The Wolf by J.R. Ward

“Just keeping you on time. You know what you have at risk.”

“Yeah,” was his muttered response. “You’re good like that.”

Trade & 29th Streets

Caldwell, New York

Ainhoa Fiorela Maite Hernandez-Guerrero knew she was being watched in the alley. As Rio stood in the shadows thrown by a fire escape, she could feel the eyes on her, and she slipped her hand into the pocket of her leather jacket. The nine millimeter auto-loader was small enough to hide, deadly enough to defend.

What more did you need in a gun, really.

Looking around, she was aware that she was alone in a way that made things dangerous. It wasn’t that nobody was around. She just couldn’t trust anyone who—

Spaz came shambling around the corner into the alley, his stained peacoat and paper-thin jeans the kind of wardrobe he’d have to go to a landfill to update. The man was only in his mid-twenties, but the drug lifestyle was a nonbiological cancer, eating his body and mind away, only a husk remaining.

Until such time as even addiction couldn’t animate the shell anymore.

“Hey, Rio, you got anything?” he asked.

She glanced behind her and prayed that the supplier contact she’d come here to meet was late. “Not on me, no.”

“So, yeah, listen, Rio, you gotta give me some business. I mean, I’m good. I can handle myself. I mean. Come on. I can sell for you regular.”

Spaz’s watery, bloodshot eyes circled the alley in the manner of bats, flapping around in a disorganized way. She was willing to bet that the last time he truly focused on something was the first time he’d put a meth pipe to his lips.

As a wave of exhaustion came over her, she said, “You think Mozart doesn’t know what you did with that last piece we gave you to move?”

“I told you two days ago, the guy jumped me. He took the shit after he got me.”

Dirty fingers lifted up an old Soundgarden t-shirt that had more holes than cotton fibers to it. “Look.”

She didn’t need to lean forward to see the line in his skin. It was about an inch long, off to the side above his hip, and the thing had the red puffy profile of infection.

“Spaz, you gotta get that looked at.”

“I don’t have medical insurance.” He smiled, showing cracked teeth. “But I could get some. If you give me—”

“It’s not up to me. You know that.”

“So talk to Mozart.”

“He does what he wants.”

Spaz’s Ping-Pong-ball pupils got in the vicinity of her face and hovered around. “Can you give me some money, then.”

“Listen, I’m not—”

“I gotta pay someone back. You know how it goes. And if I can’t get the product or the cash, they’re going to . . .”

The words drifted, and not because he was trying to do with innuendo what was obvious even without the syllables. There was such hopelessness in his gaunt face, his capitulation to his countless bad decisions now impossible to reverse or probably even comprehend, his life nothing but a speeding car swerving toward him while all he had on his feet were a pair of broken roller skates.

“Who do you owe?” she asked.


Oh, shit. “Spaz. You know better than that.”

“I didn’t mean to.”

Rio looked left. Looked right. Checked her watch. “I gotta go, I’m almost late.”

Except she was in the right place and on time. Spaz was the one who had to leave—

“Mickie’s gonna kill me. After he uses me for a while.”

There was no need to do the math on that. No way she could live with herself if she didn’t help.

Cursing, Rio linked her arm through his and started walking. And not even half a block into the parade, Spaz struggled to keep up, even though she was going only slightly faster than a Sunday-stroll speed.

“Where we heading, Rio?”

“You’re coming with me.”

“Ahh, Rio. You’re not gonna make me go to the shelter again.”

“I sure am.”

As a flash of lightning licked across the sky, she looked up—and half expected a meteor to be gunning for her head, the fireball targeting her and her alone, poor, desperate, dying Spaz collateral damage from her predestined destruction.

Except no, it was only a freak thunderstorm on Halloween night about to smack Caldwell around with wind and rain and volts of sky-born electricity.