Bailey Nordin spun the steering wheel under her hands, momentarily lifting the right-side wheels off the pavement as the truck veered sharply left around a honking, terrified semi-truck driver.
“Well, shit,” Bailey grumbled. “All we wanted was a nice little trip into town, and these bastards gotta be interfering.”
Her passenger, Roland, clutched at the doorframe even as he ground his teeth together. “Maybe,” he suggested, “just this once, we can, like, let them catch us. Just so we don’t have to drive like this.”
Bailey shot him a flinty glare. “What, you think I’m driving too slow and conservative-like? Fine, I’ll pick up the pace.”
Behind them, the black 2008 BMW M3 had to pause for the semi. And then, once more, it advanced.
The young man’s haggard gasp of “For fuck’s sake” was almost completely drowned out by the sudden roar of the engine as Bailey’s boot pressed down on the gas pedal, kicking their speed up to over eighty-five miles per hour.
Bailey narrowed her eyes as she half-watched it in the rearview mirror, otherwise trying to keep her sight focused on the twists and turns and potential obstacles ahead of them.
“Goddamn bastards,” she remarked. “Some people just don’t realize that they’ll lose in the end, so they keep wasting everyone’s time by trying to win anyway. Don’t they know I practically built this truck?”
It was true; the black Toyota Tundra had first come to her in a wretched, pitiful state, barely even drivable, and now it was her baby. She’d spent months working on it on the side and bringing it up to her lofty standards.
And then, these last few days since the borderline demolition derby she and Roland had been in while escaping from Portland, she’d been hard at work repairing the damn thing. Today’s excursion to Salem was the first time she’d driven it since they got back.
Gunning it, she tailgated a blue Camry and honked while motioning for them to pull over to the side. Whether the driver realized she wanted them out of the way of a high-speed car chase, or whether they thought she was signaling that they had a flat tire or something made no difference. The only thing that mattered was passing them.
“Um,” Roland observed, “I don’t think they’re getting the message. Let me try a little something.”
“Go for it,” said Bailey. A speedy glance assured her that the BMW was still gaining on them.
However, they still had most of Salem’s suburbs and outskirts to get through. Rush hour was just getting started, so they might be lucky enough to have the Beamer blocked by the thickening traffic.
Roland ran a hand through his mop of lank blond hair and took a deep breath. He fixed his gaze on the Camry, then closed his eyes and raised his hands, fingers twisting into a series of bizarre, uncomfortable-looking configurations.
There was a change in the air—a slight chill, and something almost like an electrical current that set the fine hairs on Bailey’s neck and arms standing at attention. She knew just what it was.
As if on cue, the Camry’s driver—it appeared to be a middle-aged woman—looked back at them, wide-eyed and open-mouthed. She sort of nodded as she turned back to the wheel. Her right blinker flashed, and she slowly pulled onto the shoulder.
Bailey inhaled sharply and pressed down on the gas again. “Thank the gods. And this guy here, obviously.” She spared a hand to swat Roland on the arm.
“Don’t mention it,” he said, leaning back and smiling. He always started out nervous when she drove maniacally, but his natural tendency was toward calm, smooth confidence, so he could deal with it. And he was.
Seeing her big, bulky vehicle advancing on them and hearing its engine roar with the monstrous effort of vastly exceeding the oppressive speed limit, other cars fell back or changed lanes. She grinned with a certain nasty sense of triumph. People recognized that she had more cause to hurry than they, rush hour be damned.
The BMW contained more fucking werewolves involved in that human-trafficking ring. Well, it probably did. At least no one was firing guns yet.
Roland squinted into her rearview mirror. “Who the fuck are they, and why the hell are they after us?” He paused. “No, wait, let me reword that. Who the hell are they, and why the fuck are they after us? Yeah, I like that version better.”
“Some douches,” Bailey answered him in a flat voice, trying to keep her eyes on the road.
He threw up his hands. “Oh. Gosh, that answers it. Are you sure? I mean, I don’t see a big flashing neon sign hovering over their car that specifically identifies them as ‘Some Douches.’ Do you?”
The girl snorted. “They’re driving a black Beamer. Only douches drive those. And make it a double douche if the driver has one of those stupid Bluetooth things stuck in his ear the whole time. Which I’m damn near sure he does.”
“Hmm,” Roland mused. “You may be onto something there.”
He twisted around, craning his neck to peer out the back of the truck, and squinted. He could make out the BMW behind them but could not see the driver through the windshield, thanks to the vehicle’s dark-tinted glass.
Still, he had to admit that it seemed like exactly the type of vehicle that would be driven by a Bluetooth-headsetted prick.
Turning back to Bailey, he quipped, “I’ll take that bet for ten bucks. But, uh, seriously, who the hell are they?”
“Someone we pissed off,” she suggested. “And the only people I know of that we pissed off were those three bitches after you and your precious seed or whatever. Oh, and those city-wolves who were working with the South Cliffs from my town to smuggle girls into forced marriages.”
Her eyes narrowed, and she realized she was gripping the steering wheel tighter than necessary. The South Cliffs had always been assholes, but the magnitude of their betrayal—kidnapping girls from their own town and neighboring packs—was still shocking to her, even days later.
Roland offered his two cents. “Both of those are true and correct answers, yeah. But, why do I get the feeling that you’ve pissed off even more people than that, just by being you? Hell, you even agreed with me that you were a magnet for trouble.”
He gave her a teasing, lopsided smile. If anyone else had said that (with the possible exception of Gunney, back home), she would have wanted to pummel them, but somehow Roland was able to get away with it. The smile helped.
Instead, she just scowled. Behind them, the Beamer scythed through traffic and started closing on their rear bumper.
“Shit,” Bailey snapped, depressing the gas pedal, although it barely moved at this point.
She and Roland were in the right lane, with no one in the left at the moment. By now, they were passing out of the built-up area and into the countryside, and traffic was thinner. Their new friends were pulling onto the centerline, trying to block any other motorists from interfering.
The BMW turned at a slight angle, then, pitting its right-corner bumper against the Tundra’s rear left, tried to force Bailey sideways off the road without flipping her over.
She bounced in her seat, barely able to keep her foot on the gas. “Oh, this is some spy-movie bullshit!” she raged. “Who do these pricks think they are?”
Roland was absorbed in what had to be another spell, although Bailey was so keyed up with adrenaline that she didn’t feel the usual tingling sensation.
She swerved to the left, thankful for the empty lane, and managed to accelerate just far enough ahead of their pursuers to keep her bumper safely out of their reach.
“Hey, wiz kid,” she shouted at her passenger, “could you hit the lower control arm on their front suspension? Just make it—”
“Yes.” He opened his eyes and made a sharp swiping motion with two fingers.
The BMW suddenly swerved halfway onto the shoulder and then fishtailed halfway into the left lane as it struggled to right itself, just as traffic caught up with them. Three motorists honked, braked, or pulled over to avoid crashing. In the confusion, the bastards fell slightly behind, and Bailey was able to get a few hundred feet ahead of them.
Roland grinned. “Hah! That actually worked. I don’t know what a ‘control arm’ is, so I just stopped the wheel from spinning for a second.”
Bailey sighed. Roland wasn’t much of a car person. She was working on him, but it would take time.
“I tried,” he went on, “to just flat-out bar them from hitting us with the bumper again, but that didn’t work. Was able to shift the appropriate mental energy into the other thing, though.”
The Beamer was gaining again.
Bailey’s teeth ground together. “German-engineered piece of shit,” she muttered. Then, to the wizard, “Might need more of that ‘mental energy’ real quick, but first, I’m gonna try something a little more basic.”
Their foes were slanting in to try hitting the bumper again.
Bailey, noticing a decent-sized gap in the right lane, swerved hard to that side and quickly righted the wheel, removing her foot from the gas and braking lightly. The car behind her had just enough time to change lanes, while Bailey’s truck fell behind and the BMW sped ahead.
Then Bailey rocketed straight toward their rear end. She had the bigger vehicle, and therefore the advantage. As the driver slowed down, trying to figure out what to do next, she rammed them.
“From me to you, fuckhead!” she yelled as the Beamer shook under the assault of her bumper guard.
The other driver recovered faster than she would have liked, though, and before she knew it, the BMW had channeled the force of the ramming into a lane-change, a deceleration, and a total reversal of the situation.
“Well,” Roland lamented, “this is getting us nowhere.”
“Can you, uh,” Bailey asked hurriedly, “trigger that thing’s emergency brake? Or fuck up something in the suspension?”
He shook his head, causing his light hair to spill around his face. “It’s extremely difficult for me to affect something on the inside of a moving vehicle since I can’t see the inner mechanics and I’m not an expert on cars. Or trucks, whatever. Magic requires some understanding of the target to work.”
The girl nodded, suddenly irritated not only by Roland’s ignorance of motor vehicles’ structure but that she’d been helping their attackers endanger so many people with all this back-and-forth.
“Fuck this,” she snarled. If she and the Beamer were going to keep having their duel, she ought to at least get it the hell away from other motorists and innocent bystanders.
Already they were on a mid-grade road through the country, but at this hour, there were still a fair number of cars around. She jerked the wheel to the left, taking the first turn available to her, and found herself headed north through flat farmland on a little-traveled road called Desart Northeast.
“What?” Roland asked. “Now, where are we going? Oh, wait, north. At least that’s the right direction for getting home. Well, northeast. Close enough.”
Ignoring him, Bailey pushed farther down on her gas pedal as soon as her truck straightened out of its turn. Without as much obstruction here, the BMW could accelerate past her…which was just what she wanted.
But first, she needed to make the bastards think she was still trying to outrun them.
Roland, smart as he was, hadn’t quite figured out her plan yet. “Wait, are you trying to outrun them?” It was as if he’d read her mind, but hadn’t read between the lines.
“No,” she replied, trying not to roll her eyes. She needed them focused on what was going on in front of her. And behind.
There were grass and low crops on the flat, empty land on both sides of the road. The BMW was slowly gaining on her. The time was now.
Bailey slammed on her brakes and pulled over to the right shoulder. The Beamer’s driver, not anticipating that move, rocketed past, starting to brake only once he was beyond them.
“Hah!” Bailey laughed. She already had the Tundra in motion again; the chase was reversed, and she was the one accelerating while her opponent was trying to slow down.
Roland nodded. “Oh. We’re going to ram them into oblivion. I guess that thing on your front bumper is good for something, after all.”
“It’s a steel bumper guard,” she shot back as the truck soared down the road toward its target. “Fitted it myself. Basically guarantees that in this type of collision, we won’t be the ones taking damage—unless we hit a goddamn semi. And that POS up there doesn’t look like a truck, does it?”
“Nope,” Roland agreed. He grabbed the oh-shit handle and braced himself, but he almost seemed to be looking forward to smashing the BMW into oblivion. It had given them enough trouble by now.
The engine roared as the green fields beside them blurred and the black vehicle ahead grew rapidly larger in their windshield. The rival driver, unsure of what to do, braked and tried to dodge off to the side.
The sound of the impact filled the air, and the truck shook enough to obscure their vision. Both of them jerked sharply forward against their safety belts. They saw a dark form in front of them spinning off the road. With the Tundra going much faster than the Beamer, the German-engineered car had no chance of coming out of the collision in good shape.
The steel guard ripped the BMW’s bumper off and crunched its trunk like an eggshell, in addition to sending it careening off the road into the mud and grass of the field off to the left. Even through the tinted windows, Bailey thought she could see forms flailing their arms in fury and panic.
She almost cackled. There was a problem, though. The crash had slowed them way the hell down, and although their nemeses had taken plenty of damage, it was not enough to render the car undrivable.
It was already heading back toward the road, awkwardly, and would intercept them in seconds.
Bailey frowned. Then she braked, pulled onto the left shoulder and partway onto the field beyond, and shifted the truck’s gearstick into park.
“Well,” she murmured, “looks like we couldn’t quite manage to outdrive them. Hope you’re ready for a good old-fashioned ass-kicking since that’s the only way we’re getting out this now.”
As the blond Seattleite unbuckled his seatbelt, he flashed her a nasty, crooked grin. “Whose ass, though? Mine, yours, or theirs?” He shrugged in a mocking, exaggerated way. “There’s always a chance they might get one up on us.”
The girl snorted and pushed the driver’s side door open with her foot after pulling the latch. “Yeah, right. Suuuure. You and your little fantasies.”
She was grinning too, but her smile showed even more teeth—like a wolf’s.
They both hopped down from the truck into the cool, moist grass, mud ruts kicked up behind them from their stop.
As their feet touched the earth, three men were already emerging from the BMW about a hundred feet from them. Their appearance was almost exactly what Bailey had expected.
All three were burly and tough-looking. Two of them were noticeably tall, the third of average height. They all had thick but well-trimmed beards, and each of them was dressed in a fine suit of dark brown.
Bailey noted one other thing, and she bit her tongue to keep from laughing even as butterflies rose in her stomach with the anticipation of combat. The driver was wearing a Bluetooth earpiece.
“See?” she said to Roland, gesturing toward the guy’s head. “After we kick the shit out of them, you owe me a Hamilton, city boy.”
He blinked. “What, you mean like a ticket to the show?”
“No, dipshit,” she retorted, suddenly almost as confused as he was. “Alexander Hamilton. The guy on the ten-dollar bill? What the hell ‘show’ are you talking about? Some new crap on Netflix?”
Roland waved a hand vaguely. “Don’t worry about it. Let’s just focus on whupping their asses.”
By now, the three Weres were close enough to hear them.
“Easier said than done, you little punk-ass piece of shit,” snarled the driver. He was the biggest of the three, with sandy hair and beard, and a jaw that looked like it could serve double duty as a bear trap.
Roland did not say anything by way of response. All he did was unfasten his belt and start to slowly draw it away from the waistband of his pants.
The leader looked at Bailey then. “You stole those girls from us. Our people are very upset. There’s serious money involved in all of this, you know, and serious people behind that money. You cost them a lot.”
Bailey felt the fire and electricity of anger and adrenaline flowing through her, making her both stronger and more limber, getting her ready for battle.
“Step up to us,” she jeered, “and we’ll cost you a hell of a lot more.” She brought up her hands, which were already balled into tight fists.
Roland coughed gently beside her as he lazily swished his belt. He seemed to be paying no attention to what was going on, but Bailey knew that was just a façade. She’d seen him fight before.
The two men off to the sides abruptly ripped off their clothing with fast, practiced motions, their bodies transforming, elongating, and sprouting fur even before the suits hit the ground. The man in the middle, the leader, remained in human form and lunged.
Chaos exploded, and the once-serene, muddy field became a whirlwind of violence.
Bailey narrowly avoided the pummeling fist of the leader, her dodge to the side allowing the punch she directed at his ribs to land.
In the midst of the motion, she sensed air rushing past her head and felt the man’s incredible strength. He wasn’t quite as fast as she was, but he had enough raw power that she wouldn’t be able to take many hits if he connected.
Fortunately, his forward momentum doubled the impact of the girl’s fist against his torso. She bellowed as she struck, her wordless cry of belligerence echoing faintly through the air, and felt a rib crunch under the impact.
“Ugh!” the man groaned. Bailey was already pushing him aside with her shoulder to engage the werewolf on the left.
Meanwhile, Roland faced the wolf on the right. In his bestial form, he had silver fur streaked with blue-black, and small, glinting yellow eyes. The magician held his belt taut between his hands and his eyes gleamed, but otherwise, his posture was relaxed.
The creature tensed to pounce, and Roland struck.
Some days ago, he and Bailey had gotten into a fight with Dan Oberlin and a few other members of the South Cliff pack in Greenhearth. They’d thrashed the hell out of the bastards pretty effectively—Dan had threatened Bailey with rape—but as it hadn’t been a life-or-death situation, Roland had exercised restraint.
Which was to say, he’d held his belt by the buckle and used the soft end. But this time they were dealing with professionals, two of them in the forms of monsters that could rip a man’s face off with their jaws.
Roland released the buckle-end of the belt as though allowing it to drop toward the earth. Midway into its fall, it lashed out at a right angle to its original trajectory, at the same instant the wolf’s jaws came for him.
The buckle struck the creature in the teeth and gums while Roland sidestepped. Blood and bits of enamel sprayed, and the wolf whimpered as his lunge went awry. He kicked out madly with his clawed rear feet.
The wizard stumbled back, almost losing his balance as he dodged the flailing strike, and this time the belt buckle shot straight up without any movement of his arm. It hit the beast in the back of his knee joint—not hard enough to break anything, but the blow momentarily disabled the leg. The monster crashed to the ground.
Fifteen feet to Roland’s left, Bailey had tackled the other shifted werewolf, a stouter-bodied one with thick fur of chestnut brown. Her arms wrapped around his neck as she pivoted behind him, pulling him upward into a bipedal position. He snarled, and his spittle rained down on her.
One of his forelimbs raked downward to split the skin on her left thigh, but she scarcely felt the pain, rabid as she was with battle-lust. Her knee drove into the creature’s back and she body-slammed him to the ground, punching him in the back of the neck and the shoulder joint, making him yelp.
Bailey’s breath heaved as she quickly examined the beast. Didn’t look like he would be getting back up anytime soon. For a moment, brief and sweet, it made her feel better about her inability to change. Even in human form, she was a damn good werewolf.
Then the leader was back on top of her, but Roland was already closing in on him. All his attention was focused on the girl, however.
“You stupid slut!” he roared. “We’re gonna—”
Bailey aimed a kick at his balls. He caught her foot in his big hands, grinning savagely, but then Roland’s foot, seemingly guiding itself, landed in the same target from behind. The wizard almost lost his balance as he retracted his leg.
The leader’s eyes rolled back as a low, grunting moan escaped him. He was still operating on enough adrenaline that the full brunt of the pain hadn’t hit him, but at least he was stunned.
Bailey ripped her foot free of his grasp, at the same time hooking her right fist toward the man’s massive jaw. It connected just under his ear, hard enough that she probably split a knuckle, and the leader staggered back, dazed, the blow having rattled his brain within the skull.
Roland spun to return his attention to the silver werewolf, which had struggled back to his feet and was now foaming at the mouth in his need to kill. He launched at the magician.
Who narrowly avoided the wolf, feeling his fangs trail across the skin of his neck. He guided his belt toward the creature’s back leg as he passed—the same one he’d kicked a moment ago.
The belt wrapped around the limb, and he jerked back and upward with a sharp, hard motion. Bone cracked, and the creature howled in pain as he collapsed.
Then suddenly, the belt was again moving like an angry snake, encircling the werewolf’s neck and choking him. Roland took a short hop, his feet landing on the wolf’s stomach before he somehow jumped back.
As the wolf retched, he whipped him atop the head with his belt buckle, and this time his makeshift weapon followed an entirely natural course. Metal clunked against bone, and the lights in his head went out.
Bailey pressed her advantage against the leader. Flinging herself at him, not giving him time to recover, she clawed at his face, elbowed his gut, kicked his knees and shins, and interposed her legs between his ankles. As he started to fall, one of his fists landed in her solar plexus.
“Oof!” she exclaimed. “Oh, crap!”
The man toppled, giving her a moment in which she managed, barely, not to throw up. His punch hadn’t been full-strength, thanks to his balance being compromised when he threw it, or she might have fared worse.
As the leader crashed to the ground, Roland appeared next to him and ensnared his feet with the belt. Then, before he could sit up and attack the legs of either of his foes, Bailey was at his side, kicking him in the forehead with a hard stomping motion. His head bounced off the ground before coming to rest, and he sighed and drooled as his body accepted defeat.
Roland sucked in air and wiped the sweat from his brow. “Mkay then. I think we won.”
“Yeah,” Bailey gasped, her stomach still screaming at her, “Let’s get the hell out of here. Wait, just thought of something. Get his keys.” She pointed at the leader.
Nodding, the wizard knelt by the big man’s side and fished in his pockets, one hand emerging with the keyring.
Bailey gestured toward the BMW. “Drive that thing back. Follow me. Then they won’t be able to come after us. We’ll figure out what to do with the Beamer once we’re back on home turf.”
“Good idea,” he agreed. “See you in about an hour. You’re okay, right?”
“Mostly,” she muttered. “I’ll know for sure when we get back.”
Roland furrowed his brow in concern at that but didn’t question her. He hopped into the Beamer, started it, and waited for her to lead the way.
She trudged back to her truck and brought the engine instantly to life, then wheeled out into the road, thankful that no sirens were approaching. Roland pulled out behind her, and they headed north and east toward Greenhearth.
So, how does this sound so far? Interested in reading the rest and figuring out what happens next? Then check out A Bit Aggressive on Amazon now!