CHAPTERS 1 - 4
Book 3 of the Deadwood Hunter Series
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Caden put down the phone and slumped into the nearest chair. For once, I’d like some good news! Just one little piece, is that too much to ask? He stared at the ceiling as if some happy news might possibly land in his lap.
Shutting Lincoln’s door quietly behind her, she walked over to her son. “Was that Caleb?” Caden’s mother asked.
“Yes, he has no good news. How’s Linc?” Caden sighed, rubbing his sore itchy eyes. Sleep had been a difficult task for him recently.
“Sleeping. I gave him something to help.” Running her fingers over his head, she told him, “Caden dear, go get some rest.”
“I can’t sleep. Whenever I shut my eyes…I see Linc at the funeral.” He shuddered as the memory whispered over his skin.
“I know you don’t want to hear this.”
“Then don’t say it!” he snapped, glaring at his mother.
Paying no attention, she continued, “I’m going home, Caden.”
“What? No you can’t! It’s not safe.” Caden jumped from his chair in anger. He didn’t need more problems; he already had too many to handle.
“Your father has been gone for a month and he is still alive,” she pointed out. Continuing softly, she added, “I want to go home, to my job, my life, and my mate.”
“It isn’t safe for shifters in South Dakota anymore.” The hunters had to be somewhere in the region. Every shifter in the state had either, fled, gone into hiding, or been killed.
“If what Caleb has been telling you about Lexia is true, then nowhere will be safe, Caden. I know you still think there is a chance to save her, but I do not believe it. The sooner both you and Lincoln realize this, the sooner you can move on.” His mother took a huge breath, staring at him with a look only his mother could give.
Caden took no notice of her; instead, his frustration rose to the surface. “MOVE ON?” he shouted. “How is Linc going to move on? He has lost his mate! Would you move on if you lost Dad?”
Sadness filled her eyes. “Well, well…no,” she whispered, looking to the floor.
“No, you’d join him in death. Linc doesn’t have that luxury. His mate is still out there wearing a mask. She’s lost and confused. She needs our help, Mother. Linc needs our help.”
“I’m still going home, Caden,” she said sadly. “If the world is going to end, then I will be by your father’s side when it does. I fly home in the morning.”
“I’ll ring Caleb back and have him meet you at the airport,” he answered, defeated.
“That’s not necessary.”
Locking eyes with his mother, his tone a warning not to argue. “If you want to leave, then that is what will happen.”
His mother huffed, stomping off to the other room.
Caden slumped back. “Just give me a break, one little fucking break. Some sign that there is still hope,” he muttered, closing his eyes.
Sleep claimed him for a while, though it brought Caden no rest. His dreams revealed to him only death – caused by Lexia’s hands. He witnessed his best friend broken beyond repair. Desperately searching for hope that was not to be found.
Lincoln looked at the food Patricia brought him. She smiled at him warmly with pity in her eyes.
The scent of the sedative she crushed into his food hit his senses. For a split second, a part of him protested, but it was just a split second – a fleeting voice crushed by his despair. He knew Lexia would be ashamed of him. Hell, he was ashamed of himself. Since when did Lincoln Turner just roll over and give up?
The first mouthful of soup slid down his throat. Almost straightaway the numbness took over; with each spoon, his pain slipped away becoming a mere haze in the distance.
She took the bowl and slipped from the room when she thought he was sleeping. His eyes had fallen shut, too heavy to keep open anymore. Raised voices of Caden arguing with his mother floated through the air, and again, for a spilt second that tiny voice spoke out, Caden doesn’t shout…
Words floated through the door into his foggy mind, trail of deaths…Chance to save her…Lost his mate…You’d join him in death…Just give me a fucking break!
For an instant, Lincoln’s whole body screamed at him to move. Do something. Help your friend. He needs you! But it was too late. The drugs raced through his veins, and although Lincoln hated himself for it, he welcomed them as they tore him away from his fate.
A seemingly endless winter.
As brittle and cold as Maura’s heart.
Ice and steel.
Unforgiving and unmoving.
Long dark nights.
Lost in darkness.
But with the thawing of winter.
Saw the first small cracks in her armor.
Vulnerability, weakness, hope.
As delicate as the first flower.
And turmoil blossomed within her soul.
She’d always known this day was coming; how could she not think it was? Love. Love had no boundaries or rules. It did as it pleased but she at least thought she’d have more time.
For the past month, she’d been having these dreams, these nightmares. He’d found her, her panther. Just like she always knew he would.
Of course, Lincoln hadn’t really found her…yet. It was only a matter of time. She was his mate and as the first sign of light bloomed, so did the irrevocable bond between them. She may have shut off her heart, closed down all feelings, her humanity, yet it had always been there, below the surface, waiting, watching for its chance to be free.
Whether she was Maura or Lexia, she wasn’t sure. The one thing she was certain of, however, was the small, almost invisible sign of light inside of her. The light tortured her, put both her, and her panther at risk. With the light came emotions, and with emotions, came guilt. He couldn’t find her. If she was going to survive, she had to be Maura. She’d done too much; the guilt was too much.
“Maura, get up. We have a raid.” Over the weeks, the amount of raids she’d been on decreased, with most of South Dakota now shifter free.
Sighing, she sat up and looked at Derrick. He watched her from her doorway; he was the only person who dared enter her room. The other hunters feared her, as they feared death.
“Are you planning on standing there while I dress?”
He grinned a smile he only showed to her. “I’m avoiding your mother. She’s on a warpath this morning. A pack of wolves have being causing havoc.”
So much for South Dakota being shifter free.
Getting out of bed, Lexia padded over to her wardrobe. The problem was a few weeks ago she had not cared if he watched. She hadn’t cared about much, but since Lexia clawed her way to the surface, she cared, and Derrick knew she cared.
That’s why he does it.
It wasn’t as if he watched her in a sexual way. He watched her for a reaction; that was what Derrick did; he watched and prodded, just waiting for some kind of emotion. But she never gave him anything; well, tried not to. Derrick wanted to save her. Only he didn’t realize she was beyond saving; only death would save her now.
“So is that what we are sorting today?”
“No, can’t seem to get a location on them. We always get there too late.” She turned her back to him, smiling; she’d never had much love for wolf shifters, but this pack, she’d love to meet.
Meet and kill.
Giving herself a mental shake, she pushed the thought away. This was the other problem she was having; she felt like she was split in two: good and evil. Two people living within one body.
Derrick still hadn’t moved. His gaze fixed firmly on her, waiting for that little sign she was cracking. Turning away from him, she dropped her robe, and dressed quickly.
Black leather, that was all she wore. She yearned for color and would kill for a red dress, just something that screamed, I’m alive. Look at me.
Walking into the bathroom, she asked, “So what’s the job today then?”
He followed her. “Lex, what are you doing?”
Lex, Lexia, Lexi, how I miss my name.
“Derrick, what makes you believe I won’t kill you?” she snapped, needing some distance. “Why do you believe you can walk freely around my space as if it’s yours?”
Stepping into her space, his usually dead eyes held emotion. “Because,” his finger brushed her cheek, “you have always been Lexia, no matter how many times you call yourself Maura. I see you, Lexi.”
She sucked in a breath. The memory the name brought brushed her mind. Sandy fur covered with a hundred dark eyes. Green. Green eyes as beautiful and wild as the forest she used to run in.
A loud bang erupted in the room as Derrick slammed to the floor. The emotion in his eyes whooshed out with his breath when his back and head hit the hard surface. Against his throat rested the sharp heel of Maura’s black boots.
“Do not grow complacent with my tolerance of you, Derrick. One word. That’s all it would take for my mother to have you killed.” Every word came from the darkest reaches of her soul and for the time being, all that was good, all that was Lexia, vanished.
Maura left him discarded on her bathroom floor, his blood seeping around his head like a gruesome halo. How dare he cross her! She was Maura, a hunter; the hunter, she answered to no one.
After finding her assignment, Maura assembled a team. Escaping the compound before she saw her mother, Derrick wasn’t the only one who avoided her. Maura disliked her mother’s company just as much; the orders and lack of respect tested Maura’s patience. She knew it was only a matter of time before her temper slipped; it was best to just avoid her altogether.
As she drove out the gate, alone in the jeep because no one would travel with her, she sensed Derrick’s energy: a mass of black, with touches of grey, and the light at his core. He leapt onto the side of her truck, unlatching the door. Maura didn’t flinch as he climbed in with the speed only a hunter possessed and sat next to her.
“How’s the head?” She smiled.
“Depends who I’m talking too?” he grumbled.
“Pushing your luck today, Derrick.” Her tone dry, unamused, but still she couldn’t keep the slight smile from her lips.
They drove the rest of the way in silence as Maura made her way steadily through the forest. The compound was hidden deep within the Black Hills of South Dakota, and it took some time to reach the main road. The raid she was heading to was on a house where a small pack of shifters lived, according to the intel. It would only take thirty minutes before they arrived, once they hit the road. Thirty minutes for Lexia to claw her way through the darkness that was Maura. Thirty minutes to decide if she could go through with this. Was this the day? Was this the day she let Lexia out forever and turned her back on the hunters, on her mother?
The job was easy, too easy. It made her question Lucy’s intentions; her mother always had a reason for her actions. What was her reasoning here? Had Lucy noticed the hairline cracks, creeping over her façade? Was this a test?
As if Derrick read her mind, he interrupted the silence. “Hey, Lexia, are you going to be all right with this? It’s been a while since we’ve had a raid.”
You mean this is the first time you’ve been out on a raid with Lexia awake. She mentally pushed the errant thought away. She couldn’t be two people; that was impossible, two people within one head… Impossible.
She glanced at Derrick briefly. She had no idea how he knew her concerns, yet he was right. Uncertainty filled her every movement, her every thought. She wasn’t sure if she could do this; whether she could take the lives of shifters.
“I’m not sure. I have an uneasy feeling about this, Derrick. I can’t help but question why take them out? They’re not causing problems, so why send me for a job any other hunter could do?”
“These wolves, they’re messing with her head. Lucy’s not thinking rationally anymore. Stay in the car, Lex. I’ll go in with the others.”
“But… my mother… if she finds out… What if she’s testing me?”
“She won’t find out. I’ll make sure of it. Stay in the car. Leave this one to me.”
Maura sat in silence for a minute, the road ahead of her blurring into smudged color. Derrick must truly be her friend; he was always there, always fixing her problems.
“How do you do it, Derrick? How do you pretend not to care? Not that I do really,” she added as an afterthought.
For a while, he was silent, and she thought he’d decided to not answer her. She turned her mind back onto the road, trying to block out her thoughts, of the pack they were on their way to slaughter.
“I suppose I’ve been doing this so long that I no longer feel anything, but in the beginning, it killed me. Every morning when I woke, I wanted to die.”
“That’s not true. You still feel. I can see it.”
“You make me feel, Lex. It was you that day… a kitten in the lion’s den. You woke up something in me that I long ago buried to save my family, just as you buried, Lexia, to save, Lincoln.”
“Don’t say his name,” she whispered, forcing back the emotions just the bare mention of his name brought.
“But unlike me, Lex, you won’t survive. The way you feel, the love you have for him, you can’t run from it forever.”
“I can’t run from my mother forever either… It’s this or he dies.”
“Don’t fool yourself. There’s a storm coming, and no one can escape it.”
Maybe not, but I plan on Lincoln escaping. She’d felt it too, the growing tension, the whispers of unease. Lucy Hunter’s grip on the hunters was slipping, and when the leash slipped, the world would be plunged into war.
She stopped the car in front of the house, the two other jeeps parking beside her. They’d even stopped with the surprise attacks since she joined them. She’d made them arrogant. She’d made them indestructible.
“Stay.” Lexia looked over at Derrick as he shut his door, leaving her in the car in her safe bubble. He walked with purpose toward the others. They glanced from him to her, but stepped into line. Derrick was a leader; no one questioned him.
Fighting started inside the house. She tried not to take note of the auras, yet she couldn’t help it. Call it a sick fascination or a habit of torturing herself, or maybe Maura liked to feel Lexia squirm and ache inside of her.
There were four in the house against five hunters. They had no chance.
One. Two. Each light went out like a fist to her gut.
Three. She clenched her hands around the steering wheel; her two halves at war with each other.
Four. She let out her breath. It’s over. It’s… Wait.
She’d made a mistake, missed a crucial part. Lexia burst through the darkness. Out of the car, she ran across the lawn.
This wasn’t a pack. This was a family. A home.
The hunter’s head rolled from his shoulders as her sword sliced cleanly through his neck; thumping to the floor, it rolled to a stop in front of four children who the hunter had sought to kill.
Her knees wobbled as she looked upon the child who stood protectively in front of the others. The child willing to fight a hunter to protect them. Older than the others, he’d shifted into his animal form. He was a panther, a black panther.
Emotions swirled to life within her; dark against light, clashing together in chaos. She never sensed the hunter behind her, never moved as he thrust his sword through her back. She screamed in pain, her head falling back as she dropped to her knees. Maura, however, won the battle.
Her leg whipped out, knocking the hunter who’d crossed her to the floor. She wrapped her hands around his neck and took pleasure in slowly strangling the life from him. Watching as his skin turned blue, his eyes lost their fight for life.
Leaping from the floor, a wild cry rose from her lips. She flung herself at the female hunter who stood stunned behind her; Maura snapped her neck with ease, letting her drop to the floor with disgust.
Maura didn’t stop there, too caught up in her bloodlust. Derrick stood wide-eyed at the door, his hands up, palms forward as she marched toward him. Maura was furious; furious she’d been injured; furious she’d never felt it coming. She’d become weak and lost the battle with Lexia. Her fury unleashed itself on Derrick.
“Lex, please… please don’t do this.” He blocked her punch, doubled over from a kick to his stomach.
“Lexia, fight her. Fight Maura.” She had him on the floor, cutting his airway off. “Fight for Lincoln,” he wheezed.
The red haze around her cleared and her hands released their grip from Derrick’s throat. “Get out!” she screamed as she scrambled away from him.
“Lex, what are you going to do?”
“I. Said. Get. Out!”
Derrick scrambled back, his back hitting the door. Looking at her for a second longer, he then left the house. Lexia turned and stared at the four children huddled in the corner. Walking toward them slowly, the little black panther growled.
“It’s okay. I won’t hurt you,” she whispered. Dropping to her knees, overcome with emotion, she was at war with herself.
Though he was scared, the cub lashed out at her hand, his eyes flashing golden with bravery, and Lexia finally won the battle against Maura.
She collapsed forward onto her hands, sensing the energy, the power leave her.
The panther cub shifted.
“Your eyes have changed,” the naked boy said.
Lexia smiled at him, at the small, brave boy who’d stood up to a hunter, who reminded her so much of him, of Lincoln.
“Have they?” she asked, sitting up, clutching her stomach as if it would somehow dam the emotions churning inside of her.
“Yes, they’re blue. What does that mean?”
“You know how you learn to control your panther?”
“Yes, my mummy says I have to try to not get mad.”
“Well, it’s like that for me. When I’m mad, my eyes turn golden.”
“So you’re not mad anymore? Are you going to help us?”
“I will try.”
“You’re bleeding,” the cub noted.
Lexia looked down at her chest. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been physically hurt. “I’ll be okay. It will heal. Where’s your mom and dad? Were they here?”
“Daddy is here but Mommy went shopping with my aunt. I was looking after my cousins.” He glanced behind him at the three children.
The front door creaked open. “Lexia, we need to leave. Lucy is radioing.”
“I can’t just leave them,” she answered, glancing at Derrick. He gasped when he saw blue eyes instead of gold; regaining his composure, he smiled. “Go shut up Lucy; I’ll be with you in a minute,” Lexia told him.
“What are you going to do?” he asked.
“What I need to.” Lexia walked over to the phone and dialed a number she never thought she’d use again.
She couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t speak. Oh, God.
“Hello? Who is it? Lexi?” he whispered her name, heartache and pain within each syllable.
“Hello, Caden,” she said, surprised by her calm, steady tone.
“Oh, God, Lexi, where are you? Tell me,” he demanded.
“Put Linc on, Cade,” she asked, regaining her composure.
“I can’t. He’s… well, he’s… Lincoln’s not really able to talk,” his quiet voice whispered from the phone.
“What do you mean? Is he all right? Is he hurt?” Lexia tried to take a breath. Tried to think past the blinding emotions bombarding her.
“No wait, Lexi. Listen, he’s not hurt, well, not physically anyway. I just… he’s out dealing with his grandfather’s business. He’s doing okay… I guess… if you consider drinking whisky for breakfast okay.”
“What have I done?” she whispered, fighting hard against the avalanche of guilt flooding her.
“Where are you, Lexia? Where are you? Tell me, please. Let me help you. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. He loves you, Lexi. He’s your mate. We are your family. Let us help you.”
The children shuffled in the corner, reminding Lexia this call had a purpose. This was one mistake she could fix.
“Caden, listen, I’m at a little house off Wagon Canyon Road. A family of shifters live here.” Lived here.
“I think I know it, Lex. Don’t move. I’ll ring Caleb. He’ll be there soon. Lincoln and I can be there within the day.”
For a second, she considered staying and seeing Lincoln’s face again. She imagined how it would feel to kiss him, to feel his strong arms wrapped around her, and then she remembered her mother, the unstoppable force she had to halt. She thought of all the people she’d killed, and the wild storm of guilt tearing her apart.
“I’m so sorry. I won’t be here.”
“No, Lexia, please, please, it’s killing him, Lex.” When his voice broke, her heart fractured and tears fell down her cheeks.
“Listen to me! This is important. I’ve done so many things, Caden. I can never come back.”
“No, Lex, that wasn’t you. I know what you’ve done. We don’t care; it wasn’t you.”
“Maybe not, but it doesn’t change how I feel,” she said sadly. “I need you to do something for me. I’m asking you to forget I called you, but you must come to this house. There are four cubs who need your help.”
“What do you mean?” he asked, frantic.
“I’m going now, Caden. Take care of Linc. Take care of these children. Hide them. Hide them so Lucy never finds them.”
“Okay,” he said in the faintest of whispers.
“And Doc?” she said, already feeling Maura’s darkness lick around her.
“Yes?” he whispered.
Lexia wiped the tears from her eyes and stood straight, forcing her emotions away and welcoming Maura as she took control. Numbed every emotion churning within her. “Forget Lexia. She died the day she left. My name is Maura and I can never come back.”
Maura walked from the house leaving the phone swinging off the hook, listening to the desperate cries, calling Lexia.
You are weak, Lexia. You gave in so easily and let me win.
“Derrick, you’re driving,” she snapped, climbing into the jeep.
Confused, Derrick stood for a second. He looked from the house back to Maura. “Lex?” Derrick murmured.
“She is gone, Derrick.”
“I don’t understand. Your eyes?”
“Listen to me,” she said, glaring at him. “Lexia is weak. She chooses to hide from her problems. She let me win. As I’ve said before, Lexia died the day she joined the hunters.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“Of course you don’t. You are weak, just as the shifters and Lexia are. One day, Derrick, that little thread of humanity you cling to will get you killed.”
“Lexia!” He yelled until his voice was hoarse, already knowing she’d gone, yet still unable to stop the agony-filled sounds leaving his mouth. “Lexia, why won’t you let us help you?” he whispered into the cell before ending the call.
Unable to walk, Caden sank to the floor where he was, the cell falling from his hand with a clatter. Thank God, Linc isn’t here, was the only coherent thought he could muster. Dragging in a breath, Caden forced himself to stand and make his way to the nearest chair. From there, he dialed Caleb, praying he still had his phone – wherever he was.
It rang off and he dialed again. “Come on, Caleb,” Caden muttered under his breath.
“’ello?” Caleb answered, panting.
“Caleb, where are you?”
“Around,” Caleb answered nonchalantly.
Caden expected the answer. The last time they saw each other, Lincoln had been ready to sink his claws into Caleb for Lexia’s capture. Caden had stood by and watched, too tired to intervene; he’d not had the strength to control Lincoln.
“Are you still in the Black Hill area?”
“Yes, Caden, what is it I can do for you?”
“She did?” Caleb interrupted, suddenly sounding interested.
“She wants us to go to a house off Wagon Canyon Road. There are four cubs there, Caleb,” he explained, unable to voice the rest of what he expected Caleb to find.
“Just the cubs?”
“Yeah, I’m not sure what has happened; not sure I want to know, but didn’t sound good. Just get the cubs, Caleb, and make sure they are hidden.”
“Lexia said Lucy could never know they lived,” Caleb sighed.
“And Lex?” Caleb asked, sounding just as resigned as Caden.
“I’m not sure what to tell you, Caleb. Is there hope? I’m not sure. I’m at the stage where I look for hope in the smallest of things.”
“Is Linc there? Are you going to tell him?”
“No, he’s dealing with the last of his grandfather’s affairs.”
“How is he?” Caleb asked, hopeful.
“He’s out of bed. Not sure what I will tell him. It depends what you find.”
“I’ll ring you back within the hour and let you know.”
Caden ended the call just as Lincoln walked through the door.
“Who was that?” Lincoln asked as he ripped his tie from around his neck. “I’ll be happy to never wear a dammed tie again,” he muttered, annoyed.
“Just my mother,” Caden lied. “How’d it go?”
“Seems David made one last ditch effort to civilize me.”
Lincoln walked into the kitchen and pulled a glass from the cabinet. “Want one?” he asked as he grabbed the whisky.
“Sure, why not?” Need one after that call.
Lincoln poured out two large glasses, downed his in one and refilled. Handing the second glass to Caden, he continued. “Fool left me his share of the company. This morning, I was the majority shareholder.” Draining his second glass, Lincoln poured a third.
“This morning?” Caden questioned, taking a sip of his drink.
“I’m not interested in the company, Cade. Fuck, I’m not interested in much these days. Some of David’s shares have been bought by new blood. The rest went to Richard. David trusted him. It’s the best I could do.”
“So you’ve wiped your hands clean of it altogether?” Caden asked, finishing the rest of his drink.
“Another?” Lincoln asked, waving the bottle toward him.
Shrugging, Lincoln filled his own. “I’ve a small share still and received a nice amount for the rest. I’ll never need to work again.”
“When have you ever?” Caden laughed.
“I pretended…for a while.” Lincoln smiled.
For a second, Caden caught a glimpse of the face of his best friend – cheeky, wild and full of mischief – but then Linc finished his drink and poured another and Caden realized he may never see his old friend again.
“Slow down, pal.”
“Leave it, Caden,” Lincoln growled. Lifting his glass, he finished the rest of the amber liquid and slammed the glass down into the sink. Picking up the bottle, Lincoln walked past him. “I’m going on the veranda,” he said, shaking the bottle. “Celebrate my recent influx of money. Feel free to join me if you can hold off on the lectures.”
Caden watched Lincoln go outside, shutting the glass slider behind him with enough force to shake the wall. For a brief moment, he considered following. Sometimes he felt ten years older than Lincoln, instead of just three, but then his cell rang, reminding Caden that although he wasn’t ten years older, he held all the responsibility. That was what he chose; it was his nature to shelter Lincoln, and had been since they’d been two young boys playing in a late summer field. On that day, for the first time, he witnessed how cruel life could be
They drove in silence back to the compound, Maura still fuming over her wound. She felt no remorse for killing her fellow hunters, just mildly amused the fool thought he could stab her and live.
There was a welcome party waiting for them as Derrick packed the jeep in the cargo hold. Lucy stood front and center looking as angelic as ever, except for the fury shining in her eyes.
Maura turned to Derrick. “I’ll let you deal with her,” she stated, stepping from the car, ignoring Derrick’s pleas. She walked away from the crowd with an air of superiority; her heels clicking on the floor with every purposeful step.
“Maura,” Lucy called, but she didn’t stop. “Maura, how dare you ignore me!”
Pausing, silence settled and the air charged around them. How dare I? A little voice in her head begged, please, don’t make her mad.
Maura shook the voice from her mind. Having enough of being treated this way by her mother, it was time she was put in her place. It was time she saw what she’d created.
Slowly, Maura turned, danger and power radiating from her body. Maura looked at Lucy as one would look at an insect. Annoying. Insignificant.
“How dare I?” Bitterness laced her voice. “How dare you! Do you have any idea what I am capable of? I could kill you in seconds and not feel a thing. You created me, Mother. Is this not what you wanted? For me to be powerful, unstoppable, void of all humanity? I answer to no one.”
Maura turned, intent on escaping before the anger, the all-consuming urge to spill blood took control. With each click of her heels, the tension built. She could almost see it; touch it.
Maura knew what would happen; knew her mother so well. After all, she was her daughter. Three steps from the door, she sensed Lucy act. The swirling mass of black, angry energy moved toward her. The room filled with fear. The hairs on her arms stood on end, and the weight of everyone’s emotions pressed down on Maura, making the air hot and close, as if unbreathable. Watching the scene unfold were a mass of hunters, each unsure how this would play out.
Maura allowed Lucy the first hit. With a kick to the back, she stumbled but quickly regained her footing. Smiling, Maura spun around, clasped her hands around Lucy’s small frame, and threw her across the room. Like swatting a fly, it was easy, simple, and she felt nothing from causing her mother pain.
“Oh, and I need a medic to tend to me in my room,” she added before leaving with the echo of her steps and the air of a god.
She wanted a monster. I gave her a monster.
Hearing hurried paces behind, Maura glanced back.
“Jesus, boss, that was like, totally amazing!” Marcus gushed; he ran slightly in front of her and jogged backward. “I wish I had your strength,” he babbled on.
“No you don’t,” Maura replied, feeling stirring once more within her as he smiled goofily.
“We wish we had your courage,” Belinda murmured from behind.
Maura paused to look at her and felt the smallest of thought from Lexia. “You do have courage. You’re still here, still clinging to hope. It’s me who is the coward, hiding behind this mask, because I can’t face what I’ve done.”
“Wow, boss, that was deep,” Marcus laughed.
“Oh, shut up. Go make yourself useful and find a medic brave enough to come fix me.” She smiled, and then shucked it off, forcing Lexia back down where she belonged.
“On it,” he said, running off in the opposite direction.
“Go with him, Belinda. He is incapable of keeping out of trouble. Oh, and inform the medic the blade was laced in poison.” If Belinda noticed her change in tone, the iced edge of Maura, she didn’t react. With a nod, she turned and ran off after Marcus.
Maura carried on walking. Clenching her hands, she ignored the pain jolting through her body with each step. She didn’t slow down to ease the pain; she needed the pain as a reminder of what happened when she was weak – when she let Lexia through. Maura knew she couldn’t afford to lose her focus. There was something brewing within the compound and she sensed it was the elite stirring the pot.
Looks like they’ve had enough of living in your shadow...
Maura gripped her head and wished the little voice would shut up. She didn’t need reminding of all her problems, of the inevitable emotions that would soon burst from their cage.
Stripping off her jacket and jumper, Maura inspected the wound through her gut; it was turning black from the poison. She wondered how the poison had come into the hunter’s possession. Was her mother trying to kill her, or had the elite decided it was time she left them?
That’s a problem for later... Where is that freaking medic?
Shut up, Lexia!
There was a knock at her door. “Can I come in, boss?”
“Yes,” Maura barked.
He opened the door as she walked out the bathroom and immediately covered his eyes. Having left only her sports bra and trousers on in anticipation of the medic arriving.
“Marcus, control yourself. I do not have time for your silliness,” Maura snapped.
“Sorry, boss,” he said, taking his hands from his eyes.
“Where is the medic?” she asked, her irritation increasing.
“Well, erm… they wouldn’t come, boss,” he explained, wincing. “Said they were too busy with Lucy.”
“Human scum!” she spat. “Where is Belinda?”
“Don’t know. I thought she was with you?” Marcus replied.
“No, I sent her after you to inform them of the poison.”
“Poison?” Worry lines appearing on his forehead, Marcus pulled at his hair looking concerned.
“Yes, never mind that.” Maura slung her long jacket over her bra. “Well, I suppose we best go to the medical center before I die,” she stated matter-of-factly.
The door opened suddenly as she reached for it and Belinda and Derrick rushed in. Belinda’s lip bled and her brow was split.
“What happened?” Marcus gasped.
Belinda slumped into a chair, her expression weary.
“Derrick?” Maura snapped, becoming more irritated by the second. She wanted an explanation.
“It seems your little stunt has caused a riot. The elite are going around picking fights with anyone who supports you, and the rest of the soldiers are in total panic.”
“Well, who’s in charge?” Maura snapped.
“No one, Lexia!” Derrick snapped. “You’ve put Lucy in the hospital, shattered a fair few of her bones. She is going to be out for a few days at least.”
“She deserved it, Derrick. I’ve had enough of her treating me as if I’m her slave. I’ve had e-fucking-nough! Can you not see that? Can you not see she has brought this on herself? She wanted a monster. Well, now she has one!” As her emotions destabilized, Lexia stirred, growing stronger.
“Lex, you need to keep control of that anger. What you did to Lucy sparked something, something which has been brewing for a long time. You once told Lucy if you kept people down long enough, they’d rise up against you. Well, that’s what is happening, Lexia. Except the elite are rising up against you. You’re not one of them, yet you think you’re better than them.”
“I am,” Maura snapped, the urge to punch Derrick a potent one.
“There are many of them and one of you. Are you sure you want them as your enemy?”
“What do you want me to do, Derrick? Stand back and allow them to walk all over me?”
“You need to align with Lucy. Show them you are with the hunters, not against them.”
“You want me to stand at my mother’s side while she reigns as queen and I’m used as nothing but a commodity?”
“I want you to show Lucy how sorry you are before we have a war on our hands and unleash chaos onto the world.”
“I honestly couldn’t give a shit about the world or the hunters,” Maura snapped.
Derrick’s face hardened, his jaw clenching with frustration. “That is Maura talking, not you!”
“I. AM. MAURA!” Derrick’s words circled around her, mixing with the poison swirling through her blood. Head becoming foggy, the tug of her two sides pulling apart coursed through her. Join Lucy. Kill Lucy. Join Lucy. Kill the hunters. Kill them all. Protect Linc. Protect Linc. Protect Linc. Will joining Lucy protect Linc?
“Hey, boss, you feeling all right? You’re not looking so flash.”
With great difficulty, Maura’s eyes focused on Marcus. Will joining Lucy protect Lincoln? A thought she shouldn’t care about, after all, she was Maura, continued on a loop in her mind. She felt nothing. But it was there, fleeting, but there. Maura was falling apart and only one thing mattered. Protect Lincoln…
“I-I poison,” she stammered, feeling suddenly dizzy. The world spun; her emotions churned. Protect Lincoln.
“Lexia,” Derrick gasped as she swayed; his hands held her steady, wrapping around her warm and strong. As Maura left, the darkness and power inside her faded. Crushed by the poison flowing through her blood, she sank into his arms and for just a spilt second, took comfort from his hold.
“Her eyes!” She heard someone gasp.
Blacking out, the poison worked its way quickly through her system, taking her energy, stripping away her defenses, against the guilt and pain she carried within her.
“Lexia! Lex!” Derrick shook her.
Lexia focused her eyes on Derrick’s concerned face. “Poison…Lucy…Antidote,” she spluttered.
“I’ll get it, Lex. Hang on,” he reassured her.
As she faded, the world spun, forcing one last command from her lips. Lexia grasped his arm, stopping him from leaving. “Derrick, no matter what, he must live…Lincoln must live.”
The world faded.
Derrick stared at her clammy face and felt an emotion he’d not felt in a very long time surge up within him. For a second, the room was in utter silence, yet Derrick’s head was filled with noise; Lexia’s voice, her desperate pleading voice, begging him to make sure Lincoln survived.
Lincoln was everything to her and she’d just told him to protect him. The look in her eyes chilled Derrick’s dormant soul. Fear.
When had he last seen fear in Lexia’s eyes? Sorrow, unbearable pain, yes, but fear? He knew Lexia thought in that moment she was going to die, and she’d asked Derrick to protect Lincoln.
Dread welled up inside him and threatened to consume him; he couldn’t take on that responsibility. He couldn’t lose Lexia. Derrick still didn’t understand his feelings toward Lexia or his compulsion to protect her. All he fully knew was her pain physically hurt him, and how just a second’s thought of never seeing her blue eyes alight with fire and life again made him utterly terrified.
“Derrick, what do we do?”
Derrick looked at Lexia one last time before facing Marcus. What do we do?
He ranked higher than both Marcus and Belinda. He was in charge; they looked to him for orders.
“Derrick!” Belinda snapped, shocking him into action.
“Antidote,” he answered, not having any other instruction.
“Where is it?”
“Lucy. Lucy will have the antidote.” Derrick, no matter what, he must live… Lincoln must live.
Derrick opened the door.
“Wait, Derrick, what shall we do?” Belinda asked.
Derrick turned, remembering they were in the room. Pull yourself together, Derrick.
“Marcus, come with me. Belinda, you need to bring her temperature down. Lock the door behind us and let no one in other than Marcus or me. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir,” she answered with a nod.
Derrick marched through the corridors toward the infirmary. The further away from Lexia’s room he travelled, the clearer his head became. He didn’t believe this was Lucy’s doing. She was evil, psychotic, but Lucy was also very smart, and everything she did had a reason. There was no reason for her to poison Lexia. Killing her had no gain, only loss. But the elite on the other hand had everything to gain, yet that would mean Lucy had lost control of her people, and he wasn’t sure which was worse.
“How are you going to get the antidote?” Marcus asked. “Are you even sure there is one?”
“Lucy will have it; she is the only one capable of making a poison to affect Lexia, and she would never make a means to kill her daughter without a cure. It makes no sense.”
“But you don’t think Lucy did this?”
“She’ll have made the poison, I’m sure. I just can’t see what she gains by using it now. It must be the elite,” Derrick explained.
“You have more faith in Lucy than I do.”
“I’ve watched Lucy for years as she watched her daughter grow from afar. Lexia is her greatest creation and if there is one thing I am certain of, it’s that Lexia is Lucy’s weakness.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean when it comes to Lexia, Lucy doesn’t think straight. She turns a blind eye when her best soldiers are killed one by one; she allows only her to break the rules. But this has only caused Lexia to become the elite’s prime target.”
“Lucy is hardly kind to her.”
“Lucy doesn’t understand what it means to be kind, but answer me this. Why did Lucy let Lexia grow up normally? Why didn’t she just take her and train her to be an obedient soldier?”
“Because she never showed any signs of being different until her powers were triggered.”
“Maybe, but then why did Lucy watch her personally? Why did she have the compound built in the same state as Lexia lived? Why did she watch her on every birthday?”
“Are you really trying to say Lucy loves Lexia?”
“No, I don’t think Lucy is capable of love anymore, but maybe a very long time ago when she carried Lexia inside of her she did. Everyone has a weakness; even the most cruel and sadistic of us, and I’m telling you Lucy didn’t order for Lexia to be poisoned. Oh, she’d poison her; she’s done it before. After all, why would someone create a poison designed specifically for one person if you never intended to use it? But she’d have done it with control, she’d have done it to gain something; if Lexia dies, she gains nothing.”
“I hope you’re right.”
Derrick paused at the infirmary door and took a deep breath. So do I. So do I.
The few staff who operated the front jumped up as Derrick entered. They hurried off into the back but Derrick ignored them and headed straight for the medicine storage.
“Y-you, you can’t be in here,” squeaked a man.
“Want to stop us?” Marcus asked, laughing as the human man scurried away.
Derrick started to randomly look through the small vials and packets of tablets, but he really had no idea what to look for. It wasn’t like Lucy would just label a vial ‘Maura’s poison cure.’ Picking up several packets of antibiotics, Derrick thrust them at Marcus. “Here, give her some of this and bind and clean that wound.”
“Will this even work?”
“I’ve no idea. Lucy poisoned her before and she was treated by the shifter doctor she ran with, but it didn’t affect her the same this time. Lucy must have changed it. It works quicker. Go. Take the longest route to avoid the busier areas and I’ll see Lucy.”
“Okay, good luck.”
The first two guards he met went down easily. Being novice soldiers Derrick knocked them unconscious without much effort. He reached Lucy’s door coming face to face with two elite. They didn’t seem in the talking mood.
“Don’t even bother, Derrick. No one goes in except for medical staff and elite.”
“Are you forgetting I am elite, one of the originals in fact?”
“You may be an original, Derrick, but you’re no longer part of the elite. It’s clear where your priorities lie.”
Derrick didn’t like to take the lives of his fellow hunters. While he knew some of them didn’t deserve to live, he also couldn’t forget that every one of the men and women in the compound had once just started out as a soldier wanting to fight for their country. They’d all once been human like him, but unlike him, some had lost any trace of humanity.
They were good fighters and it wasn’t as simple as knocking them unconscious. The elite were the best and brightest of the hunters. Unless of course, you followed Lexia. No matter how good a fighter or how bright your brain, to follow Lexia was to make yourself elite’s number one enemy.
But as Derrick stared at the dead bodies at his feet he realized something; he might not enjoy killing his fellow hunters, he may wish to free them all from the torment they suffered daily, but the only one who really mattered was Lexia.
He wasn’t sure when this had happened, when he’d made the choice to do anything to keep her safe. It may have been the day he first saw her – when he let her jump from the window – or maybe it was the day he watched her suffer unimaginable pain leaving Lincoln behind. There were so many days he stood by while she suffered, while she’d been tortured, while she slowly died a little each day, living without her love. Maybe it was because Lexia only ever thought of those around her, and how she sacrificed anything for those she loved. Or, how she simply gave up her freedom because to leave would mean abandoning those she’d come to call friends.
Perhaps it was simply because she made him feel. She awakened in him what he thought had died long ago. All Derrick knew was Lexia meant everything to him. He loved her but not in the way most people thought. She was his friend, but what he felt went deeper than that; she was the reason he went on, the reason he kept fighting.
He was going to save her. She was going to recover from this and he was going to make sure she came back from the shadows she’d surrounded herself in, or he’d die trying.
He pushed open the door.
“Hello, Derrick, my pet.”
“Lucy,” Derrick ground out through clenched teeth. Derrick was shocked by Lucy’s appearance. Bruises covered her skin and pieces of gauze were fixed on several places, but that didn’t stop her from pulling herself upright and levelling a gun at him.
“Oh, Derrick, not even the slightest bit of sympathy for your great leader? Well if you’re not here to nurse me back to health, why are you?”
“I’m here about Maura.” Derrick turned and locked the door behind him. Lucy visibly whitened when he looked at her again, her gun a little higher.
“Here to finish the job?” she asked with a smile, but Derrick detected the slightest tremor of fear.
“Depends how you’d like to play this. Help her and you’ll live.”
“What does my dear daughter need help with?”
“So you really don’t know? The situation is as I feared.” Lucy really had lost control of the compound and the elite were working to their own agenda.
“Cut to the chase, Derrick. I’m growing tired of your games,” Lucy snapped.
Derrick laughed. “My games? Why, Lucy, you are the biggest player of us all.” She didn’t correct him. A small smile played on her lips. “Maura has been poisoned by the elite. Whether on your orders or not, it changes nothing. Your daughter is dying and the compound is in chaos. You’ve lost control, Lucy. The hunters no longer follow you. They follow their own agenda, as do the elite.”
“And what agenda do you think they have, Derrick? They are sheep. They follow, not lead.”
“Lucy, you underestimate people’s need to survive. Most just want to live, and the elite…well, maybe they want to step out from behind your shadow. But this matters little. I’m here to save, L-Maura.”
Lucy smiled that cruel smile only she could perfect. “Oh, Derrick, still clinging to the girl she once was? I squashed that out of her, remember? She’s Maura now. It is impossible for her to be affected by a common poison. I should know. I made her that way.”
“It’s not common poison. She set out this morning on that ridiculous assignment and as per your rules, Wade, one of your elite joined her. When her back was turned, he stabbed her. She’s not healing. If you truly control the elite, as you say, then he attacked on your order.”
Lucy’s face hardened; she didn’t like to be wrong. “Where is Wade now?”
“Such a shame, but he couldn’t have been the one to plan this. He was merely a pawn.” She was silent for a moment before she met Derrick’s eyes again. “How bad is she? I altered it from last time.”
“I’ll give you the antidote but first, you must agree to my terms.”
“What do you want of me, Lucy?” He sighed, knowing she’d give nothing for free.
“Not you. Maura.” She smiled.
“I cannot speak for her.”
“I thought you were close. Knew her every desire.” Tone hardening, she continued, “Regardless, you agree to my terms or she dies. Your choice.”
“You’d really let her die?”
“She could be dead already, Derrick. Do hurry up.”
Derrick had never hated Lucy so much. How he’d love to wipe the smug smile from her face. “What are your terms?”
“Maura is to stop fighting against me. We must show the hunters we are a united front, a force not to be trifled with.”
“She’ll never agree to that.”
“Do not dismiss me so quickly. In return for her loyalty, I will treat Maura as my equal. No more orders, no more secrets, but she must show willingness. The moment she steps out of line, the deal’s off. So what will it be?”
“I don’t have a choice. It’s this or her death.”
“Oh, Derrick, don’t be so glum. I’m sure she’ll forgive you. Or kill you.” She laughed, clapping her hands together. “Now be a good boy and give her this. I am rather fond of my daughter’s talents.”
Lucy withdrew a small vial filled with golden liquid from the nearby drawer. Derrick took it from her without another word, his previous estimation of Lucy not being behind Lexia’s poisoning slipping away. There was a look, a smugness to her that said he’d just been played.
As he opened the door, Lucy added, “Oh and, Derrick? If Maura does go back on her word, not only will that shifter die, but you and the other two will also. Mark and Linda is it?”
Derrick didn’t correct her. There was no point. Marcus and Belinda would be in danger whether he said anything or not. I’ve just played right into her hands. Regardless, he knew it was too late – the deal agreed upon. Taking off at a run, Derrick stopped for no one as he made his way through the compound to save Lexia.