In the end, we still came away with nothing. James’ shifter senses let him know that Eric never lied, and while that was helpful in eliminating Eric from the pool of suspects, it still didn’t give us anything to go on. No leads. No clues. Nothing.
I kicked a piece of trash on the porch as I headed towards James’ Mustang. “I need something to go on. Anything. The smallest little crumb,” I muttered under my breath.
James gave me a sideways glance, letting me know that he could hear me despite my efforts, but he didn’t comment. Instead he hung back by the door as I continued down the steps. I may have sounded like an annoyed teenager as I stomped my way to the car, but what did I care?
I climbed into the Mustang and stewed on my frustration until James opened the driver’s side door.
I kept going back to the why. Why Daniel? Why him of all the kids out there? The vampire who attacked him had to have known he was a shifter. Their senses were enhanced enough to catch even a hint of shifter genes in a person, so why follow through?
From what I’d been told, vampires didn’t like the taste of shifter blood. It didn’t provide the same surge of energy. Daniel Blackmore was the first shifter/human child I’d heard of. Could he even shift? Did it matter?
I wondered if his blood would taste the same as a full-blooded shifter. Was there a chance that it would appeal even more to a vampire?
Daniel had been snatched on a quiet street away from the city. He lived in a low crime neighborhood with little paranormal presence. Regardless of his half-breed status, I didn’t think this was a random case of wrong place, wrong time. No. Whoever took Daniel took him for a very specific reason.
I just needed to figure out what it was.
James shifted the Mustang into drive and pulled away from the curb. He slid on his sunglasses and kept his eyes firmly in front of him. A clear indication that he wasn’t interested in talking.
Sucked to be him.
“What did you say to Delaney?” I asked as we headed back into downtown Spokane.
James didn’t say anything. Didn’t even bother to look my direction.
I drummed my fingers noisily on the passenger side door.
“I told him the Pack was going to send him some help and that we were putting him into a rehab program.”
“Does he want that?”
James shrugged. “I doubt it, since he didn’t check himself in the first time around, but it doesn’t matter what he wants now. He needs to get sober. That’s all there is to it.”
I digested that tidbit of information. Guess the Pack did what they thought was best, and while I agreed Eric needed to get sober, that didn’t mean it should be forced on him. He should have a choice in the matter. The thought led me back to his initial fear. Why was he afraid of James, and why did he assume James was there to kill him?
I tried to find the best way to phrase my next question. I didn’t really expect James to tell me. The glasses alone were my cue to shut up. I just happened to be a bad listener.
“What do you do?” I asked him, my voice casual as I gazed out of the passenger-side window, keeping James in my peripheral.
He tilted his head in my direction. “You know what I do. I run the gym.”
James owned Hills Fitness Center, a local gym specializing in mixed martial arts and hand-to-hand combat training. He owned it, but I knew as well as he did that he didn’t actually work there daily. And the gym wouldn’t explain Eric’s fears.
“Not your day job. What do you do for the Pack?”
Each member played a part within the Pack’s hierarchy, and while most still had a day job, their main occupation lay within the Pack. It could be as minor as working in the kitchens or as major as running Pack security or being a teacher for their young.
James remained silent. After several long minutes I wondered if he was going to answer me at all and was getting ready to ask him something else about the case when he finally heaved a sigh and pulled over to the side of the road. He ignored the angry honks that came from cars swerving to avoid him and killed the engine. He sat still for a moment before removing his glasses and turning to face me.
Oh dear, shit was about to get serious.
“I’m the Pack’s Hunter,” he said in a grim voice, staring me straight in the eyes. Mercury flecks dancing in his gaze.
Holy Shit! He was the Hunter? I schooled my expression to hide my shock. I’d been sleuthing around for an entire year without a hint of the Hunter’s identity. This was big. Like five-hundred-pounds big. I couldn’t believe he’d been right under my nose!
That meant—I froze and my eyes widened.
A muscle ticked in James’ jaw but he waited out the silence.
“The bear from a year ago. That was you?”
About a year ago, a bear shifter had gone rogue and killed an entire community. He’d killed over a hundred people and injured another three hundred in a fit of uncontrollable rage on the outskirts of Cheney, a small town about a half hour from Spokane.
It had taken Declan and a group of other shifters just under forty minutes to assemble and get to Cheney once word of the bear hit their ears. A lot could happen in that amount of time, and rumor was, not much was left when they’d arrived. It’d been the Hunter to bring him down.
No one knew who or what breed of shifter he was. But a Hunter was supposed to be the strongest shifter in a Pack. A shifter more dominant than any Alpha, and who stood outside of the Pack hierarchy.
I stared wide-eyed at him for a few seconds while I tried to figure out what to say.
I could see the worry and fear in his eyes. Did he think that being the Hunter would make me see him differently?
My silence must have indicated something, because before I could respond, he continued.
“I’m the one responsible for delivering Pack justice.” He turned away from me and his usual commanding tone was now edged with defeat.
“Are you not very good at it?” I knew James well enough to know that issuing justice wasn’t really the problem. He may be the cold, calm, and collected type, but he was the best man for the job. I couldn’t believe I’d never suspected him before.
“No, that’s the problem. I’m good at what I do. Maybe too good.”
No, the problem wasn’t that he was good. It was the waste of a life. James didn’t turn away from killing, but he didn’t kill if he didn’t have to.
We’d had to kill in the line of duty before, but James only ever did it as a last resort. When a shifter turns rogue, they lose all sense of humanity. You can’t come back from that, but at the same time, you don’t know what you’re doing. You’re not in control anymore. The beast is.
I gazed out the window, a pair of crows picked at a carcass of what I could only assume had been a deer based on the size of the body. I sniffed the air, the slight cloying scent of decay coming through the AC vents.
“How long have you been the Hunter?”
James shrugged. “I don’t really remember a time when I wasn’t”
I sucked in a breath. “You weren’t expected—not when you—I mean, they wouldn’t send in a child. Right?”
His silence was deafening.
My blood began to boil. How dare they? No one could possibly expect a child to be ready to kill. Let alone kill someone that they grew up within the Pack. What if he’d had to kill a family member or a mentor? How could they?
Had James ever had to hunt down someone he loved? I shivered at the thought. James didn’t need my anger right now though. He needed my acceptance. My understanding.
I could give him that.
I sighed dramatically, drawing his gaze again. “Do you need to talk about your feelings now?” I asked, my tone light and teasing.
“You’re a real piece of work, you know that?” He lightly punched me in the shoulder.
“Sure do. It’s a wonder you’ve put up with me as long as you have.”
James smiled. A real smile that met his steely grey eyes. “You know, I think that all the time.”
I jovially punched him in the shoulder back. “Jerk.”
James flashed his teeth in a feral grin as he pulled the car back into traffic.
I smiled. “Always.”—