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If there was one thing you could count on, it was that things always got weird right before a full moon. Still, Jenner held out hope, month after month, that there would come a night when his fellow creatures of the night would collectively behave themselves. Tonight was not that night.
You're gonna want to get over here, Jenner. We've got a biter.
"Hell." Nick Jenner gave a low growl and shoved away from the pool table, where he'd been about to make the shot that would relieve a couple of his pack mates of twenty bucks. Dex's voice had sounded loud and clear in his head, and there was no mistaking the urgency in the message. Being able to communicate telepathically with the other members of his pack came in handy, and it sure beat walkie-talkies, but there was also no hiding from it when you didn't want to be bothered. Especially when you were your pack's Lunari, second only to the Alpha in both power and responsibility, and said Alpha was giving you a dirty look from across the room.
Bane was linked in to the conversation, of course. He always was. Jenner gave him a sharp nod.
I'm on it.
Bane nodded back, then returned his attention to the pretty blonde who probably had no idea she was being hit on by a werewolf, much less one who headed up one of the larger packs in this part of the country.
No way would he ever want to be an Alpha, Jenner thought as he headed out the door. He couldn't stand to have all those voices yammering away in his head all the time. He liked Bane, though he was an ornery bastard hell, probably because of it but running herd on all the Blackpaw in the area was a deeply unappealing thought. For one thing, it meant having to talk to people. A lot of people. And often.
Being what basically amounted to captain of the guard could be a pain, but Jenner would take the hunt-and-chase any day over all of that talking. His opinion was often asked for, and given, in private, but he much preferred being the silent half of the pack's leadership in public. Diplomacy had never been his strong suit. Fighting, on the other hand well, it turned out he had quite a knack for that. And being a werewolf meant having some interesting things to fight on a regular basis, if you wanted your pack to continue to exist.
His father, pampered and entitled, would be horrified if he knew the full truth of it. Actually, he was horrified enough at the little he did know about his oldest son's life. The thought made Jenner smile.
On my way, he thought, giving it the little mental push he'd learned quickly after his own life-changing bite years before. Instantly, he felt a flash of Dex's relief, and sighed irritably. If Dex was twisted up about it, it couldn't be good.
Goddamn biters. It had been quite a while since the last one, which was good considering all the other crap he had to deal with out in the woods. There had been a lot more activity lately, a bad sign, though the shadows had started up and then quieted down just as everyone got really jumpy many times before. But Jenner knew his luck couldn't hold forever. He just hoped that the woods were clear of any other annoyances tonight. Last night's hunt should have cleared those blood-sucking shadows out for a day or two, at least.
Jenner paused just outside the door of Rowdy's, the small, ramshackle bar that was a pack favorite on weekends. He inhaled deeply, his sensitive nose painting him a mental picture of everything going on in the area. The air, faintly damp and with a snap of chill that was typical for a late September night in Northern Pennsylvania, was full of the scents that had become familiar, even comforting, since he'd come here ten years before.
Maple and pine, earth and early fall air. Human and wolf, each with their own distinct musk.
And best of all, not a hint of brimstone.
Ferry's Hollow had come to smell like home. Jenner had no problem doing what needed to be done to keep that home safe.
He pushed another thought at Dex. What's the status on the biter? Roaming stray from another pack, do you think?
Dex's response was rapid-fire. Biter's missing. We're looking for him now. He wasn't a Silverback, that's for sure, Dex continued, referring to the nearest pack over a hundred miles to the North. Didn't like the smell of him. Or the look, once we got that close. Hate to say it, but I'm thinking feral.
Jenner frowned, loping quickly down the street toward the place where the open land dissolved into forest. The Hollow was nestled deep in the woods, surrounded on all sides by it. The humans who lived alongside the werewolves here, by and large in blissful ignorance of all things supernatural, had no idea that the town's being a veritable island in the forest was by design.
What about the bitten?
There was a pause. Then: We've got her. She lost a lot of blood, but she's already starting to heal. She was only out for a couple of minutes, seems pretty with it since she came to. Other than that, she's in shock and confused. About what you'd expect. Pretty little thing.
Jenner snorted to himself. It didn't matter to him if this woman was the second coming of Angelina Jolie. Nothing good ever came from a feral bite.
Are they linked, then? he thought, and Dex's immediate blast of anger was an answer in itself.
He didn't seal the deal, lucky for her. And when we find him, I'm going to rip his throat out myself. The moon is too close to full to be pulling this crap. We need her connection to him while it lasts, but you know damn well somebody's going to have to make her part of the pack before long. We've got less than a week, Jenner. Not much time. For her, either
Dex's voice trailed off in Jenner's mind, but it didn't matter. Jenner already knew what he meant. It could take some time to smoke out a clever feral who'd decided to take to the woods, which covered hundreds of square miles. But the unwitting victim was going to have to be brought into the pack before the moon rose full. Otherwise, they'd have two ferals on their hands.
The tenuous connection forged between biter and bitten was always a good way, sometimes the only way, to find a jerk like this. But the clock was ticking. Once his victim started to turn, that temporary mental link to her attacker would vanish right along with her sanity. Unless this feral got his paws on her again, of course, to make things between them permanent. But that wasn't going to happen. Not on Blackpaw territory. And not on his watch.
How strong's her bond to him? he asked, hoping for the quick resolution that there was no way, in his experience, he was going to get.
Hoping you can find that out. She's been a little skittish with me. Weird thing is, she hasn't asked for a doctor, cops, nothing. It's almost like she knows but I guess it could be the shock.
Has she said anything to make you think that? Jen-ner asked, beginning to frown. If this woman knew who and what they were, it meant the feral had a big mouth. That made it even more imperative to find the asshole. Loose lips could do in a wolf pack just as easily as a gang of well-armed were-hunters. Dex's reply was small comfort.
No. That's the thing. She's not saying anything, just watching with those big eyes. I dunno, Jenner, this isn't my thing! I've never had to deal with one of these before!
It was a sad day when he got asked to play mediator, Jenner thought. I hear you. Headed in.
A loose biter, and a potential feral. And it was only ten. Jenner gritted his teeth and headed into the trees.
Mia D'Alessandro sat with her back against the rough bark of a tree, pressing a wadded-up ball of fabric that had once been a shirt against the open wounds between her shoulder and her neck. An odd sense of calm had settled over her, one that she was sure, in the detached way she seemed to be thinking right now, was a pretty good indicator of shock. After all, how else could she be sitting here, calmly and quietly, when half her shirt was shredded and covered in her own blood?
At least there was no pain. Not anymore. And the bleeding, oddly enough, seemed to have stopped but maybe that was just wishful thinking on her part.
At least my blood isn't glowing anymore, she thought, but shut that down quickly. These men didn't seem to have any idea what she was, so as far as she was concerned, she would be playing the normal, traumatized human woman until they let her go. If they let her go. She knew so little about these things, these other creatures.
Silently, and for the millionth time, she cursed the woman who had raised her so indifferently, family or no. Her life had been about hiding, about suppressing the truth until she had hardly believed it herself. And then Ada had simply been gone.
Five men milled around her in the moonlit clearing, eerily silent, though the meaningful looks they were giving one another made her wonder exactly what she was missing. One of the men had been kind enough to give her his shirt to stanch the blood, at least. He was the one who kept checking on her. The one who had reassured her, in a tone that brooked no argument, that she wasn't in any danger of dying.
It was hard not to believe him, even though she knew she would need medical care, stitches, at the very least. Maybe the wounds had felt worse than they really were? It was all she could figure. These men didn't look the type to just watch her bleed out. At least she didn't feel like she was going to pass out anymore, though Mia wasn't sure whether that was a good thing. Then again, this whole thing was so surreal; she wasn't entirely convinced she was truly conscious anyway.
"Here comes Jenner," someone said. Mia looked up.
And then he was just. there.
He seemed to melt right out of the trees, appearing with a swift silence that was even more unnerving because of his size. He was big, well over six feet tall, with broad shoulders and the sort of powerful, muscular build that she associated with professional quarterbacks. He didn't say a word, only shared another one of those odd looks, what she thought of as a "speaking look," with Dex. Then he turned his gaze on her.
"I'm Jenner," he said, in a deep, melodious voice that seemed to fill the night. "I'm here to help. How are you holding up?"
Honey-gold eyes blazed out of a dark and handsome face that might have been chiseled from stone. His hair was short, spiky in a way that made her think it was naturally like that, and so dark she wasn't sure whether it was brown or black, setting off strong features that bore not a trace of softness. With one look, Mia felt a punch of heat in her belly. Appalled at herself, she pushed the feeling away, instead concentrating on getting to her feet to answer him. She'd be damned if she spent one more second as the damsel in distress tonight.
Of course, her effort might have been more effective if she hadn't nearly fallen over again. Dizziness swept over her, but just as her knees started to buckle Mia felt a pair of strong arms lift her with surprising gentleness. A wonderful smell enveloped her, woodsy and masculine.
Epic fail on being an empowered woman, she thought, knowing immediately who had caught her. Heat rose to her cheeks so that they burned. The world stopped spinning around her pretty quickly, but she really didn't want to look.
She also knew she didn't really have a choice.
Sure enough, she found herself pinned by a sharp golden gaze the instant she opened her eyes. Mia took a little solace that this Jenner looked about as uncertain of what to make of her as she was of him. They stared at one another for a long, drawn-out moment, and Mia again felt that strange warmth beginning to flood her. She was suddenly very aware of his large hands on her, the steady rise and fall of the chest she rested against as he cradled her. She could even feel the beat of his heart.
It was, hands down, the oddest sensation she had ever experienced, which in her case was really saying something. It felt as though invisible threads were even now winding around them, binding them together in a way she couldn't quite fathom. And she had no interest in breaking those new and fragile bonds, preferring instead to forget everything but the intriguing lines of the face bent over her own. She felt drugged, almost, but pleasantly so. His lashes, she noted with some pleasure, were inky black and incredibly long. Such beautiful eyes.
Mia's hand, which had been fisted against his chest, loosened, and she spread her fingers against the place where his heart beat steadily, thudding reassuringly against her palm. Her head filled with music, the way it always did when her blood called out, and was answered. Jenner's song was wild and sweet, and for one breathless instant, Mia could hear her own singular melody twining with his, perfectly matched, creating something new and amazing. Her skin broke out in gooseflesh at its beauty but it was short-lived. She heard Jenner's startled intake of breath, watched the quick bob of his Adam's apple at his throat. He looked quickly away, and as neatly as if it had been severed with a knife, the immediacy of their connection was broken. The song stopped short in the midst of a crescendo, locked back away.
Those invisible bonds, however, remained, comforting her even though she didn't know this man from Adam. For the moment, he was all she had.
Mia found herself quickly set down, though Jen-ner's hands lingered to support her. This time, despite an initial wobble, her footing was steady. Inside, she was anything but. A shiver rippled through her at the loss of Jenner's heat, and the snap of a twig somewhere near her made her jerk. Every head turned sharply in the direction of the sound, at least reassuring her that she hadn't imagined it. Without a word, two of the men dashed off into the trees with a speed and grace that surprised her. Quickly, fear bubbled back to the surface.
Jeff was still out there. Maybe he'd come back to finish what he'd started. Maybe
"Don't worry about them. They're just being cautious," Jenner said, pulling her back to the moment. He had obviously seen her watch the two men go. She looked at him, his eyes giving off a soft glow. Did he even realize it? she wondered. He seemed so calm. No sense of urgency. All things considered, Mia thought she would have preferred someone who acted at least a little like the crazed werewolf running around in the woods biting people might be a problem.
"Sorry. I'm not used to being bitten by my dates, and then left to die. I guess it's made me a little jumpy," Mia said, finding her voice raspy from the bloodcurdling scream she'd sounded earlier. One dark brow winged up, and Mia wondered if he was surprised she wasn't just falling apart.
Probably she should fake it. But she didn't know how. Tears had been outlawed for too long to ever really come naturally to her.
"Point taken," he said, his voice a resonant growl that scraped in an interesting sort of way against her ragged nerve endings. His eyes dropped to where she'd been wounded. "You seem to be healing up well, at least."
Mia just looked at him, aghast. Healing? No, not yet, not by a long shot. Magic was her gift, but she could bleed with the best of them. Hadn't she proven that?