Target(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 3)(35) by Connie Suttle
"I know, Dad. I was just missing you and Mom."
"The move has been unsettling for everybody. I understand that. But we have to keep our good sense. Especially after Wynn's capture and the attempt on Mr. Winkler's life, not to mention Jackson's father, who is still hunting for his son, I'm sure. Don't make our jobs harder than they are already. Marcie allowed Jackson to work in the groves with the others, but only after Shirley promised security."
Ashe felt guilty. More guilty than he might have if his father had displayed anger. He was silent on the drive to Winkler's beach house after that. "I'm sorry, Mr. Winkler," Ashe hung his head when he walked into Winkler's kitchen, where Winkler and Trajan were having a cup of coffee.
"Oh, you'll get your punishment tomorrow, never fear. Just don't do it again. Did you think we'd say no if you wanted to see your parents? Ashe, I'm not that terrible. Until you see what I've got planned for you to do tomorrow, that is." Winkler's tight smile didn't reach his eyes, telling Ashe just how angry he really was. Anthony Hancock walked in. Ashe shifted uncomfortably.
"Running away? Not the smartest thing to do," Anthony Hancock pointed out.
"It's not running away if I go home, is it?" Ashe said before he thought.
"Ashe, be respectful," Adele said. She'd not said anything while Aedan and then Winkler had spoken with Ashe, but she offered Tony a hard stare while she admonished her son.
"I will. I'm sorry, Mr. Hancock."
"That's Rockland. Get it right, kid." Tony stalked out of the kitchen.
"Get in bed, Ashe. Since you've already had dinner," Winkler instructed. Ashe, grateful to leave the tension-filled kitchen, had to force himself not to run for the stairs.
"Dude, why didn't you tell me you came home?" Sali hissed into his cell phone. Ashe, feeling brutalized over the incident, called his best friend.
"Sal, I should have asked," Ashe admitted reluctantly. "I just wanted to go home and have dinner with Mom. Like normal. Marco left to take Cori out to eat, and nobody else was available to go run on the beach, so I took off." Ashe wasn't about to tell Sali how he'd gotten home, just that he had. Let Sali think he'd borrowed one of Mr. Winkler's vehicles. He'd had his license for nearly a month and hadn't gotten to use it once.
"Dude, was your mom's meatloaf worth getting into trouble over?"
"We're replacing the lines for the sprinklers, that's why," a werewolf lawn and garden expert had been hired to work on the sprinkler lines in Winkler's flowerbeds surrounding the beach house. Ashe was digging narrow trenches after raking back mulch and ground cover around short, squatty palm trees and tropical flower bushes.
Sweat dripped off his nose and into his eyes in the muggy morning air as the werewolf showed him where and how to dig the trench. Trajan had already worked him hard in the weight room, and then Marco had forced him to run farther and faster than normal down the beach. Without allowing Ashe to clean up before breakfast, Winkler sent him out to help dig trenches for sprinkler pipes after he ate. Jimmy had cast a glance at Ashe now and then but didn't say anything while serving up ham, eggs and biscuits. Then, to cap it off, Winkler had taken Ashe's cell phone before sending him out to do manual labor.
"You're too soft, boy. Put your back into it," the werewolf snapped at Ashe. Ashe hadn't worn gloves and blisters were forming on his palms. Determined not to give the werewolf anything else to complain about, Ashe kept digging, doing his best to ignore the pain. After the trenches were dug, Ashe laid PVC pipe and then screwed in pipe ni**les and sprinkler heads. His hands were burning by that time, so he cooled them in the spray when the lines were tested.
"We're done, go ask Mr. Winkler if he has any other jobs for you," the werewolf said, sending Ashe into the house. Grabbing ice cubes from the fridge and wrapping them in a paper towel, he held onto those while he went looking for Winkler.
"Anything else?" Ashe stood in the doorway to Winkler's office. Trajan sat in a chair before the desk, making Ashe wonder if he'd interrupted anything.
"Blisters?" Winkler lifted an eyebrow.
"Wash them out, then get something from Jimmy to put on them."
"All right." Ashe turned to go.
"Yes, Mr. Winkler?" Ashe turned around.
"Don't do that again."
"Yes, Mr. Winkler." Ashe went off to find Jimmy.
"Not a pretty sight," Jimmy examined Ashe's hands. "A wolf would heal after a good sleep. I hear that's not always the way with shifters."
"Yeah, it takes Mom and me a little longer, usually," Ashe answered truthfully as Jimmy rubbed ointment into his blisters. Most of them had broken during his stint at sprinkler repair. The ointment stung, but Ashe didn't want to show weakness to the werewolf cook. The werewolf lawn worker had certainly thought him weak and beneath his notice.
"Kid, don't ever feel like you have to prove anything to anybody," Jimmy said, squirting out more antibiotic ointment onto Ashe's hands. "You are what you are. We all have strengths and weaknesses. The ones who think you're weak don't really know you. Take this and put more on around bedtime." Jimmy handed the tube of medication to Ashe. Ashe nodded and thanked Jimmy for the help.
Eating dinner later proved to be a tricky endeavor—Ashe did his best to work around holding a fork and protecting blistered skin. Winkler and Trajan both watched Ashe struggle without saying anything. Tony Hancock walked in and sat at the table without saying anything, either. Jimmy didn't even acknowledge the vampire as he cleared a few dishes away. Ashe rose and took his plate to the kitchen as soon as the vampire was seated.
"What did I do?" Tony glanced at Winkler. Winkler growled low at the vampire.
"Cori, Winkler said he misted to Star Cove, but I don't think that's it," Marco said softly over his cell. "The day Nick attacked us here at the beach house, I swear Ashe just disappeared from a spot on the beach and then reappeared on the deck to get Trajan out of harm's way. No way could he move that fast, even as mist. And Trajan let it slip that Winkler got some information from Hancock about the Elemaiya, but I can't get to it—it's locked up somewhere."
"Stop worrying about it. Just be thankful that Ashe was able to save Trajan. I overheard your dad telling Micah that Trajan would have died if Ashe hadn't helped out like he did. Nobody else could get there that fast and Trajan was putting himself in front of Winkler. Besides, you took one of those creeps down yourself. That's pretty good, Marco. Your dad is proud of you."
"Does anybody ever say they're proud of Ashe? Cori, all he seems to do is get in trouble. I might have done the same thing—except I'd have gotten into a van and driven back to Star Cove."
"Marco, you're not sixteen anymore."
"But think about what I did when I was seventeen. I just took off and went wherever I pleased after James was killed. Ashe even got me to the church in Cordell for a funeral. Nobody ever knew about that until now, Cori. Ashe took me inside his mist and that's how I went. Dad might have grounded me for a few days after all was said and done, but Ashe—I don't know." Cori was in Star Cove; Marco was walking the beach, kicking at loose bits of shell and seaweed in the moonlight as they spoke on their cells.
"Marco, it's close to the full moon and tempers are short. You know that. It'll blow over and Ashe will know to tell somebody next time."
"But who remembers what he does, Cori? You only know because your dad chose to let you know."
"Yeah." Cori's voice deflated. "I think this is why they shut down the project to allow vampires to have kids. Too much compulsion and distrust. Not to mention the other drawbacks."
"There are drawbacks, all right. Cori, you have to promise that you'll remind me if I ever forget any of these things."
"Marco, I could be made to forget, too. I trust Dad, but who knows what the Council could end up telling him to do? They rule the entire race with an iron hand, I think."
"The Grand Master isn't nearly as strict," Marco sighed. "Look, I have to get back before they start looking for me."
"Marco, be careful, all right? And try to keep Ashe out of trouble."
"I will." Marco ended the call and loped toward the beach house.
The boat was a modified, twenty-thousand-ton freighter. It rolled gently with the swells beneath the moonlight. Ezekiel Tanner stood against the railing on deck, gazing westward toward the barrier islands of Texas. He'd planned this carefully. He knew he couldn't do anything during the full moon—he and the others in his Pack would have to turn and hunt. He intended to do that on St. Joseph Island, located to the north of Mustang Island.
There wasn't much there except dunes, wild grasses, snakes and a few small animals. Tourists came during the day, but it would be deserted come nightfall. If any humans thought to camp out on the island, well, they'd make good hunting for his wolves. They’d return to the freighter near daybreak on Saturday morning with the shifter and werewolf children in tow. Zeke smiled. This would be so easy. And to throw the coast guard and DEA off his trail, he intended to set the congressman adrift in one of the smaller boats after they set sail for Mexico.
The subject of Ezekiel's thoughts walked up. Congressman Jack Howard now stood beside Zeke, staring at the dim lights shining onshore ten miles to the west. "I miss it," Jack Howard said, nodding toward the coast of the U.S.
"Want to go back?"
"I'll spend the rest of my life in jail if I do."
"I'll take that as a no."
"People are such puppets," Jack Howard observed. "So easy to control with a few lies and a little money."
"That's in your world. In mine, it's muscle and money."
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