Placing his Stetson on his head, he stuck his Glock in the back of his jeans and slipped on his duster. Luc moved quietly through the house, knowing that all of his pack was on high alert. He stepped into the cool night air, and two guards armed with guns immediately flanked him. Someday he might welcome a bullet to the brain, but not tonight. As he approached the barn, his excellent night vision noted the swarm of guards stationed outside the stable. He couldn’t wait to find out what would drive a person to invade his estate.
Luc stopped in front of Adolf. “Report.”
“The intruder and Storm are lying down.”
Luc frowned. “Impossible.” Storm didn’t like anybody but him, and he had never taken to a stranger. He was a one-man horse.
“No, sir. And Storm appears calm.”
“Drugged?” Luc asked, his gut tightening at the thought of drugging an animal unless its life was in danger.
Adolf shook his head. “Not that we can tell. The monitors show Storm is calm.”
Storm was a beast of a horse, champion bloodlines and beautiful, and he tolerated the werewolves only because Luc had had him injected with some of Luc’s own wolf blood. After several injections, Storm didn’t know the difference between himself and the werewolves.
Luc pulled his duster off and handed it to Adolf. “I’ll go in and see this intruder myself.”
“Sir,” stuttered Adolf. “I can’t let you do that.”
Luc placed his hand on Adolf’s shoulder and grinned. “Adolf, there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.”
Pulling his Glock from his back, he slipped into the stable, stopped, and listened. Ragged breathing came from Storm’s stall. He sniffed the air. Nothing. He moved to the stall and peered over the edge. Storm acknowledged him by lifting his head and snorting softly. Damn horse was as crazy as everybody else on this estate.
Luc moved into the stall at the same time his security team moved into the barn. Well, Adolf had lasted longer than Luc thought he would. Luc nudged the horse blanket with the toe of his boot. The intruder grunted. He nudged harder.
“Go...away. I...I need to sleep,” the intruder mumbled, barely audible to human ears, but not for wolf hearing.
“Sleep? You’re in my barn, cuddling with my million-dollar thoroughbred.”
“Don’t care. Please...leave me alone.”
Luc’s nose told him the man was in great physical pain, but there was no fear. The man apparently wasn’t afraid to die. The intruder’s breathing was labored and hoarse. “How about I call the sheriff’s office, and you can sleep there.”
He waited, but the intruder didn’t move. He sensed his team move in behind him, and the firepower aimed at the man was really over the top--as usual.
Luc squatted, gripped the edge of the blanket, and eased it off as his team lifted their weapons in preparation. They’d only sacrifice Storm if left with no choice, but the intruder would pay dearly.
The man was clad in a tattered jacket and knit cap and was nestled up against Storm, stroking him with a shaky hand. Luc’s nostrils flared as a shiver racked the intruder.
Luc nudged the body again. “The sheriff’s on the way.”
“It...doesn’t matter. I’ll be...be dead...by morning.” The intruder coughed, gasping for air. “Blanket. Until the sheriff...gets here?” His teeth were chattering so hard, Luc could barely understand what was being said.
Luc sniffed again. The man smelled different, and he detected blood. His clothes were wet, and his hiking boots were caked in good old North Carolina red clay. Luc leaned closer and rolled the man onto his side, but the man buried his head into Storm.
“Listen. Just let me...sleep. In the morning...you can dump my...my dead body in a ditch.”
No ditch for trespassers. Six feet under was more like it.
“Why are you wet?” Luc asked.
“In the river?” That was stupid, since it was early spring and the river temps were still near freezing. People only jumped in the river if they had a death wish.
The man fell into a coughing fit, and Luc waited until the coughing subsided before he pulled the sopping wet toboggan off the man. The intruder rolled his head and lifted his hand to fend off the harsh light from Adolf’s flashlight. Luc peered closer.
Damn. A woman.
Luc’s world pivoted, launching his beast into a frenzy. Lights exploded behind his eyes, and his beast roared.
His beast felt joy.
But Luc the man felt dread.
His mate was human
? He had nothing against humans, but he assumed his mate would be a she-wolf, someone to keep the bloodlines pure. It wasn’t against pack law to mate a human, but none of the ruling families had ever done so. If a true-mate wasn’t found among the ruling families, then an arranged mating happened between pure bloodlines.
The woman’s good eye fluttered against the light. Her right eye was badly bruised and puffed to the point that it was closed. Several cuts marred her face, and she had a big gash and contusion on her forehead. Her skin was pale, almost translucent, her lips blue.
Luc pushed hard to contain his beast and struggled to think rationally. Hadn’t he declared twenty minutes ago that he wasn’t looking for a mate? “Why did you jump in the river?”
“To get away.”
Another big shudder rolled through her delicate body. “Not who.”
Luc’s eyes narrowed as fear eased along his body. “Okay. From what?”
“Wolf. No...a man-wolf.” His men behind him shuffled and murmured.
“You must be mistaken,” answered Luc. She must have a fever. That was it. It was the fever talking and the wild tales told here in the mountains that she was spitting out.
Her forced smile twisted his heart. “I...can prove it,” she mumbled. “If you’ll give me my...blanket back and...let me die in peace.”
His hearing picked up on her mumbled sentence. Die
. His beast roared, pushing to get out and save her.
“Prove it, and you can have your blanket back.”
He noticed her triumphant smile, although it was weak. She was a fighter, and she liked to win. Luc smiled. And this was her victory. She took a deep breath and pushed herself to an unsteady sitting position. Storm snorted, his warm breath creating a puff of steam in the cold night air.
“Easy boy,” she said to Storm. Her good blue eye blinked as she pushed her thick, wet, honey blonde hair out of her pale face. She used both hands to pull her wet jacket open, and then she dropped her head as she fumbled with the few remaining buttons of her red flannel shirt. Luc suppressed his wolf’s growl. His wolf urged him to cover her and keep his men’s eyes from seeing what was his. But if she was his mate, he had to keep it a secret for now. People wanted him dead, and a mate would only make his enemies try harder.
She lifted her head, her eyes glassy with pain. His breath caught in his throat as she gripped the sides of her shirt and slowly pulled it open. Luc knew her movements were slow because of her weakness and not because she was a seductress sent to turn his life into a living hell.
“Damn,” someone behind him said.
Santana Jones couldn’t see a damn thing, but she was going to get that damn blanket back and hopefully die in peace beside a huge warm body. Million-dollar horse, my ass
. But she was sure he was a beauty. The cold air brushed her breasts. Why wasn’t she wearing a bra?
She slowly covered herself back up and smiled. “Blanket now.”
The blur in front of her spoke. “Take the best trackers and find out where she came out and where she went into the river. I want to fucking know everything
The voice was harsh, almost angry, and it confused her. Hell, all she wanted was a blanket. Was that too much for a dying woman to ask?
Strong hands pulled her to a standing position, and she jerked against those hands. “Blanket. You promised a...blanket.”
She felt the blanket wrap around her before someone scooped her up. Her nose twitched. This warm body smelled better than the horse. She snuggled closer. She knew they were moving, but she couldn’t keep her eyes open. Cold. So Cold.
“Get Dr. Vernon out here ASAP. Tell him we have someone suffering from hypothermia and to bring some antibiotics.”
Hypothermia? That was an awfully big word for freezing to death. Her teeth rattled in her head, and she was sure her feet and hands were encased in blocks of ice. No, that wasn’t right, but that’s what it felt like.
Cold air brushed her face. “I don’t...want to leave...the warm barn. You promised...I could...die in peace.”
“You are not
going to die.”
She fought the violent shiver that threatened to roll through her. “I’m already three-quarters...dead.”
“You’re still not going to die. I have plans for you. You will live. Do you understand?”
A little thrill raced through her at his husky voice and the way he’d said it, which was crazy, because she was using the door knocker on death’s door and shouldn’t be enthralled with a male voice.
“I don’t...take orders...from you.”
A laugh rumbled deep in his chest. “You will take orders from me before it’s all over.”
Did he just laugh at her
? “Don’t count...on it...Mister.” She was not good at taking orders, but right now she concentrated on sucking all the heat out of the man holding her.
She must have nodded off, because the next thing she knew, she was plunged under a hot shower.
“I know it burns your cuts, but they need washing anyway,” he said.
“Oh I’m not...complaining,” she managed to say. Her legs dangled as a big, strong arm supported her, and the other hand worked to free her of her jacket.
“You’re undressing me?”
Her shirt slipped from her shoulders along with her bra. Where had her bra been hiding? The warm water pounded her back, and she sighed. This was heaven; she was actually in heaven. Who knew that heaven was a sauna?
“I’m going to sit you on the ledge and undo your boots, okay?”
“Sure. Just don’t turn off the heat.”
She missed the warmth of the water as he swapped places with her. His hands fumbled with the button of her jeans, and she slapped at him. His laugh glided along her insides as he slid her zipper down, and her jeans followed. Two strong hands gripped her arms and eased her down onto a cold seat. She rested her head on the cold tile as he worked off her boots and then yanked off her socks and jeans. She waited for him to put her back under the water. She cracked her good eye. Damn. Mr. Heat was stripping.
But what the hell, she was dying. Might as well go out gloriously.
He ripped the buttons on his shirt before he slipped it from his shoulders and let it drop. His jeans followed. She tried to follow what little she could see with her good eye. Too bad she couldn’t see him clearly. It might be the last time she’d ever see male flesh. She had a hunch that it was perfect
male flesh too.
She flinched when he dropped to his knees in front of her. “I’m going to wash you,” he said. “And it’s going to hurt like hell.” She cracked her swollen eye and tried to bring his face into focus, but couldn’t manage to get the two of him aligned.
She nodded as he grabbed a washcloth and squirted soap on it. She gritted her teeth as he swept the soap over her breasts.
“Sorry, baby, but I’ve got to scrub your open wounds.”
The soap burned like fire, and she looked down, remembering the slash of claws. Claws that had been attached to a man. She blinked to erase the memory; she didn’t want to dwell on it. With any luck, this would all be a bad dream, and she’d wake up somewhere nice and toasty, with two good eyes to view Mr. Heat.
The man scrubbed her arms and legs, but fortunately, there was only one stinging gash on her left thigh. He cupped her chin and gave her what she thought was a lopsided smile.
“Close your eyes.”
She did, and he swept the soap over her face, her forehead burning like the devil.
“Okay. Can you stand under the water while I wash your hair?”
She kept her eyes closed because of the soap. He was going to wash her hair. “You’re kidding, right?”
“Nope. Got to get that river water out of your hair.”
Mr. Heat pulled her to her feet and placed her under the water, and man, did it feel wonderful. She relaxed and let the warm water rinse the soap from her face.
“Place your hands on the wall to steady yourself, lean your head back, and keep your eyes closed.”
Luc didn’t own shampoo, so he squirted the body soap into his palm and worked it into her thick hair. He found a large bump, and she winced. What kind of hell had she been through? With a lump that big, he’d have to have the doc check her head for a concussion. She swayed, and Luc swept his arm around her before her knees buckled. He turned her around, so that her back was against the water, and pressed her sweet flesh to his. His cock swelled at the contact, and he cursed himself. His beast was responding to its mate, and hell, Luc the man didn’t like it. She must think I’m a total jerk.
His beast pushed against him, and he leaned into her and sniffed, pulling her essence deep. And he instantly regretted doing that. Her scent seeped into his wolf, entwining, weaving, imprinting her on his soul. His beast wanted to roar. Roar with joy and roar with hate. Hatred for the wolf who’d dare assault his mate. He inhaled again and picked up a hint of something different, but he didn’t have the time to process it.
Too many emotions bombarded him. Joy. Hate. Lust. Fear. Especially the fear. The fear of losing a mate before getting one.
Luc pushed his feelings away as he used his other hand to ease her head back so he could rinse her hair. Her head lolled to the side, and a fist squeezed his heart. He hated to do it, but he had to get her out of the warm water, dry her off, and get her into bed before the doc got there.
Turning off the water, he stepped from the shower, taking her with him. The fact that she was out cold bothered him. Her breathing was still shallow, and he heard a wheeze deep in her chest. He managed to dry her off and get her into bed right before his bedroom door opened.
Luc noticed Dr. Vernon’s raised brow, but the good doc proceeded to the bed.
“Tell me what you know.”
“She was wet and shivering, said she jumped in the river. I gave her a hot bath and scrubbed her wounds. She’s got a good-size lump on the back of her head.”
Dr. Vernon pulled his stethoscope from his bag and eased back the covers. When the doc placed his hands on her to listen to her heart, Luc growled. Dr. Vernon’s hands stilled.
Apparently having a mate made you do things without thinking. Luc dragged his hands though his hair. “Sorry, Doc.”
“Go put some clothes on and let me do my job without the hairs on the back of my neck standing up.”
Luc knew he should do that, but his wolf wouldn’t let him leave. Something inside Luc demanded he be there.
“How long was she in the river?”
Luc shook his head. “Don’t know.” Hopefully Adolf would have something to report in an hour or two.
The doc pulled the scope from his ears. “She’s got fluid in her lungs, and lots of it.” He leaned forward and found the contusion on her head. “And she may have a slight concussion.”
Dr. Vernon took her temperature and shook his head. “One hundred and three.”
Luc didn’t know much about human temperature because werewolves regulated their temperature and were hardly ever cold or hot, but he assumed one hundred and three was bad.
“Now, you want to tell me what did this?” asked Dr. Vernon as he pointed to the claw marks on her chest.
Dr. Vernon knew about Luc’s pack because Luc happened to be in town the day that Dr. Vernon’s daughter was kidnapped by a piece of shit strung out on meth. The idiot had wanted to trade Kylie for drugs. The man had been unstable, and Luc did the only thing he could. He’d shifted in midair and torn the man’s throat out. Luckily Kylie had passed out, and the only living person who’d seen him in his wolf form was Dr. Vernon.
Luc looked at Dr. Vernon. He trusted the doc because he had patched up many a pack member when they couldn’t transform to heal. Luc extended his hand. Claws grew from his nails, and hair covered his hands. Luc made a sweeping motion down her chest.
“You think a werewolf did this?”
“Part man, part wolf, somebody in the middle of a change. A wolf would kill by ripping the throat out. A desperate man would do whatever he had to do.” Just saying what was obvious caused Luc’s gut to tighten. His mate had been attacked by one of his kind.
“She’s going to have deep scars.”
Luc nodded absently. A permanent reminder of her night of horror. Of course, he could convert her tonight, and her body would heal itself, if
she could change into a wolf. And she’d be damned the rest of her life. Being the mate of the most powerful werewolf in North America didn’t have many perks but had tons of pains in the ass.
“She needs to be in a hospital,” Dr. Vernon said as he shoved his stethoscope into his bag.
Luc snarled. “Why?”
“She needs constant monitoring.”
“Tell me what to do and what to look for.”
Dr. Vernon lifted his brows in surprise. “I’ll write out the instructions and leave them on the nightstand. And you need to dry her hair. All that wet hair will cause her to get pneumonia. I’ll start an IV with a potent antibiotic and fever reducer.”
Luc snatched his phone off the nearby chair and punched in a number. “Find me a hair dryer,” he barked.
The doc started a line in her arm and hung the IV bag on a pole he’d unfolded from his black bag and wedged under the mattress.
“Leave her wounds open. Let them breathe. These antibiotics should do the trick on her cuts. It’s her lungs that bother me.”
The doc filled a syringe and pushed it into the IV line, and Luc prayed it was a miracle drug.
“I’ll be back in the morning to check on her. Keep an eye on her temperature. If it goes up to one hundred and four, give her an ice bath.”
Luc grinned. “I’m sure she’ll try to kick my ass if I do that, Doc.” Yeah, his mate was a fighter. Anyone who survived a jump in the icy river was a fighter. Now she just had to survive. Period.
Dr. Vernon looked at Luc over his glasses. “I doubt anyone can kick your ass, but if she can, please call me so I can watch.”
The doc rose, but Luc placed a hand on the doc’s arm. “What are her chances?”
Dr. Vernon shoved his glasses back up his nose and shook his head. “I’m sorry. I doubt she’ll make it through the night.”