Title is a song by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Rated for violence, copious f-bombs, and sexy shenanigans between a hot werewolf and his sassy little hunter.
~ Prologue ~
Now: Montpelier, Vermont
Her breath came in pants, sharp and burning. Goosebumps erupted across her skin as the wind tore at hair, leaving loose strands to tickle the back of her sweat soaked neck. Her legs screamed as she ran: she was tired, so fucking tired, but to slow down could possibly mean death. For a split second, she weighed the pros and cons. Death would mean she wouldn't ever have to run again, and that was almost preferable.
All right, so physical activity wasn't necessarily her strong suit.
Natalya slowed as she came to the clearing. She'd long since lost her brother in the madness of the night, but had a feeling that Mikhail was more than holding his own. As her breath evened out, she scanned her surroundings through narrowed eyes. The moon shone high over the clearing, bathing the treetops in an eerie light. The thunderous sounds of her pursuer had ceased. Even so, she felt it, felt the not rightness of the silence, fractured only by her shallow breaths. Her stomach churned bile.
She switched the safety off her gun. The click was deafening. She held her breath.
The animal burst out of the woods with the grace of an Olympic long jumper and all the lethal intent of a lion stalking a deer. The breath left her lungs in a whoosh as it tackled her. Her weapon flew to the side and discharged, but did not distract her predator. The wolf snapped its jaws at her, and Natalya dimly registered the thick string of saliva that fell from its teeth and landed just past her cheek, soaking into the floor of the woods. Saliva and blood. Ten sharp nails pricked her shoulders where the beast held her down, and she fought back hot tears.
And she remembered.
Four Years Previously: Hallowell, Maine
"…and it's not like I was, like, unclear about what I wanted, you know? I told him like two weeksh ago that I wanted exclushivity. Exlushivity or nothing!" Alexa sobbed.
"I know," Natalya said, biting her tongue so she didn't laugh. "He's a fucking idiot."
"He really is. But I love him!"
Natalya sighed and threw her intoxicated best friend's arm around her shoulders, supporting as much of her weight as she could. The street was lit with several lights, showcasing the line of cars parked in front of Tommy Albright's (or, more accurately, the weekly love of Alexa's life's) house. Music shook the windows and there was a game of strip beer pong going on in the front yard. She watched with interest as Tyler Albright, Tommy's college-age brother, discarded his boxers. Since she would most likely be grounded for the rest of her life, it was a small consolation
"You don't love him. He's the worst, Lex," she said.
"Why did it have to be her, Taly?" Alexa was crying.
"Because Shannon is the worst, too. You're way prettier."
"Yes, definitely shmarter."
From somewhere behind them, someone cleared his throat. Natalya's shoulders slumped, and Alexa slumped along with her. Mikhail stood two feet away, his arms crossed over his chest. He glowered down at them.
"Hey," Natalya said, going for a disarming smile.
Next to Mikhail, Garrett Blackwood snorted. Heat suffused her cheeks as she glanced at her brother's best friend. No time for hopeless crushes tonight.
"Omigod, is that your brother?" Alexa asked, perking up. "He's so hot!"
Mikhail didn't spare Alexa a glance. "So what, did you follow us here?" he asked.
Natalya rolled her eyes. "Yes, I had nothing better to do on a Saturday night so I followed my brother to some stupid frat-esque party. Give me a break. Tommy invited us."
"What's up with her?" Mikhail jerked his head at Alexa, who beamed.
Mikhail shook his head. "You're sixteen, Taly. Go home. I think you can catch a Hannah Montana rerun if you make it quick."
"Fuck you, Mik," Natalya snapped.
"Hey, come on," Garrett said, placing a hand on Mikhail's shoulder when her brother took an outraged step forward. "Tals, it is pretty late, and all you'll find here is a bunch of lecherous shitheads. Want me to walk you guys home?"
Natalya tried to ignore how blue his eyes were and how deep-rough-sexy his voice was and how his bicep flexed as he held her brother back. She also tried to ignore the fact that his tone was placating, like he was talking to a two-year-old throwing a temper tantrum. "No, we'll be fine. It's just around the corner," she said. "Are you gonna tell Mom?"
Mikhail grunted. "I should."
"Nah, he won't," Garrett interjected again. "No harm, no foul. Take your friend home, Taly."
She gritted her teeth. "I don't need you to play knight in shining armor, Garrett," she said, and he jerked his head back in surprise, and she immediately felt like an asshole. "Tell Mom or don't, Mik. I don't care. See you later."
She hoisted Alexa up again and turned, beginning the trek back to the house. It wasn't until they were halfway down the block that the noise from the Albright house died down and the sounds of summer set in. Crickets chirped in time with the buzzing of cicadas. A warm, sweet-smelling breeze ruffled the hem of her sundress, and her flip-flops were quiet against the concrete. She could almost pretend that everything was going to be okay.
"You doing okay?" Natalya asked her friend.
Lexa gave a long, drawn out sigh. "No. As long as I live I will never love again."
"Even if you live to be a hundred?"
"Even if I live to be a thoushand."
"Tommy Albright's not worth a thousand years. He's not worth one minute."
"Is Garrett Blackwood worth one thouhsand years, Tal? You've had a thing for him for that long."
"Shut up," Natalya said, and playfully bumped her friend's hip. This almost sent them toppling over onto a neighbor's front lawn.
Once she'd righted the both of them, they turned the corner. It was a less populated section of the neighborhood, but streetlamps still glowed. "Come on, Lex. Just two more streets and we're there. I can't…."
A motion a few hundred yards away caught her attention, and when she really saw what she was seeing, the words died on her tongue. Never before in her sixteen years of life had she experienced a flight-or-fight reaction. Now, she could almost feel her pupils dilate, could register the loss of her peripheral vision, could feel the adrenaline leak into her system and her muscles seize all at one time.
"Taly, what is it? Oh my god, Taly, what is that?"
Sobriety had slapped Alexa Taglieri hard in the face. Natalya's heart hammered in her chest. "Lex, be quiet."
It was monstrous, even from here. It was horrifying, disgusting, an abomination. It was unreal. And yet, there it was, in the middle of the street, backlit by an orange-yellow glow. Its snout poked at something and its jaws snapped, and there was a gleam of white as it cracked a bone in half.
"Jesus," Taly whispered. "Oh, Jesus Christ, no."
Daemon lupum. Demon wolf. The ghostly white beast, nearly five feet tall on all fours, lifted its head. Its eyes, human eyes, were the color of old blood and they glowed. The gaze dirtied her very soul. It bared its teeth, and she could hear it snarl from here. Natalya remembered her grandmother telling her the tale of a man cursed by the very moon itself, forced to live out his days in a purgatory, forever stuck between human and wolf forms. It had slaughtered even the most seasoned hunters in Galina Azarov's village before being taken down. Natalya wasn't a seasoned hunter. She wasn't even a hunter. Not yet, technically.
"What is it eating? Is that a person? I – " Alexa turned away and retched, and her sick splattered onto the wrought-iron fence beside them.
The thing took a step forward, and its movements were grotesque, all blended, awkward limbs. Slender haunches wiry with muscle allowed it to stand upright, and its seven-foot stature cast a shadow that reached to the tips of her toes. Hands topped with razor nails reached for them, and it tilted its head back and howled into the night.
Alexa screamed along with it.
Natalya had to get her out of here, had to distract it. "Go back to the Albright house!" she snapped, and as the thing rushed at them, she didn't give herself time to think. She ran to meet it.
"Taly!" Alexa screamed, terror in her voice.
She had nothing that resembled a weapon, not even a toothpick from one of Alexa's various umbrella drinks, and she was meeting a real live demon wolf head on. She tried not to soil herself. And suddenly it was there, reaching a razor tipped hand out, sinking its nails into the back of her neck. The street rushed up at her and she tasted gravel and blood and her death. She hadn't even lasted a minute.
She choked wetly as she felt it extract its nails, one at a time, from her skin. Agony. Against better judgment, she opened her eyes. It was on all fours again, leaning towards her face, smelling her. Its breath was sulfurous, and it barked out one guttural word that chilled her to the bone: "Mine." Raspy with disuse, its voice was bloodthirsty and wrong. Wrong coming from the snout of a wolf.
"No," she whispered.
Its jaw unhinged. Natalya squeezed her eyes shut.
Two shots rang out, shattering the stillness and finality of the moment. The beast's yelp was that of a wounded dog, and for a split second, she almost felt bad for it. There was an ear-splitting roar and a huge black shadow bolted towards them, slamming into the demon wolf.
Natalya flattered herself against the ground as the two bodies sailed over her, rolling and snarling and tearing at each other in the street. The black one was a full wolf covered in a thick coat, paws twice the size of her own hand. Even so, it was unmatched in comparison to the beast, which threw it off with little difficulty. Her black wolf smacked against a thick tree and fell to the ground, motionless.
Two more shots rang out, hitting their target. The demon wolf staggered back, landing on all fours again before turning and darting into the thick growth of the forest to their right.
"Natalya!" Mikhail shouted, and she could hear him running towards her. "Oh, god. Taly? Taly, are you okay?"
She was humiliated. "I didn't get it," she whispered miserably into the pavement, watching the blood drip down into two small puddles on either side of her from the wounds on her neck. Her head was killing her.
"You mean you didn't take down a fully fledged daemon lupus with no prior hunting experience? Weird. Thank fuck you're alive. Mom would have killed me," he muttered as he lifted her to cradle her against his chest. "You're bleeding," he said when his hands came away stained with red.
Natalya ignored him and sat bolt upright even as the night swam around her. "Alexa!"
"Where is she?!"
"She's okay, she's back at Albright's."
Natalya looked towards the tree, purposely ignoring the desiccated body a few feet away from them that could just as easily have been her. There was nothing. "And the wolf?" she asked, her voice going high and bordering on hysterical.
"It ran into the woods. We'll have to call the council and alert them but I got at least two shots in so for now I think it's – "
"No, the black one!" Natalya said, pushing against his chest as she struggled to stay upright.
Mikhail furrowed his brow. "What black wolf? You've lost a lot of blood. Your head – "
"Mik, I know what I saw!" Even as she said the words, a sluggish feeling overtook her. The night swam again. "I know what…I saw."
Everything was black.
Now: Montpelier, Vermont
The wolf's eyes were a brown, but the edges were tinged with red. The curse was taking hold. Natalya moved one free hand along her thigh and grasped for her dagger. Fashioned with traces of pure silver, it was death to the animal above her if she got it right. As it lunged for her throat, she shoved her blade into its soft gullet with so much force that it came out the back of the animal's neck.
A warm release of blood and other fluids soaked into her clothes, and Natalya grimaced. The wolf emitted a low moaning sound and not without effort, she pushed it off of her. Gagging, she scooted on her bottom across the grass and leaves to prop herself up against the nearest tree. Five wolf kills under her belt in the last two years and the task still turned her stomach.
She wiped her dagger off on her ruined jeans as she watched the lifeless wolf shift back to human form. It was a slender middle-aged woman, her hair dark with strands of grey. Her throat was ruined mess. Natalya stared up into the sky, picking out the stars. It had to be done.
She was still staring when Mikhail and Ryan rushed into the clearing minutes later.
"See? I told you she'd be fine," Mikhail gestured in her general direction, his teeth gleaming white in the darkness.
"Did you get the other three?" she asked, pushing to her feet.
"Of course," Ryan Evanson said, and his blond hair looked especially bright against the dirt that caked his face. "This pack is done and dead."
Natalya ran a hand through her hair and sighed. It had to be done, she reminded herself. A werewolf who turned from its code and fed upon the flesh of humans needed to be put down, or else it would become what had almost killed her over four years ago.
"Diego and Alexa are dealing with the other ones, but I'll let them know about the fourth body," Mikhail said. "Come on. Let's go home, sister."
Natalya glanced at the naked corpse as she stepped over it, mouth gaping open and eyes unseeing. Had to be.
A/N: So this is a just-for-fun gem I cooked up a few days ago. I'm currently about 11,000 words in and will post chapters weekly or as they become available. I'm estimating the finished product will be around 40,000 words. Reviews are love and fuel and inspiration and everything else good in the world. Hope you liked! ~