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Priceless(Rylee Adamson #1)(4) by Shannon Mayer

She gave a sharp gasp, and I heard the bed creak in the background, then a soft exclamation that wasn’t Milly. I smiled. She was always having “sleepovers.” That was something I didn’t have the time for, or the inclination—at least right now. Matters of the heart were just too messy, in my opinion. I thought again about what Giselle said, about a man coming into my life. No, this was not the time for that kind of crap.

Footsteps and a door closing told me we had a little more privacy. “What’s wrong?”

“We have to move her. I don’t know how, but that house is falling down around her ears. And the madness has moved quickly in the last few months. I don’t think she’ll survive the winter on her own. She’s lost a lot of weight.” I paused and scanned the streets. “Hang on a minute, I think I’m lost.”

I took a left turn and navigated through a sub-division. Bismarck wasn’t a huge town, but it was expanding, and when all the houses were cookie cutter look a-likes, it was easy to get turned around.

Slowing for a stop sign, I continued. “I’m on a salvage right now.” That was my word for going after kids, just in case we had anyone listening in. “I don’t know how long it will be, at least a week maybe. If you can start to get Giselle out, I’ll help you when I get back.”

Silence on the other end of the line. “Milly? Are you still there?”

“Rylee, meet me at the coffee shop, the one on East Ave. I’ve got . . . news.”

My phone took that moment to blink off, and no matter how I smashed and squeezed it I couldn’t get it to flick back on.

“Damn!” I spun the wheel and did a tight u-turn. The coffee shop, “Bean done Right,” was about five minutes away. Another detour, but for Milly I would take it.

The parking lot was empty; in between breakfast and lunch the coffee shop slowed right down. Milly stood outside, arms wrapped around her upper body, dark brown hair pulled into a high ponytail. I waved and hopped out of the Jeep.

“Hey. What’s going on?” I didn’t ask her how she was; it was obvious. Upset, scared, uncertain. Which for Milly was odd. She was the one who was organized, always knew how to lay out a difficult salvage; rarely did her emotions get the better of her. Except the horny ones, that is.

“I can’t help her, Rylee.” Her green eyes flicked away from mine. “I can’t be here for long, but I had to tell you in person.”

Shock filtered through me. This wasn’t like Milly, not at all. What the hell was going on? I didn’t get a chance to ask before she rushed on and answered my unspoken question.

“The Coven wants me to break ties with all people who aren’t witches. That includes you and Giselle. This is what I’ve always wanted. I’m so sorry.”

Her eyes were swollen, her lips trembled, and her slight frame shook. I reached out to put a hand on her shoulder and she flinched as though I’d hit her.

“Do you mean like forever?” My voice came through on a whisper, my heart breaking at the thought of losing one more person in my life.

Her hiccupping sobs were all the answer I needed. I looked away from her, stared into the coffee shop, with the empty seats and the cashier staring out at me.

“What about the salvages? Can you walk away from them?” What I was really asking, what we both knew I meant was, could she walk away from kids who’d been like us: alone, searching for a home, for a safe haven, broken souls who would need mending.

She covered her face with her hands. “I can’t have” —she hiccupped another sob— “both. I can’t have the Coven and . . . you and Giselle. This is hard for me. They offered me this spot a month ago.”

That would explain her absence lately.

I would beg if I had to. On this case, more than any other, I needed her and I would fight to keep her as my friend. “This girl was taken from Dearborn Park. Just like Berget, even the same day as her. Milly, please.” I stepped closer to her. Again she flinched. “Please help me this one last time.”

Tears tracked down her face and her eyes lifted to meet mine, only to drop again. Shoulders slumped, and she continued to cry. “I’m . . .sorry. I know how hard it is for you to face this . . . now. But–” She twitched as I stepped closer.

That was enough of that. If she was going to be afraid of me, then I’d give her a reason. I grabbed her arms and shook her. “You took an oath, the same as I did, to find these missing kids. You promised, you selfish bitch!” I bit the words, anger making me mean.

“You’re hurting me,” she said, but didn’t try to pull away.

“Good, that makes two of us.” Still, I dropped my hands and backed up, shaking my head. A slow deep breath calmed my racing heart. “They shouldn’t try to take you away, that isn’t right.”

“It’s how they do things,” she said, rubbing her arms. “I’ve got to go. They can’t know that I’ve seen you.”

Milly turned her back and walked away from me, pausing at the edge of the building. “Goodbye, Rylee.” The tears in her voice did me in.

“You can always come home, Milly. No matter what, you know that right? I’ll always look out for you.” It was the best I could do. My own emotions were choking me. I didn’t want to be left behind again.

Her words hitched into sobs. I couldn’t be truly angry with her. We both had wanted only one thing growing up: to fit in. And now she had a chance, and I couldn’t begrudge her that, no matter how much it hurt. Swallowing the pain back, I slipped into the Jeep. “You’ll always be my witch, Milly.” I pulled the door closed, shutting out the wind and my best friend. Only then did I let the tears fall and allow myself to feel the pain of being abandoned once again.

5

I didn’t have time to relocate my mentor if I was to save India. But there was no way I was going to let Giselle stay in her house with what felt like an early winter coming on, and I didn’t have the funds to put her up in a care home; they were too expensive and the wait to get in was long. Maybe after this job I would move her out to my place; but then I immediately dismissed the thought. Giselle didn’t like to leave her home, never had, even when her mind had been mostly intact. This was about to get difficult.

I wove back through the subdivision to Giselle’s house and parked out front for the second time that day.

Bundling her up in a threadbare lightweight jacket, I tucked her into the passenger seat of the Jeep and cranked the heat up.

Her eyes followed me, a silent question in them, as I walked around to my side of the vehicle.

“We’re going for a ride,” I said, as I put on my seatbelt and pulled away from the curb. She huddled in her seat, lost in her mind’s abyss, somewhere far beyond my reach.

She’d been the one to name me, name my abilities. I was an Immune and a Tracker all bundled up into one. My tracking abilities hadn’t come on line until after Berget went missing. Since then, I could pinpoint anyone I was close with, friends and even strangers, when I worked at it. All I needed was their name and a picture of them, and I was off and running. Could lead you right to them, no matter the distance. More than that, I knew if they were hurt, happy, sad, alive, or dead. With the kids I hunted for, this ability was priceless. It only failed me if the kids weren’t on this side of the veil, which from time to time was the case. If they’d been taken by supernaturals interested in the kid’s powers and abilities, they weren’t kept where I could find them easily. Even if they were dead, I could still track them, to at least give the parents some sense of closure. Unfortunately, that was all too often the case. The only one I’d never been able to find was Berget. I reached for her, even as I thought of this anomaly, finding only an empty spot inside my skull where she should have been. Even if she was dead, I should have been able to find her, to bring her home.

My thoughts flickered as I glanced over at Giselle, sound asleep and snoring lightly, a blush of color on her cheeks. I reached over and brushed my hand over her forehead, letting out a sigh of relief. “No fever.”

I took a left turn and my mind went back to the day I’d been bitten by a large rattlesnake, not long after moving in with Giselle and Milly. We’d been in the backyard, me practicing my tracking on the neighborhood children, pinpointing them for Giselle, while Milly practiced her incantations under her breath. I’d stepped back into a large bush and felt a sharp jab into my left leg. Looking down, a massive diamond shaped head hung off my left calf, venom pumping into my system. Its eyes transfixed me as it worked its teeth deeper into my flesh, trying to get a better grip on my calf.

Giselle shouted, but I was too frozen by shock to move. A large part of me thought it was my time to die; the guilt over losing Berget still sat heavily on me, my inability to track the one child I loved more than any other, the depression it invoked was something I couldn’t escape. However, it wasn’t yet my time to die.

That was the day Giselle told me I was an Immune, something she’d been suspecting, but hadn’t known for sure until I’d been bit. I was Immune not just to the supernatural bites that could turn me furry or sunlight hating, but immune to poisons of all kinds. I was also immune to most, but not all, magic and was invisible to most psychic probing. It was a sweet deal and not a part of my nature many people knew about. It was an ace up my sleeve when hunting for kids. The supernaturals who’d taken them didn’t know I wouldn’t be affected by their spells, bites, and incantations. Yay for genetic throwbacks.

We pulled up to the hospital and I parked on the curb, getting Giselle as close to the door as possible.

“Here we are.” I opened the passenger door.

At first, she looked surprised to see me. Then she smiled and said, “Did you find your blue socks, dear?”

I shook my head. “I was hoping you could help me find them. I think I left them here.” I pointed to the hospital.

She squinted in the direction of my hand. “You think you left them in a hospital?”