Alpha On the Run: A BBW Wolf Shifter Paranormal Romance (2 page)

BOOK: Alpha On the Run: A BBW Wolf Shifter Paranormal Romance
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Chapter Three

 

The next day, Anna got another surprise anyway.

She got out of the car and started to check her route on her phone. Then she heard footsteps.

She turned, fully expecting to see a hunter wondering what she was doing out in the woods by herself. Instead of a grizzled woodsman, she got a pleasant surprise:
almost six feet of young and handsome, grinning shyly at her from across the trail head.

“Hey,” he said.

He was gorgeous. His boyish grin matched the dusting of freckles across his nose and down his arms. But the shirt clung tightly to body builder muscles. Or maybe he worked outdoors for a living and they were for real. Either way, he was probably strong enough to toss her around with one hand.

“Hey, yourself.” Anna pulled her hair back from her face self-consciously. She was already a sweaty mess from the drive since her car's air conditioning was busted.

On second thought, maybe she should be worried about
him.
He was wearing tattered jeans and a T-shirt. He had no jacket or gear for a hike in the middle of nowhere, and – God, was he barefoot?

Did he live out here? Maybe he had some cabin off the road and they were standing in his backyard.

He took another step into the light. The sun threw reddish highlights into his dark, curly hair. When he turned his face into the sun, she saw that his eyes were a strange color, an oddly light brown that almost looked golden.

“What are you doing out here?” he asked. The words had an intensity Anna couldn't place. He gestured to her pack slowly, like he forgot to do it until he was done talking.

“Work,” she said. “I'm scouting out dig sites for my thesis. It’s about human interaction with paleolithic animals...” She trailed off. His eyes were somewhere over her shoulder. He didn't seem to be listening. “And you're not interested, sorry.” She chuckled nervously. “What about you, why are you out here?”

“Me?” he asked, taken aback. “I'm just, um, hiking.”

“In no shoes and without any supplies?” Anna asked. Her worry returned.

“Oh, my brothers have all my stuff.” He suddenly turned his gaze back to her and sent her another smile. It made Anna's heart leap. “Back at the campsite, I mean.”

“Including your shoes,” she said and smiled back.

“My little sister hid 'em.” He groaned. “She's a real brat when she doesn't get her way. I'll find them soon, though. What about you, any company? Student minions, I bet?”

“As if I've got the clout,” she said. “Your sister sounds like she's maybe not mature enough to go out on a camping trip without a babysitter.”

“I wish, but she's over eighteen, so the time for babysitting has passed,” the man said. He offered a hand. “I'm Joshua Knight, by the way. You?”

“Anna Gutierrez.” She accepted. His grip was strong and steady. She felt calluses on his fingertips slide across her skin. He squeezed her fingers and let their hands grip.

She watched the way his eyes glittered in the sunlight. They had little crinkles at the corners. He was beautiful, and he looked exhausted. She wanted to lay him down in her lap and let him sleep – especially if it meant she got to touch him.

“How long are you around for?” Joshua asked. “Just a scouting trip, so probably not long? Or does it depend on the funding?”

“Oh, my school wouldn't pay for a thing without evidence. I'm staying on my own budget. To
get
something to ask for a grant for. My family owns a cabin in the area. I just have to pay for groceries and stuff like that while I'm here.”

“Must be nice,” he said. But his shoulders tensed like he was unhappy with the answer.

She was making herself crazy with worry. There was no reason this stranger should care about her summer plans. No matter how much she wanted to invite him home with her.

Anna told herself to stop monopolizing the man. He probably just wanted to find his shoes.

“Yeah, it is. Anyway, I should get going.” She shouldered her pack and took the walking stick from the backseat. It made her feel better to have something like a weapon when she was out in the woods so far from civilization.

“Wait,” he called behind her. The odd urgency was back in his tone. She turned and saw him walking towards her with a painful limp.

She dropped the stick. “Are you okay?” She started towards him. “Did you hurt yourself walking around with bare feet? Your stupid sister – ”

“I'm fine, it's nothing,” he protested. Now that he wasn't leaning against the tree she could see he was swaying on his feet. Anna touched his shoulder to help him balance. She realized with a pang of fear that his skin was cold and clammy, like he was seriously ill. He was certainly
not
fine.

“You're hurt, and it's probably infected because you feel feverish.” Anna put a hand to his forehead when he didn't argue again. He was burning up. “Look – do you have a car nearby?” He shook his head, so she continued her offer. “Let me drive you to...” She tried to summon the location of the nearest hospital. “Town,” she finished lamely. “We'll get you to a doctor there.”

“You'll come with me?” he said. She wondered if the strange light in his eyes was from the fever. “If I go, you'll be with me, and not here?”

“Yes,” she said with exasperation. “I have to drive you there, don’t I? I'm hardly going to
leave
you here by yourself.” She didn't understand her own vehemence. He was a total stranger. He had no reason to know what she might do.

An ER visit might be a poor first date, but maybe later they could... Anna cut her thought off and tried to focus. She needed to get him help. She didn't need to get caught up in implausible daydreams.

“Should we call your brothers and sister?” she asked. She got the car door opened and helped him ease himself into the back seat. She had to slide in after to help him lie down.

“No!” he said harshly. “I mean, no, I don't want to worry them. I'll call them from the doctor's office. Then I can tell them everything's fine.”

“Won't they notice you're gone?” Anna asked.

She kept blankets in the backseat. She piled up one of them for a pillow and pulled the other over him. He didn't seem to notice. He was breathing hard like the question had scared him. He must have been delirious from the fever.

“Nah,” he said with another smile at her. It should have been breathtaking, but his gaze had gone hazy . “I always – go off by myself. They won't worry. Don't
you
worry,” he added.

“I won't,” she said with what she hope was a reassuring tone.  “You'll be just fine as soon as we get you to the doctor, I'm sure.”

“The doctor?” he asked. He twisted to meet her gaze again. Those odd colored eyes twigged something in her memory, but she couldn't think what.

“Soon,” Anna said. She climbed out of the backseat. When she looked back, she realized his eyes had closed. She shut the door as quietly as possible.

She needed to get him medical care. If he was camping with other people, how had they not noticed how sick he was? Could an infection and fever come on so fast? Or were they unrelated? Maybe he'd eaten something poisonous in the woods or something?

Anna went to retrieve her walking stick and pack. She had dropped them in her hurry to get Joshua to the car. Suddenly a hand clamped onto her arm from behind.

She stifled a scream and whipped around to see yet
another
strange man. In fact, there were two more standing in the shadows of the leaves behind him.

“What do you want?” she asked. Anna fought to keep her voice steady.

Her first thought was that they must be Joshua's brothers, but she had no idea why. None of them really looked like him. The one in front had pale blond hair hanging almost to his chin, where Joshua's hair was dark and would probably be curly if grown out. One of the two in the back had hair his color, but his face was all curves and boyish softness like an exaggerated picture of youth, and none of them had Joshua's freckles or height.

It was the intensity, she decided. They all had some kind of energy to them, just looking at them. But Joshua hadn't been frightening. This man radiated menace.

Maybe because he'd just
come up from behind and grabbed her
, and he still hadn't answered her. Anna straightened. She called up the mental image of her mother when Anna had crashed the family car at seventeen, and glared. “What the
fuck
do you want?”

“Relax, chica,” the man said. He looked over her derisively. “We're just looking for our brother.”

The pig. “I haven't seen anyone,” she said. She was irrationally certain that whether they were Joshua's brothers or not, they should not find him. Even if they were really family. Sometimes that didn't make people safe. Maybe Joshua had really been panicked just by the thought of calling them.

“Oh, come on, you're out here all by yourself?”

“Of course not,” she lied. Telling Joshua she was alone hadn't felt dangerous. These guys? Hell no. “I'm meeting my students back at the cabin in twenty minutes. And I would appreciate you not
detaining
me and making me late. Now. Do you want something, or may I go?” She wrenched her arm out of his grip. His hand felt like a steel manacle. She wondered if she could have succeeded if he was really trying to hold her.

“Students? You're a teacher?” His eyebrows lifted.

“At Ohio State University, yes, I'm a lecturer in the anthropology department,” she snapped.

“Lot of kids come out here in the summer?” he asked.              

“If they want field experience, of course,” she said. Anna turned and stalked back over to the car. “Now get out of the road so I won't hit you.”

The man who was still in the shadows lifted his nose to the wind and, she swore to god,
sniffed
the air. “He's been here, boss, in both...ways, but I don't think he is now. Damn gasoline makes it hard to tell, but we'd better keep looking.”

As the words hit her ears, Anna's heart began to pound. But her mind had something else to chew on. The reason Joshua's eyes seemed familiar came to her – that not-a-dog she had seen the day before.

No,
she thought. But yes. The wolf had favored its right hind leg, and Joshua's right leg was injured. If the injury was more than a day old, it would explain how bad it was. The wolf knew that people weren't a threat to it. It understood that a woman holding out cheese and speaking softly to it didn't intend harm.

It was no crazier than a man who
sniffed the air
and declared someone wasn't here.

“Yeah, fine,” the man in front said. He tossed a glance at Anna. “Good luck with your class, Professor,” he added mockingly. Then he moved off into the woods in a strange loping gait that looked unnatural on two legs, and was followed shortly by his underlings.

Anna watched them go. She waited until she was sure they were out of sight to sink to the ground and hug her knees.

“Oh, my god,” she whispered.

Joshua was still in the car. She wanted to get in and start the long trip to the doctor, but what if they could smell him? The sealed doors probably kept them from knowing he was right there, only a few feet away. How long should she wait before she opened them? She didn't really know how far... wolves... could smell.

She forced herself to wait. She prayed she was wrong about this mess and there was some explanation that made any damn sense. Ten excruciating minutes passed.

They could be half a mile, a mile away by now if they'd kept moving. Surely that was enough that they wouldn't know and come zooming back. They must have been closer than that when Anna and Joshua were talking. After all, they had shown up so soon after.

Anna finally opened the driver's door and slid inside. She tossed her pack and walking stick into the front passenger seat. (If only she had thought before to jerk around and smack the stick into that jerkass's head – but there were two more of them. Even if she took him with one blow it might not have done her any good.) Then she locked the doors, started the car, and began getting the hell out of dodge.

She could switch to the furthest sites from this place this week. She had had enough of this to last her the whole summer.

She would have to pull over to look up the nearest doctor on her phone. She drove fifteen minutes in the direction of the closest town first. Luckily, the closest doctor's office was in that town. It would be a good forty more minutes before she got there. The only things in between besides the trees were a few roadside stops off the highway.

Anna glanced at the backseat in the rear view mirror. Joshua was still curled up on the seat with the blankets over him. His breathing looked even. She couldn't tell more without stopping the car. Even if there was something wrong, what the hell could she do? She only knew basic first aid. She cursed herself for not actually looking at the injury. There might be something she could do faster than forty minutes away.

In a few minutes, she found a place to pull off the road again and crawled into the backseat. She knew she was further away than wolves
or
humans could get on foot so quickly, but she still didn't want to unlock the car doors.

BOOK: Alpha On the Run: A BBW Wolf Shifter Paranormal Romance
11.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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