Copyright © 2012 Dana Marie Bell
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Lana stopped, a strange sense of both safety and vulnerability flashing through her. That way. She started to turn to her left and shrieked.
Lightning flashed, thunder rumbled, and the dark shape of a man stood before her. His eyes gleamed in the flash of lightning, his grin triumphant. He reached out toward her and tried to grab her arm.
Her entire being shuddered away from him. Lana stepped away from the man. “Why have you been following me?”
The man tilted his head. “Isn’t your car broken down on the road? I thought you could use some help.”
His voice was a pleasant blend of concern and attraction. Lana’s eyes narrowed, bringing up her second sight. Usually she could conjure up a person’s aura fairly easily, but this man’s was somehow shielded. Unfortunately she got just enough of a feel off of that shield to know what she was dealing with.
Damn. A freaking wizard. Figures.
No way did she want to engage in a magical dance with a wizard, especially when she couldn’t tell how strong he was. Lana took a step back. Every instinct she had pushing her away from the man in front of her.
“I’d be careful too. There are rumors of some kind of wild animal in these parts. Found a few dogs mangled in the woods.”
The concern in his voice was false. A flash of black and sickly green surrounded him, the colors murky and muddled, before he shielded himself once more. Something was off about those colors, but she was too cold and tired to figure it out now. “Ah, thanks for the warning.” Lana took another step away from the scary stranger, her instincts screaming at her that her only safety lay behind her, somewhere in the shadows.
The man matched her, moving forward a step. “You really should have waited in your car for a cop or something, Miss…?”
Lana put her hands behind her, feeling for trees and branches. She continued to move away from the menace she sensed in front of her. If she could reach the safe harbor she felt behind her, everything would be all right.
Only if she could reach it, though.
Then again, the Lord does help those who help themselves. Her eyes were drawn to the branch swaying dangerously above his head. And the Lady provides the means.
The stranger dropped all pretense of helpfulness. He shook his head at her, his expression annoyed. “Are you going to make this difficult? It doesn’t have to be painful, you know.”
“What doesn’t have to be painful?”
With those words several things happened at once. A long, menacing growl erupted out of the darkness. One of the shadows hurtled through the night, knocking the blond man onto his ass.
And the branch he’d been standing under snapped, helped along by Lana and the force of the wind, hitting the blond on the top of his head and knocking him out cold.
The shadow animal turned, its golden eyes trained on Lana. Slowly it stalked toward her, its body moving with a supple, lethal grace.
A black wolf. In rural Pennsylvania.
Lord? Lady? No freaking way that’s safe. Lana gulped, and wondered if, somewhere out there, Fate was laughing its ass off at her.
Christopher’s heart was still pounding in his chest. He turned toward his mate, scenting her for any injuries. He relaxed a bit when all he smelled were scratches, most likely from her flight through the woods.
When Cole had threatened her, it had been all he could do not to rip out the bastard’s throat. The only thing that had saved him had been the falling branch and his mate’s horrified gasp.
She was brave, his female. She stood there and watched him coming toward her with big, chocolate brown eyes wide with fear and…
Yes. Fascination. Good. Much better than the fear he’d sensed coursing through her as Cole threatened her.
He approached her slowly, his eyes never leaving hers. When he reached her side, he gently stroked her thigh with his massive head, unable to prevent the rough, happy grumble that leapt to his throat.
Her soft whisper sent shivers down his spine. His tail curled in pleasure, waving back and forth. Her hand came to rest tentatively on his broad back, her fingers digging into his fur.
With a yip he turned. Gently he gathered her hand in his mouth, careful of his sharp teeth, and tugged her toward his home.
“Um, okay. Go with the big doggie. Got it.”
He rolled his eyes but did his best to ignore her words. The breathy, scared tone of voice matched her scent—frightened, wary and brave. Christopher felt pride in his mate. She followed his lead, barely sparing Cole a glance. It pleased him that she made no move to give his enemy aid.
Certain now she followed, Christopher let her hand go and stalked into the cold, wet night.
I’m following a wolf through the woods in rural Pennsylvania after it attacked a man who told me he was going to kill me, and somehow my inner warning signal is okay with that.
Lana pinched the fleshy part of her arm hard. “OW!”
The wolf stopped and looked at her curiously, its head tilted to the side.
“Nope, not dreaming.” Lana rubbed at her arm, hoping it wouldn’t bruise. She hadn’t meant to pinch quite that hard.
The wolf huffed and turned, heading off once more. Of the two strangers she’d met in the woods tonight, Lana considered the wolf far less dangerous, at least to her. The way the big wolf had acted after she’d hit the man on the head with that branch had been surreal, but not very frightening at all. The sense of safety she’d been heading toward had centered itself on the wolf, and she’d felt compelled to follow wherever he led.
The big wolf led her through the woods, his footfalls silent and sure. The few times she lost sight of the wolf he returned, tugging on her hand to lead her forward.
I hope wherever we’re going I can take my boots off. My feet are killing me.
“Are we there yet?”
Up ahead the wolf gave a strange chuffing cough.
“And I’m sure I’d understand that if I spoke fluent woof.”
The wolf stopped, staring at her again. “What?”
The wolf gave a shake of his head before moving forward once again.
“Yup, you’re male.”
Once again that proud head turned toward her. She could almost sense the question he wanted to ask.
“You haven’t once stopped for directions and you don’t make a lick of sense.”
Those golden eyes narrowed, almost as if… Nah. Not possible. Grammy had told her a long time ago that shapeshifters were a myth. Although he could be someone’s familiar. That would explain how he seems to understand me. But even familiars didn’t have the level of intelligence this wolf seemed to possess, unless he was under a compulsion spell of some kind.
And anyone who put a compulsion spell on someone else wasn’t someone she wanted to meet.
She felt the magical barriers before they passed through them, early enough that she stopped before going in. “Wait.”
The wolf, on the other side of the barrier, yipped impatiently.
“No way. I have no clue what’s on the other side. For all I know you actually work for tall, blond and dorky. You could be luring me into his evil lair.” Not that she actually believed that, but for some reason her instincts were telling her that crossing that border meant nothing would ever be the same again. She wasn’t certain yet if it was a good thing or a bad thing, since her insides were currently filled with butterflies doing a crazy, half-scared, half-excited mambo.
The wolf lowered his dark head, golden eyes closed. She could almost hear the pleas for patience.
Guess that answers that question. A familiar, then. At least she knew for certain now she was dealing with someone magical. “Besides, judging from the look and feel, whoever’s on the other side is a wizard.” The wolf’s head snapped up. “Not sure I’m so eager to meet up with another one of those any time soon.” The wolf slowly shook his head. “Well, what would you do if you were in my—” she looked down at her feet, “—boots?”
The wolf snorted.
“Yes, I know, Pup in Boots, doggie drag, call it what you will. The question remains. Would you put your life into an unknown wizard’s hands?”
The image of the wolf blurred until a tall, wet, naked man stood in front of her.
“You already did.”
Lana blinked. Her mouth opened, but nothing came out, other than a whimpered “Ugh.”
The man’s lips twitched. “Are you coming through or do you like getting rained on?”
Hot, wet, naked male, with dark hair and golden eyes. Golden eyes.
The same eyes as the wolf who’d led her through the forest.
Sorry, Grammy, looks like you were wrong.