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Raising Innocence(Rylee Adamson #3)(9) by Shannon Mayer

They gave off the dim glow of the newly deceased, and I stumbled backwards, tripping over my own feet in an effort to get away.

She was the last of my family, the whole reason I was able to face the world and make the tough decisions. Because I knew she was with me, she was the one who’d helped me heal after my adoptive parents turned their backs on me. Giselle was the one who’d shown me it was safe to love someone.

I found my way to the living room and fell to my knees in front of the big bay window. In my mind’s eye, I could see Giselle and Alex sitting in front of me, looking out the window, their heads bowed together. Closing my eyes, I leaned forward until my head touched the wooden floors. This was not happening. So fast, so unexpected, I couldn’t make heads or tails of what to do next. I stayed there, breathed in the scent of old wood and lemons from the polish, and let my mind go blank. Let myself forget what had happened.

My old rotary phone rang, snapping my head up off the floor. I fought off the rush of blood and wondered distantly how long I’d been kneeling—my sense of time distorted with my grief. I forced myself to my feet and walked, albeit somewhat unsteadily, into the kitchen to pick up the phone, my body and mind in complete disconnect.

“Hello?”

A young girl spoke on the other end, and it took me a minute to recognize her. India, the child I’d rescued with O’Shea; a girl with talents that were even now growing and changing.

“Rylee, Giselle says you don’t have time to grieve. You have to go after the kids in London and then kick Milly’s” —her voice dropped to a whisper— “ass. I’ve got to go now, my mom is coming.”

The phone call ended with a click and I stared down at it.

“Still bossing me around,” I said, a pitiful attempt at a laugh escaping my lips. “Okay, I’ve got it. Kids first, Milly second, grieve third.”

I made a phone call to Agent Valley. He didn’t answer, so I left him a message. There was no need for a care aide for Giselle now.

Alex came trotting into the kitchen from outside as I hung up the phone for the second time, his coat dusted in snow, his tongue lolling out. “Hey ho. Rylee play?”

“No, not right now.”

He cocked his head to one side. “Giselle play?”

My throat tightened and I shook my head. “No. Giselle died.”

Alex’s eyes widened and he sat back on his haunches, his big paws slapping over his elongated muzzle. “No, no, no. Alex love Giselle. Giselle not dead!” He let out a howl, the sound ripping though the house, tearing through me and heightening my own sorrow. I wished that I could howl with him, let my grief fling far and wide until I was wrung out, but that was a luxury I could not afford. Not yet anyway.

I dropped to my knees in front of the werewolf and wrapped my arms around him. “I loved her too, but right now we need to be strong. Giselle wants us to go find those kids in London.”

Alex sniffled and whimpered, continuing to whisper, “no, no, no.” As if he could somehow take away her death. I clung to him, my last tie to a family I’d put together in bits and pieces.

Closing my eyes, I tried to imagine how the hell my life would go without Giselle in it.

And for the life of me, I couldn’t see anything but an empty hole.

7

Sweat pooled on my lower back, the plush seat wrapping me like a stifling hug from an overbearing aunt. Fumbling at the seatbelt, I stood up and walked to the thick black line I wasn’t to cross, and then back to my seat in an attempt to calm down. The Boeing 747 was huge, especially since it wasn’t set to be a typical commercial craft. The back half where I was sectioned off was open, more like a living room than an airplane.

Even though Agent Valley assured me that the FBI had rigged this plane to be impervious to the vibrations supernaturals gave off, I still wasn’t allowed any closer than necessary to the engines and the navigational equipment. Hence the thick black line on the cream colored carpeting.

Smart, but it made me wonder just how safe their crappy plane actually was. I paced my small area, the circle of my steps tightening with each round until I was back at my seat.

Eve had offered to fly to London, but I’d turned her down. Since it would take her at least a week, hopping from island to island across the Pacific Ocean then flying up the coast of Africa, or even if she went up the east coast through Canada and across Greenland, I told her to go back to Eagle and her training. The reality was if she couldn’t come with us, by the time she got to London, everything would be done. Alex and I would be on our own on this run. My mind shifted to Giselle and my heart clenched with sorrow.

Not yet.

Though Eve had argued half-heartedly, I could see by the glimmer in her eyes she was excited to go back to the Guardian and his training with her.

Alex hadn’t moved from his spot beside me, his claws carefully lifting the shade on the window up and down; like he was hypnotized. Which was not a bad thing after waking up to him howling Giselle’s name every hour the night before.

I leaned back in the chair and scrubbed at my over-tired eyes, listening to the voices floating back to me. I couldn’t hear what they were saying.

Hmm. But Alex could.

I tapped him on the shoulder and he rolled his head upside down to look at me. “Alex, what are they saying?” I pointed to the front of the plane.

He tipped his head, then lifted one floppy ear with the tips of two claws to hear better.

I had to smother a laugh, and once more, I was grateful he was with me.

“Parachutes. And plane crash,” he said, tongue flicking out to dangle in front of his nose.

My gut tightened and I no longer thought this trip was a good idea. Another Tracker or not, if I died on this flight because of whatever vibrations Alex and I gave off . . . who the hell knew if Agent Valley was even telling the truth? He could just be making things up as he went in order to get me to agree.

The engines rumbled and the plane started to move. Shit, too late to change my mind now.

I snapped my seatbelt on and then wrestled with Alex to do the same for him. Pouting, he sat awkwardly in the seat made for people, legs sticking out, arms folded across his chest. His body just didn’t quite work with the seat, but at least he was strapped in.

The flight attendant, Agent Valley, and another agent I didn’t recognize except for the standard FBI suit and tie, made their way to their seats and buckled up. A fourth person who had on a deep red hoodie, which covered his face, slipped into the seat at the very front, furthest away from me and Alex. Agent Valley called over his shoulder to me.

“This is your first time flying, isn’t it?”

I thought about Eve and me flying high over New Mexico. So maybe this wasn’t the same thing, but riding a Harpy with no rigging to hold you on was no mean feat.

“Nah.”

“Excellent. Then we won’t have to sedate you.”

Laughter followed his comment, and I grit my teeth. They must have seen me pacing. Assholes.

“Good thing you won’t have to try,” I said. “I’d hate to see your nose broken again, though I doubt it could look much worse than it does now.”

A sharp intake of air from the other agent and a muffled laugh from the guy in the hoodie filtered back to me. I settled back into my seat and closed my eyes. I could do this, I would not freak out, I would not freak out, I would not freak out . . . .

As the plane pulled into the air, my stomach dropped and I couldn’t stop myself from clenching the armrests. A distraction, that was what I needed. I pulled the opal pendant out of my left pocket and dangled it in front of me. No need to wear it, but I was going to keep it close. Giselle had never been wrong about her predictions, so I knew that at some point there would be a use for it. It spun slowly in the air, little pricks of color sparkled, and I mulled over the possibilities. Maybe I’d be dealing with another Reader, someone I would need to be lucid in order to crack the case.

“Alex sick.”

My eyes darted sideways to see Alex with his tongue hanging out, saliva pouring off it like a miniature river. Oh, shit, this was not good. I jammed the pendant back in my pocket, unbuckled him and clenched my hand around his collar, dragging him toward the bathroom as the plane climbed.

“Ma’m, you can’t leave your seat!” The flight attendant shouted at me.

“You do not want him puking anywhere but in the toilet!” I shouted back, thinking of all the food he’d eaten that morning.

We barely made it to the closet of a bathroom before Alex heaved his guts out, just making it into the tiny toilet. How people ever thought the mile high club was a good idea, I couldn’t see. We barely fit and we’d left the door open.

Alex retched until there was nothing left, which looked to be about four pounds of breakfast and snacks. Nothing that would have stayed in a barf bag, that was for sure.

I filled the sink with water and, taking a cloth, wiped his muzzle and face down. “Feel better now?”

He bobbed his head. “Tired.”

Slowly, Alex weaving like a drunk, we made our way back to our seats. The plane levelled off and the flight attendant came around. I took a ginger ale for Alex and a bottle of water for me.

To be in a place where the people didn’t freak out about Alex handling the pop can in an almost human manner, his claws gripping the condensation covered sides, was to say the least, strange.

Of course, he was also wearing his collar so maybe they were just seeing a large, and extremely dexterous, dog. Drinking pop.

I took a sip of my water and leaned my head back. I had a feeling it was going to be a long flight, and I prayed it wouldn’t continue as it had begun.

*-*-*-*

The smell of blood and flesh filled his nostrils. Tipping his head back, he breathed deeply, the fresh snow almost burying the trail he’d been following. A nearly inaudible crack of a twig underfoot brought his ears swivelling around, listening for the game he’d been trailing.

The flash of tan and a flick of a white tail as the deer caught his scent launched him into action.

Chasing the deer, lusting after the warm juices that would flow once he brought it down, it was easy to forget that he wasn’t just a wolf. That he was also a man. A man who’d left his world behind for this one. His thoughts betrayed him and his footsteps faltered, giving the deer the chance it needed to escape.