"This place is a maze," I said.

"And people listen to us in the walls."

We walked to the far end of the balcony.

"Lorelei Wilson," Barabas said. "Twenty-one, daughter of Mike Wilson and Genevieve de Vos. The de Vos family runs one of the largest wolf packs in Belgium. They are based in the Ardenne Mountains, in Walloon, which is a French-speaking region of the country. The family is very prosperous. They obtained their wealth during the nineteenth century from coal mining, and over the years they increased it, using the mineral-rich region to their advantage. Currently they produce steel, and Genevieve, and Lorelei in turn, have access to the money, so it's unlikely that her motives for being here are financial."

She really was a werewolf princess. "How did you manage to get all of this?"

Barabas gave a small predatory smile. "People love to talk and I love to listen. Being a handsome devil doesn't hurt either. I am charming."

"And so full of humility as well."


"What is she doing here, Barabas? She isn't part of any pack that I can see. How did she even know about this meeting?"

"That I can't answer. Not yet. I can tell you that she definitely has an agenda. I watched her flit about yesterday and today. She starts every conversation with flattery. It's a deliberate choice on her part."


The humor drained from Barabas's face. "As your nanny, I now have to bring up an uncomfortable fact."


"Lorelei's standing too close to Curran. She's also monopolizing his time."

"I noticed."

"I don't know why he is doing this, but it's sending a signal to the other packs, and they also noticed."

Ugh. And there was nothing I could really do about that. Threatening Lorelei would paint me as insecure. Not threatening Lorelei would make me look either indifferent or clueless. It would be a hell of a lot easier if His Furriness got with the program and rebuffed her.

"I'm sure it's part of the plan," Barabas said. "I would just like to be clued in on the plan. Just for the benefit of the overall strategy."

That made two of us. "I'll talk to Curran," I said. "What about the creatures?"

"Nothing so far. Nobody has ever seen anything even remotely like this, or if they have, they're not talking."

Figured. "I need to meet with the three packs individually. Can you set this up for tomorrow?"

"Sure. To what purpose?"

"I'd like to howl in the dark."

Barabas frowned. "I don't follow."

"It's a wolf term. When you sense someone in the dark but you don't know if he's prey or a rival, you howl and see if he runs or answers. I'd like to howl at the packs and see if somebody snarls back."

"I see. They will talk to us to avoid offending us and to remove suspicion from themselves, but they might not answer any questions and we can't really compel them to do so."

"I'll take what I can get."

"Okay. I will let you know as soon as I find out more. And Kate?"


"I have your back," he said.

"Thank you."

I left the balcony. Thinking about Lorelei pissed me off, but there was nothing to be done about it now. I would find Curran today and I would figure out what sort of demented plan he had cooked up. Until then, I had to concentrate on keeping Desandra alive.

Both Andrea and George had hunted and changed shape twice in less than six hours. They would be tired. Between the man in the cage and Lorelei, I, on the other hand, was fresh as a daisy. Anger-a better alternative to caffeine.

A shadow peeled itself from the wall and followed me. Derek, moving silently along the hall, like some lethal shadow on soft wolf paws.

"This whole stealthy walking-behind-me thing you're doing is making me feel stalked. Why don't you catch up?"

He trotted over. "Just trying to keep you safe."

Et tu, Brute? "First, Barabas tells me he's got my back and now you're shadowing me. Do the two of you know something I don't?"

Derek shrugged his shoulder. "I don't like this place."

"Neither do I. Did Doolittle look at the scale?"

"Yes. He wants to talk to you."

I reversed my course. We stopped by Doolittle's room. Inside, Eduardo and Keira were playing cards. The good doctor was reading a book by the window.

"How did it go with the scale?" I asked.

"As can be expected, given the lack of equipment." Doolittle peered at me. "I'm not a miracle worker."

"He's stumped and it's making him cranky," Keira said.

Doolittle rolled his eyes. "The scale isn't a scale in the traditional sense. It's a scute."

"That explained nothing," I told him.

"Have you ever heard of a pangolin?" Doolittle asked.


"It's a mammal of the Pholidota family native to some parts of Africa and Asia. It's similar in appearance to an anteater covered with long horny scales."

"It looks like a walking pinecone," Eduardo offered. "Picture an anteater that an artichoke threw up on."

"The bony plates of pangolin are made of keratin," Doolittle said. "Same as our claws or fingernails. The skin has several layers. The top layer is the epidermis, which consists of dead cells. In snakes the scales are formed from the epidermis and they are connected, which permits ecdysis. In other words, snakes eject the entire outer layer of their skin during molting. In theory, a reptile shapeshifter would have scales every time he or she transformed. Scutes are formed in the dermis, the deeper layer of the skin. They are similar to hair in composition in that each one is individually rooted, and while they may be similar in appearance to scales, the two are different."

"So the scale is a scute. What does it mean for us?" I still wasn't quite sure where he was going with this.

"I believe they have a choice," Doolittle said. "When a shapeshifter changes form, he or she controls certain aspects of the change: the length of claws, the density of fur, the bone mass, and so on. That's what makes warrior form possible. If these shapeshifters are capable of both fur and scute production, they may choose which to sprout. Because scutes originate deeper in the dermis, a shapeshifter can keep them hidden until necessary. I also tested the tissue samples from the severed head," Doolittle said. "Their levels of Lyc-V and hormones are nearly double ours. The higher the levels of Lyc-V, provided they don't result in loupism, the greater the shapeshifter's control over his or her body."

Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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