Magic Shifts(Kate Daniels,book 8)(5) by Ilona Andrews
Today was March 1. Thirty days and we would be completely free.
Formally, we remained part of the Pack, but we weren’t subject to their chain of command. We could no longer participate in governing the Pack in any capacity. For these ninety days, we couldn’t even visit the Keep, the huge fortress Curran had built during his reign as the Beast Lord that served as the Pack’s HQ, because our presence would undermine the authority of the new alpha couple as they tried to get established. After the separation period was over, we wouldn’t be turned away from the Keep, but it was understood we’d limit our time. Just the way I liked it.
Guilt bit at me. The Pack was Curran’s life. He’d ruled it since he had hammered it together from isolated shapeshifter packs when he was only fifteen. He was thirty-three now. He’d walked away from seventeen years of his life, because he loved me.
Last December, after my father and I had our little spat over Atlanta, he gave me a choice. Either I stepped down from my position of power in the Pack or he would attack the city. Tens of thousands of lives on one side, being the Consort on the other. I chose to walk away. We weren’t ready to fight Roland. People would die because of me, and in the end we would lose. I couldn’t take the guilt, so I left the Pack to buy us time. Curran chose to be with me. The Pack wasn’t happy with his decision, but he didn’t care.
“Do you miss it?” I asked.
“What, the Keep?”
Funny how he knew right away what I was asking. “Yes. Being the Beast Lord.”
“Not really,” Curran said. “I like this. Getting the job done and then going home. There is a finality to it. I can look back and say I’ve accomplished this much today. I like knowing nobody will knock on our door and drag me off to do some stupid shit. No more committees, no more petty rivalries, and no more weddings.”
The big maple in front of our house swung into view. It was intact. Maybe the house had survived as well.
“I don’t miss the Pack. I do miss making it work,” Curran said.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s like a complicated machine. All of the clans and alphas and their problems. I miss adjusting it and seeing it work better. But I don’t miss the pressure.” He grinned, threatening the moon with his scary teeth. “You know what I like about not being the Beast Lord?”
“You mean besides us being able to eat when we want, sleep when we want, and have sex uninterrupted in glorious privacy?”
“Yes, besides that. I like that I can do whatever the hell I want. If I want to go and kill some ghouls, I go and do it. I don’t have to sit through a three-hour Pack Council meeting and debate the merits of ghoul killing and its effects on the Pack’s welfare and each goddamn individual clan in particular.”
I laughed softly. The Pack had seven clans, segregated by the nature of their beasts, and each clan had two alphas. Dealing with alphas had to be one of the circles of hell.
Curran shrugged his muscled shoulders. “Laugh all you want. When I was fifteen and Mahon pushed me to reach for power, I did it because I was young and stupid. I thought it was a crown. I didn’t realize it was a ball and chain instead. I’m off my chain now. I like it.”
I pretended to shiver. Considering the way he said “I like it,” I didn’t have to pretend very hard. “Off your chain. So dangerous, Your Majesty.”
He glanced at me.
“You might be too scary to let into the house. I don’t know if I can risk falling asleep next to you, Unchained One. Who knows what would happen?”
“Who said anything about sleeping?”
I opened my mouth to taunt him and clamped it shut. I couldn’t see the house, but I could see the section of the front lawn painted in a yellow electric glow. It was past midnight. Julie, my ward, should’ve been in bed long ago. There was no reason for the lights to be on.
Curran broke into a run. I urged Cuddles forward.
Cuddles balked. Apparently she didn’t feel like running.
“Come on, donkey!” I growled.
She backed up.
Screw it. I jumped off her back and ran to the house. The door handle turned in my hand. I jerked the door open and dashed inside.
A soft electric light bathed our kitchen. Curran stood to the side. Julie sat at the table, wrapped in a blanket, her blond hair a mess. She saw me and yawned. I slowed down just enough not to ram into the kitchen table and burst into the kitchen. A one-armed woman with a mane of dark curly hair sat at the table across from Julie, a cup of coffee in front of her. George. Mahon’s daughter and the Pack’s clerk of court.
She turned to me, her face haggard. “I need help.”
• • •
JULIE YAWNED AGAIN. “Bye. I’m going to bed.”
“Thank you for staying up with me,” George said.
“No problem.” Julie gathered her blanket and went up the staircase.
“I’m okay!” she called out. “I fell up, but I’m okay.”
She thumped up the stairs, and then the sound of a door closing announced she had reached her bedroom.
I pulled up a chair and sat. Curran leaned against the wall. He was still in his beast shape. Most shapeshifters could only change form once in a twenty-four-hour span. Shifting twice in a short period of time pretty much guaranteed that they’d pass out for a few hours and wake up ravenous. Curran had higher capacity than most, but we’d had a long night and the change still tired him. He probably wanted to be sharp for this conversation. After Curran’s family was slaughtered, Mahon found him and took him in. Curran had grown up with George. Her real name was Georgetta—and she threatened to pull your arms out if you used it—and she was as close to a sister as he had.
“What happened?” Curran asked.
George took a deep breath. Her face was pale, her features sharp, as if her skin were stretched too tight on her face. “Eduardo is missing.”
I frowned. Clan Heavy mostly consisted of werebears, but a few of their members turned into other large animals, like boars. Eduardo Ortego was a werebuffalo. He was huge in either shape. In a fight, he didn’t battle, he bulldozed his opponents down, and they didn’t get up once he rolled over them. I liked Eduardo. He was honest, direct, and brave, and he would put himself between danger and a friend in a heartbeat. He was also unintentionally hilarious, but that was neither here nor there.
“Have you spoken to your dad?” Curran asked.
“Yes.” George looked into her cup. “He wasn’t unhappy about it.”
Why would Mahon be happy that Eduardo had disappeared? The werebuffalo was one of the best fighters Clan Heavy had. When we left for the Black Sea to procure medicine for the Pack, Clan Heavy had three spots on our crew. George volunteered for the first, Mahon took the second, and he chose Eduardo for the third.
“George,” Curran said. “Start at the beginning.”
“Eduardo and I are together,” George said.
“Like together, together?” I thought Eduardo liked Jim’s sister.
Knock me over with a feather. I had seen them both in the Keep probably a hundred times since then and I would’ve never guessed they had a thing. I must’ve been blind or something.
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