Printed in Jaden’s cramped script, was an address in the city.
And a name. Dayne Wickham.
For a second, Greta couldn’t breathe and thought she might shift back. It had to be a mistake. Jaden couldn’t mean for her to go to him. Dayne Wickham was notorious. He wasn’t just a magic user. He was a sorcerer. People still talked about the night he’d massacred more than half the tribe.
There was a soft knock on the door. “I don’t know how you managed to lock yourself in there kitty, but I’ve got tools and I’m going to get you out. Okay?”
Greta wrapped a bathrobe around herself and opened the door.
Charlee fell back, her eyes wide, tools spread around her in a fan.
She must have found a sale. Or else she was dating a contractor.
“So, yeah, I’m a cat and I need to borrow some clothes.” She hoped she wouldn’t have to do the whole transformation all over just to prove it. Surely, cat goes in, human comes out was enough evidence. Especially with no windows or other exits in the bathroom.
Charlee gawked up at her. “What are you?”
Greta sighed and used the term she hated. “Werecat.”
“You can turn into a cat? Seriously? How? When? Have you always done it? Did you get bitten by another werecat? What else is real? Can you turn back into a cat now? Do you have other superpowers?”
“Charlee . . . ” she said with as much patience as she could muster.
By this time Charlee had managed to stand and was prowling around her, looking as if there might be an instruction manual printed somewhere on Greta’s body.
“Clothes,” Greta said, trying to bring her friend back to the issue at hand.
“Sure. Clothes. No problem, but show me the werecat thing.” Charlee moved to the bedroom, Greta trailing behind her.
“Listen, I can’t imagine how I would feel if the tables were turned, but I don’t have time for show-and-tell right now. You’ll be safer the less you know. They’ll use a spell to track me, so I need to be somewhere with strong wards. I just need some clothes to last me a few days.”
“Spells are real too? So then . . . witches . . . and . . . ”
“Oh, right. Sure. Borrow whatever you want; I’ll pack you a bag.”
Greta pulled on a pair of jeans and T-shirt from the floor. Her face scrunched up in distaste at the outfits her friend was throwing into the bag. Charlee believed in dressing sexy like it was a religion.
It was a little more than Greta personally wanted to show off, but it was better than nudity.
“Are you sure this is all I can do to help? I could go on the lam with you.”
Greta hid a smile. She wished she could take her up on her offer, and for a moment a fantasy of Thelma and Louise-ing it through Cary Town caught her imagination. But Charlee wasn’t prepared to deal with what was out there, and Greta couldn’t protect her.
She watched as her friend tossed some makeup and a couple of trashy romance novels into the bag. Only Charlee would think running for your life was the time to read romance and wear lipstick. Greta decided she should have told her friend about her double life long ago. If not for the ridiculous loyalty she’d felt for the tribe that now intended to strap her down to a stone altar, she probably would have.
AYNE Wickham sat hunched over his computer. His pos-Dture showed his age even as his face and physique refused to. He brushed a clump of dark hair out of his eyes and stared at the twitchy screen in front of him. Technology was a beautiful thing. He’d found a most reliable supplier of were-blood on the Internet.
Theriantype.com had a cross-referencing index matching the correct were-blood type to specific rituals. It was almost enough to make a sorcerer pack all his musty old books into storage and move everything to the computer. Almost.
He’d met Alistair Cranze on a magic user’s message board. The wizard had recommended the site, and for the past year Dayne hadn’t had any trouble. He couldn’t remember how he’d managed to get by before. Werecat was considered the most magical of all were-blood types. And for this working, even more so.
The mythology claiming a witch’s familiar to be a cat was rooted somewhat in fact. Werecats without a tribe had sought witches, wizards, and occasionally a sorcerer or two. They’d traded blood for shelter for centuries.
Things were different now. These days, Weres in need of cash donated anonymously to one of the blood banks, and various magic users just ordered what they needed from occult shopkeepers or online. It was much cleaner this way.
Weres could be more trouble than they were worth. Most magic users had learned that the hard way, as there seemed to be a certain level of idiotic stubbornness that came with the territory of wielding magic.
Dayne rolled his mouse over the send button and clicked, then leaned back in his chair, interlacing his fingers behind his head. He smiled as the animated GIF wand waved, and purple digital glitter sprinkled over his computer desktop, indicating his order was being processed. The site was on the cheesy side, but a reliable company was a reliable company, cutesy bells and whistles notwithstanding.
There was one thing about the white lighters. You could trust them. They lived their entire lives according to a mission of goodness and honesty. It made Dayne want to hurl, but with few exceptions, they wouldn’t betray you.
He’d just shut down the computer when a rap sounded on the front door. No one knocked on his door anymore. Primarily because he was known as the city’s darkest evil and everyone was too scared to try to overthrow him. The postman had long ago learned the wisdom of quietly leaving packages by the door. Dayne didn’t know what the fuss had been about. The man’s hair had regrown in a mere matter of months.
“Just a moment, please.”
Whoever was calling after midnight could only be bringing trouble with them. For a while, after what was later called: the tribal massacre, the lone hero had darkened his door, convinced Dayne was up to something nefarious and had to be taken down. Or another Cary Town villain decided to rise to infamy and needed Dayne out of the way to do it.
He’d eventually managed the right formula on the wards, and most steered clear, deciding it wasn’t worth it. It had been quiet for the past decade. Either the wards were working or he’d been deemed irrelevant. Either way was fine by him.
The wards dropped as Dayne opened the door to reveal a diminutive black cat with bright golden eyes sitting primly on the middle of his front stoop. She blinked up at him full of rehearsed pet store innocence, her tail wrapped around her tiny paws.
“You must be kidding me. I don’t take in strays.” Dayne slammed the door. Did the werecat think he couldn’t sense the magic crackling around her? Was she that naive? Perhaps a junior wizard still under apprenticeship would have been fooled, but not someone with his level of experience.
He drained the last dregs of coffee from the mug in the microwave. There was a second knock.
“Oh, for God’s sake.” He was going to zap the little miscreant halfway across town and let the preternatural border patrol sort out the pieces.
Dayne opened the door this time with a spell ready on his lips, but stopped short. She was breathtaking, not that this was uncommon in a Were. They tended to have a certain magnetism.
She had short dark hair, and she was leggy . . . a personal weakness of his.
Black leather pants encased her legs as if they’d been stitched onto her. It seemed only magic could have gotten those pants on and would be required to get them off again. A red silky top plunged to reveal ample but not overpowering cleavage. The werecat had a large duffel bag slung over one shoulder and balanced against her hip as if she’d planned to move in.
He held up a hand before little Dayne could cause him to do something colossally stupid. “The wardrobe change doesn’t alter my position, princess.”
“I thought you’d be old,” she said, wrinkling her nose.
He gave her points for not stammering that opening line. “What leads you to believe I’m not?”
“I need help.”
Well, she got right down to it, didn’t she? Such a Red Riding Hood. It was intoxicating. In a different mood, with a different species, he might have let her into his lair.
“Not interested. Try the Salvation Army.” The brunette wedged one high-heeled boot inside the door.
“Please. I’ll be killed. The tribe plans to sacrifice me.” Desperate, frightened eyes.
“And somehow I can’t work up any feeling on that topic. Good-bye now.”
“Wait! You can use my blood.”
Dayne arched a brow. Not quite as naive as she appeared.
“I get my were-blood online. I have no use for you.” In truth, he could think of many uses for her, none of which required the promise of her potent magical blood.
The phone rang, preventing little Dayne from taking over. “If you’ll excuse me.”
Appearance-wise Dayne had been nothing like she’d expected.
She’d expected an old man with long robes and a beard, dark beady eyes, and a sinister thin mouth. A beak-like nose and long age-gnarled fingers would finish the look. Dayne was none of these things. For one thing, he’d been wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt.