The woods were silent. Almost eerily still. It was as if all the creatures that frequented the area had fled in anticipation of Peter and Chloe’s arrival.
She was relieved. She hoped the wolf shifters stayed away as well.
They were outside the nearby town of Stony Creek, but just on the other side, some twenty miles away. The forests were green and lush during this part of the spring, and all the blooms seemed to be out in deference to the sunny skies and crisp, clean air.
It would have been pretty if it wasn’t for their dire and dreaded mission.
So far, the day had been a bust. They had left early, even before the sun truly rose, and had driven off a sideroad in order to take to the woods where their car wouldn’t readily be seen. They’d hiked many miles since then, drinking cooling sips of water and eating their lunch in the great outdoors when the time came.
After their nutrient-packed but brief meal had been consumed, Chloe drank the rest of her water bottle down and took out another from her green backpack. It was the color of camouflage, and it served her well. She was dressed in brown pants, a green t-shirt that was moist with sweat, and her bright red hair was hidden by a green beanie that kept it off her shoulders and out of the way. Her hair would have been a dead giveaway with its bright hue, and her father fussed at her to keep it tucked under her hat so they wouldn’t be seen before they needed to be.
If they ever were. The forest was so quiet it was uncanny.
As her father took point ahead of her, her eyes glanced from side to side, her head sometimes swiveling behind when she heard the occasional crunch of leaves or the far-off snap of a twig. That had been seldom, so she mostly looked forward and tried to keep up with her father’s longer, quieter strides.
Her foot occasionally got caught and twisted in a gnarled tree root, but her eyes couldn’t be everywhere, and the small twinges of pain she usually felt soon dissipated until she was walking assuredly through the thick undergrowth and winding path her father took through the greenery. If she fell too far behind, he always patiently waited for her to catch up. Albeit, he looked disgruntled when she was slow, but he knew she was much more petite in stature than his six feet.
Birds chirped high in the trees, sometimes flying away with the rapid fluttering of their wings if Peter and Chloe got too close, but they were high above and too small of a target, even if the poor beasts happened to have shifter blood in them. Who knew? Stranger things were known to happen.
When she caught up with her father again after having gotten entangled in a deep tree root, several things happened at once.
Chloe tripped as she came up to her father, and Peter stumbled to catch his own fall. Unfortunately, there was another tree root behind him, and he stumbled and landed flat on his ass.
“Sorry, Daddy,” she muttered as she got up from the ground.
“Quieter, love. There could be—” He went to grab onto a low-hanging branch to pull his thicker body up. The damned thing broke with a brittle snapping sound, and then he was being hoisted into the air by a net that was hidden under the previous fall’s dead leaves and twigs.
“Daddy!” she cried out as she saw him get entangled into the web of ropes. Her head snapped to and fro, trying to see if she could cut him down, but she was way too short to reach even the lowest hanging branch of the closest tree. “You alright?”
“Trap!” Peter cursed a few times. “Means we’re close. Chlo—”
“Over here!” voices called from their northwest. The sound of brush being wrenched aside made Chloe freeze in place. Free her father or flee? It was a quick decision, and she stood rooted in place, much like the trees surrounding her.
A man, a tall, olive-skinned man larger than any she’d ever seen was coming closer, and her gaze locked onto his eyes, eyes the same color as the trees, though they sparkled with a light that shouldn’t have been there with the absence of overhead sunlight. The treetops were high, but they were so thick that it was both cooler and darker under their canopy.
The man looked at her, his eyes widening to almost cartoonish proportions before he was joined by another male, his hair shorter and lighter than the artfully tousled chestnut locks of the first.
The first man didn’t look away from Chloe, and the other nudged him in the direction of the net and Peter’s flailing body. The first man, all eager, verdant eyes, ignored the other, the struggling and noisy hunter in the net, and immediately walked over to Chloe before grabbing onto both her upper arms. His grip on her was both firm and surprisingly gentle. His gaze lowered over her body, but it was not the hungry leer of someone who wanted her. It was calculating, and she wondered if the man was figuring out some way to keep her contained without benefit of a rope or duct tape. She didn’t think he had any in the shorts he wore, and he didn’t have any pockets. In fact, he was bare-chested, and the only thing he wore was slightly soiled khaki shorts.
He wasn’t even donning shoes, oddly enough.
This man—he had to be a shifter, but he was looking at Chloe with what looked like concern, and her mouth twisted in a frown as she tried to figure out why.
“Are you alright? He didn’t hurt you, did he?” He gestured to her father in the net with a jerk of his chin. Chloe was so startled by the question, she blurted out an answer, sounding horrified.
“Of course not!” she spouted, her eyes rocketing open with her exclamation. “He’s my father! Why would he hurt me?”
The man looked at her, his head canting to the left as if he didn’t believe her. “Your father is…you’re a hunter’s daughter?”
She nodded her head, the fog finally starting to clear from her head.
Dad. I need to get him down.
“Please. Just let me get him down from there and we’ll go home. Take the weapons if you want, and we’ll leave you be. I promise.”
The man shook his head. His grip tightened on Chloe, and she flexed her defined muscles to test his grip. “No.” It was a low growl, sounding more animal than human. “That can’t be your father. He doesn’t smell right.”
If anyone but a shifter had said that, Chloe would have laughed, but she had been taught that wolves were feral, untamed, and she fought back a ripple of fear as goosebumps rose and settled over every inch of her skin.
The large man’s hands seemed to relax their hold on her, and she shrugged him off, surprised when his arms dropped to his sides in resignation. He still stared at her though, eyes still wide and taking in every inch of her like she was a mirage he didn’t quite believe he was seeing.
“We can’t simply let him go,” the man said. “He knows where we live now and may bring more to eradicate our kind when he returns. And he will return. They always do.” He paused and cocked his head before putting out one large hand to her. Chloe looked at it as if it were an untouchable and priceless piece of art in a museum. “My name is Dominic. Dominic Boudreaux, the Alpha of Brownstone Pack. The man over there—” He pointed to the light-haired male who was inspecting the nets with a beady eye. “—his name is Cole, and he’s my Beta, or second-in-command.”
She didn’t understand what the introductions were in aid of, and she shook her head slightly before opening her mouth to speak. “You’re not going to let us go? Are…are you going to kill us?”
The man’s lips ticked up, the closest to a grin she’d seen on him so far. His posture seemed to loosen, and he widened his stance before considering her and her question.
“Why would I kill you, little mate? I assume your living with this man you call a father was forced upon you, so I don’t think it necessary to get rid of you both.” He regarded Peter with a wary glance. “Him—he’ll need to go.”
“No!” She pushed forward, pleading with the Dominic. “Please! You can’t! He is my father. I have no other friends or family. I promise we will leave you be. He wasn’t holding me hostage—he’s my flesh and blood! I don’t have anyone else!”
She had completely bypassed him calling her ‘little mate’ when she heard he was planning on getting rid of her father.
“He’s no more flesh and blood to you than I am,” Dominic told her, his tone unequivocal. “You would smell more like him, but you’re as different as night is to day. You may be of no danger to us, but your father—” He gave the word air quotes. “—is a danger to us all. Cole! Take the weapons and dispose of them. And tell Alpha Gareth we’ve caught the intruders. He’ll probably want to see for himself, but you can put the one in the net into the cells and show him there. I’ll deal with the girl.”
Dominic didn’t think there was any sense explaining to his Beta just who the girl was at that point, especially if he was going to be keeping a keen eye on her. “Tell me, little one, do you enjoy slaying wolves of our caliber? Do you enjoy the rush of adrenaline of a fresh kill?”
She was stunned with the question, the horror showing starkly on her face. “No! I’ve never killed one before.” Never wanted to and never will, she wanted to add. “And what do you mean by calling me little mate? My name is Chloe. Chloe McAvoy. That’s Peter McAvoy up there in the net. Please...please let him go.”
He studied her, trying to weave through the half-truths he thought she was telling. Yes, she smelled pure, unsullied by death—maybe even untarnished in baser, more delicate ways, but he would find that out soon enough when he took her to his home—their home.
“I call you little mate because that’s what you are—my mate. Can’t you feel the pull towards me, the way your skin tingles when I touch you?” As if to demonstrate, he ran one hand down the bare skin of her arm, right to just below her elbow. She shook her head.
“I…I feel nothing. Nothing but fear. I just don’t want you to kill my father.”
He gave another, even lower growl that seemed to physically vibrate his cut pectorals, though he didn’t flinch or pull away.
“How? How is it you don’t feel it? That you can’t sense our connection? It’s there, growing stronger by the second.” He lifted his other hand to cup her chin and bring his intense stare to hers. She swallowed noisily, trying to tear her eyes from his, but couldn’t. It was like by just his looking at her, he was claiming her in some way, though how that was possible, she didn’t know.
“I…d-don’t know what you’re talking about, sir.”
He chest rumbled, but this time it was an appreciative sound, like he enjoyed the fact that she was being altogether subservient to him by calling him sir.
“Dominic. Please, little Luna. My name is Dominic or Dom to you. I insist upon it.”
“D-Dominic,” she whispered, testing the strange name on her tongue. “What…what are you going to do to me?”
A lot of things came to mind when she asked that. Wicked things. Things he was sure she had no idea about. Under the delicious scent of freesia she gave off, there was a pure pulse of something flawless, something perfect about her.
He could smell it on her. Just like her fragrance drugged him, he could scent her virginity like it was a rare bloom amongst a copse of common daises. He relished it, and took his first deep lungful of her scent in as he dipped his head to her hair and brushed his nose over the top of her head. She shivered beneath him, and his eyes closed on a small, knowing smile.
Whatever it was that stunted the pull she should have felt for him, in some way, she still felt something, even if it was just a hint of desire for him.
He would figure that out later.
“Dom?” The other man was calling. He had climbed the tree and was slowly lowering the net with the struggling Peter to the ground.
“Mmm?” Dominic grunted, his gaze never wavering from Chloe.
“Red Peak should be here soon. I can hear them off about 50 meters.”
Dominic kicked away the unattended rifle that Chloe had dropped with one foot and listened to crack of trees and snap of twigs off in the distance. He had been far too interested in his mate to have heard them crashing through the woods.
“Through there!” he could hear them calling before his head whipped around to look at the movement of trees in the distance.
Within seconds, a large man, one with red hair and hazel eyes came tumbling through the brush, his eyes snapping to Dominic’s before his arm moved out to point at the intruder he could see.
Dominic knew the look in Alpha Gareth’s eyes quite well. He had seen it many times before since signing the treaty to their alliance. The neighboring Alpha wanted his mate’s head on a pike, her body burned beyond all recognition. He had to think fast, and gripped Chloe by the arms before giving her a conciliatory, regretful look.
“I’m sorry, but I have to do this. It’s that, or you die.”
He leaned in quickly to her neck, and she thought she felt his tongue come out to lick her before…
Pain. Sharp teeth digging into her flesh as she cried out.
She could hear her father calling out to her before she was swept under a cloak of pleasure that made her skin tingle all the way down to her toes.
“Chloe!” her father yelled out again before her eyes closed and she gave into another coursing wave of heat that spilled throughout her body until it was all she could feel, her hearing muted until Dominic slowly pulled his teeth out of her skin and started to lick at the wound on her neck.
“What the hell?” she gasped.