The magic of Unicorn Lane swirled around me, dangerous and twisted. Magic flooded our world in waves, here one minute, gone the next, but Unicorn Lane, the lovely place that it was, retained its power even when the tech was at its strongest. It was the place where you came when life’s troubles became too much for you. Things with glowing eyes bred here among fallen skyscrapers, and if you lingered in these ruins, one of them was guaranteed to cure all that ailed you.
Anyone with half a brain avoided Unicorn Lane, especially after dark. But when your business is floundering, you have to take whatever job comes along, especially if it starts with the chief editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution crying in your office chair because her rare and expensive pet has gone missing. Since the magic killed the Internet and crippled TV, newspapers had once again become the primary source of news, and an endorsement from the largest newspaper in the region was worth its weight in gold. Also, she cried in my office. I took the job.
Being a Consort, I didn’t have to work for my living. The Pack took care of the necessities, but I wanted Cutting Edge to succeed and I would do whatever it took to make it stand on its own two feet. Even if it involved tracking down escaped pets.
Unfortunately, the fluffy critter in question had made a beeline straight for Unicorn Lane, and so it took me a few hours to find it. And I let my sixteen-year-old bouda intern come with me, because he could track the beast by scent and I couldn’t. Ascanio wasn’t bad in a fight. He was physically powerful and fast, and he had a strong half-form, a meld between a human and animal that made the shapeshifters incredibly efficient killers. Raphael, the alpha of Clan Bouda, had been whittling Ascanio down into a decent fighter over the past months. Unfortunately all that training didn’t do anything for his common sense.
I had finally cornered the small creature, hiding in a crevice. While I tiptoed toward it making quiet nonthreatening noises, Ascanio decided to help by snarling “to flush it out,” which caused me to nearly fall into a hole in the floor and sent the panicked beast straight to the top of the precariously standing building. Which is how I ended up with a rope around my waist, trying to maneuver on a foot-and-a-half-wide beam protruding twenty feet over a sheer drop, while the exotic and rare pet shivered at the very end of it.
“Please let me do this,” Ascanio said. “I want to help.”
“You’ve helped enough, thank you.” I took another step along the beam. If I fell, with his shapeshifter strength he would have no problems pulling me to safety. If he fell, getting him back up to the top of the building would be considerably harder for me. The deadweight of a human being was no joke.
“I’m sorry I scared it.”
“When I grab it, you can apologize.”
The small beast shivered and tiptoed toward the other end of the beam. Great.
Ascanio growled under his breath.
“I can hear you growling. If I can hear you growling, it can hear you, too. If you scare it into leaping to its death, I’ll be really mad at you.”
“I can’t help it. It’s an abomination.”
The abomination stared at me with large green eyes.
I took another step. “It’s not an abomination. It’s a bunnycat.”
The bunnycat scooted another inch toward the end of the beam. It resembled a criminally fluffy average-sized housecat. Its owner described the fur color as lilac, which to me looked like pale grayish-brown. It had a cute kitten face, framed by two long ears, as if someone had taken regular cat ears and stretched them out, enlarging them to bunny size. Its hind legs were all rabbit, powerful and muscled, while its front legs, much shorter than those of an average cat, looked completely feline. Its tail, a squirrel-like length of fluff, shook in alarm. The first bunnycats were the result of some sort of botched magical experiment at the veterinary school of the University of California. They were sold off to private breeders and since they were rare and cute, they became the latest rage in hideously expensive household pets.
The wind buffeted me. I fought a shiver. “What’s your problem with it anyway?”
“It’s wrong and unnatural,” Ascanio said.
“And turning into a hyena is natural?”
“A cat is a predator. A rabbit is prey. It’s a rodent. They took a cat and mixed it with a rodent. It doesn’t smell right.”
I took a couple more steps. Damn, this beam was high.
“I mean, how would it feed itself?” Ascanio asked. “If it doesn’t hunt, it can’t survive on its own and it’s something that shouldn’t exist. If it does hunt, it will probably catch mice, the only thing small enough besides birds, which means it would be feeding on its relatives. It’s a cannibal rodent. It sounds like a bad movie.”
“Rodents are already cannibals. Ask Clan Rat, they’ll tell you.” The Pack consisted of seven clans, segregated by the species of the animal, and members of Clan Rat were rather pragmatic about their natural counterparts’ habits.
“What do they feed it anyway?” Ascanio asked.
“Bacon and strawberries.”
There was an outraged silence behind me.
“Bacon?” he managed finally.
“Yep.” I moved forward another six inches. Easy does it.
“Because that’s what it would catch in the wild, a boar, right? I can’t wait to see a pack of bunnycats take down a wild hog with those short tiny legs. Wouldn’t the boar be surprised?”
Everybody was a comedian.
“Maybe if I oink loud enough, it’ll leap across the beam and try to devour me.”
A gust of cold wind slammed against me, biting straight through three layers of clothes into my bones. My teeth chattered. “Ascanio . . .”
“I think you misunderstand the whole nature of what it means to be an employee. We have a job to do; we are doing it. Or I’m doing it, and you’re making it more difficult.”
“I’m not an employee. I’m an intern.”
“Try to be a silent intern.”
I crouched on the beam. The bunnycat shivered less than a foot away.
“Here . . .” Bunny? Kitty? “Here, cute creature thing . . . Don’t be scared.”
The bunnycat squeezed itself into a tiny ball, looking sweet and innocent. I’d seen that look on feral cats before. That look meant they would turn into a tornado of razor claws as soon as you were within striking distance.
I scooped it up, bracing myself to be clawed bloody.