Of Betrayal and Monsters
“It won’t stop looking at me with its annoyingly cute eyes,” my mate Rowan says as he stares at my best friend, Ari, who is on my lap in his ocelot form. “And why’s he touching you? He could sleep in the trunk.”
“Just ignore him,” I urge. The exhaustion from being penned up in Mercer’s hell has finally gotten to me.
Ari seems to be glaring at Rowan before he shifts his attention to the windshield. He stills before his head darts to the side and he begins making some weird ocelot noises since none of us can understand him in that form.
“Is something wrong?” Graham, my brother, asks from the driver’s seat as his hand tightens on the steering wheel.
“It’s just Ari. There could be an emergency or his hair could be out of place,” Rowan says. Rowan’s a handsome man in his early thirties with naturally white hair that’s covered up with light blond dye that’s starting to show signs of needing to be redone. Thankfully, with his hair mostly colored, it just looks like he’s graying early.
While I’d love to see him with a full head of snowy white hair, I understand his need to keep it covered. It would draw attention to him immediately and mark him as a shifter in a world that doesn’t treat shifters the same as humans.
We’re packed into the car as we travel from my land—that’s no longer safe—to a pride that’s welcoming us in. After escaping the grasp of Mercer and his mutated shifter pack, I knew I needed to get my pack somewhere safe. The issue is that I only knew of one place to go: a pride run by a strict man that I can’t stand. But we have little hope otherwise. It’s not easy to find a sanctuary for over twenty shifters.
Behind our car is a small caravan of four vehicles, each crammed with five to six people and any belongings they were able to snatch before being driven off.
When I’d contacted Apollo about taking us in, he sounded more than happy to, but what I’d learned from my short time living at Winterhaven Pride when my brother and I were younger is that Apollo’s words sometimes have hidden meanings to them. Not to say they do this time, but I’m smart enough to know that I need to watch him.
“Ari probably just wants in the trunk,” Rowan decides from where he sits to my right in the middle seat. To his right is Gina, a scientist we’d helped escape, who is currently saying something to her husband, Nathan Scott, who is sitting in the front passenger seat.
Ari suddenly shifts but the issue is that there clearly wasn’t any room for him to shift with five other people and one large dog in the car. Suddenly, there’s a very naked man on my lap, which is startling in itself but as he climbs halfway through the two front seats, bare ass in Rowan’s face, I realize that I definitely got the better side of this as Talon, Rowan’s Belgian Tervuren, presses against my legs.
“Your ass is in my face!” Rowan cries.
“It’s a nice ass, so shut your handsome face,” Ari says as he narrows his eyes and stares straight ahead.
Rowan slowly turns to look at me, his eyes ridiculously wide. “Are you going to do something about this?”
“If I had my phone, I’d take a picture,” I say, as though that’s what he was referring to.
Ari waves at us like he wants us to quiet down. “Okay! So I wanted to make sure I was right, but I think there’s something up ahead. When I was in my other form, I thought I could see something, but it was hard to tell what,” Ari says as he sits down on Rowan’s lap, completely ignoring his cries, before turning to me.
“What kind of something?” I ask.
“I might be wrong, but I think it’s a police car. But they could just have someone pulled over for speeding. It’s really hard for me to tell.”
“Wait, what?” I ask as I push him into Rowan to get a better look. Talon, Rowan’s dog, scoots until he’s sitting on my feet to give us more room. Far off in the distance, I can just barely make out something. “Shit. I think you’re right.”
After having already traveled an hour toward Winterhaven Pride, we have a new situation because nothing can ever go smoothly for us. Only half an hour more and we’d have safely been there.
“I think it’s a police blockade,” Graham says.
“That’s fine, right?” Gina asks. “We’re not doing anything wrong.”
Graham slows down as we near it while I try to wrap my tired brain around what’s going on. “Someone, quickly call the others and tell them to hold off if they’re far enough back they haven’t been sighted already,” I say as I turn around in the back seat to look behind me. The other vehicles are within sight, but not horribly close as Graham alerts them using Scott’s phone. My phone was taken by Mercer’s crew at some point and I doubt I’ll ever get it back.
But if Graham gets ahold of the others and they can discreetly pull off the main road onto a side one, the police might not even take note of them while dealing with us.
Even with a very naked Ari on his lap, it’s clear Rowan’s anxious and I find myself wanting to comfort him, so I reach out and grip his hand tightly and he shoots me a grateful smile. Our relationship is still new, but it’s strong enough that I know, more than anything, that we can get through anything together. I want to do everything in my power to keep him safe, and I’m concerned about what the roadblock ahead means for that. With my other hand I stroke Talon’s fur, since he’s looking mildly concerned about his lack of room. It makes me think of the cat I’ve been watching that was placed in a carrier in a different vehicle.
“Don’t let them take me! I just wanted to try my hand at being a stripper robber one time!” Ari says before shifting back into his ocelot form and leaping into my arms, presumably to be comforted. I’m a little confused about the robber part but decide it was probably one of his dramatic things and move on.
It’s too late for us to turn around like the others without drawing suspicion, so as the officers flag Graham down, he slows.
“Nathan, please just pretend to be sleeping,” Gina says as she leans into the front to comfort the injured man.
After Scott was shot by Mercer, he needed medical attention. The only issue is that going to any hospital in the area would have led Mercer and his pack right to us, so we were banking on getting him to Winterhaven Pride where their doctor will be there to help. What we weren’t counting on is this.
Graham pulls his car over and one of the officers walks up to it. Even though Graham is large, the biggest man in the car, he’s still younger than me and seems a bit uncertain, especially when dealing with humans. I don’t blame him. Prejudices still stand between shifters and humans, and I’m sure we’re about to have a front row seat to it.
The man stares at Graham for a moment before leaning in to get a good look at the rest of us. The amber color of Graham’s eyes probably tipped him off that we weren’t human before even asking to look at our IDs. It doesn’t help that, even though Scott is covered in a blanket, he’s soaked in sweat and my neck is wrapped up in a bloody bandage from when Rowan’s brother dragged me around by the throat.
We look an absolute mess and not at all composed… which immediately makes us look guilty of something.
“Where are you going?” the officer asks.
“I’m driving,” Graham says, which I’m more than positive won’t be enough for the officer.
“We’re going to visit some family at a shifter pack up north,” I say. “Were we doing something wrong, Officer?”
He shifts his attention over to me. “And you are?”
“Quinn Elston, the alpha, sir. If there’s anything you need, let me know.”
The clenched jaw and skeptical look he’s giving me tells me we’re definitely not getting a free pass. “Yeah, I think I need all of you to get out of the vehicle. We just happened to have an alert for a missing woman and it sure seems like we found her,” he says as he nods at Gina.
Gina stills instantly as I sense the tension in her body spike. She begins vigorously shaking her head. “No! No, you have the wrong person. I’m not missing. This is my husband and we’re going with them,” she says as she pats Scott’s arm. “Willingly going with them. The people who told you I’m missing are the ones who kept me locked up.” She sounds panicked, but it doesn’t sound like it’s helping her case. It’s no wonder the man is skeptical of us; she looks and sounds like we’ve forced her into a hostage situation.
The man seems even more adamant now. “Out of the vehicle now,” he growls as two other officers come over to assist.
We shouldn’t have taken the main road, but it was practically the only way out of here. It’s clear now that Mercer knew that and told them just where to look for us. I simply never imagined he’d be able to get police in on this.
“Let’s get out,” I say, not knowing what else to do, but finding that complying is always best. I push the door open and Ari slips out and skirts under the car before the officer even notices him. I put my hands up, careful to move slowly and very blatantly show that I am of no concern.
Rowan and Graham get out, following after me, but Scott’s in no position to get out and it doesn’t look like Gina is planning on moving.
“No, you don’t understand,” Gina says, voice cracking as she looks around desperately. I know she’s hoping for me to help, but I’m just not sure what to do when up against law enforcement. “I don’t know who contacted you, but they were the ones who abducted me. They kept me for six months. I couldn’t get out. My husband and these guys came to save me. Please, we need to go.”
The officer stoops down to get a good look at her. “Then why didn’t you call into us when you got free? Why didn’t you alert the police you’d been abducted? Why didn’t your husband put in a missing person report six months ago? I need you to get out of the car,” the man says sternly as another steps up behind me and knocks into the back of my knees.
“Get on the ground,” this one says.
I willingly drop to my knees as he forces my hands behind my head. I nod at Graham, who instantly drops even though I can see the reluctance on his face.
“Sir, I’m working with the West County Tactical Tracking Team,” Rowan says. “The man in the passenger seat is Nathan Scott, the head of the tracking team. I can assure you we didn’t abduct anyone. It’s our job to find them.”
“Let’s see some IDs and licenses,” the first officer says, and I notice he doesn’t force Rowan to the ground like Graham and me because he thinks he’s human—even more reason to keep his hair dyed.
“I’ll need to get it out of the back of the car,” Rowan says as he points. I’m surprised Rowan has his ID on him, telling me he must have grabbed it when we’d stopped at the village to figure out where everyone was.
Gina’s still refusing to get out, which is clearly irritating the third officer who grabs for her door. She must have locked it because he’s now shouting at her to unlock the door. It also means Rowan can’t get his ID.
“This woman was kept against her will for six months. She’s terrified you’re going to send her back, so please stop harassing her. Let’s explain things to her, and I assure you she’ll come out,” Rowan says, voice calm as Talon stands watchfully by his side.
The officer doesn’t seem to care how calm Rowan’s being. “Kept where? If all of this is true, then why wasn’t it reported to us sooner?” he asks.
“Because it deals with shifters, and it’s clear how the police would treat shifters,” Rowan says as he waves to me and Graham. “Quite often, injustice has forced shifters into taking matters into their own hands.”
The officer who’d been hanging out near his patrol car reaches inside and grabs a radio. The others are so busy staring at Graham and me that they don’t even notice Gina crawling into the front seat. Her eyes catch mine a moment before she mouths what looks like “I’m sorry” and takes off.
Ari, who’d been under the car, looks a bit startled now that he’s out in the open as we all watch in awe as Gina whips the car past the police cars and takes off down the lone road leading to the highway.
“Well, fuck,” Graham growls.
“Well fuck is right,” I say before looking over at Rowan as the officers try to decide what they’re going to do. Go join a car chase with a woman and her dying husband who they assumed they were saving or stay here and pin us to the ground a little harder.
They decide to send one pair off and leave the other two here while they wait for backup. And as their tires squeal, I nearly miss the sound of something coming from the trees behind us. It startles me enough that I whip my head around just in time to see a large shifter tackle the first officer to the ground. The other doesn’t even get a chance to do anything before he’s on him.
“Don’t kill them!” I yell at Emery, the mutated shifter, who is busy slamming the officer onto the ground with a large paw, sharp nails extended. Graham shifts and instead of waiting around or helping Emery, he takes off at a run while urging me to follow.
At least that’s what I assume he’s doing since I can’t talk to him when he’s in his wolf form and I’m in my human form.
I hesitate, but if Mercer has the officers here to stop us, there’s only one way I’m getting out of this mess and that’s at a run.
“Shift,” I tell Rowan before ditching my clothes and shifting quickly into my wolven form. Rowan is more hesitant, he doesn’t want the officers to see he’s not quite as human as they thought, but he has nothing to worry about because there are no eyes on Rowan, they’re all on Emery who looks like a monster from a child’s nightmare.
It takes Rowan a moment longer to shift than me, but he’s fast and quickly catches up with Graham.
“Emery, come on,” I urge, and the shifter leaps off the officers and dashes into the tree line before disappearing. For a moment, I wonder if he’s left us completely before I see him about ten feet ahead sniffing around.
I still don’t know how well I can trust Emery when he is one of Mercer’s creations, but I’m not going to leave him behind. He’d escaped Mercer’s grasp but also tried killing Rowan and me a couple of times, which furthered our distrust. He claims it was because he thought Rowan was Brennan, Rowan’s older brother. Emery does seem eager to help, if tackling the police to the ground is any indication.
“This is why I hate humans. They’re selfish. They’re assholes. She just fucking drove off and left us,” Graham says as he stomps around in his wolf form which is much boxier than mine. He looks like a gray wolf with darker hair on his back that fades to white the closer down his body it goes.
While in this form, we can hear each other speak within our minds, but if one of us was in our human form and the other was shifted, we wouldn’t be able to hear each other mentally. The only exception to that is Rowan and me, but I can’t tell why, unless it has to do with being mates.
“You can’t blame her for being terrified they were going to take her back,” I say.
Ari, who is my closest friend besides my brother, makes a displeased noise as he trots up to me. “She nearly ran me over! I was nearly roadkill! My beautiful face would have been a pancake!” Ari is also delightfully—his words, definitely not mine—dramatic, which I feel like he gained through being small and cute. Basically, he’s allowed to get away with everything which has led him to having some sassiness.
I ignore both of them and their drama as I look over at the newest member of our pack. “Emery, where’d you come from?” I ask, since he most definitely hadn’t been in our car. He’d wanted to be in our car, but I didn’t want to split up from Graham or Rowan, which led to him going into a different car which he was very displeased about. I think the other victims—pack members—in the car were also displeased and a little terrified.
“The car you forced me into,” he says.
“Were you the only one that got out?” I ask, concerned that something had happened.
“I heard about the roadblock and came to help,” he says. “If you die or get taken back, you’re useless to me.”
He skirts around Graham like he doesn’t want to get near him and dodges Ari before walking toward me and Rowan.
“What are we doing now?” Graham asks as he warily stares at Emery who warily stares back.
“We were less than half an hour away by car, but we have no way to contact the rest of our pack until we get there. They don’t know where the pride is since we didn’t predict we’d get separated like this. So for now, we’re going to run there, then try to figure out how to get the others there. They can’t be far behind,” I say.
“Gina was literally our key to this,” Rowan says as he looks over at me. The only issue about being a snow leopard in the middle of a forest is that he stands out quite a bit with the lack of snow. But I’m sure it’ll take them a while before they figure out what’s happening and send anyone out to retrieve us. It’s a good thing Rowan never managed to give them his ID, so they have little information on us besides my name.
Hopefully, by the time they figure anything out, we’ll be long gone.