Caged, page 1
Blood Trails, Book 6
Skeleton Key Publishing
Also by Jennifer Blackstream
From the Author
Other Books by Jennifer Blackstream
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A Blood Trails Novel, Book 6
USA Today Bestselling Author
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©Copyright Jennifer Blackstream 2018, Skeleton Key Publishing
Edited by 720 Editing
Cover Art by Yocla Designs © Copyright 2018
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This is a work fiction. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, events or places is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any material form without the written permission of the author. You may not circulate this book in any format. Thank you for respecting the hard work of all people involved with the creation of this ebook.
Temptation, Blood Trails #0.5
A dinner party ended with a dead body.
A young officer recognizes the foul stench of demon at the crime scene.
It’s time to call for backup.
Not a cop.
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Murder hits close to home for a certain werewolf in the latest mystery by USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Blackstream
When a murder investigation starts with a mutilated corpse and a savage, newly-turned werewolf, it’s normal to hope things improve from there.
But in Shade's experience, it’s more likely things will get worse.
A mutiny is brewing in the local werewolf pack, and a homicide involving a close ally of the alpha—Detective Sergeant Liam Osbourne—is exactly the crack in his armor his enemies have been waiting for.
Together with Liam and her FBI partner, Agent Andrew Bradford, Shade will need to stretch her powers to dangerous limits to find the conspirator—not only to prevent another grisly killing, but to halt a campaign of terror reaching far beyond the blood-stained crime scene.
Can they solve the case before treason rips Liam’s pack in two?
ALSO BY JENNIFER BLACKSTREAM
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Blood Trails Series
Temptation (prequel, mailing list exclusive)
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Blood Prince Series
Bonus Novel: The Pirate’s Witch
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Blood Realm Series:
All for a Rose
Bear With Me
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Short stories are not listed here, but can be found on my website here.
“When one runs with the wolves, one must howl with the pack.”
“How could you do this to me?”
The wounded tone of my voice made me sound petulant, but that couldn’t be helped. My mind filled with visions of my future, and how it had been altered.
The dwarf standing before me toyed with the tools tucked into his battered leather apron, his brown eyes darting from side to side before reluctantly focusing on me again. “I was only trying to help.”
A sharp silver grappling hook shot through the space between our faces. Metal clinked, followed by the whir of a tight wire rapidly retracting. My pixie familiar squealed in delight as her body hurtled through the air.
I narrowed my eyes. “You made Peasblossom a grappling gun. A gun. You gave her a gun.” It sounded worse every time I said it, but I couldn’t seem to stop. The hysterical note pushing my voice higher didn’t help.
Gundersson tugged at the thick grey beard that obscured the lower half of his face. “I didn’t mean any harm. I was only thinking of—”
The sound of smashing ceramic cut him off. His head jerked to the side, following the sound. I didn’t look. I’d known Peasblossom for a long time.
I knew the sound of a breaking coffee mug when I heard it.
“It’s bad enough that she’s taken full advantage of my sympathy to eat enough honey in five days to last most of her kind a lifetime,” I said, flattening my palms on the countertop between us in an attempt to steady myself. “I can admit that I’ve given in more than I should as well.” My hands curled into fists. “But at least I had the sense not to give her a grappling gun.”
“Now, Mother Renard—Shade. I think we both know there was nowhere else you could have found her a wee grappling gun,” Gundersson said reasonably, gathering the bigger pieces of broken ceramic from the front counter of his shop. “I made that myself, and it was a challenge, let me tell you. The tiny bits—”
“If I’d known this was why you wanted to see me, I might have put it off until after I met with Agent Bradford.” I pressed my lips together, holding back all the other things I so desperately wanted to say to the kind-hearted—but terribly misguided—dwarf. Finally, I resigned myself to plucking my familiar from her nest of broken coffee mug and the chains of paperclips that had apparently been stored inside it.
The pixie had gone completely silent after the carnage, sitting very still as if I would somehow forget about her and her grappling gun. I held her in my palm and waited for her pink multifaceted eyes to meet mine.
Peasblossom scowled. “That coffee mug was patently unsafe.”
I stared at her. Waiting.
Unease made her squirm, and she clutched her present to her chest. “I’m not giving this back.” Her eyes wrinkled at the corners, and her voice rose on the first swell of panic. “Don’t take it away from me.”
“I’m not going to take your grappling gun,” I promised, suppressing the pain in my tone. “That was a gift from Gundersson to you, I would never take it.”
Peasblossom didn’t look like she believed me, and she tightened her grip on the cursed contraption as I settled her on my shoulder.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
She still looked uncertain, but she nodded.
“Let me see your wings.”
Some of her confidence returned. If there was one thing she’d learned, it was that reminding me of her injury was the fastest way out of trouble. She turned, and her wings twitched as if she’d tried to lift them for inspection. The limp gossamer limbs didn’t rise, nor would they for some time yet. My jaw tightened at the sight of the broken bones, some of them no thicker than a needle. If I closed my eyes, I could relive the event that had led to Peasblossom’s useless wings. Hear the wizard’s booming voice as he gave his minions their second wind. See the sideshow telekinetic catching Peasblossom in her hand, closing her fingers around the pixie until she—
“I’m okay,” Peasblossom whispered.
I blinked away the tears I hadn’t felt welling up in my eyes and cleared my throat. “I know.”
Gundersson gave me time to compose myself as he retrieved a small dustpan and brush and cleaned up the coffee mug incident. “I don’t believe she’ll need the grappling hook very long, at any rate. Peasblossom is a strong one, and I’ve no doubt she’ll be fully healed in no time.”
I didn’t point out that Peasblossom’s wings had been injured badly enough that in a sense, she was regrowing bones from scratch. Gundersson knew it, I knew it. And Peasblossom knew it. I forced a smile instead. “So true.”
“And how is Scath’s recovery coming along?”
Just the mention of the cat sith made my stomach roll in sympathy. I didn’t have to be fey to imagine the agony Scath must have felt when those iron slivers burrowed into her flesh. My imagination leapt into action, providing sensory information to go along with the memory.
I breathed through my nose, waiting for the nausea to pass. “The iron poisoning is proving difficult to shake off, even for her. She’s healing, but it’s slow.” A lump rose in my throat. “I think I hurt her worse getting the iron out of her than he hurt her putting it in.”
Gundersson didn’t ask who “he” was. Detective Sergeant Liam Osbourne had already told him what happened, and neither of us wanted to hear his name again, much less say it.
“It’s a miracle she survived,” he said quietly. “Even the strongest of fey have been known to fall to iron.” He looked at me, and there was a seriousness in his gaze that hadn’t been there a second ago. “She came into your life for a reason. The fact that she survived such an attack… If I were a betting man, I would say she’s part of something big. I would say you are part of something big.”
I forced a smile I didn’t feel. “Thank you for thinking of Peasblossom. I should get back to Andy.”
“Will you be stopping in to see the detective before you go?” Gundersson asked lightly.
The mention of Liam sent me hurtling back in time all over again. This time, I was back in the wizard’s office, putting on a show, acting out a pretense for the benefit of a suspicious audience. Liam’s aura pushed against me in a solid wall of heat, his deep voice rasping in my ear.
“I think you like it.”
A ferocious blush burned my cheeks. “No. No, I don’t have time. Andy and I just finished a case yesterday, so we’ll be starting another today. I only have two days of…vacation left.”
Vacation from my fey master, is what I meant, but I didn’t say that. I wasn’t sure if Gundersson had heard about my contract with the leannan sidhe Flint Valencia, but if he hadn’t, I wasn’t in a hurry to talk about my indentured servitude.
“Goodbye.” I fled before the dwarf could say anything else.
Peasblossom squawked in protest, clinging to my shoulder as I half-jogged to my car. “Hey! Slow down. If I fall I’ll be a pancake!”
I slowed, giving her time to settle herself in the neckline of my shirt.
“Are we really not going to stop by and say hi to Liam?” Peasblossom asked as I opened my car door.
“We don’t have time. I told Andy I was checking on Scath, then picking up your present from Gundersson, and I’d be straight over.”
“You’re blushing,” Peasblossom observed. “I think you like Liam.”
The blush grew hotter, and I paid a ridiculous amount of attention to getting my car key in the ignition. “He’s a good cop, I enjoyed working with him.”
“He was injured helping you on that case and you still didn’t go visit him to see if he was okay.”
The disapproving tone in her voice wasn’t all for show. As a village witch, I would have been expected to drop by the home of someone who’d been injured helping me—with a basket of hot food and an offer to help with housework. I was ashamed to say that, looking back, I hadn’t even noticed his injuries after the fight. In my defense, the werewolf had shifted to heal the worst of it. And I had been waiting for an ambulance to come and help my crippled familiar. Still…
“I called,” I said lamely. “And I offered to bring food, or to help with healing. He said he didn’t need either.”
“And you knew he would say that, because he’s a man, he’s an alpha, and he’s stubborn.” Peasblossom shook her head. “What would Mother Hazel say?”
“Right now she’d say I’m dawdling,” I mumbled, turning the car in the direction of Andy’s house.
Peasblossom drummed her fingers against the back of my neck. “He stares at you when he thinks you’re not looking, you know,” she said.
I frowned. “Andy?”
“No, Liam.” She paused, considering. “Andy too, though, now you mention it. But not in the same way. Andy stares at you like he’s waiting for you to do something weird. Liam looks at you like he wants to chase you down.”
“Chase me down.” I shifted in my seat. “You mean because he likes me or because he thinks I’m hiding something, and he wants to get it out of me?”
“I don’t think he knows.”
“Shifters,” I muttered under my breath. “I’ll never understand them.”
“It’s because you squirm and lean on him all the time. He doesn’t know why you do it, but he likes it. The conflict is your fault, you should stop leaning on him or start giving him a kiss when you do. It’s the not-knowing that’s getting his fur up.”
I opened my mouth to protest, but the hiss of her new grappling gun cut me off. There was a clunk of silver on hard plastic as the hook found purchase on the arm that held my rearview mirror suspended, and a second later Peasblossom shot off my shoulder.
I let her play with her new toy while talking in her Batman voice—which just about made her high-pitched voice sound normal—and concentrated on driving. Andy’s house wasn’t far, and I really didn’t want to be blushing when I got there.
By the time I reached his pale blue two-story, split-level home with the white trim and red brick lower half, my cheeks no longer felt like they were on fire. I plucked Peasblossom off the top of the passenger seat’s headrest and settled her on my shoulder before climbing the porch to knock on the front door.
It swung open before my knuckles made contact. Andy appeared in the doorway, the lines of his midnight blue suit as straight as always, his white shirt starched and blinding in the June sunlight. Unfortunately, the frown on his face was par for the course as well, as of this past week.
“That took longer than I expected,” he said, stepping back to let me come inside.
I pressed my lips together, smothering a defensive protest. For a solid month I hadn’t answered his calls, or returned his texts with anything more than “I’m fine, just busy.” It hadn’t been my fault, as that’s the only response my master Flint Valencia would allow me, but apparently that didn’t make things any easier. For either of us.
Peasblossom brightened and hefted her gun in the air. Andy’s eyes widened a split second before the grappling hook shot through the air and latched itself onto his breast pocket. He opened his mouth, but couldn’t get the protest out in time.
The pixie pressed the retractor button on the gun and laughed as she swung forward to land against Andy’s chest before rappelling quickly up to his pocket and climbing inside.
He stared at her for a moment, then looked at me. I crossed my arms.
“That’s impressive.” He craned his neck. “I wouldn’t have thought you could make a grappling gun that small.”
“I suppose I should be grateful it’s not a real gun.”
“Do you think he could make me a real gun?” Peasblossom asked, her eyes widening as she peeked out of Andy’s pocket.
“No,” Andy and I said simultaneously.
I smiled, ready to share the moment of perfect agreement with Andy, but he turned his back and headed for the small staircase that led down to the house’s lower level.
“I’ve picked out another case. It’s a string of thefts, wealthy houses, all on the edge of a forest. Three of the homeowners reported catching a coyote on a security camera, or having allergic reactions to an animal despite no animals being in the house.”