Of Secrets and Wolves
Giveaway at the bottom
“If the convicts are anywhere, it’d be there,” Nathan Scott says with a nod, like he knows everything. The issue is, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t. This is only the second time I’ve worked with him and I’m positive about this.
Hill, the local sheriff, rubs the back of his neck, clearly a bit uncertain about this fact. Three days ago, two convicts escaped a prison about twenty miles from here. To my understanding, the two who escaped managed to slip past the guards and make off into the night—which was easy for them since the prison is nearly surrounded by a national forest. Multiple search crews have been unable to track them down using any means necessary, which is why I was called in.
I’m not part of the police but I worked for years in the military and have gotten a reputation for my ability to track, so I work as an on-call tracker for local police. What I didn’t imagine is that I’d ever be pulled five hours from my home and sent out to track some convicts. I would enjoy tracking out in the gorgeous forest if Scott weren’t involved. Now I’m just reluctant to hear what he wants me to do.
Sheriff Hill is older than both Scott and me with graying hair and a round belly that tells me he doesn’t do too much around here. It’s not surprising. While his jurisdiction is wide, it’s not well populated—not much is with the mountainous and wooded range. “You think they’re hiding in Winsford Village?” Sheriff Hill says uncertainly. “You know that’s pack run, right?”
Of course Scott assumed the pack was involved the moment he heard there was a pack-run village within fifty miles of the prison—he pointed his fingers at it and nothing could change his mind.
“We got a glimpse of the prisoners on a security cam about ten miles from Winsford Village; where else do you think they could be?” Scott asks, a bit sharply if I might add.
He’s a short-tempered man that prides himself on being in charge of the West County Tactical Tracking Team. The team specializes in tracking people within the state and surrounding areas, specifically armed or dangerous men. In this case, two convicts that escaped the prison. But currently, he can’t seem to think about much beyond the fact that he’s certain the fugitives are hiding out in a shifter village.
That leads me to question his tracking abilities which might be why I was called in.
Sheriff Hill waves to the rugged landscape around us. “They could literally be ten feet from us, and with the trees as thick as they are, you wouldn’t see them until you tripped over them. But I’ll take ya there. Follow me.”
Hill heads over to his sheriff’s car as Scott and I walk back to our own vehicles. I’d brought my truck and trailer with my horse Maze inside who will allow me to cover this rugged land that a four-wheeler or any other all-terrain vehicle couldn’t. In the passenger seat sits Talon, my tracking dog, a long-haired Belgian Tervuren. He has a black face that fades to mahogany before blending into a soft reddish-fawn on his rump. He’s a striking dog who is currently trying to see if he can fit his massive body through the three-inch crack in the window if he turns his head sideways far enough.
Once inside the truck, I follow the train of vehicles through a winding path and into a small village. The way Scott spoke, I assumed the village would be run down and poverty-stricken, but as we drive through the main road, which isn’t much of a road at all, there are small houses and businesses that line the street. Flowers in large pots are displayed throughout the village, making it seem welcoming. The moment I park and roll the window down a crack, Talon rushes it and stuffs his nose against it before breathing in the air.
I’m sure he can smell them. The place has to stink of shifters.
I push open my truck door and get out as Talon rushes to escape with me. He looks devastated when I shut the door and follow Scott over to where Sheriff Hill is getting out of his car.
“I asked their alpha to meet us and he said he’d be waiting in Dandy’s Diner,” Hill says as he motions to a small diner.
“We can take it from here,” Scott says.
Hill hesitates. “You want me to stay out here?” he asks, reasonably uncertain.
Scott waves him off like he couldn’t be bothered with him. “You can leave if you want. We’re good from here.”
I can tell Hill doesn’t like this idea much as he leans against his car door. “You don’t want to piss the alpha off.”
Scott grins at him. “Yeah? And what are they gonna do if I do? I got the whole damn law enforcement behind my back. We’ll handle it.”
Hill shrugs and I feel like that was simply a “Your funeral” in motion form. This is why I hate dealing with Scott. I’d dealt with him one other time and I’d be lying if I said the thought of giving him a gentle push off into the river never crossed my mind. It was a fast river too, plenty of rapids that could just carry him and his condescending attitude off.
“Oh my goodness, aren’t you the sweetest little thing?”
I turn to see a young man’s body smashed up against my passenger window as he gleefully stares at Talon.
Talon, the ferocious dog he is, is wiggling as his tail whaps back and forth. I’m not close enough to tell if the young man is a shifter or not, but the way he’s melting over the dog is a bit much.
“Oh, your little tongue!” he exclaims.
Scott looks over at the young man and narrows his eyes. “They’re all so fucking weird. You better make sure that truck’s locked up. Who knows what he’s trying to steal.”
I would say that Talon would protect everything I have in there, but at the moment, it looks like Talon would give up his life just for a belly rub. “It’s fine,” I say.
Scott, on the other hand, doesn’t think it’s fine. “Is that your truck?” he shouts at the man. “Get your fucking hands off it.”
The young man instantly stops smiling before peeking around my truck with the most vibrant amber eyes, instantly answering my question of whether or not he’s human. “Are… are you talking to me?”
“Who else would I be talking to?” Scott asks.
The man looks to be in his late twenties with black hair that is striking against his pale skin and amber eyes. I find myself instantly attracted to him, even though he’s clearly a shifter and I want nothing to do with him.
“Is… this your dog? I pity the poor thing if it is. No wonder why it loves me if it has to deal with your rancid attitude. You poor soul,” he says to Talon.
Scott pulls out his badge, which he seems to think is an appropriate response to someone fawning over a dog. “Do you want to try speaking to me again, mongrel?” he asks, even though it’s not like he’s wielding a police badge.
The shifter grins at him which seems to piss Scott off more. “I am truly sorry I have offended you. I will go sniff a tree… chase a squirrel… maybe even piss on your tires.”
“It’s my truck. Please don’t piss on the tires,” I pipe up.
“Ah…” The shifter points at the black car that’s Scott’s. “This one?”
“Thank you,” he says.
“I will have you arrested if you take a step toward my car,” Scott growls.
“Let’s get this over with, we’re wasting time,” I say. If he’d just let me start tracking, I could already be on the convicts’ trail. Instead, this is where I was lucky enough to end up.
Scott storms into the diner and I grudgingly follow after him while wondering how a man in his late thirties already has so much hate in his life.
The entire diner goes silent as we walk in even though more than half the booths are filled. They all turn to look at us and I realize at least half are shifters. They just have a look about them that tells me they’re not human.
A short man with uniquely golden-brown hair that has tips of black slowly walks up. It seems completely natural, making me wonder what kind of shifter he is. “G-Good afternoon. Welcome to Dandy’s Diner. I—”
“We’re meeting someone here. The alpha?” Scott interrupts.
“Ah, okay.” The shifter scrutinizes us with narrowed eyes before he looks around and points at an empty booth in the corner. “Please have a seat. He should be here shortly. And can I get you something to drink while you wait? We have fresh lem—”
“I don’t want anything you’re serving,” Scott says stubbornly and I see the young man’s eyes narrow even more.
“I’ll take a lemonade,” I say, and the young man gives me a tight-lipped smile before scurrying off.
I sit down next to Scott who shudders. “They just give me the heebie-jeebies.”
The shifters, known for their exceptional hearing, most likely can hear him and will probably murder us before we’re done with this place.
The small shifter hurries back to us and slides a glass of water in front of Scott and the lemonade in front of me. “Would you like anything else?”
Scott shoos him off a moment before the shifter who’d been staring at my dog outside slides into the booth across from us.
“Oh, dear god,” Scott groans. “What the fuck do you want?”
The young man raises an eyebrow as I realize he’s even more attractive close up. He’s got this defiant look to him that seems to be pissing Scott off even more. “Me? Hmm… probably a dog biscuit or a bone. Why?”
“Fuck off, kid.”
“I… was under the impression you wanted to speak with me,” he says as he leans forward on his elbows. “Am I wrong?”
Scott seems to be annoyed he’s failing at bullying the shifter into backing off. “We want to speak to the alpha.”
“Correct. I’m alpha.”
Scott snorts and even I feel a bit amused by this. There’s no way this man’s alpha. He looks like a twig and while he’s not short, he couldn’t be over five foot nine and not at all threatening. He looks like he’d have trouble wrangling rabbits.
“Cute. Now let me speak to your alpha,” Scott says.
The man gives him a rather cocky look that seems to be pushing Scott further and further over the edge. “Uh-huh… because I’m not, right? Is it the clothes? The hair? What makes me not alpha enough for you?”
Scott is growing pissed and this guy needs to realize it before Scott does something he can’t undo. “Your alpha better show up shortly. I’m getting tired of wasting my time.”
The young man smirks. “Understood.”
Then he leaves. A few minutes later, a man comes out of the back who dwarfs me. He’s a good six foot seven with broad shoulders and muscles that leave his shirt with little room to breathe. He seems uncertain as he sits down and faces us.
“I see you finally decided to show,” Scott says. “I’m Nathan Scott and this is our tracker consultant, Rowan Sinclair. We’ve had two escaped convicts that you might have heard about if you guys have the luxury of TV out here. Do you guys even know what that is?”
The man seems confused. “TV?”
Scott shakes his head like he pities the man who I honestly think is just confused why Scott would think he doesn’t know what a TV is. “Anyway, we have reason to believe you’re illegally hiding them here.”
“Dude… why are you telling me? I’m just the cook,” he says, clearly confused. “I’m not even a shifter. I’m human, like you.”
Scott’s boiling point is horribly high at this juncture. “Then who in this godforsaken place is in charge?”
“Our alpha’s Quinn,” he says as he points to the man from before. He’s sitting at the counter talking to the unique-haired man who is laughing about something.
“You… You seriously let that twig of a man be alpha? What a joke,” Scott says.
The large man looks at Scott with wide eyes. “Quinn? Quinn’s fucking scary.”
I watch as Quinn the “fucking scary” blows his straw wrapper off and hits the smaller man in the side of the face with it before laughing.
“I’m terrified,” Scott says sarcastically before getting up and storming over to Quinn. “We’re positive you’re hiding the missing fugitives, and if you don’t hand them over, I’m going to get a warrant to search your entire pack.”
Quinn, as I now know he’s called, slowly turns to look at Scott. “First off, we are not shielding any fugitives; second, if you come onto my land and threaten me or any of my pack, you will pay. Now sit down like a civilized human and explain what’s going on, and just maybe I can help.”
Scott’s pissed, so I decide to step up to the task. “I’ve been hired to track down two people who escaped prison three days ago. There’s speculation that they came this way.”
“Ah, a rational human. A pleasure to meet you. I’ll ask around, but I have my doubts anyone would enter my land without my knowledge. What was your name?”
“Rowan Sinclair and this is Nathan Scott.”
“So Rowan and Nathan, got it,” he says, but before he can continue, Scott interrupts him.
“Call me Scott,” he says.
Quinn completely ignores Scott and keeps his attention on me. “You’re a tracker?”
“How about I assist? I’ll help you find the two escaped people, and in return you,” he says as he points at Scott, “never set foot on my land again. Now let’s go.”
Scott gives him a cold smile. “Well, how about we do that, then. The tracker’s already got one dog, what’s another?”
Quinn just smiles back at the man. “Woof,” he says before getting up and heading toward the door.
“I didn’t pay for my drink,” I say.
Quinn waves it off. “Don’t worry about it, I’ll cover it. I’ll cover anything to get the asshole out of my territory.”
He heads outside as I question why Scott would agree to Quinn helping. He seems to despise shifters, so why this? There has to be something going on for him to agree.
“Sinclair, your truck already smells like a dog, so I’m sure you won’t mind driving him.”
“Uh… okay,” I say, not sure why I have to, but I think even I would feel bad sending the shifter off with Scott.
“Put him back with the horse if you want.”
I ignore Scott and head to my truck that Quinn gets into. He lights right up when he sits down next to Talon.
Ah, how I love dealing with assholes. At least the biggest asshole is in the other vehicle and this one has an adorable dog.
“What’s your name, floofy?” I ask the dog.
“That’s Talon,” Rowan says as his dog climbs onto my lap like he doesn’t weigh ninety pounds and his head crashes into the ceiling to make sure he fits. “Quinn, right? I really don’t need your help. I prefer to work alone.”
I look over at the handsome man who appears to be in his early thirties. He has light-colored hair that seems to be naturally styled, unlike my messy black hair. His brown eyes glance over at me as he drives. And even though he’s a little short with me—which is to be expected when dealing with a human—his expression shows me he’s not like Scott. There’s no true malice in his expression, but I can still tell something’s slightly off. Maybe he’s nervous? Maybe he doesn’t work with shifters often? I can’t quite tell.
“No, no. If it means getting that man out of my territory, I’ll go wherever he wants,” I say as I notice something strange about the man. I thought I’d smelled something different when he was in the booth, but I didn’t get enough of a sniff, so I find myself leaning in to smell him.
He leans away, rightfully creeped out. “What are you doing?”
Just being like “Oh, snorting your smell” is generally seen as weird by humans, so I smile. “Nothing. Are you with law enforcement?”
“No. I’m pulled in to track when they need it. They generally have a team, like Scott’s, but I was pulled in for backup. I’m not from around here, so I was called in specially for this.”
“Ah. You’d think they’d rely on shifters who are, you know, born to sniff.”
“Shifters aren’t allowed in law enforcement and their tactical tracking team is a sub-unit of the state,” he says, as if I didn’t already know all the things shifters weren’t allowed to do.
“Yes, yes, what would happen if a shifter started chasing their tail during an extremely important meeting or something. It’d probably be the end of humanity.”
“Shifters can’t be trusted with that level of responsibility. They are still too animal,” Rowan says.
I narrow my eyes at the man who I had expected was a little bit better, but obviously not. Even after twenty-nine years on this planet, I still find myself surprised by the shit humans say. “Oh definitely. Such simple brains.”
He sighs. “I didn’t say that. This is why I don’t like working with your kind.”
I snort as I pull my phone out and look at the message I’d received from Ari, my friend who runs the diner.
Ari: Don’t let them fuck you over or I’ll fuck them up.
God, I love Ari and his hot temper.
Me: I’m fine, Ari, I promise. Tell the pack I’ll be back before late.
“Can you at least tell me what we’re looking for?” I ask.
“Honestly, I don’t know much. Two criminals who escaped. One male, one female,” he says as he takes a moment at a stop sign to grab for a folder that seems to have fallen onto the ground and pulls out what looks like a mug shot.
The man looks fairly average with brown hair and eyes. There’s nothing that makes him stand out. No tattoos, nothing. The woman is no different, but at least her eyes are blue. I read over the report but besides being horribly vague about their descriptions, which I can already see from the photo, there’s very little information. Maybe Rowan can’t share the more detailed stuff with someone who isn’t licensed to help?
When we arrive at a shopping complex about twenty minutes from the village, Rowan parks his truck and trailer.
“So… this is the last known location of them, and you guys just assumed we were involved? Quite the detectives,” I say as I realize that we were targeted just because of what we are, not because they actually think we’re hiding them or were involved.
“I had no say in the matter,” Rowan says as he gets out of the truck. As soon as I’m out, I notice that there’s a whole cluster of humans speaking with Scott.
They quiet down and look at me as I walk up. “Who is this, Scott?” a woman asks suspiciously.
“We have a… shifter come to help us,” Scott the Asshole says.
“Quinn,” I say as I hold my hand out. No one takes my outstretched hand, and instead, they look at it like it’s diseased.
“Aw, look, someone taught it to shake,” a man says, and they all laugh.
I should have known better but sometimes, I just have a small hope for humanity. “Hilarious. I promise I won’t bite.”
No one finds me funny.
“It was a joke. Clearly, humans don’t get jokes. I personally think I’m hilarious. So does Rowan,” I say as I look over at the man who is unloading his horse. “Right, Rowan? Or do you like me using your last name like Scott?”
“You can call me Rowan,” he says.
“Ah, you can call me Quinn. Or Quintastical, if you’d like. Quinntastic. Quinfantastic—”
“I retract that statement, you can call me Sinclair,” he says, voice teasing.
“He’ll be going with Sinclair,” Scott assures everyone, which seems to relieve them greatly.
Scott holds a bag out to me. “Here’s a sheet from one of the convict’s rooms. I assume you can follow a scent?”
I take the bag from him and unzip it before breathing in the smell. I get an instant whiff of something animalistic, but it’s hard to pin down. Wildcat? No… bear? No… what is that? “They’re shifters?” I ask in surprise.
“They are,” Scott says.
Startled, I look at him. “Seriously? You’re going to be like ‘Here, snort some sheets and run off into the woods to catch a convict, but we’re not going to tell you if they’re a rabbit or a fucking grizzly bear’?”
I toss the bag back to him and go over to Rowan before being sidetracked by his horse. “Well, look at this cutie pie.”
The horse sniffs me, recognizing me instantly as something not human, but she doesn’t seem to mind too much.
“What’s her name?”
“Maze,” Rowan says as he finishes tacking her. Then he takes the bag from Scott before letting Talon get a scent off it. When he’s finished with the dog, he leads both horse and dog off without another word. Realizing that my posse is leaving me, and I really want nothing to do with the other one, I run across the road after them.
“Could you carry my phone for me?” I ask, since once I shift, I’ll have nowhere to put it and I forgot to grab my backpack.
He takes my phone and slips it into the saddlebag before getting on his horse and letting his dog loose who starts tracking.
“You’re a man of few words, aren’t you?” I ask as I jog after him to keep up with the horse.
“You’re a man of too many,” he says as he glances at me.
I smile at him. “Ah, at least you called me a man and not a dog. I appreciate that.”
“Shouldn’t you shift so you can track?” he asks.
“Then how would I talk to you?” I ask, since the only way I can talk to someone in my wolven form is when they’re in their shifted form and humans definitely don’t fall into that range.
“That sounds sort of nice. Peace and quiet,” he says, but I notice he doesn’t have the malice in his voice that Scott does. Instead, it’s a bit more of a hesitation, like he’s not sure if it’s all right to be familiar or talking to me.
“They just send you off on your own?” I ask curiously.
“They do on occasion.”
“Huh. Isn’t that weird?”
“A bit… but I’m fine working alone. I prefer working alone compared to working with someone like Scott.”
“No truer words have ever been spoken.”
“I’m sure it’s fine,” he says, sounding a little uncertain.
His horse quickens her pace and I have to jog to keep up as we start through the thick brush into the wooded forest. There are hiking trails, but it seems like the two escapees headed along this way. The dog is following their trail well enough that I’m not too concerned about it at this moment.
But when we reach a water crossing, Talon wanders this way and that, so I take my shirt off and fold it before unbuttoning my pants. The moment I have pants and underwear around my thighs is the very instant Rowan decides to get a good look at me. His eyes get wide as surprise fills his face.
“Well, fuck, warn a man,” he grumbles as he quickly looks away.
“You’ve never seen a naked man?” I ask in mock surprise. “By the way you were looking at me when I was peeking at your pup, I thought you’d enjoy a surprise flashing every now and then.”
He snorts and refuses to look my way. “Clearly, you thought wrong.”
I grin at him, because I’m not so sure I’m as wrong as he’s trying to pretend I was.
“Now, as a wolf, I can’t talk to you as much—”
“Which, let’s admit, will probably be a blessing,” he says with a slight upturn to his lips.
“But I’ll still be beside you in heart and soul, even if you’re downright evil.”
“Honestly, I can barely think with how much you’re talking,” he says, tone a bit softer than it was earlier.
“And if I get distracted by a squirrel, just simply say, ‘Wanna go for a walk?’ real cheery, and I’ll probably come back.”
He’s fighting a smile now. “And if I don’t want you to come back, I won’t say anything. Got it.”
I grin at him even though he refuses to look my way in case he gets a peek of my willy. “Do you have room for my clothes in that nifty little pack thing you have going on?”
“Then I guess naked it is.”
He sighs loudly and holds his hand out like it’s a big ordeal.
“I even tucked my underwear in my pants so you can’t sniff it or something,” I tease.
“You’re disgusting,” he decides as he opens a pack that’s attached to his saddle and tucks them in, then finds a place for my shoes.
“Any final words?” I ask.
“Thank god you’re finally going to be quiet?” he tries with a grin.
“And I almost wish I hadn’t asked,” I say before asking my body to shift.
I once had a human child ask me how I could tell my body to bring out my wolven side and found it nearly impossible to describe. It’s just a part of me. Ever since birth, I’ve been no stranger to my wolf. It’s a part of me as much as my human skin, and I love the freedom it gives me. But maybe that’s why shifting for me is always so fluent compared to many others? If a shifter doesn’t embrace their other side, their shift is often slow and painful. But for me, it’s a simple thought from one moment to the next.
I feel my body shifting and changing as my bones realign and fur grows across my body within mere moments before I drop down on the ground on four black paws. In my wolf form, I’m no bigger than an average wolf, and I have long black hair accented with silver tips.
The moment I hit the ground as a wolf, everything becomes sharper—my sense of smell, my sight, my hearing. What I lose in opposable thumbs and the power of spoken language I gain in sharper senses and faster movements.
Talon, startled, turns to look at me before trotting toward me. I’ve learned from years of this how to “talk dog” with body language to keep them from attacking me. So I keep my body relaxed, my tail down, wagging slowly. Talon sniffs me over, deems me fine and hurries off to continue his job.
The moment my nose is down, I pull in all the scents of the forest before catching on to the one we’re following. It crosses a river which I stick a paw into before realizing just how cold it is. I grudgingly jump into the water that’s increasingly deeper the longer I walk. When it starts getting too deep to stand in, I begin paddling my way across. When I reach the other side, I shake and look back at Rowan who just lifts his feet as his horse makes her way across. I’m over here looking like a drowned rat and he didn’t even get splashed.
Once I have the scent again, I start moving at a steady pace. His dog jogs up next to me, keeping beside me as Rowan follows on his horse. He moves a little slower since he has to find paths for Maze that aren’t too narrow for them to fit through, but they both keep up quite well.
I hate working with someone who’s not on the pack link since it makes it impossible to talk to them and one thing I hate doing is not talking. And trying to convey anything with a woof or a wag of the tail generally seems to fly right over humans’ heads. Even so, it’s almost peaceful working with the human, which is something I’m positive I never thought I’d feel.
I follow after the wolf for a good couple of hours at a steady pace as the afternoon stretches on into early evening. Talon’s good at his job, but I’m noticing he’s not as good as Quinn is. While Quinn sticks right to the trail, Talon seems to get distracted after long periods of time and I’m not sure he’s even working any longer, just enjoying the ride. I mean, why do the work when Quinn is doing it all for him?
The wolf is striking, with a rich black coat with silver tips that I weirdly find myself wanting to touch. But seeing as he’s actually a person, it would probably be quite awkward.
Suddenly, he stops moving and shifts into his human form just like that. I’ve seen a small handful of shifters make the change from animal to human, but none move like him. His shift is so fluid and quick that it’s almost a trick of the eye. If I saw it out of the corner of my eye, I could fool my mind into believing it never happened. And then I realize I’m staring at a butt-naked man and the way my eyes betray me by running over his body is horrible. His form is lithe, muscular like a runner’s body. With clothes on, his body type seems average, but underneath, it’s clear he’s gained the physique he has from a lot of running and I can’t keep my eyes from exploring downward.
When did I become such a weak man?
Quinn motions off into the trees as I pull my horse to a stop. “So… the two were moving together as a unit to this point. It’s here I can smell blood and they part ways—Is my naked body distracting?” The look he gives me is so cocky and sexy all at once that I find myself glaring at him as a way to defend myself.
Very much. “Don’t flatter yourself.”
He’s grinning now, and I’m doing my best to look absolutely bored as I stare at him. “Ya sure?”
“What’s this about blood? You said you could smell blood.”
“Ah, right. Maybe a tussle. There’s not a ton of it, but it’s rather strange they part ways after it. Who would you like to follow, and how long do you want to be out for? At this point, if we’re out more than another hour or two it’ll be dark by the time we make it back. I can get you on a people trail about a mile or two from here, and you wouldn’t have as much of an issue with your horse, but it’d be a longer ride back.”
“Yeah, I don’t want to do this in the dark,” I say as I wave around. Maze has been able to keep up at a jog in the flat areas, but the moment we hit a decline or uprise, our pace slows dramatically. It’s far too treacherous in some areas to be moving through it in the dark.
Quinn looks around for a moment before turning back to me. “Okay. So, say another hour? We can pick up in the morning, cutting some length off if you drive down to County Road 23.”
“Okay, sounds good to me. I can try to contact Scott and see what they want me to do if I find a location with reception.”
“Perfect,” he says as he turns around and looks right and left. “So which way do we go?”
“I guess whatever trail is easiest to follow,” I say as I will my eyes not to drop to his ass. He’s a shifter, so why am I even interested? I’m not someone who’s into one-night stands and I’m sure as hell not sixteen getting interested in the neighbor boy because he smiled at me.
“Then off we go!” he says as he starts walking… as a human.
“Aren’t you going to shift?” And stop tempting me?
He flashes a grin back at me. “Then how would we talk? I want to know everything about you. I am horribly nosy by nature. What’s your blood type? Is your skin soft? Do you rub moisturizer on yourself?”
“Hold on… are you trying to get to know me or figure out if my skin would be good for a lamp?”
His laugh is so cheery I can’t help but be pulled into it. “Maybe both. Your horse is awfully cute and so’s your dog.”
“Understandable. I like to spoil cute things too. Like Ari, the shorter guy at the diner? He’s always been super little and cute, so of course he’s spoiled. He just eats it up, though.”
“You’re really the alpha of that place?” I ask.
Quinn glances back at me, unnaturally amber eyes watching me closely. “I am. I don’t have to look…” He eyes me. “…like you to be an alpha.”
And I realize how prejudiced that really is. Where did that misconception even come from? I guess in movies and books, the alpha is always macho, in charge, and nothing like this joyous man. “I didn’t mean anything by it,” I say. “I’m sorry.”
He smiles at me. “I’m used to it. But yes. That is my pack. I’m alpha. While I’m not the biggest or the baddest in the pack, they respect me and love me, and it’s been a long time since anyone’s challenged me for my position. I’m just the fucking best, you know? When you’re this good, ain’t no one ever gonna challenge you.”
I snort because I think he’s rather cocky. “I thought shifters loved to fight for alpha position.”
“Yes, because we’re all a bunch of feral animals just fighting and fucking.”
“Sounds like a typical Friday night,” I say, which makes him laugh.
He looks back at me and waggles his eyebrows. “Ah, you’re that kind of man, are ya?”
Quickly, I shake my head. “No! I’m not, I shouldn’t be spouting shit I don’t even want to back up.”
He laughs as he walks along like the twigs and rocks digging in his bare feet don’t bother him at all. “You want some water?” I ask as I pull a spare water bottle out of my bag.
“Is that bag endless? Can I just ask and you pull whatever I want out like a magic trick? Please pull out a sixty-five-inch 4k TV!” He turns to look, like he’s expecting something way more exciting than the bottle of water I pull out. Even though he’s clearly disappointed in the water, he seems pretty thankful when he takes it.
“I mean… if you’re going to stay like this, don’t you want your clothes?”
“Nah, I love the breeze. Although, it’s a bit rough when the mosquitos nibble on your ass, ya know?”
“Nope. I wouldn’t know. I’m not into strutting in the nude.”
“It’s freeing. Try it some time.”
Talon’s ears perk up and Quinn quickly stops as he tilts his head.
“Something’s wrong, stop,” he says as he holds his hand up to signal me to halt, so I pull Maze up.
He shifts into a wolf a moment before a large creature moving as quiet as the night lunges onto the scene. Quicker than I can follow, it slams into Maze, throwing her down onto her side, which sends me crashing onto the ground. Her body pins me down as I see a flash of black before Quinn leaps onto the animal that looks like some type of cat or… bear… what is it? Whatever it is, it seems wrong… unnatural, but it’s moving so quickly that I can’t get a good look at it. My leg is pinned under my horse, so I grab for my gun that’s at my side, but Quinn manages to tear the creature off Maze.
Terrified, Maze leaps to her feet, but my foot is stuck in her stirrup and before I can fire off a shot, she’s dragging me and I drop the gun. Quickly twisting my body, I pull my foot free as she takes off, leaving me to roll onto my side as Quinn grabs the beast’s forearm and pulls it down as he rams into it, rolling it onto its back as I rush for my gun. I steady the gun, but Quinn is so quick I’m afraid I’m going to hit him. The creature is twice as big as Quinn, but it can’t move as quickly in such a tight space as he can.
The moment Quinn moves to the side, I shoot it in the flank. It roars out before turning its attention to me. My adrenaline spikes as my instincts tell me that I need to run or I’ll die. The moment it’s fixated on me, Talon rushes forward, like he’s going to protect me.
“Talon, no!” I shout, terrified it’ll swipe him with its claws and kill him.
But before it can reach either of us, Quinn leaps onto its side, throwing it off balance. The moment it’s up, it bolts off into the woods, leaving Quinn and me standing there.
Quinn is growling as he stares after it, hackles raised, tail rigid. He takes a step forward, and I’m afraid he’s going to chase after it so I slide into his path.
“Quinn, stop!” I say.
Quinn hesitates before looking up at me. Slowly, I walk over to him as the smell of blood reaches my nose. There’s blood on his face, but it has to be more than that and I hope it’s not his blood I smell.
“Are you okay?” I ask before remembering that he can’t respond to me in this form until he gives me a nod. He turns his attention back to watch the direction the beast went in, ears flickering this way and that. Thankfully, I can’t see anything, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone.
Anxiously, I look around for Maze who fled the scene. She’s generally not a flighty horse, but she’s also never come across something like that before. “Maze?” I call as I look around. Talon is standing next to Quinn as the wolf takes a step back and turns to me before shifting.
“Fuck,” Quinn groans as he slowly stands up. “Are you okay?” He reaches for me like he’s unsure of where to touch me to check that I’m fine.
How is he worried about me when he’s the one bleeding? “I’m fine. I might be a bit sore in the morning, but my body works. Looks like you got hurt?”
He waves me off. “Your horse?” He sniffs the air and points. “Smells like she went this way,” he says and off he goes even though I can see his thigh is cut.
“You’re hurt,” I say as he apparently does his best not to limp.
“I’m fine. I… think that was one of the shifters we’re looking for, and I think they want us dead.”
“What… was it?” I ask. I’m sure he understands shifters better than me, but as he turns his eyes are wild, startling me.
“Come on.” He starts moving again, and I realize what it is. Before Talon, I had a female dog that loved to pick fights. When she was in that fight mode, she couldn’t be reasoned with. She wouldn’t listen, she wouldn’t acknowledge anything, the only thing she knew how to do in that mindset was fight until something would finally snap her out of it. Is that how Quinn’s wolf is? Is the stamina of the fight pushing him forward without reason even though he’s hurt?
Quinn shifts, seeming to realize that he can travel on three legs better than one, and off he goes.
“Dammit, Quinn!” I rush after him, nowhere near as skilled as he is in traversing the land, even with two healthy legs. My body feels tight from Maze falling on me but at least nothing is broken. I jog after Quinn who is already thirty feet ahead of me. By the time I catch up, his hackles are down, and his entire body language is different.
Realizing that I need to report the attack, I try to call Scott, but my phone doesn’t seem to have any reception. I slide it back in my pocket and grab my radio to use then press down on the button. “This is Rowan, can you hear me?”
I try again. “This is Rowan, Scott, can you hear me?”
I try a few more times unsuccessfully before putting it away. At this point, I’ve finally caught up with Quinn. I hook his neck and he growls at me before realizing what’s going on and stopping. He tips his head and rubs against me, like he’s apologizing for the growl. “Let me see your leg.”
He tries continuing on and I realize this man has to be the most stubborn creature alive. But I put him in a headlock that he can’t get out of with ease and try to examine his leg. It’s hard to do with the thick black fur, but it’s easy to see that his leg is torn open. If I had my horse, I could grab my medical equipment that’s in my saddlebag, but since I don’t, I scoop him up and start walking in the direction he’d been going in.
It’s a bit awkward since I don’t want to touch his leg and have to wrap my arms around his stomach, and then I have him in a strange position, but I pretend there’s nothing to it and carry on. He wiggles some but I just cinch him down tighter and keep moving.
And then he decides to shift in my arms.
Suddenly, I’m holding a very naked man who seems to realize exactly how naked he is as he grins at me. “Wow, not even to the first date yet,” Quinn says.
“Why did you shift?” I ask in alarm.
“Because I was trying to tell you that you’re heading in the wrong direction and you weren’t listening,” he says as he drapes an arm around my neck, like he has no plans of getting down. “It’s not often Prince Charming scoops you up and trots around a forest with you in the wrong direction.”
“I will drop you if you’re not careful,” I warn as I turn in the direction he’s now pointing.
“Aw, how romantic. But I can hear Maze. She’s right up that way, so you can set me down.”
I’m quite grateful to set him down and point a finger at him while trying to keep my gaze at eye level. “Stay here, I’ll be right back.”
He grins at me as he gives me a wink. I scowl at him and hurry off after my horse.