They had seen it.
It had been hard to get a clear view through the window, but the Mark was impossible to mistake. Tony could recognize it immediately; the slight nip, the sudden bloom of blood from her lips. It was a sign of Claiming.
"We need to tell Kane of this immediately," he said, turning and walking back towards his car.
"Maybe it's a mistake. She's human, after all – wolves only mate with wolves."
"You're an idiot if you believe that, Gordy," he replied. "If wolves only mate with wolves, then why do we have a half-breed problem?"
It was true, a wolf finding a human as a mate was rare, but it did occur, and it seemed that Gareth had found his lifemate in this girl. It was normal in werewolf law to take younger mates, and this was no exception. He moved and got into the car, Gordy sliding into the passenger seat. He rummaged through his glove compartment until he found the cell phone, then hit speed dial. There was shaky reception out here in the mountains, but at least he got a signal.
"What'll ya think Kane'll do about her?" Gordy asked, chuckling evilly.
"We're about to find out, dumbass," he replied. The phone picked up on the second ring. A cold, smooth voice met his ear, sending shivers of dread down his spine.
"What?" the phone hissed.
"We're reporting a problem. It seems that our friend has found a lifemate. It's a human."
There was a brief pause, but only brief. "Kill her."
"As I thought, Alpha," the man replied.
"Report when you're finished, I want to know the job is done," he growled, then the line went dead. Tony sat back, trying to hide the shaking in his hands as he shut the phone. Kane, the Pack Leader, was far away, but his chilling voice still caused his heart to fill with dread. It was a rough and violent leader their Pack embraced, but it was necessary – survival demanded it.
"So what's the plan?" Gordy asked, the shorter, chubbier man getting comfy with a box of leftover French fries.
"You have to ask?" Tony growled. "We'll wait until she's alone… then we finished her off."
Gordy giggled, a somewhat disturbing sound, given the circumstances. But then again, Gordy had always been a little off. "Sounds like today's gonna be a good day," he grinned.
Tony turned back to the house, watching as their target left through the front door, heading towards a rusty Camaro that sat in the weedy front drive. "Indeed," he murmured.
* * * *
Maddy was not happy. Sure, her clothes were clean and fresh smelling, but they smelled like him. His detergent, his house, his air. And she had just remembered that she had a math test today. It was only 10am, not late enough to have missed class, which was in the afternoon. Fuck.
"I don't have my backpack," she grumbled.
"You'll be fine," he replied, "remember your story?"
"Yeah." She didn't understand all the reasons why she couldn't bring Gareth into the situation, but she figured it made sense; it would just mean more questioning for him, and he had done nothing but help her so far. She would get to school, go to class, probably get sent to the principal the moment a teacher saw her….
But on the bright side, at least she could get on with her life. There really was no other choice, no matter how tempting pretending to be dead might be.
He opened the car door for her. A small gesture, but one she couldn't help but notice. For all his stoicism, he treated her with kindness, and it made her heart flutter. Then there was that business with the kissing… she couldn't figure it out, but ever since that nip on the lips, her body had begun acting strangely. She couldn't keep her eyes off him. He moved, and she felt a tug deep in her gut, a warmth and wetness that soaked the area between her legs. She couldn't help it, and she certainly didn't know how to stop it. She just hoped he would wash those old sweatpants before inspecting them too closely.
She slid into the cracked leather seats of the old car and he climbed in on the other side, slamming the door and revving up the engine. It was unnecessarily loud and rumbly, as she had expected, but other than that it ran fine. He pulled out of his overgrown front drive and into the narrow street, and she watched him drive, watched his tan arms and the muscles on his chest. He was wearing sunglasses. It made her nervous – she didn't know if he was looking at her or not.
"So uh… I'll just go home after this," she started talking, because some part of her realized that this might be the last time she saw him, and she couldn't imagine going back to her cabin alone, nor did she know where else she could go. Those men might be dead, killed by some lucky animal attack, but that didn't mean her house was safe. And her father hadn't tried to contact her… either that meant he thought she was dead and was probably in the process of selling off all her stuff, or he wasn't back yet, which probably meant he was still hiding from the same bastards that had tried to abduct her. A shiver went through her body, and she felt abruptly sick.
She glanced at Gareth, taking in his perfect profile, and she rubbed her thighs together, trying to ignore the responding clench. She absentmindedly licked her lips, tasting the cut that ran down the left side.
"Anyway, thanks a lot for your help, I guess I owe you my life… probably more than once," she laughed weakly, unsure of what else to say. She wanted to ask him why he did these things for her, but that seemed to be an awkward question, given the circumstances. She opened her mouth, settling on saying anything instead. "So I guess I'll just see you around town and all that, you know, stop in at the store if you need anything, I'll see if I can get you a discount on whatever, you know, supplies you need…" she laughed nervously. Wow, that wasn't obvious. Her words started to flow faster. "I guess you work at a garage around here? I saw the oil on your shirt this morning – uh – yeah, cuz I don't have a car, and so I wouldn't know much about the garages around here. I know there's one downtown…."
He wasn't taking the bait. She knew she was rambling, her mouth running off with her, but this was probably going to be her only chance to talk to him. She wanted to say as much as possible, even if it stopped making sense after a while. She wondered if she was being obvious. Probably.
They stopped at a red light. Only three blocks to her school. Her heart began to race. "… Well I might get a car at some point, you know, I think I might get promoted soon to like assistant manager or something, so that way I could afford it, but I like your car, I think it fits you, well not that I know much about you, but I've seen it in your driveway before and it runs way better than I thought it would – well, shit, I didn't mean it like that – and it's not like I walk by your house often or anything, it's just by chance you know-"
Abruptly he moved. Her words cut off mid sentence, and he leaned over, his hand going behind her to cradle her head, and he turned her towards him. Then his lips were against hers, and he was kissing her, deeper than the time before – and she couldn't help but respond. Her entire body heated up, hot and trembling, her crotch growing warm and desperately wet. She gasped as his tongue entered her mouth, taking her words and thoughts away, making it impossible to think. She couldn't breathe. She could only taste him, his tongue like dark honey, the brush of his stubble against her jaw and cheek. His hand was big and warm on the back of her head, directing her, shifting her into a better position. Her stomach clenched.
Then he pulled away, restarted the engine because the car had stalled, and moved through the green light.
She sat in her seat, shocked and breathless, her lips stinging. The place between her legs felt hot and swollen, needy, and she couldn't sit comfortably. Her breasts ached – her nipples were hard and pressed uncomfortably against her bra. Damn, what had he done to her? This wasn't natural, it couldn't be. She was a virgin, and virgins didn't know shit about sex – she was not supposed to be this turned on! And especially not by him!
They drove the rest of the way in silence, Maddy staring resolutely out the window, playing with a lock of auburn hair around her finger. She glanced in the mirror, trying to straighten her hair the best she could, her pale blue eyes somehow incomplete without their usual makeup. She tried to calm down as the gray buildings of her high school came into view. Just another day at school. Just another day… even if the whole town thought she was dead.
He pulled up alongside the front of the school. Everything was silent and empty since class was currently in session. She didn't know what to do, and had to force her hands to unbuckle her seatbelt. It felt strange being at school but with no backpack or supplies. Just her and her dirty old jacket… which was now clean and warm, thanks to the man next to her.
She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. He was sitting back, one arm leaning against the door and the steering wheel, turned slightly to look at her. But his sunglasses were still on, so she couldn't be sure of what he was thinking. That smile curved his lips, the one that made her toes curl and her panties become even more soaked.
"I'll pick you up at three?" he said casually, all confident and more sexy than he could possibly know. She wondered if he was doing it on purpose. Guys his age… could they read a girl easily? Did they know what strings to pull? She wished she knew, and she wished she had more experience to show him. Instead she just turned into a sniveling idiot every time he kissed or touched her.
"I should go home and see if my dad is there," she said quietly. The thought of her father suddenly terrified her. Would he punish her for what had happened last night? A sane, logical person would say no – but she knew the kind of man her father was. He didn't need a reason to beat her, and having the house half destroyed was more than reason enough, even if it wasn't her fault. He would probably blame his debt on her too, since she had refused to be kidnapped.
"It might still be dangerous," Gareth said, still focused on her with an intensity that made her mouth water.
"But if you drive me, then I won't be alone," she said quietly, unsure of what his response might be. "Just drop me off long enough to see if he's home… and if not…."
"Then you should grab your things and come to my place," he said, his face unreadable. A thrill of excitement ran through her at his words, though it was accompanied by nervousness and a stab of sexual awareness that left her hot and aching. It scared her to think of what she might do if she spent the night at his place; how far she might go, if he pushed her.
"Alright," she finally agreed.
He leaned forward again. Her breath caught, and she tensed, readying herself for another kiss, her lips already buzzing with anticipation – but he just leaned across her and opened up the door, his long, tan arm flexing, brushing tantalizingly against her erect nipples. She sucked in a breath and held it. Had he done that on purpose?
Then the door was open, and there was nothing left to do but get out.
"I'll see you later, then," she said awkwardly, once she was standing on the sidewalk. She shuffled her feet, hovering, unsure of what to do. It seemed that there should be something more to say to the man who had just kissed her three times. "Three o'clock, right? Same place?"
He was leaning over, looking at her from through the car door. He motioned briefly with his hand, and she leaned down, once again feeling that surge of excitement, wondering what he would do next. Maybe a goodbye kiss was in order after all? She was horrified to discover that she really, really, really wanted one.
But he just reached up and pinched her chin lightly, that teasing smile back in place. "Beautiful eyes," he said. Then he released her, gave a small wave, and she took the hint. She shut the door, her heart pounding.
She watched him drive away. She didn't want to seem desperate, but she couldn't stop looking after his car, even after it had turned around the corner and disappeared from sight. He was gone, at least for now… and she felt like a part of her had left with him.
Then she turned back to the tall, intimidating stone buildings of her school. The bell rang, and she knew students would begin pouring out into the halls, most likely on their way to lunch. She sighed. Time to go explain to everyone that she was still alive, and explain this head wound, for that matter… and then fail her math test. She couldn't wait.
Her feet dragging, she headed for the front gates.
* * * *
He watched her out of his rear-view mirror.
His erection was so hard it was painful. Her smell, her voice, the way she had kept talking and just wouldn't be quiet -- he loved it. And her arousal. It had been obvious by her movements, the tremor in her voice, but even more so by the way she couldn't stop looking at him. Of course, she was his lifemate; he could feel the arousal coursing through her blood, and it only turned him on more. He was trying to go slow, to give her something of romance before he had to claim her, and it was driving him nuts. He loved spending the energy on her, but his own body had its demands, and right now his cock was so painfully hard that he either had to relieve himself or piss on the ceiling.
Thank god she was innocent, otherwise the erection would have been impossible to miss. And he liked that about her – he liked everything about her, actually. Never been touched. Never been kissed. Entirely his woman… and he was old enough to know how to care for her. Thank god she hadn't lost her virginity to some clumsy, stupid boy. Not only would she have hated it, but he probably would have had to kill the boy after having her himself. Wolves did not tolerate competition.
But one thing did make him frown. It was her fear – the fear he had sensed on her that morning, which had stayed with her throughout the day to varying degrees, and then had suddenly increased at the mention of her father. He knew there was something wrong with her family; he knew because that was how he found her, always terrified and crying, sometimes bruised, hiding in the forest. But up to this point he had forced himself to stay uninvolved, not wanting to draw attention to himself or his predicament here, since there were plenty in the world who would prefer him dead... or who would love to condemn a pedophile. But he had worried about her before, and he worried about her now. She was scared of her father, and if the man did to her what he was beginning to suspect, he would have to stop him. Knowing his animal nature, he would probably eat the bastard alive.
She flinched a lot. It bothered him. There was only one reason why a girl would flinch like that.
He checked the clock and let out a soft curse. Late for work. Not so important, since he owned the garage he worked at, but lost time meant lost money, and in a human world, money was all important. He hit the gas, speeding to the other side of Black River where his car garage was located, already ticking off the list of things he had to do today. He could be finished in time to pick her up, and besides, business was usually slow in this small town. Nothing to worry about.
He rubbed his pants in annoyance and growled, a feral sound that issued from low in his throat. Soon, he promised himself. He had Marked her, nipping at her lips just enough to draw blood, and now he just had to wait for the mating hormone to fully infect her bloodstream. It had transferred from his saliva into her through that small cut. Once it took full effect, she wouldn't be able to refuse him. They would be bonded; he would claim his mate, and reclaim his life.
* * * *
"Did you get the pictures?" his voice trembled over the phone. His hand was sweaty where it clutched the receiver in the run-down motel room. He had got this room with money he didn't have, running up a credit card that didn't have his name on it. But luckily he knew the manager here, and the guy owed him a few favors. That's how the world worked, after all – a favor here, a favor there. Too bad Owen Baker had ran out of favors, now. He was in a fucked up situation, and he had to get out of it as soon as possible, or else risk an untimely death at the end of a gun barrel.
There was a breath on the other side of the phone, as though someone had just exhaled cigar smoke. "We got 'em," the voice said; it was deep and gruff. "She's a pretty little thing. How old did you say she was? Eighteen?"
"Yep, virgin too," he assured them. "I'm her only family; nobody's gonna miss her. I can have her for you in a week."
"Two days." That's how it went, always a little back and forth, a little give and take. He tried to tell himself that he should be feeling guilty, that fathers didn't do this to their daughters, but she wasn't his kid anyway. She was a step-child, daughter of that no good bitch wife of his, and now he could finally get rid of her. She had just been good for making money, anyway. This way it was her future for his, and that seemed to be an even trade. She wouldn't be dead, after all – just sold into a life that was as good as dead. Prostitution was not the most glamorous of trades, but it would be a career, which was more than that brat would get by staying in Black River.
"Deal," the voice agreed.
"And you'll have the money wired to my account?"
"$250,000, half now, half when we get her. And don't try any funny stuff, Mr. Baker. We can track you down and kill you like a dog."
"The thought didn't cross my mind," he assured them. He didn't need more guys on his ass, and the $250,000 would only barely cover his debt to Ronny, and maybe a few other odds and ends that had piled up over the years.
"When you have her, meet us at the designated place. The instructions have been delivered to your Motel, they will be sent to your room."
"We appreciate your business, Mr. Baker," the voice said smoothly, then paused. "Oh, and Owen?"
A shiver went down his spine. "Yes?"
"Don't fuck this up."
The line went dead. Owen sat on the bed, trembling, running a pudgy hand through his thinning, fuzzy hair. He touched the bald spot on top. "Fuck," he muttered, putting the phone down and wiping his sweaty hands on his jeans.
He would get out of this situation one way or another, he always did, and he would push as many people down as necessary to do it. That's what he was good at, after all.