I wanted to make sure no one knew I was coming, so instead of heading for Stillwater, I crossed the border south of Duluth and took the back way down the west side of Wisconsin. The trip took much longer than taking the Minnesota interstate, almost six hours instead of four and a half. Wisconsin Highway 35 was a scenic drive, the trees were at their fall peak as I hit the forests closer to the cities, and the leaf tourists were out.
Nothing like people hitting their brakes in the middle of nowhere and pulling halfway off the road so they can take a picture.
I was near Somerset when I finally made contact with my Alpha. “Alpha, it’s Larry. I got a text saying we were in danger.”
“Larry, thank Luna you’re all right. Don’t come close to us, we’ve got at least a half dozen werewolves and at least as many humans watching us right now. Except for work and school, we’re on lockdown here.”
That was bad. “They know who Jessie is now?”
“Yes, they’ve broken into her cabin. The reward is almost two million dollars for information leading to her, Larry. Not many werewolves, criminals or lowlifes wouldn’t sell her out for that. Do you have a safe place to hide out?”
“No. John doesn’t trust them, and we aren’t allowed close enough, we’re in a guest house. I had to insist on Cuddles being allowed in the main house, since it was the only way to get Jessie used to him.”
Alpha Stan was quiet, a little too quiet. “I got a call from Patrick. The Moscow Pack uncovered a phone call where Alpha Yuri said that if they hadn’t gotten her in three days, they were going to start going after people who might know where she is. Mischa is being protected in her home, Patrick in Moscow. His parents are restricted to the area around their house.”
“Do they know about us?”
“They know you got off the freighter with her from the immigration records, Larry. You and Brian need to assume you’re just as hot as her. You can’t be seen, can’t use your identification, get pulled over, credit cards, anything. I need you to go to the Pack training grounds; in the equipment shed, there is a trapdoor under the workbench. In there will be fake identifications we had made for you, Brian and John, plus debit cards in those names and cash. There’s also an updated map with Pack territories and contact numbers, plus some burner phones. Each phone has one number programmed, to another burner her in my office. Don’t use airports and stay off major roads, don’t cross Pack lands and stay out of sight. Find a spot to hole up and stay there. Time is our ally here, if we keep her safe long enough she’s declared Yevgheny’s heir and Yuri can’t stop it.”
The training grounds were in a large wooded area near Turtle Lake, it wasn’t too far from where I was now. “Yes sir. We will keep her safe. Please, keep my parents and my little sister safe.”
“I’ll keep the Pack safe, son. They may not like it, but we’re on a war footing until this blows over.”
The whole Pack was in danger, all over a human and a Beta from another Pack. “Is this all worth it, sir? They aren’t our Pack.”
“I gave my word, Larry, just as you promised to keep her safe, I will. They are good people, they deserve a shot, and Russia will be better off with them in charge than Yuri.”
“Yes sir. You’re right.”
“Good luck, Larry. May Luna light your paths.” He broke the connection, and as I turned around for Turtle Lake I checked in with my parents. They were happy to hear from me and understood I couldn’t talk about what I was doing. I told them I loved them and asked them to keep Leslie safe.
I made it to the training grounds and took off the padlock on the gate, then drove in and stopped in front of the equipment shed. Finding the trapdoor, I removed an ammo box and checked the contents; it was as Alpha said. I took out one of the burner phones and my new ID, putting both in my front pocket. I stopped at a bar and grill for a burger and a coke, then started to drive back north.
I was almost to Duluth when I got the text message from Brian’s phone. I pulled over to look at it. “Come pick him up, 1887 Pioneer Road, Grand Marais. I’m sorry, he was a fighter to the end.” The photo showed a cooler, covered with branches, off the side of a road. My stomach lurched, and I barely got the door open and stepped outside before I was throwing up on the asphalt.
I put the address in my phone, setting it as my destination. I got there well after sundown in the shortening fall days and dragged the cooler back up to my car with some difficulty. I opened the lid, looking in with a flashlight, and closed it again.
Brian was gone. The water in the cooler was tinted red with his blood, the ice had cooled his body and prevented decay. I could smell both Jessie and John’s scents on the cooler. I started driving south for the second time that day, my heart heavy as I approached my Pack.
We had talked about this before I left. If anything happened, if she wasn’t safe, Brian was supposed to take Jessie and John far away, not waiting for me. They wouldn’t tell me where they were, and I wouldn’t ask. I was out of the protection detail now, John would have to protect his mate alone.
I drove straight into the Pack compound, stopping in front of the house where Brian and his parents lived. They came out, shocked to see me, and when they saw my face they both knew. His father held his mother tightly as she collapsed in sobs, and a howl went up to the moon, a howl of loss from a broken heart. “Brian was killed today defending Jessie. She and John have fled.”
The rest of the Pack picked up the howl, the sound echoing through the woods.
He kept holding my hand as we closed the back of the SUV, then he pulled me into his arms and hugged me. I relaxed into his broad chest, tears on my face as I remembered the man who I had met when he helped me move, and who was a close friend after my time on the run. “His parents will take care of him?”
“Yes, they will.”
“It’s all my fault…”
He let go of my waist and brought his hands to my face, lifting it up so I was looking in his deep blue eyes. “Nothing that has happened has been your fault, Jessie. Yuri is the one who has tried to kill you now three times just because of who you are. You are a small boat being tossed about in the great ocean right now. We just have to survive the storm… together.” The way he said the last word put a shiver in my spine, then his lips came down on mine and we kissed. I was shocked, but my body was all for it; I responded before I could think about it, opening my lips as his tongue twirled with mine. When he finally pulled back, I felt weak in the knees, and his eyes were dark with lust. “We have to get going, my love. You drive.”
He handed me the key. “Why me?”
He just laughed. “I got put in jail and kicked out of the country, remember? I came here as Cuddles, I have no identification, no driver’s license, and if they run my fingerprints I’ll be back in jail for the rest of my sentence plus immigration violations. So yeah, you can drive and if we get pulled over, I’ll be Cuddles again.”
I pulled his collar out of my pocket and gave it to him, then I walked to the driver’s side. I turned us around and went back to the main highway. “Where to?”
John had pulled a map out of the glove compartment, something I didn’t think they made anymore because of cellphones and GPS. “Canada is to the north, we can’t go through there as we don’t want your name showing up on immigration records. East is the lake, it’s too late in the season for a ferry. There is wilderness to the west, good for short term but we aren’t geared to stay there for a month. We need to head south to Silver Bay, then we head west instead of going to Duluth. I think if we go through there or closer to the Twin Cities we’ll be too easy to pick up.”
“So we head west?”
"Yes. Northern Minnesota is full of cabins, resorts and hotels. We get away from Grand Marais and find an isolated place to hide out.” It sounded good, and I joined the traffic heading south on the road along the North Shore. John didn’t say much, he was busy looking through the SUV for things we could use, and I was busy thinking too. What was I doing with John? Why did that kiss feel so good, so right? Why did that voice, that sexy Scottish accent, vibrate my chest and all the way down to my lady parts? Why wasn’t I afraid of the man who pulled my arm out of my socket and landed me in the hospital? It made no sense.
All of the sudden, a memory came to me and I saw red. He didn’t know the can of whoop-ass I was about to open as I pulled onto a cross-road and parked at the side. I turned to him, furious. “YOU PERVERT! YOU SAW ME NAKED!” I slapped him across the cheeks, and his arm came up and held my hand. I went to slap him with my left hand but he grabbed that too. “I can’t believe I got naked in front of a DOG and it wasn’t a DOG at all!”
He started laughing, and that just pissed me off more. “It’s NOT FUNNY! No man has seen me naked, and no one except my HUSBAND was ever going to!”
He brought my hands down to my lap, and looked straight into my eyes. “And no man EXCEPT your husband will have seen you naked, my love.” I froze, trying to figure out what exactly he was saying here. “I wasn’t spying on you, I was protecting the love of my life while she was in danger. You have nothing to be embarrassed about. Your body is spectacular, by the way. I want to write poetry about it, I want to carve it into marble like the masterpiece it is.”
“You… UH!! Men!”
“You’ve seen me naked, too.”
“That doesn’t count, you’re a freakin’ WEREWOLF and you didn’t ask me before you got all naked on me!” He started laughing again, and I pulled my hands free and wrapped them around my body. “WHY ARE YOU LAUGHING?”
“Sit back and think about this for a minute. Less than an hour ago, you survived the THIRD attempt on your life. Your two friends were killed, you cremated five people with your magic, you were betrayed for a ten-million-dollar bounty, you’re on the run with a man who turns out to be a werewolf, he tells you he loves you and wants to be your husband, and out of all THAT… You get pissed because he was in the room as a dog while you got dressed.”
I huffed, turning back to face forward in the seat. As I thought about it, he was right. I’d watched people have their heads blown off in front of me and I kept going, but I stopped everything at the thought of him seeing me nude. Maybe it was because somewhere deep down, I liked the idea. He was a chiseled specimen of a male, and the thought of him ripping my clothes off…
“Please don’t think of that right now, Jessie.”
“The smell of your arousal is strong. I’m holding my wolf back, all he wants to do is take you and make you his. You deserve more than the back of an SUV for our first time making love.”
I blushed hard, putting the vehicle back in gear and swinging around. He opened the window and breathed through his mouth until it was aired out again and we were on our way. “You could smell that?”
“Yes. Werewolves have greatly enhanced senses over humans. Better vision, especially at night, although our color vision isn’t as good. Our hearing is that of a wolf, our smell as well. It doesn’t go away when we are in our human form, either, though we can turn it down if you will if things get to be too much.”
“Like in a city?”
“Exactly. Most of us live farther out for that reason, but there are city werewolves too.”
I was in a line of cars, we had a long drive. “Why do you think you love me? You barely know me, I know very little about you.”
He just smiled and took my hand. “I loved you the moment I first smelled you back at Hooter’s, when I came in the door I knew my mate was there. All I had to do was find you, and I was shocked to find you were human.”
“Wait, mate. What do you mean by mate?”
“Werewolves aren’t like humans when it comes to love. Our Goddess creates our souls in pairs, and that person created to complete us is our mate. When we are old enough, our wolf is able to sense their presence. There is an unfinished bond between the two that has been there from the beginning. Finding and claiming your mate makes your soul complete, and normally a wolf claims and mates her immediately.”
“What is claiming and mating?”
“Claiming is the act of biting the neck of your mate, leaving behind a scar that shows other shifters you are mated. It also forms a link between the two werewolves, so his scent is in her, and the other way around. It’s like a wedding ring, but you can’t take it off.”
“And the mating?”
“Sex. You bite each other as you reach orgasm, and this is the final tie between your souls. If both are of age, the claiming and mating is usually at the same time; if not, like when Patrick found his mate in Russia, the claim is the engagement ring, the mating is the marriage." My eyes widened, Patrick was a wolf too... and while I was recovering, he was off at his engagement party. "At that point, you can talk, send emotions, even feel through the link you have with the other. Werewolves mating bonds last until death. Partners who lose their mates don’t get another, they are alone until they die. The loneliness kills many of them. You have no concept of how loved a mate is, how treasured a mate is to a werewolf.”
I thought about it for a moment. “Do I know any mates?”
He smiled. “Most of the people who have been with you since you left Hooters have been werewolves, love. Stan and Larissa are Alphas, they lead the St. Croix Pack you have been staying with. Peter and Abigail are their Betas, second in command. They helped you because of me, because of what you are to me.”
I felt butterflies in my stomach. “What exactly am I to you, John? An obsession? A distraction while you wait for your perfect werewolf? A notch on your bedpost?”
He didn’t say anything, driving my emotions up. “Pull over, Jessie.” I found a spot and stopped by the side of the road. “Jessie, do you think I’d go to jail, enter the country illegally, and put on that stupid collar just because I was trying to get in your bed?” He took my chin in his fingers, lifting my eyes to his. “Jessie, I did all those things because YOU are my mate. You are my love. You are my FUTURE. You are the most important thing in my life, and there is no one else for me. I am yours, and you can be mine if you just accept us.”
Holy shit. “I’m not a werewolf, John. I can’t be your mate.”
His hand moved to cup my cheek. “You are a werewolf, Jessie. She’s buried somewhere deep inside you, probably held down by a spell that Father Kempechny cast to keep you safe and hidden. Your father, Yevgheny, he was more than a Russian Mob chief. He was Alpha of the Moscow Pack, a werewolf, and you are heir to his Pack.”
My eyes rolled back and I collapsed in the seat.