Dex and I sat in silence as the taxi drove us toward Gunnery and Floydston—and the end of my short taste of freedom. It felt surreal. Even though it’d only been a few days, I’d actually gotten used to being out in the world again. The thought of cooping myself up in Hendricks’ dark, damp mineshaft again was a heavy, depressing weight.
But it was necessary. I forced myself to look out the window, at all the people walking Chicago’s sidewalks. Happy people enjoying their lives, completely unaware of the danger and evil that was passing by right under their noses. I had to do it for them. I’d be putting each and every one of them in danger if I stayed. I would kill Kaylie if she left me no other option. I would not kill any of them.
Not until Hendricks told me to, at least.
“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” Dex asked.
I glanced forward to make sure the glass divider between us and the driver was up, and nodded. “I’ve killed people before. This won’t be any different.”
To my surprise, he reached out and put his hand on top of mine. “That’s not true and you know it. This isn’t some stranger you’ve never met before. You know Kaylie.”
I looked down at his hand and, even more surprisingly, felt some actual emotions bubble up inside of me. He’d been so nice to me lately. Out of everyone I’d met since becoming a werewolf—besides maybe Stark—nobody had shown me the same level of kindness that he had. Could it be that I was…
No, bad Amber! I snapped at myself. Focus!
I pulled my hand away and crossed my arms. “Hardly. We only talked a couple of times while I was in her pack, and she was never nice.”
“If you’re worried that I won’t be able to do it,” I turned to give him a piercing stare, “then don’t be. As far as I’m concerned, she’s already dead.”
He held my gaze for a few seconds, then nodded.
“The real question is, how am I going to give the stupid glove back to Hendricks without him skinning me?” I shivered. “Not only did I lose it, but you tricked him into thinking I’d killed myself. We’re both probably screwed for that.”
Dex smirked. “Don’t worry about that yet, Sugarsnout. Just focus on getting the gauntlet back.”
I nodded. That was what was important in the here and now. Not Hendricks and not…whatever I’d felt a minute ago for Dex. We rode together in silence for another few minutes, watching the scenery ease by. Gunnery and Floydston, according to Dex, was only a few miles from our hotel, but the ever present Chicago traffic meant it could take nearly an hour to get there. That was fine by me. More time to think, to prepare.
“Doesn’t it make you mad?” Dex asked a while later.
“You’ll have to narrow that down,” I said. “There aren’t many things that don’t make me mad anymore.”
“All of this!” He gestured vaguely with his hand. “Life. The world and the people in it. Everything that put you where you are today.”
I looked at him and raised an eyebrow. “Where’d this come from?”
“I dunno,” he said with a shrug. “I was just thinking that, after everything that’s happened to you, it’s kind of amazing that you’re still in such good condition.”
I blinked in surprise, then burst out laughing.
“What?” Dex asked.
I shook my head, still chuckling. “You have no idea what you’re talking about. You think I’m in good condition? And here I thought you were getting to know me.”
Dex was quiet for a few seconds, and I sighed and looked out the window again—and then jumped a little when Dex put his hand on my shoulder.
“I understand more than you think,” he said softly. “I’ve seen my fair share of crap too, you know. And I know what it means to be broken. You? You’re not broken. You have a few cracks in you, sure—”
“Gee, thanks,” I snorted.
“No problem. But trust me when I say you’re not broken. The fact that you’ve held yourself together as well as you have is, quite simply, amazing. And,” he gently turned me around to face him again, “I think it’s wrong that you have to spend your life doing Hendricks’ dirty work.”
I looked into his eyes, searching for any hint of a joke. Dex was, I realized, becoming more and more serious the longer I spent with him. That bothered me, though I wasn’t sure why. Almost like he felt safe enough to lower his defenses around me.
“Well, that’s life,” I said. “No use worrying about it. It’s not like there’s anything else I can do.”
Dex opened his mouth, then closed it again, looking away awkwardly.
“What?” I asked, leaning forward a little bit.
Slowly, he turned to look at me again. At that moment, I swear he looked more vulnerable than I’d ever seen him before.
“What if,” he all but whispered, “there was something else?”
“What do you—”
Dex and I both jumped and looked at the taxi driver. He pointed outside, where we were parked beside a big, worn down warehouse.
“Right,” I said.
“Right,” Dex said back.
As quickly as I could, I got out of the car while Dex paid the driver. Where he got the money for this, when he said that Majestic paid peanuts, I didn’t know. I didn’t care either. I stretched my legs and my arms, grateful to be on my feet again after the long, slow car ride. It was like being on that freaking bus again, except even worse because at least the bus was always moving at a good speed. Riding that taxi was like trying to row a boat through thick mud.
But then I looked up at the warehouse again, and the moment of relief vanished. They were in there. I couldn’t smell or hear them, but somehow I could sense it anyway. I checked my watch. Two minutes before noon. They were waiting for us, and neither side would be going anywhere until that old, abandoned warehouse’s floors were stained with blood.
“You ready?” Dex whispered, coming to stand beside me.
I nodded, he nodded back, and together we made our way to the metal double doors. A thick chain was looped around the handles to keep it shut, but I could see right away that it’d been snapped in half and had only been put back to keep up appearances. Dex pulled it free, then held the door open for me.
“Ladies first,” he said with some of his characteristic humor.
“What a gentleman,” I responded, but my voice was hollow compared to his.
I stepped inside, followed by Dex, and we found ourselves in a great big room. You could have fit an entire apartment complex inside this place. And there, standing in the dead center of it all, were the people we’d come here looking for.
“You actually came,” Kaylie shouted at me as we made our way closer.
This was the first time I’d gotten to see her in over three years, and I couldn’t decide if she looked the same as always, or completely different. She seemed to change back and forth with every breath. New clothes, more practical and less revealing than what D.K. had made her wear, but it still couldn’t hide her natural beauty. Her arms and legs were thick with muscle, but she still retained a feminine figure. Her hair, once long and flowing, was cut short so that it couldn’t get in her eyes—eyes that were as cold and dark as an arctic midnight.
“So, this is your new pack?” I asked, stopping a few feet away.
They were a small pack. Benny Rattail was there, cowering a little bit behind his packmates. A larger man stood beside Kaylie, shirtless and covered in tattoos. When he blinked, I saw a pair of black skulls inked onto his eyelids. Two more stood off a little to the right, a man and a woman, and I guessed by their similarities and how close they were to each other that they must have been twins. Another girl was on the left, thin and twitchy like she couldn’t wait to leave and get her next fix.
“We’re the Urban Predators,” said Tats with a snarl in his voice. He closed his eyes to show me his skulls again. “And today, you’re our prey.”
That immediately caught the Silverblood’s attention. NO! NOT PREY! THEY PREY! KILL! KILLLLLL!
The urge to attack almost made me take an involuntary step forward, but I held back. Taking a deep breath, I said, “This is your last chance, Kaylie. Give me the stupid glove, and I’ll leave you all alone.”
“Hendricks won’t be happy about that,” Dex muttered under his breath.
“Hendricks can go chew on his own butt!” I shot back.
For some reason, that actually made Dex smile.
“You mean this?” Kaylie held out her hand, and Tats put the glove into it. My eyes immediately locked onto it. Shiny, black, with the weird red letters glowing like someone had lit a fire inside of it.
I nodded. “Just hand it over and we can pretend this never happened.”
But I knew as soon as I looked at Kaylie that I’d wasted my breath. Sneering, she handed it back to Tats. “Where’s that little girl? You kill her too?”
I froze. An icy feeling crawled up my spine—and then was immediately chased away by a fiery, burning rage.
“You,” I growled softly, “just signed your own death warrant.”
The rest of her pack stepped forward protectively. “If you want her,” said Benny Rattail, “you’ll have to—”
“No.” Kaylie held up a hand, and they all stopped. “This is my fight. My revenge. She killed my brother. I’m going to take her down all by myself!”
She stepped forward, and the rest of her pack reluctantly backed off without argument. I breathed a quiet sigh of relief. One person, even a werewolf, I could handle. The whole pack, though? That’d had me worried.
“After four years,” she growled at me, “I’m finally going to give you what you deserve!”
A hundred excuses sprang to my mind. I hadn’t killed Tyler, D.K. had. Tyler had intervened on his own, not because I’d asked him to. He’d died doing the right thing. He’d died trying to make things better for all of us.
But I kept them all to myself. Not only would they fall on deaf ears, but to be frank, I just didn’t care anymore. Dex said I wasn’t broken, but he was wrong. I was as broken as a china plate that’d been run over by a steamroller. I didn’t care about Kaylie. I barely cared about myself. All that mattered was getting that stupid glove back, and if Kaylie wanted me to kill her to do it, then that was fine by me.
I squared up, raising my fists—and Kaylie began to strip.
Oh, crap! I thought, realization striking me as the last piece of her clothing hit the floor.
Then she changed.