Under my skin, p.10
Under My Skin, page 10
Harbinger? Didn’t that mean impending-badness-on-the-way or something? Not the typical publicity-buzz name most executives chose.
At my silence, Marcus glanced at me. “Haven’t you seen the commercials?” He adopted a deep voice-over tone. “The future is here. The future is now.”
“Uh…no. I haven’t.” I dropped the washer back in the bin, willing my heebie-jeebies to go away, but they didn’t. They got worse.
“A few months ago a group of ranchers came to the office.” Marcus lifted a stack of sandpaper and peeked beneath it. “They’d all been offered a substantial amount of money from Harbinger to sell their land. As in immediately.” He paused. “Where’s my hammer?” He shoved a rusted old bicycle chain and a clump of soiled rags out of the way. “Thing is,” he continued, “they don’t want to sell. So they told the Harbinger sales rep to get stuffed. Next thing they knew, their cows were attacked in their fields. Horses were found slashed to death.”
The disgust and horror on my uncle’s face told me all I needed to know.
No way Marcus was involved. I ground my back molars, miffed at how easily Wade had made me doubt my own.
As a wolven, I should have put more faith in my kin, my pack.
A good man in the middle of something much darker than he could ever imagine. I had to keep Marcus safe. Harbinger Properties was the real evil. I had to uncover their plan. Without kicking in any more of Marcus’s doors. If I could help it.
“And let me guess, Harbinger is throwing some muscle around?”
“Exactly. Buildings look as if they’d been hit with a wrecking ball. Legally we have no proof the developer is trying to scare people into selling. All I can do to help is file complaints.” Marcus harrumphed. “Lot of good that’s done.” His slightly rounded chin tightened.
“But why would anyone buy up ranches out here? No offense, but this is the frozen North, not Vancouver oceanfront.”
Marcus laughed. “You’re right. I can’t figure it out. We’re the last town before miles of bush straight to the North Pole.”
I raised a brow. The North Pole? Since when?
“A small exaggeration,” Marcus conceded. He leaned his hip on the worktable and crossed his arms. “But we are at the edge of civilization. At first I thought maybe the company was searching for oil, but if the government hasn’t found it yet, it doesn’t exist.”
“Okay,” I said slowly, thinking aloud. “If you and the ranchers are only filing complaints about Harbinger and fighting them the great paper way, why did Officer Flutie want me to pass along a message to you?”
Marcus uncrossed his arms when I paused dramatically.
“A friendly, not-so-friendly warning to stay off private property?”
Uncle Marcus pushed away from the worktable so hard it banged against the wall and knocked a hammer off a shelf. He avoided my curious gaze. “Ah, there’s my hammer.” He picked up the tool and the two hinges and strode to the door. “When did you see Flutie?” he asked over his shoulder, super casual like.
He was so hiding something. “I witnessed a fender bender at the school today, and he showed up to make the report. But he never even asked me about the accident, wanted to know if I was your niece. Then he told me to give you that message.” I raised an eyebrow and folded my arms across my chest as he had moments ago. “So what did you do?” I paused. “Kick down a door, maybe?”
Marcus flushed. “Something like that. We held a protest this morning, but it got a little out of hand.” His tone was dismissive, like getting out of hand was something he dealt with on a daily basis at his oh, so dangerous real estate law firm.
I didn’t buy it for a minute.
He glanced at his watch. “It’s getting late. Let’s cover up that hole and fix the door before Sammi gets home. It could snow any day now, and I might not have time to clean up this mess until the weekend.”
He wasn’t going to tell me anything else, so I let it go and went along with his conversation shutdown. I’d probably find out more on my own anyway. We spent the next hour working on the door. When it was securely fastened again, and no fresh air was circulating through the garage, Marcus began to sneeze.
As I eased my way out of his allergy zone, the automatic garage door opener rattled and jerked into action.
Sammi pulled in and hopped out of her car. “Hey, guys.” She gave us a curious look and a smile. “What’s up?”
I waited for Marcus to rat me out and tell her about my recent garage redecorating, but he gave me a deliberately casual glance. “Oh, we’re hanging out. Let me help you with that.” He rushed to help Sammi remove a heavy box of binders from the backseat.
“I’ve got to get started on my homework,” I said over the How was your day dear? Good how was yours? conversation they had slipped into, and left Marcus to explain his sawdust-covered clothes and grease-stained cheeks.
In my room I sprawled on my springy mattress, hands behind my head, and gazed at the ceiling. Cujo was barking her fool head off again, and it took all my strength to keep from jumping out the window, hurdling the six-foot fence, and freeing the poor thing. I imagined myself kneeling beside her, patting her fur, hugging her tight—giving her all the affection she’d been denied. Miraculously, the barking outside paused momentarily.
I sat up at the silence, my vision a bit blurry, my head aching.
Whoa, had I done that? Had I communicated with the dog from this distance? I tilted my head and listened.
The barking started up again, sharper and louder than before.
I groaned and sank back down onto my pillow. I didn’t think anything could be worse than the time my father recorded a banshee wail and blared the track over and over to trap the banshee with its own call.
Evaluating the last two day’s events, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Hunter Council had known all about the level of paranorm activity in Redgrave. And about the Delacroix. If throwing me into the mix was some sort of test to see what my father had created. Or maybe to see whether I’d fight the town’s growing damnation, or if I’d accelerate the process by joining Wade and Logan.
Maybe Sebastian had been in on it from the beginning. Had he been working for the Council when he sent me away, before I could start asking questions about my parents? After all, Redgrave had been his suggestion. How could I have trusted the man who was responsible for my father being cast out of the Council?
Now I was torn between a vamp-witch and a green-but-keen hunter crew determined to take him down. Only thing was…I didn’t want to see Wade get hurt. I freaked at the thought of Wade entering my uncle’s house again, but not because I was afraid to take Wade on. When the time came—would I fight Wade off? Or would I welcome his darkness?
The grating tone of my cell phone, muffled by my backpack, provided a timely distraction. I dug through the mess and snagged the phone on the fourth ring.
“Are you alone?” Brit’s voice, intense and worried.
I propped myself on my elbow and glanced around the lime green room. “Why? Shouldn’t I be?” From Brit’s tone, I expected to see Wade in his vamp mist form or a demonic face in my bedroom window. But all was normal as far as I could tell.
Brit sighed loudly in my ear.
“I mean are you good to talk? About…you know…stuff?”
Relieved no immediate paranormal visitors lurked outside, I relaxed back onto my pillows. “Yeah, what’s up? You guys draw a Vamps Keep Out sign for Wade?”
A pause. Not where I wanted to hear one.
“Brit?” I sat up again. My heart raced. “You did figure out a way to keep Wade from entering the house, right? Alec’s mom came up with something?”
“Well, not exactly.”
“What does that mean?” I put a hand to my aching forehead.
“Matt was right. You can’t retract an invitation once a vampire’s been invited.”
“However, Marie knows a witch. A very powerful witch.” B
“Fine, Kate’s the good witch of the north. But did she say the rules changed in a beneficial way?”
“Yes.” Brit’s voice was decisive. “His witchy talent makes him stronger than the usual vampire, but it also makes him more susceptible to magic.” Brit paused again. “At least we hope so. Kate put a misdirection spell on him. Basically every time he tries to go to your house, he should get directed elsewhere and forget where he was headed in the first place.”
I held the phone away from my ear and stared at it for a second, then spoke. “You’re giving Wade a bad sense of direction. And that’s supposed to save my life?”
“Don’t worry. Matt’s been tailing Wade to make sure the spell is working. So far he hasn’t made any moves toward your end of town. Alec’s stocking up on anti-vampire gadgets, a water gun that shoots holy water, stuff like that, and then he’s going to watch your place all night.”
“He’s going to watch it? From where?” I pictured Alec miles away with some high tech binoculars.
“Hello? From right out front. He’ll park near your house and do regular patrols around the area.” I heard the grin in Brit’s voice. “You know, like a stakeout.”
“A stakeout to fake out a vampire,” I said, not amused.
“Yup. Personally, I believe it’s impossible to overmilk vampire puns.”
I walked to my bedroom window and pushed aside the daisy print curtain. Sure enough, a vehicle was pulling to a stop on the dimly lit street across from the house. Once the driver killed his lights, I made out Alec’s dark hair sliding over his broad shoulders as he leaned forward in the seat. Without conscious effort, my vision blurred for a second, then narrowed, and cut through the twilight to circle in on Alec.
So maybe I was spying, cheating—using my vision to see things I shouldn’t. Like the tension in Alec’s body as he scanned the street. Worried Wade would get to me. How cramped he seemed in the tiny hatchback with his knees pressed against the steering wheel. His truck probably undrivable after he’d turned it into a slinky-mobile by smashing it into Wade’s car.
He shot a look at my room, a look a human wouldn’t be able to see. I stepped away from the window, but the heat in Alec’s eyes drew me back to the glass. The curve of my cheek warmed, my lips tingled as he stared up at me, backlit by my bedroom light. He waited to see what I’d do.
I was tempted to raise the window, jump off the ledge, and run to him. My fingers searched for the latch, but then froze. How quickly would his interest cool if he saw me tossing doors around? Or if he knew Wade had slipped into my thoughts? If the Delacroix were as versed in vamp lore as I thought they were, Alec would know that a vampire can only enter a mind already susceptible to darkness. A soul walking the fine line between good and evil.
“Eryn…earth to Eryn. Are you still there?” Brit’s yell startled me. I let the curtain fall, watching through the lace as Alec turned away. Eyes forward, he huddled low in his seat and pulled his coat collar up around his chin.
“Sorry, Alec’s parked outside. Is he really going to stay there all night? That’s crazy. It’ll be freezing and uncomfortable. There’s got to be another way.”
“It’s just for one night, until we know the spell is working. If Wade doesn’t show, you should be fine. Now if Alec wants in your room?” Brit laughed. “You’re on your own.”
I closed my eyes against the sudden rush of heat low in my stomach. What would I do if Alec appeared at my window? Wanting in? Wanting me?
What were these guys doing to me?
When I remained silent, Brit sighed. “Don’t have a hissy fit. I was joking. Since I think I’ve covered everything, I’ll let you go. I know you’re going to be wigging about Wade and everything, but don’t forget to study for that physics exam tomorrow.”
I was so sick of tests it wasn’t even funny.
Chapter 7: A Peeping Paige
I alternated between studying my textbook and skulking at the window studying Alec’s shadowy form in his car. By 11:07 p.m., I’d skimmed over the corresponding formula and sample questions until my eyes crossed. Thwack. I closed my textbook and bailed on Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of motion. It was making me seasick.
I stretched with a groan. I had zero understanding of Brit’s love of textbook education. I preferred to learn what I needed through trial and error, living life—not reading about it.
I flicked off my desk lamp and crept to the window as I had a dozen times since Alec’s arrival.
Even in the low lighting of the neighborhood porches, I could easily make out the little hatchback. The driver door opened, and Alec slipped from the vehicle. In long strides, he crossed the street to my uncle’s house. For a second he paused on the lawn and stared up at me. His gaze bored into me. My heart jolted in an erratic beat. I sliced my gaze away and pressed a hand to my stomach, trying to calm its schoolgirl flips. When I regained control, he was gone. His third patrol so far.
I traced delicate lacework ice crystals on the cool glass. I knew I should stay inside, not attract attention to myself by helping Alec patrol. But I was going loopy sitting around while someone else hunted the bad guys.
I flicked the latch and opened the window. I told myself I was only furthering my education. Putting Newton’s theory to the test. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Therefore, since Alec went on a patrol to protect me, I was sneaking out of the house to protect him.
This time my rooftop exit was graceful, no running jump. I hesitated at the edge. I couldn’t look down without wooziness. I dealt with heights when I had to, but it didn’t mean I enjoyed the experience. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and stepped off. Air rushed over my body. My stomach dropped as I plummeted to the ground. I landed on both feet and barely registered the impact. My very existence, my wolven abilities, my extra-human strength—all added up to some major laws-of-physics rule breaking. Paranorms would have rocked old Newton’s world. Or maybe he had known about them but spent his life trying to find some scientific way to explain their existence.
Like my dad.
Forcing the thought aside, I sprinted around the corner where Alec had slipped out of view. Taking in sharp gusts of air, I sniffed out his scent on the night breeze. There. Tantalizing with spicy undertones. So different from Wade’s crisp mint. I followed Alec’s invisible trail. He had climbed the fence to our backyard.
Away from the glow of house lights, this side of the garage was in complete darkness except for the tiny flashlight Alec panned back and forth like windshield washer. He paused at the hedges lining the yard.
I snuck up behind him.
“You think a guy like Wade hides in shrubbery?” I asked.
He gasped, then spun to face me. The flashlight burned into my retinas like a laser eye surgery disaster. I threw up a hand to block the brilliant beam.
“Do you mind?” I retreated a few steps.
He lowered the light to illuminate the grass between us. “Where did you come from?”
I shrugged. “I snuck out.” I blinked hard, not mentioning exactly how. “I couldn’t sit around while you were out here patrolling. Besides, I guess the spell worked. No sign of Wade, not even a smidge of vamp mist.”
Alec pulled a cell phone out of his pocket. The green glowing screen lit his face. “Matt said Wade keeps driving around town in circles. He starts for this subdivision but ends up back at his house.”
“That’s gotta be frustrating for him.” I grinned through my unease. The last thing I wanted was for Alec to see through my bravado to the heebie-jeebies settling in my gut, warning me no spell, no matter how powerful the witch who cast it, would stop Wade.
Or prevent me from making a huge mistake if I let him in.
Alec’s broad shoulders jerked in an i
My heart tripped at his words. Was he jealous? Or merely concerned for my safety?
He gave me an assessing look. “Did you ask your uncle about that cop today?”
“Yeah, Marcus is representing a group of ranchers being run off their land. He’s lodged complaints and started protests. My guess is the property developer bought off Wade’s dad, because Marcus said the cops are doing zilch to stop the scare tactics.”
Alec peeked around the garage toward the house. “So why did Wade want you to check into Marcus?” He paused, then tipped his flashlight up to my face. “What’s the name of the developer?”
I squinted back at him through the harsh light.
“Would you stop that?” I shoved his hand down and tried to ignore the warming shivers that flooded me whenever we touched. “The developer? Hmmm…it was this really ominous sounding phrase, you know? Harbinger something.”
Alec gave a dry laugh, opened the back gate, and slipped into the alley. I trailed in his wake.
“What’s so funny?” I stood in the open gateway as Alec checked out the access lane, his stance alert though the night was quiet.
“The developer didn’t have to pay Logan off. He is Harbinger. Logan owns the company.”
I frowned. “Are you sure? Isn’t that like a conflict of interest or something?”
Alec shrugged. “Maybe, but it’s not common knowledge.”
“Then how do you know he owns it?”
Sculpted lips slanted into a sarcastic smile. “Because Harbinger tried to buy our ranch a few years ago. Back then, Logan wasn’t so hush-hush about his controlling interest in the company. My dad had it out with him more than once before….”
“Before he died?” I asked, then flinched as pain flickered in Alec’s eyes. I had to steel myself for the anguish that knotted the air around Alec each time he mentioned his dad. He’d told me the Hunter Council had done nothing to track his dad’s killer, but knowing Alec and Matt, there had to be a whole lot more to the story. Stillness settled in my body…a hush, a fear. What if a rogue wolven had killed Alec’s father? How would Alec ever accept me?
by Judith Graves have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes