Perfect scents, p.24
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       Perfect Scents, p.24

           Heather Karn
 
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  Chapter 22

  The next morning we slept in late, and it was mid-morning before I dragged my butt into the shower. As I left the bathroom, Chrissa headed for it in a zombie-like state. She didn’t acknowledge me as I retreated down the hall to the guest room, and that was fine because I hadn’t acknowledged her either.

  We’d been up late playing and binging on junk food, and I was still feeling it, but when Gayle called upstairs that she was making chocolate chip pancakes, I wasn’t the only one to rush getting cleaned up. Chrissa took the fastest shower known to man and skipped applying makeup to finish at the same time I stepped out of my room. It wasn’t fair that she could have wet, tangled hair and no makeup, yet she still looked like a super model compared to me.

  Before I could hiss my frustration at this, I followed her down the squeaking and groaning wooden stairs.

  Gayle was taking some fully cooked, and nicely browned, pancakes from the griddle as we walked into the kitchen. When she saw us, her face lit with a bright, cheery smile.

  “Dad thought we’d have to drag you two out of bed. I told him all we had to do was announce we were having sugar for breakfast, and you’d be down in no time. Looks like I was right.”

  “Ha ha ha,” Greg laughed sarcastically as he came into the kitchen from the living room. His short brown hair was spiked with hair gel giving him a more youthful appearance. “You girls have to stick together.”

  “Always,” Chrissa smirked at her dad.

  He wrapped his arms around her in a good morning hug and unexpectedly did the same for me. I hadn’t had a man besides Kev hug me since Gerry had died, and not in a dad-like way. It was awesome. So were the pancakes.

  After we had finished eating, Gayle fitted our costumes again to determine if she needed to do any other alterations. With that finished, we escaped downstairs for another round of Nintendo. If Chrissa was this vicious with Mario Kart, I didn’t want to know what she and her parents were like playing a board game.

  “Okay, Joey, I’m doing your hair and makeup for tonight, so don’t even argue with me. We may be going as tigers, but we’re going to be hot tigers,” Chrissa informed me as we cleared the table from a spaghetti dinner. The spaghetti had been okay, Grams was better, but the garlic bread had almost made my taste buds shout, dance and sing out with joy. In other words, it was amazing.

  “We’re wearing hoods so it’s not like anyone will see our hair.”

  “Unless we let our hoods down. Then you’re gonna thank me that you look all hot and sexy instead of a hot mess.”

  I followed her up the squeaky stairs to her room where she immediately closed the door after me and motioned for me to sit on her bed. As I sat, she grabbed some makeup, dropped it next to me on the comforter, and started plucking my eyebrows.

  “There isn’t going to be anyone there I want to look hot and sexy for.”

  “Not even our escort?”

  “He’s not staying, so it’s not going to matter.”

  “Oh just shush your whining. I wanna have some fun, and you’re my guinea pig. Deal with it.”

  And I did, for the next hour and a half. How she had time to get herself all fixed up and prettified I had no idea. My answer was that she was always a gorgeous goddess.

  It was a few minutes after eight by the time we’d finished our hair, makeup and putting on our tiger costumes, but Kev still hadn’t shown up. My stomach twisted every time Chrissa looked at me or her watch. She wanted to meet Logan, but I didn’t want to leave Kev. Sure, the chances of anything happening on the way there were slim, but I’d have felt better if he was with us.

  Twenty minutes later, Chrissa finally lost her patience with the cat. She wasn’t the only one. Sure I’d promised to wait, but what did he expect when he was late by a half an hour? Did he think I could fend the blonde off that long?

  “Seriously, didn’t he think I was serious?” she yelled to me in a dramatic whisper so her parents wouldn’t hear. “Logan’s going to be there waiting for me, and he’ll think I’m standing him up.”

  “I know. Okay, let’s go. Maybe he’ll catch up to us on the way.”

  “Knowing him, he’ll be right behind us.”

  We said goodbye to her parents and raced out the door to the car. Kev still wasn’t around as we zipped away from Chrissa’s house, but I figured he’d catch up to us soon.

  The sun had set hours earlier, leaving us pulling on the side of an old dirt track with a herd of other cars by moonlight. The full moon hung high in the sky, casting a bright light over the woods around us, but it also threw long shadows on the ground from the trees and boulders. It was a typical creepy night to go tramping through the forest in a tiger get up to a costume party.

  Now that we were here, my stomach tightened and the urge to wait for Kev grew, as did my unease. Maybe it was his calming scent that I longed for or his large presence at my side. Either way, Chrissa was itching to get moving. She jogged around to my side of the car and stared into the woods, hopping from foot to foot, as I shut my door and looked around, my nose scenting for Kev.

  “Maybe we should wait here for Kev to meet up with us,” I told Chrissa as we crossed the shallow ditch next to the dirt road and she locked her car behind us.

  “What, are you scared of the dark, Joey?”

  “Nope, just of what hides in the dark. I’ve got a bad feeling.”

  “It’s Halloween. Everyone has a bad feeling on Halloween. It’s called paranoia.”

  Though her comeback was great, and at any other time I would have laughed, I wasn’t in the mood tonight. Maybe she was right, and I was only scaring myself, but the growing dread that was solidifying in my gut grew worse as we entered the tree line. Though I didn’t argue with her, I kept my nose working overtime, sniffing for anything sour on the wind.

  The party house was farther into the forest than I’d expected, and soon I was breathless and panting, which didn’t help my ability to smell around us. Going cross country hadn’t been the wisest idea. There were small saplings, dead trees, low hanging branches and other underbrush that would grab at our clothes or that would try to trip us up. Our progress was slow and loud. Kev would have no problem finding us when he came looking.

  I gave up with my hood a few minutes into our journey when I kept having to pull it back on my head after branches yanked it off. So much for having cute hair. No one was going to be able to tell by the time we got there.

  “Doesn’t this place have a driveway?” I whined, straddling a tree trunk to cross it in the dark shadows from the pine trees blocking the moon’s light from reaching the forest floor.

  A weird, salty, fruity scent reached my nose as Chrissa responded, but I wasn’t fully paying attention to her anymore. Whatever the source was, it was close, and getting closer. We’d scared a few animals, but this wasn’t like any of them.

  “I guess the driveway’s washed out and has dead trees lying all over it. The only way to get to it is through the woods, but this is plain ridiculous. I can hear the bass, though, so we have to be getting close.” She was panting and moved to walk ahead toward the smell until I stopped her with a hand on her arm.

  “You smell that?” I whispered, keeping my voice low so that I hoped she’d hear it but no one else would. Goose bumps were trailing down my arms as I scanned the forest around us. Now all the shadows hid monsters, only these were faceless. No sour scent prevailed, but since we still didn’t know what the creatures were, they could have multiple scents, like humans. I’d never considered it, and now I wished I had.

  “You mean that weird smell? Yeah, I smell it. I thought it was a plant. I take it that’s wrong.”

  “Yup.”

  As one we took two steps back, moving closer to the log we’d crossed when a branch in the shadows straight ahead of us snapped. My heart leaped to my throat, squelching a terrified cry that threatened to escape.

  We stood as still as statues, not moving for what felt like minutes, but was probably only seconds.
Though my eyesight was better than Chrissa’s, I still couldn’t see far enough into the shadows to know what lay ahead. Sniffing the air again, I came up with that same odd scent, but it was now further to our right, behind a large outcropping of rock and boulders. I angled us in that direction so we’d have a clear view of it before it attacked, if that was even the plan.

  “What is it, Joey?” Chrissa asked, her voice as quiet as mine had been, but it quavered as she trembled under my hand.

  With my heart still pumping away in my throat, speaking wasn’t going to happen. Instead, I pushed her further behind me as we walked backward, parallel to the downed tree. The rock outcropping was no more than twenty feet away, and we’d only managed to put a few feet between us and it when a low, evil chuckle echoed through the woods above the beat of the thumping bass from the party.

  I didn’t have to see him or smell him to know who it was. I’d know that sinister laugh anywhere. It irked me that I couldn’t smell his sour scent on the air as he came into view, standing on top of the rocky outcrop. His teeth flashed in the moonlight that happened to reach the spot where he stood, and nowhere else in the vicinity. As always, his dirty blonde hair was pulled back into a man bun, but tonight he wore a denim jacket over a thin pea green zip up hoodie. It didn’t match, but it could hide any weapons that he wanted.

  “Samuel, what do you want?” Though my words were meant to be strong and authoritative, they came out in little more than a whisper.

  He ignored my pathetic attempt at speaking and easily jumped to the solid ground below. I’d have broken an ankle for sure, but he was graceful in his landing. Now that there wasn’t a cliff between us, he stalked me with slow, measured steps, his eyes sweeping over me like they always did. Chrissa whimpered behind me as she took her own steps back. My feet stayed planted, ready to defend my friend, or die trying, which was the more likely outcome.

  “So, your guardian let you come…alone,” the bearded man drawled as he took another step closer to us. “I hear he’s busy watching a couple of old women instead of guarding his little mate. That’s too bad.”

  “What are you?”

  Samuel’s laugh at my weakness boomed throughout the forest. Though it was loud, no one at the party would hear it over the music. “You know, I’m rather having fun with this. Why don’t you take a guess?”

  I didn’t want to play his game, but my gut told me that if I didn’t, I’d end up dead faster. If I stalled him long enough, maybe Kev would make it in time…if he found where we went in the first place. “What, werewolves?”

  His face contorted in disgust as he let out an unamused snort. “Pure myth. No, I’m a creature a little closer to home.”

  My mouth dropped open in horror as his human eyes changed with a blink to pure black, shining with venom and malice. His body shifted and contorted, growing fur out of skin and clothes. If I wasn’t so terrified, I could have mistaken the tiger who now stood before me as Kev, except this one was at least a foot taller and was bulky with muscle. I took a quick second to appreciate Kev’s differences from Samuel’s. He may have been smaller, but I liked his leaner build, and soft, gentle eyes.

  Chrissa gasped, and from the corner of my eye, I saw her cover her mouth with her hands, stopping the scream she was about to let loose. Samuel was too close not to kill us both before the scream even left her lips. All it would take was a small leap and a slash with his huge paws.

  Not what you expected, was it?

  “No. You’re a weregal, but you’re different.”

  Correct. We like to consider ourselves more elite. Not even our weregal cousins know we exist, and we want to keep it that way. You’re messing up the plan. He took another large step toward us, but this time, we took an involuntary step back. Samuel’s tiger chuckle was more terrifying than a rattlesnake’s hiss, and they sounded about the same.

  “What are you planning?”

  Within seconds Samuel was back to greasy haired man bun and denim jeans, but his dark eyes remained endless pits of cruel amusement.

  “I’m not the one planning anything. My orders are to bring you in for study. There are a lot of people wanting to know more about you, so I hope you aren’t afraid of needles and a little blood.” His voice dripped with wicked delight like he was going to enjoy watching me suffer. I had little doubt that he wouldn’t enjoy it. Before I could make the nasty comeback I had at the tip of my tongue, which was driven by the fear running through my body, his eyes flicked to Chrissa, who still hovered behind me. “They didn’t say they needed the human and I’m more of a mercenary than an abductor, anyway.”

  His revelation about our futures turned my blood to ice, freezing me in place. Unless we could keep stalling him, only one of us had a chance to get away while the other stayed. Since I was going to be living either way, it was going to have to be me. But first, I needed more information.

  “Why would they want to study me?”

  Samuel’s voice oozed with feigned sympathy as he glanced around him for a staged dramatic effect. “Seems lover boy hasn’t told you what makes you so special. Did he really think he could hide the truth from us? We’ve known about you since the day you were born.”

  “What are you talking about? Who am I?”

  “A creature that doesn’t exist naturally. And since you’ll find out more soon enough, that’s all I’m going to tell you. For now, your friend and I are going to become better acquainted. But don’t worry, Joette, I won’t let you miss out. With our accelerated healing, I should be able to have some fun with you too without causing too much harm to your little body. How many bones do you think I can break before you start crying helplessly for your pathetic kitten to save you?”

  This was it, the moment of truth. One of us had to get out of here, and it had to be Chrissa. If she could get to Kev, he could find me, just like he always did. Since I couldn’t protect her, she had to run. Hopefully, I’d be able to last long enough for her to reach the car. My gut told me that wasn’t going to happen.

  “Run, Chrissa,” I called over my shoulder, never taking my eyes from Samuel as he crouched low to the ground. I half expected him to change right then, but he held still as he goaded us.

  “Oh, I wouldn’t do that unless you want to make this really fun for me. I wouldn’t mind a chase.” His tongue flicked across his lips as my gut twisted with a sickening lurch. This guy was sick in the head.

  Widening my stance, I brought my fists up in front of my face, telling him I was ready to fight. There was no way I was going to last two minutes against him, and we both knew it, as he waved me forward with a cocky smirk.

  “Joey, whatcha doin’, girl?” Chrissa asked in a low, disbelieving voice as I took a small step forward.

  “Get help, Chrissa.”

  “Joey-.”

  “Go!”

  For a sickening second I didn’t think she’d listen, but when the leaves behind me crunched under her steps as she bolted through the woods, I felt a minor thread of relief run through me. The rest of me was still certain Samuel could, and would, finish with me before Chrissa even made it to the car, but I had to try, anyway.

  “You have spirit; I’ll give you that, kitten. Too bad I’ll have to break you.”

  My fists tightened as he took two steps toward me, while I flinched and stepped back. My heart raced, and sweat coated my upper lip. I must have been suicidal. I’d never fought anyone before. Heck, I didn’t even know how to throw a punch. No doubt I would break my hand on his face if I even had the chance to try and throw one.

  We continued our standoff for what felt like years, neither of us moving any closer to the other. If this stalemate continued, Chrissa might actually make it to her car. As I thought it, Samuel’s eyes flicked in the direction of the road, and his top lip curled back from his teeth. It was now or never, yet I still had no idea what to do.

  Before I could do anything, though, Samuel’s eyes came back to me as he launched himself into the few feet of space between u
s. I hadn’t expected him to be so fast, so I wasn’t ready for his fist to collide with my face, snapping my head back and throwing me off balance. The taste of blood filled my mouth as he caught me by the back of my neck before I collapsed on the ground.

  “A few more blows and you’ll be unable to stop me from chasing your friend,” Samuel hissed in my ear as he tightened his hold. “I told you I’d enjoy a chase, but that didn’t stop you from sending her running. Once I’ve had my fun killing her, I’ll come back and finish with you. Cadence will be upset she missed this, but one of us has to do as we’re told.”

  His words mushed around in my head as the throbbing in my cheek worsened. It wasn’t until he lifted me into the air and threw me that I recovered…just in time to see a rock wall coming at me, or rather I headed toward it.

  I spun in midair, not coherent enough after his punch to my face to protect my head. My back and the side of my head collided with the wall, and I bounce off of it onto the ground. A cracking sound echoed in my ears, and from the way the earth spun as I tried to crawl to my knees, my skull had been the source of the sound.

  My stomach heaved, emptying my dinner onto the brown, dead leaves. The smell had me gagging as Samuel grabbed me by the hair, pulling me along the ground. I was dead weight, unable to gain my footing. Blood pounded in my ears as his laughter rang around us. There was so much pain throughout my body that I couldn’t pinpoint it all.

  Pushing the pain away, I tried to focus on him and what I could do to stop him. Chrissa needed more time, but I wasn’t going to be able to give her much more. The trees swam before me, and it didn’t take a genius to figure out I’d be getting an up close and personal visit from one of them next.

  Finding my footing, I jumped with whatever strength I had left, which was next to none, and wrapped my hand around his man bun and yanked. He yelped as he aimed a solid punch to my ribs, forcing the air from my lungs. My hold on his hair broke, and as I fell, I reached for his face to scratch at his eyes. It didn’t work. Only shallow scratches on his cheeks showed the damage I’d inflicted.

  His roar of rage met my ears as he grabbed my shoulders and threw me at the nearest tree. My mind braced for impact, but my bruised and broken body was too sluggish. I got one hand in front of me before the collision, but my elbow buckled, sending me face first into the tree’s trunk. The rough bark scraped across my face, ripping layers of skin from my nose and cheek.

  My legs gave out as I tripped on the tree’s base from my momentum, and as I lay sprawled on the ground, ready for Samuel to finish what he’d started, the calm and peaceful scent of mint filled my nose. Tears of relief filled my eyes as I flinched at the sound of a nearby roar.

  No one touched me, but I could hear the fighting. I didn’t have the strength to stand, but I rolled to my stomach to try and lift myself from the ground at least to sit. Sounds from the catfight behind me sent shivers down my spine as I pushed my body to my knees. Blood dripped from my face, falling to the leaves. My head was ready to explode, and the pain in my gut sent equal pain through me every time I breathed.

  The sounds of fighting continued until a growl was cut off by a loud gurgling sound. I didn’t need to turn around to know one of them was dead. Footsteps approached. I cried out involuntarily as a hand touched my shoulder.

  “Joey, it’s okay. It’s me,” a melodic voice said from above.

  Large, human hands wrapped around my shoulders as Kev knelt beside me, turning me until he was holding me in his arms.

  “Kev?” My voice broke as my pain consumed me and I held tight to the front of his shirt with a trembling hand.

  “It’s okay, little one, I’ve got you. You’re safe now.” He rubbed circles against my aching back, but it did little to reassure me.

  “Chrissa?”

  “She’s fine, a bit shook up, but otherwise, she looks okay. I met her at the car and brought her with me to find you. I threw her behind the log when I attacked Samuel. She’s sitting on it now. Listen, I know you’re hurt, but we need to go. Some of the humans at the party heard our fight and are looking for the cats.”

  Their stupidity to check out the two giant cats fighting had to be blamed on alcohol consumption.

  Blood dripped from my chin onto my arm, reminding me that I was still bleeding. That I’d forgotten about that scared me. It had to be shock from Samuel’s appearance and the fight.

  It took me a moment to realize Kev had called Chrissa over. She knelt beside us, and for once her presence didn’t bother me. There was a shallow cut across her cheek, but no other signs of a fight. Her knit brows, tight lipped and pale cheeked expression as she stared at me told me enough about how I looked.

  Turning my eyes up to Kev, I took in his injuries. Bruises around his eyes were starting to form, and his perfect lips were bleeding in multiple places. Claws had raked across his cheek, but the scoring wasn’t too deep. His face was bloody, which rolled my stomach. Good thing there was nothing left in it. If he looked this bad, I didn’t want to know what I looked like.

  His sorrowful black eyes studied my face until they tore away as he spoke to Chrissa. His voice matched his body: tense and shaky.

  “I’m going to shift back into a tiger. It’ll get us out of here faster. Chrissa, I need you to help Joey on my back and ride behind her to hold her on. She’s conscious, but I think she’s in shock. Can you help her?”

  “Yeah, sure. Are we taking her to the hospital?”

  “No. She’ll be fine. We heal quickly. Let’s go. The kids are getting close and if they catch us I can’t explain why there’s a dead man in the forest besides telling them I killed him.”

  I wanted to argue with him that I didn’t feel fine and that I should go to the hospital, but sharp pain streaked through my head, leaving me breathless. Kev squeezed my shoulders lightly as he placed me gently back on the ground before he shifted and crouched beside us. I couldn’t sit up, so I tried to roll to my knees. That wasn’t any better. The world spun, and I wasn’t even on my stomach yet. I’d managed to get onto my side, and that was as far as I could go.

  “Joey, let me help you.” Chrissa wrapped an arm around my torso and lifted me slowly off the ground. My legs shook under me, and I couldn’t hold my own weight. After it became apparent I couldn’t lift my leg over his back, she laid me across his shoulders and manually moved my leg to straddle him. She got on behind me, and we both held onto the harness as Kev stood.

  I still laid across Kev’s shoulders, while Chrissa’s weight held me down so she could reach the harness loops herself.

  Joey, are you okay? Am I bouncing you too much? I’m trying to keep steady and move fast, but it’s not working out well. Those kids are about to find Samuel’s body, and we need to be at the car when they do.

  His words jumbled around in my mind as my head bounced against his furry shoulder. My soft groan was the sole response I could give. He’d have to live with it.

  I had no idea how long I bounced around, but it couldn’t have been for too long. As the ride came to an end, Kev crouched again to let us off. This time, Chrissa rolled me off his back into the leaf infested grass beside the ditch.

  Strong arms lifted me into the air as Kev carried me over the ditch to the bright yellow getaway car that we’d so conveniently parked here less than an hour before. It felt much longer than that, but I knew it wasn’t.

  My world went dark as I shut my eyes and Chrissa pulled out onto the dirt track. The road was bumpier than I remembered, and my concentration split between not throwing up in Chrissa’s car and listening to them talk back and forth. It helped keep my mind off puking, and I wasn’t in a position to say anything until the car stopped moving.

  “Are you okay to drive?” Kev was still tense, worried and scared. All three were evident by the tension in his voice.

  Chrissa was a bit snarky in return, but that was from her own heightened emotions. “Do you know how?”

  “No.”

  “Then I guess we don’t have m
uch of a choice, do we?”

  “I guess not. Sorry for asking.”

  “Don’t worry, Flowers, I’ll get her home in one piece.”

  “I appreciate that,” he mumbled back.

  After a few minutes of driving, Chrissa spoke up again. “So if we’re not going to the hospital, where are we going? Her place or mine?”

  “She mentioned before that Gram didn’t know she was coming to this party, correct?”

  “Yes, that’s correct.”

  “Then we take her to your house. Gram can’t see her like this, at least not until she’s begun to heal. Will your parents still be awake when we get there?”

  “Mom was going to go to bed early. Dad was waiting up to make sure we got home.”

  This was going to get complicated. We hit a large pothole, and I was forced to swallow bile as I whimpered out my disgust.

  “Joey?” Kev’s voice was soft and close. Cool fingertips touched my cheek with so much tenderness that my heart swelled. “My love, are you okay?”

  I opened my eyes a sliver, which was enough for me to see Kev’s silhouette as the street lights whipped passed. There was no way he was wearing a seat belt being turned in the passenger seat like that. He hung over the seat, leaning into the back so he could touch me.

  Again my reply was to moan. Either getting out of the car or making it stop would help, but the words were stuck in my throat. Kev read my mind.

  “Chrissa, we need to stop somewhere and clean her up. If your father sees her, and me for that matter, looking like this, he’s going to, what’s the term, freak out.”

  “He’s going to freak out anyway, Flowers. She’s got cuts and bruises everywhere, and blood all over her clothes.”

  “That’s why we need to clean her up.”

  “Okay, looks like the bar’s open. It’s not the best spot, but I don’t think people will ask questions.”

  “Good.”

  Either she was still super upset, or she was thinking about me in the backseat because I’d yet to experience her pulling into a parking lot with such slow, deliberate turns. There was no jerky, sudden stop to alert me that we’d parked, only Chrissa’s voice as she spoke to Kev.

  “I’ll have to go in. You two can’t. You’re covered in too much blood. Do you have money?”

  My ears picked up rustling, and the car shifted as Kev pulled some bills out of his pocket. They smelled old and sweaty with a multitude of other unsavory scents that I chose to ignore.

  “Will this be enough?”

  “Plenty. I’ll be right back.”

  Her door closed, followed by a second door, and I realized Kev had also left the car when the door behind the driver’s seat opened and he crawled in and sat with me. Now that we were stopped it was easier to open my eyes and watch him.

  His fingers and thumbs traced the bruises on my face that I felt knotting in my muscles and the cuts and scrapes that had finally stopped bleeding, or at least I was pretty sure they had. When his visual inspection was done, he moved his probing fingers to the back of my head, pulling leaves from my hair as he went. When I winced, his fingers stilled.

  “That’s a bad lump. You must have cracked your skull on something.”

  “Yeah, a rock wall,” I mumbled as my stomach stilled for the first time since he’d held me after the fight. “Kev, they’re weregals like us.”

  “I know.”

  “He was trying to kidnap me. He said they were going to study me and do experiments on me because I shouldn’t exist. What was he talking about?”

  Kev sighed as he took his hands from my hair and began rubbing my thigh, warming it against the night’s bitter chill. It was one of the few places on my body that wasn’t screaming in pain and agony.

  “I should have told you, but you hate being different so much that I didn’t know how to tell you. You’re special, Joey. I’ve told you that before, but never why. The truth is that as far as anyone knows, a weregal and human pair are not capable of having cubs. You are the first that I know of. So yes, by weregal knowledge, you should not exist.”

  “But I do.”

  “Yes, you do, and my heart couldn’t be happier for it.” With care not to hurt me in any way, Kev leaned forward and touched his lips to my blood and dirt streaked forehead. It was so wonderful to have him close. The security blanket that was his scent could easily wrap around me and calm my heart.

  The pain in my skull, face and back eased as I took long, deep breaths with Kev’s lips still pressed to my skin. There was a slight tremor to his body that relaxed as he inhaled my personal scent as well. If I’d felt better at that moment, I would’ve started kicking myself for all the times that I tried to push Kev away. We were made for one another.

  “I love you, Kev.”

  My whispered words surprised us both. His hand on my thigh flinched as my breath caught in my throat. Yes, I’d actually said it…aloud. Heat filled my chest

  “I love you, too, Joey.” He chuckled softly against my hair as he placed a kiss on the top of my head. The melodic laughter had faded with worry before it died altogether, ruining the moment. “My love, I need to take you home.”

  The way he hesitated while speaking the phrase tipped me off that I wasn’t going to like what he had to say, and what he meant by “home”, but I decided to play dumb in case I was wrong.

  “We have to wait for Chrissa first, Kev. Then she’ll take us home.”

  “That’s not what I meant.” He leaned back, studying my face again. It was hard to see his in the dark. Even though there were lights on the building, the angle we’d parked at didn’t offer us much light.

  “You mean Fairimorr.”

  “Yes. Please listen to me before you argue. Chrissa’s coming back, so I need to be fast, and I hope this makes sense. First, they’re weregals and I can’t smell them, so I don’t know where they are, and I can’t protect you from what I can’t see coming. Next, Tom is one of them. He’s been here the whole time there have been humans and weregals fighting. I don’t know his connection, but my dad and Leon need to know. If we’re killed, they’ll never know weregals are here, and obviously, they have some plan set in motion. And lastly, that woman you saw with Samuel, if she’s his mate then we have to run before she finds out he’s dead. When we get to Chrissa’s house, we’ll go straight to bed. When Chrissa and her parents are asleep, we’ll sneak out and leave. We may be able to beat the other weregals to the passage that way, and waiting until Chrissa and her family go to bed will give you more time to heal. We heal fastest in our tiger form, but you’ll still heal faster than a human.”

  I’d managed a slight shake of my head before pain shot up my neck and into my head. My body needed to start healing itself a lot faster than what it was doing, or we’d be at Chrissa’s house until sunup. His hands cupped my face as I whimpered before I could speak again.

  “I need to say goodbye to Gram and Aunt Gwen first, and I need to grab food and clothes.”

  “I understand. Yes, you can say goodbye and pack a small bag. It’s going to be cold in Fairimorr, so you’ll need heavy clothes.”

  “What about Chrissa?”

  “I can’t carry both of you and outrun anyone who may pursue us. I’m sorry. They shouldn’t bother her if we leave, but we don’t have the option to take her. I’m too small in tiger form.”

  “Until I saw Samuel as a tiger, I thought you were big. Now I see what you mean by being small.”

  My smile tightened my lips, splitting a scrape that had clotted open. It added to the metal taste of blood lingering in my mouth. Kev reached up to my face and wiped some of the flowing blood from my chin with his thumb.

  “You’ll also need to change at Gram’s house. The smell of our blood is stronger than the scent of our skin. It’ll give them more to follow if we don’t clean it off.”

  I was going to need to do more than change my clothes to get rid of the blood, especially if I had any in my hair from hitting my head against the rock. There wasn
t time to explain this because as soon as Kev closed his mouth, Chrissa threw the door beside me open, blinding me with the dome light that hung between the two front seats.

  “I got water bottles, some paper towels and a first aid kit. Now, I don’t do blood, Flowers, so you’ll have to clean her up so I can disinfect and bandage.”

  She passed Kev two water bottles and a roll of paper towels. Without being guided what to do, he leaned out his door after ripping off several squares and dumped water on them, soaking the ground. At least he’d thought to do it outside. Although with Chrissa’s wild-eyed stare and shaking hands and voice, I’d doubt she’d mind if he forgot and soaked her car.

  “How’d you get this stuff?” I asked as Kev moved close and dabbed at the dry and sticky blood on my face. Chrissa needed to keep my attention. She wasn’t the only one who didn’t do blood. Not my own blood, anyway.

  “I think the lady who owns the place took pity on me. I mean I couldn’t even talk straight. She must think I’m high or something showing up in a tiger costume on Halloween. Anyway, I asked if she had any water or something because my friend fell down a hill, and she’s hurt, and this was the first place we saw that might have something because her grandma’s gonna freak when she sees her if we don’t. And no we don’t need to go to the hospital because it’s not that bad, and I’m just a little flippin’ upset because I don’t do blood. How’s that?”

  I’d missed half of what she’d rambled, mostly because, though Kev was gentle and his touch was light, the pressure of the towel as it cleaned almost had me in tears. Maybe I couldn’t cry from emotional meltdowns, but I certainly could from physical pain.

  “Do you have any pain meds?” I squeaked to Chrissa as a tear leaked from my eye.

  Kev pulled back long enough for me to gain composure. Instead of working on my face again, he took my hands and started cleaning them. The wounds there either weren’t as bad, or my face was more sensitive.

  “Yeah, let me get something.”

  She left the back seat and rifled through her glove compartment until I heard pills rattle in a medicine bottle. Kev still had my hands when she came back, so she tipped the pills into my mouth and grabbed the half full bottle of water Kev had been using and placed it against my lips so I could swallow.

  “Watch the cut on her mouth,” Kev warned as I winced away from the bottle, only to have it reappear against my lip.

  “Sorry, Joey, I didn’t realize it was cut.”

  “It’s fine.”

  Kev went back to wiping my face as he spoke to our blonde friend. His melodic voice gave me something to concentrate on since even his smell wasn’t providing any comfort from this.

  “I need to stay at your house tonight. Will your parents let me?”

  “Maybe. If Dad’s against it, I’ll let you in after he goes to bed.”

  “Good because I’m not leaving my girl alone ever again.”

  “After tonight, I don’t blame you. I’m so sorry we didn’t wait. It was all my fault, and I feel awful.” Her voice hitched as tears glistened down her cheek in the soft light of the car.

  “You have no idea how badly I wanted to strangle the two of you when I saw your car was missing from the house. When I smelled Joey’s blood on the wind, I almost puked.” His hand pulled back from my face as tears continued to run down my face. Most were from pain, but maybe a few held a little emotion in them. “She’s my world, Chrissa, and I can’t lose her. I’m done, by the way. Do what you need to do. I’ll be standing outside keeping watch.”

  “Can I ask something before you go?” she asked, opening the first aid kit on my lap so she could rifle through it for what she needed.

  “Yes?”

  “Why were you late?”

  “Obviously, I don’t have a watch, so I wasn’t sure what time it was, but Gwen and Tom were gone on their date longer than I thought. Since I’d told Joey I’d watch out for her, I didn’t want to leave until they got home and Gram could keep an eye on them. Tom’s not stupid enough to hurt either of them, but I wanted to be sure. I promised Joey I’d protect them, and I wanted to keep that promise.”

  Guilt burned a hole in my chest as he climbed from the car and slammed the door, leaving me cold and empty inside. He’d kept his promise to keep my family safe, but I’d broken mine to wait. If he hadn’t been doing what he’d promised me in the first place, then my promise wouldn’t have been needed.

  “It’s my fault, Joey. Don’t blame yourself.”

  “It’s both our faults,” I corrected as she dabbed cream on my cuts. All talked ended as I whimpered, moaned and cried for the next several minutes. When she was finished bandaging, I felt more like a mummy than a weregal, or rather a freak weregal.

  The door across from me opened, and Kev slid his long body inside the car and pulled it shut again. He didn’t say anything as he leaned back against the seat and closed his eyes.

  “We need to hurry,” Kev spoke softly as Chrissa gathered up the first aid supplies and shoved them back in the metal container.

  “Let me take this in and I’ll be right back.”

  She closed it, hopped from the car and shut the door, leaving us in the dark once again.

  Guilt ate at me, leaving me unable to look in Kev’s direction as my bandaged hand rubbed circles around the icy spot in my chest. And it hurt to breathe. I longed for his scent even though it floated around us in the small car, teasing me that Kev was so close but so far away. He hadn’t moved closer to me even after Chrissa had left, and I knew how much I’d hurt him then. There was no doubt he loved me, but he was angry, and he had every reason to be.

  “Kev, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to make you mad at me.” My voice was choked, even if the tears had subsided. It still hurt too much to move any part of my body, so I was stuck where I was. Defeated, I closed my eyes like he’d done and laid my tender head back against the seat. I was short enough that I didn’t have to lean far.

  I didn’t feel or hear him move, but he was there next to me in seconds, fingertips brushing against the blemish free skin of my cheek that had miraculously gone unscathed. My eyes popped open, meeting his. He was leaning over me so that we were inches apart, and his scent wafted to my nose. That breath was the best I’d ever smelled, and it melted the ice growing in my chest.

  “Yes, I’m angry, but I shouldn’t have left like that. I couldn’t stay and watch you hurt like you did. It was bad enough I had to listen to it, and it ripped my heart to shreds. Forgive me for not staying by your side. I should have.”

  The driver’s door opened, and Chrissa threw herself inside, slamming the door behind her. “Flowers, you need to buckle up.”

  Kev ignored her order, but after she turned the car on and didn’t move, he glanced over his shoulder at her.

  “I wasn’t joking, Flowers. I’m not really in a drivable state right now, and I don’t want to kill you if we get in a wreck. Seatbelt. Now.”

  He snorted as he turned in the seat, staying in the middle and strapped himself in. “You’d better buckle up too.”

  “Oh.” Chrissa’s shock that she hadn’t known she wasn’t buckled in yet was clear and scary. She really shouldn’t have been driving, but since neither Kev nor I could, we were stuck with her.

  As we pulled out of the parking lot, as gentle and slow as we’d pulled in, Kev leaned close to my ear. “I love you, my mate.

  “I love you too, tiger.”

  He took my hand in his, being careful not to hurt me any more than I was. A thought came to me as Chrissa pulled up to the curb in front of the house. Before she could get out, I asked what had been bothering me.

  “Kev, I didn’t smell him before he attacked. I smelled something, but it wasn’t him. It wasn’t sour.”

  Chrissa glanced back at us in the rearview mirror as Kev nodded. “He was covering his scent. Somehow they found out that you can smell them. That smell was the result of one of Fairimorr’s plants, one of the plants I mentioned to you before that c
an cover our scents. I think he knew it would confuse you, which was why he used it.”

  That made sense, but it was also unnerving. How much did these rogue weregals know about me?

  “Chrissa, can you put your window down so Joey can smell outside?”

  She turned to face him. “But what if they’re hiding their scent again?”

  “Then Joey will smell it. We have to get inside. Joey needs to sleep and rest. The more she gets before seeing Gram, the better.”

  Chrissa did as Kev asked without hesitation and without knowing the true meaning behind his words. I needed sleep all right because we were about to be fugitives on the run from an enemy we barely knew about and a widowed mate of an equally terrifying weregal.

  As Chrissa rolled her window down a crack, Kev leaned close and lightly touched his lips to my ear.

  “Scent the air like your life depends on it, because it does.”

  Author’s Note

  If you enjoyed Perfect Scents, then you’ll love to know there’s more to come! Book 2 is in the works and will hopefully be ready for publication by the end of 2016, though I make no promises.

  To stay updated on its progress, and for all things weregal, you can follow me at:

  Facebook: https://facebook.com/heatherkarnauthor

  Facebook Group: facebook.com/groups/theweregalchronicles

  Website: https://heatherkarn.com

  Also please feel free to leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads. I’d love to hear from you and what you thought of the book!

 
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