Authors: Viola Rivard
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Paranormal & Urban, #Werewolves & Shifters, #Coming of Age
It was enough to momentarily distract Alder from the situation that was unfolding in front of him. Thankfully, his good sense kicked into gear and he was able to file that bit of information alongside the many other things he would deal with when he had Taylor safely in his territory.
He moved to position himself in front of Taylor, doing his best to keep his posture open and non-threatening. It wasn’t easy. Taylor reeked of fear and it was difficult to rein in his instinct to attack the wolves who were threatening her.
Alder met the beta female’s gaze. He recognized her, though he couldn’t remember her name. He recalled that she was a prominent member of the pack. From her scent, he could tell that she wasn’t a sexual partner of Silas’s, which meant that she had to be strong to have gained a position in his inner circle.
He could also smell the acrid undertones of anger in her scent and he could tell from her stance and the posture of her companions that something was very wrong. Having no idea what he’d walked into, Alder waited for her to speak first. He didn’t have to wait long.
“You have a lot of nerve stepping into our territory after what you did yesterday.”
To most men, that sentence would have made absolutely no sense. To Alder, who had spent a lifetime falling into the messes left behind by a reckless twin brother, it was all too clear what was happening.
He’d been gone less than a week and his brother had somehow managed to fuck up the treaty that Alder had spent two long years painstakingly putting into place. From the look on the female’s face, whatever Hale had done, it was a serious offense. Alder didn’t doubt it. Hale never did anything half-assed. If his aim had been to piss Silas off, he would have done something extreme.
If he told her who he was, there was a remote chance that he could talk his way out of the situation. There was an even better chance that while he was trying to reason with the female, the rest of the pack would close in on them. They would take him hostage to use against Hale, and Taylor…if the females didn’t kill her before their alpha arrived, Silas would likely claim her for himself.
The thought made Alder’s blood boil. He wasn’t about to gamble with her life. There was only one choice. To get them both out of the situation as quickly as possible, he’d have to play Hale.
He took a step forward, cocking his head to the side and affecting a bored look. “Get the fuck out of my way before I gut you.”
t was Alder
, but it wasn’t. His voice, his posture, his whole demeanor had completely changed. All she could do was hope this was part of some plan, because from where she was standing it looked like his personality had done a complete one-eighty.
‘Trust me,’ he had said.
Maybe she really did trust him, after all. Or maybe her feet were rooted to the ground because she was paralyzed with fear. Either way, she stood behind him, resisting the urge to run as he antagonized the werewolf pack in front of them.
The werewolf snarled at Alder. “You made a big mistake coming back here. Silas is going to rip your throats out.”
No, no, no,
she mentally chanted
. Not a fan of that.
Alder took another step forward. “Silas can go fuck himself.”
If it was possible, her mouth fell open even farther. She wasn’t an expert on how to handle being accosted by werewolves in the wilderness at night, but she was pretty sure insulting their leader was high up on the list of things not to do.
Like a broken record, the female said, “Silas is going to—”
Alder cut her off. “Silas isn’t here right now.”
A chill ran down Taylor’s spine. Alder’s tone had changed again. It was dark and menacing. He spoke as if
—not the werewolves—was the scariest thing in the clearing. He took another step forward, and to her astonishment, the she-wolf took a step back.
Alder continued, “It’s just you, me, and your pets. So unless you want to die, you’ll get the fuck out of my way.”
He didn’t wait for her to respond. Without looking back, Alder held out his hand, beckoning Taylor forward. She took a deep breath and grabbed his hand. He pulled her along, his steps unfaltering as he walked directly into the path of the wolves.
She was immensely relieved when they moved out of the way, though she half expected the wolves to go for her heels as soon as her back was to them.
As they passed the female wolf, Taylor dared a close look at her. She had to be at least six feet tall. Catching Taylor’s gaze, the wolf’s yellow eyes narrowed on her in an intense scrutiny. Taylor quickly looked away.
This time, she was much happier to have Alder drag her through the woods. Every step they took was one more step in between them and the wolves.
Taylor slowly began to shed the stress and anxiety caused by the confrontation. Euphoria welled up in its place, and after a few minutes she would have been skipping had her ankle not been killing her.
As he was prone to doing, Alder stopped abruptly. Taylor smacked into him face-first, but quickly regained her balance, rounding on him with excitement.
“You were so awesome,” she gushed, rubbing her nose. “I’ll admit, I had my doubts when you went all—”
“Taylor, I need you to listen to me.”
He didn’t look nearly as relieved as she did. In fact, he looked very concerned. Her stomach knotted.
“Okay,” she said, because what else could she say?
“We had a treaty with them. I don’t know what my brother did, but we only a have a few minutes before they regroup and come after us.”
Alder shrugged off his bag and handed it to her. She took it in a daze, her brain working overtime to process what he was saying.
In a small voice, she said, “Alder, I don’t think I can run. My ankle, it’s…”
She trailed off as Alder cupped her face in his hands. They were very warm, and it made her realize how cold she suddenly felt.
“I’m not going to let anything happen to you, understand?”
Taylor shook her head. “No.”
In spite of their dire circumstances, Alder grinned. “You will.”
Alder let her go, taking a few steps back. She watched as he kicked off his boots and removed his socks. It wasn’t until he started taking off his shirt that it finally hit her that he was undressing. Reflexively, she turned on her heels, her face heating.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
Alder didn’t answer. A few seconds later she heard a popping sound coming from behind her and then she knew.
A tiny part of her had suspected it for a while. The pieces were all there. He lived in the mountains, he sometimes asked weird questions that any normal person would know the answer to, and he knew more about werewolves than anyone she’d ever met.
It took Taylor a minute to prepare herself for what she was about to see. She swallowed hard and, gathering her courage, she turned around.
She wasn’t really sure what she’d been expecting to see—maybe something similar to the other wolves, but slightly less terrifying. She definitely wasn’t prepared for the sight of him.
The first thing she noticed was his fur. It was a light, tawny color that shimmered like silver in the moonlight. It was long and beautiful, and her hands immediately itched to touch it.
He approached her slowly, captiously, and she noticed something else about him. He was
—nearly the size of a horse, and muscular to boot. Alder was a big man, but she couldn’t fathom how all that wolf had been contained inside his human body.
Stopping in front of her, he lowered his head, revealing two beautiful and familiar eyes of gold and blue. She shifted his bag to one arm before tentatively reaching out to him, her shaky hand stroking his muzzle. He was so soft.
“Alder,” she breathed. “You’re amazing.”
He closed his eyes, turning his head into her hand. For a short while, nothing seemed to exist except for the two of them.
Then the howling began again. The sound jolted her back into reality. It was time to start running.
Alder bent down low, and she instinctively knew what he wanted her to do. She strapped his bag to the front of her chest and climbed onto his back, gripping the fur between his shoulder blades. He gave her a shake, as if testing to make sure she was secure, and then took off into the forest.
he was riding on a
The wind whipped through Taylor’s hair as they soared through the forest. Alder moved so quickly that his feet hardly touched the ground and she had to hold on tightly to the pocket of skin between his shoulders.
It was still hard for Taylor to come to grips with the fact that the creature beneath her was Alder. The man she’d traveled with for three nights, the man she’d kissed, the man she’d slept beside was actually a wolf.
She remembered thinking, when she’d first seen Alder, that men like him shouldn’t exist. As she’d gotten to know him, she’d realized that it wasn’t only his body that was exceptional. Alder was an incredible man. The more she thought about it, the more sense it made that he wasn’t human.
If all werewolves were like him, she could understand why human women were so eager to leave their lives behind to be with them. Then again, it was more likely that Alder was an exception among his own kind as well, because the wolves who were pursuing them didn’t seem all that friendly.
She could see at least three behind them, swiftly darting through the trees. Alder was fast, but she could sense that he wasn’t moving at his full speed, probably because he was afraid she would fall.
Fear and anxiety rose up again, but she squelched them down, tightening her grip on Alder. “They’re catching up!”
Alder sped up, and Taylor had to clench her legs to stop herself from flying off his back.
They raced down a narrow pathway. The trees were thick, their high branches reaching out like hands to block out the moonlight. Taylor saw a blur of movement and the next thing she knew, something sprang at them.
She didn’t even have time to scream as a dark wolf lunged at her. Alder wasn’t so slow to react. He maneuvered his body just in time to take the brunt of the assault. She felt the wolf’s claws tear at her chest, but Alder’s bag protected her.
Alder immediately regained his footing. She expected him to start running again. Apparently, so did the other wolf. It moved as if to chase Alder, but Alder sidestepped him and in one lightning-fast movement, he went for the enemy wolf’s throat.
Taylor heard a loud cracking noise, and it was only seconds later, when they were on the run again, that she realized Alder had snapped the wolf’s neck.
Her adrenaline spiked. She’d known that they were in mortal danger, but the fact that he’d just killed one of his own kind spoke to the true severity of their circumstances. If they didn’t escape, they would die.
There was light up ahead. It grew, until finally they broke out of the forest and into a wide-open field of grass. Against her better judgment, she looked back at the forest.
Wolves of all shapes, sizes and colors seemed to pour out of the woods. She was momentarily stunned by what an astounding sight they made, until she reminded herself that all of those wolves wanted her dead.
One wolf in particular caught her eye. It looked to be almost the size of Alder and was either black or dark brown, she couldn’t tell. It surged forward ahead of the others, murder in its gaze.
When she looked ahead again, Taylor squinted, struggling to understand what she was seeing. There was a mountain in the distance, and she could see the very tops of evergreen trees, but the field seemed to come to an end. It was only seconds later, when they were flying through the air, that she realized Alder had just jumped off a cliff.
For one instant, her heart seized. She could see the river below them, flowing through the bottom of a steep gully. She thought for certain they were headed for a watery grave, and was almost a little relived because at least then she’d be dead by the time the wolves came to eat her.
But in the next instant they landed on solid ground.
Unable to hold on, Taylor was flung from Alder’s back. Pain split through her head as she hit the ground, but she didn’t lose consciousness. Alder was immediately at her side, nudging her with his muzzle.
Disoriented, she sat up and looked around. They’d jumped from one cliff and onto another. Looking at the wide gap between the two pieces of land, she couldn’t believe they’d actually made it.
As she watched the opposite cliff, the wolves skidded to a halt at the edge. One of the smaller grey ones attempted the jump but only made it halfway before falling into the gully. The largest of the wolves let out a vicious snarl and Alder returned the gesture with one of his own. She wasn’t sure which of them was scarier.
Taylor tried to stand, but her legs felt like they were made of jelly and she couldn’t get them to cooperate. Alder circled around her anxiously before inclining his head and carefully picking her up by the back of her dress.
As he dragged her into the forest, she saw two of the wolves shift on the far cliff. One was the she-wolf who had accosted them earlier and the other was the very large male, presumably the fabled Silas.
Taylor knew that they weren’t out of the woods yet—so to speak—but given that none of the wolves seemed keen on attempting the jump, she hoped that meant they were safe.
that it would take the Whiteriver pack at least twenty minutes to circumnavigate the gully if they decided to give chase. He also knew that no matter what his brother Hale had done to slight them, Silas wouldn’t attempt the jump. Alder hadn’t even been sure he’d be able to make it, but there hadn’t been any other choice.
He began to calm as he pulled Taylor into the safety of the forest. Once he was certain they were sufficiently shielded from view, he placed her against a tree, taking a step back to examine her.
She stared up at him through tired eyes. Damp hair clung to her flushed face and in one corner of her forehead blood trickled from a small wound. Despite her injury, his eyes were drawn to his bag, which she’d strapped to her chest.
It had been slashed open, though it wasn’t its missing contents that concerned him. Although he had taken most of the damage and had a gash on his arm to show for it, had Taylor not positioned his bag as she had, the wolf could have easily slashed open her stomach. The thought caused bile to rise in his throat.
Looking around once more to ensure they were alone, Alder shifted back into his human form. After days of being stuck in his human body, he’d almost grown comfortable with it. Now that he’d been in his wolf form again, he was reminded of how restrictive human flesh could be.
As he came fully into his human body he saw that Taylor had gone slack-jawed. Pressing his lips together, he crouched down in front of her, cautiously reaching for her forehead. He was relieved when she didn’t flinch away.
Brushing her hair back, he examined the wound. It appeared to be superficial, but head wounds could be insidious.
“You’ll need stitches,” he said.
Taylor groaned. “I hate needles.”
Alder’s hand drifted down her face. Caressing her cheek with his thumb, he said, “You aren’t afraid of me, are you?”
She leaned into his touch, closing her eyes. “Are you kidding? You being a werewolf is the best thing that’s happened to me all week. If you hadn’t been one, we’d both be wolf chow right now.”
Alder wanted to kiss her. No—he wanted to do far more than that. But she was injured and they were still in danger.
“I’m going to shift again,” he told her. “When I do, I need you to get on my back so I that I can carry you.”
She gave him a weak smile. “Are you gonna take me back to your den?”
His lips curved. “That’s exactly what I’m going to do.”
Alder shifted, though it wasn’t as easy as before. His own energy reserves were running low and his muscles strained with the exertion. He wouldn’t be able to shift again until he fed.
With their combined efforts, Taylor was able to hobble onto his back. Once she was secure he set out into the forest, going at a fast but sustainable pace. They would have to go a roundabout way to reach his territory without encountering members of Whiteriver again.
When he did get back to his den, he fully intended on breaking Hale’s nose. After that, as soon as she was well, Alder was going to claim Taylor as his mate.