Her thylacine growled, surging though her being with rapid ease. Snatching back control had been hard. She'd shoved the need to transform down into the pit of her existence and half-walked, half-ran down the hotel's stairs into the car park, scanning the area for any sign of Delanie.
And now here she was, walking around her best friend's car, breathing shallow for fear of losing herself to her inner animal when she knew she should be breathing deep to detect any hint of Delanie's location.
Then stop being a chicken shit and do it.
Coming to a standstill, wishing--again--she had her gun, Jackie closed her eyes and pulled in a long, slow breath.
Faint, almost dispersed to nothing, but there. To her right. Delanie's scent tinged with...
She turned, lifting her head slightly and pulling in another breath.
Her heart clenched. Fear. Delanie's scent was tinged with fear. The acrid kind of a sudden fright.
God, what is going on?
Following the scent, the thylacine inside her itching for release, she moved through the car park. Clapped-out combi-vans stood beside shiny hybrids. Dented station wagons shared the asphalt with lovingly looked-after sedans. Each waited for their owners to return, the setting sun casting their paintwork in a fiery orange glow.
Jackie pulled in another breath, tasting the air. Del had been here.
She narrowed her eyes, approaching a low red convertible. Heat rolled from it in unpleasant waves, the stench of burning motor oil almost choking her. Reaching out, she placed her right palm on the car's hood. Hot. Hot enough to tell her the engine had only recently been running.
She took another breath, separating the car's fumes from the delicate scent of her best friend. Delanie's scent grew stronger here. More concentrated.
Jackie's chest squeezed tight. It wasn't just Del's scent that was more potent here. Her fear tainted the air like a thick mist.
Damnit, Del. What's going on?
She took another breath. There was more on the air than Delanie's fear-laced scent. There was something else, something she couldn't put her finger on. A scent that wasn't a scent.
That doesn't make sense, Huddart.
No, it didn't, but she didn't know how else to explain it. There was a void to the air, as if something had erased the particles of which it was comprised. Removed them from existence.
Her pulse quickened. Removing something from a crime scene--and worryingly, this is exactly what this seemed to be--meant Delanie wasn't just missing. She was...
"Taken," she whispered.
Her stomach rolled and she ran her stare over the red convertible. She could do one of two things. She could call the local police force and report Delanie as missing, and aid them in finding her by following standard police procedure. Or she could track Del herself. Alone.
She straightened, removing her hand from the car and turning into the gentle breeze at her back.
It blew against her face, barely strong enough to move the strands of her hair. Closing her eyes, she drew in another breath, through her mouth as well this time, tasting Delanie on the air. No, it wasn't just on the air. It was on the ground as well. Whoever had taken Del had left a scent trail on the road.
The question slipped through Jackie's mind, making her already fast pulse thump faster. Who would do that? Who would take her best friend and leave a scent trail?
She ground her teeth. No one. She was being dramatic. Ridiculous. She had to stop standing here wasting time with stupid notions of malevolent intentions and find Delanie. Find her and then teach the bastard who took her what happens to those who mess with a cop's best friend.
Heart racing, she began running, nose into the breeze, Del's scent flowing into her body.
Four blocks passed. Five. Six. The houses flanking her became light industrial buildings and warehouses. And still, Delanie's scent pulled her forward. Faster. Her inner animal ached for release. Hungered to track, to run...
She ran, her blood roaring in her ears, and skidded to a halt, heels digging into the now gravel road when a man stepped toward her from behind a big black van. A tall man with impossibly broad shoulders and narrow lean hips.
The very man she'd caught looking at her inside the airport terminal yesterday. The same man who'd driven away from the airport car park in a black Audi an hour later.
The same man she'd seen standing under a snow gum at Pyengana's cemetery.
Cold fury ripped through her. "You've been following me." She bunched her fists by her side and took a step closer to him, fixing him with an unwavering glare. "What the hell have you done with Delanie?"
A tiny dimple creased his left cheek beside lips curled into a small grin, giving Jackie the impression he knew a secret he found entirely humourous. Dark honey-blonde hair fell over his forehead in a tousled mess, brushing straight eyebrows a shade darker. "I have, Detective Huddart. But I'm afraid I haven't taken your friend."
He studied her from behind impenetrable black sunglasses, the intensity of his unseen but wholly felt inspection making Jackie want to shiver.
And smash her fist against his far too square jaw.
"I've seen you three times in the last twenty four hours and now my best friend is missing." Her heart thumped hard in her throat. "That's not coincidence. Who are you and how the hell do you know who I am?"
She could hear her control cracking, hear the violence of her animal's soul cutting each word she said, but she didn't care. He--whoever he was--had the advantage over her. She didn't like that. Not as a cop. Not as an animal. She didn't like it at all.
He however, seemed unaffected by her obvious aggression. His lips curled into a broader grin. "Marshall Rourke, at your service."
Jackie didn't return his smile. "You're American?"
Long, straight fingers came up to tip an imaginary hat. "Texan, actually, but it's pretty much the same thing."
"Enough of the charm, Mr. Rourke." Jackie snapped. Damn, she wished she had her gun. And her badge. She'd wipe that far-too-sexy grin from his face in two seconds flat. "Time to tell me why you're following me, how you know who I am and where the hell Del--"
Her best friend's name slipped from her lips before she could stop it and she bit back a sharp curse. Damn it, cop law 101--don't give away information not already revealed. She clenched her fists, glaring at Marshall Rourke.
"I know you have no reason to trust me." He removed his dark sunglasses, and Jackie's chest squeezed. His eyes were stunning. Piercing light blue the colour of Antarctic ice. "But if you want to see Delanie McKenzie alive again, I recommend you come with me."