For Neila and Montana. More to come. ~IA.
Julie stomped into the kitchen and landed in a chair, tossing her blond hair out of her face. A long smear of dirt crossed her left cheek and chin. More dirt stained her jeans. When I found her on the street years ago, she was starved, almost waifish. She was fifteen now. Good food and constant training were paying off: her arms showed definition, her shoulders widened, and she held herself with the kind of ready assurance that came from knowing an attack could come at any moment and being confident you can repel it.
“I want a new horse.”
I raised an eyebrow at her.
Curran shouldered his way into the kitchen from the back porch. Blond, broad-shouldered, and muscular, he moved like a predator even in his human form. It didn’t matter if he wore fur, beat-up jeans and a simple grey sweatshirt like right now or nothing at all, his body always possessed a coiled, barely contained strength. A month ago he had gone to our first job together in his other shape and the client had locked himself in the car and refused to come out. Curran turned human, but the client still fired us. Apparently Curran was still too scary. No matter what kind of clothes he wore, they did nothing to tone down his face. When you looked into Curran’s clear grey eyes, you knew that he could explode with violence at a moment’s notice and he would be brutal and efficient about it. Except when he looked at me, like now. His eyes were lit up with warm golden sparks. He stepped close to me and brushed a kiss on my lips. Mmm.
“That’s nice,” Julie said. “I still want a new horse.”
“Request denied,” Curran told her.
I flipped my pancake. This ought to be interesting.
“Because want is not a need.” Curran leaned against the island. “I saw you in the pasture. You don’t want a new horse. You require a new horse. Lay your case out.”
“I hate him,” Julie said.
I glanced through the window at the pasture, where an enormous black Friesian stalked in circles along the fence. The Friesian used to belong to Hugh d’Ambray, my father’s warlord. Killing Hugh was my life’s ambition. I’ve tried twice now and he had dodged death with magic. That’s okay. Third time would be the charm.
After our last encounter we ended up with Hugh’s Friesian, and Curran, who didn’t care for horses, for some reason chose to keep him when we retired from running the shapeshifter Pack. The stallion was impressive and Julie decided to ride him to school. I told her it was a bad idea, but she insisted.
“Take the emotion out of it,” Curran said. “You will persuade the other person if you make them understand the reasons behind your request. You have to demonstrate that in your place they would come to the same conclusion. Once they agree with you, saying no to you becomes much harder because they would be arguing with themselves.”
Once a Beastlord, always a Beastlord. Curran had ruled over fifteen hundred shapeshifters for seventeen years before he walked away from all of it a month and a half ago. Old habits died hard and in his case, they probably never would.
Guilt bit at me. Curran was the Beastlord and I had been his Consort, until my father gave me a choice. Either I walked away from the position of power in the Pack or he would attack the city. Thousands of lives on one end, being the Consort on the other. I chose to walk away. We weren’t ready to fight him. People would die because of me, and in the end we would lose. I couldn’t take the guilt, so I left the Pack to buy us time. Curran chose to be with me. The Pack wasn’t happy, but he gave them no choice.
Julie thought about it. “He doesn’t obey any of my commands and he keeps trying to throw me off.”
“You’re not heavy enough,” I said. “Hugh weighs over two hundred pounds, closer to two fifty in full armor. You’re too light. Hugh isn’t gentle with his horses either.”
Julie glared at the Friesian. “He is stupid.”
“He is dense. It makes him easier to train, because he doesn’t get creative.” I poured more pancake batter into the pan.
“And mean. Last time I took him to school, he tried to break through the stall to fight with another horse.”
“He’s a war stallion,” Curran said. “He’s been taught to view every other horse as a challenge.”
Julie’s eyes narrowed. “If I keep getting hurt, it will cause both of you emotional distress and you will have to pay for my medical bills. If I lose control of him, he may injure another horse and you would be financially responsible for the damages.”
Curran nodded. “Valid points. Bring it home.”
“I need a normal horse,” Julie said. “Someone I can ride to school and leave in the school stables without any of us worrying about it. A city horse, who would respond well to commands and wouldn’t throw me and hurt me.”