HOWLIN’ FOR YOU
Ember lay on the front porch near the stairs, chin resting on her folded hands. It was silent except for the rustling of the leaves in the barely-there breeze. Romero laid at the base of the steps, head on his paws, gazing at her intently. She supposed he was probably trying to figure out what she was doing. She rolled over, letting her head dangle off the top step.
She knew she looked weird, but she didn’t care. There was nobody there to see her. Her cousins and Quinn were making a pizza run. Neoma had tagged along after throwing a nervous glance in Mace’s direction. Mace said it was a lifetime of bad blood between the Unseelie and the Tuatha de Danaan. Ember had no idea what that meant but she didn’t question it. Mace currently lurked in the living room reading a human book of Quinn’s on—of all things—the Salem witch trials. It seemed strange reading for somebody as old as him but if it kept him busy it was fine by her. She heaved a sigh and Romero did, too.
She gazed up at the night sky. She liked the way the world looked upside down. The moon was barely a sliver tonight but it was just enough to cast a faint glow on her face. She missed being able to lay in the cemetery and draw in the moonlight without the threat of the walking dead.
A sharp howl pierced the air and Ember smiled. Isa. Seconds later, three howls returned her call. Romero’s ears perked up. The wolves were running somewhere in the woods on the east side of the property. Donovan said they needed to work off excess energy or they would get edgy. Ember understood excess energy—her magic was a slow simmer tonight—but she could never imagine a scenario in which answer to her problems would be cardio, much less cardio in the dead of night with bugs and darkness. No, it was safe to say she was an indoor girl.
Isa promised they wouldn’t be out long. Ember knew the lure of pizza would call them home. Ember could really go for some pizza. Romero crawled up the steps and licked her nose as if saying he, too, could go for pizza. She couldn’t help but laugh. He really was a good dog. He never barked. He never growled. Mostly, he just hung out, begged for cheese cubes, and sighed a lot. Kind of like Rhys. Well, minus the cheese cubes.
The wolves’ howls split the air once more. Romero flicked his ears back, sitting on his haunches and tipping his nose into the air. Ember flipped over, eying the dog with interest. When Isa howled again, Romero tried to return her call, but the noise that came out was raspy and pitiful. Ember frowned. Was there something wrong with his vocal cords? Maybe that was why she hadn’t heard him bark or growl. He tried again. Nothing.
He sat alert, head tipped, waiting for the alpha to howl again. Ember’s heart ached. He wanted to howl with the pack. Maybe he was just out of practice. She laid back down, tipping her head back, and gave her first attempt at a howl. It was worse than Romero’s. She sounded like a dying cat. He looked at her with his big, mournful eyes, tilting his head back and trying again. It started as a sort of low grumbling and slowly built into a croaking, rusty howl.
Ember laughed. “Yes, good boy. You got this. We can do this.”
She howled again. This time, she really put her all into it. Romero tried to join in but he just couldn’t get it. Maybe it was her. He needed a better teacher.
A shadow loomed over her. “You get just a bit weirder every day, luv.”
She scoffed, looking up to where Mace stood with his feet straddling her thighs. “Go away, I’m teaching my dog to be a wolf.”
He chuckled. “That’s the problem with this town. You have witches teaching reapers to be reapers and reapers teaching dogs to be wolves. It’s madness.”
She rolled her eyes. “Do you mind? We’re starting to make progress.”
He sat cross-legged next to her. “I don’t mind at all. As you were.”
She felt her cheeks flush as she let her head lull backwards on the stair, looking at her dog’s upside down face. Perhaps she could blame her reddened cheeks on the head rush of being upside down. “He won’t do it if you’re here. He’ll get performance anxiety.”
Mace snorted. “He will or you will?”
She huffed. “Whatever. We don’t care if he’s here, do we?” she addressed the dog.
Romero side-eyed her. When Isa howled again, Ember howled back as loudly as she could manage with her human vocal cords. Romero tilted his head back and gave a much better, though still tiny, howl. Ember smiled, and the dog rewarded her with another face lick.
“Good try. One more time, okay?”
She howled again, loud and long. She startled when Mace’s howl joined hers, stuttering, until he made a keep going motion. This time, Romero pointed his nose up and howled with them and it was perfect.
“Yes!” Ember shouted. She rolled over, ignoring the soul eater and the blood rushing from her head to climb down the stairs and wrap her arms around the dog. Isa and the others howled back, returning Romero’s call, and Ember clapped her hands excitedly. “You here that, baby? That was just for you.”
Now that he had it, it seemed Romero couldn’t stop. He howled again as headlights lit the driveway. Ember howled with him.
“What are you doing?” Tristin asked, her bitch face nailed firmly in place.
“We’re howling,” Ember told her primly before splitting the air with her pitiful human howl. Romero joined her as the others walked over.
Kai laughed. “Holy crap. That’s awesome. Have him do it again.”
Ember blushed again but did as he asked. This time, when Romero started to howl, Quinn and Kai joined in. Tristin pretended she was too cool for such a thing.
Ember knew the minute the wolves broke from the trees by the way Kai’s jaw went slack. That usually meant Rhys was shirtless. Isa and Wren were both dressed again. Donovan was nice enough to at least pull his jeans back on, and Rhys was just pulling his shirt over his head when they hit the front porch.
Isa dropped to her knees in front of the dog, grasping his furry face in her hands. “Was that you? Were you calling us? You did so good. You are such a good boy. As soon as we fix your foot you’ll come run with us.” Ember couldn’t help but think Isa was going to be a great mom someday.
Quinn laughed, pulling out his phone. “Have him do it again, I want to record this for posterity.”
Ember opened her mouth but Isa put up a hand. Her eyes flashed gold as she tilted her head back and gave the most perfect howl ever. Romero and the other wolves instantly responded. Soon, everybody joined in, even Tristin.
“Got it,” Quinn said. “That’s going in his baby book.”
Ember rolled her eyes but she felt a lightness she didn’t often experience anymore. “Okay, I’m starving. Let’s eat.”