Target(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 3)(7) by Connie Suttle
"Hon, Mr. Winkler may have other resources," Lavonna hugged her daughter close and brushed damp bangs back.
"I know you want to go now, but we're waiting for sundown," Winkler knelt beside Ashe's chair. Ashe, Sali and Marco were inside a hotel room. Mr. Winkler had rented half the hotel, in Ashe's estimation. Marco's room was next door, but his and Marcus DeLuca's room connected with that of Sali and Ashe. "In the meantime," Winkler added, "Try to rest up. You'll need your strength." He stood and walked through the connecting door, closing it behind him. Ashe heard Winkler say something to Marcus DeLuca before they walked out of the adjoining room.
"The waiting is awful," Sali muttered.
"We have to get everybody together," Marco attempted to calm Sali's restless pacing. He'd been fretting like a caged wolf from the moment they'd settled into the hotel. Ashe had unpacked a few things—mostly toiletries and his toothbrush, before settling into the chair to think. He wanted a computer. He wanted a map to the game preserve. He wanted anything except the waiting. He'd called his mother when the jet landed, but kept the conversation short. Ashe didn't want to give her more reason to worry than she had already, and sundown was still two hours away.
"Ashe." Marcus was back with a soft drink and a folded map. Exactly what Ashe wanted. The map was one of those printed brochures the tourists received when they visited the park portion of the reserve, but he unfolded it and laid it on one of the beds anyway. Sali and Marco were looking, just as he was.
"This area here, on the southeast side and away from the tourist park, is where we think the hunts take place," Marcus pointed out a blank spot on the map. "That doesn't mean that Wynn is there now. We figure they keep the animals and others caged somewhere, and release them from an underground location. That's why we can't get anything on satellite during the day. They've caught movement at night, but signals are scrambled somehow after sundown. We want to get to that system, too, if we can, and take it out or disable it."
"You were in the military, weren't you, Mr. DeLuca?" Ashe looked at Marcus.
"Yeah. I was. But not many know that," Marcus tapped the map to get everybody's attention again. "We're going in on the southwestern edge, here," he pointed to a spot near Arney, Texas. "We can move in there without drawing too much attention. Ashe, Winkler will give you an update when we get there. And we'll have backup, too, if all goes well."
"Okay." Ashe nodded.
"Ashe, we expect you to be cautious. Don't risk your life. If I don't bring you home in one piece, I don't want to be the one to tell Aedan."
"Yeah. I wouldn't want to tell him, either."
"You know how much that girl is worth?" Fritz grinned at Cade. "Lester says that congressman paid five mil."
"Congressman, huh? Does he know we're wanted men?" Cade grinned and spat on the ground.
"Word from Tanner is that Congressman Howard might be a wanted man if certain things leak out, if you get my drift," Fritz chuckled.
"So, Tanner's looking to make a little extra money, going the blackmail route?"
"Could be," Fritz agreed. "And that could be worth more than five mil, when all's said and done."
"Better for us. That hacienda in Mexico is lookin' awful good."
"We just need to make sure Tanner knows how much he owes us."
"We'll make sure of it," Cade said, pulling a knife from the sheath at his belt to clean his fingernails.
"It's our God given right to bear arms and hunt any animal." Congressman Jack Howard looked quite distinguished—from the threads of gray at the temples of his carefully groomed, dark hair to the designer jeans, cowboy shirt and snakeskin boots he wore. He smiled and blew smoke from the expensive Cuban cigar Obediah Tanner offered.
He and Tanner stood inside Tanner's trophy room, which was elaborately decorated with various stuffed heads. In some cases, the entire, taxidermic animal adorned the spacious room. A very rare white buffalo, mounted on a stand, took up the center of Obediah's favorite room. Obediah often used the buffalo's short horns to hang his Stetsons.
"And you're tellin' me this girl is a unicorn? I thought those were myth." Jack Howard blew a plume of smoke toward the ceiling.
"You'll know the truth of it when her head hangs in your lodge," Tanner said, lifting a glass of whiskey to his lips. Tanner was close to six feet tall, with brown hair going a bit gray and a thick mustache that hid part of a scar running from his left eye down to the chin. Werewolves didn't scar unless the injury was quite severe. Tanner never forgot who'd given him that scar. He'd fought a Texas Ranger-turned vampire a century and a half earlier, near what was now the Texas-Mexican border. Tanner would have liked to return the favor, but he'd been near death when dawn came and the vampire had been forced to seek shelter from the sun.
"I'm looking forward to this," Congressman Howard drained his glass of whiskey. "I haven't been hunting on horseback for a while."
"We're gonna have a great time," Tanner slapped the congressman on the back.
Sali was so nervous, Ashe didn't think he was going to get through the night without having a mental event of some sort. "Sali, you'll go straight back to the hotel if you can't stop fretting," Marcus warned. Sali was confined to a small space between vans in the near-desert conditions of the Texas panhandle. Marco had already grabbed Sali once when he attempted to escape the confining space. Sali had growled viciously at his brother. Ashe, watching the entire incident from nearby, was worried more about Sali than about himself.
Ashe squinted as he scanned the horizon—the sun was slipping down until only a thin, bright crescent hovered in the west. Marcus and Winkler were waiting on someone else to come, and Ashe guessed that twilight was the time for that. Twenty minutes past sundown, Ashe discovered what they were waiting on—two vampires and the Lubbock Pack.
Vans and trucks pulled up nearby, amid sounds of growling engines and swirls of dry dust. Twenty-six werewolves exited vehicles quickly. The two vampires climbed from an SUV and immediately strode in Winkler's direction. Ashe had never seen these vampires before, but his experience with vampires was quite limited. His father, Nathan Anderson and Old Harold, who'd died three years earlier, were the vampires with whom he was most familiar. After that came Radomir, the vampire Enforcer the Council had sent to investigate Old Harold's death.
One of these new vampires was at least six-six, with pale-blond hair, cut short and spiked. The other was shorter, around five-ten or so, with dark-brown hair. The taller one looked as if he'd seen a lot of life. The other seemed younger and less careworn, somehow. After a brief conversation with Winkler, the vampires stood calmly while preparations were made all around them. The Lubbock werewolves were handed rifles and other weapons, and then went through a routine check with Winkler and Marcus while Ashe watched in fascination.
"This is Dalroy," Winkler walked up to Ashe and introduced the taller vampire. "And this is Rhett," he nodded to the shorter one. "Dalroy has some history with Mr. Tanner, I understand."
"Bad business," Dalroy nodded. Ashe drew in a breath. This one had to be from the old west; he could tell by the accent. "You're one of the few," he nodded to Ashe.
"The few?" Sali, who'd stopped pacing to stand beside Ashe, couldn't help himself.
"There are only a handful of children approved by the Council," Dalroy explained. "Maybe twenty or so. All born to shapeshifter-vampire parents." Ashe figured he was a part of a very unusual and risky experiment—one approved by the most powerful among the vampire race. It made him wonder if the Council was still allowing vampires to have children.
"It's time," Winkler announced. "Ashe, we want you to go in and see what you can find as mist. The others here are going to come in from the south and take down Tanner's Pack. Not all of Tanner's bunch will be going to the hunt. It's their job to make sure the quarry doesn't escape. Tanner's Pack will be spreading out along the fence and when they get wind of us, they'll be going over or through it if we don't stop them quick."
"Mr. Winkler, it may be easier to find things if I go in as the bat first," Ashe suggested, watching as armed werewolves loaded into several vans, ready to drive to the southern edge of the preserve. "I can detect anything by echolocation," Ashe went on. "I'll change to mist if I find what I'm looking for."
"Boy, can you send the message back if you do? We can go in if we know where to go," Marcus growled. Normally, Marcus wasn't so abrupt. It made Ashe wonder what Marcus had done for the military.
"Yeah. I'll do what I can, Mr. DeLuca," Ashe nodded. "Sali, will you pick up my clothes?" Ashe turned to his best friend. Sali nodded. Ashe turned to bumblebee bat and fluttered for a moment before Marcus' nose.
"I'll be damned," Dalroy whispered. Ashe heard the vampire clearly, as he turned and flew toward the spot Marcus had shown him on the map. At first, Ashe didn't get anything—he received echoes off a few scattered buildings and fences, nothing more. Traveling farther over the open space of the preserve, his echoes brought back evidence of a few insects and small animals—rabbits and other desert creatures. Abruptly, two men and horses appeared, their size and shape bouncing back to him quickly. They were close. Ashe kept sending signals and flew swiftly in that direction. More humans on horses emerged right behind the first two. Ashe turned to mist in a blink, blazing toward the horses.
Winkler, there are horses and riders, about half a mile east, Ashe sent. Ashe flew over at least ten men who were mounted. Each man had a rifle with him. Ashe almost froze. They were going to hunt Wynn. They were going to kill Wynn. They have rifles! Ashe shouted mentally. Ashe didn't know what else to do except follow as the riders took off eastward.
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