Most of the time, I'm not too crazy about being a werewolf. For so many reasons: the compulsory and inconvenient transformations, the excessive reliance on Lady Bic razors . . . not to mention the difficulty explaining to potential mates that our children would probably grow a natural fur coat and tail every twenty-eight days or so. Maintaining a normal relationship—much less a career—is a hairy proposition when you tend to sprout fangs every time someone pops Moonstruck into the DVD player.
But there are compensations. The lightning-fast reflexes, for example. The ability to scare the pants off of would-be muggers and rapists. The deep, almost carnal enjoyment of a rare prime rib at Ruth's Chris. And, as was currently the case, the ability to smell every nuance of a gorgeous spring day.
It was a warm mid-March afternoon in central Texas, and I was on my way back to Austin from a meeting with my favorite client in San Antonio. The radio was playing full blast and the windows in my M3 were wide open, letting in the mingled scents of fresh earth, new grass, cows, and a complete and total absence of werewolves, which was fine by me. The cows, however, were making me hungry. Lunch had been a long time ago, I realized as I gulped back a mouthful of saliva and reached for my tumbler of wolfs_bane tea.
I was mentally reviewing the more intimate details of my meeting with Mark Sydney, CEO of Southeast Airlines. He was my client, to be sure—and landing the Southeast Airlines account had recently netted me partnership—but most of the afternoon had been spent at a romantic River Walk restaurant staring over a giant margarita at my client's deep blue eyes. I was reviewing our good-bye kiss when my cell phone rang.
I flipped it open as the M3 rolled past another tasty-smelling herd of cows. "Sophie Garou."
"So, how did your 'meeting' go?" It was my best friend, Lindsey.
"Fine," I said. "We did some strategic planning and talked about general accounting practices. Everything's great."
"Are you dating yet?"
"Not officially. We're kind of keeping things quiet; I'd rather Adele didn't know." I didn't want to know what my boss thought of my mixing business with pleasure. And boy, was it a pleasure . . .
"Mark's a good match for you. I liked Heath, but he just didn't have the same . . . I don't know. Zing?"
Lindsey was right about Mark—he was all about zing—but my heart still wrenched a little at the mention of my _ex-boyfriend. Heath had asked me to marry him on Valentine's Day, about a month ago, and I'd had to decline. Partly because I wasn't sure how he'd take the whole "I'm a _werewolf" announcement, of course. And partly because I _suspected he was sleeping with his gorgeous associate Miranda. But even without those rather significant mitigating fac_tors, things just hadn't been right between us for a long time. It was a hard decision, but I was pretty sure it was the right one.
"For the record, Mark and I are not dating," I repeated. Even if we had enjoyed a few—okay, more than a few—steamy episodes together. "He's my client," I reminded her. But Mark was also something else—something even stranger than I was. About a month ago, when I'd gotten into trouble with a pack of deranged Mexican werewolves, he'd appeared out of nowhere wearing wings and what looked like a full-body coat of liquid napalm. Which was convenient—as was the fact that he knew I was a werewolf—but enough to give me pause when I thought of becoming involved with him long-term. It was bad enough that my children would have intermittent episodes involving a full coat of fur and a tail. A full coat of fur doused in napalm would be a bit much. Particularly if it occurred while I was giving birth.
Still, I had to admit Mark was absolutely fabulous in bed. I squeezed my legs together just thinking about our last episode, which had taken place between acts at the Zachary Scott Theater . . .
"Is he up for this weekend?" Lindsey asked.
"What?" I asked, pulling my mind up out of the gutter. Or, in this case, the coat room at Zach Scott.
"The Howl. Aren't you going?"
I'd blocked it out of my mind so thoroughly I'd almost forgotten about the upcoming inter-pack meeting, which was scheduled to start Friday in Fredericksburg, an hour or two west of Austin. Since I wasn't affiliated with any pack, I didn't feel too inclined to attend, even though Wolfgang, the leader of the Houston pack, had asked me to poke my nose in. To which I'd said a polite no thank you. As far as I was concerned, the less I had to do with the werewolf world, the better. "God, no," I said to Lindsey.
"Since you're not officially dating, why don't you drop in and leave Mark behind? You might meet a cute single _werewolf."
Like Tom? I thought before I could stifle it. Tom was perhaps the most intoxicatingly handsome werewolf I had ever met. Granted, I hadn't met a whole lot of werewolves over the last twenty-eight years—I'd been "undercover" for most of that time—but I'd seen enough to know that Tom was something pretty special. He had long blond hair, chiseled Nordic features, shimmery gold werewolf eyes, and a tanned body I just couldn't stop staring at. And then there was his smell, which was enough to reduce me to a quivering puddle of lust . . .
But Tom was dating Lindsey, which meant he was strictly off-limits—even if we had, in a weak moment, acknowledged a rather powerful mutual attraction. Still, his unavailability wasn't necessarily such a bad thing; if my father was any indication of werewolf quality on the mating front, a werewolf was the last thing I needed on my dating resume.
Twenty-nine years ago, my mother had had the bad fortune to fall—quite literally, since she tripped stepping off a tour boat—for a werewolf in Paris. According to my mom, it was Romeo and Juliet all over again, only with gypsies and werewolves instead of Capulets and Montagues. Despite extreme family disapproval, my mother and her lover continued to see each other in secret—at least until I came around.
Romance or no romance, the arrival of a bouncing baby werewolf was too much for Luc Garou: He sent my mother and me out of the country. My mother still claimed it was "for our protection"—the story had always been that the pack would kill us both if they found us there—but since we hadn't seen hide nor hair of him for almost _twenty-eight years, I suspected my well-being wasn't my father's primary motive in shipping us overseas. I still carried his surname, Garou, but that's all I had to do with him. Other than the whole werewolf thing, of course.
"No, I think I'll just kick back this weekend. Maybe use my Lake Austin Spa Resort gift certificate. It's been a busy couple of weeks; I could use some R & R."
"Do you think I could talk Tom into letting me go to the Howl?" Lindsey asked.
I closed my eyes for a second. Then I remembered I was driving and jerked them back open, swerving a split second before my BMW slammed into the trunk of an Intrepid. "No."
"It's a bad idea." In fact, Lindsey having anything to do with Tom at all was a bad idea, but I'd given up trying to convince her of that.
She hmmphed, and said something else besides, but I missed it because my phone started beeping.
"I've got to go," I said. "My phone's dying."
"Come see me when you get back to the office," she said. Since she worked right down the hall from me at Withers and Young, it wouldn't be much of an effort.
"I will," I promised, and hung up a moment later. Lindsey's fascination with werewolves—werewolves in general, not just Tom Fenris—was worrisome. Ever since she'd discovered my lupine identity last month, she'd been badgering me to "share my magic" with her. Personally, I didn't understand why anyone in their right mind would want the burden of compulsory transformations, excessive hair growth, and a need to drink gallons of wolfsbane tea, which was anything but a taste sensation. True, there were some benefits—a few extra centuries of life, for example—but in my opinion, the cons definitely outweighed the pros. Lindsey kept asking about it, though, and it wouldn't shock me if she showed up with a hypodermic needle and attempted to do an impromptu blood transfusion in the coffee nook one morning.
I was considering calling Tom to ask him to dissuade her when the phone rang again. The battery light flashed as I picked it up: It was my mother.
"Sophie, darling, I have some big news." She sounded breathless.
"You finished getting your tax paperwork together?" As a CPA—and auditor—I did the taxes for Sit A Spell, my mom's magic shop, every year. It wasn't my favorite job—my mother is not the most organized witch on the planet—but I soldiered through it anyway, because I loved her.
"Oh, nothing like that," she said. Then she said something else, but I lost it because of the beep.
"What?" I asked.
". . . coming to see you. It's amazing."
"Your . . ." Her bright voice trailed off.
The phone was dead.
I folded up the phone. Whatever it was would have to wait until I could call her from my office. Or till I swung by tonight for another package of wolfsbane tea. Thanks to my thrice-daily infusions, I'd managed to minimize the compulsory transformations to full moons that fell near solstices and equinoxes, which came only four times a year. But the spring equinox was coming up, which meant it was time to up the dosage—and to plan my quarterly trip out of town.
I set cruise control, played with the radio until I found a Red Hot Chili Peppers song, and took another deep breath of spring air, enjoying that rare feeling that all was right in the world—even if the pollen did make my nose run.
Of course, if I'd had any idea what was waiting for me at my office, I would have turned around and driven straight to Mexico.
"There's someone to see you," my assistant Sally said as I walked past her desk. In lieu of her traditional spandex, she was dressed in a flattering blue suit that actually covered her midriff all the way around. Sometime in the last few weeks, her wardrobe had undergone a major change. I wasn't sure why, but I liked it. She was even wearing fewer layers of _eyeliner.
"Who is it?"
"He told me it was a surprise . . . said he's an old friend."
"No business card?"
She shook her head, and I sighed. She might look more professional from a sartorial standpoint, but she was still less than ideal as an assistant.
I straightened my jacket and headed for my office, wondering what "old friend" had turned up. I took a deep breath as my hand touched the knob—and froze.
"Something wrong?" Sally asked.
Yes, something was wrong. Very wrong. Unless my nose was deceiving me, Sally had let a werewolf into my office. But I wasn't about to tell Sally that.
"Next time somebody comes to visit me," I said, "would you please have them wait outside my office?"
She shrugged, and I resisted the impulse to snarl at her. Instead, I turned and opened the office door.
He was sitting at my desk.
Adrenaline pumped through me as I closed the door firmly behind me. The mystery werewolf stood up and smiled at me, exposing a line of pointy teeth. He was tall—well over six feet—with red hair and the golden shimmery eyes of a born werewolf.
"Who are you?" I said. "And what are you doing in my office?"
"Sophie," he said in a strange accent. "You're beautiful."
I backed toward the door as he rounded the desk in one fluid move. His smell was strong—overpowering, almost, even under the heavy cologne—and somehow, familiar.
"Who are you?" I repeated.
"Don't you know me?"
"I have never laid eyes on you in my life."
"Oh, but you have," he said, moving closer. "How about a hug?"
"I think you must be deranged," I said, pressing myself against the wall. Adrenaline pulsed through me, and it was a struggle to keep from transforming. "I don't know who you are, but I want you out of my office." When he continued to stand there looking at me, I clarified my position. "Out. Now. Before I have to call security."
He paused, arms extended, and looked a little bit hurt. He was a handsome man, probably in his late thirties, with a mane of reddish hair and a smile that was charming, even with the pointy teeth. "As if security could do a thing to stop me." He had a point, but I wasn't about to concede it. He didn't give me a chance, anyway. "You really don't know me, do you?" he asked.
"Nope." I shook my head. "Now please leave."
"But Sophie," he said, hands extended. "I'm your father."
I blinked at him. "You're my what?"
"I'm your father," he repeated, grinning slightly, and my stomach sank to the vicinity of my Prada pumps.
He was telling the truth. The reddish hair, the shimmery gold eyes, the familiar smell. The dimple in the right cheek when he smiled.
That didn't mean I had to admit it, though. "I don't have a father," I said.
"Sophie, darling. I know how much pain I've caused you, how hard it must have been growing up without a pack, or your sire. It was a tragedy that I was unable to be there when you were just a pup," he said, stepping forward to stroke my cheek with his hand. His scent washed over me, and I felt the hairs stand up on my arms. From some distant recess of my past, I recognized his smell. He continued talking as I struggled with some emotion I couldn't name. "And then," he said, "once you left, I couldn't find you. You and your mother just vanished."
"Yeah, right," I said, snapping myself back to the present. "Look. I don't know what makes you think you can waltz right back into my life after disappearing for the first twenty-eight years of it, but you're wrong. You're too late. I'm no longer interested."
He smiled at me, tenderly. "You do know me. You remember." Then he clapped his hands and did something like a jig, right there in the middle of my office. "This calls for a celebration! How about filet mignon and a bottle of Dom Perignon?" He paused mid-dance to ask, "Are there any decent restaurants in Austin?"
Excerpted from Leader of the Pack by Karen MacInerney. Copyright © 2009 by Karen MacInerney. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.