My bedroom was empty and the door to the closet was shut when I finally emerged from the bathroom. I glanced at the clock. Fifteen minutes to make it to the garage if I was going to open on time.

I was glad no one was there to hear me grunt and groan as I got dressed. No one alive to hear me, anyway.

Every muscle in my body ached, especially my right shoulder, and as soon as I bent down to pull on my socks and shoes, the battered side of my face started to throb. It would hurt me even more, though, if I lost customers because I wasn't open at my usual time.

I opened the bedroom door and Samuel looked up from where he'd been sitting on the couch. He'd been up all night, too; he ought to have gone to bed instead of waiting up to frown at me. He got up and pulled an ice pack out of the freezer.

"Here, put this on your face."

It felt good and I sagged against the doorway to enjoy the numbness it brought to my throbbing cheek.

"I called Zee and told him what happened," Samuel told me. "You can go to bed. Zee's planning on working the shop for you today. He said he could do it tomorrow, too, if you need him."

Siebold Adelbertsmiter, known to his friends as Zee, was a good mechanic, the best. He'd taught me everything I know, then sold the garage to me. He was also fae  -  and the first person I'd intended to go to for information on sorcerers.

Even though he sometimes filled in for me when I was sick, I hadn't even thought about calling him for help with the garage-proof that it would probably be better if I didn't try going to work today.

"You're swaying," said Samuel after a moment. "Go to bed. You'll feel better when you wake up."

"Thank you," I mumbled before shutting myself back in my room.


I flopped facedown on my bed, groaned because that hurt my face again. I rolled until I was more comfortable, covered my head with my pillow and dozed for a while, maybe for all of half an hour.

I could smell Stefan.

It wasn't that he smelled bad-he just smelled like himself, sort of vampire and popcorn. But I couldn't get his statement about being dead during the day out of my head. Ugh. There was no way I was going to be able to sleep with a dead man in my closet.

"Thanks, Stefan," I told him glumly as I heaved my sore body out of bed. If I couldn't sleep, I might as well go to work. I opened the door to the living room, expecting it to be empty, since Samuel had been up all night, too.

Instead he was sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee with Adam, the local Alpha werewolf, who happened to live on the other side of my back fence.

I hadn't heard Adam come in. Once Samuel started sharing my house, I'd become careless. I should have realized that he would come over as soon as Samuel called him, though-and, of course, Samuel had to call him about the bloodbath at the hotel. Adam was the Alpha, and responsible for the welfare of all the werewolves in the area.

They both looked at me when I opened my door.

I was tempted to turn around and go back into my bedroom with the dead man in my closet. Now, I'm not very vain. If I'd ever been, making my living covered in various grease and dirt mixtures would have cured me quickly. Still, I wasn't up to facing two sexy men when I had one eye swollen mostly shut and half of my face black and blue.

Stefan, being dead, was unlikely to notice what I looked like-and I'd never dated Stefan. Not that I was dating either Adam or Samuel at the present.

I hadn't dated Samuel since I was sixteen.

I've known Samuel for as long as I can remember. I grew up in the Marrok's pack in northwestern Montana, a werewolf pack being as close to what I was as my teenage mother could find. It was just chance that her great uncle belonged to the Marrok. Lucky chance, I'd come to believe. A lot of werewolves would just have killed me outright-the way a wolf will kill a coyote who invades his territory.

Bran, the Marrok, in addition to being the ruler of all the North American wolves, was a good man. He placed me with one of his wolves and raised me almost as if I belonged. Almost.

Samuel was the Marrok's son. He'd been there for me as I struggled to live in a world with no place for me. I'd been raised by the pack, but I wasn't one of them. My mother loved me, but I didn't belong in her mundane human world either.

When I was sixteen, I'd believed I'd found my home in Samuel. Only when the Marrok showed me that Samuel wanted children-and not my love, did I finally understand I had to make my own path in life rather than finding someone else's to join.

I'd left Samuel and the pack and hadn't seen either again for more than fifteen years, almost half my life. All that changed last winter. Now, I had the Marrok's cell phone number on my speed dial, and Samuel had decided to move to the Tri-Cities. More specifically, he had decided to move in with me.

I still wasn't quite sure why. Fond of it as I am, my home is a single-wide trailer as old as me.

Samuel, being a doctor, is used to a slightly higher standard of housing. Granted his paperwork nightmare had taken a long time to settle. Only the month before had he at last gotten his license to practice medicine in Washington as well as Montana and Texas. He'd given up his job as a night clerk at an all night convenience store and begun working in the emergency room at the hospital in Kennewick. Despite the increase in his income, he hadn't shown any sign of leaving. His temporary stay in my house had turned into six months and some change.

I'd refused him at first.

"Why not with Adam?" I'd asked. As Alpha of the local werewolf pack, Adam was used to having short-term guests and he had more bedrooms than I did. I didn't ask why Samuel didn't buy his own house-Samuel had already told me that he'd spent too much time alone the past few years. Werewolves don't do well on their own. They need someone, pack or family, or they begin to get odd. Werewolves who get odd tend to end up dead-and sometimes take a lot of other people down with them when they go.

Samuel had raised his eyebrows and said, "Do you really want us to kill each other? Adam is the Alpha-and I'm a stronger dominant than he is. Now we've both lived long enough to control ourselves up to a point. But, if we're living together, sooner or later, we'd be at each other's throat."

"Adam's house is only a hundred yards from mine," I told him dryly. Samuel would have been right about any other wolf, but Samuel made his own rules. If he wanted to live in peace with Adam, he could manage it.

"Please." His tone was as far from pleading as it was possible to get.

"No," I told him.

There was another, longer pause.

"So how are you going to explain to your neighbors that there is a strange man sleeping on your front porch?"

He'd have done it, too-so I let him move in.

I told him that the first time he flirted with me, he'd be out on his ear. I told him that I didn't love him anymore, though it might have had more effect if I had been entirely certain of that myself. It helped that I knew that he didn't love me, hadn't loved me when he tried to elope with me when I was sixteen-and he was who-knows-how-old.

It was not really as bad as it sounded. He grew up at a time when women married much younger than sixteen. It's hard on the older werewolves to adjust to modern ways of thinking.

I wish I could hold it against him, though. It would help me keep in mind that he still only wanted me for what I could give him: children who lived.

Werewolves are made, not born. To become a werewolf, you need to survive an attack so vicious that you nearly die-which allows the werewolf's magic to defeat your immune system. Many, many of the werewolf's kin who try to become werewolves themselves die in the attempt. Samuel had outlived all of his wives and children. Those children of his who had attempted to become werewolf had all died.

Female werewolves can't have children; their pregnancies spontaneously abort during the moon's change. Human women can have children with werewolves, but they can only carry to term the babies who have only human DNA.

But I was neither human, nor werewolf.

Samuel was convinced I'd be different. Not being moon called, my changes aren't violent-or even really necessary. I once went three years without shifting to my coyote self. Wolves and coyotes could interbreed in the wild, why not werewolves and walkers?

I don't know what the biological answer to that is, but my answer is that I didn't care to be a broodmare, thank you very much. So, no Samuel for me.

My feelings for Samuel should have been neat and tidily put in the past-except that I hadn't entirely been able to convince myself that all I felt for him was the lingering warmth anyone would feel for an old friend.

Maybe I'd have come to some conclusion about Samuel who had, after all, been living in my home for better than half a year, if it hadn't been for Adam.

Adam had been the bane of my existence for most of the time I'd lived in the Tri-Cities, where he ruled with an iron hand. Like the Marrok, he had a marked tendency to treat me like one of his minions when it suited him, and like a human stray when it didn't. He was high-handed, to say the least. He'd declared me his mate before the pack-and then had the gall to tell me it was for my own protection, so his wolves wouldn't bother me, a coyote living in their territory. Once he said it, it was so-and nothing I could say would change it in the eyes of his pack.

Last winter, though, he had needed me, and it changed things between us.

We went on three dates. During the first one I had a broken arm and he'd been very careful. On the second, he and his teenage daughter, Jesse, took me to the Richland Light Opera Company's presentation of The Pirates of Penzance. I'd had a great time. On the third date my arm had been almost healed and there had been no Jesse, no middle school auditorium to cool any passionate impulses we might have had. We went dancing and only his daughter waiting for him at his home, and Samuel waiting for me at mine, had kept our clothes on.

After he'd taken me home, I recovered enough to be scared. Falling in love with a werewolf is not a safe thing to do-but falling in love with an Alpha is worse. Especially for someone like me. I had fought too long to belong to myself, to allow myself to fall into line with the rest of his pack.

So the next time he called to take me out, I was unexpectedly busy. Avoiding someone who lives next door requires a lot of effort, but I managed. It helped that when the werewolves became public, Adam's time was suddenly taken up with trips back and forth between Washington D.C. and the Tri-Cities.

Though he was one of the hundred or so werewolves who'd revealed themselves to the public, Adam wasn't one of Bran's front men-he didn't have the temperament for being a celebrity. But after working with the government for forty-odd years, first in the military and later as a security consultant, he'd developed a network of contacts as well as an understanding of politics that made him invaluable to the Marrok  -  and to the government as they tried to decide how to deal with yet another group of preternatural creatures.

Between his schedule and my clever avoidance tactics I hadn't seen him for almost two months.

Even to my monocular gaze, he was beautiful, more beautiful than I remembered him being. I wanted to linger on his Slavic cheekbones and his sensuous mouth, damn it. I jerked my gaze to Samuel-which was hardly safer. He wasn't as pretty, but that didn't matter to my stupid hormones.

Samuel broke the silence first. "Why aren't you in bed, Mercy?" he drawled. "You look worse than the accident victim I had die on the table last week."

Adam came to his feet and crossed the living room in four long strides while I waited like a rabbit in a snare, knowing I should run, but unable to move. He stopped in front of me, whistling softly between his teeth as he examined the damage. When he leaned closer and touched my neck, I heard a noise from the kitchen.

Samuel had broken his coffee cup. He didn't look up at me as he set about cleaning the mess.

"Nasty," Adam said, drawing my attention back to him. "Can you see out of that eye?"

"Not as well as I see out of the other," I told him. "But I see well enough to tell that you aren't on your way to D.C. like you were supposed to be." He'd had to come back for Moon's Night, but I knew that he'd flown in yesterday afternoon and had been scheduled to fly out an hour ago.

The corner of his mouth kicked up, and I could have bitten off my tongue when I realized I'd just let him know that I was keeping track of his movements. "My schedule changed. I was supposed to fly out to Los Angeles a few hours ago. D.C. was last week and next week."

"So why are you still here?"

The amusement left his face and his eyes narrowed as he said curtly. "My ex-wife decided she is in love again. She and her new boyfriend headed off to Italy for an indefinite period. When I called, Jesse had already been alone for three days." Jesse was his fifteen-year-old daughter who had been living with her mother in Eugene for the summer. "I bought her a plane ticket and she should be here in a couple of hours. I told Bran I'm off duty. He'll have to shuffle politicians on his own for a while."

"Poor Jesse," I said. Jesse was one of the reasons I'd always respected Adam, even when he frustrated me the most. He'd never let anything, not business, not the pack, come before his daughter.

"So I'll be around for a while." It wasn't the words, it was the way he looked at me when he said them that forced me back a step. I hate it when that happens.

I decided to change the subject. "Good. Darryl's a great guy, but he's pretty hard on Warren when you aren't around."

Darryl was Adam's second and Warren his third. In most packs the two ranks were so close that there was always some tension between the wolves who held them, especially without the Alpha around. Warren 's sexual preferences made the tension even worse.

Being different among humans is hard. Being different among wolves is usually deadly. There aren't very many homosexual werewolves who survive for long. Warren was tough, self-reliant and Adam's best friend. The combination was enough to keep him alive but not always comfortable in the pack.

"I know," Adam said.

"It would help if Darryl weren't so cute," Samuel said casually as he crossed the living room to stand beside Adam.

Technically, he should have stood behind him, since Adam was the Alpha, and Samuel was a lone wolf, outside the pack hierarchy. But Samuel wasn't just any lone wolf, he was the Marrok's son and more dominant even than Adam if he'd wanted to push matters.

"I dare you to say that to Darryl," I challenged.

"Don't." Adam smiled, but his voice was serious. Though he spoke to Samuel, he'd never looked away from me. To me he said, "Samuel says you're going to need an escort to the vampire seethe sometime in the near future. Call me and I'll find someone to go with you."

"Thank you, I will."

He touched my sore cheek with a light finger. "I'd do it myself, but I don't think it would be wise."

I agreed with him wholeheartedly. A werewolf escort would serve both as a bodyguard and a statement that I wasn't without friends. The Alpha's escort would turn it into a power play between him and the vampires' leaders with Stefan caught in the middle.

"I know," I said. "Thank you."

I couldn't stay in that room with both men one more minute. Even a human woman could have drowned in the testosterone in the air, it was so strong. If I didn't leave, they were going to start fighting-I hadn't missed the way Samuel's eyes had whitened when Adam touched my cheek.

Then there was the need I had to bury my nose in Adam's neck and inhale the exotic scent of his skin. I looked away from him and found myself gazing into Samuel's white eyes. He was so close to turning that the distinctive black ring around the outside of his pupils was clearly visible. It should have scared me.

Samuel's nostrils flared-I smelled it, too. Arousal.

"I've got to go," I said, properly panicked.

I gave them a hasty wave as I scuttled out of the house, hastily pulling the door shut behind me. The relief of having a door between me and both men was intense. I was breathing hard, as if I'd run a race, adrenaline pushing the pain of the sorcerer's attack away. I took a deep breath of the morning air, trying to clear my lungs of werewolf, before heading out to my car.

I opened the Rabbit's door and the sudden smell of blood made me step abruptly back. The car had been parked where I always left it: I'd forgotten that Stefan must have used it to bring me back home. There were stains on both front seat covers-both of us must have been pretty bloody. But the most impressive thing was the fist-shaped dent on my dash, just above the radio.

Stefan had been upset.

I pulled into my garage and parked at the far end of the lot next to Zee's old truck. Never trust a mechanic who drives new cars. They're either charging too much money for their work, or they can't keep an old car running-maybe both.

VWs are good cars. They used to be cheap good cars; now they're expensive good cars. But every make has a few lemons. VW had the Thing (which at least looked cool), the Fox, and the Rabbit. I figured in another couple of years, my Rabbit would be the only one still running in the greater Tri-Cities.

I let the Rabbit idle for a moment and debated going in. I'd stopped at the nearest auto-parts store and picked up seat covers to replace the ones I'd had to throw away. Judging from the sick looks I'd gotten from the clerk, my battered face wasn't going to be drumming up business for me anytime soon.

But there were four cars parked in the lot, which meant we were busy. If I stayed in the garage, no one would see my face.

I got out of the car, slowly. The dry heat of late morning wrapped around me and I closed my eyes for a moment to enjoy it.

"Good morning, Mercedes," said a sweet old voice. "Beautiful day."

I opened my eyes and smiled. "Yes, Mrs. Hanna, it is."

The Tri-Cities, unlike Portland and Seattle, doesn't have much of a permanent homeless population. Our temperatures get up well over a hundred in the summers and below zero in the winters, so most of our homeless people are only traveling through.

Mrs. Hanna looked homeless, with her battered shopping cart full of plastic bags of cans and other useful items, but someone once told me she lived in a small trailer in the park by the river and had taught piano lessons until her arthritis made it impossible. After that she walked the streets of downtown Kennewick collecting aluminum cans and selling pictures she colored out of coloring books so she could buy food for her cats.

Her white-gray hair was braided and tucked under the battered old baseball cap that kept the sun out of her face. She wore a woolen A-line skirt with bobby socks and tennis shoes, a size too large. Her T-shirt celebrated some long past Spokane Lilac Festival, and its lavender color was an interesting contrast to the black and red plaid flannel shirt that hung loosely over her shoulders.

Age had bent her over until she was barely as tall as the cart she pushed. Her tanned, big-knuckled hands sported chipped red nail polish that matched her lipstick. She smelled of roses and her cats.

She frowned at me and squinted. "Boys don't want girls who have more muscles than they do, Mercedes. Boys like girls who can dance and play piano. Mr. Hanna, God rest his soul, used to tell me that I floated over a dance floor."

This was an old argument. She'd grown up in a time when the only proper place for a woman was next to her man.

"It wasn't the karate this time," I told her, touching my face lightly.

"Put some frozen peas on that, dear," she said. "That'll keep the swelling down."

"Thank you," I said.

She nodded her head briskly and set off down the road, her cart squeaking. It was too hot for flannel and wool, but then it had been a cool spring evening when she'd died a few months ago.

Most ghosts fade after a while, so probably in a few months we wouldn't be able to converse anymore. I don't know why she came by to talk to me, maybe she was still worried about my unmarried state.

I was still smiling when I walked into the office.

Gabriel, my part-time tool rustler/receptionist was working full time in the summer. He looked up when I walked in and took a startled double take.

"Karate," I lied, inspired by Mrs. Hanna's assumption, and saw him relax.

He was a good kid and as human as it got. He knew that Zee was fae, of course, because Zee had been forced to come out a few years ago by the Gray Lords who rule the fae (like the werewolves, the fae had come out a little at a time to avoid alarming the public).

Gabriel knew about Adam because that was also a matter of public record. I had no intention of opening his eyes further, though-it was too dangerous. So no stories of vampires or sorcerers for him if I could manage it-especially since there were a few customers around.

" Geez," he said. "I hope the other guy looks worse."

I shook my head. "Stupid white belt."

There were a couple of men sitting on the battered-but-comfortable chairs in the corner of the office. At my words, one of them leaned forward and said, "I'd rather fight a dozen black belts at the same time than one white belt."

He was so well-groomed that he was handsome, despite a nose that was a little too broad and deep set eyes.

I brightened my smile like any good businesswomen, and said, "Me, too," with feeling.

"I'm guessing you'd be Mercedes Thompson?" he asked, coming to his feet and walking up to the counter with his hand outstretched.

"That's right," I took his hand, and he shook mine with a firm grip that would have done credit to a politician.

"Tom Black." He smiled, showing pearly white teeth. "I've heard a lot about you. Mercedes the Volkswagen mechanic."

Like I hadn't heard that one before. Still, he didn't sound obnoxious, just mildly flirtatious.

"Nice to meet you." I wasn't interested in flirtation so I turned my attention back to Gabriel. "Any problems this morning?"

He smiled. "With Zee here? Listen, Mercy, my mother asked me to ask if you want the girls here this weekend to clean again."

Gabriel had a generous handful of siblings, all girls-the youngest in preschool and the oldest just entering high school-and all supported by their widowed mother who worked as a dispatcher for the Kennewick Police Department, not a high paying career. The two oldest girls had been coming in on a semi-regular basis and cleaning the office.

They did a good job, too. I hadn't realized that the film on my front window had been grease-I thought Zee had had some sort of treatment done to it to block out the sun.

"Sounds fine to me," I told him. "If I'm not here, they can use your key."

"I'll tell her."

"Good. I'm going to head into the garage and stay out of sight today-don't want to scare away customers."

I gave Tom Black a brisk nod, that was friendly but aloof. Then stopped to say a few words to the other man who was waiting. He was an old customer who liked to chat. Then I slipped into the garage before someone new could come in.

I found Zee lying on his back under a car, so all I could see of him was from the belly down.

Siebold Adelbertsmiter, my former boss, is an old fae, a metalworker, which is unusual for the fae who mostly can't handle cold iron. He calls himself a gremlin, though he is a lot older than the name, coined by flyboys in WWI. I have a degree in history, so I know useless things like that.

He looked like a fiftyish, thinish (with a little potbelly), grumpy man. Only the grumpy part was true. Thanks to glamour, a fae can look like anyone they want to. Glamour is the thing that makes something a fae  -  as opposed to, say, a witch or werewolf.

"Hey, Zee," I said when he showed no sign of noticing my presence. "Thanks for coming out this morning."

He rolled himself out from under the car and frowned deeply at me. "You need to stay away from the vampires, Mercedes Athena Thompson." Like my mother, he only used my full name when he was angry with me. I'd never tell him, but I've always kind of liked the way it sounds when pronounced with a German accent.

He took in my face in a single glance and continued. "You should be home sleeping. What is the use of having a man in the house, if he cannot take care of you for a while?"

" Mmm," I said. "I give up. What's the use of having a man in the house?"

He didn't smile, but I was used to that.

"Anyway," I continued briskly, though I kept my voice down so the people in the office couldn't hear anything. "There are two werewolves and a dead vampire in my house and I thought it was full enough to do without me for a while."

"You killed a vampire?" He gave me a look of respect-which was pretty impressive since he was still lying on his back on the creeper.

"Nope. The sun did. But Stefan should recover in time to face Marsilia tonight."

At least I was assuming it would be tonight. I didn't know much about the vampires, but the werewolves' trials tend to convene on the spot rather than six months after a crime. They are also over in a matter of hours, sometimes minutes, rather than months. Can't convince your pack Alpha you are less trouble to him alive than dead? Too bad. Pack law, necessarily brutal, was one of those nasty things that Bran was keeping under wraps for a while.

"Samuel told me you are going to be at a trial for the vampire."

"He called you," I said, outraged. "What did he do? Ask you to call him when I got here safely?"

Zee smiled at me for the first time and got out his cell phone. With oil-stained fingers he punched in my number. "She's here," he said. "Made it fine."

He hung up without waiting for a reply and widened his smile further as he dialed another number. I knew that one, too. But in case I'd missed it, he used names. "Hello, Adam," he said. "She's here." He listened for a moment; I did too, but he must have had the volume turned down low because all I could hear was the rumble of a male voice. Zee's smile turned into a malevolent grin. He looked at me and said, "Adam wants to know what took you so long?"

I started to roll my eyes, but it made the sore half of my face hurt worse so I stopped. "Tell him I had wild, passionate sex with a complete stranger."

I didn't stick around to hear if Zee passed my message on or not. I snatched my coveralls off their hook, and stalked into the bathroom.

Werewolves are control freaks, I reminded myself as I dressed for work. Being control freaks keeps them in charge of their wolf-which is a good thing. If I didn't like the side effects, I shouldn't hang out with werewolves. Which I wouldn't be doing if I didn't have one living with me and another living on the other side of my back fence.

Alone in the bathroom though, I could admit to myself that even though I was really, really angry... I'd have been disappointed if they hadn't checked up on me. How's that for illogical?

When I came out, Zee gave me the next repair job. I may have bought the business from him, but when we worked together, he still gave the orders. Part of it was habit, I suppose, but a larger part of it was that, though I am a good mechanic, Zee is magic. Literally and figuratively.

If it weren't for his tendency to get bored with easy stuff, he'd never have hired me. Then I'd have had to take my liberal arts degree and gotten a job at McDonald's or Burger King like all the rest of the history majors.

We worked companionably in silence for a while until I ran into a job that required four hands rather than two.

While I turned the rachet, Zee, who was holding a part in place for me, said, "I took a peek under that cover"-he nodded toward the corner of the shop where my latest restoration project lay in wait.

"Pretty, isn't she?" I said. "Or at least she will be when I get her fixed up." She was a 1968 Karmann Ghia in almost pristine condition.

"Are you going to restore it or make a street rod?"

"I don't know," I said. "Her paint is still the original and there's only a little cracking on the hood. I hate to mess with it unless I have to. If I can get her running well with original parts and Kim can stitch up the seats, I'll leave it at that."

There are three groups of old car enthusiasts: people who think a car should be left as much original as possible; the ones who restore it better than factory; and the people who gut them and replace the brakes, engine, and suspension with more modern equipment. Zee is firmly in the latter group.

He is not sentimental-if something works better, that's what you should use. I suppose forty or fifty years doesn't mean the same thing to him as it does to the rest of us-one person's antique is another's rusting hulk.

Since a good part of my income comes from restoring rusting hulks, I'm not picky. I have a partnership with an upholstery genius, Kim, and a painter who also likes to drive around and show the cars so we can sell them. After deducting the actual material cost of the restore and the shows, we split the profits according to hours spent on the project.

"Air-cooled takes a lot of upkeep," Zee said.

"Someone who wants an original condition Ghia won't care about that," I told him. He grunted, unconvinced, and went back to his job.

Gabriel took my Rabbit out to get sandwiches, then sat in the garage to eat with us. I uncovered the Ghia, and the three of us ate and debated the best thing to do with the car until it was time to go back to work.

"Zee," I asked as he raised a Passat in the air to take a look at the exhaust.

He grunted as he tapped with his index finger the exhaust pipe where it was badly dented, just in front of the first muffler.

"What do you know about sorcerers?"

He stopped his tapping and sighed. "Old gremlins go out of their way to stay away from demon-hosts, and it's been a while since humans believed enough in the Devil to sell their souls to him."

I got a little light-headed. It wasn't that I didn't believe in evil-quite the opposite. I've had ample proof of God, so I accepted that His opponent exists, too. I just didn't particularly want to know that someone who made a deal with Satan was lurking ten miles from my home killing hotel maids.

"I thought it was a just a demon," I said faintly.

" Ja don't know what this supposed to be, check later," he said; then he turned and saw my face. "Devil, demon-English is an imprecise language in these things. There are things that serve the Great Beast of Christian scripture. Greater and lesser spirits, demons or devils, and they all serve evil. The greater servants are bound away from our world, but can be invited in-just as vampires cannot enter a home without an invitation."

"All right," I took a deep breath. "What else do you know."

Zee reached up and put his hand on the pipe. "Not much, Liebchen. The few men I've encountered who claimed to be sorcerers were nothing but demon-bait when I met them."

"What's the difference?"

"The difference is who's holding the reins." The exhaust pipe began glowing a bright cherry red under Zee's hand. "Demons serve only one master well, and those who forget it tend to become enslaved rather quickly. Those who remember might stay in control a while longer."

I frowned at him. "So all the demon-possessed start out as sorcerers?"

Zee shook his head. "There are many kinds of invitations, intentional and not. Sorcerer, demon-possessed, it doesn't matter. Eventually the demon is in control."

The exhaust pipe made a loud noise and popped back out to its proper shape. Zee met my gaze. "This creature is playing with the vampires, Mercy. Stay out of its business. The seethe is better equipped to deal with such than you are."

By five thirty, I was elbow deep in a Vanagon tune-up so I had Gabriel close up the office and tried to send both him and Zee off. My battered face made them more reluctant than usual to leave me working alone, but I persuaded them to go at last.

While Zee had been there, I'd kept the big air conditioner running and the garage doors shut, but, unlike the werewolves, I enjoy the summer heat. So once I was alone, I turned off the cool-air and opened up the bay doors.

"Does that help?"

I looked up and saw that the customer from earlier in the day was standing in the open bay door.

"Tom Black," he reminded me.

"Does what help?" I asked wiping off my hands and taking a sip of water from the bottle balanced precariously on the car's bumper.

"Humming," he said. "I was wondering if it helped."

There was something about the way he said it that bothered me-as if he was a good friend of mine instead of someone I'd exchanged a few words with. His earlier remark about white belts didn't make him a martial artist, but his body movement as he walked into my garage did.

I kept my expression polite, though the coyote in me wanted to lift my lip. He was invading my territory.

"I hadn't realize I was humming," I told him. "This is the last car I'm working on today." I knew it wasn't his car, because it was one I worked on regularly. "If Gabriel didn't call you, then we probably won't get to your car until tomorrow."

"How did a pretty woman like you get to be a mechanic?" he asked.

I tilted my head so I could see him better out of my good eye. Gabriel had told me that if I had kept an ice pack on it longer it wouldn't have swollen up so badly. On good days, my looks were passable, today hideous and awful were more apt.

If we had been on neutral territory, I'd probably have said something like, "Gee, I don't know. How'd a handsome man like you get to be such a pushy bastard?" But this was my place of work and he was a customer.

"Same as all the other pretty mechanics, I expect," I said. "Listen, I have to get this finished up. Why don't you call tomorrow morning and Gabriel will have an estimate for when you can expect your car to be done."

I walked forward as I said it. The motion should have pushed him back, but he held still so I had to stop or get too close to him. He smelled of coconut sunscreen and cigarette smoke.

"Actually I picked my car up earlier," he said. "I came by tonight to talk to you."

He was human, but I saw the same predatory look in his eyes that the wolves had when they were off on a hunt. Being in my own garage had made me feel too safe and I'd let myself get too close to him. I had weapons a plenty in the form of wrenches and crowbars, but they were all out of reach.

"Did you?" I said. "Why?"

"I wanted to ask you how you liked dating a werewolf. Did you know he was a werewolf when you started dating him? Did you have sex with him?" His voice acquired a sudden razor edge.

It was such a shift in topic that I blinked stupidly at him for a moment.

This man didn't smell like a fanatic-hatred has its own scent. When Zee first came out, there was a group of people who'd marched around the shop with placards. Some of them came out one night and spray painted fairyland in angry red letters across my garage doors.

Tom Black smelled intense-as if the answers to his questions really mattered to him.

Outside, a small-block Chevy 350 pulled into my lot and I recognized its purr. With the last of my trepidation gone, I realized there was only one reason for the questions he'd asked.

I narrowed my eyes at him. "Hell," I said in disgust. "You're a reporter."

Some of the werewolves coming out deliberately attracted attention on the Marrok's orders: heroes from the military or police and fire departments and a couple of movie stars. Adam was not one of them. I could see why someone would send a reporter out sniffing around him, though. Not only was he an Alpha, but he was a pretty Alpha. I couldn't wait to hear what Adam would say when he found out someone was poking into his love life.

"I can make you rich," Black told me, encouraged, I think, by my smile. "When I'm through with you, you'll be as much of a celebrity as he is. You can sell your story to the networks."

I snorted. "Go away."

"Problems, Mercy?" The deep, Texas drawl caused the reporter to spin on his heel. I guess he hadn't heard Warren and his companion walk into the garage.

"No problems," I told Warren. "Mr. Black was just leaving."

Warren looked like an ad for "Real Western Cowboys," complete with worn boots and battered straw hat. He was entitled: he'd been a real cowboy in the old West when he'd been Changed. He was my favorite of Adam's wolves and beside him was Ben, a recent import from Great Britain  -  and the leading candidate for my least favorite werewolf. Neither of them had been among the "outed" wolves, not yet. In Ben's case, probably never. He'd narrowly escaped arrest in his native land and had been quietly shipped off to America to disappear.

The reporter took out his wallet and held out his card. I took it because my mother taught me to be polite.

"I'll be around," he said. "Call me if you change your mind."

"I'll do that," I told him.

Both werewolves turned to watch him leave. Only after his car was well away did they turn their attention back to me.

"I like what you've done to your face," Ben said, tapping his eye.

He may have saved my life once and taken a bullet for Adam, but that didn't mean I had to like him. It wasn't just that he'd been sent to Adam's pack to keep him from being questioned in connection with a series of violent rapes in London. I believe in innocent until proven guilty. Rather it was the qualities that had caused the London police to look in his direction in the first place: he was a petty, nasty, and violent man. Everything he said came out like a sneer or a threat, all in this nifty British accent. If he were just a hair nicer, I might have talked to him just to hear his voice, like him or not.

"I wasn't the one who decorated my face, but thanks anyway." I went back to the van to button it up for the night. I'd lost the momentum that was keeping me working, and all I wanted to do was find someplace to sleep. Someplace without a vampire dead in the closet. Damn it. Where was I going to sleep?

"What are you two doing here?" I asked Warren as I closed the back hatch of the van.

"Adam said we're to stay with you until you hear from the vampires-he thinks it will be sometime soon after dark. He doesn't want you to face them alone."

"Don't you have to work tonight?" Warren worked graveyard at an all night gas station/convenience store not too far from my home-he had gotten Samuel a job there when he moved in with me.

"Nah, quit last week. They had another manager changeover and this one wanted to clean house. So I thought I'd quit before I was fired." He paused then said, "I've been doing some work for Kyle. It pays better part-time than the convenience store did full-time."

"With Kyle?" I asked hopefully.

I've known Warren for a long time and had met maybe a dozen of his boyfriends. Most of them hadn't been worth knowing-but I liked Kyle. He was a hotshot lawyer, a terrific dresser, and a lot of fun. They'd been living together for a while when Kyle finally found out Warren was a werewolf. Kyle moved out. I knew they'd dated a few times since, but nothing more serious.

Warren dropped his eyes. "Mostly just some surveillance and, once, guard duty for a woman who was afraid of her soon-to-be ex-husband."

"Kyle's afraid of us," said Ben, showing his teeth in a sharp grin.

Warren looked at him and Ben quit smiling.

"You've obviously never met Kyle," I told Ben. "Anyone who's been a divorce lawyer as long as Kyle isn't afraid of much."

"I lied to him," Warren told me. "Thing like that will stick in a man's craw."

It was time to change the subject. Ben might be subdued for the moment, but it wouldn't last.

"I'm going to wash up and change," I said. "I'll be right back out."

"Samuel said you didn't get any sleep last night," Warren said. "You have a few hours before the vampires can call on you. Should we stop and pick up some dinner, then head out to your house so you can get a little sleep?"

I shook my head. "Can't sleep with a dead man in my closet."

"You killed someone?" asked Ben with interest.

Warren grinned, the expression leaving little crinkles next to his eyes. "Nope, not this time. Samuel said Stefan had to spend the day in Mercy's closet. I'd forgotten about that. Do you want to catch a little shut-eye at my place? No dead people there." He glanced at Ben. "At least not yet."

I was tired, my face hurt, and I was coming down off the adrenaline rush the reporter had caused. "I can't think of a thing that sounds better. Thanks, Warren."

Warren 's place was in Richland, half of a two-story duplex that had seen better days. The interior was in better repair than the outside, but it still had that college-student aura defined by lots of books and secondhand furniture.

The spare bedroom Warren put me in smelled of him-he must have been sleeping in there rather than the room he'd shared with Kyle. I found his scent comforting; he wasn't lying dead in the closet. I had no trouble falling asleep to the quiet sounds of the two werewolves playing chess downstairs.

I woke in the dark to the smell of peppers and sesame oil. Someone had gone out for Chinese. It had been a long time since lunch.

I rolled out of bed and scrambled down the stairs, hoping that they hadn't eaten everything. When I got to the kitchen, Warren was still dividing Styrofoam-packaged food onto three plates.

" Mmm." I said, leaning against Warren to get a better look at the food. "Mongolian beef. I think I'm in love."

"His heart's occupied elsewhere," said Ben from behind me. "And even if it weren't he's not interested in your kind. But, I'm available and ready."

"You don't have a heart," I told him. "Just a gaping hole where it should have been."

"All the more reason for you to give me yours."

I pounded my forehead against Warren 's back. "Tell me Ben's not flirting with me."

"Hey," said Ben sounding hurt. "I was talking cannibalism, not romance."

He was almost funny. If I liked him better, I'd have laughed.

Warren patted me on the top of my head and said, "It's all right, Mercy. It's just a bad dream. Once you eat your food it will all go away."

He dumped the last of the rice on one of the plates. "Adam called a few minutes ago. I told him you were sleeping and he said not to wake you up. He told me Stefan left your house about a half hour ago."

I glanced out the window and saw that it was already getting dark.

Warren saw my glance and said, "Some of the old vampires wake up early. I don't think you'll get a call before full dark."

He passed out the filled plates and handed us silverware and napkins to go with them, then shooed us back out of the kitchen to the dining room.

"So," said Ben after we'd been eating for a few minutes. "Why don't you like me, Mercy? I'm handsome, clever, witty... Not to mention I saved your life."

"Let's not mention that again," I said, shoveling spicy meat in around my words. "I might get ill."

"You hate women," Warren offered.

"I do not." Ben sounded indignant.

I swallowed, raised an eyebrow, and stared at him until he looked away. As soon as he realized what he'd done he jerked his chin back up so his eyes met mine again. But it was too late, I'd won, and we both knew it. With the wolves, things like that mattered. If I ever met him alone in a dark alley, he might still eat me-but he'd hesitate first.

I gave him a smug smile. "Anyone who's talked to you for longer than two minutes knows you hate women. I think that I can count on the fingers of one hand the times you've actually said the word 'women' and not replaced it with an epithet referring to female genitalia."

"Hey, he's not that bad," Warren said. "Sometimes he calls them cows or whores."

Ben pointed a finger at Warren  -  I guess his mother never taught him better manners. "There speaks someone who doesn't like..." He actually had to pause and change the word he was going to use. "... er women."

"I like women just fine," Warren told him gathering the last of his scattered rice into a pile so he could get it on his fork. " Better'n I like most men. I just don't want to sleep with them."

My cell phone rang, and I inhaled, pulling a peppercorn into my windpipe. Coughing, choking, and eyes watering, I found my phone and waved it at Warren so he could answer it while I gulped water.

"Right," he said. "We'll have her there. Does she know where it is?" He caught my eye and mouthed "seethe."

I nodded my head and felt my stomach clench. I knew where it was.

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