Wolf’s Curse – Kelley Armstrong

Hell hounds outside; hell house inside. What more could we ask for? Human skulls nailed to the ceiling, apparently. It’s been, oh, about twenty-four hours since my twin brother, Logan, and I showed up at a youth leadership conference for supernaturals. We’ve learned so much already . leading a small group of our fellow campers in a flight for our lives. Of course, real leaders wouldn’t have left three-quarters of the campers behind to fend for themselves. Still, considering that those campers tried to burn us at the stake, I’m thinking we can be forgiven for not circling back to make sure they’re okay. Logan would say I’m being flippant to hide the fact that I hate leaving them behind. They aren’t monsters who wanted to burn werewolves. They’re infected supernatural teens, and abandoning them to their fate is wrong. Wrong, but also necessary, considering the part where they want to kill us. Logan and I need to focus on the four campers with us, who haven’t been infected. Four lives we can save.

Though, at this point, they’re as likely to save us. There are six of us. Logan and me, plus another werewolf, Elijah. Allan and Holly, sorcerer and witch respectively. And one really cranky not-quite-vampire named Mason. We escaped the funeral pyre, only to find the hell beasts in the forest, and we’ve managed to take refuge in that horror film staple: an abandoned cabin in the woods. It’s already going smashingly as we stand inside, staring at the skulls on the ceiling and the femurs nailed over the front door. “Tell me this is a good sign,” Elijah says as I investigate the femurs. “I don’t know shit about magic, so just tell me this is powerful mojo that will keep us safe, and not proof that someone’s been using this place for ritual sacrifice. Those are just old bones. Really, really old. Better yet, plastic.

Halloween decorations.” “The fact that they’re nailed to the door does suggest ritual magic,” Holly says. “Protective magic like the warding.” Elijah walks up beside me and murmurs, “Not plastic, are they?” I shake my head. He lowers his voice even more. “Not old, either, right?” I glance up at him. “Shit,” he mutters. I sneak a look at Logan. Our eyes meet, and he gives the slightest shake of his head. Elijah may have been joking about pretending they’re Halloween decorations, but no one needs details right now.

Not when the answers aren’t the sort anyone will like. My Dad’s specialty is cultural anthropology, and I’ve studied some physical anthropology—the archeology side. I’m no expert, and there’s no way in hell I can guess age. I just know these bones aren’t nearly as old as we’d like them to be. “They’re fine,” I say firmly. “They’re being used to protect the house like Holly said. Keeping evil from crossing the threshold. It’s a good thing I didn’t get this door open, or Mason would have burst into flame, entering without an invitation.” “I heard that,” Mason calls from the next room. “Also not true.

I can go where I want, no invitation needed.” He steps into the entryway, sees the bones and says, “Fuck. Remind me why we’re here again?” “Because, at the risk of repeating myself, it’s better than being out there. And right now, that’s as good as it gets.” We poke our heads into the other rooms and confirm we’re alone. It’s a small, rectangular wood cabin. One entry door. Two bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room and a primitive bathroom. We also check out the broken window and confirm the hell hounds are still there. It takes Holly’s spell to make them manifest, but once cast, we see the ugly beasts prowling the cabin’s perimeter.

As much as we hate those warding bones, they’re part of the magic keeping the hell hounds out. Good enough. Next step: catch our breath before we explore and come up with a plan. I’m in the bathroom, which is little more than an indoor outhouse, cleaning up. Or trying to—the tap has no running water. A generator must provide electricity to run the pump. We’ll find that later if we need to stay long. I’m really hoping we won’t. Luckily, there’s a container of water under the sink for emergencies, and while I’m tempted to leave it for emergency drinking, I’m not convinced it’d be safe for that. It smells fine, though, even to a werewolf nose.

I compromise by splashing a handful onto a towel and using it to wash the dirt and blood from my arms and face. I’m halfway through the job when a knock comes on the half-open door. “Hey, Lo,” I say without needing to turn. “Come on in.” He steps through, and he’s turning to close the door when Elijah appears, raising a “just hold on” finger. For a second, I think my chronically polite brother is actually going to shut the door in Elijah’s face. But he hesitates and then grunts, sounding a lot like Dad. “May I speak to Kate, please?” Elijah asks. “After I do.” Elijah’s dark eyes flash, and he opens his mouth to argue, but Logan says, “I need to speak to my sister about the current situation.

” Their eyes meet, and I know something’s going on here. Before I can interject, Elijah eases back with a nod, and Logan shuts the door. “What’s that about?” I ask. “How are you doing?” Logan asks. “That demon threw you hard.” Right. Did I mention the demon? Presumed master of the hell hounds? Yep, we’ve got that, too. “I’m fine,” I say. “What’s with—” Logan moves farther into the room and lowers his voice. “I know about Brandon.

” I blink, struggling to remember who the hell Brandon is. Oh, wait, that’d be my ex. My first long-term boyfriend, who cheated on me. I dumped his ass six months ago, and my school life has been shit ever since. That Brandon. Kind of hard to forget, which is proof of just how crazy these last twenty-four hours have been. Logan rubs a hand over his mouth. “This is a lousy time to bring it up. I just . ” He looks at me.

“I know what Brandon did to you, and what you’ve been going through because of it, and when we get home, I’m asking Mom to switch schools.” “You want me to go to another—?” “Us. We’re switching schools.” I square my shoulders. “I can handle it, Lo.” “I know you can. The problem, Kate, is that I can’t. Send me back to that school, and I will hurt him. That sounds awful, and I’m ashamed to even say it, like I’m some kind of Neanderthal, protecting a sister who doesn’t need protecting. But the thought of what Brandon did .

” I say carefully, “I’m not sure what you heard, Lo, but he didn’t do anything. Not . whatever you might be thinking.” “That he screwed around with another girl because you wouldn’t have sex with him. Then he told you about it. Then he told girls who already don’t like you, giving them ammunition to make your spring term a living hell. Is that not what happened?” By the time he finishes, my eyes are brimming over. He sees that and pulls me into a hug. “I’m sorry. I can say I wish you’d told me, but I understand why you didn’t.

It was my job to see that you were hurting. And I did. I just . ” His shoulders shrug against mine. “Instead of asking you what was wrong, or even asking why you broke up with him, I got pissy because you weren’t confiding in me, and I sulked. You were backing away, and I missed you, and I never thought that, maybe, something happened that you weren’t comfortable bringing up. Something that I should have known already because the people hurting you were . ” “Your friends.” He tenses. “I .

I want to say they’re not, Kate. That they’re just kids I hang out with at school. That sounds like an excuse, though. I do hang out with them. They consider themselves my friends. I should have known what was going on.” “They were very careful to make sure you didn’t. You’re the cool Danvers twin.” His laugh comes as a snort, his cheeks coloring. “Trust me, I’m not, and if they’ve made that mistake, that’s their loss.

I . I don’t know what happened, Kate. One minute you were the cool one, and I was your tagalong brother, and then suddenly, from the way people acted, it was like we switched places, and I don’t know why because we didn’t change. At all.” “We grew up,” I say. “What was cool and quirky in middle school was weird in high school. I felt like . ” I step back, hands going into my pockets. “Dad says he felt like other kids could tell he didn’t belong. It’s like that for me.

I don’t think they’re sensing that I’m not human. They can just tell I’m different. Like a dog in a wolf pack. Sometimes they’ll accept it . and sometimes they’ll drive the imposter out. I just don’t fit.” “I don’t think it’s that, Kate. You’re smart. You’re outspoken. You say what you mean.

You don’t suffer fools gladly. If you were a guy, that’d make you king of the hill. But you aren’t, and I saw you struggling. To me, though, you’re like an Amazon striding through the battlefield, chopping down anyone who gets in her way, and I just left you to it, figured you were doing fine. But just because you can fight back doesn’t mean the blows don’t hurt.” I hug him tight. “Thank you. As for fall term, we’ll discuss that later. For now, we’ve got bigger things to deal with.” He nods.

“Whoever owns this cabin is a spellcaster, probably a witch. I’m going to talk to Holly about that. See if we can combine our research databanks to come up with an answer.” “And I’ll look around. See if I can find any clues about the spellcaster or that demon.” CHAPTERTWO Kate I start my survey of the building. There’s a sense of the unreal about the place that slithers down my spine and prickles my nerves. It looks rustic. Very rustic, as if it’s been boarded up for a hundred years. Yet I doubt the structure is half that old, and there are odd, almost anachronistic touches throughout that make it seem like a Hollywood set.

The rustic pioneer cabin, complete with animal-skin rugs and a flintlock over the stone fireplace . and a bottle of honeysuckle hand sanitizer that a crew member forgot in the bathroom. I keep telling myself that I’m just on edge, because, really, who wouldn’t be? I feel as if someone stuck me in a clothes dryer and hit Super-spin. While I’d treated Mason’s dire warnings lightly, I’m all too aware that he has a point. Exactly how long can we stay in here without food or water? Paige is due at the conference tomorrow, and no one will come searching for us before that. I don’t want them to, either, considering what’s out there. If this cabin rubs me the wrong way, that’s just me being anxious and sore. So what if it looks ancient with out-of-place modern touches? People build faux Victorian manors all the time, and it doesn’t matter how much gaudy antique bling they stuff inside, they’ll still have their big screen TV and a microwave. Except this isn’t like that. This feels staged.

It feels wrong. I’m in the bedroom, running my fingers through dust on the headboard while staring down at a crisp quilt that looks and smells freshly laundered as the scent of lavender wafts up. When Elijah steps in, I only nod, acknowledging him. Then I bend to look for electrical outlets. There are none. Just a candle by the bedside, one that smells of . beeswax? There’s a splotch of wax on the floor, and I lower myself to touch it. It’s soft. That’s— The creak of the door startles me, and I look over as Elijah shuts it behind him. “Do you have a second to talk?” he asks.

“Not really.” “I just want—” I rise. “This is awkward. I get that. You wanted nothing to do with me, and now we’re on the run together, so you’d like to smooth things over. Not necessary.” “I know I hurt you—” “Yes, yes, you did, and the fact that I’m admitting that suggests I’m a little freaked out by everything else. But sure, let’s be honest. You were an asshole, and you hurt me.” “I didn’t mean—” “You asked me to be your fake girlfriend.

Your idea, not mine. You were having trouble with the girls at camp, so I was going to be your shield. Fine by me—I didn’t like the attention I was getting, either. You seemed nice, interesting, fun to be around. You’re a helluva kisser. You’re also hot, which is always a bonus. We had a blast, and the next morning, you dumped me . after I did absolutely nothing wrong.” “You didn’t. It was—” “It was you, not me.

Yep, but the problem is that you made me feel like it was me, as if I was some stalker chick, as bad as the others. I followed your lead. Agreed to be your girlfriend. Kissed you when you initiated it. Didn’t cling or hang around.” I meet his gaze. “Logan was attacked in his bed last night because he’s a werewolf. I wanted to warn you about that since you are, you know, a werewolf, and you brushed me off like I was making up crap to get your attention after you dumped me.” “I didn’t mean that at all.” I start pacing the room, scanning it, not sure what I’m looking for, but keeping busy as I talk.

“You treated me like shit, Elijah. I thought you were someone I’d like to get to know as a friend with or without the fake boyfriend nonsense. But you turned out to be just another garden-variety asshole who thinks every girl is chasing him for a hookup.” “I never thought that about you, Kate. I just . I needed some distance and—” “And now you can’t get it because you’re stuck with me. That’s awkward, and not only for you. So I’m going to suggest that we drop it. Forget what happened. You’re just a fellow camper who escaped with us like Cranky-Vamp back there.

Now, you’ve said your piece, and I have work to do.” “I haven’t said anything. I’ve barely gotten a word in with you presuming what I came to talk about.” I glare at him, but he only meets it with a level stare. “I am sorry for what happened,” he says. “I suck at apologies, so I’ve been trying to show you that I’m sorry. I realize now that it looks as if I was trying to wriggle back into your good graces because I wanted to join your escape. That’s not true, but I’ll table that discussion. Right now, there’s something we need to—” “Son of a bitch!” I say. “What?” His face hardens.

“I get that you’re pissed with me, for good reason, but . ” I’m on my knees, fingers running over the floorboards as he trails off. “What are you doing?” he says. “I need your fingers,” I say. “Uh . ” I glance up. “Oh, for fuck’s sake. Really?”


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