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Prey (Shifters #4)(6)

By:Rachel Vincent

We’d been driving for about ten minutes when Marc called my cell phone.
“You guys okay?” I asked by way of a greeting, as I fiddled with the vent above the rear bench seat. I’d bandaged Vic as well as I could, then stayed in the back to keep an eye on him.
Over the line, Painter’s crappy old engine protested as he accelerated. They were on the road, too. “All scratched up, but I’ve been worse,” Marc said.
“Me, too,” Painter spoke up, his voice slightly muffled from distance to the phone.
“What happened?” Des started to fuss behind me, and I looked up to see Manx dig a capped pacifier from a pale blue diaper bag. 
Marc exhaled deeply over the phone. “After you guys left, their motivation faded. We dragged the dead ones into the trees. Same with the unconscious ones.”
“What about the rest?”
“The strays who could walk hobbled off on their own. We knocked the rest of them out and moved them into the trees with the others.”
“How many bodies?” Vic called from behind me, his excitement obvious, even through the pain in his voice. I’d never heard of Pride cats facing foes in such great numbers before, and we’d more than held our own. The news would travel fast, and surely even my father’s opponents would be impressed. How could they not be?
“Six dead,” Marc said. “Five unconscious. Seven more injured, but awake until we fixed that oversight. At least three got away.”
Ethan whistled as he changed lanes, and I did the math in my head, gasping at the total. “Twenty-one strays, all working together?”
My brother huffed. “Plus however many would have been in the second wave.” The very thought of which made me shudder.
“What do you think they wanted?” I said into the phone, staring out the window at the passing darkness. After the ambush, my imagination was working overtime, and I kept thinking I saw eyes staring out at me from the woods.
“Well, they weren’t dressed for conversation,” Marc said. In fact, they weren’t dressed for anything, which was his point. It was impossible to negotiate—or even make demands—without human vocal cords.
The strays had come to kill. But why?
“We need to call Dad.” Ethan flicked off the high beams when headlights appeared on the road in front of us.
“Already have.” Soda fizzed and Marc gulped in my ear, and I pictured him drinking directly from Painter’s two-liter of Coke. “He’s sending a crew to take care of the bodies.” He paused for another drink. “There’s a Holiday Inn just off the Meadville exit. Check in and get several adjoining rooms. Preferably on the back side. We’ll be there in half an hour.”
Adjoining rooms would make it easier to keep an eye on Manx and the baby, and parking in the back would help hide our vehicles, in case the second wave of strays came looking for us.
“Got it. See you in a few.” I hung up the phone and immediately wished I’d told him I loved him, especially considering how close we’d all just come to dying. “How you holding up, Vic?” I twisted again to look at him in the constant ebb and flow of the highway lights, now that we were on an actual highway, instead of some dark, two-lane back road.
“The bleeding’s slowed,” he said, accompanied by the crinkle of plastic. “But my arm stings like a bitch.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll get you all fixed up.”
Forty-five minutes later, I sat in the center of the left-hand bed in the hotel room Vic and Ethan would share. Their room was connected by a currently open set of back-to-back doors to another room, where Manx sat in a wheeled desk chair, nursing Des. Again.
Marc and I had our own room, next to Manx’s, but not connecting. A little privacy was all we’d be able to salvage from the botched transport/reunion  . That, and dinner together, if Ethan and Painter ever returned with food.
“Okay, let’s take a look at the damage,” Marc said from the end of the other bed. He clenched the shoulder of Vic’s T-shirt and pulled. Seams split with a rapid-fire popping sound, and the detached material slid fromVic’s arm to the floor. We’d learned through experience that the torn-sleeve approach was much easier than making the patient pull his shirt over his head with an injured arm.I sucked in a deep breath at the sight of Vic’s gored arm, and my fist clenched around the hideous orange-and-yellow-print comforter. But Marc didn’t even blink. He’d seen worse. Hell, he’d been through worse.
So had I, come to think of it. I fingered the healed slash marks on the left side of my abdomen as I stared at Vic’s arm. My scars were ten weeks old, and still pink, a permanent reminder of Zeke Radley and his Montana band of loyal/crazy strays—which had just been dwarfed by the gang we’d faced an hour earlier.
“What do you want for the pain?” Marc asked, angling Vic’s arm into the glow from the lamp on the bedside table. Why don’t hotel rooms ever have overhead lights?
Vic grimaced. “Whiskey.”
“You’re in luck.” Marc smiled as he lifted a white plastic sack from the floor; he and Painter had made a supply run on the way. He pulled two bottles from the bag. One was Jack Daniel’s, the other hydrogen peroxide. But the clink from the sack as he set it down told me Marc was prepared for Vic’s second and third choices, too.
For the next twenty minutes, I watched Marc clean and stitch Vic’s wounds, grateful that they were shallow, if long and ugly.
I was next. We’d decided the bite marks on my arm could simply be bandaged, since they hadn’t torn. But my leg needed stitches, and apparently that fact was nonnegotiable.
Marc held my arm to stabilize me as I hobbled across the dingy carpet to the cheap dinette, wearing only the tank top and snug boy-shorts I usually slept in. My pants had gone the way of Vic’s shirt and the remains were now draped over the unused chair on the other side of the table.
Marc knelt next to me and ran one hand up my bare leg, ostensibly inspecting the gashes above my right knee, and neither of us even pretended I was shivering from cold, or from shock. He hadn’t touched me in months, and the pain of my injuries couldn’t trump the feel of his hand on my skin. Squeezing. Stroking. Lingering…
I clamped my jaws shut on a moan of both pain and pleasure, unwilling to embarrass either of us with my lack of control.
“You ready?” Marc asked, and I nodded hesitantly. In spite of many past injuries, I’d never had homemade sutures, and had certainly never surrendered to them with nothing more than Tylenol for pain. Well, Tylenol and whiskey—not my drink of choice, but apparently sitting for stitches wasn’t a margarita-sippin’ kind of event.
He smiled sympathetically and lifted my leg to slide a clean white towel from the bathroom beneath my thigh. “Take a couple of drinks while I get you cleaned up.”
For once, he didn’t have to tell me twice. On the table sat two glasses. One Manx had half filled with whiskey, the other with Coke and ice from the vending machine in the lobby. I picked up the first glass and made myself gulp twice before chasing the contents with half the cup of Coke. I barely felt the sting of peroxide on my thigh because of the flames of whiskey in my throat. 
Marc laughed and poured more soda. Then he picked up the thin, curved suture needle.
The hardest part was holding still. The needle didn’t hurt much more than the gashes themselves. So as long as I didn’t look, I was mostly okay. Even so, within minutes I’d finished both glasses, and Vic crossed the room to refill them for me with his good arm.
We were both half-drunk, and probably looked pretty damn pathetic. The alcohol would wear off quickly, thanks to our enhanced metabolism, but I had a feeling the pathetic part would last a while. And leave scars.
Like I didn’t have enough of those already…
By the time Marc had sewed up my thigh, and cleaned and bandaged both my ankle and my arm, Ethan and Painter were back with dinner: five large pizzas, three more two-liters, and two dozen doughnuts.
Manx refused to leave Des, even with him asleep in the middle of the bed in the next room, with the connecting doors open. So she took a paper plate full of pizza back to her room. The rest of us spread out on the floor of Vic and Ethan’s room, pizza boxes open, plastic cups filled with one combination or another of soda, ice and alcohol. I had more Coke, with Absolut Vanilia, which Dan had picked up because he thought it might go down easier for me. He was right. If I held my nose while I swallowed, it tasted like Vanilla Coke.
Sort of.
“So, how is the kid?” Dan asked, a slice of pizza poised to enter his mouth, point first. “She any closer to Shifting?”
I shook my head. “She won’t even talk about it. And when you try to make her, she puts on her earphones and turns her music up loud enough to damage her own hearing.”
Vic grinned at Ethan, and spoke with his mouth full. “Michael says you should never have given her that damn thing.”
“Whatever.” Ethan tossed his crust into a half-empty pizza box and grabbed another slice. “She’s not turning up her music because she doesn’t want to Shift, or because she doesn’t want to talk about Shifting. She’s turning up her music ‘cause she’s a teenager. And because she doesn’t want to hear any more of that psychobabble bullshit you all spout at her 24/7.”