In case you missed it, you can read chapter 1 here.
With surprisingly few words, my host dug up an old pair of sweat pants then showed me into his bedroom. After that, he closed a far-too-solid door between us, flicking off the hall light and relegating himself to the couch.
Which left me trembling on the brink, fighting against my wolf’s desire to slip back through the darkened building and weasel my way into the absent human’s waiting arms.
“Totally inappropriate,” I chided my alter-ego, forcing our feet to turn away from the barrier. She countered with a memory of yesterday’s kiss, which—I in turn reminded her—had occurred in front of strangers and had never been repeated since. Plus, by human standards, a peck on the hand gave me no right to turn up on my mate’s doorstep after midnight, let alone insinuate myself into his belated slumber. Despite rocking my world, Sebastien’s lips had never even touched my face.
My wolf growled quietly but allowed me to turn aside in order to peruse our mate’s inner sanctum instead. Unlike his office back at the college, this room was neat as a pin, the bed freshly made and clothing all tucked away into drawers. Only two areas spoke to the professor’s recent attention—a desk cluttered with papers in one corner of the abode and a workbench dotted with wood shavings and carving paraphernalia at the other.
I was tempted to see what kind of art Sebastien had chosen to create. But nosing aimlessly through his belongings wasn’t what I’d come for. Instead, I perched on the hard wooden chair in front of the professor’s desk and opened the laptop that sat waiting on the otherwise empty expanse.
It felt strangely disloyal to borrow hardware without permission, vaguely like the lie Sebastien had made me promise not to tell. Still, I reasoned that my mate would neither know nor care that I’d plugged in a simple thumb drive and perused the contents using his keyboard and monitor. It wasn’t as if I planned to comb through my mate’s data; I just needed the loan of his equipment to discover what my brother had so carefully squirreled away.
Conscience sated, I inserted my brother’s data-storage device into its slot and hastily plugged in a pair of headphones as well when Derek’s face filled the laptop’s screen. “I don’t have much time,” my brother whispered, the view jiggling erratically as he speed walked down a corridor while filming himself on his cell phone. The younger male was entering the bay of PO boxes where I’d found this thumb drive, I realized. Meanwhile, the time stamp at the bottom of the screen matched the date when my brother’s social media accounts had gone so abruptly dark. Perhaps I was about to discover the clue that would lead me toward Derek’s current location?
Unfortunately, whatever had happened all those weeks ago must not have been good. Because my brother was obviously scared at the time of filming, sweat beading on his forehead as he glanced back over one shoulder rather than looking directly into the camera. “They’ll be here any minute,” Derek continued, voice muffled by the angle of his head. “I just hope I have time to drop off the key where you can find it so this whole thing doesn’t turn into a complete waste of time.”
I clenched my fists in frustration. Even in his desperation, my brother remained unbelievably vague. Who would be there at any minute? And had this video been intended for me or for someone else within his intensely private life? The truth was, Derek had never even let slip the name of a single friend, so I had no idea who else he might be addressing.
My questions remained unanswered, but my brother did drop a few additional hints. “If you’re watching this,” he said, “then I’ve probably disappeared off the face of the Lupanet. In which case, just watching this video might put you at risk. If you’re connected to the internet right now, disconnect, copy the contents of this thumb drive someplace safe, then destroy both the computer and thumb drive. Right now. I mean it.”
“Paranoid much?” I countered even as I hastened to obey Derek’s instructions. Well, not the destroying part. I wasn’t going to ruin my mate’s hardware without his permission. And even though Derek had gone missing, I didn’t quite believe the mere act of plugging a thumb drive into a laptop put me and Sebastien at risk.
Still, I transferred files onto my phone’s SD card as the video continued to roll. Derek had entered the chamber of PO boxes by that point, his fingers fumbling with a key in the near darkness. “Don’t follow me without backup,” the male whispered, glancing over his shoulder as the barest echo of a slamming door carried through my tinny speakers. My brother swore, hesitated, then spoke directly into the camera once again.
“Sebastien Carter is a good egg. If you need help, go to him.”
Then the screen went dark. No indication of what Derek planned to do or where he intended to go. No data on whether he’d been snatched up or had made good on his escape and disappeared back into the anonymity of the city proper.
Well, that wasn’t quite right. I’d discovered the key to the PO box miles from my present location in a national forest where werewolves frequently hunted. Which meant my brother had made it off the college campus unscathed during the night in question…although who knew what had happened thereafter.
Transfer complete, the computer reported, breaking into my increasingly circular thoughts. I double-clicked on a few files, found strings of numbers and letters that my tired brain refused to comprehend. It was definitely time to call it a night.
Still, Derek had been single-mindedly intent upon his paranoia. So after sliding the SD card back into my phone, I carried the thumb drive into the bathroom and dropped it into a mouthwash bottle to deteriorate. Then I powered Sebastien’s computer all the way down, the room around me growing dark and still in an instant.
Finally, I sank back onto my mate’s bed, the day’s events crashing over me in a wave of exhaustion. I was alone with my wolf, my thoughts, and a hole in my belly that reminded me I was no longer part of any pack. What kind of werewolf hunted entirely alone?