Prowl and Evangeline were parked by the wood, along with three other werewolves. Mom and Hennie waited, too. So did Vittorio and Xavier.
The witches would be fine. Babet worried about the others. She pointed at her vampire friends while she addressed the group. “When she’s a spider, she spouts poison. I know all of you are fast, but I don’t want you to take any chances. If you find her, tell us and let us battle her.”
Vittorio gave his slow smile. “And what will you do against a spider?”
“I’ll throw up a magic shield, something you don’t have.”
“But we have speed and flight. Can your spider fly?”
“No, but she shoots webs.”
He persisted. “And what about the others? Your beautiful shifters might lose some of their fur.”
“I don’t want the shifters to battle her either.”
Prowl growled. The big panther didn’t like to be told what to do. Neither did the werewolves in his pack.
Xavier grinned. “If you’re fighting her, dear witch, so are we.”
“But . . .”
They turned as a group and started to spread out. Okay, no one was going to listen to her. It had been a slim hope, but she thought she should try anyway.
“We searched the wood,” Hatchet told them. “We didn’t find anything.”
“We’ll start there,” Vittorio said, “and move on.”
The wood ended at a field that led to another copse of trees and then to another field. They found the giant web in the third copse they came to. A body, encased in thick webbing, dangled at each end of an intersection of threads. More bodies than they’d expected. At least twenty of them.
Babet licked her lips, too nervous to touch one. “Are the people still alive?”
Vittorio nodded. “I can hear the blood pumping through them. Their hearts are beating.”
She licked her lips again. “Are they paralyzed?”
Vittorio bulked up. Fangs sprouted, and his fingernails grew long and razor sharp. “Only one way to find out.” He slit the heavy webbing of the bundle in front of her and a body dropped to the ground—a young boy.
The boy lay limp for a minute, then they heard a low groan. The boy moved.
Babet’s heart thumped in her chest. Vittorio turned to her and smiled. “I heard that. Let’s rescue them.”
Prosper and his fellow Weres stripped off their clothes and shifted. She’d seen it before—too many naked, muscled men. This time, she focused on the bundles. A huge brown bear, a panther, and three werewolves went to work on them. Sharp claws reached to rip and tear, but before they made much headway, a high-pitched scream came from the edge of the field. They all turned to see a giant spider rushing toward them.
“Here comes Mama.” Vittorio bulked to his full vampire strength. Xavier changed beside him.
“Behind me.” Hatchet moved the boy to stand in back of him. He raised his arms and dark clouds covered the field. Lightning struck, but the spider dodged it.
When the witches threw up their hands to call for a protective shield, webs smacked their legs before they finished their chants and yanked their feet out from under them. Vittorio slashed at the web on Babet’s right leg, slicing through it. The spider tugged on the left strand, pulling Babet closer.
Babet twisted and grabbed it, zapping energy into it. The energy raced to the spider and hit her, full force. She reared up on her hind legs, screaming in pain.
“Now.” Vittorio sliced through the second web, and Babet was free. He and Xavier hurried to free the other witches.
The boy crouched behind Hatchet, terrified. Why wouldn’t he be? But Babet had no time to comfort him. “Get the bodies out of the webs!” she called to the others. “We’ll try to hold her off.”
Babet, her mom, Hennie, and Evangeline stood shoulder to shoulder. The spider charged again, and they blasted enough energy to knock her backward, but it didn’t kill her. She scrambled out of range and began to circle them. She was freaking fast.
“We have to split up, each of us take one side to protect,” Mom snapped.
“Can we hold her off, one on one?” Hennie asked.
“For a while, we should be able to. Put up a shield.” Mom turned and ran to the far side of the web. Babet ran to the left and Hennie to the right. Evangeline stayed to guard the front.
If all four of them worked together and couldn’t kill the damn spider, how strong was she? Babet found her spot and took a stance. Glancing behind her, she saw the Weres and vampires feverishly working to cut people out of webbing. The two kids hadn’t been wrapped in thick layers, but everyone else was. It took lots of clawing to break them out of their cases.
She pushed up her hands and called for a shield. No use waiting and taking a chance. Hennie was just reaching her spot when a web hit her hard in the chest and knocked her backward. The spider opened her mouth to spew acid, and Babet whirled to blast energy into her open jaws. She was too far away to do much damage, but the spider screamed and scurried sideways. Babet’s magic couldn’t reach her at that angle, and Hennie was still struggling to her feet. The spider plunged forward, skittering to her web.
“Look out!” Babet yelled. Acid streamed from the spider’s mouth, and Vittorio zipped out of its way. The acid hit the webs behind him. They smoldered and dissolved. Vittorio’s brows went up and he smiled. Her friend was at his most dangerous when he smiled like that.
He leapt upward, landing on one of the tree limbs she’d anchored the web to. He smirked at the spider and sliced through the strand in front of him with his nails. That strand fell to the ground, and the web sagged.
Furious, the spider shot more acid at him, but he gracefully leapt over her. When she followed his trail, the acid flew straight up in the air, arced, and landed back on her. She shrieked in pain and turned to face Vittorio, who was now behind her. She lunged, but he easily dodged her. She shot a strand of web, but he was already gone when it landed. The vampire’s speed was too fast. She must have realized that he wss playing with her, because she turned again and scurried to her web.
The men had freed most of the bodies, and Damek was helping dazed victims to their feet and sending them to hide behind Hatchet. The Druid stood with his feet planted in a fighter’s stance, ready to do battle. Lightning bounced in a circle around him. He’d pause to let a mortal through and then restart it. Only four more bundles hung from the web’s strands. Instead of battling her enemies, the spider scuttled to the center of her web. Not what Babet had expected. She squatted there, and baby spiders began to stream out of her.
Holy Hecate! There were dozens of them. They surged down the four strands toward the bundled victims. Prosper swiped at the strands holding the bundle he’d been clawing at. The strand broke and fell to the ground, but the baby spiders clung to it and kept coming. Babet raced to him, bent to clutch the web, and flooded it with energy. Tiny screams filled the air, and small bodies spasmed, then dropped to the ground, dead.
Three babies reached the bundle two werewolves were working on. One leapt on a Were and spat a small stream of acid onto his shoulder. Steam rose and fur burned. The Were smashed the spider and brought his paws together to squash the next one that leapt toward him. Babet’s mom blasted energy at the third one, killing it and charging the strand of web it clung to. Two more babies withered and fell.
The mother spider made a clicking noise, and the babies turned and raced to her. They scrambled up her legs and clung to them. Then the mother rose to her full height. She opened her mouth at the same time she shot webs forward. Fighters ducked and dodged. One web caught Prowl, but slashing himself free, he sprang away from her acid. With a snarl, he crouched to leap. Growling, so did the werewolves. She turned to flee, but came face to face with Damek. A halo of fire danced around the incubus.
“I don’t think so.” His voice held suppressed rage. He raised his palms and fire hurled forward and engulfed her. She writhed and ran, but the flames danced brighter, consuming her and her babies.
Babet and the others stared. Damek lowered his hands, then reached to smooth the lapels of his cashmere jacket. Suave, as always.
Prosper bent to work another person free from the thick webbing. The Weres joined him, and soon every mortal was safe. They all stepped back, and Damek called on his fire once again to destroy the entire web.
Babet could feel herself sag. If she never saw a spider again, it would be too soon. Vittorio came to wrap an arm around her shoulders. “We’re a great team, beautiful witch. Thanks for letting us join the fun.”
Prosper narrowed his eyes, but Vittorio wrapped an arm around Xavier next, and they hugged each other briefly.
“The night’s still young.” Vittorio waggled his eyebrows. “Shall we?”
With a wave, he and Xavier left them.
Hatchet led the mortals out of the copse and called the station for reinforcements. “We need to get these people home, make sure that they’re all right. Some of them were wrapped in webs a long time.”
Prosper came to cradle Babet close. “You okay?”
She took a deep breath. “Do you think there are more like her?”
“Lord, I hope not.”
Damek came to join them. “I’ve traveled the world for a long time, and I’ve never seen a spider woman.”
Maybe a spider bit a shifter, and it changed her DNA. Maybe she was one of a kind. They could only hope.
Damek went to ride home with Babet’s mom and Hennie. Slowly, people went to their vehicles to leave. Hatchet stayed to meet the scene of crime team, but he motioned Babet and Prosper away. “Catch up on sleep and finish decorating your house.”
Prosper tangled his arm through hers on the way to their car. A happy Morgana wrapped herself around both of them. On the drive home, Prosper leaned to open the glove compartment and handed Babet a candy cane, then unwrapped one for himself. They tapped them together in a toast. “To the holidays!” he said.
She sighed. She’d lost the mood. The spider was a crappy start for Christmas spirit, but then her cell beeped. She read the message. Damek texted: Hennie’s decorating next weekend. Come join us. Drinks, hor d’oeuvres, and music.
She smiled and texted back: YES! Things were looking up!