Authors: Christa Wick
Onyx Parry is a city wolf. She's not supposed to be in my woods, the scent of her heat sending my pack's unmated males into a lust rage.
Running for her life, she lands on my doorstep, one word falling from her trembling red lips.
Somehow, we make it through the night, my appetite for her lush body unabated and growing. But the trouble she brought with her is just beginning.
The morning sun rises on the males of my pack outside my door, the angry revving of their motorcycles serving as howls of protest over the prize denied.
The period of sanctuary is over.
But I'm not just pack alpha. I'm president of the Wicked Woodsmen MC and, among the shifters of Night Falls, my word is law.
One roar and the entire valley knows...
The she-wolf is mine.
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I hit Night Falls, Wisconsin, a little before two in the morning, Chequamagon National Forest at my back and something foul twisting through my stomach. I couldn't understand the source of the pain. The steak I had plowed my way through at the truck stop in Madison would have to be loaded with ten times the e. coli necessary for a human outbreak before it hit me.
Passing a seedy row of cabins with a "Vacancy" sign glowing in the dark as another spike of pain stabbed deep into my gut, I jerked the steering wheel hard right, pulled in front of the office and slammed on the brakes before my little Honda went through the building's front door.
What the fuck was wrong with me?
Had someone in Champaign finally decided to off the pack's "problem child" with poison?
Opening the car door, I fell onto the gravel parking lot. I didn't feel the urge to puke or shit -- further proof I didn't have some nasty virus or bacteria wreaking havoc inside me.
It felt more like I'd swallowed glass or razor blades.
Struggling to my feet, I shut the door and forced myself to walk a straight line. The office entrance was locked and only a small desk lamp lit the interior. I felt around, found a buzzer and pushed three times in quick, agonized succession.
If you're gonna die, you should do it in the woods...
I shook my head, stopping when I saw an elderly man with a shotgun come through a side door behind the front counter. He was dressed in old man pajamas, the kind that probably had a buttoned panel on the backside, but he had thankfully thrown a jacket on.
Protect the pack...go into the woods...let the forest take your body...
Fighting the ache and the self-destructive thoughts, I bit hard at my bottom lip and jerked a finger at the vacancy sign while the old man inspected me through the glass door.
I had left Champaign to live -- not die. And if someone in the pack had poisoned me, I'd damn well die in a bed, a pillow comforting my head and the television keeping me company. Fuck them all. Let them have fun trying to cover up my death and whatever odd strands of shifter DNA might remain inside me.
"Are you gonna let me in or not?" I barked as the old man continued to hesitate, his rheumy eyes trying to read the shadows around me and in my car.
"I'm alone. If you don't want to rent after dark, turn the fucking sign off."
He moved, slow as molasses, back to the desk. A flip of his hand and I heard the neon sign go dead. I turned toward my car, a fresh twist of pain almost bringing me to my knees.
Behind me, the lock clicked open on the office door.
"Last empty room," the old man wheezed. "And you'll pay full price and be out by noon."
"Fine," I bit out. "I'll take two nights if you have them."
He lifted a fat ledger I would have thought too heavy for his thin frame and let it fall onto the counter. Dust rose up from the pages from the impact.
I sneezed, the sensation of claws ripping through my stomach making me freeze and hold myself tight.
He wrote an eight in the ledger under the column for the cabin number. "Hundred fifty, payable now."
That kind of money for less than forty-eight hours was cutting deep into what I had stolen from the petty cash my dad kept in his home office. Maybe my stomach didn't really hurt that bad.
Wishful thinking. The worst spike yet slammed into me. I ripped the pen from the old man's hand and scribbled my name and the license plate on the car, then pulled my wallet out where I had stuffed a few hundred dollars.
My hands shook as I counted out the twenties.
"You better not be going in there to shoot up," grandpa warned.
"I'm not -- and you better have cable and clean sheets at this price."
His laugh rattled around his chest as he handed me a ten dollar bill in change. "Aint no point in having cable when there's no TV."
He shrugged, the gesture exaggerated, then passed a room key across the counter. "My wife does what she can. Make sure you move your car."
I rolled my eyes as I turned, but I moved the damn car, sweat dripping down my face despite the cool night air. Threading first my car key into the ignition then the hotel key into the room's door felt like it took an eternity.
Slumping just inside the room, I turned the locks and slid the safety chain into place, then pawed along the wall until I found the light switch. Sick yellow light from the lone ceiling bulb crackled to life.
Still hugging the wall, I made it to the window, tested the locks then staggered to the toilet. I pushed my jeans and panties down and hovered over the seat as I went pee.
A cast iron tub that was probably as old as the building took up most of the room. A shower curtain was suspended from an oval rod attached to the ceiling. Already smelling the mildew that lined the bottom of the plastic curtain, I pulled it back and exposed the tub.
The faint smell of bleach made me narrow my nostrils. Finished peeing, I flushed the toilet then shucked all my clothes and my dad's money belt off and hung everything over the top of the bathroom door.
I unhooked the shower curtain, let it fall in a rumpled mess on the grungy floor, then turned the hot water faucet and started praying.
Please, please, please...
I didn't need to dip my fingers under the flow to discover that there was at least one genuine amenity in this damn no-tell motel.
The water was close to scalding.
Letting the tub fill, I counted through the money I had left. One thousand, seven hundred, twenty-three dollars and fifty-two cents -- all but twenty of it stolen.
I wasn't a thief by nature. But with my life in danger, I had done what I thought necessary. And it wasn't like I could have ever saved up this kind of money.
My family and the rest of the pack had forbidden me from working in the human world, even though all of the adult pack members did just that. And no one in the pack wanted what I was -- some crazy fucking chimera who had once been all wolf -- hanging around them. So I cleaned my parents' house and watched my little sister for just enough money to keep my used car insured with a few gallons of gas in it to run errands for the rest of the family.
"Fuck them," I growled, tossing the money belt back over the door before slipping into the steaming hot water. My life as a cloistered outcast hurt almost as much as the pain in my stomach.
It wasn't just my stomach anymore. My back twinged as I tried to find a comfortable position and I felt like a bowling ball had settled at the bottom of my pelvic area. Maybe something even heavier, like a cannonball, but I felt only pressure in that zone, not pain.
I leaned against the cast iron, the initial cold of the metal bringing my nipples to hard points and causing a contraction to run through my lower torso. I winced, but didn't feel like dying now that the hot water was soothing my stomach muscles and working to heat my insides.
Fuck, what was wrong with me?
It wasn't estrus. My nose would have told me if it was and I was too old for it to start, anyway. Ever since the accident when I was eleven, my parents had waited for the milestones of recovery to come. They assured themselves and the rest of the pack that I would be able to shift again despite all the pints of human blood the human rescuers had pumped into my veins. When that didn't happen, they pinned their hopes on other shifter markers. I was still stronger than a human, with a wolf's immune system. Surely I would one day come into heat, they thought. Then one of the weaker males within the pack would claim me and I would stop being the outcast. But no she-wolf had ever waited until she was an old maid of twenty-three before coming into heat the first time.
Was the pain something human females had?
No wonder they bitched so much!
I cast my gaze around the bathroom in search of any amenities beyond the questionable towels and single ply toilet paper. I had been sweating my way through the last three hours or more of driving. But there was no way I was going to use the grayish, soggy-looking bar of soap.
Sinking deeper into the tub, I winced when the hot water touched the back of my neck. My body tensed, the pain in my stomach threatening to wake to full force.
"Forget it," I said to the empty room.
I couldn't resist the urge to reach behind me and touch the wounds on my neck -- wounds that should have already healed.
My brother Eric had sunk his claws into me a little more than eleven hours before I stopped at the motel. He had sunk them deep, throttling me like a rag doll.
Maybe I should put my claws in your spine. How long would you be paralyzed?
I forced my eyes to stay open and focused on the faucet with its slow drip. I didn't want to remember his face, to see it behind my closed eyelids, as he had spewed more hate at me.
Naw...I want you to feel it when I finally rip you open and tear out your heart.
Jerking forward, I pulled the plug on the tub, letting some of the water drain as I yanked on the hot water handle, my body suddenly so cold I was shivering.
He had never liked me, Eric. Hated having to watch after me when I was little. He was supposed to be watching me the day of the accident, but had thrown all the jagged edged rocks he could find at me so I wouldn't follow after him and his friends.
Alone, I had crossed six lanes of traffic and walked along the only road I knew was certain to get me home. I was eleven, small for a she-wolf of that age, timid from an overbearing brother and indifferent parents.
Wind from the passing semis buffeted my body, one gust so big it knocked me down. I got back up, slow and clumsy from the tears I cried over Eric having abandoned me yet again. A horn blared--
Jumping up from the tub, I stepped out, scrambled for purchase on the dirty sink as my wet feet slid in different directions. I fell, knees smacking against the floor and my chin against the porcelain sink as I tried to escape the memory of the accident.
Pain was good. It traded a fresh hurt for an old one, one I tried every day to forget.
Gaining my feet, I turned off the hot water and left the drain open. My gut started up, but I welcomed the distraction this time.
Wet and with just my panties on, I crawled into bed, fresh aches twisting through my stomach and lower, the muscles along my lower back blaring with the same protests. But my tears were grateful.
It was good to hurt -- good to forget.
I woke to a feeble light filtering through the washed out curtains. I rolled slowly onto my back, careful not to wake the beast in my belly. I knew whatever was wrong hadn't cleared up because the pressure remained down low, briefly intensifying every minute or so with contractions.
Something else was wrong down there, my nose coming to full attention at the smell of blood just as I felt the cold, wet mess of the sheets beneath me.
Gagging, I jumped out of bed, my hands frantically searching for some kind of wound. All I found was a congealed mess that was cold, wet and sticky at the top of my thighs, between thighs and my butt cheeks, across my ass and up over my mound.
Moving into the bathroom, I turned the light on and stepped straight into the tub. The curtain was still on the floor, but I didn't care. I turned the shower head on, the hot water slower to appear than it had been when I first arrived.
I swiped my bare hands over the blood-covered skin, still refusing to touch the gray bar of soap. With the blood cleared, I could neither see nor feel any wounds, confirming the source was either one or the other of the exit holes down there.
I laughed, the sound bordering on hysteria, as I reflected on how weird it was, even for a former shape shifter, to be standing in a shower with no curtain in a strange, rural motel room, and more or less praying that the source of all that blood was Ebola or some other cause of hemorrhagic diarrhea. But I didn't want to face the question of whether I was a little less wolf and a little more human than I had been the day before.
Whatever it was, I was more certain than ever I wasn't going through estrus for the first time. I'd seen my mom and little sister go through it. Rather, I had smelled them go through it. There wasn't any blood and the scent was entirely different from that filling my nostrils despite all the water and steam in the air.
Whatever it was, I couldn't count on the bleeding not coming back. I needed supplies -- human supplies.
Dressed, I stopped in at the office. The sickly light in the sky hadn't been dawn. I had slept through the day and night was quickly closing in.
The same old man from the night before stood at the counter. Behind him, her back turned to me, stood a woman with long gray hair worn in a loose braid.
"I...uh...need to pick up a few...things," I stuttered at the couple, wishing it was just me and the woman. She was probably long past the need for "lady products," but she'd still have a better idea of where I might be able to find some in this backwoods part of Wisconsin.
"Tires?" the old man asked.
My head whipped in the direction of my car. I hadn't done more than glance at it on my way to the office. Both tires on the side facing me were in place. I looked back to the geezer and rolled my eyes.
"Ignore Ned, dear," the woman said, making her way to the counter and brushing the old man aside. "That's just his way of saying you should be specific with your questions."
"Amenities," I offered through tense lips. "Hygiene..."
She glanced at the clock. "Night Falls has a small grocer, but they closed at six. That leaves the truck stop on the other side of the mountain unless you want to spend about two hours just to get to the nearest Wal-Mart."
She frowned. "Of course, it's almost forty minutes getting around the mountain to the truck stop and forty minutes back."
"Not if she takes the trail."
The old woman elbowed Ned, but the jab only silenced him for a second or two.
"The saddle between the peaks runs low. I could walk it in twenty minutes when I was your age." His old chest puffed up with the memory of vigor. "Nearly a full moon to light your way, too."