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Stitched(Rylee Adamson #8.5)(7) by Shannon Mayer

“Do you know where you’re going?” Erik put a hand on my arm and I didn’t have the strength to push him away.

“Three women living in a cabin at the base of a mountain. I don’t think they’re going to be that hard to find. Besides, if it’s fate, it doesn’t matter what I do. I will find them or I won’t, and either way I have no fucking say in things.” I pulled away from him and then gasped. Right in front of us was a huge snow leopard. Hell, we’d almost walked right into him with the way his fur blended into the background. The crunch of snow under huge padded paws was the only sound beside the blowing wind as he crept toward us. I kept still, a part of me wondering if I’d suddenly become suicidal. I hadn’t brought any of my weapons with me, and the only thing that saved me was Erik. He grabbed my arm and jerked me away from the leopard. I fell backwards, my world nothing but a bright white canvas for a split second, and then I was gasping and pushing my way out of the white drift.

The leopard was sitting on its haunches, watching, head tipped slightly to one side, green eyes wide. Kinda like it wasn’t really a snow leopard. I narrowed my eyes, and the second-sight image of the leopard flickered and I thought I saw a familiar gray and white housecat for a brief moment.

“Are you more than you look?” I spit out along with a hunk of snow that had turned to slush inside my mouth.

The wide head bobbed once, and beside me, I felt Erik relax.

Her name is Peta. Blaz said. You can trust her.

“Thanks.” I muttered. The dragon snorted, and I pushed to my feet. “You want to lead us to the three ladies of the mountain?”

Another head bob and the leopard wove her way through the trees, following a path not visible until your feet were on it.

“You sure you want to follow a cat?”

I snorted. “I’ve been following all manner of creatures for the last six months, some far more sketchy than an oversized house cat.”

Erik grunted and we walked in that awkward silence again.

“He swore us to secrecy.”

Ah, fuck, I did not want to talk about Liam. “Not right now.”

“Why not? We’re here alone, and you need to let it out. I know you’re pissed with us, furious even that we would help Liam die. I also know a part of you understands. Because if you didn’t—”

“I’d have fucking killed you already,” I finished for him, knowing it was the truth. Maybe it was hormones, maybe it was the cold numbing my usual reticence to spilling the beans, but whatever it was I spit out what I’d been thinking all along. “No one trusted me enough to see it was the only way to stop things. As much as losing Liam hurts, it hurts more that he didn’t think I could handle things. That he thought I wouldn’t do what needed to be done. That he kept secrets from me, and now just fucked off and died and left me to clean up the mess. He didn’t think well enough of me to—” I paused and sucked in a lungful of sharp, clean air. “It doesn’t matter now. Yes, I’m pissed at you and Coyote and Doran. Yes, I want to know who killed Liam, but I’m more pissed at him for fucking well not talking to me!” I didn’t realize I was shouting until the leopard in front of us turned to stare at me. Pity flooded the creature’s eyes and that undid me. I dropped to my knees, a sob tearing out of my throat as I slammed a hand over my traitorous mouth.

A soft, furred head butted against me and instinctively, I wrapped my arms around the leopard’s neck. I clung to the cat, my body and heart battered, my belief in the world gone. I didn’t think things would turn out, I didn’t think they would be okay.

I didn’t know how I was supposed to go on, and leave my daughter behind when the time came. I’d only known about her for a few days and yet I knew what it was to be abandoned. How could I do that to her?

“Niece,” Erik spoke softly. “First things first, we need to get your little girl here. Let’s focus on bringing her into the world safely before we do anything else.”

Fuck, he was right, but my emotions were all over the map. I ran a hand over the leopard’s head, ears, and neck. “Thanks.”

Whuffling in my ear, the cat stepped back and tipped her head once more. I stood and followed in silence. While the outburst had been coming, and I had no doubt there would be more, the truth of what I’d said helped. I would have initially fought to keep Liam alive, of course I would have. But if they could have explained to me why he had to die, then I could have at least been prepared for it. The shock of his death would have been eased and we could have had time to say goodbye properly.

And then there was the baby. I placed a hand over my mid-section. A child of Liam’s. Of mine. As much as I would have fought for Liam to stay with me, if I’d known then that the child’s life had been on the line, then I could have done what needed to be done.

Did my friends and family think so little of me?

Or maybe, had I only ever shown them that I couldn’t be trusted with the hard decisions, that I didn’t have the strength to do what needed to be done to save those I loved? The questions and fears, grief and anger swirled through me as cold as the snow swept mountain air swirled around my head.

The leopard paused, her tail twitching at the tip as she surveyed the small, open, snow-covered meadow in front of us. I saw nothing to be concerned about and almost said so when Erik grabbed my arm and put a finger to his lips. I clenched my teeth and stared into the meadow. The leopard stepped forward, inching her way closer to the invisible line between meadow and path. Dropping to her belly, she did a classic cat stalk, body wriggling inch by inch, while we stood back and watched. I wasn’t in a hurry, there was no big deadline or rush so I stood with more patience than I’d had in a long time.

The call of an owl, the steady hoot given three times, seemed to be a signal. The leopard burst from the snow, covering the ground in huge leaping strides that had her in the middle of the meadow in seconds. And then, she disappeared. As if she’d stepped across the veil. But that wasn’t possible. That couldn’t be! Liam had sealed the veil with his blood, making it impossible to travel that way.

Erik stepped forward, putting himself where the leopard had stayed crouched. “Let me go first. Count to ten, then follow.” Without another word, he bolted across the meadow, disappearing too in the exact spot the snow leopard had.

“Well, fuck,” I muttered. I refused to run. Why? Stubborn, maybe. Tired, absolutely. I walked out into the meadow, the rustle of my feet in the snow the only sound at first. And then came the sound of heavy breathing, and pounding feet that weren’t my own and I didn’t think, didn’t look back. Just bolted across the meadow. Without weapons, I was not in a position to defend myself. I fell through something that gave a pop, like cellophane stretched across a doorway, and as I fell, I rolled so I could see what had been chasing me.