“What are you doing?” Erin demanded as she strode after her.
“What do you think? If you guys can’t get hold of Liam, then what else can we do? Do you plan to just sit here and do nothing? If this turns out to be where Kat’s being held and they move her in the meantime…” She didn’t finish because it was pointless. She didn’t care what they said.
She was going.
Erin touched her arm lightly as she grabbed her coat from the rack. “Hold on a sec,” she murmured, and looked at the other wolves. “Noah and Jacob are checking out other leads in town and we can’t ask the others to leave the ranch unprotected…but we can go.”
Aiden nodded and motioned to December. “Just leave her at the main house.”
December glared at the tall shifter who spoke as if she weren’t even in the room. “Kat is my best friend and unless you plan on tying me up and knocking me out, I’m going.” The three of them stared at her, but she held her ground. “My brother’s a cop. I don’t own a gun, but I know how to use one. Give me a weapon and I promise to stay out of the way. Besides, if you don’t take me, I’m following anyway.”
Erin and Aiden both cursed, but the she-wolf nodded tightly. “You stay out of the way or I will knock you out.”
“Deal. Now can we leave?” Every second they spent here was a second wasted. Her heart pounded mercilessly, the blood rushing loudly in her ears. Kat might not have much time left and if this was where she was being held, they had to help her.
December wiped clammy palms on her jeans as they drove down the barely formed trail. Snow had fallen hard earlier, making the road thick and slushy, but Aiden didn’t seem to notice as he drove. She sat in the backseat with Erin and so far everyone had been quiet.
They’d missed the turnoff the first time, but Ryan figured it out by calculating the longitude and latitude. Or something like that. She didn’t really understand or care how he’d figured out where they were going. She just wanted to find her friend.
“We should be there soon,” Ryan murmured.
They’d been driving through the forest down the dirt trail for a while, though it probably seemed longer than it actually was.
A few moments later, Aiden slowed the truck and killed the engine in the middle of the trail. He glanced back at them. “We go on foot from here. I don’t like you being here,” he said to her, “so stick close and keep your weapon on hand at all times.”
She nodded, unable to get rid of the nervousness threading through her. “Okay.”
When she stepped out into the snow, she sank nearly a foot into the powdery softness.
Instantly Aiden knelt in front of her and turned so that his back was facing her. He glanced over his shoulder at her. “Liam will probably kill me for touching you, but I’m going to carry you. We can move faster that way.”
She didn’t care one way or another how they got there. Quickly, she slid onto his back and held on as they began the trek down the trail. He was a little taller than Liam and she was thankful for his added warmth. Even with her thick coat her face was already frozen. The farther they went, the thicker the trees got, but there was still a distinct—if smaller—trail that was probably used for snowmobiles.
After a few minutes all three shifters slowed in unison. December had no idea why but figured maybe they scented something or someone.
“We’re close,” Aiden said as if he read her mind. Stopping completely, he bent down and let her off his back.
Adrenaline pumped through her wildly. They were close to finding Kat. She didn’t know how she knew, but she did. This was it. It had to be. Kat was likely scared out of her mind.
Suddenly, the trail thinned and opened to a small clearing. What they’d seen from the satellite images was a small, dilapidated barn. Not for animals exactly, but probably for storage, though whoever owned it hadn’t kept it up well.
Erin sniffed the air and glanced at them. “You smell that?”
“Dead bodies. Really old ones,” Aiden said.
December didn’t smell anything, but her throat clenched at their words. “Kat?”
Erin shook her head. “No, these bodies have been here weeks at least. The scent is really faint, which means they’re likely buried nearby. Not deep enough, though.”
December started to say something when the sound of multiple engines silenced her. They all moved back toward the trees and watched.
Two men and an ethereal-looking blond woman drove up on sleek black snowmobiles. When they turned them off and headed for the barn, Aiden motioned to her. “Stay put. If anything happens to us, turn on your phone and call the cops,” he whispered.
Nodding, she crouched down behind one of the trees and withdrew her gun. In her other hand, she held on to her cell phone. She’d kept it off like they’d instructed, but at the first sign of trouble she was ready to take action.
Kat heard the distant sound of engines but kept her eyes closed. She’d feigned being passed out a while ago just to make the pain stop. Somehow she tried to think of what her captor had done to her in detached terms. The colder she got, the easier it was. And she knew she was dying.
Knew it bone deep. It wouldn’t be much longer. When blood had trickled out of her mouth and nose, it hadn’t been hard to guess she had internal bleeding. With no one here to help, it was only a matter of time.
Only a vague sense of triumph remained. After all his abuse the bastard hadn’t been able to get it up, so at least he hadn’t raped her. As she tried to take another ragged breath, she closed her mind off. She wasn’t here and she couldn’t give him any more power. When she died, she wasn’t going to be thinking of him. No, she’d be focused on something much more pleasant.
She was in Miami. On the beach. The warm Atlantic water lapped around her feet as she dug her toes into the white sand. Jayce was next to her, holding her hand, telling her all the things she’d ever wanted to hear from him but he’d never said.
The sound of the large exterior door rolling open jerked her out of her thoughts. More tormentors arriving? She almost dry heaved at the thought. Her heart clenched on a fresh wave of terror as she tried not to stir or alert them to her consciousness.
“Oh my God! What the hell have you done?” a female voice shrieked.
Kat decided to open her eyes. Everything was hazy, but she spotted two new men and a woman entering the building.
The petite blond woman glowed supernaturally. The humans wouldn’t be able to see it, but thanks to her seer abilities, Kat could. The female wasn’t human, but she couldn’t tell exactly what she was. Not a vampire and not a shifter, that was for sure. There was no underlying animal at the blonde’s surface. She was unique in a way Kat had never seen. The thought was clear in her head. But what was she? And why was she with these men? Her mind briefly struggled to put together what she was seeing, but just as quickly she gave up even worrying about it. Didn’t matter. Kat was dead anyway.
Deep down she didn’t want to die, but she didn’t want to live if this pain was all that was left for her. If they were going to keep torturing her pointlessly, then she’d rather be dead. She wanted to cry but it was too painful, especially since she could barely breathe. The tape was so restrictive it only added to her misery.
“I was trying to get information out of her,” Greg, her tormentor, said casually.
“Then why is her mouth taped shut?” a man with a scarred face asked. “If you’re going to torture someone, you have to do it right. Don’t fucking lie to me. She’s our ticket to bringing down the enforcer, but if she’s dead, she won’t be of any use to us.”
“You’re all monsters,” the blond woman breathed out, horror lacing every word.
The man with the scar turned and backhanded her. The sound of the blow ricocheted around the small space. “This is a war. If you can’t handle this, then leave.” As if she meant nothing to him, he turned from her and back toward the men.
“Listen, I didn’t sign up for this shit. I thought we were just holding her hostage. No one said anything about…this.”
“Shut up, Joseph. You’re such a fucking pussy,” Greg, her tormentor, said, his voice full of venom.
The three males continued to argue. The man with the scarred face was angry because Greg had beaten her so thoroughly. He made it clear he couldn’t use her as a bargaining chip if she was dead. Apparently enough time had passed and she’d been missing long enough that the scarred man—Kat guessed he was the boss—was ready to contact the enforcer and see what they could get in exchange for Kat’s safe return. But now they would have to wait until she healed a little—if she recovered at all. She must look pretty bad if they thought she might not recover. Her most animal side knew this was it. She wanted to scream out in anger—if her mouth weren’t taped and if she had the energy—at how short her life had been. There was so much she still wanted to do.
As she stared at the three men, Kat watched in horror and fascination as the blond woman smoothly pushed to her feet and started to glow incandescently. Instead of being fearful, the woman looked angry. Her entire body lit up and her blue eyes flashed darkly, almost evilly. Kat couldn’t tear her gaze away from the sight. By their expressions, it was obvious the males could see her glowing too. She wasn’t visible just to Kat’s seer senses.
“You arrogant bastard,” the woman breathed out, her voice eerily dark and unnatural. All her focus was on the scarred man. “For months I’ve put up with all of you, but you are the worst. Controlling your sick, twisted mind has drained my powers on a daily basis, but no more. Finding out who your boss is isn’t worth this.” Her voice deepened even more, sending a chill snaking through Kat’s entire body.
Out of the corner of her eye, Kat watched Greg inch toward the door. She wanted to cry out, to alert the woman that he was trying to escape, but her mouth was taped shut. The other man, the scarred one, hadn’t moved, though. He just stood frozen, staring, as if he were a marble statue. Transfixed by the vision before him.