The Rising Page 49

“It seems so.”

When we reached the park, I started getting anxious again, thinking about Daniel. Would he be here? How badly was he hurt? Had Rafe made it? Soon my hands started itching, my muscles bunching, my nails thickening.

“You know, that could get really inconvenient,” Hayley said as I rubbed my hands and tried to refocus.

“Tell me about it,” I muttered.

“Do you know what causes it?”

“Stress. Fear. Anger. Right now, it’s door number one.”

My arms started throbbing. I rubbed them. Hayley noticed and sighed.

“Okay, change of subject. Let’s—” She stopped. “Um, explain to me why we don’t want you changing into a big cat?”


She gestured at my pulsing arms. “Why not let you change? You can move faster as a cougar. You can see in the dark better. You can sniff them out better.”

I stopped rubbing my arms. “You’re right.”

“Don’t sound so shocked.” When I protested, she cut me off. “In the van, did you really think I was taking a nap? I was faking it so they’d relax and maybe we could escape.”


“Yeah, oh.” She rolled her eyes. “Go on and do your shape-shifting thing.”

As usual, I passed out to shift. When I got to my feet, I was still groggy enough that I let out a yowling squawk when a voice behind me said, “Wow.”

I twisted to see Rafe there.

He crouched to eye level. “I didn’t mean to startle you. I thought I heard voices earlier, so I jogged over and Hayley said you were in here. She made me wait until she could be sure you weren’t naked anymore.”

I chuffed.

“Yeah, I was disappointed, too.”

I rolled my eyes. He walked over and crouched again. Then he reached out and ran his fingers along the fur from my chin to my neck.

“Wow,” he said. “I am trying so hard not to be envious right now.”

I moved closer, rubbing against him, relieved he’d made it. Then Hayley appeared.

“Yeah, yeah,” he said. “I waited. She was decent. Although, technically, she’s still naked.”

“You’re such a perv.” She turned to me. “Okay, kitty. Lead on. We’ll try to keep up.”

“Yeah, good luck with that,” Rafe said. “If she runs, we’re history.”


I MEANT TO KEEP at their pace, but it was infuriating. The campsite was clear across the park. I could be there in a few minutes. I could know if the guys were there in a few minutes. I could know if Daniel was okay in a few minutes. Finally, Rafe told me to go off ahead. He could see me and if they lost me, he’d shout.

We’d found the right path already. It was overgrown in parts, with downed branches in others—not a popular route—but in cat form it seemed like an open highway, as I leaped over every obstacle with barely a hitch in my speed.

Rafe had to call me once and I circled back at warp speed, heart racing with impatience until I heard him yell, “Gotcha. Go on,” and I tore off again. I think he might have called again, but I pretended not to hear. I was almost there. I could easily return for them. I raced around the last bend so fast I missed seeing a rodent hole until the last second. My paw hit the edge of the hole and I stumbled.

Pain ripped through my foreleg. I forced myself up and gingerly touched my paw down. A fresh stab of pain. I gritted my teeth—which doesn’t really work that well in cat form—and limped forward. I was almost there. Just through these trees and—

The clearing was empty.

I stopped and stood there, flanks heaving with panic. They weren’t here. Their faint smell was at least a day old. Maybe two, meaning they hadn’t come back after Daniel got hit.

I limped forward. Something rustled and I spun to see a burger wrapper caught in a bush. I went over, put my nose to it, and inhaled. It smelled like Corey. We hadn’t eaten burgers before the memorial service. So he’d come back. But where was he now, and—

Another smell hit me as I backed away. Copper. Blood. I stumbled to it and found dried blood seeped into the ground. The spot smelled like Daniel. Oh, God.

Where was he? Had Corey taken him to a hospital? Please, Corey, tell me you took him to a hospital, no matter how much he argued.

I took off, using my sore leg and not caring as I barreled through the thick brush, branches scraping and poking me until—


I looked over to see Corey down a path, his hands raised.

“Holy hell, please tell me that’s you, Maya.”

I hesitated, nose in the air, searching the breeze. Searching, searching . . .

I caught it. I ripped around fast enough to send Corey scrambling for cover. I barreled past him and into another clearing, where I saw a blond head bent over a fire pit, trying to get it started.

As I raced toward the fire pit, Daniel looked up. He grinned. He didn’t even look to see if the big cat bearing down on him bore my birthmark. He just opened his arms and let me race to tackle him, stopping and skidding at the last moment as I remembered he was hurt, but it was too late and I skidded right into him and knocked him over, and he only hugged me and laughed and whispered, “I knew you’d come back.”

“Yep, that’s Maya,” Corey said from behind us.

Daniel gave me a bear hug as I wriggled like a kitten, my sore paw forgotten as I rubbed against him, inhaling his scent, letting my pounding heart slow. I snuffled him, trying to find where he was hurt, but he only laughed as if it tickled. I reached up and licked his face. He let out a sputtering laugh and fell back again.

“I see you found them,” a voice said.

I looked over my shoulder to see Rafe and Hayley walk out of the woods. Rafe’s gaze was fixed on me, his expression cool, and I scrambled off Daniel as guilt darted through me.

“Yep, she did,” Daniel said, giving me one last pat before pushing to his feet. He walked over to Rafe and grasped his hand. “Good to see you.”

Rafe looked abashed, then covered it with a forced grin. I took a deep breath to still my thumping heart again.

When I relaxed, my paws started throbbing again, telling me the return shift was coming. I walked to Rafe, took the dangling leg of my jeans between my teeth and tugged him toward the woods.

“Do you want to take the clothes, or . . . ?” he began.

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