Dali kicked off her shoes and began pulling off her shirt. "I'll have to shift. I'm more sensitive to magic in my animal shape and my sense of smell is better."

I looked to the floor. The shapeshifters mostly fell into two camps: some were very modest, and some would strip in the middle of the Market Highway without a moment's thought.

Apparently Dali was of the second category.

A deep, low rumble of a large cat rolled through my apartment, a cascade of sound bouncing off my skin. I looked up.

A white tiger stood in my living room. Glowing as if sculpted of fresh snow, she looked at me with ice-blue eyes, enormous, otherworldly, like some eternal spirit of the North, taiga, and winter hunt. Long stripes outlined her fluid shape with coal black. More than a mere animal, more than a lycanthrope in the beast form, she was majestic. I couldn't even breathe.

And then she sneezed. And sneezed again, blinking, and when she raised her head again, I realized that only one glacial eye looked straight at me. The other stared off to the side. The tiger spirit went cross-eyed like a Siamese cat.

The tigress raised one paw, looked quizzically at it, put it down, and rumbled low in the throat, a befuddled expression on her big face.

"Yes, those are your paws," Jim said patiently.

At the sound of his voice, the tigress backpedaled, stumbled over the four-armed body, and sat on it in the most undignified manner.

"You're sitting on the evidence," Jim said.

The tigress leapt up and spun around, nearly taking me off my feet with her butt. A snarl ripped from her mouth.

"Yes, there is a dead creature in the room. Lie down, Dali, and relax. It will come to you."

The tigress settled on the floor, peering at the bodies with open suspicion.

"She has short-term memory loss after the shift," Jim murmured. "It will wear off in a minute.

The cross-eyed thing will go away, too. Some cats react that way to stress."

"Does she get aggressive?" The last thing I needed was to get raked over hot coals because I used excessive force to subdue a raging cross-eyed weretigress with temporary amnesia.

Jim's face took on an odd expression, so unusual on his hard mug that it took me a moment to diagnose it as embarrassment. "No. She gags on raw meat and blood."

"What?"

"She won't bite or scratch or she'll vomit. She's a vegetarian."

Oh boy. "But when she's in beast form . . ."

He shook his head. "She eats grass. Don't ask."

Dali rose and sniffed the four-armed body. She began at his feet, her flat feline muzzle trailing a mere quarter inch above the skin. The dark nose scanned the long toes of the left foot, tipped with sharp claws, and slid up, along the shin to the knee. Dali paused there, licked the hard pane of the kneecap, and moved up along the thigh. She stopped at the crotch, shifted to the right, and repeated the same thorough scent search with the right leg.

It took her a full five minutes to complete her survey.

"Anything?" I asked.

Dali shook her magnificent head. Damn it. We were back to dying Derek lying in a vat of liquid.

"Alright." Jim nodded. "Change back. I thought of something else to ask."

The tigress nodded. Her white pelt stretched, quivered, but remained on her body.

"Dali?" Jim's voice was calm and measured.

The white fur crawled and snapped back into a tiger. Glacial-blue eyes stared at me, and in their crystal depth, I saw panic.

The tigress ran.

She dashed around the room, trampling the bodies. Her furry shoulder brushed the tall, tulip-shaped lamp. The lamp went flying and exploded against the floor in a shower of glass. Dali rampaged over the shards and collided with the LCD display on the wall. The large metal frame slid off its hook and thundered down, landing on Dali's skull. I winced.

Dali whipped about, her eyes completely wild, and met Jim. He stepped in her way and stared.

Dali shivered. The fur rose on her haunches. She snarled.

Jim simply stood. His eyes were pure emerald.

With a heavy sigh, Dali hugged the ground and lay down.

Alpha of the cats in action.

Jim knelt by Dali. "Can you change shape?"

The tigress whined low. I took it as a no.

Small streaks of blood seeped from Dali's huge paws, vivid against her white fur. Given her aversion to blood, she probably wouldn't even lick her injuries. I fetched the med kit Doolittle had used to patch me up, fished out a pair of tweezers, and settled down by her feet. She offered me one enormous paw. I opened the bottle of antiseptic, poured some on a piece of gauze, and wiped the blood from the huge pads. Three glass shards sat embedded in the flesh, trophies of her glorious battle with the lamp.

"I want you to keep trying to revert to human shape," Jim said. "Don't strain yourself, but keep a steady pressure."

I hooked the first shard with the tweezers and plucked it from her paw. Blood gushed. Dali jerked, pulling me with her. Fire laced my side. I winced. There went Doolittle's patching.

"Hold still, please."

Dali whined and let me have her paw. The cut didn't seal. I swiped at it with gauze. Still open.

Shit. She and Derek now exhibited the same symptoms: an inability to shift and retarded regeneration. I deposited the bloody piece of frosted-white glass onto the lid of the first aid kit.

"Let's talk scents." Jim's voice was smooth, soothing. "Did you smell anything odd off the bodies?"

Dali rocked her head side to side.

I plucked another shard from her paw. "Aside from shape, do you feel any different?"

Dali whined. That was the trouble with shapeshifters in animal form: they couldn't vocalize and most couldn't write. Yes and no questions were our only option.

I hooked the third shard, but the tweezers slipped. The sucker was deep in there. "Dali, spread your fingers for me if you can."

Huge claws shot out from her paw as she spread her toes.

"Thank you." I pinched the shard and pulled it out.

The tiger flesh boiled under my fingers and I found myself holding a human hand.

"Oh my God." Dali's voice hit a trembling high note. "Oh my God."

"What did you do?" Jim leaned forward, focused as if he sighted prey.

Tears swelled in Dali's eyes. "I thought I would be stuck in animal form forever." She looked around the room. "I wrecked the place. And your wound . . . I'm so sorry."

"Don't worry about it," I mumbled, focused on the shard. It looked yellow to me. The tulip lamp had been frosted white. "Happens all the time."

I grabbed the first aid kit, held it under the tweezers in case I dropped the shard on the way, got up, and carried the sliver of glass to the window. The shard sparkled, casting a faint yellow shade onto the white first aid box. Hello, Mr. Clue.


Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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