Authors: Rebekah Blue
Naomi was gasping for breath, her legs wobbly, as they finally came to a halt in the thick forest surrounding the rehabilitation center. They were by the edge of a stream, and Naomi realized she was horribly thirsty.
“This…won’t work…” she panted. “My father will send out trackers… They’ll follow our trail…” Some of the wolves the institute employed had noses so sensitive that Byron might as well have left big, flashing neon arrows pointing in the direction they’d run.
He didn’t look worried, though. He just gave her a questioning look, then ripped open his orange jumpsuit, wrenching off the buttons and dropping them to the floor at his feet.
“Wh-what are you doing?” she yelped. His open jumpsuit exposed a slender triangle of his chest, bronzed skin over toned muscle, and her eyes lingered. She licked dry lips.
He surprised her with a brief chuckle. “Don’t worry,” he said. “Your virtue’s safe.”
He lifted his foot over the buttons and stamped down hard, grinding them underneath the sole of his boot. Then he bent and stirred the debris with one long finger, fishing out an orange circlet. He stood and held his palm out to Naomi, showing her the crushed remains of a tiny microphone, a miniscule circuit board.
Her lips parted on a surprised inhalation. If he was being bugged and he knew it, that explained why he kept tearing the jumpsuits the wardens issued him to pieces.
“I’m not stupid,” he said. “Your daddy likes to make sure I’m not talking behind his back.” And as for our scent trail…”
Naomi shrieked as he lifted her in his arms, strode into the center of the stream, and dumped her on her ass. The water was achingly cold. She broke the surface, spluttering and furious.
Byron just grinned maddeningly and dunked his head under the water, emerging with his dark hair plastered to his high cheekbones and trailing over his throat. His thick, dark eyelashes were beaded with glistening droplets of water, and his sodden jumpsuit clung against his muscular body like a second skin.
He pulled her close, rubbing her arms briskly with his big, rough palms. “Running water,” he explained. “It’ll throw them off the trail.”
She balled up her fists and hit him as hard as she could. His chest was warm and solid, and her punches did nothing – they didn’t even relieve her frustration and outrage. He chuckled again – a warmer sound this time – and caught hold of her wrists, holding them firmly. She scarcely realized that her anger had turned to tears and she was shaking with spent adrenaline.
“Hey,” he said. “Hey, I’m sorry.”
She looked up into his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he repeated. “I had no choice.”
Their gazes locked.
The cold water had made her nipples pebble, and they were aching points against the sopping-wet fabric of her T-shirt, which clung see-through to her curves, leaving little to the imagination. She was aware of the warmth and strength of his body, so close.
His lips were just a whisper from hers. It would be so easy to let him kiss her. And such a bad idea.
She caught a shuddering breath and stepped away, avoiding his eyes. What was she thinking? He was beautiful and compelling, yes…because he was a wild animal.
He clenched his jaw, then shook his head, sending droplets of water arcing away, setting up overlapping circles of tiny ripples in the water around them.
* * * * *
The snap of fear in her eyes as she pulled away from him felt like a slap. But what had he expected? He’d escaped from a secure facility for dangerous criminals and semi-feral shifters and taken her hostage, dragging her bodily into a situation that would be perilous at best, though at least he could be confident that the people Dr. Atkins sent after them wouldn’t hurt Naomi.
She thought he was an animal…and she knew he was a criminal. And he was going to have to break a few more laws if he wanted to stay on the run for long enough to make a clean escape.
Of course she didn’t want to kiss him. She probably wanted to kill him. But his desire for her curvy body, wet fabric clinging to its every tempting contour, was like a fever in his blood.
He needed to get away from here. Get out of these handcuffs. And get away from her, before he allowed his hunger for her to get the better of him.
“Come on,” he told her. He tugged on the cuffs and they waded out of the stream, water flowing in runnels from their sodden clothes. Goose flesh flashed over her wet skin, and he had to fight the temptation to pull her into his arms to warm her with his body heat.
She stumbled along beside him, a little breathless. After a while, she realized he was leading them straight back in the direction of the Zoo. “Is this the part where I make a joke about men refusing to ask for directions?” she asked.
The question startled a laugh from him. She’d recovered her composure so quickly it made his head spin. She could think on her feet. He fought down an uncharacteristic giddiness, telling himself it was lingering adrenaline. “We need transportation,” he said. “We don’t stand a chance of getting away on foot – your daddy’s trackers are too good. And they’ll be expecting us to head the other way. Breaking out of the Zoo only to head straight back into trouble? That’s a crazy plan.”
“Well, it wouldn’t have been polite for me to say it,” she agreed.
The parking lot was abandoned and the gatehouse unmanned. Byron guessed that the building was under lockdown and riot-control was concentrated in the high-security wing. There was no need for anyone to be outside apart from the trackers Atkins would have sent after them, and they were – he hoped – looking in the wrong place.
Among the staff vehicles nestled into the building’s shadow was a sexy black motorcycle that was all but asking to be stolen. Byron grinned and pulled Naomi towards it.
He pried off the ignition cap with his fingernails half shifted into claws, and twisted together the battery and ignition wires. The motorcycle – a big, black beast – roared into life and stood there throbbing and growling like a living thing.
Naomi was standing slightly behind him, as though she thought it might leap on her and bite her. “I’m not getting on that thing,” she said flatly. She pulled backwards, yanking on the cuffs that held them together.
Byron heard baying in the distance. Atkins’ trackers in wolf form. They wouldn’t have expected him to double back, but it wouldn’t fool them forever.
“Naomi,” he said urgently. “We have to go.”
She bit her lip and looked dubiously at the powerful machine, shaking her head.
A howl cut the air. Byron yanked Naomi close. He lowered his head and whispered harshly, his lips almost touching hers. “This is not a date,” he told her. “I don’t have time to play games. If they catch me, they will kill me.” He shook her – not hard, just firmly enough to emphasize his words. “We have to go. So get on the bike. Pretty fucking please.”
Naomi wrapped her arms firmly around Byron’s waist and pressed the side of her face against his spine as they rounded a curve. The handcuffs still chaining their right wrists together left her no choice but to press closely against him, and the speed was exhilarating but frightening as well.
Byron opened the throttle and the dusk air whipped past, stealing her breath. The motorcycle’s powerful engine thrummed between her thighs, and combined with the masculine scent of Byron’s stolen leather jacket, the empty sleeve slung over his right shoulder, it overloaded her senses with an excitement that was almost sexual.
The jacket had come along with the bike, and a brief stop to swipe clothes from a washing line had scored Byron a pair of black jeans that hugged his ass and made Naomi tingle all over despite herself. And it had taken Byron about five minutes to jimmy open the back door of a drugstore and emerge with a backpack full of god knew what.
They pulled to a stop in the parking lot of a rundown motel with a depressed-looking diner tacked onto the side. The building’s paint was peeling and a sign said “Vacancies”, or would have if half the bulbs weren’t blown out and the remainder flickering and fizzling. The parking lot was all but deserted, and with the motorcycle tucked away in the back corner they’d be as anonymous here as anywhere. It didn’t look like the kind of place that asked a lot of questions.
Byron slung his arm over Naomi’s shoulder as they walked through the door, tucking her under the leather jacket along with the tell-tale handcuffs. The kid behind the counter didn’t even look up. He was absorbed in a handheld video game, and just grunted and held up a finger, telling them to wait. A flurry of electronic beeping was followed by a heartfelt “God
”, and he turned his attention to them, expression sulky and bored.
“Need a room for the night,” Byron told him.
Naomi fidgeted. She’d already decided she wasn’t going to drag some poor kid into this craziness – what if he just ended up as a second hostage? She had enough cash to cover the room, but she was sure he’d ask questions. They must look suspicious, and she knew her nervousness must be written all over her face.
Behind the kid, the muted television set switched over to an outside view of the Dynamic Earth Rehabilitation Center, and a breaking news announcement scrolled across the bottom of the screen. She coughed nervously, and Byron squeezed her shoulder, silently telling her to stay cool.
The kid chomped on his gum and slapped a key on the counter, attached to a grimy plastic tag stamped with a number. “Room four,” he said, waving a hand. “Ice machine’s broken, no extra pillows, and we charge for the full night no matter how quick you check out.”
He smirked, picked up the game again and kicked his feet up onto the counter, paying them no further attention.
Byron snagged the key and they headed in the direction the kid had vaguely indicated.
The carpet was threadbare in patches and the furniture consisted of a cheap bed with battered springs and a small, chipped washbasin. When Naomi ran the water, the pipes rattled alarmingly and the water came out in a sputter. The room was surprisingly clean, though.
Byron took the backpack from Naomi and dumped the contents on the bed, then sat down. He tugged on the handcuffs, trying to draw her to sit beside him, but she resisted.
“Come on,” he said. “I won’t bite. Not on a first date.”
He gave her that panty-melting smile and she found it impossible not to smile back, though she said, “It’s not a date, remember, tough guy?”
She sat beside him and he sorted through the packages on the bed, picking out a card of bobby pins. He selected one, using his teeth to bend it into shape, then inserted it into the lock of the bracelet on Naomi’s wrist. He jiggled it around, cocking his head to one side as if listening.
“Picking locks?” Naomi asked him. “Where’d you learn that?”
He looked up at her, as if asking her whether she was serious. “Well it wasn’t at a country club jamboree for society gentlemen,” he said. “Ah!” The cuff sprang open. “That’s got it.”
Naomi rubbed her wrist, soothing the pink ring where the silver cuff had chafed it, and watched as he set to work on his own cuff.
His face was beautiful, set in lines of concentration. Her eyes lingered on his full lips, the sharp angles of his cheekbones and the unusual light blue-silver of his eyes, so pale against the inky-dark brushstrokes of his ridiculously thick lashes.
“You could still turn yourself in, you know,” she told him. “You haven’t hurt anyone. And you haven’t done anything wrong.”
He succeeded in freeing his wrist, and tossed the handcuffs onto the bed along with his haul from the drugstore. Then he turned his full attention on her, those spooky blue eyes hypnotic. “Have you completely lost your freakin’ mind?” he asked her. There was a hint of impatience in his voice.
“W-well,” she stammered. “You stole the motorcycle. But I’m sure we could get it back to its owner. And pay for the stuff you took from the drugstore. If you’d only confide in me, I’m sure we could find a way…” Her voice trailed off.
“In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m on the run with Atkins’ daughter. I know your experience of the Zoo is doing watercolors with the well-trained exhibits, but you don’t see the ugly side. And kidnapping is a Class A felony. That would usually mean twenty years behind bars, but in my case they’ll just put a bullet through my brain. And you want me to trust you not to turn me over to Daddy and his tracker dogs the second you get the chance?” He shook his head.
Her temper sparked. “That’s not fair, and you know it. I’ve never given you any reason not to trust me. I’ve never understood why you don’t.”
His smile was bitter. “There’s a lot you don’t understand, seems like. Did you know he had me bugged?” He searched her eyes, unsure of the answer. “The fact is, your father never had any intention of letting me out of the Zoo. Ever. If the security system hadn’t messed up, the only way I’d have left that place was in a box.”
Naomi frowned. “My father doesn’t keep secrets from me.” Except…she
known about the listening device. And there was one thing he’d never told her, no matter how many times she’d asked. “What did you do?”
He got up off the bed, making the ancient springs groan. “Something your daddy couldn’t let go,” he said.