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Under my skin, p.11

Under My Skin, page 11

 

Under My Skin
 


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  “How did your father die exactly? What got him?”

  The light in Alec’s hand flashed upward. “What got him?” he echoed, his expression harsh.

  I so knew that look. I’d glimpsed it in my reflection many times. The look of someone whose pain was eating them up inside, but who’d never let it show.

  Choking on the lump of sorrow jammed in my throat, I cupped a hand over my mouth. “God, that was rude,” I mumbled against my fingers. “Forget I asked.”

  “No, it’s okay. I’ve got nothing to hide.” Alec straightened as if bracing himself for my reaction. “I’m warning you, this will make me sound like a mystical native. Cue the ceremonial drums and flutes playing in the distance.” He shook his head. “I hate that stereotype.” He met my eyes in the darkness. “Ever heard of a Windigo?”

  I shook my head.

  “It’s a Cree myth, passed on by my mother’s people, the Métis. The Windigo is a wicked creature, half-man, half-beast that lives only in the North. It loves the cold because its heart is made of ice.”

  He did sound all mystic. His words, the tone of his voice—I could almost hear the drone of war drums. But he wasn’t just sharing a bit of cultural folklore.

  “Windigos feed on human flesh. The more they eat, the bigger they get and the more they kill.”

  “And that thing…the Windigo,” I struggled to sound out the unfamiliar word, “killed your dad?”

  “Yeah. My father was a good hunter, did everything by the book. The Hunter Council told him to go after it, to use my mom’s knowledge of the legend to take it down.” Alec’s lips twisted. “Mom appealed to the Council, spoke with some top level guy from Vancouver. She insisted that one hunter wasn’t enough, no matter how skilled he was. The Council must send help; they’d underestimated the Windigo’s trickster ways.”

  The beam of his flashlight moved over the lawn, residual glow illuminated his set jaw and rigid posture. “But they didn’t send anyone, so my dad went alone. Months passed, he never came back. Some Council guy showed up with a wad of cash. Told her the Council was sorry for our loss. An arrogant puke. Had bodyguards all around him.”

  Full of himself and surrounded by goons. That sounded an awful lot like my dear friend Sebastian. Mr. Big Bossy Pants, yet intimidated enough by the paranorms to have round-the-clock protection.

  “To them, my dad was another casualty in an ongoing war. He’d been assigned a remote outpost. They never expected much action around here and treated it like an isolated incident.” His hand formed a fist. He thrust it into his jean pocket.

  “So what did you do?” I held my breath.

  “Matt and I went after it, and with the help of…friends.” Alec smiled, a sharp quirk of his lips. “We killed it. End of story. Like all shapeshifters, as long as pure silver strikes its heart, the Windigo disintegrates.”

  I jerked back a pace at the mention of a heart full of silver. We killed it, the end. Now that was a glossed-over version of one hell of a story. Who were these friends? Brit, the I-can’t-run-to-save-my-life girl, and what army? Still, they’d done it. Tracked their father’s killer, their own personal monster, and slain it. Visions arose of Alec and Matt spending night after night patrolling for their father’s killer. Tracking it. Taking it down.

  I wanted to revel in their triumph.

  But epiphanies had a way of taking the reveling out of revelation. I’d been so stupid. That’s what I should have been doing all this time. Tracking my parents. Not toeing the line for Sebastian and the Council. How long did it take for them to get their revenge? A week? Two? I waited for Alec to rub my nose in how efficiently he and Matt had avenged their father’s death while I’d wasted months doing nothing for my parents.

  But Alec only stared into the night, his gaze unfocused. “You know, before my dad died, I used to want to split town, run off and join the Council’s training academy. Become one of their soldiers.” He snorted. “But now I know the Council’s not much different from Logan—breeding his army, brainwashing the town, sending his minions to fight his battles. Someone has to help the humans who get in his way.” Alec gave me a pointed look. “Matt and I will never make the mistake my dad did. We don’t go after paranorms alone. We work as a team. We have each other’s backs. And when we tell someone to stay inside, for their own safety—we expect them to do as they’re told.”

  I grinned. “But I’m not a helpless civilian. I’m part of the crew, remember?”

  “I don’t know what you are, Eryn.” His glance took in my strong, lean form, sending a tingle of awareness through me. “But I knew you wouldn’t sit on your hands for long.”

  A pang of guilt gripped my heart. If only he knew how long I’d done absolutely nothing to find out what happened to my parents, he wouldn’t be so impressed.

  “You said Harbinger is behind the land grab, and Logan is behind Harbinger. And that means what?” I dug my heels into the frozen earth, needing to feel grounded. “When people wouldn’t sell their land, Logan created a pack of werewolf wise guys to do his dirty work?”

  “Looks like.”

  “And the cops needed a scapegoat, so they blamed your family? Nice.” I met his gaze. “How do we prove it?”

  “We don’t.” Alec’s face softened into a smile. “At least we don’t tonight. Get back in the house and stay put. Kate put wards around your house, so you’ll be protected inside. Until I’m sure Wade’s bedroom stalking days are over, you have to do as I say. I want you safe.”

  Once again his words hit me hard, but this time it wasn’t pain curling low in my stomach. Forget rules. Forget orders. I wanted nothing more than to rattle Alec, to make him lose some of that brooding control. My heart pounded as I took a bold step forward.

  “You want me safe?” I sidled up against Alec’s warm body. At his swift intake of breath, I smiled, letting the tension build. He smelled of sweet spice and possibilities.

  He dipped his head. His lips drifted slowly down to mine. The heat of his breath feathered over my sensitive skin.

  I grabbed his coat collar and pulled myself onto my toes, wanting his kiss and wanting it fast. The intensity of the moment fed the wolven yearning for power, for freedom, to feel alive, that rushed through my veins like a tsunami. Alec’s lips brushed against mine.

  Sweet, but I wanted more. I opened my mouth and drew him in.

  Alec groaned low in his throat, then grabbed my arms, and pulled me against him. His kiss was hard, urgent.

  His full lower lip brushed against my teeth. I nipped at it. The unexpected deliciousness of his blood flooded my mouth as if I had ripped him open, cutting deep into his flesh. Hunger pangs ripped through my gut. Every cell in my body screamed at me to finish what I’d started. To bite deep, to shred, to tear. To destroy. I shoved Alec away, my heart racing, stomach coiled with hunger.

  A streak of blood smeared across his dazed smile.

  My nostrils flared. The scent of metal, tantalizing. My wolf surged to the surface.

  We stared at each other under the starlight. My chest rose and fell with my gasping breaths. I couldn’t lose it, not now. Not with Alec. Don’t think about the blood. Never the blood.

  Alec took a step forward, but I stumbled back, holding my hands up to keep him at bay. He frowned down at me.

  “Go to bed, Eryn,” he said, his voice husky. “We’ll talk tomorrow.”

  Tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow, when I was more myself and wouldn’t want to dig into him as if he were a chocolaty, gooey morsel. Already the distance between us lessened my craving.

  I spied movement in my peripheral vision and turned. Curtains swayed at the twin dormer window next to my room.

  Paige’s bedroom. Her blue eyes, wide with shock, glimmered through the window before she ducked out of view.

  A Peeping Paige.

  Lovely.

  Alec’s phone pulsed. He held up a finger, freezing me in place. “What’s up?” he said into the phone. He listened for a second.

  Alarm flashe
d in his eyes before he turned away from me, his voice harsh. “Give me details. How close is it?”

  I frowned. Still charged with wolven energy, need flared into anger as I observed Alec’s rigid shoulders. Something was up, and I’d be damned if he’d shut me out. I focused on the muffled voice replying to Alec.

  “Brit checked in,” Matt said, his voice tense. “Another male. She spooked him and he bolted. They’re about a block from you. I’m on my way to intercept.”

  “We should have known he’d send his wolves.” Alec hunched over his phone and spoke low so I couldn’t hear—if I was the human girl he thought I was. Fortunately, I wasn’t. “Bring the rifle.”

  Alec snapped his phone shut, pocketed it, and then turned around, his face expressionless. “Like I said, Eryn, you should get inside.”

  Was he serious? “Uh, nope.” I sidestepped him, opened the gate, and started down the alley, inhaling through my nose and mouth, searching for the werewolf’s scent.

  “What are you doing?” Alec called at my back. “Wait!”

  I concentrated on getting a lock on the beast before Alec saw me sniffing the air like Fido tracking a floating rack of ribs. When the reek of death hit me, I was prepared, able to spin around and face Alec without gagging. A human wouldn’t get to enjoy the full stench of werewolf until they were right on top of one.

  “I heard something back here,” I said. “Didn’t you?”

  “No,” Alec said with an exasperated huff, “but Matt said a werewolf is headed this way.” Alec lit up the lane of darkened garage doors and garbage bins loaded with trash. “If I can’t convince you to get inside, then keep your eyes open and stay close.”

  Ticked by his domineering tone, I bit back the urge to demonstrate my superior tracking skills by telling him the werewolf was about two hundred feet down the alley, meandering in our direction.

  A scuffle and crash resounded behind us. We whirled at the same time, Alec jerking his arms up to block a blow and me baring my teeth in a silent growl.

  Yellow eyes gleamed in the distance, twin beams reflecting Alec’s light. Alec inched forward, crouched low, but I let out a relieved sigh and tugged on his arm.

  “Unless you want a tomato soup bath tonight, I wouldn’t bother.” At Alec’s blank look, I grabbed his hand and pointed his flashlight toward the glowing eyes. “Skunk.” The flashlight caught the cat-sized dark form as it ducked under a fence and disappeared. I had scented the stinky little bugger as soon as I’d entered the alley and promptly forgotten about it.

  I laughed as Alec wrinkled his nose and tested the air as if he couldn’t believe we’d escaped a skunk bath.

  An explosion ripped through the night. Gunfire. I jumped, inhaling sharply as the singe of silver penetrating werewolf permeated the air.

  Alec looked to the stars and gave a long sigh. “So we’re good. Matt got it.”

  The hair on my arms stood upright. Okay, if Matt had taken down the werewolf, why did my muscles tighten, my ears strain for the slightest sound? Something was wrong. I inhaled again, letting the night air sharpen my senses.

  Damn. Another one. How had I missed it?

  A single yelp, choked off in the middle, then nothing. Not even the barking from the neighbor’s Lab that had been driving me crazy for the last week.

  I pivoted sharply and broke into a run, with Alec tailing me.

  At the wooden fence surrounding the yellow Lab’s yard, I gasped. Boards had been peeled back and shredded as if something large and paranormal had used them for a scratching post. A series of claw marks outlined the perimeter. I leaned closer and sniffed. A putrid stench lingered in the shredded wood fibers. Werewolf.

  The grooves around the gap were deep, with five distinct claw marks. Whoa. Either these werewolves were unusually sloppy, leaving evidence like that behind, or they wanted to send us a personal message. Meaning they weren’t following the rules.

  I stepped through the hole, but Alec pulled me back.

  “Wait for Matt, he has the rifle.” His voice was a harsh whisper.

  “Fine, stay here if you want to.” I pulled out my athame. “I can handle a werewolf on my own.”

  Alec’s dark eyes glittered. “Really? You and your fancy butter knife weren’t doing so well when we saved you at the pet store.”

  “That was a fluke.” I stood tall, a bit miffed when Alec smirked. He still had a foot on me, and my height didn’t intimidate him one bit. “I slipped in bunny blood.” Who did he think he was? Making me feel all defensive? Disrespecting my dagger? “There was more than a drop or two on the floor in case you hadn’t noticed. We’re talking a pool of blood.” I paused. “Several pools.”

  “Oh, I noticed. But if you hadn’t been so cocky, you would have walked around it the way we did.” Alec’s disapproving tone clashed with his heated gaze as it traveled from my eyes to my lips and rested there.

  I tromped on the sudden urge to tilt my chin invitingly. Just because we both had tempers didn’t mean we had to get hot and heavy at life and death moments. His gaze focused over my shoulder as if he expected someone to arrive any second, and I realized what he was up to. Damn him for using my own hormones against me.

  “Are you done stalling?” I glanced around pointedly. “Matt’s still not here. I’m going in.” I placed my hands on either side of the hole and lifted one leg through.

  Alec sighed. “You really are going to be the death of me.”

  “What does that mean?” I shot over my shoulder.

  “Nothing.” Alec waved me forward. “After you.”

  Inside the yard, we spotted the Lab’s mangled chain and a few tufts of blood-drenched fur. I swallowed hard against a rush of guilt. If only I’d set the dog free when I’d wanted to… This was what came of following someone else’s rules.

  I didn’t like it. Not one bit.

  A gust of wind sent the werewolf’s scent drifting over the grass. It had jumped the fence and ducked into the woods that bordered Cowley Heights. But I couldn’t give chase, not with Alec around. I was feeling seriously stifled.

  “Heya,” Brit called breathlessly from the alley side of the splintered fence. Alec and I trotted over and peeked through the gap.

  She stood with Matt in the alley, Alec’s truck sputtering behind them, the dents punched out, but sounding barely roadworthy.

  “We got him.” Matt’s gaze skimmed over me and then settled on his brother’s face. “What’s going on?”

  He climbed through the fence, followed by Brit.

  Alec sighed. “The male wasn’t hunting alone. One scooped up a dog.”

  Matt grabbed Alec’s flashlight and cast it over the lawn, the tree, the chain—the blood.

  “Ewww…” Brit stopped in her tracks and turned her back to the tree and bloodstained chain. Her chest rose and fell rapidly as if she’d been speed walking and had pushed her limits. A sheen of sweat glistened on her forehead.

  Maybe this was too much for her.

  I elbowed Alec to bring my concern to his attention, but he ignored me.

  “There’s bound to be leakage after a kill like that.” He eyed the fence boards. “My guess is he jumped the fence over there, attacked the dog, and then busted out here.” He rested a hand on my lower back to guide me through the gap in the fence. “Let’s pick up the trail.”

  And that’s when Mrs. Lurgen turned on her deck light and all hell broke loose. She swept out onto her deck, a straw broom held high.

  “Who’s there?” she called out. “Cujo, where’d you get to? Some guard dog you turned out to be…damn fleabag.”

  Anger simmered inside me like steam from an espresso machine, ready to scald anyone standing too close. She was the one who’d left her dog tied to a tree night after night, helpless and abandoned, unable to escape when the werewolf attacked. She was the reason doggie bits were strewn all over her lawn. I wanted to smack her silly, gut her where she stood, and then really let her have it.

  Mrs. Lurgen pulled a flashlight from
her coat pocket and shined it around the yard, impaling us with its beam as we huddled around her fence. She gasped when she saw Alec. Her right hand twitched in front of her, her face scrunched into a mask of disgust, and then she spit in the air at us before she rushed back into the house.

  “What,” Brit drawled, “was that?”

  “That was the old evil eye,” I said, stunned and amused at the same time. “You know, make the sign of the cross, contort your face, and spit at the devil.”

  We all glanced at Alec.

  “Nice. So now I’m Satan.” Alec gave me a pained look. “Thanks.”

  I grinned. “No problem. But we better get out of here before she calls the police.”

  As we slipped through the fence, a wail of sirens rang in the night. We froze like gophers along the highway, trapped in a barrage of headlights. Two cruisers sped down the alley from either direction and squealed to a halt a few feet in front of and behind Alec’s idling truck.

  I groaned. What happened to the delinquent Redgrave cops who didn’t even show for the pet shop disaster? I’m sorry, what part of keeping my nose clean didn’t I understand? I craned my neck as a cool breeze whipped my hair into my eyes. I cleared my vision and confirmed my suspicion—my uncle’s bedroom light was now on. The sirens had penetrated his snoring.

  Crappers.

  My good friend Officer Flutie bore down on us from one car, while a short, stocky officer came at us from the other. Matt stiffened and exchanged a meaningful glance with Alec. I looked to Brit for strategy cues, but she was no longer beside me.

  She was gone. That was weird.

  “Where’s Br—” I started.

  Alec leaned into my shoulder, overwhelming me with his size and presence, forcing me to look up at him. He ever so slightly shook his head.

  So I kept quiet, but I wondered how Brit had gotten away without running past one of the cars. Or had she snuck back into Lurgen’s yard? Not a smart idea. That woman was on the warpath.

  “Well, isn’t this a surprise,” Flutie said to his partner as they stopped in front of us. “The Delacroix boys and…” He stared at me, his lips pursed in thought. “Marcus McCain’s niece. Eryn, wasn’t it?”

 
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