Rain pelted the glass windows of Liam’s Ford Mustang, and all it reminded me of was claws raking and scratching to get inside. Even with my hands tucked up inside the long sleeves of Liam’s jacket, the winter air gnawed at me with an unrelenting chill. My breath swirled visibly around my head, and the windows began to frost over. The weatherman said it would snow tonight. Ty sat beside me in the driver’s passenger seat, mirroring my attempt to repress the torture.
“Maybe we should just turn the car on for one minute,” she said, her words short, and fragmented in the cold air.
“We can’t.” My lower lip refused to move as I spoke, that entire portion of my face, numb. “They’ll hear us. You heard Liam.” Where was he? How long did it take to check out the trail. My gut sank. What if the men found him? Oh, God. I couldn’t tell if I shook from the thought, or if the cold did that.
“We could shift,” Ty said, and I could hear the plea in her tone.
“Don’t be crazy.” I shook my head, wishing I hadn’t worn a pony tail today so my hair would cover my ears, but I was too cold to move and fix that.
“Nobody would know. We’d stay in the car.”
I pulled my arms around my chest, trying to stay warm, the scent from Liam’s jacket keeping me sane. “We’re not shifting,” I demanded, the order coming from the wolf inside me. It made me cringe a little. Orders weren’t my thing, even though I was now technically, Alpha Female. Several months had passed, and it still made my head spin. The wolf in me seemed happy though, minus the fact that we were being hunted.
Liam and Aaron may have pulled off the cover-up of a murder back in the early 1900s, but doing the same in this day and age, hadn’t quite worked as planned. Even though the guys had ‘taken care’ of the bodies Thomas had left behind, the police did finally catch up, linking the missing persons to the old farmhouse. Our prints were everywhere.
If only they were the ones following us. They weren’t.
What was taking Liam and Aaron so long?
My wolf-self whined and twisted inside me. Liam had been right. Ever since my first change, she had melted with me, always alive now, just inside.
“We can’t shift,” I said, regaining my focus on Ty, as I stared at the mist covered windshield. The rain rapped harder, and I wondered if it in fact had changed to hail. “If the men find us, and we are wolves, they will kill us.”
“They’re going to kill us anyway,” she said, flopping her head down into her hands. “They’re insane. They know what we are.”
“They don’t know that for sure,” I said, trying to stay calm for the both of us. Inside, I wanted to cry. “They’re just some crazed men with a VanHelsing complex. Some people take the media’s twisted rumors to heart, and go nuts.”
“But they’re true,” she said with a rumble in her chest.
“Only if you think they’re true….” Ty glared at me, and I winced. “Oh, fine, but come on. If we sit here acting like caged animals, we might as well wave a red flag at them.”
“How can you be so calm?” she asked. Her thinly gloved fingers twisted, and fiddled with something in her lap. The edge of it caught the tiny hole in the seam of her thumb, and she flinched.
“Trust me, I’m not.” My wolf wanted to rip this steering wheel off, and run off into the woods, yelping. I watched her. “Is that your necklace?”
“Why do you still have that? Isn’t the metal infused with bits of wolfsbane?”
“Yeah, but it’s my dad’s. It was the only thing my mother had of his after he left us.” She had told me the story before, of her father disappearing one night when she was a ten. No one had seen, or heard from him since. “My mom wanted me to have it.” She shrugged. “I don’t know. It makes me feel closer to him, like he’s out there somewhere watching over me. I know it’s silly.” She gave a half chortled laugh, and pushed the necklace back into her pocket, zipping it closed.
“It’s not silly.” I felt bad, and guilty. Both of my parents sat back in Maplefield, probably sick to death with worry, and here I was, running away without a word. Not that I had a choice. Swallowing the cold lump in my throat, I decided I would write them when we found somewhere safe to stop. They deserved to know I wasn’t dead…yet anyway.
A heavy silence fell between us and I realized the rain had stopped. Unraveling the side window, I leaned out to feel the stilled change in the air. It had begun to snow
“I don’t like this,” Ty said. “They’ve been gone for half an hour, Charlotte.”
“I know. Trust me, I know.” Where are you? I rolled the window up, and placed my palms against the glass, their heat marking my prints to the woods around us. I couldn’t see a thing. What if Aaron decided to do something stupid? The thought came quick, and my mind rushed back to the first time I saw Liam and him tangle in a death match. Oh, God. My trust of Aaron still scored at zilch, considering the way he manipulated Ty just to get to Liam and me, but I kept my mouth shut for Ty’s sake…at least for now. He had been playing ‘good’ since everything went down. Didn’t mean I trusted him.
My cell rang, almost giving me a heart attack. “Liam?” I asked, and I heard Ty shift up in her seat to hear.
“No, Steve,” the voice on the other end answered back. “Where are you guys? We got a motel room. East Dowan, off the Pike.”
My heart sank, but the sound of Steve’s voice, made me feel at least a little safer. I was connected with the world. “Okay. I’ll tell Liam.”
“Everything okay, Charlotte? You sound funny, and Liam’s not answering his cell. Aaron hasn’t gone to the dark side, or anything has he? Ow!” I heard shuffling in the background. “What? Knock it off, I’m on the phone, douche bags.”
I turned my back to Ty, with a tight expression, trying to mute out the conversation to her. The look on her face told me she heard the comment about her boyfriend. At least I wasn’t the only one who didn’t trust Aaron. Steve was great, and a small inner part of me smiled. “Yeah, he left his cell here, and Aaron,” I lowered my voice, “doesn’t believe in technology.”
“Because he’s a wolf!” Ty blurted out, grabbing the phone from me. “Look, Steve. If you have something to say, why don’t you say it to me yourself.”
“Told ya,” I heard one of the guys on the other end say, with a chuckle. Flynt? Maybe. I couldn’t tell for sure.
My head started to pound. Liam and Aaron should have been back by now, this was not the time for high school drama. The skin on my back began to ripple. My wolf wanted to get out, and I didn’t have much control yet, which scared me. “Guys, please,” I said with a groan. “This isn’t helping anything.”
Snatching the phone back, I said, “We’ll call you later,” and then hung up.
“Is that what everyone thinks?” Ty asked, and her voice broke. It almost looked like she might cry, her chest was shaking, although, considering all this weather, and the wolf thing, that could have been from a lot of things.
My focus moved to the half frozen over windshield. Snow had begun to collect. “I think we should go look for them,” I said, changing the subject. I didn’t want to go into the Aaron thing right now.
“What?” she asked, and this time I heard the faint clatter of her teeth. Good, it wasn’t tears.
“What if they’re in trouble? We can’t just sit here, doing nothing.”
Ty wrapped her arms around herself, giving her the appearance of a white ball of coat. “Aaron said to wait in the car…”
“Do you always take orders from your boyfriend?” I blurted out, before I could take it back. Inwardly, I winced. I hadn’t meant it like that. Well, not exactly.
She glared shards of death at me. “So you do hate him.”
“Ty, that’s not what I meant. I don’t hate him.” I sighed. “I just think he has a way of manipulating you, that’s all. I worry about you.”
“You don’t know…anything about him,” she said, her words chocking up, and she turned away from me, to face the woods outside her door. “He’s been hurt, so badly. He needs me.” The back of her neck, visible behind her coat, rippled with the threat of change.
“I don’t care what you think. I love him, and if you care about me, you’ll respect my feelings.”
My gaze dropped to my hands in my lap. It hurt, knowing I had to accept this, but I would. Ty was my best friend. I’d always be there for her no matter what, even if it killed me. If Aaron ended up hurting her, I’d be there to pick up the pieces. I wouldn’t lose her over this. “I’m sorry,” I said. “You love him, there must be something good about him.” A forced tight smirk lifted at the corner of my mouth, and her face softened.
“Find the boys?” I asked with a small smile, hoping to push this whole thing aside.
“Yeah,” she said with a smile back, just as an earsplitting crack broke through the stilled night air. Glass rained down on us from the windshield, as I screamed, trying with a delayed effort, to duck, and block the affects of the shot with my arms.
I couldn’t see, or think straight. Oh, my god. Oh, my god. Everything in me shook, and I freaked, flinging the driver’s side door open. My wolf wanted to run, had to run. My legs wouldn’t work, and I fell out of the car onto the wet, slushy snow. “Liam!” I screamed, my voice echoing around me off the bleak, naked trees.
My wolf vision peeked, quickly scanning the area around me. The sounds of wet, sloshy footsteps moved just out of sight, and my heart raced the marathon of a lifetime. The change violently tried to break through in a desperate attempt to protect myself, but I fought it back, my body trembling. It hurt. I didn’t know what to do, completely frozen like a wild animal.
Ty! Where was Ty?
Sickening panic twisted my gut, and I forced myself to turn to Liam’s car. She wasn’t moving. Everything in me turned colder than the winter around me. No, no. Please no. Convincing my feet to move, I dug my toes into the damp mush, and pushed myself forward. I couldn’t think about the men closing in, the world around me a black void. “Ty?” I said, as I caught the edge of the open door with my frozen fingers, my voice a faint plea. The smell of salty iron hit my sensitized nose, and crimson bled through her thick white coat. “Ty!”
Scrambling in, my jeans crunched against the shards of glass littering the front seats. They jabbed and cut at my skin, but I ignored the pain, reaching for my friend. When she turned her head to me, all the air I realized I had been holding, released.
“I can’t move,” she said, and a tear rolled down her cheek.
“I’m going to get you out of here. You hear me? You’re going to be okay.”
“Charlotte,” she muttered.
“Just stop,” I said, shaking my head, as I pulled my door shut with a squeaky clang. Several more loose pieces of glass dropped on my lap, but I leaned forward and started the engine. “You’re going to be fine. I’m going to get you to a hospital. We’ll call Steve…”
Two large hands slammed down on the hood of the car, and I screamed, jumping back in my seat. The man toted a large rifle, smiled maliciously, and licked his lip as if he had found the golden goose. His pale blue eyes glinted, and then with one hand, he cocked his gun.
Ty gasped. “Dad?”
LATE THIS WINTER