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Priceless(Rylee Adamson #1)(7) by Shannon Mayer

There was a motel across the street, half decent, clean and close to the highway. I’d stayed there before when I hadn’t wanted to make the three-hour trek from Bismark all the way home. All fuelled up, I pulled a u-turn and crossed the street, glad I always kept an overnight bag in my Jeep alongside an array of weapons and equipment not so easily found at a corner drug store. A girl can never be too prepared.

North Dakota is known for its farming, badlands, and good people. Not so much for its high-end hotels, gourmet cuisine, or anonymity. This little motel was no exception. Hiding my body from prying eyes, I slipped my favourite weapon into place: A two-foot long blade, edged in silver and copper, with a custom-fit handle just for me. No, I wasn’t going hunting for vampires and I hadn’t read too many comic books as a kid. But, most supernatural creatures weren’t bothered by modern weaponry. It tended to piss them off rather than do any actual harm. Handle down near my right hip and blade tip near my left shoulder blade, it was held in place across my back, not only by sheaths and leather, but by a spell put together for me by Milly. My throat closed up as I thought of my sister-friend. That’s what we’d been for nearly ten years; now she was just gone. I took a deep breath and let it out, putting her out of my mind as I examined the rest of my tools. Ten daggers, also edged in silver and copper, two lariats, one tazer, and one high-powered crossbow with bolts on top. Underneath, there were packages of herbs and poultices, again prepared by Milly, to use on everything from burns, cuts and broken bones to head injuries. With everything accounted for and my blade underneath my jacket and securely in place, I went to check in.

The desk clerk nodded at me as I walked in, his battered cowboy hat pulled low over his ears and a few stray grey hairs sticking out at the edges. John had checked me in here more than once.

“Find any kids today, Ry?” He was also the only person I let get away with shortening my name; he was, after all, in his eighties and I figured he’d earned his right to say whatever he wanted to at his age.

“Nope, not today. Kissed an FBI agent, though. That was kind of fun.” I winked at him and he smiled back at me. It was a routine game between us. I told him the truth and he thought I was funning him.

“Did you make him blush?”

I scooped my room key off the counter. “Come on, John, you know a lady’s not supposed to kiss and tell. Then again, I’m not much of a lady, so yes, I made him blush and his partner too. Too hot to handle—you should know that about me by now, John.”

He guffawed and said, “Off with you now, girl. I swear, an FBI agent?”

I stepped back out into the quickly cooling night air and walked down to my unit. Number thirteen. I liked it, and it was the one everybody else avoided so I didn’t have to worry about how many people had left their little nasty bits behind in the communal bed. Gross, I know, but something to think about next time you stay in a hotel.

It was still early, so I sat down at the small but real wooden desk, pulled out a pen and paper, and began to write down what I knew so far. At the top of the page I put India’s name, age, hair and eye colour, suspected abilities, and quirks her parents told me about. I had nothing else to speculate on except what groups could possibly want her and her abilities as a spirit seeker. That had been my first inclination when I saw the pictures—someone who could commune with the dead with great ease and for whom the dead held a great affection. Like someone who was good with animals, spirit seekers rarely had to actually seek out spirits; the dead came to them, flocked to them in droves, desperate to be heard and remembered. There were times that it was a temporary phenomenon. Children had been known to grow out of their abilities as they hit puberty. But those who didn’t were powerful and very, very rare.

I scrubbed my hands back through my hair and laid my head on the desk, on the paper with all of India’s stats. “Where are you kid?” She didn’t answer, not that I really expected her to. I hated the fact that I couldn’t track a child on the other side of the veil. My stomach growled suddenly, reminding me I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. Leaving off with the list making, I headed out for something to stave off starvation.

There were no pizza joints out this way, or any other type of foods that could be delivered, so I settled for gas station gourmet. A bag of chips, two pepperoni sticks and small carton of milk. Carbs, protein and dairy, a nice balanced meal. The night air felt good, cleansing, with the constant wind that was just a part of the landscape, and I found myself walking away from the hotel, taking a side street into the nearest suburbs.

I walked for over an hour, my growling stomach and the food in my bag forgotten as my mind tried to work through what I was facing. If I wasn’t on a salvage, I’d be doing everything I could to find out more about the Arcane division of the FBI. How much did they know about the supernatural world, and was any of it true? But more than that, did they even have an inkling of how ugly it would get if the big, bad, uglies of the supernatural world felt threatened? It would be one giant clusterf**k if word got out about this new FBI division. It was a weight on me that only added to my concern over India. Distraction wasn’t a possibility, not when going after a kid. So, for now I would have to put it aside, deal with it after I found her.

With the decision made on how I was going to handle at least that part of things, I headed back to the motel.

I poked my head back into the office before I went back to my room. “Hey, John. If anyone comes looking for me, dial me up first, would you?”

John frowned and scratched his head under his hat before answering. “Ain’t nobody come looking for you before. You ‘specting trouble?”

I shrugged and bit off a piece of pepperoni. “Maybe. Hopefully not, I’ve got a long day ahead of me tomorrow and don’t really feel like spending the evening fighting off FBI agents, no matter how cute they are.”

His laughter followed me back out the door and I could still hear him when I got to number thirteen—where the door stood open, the lock busted, splinters of wood scattered on the floor. Dropping my meagre dinner and drawing my blade, I edged up to the door, keeping my back flat against the wall. For a good two minutes I was silent; I didn’t move, just listened.

There was nothing, not a single heartbeat, breath, shuffle, or even any psychic energy thrumming through the air. I stepped into the room, still in a fighting stance, blade at the ready, despite what all my senses told me. I wished now I’d brought some of my other toys from the Jeep. I hadn’t really been thinking anyone would be gunning for me. Not yet anyway. No one in the supernatural community should have known that I was on the case. By tomorrow, yes, but not by tonight. With only one large weapon between me and hand-to-hand fighting, I was not a happy girl, no matter how good my hand-to-hand was.

A quick circuit of the room showed nothing, confirming what I already knew: it was empty, the intruder gone. I let out a sigh. Nothing like a pile of problems to make life interesting.

Then something fluttered to my left. I turned to get a closer look. The curtain had been shredded and was covered in long black hair. I recognized it immediately. It belonged to a very large and very determined werewolf.

Damn it all to hell and back.

I lowered my blade and felt the itch in my spine a split second too late as a hairy set of claw-tipped hands wrapped themselves around my throat. I let out a strangled squawk, my hands first going for the claws, and then stopping to lower my blade.

I couldn’t use it, not on this one.

9

“Gotcha!” A familiar rough voice growled in my ear as the hands tightened around my throat for a heartbeat before letting go. I took a deep breath and turned to see my ever faithful werewolf, half crouched at my feet, tongue lolling out; amber eyes wide and innocent, and his human wolf hybrid body covered in pitch black silver tipped hair.

I let out a sigh, a mixture of irritation and relief. It could have been worse; it could have been whatever had taken India on my tail, or even O’Shea and Mini-Me.

“Good job, you did it, you finally snuck up on me. But what are you doing all the way out here, so far away from home?” I lay my blade on the bed and folded my arms across my chest, doing my best imitation of a scolding mother and repeated my question. “Alex, what are you doing so far from home?”

He cringed, his body, stuck between human and wolf because he wasn’t strong enough, and never would be, to switch between forms. Only the Alphas could do that; only the Alphas could pass for human. Most of the pack was like Alex, unable to switch between forms. To the contrary of what the world will tell you, being bit by a werewolf doesn’t automatically make you a powerhouse. It only strengthens the traits you already have, takes them to the next level.

From what I could find out about his previous life, when Alex had been bitten he was a kind, quiet, submissive, harmless man. So he’d become the golden retriever version of a werewolf—loving and faithful.

He showed up on my doorstep one night, mauled half to death by his own pack members, and has been with me ever since. The pack didn’t approve, and we were still dealing with the ramifications of that.

He sat on his haunches, tail tucked between his legs, waiting for a beating.

“I’m not angry, Alex. But you don’t like to leave home—so what made you go?” For something to make him leave was bad enough, but to make him run close to two hundred miles meant he would have left this morning and in a hurry. And yes, a werewolf could cover that distance in that amount of time, but it should have nearly killed him. I looked him over. He wasn’t sucked in and dehydrated; he was chirpy and fresh, ready to rumble.

He still wasn’t answering. Talking to a werewolf could be like talking to a large child; the simplicity of the wolf’s mind regressed the human’s mind to a toddler’s state if their will wasn’t strong enough, which his definitely wasn’t.

I changed tactics. Crouching down, I patted my leg. “Alex, come.” He still cringed. I remembered my dropped pepperoni. Retrieving it, I tried again. “Alex, come here, see what I have? Pepperoni, it’s one of your favourites.” That did the trick. He bowled me over trying to get the pepperoni. “Wait! You can have it if you answer me.” We were sprawled out on the floor together, Alex drooling all over my shirt, large canines dripping as he stared at the pepperoni I held just out of reach.