Vradin, Chapter Sixteen

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The ride over with the Peaceful in his car had been an exercise in control.

His wolf side urged him to seal her to him, and the scent of her, even tired and stressed and coated with tones of antiseptics and macadam — asphalt they called it around here — even with all the scents that should have distracted his nose, the simple smell of her hardened his dick.

Splinters of the spike of fear that had curdled his blood when he realized that the girls hadn’t made it home were still prickling his consciousness. By the time he had called up his Watcher for a status update, the emergency band had already calmed down from the initial activity following the attempted abduction at the Lakewood station house. While that was an interesting development, Paris hadn’t connected the abduction attempt with anything that might indicate their Peaceful was involved.

Carl texted Jody while Tank was on the line with Paris. The old dog liked being called Perry, but hated when people tied that to Perry Como or Perry Mason, even if he was, also, an investigator of sorts.

When Jody had taken an hour to respond to Carl’s text, that initial stirring of fear had kicked up a notch or three billion.

They left the movie theater just before ten that evening. Jody’s response came near midnight that they were at the police station because “creepy guy followed us”. Carl called right away, but got her voicemail. She called back soon after and was able to confirm that they were safe — all of them — but they were being asked about the incident. When Carl offered to come escort them home, she took a moment to say anything, but in the end she agreed to him meeting her at her apartment.

Tank had a very severe freak out moment, as Paul would have called it, when Jody arrived alone. He was ready to head directly over to St. Claire’s and take apart the entire hospital if that was what it took to make sure Zoe was alive and okay.

Jody had stopped him.

“Boy, you go anywhere near the poor girl in the state you’re in and she’s going to take off running for dear life! She’s safe. Her cousin’s a cop, and he’s with her, and by now, so is her father, too. Danny already said she’ll be home tonight, and I’ll be waiting up for her any way. Why don’t you pace in here, where you can calm down and not freak out our little mouse with your intensity, okay?”

Tank had to give the woman credit; she held his gaze without flinching or challenging him, just a serenity that, having tasted the real thing with Zoe, poorly emulated Peace. But a poor imitation was better than nothing right then, and he had conceded her point.

And now Zoe was in his home, tucked up in the bedroom beside his own. Her roommate was in the second of four guest bedrooms in the house, on the other side of Zoe. Zoe’s scent and her Peace were filling his home for the second time. And he was standing in his kitchen, watching the sun rise while he drank a cup of coffee and trying very hard not to climb into Zoe’s bed just to hold on to her while she slept.

His phone rang with the tone that he used for business contacts, and he slipped into the persona of Jeremy Griswald, general contractor.

Dillon came into his home office an hour later, carrying four boxes of the Christmas-tree style string lights. Two were white and two were purple.

“I was lucky to find these at the Rite Aid, what with them being off season and all. Should I try again this afternoon on the way back in?” the young cub asked.

Tank read the length of the cords and said, “Maybe. I’ll let you know when our Peaceful wakes up. Anything come up on the Roy site?”

“Just a cow from the dairy down the road. Rory took it back to them. Rode it back, in fact. If Paul wants to start up a farm, I think Rory would enjoy returning to his cowboy days.”

Tank filed that thought away. He handed the pup a sheaf of papers and a tube with blueprints in it. “Take that,” Tank said, tapping the tube, “over to the West Group site in Kent and those papers to Tom. He should be at the job site in Puyallup today.”

“Ayup, boss man,” Dillon answered, heading out the door.

The pup stumbled and turned frightened eyes toward Tank as a wave of disorientation swept out from the Peaceful.

“It’ll be fine. Our Peaceful had a stressful night and it seems she’s waking up. New place, strange surroundings. You’ve been through it yourself before, haven’t you?” Tank pitched his voice low and soothing, and Dillon relaxed almost immediately.

“Ayup, I have at that. I- Do you … do you ever miss the Old Den?”

Whatever showed on Tank’s face made the pup flinch and cringe back, undoing the work Tank had put into soothing him. With a mental sigh, Tank forced his body to display a calm that he did not feel, and explained. “Peace, Dillon, peace. There are parts of the Old Den that I miss, like the forest and scent of the lunar flowers, but it had a way of eating up all we held dear. For one, the Rage is much strengthened there. Do you think Rory or Kyle would survive if their Rage was greater? For all the complexity of the world we live in, we can live here in a way that we could not there.”

Dillon, brave lad, asked, “But with a Peaceful, we could go back, couldn’t we? We wouldn’t have to fight the Rage, and then–”

Tank shook his head, cutting off the fantasy before it could sprout any further. “No, because there are no Peaceful in the Old Den. The Montang slays them all lest one enslave him and through him all of vradin-kind. Even with the weapons of Dimeter, we cannot slay the Montang.”

The wave of disorientation subsided, and a different note filled his home, one he couldn’t quite place.

“Be off with you, pup. The day is long and just begun.”

Dillon nodded, distracted by the Second Loss, as the pack had termed the realization that they would not return to the land of their birth, and left.