Chapter 2

The Wolf's amber eyes captured her, held her hostage, but her gaze held him captive, too. But only for a moment. His head whipped to the side. Another flash of fur, and another male appeared. Then, the wave of a wolf’s tail as the lupus garou made a hasty retreat. She should have heeded the instinctual warning. Instead, she gauged the remaining wolf’s posture, the way he turned his attention back to her, closed his mouth, and almost seemed to smile before dashing after his companion.

The crashing through the underbrush couldn’t hide the most dangerous sound known to wildlife—a trigger clicking on a rifle. Nothing could disguise the sound of death.

Immediately her tail stood upright, and the hair on her back and neck stood on end.

A chill hurtled down her spine and she dashed through the creek, her heart thundering. Her ears twisted back and forth, trying to identify where the hunter stood.

The sound of a crack rang across the woods and open area, and a sharp pain stabbed her in the left flank. She stumbled... then attempted to dash off again, her leg numbed with paralysis.

The hunter shouted, “He’s still going! I’ve never seen a red wolf that big! Shoot him again!”

Idiots. They couldn’t kill her with normal bullets.

Running for several yards, she reached the edge of the forest, but the guarded relief she felt withered when the men splashed across the creek in hot pursuit of her. She sprinted north toward her cabin, miles away. Except going this way meant she had to cross the river. Then again, she could ford it, while she doubted they could.

“Hurry!” one of the men shouted, his voice rife with enthusiasm, but shadowed with a hint of concern.

She would have clenched her teeth in anger, but she was panting too hard. Her movements slowed. Even her brain fuzzed, and her eyesight blurred. Ripping out their throats came to mind if they got close enough. The primal instinct for self-preservation voided out the ruling drummed into her that her kind didn’t kill humans; keeping their existence a secret outweighed the importance of the life of any single lupus garou.

“Tag him before he reaches the river! We don’t want him drowning!” the same man shouted.

Another crack. Another stab of pain. This time her right flank. She stumbled when her back legs gave out. What had they shot her with? She panted, her heart racing as she tried to keep her wits.

The men crashed through the brush toward her. Their boots impacting with the earth radiated outward and the tremor centered in her pads. She struggled to run. Her heart rate slowed.

“Man, oh, man, I told you, didn’t I, Thompson? He's beautiful,” a tall man said, wearing camouflaged gear, his dark hair chopped short, the bill of a camouflaged baseball cap shading his eyes. He approached her with caution.

She gave him a feral look that meant danger and dragged her back legs. Work, damn you! Work! But no matter how much she willed her legs to push her forward, she couldn’t manage. She sat, panic driving her to run, but unable to oblige as a strange numbness slipped through her body. No longer able to sit up, she rolled over onto her side. And watched the hunters approach with murder in her eyes.

“Damn! He’s the biggest red wolf I’ve ever seen, Joe,” Thompson said as both drew closer... cautiously... the smell of fear cloaking them. He was dressed like the other, only his blue eyes were wide with excitement.

She lifted her head, snarled, and snapped her teeth, but the futile effort cost her precious energy. Exhausted, she dropped her head back to the forest floor, the bed of pine needles tickling her nose.

Joe crouched at her back, then pulled something from her hip. A dart, not bullets. Damn. Her heart beat so slowly she thought she’d die.

“You sure as hell were right that a red wolf prowled these parts. But they’ve been extinct for years. How in the hell did he get here? I mean, he couldn’t have traveled all the way from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.” Joe smelled of sweat and sex and a musky deodorant that wasn’t holding up under the pressure; nor was his flowery cologne hiding the body odor.

Thompson, a blond-haired, bearded man, smelled just as sweaty and virile, but he wore no artificial sweeteners to attract the female variety. She could hear his heart hammering against his ribs when he raised her back leg.

Unable to lift her head, she snarled, but the sound, muffled in sleep, didn’t have the threat she intended.

“He’s a she. Damn. How’d a female ever grow this big?”

She growled, priding herself in being a red wolf, and small. Sure, for a real wolf she appeared big, but as a lupus garou. . . .

He ran his hand over her hind leg. If she hadn’t seen him do it, she’d never have realized it, as numb as her leg was. “Long legs, best looking red pelt I’ve ever seen on a feral wolf.” He looked over at the dark-haired man. “She’s in heat, Joe. We’ll have to find her a mate.”

Mate? Great. If they locked her in a room with a real red wolf . . . ohmigod, they couldn’t be planning on taking her to a zoo?

“That’d be the ticket.” Joe lifted a cell phone to his ear. “Hey, we got her! Yeah, the wolf’s a she, not a he as I’d assumed. No shit! I told you I’d seen her running through here last weekend.”

Why hadn’t she seen these men? Smelled their pungent odors? Heard them?

She had let down her guard, and now she would pay.

“Yeah, she’s a big one.” Joe nodded. “We figured one dart would be enough . . . took two.” He ran his hand over her side. She attempted her most terrifying growl, but it sounded more like a sickly, low moan. “Maybe 110pounds, more the size of a gray.” He chuckled. “I know, I know, I told you she’s big. No, not fat. Lean as they come, just longer-legged and longer bodied, and she has the prettiest red pelt you ever did see.”

He ran his hand over her back. “Okay, we’ll pack her out of here. Be there in about three hours; longer, if she comes to. The tranquilizers each were set for a 40-pound-wolf, not one as big as she is. But we didn’t want to overdo it. And let ’em know Big Red can have a mate now. No need for the Melbourne, Florida, zoo to send us a loaner. Unless she’s been mating with coyotes, she's about due for a hunk of a red wolf.”

He laughed, undoubtedly amused by the response to his comment on the other end of the line.

She groaned inwardly.

“All right, out here.” He turned to the blond. Seems a shame if she’s doing so well in these woods that we have to put her into captivity, Thompson.”

“Hey, as you said, she won’t find any of her kind around here. We’re doing her a favor.”

Inwardly, she fumed, and if she hadn’t been so doped up, she’d have bitten both of them.


Three days later, Diana paced across her new zoo home—nice flat boulders for her to rest on, tree-shaded areas, and an indoor exhibit where humans gawked at her through fingerprint-smudged glass windows.

Furious with the hunters, and even more so with herself, a growl rumbled in her throat. How could she have been so lax in her run not to have noticed them before this?

She paused and took a deep breath, then glanced up at the top of the pen. No way to climb up above. Even if she changed into her human form, she’d never make it, given the way the cliff arched back over the top, providing shade on a sunny day.

She wandered over to the water trough. When she dipped her tongue into the water, Big Red slinked in behind her. She growled. He backed off. The poor old thorny red wolf was dying to mate with her. She smelled perfectly ripe, the precise mating time for a wolf, so what was wrong with her, she was sure he wondered.

She shuddered. Mating with a pure wolf...the very thought.

She resumed her pacing, but when the familiar scent of lupus garou caught her off guard, she stopped. Two men, both around five-ten in height, leaned over the wrought iron railing across the moat. The breeze carried their scent to her, musky and wild. But she recognized the scent of one of them from the Cascades when she went on her run. Ohmigod, they’d followed her all the way here? Unless they lived in Portland or the surrounding area...not good.

She studied them closely. Both men wore their brown hair—tinged with a slight reddish cast—short, and watched her with intrigue. But they both had small chins, not a nice square manly jaw like Caleb had, and both were scrawny compared to the taller, sturdier-built grays.

Red lupus garou. Her heart took a dive. She hadn't seen her kind in human form since she lost her own people when she turned six.

They smiled as she observed them, and tilted their noses up slightly, smelling the breeze when it shifted.

“Hello, sweetheart,” the older man said, who appeared to be in his late twenties. “Where have you been all of my life?”

She looked over at the other, probably closer to her age. He grinned like he advertised teeth whitener. “Yeah, Alfred, she’s one of us all right. Understands every word we say. The right mating age, too.”

“Yeah, and in heat, too.” Alfred rubbed his smooth chin. “Got yourself in kind of a bind, eh?” He glanced around, and seeing no other visitors nearby, turned back to her and winked. “We’ll risk getting you out, but on one condition.”

She bared her teeth at him, and he burst out laughing. His friend joined in on the chorus.

“Maybe she’d rather have me,” the other man said, poking his thumb at his chest. “She surely can’t want him.” He pointed at Big Red. Folding his arms, he said, “She’s the one from the woods, don’t you think?”

Alfred nodded, the smile on his lips not reaching his darkened eyes. “From all accounts, she’s the one.” He grabbed his companion’s shoulder. “Make sure nobody's coming.”

His friend turned around and served as a lookout as Alfred unzipped his pants. He obviously planned to rescue her and make her his mate. The wolf's urge to mark his territory overwhelmed his better human judgment. After he urinated along the bottom edge of the fence, he zipped his pants and smiled. “We’ll be back later, sweet thing.”

God help me.

The keeper’s door creaked open, and she turned when Thompson walked in with the dark-haired man. Thompson folded his arms as she stared at him. So what have they been feeding her, Joe?”

“They fast ’em once a week. Feed ’em bone or muscle meat once a week. Two-thirds canine maintenance, one-third frozen feline diet for the remainder of the week. She's eating well. Don’t know what seems to be the problem. She won’t let him near her to breed.”

You’d better believe it, Joe.

She strolled off, found a protected area in the sun near the entrance to their faux cave, lay down, and rested her head on her paws.

“We’ve thought of sending her to another zoo. Several are interested in pairing her up with a male to provide some more offspring. They’re trying to introduce some more red wolves into the Smokies, but they need to be feral. She’d certainly do if they could find her a mate as wild as she is.”

She raised her head and looked back at them. If she could have glared at them, she would have.

Joe pushed his baseball cap back off his forehead. “You don’t think she’s too young.”

“No, she’s ready. She’s just a little shy.”

Hmpf. Shy, that’d be the day. Then she had an idea. Maybe Thompson would make a good mate. He looked strong enough to take Ragnar on, and he did like wolves. But maybe he could be the one if she could get over the fact that he had shot her and stuck her in a zoo with a horny, big red wolf. She laid her head back on her legs.

But then a horrible thought dawned on her. When would the moon fade from the sky? Damn. The waning crescent would pass shortly. Then it would be the new moon again. Jumping up, she began to pace.

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