We walked a little further down the trail, but then I started noticing the smell again. It wasn’t even a dirty smell so much as it smelled like dirt, like the ground and trees. A hint of pine, and something else, something familiar. It reminded me of when the fair came to town, and I always spent too much time feeding the goats in the petting zoo.
I kept walking, and I had started following the scent, but nobody questioned me about it. Even when we veered off the trail, they didn’t say anything to me.
Finally, too late, I placed it. I froze in my tracks, and my heart stopped in my chest.
“What?” Jack asked in a nervous whisper.
“Reindeer.” I could barely even say it aloud.
“What?” Milo asked incredulously, and even Jack gave me a confused look.
Neither of them understood what that meant, but I scanned the trees frantically. I knew how fast they could move. They were probably here. We might be surrounded already. I turned in a circle, slipping in the slush, and Jack caught me before I fell to the ground.
The wind picked up again, taking the scent away from me, and that was the only hint I had to where they might be. Thirst mixed with my panic, and the edge of my vision blurred red. My hands trembled, but I couldn’t say for sure if that was from hunger or fear.
Milo looking around, trying to figure out what exactly had me so freaked. Jack still had his hand on my arm, steadying me, and the scent became stronger behind me, so I turned around.
Only thirty yards from us, a vampire stood on a bench. I had just been looking at it a few seconds ago, and nobody had been around, but here he was. His dark blue work jacket hung open, revealing his bare chest covered in dark hair. His jeans were filthy and ragged and hadn’t been washed in months. Despite the cold slush on the ground, he was barefoot.
The wind blew his black hair across his face, but I could still see his black eyes staring right at me, giving me the same chill they had when I first saw him in Finland. It was Stellan, the lycan that wouldn’t speak English, and he’d already spotted us.
“I never should’ve brought you here,” I said, both to Jack and Milo. Letting them come along had been a death sentence, but I didn’t realize it until was too late.
“What is going on?” Milo asked.
“Who is that?” Jack followed my line of vision, where I was staring at Stellan, and Milo turned to look at him too. Stellan was by himself, and he didn’t look that threatening, but I knew more of them were nearby.
“Lycan.” I couldn’t look away from Stellan because I knew he would move as soon as I did, so I couldn’t see Jack’s reaction, but he instantly tensed.
“Go back to the car,” Jack said through gritted teeth. I thought of Bobby, sitting unguarded in the car, and I choked back vomit. They probably had already found him.
“No.” I glanced back at Milo. The car was a deathtrap, and I couldn’t have him going back there. “Run, Milo.”
I looked back at Stellan, but he was already gone, and my heart sank. We didn’t stand a chance. Milo would never be able to outrun him.
“Get out of here!” Jack shouted. He had just seen Stellan’s disappearing act, and he just learned what we were up against. “Alice, Milo, get out of here!”
“I’m not leaving you!” I grabbed his arm and looked up at him. He wanted to protect me above all else, but we had already been ambushed. “They want me anyway!”
“No, they don’t want you!” Jack shook his head. “They want Peter! You’re just the thing that’s most important to him! They’re trying to flush him out.”
“How astute.” The voice on the phone interrupted us, standing in front of us.
Shirtless, his upper body was pure muscle. His dark hair was pushed back from his face, revealing brown eyes, but they were so cold and empty, like an evil doll. Just by looking at him, I knew he was Gunnar, the leader of the lycan.
He took a step towards us, his bare feet crunching in the grass, and Jack moved in front of me. Milo tried to step up next to him, but Jack held up his arm in front of him, blocking him. Gunnar laughed at his feeble attempts to protect us. He was alone, so his comrades must be hidden amongst the trees around us.
“Where’s Jane?” I asked, barely keeping my voice even.
“Around here somewhere.” Gunnar glanced darkly around us, smirking. “It’s so easy to misplace things in the city. That’s why I’ve always preferred the intimacy of the country.”
“We don’t know where Peter’s at,” Jack told him. “He doesn’t know we’re here.”
“I’m aware. I know he would never let a pathetic attempt like you out to greet us.” His expression changed, growing dark and angry, and rather terrifying. “There’s no sport in going after you, and Peter would never bore his guests.”
“Don’t go after us, then,” I said. “Just give us Jane, and we’ll be out of your hair.”
“You know what I think would be fun?” The devilish grin returned to his face. “Is if we made you find her, and bring her to us.”
“Don’t you already have her?” I asked, growing confused.
“Yes, I do, because I know that a good guest always brings something to share with his host,” Gunnar said, his dark eyes sparkled. My stomach twisted, knowing that whatever made him happy would horrify me. “You’re looking quite famished, Alice, and I know that your friend is a very tasty treat.”
Dodge came out from behind a pine tree a few feet from us. His blond hair was messy, and he looked much less amused than when I met him in the woods. He had Jane in his arms, and he held his hand over her mouth to keep her from screaming.
Her heart pounded franticly, and I would’ve noticed it sooner if I hadn’t been so distracted by Gunnar. Her eyes were wild, and she fought at Dodge as hard as she could, but it didn’t do anything. He restrained her with ease.
“I’m not going after her!” I glared at Gunnar. “You can’t make me!”
“That is true, but I can make it more tempting.” Gunnar nodded at Dodge, who responded by dropping Jane to the ground.
“Alice, I’m so sorry!” Jane cried. She was barefoot in that short green dress she’d stolen from my closet and fell onto the frozen grass. “I didn’t want to call you, but they made me!”
Her clothes were torn and her knees and cheeks were scraped and dirty. She kneeled on the ground with her hands pressed down in the icy slush. As cold as it that must’ve been for her, she was too weak and too afraid to get up.