Magic Shifts(Kate Daniels,book 8)(10) by Ilona Andrews
“My paranoia is keeping us safe.” Jim brushed his face. Suddenly he seemed tired. “Dali, I just spent eight hours arguing with the Pack Council. Do you think you could postpone yelling at me until later?”
“No!” She sighed. “Yes. Fine.”
I reached into the fridge. We would need more sausage.
• • •
NORMAL PEOPLE SPOKE while they ate. They socialized, carried on a polite conversation, and even told jokes, pausing their food consumption while doing all those things. Shapeshifters ate with single-minded focus, as if eating itself were a very important task and they had to concentrate on it completely. Talking while eating beyond the usual “pass that, please” was considered rude.
It took fully half an hour before they finally leaned back from the table. Jim sighed quietly. He looked haggard. It was unusual for him. Dali reached over and quietly stroked his hand. He took her fingers into his and squeezed.
“So what was the fight about?” Julie asked.
“We’re trying to pass a security reform,” Jim said. “One of the provisions requires Pack members residing at the Keep or at their Clan Houses to sign out before they go into the city. We’ve had a few issues over the last couple of years with finding everyone when an emergency hits.”
“Seems reasonable,” I said. Sailors did it on shore leave, soldiers did it when they left a military base, and there was no reason why Pack members couldn’t do the same.
“It’s his first act as the Beast Lord,” Curran said. “The alphas will dig their heels in to see if he will bend.”
“We were arguing,” Dali said. “And then Desandra said that if the Beast Lord wanted to know where she was at all times, she would be delighted to make it happen.”
I laughed. Dali glared at me.
“That’s what she does,” I said. “When she’s uncomfortable, she starts saying uncomfortable things to knock you off your stride.”
“I wanted to curse her.” Dali jabbed her thumb in Jim’s direction. “He wouldn’t let me.”
Considering that Dali’s curses backfired half of the time, that was probably a very good thing.
“We need the Wolf Alpha to pass the reform,” Jim said.
“I wasn’t going to kill her,” Dali told him. “I was just going to seal her mouth shut.”
“Knowing Desandra, that would kill her,” Curran said.
“I handled it,” Jim said. “I told her that if she required someone to watch her at all times, the Pack would accommodate her wishes and assign a nanny to her. Anyway, what have you been doing?”
I’d been thinking about whether Mahon had had a moment of insanity and murdered his future son-in-law. “Hunting ghouls.”
I told him about the ghoul horde.
He frowned. “Thirty.”
“That’s a hell of a lot of ghouls. Let me talk to my people. We’ll see what I can find out. Are you going to see Mitchell?”
“I was thinking about it.” The number of people who knew about Mitchell could be counted on the fingers of one hand, and here Jim rattled off his name like it was nothing. Why was I not surprised?
Curran glanced at me. I’d have to explain Mitchell later.
Jim leaned forward, his gaze intent on Curran. “Look, you’ve had your fun. It’s been nine weeks. You can come back now. We’ll say it was an extended vacation. A sabbatical.”
Curran leaned forward as well, matching Jim’s stare. “I’m out.”
Jim dropped his fork on the table and sagged in his chair.
“If you hate it so much, step down,” Curran said.
Frustration twisted Jim’s face. “I can’t. They’ll screw it up.”
“That was mean,” Dali said.
“It’s not funny,” Jim growled.
Oh no, it was funny. It was downright hilarious. I grinned at Jim. “I seem to remember a man who brought me a two-inch-thick file just last September, told me that Clan Nimble and Clan Jackal had declared a vendetta on each other and the details were in the file, and then walked away.”
“Oh yeah,” Curran’s eyes shone with gold. “What was it he said?”
“He said that we’d have to handle it because he had ‘real shit to do.’”
“What’s your point?” Jim grimaced.
“Payback’s a bitch,” I told him.
“You can moan all you want,” Curran said. “The fact is you wanted the job. You’re smarter than I am and you’re strong enough to hold the power. You had plans for the Pack and I didn’t always agree. Now you’ve got a chance to do it your way.”
Magic rolled over us in a fast invisible tide. Everyone paused for a moment to adjust.
Jim pulled a simple beige file out of his jacket and put it on the table.
“What’s in the file?” Curran asked.
“Are you sure you want to know?” Jim asked. “Once we do this, there is no going back.”
Curran just looked at him.
Jim opened the folder, took out a stack of papers, and passed them to Curran. Curran read the first page. “What the hell is this?”
“It’s like this,” Jim said. “You own too much crap. You hold at least a twenty-five percent stake in over twenty-two percent of the Pack’s businesses. Only a few of these businesses are established enough to be able to come up with the money to buy you out. A lot of them are new enterprises and each dollar of profit is being put right back into them. If we buy you out now, the way you want us to, the Pack will go bankrupt.”
“That’s bull,” Curran said.
Jim spread his arms. “This is what the accountants are telling me. I understand you might have a cash flow issue, but you wouldn’t have one if you were still the Beast Lord.”
Curran’s face went blank, unreadable like a stone wall. Uh-oh.
“Don’t test me.”
“I’m not testing you. I’m telling you, this is how it is. The contract you’re holding outlines our proposal. Instead of a monetary payout, we offer you a business in trade for fifty percent of your collective stake now, and then, once the other businesses begin to be profitable, you can either continue to own them and collect your share of profits or sell off your stake as you see fit.”
“This would make sense,” Curran said, “if I had no eyes to read it or no brain to understand it. Did Raphael write this?”
“He might have looked it over,” Jim said.
Raphael was the alpha of Clan Bouda. He was too handsome for his own good, mated to my best friend, Andrea Nash, and a complete shark when it came to all things business. If Raphael wrote the contract, it was a good deal for the Pack and a bad deal for us.
We weren’t desperate for money, but a large chunk of our ready cash had gone into buying and furnishing this house. I never asked Curran how much money he had, because even though he referred to it as our money, he had earned the bulk of it before he ever met me. But I got the impression that we weren’t too far from the bottom of our reserve.
Now that we both had time to devote to Cutting Edge, the business was picking up and it would start putting food on our table within a year. Trouble was, we faced a lot of stiff competition. In the hierarchy of clearing paranormal hazmat, Cutting Edge scraped the bottom of the barrel, with the Guild being our major competition. We had to underbid the mercs, and while the Guild was having serious issues, competing with them was difficult. It didn’t help that the Pack had bankrolled Cutting Edge’s startup costs and both Curran and I wanted to get that loan taken care of.
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