Hendricks grinned down at me, and I glared up at him. I could still remember a dark underground cavern, a waterfall that broke the silence, and a voice as slick as oil and as cold as ice.
“I can offer you protection. Let’s discuss the terms of your employment.”
It had been the day after I’d gone through my first Silverblood transformation. The night I had rampaged through Stark’s house, and…I still couldn’t think about poor little Kimberly, lying in a pool of her own blood with her arm bitten off, without wanting to puke. You can understand why I hadn’t been thinking straight, right? But I was desperate.
Desperate enough to agree to work for him.
In my defense, what choice did I have? My only other option was to live on the streets until Majestic’s goons caught up to me. They’d bring me back to their headquarters, where they would educate me on the joys of needles and surgical knives. Hendricks may have been behind half of what had gone wrong with my life, but at least he hadn’t started the whole thing. He was an opportunist. A sadistic, evil monster, but still an opportunist.
I hated what he had turned me into, but not as much as I hated what I already was.
He clicked his cane on the floor and turned to walk back the way he’d come. He didn’t say anything, but I knew him well enough by now to tell that he wanted me to follow him. Reluctantly, I got up. My clothes sagged a little more than they had before, my partial transformation having stretched them out. I was lucky they were still in one piece. A few torn stitches, nothing I couldn't sew up myself. God knew Hendricks wasn’t going to buy me new clothes. Seeing me prance around his lair naked would probably make his freaking day.
“I see you were running late,” he said with a knowing smile.
“I know what you were doing, and it didn’t work,” I snapped back at him. “You can’t make me change.”
“Young lady, I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.”
He chuckled. “So, how is our dear friend Stewart?”
“Dead. I broke his neck.”
“Glad to hear it!” He turned to me, and I could see the greed twinkling in those black, soulless eyes. “Now then, where is my gauntlet?”
“It’s right…” I blinked. It wasn’t in my hands. A pit formed in my stomach, and I began patting my clothes as if I’d somehow stuffed it down my pants without realizing it. “I- I swear I…”
Hendricks’ eyes narrowed. “Ms. Pace, do you mean to tell me that you didn’t bring it back with you?”
I took a step back. I wasn’t as afraid of him as I had been three years ago—living with a guy will do that to you—but moments like this, when he wasn’t getting what he wanted, were like being taken back in time. I knew what he was capable of, and I knew what he was willing to do. Namely, if he could do it, he would do it.
His mouth curved into a frown, and I swear I smelled smoke coming from somewhere. “Amber, what exactly did I tell you to do today?”
“To kill Stewart and bring you back the glove,” I answered.
“That glove,” he spat, “is an artifact worth more than you are by a thousand times. And you just…forgot to bring it with you?”
I sneered at him. “Worth a thousand Silverbloods?”
I immediately regretted saying that. I knew Hendricks wouldn’t kill me. No matter what he said, there weren’t many things in his collection worth more than a werewolf that was immune to silver. A mutant even compared to other mutants. But that didn’t mean he wouldn’t hurt me.
He fumed for a few seconds, during which his form seemed to vibrate. For a fraction of a split second, duplicates of himself would appear all around him before vanishing again. This only happened when he got really mad, like his temper was strong enough to bend time and space itself.
Then he calmed himself—and blasted me with black lightning.
I screamed and fell to the floor as the dark magic coursed over my body, lighting every inch from my head to my toes up with pain. I writhed, gasping, my eyes clenched shut for…I don’t know how long. Eventually though, the pain vanished.
I opened my eyes, and Hendricks’ cane slammed into the ground half an inch from my face hard enough to crack the stone. He loomed over me, a shadow made of flesh and bone.
“Have I not been good to you, Amber?” he asked softly.
I wanted to say no. Kidnapping my mom, kidnapping me, selling me as a slave, and then siccing a bear-sized hyena on me wasn’t exactly what I would call treating someone well. But I knew he was capable of far worse, so instead I just nodded feebly.
“I gave you a place to live where you’re safe from those clowns at Majestic,” he went on. “You have nowhere else to go, no one else you can trust. You can’t even trust yourself, can you?”
I looked up at him, but the monster inside me just whimpered. Even it was afraid of him.
“And this is how you repay me?” I opened my mouth to reply, but he silenced me by putting the tip of his cane on my forehead. “I don’t want to hear your excuses, Amber. I want to hear how you’re going to fix this egregious little problem!”
“I- I’ll get it back!” I gasped. “I promise! As soon as the sun comes up—”
He pressed the cane harder against my skull. “Do I look interested in waiting until sunrise for this, Amber?”
I wriggled a little, but couldn’t get out from under his cane. I felt like a butterfly that had been pinned to a table—by its brain. I looked at him, with his pitiless dark eyes. He was enjoying this. He was upset about the gauntlet, yes, but that didn’t mean he didn’t love having me at his mercy. I knew him. He would draw this out as long as he could, extracting every drop of agony he could from me. There was only one way to deal with him when he got like this.
“If you actually want it back, then yes,” I snapped.
His eyes widened. “Excuse me?”
I clenched my fists. “Go ahead, send me back for it now. There’s a full moon outside, and you know I can’t control my Silverblood form. I’ll change as soon as I set foot out there, and if you think that thing will give a crap about your stupid glove, then—”
“Enough!” he yelled. The tunnel shook a little, but he raised the cane off my head anyway. For a long minute, he just stood there. I couldn’t help but shake a little bit. Hendricks was a demon. Nastiness was his bread and butter. So far he’d just been toying with me, but I could tell I’d really managed to piss him off with that comment. All it would take was for him to decide I’d pushed him too far, and he would…I don’t know, and I didn’t want to think about the possibilities either.
Finally, he spun and stormed away.
“First thing tomorrow!” he yelled. “You will go back, and you will retrieve my gauntlet! And if you don’t, I’ll…” He paused, thinking. Then, with eerie calmness, he said, “I know how to skin someone without killing them.”
I slowly got to my feet, nodding. He got to the door, but then paused.
“Oh, and Amber?”
He pointed his cane over his shoulder and, without looking back, shot me with lightning again.