Home > Hunter's Trail (Scarlett Bernard #3)(17)

Hunter's Trail (Scarlett Bernard #3)(17)
Author: Melissa F. Olson

“And she did help me,” Beatrice confirmed. “She saved me. But she didn’t hit her head. She did something that her kind shouldn’t be able to do.”

She glanced at her husband, who nodded. “She turned Ariadne into a human,” Dashiell said gravely. All three of them looked at Jesse, waiting for a reaction. Jesse’s eyes moved from face to face, not getting it. “Permanently,” Dashiell added emphatically.

Understanding struck Jesse. “That’s . . . how is that even possible?”

“It’s not supposed to be.” Beatrice noted. “But Scarlett is the strongest null any of us have ever encountered. None of us knew . . . well. As it turns out, she’s strong enough to turn one of us into a human again.”

“But it sort of shorted out her brain,” Will added. “I didn’t hear about it until much later”—there was the briefest annoyed glance at Dashiell—“but apparently it works on werewolves too, because nine days ago she changed Eli back into a human.”

Whoa. Jesse sank back into his chair, trying to process. Scarlett could undo magic, for good? And Eli was human again? What would that even mean? “Why didn’t she tell me?” Jesse said out loud.

He had mostly been talking to himself, but Dashiell answered anyway. “I ordered her not to tell anyone,” he said firmly. “I was afraid that the wolves and the vampires, in particular, would come after her if they found out. The vampires would either fear her or want her dead. The wolves would all want to become human again—”

“Or want her dead,” Will broke in. “There are zealots among the werewolves who believe that we should all be . . . grateful. For what we are.” The alpha’s voice was weary. “They would consider Scarlett a threat.”

“We were also dealing with the Olivia situation,” Dashiell continued, “and I wanted time to consider what this development could mean.”

And how I could use it, Jesse finished for him. Dashiell was a textbook opportunist, and that kind of ability would be a dangerous addition to his toolbox.

No wonder Scarlett had been so strange during the last few months. Jesse felt a childish sense of betrayal. She could have told him.

And then the rest of the conversation caught up to him. “Wait. You’re saying her brain shorted out again?”

Will held out a hand to placate him. “No, not that. Her abilities are intact this time, for some reason. But Eli was our beta, and the wolves can feel his absence in the pack. It’s causing problems.”

“Can’t you just . . . pick a new beta?” Jesse asked sensibly.

The werewolf sighed. “It’s not quite that simple, I’m afraid. For one thing, we weren’t sure that the change was permanent.”

Jesse looked from one to the other. Beatrice and Dashiell were still and calm, with a well-mannered detachment that Jesse had noticed the only other times he’d been near vampires without Scarlett. He supposed that when you can live forever, everyday crises don’t exactly push you over the edge. In contrast, though, Will looked agitated and restless, one of his legs jiggling up and down at a frenzied pace. “That’s why you pressed me,” Jesse said at last. “You were hoping it would just go away.”

“Yes,” said Will with no inflection. “But rumors are spreading in the pack, and we aren’t as united as we need to be. And now there’s another problem.”

Jesse gaped at him. “Another problem? She’s hurt, the wolves are panicking, everyone is finding out that she’s a cure—”

“We don’t like that word,” Beatrice broke in.

Anger had pushed away Jesse’s fear. “Lady, I don’t give a shit what word you like. What’s the other problem?”

Without speaking, Dashiell picked up a manila folder from the top of a stack of files and papers on the side table. He passed it to Jesse, who flipped it open to find a gruesome eight-by-ten photograph of mangled limbs and torn skin. The woman’s face was untouched, but shaded the grayish hue of death, her blue eyes open and filmed over. Jesse flipped past this photo and found another shot of the same woman from a different angle. And another. They were all the same body, and they all had the same date stamp: December 29. Yesterday’s date.

They looked almost like crime scene photos, but there were no markers to indicate it was a police-controlled scene. Jesse flipped back to study the top photo. The body was set against a textured green background, like a rug of some kind. He looked up. “Where were these taken?”

Will and Dashiell exchanged another look before Will spoke. “At my house,” he said soberly. “Someone left her on my doorstep.”

“Why didn’t you call the police?” Jesse said automatically.

“Because,” Will said heavily, “this woman was killed by a werewolf.”

Jesse stared at him for a second, then instinctually looked away. The werewolves couldn’t press minds like vampires could, Jesse knew, but Scarlett had once told him that the werewolves communicate with canine body language even in human form. Jesse didn’t know much about wolves, but he’d been a uniformed police officer for long enough to know you didn’t stare big dogs in the eye unless you wanted a fight.

“How do you know?” Jesse asked.

“I could smell him,” Will murmured. He was looking away, almost ashamed. “Even in human form.”

“Right,” Jesse said distractedly. “Right.” He looked at each of them in turn. “So why am I here?” he asked. “You pressed my mind; you must have wanted to keep this hidden from me. Why tell me now?”

   
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