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The cool spring air blew across his snout as he ran through the woods, erasing all traces of the tantalizing scent which had both intrigued and enraged him over the past several weeks. The heavy aroma of pine and earth from his beloved Wyoming mountains filled his nostrils. Muscles bunched and extended as he leaped over a fallen tree and continued his trek. Towering evergreens and rocky terrain blurred at the edges of his vision when he increased his speed. It could be his last chance to run in his wolf form for a while.
The pads of his paws made light thumps against the pine needle laden ground. His previous soft pants increased, creating tiny clouds of breath in the chilly air, and he slowed his speed. His ears twitched toward the sound of water cascading over rocks, and he loped off in that direction. A narrow stream meandered down the mountain. He looked around the area before dipping his head to the small pool and taking a sip — the icy water trickled down his throat.
Leaping onto an enormous boulder with a flat top on the bank of the stream, he sat on his haunches. A spider web spanned the distance between two branches directly overhead. Morning dew glistened as the rising sun shone on the web's incandescent threads. Thick carpets of green moss covered the crevices of the rocks dotting the stream's path. An owl hooted farther up the mountain, and he swiveled his head in its direction. An answering call echoed back before they both went silent.
Raising his nose, he scented the wind and angled his head toward the stream below him. Light footsteps meandered his way along the stream's edge. The familiar scent held him in place, for he recognized who approached.
Curiosity rose within him.
Greer ambled into view. His black jeans and shirt blended in with the dark shadows beneath the trees, where the sunlight hadn't yet reached. Easily scaling the rocks, he climbed up and sat down a few feet away — quietly staring up at the lightening sky through the treetops.
They sat in companionable silence for several moments. He glanced at Greer, knowing his friend could sit there all day without saying a word. Blowing out a rough breath, he stood on all fours. A brief shudder rippled over his form. Davis shifted back to his human body and dropped down to sit on the rock, wincing at the cold, rough texture against his skin.
"Well? What brings you out here?"
Greer snagged a piece of broken branch and examined the six- inch piece of knotty wood. "Why did you volunteer to escort Leitner's sister back to the Euro clan?"
Davis shrugged. "Why not? I'm curious to see what's happening over there now that the leadership of the clan is up for grabs. Should be entertaining at the very least, and maybe informative. I think it's best to keep an eye on what the other clans are up to, especially after Donald's murder, don't you?"
"You think someone besides Bryant Leitner had a hand in Donald's murder?"
"I know he did the deed, but his journal left some questions. Maybe he was bat shit crazy and acted alone, but what if he wasn't? What if someone else was working with him? I want everyone responsible."
Greer painstakingly stripped the bark off the broken branch, revealing the lighter toned wood lying beneath. "If he didn't act alone, the person may have gone into hiding." He glanced at Davis. "Or the person is one of those battling for power over the clan and will want to eliminate anyone who might get in his or her way."
Davis placed a hand over his heart. "You worried about me Greer? I didn't think you cared."
The expression on Greer's face didn't change. "You're part of my clan, just making sure you understand what you might be heading into." His attention returned to the wood in his hands. "What about the woman?"
"What woman? Bethany? What about her?" Davis shifted position. Sitting on a rock as a wolf was one thing, sitting bare-ass naked on one as a man was entirely different, and uncomfortable.
"She's part of the ruling family of the Euro clan."
"You don't still think she had anything to do with her brother's plot, do you? Malcolm cleared her of any complicity."
"True, but her existence raises several possible scenarios as I see it. One. Someone else was involved and they'll want to eliminate her in case she knows something or want revenge for her involvement in bringing her brother's crimes to light. Two. That someone is as crazy as Bryant and will want to kill her for tainting her bloodline with Donald. Three. She stands in the way of someone taking over the clan, and thereby will need to be eliminated or convinced to support them. Four. Your preoccupation with her will drag you into her mess and get you killed."
Davis stiffened. Those scenarios had already occurred to him — all except the last. "I'm not preoccupied with her."
Greer stared at him, and then shrugged. "Suit yourself."
"Yes, I have been obsessed with tracking the scent of Donald's killer. She just happened to be the source."
Greer looked up as a hawk flew overhead but didn't say a word.
"I volunteered to accompany her back to the Euro clan because someone needed to. Malcolm can't. He's our leader and needed here, and besides he's a little busy with his new human mate. Owen's part of the ruling family and shouldn't be put in possible harm's way for no reason. Who else is going to volunteer? You? You want to volunteer? Be my guest."
Davis surged to his feet and stalked the length of the boulder and back. Greer wasn't exactly known for his social graces. He didn't have much use for people and wasn't shy about letting it show. He preferred remaining on the compound and only left if duty required him to do so. Malcolm had put him in charge of all security procedures there. Davis also handled any security duties off the compound when they arose, in order to spare his friend a task he disliked.
Propping his hands on his hips, he glared at the back of Greer's head.
Sure, her elusive scent had intrigued him. Of course, it did, but he had believed the scent belonged to Donald's killer. When they'd found her, he'd been stunned someone who appeared so small and delicate could be capable of such treachery. A normal reaction if you asked him. When the real culprit had been found, she'd been cleared of any involvement and free to go. Why in the world she wanted to return to the chaos of her clan was beyond him, but he supposed he could respect her loyalty to her clan.
He frowned at Greer who remained silent, fiddling with the piece of wood. A chill moved over his skin which had nothing to do with the cool breeze.
Her large, luminous eyes had been haunting his dreams since he'd first seen her. It was a natural response to dwell a little about the person he'd been tracking for weeks. The fact it turned out to be a woman had surprised him. And her face stuck in his brain. "I guess she's attractive if you like the fragile, quiet type."
Greer didn't respond.
Okay, she had a gentle beauty. Her light-blonde hair and ivory skin were pleasing to the eye. Her sweet little body had sent thoughts and images spiraling through his mind that had nothing to do with the crimes she had been accused of. Her eyes though, they were big, dark pools a man could drown in.
Davis spun away. He tilted his head back on his shoulders and stared up at the ever-lightening blue sky. The urge to howl rushed over him.
Damn it, he'd wanted her from the moment he'd laid eyes on her, and it had enraged him.
He hung his head and stared at the striations of rock beneath his toes. Who else had seen his reaction to Bethany? What had given him away?
Crouching down next to Greer, he rested his forearms on his knees and hung his hands down in front of him.
Greer blew on the piece of wood to clear away debris. "Is she your mate?"
"I sure as hell hope not."CHAPTER 2
The air-conditioned recycled air of the plane whooshed out of the vents as it blew over Bethany's head. The shades were drawn, and the lights dimmed in the cabin. The soft, leather, butter- colored lounge chair she reclined in provided comfort, but her eyes were wide open. Sleep proved elusive, despite her restless night, too many thoughts and worries coursing through her brain. What would she find when she returned home to Glasgow? Her cousin, Aaron, was the likely choice to rule the clan. He was next in line since her uncle and brother were both gone. Had Gregor, the clan's spiritual advisor, really challenged Aaron's right to rule? Could Malcolm Donovan have received misinformation? No. It was unlikely. He didn't strike her as the type of man to be unsure of his facts before presenting them to someone. She only had vague memories of Gregor and had only spoken to him a couple of times as far as she recalled — at official clan functions. Their conversations had been polite, with inane comments. Nothing of any true depth to gauge whether he would be a fit ruler.
She shifted in her seat and peered at her quiet companion beneath her lashes. Davis lounged on the row of seats to her right. His head was tilted back, eyes closed, hands resting on his flat abdomen, and his long, jean-clad legs were stretched out and crossed at the ankles.
Malcolm had insisted she needed an escort back to her clan. Although thankful for the private plane ride home, she couldn't help but wonder if Davis intended to spy on her as well as ensure she arrived safely back with her clan. An imaginary shrug accompanied her thoughts. It didn't matter if he was here to spy on her, there was nothing to find. She'd told them everything she knew. She had no secrets.
"There's food and drinks in the galley if you're hungry."
The rumble of words made her start, and she darted her gaze back up to his face. His eyes remained closed. Light brown hair rested in a haphazard disarray across his tan forehead. How had he known she was awake? Perhaps her restless thoughts had transferred to unconscious movements and given her away. Either that or he had felt her perusal of him.
"No, thank you. I'm not hungry or thirsty."
Bethany nibbled on her bottom lip. Should she try to talk to him? His eyes were still closed. Did that mean he wanted to be left alone? He had spoken first however.
"If you've got something to say, spit it out."
"I ... well ... I wanted to thank you for escorting me home. It wasn't necessary, but I do appreciate the consideration."
Davis opened his hazel eyes, met her gaze, and shrugged. "Someone needed to, might as well be me."
Straightening in her seat, she lowered the footrest and placed her feet flat on the floor. "I could have gotten home without an escort. Perhaps not on a private plane, but I am perfectly capable of taking a commercial plane all by myself."
"Fly commercial? Why the hell would you want to do that? All those people jammed into one tiny space together, scents of perfume, cologne, stale food, body odor all colliding and piling up, the sheer volume of noise with all those people talking, breathing, and lord knows what else." He shuddered dramatically. "Gives me the urge to sneeze just thinking about it."
A slight smile twitched her lips. "It's not quite that bad."
"What are you doing flying commercial anyway? Your uncle was the leader of your clan. Surely you were able to enjoy some of the perks of being a member of the ruling family?"
"I have enjoyed the comfort and convenience of private planes the couple of times I accompanied my uncle, but when I travel by myself I fly commercial."
Davis shuddered. "Please tell me it was first class at least."
A light chuckle escaped her. "Mostly yes, although I have travelled coach a time or two as well. I do admit it was hard on my senses."
He gave a slight shake to his head, and a portion of brown hair fell forward across his forehead. He shoved it back.
"Why did you fly coach? Elsof that cheap?"
Bethany stiffened slightly and frowned. "It's not a matter of him being cheap. I wasn't one of his heirs or an executive with the company. I'm an engineer. My income doesn't always allow for extravagances like first class tickets."
"I would think for safety and security reasons alone, he should have provided you with secure, private transportation. You were his niece and therefore part of the ruling family. Besides, every member of the North American clan has access to one of the clan planes whenever they need it. Malcolm doesn't discriminate by heirs, blood, or position — every member of the clan is part of the family."
Gripping her knees with her hands, she stared at the floor. She didn't take offense at his words. Bethany felt certain he didn't ask them out of malice, but from general curiosity. The clans derived from the same planet, but just as many cultures who existed here on Earth, the Risharden clans had their differences too. Upon arrival, they had split into four different clans and for the most part they had remained somewhat isolated from one another over the centuries. The four leaders of the clans formed the council to try and keep the peace and ensure war never destroyed another planet. Keeping them isolated from one another across the globe had helped in the past, but modern times and the digital age made the philosophy increasingly difficult and perhaps antiquated. She had never even met a member of the South American clan until the meet and greet. They tended to keep to themselves. She had, however, encountered members of the Asian clan before. One of the trips she had accompanied her uncle on had been to India, where he had met with members from the Asian clan about some business deal they were both considering. He hadn't allowed her in the actual meeting. She had been there only for show. Her uncle felt strongly about presentation. Recently and unintentionally, she had become familiar with several members of the North American clan. If the clans didn't learn to evolve and to accept their differences and even grow to appreciate them, weren't they doomed to repeat past mistakes?
Crossing her legs, she rested her hands in her lap. "Your clan has many admirable qualities from what I've witnessed. There are certain traditions my clan has that I might wish were different, but change can be difficult, and many are resistant. No way of life is perfect, whether it be a person, family, clan, country, or culture. My clan is not perfect, but it is my clan, my family."
"Touché." Davis linked his fingers together, resting them on his stomach. "So, what's your plan when you get back?"
"Yeah, your cousin and some other guy are battling over ruling the clan. Which side are you on?"
"Aaron is in line to rule the clan."
"But he's a dick, and not exactly leadership material. What about this Gregor guy? What's his story?"
Bethany opened her mouth but changed her mind. She couldn't refute his statement. Aaron had never demonstrated any of the qualities needed to run the clan. He was indecisive, impulsive, intolerant, entitled, and oft-times cruel. He was her cousin, but she wasn't blind to his faults. There was always the possibility the role of ruler could prompt him to become the leader the clan needed, but in her heart, she had doubts.
"I don't really know much about Advisor Heyes beyond he's the spiritual advisor for the clan. I would describe him as a quiet man. I would never have guessed he would challenge someone for ruler. He may be better suited, but I don't know him well enough to say."
His hazel gaze swept her from head to toe. "Sometimes it's the quiet ones you need to watch out for. They surprise you in the least expected ways."
For some unknown reason, heat stole over her skin. The more she thought about his words and the look in his eyes, the more her skin burned.
"I think I'll find some water. It seems I'm thirsty after all. The dry air on a plane makes it inevitable, I suppose." Bethany jumped to her feet and strode to the galley located toward the front of the plane. "Would you like me to get you something?"
Hearing nothing, she glanced over her shoulder.
He stood behind her.
She halted abruptly. "Oh, um."
"Decided I was hungry after all."
For a moment, all she could do was blink at him. "Oh, of course, I could bring you something."
A slight smile quirked at the corner of his mouth. Bethany couldn't stop staring.
"I'm already up."
Swinging back around, she marched into the galley and opened the refrigerator tucked under the counter. Filled to capacity with various drinks and food, she bent to grab a bottle of chilled water. Glancing at the bottle before she opened it, she contemplated holding it against her heated cheeks. Not wanting to draw further attention, she took a deep drink of the chilly water and wandered over to lean against the smooth wall separating the kitchen from the pilots flying the plane. Davis searched the small kitchen, opening cabinets and peering into the fridge.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Scent of Betrayal"
Copyright © 2019 Denise Carbo.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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