How in the world had a simple hike turned into such a nightmare?
He ducked under a branch, shivering as the winter air began to chill even more as the sun was swallowed up by the encroaching clouds and evening. His younger sister clutched at the back of his shirt, cursing.
“I think the damned wolves are getting closer,” she muttered. “What are we going to do, Hansel?”
Hansel Grimm glanced up, the trunk noting some of the lower limbs were low enough that he could reach them if he jumped. He could pull her up or boost her up first.
A hard wind whispered past them ruffling trees as he made his decision. “We have to go up.” He turned to look at her, her golden skin was flushed for the fear and adrenalin, and her blue eyes were wide. Her shirt was stained and she’d lost a button.
“Are you serious?” she exclaimed. “I can’t climb, Hans.”
The snarl of a wolf made her jump, arm going around his waist as she clung to him.
“It’s starting to get dark,” she said. “Even if we get up in this damned tree we could be up here all night and it’s already starting to get chilly and rain was forecast.”
“Up,” he ordered firmly.
“No.” She moved around him we’re going to have to take the chance.”
“Of our running wolves?” he demanded incredulously. “Gret, are you crazy?”
“Are you? The fuckers will eat us alive. Come on.” She took off, the small daypack on her back wiggling around on her back as she did so.
Hansel followed, furious. They were never going to make it to safety considering safety and their truck were in the other direction.
Where in the hell had those wolves come from anyway?
And whose idea had it been to take a hike? Had to be Gretel’s. She was damned antsy these days since her boyfriend had broken up with her. It was like she couldn’t sit still for ten minutes even when they were working.
This wouldn’t have happened though if she hadn’t insisted on stopping by the freaking lake. She was just like a child lately. Any shiny thing, that could distract her from her heartache caught her attention and she tried to drag him along for the ride.
Finding those jewels and that gold—well it wasn’t even worth the time they’d lost retrieving the bag. They could be at home right now or at least back in the truck, safe and snug from those beasts.
A pair of gold eyes peered at them from a tree and snarl broke into his thoughts. A second later a wolf launched itself at them. It knocked to the ground and Hans jerked his own pack from his back and swung it as the wolf dipped its head.
Gretel screamed and the wolf whined. Hansel swung the pack again slamming it into the wolf as it came to its feet. He could tell the others were that far behind. So, they had seconds if that to get off the ground.
The wolf rolled into the tree trunk and lay there unmoving.
“We’re going to have to climb,” he told her again. “Come on.”
“We can’t,” Gretel muttered.
Hans let out a frustrated growl and thunder clapped overhead. His heart jolted. He hated thunderstorms with all that wild lightning. They were loud and dangerous.
“We have no choice,” he muttered at the barking closing in on them. Come on. Some of the trees are close enough together that we can actually move from tree-to-tree.”
“It won’t do us much good with the rain coming,” she snapped. “And lightning.”
“Come on,” he ordered and gripped her waist to steer her to tree with a lower limb. “We’ll be wolf chow if we don’t.”
“Okay,” she agreed and he laced his fingers and she put her foot on his hands and he sent her sailing into the air. She caught the branch and used the truck to pull herself up onto it.
Hans jumped and grabbed the branch Gretel was vacating to climb a little higher and he was thankful that even though his sister was a girl to the bone, she had learned to climb trees and get dirty with the best of them.
He caught the branch his sister had vacated and hoisted himself up to the nip at his heels. He looked down to see two other wolves snapping as they glared up at him furiously. He’d love to taunt the fuckers but Greta was right.
With the cold growing and the promise of rain looming heavy over them, there was no way they could survive the night out here. They’d freeze to death.
The wolves leaped up at them and he moved further up the tree following in his sister’s wake.
“At least we lost those men who were following us,” Gretel whispered.
The men. They’d fired at them a couple of times and nearly got him in the back. His arm still burned like hell from the graze that had torn through his shirt sleeve. But that was nothing especially after the pack of wolves had gotten after them, separating them from the men.
Hansel leaned his head against the tree limb. “Yeah. We need to move.”
“Not that it will matter,” she said softly. “Hans. I’m sorry for getting us into this mess, but it’s killing me. I loved him so much it ripped my heart out when I walked in on them.”
“I know,” he said.
He understood perfectly how she felt. He’d caught his boyfriend in bed with a woman too. He could have died. They took one look at him and just kept on fucking like they were putting on a show for him.
“I don’t understand why I wasn’t enough for him,” she said. “What’s wrong with me?”
“Nothing’s wrong with you sweetie,” Hansel assured her quietly. “He’s the fool.”
“Then, why am I the one with the broken heart?”
He sighed. That was a good question. One he couldn’t answer and he was certain no one before had ever been able to.
“I don’t know, baby girl,” he answered, throat thick with tears he refused to shed. His own heart was no longer a broken mess, but he could feel her pain which was probably why he’d been so acquiescent in the first place.
He knew how badly he’d needed to lose himself in anything that would take the pain away when his lover of two years shitted on him that rainy night a year ago. He still didn’t think he’d ever let anyone get that close to him again.
He wasn’t saying he’d never be with another man. He had needs and was man enough to admit it. But love, he wasn’t falling again if he could help it.
“Hans?” She had to talk loud now that the damned wolves were growling and barking louder as they struggled to get to them.
You’d think they had a ham in their bags.
“I think we should move,” she said.
“I’m right behind you.”
He had no arguments with that. Maybe they wolves would get tired and find something else to catch their attention, Hansel wasn’t counting on it.
He followed Gretel from one tree to the next noticing she’d taken them up a little higher than he was comfortable with, but he wouldn’t complain considering the alternative.
“They’re still down there,” she muttered as the first fat drops of rain fell.
Hansel shivered as he clutched the tree limb and wedged himself into what felt like a little alcove with the long branch reaching up, the leaves of the oak providing some cover from the rain but not nearly enough.
“I’m sorry,” she said again.
“We’re going to turn into limp noodles and freeze to death,” she wailed and it’s going to be my fault.”
He snickered didn’t reply because he kind of agreed.
They were both quiet for a long as thunder rolled and lightning flickered above them. The rain had never been a comfort to him, but Gretel always found it soothing.
She’d slept through all the fights their father and stepmother had had during those stormy nights. She’d been so blissfully unaware until morning when she came downstairs to find their father gone and their stepmother glaring at them.
The woman hated them he and he supposed she must have regretted marrying their father once the insurance money from their mother’s death began to fade even faster than snow at Christmas.
A muffled shot rang out and he jerked. The freaking fuckers from the lake?
“We have to move,” he said. “Stay in the trees as long as we can.”
Gretel moved them from tree to tree taking her time, the process slow with the rain coming down so fast. Neither of them wanted to slip and go crashing to the ground right into the wolves’ jaws.
The sound of the wolves attacking something reached Hansel’s ears two minutes later and Gretel descended the tree losing her balance.
“Shit,” he cried and grabbed for her. The momentum and weight caught him off guard and he cursed as he fell off balance.
Falling he prayed at least one of them was able to run out of here. His shirt caught on a branch and he grabbed the limb.
“Oomph.” He grimaced, the bark like fire on his fingers as he tried to hold on long enough for Gretel to get her bearings.
“Hans, let go. I’m not that far from the ground. Hurry.”
He released at her to the tune of a snarl. He looked down to see her land on her feet before releasing the branch. He landed, lost his footing and slipped to his ass.
“Come on,” she pulled at his arm. “There’s someone else out here.”
The guns from the lake.
He got to his feet with her help and went tearing through the woods. Gretel stumbled and he grabbed her, pulling her back up. While behind them, footsteps pounded the ground.
Hansel’s heart raced, his palms sweated and his hands shook.
Gretel ducked beneath a branch, and he grabbed it, holding it as he ran past. She let out a muffled cry but didn’t stop running. A shot rang out and Hansel ducked though he had no idea which direction the shots were coming from.
His sister veered right and he followed, but a sinking feeling knotted Hansel’s stomach.
Gretel screamed and he pulled up short at the sight of a man standing in front of them with a gun. In the rain it was hard to see, but it was unmistakable.
Breathing hard, Gretel backed up.
“Give me the bag,” he screamed. “Now.”
Gretel began struggling out of her pack as did Hansel. Lightning flashed illuminating the stranger’s hard face, and cold determination in his eyes.
The trees at his back shivered and a growl issued forth. He whipped around and Gretel backed up. A wolf leaped out and Gretel took off. Hansel was hard on her heels. A scream chased them followed by a gunshot.
Gretel ran hard slowing after what seemed like hours, breathing harsh. “Hans, look.” She pointed. “It’s a light. There has to a cabin or something out there.”
“Could be the freaking gunmen’s.”
“Maybe,” she shivered, teeth chattering. “We have to take a chance.”
She headed for it the rain picked up as they moved as fast as they could. Neither of them had a coat. Their jackets were in the truck because it hadn’t been that cold when they’d started out and they were going to be back before dusk.
Gretel led them through a clump of trees that seemed to take them off their original course but when they emerged, the light was ever more apparent. He wanted to take off for it, but his gut told him the place was trouble.
However, they were in trouble if they stayed out here in the cold and rain too.
When they reached the cabin, if you could call it that, the rain was coming down in sheets and Gretel was shaking warms wrapped tightly around herself. He couldn’t make out the material, but it looked like a two-story, wood with a wide porch.
She climbed the stairs and knocked on the door, but Hansel he moved in front of her prepared to take whatever came and give her a chance to make a run for it.
“Hans,” she said in irritation.
“We don’t know what’s on the other side of that door,” he muttered. “Be ready in case you have to run.”
“Please, god, don’t let me have to run,” she said leaning into him.
Before the door could open, a shot rang out behind them.
“Where do you two think you’re going with our shit?” a harsh voice demanded.
Gretel shook behind him and Hansel quickly changed positions with us. “We saw it first,” he called. “Leave us alone.”
“We saw it second, and we’re the ones with guns,” the man called back as he moved out of the darkness with a second man on his heels. “Fork it over.”
“Here!” Greta screamed and he winced. She wiggled behind him and the door opened.
“What’s going on out here?”
“Get back inside and mind our own business, dude,” one of the men shouted. “Bring me the bag ho.”
“I can’t go out there,” Gretel muttered.
“I know,” Hansel said knowing she was right. If Gretel went out there, they’d probably kill her.
“Now.” The speaker aimed his gun and Hansel let out a cry as he fired again. Even in the rain, which had now slowed to a trickle as if conspiring with the gunmen, he could see the bullet racing toward them.
His heart stopped and Gretel wrapped her arm around his waist hanging on tight. The bullet shattered in route and the shards rolled backward.
“What the hell?”
“Get him,” the other man screamed.
“Inside, princess,” the owner of the cabin ordered and Gretel was ripped from his back suddenly and a heavier body was behind him. A spark of light flared and the ball rushed away from them toward the attackers.
Hansel’s jaw dropped open. The ball was like an energy ball from one of those witch shows. It crashed into one of the men and threw him back several feet. Hansel let out a startled cry when he was jerked aside and the witch moved in front of him. Light bounced off the ground and rushed out toward the gunmen like a heatseeking missile and slammed into first one.
The ball flared red and the man screamed as he squeezed off another round. He hit a nearby tree hard neck turning at an awkward angle before he slid down it unmoving to a sitting position.
The second man was running but looked back. The ball that hit him flared orange-red before sending him flying. He landed on the ground and rolled over and came to a sitting position. The limb of a tree reached down and curled around his neck strangling him to death.
“Oh my god,” Gretel cried in a whisper.
“You saved us,” Hansel said and turned to the witch.
His eyes glowed black but his features were perfectly chiseled, full lips in a hard line. He was gorgeous, his body a hard line of muscle.
“Hans, we can’t stay here,” Gretel said frantically. “The man is a devil.”
Their savior turned to her. “The devil who saved your life, little girl,” he told her coldly. “You’re free go. I just hope the wolf pack don’t eat your ass alive on the way back to your car.”
Gretel shivered and Hansel quickly weighed the risk. He wasn’t willing to traipse back to the truck in the dark.
“Thanks for saving us.”
The witch faced him. “You’re welcome, gorgeous.” A slow smile spread across his face and heat unfurled in his belly.
“You two are welcome to stay until morning,” he murmured in a sexy voice that threatened to melt Hansel’s briefs.
Torn between the danger that could still be out there in the dark, and the gorgeous stranger that could be as much of a threat, Hansel made a quick decision.
“Thank you.” The witch motioned him inside and Hansel went carefully, glancing around expecting to see one of the men from the lake.
“You two are crazy to be out in this,” the stranger said. “You’ll catch a cold if you don’t get out of those wet things.”
Gretel, came to stand next to him, stiffening.
“I’ve got guestrooms if you two want to change into something dry.” He pointed to the stairs off to the left and then started toward them. “It’s going to be a rainy night according to the news head.”
“Thanks,” Gretel said meeting his gaze for a moment.
“By the way, I’m Dallen. He led the way to the stairs and the lights flickered and Hansel groaned inwardly. He hated fucking storms. “I can clean up your wound in a minute. I just need to get some supplies.”
“I’d appreciate it,” Hansel said.
“We can share a room,” Gretel said giving her brother a look.
He didn’t object despite his body’s obvious interest.
Dallan showed them to a spacious room with a full-size bed, a polished Cherrywood bench at the end and a pale covered chair in a corner near the window which had plantation shutters to the windows blocking out the dark night.
“There’s a change of clothes in the drawers. They’re all female so, I’ll have to get you something, gorgeous. Let’s get you cleaned up.”
“Why can’t you do it here?” Gretel demanded giving Hansel a warning look.
He knew he should be protesting right along with her, but his gut told him this witch didn’t have any plans to hurt them. Not unless they went after him first.
And the only moves he wanted to put on Dallan had nothing to do with magick or pain.
Hansel followed him as he left the room hoping it wasn’t his body doing the thinking because he had little to no defense against the witch.
“What’s your name?” Dallan asked.
“Oh. I’m Hansel.”
“She’s my sister Gretel,” he said. “We were out for a hike and things just got a little screwed up.”
“Let me guess you happened on something you shouldn’t have?”
“We found a dead guy and some jewels and gold by the lake,” he said. “Those guys wanted the stuff I guess.”
“Some people have a hard-on for shiny objects,” Dallan murmured and opened a door leading into a bedroom. The room was even bigger than the one he’d shown them too. The blue comforter vivid against the gray walls, and red pillows.
An open door revealed another large size room with a flat screen TV mounted on the wall.
“You live out here?” Hansel asked.
“Not on a full-time basis,” Dallen answered. He pushed open a door to a wall with a vanity and mirror and a cushioned bench in the corner. “Go ahead and sit. I’ll get my case.”
“So, you’re like a witch or something?”
“Or something.” Dallen vanished and reappeared with a black bag in hand. “You want to take off the shirt or shall I cut it off you?”
Hansel grimaced as he struggled to get out of his shirt.
“Here.” Dallen gave him a little help, unfastening the sleeves before tugging on one arm to help Hansel get out of the garment.
“If you’re not a witch, what is the or something?” Hansel asked curiously.
“I’m an apothecary,” he answered and opened his bag from which he tugged out a pair of gloves. “It won’t take but a minute to get you fixed up. You know, you and your sister had better be careful getting out of here with your loot. The authorities might have been notified of the accident by now and might think you had something to do with it.”
“We didn’t,” he said.
“I’m sure you didn’t,” Dallan replied and used a moist item to clean off the wound. Then, he opened a jar and smoothed on some brown slave. “This will disinfect as well as promote healing. It’ll kill the pain too.”
“I’m going to bandage this, and we’ll give it a look in the morning before you two leave. I can give you a ride to your car.”
“That’s okay,” Hansel said, his eyes on the handsome profile as Dallan wrapped the wound.
“There you go.” Dallan met his gaze and Hansel lost his breath.
“Thanks again for your help,” Hansel said softly and leaned toward him to brush his lips along Dallan’s jaw.
Dallan smiled and removed his gloves. “Maybe you’ll go out with me sometime next week,” he said.
“Maybe,” Hansel said. “It’s a definite possibility.”
Dallan grinned. “Let’s get you something to wear and back to your sister before I kiss you the way you should be kissed.”
That voice. That voice. It just made Hansel’s dick hard.
“I don’t think I’d have nearly the objection she might,” Hansel said breathlessly and Dallan leaned toward him and kissed him softly.
Hansel sighed into the kiss. God, he wasn’t going to fall in love again, but the man made his head spin.
Dallan drew back and a rap at the door made Hansel jump.
“I’m coming,” he called. “Give me a sec, Greta.”
Hansel waited for Dallen to get rid of his gloves and retrieve a pair of sweats for him before he exited the room with the feeling, Dallan was watching him walk away. Hansel grinned. This had been a lousy day, but the night had possibilities.
Raiden is sent on what he thinks is a routine retrieval mission. When he arrives, he finds destruction and nearly dies as he finds his mate.
Alimi is a soldier by profession with no intentions of settling down, but on a favor and an order from his alpha, he’s sent on a rescue mission. Little does he realize he’s on a collision course with his mate, who nearly dies on site.
Alimi isn’t in any hurry for a mate, but he’s not about to allow his one chance at happiness and love to pass him by. At the same time, he’s worried his mate could die on the front lines of the conflict. So, he gives him light duty until he has to put him in harm’s way.
Raiden is more than eager to build a relationship with Alimi. Still, he questions Alimi’s decisions as a leader and that doubt just might prevent him from claiming his mate.
“You’re cleared for duty light, but you have to take it easy, which means staying by my side until you get the all clear,” Alimi told him. “Now, get dressed and don’t bite the nurses for looking. I’m not yours yet.” He tossed the bag onto the end of the bed.
Raiden growled. “Damn cat,” he said coldly. “Accept defeat. I will claim you.”
Alimi chuckled, his eyes dancing merrily. The look heated Raiden’s skin from the inside out.
“Hurry up. We’re expecting an attack in a few hours,” Alimi said and headed from the room.
Raiden climbed out of bed a little breathless and unable to take his eyes off Alimi despite a twinge of pain prickling at his side. Alimi’s eyes darkened and Raiden’s pulse kicked seconds after a low growl rumbled in his chest.
Alimi winked at him and his wolf went crazy wanting to get to Alimi, to touch him, just one stroke over that angular jaw.
Losing the battle, he took a step and stopped himself as he regained control.
Raiden looked away deciding to follow orders. His claws sliced out allowing him to cut the plain hospital gown down one side and Raiden grunted from the stab of pain. He tugged the tattered pieces away, casting them to the bed.
Raiden opened the bag and found some toiletries on top. Grabbing the leather bag, he headed into the bathroom to shower in the small cubicle.
At least the damned cat wasn’t in denial. But where would that lead them? How could he even think of claiming the man under these circumstances?
Relationships formed in times of intense emotional situations never lasted. Passions were high and burned hot, dowsing any chance of a relationship even before it began. So, why wasn’t the wolf listening? All his animal wanted to do was get to know his mate.
Raiden wet his hair and grabbed the liquid soap, which smelled suspiciously like the cat who’d brought it. He inhaled the fragrance, taking the scent into him as if committing it to memory.
The wolf growled softly, and it was a vow to remember.