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Priceless(Rylee Adamson #1)(8) by Shannon Mayer

“How did you get here? Did you run all the way?” My change in questions brought a light to his eyes.

“No, no. Didn’t run all way. Ran and jumped in noisy truck. Zoom down big road, jump out at other house. Wait for Ryleeeeeee!” He howled the end of my name and I shushed him. This wasn’t a motel that catered to pets and I was pretty sure even with John’s failing eyesight he wouldn’t miss a two-hundred-pound werewolf if it kept up howling.

I handed Alex the pepperoni. I knew that the ‘other house’ was the motel. I had told him that sometimes I stayed at my ‘other house’ when it was too late to drive all the way home. ‘Big road’ was the highway and I suspected ‘noisy truck’ was a semi.

The second pepperoni stick appeared in my hand. “Can you answer another question for me?”

He nodded eagerly and gave a little yip of excitement. I shushed him, got up off the ground and shut the door. Well, propped it closed anyway.

I pulled a chair around, sat down and patted my knee. Alex scrambled over to me, placing his elongated muzzle on my lap. I scratched him behind his left ear and he whined with pleasure. “Okay, buddy. This is a hard question, maybe even scary. But you need to tell me and then you can have the pepperoni.”

Amber eyes stared up at me, totally devoted, completely loyal. He whined again and a loud thumping of his tail let me know he was ready for the question.

“What scared you away from the house today? Was it the pack?” I continued to scratch his ears. Sure it was a dirty tool to distract him, but otherwise, we could be circling around the question for weeks before I found out what happened.

He tried to pull away, but I put the pepperoni on my lap right in front of his nose. “Just tell me what happened this morning and then you can have it.” Ah, the old stick and carrot routine, it never failed.

Alex bared his teeth and said, “Pack came, chasing, biting. Wanting to kill. Safer to run than fight.” He hung his head in shame with his last words.

“That’s okay, buddy. I would’ve run too.” I mulled over his words and absently gave him the pepperoni. The pack had been getting more aggressive the last few months. Alex had been with me almost seven months now, and at first I’d thought there would be nothing to worry about. Slowly, the pack had encroached more and more on my land, marking territory and making forays closer and closer to the house. A sigh escaped me and I scratched my head. Just add another problem onto the plate.

I knew from experience he wouldn’t go home now without me. Thanks to all that was holy I had a collar for Alex that hid his true form from anyone who might be able to see it—once more thanks to Milly—so he could come with me for the next few days. Having him with me would make it a little more difficult to maneuver, but a lot less lonely.

Darkness fell, the sky clear and the stars easily visible. No sign of a thunderstorm, or any other bad weather for that matter. Stuffing Alex into the Jeep, I said, “Stay here, buddy, I’ve got to get us a room change.”

Once John saw the damage, he gave me the nicest room the motel had, a suite with two separate beds stuck in the sixties.

“Can’t believe it,” John said and handed me my new room key. “You think they were after you specific-like?”

“Nah, I wasn’t even in there, John. I bet they were just looking for an easy score.” I felt a bit guilty; after all, it was my werewolf that caused the damage. I’d leave an extra large tip in the morning.

I waved to John and quietly beckoned Alex to come once the manager was out of sight. Alex bounded from the Jeep and barrelled past me into the suite, throwing himself onto the green shag carpet and rolling about with total abandon. “Listen, buddy, no more breaking into rooms, just wait by my Jeep, okay?”

Alex just stared at me, amber eyes uncomprehending. Letting out another sigh, I took off my jacket and placed my blades on the bed. My night-time routine never changed, no matter where I slept. The only thing I wouldn’t do tonight, since Alex was here, was go for a run.

Going through combinations involving hands, feet, elbows and knees, I worked a circle around an imaginary opponent. Muay Thai was my preferred method of hand-to-hand fighting; it gave me the most possibilities for striking out at someone. I always practiced in my working clothes, so that whatever restrictions they gave me, I learned to deal with before an actual fight. Fight like you practice and practice like you fight. That was what my instructors drilled into me. Once I’d gone through the various blows, I dropped to the ground, first into a plank, then into push-ups; over to my back for crunches, and then back to a plank. Sweat dripped around me, my jeans sticking to my body, and I ignored it all. No matter what, I needed my body to be strong and fit for fighting. If it failed me, then I would fail a child, and that was not acceptable.

An hour and a half after I started, I finally let myself quit. Leaving Alex to guard the main room and front door, I headed into the bathroom to shower off. Taking advantage of someone else’s hot water tank, I stayed in until the water cooled, my muscles tensing under the sudden temperature change. Stepping out onto the tile floor, water dripping everywhere, I glanced up at the foggy mirror. The heat from the shower sluiced off me as ice trailed down my spine. In bold letters written across the mirror were the words: “Cross the Veil and Die.”

I snatched a towel and wrapped myself up in it, then searched the room, opening the two cupboards and the single closet. Nothing. I peeked out into the main room to see Alex sprawled out on the bed, but no one else. Closing the bathroom door, I used the only other towel in the room to wipe the mirror clean, my hands shaking just a little. The words seemed to be etched into the glass, and all my efforts at erasing them were futile. Giving up, I stepped out of the bathroom, preferring to dress in front of Alex, who had no concept of nudity, than in the room where it felt like someone was watching me. Give me blood and gore any day over perversion and peeping toms—probably creepy, greasy little men. Damn, someone already knew I was looking for India. The only person I’d told was Milly. Could she have spoken to the wrong person in the Coven? Shit.

Clean clothes on, hair towel-dried, I crawled into bed and patted the covers. Some people might think it weird that I let a werewolf sleep with me. But when you have immunity and can’t be turned into a werewolf, there really is nothing to worry about. Other than the atrocious dog farts. He curled up at my feet, let loose one of said farts, and promptly began to snore.

Despite the words on the mirror, the worry over India and the pack chasing Alex away from home, sleep took me in less than ten minutes, my workout giving my body the tired edge it needed to drop off into dreamland.

Bad dreams were usual for me as my mind relived my past, and tried to make things better. I opened my eyes in my dream and it was Christmas morning, early, and Berget was tiptoeing into my room, not realizing my eyes were already open, her bright yellow pyjamas and housecoat making her easy to see. She’d always had a thing for the neon shades.

“Rylee, it’s Christmas morning! Wake up, we can go get our stockings!”

I closed my eyes. “This isn’t real.”

“What’s not real?” I opened my eyes and stared into her pristine blue ones, and wondered if perhaps I was wrong, perhaps this was real and the rest of my life was just a bad dream. A nightmare.

She reached out her small hand, rubbed it against my cheek, brushed off a tear.

“Why are you crying, Rylee? Why are you sad? This is a happy day.”

I brushed away another tear. “Berget, come here, let me hold you for a minute.” She skipped away laughing.

“Silly, Rylee, you can’t catch me!” Her face suddenly contorted. “Run! RUN!”

Her voice shattered what was left of the dream and I woke up, my breath coming in shallow gulps. The dream was nothing new and it would fade, leaving my adrenaline to also fade out in a matter of minutes. Or it would have, except for a shuffle of feet on the other side of my door and the faint jiggle of the handle, which caused my adrenaline to spike; I leapt out of bed.

Alex rumbled softly, his eyes half-closed. “Man with gun.” I knew who that meant. It was O’Shea on the other side of the door.

If O’Shea thought he’d find me shaking in my boots, he was about to get another thing coming. I was about to use Milly’s tactics to the hilt.

10

I stripped out of my clothes and ran to the door, trying not to think too hard about my desire to show off my body to O’Shea. With one last thought to precaution, I grabbed a blade with my left hand. Just in case.

Taking a deep breath I snatched the door open, holding the blade behind the door where it wouldn’t be visible, and said, “Hello?” in my best sultry voice. Much to my embarrassment, there was no one at the door. I peeked around the corner. Nothing. Not a single movement.

Alex came to stand beside me, sniffing the air. I could have sworn I’d heard someone. A glance at Alex told me I hadn’t been hearing things. His lips were curled back over his teeth and a steady growl slipped past his lips.

Pulling him back inside and putting some clothes on was my first prerogative. The second was to find out what Alex had smelled.

I crouched down to his level, dressed and with my blade attached, just in case. “What did you smell Alex? Was it a human? I thought it was ‘man with a gun?’”

He shook his head and snorted once. “No! Yes!” He barked out. “Wolf, big leader wolf at door. But man with gun too.”

Not entirely sure he was smelling right, thinking perhaps he was still spooked from his run in with the pack that morning, I did something I had never done before. I Tracked O’Shea. A moment of searching and I found him. Sure enough, he was close, but not close enough to be the perp at the door. I started to close the connection, but got a feeling of utter hopelessness that stopped me. It hurt me as if it were my own emotions, and not his that I was experiencing. My hands clenched into fists and I drew away from O’Shea, afraid I might feel sorry for him. It was one of the many reasons I didn’t like Tracking anything but kids. Adults were far too complex; kids, for the most part, were simple.