Dead Heat Page 83

Ms. Edison grabbed a bridle and slid open the stall door. She wasn’t in there very long before she led out a horse saddled with a worn western saddle.

Who had saddled the horse and left her in the stall?

And such a horse. Her pale tail dragged on the ground, and her thick mane—it was unusual for a chestnut to have such a thick mane—hung six inches below her slender, well-shaped neck. Huge dark eyes looked out at the world with an air of gentle sweetness. Her legs were strong and square-jointed. This was a mare who could run a hundred miles and emerge from the ride entirely sound and ready to go again.

Why wasn’t this horse at Scottsdale or in the breeding barn? He’d seen a lot of horses in his long life, and this mare was among the top three or four. Maybe even the very best.

The fae grabbed Mackie and tossed her back over her shoulder. Ms. Edison crawled onto the horse with enough competence that he could see it wasn’t the first or the twentieth time she’d been on a horse. That made sense. Until the twentieth century the horse was the prevalent method of transportation.

The horse snorted at an open stall door. That’s where you are, Joseph. Stay quiet. You’ve done your part, forcing the fae to stay until I could get here. This isn’t a good place for a fight when there’s an innocent bystander or two. We need a nice open place. The arena or the dirt lot behind the barn. Either would do.

The fae jerked hard at the bit and Charles winced for the mare’s soft mouth. The sweet-natured mare just lifted her head and started obediently for the arena. She walked right past Charles without pause, but he was hidden, so that wasn’t strange. Even if she’d noticed him, Hosteen and his pack ran all over this farm in wolf form. She wouldn’t view him as a predator.

He was just getting ready to leave his place when Joseph emerged from the stall and, moving like a young man, started after the mare.

Charles let the magic fall and trotted out to block his way.

Joseph stopped, gave him a tense smile, and pointed out to the arena with five fingers open. Five, he mouthed. Four. Three.

He didn’t know what the countdown was for, but he trusted Joseph and followed the horse out into the arena and planned on something happening in two seconds. An explosion. The big arena lights turning on suddenly. A loud noise.

Well, the explosion was pretty close.

That sweet-faced mare stretched her neck and pulled herself about six inches of slack in the reins. Then she levitated without gathering herself. Charles, horseman though he was, didn’t even see her move until she was four feet in the air with her front end going sideways one direction and her rear end the other in a catlike twist. When she landed, she planted one front foot, dropped her shoulder, and launched her rear end so high he’d have sworn it was briefly in front of her front feet before it snapped back down.

Mackie flew off one direction, and the fae fell the other. Without making a sound, without anything that might warn the thing that had been Mackie’s principal, Charles landed on her and dug his jaws and his claws into her flesh. He ripped, holding her body down with his paws while he jerked back his head.

She screamed, the noise starting as low as a big cat’s growl and then reaching a pitch that was a weapon in and of itself. High-pitched and sharp, sound traveled painfully from his ears right down his spine. He released the torn meat and bit down again—or he meant to. His jaws didn’t work. When she rolled, he fell off her as limp … as limp and unmoving as Mackie and Amethyst before him.

His first reaction was disbelief. Never had his body failed him before, not like this. His magic—wolf, witch, and shaman—had never left him defenseless. Charles felt a breath of panic that was knocked aside by the storm of Brother Wolf’s frenzied rage. He lost a moment or two to Brother Wolf. He hadn’t allowed the wolf to take over to the extent of losing time since he had been a child. When he took hold of Brother Wolf and dragged control back, the fae was already on her feet again. Her left shoulder drooped until she grabbed her left arm with her right and made a sharp movement. With a snap, the shoulder slipped into place and reknit itself.

She dropped the appearance of being human entirely then. Green mottled skin crawled up her body—his body, demonstratively, for he wore no clothes. Limbs elongated and, as if someone had put a hook in the back of his neck, his body jerked upward, unfolding into a form that was seven or eight feet tall.

He stood upright like a gorilla stands upright, with his knuckles dragging the ground. He twisted the upper part of his body until he could look at Charles, his face now covered with knobbly green skin and populated with tiny red eyes and a mouth that opened like a leech’s, complete with narrow, long, sharp teeth and a yellow-and-red-spotted tongue.

And Charles was helpless. His frustration and anger burned and sizzled, a tithe on Brother Wolf’s fury. Charles sought to push that emotion, all of that power, into magic that might combat the spell that held him helpless.

The fae creature roared at him; this time there was no magic at all in its cry, only triumph and rage. At that moment, two werewolves landed on the creature’s back, one from each side as if these two had fought together before.

Charles recognized the raccoon-masked face of the leftmost one as a wolf who’d belonged to Hosteen when he had come to see the Alpha of the Salt River Pack the first time, near enough to a century ago. His fur was dark with dried blood. Evidently this was not the first encounter that wolf had had: Ms. Edison had not driven up to the house unchallenged.

The fae grabbed one wolf with a move that proved him to be double-jointed. His hand was big enough to surround the wolf’s head and tear him off, flinging him out of Charles’s line of sight. He simply touched the other wolf and that one dropped like a stone. Like Charles.

Charles realized that it hadn’t been sound that had echoed through his body earlier, it had been magic. The second wolf landed half on Charles, half off. The remaining wolf, the one who’d been thrown, was back. He moved like a cattle dog working an angry bull, nip and run and nip and run.

For a moment, Charles thought that wolf had a chance. But he went for a throat grab. The fae’s joints didn’t work like a human’s joints—or those of any other animal Charles had seen. His head just moved with the wolf’s motion, neck emerging from his shoulders like a Slinky pulled out of a box. He swiveled and bit down on the wolf’s neck. The wolf cried out, red blossoming around the fae’s closed mouth.

Charles broke out in a sweat and curled his paw.

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