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“This isn’t possible.”
Her captor’s gun snapped up as he bolted out of his chair and trained the sight on her fuzzy head.
She tilted her head to the side as she regarded him. Sharp canine eyes saw more in the candlelight than her human eyes. They took in the sand and clay on his boots, five-o’clock shadow on his chin, and old stains on the knees of his cargo plants. His chest rose quickly as he drew in ragged, panting breaths.
“You make one move towards those bars and I’m ending you,” he growled at her. His eyes were so wide she could see white all the way around his irises.
She sat still and quiet as he regained control.
“How is this possible? How did you do that?” he finally asked when he had control of himself.
Summer looked at him, raised one paw delicately and set it back down.
“What? Oh. Yeah. Uh, turn back, I guess,” he said with a small shrug.
She cocked her head at him.
“I won’t shoot.”
She gave a little nod.
Summer hunched over, and with the same shimmer in the air, like the shimmer over asphalt in July, she changed. Summer stayed crouched on her heels, bent knees obscuring her nude body.
“I’m willing to answer your questions, but would you please turn around so I can put my clothes back on?”
Her mouth firmed into a line. “I am a small, naked, unarmed woman against an armed man who weights, what? Two hundred pounds? And I am in a cage. What do you think I can do from here?”
He lowered the gun slightly.
“Don’t be an ass. Turn around and when I’m done, we can have a nice civil conversation.” Her voice shook with barely contained anger.
Without a word, he turned. Summer snatched her clothes, throwing them back on hastily.
“You can turn around now,” she said as she fastened the last button.
“How did you do it?” the man asked as he turned back.
“I don’t know, I just did.”
“I mean, how can you do it when it’s not a full moon.”
“I told you, I am a born werewolf, not bitten. I am in full control of myself,” she said but shivered.
It was a half-truth. She could change at will, but outside a full moon, it was exhausting. To shift twice, in under ten minutes, at a new moon would make her weary for a day or two. If she could talk him into releasing her, she would probably have to shift again and bolt for home, depleting her even further.
“And you’re in control right now?”
He gave her a doubtful look. “I need more. I need more information.”
“What, so you can hunt and kill my family?” Summer huffed out a breath in irritation. “Look, I will answer your questions if you will promise to let me go.”
“You’ll take my word?”
“Are you a man of your word?” she asked and he rocked back as if slapped. Summer schooled her face to hide a quick smile. Even that small reaction from him told her something.
“Yes. I am, and have always been, a man of my word.”
There was something odd in the way he said it that confirmed a suspicion.
“Very well, then. Do I have your bound word that you will release me, not hunt me again, and not seek me out?”
The man’s jaw tightened. “You have my word that I will release you and cease my hunt. I can’t guarantee I won’t seek you out.” He swept a hand through his thick black hair. “I may have more questions.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Well, it’s not as if you don’t know where I live.” She grimaced. “Fine, you may seek me out, but you do not have permission to enter my home or place of business.”
“In return, you will answer my questions?”
“In return, I will answer three questions.” When he frowned, she added, “I’ll elaborate on an answer if you need additional information.”
Summer’s brain was on overdrive, considering her wording and if there was any way he could renege.
“You have my word.”
The was a feeling like silent thunder, a silent overpressure of air.
“You’re fae,” she told him simply.
“Not human, certainly.”
He gave no answer.
“Fine. We’ll start with the basics. My name is–”
“Summer Dawn Jones, twenty-seven years old, and originally from Baker, Florida. But for the last five years, you have been living in Fort Walton Beach. And I have to say, that’s a powerfully strange location for a werewolf to live.”
Summer shifted her hips, settling herself and trying to play off her irritation. “You know a lot about me.” She gave him a small smile, “May I have your name?”
He gave her a wry smile. “And smart too. They did say you were smart. You may call me Chuck.”
“Chuck? Your name is Chuck?” Summer’s brows furrowed and only the fact that she was trapped in a cage kept her from howling with laughter.
“It’s what I said you could call me.” His tone was bland, but the ghost of a smile tugged at his mouth.
“Fine, Chuck, you seem to have done a lot of research already, but what do you need to know?”
“With only three questions, I guess I’d better make them good.”
Summer eyed the bars. “And hold up your end of the bargain. I’m guessing that wasn’t a normal bargain we just struck?”
Chuck shook his head. “Let me think.”
Summer watched the flow of expressions across his face. He was better looking than she had first given him credit for: dark hair, skin like pale moonlight across unrippled water, and tall. She hadn’t been exaggerating when she had assumed he was almost double her mass. He had broad shoulders that spoke of either a masochistic amount of time in a gym or a lot of manual labor. She shook her head and fidgeted, trying to get comfortable on the concrete floor. Her rear was going numb and the concrete was leeching the heat from her body. Between that and the energy spent shifting, she gave a weary shiver.
“Ok. First question: what does shifting outside of a full moon cost you?”
“Is it painful? Do you need magic?”
She was taken aback. Chuck’s expression was now earnest, he seemed to genuinely care if that transition had been painful.
“It’s not painful, per se. It’s–” she thought a moment for how to phrase it, “–intense. The change moves muscles, tendons, bones, organs, nerve endings…” she trailed off. “It doesn’t hurt, but it’s a lot of sensations all at once.”
Deep blue eyes met hers and she inhaled. Sitting in a cage that he had put her in was bit of a detractor, but he was damnably good looking.
“Is it magic you’re using?” he asked again.
Summer blinked. “Yes? I mean, I guess? How the hell else would I do it?”
“Ok, fair enough. Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you’ll know everything about it.”
Summer nodded, shifting again. “What’s your second question?”
“You’re different.” It was a statement, not a question.
Summer didn’t answer, wondering where he was going.
“You live in a townhouse on a bay. A saltwater bay leading directly to the Gulf of Mexico. You live miles away from any pack, which is unusual.”
“Those are all statements,” she told him. Tension etched itself in her now rigid posture.
“When I got this assignment, I thought it would be hard. Young werewolf, prime age, peak strength.” He ticked off fingers as he spoke. “That’s a terrible target when they’re surrounded by peers and a pack. I’d be literally risking my life to end a threat like that.”
Summer couldn’t quite stop the low growl in her throat.
Chuck raised a hand. “You already acknowledged that feral, bitten werewolves are dangerous and that you take them out yourself. Don’t be mad at me for doing what you would have done.”
She drew in a deep breath but nodded, her body still rigid with tension.
“A pack gives you protection. Solidarity. From what I understand, even among the bitten,” he only hesitated slightly switching words on the fly, “it provides comfort and companionship.” He shook his head. “What I really mean to ask is, why don’t you live with a pack?”
Summer rocked back slightly. She had expected him to ask where her pack was and how he could find them. She was expecting the worst. She fully expected him to have to maim, torture or kill her go find her pack. They may have their friction, but Summer would be damned if she would give up what small bit family she had left to a Hunter.
She gave a laugh to dispel her nerves. “I guess you could say I’m a rebel? When human children rebel against their families, they dye their hair black or do drugs. They do whatever is the opposite of their family’s desires for them. I come from,” she mentally sorted what she was and wasn’t willing to say, “a very earthy community. They’re as self-sufficient as possible, as far away from humans as they can be without giving up their territory.”
He nodded once more to acknowledge he heard her than in understanding. Summer tried not to get sucked into those blue eyes.
“I didn’t dye my hair. It would have disappeared with my first change. I didn’t do drugs because, well, the Aunties and Uncles do enough pot that no one would have batted an eye. Actually,” she said with a smile, “I was the odd one because I don’t do any drugs. Just the odd glass of wine now and again.”
“So, what then?”
Summer laughed, surprisingly deep and throaty for someone as small as she. “I got a college degree. In computer programing, no less.” Her laughter cut off abruptly as another reason flitted through her mind.
When he raised an eyebrow in confusion, she went on. “We’re blue-collar people. Most of my pack is in a hands-on career field: woodworking, landscape, the forest service, florists. Anything manual, outdoors, or working with nature. The number of high school diplomas in our community couldn’t make tinder to start a fire. To get a college education? Work in a cubical in an office building behind a computer all day? It was the ultimate rebellion.”
“I love my pack, but my father was human. Werewolf mother and human father. I was raised by two Aunties and I wanted to know what it would have been like to have lived a human life. After a while, I wanted to get away. I wanted to mainstream.” She gave a small frown, eyes on the floor but mind elsewhere. She gave herself a shake. “I guess I just wanted to know what it would have been like if he had lived.”
“Lived?” Chuck asked, confusion evident in his voice.
“Car crash. Killed my mother and father both,” she told him quietly.
He looked at her. “No, it didn’t.”
His brow furrowed and he frowned in confusion. “Summer, your father is alive.”
Being drugged, kidnapped, and waking in a silvered cage was a shock. Chuck’s statement was the unexpected hail storm that struck on a late night run. It was the water moccasin that dozed quietly at the water’s edge, only striking when you bumbled too close. She rocked back, arms and legs going limp. It took a moment to realize how close she had come to touching the bars of the cage. It wouldn’t have killed her right away, but she still bore burn marks from previous experiences.
“How?” She swallowed. “How do you know?”
“I researched you thoroughly before this. I don’t take assignments blindly.”
Summer blinked again, so off balance, she didn’t even know what to ask next. She shook her head.
“What’s your third question?” She realized her voice sounded faint as she looked at him.
He shook his head. “No, not now.”
“I’m gonna let you go, but you will owe me a question.”
Summer’s frowned. “And if I don’t give it to you?”
He laughed. “You felt the bond of the contract you made, I wouldn’t mess with it.”
“You are fae,” she said accusingly.
“Now why would you say a thing like that?”
“The contract. You wouldn’t ‘give’ me your name. The ethereal beauty. You’re one of the fae.”
He smirked at her. “You think I’m attractive?”
“No, I’m not fae. Not quite.”
“Well, you aren’t human,” she huffed.
He gave her an enigmatic smile. “You gave me permission to seek you. We have an unfinished bond. I’ll find you when I’m ready for that third question.”
He rose from the chair once more in a creak of old leather.
“I’m going to let you out now,” he said, squatting at the opening of the cage. “I will remind you that fate does not smile upon oath breakers and if you attack me now, on your head, may it be.”
As his hands went to the lock, they passed a patch of thin moonlight from the waning moon. In that weak moonlight, they looked like marble, and Summer scooted back as far and fast as she could.
The calm and easy demeanor that had been on his face the last few minutes dropped and his hands stopped. He met her eyes. The deep blue of his eyes now held something else, something dark.
“I told you, I’m not fae.” He looked away, shaking his head. “But, I’m not a demon either.”
“What are you?” she asked, voice harsh.
“More like you than you think.” His hands moved again. The lock fell away and the door swung open. “You owe me one final answer. I’ll contact you to collect it when I’m ready.”
He stood and backed away from the cage door. He stood straight and tall, marble skin under a plain cotton shirt and the stained cargo pants of a Hunter that he wore as well as a three-thousand-dollar suit, and Summer realized she wasn’t the only incongruous rebel in the room.
One doesn’t often see the Scion of an incubus and human. One certainly didn’t see them in as low and gritty a profession as that of a werewolf hunter.
She bolted through the cage door and fled the small cabin.
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