“Hold up! I smell something!”
Blake Patterson closed his eyes, using all his senses but sight to try and track down the mysterious source of the odor.
Blood. Thick, coppery, and strong, it rankled at him, and he had to force the beast inside him to back down. Whatever the source of the scent was, it surely had to be dead by now. The overpowering fragrance emanating from it was that intense.
But there was also another, fainter smell beneath it. A more feminine spice. It didn’t smell rogue, but it was definitely a foreign wolf. Maybe someone who had gotten lost from a neighboring pack.
Whoever it was, they were on death’s door, if not already gone.
Not bothering to shift since the smell of blood was so potent, Blake moved southwest towards the road. Not a lot of visitors ventured on this particular highway and this far north in New York State unless they were heading to Canada, so the possibilities of them running into anyone they didn’t already know were pretty slim.
Blake had to travel much farther than he thought he would, and was almost right on the road when he saw a small movement in the leaves at the edge of the small ravine that was abutted up against the pavement. If he had blinked, he might have missed it completely.
“Trace! Caleb!” Blake called out to the Delta and Gamma who were hovering back several hundred yards. They were his back up. If there was an injured she-wolf, who knew what had caused her affliction? They were being safe and protecting their Beta, their second in command.
“Blake?” It was Caleb. He came out from behind a tree and looked at him. “What did you find?”
“Look.” Blake was pointing to the small body of a foreign female. Beaten, battered, her face more purple than healthy pink skin.
Sniffing, Caleb’s nose crinkled at the overwhelming metallic smell of her blood.
“Her heartbeat is faint,” Trace stated as he came up from behind them. The two other men jumped at his voice, startled. Trace had a basso-profundo tone that went well with his thick body, but it still rattled them to hear him speak when it was relatively quiet like now. It was almost as if the forest was silent in reverence of the dead. Or dying.
“What do we do?” Blake asked, almost to himself.
“She’s as good as dead,” Trace stated. “Just leave her here.”
That didn’t sit well with Blake and he frowned. He was a protector at heart. “I wonder if she was the one that set off the alarm at the border.”
“I doubt she got here by herself in this state,” Caleb said, looking at the deep gashes on her skin from afar. “Someone must have dropped her off here after beating her bloody.”
“I wonder what she did,” Blake surmised. “She’s so small and incredibly slender.” The female looked too young and too frail to have been the cause of much trouble. Who would do this to such a petite woman?
The small woman’s bare ribs stuck out through the tattered remnants of her shirt, the tears most certainly made by the claw marks of another wolf. Maybe even a rogue.
The three men were all looking at the girl when her eyes slowly slid open and she gazed up at them. They were a startling clear blue, giving her an innocence that made Blake realize that he couldn’t just leave her there. Even if she was near death, something in him made him believe she deserved a chance at life. The chance they could give her.
“We can’t just leave her here,” Blake stated, his voice low but certain. “I don’t believe such a frail creature could have done anything to deserve such a death as this.”
“Then you can be the one to deal with Liam,” Trace warned him, effectively washing his hands of the stray wolf. He knew Liam hated to deal with foreign wolves, especially females. He thought them sly, silly creatures, for the most part.
“I’ll handle Liam,” Blake told him as he made his way down the small gulley next to the highway. “He’s not been as bad as all that lately.”
“Says you,” Caleb tossed out. He had been punished only a week before for fraternizing with a rogue that had fled a neighboring pack. The rogue had claimed he was seeking refuge from a cruel Alpha to the south of them. The man had once again been again tossed away by their own Alpha like a rotting banana peel, just to the east of their land. Let him seek refuge there, proclaimed Liam.
“The Alpha has no female,” Blake reminded the Gamma wolf. “He is bound to get... irritable.”
“Then he should seek sexual release with one of the many willing females,” Caleb spat back at him. “It’s not like there aren’t any eager, unmated women to be had at Plumbrook.”
“It’s not his way,” Blake told him. “If he is to take a female, it is for life. You know Liam, so don’t act a fool.”
The small female groaned as Blake tried to lift her from the ground. The large man winced, knowing his actions were probably hurting the fragile-looking creature. When Caleb and Trace protested again, Blake cut them both with a look.
“Get the car, you bunch of ingrates,” he told them, ignoring their looks of consternation.
Female stray found in the woods, Alpha, he mindlinked to Liam once Caleb and Trace had gone.
Leave it be, Liam instructed, a growl in his tone.
She’s near death and... she’s so fucking tiny, Blake told him, his voice conciliatory.
Blake could almost hear the man sigh in his head. Blake and Liam had been best friends since they were pups, and if anyone could get through to the irritable Alpha, it was Blake.
Fine, Liam told him, his voice resigned. Bring her to the infirmary. We will have Evelyn tend to her, and then send her along her way.
Blake, having been satisfied that the young female was going to be taken care of, waited for Caleb to bring the car around so they could get the unknown girl the help she so desperately needed.
Evelyn D’Amato frowned at the unconscious female in the white hospital bed. The Alpha was standing next to her and listening to everything the doctor was saying.
“These,” the doctor told Liam, gesturing to the deep gashes on the female’s stomach. “Are all claw marks.”
“That, I could have guessed,” Liam told her, arching a brow. “She was obviously attacked by another wolf. This is not news. Why did you bring me here to show me what I already could have guessed?”
Evelyn looked at her Alpha and blinked.
“The marks on her back are not claw marks,” the doctor told him. “They are whip marks.”
That, however, surprised Liam.
“Yes, Alpha,” Evelyn told him, nodding. “She has been severely whipped and beaten. More than once. She also has fading scars under the open gashes on her back. I am surprised that she lives at all. She’s lost a goodish amount of blood.”
Liam’s jaw ticked, his eyes growing dark.
“She does not smell rogue,” Liam stated. In fact, after she had been cleaned of all the blood and dirt, she had a pleasant, flowery smell. Like a mixture of jasmine and freesia.
“I don’t think she is rogue,” Evelyn told him. “We would smell it.”
The woman hesitated and looked away from the Alpha. His brows knitted, wondering what she was keeping from him.
“What is it?” Beaten and battered, what else could possibly be wrong with the slight female before him?
“I... well – when I had the nurses bathe her, they told me something disturbing,” Evelyn told him in a measured tone. “After doing a more thorough check, I found that she was not only beaten but... abused.”
Liam’s jaw clenched again, a sure sign his wolf was becoming agitated within him.
“You mean... raped?” he asked, looking down at the fluttering of the unconscious female’s eyelids. He hoped she was having a good dream, whatever it was.
“Several times over,” Evelyn told him, nodding her head. “And quite recently. She had tearing of the anus and vaginal walls, and she is very swollen. I don’t think she was raped by a man, but by some other, foreign object.”
Liam felt disgusted. The poor woman before him was as frail as Blake had described, and though he was no fan of strays, he felt bad for the one before him. Horrible, in fact. He wanted to break something, tear into someone’s flesh to be rid of the cold, coiling nausea he had rolling through his gut.
Instead of spilling the contents of his stomach into the nearest toilet, he simply nodded at the doctor before heading toward the door of the private room in the ICU wing of the pack hospital.
“Thank you, Doctor,” he told her as his hands met with the cold surface of the doorknob. “Call me when she wakes. I have questions for her.”
Liam waited until he was out of the hospital to shift into the black beast that was tearing at his insides trying to get out. He may not have been a fan of visitors, but it was not as if this one had come to his land of her own volition. The doctor had been certain. She had been dropped there, possibly even tossed from a vehicle. Left to die next to the road that led to the Plumbrook Pack in northern New York State.
Liam’s beast was finally sated. He had ripped apart several rabbits, a deer and – surprisingly – a mountain lion. That last was a shock. They were rare, even in the area near the Adirondacks.
Slipping on some clothes he had hidden in a tree near his home, he walked in through the back door of his house to find Blake sitting at his kitchen table, eating a sandwich.
“That better not be the last of the roast beef,” Liam warned him as he opened the fridge to grab a bottle of water.
“I’ll get you more,” Blake told him, his face blank.
“What’s up your ass?” Liam asked him, uncapping the bottle.
“The... female,” Blake told him.
“You have a mate, Blake,” Liam reminded him, arching a brow.
“It’s not that,” Blake said, shaking his head. “I went by the infirmary before to check in on her. She was being sedated.”
Liam froze and looked over at his Beta. Water from the open bottle spilled over, and a few drops dripped onto his shoe as his brows furrowed above his eyes.
“Nightmare. Night terror. Whatever you want to call it. She was thrashing around like she was being viciously attacked.”
“Did she... did she say anything?”
“She could only scream,” Blake told him. “If there were any words in there, they were unintelligible. I made Dr. D’Amato tell me everything.”
Liam nodded. He understood now why Blake was acting so odd. Rape was an offense in the Plumbrook Pack that was punishable by death. Torture and then death, if the female was already mated and taken against her will. It was one of the gravest offenses one could commit.
“At least she’s not pregnant,” Blake stated. “Evelyn got the blood tests back before I came over. But then again, she’s pretty sure the rape was with a foreign object, not someone’s dick. Blunt force trauma.”
“Shit,” Liam muttered and resumed draining the bottle.
“I’m glad she’s not pregnant. No one needs a daily reminder of their repeated rape,” Blake agreed, nodding at him.
“When will she be awake?”
“Who knows?” Blake shrugged. “With the amount of sedatives they had to give her, it could be hours, maybe even a day, before she finally opens her eyes.”
Liam’s eyes widened a trace.
“That bad, huh?”
Blake shuddered a bit. “I can still hear her screams. They were terrifying. Like she was being fucking murdered right there in front of me.”
Liam nodded. He had his own demons and nightmares too. But that was then. Years ago. Too, too many. And yet the memories, the dreams, they always felt so fresh, like an open sore that refused to heal.
And the guilt. It ate away at him every day. If only he had known what would happen, had been able to see the trouble brewing. Maybe... just, maybe...
“I’m heading to bed,” Liam told his friend and Beta. “I’ll keep you posted if I hear anything from Dr. D’Amato.”
Blake merely nodded and finished up the last few bites of his sandwich as he stared blankly out the window.
Wondering. He wondered where the female had come from, and thought back to Caleb’s rogue wolf. Had that wolf come from the same pack this female had? It would only make sense if that were the case. Not all packs were as peaceful as Plumbrook.
After washing his lone dish and a couple of utensils he had used to make his food, he placed them in the dish drainer and left out the front of door the Alpha’s home, locking it behind him.
Instead of heading off toward his own home to see his mate, Colleen, he headed off toward the trees in search of solitude.