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Authors: Michelle Clay

The Bad Wolf (17 page)

BOOK: The Bad Wolf
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“Chloe!” Karen shouted
from the front of the building.

She slammed the do
or shut then sighed. Now what?

“I need your help, hurry.” Karen’s voice had taken on
a frantic tone.

Running through the building, she reached the lobby just in time to see her mother dragging a huge black dog
inside. Dark fur was matted and dirty as if he’d run through brush and brambles. Gravel pebbled an open wound on his left hip and blood oozed past his paw to puddle onto the floor.

Chloe’s heart sank when the animal’s blue eyes fluttered open. So many emotions emanated from the wolf all at once. Fear, pain, relief and
affection drifted through her mind. Ryan!

Karen said, “Help me get him to the exam room. It looks like he might’ve been hit by a car.”

“Oh my god,” she said on a shaky breath as she stumbled forward. Her hopes and dreams crashed around her as her own fear surrounded her. He’d somehow broken free of Mackie’s pack and had come to her.

She helped Karen lift him then awkwardly carry him to the closest exam room. Her mother apprai
sed the wolf with a grim frown.

Tears stung Chloe’s eyes and she didn’t care if her moth
er saw them. “Can you fix him?”

Karen bit her bottom lip then turned to rummage through the cabinets
for saline to wash out the wound. “I’m going to try.”

Chapter
Nineteen

 

Ryan drifted in and out of consciousness while Chloe stroked his fur and cooed words meant to soothe.

“Be careful,” her mother
warned as she readied a shot that would undoubtedly put him to sleep. “He’s injured and animals sometimes attack when their scared or hurt.”

Chloe
ran fingers along the length of his ear then said, “He knows me.”

“Does he belong to someone you know?”
Mrs. Williams asked.

Ryan’s eyes drifted shut as Karen injected the contents of the needle. He was already
beginning to drift, but caught Chloe’s reply. “He doesn’t belong to anyone. He’s a stray.”

His tongue flicked over her fingers and he whined.
Sending a thought directly to her, he said, “If I don’t wake up…”

Tears sprang to Chloe’s eyes and her hand stilled on his fur. “You’re gonna be okay.”

He didn’t get to finish his thoughts. Already the tranquilizer had entered his bloodstream. The medicine felt like liquid fire as it coursed through his veins. Within seconds, he was out.

***

Later, when he awoke, he was in a cage and his leg felt like it had become a home for a colony of fire ants. He sat up and bumped his head. Shifting his eyes, he realized he was in a wire cage.
What the hell?

He tried to turn his head to peer at his injured leg. Something flexible was tied around his neck to prevent him from tearing out the stitches. It made a plastic-y rustling sound as it bent and flexed. He shifted his ears in annoyance as he realized Mrs. Williams must have put him in one of those lampshade things.

Most of the other animals in the back room were asleep. Only one dog sat up and watched him with wary eyes. An ugly grey cat with a ragged ear hissed at him and backed into the corner of its cage.

Somewhere in the clinic, a door opened then closed. Soft footsteps made a quick rhythm toward the kennel area. Thankfully, he was still in wolf form. He sat up best he could then
whimpered when his leg throbbed. It felt as if liquid lava oozed from the wound.

Chloe quietly moved through the room, looking for him. Or at least he hoped that’s why she was here. His ears shifted forward as she approached. He couldn’t keep
his tail from thumping happily.

“I can’t stay long,” Chloe said as she opened the cage. “I snuck out the window. Karen could notice any moment.”

He licked her face.


Are you okay?”

“Help me out so I
can change,” he thought at her.

After much struggling and jarring pain, Chloe was able t
o get him out of the metal pen.

She untied the
cone then laid it aside. “You’re bleeding!”

He twisted to look at his hind leg. The fur near the wound had been shaved and washed in what smelled like iodine
or some other medicinal concoction. The fur around it was matted with dried blood and Chloe was right, more had leaked between the sutures.

Chloe’s arms
twined around him and she pressed her face against the fur at his neck. “I was so worried about you.”

He licked her cheek then limped a few paces away. The transformation was pure agony. Pain radiated up his leg as his bones and body shifted back to human form. The injured leg refused to hold h
im and he crashed to the floor.

“Ryan!” Chloe grabbed his shoulders and hugged him close. She was shaking as she helped him sit up. “Your leg is open
. Some of the stitches busted.”

He pointed at the exam room closest to them. “Can you help me get to
that table?”

Chloe turned to rummage t
hrough a cabinet near the door.

“What are you doing?”
he asked as he hobbled closer.

“Mom keeps blankets in here. Some animals need something soft and snuggly to help calm them down.” She selected one then thrust it at him.

Ryan started to ask why he needed one then realized he was naked. His cheeks heated as he took it from her then wrapped it around his waist. He threw an arm around Chloe’s shoulders and together, they made a slow progression toward the exam table.

He climb
ed up onto it and lay down. Just going that short distance had exhausted him and he was breathing hard. A fine sheen of sweat broke out over his forehead.

Chloe stooped to wipe away the dribbles of blo
od that had trailed after them then threw the paper towels away.

Ryan pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes and took a calming breath.

Within seconds, Chloe was at his side, stroking fingers through his hair and gently touching the bruising around his eye. “They hurt you.”

He took her face in his hands and kissed her gently.
“Yeah, but I escaped. Listen, Chloe, it’s not safe for you if I stay here. I just had to make sure you were okay.”

She peeked at his leg and wince
d. “What happened to your leg?”

“Car,” he said as he
pushed up onto his elbows.

“You’re not going anywhere.” Chloe put her hand on his chest, refusing to
allow him up. “It needs to be stitched again and you’ll need antibiotics and pain killers.”

“I can’t just hang out here and wait for them to find me.” Ryan’s fingers twined with hers. “Plus, if they think you helped me in
any way, you could be in danger.”

Pressing her
cheek against his, she said, “I don’t care about any of that.”

“What about your mom? She’s not going to let me hide here.”

“She doesn’t have to know.”

“Chloe…”

She turned to rummage through drawers and cabinets. “First, we need to stitch you up. Next, you’re going to get back in that kennel. Tomorrow, I’ll come help her again and will accidentally let you out.”

He nodded, see
ing a plan forming in her eyes.

“You can hide out until she leaves then I’ll let you in the house when she isn’t looking.”

“They’ll expect me to be there, Chloe. I don’t want you in the middle of this.”

“Then hide here. There’s so many animal smells,
they might not pinpoint yours.”

Ryan winced then looked at his leg again. “Well, I’ve got a little time to think about it. I’m not going anywhere tonight.”

Chloe rummaged around the building until she found everything she needed. “Okay, this will numb the area around your wound. I’ve seen her use it on dogs before.”

She didn’t give him time to argue. In a blink of an eye, she’d already given him two shots of general anesthesia to the leg.
In moments, his leg felt numb, like it was a dead limb. Next, Chloe threaded a needle with what looked like fishing line then moved closer.

“Dissolving stitches,” she explained.
“You let me know if you feel any of this and I’ll give you another shot.”

He nodded grimly then looked at the wound. It could have been worse. In his single-minded determination to get to Chloe, his attention had wandered. He’d crossed the road a little too soon and was clipped by a passing car.
The edge of the blue hatchback’s bumper had slashed him and tossed him into the ditch. He’d limped the few miles until he reached the clinic.

Chloe’s fingers caressed his cheek and his eyes fl
uttered open. Had he dosed off?

“You’re all stitched up,” she smiled then pressed
a gentle kiss to his forehead.

His leg was still a little numb
though it was beginning to tingle as the nerve endings reawakened. He swung them over the side of the table anyway. He pulled Chloe closer and wrapped his arms around her. Resting his chin on her shoulder he sighed. “Thank you.”

She yawned softly and smiled. “It’s getting late. I’d better go before she finds out that lump beneath the blankets isn’t actually me.”

“Chloe, be careful, okay?” Worry burned like a pit of acid in his stomach.

She crossed to the cabinets on the wall and removed another blanket from the shelf. Handing it to him, she said, “Sleep on the table tonight. I’m leaving my phone so you can set the alarm. You need to be back in the kenne
l by seven in the morning.”

He nodded glumly, w
ishing she could stay.

“There’s a mini fridge with water and fruit in the office.
If the pain gets too bad, there’s a bottle of pain pills in mom’s desk drawer. She had a root canal this spring, but didn’t use them all. Take what you need.” She took his face in her hands and gazed into his eyes. The press of her lips was gentle.

He groaned and pulled her closer. “Do you have to go?”

“Oh, there’s a wash station in the back where you can get cleaned up.” She moved away far too soon and grinned. “You smell like wet dog.”

He laughed and watched her retreat into the darkness. The clinic’s front door jingled as she opened it and went out then the building
. Then everything fell silent. Occasionally a dog would whimper or bark, but for the most part, eerie silence filled the darkness.

Taking Chloe’s advice, he limped toward the back of the building. He took a quick shower then checked for any trace that he’d been there. Satisfied, he returned to the exam room, made a makeshift bed on the table then set the alarm on her phone. Within seconds of shu
tting his eyes, he fell asleep.

Chapter
Twenty

 

The next morning, Chloe bustled about getting ready for school. She tucked Ryan’s shorts in her backpack then went into the kitchen.

Karen
turned from the coffeepot and said good morning. Her hair was a little messy and she hadn’t changed out of her pajamas. That was odd. Karen usually was ready to start the day by now.

“What’s wrong
?” Chloe asked as she poured herself a glass of milk.

“I didn’t sleep well,” Karen said then smothered a yawn.

“Are you sick?”

“No.”
Karen lowered her gaze. “It’s Mike.”

“What about
him?” Chloe asked with a frown.

“We got into an argument
last night.”

Chloe rejoiced silently. She’d never liked the idea of him and her mom dating. Instead of saying so, she asked, “What happened?”

Karen shook her head then sat across from her. “I’m not sure. I thought we were having fun, you know? Anyway, last night when he called, we got into an argument and he started yelling. I’ve never seen him like that before. It kind of scared me so I broke it off.”

“I’m sorry, mom.
It’s better that you found out about his anger issues now rather than later.” Chloe patted her mom’s shoulder with understanding. “I just want you to be happy. You deserve it.” Even if you don’t want the same for me, she fumed silently.

Kare
n sipped her coffee and nodded. “Maybe you were right. He was just a rebound.”

“Doesn’t make it hurt any less,” Chloe said. Taking a chance, she smiled.
“Tell you what, I’ll stay home and help with the clinic and you get some rest. I don’t have any tests today.”

At first she thought Karen might
refuse. Instead, she nodded then said, “Thank you, sweetie. Are you sure you don’t mind?”

“Nope.” She tried not to sound too eager about it. “I’ll go check the animals and feed them.”

“The grey cat’s owner will be by to pick him up later today.”

Ah, the hissing, spitting night
mare was going home. Wonderful! This meant she’d have to put her hands in the cage and pull him out. What fun!

Chloe ate her breakfast in silence w
hile keeping an eye on her mom. She’d never done anything like this before. She had always done as her parents asked and followed all the rules. That was over now. This was a big step for her, but she wasn’t willing to give up on Ryan just because her mom didn’t like him.

Karen
yawned again. “I’m going to take a nap.”

“I’ll check on you later. I’m going to stay at the clinic until lunch in case someone calls.”

Her mom stood then deposited her cup in the sink. “Thanks, honey.”

Chloe put her cerea
l bowl into the sink then patted her mom’s shoulder. Karen was a bit teary eyed and that worried her. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

Karen nodded then hugged Chloe. “It’s just that sometimes I feel like I’m not good enough
, that I’m going to fail at every relationship I have.”

Holy crap, her mom was having a mental break and Chloe had no idea how to handle it. Not knowing what to say or do, she simply hugged her tighter.

“Your dad left me for a younger, prettier woman. That really hurt me.” Karen said past a sniffle. “Mike was just a rebound. I know that, but I really liked him. I failed at that too. Maybe I’m supposed to be alone.”

“You know that’s not true, mom.” Chloe released her then stepped back to look her in the face. “The right guy will come along. You just have to be patient.”

Karen wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. “I know, I’m just feeling sorry for myself. I’ll get over it.”

“Besides, you’re not alon
e. You have me.” Chloe grinned.

Karen returned the smile
. “I’m going to go lay down. I have my phone with me if you need anything or have questions.”

Chlo
e nodded, eager to go see Ryan.

“If anyone comes in, just tell them I’m sick. Get their info and I’ll get in touch as soon as possible. If it’s an emergency, call me.” Karen kissed her on the cheek then moved toward the back of the house.

As soon as the bedroom door clicked shut, Chloe gathered up some food to take to Ryan. He had to be starving by now. She placed everything in a plastic shopping bag then grabbed her mom’s keys off the hook. Not only would they unlock the clinic door, but it would prevent her mom from coming in without her knowing about it.

Feeling quite pleased with
her cleverness, Chloe hurried down the graveled driveway toward the clinic. She quickly unlocked the door then moved toward the back of the building.

“I brought food.” She announ
ced as she entered the kennels.

Ryan’s cage was empty. The door hung open and there was no trace of him anywhere. Whirling on her heel, she hurried toward the exam room they’d used the night before.

“Ryan?” she called as she pushed the door open.

He was still asleep, curled atop the exam table. The blanket he’d covered with had slid to the floor, his bare back and butt facing her. She hated to wake him, so she replaced the blanket then moved away. Before she left the room, she placed his folded shorts on the seat beside the door. She left the bag of food there as well.

Chloe went back to the kennel to feed and water the animals. She selected a leash from the ones hanging on the wall hooks then opened the big Labrador’s cage. Clipping the leash to his collar, she led him toward the back door. All of the dogs would need to be walked and taken outside to do their business.

By the time she took all three dogs outside, she was exhausted. One had spotted a squirrel in a nearby tree and had barked its head off. To make matters worse, the dog had pulled and jerked at the leash until her shoulder ached. She breathed a sigh of relief
as she latched his kennel door.

“I don’t have to be on a leash if I go outside, do I?” Ryan’s voice sounded behind her.

Chloe spun around to find him leaning against the doorway. He took a bite of the cherry Pop-Tart she’d brought. Thankfully, he’d slipped into the shorts.

She closed the distance between them and wrapped her arms around his waist. Laying her cheek against his chest, she smiled against his bare skin. “How does your leg feel?”

“Hurts, but not as much as before.” Ryan finished the breakfast pastry then put an arm around her. “I forgot all about it when I saw you.”

Chloe tilted her chin up to stare at him. “You overslept. You’d be in deep shit if
my mom came in instead of me.”

He sighed then hugged her close. “I took a pain pill last night. I must have slept right through the alarm.”

“It’s okay,” Chloe smiled up at him. “Mom’s having a bad morning and I’m watching the clinic for her today.”

As if to prove this point, the desk phone rang. Chloe squeezed past Ryan and hurried toward the front desk.
After listening to the rancher’s concerns, she asked him to hold. Then she called her mom.

Karen’s voice was a bit groggy when she answered. Chloe said, “Hi, mom. Sorry to wake you, but I’ve got a guy on the phone who says his horse is in labor. He said the colt isn’t positioned right and needs help. He sounded all freaked out.”

“That colt isn’t due for another week.” Blankets rustled as Karen undoubtedly sat up in bed. “Tell Mr. Talbert that I’m on my way. It’s going to be about a thirty minute drive out to his place.”

This excitement must be exactly what her mom needed. She sounded like her usual, take charge self. Maybe this would take her mind off Coach Lewis for a little while. She gave the rancher her
mom’s answer then hung up.

Ryan watched her from the other side of the desk. “Everything okay?”

Chloe rested her chin on her fist and smiled. “Better than okay. Mom has to go deliver a colt. She’ll be gone for most of the day.”

Ryan planted himself in one of the chairs that lined the lobby wall. Chloe moved around the desk to join him.
She sat in the chair closest to him and leaned against his shoulder. She ran her fingers across the scars on his chest then realized she’d never actually asked him how they happened.

She sat up and looked him in the eyes. “What caused these?
Is it how you became a werewolf?”

His
fingers covered hers and stroked across the back of her hand. “No, I was born with this affliction, or whatever it is.”

Her fingers traced over one of the worst silvery white lines.

“The scars are from the last time I tangled with the pack.” Ryan stretched his legs out. “When they kicked me out. Let’s just say we didn’t part on good terms.”

Chloe pressed her lips against his neck, feeling his pulse racing beneath the skin. “Is this how they resolve all the pack problems? If you hadn’t escaped…”

“They would have killed me. They still might, if they find me.” He sat up, planting his feet firmly on the floor. His hands closed around her shoulders and gently pushed her away. “That’s why I have to get out of here. It’s too dangerous for you and Jenna to be around me.”

“Jenna!” Chloe gasped. She’d forgotten all about her best friend. She jumped to her feet. “We have to tell her you’re okay. She’s worried sick.”

“No,” Ryan said, clasping her hand. “You can’t let her know. Not yet. They’re probably watching the house.”

He clamped a hand against the back of his neck and stared at the parking area through the big window. “I shouldn’t even be he
re. I’m putting you in a lot of danger.”

Ryan stoo
d then hobbled toward the door.

“Wait!” Chloe threw her arms around his waist. “Don’t go. You’re safe here.”

“For how long?” He sighed then rolled his shoulders. “I can’t stay indefinitely. Your mom will be back eventually and she’ll be curious where the big black mutt came from.”

“I know, but you have to heal.” She glanced at his leg and frowned. The sutures looked okay, but the area around it was a bit inflamed and red. “Jenna and I will figure something out. We’ll find Travis.”

He laughed at that then sat down. “The two of you are gonna find him, even when the entire pack can’t? I don’t think so, babe.”

Chloe pouted. His skepticism hurt her feelings. “At least I’m willing to try.”

His fingers pushed through her hair, tucking a strand behind her ear. “I have to leave.”

They stared at each other
in silence for several seconds.

“I’m trying to help you,” she said on a shaky whisper.
A tear leaked down her cheek and she turned to dash toward the back of the building.

Ryan
bolted after her. “Chloe, wait!”

He
caught up to her then gripped her shoulders to turn her around. His lips claimed hers. His hands trembled as they moved down her back to grip her hips. Her body melted against his.

“I’m trying to protect you,” he said when they drew apart. “I do
n’t want to lose you and I sure as hell don’t want the pack to hurt you.”

He gripped her hand and led her to the exam room where he’
d slept. The blankets were in a pile on the floor. Chloe watched in silence as he dropped to the floor, spread the blankets to form a bed then stretched out.

“Come here,” Ryan said
softly then patted the area next to him.

Chloe’s heart raced. Her gaze shifted toward the front of the building then back to him. Words stuck in her throat and all she made was a helpless little
croaky sound.


Don’t be scared. I just want to hold you,” he said with a sincere smile. “Just for a little while.”

She sank to her knees beside him and fought a new wave of tears. “You’
re going to leave, aren’t you?”

Instead of answering, Ryan pulled her down until her upper body was lying across his. His hands ran across her back and shoulders in soothing, circular motions. “We’re meant to be together, Chloe. I won’t go far.”

Tears soaked his chest, but she didn’t care. Tracing fingertips across the thin wispy scars, she sighed then attempted to calm her frazzled emotions. Ryan turned onto his side, pulling her against him. His arm draped across her hip and he continued to stroke her lower back. His lips grazed her forehead in a gentle kiss.

Chloe shut her eyes and snuggled against him. His bare skin was warm and felt so right against hers. Her stomach was full of nervous fish and her heartbeat raced. Ryan’s fingers eased beneath the hem of her t-shirt and tickled across her ribs. Even as they trailed further upward, she didn’t stop him. Fingertips brushed aside the lace of her bra and he hesitated as if he expected her to protest. Instead, she kissed his throat then his mouth.

That niggling little voice at the back of her brain cautioned her to stop before it was too late, before she allowed it to go too far. She knew better than this. Hadn’t Karen warned her a million times? Did she really want her first intimate experience to be on the floor of the exam room? Besides, they didn’t even have protection.

BOOK: The Bad Wolf
13.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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