I was thankful for the half-empty bottle of vodka that I had hidden under the passenger seat. I’d brought it a couple of weeks back in an attempt to force myself asleep because I had been too long without it at that point. It hadn’t helped much, but it was helping now. My mind was starting to grow spacey from the couple of long sips I’d taken when I’d stopped to fill up my gas tank. I reached down to turn up my radio, singing along loudly and totally out of tune.
My eyes drifted from the road to the Vodka bottle nestled against my leg. The temptation to take another drink nagging at me. I shook away the reckless impulse – when I got to the next town when I was sure I was safe, I would drink myself into a stupor.
I caught movement out of my peripheral. A shadow lunging toward the highway. I lifted my gaze just as the deer jumped out into the road. Time seemed to slow down, making my reactions appear even slower. I sucked in a surprised breath as I swerved to avoid it, clipping its hind quarter with the left side of my bumper. I felt the impact reverberate up my arms and into my body, pushing me back into my seat as I slammed my break, skidding to stop on the side of the road. My heart was racing and my knuckles were white from how hard I was gripping the steering wheel. It took a moment for me to turn and look, afraid I would find the poor animal smeared across the road.
I let out a small breath of relief when I found the highway empty. I closed my eyes and dropped my forehead to the back of my hand. I was a mess and seriously needed to get myself under control.
I got out of my truck, grabbing my revolver from the passenger seat and tucking into the waistband of my jeans. I didn’t want to take any chances – it was dark, I was alone, and Silas was out there somewhere just waiting for the perfect opportunity. I slammed the door closed as I walked toward the front of my truck, frowning as I examined the damage. My left headlamp had been broken, a nice dent in the bumper, and a there was a bit of fur and blood on the grille. It could’ve been worse but the fact that it happened at all irritated me. My funds were starting to run low again but I’d have to get this fixed. The last thing I needed was a cop to pull me over.
As I walked back toward the driver’s door I noticed that the back end was sitting low – too low. I muttered a curse under my breath as I stomped my way toward the tailgate. The tire was definitely flat. Luckily, this was something I had prepared for. I hoisted myself onto the back of my truck, grabbing my jack, and lug wrench. I set them down on the ground next to the problem tire – and stared. I had never changed a tire before, well not by myself. I’m sure I could probably remember if I tried.
I turned my head, glaring into the shadows the hung just outside of the glow of my headlamps. I had to be about a half-mile past the bar where I had met Rhys, stuck by the side of the road, trying to rectify the situation I had gotten myself into. I was too proud to walk to the bar and ask for help. I figured someone might recognize me or say something to Rhys and then I’d look even more like an idiot – which at this point seemed pretty impossible.
There was no helping it. I squatted down and began to work at loosening the wheel. I turned at the sound of a car, headlights blinding me for a moment. My hand reached for the gun tucked in my waistband on instinct as it slowed and pulled up behind my truck. A door opened and closed then a silhouette came into my view. A tall man with dark hair and dark eyes stood looking down at me, he looked a little unkempt and considering the time and the direction he’d come, I figured he must have just finished his night at the bar.
“Everythin’ okay miss?”
I relaxed my grip, letting my hand fall to my side. I readjusted my shirt but remained alert. “Yeah. Just a flat tire, as you can see.”
The good Samaritan stepped closer, making a thoughtful sound with his throat. “It looks to be givin’ you some trouble.”
“That’s my luck recently,” I grumbled as I slapped a hand against it.
“Mind if I give it a try? I work at the garage here in town.”
“By all means—” I stood up and stepped aside. Maybe my luck was changing. The man met my eyes for a moment. There was something calculating about his gaze that sent a chill slithering into my bones. I forced myself to give him a grateful smile as I took another step back. I watched as he took up loosening the tire a bit before placing the jack under the car. He was definitely moving faster than I would’ve.
“I don’t think I’ve seen you around these parts before. Name’s Allen.” He pulled the flat tire free and leaned it up against the side of my truck.
“Mary.” I used one of my alter-egos. “And I’m just passing through really – it’s a lovely town from what I’ve seen. A great place for a camping get-a-way. Might have to come back.”
“So, you’re headed out of town already? That’s a shame.” He wiped his hands against his jeans as he stood up.
I pursed my lips at his comment. There was a forcefulness to his assumption that didn’t sit right with me like he was saying one thing but meaning the opposite. Still, I knew well enough to play along with the game. Appearing to be fragile always worked in my favor, it made people underestimate me. “Why is that a shame?”
“It’s hard to meet pretty girls in these parts that ain’t related to you in some fashion or aren’t already taken.” He smiled – almost too big. “You ain’t taken, are you Mary?”
I forced myself to feign embarrassment, ducking my head as laughed softly and took another step away. “I wouldn’t say I am.”
“But someone else might, I take it.”
I stiffened, lifting my face to meet his gaze. The grin on his face was predatory, his eyes shrewd. My trigger finger was beginning to itch. “I really should be getting back on the road soon...”
“Of course. People are always sayin’ I talk too much.”
I popped my tailgate and he came around the back. I tried to ignore how my stomach turned as he invaded my space when leaned over and grabbed the spare tire, hoisting it into his arms with little effort. I kept my gaze focused on his back as turned from me and got to work putting it on the empty wheel stud. He tightened the lug nuts, dropped the truck back down, put the hubcap back in place and he did it all at a speed that backed-up his earlier comment of working in a garage. I’m sure changing a tire was as easy as breathing for him.
“Well, that’ll do it.” Allen rose up, meeting my gaze. I gave him a thankful smile.
“Thank you so much for your help, Allen. I don’t know where I’d be if you hadn’t come along...” I grabbed onto the flat, rolling it to the back. I squatted down and grabbed onto the tire, struggling to lift it. Callous hands were suddenly cradling mine, a hard chest pressed into my back. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as Allen stood pressed against me, helping to lift the tire.
“Careful with that.” His hot breath moistened my skin. I would’ve dropped the tire if it weren’t for the pressure he was applying to my fingers. I swallowed hard as we set the tire down on the tailgate.
“You’re hurting me...”
“Oh, I’m sorry.” He pulled back and I took the opportunity to put as much distance between us as possible. I tried to steady my racing heart. “Don’t know my own strength sometimes.”
“That’s okay...” I murmured, placing my hand on my stomach just above my revolver. Bad feelings were turning it sour.
“I’m sorry it took me so long.” A familiar voice cut off Allen and had me turning with surprise. I found Xavier standing near Allen’s car, looking like he had raided a goodwill bin. The shirt he was wearing was a pink polo two sizes too big. He was still in the shorts that Rhys had given him, and flip-flops. I would have laughed if I hadn’t been so uncomfortable in my current situation.
“That’s okay. Allen was good enough to help me.” I played along, narrowing my eyes. Where had he come from? How had he known where to find me? Had Rhys sent him? Whatever the reasons, I was relieved to have a familiar face. Better the devil I knew than the devil I didn’t.
Xavier approached Allen. “I appreciate that.”
“Of course.” It was hard to tell if he was sneering or smiling as he shifted a step towards his car. He met my gaze again. “You’ll want to get this to the shop as soon as possible.”
“Don’t worry, we will,” Xavier remarked, walking to me and wrapping an arm around my shoulders. I tensed a bit, and my skin crawled at the contact but I forced myself to appear relaxed. Allen looked between the two of us, appearing more confused as time passed. Finally, he nodded his head and turned from us, got into his car and drove away. We both watched as he went, holding smiles and waving like we had gained a new friend. When the lights of his car disappeared from view Xavier released me and I heaved a sigh of relief.
“Are you okay?”
I glared at him. I pushed away from my truck and walked towards the driver’s side. I could feel his gaze following me as I opened the door and snatched the bottle of Vodka. I unscrewed the cap and drank deeply from the bottle. I let the burn settle on my tongue, in my throat, and in my stomach. My eyes were watering when I pulled it away from my lips, and I felt like I was breathing fire. And yet, I couldn’t find the will to care
I turned to Xavier watching as he put away the jack and the lug wrench, closing up my tailgate. He was an enigma. I wanted to know why he had helped me. I doubted it was out of the goodness of his heart.
I took another swig from my bottle, meeting his gaze as I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. “It’s an awful coincidence for you to just happened to stumble upon me.”
He gave me a guilty smile before looking away. There was no explanation – not that I needed one. I knew well enough what had happened. He’d waited around to see how I would react and when I had stormed out – he had followed. Xavier was a clever man. Most werewolves that I had met were more feral or focused on the brute strength that came with being what they were. That didn’t seem to be the case with Xavier, though I had no doubt he was just wild beneath his human exterior.
“I’m sorry about how things went back at the house—”
I scoffed cutting off whatever staged apology he planned to give me. “Oh, don’t pretend to be innocent. You knew what you were doing.”
“It wasn’t my original plan.” That was as much of an actual apology I expected to get.
I tipped the bottle of vodka back. “Now, that I believe.”
“Maybe I can help you—”
“If you want to help...” I didn’t care at the moment. I just wanted to get the hell away from this town and forget about Rhys. “Be my designated driver and take me to the nearest motel. I’ll sort everything else out when I get there.”
He weighed my comment before nodding his head. “Alright. I owe you that much.”
I must have passed out in the truck because I was being snatched up out of the seat, that much I knew.
The fog lifted from my mind at the feeling of strong hands wrapping around my arms. My eyes fluttered open as a scream lodged a bubble of air in my throat. I squinted my eyes open, then squeezed them shut, the bright sunlight flooding my pupils. The burning sensation causing them to tear up.
My feet were placed on solid ground, my eyes focusing on the sight of a strong looking male. The left side of his face was mangled by burn scars, apparently, there were some things that even immortal creatures couldn’t heal from. His hair was buzzed short on the side with the burns, but longer on the rest. His eyes were the color of pitch, it was impossible to see his pupil within the darkness. He pulled me away from the car, and I found myself struggling to stay on my feet. My stomach was a mass of nerves, on verge of vomiting everything that I had consumed hours ago.
I surveyed the small group behind him, they all wore similar expressions. None of them looked all that pleased, frowns and scowls warping attractive features. I assumed that they were all from the same pack, their attention focused on the man that was holding onto me. I spotted Xavier standing off to the side, near a pregnant woman with deep red waves. I didn’t know these people or what they planned to do with me. But I had obviously made a mistake in trusting Xavier.
What if they planned to turn me over to Silas?
I bit my lip, tasting blood.
The man didn’t even spare a glance in my direction as he started forward with his limping gait.
“What is going on?” I asked, dragging my feet. “Who are you, people?”
It was the sound of tires rolling quickly over gravel that had me tossing a look back over my shoulder, terrified as to who I would find. I was relieved the sight of Rhys Camaro speeding to a stop behind my truck.
He had come for me, even after I had promised to shoot him.
I frowned at my own thoughts. Why should I be relieved? Rhys was a liar and I was in the process of being kidnapped.
Rhys was wearing a vicious sneer as he practically threw himself out of his car. “You must be an idiot, Xavier. You came into my territory, then I entertained your company when I had every right to kill you, and you try to take from me?”
Xavier stepped forward. “This was the only way to get you to speak with Kendrick.”
Rhys let out a snarl, pointed a claw-like finger in his direction. “I’m going to kill you first.”
The man holding me let out a bitter laugh. “You’ve always been a hot head, leaping without thinking about the consequences.”
Rhys switched his attention to my captor, his gaze softened for a moment as he looked me over before filling up with rage. “Alpha Kendrick, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll release her and maybe I won’t kill you and your pack.”
I frowned. Rhys was not a negotiator.
“I don’t want to hurt your female and as long as you cooperate, Rhys, I won’t,” Kendrick replied flatly, tightening his grip on my arm. I didn’t understand the extent of their connection but from the deadly expression on Rhys’s face, I suspected that they weren’t friends. I was really beginning to wonder about the skeletons in his closet, they seemed nearly as dangerous as my own.
“You really don’t want to provoke me. I’ve had a long day.” He growled, body vibrating under the force of his contained rage. “I suggest you release her before you make me angrier than I already am.” I felt like I was standing on the edge of a cliff, barely hanging on, at any moment a small breeze could throw me over.
“I will let her go only after you listened to all I have to say and not a moment sooner,” Kendrick responded, not flinching under Rhys heavy glare. I was certain that he was ready to explode and destroy anyone that tried to keep him from me, but when his eyes met mine his expression softened, again. I think it was the first time he had taken the time to realize the situation I was actually in. It would be so easy for Kendrick to hurt me – kill me – if he wanted.
Rhys’s lips curled up into a sneer as he surveyed the small group. “She is innocent...”
Kendrick turned to look down at me. I glowered up at him from under my lashes, taking in the darkness and pain that lashed out at me from his gaze. He had obviously been through something horrible that had left him physically disfigured. Who knew what other scars that lay within him, ones that weren’t as visible.
He turned his attention back to Rhys. “And so was my Maya, but that didn’t seem to matter to you or your father.”
Rhys let out a hopeless sound. “Fine. What do you want from me?”
Who was Maya? What did this have to with Rhys’s father? It felt like Pandora’s box had been opened and all of Rhys’s secrets were catching up with him.
“Not here,” Kendrick replied, nodding his head toward the other cars before he dragged me along beside him.
“Don’t worry, as long as Rhys doesn’t try anything stupid you’ll both walk out of here without any more trouble.” He whispered down to me before handing me over to Xavier. I had a feeling that the man beside me was more like a wounded animal than some kind of hardened monster that truly wanted to cause me harm.
“Keep your eyes open. I don’t doubt for a second that Rhys came here alone.” He said before walking to the car behind us, the same one that Rhys was being escorted to.
I met his green eyes for a moment, a thousand things being communicated between the two of us. My fear and relief warring with one another, as I was pulled up into the car. Xavier sat next to me. “I’m sorry about that back there. I didn’t want to do that to you but I saw an opportunity and It was necessary to get Rhys to come here.”
I cast a glare in his direction. I didn’t want to hear his excuses. He had betrayed me and only further proved that I couldn’t trust anyone. Rhys and I had been duped, me more than anyone. I clenched my teeth together as I turned my face away, staring out the window as we pulled away from the shoulder, driving away to an unknown fate.