Rescue in the Smokies (Durham Wolves)

BOOK: Rescue in the Smokies (Durham Wolves)
11.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Dedication

To Christa, my fantastic editor. Without her taking a chance on me, I wouldn’t be here!

Chapter One

Sergius Durham froze at the distinct crunch of gravel beneath tires. His hackles rose. He finished drying the breakfast plate, set it on the counter with a soft clang, and then turned to the front door, his brow furrowed, a headache already forming over his right eye.

No one visited Sergius and his brothers except the sheriff. And the news was never good.

Sergius grabbed the handle of the solid wood front door and took a deep breath, allowing his eyes to close for a moment before he pulled.

“Morning, Serg.” Sheriff James Hardin tipped his brown suede cowboy hat and nodded as Sergius stepped outside.

Without saying another word, James climbed the three steps up to the long, wraparound porch. His gait matched Sergius’s pace until he leaned against the dark wooden railing. The sheriff avoided eye contact; instead he stared out toward the expanse of lawn and forest.

A less discerning eye would think he was admiring the view of the Smoky Mountains. But Serg knew he wasn’t seeing anything at all. He was inside his head, carefully selecting his next words.

They waited in silence for Micah and Jaxon, Sergius’s brothers, who would have heard the police cruiser and headed back to the house from the barn. They were all familiar with this scenario. Words weren’t necessary.

“James.” Micah muttered the name as he rounded the house, Jaxon on his tail.

The two brothers stopped at the foot of the steps and looked toward the sheriff.

“Need your help.” James jerked his hat off and rubbed his brow.

“Whatever you need, James. You know that.” Jaxon climbed the first step and rested a hip against the railing.

“Hiker missing. Headed toward Chimney Tops yesterday afternoon, we think. Never returned to her hotel last night.”

Her
?

Shit
.

“Name’s Juliana Polanski.” He handed Sergius a small, grainy photo. “She’s a seasoned hiker.”

Goose bumps climbed Sergius’s spine. Sweat gathered around his forehead and trickled down his face even though the late May morning hadn’t yet reached a temperature worthy of a sweat.

“Got pretty cold last night. Did she have anything with her to protect against the elements?” Sergius bit his thumbnail between his front teeth. A person could freeze to death this time of year if they were caught out in the elements. Luckily, last night had only dipped to about forty, but you never could tell what would happen.

“Blue windbreaker. Thank God.”

“She was hiking alone?”
Why the hell do people always seem to take off hiking on their own in unknown territory? Hasn’t anyone ever heard of the buddy system?

“She started out with girlfriends, but they didn’t want to make the last jaunt up Chimney Tops. They waited halfway up, but when she didn’t return after a few hours, they figured they must have missed her somehow and headed back to the hotel. She never showed up.”

“Isn’t Chimney Tops closed for reconstruction?”

“Just on weekdays. Open Friday through Sunday. That’s half the problem. Today is Monday. There won’t even be anyone in the area to stumble upon her if she’s up there.”

“Path’s pretty worn out up there too. She could have slipped and fallen into a ravine or something and twisted an ankle.”
If luck is on our side, and hers, that’s the only thing that happened
.

James cleared his throat and looked Sergius right in the eye. “McKinney’s back.”

“Fuck.” The last thing they needed was Keeton McKinney in the area with a lost hiker. That damn vamp showed up every few months to poach whatever he could out of the national forest. He wasn’t known for being particularly selective either. Rabbits, squirrels, deer, bears…humans.

Jaxon and Micah groaned.

The sheriff continued, “Yeah, that’s the word I would use. It’s been years since he killed a human around here, but still. I don’t like taking chances. If she’s out there and alive, I’d rather find her as soon as possible. My men are scouring the area of course, but none of them can track like you can.”

One side of the sheriff’s mouth rose into a knowing half smile. He gestured over the railing toward the patrol car. “I’ve got some of her clothes in the car. Hope her scent hasn’t been too contaminated with that of her roommates. They were all staying in one room.”

Sergius looked down at his brothers. “I’ll ride with James to the last known location. Why don’t you two take the truck and start searching a few miles west of Chimney Tops. She couldn’t have gone east with the road and the river. At least not alone.” He closed his eyes for a few seconds.
If she isn’t alone, we’re fucked.
With McKinney in the area, anything was possible.

“Sounds good.” Jaxon turned toward the cruiser, Micah right behind him. “We’ll get her scent and get going.”

“I’ll be right out.” Sergius turned to the sheriff while he reached for the doorknob behind him. “Gonna grab my pack.”

Less than a minute later, Sergius emerged from the house and jogged toward the police car. James stood several yards away, leaning into the cab of Jaxon’s truck, no doubt providing every detail he could about the missing woman.

Sergius climbed into the passenger side of the police car, reached for the seat belt and then froze.

His eyes closed halfway as he took a long, steady breath in and then moaned. This was no ordinary missing hiker. Juliana Polanski was his mate.

Sergius let go of the belt, twisted around backward and grabbed the beige sweater that had been tossed on the back seat with some other clothing. Pressing the soft material to his face, he inhaled as though it were the last breath he would ever take.

Her scent was like an aphrodisiac. His cock hardened inside the tight confines of his jeans.

So this is what all the hype about finding a mate is about. Fuck me
. He’d never believed this could truly happen to someone. Sure, years ago he’d watched with an amused chuckle as other family members had fallen for a woman. But this? Nothing could have prepared him for this.

Thank God James took an extra moment to say goodbye to Jaxon and Micah over the hood of the cruiser, because it gave Sergius a moment to compose himself before the sheriff climbed inside and saw his face.

He didn’t want anyone to know of his discovery, not even his brothers. He wasn’t ready to face them yet. Hell, even James wouldn’t understand the way of wolves, at least not in this respect.

Serg reluctantly tossed the cashmere sweater onto the back seat and turned forward. He itched to find his woman and get her back safely. As fast as possible.

James slid into the driver’s seat and started the car.

“Some of her things are in the back seat.” James angled his head and nodded toward the back.

Sergius reached back with trembling fingers and snagged the stack of clothes as though he weren’t already familiar with Juliana’s essence. He thanked God it wouldn’t be weird for him to sit there inhaling deeply of her scent, her unwashed shirt and pants from the day before pressed to his nose. Pure ecstasy. James would never think it odd. This was how he and his brothers always tracked a human.

He now knew more about her than most human husbands probably knew about their wives after five years of marriage.

She used a floral shampoo and body soap he’d never smelled before, but made him envision a grassy field of wildflowers. Probably one of those gazillion scents from one of any number of crazy bath and lotion stores women were always so gaga over.

She hadn’t worn perfume, but that didn’t surprise him, seeing as she was an avid hiker. He smiled to himself at the thought that she enjoyed the outdoors. Heaven forbid he find himself mated to a woman who hated to get a little dirty.

Above the smell of laundry detergent and soap, the prevailing scent had been all Juliana. Her personal musk drove him to squirm in his seat. He could practically taste the spice of her sex on his tongue.
Holy Mother of God
.

James enumerated the details of Juliana’s disappearance for several minutes, and then they finished the drive in relative silence.

Serg prayed to himself that his mate had not headed out yesterday without the requisite list of gear every well-versed hiker should carry.

“This is about as close as I can get you.” James stopped the car and turned toward Sergius.

“This is fine. I can cover a lot of ground in a short time, or have you forgotten?” Serg pasted a cynical grin on his face. The circumstances sucked, but he wasn’t kidding. If Juliana Polanski were anywhere in the area, he’d find her in no time.
And, Lord, she had better be alive
.

“Good luck. And, once again, thanks. I know you boys don’t get any recognition for all you do for the department. But know that I appreciate you.” James’s face was serious, his brow furrowed, his lips pressed together. Few people knew the three brothers were werewolves; the sheriff was one of them. They’d been helping the local law enforcement for many years on cases that weren’t likely to be cracked by human action alone, but they stayed under the radar as much as possible. Most people simply believed the brothers knew the area so well it made them better trackers. And that was true. It just wasn’t the whole truth.

Very few humans were even aware of their kind, and even fewer were aware of the existence of vampires. Hell, even the Durham brothers hadn’t known of the night creatures until a few short years ago.

“I’ll find her. Don’t worry. I’m sure she just wandered off the path and twisted an ankle.” Sergius climbed from the cruiser.

Leaning back through the door, he added, “I have my radio. I’ll get in touch with you as soon as possible.”

James nodded as Serg pushed the door closed and turned toward the path in front of him. He took a deep breath and stepped in amongst the trees while the sheriff’s car disappeared behind him.

He had no doubt he’d find what he was looking for. Her scent was all over him from the small pile of clothes James had in the back seat.

Assuming the clothes had only been worn by Juliana, this mission was the most important one he’d ever undertaken.

Serg climbed his way into the woods a short distance, the urgency of this particular assignment gnawing at his spine. Even his hands twitched at his sides.

Besides the fact his mate was lost in these mountains, Keeton McKinney had been spotted in the area. That damn vampire had been the bane of his existence for several years, feeding off the local wildlife even before the Durham brothers dared to settle in the Appalachian Mountains.

No matter how many times Sergius and his brothers ran the guy off, he kept returning. But this time it was personal. All he could do now was pray there was no correlation between McKinney’s appearance and Juliana’s disappearance.

Chapter Two

Juliana shivered.

The temperature had dipped quite low overnight, and she’d been unable to shake the chill that reached her bones, even though the sun had finally risen.

She was tired too. She hadn’t slept all night. How had she gotten so far off course?

Closing her eyes for a minute, she rested against a tree, put her hands on her knees and took a deep breath.

Think, Jules
. Her brain was muddled. Had seemed that way all night. She couldn’t hang on to a thought.

Sure, she shouldn’t have ventured off on her own. But there’d been plenty of people around when she’d started the trek up Chimney Tops Trail. Vanessa and Charlene had been worn out. They weren’t as accustomed to the steep inclines as Juliana. They said they’d wait for her at the juncture to Road Prong Trail. Shouldn’t have taken more than a few hours.

That had been seventeen hours ago. She’d been almost at the end of the path when that man had pointed out a shortcut. What had she been thinking going off the path like that? She knew better. She hiked all the time for heaven’s sake.

He was so nice, and cute even. Seemed sort of old world. Is that even something?
Nevertheless, he’d also been wrong.

Ugh
. She was exasperated and pissed off at her own stupidity.

Thank God she’d carried a small backpack with plenty of supplies. Otherwise, her situation would have been much worse. Even though she’d only embarked on a simple day hike, she never headed out on mountain paths without her pack. The jacket she never would have needed during the day had been key to her nighttime survival. She hadn’t stopped long enough during the night to start a fire, but she certainly might need the matches tonight if she didn’t get herself out of this mess. Even the small, but powerful, flashlight she carried had become a lifesaver.

If she hadn’t left the damn camera open on her phone, it wouldn’t have died, and she could have at least been located with the signal. But, no. That would have been way too simple.

Juliana slid down the tree until she hit the ground with a thud. A pile of dry leaves crinkled beneath her.

Her friends would have reported her absence by now. Geez, yesterday afternoon. People would be looking for her.

BOOK: Rescue in the Smokies (Durham Wolves)
11.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Beguilers by Kate Thompson
Gerrity'S Bride by Carolyn Davidson
Eye Candy (City Chicks) by Childs, Tera Lynn
Red Rain: A Novel by R. L. Stine
The Late Bourgeois World by Nadine Gordimer
Times Without Number by John Brunner
Guardians of Time by Sarah Woodbury
The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman
Ethan Gage Collection # 1 by William Dietrich