Available for purchase February 14th, 2012!
All she ever loved was destroyed in the fire.
It was a miracle that she survived. Only fourteen years old, her childhood had ended on that night. She could still see the flashing gold flames that leapt into the sky, licking at a sparkling backdrop of stars; she had been thrown on her back by the blast, tumbling across wet grass to skid to a halt at the base of a chain-link fence. Tears stung her eyes and her hands shook, red and burned by the flash of heat.
She gazed, stunned, at the sight of the burning bodies. Dozens of people were running from the apartment complex, screaming and crying, sirens approaching in the background... but no sound registered in her ears. The fire burst from every floor of the building, and her parents were caught right in the middle of the inferno. She watched a burning body tumble from a window, black and cracked from the heat; she couldn't identify it. She was unable to turn away.
It was a struggle to think but something inside of her took control, and she knew she had to get out of there—now. The explosion in the apartment hadn't been an accident. Jumping to her feet, Jaime turned and stumbled away, forcing her legs to move until she was flat out running. The air burned with smoke; each gasp was like breathing fire. Her chest ached. She threw an arm over her mouth and kept running, adrenaline pounding through her veins; her focus narrowed, her strength increased, and she fled into the night. For good reason, too — the explosion hadn't been an accident. Her family had been targeted — murdered — and they would come for her next.
Her shoes slammed on the sidewalk. She was a good block away from her apartment complex when she suddenly heard the rev of an engine behind her. Her heart jolted sickeningly; up to that point she had been numb, as though running under water, but the harsh sound of the motorcycle snapped her back to reality. They were hunting her. They were chasing her down and planning on killing her, just as brutally as they had murdered her pack.
“Dammit!” she cursed as a motorcycle rounded the corner behind her, skidding from the sharp turn. The rider was clad completely in leather, his features hidden behind a faceless black helmet. She couldn't make out anything more at the rate they were moving; she glanced up at the smoky sky and caught a glimpse of the moon. It was only half-full tonight. Changing into her werewolf form would be draining, but perhaps she could still use some of its power....
Jaime focused and felt something stir slowly inside of her.... A sudden burst of energy flashed to her legs. Her muscles bulged and coiled. She lunged forward, faster than an Olympic runner, but she knew it was only a temporary fix. Under the half-moon, her energy would soon tire.
A sudden howl rose up from behind her; her pursuers had sensed her. She glanced over her shoulder, enough to see that a pack of men had joined the motorcycle. They ran behind it, keeping pace with the bike, but never daring to pass their Alpha. They didn't carry any weapons because they didn't need them. She knew they were taunting her; if they really wanted to catch her, they could have by now... instead, they were enjoying the chase.
Tears stung her eyes and Jaime bit her lip, forcing herself to remain in control. She had to be smart about this. As long as they hadn't caught her, there was still a chance to get away. She glanced sideways and saw a narrow alley leading to the next boulevard over. She took her chance, dodging down the shadowy corridor and leaping over a large dumpster that blocked her way. She forced herself to move faster and ignored the weariness in her arms and legs. Hopefully the obstacle would slow them down....
No such luck. She reached the next main street and glanced behind her, just in time to catch a flash of black paint as the bike leapt over the large trash bin, defying all sense of gravity. It landed smoothly on the other side and she could almost sense the Alpha smiling. The rest of the wolves followed; they were closing in, chasing her like a wounded deer.
“Hey, little girl!” a voice called from her other side, and she turned, terrified. Another section of the pack was emptying into the street in front of her. They were cornering her in, trying to ambush her. She took off running in the opposite direction, narrowly dodging both groups and flying down the sidewalk. She pounded down the street amidst silent buildings, her fists clenched and sneakers scuffing.
I'm going to die, she thought frantically, her panic slowly consuming her. It was getting harder to breathe. The growing roar of the motorcycle completely covered the now-distant whine of sirens. I'm going to die I'm going to die I'm going to die....
“Got you!” a voice grunted. Suddenly an arm whipped out and grabbed her around the waist. Jaime shrieked as she was yanked off of her feet and backwards, hauled through the air until she found herself forced onto the front of the motorcycle, its leather-clad rider harsh and unyielding. Her back slammed against his chest, lean and hard beneath the padding of his jacket. His arm was like steel and wrapped around her. She screamed, writhing in his grasp and ripping at him.
“Let me go, you bastard! Let me the fuck go!” A string of curses left her mouth; she didn't care if any of it made sense. The bike skidded slightly as it weaved along the street, yet the rider did not lose control. She kicked, trying to hit the handle bars, her long dark hair flying in her face. She couldn't see anything but her rage was overwhelming. Her parents' killer now held her in his firm, capable hands.
“Shit,” the man grunted, his voice deep; the cuss fit on his lips. “Sit still!”
“Fuck off!” she shrieked, and wrestled even harder. He slowed the bike down and tried to grab her around the throat—she bit down firmly on his hand.
“Dammit! Bitch!” This time when the bike swerved, Jaime took her chance. Without hesitation, she flung herself away from her captor despite the speed and the trailing pack. Her side clipped the handlebars and then she was free, flying through the air, slamming into the ground with more force than she could have prepared for. With a soundless oof the air was knocked out of her and she went skidding across the pavement, protecting her head with her arms but scraping her entire right side. Pain lashed through her, cutting through her ribs, burning over her skin as it ripped and tore. She finally came to a stop when she hit the base of a brick wall, and she lay there for a moment, broken and sobbing, pain making it almost impossible to breathe. She couldn't move. For a long moment, she couldn't even hear or see; she was sure something was broken. She could taste blood in her mouth.
“Fucking bitch, where'd she go?” She heard voices shouting, then the distinct sound of frantic sniffing as her pursuers tried to catch her scent. Thankfully she knew that they were still close to her apartment and the smoke from the fire was clogging the air. It muddled everything, helped by the already thick scent of car oil and exhaust. They could smell her, but they couldn't pin her down, thank God.
Wincing, she opened one eye; the other was fast swelling up. Somehow she managed to land behind a fairly concealing line of bushes. She peered out from them now, her head close to the ground. Not twenty feet away, a group of about two-dozen people were striding back and forth, their motions high-strung and tense. A few more arrived on the scene as she watched. She held her breath, trying not to make a sound, squinting against the harsh glow of the streetlights. It had to be almost midnight; she wondered what her chances were of them giving up. She looked around carefully after a few more seconds, but couldn't find any reasonable means of escape; if she made even the smallest move, it would alert the hunters.
A pair of black boots strode onto the scene, immediately drawing her attention, and the rest of the group paused. She watched the boots cross the pavement and stand slightly separate from the others.
“Crazy bitch jumped off your bike, Alpha,” a young man growled.
“Quiet, Aiden,” that deep, rocky voice answered. Definitely a man's voice. It sent cold chills down her spine, and briefly she remembered the strong arm around her, the crush of that rock-hard chest. The hair rose on the back of her neck. Those boots began to walk again, this time slowly, casually wandering around the area. Jaime bit her lip. She wanted to pant and sob from the pain in her side and the blood she knew was seeping through her shirt, but she couldn't make a sound. It would mean her life.
Those boots wandered frighteningly close—so close that she could see the scuff marks and rubber treads along the bottom.
“I know you can hear me.” That voice again; there was something evil there, something deep and chilling. “You're probably wondering why you are still alive... I assure you, its not because you've escaped.”
Jaime winced as her ribs complained sharply; the pain was getting worse by the second. Her adrenaline was slowly wearing off as her body grew exhausted. The boots stepped closer.
“Your pack was going to be killed, anyway,” the man said. “Your parents knew this, your Alpha knew this... they just didn't know when. So they planned ahead. Your parents and I made a deal.”
Right, and you killed them, you bastard! she wanted to scream. She was still having trouble with that concept: she was alone now. She had nowhere to go, no place to run or hide. Alone. They were all dead.
The man let out a bark of a laugh; it was rough and taunting. “Do you know what that means, little wolf? I came here to get you. You're mine.”
Jaime frowned and shook her head, trying to clear it. What was he saying? It didn't make any sense; her parents had given her to this man? They wouldn't! She wanted to scream, she wanted to pound the ground in frustration. No!
And why would he even agree to spare her? He was a ruthless killer. She wasn't any more valuable than the next wolf—was she?
The whole night had been one horrible shock after another. Jaime forced herself to stay focused, pressing herself lower to the ground, bearing the pain and holding her breath.
“Your parents knew they were going to die,” he spoke again, repeating the words that made her heart pound. His tone was matter-of-fact. “They wanted to save their precious baby girl.... You do realize what has happened tonight, don't you?” A pause. “You're alone now. Be at my side and join my pack. Reclaim your territory. It's for the best, my dear. It's what your parents wanted.”
Suddenly Jaime felt something snap inside of her. Her heart raced and abruptly she saw red. Rage rushed through her, pure and clean, washing away her pain and weakness. She felt her canine teeth lengthen and sharpen, pricking into her tongue; suddenly, all she could think about was sinking her teeth into his neck. She wanted to attack him, to rip and tear at him, to taste his blood.
“Just think, kid,” another step in her direction. “What have you left to lose?”
“You fucking bastard!” The roar ripped from her throat. She launched herself from the bushes, feeling her teeth lengthen in her mouth, her eyes flashing with pure rage. She flew through the air, one hand outstretched and nails lengthened—she was going to claw the fucker. She was going to gash his eyes out, rip him open, feel the flesh beneath her fingers....
He caught her mid-air, easily. Hand outstretched, he somehow bypassed her sharpened nails and snatched her by the throat, gripping her firmly with a rough laugh. She shrieked in anger, thrashing and biting, clawing at him, trying to hurt him in any way possible—but he continued to hold her by the neck, hefting her up into the air until her feet couldn't even touch the ground. She was choking; she couldn't breathe. Fuck, she couldn't breathe!
He held her like that as her struggles became weaker and weaker, and the bloodlust faded from her eyes. They had turned an electrified yellow, but slowly dulled back down to an average hazel-brown. He studied her, staring at her face as she calmed, until finally she could stare back at him with coherent thought. She couldn't see him fully, since only the visor of his helmet was raised, but she could clearly see his pale, intense eyes. There was a keenness in his expression that spoke of acute intelligence.
“There, now,” he said quietly, once she had fully recovered from her outburst. “Found you.”
She spat at him, snarling, but he laughed and shook her slightly. “Enough of that, little wolf. I will let you go soon enough.... I just wanted to get a good look at the one who will serve as my mate.”
“Never!” she growled, though it was hard to push the words past the hand at her throat.
“It's too late for that, my dear,” he murmured again, and a cold grin passed over his face. “Your parents begged me to take you, and I gave my word. Werewolf law cannot be broken in these things... but I suppose you are too young to understand that yet.” He leaned his face close, so close that she could catch a whiff of his cologne, bringing his presence sharply into focus. “You're mine. You do realize you don't have a choice—right?”
“I fucking hate you!” she wheezed, kicking her legs out at him though she was so weak she could barely move. “I'll kill you!”
He laughed again; it grated across her skin, as painful as the asphalt had been. “I would expect nothing less from my future mate,” he grinned. Then abruptly his expression changed, and the coldness she saw sent fear skittering through her. “And you will be my mate. You cannot escape me, no matter how far you run.”
Jaime would have said something, but at that moment he raised his helmet and pressed his mouth against hers—the kiss was demanding, harsh, taking her mouth and not asking questions. His lips controlled her, parting her easily as his tongue entered. Jaime wanted to bite it off — but somehow she couldn't. She was frozen to the spot, shocked, utterly confused at the strange and exciting emotions that swept over her. The heat settled in her belly like a wild thing.
The kiss turned hard towards the end and he pulled her bottom lip into his mouth, sucking before biting down, sudden and sharp, blood blooming between them. She gasped, surprised, her head whirling.
Then he released her. It took her a moment to realize that her feet were on the ground. She looked up at him, stunned; when he smiled, she could still see the smear of her blood on his lips. She stared at him stupidly, dazed, taking note of his height, the width of his strong shoulders. He was not a giant, but definitely of formidable posture, and his brown hair was silken and wild.
“Run, little girl,” he murmured. “I will come for you when you are of age... and remember,” his hand reached out and gripped her hip suddenly, sliding into her waist where her wound was. He pressed his hand cruelly against her. “This belongs to me.”
Jaime stared at him for a moment longer, shaking, rooted to the ground — then she turned and fled. She couldn't do anything else; she knew she couldn't fight him, not with his whole pack there. If he was giving her leave to run, then by God she was going to do it. She didn't look back; she didn't even think. Her feet hammered over the ground, carrying her in the first direction she turned, and she didn't care where she was going. She touched her lip—it was still tingling. He had kissed her. The asshole that had destroyed her pack had taken her mouth, just as he had taken everything else. She was alone now, just as he had said. Alone, and she would die before she ever joined him. He had called her his mate. The idea of it made her want to vomit.
Yet somehow her body was still humming.
I'll kill him, she vowed. One of these days, I'll fucking kill him.
She ran down the dark, midnight streets, as fast as she could go until she collapsed in a cold sweat. She didn't know where she was, but she didn't care. In the morning she would worry about her life. In the morning she would figure out the future.
For now, she wanted to die... but she would live to kill him first.
His hand moved another inch up her thigh.
Jaime laughed, pretending she didn't notice. She was drunk, high, and her whole body was buzzing. The night sky was dark above her, showered with stars. That's what she liked about this town: the seclusion and the nearby wilderness made everything more intense. The colors were brighter, the scents fresher.
The picnic blanket beneath them gave relative protection against the dewy grass. To be honest, Jaime would have rather been on the bare ground, but she had to keep up the pretense of normality. Tonight was not a night to give in to her wilder nature. She had a mission, after all.
She was a month shy of eighteen, about to graduate from high school, and by God she was not going to graduate a virgin.
“You're so gorgeous, Jaime. You're incredible,” her date murmured. Jaime knew the words, she had heard them plenty of times; this wasn't her first time trying to get laid. Since the destruction of her pack, she had been shunted from foster home to foster home until she had finally wound up in the small town of Black River. Along the way she had sought out all kinds of male companionship: jocks, nerds, bad boys... but every time she reached this point, something always stopped her from the act. Either she would be interrupted, caught, or suddenly–inexplicably–her partner would lose interest and disappear. Some guys would even begin openly avoiding her.
This time Jaime was determined, though. She had to lose her virginity, she had to. It was the only way she could establish herself as independent. It was the only way she could free herself from him.
She hadn't seen the dark, imposing man who had killed her family since the night of the fire; he wouldn't leave her dreams, though. From foster home to foster home she ran, fleeing from state to state across the U.S., but somehow his image never left her. She could still feel the hardness of his body, her lips tingling at the memory of his sharp kiss... and her gut still contorted with rage. She hated every bone in his body, if possible even more than the day they had met, and she wouldn't allow his claim on her to come to pass. She needed to lose her virginity as soon as possible; if she could do that, then perhaps he would never come for her. Perhaps she would be able to live the rest of her life without looking over her shoulder, wondering if he was following her, sick with dread....
“Hey, you okay?” the boy asked, his hand pausing. “It's okay if you don't want to do this.”
Jaime snapped back to the present. She put her hand over his and guided it closer to her crotch. Her skirt slid up partway. “No, believe me, I want this,” she assured him, giving a teasing smile. He grinned back, smug.
“Good thing I brought some... protection,” he said slyly, and flicked a small plastic square from his pocket. Jaime recognized the condom and let her hand travel to his pants. It brushed over the area of his crotch and she felt a firm hardness.
“Let's do it,” she murmured, leaning in for a kiss.
His lips brushed against hers, and the boy groaned in anticipation. Jaime forced out a few noises herself, trying to act like she was enjoying herself. The sad truth was that she hadn't been able to respond to a man since that bastard had kissed her. Memories of him always interrupted moments like this.
The kiss deepened, tactless and awkward, his mouth pressing against her. Her hand returned to his pants, and she started to unzip them. Don't think, she told herself. Just act.
At first she tried to ignore it, but the sudden burst of headlights was unexpected and insistent. She groaned and pulled back, annoyed and even more turned-off. The boy pulled back too, surprised. “What...?” he murmured, sounding drunk. He was drunk, she reminded herself.
She tried to remember his name but couldn't. “Shh,” she hushed, putting her finger to his lips, desperate to recover the situation. “They'll pass in a moment.” Probably just park scum, looking for a late-night spot to fuck or shoot up.
Or not. The sound of door slams met her ears, but because of her buzzed state, Jaime didn't have time to react. Her mouth opened, and suddenly a flashlight was blazing straight in her face, making her eyes burn. “What the hell?” she grunted. Her hyper-sensitive ears picked up the sound of footsteps.
“There she is!” she heard a voice mutter. It would have been undetectable to human ears. “Grab her, forget the boy!”
Jaime launched to her feet on instinct, so fast that she felt her partner topple over backward, but she didn't hesitate. Her instincts were screaming — something was drastically wrong, more so than usual. The men's scents reached her nose, and she almost gagged from their musk; it was a fresh pack of wolves that she didn't recognize, discernible by their distinct smell, much different than the usual vague mix of human and car exhaust. Despite their lack of familiarity, the men shared the same threatening presence. These were predators.
“Sorry,” she muttered, and she turned tail and ran. The grass was wet with nighttime dew and she slid twice while trying to climb the hill. Their picnic had been set up at the base of a steep slope, next to a gravel parking lot wedged between patches of trees. Black River was a town located in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by high mountains and forests. This particular park bordered one such mountain slope, shrouded in shadows and ferns. She dodged upwards, not looking back; she could hear her pursuers' footsteps. She didn't know what had happened to her date, if he was even still alive. She wondered how long it would take for the hunters to Change.
Yet strangely, they didn't. She reached the top of the slope where it turned into a road, and started sprinting down it, praying that a car would drive by. It was past midnight, and she doubted anyone would be out, but it was her only hope. “Come on,” she muttered under her breath, her lungs heaving. “Someone... anyone!”
There was a thrashing sound behind her. The hunters were exiting the woods! Jaime's heart raced in panic; she didn't know why they were chasing her. These were wolves she had never encountered before. She wondered if they could be from his pack, but even that seemed unlikely. She would have recognized his pack's scent anywhere. It didn't matter. Either way, she would never be taken alive.
She heard their feet grinding on the pavement. They would catch up with her any second now. Despite her superhuman speed and increased senses, these were males. They were stronger, no matter what breed.
“Come on, love!” one called, his voice so close it tickled her ear. She didn't turn around but the man's smell stuck on her; it made her wretch. “Give us a break!”
“Yeah, slow down a bit! We won't hurt you... much!” the other called.
“Fuck off!” she screamed back, and kept running, panic constricting her heart like a tight fist. She had to find some place safe. Her foster parents' house was the only home she knew. Otherwise she had nowhere to go — but their house was miles and miles away.
Dammit, she thought frantically. What now?
Then suddenly, another burst of headlights drew her attention. Finally! Someone on the road! It crossed her mind that it might be an enemy pack member, yet she was willing to take a chance. She launched herself into the middle of the road, throwing herself in front of the car with barely a second thought. “Help!” she screamed, waving her arms, heart pounding in her throat. “Help me!”
The car slammed on its breaks, screeching to a halt. She didn't flinch, even when it stopped only a few feet away.
“Help!” she cried again. Tears almost slipped down her cheeks. “Please....”
The car finally turned off its high-beams, coming to a full, screeching halt. The smell of burnt rubber permeated the air. She was filled with relief, yet a second later dread hit her like a lead fist. Doors slammed, and two men climbed out of the car. Not just men. Cops.
“Miss? Is there something wrong?” one called immediately, walking toward her. She froze in her tracks, suddenly unable to speak. The panic from the last five minutes clogged her throat, and it dawned on her that she was both high and drunk. She wasn't even eighteen yet. Whoops.
But she couldn't tell the cops to go away; no, then she'd be back in the exact same position. And so far it looked like the two men chasing her had disappeared. What if the cops just left her there? The men would doubtlessly return — they were probably waiting for the cops to go away, hiding just out of sight. She couldn't take that risk.
“Yes!” she said desperately, practically shouting from relief. “Yes! There's a problem! I'm drunk and high and I'm under age!”
The officer shining the flashlight at her looked stunned, then he switched back to his cop face. When he spoke next, his voice was strong and professional. “Miss, please put your hands behind your head and keep your legs apart,” he instructed. She had been arrested before — several times, in fact, especially during her runaway years — so she knew the routine. She obeyed immediately, and they brought her over to the car, shining the flashlight in her eyes. Her brown eyes were obviously bloodshot and puffy from smoking. The alcohol was still apparent on her breath.
“Miss, are you... uh, under the influence?” he asked.
She nodded. It was a redundant question, but they probably wanted her answer on record. Couldn't they just hurry up? She couldn't risk more wolves appearing; there was always the possibility of an attack. She wondered if her hunters were that desperate and which pack they hailed from. It bothered her that they weren't familiar. Black River was no man's land, a town between territories. Why would they be here?
The cops cuffed her, took her fake ID, and escorted her to the back of the vehicle, shutting the door behind her. She slid across the black leather seats, worn and cracked from use, balling up into one of the corners. She only felt relief when the doors locked securely; there were no handles on the inside. It was an older police car, not like the new models that rode in from Davenport every now and then. A steel mesh kept her separated from the cops when they climbed into the front seat. It made her feel caged, like an animal. She tried to focus through her panicked, drunken haze, and was thankful when the cops finally pulled back onto the road.
The trip into town was long and slow. The cops made several stops along the way, one at a 711 to pick up smokes and another at a drive-through. By the time they reached the police station, Jaime was sick and nauseous, her high having come down and the severity of the situation dawning on her. Straight from one hell into another. Instead of being captured by renegade werewolves and getting chewed up, abducted, or worse, she was now about to spend the night in a jail cell. Alone. Waiting for her foster parents to come pick her up. She had promised that it wouldn't happen again, that she would graduate this year without another call from the police. She had been so close... only one semester to go.
It would have been worth it if I'd at least had sex, she thought bitterly as the cop car pulled into a stop at the police station. The engine turned off and the cops got out, opening her door and assisting her out. She tried not to look them in the eye, all too aware of her dazed appearance, the messy hair, the torn blouse. Her fishnet stalkings and high skirt. God, what did they think of her?
Stop caring, she told herself firmly. Don't let them intimidate you. They were just cops, after all. She had been dealing with them her entire life.
They entered the whitewashed, well lit building through a pair of sliding doors. Up to a narrow front desk. A black woman peered over it, looking skeptically at her with a raised eyebrow. She took Jaime's ID from the cop and slid it through a machine next to the computer, and Jaime saw her picture pop up on the screen. Her records. All of her offenses listed in front of her, mainly theft and destruction of property. Gang affiliation. That had been short lived, only a week running with a pack of outcasts back in Porterville before they had turned tail and betrayed her. Long enough to get on her record, though. She bit her lip.
“Jaime, we've seen you before,” the black woman said. “About a year ago, as a runaway. Looks like you didn't get far. What are you up to now?”
“Underage drinking and drug possession,” the cop replied stonily.
“Ugh, it's just weed,” Jaime muttered. The cop behind her took a step forward, purposefully invading her space. She felt his heat against her back; it was the younger one, who she would have considered attractive if it wasn't for his cocky, bullshit grin.
“We'll see how you feel about weed after your court hearing,” he said, making her gut twist with anxiety. Words like 'juvie' and 'probation' swirled around her head. Her foster parents had threatened to send her to a correctional home once, some place where she would learn to control herself. She tried not to show her fear and frowned instead, trying to look pissed off. If only she could really be angry and powerful – instead, for the past few months, she had felt a strange, growing desperation. She knew her mating hormones were increasing; she was close to her first wolf moon, an entire month when her body would bloom and she would be ready to mate. For the moment, she was less interested in fighting the cop and more interested in his body; she had to focus hard to ignore his heat and scent. She vaguely entertained the idea of turning into a werewolf and running away... but she had tried that before when she was younger, and it had never worked. One couldn't stay a wolf forever, and eventually they would pick her up again in some other town. It was just delaying the inevitable.
Click. The cuffs slapped around her wrists before she knew what was happening. She opened her mouth, surprised, but they were already leading her away, tugging her toward the hallway to the back rooms.
“Come along, now,” the young cop directed. She knew where they were taking her. She had spent time here once before in the holding cells, downstairs, where one wall was a row of bars and a toilet stood naked in the corner. At least she would have her privacy. In a town like Black River, jail cells were almost always empty, especially on a Wednesday night.
She sighed, blowing her hair out of her face. “Do I get to make a phone call? What about my parents?”
“We're already calling them; they can come for you in the morning,” the cop said, yanking her along when she purposefully fell behind. Jaime stumbled, glaring.
“What the hell was that for!”
“Watch your mouth, young lady, or we can put you down for resisting an officer.”
That shut her up. She knew they would do it, too; it had happened before. They were small town cops with nothing better to do. Jaime could remember the big city cops, the ones in Rochester, where they were more concerned with things like grand theft auto, murders and child abductions. She had been released with hardly any fuss at all.
She was led by the two cops through a steel door and down a flight of stairs into a long white corridor, lined with holding cells. They opened the last cell on the right and shoved her in; it was a cold white cube, with a toilet along one wall and a flat cot along the other with a standard blanket. No pillow and no windows. The lights were only on in the front half of the room, leaving her cell in shadow. She was thankful at least for that much. Now she could try to sleep.
The cop waited for her to enter the cell, then passed her a gray jumpsuit. He hesitated. “Change into this; I'll turn my back. When you're done, pass me your clothes through the bars.”
“How am I supposed to get my shirt off with these cuffs on?”
The cop hesitated, knowing she was right, then unlocked them. “Just for you to change. Now hurry up.”
Jaime knew better than to argue, though the request made her face heat. This was a new development since last time. The cops turned away and she took the gray clothes, moving to the farthest and darkest corner of her cell to change. She tried to slip the jumpsuit on as fast as possible, starting slightly when the cop suddenly said, “Underwear too.”
Jaime glared, turning her back to him. She quickly stripped off her red panties and pulled up the jumpsuit, then took off her shirt and started unhooking her bra. She couldn't tell if the cop was looking at her or not, but she was sure she could feel his eyes on the back of her neck. Her face flushed. She quickly tugged off the bra and zipped up the rest of the jumpsuit until she was covered head to toe in the baggy material.
She grabbed her clothes and flung them at the cop, her last resistance. His face was red and his eyes glassy, and he stepped over to pick up her clothes, his gaze lingering on her lacy underthings.
“You can collect these when your parents pick you up,” he said.
“Was that really necessary?” Jaime demanded, unable to keep it in anymore.
“New policy,” the young cop mumbled, not meeting her eyes. He stepped up to the bars and grabbed her wrists, slapping the cuffs back on before turning to leave. His shoes snapped smartly on the cement. Jaime sighed, watching him disappear back upstairs, then walked over to the cot and slouched down. She slumped forward, itchy in the rough, stiff material. Somehow she felt naked, exposed, more vulnerable in the unfamiliar clothing.
She pulled her knees up to her chin, balling up protectively. She pressed her forehead against her legs. Flashes of scenes moved through her head, snapshots of the last few hours. Her date's hand on her leg, the taste of his kiss... and then, the wild chase up the hill and through the woods. The arrest. Why did these things always happen when she was ready to lose her virginity?
She breathed deeply, her thoughts becoming lost in the dizzy haze of alcohol. The wolves couldn't have been from his pack; she would have recognized his smell anywhere. If not them, then who? It was too hard to think, hard to keep her ideas in order. Darkness crept in around her eyes, and soon she wasn't worrying anymore; she drifted off to sleep.
Jaime awoke to the cold, and the slow realization that she wasn't alone.
The darkness gave it away. Somewhere in the shadows outside of her cell, a figure blocked the weak light from the door. She had no idea what time it was or how many hours had passed, only that all of the lights were off and the basement was deathly still. A chill ran over her skin, and the air moved from some unseen current. A smell reached her. She thought her blood would freeze.
“You....” Was she dreaming? The figure was tall and lean, wiry and muscular, like a tightly coiled spring. His every movement was powerful and refined, a balanced act of grace and strength. He stepped closer to the bars. Closer to her.
“Me,” he murmured back.
Silence. Jaime moved and her handcuffs clicked together, an unexpectedly harsh sound against the soft night. The spell was broken. She jerked up, her heart suddenly in her throat, adrenaline flooding her bloodstream. Her nostrils flared. Impossible....
He was here, in front of her, real. It wasn't a dream, though she kept pinching herself, trying to wake up. It had been years, but somehow she hadn't expected to see him so soon. Dread settled inside of her, along with a strange numbness. She didn't have to wait anymore. She could face him head on. She would fight, bound or not, and if she had to, she would Change, force herself through the non-moon transformation and attack him as her weaker self. She wouldn't let him take her... and she wouldn't let him get away.
“How did you get in here?” she finally glared, when the first wave of fear had faded. He remained silent, staring at her.
When he spoke, his voice was soft, a murmur, as though not meant for her ears. “So beautiful.”
It was unexpected. Jaime's eyes widened, then narrowed. “You can save the flattery. It won't work.”
“Is that so?” His words were dark and taunting. She remembered the rumble in his throat; the coarseness to his voice. “What would you have me say?”
“The truth,” she growled. “What are you doing here?”
“I came here to collect you.”
“Shh. The guard will be back any minute.”
She couldn't believe it. She shut her mouth, outraged and terrified, trying not to submit, to duck down and lower her body. He was an Alpha male; the scent was all over him, an intoxicating, heavy spice that made her skin tingle. He could read her like a book; maybe her face was drawn into a defiant line, but her heart was pounding. Her fear permeated the air, a thick saltiness, partly hormonal. She could already see the effect it was having on him; whether he realized it or not, her scent was making his muscles clench, his jaw stiffen. That was why he was staring at her, unmoving, his eyes intense in the darkness. He was taking her in, smelling her, reading her and learning her. This was the first time they had met face to face, after all... not in almost four years.
“You followed me,” she whispered. Fear made her voice weak; she hated it.
“You move around a lot,” he replied, and stepped closer to the bars. He leaned his head against them, as though he was tired, gazing sideways at her. It was still too dark to discern his features clearly. “Come stand next to me,” he said.
The hit was sudden. He smashed his hand against the bars, startling her and disrupting the silence. She was certain that the cop upstairs had heard. Even worse, it made her tremble. She flinched, leaning back, her sensitive ears ringing from the harsh sound.
“Here are the keys, kid,” he said, his voice dangerously smooth. He held his hand out through the bars. She saw the brass ring dangling from it, a few keys clinking temptingly. She recognized the one with her cell number. “You can let yourself out. I'm sure one will undo your handcuffs, too. Take them. They're right here.”
Jaime hesitated, eyeing his stance. “Throw them,” she said.
He blinked, his gaze steady. She couldn't tell his eye color in the shadows, only the glint of light from their depths, feral and dangerous.
“Come take them,” he repeated steadily.
Jaime heard the strain in his voice. She had a quick decision to make. Was the cop on his way? She couldn't wait around and find out. She would be in even bigger trouble if the cops showed up and this guy was hanging around. Should she go with him? Definitely not, but she couldn't make a successful escape if she couldn't even get out of her cell. She needed those keys... but she didn't want to get close to him. Maybe she could outsmart him.
She moved to her feet, uncomfortable in the rough, itchy jumpsuit. She hadn't been allowed shoes or socks. She padded barefoot to the bars, keeping a careful distance between herself and his hand, but slowly narrowing the gap. She was looking for a weakness, any unexpected way to distract him and get the keys. Once she had them, she could unlock her cuffs, open the cell, run... maybe get the cops on her side... he was a murderer, after all. Surely he was a wanted criminal, too?
But how to distract him?
She had to think quick. An idea popped into her head... it was the most obvious one, but not one best suited for a virgin. She thought back to her adventure in the park, at the boy's hand slipping under her skirt, inching up her leg. She bit her lip, hesitating. It was worth a shot. Desperate times called for desperate measures, and she needed to escape... or rip him to shreds.
She reached up to where the zipper stopped at her neckline. She saw him frown. It was impossible to tell his age in the darkness, though his voice didn't sound too old.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
She started pulling the zipper down a little ways until the top of her cleavage was visible. Then she pouted, making her eyes big at him, stepping up closer to his hand. She thrust her chest out in front of her. “How do I know I can trust you?” she pleaded, trying to look vulnerable. She swayed her hips slightly when she walked, flaunting the scent of her coming wolf-moon, her month of ripeness. She saw his nostrils flair suddenly and his eyes dilate. What color were they? Gray? She tried to remember, but it was blocked by hatred. The thought of what she was doing left a sick taste in her mouth; she wanted to retch.
She was only a little ways from his hand now. It hovered between the bars and she didn't dare get any closer. She leaned to one side, folding her arms in front of her, pressing up her cleavage. She saw his eyes flicker over her.
“Promise me,” she whispered.
“Promise you what?” his voice was quiet.
“Promise me you won't hurt me.”
He frowned at her, though his eyes were now lingering on her cleavage, not on her face. She could see that he was distracted and pushed her breasts up a little further. Her left breast threatened to spill out completely, barely contained by the course fabric.
“I...” his voice faded. “I....”
She made her move. Deftly, so fast that it was almost imperceptible, she swiped at the keys. Her fingers touched the cold metal and a soft jingling met her ears. She would have had them, too. She would have, except that the cuffs slowed her down, and maybe... maybe an Alpha wolf wasn't as easily tricked as a regular man.
He snatched her in mid air; grabbed her by the chain between her wrists and twisted her arms upward, making her gasp. She winced as she smashed against the bars, her ribs banging against hard metal; she was held up on her toes by the enemy's hands. He twisted her again before she got the chance to recover, and then she was trapped with her back to him, her butt up against the bars and her breasts jutting outward, her hands held high above her head.
She couldn't see him; he was behind her. Her eyes searched the cell wildly for anything to help her, but she found nothing, just a blanket and a bare toilet.
He stretched her body out, silent, his face close to the back of her neck. The minute stretched on indefinitely, neither of them making a sound. She could feel his breath, but that was all. It was as though he was waiting for something.
Jaime finally tried to pull away; she tested his grip but he was strong, powerful, like steel... impossible to break. Each time she started to fight, he would shake her, dangling her easily like a leaf, and she would go limp. After the third time he finally laughed, and she writhed in his grasp, trying to wrench free. He grabbed her harder, boosting her up against him through the bars. His lips were next to her ear.
“I promise nothing,” he murmured to her. Then he ran his hand up her body, and she gasped, arching backwards, her nipples jutting forward against the rough gray material. He smelled like an Alpha, heady and exciting, spreading warmth across her skin. He was male and potent, in his prime — it made her mouth water. Made her drip between her legs.
Did he know her reaction? How could he?
“Good,” he finally murmured, and partially released her. He still held her with one hand and she heard the lock jingle. The door clicked open. He reached around and grabbed her quickly, then dragged her out of the cell, bodily shoving her in front of him so he could close the door behind her. He turned to look at her, snatching her chained wrists when she tried to make a run for it.
Jaime didn't hesitate—if she couldn't run, then she could sure as hell fight.
“Die!” she screamed, tackling him. She launched herself at him, ignoring her handcuffs and letting out a shriek of outrage. Her skin burned everywhere his hands had touched, and she hated her body's reaction. All she could think about was ripping his face off, tearing him apart limb by limb. She wanted to taste his blood. She must have caught him off-guard because he stumbled backward under her weight, letting out a grunt as she slammed her shackled fists against him, ripping and tearing and snarling. “I'll fucking kill you!” she howled, raking her nails across his cheek, striking out wildly.
Within seconds everything changed. He grabbed her handcuffs and pulled her past him, using her own momentum to fling her to the ground. She hit the cement floor hard, taking the impact on her shoulder and rolling a few feet before she could get her legs beneath her. She crouched, trembling from pain, adrenaline coursing through her as her teeth elongated in her mouth. Her heart pounded, her breath short. She bared her fangs and growled.
He was a dark shadow standing above her, calm and still after her sudden attack. He was looking at her, but his back was to the thin light from the door, and she couldn't see his eyes. She backed up an inch instinctively, feeling the wall behind her, ready to launch at his throat.
She watched warily as he reached up a hand and touched his cheek. She could tell by the blood under her nails that she had wounded him. He didn't seem too concerned by it, though.
“So this is how it's going to be?” he said softly.
Jaime wanted to scream back at him, to roar and howl until all the pain left her heart, but her rage choked her and all she could do was glare. How else was it supposed to be? He had killed her family, destroyed her pack, taken away any sense of home she would ever have. The memories brought a new surge of power to her muscles, and she launched herself from the floor, losing all control.
“Aaagh!” she roared, flying at him; she could already taste his blood in her mouth. She could already feel his flesh tearing between her teeth, his screams of pain, the last gurgle of breath from his lungs....
But he grabbed her again as he had the first time, easily snatching her from the air, and suddenly she found herself slammed up against the wall. He grabbed her by the throat, squeezing tightly, as his other arm trapped her hands. With no effort he slid her up the wall, dangling her above his head.
“We could play this game all night,” he growled at her, his mouth close to hers, his nose inches away. She still could only make out the vaguest planes of his face, but his voice controlled her, every ounce the Alpha male. She trembled in his grasp, rage and instinctual respect fighting inside of her. “But that would only end in both of us being arrested. The guard will be down here any second. Would you like freedom or bars?”
“I hate you,” she spat, unable to think of anything else.
“I know,” he said.
She opened her mouth to retort, but he suddenly clamped a hand over it. He tilted his head to one side, obviously listening, then hissed to her, “We're out of time. Follow me, or you can stay here.”
Jaime found herself dropped to the floor. She landed unsteadily on her feet, dizzy and whirling from all of the contradictory emotions, but his words had planted a needle of ice in her spine. The cop upstairs had overheard them; she needed to make a choice–stay here and be prosecuted, or run. If she went through the court system, she would end up with major punishment; this wasn't her first offense, after all. But if she left with him... her life would change forever.
My whole life has led up to this moment, she reminded herself. Killing him was impossible right now, so did she hide from him again, tuck her tail between her legs? Or did she follow him, and bide her time for revenge?
She heard voices from the stairwell and made up her mind–but at the same moment his hand landed on the nape of her neck.
“Stay quiet,” he hissed. With his hand firmly on her nape, he started to lead her forward.
He was a good foot taller than her and his hand was strong. She followed, suppressing the urge to bristle, telling herself that this was the smart thing to do. She wanted this; the closer she was to him, the more chances she had to kill him. They padded quickly and silently down the corridor until they were in front of the stairwell. Then her captor put his hand more firmly on her throat and pulled her back into the shadows.
“We wait,” he said.
There were more voices from above, some laughter, and then the sound of another door slamming. Silence.
Her captor quietly moved forward and opened the door, listening carefully before he pushed her into the stairwell and up the stairs. He forced her to walk in front of him so it was impossible for her to turn and get a good look at his face. She wished she could remember what he looked like, but her memory was obscured by years of hatred and disturbing dreams. The lights were low in the police station; Jaime guessed it was sometime in the early hours of the morning. In a big city like Rochester or even Davenport, the police stations were busy 24/7; but here in sleepy Black River, the force was cut in half after midnight, singled down to a few lonely officers and a janitor.
However, the higher they climbed the stairs, the more voices she heard.
“Caught him trying to hotwire one of our cruisers!” someone laughed; she thought she recognized the young cop from earlier. “What an idiot!”
“Hold him down, he's struggling! My, have you ever seen such an energetic drunk?”
“Could be narcotics, we'll have to drug test him....”
They reached the top of the stairs and her captor kept a firm hold on her, leaning slightly to see around the corner. She looked up at him and got a side view of his sharp jaw line, then he grabbed her and pulled her back into the shadows of the stairwell; a cop marched past quickly, black shoes clipping against the linoleum.
“What's going on?” she couldn't help but ask.
“Darren is distracting them... as soon as they leave the room, we make our get-away.”
She frowned. “But the security cameras... won't we be seen?”
“We've already taken care of that.”
Jaime wondered what he meant, but kept her mouth shut. The tension in the air made her eyes dilate with excitement. They held their position until the voices from the main room died down and the sounds of struggle faded. Another door slammed shut.
“Now.” Her captor grabbed her hard by her cuffed wrists and started forward, so fast that she almost fell. Instead he dragged her to her feet and kept moving, pushing them through the lobby of the police station and into the corridor leading to the front doors. Jaime was sweating from anxiety. They were making a bold move, leaving out the front of the station. Anyone could show up and see them. There were cameras everywhere....
The corridor stretched before them, lined by offices and dark windows. At the end of it was a pair of glass sliding doors that led out into the night. But then Jaime saw it — the flash of red and blue lights. A cop car pulling up in front of the station, its siren off, barely discernible through the dark windows to her left.
She dug her heels into the carpet.
“We can't go that way!” she hissed, resisting her captor's pull. “There's a cop parking right outside the door!”
“Quiet, just keep moving-”
“No! I am not letting you fuck this up!” She tried to wrench her wrists free. She knew where the back door was; just a quick dash down the opposite hall and out into the rear car lot. Outside, she could climb one of the impounded cars and jump the fence, then slip into the shadows of the abandoned field behind the station. Once she was in the forest, they would never find her.
“Stop!” he growled, yanking her wrists toward the floor, as though she was a dog and he meant to rub her nose in the carpet.
Jaime turned and resisted, trying to break his grip by throwing herself violently backwards. “Let go of me! Agh!” Twisting and writhing, she finally slipped away from his grasp and dove for the lobby, ready to run to the back door. His quiet cursing followed her but she ignored him, stumbling at first and then gaining momentum. She was not going to be caught escaping through the front doors of a police station!
She had just entered the rear hallway when- “Oof!” A body slammed into her, taking her off-guard and carrying her to the carpet. She bit back a scream and rolled, trying to fight him off of her, kicking and biting at anything that came into range. They scuffled on the floor silently as he tried to pin her down. She continually slipped out from under him, twisting from his grasp. The thought occurred to her that maybe now was the time for revenge. Maybe she could find a gun and shoot him straight through his evil heart....
“Hey! What's going on here?”
The voice was sudden and loud, causing both of them to freeze in place. Jaime looked around wildly, just to find a cop standing at a door to the side of the room, a cup in one hand that looked suspiciously like urine. His face was red and chubby, his jowls wobbling as his mouth opened in shock. At that moment she heard the slide and hiss of the front doors opening.
The chubby cop turned, eyes bugging out of his head. “Dave! We have a break-out!”
“What?” a new voice shouted. “Quick! Phone for backup!” Her wolf-hearing could pick up the man's heavy footsteps thundering down the corridor towards them. She heard the safety on his gun click.
“I didn't want it to come to this,” her captor said softly above her. Jaime looked up, surprised, and found herself met by a shockingly blue gaze. It momentarily took her breath away.
Then he released her, reached down, and pulled a gun from under his jacket. Grabbing her firmly, he rolled to one side and leveled the gun at the ceiling, wrapping an arm around her head and pushing her hard into his chest. “Cover your ears!” he yelled.
Two gun-shots and an explosion of glass. It rained down upon her in sharp, tiny shards. Everything flickered and went black. Jaime's heart pounded, overwhelmed by terror; her ears were ringing and vibrating from the roar of the gun, and she couldn't hear anything. It was as though she was under water, all direction blurred except for the warm body next to her.
There was shouting and yelling, more gun shots, flashes of light as bullets whizzed through the air; the cops were returning fire. She didn't know who was shooting at what, and she covered her head with her arms, screaming at the top of her lungs. What the hell was going on? When a hand grabbed her by the arm and dragged her upward, she could only shakily obey. She gathered her legs under her and ran, still screaming, more guns firing — was she shot? She couldn't tell.
More running and stumbling, feeling her way down a pitch-black hallway, no idea of where she was going. Tripping over something — a chair? Someone gripped her cruelly and yanked her forward. Her hands slammed against the wall, and she continued to scramble sideways until she found herself gripping a door handle. Locked.
Another earsplitting gun shot, a blinding flash of light, and the doorknob went tumbling across the floor. Then she was pulled through the door and into open air. Jaime finally gained control of her limbs and ran, not knowing where she was headed, only that she had to get away from the police station and find safety. She couldn't hear anything but the ringing from the bullets, and her head was still spinning — outside? But where?
She opened her eyes, realizing that tears were streaming down her cheeks. Her surroundings came into sharp focus; she was behind the police station, running through the lot of impounded cars, the dirty asphalt beneath her bare feet. And next to her, his firm grip still on her arm, was her captor. Rescuer?
“Run!” he yelled, though she could barely hear him through her ringing ears.
What do you think I'm doing!? she wanted to scream, but she was too busy struggling to breathe. They wove between a maze of cars, passing run-down trucks and cheap sedans. Half a minute later, the door burst open behind them, three or four cops crowding around the exit. Their guns were pointed and ready.
“Stop, in the name of the law!” a voice shouted over the intercom, echoing around the impound lot. “Stop or we will open fire!”
Her captor kept running, holding her close to his side. They reached the back fence and he launched himself onto the bed of a truck, easily pulling her next to him. A few stray bullets bounced off of the cement near them and Jaime almost collapsed, shaking in terror.
He crouched next to her in the truck bed and rubbed her arms, holding her close, then pushed her head into his shoulder and returned fire. She was screaming against him, terrified.
“Jaime, Jaime you have to climb over the fence!” he yelled to her.
She was breaking down, crying, unable to control her body. “I can't!” she moaned, huddling closer to the bed of the truck. “Oh god we're going to die....”
“You have to! Now climb, I'll cover you!”
She shivered, shaking her head, useless and sobbing. “No, I can't.... ouch!”
The bite was sudden, nipping sharply at her ear. She yelped. “Climb, or we die here!” he roared.
She knew it was true; it was too late to appeal to the cops. She would be sent to prison for sure, or shot down along with him. She gathered herself with the last of her strength, steadying her nerves, turning to look at the fence. It was a good fourteen feet high, barbed wire lining the top. “How the hell....”
A bullet ricocheted off the car next to them, shattering the windshield. Her captor shoved her toward the fence. “Now!”
Biting her lip, she flung herself onto the cold metal, relying fully on adrenaline. She climbed quickly, hand over hand, scaling the fence as fast as she could. She kept expecting a bullet to go through the back of her head, but instead her captor returned fire, forcing the cops to duck into the hallway.
Finally she reached the barbed wire and she only hesitated for a second. She already knew that she had no choice. Frantic and desperate, she grabbed the wire, letting the spikes gouge into her hands as she swung one leg over. The steel thorns ripped at her feet, but she ignored the pain as she flung herself over the top of the fence, tearing long rents in her clothing. She fell limply over the other side, landing with a dead thud in the bushes. She was too numb to feel any pain.
A body landed next to her a minute later. She looked up dazedly at her rescuer's silhouette.
“Get up, we're not done yet!” he yelled, pulling her into a sitting position.
She glared, feeling her head swim, tiny lights flashing before her eyes. The world was becoming a dark tunnel... she felt like she might throw up.
“Fuck off....” she growled, trying to shove him off of her. Then she swooned backwards. Everything dipped and whirled. She felt blood streaming through her cut fingers.
“Dammit, she's passing out!” a new voice said.
She heard sirens somewhere in the background.
“Somebody grab her!”
She tried to focus, tried to get back up, but her body wouldn't listen. Sick and spinning, she saw white stars explode across her vision... then everything went black.