Forged in Moonfire (Amber Lee Mysteries Book 4)(4)

By: Katerina Martinez

When Aaron stepped outside into the cold, crisp air, Jackal was only paces away from her car. This would set the tone for their drive around suburban Las Vegas; Jackal leading and Aaron following. Luckily, their destination wasn’t all that far away from the tattoo parlor and a number of gas stations and fast food places were waiting to feed Aaron’s hungry body. But Jackal had other plans, and she didn’t seem to want to stop anywhere but her destination; an apartment on a low rise building just a few minutes out of downtown Las Vegas.

It being just after noon, the neighborhood was busy with activity; cars, shoppers hitting the local supermarket, and folks walking their dogs here and there. But the wind was biting and harsh, and everyone was in a hurry to get back indoors. Everyone except for Aaron and Jackal who, while not exactly scantily clad—Jackal had put on a cropped denim jacket—still stuck out as under dressed for the cold environment they were in.

When they crossed the threshold into the apartment building Aaron finally spoke.

“How did you know who I was?” he asked.

“You really wanna know?” she asked, cocking her head over her shoulder. She was walking ahead of him down the corridor, hips swaying gently with every step, the perfect curve of her behind drawing his eyes. He shook it off.

“Yes,” he said.

Jackal stopped, turned, and took a step toward him. Aaron flinched back a step, but Jackal’s nose came dangerously close to his neck; if he hadn’t moved there may have been contact. She sniffed, long and deep. “You smell like him,” she said in the exhale.

When she arched her body away from him he caught a whiff of her again. Her scent was sweet and strong, and it warned him not to mess with her, but he caught an odd note too. In the close quarters of the hall that strange quality was as glaring as a neon sign in the dark. An odd quirk that made her scent seem altogether off-putting, like the ketchup on a delicious cake.

Jackal knocked on the door to her left before Aaron could shoot off a question. A moment passed and he could hear the footsteps behind the door, then the deadbolts unlock, and finally the door open. In the space between breaths, he even thought he could hear the heartbeat of the woman standing in the open arch.

“Liz!” Jackal said, smiling and hugging the woman like a sister would, but the woman’s eyes were on Aaron.

She had a face that may have once been round and soft and deep brown eyes that spoke of motherly warmth, but time spent—Aaron guessed—among the wolves had hardened her features and put slight bags under her eyes. Her scent, which he was easily able to pick up, wasn’t as strong as Jackal’s but it reminded him of a mother’s embrace… the kind of mother who would punch someone in the face if they said a bad word about her kids.

“Howdy,” she said to Aaron, smiling.

Aaron nodded and said “Hi.”

“Your father told me you were coming. Why don’t you come on in and make yourselves comfortable.”

Jackal stepped in first and Aaron followed. The shutters on the windows were all up so the room was bathed in light. Warm food was cooking in the kitchen—steak, with caramelized onion… and parsley—and walking toward it felt like walking into a hug. Aaron’s stomach grumbled so loudly even Jackal heard it.

“Alright, we can eat but no sleeping,” she said, reading Aaron’s mind, “We have work to do,” she said.

“I wouldn’t want to impose,” Aaron said, looking over at Liz. He knew the food was for him if his father had called ahead. It was the least he could do.

Liz shook her head. “This is my house and I say that you’re both going to eat and you’re going to take your time eating. Whatever it is that you have to do, it can wait.” She turned to Aaron. “Come, I’ll show you to your room.”

Aaron nodded and followed the woman with his duffel bag over his shoulder. He didn’t know how he knew this, but he instinctively understood that the woman was human; or at least, mostly human. It was the mostly part that kept him from walking too closely behind her. But it was her age, the way she had spoken to Jackal, and the tattoos he could see snaking around her arms that tickled his curiosity and made him want to get closer to her.