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Shadowed Threads(Rylee Adamson #4)(4) by Shannon Mayer

Sliding to a stop on his butt, he turned huge golden eyes to us and rippled his lips up over his teeth into his version of a smile.

“Alex gets cookies too?”

Pamela put a hand on his collar as she glared at Jack. “Let’s go then, they aren’t going to bake themselves.”

The two of them left the library without Jack saying a word. No, he waited until after they’d gone to start in on me. But that’s what I was supposedly here for, whatever training he could give me before I went after O’Shea. Because there was no guarantee Jack would be here when I got back. Now, I wasn’t so sure why I was here, or if Jack even had anything else to teach me.

Not after reading through those books.

“You care about them too bloody much, you know that, don’t you?” He tapped the floor with his cane. He wasn’t an old man, but the cancer had stolen much of his vitality, had eaten away at a life that should have been far longer than it would end up being. Even supernaturals couldn’t cure cancer. He scrubbed a hand through his bright red hair, and then pointed at the chair across from him.

“Sit.”

“No. You tell me what the hell is going on. Now.” I widened my stance, as if preparing for a fight.

He huffed and cursed, but I waited. I wasn’t going anywhere now.

I looked up at the ceiling, counted the branches of the chandelier hanging over our heads. “What are you going to teach me, Jack? Anything? Because I have some gods be damned serious deadlines I’ve got to keep.”

He snorted. “Anything?”

I lowered my eyes, and met his in a glare I didn’t hold back on. “Yeah, Jack. I know you don’t want to die alone, but you’re being a shit if that’s the only reason you’d keep us here. The only reason I stayed is so you could teach me. I’ve been here three weeks and no teaching yet. Not to mention this shit, this prophecy crap you are obviously buying into.” I swept my hands to encompass the table, fought the sudden nausea that clawed at my throat. I refused to let it slow me down, as I tried to find the words that would spur him into action. Because it looked like even mine and Pamela’s B&E wasn’t going to be enough to provoke him.

Jack’s lips curled into a sneer. “You think I’m lonely?”

“I know you are.”

We glared at one another, two stubborn Trackers, neither willing to back down without at least a small fight. With a slam of his cane on the floor, Jack broke first. I always had prided myself on my bitchy eyes.

He picked up the silver letter opener on the table beside him, flipped it along his knuckles. “Goddamn it. Fine, you’re right. I don’t want to die alone, my body shriveling up into a husk while the world goes on and no one even knows I’m gone. Is that so f**king wrong?” He tapped the floor with his cane, three beats in quick succession. “There isn’t a lot left to teach you. Probably could do it in an afternoon.”

For once, understanding took the lead over my anger.

“Jack, we’ll come back. You know that, right? Even if you kick the bucket while we’re gone, we’ll come back. I’ll come back. You won’t be forgotten.”

He shook his head and put the letter opener back on the table, spinning it in place. “This is one of the problems you’ve got to learn to deal with, kid. The downtrodden, the miserable and lonely, they will be drawn to you. Those that are lost, whether in the physical sense or in their souls, they are drawn to you, and they will f**king use you up if you let them.”

I clenched my hands tight. I thought about Eve, Alex, and Pamela. Even O’Shea to a degree—Jack was right, they had been all lost in one way or another. “So, I try not to take on too much, that’s what you’re saying?”

“Not just that, even me, I want you to stay, I want you to not leave. I’ve been f**king stalling.” He took a breath, and in the split second I could see the fear on him, heavy like a gargoyle sitting on his shoulders, gripping him tight. “We’re both Trackers but, as a woman, you have some characteristics that I don’t carry. Almost like a maternal instinct to protect, to care for those who can’t care for themselves.”

“Not news to me, Jack.” I rocked on my heels. That had been my whole life really, why should this be seen as something new?

He held up his cane, poked me in the chest with it, right where the demon mark was etched into my skin. “Maybe not, but you aren’t grasping what it means to you. They will bleed you dry, surround you with their needs and you will never be free of it. You will end up no longer able to Track because you are too busy taking care of those around you. Stop taking on the goddamn f**king charity cases. Or be ready to stop Tracking.”

His words jammed my brain, and in a burst of understanding, I realized he could be right. Taking on Eve, Pamela, and even Alex, though it had been nearly a year ago, they had all taken some of my focus. Before Alex had come into my life, there had been nothing other than bringing children home to their families. Though I hadn’t stopped Tracking, maybe I hadn’t been as dedicated? No, I had still gone after missing kids, that hadn’t changed.

Had it? Doubt nagged at me. Maybe he was right.

I shrugged, but lowered my eyes so he wouldn’t see any of the indecision I knew would be there. “Fine. No more charity cases. What else you got?” I itched to go after O’Shea and Milly. Though I knew Tracking Milly might not get me anywhere, I could Track O’Shea. Free him from her.

Have him back in your arms and your bed.

Yeah, that too.

Jack grunted. “You master the group Tracking?”

“I Tracked some Druids, I think in some ways it was—”

“Easier, yes.” He nodded tapping his cane in rhythm with the bobbing of his head. “Easier, but also harder. You don’t know if the group you Track are the exact ones you seek. Try Tracking a human, for example. Not a person, just humans in general.”

I frowned and thought about the traits of humans that I could use to Track them as a group. Contradictions: love and hate, fear and bravery, oblivious to the supernatural. Using those simplistic traits, I sent out a thread of Tracking to the closest human.

What happened was not what I expected. Like feeling my head expand, curiously filled with millions of sparkling lights that hurt my eyes, frantic and panicked, the sparks danced around the inside of my skull, each one desperate to be seen, to be heard, demanding my attention. Painful? No, more overwhelming than anything, in their calls for attention, their desperation and fears, all crashing around inside my head. Each spark was a life, a human within my proximity, which apparently was the whole of Britain. Fuck me.

I let go of the thread, unable to take the sheer volume of humanity. Somewhere in that brief moment I’d fallen to the ground, and had ended up curled on the floor, hands over my ears as if that would stop what I’d been feeling.

“That’s why you bloody well never Track humans as a whole. When it comes to them, make sure it’s only one at a time.” Jack held out his hand and helped me stand up. My legs wobbled as if I’d been running flat out for miles.

“Holy shit.” I put a hand to my head. I wouldn’t be doing that again anytime soon.

Jack let out a grunt and settled himself back into his rocking chair. “Your blood will be favored by anyone who works magic. For some f**king unknown gods-blasted reason, Tracker blood is a catalyst.”

I nodded, my thoughts whirling to the piece of paper I had tucked between my mattress and the box spring at home. A recipe of how to turn a Daywalker into a true vampire. My blood was in that recipe or, more accurately, the blood of a Tracker.

“You don’t seem surprised by that,” Jack said, lifting his cane to poke at me again.

I batted it away. “No, it makes sense with what I’ve run into before.” Perfect, ridiculous sense.

Jack gave me a tired smile, one that drooped on the edges and didn’t reach his eyes.

“It gets worse. Much, much worse.”

Oh f**k, how could it get worse than having half the magical world after my blood? I rubbed my hands across my face, feeling the distant tang of a headache at the back of my skull. “Just spill it, Jack. The theatrics are getting tiresome and I have to get my ass in gear and go after O’Shea. I’ve dicked around long enough waiting for you to find your balls and tell me what I need to know.”

Jack didn’t frown, didn’t lash out at me for once. He laughed. Barking until he heaved for breath, he ended up bent over his knees, pounding his cane into the floor. It took him a full two minutes to get himself under control, and by that point I was really starting to get pissed off.

“Oh gods, Rylee, I needed that.” He swiped at his eyes with the back of his hand. I realized he was stalling, trying to divert my attention away from not only the supposed training, which I realized now was just superficial, but more importantly, he was avoiding the issue with the prophecies.

Well, there was one way to fix that. “What’s with the books?”

Leaning heavily on his cane, Jack made his way to the far side of the library and stood in front of the big oak table. I moved to stand beside him, though he didn’t answer me. I tried another question, tried to find a way to get him talk.

“Is this Ogre skin?”

“Yes, it holds the old books together better than anything else, but it has to be taken from their bodies while they’re still alive. Good eye; you run into many Ogres?”

Diversion, diversion. Like a magician, he just kept trying to keep me occupied.

I thought about Dox, “Just one. He’s a good guy.”

“Must be a blue.” Jack stared down at the books, his hand hovering over the black skinned tome, and then he surprised me. “You read them all?”

“Except the violet-skinned one.” I pointed to it, a web of fear tangling along my spine.

Whatever good humor he’d had running through him was gone. His tri-colored blue eyes were angry again, and maybe even a little afraid. “You had no right to this. None of these were for your eyes.”