Rex enjoyed the freedom. Though his mind was still weighed down with the burden of the situation, he could not fight the exhilaration of his other. He knew that a wild mustang running in the desert this close to Torreon was an unusual sight. But hopefully, not one that would raise suspicions on the Garcia compound.
Some of the others in their group could not understand why he was designated to infiltrate the ranch itself. His former job as an animal welfare officer hardly came with the type of training his SEAL, Ranger, and even Marine counterparts had. But Ryan, who was heading up the whole damned mess, knew and understood his secret gifts.
He pushed his senses out, feeling for others, as he approached the corral where a handful of mares were pinned. He heard the warning from the stud in the barn beyond. An elderly man clearing out the stalls looked up, then crossed himself.
The mustang clung to the shadows of the barn. Hopefully, if any of Garcia’s men saw him, they would think the horse had merely escaped its stall. Few humans noticed such things as animals on ranches like this.
He noted that more than a dozen men were patrolling the outer perimeter alone. That seemed a bit excessive, even for Garcia. Was something up? Had someone tipped Garcia off? If so, that meant his wife and Laura had failed. Were she and their unborn son alright?
Rex saw lights on in most of the house. It was hard to read how many people were inside it. Dozens and all were milling about from room to room but especially on the ground floor. It was almost as if Garcia were hosting some sort of party? Perhaps that explained the large number of guards outside. Maybe he would need to make another pass tomorrow?
He noticed a small house just behind the main one. There were lights on inside it as well. He focused and sent his senses out towards it. Three or perhaps four people inside. The scent of death hung in the air. And blood. He sniffed, female blood, and lots of it. That was not good. And certainly not news he looked forward to sharing with Chad Wilson.
He was about to turn back when he noticed a small figure approaching the house. A young woman. She did not smell like the McBride woman, so he eliminated both Cassie and her daughter. She did not seem to be related to Laura either. Of course, she could be anyone. Or no one.
He snuck a bit closer. He did not like being exposed, but he had to cross the clearing between the barn and that little house if he was to get nearer. Was it worth the risk? He wasn’t certain. But if he could get closer, perhaps he could smell if the other women were inside.
The animal was as quiet as it could be, traversing those fifty feet or so. But the shadowy figure looked up. It was as if she could sense him. She stopped and looked right at the horse.
But when she looked up, it was enough for Rex to catch a glimpse of her face. She was about the right age. The right ethnicity. Was it possible that this was Bebe Jefferson? They knew now that the girl was here, being used to control Will just as Mercy was. But the others were in town, at the brothel, looking for her. What would she be doing here?
Still, how likely was it that Garcia had two young black girls of almost the same? Sure they knew that place catered to the most perverse tastes, but Garcia wanted variety to appeal to a wide range of sickos. And that place was just not big enough to house more than dozen, twenty at the most women and girls.
He knew he was running out of time. It was unlikely they would get another chance like this. The horse made it to the shadow behind the house. In the blink of an eye, the man transformed. Damn, sometimes, he wished skinwalking worked like all those shifter romances that Jaycee read. Though he could not fault some of the kink in them, they definitely needed more accuracy. Shifters did not appear fully clothed.
If the girl was Bebe, then she had probably seen more naked men than a sixteen-year-old ever should, but he was not about to be one of them. Rex took to his knees, though the thorns and needles embedded in his flesh. His knees and palms would be covered in abrasions, but he crawled through the bushes closest to the house anyway.
Rex regretted not surrendering more fully to his gifts for the first time, wasting the opportunity to train and hone them with his Grandfather. If the old man were here, maybe even Angel, they would likely be able to catch stray thoughts from the young woman, discover if this was the missing girl.
But the battle between his mind and his spirit had limited his gifts. While he could always read Jaycee, even break through her barriers if necessary, he caught only the occasional thoughts of others closest to him, usually Grandfather and Angel. Still, he suspected that was more their talents than his own.
With everyone else, Rex’s gifts were empathic. Vague feelings and emotions only. This girl was afraid, but that was to be expected. Hell, he was too. Hurt. Desperate. Shame. Anger. Betrayal. But all of those did not tell him what he needed to know most – could he trust her? Did he have any other option?
“Bebe,” he whispered softly from the bushes.
The girl stopped just a few feet from the house and looked around. Was that because she recognized her name or because she heard noises from the bushes? He could not be sure. “Don’t say anything. Just listen. If you are Bebe Jefferson, scratch your head.”
Relief flooded him as the girl lifted her hand to an imaginary itch on her head. “We don’t have long. And I know that most of what I say won’t make sense to you, but it will to your cousin and Mercy. Can you get a message to them? Wrap your arms around yourself like you’re cold if you can.”
Again, the girl responded in the affirmative. “My name is Rex Ranger. I need you to let them know that we’re here. My cousin has assembled a small team of highly trained ex-military types. Some of them are in the village now, looking for you. Right now, I need you to answer some questions for me. But we can’t be seen. Garcia has too many men around.”
“They’re not all his men.” The girl whispered as she approached the house slowly. “Day after tomorrow, his brother is to marry the daughter of another cartel leader. Dominguez. Some of these men are his.”
Rex processed what she said. On the one hand, that meant they faced almost double the fighting force, but on the other, a wedding was also a distraction. Could they use that diversion to their advantage?
“Where are they keeping the others? Your cousin, Mercy, the McBrides, do you know?”
He was close enough now to see the smile on her face, “Right inside these walls. Mercy cares for her father in this house. They sent the girl to her last night. They won’t Will on the property. You should be able to find him in an apartment in the village. There’s some stairs on the side of the cantina that lead to it. Mercy goes there too when she isn’t here. But she hasn’t gone back there yet. Roberto called me and told me to come help her. That’s all I know.”
“Thank you. We’ll try to make contact with them in the village. But let Mercy know what I said now. I can’t stick around here any longer. So, I’m counting on you to get the message to her. Tell her we will get them out. All of you.”
The girl shook her head, and Rex felt more than saw the tears, “You don’t know what you’re up against. These men…”
“Yes, yes, we know, Bebe. But right now, we all need to stay calm and look for an opportunity to get you all safely out of here. That’s why we have to get the word to the others. Will you do that?”
He saw her lift her hand and brush away the tears before grasping the doorknob, “Of course.”
Then she was gone. And all he could do was have faith that the girl would keep her promise.