Authors: T. S. Joyce
Tags: #Paranormal, #Shifter, #Erotic, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Supernatural, #Suspense, #Romantic Suspense, #Danger, #Adult, #Forever Love, #Action, #Adventure, #Wolf, #Mate, #Dark Secrets, #Series, #Insanity, #McCall Madness, #Deceased Father, #McCall Pack, #Galena, #Alaska, #Wilderness Living, #Dangerous, #Saved Soul, #Retreat, #Fight, #Safety
“I’m scared of flying. And dying.” There. She’d said it, and it was out there. Now when Nicole screamed a lot and peed her pants, it wouldn’t be so awkward because she’d warned everyone.
Vera pulled on a headset and twisted around as best as her seatbelt allowed. “Tobias is a pro-pilot and has never had a crash landing.”
Tobias was busy talking low into his own headset and flipping on a bunch of switches Nicole had no guess at.
“Just so you know, this is only my second time in a tiny plane. My first pilot was named Bert, and he smelled like burnt popcorn.”
“It’s not a tiny plane. It’s a bush plane,” Tobias corrected, not missing a step in talking into his little microphone.
“He’s checking the weather out near Kodiak,” Vera explained. “Looks choppy here. Hopefully it’ll be clearer once we get out of this weather cell.”
“Choppy?” Nicole’s voice came out a squeak.
“Don’t worry, Nicole. You can just cuddle onto your uuuh…” She groaned with a frown as she looked at Link, who was currently snarling and pressed up against the wall of the plane, his leg shaking constantly as he glared at Vera. “Never mind. Just…close your eyes for a while.”
“We don’t like cages.”
Tobias swatted the back of his neck in irritation and turned around. “Cut that shit out, Link.”
“We can’t. We can feel them. The pack is linked. Link. Stupid fate. My dad gave me this fucking name. Couldn’t ever really escape them. Fucking McCalls.” Link slapped the side of his head and slammed his back against the seat.
Nicole rested her hand carefully on Link’s tensed leg, and when he didn’t bite her, she rubbed it soothingly. “Just a little while longer, baby. We’re going to get through this. Me and you, okay? Look at me.” Link slid her a helpless look, and she repeated low, “Me and you.”
With a slight nod, he slid his hand over hers and squeezed. “Your arm.”
“Feels okay. Vera gave me good pain meds. Hey,” she whispered as he began shaking his leg again. “I love you. I love both of you. You’re good, Link. Good. Hold onto that.”
The sound in his throat died long enough for him to murmur, “I love you, too.”
She smiled as warmth bloomed in her chest. “I like when you say that to me.”
“Feels good. Good to say that. We love you.” His words came out chopped up and harsh, and he looked so apologetic she brought his knuckles to her lips to show him it was okay. Everything was okay.
The take-off was scary, but once they were in the air, other than a little turbulence, it wasn’t bad. And eventually, Nicole even built up enough courage to take her eyes off Link and look at the snowscape far below. If she pretended this wasn’t really happening, and that she wasn’t really catapulting a million miles an hour in a tiny death machine, the Alaskan scenery was breathtakingly beautiful. Over near Silver Summit Outfitters, though, the weather wasn’t as fair. Snow was falling, the wind was up, and the landing skis skidded sideways at the end of the runway. They all came to a stop pale-faced, except for Tobias, who ripped off his headset and acted like landing lopsided was just another Tuesday.
“What?” he asked as they all stared at him with bugged-out eyes. “We didn’t crash.”
Blinking hard, Nicole got out of the plane after Vera and waited for Link. Tobias was leaned into the plane, forehead against Link’s, looking him in the eyes as he gripped the back of his neck and said something too low to hear over the whipping wind on the runway.
“He can do this,” Vera said, squeezing Nicole’s hand.
“And what if he doesn’t take the Dawson pack?”
Vera shook her head slowly. “That isn’t an option now. He has to, injured or not.”
“Injured? No, he’s fine. He won the fight with the McCalls.”
Vera frowned slightly. “Yeah,” she said without conviction, “he’s fine.”
She turned to walk away, but Nicole grabbed her arm. “Vera, is that what’s wrong with him?”
With a sigh, Vera turned and pressed her lips next to Nicole’s ear. “He smells like blood. A lot of it, but there is no way he is going to let us tend to him. I asked. Wolf said, ‘Fuck no,’ and then Link literally snapped his teeth at me. Don’t mention it, and if you see the injury, don’t gawk. He needs to focus.”
Shocked, Nicole watched Vera walk into the snow toward the woods that lined the runway. Link had blood on him when he’d finished with the McCalls, but he hadn’t acted injured so she’d assumed it was from the wolves he’d killed. But now it made sense why he Changed away from her, deep in the woods, and came back to her fully dressed. Shit. Was this a fight to the death like with the McCalls? He was about to fight these Dawson men injured and reeling. Was she about to watch her mate bleed out from a wolf fight?
Her stomach curdled as Tobias strode past her after his mate. Beside her, Link looked like a ghost. Pale skin, white eyes, dark hair hanging over his forehead, making the rest of him even more pallid.
Link turned and pulled her against his chest. “I’ll be okay. We smell your worry. You don’t have to. We’re still with you.” But his words were strained.
Braving the falling snow, she tilted her chin up and gripped his jacket. “You go get us a new pack. A good pack. And then you come back to me, do you hear?”
Link didn’t answer, though. Instead, he leaned down and kissed her. His lips moved urgently against hers, and he pushed his tongue past her lips. This moment with him was a beautiful distraction from her fear, and from the harsh reality they would soon face. Slipping her arms over his shoulders, she nipped his bottom lip, then licked the bite. “Mine,” she murmured against him.
Link’s hand went to the back of her hair, and he pulled her closer, but he didn’t get rough as she’d expected. Instead, he softened his lips against hers and angled his head to kiss her more thoroughly. And when he eased away, there was a smile that had replaced his pained scowl. And damn, it was so stunning it stole her breath. There he was, her Link.
“Mine,” he whispered.
He took her hand, eyes still discolored but steady on her. Turning, he pulled her with him, then led her through the snowy woods until they reached a clearing. She was stunned to stillness when she exited the tree line. Vera and Tobias’s cabin was the biggest she’d ever seen, but this place was three times that, at least. Big windows, two stories, a sprawling porch, and glowing lights from inside, like a beacon through the falling snow. And down by what looked like a frozen river was another separate deck with lounge chairs and a fire pit.
“Jenner owns half this place,” Link gritted out like he was choking on the words. “The Dawsons work here, too. They’re good.” He gave her a significant look and repeated, “Good. The wolves in my head will drive me mad but the Dawsons won’t. If I don’t do this, Vera’s viruses have no chance of fixing me in time.”
Nicole followed Vera and Tobias’s tracks to the lodge and stomped off her boots on the mat in front of the giant door. Inside, she kicked off her shoes and lined them up with the others, then unzipped her jacket as she looked around the lodge in awe. It was incredible that Jenner was a part of this place. It was all antler chandeliers, grizzly skin rugs, dark leather furniture situated in front of a massive stone hearth with a fire crackling inside. And behind that was a long table, then a modern kitchen with gleaming countertops and stainless steel appliances.
Jenner was talking to Tobias with his hands hooked on his hips. “You think he should what?” Jenner jerked his bright blue gaze to Link and muttered, “Oh, hell.”
A tall, dark-haired man with dark eyes sauntered out of a hallway with an outdoor magazine dangling from his hand. He jerked to a stop the moment he saw them. He inhaled deeply and arched his attention to Link. “What the shit?”
“Hey, Dalton. Where’s Chance?” Link growled out in that unrecognizable voice that said he was not okay.
“Uh, Chaaance?” Dalton called out, his dark eyebrows arched high.
The Chance in question came out of the hallway in a pair of jeans and nothing else with a toothbrush hanging out of his mouth. He was Dalton’s complete opposite. Blond hair and eyebrows so light they barely existed, and his eyes were a striking icy blue. When he spied Link, he murmured around a mouthful of toothpaste, “Oh, fuck. Are you here to kill us or something?”
Link swallowed hard and shook his head. “I’m here to challenge you for alpha of your pack.”
“Uhhh,” Dalton said, giving Chance a
look. “We aren’t exactly a pack.”
“You are now and I—” Link gritted his teeth as a snarl ripped out of him too loud. “I need you under me.”
“Sounds dirty, and I don’t do dudes,” Chance said.
“No jokes,” Link said, shaking his head hard.
Nicole stepped forward and offered her hand. “I’m Nicole, Link’s mate, nice to meet you.”
Wearing matching baffled looks, the two men shook her hand one by one.
“Link was supposed to stay away from the McCalls while Vera gave him medicine to reset him so that he won’t go mad—”
“Wait,” Dalton interrupted, looking at Vera. “You can do that?”
“I’m trying, but those fuck-for-brains McCalls attacked Nicole, and now Link is the damned alpha of the McCall pack.”
“Well, that’ll ruin any chances of saving you,” Chance muttered to Link.
“Exactly,” Nicole said. “He needs a better pack. A good one. One who can help keep his wolf steady.”
“Yeah, but he looks like a fucking monster. Link, you’re a good friend, man, but if it doesn’t work and you stay like this, you’ll drive our wolves to insanity right along with you.”
“It’ll work,” Vera gritted out.
“How can you guarantee that? How can you guarantee the McCall madness won’t taint us? I mean, my wolf wants to fight him just being this close.” Indeed, Dalton’s eyes had lightened from black to a feral gold color.
“Okay, dipshits,” Jenner gritted out, “but you have to find an alpha at some point. You two have been fighting for alpha for years, and you’re the same level of dominance. Link is a beast who took the entire damned McCall pack. His wolf is dominant enough to lead you, and you can buy him time for Vera’s cure to work. Win-win.”
Dalton’s face said a hard no, and when he crossed his arms and opened his mouth to deny them, desperation took her. “I’ll pay you whatever you want to accept his challenge.”
“No deal, Nicole. I’m sorry, but we survive because we’re quiet and keep our natures hidden. Tethering our wolves to a McCall is like a death wish.”
“I’ll try to find a cure for your offspring problem,” Vera said low, her eyes locked on Dalton’s.
Silence grew thick over the room as the two werewolves looked at each other. A million things passed between them in a glance, though Nicole couldn’t understand a single one.
“You’ll save the girl babies?” Dalton asked.
Dalton rocked back on his heels. Scrubbing his hand down his face, he clenched his teeth so hard that a muscle twitched in his jaw. He looked at Chance, who nodded once.
Darkly, Dalton said, “Write it down.”
Vera huffed a humorless laugh. “You don’t trust me?”
“Chance and I want it in writing,” Dalton barked out. “This is the first time in history Dawsons and McCalls will be in the same pack. If we’re going to take a risk this big, we want a fucking contract.”
“Pissy, testy werewolves,” Vera grumbled as she stomped over to the table and grabbed a piece of official stationary. She clicked the end of a blue Silver Summit Outfitters pen and scribbled across the paper, line after line until, at last, she signed her name at the bottom and shoved it at Dalton.
The Dawsons read every word of it, then nodded in unison, and one after the other signed their own names.
“Outside,” Chance ordered. “Lennard would kill us if he came back from his supply run to bloodstains on the floor.”
Oh goody, more blood. If Nicole didn’t puke before day’s end, it would be a miracle.
Vera, Tobias, and Jenner moved to follow them out, but Dalton turned and stopped them. “Only Nicole.”
Vera sighed and nodded at Link. “Go get ’em, wildman.”
If Link heard her, Nicole couldn’t tell since he was already walking out the door with the Dawsons, leaving her to shove her feet into her untied boots and trail behind, clumsily zipping her jacket and cursing whatever meds Vera gave her for making her woozy. She closed the door behind her and slipped and slid her way down the snowy stairs, gripping the handrail, an utter contrast to the graceful werewolves already striding lithely through the thick snow. And as soon as she thought she’d lost them in the waning light and bad weather, she nearly tripped over Wolf, already furred and staring off into the abyss.
While the Dawsons’ Changes took longer, she fumbled into her gloves and wrapped her scarf tighter around her face to protect her from the seeping chill, then crossed her arms over her chest and jumped rhythmically to keep warm.
Out of the fog, two wolves appeared. These were no stunted McCalls. They were as big as Link. Heavily furred, thick necks, a snarl on their lips, and blazing eyes. One was pitch black with light gold eyes. Dalton, she’d venture to guess. The other was as white as the snow beneath her feet with piercing blue eyes. Chance.