Titus was the first one through the door. "I am mighty disappointed in you all. Carmichael here tells me you almost had it, and this one interfered."
Kaspar stared at Richard as if he'd never seen him before. Maybe he'd never seen half-human, half-wolf before, but something about the way he was staring said that wasn't it. "Marcus couldn't have done what you did."
"Jason didn't want to hurt her," Richard said. "He wanted to do the right thing."
"Well, Birdman," Carmichael said, "what next?"
I stayed sitting on the rock floor. Jason was huddled against the far wall on his hands and knees, rocking back and forth, back and forth. A low, moaning sound crawled out of his throat.
"He's near the edge," Kaspar said. "Blood will push him over. Not even an alpha can hold him in the presence of fresh blood."
I did not like the sound of that.
"Ms. Blake, could you come over to the bars, please."
I moved so I could keep an eye on the moaning werewolf and the armed camp outside. "Why?"
"Either do it or Carmichael will shoot you. Don't make me start counting again, Ms. Blake."
"I don't think I want to come over to the bars."
Titus took out his .45 and walked over to the other cage. Edward was sitting down. He looked at me across the room, and I knew that if we ever got out, they were all dead. Richard was still standing at the bars, hands wrapped around them.
Titus stared up at Richard's animalistic face and gave a low whistle. "Good lord." He pointed the gun at Richard's chest. "These are silver bullets, Ms. Blake. If you called Garroway, we don't have time for two hunts anyway. Garroway doesn't know you're here, so we have a little time, but we don't have all night. Besides, I think the wolfman here might be too dangerous. So if you keep pissing me off, I'll kill him."
I met Richard's new eyes. "They're going to kill us anyway. Don't do it," he said. His voice was still a growl that was such a deep bass that it crawled down my spine.
They were going to kill us. But I couldn't stand there and watch, not if I could prolong the inevitable. I walked to the bars nearest them. "Now what?"
Titus stayed with the gun pointed at Richard. "Put your arms through the bars, please."
I wanted to say no, but we'd already established that I wasn't willing to watch Richard die just yet. It made saying no sort of hollow. I slipped my arms through the bars, which put my back to the werewolf. Not good.
"Grab her wrists, gentlemen."
I balled my hands into fists but didn't pull back. I was going to do this, right.
Carmichael grabbed my left wrist. The bearded Fienstien took my right. Fienstien wasn't holding on very hard. I could have pulled away, but Carmichael's hand was like warm steel. I stared into his eyes, and found no pity there. Fienstien was getting squeamish. Grey Hair, with his rifle, was in the middle of the room, distancing himself from it. Carmichael was here for the whole ride.
Titus came over and started unwrapping the bandage on my arm. I fought the urge to ask what he was doing. I had an idea. I hoped I was wrong.
"How many stitches did you get, Ms. Blake?"
I wasn't wrong. "I don't know. I stopped counting at twenty." He let the bandages fall to the ground. He got out my own knife and held it up where it would catch the light. Nothing like a little showmanship.
I pressed my forehead to the cage bars and took a deep breath.
"I'm going to reopen some of this wound. Cut out your stitches."
"I figured that out," I said.
"Get on with it."
Aikensen came over. "Let me do it. I owe her a little blood."
Titus looked at me, almost as if asking permission. I gave him my best blank look. He handed the knife to Aikensen.
Aikensen held the point just over the first stitch near my wrist. I felt my eyes widen. I didn't know what to do. Looking seemed a bad idea. Not looking seemed worse. Begging them not to do it seemed futile and humiliating. Some nights there are no good choices.
He cut the first stitch. I felt it snap, but surprisingly it didn't really hurt all that much. I looked away. The stitches went snip, snip, snip. I could do this.
"We need blood," Carmichael said.
I looked back in time to see Aikensen put the point of the knife against the wound. He was going to reopen the wound, slowly. That was going to hurt. I caught a glimpse of Edward in his cage. He was standing now. Looking at me. He was trying to tell me something. His eyes slid right.
Grey Hair had walked away from the show. He was standing close to the other cage. Evidently, he could shoot you, but he didn't like torture.
Edward looked at me. I thought I knew what he wanted. I hoped so.
The knife bit into my skin. I gasped. The pain was sharp and immediate, like all shallow wounds, but this one was going to last a long time. Blood flowed in a heavy line down my skin. Aikensen pulled the point down a fraction of an inch. I pulled suddenly on my arms. Fienstien lost his grip. He grabbed for my flaying arm. Carmichael tightened his grip. I couldn't get free but I could drop to the floor and make my arm move too much to use a knife on it.
I started to scream and fight in earnest. If Edward needed a diversion, I could give him one.
"One woman in a cage and the three of you can't handle her." Titus waddled up. He grabbed my left arm while Carmichael had my wrist. My right hand was back in the cage with me.
Fienstien was sort of hovering near the cage, not sure what to do. If you were going to pay money to hunt monsters, you should be better at violence than this. His holster was close to the bars.
I screamed over and over, jerking at my left arm. Titus held my arm under his, pinned next to his body. Carmichael's grip on my wrist was bruising. They had me at last. Aikensen put the knife to the wound and started to cut.
Fienstien bent down as if to help. I screamed and leaned into the bars. I didn't draw his gun. I grabbed the trigger and pushed it into his body. The shot took him in the stomach. He fell backwards.
A second shot echoed in the cavern. Carmichael's head exploded all over Titus. His Smokey Bear hat was covered in blood and brains.
Edward was standing with the rifle to his shoulder. Grey Hair was slumped against the cage bars. His neck was at an odd angle. Richard knelt by the body. Had he killed him?
There was a sound behind me. A low guttural cry. Titus had his gun out. He still had my arm pinned. Fienstien was rolling around on the ground. His gun was out of reach.
There was a low growl coming from behind me. I heard movement. Jason was coming back to play. Great.
Titus jerked my arm forward, nearly wrenching it out of the socket. He shoved his .45 against my cheek. The barrel was cold.
"Put down the rifle or I pull this trigger."
My face was pressed into the bars and the gun. I couldn't look behind me, but I could hear something crawling closer.
"Is he changing?"
"Not yet," Richard said.
Edward still had the rifle up, sighted on Titus. Aikensen seemed frozen, standing there with the bloody knife.
"Put it down, blondie, right now, or she's dead."
"Anita," he said. His voice sounded like it always did. We both knew he could drop Titus, but if the man's finger twitched while he died, I died, too. Choices.
"Do it," I said.
He pulled the trigger. Titus jerked back against the bars. Blood splattered over my face. A glob of something thicker than blood slid down my cheek. I breathed in shallow gasps. Titus slumped along the bars, gun still gripped in his hands.
"Open her cage," Edward said.
Something touched my leg. I jerked and whirled. Jason grabbed my bleeding arm. The strength was incredible. He could have crushed my wrist. He lowered his face to the wound and lapped at the blood like a cat with cream.
"Open her door now, or you're dead, too."
Aikensen just stood there.
Jason licked my arm. His tongue caressed the wound. It hurt, but I swallowed the gasp. No sounds. No struggles. He'd done damn good not to jump me while I fought the men outside. But a werewolf's patience isn't endless.
"Now!" Edward said.
Aikensen jumped, then went for the door. He dropped my knife by the door and fumbled at the lock.
Jason bit into my arm, just a little. I did gasp. I couldn't help it. Richard screamed, wordless and thundering.
Jason jerked away from me. "Run," he said. He buried his face in a puddle of blood on the floor, lapping at it. His voice was strangled, more growl than word. "Run."
Aikensen opened the door. I crab-walked backwards.
Jason threw his head skyward and shrieked, "Run!"
I got to my feet and ran. Aikensen slammed the door shut behind me. Jason was writhing on the floor. He fell to the ground in convulsions. Foam ran from his mouth. His hands spasmed, reaching for nothing that I could see. I'd seen people shift before but never this violently. It looked like a bad grand malseizure or someone dying of strychnine.
The wolf burst out of his skin in a nearly finished product, like a cicada pulling out of its old skin. The wolfman raced for the bars. Claws grabbed for us. We both backed up. Foam fell from the wolf jaws. Teeth snapped the air. And I knew that he'd kill me and eat me afterwards. It was what he did, what he was.
Aikensen was staring at the werewolf. I knelt and picked up the dropped knife. "Aikensen?"
He turned to me, still startled and pale.
"Did you enjoy shooting Deputy Holmes in the chest?"
He frowned at me. "I let you go. I did what he asked."
I stepped up close to him. "Remember what I told you would happen if you hurt Williams?"
He looked at me. "I remember."
"Good." I drove the knife upward into his groin. I shoved it hilt deep. Blood poured over my hand. He stared at me, eyes going glassy.
"A promise is a promise," I said.
He fell and I let his own weight pull the knife up through his abdomen. His eyes closed and I pulled the knife out.
I wiped the knife on his jacket and took the keys from his limp hand. Edward had the rifle slung over his shoulder by the strap. Richard was watching me as if he'd never seen me before. Even with his odd-shaped face and amber eyes I could tell he disapproved.
I unlocked their door. Edward walked out. Richard followed but he was staring at me. "You didn't have to kill him," he said. The words were Richard's even if the voice wasn't.
Edward and I stood there looking at the alpha werewolf. "Yes, I did."
"We kill because we have to, not for pleasure and not for pride," Richard said.
"Maybe you do," I said. "But the rest of the pack, the rest of the shifters, aren't so particular."
"The police may be on their way," Edward said. "You don't want to be here."
Richard glanced at the ravening beast in the other cage. "Give me the keys. I'll take Jason out through the tunnel. I can smell the outside."
I handed him the keys. His fingertips brushed my hand. His hand convulsed around the keys. "I can't last much longer. Go."
I looked into those strange amber eyes. Edward touched my arm. "We've got to go. I heard sirens. They must have heard the gunshots."
"Be careful," I said.
"I will be." I let Edward pull me up the stairs. Richard fell to the ground, face hidden in his hands. His face came up, and the bones were longer. They flowed out of his face as if it were clay.
I tripped on the stairs. Only Edward's hand kept me from falling. I turned around and we ran up the stairs. When I glanced back, Richard wasn't in sight.
Edward dropped the rifle on the stairs. The door burst open, and the police came through the door. It was only then that I realized Kaspar was gone.