Authors: Stacey Kennedy
To all my gals at Paranormal Romantics!!
White noise ran across the radio waves. Cash swore, wiped the rain from his hands onto his worn, dark jeans, then turned the knob on the radio.
blared through the speakers of his ’69 jet black Camaro. He settled back into the leather seat, ran his hand through his dirty blond, textured hair and wiped away the moisture dripping onto his prominent nose and trickling down his sculpted cheek.
The visit with his sister, Taya, had gone better than expected. I
t’d been two years since he’d last seen her or the cubs. At twenty-eight, his twin was still a better human than he would ever be¯too much wolf lived in his blood.
Taya was a perfect mother to her twin babes, Malik and Marlee, and mate to Royce¯all of wh
om belonged to the Montana pack. Cooke City was their birthplace and where his family had been born and died. He was the only one of his blood relatives who had left, and would probably ever leave, the pack’s protection.
It shamed him to think that he had left his sister. With his parents long deceased, he was the last of his family ties. But rogue was more Cash’s taste. He hadn’t belonged to a pack for two years and that suited him just fine. Once a Montana pack member, he had been loyal and faithful to his Alpha, Blaine. Now, that allegiance had left him. Not on harsh terms, but nonetheless, he didn’t belong here anymore.
With a groan, he shook away the guilt of abandoning those who needed him and wiped the remaining droplets of rain off his face. He wouldn’t burden himself with guilt. There was enough weight on his heart as it was.
The death of his mate, Jaclyn, had been the reason he left the pack. His soul mate had been killed by a rare disease that took her life within days of the first sign of illness. When her heart had stopped beating, so had his. Nothing lived in him anymore.
The scent of wolf reached Cash before the door to his car opened. Royce sank into the seat, drenched by the falling rain, and shut the door behind him. “We have to talk,” he said, gruffly.
Cash respected Royce as much as he would a brother. More than once they’d fought side by side and rejoiced in victory together. Now, as he met Royce’s firm hazel gaze, he was aware he was not his equal. “Say what you have to then,” Cash responded curtly.
Royce’s eyelids sank to slits as pure contempt washed across his naturally soft features. “You’re a real selfish bloke, you know that?”
“Yes,” Cash replied with a snort. “I’ve heard.”
“Do you know the pain you have caused your sister?”
Cash shut his eyes. He didn’t want to be reminded. “What do you want, Royce? I’ve not come here to be made to feel guilty.”
“It’s time to come home,” Royce nearly spat. “Enough of this rogue shit. You have a fami
ly here¯responsibilities, obligations to your pack. You cannot continue to run away from your problems.”
Cash snapped his eyes open and glared at Royce. “There is nothing here for me anymore. No reason to stay.”
Royce nearly shot out of his seat, full of anger. “I’ve got three reasons.” He pointed back to the simple red brick home. “Right fucking in there.”
Cash gulped. His heart wrenched at the thought of either his sister or the cubs missing him. Wolves were bound deeper than humans. He’d felt his twin’s loss deeply, but compared to his own despair, it never measured up. “I’m no good to them now.”
Royce’s gaze turned challenging. “Says fucking who?”
“Bullshit,” Royce snapped adamantly. “You’ve had a rough go of things since the death of Jaclyn. We all understand this, Cash. It’s why we’ve stayed away for so long and haven’t come searching for you. Taya thought your return tonight meant you had reconciled whatever you needed to and that you were coming back.” His expression darkened, his voice a near snarl. “But no, you came to only show that you were alive. Which, by the way, you left us all to wonder about.”
“I...” Cash hesitated, searching for words. After a long pause, he said, “I needed to see them.”
“Good for fucking you.” Royce bashed his fist against the dash. “Now, you’ve re-opened a wound. Taya considers you dead, do you know that?”
Cash closed his eyes, and gulped deeply. It pained him to hear his twin had to resort to such thoughts. “No, I didn’t know that.”
“She had to or she can’t get through her days. When you left after the funeral, it took Taya a month to recover.” Royce bashed his hands against the dash again, harder this time, and his fist left a small ding in the plastic. “A fucking month!” He pointed a finger in
Cash’s face, his gaze firm and livid. “You may have felt that the world fell apart, but you were not the only one¯Taya’s world crumbled, too.”
Cash tore his gaze from Royce’s. He couldn’t even look at the man. “Things have changed.”
“You have changed. That is undeniable. This coward I see before me resembles nothing of the Cash I once knew.” Royce's voice shook with rage. His body trembled in his seat. “What is it you are looking for? Why do you run from your pain? When it is the ones here who could he
lp you¯your sister, your pack.”
"I have no pack,” Cash growled.
Royce’s breath hitched, the anger evaporated, and his tone came soft in a whisper. “If that was heard by others, hearts would break.”
Cash glanced up and stared at the man who he once considered a friend. “I live only for Jaclyn, because she would ask this much of me. The only reason my heart still beats is I fear I will disappoint her if I join her. There is nothing left in me to give. My presence would only create despair and hardship. I say again, I am no good.” Royce’s gaze swept with emotions he’d never seen before. He had to wonder what showed in his eyes in that moment. He suspected they showed as dead as he felt inside. “Tonight, I came here hoping I’d feel something being around Taya and the cubs.” He let the coldness, the emptiness in his heart, rise to his face. “I felt nothing. No warmth. No yearning to be back here.”
Royce frowned. “So you care nothing for them?”
“I am unable of caring for anything.”
Royce sighed deeply a
nd the tension surrounding him softened. “If this is all true, which I have no doubt it is, you are right¯you must go.” He reached up and put his hand on Cash’s shoulder. “Don’t come back. Never step foot in this territory again unless you come home restor
ed. I will not let you continue to ruin Taya. As her mate, I must protect her from that.”
Cash nodded as words escaped him.
Royce opened his door and began to climb out, but stopped to glance back. “Find whatever it is you are looking for, find a reason to live again, and then, Cash, come home.”
When the door slammed shut, Cash’s breath wheezed out as if he hadn’t breathed in a lifetime. He glanced out to the rain pouring down his side window and saw Taya standing at the door just under the sconce. He
ad full of curls, round rosy cheeks, and the kindest brown eyes he’d ever seen. Yes, this was home¯but he didn’t belong here anymore, and he didn’t think he ever would.
* * * *
Rylie shifted in the passenger seat of the lime green Volkswagen Beetle as Wyoming mountain passed by in all its beauty. It was the hundredth time she’d fidgeted on the drive down Beartooth Highway. The night was dark as thick storm clouds covered the sky while rain beat against the windshield and the wipers worked madly to keep up.
She took a quick glance toward Chloe and noticed the firmness in her best friend’s posture hadn’t changed. Her hands where stuck at ten and two, her knuckles white from the death grip on the steering wheel. Rylie sighed, then glanced back out to the wilderness.
A short time later, they crossed over the state line into Montana. Chloe let out a loud breath and sank back in her seat in relief. “Guess Layne was none the wiser.” Her tone was relieved.
Rylie nodded as she let out a deep breath of her own. “Apparently not.” If Layne had known what she was attempting, she wouldn’t have made it out of Wyoming. Her death would have come first. Harsh, but that was a pack rule. She was bound to him, his mate for all eternity, and since she was immortal, that meant forever.
Layne would have killed her for her betrayal¯no one would have stopped it. Her father, Edwin, once Alpha to the Wyoming pack, had been succeeded by Layne only days before. Layne
had unofficial business that brought him into Cody, and even Rylie couldn’t deny they were destined to be bound.
The problem? Layne was scum-bag central. Greedy and cold-hearted was only the tip of the iceberg. He also lacked character. Sexy, of course, as were all werewolves, but his strong, sculpted body and tall, dark, and handsome features were of no interest to Rylie. She may only be twenty-four, but she had enough sense to not fall for a man on looks alone.
In a matter of twenty-four hours, Layne had issued a challenge to claim the status of Alpha in the Wyoming pack, claimed Rylie as his mate, and killed her parents. Her father fought with valiance, but in the end, it hadn’t been enough. Her mother, loyal to her mate right to the very end, refused to submit to the new Alpha. The end result—she died right along with him. In thirty minutes, her entire family had dwindled down to nothing.
Now, Rylie focused on her survival. Besides, she wasn’t entirely alone. Chloe, her best friend, was her anchor. Born a day apart, destined sisters born from different mothers, they always joked. Friendships like the one with Chloe weren’t formed through time. It was a bond that lay soul deep, and one that Rylie was going to miss tremendously.
Chloe may only be five-five with auburn hair that coiled between her shoulder blades and a pretty face with sandy-colored eyes, but she was as tough as any man. Chloe’s courage and in-your-face attitude was something Rylie envied. She had yet to find the balls that Chloe seemed to be naturally born with.
“We’re only ten minutes from Cooke City,” Chloe said, drawing Rylie away from her thoughts. “Are you really sure you want to do this? You’ll be on the run forever.”
“What other choice to do I have?” Rylie sighed. “I can’t s
tay with Layne¯he’s horrible.”
“That fucker,” Chloe growled. “Treating you like he has. You’d think when he found his mate, he would treat her like a queen. Not like a door mat.”
Rylie wasn’t going to argue that point. Layne had been nothing but wretched to her. He’d barely spoken a word to her since their bonding ceremony, and even that Rylie wished she could erase from her mind.
Virgins should be handled with care¯with consideration. Something Layne had obviously never been taught. Her first sexual
experience held no touching except when he put lubrication on her opening and then shoved his dick in. If she never had sex again, she’d be perfectly fine with that.
“All right,” Rylie finally said, willing herself to leave the past behind her. “Go through it again with me?”
“Again?” Chloe groaned.
“Yes, again. I want to make sure you have your story straight. I don’t want this coming back on you.”
“Fine¯once more, then that is it,” Chloe said with a firm look. “You called me up and told me you want
ed to go for a drive into Cooke City.”
“We went into a little store, I was looking at a book, then I turned around and you were gone.”
“Right! And what are you going to do when you drop me off?”
Chloe rolled her eyes, exasperated. “Call Layne and report you missing.”
“Exactly,” Rylie responded, ignoring the look. “Just stick to that story and you’ll be fine.”
“I have no idea why you are worrying about me. You’re the one who could end up six feet under.”
Wasn’t that the truth? “He won’t find me.” Rylie hoped, begged, prayed. “I’ll just keep running until he gets tired.”
Chloe’s expression shifted to knowing. “Let’s just hope he gets tired of hunting soon.”
A wave of fear mingled with annoyance as it washed through her. All of this was true. What if he never grew tired? Layne seemed the type of man who would chase her till the end of the earth. Not for romantic reasons, only because she belonged to him. He owned her, and what he owned, he kept.
Cooke City’s downtown lit the sky minutes before they entered the town. Wild-Wild West still played a serious role here. If a cowboy came out with the whole chaps and spurs get up, Rylie wouldn’t have been surprised. Cody, her home town, wasn’t a busy city compared to some, but it was d
efinitely bigger than this hick town. A couple of gas stations sat on either side of the road, small stores¯hardware, a local store, used book store, couple knickknack junky places and a few clothing shops¯that was about it.
Chloe pulled the car off the road, put it in the park, then met Rylie’s gaze. “This is it then, I guess.”
“Yup, guess so,” Rylie replied, a lump forming in her throat. As much as leaving Chloe behind was gut wrenching, she was happy within the pack. Her mate, Devan, was a man to drool over and who loved her silly. Her place was with him.
Chloe breathed in deeply, then blew it out as she hugged Rylie tightly. “Be safe, okay?”
“I’ll sure try.” Rylie laughed, a nervous sound that said just how she felt.
Chloe backed away, her eyes filled with tears. “If you get in any trouble, call me. Devan said he’ll come and help you if you need it.”
Rylie kissed Chloe’s cheek. “Tell Devan I said thank you, but I’m just going to get as far away as I can. Layne will get bored. He will move on. I am sure of it.”
“Of course he will,” Chloe responded. “Give it a week and he’ll forget all about you.”
If Rylie hadn’t known her so well, she would have believed her. But as it was, she knew Chloe had just lied. “I’ll miss you,” she managed, her throat tight.
“Me too,” Chloe squeaked.
Rylie grabbed the door handle, opened it, then gave a push against the door with her arm. “So, I’m going.”
Chloe’s tears spilled over. “Yes, you’re going.”
“Right now,” Rylie said. Her own tears formed.
Chloe gave a firm nod. “Go.”
Rylie willed herself out of the car, forced her body to move, and soon, she was standing outside of the Bug with her hand on the door. With a firm shove, she slammed it closed. Tears overtook her vision¯the world went blurry. Chloe’
s cries echoed through the dark sky.
A cold rain came around Rylie. She raised her head to the sky and let the sensation ease her. She was free from Layne, from a lifetime of mistreatment, from years of unhappiness.
The sound of a phone beeping snapped Rylie back to focus. It was time. She needed to run. With a deep sniff, the scent of wolf surrounded her. Her heels dug into the ground, then she pushed off and ran as fast as she could.
A muscle car rested outside the local store, the headlights on, and a figure sat in the front seat. Whoever sat in that car was a male and he smelled rouge. A lifeline had just been thrown her way at the opportune moment. A rogue wolf wouldn’t be opposed to helping her. He wouldn’t know who she was or care what she was d
oing¯he wasn’t bound by loyalty.
The rain splashed up as her feet banged against the ground. She never stopped running. This was a good way out. She continued to run toward the car, her need to get out of the line of sight growing more urgent.. The momen
t she met the passenger door, she slammed into the side, grabbed the handle and flew in, shutting the door behind her. She met the driver’s bewildered gaze. “Go¯please, just drive.”