Valiant Page 25

’’What in the f**k was that?’’ Ned inched closer to the fire, peering around the woods.

’’I don\ know,’’ Terry whispered. ’’It was close.’’

’’Was that a lion?’’ Ned whispered. ’’Are those common in this part of northern California?’’

’’I don\ know,’’ Mark whispered back. ’’I know they have cougars and bobcats in mountainous areas.’’ His hand eased away from her breast and he fumbled behind his back at his waist. ’’It\s close though. Prepare for an attack. Her screams probably drew it, thinking there\s food to be had.’’ He withdrew a handgun he\d had tucked in his waistband under his shirt.

’’That didn\ sound like either one.’’ Terry reached down, tugged up the leg of his jeans and revealed a gun holster. He yanked the weapon out as he straightened. ’’Whatever it is, it\s nearby.’’

Tammy sucked air into her lungs and screamed again, despite her sore throat. She wanted Valiant to find her and figured it would make it easier if she helped.

’’Shut her up.’’ Ned sounded panicked.

Mark gripped her jaw to force her mouth closed. He glared down at her. ’’Do it again and I\ll smother you until you pass out.’’

Ned and Terry moved away from Tammy. Her relief was instant that their focus wasn\ on her anymore. They took positions around the fire to watch the woods. Her heart hammered with hope that Valiant would save her. How does he know I\m in trouble? Why did he come for me? Does it matter? Hell no. He\s here.

It had to be Valiant unless there were other New Species who could roar the way he could. That was possible. Either way, she knew nothing lived in the area before the New Species arrived that could make that kind of roar. It had to be one of them and she\d never been so grateful in her life to have them as neighbors.

A howl broke the silence, startling Mark. Ned cursed softly, spun to face another section of woods, and his gun lifted. ’’Shit.’’

Mark looked terrified as he jerked his head around. ’’Was that a wolf?’’

’’A wolf and a lion?’’ Terry hissed a curse. ’’Shit. It\s not real animals out there. It\s them. Those damn two-legged animals.’’

Another howl broke the night and another one joined in. Tammy tried to twist away from the ass**le who still held her mouth but he grabbed her throat suddenly and clamped down tight. He glared at her.

’’You move an inch and I\ll strangle you. Don\ scream either.’’

She believed him. He appeared terrified and she could see sweat breaking out over his upper lip and forehead. He released her throat and lifted his h*ps off her enough that she was no longer pinned. He gave her a warning glare.

’’Don\ move or I\ll kill you. Got it?’’

She nodded very carefully, keeping her lips sealed. She had heard them say that whoever they worked for wanted her alive but judging by their terror, they weren\ thinking clearly anymore. Her gaze shifted to the guns the men held. Even Ned and Paul had guns now. Fear for Valiant\s safety worried her. Or, if it wasn\ him, for the other New Species who were out in the woods coming after her.

’’If any of you are out there and can hear me,’’ Mark screamed. ’’I\ll kill the bitch if you attack at us.’’

Ned inched close to the fire. ’’What do we do?’’

Terry held his gun, watching the dark woods. ’’We wait until morning when we can see good, because they have the advantage in the dark. As long as we keep a gun on her, they won\ dare attack. They obviously want her. Keep the fire burning bright to keep them back.’’

’’Maybe we should put her clothes back on her so they don\ know we messed with her any,’’ Ned whispered.

’’I\m not moving.’’ Mark shook his head. ’’I don\ give a damn if they are pissed that we stripped her down to her underwear. I\m close enough to blow her brains out if they come at us.’’

’’We could make them rush us and take them out.’’ Terry held a gun in one hand and a knife in another, slowly turning circles to keep a close watch on the woods outside the circle of firelight. ’’One of us could hurt her to force them to come in and we\ll have the advantage. There are only three of them and we can handle that many of those upright animals.’’

’’How do you know there are only three?’’ Ned whispered. ’’There could be dozens of them watching us right now. They could have us surrounded.’’

’’I heard two wolf howls and one roar.’’ Paul stated. ’’I agree with Terry. There are only three of them and if there were more they would have sounded out to go for ultimate intimidation. My guess is they are closing in on us and are doing it to give positions. It\s basic hunting tactics when using animals. It\s to sound out to know where the prey is so you don\ shoot each other when you have a few teams closing in on the same target.’’

’’They carry guns?’’ Ned whined. ’’Nobody told me that.’’

’’F*k yeah,’’ Terry nodded. ’’I saw them when I joined that rally a few months back at their Homeland. They were lined up along the top of a wall with sharpshooters defending the gates in case any of us decided to try to break in again.’’

Tammy knew with certainty the jackasses who\d kidnapped her would shoot the New Species. Did her rescuers know the jerks were armed? Her gaze darted to the nervous ass**les again and she slowly drew a deep breath in. She was willing to bet her life that they wouldn\ kill her outright. She knew she\d become the only leverage they had to keep the New Species from coming at them.

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