Cindy Spencer Pape - [Guardian Investigations 01] (6 page)

BOOK: Cindy Spencer Pape - [Guardian Investigations 01]
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I felt my cheeks flush. “Damned straight,”
I muttered. “So no getting killed, understand?”

His brown gaze was tender and fierce at the
same time. “You’re going in a hell of a lot more vulnerable than I am.
You
be careful.” He leaned over and kissed my cheek, then took two long steps away
from me. The air shimmered like the waves reflecting from a sidewalk on a hot
summer day, and then, in his place, stood the familiar, hulking form of the
bear.

Even on all fours, he was easily six feet
high at the hunch of his powerful neck. His dark brown hair was silver at the
tips, just like on the man. Now the frosted look made sense. His eyes were
still Evan’s though, warm and intense, which was reassuring. I reached over and
ran my hand along the massive muzzle.

“Thanks for letting me watch,” I told him.
“Let’s go.”

He nodded once, paused to sniff the air
then shambled into the woods.

He didn’t move silently, but he didn’t make
enough noise to attract attention, either. He was just another animal wandering
through the forest. I slipped behind him as quietly as the wind, another skill
I’d learned from Granddad. I wasn’t silent, nor invisible, but it would take
good eyes or ears to detect me. Probably why one of my ancestors had been given
the name Lightfoot.

As we approached the cabin, we circled
around in the woods in ever-narrowing circles. It was Evan who spotted the
snares, little fishing-line traps about six inches off the ground, designed to
trip a wolf or other intruder. I followed one of the strands back to the base
of a tree and disabled the alarm that would have sounded. Evan sliced the line
with one long claw. As we drew closer, we saw the four guards who had been
posted at the cardinal points of the roughly circular clearing. By mutual
consent, we split up. Evan moved around to the front of the cabin, while I snuck
around to the back.

The gathering area was back here, a
circular fire pit surrounded by wooden benches—enough to seat maybe twenty
people. Inside the ring of stones stood one larger one, blackened with ash and
soot. Four iron rings had been driven into the ground, reinforcing the idea
that the stone was used for human sacrifice. Wood had already been laid for a
fire in the circle.

After I’d had enough time to get in place,
I heard Evan move into the clearing and chuffle loudly.

It wasn’t a roar, not a direct challenge
that would have had all four guards shooting. It was more of a curious,
exploratory sound. One of the guards yelled, “Holy shit,” and I heard the two
from the side of the house move. There was now only one guard in my line of
vision and even he turned his head for a moment to see what was happening. That
was my cue. I slipped out from behind a tree and clubbed him over the head with
Evan’s gun.

He went down without a whimper. While I
heard the guards at the front say, “Hey, look he’s got a stick. He wants to
play,” and laugh, I dragged the unconscious sentry into the woods and darted up
to the rear door of the cabin. A quick peek in the window showed no one in the
small kitchen, so I pulled out my lock pick and hurriedly opened the door.

“Get back to your positions,” came a sharp
male voice from the front of the house. “And shoot that damned bear.”

“We’re not going to shoot him, boss.” I
heard those words as I tiptoed through the kitchen towards what looking for a
basement door. I found it just off the small side pantry and slipped through it
just as I heard footsteps slapping on the tile behind me. I’d taken my shoes
off before entering the house, so now my feet made almost no noise as I glided
down the wooden steps.

“Ericka?”
I
didn’t dare slip into a trance, but this close, I might be able to reach her
without it. I listened with my own ears to hear if the woman was still with
her.

She was. I couldn’t see through Ericka’s
eyes, but I could sense her emotions. I knew she’d registered my presence. I
felt the relief and hope that surged in her mind.

“Ouch! You’re pulling my hair.”

“Then hold still, you little brat.”

Good girl
.
Ericka spoke loudly enough to cover my movements and give me an idea of what
was going on. Smart little girl. Apparently, the woman was still getting her
ready for some sort of ceremony. I shuddered at the possibilities that came to
mind. There were at least two ways I could think of to sacrifice a young
virgin. I wasn’t about to let them get away with either one.

The stairs ended in a short hallway, with
two doors on one side and one on the other. The voices were coming from the
single door, so I crept down the hallway, hugging that wall.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” Ericka
whined. It was an exaggerated moan, but I doubted Faith Foster knew that. I
peered around the open doorway, looking into the harshly lit room. Bless
Ericka’s heart, she squirmed and whined loudly enough for three kids, and she
made a point to keep herself on the far side of her captor, keeping Faith’s
back to the door.

Once again I used the butt of Evan’s weapon
to disable my opponent. Once again, she went down. The difference, however, was
that this one didn’t go quietly. As she crumbled, Faith Foster let out a roar
like an elephant.

As soon as Faith was down, I kicked her
aside and bent over Ericka. The little girl had her father’s dark eyes and her
mother’s reddish-brown hair. A few freckles stood out against a face white with
terror.

“Great job, sweetheart. I’m Hannah, and I’m
here to take you back to your parents.” I pulled a lock blade from my pocket
and slit the ropes on her feet. Faith had left her hands free—one bit of luck
for our side. “Ready to run?”

Ericka stood and took my outstretched hand.
Her feet wobbled a little, but she nodded her chin. “Ready.”

“Okay, stay behind me, and if I say run,
you run like crazy. Got it?” I moved towards the stairs, Ericka held behind me
with one hand, Evan’s gun in the other.

“Got it.” Her footsteps were as quiet as my
own, even though she was holding the filmy white gown up with her free hand.

We made it up the stairs and halfway across
the kitchen. I was five feet from the door when I heard the man bellow behind
me.

“Stop right there, you bitch!”

I spun to face him, shoving Ericka towards
the door, hard. “Run for the woods, honey.” I brought the barrel of my weapon
up to meet the one that was pointed at me. It was a sweet little 9mm automatic,
and it was about six inches from my left eyeball.

The door slammed—Ericka had made it out of
the house at least. I was counting on Evan to take care of the guards outside.
I stared into a face as smooth and hairless as a babe’s. He looked suave and
charismatic, but insanity glittered in the grey eyes that stared back at me.

“Jason Wilding, I presume.” I’d seen photos
of the cult leader in Derek’s office. I kept my weapon up—a classic Mexican
standoff.

“That’s
Reverend
Wilding to you. The
wolf-child will be recaptured, and she will be sacrificed to the goddess of the
hunt. Your death will just be a bonus.”

“You can try,” I said with a miniscule
shrug. “If you think your reflexes are faster than mine. Are you willing to bet
your life on that?”

His smile was feral. “You don’t know what
you’re interfering with, woman.” As I watched, his canines elongated. “I’ve
almost achieved the transformation. With her blood, I will
be
the wolf.
Yes, I have full confidence in my reflexes exceeding your paltry human ones.”

Shit.
He
might or might not be right, but I’d grown up playing poker with an older
brother and a bunch of older cousins. One thing I can do is bluff. “What makes
you think I’m human, you pathetic wannabe?”

He blinked rapidly. “Another wolf. Of
course, that’s who they’d send. Perfect. Your blood will be much stronger than
the child’s.”

“Rico, Marcel,” he called. “In here.”

There was a commotion from the front room,
then two armed men walked into the kitchen. The smaller of the two halted about
a foot behind the self-styled reverend. “Yes,
jefé

“Chain her to the altar stone,” he ordered.
“And guard her. The ritual will begin immediately.”

“You got it, boss.” The other man, Marcel,
I presumed, looked like a UCLA defenseman. He reached out and grabbed my wrist.
As he squeezed down, I fired reflexively, but the shot went straight up into
the ceiling. Physics won out, and I was forced to let go. His partner, Rico,
pointed his rifle at my head as the big guy frog-marched me out the back door
into the clearing.

“Where’s Martin?” The big guy asked. He
pushed me between the benches to the fire circle. He even held me up when I
deliberately stumbled over the rocks.

“Maybe he’s playing fetch with that
grizzly,” Rico answered with a laugh. “You think maybe he escaped from a circus
or a zoo?”

“Could be.” Marcel forced me down until I
was sitting on the altar stone. With Rico’s rifle still pointed at my skull, I
didn’t dare move. Marcel pulled a pair of handcuffs from his pocket and leaned
down to clip one end to my left ankle.

There was a noise at the edge of the woods,
and we all turned our heads, except for Rico, whose gaze didn’t waver. Neither
did his weapon. As we watched, a large shape shambled out of the forest, a tree
branch clutched in its mouth.

“Hey, he’s back,” Marcel said. His hands
stilled as he watched Evan approach. “Looks like he wants to play some more.”

“Not, now, you idiot,” Rico warned.
“Wilding will kill us.”

Evan continued to approach Rico, waggling
the stick. I held my breath, praying the man didn’t turn the rifle on my lover.
The bear came closer and closer, until he set the stick down gently at Rico’s
feet.

“Not now, Smokey,” the man said. Before he
could say anything more, Evan snaked out one massive paw and knocked the rifle
out of Rico’s hand. I’m pretty sure I heard fingers crack as Evan roared.

I took that as a signal. I rammed the top
of my head into Marcel’s face and felt the blood splatter from his nose. I
added a punch to the solar plexus and a knee to the groin, and he went down,
howling in pain. Rico was lying on the ground at Evan’s feet. I stepped over
and bent down to pick up Evan’s handgun from Marcel’s waistband, then moved
away from my semi-conscious opponent.

“Stop!” I heard the screech and the gunfire
at the same time. I looked up to see the reverend running out of the house,
firing a rifle at Evan. “She. Is. Mine.”

I saw Evan flinch, and blood sprayed from
his shoulder. He roared again and charged Wilding, taking him down with a
single swipe of his powerful claws. The reverend crumpled to the ground, his
head nearly severed from his neck.

“Evan,” I cried and ran to the bear. I
heard a car start up on the other side of the house. Either the other guard was
making a run for it, or Faith had woken up and was high-tailing it out of here.
I really didn’t care. “Evan, let me see that wound.”

He shook his head and limped back to the
tree line. I followed, with his gun still trained on the clearing. “Ericka,” I
called. “Are you all right?”

“I’m here, Hannah.” Ericka stepped up from
behind a tall pine. I held out a hand and she ran to me then wrapped her skinny
little arms around my waist. “Is he hurt?”

“Yes,” I said. “Can you watch for trouble
while I check him out?”

She nodded and turned fierce eyes on the
house, leaving her back to me and Evan.

I holstered the gun so I could run my hands
over his wound. “Hold still, damn it. You’ve lost a lot of blood.”

I felt the shimmer this time. Suddenly,
instead of a wounded bear, I was face to face with a naked—and uninjured man.
He put both hands beside my face and kissed me deeply, until the forest around
me started to blur.

“Evan!” I whispered when we finally stopped
for air. “You’re okay?”

“The change heals me,” he said. “Now let’s
get the hell out of here.” Just that quickly he morphed back into the bear.

“Come on, Ericka. Time to go.”

Evan lowered his head, and I put the child
up on his back. She fisted her hands in his long fur and held on as he ran
through the woods. I ran close behind, gun at the ready. Apparently, the last
guard had run for it, though. We reached the Jeep without being followed.

Chapter Six

Ericka kept her eyes closed while Evan
dressed then sat close between us while we drove back to her home. There was a
helicopter on the front lawn, and as soon as the Jeep approached, five people
hurtled out the front door—the Carters, closely followed by two men who could
only be Evan’s relatives, and finally, my brother Will.

I held onto Ericka until the Jeep stopped
to keep her from hurting herself in her rush to reach her parents. Their
emotional reunion brought tears to my eyes. I climbed out more slowly and stood
alongside Evan as the other men approached.

“Anything coming behind you?” The taller of
Evan’s two cousins spoke.

“You okay?” That was Will, who gripped both
my shoulders and examined me head to toe. He looks a lot like a male version of
me, tall, with back hair, angular features and bright green eyes that never
miss a trick.

“No.”

“Yes.”

We both spoke at once, caught each other’s
eyes and grinned. Evan’s hand snaked out to grip mine. “Hannah, these two surly
specimens are my cousins, Rhys and Gavin.” Both were tall, but both were
shorter than Evan and slimmer. Rhys was still heavily muscled, but in a more
graceful, almost leonine fashion with golden brown hair and vivid amber eyes.
His smile was wide and lazy. Gavin was more compact than the other two, with
dark brown hair in a ponytail to his shoulders, sharper features, and intense
dark eyes that never seemed to stop moving. Both regarded me quizzically as I
stood there, holding onto Evan’s hand. Will just grinned in his usual
know-it-all manner.

BOOK: Cindy Spencer Pape - [Guardian Investigations 01]
9.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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