"Then what do you think it is? It has to be related to them.

There's nothing else it could be."

Tad narrowed his eyes on his friend Alex Peltier, who'd been silent the whole time. "Can a Were-Hunter bite turn humans into werebeasts?"

"What's a Were-Hunter?" Nick asked before he could stop himself.

Theyfaced him and clammed up immediately.

Russell Jordan, who'd been doing the most talking, curled his lip as if Nick disgusted him. "What are you doing here, Trailer Park?"

Tad cleared his throat. "He's working for Kyrian now. Be nice, Russ, or Kyrian won't be happy." He faced Nick. "What can I do for you?"

"I wanted to get my backpack out of your truck."

"I'll be right back," Tad said to his friends before he led Nick away from them.

Nick scowled as he followed after Tad. "So what's a Were-Hunter?"

"It's a ... a gamer's term. Somebody who hunts animals."

That didn't make any sense and it was a term he'd never heard before. "If it's just a game, why did you ask if they could turn a human?"

Tad didn't answer. Instead, he led Nick to his SUV, pulled out his backpack, and then left him there to watch while Tad went back to his friends.

Thanks for all the nonanswers. Tad was going to make a great parent one day.

But in the meantime, "Something weird is going on here."

Something half the people in his school seemed to know about. And if it was the last thing he did, he was going to find out what this secret was.

Even if it killed him.

Most of all, he was going to find out some way to protect himself, 'cause he had no intention of losing what little brain matter he had.

New Orleans was definitely getting weird and Nick wasn't about to be added to anyone's menu.

Except maybe Nekoda, who was strangely missing from the crowd....

Had something grabbed her last night and added her to its menu?

CHAPTER 5

Nick let out a frustrated breath as he tried typing another search. This one-armed crap was for the birds—except they wouldn't be able to fly any better than he could type. And they'd probably crash into a wall and get a concussion ... which would probably hurt a lot.

Growling at his shifting ADD thoughts, he tried to focus on what he was doing.

Finding info on zombie attacks.

/ am insane____Since there were no adults around anywhere, he should be searching hot babe sites, not this.

He hissed as he spelled out "chemacil zmobies."

Gah, how did people manage with one hand? He kept making typos all over the place and reaching across the keyboard was really starting to tick him off.

Worse, his pain meds had vaporized in his system and since his school had a strict no-drug policy, including Tylenol or Advil, he hadn't brought more for fear of being strip-searched in Peters's office for it. And if the pain wasn't bad enough, he couldn't find anything online about diseases that would make someone crave human flesh. Well, not unless they were werewolves. Flesh-eating demons. Demonic parasites ...

Yeah, right. As if such a thing were possible off a movie screen....

He was dying to ask Bubba some questions about his theories, but the man had been explicit: "Wake me up, boy, and I will shoot you dead where you stand."

Now with most folks, that might be considered an idle threat. But when the person making the threat slept on more weapons than a terrorist training camp and had the temperament of a psycho killer, it was wise to believe he would actually do it and laugh while he gutted you.

As Bubba so often said: "I got a shotgun and a backhoe and no one looks under a septic tank for a dead body." Which made Nick wonder how many of Bubba's enemies had faces on milk cartons.

But that was another story....

The bell over the door sounded. Sighing in aggravation, Nick left the computer to wander back to the counter to wait on whoever was there.

He stopped dead in his tracks, bug-eyed.

Holy...

Every male hormone in his body fired as he saw what had to be the sexiest chick in New Orleans. A couple of years older than him, she was amazing. The good news was she totally distracted him from his pain.

Decked out in tight black leather pants and a red halter top, she wore a studded black leather collar and bracelets. And a long, studded black leather belt that was wrapped around her narrow waist four times. A huge rhinestone-covered silver cross fell from the belt, banging against her thigh as she walked with a seductive gait he was sure had given a few old men heart attacks from hormonal overload. Her hair was cut short into a black bob. By the opaque color of it, he figured she'd dyed it that way. Her eyes were ringed by thick black eyeliner, giving them a decidedly catlike appearance. Like her eyes, her lips were also jet-black.

Normally Goth women didn't do it for him, but this one ...

Yeah. She was h-o-t. Best of all, if he made out with her and got that lipstick on his collar his mom would think it was grease. Something that would definitely keep him from being grounded.

Shame on you, Nick. You're cheating on Kody

Well, not really, since they weren't an item. It couldn't be cheating. Technically. Yet it did kind of feel that way.

How flipping weird. I'm whipped and I'm not even claimed yet. Dang, that sucked.

She sauntered up to the counter, leaned over it almost spilling her breasts onto the glass top, and looked toward the back room where he'd been. "Where's Bubba?"

"Sleeping. Can I help you?" He tried his best to keep his eyes on her face and not on what he really, really wanted to look at. That might get him seriously bitch-slapped and since she was wearing spiked rings ...

It could really hurt.

She popped the gum she was chewing as she gave him an amused once-over. "What about Mark?" "Also asleep."

She straightened up. "You new help?"

"Just filling in for the morning. They had a late night."

"I'll bet." She shrugged her backpack off, set it on the floor by her feet, and opened it.

Nick stood up on his tiptoes so that he could get a better view of her shapely butt as she rooted through her pack. Dang, she was fine....

/ could so go for an older woman. ...

Think of Kody. Think of Kody. ...

After a few seconds, she stood up with what appeared to be steel stakes in her hand.

"I need Bubba to sharpen these, and tell him that I need a new batch of shurikens. ASAP. Or sooner."

Nick's eyes widened as he realized there was blood on one of the stakes. "Should I ask?"

"Not if you want to live to eat lunch. Name's Tabitha Devereaux, and you are?" Cool, another great Cajun like him.

"Nick Gautier."

"Nice meeting you, Nick. Tell Bubba I'll be back at dusk to get those and they better be sharp. I don't want no vampire surviving my attacks to come at me again. Understand?"

Man ... Why were all the sexy women absolutely insane?

"Yes, ma'am."

She picked up the backpack and slung it over one shoulder before cocking her hip in a deadly pose that drained all the blood from his brain. "Where do you go to school?"

"St. Richard's."

"The school where the coach ate the principal? That's so cool. Wish we'd have something like that at St. Mary's. Unfortunately, I'm the scariest thing there." She winked at him. "Have a good day, kid."

Hoping there wasn't drool coming out of his mouth, he watched as she went outside to where a black Nighthawk motorcycle waited. Slinging one long leg over it, she started the engine, then put her helmet on.

Ah man ...

Nick didn't breathe again until she was gone. Whew... that had been the most awesome experience of his life.

You know Bubba, I need to pay you to work here. 'Cause if women like that came by often, even if theywere total head cases, he definitely wanted a job. Forget Liza and her store that was usually frequented by little girls and their moms. He wanted to work in Hot Woman Valhalla until he died of testosterone poisoning.

Letting out a low whistle of appreciation, he pulled the stakes off the counter and wondered who or what had bled on them. With Bubba's friends, there was no telling.

He put them in one of the plastic bins Bubba used for intake items and left a note with her name and the instructions she'd given him.

As he started back to the computer, the door jingled again. Reversing course to return to the counter, he tried not to be frustrated with the interruption.

It was Madaug from school.

"Hey, bud, what's up?"

Madaug also leaned over the counter to look into the back room—it just wasn't as cool as when Tabitha had done it. Which was probably a good thing from Nick's way of thinking. "Is Bubba around?"

"Nah, he's sleeping upstairs. Can I help you with something?"

"No, I guess not."

Nick noticed the fact that Madaug was really distracted and fidgeting. Like something heavy was on his mind. "You wigged out about what happened at school?"

"Wha—no ... not exactly. Well, maybe. Kind of. Look, I really need to get a hold of Bubba when he gets up. It's really important."

Nick gently scratched at his injured arm. "Yeah, okay. Want to leave your number and I'll have him call you?"

Madaug reached for the pad and pen by the register. He quickly scribbled his number on it, then handed it to Nick. "Please don't forget. It's really important."

"You got it."

Madaug hesitated before he let go of the paper and stepped back. He cast one last wistful stare to the back room, then left.

Okay, the boy was even more insane than Tabitha had been. Too many sniffs of the formaldehyde jar in their biology class. His brain must be pickled. Either that or Stone and crew had bashed him against the lockers one time too many and given him a massive head injury.

Whatever...

Nick tucked the note into his pocket and started back for the computer.

He'd barely reached it when the door chime rang again. "Son of a ..."

What now? He growled low in his throat before he headed back to the counter to see who needed Bubba this time. No wonder Bubba was so cranky. If this was a taste of Bubba's typical day, it explained much about the surly redneck.

Nick paused as he saw three members from his football team walking around the store like they were looking for something. He didn't know their names, but he recognized their faces. Second-stringers like Stone, they were even more aggressive against "nerdy" kids. The kind of pricks Nick spent all of his time avoiding and the kind who slammed poor Madaug into lockers, then laughed about it.

But the weird thing was they were sniffing the air like dogs chasing prey. It was epically creepy.

"Can I help you guys?" Nick asked.

The tallest, a guy with brown hair and a smile that ought to be used to sell toothpaste, stepped forward. His jacket had the name biff on it.

Nick bit his tongue to keep from baiting him over that name. His parents must have really hated him. I'm here to serve Bubba, not get my butt kicked by oafs.

Biff stepped closer. "Nerd boy? Where he?"

Okay... sad that they couldn't even form a complete sentence. See wiat happens wien you abuse steroids? Dudes should have read the warning label. First the penis shrinks, then the sentence structure deteriorates. Next thing you know, you're climbing to the top of the Empire State Building, swatting at planes with your oversized fists.

Granted you'd be there with a seriously attractive blonde, so even being a monster freak had some perks....

But that was neither here nor there.

"You looking for Bubba or Mark?" Nick asked. Nerd definitely applied to either-or since they were the kings of computers, B-movies, video games, and science.

"Nerd boy!" He grabbed Nick by the shirt and hauled him over the counter to stand in front of him.

Cursing as pain shot through his injured arm, Nick slugged him hard across the face, but he didn't seem to even feel it. "Let me down, you animal. So help me ..."

The jock buried his nose against Nick's neck and inhaled.

Nick screwed his face up in distaste. "What are you? A pervert? Get your sick hands off me." He kicked him hard in the groin.

Biff doubled over. "He smells like nerd boy. Get him!" They moved forward, licking their lips. Oh crap! They were zombies, too.

Nick jumped the counter and ran for the back room where Bubba kept an ax... just in case. Bubba had never said what that case was, but this seemed like a really good time to grab it. Not to mention it was the only weapon in the store that Nick could use with one hand.

He angled it at the first jock to reach him—this one named Jimmy according to his jacket. "Dude ... back off'cause I will chop you. Hard."



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