The Calling Page 46

This was real. I’d shape-shifted. I was a cougar. And Antone, Moreno, and the woman were close by.

Was Sam right, after all? Had they tagged Kenjii and were closing in? Time to check this out, while I still wore my handy disguise.

By the time I got to the camp, I knew they weren’t tracking my dog. If they had been, they wouldn’t be staying so far away. I’d traveled at least a couple of kilometers to find them.

When I finally made it, I found two canvas tents and a pickup. From the looks of the small fire, they’d only recently pitched camp for the night.

Moreno, Antone, and the woman sat around the blaze. Moreno and the woman were drinking beer. Antone had a bottle of water beside him, and was crouched by the fire, poking a stick in. I caught the smell of roasting sausage. He pulled it out and put it into bun, then set the stick aside.

“Not going to make ours?” Moreno said.

“I’m sure you can manage.”

“I burn everything. My people didn’t cook over fire.”

“All people cooked over fire at some point,” Antone said.

“You know what I mean. Your family.”

“My family lived in a suburb of Phoenix. I learned campfire cooking in Scouts, like most boys in America.”

“Touchy, touchy,” Moreno said. “I was just—”

“Being an ass?” the woman said.

Moreno muttered something, crushed his beer can, and threw it into the forest. The woman leaned over, took the stick, and started preparing a sausage. Antone walked into the forest, retrieved the can, and tossed it into the trash.

“Earth Mother be angry,” Antone said as he came back to the fire. “Send big thundercloud.”

Moreno made a face at him. As Antone sat again, I thought of what he’d said earlier, about losing my twin brother and me. Hunting for us. Finding me. Being strung along by promises from the St. Clouds.

Did I understand how he felt? I guess so. But I was only his child in blood. I’d been raised by others, and to think he could just take me away from them—then or now—was all kinds of wrong.

It didn’t matter if he’d been given a raw deal. It didn’t matter that as I watched him I saw hints of someone I might have liked. He was trying to take me captive and separate me from my family while endangering my friends along the way. He was the enemy. He had to be.

When Moreno went for a second beer, Antone said, “Enough. I don’t mind you guys having one drink, but there’s a reason I’m drinking water. We need to be alert here.”

“Against what?” Moreno said. “Killer bunnies?”

“Don’t dignify that with a response, Cal,” the woman said.

A cough sounded from one of the tents, and they all glanced over.

“Penny, go see if she wants another sausage,” Antone said. “I’d like to see hereating more.”

“I have a Snickers bar in my bag,” the woman—Penny—said. “I’ll take her that. Kids always like candy.”

“Not sure that applies to teenage girls, but you can give it a shot.”

Teenage girls? Hayley? I inhaled. This close to the fire, though, all I could smell was smoke. I strained to see inside the tent as Penny pulled back the flap, but she didn’t open it far enough.

I slid backward until it seemed safe to turn around. Then I circled the camp. I eyed a massive tree with branches stretching close to the tents. My claws extended and retracted, as if urging me to climb it. Tempting… The tents were in the middle of a large clearing, meaning there was no way I could get close from ground level. I saw a flap tied open on the tent roof. A vent that I could probably see down through.

Up it was then.

I’ll say this much for cat form. It made shimmying up a long evergreen trunk so much easier. I’d seen Marv—our local cougar—do it by taking a run at the tree and landing ten feet up it, but I wasn’t quite ready for such athletics yet. So I started at the bottom, reached up, and unsheathed my claws. Four massive paws equipped with climbing spikes.

I was up the tree in no time. Getting out on the branch was a little tougher. I had to creep along while using my tail for balance. It was the tail part that threw me. I was sure I’d get the hang of it, but for now, I was just glad I had sixteen claws digging into the tree to keep me from sliding off every time I wobbled.

Halfway along the branch I smelled who was in that tent. And when I did, a tiny growl rumbled up.


Penny emerged. “No to the sausage and no to the candy bar. I’d say she’s understandably upset, but it seems more like a hissy fit. She didn’t want to come back out here. She was quite comfy in Vancouver, with her soft bed, hot baths, and room service.”

“All the more incentive for her to lure her friends out so she can get back there,” Antone said. “Hayley obviously wasn’t going to do it.”

They talked for another minute, enough for me to confirm what had happened. Kenjii had escaped and Hayley hadn’t done her job, so they’d swapped her out for Nicole.

As I thought of Nicole, my ears flattened and my chest vibrated with another growl. I swallowed it. Was Nicole really responsible for Serena’s death? What if Sam was mistaken? Wasn’t that exactly the sort of thinking I’d berated myself for earlier—jumping to conclusions?

I continued creeping along the branch until I could look down through the mesh skylight and see her, sitting on a sleeping bag. She wasn’t bound—there was no way out except past her captors. A lantern provided illumination and a pile of magazines provided entertainment. She was reading one, leafing through the glossy pages.

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