“Heal her.” The stranger scowled and thrust the injured woman at Viola.
She blinked and stepped back so quickly she almost overbalanced. After taking a moment to stand up as straight as her crippled leg allowed, she donned her professional healer persona. “For a price. Cash. Up front.”
Viola lied, of course. Leaving anyone in pain was beyond her, but the man with the broad chest and gold-flecked eyes didn’t need to know that. Besides, unless she got hold of some cash soon, she might never eat meat again.
The low growl that rumbled from his throat and the way his eyes narrowed made her wish she’d stayed silent. He bared his fangs, and although she wanted to retreat, she stubbornly held her ground.
His lip curled. “Do it. I’m good for your fees. Just get a move on.”
His deep, angry rumble made her think of a volcano ready to erupt. And damn, when she stared up him, he looked as tall as the mountains that trapped her in Rock Prowler territory. Out here in the midst of the forest, miles from the nearest settlement, she should be wary. This stranger emanated strength, protection, and…flat-out fury. At her.
His jaw clamped as he shoved past her into the hut. She followed, mentally triaging her patient. Tansy’s clothes hung off her in tatters, and an arrow stuck out of her leg. Deep scratches, the sort only a murder thorn could inflict, covered her torso. The woman’s breathing came in fast, shallow pants. Her skin looked as though it had been touched with frost, and rivers of dried blood stained her leg.
Absently, Viola wondered what the other woman been up to that involved tangling with a bush renowned for shredding skin. Not running from Mr. Fix-It here, I hope.
Ignoring her concerns and her attraction to a newcomer with the short hair and bad attitude, she reached out to stroke Tansy’s hair. Rather than gather her supplies, Viola hardened her heart and met the stranger’s gaze.
With his torn ear and bent nose, Mr. Fix-It looked ready to tear out her throat. Her stomach clenched as though he’d punched her, and his disgusted look promised a reckoning once she’d tended Tansy’s wounds. Viola’s tender heart went out to the woman in his arms. Despite her bold words, she’d never let Tansy suffer, but she needed to bargain to survive.
As the pack’s omega wolf, she expected nothing from anyone—except insults, of course. Chin high, spine stiff, she kept her hands at her side. “Perhaps you shouldn’t have chased her into a murder thorn in the first place. Of course, I’ll help her once we’ve agreed on a price.”
The stranger’s furious growl cut to her heart, but unless she demanded her cash in advance, she’d starve.
Rather than pass the woman into Viola’s arms, he stared around the two-room hunter’s den she’d moved into when her home burned to the ground. “And you call yourself a healer. Just for the record, I heard her whimper from the middle of a thorn thicket, and unlike you I couldn’t leave her to suffer. You care more about money than your calling, but once the woman’s back on her feet, I’ll pay your price.”
This man didn’t fit any classically handsome mold, but he oozed charisma and power. If circumstances had been different, she’d have welcomed him with refreshments and maybe her body. Recently the need to screw someone—anyone—stirred her blood, but no self-respecting wolf would screw the pack’s omega.
Even if one approached her, the alpha would kill them. Despite their shared blood, the alpha hated her. No way would he let an omega wolf reproduce and dilute the pack’s gene pool. Deep down, she hated being so alone.
Mr. Fix-It’s presence fired up her body in a lightning strike of sensual heat, but with his bad-boy attitude and take-charge nature, women probably threw themselves at him. She sighed over another broken dream and coolly met his gaze.
She couldn’t shift and hunt prey, so she needed to scrape together what coins she could just to buy meat. Unlike most Lykae, she couldn’t turn wolf to heal her injuries. Her heart told her to run through the forest and let off steam, but her twisted knee prevented her enjoying such a simple thing. Thanks to the beating that killed her inner wolves, that was another pleasure Zebadiah had stolen from her.
Lately, she’d been teaching herself to shoot with a bow and arrow, but archery didn’t come easy to her. What spare time she had, she spent tending her vegetables and herbs, but all that bending made her knee feel like someone hit it with a hammer—again.
She persevered because she needed fresh food to survive. The herbal remedies and potions she’d crafted from her surplus and traded for fresh meat were an unexpected bonus. After all, a wolf couldn’t live by vegetables alone.
The stranger’s eyes darkened until his gaze felt like copper blades cutting through her composure and condemning her poverty-stricken surroundings. His disgust curdled something inside her, but his narrow-eyed look and curled top lip were all too familiar. The pack had looked at her that way for years.
Her fleeting attraction for Tansy’s rescuer shriveled beneath his I’ll-wipe-you-off-the-planet gaze. With his huge muscles, short-cropped hair, and inbuilt arrogance, he looked more a brawler than a hero. She should shove him out the door, not that her flimsy wattle and daub hut would protect her. Then, despite everything, her stupid hormones flared with desire—for him.
The bend in his nose, as if he’d broken it and it hadn’t healed right, puzzled her. Most Lykae healed when they shifted, but not him. When he wasn’t looking daggers at her, pained shadows filled his eyes.
Her antagonism melted when she thought of how he’d rescued Tansy from the murder thorn. Viola wanted to curl her body around his and taste every inch of him. Why was it that the only wolf her stupid oversexed body wanted in her bed had already condemned her.
He glanced down at Tansy, then turned his death stare back on Viola. “Bustle about, or I’ll find the Rock Prowler pack a new healer. Anyone with an ounce of compassion would be better than you.”
She blocked the bedroom doorway. “You will pay me?”
He hurled three gold coins onto the floor of her hut. “There. Take your blood money. The drayman who pointed out your home said you were a hard-hearted bitch. Stupidly, I dismissed his opinion. Biggest mistake I ever made. I should have flashed that poor woman to someone who knew what they were doing, not depended on an unskilled hedgewitch like you.”
How dare he! V
iola’s hands shook, and her cheeks flushed. She opened and closed her mouth, then clenched and unclenched her fists. She’d never wanted to hit anyone so badly. At least he’d paid her, so she’d ignore him and help Tansy—just as she’d intended all along.
This stranger watched her intently, and under his scrutiny her hands shook. What sort of man could walk in and announce he’d replace her? Someone important, that was for sure. If he voiced his misgivings to the alpha, Zebadiah would have the perfect excuse to cast her out completely. He’d wanted to do it for years. If she knew of any safe haven, she’d have already left. Not that any of the other packs would adopt a damaged wolf like her.
All she could do was stay put and take life one day at a time.
Pack members could take their woes to Zebadiah, the pack alpha, and on a good day he might even listen, but an omega wolf was a different story. He’d just laugh Viola and her troubles out of the great hall. Besides, she’d already suffered enough at his hands. She should warn Mr. Fix-It about the alpha’s murderous tendencies. Strangers who strolled into Rock Prowler territory didn’t usually stroll out.
Even though he condemned her, this stranger oozed so much masculinity that her mouth watered. Not that she would ever act on the deliciously sexual feelings he kick-started in her womb. Omega wolf, remember?
Looking at him rekindled her dreams of love and romance, the ones the alpha’s thugs had beaten out of her. This newcomer woke something wild inside her, but Viola had long since resigned herself to a solitary existence. No mate. No cubs. No decent home. Little fresh meat and rarely a kind word. She was sick of being isolated and alone. When the alpha had declared her the pack’s omega wolf, he hadn’t expected her to last long, but her stubborn streak had kept her strong.
Zebadiah’s harsh rule crushed the Rock Prowler pack, and even the cockiest of the Lykae males didn’t dare defy him. Too many sisters and mated she-wolves had vanished from the families that protested his rule.
Viola poured distilled wine over her hands and winced when some ran into a cut in her finger. “Who are you? And do you have the alpha’s permission to cross Rock Prowler lands?”
He shoved past her and carried the unconscious woman into the back room of her hut. “I’m Titus, and I’m here by your alpha’s invitation. He wants me to marry his daughter.”
Any attraction Viola felt toward him withered. She had no respect for any friends of Zebadiah Lightfoot—the man she refused to call father ever again. Even if she didn’t despise Titus, she didn’t own a chair she could offer him. Then again, since he’d come here at her father’s behest, she should ram her hands against his chest and shove him out the door. Not that she could move a man-mountain like him.
She wanted nothing to do with one of Zebadiah’s brought-in bullies. The quicker this strange attraction she felt toward Titus faded the better. Her hut with her makeshift dresser—more rough pieces of wood propped on stones and her pallet of moss—shouted poverty and defeat. She leaned against one of the hut’s uprights and flexed her leg, glad to take her weight off her knee. Much as she wanted Mr. Fix-It’s hand on her breasts and his lips against hers, she hated the unexpected jolt of mating heat. Her throat constricted as her libido went wild.
His presence overwhelmed her, and his sheer size made her hut seem crowded. The look on his face, as though he struggled not to gag at a bad smell, hurt more than she’d expected. Though he seemed unconcerned about Tansy’s blood dripping on his expensive clothes, Viola knew the shabbiness of her home disgusted him.
He had a good heart to tangle with a murder thorn and rescue Tansy despite his allegiance to the alpha. Just knowing he planned to join Zebadiah’s squad of mercenaries sucker punched Viola. Titus was muscle for hire, a wolf paid by Zebadiah to grind the pack into submission. She knew about the alpha’s bullyboys firsthand.
After a quick assessment of Tansy’s injuries, Viola grabbed a knife and a packet of herbs from her dresser. “What happened to her?”
Titus’s expression softened as he stared at the injured woman. “I don’t have a clue. I heard a whimper from a thicket of murder thorns, and the poor woman was lying unconscious in the center. Elves’ blood, you’ve got your gold. Get a move on. Can’t you see she’s lost so much blood she’s going into shock?”
The arrow topped Viola’s priorities. Once she’d pulled a threadbare apron over her head, she poured alcohol over Tansy’s wound. If the archer had barbed the head, pulling the arrow out would tear the flesh from Tansy’s thigh. Given that this looked like a deliberate shooting, Viola prayed the bowman hadn’t poisoned the arrowhead.
Titus laid Tansy on the moss and sweet-herb pallet, his touch so gentle Viola wondered how it would feel if he laid her down with such care. Just once, she wanted someone to be gentle with her. That or teach her about orgasms and sex. I should be concentrating on Tansy, not drooling over Titus’s ass.
She swallowed hard and settled on the floor beside her patient, her bad leg extended in front of her. Getting up again would be hell, but Viola would manage somehow. She always did, but on bad days her knee ballooned to twice its normal size. Her gaze strayed back to Titus’s ass. She pictured herself running her hands over it or stroking it or rubbing up against him and breathing in his musky vanilla essence.
Her nipples ached, and she felt as though flames licked at her cunt—all that for one of Zebadiah’s personal army. Despite his gentle treatment of Tansy, Viola couldn’t trust Titus an inch. This stupid urge to wrap her body around his and run her fingers through his short-cropped hair would fade soon. It had to. Nothing good could come of her having a fling with a stranger, no matter how much he made her heart race.
Tansy moaned when Viola cut the remnants of her skirt and probed her wound.
Titus’s eyes narrowed, and his jaw clenched. “Do you enjoy hurting the helpless?”
Her? Hurt the helpless. Viola would have laughed if he didn’t make her so fluttery and hot. She stood on quicksand, and the only way to stay safe was to cling to Titus. Yeah, like he’d ever offer his hand.
Her chin rose. “I’m a healer. Only an idiot would think I meant to hurt Tansy. I needed to know if the arrow had struck bone. Fortunately, the head’s embedded in her thigh muscle, but we still need to push it through rather than just yank it out. Once I’ve poulticed the entry and exit wounds, I’ll clean up her scratches.”
“Then get a move on.” Titus’s fingernails turned into claws, and he bared his fangs. At her. She should be scared or even screaming. Instead, she almost came when she pictured those fangs sinking into her flesh as she orgasmed around his cock. No. Not feeling anything for him…really. Besides, who the hell does he think he is? Judging me as though he’s the Rock Prowler alpha.
Viola did her best with limited materials. The alpha refused to let her leave Rock Prowlers’ territory to train further even though that left the pack without a qualified healer. She’d lost her books in the fire that had destroyed her home, and she hated when she didn’t know enough to help.
If Elspeth hadn’t taken Viola in when her mother vanished and her father banished her from her home, she wouldn’t have survived. Twenty-two years later, survival was still a struggle.
Healing was all she had left. She understood difficult childbirths and kept a stock of herbal remedies for the rare occasions a wolf couldn’t heal himself by shifting. Sadly, nothing would fix her knee. Without her inner wolves, Viola would never be whole again.
She stole a quick glance at Titus, and her heart rate sped up again. His confidence and strength along with the way he took charge of a bad situation made her envy his mate—assuming he had one.
The bonded couples in town never left each other’s sides unless they had to, which made her wonder what Tansy had been doing out here alone. Jealousy hit Viola like a fiery arrow. The thought of Titus bonding with another woman turned her stomach sour. Not that she’d ever have children or a mate, but a she-wolf could dream.