“Seriously?” Evan looked shocked.“He wants youto cook?”
“Yeah, and I kind of volunteered you two as waiters. C’mon, Logan, don’t look at me like that. You got me into this mess with your ‘Ah, go ahead Nicky, you can do it.If you think you’re defeated, you alreadyare,’ bullshit.”
Logan laughed.“Okay, I’ll help. You coming, Evan?”
“Oh,yeah, I want to make sure Nicky doesn’t poison all of them. I’m still kind of partial to mywolf.”
An hour later, Nicky was still making pancakes, pushing his curly hair off his hot face and shooting dark glances at Marco every chance he got. Evan and Logan were doing all they could to help by serving and washing up, but if looks could kill, Marco and the entire council would already be laid out dead on the floor, Evan thought with amusement. Around the table sat Marco, Ian, Casey, Rory and Brett. Evanhad just finished pouring coffee in everyone’s cups, and was now leaning against Brett, who was there in his new role as Lead Gamma. Rory had recently given up the post to help Casey in his job as Battle Commander. Logan had already started on the mountain of dishes while Nicky was at the stove, finishing up another batch of pancakes for Marco.Somehow, Evan didn’t think this new job of Nicky’s would last much longer after today, no matter what the bet had been.
Ian pushed back his chair and took a big sip of his coffee.“Thank you, Nicky, that was delicious.” The distinct growling sound that came from Nicky’s direction seemed to surprise even Marco.
“Uh, Nicky...honey, you don’t have to keep cooking. I think everyone is full now.”
Nicky slammed his spatula down and whirled around to face Marco.“Well, if they’re not, they ought to be.It’s like trying to feed a herd of horses.As far as I’m concerned, the kitchen is closed. If anybody else wants anything, they can damn well fix it themselves.” He turned off the stove and perched himself on one of the stools at the bar, lips stuck out in a full-on pout. Evan watched in fascination.
A bit red-faced, Marco turned back to his guests and cleared his throat.“Okay...well...now where were we?Oh yes, Ian, you were about to give us the latest report from Dr. Cornsilk.”
Marco was interrupted by the loud banging of pots as Nicky, who had now moved over to help Logan, began to slam pots and pans around in the sink.
“What? I’m not doing anything...” Nicky’s voice was unrepentant, but he did stop banging things around.
“Where was I?” Ian asked.“Oh yes, he sent this over yesterday, I believe. Apparently there was real uproar after Brett escaped with Evan. Elias Winters was furious. Dr. Cornsilk has only been working with this Operation Wolfsbane for about five months now, and he still doesn’t have full access to all the records from before he was assigned to the project. After all the leaks and escapes recently, Winters is really tightening up. Dr. Cornsilk may not be able to bring us many more reports for a while or it will jeopardize his position.”
Marco nodded.“Understandable. We should let him lie very low for a long while. He was too close to Evan’s situation not to be under suspicion.”
“Right,” Ian said. “Anyway, he said there have been rumors that some of the soldiers in this Operation Wolfsbane of his are already at a secret camp somewhere in the mountains, but nobody knows exactly where. We thought Evan might be the first of them, but apparently they’ve been training there for months—much longer than we’ve known about before now. And one more thing—some of the rumors say the men are already feral.”
“Damn!” Casey said, speaking up for the first time. “It can’t be true. How would he manage to keep them alive? If it were, we could really be in some trouble. If Winters set them loose on innocent humans, people will be sure to blame us.We could be in serious danger here.”
“Let’s not jump to conclusions,” Marco said. “Brett, while you were being held captive, did they ever bring in any more soldiers other than Evan?”
“No, but I wasn’t there long. They took a lot of my blood, but that’s about it. That and the whippings,” Brett said bitterly.
“So we have no reason to think this is true, necessarily. They took a lot of Brett’s blood, but surely not enough to feed a whole group of feral soldiers. Like Casey said, they would have died soon without blood.”
“Well, not necessarily,” Nicky said, looking over his shoulder as he helped Logan wash dishes.“I mean, Gabe certainly didn’t die, and he said he’d been bitten for over a year before Zack found him.”
“Who?” Marco’s tone was sharp in the suddenly quiet kitchen.
Nicky turned.“Uh...nothing.I didn’t say anything.” He turned back around and started busily swiping at a dish.
“Nicky? Are you talking about the Georgia Alpha’s pet? Gabe? What do you mean he was feral?”
“You must have misunderstood me. I said he went sterile. A real shame...so young too.”
“Nicky, look at me.”
“No, Marco.” Nicky turned and Evan saw tears standing his eyes. He threw down the dish towel he’d been using, and squared off to face his mate. “I’m tired and I’ve been working since I got up this morning at five thirty! My back hurts and my feet hurt and my fingers are all pruney. And now you’re yelling at me!”
Evan had to smother a smile. No one, including Marco, had raised his voice to Nicky, but Nicky was playing this like an Academy Award winning actor. He even let his lower lip tremble just a bit.
Evan could see every wolf at the table flinch. This was the kind of behavior that raised their hackles but also brought out every protective bone in their bodies. Evan knew each and every one of them was dying to go over and comfort Nicky and tell him it was going to be fine. They probably also wanted very badly to put him across their knee.
Marco recovered first. Probably, Evanfigured, because he’d had so much experience with Nicky’s wiles. He stood up and advanced on Nicky, stopping only inches away. Apparently unable to resist, he pulled him into his arms to comfort him but still held his gaze with a stern look.
“Settle down, sweetheart. Tell me what you know about Gabe, and stop trying to distract me. I know you’re tired, and you can go lie down in a few minutes, but now you’re going to explain what you were talking about.”
Nicky fiddled with the buttons on the front of Marco’s shirt and sighed. “Okay. You know, Gabe the Georgia pack’s alpha’s mate? Zack’s the alpha, right? Well, Gabe and I were talking about how they met, you know, just passing the time, and he told me he was feral for about a year before Zack found him and mated with him.He said he didn’t like changing at the full moon, or whenever he got too upset, but other than that, it wasn’t too bad.”
Marco tipped his chin up.“Nicky, are you sure of this? Be serious, now, and don’t lie about this.”
He looked up at Marco in amazement.“I never lie, Marco.” His voice was so hurt, so sincere and innocent that Evan was stunned for a moment. Nicky was playing Marco like a virtuoso plays a violin. Evan settled back to watch the master work.“Gabe told me. He was feral for a year after that wolf bit him and killed his mother. He said he changed at the full moon or if he got too stressed out. Like that time with me, remember? Only you thought I would die if you didn’t give me all that blood.” He shrugged.“Guess you were wrong.” He patted Marco’s chest a little to take the sting out of the words.“Gabe said he just went to sleep and then woke up the next morning back to normal.Until the next time.”
Still holding him, Marco turned to Ian. “Why would Zack not have given us this information? We need to contact Zack right away and get him and Gabe up here to verify all of this. We need to question Gabe more too. Find out if he ever attacked anyone and how he controlled his urges.”
“Wait a minute!” Nicky cried. “Gabe told me that in confidence.I don’t think he wanted anyone to know. I would hate for anyone to think I was a gossip or I spread rumors.”
“Too late for that,” Rory said, laughing. “That train left the station a long time ago. Good job, Nicky.”
Nicky made a fist and tried to get to Rory, Marco’s nephew, and a young man with whom he’d always had a close, but somewhat contentious, and teasing relationship. Marco held onto Nicky and raised his eyebrows at Rory in censure. Rory smiled and dropped his gaze.
Nicky turned back to Marco.“You can’t say anything, Marco, or Gabe will know I told you.”
“I’m sorry, sweetheart, but this is too important. I won’t tell him how we found out, okay? Zack should have told us months ago. Any information we can have about the ferals is vital now.”
Ian jumped up from the table.“I’m on it—I’ll call Zack right now.”
“Just tell him we heard about it, and ask them to come prepared to stay a few days,” Marco called after him.He finally released Nicky, who tried hard to catch Rory’s eye. Failing, he sat down at the counter, somewhat subdued.
Rory spoke to Marco as he sat back down at the table.“Since Nicky went feral once, why not let him go again?He’s always wanting to fight, so this would be his big chance. He and I could finally face off in the ancestral ring, man to man.”
“Oh yeah?” Nicky asked.“I could do that but where would we find the other man in your little scenario?” Nicky sneered at him as Rory started out of his seat, and this time it was Casey’s turn to pull his mate back down.
Marco frowned at both Rory and Nicky. “Will you two stop it?In fact, let’s just adjourn for now and meet later when we know for surewhen Zack and his mate are coming.”
Everyone got up and filed outside, including Logan and Evan, who called out a promise to Nicky they’d help him clean up later on. As the door closed behind them, Evan heard Marco telling Nicky he needed to “take him back to bedroom for a while to have a little talk.” Chuckling, he walked down the hallway to catch up with Brett, who’d gone ahead to check the little box that held their incoming mail. He found Brett standing thoughtfully in front of the box, holding a letter in his hand.