She had a point. “I have work to do. The magic is down, so it’s unlikely Erra is still running around. She doesn’t like technology much, and the last time I saw her, she was trying to redecorate the snowdrifts around my place in a lovely shade of red.”

“No.”

I looked at Jim. “I’m a bit fuzzy on my status within the Pack.”

“Technically, you have none,” he said. “Sleeping with a shapeshifter doesn’t grant you Pack privileges.”

I smiled at Jennifer. “Since I have no official Pack status, you have no power to detain me. I’m a lawful agent of the Order and I need you to step aside.”

She looked at Jim. “Would you like to weigh in on this at any point?”

Jim shrugged. “If you get yourself fucked up and it gets out that Jennifer had you here and let you get hurt, it won’t look good for the wolves. And you have a record of getting yourself seriously fucked up.”

Thank you, Mr. Helpful. “Look, I appreciate the difficulty of your position, but I’m not going to sit here all cozy while my dog freezes to death.” And as of now, I was my aunt’s primary target. The more space I put between me and the shapeshifters, the safer they would be.

“Take an escort,” Jim said.

“Are you offering to babysit me, Ms. Poppins?”

“Nope. I’ll give you a vehicle and you can take Jennifer’s wolves with you.”

Brilliant. If I was attacked, I’d have some homicidal werewolves to protect.

Jennifer looked at Jim. “Why, thank you for volunteering my people, cat. Any other orders for me?”

Jim gave her his hard stare. Jennifer’s upper lip rose, showing a glimpse of her teeth.

I stepped back. “Please feel free to settle your differences.” And while you’re doing that, I’ll quietly go on my way . . .

Jennifer paused her glaring for a second. “The cat is right. Take my wolves.”

“I don’t know your wolves.” I looked at Jim. “Why can’t you go if you’re so concerned?”

He sighed. “Because certain people aren’t altogether rational at the moment. If I came with you, I’d have to answer uncomfortable questions. I ask questions, I don’t answer them.”

“What kind of questions?”

“Why were you in a vehicle with Kate, alone? What were you wearing? What was she wearing? How long were you there? Did you do something or did you talk? What was the nature of your discussion? Could this trip have been avoided?”

I rubbed my face. “So basically you’re scared that His Lordship might get his panties in a bunch?”

“That’s one way to put it. The other way would be that I’m dedicated to observing the Pack’s social protocol. If you were ‘officially’ mated and installed in his rooms in the Keep, it would be less of an issue. However, technically you’re still available, since you have yet to commit.”

I made an effort to enunciate my reply very carefully. “Available?”

“Up for grabs. On the market. Ready for action. Putting out the vibe.”

He was just jerking my chain now. Two could play that game. “Fine, I don’t care, give me an escort, send me in a car or a cart or whatever. Just don’t send your girlfriend as a chauffeur.”

A stunned silence issued. Jim’s eyebrows came together. Judging by his expression, if Jim had been in cat form, every hair on his back would’ve stood up. “My girlfriend?”

Jennifer kept a perfectly straight face.

In for a penny, in for a pound. “You know, short, glasses, Indonesian, drives like a demon from the lowest bowels of hell?”

“She isn’t my girlfriend.”

“Oh, so she’s still up for grabs? Fair game?”

“Putting out the vibe?” Jennifer added.

Jim turned and walked away without a word.

Holy crap, I’d struck a nerve. I had no idea that there was anything there. It was a total shot in the dark.

Jennifer looked at me. “I’ll give you three wolves.”

“Why three?”

“If there is trouble, one will take custody of you and execute a retreat, while the other two will run interference.”

My jaw tried very hard to hit the floor. If it was physically possible, I’d be picking up my teeth from the carpet.

“We’ve met before, right?”

“I do believe so, yes.”

“Then you do know that if your wolf tries to carry me from a battle, I’ll cut her arms off?”

“What are we chatting about?” Aunt B came out of the kitchen. “I just saw Jim and he had a peculiar look on his face.”

“Jennifer wants to saddle me up with an escort. They’re supposed to grab me and run like a bat out of hell if someone sneezes in my direction.”

Aunt B raised her eyebrows. “There is no need. The boudas will provide the escort.”

Jennifer’s eyes turned flat like two chunks of ice. “Are you implying there is something wrong with my people?”

Now I knew why Curran was crazy.

“Of course not, dear.” Aunt B’s smile was so sweet, you could spread her on toast. “But Clan Bouda and Kate have a special bond.”

Jennifer’s voice turned equally sweet. “Clan Wolf and Kate have a special bond as well.”

Steel slipped into Aunt B’s smile. Her voice remained sugary sweet. “You should let me take the escort.”

Jennifer’s eyes flared with yellow. She gave Aunt B a big happy smile. “Take care, Beatrice. You’re in my house.”

“Why, goodness me, is that a threat?”

If you couldn’t hear what they were saying, you’d think they were two Southern women catching up on local gossip at a church picnic.

Jennifer rocked forward. “I’m tired of you coming around here and poking your nose into everything.”

A ruby glow sheathed Aunt B’s irises. “You’re young and you want to assert yourself. But don’t think for a moment you will do it by taking me down. On your best day, you’re only as good as I am on my worst with one arm tied behind my back.”

“Is that so? Maybe we should test that theory.”

I took three steps back and slipped into the hallway. Behind me a vicious growl announced someone going furry. I jogged to the end of the hallway. Two shapeshifters stood guard by the door.

“Aunt B and Jennifer are about to have a showdown,” I told them.

They took off. I waited a couple of seconds for them to reach the stairs, opened the door, and walked out into the snow. If they wanted to fight, that was fine. I had a poodle to rescue. Jim’s safe house was only thirty minutes from my place. Even with the snowdrifts, I’d make it in forty-five. Hold on, Grendel. I’m coming.

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