With wide eyes, William paled even more. “Shit, man! I don’t know anything else, I swear. I just want to live in peace with my family.” Beads of sweat rolled down the side of his face as he looked back and forth between them.
Nodding, Liam turned and strode back to the vehicle. Once they were inside, he started the engine, then headed back to the ranch. “We lost the trail at a crossroads last night, but what he’s saying might be true. There’s a lot of farmland and mountainous terrain to the east. Good place to hide just about anything or anyone.”
Liam started to say more when Connor’s voice sounded in his head. Get back to the ranch. Ryan finally cracked the encryption. We might have something.
On our way, he projected back.
He quickly relayed the message to Jayce and was almost surprised by the sudden burst of undisguised hope that rolled off the other wolf. The sweet, pure scent was completely at odds with the tough-looking shifter. It didn’t matter that he’d had half a millennium learning to cover his emotions. His feelings for Kat were obviously stronger than any of that.
Silently Liam prayed they’d find Kat soon. They didn’t know nearly enough about the APL, and the fact that they had no issues targeting women was terrifying. And after what William had just told them…he fought back the thoughts.
They would find her. They had to.
December closed the register and handed change back to her twentieth customer of the morning. They’d been unusually busy and she shouldn’t have had time to think about anything, but unfortunately that’s all she could do. She was lost in her head.
Worried about Parker. Scared out of her mind for Kat. And confused about Liam. She knew that should be the last thing on her mind, but after the way he’d acted this morning, she wasn’t sure what was going on. The cold, distant side of Liam wasn’t something she ever wanted to get used to.
While she understood they were both stressed, she wanted to lean on him. And she wanted him to do the same with her. If they were going to take the next step in this relationship, she couldn’t deal with someone who didn’t see her as an equal. As the bell above the door jingled behind the last customer, she strode toward the front door and locked it.
Then she turned the OPEN sign to CLOSED.
“What are you doing?” Erin came out from behind one of the aisles. Her red hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail and December couldn’t be sure, but she thought the petite she-wolf had some kind of weapons underneath her thick down jacket. She hadn’t taken her coat off all morning and December knew that shifters weren’t as affected by the cold as humans.
She lifted an eyebrow at the she-wolf. “What does it look like?”
Erin’s eyes narrowed. “You’re supposed to keep your shop open.”
She began turning off the front lights. “Yeah, well, things change. I can’t stay here working while my brother is in the hospital and my best friend is missing. This is insane.” She’d already gotten more than a few comments from locals who’d stopped by to see why she had her shop open. And they were right. She shouldn’t be here. Her brother was recovering from a gunshot wound and everyone now knew that Kat had been taken. Of course no one knew by whom or why except Liam’s pack. The cops were doing all they could, but they had no leads either.
“Liam’s going to be pissed.” Erin’s voice was wary.
“I don’t really care. He’s not here.” And he’d seen fit to keep her in the dark about a lot of stuff.
Erin shrugged, then sighed. “What do you need to do to close up?”
She nodded to the line of lights on the far wall. “Turn those off and I’m going to run my daily report.”
The shifter who had been watching the store all morning from outside knocked on the front door, so Erin let him in. December glanced up from the cash register but ignored the curious look he gave her and Erin. Let the she-wolf explain it.
As December finished running her report, she vaguely heard Erin telling the other shifter what was going on. When she finished, she set the alarm and locked up. The moment she slid into the passenger seat of Erin’s truck, she called Liam.
“What’s wrong?” His deep voice was concerned.
“Nothing, but we’re coming back to the ranch.”
“Because being here is stupid. Whoever took Kat got what they want. They’re not going to be hanging around town. I want to help. And if I can’t, I’m going back to the hospital. I’ll just wait around until Parker decides to pull his head out of his ass.” The words spilled from her like a waterfall.
Liam cursed but quickly acquiesced. Probably because he knew he had no choice. “Fine, but I won’t be here when you get back.”
“Where are you going?”
He hesitated, then said, “I can’t tell you.”
“Why not?” This whole secrecy stuff would never fly with her. Not with important stuff.
“It’s better that you don’t know. We might have a lead on where they took Kat.”
“I can help search at least.” She might not have his capabilities, but she wasn’t helpless. And more than once she’d helped in county searches for missing kids who’d simply gotten lost in the woods or mountains.
“This isn’t up for discussion. As soon as we leave, we’re going dark. No communication. Nothing. I don’t know how long we’ll be gone.” He sounded so matter-of-fact it was maddening.
“I’m sorry, December, but I’ve got to go.” Then he disconnected.
She seethed as she stared at her silent cell phone. For a moment she thought about calling him back but knew it was pointless.
“He’s just trying to protect you.” Erin’s soft voice cut through the quiet interior of the vehicle.
December waited a moment to see if the male shifter sitting in the back would finally speak, but he was wisely silent. “Yeah, well, he has a dumb way of showing it.”
She snorted softly. “Don’t they all.”
Liam hated the way he’d ended the phone conversation with December, but he didn’t have time to explain anything. Ryan had finally cracked part of the flash drive and they had to take immediate action. So far they had two pages of names and addresses of active APL members. Including active safe houses.
He wasn’t sure why the Taylor guy living in the trailer park had this information, but if he had to guess, he’d probably planned to use it as blackmail. He was likely dead now, though. Liam hoped he was. It would save him the trouble later. Since that bastard had tried to attack December after their date, he’d fallen off the radar. No credit card activity whatsoever. He might have another alias, but so far Ryan hadn’t been able to find one.
Connor zipped up his coat as he stepped out onto the front porch, where Liam and Jayce waited. “Are your phones off?” he asked.
Liam nodded. “And batteries taken out.”
“Same here,” Jayce said.
His brother nodded approvingly. “Good.”
When they went on a mission of this sort, it was standard practice to disable their phones. They weren’t so naive to think the government didn’t keep tabs on them. Not always of course, and probably not even that often, since their pack didn’t get into trouble, but right now they couldn’t take the chance of being tracked. Today they were likely going to kill some APL members. There didn’t need to be any proof they were in the same vicinity at the time.
Connor pulled out the keys to his truck as they strode across the yard. “I’ve sent Noah and Jacob to check out the houses in town.”
When Jayce started to interrupt, Connor cut him off. “They’ve got Kat’s scent and they’re trained. They know what they’re looking for. I think it’s unlikely they’re keeping her at a house in town anyway, but we have to check it.”
Which was why they were checking out a farmhouse a few miles on the outskirts of Fontana. It was listed under the name of a man who’d died twenty years ago and there had been two asterisks next to the address. But nothing else. They might not know what that meant, but they all thought it was important.
And it lined up with what the guy William had told them that morning. The place was to the east of town and surrounded by about a hundred acres.
As they headed there, a light dusting of snow began to fall. It would hurt their abilities to track people, but it would also cover their tracks if necessary. They were all silent until they neared the designated turnoff on the two-lane highway.
A small wooden sign on a post said DOGWOOD HOUSE. If they hadn’t been looking for it, they’d have definitely missed it. The dirt road was full of potholes, but from the recent tire tracks in the snow, someone was home.
The road was lined with dogwood and pine trees and when they neared an opening, Connor backed into the small gap as far as he could go.
Quietly, they got out and covered most of the truck with underbrush. It wasn’t completely hidden, but if someone was driving by and not looking for it, he wouldn’t be likely to see it. And the falling snow would hurt anyone’s visibility. According to the information on the flash drive, they had less than a mile to trek to the house.
Sticking to the cover of the trees, they paralleled the dirt road until they reached a clearing. A combination wire and wood fence surrounded a two-story brick house. Despite the unpaved, bumpy driving path, the house itself was in good shape and all the bushes surrounding it were neat and trimmed. Smoke drifted from the chimney and two trucks and one car sat in the paved driveway. Someone was definitely home.
From their side view, they could see a balcony on the second story that likely led to a bedroom. And the light was on.
“I’ll go in through the balcony. Liam, you and Jayce figure out how to take the downstairs.” Connor’s voice was quiet even though they were about forty yards from the house.
Liam nodded in agreement and Jayce did the same. The falling snow gave them some cover, but there were a few brief moments where they were all exposed. Luckily, they were a hell of a lot faster than humans and made it to the house unseen.
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