Authors: Shannon Mayer
Tags: #ScreamQueen, #kickass.to
Praise for Tracker
“If you love the early Anita Blake novels by Laurel K. Hamilton, you will fall head over heels for The Rylee Adamson Series. Rylee is a complex character with a tough, kick-ass exterior, a sassy temperament and morals which she never deviates from. She’s the ultimate heroine. Mayer’s books rank right up there with Kim Harrison’s, Patricia Brigg’s, and Ilona Andrew’s. Get ready for a whole new take on Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance and be ready to be glued to the pages!”
-Just My Opinion Book Blog
“Mayer creates heroes you love and enemies you hate, weaves edge-of-your-seat action that leaves you breathless, and includes enough plot twists and turns to keep you guessing all the way ‘til the last page.
Death, mayhem, intrigue, fighting side-by-side with Vampires… this latest addition to the series has all of that and more. Readers will feel exactly as I did when the book ended – they’ll want more! Excellent work, Ms. Mayer!”
-CJ Ellisson, USA Today & New York Times
Whenever a book is released, there are so many more people than just the author involved in making it happen. My fantastic editors, Tina Winograd and Melissa Breau are instrumental in making sure Rylee has all her weapons—both of the verbal and more literal sense. I wouldn’t want to try and put Rylee out to the world without them.
My amazing cover artist, Damon with
you always bring flare to my covers and have helped cement Rylee’s (and my) brand. I cannot thank you enough for continuing to up the game with each successive cover.
To Benjamin, there is nothing to say except … You are the man when it comes to formatting!
A HUGE shout out to Jen Bobish, a reader who helped me develop two new characters for this book (Erik and Ophelia). It was so fun to build the characters from scratch and I think all the readers will love the new additions!
When it comes to my support system, I would not be able to keep up this pace without my amazing hubby. He makes sure that everything not related to writing continues to run smoothly even when I am lost in my words and other worlds.
And in no particular order, thank you to Lysa Lessieur, Creig Lessieur, Poul Bendsen, and Jean Faganello. You have each helped me in your own way to make my books and writing better each time I put pen to paper. Thank you for all you do!
“Love is a better teacher than duty.”
~ Albert Einstein~
ough, broken splinters
of wood gaped like an open mouth where a doorway stood not too long ago. Shards lay scattered on the floor at my feet, giant toothpicks. I pushed one with my boot across the thick stone floor.
bent and picked up a piece of the broken doorway; he rolled it between his hands before looking up at me. “This is the fifth one busted to hell.” The light from the torches hanging on the wall caught the color of his eyes, making them more silver than usual.
“Five out of five. Someone’s going for the gold.” I squinted, using my measly skill with my second sight to look around. Nothing was out of the ordinary in the castle. Yet this was a jumping point for those wanting to cross the veil, and someone was destroying our ability to use it. My guts rolled with acid; our time of respite was up.
I loosened my swords, only the second time in the last month that wasn’t for practice. A month of peace, of relative calm, if you didn’t count the constant explosions from
how to hone her magic.
Not to mention
“singing” Christmas carols Pamela taught him—at three in the morning—in his sleep, and at the foot of the bed.
Liam and I spent a week in northern Europe with the old wolf,
, and his pack. That was the only other time I had to draw a weapon for more than practice. And then, it hadn’t even been my own. My hand went to the teardrop pendant hanging around my neck. A gift from Liam from our time in Europe and one that I treasured above anything else I owned; as much for what it stood for as for what it was.
I shook my head, clearing those memories, focusing on what we faced in the castle.
The hallway echoed our footsteps. We were heading to Portland to see
and the ogre gangs, and find out if they stood with us or not. After losing
Sla, and the triplets
, I wasn’t so sure the ogres would see us as friends any longer. The communication with the Sas since then had been, at best, lacking.
Not a good sign when looking for allies.
With each doorway we came to, more evidence piled up. Broken, destroyed. No way we’d be using the castle as a means to jump the veil anymore. I let out a slow breath. While this would make life difficult if we had to move fast, it wouldn’t kill us.
“Why wasn’t the doorway to the mine broken up?” Liam asked. The answer was already on the tip of my tongue.
He let out a low snarl and energy swirled around him.
“Don’t shift.” I held up a hand, though didn’t look back at him. “Let’s see what other doors are busted.”
A snort escaped him. “You think any of them aren’t?”
We’d traveled back from Europe the week before, and I’d checked in with
. The doors had been intact at that point. So this destruction, and whoever had done it, was recent. They might still be here.
“If we are being driven toward something, yes. At least one other doorway will be unbroken.”
If I thought his energy had swirled before, it was nothing to what I felt as he moved tight to my side. Power and the scent of wolf wrapped my senses into a nice, tight package that egged me on, urging me to let loose. I drew in several breaths, slowing the adrenaline not yet needed, but drawn to the surface of my skin. Begging to be unleashed.
The wolf in Liam called to my own wildness, the part that wanted nothing more than to turn my back on the world and run free with him to where no one would find us. For the last month the pull had grown stronger, the desire to be away from everything I knew was coming for me. For us.
Especially after our time in Europe.
It had been the two of us, and our connection deepened in that time, if that was possible. Letting him lead, allowing him to truly be an alpha had strengthened our relationship in ways I couldn’t have imagined.
My hand unconsciously went to the gold chain hanging around my neck, touching the pendant through my shirt, reassuring myself it was still there. In a very short time, it had become a touchstone for me.
But I knew running away was a dream. There was no way we could walk out on everything and everyone and ignore our responsibilities, or those who depended on us.
“I wish you were wrong.” He breathed out, his lips close to my ear, though nothing sexual about it.
Okay, maybe a little sexy with the feel of his jaw line against the back of my neck. My body knew his too well not to be affected by his proximity, even when my brain screamed danger to me.
“I wish I was wrong too.”
While the castle always felt deserted, something was different. A definite chill … like a graveyard vandalized and the graves dug open. I had no illusions about this being a place of peace; we’d shed enough blood on these stones to dispel any of those kinds of thoughts. Still, it seemed wrong to brake it down and turn it into nothing more than an ordinary castle.
It took an hour before we found an unbroken doorway besides the one leading to the North Dakota badlands we’d come through on the first level. On the third level, near one of the few windows looking onto the courtyard, was the only door untouched.
A part of me expected something black and charred, a literal entrance to Hell or the deeper parts of the veil I kept hearing about.
This door though was steel, thick and polished to a shine catching light from the window. A heavy, old-school padlock clamped down on a bar that rode across the middle of the doorway. I knew this door; I’d been here with Alex. Fuck, I did not want this to be happening.
I put a hand on the cool steel. “Does it surprise you this doorway is left standing?”
“No, not really,” Liam said, bringing his hand next to mine on the door. He barely touched it and was thrown back, an arc of lightening slamming him into the far wall.
With a groan he sat up, rubbing his head. “Let me guess, the door is spelled?”
I chuckled, knowing it would take a hell of a lot more than a simple bolt of lightning to take him out, and ran my hand over the door, my Immunity to magic protecting me. “I suppose; I didn’t touch it last time.”
Stepping back I shook my head. “Let’s go, there’s nothing we can do about this now.”
Liam brushed himself off as he stood. “What about Sas and the ogres?”
The clank of steel against steel, soft and quickly silenced, rose through the window. Moving to the side of it, pressing my body against the cool stones, I peered out. Liam did the same on the other side.
In the courtyard below, row upon row of red caps covered the ground. Big hulking bastards covered in muscle and armor. They had their pikes in one hand shield in the other. They looked like the Hulk pumped up on steroids. Yeah, they were that big and ugly. Shit, we’d faced them before in the castle and I’d nearly died, and Pamela was with us, blasting her way through them. Where the hell had they come from? Maybe another doorway was still open.
They stood tall and proud, blood trickling down their faces from the gruesome organic hats on the top of their heads. The thing with redcaps was they loved their “hats,” but only if they were made of the guts of enemies they’d slain. One stood in front of others, a half head taller and what looked like viscera on his shoulders that dripped with blood. He paced in front of the other red caps, finally coming to a stop. “There are intruders here, ones who have destroyed the doorways.”
A deep rumble rolled through the red caps and even at this distance I saw their large hands tighten on their weapons and lips lift into snarls. Shit, this was not good. Particularly since I was pretty sure we were the only intruders in the castle, and I doubted red caps would wait for us to explain we hadn’t blasted the doorways apart.
“We should go, now, while they’re busy.” Liam stepped away from the window and motioned for me to follow him.
“Wait, just wait.” A part of me wondered whose side they were on, because if we could get them on our side, they would be an amazing fighting force against
. Lots of them and blood thirsty as they came.
Below us, the leader let out a loud snarl. “We will hunt them down and use their bellies to brighten our caps and their skin to shit in.” His troops roared their agreement.
Never mind, time to go.
On the second floor, nearing the stairway down to the main level, the first red cap loped around the corner behind us.
He let out a roar, his head thrown back as he lifted a six-foot long pike over his head. That was the opening we needed, but Liam beat me to him.
Liam lunged, his blade snapping forward and driving through the red cap’s neck. His head rolled, held by the spinal column.
“Not even a clean cut? I’m disappointed.” I headed down the stairs as the body thumped to the ground behind us.
“The blade is too short, which makes it somewhat useless. Besides, don’t I even get a ‘thank you’?”
No doubt he still wished he had guns. For the safety of the supernatural world, we destroyed the spelled munitions while in Europe. So Liam was back to blades or teeth and claws. I was happier with them gone. The guns made me so damn nervous I could barely sleep at night, dreaming of Orion finding them. In the wrong hands that technology would have literally been the death of our world.
Liam trotted down behind me as the sound of footsteps on stone echoed around us, probably called in by their buddy’s last roar of defiance. I jogged faster, skipping steps where I could. We were nearing the first floor, but our doorway was on the other side of the castle.
Not that I was dawdling, but I was doing my best to keep quiet. Red caps en masse were not something I wanted to deal with if I could help it.
And the stairwell was dark and shadowed. Of all the things in my arsenal, night vision was not one of them. Last thing we needed was me falling and breaking a leg or an arm and alerting the red caps to where we were. Liam wouldn’t break if he fell; I on the other hand was all too capable of snapping a bone.
“I’ll thank you later. Besides, you keep telling me your job is to protect me. See how I let you do your job?” A smile twisted across my lips and Liam laughed under his breath. Being hunted by red caps doesn’t seem much like a laughing matter. Yet, in my life, it was a fairly minor deal on the scale of scary shit I’d seen and gone through. At best, a five out of ten.
Water dripped down the walls of the castle, hitting the pitch-covered torches, flames hissing and flickering with each droplet of moisture. But we were almost to the doorway, so who the hell cared if the lights went out? Or so I thought, until Liam grabbed my arm, his voice low. “We aren’t alone.”
Every muscle in me tensed as my eyes searched the hall ahead of us. With the light dancing, every shadow seemed alive, every dark spot could hold someone waiting to take us out when we least expected it. I’d been ambushed more than once in dark places like this. Being supernatural you’d think I’d learn to avoid them, but honestly it seemed my life was nothing but dark places and battles.
Behind us, at the far end of the hallway came a loud sniff, as if a creature were scenting the air. Red caps didn’t scent the air; they were more human like than animal, even if they did bathe in the blood of their enemies and wear intestine scarves.
Liam let out a low growl. “Some sort of hound, we have to move.”
So be it.
I strode toward our exit point, the only door besides the steel one unbroken. The shadows beside the door shifted and a man stepped between us and our exit.
Unfortunately for him, I had very little patience for this kind of shit. “Move or I’ll move you in pieces.”
He let out a soft laugh that tickled along the back of my senses. The hounds behind us let out a unified howl that filled the air, doing far more than tickling my senses.
The man didn’t move. His face was shrouded by shadows, his arms loose at his sides. Almost like he wasn’t sure what to do with himself or what he was doing next. I didn’t like it. His eyes darted from us, to the doorway, and then back to us. Uncertainty was a good way to get killed in our world.
“Rylee. I never thought to see you again, child.” His voice was thick with an accent I thought might be Russian.
“Good for you, you know my name. Now move your ass out of our way.”
Hesitating slightly, he opted for a sweeping bow, then stepped away from the door. “After you.”
Heavy feet and armor along with the scrabble of claws behind us propelled me forward. I didn’t trust this shadow man, but I didn’t have a choice. We couldn’t face all those red caps, not without serious casualties. At least once on the other side of the doorway we’d be safe. One of the few perks with using doorways—very little would come through after you.