

"Maybe the Gray Lords could make magic do their bidding toshow them the guilty party," Zee said. "But we do not want tocall their attention -- it is too chancy. Outside of the GrayLords . . ." he shrugged. "The murderer is proving surprisinglyelusive to our search. As far as scent goes, most of us aren'tgifted in that way -- it was a gift largely only given to thebeast-minded. Once they determined it would be safer for all ofus to blend in with humans rather than live apart, the Gray Lordskilled most of the beasts among us that survived the coming ofChrist and cold iron. There are maybe one or two here with theability to sniff people out, but they are so powerless that theycannot be trusted."

"What do you mean?"

He gave me a grim look. "Our ways are not yours. If onehas no power to protect himself, he cannot afford to offendanyone. If the murderer is powerful or well-connected, none ofthe fae who could scent him would be willing to accuse him."

He smiled, a sour little quirk of his lips. "We may not beable to lie . . . but truth and honesty are rather different."

I'd been raised by werewolves who could, mostly, smell a lieat a hundred yards. I knew all about the difference betweentruth and honesty.

Something about what he said . . . "Uhm. I'm not powerful. What happens if I say something to offend?"

He smiled. "You will be here as my guest. It might notkeep you safe if you see too much -- as our laws are clear on howto deal with mortals who stray Underhill and see more than theyought. That you were invited by the Council, knowing what youare -- and that you are not quite human should provide someimmunity. But anyone who is offended when you speak the truthmust, by our guesting laws, has to come after me rather than you. And I can protect myself."

I believed it. Zee calls himself a gremlin, which isprobably more accurate than not -- except that the word "gremlin"was a lot newer than Zee is. He is one of the few kinds of faewho has an affinity for iron, which gives him all sorts ofadvantages over most of the fae to whom iron was fatal.

There wasn't any sign that marked the well-maintained countyroad we turned onto from the main highway. The road wove throughsmall, wooded hills that reminded me more of Montana than thebarren, cheat-grass and sagebrush covered land around the Tri-Cities.

We turned a corner, drove through a patch of thick-growingaspens and emerged with twin walls of cinnamon colored concreteblock rising on either side of us, sixteen feet tall withconcertina wire along the top to make guests feel even morewelcome.

"It looks like a prison," I said. The combination of narrowroad and tall walls made me claustrophobic.

"Yes," agreed Zee a bit grimly. "I forgot to ask, do youhave your driver's license with you?"


"Good. I want you to remember, Mercy, there are a lot ofcreatures in the reservation who are not fond of humans -- andyou are close enough to human that they will bear you no goodwill. If you step too far over bounds, they will have you deadfirst and leave me to seek justice later."

"I'll mind my tongue," I told him.

He snorted with uncomplimentary amusement. "I'll believethat when I see it. I wish Uncle Mike were here, too. Theywouldn't dare bother you then."

"I thought this was Uncle Mike's idea."

"It is, but he is working and cannot leave his taverntonight."

We must have traveled half a mile when the road finally madean abrupt right turn to reveal a guardhouse and gate. Zeestopped his truck and rolled down the window.

The guard wore a military uniform with a large BFA patch onhis arm. I wasn't familiar enough with the BFA (Bureau of FaeAffairs) to know what branch of the military was associated withthem -- if any. The guard had that "Rent A Cop" feel, as if hefelt a little out of place in the uniform even as he relished thepower it gave him. The badge on his chest read "O'Donnell".

He leaned forward and I got a whiff of garlic and sweat,though he didn't smell unwashed. My nose is just more sensitivethan most people's.

"ID," he said.

Despite his Irish name, he looked more Italian or Frenchthan Irish. His features were bold and his hair was receding.

Zee opened his wallet and handed over his driver's license. The guard made a big deal of scrutinizing the picture and lookingat Zee. Then he nodded and grunted, "Hers too."

I had already grabbed my wallet out of my purse. I handedZee my license to pass over to the guard.

"No designation," O'Donnell said flicking the corner of mylicense with his thumb.

"She's not Fae, sir," said Zee in a differential tone I'dnever heard from him before.

"Really? What business does she have here?"

"She's my guest," Zee said, speaking quickly as if he knew Iwas about to tell the moron it was none of his business.

And he was a moron, he and whoever was in charge of securityhere. Picture ID's for fae? The only thing all fae have incommon is glamour, the ability to change their appearance. Theillusion is so good that it affects not only human senses, butphysical reality. That's why a 500 pound, ten foot tall ogre canwear a size six dress and drive a Miata. Its not shape shifting,I am told. But as far as I'm concerned it's as close as makes nonevermind.

I don't know what kind of ID I would have had them use, buta picture ID was worthless. Of course the fae tried really hardto pretend that they could only take one human form without eversaying exactly that. Maybe they'd convinced some bureaucrat tobelieve it.

"Will you please get out of the truck, Ma'am," the moronsaid, stepping out of the guardhouse and crossing in front of thetruck until he was on my side of the vehicle.

Zee nodded. I got out of the car.

The guard walked all the way around me, and I had torestrain my growl. I don't like people I don't know walkingbehind me. He wasn't quite as dumb as he first appeared becausehe figured it out and walked around again.

"Brass doesn't like civilian visitors, especially afterdark," he said to Zee who had gotten out to stand next to me.

"I am allowed, sir," Zee replied, still in that differential

The guard snorted and flipped through a few pages on hisclipboard, though I don't think he actually was reading anything. "Siebold Adelbertsmiter-" He pronounced it wrong, making Zee'sname sound like Seabold instead of Zeebolt. "-Michael McNellis,and Olwen Jones." Michael McNellis could be Uncle Mike -- ornot. I didn't know any fae named Olwen, but I could count thefae I knew by any name on one hand with fingers left over. Mostly the fae kept to themselves.

"That's right," Zee said with false patience that soundedgenuine; I only knew it was false because Zee had no patiencewith fools -- or anyone else for that matter. "I am Siebold." He said it the same way O'Donnell had.

The petty tyrant kept my license and walked back to hislittle office. I stayed where I was, so I couldn't see exactlywhat he did though I could hear the sound of computer keys beingtapped. He came back after a couple of minutes and handed mylicense back.

"Stay out of trouble, Mercedes Thompson. Fairyland is noplace for good little girls."

Obviously O'Donnell had been sick the day they'd hadsensitivity training and sexual harassment. I wasn't usually ahard-core stickler, but something about the way he said "littlegirl" made it an insult. Mindful of Zee's wary gaze I took mylicense back and slipped it into my back pocket and tried to keepwhat I was thinking to myself.

I don't think my expression was bland enough, because heshoved his face into mine. "Did you hear me, girl?"

I could smell the honey ham and mustard he'd had on hisdinner sandwich. The garlic he'd probably eaten last night. Maybe he'd had a pizza or lasagna.

"I heard you," I said in as neutral a tone as I couldmanage, which wasn't, admittedly, very good.

He fingered the gun on his hip. He looked at Zee. "She canstay two hours. If she's not back out by then, we'll comelooking for her."

Zee bowed his head like they do in the Karate movies,without letting his eyes leave the guard's face. He waited untilthe guard walked back to his office before he got back in thecar, and I followed his lead.

The metal gate slid open with a reluctance that mirrored theO'Donnell's attitude. The steel it was built of was the firstsign of competence I'd seen. Unless there was rebar in thewalls, the concrete might keep people like me out, but it wouldnever keep fae in. The concertina wire was too shiney to beanything but aluminum, and aluminum doesn't bother the fae in theslightest. Of course, ostensibly, the reservation was set up torestrict where the fae lived and to protect them so it shouldn'tmatter that they could come and go as they pleased, guarded gateor not.

Zee drove through the gates and into Fairyland.

I don't know what I expected of the reservation; militaryhousing of some sort, maybe, or English cottages. Instead, therewas row after row of neat, well-kept ranch houses with built-inone car garages laid out in identical sized yards with identicalfences, chain link around the front yard, six foot cedar aroundthe backyard.

The only difference from one house to the next was in colorof paint and foliage in the yards. I knew the reservation hadbeen here since the eighties, but it looked as though it mighthave been built a year ago.

There were cars scattered here and there, mostly SUV's andtrucks, but I didn't see any people at all. The only sign oflife, aside from Zee and I, was a big black dog that watched uswith intelligent eyes from the front yard of a pale yellow house.

The dog pushed the Stepford effect up to uber-creepy.

I turned to comment about it to Zee when I realized that mynose was telling me some odd things.

"Where's the water?" I asked.

"What water?" He raised an eyebrow, but I thought he lookedpleased.

"I smell swamp: water and rot and growing things."

He smiled in satisfaction. "That's what I told Uncle Mike. Our glamour works for best sight and touch, very good for tasteand hearing, but not as well for scent. Most people can't smellwell enough for scent to be a problem. You smelled that I wasfae the first time you met me."

Actually he was wrong. I've never met two people who smellexactly alike -- I thought that earthy scent that he and his sonTad shared was just part of their own individual essences. Itwasn't until a long time later that I learned to distinguishbetween fae and human. Unless you live within an hour's drive ofone of the four fae reservations in the US, the chances ofrunning into one just weren't that high. Until I'd moved to theTri-Cities and started working for Zee, I'd never knowingly met afae.

"So where is the swamp?" I asked.

He shook his head. "I hope that you will be able to seethrough whatever means our murderer has used to disguise himself. But for your own sake, Liebling, I would hope that you wouldleave the reservation its secrets if you can."

He turned down a street that looked just like the first fourwe'd passed -- except that there was a young girl of about eightor nine playing with a yoyo in one of the yards. She watched thespinning, swinging toy with solemn attention that didn't changewhen Zee parked the car in front of her house. When Zee openedthe gate, she caught the yoyo in one hand and looked at us withadult eyes.

"No one has entered," she said.

Zee nodded. "This is the latest victim." He told me. "Wefound it this morning. There are six others. The rest have hada lot of people in and out, but, except for this one-" heindicated the girl with a tip of his head "who is a Councilmember and Uncle Mike, there have been no other trespassers sincehis death."

I looked at the child who was one of the Council and shegave me a smile and popped her bubblegum.

I decided it was safest to ignore her. "You want me to seeif I can smell someone who was in all the houses?"

"If you can."

"There's not exactly a data base where scents are storedlike fingerprints. Even if I scent him out, I'll have no ideawho it is -- unless you, Uncle Mike or your Council member here-"I nodded my head toward yoyo girl "- I'll won't be able to tellyou who it is."

Zee smiled without humor. "If you can find one scent thatis in every house, I will personally escort you around thereservation or the entire state of Washington until you find themurdering son of a bitch."

That's when I knew this was personal. Zee didn't swear muchand never in English. Bitch, in particular was a word he'd neverused in my presence.

"It will be better if I do this alone then," I told him. "So the scents you're carrying don't contaminate what is alreadythere. Do you mind if I use the truck to change?"

"Nein, nein," he said. "Go change."

I went back to the truck and felt the girl's gaze on theback of my neck all the way. She looked too innocent andhelpless to be anything but a serious nasty.

I got back into the truck, on the passenger side to get asmuch room as possible, and stripped out of all my clothes. Forwerewolves, the change is very painful especially if they waittoo long to change at a full moon and the moon pulls the changefrom them.

Shifting doesn't hurt me at all -- actually it feels good,like a thorough stretch after a workout. I get hungry though,and, if I hop from one form to the other too often, it makes metired.

I closed my eyes and slid from human into coyote. Iscratched the last tingle out of one ear with my hind paw thenhopped out the window I'd left open.

My senses as a human are sharp. When I switch forms theyget a little better, but it's more than that. Being in coyoteform focuses the information that my ears and nose are telling mebetter than I can do as a human.

I started casting about on the sidewalk just inside thegate, trying to get a feel for the smells of the house. By thetime I made it to the porch, I knew the scent of the male (hecertainly wasn't a man, though I couldn't quite pinpoint what hewas) who had made this his home. I could also pick out thescents of the people who visited most often, people like thegirl, who had returned to her spinning, snapping yoyo -- thoughshe watched me rather than her toy.

Except for her very first statement, she and Zee hadn'texchanged a word that I had heard. It might have meant that theydidn't like each other, but their body language wasn't stiff orantagonistic. Perhaps they just didn't have anything to say.

Zee opened the door when I stopped in front of it, and awave of death billowed out.

I couldn't help take a step back. Even a fae, it seemed,was not immune to the indignities of death. There was no needfor the caution that made me creep over the threshold into theentryway, but some things, especially in coyote form, areinstinctive.