Vendetta(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 4)(18) by Connie Suttle
"And he’ll figure out that we know he told Sali, Wynn and Dori what he can do. He needs peers who know what he can do and understand him better because of it. Not somebody who's gonna run to the older folks every time they see something out of the ordinary," Trajan added. "We betrayed a trust, boss. Big time."
"Yeah. I get that." Winkler rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably. "And I don't want to report to his parents that we managed to lose him in only a day."
"He doesn't have a soul to confide in, now," Trace said. "At least I had Trajan and Jason to talk to when I was in school. We ruined things for Ashe, boss."
* * *
"Randy, it's better if you don't know how I got here," Ashe sat at Randy's tiny kitchen table drinking a soda.
"It's good to see you. Mom went home three days ago. Tried to talk me into going back to New Mexico with her. I don't have any good memories of that place, Ashe." Randy shuddered.
"Yeah. I know that," Ashe nodded and sipped his drink.
"Tell me why you're here, man." Randy said.
"Can't. And I have to go back before they call out the dogs. You know what I mean."
"Yeah. Been there," Randy grumped. "Life's not great here, either. I’m still trying to figure out how rat hearts are exploding in the old train tunnels beneath Chicago. Nobody else is reporting rat deaths by the hundreds."
"Their hearts are exploding?" Ashe jerked his head up. He'd been staring at his soda can, tracing a finger through the condensation on the side.
"Yeah. Know anything about that?"
"Not for sure," Ashe hedged. "Randy, stay away from those tunnels. You can take that warning to the bank. I'll have to let Mr. Winkler know. If I can stomach talking to him. Gotta go." Ashe stood. "Thanks for the soda." Ashe walked toward the door of Randy's tiny, slightly untidy apartment. "Find another story, Randy. Leave the rats alone for now."
* * *
"Don't say another word to me and keep Marco and Sali away. They're not my friends. Never have been." Ashe threw clothing into a roller bag much harder than necessary. Trajan had been watching for lights to come on in the Evans home. He'd been rewarded around nine that evening. Now he watched Ashe pack for the trip, anger in every movement.
"Ashe, I could give you all kinds of reasons for what happened, but they won't mean a thing to you right now. I will say that Bear Wright was offered the Principal's job late this afternoon. He accepted. Catherine and Barton Copeland went home in a huff." Trajan lifted an eyebrow at Ashe's messy packing but didn't comment.
"Too bad. She was prejudiced. Like a lot of werewolves," Ashe snapped.
"Some of them are," Trajan agreed. "And some shifters are as well. We won't even start on the humans or other races. Ashe, it's something we all have to learn to live with. We know it's wrong. They don't."
"You know what else is wrong? Having your best friend sell you out." Ashe flung T-shirts into the bag.
"Look, I know that hurts. And I know you’ll be suspicious of all of us from now on. That's a terrible place to be. Next time, go directly to Winkler. He knows how to keep secrets."
"Fat chance," Ashe said, wrapping shampoo in a plastic bag and tossing it into the suitcase.
"Things keep changing for you. You hold some amazing talents. You have to tell somebody."
"Nope. Not falling for that again."
Trajan sighed. "You have no idea how much Winkler cares about you. How much Trace and I care about you. You're like the little brother Trace and I never had. And Winkler—he thinks of you as another child."
"I’m not werewolf, Trajan. Nor will I ever be."
"We know that. We don't care. Does it matter that much to you—that people who care about you—love you, even—are werewolf?"
"Keep Sali and Marco away from me," Ashe zipped up the bag and hefted it off the bed.
"We’ll be in Boulder around ten tomorrow morning—jet is scheduled to leave around seven. We’ll fly to D.C. first thing Wednesday. You won't see Sali or Marco the whole time we're gone."
"If you're counting on absence making the heart grow fonder," Ashe pounded down the steps to the lower level, "then you're wasting your breath."
* * *
"He's back, boss, and he's mad," Trajan announced as he and Ashe walked into Winkler's temporary home. Winkler didn't attempt to say anything as Ashe stalked past, heading toward the bedroom that Trace had cleared out for him, wearing an angry scowl.
"Has he had dinner?" Winkler asked as the door to Ashe's new quarters slammed shut.
"I don't think so. And he's very sure he never wants to see Marco or Sali again."
"Too bad you can't rewind this whole thing, boss," Trace drawled.
"Trace, go get a pizza. We’ll slide it under the door if we have to." Winkler handed cash to Trace.
"What kind?" Trace took the money and pocketed it.
"Pepperoni, what else? Get a sausage and mushroom too, just in case."
"Will do. I’ll grab Ace on the way out."
"You do that." Winkler shooed Trace out the door.
* * *
"Ashe is pissed." Marco sat beside Sali at the kitchen island. "Found out this morning before Winkler hauled him off to the airport."
"About what?" Sali dipped up scrambled eggs and stuffed them in his mouth.
"At whom," Marco sighed. "He's so mad at both of us he could spit. Winkler let the cat out of the bag, Sali. Ashe knows I've been informing Winkler."
Sali swallowed his mouthful of food with difficulty. "He didn't. I promised Ashe, Marco. I promised him I wouldn't tell. He knows. Ashe knows everything. He's not stupid, Marco."
"I know that," Marco muttered. "And when Cori finds out, well," Marco shrugged. Cori wouldn't be happy, he knew that much. Cori liked Ashe. A lot.
"She won't be that mad at you."
"Don't bet on it."
* * *
"Kid, things will go a lot better if you're not so mad at all of us you can't see straight," Trajan observed dryly as he settled his lean frame into the seat beside Ashe. "And we'd all feel better if you'd eat something." Ashe stared out the window of Winkler's private jet, ignoring Trajan. He'd refused pizza the night before and snubbed the offer of breakfast at a restaurant in Corpus Christi. "Ashe, you don't have any weight to spare. At least eat. We all acknowledge that you have the right to be angry."
"And you'll do the same thing again, when the opportunity comes," Ashe muttered.
"What are you planning to do, Ashe? Marco will continue to work for Winkler."
"Are you forcing me to speak with him?"
"I won't. I don't know what Winkler wants to do." Trajan looked past Ashe at the mountains they were passing over. The jet would be landing in Denver soon.
"I promised Mom and Dad that I'd stay with Winkler while Mom is gone. When she gets back I may rethink my employment options." Ashe misted out of his seat and appeared in another at the back of the jet. Trajan breathed a frustrated sigh.
* * *
"Trace is riding herd on him," Winkler informed the Grand Master. Weldon had driven down with two bodyguards. They met Winkler at the airport with a rented van. Weldon could see Ashe and Trace at a tiny pizza restaurant inside the Denver airport. Ashe was buying a slice of pizza, refusing to allow Trace to pay.
"He threatened to quit?" Weldon turned to Trajan.
"He said he'd rethink his employment options," Trajan repeated. "Grand Master, we stripped every bit of privacy away from him and he thinks he has no friends. None that he can trust, anyway."
Weldon cursed softly. "What can we do?" he asked.
"No idea," Winkler said. "He's not one of my kids, though I'd adopt him in a second if he didn't have parents already. My gardener put him through hell; he blistered his hands laying new sprinklers and never complained once. He's not one of those kids who goes looking for trouble."
"And you say Griffin told him he's pure-blood Elemaiya? Winkler, this means that none of us can lay claim to him." Weldon wanted to curse again.
"Bear told us in his interview that he's looking to put a shifter council together. He has a lot of contacts, Weldon. If anybody can get that disorganized bunch together, it will be him." Winkler didn't sound happy.
"You're upset that they might finally organize and lay down some rules?" Trajan stared at Winkler.
"No, he's upset over the fact that they might have as much pull with Ashe as anyone else," Weldon pointed out judiciously. "A Shifter Council could be very influential with Ashe—his mother is a shifter and they haven't betrayed him in any way. If shifter Enforcers are created, he could go to them if we don't fix this. Face it; we all need him, Trajan. Desperately. I just don't want him turned to vampire without his knowledge or consent. He'll belong wholly to the Council after that and be forced to live under Wlodek's thumb. Like Lissa."
"And asleep every day, all day," Winkler agreed. "We don't need that. We need that talent available during day hours. If Wlodek had any sense, he'd see it, too."
"I think Wlodek worries that he might not be able to completely control Ashe. It's a valid concern," Wlodek said.
"They're coming," Trajan whispered. Ashe had devoured two large slices of pizza while Winkler and the Grand Master spoke.
"Ashe, you can't let a bunch of clueless wolves upset you," Weldon said when Ashe and Trace walked up. "We don't know everything and don't claim to. Winkler and I have made mistakes in the past and likely will make more in the future. Son, I think the wolves here would give their lives for you and I don't say that lightly."
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