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Shadowed Threads(Rylee Adamson #4)(1) by Shannon Mayer

Chapter 1

LONG WHITE TEETH bared to the icy cold, running with his belly low to the ground, the wolf breathed in the scent of his quarry. Fear and magic filled his nose, the distant tang of witch made him hunger for the screams that would precede the man’s dying breath. Never again would the wolf be held against his will; never again would he be collared and commanded to obey.

Sunlight sliced through the trees, illuminating the man as he spun to see behind him. The wolf dropped to his belly. The man—the witch—stood still, his chest heaving for breath. His eyes were wide, dilated, and the wolf could see the rivulets of sweat sliding down his face even with the crisp dawn air here in the north. Birds sung as though the drama below them wasn’t happening, which the wolf preferred. Let the man believe he was safe; let the bird’s songs soothe him. Let him hope for rescue.

The witch lifted his hand and a light bloomed over his head, shooting into the sky. The wolf knew what would happen. More witches would come. They would see the light and they would come to the aid of this one. Perfect.

Creeping forward, the wolf advanced on the witch, one that would collar him if given the chance. Each step closer made his lips curl higher over his teeth until they rippled with his fury.

Sinking to his knees, the man clasped his hands in front of him, his lips moving in a low rumble of words in a language the wolf didn’t understand. Ten feet away now, the wolf hesitated, pausing in mid step.

Cocking his head, the wolf listened to the rise and fall of the man’s voice, almost remembering, almost wanting to.

No. We aren’t going back. Ever.

In an explosion of powerful muscles, the wolf catapulted toward the man on his knees. Black fur slammed into white flesh, blood flew as powerful jaws clamped down on the fragile skin, bursting through to the pumping lifeblood inside.

The wolf bore down, felt the miniscule thump of magic against his side, the last ditch effort of a dying man trying to save his life. It would do him no good. The wolf’s teeth dug deep into the man’s neck, and he ground his jaws around the spine until the satisfying snap of vertebrae rang in the morning air; a symbolic clash against the birds’ raised songs amongst the trees.

The man twitched once, limbs falling like dead branches to his side. Lifting his nose to the sky, the wolf let out a long, shattering howl. Around him the world went silent, birds stilling their songs, wind stilling its breath, bowing to him, as it should, in recognition for who he was. Here he was King; here he ruled.

Let the witches come.

He would show them the meaning of fear as he hunted them one by one, and tasted their dying screams on his tongue.

The black panther slammed into my chest, dropping me to the ground. I rolled, and struggled to reach my whip, the only weapon I had on me. Heart pounding, I fought with all I had, but the cat was big and solid, nothing but muscle and predatory reflexes. I jammed my legs between our bodies and kicked hard with both feet, prying the big cat off, giving me some space. At least for a second.

“Rylee wins!” Alex cheered me on, but didn’t make a move toward us. Not that I was complaining, I’d specifically told him to stay put, and stay out of this. For once he’d listened to me.

From the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of the werewolf giving me his—quickly becoming trademarked—two claws up, with a goofy grin on his muzzle.

“She did not win,” Pamela said, and though I couldn’t see her, I had no doubt her hands were on her slender hips. “Will was knocked off, not pinned. Those are the rules, Alex.”

“Rylee always wins. Will stinks,” Alex grumbled, his tipped claws drooping.

With Will’s weight off me, I yanked my whip free and rocked back on my shoulders, then flipped to my feet. Will paced ten feet away, tail lashing. Waiting for me.

Too much of a gentleman, this training was as much for him as it was for me. He had to learn to fight, and fight dirty, if necessary. There was too much cop in him, despite the fact that he was big ass shapeshifter.

I adjusted my grip on the whip’s handle, and shifted my weight, finding the balance I looked for. The makeshift training room was in what had once been Jack’s carriage house. Bare walls and floor, we’d painted a circle on the concrete floor. The rules being what they were, you either had to toss your opponent out of the circle, or pin them in such a way that you could, if circumstances were such, kill them.

Something of our own fight club.

I beckoned to Will with my free hand. “Come on then, let’s see what you’ve got … Pussy.”

His lips curled back over teeth that made Alex’s look like stubbed off Tic Tacs. Will didn’t sprint toward me. Nope, he made a move that took me by surprise.

He leapt; one powerful spring and he was in the air. A single heartbeat was all I had to react. The whip let out a crack as I slung it forward, the braided leather coiling around his neck, a perfect catch on the cat. A pretty new collar for the big boy.

His eyes bugged out as I yanked the whip, putting my entire body into the pull. The coiled leather tightened on his neck and dragged him to the ground at my feet, his kitty cat green eyes bugging out.

I didn’t loosen the whip, but stepped forward as he scrabbled to get the leather off, and put my foot on his shoulder. I made a slashing movement with my free hand, as if I had my sword in it.

“You’re dead.”

Alex let out a howl of triumph. I bent and loosened the whip from around Will’s neck. Gacking and choking, he backed away from me, a low growl of irritation escaping him. Third time in a row I’d bested him and, by his hunched back and narrowed eyes, he wasn’t pleased about that. Apparently, he wasn’t the only one.

Pamela stepped in front of me, blue eyes glaring. “Why do you have to be so mean? This is supposed to be training, I thought. Not just you beating him up.”

Ah, here we went again. She struggled with the harshness of my techniques, particularly when it came to her crush, Will. This was not the first time she’d tried to get me to ease up in the last few weeks.

“You want him to survive?” I coiled the whip and re-attached it to my hip, not even needing to see the clasp anymore. “You want me to survive? Alex? You? Because this kind of training is the only thing that can do that.”

Her lips tightened and the air tensed around us. Witches, what the hell was with them anyway? Moody and hormone driven to the extreme. Most days Pamela was fine, but the minute Will showed up, she was a different girl.

She lifted her hands and the air around her stirred. “Then maybe you and I should train together more, instead of me and Deanna.”

My eyebrows shot upward of their own volition. “And you think that if you best me, that will make Will feel better about me besting him? All it will do is show him that both of us can take him. Not the way to make him feel like a strong, tough man.”

Her hands lowered, and her thin shoulders quivered, but no tears fell. No, not Pamela, she was turning out to be tough as nails, if still somewhat ruled by teenager angst and hormones.

“Come on then, you want to fight? Let’s do it.” I beckoned her forward with a single finger. No, not that finger.

She tipped her chin up and lifted her tiny fists in front of her face, stepping into the circle as Will stepped out from behind the screen we’d set up for him to shift behind.

His eyes darted between the two of us. “What are you doing?”

“Pamela wants to train with me.” I didn’t look at him, just waited for her. Stilling my body, my muscles relaxed, stance balanced to move quickly.

Her first swing was true, aimed at my chin, but easily seen coming. I took a step back and slapped her hand away from me. “Again.”

Lips tight, she punched, missing me as I side-stepped and batted her hand down with ease. Over and over we repeated the motions, as if we had planned it, a dance that involved me slapping her fists, and her fists and then feet coming at me as fast and as hard as she could.

“You getting angry yet, witch?”

No, I didn’t need to ask her. I knew she was pissed. Maybe I should have had her training with me like this sooner, but I’d thought she needed more time to get over some of the trauma she’d experienced in her young life.

Again, apparently I was wrong.

Her swings started to get wild, the strain on her under-developed muscles showing in the tremor along her arms, the beads of sweat on her forehead.

But she didn’t back down, didn’t pull away. Just kept swinging. Damn—I batted her fist away, reached in and shoved her shoulder making her stumble backward—she was so much like me; it was more than a little scary.

Finally she broke, going to her knees, chugging her air back as if it were water and she was dying of thirst.

“Done?” I asked, crouching beside her.

A shuddering breath rippled through her body. “Yes.”

“Every morning from now on you and me will work on this.” I stood and turned to see Will frowning at me as he slipped a shirt over his head—tawny hair getting mussed in the process—then sliding it down on over his rock hard abs. Yeah, I could see why Pamela had a crush on him. I could.

Only thing was, I had a wolf waiting on me. And if Jack didn’t start training me soon, I would go after O’Shea without the extra knowledge the old Tracker could give me. Screw the consequences.

Will stepped back into the circle and tossed Pamela a bottle of water, but addressed me. “You don’t have it in you to go easy on people, do you?”

“No. Going easy gets people killed in the long run. And I’m tired of the people I care about getting killed and hurt.”

He reached over, touched my elbow and tipped his head to one side. I followed his lead, calling back to Pamela as we left the carriage house. “Cool off and then go to the dining hall. I’ll meet you there.”

Will closed the door behind us and headed across the lawn toward the pond out back. He stopped at the edge of the marshy water, and folded his arms across his chest.

“Deanna and Daniels are going to have it out soon, but they won’t tell me when. If Deanna doesn’t win, Daniels has already said that she plans on purging the land of all those who oppose her.” His eyes flicked over to me, the concern in them apparent.