Shadowed(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 2)(25) by Connie Suttle
"How strong do you think Ashe's dad really is?" Edward asked to fill the silence.
"All vampires are strong," Jason said. "I once heard that a single vampire killed twenty werewolves, but I wasn't there so I can't say whether it's true or not. And boy, werewolves are damn strong. Don't ever forget that. Some shifters, too. You're here for a reason—so we can protect you until those people stop hunting you. Don't ever think for a minute that either side will allow you to live your own life. If they tell you that, it's a lie." Jason got up and went to relieve Trace, who'd finished another complete round and was heading for the tent to get a drink.
* * *
"Denise, I don't know what to do. We've managed to crush him, when all we intended to do was take the possibility of a cell phone away." Ashe was minding the store while Adele shut herself inside the tiny office to eat lunch and call Denise. Sali had been scheduled to come to Cordell and work with Ashe at the store, but Adele knew Ashe would be too embarrassed to work with his friend this quickly.
"His birthday is coming up. What else did he want?"
"We were planning to buy a tablet of some kind. He could download books that way and not have to leave Cloud Chief to buy them," Adele sighed. "And Aedan and I know what happened to the Frasier girl. One witness said it was like huge, invisible hands lifted her off the ground and tossed her through that window. Ashe is in so much danger and he doesn't even realize it."
"Adele, how long do you think he can stay behind this boundary, or in the presence of someone else? He's growing, just like Sali and the others. Marco was driving at age sixteen, and leaving the community behind regularly. The others will, too, just as soon as they're able."
"But Sharon and Jonas keep an eye on Wynn. I don't think she'll have the freedom the others do—she's just too rare."
"True. Can you imagine what might happen if humans discovered a real unicorn?"
"There are some who wouldn't rest until she was captured, I know that much," Adele replied. "And it could be the same with Ashe. He has talent that is more valuable than gold. His life may be in danger from more than the Elemaiya." Adele didn't voice her fears over the Vampire Council.
"Yeah. Marcus says the same, but he won't elaborate."
"Just don't ask about it, Denise. Ashe has enough to worry about as it is."
"Wouldn't think of it. If you need help with Ashe's birthday party, just ask." Ashe's birthday was June twenty-second, barely a month away. "I can make punch or bring snacks."
"I'll call you later, after Aedan and I decide what we want to do," Adele said. "I need to get back to the store—Ashe refused lunch but I'll send him to the kitchen anyway. Maybe he'll make a sandwich for himself. If Mr. Winkler hadn't installed the security cameras last year, I wouldn't have left him out in the store by himself." Adele glanced up at the monitor over her desk; Ashe was ringing up a customer who'd purchased seed packets.
Denise agreed and hung up.
* * *
"Honey, go get a sandwich. You can eat in my office and phone Sali if you want," Adele said as she walked back into the store. Ashe glanced at his mother's face—it appeared pale and worried.
"I'll go phone Sali." Ashe moved toward the back of the store where the kitchen and Adele's office were.
"Make a sandwich, hon. You're growing again." Ashe didn't reply, he merely tossed up a hand in acknowledgment and kept walking.
"Sali, I don't want to talk about it." Ashe bit into the half sandwich he'd made for himself. The store had been busy from the moment they'd opened, and he was hungry. Sali was asking for details on the cell-phone humiliation, as he'd dubbed the incident.
"You just gave the money away? Ashe, you could have gotten all kinds of stuff with that. We could have bought new video games. Or books, even." Sali didn't like to read and never made a secret of that fact, so the books suggestion was an afterthought.
"Sali, Cori is going to college. She needs things, too. More important things than video games."
"Dude, did you have to give it all away?" Sali whined.
"I didn't need it," Ashe replied tersely. "Look, I'm eating lunch. Can't talk with my mouth full, dude. Bye." Ashe hung up and bit savagely into his ham sandwich. Glancing at the security monitor over his mother's desk, he watched as a man walked through the door. The monitor that Mr. Winkler's security company installed a year earlier displayed six separate images from cameras located throughout the store. One image showed his mother in an aisle, helping a customer with weed killer. The man who'd come in wandered out of the camera's view, so Ashe kept a watch on his mother as he ate. Adele rang up the customer who quickly left the store, purchase in hand. Now a lull had come; no other customers were inside the store except for the man who was wandering aimlessly through the aisles. Ashe's skin began to itch.
* * *
"They are wary, wise wolf, after the girl was killed." Wildrif dipped his head respectfully to Obediah Tanner.
"Then how do we get to the others?" Obediah's wolves hadn't been in on the girl's killing, so his reward money was diminishing. Three of his were watching the boundary at a safe enough distance that the Cloud Chief Pack wouldn't notice or scent them. Somehow, the girl had managed to get past Obediah's guards.
"Hire a rogue witch or warlock," Wildrif suggested. "A strong one, to take down the boundary. And if the one we find has some friends, hire them, too. Should be easy enough to get those kids out, once the boundary comes down. And if they die, well, there's no real way to connect them to you, is there?"
"You know where to find somebody?" Obediah's interest was piqued instantly.
"I believe I can find some who are willing," a slow smile spread across Wildrif's face.
* * *
Mom! It was all Ashe had time to shout mentally before the man had Adele by the throat, demanding information on children hidden in the area. Blazingly angry at the attack on his mother, Ashe was mist and through the office wall in a blink.
"Marcus, I only know he had dark hair and green eyes. That's all I really saw before he grabbed me by the throat." Adele was rubbing her neck—bruises had appeared from the cruel grip of her assailant. "He was asking about hidden children." Adele gratefully accepted the glass of water Ashe held out. "Ashe might be able to tell you more; I'd be dead if he hadn't turned me to mist. We both watched that man go crazy after we disappeared. You see what he did," Adele's voice was raspy as she nodded toward the aisle that had nearly been destroyed. The assailant had gone crazy, sweeping everything from the shelves surrounding him in demented anger and cursing loudly as he did so. He'd then rushed from the store and raced down the street, disappearing in seconds.
"I'm calling Agents Lawford and North," Marcus stepped away to make the call. Ashe had sent mindspeech to Marcus and Jason first thing, after the assailant had run from the store. Marcus, whose small locksmith office was only a few blocks away, arrived in record time. Adele was coughing again and attempting to drink the water Ashe had gotten for her as Marcus punched numbers on his cell. Ashe's head jerked up as the bell over the door rang. Jason Landers, the old werewolf, had arrived.
* * *
"Winkler is sending up two more to help, and Marcie and I can run the store. I don't think Adele should come back to work until we have this well in hand," Jason said, dropping a hand on Ashe's shoulders. "And Ashe shouldn't be here, either, I don't think." Jason had arrived at Cordell Feed and Seed quickly, driving the distance from Cloud Chief to Cordell in a matter of minutes.
"But Mr. Landers," Ashe worried his lower lip while studying the old werewolf's grim and determined expression.
"Ashe, that one was looking for hidden children. You're on that list, or near enough. I know you saved your mom, but that doesn't mean he won't be back and with even more malice on his mind. Mr. Winkler is coming up for the day tomorrow, with Roger and Toby. He'll take a look at those images in your security system, Mrs. Evans. And Mr. Jennings may come, too. Winkler said he was going to call the Director right away."
"In the meantime, I'll have Micah and somebody else stay here at the store tonight," Marcus had left a brief message on Agent Lawford's phone before hanging up—the agent hadn't answered the call. Ashe moved to his mother's side and wrapped his arms around her shoulders.
"Honey, we'll be all right," Adele patted Ashe's arms. "You got both of us out of harm's way."
* * *
"I have a jet ready to go now," Director Jennings informed William Winkler. "Derik North called me earlier. Said that Nick Lawford didn't come back from breakfast this morning. Now, I don't think you know Nick as well as I do, but there's no way he'd just disappear, and no way he'd forget to answer his phone or return a call. Something has happened to one of my best agents, Winkler. The question is; did the killer get information from him before he died."
"You're sure he's dead."
"Unless he was overpowered somehow and confined. With this killer, that would be highly unusual. He likes to kill. I'm sure if he were aware that Jane Scott survived, even if she's in a coma, then he'd be working to finish the job."
"I agree with that," Winkler said. "Two Cloud Chief wolves are staying at the Evans' store tonight, but I've asked Jason to transfer the recorded images to me by computer. I'll have a look at what the security system shows us. This may be our best bet on identifying this man. Jason says that Adele and Ashe agree that the man has dark hair and green eyes, but Ashe says the man has a scar on his upper lip, slightly off-center."
"Off-center, you say?" Director Jennings was immediately interested.
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