Circle of Ghosts #2

Circle of Ghosts by Jenna Kernan

The Trackers series

When Skinwalker, Nick Chien, is attacked by ghosts, the Thunderbirds rescue him but leave him at the mercy of an enemy healer with supernatural powers as dangerous as his own.  Her duty is to kill him.  But she instead determines to walk in his dreams to learn if his wild story of being attacked by ghosts is true.

While walking in his dreams, Native American Dreamwalker Jessie Healy, discovers the threat is real; they face a common enemy.  Nagi, the Ruler of the Circle of Ghosts, is collecting evil ghosts and attacking the living.  She also discovers a more imminent threat--In his dreams, Nick is not injured.  In his dreams, they explore a passion forbidden when awake and face an enemy that could destroy them both.

Excerpt from CIRCLE of GHOSTS #2 - The Tracker series

Nick Chien let his head drop back to the pillow and closed his eyes, taking shallow breaths as blood dripped from the gashes on his face and into the soft clean coverlet.  He wondered if he had just made the worst mistake of his life.

No.  The worst mistake was getting in that elevator with three ghosts. 

The room smelled of lemon polish and wax.  The bedding held a hint of bleach and detergent.  Across the room a bowl of wood shavings released the scent of cedar into the air. 

The female dreamwalker’s life was about to get real messy.

The click of the doorknob awakened him and he opened one swollen eye to watch her approach.  She was Niyanoka, his born enemy, and she’d already tried to smother him with a pillow.  Now she carried a medical bag and a basin.  The smell of soap and disinfectant rose from the warm water.  As a wolf, his senses were acute and she smelled of honey.

He lay still when she drew up the chair beside him and set the bowl on the bedside table.  She rummaged through her bag, drawing out two rubber gloves.  How humiliating it must be for her to have to touch him. 

She uncapped a needle and plunged the tip into a vial, and faced him with weapon raised.  He prepared to fight and she drew to a halt.

“It’s medicine, for the pain,” she said.

“So was the pillow.”

She held out the vial then changed her mind and read the label to him.  He took it and forced his good eye open enough to read.  Would she have switched the contents?  He stared up at her.  Her expression was strained, but her body held none of the hesitation or uncertainty she radiated earlier.  He trusted his instincts and lay back on the bed.  A moment later she had his hip exposed and swabbed.  The prick was nothing compared to the stabbing of each breath.

The drug burned into his muscle and his ears began to ring.  His body grew heavy.  Thoughts grew difficult to gather as the drug traveled through his system, but he breathed without pain for the first time since the attack.

He grinned at her tight expression and felt an echoing twitch of pain, dulled by the medication.  She looked grim as she rung out the dish towel and then gripped it firmly in her clenched fist.  She hesitated, the cloth hovering above him.

“I won’t bite,” he assured.

Her expression told him she harbored doubts, but she washed the blood from his face.  Her gentleness surprised him.  He knew the task could be accomplished with a much more punishing stroke, but she seemed to strive not to cause him additional pain, though she avoided touching him as well, as she plied the cloth with the gloved hand. 

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Jessie Healy,” said his born enemy.  “Yours?”

“Nicholas Chien.  Where am I?”

“Freehold, Montana, two hundred miles west of Billings.”

His eyelids grew heavy, but he fought off the lethargy.

“You’re a sight,” she murmured.

For the first time he thought to wonder what he really looked like?  For years he’d relied on his good looks to get him exactly what he wanted from women and realized with a nasty lurch that he had lost one major advantage.  Those possessed women had gouged his face as if it were warm wax.  He allowed himself to relax as she bathed his face and neck.

“Are you certain they were ghosts?”

He didn’t open his eyes.  “Positive.”

“How do you know?”

“The stink.  They smell like death and their eyes take on an unnatural yellow glow.”

The drug made him woozy, but did its work.  He made an investigatory pat of his face as she drew out a stethoscope and listened to his chest.

“Your lung is collapsed.  We need to get you looked at.”

His friend Sebastian would have him whole already.  “I thought you were a healer.”

“I am, but I can’t reinflate your lung.  It wouldn’t be safe.  I have a friend.  He can do surgery on site.  He’s very good.”

His thoughts were harder to gather.  He tried to focus on why this was a bad idea.  It came to him at last as he recalled her earlier concern that he may go wolf on the operating table.  “Anesthesia?”

“It won’t matter.”

He opened his eyes and their gazes met.  Her face flushed and he knew she was up to something.

She tried for a smile of reassurance, but it flickered and died before reaching her golden eyes.

“He’s a large animal vet.”

Nick drew a breath to protest, but choked on the blood in his throat and managed only a gurgle.

“Now listen, if he puts you out, you’ll already be in animal form.”

Nick groaned again.  “What if he puts me down instead of out?”

“I won’t let that happen.”

This from a woman who had already tried to smother him.

“Why don’t I feel better?” he muttered.

“I promise to do everything I can to help you.  You have to trust me.”

Trust a woman.  That was funny.  He’d laugh if his rib wasn’t jabbing his lung.  Instead, he tried to think of another way.  He had never been to a vet.  The very thought was humiliating, but he had a nasty suspicion that he’d die otherwise.  Given the people he needed to protect, he couldn’t do that. 

Nick nodded his acceptance. 

“I have to get you into the truck,” she said. “I think, if you change, I can carry you?”

He looked at her and knew she couldn’t do it.  He sat up.  Even with the painkillers chugging through his system, the effort covered him in a cold sweat.  Together they made it to the front steps.  He was dribbling frothy pink blood from his mouth again and coughing.  Pinpricks of light spun about him as he gripped the railing. 

“I’ll get the truck.”

She set off at a run, bounding like a deer and he wished he had the strength to give chase.  The truck roared up to the steps.  He lifted his head from the crook of his arm, not even recalling assuming that position. 

She wrapped an arm around his broken ribcage.  The pain nearly buckled his knees. 

He made it to the door and staggered into the truck.  She rounded the hood and jumped into the drivers’ side.  She reached for the clutch then hesitated, leaving them in place.

“I’ll have help at the vets.  Maybe you should change now.”  She gripped the steering wheel as if bracing for a blow.

Nick studied her.  “You gave your word.”

He waited until she nodded her acceptance before focusing his dwindling energy on the change.  The power zinged through his veins, momentarily overcoming the pain.  Then he coiled into the position of a wounded animal upon her vinyl seat.

He kept his gaze on her as she stared in wide-eyed astonishment. 

“A wolf,” she whispered and he realized that she had not known his animal form when she agreed to tend him.  Did it make a difference?  It was certain it would to some.  Had she been there during the war?

Her face paled as her bloodless fingers slipped from the wheel.  She threw open the door and slid from the truck, pausing only to slam the door in his face.  She kept both hands on the metal exterior as she stared in horror through the closed window.

So much for the truce they had forged.  It seemed that Skinwalkers were not the only ones who could not be trusted.

©Jenna Kernan, 2017