Authors: Christine Warren
FUR FOR ALL
Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc. USA
Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Ltd. UK
PO Box 787
Hudson OH 44236
MS Reader (LIT) # 1-84360-681-X
Other available formats (no ISBNs are assigned): Adobe (PDF), Rocketbook (RB), Mobipocket (PRC) & HTML
FUR FOR ALL © 2003 CHRISTINE WARREN.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part without permission.
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. They are productions of the authors’
imagination and used fictitiously.
Edited by KAREN W. WILLIAMS
Cover Art by DARRELL KING
FUR FOR ALL
By Christine Warren
Special thanks to Bunny, who got me interested in herbs, and answered all the questions I asked, even at the oddest hours of the day and night. When I shouted them from halfway across the house. Through a couple of closed doors.
Fixed 5: Fur For All
The minute Rafael De Santos stepped out of the front door of Vircolac, he knew he was being followed. He could have credited a sort of preternatural sixth-sense for the knowledge, a combination of the heightened hearing and sight of his feline heritage, but that wouldn’t have been precisely true. Because the fact was, whoever was tailing him was doing a piss poor job.
Maybe Rafe’s perceptions of this sort of thing had been colored by all the time he spent with the Lupines of the Silverback Clan, who were renowned for their abilities at covert actions like tails and stakeouts. It could be that the contrast between their expert maneuvers and the bungling of the figure behind him tonight made an otherwise perfectly adequate tail look inept. Then the tail tripped over a crack in the sidewalk and fell sideways into a garbage can and Rafe shook his head. No, his stalker really was that bad.
Which begged the question, why was the person tailing him in the first place? To begin with, Rafe was
in the sort of neighborhood where one was likely to be mugged. Admittedly, crime in Manhattan knew no real borders, but this swanky neighborhood in the Upper East Side was as safe as you were likely to get without abandoning the city entirely. So he didn’t think the tail was a common street thug.
He supposed it could be another Felix come to challenge him for his territory, but judging by the figure’s general size and shape—not to mention apparent clumsiness—the upstart would be in for a rude surprise if he attempted anything of the sort. Again, not very likely. He briefly considered the possibility it might be another rogue Fae. After the incident a few months ago with Seoc and Fergus and the ruckus those escapees from Faerie had caused, just the thought 5
made Rafe nervous. But again, this tail was way too clumsy to be one of the Beautiful People.
So what was left? Rogue Lupine sounded about as likely as a Felix challenger, given their proximity to Graham Winters’ home and business. Any werewolf who attempted to act without Graham’s consent in the heart of that Alpha’s own territory would be three steps past stupid and not a little foolhardy, and would likely have charged him by now. It was a puzzle, and Rafe was enough a man of his blood to be very curious about puzzles.
Keeping his gaze straight ahead and his pace steady, he quietly turned the tables on his stalker and let the hunter become the hunted.
It didn’t take much for him to win the advantage. In his tailored suit and Italian loafers, he had the advantage of surprise. No one ever expected an obviously wealthy man to know the first thing about defending himself or about tracking prey. Luckily, Rafe was more than just another wealthy man.
He was Felix.
He felt his mouth curve at the inherent arrogance in that statement of fact.
There didn’t seem to be a way to state it without arrogance. His people had been worshipped as gods centuries before man ever entertained the thought that a single god might sustain the complexity of human life. That sort of thing tended to breed arrogance in a man. Then of course, the very nature of the cat beast within him made arrogance an indelible stamp on his nature. The jaguar occupied the top of the food chain in its native jungles of South America. When one had no rivals at all, one stopped seeing rivals even when they existed.
Rafe liked to think he was more than his beast, though, more than the jaguar spirit that slept within him. He embraced and appreciated that part of his ancestry, that aspect of his nature, but as a modern civilized man, he liked to think of his nature as more complex than ‘man by day and jaguar by night.’
Fixed 5: Fur For All
He had, after all, grown up in a penthouse apartment in Manhattan, not in the dense, tropical jungles of his father’s childhood. He had attended private schools and a prestigious university, learned how to ace an exam and order fine wine for sophisticated companions. He knew which fork to use at even the most exalted tables and could debate with intelligence and gusto topics ranging from Kierkegard to Handl to the politics of eastern European nationalism. And he could do it all with a droll wit and an urbane smirk.
But none of that negated the feral predator lurking in his soul. The one that knew it could turn on his would-be stalker and rip out the man’s throat before he could even voice a scream in protest. It was the same beast that first realized his stalker smelled like a woman. And not just any woman. She smelled like a witch.
The fragrance roused his curiosity even higher. Witches and werefolk rarely had contact with one another, and it had been that way for as long as Rafe could remember. He had heard a few stories over the years about why that was the case—tales that ranged from stories about ancient race wars inspired by divine edict, to a magical version of the Hatfields, the McCoys and that infamous pig.
Rafe doubted either story could claim itself as the whole truth, but he realized he’d never before bothered to wonder about it. Not until he found himself being stalked by a female witch on a deserted street in Upper Manhattan on a Wednesday night. Funny how that sort of thing could spring itself on a man…
More determined than ever to satisfy his curiosity by finding out what the stalking witch wanted with him, Rafe continued to lead his unsuspecting hunter straight into a trap. He imagined things could get interesting tonight, and after a run of boring business meetings, the diversion might prove to be just what he needed.
* * * * *
Tess Menzies stifled a snicker as she crouched in the shadows of an old brownstone, her eyes glued to the elegant façade of the building across the street.
She’d been lurking here for close to three hours, and her muscles had long ago given up their protests. She hoped that wouldn’t pose a problem when she tried to force them to move again. According to her intelligence, her mark should be making his move any second now.
The thought inspired yet more snickering. This whole episode just screamed for the use of language like “mark” and “intelligence” even though the closest Tess herself had ever come to espionage or intrigue was watching old Humphrey Bogart movies on satellite. The idea that she’d gone straight from curling up on her sofa in Tribeca on dateless Saturday nights with a bowl of popcorn and the opening credits of
The Maltese Falcon
to staking out a private club on the Upper East Side…that just struck her funny.
She supposed her grandfather could have picked someone less suited for carrying out this particular favor, but she figured it would have taken a lot of time and some serious effort. After all, she knew of one former marine, three former police officers, a retired private investigator and a reformed thief just in her grandfather’s immediate circle of friends. Any of them could probably have located this man and delivered their message with a tenth of the fuss and muss Tess instinctively knew she could cause given half the chance. She just had a knack for these things. You’d think her grandfather would take that into consideration before assigning her this kind of task. But no. When Grandfather got a notion into his head, nothing short of a seismic catastrophe could shake him from his course, and the jury still deliberated over whether even that could do the job.
Sighing, Tess wrapped her arms around herself and chafed her hands up and down to try and generate some heat. The crisp October night that had felt so 8
Fixed 5: Fur For All
pleasant just an hour ago had taken a decidedly chilly turn. She indulged in a moment of regret that she hadn’t stopped to fill a thermos with coffee before she set herself up here to wait, but shrugged it off. If she had coffee, she’d be drinking it, and if she drank coffee, she’d have to pee, so it really was just as well.
She couldn’t exactly knock on the door of the building she was using for concealment and ask to use their bathroom. She’d probably give the poor owners a heart attack.
Since she had read somewhere once that the best cure for boredom on a stakeout was fantasizing, Tess let her mind wander down that path for a minute.
She could just see herself, clad head to toe in black, from her black jeans and supple black boots, to her thin, black turtleneck sweater. She looked more like a cat burglar than anything else. Not exactly a reassuring sight to find on one’s doorstep at two thirty-seven a.m. She swallowed another chuckle and shifted her weight subtly, her gaze still on the doors across the street. Her little fantasy was probably way off base, though. Judging by the ornately carved doors of the buildings around her, the beautiful, historical architecture and the pricey addresses, no one on this block or the next answered his own door, even at two thirty-seven a.m. That, she assumed with a smirk, was what butlers were for.
In that respect, Tess was certainly out of her element here in the land of milk and money. Her own perfectly adequate loft a block shy of SoHo would probably fit inside the foyers of most of the houses on this street, especially the house she currently had her eye on. The four-story limestone building sat in the middle of the block like a
holding court. It bore no signs—unless you counted the classic brass address numbers as a sign—or other marks that indicated it housed one of the most exclusive and prestigious private clubs in all of Manhattan. But then, when your club catered to vampires, werewolves and other creatures of the night, neon was probably not that great a choice.
For at least the last two centuries, Vircolac had easily reigned as the best kept secret in Manhattan. The only reason Tess had learned of it was because the Witches’ Council had a vested interest in some of the most important people who passed through its thick, oak doors. Well, people might not exactly be the correct term, since the membership of Vircolac consisted entirely of the less human members of New York society. Vampires, werewolves and shapeshifters of all kinds filled the club’s membership list, and the only humans who ever made it past the doorman were rumored to be closely connected with the club’s owner, Graham Winters. A werewolf himself, Winters supposedly kept a tight rein on his club and on the Silverback Clan, the werewolf pack he led. In his spare time, Tess supposed wryly.
Winters, though, was not why she was crouching in the shadows of a stairway on a Wednesday night in October. She didn’t have to deal with the werewolf, thank the gods. Her grandfather had sent her here to bell the cat.
Rolling her eyes, Tess shifted her weight and sighed. Right. Like she was so qualified to chase down a werecat with nothing more going for her than a diplomatic message and a sunny disposition. Looking back at her conversation with her grandfather, she could recall bringing up those very salient points to him, as well. She had mentioned that she wasn’t even a member of the Witches’
Council, let alone a representative; that she had precisely no knowledge of or experience with werefolk of any kind and generally tended to end up with her foot in her mouth at any and all available opportunities. So what made
the choice for this assignment again?