Bitten Under Fire(5)

By: Heather Long

Spreading out, they moved on parallel trajectories. Once Silver identified the scent, they moved to the farthest marker; if the trail suddenly diverted, they would find it. Moving at a sprint, they delved deep into the lowland jungle. There were no paved roads in the park. Access was generally by horse or foot from one of the four Puestos on the Pacific side.

The wild, untouched nature around them left Cage’s wolf hungry for a venture deeper into these jungles, without a mission. He wanted to travel the widely diverse habitats, from tropical lowland rainforest, to cloud forests and the northernmost occurrence of the tundra-like páramo ecosystem in the world. Much of the park has never been explored, which appealed to him on a most basic level.

A sharp whistle from Butler alerted them to the trail’s shifting, and Cage adjusted his course. The four of them had worked together long enough that they navigated the virgin terrain without comment or need for explanation. Cage sorted through the scents twining around the boy’s. Identifying them would take time, but he managed to separate out at least seven males and one female.

A hint of copper rose from the foliage and he paused—the iron-rich scent of blood mingled with a hint of orchid…and coconut oil? Someone had been injured, not badly, but definitely hurt.

Female. His wolf recognized the marker. Maybe a fall or a cut. There were some sharp vines twining through the underbrush. Another mile, and more blood—what the hell were these guys doing to the woman? An unreleased growl rumbled in the back of his throat.

The trail he followed twisted west, so Cage released a shrill whistle, short and to the point. The birds overhead silenced at his call, but he continued, following the scent of blood. It clung close to the boy’s scent, painting a picture. The female’s scent markers overrode the boy’s in some places—likely they moved together, perhaps even hand in hand. The child’s fear clouded the boy’s natural scent—or at least the one they had for a sample—while the female’s resonated with determination.

She’s protecting the kid. They had no details on a missing woman from the resort. Maybe a nanny? Wouldn’t be the first time someone in power overlooked a servant or worker as a potential victim, especially not when the missing was a young child. The parents would be focused on him, and his connection to an ambassador meant they had to focus on him, too.

Hopefully, she’s still alive. Ten miles of twisting paths and overgrown jungle later, Cage settled into the brush and studied the mudbrick huts. Smoke rose from one—a cooking fire maybe. It was too sultry warm in the midst of all the overgrowth to need one for another reason.

A half-dozen men sat around a couple of ramshackle picnic tables, cleaning their weapons, drinking beer, and giving each other shit. Everything about the place cried abandoned. Whoever their targets were, they’d likely co-opted the structures for their use. Most of the men were dirty, some bearded, some not. They all had similar features and skin tone—if they weren’t part of the indigenous people, they likely descended from them.

Silver shifted, then took his gear and settled in a half-mile away on a rise. He could pick off the targets easily from his vantage but waited for a signal. They didn’t plan on taking anyone out until they located the boy.

And the woman… His wolf had roused during their tracking, the blood inciting Cage’s baser, more protective instincts. More men exited one of the huts, though not the one where the smoke continued to rise. These men moved with purpose. Anger radiated off of them. Even those cleaning their weapons quieted at the new arrivals.

Cage studied them, identifying the leader as the bearded fellow in the center with the slicked-back hair and faux camouflage gear. It looked like army surplus and didn’t fit the man well. Holding up two fingers, he spread them apart and focused his attention on that man. Silver would get the signal.

Knowing who was in charge meant the head of the snake came off first.

More men filled the clearing. When their number hit twenty-five, Cage narrowed his eyes. Their four-man op may require a little more finesse than snatch and grab.

Shouting rose from the group; two of the men were arguing. The words carried, and Cage deciphered the Spanish easily enough. The first man wanted a crack at the woman, the second just wanted to shoot her. When it continued to escalate, the bearded leader grabbed one of the guns. He shot the first man, then swung the gun to fire a round at the second.

Argument over.

The woman was still alive.

Silence draped the assembled as the leader swung his gaze over them. Into that hush, the man said in Spanish, “Any other challengers?”

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