When they reached the bridge, it was still light enough to see easily. Working together, they climbed the structure supporting the two-lane highway bridge over the river fifty feet below. Donald placed the charges at critical connection points for the girders, and detonation cord was used to connect the four charges so they would go at the same time. The girders would shear and the center third of the bridge would collapse into the river below, taking anyone on the bridge with it.
It had taken them twenty minutes to set the charges. Donald finished up by attaching a blasting cap to the detonation cord, then connected the wire to it. Travis walked up the hillside on their side of the river, carefully unrolling the wire, while Donald hid the wire from the sharp wolf eyes that were coming. When Travis found a sheltered space among the rocks with a good view of the bridge and valley below, they did the final preps. The hand detonator was attached and set on top of the rock. “Travis, I need you to be my eyes for this. Stay alert, because they could come at any time.”
Travis nodded, his eyes were already scanning for any activity as the night came in. “I’ve got it, Beta. I won’t let them pass.”
“Make sure everyone is kept up to date, and when the first Salmon wolf crosses the border at the center of the bridge, you blow the whole thing. Don’t stick around to see what happens. I want you back in the safe room.” He put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, knowing that he was asking a lot of him. “Keep your head down.”
“Yes, sir.” He watched as Donald shifted back to his large wolf and took off for home, knowing he still had a lot of work to do.
An hour later, Donald finished up wiring his homemade Claymores in the streets when the warning came from Derek. “Everyone, I’ve got activity along the access road, about a mile from the bridge. I can see one wolf, moving fast towards us.”
The Alpha broke in. “This is it, folks, I want everyone in the safe room or protecting the safe room now. Travis, you’re up. As soon as you blow the bridge, you run back here.” The Pack had known this was coming, and so they moved quickly to shelter. Donald finished his work and took his position up on the rooftop, three detonators for the three different choke points in front of him.
“Donald, the first one is almost to the bridge. I can’t see anyone following yet.” Travis’ voice betrayed his nervousness. “You still want me to blow it for just one?”
“Yes, it could be an advance scout. You have your instructions, as soon as he crosses onto our territory you blast it.”
“OK, it won’t be long now. He’s slowing down; he’s just walking now, just reached the bridge.” You could feel the tension over the Pack bond, very few in the Pack had ever been part of a war, as the Alphas had maintained good relations for decades.
“He’s walked to the center of the bridge; he’s just sitting down, sniffing the air.” The wolf looked up and let out a loud howl, then shifted.
Travis was shaking as his thumb rubbed over the button. “It’s Tom!”
The news over the Pack link caused Alpha Calvin to freeze. “He shifted?”
“Yes, Alpha. He stopped at the border, howled once then shifted. Now he’s just sitting there.” Travis looked down briefly, taking his thumb off the trigger for now. Looking back up, he saw Tom, a man he had known for years since he worked with some North Fork pack members at times, tilting his head trying to hear if anyone would reply. “He’s waiting, that was a hailing howl, should I answer?”
“Yes, see what he wants,” the Alpha replied.
Donald joined in. “Travis, don’t leave your post and your orders haven’t changed. If he isn’t hostile, he will stay where he is and not shift back, all right?”
“Yes, Beta.” Travis stood up, keeping the detonator in his hand but his fingers off the button, he yelled back down. “TOM! REMAIN WHERE YOU ARE AND DO NOT SHIFT OR YOU WILL BE TAKEN OUT.”
Tom located him immediately and was shocked at the reception. “Travis? What’s going on? I need to speak to Alpha Calvin, can you take me to him?”
“I have a message from Alpha Reggie.”
There was silence on the link for a few seconds before Alpha Calvin broke in. “Ask him what happened to Alpha Richard.” Travis passed the question along.
“He’s dead. Listen, a lot is happening now, Reggie and Josi are now the Alphas, and they need your help.”
There was silence for a moment before Donald piped up. “What do you think, Boss?”
“I think you both need to stay in place; I’ll go talk to him. Travis, tell him to stay put, I’ll be there in about twenty minutes. Donald, since there is no imminent attack, I’m going to let the Pack leave the shelters, but I don’t want anyone getting too far away from them, just in case. Eric, Derek, you’re with me. Your mates stay here.”
Reggie had a lot on his mind, but concentrating was difficult while his Josi was going through the change fever. He checked on her again, using a damp rag to cool her brow, knowing that he should be elsewhere.
Sundown was rapidly approaching, and it was time to brief the messengers.
The five going to the southern Packs were easy; they would go from Pack to Pack, at least two of them always together for safety. Reggie handed each group a letter of introduction, also summarizing the events and decisions they had made in Salmon regarding the humans, and inviting them to an Alpha Summit. He smiled as they said their goodbyes, then he went to talk to Tom.
He had the shortest run, but in some ways, it was the most crucial. They were sure that Alpha Calvin knew something about Richard’s feelings on humans, and he had no way to know about Reggie’s assumption of the Alpha position. The protocol would be for the new Alpha to formally introduce himself as he visits his Pack with my Luna, but that wasn’t happening. Josi and the other humans were still changing, and Reggie had to be here for when they started to shift.
“Should I get Abigail and Silvia to come back with me, Alpha?” Tom’s eyes betrayed his desires; he liked the spirit that Abigail had brought and hoped he could convince her to stay in their Pack.
“You can make clear they are welcomed, and we would love for them to return, but in the end, it’s their decision.” Reggie looked out at the mountains, the stars coming out above them. “I know our kids will be disappointed if Autumn doesn’t return. Those three were thick as thieves together.”
“Yeah, I saw that. I’m glad they get along, and I’m also glad that Autumn accepted she would change so well.” He watched as the northern lights danced across the sky, none of them had ever seen such a show. They covered half the sky, the colors swirling and dancing. “She should start getting the fevers soon.”
“Remind them that they need to stay near an Alpha, whatever they decide. A young child like that making her first shift, we want it to go well.” Reggie thought for a while. “Since we don’t know what they know of what has happened here, prepare for the worst. Josi said that they knew of the danger from Richard, that he might attack the humans. Treat this like we are at war, and approach under a flag of truce. Stop at the Pack boundary, howl and shift until they speak to you.”
Tom nodded. “Works for me, I don’t want to see anyone else get hurt. What a clusterfuck this last day has been.” He started to strip, folding the clothes and putting them in the satchel he would wear in wolf form. “What’s the latest on Rachel?”
“She’s almost cleared to leave the bed. She’s not real happy with Marcus. He wanted to give her higher doses of painkillers so she could rest, and she didn’t want to be all drugged up because it might affect the baby. Both are doing fine now, he said. He wishes his ultrasound still worked, but everything with the baby still sounds normal.” Tom had finished packing and shifted, and Reggie put the satchel in place. “Have a good run, Tom.” The grey and white wolf howled once, then took off at a run for the north.
Tom settled into a comfortable pace, moving along the river as he passed through Salmon and continued north. Once the riverbanks got thick, he moved to the highway. There wasn’t much to see, but the smell was getting bad. Humans, animals, everything that had died was putrefying. It made him gag at times. Even humans would find it disgusting. Breathing through his mouth as much as he could, he focused on his pace and his surroundings.
It wasn’t that long until he was approaching the bridge that marked the dividing line between the Pack territories. He hadn’t smelled any other wolves yet, but the southerly breeze would keep him from picking them up until he was right on top of them. He slowed down as he got to the bridge, then trotted slowly until he was at the center. He sat down, then let out a loud howl. In wolf language, it was a greeting; he listened, and was disappointed he didn’t hear an answer. Shifting, he pulled off the satchel and opened it, bringing out shorts and a T-shirt and putting them on.
Nothing happened for a while, but then there was a voice. “TOM! REMAIN WHERE YOU ARE AND DO NOT SHIFT OR YOU WILL BE TAKEN OUT.”
“I guess that answers the question on whether they think we are hostile,” Tom thought. He looked up at where the voice came from, in the moonlight he could make out Travis, a wolf he had met several times before. “Travis? What’s going on? I need to speak to Alpha Calvin, can you take me to him?”
“I have a message from Alpha Reggie.” He waited for an answer, but it was just another question, what had happened to Alpha Richard. “He’s dead. Listen, a lot is happening now, Reggie and Josi are now the Alphas, and they need your help.”
He waited a bit more to get his answer; Alpha Calvin was coming to talk to him. “Fine, I’m going to sit down and have a snack then.”
“Stay on your side of the bridge, Tom. I have my orders.”
He nodded and moved back to where the bridge started, but he would remain in sight. Pulling out a water bottle and some beef jerky from his satchel, he sat on the guardrail and waited.
A few minutes later, Silvia left the safe room with the rest of the Pack members, thankful that it was over because Michelle had dropped a bomb in her diaper a few minutes earlier. “Abigail, can you take Zach with you to breakfast? I need to get her changed.”
“Sure, Silvia.” She headed for the picnic area where the kitchen help was going to set up for a pancake feed, holding Autumn in one hand as Zach took the other. Silvia moved slowly towards the hotel room; she had been given a small flashlight since she didn’t have the night vision the wolves had. She changed her daughter and put her In fresh clothes. She put her in the baby carrier before grabbing her diaper bag.
Leaving the room, her flashlight illuminated the door to the room next door, and it was open. Focusing the light on it, she watched as the wind banged it against the stop, then again. “I wonder who forgot to close this?” She walked over and reached for the handle, just as another wind gust blew past her. A piece of paper was caught up and it skittered across her feet before going outside. She stomped on it with her feet, then reached down and picked it up. Setting her daughter down, she was almost to the desk inside while returning it when her eyes caught what the writing on the outside.
Her hands trembling, she looked at the name for a few seconds before opening it up and reading.
“My dear Silvia,
If you are reading this, I didn’t make it. Do not grieve for me, I’ve lived a good life and I died protecting my Pack and protecting you and your children. It was my fate.
I love you. I’ve loved you since I first got your scent on the road and recognized you were my mate.”
She froze, dropping the paper to the ground as she slid down the wall, stopping when she was sitting on the threshold of the room. Mate? MATE? She knew what it was, what it meant, but she shook her head. It couldn’t be. Picking up the paper, she continued.
“I was blessed by Luna with you, a woman of strength and beauty, with a family I would have been proud to call my own. I only regret that I did not tell you. I know what you have been through and it wasn’t time to add on to that, but know that everything I did from that moment was with you in mind.
I’ll never know what it feels like to hold you in my arms.
I want you to be happy, to raise your family to be strong and loving, to have every opportunity at a good life. I have no other family, so I want you to have my house and my possessions as your own. I hope you stay here, the Alphas and the Pack will take care of you now.
Know that I died thinking of you, my love, my mate.
Her hand went to her mouth as she stared at the words. Donald, that big, scary, lonely old man who was so upset about her story? That Donald thought SHE was his mate.
She sat there for a few minutes composing herself, then she stood up and put the letter in the pocket of her jeans. Closing the door behind her, she picked up her daughter and went to the park.
Luna Kelly was the first to note her emotional state as she reached the tables where the Pack was starting to sit down for breakfast. “Silvia, are you all right?” She almost ran over to sit by her, her arms reaching to hug her shoulders as her new friend broke down completely. Abigail came over and took her other side, taking Michelle out of her car seat as she started to fuss. They both waited until her sobbing started to slow down, while the rest of the Pack maintained a concerned but respectful distance.
Kelly talked her through controlling her breathing, and a minute later, she could talk. “Donald… it’s Donald.”
“What? Did something happen?” Luna Kelly sent out over the Pack link for Donald; he said he was fine and was in place on top of the roof still. She told him to get relieved and get his butt down to the park. His mate needed him.
“No, I need to talk to him. He said some things. They CAN’T be right. It’s not possible.” She started to cry again. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out a photo of her family. It had was taken at Michelle’s baptism. She was holding her in her dress, and her son was hugging her waist on one side while her husband David stood proudly behind her. Touching him with her finger, she started to wail again. Kelly held her tight and rocked her.
A few minutes later, Donald ran into the park, stopping on the other side of the picnic table as he took in the scene. His gut twisted as he felt her pain and saw her distress. He shook his head. He was a warrior for thirty years, a veteran of battles large and small, a man with no fear of death, yet watching his mate cry was ripping his heart out of his chest. He stood there, looking at his Luna and wondering what was going on until she turned and looked at him.
As soon as her watery eyes met his, the mate bond pulled him to her. Moving quickly to her side, he took the place that Abigail vacated. She didn’t move towards him, so he fought off his wolf’s desire to carry her away to his house and make her his. She needed a gentler touch. He held his hand out to her, both of them looking at it before she placed her hand in his. She almost pulled away as a tingle moved up her arm. When she realized it was a pleasant sensation, she left it there. Somehow it felt right even though it was so wrong.
“We need to talk.” The four words every male hates to hear, the warning of an emotional minefield in a relationship.
He gulped down his thoughts and forced a smile. “Walk with me?” She looked at Abigail, she nodded and patted Michelle, and Kelly encouraged her as well. He stood up, still holding her hand, and she looked in his eyes again before standing up with him. “We can’t go far, but we can walk along the river here. The Luna will keep everyone else away so we can have our privacy.” She nodded as he led her along the path; the moon had just risen, making it a little easier for her to see. She was a little jealous of his wolf vision; she knew he could see everything.
When they reached the river, she stopped and faced him. Dropping his hand, she almost grabbed it again; somehow it didn’t feel right to let him go. She reached into her pocket and pulled out the letter. “What is this?”
His eyes bugged open as he recognized it; taking a deep breath and letting it out, he took her hand back in his and looked deep into her eyes. “It’s the truth.” She looked down at the letter again. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for you to find out like this. I wanted to tell you myself after I’d had a chance to get to know you. I didn’t know what would happen tonight, but I knew if there were an attack, I would die before I let them hurt you. I couldn’t go into a battle without letting you know how important and loved you are.”
“You’ve seen me for what, thirty minutes? We’ve barely talked. How can you be so sure?” She looked at his hand; his callused thumb was rubbing gentle circles on the back of her hand, causing a heat she’d never felt that went all the way to her core.
“I know you are destined to be with me. I knew it as soon as I smelled you on the road.” She shook her head no, but he squeezed her hand and continued. “You were there when Josi found her mate? What happened there?”
She closed her eyes and thought about it. “They just knew, and a few seconds later, he was kissing the life out of her.”
“That’s how it works for us. If I hadn’t known what you had been through, it would have been the same. I just knew that you weren’t ready, so I held my wolf back.” He led them over to a bench by the river and pulled her down next to him. “You’ve been through so much in the past few days. You lost your husband, your life, and you’re in a new reality. I know it will take time, and I promise you I’ll give you all the time you need.”
She looked out at the river for a few minutes. “What if I don’t want you?”
He froze, his wolf howling in the back of his mind. “You can reject me; it is your option. I will do my best, however long it takes or whatever I have to do, for you to love me and accept me.” He put his hand under her chin and gently moved her, so he was looking into her eyes. “I’ve waited my whole life for you, Silvia. All I wanted was a mate and a family, and with you, I will have both. All I ask is that you give me a chance.”
“I don’t know if I can love again, Donald.” She stood up and turned away from him. “The funeral pyre isn’t even cold yet for my husband. I can’t do this.” She walked back up the path, leaving him alone on the bench. He held back until she couldn’t see or hear him, then he put his face in his hands and broke down.
Kelly had been nervously waiting for Donald and Silvia to reappear, but the waves of despair she could feel coming from him now crushed her. When Silvia appeared- alone- from the trail, she knew it hadn’t gone well. She tried to put on a friendly face as the mate of her close friend came to her. “Silvia, is there anything I can do to help you out?”
Silvia sat next to her with a huff. “You can help me get home.”
Kelly’s mood instantly shifted, but she knew she had to maintain control. “Where is home?”
“Missoula.” She closed her eyes for a moment, and when she opened them, Kelly could see how determined she was. “My parents and brother are up there. If I can get some gasoline and food, I should be able to make it there by tomorrow night.”
“Silvia, when you came here we promised we would help you, and we will.” She closed her eyes and sent out directions via the pack link. “We will have your car filled up, and a couple of extra cans in the trunk, and we’ll pack some food and water for you. I don’t think it’s safe for you to be on the road alone.”
Silvia snorted. “I’m not taking Donald with me if that’s what you are thinking. I don’t need that man trying to force his way into my life. I need to get away from this.”
“Is it so bad you have to leave right now?” Kelly looked around at the park. “You are safe; you have help with your baby, your son is playing with other children. We have food and shelter, and you are welcome to stay as long as you want. Why be in such a hurry to leave?”
“I never planned to stay, Kelly. If not for the attack, I would have been home with the rest of my family. I need to get home. I need to know they are all right.” She spotted Zach playing with some of the other children, some in each form. “Zach, we’re going back to Grandma’s. Go back to the room and pack our stuff up, all right?” He nodded and ran off, and she got up to follow.
Kelly walked with her towards their motel room. “If I can’t talk you into staying, can I at least send someone along to keep you safe? Not Donald, but someone else?”
Silvia shook her head. “You don’t have to; I’ll be all right. I still have the firearms I brought with me, and there shouldn’t be that many people left on the road now.”
Kelly sent a mental link to Calvin, who was running down to the southern border. Getting his concurrence, she called for Mitch, one of the younger Pack warriors, to meet them. They reached the motel and Silvia knocked on Abigail’s door. She stayed outside while Abigail invited her friend in to talk.
Kelly used the time to talk over the bond. “Donald, Silvia has decided to leave tonight, she’s headed up to Missoula. She’s leaving within the hour.”
Donald’s reaction was fast and furious. “WHY? Oh, Luna, she can’t go back on the road, it’s too dangerous! Luna, you have to convince her to stay!”
“It’s too late for that, Donald. She’s going, and you’re part of the reason. The letter spooked her.”
Donald ran up to her, panic in his eyes. She moved away from the door and around the corner so they wouldn’t see him. “I know it’s dangerous, that’s why I’m sending you. She won’t let you drive with her, so I’m going to convince her to let Mitch ride shotgun with her. Meanwhile, you need to gear up and get on the road. We haven’t pushed out past our borders to the north yet, and you can tell us what is going on. Run in wolf form, make sure the road is clear of danger, and whatever you do, don’t let her know you are out there. She’s scared, Donald, I can see it in her eyes.”
“She’s my MATE. She has nothing to fear from me. I’ll never hurt her.”
“She will figure that out eventually, Donald, but right now she needs to get over the loss of her husband. Your job is to keep her safe until she’s ready.” Kelly gave him an encouraging hug. “Stay safe out there, Donald.”
“What about the Salmon Pack? I can’t leave with our Pack in danger.”
Kelly shook her head. “There is no danger. Calvin just linked me; he’s talking with Tom. It’s a long story, but Reggie and Josi are the Alphas now, and they aren’t our enemy.” She looked back at the parking lot; she could hear Abigail’s door opening. “Now go.” Donald smiled and ran off to his house; he needed to grab a pack of supplies and gear and get going. He was fast, but Silvia’s convertible was faster. He needed a head start.
She walked back around to the front, where Silvia was opening her door. “Is Abigail going too?”
“No, she’s staying. She knows Autumn will need the Pack to help with the change.” She held up a key and a note. “She did ask me to check on her house and her family in Corvallis. I can at least let them know she is all right and where she is.” Opening the door, she grabbed the first suitcase that Zach had finished packing.
As she was packing the car, Mitch ran up. He had just turned twenty and had the rugged build of a lumberjack. “Silvia, this is Mitch.”
“Hello, Ma’am.” Mitch held out his hand to her, and she looked at him before shaking it.
“I’d like you to let Mitch ride shotgun with you,” Kelly said.
“I don’t need a babysitter.”
“I know, but an extra pair of eyes and a rifle won’t hurt if you run into trouble. You’re doing us a favor.” She looked around at the surrounding mountains. “You see how isolated we are here, we don’t know what is going on in the bigger cities, or the Packs to our north. We planned to send messengers out to them anyway. He can catch a ride with you to Missoula, then run back.”
Silvia looked at them both, then nodded. “Fine, but you do what I tell you. If you don’t, I’ll leave you by the side of the road.”
“Fair enough,” Mitch said. “I need to pack my gear, and we should probably eat an early lunch before we hit the road. Leave in about an hour?”
“I suppose.” He ran off to pack, and Kelly went back to the picnic area to help set up for lunch.
After a quick lunch, they were saying their goodbyes. Surprisingly, it was Zach who was having the most trouble leaving. He had made friends and was sad to leave them behind. Silvia could see him holding back tears as he got in the back seat with his sister. “Mom, do we have to go?”
“Yes, baby. We need to go back to our family.” As she finished securing Michelle in her car seat, Mitch came around to the driver’s door. “What are you doing?”
“I’d like to drive.” She glared at him. “It makes sense. I know the roads, and my wolf vision can see better. It also leaves you free to take care of your family.” He watched as she considered it, then tossed him the keys.
“Don’t scratch it, David will…” She froze, tears coming to her eyes as she remembered her husband and his love for this car. Choking it down, she moved quickly around to the passenger side and jumped in, fastening her belt, all while not looking at anyone. “Let’s go.”
The classic car fired right up, and Mitch pulled out of the parking lot and onto Highway 93. The Pack members waved at them as they passed, all hoping that she would return and take her place next to Donald. The Luna had explained to the Pack what was going on. Born wolves couldn’t understand why anyone would deny the mate bond. Who would walk away from the person made just for them?
Mitch reached out with his link. “Donald, we’re just leaving town now. How are the roads?”
His response was weak; he was near the edge of their range. “So far, so good. There are a dozen vehicles on or near the road, but no people yet. Warn Silvia to keep Zach from looking around too much. After a few days in the sun, the bodies aren’t pleasant to look at or smell.”
“I’m surprised the vultures and varmints haven’t gotten to them already.”
“The radiation did a number on more than just humans. I haven’t seen an animal alive yet.” There was a pause. “I’ve got a good pace going, but I have to focus here. How the hell did I get stuck on road duty while you get to ride in the car?”
“I guess I’m less threatening.” He felt Donald’s irritation over the link. “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of them.”
“You better. My family is in your hands.” Donald reached the top of a hill and started down to the river valley again after a quick sniff and scan. “How is Silvia doing?”
“She’s kind of withdrawn right now. She slipped up and mentioned her husband’s name when talking about the car, and she’s been avoiding looking at me since. Michelle is sleeping, and Zach is trying to.”
Ten minutes later, Donald was working hard as he ran up to the next mountain pass. “Mitch, I’m just about to Sula. Have you made it to Gibbonsville yet?”
“We’re two miles out. Why?”
“Don’t stop, and tell the two of them not to look.”
A few minutes later, Mitch understood why and was glad for the warning. The small mountain town only had fifty residents, but in the summer, tourists doubled that number. The hotel and restaurant had burned to the ground. It must have been during the day because there were people everywhere on the roads and in the parking lot. They were blinded during the escape and didn’t get far. The smell was intolerable. He went as fast as he could through the no-stop-sign town, and let them know when it was all right to look up again.
Silvia took a glance behind, seeing the destruction. “No survivors?”
“No.” Mitch squeezed the steering wheel. “I had friends here, the kids from this town went to our high school. The ground is so rocky, none of the houses have basements; they are all built on piers or slabs. I guess there was no place to hide when the radiation came.” He looked back at the kids who were still sleeping. “That’s the last civilization for fifty miles until we get out of the Bitterroot Mountains. If you need a nap, go ahead.”
“No, I’m good.” She looked back, verifying to herself her kids were asleep before she looked at him. “Mitch, can you answer some questions for me?”
“Sure, I’d love to.”
“Do you have a mate?”
He looked down before his eyes went back to the road. “No, not yet. There was a girl I knew in high school, I prayed to Luna that she would be my mate, but when I came of age, there was nothing. I’ve searched the other packs since then, like the others my age.”
“You have to be a certain age to recognize your mate?”
“Yes. You know we have our wolves from birth, but until you hit puberty, you don’t gain the ability to recognize him or her. The lucky ones find their other half right away. Others wait and wait. Donald had been looking for thirty-seven years; he’d given up before he found you.”
She looked at her feet and thought for a moment. “How can he be so sure? I mean, I was married, I have kids, I loved my husband. He was supposed to be with me forever.”
Mitch tapped his fingers on the wheel as he thought of how to respond. “Your wolf knows immediately. It’s a gift Luna has given us so we can find each other. The scent of your mate, I hear that you recognize it immediately.” He looked at her, catching her eyes. “Luna doesn’t make mistakes. He IS your mate. All that other stuff? I don’t know. Maybe we don’t get to know. Humans are different than us; you get to know someone before you love and marry them. For us, we love our mate before we meet them because we know they will be perfect for us.”
“Other than the smell, how do you know?”
“You feel drawn to them. You and your wolf become extremely possessive and protective over them. When you touch your mate, pleasurable little shocks go through you. Your mate can sense your emotions and can calm you down with a simple touch. Watching my parents, you see how connected they are. It’s what I dream of having someday, that woman who is everything to me.”
Silvia closed her eyes, thinking back to when they met and she shook his hand. Tingles had run up her arm, she had to force herself to let go because it felt so good, and when she did, there was a sense of loss. Even now, she felt guilty for leaving him, like something was missing.
Maybe, she thought, maybe there was something to this. Then she started thinking about everything else that was going on, and she knew that she didn’t have time for this.
“Donald said that if I wanted to, I could reject him as a mate. What happens then?”
Mitch let out a breath slowly. “IF you were to reject him as your mate, the pull you now feel for him would go away. Since you are human, you could go on with your life as it was before.”
He didn’t say more, but she could tell he was hiding something. She thought about it for a while, then figured it out. “You said since I was human. What happens to a wolf whose mate rejects him?”
His eyes got wide, and he shook his head.
“No, Mitch, you tell me. What would happen to Donald?”
“Up until you meet your mate, you have that drive to find them. If they reject you, it’s just as if you were mated and your mate dies. A part of you dies with it. The loss, the pain, they can be too much; many cannot go on since their hope disappears. If they don’t kill themselves, they kind of waste away, and eventually their wolf loses his mind and has to be put down.”
Silvia mulled it over. “So I’m pushing him to suicide?”
“NO… not yet. You haven’t rejected him; you just haven’t accepted him. He and his wolf, they still have hope you will come back to him. It’s not easy, though. What you feel, it’s a thousand times stronger for him. The Alpha had to order him to stay away because his wolf didn’t want you to leave.” He looked over at her again. “Please, I’m begging you. Don’t reject him without giving him a chance. He’s a great man; he wants you and your children to be his own; he will never hurt you, never leave you. We all know that your life has gone to shit recently, but he will be there for you. He’ll always be there for you.” He put his eyes back on the road, hoping she would stop talking about rejection, it pained him and his wolf to see someone tossing aside the greatest gift any wolf can get.
It was a few minutes before Silvia spoke up again. “Would I have to become a wolf to be his mate?”
“No, you’re already his mate. I don’t know of any human who hasn’t taken the change, though. There are too many advantages to taking it; better health, longer life, strength, senses. Also, you can’t get a Pack link or mate link without being a wolf.”
“Yes, mental communication. It’s what allows us to communicate with each other in wolf form. With your mate, it’s more than just being able to talk into their mind and hear them. You can also feel their emotions, send each other mental pictures. It’s part of what makes mates so close. When you know how they feel there are no miscommunications.”
The drive had been going so well it was a shock to him when Donald linked him. “OK, you guys just passed me. Don’t get too far ahead, maybe stop before coming out of the mountains.”
Mitch linked right back. “That was quick, you’re getting slow old man.”
“Yeah, you try running fifty miles through the mountains when you’ve got thirty more years on you, pup.”
He drove on, leaving Silvia to her thoughts. When the driver’s side front tire blew, he was taken by surprise. Hitting the brakes, he fought to steer the car to the side of the road. There wasn’t much of a shoulder, and it dropped off sharply from there. He let out a breath when they came to a stop, the right front tire nearly off the road. “Everyone all right?” Silvia nodded, checking her kids, and Mitch started to get out of the car.
The shot startled them all, and Mitch fell backward, blood spraying from his shoulder as he rolled on the road.
The gunshot spurred Silvia into action. Bailing out the passenger side while yelling at Zach to get down, she moved to the rear passenger door. Pulling it open, she grabbed Zach and pulled him along the floor until he was out, then popped the release for the car seat carrier and pulled Michelle out as well. She quickly checked both over, and when she was satisfied they weren’t hurt, she handed the carrier to Zach. “Go down this hill and hide. Don’t come out until I get you. GO!” His eyes wide, he nodded and started to move down the slope.
Looking to her left, she saw Mitch had scrambled around the rear of the car. He was still drawing fire; his hand clutched the wound in his left shoulder.
“Can you fight?”
He nodded his head. “I can’t move my arm; shifting won’t help much.” He pulled his shirt off, wadding it up he held it to his injured shoulder.
She went back to the open passenger door and took the shotgun from next to the seat, then grabbed the Glock and the extra magazines that were in the door. She grumbled to herself as she moved along the hill towards him. She wished they had Rachel’s AR-15 instead of the two short-range weapons she had now. The muzzle flashes of the shooter were about fifty yards away, slightly uphill on the opposite side of the road. She handed the pistol to Mitch, knowing the shotgun was too much to use one-handed. “You protect my children. I’ll be back.”
Moving down the slope, she started to move closer to the shooter. Her ears were listening for any sound of movement, and she wished she had those enhanced wolf senses. The shots had stopped, so she had to guess when she had gone far enough. Crawling up the hill, she hid as best she could while taking another look.
The moon dimly illuminated the roadway. She was about a hundred feet in front of her car now. She saw the man, rifle in hand, moving along the other side of the road towards it. His focus was still on her car, which was running with the doors open and lights on. “COME OUT NOW, AND YOU WON’T GET HURT,” he yelled.
“Like hell,” she thought to herself. Taking the shotgun, she carefully aimed and waited for him to get close enough. When she knew she could hit him, she opened fire.
The first blast of buckshot hit him in the hip and leg, spinning him around and down. He fired off a shot as he fell, but Silvia racked the action and fired again. The bright muzzle flash ruined her night vision, so she fired two more shots along the road. After four shots in five seconds, she was startled when a bullet hit in front of her face, the asphalt bits spraying her as it dug in. It was another shooter!
She rolled back down the hill and ran towards her family to protect them. She heard a man scream before he was cut off by a loud growl. Ignoring the sounds, she moved towards where her son and daughter were hiding. Hugging Zach tightly, she picked up her daughter as tears rolled down her eyes.
“Silvia, are you all right?” Mitch called from up by the car. “They’re dead.”
“Good.” She stood up, shouldering the shotgun and taking her son’s hand so she could take them back up the hill. “Thanks for taking out that second guy.”
“That wasn’t me, Silvia.”
She was shocked when a large black and tan wolf licked her arm, then sat down. “Donald? What the hell are you doing here?”
He started to change, so she turned away. A few seconds later, the noise of the change stopped, and he stood behind her. “I’m keeping you safe. You are all right, aren’t you?” He could smell some blood on her.
“Yes, just some cuts and bruises.” She was starting to shake from the adrenaline dump. She wanted to be mad at him, to tell him to go away, but mostly she wanted him to hold her. Her mind fought the warring impulses as she set her daughter in the car seat, and her son got back in. Closing the rear door, she looked back at him, thankful that Mitch had tossed him a pair of shorts.
Tears started to flow. Donald moved to her, gathering her into his arms as her body stopped listening to her mind. He picked her up bridal style and pulled her closer. “I’ll always protect you, Silvia.” She nodded and buried her face against his broad chest.
There was nothing he wanted to do more than hold her like that forever, but Mitch couldn’t wait. He set her back in the passenger seat of the car, then moved back to check on his pack mate. “I don’t see an exit wound.”
Mitch nodded, gritting his teeth in pain. “I think it hit the joint. I can’t move it.” Taking his belt off, he used it to hold pressure on the shirt that was applying pressure to the wound.
Donald could see he was starting to go into shock. “Zach, come out of the car please.” When he was out, he laid Mitch down on the big back seat, lifting his legs over the baby carrier. Going to the trunk, he pulled out some duffel bags and used them to ensure his legs stayed elevated. He covered him with a blanket as he was going into shock. “Silvia, I need to change the tire. Can you keep an eye on Mitch?” She nodded.
“Come on, Zach, time for you to learn how to change a flat tire.” He led him back to the trunk, where they moved things around until they had the spare and the jack out. Donald was happy this was a classic car, as the tire was a full-size one, not the thin ones that modern cars came with.
Zach was glad to be helping instead of sitting. He was scared, and this was all too similar to the night his father died. Donald explained everything he was doing and let the boy do some himself; his natural curiosity and mechanical aptitude showed through. In ten minutes, the tire was done, and Zach was not scared anymore.
Donald checked on Mitch again as Zach climbed into the center of the front seat, telling his Mom about all he had seen. Donald frowned; the bleeding had not stopped, and he could see the paleness of his skin, and hear the weakness of his heartbeat. He moved around and opened Silvia’s door. “Silvia, may I have a word with you in private?”
Silvia’s heartbeat had slowed, and she no longer had the scent of fear from earlier, he noted as she got out of the car. He held out his hand to assist her out, and his wolf was pleased when she took it. They both sensed the mate bond’s effect on the sensation, and although neither would mention it, they both craved it. Silvia tried to avoid looking at Donald as they walked away from the car. His powerful chest and potent male smell were causing flutters in her stomach, feelings she wasn’t ready to deal with right now.
They stopped when Donald reached down to pick up the satchel that carried his things while running in wolf form; he dropped it when he changed to human form earlier. Keeping hold of her hand in his, he knelt in front of her, trying to be less threatening. “Silvia, Mitch isn’t doing well. He needs medical care, more than I know how to give him. We need to take him back. He needs to go to Salmon to the clinic so Doc Marcus can see him.”
She looked out at the road ahead. “My family is out there, so is Abigail’s. Can’t we push on and find help there?”
“We don’t know what or who is out there, Silvia. There could be more ambushes. The people may not be friendly. People will kill to get ahold of a car that still runs, and who knows what other evil is out there. Hell, the towns might not even exist.” He looked back at the car. “Mitch may not make it if we don’t find help tonight.” He could see the disappointment on her face. “We know the road is clear between here and Salmon. If we leave now, we can make it to the clinic before sunrise.”
“And then what? Donald, my family could be suffering. Our families don’t even know we are alive!”
Donald sighed. He didn’t want to do this, but he knew it might be the only way to keep her safe. “I’ll go. Give me what Abigail gave you about her family, and write down the name and address of your family in Missoula. I’ll go up there in wolf form, and do the scouting our Pack needs along the way. Meanwhile, you get your children and Mitch back to safety in Salmon.”
“Salmon? Is that even safe?”
“Yes. Josi is now the Alpha Female of that Pack. You will be protected there, my wolf knows that.”
Silvia closed her eyes for a few minutes as she thought. “Fine. Find my family, let them know I am safe.”
Donald squeezed her hand. “I will. If they need help or shelter, I will bring them to you.” Her eyes widened. “I don’t know what things are like for them, but we are building something good in North Fork. They are your kin, that means I will treat them like my own. If bringing them to your home will keep them safe, I will do that.” He stood up and started to lead them back to the car.
They passed the man she had killed. She spit on him as they passed. He looked at her with concern. “I imagine this attack has been difficult. I’m sorry you had to go through this.”
She looked back at him. “This time was different; this time I was not going to be a victim. I’m not sorry about a damn thing.”
When they reached the car, they quickly told Zach and Mitch the plan. Donald opened up the driver’s door for her, and she moved to get in. Just before sitting down, she looked up at him. “Donald?”
He smiled at her, then to his surprise, she wrapped her hands around his neck and pulled him into a kiss.
“Thank you, Donald.” She sat down, one finger going to her lips where matching tingles were still felt.
“Drive safe, my love.” He stood still as she turned the car around and headed back towards the mountains. When the sound of the engine was gone, he packed his clothes, put on his satchel, and shifted into his wolf. Letting out a long howl, he continued his journey north.
Back at the Salmon clinic, the turns were starting to shift. The ones who showed signs were moved to a business on the outskirts of town, chosen because it was away from view and surrounded by an eight-foot-tall chain link fence. Reggie walked around the grounds, there were two dozen people in the process of shifting and more were being brought in every hour. Most of the adults in his Pack were here, encouraging and monitoring each of the shifts so no one went through it alone.
It took about twenty minutes for each new wolf to complete the shift, depending on how much they fought the change. Reggie was called repeatedly, as each wolf completed the shift he would go to them and use his Alpha influence to gain their submission. After accepting them into the Pack, they could learn how to mind link with other Pack members. Soon, there were wolves trotting around the grass, figuring out how to use their new bodies. As they did, they were led out the gate to the next station where “Werewolf Boot Camp” classes were being held.
Reggie was called to the front where a small female wolf, tan with white and black mixed in, was lying on her side and panting after the change. He ran over and brought her into the pack, and when the bond opened he realized who it was. “Welcome to the Pack, Tammy Cordoba!”
Her tongue hung out the side of her mouth as she looked up at him. She licked at his hand and he scratched her behind the ears. “This is so cool,” she thought as she looked around with her new vision. He spent a few minutes with her until the next person shifted and he had to go. He was smiling, there was always a risk with the change and he was happy Marcus’ good friend and coworker had sailed through the change. She was ushered out the gate as he continued with his work.
Tammy was practically bouncing as she followed her new pack mate to the park in town where boot camp was being held. Spotting her friend Rachel sitting in a chair, she sprinted forward and raced for her. The stop wasn’t graceful yet, in fact she didn’t slow down in time and ended up face planting and sliding under her legs, but it didn’t matter. Sitting up, she pressed herself to Rachel as her friend hugged her neck and stroked her fur. “Rachel! This is SO cool!”
Rachel laughed at her antics. “Oh Tammy, you and your wolf are going to be a handful! I’m so happy you are one of us now.” She pulled back, looking in her eyes, then giggled as Tammy took a wet swipe of her face with her new tongue. “Now go on, you’ve got a lot to learn and if you stay her with me you’ll lose your place.”
Tammy let out a yip, then spun around and raced back to the first station, which was shifting. Born wolves aren’t shy about nudity, but with them being newly shifted and humans watching, they figured it was best to do this part within tents that had been set up. Since this was a skill young wolves mastered, Rachel had put them to work on this station. Tammy followed Raven into the tent, where she learned how to shift to human form and back to wolf. She was surprised it didn’t hurt, but only the first shift does. Once she was able to shift smoothly when desired, she was let out to go to the next station.
The rest of her night was a blur; in the different stations, she learned about how to use her new eyesight, trained her nose to identify specific scents, learned basic tracking, Pack hierarchy and laws, and about the other Packs in the area. Meals were amazing, even if it was raw meat, her wolf loved it and it tasted better than the best steaks she had eaten.
It was a lot to take in, and it was not just from the Pack wolves who were helping them. The newly changed wolves had instincts that were pushing forward. As the new wolves met and interacted, they were already starting to position themselves for rank and dominance within the Pack. Rachel kept things from getting out of hand, but some fights had already broken out. Since Tammy was a healer, the other wolves automatically granted her that status within the Pack. Her wolf preened herself a little, she may never be a warrior or a leader, but she was respected and valued for the unique skills she had. Healers were a separate line of authority, and her wolf automatically slid into the line under Rachel and Marcus.
By the end of the night, she was exhausted. All the wolves were gathered around Rachel, and took their turns by rank at the water trough. Helpers were bringing in hunks of meat, courtesy of all the freezers in town that no longer had power, and they were all chowing down. The change and the training had taken a lot of energy from them.
Now that things were calm, Rachel had allowed humans in town to start interacting with the wolves. She had ordered them to remain in wolf form to get used to it, but soon wolves were jumping up to greet friends and family who hadn’t been changed. It was fun watching the humans reacting to the new wolves, and sometimes trying to figure out who it was until a Pack member let them know. Rachel’s leg had improved enough overnight that she was slowly walking along the edge of the park.
“Rachel, it looks like everything has gone well.” Tammy’s wolf popped her head up at the voice; Deputy Robert Stevens had arrived and was looking over the hundred wolves in the park. Her nose sought out the source of the delicious scent, one that caused her wolf to shiver in excitement. She took another deep breath, the smell caused her to leap forward as arousal bloomed in her belly. She raced across the park, bearing down on the man as her wolf screamed “MATE MATE MATE!” in her head.
Robert had no idea what was going on, he heard the pounding of paws on the ground and reflexively reached for his Glock as the wolf charged him. She was too fast, he didn’t have time to clear leather before she was on him. His left hand came up to protect his face, but she ducked her head under it as she knocked him on his ass. He pulled his pistol out, preparing to shoot, when he realized this wolf had something far different in mind for him.
She shifted on top of him, her naked body rubbing against him as her lips crashed down on his. He couldn’t respond for a moment, but then something clicked in his mind. Dropping the pistol, he brought his arms around her and kissed her back with a passion he didn’t know he had. They were oblivious to the humans and wolves around them, at least until the whoops and cat calls got too loud to ignore.
Tammy pushed herself up, finally releasing the kiss, and with a low growl she practically shouted “MATE.”
Rachel laughed as she tossed a robe on top of her friend. “I kind of figured that.” She laughed at Robert as he blushed. “I think you guys should take this somewhere more private, don’t you?”
Tammy sat up, pulling the robe on, then stood up and hugged Rachel. “Thank you!!” Turning back, she pulled Robert to his feet and into a hug. Kissing him deeply, she finally stepped back and took his hand. She took the key hidden under a rock in her garden and opened the door, pulling him inside and slamming the door behind her. She dropped the robe, and a feral look came into her eye as she sized up her mate, a mate that was strong and handsome, and wearing WAY too many clothes.
She hugged him as she pushed him into the wall, surprised at the strength she now had. Her hands were busy as her tongue plundered his mouth, undoing his belt and pants. They dropped to the floor with a thud, and his boxers soon followed. Her hand gripped his cock, gently stroking it as it strained against her. His hands were busy too, unbuttoning his shirt so she could push it off his shoulders. Dropping to her knees, she continued to jack him off with her right hand while her left started to caress his swollen balls.
“Oh GOD yes,” Robert moaned as she took him into her mouth. She sucked hard on the tip, then swirled her tongue around it before pushing it to the back of her mouth. It was long enough she could continue to move her fist along his base while her mouth ministered to the rest. She alternated long licks and swirls with taking him deep and sucking hard, and he was rapidly losing control. “I’m going to come…” He caressed the side of her face with his hand, looking down into her eyes. She grinned around his length and looked back down. Letting go with her hand, she moved both around until they were gripping his firm young ass cheeks and pulled forward.
“OH SHIT!” He watched in amazement as she pulled him into her throat, his cock disappearing inch by inch until her lips touched his stomach. Her throat squeezed him as his cock swelled even wider, then he started to come, and come hard. She let the first jet of cum shoot down her throat, then she pulled back and allowed the rest to fill her mouth. She looked up at him with pride as she tasted his essence.
His legs could no longer hold him up and he slid to the ground, and she released him with a soft ‘pop’ as he collapsed. Looking at him with an impish smile, she wiped the stray trail of jizz off her chin and brought it back to her mouth, sucking it off with a low moan. He was looking at her with a mixture of love, lust and amazement.
“Come on, stud, I’m nowhere near done with you.” Pulling him to his feet, she led him upstairs to her bedroom where she pushed him onto her bed. Climbing up, she straddled his chest as he cupped her ass to pull her closer. “Get me ready while you recover.”
Smiling, he pulled her sex down to his face as she leaned forward and grabbed the headboard. It was going to be a long night.