Authors: Shannon Mayer
Rylee Adamson #2
ait, what did you say?”
Dox took a slow deep breath, a rattle sounded in the back of his throat that unnerved me even through the phone. It was hard to tell because I couldn’t see him, but my instincts told me he’d been roughed up. He hawked a glob of spit, and I cringed. Even for an ogre, I knew there was too much oomph behind it to be just spit. Blood, then, was the only other answer.
“We’re in trouble. Louisa is back, and she’s blaming you for her disappearance. I’m being pulled in as the one who raped her. Apparently, we want to use her for our own ends, steal her power.” Another big breath, and then a cough.
I gripped the edge of the kitchen countertop. “That’s not her; she would never do this to us. Dox, what really happened?”
There was a rustle on the other end before he answered, like he was wiping his face with a tissue.
“She had her tribal Guardian pay me a visit. He’s coming back in one week to finish the job if I don’t admit that it was me who hurt her. Then, he’s coming for you. I can’t beat him, Rylee. He’s too strong.”
The old phone creaked under my fingers, a steady ache in my chest reminding me that it hadn’t been long since my last battle with seriously badass supernaturals. “Dox, I can’t help right now. I’m on my way to a new salvage.”
He let out a tired sigh. “Rylee, I’ve never asked you for help before. I’m asking now.”
Dox was one of my few friends, but there was a child out there, hurt and alone, and I was the only one who stood a chance of finding him, hopefully alive. That was what I did. As a Tracker I was the equivalent of a psychic bloodhound able to trace someone’s ‘threads’ no matter how far away, or even if they were alive or dead.
I closed my eyes. Dox could take care of himself; he was an ogre, for god’s sake! Besides, there was no way Louisa would follow through on her threat. Sure, the Shaman could be as manipulative as Hannibal Lector and just as smart; sure, she might try to scare him into doing what she wanted, but I doubted she would really kill him. Louisa was doing what she did best—pulling strings. Dox just had yet to learn this side of her. Still, I felt bad turning him down.
“I’ve got to go.”
I hung up, opened my eyes, and stood there in the kitchen, staring at my reflection in the window. Auburn hair, tri-colored eyes, and a lean body hardened from years of training and fights shimmered in the frosted glass. I scrubbed a hand over my face, the slight tremble in my fingers irritating me.
Yup, some friend you are.
I grit my teeth against the thoughts that mocked me. Dox
my friend, but this kid I was going after needed me more.
A week. I had to believe Dox could take care of himself. I was needed elsewhere. Maybe if I found the kid quick, I could head down to New Mexico, give him a hand. Yes, that was possible.
I tapped my hand on the table. North Dakota was about to hit full winter mode, and the other states I’d have to drive through to get to Dox weren’t far behind on the “Fuck, I’m cold” barometer. The forecast predicted a winter storm for late in the week. If I was to manage my salvage and help Dox, I had to get my ass in gear.
I had to meet with the kid’s mother in a few short hours at a bar in Bismarck where she worked as a stripper. ‘Bottoms Up’ was a seedier joint, one I knew of only by reputation. That didn’t bother me; it was the kid I was trying to save, not his mother.
“Who was that on the phone, dear?”
Giselle sidled up beside me and I put an arm around her shoulder, surprised by her rational question. “My friend, Dox. He’s in trouble.” A look over her showed that the little time she’d been back with me and out of her rundown home had done some good. Her color had improved and she’d put on some weight.
On the other hand, her mind was as it had been before. Scattered, with only glimpses of lucidity. Not to mention she’d tried ‘running away’ multiple times. She didn’t like being away from her home in Bismarck, and her spiritual guides residing there.
“Darling mine, won’t you help me see the rainbow?” Her light brown eyes were vacant once more. I hugged her against my side, and she shoved me away, eyes suddenly wild with fear.
“NO! I won’t let you hurt her!” She bolted from the kitchen and ran out the back door. Grabbing a long winter coat, I followed her out into the frost-kissed air. A sharp, icy blast of wind snatched at my clothes and hair, swirling both out around me, as if it would bare me naked to the wind. Giselle had been my mentor since I was sixteen, had trained me both physically and mentally, helping me hone my abilities. The closest thing to a mother I had, her mind was being eaten by the madness claiming her, slowly stealing her away from the world.
Jogging after Giselle, I ended up finding her at the edge of the barn, cowered against the broken slats and shivering in her thin clothes. Moving slowly, as if she were a cornered animal, I slipped the jacket over her shoulders, clenching my teeth against the frigid air. Son of a bitch, it was bitter already outside; more like the middle of winter than the bare start of it. I couldn’t remember the late fall ever being this cold. The air burned my lungs, making it hard to breathe. Giselle flinched when I sucked in a sharp breath, as though I’d hit her.
“Giselle, come back inside,” I said, keeping my voice soft. I had to work hard at keeping my teeth from chattering. “It’s too cold out here.”
The wild look faded and her eyes went blank. I scooped her up into my arms—even with the weight gain she wasn’t more than a hundred pounds—and took her back in the house. The wind caught the edge of the door and slammed it behind me, rattling the glass pane insert. Settling her into a kitchen chair, I poured a cup of hot coffee from the pot Milly had started that morning when she’d gotten home from her ‘date’, and then I grabbed a blanket from my room to replace the jacket around Giselle’s shoulders. With some encouraging, my mentor took a sip and her shivering abated after some time, though mine clung to me in tremors.
“There is no child this time,” she said, her lips pressed against the edge of the cup.
I squatted beside her, a hand on her knee, feeling the sharp point of bones under her paper-thin skin. “Yes, there is. But my friend is in trouble too. I’m going to try and help them both.”
“Always with you, it’s the same. Trackers and trouble, they go hand in hand. I remember that much.” Her eyes flicked down to mine, lucid. She took my hand in hers and flipped it over to read what was there, to tell me what was coming my way. Despite her talent with reading people and their futures, this was the only way she could ‘read’ me.
On top of being a Tracker, I was also an Immune. Like a blank slate, psychics couldn’t read me, and most spells and magic failed on contact with me. An additional perk was that I was immune to poisons of all kinds. I pulled back from Giselle. “No. I don’t want you using up any energy on me.”
She snorted and glared at me. “I’ll do as I please with the time I’m given.” With strength I’d often forgot she possessed when of mind, she took my hand and traced a few lines with the tips of her fingers.
“Choices, many of them will converge. Love and friendship will be tested, loyalties will be divided.” Letting out a sigh she shook her head, wisps of hair floating around her face, giving her a halo when the light hit just right. “Above them all, danger. Death.”
It was my turn to snort. “Nothing new about that.”
She started to smile, the corners of her lips curling up as her hand squeezed mine, then her lips sagged as the Giselle I knew fled and the vacant stare I’d come to hate slid back onto her face.
Soft footsteps drew my eyes to the hallway. Milly, my best friend, and the best damn witch I knew stepped into the kitchen, watching my interaction with Giselle, wearing a pale pink satin robe and not much else. She could get away with it. Luxurious dark brown hair flowed over her shoulders in gentle waves that looked as though she’d just stepped out of the salon. Where I was lean and tight with muscle, Milly was soft and feminine, her curves giving more than one man whiplash as they passed her on the street.
“How is she?” Green eyes met mine, and I shook my head, rubbing my arms.
“Out of it. Frick, it’s cold.”
Milly lifted an eyebrow. “It’s not that cold out. I came home in my black dress and nothing else and was just fine. Maybe you’re coming down with something.”
I ignored that comment. The last thing I needed was to get sick.
“Are you going to be around for a while?”
She padded across the hard wood floor to the coffee. Pouring herself a cup she took a sip, then grimaced and poured it down the sink. “You don’t mean just for the day, do you?”
“No, I have a salvage, and Dox is in trouble.”
She lifted an eyebrow, waiting for me to explain. And in the past, I would have. But in the past, I trusted her completely. Not so much now, even though she was still my friend. Not only had she chosen the coven over me, which almost cost us both our lives, but she’d claimed the only man I’d ever had feelings for, for herself. Petty of me? Yes, especially since she had no idea that I even liked him, but I wasn’t a big enough person to ignore it.
Besides, this last week, something about her had been off. I couldn’t pinpoint it, but I’d learned to trust my gut, and something was not right with Milly. For now I’d let it lie, but at some point we would have to talk it out.
The skin around her eyes tightened, but she said nothing about my lack of details. “How long?”
Thinking about what Dox had said, considering the time it took for me to find a kid, I mulled it over. “No more than a week.” If it took longer than that I was screwed anyway.
Milly leaned back against the counter, exposing a long line of creamy skin nearly to her navel. Love bites traced their way down and I struggled to hold it together. I couldn’t stand the thought of her and the FBI agent who’d been after me for ten years, together. Sure, he knew
that I hadn’t killed my little sister, and sure, we’d had a few heated moments ourselves, but that didn’t mean I had any hold over him. Unfortunately for me, seeing the evidence that they were enjoying each other’s company did nothing to ease the building anger . Or the hurt of an unfair betrayal I had no right to.
Seeing my gaze, Milly flushed and shut her robe. “It wasn’t here. I went to his house. I didn’t break your silly rule.”
I’d told Milly when she’d moved in that she wasn’t allowed to bring her boyfriends home with her in the hopes I wouldn’t have to see her and O’Shea together. It seemed even with the rule in place, I was still going to get to see the evidence. I stood up. “Fine.”
“I can keep an eye on her for a few days. I don’t have anything urgent to deal with. On one condition.”
Shrugging, I nodded. Likely, she wanted me to pick up some ingredient once I got to New Mexico. The state’s tagline was “Land of Enchantment”—and that was an understatement when it came to the supernatural. Which was a large part of the reason I’d picked North Dakota; it was one of the quieter spots in the country.
“Sure, what do you want?”
“Take your pets with you. Both of them.”
I blinked a couple of times, and then frowned. “How the hell am I supposed to sneak a Harpy into New Mexico exactly? Never mind take her on a salvage.” Alex wouldn’t be a problem, not really. I’d slip his spelled collar on and people wouldn’t see a werewolf, but an oversized dog. But there was no way I’d be able to hide a thousand pound Harpy.
“That isn’t my issue. You took them on, and I am not going to be responsible for them when you leave. Giselle is family; they aren’t.” Her arms crossed, and while she may have been frowning, I could see that she was legitimately upset. I just didn’t understand why.
I didn’t have time for this. “I can take Alex. I can’t take Eve. She’s too big. She’ll just hang out in the barn.”
Milly acted as though I hadn’t said anything past ‘She’s too big.’
“Here, this will hide her; it will make her about the size of a hawk.” She held out a coil of bright gold that had been woven into a clasping bracelet. A few diamonds sparkled and danced in the kitchen light. Jaw tight, I snatched it from her. As much as this would be handy, it pissed me off that Milly was giving me grief.
“What’s the problem with you? Not getting laid enough?” I snapped as I yanked the crossed shoulder sheath that carried my swords onto my back, then jerked my fleece lined leather jacket over them all.
She ignored my dig. “I didn’t ask to take care of them. I did not bring them home. It’s enough that I take care of myself and Giselle. If it was my choice, they’d both be sent back to their own kind.”