The Calling Page 53

The gun changed everything. The gun meant I had, yet again, been too confident in my assessment and, this time, wagered lives on it.

The man walked back to Sam, who still crouched on the ground, hand pressed to her wounded leg.

“Where did your friend go?” he asked.

“I don’t know.”

“I asked you once. I won’t ask you”—he kicked her—“again.”

I had to grip the tree to keep from running at him. Heat raged through me, and I thought it was fury until I saw my arms pulsing.

Oh, yes. God, yes, please!

The man pulled his foot back to kick Sam again.

“I didn’t see!” she yelled. “You shot me, remember? She was in front of me and then you fired and I fell, and I’m guessing she didn’t stick around.”

“You’re a little smart-ass, aren’t you?”

“No, I’m just smart enough to know that she’s smart enough to hide after you shot me. And I’d think you’d be smart enough to know that if I had seen where she went, I’d point you in the opposite direction.”

Keep talking, Sam. Please keep talking.

I crouched and closed my eyes and focused. I imagined myself changing into a cougar as I got down on all fours and tried to move my arms and legs into what seemed like the proper position.

I felt the fever ripping through me and saw my skin bubbling, muscles underneath contorting, but no matter what I did, nothing changed. I didn’t change.

“Just go look for her,” Sam was saying.

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you, girl? Give you a chance to get away.”

“Tie me up then. You’ve got rope, don’t you? All you guys have rope.”

“All you guys?” The man kicked her again. I gripped a tree and squeezed my eyes shut and prayed for my body to change. “You think this is something out of a movie? You don’t get it, do you?”

“Oh, I get it. Your mommy was mean to you, so now you hate women. Can’t face ones your own age, so you chase teenage girls.”

The man let out a snarl of rage and kicked Sam so hard she started choking.

“Does that make you feel better?” she sputtered when she got her breath back.

What the hell are you doing? I wanted to shout. Now is not the time to cop an attitude. You’re pissing off a psycho with a gun—

The man grabbed Sam and heaved her up, and it was then that I realized he wasn’t holding the gun anymore. It lay beside him, tossed down in his fury.

I crawled toward the rifle. The man held Sam up and swung her against a tree. He pulled back his fist and hit her in the stomach.

I sprinted for the weapon. He heard me coming and dropped Sam. As he spun, I hit the ground, skidding until I snatched the rifle. Then I rolled out of the way andleaped to my feet.

When I pointed the gun at him, he laughed. “Do you even have a clue how to fire that?”

I lined up the sight on a tree fifty meters away, and I pulled the trigger. Splinters flew from the trunk. The man paled and grabbed for Sam, but she’d already staggered out of reach.

“You won’t shoot me,” he said.

“No?” I aimed at his chest. “Whatever you had in mind for us, I think it deserves a bullet or two.”

“Does it? I think you girls deserve whatever you get. You know better than to get in the car with a stranger. If you do it, then that tells me you want something.”

“The only thing we wanted was help. Now toss me your keys.”

He grumbled and spat insults, but after a moment, he reached into his pocket and pulled them out. Then he pitched them at me, hard and fast, and lunged, hoping to startle me so he could get the gun.

I saw the keys coming. He was already charging, though, and I knew I had to shoot.

Shoot him in the chest. Kill him because that would guarantee our safety. I felt the impulse. Same as I had with Nicole at the tent. Same as I had with Antone.

I fired. The bullet hit him below the shoulder. He fell, his mouth working, eyes wide with shock.

“It might not be fatal,” I said. “Depends on how long it takes you to find your cell phone.”

I emptied the rifle’s magazine. Then I laid down the gun.

“I’d suggest you tell the police it was a hunting accident. Otherwise I’ll have to tell them the truth.”

I helped Sam to the truck. As she got in, she winced, then glowered at the man lying on the ground.

“If I could kick him without falling on my ass, I would,” she said.

“Hopefully, he’s hurting worse than you are. See if you can find a license or registration in the glove box. The cops are going to get an anonymous tip about this guy.”

Sam grinned as I started the truck. “You can be seriously awesome sometimes, Maya.” She paused. “And I mean that in a totally non-girl-crush kind of way.”

“You don’t have to clarify that.”

“Yeah, usually I do.” She exhaled in pain and leaned back. “Let’s get the guys, get me fixed up, and get out of here.”

I might not have my learner’s permit yet, but I could drive. Dad had taught me a couple of years ago so I could take the Jeep back to Mom after dropping him off across the park.

We didn’t get far before we saw three figures running toward us.

Daniel and Kenjii were in the lead. I don’t know who looked more worried—or more relieved when I pulled over.

“Thank God,” Daniel panted. “We couldn’t get the damned latch open.”

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