That one word coming out of Stark's mouth was all it took for all the feeling in my body to leak out through my heels. My skin turned ashen, and my feet became glued to the floor. We all froze still as statues, looking at each other. Hendricks? At our front door? That was like saying Hitler had come asking to borrow a cup of sugar. I didn't want to believe it, I wanted to think that I'd misheard Stark, but the serious-as-the-grave look on his face told me I had heard him loud and clear.
The silence lasted only a few seconds, though it felt like an eternity, before it was broken by another knock on the door. Our heads all snapped to face it.
"W- What do you mean Hendricks is out there?" I demanded. "Didn't you put up wards to keep him out, or something like that?"
"I put up wards against Becky," Stark answered, his voice sounding strangely hollow. "They're not strong enough to stop a demon."
Slowly, he approached the door again and looked through the peephole. "They're trying, though. The wards are whipping up a blizzard outside trying to blow him away."
The winds were... so it wasn't a storm!
"Shoot him already!" Mom said, reaching out and grabbing me by my shoulders and pulling me behind her. "What are you—"
"That wouldn't work," Stark interrupted her. "He's a demon. Silver bullets won't even hurt him."
Mom's grip on my arm tightened. "Well, what will hurt him?"
Stark shook his head, his eyes still staring unblinkingly at the door. "Nothing that I have here."
"What do you mean you don't have anything that can—"
She was interrupted by another furious series of knocks. "Open the door already, will you?"
My breath caught in my throat. I would know that dark, oily voice anywhere.
"It is him," I whispered, backing even further into the kitchen.
"What do we do?" Mom asked.
Stark looked down at his gun, then up at the door, and shook his head. "I don't know. I wasn't expecting... I don't know!"
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK!
"If you don't open the door right now, I'm going to kill this young woman!"
We all froze. Young woman?
"Where's Kimberly?" Mom and I both asked at the same time. Before either of them could protest, I dashed from the kitchen, down the hall, and threw open Kimberly's door. I breathed a sigh of relief when she sat up in bed, blinking sleepily.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"Nothing," I told her after a moment's hesitation. "Go back to sleep." I started to close the door, but stopped. "Lock the door behind me and stay here, okay? No matter what you do, don't open it for anybody but me, Stark, or my mom. Understand?"
Kimberly nodded, and I closed the door and raced back to the living room. "She's safe," I reported.
"Oh, thank God," Mom said, looking as if she were about to faint.
"This is your final warning," Hendricks called.
"What do we do?" I whispered.
Stark looked through the peephole again. "He's not bluffing, he does have someone out there with him. I don't..."
"Open the door," I said. Mom and Stark both turned to look at me in bewilderment. "He's going to kill her if you don't."
"She's not part of my pack," Stark argued. "I'm not trading some human's life for yours!"
"Five!" Hendricks yelled.
"We have to help her."
"You can't just let him kill an innocent person."
"I said no, Amber!"
"He'll blow down the door anyway!"
"Amber, do not go near that door!"
I sucked in a breath and looked at the door, my alpha's command gluing my feet to the ground all over again. Hendricks was out there, holding some poor girl hostage. I didn't kid myself, he wasn't here for Stark, or Kimberly, or my mom. He was here for me. That meant that if he killed that girl, she would die because of me. That made it my decision whether or not to let it happen, not Stark's.
With a grunt, like I was pushing away from heavy invisible boulder, I ran for the door.
"AMBER!" Stark and Mom yelled at the same time.
I was defying my alpha, and my wolf knew it. It felt like I was dragging my feet through thick mud with weights chained to my ankles, but I kept going. Dad had died just by being around me, Tyler had died for defending me, Kimberly had lost her family because of me, and Stacey had lost her memory just because she knew me. Now Hendricks was dragging people into this I didn't even know, and I wasn't going to let that happen! Stark might have been my alpha, but right now it didn't matter what he said. Hendricks wasn't going to murder someone on my account tonight!
I grabbed the doorknob with one hand, unlocking it with the other, and threw it open, letting in a cold winter wind that threatened to blow my blanket out of my hands.
And there he was. With skin as white as paper and his long black coat whipping around behind his back like some kind of giant bat, the demon crime boss Hendricks stood out in the street in front of Stark's cabin. Even from here I could see his pitch black, pupil-less eyes gleaming in the light of the moon. It was like staring into the eyes of a shark. One of his arms was wrapped around the neck of a young woman.
"Well, it's about time," he called to me, his slimy voice making my skin crawl. "Amber! Just the girl I was hoping to see!"
"What the hell do you want with me?" I yelled at him. The wind was howling, carrying my voice away, but somehow I knew he would be able to hear me anyway. "You got what you wanted when you sold me to Fisher!"
"Funny thing about that," Hendricks said, talking as casually as if we'd just met for a coffee. "Fisher lied. My brother wasn't on Lemuria. I came back planning to kill him for ripping me off, so can you imagine my surprise when I found out you'd already done the job for me?"
"Amber, get inside!" Stark yelled. I felt his strong hand grab my shoulder, but then he froze.
"Leave the girl be, Stark," Hendricks chuckled. "She's almost an adult now, after all."
He raised his cane, and Stark shot back into the house, pushed by some invisible force, leaving me alone on the porch again. I desperately wanted to panic and bolt back into the house with him, but I wrapped my fist around the porch railing and made myself stand still.
"I don't care if he ripped you off," I said. "That's not my problem."
"It's more your problem than you think," Hendricks countered. "After all, you were the merchandise I sold to him in exchange for the information. Now that I know the deal was fraud, I need to reclaim my property."
The wind blew even harder, and I jumped in surprise. Did I just see his feet slide a little? He shifted his weight a little, baring his teeth in annoyance. The wards! Stark had said they weren't strong enough to keep a demon out, but it looked like they were trying. Maybe...
"So, I'm going to make you an offer," Hendricks said, and forced the young woman to stand in front of him. With his other hand, he brought the tip of his cane to rest on the side of her head. "Come with me without a fight, and I won't kill this lovely young lady who was gracious enough to volunteer."
The woman struggled against his grip, but she may as well have been wrestling a statue for all that Hendricks budged. The wind whipped her golden blonde hair around her head, keeping me from getting a good look at her face, but I could still see the tattered, ratty clothes she was wearing. Hendricks poked the side of her head with his cane, grinning wickedly, and she opened her mouth and screamed.
I gulped. How was I going to get out of this?
"Who is she?" I asked, trying to keep from sounding afraid.
Hendricks shrugged. "No idea. I found her out wandering the streets all alone in the middle of the night. The poor thing could have been attacked, or robbed, so I decided to help her out and give her something more productive to do!"
"Let me go!" she begged, thrashing around in his grip.
"What makes you think I care about her?" I asked. "She's just a human."
Hendricks smiled, showing off his pointed teeth. "Because I can hear your heart racing all the way from here, Amber. You're terrified that I'll kill her if you do something wrong."
A chill ran down my spine. "I don't..."
"If you really didn't care, you wouldn't have come out at all," he went on. "You would have let me kill her and then waited for Stark's wards to blow me away."
As if waiting for their cue, Hendricks was hit with another massive gust of wind. No, it wasn't my imagination. He really was being pushed back by them! They might not have been made for demons, but it looked like they still worked well enough against them.
An idea began to form in my head.
"So, what's it going to be, Amber?" Hendricks demanded. He kicked the girl's legs out from underneath her, bringing her to her knees, and pointed the cane at the back of her skull. "Does she live, or die?"
Moving slowly, I walked along the porch railing until I came to the little sidewalk that led to the driveway.
"That's more like it," the demon said. "We both know you're not strong enough to save anyone."
A flash of anger rose like a flame inside me.
Oh, you're going to pay for that one.
"Amber!" I heard Mom shout from inside the house. "Don't—"
I didn't hear the rest of what she was going to say, because I threw the blanket off of me, leaving me bare in the freezing winter winds. I dove forward before the cold could register in my brain, and when my hands touched the ground they had become paws, and my wolf charged at Hendricks without a single hesitation.
"What the—" Hendricks blurted out, and I had the pleasure of seeing a startled look cross his face just before I pounced. My front paws struck him square on the chest, and my weight and momentum were so strong that even a demon couldn't keep their balance. Hendricks stumbled backwards, cursing— and that was all the wards needed.
Hendricks howled when yet another blast of wind came down the road. It crashed into him with the force of a speeding train, throwing him off his feet and carrying him away. I cringed, and positioned myself so that I'd be blown into a tree. The wind wasn't attacking me the same way it was Hendricks, but it wasn't leaving me alone, either. I heard a shriek, and reached my neck out just in time to catch the girl Hendricks had kidnapped by the back of her shirt.
"No!" Hendricks screamed, lashing out and catching hold of a passing tree. His fingers dug into the bark like claws, and he looked up at me with eyes so cold and hateful it nearly made my fur fall out from fright. Slowly, he reached out with his other hand, still clutching his cane, and aimed it at me.
"Amber..." he growled, his voice becoming less human with every word, "I will... have you... back!"
The tip of his cane began to spark with black lightning, and I looked away. I couldn't move. If I did, I'd be swept away in the storm right along with him, and the girl too. All I could do was stand there and wait for him to shoot me, and just hope he wouldn't kill the young woman I'd done all this to save.
At least, I thought, I'm dying because I did something good.
"No!" Hendricks screamed again, and I snapped my eyes open again to look. "Nooooo!"
Before I could realize what was happening, there was a loud crack, and the branch Hendricks had been holding on to broke in half. His anchor destroyed, Hendricks went flying into the dark forest, howling unholy curses until his voice was lost in the howling winds. A few seconds later, the wind died down, leaving the forest calm once more. I stood in the snow, looking at the spot where the demon had disappeared, panting.
Oh... my... God!
I opened my jaws, letting the young woman's shirt fall out of my mouth. Trembling, she turned to look at me, and then promptly fainted.
Yeah, you're welcome, I thought wryly, but then shook my head. Could I really blame her? No, no I couldn't.
Shifting back to human form, I picked the poor girl up and headed back for Stark's cabin. Mom and Stark met me at the door, and the looks on their faces was almost enough to make me wish Hendricks had stolen me away after all.
Well, I thought again, at least I'm dying because I did something good.
NEXT TIME: Looks like the Silverpack has a new addition, everybody! Who is she? What’s her story? And more importantly, what is Hendricks going to do next?