"There are shifters, then there are Gallize shifters."
“What do you want, Dyson?” Siofra forced the question out as calmly as she could while her gaze darted to the warehouse exit door.
Too far away.
She’d never reach it before the jackal shifter caught her.
“I’m here to see you,” Dyson replied, his sarcastic tone honed to a nasty edge.
She’d feared he would say that. “Give me a minute to finish.”
Sweat poured down her face and soaked the T-shirt and bib overalls she wore. Big fans on each end of the metal building spun, but did little for the stifling August heat, even this late in the day. With Dyson standing so close, though, she perspired for a whole new reason. He’d been sniffing around her for the last two weeks, but she wanted nothing to do with him ... or any other shifter.
Why would anyof the guards want her as a bed partner anyhow? She looked as drab and plain as she felt, plus they thought she was ... off. Who wouldn’t be in her shoes? She’d been captured as a child and believed she was human ... only to find out differently.
That secret would die with her. She would never let the ...
She stopped short of thinking the name of her captors. They claimed to be able to hear her thoughts.
As a child, that had terrified her.
As an adult she had doubts but erred on the side of caution, because those people were definitely not human.
She’d been working her fingers to the bone in her current misery camp. A sweatshop in the truest sense of the word. They’d stuck her in a crappy metal building with no air conditioning somewhere in south Texas.
She’d found out that much about her location, but it didn’t matter. No one was riding in on a white horse to save her.
She’d lived in camps like this since the night jackal shifters had shown up at her father’s one-room apartment in Gary, Indiana, killing him and taking her.
At six years old she’d been starving in Gary, and freezing during the winter.
Compared to that, she’d at first thought getting fed and clothed had been living a dream.
Once she had a full stomach, it became painfully clear she was not in paradise. She spent months expecting someone to rescue her.
Fifteen years as a captive had destroyed that hope.
“Your minute is up, bitch,” Dyson bit out.
“Please. I have to finish this last romper,” she said, turning the toddler outfit over to stitch a seam she’d already sewn once. She hadn’t minded the last camp so much, because she’d been in charge of the small children. Older female captives had taught her reading, writing and more as she grew up. Later on, Siofra jumped at the chance to tutor the younger children. Sure, they were all captives, but the camp leaders didn’t want to deal with idiots.
She didn’t realize until later that an educated captive was more valuable for trading or selling when not kept for breeding.
She couldn’t put this shifter off forever. “Your boss will be upset if I don’t get done, Dyson.”
“I don’t give a fuck what you have left. They blew the whistle three minutes ago. You shoulda been done by now.”
She’d heard the 7:30 PM signal for the end of her ten-hour sewing shift, but had stayed because she loved making children’s clothing. It was the one bright spot in her day. She hoped some child enjoyed the extra little flower and bug designs she added.
No sewing on Saturday, which sucked. Sewing, especially for children, beat being elbow-deep in washing clothes and cleaning the living quarters for animals like the one looming over her.
What did matter was getting out of here and away from Dyson, who had a dangerous ego. If someone observed him from afar, he’d be considered attractive, with pale brown hair, thick-lashed eyes and straight teeth.
Up close, it was easier to see how all that hid a monster and not just a jackal shifter.
She’d been lonely for years, but as much as she craved being with someone it would not be any of the jackal shifters guarding this camp.
And never Dyson. She knew for sure she had not given him any encouragement, just the opposite. So why had he been coming on to her lately?
Most of the guards gave her a wide berth. They thought she might be possessed.
They might be right.
Her skin crawled every time Dyson flirted with her.
No flirting today.
Tension poured off him, mixing with the stifling heat to suffocate her more. She folded over a new seam to add one more row of stitches. Sweat trickled into her eyes.
Why wasn’t Dyson out training with the others?
She’d once seen him snap and beat another guard to a pulp. Might be a good idea to talk to him and figure out what was going on while she did her best to drag out the time.
“What do you need me to do, Dyson?” she asked as if she cared. “As soon as I finish here, they want me at the kitchen.” That would be her next six-hour shift of the day.
“That’ll all wait,” he said in a gravelly voice that sounded only half human. “I’ve got a half hour free and we’re gonna fuck.”
“What?” She jerked her head up.
He started unbuttoning his shirt.
“No.” She pushed the chair back, scraping its wooden legs on the concrete floor. “I am not interested in having sex with you.” She wasn’t having sex with anyone, but definitely not a shifter.
She’d only had sex with one teenage boy, and that had been at a really low point when she’d been moved to a new work camp at sixteen. He’d been sweet to her and she’d been so lonely. He’d caught her during a hormone overload. She’d been happy for about two days.
The camp leader found out and the boy disappeared.
Dyson yanked his shirt off and tossed it.
His eyes switched between his natural brown and bright yellow. Not fully glowing, but close. Being a shifter meant nonhuman characteristics to begin with, but over the years she’d come to learn that glowing eyes were a sign of impending danger, particularly with Dyson.
She might be twenty-one years old, but she had little experience with men.
Dyson had bent over and started pulling off his boots.
Enough of this crap. “I don’t understand, Dyson. I thought you had a girlfriend.” Of course, Bernadette slept with half the guards.
His jaw muscles flexed and the crazy in his eyes kicked up another level. “You’re wasting my half hour. Get. Naked. Now.”
She glanced around, hoping the other two who normally stayed after would help her out, but ... they were gone.
Does my life not suck enough that I have to deal with this, too?
Baatar would fuss at her for staying after the end of a shift. She could hear him grumbling in that deep, soft voice of his. “Never be alone, Sheef-rah.” He was the only one who ever pronounced her name right, and the only man in the world she trusted. She thought of him as a brother, her sole family after years of having no one in her corner.
He said little about his past, just that he’d been brought here from China, but he didn’t sound Chinese. His accent reminded her of a captive she’d met from Ukraine. He’d treated her as a younger sister from the day he arrived six months ago, the same day he stepped in to protect her the first time.
Also, he didn’t see her as a freak, probably because he didn’t fit in either.
She stood and started wringing her hands, trying to think of how to escape.
Baatar was doing some kind of training today, too far away to be of any help, which was probably why jerkface here chose this moment. Baatar despised all the guards, but would think she was currently safe in a group of women.
Barefoot now, Dyson unzipped his pants.
She’d say he looked determined, but that would be too kind for the predatory gaze staring her down.
She could not overpower a shifter and definitely not this one, whose breath often smelled of a lime tea he drank. Jugo Loco juice, a stimulant they got from wolf shifters. The Black River Wolf Pack was a crazy bunch. They had chemists developing drugs to hype up a shifter, as if anyone needed that?
Backing up slowly, she searched for a weapon.
The only thing on the next table was a tape dispenser for sealing packages.
Death by tape gun, sure, that would do it.
Completely confident that she would do as he said, Dyson bent over again to shove his jeans down past his knees.
Her heart raced and the roar of blood rushed through her ears. She had one chance to escape and it was right this second.
She took off for the side door exiting into the wooded area surrounding the building. Sweatshop camps were always deep in the woods to make it easy for shifters to run down captives.
Dyson’s roar shook the building she’d just vacated.
She couldn’t outrun him, but she was not going to stand there and allow him to rape her.
She’d hurt him somehow.
Crashing sounded behind her, which meant he was still in human form. He’d be so much quieter as a jackal running through these woods. Not shifting only meant he had no doubt he could take her down on two legs.
Panting hard, she made a mental note to take up running if she survived this. She’d rather find a place to read quietly than get sweaty exercising, but in hindsight, that had not been good planning on her part. She needed to be stronger for any hope of living to her next birthday.
She could hear him cursing.
No time left to second guess.
Stumbling to a stop, Siofra turned around and held her arms straight up in the air, as if calling to someone.
She had one play.
Making her voice as deep as she could, she shouted, “Spirits of the light, come to me now.” That so wasn’t happening, but the jackals all thought she was crazy, which she intended to play to the hilt right now.
Dyson burst into the small space where she’d chosen to stand her ground. “I will kill you, bitch, if you screw with me.”
Odd threat considering he specifically said he wantedher to screw him.
What would help her sell crazy?
She moaned and swayed from side to side, waving her arms and lowering her lashes until she could just see Dyson. “Yes, I do need your help, spirits. No, please don’t kill him,” she said in a trance-like voice. “That would be wrong.” She peeked through her half-closed eyes.
He frowned at her, but he wasn’t charging forward.
“No, really,” she begged and moaned some more. “That would be such a ... brutal loss to his manhood. Just protect me with your loving arms.”
Dyson leaned forward as her voice dropped to a whisper. Maybe he was buying it.
She started nodding. “I understand. I understand. If you feel you need to use force then do ... as you deem necessary. I will pray for his ... ”
Unexpected cold air rushed over her heated skin.
She peeked out to find someone else had joined them.
A young woman with curly brown hair, wearing a plain white blouse and long brown skirt right out of a Victorian era stood between Siofra and Dyson, wringing her hands.
The woman happened to also be translucent and floating above the ground.
No, no, no. This was the wrong time to be distracted by someone ethereal.
Dyson showed no sign of seeing the ghost.
Siofra wanted to only pretendshe was dangerous to be around, not bring in spirits who generally got in the way and caused more trouble than help. She knew the pattern. They’d started showing up when she suffered through her first period.
Not the best memory of passing into womanhood.
That little distraction was all it took to snap Dyson out of his momentary hesitation.
He lunged at Siofra.
Siofra dodged sideways before Dyson’s body hit her. He caught an arm around her, though, taking them both to the ground.
She pushed at him. Shoving a truck would be easier.
He yanked at the straps on her denim bibs, breaking the button clasps. She kicked her feet so hard her shoes flew off.
He ignored her, ripping the material and yanking on each side.
Her ghost woman moved around frantically, looking lost in the middle of all this.
Siofra couldn’t spare attention for someone who was as much help as a snowball in a firefight. She shoved her knees up hard, trying to knock Dyson off balance.
She screamed at the top of her lungs. “Helllppp!” Maybe Baatar would—
Dyson slapped her across the face.
The world spun.
When her eyes focused, the ghost woman looked furious and slapped both hands at Dyson.
His head passed through her air slaps.
Dyson sat up, looked around and muttered, “What the fuck?”
Tears burned Siofra’s eyes and her jaw felt knocked out of shape, but she deepened her voice and tried again. “It’s a demon ghost and it’s pissed at you.”
He looked down at her. “You don’t scare me, witch.”
“I’m not a witch, asshole.”
“Exactly. You’re nothing but a freak.”
She had never felt so powerless, which was hard to imagine after years of imprisonment and slave labor.
Another ghost appeared in her usual attire of jeans with a T-shirt that read Live. Love. Laugh.
Right. Great advice from someone Siofra had never seen laugh, plus the ghost needed to draw a circle around the word ‘live’ with a line through it.
This spirit came to her from time to time, but never spoke. She’d been a pretty woman when she died, except for the sad look that never left her eyes. Her presence must have pushed the other frantic ninny ghost aside, because the first one slowly became invisible.
Sad Lady bent down and put her hands on Siofra’s feet. A pressure pushed the soles of her feet down on the ground and buzzing started under her heels.
Was pinning her feet to the ground supposed to be helpful?
Major spirit fail.
Dyson’s claws shot out from his fingers. He sliced across the middle of her overalls, ripping the front in two. He laughed, a creepy sound. “This is gonna be fun.”
Tears poured from her eyes. She cried at the crappy life she’d been given and pleaded with the ghost in a thin voice, “Help me, please help me.”
The woman in jeans faded and blinked out, but the curly-head ghost was back, wringing her hands in between pointing at Siofra’s feet.
So. Not. Helping!
Dyson slashed a claw across Siofra’s chest once more, this time breaking skin. She yelled at the burning sensation.
His weight held her in place with the ease of a building sitting on her. She called out for help again and got a piece of her overalls shoved in her mouth.
The ghost frantically pointed at her feet.
Siofra silently screamed, What?
Dyson popped open the sides of her overalls and every muscle in her body tightened in fear. Panic exploded through her. Her body vibrated. She dug her fingers into his arms, trying to push him away. Her toes curled into the dirt from terror over what Dyson was about to do.
A sizzle of energy vibrated against the balls of her feet, then moved up into her calves.
What was happening to her? She didn’t want this monster to think being attacked turned her on.
Her ghost started floating away as if her job was done.
Damn ghosts always showing up at the worst time and never making any sense.
Siofra lunged up again, but Dyson slapped his massive hand on her stomach, holding her in place. He used his free hand to grab the waist of her overalls to pull them down.
No! She would not let him do this.
Siofra lunged up to push her thumbs into his eyes.
He was faster and jerked his head to the side, then gave her another wallop that sent stars through her gaze and knocked the rag from her mouth. But pausing to strike her had interrupted his attempt to get her pants down.
The buzz climbing her legs grew stronger, and the energy moved up higher.
Maybe shewasa freak and crazy, just like everyone said, but no woman deserved this. She shouted, “Why, dammit? Why are you doing this? I’ve never given you reason to hurt me.”
Lowering his face until his glowing eyes stared hard into hers, he said, “It’s your fault they want to give Bernadette to the Black River Pack, because she’s beautiful and not crazy. All I have to do is get you pregnant and your ass is out of here in her place. I get my woman back and I won’t have to face you again. I tried to stomach doing it the nice way. You put me off too long and now I’m losing her in four days. You better test positive before that or you’ll do this every day from here on out.”
He thought to get Siofra pregnant? How could he not know about her?
She couldn’t believe the stupidity of this.
Slapping at his hands, she shouted, “You idiot. You can’t get me pregnant. They already told me I’m sterile.” That word still sent her stomach tumbling when she thought about it. On one level she was grateful that she could not have a baby they would then take from her and sell, but in her dreams she lived as a free person and had a life with a family of her own.
Being a guard meant Dyson should have heard about her infertility. The camp doctor had put her through additional tests to confirm it.
“I’ve gotten plenty of you bitches pregnant for the bosses,” Dyson bragged. “You’re no different than the rest other than being a loony piece of ass.” He shredded what was left of her T-shirt and moved his claw to rip a new opening all the way down the front of her pants.
Panic overrode all thought.
She grabbed his forearms and used them to yank her upper body off the ground. “Noooo!”
Power spread all at once up into her chest, flooding her arms and finally her fingers where she grasped his thick biceps.
Her burst of energy made contact with Dyson.
He went rigid, as if hit with a lightning strike. He bellowed in pain, then started shaking.
She couldn’t open her fingers to release him. They were stuck to his body. Energy buzzed so loud in her ears she couldn’t hear anything else.
He kept shuddering and his neck muscles stuck out unnaturally from strain. She feared they would snap and veins would burst.
She would never survive his retaliation, because shifters healed quickly and he’d be out for blood.
Finally the buzzing calmed. Her fingers felt like they would obey her mind now, but she was too shocked by the wild look frozen on Dyson’s face to move a muscle.
A roar of fury reached her right before a massive boot kicked Dyson off of her. The shifter’s body went airborne, slamming a tree and falling to the ground.
She dropped onto her back with her hands in the air and the tips of her fingers smoking.
That was new and not good.
“Are you okay, Siofra?” a deep voice asked in a panicked voice.
She could see his blurry face and hear his words, but her lips wouldn’t work.
He dropped down to a knee and shook her hard. “Siofra, wake up. They will come soon.”
Blinking, she sharpened her focus.
Taller and with way more muscle mass than Dyson, her camp brother had a savage look to him with his dark beard and hair askew. He’d been the first person to care about her in all these years.
She started shivering and shaking her head. “I think I ...”
“Calm down, Siofra. I am sorry to be rough, but guards are howling. They know Dyson is dead.”
Dyson dead? How was he dead? Did I do that?
The guards would kill her.
“I don’t hear them,” she mumbled, still hearing the energy buzzing in her ears. Thankfully, she hadn’t hurt Baatar.
He kept talking in a low, but urgent voice. “Yes, but I hear them. You must leave.” He lifted her to her feet and yanked his shirt over his head to cover her.
“How can I get out of here?” she mumbled, not able to form a clear thought yet. Then she lifted her head. Even she could hear their howls now.
Panic hit her with a renewed punch.
Her mind snapped back to the moment. She argued in a string of confusion, “I don’t understand. What happened? It’s all woods around us. They’ll catch me in no time.”
Baatar dug through Dyson’s clothes as he talked. “When they bring me in, I am not in deep sleep like they think. I watch whole way. There is road two miles on other side of river. Cross river, get to road and do not stop. Dark will fall soon. Find someone to help you, but be careful. Once guards know you are gone, they will send someone to highway to hunt you. I will keep them busy and give you good head start.”
Leave without him? No. And he hadn’t answered how the shifter could be dead. Shifters healed, always. Had Baatar somehow killed him while she was out of it? “Come with me, Baatar. You said we’d find a way out of here and live safe one day.” Her hands trembled as she tied the ripped parts of her overalls around her waist to hold up what was left of her pants. Baatar somehow had her shoes on her feet, and in the next moment, her clothes were straightened enough for her to run.
“I wish for hat to cover your white hair, Siofra,” Baatar grumbled, still getting her ready.
She’d figure out hiding her hair if she got out of here. “Come with me,” she repeated. “Please.”
His dark eyes held a longing for a second, but he shook his head. “Listen, baby girl. You cannot stay. This is best chance for you to escape. I will distract them plenty time for you to escape.”
“What about you?”
“No worry. I willget out, too. If they do not catch you tonight, I am gone tomorrow. I can escape faster alone.” He grabbed her hand and shoved a wad of cash into it. “Use this to find way out of area fast, but save some for food. Do not wait for me or we will both be caught.”
She stared at the money. “Where’d you get this?”
“Dyson’s pants. He got paid two days ago. Did not leave camp to spend yet. Put somewhere safe.”
She made two stabs at shoving the money in a pocket on her pants. If she kept shaking this bad, she’d never make it.
Baatar grabbed her shoulders, drawing her full attention to his gray eyes. “Stay away from shifters no matter what. Even females. Do not be so nice to them.”
He meant when she’d cared for a female jackal’s child when the woman lost her mate. Sometimes life got so confusing. She found male jackal shifters disgusting, but she couldn’t so easily hate a woman and child who were not a threat to her.
“I know. I will.” She shook her head. “I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you and leave the building the minute I heard the whistle. This is all my fault.”
“No! Not your fault that bastard attacked you, but be more careful starting now. You have to watch your own back until we find each other again. You know where I will go when I am free. You show up, leave the sign we talked about, then find place to wait. Do not get impatient.”
“I won’t. I’ll wait.” She had zero patience, but for Baatar she’d do her best so he was proud of her and they could reunite.
“Go now.” He turned her toward the river, but her gaze fell on Dyson’s body at the base of the tree as she swung around.
Baatar had not done that. What hadhappened? That power she’d felt ... had that killed a shifter? She hated those jackals even more for this. She’d never hurt anyone before.
Now, she was a killer.
“Isn’t there a fence?” Yes, she wanted to escape, but this was all too much to process so quickly.
“There is fence before river, but you can climb over. No electricity, but sharp wire. Be careful. Jackals have no worry about captives getting over it. They are so sure they can track and outrun humans, they do not think about one running far enough to go over fence.”
Baatar had struggled to hide that he wasn’t entirely human, because he was abnormally strong and fast.
But so were the guards.
“They’ll catch me,” she worried aloud.
He shook his head. “They will be too busy chasing me. First I leave my scent all over this place and Dyson. Then I run in different directions, like zigzag. I am bigger prize because fools think they will gain more money for me.”
Baatar gave her a hug that warmed her chilled heart. She’d never find a man as good as him to spend her life with. After her father handed her over without a fight, only to die in spite of that, and Dyson tried to rape her, she had no use for men.
Escape and survival were her only goals now. “Be careful, Baatar.”
“I will. Keep head down and find hat soon. Do not show eyes either. Do whatever you must to stay alive and hide from these bastards.”
Nodding, she turned to leave and stared at Dyson’s rigid body again. “I just want you to know I didn’t mean ... to kill him.” And she still had no idea how she’d actually done it, but suspected her ethereal visitors had upped their game from being irritating to dangerous.
Baatar said, “Do not look at him or waste guilt over that prick. He did not deserve his life.”
Howling rose in the distance, coming their way this time.
Baatar started wiping his scent all over Dyson’s clothes. “No more time. You are strong. You can do this, baby girl. Go!”
She took off running, plenty of adrenaline still racing through her.
Behind her, it sounded like a pack of giants were breaking down trees. Not looking back, she kept spinning her feet as fast as she could.
She would not waste this chance Baatar was affording her.
Please let him escape. Don’t let them kill him.
He was the first person she’d trusted since being dragged away by strangers as a child.
Now, even Baatar would be gone.
Only until he escaped. She had to believe he would make it out.
He’d told her his plan to head northeast, somewhere cold enough to snow. He’d spoken of a place thousands of miles from here.
Where exactly was herebesides being in south Texas?
Years of being a bookworm and reading everything she could in outdated magazines would help, but only if she found a map and figured out how to read it. It wasn’t like her captors handed out maps to the camp slaves to keep them in the loop.
She worked her way through the woods, plowing through brambles that tore at her already wrecked clothes. It seemed forever before she found a fence with barbed wire strung tight along the top.
Finding a toehold, she lunged up.
Climbing with no experience was difficult to begin with, but then that whole lack-of-exercise issue reared its ugly head again. She struggled over the top, slicing her hands on the barbs and gritting her teeth to keep from making a sound.
Sweat drizzled down her forehead. If a shifter caught her blood scent, he’d be on her in a second. She flopped to the other side with minimal injuries.
The first taste of freedom took her breath.
Her heart thumped wildly at the idea of leaving these people forever.
Getting back to her feet, she checked her hands and ... the wounds were already healing. What. The. Heck? Now that she thought about it, she rubbed her fingers over what should still be a burning cut across her middle, but it felt fine and little blood stained Baatar’s shirt.
Had the energy that killed Dyson somehow healed her as it ran through her body? She’d think on it later.
Keep moving. Do not stop. She silently repeated the words Baatar would be telling her right now.
The trees thinned out until she reached the river that supplied their water.
She took in the wide expanse of the fast-moving stream flowing around boulders and frothing where the current slammed up against immovable objects. She wore a pair of slip-on flats and had to be careful not to lose them like she had the one time she’d crossed a river when they’d moved on foot to a new work camp. That had been four years back. Or was it five?
No point keeping up with time passing when someone stole every minute of every day from you. One day turned into the next. Work, work and more work, with just enough food and sleep to keep the laborers strong enough to rinse and repeat. The only reason she knew she’d turned twenty-one had been the humiliating physical exam they gave women of childbearing age who they felt were ready to handle a pregnancy.
Choosing what looked to be the best entry point, she ran thirty feet up the bank to start jumping rocks until she had no choice but to drop into the water and wade across a pool that formed above a drop off. Slogging through the thigh-deep water drained her energy along with her panic.
Finally on the other side, she dragged her soaked body out on the bank and looked back, expecting to see a jackal after her.
Were they all chasing Baatar?
Please be safe, brother.
She had to keep moving.
Like Baatar had pointed out, it would be dark soon. She had no idea exactly where the road would actually be, but she raced forward in what she hoped was the right direction.
Unlike natural jackals in the wild, the camp shifters weren’t primarily nocturnal, but their eyesight was far superior to hers in the dark.
She had no idea if she had covered a mile or two miles, but she kept rushing on. The waning daylight told her it had been a while since she’d left Baatar. Every step away hurt her heart at leaving him, but she couldn’t argue with his reasoning. When he escaped, he would be faster without her.
But that didn’t ease her worry for him.
As the light dwindled to twilight, everything in the woods around her looked the same. Was she lost? She’d read that lost people often walked in circles.
What if she made a circle and returned to the camp?
She stumbled to her knees, caught her breath and pushed up fast ... only to face another ghost.
This one was an old white guy with a white beard and sad eyes buried in a field of wrinkles. He wore a flannel coat over dark work pants. Clearly, he hadn’t died in Texas in August.
She swiped at the sweat about to run into her eyes.
He held a bucket in one hand.
With the other hand, he pointed to her right.
Unlike the last spirit, who never spoke, she heard this old man’s voice in her head. Take that path.
That happened sometimes, but she’d never seen this old guy before now and some ghosts had been very unhelpful.
Should she trust him?
Exhausted, she muttered to no one in particular, “Screw it. Why question this ghost? Not like I know where I’m going.”
She nodded a thank you at the glowing farmer and raced away in the direction he’d pointed. Her legs pushed through weeds and bushes, slowing her progress. Please don’t let her end up running straight to the entrance of Camp Misery, as she and Baatar called their prison.
But a half mile away, she reached a highway. A two-lane country road.
Which way now?
Where was that translucent farmer when she could use another map tip?
She felt a little tingle run up her body as she looked right, then left.
Okay then. Instincts were all she had to go on. She faced the center of the road and closed her eyes, then held her arms out to her sides. Her fingertips pointed in each direction the pavement ran. When her left hand tingled, she opened her eyes and headed that way.
Clearly, there was good reason to question her sanity, but she’d lived moment to moment, only for getting through the next task, since six years old. She could stand here worrying about her choice and wasting precious time, then end up captured.
Or she could keep moving.
Darkness had blanketed her in the last few minutes. She’d made a hundred steps on the hard surface when the pretty female ghost in T-shirt and jeans appeared, but the ghost seemed to have a hard time holding her shape.
The spirit held a hand out, as if telling Siofra to stop or wait.
Really? Not the best advice for someone trying to escape.
Out of the sea of black, a little white dog came running up and slid past the ghost, who smiled and nodded.
Some camps had dogs and Siofra liked dogs, but she stood there, caught in confusion.
The little dog’s tail wagged and it lifted a paw.
The spirit faded then came back just long enough to point at the dog.
What kind of message was that?
When the animal whined, Siofra squatted quickly to keep it quiet. The pooch jumped into her arms. “Hey, you. Do you have a message for me?” Yep, she was destined to wear a straightjacket. She whispered, “I wish I had time to play, but I’m a little busy trying to stay alive. You should head home.” Stupid advice probably since she could see no sign of a house anywhere in this darkness. “You have to go. There are bad beasts in this area.”
He licked her face.
She didn’t want a jackal to get him.
Maybe she could carry him with her in case she saw a house along the way. “Who do you belong to, buddy?”
Headlights came out of the darkness next as a car raced up to her and slammed on brakes so fast Siofra froze in place. If that vehicle held shifters, there was no point in running. They’d catch her in seconds.
Her heart pounded furiously. She should run, but she couldn’t seem to stand up, much less make her legs work.
The dog climbed completely into her lap and shook.
If the car had shifters, she’d help the dog the way Baatar had helped her. She’d take off running and drop the dog quickly in the dark along the way.
The shifters would track her and leave this little guy alone.
Of course, that was assuming she held more value to them than a lost dog.
When the driver door opened, an interior light shined over a young woman, giving Siofra a rush of relief. The woman had her hair twisted up in a bun on top of her head.
Dark eyes peered from her face. “Toto! There you are.”
Siofra started to put the dog down so it could go to its owner.
“Oh, no. Don’t you put that little bastard down. My mom will kill me if I lose him again.” The woman came over and accepted the dog Siofra handed off. Then she gave Siofra a confused look. “What are you doing out here in the middle of nowhere, walking?”
Siofra knew an opening when she heard one. She dug around for an idea based on books she’d read and said, “I had a fight with my boyfriend. I said I wouldn’t screw him so he dumped me out here.”
The woman’s mouth opened in a horrified O shape. “Men are stupid pigs.”
“That is the truth.”
Toto’s keeper asked, “Where’re you going?”
That would be harder to answer. “I just want to get back to ... town.” She’d heard the shifters talk about going to town.
“You mean Columbus?” The dog kept trying to wiggle out of her hands.
“Yes.” Siofra hoped Columbus had a bus station. Was that city even in Texas?
As Toto squirted free, Siofra grabbed him before he completed a nosedive to the ground and pulled the wiggling fur ball up to her arms.
“You are driving me nuts, Toto,” his keeper complained. “See if I let you out to pee again. You’ll be tying your favorite part in a knot next time and holding it.” The woman looked around and muttered, “What the heck. Someone gave me a ride once. I can do that for you. It’s not far out of my way.”
“Really?” Siofra asked, having no trouble sounding sincerely desperate. “Thank you so much.”
“I’m Siofra. I really appreciate this.”
“Eh, I figure you can’t be an axe murderer, you don’t even have an axe. Besides, I took two years of karate and you’re going to have your hands full holding that little bastard.”
Siofra smiled at the odd young woman, happy to find a kindred crazy soul.
She only hoped the jackals couldn’t track her in a car.
But what about Baatar?
Would he get away from the ... Cadells?
Was she far enough away now that they couldn’t hear her thoughts? Was that threat even true? She released a breath of relief at allowing herself to finally think the name of the horrible people who had enslaved her for so long. Now her mind was as free as her body ifthe jackals didn’t find her.
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