Undead and Underwater


Page 28


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"Don't joke about that. Bad enough to put up with two of them. I'm so glad this night's over . . . I'm so glad they're going home."


"C'mon. They weren't-Okay, he was fucking terrifying, but she was pretty cool."


"I didn't say she wasn't pretty cool; I said I'm glad they're going home. I kind of like her," she said with reluctance. "All most people want to do when they find out who I am is stare and ask silly questions about mermaids granting wishes or how I deal with pruned fingers. Betsy's so self-involved, she doesn't care about any of that. With her it's all cut to the chase so I can go home and catch the Macy's sale."


"So you like her because she's self-involved?"


"Really self-involved. To an astonishing degree. It must be one of her powers."


Jonas shook his head. "No, I get the feeling she was like that in life, too."


"Yes, but I think in un-death she hides behind it a little. She's not as ditzy as she seems. I . . . guess that's a good thing."


For her? Or for us? Fred didn't know, and was too exhausted to care. But when she'd slept a while she'd give the matter more thought. Betsy Taylor had been the most terrible wonderful person she had ever met. Or the most wonderful terrible person. It wouldn't do to let such a person slip off her radar.


Not at all.


Incomer


CHAPTER ONE


TEN YEARS EARLIER


She was happy she was born during the worst winter Massachusetts had seen in decades-since 1994, the old-timers claimed. It wasn't an absolute, but a cub's first Change usually happened around their birthday. Which meant that in the thrill and passion and danger and chaos of her first Change, she didn't have to worry about running into any of the three million three hundred thousand tourists who flocked to Cape Cod in the summer and fall. Tourists didn't have much interest in Massachusetts in mid-January, even the ferociously rude ones.


More clams for meeeeeee, she thought gleefully, digging so hard the sand flew ten feet and hit hard enough to scratch glass (if there had been a glass sheet in the middle of the beach in the middle of January). The moon was full and soared above her, fat and white. The wind whistled off the Atlantic and chilled her, but not as much as it would have if she was down there in her tender pink skin and her pale hairless hands and her pale hairless feet.


She wasn't! So that was good! There was a time for hairless hands and a time for efficient strong paws, and this was paw time.


Excited beyond words (literally), Lara dug and dug for her dinner, the hole already so big if she wasn't careful she'd slip on shifting sand and topple into it. She was not known for her grace, on four feet or two. Wouldn't that be a funny thing for her Pack mates to see! Here is your future alpha leader, the one whose hairy butt is sticking out of that hole.


Ha!


Even if she didn't get her teeth on the clams, in the clams, the act of hunting for her dinner was intoxicating. She would decide when and what to eat! Not Mother! She would decide if it was clams or rabbit or both or neither! Not Mother! She would blow off erosion concerns and decide how many holes to dig on the beach! Not the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution! She was thirteen; she wasn't a baby cub anymore. Those decisions should be hers, but her mother was sooooo stubborn. She was even stubborn about being stubborn. Double stubborn!


She can't even Change, she'll never Change, but Mother decides? It's wrong-bad.


But that was awful; worse, it was disloyal and mean. Her mother hadn't been born to the Pack, but that was okay. She and Lara's father had met on an elevator, and conceived Lara on that elevator, and that was okay; that was life in the big city. Her mother was the alpha female and, thus, the full fat moon of Lara's days, if not her nights, and that was . . . sorta okay. Lara would owe Mother respect all the days she was the alpha female, and all the days after, when Lara herself was. And she wouldn't be for years and years and years and years and years, and it would be years-long, it would be years-forever before she would lose her.


Thoughts for thinking later. So many smells. Salt and wet and grass and rot and fish and cold and wood and a thousand others, each one begging to be followed to its source, each one calling her like chimes bringing her to church. She would keep digging for supper. No, she would run down the dead fish up the beach. No, she would dig. No, she would flush rabbits from the deep green lake of grass. No, she would dig. Why was she digging again? Oh. Supper-food.


A seagull who thought he had dibs swooped above her and dived, then pulled up at the last instant. He soared above her and dived again, all the time scolding, scolding. Lara lunged straight up and her teeth snapped shut a bare inch from the gull's left leg, startling it in midcall: Khee-khee-kheeaa-kheeaaaawwwwppp!


Almost got you, gull-bird! More of that if you get too close! Might get you next time, might! Why was I digging-oh. Right.


There had never been a more wonderful night in the history of forever.


She was a lucky, lucky cub. She lived in a magnificent stone castle with a red roof, a castle with a mile of grass in front and a bazillion miles of the Atlantic behind. There were hundreds of windows she could peek out of, windows so big and wide that no matter how little she was, she could stretch up and peek out: at two, at four, at five, at seven, at ten, at twelve, now.


It had many outdoor rooms where she and her Pack could eat or rest or eat, and even cook in the rooms and then eat in them, outdoor rooms protected from all but the yuckiest elements, outdoor rooms-


She knew that was wrong; groped for the right word. She remembered almost everything on four legs that she'd experienced on two, but interpreted the events differently. So it took her a few seconds for the association to-porch! The castle had many porches. And three little oceans inside. Pools!


If she couldn't be in her wolf form all the time, it was nice to have a castle to run amok in the rest of the month. And the castle was stuffed with people, generations of relatives and friends and friends of friends; the Pack always tried to live together if territory would tolerate the numbers. Solitary living was death-pain for them.


Then she saw him, and was glad.


She wasn't sure why watching the inlander watch her made the night even better. They weren't friends; they didn't know each other except to nod hello. They couldn't: his litter was made up of people who chose to live far from the bulk of the Pack; she didn't know how they bore it.


He'd know who she was, of course, but the poor cub couldn't Change. Horrid legacy from the witch. Not his fault, but the other cubs disagreed. On wonderful, wonderful nights like this, he could only watch; never join. It was a sad, unlucky thing.


She was sorry for him but glad for herself. All her good luck-the castle, the rank, the Change-made his bad luck, his inlander luck, seem worse. She was selfish enough to be glad it wasn't her, and sorry enough that it was him.


She was glad he was there now. She thought she'd want to go through her first Change alone, and until that moment, she had. But being able to share the experience, even for a few moments, made it better. Did you see I almost got that noisy-stupid-smelly gull? Do you see how wide and wonderful-deep my hole is? She felt they had a connection, she and this neighbor she rarely saw and did not know.


They stared at each other across the beach for a second-hour-eternity, and then he raised a hand to her and continued on his way, and she went back to digging for her supper.


The clam was so sweet and delicious she didn't mind the sand in her teeth.


CHAPTER TWO


"You're mad I'm not dead, aren't you?"


Lara Wyndham, Pack leader of the Wyndham weres for nineteen hours, groaned and rubbed her eyes. Her toe throbbed from where she'd stubbed it before sitting at the table. "Of course not, Dad."


"Really?" Michael Wyndham shook out his newspaper. His actual newspaper, paper and ink and circular ads and everything-how quaint! "I'd be mad I wasn't dead."


Given that her father took the Pack to avenge the murder of his father, that was something to think about. "You're such a nutter." She stared down into her bowl of grits with butter and four slices of crumbled bacon. Normally she'd be unable to resist such a soupy, bacon-ey, buttery delicacy, but the thought of wolfing (heh) anything besides a cup of tea brought on faint nausea.


Which was, she knew, stupid. It was also a huge giveaway to her folks that something was wrong. So she seized her spoon and started to eat.


Her mother slouched into the kitchen, yawning and going straight to the sideboard to grope for a coffee mug. She was dressed in her even-though-it's-Thursday-I'm-dressing-like-it's-Saturday-morning outfit of jeans and a long-sleeved flannel shirt, although the temp was supposed to hit thirty degrees that day. With the Atlantic in their backyard, her mother often went around shivering.


Jeannie Wyndham's curly blond mass was streaked with gray ("Battle scars, right up there with stretch marks."), and the laugh lines around her blue eyes had deepened over the years, but there was no way around it: her mother was, as several of her friends, male and female, had pointed out, "so mega-hot she's absolute zero." (Thank God, thank God that when the remarks got back to her mom, she had no idea what they meant.) Back in the day they'd have called her a cougar. Lara preferred Mother or You make me so . . . arrgghh!


She stirred her hot chocolate and thought again that it wasn't easy, having a legend for a mom. Oh, and one for a dad, too. Definitely to be filed under "Things To Deal With: Not Easy."


"So, big day." Jeannie was heavily creaming and sugaring her coffee, which she'd poured into a mug the size of a flower pitcher. "Feel any different?"


"Tired." She had not slept well; she hadn't for days. She didn't mention this to her parents. The thought of the chat that would ensue ("Mommy, Daddy, I've been having nightmares; I'd like a nightlight and for you to tuck me in with lullabies and toast. Lots of toast. A bed isn't a bed without crumbs. Also I keep dreaming about Derik's son even though I don't really know him.") made her shiver.






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