"I'm sorry. Thank you for saving me."
He shook his head. "I didn't. You were saved by the flare. The deep magic makes all spells more potent. Including those of your humble medmage."
Icy claws skittered up my spine. "Was it really that close?"
I had almost died. I could think of a number of times I had almost died, but never before while a child depended on me for protection. Great going, Kate. You just had to stand there with your back to the window. Dumbass.
As soon as I could walk, I had to find a safe place for Julie. The thought of those long claws ripping into her was too much for me.
"Where am I?"
"In the Pack's Southeast office. There was some thought of bringing you to the Keep, but the consensus was you wouldn't make it."
We were repeating the same conversation we'd had ten weeks ago, almost word for word. Except that time I had brought down a crumbling skyscraper on myself and a few hundred vampires.
I grinned. "How did I get here?"
"His Majesty carried you." He grinned back. That part was the same, also.
"Is he burned to a crisp or sliced in half this time?"
"Neither," Curran's voice said. If I had been standing, I would've jumped. He stood in the middle of the room. Behind him a young woman carried a platter filled with four bowls. "However he is quite put out at being awakened from his nap to go and rescue a fool who always bites off more than she can chew."
Doolittle rose hurriedly, bowed, and left. Curran motioned to the table at the foot of the bed, and the woman set the platter on it and left, as well. The door clicked closed, leaving the Beast Lord and me alone in the room.
Oh joy. I hadn't wanted to meet Curran at all, but if I had to meet him, I wanted to be at my best, because he was a mean, vicious sonovabitch, who enjoyed making me squirm. Instead I ended up helpless, in a bed on the Pack's grounds, having been rescued by him. I wanted to fade into the sheets. Maybe I could pretend to fall asleep and he'd leave.
Curran examined me. "You look like shit."
"Thanks. I try." He, on the other hand, looked good. A couple of inches taller than me, broad shouldered and corded with muscle visible even under his T-shirt, Curran moved with a natural grace particular to the very strong and naturally quick. He gave an impression of coiled power, a contained violence that, if released, would explode with terrifying intensity. The last time I saw him, his blond hair had been cropped too short to grab in a fight, but today he wore it longer, showing the beginning of a wave. I had no idea his hair was wavy.
Curran picked up one of the bowls, looked at it for a second, as if considering a matter of some importance, brought the bowl over, and held it before me. The aroma arising from the bowl was heavenly. Suddenly I was ravenous. I sat up and clamped the bowl with both hands. And let go, shaking my fingers. It was the temperature of molten lava.
"Idiot." He set the bowl on the blanket before me and handed me a spoon.
There are times in life when there is nothing better than a hot bowl of chicken soup.
"Thanks." For the soup and for saving my butt again.
"Did you get the surveys? They were..."
"On the dresser. Shut up and eat your soup."
Curran took Doolittle's chair, brought it over by my bed, and sat. If I reached out with my foot, I could touch him with my toes. Entirely too close for comfort. I moved Slayer closer.
Curran watched me eat. Sitting like this, relaxed, he seemed almost ordinary: a man slightly older than me, kind of on the handsome side. Except for the eyes. They always gave him away. They were alpha eyes, the eyes of a killer and protector to whom the life of a Pack mate meant everything and the life of an outsider meant nothing. He wasn't giving me his hard stare now, merely watching. But I wasn't fooled. I knew how quickly those eyes could drown in lethal gold. I've seen what happens when they do.
Curran commanded over five hundred shapechangers. Half a thousand souls stuck on the crossroads between beast and man, each a spree-killer waiting to happen. Wolves, hyenas, rats, cats, bears, they were united only by two things: the desire to stay human, and loyalty to the Pack. And Curran was the Pack. They worshipped the ground he walked on.
"So that's the secret," the Beast Lord said.
I froze with the spoon halfway to my mouth. That was it. He had figured out what I was and now he was playing with me.
"You okay?" he asked. "Gone a bit pale there."
In a moment he would drop the charade and rip me to pieces. If I was lucky. "Secret to what?"
"Secret to shutting you up," he said. "I just have to beat you till you're half-dead, then give you chicken soup and" - he raised his hands - "blessed silence."
I went back to the soup. Ha-ha. Very funny.
"What did you think I meant?"
"I don't know," I mumbled. "The ways of the Beast Lord are a mystery to a humble merc like me."
"You don't do humble."
At least he still treated me as if I were on my feet, ready to defend myself, instead of being trapped in a bed, eating chicken soup. Speaking of soup...I set the bowl aside and looked longingly at the tray. I wanted more. The medmagic made the body burn through nutrients at an accelerated rate, and I was starving.
Curran took a bowl from the platter and offered it to me. I reached for it. His fingers touched mine and lingered. I looked into his eyes and saw tiny gold sparks dancing in the gray. His lips parted, allowing for a narrow flash of his teeth.
I grabbed my bowl and scooted away from him. The hint of a smile curved the corners of his mouth. He found me amusing. That wasn't exactly the reaction I was looking for as the Order's rep.
"Why did you save me?"
He shrugged. "I picked up the phone and there was a hysterical child on the other end, crying that you were dying, and she was all alone, and the undead were coming. I thought it might be an interesting conclusion to a boring evening."
Bullshit. He came because of Julie. Shapeshifters suffered from devastating child mortality, with half their children being born dead and another quarter being killed because they went loup at puberty. Like all shapeshifters, Curran cherished children and he also hated vampires. He probably figured he would kill two birds with one stone: save Julie and stick it to the People.
I frowned. "How did Julie know to call here?"
"Hit a redial button from what I understand. Smart kid. You're going to tell me what you've blundered into."
It wasn't a question, but I determined to take it as such. "No."