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Immune(Rylee Adamson #2)(16) by Shannon Mayer

“No. I want to be able to slam it into reverse in case we set off any booby traps.” I smiled sweetly over at him. “You know what a booby trap is, don’t you?”

The agent rolled down his window and craned his head out to have a look. “What am I looking for?”

“You ever smell the air right before lightning strikes?” I kept my eyes glued to the road ahead of us, watching for indentations or obvious scuff marks.

He slowly drawled out, “Yeah. Fantastic.” And stuck his head back out the window.

Parking in front of the sprawling rancher, I didn’t see anything that screamed trouble. Of course, it wasn’t like Louisa would be putting a freaking sign out over each potential death spell. It wasn’t me I was worried about, but O’Shea was as vulnerable as anyone else to a spell designed to kill. On second thought, with the demon venom coursing through me, my immunity to spells could be diminished. Son of a bitch, I had to get this shit out of me.

Turning the SUV off, I stepped out and did a slow circle. The place felt totally abandoned. Tracking Louisa was easy; I locked onto her almost right away. I turned again, feeling the Shaman’s energy spike and with a pop the clarity was gone and I was dealing with the fuzzy fog.

“What the hell?” I took a step toward the house. She was inside, of that much I was sure, but why the change in clarity?

O’Shea moved with me, pulling a sword off his back. With his long trench coat, it was well hidden, unlike mine. “What is it?”

“Louisa is in the house.” I sent out a thread to Track her again. She was at the back of the house, shifting back and forth. I motioned for O’Shea to join me and opened the door.

The interior of the Shaman’s house was decorated with classic southwestern decor. Nothing that stood out, but here and there I noted pieces, some far from the norm, different than anything else I’d seen here in the past. The skull of an eagle with cactus spines sticking out of it, a triad of claws, connected by woven sinew that looked like a primeval throwing star, and a stone-carved bowl that, upon closer inspection, held candies. Okay, maybe the candies weren’t odd, but the carved bowl was made out of the top of some sort of skull. Nice. I scooped up a candy on my way by, popping it into my mouth, much to O’Shea’s surprised intake of air.

“You think that’s a good idea?”

I rolled the candy in my mouth, the taste of honey and lemon circling. “I’ve been here before, the candies are good.”

The scuff of a chair on the floor stopped us both, my hands pulling out both of my blades instantly at hearing it. Another scuff and the creak of steps on the floor sent a chill down my spine. I didn’t want to surprise the Shaman; her abilities were not to be discounted in any way.

“Louisa, it’s me, Rylee. I’m here with my partner, O’Shea. We’d like to talk to you.” Funny how easy it was to put him out there to others as my partner.

The footsteps paused and then started up again, this time faster, shifting from a lightweight tread to a heavy thump that resounded through the house.

“Adamson . . .”

“Don’t let her touch you.” I crouched. “And don’t kill her.”

There was a moment where everything paused, the air around us stilling, the pulse of my blood slowing, and then the world seemed to explode.

Brown fur, claws and teeth like daggers, came roaring at us, swiping with frying pan-sized paws. This was the tribal Guardian Louisa had called up. A bear and a big one at that.

I changed my mind. “Shit, kill it!” I swept my blade out, catching the bear across the forearm. I expected a spurt of blood, a misplaced step, something.

The skin split and immediately stitched itself back together. O’Shea drove the point of his sword deep into the bear’s side, straight through the heart.

The bear roared, saliva dripping from its lips and teeth, and caught the agent in the hip, sending him flying back the way we’d come, crashing through a table on the way. Again, there was no blood. The bear hunched its back and rose on its back feet, roaring at me, lips pulled back, the scent of death and blood on its breath. Its eyes found me, and I was drawn into them, the silver orbs not of this world. Tribal Guardian, indeed.

A howl echoed from outside and a scrabble of claws on the floor spun me around in time to see Alex launch himself at the bear, muzzle and claws extended.

“Alex, no,” I yelled, unable to stop him. Why the hell hadn’t he listened to me and stayed with Dox?

The werewolf hit the bear hard, head on, digging his back claws into the bear’s underbelly, teeth into his neck. And though the creature should have been eviscerated, it continued to come at us. With an almost casual fling of its claw-tipped paw, it pulled the wolf off and threw him at the window. Glass shattered all over the floor, and Alex disappeared. This had to stop. We couldn’t fight this one and survive. Taking a step back, I tried to slow my heart, stop the adrenaline pumping through me.

With the calmest voice I could manage, I spoke to the bear. “We mean no harm.” This after I yelled to kill it, ha! “I’m here to help Louisa.” I lowered the tips of my blades, fighting my instincts, which were to try and take the creature’s head. But if Louisa had called it up, I doubted even a decapitation would stop the bear.

The bear dropped back to all fours, still staring at me. Swallowing hard, I held my ground. “You are here to protect Louisa; I’m here to do the same.”

Sounds of movement from behind me told me O’Shea wasn’t out cold, and the groan from outside told me Alex was moving, if slower than before. The bear hadn’t moved forward, just watched. I had no idea if the thing could understand me or not, but I was banking on it.

“Tell Louisa we’re here. We’ll wait for her.”

The bear let out a low rumble, swiping at the floor with its paw and leaving a trail of gouge marks in the ground, a reminder of what it could do to us. Then, slowly, it backed out of the room, disappearing into the back of the house. Silence fell, as if the bear had never been.

I ran to where O’Shea was just now sitting up, a hand over his hip. Three claws had caught him, tearing through skin down to the bone.

“You’re lucky this wasn’t your belly,” I said, poking at the wounds. They needed to be stitched, but they weren’t life threatening. I took a look over the rest of him; lots of scrapes and he’d likely be bruised, but he’d live. Alex stumbled in from outside, his face cut up and dripping blood. Limping over to us, head hung low, he whimpered, shaking his head several times, drool flinging around the room. “I try help.”

I beckoned him closer and he laid down beside O’Shea, head on the agent’s thigh.

“Yeah, I know.” I stroked the wolf’s head, smoothing out the wounds as they sealed themselves up. A little like the Guardian, only I knew that in Alex there was blood, and a beating heart that could be stopped.

“Did you talk to that thing?” O’Shea asked while I poked at Alex, checking him over too.

Shrugging, I nodded. “You never know until you try. I’m pretty sure it is Louisa’s Guardian, the one that roughed up Dox. He never told us it was a bear though.”

A deep voice rumbled from behind us and I spun, lifting a blade.

“That is because I can be both man and beast, one of those destined to protect his people.”

Tall, heavily muscled, with long black hair pulled back over one ear, the man standing before us looked as though he’d stepped through time. Sun-darkened skin and deer hide pants were his only article of clothing besides a large bearskin, head and everything, that hung around his shoulders. His bare feet—no pun intended—slapped the floors lightly.

“Louisa is waiting for you on the back porch.”

I rose, O’Shea following stiffly.

The Guardian stepped forward, silver eyes glaring. “Only you, Tracker. Not the human. And not the wolf.”

O’Shea glared back, the level of testosterone rising rapidly. Alex lifted his head, snarling up at the Guardian, white teeth flashing, saliva dripping from his lips. Fabulous.

“I’ll be fine, O’Shea. Just wait for me. Alex, you stay with O’Shea. Keep him safe.” Alex frowned, but nodded slowly, then shook his head, spittle flying everywhere.

“Doody.”

O’Shea’s gaze shifted from the Guardian to me, the glare not lessening. “I don’t trust him.”

“There isn’t a choice. Besides, I think he could have snapped us like twigs if he’d wanted to.” I lifted an eyebrow at the Guardian who gave me a small nod of acknowledgment. Yup, good to know when you could be wiped out and by whom. I was no superwoman, no secret agent. There would always be creatures out there that could out muscle me. And it was important to remember that truth.

Leaving a muttering O’Shea and a grumbling Alex behind, I skirted past the Guardian. The scent of musk and damp growing things caught me unaware, and I paused for a split second, breathing it in. For a moment it felt like I was deep in a forest, the heavy canopy dripping rain, the crush of greenery surrounding me, the trickle of a stream close by. I shook my head, dispelling the image as the Guardian glanced down at me with a frown. I picked up my pace. Whatever I was picking up from him was not necessary, but I would admit, it piqued my curiosity about the Guardians in general.

I strode through the back room and pushed the porch screen door open, letting it bang behind me. To my right, Louisa, or what was left of her, sat propped up by cushions, her body emaciated to the point where her clavicle and chest bones pressed against her skin. Her once luxurious black hair that brushed the ground when she walked was gone, replaced by a sparse scattering of grey that didn’t even reach her shoulder. I’d always put Louisa in her mid to late thirties, the prime of her life, but now she looked as though she’d aged sixty years since I’d seen her last. The only thing identifying her to me was her eyes, silvery white, identical to the Guardian.

“Oh my God,” I whispered, horrified at what could have done this to her.