Vee trudged along the empty roadway, grateful her eyes were better than most humans in the dark. After leaving her house, she had gone to the woods and traveled through her wolf over several miles of hilly terrain. Then she switched to her cat and let her make her way over a couple of miles of canopy until she could get her to sit long enough to get her bearings and find the closest road.
Then she made her way on foot through the thick foliage until she found an old road that seemed abandoned that led to a small paved laneway that took her to a semi-busy highway. She faced west as she started to walk, hoping she would come across a small town and maybe borrow a phone to call Ronnie. She could get her friend to wire some money for a ticket to somewhere other than here.
Valaria wished she had paid more attention to where she was…she should have bought a map…
As another vehicle approached in the distance, Vee slid off the road and hid in the bushes. She wasn’t sure she was willing to hitchhike in the dark…they could be friend or foe… but if she didn’t get to a town or something real quick, she may lose her one chance to escape. She had no idea how long Riordan would be out or if her sister decided to come knocking to find out how it went between her and the blond stud…
The vehicle passed and Valaria got back on the road again, focusing on an upcoming hill. Surely she would see some urban lights from that vantage point…
Nope…Vee felt dejected as the darkness continued. She was having no luck at all. She heard the far off engine of another vehicle and decided she needed to speed up her getaway. Whether she liked it or not, she had to try to flag it down and hope it wasn’t someone from town that would recognize her. Then again, they probably wouldn’t even stop, who would pick up a stranger hitchhiking late at night?
She would soon find out.
She stuck out her thumb as the vehicle came close. She closed her eyes against the headlights and prayed for some luck…
The car sped past and Vee dropped her thumb…fuck…
Then the vehicle surprisingly slowed until it came to a stop. Valaria didn’t give her animals or herself any time to back out now. She jogged easily to the waiting car and watched someone lean over and open the passenger door.
Vee slowed down as she approached the person who was going to help her run to freedom. The light inside the car was on and Valaria grabbed the door as she leaned inside.
“Fuck!” she couldn’t stop the expletive that left her mouth as she pulled away. Vee looked upwards wondering who had the great sense of humor.
“Well, are you getting in or do you want to keep going in the dark?” the voice floated out to her as she stood there swearing under her breath, “I can tell you that the nearest town of any consequence is at least another ten miles. So, do you want a ride? If not, then shut the door.”
Vee swore again as an odor of magnolia wafted out from the woman behind the wheel.
“Ok, shut the door and good luck!”
Valaria got inside and pulled the door closed. As the car started down the highway, she heard her companion speak.
“So, you’ve decided to go home too?” Sonya sugared her words, not believing the double shifter was sitting beside her. There must be a God somewhere that would see this opportunity just drop into her lap.
Vee breathed deep before answering, “Are you going to turn me in? Cause I’m not going back.”
Sonya chuckled, “Of course not! Those beasts deserve whatever they get.” She glanced over at Valaria, “I thought you and…Riordan, isn’t it? I thought you had something between you two. At least that’s what Kaden told me.”
Vee bit her lip…how dare he talk about her to his…
“Mind you, I can’t blame you if you did sleep with him. For a wolf he’s kind of yummy,” she kept talking, “But I’m happy to stick to my own.”
Vee wasn’t sure this ride was worth it, “So, why did you leave? If you don’t mind my asking.”
She saw Sonya’s mouth tighten, “I guess you could say I got tired of warming my king’s bed without getting anything in return except some cheap baubles. I’m not looking for more diamond bracelets, I want the crown.”
So Kaden did lie…
“And why did you leave? If you don’t mind my asking…” the question was repeated to her.
Valaria hesitated, she didn’t even get the cheap baubles, “I did my duty. I met my sister and now I’m going back to what I know.”
“And I take it your sister doesn’t know you left?” Sonya prodded.
Vee looked out the window into the darkness, “I wouldn’t be here if she did.”
Sonya continued to talk, “Which brings me to my next question, how did you get out without your bodyguard knowing?”
What could it hurt to tell her? She already said she wouldn’t tell, “He’s laying out cold on the floor of my bathroom.”
Sonya laughed, “What did you do, hit him over the head?”
Valaria chuckled, “No, just a simple sleeping syrup in his wine. Just enough to send him into dreamland for awhile.”
“I’m impressed,” Sonya glanced over to her, “I didn’t think you had it in you. I assumed you were just a yes girl, letting them look after you.”
Valaria shook her head, “Nope, I can take care of myself. Always have and always will.”
“I like your spirit! It’s such a shame,” Sonya kept darting her eyes over her way.
“What’s a shame?” Valaria asked.
“That they lost you. You would have been an asset to their pack,” Sonya replied as she returned to watch the road.
Vee licked her lips, her dry mouth needed a little liquid of its own. She couldn’t carry everything but wished she had packed a bottle of…
“Water?” Sonya had pulled a bottle from the small cooler on the seat between them, “I always carry extra. Keeping oneself hydrated does wonders for the skin.”
Vee grabbed it, “Great, thanks, I didn’t plan on it taking this long to get to civilization again.” She uncorked it and drank half the bottle in one long pull.
“So what is your plan? Would you like me to drop you off at the nearest bus stop? I could buy you a ticket,” Sonya offered.
Valaria thought for a moment, “I assume you are going to the airport to catch a flight home?”
Sonya nodded, “Of course. I am taking the private jet back. I could pay for a flight to anywhere you would like to go.”
Vee wondered how she could have misjudged this woman next to her. She wanted to go above and beyond to help her get away. And if it was only to get back at Kaden, well, who was she to argue?”
She finished the bottle on her second drink, “That actually would be great. If I catch the next flight scheduled to leave, I can call my friend and have her send me the money to get home.”
“Well then, I guess that settles that, do you want another drink of water?” her hand reached into the cooler to produce another bottle.
Vee grabbed it, “Yeah, I’m parched. So how long until we get to the airport?”
Sonya answered, “Another hour or so, if you want, just lean your seat back and take a nap. You’re going to need all your energy just to keep ahead of that wolf pack.”
Sonya was right. Until she disappeared completely, she wouldn’t be able to rest. An hour of sleep time would be perfect. She uncapped the water and had another healthy swallow before tipping her seat back slightly and leaned back using her bag as a pillow of sorts.
Maybe things were finally going her way…
Kaden knocked on the kitchen door of the Alpha’s house. After noticing no guard on the house next door, he figured Valaria was with her sister and he was determined to get her alone to get some answers…straight answers…total honesty…
Last night he had to almost throw Sonya through the door to make her understand that she was to go home. She pleaded with him to come with her but it fell on deaf ears. Then she accused him of leading her on, promising her the throne, and then throwing her aside when his interest was caught elsewhere.
Kaden realized then that she was going to have to go back to her old clan or find a new one. If he had any hope of convincing Valaria to be his queen and triggering her glow so that they became true mates, Sonya could not be there when they returned together.
She was not happy when he told her of his decision. She began to throw things, letting her cat loose to claw and tear everything in sight until Kaden let his panther loose to stop her. Eventually, his male pinned her cat and made it known that she would obey or suffer the consequences.
Her cat acquiesced, but she still wasn’t happy.
Then Kaden gave her the keys to his car as her rental had already been returned to the airport. Then he gave her very strict instructions, directly to the airport and go home and pack. He would be in contact with his second, Thomas, with regards to her future.
After she left, Kaden was relieved. He should have sent her back the first day she landed. Valaria didn’t need to be exposed to her poison and he realized that keeping an eye on her was taking away valuable time between Valaria and him. Time that she was obviously giving to Riordan. The thought made him angry, but it was anger towards himself. He was pushing her into another man’s arms. Wel,l that was going to end today. He didn’t care what went on between them, as long as she wasn’t mated, she was free game.
Cassidy answered the door on the third knock, “Oh, hey Kaden, come in.” She turned around, “Slayde’s having a shower. I know he was going to call you when he got out.”
Kaden came in and shut the door, “Well actually, I came to talk to Valaria, if I could.”
Cassie turned around, “Valaria? Umm, she’s not here, Kaden.” Cassidy didn’t want to ruin the look of hope on the king’s face.
“Oh? I just didn’t see Riordan outside on the bench…” Kaden supplied.
Cassidy bit her lip, hating to watch his face as she spoke, “Umm…Valaria texted me last night to let me know that Riordan was going to spend the night…inside.”
Kaden’s hopeful look melted a little before he hung his head, “Oh, I see.”
Cassie began to make a pot of coffee, “Listen, Kaden, I know you and Valaria have spent a lot of time together, but you must know that she’s not the type to just sit by while you flaunt your little…” she hesitated, “Well, whatever she is…”
“Sonya’s gone. I sent her home last night,” Kaden confirmed.
Cassidy turned around, “Well it might be too little too late.”
Kaden spoke roughly, “It’s never too late until they are mated.”
“Well, I can’t say anything about where their relationship is this morning…”
Slayde walked into the kitchen, “Glad you’re here, Kaden. I just had a message come through,” he glanced at his wife before lowering his voice, “Maybe we should talk in my office. I’ll call Riordan and get him to come here too. I know he’s been up all night…”
Kaden winced at the Alpha’s words.
“But Rip can take a longer shift today to let him get some extra sleep tonight,” Slayde finished as he poured himself a cup of strong brew.
Cassidy broke in, “Well I told Rip that he could take the day off and we would call him when we need him.”
Slayde stared at his wife, “Why would you tell him that?”
Kaden answered, “Because Riordan spent the night with Valaria.”
Slayde looked from one to the other before shaking his head, “Holy hell, I wish her animals would just hurry up and pick someone. It would be one less problem to worry about right now.”
Cassidy narrowed her eyes, “My sister can take as long as she wants to pick her mate. And if she doesn’t find one anytime soon, that’s okay too. And why would you think that’s it’s a problem for you? She’s not a prisoner here, Slayde, she’s my sister and she can come and go as she pleases.”
Slayde felt his wife’s fury and he glanced at Kaden, silently asking him a question.
Then Slayde let the secrets fall out, “No, she can’t Cass. I didn’t want to worry you about anything and we have got a handle on it…”
Cassidy turned her angry face to each man before she ground out, “What didn’t you want me to worry my pretty little head about, Slayde? I want to know everything…now!”
Slayde sighed, “There have been some dead shifters turning up over the last couple of weeks and we are concerned that there might be a threat to you or your sister.”
Cassie looked confused, “And what would make you think that? Were they like me and Vee?”
Slayde gulped his hot coffee, “No, but they were pre-shifts so we didn’t know for sure. But Valaria gave us a sample of her pre-shift blood and we are having it analyzed now to see if we can determine if any of the victims are double shifters.”
Kaden spoke, “The dead shifters match Valaria’s description and they happened in her city.”
Cassidy gave them each a cold look, “And you couldn’t share that with us? You know, Valaria might know who the shifters are.”
Slayde jumped in, “Valaria knows, that’s why she gave us the sample.”
Cassie threw up her hands, “Great! So I’m the last one to know again!”
The baby began to cry from his bedroom.
“Great, now Tye is going to add his two cents!” Cassidy gave them each a stern look and ran off to take care of the squalling infant.
“Are you alright, Kaden?” Slayde asked quietly.
Kaden nodded, “Yeah, and unless when she answers the door glowing from the inside out, I still have a chance, and no offense to Riordan, but I’m going to fight for her until her animals pick a mate.”
Slayde clapped him on the shoulder, “I wouldn’t expect anything less, so do you want me to go next door?”
Kaden shook his head, “No, I need to see for myself. I promise I won’t beat your beta,” he added as he stepped outside.
Slayde chuckled and refilled his cup as Kaden went next door. He debated whether to knock on the front or back door, but decided to just hop over to the back.
His hand raised and hesitated. Did he want to see Riordan come to the door? Was he a glutton for punishment?
Not a sound.
Kaden knocked again but couldn’t hear anything. He supposed if they had been up all night…
He knocked harder and then grasped the knob. It turned easily in his hand. He was somewhat surprised that the door had been left unlocked, especially if they had been making love all night…
His chest ached at the words running through his mind.
Kaden called out, not wanting to hear them answer together, “Riordan!”
He called again, “Riordan! Slayde wants you in his office right away!”
Kaden sighed, okay, now it was the hard way, “Riordan! Get your clothes on…” he started down the hall, “Cause I’m…” he glanced in the bathroom and stopped dead in his tracks.
He rushed in and grabbed the Beta’s still form, “Riordan, hey man!” As Kaden shook him, words began to wheeze from his mouth.
“Jesus! What the hell happened?” he grabbed a towel nearby and soaked it in cold water before slapping it over Riordan’s face.
As Riordan began to come around, Kaden grabbed his phone and rang the Alpha. Slayde picked up on the second ring, “Hey, I told you…”
“Get over here, right now!” Kaden yelled into the phone and then dropped it as he rushed into the bedroom. The bed was wrinkled but obviously hadn’t been slept in.
Kaden rushed back to the bathroom to see Slayde grabbing the showerhead and dousing his Beta with ice-cold water.
“She’s gone, Valaria is gone,” he almost couldn’t believe the words that tumbled from his mouth.
Riordan was spitting water as he began to regain consciousness, his words becoming clearer, “Damn right she’s gone. I can’t believe I fell for it.”
Slayde wanted to clarify, “Fell for what? What did she do?”
Riordan’s face was angry, “She dosed me with something to knock me out.”
Slayde didn’t know whether to be angry or feel sorry for him.
Vee heard voices far off in the distance. She tried to move her head, but it just didn’t want to cooperate, so she decided to just listen.
“Shit, I can’t believe you did it,” a low male voice was speaking to someone.
“I told you it was a piece of cake,” a familiar female voice responded.
Did she know these people?
“I guess we underestimated you, cat woman,” another male spoke, “But I am very impressed with you.”
Valaria heard the smile in the woman’s voice, “Of course you are. I am a woman of many talents and when I become queen I will have even more power at my disposal.”
“IF you become queen, we might avail ourselves of that power,” the second man replied.
Who the hell are these people?
“So, what are you going to do with her? You know she’s got to die,” the first man spoke again.
The woman laughed, “Of course, but not right away. The deal was I could play with her before I kill her.”
“Huh, just like a cat,” the man replied.
“Precisely, but don’t worry, when I’m finished I’ll leave her to the wolves, they aren’t particular of what they feed on,” the woman talked like she was in control of the whole situation.
“Just don’t play too long, if you get caught, well I don’t think your king will be pleased,” the second man spoke.
“I won’t get caught, for heaven’s sake, she made it too easy for me.”
Vee opened her eyes slightly, not wanting to let anyone know she was awake. Her arms that were aching non-stop she discovered were chained to the ceiling spread-eagled. They matched her ankles that were fastened to the floor.
“What about the car?” the man questioned again, “GPS?”
Sonya laughed again, “Do you think I’m an amateur? It’s disabled. Believe me, they won’t find me or her.”
Then Valaria heard a rustle of paper, “Good, so if you’re interested, here is the next list of double shifters.”
Double shifters? A whole list??
Valaria couldn’t stand the pull on her arms any longer and had to put weight on her feet, rattling the chains that were attached. She turned her head and saw the two men and Sonya as they stood by an old table. Vee glanced around and noticed they were all in one room…but where the hell were they?
“Oh, look, she’s awake,” Sonya pinned her with angry eyes, “Don’t worry little shifter, I won’t keep you around too long.”
She put the paper on the table and turned back to her companions, “Yes, I’d be very interested in helping you with your list. Surely there can’t be that many hidden after all these years?”
“There’s enough to keep us busy,” the second man was dressed in a blue coat, “Do you think you could get us her sister and the kid?”
Valaria opened her mouth to scream at the man, but nothing came out. She closed her mouth again as she pulled in a deep breath.
Sonya looked over at her, “It sounds like your throat is dry. Do you need another drink?” Then she laughed.
Vee realized then how Riordan must have felt when she did the same thing to him. She hoped he was okay and maybe would forgive her long after she was gone. She shook herself, as long as she was alive, there was hope that she would make it out of this alive and when she did, she would kill every one of these people, saving Sonya for last…
“So, can you do that?” Blue coat man asked again.
Sonya turned to him, “I’m not doing your job for you, Peter, but with a little luck, those men will be trying to find her,” she motioned her head towards Valaria, “and you might be able to walk right in and take her.”
The man in blue ran his fingers over a row of small syringes laying on the dirty table, “So this stuff works fast?”
“Oh, yes, puts their animals right to sleep even though they are awake. Or if you use a couple, it will knock them right out, right Valaria?” the woman directed the question to her.
Vee panicked but refused to let it show as she dug deep inside, trying to find any trace of her animals.
It was like they weren’t there at all.
“Awww, see? She can’t find them,” Sonya tittered.
“You’re going to have fun with this, aren’t you?” Blue man said to the cat woman.
Sonya grinned, “I’ve always wanted to know how long a shifter can last as its skin is stripped from its bones before it finally dies.”
The other man who was standing silently by spoke, “I’m glad I’m not on your bad side.”
Then Blue coat man motioned to the other man, “C’mon, let’s get out of here and let her have her fun. We’ve got work to do.”
Sonya waved to them as they drove away. She continued to stare after them until she heard rasping from her prisoner.
Sonya turned and shut the door, “Yes, my dear, I’m going to kill you…but not for a long, long time,” and she jabbed one of the syringes into her side.
Valaria emitted a short shriek before she blacked out.
“Jesus, Riordan, I can’t believe a woman got one over on you,” Slayde looked at his Beta again, who was sitting in a chair in his office.
Kaden was walking back and forth as he wracked his brain on how to track Valaria. He knew she would be twice as careful this time. Maybe it would be easier to find her friend Ronnie.
“Kaden, didn’t you say you sent Sonya home last night?” Slayde asked.
Kaden stopped, “Yeah, why?”
“Would it be possible that Valaria might have hitched a ride with her?” Slayde reasoned.
Kaden shook his head, “No, I put her in the car with her bag and watched her drive out of town.”
Riordan spoke up, “So you’re sure she went directly out? She didn’t stop anywhere?”
Frustration made Kaden’s last string hum, “Yes, I’m sure and I can’t believe those two would ride in the same car together without one killing the other.”
Silence descended before Slayde asked, “Why don’t you give her a call? Maybe she saw Valaria somewhere.”
Kaden cursed and pulled his phone from his pocket. He dialed and waited but it went straight to voicemail.
Kaden hung up, “Voicemail. Not surprising,” he checked his watch, “she’s probably almost to Ireland by now.”
Slayde persisted, “Call your pilot, maybe Sonya isn’t flying alone.”
Kaden was tired of wasting time but humored the Alpha anyway. On the second ring, it was picked up, “Ryan O’Donnell.”
Kaden knew this was going to be a waste of time, “Hey Ryan, did Sonya bring anyone with her when she got on board?”
Hesitation…then, “Sir? Sonya called and told me she wouldn’t be flying today. She mentioned something about going shopping upstate for a couple of days.”
Kaden felt his stomach drop. It must be a coincidence, “Ok, Ryan, thank you. But if she shows up, give me a call, okay?”
“Immediately Sir,” the voice answered before Kaden hung up and then looked at the other two men, “She never arrived, said she was going shopping upstate for a couple of days.”
Slayde was the first to ask, “Did Sonya know about Cassidy and Valaria being double shifters before she came here?”
Kaden shrugged his shoulders, “It’s possible. Thomas knows and he knew I was over here to try to find Cassidy’s sister and Sonya can be very intimidating when she wants information.”
“What’s Sonya’s phone number?” Slayde grabbed a pen and paper, writing while Kaden rattled off the numbers.
Slayde grabbed his own phone and made a call, “George? Yeah, I need a read out of activity for the following number,” he read what he wrote down, “And I need this yesterday…yes, life or death.”
When he hung up, Slayde asked, “What car did she take?”
Kaden shook his head, “I can’t believe Sonya is involved with any of this. Sonya hates Valaria.”
Slayde raised his eyebrow, “So if she hates her, what would she do if she found her, say, all alone on the side of the road late at night?”
Kaden ground out, “I have a GPS locater on the car,” he scrolled through his phone before opening an app, hoping he would see a little red blip driving up the coastline.
“And?” Slayde asked.
Kaden looked up, “Nothing, the history shows it on the highway towards the airport, then it just stops.”
“Disabled?” Slayde asked again.
“Still think she had nothing to do with Valaria’s disappearance?” Slayde questioned him but expected no answer.
He got one anyway, “FUCK!”
Valaria awoke to pain. She winced as she stood up on her two feet. The cool air on her body let her know she was no longer clothed.
“So, the half breed is awake,” the voice came from behind her.
Vee heard the whistle a split second before she felt something cut into her back. She involuntarily cried out as a burn started across her right shoulder.
“Did you like that?” Sonya asked innocently.
Valaria tried to turn around to face her adversary but her shackles wouldn’t allow it.
Another whistle had her jerking sideways but she couldn’t avoid the lick of pain that encompassed her ribs as it hugged her side. Vee glanced down to see a thin streak of blood beginning to seep from a shallow opening across her torso.
“Hmmm, this could take a while,” the female voice chuckled and then struck again.
Vee twisted but was rewarded with a matching streak of blood on her left side. She couldn’t keep taking this, there had to be something she could do. She tugged on her arms, having lost all feeling but still having some hope that she could rip them out of the boards they were bolted into.
She was rewarded with another singing sound across the back of her thighs. That one made her suck in her breath as she began to feel liquid dripping down her calf.
Then Sonya was in front of her, “You know, this would have been better for you if you had left Kaden alone.”
Vee opened her mouth but it was too dry to get much more than a dry whisper through her lips. Sonya then turned and grabbed a bottle of water off a nearby ledge. She twisted off the cap and held it to her lips, “Go ahead, this one is clean. I’m kind of eager to hear what you have to say.”
Valaria had no choice, she had to take any chance of keeping her strength up to take advantage of any opportunity of getting away. She nodded and waited as her captor poured one good swallow between her lips.
It was heaven…
Then Vee wrestled with her throat as Sonya suddenly poured the rest of the water down over her suspended body. The water actually felt cleansing.
As Sonya shook out the remaining liquid she informed her, “There, that’s the last of your water. I don’t think you will need anymore where you’re going.”
Valaria finally found her voice, “Why are you doing this?”
Sonya smirked darkly, “Because I can.”
Vee watched as Sonya went behind her and returned to show her a very deadly long coil. Was that a whip?
“Do you like my little play toy?” She stepped away and unraveled the leather and before Valaria could move, it had licked across her midsection leaving another burning trail of blood.
Valaria looked down as blood began to trickle out of the fresh wound. How long could her body survive being slowly sliced up? Death by a thousand cuts…slow but effective…
Vee stood straighter as her tormentor held her arm out, ready to send the leather into her skin again. There had to be something she could say or do to get free, “If this is about Kaden then you win. I don’t give a shit about him. Why did you think I was leaving?”
Sonya hesitated, looking like she was seriously thinking about her words, and then the whip was flying again, slicing across her breasts.
Valaria screamed this time.
Sonya laughed and sent the leather sailing again, obviously trying to hit the same spot again. Her aim was good and Vee cried out, not believing that something could hurt that much. She had to distract her somehow, if the beating continued, it was going to be a long hard death.
Vee sputtered, “Who were those guys that were here?”
Sonya stopped, “Just a couple of shifters that showed me how dangerous your kind is to ours.”
“Dangerous? Do I look like I’m dangerous?” Vee had to keep her talking.
The woman smiled, “Not from where I’m standing,” her eyes swept up and down Valaria’s body then sneered, “I don’t know what he saw in you. I can’t believe he would want to soil our blood with yours.”
Vee couldn’t believe that this still came down to Kaden, “Listen, Sonya, I am not a threat to you or anyone else,” But if she was ever given the opportunity, she would have no trouble beating this woman into the cold ground, “Just let me go and I’ll find my own way back to where I came from. I’ll just disappear,” But not before informing Slayde about the danger to her sister and his son.
Sonya came closer, “Do you really think I believe that?” She waved her finger back and forth, “I couldn’t let you go even if I wanted to. The agreement was I could take time to play, as long as you died in the end.”
Valaria stared at the woman, “What agreement? Why me? I don’t understand.”
Sonya slowly passed her by as she spoke, “Your death is because of what you are, but your torture is because of who you are.”
The familiar singing just before the pain caused Vee to draw in her breath. She couldn’t give up, after all she suffered in this life, she couldn’t go out this way. She had to save her sister…
Another cut across her back…
She had to protect Veronica…
Air sliced before pain broke across her side again…
She had to buy her ranch and save the children…
Valaria lost count of the number of times the whistle sounded in her ears before pain exploded across her shoulders and legs.
Then she thought of Kaden…tall, sexy Kaden…did he even care enough to try to find her again?
Or what was left of her…
Vee barely acknowledged the halt of the whip before another needle was jabbed into her side.
She was grateful when the world slipped away.