Authors: Odessa Lynne
Tags: #Gay Romance Fiction
“Fuck you,” he said, and his heart thundered in his chest. He clenched his fists tight and watched Gage’s eyes go hard and mean.
This was going to hurt.
* * *
Matthew wasn’t sure how long he lay on the forest floor, breathing in the sharp scent of freshly fallen oak leaves against his nose, but his attention came into an abrupt focus at a crackle of sound a few feet away. He blinked and caught sight of a squirrel running toward the base of the tree nearest his bare foot.
He groaned and tried to flip himself over.
“Ahhhh…” The movement made him feel physically ill and a second later, he threw up all over the forest floor beside his hand.
The acrid burn stuck to the back of his tongue and he had trouble holding himself up off the ground so he wouldn’t breathe in his own vomit.
He spit blood out of his mouth and then rested there, holding himself up on a shaky arm, the trembling in his muscles deep and painful. He groaned again, just trying to shake off some of the pain so he wouldn’t pass out again.
The pain would eventually stop, and that thought kept him focused, kept him from giving in and just letting the darkness at the edges of his vision swoop in and take him away.
His arm reacted to his brain’s commands finally and he shoved himself over, flopping painfully onto his back.
He screamed as he landed, the sound torn out of him, the echo reverberating against his eardrums.
He was pretty sure they’d broke something in his back. He knew Gage had broken his left arm and crushed his hand.
He had no idea if it would heal properly without intervention. The biotechnology that made the wolves so incredibly fast to heal wasn’t quite the same as what they had put in him and the other few humans they’d offered the technology to.
The rough edge of a dried leaf tickled the sole of Matthew’s foot and his toes twitched.
When Gage and his guys had left him for dead, they must have decided to take his boots. He blinked up at the sky, felt a chill seep into his bones, and then realized he was completely naked.
They must have taken everything.
The bullet. Thank God he’d hidden it in the same place where he’d been keeping that spare phone.
And where the hell was the cavalry?
Ash should’ve come for him by now. The sun had started to fall behind the trees, and night would set in soon.
They wouldn’t just leave him to fend for himself. They wouldn’t.
Something was wrong, somewhere.
Matthew closed his eyes. Or heat season had started.
He had no idea if or how the onset of heat would affect Ash, but Ash was the only person Matthew had sent a message to. He should’ve sent one to Brendan too, but he’d been in a hurry to hide the bullet because he’d heard a vehicle getting close to him, and he had wanted to get as far away from that hiding place as possible before he got caught.
If everyone was busy getting dosed up with repression drugs, or mating, or whatever the hell else went on with the wolves when they felt the first urges of their heat, maybe Matthew was going to have to make it on his own a lot longer than he’d thought he would have to.
And he was going to have to do it bare-assed naked too.
A crack echoed in the distance. A branch or twig, Matthew couldn’t be sure which.
He didn’t even try to move, choosing instead to save his energy in case he had to get away from a predator.
The woods weren’t always a friendly place.
Another crack and then another followed. Someone was walking through the deadwood that made up the forest floor, and they weren’t trying to be quiet.
What if one of the guys had come back to make sure he was dead?
Or, God forbid, Cary, because that son of a bitch was a kinky bastard who just might be interested in—
Matthew shut that thought down. His mind was racing, way more than it usually did when he healed, and he could only assume the healing was affecting him so strongly because his body had so many injuries.
His thoughts weren’t even really making any sense. If sex had been on anyone’s mind earlier, his beating would’ve taken a turn in that direction, and it hadn’t, or it if had, he sure as hell hadn’t been conscious for it.
He closed his eyes and tried to feel where he hurt the most, but the fact was,
hurt. Still, he didn’t think he’d been sexually assaulted, other than Gage’s knee to his balls early on, and he was grateful for that at least.
He heard the shuffle of leaves being kicked aside and forced his eyes open. The footsteps were getting closer and he couldn’t decide if he needed to move now—no matter how painful it was going to be—or wait.
One deep breath was all it took to make him decide waiting was his only real choice. His ribs burned and a stabbing pain shot through his back.
He turned his head toward the sounds, his breath hitching as he did. He glimpsed denim and a pair of old sports shoes. Nothing the wolves would wear.
He heard someone suck in a breath. A woman’s voice, low and tight, “Chen, there he is.”
“Shh,” a male voice said, “not so loud. He said there could be wolves—”
“I know,” the woman interrupted, but quieter. “I told you I heard a scream. We need to hurry.”
Two of them, Matthew realized, and he hadn’t even noticed.
An itch tickled the back of Matthew’s neck, a beetle or an ant, or even a spider crawling over his skin. He tried not to move but one of his muscles spasmed, and he groaned through gritted teeth at the sudden sharp pain that radiated across his shoulder and down his back. The pain forced him to try to roll over.
“Chen!” the woman said. “He’s alive.”
Chen watched Matthew with hazel eyes that stood out even in the bad lighting of the bedroom Matthew had woken up in.
“Sal was one happy motherfucker when he found out you were alive,” Chen said. He’d introduced himself simply as Chen, no last name, and he’d called Matthew “Paul.”
Matthew blinked a few times and then tried to swallow but realized right away that his mouth was too dry. “Can I—Water.”
“Here.” The bed dipped as Chen sat on the edge, cupped the back of Matthew’s head and lifted, then put a glass of water to his mouth.
Matthew took several big gulps. He actually didn’t feel like he needed the help to keep his head up, but his common sense quickly caught up with his confusion, and he relaxed into Chen’s hand.
The wolves’ biotechnology was a secret and he’d been entrusted with that secret when he’d been offered the treatments that had allowed the biotech to flourish in his body.
“How’d I get here?”
“We dragged you to an AUV, put you on a trailer, and drove you here. You passed out as soon as we rolled you onto the stretcher we used to get you to the AUV.” Chen’s eyes tracked over Matthew’s body, covered only with a thin sheet. “Sal asked me to go find a body that had been left in the woods near here. Didn’t want the coyotes to get to it. I haven’t heard him that upset in years.”
Chen’s gaze lingered curiously on Matthew’s hand.
Matthew casually tucked it under the sheet. He could feel that something wasn’t right with his fingers, but the deep ache and the sharp pains from before had eased to tolerable levels. Still, he didn’t know what Chen had seen in the woods, and what he saw now.
Was he healing visibly in places that Chen would notice?
Matthew cleared his throat. “Who are you? How do you know Sal?”
The bed creaked as Chen leaned over and sat the water glass down on a stack of plain cardboard boxes that substituted for a bedside table.
“Step-brother. He shouldn’t be involved with those guys.” Chen’s voice had turned hard and cold. He settled back onto the edge of the bed. “He said they turned on you.”
He waited, probably hoping Matthew would volunteer something, but Matthew kept quiet.
After a moment, Chen spoke again, “They didn’t have good reason to turn on you, did they?”
“Don’t know what you mean.” Matthew noticed how still Chen sat, and he followed the line of Chen’s other arm, tucked up beside him opposite Matthew.
He frowned, then realized what he was looking at. The hammer of a gun jutted up beside Chen’s denim-covered thigh.
The first gun Matthew had ever seen in real life had been one his cousin Marcus had brought home after the wolves came. Matthew had been sixteen.
“I’m not going to give you any reason to use that,” Matthew said.
Chen didn’t move his arm. “Why’d they turn on you?”
“Because someone I once pissed off came in and said some things meant to get me killed.”
“He must hate you a lot considering you were left for dead.”
“I got some time. I’m waiting on Sal to get away and come do whatever he wants to do with you.”
“Sal needs to get away from those assholes before he’s next.”
At that, Chen gave Matthew a steady look, as if sizing him up for something. “We’re in agreement about that.”
“Why’d he get mixed up with them anyway?” Matthew asked. The question had been bothering him for most of the time he’d known Sal. “He never talks about it.”
“Why’d you?” Chen asked. When Matthew didn’t say anything, Chen sighed and shook his head. “He’d probably tell you before he’d tell me.”
“He’s not like the others.”
Chen rubbed his hand against his thigh and changed the subject. “You seem to be feeling a lot better than you were when we found you.”
“I’m tired,” Matthew said. “I could use some sleep. When’s Sal going to be here?”
Chen watched Matthew, his gaze flickering across Matthew’s face. “You have a bad cut on your forehead. It’s not even bleeding anymore.”
“Look,” Matthew said, slowly pushing himself up on the bed with his one good arm. “Someone’s going to come looking for me. I won’t be staying long.”
“You’re right, you won’t.” Chen’s head tilted, gaze lingering on Matthew’s chest. “The notices went out. The wolves say heat season started yesterday for at least a third of them. We have to get to the shelter today, before it’s too dangerous to travel. If it weren’t for you, we’d have left already.”
So he’d been right.
Ash might still come for him, but … so many things could go wrong with heat season on them now.
Matthew inhaled roughly. “You and your girlfriend—”
“Step-sister then. You two should go on. Just leave me here. I’ll be fine.”
“Sal’s on his way.”
“Then call him back and tell him to stay away.” Matthew didn’t want anyone else around when the wolves came for him, especially not with heat season already started.
“Sal won’t leave you here. We’re too far into the wolves’ territory.”
That meant they were inside the protectorate now, which was good for Matthew but could definitely be bad for Chen, his sister, and Sal.
Matthew couldn’t hold himself up any longer, so he eased back down on the bed, arm shaking after even that small effort. He’d never had to heal from such severe injuries before, so he had no idea how long it would take before he was on his feet. He only knew that he would heal from the inside out, leaving scabs and scars that might last several days. He hoped that meant his unnaturally fast healing wouldn’t be instantly noticeable, but he didn’t know for sure because he’d never had to test it before.
“You need to rest,” Chen said. He pushed himself off the edge of the bed and stood, looking down on Matthew with a contemplative glimmer in his eyes.
Matthew nodded, then let his eyes close.
Chen left, pulling the door shut behind him.
When Matthew woke later, it was to the sound of voices outside the bedroom door.
The knob turned before he’d had time to hear anything, and Sal slammed into the room. The knob hit the wall with a dull reverberating thud.
“What the fuck is going on?” Sal demanded, crossing the distance with furious intent to stop right next to Matthew.
Matthew blinked a few times, and then started to push himself upright. He put weight on his damaged hand and hissed, the pain more severe than he expected. His hand slipped and he fell back onto his elbow.
“You should be dead,” Sal said, softer this time. “My God. I saw what they did to you.” He reached up and raked his hand down his face, then through his hair before dropping his arm to his side. “I don’t fucking believe this.”
Matthew had to clear his throat. “Obviously I wasn’t in as bad a shape as it looked.”
Sal’s eyes went dark. “You were as good as dead and don’t you fucking tell me any different, because I was there.” His voice turned hard and tight at the end, as if he were working hard to keep his emotions in check.
Matthew didn’t say anything, just waited with a sour feeling in his stomach.
Sal looked over his shoulder. Chen had come in behind him and stood near the door. “We have to get out of here,” Sal said. “Get El. We can’t stay. Something’s out there.”
Chen gave Sal a startled look.
Matthew tried to push himself up again, being careful to keep his weight off his messed up hand.
“This soon?” Chen asked, an edge to his voice.
“Go!” Sal said, swinging back around to face Matthew. “I’ll take care of Paul.”
Chen hurried out the door, yelling, “El!”
Matthew’s awkward movements made the sheet slide off his chest and Sal’s eyes flickered. Matthew wasn’t ready to move, even though his head wasn’t hurting like it had been and his muscles didn’t have the same bone deep ache he’d felt the last time he was awake.
Sal reached for the sheet.
Matthew made a grab for it, but he wasn’t quick enough. A sharp stab of pain ran through his hand and into his wrist with the sudden movement. Sal threw the sheet aside and stared down at Matthew for only a few seconds. Matthew wasn’t sure what he had expected, but Sal just gave a short growling sound of anger and then grabbed Matthew by the arm and shoulder and started manhandling him upright.
“You son of a bitch. I have no idea what you’ve been up to, but if we get out of this with our skin intact, you better plan on telling me the goddamn truth or I’ll stick a knife in your gut. D’you hear me?”