The valiant old Nissan ran out of gas thirteen miles short of her destination. Renny would ponder the irony of that number some other time. Right now, she needed to run, and run fast.
She jumped from the car the minute it stopped moving, abandoning the vehicle on the shoulder of the two-lane highway. Before she reached the tree line, she was already tearing off her shirt, ignoring the chilly bite of the pre-spring March air. She threw the garment aside and immediately reached for the button of her jeans. She continued to hop forward as she struggled out of the confining denim, but the minute that last restriction fell away, she shifted.
Fur replaced skin, arms became forelegs. Between desperate breaths, humanity slid away, and in the place of the panicked woman, a sleek red wolf began to weave through the trunks of the trees.
Her claws dug through the lingering patches of wet, heavy snow and soft leaf litter to the soil of the forest floor, flinging small clumps of mud into the air in her wake. She needed to put as much distance as she could between herself and her pursuers. She might not have seen them on her tail from the highway, but it wouldn’t take much longer. They were the reason she hadn’t been able to stop for gas for the last couple of hours. They’d already chased her across two state lines and more than five hundred miles, and that was just this time. Somehow, she couldn’t picture them giving up now.
She didn’t bother to think about what she’d left behind on the roadside. If the pack caught up to her, it wouldn’t matter whether or not someone ransacked her car and stole all of her worldly possessions. She didn’t think she’d need a good book or many changes of clothes in the afterlife.
If there was such a thing. Frankly, Renny wasn’t all that anxious to find out.
Keeping her head down and her feet moving, she continued to track north and west from the roadside, calling up the map in her head to guide her in the right direction. The last road sign she’d seen had put the Snoqualmie Pass about twenty-five miles northwest by the highway. Heading directly north instead should put the town center of her destination somewhere in that thirteen-mile range, so she had to keep running. Just a little farther.
Alphaville, or die trying.
The town of Alpha, Washington, had shimmered like a mirage on her horizon for years now. As a pup, she’d heard stories—everyone heard stories—of the northwestern town founded and run by shifters as a haven for those of their kind with nowhere else to go. Wolves driven from their packs, bears with injuries and scars inflicted by careless hunters, lions who couldn’t control their shifts, leopards who needed to change their spots—they all went to Alpha, and they all, eventually, got better.
Surely a town like that could provide a safe haven to one small wolf with a teensy-tiny little stalker problem. Right?
Please, Goddess, let her be right.
Renny’s ears swiveled back and forth as she ran, their extra-large proportions helping to catch and funnel in the sounds of pursuit. And damn it, she thought she heard the first indications of it already. They’d found the car, and even if the muddy snow weren’t perfect for holding tracks, they knew she would have fled into the forest. That was what wolves did, after all.
She poured on another burst of speed, paws barely seeming to skim the cold ground as she flew toward sanctuary. Or what she prayed was sanctuary, anyway. If she was wrong, she wouldn’t live to regret it.
The first staccato bark confirmed her fears. One of her pursuers had picked up her scent trail and was alerting the others to the location. Now it was only a matter of time before they found her. All she could do was run and pray she made it to safety before they all caught up.
If just one came at her, she could handle it. In a fight between a lone wolf and a single coyote, the wolf almost always won, even a smaller and lighter red wolf like her. Which was why Geoffrey had sent five of them after her. No way could she beat those odds. Five trained male enforcers of any species against little ol’ her? She’d need to be a polar bear to survive that.
Branches snapped behind her, urging Renny to move even faster. If the coyotes on her tail weren’t worried about making noise, then they wouldn’t bother choosing a clear path to follow her. They’d plow through anything to take the straightest line right to her. Clearly, her nemesis had instructed them not to mess around anymore.
A sharp yip of anticipation gave her a single instant of warning, and that will to survive made her dip her shoulder and twist into a sharp right turn. She dove into the underbrush, ignoring the clumps of snow that plopped onto her head and the way the thorns ripped through her thick fur to scrape at the skin beneath. She could warm up and lick her wounds later, when she was safe.
If she managed to save herself at all.
The unexpected maneuver may have gained her a few inches of distance between herself and the lead coyote, but that didn’t last. She could feel the enforcers closing in again, harrying her as if she were some kind of prey animal, like a wounded deer on the way to becoming the pack’s next meal.
The comparison fit way too close for comfort.
She tried to calculate how far she’d traveled in the last frantic minutes, but all she could do was guess. Running flat out, she could probably manage thirty-five miles an hour, but she couldn’t keep it up for more than a few minutes. Already, burning muscles and oxygen-starved lungs begged her to drop down to something more reasonable. So where had her panicked flight left her in relation to shifter Shangri-la?
Not fricking close enough. If she was lucky, she’d covered eight of the thirteen miles between her and safety. Nine, if the Goddess happened to be looking out for her. It wasn’t nearly enough.
Then something changed.
A new smell cut through the atmosphere of pine needles and wet soil, rocks and wildlife. Something heavier, muskier. Male. Wolfish. Alpha. The realization almost made her slide to a terrified halt.
Shit. She’d just stumbled into someone else’s territory—another shifter’s, by the scent of it—and that could be either good for her or very, very bad. A wolf shifter might take her side against a pack of coyote goons, or he might decide to kill her himself for trespassing on his territory. There was no way to tell.
Maybe now would be a good time to dedicate herself to serving the Goddess and a life of prayer?
She sent one up, hastily but earnestly begging the Moon and all Her Sisters for a miracle. Something, anything to get her out of the reach of the coyotes, who would drag her back to Sawmill, California, and her death at Geoffrey Hilliard’s brutal hands.
Zigzagging through the underbrush, Renny spotted a pinpoint of light in the distance and made a beeline for it. Maybe the prayer had worked, and the light represented the town of Alpha, or at least its outskirts. Town meant people, and a town like Alpha meant people capable of holding off a small band of coyote enforcers long enough for her to beg for help.
It meant a spark of hope.
She called up the last of her reserves of strength and flew toward the light, but the attack came so fast, she didn’t even have time to second-guess that whole prayer strategy. She’d gotten too busy bleeding.
She yelped as a set of fangs sliced into the back of her hind leg.
The pain jolted through her, but her attacker had missed the big tendons, so at least she didn’t fall or lose the use of her limb. That would have ended things fast. But Renny could keep moving, for the moment. So she did.
Stubborn, desperate determination welled up within her. Damn it, she had not lived this long, come this far, or run this hard to let herself be caught now. She refused.
With a frantic yip, she leapt forward toward the clear pool of moonlight she could see through the branches. The beckoning light reflected off a patch of snow dead ahead, just a few hundred yards away. If she could get there, this would be over. One way or another. She’d have reached safety or not, and in either event, she’d be out of options.
She broke out from a thicket of salal bushes, almost blinded by the glare of moonlight off the lingering puddles of white snow, but it didn’t slow her down. She didn’t need to see to know she had to keep moving.
Run or die.
Heart pounding, lungs burning, muscles screaming, Renny raced ahead, no chance to take a breath, no chance to scream, no chance to think. She just focused on that light as it flickered closer.
He hit her from the side this time, a cannonball of momentum that knocked Renny clean off her feet and sent her skidding through the detritus of slush, twigs, and leaves covering the forest floor. The shock left her dazed, but she still recognized the stink of him. Bryce. Geoffrey’s beta and one of his closest friends.
And almost as evil as the alpha coyote himself.
She scrambled for purchase, trying to halt her slide and get her feet back under her before the other four caught up to them. If she let them surround her, it was over. She had to keep them off her back.
Bryce snarled at her, lips curling back to expose fangs that dripped with anticipation. At least she knew he was anticipating her death, not her rape and then death, as Geoffrey would. Bryce wanted only her blood, and in the heat of the moment, she suddenly wondered whether he’d bother following his leader’s orders. Tearing her throat out himself would bring the big coyote a lot more personal satisfaction than hauling her ass back south and watching while his alpha did the honors after a day or two at Geoffrey’s mercy. Bryce had performed the hunt, now his beast would want the kill.
He positioned himself between her and the light she’d tried so desperately to reach. He held his head low and forward, his hackles raised as he stared her down with his malicious yellow gaze. He was waiting for her to move, knowing she was already injured, knowing that if he remained patient long enough, either she’d come at him and expose herself to a counterattack or his buddies would reach them. Five against one would see her dead or captured in the space of a heartbeat.
Renny didn’t like either of those options.
Her ear flicked backward, catching the sound of the others gaining on them. She had seconds, if that, to find a way out of this. It wasn’t as though she had much choice. The only way open to her was up.
She crouched down, mirroring the coyote’s attack posture, but she didn’t bother going for his throat. She knew that even if she managed to take him down, the others would be on her before he started bleeding. She wouldn’t get out of this by fighting. She had to take a leap of faith, literally.
Powerful muscles coiled and released with a shocking force, launching Renny into the air and toward her enemy, but she hadn’t aimed for him. She’d aimed for the space over his head, behind him, and she’d almost cleared Bryce’s tail before he realized what she was doing. He jumped up, teeth flashing, and caught her in the side, slashing a deep, bloody furrow over her ribs.
She screamed, the sound emerging from her canine throat as a sort of high-pitched howling yelp, but she didn’t bother to assess the damage. She just ran straight toward the light.
Behind her, Bryce gave a yip-howl of rage and frustration and leapt after her. She could practically feel his hot breath stirring the hairs at the tip of her tail, and that only made her run faster.
She’d broken through another stand of trees before she realized that the distant light she’d prayed was the outskirts of Alpha wasn’t quite so distant, and it wasn’t anything like her long-sought sanctuary. The light shone from a single spotlight mounted in the apex of the peaked roof of a lone, otherwise darkened cabin.
A cabin that smelled so strongly of wolf, she was surprised the siding hadn’t sprouted fur.
Her heart barely had time to sink before a distinctive metallic rasp caught her attention. The sound was almost immediately followed by the sharp, echoing report of gunfire.
Bryce yowled, and suddenly Renny couldn’t sense him at her back. She chanced a look over her shoulder and saw the coyote spin on his heels, making a diving retreat into the cover of the trees. Drops of blood sprayed the snow and mud behind him.
In front of her, a tall figure stood on the porch of the cabin, almost hidden in shadows. The stock of a rifle remained braced on his shoulder, his head bent toward the barrel as he sighted for another shot.
Huh. After all these days of running and fearing her death might be just around the corner, Renny had never even considered the end might hit with the impact of a bullet. Who’d have thought?
Her paws stumbled over the uneven ground at the edge of the cabin’s yard, and she felt her knees buckle. Her hind leg throbbed in time to her racing heartbeat, and the gash in her side felt like a burning stripe of fire. She could feel blood streaming from both wounds and thought it almost didn’t matter if the man fired again. A bullet in the head sounded like the better choice when compared with bleeding to death in front of a stranger, and either was preferable to what Geoffrey planned to do to her.
That was her last (semi-)coherent thought.
She folded like a cheap card table, collapsing onto the wet ground with a low grunt. Her head bounced once before darkness claimed her, and in that last dizzy moment, she could have sworn she heard another wolf growling.
It sounded a lot as though he’d just muttered, “Shit.”
* * *
Sitting alone in the light of the dying fire, Mick decided he made a damned pathetic sight. Here he sat, home alone on yet another Friday night, nursing a warming beer and trying to keep his mind clear of old, familiar memories. So far, he was failing miserably.
He swallowed more warm, bitter liquid and stared into the glowing coals in his living room hearth. Nights like these, when spring had begun to stir and his latest project was packed off to his publisher, sleep became sadly elusive, and he found himself right here on his battered sofa, trying not to think.
Actually, he could have slept if he’d tried, he admitted. He just didn’t make the effort. Sleeping opened the door to dreaming, and lately every dream led back to the same place. His wolf seized control and steered them straight back to their dead mate. It wasn’t what Mick would call restful.
Fuck. It had happened more than eight years ago, he reminded himself. You’d think he’d be over it, that he’d have done his mourning, let go of the past, and settled into his new life here in Alpha.
But you’d be wrong.
Maybe the eight years was the problem. Few wolves survived losing a mate as suddenly and traumatically as Mick had. Most followed the other half of themselves into the darkness and never had to endure the passing of time. He still didn’t know why he hadn’t, but after all these years, he wondered if his wolf was maybe coming unhinged from the loneliness.
He snorted, disgusted with himself. One more sleepless night and look at him—he was getting fucking maudlin. Maybe it wasn’t loneliness at all, maybe he was just losing his damned mind.
A scream of canine pain hit him like a sucker punch to the back of his head.
Mick jumped to his feet, his hand already reaching for his rifle before his mind could grasp what was bothering him. He’d lived out here in these woods long enough to have become used to the sounds they made at all hours of the day and night. He could tell a gust of wind from the rustle of the underbrush, the step of a buck deer from the footfalls of the rare moose calf.
He also knew which of the locals had the balls to run and hunt on his property in the middle of the night, and none of them had given him a heads-up about their presence. Which meant that somewhere outside his small house, he had some uninvited guests.
Cursing under his breath, Mick almost put down the rifle and flung open his door bare-handed. If the teenagers of Alpha were daring one another to play chase in his woods again, a bullet would probably be overkill. Most of them were so scared of him, he wouldn’t even have to raise his voice to send them scattering like frightened bunnies. Seeing a gun in his hand might make the little shits pass out, and then it could be hours before they got the hell off his property. Besides, that scream had indicated someone was injured. He couldn’t shoot a wounded kid, no matter how much they’d pissed him off.
A distinctive bark-howl cut off that line of thinking and had his fingers tightening around the barrel of the weapon. He recognized that sound, as out of place as it was, and it had the hair on the back of his neck standing on end. That was a coyote calling his pack to the hunt. Last time he’d checked, they didn’t have any coyotes in Alpha, let alone a pack of them. So what the hell were they doing in his woods?
He shifted his grip on the rifle and checked through the front window before opening the door and stepping out onto his unlit front porch. The room behind him remained illuminated only by the fire, but something had triggered the motion sensors that activated the spotlight near the roof. It shone onto the hard-packed dirt of the drive, but the glow managed to extend a little way across the scattered islands of lingering snow toward the edge of the woods to his right.
Mick faced that way and peered into the darkness. At first, he couldn’t see worth a damn, but his eyes adjusted quickly and his ears were already picking up the sounds of flight and pursuit through the dense northwestern forest. Two more short, sharp cries answered the first bark-howl, followed by a third and a fourth. Definitely a pack, or at least a hunting party. But what were they doing here, in Alpha, on his land?
And what the hell were they hunting?
He got his answer an instant later. A sleek, fur-covered form launched itself from the trees into the cleared area around the cabin. Reflex had the rifle to his shoulder, but instinct kept him from pulling the trigger.
The calls he’d already heard had him thinking coyote, and if the animal hadn’t landed near enough to the edge of the light, he might have kept thinking it. But something about that shape bothered him.
It looked on the large size for a ’yote, maybe seventy or seventy-five pounds, and sturdy as much as lithe, too substantial for the average coyote. Its ears seemed out of proportion to its skull, too large for the breadth of it. Then the light caught its fur, and he could see the russet coloring around its ears and neck, a rusty shade that seemed to darken to near black along its spine. That same rich red also decorated its flank near the site of a bloody tear in the muscle.
That was no coyote. It was a wolf, or a hybrid at best, half wolf and half coyote. He should recognize one when he saw it. Instinct had him drawing in a breath, and the scent cleared up his confusion. His yard had been invaded by another wolf shifter, a red wolf, he realized, and she was badly injured.
His supposition was confirmed when another shape crashed into the yard, this one lighter and leaner, looking almost delicate when he compared it with the wounded shape. This one was pure coyote shaped, and the dark, wet stains around its muzzle identified it as the cause of the female wolf’s injuries.
He squeezed the trigger almost before the reality finished registering and felt the rifle’s stock nudge back into his shoulder. The bullet grazed the side of the coyote’s shoulder, making it yelp in pain and surprise. Its head swung around, yellow gaze fixing on him for an instant before it turned tail and dove back into the cover of the trees.
Mick waited for a minute to see if any of the others in the hunting party felt like trying their luck to get to the she-wolf. Driven by the instinct to kill or mate, a regular coyote might press its luck, but a shifter would think twice. When no other animals appeared, he slowly lowered his gun and stepped down into the yard.
The female was unconscious, but her sides still heaved as if she’d been running a marathon. The sharp aroma of blood hit him first, and he knew from the way it almost overwhelmed her natural scent that she was losing a dangerous amount of it.
He also knew from one more deep inhalation that he’d been correct in identifying her species. She was more than a rare red wolf; she was a red wolf shifter, and she was in serious trouble.
He muttered the word even as he crouched down beside her, setting his rifle near his feet within easy grabbing distance. A swift rake of his gaze took in her condition—good muscle tone, healthy size, but clearly exhausted—as well as the extent of her wounds. In addition to the gash he’d noticed on her rear leg, he could see blood saturating the cream-colored fur of her belly where her side pressed against the ground.
He rolled her gently over and muttered an even stronger curse. The wound on her flank had looked ragged and bloody, but the damage to her side made it seem like a love bite.
Fangs had torn deep under her fur and opened a laceration almost as long as his forearm. It extended from just behind her shoulder, across her rib cage, and nearly to her groin. The ugly slash had been ripped open by her exertions and it continued to bleed heavily under the layer of mud and debris that now clung to the surface. Shifter or not, it looked deep enough to need stitches.
Damn it, he’d have to make a phone call.
But first things first.
He scooped the limp wolf into his arms, catching his rifle in his fingers as he rose. She flopped in his hold like a sack of grain, but he’d hauled heavier burdens on one shoulder, so the weight didn’t bother him. What bothered him was her stillness and the way she didn’t even twitch when he lifted her.
It took just a minute or two to carry her into the cabin and kick the door closed behind them. After depositing her on his sofa, he returned immediately to bolt the door and engage the security system he’d installed the first day he’d moved in. If those coyotes decided to try for her again, Mick wanted some advanced warning.
Secured inside, he strode into the hall to grab a stack of clean towels from the closet. On the way, he snagged his cell phone from the coffee table and dialed a familiar number.
Mick ignored the annoyed tone of the greeting, filled his arms with terry cloth, and returned to the sofa. “I need you out at my place. Now.”
Zeke Buchanan muttered something foul under his breath. “It’s fucking three o’clock in the morning, asshole, and I’m not on duty. Call the office.”
“I’ve got an injured shifter in my living room, and I just shot the coyote who was trying to kill her. Only grazed him, but it sounded like he had friends, and I don’t know how determined they might be. Get out here. And send an ambulance.”
He didn’t bother to listen while Zeke swore again. The snap and rustle of fabric and the squeak of mattress springs told him what he needed to know. The sheriff’s deputy would be here as soon as he got some pants on. In the meantime, Mick needed to stop the she-wolf on his sofa from bleeding to death until help arrived.
His knees hit the floor, his hands reaching to press a folded towel to the more severe of her wounds, when the air around her wavered and fell out of focus. While he blinked, the figure of a wolf blurred and shifted, leaving a petite, naked, and badly injured woman passed out in his living room.
A very attractive naked woman.
He told himself to avert his eyes, but damned if the damage hadn’t already been done. His man and wolf had already both sat up and taken notice. He could almost feel the twitch of a whiskered black nose in the back of his head as the beast pushed itself forward to take in her scent.
She smelled amazing. Under the sweet coppery note of her blood, he could detect notes of citrus and green leaves and something deeper and spicier that simply reminded him of home. He hadn’t smelled anything like it in more than eight years, not since—
He cut that speculation off at the knees—not boarding that train of thought, thanks—and made himself focus on assessing the female’s wounds.
Her change of shape had jump-started her shifter ability to heal quickly, but it would take more than one trip from fur to skin to close a wound as serious as the one on her side. The ragged gash now covered a swath of milky skin from just to the side of a pretty, pink-tipped breast, all along her torso to the crease between her hip and thigh on the right-hand side.
Dirt still clung to the torn and bloody flesh, which Mick almost found a relief. It helped pull his attention away from all the uninjured bits he could see and focus it where it needed to be—on helping her, not ogling her.
Gritting his teeth and fixing his gaze on the injury, Mick pressed a towel hard against her ribs with one hand and used the other to tuck more towels under her opposite hip where he’d seen the less serious laceration. Her weight should provide the necessary pressure to stop the bleeding on that side, but he had to lean into the deeper wound. Thank fuck she remained unconscious, because if she’d been awake, she’d probably have been screaming from the pain.
He lost track of time while he knelt there applying pressure and waiting for help to arrive. Even if Zeke floored it all the way from town, it was at least a ten-minute drive out to Mick’s place, which left way too much time for him to get a good, long look at his uninvited guest.
It made him feel like a pervert, staring at her while she remained completely out of it, but he couldn’t help himself. Something about her drew his gaze like a magnet, and he really wished his subconscious weren’t so anxious to needle him about what it was.
Her wolf looked like Beth.
A corner of his mind gave thanks that she had shifted back to her skin, because it cut the resemblance considerably, but when he’d first seen her burst out of the forest, he’d thought for one wild, insane second that his mate had come back from the dead. It had nearly stopped his heart.
The two animals had the same delicate build, the same pointed muzzles, the same creamy coloring on their chests. Beth had been a little taller, a little more muscular, but she’d been mistaken for a red wolf more than a few times in her shifted life. She hadn’t been just a hybrid—half gray wolf like him, half coyote like her father—but her looks in her furred form bore a strong resemblance to the woman who had almost died tonight in his front yard.
That was an image he had never wanted to see again—a woman bloody and broken, torn apart, and left for him to find. He’d left that nightmare behind him, buried it in California before he’d moved north and settled here in Alpha. Not even the devil himself had the power to drag him back to the town where he’d been born. Not on the coldest day in hell.
A pounding fist shook his front door in the frame, jerking Mick back to the present. His wolf sprang to attention, ready to tear out the throats of any coyote who tried to get inside his home. It took a second for him to realize that it had been long enough for Zeke to have arrived. He opened his mouth to call for his friend to come in, then remembered how he’d double-locked the door as a precaution. He’d have to go open it himself.
A quick check at the underside of the towel revealed way too much red soaked into the cotton, but the active bleeding appeared to have slowed to a trickle. At least it looked safe enough for Mick to step away for the seconds it took to disarm the alarm system and flip a couple of locks.
Zeke pushed inside almost before Mick released the dead bolt, and the aggressive move ripped a snarl from his wolf before he managed to get hold of himself. He’d known who was on the other side of the door from both the knock and the smell, but the night’s events had riled up his beast, and the wolf didn’t like another male forcing his way into its den, even if he’d been invited.
Mick smacked the animal down and stepped back to let the other man enter. “C’mon in.”
Zeke grunted and moved aside to reveal a second, much smaller form standing behind him. Molly Buchanan smiled and waved with one hand. In the other, she carried a large plastic case like her brother’s favorite tackle box, only this one was bright yellow and had a big red cross emblazoned on the lid.
“Hey, Mick,” she chirped, bouncing on her toes as if it weren’t the middle of the night and she hadn’t been dragged from her bed minutes ago to come racing out into the woods. “You called for the cavalry?”
Mick supposed that, as an EMT, racing places in the middle of the night wasn’t so odd an experience for Molly. He waved her inside. She might not be in an ambulance, but she rode in one most other nights. She’d be able to help the she-wolf.
Molly stepped inside while her brother laid a hand on Mick’s shoulder and squeezed.
“Okay,” Zeke grumbled. “Why don’t you tell me exactly what the hell is going on? Injured shifters? Coyotes? And you shot one of them? What the fuck, Mick?”
“Yeah, Mick. What the fuck?”
The third figure to appear in his front door caused the greatest surprise. John Jaeger had dropped by Mick’s house on precisely two previous occasions. The first had been a thinly veiled evaluation when he’d first arrived in town. As mayor of Alpha, Jaeger took his duty to protect and manage his town seriously. To have a new, lone wolf move in but refuse all attempts from the locals to integrate him into their community had raised an alarm for the mountain lion shifter. He had wanted to ensure that Mick didn’t intend to make trouble.
The second visit had been harder to anticipate but infinitely more entertaining. Jaeger had dropped by to return a pair of boxer briefs he had found in his truck bed after the woman he’d been seeing had borrowed the vehicle to “move some furniture.” The only thing that had gotten moved were the bodies in the bed of the pickup when she’d invited Mick out for a moonlit picnic. The boxers came with an offer to let Mick keep the woman, too, but as it turned out, neither he nor the mayor had much keeping in mind for the woman in question. They had all gone their separate ways, and the two men had never spoken of the incident again.
“Jaeger.” The growl rumbled up in Mick’s throat before he could stop it. Adrenaline still rode him enough that his beast was expressing its displeasure at both the man’s unexpected appearance in his territory and the deputy’s belligerent manner. “What are you doing here?”
The man lifted an eyebrow and jerked a thumb toward the woods behind him. “Zeke told me you had some trouble out here tonight. Something about injured strangers, coyotes, and bullets. I came to make sure it wasn’t the kind of ruckus that called for shovels.”
Molly cleared her throat loudly. “Um, not to inconvenience anyone, but I heard someone was bleeding around here. Would any of you big, strong men like to point me in that direction before the patient runs out of the red stuff? You know, if it’s no trouble.”
The lioness might be a head shorter than the smallest male in the room, but such an insignificant detail never had done much to hinder that smart mouth of hers. Mick gritted his teeth and swallowed another rumble of displeasure. His wolf seemed ready to go on a tear.
Of shifters’ throats.
“She’s in here.” He turned on his heel and led Molly and the others into the living room.
The lioness strode to the sofa and crouched in the same spot where Mick had been kneeling. In seconds, she had her fingers on the woman’s pulse and her kit open on the floor beside her. She nodded to herself, then snapped on a pair of bright blue gloves before she briskly and competently began to examine the unconscious woman’s side.
“Her temp’s a little low, but it’s cold out tonight, so I imagine that will come up on its own. That last snowfall just won’t go away, will it? The wounds look messy and painful, but not life-threatening,” Molly proclaimed, poking gingerly at the lacerated tissue. “Not for a shifter, anyway. I can clean it up and bandage it, but it should heal on its own.”
Mick scowled. “No stitches?”
“You know stitches just piss shifters off. They itch like crazy, and they pull at all sorts of weird angles when we try to shift. Bandages are better.”
She didn’t bother to look up, just reached for a bottle of clear liquid and a handful of gauze. She began irrigating the wound, washing away the mud and debris that had contaminated it when the wolf collapsed. Her calm manner and sure movements seemed to calm Mick’s wolf, and he felt himself take his first deep breath in what felt like hours. It had probably been less than twenty minutes.
Jaeger shifted his weight and stepped forward, peering over Mick’s shoulder at the injured woman. “Who is she?”
Mick shrugged one shoulder, the movement still short and tense. “No idea. She just showed up in the yard, bleeding like a butcher’s hog, and keeled over. Didn’t stop to exchange pleasantries.”
“And at what point did you find yourself shooting at strange coyotes?”
“When one of them came after her with her blood on his jaw and a few friends at his back.”
The mayor looked grim. “You sure you hit him?”
“I saw blood in the snow, and it wasn’t all hers. He yelped, too. I figure I at least grazed him.”
“It was a male?”
“The one I saw was. I didn’t see any others, but I could hear them coming through the woods. They must have backed off when they heard the gunshot.”
Zeke didn’t look up from the small pad where he’d been jotting down notes. “They were definitely shifters, not regular coyotes?”
“Like I said, I only saw the one, but I got a look at his eyes, and I got a whiff of him. He was Other, which means his buddies probably were, too.”
Jaeger agreed. “Most likely. We’ve got our share of coyotes in this state, but not many in the area around Alpha. They know they can’t compete with the bigger predators we have roaming these woods, so they tend to give us a pretty wide berth.”
“Right.” Zeke snapped his notebook shut and shoved it into a pocket. “I’m going to take a look around outside while Molly bandages up the victim. I’ll need to ask her a hell of a lot of questions, but they can wait till she’s conscious.”
“You’ll get better answers that way,” Jaeger said, mouth curving.
The lion shifter shot the mayor the bird on his way out the front door. The other man just chuckled, then turned back to Mick. “So.” He rocked back on his heels and hooked his thumbs into the front pockets of his jeans. “It’s three thirty in the morning, you have an unconscious and wounded female on your sofa, an EMT patching her up, a deputy nosing around your property, and a mayor in your living room who’d be willing to consider performing several illegal acts for a good hit of caffeine. Ideas?”
Mick rolled his eyes. “I’ll make coffee.”
He spun around and stalked toward the kitchen, Jaeger hot on his heels. What else was there to do? Molly was treating the she-wolf, Zeke was playing cop, and his wolf had no intention of letting him sleep anytime soon. Not with that intriguingly scented female currently passed out in his living room.
Might as well drink a pot of coffee. He’d take it black, like his mood at having all these uninvited guests in his den. So much for his wolf feeling lonely.
Copyright © 2018 by Christine Warren in Baby, I’m Howling For You and reprinted with permission from St. Martin’s Paperbacks.