The force of the impact threw me through the air, knocking me right out of my shoes. For a fleeting moment, I had the sensation of flying before slamming head first into the marble moon goddess. I swore I heard something crack—myself included—and landed with a grunt on my stomach. My breath whooshed out, and I couldn’t get a breath in. I attempted to roll on my side so I could sit up, but nausea and lightheadedness overwhelmed me, and bile started to come up my throat. My vision wavered and blurred and then the pain set in. Hopefully, I wouldn’t pass out.
With some effort, I managed to sit up halfway. Taking a couple of shallow gasps, I winced at the pain. Why did this person want me dead? If I had to put up with shit like this, I wanted nothing to do with Ryk and finding out the truth about my family; forget it.
After a few seconds, I realized it wasn’t a person who’d attacked me, but something other. It wasn’t the ripped jeans, hi-tops, light jacket or even the veil which completely covered its face that tipped me off; it was the way it panted, ragged and inhuman, almost beastlike. It stalked to me, no doubt to deliver the killing blow.
Through pain, nausea, dizziness, and double vision, I dug deep within myself and gathered whatever strength I had left and scrambled up. My head ached like an aneurysm about to burst and I stumbled around like a drunk, but by God, I wasn’t going to let this thing finish me off.
Straightening up, adrenalin pounding through my veins, I stood my ground. Normally I would’ve run screaming in the other direction, but not today. I knew if I tried to run, it’d chase after me. Better to meet my attacker face-to-face than have it behind my back.
Once the beast realized I wasn’t down nor running—heck, not even screaming in fear—it barreled toward me, snarling, with claws—claws?—extended.
Seeing double, I kicked out as hard as I could, hoping I’d hurt it and not kick air. Luckily my foot connected somewhere on its body. The creature roared and swiped its claws, creating a searing gash along my leg before clutching its stomach as it fell back a few steps.
Taking advantage of its incapacitation, I kicked again, aiming for its chin but missing. Instead, my foot whizzed beside its head. It grabbed my foot and twisted at the ankle.
Pain shot through my lower leg and I cried out as I fell. Before I could roll away, its shoe connected with my ribs.
I kicked it hard in the knees to smash its kneecaps and then quickly rolled away. I heard its bellow of pain and a thud as it fell. I managed to get into a standing position, but my right foot screamed and my other leg burned. Wincing, I took a shallow, agonizing breath and felt my ribs. Damn, I think they’re cracked.
The fiend slowly got to its feet with a groan and limped a couple steps toward me. God, it just wouldn’t give up! It quickly got its second wind back, snarled, and came at me.
Apparently, I hadn’t shattered its knees like I’d wanted. I put weight on my injured leg and kicked up with my left, my foot driving into its solar plexus.
It shrieked in rage, swept out with its claws and fell back a few steps.
I felt a sting across my middle but with the adrenalin high, I kept going. Not giving it a chance to recover, I closed the distance between us and kicked it again, this time making sure my aim was right on and got it square under the chin.
Its head flew back, and it roared as it fell onto the ground.
This thing had tried to kill me, and I’d be damned if I was going to let it live. Gasping for breath, I limped over to give it a good stomp in the head, but it’d quickly revived.
It jumped to its feet in a crouching position.
Fuck. I was in big trouble. “If you think you can kill me, you’re mistaken,” I warned. “I’ll kill you first.”
“You won’t have the chance. You’ll be dead,” a raspy female voice said.
Double fucking damn. It was a female? Here I was with some kind of a monster out to kill me, and it just had to be a bitch. And everyone knows that bitches fight dirty.
We circled around each other a few more times, trying to find a weak spot in our opponent.
I stumbled. My head hurt, and my ribs ached with each wheeze. I had no weapons other than my bare hands whereas the beast—or bitch as I now thought of it—had big-ass claws that could easily tear flesh from bone. I bet it probably had big-ass teeth too.
The creature staggered as well and held an arm against its stomach.
Apparently, I’d injured it somewhat. I feinted to the right and the fiend lunged to her left, giving me an opening. I leapt forward on one leg and kicked up with the other. Turning at the same time, my foot slammed into the right side of her head. Shit, that hurt. Pain shot through my foot, into my ankle, and up my leg. If my foot hadn’t been broken before, it surely was now.
Disoriented, she fell back a few steps, shaking her head. The impact caused her veil to fall off revealing small, beady eyes, a canine nose, and large, sharp, pointy teeth. Her face was covered in fur, and she had long, stringy blond hair. Damn, she was ugly. No wonder why she’d had her face covered; I would’ve too.
Not having time to be shocked by her looks, I went at her again before she could regain her footing. In quick succession, I slammed my fist into her neck to crush her airway while my other fist plowed into her stomach.
She bent over, gagging and clutching her stomach and her throat.
I grabbed her head and wrenched both hands into her hair, pulling hard as I wrapped her hair around my hands. Yanking her head down, I slammed my knee up under her jaw at the same time.
Her head flew back while she snarled and clawed at me.
“No one tries to kill me, you fucking cur!” I yelled. Even though my foot throbbed, I kicked her again. She anticipated my move and made a grab for my foot, sending me off balance. Stumbling, I fell to the ground.
She lunged at me, landing on me with her claws outstretched.
I used her momentum when she landed by kicking up with my legs. She went flying through the air, slammed head-first into a nearby tree and then crumpled to the ground.
Shaking, I stood and teetered a bit. Once I got my footing, I slowly hobbled toward her.
Was she dead? Did I kill her?
“Don’t! It’s not dead.”
I whirled around to see… Booger? “What are you—”
He raised a pistol and two shots rang out, followed by an inhuman scream.
I turned back to see the creature lying on the ground, writhing and whimpering in pain about five feet behind me.
“I told you it wasn’t dead.” He held up his pistol. “Silver bullets. Shooting it won’t kill it. Instead, it hurts like getting your ass ripped open and makes it bleed and genuinely pisses it off.”
I shuddered at the image he’d now planted in my head.
She slowly got up and menacingly glowered at me and Booger. “This isn’t over yet, scrawn,” she growled. “If I kill you, then her secret stays with me. Don’t take her place, or I’ll murder you in your sleep.” Clutching her side and her blood-stained clothes, she turned into the trees.
Whaaat? Her words rooted me in place. Her secret stays with me. What secret, and who the hell was the her it referred to?
Too late, I realized it was getting away. “You’re just going to let her go?” I asked Booger.
I motioned in the direction she’d run. “Yeah, it…she was female.”
He holstered his pistol under his nasty, foul-smelling, ripped-up coat. “Do you know her?”
For a few seconds, I goggled at him trying to figure out why he was here. “No,” I finally answered. “She came out of nowhere. Why’d you let her go?” Frustrated, I dragged my hand through my hair. I wanted her dead.
He shrugged. “How do you suppose I kill her?”
“I don’t know.” I threw my hand up in exasperation. “Blow her brains out?”
He shook his head. “Unfortunately, shooting her in the head won’t make her brains blow out. Instead, it’ll send her from pissed off to insanely pissed off.”
“Carve her heart out?”
“Do you want to get close enough to try that? However, I can guarantee chopping off her head would kill her. Do you happen to have a sword?”
I gave him a withering look, wondering if he was serious. “What if she tries to kill someone else? What the hell was that thing anyway? And what are you?” I pointed at him. “What are you doing with a gun that shoots silver bullets, and how did you know you’d need it? I thought you were some homeless bum.”
He chuckled. “That’s what you’re supposed to think,” he said, not actually answering me. His smile quickly faded as he looked off in the direction the beast had run, then turned back to me. “I don’t know why she tried to attack you. And honestly, I’m wondering what you are.”
“Me? What do you mean?”
“Yeah. You fought a werewolf. No human could do that and live. No fucking way. Sorry, but there’s just no way.” He shook his head. “Do you realize you’re bleeding?”
My vision tunneled down and black dots swam before my eyes. Taking long blinks to bring my vision back, I took a deep breath and pulled inward. I was not going to go into shock and pass out. My bleeding didn’t matter; right now other things were more important.
“Werewolf?” I whispered. “That was a werewolf?” I asked louder. “I was attacked by a fucking werewolf?” I yelled. “Are you serious?” Werewolf? Really? But how else to explain what she looked like? “Aren’t they just creatures of legend? Fairytales?” Anything but real, please. First Ryk, now this? Was I some type of creature of legend too?
He gave me a half-hearted smile. “I wish. It’s been a long time since there’s been a werewolf attack.” He scratched his chin. “Usually they try to fit in, you know, lie low and be a part of society.”
How the hell does a werewolf be a part of society?
“I don’t know why, but she had it in for you, and she’s not done. She’s going to be back.” He lowered his head and gave me a good, hard look. “There’s something about you. You’re definitely more than human, that’s for sure.” He cocked his head and narrowed his eyes. “Maybe she knows that. Are you sure you don’t know who she is?”
“Wouldn’t I notice a homicidal werewolf?”
He shook his head. “Not unless you knew she was a Were. The one you fought could keep her human shape but not her features. That tells me she’s somewhat weak, though she’s powerful enough to kill a human. You haven’t majorly pissed someone off recently, have you?”
The only person I could think of was Dani. Did he hold such a grudge against me that he wanted me dead? “I don’t know.”
“Well, there’s definitely something about you.”
“There’s nothing special about me.” The thought of that scared me shitless.
His brow winged up. “You just fought off a werewolf. I watched you fight the thing. I stood over there.” He pointed to the general vicinity where he’d been. “Waiting to get a shot off but was afraid I’d shoot you instead.” He looked at me in awe. “A normal person would’ve run screaming in the other direction. I saw a werewolf tear someone apart once and was helpless to do anything about it, but I’ve never seen anyone fight one like you did. You’re special, Tora. I knew that from the minute I first saw you.”
“But I don’t want to be special.” Jeez. Could I sound more whiny?
He grinned. “I’m not sure you really have a choice. I would stay around to help, but I’ve got to go. Is there someone you can call?”
I wasn’t sure who I’d call to help me track a homicidal werewolf but nodded nonetheless. “Yeah. I’ll see you around.”
“Be careful, Tora. She’ll most definitely be back.” He glanced at my stomach and leg. “Make sure you take care of that.”
“Sure, okay.” I gave a morose sigh. I was confused beyond belief and couldn’t seem to wrap my head around the entire situation. I’d been attacked by a werewolf—really, a werewolf?—and then saved by Booger who I’d mistakenly thought was some homeless bum. Which made me wonder…what was Booger and why was all this weird stuff suddenly happening to me? Was there some sort of cosmic imbalance, or was the cosmos coming into alignment? Not that I believed in that stuff.
The pain in my side, leg, and foot made itself known. Shock rang through me when I saw all the blood. I knew she’d gotten me good, but it looked like I’d bled out. Lifting my shirt, I had four deep long gashes exposing muscle that started just under my bra on my left side, going down and turning inward, ending about two inches from my navel. There were other gashes along my right side and my arms.
My eyes traveled down my pants where they were shredded below the knee. I hadn’t realized the cur had managed to slice me up this bad, and now the pain was excruciating. My side and leg felt like a swarm of fire ants had descended, not to mention the concussion I more than likely had. My ribs ached so bad I could hardly breathe, and my foot was surely broken.
The adrenalin high I’d had during the fight wore off. My limbs suddenly seemed to weigh more than my body, and an extreme exhaustion overtook me. Needing to sit, I plopped down on the ground right where I stood. While I was at it, I lay down. Razor-sharp pain speared from my head down to my toes, and all I wanted to do was sleep.
For some inane reason, my thoughts wandered to work. I definitely needed the money, but it wasn’t like I could show up looking like this. If I called in, what would I say? Um, yeah, I was attacked by a werewolf today…sure. My boss would believe that. I needed to get home, but I wasn’t in any shape to get there.
Crap. I needed help. Now I understood what Booger meant. My purse was on the ground a few feet away, though from where I lay it was more like a football field. I didn’t have the energy or the strength to get up and walk, plus I was too dizzy, so I crawled over to it. Grabbing it by the straps, I dragged it to a nearby tree. Clutching my side, I pulled myself up into a half-reclining, half-sitting position and leaned against the tree. Simply crawling had sapped me of any remaining strength. I rested for a few minutes before searching for my phone. I decided to call Kaige. Summer would freak out, and Ryk was still an unknown. Hopefully, Kaige would know what to do and wouldn’t ask too many questions.
“Hunter.” Kaige’s deep voice answered.
“Hi, Kaige.” Taking a shallow breath in, I tried to even out my voice. “It’s Tora.”
“Tora, babe. I was just thinking about you. What are you doing that you’re all out of breath?”
Even rolling my eyes hurt. “Look, can you come get me? I don’t feel well and I don’t want to take the Metra.”
There were a few heartbeats of silence on the other end. “What’s wrong? Where are you?”
“I’m in Grant Park.” How was I supposed to explain this to him? He’d see soon enough.
A man and a woman out for a picnic strolled by, the basket in the man’s grip. The woman’s hands moved animatedly through the air as she talked. She happened to glance in my direction and then did a double-take. Her mouth dropped open and the man she was with turned to look at me as well.
I had on a white shirt and tan pants that were shredded with blood seeping all over. I looked as though I’d been on a killing spree. What if they called the police?
“Please, can you hurry?” I begged.
“What’s wrong?” Kaige demanded.
I rubbed my hand over my face, realizing too late it was covered in blood that I’d just now smeared across my eyes and down my cheek. How fucking great. “Please. Hurry, okay?”
“Oh my God!” the woman screamed.
I looked up to see her running toward me. The man stood with his mouth agape, the picnic basket forgotten on the ground.
“Are you okay?” she asked. “Oh my God! There’s so much blood!” She knelt down beside me. “Les! Get over here!” The man finally moved. “We need to help her! My God, she’s been hurt bad!”
“What the hell?” Kaige snarled into the phone. “What’s going on, Tora? I’m on my way now.”
“It’s nothing,” I told them both, my vision wavering. Yep. I was going to pass out. Too much blood loss tended to do that to a person. “I’ll be all right.” I didn’t even sound convincing to me. “A friend of mine is coming to get me.”
She ran a hand over my hair in comfort. “Honey, you need to get to the hospital. Les! Call nine-one-one!” She gave me a little shake. “Don’t close your eyes. Stay awake.”
Opening my eyes a slit, I looked into her face. Her large brown eyes squinted in concern. “No, really. I’ll be okay.” I opened my eyes more and tried to focus on her. “I’d gotten into a little fight, that’s all.” I struggled to sit up.
The woman gave me a disbelieving look. “What were you doing? Fighting with knives?” Her face hardened. “It wasn’t an angry boyfriend or husband, was it?”
“No, I…” I couldn’t tell anyone what had happened. They’d put me in a mental ward for sure. “Look, I’ll be fine.” I pushed my nasty, snarled, now blood-caked hair behind my ear. “My friend will be here soon. He’ll know what to do.”
The man she was with stood over me, murmuring into his phone.
She pursed her lips and then nodded. “Okay, but I’m staying with you until he gets here.”
I lay back and sighed. I was so tired. My eyes started to close, and she gently shook me again.
“Don’t go to sleep. Stay with me.”
I must’ve look like death warmed over for her to be that concerned. I opened my eyes and tried focusing on her face, but it was hard. Sirens wailed in the distance.
It took me a minute to realize the figure walking toward me was Kaige with the paramedics not far behind. I struggled to stand up, but the woman gently pushed me back down.
“No. You need to sit. Is that him?”
He had his sunglasses on and looked amazingly hot. Oh, Christ. I was hurt, apparently near death, and now I was horny. What was wrong with me?
He ran to me with a worried look on his face. “What the fuck, Tora. What happened?” He pulled his sunglasses off.
I gave him a wan smile, actually glad to see him. “I got in a little fight.”
His eyes widened. “A little?”
“Can we go? I need to get home.”
“Home? Fuck no. You’re going to the hospital.”
Three paramedics came over, rolling their gurney with them.
There was no way I was getting on that thing and being carted out.
“Ma’am, we need to get you on the cot,” one of them said.
“No. I need to go home. Please? Can’t you bandage it or something?” What was I supposed to tell them when they asked what happened? Besides, I was beginning to think Booger was right—there was something special about me.
The paramedic gave me a worried look. “Ma’am, it looks like you’ve been injured badly.” He spoke slowly like he thought I had a traumatic brain injury. “We need to get you to the hospital.” He tried to grab my arms, but I pushed him away.
He regarded me for a couple seconds. “Let me see your side.”
“Kai-aige,” I whined. “Can’t you wait until I get home?”
He crossed his arms over his chest and widened his stance. “No. I want to see how bad you’re hurt.”
With a huff, I lifted my shirt. I heard the woman’s intake of shocked breath.
He knelt down beside me and traced a finger along the gashes without actually touching them.
“It’s not bleeding as much, and it actually looks better than it did,” I explained.
“Holy shit,” one of the paramedics murmured. “Ma’am, please, let us take you to the hospital.”
“Who did this to you?” Kaige whispered as he looked at my side.
I started to shrug but the pain made me stop. “I don’t know.”
“Tora,” he said angrily. “Who did this to you?”
I let out an irritated sound. “I said I don’t know. I don’t want to talk about it right now,” I said through clenched teeth. “Take me home and then I’ll tell you.”
He glared at me. “All right. I’ll take you home and check you out.”
Kaige turned to the paramedic. “I’ll take care of her.” His gaze shifted back to me. “But, if I deem it necessary to take you in, you’re going.”
I glared at him. “Fine.”
“What else hurts?”
“Everything,” I answered curtly and left it at that.
He sighed. “Here, let me carry you.” He gently picked me up.
I wrapped my arms over my stomach and rested my head against his chest.
Resigned, the paramedic handed over a paper attached to a clipboard. “If you’re refusing services, then I need you to sign this waiver. Though honestly, I think you’re making a mistake.”
I took the clipboard from him and signed the form.
The picnic-basket-carrying man turned to the paramedics. “I’m sorry. I’m the one who called for an ambulance even though she’d said not to.”
The lead paramedic shook his head and the three of them trooped away with the empty gurney while the man and woman followed behind.
“I need my shoes. They’re over there somewhere.” I pointed to the trees.
“What the hell happened?”
“I said I’ll tell you when you get me home,” I mumbled into Kaige’s chest.
“Dammit, Tora,” he said, exasperated.
“Dammit, Kaige,” I mocked. “No. I’m not saying any more until you get me home.”
He carried me to the trees and found my shoes and bent down to pick them up. “You’re really bullheaded, you know that?”
I tried to smile but faltered. “I know. I’ve got a hard head too.” My head throbbed and I gingerly felt the top where a big goose-egg formed.
Sighing, I closed my eyes. I was so freaking tired, and him carrying me gave the sensation of being rocked. “My head hurts,” I murmured, though in reality, my entire body ached. “I’ve got some pain meds at home.”
He was quiet for a minute. “When I get you home, you’re telling me everything,” he said, voice dark.
“Okay. But I don’t think you’ll believe it.”
“Oh, I’m sure I will,” he growled.