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Eric Drake had always believed that if there was one thing that didn't mix well, it was humans and wolveswhich was why he had a bad feeling about the current situation. Or more specifically, about the woman.
Climbing out of his truck, he stared through the hazy glow of silver-threaded moonlight, struggling to make out the features of the female sitting behind the wheel of a sky-blue Volkswagen bus. A human female. And a ridiculous-looking bus. With a whimsical confection of puffy white clouds painted down its sides, the vehicle looked more like something that belonged on a laid-back, surfer-laden beach in Southern California, rather than the rugged terrain of the Maryland mountains. It was parked in a narrow field, just behind a small line of trees that hid it from the nearby road and any passing cars, which had obviously been the driver's intention.
Fortunately, a pair of Silvercrest scouts had discovered the bus and its occupant while patrolling this private stretch of road. It split off from the main highway a few miles back, then slowly wound its way up toward Shadow Peak, the mountaintop town the Silvercrest Lycans called homea fact which made this particular area exceptionally dangerous if you were human and nothing more.
Eric didn't want to think about what could have happened to the woman if she'd put herself in the path of a ravenous werewolf out roaming the dark woods in search of prey. As a rule, his pack didn't feed on humansand those who did were marked as rogue wolves, hunted down and assassinated by the Bloodrunners. But to find a defenseless human alone in the mountains while on the hunt for fresh meat would be a temptation some might find difficult to resist. Despite knowing it was wrong, the dark, destructive craving could all too easily overpower a Ly-can's reason and sense of rightness.
The lady was lucky to still be sitting there in one piece.
Eric tried to get a good look at her, but even his exceptional night vision couldn't make out her features. Apparently uninterested in who had just arrived on the scene, or, judging by the stiff set of her posture, too furious to care, she sat behind the steering wheel with her face turned to the side. A long, thick fall of brown hair covered most of her profile, so that only the delicate tip of a small nose could be distinguished, along with the soft-looking swell of her lower lip.
Hell of a mouth, he thought, wondering exactly what he was going to do about her. The situation obviously hadn't improved since he'd received the call from Hendricks, one of the two scouts who were on the scene. Her frustration seemed to all but fill the interior of the bus with the weight of a thick, oppressive fog. With her shoulders tight, back straight and arms crossed protectively over her chest, she didn't appear ready to give in to their demands that she leave the area immediately, and go back to wherever she came from.
Drawing in a deep breath, he searched for her scent on the heavy mountain air, but the bus was sealed tight, windows up. Whatever trace might have escaped through the window as she'd talked to the scouts earlier had been carried away by the howling wind sweeping through the forest, rustling the new spring leaves upon their branches, bringing with it the damp, humid promise of a storm. They were common enough this time of year in western Maryland, and after flicking a quick glance toward the thickening, bruise-colored clouds that marked the midnight sky like blotches of smoke, Eric realized he was going to end up soaked if he didn't get a move on.
Shutting the truck's door with a sharp snap, he ran a quick visual on the nearby area. One of the scouts, a Lycan named Franks, stood near the driver-side door of the Volkswagen. The guy kept a wary eye on the woman as the wind whipped his shaggy blond hair around his gaunt features, while the other scout hurried over to Eric, launching into a hectic, breathless explanation, his words stumbling over themselves in his haste to get them said.
"I'm sorry again for bothering you on a Friday night, sir, but she refuses to leave the area."
"What has she said?" he asked, wishing he hadn't just smoked his last cigarette.
"She showed us a picture of a young woman and asked if we'd seen her. After we told her that we'd never seen the girl, we tried to explain that she can't stay here, but she insists that we can't kick her off the property, and I'm afraid we didn't know how to get her to leave without um, that is, without."
"It's okay, Hendricks," Eric murmured, trying to put the younger Lycan at ease. "You know we want all territory infractions called in, so you've done the right thing."
The square-faced, spectacled Hendricks hadn't needed to finish his stumbling explanationEric knew exactly what the problem was. It had been impossible for them to get rid of the woman without getting physical with her, or betraying their secret. The newly appointed scouts were clearly on uneasy, unfamiliar ground with this young female who was too stubborn for her own good.
Taking a few steps away from his truck, Eric ran one hand back through his short scrub of hair, then over the scratchy surface of his jaw. What in the hell did she think she was doing? It wasn't safe for a woman to camp out by herself in the mountains, even if she was sleeping in her car.
Was she really searching for someone? Or was it just a scam? Given the whimsical bus, she could be one of those environmentalists looking to commune with nature, or whatever they called it. They'd had to deal with the type before. Or was she actually some kind of reporter trying to sniff out a story? God, the last damn thing they needed was a curious human snooping around the area. He and the Bloodrunners, the half-breed hunters whose job it was to hide the existence of their race from humans, as well as to hunt down those who turned rogue, already had their hands full working to get order reestablished up in Shadow Peak. Still mired in the process of forming a new government, the Silvercrest continued to deal with the emotional and physical wounds left over from the traumatic events of five months ago. Events that had left the pack without leadership, and reeling from a betrayal that had affected everyone from the adults who'd lost their lives down to the children who had been tragically orphaned.
Though once completely removed from the dealings in Shadow Peak, the Bloodrunners' newly established position within the pack's political structure put them in charge of Silvercrest security, with Eric working as the liaison between the pack and the Runners. After the recent treachery that had weakened their stability, courtesy of Eric's father and his savage plans to take over the pack, the Silvercrest had been left in a vulnerable position. It was a frightening time, and the wolves were all too aware of the aggressive nature of some of their neighboring packsespecially the Whiteclaw wolves, who lived to the south of them. As a precaution, Eric and the Runners had been taking turns supervising the night watch, any suspicious or unusual activities being immediately reported by the scouts to the one in charge on any given night. Since they'd begun rotating the shift, Eric had been involved in a variety of dangerous situations, and was for the first time getting a taste of what life as a Runner was like.
"Did she give you a name?" he asked, noting how uneasy the scout seemed. Hendricks's pale skin was flushed with color, his dark gaze repeatedly sliding from the ground to the sky, as if he was wary of looking directly at Eric's face.
"No, sir," Hendricks replied, slanting him a quick glance, and Eric struggled to keep his expression impassive. "To be honest, she's well."
"She's what?" he prompted, fighting down his impatience.
"She's not exactly what you'd expect from a human female. I could scent her fear when we found her, and yet, she absolutely refused to back down." Hendricks swallowed, the nervous movement visible in his throat. "She even pulled out a gun, saying that she'd shoot off our, um, manly parts if we dared to lay a hand on her," he admitted, his voice thick with embarrassment and an unmistakable note of relief that he was still standing there, said manly parts intact.
Eric choked back a low bark of laughter, somehow managing to hide his smile behind his hand as he coughed. But his humor faded as Franks came over to join them, the scout's gaze swiftly focusing on something over his shoulder.
"Why don't you wait over here and let me talk to her alone for a minute?" Eric suggested, wondering if he had food stuck in his teeth. Neither Hendricks nor Franks seemed capable of looking directly at himbut then, there weren't many in the pack these days who were. Still, he'd expected better from these two, and he ran his tongue over his teeth just to be sure he was in the clear.
"Be careful," they replied in unison, looking relieved to be passing the situation to him.
The milky glow of the nearly full moon caught his eye as Eric made his way toward the vehicle, and his beast gave a lazy stretch beneath his skin, his senses quickening with a primal rush, eager almost desperate to hunt. He'd been so busy lately he'd ignored his predatory hungers, which was never a smart moveespecially for a bloodline as powerful as his. As a dark wolf, the product of two exceptionally pure Lycan bloodlines, Eric's natural cravings ran deeper than most, making the need for control even greater. He clenched his jaw, forcing the prowling animal deeper into his psyche. At the moment, he needed the calm, cool reasoning of the mannot the animalistic aggression of his beast.
But being cool and calm didn't seem to be on the agenda for the night.
As Eric approached the driver-side door, the woman shifted slightly, giving him his first clear view of her face, and his muscles tightened with a jolting, slam-him-into-the-ground kind of surprise. For some reason, probably because of how Hendricks and Franks were acting, he hadn't expected the woman to be so well, soft-looking. Even attractive. But she was. She had the kind of beauty that crept up on a guy, making him want to keep staring searching, noting new discoveries as he mapped out the finely sculpted contours, one by one. The full lower lip was only part of a lush, pink mouth that begged for the carnal aggression of a kiss among other things. Things he had no business thinking about doing with a perfect stranger, not to mention a human one.
So get your bloody mind out of the gutter and stay focused! his conscience muttered.
Determined to continue his appraisal with a more critical eye, Eric searched for her first flaw, but failed to find one. She wasn't classically beautiful, but she was pretty, in a wholesome, appealing way. Her face was somewhat round, with a small nose and sweeping brows that arched over big blue eyes. Instead of making her look childish, the delicate features gave her an air of womanly innocence that would catch any man's attention. That made him want to be the one to corrupt her to open those bright blue eyes to things that were warm and wet and undeniably wicked. To the harder, more primal angles of pleasure.
And there you go slumming around in the gutter again.
"Damn it," he muttered under his breath, wondering what was wrong with him. He hated to admit it, but she was affecting him in a way that made him want to turn around and get the hell out of there. It was more than just the dangerous, unwanted sexual attraction building inside him. Though that was bad enough. But for some inexplicable reason, he almost felt as if the human posed some kind of threat to him, which was ridiculous. He was the monster in this scenario, the thing to be feared in the silence of the nightnot her. And yet, his chest felt too tight, his muscles coiled, ready to burst into movement, and he shoved his hands in his front pockets, his jaw so tight it made his teeth ache. Sweat broke out over his forehead and collected in the small of his back as he indicated with his chin that he wanted her to roll down the window, more determined than ever to get this over and done with as quickly as possible.
In response, she lifted one of those beautifully shaped brows and glared at him. Without so much as the flicker of a lash, Eric glared right back, letting her know he wouldn't be as easily cowed as the scouts. When she didn't budge, he made his tone as non-threatening as possible, knowing his size could be intimidating to a lot of women, and said, "I'm not going to hurt you, lady. I just want to talk."
She leaned a little closer to the window and ran her gaze over his tall form, working from his scarred hiking boots up to his short hair, then shook her head and raised her chin a notch higher. Eric choked back a low groan, thinking why me? Why couldn't his friend Jeremy have been stuck with this tonight?
"Look, I can be as stubborn as you are, so save us both the trouble and just roll down the damn window," he ground out, unable to soften the gruff edge to his order this time. He was uncomfortably aware of his wolf steadily prowling closer to his surface, taking note of her in a way that caused a deeper sliver of alarm to slip down his spine.
This time, she didn't shake her head in response to his. request. Instead, the crazy-assed woman narrowed her eyes and lifted one closed feminine hand. Then she very deliberately extended her middle finger.
What the ?
Eric stared a little stunned, thinking there was something definitely not right about her.
Taking his hands from his pockets, he braced them on either side of her window and leaned forward, so close that his warm breath fogged on the glass as he spoke. "You can't stay by yourself out here in the middle of nowhere, so either turn this thing on and get the hell out of here," he said in a low, painfully controlled tone, "or start talking."
If looks could kill, Eric had no doubt he'd be drawing his last breath just about then. But at least he got the desired results. She uncrossed her arms, the scooped neck of her long-sleeved T-shirt revealing a shocking jolt of cleavage that was damn hard not to stare at. He forced his dark gaze back up to her face just in time to see her mutter something he couldn't quite hear, but could all too easily decipher on those sexy lips. Then she angrily reached for the window lever.
The second the window cracked open, he pulled in a deep breath, his razor-sharp senses searching seeking. With her strange behavior, he'd half expected her to reek of alcohol or drugs, but he couldn't pick up a trace of either. Instead, she smelled like a puzzle. Fresh and clean and delicious, but almost painfully complicated. Like something he needed if he wanted to figure out an answer, even though he didn't have a clue what the question was.
And it sure as hell isn't anything to do with me.