Authors: Paige Tyler
Eliza opened her mouth to tell them that Hunter would think that was too dangerous, but then realized it actually was a good idea. She would be safe enough with Andy and Nate,. Besides, the faster they got to Marberry, the safer he’d be.
“Okay,” she said finally. “Let me grab my coat.”
* * * *
Hunter was glad that Eliza had finally listened to reason and agreed to wait at his place instead of insisting on coming with him. He had no idea what he was going to find when he got to Tom Porter’s, and he didn’t want Eliza in harm’s way. For all he knew, the other were could be there already.
Pulling into the driveway beside the small house, Hunter put the SUV in park and shut off the engine. The absence of lights on inside the house probably meant Porter wasn’t home, but Hunter decided that since he’d driven all the way out there, he might as well check. The moment he opened the door of the SUV, however, he tensed as a familiar scent filled his nostrils. The other were was somewhere close by.
Indecision gripped him for a moment. The instinct to immediately change into a wolf warred with the knowledge that while he was in the process of transforming, he would be left extremely vulnerable. Besides, if Porter were home, Hunter would have to be in human form if he hoped to warn him.
Getting out of the SUV, Hunter moved quickly to the house. It was hard to tell from the scent how close the other werewolf was. Hurrying up the front steps, he pounded on the door. While the polite thing to do would have been to wait for an answer, he knew he didn’t have time to stand out on the doorstep with the other were around. With that in mind, he took a step back and kicked in the door. He’d apologize to Porter later.
The house was dark inside, but Hunter could see just as well as if it were daylight. There were no signs of anyone, though, either man or beast. The place reeked of the were’s scent, however, and not in a way that meant he’d simply been there recently.
This was where he lived. Tom Porter wasn’t one of the werewolf’s next victims; he was the werewolf. Which meant that he was probably already on his way to Ken Marberry’s.
Swearing under his breath, Hunter turned and raced back to the SUV. Starting the engine, he put it in gear and backed out of the driveway, tires squealing. Hopefully Eliza had been able to reach Marberry by phone and convinced him to go someplace safe. Pulling out his phone, he flipped it open and was surprised to see that Eliza had called several minutes earlier and left a message. Maybe she’d called to say she’d gotten hold of Marberry. Thumbing the button to retrieve his messages, he held it to his ear.
“Hunter, it’s me,” she said. “Andy and Nate came by, so we’re all going to go over to Ken Marberry’s and try to convince him that he’s in danger. I know you won’t be as worried since I’ll be with Andy and Nate. Call me and let me know how things went with Porter.”
He had told Eliza to stay put, but instead she was going out to see Marberry herself, and he had a terrible sinking feeling that’s exactly where the werewolf was heading, too.
It seemed to take forever to find Marberry’s house in the dark, and Eliza let out a sigh of relief when it finally came into view. She was even more relieved to see a pickup truck parked outside. She still had no clue what they were going to say to Ken Marberry, though. After all, it’s not like they could come out and tell him that a werewolf was after him.
“Why not?” Nate had asked when she’d said as much on the drive over.
“Oh, I don’t know. Because he might think we’re insane,” she’d told him dryly.
Nate had said nothing for a moment, but then he’d nodded. “There is that.”
As the three of them got out of Nate’s truck, Eliza couldn’t help but shiver a little as she glanced over her shoulder at the darkened woods surrounding his rustic looking cabin. She’d feel a whole heck of a lot better if Hunter were with them. She hoped he’d gotten the message she’d left him.
Lifting her hand, Eliza knocked on the door. Despite the truck parked outside and the glow of a light coming from the windows, no one answered. She felt a little trickle of fear run down her back. What if the werewolf had already killed Marberry? Taking a deep breath, she knocked again, louder this time.
“Mr. Marberry!” she called. “Are you in there?”
Still no answer.
“Maybe he’s not here,” Andy suggested from behind her.
Eliza shook her head. “He’s gotta be here. His truck is here, and there’s a light on.” She lifted her hand to knock on the door again when it abruptly swung open to reveal a huge, angry-looking man.
“Who are you?” he demanded, his dark eyes suspiciously taking them in.
She swallowed hard, her gaze fixed on the rifle the big man had pointed at her. “M-my name’s Eliza Bradley. I’m a reporter.”
His eyes narrowed as they sized her up. “So? What do you want with me?”
“I… We…” she corrected, glancing over her shoulder at Andy and Nate. “We have reason to believe that someone may be trying to kill you.”
Ken Marberry continued to eye them for another moment before he finally lowered the gun and gestured for them to come inside. Relieved at the prospect of putting a closed door between them and that dark, scary forest, Eliza hurriedly stepped inside, Andy and Nate close on her heels. Looking around the dimly lit cabin, she saw that it was small, with the main room serving as the kitchen, dining room, and living room. There was a door that led off to another room, she noticed, presumably to a bedroom. Apparently, Marberry had no electricity because the only light in the place was coming from several kerosene lanterns set about the room.
As she turned her attention back to the main room of the cabin, Eliza couldn’t help but let out a little shiver, and she had wrapped her arms around herself. If she’d thought Nate’s cabin was creepy, that was nothing compared to this place. Mounted animal heads stared down at them from every available wall surface. There were bears, foxes, moose, and even wolves. Lots of wolves. The flickering light from the lanterns almost made it seem like the taxidermied animals were glaring at her, the look in their glassy eyes suggesting they blamed her for their present predicament. She shivered again and looked away, only to find herself staring at boxes of animal skulls shoved up against the wall. She was shocked to see that there were more skulls on the kitchen table.
God, that’s just gross!
Eliza tore her gaze away from the skulls to see Marberry bolting the door. “Mr. Marberry,” she said, the words coming out in a rush. “We think that you and another one of your friends are in danger, a Tom Porter. We know it sounds crazy, but—”
Marberry let out a harsh laugh. “Tom! Tom’s not in danger! Hell, he’s the one who’s trying to kill me!”
What does he mean by that?
Before she could ask, however, Marberry continued. “We didn’t mean to do it. We thought Tom was dead,” he muttered, pacing back and forth in front of them. “That’s why we left him. But we should never have done it. Tom is back to get revenge on the rest of us for what we did.”
Eliza shared a look with Andy and Nate to see that they looked as confused as she was. She was starting to think that Ken Marberry might be a little deranged. “Mr. Marberry,” she said, turning back to him. “What are you talking about? Why would Tom Porter want revenge?”
Ken Marberry stopped pacing to look at her, a haunted look in his eyes. “A couple of months back, a bunch of friends and I went on a hunting trip to the Yukon, just north of Whitehorse. We go there every year. Well, this time, we found more than caribou and bear; we found a downed plane full of drugs and a whole buttload of money.” He shook his head. “Tom wanted to just leave it, but the rest of us outvoted him. We took the money and the drugs, figuring we might be able to sell them. Tom complained the whole time. He kept saying that it would bring us nothing but trouble. Turns out he was right.
“A huge wolf came into camp that night, bold as brass, and tore into Tom’s tent,” Marberry continued. “The thing just ripped him apart. We’d never seen anything so savage before. We put over twenty rounds in the beast before it went down. We should have known then that something wasn’t right with the thing.
“Tom was torn up real bad. We couldn’t believe he was even still alive,” Marberry said, his voice trembling a little. “We should have strapped him to a litter right on the spot and hightailed it out of there, but we didn’t. We just stood there staring at him as he lay there bleeding to death. Then Johnny, one of the other guys, mentioned that splitting the money four ways would be better than five. None of us said anything at first, but we were all thinking the same thing. I don’t know, something took hold of us—greed, I suppose—and we made the decision to leave Tom there. We convinced ourselves that he’d never make it anyway. We told ourselves we were just being practical.”
“So you just left him there to die?” Eliza asked incredulously, amazed that someone could do such a thing.
“We did worse than that.” Marberry said, shaking his head with obvious remorse. “We didn’t want anyone finding Tom’s body, and then linking us to that plane through him, so we dragged him to a ravine and tossed him over the side. Tom begged us to help him, but we didn’t. Instead, we just tossed him down that ravine and left him to die.”
He sighed. “I’d do anything to make up for what we did. The money and the drugs are still out back in my shed, and I’d give it all to Tom if he wanted it. But he didn’t come back for money. He came back for revenge. We sent him to hell and now he wants to drag us back there with him. He’s like some cursed hellhound come to take our souls.”
As if on cue, a wolf howled outside. Eliza jumped, startled by the sound, but before she could say anything, a terrified Ken Marberry pushed past them and bolted for the bedroom, slamming the door behind him. Beside her, Nate gave her an I-told-you-so look. Before she could reply, however, there came the sound of breaking glass from inside the bedroom. A moment later, a gunshot rang out, followed by screams and growls that echoed through the tiny cabin. Though every instinct told her to get away as fast as she could, Eliza found herself running toward the bedroom door and throwing it open.
She gasped in horror at the sight that met her eyes. The werewolf had a grip on Ken Marberry and was shaking him like a rag doll. At the interruption, the beast turned his black gaze on her. He stared at her for a long moment before dropping his latest victim to the ground and lunging at her.
Screaming, Eliza quickly backpedaled out of the room. Andy and Nate, who had followed her inside, did the same. On their way out, Nate grabbed the doorknob and tried to close the door before the werewolf could get through, but he wasn’t fast enough. He only got it halfway closed before the wolf’s huge body slammed into it. The force of the blow knocked all three of them backward, but somehow, they managed to keep their feet, and as one, began to push back on the door.
If the werewolf made it into the room, none of them would get out of there alive.
Crouching down, Eliza put her shoulder against the door and pushed with all her strength. For a moment, she actually thought they were going to succeed in getting the door closed, but just then, the wolf savagely smashed his head through the small gap remaining. She didn’t even have time to move before the beast sank his teeth into her forearm. White hot pain shot through her, and she cried out as the creature began to yank on her. Crap, he was going to pull her through the partially opened door. She couldn’t let that happen.
Gritting her teeth against the pain, she struck over and over again at the wolf’s head with her fist. More by luck than anything else, her fingernail gouged into the monster’s eye, and he released her with a yelp.
Eliza fell backward from the door, no longer able to stand. With the wolf momentarily distracted, Nate and Andy were able to get the door closed and slide a chair in front of it.
“We have to get out of—” Nate started to say, turning toward her. But he stopped when he saw her arm. “Oh God, you’ve been bitten!”
At the other man’s words, Andy whirled around to look at her, his gaze wide as he, too, stared at her arm.
Eliza tried to speak, but no words would come. She could only stare down at her savaged forearm. Her whole arm burned fiercely, and it was all she could do to keep from crying as blood bubbled out of the wound. She wrapped her hand around her arm, trying to stop the bleeding, but it did no good.
Her arm felt like it was on fire. The pain was becoming more and more unbearable with every passing second, and she squeezed her fingers around the lacerations even more tightly. Still, it didn’t help. Whereas the pain had been limited to her arm when she’d first gotten bitten, now it was beginning to feel like her whole body was slowly being engulfed in flames.
“Come on,” Nate said, taking her good arm and helping her up. He urged her to the front door. “That door’s not going to hold him for long.”
The words were barely out of his mouth when the door to the bedroom completely blew apart, scraps and splinters flying everywhere. For a moment, Eliza, Andy, and Nate all stood there frozen as the werewolf slowly pushed the remains of the shattered door aside and advanced into the room.
Nate and Andy automatically moved in front of her, ready to fight, but she knew it would do no good. They weren’t going to make it. Her only thought was of Hunter. He would never know how much she loved him.
Suddenly, with a crash so loud that she instinctively ducked aside, the large front window of the cabin exploded. When she lifted her head a moment later, Eliza saw a huge, gray wolf land gracefully on the glass-strewn floor.
“Hunter…” she breathed.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw both Andy and Nate give her startled looks, but she was too intent on Hunter to pay much attention to them. Even the burning pain in her arm was forgotten as she watched the two werewolves square off.
They stared at each other for a moment. Then, without warning, Hunter charged, leaping onto the other werewolf. There was a howl of pain as the two combatants rolled around on the floor. The skulls on the kitchen table went flying as they slammed into it, as did the kerosene lantern that was there. It sailed through the air and smashed against the wall, igniting the curtains on the windows.
Andy and Nate tried to pull Eliza toward the door, but she resisted. She couldn’t leave Hunter. She wouldn’t!
“Eliza, the whole place is going to go up!” Andy shouted. “We have to get out of here!”
She shook her head, heedless of the fire spreading through the small cabin. “I’m not leaving him!”
But just then, Hunter turned his head to look at her. There was no mistaking the command in his gleaming yellow eyes. He was telling her to go. The fact that he was willing to risk his life for her made her heart constrict in her chest.
“Eliza!” Andy shouted. “Come on!”
The photographer tugged on her arm again, and this time she didn’t resist as he pulled her out of the burning cabin.
“We have to get you to a hospital,” Andy said once they were outside.
Eliza shook her head. ‘No. I’m not leaving until I know he’s safe.”
Andy and Nate exchanged looks, but they didn’t ask who she was talking about. They already knew that Hunter was the other werewolf. The implications of that should have made her uneasy, but right now, she couldn’t think about that. Or about what the bite on her arm would mean, either. All she could think about was Hunter.
But as the minutes ticked by and the fire continued to rage, her fear for him only mounted. Suddenly, she heard a savage yelp of pain from inside the cabin.
“Hunter!” Eliza screamed.
Heedless of the danger, she took off at a run toward the cabin. Before she could take more than a few steps, however, hands gripped her, holding her back. Eliza didn’t know which of the men had stopped her, and she didn’t care; all she knew was that she had to get away, she had to get to Hunter.
“Let go of me!” she cried, struggling to free herself. “Damn you, let go—”
The rest of her words were lost as the roof of the cabin collapsed with a loud noise. Eliza froze, her heart seeming to stop in her chest as she stared at the fiery rubble in disbelief.