Home>>read Prey (Shifters #4) free online

Prey (Shifters #4)(9)

By:Rachel Vincent

“Will do.” Ethan followed Jace outside, to where my father’s van was now parked next to Vic’s Suburban. “Mom said she fell asleep playing PS3 after dinner.”
I frowned, shivering in the sudden cold as I gripped the door frame. “I’ll talk her into Shifting when I get back. One way or another.”
Ethan opened the passenger-side door as Jace started the engine. “I know.” My brother grinned one last time as Jace backed my dad’s ancient van out of the parking space. Then they were gone.
I closed the door and twisted to find Marc watching me with a new heat in his eyes. So we picked up right where we’d left off….
Six hours later, my cell phone rang out from the dark. I sat up, blinking, and reached over Marc to feel around on the nightstand, aiming vaguely for the bouncing, glowing mound of plastic.
I couldn’t reach it, so I levered myself over Marc with my elbow in his chest. He grunted and his eyes flew open, and I gasped when my bad leg twisted beneath me, because I still hadn’t found a chance to Shift. But then my fingers closed around the phone and I eased my weight back onto the mattress, flipping the phone open without reading the name on the display.
“Faythe?” It was my dad, and he sounded infinitely more alert than I was. Which was probably a very bad sign.
“It’s five in the morning, Daddy.” I shrugged when Marc rubbed sleep from one eye and mouthed, What’s wrong?
“I know what time it is,” my father snapped, and his tone brought me instantly awake. “Ryan’s gone.”
“What?” I said, as Marc sat up and clicked on the lamp on the nightstand.
I’d expected to hear that Kaci had Shifted, or that Jace and Ethan had arrived home safely with the bodies. Or even that they’d been pulled over on the way home and arrested on some weird murder and illegal-corpse-disposal charge. But I didn’t quite know how to react to the news that my middle—and least favorite—brother, Ryan, had pulled a Houdini. “How?”“I honestly don’t know. I was up tending the incinerator, and went down to the basement for spare flashlight batteries, and he was just gone. The cage door was standing wide open, and the lock was missing.”
Damn. But why would he take the lock?
Ryan had spent the past six and a half months locked up in our basement prison cell, as punishment for playing the role of spy and jailer in a scheme to kidnap several U.S. tabbies—including me—to be sold to Alphas in the Amazon. When we’d caught him, he was thin and weak. But he’d grown healthier in captivity, eating my mother’s cooking, despite the lack of sunshine, fresh air and exercise.
But that did not explain how he’d escaped. The cage was built to stand up to toms in the prime of life, fueled by rage and fear. He should not have been able to break the lock on his own, and he had access to nothing with which to pound it off.
“Any idea how long he’s been gone?” I asked, rubbing my forehead in frustration.
“Owen took his dinner down at seven, and everything was normal. So it could have been anytime in the past ten hours.” The weariness in his voice spoke volumes, and had little to do with the early hour or lack of sleep. With my father’s position on the Territorial Council so tenuous at the moment, Ryan’s escape was a blow he really couldn’t afford. Malone would use that as just one more piece of evidence that my father was an incompetent Alpha. Which was not true.
“Did he leave a trail?” Marc ran one hand through short curls he’d probably forgotten he’d sheared.
My father sighed over the line. “Yes, but it did little good. Owen tracked him for about a mile and a half, then lost the trail shortly after he found his clothes. It looks like Ryan Shifted and took to the trees.”
Cats can’t track animals like dogs can, and the same holds true for werecats. We use our keen sense of smell to scavenge and to identify one another, and our eyes and ears to find prey during an active chase. However, we lack the necessary instinct to follow a cold trail on scent alone, and once Ryan was in the trees—no doubt walking the limbs like a splintered forest path—he was beyond our immediate grasp. Which probably infuriated Owen, my third brother.
“So what do you want us to do?” I sipped from the cup of lukewarm water Marc handed me from the nightstand.
“There isn’t much you can do.” My father’s desk chair squealed in my ear, and I could easily picture him sitting in his office in his blue striped robe, glaring at the empty room. “Just ask Marc to keep his eyes and ears open. I’m pretty sure Ryan’s headed your way.”
Because Mississippi was the closest free territory to the ranch, thus the easiest for Ryan to reach. In theory. Unfortunately, we now knew there was an exceptionally large band of very angry strays roaming near the border, and one whiff of Ryan’s Pride-cat scent would likely set them off again. 
My idiot brother had jumped out of the frying pan and into the fucking volcano, and I had a sudden bleak certainty that the next body we buried might break my mother’s heart.
Marc exhaled heavily and scowled. He and Ryan hadn’t exchanged two civil words since June, and Marc no longer officially worked for my father. But he would never say no to my dad. “I’ll be looking for him,” he said, well aware his former Alpha could hear him, even several feet from the phone.
“Thanks.” My father ordered us to get some sleep. Then he hung up.
We didn’t sleep.
After the ambush, injuries, and Ryan’s escape, sleeping seemed like a waste of time, especially considering that Marc and I only had a matter of hours left together. So we made other, better use of the predawn hours.
When the first direct rays of daylight glinted through the gap in the faded motel curtains, I squeezed my eyes shut, hoping that if I didn’t see it, it didn’t exist. But morning would not be ignored.
Marc sighed and kissed my jaw, just below my ear. “You hungry?”
I shook my head on the pillow, but he only laughed and tossed the covers back. Werecats were always hungry. “Why don’t you Shift while I grab some breakfast. Then I’ll take another look at your leg.”
“Oh, fine.” I sat up naked in bed, hoping to tempt him into putting off the food run. No such luck. His eyes lingered, but the rest of him did not. Ten minutes later he was showered, dressed and headed toward the IHOP across the street.
Alone, I knelt on the floor to Shift.
The usual pain of the transformation was intensified in my leg, especially the flesh over my thigh, which burned and throbbed with an acute agony. The skin pulled and stretched, and for a couple of minutes I worried that the stitches would pop. But when the Shift was complete, my leg felt much better. Still tender, but fully functional.
I stretched with my forepaws extended, rump in the air, tail waving lazily. Then I sat up and groomed the fur over my left shoulder until it lay properly. After that I explored my surroundings. I’d never been in a hotel room in cat form, and everything looked and smelled very different with my feline senses. Which was not necessarily a good thing.
As a human, I’d been blissfully unaware of the traces of whoever’d had the room before us, but as a cat, I couldn’t ignore the lingering stench of strangers’ sweat, stale coffee, old takeout, and seafood-scented vomit in one corner of the bathroom. I was afraid to get too close to the bed, for fear of what I’d smell there.
After a mere five minutes in cat form, I’d had enough. I Shifted back and stepped into the shower, glad I’d brought along my own shampoo—a familiar scent to help wash the others from my memory.
I was drying my hair when a cold draft around my ankles announced Marc’s return. The scents of bacon, eggs, syrup and fruit told me he’d ordered nearly the entire IHOP menu. I was halfway through my first pancake when his cell rang out.
Marc dug in his right pocket and pulled out his cell phone—one I hadn’t seen before. New job, new house, and a new phone, since my father no longer picked up the cellular bill. Everything had changed.
“It’s your dad,” he said after a glance at the display, then flipped his phone open. “Hey, Greg, what can I do for you?” As if he were still on the clock.
“I spoke to Bert Di Carlo this morning and reported last night’s ambush. With both Vic and Faythe injured—” Ethan and Jace had obviously reported my condition “—Bert and I would feel much better about this trip if you’d accompany the delegation for a bit longer than we’d planned. You have permission to go as far as Birmingham. If you’re interested.”Marc grinned and glanced at me. “Of course I’m interested.”
“Good.” I pictured my father nodding, signaling the end of the discussion. “Put Faythe on the line, please.”
Marc handed me his phone, still smiling as he speared a link of sausage with a plastic fork. I was grinning like an idiot, too, thrilled by the prospect of a couple of extra hours with Marc, even if we’d be stuck in Vic’s car along with the rest of the delegation.
“Hi, Daddy.” I dipped a slice of bacon in a puddle of syrup and bit into it, covering the mouthpiece to keep from crunching into his ear.
“How’s your leg?”
“It’s fine. Just three slashes above my right knee, and bite marks around my ankle. I Shifted this morning, and the wounds have closed nicely. I’m not even limping.”