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Blind Salvage(Rylee Adamson #5)(18) by Shannon Mayer

Easy. Right.

I dozed off and on, and when I was awake, I watched Liam in the reflection of the windows.

I could see he was bothered by what I’d told him about Doran. Or maybe he sensed that I’d held back from him. Hell, maybe I should tell him. Then again, if I did and he had a meltdown, I would be the one dealing with it. And for all I knew, Doran was just dicking around with me. Which wouldn’t totally surprise me. And the last thing I needed was Liam in meltdown mode in the middle of a salvage that likely involved a demon.

No, this was one secret I was keeping to myself.

A full twenty-four hours we drove—and with no major catastrophes. Of course, I was expecting something. After the car chases in Europe, I couldn’t help but keep checking behind, waiting for someone to throw a spell at us from a passing vehicle. The fact that nothing happened made me, at best, suspicious.

Dox pulled off the interstate at the border range of the Cascades. “This is where ogre territory starts. From here on in, there are a few rules you both need to follow.”

He turned the engine off and turned in his seat to face us. This was a lecture I hadn’t been expecting.

“Don’t challenge anyone. No matter how much you want to. Challenges can be taken up by a whole Gang. Meaning if you challenge one, you are challenging all of them.”

“Fabulous,” I muttered.

He glared at me. “Don’t lip off. Respect is earned here. Though I doubt you’d get it even if you wiped out an entire Gang. In an ogre’s eyes, you two are worse than humans. Supernaturals who can blend in with the rest of the world are not tolerated around here.”

Liam shifted in his seat. “I thought we were just going to go in, quiet-like, grab the foal, and leave without the ogres knowing we were even here?”

Yeah, that’s what the two men had discussed for the last hundred or so miles. Guerilla tactics that may or may not work. Likely wouldn’t, in my humblest of opinions.

Dox shrugged. “Ideally, yes. But they have sentries and the minute they know we’re here, they’re going to be on top of us.”

“Will they try to kill us outright?” I fiddled with the sleeve of my leather jacket, my mind racing ahead to all the possibilities.

His face was grim. “Yes.”

“Then what does it matter what the niceties of your society are if we are going to have to fight our way through?” I snapped, irritated that he would stop us to tell us meaningless shit. Although Calliope was still alive, I could feel the pressure of time running out weighing down on me. Like a sixth sense, I knew we had to get to her soon or it would be too late.

It was then, staring at Dox, that I realized he was scared, and he was covering it by telling us whatever he could. A curl of pity bit at me, but I pushed it down. Dox was here to help us and pitying him would get us nowhere.

He stared at me. “Because IF you can earn their respect, they’ll help us. And if we really are dealing with a Roc and a demon sacrifice, we are going to need their help. All that we can get.”

“That’s a mighty big if,” Liam said, his tone dry.

Dox slammed his hand on the steering wheel. “If a Roc took the foal, we are going to need their help. Besides, the Roc will live on the highest peak around here, if my memory serves me right about the beasts, which would mean it is on Mt. Hood.”

It was my turn to get snarky. “If it’s that damn simple, then let’s just go to Mt. Hood. What’s with all this posturing shit?”

Dox glared at me. “At the base of Mt. Hood is where the different Gangs meet to fight and … mate … on every full moon.”

I didn’t have to ask him if it was a full moon. I knew it without even looking it up. How? Because that’s just the way my life went.

Dox took a deep breath, maybe seeing me get the implications of what we were dealing with. “Which means we will have to go through all of them to get even close to Mt. Hood. And a full moon, when else would be a good time for a sacrifice?”

I let out a groan. I’d kinda been hoping I was wrong. This was fantastic, just what we needed. I Tracked Calliope, to be sure she was still with us. The fact that she was still alive told me the Roc was certainly not working on its own ideas. A steady hum of uncertainty had started up in the foal, making my skin crawl with her growing fear. Whatever was happening, it likely wasn’t all that good. On an impulse, I Tracked the Roc as a species, felt the threads of them tangle around Calliope, and then Tracked ogres as a species, ignoring Dox beside me. The threads of the three types of supernaturals intersected with a precision that made me want to puke.

Liam held up his hand. “Wait, how can a Roc go unseen if it’s so damn big? I know Blaz has his own magic, is the Roc the same?”

Dox spoke before I could. “Likely whoever is running the show has folded the veil, like at Doran’s house. The humans just won’t see it. Nice and simple.”

Time to get this conversation back on track. “Dox, you’re telling me there’s no back door? No way in that you could find for us?”

He scrubbed his hands over his head, rubbing vigorously. “I might be able to get some help. Maybe. But the triplets are a long shot. As in betting on them will either be a windfall or will wipe us out.”

Liam’s eyes met mine, and I nodded. There was no other choice. I knew when we were outnumbered and out-manned; I knew I was no freaking superwoman who would swoop in and save the day. “Dox, whatever help you can find for us, do it. It isn’t just the foal’s life on the line, but Eve’s too. And if there really is a demon involved, maybe more than that.” Not to mention all three of our lives. But that was our choice, to be here and put our lives on the line for the sake of two children who needed us.

He gave a sharp nod, started the truck, pulled an illegal U-turn, and got back on the interstate. “Portland it is, then.”

With each mile marker we passed, the tension in the truck grew until I choked on it. I rolled the window down, breathing in the deep sharp bite of the west coast winter. Humid, not unlike London, rain spattered down and I lifted my face to it.

“Roll the window up,” Dox snapped.

“Chill out,” I snapped back, leaving the window down.

“Roll it the f**k up! If we’re anywhere close, an ogre can smell the difference between human and supernatural. They don’t have to see us to know that we are trespassing on their territory.”

I rolled the window up. “You could have just said that, no need to get your extra large panties in a twist.”

He glared at me and I glared back. Dox didn’t scare me. The idea of other ogres gave me pause, though.

There was a hell of a lot I didn’t know about that species, despite having Dox as a friend, despite having read everything I could find about them (which wasn’t much) after meeting Dox for the first time. Despite everything that Giselle had taught me.

So we drove with the windows up and recycled air that very quickly smelled like corn chips and sweat socks. Liam’s nose wrinkled up and his mouth clamped shut. Hell, how much worse was it for him with his extra sensitive nose?

Mid afternoon, and we were in the city proper. Clean and picturesque, overcast and dreary, Portland had a relaxed feel to it. Maybe it was the west coast, maybe it was the weather keeping everyone mellow, maybe everyone was taking an afternoon drag, but whatever it was, I could feel it under my skin as we drove.

Dox’s eyes softened and his breathing, which I hadn’t realized had been hitched and shallow, evened out. Apparently, it wasn’t just me feeling the vibe the area was giving off. Liam though, I checked him out in the mirror If anything, he was on high alert. No relaxing there.

“Hey, you smoking something over there that we can’t see?” I punched Dox lightly in the arm. He shook his head, his eyes never leaving the road.

“It’s the smell of home.” As if that said it all. Maybe it did; I couldn’t wait to get back to the farmhouse, to my own bed and my own space. But I surely didn’t look stoned when I was jonesing for my own bed. But if it was the smell of home, why was I picking up on it?

“It’s a ruse.” Dox glanced over at me. “Something to keep other supernaturals calm and mellow before—”

“Before they get slaughtered?”

He nodded and I took a deep breath. Clever, very clever.

Dox parked the truck at a pay parking lot, slid out of his side and looked around, like a seven-foot tall trying-to-be-subtle FBI agent. I slid out, checked my weapons, and Liam followed, checking his two blades and straightening his clothes. Around us were red brick buildings, each one no lower than three stories. Stamped concrete below our feet collected miniature rivers in the grooves with the steady rain that fell from the overcast sky. At least it wasn’t snow.

“I’d like to go somewhere warm after this,” I muttered.

“Mexico?” Liam’s eyebrows quirked upward and I nodded.

“Yeah, Mexico, where I can just slowly roast in the heat.”

Dox glared at us. “Shut up, you two. And don’t speak unless you’re spoken to.”

I opened my mouth and he clamped a big hand over it. “I mean it, Rylee. Your mouth will get us killed without so much as a ‘f**k you’ slipping out of it. And if things go sideways, you will get the hell out of here. Understood?”

There weren’t too many people I would let get away with man-handling me. Dox was one of them, Liam the other. And that about did up my tally of man-handlers.

Jaw tight, I gave him a stiff nod. Damn, I had no idea that Dox could be such a hardass. Even if it was kinda warranted. But if he thought I would leave him behind, for any reason, he didn’t know me as well as he thought. I didn’t leave my friends behind, not ever.

With long strides, Dox crossed the wide open courtyard that cut between the buildings. I scrambled to keep up, trying to take everything in, our feet slapping in the accumulated water on the concrete.

There were no humans around that I could see; maybe everyone really was on a doobie break. Or maybe it was just the steady rain. Or maybe it was something I hadn’t quite put my finger on yet.