Alpha On the Run: A BBW Wolf Shifter Paranormal Romance (3 page)

BOOK: Alpha On the Run: A BBW Wolf Shifter Paranormal Romance
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She touched Joshua's skin to test the temperature. His forehead was burning hot, but she didn't think it was remarkably hot for a fever. Was there anything she could do for that in the car? Anna knew that really bad fevers could kill, but she didn't have a thermometer to check. She was pretty sure he'd look worse if that was the problem.

She dug out some Advil from her purse and her water bottle. She was about to try to work out how to make an unconscious person swallow a pill when Joshua opened his eyes.

“What's going on?” he mumbled.

“Hey,” she said. “We're in the car on the way to the doctor. Can you take this?”

“No!”

“They're just pills,” she said soothingly. “To help with the fever.”

“No,” he struggled for words, “No doctor.”

“Yes, doctor, because you passed out with an infected wound in my car. Since the best qualification I have is Red Cross certification from when I was a Girl Scout I thought I'd take you to an actual professional. You know, so you don't get gangrene or something and die?”

“No doctor,” he said firmly. He sounded out of it, but very, very sure.

“Why the hell not?” she asked.

“It wouldn't – they shouldn't see me,” he said. “Not safe.”

“Does this have something to do with your brothers?” she asked cautiously.

“Who told you about that?” He tried to jerk upright but wasn't able to sit up.

“You did,” Anna said carefully. “And then they showed up to mock me for being a woman all by myself in the woods and sniff the air for your scent, which was really kind of creepy, by the way.” She tried not to sound too angry or scared.

“Shit.” He rubbed his face. “They saw you? I'm sorry, that wasn't supposed to happen.”

“I'm pretty sure they thought I was just some harmless crazy academic carting a load of grad students around the woods,” she said.

“I thought you said your school wouldn't pay for that?” he asked, sounding confused. “Am I misremembering that conversation?”

“Well, I wouldn't be surprised since you passed out right after,” Anna said, “But you're right. I figured admitting I was completely alone in the woods with no one to expect me back until September was probably not a good idea.”

“Good,” he said with relief. “I'm glad. Shit. How bad's my leg?”

“I'm not sure,” she said. “I need to check on it still. Will you take the pills?”

Sitting up enough to drink some of her water with them drained him. He collapsed back onto the car seat listlessly. She thought about trying to get him to a doctor anyway. He was hardly in a state to resist. Did she really know better than him? He was so terrified by the thought.

“Fine,” she murmured to him. “No doctor. How are you feeling?”

He sounded even less conscious when he answered. His eyes had closed again completely. “Pain in my right lower leg, feels swollen and hot, and I'm cold and shivery. Exhaustion and muscle pain from running for three days straight, and I have a headache from the smell of gasoline in wolf form.”

She felt her heart beat faster at the word wolf being said aloud, finally. Was that fear or excitement?

“Can I take a look at your leg?” she asked. Someone had to clean it if he wouldn't let her take him to a doctor. She could see that the lower part of his jeans were shredded and soaked in blood, enough to tell where he was hurt. But she didn’t know how bad it was.

“Of course,” he said. His head dropped to the side.

She had to twist herself awkwardly to get a good angle to look at his legs in the seat. She finally ended up sitting on his thighs with her back to his face. Any embarrassment or excitement she might have felt was dulled by the fact that he wasn't awake to notice.

She hissed a little when she got a look at his leg up close. His jeans were shredded at the calf, and it looked like some of the fibers had been caught in the wound. The cut itself went five or six inches down his calf. It began with a deep gouge that got gradually shallower. The skin was red and swollen.

Anna tried to peel the denim back from his calf, but it stuck in his skin, or maybe to the sticky dried blood. Joshua jerked and yelped in pain. Anna flinched in guilt. She finally gave up and pulled out her pocket knife to start cutting the leg of his jeans.

She couldn't get it all off that way, but she could see the wound better. Not that she really wanted to look at it. Anna bit her lip and went for the extra water bottles on the floor.

She poured water out carefully and rubbed his leg. She tried to remove the blood, or at least soften it. She couldn't imagine having little bits of things caught in the skin was doing it any good.

When she started washing it with soap water, the pain woke him back up again. He let out a frightening sounding, honest to God
growl.
                           

“Shit, sorry,” he groaned when she jumped. “So how bad is it?”

“I don't know for sure,” she said, turning back to look at it. “It's definitely infected. And you have a fever.” She tried to remember those long ago first aid classes. “Can you feel your foot and move it?”

He wiggled his toes obligingly. “It hurts like hell, but there's sensation everywhere.”

“Can you feel this?” Anna poked the skin to the side and received another yelp. “Okay, good. Are you serious about no doctors?”

“They'd find me,” Joshua said tiredly. “And if they did, they'd kill everyone who'd seen me. I'm so sorry I dragged you into this, Anna, I shouldn't have gone to talk to you, I just...”

“Just what?” she asked. What on earth was he mixed up in? What had she gotten mixed up in?

“Can we talk about it later?” he asked. “It'll take some explaining, and I'm afraid I'm about to drift out again.”             

“Sure. For what it's worth,” she said slowly, “If the other option was you dying alone in the woods, I'm glad I found you.”

“You think that now,” he said darkly.

She wondered just what his brothers were. What Joshua was. It wasn't enough that they were something weird and supernatural, they were criminals, and murderers, too? What could be so worth hiding they'd kill literally anyone who got in the way? Was it that werewolves existed, or something else?

She couldn't believe anything so terrible of Joshua. She hadn't known him for long. Still, she felt instinctively that he was trustworthy. Maybe he'd done something to anger those men, and they were after him because of it. He could be a hero for all she knew. She couldn't believe any cold-hearted murderer would be so upset to get someone else involved in his mess. Especially when he might have died without her.

Anna shook her head and went back to the injury. She managed to get the rest of Joshua's jeans off of his leg with a lot of water. The wound was still bleeding, but in a sluggish way that didn't threaten anything but her car seat. She cut the clean leg of the jeans into strips and used them to tie on gauze from her backpack's first aid kit.

By then, Joshua had drifted back out. She checked his forehead. It was a little cooler, but was that real or just her imagination? Did fevers from infections leave so quickly? Did he even heal like a human? She tried wetting his head and neck to take down his temperature more. Then she wiped her hands off and crawled back into the front seat. It was time to get them both to the closest thing to home.

 

 

Chapter Four

 

The first thing Joshua noticed was the electricity.

The faint humming sound told him he must be inside. He drifted in and out, listening to that hum and reveling in his existence. Somehow he had reached shelter without being found.

As he woke up, he noticed more: the soft sheets under him and the blanket over him. The breeze coming in from a window over his head. Sounds from further away – a door opening and closing, footsteps back and forth, keys clicking on a laptop.

He heard a woman's voice, singing to herself, and thought: Anna. He remembered the soft skin of her hands on his forehead, and the way her voice had soothed him in the depths of his fever. She was so brave – and sexy, too. She had soft, amber brown skin over beautifully full curves. Her curly hair cascaded down her back. He wanted to run his fingers through that hair. He wondered what it would look like flowing over her naked back, next to that skin.

Then he finally snapped the last few inches to consciousness and remembered what had happened.             

If only he had met her at some other time! Any other time. He wanted her, but he could never be so selfish as to put a civilian in danger by involving them. If only he met her before, when he was human and safe. They could have been together. He could have asked her out to dinner instead of passing out in her car.

He should get out of this bed, thank her for her help, and walk straight back out of her life. She wasn’t involved yet. There was still time. But instead, he lay in the bed and listened to her voice. She sang so sweetly. He could listen for hours.

Panic hit him when the breeze came in through the curtains again. He pushed it down. If the pack was so close they could smell him through the open window, they were both royally screwed. There was no point in worrying over something so useless.

The trip to Anna's cabin would have been by car. If it was reasonably long – and cabins were sparse in this area – it would be far enough to make it impossible to track them. Pretty much all cars smelled the same, an overpowering and painful smell of gasoline and metal. The pack would have to run into them completely by accident. Unless they were within a few miles of the trail head it probably wouldn't happen.

If Joshua was aiming to find a specific cabin in the middle of nowhere, he wouldn't try to comb a few hundred square miles of forest. He would set people to watch the nearest population centers, since the residents would have to get supplies eventually. If he knew one was injured, he'd make sure to watch hospital admissions and private doctors in the area, too. There wouldn't be all that many; he thought there were maybe two real towns in easy driving distance. He'd also put people on the toll booths on the highways out of the area, maybe send them in in fake cop uniforms and claim there was a criminal on the loose.

That was assuming manpower that Stephen might or might not have. It depended on how much of the pack was tied up on a job and couldn't be recalled. But the worst case scenario still didn't include someone scouting around the building as he lay in bed.

Joshua opened his eyes and sat up. Then he shut the window. Relying on your luck was a good way to make this the one time in a hundred that the worst happened.

The room he was in was...nice, he guessed. He didn't know much about interior decorating. His little sister would have liked it, though. The rafters were visible, and there were lots of dark wood panels. The curtains were pale yellow and translucent. He closed them anyway. The bedspread matched and had little flowers embroidered on it. Cute. He wondered if Anna had picked them, or if it was the choice of whoever in her family owned the place. He wondered if this was the only bed. At least there
was
a separate bedroom.

Joshua would probably have to explain the werewolf thing to Anna. He wondered if it would be better for her if she ran screaming to where she couldn't be protected, or if she stayed and was there when his pack inevitably caught up with him. He was pretty sure it was the first. He really didn't
want
her to run away screaming, though.

Hold it, he told himself. You've had two conversations with her and both were when you were feverish. You barely know her. Maybe you'll loathe her when you're in your right mind and be on your way. Maybe she'll loathe you. Maybe a meteor will fall from the sky and crush Stephen's skull, for that matter. Or, more likely, he might conveniently be hit by a car.

He was cheered up by the thought that maybe no one besides Stephen was going to die. Joshua pulled the blankets back. He was about to try to put weight on his right leg when he spotted the crutches leaning against the wall.             

Thoughtful. Joshua levered himself up with the crutches and swung out to the door of the bedroom. He was glad that he already knew how to use the damn things from when he was hurt in Iraq.

He spotted one door opposite him in the main room. It looked like the only exit, although there was a window along the wall to the left of him. It looked big and close enough to the ground to get out of in a hurry.

There was definitely only one bedroom in the cabin. The main room was fairly large, and there was a loft that might have a second bed. There was a couch and a desk with a laptop and at least five different open notebooks piled on it. Anna stood in the kitchenette with her back to him. She stirred something on the stove that smelled
excellent
. His wolf stirred in the back of his head, sniffing at the meat. He caught the thought, venison?

He'd never had venison. He'd never gone hunting for deer before. Only people. He winced at that thought and called, “Hey?”

“Morning, gorgeous,” she said. She grinned. It looked nervous. “I'm glad you're up. Are you feeling better?”
              “Much, thank you,” he said. He took another step into the room, locked eyes with her, and almost fell off the crutches.

His wolf roused from sleep. He heard a howl in his mind as clear as reality. The room seemed to swim with the scent of her skin. He wanted to run to her and crush her into his arms. He wanted to dig his fingers into those curves and fuck her over the cabin table. He wanted to bury his hands in that gorgeous curly hair, lay his head in her lap and listen to her sing. He wanted her as his mate, beside him forever, to patch up his wounds and confront his enemies like she had before. He wanted to tear out Stephen's throat over just the possibility that he would ever go near her.

Shit.
Shit
. He steadied himself with the crutches. He couldn't lower his gaze from Anna's eyes. They shone like molten bronze. A smile played on her perfectly shaped lips as she watched him watch her.

What kind of cruel trick was fate playing on him? He had found his mate now, of all times, when he was probably about to die. When he might get her killed, too?

He had to calm down. He had to act like a nice, normal, not crazy person so she didn't run away and walk straight into Stephen's search for him. And he had to explain to her what was going on.

It took everything he had. Still, he collected himself and broke their locked gazes. He walked to the table and sat down. It was a small card table with two chairs, one folding and one the missing desk chair.

He glanced around to check that no other windows were open. “How long did I sleep for?” he asked. It was dark, but that didn't say much.

“Almost ten hours,” she said. “I got you home around one in the afternoon and it's ten forty-five at night now.”

“I feel better,” he repeated. “Less feverish.”

That fever was probably why he hadn't realized she was his mate. He should regret that – if he knew he could have run before he dragged her into this mess. But somehow, he couldn't bring himself to wish he hadn't found Anna.

She deserved to know everything about the situation. The choice to risk it or not had to be hers. He didn't know what he wanted her to choose.

“Sleeping probably helped. How long were you running for? You looked exhausted.” Anna smiled at him over her shoulder, then turned back to the stir fry.

It was easier to think without her eyes on him. “A few days, I think.” Wolves didn't have great memories for concepts like time and numbers. “Maybe a week? Not more than that, anyway.”

“Wow.” Anna shook her head. “And you were running on that leg the whole time? I guess that's why it got infected.”

“I hope it heals quickly.” He glanced around the cabin a second time. This time he looked for any hint of personality to tell him who this woman really was. Who his mate was. He knew she was beautiful, strong and sexy, but who
was
she?

She was an academic. Studying...something about prehistoric animals and humans? So she must be intelligent. Joshua had never been to college himself. She liked dogs, and she wasn't scared of them. She was the type of women to go up to a stranger in need and insist on giving them help. Kind, caring. She could take care of an infected knife wound in the back of her car with no warning. Resourceful didn’t quite cover that.

It added up to a woman who would be a wonderful alpha and mate, exactly the kind his wolf might want to start his own pack. But he probably wouldn’t live that long.

Joshua shook off the thoughts. He would rather think about Anna.

They waited on the stir fry in companionable silence, Anna stirring the food and Joshua examining the cabin. There were posters on the walls. Some were of animals and some were of landscapes. A bookcase by the computer desk. He would go over to look at it in a minute, when he felt better about standing again. Clothing half hanging out of a trunk. The clothes were mostly practical, hard to stain stuff for the woods. He spotted at least one scrap of neon pink lace hanging off of the corner, though. The computer had a rainbow sticker on it. He squinted but couldn't read it.

“So,” Anna said.

Joshua turned back and watched her open the cupboard above the stove and retrieve some sauce bottle. He looked at the contents of the cupboard – a lot of spices, way more than he had names for. He inhaled to save the mixture in the air in his memory. She was a serious cook. Or at least whoever stocked the cabin was. Scenting the food instead of the spice cabinet suggested it was her.

“Yeah?” he asked. He felt like he should get up to help her set the table, but he wouldn't be able to carry anything on the crutches anyway. “Thanks,” he said belatedly.

“You're welcome.” She smiled, but it faltered and quickly failed. “But, um, what exactly did you and your brothers do? Why do they want to kill you and anyone you talk to? What the hell is going on?”

He resisted the urge to take a bite of the food to stall answering. He didn't want to piss her off. She deserved to know this, and he had to explain before he could tell her the rest. “To start with, I'm a werewolf.”

“Guessed,” she said.

He choked and spluttered on the sip of water he'd taken. “You
what
?”

“You came across me as a strangely friendly wolf in an area where there aren't any wild wolves. You had an injury to your right hind leg – that was you, right?” When he nodded, she went on, “And the next day I run into an exhausted man with eyes the same color and the same leg injured in the same place. And then his brothers show up and
sniff
the air for his presence and say he's been there twice. I might just be losing my mind, but...”

“You're not losing your mind.” Joshua grimaced. “They did that in front of you? Really?

Anger rose in him again. His packmates had scared his mate. He tried to focus on the fact that

his mate had figured out what he was before he could tell her. She was definitely smart.

“They barely realized I was there at all, except for the blond guy.”

“Stephen,” Joshua said, tensing. “He was there, himself? He saw you?”

“I don't know who Stephen is, but the guy had chin length blond hair, blue eyes, and fair skin. He was about half a foot taller than me, not as tall as you. And he was a complete patronizing jerk.”

“Sounds like Stephen,” he said with a sigh. “Stephen is the alpha. The man in charge, who turned me into a werewolf.”

“You weren't born as one?” Anna asked.

“You're taking this pretty well.”

She shook her head. “I think I'm still in shock. The emotional kind, not the scary call an ambulance kind. This is crazy, but denying it isn't going to do me any good, is it?”

“No, it's not.” Joshua drew together the points he really needed to tell her now. Her words made him want to take her into his arms and hold her. “I was a soldier in Iraq. When I got sent home at the end of my service, I couldn't deal with civilian life. I was jumpy all the time, couldn't live by myself but couldn't stand my family, depressed, that kind of thing. I almost broke my niece's arm when she woke me up shaking me.” He shook his head.

“I decided I had to leave. When I did, Stephen found me. I guess he has some contact in the VA who tells him about people he might be able to recruit.”

“Recruit to be werewolves, you mean?” Anna shook her head in disbelief.

“Yeah. Recruit to be werewolves.” He finally took a bite of the meal. He really did not want to talk about this next part.

The venison was excellent. He closed his eyes as he chewed. He took his time to appreciate Anna's cooking, but finally he had to go on. He might get her killed because of this. She
needed
to know. “Stephen runs what he calls a pack, a unit of werewolves. There are between twenty and fifty total he's in charge of. I'm not sure because he never had us all together at once, and the number was always changing.”

BOOK: Alpha On the Run: A BBW Wolf Shifter Paranormal Romance
6.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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