Cassie stood in the shadows at the edge of the alleyway, watching the cars and people pass by. No one so much as glanced at her, but she stepped back a bit, just to be sure. The street was lined with stores and small businesses, and in the distance there appeared to be a number of flashing, lighted signs. If she didn't know better, she'd think it looked like Las Vegas, but that was ridiculous. The bus she'd been on couldn't have travelled that far! She tucked her hair behind her ears and furrowed her brow, wondering where she might be, and how she'd ended up in an alley.
The last thing she remembered was lying on a bed in a motel, having spent half the night fleeing from the site of her uncle's death and the wolf attack. She'd taken her medication and tried to calm down by thinking of happier places; that was the last thing she could recall until waking up here, just a few minutes ago.
Blearily, she'd opened her eyes at first too groggy to even wonder why her body was wedged between a brick wall and a dumpster, her muscles cramped and aching. Then she'd become aware of what had stirred her from her sleep; a tickling sensation on her hand. Rolling her head to the side, she'd discovered a mouse was crawling over her palm. Screaming, she'd skittered a few feet away, watching in a combination of horror and disgust as the tiny creature ran into a hole under the metal bin.
She'd been wiping her hand on her shirt, trying to erase the feeling of small feet and quivering whiskers when another shock hit her. Frantically she looked around, her brain suddenly acknowledging she wasn't in her motel room. Her heart had been pounding, panic wrapping around her like an iron fist as she took in the fact that there was no bed, no TV, no faded curtains; just brick walls, utility meters, bits of garbage and graffiti.
The strap of her bag had been clenched in her one hand; amazingly enough, when she checked there was still money inside of it, so she hadn't been robbed. And her clothing, though filthy and wrinkled, was intact which probably meant she hadn't been assaulted. Her skin crawled as she thought of all the things that could have happened to her while she was unconscious. Obviously something had occurred though, otherwise how had she arrived in this place?
Wracking her brain, there was no recollection of the events that led to her being here. She glanced fearfully at the shadowed areas around her, wondering if the werewolf had something to do with this; if he was lurking, waiting to attack. There was no sign of the creature, but she couldn't relax. It might still be following her, ready to end her life as easily as it had ended Mr. Aldrich's.
Just the memory of the large black wolf and its blood drenched muzzle had her shivering, despite the relative warmth of the air. She stepped back into the alleyway and, wrapping her arms around her waist, hunkered down by the dumpster where she'd awoken. The smell of garbage and stale cooking grease assaulted her nose and she made a face. Striving to ignore the unpleasant odour, she leaned her head back against the brick wall and stared at the graffiti covered sign that graced the steel door straight across from her; Chinese and Thai Restaurant, Deliveries Only. She furrowed her brow; hmm...apparently she was in a back alley behind a number of businesses. Glancing to either side, she noted other similar doors giving support to her assumption.
Okay...a back alley, a restaurant, but where...?
At that moment a white delivery truck turned down the narrow passage way, roaring towards her. Cassie pressed herself closer to the wall feeling a moment of panic before realizing the dumpster provided her with some protection. She exhaled in relief and adjusted her position so she could observe the vehicle as it stopped a good distance from her hiding place.
Eventually a man got out, whistling tunelessly. She watched him go about his business, taking cartons out of the truck and balancing them carefully as he pounded on a door. The door swung open and he handed the containers to someone who stood just inside the doorway. A few words were exchanged but she couldn't make out what they were.
The man never once glanced her direction but Cassie knew she had to move. No doubt other trucks would be through here in the near future and she didn't want to be found crouched by a dumpster. People would ask questions; questions to which she wouldn't have any answers.
Cassie bit her lip, her mind racing, searching for possibilities. She'd never been alone before; there'd always been someone with her; guiding her, smoothing the way. Knowing she needed to do something—to go somewhere—but being solely responsible for the decisions and the consequences all seemed so overwhelming. How she longed to be back in the security of her uncle's home. To hear him blustering away; to see Franklin, the butler, pulling faces behind the old man's back. To have Cook fussing and making her favourite meals... Her chin quivered. Oh God, how could her world behave been destroyed so quickly?
A lone tear trickled down her face and she quickly wiped it away. Crying wouldn't help or change facts. Her uncle was dead and she was alone now with a crazed werewolf chasing her. There was no one to lean on, no one to come to her rescue. She had to handle this situation on her own and that meant finding safe shelter, food, maybe even establishing a new identity.
As she tried to come up with a possible course of action, she gave a short, wry, laugh, realizing that her private tutors had never covered topics related to running for your life while being chased by a werewolf. How remiss of them! She'd really have to bring that point to their attention...
Her brief moment of levity quickly died at the sound of the delivery truck's engine starting. It roared past her leaving a cloud of exhaust and dust in its wake. Coughing, Cassie forced herself to her feet, wiping her eyes and giving an inelegant sniff. Action was better than just staying in one place; at least it gave the impression that she had a plan. Still holding tightly to her bag, she walked back to the end of the alley, resuming her earlier position in the shadows.
From the angle of the sun, she could tell it was early morning. People seemed intent on getting to their work or appointments, hurrying by her hiding place. No one glanced towards the shadowed alley entrance. The relative anonymity of her position gave her some modicum of comfort as she considered her options.
Cassie eyed the various businesses, her eyes skimming over dress shops and nail salons before finally focusing on two; a restaurant on the corner and the variety store beside it. She bit her lip and squared her shoulders. Maybe...
"Hey there, girly! What're you doing?" A voice spoke from nearby and she jumped, backing away until her spine was against the opposite brick wall. Her vision blurred for a moment as fear washed over her. Had the werewolf found her? No, it couldn't the creature; it wouldn't give her warning by calling out.
Blinking rapidly, she forced her eyes to focus on the speaker. It was a young man, probably in his early twenties. He had brown hair, blue eyes, and was dressed in a respectable looking shirt and pair of pants.
Cassie clutched her bag tightly to her chest while staring at him warily.
"Are you okay?" The man had a faint look of concern on his face but didn't attempt to approach her. "Are you in trouble? A runaway?"
She shook her head and licked her dry lips. "No."
"Funny, 'cause you sort of look like life's been treating you pretty bad." He studied her for a minute, then smiled and held out his hand. "My name's Kellen. Kellen Anderson."
Hesitantly, Cassie extended her own hand. "I'm...er...Sandra." She heeded the voice inside that told her not to reveal too much, so she switched to another derivative of her full name.
"Pleased to meet you, er...Sandra. Strange name, with the 'er' in front of it." Kellen grinned and winked. "Never mind. I'll just call you Sandy, okay?"
She nodded not sure if she trusted this jovial person.
"You look like you could use something to eat and maybe a place to stay? I've been down on my luck before, so I know what it's like. Actually, I'm sort of the downslide right now since I just dropped a wad at a poker game up the road. Come on. Misery loves company. I'll buy you breakfast, no strings attached." He gestured towards the restaurant.
"I...I have money." Immediately after she spoke, she chastised herself. Telling a complete stranger—one she'd met at the edge of an alleyway, no less—that she had money was not a good idea. Trying for some damage control, she qualified her answer. "I don't have much, but I can buy my own food."
Kellen shrugged. "Sure. No skin off my nose. But at least we can sit together, right? Eating alone is no fun."
Her stomach chose that moment to growl and he laughed, holding his hands out at his side. "Hey, I'm completely harmless and you're starving. There's usually a crowd in the restaurant, so you don't need to worry. You won't be alone with me."
Cassie bit her lip and then gave a brief nod. The idea of being by herself was daunting; the werewolf could be anywhere, but surely it wouldn't attack in front of witnesses. Having someone with her, even a stranger, seemed like a good idea. Besides, she needed information and right now this person—Kellen—was her only source.
"Not much of a talker, are you?" Kellen quipped as he led her across the street. "That's okay, though. It doesn't bother me. Listen, no offense but you might want to get cleaned up a bit. There's a ladies' room right inside the door. I'll get us a table while you use the facilities." He held the restaurant door open for her.
She gave him a brief smile. "Thanks, I wouldn't mind washing up a bit." As she headed to the washroom, she glanced back. Kellen was already sitting down, perusing the menu. Cassie allowed herself to relax a little bit. He seemed harmless enough...
Three years later, in Stump River, Ontario, Canada...
Bryan sat in front of the computer, frowning at the screen. He drummed his fingers on the desk then sighed and ran his hands through his hair, flexing his shoulders and arching his back
Ryne looked up from the papers he was working on. "Let me guess, you're still brooding about that girl?"
"Yeah, I keep thinking I'll find something if I just look long enough." The Cassandra Greyson case had become a bit of an obsession for him. Every time he vowed to just forget her, something called him back to take just one more look. It was as if his inner wolf, having had a brief yet tantalizing scent of the girl, couldn't relinquish the hunt for her.
"You've been working on it for the past three years. What makes you think today will be any different?" Ryne could be annoyingly practical at times.
"I don't know, but for some reason I can't let her go. Maybe it's the Beta in me, needing to protect the pack; you know the danger a rogue wolf could put us all in." Bryan swivelled his chair until he faced his Alpha.
"But the fact is, she hasn't gone rogue or we would have heard about it, though how a young kid like that is keeping her wolf under control all by herself, is beyond me." Ryne narrowed his eyes and reiterated what they both already knew. "You traced her to that motel in Kansas—"
Bryan finished the sentence. It was a story they'd gone over many times. "And then she just disappeared. I realize almost two weeks had passed before I arrived at her last known location, but there should have been a residual scent leading away. Instead, there was nothing; no scent, no trail, no one saw her leave town... There was nothing on the surveillance cameras at the bus stop. She stepped off the bus, found a room at the motel across the street, and vanished. All I found was a trace scent on the pillows and that pill wedged between the nightstand and the headboard."
"It was a prescription strength sedative, wasn't it?"
"Yeah. Very hard to get hold of and used only under strict medical supervision. Definitely suitable for a werewolf, but almost deadly for a human. Whoever gave it to her knew something about Lycans."
"That would have been her guardian, Anthony Greyson. I'm sure that's how he kept her under control during the full moon, though how he knew..." Ryne let his voice trail off.
"Well, that pill was the only concrete clue I found in Kansas. Two days later all her bank accounts were emptied from an instant teller inside a casino in Las Vegas and her credit cards were maxed out. From there, it's a dead end."
"Even so, you did a fine job in Vegas. Getting the hotel to let you look at their surveillance video footage was no easy task."
Bryan laughed softly at the memory. "Thank heaven the head of security was female and she liked my eyes."
"From the story you told when you got back home, I don't think it was just your eyes she was interested in."
"There might have been a few other features that drew her attention." Bryan grinned for a few minutes but then sobered and leaned forward to study the screen again. "I was just looking at this footage that shows someone using the ATM machine at the time Cassandra Greyson's account was emptied."
Ryne stood up and moved to the computer, peering over Bryan's shoulder. "Do you see something new?"
"Not really. It's just the same thing as always. Average sized individual, wearing jeans and a hoodie pulled up over his or her head and low across the forehead. Unisex sunglasses. Chin tucked into the collar."
"They knew what they were doing; knew there'd be cameras recording the transaction."
"Yeah, there's nothing here except... See that bit of a shadow?" Bryan turned his chair back to the computer and pointed to a spot on the screen. "I think someone was standing there, watching."
"Hmm... Could be." Ryne stood up straight and shrugged. "It doesn't really help us much, though."
"Maybe not. But it means she might not be on her own. I think she met up with someone and went with them to Vegas, possibly realizing it was a perfect place to get lost in a crowd."
"But where did she go after that?"
Bryan shook his head. "Damned if I know. I checked every bus, train and plane out of there from the day of this footage and then for two weeks afterwards. There was no one matching her description."
"So she must have left by car or stayed in the area."
"Uh-huh. I searched all over that city but there was no sign of her. And I put alerts out to packs all over the country to contact me if they see her, but no one has ever reported anything."
"You'd think after three years someone would have noticed a lone wolf—an inexperienced lone wolf at that. How has she stayed hidden and managed the lunar changes? Those pills must be used up by now. Someone must know something."
At that moment, Melody called from the kitchen. "Ryne, did you buy chocolate ice cream when you were in town earlier?"
Ryne grimaced. "Since she's been pregnant and can't have her coffee, she's switched to chocolate, but it's not mellowing her mood."
"Isn't chocolate just as bad?"
"Are you volunteering to tell her? I survived the no-coffee rants. I'm not inciting another one!" Both men winced as they recalled Melody's reaction when Nadia, the nurse practitioner, told her to cut back on coffee until the baby was born.
"Hey, she's your mate and you're the Alpha. Go do your duty."
"Thanks, Bryan. You're a real pal."
Bryan shook his head, amused at his Alpha's predicament, then returned to pondering the image on the computer screen. Narrowing his eyes, he searched for clues, his inner wolf stirring restlessly over the long delayed hunt. Somewhere out there Cassandra Greyson was a lone werewolf and he was determined to bring her in.