Hell or High Water (Gemini Book 3)

Hell or High Water
Hailey Edwards
Copyright

N
o part
of this book may be reproduced in any written, electronic, recording, or photocopying without written permission of the publisher or author. The exception would be in the case of brief quotations embodied in the critical articles or reviews and pages where permission is specifically granted by the publisher or author.

Hell or High Water

Copyright © 2016 by Hailey Edwards

All rights reserved.

 

Edited by
Sasha Knight

Copy Edited by
Kimberly Cannon
 

Cover by
Damonza

Hell or High Water Blurb

G
emini
, Book 3

C
amille Ellis has gone
rogue agent, and there’s no turning back now. The conclave might have put the Charybdis case to bed, but Cam isn’t willing to let it lie. No badge doesn’t mean no backup these days.

A
s mate to an alpha warg
, she has access to new and lethal resources. A whole pack full of them. And they all want justice for the sins committed against them.

B
ut the stakes
are higher than she knows, the secrets exposed darker than she feared, and the cost of winning higher than she ever imagined.

Gemini Series Reading Order

#1: Dead in the Water

#2: Head Above Water

#3: Hell or High Water

Black Dog Universe Reading Order

M
y hope is
that readers can enjoy each series set in the Black Dog Universe as a standalone series, but there is overlap between characters and events because their worlds continue to evolve.

T
his is
the timeline for everyone who wants to go on the characters’ journeys in chronological order.

Black Dog Series

#1    Dog with a Bone

#1.5 Dog Days of Summer (Nightshade Anthology)

#2    Heir of the Dog

#3    Lie Down with Dogs

#4    Old Dog, New Tricks

Kitsune Series

#1    Stone-Cold Fox

Gemini Series

#1    Dead in the Water

#2    Head Above Water

#3    Hell or High Water

Lorimar Pack

#1 Promise the Moon

Chapter 1

T
he golden wolf
loping at my side licked her chops, her focus narrowing on our prey with laser precision, and surged ahead of me. Fur as blond as the wheat shafts pelting my forearms, she blended into the field, impossible to track except by the rustling stalks.

This was not going to end well. For our witness.

“Stop.” Through my teeth, I sucked in humid air tinged with bird dander. “I need to…ask you…a few questions.”

Trilling hoots erupted from two rows over. “Didn’t see a thing. Not a thing. Not one.
Bye.

Thighs screaming from exertion, I plowed through a wall of rigid stalks that bent under my weight. “I’m an agent…with the Earthen Conclave.”

One on forced leave, but he didn’t have to know that.

Panicked squawks rang out, and I cursed under my breath.
Dell.
Odds were high that the feather duster was the last person to see Isaac at the gas station about an hour ago. No one had seen or heard from him since. No one had seen or heard from Aunt Dot period. The grainy labyrinth could have been a lava flow dotted with molten rocks, and I would have followed him barefoot.

He would tell me what he knew or I would toss him to the literal wolves.

This hunt would go so much faster if I shifted, but embracing my inner she-wolf meant my prey drive would skyrocket. One glimpse of my half-wolf aspect in hot pursuit, and my eyewitness would combust in a torrent of kaleidoscopic feathers.

“Just a few…” I gasped as a stitch arrowed through my side, “…questions.”

“I had my eyes shut. I was napping. Didn’t see a thing. Not a thing. Not even that pink-haired molly with the wide eyes who reminded me of my second cousin’s daughter’s boyfriend’s uncle’s kid.”

All out of steam, I plodded to a stop, eyes darting in search of my wolfy backup. “A pink-haired girl was there?”

The shafts quit thrashing, and a series of chirrups told me he had paused to think. “Aye. Sure. Pretty thing. Smelled human, but not. That man-thing didn’t mind. He hopped out of his truck when Pinky crooked her finger. Got a funny look in his eye, he did, when she patted his cheek. Walked off, followed her away, and left his vroom-vroom with a rumble in its belly at the store.”

He meant the truck. Harlow had lured Isaac away from the gas station. Trapping the groan bordering on a growl in my throat, I shoved my she-wolf down again before she split my skin. Isaac must have recognized Harlow by her description. He knew about the pink hair, and how many pink-haired girls roamed a city of this size?

Bracing my palms on my upper thighs, I bent over and worked at regulating my breathing. I really ought to start jogging again. “What happened next?”

“Cheeky.” A zinging trill erupted. “I didn’t watch. With the eyes and the looking. I’m not that kind of bird.”

He wasn’t a bird at all. He was fae, a cercibis, who resembled a great horned owl with tie-dyed feathers and a distended belly that made his gut taut as a drum. His sticklike legs belonged on a flamingo and bowed, ready to snap under his weight. His eyesight, though, was that of a raptor, and his hearing matched his owlish facade. He was the next best thing to a surveillance video, if he would only cooperate.

A snort stung my nose at his flimsy lie. Cercibis loved to watch. Anything. Everything. And they had near photographic memories. “What did you hear?”

Round eyes, inky black with yellow rims, peered out at me. “Pinky didn’t spout a word. Didn’t have to, did she? Not with them long lashes batting.”

Chills raised the fine hairs down my arms. “Do you remember anything else about her?”

“No. Not really. Yes. Well, maybe.” He blinked, first one eye and then the other. “Pinky struck me as rather…” he kept winking until I got dizzy, “…
nice
.”

“Nice,” I repeated.

“Nice is an obvious trap,”
he shrilled. “Females eat weak males. How has the man-thing survived to adulthood without knowing this?”

“Human females don’t eat their males,” I murmured distractedly, tracking a faint rustling on my left.

Most humans had all the magic of a freeze-dried rainbow inside them. As the mundane half of a changeling pair, Harlow wasn’t strictly human, but she wasn’t fae either. Doubting he would appreciate the distinction, I held my tongue.

“My own mother swallowed two of my little brothers,” the cercibis reflected with a sad
hoo-hoot
. “Her talon polish chipped after she got home from the salon, and she always was an emotional eater…”

Yanked from my thoughts by a flicker of blond fur, I offered my condolences. “I’m sorry to hear about your brothers.”

“It’s all right.” A whistling sniffle. “It was a few centuries ago. You move on, you know?”

“I— Yes. You do.” I caught Dell’s eye and shook my head. “I have a gift for you to show my gratitude.”

“Oh?” He bounced on his twiggy legs, exposing the bright red and orange swirl of his face. “Don’t be a tease. Where is it? Where?”

“Wait here. I have to get it from my…”
mate
sounded too permanent a fixture in the life of a transient fae, but that’s what he was, even if the scope of that one single word terrified me, “…Graeson.”

The springing action petered out to nothing. “Oh. I can wait. I guess. I’m not fond of waiting, it’s quite dull, actually, but for a gift…”

The susurration of wheat tassels behind me broke sweat down my spine. Wading in after the cercibis with Dell as backup might not have been the smartest decision I’d ever made. Isaac’s disappearance had given her usually playful warg teeth. Pulling recalled magic through my veins to heighten my sense of smell, I found a fresh reason to panic.

“Oh crap.” I turned my back on the fae and flung my arms wide. “Graeson, no. We talked about this.”

A rangy wolf with sterling fur emerged with a large sack of birdseed slung across his back. He glided forward and nudged my leg with his shoulder in greeting. I hadn’t expected him back so soon. A shudder moved through him as he shook off his cargo. It hit the dry soil with a dull thump and toppled onto its side.

“Is that it?” the cercibis warbled from behind me. “Is that my gift? Smells furry. Is it a coat? A bit out of season, isn’t it?”

Not waiting for my reply, he rushed forward and bumped the back of my knees. Prancing around me, wings aflutter, he shook his vivid red tail feathers in a cha-cha swish.

Fixated on the back and forth of those curling tendrils, I experienced a moment of disconnection where my brain flipped the card from
temporary ally
to
future meal
. I had only been around predators since evolving a half-wolf aspect with a mind of its own. Right now her instincts were pushing fur beneath my skin in an attempt to shift without my permission. A battle warred within me, the agent versus the wolf, and the wolf was winning.

The cercibis got its slender ankles tangled on themselves, and it stumbled forward, face-planting a foot from the tip of Graeson’s wet nose.

“Oh—oh—
oh
. That is not a coat.” He pushed up, beak clicking, and hopped to his feet. Flapping his stubby wings to achieve liftoff, he wailed. “This is the thanks I get. It’s Mother all over again. I helped you, and you murdered me. Run,” he cried to empty air. “It’s a massacre.”

Between his bloated stomach and the spindly legs that didn’t tuck like they should, his struggle barely hoisted him up to my shoulder-height. “You’re not dead.”
Yet.
“He’s not going to kill you.”
Probably.

On cue, Dell eased forward, lips peeled over her teeth and drool stringing from her jaw.

A tall crest of crimson feathers rose in a mohawk down his scalp, and the whites of his eyes shone.

“Lies,” he squawked in my face. “You’re a liar.”

“You’re stirring us up by flapping your wings.” I almost had my arms around him. “Can you just hold still a minute?”

“Us?”
Puffing up twice his size, he slapped me hard across the face. The fine hook tipping his wing slashed open my cheek, the move dipping his bulk to hip level. He had to pump his way back up to finishing hissing at me. “You’re one of them? Ye gods.”

A bass growl rattled my back teeth. Mine? I glanced down and swore. “No. Dell. Stop.” I flung my arms around her neck, tackled her to the ground, and held on tight. “You want to find Isaac, don’t you?”

The soft whine tensing her throat gutted me, and the urge to answer burned my own.

A new threat perked my ears, and I twisted back toward the cercibis, my gut pitching into my feet. “Bad wolf,” I warned Graeson. “Bad.”

Too late. His hackles rose at the sight of my bloodied cheek, and his eyes flashed molten gold. Fixating on the cercibis, he bunched his muscles and leapt. He snapped his jaws shut on its frilly tail feathers and yanked out a fistful of the wispy tendrils. The poor thing spun in a dramatic mini death spiral before thunking to the earth on his back, knobby legs sticking straight up in the air. Gasping and wheezing while clutching his chest, he poked his serpentine tongue out one side of his beak.

“Are you happy now?” I pointed at the twitching fae. “He was helping us.”

Spitting out a mouthful of fluorescent feathers, Graeson sneezed himself backward a step. His ear-splitting bark at Dell rang with triumph, and she yipped, encouraging his bad behavior.

Yes, my wolf was quite pleased with himself.

“Sorry about that.” I nudged the cercibis with my toe to be sure the yap-fest hadn’t given him a coronary. “We’re leaving now.”

One bony foot twitched, and he rasped, “The seed?”

“I’ll leave it right here.” I scooped up a feather damp with drool and tucked it in my pocket. Fisting each wolf’s ruff, I dragged the pair of them with me. “Bon appétit.”

The trek back to civilization required twenty minutes, not that the wolves minded. Emerging from the neat rows of tidy plantings, I breathed a sigh of relief when my boots thumped onto pavement.

Asphalt spread the next block over, carpeting a four-pump gas station slowly being devoured by rust. A shiny crew cab truck blocked one of the pumps, and it rocked as someone shifted their weight on the front bench. A dark head popped out the door, and my lungs froze with hope so powerful I couldn’t breathe until I saw the man’s face.

Not Isaac.

Just another human cop, this one with a sleek camera hung on a thick strap around his neck. As much as it burned me to press my nose against the glass of their investigation, I had no badge and no jurisdiction. Pursuing the cercibis had yielded positive results and burned off our restless energy, but I was eager for a conclave rep to arrive.

I had put in a call to Marshal Comeaux before leaving Chandler pack land and had yet to hear back. Until he arrived, I was stuck on the outside looking in while well-meaning humans trampled the scene.

A throttled groan announced Graeson’s shift back onto two legs, and I flinched against the gruesome
pop pop pop
of bones as they snapped into a new alignment. Drawn forth by his change, Dell’s metamorphosis followed a beat later.

Unable to listen to their suffering, I drifted toward a corroded milk crate I’d noticed earlier. Scuffed black boots sat in front of it, and a neat stack of men’s clothing cushioned the top. Graeson’s change had been controlled. Dell’s… Not so much. Her clothes were scattered in the field, her shift a product of hurt and the desperation to
do
something other than waiting around for Comeaux and any answers he might bring with him.

Tempted as I was to sit while I waited them out, I caught the flash of a man’s arm—banded in cypress ink—as it darted out from between the dried stalks, snagged the clothes and vanished with them.

Sometimes I forgot how fast he could change when given proper incentive. I wasn’t the only one nervous about the cavalry arriving.

Rolling my boot over loose rocks, I forced out the tingle of magic warming my blood so I could be as level-headed as possible when Comeaux arrived. Wolf blood, I discovered, ran hot when emotions ran high.

A few minutes later Graeson joined me on the blacktop, and we leaned against the splintering fence while Dell’s curses peppered the air behind us. The fly on his jeans hung open, and I was looking before it registered what I was seeing. Cheeks flaming, I backpedaled too fast, and my leg shot out in front of me. I windmilled my arms to regain my balance but managed to stay on both feet.

Hand on his zipper, Graeson made a production of raising it click by noisy click. “Did something spook you?”

“I thought I saw a snake in the grass.” This time I dipped my gaze on purpose, the better to hide my flaming cheeks. “Then again, it was pretty scrawny. Maybe not a snake, an earthworm?”

Husky chuckles roughened his voice. “Maybe you should take another look to be sure.”

Raising my chin high, I decided that deflection was better than embarrassment. “Do you know how rare cercibis are?”

“No.” He tugged his shirt over his head, abs flexing with the movement. “But I’ve got a feeling you’re about to tell me.”

“Half their population was relocated to Earth in the hopes they would breed here.” Faerie did that a lot, transplanted bizarre and annoying but generally harmless fae to this realm to get them out from underfoot. “There are laws against hunting them. Being earthborn won’t save you from punishment.”

Padding over to me, he wrapped a wide palm around the base of my neck. Heat poured down my nape and loosened taut muscles. “I yanked on his feathers.” An unapologetic twitch of his lips tempted mine to respond in kind. “I think he’ll survive.” His thumb stroked over my pulse. “Besides, if I hadn’t distracted Dell, she would have eaten him.”

There was that. A fine gold band ringed her irises today and had since Graeson told her Isaac was missing.

The urge to rest my cheek against his chest left me fidgety. Wargs exalted in the physical, and the longer I spent around them, the more I craved skin on skin too. “Why did you shift in the first place?”

“You ran after prey.” An undercurrent of excitement whispered through him. “You’re pack. It triggered a hunting reflex.”

Pointed reminders kept trickling into our conversations. Loaded words like pack, alpha, female,
mate
. The gentle caress of his hands as he claimed more territory on my body had grown so familiar I got the sense
he
was the one gentling
me
, each touch a claiming that promised more when I was ready.

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