Going Out With A Bang
Heather Rhode’s POV
My eyes shifted nervously between the three rough-looking men as they moved apart from each other, knives in hand. “Don’t get stuck in the middle, pick one, and attack. When they have numbers, they expect you to stay defensive. Take the fight to one and run when you see an opening.” I remembered learning from Laura. I picked the smallest guy, spinning and bringing my heel up into his forearm. The knife caught my thigh as I knocked it free. Before it hit the ground, I moved closer and followed with a wicked shot to his ribs, then another to his kidney. His punch missed my face and hit my shoulder. I wanted to finish him off, but the other two were already on me.
One grabbed my hair, pulling me back towards him. I kept my balance, taking a step back before launching my body in the air. My legs wrapped around his neck, and I used my weight and momentum to send us both to the ground. A punch in the throat and I was free, standing just in time to see the third man send a knife towards my ribs. Twisting to the right, I caught his wrist in my hand. He had extended himself too far, so I was able to pull him easily. I put my hip into his waist and threw him to the ground, as my left hand caught the knife as he dropped it. A moment later, the knife was at his throat.
“Goddam, Laura, she’s good,” the man said as I let him go. I stood and helped him to his feet and gave Blaster, Master at Arms of the Las Vegas Steel Brotherhood, a brief hug. Taz, the Vice President, was on his hands and knees, trying to catch his breath after the throat shot. All-In, the Treasurer, was holding his ribs as he caught his breath.
“She’s a good student,” Laura said as she came forward and gave me a big hug. Daily sparring sessions with her and Brent had honed my skills quickly. I found my Judo training gave me a good base for the other disciplines, but we were focusing on Krav Maga. After all, I needed to defend myself, not enter tournaments. I’d soaked up their instructions like a sponge, and in between, I watched instructional videos. “We are so familiar with each other’s style that sparring isn’t a challenge. I figured I’d try her against you three.”
“She’s good, but I was nervous as hell fighting a pregnant woman,” All-in said as he stood up.
“It’s still early, the babies are small and well-protected,” I said. “That was fun.”
“For you,” Taz said. “You owe me a beer after that beating.”
“What beating? Nobody saw nothing,” Aces said as he came forward. “Heather was never here, and we were scouting a new route for a run.” They all nodded.
“Good, because Brent is grilling the steaks now, and the beer is cold. Get changed and come on up,” Laura said.
I went into the women’s locker room changed back into my clothes; jeans, motorcycle boots, a white undershirt, and a flannel long-sleeved shirt. I took my hair out of the ponytail, letting it spread across my shoulders in gentle waves before joining the rest of our little family out on the patio. Brenda and Zoe were watching the twins play in a fenced-in padded play area in the shade, while Roadkill and Possum were bringing food and plates out. The sun was low, another two hours to go. Possum set a stack of plates on the table, then checked us out as we greeted her. “No patching up?”
“It was just a spar, Possum. I’m fine,” I said.
“She pulled her punches, I think,” Taz said. “She could have hurt me if she wasn’t. She’s got fight in her, but what about when her pregnancy is farther along?”
Laura just smiled as she looked around. Taking an apple from the fruit bowl, she made sure no one was in the way of the throw and nodded to me. Laura tossed it along the edge of the patio, as I drew a knife from my boot and threw in one motion. The blade pierced the apple, sending it tumbling to the rock below. “So she’ll be fine,” Taz said as he went to pick it up. He tossed the apple into the scrub, then cleaned the blade off with a paper towel before handing it back to me.
I thanked him and put it back in its sheath as All-In brought me my steak. “I know how Aces and Taz got their road names, but what’s the deal with you and Blaster?”
“Well, I don’t like gambling,” All-In said. “When I was a hang-around at the clubhouse, I got roped into one of their all-night poker games. All I wanted to do was drink and dance with one of the girls, so the first hand I got, I went all-in. Same with the next three hands until I finally lost. In the meantime, I’d knocked four brothers out of the tournament in the first ten minutes.”
I laughed. “And Blaster? Is he in to explosives or something?”
“Nope. Burrito Wednesday is his weakness. God help you if you’re riding behind him when those make it through him. It’s like a skunk crawled up his ass and died.”
I almost choked on my steak; these were my kind of people, and I missed hanging around them. “I suppose it won’t do any good to ask if I can hang out at the clubhouse,” I said.
“It’s still not safe,” Aces said.
“Any idea when it will be,” I asked Roadkill.
“I talked to Mongo last night,” he said. “Rori won’t tell him what is going on, but they didn’t come to Orlando this winter, and she won’t talk about why. Three Tequila can’t even get her to agree to letting them visit. Whatever is going on, it’s not time to return.”
I looked over at Brent and Laura. “Have you heard anything?”
“We’ve been off the grid since we left Minnesota,” Brent said. “Our orders are to protect the twins, and if possible, you. Until Chase and Rori change those orders, we’re not going anywhere.”
I let out a sigh; it was March 29th, and Greg had told me he would return on April 1st. I put my hand down on my belly, where his babies were growing and sighed. I wasn’t showing yet, but I wasn’t happy with him. I’d sent a dozen letters to him, and none had come back to me.
Roadkill and Possum were going riding with the guys, and I waved goodbye to them as they drove off. I’d claimed fatigue, pulling the pregnancy card when they doubted me. I packed the essentials for a trip into the saddlebags of my Harley, leaving a note behind asking them not to follow. I needed to see Greg, and if no one knew I was coming, I’d get in and out quickly.
I rode to Las Vegas, to a used car dealership that was still open. I paid cash for a 2013 Honda Odyssey minivan, with part of the deal being storage for my motorcycle for thirty days. I drove out of town with my hair under a bandana and a Baby on Board sticker on my back window.
Two days later, I arrived in Two Harbors just before dinnertime. I pulled up to the gate leading to the Arrowhead Resort, stopping and rolling the window down at the gate. The man who approached looked shocked to see me. “Heather?”
“Hi Lance. Is Greg Barks back?”
“He arrived a few hours ago. Does anyone know you are coming?”
I shook my head. “No, and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t spoil the surprise.” He nodded and opened the gate, and I drove in and parked by the Main House. There were a lot of cars around, and I could hear the sounds of a party from inside. I went up into the dining area, saying hello to people I knew but not stopping to chat.
The room got quiet when I came in. I saw Greg at the front of the room, sitting next to Chase, and talking to a huge man I didn’t recognize. “GREG,” I yelled as I ran towards him.
He stood up and his eyes got real big just before I jumped into his arms. Wrapping my legs around him, I put my lips to his.
I didn’t get the kiss and hug I expected.
He pushed me away, and I let go as he set me back on the ground. “Greg?”
“I told you we were over, Heather. You need to move on.”
Tears rolled down my face, and I didn’t even notice the people gathering around or how the mood of the room changed. “What?”
“I broke up with you in that letter three months ago. You need to accept I’ve moved on and found someone else.”
My heart was breaking, and my hand moved down to my belly. I looked down at it, and anger welled up in me. Looking up, I slapped him HARD across the face. “YOU FUCKING BASTARD, YOU KNOCK ME UP AND SEND ME A FUCKING ‘DEAR JANE’ LETTER?”
He looked at me in shock, sniffing for some reason. “You’re pregnant?”
“Twins,” I said as I started bawling.
It was then that the train wreck of my life decided I needed more. “YOU BITCH,” a woman in a black dress said as she charged towards me from behind Greg’s left side. “HE’S MINE,” she said as her fist swung towards my stomach.
I turned, taking the blow in the hip instead of the belly to protect my babies. I heard her knuckles break on my hip bone and her scream of pain. Continuing the turn, I put the side of my foot into her face and knocked her to the ground. “He was mine first,” I said. “But you can have his lying ass.”
The woman’s face filled with rage and popping sounds filled the room. I watched in horror as she changed in front of me. Her body got longer, her face lengthened, and fur sprouted out of her skin as her dress shredded. It seemed like forever but was only a second or two before a huge grey wolf stood over the remains of her dress. The wolf snarled at me, white fangs dripping with saliva, before she gathered herself and sprang towards me.
I stepped back with my right foot and put my left hand up as I drew my Glock from the holster in the small of my back. Not taking time to aim, I fired once from the hip at the wolf before taking another step back.
“NO,” Greg yelled as he moved towards me. My first round hit the wolf in the shoulder, but Greg knocked my arm as he rushed me and the next went into the window. I tried to get a shot at him, but he picked me up and slammed me down sideways into a table. Pain exploded in my ribs as he landed on me, and I lost hold of my pistol.
Pandemonium reigned as Greg pushed off me before rushing back to the injured wolf. There was yelling, people were shifting into wolves and squaring off, and I was holding my side and crying. I rolled up to my hands and knees, looking for my pistol.
“SHE MUST DIE,” a man yelled from behind a line of snarling wolves.
“LEAVE HER ALONE,” Rori yelled back, a bunch of her friends around her.
“Friend,” I heard a familiar voice say from behind me. I felt myself getting picked up and held to a broad chest. “I’ve got you, Heather,” Carson said as he ran out of the room with me. I could hear tables and glass breaking behind us, shouts in Russian and English, and snarls and howls of wolves. The room had erupted into violence with me as the cause. As we ran through Rori’s allies, they blocked the exits to cut off the pursuers.
“What’s happening,” I asked as he carried me down the stairs. I was gritting my teeth, barely holding back a scream. That bastard must have broken my ribs when his fat ass landed on me. It hurt to breathe, and I felt pain with every step.
“You picked a hell of a time to show up,” he said as we reached the entrance to the tunnels. We went inside the tunnel, and he closed the door behind us. “We don’t have much time. They’ll block the roads out of here, and you’re dead if they get to you.”
“The family of Greg’s mate, the one you just shot.” We reached another door and walked into a locker room. He started removing his clothes. “Trust me no matter what you see, Heather. I need to get you out of here, and you’re going to have to ride on my back. If we get enough of a head start, I can have my men meet me outside Pack lands and get you to my plane.”
“You…. You’re a…” I couldn’t talk because he was standing there naked in all his glory. He made Greg look puny in comparison, in all ways. He didn’t reply to me. Instead, he shifted from his buff, naked self into a big wolf. He turned away from me, and I climbed onto his back and held on. Pushing through a double set of doggie doors, he took off for the woods as I clung to him in terror.
He was running as fast as he could through the woods, dodging trees and leaping deadfalls. Once I got comfortable on top of him, I started enjoying the ride. “I’m riding on the back of a damn Werewolf,” I thought to myself as my hands gripped his fur on his forechest. “Is Greg a werewolf too?” Carson’s wolf chuffed, making me think that was a yes.
We ran for twenty minutes or so through the pines, aspens, and birch trees. I could hear the howls behind us getting closer and started to get nervous. Carson was breathing hard, and I’m sure the wolves chasing us weren’t carrying a woman on their back. I thought we were in trouble until we broke into a clearing and climbed onto a two-lane paved road.
A black SUV was approaching and stopped in front of us. Carson trotted to the door as a man came out and opened it. “I’ve got you,” he said as he lifted me off and set me in the back seat. Carson shifted, getting in next to me, and we were off again.
“That really happened,” I said as I tried, unsuccessfully, to not look at the Adonis who was pulling on boxers next to me.
“I have to hand it to you, Heather. You sure can make an entrance.” The SUV was speeding down the road, heading west. “We can’t get to my airplane; there are too many of their allies around.”
“How do you know that?” He hadn’t said a thing, and we’d been running since he took me out of the room.
“Werewolves can mind link among Pack or Family; that allows us to communicate while we are wolves or humans without having to talk. Chase is my brother and he told me what was happening. The Russians and the Werewolf Council are furious that yet another human has learned our secret. Add in that you are pregnant with a mated male’s pups, and they will kill you on sight. His Alphas is pushing for your immediate death, while Alpha Rori is arguing that you are pregnant with pups and should be kept alive until they are born.”
“PUPS? I’m having PUPPIES?” I felt a sharp pain and sank back in the seat. This couldn’t be happening, he was just a guy who said he loved me, and now I was having a litter?
“Your babies will be born and grow normally, but they will be like Greg, like me, like Chase and Rori. They will be werewolves, able to change form at will.” He saw the look on my face. “We’re not animals. You know us, Heather, we’re just like you but with a few more abilities.”
“Oh, god…” My hand went down to my babies, and I looked out the window at the trees flying by. Carson’s driver was going over a hundred miles an hour as we fled the scene. I couldn’t hold back the panic as the adrenaline dump from the conflict wore off. My breaths were short, and I was starting to feel light-headed.
Carson pulled me into his lap, his strong arms holding me gently as he calmed me down. “Just breathe, Heather. Focus on my heartbeat and breathe with me. In.” I took a breath, but it hurt. “Out. In as deep as you can, hold for a second, then breathe out.” I did what he said, listening to his heart as he held my head against his broad chest. It took ten minutes to calm down, and then I fell asleep.
When I woke, Carson was carrying me to a private jet. “Where are we?”
“Alexandria,” he said. “You look better now that you’ve had some sleep.” He got me settled in the six-seater executive jet just before it started taxiing out. He held my hand as we took off, the plane turning towards the sunset as it climbed.
“Where are we going?”
“My home, in the Cascade Range in Washington State. We’re about forty miles east of Mount Ranier. It’s beautiful there, and I promise you that I will keep you safe.”
I needed to go into hiding AGAIN? I shook my head no. “Just let me go, I can go back to Possum and Roadkill and the babies and hide with them.”
“You can’t,” he said. “They won’t be there. When you left, they had to assume you might be captured. They can’t take the chance that you’ll give up their location under torture. They will relocate immediately to protect the twins. It’s how they are trained to respond in these situations.”
“They are all werewolves?”
“No. Possum and Roadkill are human, like you. Everyone else at Arrowhead is a werewolf.”
I let that sink in for a minute, looking out the window as I went through what I had learned. Carson’s words from earlier hit me. “Wait a minute. Earlier, you said that Rori wanted me protected so I could have my babies.”
“Yes. All children are valued, and the fact their mother is human doesn’t change that. Werewolves live long lives, but aren’t fertile. One child in fifty years is the norm.”
“What about AFTER I have my baby?”
He sighed. “I will never lie to you, Heather.” Oh shit, it had to be bad news with that lead-in. “Werewolf law would have you imprisoned until you deliver the babies, and then you would be killed. If Greg and his mate doesn’t take responsibility for them, and they probably won’t to keep the line of succession clear, they would be adopted out to be raised by another couple.”
“Oh, HELL no,” I said as I unbuckled my belt and started to get up.
“Heather, please. Sit down. We’re at ten thousand feet; you’re not getting off.” He waited until I was buckled in again before continuing. “Rori and Chase are fighting to change these laws, but it is not easy. The Packs are evenly split, and that mess we left behind will bring it all to the forefront. I am granting you asylum in my Pack, for your protection from those who want you dead NOW.”
For some reason, I trusted him. “And when the babies come?”
“I will not allow anyone to harm you, Heather. They will need to grow up among their kind, but you will be there with them. You are mine to protect, and I swear on my life that it will be so.”
I looked into his eyes, he was serious. “Why? Why would you risk your life over mine?”
“There’s something about you that resonates with my wolf and my soul, Heather. Let’s face it, your life has been one kick in the teeth after another for months, yet you find ways to rise above it. I admire your courage and determination.” He smiled broadly. “Plus, you’re one badass chick, and I need one around me now that my sister has her own Pack in Canada.”
“Oh come ON,” I said as I blushed. “I got my ass kicked.”
“I’m not kidding. Tatiana Vasiliev comes from a long line of strong warriors. She jumped you, and you not only defended yourself, but you knocked her down in front of everyone. To further her family’s embarrassment, she shifted to attack a human and got herself shot. Her mate had to save her from your next shot. Losing to you is a bigger humiliation than finding out her mate was in love with a human and got her pregnant.”
“I believed him when he told me he loved me,” I said.
“We tried to warn him. For a werewolf, finding your mate is an overwhelming experience. He might even have been in love with you, but human love can’t compete with the mating pull.”
I looked out the window, understanding what he was saying. He would protect me, but there was never a chance for us to be together. He’d friendzoned me.
I leaned the seat back and closed my eyes, my hands clasped together over my stomach. My hip hurt almost as much as my ribs, but it was worth it. If she had connected, she might have harmed my babies.
They were the only people who mattered in my life now. I was done with men. I was done with Love. And I sure as hell was done with Greg; Tatiana could have him.
I fell asleep to the drone of the engines.
(The saga will continue in Book 3, “Claiming Treasure”)
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