Betrayals (Cainsville #4) - Kelley Armstrong

CHAPTER ONE

I woke to the sound of horses. It took a moment for me to remember where I was—in the forest behind the Saints’ clubhouse. I’d gone for a walk with Ricky which had turned into a chase that turned into victory sex and an exhausted drop into sleep on the forest floor.

I reached for him. When my fingers thumped down on cold earth, I scrambled up. “Ricky?”

Don’t panic.

He wouldn’t have wandered off. That was our pact after the last time I woke up alone in these woods, when Ricky had been lured away and nearly killed.

As I yanked on my clothing, a hound’s baying cut through the night. I spun and caught a flicker of distant fire.

A scream sounded deep in the forest. A man’s scream. I yanked my switchblade from my pocket and—

“Liv?”

Ricky’s groggy voice. Then his hand on my calf, and I looked down to see him on the ground where we’d been sleeping.

“You weren’t there,” I said, and he knew exactly what I meant, rising with a curse as he reached for his jeans.

When a low growl reverberated through the air, I strained but saw nothing.

“Is that a hound?” I whispered. “A cŵn?”

One glance at Ricky’s face told me he hadn’t heard anything.

“I heard a man scream,” I said. “And now growling. There was baying earlier. It think it’s one of the—”

A snarl. Then another cry, and I turned fast, catching a glint of red eyes and the faint outline of a giant black dog.

“Over there,” I whispered. “It’s—”

Ricky had disappeared.

“Damn it, no.”

Something crashed through undergrowth, running away, but I blocked it out, squeezed my eyes shut, and focused. “Ricky.”

“Here.” Warm fingers clasped mine. “Hold hands for safety. Just like in kindergarten.”

I told him what I was seeing and hearing. Pinpointing the source was impossible—it would come from the north, then the southeast, then the west.

“I think someone’s been cornered by the hound,” I said.

Now the woods had gone silent. Eerily silent. I clutched Ricky’s hand.

“I’m still here,” he said. “Oh, and when we went out for lunch yesterday, you said your brownie tasted like it’d been dredged in sawdust, so I dropped off one from Uppercrust for your afternoon break.”

He was proving it was really him I was talking to. “Thanks.”

“Covering all the bases. Was the brownie good?”

“It was awesome.”

“And the dude being menaced by the giant hell-hound?”

“Apparently gone.”

“Huh. Do you want to go grab another brownie?”

“It’s after ten.”

“Is that a challenge? I can find—”

His voice faded, and his figure shimmered against a backdrop of rubble.

There was no rubble in this forest.

I could still feel his hand, though, so I gripped it tighter, and his figure came clear again.

“Did I go somewhere?” he asked.

“You started to.”

“Huh.” He peered out into the night. As I looked around, he said, “Still nothing?”

I shook my head.

“We know it’s not the actual Hunt. I’d hear it if it was.” Ricky had Cŵn Annwn blood himself and recognized the sound of them. “It’s a vision, which means you have a message pending. So do you want to get it? Or leave it on vision-mail for a while?”

When I didn’t respond, he said, “I’d rather you got it. I know the fevers are easing off, but I still don’t like you having visions when you’re alone.”

“In other words, just get it over with.”

“Take it slow. Keep hold of my hand. If you can’t hear my voice, come back. And if you can talk, tell me what’s going on so I know everything’s okay.”

I nodded. Then I stared out into the forest, picturing what I’d seen a few minutes ago—rubble amidst the trees, nature reclaiming a human encroachment. Like the abandoned psych hospital. Like Villa Tuscana. Two other places where I’d seen fae visions. Ruined places, rich with fae energy, stolen by humans then falling to rubble, Nature slowly reclaiming what was hers, restoring balance.

When I heard a childish giggle, I turned, expecting to see the little girl who was so often my guide in the visions.

“Are you here?” I asked.

A laugh answered. Still girlish, but different from the first. I looked around. Piles of brick and stone and crushed mortar littered ground already blanketed in moss and vines. When I turned toward Ricky, I could see him faintly and feel the pressure of his hand. I told him what I saw as I led him toward that girlish laughter.

“Pou eísai?” a girl said, and though I didn’t recognize the words, I knew they meant Where are you?

The other girl answered in the