The anxiety swelled in me and crested. The words came out on their own. "If we have children, how likely are they to go loup?"

"Less likely than most," Curran said. "I'm a First, and we don't go crazy as often."

Firsts were a different breed from other shapeshifters. They were stronger and faster and had greater control of changing shape. But they were still subject to Lyc-V and the horror of loupism. "Is it possible?"

"Yes."

I could feel the anxiety building inside me, like I was a windup toy being cranked up. "What are the chances?"


He sighed. "I don't know, Kate. Nobody in my family went loup as far as I know, but I was too young to ask about things like this. I just know it's less likely. We'll get the panacea, baby. I promise you that we will get it."

"I know."

"Do you want to have children?"

I tried to wrap my mind around the idea of having Curran's children. It wasn't even a thought; it was a distant hazy idea, and looking at it too closely seemed too complicated right now. I tried to imagine myself pregnant and couldn't. What if my father found me and killed my kids? What if they went loup?

Curran had the strangest look on his face. I realized I was hugging myself.

Hey, baby, do you want to have my children? Here, let me curl into a fetal ball in response. Ugh. I was a moron.

"Maybe. Eventually. When things settle down. Do you want to have children?"

He put his arm around me. "Sure. Later on. I'm in no rush."

Wind bathed us, fresh and carrying a promise of a new day. As we stood together, the sun crested the forest, a narrow golden sliver so bright, it was painful to see.

We would be together and we would get panacea for Maddie. That was all that mattered for now.

Chapter 3

When Curran and I got down from the roof in search of breakfast, Barabas ambushed us with stacks of paper.

"What is this?" I pondered the two-inch stack.

"This is everything you have to do before you can leave for the Black Sea." He pointed to the nearest conference room. A breakfast had been laid out. Plates with scrambled eggs, heaps of bacon, piles of sausage, and mountains of fried meat shared space with pitchers of coffee and towers of pancakes. The smell swirled around me. Suddenly I was ravenous.

"Does the whole Keep know we're leaving?" Curran asked.

"I'm sure a few people are still asleep, but everyone else does, yes." Barabas placed a stack on the table and held the chair out for me. "For you."

"I'm hungry and I don't have time for this."

Barabas's eyes held no mercy. "Make time, Alpha. You have two hands. You can eat and sign simultaneously."

Curran grinned.

"Enjoying my suffering?" I asked.

"I find it hilarious that you'll run into a gunfight with nothing but your sword, but paperwork makes you panic."

Barabas put a thicker stack in front of him. "This is yours, m'lord."

Curran swore.

The shapeshifters enjoyed high metabolisms, which helped them blast through nutrients and save up energy for changing shape. But that same metabolism made them gorge themselves. Watching Curran go through food was a frightening experience. He didn't rush or devour his food with his hands. He just ate a very large amount of it. I thought I'd get used to it with time, but when he went in for his third heaping plate, I blinked. He must've skipped dinner last night.

The door to the conference room opened and Jim strode in, like an impending storm. Six feet tall, with dark, smooth skin and a gaze that made you want to back away and look for the nearest exit, Jim served as the Pack's chief of security. He and I knew each other from way back, when we both worked for the Mercenary Guild and we occasionally teamed up. I had needed the money and Jim couldn't stomach working with anyone else.

Jim leaned on the table. "I'm going."

"No," Curran said. "I need you here. You have to run the Pack while we're gone."

"Make Mahon do it."

Mahon Delany, an alpha of Clan Heavy, served as the Pack's executioner. He'd raised Curran after Curran's family was murdered, and he was probably the most respected among the fourteen alphas of the Pack. He was not universally loved, however.

"The jackals would riot and you know it," Curran said. "You can hold the clans together. Mahon can't. He's old-fashioned and ham-fisted, and if I put him in charge, we'd come back to a civil war."

"And who's going to watch your ass while you're over there? It's not just about what they are doing, it's thinking about what they could do and how they could do it. Who'll do that for you?"

"Not you," Curran said. "I need you here."

Jim turned to me. "Kate?"

If he thought I was getting in the middle of that, he was crazy. "Oh, look at all this paperwork I have. Can't talk now, very busy."

Jim landed in the chair, looking like he wanted to strangle someone.

Barabas put another piece of paper in front of me. Oy.

"You should let Kate handle it," Jim said. "You've never done a large-scale bodyguard detail. She has more experience and she's decent at it."

I pointed a piece of bacon at him. "I'm not just decent. I'm damn good and you know it."

"We've talked it over," Curran said. "She guards Desandra, I snarl and run interference with the packs, and when she tells me to push, I push. We've got this, Jim."

"Or at least they think they do." Barabas took the paper I'd just signed and blew on the ink.

"Take Barabas," Jim said suddenly. "If you won't take me, take Barabas. He's devious, paranoid, and obsessive. He'll be perfect."

Curran looked at me. I looked at Barabas. He bared even, sharp teeth. "Well, after that recommendation, how can I say no?"

"Who do you want for support?" I asked.

"George," Barabas said.

George's real name was Georgetta and she threatened to murder people who dared to actually use it. She was Mahon's daughter, and she served as the Pack's clerk of court.

"She knows the laws," Barabas said. "And she's the exact opposite of high-strung."

"If you take George, Mahon will want to go," Jim said.

"That's not a bad thing," Curran said. "Mahon is a hell of a fighter, and it will get him out of your hair. Besides, he's a bear. The Carpathians will respect that."

"Since I'm going," Barabas said. "Jezebel will also want to go."

"No." Jezebel, my other bouda nanny, had a hell of a temper.

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