Wren frowned when she realized the other half of the bed was empty. She picked up the robe and drew it around her before heading into the next room. The apartment they’d been given was high up, allowing them a wondrous view of Paris. From the balcony, she could just make out the Eiffel Tower.
Adam was there. He’d set up an easel and was making a picture come alive with delicate brush strokes. Despite his chosen location, the painting wasn’t of the city below. She swallowed at the image of James and Coraline on the canvas. His siblings were posed on a porch, both wearing letterman jackets. James had been wearing his when he’d died. “Adam?”
“Wren.” He kept working.
“Couldn’t sleep?” She smiled as she joined him on the balcony.
“The sounds here are different.” He shrugged as he added a bit more color to the flowers next to Coraline’s image. “Smells. Air tastes…” He sighed. “Different.”
“I know.” She leaned out over the balcony and took a deep breath. “I like it. The little cafes and the colors. Paris is…” She smiled. “Everything I dreamed.” She glanced over her shoulder. “We could go to the Louvre again tomorrow, have lunch by that pyramid thing.” Their contact with the cabal, Edward Giroux, had given her a credit card and told her to just charge anything she wanted. She’d only had to give a small demonstration of her powers. She turned toward Adam. “Or we could do Disneyland Paris. We haven’t done that.”
“You have a meeting tomorrow.”
“Oh.” She sighed. And it wasn’t something they could put off. “That’s right. After?”
“I…” He looked out to where the sun was starting to peek over the horizon. “I wouldn’t mind seeing Notre Dame.”
“Alright.” She laughed before going over and kissing him. “After the meeting, we’ll go wander around old buildings.”
As soon as they left the apartment, the two guards their handlers had assigned fell into step behind them. Giroux’s eyes had lit up when he realized what Wren was, and he treated her as though she were spun glass. Wren hadn’t revealed his abilities, but since he belonged to her, he was given every courtesy as well. If he left the apartment, a guard went with him, even if it was just down to the little market to grab a soda.
Oscar and Patrick, today’s guards, were nice enough men. Both were fluent in English, but Patrick spoke French to him at Adam’s request. He was nearly conversational in it now. Wren’s own command of French was pretty much limited to ordering coffee and asking how to find the bathroom.
“Where are we headed?” He raised an eyebrow at Patrick as they climbed into the limo.
“An estate, just outside the country. It won’t take long to get there.” Patrick sat down across from him.
“We were hoping to get to Notre Dame this afternoon.” Adam sighed.
“It’s overrated.” Patrick chuckled. “Surprised you don’t want to go to Musee de l’Orangerie.”
“I might, save I’ve never heard of it before.” Adam leaned back. He glanced at Wren, who was playing on the smart phone Giroux had given her.
“Impressionists, mostly. The centerpiece is eight murals by Monet.” Patrick waved a hand. “But there is Picasso, Renoir, others.”
“I’ll put that on the list.” Adam smiled. “Probably at the top. Wren still wants to do Disneyland.”
“I hate Disneyland.” Patrick rolled his eyes. “Crowds are too big, too many hiding places, cameras, bad angles, separating for rides. A mess. Stick to museums and zoos. Makes my job easy.”
Adam really didn’t have an objection to that. He settled into the seat. The limo was a comfortable enough way to travel, even with four people. There was a television, and a small bar. And since they were in Paris, he was actually old enough to drink without breaking any laws. Not that it mattered. Giroux had made it clear that he and Wren were to be given anything they wanted. Jokingly he’d asked for cocaine, only to simply have the concierge inquire as to his particular preference.
Along with giving him language lessons, Patrick had been teaching him about wine. The man was at the wet bar now, pouring a small amount of a white wine into glasses. He offered one to Wren, who took it absently. He offered the second to Adam, and began telling him about the local winery from which it had been acquired. Patrick himself only had a small amount, as he was on duty, but shared a plate of cheese and crackers. Oscar just sort of grunted when he was offered some.
His command of the language was improving. He only had to stop Patrick twice to get a translation. The rest of the time, if he didn’t know the word, he could figure it out from context, occasionally inquiring if his interpretation was correct. The wine was a bit sweeter than he was coming to prefer, but still good. Wren seemed to enjoy it, having two more glasses before they finally arrived at their destination.
He was really not looking forward to what was about to happen.
Wren watched her two bodyguards be led off by a servant. The butler motioned for Adam to go with them, but he stayed with her as she’d earlier instructed. The butler merely shrugged before leading them in to see Mr. Pajari. After all, Adam was merely her boyfriend. A young man, unarmed and harmless.
Edward Giroux was waiting for them. The dapper little frenchman was delightfully stereotypical, right down to elaborately kissing her hand and paying her outrageous compliments. And yet even not knowing him long, she could see concern in his eyes. This meeting was a test. She found herself looking forward to it.
Pajari was a large, well dressed man with a Russian accent. He was older, probably around sixty, and appeared both confident and bored as they entered. Giroux was afraid of him. Five others were in the room. Four men and a woman. The men were all dressed similarly, with military haircuts. Bodyguards, practically stamped from a mold. The woman was a rather exotic beauty with dark skin and darker hair. And there was something odd about her.
As they entered, Adam took a seat near the door. He looked bored and rather annoyed that he’d been brought into the meeting. Next to her, Giroux shifted nervously as the four bodyguards arranged themselves behind him and Wren. “Mr. Pajari.” Wren smiled.
“Wren Tierney.” Pajari returned the smile, though it didn’t reach his eyes. “Edward has told me a great deal about you. He says you may be the find of the century.” He folded his arms. “Forgive me for being skeptical.”
“I don’t blame you.” Wren shrugged. “I was skeptical a little at first.” She flicked her eyes to the woman. “I’m sure your witchwolf can reassure you of my honesty.”
The woman gave Wren an appraising look and a brief smile. Pajari, however, frowned. “You are well informed.” He narrowed his eyes at Giroux, who was giving Wren a confused look.
“A man such as yourself takes an interest in me…” Wren smiled. “I can’t help but wonder why.”
“We have lately had some…” Pajari shrugged. “Difficulties. Inconveniences. Someone like yourself arriving at such a time is a strange…” He gave her an appraising look. “Coincidence.”
“Your protege in the US managed to lose your unborn chosen one?” Wren arched an eyebrow. “Careless of them. Perhaps you should reconsider your hiring practices.”
“I mean, not only did he manage to lose a preteen girl who’d never been more than five miles from her home, he lost her to the older brother whom he didn’t even realize was also gifted even after having been their stepfather for over a year.” Wren smirked. “Then he picked a fight with one of the most dangerous werewolves currently alive, which went about as well as could be expected. And after a third party got the two kids away from the werewolf and practically gift wrapped them for him, he still managed to get himself, his team, and an entire pack killed.” She glanced at Giroux. “Out of curiosity, why aren’t you running things?”
Giroux was staring at her, wide-eyed. The woman looked amused. Pajari, on the other hand, was starting to look furious. “How could you possibly know…”
“I am a witch, Pajari. One available for hire.” She folded her arms. “If you can afford me.”
“You’re a little fool, and I’ve no need for a prima donna.” Pajari glared. Wren touched Adam’s mind and felt him respond. “And I think you’ll find we know how to deal with witches here.” He smirked. “You’re not bullet —” He blinked. She didn’t need to look over her shoulder to know what he was looking at. Adam had vanished. All that remained in the chair was an empty set of clothes. “You think a glamour can fool us, girl?” He picked up a crystal from his desk. Pajari cut his finger on the crystal. It’s glow would have driven any glamour from the room.
“I’m well aware a glamour won’t fool you.” She smiled. “So I didn’t bother.”
“Kill her.” Pajari started to wave his hand.
The first man didn’t even manage to get his hand to his holster before a tiger landed on his back. Adam snapped the man’s neck with a swift motion of his jaws. He leaped onto the second before the men could react to the unexpected threat. The remaining two were turning their guns on the tiger before it vanished again.
Seeking a massive cat, no one noticed the small fly land on the shoulder of the third gun man. At least, not until Adam shifted again. A heartbeat, and the scorpion drove its stinger directly into the man’s throat before returning to the form of a fly and taking wing once more. The man clutched his throat. The fly headed directly back at the remaining man, circled, and the tiger landed on the man’s back. There was a single, sickening crunch as the massive jaws bit into the man’s skull.
Pajari was fumbling for his own weapon. Wren simply yanked it out of his hand as he drew it, and moved it through the air to hover in front of Giroux. Giroux stared for only a second before grabbing it and aiming it directly at Pajari.
“Get her.” Pajari gestured at the woman.
“Wren Tierney, was it?” The woman tilted her head.
“Indeed.” Wren smiled.
“I think…” The woman nodded. “That I’m going to like you.” She turned to look at Pajari, then turned her gaze to Giroux. “Mr. Giroux, it appears you are now in charge. I would like to offer my services.”
Giroux put two rounds into Pajari’s head. The man dropped bonelessly. “I’m sure we can arrange something.”
Behind her, Adam returned to human form and rose. Blood dripped from his mouth, and he wiped it away before going to retrieve his clothes. He’d spend most of the last two days in various form, following Giroux and then Pajari, helping himself to their conversations and all the information they’d carelessly left in places they thought no one could go.
He was reaching for his pants when the butler came into the room. “Mr. Pajari, would you…” The man’s eyes widened. He started to open his mouth to scream, and Adam felt Wren’s touch to his mind. There was the brief, intense rush of pain from the transformation, and then the form of a gorilla simply grabbed the man and bashed his head into the wall hard enough to crack the skull.
Three weeks of daily visits to the zoo had netted him more than just a few filled sketchbooks. He shifted back into human and grabbed his pants. “He…” Giroux turned to stare at Wren. “He’s a…” The man shook his head. “What is he?”
“Mine.” Wren smiled. She waved a hand. “Perhaps we could speak elsewhere while this is…” She shrugged. “Tidied up?”
“Of course.” Giroux nodded. “And I should reassure the others that matters are well in hand.” He smiled. “Ma chere…” He kissed Wren’s hand again. “I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship.”
“There will be no further difficulties?” Wren glanced at Adam.
“No. No. This is not the first time…” Giroux shrugged. “Promotions have been handled violently. Pajari’s competence has been questioned for a time due to various mishandlings. I will smooth things over.”
That was good. Adam looked up as he saw the other guards starting to come investigate. Patrick’s eyes widened when he saw the blood still on Adam. He hadn’t wanted to kill anyone, but Wren hadn’t exactly left him a choice. At least he hadn’t had to kill anyone whose names he’d known, let alone anyone he liked.
She let Adam go get cleaned up. Even without the talisman, she could tell he wasn’t pleased about how the situation had been resolved. Once he’d learned more about the cabal, he’d wanted to leave Paris altogether, get as far away from them as possible. She’d had to exert power to change his mind.
At least this way, no one would mess with him. Most of the guards had previously been casually indifferent to him, if not outright dismissive. One had described him as a gigolo. That was before Giroux had told them it had been Adam that had killed four highly trained men before any of them had gotten a shot off. Now they had a wary respect on their faces when they looked his way.
Giroux took her and the witchwolf into a lovely solarium. Wren wondered if the death of the estate’s previous owner meant it was now available. Adam said a studio needed plenty of natural light, and a space like this seemed as though it would be perfect. “I didn’t catch your name, earlier?” She turned toward the witchwolf.
The woman smiled. “I’ve had many, over the years.” She inclined her head. “You may call me Sima.”
He raised his face from the sink to see a towel being offered. Adam took it, then nodded to Patrick. “You okay?”
“Yeah.” Adam nodded. Then he shrugged. “Oui.” The urge to vomit was still there, and even having rinsed his mouth four times he could still taste blood. Instinct has risen, when he’d taken the tiger’s form, adapted to its nature. Once the skull was broken, it had wanted him to continue, to get at the sweet meat inside. He swallowed.
“It’s alright, you know.” Patrick’s face was sympathetic.
“I threw up the first time I killed a man too.” Patrick shrugged.
“I…” Adam tried to swallow, then ran for the toilet. Everything he’d eaten in the limo came back up, followed by everything he’d eaten in the past year. He stood there for a time, dry heaving, before wiping his mouth on the towel.
Patrick handed him a fresh one after he’d washed his face again. “Gets easier.”
“Whether you want it to or not, I suppose.” Adam straightened.
“You know, not many…” Patrick shrugged. “I can spot dangerous men. It’s my job. She’s dangerous, don’t need to look long to see that. But you…” He tilted his head at Adam. “I never would have seen you coming. Even…” He glanced over his shoulder, at the hallway that led to the room where Adam had just killed five men. “Even now…” He looked back at Adam. “You don’t read as a dangerous man.”
“I’m not dangerous…” Adam looked down at his hands before looking back up at Patrick. “When I’m a man.”
“Come on, kid.” Patrick shrugged. “Fuck wine. I’m going to teach you about this lovely little thing called cognac.” He put a hand on Adam’s shoulder and squeezed before leading him out of the bathroom.