Chapter Thirteen

                I had a moment of pure panic. The werewolf smashed on top of me made it impossible to move, which would’ve been okay if it were Penny playing an unfunny and dangerous joke. But it wasn’t. My mind was close to incoherence, but then, the splintered wood of one of the stakes rasped against my wrist. They wouldn’t incapacitate or kill him the way they would a vampire, but any time someone drives a piece of sharpened wood into your body, it’s gonna hurt.
            I slid one of the stakes from my jacket sleeve into my hand. Not forgetting that under all the fur and teeth was a human guy, I jammed the homemade weapon into the meat under his right front leg. I had to twist my wrist in a painful contortion and generate enough force to jam the weapon through the thick werewolf hide, but I managed. 
            The werewolf yelped, springing away from me. I jumped to my feet, adrenaline propelling my fear-slowed brain to action. I grabbed the stake from my other sleeve, and grappled for the silver dagger in my boot.
            The wolf was already recovering, hackles raised, a sharp growl rattling his throat, setting my teeth on edge. He sidestepped to the left, never turning his head from me.
            We circled one another; the werewolf snarling and snapping. I knew he’d attack at any moment. Killing him to save myself was rapidly becoming my best option.
            He leaned back on his haunches, and I brought the dagger up in front of my chest, ready to let the short blade take the brunt of the impact.
            The werewolf’s muscles tensed, fur rippling. He sprang into the air with a howl, teeth barred, poised to land in my throat.
            A black shape sprang from the darkness, crashing into the werewolf. Both fell from the sky in a snarling heap. The new werewolf was slightly bigger and darker than my assailant—Penny to the rescue.  
            The smaller wolf jumped to his feet, mouth pulled back so that every fang was visible. Penny didn’t bother with any of macho, Alpha wolf posturing. He jumped, snapping his jaws around the other wolf’s snout. They rolled along the ground, barking and gnashing teeth.
            I stepped away, not wanting to get dragged down by their flailing bodies, but also not sure whether I should turn and run. Before I could make a decision, the ground vibrated beneath my feet with the pounding of many heavy paws. Werewolves of all shapes, sizes, and colors rushed forward, surrounding me and the two fighting wolves. A final wolf—more massive than the others, with fur that was almost leonine and eyes the color of melted chocolate—slipped into view. He sat on his back legs, watching the fight with dispassionate eyes (At least, I guess they were dispassionate. It’s hard to tell with a werewolf), before throwing his head back and letting out a heart-stopping howl.  
            Penny’s opponent disengaged, walking over to the yellow furred wolf, and sitting with his head bent. Penny came to me, and even though he’d just saved my life, my heart picked up at the proximity of his werewolf-self. His cold nose brushed mine, and I let out a gasping breath. He sniffed around my face and torso—searching for blood, I supposed—before licking my cheek and seating himself at my feet, shielding me from the other wolves.
            McGregor—that’s who I assumed the lion-like wolf was—walked around his chastised pack member toward Penny and I. At McGregor’s approach, Penny crouched, a possessive, warning growl exploding from his throat. McGregor stopped, eyes locking with Penny’s. My fist clenched around the blade of my dagger. Somehow there were goldfish swimming in my stomach, swirling things up and making me want to vomit.
            The standoff was interminable. The goldfish metamorphosed to giant koi, and still the two wolves stood nose-to-nose. Finally, McGregor took a step back, tucking his paws beneath him to sit. Even as a werewolf, the moment when Penny’s aggression receded was palpable. The koi in my stomach shrank back to goldfish, then to spawn, then to nothing.
            Penny leaned forward, licking McGregor’s snout; a move which the other werewolf reciprocated. The Alpha turned from us, signaling to his pack with some wolfly method with which I was unaware, so that they slipped back into the darkness, one-by-one until there were three left: Penny, McGregor, and the smaller, reddish wolf.  
            McGregor walked away, passing close enough to the small wolf to nip at his side. The other werewolf dipped his head in submission, allowing McGregor to put several feet between them, before he too, started to walk away.
            I slid the knife back into my boot, messaging my cramping hand joints. It was a short-lived moment of relief.
            I assumed that being the Alpha meant that all the pack members had to acquiesce to McGregor’s will. Once the small wolf backed down, I thought we were safe. Penny even took a few steps away from me, so sure was he that the danger had passed.
            I watched as the werewolf that attacked me lumbered into the night. But the second I took my eyes off of him, he was springing at me, all sharp teeth and flying saliva. Penny was taken off guard. He jumped for the wolf, but missed, tumbling back to the ground.
            The werewolf hit me again, his teeth scrapping against my clavicle hard enough to draw blood. I’d put the knife away, but, like a magician, I still had one trick hidden in my sleeve. As the werewolf and I fell backwards, I plunged the last stake into his belly, the impact with the ground digging it deeper inside, ripping the flesh around the entrance wound, blood pouring out.
            The injured wolf screamed with pain, rolling off me. The trauma of the wound caused him to convulse, werewolf body thrashing, trembling, melting back into human. I heaved my gore-splattered self off of the ground, knees shaking. If werewolves could stare at someone in slack-jawed horror, McGregor and Penny were looking at me just like that.
            I was too preoccupied with the bleeding guy at my feet to care much about them. I knew him—well, sort of. He was one of the guys who McGregor brought to the meeting in the cemetery. One of the ones who smiled at me and waved. He was unremarkable, reddish-brown hair, short, on the stocky side.  The only abnormal thing about him was the hole in his stomach.
            McGregor came towards the bleeding body, nosing at him. His brown eyes fixed on me before switching to Penny. Penny’s tail drooped and he lay flat on the ground. McGregor nuzzled Penny with his snout before stalking into the darkness. With a last glance at me, Penny followed.
            Vampire hunt forgotten, I sprinted back to my car, desiring nothing more than to change out of my blood drenched and stiffening clothes.
            Did I kill him? Was that why McGregor turned tail and left? Or was there nothing for him to do but wait until the wound healed? Werewolves had abnormal powers of regeneration—one of the only perks of being supernatural—but what if the wound was too severe to heal?
            I was worried enough that I headed back to the field the next day, but there was no body.  The only evidence of the altercation was the flattened and churned ground, and the dirt obscured puddle of blood.
            I wouldn’t get answers until Penny was human again.
            I was at the Keurig machine in my office when Penny slammed into the room, startling me enough that I almost covered myself in scalding coffee.
            His eyes were narrowed, face flushed. He stomped towards me. I was sure I was in for the lecture of a lifetime, but instead he grabbed me, pulling me to him with bruising force. He kissed my hair, my cheeks, the tip of my nose, and then his tongue slipped between my lips to tease mine with lapping strokes. He pulled away, disengaging our mouths with a pop. It was good he was holding me upright, or I would have fallen over, thrown off balance by his quick-changing passions.
            “What were you thinking?” he snapped, hoarse voiced.
            “I was looking for vampires,” I stepped away from his gouging fingers.
            “Sure you didn’t go out hunting for werewolves? Even though you promised me you’d let it go,” he asked, eyebrows drawn low over his eyes.
            “Why would I go to Wilkesville looking for werewolves that live in Riverview?” Penny blinked at me, nonplussed. Logic will do that to some people. “Like I said, vampires.”
            He shook his head, as though he couldn’t bring himself to totally believe I’d kept true to my word.
            “What were they doing out there anyway?” I asked, fixing my attention to calibrating the sugar in my coffee. “And why were you with them? I thought you weren’t interested in joining McGregor’s pack.”
            He cleared his throat with a soft grunt. “The one you stabbed, Wesley, he took off. McGregor called him to heal, but Wesley kept running towards Wilkesville. It’s a good thing we followed.”
            “Did I kill him?” I asked.
            Penny’s eyes scanned my face. “He was healed up the next day.”
            “Any idea why he attacked me?” I asked. “I would’ve dropped the investigation, but that gave me just the lead I needed.”
            He carded his fingers through his dark hair. “I haven’t seen him as a human to ask him. I’m sure he’ll claim that he was overcome with bloodlust. It happens.”
            “If he tells McGregor the truth, McGregor won’t share it with me,” I said.
            “He can’t,” Penny said. “His purpose is to lead and protect the pack. If he betrays one, he betrays them all.”
            “You never said what you were doing with them. I’m especially curious after the whole ‘not joining the pack’ speech you gave to McGregor,” I crossed my arms over my chest.
            “I haven’t joined,” he said, he leaned back against the reception desk.
            “Am I wrong in assuming that they’re who you’re running with?”
            “No, you’re not wrong. I just don’t understand why you’re upset about it.”
            “I’m not,” I said, dropping my arms to my sides. “I don’t get the sudden about-face.”
            He gave a strange, one-sided smirk. “Jealous that you’re not the only person I can go to with my werewolf problems?”
            My eyes fluttered. “Of course not,” I snickered. “I’m glad you’ve found a—“ I wasn’t sure what word to use “group.”
            “You hate McGregor,” he said.
            “I don’t hate him,” I said, too quickly.
            “He’s too much of a politician,” I said, licking my lips. “Whenever I talk to him, I can’t help but think he’s got an ulterior motive. Like, he’s scheming, and somehow you and I fit perfectly into his game.”
            “That’s ridiculous,” Penny was laughing.
            “Oh, yeah, cause you know him so well,” I said, angered more by his laughter than by his attitude.
            “I do, actually,” he said, no trace of a smile left. “He really cares about all those guys. He protects them. He coordinates runs and figures out where they’ll be safest during the full moon. He watches out for us.”
            “Oh, you’re an ‘us’ now?”
            “Fu—“ his last words were cut off by the bleating buzz of his cell phone.
            He glared at me as he hit the answer button. I couldn’t hear the other side of the conversation, and Penny didn’t say much, but the color in his face was siphoning away. When he ended the call, his hands shook.
            “What is it?” I asked, expecting something to have happened to one of his parents or his older sister.

            Instead, he said. “Wesley threw himself from the Arcadia clock tower. He’s dead.” 

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