Secrets in the Moon (Crescent City Werewolves #1)

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Twice Undercover

The words from Miss Marshall’s latest letter ran through Sam’s head while he waited in his car, unnoticed by the pedestrians passing him by. He’d always had a good memory, but this was more than that. He could imagine her voice right down to the syllable, just like he could pick up which optimistic sentence hid annoyance and which held true excitement. The bare traces of her scent lingering on the sheets of paper drove him mad. He wasn’t just missing her; he was goddamn miserable.

But he was used to the feeling and knew how to bear it as one scar among many picked up since his life with the Saxbys ended. He remained easy in his parked car, avoiding suspicion by reading a newspaper as if waiting for someone. Not too far from the truth; he kept all his focus on the people scurrying in and out of the radio station across the street, searching for one in particular.

His eyes itched from the enchantment that darkened them into a human brown, but the small irritation was worth it. No one looked at him twice, and the police car that passed by left him alone.

A few minutes past noon, a new flood of people emerged from the radio station. This time, one of them was the man he wanted to see. Roland Archer, out on his lunch break. Sam studied the human, feeling his muscles contract with the urge to change form. Instincts were instincts—his wanted to treat Miss Marshall’s lost fiance as a rival. And wolves didn’t like rivals.

Archer was a tall, lean man of twenty-five who had started working as a servant while still a teenager. His father, a piano maker, had died young, leaving the family business in ruins and his loved ones destitute. Sam had found a few of Archer’s former employers and those who remembered him had nothing bad to say. He’d been quiet and reliable. The other servants had said the same thing, only adding that he played the piano like a professional.

Then, a little over a year ago, an unexpected inheritance from a distant relative had allowed him to move into a good career of performing and composing music for one of the city’s radio stations. All in all, Sam had a solid summary of Archer’s life but still knew nothing about the man himself. For one thing, he wasn’t sure why Archer had let Miss Marshall go without a fight. Money wasn’t the reason; the inheritance had been genuine, not a pay-off from Isaac Marshall in return for forgetting about his daughter.

So now here he sat, telling himself he could hunt this human for answers like it was just another job.

When Archer crossed the street and disappeared around the corner, Sam waited a few breaths before getting out of the car to follow him. His scent was clear and unremarkable. Just one more healthy if harried human among many.

Sam tracked him to a cafe bustling with the lunch crowd. Cold beer, sizzling beef fat, and melted cheese filled the air, but he only ordered coffee while settling into a corner table. Archer had chosen one of the stools at the counter. The place was too noisy to hear anything he said, but Sam was more interested in his interactions with others.

A shadow fell on him through the window beside his table. Sam glanced over, already suspecting who it’d be. He held back a sigh as Jane glared at him, her eyes a bright, human blue. His self-control felt strained enough without Jane shredding at it to try and get her way.

As soon as she took the chair across from his, she hissed, “What are you doing? The Saxbys are meeting with city officials in under two hours. We should be there.”

He waited until the waitress came over with his coffee and left again. There were two cookies on the saucer, but he ignored them and drank from the cup, intent on keeping a clear head. “I’ve got something else planned.”

“This?” Her voice dripped with disgust. “If anything, I thought you’d be looking into the leads on Freddy Davenport’s properties.”

“Searching either Bullfrog Pond or Mallow Manor will take hours. And you know what I’m talking about. You gave me the enchantment this morning. This is just to pass the time.”

Her eyes widened, the act emphasized by their disconcerting blue. “I didn’t think you’d go through with it. I know Brom is your friend, but that plan is a death sentence.”

He shrugged, seeing no reason to argue about it. He loved Jane like a sister, but she was always sure of being right—and in the worst ways possible. “How’d you track me here?”

“I noticed an eye color enchantment was missing. Mabel said you’d gone out on something related to the lovely Miss Marshall’s case. Since she’s been safe in the retreat for the past three days, there could be only one reason you’d hide as human.”

Then Jane glanced over to where Archer sat, eating a ham sandwich. “Is that him? My God. She has terrible taste in human men. I suppose he’s not bad-looking for one of them, but comparing the two of you would be pitiful. What was that nickname you picked up in guard training? Back when you tried having a life outside of work?”

“Jane,” he said, already feeling tired. “I’m in no mood for this.”

“This isn’t how I saw my day going, either. But I don’t understand why you’re doing this. She’s good for you. You haven’t been drinking. You’re getting more sleep. Some days, you even look happy. So why let her go? Considering the other men from her past, this human likely wasn’t a positive figure in her life.”

“That’s what I’m trying to find out,” he said, ignoring the rest of her point.

Like many people, Jane liked to grab a few details that fit together and then craft an entire narrative out of them, no matter what other information or evidence appeared afterwards. That method was no good. It led to tunnel vision, not the truth. He couldn’t make that mistake, especially since he had no chance of staying impartial to whatever he found out.

Sure, he knew how Miss Marshall made him feel, and could make excuses all day for why he shouldn’t tell her about Archer. But doing so would be worse than a lie. It would be using her trust for his own gain.

“You know, she doesn’t even miss him.”

“Because those memories were burned away,” he said, shortly. “And despite that, she still feels grief over what she lost.”

“But how do you know she’d feel happier having him back over having a future with you?”

He growled under his breath, crumbling the cookies into nothing while not-quite watching Archer. “I don’t. I don’t know anything solid about this man. But I have to find out, and I have to tell her what I find.”

“Why?”

“Why?” he repeated, mostly in disbelief over her genuine confusion.

“Yes. Why let her know? Her grief is nothing more than a ghost of memories she can never get back.”

“Jane, everyone else in her life has lied to her. I won’t do the same.”

“But this is different. It’d be a good lie. Like… claiming someone died peacefully instead of screaming in agony. Or that kindness is rewarded in this world. It’s the type of lie that gives the heart peace and hope.”

He shook his head, aware of how many cases he’d seen that had started from lies made with good intentions. “You’re not changing my mind about this. I need to be honest with her.”

At that, Jane arched her eyebrows. “Oh, we’re talking about honesty, are we? Then prove it. Tell Cora Marshall how you really feel. Tell her how she’s gotten you to sit up and take notice of life again instead of rotting away behind your desk or barely surviving dangerous situations. Stop pretending she’s just another case and admit that you’re in love.”

When he didn’t respond, she studied him. Then she added, “You won’t, will you?”

He knew his silence was answer enough.

“Don’t tell me you still pine for Isabelle.”

It was such a bad shot in the dark that he laughed despite himself. “Jane. That’s been over for five years and you know the reason why.”

“Then explain.”

He sighed and leaned back in his chair. The truth burned mercilessly. “If he’s a decent fella who can give her a good life, then she’s better off with him. That’s what it comes down to.”

Her attention turned into scrutiny. “Ah, that’s what this is. You aren’t resigned at all. You’re desperately hoping he is a scumbag, just like her other old flames. Have you found anything so far?”

“No.”

“Are you hoping to?”

“Yes,” he gritted out.

Just then, Archer checked his watch and rose to his feet, preparing to leave. They both watched him nod a quick goodbye to his waitress while she cleaned water glasses. Her gaze slid over to his spot on the counter and then away again at the single penny left behind.

As they followed him outside, Jane’s tone grew sardonic. “He’s a bad tipper. Do you think that’s enough to condemn him?”

“At least one of us finds this funny.” Sam’s gaze remained on the man as they kept behind by about three or four pedestrians. Archer wasn’t going back to the radio station. Instead, he headed for the open market where stalls offered street food, trinkets, shoe polishing services, and other odds and ends.

Despite the noon hour nearly being spent, the place was still bustling, and Jane had to duck in close and raise her voice to make herself heard. “I don’t find it funny. It’s infuriating. If this human turns out to be an upstanding citizen and you bring them back together, you’ll lose your only chance at being more than a sad son of a bitch who gets drunk every night, and I’ll once again be the only one who thinks to look after you.”

Those last words ended in a growl, and then Jane suddenly stopped and faced him, passing a hand over her face to terminate the enchantment on her eyes. They flared bright and fierce as she stared at him. “What’s your definition of ‘decent,’ by the way? Someone not in exile from their pack? Someone not ashamed of what they’ve become? Maybe we both bristle when being called dogs, but you’re the only one who believes it’s true.”

His self-control finally snapped. He snarled, feeling his teeth sharpen enough to flash at her. “Lone wolves don’t fit in this city. Look at what a successful life among humans means. Fighting for their amusement. Cleaning up their scandals. One of us even turned to prostitution.”

“I’ve heard he’s also the richest,” said Jane, the arch of her eyebrow suggesting she missed his point on purpose. “He bought his second house last week. I can’t even afford a second pair of working leathers.”

“He has money, not stability. And not safety.”

A flicker in Jane’s eyes told him his point had finally hit home, but her voice remained as fed up as his. “Leaving the pack doesn’t mean we have to be alone for the rest of our lives. You love her, Sam. Shouldn’t that be enough?”

He nearly growled again, but other pedestrians were already casting nervous glances their way, and this wasn’t an area used to wolves.

When his body language softened, so did Jane’s, and she glanced over to where they’d last seen Archer. Then she stared. “This might be a wasted conversation. He’s buying flowers.”

Sam turned in time to catch Archer taking a bouquet of irises from the vendor and thanking the man with a nod. Both he and Jane fell silent while following Archer out of the market. It didn’t take long for his path to end at a prim brick building divided into large apartments. An old woman on one of the ground-floor patios looked up from her knitting and then waved her handkerchief at Archer, who smiled and brandished the flowers before entering through the iron gate.

Sam looked away, not needing to see anymore. He had scrounged up enough information on the Archer family to recognize her as Alma Archer, Roland’s mother.

Jane sighed. “Well, he’s not an orphan. I guess he does have something over you.”

“Goddamn it, Jane,” he muttered, but without any anger. The miserable pit in his stomach had nothing to do with her.

“He might still have a new sweetheart. Or a horrible character flaw. Are you going to talk to him?”

“There’s not enough time,” said Sam, turning away. It wasn’t a lie, but he also knew he was too wound up to talk to the man and keep it impartial. “How about you? Do you want a lift to where the Saxbys will meet with city officials?”

“It would sure beat taking the bus. It’s going to be at—”

“The Telladay Conservatory.”

“Has anyone ever mentioned how you’re too good at your job?” Then, in a different tone of voice, she added, “Are you sure about this plan of yours?”

He nodded. “The alpha-king himself will be at that meeting. So will most of the royal guard. It’s the best chance to break into their quarters without being swarmed.”

“If you say so. Here’s some extra antisilver.” She began to reach into her pocket.

He stopped her. “Keep it for yourself. You might need it.”

She scoffed. “They’re meeting with humans.”

“After avoiding any interaction beyond their diplomat. Just be careful.”

“You too, you idiot.”

It didn’t take long to drop her off a few blocks from the conservatory, but he didn’t linger. The danger ahead helped him focus, and by the time he arrived at Minnie Wilkes’ house, he was back in control.

Even so, she shook her head at him and said, “An argument muddles the mind too much to read it clearly. It’d be better and faster to tell me with words. The room is ready, but I still don’t know who to expect, just that Brom is involved. Was he caught? Did they find out he’s your contact?”

“No. Things are getting worse for the Saxbys that aren’t part of the court. The alpha-king is breaking more and more of what keeps a pack whole.”

When she waved at him to take a chair, he took it but remained on the edge of his seat. “It’s the royal guard. They’re doing whatever they want unchecked, especially against the regular pack guards. A few days ago, one took Brom’s mate for his own.”

Minnie knew enough about wolves to be shocked. Her eyes widened further when she caught a hint of the rescue plan from his thoughts. “And just you and Brom are sneaking in? My God, Sam, it’s suicide.”

“So is crossing an alpha-king’s order, and I survived that,” he said, smiling faintly.

“At least take Joey along as an extra body.”

“Joey is on a different job.” He wanted someone to keep an eye on Cora at all times while she was stuck in that place.

When Minnie nodded reluctantly, he cocked his head toward the stairway to the second floor. “I know Eve has her hands full with the baby, but I need to ask her a few questions that could make this easier.”

The young she-wolf’s scent was full of hatred toward him. Her eyes glittered with it as well while she sat beside the crib and gently rocked it. They hadn’t met before, but she knew he’d been part of the royal court, and that was enough. On his end, he was surprised by how much she looked like her sister—the same dark, curly hair, amber eyes, and stubborn chin. He still remembered how he and the rest of Theo’s friends ribbed him for always falling tongue-tied whenever the pretty Edie passed by.

“What do you want?” she murmured, keeping her voice quiet to avoid waking the baby. He didn’t miss the protective way she kept herself between him and the crib. Even though she kept her gaze away from him in reluctant deference, he knew that if he made one sudden move toward them, she’d fight to the death over the pup.

“I’d like to ask a few questions. You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.”

Her expression grew skeptical, but she nodded.

“I’m trying to rescue someone else later today. Someone your sister might have known. Her name is Holly.”

She jerked. “Holly’s in trouble? What happened? Is it that bastard Lowell? He’s been after her for weeks even though she always tells him no, that she loves Brom.”

When the baby began to fuss, the she-wolf bit her lip and dropped her voice back to a murmur while soothing her. Sam waited until the baby fell quiet again. “Brom and I need your help.”

The anger had changed in her scent. Now she looked at him with doubt, not suspicion. “I don’t understand. What can I do?”

“The night you escaped from the pack… who chased you?”

“Royal guards. I saw their uniforms.”

Sam knew he had to be delicate with this next question, and that it would still hurt her no matter what. “Minnie said you were bloody when you arrived here. Was any of it from the guards?”

Eve drew in a sharp breath. “Yes. One caught me by the hair through the fence and I… I stabbed him. It was only his hand. I wish it had been his throat.”

“What’d you stab him with?”

“My paring knife. It’s all I had.” Then she reached into her sweater pocket and pulled it out, smart enough to realize he wanted to see it. The blade was small yet sharp, and flecks of blood dappled it and the wooden handle.

When he pulled out his handkerchief, Eve said, “Are you taking it?”

“No. I just want some of the blood.” He could feel the weight of her gaze while he rubbed the stains clean. When he offered the knife back, she took it in silence. Enough anger had left her scent that he now smelled the worry threading through it.

It stirred up his own anger, the fact that her first reaction to a fellow wolf was fear instead of trust, but he kept his voice calm. “Thank you, Eve.”

She nodded, unsmiling, and turned back to the baby.

As Sam rose from his seat, he watched her trace one tiny hand until it clasped her finger. “What’s her name?”

The she-wolf glanced back, and for a moment she looked so much like her sister that he thought he faced a ghost. “Theodora. It’s what Edie wanted.”

He nodded, sensing she would hate any acknowledgement of the grief rolling through her scent. His steps were silent against the floorboards while he left the room and went back downstairs, feeling like something inside him was about to snap. He’d gotten what he’d hoped for but that didn’t make him feel any better. If anything, he was glad of the danger and bloodshed ahead. They would chill his thoughts to a hunting focus.

He reached the agreed-upon location on time—a spot where Saxby land bordered an abandoned warehouse set on human territory. It was an area often unpatrolled, with nothing but uneven, silty land and some sparse trees.

One of the shelves inside the warehouse had been wiped clean, with two folded uniforms set on it—a regular guard’s and a royal guard’s. Sam saw them a moment before one shadow stepped away from the rest.

Brom didn’t have his usual smile, and the amount of anger in his scent was enough to sting the eyes and nose like smoke. “Sam. Everything’s gone smoothly so far. I have twenty minutes before I’ll be missed.”

Sam nodded, already taking off his tie. “Good. One break on our end: I’ll be able to pass off as a royal guard.”

Brom hardly seemed to hear him as he paced, every movement filled with rage. Sam wasn’t sure how the hell he’d held himself together this far. “Brom, you need to stay calm.”

“Two days,” snarled the other wolf. “He’s had her for two days. Just walked into our home and took her while I was on duty. When I went to the Captain of the Royal Guard, she told me that crossing him would be treated as treason to the crown. I know you were soft on her, Sam, but if I see that bitch today…”

Sam shook his head. “She’s not here. Neither is Lowell.”

“You’re sure?”

“Right now, they’re on human land.” When Sam smelled his disappointment, he looked up from removing his cufflinks. “Listen to me. We’re getting Holly out, but you have to keep a cool head until we’re in there. If we slaughter on the way in, we’ll alert others. Save it for when we’re leaving.”

There was a flicker of acknowledgement in Brom’s eyes, but his edginess continued to thicken the air while Sam finished changing. He had never worked as one of the elite royal guards, but a uniform was a uniform, and wearing one felt both familiar and strange.

It was a small emotion, easy to push away, and his nerves felt steady as he turned his attention to his bloodied handkerchief and the vial Jane had given him. Its contents were clear but bubbled slightly while he pulled out the cork and poured them on the handkerchief. The sting of magic filled the air.

Brom watched in silence as he cut the pad of his thumb and pressed the fabric against it. His muscles immediately cramped, a sign that the magic was slipping into his body. The spell was built upon his ability to change into a wolf and back, but Jane had warned it wouldn’t be nearly as comfortable. For nearly a minute, he shook and sweated while the transformation took place, hearing Brom growl softly at his obvious pain.

When it was over, he straightened up and wiped sweat from his forehead. “Well? Who did I turn into?”

Jane’s work was excellent; even his voice had changed, and Brom stared at him in open surprise. “Gil.”

Sam nodded, already feeling steadier. “Another lucky break. He’s also with the king.”

Then he holstered his gun and checked his daggers. A royal guard’s uniform came with spells designed to suppress their scent, taking care of the last thing that might betray his true identity. “If there’s anything out of place, now would be the time to say so.”

A trace of the other wolf’s renowned humor returned. “Let’s put it this way. You’re so convincing that I’m fighting not to stab you.”

Sam laughed. “That’s the friendliest thing I’ve been told all day.”

“I believe it. You’re still living with Jane, aren’t you?”

Their dark humor faded when they stepped back on Saxby territory. The plan was simple: under his guise as a royal guard, he would walk directly into their quarters, a building that was part of the royal court and therefore off-limits to regular guards like Brom. He knew the layout of the rooms from visiting Isabelle, including the underground escape routes built in case of emergencies. Brom would wait at the end of one that opened up near no man’s land. From there, they could travel through forest until they reached human property.

A glance was all they shared before splitting up. Sam remembered Gil as being surly and uncommunicative even with his friends, and so he ignored all other wolves he passed except fellow royal guards. Even those only received a brief nod.

It all looked the same, so much so that it felt like stepping back into the past. How often had he walked down these jade and obsidian halls to surprise Isabelle during her times off duty? Both infuriating and impressing her that he had slipped in without being caught.

But he wasn’t the same wolf, and it wasn’t Isabelle he now sought out. There were several she-wolves in the royal guard, but all he had to do was follow the scent with fear in it. His nose led him to a room on the second floor, and from there it was easy to find a door with Lowell’s name on the nameplate.

Each door had a combination lock, something he had expected. He had brought his picks along and could even shoot it out if the situation grew desperate, but he found himself trying Isabelle’s old master code that allowed her to enter the room of any guard below her. To his disbelief, it still worked. Five years and she hadn’t changed it.

As soon as he shut the door behind him, the fear filling Lowell’s apartment exploded into desperation. He scanned the sparse furniture of the small living room and then the closed door that would lead to the bedroom. “Holly? You won’t believe this, but I’m working with Brom. We’re getting you out of here.”

There was only a slight scuffing noise in response, and he knew her well enough to wonder what the hell she was about to attack him with. Carefully, he tried the door and found it blocked. He gritted his teeth and threw his full weight against it, breaking through.

She immediately began screaming, shrinking back against the opposite wall. There was a letter opener in her hand, its dull metal blade shaking as she pointed it at him. Sam took in her appearance while shoving aside the chair and desk she had put against the door. He couldn’t see more than a bruise on her cheek, but the collar of her blouse was torn and her eyes were frantic.

He took a step toward her. “Holly? Holly, I’m here to help.”

The words had hardly left his mouth before her hand moved, darting up to press the letter opener against her throat. She was panting, ready to jab it into the veins and arteries throbbing against her skin in her panic.

A quick glance at his watch warned him that there wasn’t much time to convince her who he was.

“To hell with it,” he muttered, and bit his tongue to draw blood and break the spell hiding his appearance. Shifting back felt like taking a huge breath after struggling underwater. The world wobbled and snapped back into place even as Holly gasped.

“Sam!” Her hand dropped back to her side.

He held up a finger to his lips and then gave her one of his silver-edged daggers. “Brom’s safe. Just keep quiet and follow me.”

Aware of how dicey this was about to get, he glanced along the hallway before leading her toward the stairs that would take them to the underground storage rooms. They made it to the first level before running into a royal guard coming out of his room. Sam dimly recognized him, and from the flicker in the other wolf’s eyes, he recognized Sam as well.

“What the hell…” was all the guard managed before Sam lunged. He grabbed the other wolf by the collar and stabbed up through the tender spot between his chin and his neck, stopping any chance of a howl of alarm. The body slid to the floor, twitching.

“They’ll smell the blood,” he muttered to Holly. “We better run.”

Her only response was to kick off her shoes, grip tight against her dagger. Without them, she was the quieter and faster one, already halfway down the next set of stairs when the shouts began. Sam sheathed his dagger and drew his gun instead, keeping one eye above them as the steps spiraled down. They were almost at the door to the storage level when boots pummeled the stairs. Then a shot rang out, hitting the wall inches from his head.

He twisted and shot back, convinced he was too late for anything but a bullet going into him. Instead, he caught the nearest wolf in the chest, dropping him. The body blocked the rest long enough for him to run down the last of the steps.

Holly was already wrenching at the door. “It’s locked!”

He blocked her body with his own while punching in Isabelle’s code. The door clicked open just as another guard jumped over the railing and landed near them. Sam shoved Holly through and out of the way and then grabbed the guard’s wrist when he tried to aim with his gun.

A mistake in how it left his body open, and he knew it even before the guard’s other hand flashed with a dagger. An explosive jolt up through his stomach took his breath away. The searing agony of silver spread everywhere, contracting his muscles, but he managed to twist his grip until the gun pointed at the guard’s face. A twitch of his finger and it fired.

They fell to the ground together. He was shaking, sweating, feeling like every vein in his body was about to pop from the silver poisoning, but somehow he crawled free and through the doorway before more guards could reach him.

Holly slammed the door shut and then leaned over him, panic etched into her face while she pressed hands against his stomach to try and stop the blood. On the other side, someone threw their weight against the door, making it shudder. Terror flooded her scent, but she wasn’t about to leave.

“Keep going,” he said, forcing one hand to reach for the pocket where he’d put some antisilver. “Go to Storage Room 5. There’s a door hidden behind the wooden crates of absinthe. It’ll lead right out to Brom. I’ll catch up.”

“You’re too noble, Sam. It’ll kill you one of these days.” She undid the pocket button for him and pulled out the capped syringe. “Do you want me to do it?”

He shook his head and used his teeth to take the cap off. “If you won’t leave, then take the gun. Aim at the door in case they break through before I’m back on my feet.”

The door jumped and shuddered while he jabbed the needle into the side of his neck and injected the antisilver without ceremony, hoping his hand wasn’t shaking enough to break it off. His heart sounded too loud in his ears, blotting out whatever Holly said to him next. Damn it. It might’ve been too late to recover.

One breath. Another. Then the lights above him stopped swimming. The raw agony slowly eased to a dull cramping that he could breathe through, but he still felt blood soaking through his uniform. No time to let himself heal—now he could hear again, and the guards were punching in codes, trying to find one that would open the door.

With a final hiss of pain, he rolled up to his feet. Sweat soaked his collar, but his hands were steady again as he took the gun back from Holly. “Come on.”

She remained beside him while they found the right storage room and slipped inside. He paused long enough to shove several of the crates against the door, ignoring how they quickly grew splattered with his blood. Holly pried open the door with her nails, desperate again now that freedom was almost within reach.

He made sure she was fully in the tunnel before he aimed at the crates by the door and fired a few times to shatter bottles and set the absinthe inside on fire. It would be enough to keep the guards from following them. The entire room was full of wood and alcohol.

It must have been some time since the tunnel had been checked on, for only half of the lights set into the ceiling worked, leaving them in gloom while they traveled through it as quickly as possible.

He suspected the effects of silver poisoning hadn’t entirely left his system yet, because even though the ground beneath their feet was smooth cement instead of uneven dirt and rock, he still found himself sinking into memories from only a few days before. Of walking besides Miss Marshall—Cora, her name was Cora, but he avoided the intimacy of her beautiful first name even in his thoughts—and trying to act calm and collected when he wanted nothing more than to knock out those idiot policemen and hide her away from the schemes of her city. One of those gut-deep urges that came to him whenever she gazed up into his eyes, scent full of her longing…

“Look. Sunlight.”

Holly’s voice brought him back to the present, and he tried to breathe in deeply. His lungs responded well enough, and he held her back with a wave of his hand before knocking on the steel door set in the ceiling.

He was ready with his gun by the time it opened with the tortured squeal of rusted hinges. Then Brom reached through, bloodied yet whole and unharmed. “Holly!”

Despite the chaos and terror of their flight, it was the sound of his voice that dissolved her expression into tears. As soon as Brom pulled her up and cradled her close, she began crying against him, fingers digging into his shoulders as if she’d never let go again.

Sam turned away to give them privacy, taking it as a chance to shut the door and glance over two nearby bodies. More royal guards, probably ones that had been unlucky enough to patrol this part of the territory line.

Then he checked his wound. It still bled sluggishly, but the blood was bright and clean. He was out of danger.

He’d just finished reloading his gun when Brom spoke again, this time sounding grim. “How close are they?”

Sam looked up. “We need to keep moving. Eventually, they’ll alert someone who knows about this tunnel.”

They reached no man’s land without trouble, but he didn’t feel safe until they were through the forest and onto the vacant lot that backed up to a nightclub. A man sweeping up broken glass quickly looked away from them. If there was anything Sam appreciated about humans, it was their willingness to turn a blind eye to whatever wasn’t their problem.

After what they’d escaped from, the dangers of Ragbag Way felt laughable. No one wanted to go after a group of bloodied, bristling wolves, and Sam parked in front of Minnie’s house without fear of coming back out to find it missing.

Minnie met them at the door. Brom and Holly received a gentle welcome, but her smile turned into a sigh at the sight of Sam covered in blood. “Oh, Sam. Let’s patch you up in the kitchen. No arguing, now.”

By the time he’d showered and let her look at the wound, it was a ragged gash surrounded by bruising. She shook her head while bandaging it. “It’ll scar.”

He shrugged and glanced over as Brom came down the stairs. Minnie had given them the second floor. Anger continued to pulse throughout the other wolf’s scent, but he was steady again. Able to think.

Brom sat in one of the empty chairs, shoulders tense. “She’s resting now. Thanks, Sam. Without you…”

“I know,” said Sam, sensing his struggle for words. “Don’t worry about it. We beat the odds without losing anything for it.”

Minnie scoffed while tying off the bandage. “Yes, you did. You lost a lot of blood. Get some rest for a few days. Stay here if you need to.”

“Not yet. There’s something else I need to do.” Sam reached for his shirt and pulled it on, relieved to feel only a slight pull from his wound as he began buttoning it up.

“It can’t wait?” said Minnie, not even hiding her exasperation.

“No.” Then he shrugged into his shoulder holster and checked his gun out of habit. “Jane went over to watch the Saxbys meet with city officials. Something tells me it won’t go well.”

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Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.