About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Nearly dragging the veterinarian behind me, I raced up the tight and twisting stairs, desperate for him to treat my boyfriend. It was just after two P.M. and the vet, Dr. Geoffrey Lincoln, was already well acquainted with his patient, Johnny Newman. What other type of doctor would make an emergency house call to treat a wÆrewolf?
Johnny, wearing only dark jeans and an Ace bandage wrapped high around his rib cage, lay on his narrow bed in the attic bedroom of my saltbox farmhouse. Despite a grimace of pain, he made no sound.
As soon as Kirk, a wÆrewolf from Johnny’s pack, saw the doc and me enter the room, he rose from the folding chair next to the bed. He hadn’t moved since we’d gotten Johnny in the bed hours earlier. Kirk nodded at us and then walked quietly to the foot of the bed.
Dr. Lincoln set his bag on the chair, pulled latex gloves from it, and bent to inspect Johnny’s wound. It kept seeping blood and had completely saturated numerous gauze pads and two of the elastic wraps already. In the time I’d been gone, the blood had again soaked through layers of padding and was darkening the bandage like an ever-expanding Rorschach blot.
I hoped that I appeared to be holding myself together and functioning, but my shaking hands threatened to expose my counterfeit calm. This is all wrong. Johnny was in wolf form when injured. These wounds should have healed when he transformed back, but they didn’t. My fears ricocheted inside me like wild bullets—the crossfire could shatter my cool and collected faÇade at any moment, exposing my panic.
A veterinarian by trade, Doc Lincoln had experience with the traumatic wounds animals sometimes inflicted on each other, and he had treated Johnny and other wÆres before. At five-foot-nine, with receding brown hair, brown eyes, and glasses, the doctor appeared at first glance to be an average man, but the fact that he was willing to provide care to wÆrewolves—albeit secretly—made him very special indeed.
He took a pair of scissors from his bag and cut carefully through the wrapped bandage. “I need more light.”
When Johnny moved his rock ’n’ roll self in a few weeks ago, he’d brought a table lamp made from a guitar neck. I jerked the shade off and twisted the little knob. A hundred watts brightened the narrow, slope-sided room.
“Hold it closer.”
I stretched the lamp’s cord as far as possible. Under the harsh illumination, he peeled the bandage back and exposed Johnny’s gruesome chest injury. The three jagged slashes were deep, each at least six inches long. Despite the swelling, each time Johnny inhaled the wounds gaped wider. Fresh blood welled up, flowing across his chest. It was thick enough to hide the winged pentacle tattoo that spanned his pectorals.
Dr. Lincoln examined the gashes, and even though his touch seemed light, Johnny grimaced, compressing his features so tightly the Wedjat tattoos around his eyes almost disappeared. But the “wolf king” does not whimper. He had recently revealed to his pack he was the fated Domn Lup, able to make a full transformation at will, not just when the moon was full.
At least the doctor was here now. He’d know what to do to help Johnny. Doing something, anything, was better than the helplessness I’d felt while waiting for him to show up.
As he completed his examination, the doc’s thin lips pressed into a firm line and he announced, “I’ve sewn up worse on you, John, but this doesn’t show any indication of that accelerated healing you wÆrewolves are notorious for. Was it silver that cut you?”
“Nope.” Johnny shot me a grim look that, in effect, passed the task of answering the doctor’s question to me.
Johnny’s wounds had been inflicted by a phoenix raking him with her claws during a dawn battle with fairies. Another consequence of that battle was the myriad elementals—unicorns, griffons, dragons, phoenixes—now grouped in the wooded grove behind my house. I was planning to ask the doc if he’d serve as their vet—several of them were injured.
But, for now, if I told him the source of the injury was a creature that supposedly didn’t exist, he’d go all skittish and spew questions. He wouldn’t believe it until he saw it for himself, so I answered cryptically. “It was a creature of magic that cut him.”
“Magic?” The doc rubbed at his brow. “Then some residual effect must be preventing the healing.”
Magic had a negative effect on wÆres. It could force them into a partial shift and leave them forever stuck that way: neither human nor wÆre. “He’s the Domn Lup,” I said. “He isn’t as susceptible to magic as other wÆres.” Even as I said it, I realized I’d dismissed the obvious. Mad at myself for missing it, anger squashed most of my worry. The doc’s theory was a good one. “This wasn’t exactly magical energies being stirred up around Johnny. Magic made physical contact with the intent to damage him. Any wÆre without the powers of the Domn Lup probably would have bled to death from an attack like this.”
“Can you cleanse the magic away?” The doc mimed waving a wand.
The answer wasn’t going to make Johnny very happy. “Yes. With salt.”
“Salt in my wound,” the wÆre grumbled.
My hand gripped Johnny’s. “Sounds like a song title,” I said. Being the guitarist and front man of a band, he could make lyrics out of just about anything.
The doc peered at me over the tops of his glasses. “Is using salt like that something you specifically, as a witch, have to do?”
“You mean: Does it take magic as well as salt?”
“Medicine is magic to me. But,” he reached into his bag, “I was thinking more along the lines of washing the wound with this.” He lifted an IV bag of saline solution. “It’s sterile.”
He was a thinker. That made me even happier he was on our side. “Saline should be fine. Give it a shot.”
“Are you sure?”
“I use it to magically cleanse a space, but mundane humans often use salt to protect themselves. Ever spilled salt and then tossed a pinch over your left shoulder? You were supposedly protecting yourself from evil.”
Dr. Lincoln turned to Kirk. “Would you fetch some towels from the bathroom? Wait, I-I didn’t say fetch because you’re a … I mean, I would’ve said it that way to anyone.”
The handsome Asian wÆre smiled and replied, “That political correctness shit is for pansies who can’t stomach the truth.” He left the room.
The doc laid the IV bag on the bed and clasped Johnny’s shoulder. “I can try just stitching it, but cauterizing it first is my recommendation.”
“Just do what you need to do,” Johnny said.
“My stitches aren’t quite as refined as those of a plastic surgeon working on a starlet, but then my usual clients don’t worry much about scarring. WÆre healing is good, but I don’t know how the magic will play into this. It could leave a scar. Cauterizing it is even more certain to leave a mark.”
“I don’t care.” Johnny’s teeth were grinding.
I set the lamp back in its place while the doctor dug in his bag and brought out a small tray and what must have been a cautery tool. It looked something like a soldering iron.
When Kirk handed me the towels, I rolled them up and tucked one on either side of Johnny’s rib cage.
The doctor punctured the IV bag. “I just want to make sure you know it’s possible the scar will show in all your shirtless rock-star pictures,” he said, squirting the fluid into the cuts. I lifted the lamp again—and saw a white flash of rib bone as the solution washed out the slashes. Johnny sucked air through his teeth. The doc blotted around the injury with another of the towels, then dabbed the wounds directly with gauze.
The bleeding continued. I might have thought it was just a reaction to the wound washing if Dr. Lincoln hadn’t directed a silent question at me with his eyes.
My icy unease returned, wintry fingers stirring my emotions again, nearly forcing me from hidden fear into obvious panic. He can’t keep on bleeding like this and we can’t take him to a hospital. They transfer wÆres to state shelters rather than treat them. State shelters were more like human dog pounds than hospitals.
I wasn’t going to give up. “Let’s try a higher concentration of salt.”
“Easy for you to say,” Johnny grumbled as I charged down the stairs to my second-floor bedroom. From the cabinet where I kept magical supplies, I grabbed a pouch of coarse sea salt. This was already empowered for use in my spells, intended to cleanse the ritual area into a sacred space. Surely this would counteract the magic in the injury, but it was going to hurt like hell.
Back in the attic, I apologized to Johnny and dropped an overflowing fistful of the coarse beadlike chunks onto his chest. Immediately, he growled, writhed once and dug his fingers into the mattress. Concentrating, I visualized the salt foaming like baking soda and vinegar being mixed, and imagined it neutralizing the lingering magic.
When a coastal aroma wafted around me, it was a signal that the salt cleansing was complete. I gestured for the doc to take over. He pierced another saline bag and washed away the sea salt.
This time, the bleeding had markedly decreased. My panic receded.
The doc surveyed the wound again, holding the cauterizing tool ready. He motioned Kirk over. “Hold him down.”
“Not necessary.” Johnny set his jaw; Kirk stayed where he was.
Dr. Lincoln leaned in...