Alpha On the Run: A BBW Wolf Shifter Paranormal Romance (4 page)

BOOK: Alpha On the Run: A BBW Wolf Shifter Paranormal Romance
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“People left?” Anna asked.

“People died. Sometimes they died on jobs, sometimes Stephen killed them, or one of his enforcers, because they... misbehaved.” Lily's blood on the tile floor. Dean's battered body. He shuddered and gripped one of his wrists in the other. He dug nails into his skin, trying to stay present.               “Anyway. He – recruited me. Like I said. Gave me this speech about how I was like an animal like this, running and scrambling to survive, but I could become more. More than human
or
animal. About how I could provide for my family, too. My mom can't work. I sent my paycheck from the military back to take care of her and my little sister, but once I was out there was a lot less money. I don't know how he knew about that.”

Joshua picked at the hem of the T-shirt and realized for the first time Anna must have changed his clothing. He was wearing an oversized shirt with a fish on it and sweatpants. He wondered whose they were. Did she have a boyfriend already? Then he wondered if she'd enjoyed undressing him, and what she thought of the view.
Then
he dragged his brain back on task.

“So you accepted?” Anna asked.

He laughed bitterly. “I fucking jumped. I was a wreck, I'd been thinking about – about doing something drastic, and he gave me what I thought was a miracle. It took
three minutes
, Anna, a three minute speech of bullshit and I signed away the rest of my life.
              “He made the work sound honorable, like – more of the same, what I'd done in the military. Only better because it wasn't about domestic politics, it was about what really needed to be done. And our superiors would be on the ground with us, aware of what was really going on. But it was just mercenary work, no better than gang wars. Killing for the highest bidder.” He took a strangled breath. “I've done some really horrible things, Anna, before
and
after I became a werewolf. I wouldn't blame you if you threw me out of this cabin to fend for myself.”

Anna looked down. He felt his heartbeat pounding in anticipation. He wasn't even sure what he hoped she would say.

“He killed people who tried to leave,” she said.

“Yeah.” Joshua stared at his plate.

“And you tried anyway.”

“He killed my best friend.” He'd thought of Lily as a substitute for the sister he'd never see again. “I decided I'd rather be dead than keep working for him.” He closed his eyes. “I just wish – I wish I could
do
something, besides die.” Something for all of the people who hadn't yet been driven to his desperation. Something for the people who had already died, whose families would never know what happened to them.

“Okay,” she said slowly. “I don't think – it sounds like you got taken advantage of by a really horrible person when you were a mess, and then he forced you to carry out orders by at
least
killing and torturing people in front of you. I can't blame you for that.” She met his eyes. “I think the fact that you got away and you're here talking to me is kind of incredible. I don't know if I could do that.”

“No!” he choked out. There were visions of things he didn't want to contemplate in his mind's eyes. “I made a stupid fucking mistake and I got people killed for it. And I didn't even leave for
years,
until he hurt someone I cared about. I'm just – ending the damage I can do now.” That was the best he could hope for. He might want to do something besides die – but it was hopeless. He had no hope, no future, and no right to drag Anna into his mess.

“By running away and getting him to kill you, you mean?” Anna asked. “He's just going to find a replacement for you, isn't he?”

Joshua nodded jerkily.

“And he would have found a replacement as soon as you died if you refused the first time,” she said. “You got into this to try to get your life back and feed your family. That's not
evil
.”

Joshua didn't answer. He felt a horrible urge to try to put the memories into words to make her gasp in horror. He didn't want to hurt her. Instead, he slowly got his breathing under control, then his heart beat. He stared fixedly at the patterns in the wood grain behind Anna's head.

When he was calm, he took another bite of the food, then a few more. It had started to go cold. Finally, he thought back over the conversation and realized something was a little bit off about it. “I feel like you've had some version of this conversation before,” he said.

Anna rubbed her face tiredly. “I have a brother and two cousins who are military or ex-military, and I helped raise all of them, so they call me when they have problems. It's not – I mean, it's not really the same. But I've heard the 'I signed my choice away to get money for my family and I'm a monster now' speech a couple times before, yeah.”

“I hope I'm not bringing up bad memories,” he said.

“It's okay,” she said.

They settled into silence for a few minutes and concentrated on the food. Now that he had the time to notice, Joshua realized he was starving. He finished the plate and got up to get more. He just barely remembered to ask Anna if it was okay before he scraped the entire rest of the pot onto his plate.

She laughed. “Go ahead, there's plenty more meat in the freezer. I'd have made more if I realized you ate like a wolf, too.”

“Well, running for my life took a lot of energy,” Joshua said. He realized then that there was more he had to tell her before he could explain that she was his mate.

He sat back down first. He didn't want to drop the plate if his hands started shaking. “As for the pack. They'll come after anyone I talk to because they want to ensure there are no witnesses. If there's no sign of me after long enough, Stephen will probably conclude I collapsed and died of exposure. They know I'm hurt and I was raised in the city with no clue how to manage in the woods, so it won't seem strange.”

“Okay, good, I was starting to wonder if we were going to have to come up with some crazy plan to fake your death.” Anna smiled weakly. “How long is long enough? I assume he's going to want to be very sure?”

“Probably a few months,” Joshua said. “He'll have people watching all of the towns in the area, especially the doctors. If he has the people he'll have them on the highway tollbooths, too. I don't know this area very well, is there a route out that doesn't depend on toll roads?”

“Yes,” she said immediately. “You'd have to take back roads, but you could do it.”

“High elevation?” he asked.

“Some.” Anna frowned.

“Then he
might
try to stage a road closure, at least for the next few days while the chance of me surviving outside without help drops. I'm not sure I'm worth that much to him, though. He loses people all the time. The only thing he'll be really worried about is me exposing them.”

“You mean, going to the police?” Anna asked.

Joshua shook his head. “Going to the news, more like. Showing off what I can do and telling the public there's a band of werewolf mercenaries. Local police aren't equipped to deal with something like Stephen. You'd need international authority.”

“Right.” Anna brushed her hair back from her face. He saw it was drenched in sweat. Guilt hit him for scaring her again before he realized that it might just be the heat. He still felt oddly chilled from the fever.

“So,” she said. “There's an evil pack of werewolves who want to kill you so you don't talk and will want to kill me if they find out I've talked to you. They're watching all three towns in the area and anywhere we could get you medical help and probably the roads out of the area, too. And our only chance to avoid them is for you to disappear for so long they decide you died of exposure in the woods. Great. Anything else I should know?”

“Actually,” he said, “There is something.”

 

 

Chapter Five

 

Anna felt weirdly detached from the reality of the situation. It was like they were talking about some summer blockbuster's plot instead of real life. That might be good, because when she came down to earth there might be screaming.

“Oh, well,” she said. “What's one more thing? Go on.”

“It's not about the pack. Well, not directly.” Joshua was avoiding her eyes again and picking at the stir fry. How fast he ate it would be flattering if she was sure he'd eaten anything else recently at all.

“So what is it?” she asked.

“It's about werewolves. And how we work. There's – before I tell you this, I want to make sure I say that nothing's
decided.
I'm talking about something that could happen, theoretically, if we decided to go ahead and let it happen. Nothing is set in stone, okay?”

“Okay,” she said slowly. She was slightly alarmed by the word “we” in that sentence. And the way he seemed to be preparing to ask her for something. Was he thinking about turning her into a werewolf?

“Werewolves,” he said, “Mate for life. The bonds between mates are magic, I guess. They're formed over time, with contact between people who are compatible that way. You get a sense when people could be your mate, and I've – honestly, I've never met anyone who could before.”

“Until me?” Anna asked, wide eyed.

“Until you,” he confirmed. “I thought you should know that. I don't know you, you don't know me, but if we get to know each other,” he reached for her hand a little awkwardly and squeezed it, “That's a possibility.”

She ran her thumb across his palm and looked at him. And she considered it.

She wasn't looking for love before she met Joshua. She wasn't even sure she believed in it anymore. Anna definitely didn't believe in fairy tale romance – she had school to worry about, and her job, and her family.

Now, though, she found herself believing. She looked into Joshua's eyes and felt like she was falling into the golden gaze. Assuming they got this mess worked out, she found she could see herself with him, even as little as she felt she really
knew
about him. The longing swept her suddenly, fiercely. She pictured herself in ten or twenty years, living in a house with Joshua and making him dinner. She pictured little golden-eyed children and wondered – was being a werewolf hereditary?

She did know him, didn't she? She knew he was brave, and he'd fought for his life. She knew he was sweet and cared about scaring her even when his own life was in danger. She knew he had put himself into danger to support his family. Those were the really important things – she could worry about the little things later.

She didn't
want
to worry about the little things. She stroked his palm with her thumb again, watching him shiver with the touch. She felt the sudden urge to move into his lap and kiss him, to reassure him just how much she wanted this.

But he'd just finished telling her about the worst part of his life. Now probably wasn't the time. Anna swallowed her libido down and smiled at him instead. She tried to tell him with her gaze how much she wanted him.

“Thanks for telling me,” she said. “I think it's going to work out, if we get through this. Tell me more about how this works? You said something about magic?”             

“Yeah.” He smiled, eyes crinkling. “The pack stuff was awful, but – Stephen wasn't wrong about one thing. Being a werewolf
is
wonderful.”

“Tell me?” she asked, leaning forward. This world she'd discovered was terrifying so far – and at some point she was going to come down into reality and freak out about that. She wanted to believe it had good parts, too. Especially if she was going to stay in it for the rest of her life.

“There are so many things humans don't understand. It's a whole different way of being, of understanding, and it's not easy to put into words.” Joshua squeezed his eyes shut. “When you change, everything is simpler, more focused. Wolves don't worry about the things humans do. Everything is about sensation and the moment. And you can smell so much, hear so much.

“The most amazing thing is just running. Most of the time, Stephen had us working when we were together, but sometimes he'd give us a night off to play and reinforce the pack bonds. We'd run in a pack under the stars, and then collapse and sleep and only get up to play. You can feel the rest of the pack. You feel that they're with you, a part of you, and that you belong.” He opened his eyes then and sighed. “You feel safe. It was all an illusion with him, but I
know
there are other werewolves out there. There has to be a way to have that for real.”

“There must be,” Anna agreed, imagining it. She'd dated before, but the men she met never took her seriously as a person. At best they'd been fun to dance with, never people who made her feel home, or safe, or like she belonged with them forever.

“I could have it with you.” Joshua grinned at her. She flushed and wondered if her thoughts were visible on her face, but he just kept talking. “Anyway, the mating bonds are like a more intense version of the pack bond. You're always aware of each other, even in human form. You can feel where each other are and talk in your minds. Lily said it was like feeling at home all of the time, like she could never be lonely again. Stephen tried to keep mates apart in different groups because they were more likely to refuse orders and back each other up if they were together. The one time I heard someone got away for real, it was a pair of mates working together.”

“So that's what you mean when you said the mating bond came with magic?” she asked. She wondered what it would feel like, to never have to be lonely again. She might get to find out soon, apparently.

“Yeah, the bond. There's also something else.” He hesitated. “You understand, this is just rumor. I haven't met anyone who mated a human. Stephen would never allow that, not when the mate might not be under his control as part of the pack. But I heard that it makes them not exactly a wolf, but almost like a wolf. They can feel the pack through their mate, but they just aren't dominated by it, and a few people said they get stronger, faster, like wolves. Their senses get stronger, too. And healing improves.

“I'm not sure if it's true, but I think it might be, because the guy who told me that wasn't made into a wolf by Stephen. He was a werewolf before he got recruited.”

“Why would he join?” Anna asked. “And wouldn't his old pack have something to say about it?”

Joshua shook his head. “He said that his wife died, and they never had any kids, so he didn't have a pack left. I think that was maybe why. There apparently aren't a lot of packs that take wolves going around by themselves, so he was going to be alone forever unless he found another mate.”

“And that's rare,” Anna said. Why her, if it was so rare?

Joshua nodded, then shook his head, then nodded again. “Maybe. I think it depends on the person. Some people are more widely compatible than others.” He squeezed her hand again.

“So if you stay,” Anna began.

“There's one more thing,” Joshua said, face clouding.

“What is it?” she asked.

“This is just rumor, too, but – the guy who told me that stuff about humans said you can tell when a human is mated by a wolf. They smell and look different, and usually you can tell who it is if you know the wolf. And unusually sensitive wolves can tell on other wolves, too. I don't know if that's true, but I know – Stephen always found out, when someone found their mate. That could be because they acted different, but I wouldn't depend on that.” He shrugged.

The fear that had hovered above her started to seep in. Anna tried to shrug it off. This was just rumor.

“So if we – are mated,” Anna said, pulling her brain back furiously from the accompanying mental images, “I might get super powers. But it also might mark me out, and since they're watching the towns in the area, they'd find me.”

Joshua nodded and looked down. “I'm sorry about this, Anna. I ran into the woods because I didn't want to take anyone down with me. When I smelled you, I was half out of my mind with exhaustion. It was the most obvious thing, to go back and try to talk to you.”

He raised her hand to his mouth. She was confused for a moment, half expecting him to kiss it. Instead he cradled it against his face and breathed in. He was scenting her, she realized.

“I wish I'd met you some other time,” he said softly. “I wish I'd had time to get away first. Or that I'd met you before. I could have put together a better plan, one that didn't include them meeting you. Or years before, when I wasn't a werewolf, before I did all of those things.”

Joshua took a deep, struggling breath before continuing, “The bonds just happen, on their own, when two people who could be mates spend time around each other. Sometimes it takes days. Sometimes it takes weeks or months. But there's no guarantee of when, and when it happens, if they'll be able to find you – I am
so sorry
, Anna. If you want me to go, I understand. I've wanted this my whole life, but to have it now would just drag you down with me.”

“If you didn't run into me, you'd be dead,” Anna said, straightening her back. That was
not
going to help. His face had opened into exuberant excitement when he spoke of being a wolf. Now it narrowed into misery again. “You were about to collapse, you hadn't even stopped to wrap your leg, and if you couldn't run they'd have caught you. And if you met me before you became a werewolf, you never would have noticed me.”

“I could never have ignored you,” he disagreed.

She doubted that. She liked her looks. She liked her curves and light brown skin, and she liked her glasses and the ink stains on her hands from constant note taking. But it all added up to a picture that didn't attract many men. The ones that did look thought of her as exotic, or a sexy librarian. Never girlfriend material, let alone life partner.

But she found that she couldn't accuse him of those things. Maybe he was right. Maybe they could have met in another world without this mess. Who knew? It was impossible to find out now.

“I believe you,” she said. “Now finish eating. I need to go make up the loft bed for tonight.” It would give her some time to think, too. She needed it.

 

 

That night and the next day passed like something out of a dream. It was a strange slice of domesticity in the wake of the stress of the previous day. The tension hovered overhead.

Anna got up early and found Joshua already awake and doing the dishes from last night.

“A man who does dishes,” she joked. She started looking through the cabinets for breakfast ingredients. “Amazing.”
              “Yeah, well, I had sisters,” Joshua said, scrubbing at a plate. He wasn't wearing a shirt, and the sunlight through the kitchen curtains made the muscles in his back glow. Even the light exercise made them ripple.

Anna watched happily for a moment before going back to her search. “Some men would use that as an excuse to make them do the housework.”

“Maybe some men would, but my mother would have killed me.”

“How many?” she asked. “I mean, how many sisters?”

He had a strange look in his eyes as he answered. “Three, one younger and two older.”

“What are their names?”

“Hannah – she's the youngest – Lizzy, and Deborah. Lizzy's two years older than me, Deborah three. They were always close when we grew up. Hannah should have graduated from high school last spring, I think.”

“You think?” she asked, then wanted to kick herself. “I'm sorry, you haven't seen them, have you?”

He shook his head. “Stephen did tell me that when I signed up. He made it sound like it would be too dangerous, because of the work. Of course it would only be dangerous because
he
would hurt them. I at least could send the money back, I told them it was some classified military job and made excuses about not being able to get leave to come visit.” He sighed. “I don't know what I was planning to tell them when it was obvious I wasn't going home. Mom might have tried to come and get me if she knew where I was.”

“I'm sorry.” Anna had no idea what to say. She moved into his line of sight to telegraph the motion, and hugged him.

He squeezed her shoulders, and they stood in silence. His strong arms cradled her. He made her feel safe and protected. She hoped she could return the favor at least a little. She squeezed a little harder at the thought.

“How do pancakes sound?” she asked when the moment had passed.

“They sound great.” His voice was a little hoarse. It cleared as he went on, “Do you have stuff to put in them? Berries or chocolate chips, maybe? I'm twelve years old at heart,” he added in a confidential whisper.

She giggled. “I don't think the cabin's stocked with cookie baking supplies, but let me check.” She went to look in the freezer. “Frozen blueberries, I can do.”

After breakfast, Joshua went to look at her bookcase. He picked something out after a few moments and went to the couch. Anna sat at her desk and started up the laptop. She had plenty she could do in the cabin – notes to type up and analyze, statistical analyses, that kind of thing. There was also email to answer. Her father had sent her a long, rambling account of his vacation in Florida.

BOOK: Alpha On the Run: A BBW Wolf Shifter Paranormal Romance
13.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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