I cradled Jason's face in my hands, moving just my head towards him. As I leaned into him, he leaned more into me. I was suddenly very aware that his body was pressed down the length of mine. It made me hesitate, but when his lips brushed mine, I kissed him. I ran my hand back through his hair, until I had a handful of it.
I whispered into his mouth, "We need to get on the ground as soon as possible."
He kissed me harder, hands dropping to my belt. He slid his fingertips inside the belt, and knelt in front of me, pulling me down with him. I let him. He fell back into the leaves and pulled me down on top of him. I propped myself on my scraped forearms against his chest, sort of startled. I just wasn't a good enough actress for this.
I could feel his heart thudding under my hands. He rolled me suddenly, and I let out a little yip of surprise. He ended very firmly on top, and I didn't like it.
"I want on top," I said.
He put his lips next to my cheek. "If they shoot us, I can take a bullet better than you can." He rubbed his cheek along my face, and I realized he was doing the werewolf greeting. Maybe it was their version of a handshake, but I'd never been tempted to shake hands while making out.
I whispered into his ear, which was very close to my mouth, "Do you hear them?"
"Yes." He raised his face enough to kiss me.
"How close?" I kissed him back, but we were both listening, straining to hear. Here we were, lying on top of each other, bodies perfectly matched up, and we were both tight enough that I could feel the muscles along his back knotting.
"A few yards," he said. "They're good." He rested his cheek against mine. "They move quietly."
"Not quiet enough," I whispered.
"Can you hear them?" he asked.
We were both just staring at each other. Neither of us was making much of an effort to kiss or anything else. I could feel that his body was happy to be pressed up against mine, but it was all secondary. Men with guns were coming. Men who didn't like us very much.
I stared up into his eyes from inches away. I knew they were pale blue, but by moonlight they looked almost silver. "You're not going to do anything stupid like shield my body with yours."
He pushed just a little with his hips and grinned. "Why do you think I'm on top?" The grin and the hip movement were to distract me from how very serious his eyes were.
"Get off of me, Jason."
"Nope," he said. He propped himself up on his arms, pressing into me, leaning over like we were kissing. "They're almost here."
I slid a knife out for either hand.
He whispered against my mouth. "We're supposed to look helpless, remember? Bait doesn't go armed."
I could feel how very smooth his cheek was, smell his cologne. I stared past the pale halo of his hair. "We just trust that Jamil and the rest will save us, is that it?"
He licked my chin, then my mouth. I realized he was doing the submissive greeting. He was begging me to go along. His tongue was very wet and very warm.
"Stop licking me, and I'll do it," I said.
He laughed, but it was high with an edge of tension to it. I couldn't resheath the knives with him pressed on top of me, so I laid them down in the leaves. I kept my hands on them, lightly, but tried to relax and look harmless. With Jason pressed on top of me, kissing down my neck, it was easy to look helpless. The relaxed part wasn't going to happen.
I heard them now, moving through the dry leaves. They were quiet. If I hadn't been listening for it, I might have thought it was wind, an animal moving through the undergrowth. But it wasn't. It was men moving heavy and secretively through the forest. Hunting. They were hunting. They were hunting Jason and me.
I saw the first one round the tree, and I wasn't a good enough actress to look surprised. I just stared up at him with Jason on top of me, still kissing the side of my neck.
He'd looked big yesterday. From flat on my back, he was enormous, like a two-legged tree. The rifle in his hand looked long and black and hostile. He didn't point it at us, just held it in the crook of one arm. A big smile split his pale face.
I heard the second man before he touched Jason's shoulder with the tip of a double-barreled shotgun. The moment I saw the shotgun, I knew they'd come to kill us. You didn't go after people with shotguns if you just meant to scare them, not as a general rule, anyway.
If it were silver shot at this range, he could have killed both of us. I wasn't scared yet. I was pissed. Where the hell was our backup?
Jason raised his face slowly. The shotgun tapped his cheek almost gently. "My brother Mel sends his regards."
I rolled my eyes to look past the shotgun. The man was wearing a black T-shirt with a Harley logo on it. His belly hung out over his belt. There was a family resemblance.
I said very calmly, each word careful but not scared, "What do you want?"
Mel's brother laughed.
The first man joined him.
They stood over us with the guns and laughed. Not a good sign. Where the fuck was Jamil?
"Get off of her real slow," the first man said. The rifle was at his shoulder now, snuggled against his chin like he knew what he was doing.
Jason leaned over me until I was as hidden as I could get under his body. Being short made it hard for him to shield me completely.
I told him. "Get off of me."
"No," he said. He'd seen the shotgun, too. And I realized he understood what it meant. I was not going to let him die a hero. I was certainly not going to let him die by spattering his brains all over me. Some things you recover from. Some things you don't. Wiping Jason's brains off my face might be one of the latter.
I let go of the knife in my right hand, letting the blade lie in the leaves. It took everything I had not to tighten my grip on the one in my left. I tried to keep my hand very still. In the dark, they might not notice. They hadn't, so far.
"Get off of her," the man repeated, "or I will shoot you both where you lay."
"Off, Jason," I said softly.
He moved enough so we could see each other's eyes. I looked to my right at the rifleman. Then I touched my chest and looked at Mel's brother. I was trying to tell him that the rifle was his problem and the shotgun was mine. I hoped he understood. Either he did, or he had his own plan, because he raised very slowly and got to his knees. I sat up, not too fast, not too slow. I kept my left hand in the leaves, knife gripped tightly.
The rifleman said, "Hands on your head, boy."
Jason didn't argue. He just clasped his hands on his head like he'd done it before.
No one told me to put my hands on my head, so I didn't. If we were lucky, they'd treat me like a girl. The rifleman had been unconscious when I hurt Mel. The one with the shotgun hadn't been there. What had Mel told them?
The rifleman said, "Remember me, asshole?"
"Is he asking you or me?" I asked. I scooted in the leaves a little closer to the guy with the shotgun.
"Don't get cute, chickie," the rifleman said. "We came here for both of you, but I want my piece of this one first."
Jason flicked his eyes to me. "You must be losing some of your charm, Anita. He wants a piece of me instead of you."
The rifleman had the rifle aimed very steadily at the middle of Jason's chest. If it were silver ammo, he was gone. The rifleman said, "Chuck."
Chuck, the one with the shotgun, grabbed my left arm. I opened my hand and let the knife fall before he raised my hand free of the leaves. The rifle was too steady on Jason for me to try stabbing Chuck. If I were lucky, I'd get another chance. If I wasn't, I was going to come back and haunt Jamil.
Chuck's hands were big and meaty. Thick fingers dug into my arm enough that if I lived, I'd be bruised.
"If you don't do exactly what I say, your girlfriend gets it."
I wanted to say, "Who writes your dialogue?" but I didn't. The shotgun hovered about an inch from my cheek. Pretty clear what it was. I could smell the oil in the gun barrels. It had been cleaned recently. Nice to know of Chuck took care of his weapon.
The rifleman did two things almost at once: He stepped forward and reversed his gun. The rifle butt smashed into Jason's chin. Jason swayed but didn't fall.
The rifle stabbed at him again, catching him high on one cheekbone. Blood spilled in a black line.
I must have moved, because the shotgun was suddenly pressed against my cheek. "Don't do it, bitch."
I swallowed and spoke very carefully with the cool metal against my face. "Do what?"
"Anything," he said. He jerked my arm for emphasis, grinding the shotgun into my cheek.
The rifleman said, "The doc said you could have broken my spine. Said I was lucky. I am going to hurt you, asshole, then I'm going to kill you. If you take it like a man, I'll let the girl go. You wimp out, and I do you both." He smashed the rifle into Jason's mouth. Blood and something heavier flew shining in the moonlight. The beating began in earnest.
I'd seen people hurt on the judo mat. I'd gone to martial arts tournaments. I'd even been knocked out a couple of times for real by bad guys. But I'd never seen a real beating, not like this. It was methodical, thorough, professional.
Jason made no move to protect himself. He never cried out. He just knelt in the leaves and took it. His face was covered in blood. His eyes fluttered, and I knew he was close to passing out. I had to do something before he lost it.
Through it all, Chuck had kept the shotgun pressed to my face so hard I knew I'd have the imprint of it on my skin. He never wavered, never gave me any chance to do anything. I was beginning to think that Chuck wasn't an amateur. I'd given up on Jamil or anyone else. It was just the four of us in the darkened woods. Just the smack of the rifle hitting flesh. The sound of the rifleman's grunt of effort as he tried to make Jason cry out.
Jason finally slipped to his side. He tried to keep his hands up, but he couldn't.
He leaned on his arms in the leaves. There was a fine, visible trembling in his upper body. He was fighting to stay upright.
"Beg me to stop," the rifleman said. "Beg me, and maybe I'll just shoot you. Beg me to stop, or I will fucking beat you to death."
I believed him. I think Jason did, too, because he just shook his head. He knew if he gave the man what he wanted, he would finish it.
I felt something, a prickling rush of warmth. It was Richard. He was out there somewhere. He opened the mark inside my body. It flowed over my skin and across Chuck's hand. "What the fuck was that?" he asked.
I didn't move or say anything.
"Answer me, bitch, you trying some magic shit on me?" He pushed the shotgun in even harder. If he kept it up, he was just going to shove it through my cheek.
"Wasn't me," I said.
He jerked me to my knees, and the shotgun wasn't pressed into me anymore. It was pointed out into the darkness for just a second. It was one of those moments. Everything slowed down, as if I had all the time in the world to draw the big knife down my back. The knife cleared the sheath. The shotgun and Chuck turned back towards me. I used the momentum of drawing the blade to swing it down and across. I felt the tip catch Chuck's throat, and knew it wasn't a killing blow. Something fell from the trees above us. A shadow only a little more solid than the rest. The shotgun's barrels were like two dark tunnels pointed at my face.
I heard the rifle behind me, but there was no time to look for Jason. There was just the gun pointed at my face, the shadow that I didn't have time to look up and see.
The shadow fell between us. The shadow had fur. The shotgun exploded on the other side of that furred shadow. The lycanthrope staggered backwards but didn't fall. The shotgun exploded again, both barrels. Before the echoes died, I was scrambling through the leaves, around the lycanthrope. Chuck's eyes were wild, showing white, but he had the shotgun broken down across his left arm. The two spent shells were gone and two more were being shoved into the breech. He was good.
I shoved the blade just under his big shiny belt buckle. A shudder ran through him, but he slid the shells inside the breech. I shoved the blade in until it grated on bone, spine or pelvic girdle, who knew. He slapped the breech closed against his arm like he was skeet shooting. I pulled the blade out of his body in a gout of blood.
He fell in slow motion, straight down to his knees. I lifted the newly loaded shotgun from his hands, and he didn't fight me. He knelt in the leaves and blinked out into the darkness. He didn't seem to be seeing me now.
Someone was screaming, high and wild. I glanced behind me, and it was the rifleman. He was sitting on the ground with one arm pointed up in the moonlight. The arm was missing from the elbow down. Jason was lying very still in the leaves. Zane was sitting beside him with blood on the back of his yellow T-shirt.
I stood and moved away from Chuck. He fell face forward into the leaves. He was alive enough to put his face to one side, but not to catch himself with his hands. The werewolf that had saved me was lying on his back, gasping for air.
There was a hole in his gut bigger than my two fists. There was a bitter smell almost like vomit but ranker. His intestines had been perforated. The smell told me that. The gut wound wouldn't kill him. Even if it was silver shot, it wouldn't kill him right away.
The second wound was higher up in the deep, broad chest. His black fur was wet to the touch, soaked with blood. I could have shoved my hands in the dark, wet hole, but I couldn't see shit. I couldn't see if the heart was damaged.
His breathing was wet, sloppy, almost strangled. I could hear bubbling coming from the wound. At least one lung had been compromised, that's what I was hearing. He was still struggling to breathe, so his heart had to be working, didn't it?
Real werewolves look sort of like movie wolfmen, but the movies never quite capture it. He, very definitely a he, lay on his back, gasping. It was like watching a dream breathe, except this dream was dying. I thought it was one of Verne's wolves, that I didn't know him. Then I saw the remnants of a white T-shirt caught on one shoulder like a bit of forgotten skin. I pulled gently on the cloth, and saw the smiley face on it. I stared into yellow wolf eyes. Stared down at Jamil. He'd done what a bodyguard is supposed to do. He'd taken my bullet. I took off my shirt and packed it into the hole in his chest. It took both my hands to cover the wound, to try and make a seal so he could breathe again. So he wouldn't bleed to death.
I whispered, "Don't die on me, damn it," then I started screaming for help.