Chapter 1 –
I couldn’t believe I’d been captured by coyotes.
The smell was the first clue. Like sand and desert brush. Unfortunately, by the time Sarai recognized it, we were yanked into the air.
The second clue was the snare. Cats liked leaving traps too, but they were usually of the ‘immediately lethal’ variety. Except for a couple of bruises and one pulled muscle, Sarai was fine. Extremely pissed off, but fine.
Coyotes were some of the best mercenaries money could buy, but I was a hunter in my own right. I was a wolf Shifter. I should have been able to handle any kind of attack they threw at me. Getting caught in a snare was just embarrassing.
But even angry and embarrassed, we remembered our training. Instead of struggling, Sarai stayed still and let gravity stop her swinging, just like Justin had taught her.
Shifting in a familiar place with your Alpha right next to you was a piece of cake. But getting Sarai to Shift here, without Justin, and with the very real and possibly imminent threat of coyotes was going to be much harder.
We need to get out of here now, I said. So quit with the drama and Shift.
Darts of pain started to race down her thigh, but she just snapped, You’ll only get us into more trouble.
Yes, but I have opposable thumbs, which means I can untie us, I retorted. If we can get out of this trap, then we don’t have to stick around to meet who set it.
Sarai didn’t like it, but she finally relented. Shifting for us was normally painless, but that was when we weren’t tied up in a tree like a piñata. The familiar flash of heat rolled through Sarai, and the strain on her leg made my muscles and bones groan as they changed from wolf to human. I was panting by the time I was me again, human, uncomfortably naked, and still stuck upside down in the snare.
With a deep breath, I heaved myself up, trying not to let my momentum make me spin. Pain shot through my leg and the muscles in my core began to burn, but I had to get my hands on the rope. It was like doing a sit-up, only ten times worse.
After I grabbed the rope, I paused for a second, trying to catch my breath. Then I pulled myself higher until I could hold onto the rope with one hand and work at the knot with the other.
Now, I was pretty strong, but this level of acrobatics was almost beyond me. My arms started to shake immediately and I could feel the beginning of a cramp in my hamstring.
That’s when I heard them running towards me. Coyotes.
Sarai growled. They have no right to hunt us.
I continued to tug at the rope, adrenalin making my hands clumsy. If I could get out of the trap and Shift again, Sarai could easily outrun them. All I had to do was untie this knot.
I heard a soft puff and then felt a pinch in my side. Surprised, I looked down to see the bright pink feather of a tranquilizer dart sticking out of my rib cage. I was confused for a second and then darkness swamped me.
The confusion was still there when I woke up surrounded by coyote Shifters. Most of them were in their animal forms, but there were several that were human. I was on the ground, so they must have released the snare. Their mistake.
I tried to roll onto my hands and knees in order to make a dashingly heroic escape, but two things stopped me. First: moving made the world go funny as my head spun. Second: my wrists and ankles were securely bound with more rope. Marvelous.
One of the humans walked into my line of vision, and I immediately bared my teeth at him. He looked like he was in his late 30’s, and his buzz cut made his head look big and square. He moved with confidence, a little strut born from knowing that his every word would be followed to the letter. I recognized that strut.
o, Sarai said warily. This is the alpha of this little pack of scavengers.
“Get her up,” he instructed. “We need to get back to the safe house.” I growled at him. The drugs were still messing with my balance, but I didn’t care. Even if I had to hop, I would walk on my own two legs. A wolf never showed weakness, especially to the enemy.
But when I tried to move again, agony burst through my leg from my hip all the way to my ankle. I had to bite my tongue to keep from whimpering, but at least the pain helped to clear my head a little. A quick look down at my leg made me grimace.
My hip was dislocated. That was just great.
I could imagine what Justin would say. “At least you’re alive. Work with what you’ve got because you can’t work when you’re dead.” He wasn’t a very good motivational speaker.
Another coyote in human form crouched beside me. I snarled at him and jerked away, but the pain in my hip flared and almost blocked out the sting of a needle in my shoulder. I didn’t even have time to curse before my vision went blurry, and I passed out again.
I was weak, far too weak for a Shifter of my caliber, and the part of my mind that was still aware of my surroundings was finally convinced that I had gone insane.
Honestly, at this point, hallucinating was the most likely explanation.
A coyote walked into my cell carrying a girl around my age. Her pale skin was smudged with dirt and her long brown hair was tangled with twigs and leaves. I kept my head down, feigning sleep as the coyote set her on the floor and attached a heavy shackle to her ankle. Then he left, shutting the door firmly behind him.
My cat wasn’t interested in the new addition to our cell. He was pacing inside of my skin, snarling angrily at the impudence of such scavengers ignoring us.
I ignored him and kept my eyes on the girl, waiting for her scent to float towards me. When I tasted muskiness on the tip of my tongue, I grimaced.
I wanted to slide back into the hazy dream world where nothing hurt, but the mystery of this wolf girl sparked my curiosity. What was she doing here? I mean, I could understand kidnapping me; my mother was the Queen of the American Pride. But who was she? Why did the coyotes want her?
The girl hadn’t noticed my presence yet, so was she just as much of a victim as I was? Were the coyotes going to start torturing us both? They didn’t want information, nor had they made any attempt at ransom. So I was forced to conclude that they had been paid to make my death as slow and horrible as possible.
Hah. As if I could be killed so easily.
But that didn’t explain the shackle. Why shackle her and not me? Did the coyotes hope I would finally go mad and attack her? I hadn’t broken yet, so did they really think I had that little self-control?
I stared at the shackle some more, my mind spinning. Or was this just a play? Lure me in with the temptation of an easy meal and then the girl would turn the tables?
I sized her up without moving my head. She was fit and in good shape, but the way she was growling under her breath made me think that she was injured in some way. I didn’t smell any blood and I couldn’t see anything, so was that just a part of the ruse as well?
What was she? Victim or superb actress? Ally or enemy?
At this point, I had two choices. I could wait for her to make the first move. Not advisable. If she was the enemy, then I would know for certain, but my reflexes were less than stellar from the periodic beatings. Did I really want to trust my reaction time when breathing alone hurt?
Or, I could strike now while she was still getting her bearings. Only marginally better. Taking her by surprise was the only way I could get the upper hand, but if she was innocent, then her death would be on my conscience for the rest of my life. If I attacked her, was I playing right into the coyotes’ hands?
As my head pounded angrily in time with my heartbeat, I leaned against the wall and took a minute to contemplate the epic disaster I had managed to land myself in. Getting drugged, kidnapped, and caged who knows where, wasn’t how I pictured that hunt ending.
But it had ended that way, and now I was chained to the floor, wearing clothes that smelled like old Chinese food and sweat that wasn’t mine. I couldn’t decide if I was grateful for the clothes or disturbed that a coyote had dressed me while I was unconscious.
Unfortunately, the smell of my clothes was swiftly being pushed aside by the much stronger scents of the cell. They weren’t comforting. I quickly catalogued blood, fresh and old vomit, and urine all swirling together in a pungent perfume that threatened to overwhelm my sensitive nose.
Something bad had happened in this room. I didn’t know what was going on, but my gut was telling me that I didn’t want to stick around to find out. However, in order to escape, I needed all of my limbs in working order. My leg was already completely numb. I wasn’t a doctor, but I knew that was a bad sign.
Sometimes, I really hated my life.
I don’t know if it was an accident or if he did it on purpose, but the coyote had clipped the shackle onto my bad leg. Luckily, there was a window on the wall perpendicular to me with nice, thick iron bars. Hopefully, I could hold onto them while my hip corrected itself. Fingers crossed.
With a sigh, I began to inch myself towards the window, biting my lip to keep from whimpering. As I moved, it felt like I was getting burned and stabbed with a serrated knife at the same time. Sarai balked, wanting to protect me from the pain, but I had to do this if we wanted any chance to escape. When I reached the window and tried to grab the bars, my hip shrieked in protest, making me gasp.
“Breathe through the pain my ass,” I muttered as I tried to conscious. Whoever had come up with that saying had clearly never had more than a paper cut in their entire life. Before I could think about how much this was going to hurt, I grabbed two of the bars with both hands and pulled.
It felt like someone had taken a blow torch to my hip, but I couldn’t let go. Tears streamed down my face as my fingers clenched at the iron. I finally felt, rather than heard, the slight grinding in my pelvis, and I twisted my hips as hard as I could. The pop made my stomach roll as my arms turned to jelly, and I collapsed against the floor.
Relief was instantaneous, and my leg started to tingle and sting as blood flow returned. As a rule, Shifters healed faster than the average human, but we weren’t invincible. If I didn’t want to hurt myself even more, I needed to wait for at least an hour before I tried to escape. But that was ok. I could plan all sorts of valiant and daring escapes in an hour.
As my breathing returned to normal, I felt Sarai stir warily. Like earlier, the pain helped clear my head of the drugs, and I merged with her seamlessly. It didn’t take us long to find the danger, and it made my blood run cold.
Something else was breathing. It was erratic, but there.
I let my eyes relax, trying to see into the dark corners of the room. They were full of shadows, but with Sarai, I caught the vaguest outline that could pass for a body. As if sensing my gaze, whoever it was looked up at me in one fluid movement, and I found myself staring into golden eyes.
(*Any mistakes – grammar or otherwise – are mine. I apologize!*)