My Mystery Mate

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#4 Were Wars. Beta Joe, reeling from his mate's demise, meets his second chance mate with a dangerous past. Can they find happiness despite it all? It was just after dawn when she heard the first howls. She picked up her pace, knowing that the whole might of the Pack would soon descend on her if she couldn't get past the border patrol. She abandoned any efforts to hide her trail, at this point it was a matter of time. If she could get out of the territory and make it to her truck, they'd never catch her. If she was caught, she'd be torn to pieces in seconds by the furious pack members. The pack was getting closer. She could hear their yelps clearly now in the quiet of the morning. Even the birds knew something was going on, their morning songs were silent. She pushed on through the mountains, her chest burning with the effort in the thin mountain air. She heard the frustration in the Pack as they lost her scent, gaining her precious time, but then the excited yips told her they had found it again. There were not enough tricks left, and there was not enough time. She was so focused on keeping track of the Pack behind her that she lost focus on the dangers ahead. It was only her reflexes when she saw the flash of brown and black that kept her from getting her throat torn out.

Fantasy / Action
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Chapter 1: Evade and Escape

(Book four of the Were Wars series)

One Year after the Were Wars trilogy

“And Nyx (Night) bare hateful Moros (Doom) and Black Ker (Violent Death) and Thanatos (Death), and she bare Hypnos (Sleep) and the tribe of Oneiroi (Dreams). And again the goddess murky Nyx, though she lay with none, bare Momos (Blame) and painful Oizys (Misery), and the Hesperides ... Also she bare the Moirai (Fates) and the ruthless avenging Keres (Death-Fates) ... Also deadly Nyx bare Nemesis (Revenge) to afflict mortal men, and after her, Apate (Deceit) and Philotes (Friendship) and hateful Geras (Old Age) and hard-hearted Eris (Strife).

— Hesiod, Theogony 211, translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White

Near Telluride, Colorado

Border of San Juan National Forest

The huge estate was dark and quiet in the hour before first light. If you looked carefully, you could see that wolves patrolled the treeline surrounding it occasionally, and armed men patrolled inside and outside the house. The only noises were from the kitchen, where the staff was already starting to prepare the food for the formal breakfast a few hours away.

On the top of the six floors, a window quietly opens and a woman peeks out. She has raven black hair pulled back in a ponytail, and her hazel eyes are almost luminescent as she observes quietly. Whatever she was waiting for has happened, and she removes a rope from a backpack and quietly lowers it down. She stands and removes her black jumpsuit, placing it carefully in the bag before putting the bungee cords around her shoulders. She smoothly exits and lowers herself without a sound, pausing occasionally to look and listen for patrols. When she reaches the ground, she jumps forward and shifts.

When she lands, she is in her jaguar form. She is almost completely black, with lighter brown fur defining the spots in her coat. She was rare, only six percent of jaguars have that dark pigmentation; you had to look close to see shading. The camouflage effect was excellent; she glided across the manicured lawn without making a noise. She was a big cat, about a hundred and fifty pounds, standing three feet high at the shoulder. Her wide paws tipped with sharp claws helped her move noiselessly to the treeline. Looking back, she noted the positions of the wolf patrols before moving south.

She moved silently through the forest, her fast lope eating up the miles as she moved. Jaguars aren’t particularly fast or agile, they can’t run like the wolves back there could. Stealth and silence were her friends as she made her escape. She figured she had a couple of hours before she was discovered and they came after her, by then she needed to be out of the Pack territory and find a way to disappear. Along the way she used a few tricks to throw off any trackers that may follow, especially when she found water. Jaguars are excellent swimmers, and wolves don’t like water, and it dilutes and hides her scent. She took the time to leave some false trails and dead ends, doubling back and using the trees to move for a while before dropping back down to the ground. Wolves don’t climb, and jaguars are excellent at it.

It was just after dawn when she heard the first howls. She picked up her pace, knowing that the whole might of the Pack would soon descend on her if she couldn’t get past the border patrol. She abandoned any efforts to hide her trail, at this point it was a matter of time. If she could get out of the territory and make it to her truck, they’d never catch her. If she was caught, she’d be torn to pieces in seconds by the furious pack members.

The pack was getting closer. She could hear their yelps clearly now in the quiet of the morning. Even the birds knew something was going on, their morning songs were silent. She pushed on through the mountains, her chest burning with the effort in the thin mountain air. She heard the frustration in the Pack as they lost her scent, gaining her precious time, but then the excited yips told her they had found it again. There were not enough tricks left, and there was not enough time.

She was so focused on keeping track of the Pack behind her that she lost focus on the dangers ahead. It was only her reflexes when she saw the flash of brown and black that kept her from getting her throat torn out. She darted to the right, turning in the air, and the jaws of the border patrol wolf grabbed her backpack instead. They tumbled down the trail, the straps giving way as the wolf went over her back and smashed hard against a tree. She was quickly on her feet and took off again before it could regain its wits. She had made it a mile or so before the wolf caught up.

This time when it leaped for her, she dropped below him and raised her front right paw. The razor sharp claws ripped through the chest and stomach of the wolf, spilling his intestines as he fell. She didn’t take time to finish him off, she took off running again. The Pack was too close, and she knew that they would follow his howls and be here within minutes.

A larger patrol found her first. Four wolves coming from ahead of her on the right, forcing her to veer to the east and farther away from her truck. She didn’t have a choice, she was tired and had no chance against that large a group. She worked her way up the slope, knowing she was better suited to the climb than the wolves were. Both groups were closing in on her.

In the end, she ran out of real estate. She reached the plateau at the top and tried to move back south since the canyon wall to the Pino River below was too sheer for her to climb down. She chanced a look back to see the main Pack body was now behind her, and now the patrol was closing in fast from her right.

They had her trapped.

With only a minute or so left until they reached her, she sprinted for a large pine tree at the edge of the cliff. Leaping high, her claws dug in and allowed her to pull herself up to a high branch where she draped herself over it and caught her breath. She watched the wolves gather below her, and knew that her life was over. The tree would only delay the inevitable. They would have their revenge on her.

Her mind drifted to thoughts of her daughter, and whether she would survive her failure.

A group of thirty or so wolves now surrounded the base of the tree, howling and growling away as they circled beneath her. They wanted blood, they hadn’t come this far to be denied now. She watched them with amusement, knowing that at least they were realizing the limits of a Werewolf form when dealing with someone like her.

A half dozen men shifted to human form and stood naked in her view. All were large, handsome men; the scars on their bodies spoke to the violence of their pasts. The largest one, clearly the leader, looked up to her and in a command voice said, “Shift.” She shook her head, she wasn’t going to give them anything. The man grew angry, and looked at his men. “Max, take a dozen men and form a perimeter around this area. Cal, take a few guys back to the women’s cabin, get the chainsaw from the shed and the rifles. Frank, you take a few men with you and hunt, we passed some deer a few miles back. The rest of you gather wood. We’re going to feast her capture and execution.” The group split up, each moving to their assigned tasks, as the leader moved casually among the remaining men.

She stretched her aching muscles as her head lifted from the branch, the run had taken a lot out of her. Looking around, she considered her options and none of them were good. They would eventually get her, it was only a matter of how. Her advantages were gone now. She hunted best in the night, in cover, and here the sun was shining brightly and this was the only tree around. Her dark coat stood out now as the tree provided little to hide behind.

She looked down, it was at least a hundred feet down to the river and it was filled with huge boulders and pools. She looked longingly at the other side. It was a good forty feet away, with sheer walls and loose rock. On her best day it would have been an impossible distance, and this was far from her best day.

“I’ll give you a choice.” She looked down at the man in charge, he was standing with his arms across his broad chest where he could see her easily. “We want to know who sent you. Tell us this, and I promise you a quick and painless death. If you don’t, we will get it from you and it won’t be pleasant. There are things worse than death, you know.”

Yes, she did know that, she knew that all too well. She made her choice.

She gracefully got to her feet and turned around on the wide branch to head back to the trunk. The men below watched as she moved, appreciating the liquid movement of her limbs and the strength of the muscles beneath. Some were already imagining the womanly form that must be there after a shift, and hoping their Beta would give them a chance to sate their lusts on it before they killed her.

She got to the trunk and turned again. Looking down at them, she shook her head slowly side to side. Gathering herself on her back legs, she sprinted along the branch, reaching full speed in just two strides. With one mighty push, she leaped off the branch, stretching for the other side, and hoping that the extra height of the tree would give her enough distance to make it.

Halfway over she realized it wouldn’t.

She fell below the edge, her front paws and claws frantically trying to find a hold as her body continued to fall. Her chest and back legs made contact, but with nothing to hold onto she tumbled back and away from the wall again. She didn’t make a noise as she dropped, the wolves noticed. She hit an outcrop about halfway down and then spun end over end until finally landing with a great splash on the river below.

The men watched from the edge as her body floated down the river. She was motionless and they could see blood on her fur and in the water as the strong current carried her away. Those in wolf form let out howls of frustration, they had been cheated of the kill and their Beta didn’t get what he needed to find out first.

The leader looked at one of his men. “Go downriver and collect the body. Bring it to the logging trail and we’ll send a Jeep to meet you.” He took a deep breath and let it out. “John, take a few trackers with you. She was heading south until the patrol caught up to her, so follow that direction past the edge of Pack territory and see if you can figure out where she was going. Everyone else, head back to the Pack House. We’ve got work to do.”

Taking one last look, the leader caught a glimpse of the large black form as the river carried it out of sight. He sighed with regret, he had recognized her skills and she was a formidable opponent. They had no contact with the big werecats, and no reason he could think of for this one to do what she did. That usually meant someone else was behind it.

Falls Creek Cabins, Colorado

Joe walked out of his vacation cabin, hip waders on and fly rod in hand. Trout fishing had become somewhat of an obsession for him in the past year; the solitude and challenge gave him something to focus on other than the hole in his heart. His beloved mate Daria, lost before she was even mated fully to him and while still human, had been taken from him in an act of senseless violence.

Many werewolves would have ended their lives right there, but he had vowed to exact justice for her and eventually he did. Watching death come to the Alpha responsible had not filled the hole in his heart, and it did not satisfy him as he thought. He would have died there if it was not for a new vow, this one made to the Alpha who allowed him his revenge. Renee Hastings challenged him to live, to continue on, maybe even to love again. His honor was stronger than his despair, so here he was.

It didn’t mean he was happy about it.

His own Alpha in the El Paso pack had given him as much support as he could, but the more his Pack tried to bring him in, the farther he withdrew. He couldn’t function in his job as Beta, so he stepped aside and was granted a leave of absence to get back to himself. That led to long runs as a wolf, wanderings between packs, and now fishing trips deep into the wilderness seeking the peace that had so far eluded him.

Well, that and rainbow trout.

His remote cabin on the Falls Creek was near the junction with the Los Pinos river in southern Colorado. For the past week he would run into the late night in the woods in wolf form, return to the cabin to fish at first light, then he would sleep through the afternoon and early evening before starting again. The cabin was small and comfortable, and very remote. He hadn’t seen another person since he arrived, and that was fine by him.

Joe worked his way down the trail to the Los Pinos river, which at this time of year was a better bet than the small creek. He entered at the junction, his practiced eye catching the small eddies and pools that might hold fish. Two hours later, he had caught and released a few small ones but had not found the big fish he sought. It was time to change tactics.

He shifted to a weighted leader and a swimming fly, since the fish weren’t rising to the floating ones. He headed to the deeper, slower part of the river and set up below a large eddy. Making long casts, he pulled the line in with his fingers while concentrating on the rod tip and the feel of the line in his fingers. His first cast was rewarded with a nice size rainbow, which after a short battle was put into the fish basket at his waist. He was about to cast just below a deadfall on the far side of the river when he froze.

Sticking over the log was an arm. A human arm. Deeply tanned, but the fingers were pale with blue tips.

Joe tossed his equipment on the bank, stripped down and dove into the water. His powerful strokes carried him across quickly, and his strong arms grabbed onto the log and pulled him around. Tangled in the roots of the deadfall was a strikingly beautiful brunette, who was naked and nearly frozen. He untangled her from it and pulled her to his chest. She was badly battered, he could see bruising over most of her body and could see that she had numerous broken bones on her legs and arms. He put his ear to her mouth and was happy to sense she was breathing, even if it was weak. He put his ear to her chest to check her heart rate when his wolf sat up at attention in his mind.

He had taken a good sniff as he moved past her neck, and that sniff was all his wolf needed. This woman, whoever she was, his wolf had claimed her as his mate. He pulled her closer and walked with her to the deep water, then he floated her with one arm while he sidestroked his way back to his side of the river. He carried her gently to the grass, then dressed her in his dry clothes. They were way too big for her, after all he was six foot four and about 220 pounds, and she was maybe five eight and 140. Her lips were blue along with her fingertips, sure signs of hypothermia from being in the cold mountain water too long. Abandoning the other gear, he set off wearing only his boots and boxers, her being carefully held to his chest to warm her up as they went.

It took twenty minutes of fast walking to get back to his cabin. He laid her gently in the bed and covered her up with every blanket he could find before he stoked the fire. Taking his cellphone off the solar charger, he ran to the clearing where he knew he could get a signal. He nervously waited for the call to be picked up, he needed her to be there for him now.

“Hello?” Julia was the Pack Doctor of the El Paso pack. Last year she was mated to Richard, an enemy Beta who Joe had forgiven for his part in the attack on his mate.

“Julia, it’s Joe. I’m in southern Colorado, I have a woman here with severe blunt force trauma to the head and torso. She’s a real mess, her body temperature is really low from spending too much time in the river. I need your help.”

“Joe, you need to get her to the closest hospital. Let them deal with the humans.”

“I can’t, Julia. She’s my mate.” He heard the phone drop on the other side, then she picked it up and checked he was still there. “I need her with me, ask Alpha Merino to send the helicopter and come pick me up.” He relayed the GPS coordinates of the clearing he was in.

It took a few minutes to get it all arranged, but she gave him basic instructions- set and splint her broken bones as best he could, keep her legs elevated to prevent shock, and keep her warm- and then she hung up to go to the helicopter. Flight time was thirty five minutes.

It took Joe that long to prep her for transport. He used pieces of split kindling and torn shirts to splint her arm and leg breaks. He then rolled her gently so he could get the blankets around her and rolled her up in them. He could tell she was starting to warm up, her lips were no longer blue and her face was showing color again. She was beautiful, he thought, at least she would be after the damage to the side of her face and head was healed. She had glossy black hair down below her shoulders, a delicate thin nose, and full soft lips. By the time he had her in his arms again and was out the door, he could hear the helicopter approaching.

The Sikorsky had scarcely landed when the door opened and Joe was handing her over. They got her on the backboard and strapped her in while Joe was taking a seat and getting the headset on. Soon they were back in the air and on the way to the El Paso Pack Hospital. Julia and her nurse were moving quickly, starting a large bore IV and checking all her injuries. Julia looked up after a few minutes. “You did good getting her this far, Joe. I’m not concerned about most of her injuries, we’ll get x-rays when we get back and rebreak and set what we need. Its her head injury that is concerning. She has multiple fractures of her cranium above the left ear, and her eye response is slow. She has a severe concussion and might have brain damage. It’s actually a good thing she was hypothermic, it helped slow the pressure build in her brain. I need to get monitor her intercranial pressure carefully and hope the fractures allow any swelling to occur without permanent damage.”

“Will she make it?”

“I don’t know, Joe. I just don’t know. I need to keep her in a coma for a week or so, long enough to allow her brain to recover. That will also help he body to heal. We’ll do our best.”

Joe closed his eyes and prayed to Luna for her. “Please, not again. Don’t bring me another mate just to take her away, I don’t know if I can do this again. Please, Luna, heal her and give her to me.” He reached over and held her hand, it was still cold but he could feel slight tingles in his arm when he touched her.

He pulled her hand to his nose and took a deep whiff. “Doc, I’ve scented her but something seems off. She’s a shifter, I’m sure, but I don’t recognize any pack scent and I’ve never smelled something like her. Do you know what she is?”

Wendy took a smell of her neck and lifted an eyebrow. “Not a wolf, cat maybe? I guess we can ask her when she wakes up.”

Suddenly, the woman started to seize and the monitors started to alarm. “She’s arresting, start CPR!” The nurse knelt at the patient’s side and started to do compressions. Wendy was breaking out the paddles as the “one and two and three and four and five and” count went on. “Joe, do you know CPR?”

“Yes, what can I do?”

“Get by her head, do breaths every five compressions.” Joe unbuckled and squeezed past, raising her neck with his right hand as his left tilted her head back and pinched her nose. On the “and” after five he gave her a quick breath, looking down to make sure her chest was inflating. Wendy got the paddles in place. “CLEAR!” They both raised their hands and leaned back as the electric shock was delivered. Her body jumped, but the heart monitor stayed flat. “Charging 200, resume CPR.” They were able to do another three sets before the next shock.

Joe smiled as the heart monitor went back to a normal rhythm. “Thank Luna, don’t scare me like that again my love.” They watched for a few minutes until they had confidence she was stable, then strapped back into their seats.

“Five minutes out,” the pilot said over the headset. “Operating room has been prepped, the gas passer is ready and the neurosurgeon you requested is twenty minutes out.”

“Good, we’ll be ready.” Wendy did one last check of her before she started setting up for transport. It didn’t take long to go from the helicopter to the operating room, Wendy was so glad the Pack had spent some of their money from the Cartel heist on the helicopter and expanding the clinic into a true hospital. Werewolves had different health needs than humans, they were rarely sick but had more serious trauma cases to deal with.

Joe was left in the waiting room, nervously pacing back and forth as he waited for news. Wendy had warned him it would be hours before it was done, but that didn’t make it any easier. The first person to join him was his buddy Mark and his mate Lynn. She ran to him and gave him a hug. “Is it true, did you find your second chance mate?” She cupped his face as she looked at him, it had been tough for them to watch him withdraw since the loss of Daria.

“Yes, I think I have. My wolf has recognized her, but she hasn’t regained consciousness and I don’t know anything about her. I don’t even know if she will live.”

“Of course she will live! You stop those thoughts, your mate is strong, she’s made it this far, right? I’m so happy for you!” She led him to the couch after Mark gave him a bro hug. “Tell me about her.”

“Well, she’s beautiful- long black hair...” She let him talk, it took his mind off what was going on in the other room. A few minutes later Alpha Jesus Merino and his mate Maria had come in. Joe lowered his head, both in respect and shame. His Alpha had done so much for him, yet he had pushed them and everyone else in the pack away.

“Alpha, thank you for helping us.” He didn’t get another word in before a heavily pregnant Maria was embracing him, sobbing on his shoulder. Joe couldn’t help but embrace her back, as Luna she was like a mother to the entire Pack. Jesus pulled Maria back to him after a minute, he put up with her touching other men but he didn’t like it.

The Alpha put his hand on Joe’s shoulder. “We will always be here for you, Joe. I’m glad you called us, and I’m thrilled you found a mate. I know this won’t be easy, but I have a feeling it will all turn out in the end.” Through the course of the day and into the night, Pack members stopped by to lend their support to him as he waited. He refused to leave, and Mark wouldn’t leave him alone, so meals were brought to them.

It was near sundown when an exhausted team of doctors finally exited the operating room. Julia took a few minutes to shower and change before she went out to the waiting room. She smiled at Joe, letting him know it would be all right. “She’s a strong one, your mate.” Joe rushed forward into her arms as the emotions of the day came pouring out of him. It took a minute for him to compose himself, then she led him to a couch. “We were able to relieve the pressure on her brain, and the fractures of her skull and facial bones have been set where possible. They should heal in the next week. She has multiple broken bones as we expected; broken collarbone, four broken ribs, fractures to her left radius and wrist, and ankle. I’m not worried about those either. She had a punctured lung which we fixed, but we didn’t find any internal bleeding. I’ve kept her in a medically induced coma, she needs to stay that way for a week or so until we are sure her brain has healed.”

“Can I see her, Doc?”

“In a few minutes. She’s being moved to a room right now. You can stay with her there.”

“I’m never leaving her. She’s mine.”

“We know that. I just have to talk to you about two things we found in her that we can’t explain.” She pulled out a small glass jar. “This one we found in her left forearm. Near as I can tell, it’s some kind of RFID chip. It reminds me of what they put in dogs and cats to identify lost pets.”

“She’s not a PET, doc!”

“I never said she was. I had a Pack member borrow a reader from a local vet, it doesn’t match up with any coding they use for that. It’s just a series of numbers. See?” She gave him a paper that had a series of numbers, 50 in all, in five rows of ten. “Any ideas what that is?”

“Not a clue. I’ll ask her when she wakes up. What is the other thing?”

“We didn’t keep it, it was too dangerous. It was implanted in her neck near her carotid artery. It appeared to be a timer connected to a small explosive charge. If it went off, she would be dead within seconds. Alpha took some pictures then had it destroyed.” Wendy looked at him with concern. “We have to find out who and what she is. This isn’t the kind of stuff you just find in someone. Alpha’s directed his security people investigate, but no one has heard of anything like this before.”

Joe sat back, his mind reeling with the new information. “I’ll find out. I know a few people, and I have a little time until I can ask her questions.” Leaning forward, he put his head in his hands. “Who are you, my mystery mate?”

For five days, Joe never left her side for more than a couple minutes. Since this was a Werewolf hospital, he stayed in her room. They had detachable rollaway bed extensions to allow mates to stay together, but still get access from both sides to the patient when required. He took his meals at the bedside table, but most of his time was spent in bed with her. Most of the damage was to her left side, so he stayed to the right.

Doc allowed this because experience showed that the presence of the mate improved vitals and healing rates. It also reduced stress for the healthy mate, who sometimes was more of a pain to deal with than the patient. They wanted, no they NEEDED to be together, that was part of what it meant to have a mate.

Julia walked in, Joe barely stirring in the bed as he cuddled up to her side. Her trends were good, she thought; another day or two and it would be time to bring her out of the coma and solve the mystery of who she was. She had topped the charts simply with “Mrs. Joseph Miller.”

In pencil.

She was finishing her look at the traces on the machines when Joe looked up at her. “Good, you’re awake. Have you been doing the exercises I showed you for her?”

“Of course, Doc. Every four hours, I massage her, rotate her in the bed, and move her limbs to restore her range of motion. Now that the casts are off, the swelling is almost gone and I can feel that she is recovering.” Doc nodded; even before a full mating, mates could sense pain in the other, even while sleeping. It was a defense mechanism Luna had built in to allow the other to feel and protect a mate in distress. “Any progress on who she is?”

“No, I talked to Alpha Merino earlier this morning. Our contacts in the FBI tell us that her fingerprints are not on file. We notified all Packs within 500 miles, but none have reported a missing woman. We even ran her photo against missing persons reports in three states and nationally, but no one matching her age and description has been reported. It’s like she dropped out of the sky or something.”

“Luna’s got a sense of humor, I’ve found out. I went fishing hoping to catch a trophy and came home with my mate!” Doc laughed along, the change in Joe had been immediate. His spirit had returned to him, he was fun to be around again, even if he was completely focused on his new mate. The entire pack seemed to be in a better mood since he found her.

“She’s going to be out for another day or two. You need to take a little time for yourself, Joe, and let your wolf out. I can tell he needs it.”

“I can’t leave her alone, Doc.”

“She won’t be alone. I’ll be here with her, and Maria is coming over this afternoon as well. Why don’t you grab Richard and go out hunting? You can’t tell me that some fresh kill wouldn’t settle your beast.” She could almost see the thought bubbles over his head as he talked with his wolf. In the end, his wolf’s need to get out won over his need to stay close, only because he trusted Doc with his life.

“OK, he’s going to be here in a few minutes. You want us to bring you something back?”

“No, I’m good, I’ve got leftovers in my fridge. Take your time, get a good run in, it will help you settle down.”

He got up, clad only in boxer shorts, and gave her a hug. “Take care of my love, we’ll be back after dinner.” He headed out just as Richard came in to give his mate a lingering kiss. “Come on, Richard, let’s find some deer.” They stepped out of the hospital, tossing aside their clothes and shifting smoothly into their wolf form. Joe let out a howl, celebrating the start of the hunt, and then they ran off into the nearby canyons and grasslands to start the hunt.

Five hours later the two returned, each carrying the haunch and rear leg of a large buck in their mouth. After checking again with Doc, they carried the portions to the main hall where they were soon surrounded by a dozen hungry juvenile wolves. Leaving the portions in the grass, they watched in amusement as the young ones tore into the still warm meat and ate their fill.

“It’s like a school of piranhas, isn’t it?” They had been so focused on the children they didn’t notice Alpha Merino had come up behind them. Nodding in respect, they laughed as two six year old girls fought over a leg bone. “You guys should go clean up. I got a call from the Alpha of the Telluride pack, they may know who your mate is, but they have to see her in person. They are coming in a few hours, so be ready to meet them.”

“Yes Alpha, we will be ready. I’ll wait with my mate until you call for me.” Joe turned around and headed for the hospital, he used the shower in her room and Richard had brought a bag full of clothes from his room a few days ago. He had no plans to return to his room until he was carrying his mate into his bed.

A few hours later, Joe was sitting up in the bed with his mate laying back on his chest and sitting between his legs. This “conversation time” helped to reduce the chance of her getting bedsores, but it helped him at least as much. It settled his wolf to have her in his arms, the tingles between their bare skin both excited and comforted him. He rested her head against his shoulder, her nose close to his neck where she could get his scent. “I’ve been thinking about our home, love. I found a spot to build it, far enough from the Pack house to have some privacy but close enough to stay involved. It’s on a hill, overlooking a small pond that has ducks and geese in it. I don’t know what kind of house you want, but I want a big porch area, with a swing by the front door. I want to rock back and forth with you while we watch out grandchildren play in the yard, while our music plays through the open window. I’ll hold you against me and tell you how much I love you, and how lucky I am to have you. I love you, my”

“JOE, GET YOUR MATE AND MEET ME OUTSIDE NOW. THEY ARE COMING TO KILL HER.” He could tell the panic in Richard’s voice. Jumping into action, he unhooked and turned off the monitors and the IV lines. Wrapping her in the blanket, he carefully picked her up and walked through the hospital and out the front door just as Richard was pulling up in his Expedition. “Get her in the back and buckle up, we’ve got to move.”

“What’s going on, why the rush?” Joe laid her on the back seat, using the available belts to secure her so she wouldn’t roll off. He carefully moved into the front seat and buckled up as Richard left the compound area, his lights still off and as quietly as he could.

“The guys who came here from the Telluride pack aren’t here to find a missing person. They want her dead. I know the leader, you don’t send your expert interrogator and torturer on a missing person case. Something’s fishy.” Richard was focused on the road, they were pushing eighty miles an hour on the back road and they hadn’t even hit pavement yet.

“I’m sure Alpha Merino will protect her, she’s my mate after all.” He looked back at her with concern, what the hell had she done to get a hit squad sent after her?

“Julia was in the next room, she had the photos and medical records. They didn’t care, they verified by smell she is here. They will force Alpha Merino to give her up. When I left she said he was on the phone to the Alpha Council and it isn’t going well. I couldn’t take the chance, I owe you my life and I won’t stand by and watch them kill her, I don’t care if she did that or not. That’s why we have to get out of here. If I don’t get outside the range of his Alpha command before he realizes we are gone, he’ll order me back.”

“I won’t go, I’d sooner leave than give up my mate.” Joe was fisting his hands, his wolf wanted out, the threat to his mate forcing his wolf forward in his mind.

“I know, but MY mate is back there with him. If between her and the Alpha she can delay them for ten more minutes we have a chance.” Richard started braking hard, they made the turn onto the main road and he gunned the engine again. Soon they were running just under the hundred mile an hour, bumping up to the governor limit of the big SUV.

“Why do they want her, and why won’t Alpha Merino stop them?”

“He can’t, not for this. They say she snuck into their Pack house last week and poisoned their Alpha Female. They chased her but she fell into the river and when they didn’t find the body, they started looking. When they heard we found a woman, they sent the men down here. They have her backpack, Joe. It’s her scent. Your mate is a killer.”

Joe looked out the window. He was afraid for the first time in his life- afraid for his mate, afraid for his life, afraid of his Pack and his Alpha. By now they most certainly had discovered she was gone and who had taken her.

Most likely, he could never go back. Everything he knew, everyone he cared for, all gone unless they turned around and gave her over. Then, maybe he would be punished and forgiven, but he’d still have his home and his Pack. Now? He was a rogue, loose and wandering, and a target for any Pack wolf he came across.

Yet, there was no way in HELL he was losing his mate. To hell with the Telluride pack, to hell with his Alpha, to hell with the Council. He’d gotten a second chance and by Luna he wouldn’t survive another loss. He unbuckled the seat belt and moved back to his mate. She was still out, her breathing steady and her heartbeat strong by now. He knew the drugs that had been keeping her in the coma would wear off, probably in the next twelve hours. His wolf was going nuts, they were on the run, passing through other Pack territories and his mate wasn’t even tied to him.

Luna forgive him because she might never. Doing this without consent was frowned upon, it was not just LIKE forcing yourself on someone, you really were. He felt his canines push through as he partially shifted his jaws, then he lunged forward and bit her at the junction of her neck and shoulder. His wolf howled in glee as his razor sharp teeth punched through her skin. He tasted her blood on his tongue, the coppery taste sweeter than anything. He would have kept his teeth in longer, tearing slightly back and forth to ensure it scarred well, except for what she did.

His mate cried out, her eyes opening for a moment before she fell quickly back into a deep sleep.

“What the FUCK did you just do, Joe?” Richard was looking in the mirror at the bloody shoulder. “You marked her?”

Joe nodded. “I had to. My wolf has been going crazy, and he wouldn’t go another moment without it. He’s already freaking out from the danger to her. He- heck, I- want to be bonded to her so we can help protect her.” He reached up to his right shoulder, he could feel sharp pains there, proof of the bond that now existed since he could feel her pain. When the headache came, he began to wonder if it was a good idea. He raised his hands to his head and clenched his jaw against the pressure, it felt like his head was going to explode.

“You all right, Joe?” Richard looked back at him, worry on his face. “You don’t look so good. I have some Advil up here in the glove box, why don’t you take a couple of them.” Joe sat down and buckled up, then reached in and fetched four pills and swallowed them down with some water from a bottle in the cup holder. “I’m all right, I’m pretty sure it’s not me, I’m feeling her pain now. She’s so beat up, Richard... I’m glad she’s slept through it.”

“Yeah, but what was with that scream? Did you bite her that hard?”

“I don’t know. It was probably just a matter of the bond forming, it pushed her consciousness forward just for a moment. Let me rest for a while, maybe I can get this headache to go away.”

“Yeah, well, you just wait until she wakes up and figures out what you did to her. You might have to run to the Telluride pack for sanctuary.” He laughed as Joe grimaced at him, another shot of pain going through his head. “It serves you right, you just couldn’t wait until she woke up, could you?”

“Nope.” He looked out at the road, they were heading west along back roads and were definitely out of El Paso pack territory. “Where are we going, Richard?”

“Well, it’s like this, Joe. The Lone Ranger and Tonto were riding along through a desert canyon when suddenly Indian Warriors appear on the cliffs above. The Lone Ranger looks over and says, ‘Tonto, looks like we are in trouble.’ Tonto looks up, looks back at him and says, ’What’s this WE shit, white man?’” Richard looked into his eyes. “WE aren’t going anywhere.”

Richard pulled over to the side of the road and turned the truck off. Grabbing some silver laced rope they used for rogues, he jumped out and went in front of the truck where the headlights illuminated him. “Take this and tie my arms behind my back.”

“That’s silver, Richard, that’s going to eat away at your wrists!”

“No shit. Just do it, Joe, we don’t have much time.” A minute later his arms were securely tied behind his back, and he could already smell the silver burning his skin. “There’s about twenty grand in cash in the center console, it’s yours. Consider it a mating gift from Wendy and I. Get out of here, ditch my truck where it will get back to me eventually, then go someplace no one will ever find you.”

“I can’t leave you out here like this, Richard.”

“You have to. I’ll tell them you forced me to drive you out and stole my truck. You had a Glock filled with silver tipped bullets and I had no choice. If I don’t get questioned too hard directly by the Alpha, I might get away with it. Just fucking do it, Joe. Get out of here and make a life for you two.”

“All right. I owe you, buddy.”

“You don’t owe me anything, we’re even now.” Joe hugged him before turning around. “Wait, Joe... knock me out.”


“It’ll give you more time, if the Alpha is in range and he calls me I’ll have to respond. Just don’t bust my teeth out.” Joe walked up and Richard closed his eyes and stuck his chin out. Taking both hands together, Joe swung them up and away and caught him right on the underside of his jaw. Richard flew up and back several feet before landing bonelessly on the sand shoulder. Joe walked over, checking his pulse to make sure he was all right, then turned and walked into the truck.

He pulled back onto the road and kept it floored until he was on the governor again. As he drove, he thought about where he could go. It had to be somewhere with no pack around, which meant no mountains or woods or wilderness area. Someplace so boring and out of the way that no one would ever think of going there, a place he could nurse his mate back to health.

Pulling into a scenic overlook, he leaned over and checked the glove compartment. He found a regional map, and having decided the Great Plains met his criteria, he looked for the center of nowhere. His finger tapped a small town deep in corn country. “Superior, Nebraska, here we come.” He traced how to get there, he had to avoid the interstates and stick to the back roads. He also had to dump this car. Sooner or later, they would find a way to track it down; vehicles these days had GPS and cellular connections, and he couldn’t risk staying here much longer. Nothing would be open this late, so when he passed an old Ford Explorer for sale at the end of a country driveway, he pulled around and drove in. It was late, but the light was still on. He walked up to the door, the motion sensor turned on and a forty-something Hispanic man opened the door, his wife behind him. “I’m here about the Ford?”

“Well, let’s go down and take a look at her, then.” The man grabbed the keys by the door and walked out with him. Along the way he got the story, it was high mileage but ran well. A short test drive and negotiation later, and a stack of hundreds was in the man’s hand and he had the title.

“Could I ask you to do something for me? I borrowed this truck from my buddy in El Paso, and my wife got sick and I have to head out of town. Can you take it down to the city and park it at the UTEP student union? Just lock the keys in it and he’ll use his spare set to get in. I’ll pay you for your time, it will save me all kinds of time if I don’t need to drive back there.”

“You mean in the morning, right?”

“No, right now. He’s got to be able to use it in the morning when he gets back from his buddy’s house.”

The man considered, then after agreeing on an extra $200 shook on it. “Come on, I’ll give you a ride back.” Joe was back on the road, now with an vehicle that couldn’t be tracked. “Superior, Nebraska... the most nowhere place in America, I hope.” He drove through the night, each mile putting him farther away from all those who wanted to hurt his mate.

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