The bouda's jaws clicked shut, flinging drool onto the table.
"It would devastate her, but don't think for the tiniest second that she won't do it. Aunt B's been alpha longer than I've been alive. She didn't stay in power because she bakes great cookies."
Ascanio stared at the table in front of him.
"You ended up here because of all the people in the Pack, I'm the least likely to kill you." I dipped my head so I could look into his eyes. The monster at my table looked ready to cry. I'd managed to make a teenager depressed. Maybe I could shoot some fish in a barrel for an encore.
"What were your orders?"
He didn't answer.
I didn't say anything. The silence lay empty between us. Eventually the need to fill it won.
"To guarrrd the doorr."
"To keep people I don't know ouoot."
"And you let Julie in. You had no clue who Julie was, because if you had known she was my ward--" Ascanio's head snapped up.
"--you wouldn't have put your hands on her."
He stared back at the table. That's right, you just physically assaulted the Pack princess. Not that she didn't give back as good as she got.
Poor kid. His day had gone from bad to worse.
"Derek was trained by Curran," I told him. "After that, he worked for Jim. He was his best cover agent. After that, he ran Curran's personal guard. Derek thinks of Julie as his little sister. He wanted to skin you alive. He didn't do it, because you belong to me and he respects my authority, but he could've. It wasn't a fair fight. He kicked your ass and there is no shame in that. In terms of power, the gap between you and him is about as big as the gap between you and Julie." I crossed my arms. "Julie also kicked your ass. If she'd had a thicker tie, or if she'd jammed her knife between the vertebrae of your neck while you lay there kissing the floor, it would've been all over. If I chop off your head, you won't grow another one. Not to mention, she could've been some creature dressed in human skin. You endangered everyone in the office by letting her in."
I rose. "Your way of doing things isn't working. Time for a new strategy. The only difference between you and Derek is discipline and training. Either you can work on both, or you can keep thinking with your balls. It's your choice. Say `pop.' "
"That was the sound of me pulling your head out of your ass. If you stick it back up there again, there is nothing I can do about it. This is the only lecture you'll ever get from me."
I headed for the doorway.
"Can I beat him?"
I turned. "Derek?"
"Yes. You'll have to work your ass off in the gym and learn the rules of the Pack, so you don't get killed in the meantime, but yes. You can."
I went out the door. One chewing-out of a teenage misfit down, one to go.
JULIE HAD ARRANGED HERSELF AT THE TABLE UPSTAIRS. She couldn't quite figure out if she would be better off with defiant or pitiful, so she had managed an odd mix in between: her lip was seconds from quivering, but her eyes could've shot laser fire.
I sat in the other chair. "Knife." She pulled her knife out and put it on the table. I picked it up. Yep, one of my throwing knives, painted black. Two scratches marked the blade near the hilt where something had scraped the paint off the metal.
"Where did you get this?"
"I pulled it out of the tree."
Ah. So it was that knife. When she was first having trouble in school, I'd tried to help her with her street cred by staging an appearance. It was a dramatic affair, involving black horses, Raphael in black leather, and my throwing this knife into a tree from horseback. It was a good throw and the blade had bitten deep into the bark.
"You pulled it out by yourself?"
She hesitated for a second. "I used pliers to loosen it."
Explained the scratches. "Why clamp the blade and not the handle?"
"I didn't want it to break off."
"Where did you get the pliers?"
She shrugged. "Stole them from a shop."
You could take the kid off the street, but getting the street out of the kid was a lot harder. "And wolfsbane?"
"I made it in the herbalism class. We had to have a project where we harvested an herb with magic properties and found a practical application."
She'd found a practical application, all right. "When did you harvest it?"
"In September. I kept the paste in a zip-lock bag in the freezer so it wouldn't go flat. In case of an emergency."
"Like what? Wild shapeshifters attacking the school?"
Her chin rose. "Like shapeshifters taking me back to school."
And here we go. "I thought I made it clear: you couldn't get that knife until you graduated."
"I did. Graduated."
"Aha." "I hate that school. I hate everything there. I hate the people, the teachers, the subjects. The kids are stupid and ignorant and just dumb. They think they're cool, but they're a bunch of idiots. The teachers want to be friends with the students and then they say mean stuff behind their back."
"Who is `they'? The teachers say mean stuff or the students?"
"Both of them. I don't like the schedule, I don't like how much work they make you put into useless stuff, I don't like my room. The only good thing about it is going home."
"Don't hold anything back. Tell me how you really feel."
"I'm not going back there!"
"And you've made this decision on your own?"
Julie nodded. "Yes. And if you take me back there, I'll run away again."
I crossed my arms on my chest. "I can't take you back there. They kicked you out."
Julie's eyes went big with outrage. "They can't kick me out! I quit."
I lost it and laughed.
"They really kicked me out?"
"Refunded the tuition and everything."
Julie blinked a couple of times, coming to grips with that tidbit. "So what happens now?"
"I expect you'll be a bum. Homeless and jobless, begging on the street for a crust of bread ..."
"Oh alright, I suppose if you come by the office once in a while, I'll give you a sandwich. You can squat in the office on the floor when it gets too cold outside. We can even get you a little blanket to lie on ..."
"I am, too. It's an honest offer. I'll even put some real roast beef into your sandwich. No rat meat, honest."
She stared at me with a martyred expression. "You think you're so funny."