The sounds coming from the next room were horrifying. The worst of them was Mistress’s laughter. Ash tried to crawl under the bed, but it was blocked off. He whimpered, unable to put his hands over his ears with them secured behind his back. Snarling and screaming and dying and wet and choking.
He was back. Mistress’s collar was around his neck again. She’d taken Magda’s collar off him and put her collar on him. Leather tight enough to make it hard to swallow. They’d brought him to Mistress. They’d left Stephan on the docks and shot Matthias and they’d brought him to Mistress. He could feel tears running down his cheeks.
She’d petted him and acted glad to see him, before reminding him to follow the rules. He leaned forward to wipe the tears off on the bed. Crying was against the rules. Mistress would be… Your name is Bernard Rudolf Achterberg. You are a cop, not a pet. You are a person, not a dog. Her name is Sima, not mistress. You are not alone. We will come for you.
He knew that voice. Laura’s when her eyes turned red. He took a deep breath, and nodded.
Despite being able to hear his heart beating, Magda fumbled for Stephan’s pulse. His head was bloody, but his pulse was strong. She sniffed the air. Two others, taking Ash away. One male. One female. She committed both scents to memory. Then she took a deep breath. A sniper. Like lightning out of a clear sky. If Daniel hadn’t been right there, her son might have bled out before they could get him help.
She’d carried Anna into the house while Matthias had carried Daniel. Anna wasn’t just panicking, she was having stomach pain. Magda’d wanted to hold her hand, but then she’d seen Stephan laying on the dock. And Ash was gone. They’d taken Ash. Daniel and Stephan were down, and Anna was quite possibly in labor. She took a deep breath and dialed the emergency line.
“How bad?” Ted looked at the werewolf sitting in the waiting room. Matthias actually looked scared.
“They are trying to get Anna stable and prep her for a C-section. She’s uh…” Matthias took a deep breath. “Daniel’s out and going to be out for…” He took another deep breath. “They’re in the hospital and they won’t let me in to see either of them because…” His eyes started to change, and he took another deep breath before looking down at his hands. “Trying to keep my temper here cause, uh…”
“Sister Doris is in with Anna now.” Father Williams stepped into the room. “She will stay with her. Anna will not be alone.”
“Thanks.” Matthias nodded. “I…” He exhaled. “Thanks.”
“They have Daniel on a glucose drip. That should help him build up his reserves again from the energy he used, and restore him to consciousness more quickly than simple rest.” Father Williams inclined his head. “I put energy bars where he can reach them when he wakes.”
“You…” Matthias looked up at Father Williams curiously. “Yeah, you are clued in, aren’t…” His eyes widened a little. “Oh.”
“The collar grants me some privileges. I will stay with Daniel and see to his protection.” Father Williams squared his shoulders. “I have doubt my former compatriots have given up, and your skills are better suited to offense than defense. Ash is missing, yes?”
“Father…” Ted took another look at the priest, as though seeing him for the first time.
“Yeah. But not for long. We’ll find him.” Matthias stood. “You know everyone thinks you’re dead.”
“That was rather the point.” Father Williams nodded. “Go. I will get back to Daniel. Patricia is on her way and can stay with Stephan. It is not good to wake alone in a hospital.” He turned and left the room, leaving Ted with more questions than answers.
Stasya looked up with a smile on her face when he entered the room. As soon as she saw his face, the smile vanished. She closed her eyes for a moment and composed her face. Then she opened them again and spread her arms. “Baby Bear.”
Adam stepped into her arms, clinging to her as she hugged him. She stroked his hair as he let out a choking sob. “I’m sorry. She knows.”
“She made you…” Stasya’s arms tightened around him. “Oh, Baby Bear.” He wasn’t sure how long they’d been standing there when Stasya spoke again. Though he could feel her trembling, her voice was calm. “She sent you here to kill me?”
“That was…” His voice shook. “What she intended, yes…” It was hard, fighting the order. Knowing what she’d meant and resisting it. It hurt almost as bad as shifting. “But the words, the instructions she gave…” He stepped back, meeting her eyes. “She ordered me to take care of you.” He held out the manila envelope, his hands shaking. “Please, Mama Bear.”
“Adam…” She took the envelope from him, then nodded. “I love you, Baby Bear.”
“I love you too, Mama Bear.”
“Do svidaniya.” Stasya grabbed her bag. She hesitated a moment before grabbing Patrick’s as well.
Then she was gone.
Gabriel looked around the hotel suite. Blood was splattered across the room. One of the other officers had vomited in the hallway. The dead man had been heavily armed, and was not a small man. Yet it was clear from the scene that he hadn’t been able to defend himself from whatever it was had torn him apart. He hadn’t even had a chance to draw his guns. The CSIs were going over the scene, looking for prints and any other evidence. Didn’t really matter. This one was going to end far from the reservation. He stepped into the suite’s bedroom.
The collar Ash had worn around his neck lay on the bed. He had no doubt it had been left intentionally. A taunt. There was a brief commotion from the other room, and he heard Michaels identify someone as a CI. A moment later, Magda joined him. Her eyes immediately narrowed at the sight of the collar. “Sima?” He raised an eyebrow at her.
“She has Ash.” Magda clenched her fists. “She has Ash.”
“Two other scents. Three if you count the dead man. One I recognize from where Stephan was attacked. The other is unfamiliar. A woman.” Her stance changed as she looked around. Worried though she was, Magda was going into cop mode. “And…” She glanced back at the other room. “My nose says that was a tiger but I only smell it in that room.”
“Can you track them?”
“Sima knows I’m here. She’ll know I’m looking. If there is a clear trail…” Magda looked up at him.
“Trap.” Gabriel nodded. “Magda?”
“Yes?” She touched the collar.
“Erilon can’t pinpoint his location, but she says she got a message to him. He knows we are looking, that we won’t leave him.” He put his hand on her shoulder. “He’s alive. We’ll get him home.”
“I…” She nodded. “Thank you.”
“What can you tell me about the others?”
“The woman likes her perfume and scented soaps.” Magda half closed her eyes, scenting the room. “She and the man who took Ash are lovers, but she was also sharing a bed with Sima.”
“Lesbian werewolves.” Michaels stepped into the room. “Great.” He nodded to Gabriel. “Coroner is getting the body out. He’ll call when he’s got a positive ID.”
“Matthias called.” Magda nodded. “He and Laura slash Erilon are at Ted’s house, seeing what the can find there.”
“Call him back.” Gabriel headed for the door. “Tell him we are on our way.”
“No.” Magda shook her head and caught his arm. She lowered her voice to not be overheard. “Gabriel, this was the Cabal. Anna said…”
“I’ve got this, partner.” Michaels nodded. “You’ve got someplace else to be right now.”
“Alright.” Gabriel nodded. “I’ll keep you posted on Anna’s condition.” He took a deep breath before leaving to head for the hospital.
He emerged from the woods just in time to see Magda and Michaels pull into the driveway. Laura was on the deck, her eyes faintly glowing. Matthias walked toward his mother. “Found the sniper nest, but uh…” He shook his head. “If they’ve been watching us I haven’t found their vantage point. I swept for bugs and Laura checked my work, but we came up zilch.”
“Someone was watching. Someone who can somehow hide from me.” Erilon jumped down from the porch.
“You talked to Ash?” Magda gave her a desperate look.
“I sent him a message. I…” Erilon shook her head. “Actual communication is not possible, but I was able to let him know everyone is alive and we are going to come get him.”
“So you know where he is?” Matthias turned toward her. He jerked his head toward Michaels. “You found him.”
“He is one of mine. Ash is not.” Erilon sighed. “I cannot pinpoint his location. My link to him is not strong enough, but I can tell that he is alive.”
“That’s…” Magda nodded. “Something. Thank you.”
“What else can you tell us?” Michaels raised an eyebrow.
“Not much, unfortunately. Ash is terrified, and he doesn’t exactly think straight even when he is not. There is power where he is, a lot of it. I believe the one that attacked you in the incident with the bartender is near him. She’s strong. Strong enough that without an existing hold on Ash I cannot get the door open without a foot already in the door.”
“You think…” Michaels folded his arms. “You think this witch is the one Ryuu mentioned?”
“Most likely.” Erilon shrugged.
“So she’s got power enough to get a dragon interested.” Michaels rubbed his forehead. “Don’t suppose there is a handy trick for killing witches?”
“Aim for the head.” Magda narrowed her eyes.
Michaels looked down when his phone rang. He didn’t recognize the number, but hit the button anyway. “Detective Michaels.”
“She wants your partner. She thinks he is attractive.” The voice sounded like a young man.
He blinked. “Excuse me?”
“Sima. I know you recognize the name.”
Immediately he gestured toward the others. They started over. “Who is this?”
“If she gets the chance, she’ll take him for a pet. The rest of you she wants dead, but orders are to bring him and you in alive. Wren has questions for you. She doesn’t know about Erilon, and wants to know how you threw her out of your head.” The voice sounded calm. “We’ll be carrying sedatives for just that purpose.”
“We aren’t exactly…”
“I’ve already killed an alpha this month, detective. You really don’t want me to develop a taste for it.”
“Alright…” Michaels looked up at the others. “You want something. I’m listening.”
“His name was Patrick Delacroix. He served with distinction a US Navy SEAL. He joined the Cabal because he wanted to stop the monsters. To keep vampires from killing others the way they killed his brother. He’s dead because he tried to do the right thing, so you fucking make sure he’s treated with respect.” The voice betrayed fury. “Flight 491 gets in at 2:15 PM. Some of the passengers will be of interest. But the ones you really need to worry about are coming up by car. Highway 7. Dark blue Ford SUV with California plates, should be here by 6.”
“They want the child. Make sure they don’t get it.” Whoever was on the other end of the line hung up.
Michaels stood, looking down at the phone, then he looked back up at the others. He called the number back, and a voice informed him it was no longer in service. “Erilon?” He raised an eyebrow at her.
“I couldn’t get a read on him, pet. Not just because it was a phone call, either.” She frowned. “There is something…”
“Like Stephan?” Magda folded her arms.
“No. Stephan is blank. Whoever that was…” Erilon tilted her head. “Was empty.”
“Explain.” Matthias leaned on the railing.
“I would if I could. I don’t know, and given the circumstances guessing might be a mistake.” Erilon made a vexed sound before looking up at Michaels. “Pet, that one could be standing right next to us and unless he interacted with one of mine or I was seeing through your eyes, I would never know he was there. Possibly not even if I was actively looking for him.”
“You’re saying that guy could watch us without you knowing about it?” Matthias straightened.
“I’m saying he probably has been.” Erilon nodded.
“Shit.” Michaels exhaled. Then he shrugged. “Well, it’s a shit plan and I’d like to explore alternatives, but that does give us a plan.”
“What plan are you…” Magda stared at him, then started shaking her head. “We are not using you as bait.”
“You two can go fuck yourselves…” Michaels met her eyes. “But I like Ash, and these people are fucking around in the city I swore to serve and protect. So we have a plan B. Let’s get on this information, and see if it leads us to a plan A.” He started dialing his phone again.
Wren smiled as she stroked the hair of Sima’s pet. Sima was right, he did have beautiful eyes. A sweet, innocent blue. He seemed happy to be back with his mistress, smiling up at her when she greeted him and eating a treat from her hand. Sima’d told her how she’d accomplished this, how she’d made it clear to Ash just who he belonged to. And what the consequences of disobedience were.
It was a lesson Adam had needed to learn as well. Perhaps he had. She’d felt little resistance when she’d ordered him to go finish cleaning up the mess. There was a flutter of wings, and a raven landed in the window. It leaped down and shifted into Adam. He nodded to her. “It’s done.”
“You couldn’t use the door?” She arched an eyebrow.
“Didn’t think blood-stained clothes were a good idea.” He smiled at her. “May I order a pizza?”
Permission. He was asking her permission. She smiled warmly. “Pepperoni and mushrooms.”