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The strong scent of shifter blood hit Nikolai Taranosky's nostrils. Normally he kept to himself, but something about the smell called to him, and his beast rose in response. Giving in to impulse, he shape-shifted into a raven and went to investigate the source of that divine smell.
After circling the area, he found the injured shifter on the ridge overlooking the river. He landed out of sight a few feet away and shifted back into his natural form. Before stepping into the clearing and revealing himself, he disguised his appearance and scent to that of a shifter from the Raven pack, just in case any of the wolf's brethren were close.
Nikolai approached carefully. Though it appeared to be half-dead, he knew appearances could be deceiving. As he drew closer, he tried scanning the creature's mind but was blocked. This shifter was strong and possessed a natural barrier, making it difficult for him to connect with it, even in wolf form.
When he was close enough to touch it, he slowly lowered to the ground to see how badly it was injured. At its most vulnerable, the wolf launched at him, aiming for his throat. Nikolai was caught off guard. He reflexively threw up an arm to protect his face.
The enraged wolf locked down on his arm, its bite savage as it attempted to snap the bone in two. He sensed the moment the wolf swallowed some of his blood. The protective barrier vanished. Nikolai instantly seized control.
"Be at peace. Sleep." He buried every ounce of compulsion he could within the commands.
The wolf immediately lost consciousness. Nikolai gently pried its mouth open and removed his arm, examining it to see the extent of the damage. It was nasty looking andpainful, but the wound would heal quickly.
He turned his attention to the sleeping wolf, their minds still firmly linked. The she-wolf bled profusely from several wounds, which appeared to be fairly recent. She should be healing or at least shape-shifting back into her normal state to speed the process. That she hadn't revealed the seriousness of her condition.
Knowing he couldn't just leave her, Nikolai picked her up and flew with her to the one place where he knew she would receive the medical attention she needed. Alex Wolfe lived nearby. Not only was Alex the Raven pack's alpha, he was the doctor all local shape-shifters used. Nikolai wouldn't say that they were friends. They shared the natural wariness of two predators residing within the same territory. They each recognized the other's power and had no desire to test to see which one of them was stronger.
He landed in the yard and walked slowly, in a nonthreatening manner, to the door. From the looks of things, Alex was entertaining. No telling how many shifters were inside. They should be alerted to his presence any minute now.
He was surprised when he made it as far as the porch without being noticed. The smell of blood was overpowering. Both he and the she-wolf were covered in it. Though her bleeding seemed to be lessening, it hadn't completely stopped. He walked up onto the porch and called out, "Alex, it's Nikolai. Open up."
The door opened immediately. With one all-encompassing glance, Alex took in the sight of Nikolai and the bloody, wounded wolf in his arms. "Please enter, Nikolai."
Pushing the door open with his shoulder, Nikolai strode past Alex. He barely acknowledged the other people in the room. "I found her down by the ridge. She must have been attacked. She's lost a lot of blood."
"Place her over here. Carol, go get my supplies while I take a look at her." Sweeping the throw off the back of the couch, Alex laid it on the floor in front of the fireplace.
"You say you found her out by the ridge?" The question came from the other male wolf.
"Yes. You won't find any sign of her attackers there now. I checked before bringing her to you. From what I could see, she must have dragged herself quite a distance before her strength gave out." Nikolai's gaze never left the wolf being examined on the floor. He had been strangely reluctant to put her down. His body was tense, waiting, for what he didn't know.
The female wolf that must be Carol came back with the requested supplies. As Alex moved to clean her wounds, Nikolai gave warning. "Be careful. I had to place her under compulsion before I could get close enough to her to help. She was very defensive and half-crazed with pain." He watched closely as Alex tended to her injuries, ready to snatch her away should the doctor make a wrong move.
"While many of her wounds are severe and need stitching, none are life-threatening. She's already beginning to heal," Alex informed them.
"Do you recognize her? She doesn't smell like pack," the other wolf asked Alex.
"Yes, I know who she is," Alex said. "She's not one of ours. Her name is Shannon. She belongs to the Sparrowhawks. Her brother's the alpha."
"Are you going to contact him? Tell him what's happened?" Carol questioned.
Alex shook his head. "We don't know what happened, but until I do, this stays between us. We'll keep an eye on her and protect her while she's healing. She would heal faster if she could shift, but she's lost too much blood."
Nikolai approved of Alex's answer. Any brother who would allow something like this to happen to his sister didn't deserve to be contacted.
"We have got to keep this from getting out," Alex continued. "The pack wouldn't normally be a problem, but this is a small area and news travels fast. We can't take a chance on word getting back to the wrong ears."
Alex stitched up the worst of her injuries and poured some kind of liquid on them. Then he injected her with a shot of something. Finally finished, he removed his gloves as Carol quietly began to clean up. "She needs to be watched for a few hours."
Putting what was left of the supplies back in the bag, Carol responded, "She can come home with us. She'll need clothes and stuff. If we're keeping her presence a secret, we won't be able to send someone to her home to pick up her things. If necessary, I'll tell the pack I need some more items for Kiesha. Let them believe you got her size wrong."
"Do whatever you think best." Alex turned to Nikolai. "Is there any way that she could be tracked here?"
"No, but I'll backtrack and make sure."
"Thank you. You have the gratitude of the Raven pack for bringing her to us." It was a formal way of saying that the pack was now indebted to him.
Nikolai nodded, not particularly concerned with vamp/shifter politics and shifter protocol at the moment. He took one more lingering glaze at the she-wolf he'd rescued before striding out the door.
Outside, Nikolai breathed in deeply of the night air. Opening his senses, he gathered information from the wind. The evening was quiet, the animals of the forest still as if they recognized the predator in their midst. Other than himself and the people in the house, the woods were empty.
He shape-shifted into a large raven, flew back to the spot by the ridge where he'd found the she-wolf, and made sure her whereabouts couldn't be traced to Alex. Then, compelled beyond all reason, he tracked the she-wolf to the home where she was resting, using her mental signature as a guide. Masking his presence from her caretakers, he turned into mist and entered the home, reforming himself at her bedside.
He gazed at the she-wolf who'd managed to spark his interest after all these years of ennui and wondered what she looked like in human form. Not one to deny himself anything he truly desired, he fully connected to her mentally and commanded her to shift. She flowed seamlessly from a wolf into a beautiful redhead. He studied her naked form, surprised to realize that his penis was hard. It had been so long since he'd felt real physical desire, it took him a moment to recognize the sensation.
While he luxuriated in the forgotten pleasure of arousal running through his veins, he tried to figure out what it was about her that called to him. He'd seen beautiful women before, ones with better figures. She was a bit too petite for his taste. He liked tall women to complement his own six-four stature. He'd be lucky if this one came to his chest. She had to be five-two, maybe five-three if she stretched herself.
The word "pixie" came to mind.
His gaze followed the slight curve of her stomach to the apex of her thighs. The sight of the red curls there caused his cock to jerk in his pants. How interesting!
As he stared at those curls, he imagined himself parting them with his tongue and tasting her essence. Lost in his fantasy, he didn't immediately notice her breathing had sped up. Nikolai glanced at her face. Seeing that she was still asleep, he let his gaze wander again. Her breasts caught his attention. Where before they'd been lax in her drug-induced sleep, her nipples were now pointed little beads, proclaiming her arousal. He could smell her desire. It amazed him that she was so attuned to him.
Nikolai closed his mental link with her, stepped away from the bed, and backed himself into a corner of the room. He wanted to determine if it was his thoughts or his presence to which she was responding. He looked away and willed his body to cool down. He thought of the mundane and kept his gaze off the bed until he was in control again.
As his arousal subsided, he glanced once more at the woman. Her nipples were still peaked, and the curls between her legs glistened as the juice of her arousal dampened them. The beast within him rose, and he lost a good deal of the control he'd just attained.
Unable to resist the temptation, he crossed to the bed and dipped his finger in her honey-dampened curls, being careful not to touch the flesh below. Once his finger was coated in her juice, he brought it to his mouth. The taste of her caused his fangs to explode in his mouth as his beast jerked on its leash. In this instance, retreat was the better part of valor.
Nikolai quickly streamed out of the house and headed home, tightening the leash on his beast as he left. His sense of fair play wouldn't allow him to take an unconscious woman. Had he stayed any longer, he'd have taken her, right or wrong. It didn't help knowing that on some level of her consciousness, she'd been aware of his presence and her body had responded, welcoming his. He needed to research what that meant.