Authors: Desiree Holt
Tags: #Cat Shifters/ Contemporary/ Crime and Mystery
The air shimmered and in seconds a naked Seth stood before her. Bending down, he lifted her gently into his arms.
“We’re good,” he told the others. As soon as the last cat was out the door, taking Leo’s body with them, he closed and locked it, then carried Kendall to her bedroom. “I’m so sorry.” He kissed her sore, bruised face. “I’m just so sorry.”
“It’s okay,” she told him through puffy lips. “You got here before he could do anything. But how did you figure out it was him?”
“Let me get you some ice and I’ll tell you.”
He propped her head on the pillows, hurried to the kitchen and returned with ice in two plastic bags. While he held them on the places that were rapidly swelling, he told her about the conversation with Max and Nat at The Litter Box.
“I never would have suspected him.” Her voice sounded funny and she figured it was because her mouth was so sore and swollen.
“Neither would we, without Nat.” He bent down and brushed kisses on the parts of her face that weren’t bruised. “God, Kendall, if anything had happened to you…”
“But it didn’t.” She wrapped her fingers around one of his wrists. “You got here in time and that’s what you have to remember. Where did the other cats come from?”
“Nat. He called some of the pack members and told them they were needed.”
“Do we know why he did it?”
“You mean other than being genetically flawed? No. But Nat’s going to try and find out.” He took one of her hands and placed it on one of the ice packs. “Hold this here. I’ve got to call this in. It’s a good thing I have extra clothes here.”
“How will you explain this?”
He winked. “I’ll think of something. And we’ll need to get your story straight because they’ll want a statement. But not tonight,” he assured her. “Definitely not tonight. I’m getting you some aspirin and then taking care of this.” He kissed her forehead again. “I may never let you out of my sight again. I nearly had a damn heart attack.”
“Promises, promises,” she teased, then winced.
“Pain meds.” He headed for the bathroom. “Then I’ll call the station. And Nat and Max.”
* * * *
Kendall thought a three-ring circus might have been less stressful during the activity of the days following. Seth was at her side nearly every minute, waiting on her, packing ice on her face, bathing her to ease the sore places on her body where she’d fallen or been hit, coaxing her to eat.
“You’re worse than an old woman,” she complained at one point.
“Call me names as long as you do what I say.”
When he’d had to leave, Aisha took personal time from work and came to sit with her. And on the third night Nat had arrived, Max and Aisha right behind him, with a story that was almost sad.
He had finally found the alpha of the pack Leo had been born into. His father was a leopard, his mother a panther—one who had been rescued from a place where she’d been abused. She was filled with a lot of rage because of that and she’d passed that anger along to Leo.
“Apparently his parents were aware of that,” Nat had explained. “It became evident when he had his first adult shift, but they worked with him to keep it under control. Then he met a woman and fell in love. Unfortunately, she mated with another.”
He went on to explain about Maria, the woman who’d turned away from him, and the explosive rage that had been behind his first kill.
“And they let him get away?” Kendall was aghast.
“His parents pleaded on his behalf, so the alpha banished him. He ended up here.”
“Our luck,” Aisha commented. “But what set him off again?”
“We found his computer,” Seth told her. “He’d been stalking Maria online, including her Facebook page, which has all kinds of pictures of her and her mate. We think that’s what set him off again.”
“He seemed so nice,” Max remarked. “Calm, trustworthy, making sure the women got to their cars. Keeping the rowdies out.”
“Yeah, well, he did a good job of pretending,” Seth told him.
Max had toyed with the idea of selling The Litter Box, but Nat and Aisha talked him out of it, and Nat promised to send him young men from the pack to act as bouncers.
Kendall’s face had healed but, at Seth’s insistence, she had taken some extra sick time at work. Now the two of them were camping in the woods in the forested area the pack owned, a place where they could run freely. And she was nervous.
“Tonight’s the night, right?”
They were sitting cross-legged on a thermal sheet and Seth pulled her into his arms. “The start of our forever.”
“Do you realise we’ve never shifted in front of each other? In all this time?”
“And we’re about to change that.” He licked her lower lip. “You are my mate, Kendall. Do you agree?”
“Oh, yes.” She’d come to realise she wanted that more than anything.
“Then tonight we mate as cats, and next month we will marry in our human forms. Are you ready?”
After they performed the ritual, they would be bound together for all eternity. When she nodded, he rose to his feet and held out his hand to pull her up. Gazes locked, they each removed their clothes. Butterflies were beating their wings in her stomach. At Seth’s signal she closed her eyes, inhaled, and as she let her breath out, slowly began to shift. Her body elongated, soft spotted fur sprouted on her skin and her teeth changed shape. She dropped to all fours and when she opened her eyes she stared into the eyes of a gorgeous black panther, sleek and sexy.
In an instant he was off, racing through the trees, Kendall following behind him. It had been too long since she’d changed and an incredible sense of freedom flowed through her. They ran until they reached a small clearing, where Seth stopped and stood waiting for her.
This is it.
She held herself still as he circled behind her, licked her everywhere then, bracing his front paws on her shoulders, mounted her and thrust into her. The sensation was beyond anything Kendall had ever felt. If Seth’s cock filled her in human form, as a cat he stretched her to the limit. She immediately began to tremble, the walls of her leopard’s pussy gripping him tightly. The feeling was so intense that deep inside her body she began to feel her climax already pushing through her.
Seth growled, nipping her shoulder, and pumped into her again and again.
The orgasm shook them like a fist, nothing existing but the two of them.
When the last spasm died away, Seth eased himself from her body and they both dropped to the ground. Putting a paw on her face, he licked her mouth over and over. When they had recovered, they rose and he led them back at a leisurely pace to their campsite.
“I think I can sleep forever,” Kendall told him after they’d shifted back. “But I feel very, very complete.”
“Me, too.” He draped them both in a large, warm blanket. “I love you, Kendall.”
“I love you, too.”
“And now you are mine. Forever.”
“Forever. That sounds really, really good.”
They sat wrapped in the blanket and each other’s arms, watching the campfire as it slowly died. Cuddled together, they were peaceful and content.
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“Come on, bitch.”
The hooded man yanked open the back door to the SUV, grabbed her arm and dragged Lauren Rhodes out into the night.
One hand ripped the duct tape away from her mouth. “You can scream now. No one and nothing will hear you out here except the wildlife.”
She had no idea where she was. The windows of the vehicle were blacked out as was the privacy panel between the front seat and the rest of the car. She’d had to sit in absolute darkness, hands bound tightly in front of her, tape over her mouth, while they’d rocketed along whatever roads he took, slowing down only when the surface turned rough and bumpy. She stumbled on the uneven surface, trying to get her footing in the flimsy sandals.
An hour or more ago she’d been standing on the unlit highway leading to her family’s home, wondering how she could have run out of gas when she’d just filled up her tank the day before. One minute she was trying to get a signal on her cell phone. The next the big SUV pulled up next to her, three hooded men jumped out, grabbed her and tossed her into the back seat. She’d still been trying to scream when they’d roared off, her cries cut off when a fist had connected with her jaw.
She’d awakened to a hazy state of consciousness when the driver had stopped long enough for the man in the back with her to get out along with the person in the front passenger seat. Then they were off again, tyres screaming on the pavement. She’d tried desperately to gather her scattered wits together and figure out what was happening.
I never thought it would come to this. And which one of them had reached such a point of desperation?
Before she could make actual sense out of her thought they’d arrived at this desolate place and she had no idea at all where it was.
She managed to look around as the man dragged her roughly along the ground. She saw the dark shape of a cabin surrounded by a forest of trees. Holy shit. They were in the middle of no place. No one would ever find her here. Who were these men and why had they grabbed her? Her jaw still ached from the punch she’d taken and inside she was shaking but at the moment she didn’t have the luxury of fear. If he got her into that cabin she had a feeling she’d never get out alive.
As he tugged her along the dirt again she dug in her heels and yanked her arm out of his grasp. When he turned towards her she brought her leg up sharply and kneed him in the balls. His cry of agony could have curdled blood, and while it still rang in the air she brought up her foot and kicked him in the crotch again. He dropped to the ground, curled up in the foetal position, and Lauren took off running. She could hardly make out where she was going, wiry undergrowth scratching her skin, her toes stubbing on tree roots that protruded from the ground. But she knew if he caught her she was worse off than dead.
“Bitch. Where you at, bitch?” His voice had a strangled sound to it generously laced with rage. “When I get my hands on you, you’ll pray for me to kill you. I don’t care what my orders are.”
Orders? Someone gave the order for this?
Lauren pulled up next to a thick tree, bracing herself against it, trying to even out her breathing as she listened for the man’s progress. Cautiously she stepped away, one foot then another, being as quiet as she could. She’d barely gone ten steps before she heard him behind her and suddenly there he was. He still had the hood on but now he also had a gun in his hand.
Lauren backed up, wondering if she could drop-kick the gun away, when she heard a growling sound and three furred bodies hurtled past her to land on the man. She stared at them, frozen.
She knew there were wolves in Maine. She’d spent every summer of her life near these woods. But she’d never seen them this close before. Fear slid through her like an icy finger as she watched them knock the man to the ground. One of them sank his fangs into the gun hand and the man let out a scream. But the sound was short-lived, as in the next minute the other wolf ripped out his throat.
She was frozen to the spot, knowing she should run or they might turn on her next but her muscles didn’t seem to get the message from her brain. The wolves were huge, bigger than any wolves she’d ever seen, one a shimmery silver, the second a white so bright even in the darkness it almost hurt her eyes to look at it, and the third blacker than the night, and larger than the other two. When they turned to look at her she pressed herself as hard as she could against the trunk of the tree, sure that if she moved they’d be on her.
But they simply stared at her with their amber eyes and unbelievably she had a sudden feeling of safety. Safety? Here in the middle of the woods with three vicious animals? She waited, helpless, for them to attack, but they simply moved slowly away from the body and headed back into the woods. They’d gone about twenty yards when they stopped and turned to look back at her. One of them gave a soft growl, the sound unbelievably nonthreatening.
Do they want me to follow them?
They stood there, waiting patiently.
Well, it couldn’t be any stranger than the rest of this night. And I can’t hang around here. If someone tries to contact that man and they don’t get him there’ll be out here like a shot.
Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, she ordered her feet to move. One step at a time she left the security of the tree. She’d only moved a couple of feet when the wolves moved again, slowly, as if waiting for her to catch up with them. They progressed like that, haltingly, until she finally figured out they were trying to lead her out of the woods. How totally weird. Wolves rescuing her? But it had to be better than what waited for her if she spent too much time like this, time when the man’s friends could check on him and come looking for her.
“She’s coming now,”
Luke Spencer, the silver wolf, messaged his companion.
“I wasn’t sure she’d follow us,”
Mack Renfield, the magnificent white wolf, answered him. “
Especially after we tore into that guy.”
“Well, it was that or let him shoot her,”
“What do you suppose that was all about?”
“I have no idea,”
. “But when I see a woman whose wrists are bound and a man after her with a hood over his face and a gun in his hand, I know whose side I’m on.”
“We need to lead her to your place, Luke. I think what she needs right now is The Sentinels. That’s one woman in a huge pile of trouble.”
“If we can get her close to the house,”
Damien told them,
“we can take off and let her go the rest of the way herself. The house will be lit up and easy for her to find.”
. “We need to slip in ahead of her and give Sierra and Kelsey a heads up.”
Luke made a sound in his throat that would have been a laugh if he’d been in human form.
“They’re probably still guzzling that wine and talking. About us. Even at this hour. We left them so we could take a short run. Remember? Who the fuck knew we’d run into this?”
Mack snorted. “
That certainly worked out well.”
This from Damien.
“Let’s just get her out of these woods and go check in with the ladies. Give them a little advance notice. Then find out what the hell this is all about.”
Lauren was exhausted. The wolves had raced in front of her, stopping and starting, and she had the weirdest feeling that each time they stopped they were waiting for her. Saying, “
Come on. We’ll get you out of here.”
For a brief moment she remembered stories she’d heard about a certain kind of wolf. A hybrid. A wolf that was…
No, no, no. That’s just a legend.
Still, the first time she’d heard it she’d done all the research she could, intrigued by the stories. She’d chalked it all up to someone’s fanciful imagination. Still, in college she’d taken a class called
Legends and Lore
and that was part of what they’d studied.
You’re losing it, girl. These are just wolves that for some reason don’t intend to harm you. That have led you to safety. You hope.
Then, just as she was about to collapse, she broke out of the trees into a clearing and saw a house. At first she thought it was a mirage but she blinked and it was still there. She looked for the wolves but in that instant they disappeared, flashes of silver and white and black that were just…gone.
Lauren was so drained, shattered by what had happened that she could barely keep from crying. Multiple scratches that stung like crazy covered her arms and legs. Her wrists were raw where she’d tried to rub the ropes against different trees in an attempt to wear away the fibres to loosen them but with no results except broken and bloody skin. The straps on her sandals had worn blisters on her feet and ankles, her sundress was torn and her jaw throbbed from the blow she’d taken. She could barely put one foot in front of the other as she headed towards the wood and glass structure ablaze with lights.
And in the back of her mind the same question kept rattling around:
Who would do this to me? Kidnap me and have me taken to this place in the middle of nowhere?
Instinct told her she couldn’t go home until she found out. If it was a kidnapping for ransom, they’d just try again until they were caught. If it was something else…
No. She didn’t even want to think that.
think that. Not in her present state, anyway.
Lauren had no idea what time it was. She’d totally lost track of time. Late, that’s all she knew. Very late. But these people obviously were awake. She realised what a mess she was. Any person in their right mind would turn her away. She just hoped they didn’t take one look at her and lock the doors because she didn’t think she had anything left to keep her going. She also had no idea if the woman she glimpsed through the big glass door was connected to the men who’d taken her or not but she did know she couldn’t go on a minute longer. She was drained, terrified and desperately in need of help. She could only pray she’d found it here.
She nearly crawled the last few yards to the steps leading up to the deck. She’d just pulled herself onto the deck itself, trying to find the strength to pull herself to her feet, when someone opened the sliding glass door. A woman, medium height, in jeans and a T-shirt with a long fall of deep golden hair.
“Can you help me? Please?” Lauren croaked, hoping she hadn’t fallen into another life-threatening situation out here in this godforsaken wilderness. But the wolves wouldn’t have led her here if it was, right?
Ohmigod. Now I’m connecting with wild animals. I really have lost my mind.
The woman smiled and crouched beside her. “Hi.” Her voice was low and musical and probably the sweetest sound Lauren had ever heard. “I’m Sierra. Let me help you inside.”
“Sierra?” A tall muscular man with long dark hair came out onto the deck.
Lauren shrank away from both of them.
“I’m…sorry to just walk in here like this. A stranger.” Her jaw was swelling, making it difficult for her to talk, and the words came out sounding raw. “I…I had nowhere else to go. I don’t even know where I am. I’ve been running for so long and I saw your house and…” Her voice trailed away
Sierra guided her to her feet and smiled. “That’s my husband, Luke. He may look like he bites but I can assure you he doesn’t.” She sent a teasing glance towards the man. “At least most of the time. Come on. Come into the house. Those are some nasty scratches and we need to look at them. But first we’ll get rid of the rope.” She studied Lauren’s face. “And you definitely need some ice on that bruise.”
They practically carried her inside and eased her into a big armchair. A very petite woman with her auburn hair pulled into a ponytail came into the room carrying an armload of first aid materials.
“I saw you bring her in,” she said, “and knew we’d need these.” She smiled at Lauren. “Hi. I’m Kelsey Renfield. My husband’s getting the big clippers to get rid of that rope.” She looked over her shoulder. “And here he is, right on cue.”
This one was as tall and well-muscled as Luke, but with dark brown hair that barely reached his shoulder and very intense dark eyes.
Do they grow them all this big in this area? How come I’ve never seen any men like this before?
She tried to curl into herself, wondering if she had the energy to flee back into the night.
“Ease off, guys,” Kelsey said. “You’re scaring her to death.”
“What did we do?” Luke asked, frowning.
Sierra laughed. “I think you both just look forbidding.”
The man Kelsey had identified as her husband handed over the big shears. When he smiled his entire face softened.
“Sorry.” He voice had a husky edge to it. “I don’t know what sent you out into the forest at this time of night but you look like you got the worst of whatever it was. It’s okay. You’ll be safe here.” He looked at her face, studying the evidence of the blow. “Someone used you for a punching bag. If we find him I think I’ll have to teach him a lesson.”