Nero woke slowly, stretched, and yawned. He always felt great after a run with his pack, and his wolf body shook from the tip of his nose all the way back to his tail. The others were still asleep, though several were stirring.
He blinked. Hell, something was wrong with his eyes. His entire wolf pack had turned white. It wasn’t just the thin blanket of snow covering the ground, but their fur appeared polar bear white!
He looked at his paws and saw the same dirty white when he should have seen dark brown. Two leaps took him to the stream, and he glared at his reflection. Five seconds later he was standing tall in his human form as he bellowed, “Josh! What did you do?”
A lean wolf jumped up. He was normally a brown so dark it looked black, but now he was pure white as he spun around, glaring every which way as he searched for the danger. But then Nero pointed straight at him.
“Look at yourself!”
Josh shimmered and straightened into his human form. Thankfully, his body looked whole and normal. It was only the wolf that had somehow changed into what? Albino? Snow wolf? WTF?
“What?” Josh said as he rubbed his eyes. “Damn, it’s cold.”
“It’s October in Michigan. It’s supposed to be cold,” Nero said. But it didn’t usually snow big flakes.
“Actually, yesterday was October.” Josh said. “Today is November 1st.”
Josh was right. Last night was Halloween. A great evening for a wolf run, or so he’d thought. And now winter had come early to Michigan. “Do you know what’s not supposed to be?” he asked while he waited for his best friend to wake up without the benefit of coffee.
Josh blew out a breath. “A cranky pack leader who wakes me out of a dead sleep to speak in riddles?”
Nero snorted. “Try again.” And when Josh just gave him a baleful look, he pointed at the rest of the pack now shaking itself awake. They were all in their wolf forms, and all suddenly snow white.
“Oh, wow. That’s cool. What happened?”
“You’re asking me?” Nero demanded. “I’m asking you!”
“I didn’t do it!”
“You didn’t put some sort of dye, a mystical chemical compound, something that you and Wiz cooked up to change us for Halloween or something?”
Wiz was awake now, his wolf was supposed to be black, but one look at his paws and he was growling in indignation. He appeared to be as surprised as they were. And clearly offended.
“Let’s think about this logically,” Josh said. “I don’t know of any science or magic that would do this. Not without us knowing. Which means…”
“Fairies,” they said at once.
Well, Josh said the word. Nero cursed it. And then they both looked at Laddin, the only one of them who had a serious love of the annoying little sprites.
“Laddin, you idiot,” stormed Nero. “What is the first rule of werewolves?”
The slightly smaller wolf was busy staring at himself, spinning around to get a look at his tail, and then bouncing over to the water. Yup. He was obviously happy with the change, but then Laddin was always happy about something. He was just built with a perpetual smile.
“Laddin!” Nero growled. “Answer the question!”
The energetic wolf leaped around and barked loudly. There were several yips in there, and a few woofs, but none of it was remotely intelligible.
“Shift back to human,” Nero ordered. “Now!” He could tell that Laddin didn’t want to. Hell, none of them did because they were a half mile out from their home, and it was damned cold in their birthday suits. Too bad. Laddin had done something, and he was going to have to fess up.
“The first rule of werewolves?” Laddin said as he straightened from his crouch. Then he tilted his head. “You’ve got several first rules,” he said calmly as he ticked them off on his damaged hand. “Protect the pack. Think before you bite. Magical sex leads to magical babies, and nobody wants to go there.”
“Not those!” he snapped. “The real first one.”
Josh arched a brow. “You mean the one you broke, right?”
Nero shot Josh a glare. “Yes,” he growled. “The one I broke and then made all of you swear not to repeat my stupid-ass mistake. What one was that, Laddin?”
Laddin looked down, his lips pulled back as his shoulders hunched. A clear sign of guilt if ever there was one. “Um, maybe the one about not making deals with fairies?”
“That’s right! And what did you do? What did you do to turn us all into albino snow wolves?”
Josh cleared his throat. “Actually we’re not albino. If you look at Wiz’s eyes—”
“Is that important right now, Josh?” Nero asked.
“Um, no. Probably not.” Josh pressed a hand to his mouth though everyone could see his grin beneath the fist. “Shutting up now.”
At least one member of the pack knew what to do without a reminder. But then again, that might be because he and Wiz had accidentally turned everyone in the lab neon pink just last week. In retrospect, making them all snow wolves wasn’t so bad. Not that he wasn’t going to chew Laddin a new one for making a fairy deal.
“What. Did. You. Do?” Nero bit out every word. Fairy deals might seem innocent, but they were never simple.
“Nothing!” Laddin said. “I was just over by that patch of four-leaf clovers—”
“A patch?” Nero asked.
“Was it shaped like a circle?” Josh asked. “As in a fairy circle?”
“Um, maybe. I thought about being, you know, white wolves to, um, mix with the snow. Good camouflage.”
Nero groaned. “You thought? Or you wished?”
Laddin shrugged. “It might have been a wish, hard to tell. I was a wolf! I didn’t think it mattered what I was thinking!”
“It wouldn’t normally,” Nero said with a sigh. “Except you were in the middle of a fairy circle! And how the hell did we get a fairy circle in the middle of our woods?”
No one answered. They didn’t need to. The fairies created what they wanted where they wanted. Apparently, they wanted to be in the pack’s back yard.
“What did you promise?” Nero asked. “Tell me every detail. Don’t leave anything out.” Knowing Laddin, he could have promised something as harmless as fruit tarts or something like international peace. Whatever it was, Laddin would have to make sure it happened or suffer unimaginable consequences. Unimaginable for humans, that is. Fairies, on the other hand, could be very devious.
“It’ll be okay,” Laddin said. “I just said—”
“Promised,” Nero corrected.
“Right. I just promised to take care of the clover patch through the winter.”
Josh blew out a relieved sigh. “Well, that’ll suck for a few months, but it’s not lethal. You’ll probably have to put a rope warning around it, make sure it doesn’t get too cold, but at least—”
Nero held up his hand, silencing the man. Josh was off the charts brilliant, but he didn’t have the kind of experience with the fae that Nero did. “Did you happen to specify human winter?”
“What do you mean?”
Nero pointedly looked around. He hadn’t really processed it before because he too needed a morning cup of coffee, but now he saw that the snow covered a circular patch of ground about a hundred feet across. Beyond it was a gorgeous November day with clear skies and no snow whatsoever. If he had to guess, the temperature beyond the circle was well above freezing.
“Oh no…” Laddin moaned.
“Yup. Fairies can create winter for as long as they want.”
“I can’t spend my life protecting a patch of snow!” he cried. “I didn’t even know I was making a deal!”
“Are you sure?”
“I was a wolf! I couldn’t talk. I was just, you know, thinking what if! It was pretend!”
“You can’t pretend while sitting in a fairy circle,” Nero said.
“I didn’t know I was in one!”
That never made a difference to the fae. If they could catch you, then they would do it. Fortunately, he’d had experience negotiating with the fae. He hated doing it, they always made him miserable, but at least he had a mind as devious as the magical creatures. And best of all, he didn’t even have to call one as they were obviously still standing in the middle of the circle.
“Okay, then. You didn’t say anything about where the fairy patch would be. I’m thinking we get it moved to Antarctica.”
“What?” Laddin gasped. “I said I’d protect it.”
“Yup. And we’ll put Keep Away tape around it just like Josh said.” Nero grinned. “You promised to keep it safe, not alive. There’s a difference. Better yet, we can put it in a deep freeze box and accesses it whenever we need fairy help.” Which would be never, but it never hurt to have a back up just in case.
Laddin shook his head. “That’s not—”
“Do you want to spend your life protecting a circular piece of ground? Just for the joy of having white fur?”
“Definitely not,” Laddin said.
“Then say that aloud. Tell them our intentions or they can turn everything back the way it was as if you hadn’t made a deal with them last night.”
Laddin quickly said exactly what Nero suggested. It took a moment, but then abruptly, Wiz and the others who were still in wolf form, lost their white covering. The air too turned warmer, and the snow began to melt.
“Thought so,” Nero said with satisfaction. “Now repeat it to me, Laddin. What is the first rule of werewolves?”
“Never, ever make a fairy deal,” Laddin said. “Even if it would be cool to have a small patch of winter all year long.”