Trouble with Cats

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Knuckles rapped on Rey’s stout, wooden door. The noise had hardly ended when a tiny voice trumpeted, “The witch is here!” Another unseen voice yelled, “Man the candy-ons!” Yet another shouted, “Batten down the hatchings!” And finally, a fourth excited little voice wailed, “Winter comes!”

It was, of course, August. The dog days of summer were here. Air conditioners ran all day and all night as the punishing sun baked the rocky, paved cityscape. It was a dry heat, as they say, but still hot enough to roast eggs on the black lava rocks that dotted the landscape beyond the bounds of the city. Rey could see them through her kitchen window. The green of shrub-choked slopes of Iron Mountain had been fading to brown.

It wasn’t cold weather the sprites were going on about. It was the presence of unseelie fae, fae of the winter court, they were announcing.

Rey checked the peephole before opening the door. This time, though, the sprites’ fears were unwarranted. The winter fae standing on her doorstep was her friend, Mira. The smile on her face from the sprite’s antics faded slightly, her conversation with Drake the night before coming back to her.

When Rey opened the door, she was able to get a good look at her friend. She seemed to have been swimming. Dressed only in a little blue two-piece suit, Mira didn’t seem uncomfortable in the late afternoon heat. She had a towel over a shoulder and a tiny coin purse in hand, but nothing else, not even sandals.

Someone in a red, late-model Camaro drove by with windows down. Rey could hear their whistles and rude cat-calls as they went by. Mira acted as if she hadn’t heard them. She wore a serious expression.

There were serious things on her mind. Things she hadn’t been able to get out of her mind in months. In that time she hadn’t spoken to anyone what troubled her. Not directly. She had made inquiries, however, here and there. She’d hit a dead end in every case save for one last, thin hope.

It wasn’t just the unsuccessful research that bothered her, though. There was something else that was a very real fear to her. It nibbled at her nerves and scratched at the back of her mind during sleepless nights. It made her feel things when she was around people she cared about that she did not like.

“Hello,” Mira said. She hoped Rey did not notice the quiet desperation she felt.

“Hi Mira,” Rey said and took a step back. “Come on in.” She closed the door quickly behind her, not wanting to tax the air conditioning any more than she needed to. “Can I get you something to drink?”

Mira smiled and took a seat at the kitchen table. “Yes, thanks. Just water is fine.” After Rey retrieved a bottle of water from the fridge and joined her, she said, “I hear you’ve been getting on pretty well? They say you don’t work at the casino anymore, but that you left for other pursuits.”

Rey nodded. “As much as I did like working there, I kept getting called away to deal with other things. I wasn’t able to do the job I needed to and do it well, so I thought it best to resign.” She cracked open her own bottle of water and set it on the table. “I was able to build up quite a bit in savings while working there, and with some advice, I invested it. Between that, the Pipe and Fiddle, and my writing, I make enough to live reasonably well.”

“You deserve to live richly,” Mira said. “If you’d come to me, I could have predicted which investments would produce large, near-term results. I could make you very rich.”

“I appreciate the offer,’ Rey replied honestly, “but I don’t like the price you have to pay. Not when it’s something so relatively trivial as money.” She shrugged. “I don’t need much right now anyway. Working from home has reduced a lot of my expenses, but created more of others, so I do have a bit of extra money for things.” She didn’t say that she and Chase took turns paying for their dates, and most of the things they did were inexpensive anyway. The most important thing was they were spending time together.

In fact, their last date was a walk through the woods in the Iron Mountain State Park. They’d found a little hidden cave, more an overhang than anything else, and decided to stop there to enjoy the picnic they’d brought with them. They’d enjoyed each other for dessert, with the added spice of needing to be very quiet when a group of school aged kids, part of a summer camp group, approached. She’d ended up biting his shoulder to keep from crying out as he didn’t so much as slow down when the group stopped, their leaders talking about one of the trees on the far side of the path. Chase was pleased not only with having sex and almost getting caught, but the fact he’d aroused Rey so much that she’d bit him hard enough to leave a mark (even if it faded after a few minutes).

Thoughts of Chase brought Drake to mind. She’d received a phone call from him last night. He was worried about Mira, and asked if something had happened just before the Breaches closed. The nymph, he said, seemed…. off. She wasn’t rude or confrontational, but she was tense and subdued. Mira had brushed it off, changing the subject and avoiding talking about what was on her mind.

Rey herself knew something was up. She’d been making a concerted effort to keep in touch with her friends and her sister, and not allow her job and her relationship with Chase to eat up all her time and attention. Her attempts to get a hold of Mira to meet for lunch, or even just a coffee, were fruitless. She’d left messages, but her friend hadn’t returned her calls.

She wanted to grill her friend, find out what was going on but held back, knowing that taking that confrontational approach might make Mira withdraw further. The nymph’s showing up at her door, Rey hoped, was a sign her friend wanted to reach out and ask for help.

“Well, I guess I haven’t made myself easy to get hold of anyway. I never did replace the phone that was lost.” Mira stopped and bit her lip, looking a little vexed. With her, a little bit of emotion showing meant she was feeling a lot. “And I’ve been away from my apartment a lot looking for answers.”

"About what?"

Mira hesitated, almost wincing. “It’s about what happened in South America. Well, the jungle anyway.”

“You mean the jaguar shifter.” Rey had no memory of it. She’d been knocked unconscious by during a fight with some wild peccaries, and woke up later, miles from the ancient ruined city, half naked, and burning with the need for sex.

Mira nodded. Again there was that hesitation. “He did something to us, Rey.”

“I know,” Rey said. “I don’t remember it, but I was left with the aftermath of it. That’s why I eventually called Chase.”

Mira shivered. “So he was still doing it to you even when he wasn’t there?”

“I think it was more something that started with him,” Rey said. “Based on what you told me, and the fact you weren’t suffering from it when we got back, I think if he’d finished having sex with me, the effect would have been gone for me as well. It took three times with Chase before it wore off.”

Mira wasn’t looking at Rey. “I tried to stop him,” she said distantly.

Rey reached over and put a hand on Mira’s arm. “I know.”

“That wasn’t supposed to happen to you. It wasn’t what I intended, anyway. I was supposed to save you and get us away from those shifters. He was going to rape you, and you wouldn’t have even been conscious. He didn’t care.”

“I know this probably doesn’t help, but he might have been caught up in it too,” Rey pointed out.

“Maybe, but I’m pretty sure he instigated all of it.” Mira finally slumped and put her elbows on the table. She held her chin in her hands. “I totally fucked it up. The very first thing that happened after I dragged you clear is I whipped off my own pants and stuck my ass in the air like a bitch in heat. I couldn’t help it and when he started in on me, I liked it. Really liked it. I knew it was wrong at the same time and the thinking part of my brain screamed and yelled and tried to get away. But I was trapped in my own body. Nothing worked! Only after he’d been at me a while and satisfied himself very thoroughly did I even manage to move myself. I tried to get away and he wrestled me down. All of that isn’t the worst part. The worst is what I couldn’t do. I couldn’t bring myself to ice up and rip him to shreds. I couldn’t bring myself to hurt him for what he did!

“To this day I can’t escape the feeling that as hard as I fought, I only escaped because he let me escape. I feel like a mouse the cat played with. I’m terrified he could show up any time and I’ll happily go along with whatever he wants. I know I’m a slut on my best days, but I’ve never felt so low and used.”

Mira was surprised she managed to say all of that without choking up. She’d practiced it a dozen times and hadn’t managed to get through it with her throat seizing up. It was hard to admit what it made her feel. “I’ve fooled around on Drake with Remy and haven’t felt guilty, even when I know it was wrong. But this? This makes me feel bad. Like my body betrayed Drake and me, too. Even after weeks, I haven’t been able to figure out what this says about me or my relationships or any of it.”

Rey was quiet and her face bore hardly any expression, her silence began to sound like condemnation until she finally spoke. “I know exactly how you feel about what happened in the jungle. I went through it for years at the hand of the Lord who took me.” Her eyes met Mira’s, and the nymph could see the echoes of the pain Mira felt, but it was overlaid with determination and a certain level of acceptance.

“I know it’s difficult, or perhaps impossible, to forget what happened, but it’s not your fault. We were raped, plain and simple. Powerless. The choice was taken away from us, and we did horrible things. That doesn’t make us bad people.” She took Mira’s hand.

“Drake called me last night,” Rey said. “He’s worried about you. For you. You need to talk to him about this, about what happened. I know he wants to help you.”

“I’m just not ready yet. It’s too… I just can’t yet. I’ve been trying to figure out what he did to us. I asked everyone I could in the Desert Duchy. I asked, Remy, too. No one seems to know anything about these shifters. I need to know if there are … side effects. And I need to know if that jaguar man is going to come for us.”

She finally looked up. “He’s got my phone.” That explained why Mira hadn’t been returning her calls. “I think he might come after us.”

“Why?”

Mira blinked at Rey. “Why wouldn’t he? Am I not desirable even more than any other woman you have met?”

Rey just looked at Mira, and wondered if the backhanded insult was intentional or not. She figured not. “You think he’d come all the way from the middle of the South American jungle to get you?”

“If he is a primal shifter, one of the fae kind, then traveling the Fae Realm will not be so difficult for one such as him. But I hope that he doesn’t. I hope that he finds some other victim to satisfy his lust instead of you or me.” She didn’t sound very certain of that hope. “Even if I’m wrong, I’m still concerned about what it was he did to us. But no one seems to know.”

“That’s really not surprising,” Rey said. “If he’s anything like his animal, they’re very reclusive. There could also be very few of them. I’d think that if he really wanted you, he’d have found you by now.”

“Maybe so. But what if he does show up? You know, jaguars used to be found in New Mexico. I looked it up. They still are present in Arizona. If he knows old paths to this are, then I want to be prepared. I don’t want to be easy prey for him again. Or any of his kind.”

“Did where he lived look like he had any modern amenities? Like he cared anything about the world outside his territory?”

Mira shrugged. “I wasn’t paying attention to very much. It was a jungle, though. It seemed like jungle life.”

“If you’re worried about mind control,” Rey said, “I could make something for you, a little something to help defend yourself against that kind of thing.”

“That would be all kinds of helpful.” Mira was silent as she reflected how many times her will had been undermined in the past few years. It was a depressingly common occurrence. Worse, it was hard to be a tough, scary unseelie fae when it seemed like every supernatural thug with brain powers could push her around. “But I would still like to learn more about these were-jaguars. All my own resources have led to dead ends. Have you any ideas?”

Rey shook her head. “I’ve done a bit of digging on my own. I found some information about a group of werejaguars who were into human sacrifices, but I’m pretty sure the werejaguar we encountered isn’t part of that group.”

“Do you know anyone else who might know or be able to direct me to more information?”

“I don’t know anyone who could help,” Rey said. “But if you’re really that worried about that werejaguar showing up again, you might want to consider the risk of trying to find something in the library beyond the Sage’s Gate. I have no idea where to start there, though.”

“A library? But one in the Faerie Realm.” Mira wondered, “Can anything we learn there be trusted? Assuming we found anything we could use.”

“I have no idea,” Rey said. “The previous Lord Sage left no notes, or at least none that I could find. I don’t even know if materials found in the library can be brought to the Mainland. I haven’t tried.”

“That might be the best option, even so.” Mira was thoughtful as she considered again bringing up another option. It was one she didn’t like because it put her potentially at the mercy of an insane foe. “There is one other thing I thought of. I heard that the Lady of the Ishtar Gate had friends that were werecats. They might have the knowledge I need, but she is Seelie.”

“We might be able to work around that,” Rey said. “Chase has a pretty good idea of who’s where in Mythic when it comes to shifter territories. He might know where the cats are, and we could approach them ourselves. I’m not sure I’d trust anything Ishtar might tell us.”

Mira looked relieved. She didn’t know how trustworthy the Lady of the Ishtar gate might be. She only knew that no Seelie would cheaply provide something she wanted badly. Except for her friends, of course. “Do you think he’d really do that for me?”

“He’d do it for me,” was Rey’s reply. “And then we can go talk to the werecats together.” She certainly wouldn’t want Mira going there alone.

“It could be dangerous. Cats are unpredictable,” Mira predicted. But she was smiling.

“Like that’s ever stopped us from doing things,” Rey replied with a little snort.

Mira nodded. “That’s all too true. When do you think we might be able to ask him?”

“I can give him a call now,” Rey said. “See if he can meet tomorrow. But before then, you need to talk to Drake. Tell him what’s going on. He’s worried about you. He knows something’s wrong, but you wouldn’t talk to him.”

“It’s more than a little hard to admit everything I told you today. It feels impossible to tell him that stuff. I’m afraid he’ll be angry, or worse; he’ll pity me.”

“You don’t have to admit everything,” Rey replied. “Do you think you could tell him you were raped, and leaving it at that? He cares too much about you to blame you, or to pity you. And if he does, kick him to the curb.”

“I think he’ll be angry at whoever did it and want to poke him full of holes with that sword of his, and then I won’t tell him who and we’ll argue over it. He’ll think I’m protecting someone when I’m really not. I would, if I were in his hypothetical shoes.” Mira considered. “Then we might realize the whole thing was foolish to be angry with each other over and then have hot makeup sex. But that really only happens in romance novels, not my life.”

“Then my life,” Rey said with a secretive little smile, “must be a romance novel.”

“I have always thought so,” Mira said with stark honesty, “and have been jealous of it.” Mira shook her head though, her mind still chewing on the puzzle of what to tell Drake. “But you are right. I’ve known I have to talk to him about it sooner or later. If he’s already coming to you for answers, then soon it will be too late to hope to fix things. He’ll think I don’t trust him. So, I guess you are right. I have to tell him about it. I’ll tell him what I can, and it’ll have to be enough.”

“If he’s worth keeping, he’ll try to understand.” Rey assured her friend, and hoped she was right.

Mira agreed, then got up from her chair and hugged Rey to show how much she appreciated the help and understanding. She told Rey she’d call tomorrow morning to hear if Chase would meet with them.

---

The next day, when Mira called it was from a public number. Rey had left voice mail for Chase, who’d texted her back saying, they could talk about it over a couple beers at The Rusty Sprocket. It was a werewolf hangout now owned and operated by the Stormfront pack of ‘wolves.

The meeting was near sunset and Mira was treated to a glorious, orange view as the sun settled behind the western mountains. She’d walked and because it was a good five mile journey from the tall apartment that her vampire friend had provided for her and the season hot, she dressed in short cutoffs, a clingy baby doll tee and sandals. The tee sported an image of a very well-used voodoo doll with lots of pins sticking out of it. The caption read, “I still play with dolls.”

She walked past a row of motorcycles out front, then pushed open the door of the Rusty Sprocket. The place was a biker bar of the sort that everyone who went there knew everyone else. As she walked inside, conversations stopped and heads turned to stare at the new arrival. She ignored them all and looked around the bar until she saw familiar faces.

Spotting Rey and Chase sitting together at a table against the far wall, Mira continued toward them. They were seated on the same side of the table, giving Mira space across from them. Chase was tilting back in his chair, one hand on a beer, the other lightly resting on the small of Rey’s back.

“Hey,” Chase said by way of greeting.

“Hello.” Mira dragged a chair out but paused. “I should order something.”

Rey looked toward the bar and lifted her glass. “Lyla, another round,” she said with a smile at her friend.

Mira looked uncertainly over at the bar. The name of the gorgeous brunette working at the bar had sounded familiar, but she couldn’t quite place it. Lyla met her gaze and Mira started a bit. She looked away. “Wow, that’s a gorgeous bartender. And she’s got scary, weird eyes.” From Mira, it was a compliment, though not everyone knew that.

Rey saw that, even across the bar, Lyla continued to stare at Mira like she was burning holes with her gaze. She obviously heard that. The Fair One couldn’t help but sigh softly. She knew what was coming, but Mira was a big girl and she could take care of herself. Or she really ought to by now. Mira needed to establish herself with the people here, or she’d get no measure of respect. Rey sticking her nose in - unless things went really badly - would only make things worse. She wasn’t about to be declared responsible for all of Mira’s behavior by protecting her.

Mira finished sitting down and smiled at Chase and Rey. “It’s good to see you both together again.” She remembered the last time. It was around the time she was living with Rey. When Rey began dating she realized she was in the way. Especially when she walked in on a rather private moment.

She’d always liked Chase a lot better than Richard. Richard had never trusted Mira. But Chase was the sort of man that let you know where you stood. Mira was reasonably sure she was on his “people he tolerated just fine” list rather than the other one.

“Thanks,” Rey said, with a bemused look at Chase. “I think.” She knew he was aware how much she enjoyed being with him, even if it was for a beer and a bit of business.

A hand holding a pitcher intervened. Lyla had already filled one for them and brought an extra glass. “Cheaper to just get a pitcher,” she told them.

Mira poured topped off Chase’s and Rey’s glasses, then poured her own. Lyla was watching her, studying her almost.

“This looks good. What is it?” Mira asked of the pale brew.

“Michelob Light,” Lyla stated. “It’s cheap crap but that’s what Chase likes. Haven’t I seen you before?”

Mira looked up at her. “I don’t think so. I’d remember a face as pretty as yours.”

Lyla stared back at Mira. Then she said, “Well, welcome to the Rusty Sprocket. I’m Lyla.” She smiled in a friendly way suddenly.

Mira likewise sprouted a smile. “I’m Mira.” As Lyla grasped Mira’s offered hand, Mira added, “You must be a friend of Rey’s? I think she might have mentioned you once or twice. It’s nice to put a face to the name at last.”

“Mira.” Lyla’s smiled widened. “Oh, I remember meeting you before. You were a little preoccupied at the time.” She took Mira’s hand in both of hers and held them for a moment, then shifted her grip to Mira’s shoulder and whispered something into her ear.

Whatever Lyla said completely puzzled Mira. She turned her face and said, “Yes, of course I do.”

Lyla patted her shoulder, smiled and nodded, then headed back to the bar.

“What did she ask you?” Rey asked Mira, wondering what Lyla was up to.

Mira tried the the beer, made a face, then swallowed it down anyway. “Yuck,” she said. “I suppose it grows on you.” Chase nodded with a grin, and then she answered Rey’s question. “She asked if I liked boys.”

Rey blinked, then looked at Lyla then back at Mira. What was Lyla up to? Rey noticed some movement out of the corner of her eye, and when she looked, she saw it was one of the werewolves she’d seen for the first time. He’d been very interested in her, checking her out when she’d first come into the bar, until Chase had slipped an arm around her waist and escorted her to the table.

The werewolf didn’t look half bad, his short bleached hair spiked up a bit, and he wore his cycle leathers as if he were born in them. He wasn’t obviously muscled, but if his tight wife beater were any indication, he had the beginnings of a four-pack. If she wasn’t with Chase, Rey thought, she’d likely would have let him chat her up a bit before politely turning him down.

He was checking Mira out, and had actually turned slightly away from his table to get a better look at her.

Mira leaned across the table. Chase enjoyed the way her breasts brushed the tabletop but wisely kept that observation to himself. He wasn’t the only one watching, either. “Lyla is werewolf, too, isn’t she,” Mira said in a whisper.

“And she can hear every word you’re saying,” Rey replied. She didn’t add that likely every other person in the bar could too.

“Really?” Mira said, astonished. “That’s really sharp hearing. But you know what? Before we start talking about cats in a place full of wolves…” Mira blinked, shifted a little in her chair and looked around. She shook her head then continued. “Maybe I should go over there and thank her in person. Because of her and her friends I’m free right now. Last year, if she hadn’t helped, I might have been either killed or taken by those really bad werewolves.” Mira had said “thank” and she meant it. She knew very well that a thank you from one fae to another supernatural wasn’t something done lightly.

“Might be a good idea,” Rey said. The Stormfront pack hadn’t done it just to save her friend, but to strike a blow against those werewolves. They were troublemakers of the worst sort, the kind that gave even the least social Feral a bad name. She didn’t want to hold Mira back, however. Lyla had been insulted by Mira’s comments, and knowing Lyla as she did, Rey knew no good would come of it.

Chase said, “Given what we are here today to talk about, you might put some thought into making a good impression with the people here. Everyone here is important to Lyla. She and her mate lead the entire pack, so treating them well is the same as treating Lyla and Chaska well.”

The young man Rey had spotted checking Mira out couldn’t let such an opening just pass by. He swaggered over and stood next to Mira. “Hey buddy. Ma’am,” he said to Chase and Rey. “Mind if I join you guys?”

Rey glanced at Chase and Mira. She had no real objection, and it was early in the evening. Lots of time to talk about the werecats of Mythic City. Neither of them seemed to mind, so she nodded. “Sure.” Chase was right. Mira needed to make a good impression. Rey could have told her all that stuff about Lyla and Chaska, but she wasn’t feeling completely charitable toward her friend right now. Her right hand, which had been sitting in her lap, moved to rest on Chase’s denim clad thigh. Without looking at him, she curled her fingers and ran them along the inside of his thigh, just hard enough for him to notice through his jeans.

“Thanks.” He sat down on the empty chair next to Mira. “I’m Jason,” he said looking directly at Mira.

“Hello Jason. Nice to meet you,” Mira said, putting an effort into being friendly, though she was evidently uncomfortable with him that close to her.

“Sorry to intrude on you all, but when I saw three amazing people all gathered one table, it just cried out for a fourth.” He grinned. Mira rolled her eyes at the cheese.

And then a big hand appeared on Jason’s shoulder. “This kid bothering you Miss?” he asked Mira.

“Well…” Mira said, a little bewildered at what was going on.

She didn’t get a chance to finish as the stout newcomer lifted Jason out of the chair. “Hey! Aw come on, Zeke!”

“Scoot,” he ordered the young man. Before Jason left, though, he managed to lean over and catch Mira’s eye. “Later then, pretty girl?”

“Um.”

Then Jason was gone. In his place was a strong-looking man in his thirties. His skin had been roasted in the sun and weathered by wind, but he still looked strong and healthy for a man in his thirties. “My name’s Ezekiel, but most people just call me Zeke.”

Rey just smiled, and continued to let her fingers play over Chase’s leg, her touch becoming soothing when she sensed him tense when Zeke removed Jason and took his place. “Zeke,” she said in a pleasant and calm voice, “this is my friend Mira. Mira, Zeke is Lyla and Chaska’s enforcer in the pack, and is second only to them.” She hoped Mira got the hint, and wouldn’t do anything stupid. If Mira let things go too far, she’d have to step in and point out that Zeke has no mate. That, if anything, should get through to the nymph.

It seemed Mira had in fact picked up on Rey’s hint. She needed to be nice. “I’m honored to meet you. I believe you were one that was there personally when… I was in trouble last year.” Mira paused thoughtfully for a moment. Thanking them meant she recognized she was indebted to them. However, it seemed only fair. Some of these wolves had nearly died that night. “Will you accept my personal thanks on behalf of your leaders and the Storm Front pack?”

Zeke looked surprised, then took her hand in his. He kissed the back of her fingers. “It’s my pleasure to do so, Miss.”

Mira seemed to sigh not with her breath but with her body. She didn’t really like the idea she’d now carry a debt to Stormfront. She didn’t really know them. There didn’t seem to be another way. “It’s just Mira, please,” she told him.

“Mira. It’s a beautiful name. Latin, isn’t it?”

Mira blinked and nodded.

“It means, glory. You are very well named.”

Rey’s hand left Chase’s leg because she gently nudged him in the ribs with her elbow. “You never kiss my hand or talk to me that way,” she complained playfully in a soft voice”.

Mira heard and blushed. She was wondering why she was feeling so warm.

Chase said, “Me? Talk like that? Zeke here has himself an education, a glamorous profession, wealth… He’s got it all and can pull off that kind of thing. You’ll just have to be satisfied with my muscles and my adequate performance in bed.”

“Ah, so that’s what you call it,” Rey murmurs with a raised eyebrow and a little smile, and her hand returns to where it was on his leg, but her fingers remain still.

“More than adequate, from what I say,” said Mira. If she was hoping to make Chase blush, though, it didn’t work. He just grinned.

Zeke said, “Is Lyla trying to make you drink the swill Chase orders?”

“Mm? Oh the beer.”

“I don’t think this place has the kind of drinks you are used to, but if you give me a chance, I might find something palatable for you.”

“You don’t need to do that, Zeke,” Mira said. “I’m fine with the swill. Really.”

Zeke laughed and headed back to the bar.

“I can’t believe you still want to drink this stuff, even when it’s on my dime,” Rey said with a smile. “You certainly weren’t shy about drinking the stuff on tap at the Pipe and Fiddle.”

Chase shrugged. “I’m not picky.”

Mira said quietly, “What’s with everyone hitting on me -- nevermind. There are like only two women in here not counting Rey, me and Lyla.” She shook her head. “Can we talk about the werejaguars?”

Chase looked over Mira’s shoulder thoughtfully. Rey saw Lyla looking in their direction. “No, I don’t think so,” he said. “Not time yet.”

Mira sat back, baffled by Chase’s behavior. She looked to Rey for help.

Rey shook her head as her gaze followed Chase’s. Zeke was at the bar, talking to Lyla, as Lyla was mixing something. “Let’s just relax a bit longer, and enjoy our beer.” Lyla had something going on, and Rey wasn’t about to interfere. “We’ve got some time.” She glanced at Chase, then lowered her voice a bit. “Mira, you are in a… particular interest to werewolves, or any Feral to be honest. You fit a certain profile that makes us very attractive as potential mates - you’re immune to the virus they carry.” She deliberately didn’t mention her own situation, either before she was taken by the Lord of the Crossroads, or afterwards.

Zeke returned with a dark red drink that had some kind of frothy top. “We don’t carry a lot of stuff for mixed drinks, but give this a try.” He placed it in front of Mira but remained standing until Mira relented and asked him to sit.

Rey looked at Lyla and raised an eyebrow, but the werewolf alpha was facing a different direction.

Mira tried the drink. Then she took a second to help make up her mind. Finally, she said, “It’s really good! What’s in it?”

Zeke chuckled, pleased. “I’m not sure exactly. Just some soda water, grenadine and some schnapps of some kind. On top she put whipped cream, said that was her own addition. Made it a little sweeter?”

Mira nodded. “I like it.”

“Mira,” Rey said softly. “Were you able to get a hold of Drake?” It was time to bring Mira’s boyfriend into the picture, before things went too far. Rey liked Zeke, and didn’t want him to invest too much only to be disappointed.

“No. He’s teaching fencing classes at night,” she said.

Zeke asked, “Drake?”

Mira looked sheepish. “My boyfriend.” At his expression, she added, “I’m sorry Zeke. You are a very charming man. If I was available, I’d jump, uh, at the chance to spend time with you.”

He patted her hand. “No harm done, Mira. I can’t say I’m not disappointed.” He stood up. “Well, I won’t interfere with the rest of your evening.” He nodded at Rey and Chase, but it seemed he’d run out of words and so he simply walked away.

Rey sighed, and she absently let her fingers stroke Chase’s leg. Zeke deserved to have someone, but it looked like he was going to remain single. With her free hand, she picked up her beer and took a sip. “Next time, Chase, I’m ordering the beer.”

Over the next hour, Mira had to rebuff renewed attempts from Jason and two other men who thought themselves irresistible to women. Rey was distracted by Chase’s under-the-table attention, but she distinctly heard Mira say, “Just get lost!” at least once.

Drinks kept coming in and she was halfway through the second “special” when finally she climb up on top of her chair. “Okay, listen up people!” Mira yelled. “I am not fresh meat! I am not your sex object, and I am not here looking for a one night stand. I’m here to talk with my friends. I have a boyfriend. If or when I choose to change that situation, I will seek one of you out. Understand?”

The bar was quiet for a moment. Then someone muttered, “bitch”. At that, Lyla intervened. “All right boys. We’re done. Mira, carry on. When I want something from you, I’ll let you know through Rey.”

Mira stiffened at that, but she got down off her chair before she fell down. She looked unhappy and harassed. Rey could see that her mind was already working out some crazy revenge. Best to move on and perhaps get down to business.

“It’s getting late,” Rey said, finally returning her hand to her own lap and leaving Chase alone, and she looked at him as if nothing was wrong. “What can you tell us about the werecats that live in Mythic.”

“There is a small pride of them downtown. I ran across one of them running down a bail jumper. Scrappy fellow,” Chase remarked. “Tricky. They were very prickly about me being in their territory. Then there is that other group I heard has come in recently. Live out in the mountains somewhere.”

Mira paled. Rey thought she was going to faint.

“Who are they,” Rey asked him, hoping he wasn’t going to say jaguars.

Chase shrugged. “Big cats, I think. Not like the ones in town. I caught the scent, then steered clear because there was more than just one. But they’d be hard to find. You’ll have better luck trying to talk to the pride in town. I don’t think they’d kill you on sight or anything. No guarantees with shifters you don’t know, right?”

Mira grabbed his arm to get his attention. “Where, Chase?”

He pulled her hands off his arm while he spoke. “I couldn’t say exactly. It’s probably a large territory. I was southwest of Santa Fe.”

“Calm down, Mira,” Rey said softly. “We’ll talk to the pride in town, and then go on from there.” She turned her attention back to Chase. “Any idea how long the ones in the mountains have been there?” If he didn’t know, Rey thought, Chaska and Lyla might.

“Nope,” Chase said with a shake of his head. “What do you want with them anyway? I doubt they’ll be interested in a Q&A session.”

“That’s my business,” Mira said quietly. “Please leave it alone. But I appreciate the information you could provide.”

Chase watched her with a puzzled expression.

Rey watched Mira for a moment as well. She couldn’t understand her friend’s obsession with the idea that the werejaguar would follow them here. No, that wasn’t true. She could understand it, but Rey could not bring herself to be so concerned about it. She seriously doubted if the jaguar would follow them all the way here. What scent would he follow, and the pathways they took had been long and convoluted. But Mira was truly worried, so she was going to help her come to terms with it.

She needed to think, now, about how to approach the pride in downtown Mythic. “Could you tell me where the edges of the downtown pride’s territory are?” How should they go about contacting them. Just stand there at the edge of their territory and wait? Go wandering in and hope they’re willing to talk first?

Chase nodded. He described an area that included a few blocks surrounding an old hotel that had been remodeled and used as some kind of boarding house.

“I don’t suppose you know the name of their alpha?” Rey asked.

“Nope.” Chase added, “Honestly, if I were you two I’d let go of whatever it is you wanted to contact them about. It just isn’t worth the risk. I wouldn’t take the risk.”

If Chase said it wasn’t worth the risk, then that was something worth thinking about. Maybe. Sometimes it was hard for her to guess what mattered to him and what didn’t. Rey looked at Mira. “We could ask Less for his help.” Less’ network of spies had eyes everywhere, both in the city itself and the neighboring Faerie areas. Surely they could be put to task looking for signs of the werejaguar’s presence.

Mira nodded slowly. Less had seen everything that happened. Well, not everything but more than enough. She was embarrassed by that. It felt a little like … she put the thought away. It was why she hadn’t gone to him already. But Rey was right. Asking for Less to help would be a lot safer than trying to make contact with shifters they knew nothing about. “He would help. He almost gave his life when we were in trouble. Bought us an opportunity to get out of there with his blood. I think he would help again.”

“Then we’ll give him a call in the morning,” Rey said, glad that was settled.

Mira said, “I appreciate you coming out and everything, Chase. You too, Rey. I’m sorry I wasted everyone’s time.” Looking dejected, she stood up and trudged out of the bar.

“We probably ought to make sure she gets home okay,” Rey said softly.

Chase was about to reply, but Lyla had heard and was stopping to pick up used glasses anyway. She said, “Why bother? She got here on her own just fine. And, she had her pick of most of the men in this bar. Good men. She made her choice clear.” She finished picking up the table and left.

Rey shook her head. “Mira can take care of herself,” she said to Chase. “But I’m worried about anyone who makes her angry. She can be very dangerous, and in the mood she’s in, she just might take it out on any idiot who gets in her way, or thinks she’ll be an easy target.”

Chase was surprised. “She’s really that dangerous? She doesn’t look it.” He shook his head and stood up. “I guess we better head out of here.”

Rey stood, and with a quick goodbye, left the Rusty Sprocket with Chase. Lyla had swiped in Rey’s credit card number and would close out the tab later, and Rey trusted her not to pad the bill. She hoped, if they were able to catch up with Mira, to call her friend a cab to take her home. She knew Mira did not like being in debt, but Rey would just tell her, as usual, to pay her back when she had money.

They took Chase’s bike and soon found Mira walking on the sandy, rocky soil next to the designated sidewalk. She was barefoot despite the sharp stones, carrying her sandals in one hand. Chase slowed down and stopped.

Mira turned to look at them. She seemed a down, as she had when she left the bar.

“How about I call you a cab,” Rey said. “It’ll be safer.”

“Santa Fe is Desert Duchy turf. I’m fine, but I appreciate the thought,” Mira said.

“I’m not worried about you,” Rey replied. “I’m worried about idiots who think you’re an easy target.”

“Keeps the streets of the town safe for women if I keep down the numbers of jerks roaming them,” Mira said a little darkly.

“Perhaps,” Rey said. “But I don’t think it’s a good idea for thugs to get slaughtered so close to my friends’ place. It would draw too much attention.”

“I suppose.”

Mira stayed there while Rey called a cab. When that was complete, Mira said, “I’m not really angry. I’m just a little off because of that news Chase gave us and because I had a frustrating time at the bar tonight. I feel like it was a waste of time. No offense meant, Chase.”

Chase shrugged and grunted noncommittally. He wasn’t offended.

“I’m sure we’ll get everything sorted out sooner rather than later,” Rey said, and hoped her voice reflected how much she believed that.

“Yeah,” Mira agreed. “You’re right. Less is very good at what he does and I think he’d do anything for us, even if he went a little too far that one time.”

Of course, the “one time” wasn’t really just one time. And by “little too far” she actually referred to a grave invasion of her own privacy. Mira had forgiven him more quickly than Rey had, and it seemed that whatever happened, it hadn’t shaken her trust in him.

Rey made her own little noncommittal noise. “Did you want me to call him?”

“Yes, please. But make it a few days. There are some things I need to do first,” Mira said.

“Okay. Let me know when you want it to happen.” Rey adjusted her seat on the motorcycle, snuggling up closer behind Chase.

“I will,” Mira said.

Taking the hint, Chase put the bike in gear and with a wave to Mira, accelerated away.