Fort Worth, Texas
I adjusted the deep purple dress I was wearing, pulling the deep neckline down a little farther as I stared at the cards on the table. The private game had been going on for six hours, and it was now almost two in the morning. My five-thousand-dollar buy-in to the twenty person game meant that my stack of chips was nearly seventy-five thousand dollars by now.
“Last hand, by rule we close at two,” the dealer said.
“I’m not done yet,” Donnie said. He was a typical Dallas oil brat, playing with his Daddy’s money in an attempt to prove he was worth something. He was a good player; he knew the odds and his face betrayed nothing, ever. We had been at different tables, knocking others out, until forty minutes ago when we were both put together at the last table. Now we were the only two left.
I had the Ace of Clubs and Five of Diamonds in my hole cards, and the bet was up to twenty thousand. The common cards were the Ace of Hearts, Five of Spades and the river was the Two of Clubs. I was listening carefully to his heartbeat as the last card was flipped, it skipped a beat. He’d never betray it with his expression, but he couldn’t control his heart. When he had a good turn, it would speed up a little.Werewolf hearing had its uses, I thought, and so did a she-wolf’s body.
I ran a finger from my chin down my neck as he fingered his chips. I was blonde, but I was no bombshell; I trained hard, my bodyfat was very low and my muscles were well defined. It meant I didn’t have a huge rack, but what I had was displayed well by the dress I chose. In poker, you take any advantage you can get.
“Raise you ten thousand,” I said as my hand moved to the table. I moved a stack of chips to the center. I didn’t need to clean him out, it was better for me to let him think he had a chance so I could wrangle an invitation to another game. If he got out now, he would walk away with a little more than twice his buy-in. It would not be a bad night for him.
He tapped the table with the chips. “You’re bluffing,” he said.
“It will cost you all but two thousand, four hundred dollars to find out,” I replied. “I know you don’t want to walk away from the table, but that’s the smart play right now. You don’t have the balls to bluff me, Donnie.” I picked up my drink, Two Gingers whiskey on the rocks, and took a sip. He watched me like a predator as my tongue circled the ice cube before pushing it back into the glass.
“Call.” He pushed the chips to the center, then flipped over his cards. Ace of Hearts, Three of Clubs.
“You should have walked away.” I flipped over my cards, two pair would have beaten anything unless he had a pocket pair in one of the common cards. I pulled the chips in as he got up, cursing himself as the small crowd exploded into cheers. About half of the players had stuck around, drinking and socializing until last call. “Cash me out, Charlie.”
“Of course, Miss King.” In my card-playing persona, I was Ashley King, a twenty-one-year-old college student from Stanford. My real name, Talia Stillwater, age twenty, was a secret as well guarded as my werewolf. I had paid a lot of money to build up my new identity, keeping me off the radar of the government and the Werewolf Council.
I followed him to the bar, where he handed me the backpack I had given him on arrival. I put a couple of hundred-dollar bills in his hand. “I’ve got a bad feeling,” I said. “Get these guys out of here and when I come out, sneak me out the back.”
“No problem at all, Miss King.” He counted out the cash, withholding the 10% fee for running the game, and handed me the almost $88,000 in cash and an envelope. I counted it out, then sealed it in the envelope and put it in my bag. “I’ll have Security keep an eye on the door.”
“Thank you,” I said. I walked across the room, accepting congratulations from the departing players until I reached the ladies room. I opened the door and locked it behind me.
I unzipped the dress and stepped out of it, folding it and leaving it on the sink. I used the bathroom, then pulled on skinny jeans, an Imagine Dragons concert shirt which hung loose below my belt, and calf-high boots. I made sure my throwing knives were secured in the sides of my boots, and my Smith and Wesson M&P Shield sat secure in its inside the waistband, cross-draw holster to the right of my belt buckle. The eight bullets it carried were hollowpoints modified with pure silver in the center, designed to be effective against human or werewolf targets.
It just wasn’t safe being a lone werewolf, especially as a young female.
I listened through the door as Charlie pushed the last players out the door. A few moments later, there was a knock. “Ready for you, Miss King.”
I unlocked the door, my left hand staying near my belt buckle. High-stakes games like this were illegal, and could attract characters who weren’t good losers, or just smelled an opportunity. Winning the money was important, keeping it was more important. Charlie stood there, his bouncer by his side. “I’ll take you as far as the back entrance, and Carl here can escort you to your vehicle if you wish.”
“Thank you, Charlie. It’s been a pleasure.” We went through the kitchen to the freight elevator, taking it to the ground floor. From there, he checked the cameras to make sure no one was waiting before he opened the back door. “You have my number, you’ll message me with the next game?”
“Of course, Miss King. You brought a little class to tonight’s game.” He opened the door and I let Carl go first; when he turned back to me, I walked out and the door closed behind me.
“I’m parked a block over, on Waverly by the pawn shop,” I said. I never parked my ride next to the game, preferring to keep my mode of transportation out of sight. If I was really paranoid, I’d park a half-mile away and take an Uber to the game. I followed just behind him, letting my senses out in the quiet of the August night. The scents of the city were all around, but nothing was threatening.
When I got to my baby, a metallic-purple Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe with matching hard cargo bags, I relaxed. The 1200-cc engine was plenty powerful, and the low ride made it easier for me to control with my five-foot-six, one hundred and twenty-pound frame. It had a full fairing and windshield, making it comfortable for the long rides I had between towns. “Thanks, Carl,” I said as I passed him a hundred. I took out the keys and unlocked the driver’s side compartment, removing my leather jacket and pushing my backpack down in its place. Firing it up, I drove off into the night.
I drove through the crappy part of town towards the hotel I was staying at. I could afford better, but nicer hotels copied driver’s licenses and needed credit card deposits. The fleabags I was crashing at would look the other way for cash. I made my way to the room on the third floor, latching it behind me and wedging a chair against the handle just in case.
I tossed my bag on the bed, taking the money out and putting it in my inside jacket pocket. I grabbed the bottle of whiskey I’d bought the previous night and opened the door to the small deck overlooking what used to be a nice pool, and now was an algae-infested eyesore. Leaning against the railing, I took a swig as I tried to relax from the excitement of the game.
“Take it, bitch,” I heard from the next floor up. “I paid extra so I could do whatever I wanted to you, and I want you to scream for me as I take your ass.”
Jesus. What an asshole! It wouldn’t be the first time I’d been placed near a hotel room being used for prostitution.
“I’ll be good for you, you’re such a big and strong man,” the woman’s voice said, and I froze. “Fuck my ass harder, Daddy.”
I recognized that voice.
It couldn’t be.
Not after almost four years of my sister being missing, the search futile, the Packs no help in finding her.
Running back inside, I knocked the chair aside and moved the bar and the chain before flinging the door open. Going to the stairwell, I went up to the fourth floor and stalked towards the room. I could smell her; it WAS her, it was different but still the same, like her wolfy-ness was gone, the scent she had before her first shift.
I was going to fucking kill them all.
“Hey, Miss, this is a private floor,” a guy said as I moved past a room. He was a big guy, maybe six foot and over three hundred pounds. I could hear and smell the sex in the other rooms, and realization hit me like a brick. They had turned this whole floor into a prostitution racket, and this guy was the gatekeeper. A fat woman behind him was counting cash, she was probably the Madam.
I thought quickly. “STEVE! WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU, I’M GONNA CUT YOUR BALLS OFF,” I said as I moved past him.
“You can’t be on this floor, Miss.”
“My fucking boyfriend is in here, I saw him come in! Now leave me alone, if he’s with another woman he’s fucking dead.” I pulled loose of his arm, running down the hall with him trying to keep up.
“STOP,” he yelled as I got to the door above mine. He pulled out a gun and pointed it at me. “I told you, you aren’t allowed up here, now turn around and get out of here before I put that tight ass of yours to work here too.”
I turned and started walking back his way. “FINE. But all his shit is going to be in the yard when he comes home.” I let the claws on my right hand start to come out, keeping them out of sight. He moved to the side to let me by, and as he turned the pistol pointed away from me. I spun and grabbed his neck, letting my claws puncture deep before ripping his throat out.
He dropped the gun, his hand reaching for mine. He was already dead, but his mind didn’t realize it yet. Blood sprayed everywhere, the bright red painting the wall that I held him against. I followed him to the ground as his eyes glazed over and his knees gave out and he died.
I sometimes had to go places I didn’t want to leave prints, so I was ready for this. I wiped his blood off on his shirt, then pulled a pair of latex gloves out of a pocket in my jacket. Taking his pistol, I walked back to the room and kicked the door open.
“HEY WHO THE FUCK” Bang.
His brains splattered against the wall on the other side of the bed. I didn’t care who he was, I wasn’t going to let him take another breath. He toppled off the bed, leaving a screaming naked woman behind. “Tania, get dressed, we’re getting out of here,” I said as I walked over to check he was dead.
“Talia?” She looked at me like I was a ghost.
“Hi, sis,” I said as I hugged her. “Clothes, now, we’ve gotta bounce here. Someone is going to report the gunshot.”
She got to her feet and pulled the minidress over her head, then put on a pair of silver hooker heels. “How?”
“Later,” I said. She wasn’t walking well, so I put my left arm around her and led her out of the room. The fat woman was leaning over the dead guy, trying to wake him up. I shot her between the eyes as she looked my way.
We moved past them in the hall, Tania was crying and holding her face to my shoulder. One of the doors opened and a man wearing boxers and a Marlboro hat looked out, and I shot him too. When we got to the doorway, I made sure no one else was looking, then tossed the gun down the hallway and peeled off my gloves.
“We’ve got to get back to my room,” I said.
“No, we have to get out of here now!”
I opened the door on my floor. “Trust me, the cops will be here any second and leaving now will just attract attention.” I opened the door to my room and pulled her inside, locking it behind us. “Take a shower, NOW,” I said as I pushed her to the bathroom. I took the gloves and flushed them down the toilet, then pulled off my clothes and left them in a pile on the floor. While she got in the shower, I scrubbed the blood off my arms and face, then my leather jacket. I took her clothes with mine, putting them in a garbage bag in my backpack. I left her a pair of nylon shorts and a T-shirt on the counter, then joined her in the shower.
I could hear the cops upstairs, the banging doors and screaming girls and the protests of the johns who were being arrested, but mostly I heard my sister’s agony.
She was a mess, sitting in the tub and holding her arms tight to her body as the sobs escaped. I pulled her to her feet and hugged her tightly. “You came,” she said. “I’d given up.”
“I never gave up on you,” I said. We held each other as the rusty water sprayed down on us.