"Nothing," he said, "I will see you tonight then, ma petite, you and your new friends."
I started to say they weren't new friends, but he'd already hung up. I realized as I hung up, I should have lied about speaking Italian, but hell, as good as I'd gotten at lying, my first reaction was still to tell the truth. I guess you can't undo all your upbringing, no matter how hard you try.
We sent Gregory in his kitty-cat fur down to watch Damian. Gregory was about the only one in the house not tied to me metaphysically. Well, okay, Fredo and Dr. Lillian, but Fredo wouldn't leave her alone, and Dr. Lillian said she wasn't finished with Richard's arm. So process of elimination made it Gregory's job.
He informed me as he glided toward the basement, with his spotted tail swishing behind a very human-looking backside, "I'm supposed to be on stage tonight at Guilty Pleasures. I can't go on like this. Jean-Claude will need to find a sub." He gave that kitty-cat grin of bared teeth and vanished around the corner.
"What does he mean, he's supposed to be on stage?" Clair asked.
"He's a stripper at Guilty Pleasures," I said.
She made a little O with her mouth. I wasn't sure why, unless her world was so protected that just being in the car with a stripper was a big deal. For her sanity's sake, I hoped her world was bigger than that.
"But, I don't understand, why can't he"--she made a waffling motion with her hands--"perform tonight?"
Richard saved me the lecture. "Remember that once in animal form you have to stay that way for six to eight hours."
"I thought that was just because I was new."
Richard shook his head, winced as if it hurt, and said, "No, most shapeshifters spend their lives tied to a cycle of six to eight hours in animal form, then two to four hours of being passed out once they shift back to human form."
"Sit down," Dr. Lillian said, and her voice indicated she expected to be obeyed.
He eased himself into the same chair he'd vacated. There were lines at his eyes and mouth, those tight pain lines you get sometimes, if something really hurts. How much damage had Damian done to him?
Clair tried to help him into the chair but seemed unsure where to grab him, since he used his good arm on the table to brace himself. She sort of hovered uncertainly by him, as if she wanted to help but wasn't quite sure how. "But you don't have to stay in animal form for eight hours, and you don't pass out when you shift back."
"He is your Ulfric," Fredo said, "no one's king is that weak." His voice was deeper than his chest was wide.
Clair gave him quick eye flicks, as if he made her nervous. Maybe it was the knives. "Do you pass out when you come back into human form?" she asked in a voice that matched the nervous eyes.
"No," he said.
"I do," Nathaniel said. He smiled at her. "Don't ask the rest of them, they'll all make you feel bad, because they don't pass out either."
"How long have you been..." Her voice trailed off.
"A wereleopard," he finished for her.
"Three years," he said.
I did quick math in my head. "That means that Gabriel brought you over when you were seventeen."
He nodded. "Yes."
"That's illegal," I said.
"It's illegal in most states to contaminate anyone willingly with a potential fatal disease, regardless of age," Richard said.
I shook my head. "I guess I'm starting to treat lycanthropy the way the law treats vampirism. If you're eighteen you can choose."
"The law doesn't treat it the same," he said.
I knew that, but I'd spent so much time among the shapeshifters, that I just sort of forgot. Careless of me. "I guess I forgot."
"And you a federal marshal," he said, but the biting comment lacked snap, because he hunched with pain at the same time.
"How hurt are you?" I asked.
"I'll answer that," Dr. Lillian said. She smiled, but her eyes were serious. "If he were human he'd stand a very good chance of losing the use of that arm. Maybe he'd regain 50 percent, maybe less mobility. Your vampire severed muscles and ligaments all through the shoulder and upper chest region."
"But he's not human," I said, "so he'll heal." I let the "your vampire" comment go. I liked the doc, and I didn't want to fight.
"He'll heal, but it will take days, maybe weeks, if he refuses to shift."
"I promise that I will shift to wolf form when I get home."
She looked at him like she didn't believe him.
"Just because I can shift back to human form almost immediately doesn't mean that it doesn't come with a price. I'd rather not be exhausted for the rest of the day. If I shift and stay in animal form for a couple of hours, it will be less of a drain when I go back to human form." I think he was lecturing more for Clair's sake than anyone else's. She really was new. "So I'll wait until I get home, so Clair won't have to explain why she's driving around with a werewolf in the car." That last sounded a tad bitter.
"He won't say it, so I will. I'm new enough that if one of my pack switches form, sometimes it brings on my change, too. And I'm not trustworthy when I first turn animal." She looked down, not meeting anyone's eyes.
Richard took her hand. "It's alright, Clair, everyone has problems at first."
Everyone nodded, some said "yes." That seemed to cheer her a little. She looked younger than I'd thought at first, maybe twenty-four, twenty-five, maybe a little younger. If she hadn't been Richard's new girlfriend, I would have asked. But it seemed like prying and none of my business.
"Even if you shift at home, I've never seen you heal this much damage in forty-eight hours," Dr. Lillian said.
"So?" he said, sounding defensive. Had I missed something?
"If you go to school on Monday with your arm useless and then by Friday it's usable, don't you think some of your fellow teachers might wonder about your remarkable recovery?"
"I'll make up a less traumatic injury, something that could heal that fast."
She shook her head. "If they find out you're a werewolf, they won't let you teach children."
"I know that," he said, voice fierce, and the first thread of his power trickled through the air like a line of heat.
Clair's breath came out in a quiver. She looked dizzy. Micah put a chair under her, and helped Richard ease her into it.
"How long has she been a werewolf?" I asked.
"Three months," he said.
I looked at him, and he wouldn't meet my eyes. "Three months, and you took her outside a safe house less than a week before the full moon?"
"Doesn't your house qualify as a safe house?" he asked.
"You can come here to shift form, but I don't have a reinforced room." Most true safe houses had a room with a steel door and reinforced concrete walls. Most people put the rooms down in their basements and just told those who asked it was storage.
"We were supposed to have a picnic today," Clair said in her small, uncertain voice.
I had to turn around so Richard wouldn't see my face. You did not take a brand-new shifter out for a picnic, if she was having this kind of trouble.
"She was fine this morning," he said.
I turned around when I was sure my face would be blank enough.
"She's responding to your anger, and your beast," Micah said.
"I know that," Richard said, a hint of a growl in his voice.
She swayed in her chair.
"Richard," Dr. Lillian said, "you have better control than this."
He just nodded.
Lillian sighed. "If there was a way to heal your arm before Monday, your secret would be safe."
"No," Richard said.
It took me a moment to get the hint. "If you're suggesting what I think you're suggesting, not only no, but hell no."
She put her hands on her h*ps and actually stamped her foot. "You are both being childish."
We said no simultaneously.
"Fine, then I've done all I can for your arm. I will stay until we are certain that the vampire isn't going to rise and cause more havoc."
"His name is Damian," I said.
She nodded. "Damian, then, but if you won't let her help you, then I think you and Clair need to go to your house. I would suggest that you take her to the room in your basement, before you shift. She seems very swayed by your power." She said the last as if she wanted to say something different, but thought better of it.