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Under my skin, p.9

Under My Skin, page 9

 

Under My Skin
 


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  “Eryn McCain?” he asked, pulling a ballpoint pen from a breast pocket monogrammed with the name “Officer Flutie.”

  I nodded.

  “You moved in with Marcus McCain. Is that correct? You’re the niece?”

  I nodded again, slowly. How did he know that? And what did it have to do with the smash-up-derby I’d witnessed?

  “Give your uncle a message for me, will you?” Flutie bared his teeth in a smile. “Tell him the next time he shows up on private property with his group of wing-nut treehuggers, we won’t be so accommodating.” He flicked his pen with a hard snap of his thumb, stuffed it back into his pocket, and stalked to his cruiser. His partner, who’d been chatting with Wade, joined him. They both glared over at me and Brit before getting in their vehicle.

  “Guess he didn’t want a statement after all.” I shot Brit a questioning look, my stomach tense. “Any idea what that was about?”

  She shook her head. “Just ’cause my dad’s a cop doesn’t mean I understand the way their minds work. Especially Redgrave cops.” She looked past me, her expression hard.

  A strong hand pressed down on my shoulder. “You see, Eryn.” Wade’s voice was like velvet—and nails on a chalkboard—as his cool breath fanned along my neck. “If you and Alec’s band of merry men are so concerned with bringing down all of Redgrave’s bad guys, I’m the least of your worries.” He paused and ran his finger down my arm. His touch burned through my jacket like frostbite. “You better start looking in your own backyard.”

  Wade had clearly been snooping around in my thoughts for a while now. He knew I was worried about him getting into my uncle’s house and that I was thinking of working with Alec’s crew.

  I took a deep breath and checked my limestone shield, pleased he hadn’t found a way around it. Part of me wanted to toss Wade to the ground and stake him with the nearest piece of wood, but part of me, the dark predator trying to claw its way out of me, hungered for Wade. A vampire with witchy powers. A hybrid. Like me. Didn’t mean I could trust him. Or anyone.

  “Do you mind?” I shrugged the weight of his hand from my shoulder and shoved any sympathy I had for him to a far, isolated corner of my mind. We were not the same. I was on the good-guy side of the line. Wade? Not so much. “If I wanted something dead around my neck, I’d get a fur coat.”

  “That’s what I like about you.” He placed a hand to his heart. “You’re so honest it hurts.”

  Brit took a step forward. “You want to hurt?” She shot a look to her left as Alec and Matt stalked toward us, their expressions fierce. “We can make that happen.”

  Wade smiled slightly at the crew’s united front. His gaze drilled into mine. “Talk to your uncle, Eryn. Ask him how his day went. I’m sure it will be an enlightening conversation.” He winked, but before I could respond he was at the tow truck, climbing inside. His damaged sports car swayed on the hitch, resembling a crushed beer can on a frat boy’s head.

  Alec glowered as they pulled out of the parking lot. The loose bumper scraped along the concrete and let off sparks. “What did he want?”

  “I’m not sure I should tell you,” I snapped. “You might go all look-at-me-I’m-a-crazed-berserker again.”

  “Berserker. Now there’s a word you don’t hear every day.” Matt hugged Brit. “But in this case, I agree with Eryn. Brother of mine, you were way out of line. I know you’ve been weirded out ever since Mom told you—”

  At a dark look from Alec, Matt glanced quickly at me and then back at Alec. “Well, you’ve been edgy lately, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to act without consulting the rest of us.”

  “I said I’d give Wade a message,” Alec said. “That’s sharing information. Besides, now we know for sure Wade’s a paranorm. And if Eryn’s dream theory holds up, he’s possibly a vampire who’s able to walk in sunlight.” Alec gave me an assessing glance. “But you still haven’t told us what Wade said to you.”

  “Oh, he put the moves on Eryn, but she brushed him off.” Brit jumped in with a wave of her hand. “But before that, the police officer pretty much threatened Eryn’s uncle. I’ve never seen him before, so he must be one of Logan’s new recruits. I definitely felt negative vibes coming off him, didn’t you, Eryn?”

  I shrugged. “Aren’t negative vibes what cops do best?”

  Brit looked a bit forlorn.

  Oops. I’d forgotten about Officer Dad. “I have no idea what Flutie was talking about. Something about Marcus and a group of treehuggers. Maybe they protested on private property and the cops got involved.” I paused. “Although I’ve never thought of Marcus as the protest type.” Nope, that was more my mother’s thing.

  “Doesn’t sound very paranormal to me,” Matt said.

  “No, it doesn’t,” I agreed. “But then Wade came along and made a big deal about it too. Told me we should look in my own backyard for bad guys.”

  Matt’s expression brightened as if he were pleased my family and I were getting blamed for something.

  Alec’s jaw flexed. “If he’s threatening your home, we’d better crank up our security. You know, the best place for you is our ranch, where we can keep an eye on you.” He looked trapped, as if the thought of me hiding out at their place held all the thrill of a social dance class in gym.

  I didn’t want anyone’s pity patrol. I could handle Wade myself. “Although I hate to say no to that gracious invitation”—I gave a mock bow—“if that’s what it was, I think I should stick close to home and snoop around. See what the deal is with my uncle. It’s got to be freaky and paranormal, or Wade wouldn’t have wiped my nose in it.”

  Brit and Matt exchanged a look. “She’s right,” they said in unison.

  I grinned at them. Only Brit grinned back.

  “Hey, Alec!” A big burly guy hopped out of a second tow truck and began unwinding a thick chain. “Let’s get you hooked up.”

  Alec gave the guy a wave.

  “Okay,” he told me, “we’re going to be here a while. Get home, find out whatever you can about the treehugger issue, and wait until we tell you your next move.”

  “Right.” I folded my arms. “Should I hold it if I have to go to the bathroom too? Or are potty breaks something I can make a command decision on?”

  “You don’t like taking orders. I get it,” Alec said, not in the least apologetic. “And I don’t like repeating them, or explaining myself. But I’m trying to keep you safe, Eryn.” Determination hardened his voice. “You want to go it alone, say the word, and we’ll leave you to it.”

  I swallowed back a mouthful of angry words. Without access to my father’s men and resources, I had no way to keep Wade from entering the McCain household. I had more than myself to worry about. I had to keep my family safe. Besides, agreeing to be available when Alec called didn’t mean I had to sit on my hands.

  When I kept my mouth resolutely shut, Alec continued, “Once we get to the ranch, we’ll find out how to keep Wade out of your house tonight, and every night. I promise.”

  But what about my mind? I wanted to shout the question at Alec, but the crew didn’t need the additional stress of knowing Wade was trying to influence me with telepathy. Vampire mind games were individual and very personal. Part of their lure was the sender’s absolute understanding of their prey. They knew exactly what buttons to push.

  And Wade was certainly pushing ones I never knew I had.

  Brit gave me a supportive smile. “Marie will know how to stop him. We’ll be in touch.” She paused. “Are the McCains religious? Do they have any crucifixes at home? Your athame is super cool and everything, but it’s not going to help with Wade.”

  I blinked. I hadn’t thought of that. For so long my athame had been my major defense, but then my father’s cell of hunters had been focused on rogue werewolves and wolven.

  “Crucifixes? I don’t know.” I couldn’t remember seeing any religious symbols on Sammi’s trendily painted walls. Generic artwork, yes. Crucifixes, no.

  Brit fished in her poc
ket and handed me a small medallion. “Take this. It’s St. Anthony. He finds stuff for people who chronically lose things, like I do. Until we bring you some supplies tonight, he’s all you’ve got.”

  I closed my fingers around the silverplated saint and thanked her through gritted teeth. As soon as the crew left for the truck I dropped the medallion into my backpack. A small reverse imprint scalded my palm, red and itchy—but already fading.

  “It’s the thought that counts, Eryn,” I muttered, knowing Brit would never have given me the medallion if she’d known the pain it would inflict. My aching flesh would be back to normal in minutes, but any kind of silver burn was nasty. A full wolven would have thrown the medallion back in her face. I’d be in a lot more pain if the thing had been solid silver.

  I started toward home. Now to figure out what kind of trouble my dear Uncle Marcus was into. Crap. I was starting to think of my uncle’s place as home, which meant on some level—I cared. A lot.

  So not good.

  Chapter 6: A Little Knowledge Is a Dangerous Thing

  Twenty minutes later, I shuffled down the narrow lane behind Marcus’s house, cringing at the ever-present barks and snarls from the neighbor’s yellow Lab. I couldn’t blame it for raging against the world, at the mercy of a higher power. You and me, Cujo. We’re in the same stinking boat. If only I could string up the dog’s owner, along with Sebastian, the guy pulling my leash. Now that would be the day. I pictured Mr. Philips droning on and on in physics-speak about the karmic laws of nature while Sebastian sat at a school desk, bungee cords strapping him in. And me, with the bwahaha evil giggles. Holding a can of gasoline and a match.

  All too soon my payback fantasy went up in smoke.

  As I reached the whitewashed gate, muffled grunts and clanging came from inside the McCain’s detached double garage. My neck hairs vibrated like stage speakers at a deathgrind concert.

  Not good.

  Someone was inside, rummaging through my uncle’s things. Someone dared to threaten my home. My people. My pack.

  Inhaling, I picked up familiar scents drifting from the house, the garage. Sammi’s baby-powder cleanliness, Paige’s cotton-candy perfume, and Marcus with his lemony cologne. And then some lingering car exhaust.

  I opened the gate and sprinted along the narrow path bordering the fence. Silent but fast, my feet skimmed the ground. At the garage, I pressed my back to the grey vinyl siding and slunk along until I reached the narrow window. I peered inside, but a shelf filled with birdseed and ceramic flowerpots blocked my view. I ducked under the windowsill and crept along until I reached the side access door. Behind the thick wood, metal clanged and the occasional whispered curse came from inside.

  I sniffed around the doorframe, tried to get a lock on the scent. Werewolf? Or human? All I got was the nose-hair-burning fumes of paint thinner.

  Damn Sammi and her furniture restoration projects. She’d been working in the garage all week, refinishing an old church pew for the porch.

  I let my backpack slip from my shoulders to land softly on the grass. I lifted the edge of my sweater. My fingers curled around the rosewood handle of my athame, warm from the leather shoulder holster I’d started to consider a wardrobe standard. I whipped out the dagger and held it high, ready to plunge it deep into whoever, or whatever, skulked inside.

  I took a deep breath. Pivoting on my back foot, I struck the wooden door with a solid side kick that ripped it from its hinges. It slammed down onto the garage’s concrete floor, sending a cloud of sawdust into the air.

  I paused. Silence. Did I scare them off, or were they lying in wait? Pulse thudding in my ear, I crept forward and peered through the empty doorframe.

  My uncle’s startled, pain-filled face stared up at me from under the mangled door. His mouth gaped open, and he let out a deep groan.

  I shot a quick glance around the garage. Only Marcus. On the floor. Under the door. No signs of a struggle or an intruder.

  Craptastic.

  “Marcus?” I angled my body away from him and swiftly tucked my athame into its holster. I adjusted my sweater over the silver dagger, then yanked the heavy wooden slab off my uncle’s chest.

  “Eryn, is that you?” he asked. Whew. He was so dazed he hadn’t noticed my dagger or that I’d tossed the door aside like an empty pizza box.

  “Yeah, it’s me,” I mumbled as I pulled him to his feet. “What hurts?” At least he wasn’t bleeding. I would have smelled it the instant he was injured. “Anything broken?”

  “Nothing, I’m fine.” Wobbling, he pushed my hands away. “This is what I get for putting off cleaning the garage for so long.”

  Berating myself for panicking like an amateur and endangering a human, I dusted off his plaid, collared shirt and talked fast. I’d discovered people were more inclined to swallow the lies you fed them if you didn’t give them time to chew on your words.

  “Wow,” I said, blinking innocently. “That was some wind. Came out of nowhere and blew the door right in. I walked into the yard and saw the whole thing.”

  Marcus harrumphed, patted himself down, and rubbed a spot on his lower back. “Wind did that?” He eyed the trees, visible through the now-open garage. Not one branch swayed with even the gentlest of breezes. The sun hung low in the sky. A beautiful fall afternoon.

  I couldn’t get a break. “Yup. Maybe it was a mini twister. Remember when you picked me up at the airport, and it was so windy it almost knocked me over?” I fabricated on the fly. “Didn’t you tell me that you get a lot of tornados around here?”

  “Not that I recall, although we do get the occasional twister.” He swung his head around to run his gaze over his black Volkswagen. Luckily, it was parked far enough from the side door to have escaped harm.

  I shrugged, waving a hand. “Maybe that was a dream I had. Sometimes they’re scary-real, you know?”

  “Tornadoes?”

  “No, dreams.” I tilted my head and gave him a concerned frown. “Are you sure you’re okay? I bet you fell pretty hard.”

  Marcus studied me for a long moment. My stomach dropped. He didn’t believe me.

  “You know, Eryn,” Marcus said, his voice slow and deliberate, “I’m experiencing a fairly strong feeling of déjà vu.” He heaved the wooden door upright and propped it in the doorframe. Bits of sawdust and dirt sprinkled the floor. “Your father had a habit of busting down doors too.”

  “Seriously?” My father hadn’t told me much of his life before he joined the Council. “He busted down doors?” Dad was strong for a human, but he didn’t have superhero strength.

  Marcus nodded. “Personally, I think he watched too many action movies. He had a thing for kicking in doors and saving us from Lord knows what. Back then Liam’s exploits were our parents’ problem, but if this is going to be a habit, tell me now so I can add an allowance for new doors to our monthly household budget.”

  I grimaced and stared at my shoes. “I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree then, does it?” I balanced my weight on the outer edges of my Mary Janes before adding, “I heard someone in the garage and just reacted. Before I knew it, I’d kicked the door in. It won’t happen again, I promise.” I lifted my chin to scrutinize Marcus’s expression, praying he hadn’t witnessed my zooped-up strength.

  He stood there, hands on his hips. Plainly shocked, but not because he suspected I was Supergirl.

  “Let me get this straight,” he said. “You thought there was a thief in our garage—and you expected to do what? Beat him into submission with your homework? You barely bring any home with you anyway.” He swiped ineffectually at a dark grease stain spreading on his navy dress pants.

  While the thought of Marcus worrying about my safety eased some of the sting of the no-one-wants-you-here vibe I’d been getting from Paige since I moved in, I couldn’t help but feel a bit miffed at the homework jibe. I was a hunter and wolven to boot—I so didn’t need to slam villains with textbooks. “I’ve been training with Dad since I was a kid. Martial
arts and self defense.” And tracking werewolves and strange nasty things that go bite in the night and aren’t supposed to exist.

  “You know, you even sound like your father. I never understood how someone that brilliant could be such a thrill seeker. Let me tell you, what I used to tell him. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, especially when it comes to that Rambo nonsense Liam was so fond of. It can give you a false sense of confidence. Make you take risks.”

  “I don’t take risks,” I protested, ignoring Marcus’s disbelieving snort. “But I did flatten you with a door.” My cheeky grin had no effect on him.

  Marcus walked over to the door he’d propped up and then shot a look at my skinny (but toned!) arms in my wool sweater as if speculating how much I could bench press—and wondering how in the world I had managed to lift the solid slab of wood.

  “So you know a few moves and you think you’re pretty tough,” he said. “None of that does any good if the other guy has a gun. The next time you think you’ve stumbled onto a crime scene, walk away and call 9-1-1. That’s an order.”

  I winced. I really hated that word.

  Marcus’s lips twisted. “Make that the request of a concerned uncle.”

  I smiled and held out a hand. “You got a deal,” I lied.

  Marcus stepped into the doorway and frowned. “Those hinges must have been rusted right out. You ripped them from the door jamb.” He strode over to a worktable and sorted through a bin of nuts and bolts. The grating clang of metal on metal rang through the garage. I rolled my eyes. So that was the commotion I’d heard. Talk about overreacting.

  “I think I have a few extras in here somewhere.” He gave a long sigh. “This is so what I needed after today.”

  “What happened today?” I plucked a metal washer out of the bin and slipped it onto my finger like a ring.

  “Harbinger Properties happened.” Marcus found two hinges and set them aside.

 
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