"Shit," Kade hissed, as he grabbed his duffel bag and exited the study. He walked outside, thinking the frigid air would help clear his head. Instead his gaze was snagged by the sight of his brother's cabin. He knew he shouldn't go inside--he had no right, actually--but the need for answers was more powerful than any sense of guilt at invading Seth's privacy. Kade opened the door and walked inside.
He wasn't sure what he'd expected. Some sense of chaos or the scattered clutter of a troubled mind?
But Seth's quarters were as neat as ever, not a single thing out of place. All of his furnishings and belongings were orderly and precisely arranged. There was a philosophy book on the reading table beside the sofa, a collection of classical music on rotation in the stereo CD player. On Seth's computer workstation, a file folder containing spreadsheet printouts he was obviously working on for their father lay neatly closed underneath a crystal paperweight.
Seth, the perfect son.
Except, the more Kade looked around, the more the cabin seemed staged rather than lived in. Things were too neat. Too carefully arranged, as though put there on the chance that someone might be poking about, searching for something amiss. Or for some overt sign of deception, just as Kade was doing now. But Kade knew his brother better than anyone else. He was a part of Seth, unlike anyone else could be because of the inextricable bond they'd been born with as identical twins. From the time they were boys they'd been two parts of one whole, inseparable, with an unspoken mutual understanding of each other. Kade had believed that he and Seth were alike in every way ... until the first time he saw his brother command a wolf pack to pursue and slaughter a grizzly.
They were just boys then, fourteen years old and eager to test the boundaries of both their strength and their preternatural abilities. Seth was showing off, bragging about how he'd befriended an area wolf pack and could command the minds of more than one animal at a time. Kade had never done that--he hadn't even realized he could--which made Seth all too willing to demonstrate.
He'd summoned the pack with a howl, and before Kade realized what was happening, he and Seth were running with the wolves in search of prey. They came across a grizzly bear catching salmon in a river. Seth told the pack to take the bear down. To Kade's astonishment, they obeyed. But even more stunning-infinitely more abhorrent--was the sight of Seth participating in the slaughter. It was a bloody, prolonged battle ... and Seth had reveled in it. Slick with the animal's blood and gore, he'd called Kade to join in, but Kade had been appalled. He'd vomited in the weeds, never feeling so sick with misery in all his life.
Seth had teased him privately for weeks afterward. He'd goaded Kade, acting as the devil on his shoulder, challenging him to test the limits of his talent to determine which of them was the more powerful twin. Kade had stupidly given in. Pride had made him a fool, and so he'd picked up the gauntlet Seth had thrown.
He'd honed his ability until it came as naturally to him as breathing. He'd learned to love the feel of the untamed wild on his skin, drenching his senses, caught between his teeth and fangs. He'd become so adept, so addicted to the power of his talent, it was soon nearly impossible to hold it under rein. Seth had been furious that Kade's ability had exceeded his own. He was jealous and insecure, a dangerous combination. He'd suddenly found something more to prove to Kade, and his violent inclinations took on a more disturbing focus.
At some point, Seth had quietly advanced his dark talent toward other prey. He and his pack had killed a human.
It happened just months before Kade was recruited by the Order. Repulsed, furious, he'd intended to drag Seth in front of their father and the rest of the Darkhaven and expose his inexcusable breach of Breed law. But Seth had pleaded with him. He'd sworn up and down that it had all been a terrible mistake--a game somehow gotten completely out of hand. He had begged Kade not to turn him in. He'd promised that the killing had been accidental, and that it would never happen again.
Kade had doubted him even then. He should have exposed Seth's secret. But Seth was his beloved brother--the other half of him. Kade knew what the news of Seth's crime would do to his parents, particularly his mother. So Kade had kept the secret, even though holding it had been eating away at him constantly every moment since.
He'd protected Seth from the truth and sheltered his parents from the pain of it, and when the call came from Nikolai in Boston that the Order needed new recruits, Kade jumped on the chance to join. Now the slayings of the Toms family had brought it all back. He hoped like hell his brother wasn't capable of killing an entire family in cold blood, but he feared Seth's promise a year ago was proving too hard for him to keep.
With that fear heavy on his mind, Kade started to walk toward the door. He didn't realize until he was halfway there that he was walking on the thick pelt of a grizzly. The skin covered the living room floor, and although the bear Seth and his wolves had killed all those years ago was long lost to time and the elements, the frozen snarl of this dead bear's head gave Kade pause. He walked back and knelt down near the open jaw of the animal.
"Ah, Christ. Let me be wrong," he whispered as he carefully stuck his hand into the sharp-toothed maw.
He reached back as far as he could and swore tightly as his fingers brushed the soft cloth and loose bulk of a hidden pouch at the back of the grizzly's throat.
Kade withdrew the small drawstring bag, hearing a metallic jingle as it came to rest in his palm. He loosened the strings and poured out the contents. Several gold rings slid into his hand, along with a braided leather bracelet with a bear tooth dangling from it and small locks of clipped hair collected from a variety of human heads. Dried blood caked some of the items.
There could be no mistaking them for anything but what they were ... Souvenirs that Seth had apparently been collecting. A killer's hidden cache of mementos, taken from his victims.
"You son of a bitch," Kade ground out harshly. "You sick, fucking son of a bitch." Anger and grief collided in the pit of his stomach. He didn't want to believe what he was seeing. He wanted to make excuses, grasp for any possible explanation except the one that was clanging around like a warning bell in his skull.
His brother was a killer.
Had he attacked the Toms family so heinously, too?
Something deep inside Kade just could not reconcile the wholesale slaughter of an entire family. Despite the dread that was sitting like ice in his gut, he needed more answers before he was willing to convict Seth of being that kind of monster. He needed proof. Hell, he needed to look his brother in the face and demand the truth from him, once and for all.
And if it turned out that Seth was guilty, then Kade was prepared to do what needed to be done. What by rights he should have done when he'd first seen evidence of Seth's apparent disregard for human life.
He would hunt his goddamn brother down and he would kill him.
Most of the crowd at Pete's that night was gathered in the bar area out front, the din of conversation competing with the racket of a hockey game on satellite TV and an old Eagles song wailing on the jukebox that squatted near the unisex restroom and the entryway to the game room in back. Alex and Jenna sat across from each other at one of the tables in the center of the place. They'd finished dinner some time ago and were now splitting a piece of Pete's homemade apple pie while they nursed the warming dregs of their microbrews.
Jenna had been yawning off and on for the past hour or so and checking her watch, but Alex knew her friend was too polite to bail on her. Selfishly, Alex wanted to prolong their visit. She had insisted on the pie and one last beer, had even fed a couple of quarters to the jukebox so she had the excuse to wait for her song to play before they left.
Anything to avoid going home to her empty house.
She missed her dad, now more than ever. For so long, he had been her closest friend and confidant. He'd been her strong, willing, and capable protector when the world around her had been turned upsidedown by violence. He would be the only one who'd understand the unspeakable fears that were swirling in her now. He'd be the only one she could turn to, the only one who could tell her that everything would be all right and almost convince her that he believed it.
Now, except for her dog, she was alone, and she was terrified.
The urge to pull up stakes and run from what she'd seen that awful day at the Toms settlement was almost overwhelming. But where to? If running from Florida to Alaska hadn't been far enough to escape the monsters that lurked in her memories, then where could she possibly hope to escape them next?
"You gonna twirl that fork all night, or are you going to have some of this pie?" Jenna downed the last of her beer and set the bottle on the rough wood table with a soft thump. "You wanted dessert, but you're making me eat most of it."
"Sorry," Alex murmured as she put down her fork. "I guess I wasn't as hungry as I thought I was."
"Everything okay, Alex? If you need to talk about what happened the other night at the meeting, or out at the Toms place--"
"No. I don't want to talk about it. What's to say anyway? Shit happens, right? Bad things happen to good people all the time."
"Yeah, they do," Jenna said quietly, her eyes dimming under the glare of the tin lamp overhead.
"Listen, I was over at Zach's for a little while this afternoon. Sounds like the Alaska State Troopers in Fairbanks have their hands full at the moment, but they'll be sending a unit out to us in a few days. In the meantime, they discovered video footage of the crime scene on the Internet, of all places. Some asshole apparently went out there with a cell phone camera not long after you'd been there, then uploaded the video to an illegal site that allegedly pays a hundred bucks for actual blood-and-guts material." Alex sat forward in her chair, her attention snapped sharply back into focus to hear a confirmation of what Kade had told her out at the Toms place. "Do they know who?"
Jenna rolled her eyes and gestured toward the game room, where a small group of the local stoners were shooting darts.
"Skeeter Arnold," Alex said, unsurprised that the slacker, perpetually unemployed yet never without a drink in one hand and a smoke in the other, would be the one so lacking in respect for the dead that he would sell them out for a few dollars. "What a bastard. And to think that he and Teddy Toms had been hanging out together quite a bit before ..."
She couldn't finish the sentence; the reality was still too raw. Jenna nodded. "Skeeter has a way of latching on to kids he can manipulate. He's a user and a loser. I've been telling Zach for the past year or more that I have a hunch the guy is pushing drugs and alcohol on the dry Native populations. Unfortunately, cops need to have this sticky thing called evidence before they arrest and prosecute, and Zach keeps reminding me that all I have on Skeeter Arnold is suspicion." arrest and prosecute, and Zach keeps reminding me that all I have on Skeeter Arnold is suspicion." Alex watched her friend, seeing the tenacity sparking in Jenna's eyes. "Do you miss it? Being a cop, I mean."
"Nope." Jenna frowned as though considering, then gave a firm shake of her head. "I couldn't do that job anymore. I don't want to be responsible for cleaning up someone else's tragedies or fuckups. Besides that, every time I'd walk up to a traffic accident, I'd be wondering whose heart was going to be torn apart once I called in my report. I don't have the stomach for police work now." Alex reached out and gave her friend's hand a gentle, understanding squeeze. "For what it's worth, I think you're a great cop, and that's because you do care. It was never just a job to you, and it showed. We need more people like you looking out for the rest of us. I keep thinking that maybe one day you'll go back to it."
"No," she replied, and through the link of their hands, Alex's inner sense told her that Jenna meant it.
"I lost my edge when I lost Mitch and Libby. Do you realize it will be four years later this week?"
Alex recalled very well the November night that took the lives of Jenna's trooper husband and their little girl. The whole family had been traveling home from a special dinner in Galena when an icy snow kicked up and sent their Blazer sliding into oncoming traffic. The eighteen-wheeler that hit them was hauling a full load on its oversize trailer--five tons of timber on its way to the Lower Forty-eight. Mitch had been driving the Blazer and was killed on impact. Libby held on for two days in the hospital, broken and bruised on life support, before her little body simply gave up. As for Jenna, she had lain in a coma for a month and a half, only to wake up to the terrible news that Mitch and Libby were gone.
"Everyone says that in time it won't hurt so bad. Give it time, and I'll be able to console myself with happy memories of what I had, not dwell on what I've lost." Jenna blew out a hitched breath as she withdrew her hand from Alex's loose grasp and picked at the label on her empty beer bottle. "It's been four years, Alex. Shouldn't I have some closure by now?"
"Closure," Alex scoffed. "I'm the wrong one to ask about that. Dad's only been gone six months, but I don't think I'll ever give up hoping to see him walk through the door again. That's part of the reason why I'm thinking I might ..."
Jenna stared at her as the words trailed off. "Might what?" Alex shrugged. "I guess it's just that I've been wondering lately if things might be better for me if I sold the house and moved on."
"Move on, as in leave Harmony?"
"As in leave Alaska, Jen." And hopefully leave behind all of the death that seemed to follow her wherever she ran. Before it had the chance to catch up to her again. "I'm just thinking that maybe I need a fresh start somewhere, that's all."
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