THERON

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THREE.

Ten minutes later my crew and I arrived at the distribution house. My original plan was to light the fucking thing on fire, burning all Ian’s precious drugs and money and pathetic dreams.

This being the main reason the explosion at Ian Malory’s estate was entirely unnecessary. However, after doing half a second of reflection, I let the whole incident slide. If it made my friends feel better, then I was all for it. They had known Jake, Keeley’s older brother, longer than me... their pain ran deeper. Anthony had also assured me that the explosion was confined to Ian’s office... the place that held the stacks of cash in the safe we just cleared out.

I’m still upset about not being informed of the last minute decision, but it was probably for the best. I’m sure they knew that it was something I wouldn’t allow had I known prior.

Rhys brings the car to a skidding halt, everyone unclicking their seatbelts, ready to move forward with the second part of our retribution.

But something feels off...

Something isn’t right.

It’s like a bowling ball, sitting in the pit of my stomach—dread, it’s stubborn and refuses to budge. Instinct insists I reevaluate our surroundings... something is amiss.

“Wait!” I cry, my hands latching on to one shoulder of each of the boys in the front seats. Everyone instantly freezes their attention fully on me, puzzled. “What?” Rhys asks. I don’t respond. I’m aware that he is not the only one that wants an explanation but I need a second to think.

To assess.

My wolf instincts tell me something isn’t right... wrong, wrong, wrong... it all feels wrong. But what, exactly? “Stay here,” I demand as I clamber out of the vehicle.

Away from prying eyes, I lift my nose to the air, trying to grab onto a scent... a sense, anything... but all I can come up with is danger. Wolf mode insists that it’s quiet—too quiet.

Wrong...

All wrong...

My head snaps from side to side, wanting—needing—something, anything to come into view. I feel that the threat is near... hiding just far enough away as not to be caught until absolutely ready.

I don’t like this.

Just as I’m about to get back in the car and tell Rhys to fall back, I hear it... and it has me paralyzed in time, the left side of my body in the car, the right side refusing to follow.

Vehicles.

Big...

SUVs maybe?

The pace of my heart quickens. Heat shoots down the back of my neck, and my stomach twists in nauseousness. The anticipation is making me antsy. My muscles tense, preparing to flee, adrenaline coursing coldly through my veins.

From the back of the warehouse emerges three black Cadillacs, windows tinted too dark for even my werewolf eyes to penetrate.

I want to get back in the car and leave. I should leave. Every nerve in my body is screaming at me to do just that but then there’s that pesky cat again... she wants to know exactly what we’re dealing with because Cadillacs are below Ian Malory’s taste. Even his hitmen drive foreign, more expensive vehicles.

This is not Ian, of that I am sure.

Parking just a block away from our lone getaway car, the passenger door of the lead SUV opens, a body effortlessly and quite gracefully slides out of the vehicle.

And he has me questioning my sanity... my goddess-given abilities. For now, I know right away what those red flags were about.

Alex.

He gives me a second too long to recompose myself, recognize who he is, to process what is going on—one second too long.

The look of stupefaction that had to be on my face, is replaced with determined intent.

I know it.

He knows it.

He puts his hands in the air, his actions a peace offering... he means no ill will.

But I know not to trust it.

I do not trust him.

Why this is, I’m not sure. But I trust my gut... I trust my instincts. “Now, Lina,” he starts, his deep voice did not need to raise in tone. He somehow knew I was capable of hearing him, the distance between us, not a deterrent. “Don’t do it,” he warns me as if reading my mind.

The smell of hot cinnamon and danger drift effortlessly through the air, filling my nostrils and fueling my flight mode. My senses are extra alert as the rest of his team climb out of their fancy leather seats.

But he told me not to do it, which has the opposite effect on me, as has been the way my entire life—it means I really want to do that thing I’m not supposed to do: Run.

Oh, I’m definitely going to do it now.

“FBI!” Rhys shouts, confirming my suspicions.

I scramble back in the car as I hear Alex yell at me, “Lina, NO!”

Fuck you and your fancy government paycheck, Alex.

“Go, go, go!” I slap Rhys on the shoulder multiple times but it isn’t needed. He’s already shifting the gear into drive.

I keep my eyes on Alex and his men as they jump back into their SUVs while Rhys gets the hell out of dodge.

“We gotta ditch this car,” Anthony suggests—Mr. Fucking Obvious.

Rhys shakes his head, vehemently, “Let me shake ’em off first then we’ll worry about that.” And he is right because they are straight on our ass like white on rice.

Making a sharp turn out of the lot, Rhys doesn’t release any pressure from that gas pedal. The force from the momentum causes my body to fall onto Keeley, who squeals in excitement. She would be the only one in this car enjoying our plight.

We are too deep in the city. The traffic will give us the biggest headache. But if Rhys is worried, he doesn’t show it. His face is deceptively calm, the muscles in his strong jaws are relaxed, giving nothing away outwardly. His thick blonde brows are not even furrowed in concentration as the skill it takes to maneuver this machine is like second nature to him. It comes to him as simply as breathing. His blue eyes flash back and forth, seeing and assessing the road quickly, able to foresee the outcome of every twist of the wheel before it happens. His dirty blonde hair falls over his forehead and into his eyes and I realize it’s been quite some time since he has had a haircut. His once smooth and clean-cut face is lined with stubble, making him appear older than he really is and I can’t help but wonder if Jake’s death is the reason for his abnormally lackluster grooming.

When the gravitational force is lifted from my body, I immediately turn my focus on the scene through the back window. I am not worried about Rhys and his driving skills. He is behind that wheel for a reason—years of illegal street racing coming in handy. He has the knowledge, the experience to control the car flawlessly. So my eyes do not need to look forward, he will get us to safety, alive and well.

It is the humans behind us I do not have faith in.

They are so close on our tail that I can make out Alex through the front window. He is now in the driver’s seat. His brows are furrowed and his mouth is moving in an animatedly heated fashion... whoever is on the other side of that conversation seems to be the source of his current annoyance—second only to me, I am guessing.

Our eyes lock and instantly, an unwanted chill creeps down my spine as a slow smirk graces his God-like face. It is a wicked smile full of confidence, secrets, and danger. He has no doubts of how this chase will end and I am now aware that this hubris will be his downfall.

Returning my attention to the front seat, I can see we have emerged from the industrial district. Up ahead, a red light has a line of vehicles stopped, and my adrenaline kicks in. It pounds through my head and I can feel the very ticking in my temples thanks to the blood that is pumping just under the skin. We are now entering the part of the city I was dreading.

We can’t afford to get caught by a light because something tells me it will not put a halt to Alex’s intent.

Probably the opposite if I want to accept the truth.

Full disclosure: I don’t.

The car picks up speed as Rhys pressures his foot further into the pedal. A quick jerk of the wheel and we are now on the opposite side of the street, flying past stopped cars waiting patiently for the light to turn green.

Rhys’ timing could not have been better.

Just as the red changes to that blessed color of lush grass, we have made it to the front of the line. But he doesn’t slow down. The smooth adjustment in our direction slides us into the right lane, effectively cutting off the vehicles behind us.

Thank Goddess it is not 5 pm on a Monday. Our only saving grace was more than likely the current hour of the day as only a fourth of the regular everyday traffic was out and about.

Blaring horns and screeching tires can be heard from behind us and curiously, I chance a glance backward.

He is still there.

They are still there.

And then a thought occurs to me. I know Rhys is attempting to get us on the interstate, not only is it our direct route home but it will give us more breathing room and less of a chance of coming upon stopped traffic. But where did he plan to go afterward? We can’t go home, that will lead them right to us. We need to shake them off first.

We need to lose them.

“Hey, Rhys,” I lean forward, face between the two seats of my friends, “You know that exit after ours, the one we took by accident a couple of weeks ago?”

“Yeah?” He keeps his eyes on the road, weaving in and out of cars recklessly but I can see the quizzical look in them. “Why would you want me to take that exit? It’s all curvy, winding country road—”

And BOOM.

It clicks.

“OH!” He chuckles, “Cat, you’re a fuckin’ genius!”

With a huge, satisfied smile on my face, I glance at Anthony before returning my attention to the Cadillacs at our rear. He has a questioning brow raised, “I don’t follow.”

I pat his arm and grin, “You’ll see.” Anthony is a lot like my father... maybe one of the reasons why I care for him so much. He is very intelligent and observant, though sometimes he lacks the knowledge in street skills, he prides himself in being the smartest person in the room. So I can imagine his discomfort at not knowing the what, why, and how of our present conversation.

I leave Anthony to retreat to my seat. I watch the back of his head as he raises his backward baseball cap to his forehead. He is thinking. This is what he does and how he does it. It’s almost like he subconsciously thinks that the baseball cap is blocking the reception nerves in his brain... he pulls it back from his forehead often. He is feeling out of sorts now and making me, in turn, feel guilty for leaving him to figure it out on his own.

Rhys explains instead, “Cars are lower to the ground than SUVs. This little gal will hug the twists and turns of the road better—”

“They won’t be able to keep chase at such a fast pace,” I interrupt. The center of gravity isn’t as trustworthy in a vehicle that sits so high up off the ground. The huge frame has a wider space between the tires, making it easier to tip if a curve is taken at a high rate of speed.

Anthony’s dark eyes light up with acknowledgment. He now understands but he only grins in response, falling back into his seat and watching the cars pass by. But I like to think he is impressed—proud of my cleverness.

While we have very little in common and he tends to drive me up the wall with his unintentional condescending attitude, I am not ashamed to say I love him the most. Rhys and Keeley are just as important to me, but there’s a connection somewhere deep, like soul level, I share with Anthony. If it were possible to adopt his smart ass, I would beg my father to make him an official part of our family.

It could be his innocent attitude that speaks to me. He’s adorable, young, and inexperienced... I feel the need to protect him—coddle him and pinch his boyish cheeks.

Rhys merges us onto the freeway, zipping three lanes over suddenly and earning many honks and fingers from fellow motorists. I watch out the back window as Alex curses and jerks the Cadillac erratically in the same direction. He is hot on our tail but it is not an easy achievement.

It’s the last SUV in his entourage that can’t make it as easily. It sideswipes a huge, black diesel truck, causing the SUV to spin and finally flip over onto its hood in the deep ditch beside the on-ramp.

I smile.

One down, two to go.

We now have three lanes of speeding cars to maneuver around. While it seems more dangerous, it’s actually a blessing. Rhys’s footsteps on the gas and the speedometer quickly rises.

We are doing ninety miles per hour in a sixty-mile-per-hour zone. The ease at which Rhys swerves and weaves in between the other motorists is art in motion.

Flawless.

Breathtaking.

And Alex is falling behind.

A normal drive, at normal speeds, would have us at our exit within an hour but Rhys cuts that down to thirty-five minutes. Alex was still behind us but where the second vehicle got off to, I had no idea. Regardless, we were here and Alex was in for the surprise of his life. He would have to put in the work if he truly wanted the occupants of this vehicle.

One mile-long stretch of roadway was all the preparation he would be allowed and even then, we didn’t give him a moment to catch his breath. Rhys goes right into the heart of the mountains, rarely slowing for the sharp, endless twists and turns. Keeley is looking a little green beside me but never says a word. Car sickness was a bit lower on the scale of worry compared to death.

In the back seat, we were tousled from side to side, gravity making it difficult to keep me upright. I tug on my seatbelt multiple times, hoping the security it provides will somehow keep me from slamming into Keeley on my left or the hard plastic paneling of the door on my right.

But just as I think we’ve lost our assailant, the missing second vehicle comes out of a crossing T road. Ignoring the stop sign, it jumps in front of us, blocking our path. Slowing way down, the Cadillac’s intentions are crystal clear: we are being corralled on an empty and desolate road—not the place anyone in our situation needs, or wants, to be!

Now I feel panicked.

Caged in.

It’s becoming more difficult to control my breathing. I don’t like nor appreciate the feeling of being forced into a box I cannot escape from. Anxiety wells up inside me, surging and rolling like waves against a cliff.

I will not be coerced.

I refuse such confinement.

I am a free spirit and people like me will fight to the death for our freedom. If I am to be tied down in any way, it will be because I allowed it.

And I did not allow this.

With my friends distracted, I use my animal senses to search through the thickness of the trees surrounding us. If I can determine where the road lay between the forests, I can give Rhys a chance. The last thing we need is a head-on collision but I have to get out of this entrapment. My soul can’t handle this form of imprisonment much longer.

Seeing no headlights in the distance, though mostly praying I am not wrong, the time is now. “Pass!” I yell my demand.

“But we’re on a curve, Cat! And a hill! If another car is—” Rhys doesn’t get to finish his objection because I am not shitting out any fucks, “PASS!”

Rhys immediately jerks the wheel, sending us soaring into the open lane beside us. Foot on the gas, the car lurches forward and we are past the second Cadillac in a matter of milliseconds.

And thankfully so, since there is a deep drop-off beside us. It would take only a small nudge from the SUV to send us barreling into the dark abyss below.

The SUVs fall back, becoming lost and useless among the sharp bends in the unforgiving, mountainous roads.

We are safe.

For now.

***

Silently climbing into my second-story window, I replay the events of tonight in my mind.

Ian Malory.

Alex.

The Ancient.

I am missing the connection here.

All three men, all different with different roles to play... though I don’t know specifically what those are and how it applies to me.

I have a dreadful feeling that things above the surface are a smokescreen and I’m not sure what I have gotten myself into.

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