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She slapped his leg. "You know what I mean-so I could learn from him while leading. There'd be a young Pack leader and the old one would still be alive for advice and such. And after he talked about it with my mom, he talked to your dad."
Jack nodded. "I remember. Everything changed after that visit."
"Right. Well, we talked about it for years, and finally agreed. And yesterday was the big day, and first thing in the morning, before my folks left for Boston, my dad went out and found . . ."
Kara and Deb asked and asked, and the third time Lara refused their help in the breakfast room, she couldn't take Jack's pleading looks any longer. "It's our mess," she said again.
"Of course it is." He'd gotten dressed in the jeans and the hated belt, but had to borrow one of her dad's old T-shirts, since his had been ruined. They'd gotten all the gunk off his shoes. "But they keep coming in wanting to help, and we keep sucking at cleaning up."
"It's true," Kara called from the kitchen.
"You're not helping," Lara called back.
"And they said they have extra help this week, a new kitchen guy."
"That's true!" Kara called.
"Enough! Both of you. Let me think." Lara puffed a lock of dark hair out of her eye. They'd wiped and swept and mopped and hauled out bags of garbage and broken glass, and it still look like they'd barely started. "I guess . . . if you guys insist . . . really insist . . ."
"Thank God," she heard Deb mutter. Kara, Deb, and at least four other cleaners descended on them so quickly Lara realized they'd been waiting patiently in the kitchen for their turn. "Thank you," Deb said as the others scattered around the room and got to work. "Appreciate you wanting to take responsibility. Your folks-your mama especially-she didn't want a couple of entitled jerks for kids." Lara nodded; when they were cubs, the quickest way to get in trouble with their folks was to make a mess and then put on let-the-servants-handle-it attitude. "But you're not cubs. And you're in our way. And you're terrible at this. And don't you have more important things to be doing, Pack leader?"
"All right, all right."
"Besides, these things happen." Deb was giving Jack a long look and Lara caught the sharp scent of her interest. "And probably will again, I'm betting."
"Also, when you tell your folks what happened, can you do it when we're all around and can hear the whole thing? What?" Kara asked when Deb rolled her eyes. "My Cloud cable's out."
"You and you!"
Lara had been so consumed with the work-and the odors-she hadn't heard or scented Sean's return. He was standing, arms akimbo, in the doorway, giving her a Level Four Death Glare-until then, only her mother had been capable of generating that level of wrath from eyes alone.
"Hi, Sean," Lara said, so meekly everyone else stared.
"Ah, Sean, we just-" Jack began.
"Shut your cake hole, fornicator! You and you . . . let's go upstairs and talk."
Fornicator? Jack mouthed at her as they followed Sean up the stairs. She shrugged, pointed at Sean's back, and mimed a look of utter contrition.
"I can hear you, you know," Sean said, which made no sense, but they dropped their hands and followed like a couple bound for the gallows.
* * *
"Okay, first? Gross, and gross. And walking through bacon? I don't know what kind of degenerate jungle you grew up in, Jack 'I Think I'll Bang Your Sister Right This Second' Gardner, but if you're gonna be living here, which I assume because of the banging you are, you're gonna have to treat bacon with a whole other level of respect, all the time. Oh, and be a good mate to my sister and a good dad to your cubs and stuff."
"Respect bacon." Jack nodded. "Good mate, good dad. Yes."
"And you!" Sean jabbed a forefinger at Lara, who watched it warily. Rarely had her brother gotten so frothy. Of course, he had cause. But it was still odd to see him genuinely irked. "I get how alpha-ness is a curse of loneliness and no one can understand the depth of your sad pathetic forlorn-ness, blah-blah-blah, but take ninety damned seconds and get a room. There are twenty bedrooms in this house! There is no need to harm the bacon, ever!"
"I mean, I understand why you couldn't resist. You've gotten nailed-what? Five times in the last five years?"
"Really?" Jack asked, unable to conceal his delight and surprise. "But you're so beautiful, and you could have any-"
"No one's talking to you, Jack-in-the-penis!"
"Yes, Sean." What sort of toys did this boy play with as a child? "Sorry, Sean."
"Anyway, I get why you were slaves to your grotesque animal urges, I'm just saying leave the bacon out of it. Okay?"
Jack was still nodding. "We're very sorry, Sean."
"No, you aren't, Jack, but when my dad decides to beat you to death, you'll both need an ally, so I'm officially forgiving you gross weird fornicators."
He hangs around waaaaay too many humans. Fornicators?
"You leave humans out of this," Sean retorted, still pointing. He collapsed into the nearest chair; they were in one of the game rooms, so there were plenty. "Now. The fish? The bat?"
"Jack says no."
"Which means no. And speaking of humans and hanging out with them too much-"
"If a Packer was doing those things, we'd smell it on them." Not so much the bat and the fish, but the deceit. The guilt. Packers couldn't lie to each other, not about real things.
"Well, yeah. I was thinking about that while you two were-while I was trying really, really hard to think of something else. So who's the human leaving you grisly love notes, and why? What does any human care about Pack stuff?"
It reminded her of the old childhood joke: Q) Why did the human cross the road? A) Why do humans do anything they do?
There were humans on the Cape-all over the world-who knew about the Pack. Sure there were. There were inter-Pack/human matings and friendships, of course, starting at the top with the then-alpha and his mate. When Jeannie moved to the mansion, she hadn't given up her human ties, her human friends. And in the near-mid-twenty-first century when the world was aware there were mermaids and vampires, the need to keep all things Pack a deep dark secret had never been less vital.
"So any number of humans could have left the bat and the fish," Lara summed up. "Who'd want to, though? And that's a queer kind of courage, walking into the wolves' den to leave that stuff. In front of everybody-in broad daylight, even."
"If you knew who, you'd know why," Jack said.
"And speaking of why, I'd better call now."
"All done having sex for a while?" Sean asked snidely. "Ready to get back to the boring business of Pack leadership? Swelleriffic." She ignored his jibes, but wouldn't much longer. Sean must have sensed her tolerance was coming to an end, because he moved from scolding to brisk. "Who first?"
Lara sighed. "You know who."
Jack was looking from brother to sister and back again. "This is why I'm glad I was an only child . . . You two practically have your own language."
"It compensates for bacon brutalization. When I close my eyes I can still see it . . . It was like you raped my bacon . . ."
"Little brother, please shut the hell up. This is hard enough. I almost hate to do it. But it's irresponsible if I don't." She shrugged, then raised her voice and said to the air, "Call: Betsy Taylor."
As they waited for the call to go through, Jack said, "The vampire queen?"
"Friend of the family."
"Yes, I know-the whole Pack knows-but I thought her name was Elizabeth."
"It is, only there was some famous old-timey movie star who had the same name, so she went by Betsy to avoid confusion, and it stuck."
"A little respect, please!" Sean yelped. "Old timey? Elizabeth Taylor, circa 1932 to 2011. Jeez. You guys."
"That's of course her prerogative," Jack said, puzzled, "but it's a kid's name."
Lara shrugged. "She's gotta be . . . let me think . . . fifty? No. Almost sixty." It was hard to tell, because Betsy always looked the same. "Could she be almost seventy? My dad would know . . . maybe . . ."
He raised a dark brow. "So you're calling an old woman who isn't Pack for advice?"
"Respect!" Sean yelped again, picking up a cork coaster and lobbing it at Jack. He ducked and it sailed harmlessly over his head. "Please!"
"I'm not calling for advice. And you'll like her."
"No." Jack smiled. "You like her. So you assume everyone else will."
"-for one second, Sink Lair! You know the rules: if you use up the last of the strawberries, you have to buy more yourself. No fair leaving the empty-"
"What? What did you-No, that's not Tina's job, and you're not delegating, you're just being more of an asshat than usual."
"Yeah? What? Sinclair, can you hear-Oh, shit . . . Am I on the phone?"
"Yeah, this is Lara Wyndham. Calling from the Cape."
"I hate-wait. I've gotta start talking slower; the tech has trouble understanding if I talk fast-Okay, just-it's nice to hear from you and all-Am I still on the phone?"
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