Authors: Terry Spear
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Copyright Â© 2016 by Terry Spear
Cover and internal design Â© 2016 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Cover art by Kris Keller
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All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systemsâexcept in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviewsâwithout permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.
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To the ambassador wolves, Zoerro (timber gray wolf) and Sabine (Arctic wolf), that we were able to pet at Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary in New Mexico, and to Rory Zoerb, who brought the wolves to visit, and Leyton Cougar, the sanctuary's director, who help to educate visitors about wolves and wolf-dogs. Thanks for sharing such a truly wondrous experience with us!
The full sphere of the moon and a sprinkling of stars lit the sky as Eric Silver ran as a wolf through San Isabel National Forest where he served as a law enforcement park ranger when on duty. The forest was located two hours from Silver Town, Colorado, owned and run by the Silver wolf pack since the town's inception.
He used to don his wolf coat at night when he was off-duty just to enjoy the woods. He found the forest peaceful and rejuvenating as the cool, dry wind whipped the pinyon branches about. Until he'd found ten areas where pot was growingâthe scent left by several unknown wolves in each of the areas was too much of a coincidence for him to conclude humans were growing the weed.
Now Eric's nightly wolf excursions had become a dangerous business that could turn deadly in a heartbeat. Pot growers had already murdered a couple of park rangers at other locations. The drug dealers had too much to lose if they got caught at this. But the wolves didn't know a wolf pack was trying to track them down.
Then Eric smelled a whiff of the scent of one of the wolves he was certain was involved in growing the illegal cannabis. His heart pounded as the thrill of the hunt raced through his blood. Finally!
The male wolf loped through the trees dead ahead, unaware that Eric had caught his scent.
Eric and his pack had to catch the bastards running this operation before humans did. This was the first time Eric had been close to one. He couldn't lose the wolf now.
secret from humans was paramount.
Neither Eric, nor any of his pack members, had ever expected to be chasing down pot-growing wolves. Humans were no problem. He would just get hold of his human boss, who would contact various law enforcement agencies to take the criminals down.
But Eric couldn't let anyone other than his pack members know about thisâ
when the lawbreakers were wolves. As a wolf, he had no way to call for backup at this point. He'd been out here for six weeks searching for the wolves and not once had he come across any of them. The way things were going with this investigation, it stood to reason tonight would be one of the few nights he hadn't bothered to call for backup because he hadn't needed anyone any of the other times. He'd figured he could manage on his own if he did run across one of the wolves.
The wolf's scent was the same as he'd found at the site of all ten plots of cannabis, and even the scent the wolf gave off now included the smell of cannabis as if he'd brushed up against the plants on a regular basis. Damn the wolf and his partners.
Eric needed to identify who he was. Yet he was in a real quandary.
If the wolf were in human form, Eric could have arrested and incarcerated him in the Silver Town jail. Since the town was wolf-run, they could keep him there safely. But the culprit was in his wolf coat and Eric assumed the wolf wouldn't allow himself to be captured. That was the difficulty. Darien, his cousin and the leader of their pack, would be furious that Eric had gone after the wolf without calling for backup this time, but what could he do now? He couldn't let the wolf get away.
All his senses on high alert, Eric concentrated on the wolf's scent as he continued to run ahead of him. The wolf was confident, not fearfulâwhich meant he didn't yet suspect that anyone was trailing him. Eric glimpsed a tuft of black fur stuck to some of the underbrush, and it smelled like the wolf he was following.
They had reached a goatlike path that led to a secluded patch of marijuana. So far, so goodâthe wolf still didn't suspect he was being followed. Thankfully, for Eric's well-being, no other wolves seemed to be in the area right now. He knew the only way to take this one in was to injure him in a wolf fight, though he would risk being injured too. And then if Eric wounded him, how would he transport the wolf? He'd have to wing it.
He moved in to take the wolf down but saw movement to his right. Another wolf. Damn. More beige than gray, the wolf had been hiding in the brush. Hell, one gray wolf against two big gray males? Darien would kill Eric for getting himself into this bindâif he lived through it. He didn't have a choice now. Kill or be killed.
Eric whipped around before the wolf hiding in the bush had a chance to attack. He dove for the wolf's right foreleg, hoping to subdue this one before he had to deal with the other wolf. The wolf wasn't prepared for Eric's quick assault, and with two hard chomps in quick succession, Eric brought him down. The wolf yipped and growled, backing away from Eric on three legs, while favoring his injured one.
At that, Eric swung around to face the wolf he'd been following. The wolf had finally seen Eric and had tried to sneak up on him silently, like a wolf on a hunt. Eric was certain he couldn't attack this wolf in the same way and get away with it, so growling ferociously, he feinted going for his foreleg, then swung around and bit into the wolf's hind leg. With a snap, he broke it and the wolf yipped in pain.
Neither wolf was totally disabled, which was the problem with just breaking their legs. Eric knew of a wolfâa real wolfâthat had lost a leg in a trap. She continued to have pups, and when she lost her mate, she began attacking sheep to provide for her young. Luckily, the sheep owner humanely caught her and took her to a wolf sanctuary where she and her pups were cared for. But she proved that a wolf could survive on three legs. Which meant these wolves were still dangerous.
Both of the wolves eyed him, growling low, their heads lowered, their tails tucked between their legs, which made him suspect they were beta wolves. One lifted his chin to howl as if he finally realized he'd better do something or be in even worse trouble. Eric knew he was about to call his pack for help. And then Eric would really be a dead wolf. He leaped and tore into the wolf, biting him in the throat just as he felt the black wolf tackle his back. The wolf at his back couldn't get a good hold of Eric because of his broken leg, thank God.
Once Eric had taken out the first wolf, he twisted around to deal with the black wolf. The wolf snapped his jaws at him, lunging forward, yipping in pain. He tried to kill Eric with every ounce of strength he possessed. Eric fought him, biting and growling. Still, the wolf managed a lucky bite to Eric's flank and then lifted his snout to howl.
Hell. His heart racing, furious with the damn wolves for doing something illegal and putting all their kind at risk, Eric tore into the wolf. He only wanted to take him in. He didn't want to have to kill him. But when he heard another wolf coming, Eric finished the injured black wolf off and raced back down the mountain. The newcomer would have to deal with his dead pack members. Eric could have fought this wolf, but not a whole pack if even more of them were in the vicinity.
Even now, he was at risk of running into them. His heart drumming and his flank burning from the bite, he tried to ignore it and ran full out as if a whole pack of wolves was on his tail. With the enhanced healing abilities of the
, he would recover sooner than if he were just human, but the process could still take some time, depending on how bad his injury was.
Eric reached his truck and shifted, the transformation warming his muscles and bones, though his wound burned even more. The shift was instantaneous and he quickly unlocked his door using the code, grabbed his medical bag, and fumbled around inside it for the antiseptic. After wiping the wound down, he bandaged the injury. It wasn't too deep, thankfully. He was hurrying to pull on his clothes when he heard a wolf yip about a half a mile away, in a different direction than where he'd just been.
His need to protect kicked in, yet the new wolf could very well be from the same pack that was growing pot. What were the odds that members of two
packs besides his were here in the park?
He grabbed his medical pack and headed out at a run, calling CJ, his deputy sheriff brother, at the same time. “Killed two of the wolves involved in the drug operation. Left when a third was on its way. Now I'm investigating a wolf injury.” He gave coordinates for the drug site.
“Wait for me to get there. I'm calling it in to Darien and the sheriff, but I'm on my way.”
“Can't wait, little brother. I'll be cautious.”
“All right. I'll let everyone know what's going on.”
Ending the call, Eric approached the area, careful to stay downwind. When he was close enough to see what the problem was without the wolf seeing him, he witnessed five wolves hovering over an injured she-wolf. She was lying on her side near the base of a cliff where evidence of a recent rock slide littered the area. By the way the other wolves were reassuring the injured wolf, Eric assumed they were
, which surprised the hell out of him. He'd never seen any in the park before his run-in with the other wolves earlier today. But considering the size of the national park, that was understandable. Their scents assured him that none of these wolves had been near the cannabis plants he'd already located. Although they could still be members of the same pack and involved with the operation in other ways.
He slowly walked out of the cover of the trees toward the rocky cliff, hands raised to show he wasn't going to shoot them, wanting them to know he was there to help the injured wolf. “I'm a
like you.” Since he was off-duty and no longer wearing his uniform, he filled them in on the rest. “I'm a law enforcement park ranger. My name is Eric Silver. I can take the she-wolf in my truck to the clinic in Silver Town, two hours south of here. The town is all wolf-run.”
Two of the wolves snarled and growled at him, but they didn't draw closer. He assumed they were betas, trying to figure out what to do. They couldn't take care of the wolf themselves, not as wolves. And running around in the woods as naked humans carrying an injured wolf was going to require a lot of explaining if they ran into anyone else.
The injured wolf was still lying on her side. She tried to sit up and yipped, lying back down.
“Just lie still,” Eric said, motioning for her to stay put, his voice gentle and reassuring.
He needed to get closer so he could examine her, but he was cautious about the wolves who were threatening him. Even beta wolves could tear a person apart, so he needed permission to draw closer. Though they probably wouldn't hurt him, he couldn't risk injury by ignoring the threat.
When they wouldn't back down, he tried again to convince them he only wanted to help. “I can carry her to my truck, only a mile from here. Some of you can come with me so you know I'm serious about getting help for her.”
They continued to snarl at him, protecting her, but Eric wouldn't back off either. He wasn't leaving until someone took care of her.
Then one of the men shifted. He was maybe in his forties, with black hair and hard amber eyes. “We don't need your help.” Even so, the man was obviously in a quandary.
Eric took the wolf's shifting as a good sign. Not of friendship, but the wolf would have remained a wolf if he had felt threatened, especially since he appeared to be in charge. He would have led the wolves to attack Eric then, if he was going to do it.
At that point, Eric slowly drew closer to the injured wolf. Then he crouched to examine her, hoping they would finally let him help.
When he touched her right hind leg, she yipped. “Okay, girl, I'll be gentle. I just need to check to see if it's broken or something else.” He carefully ran his hand over her leg, and she pulled it away from his touch.
“Is it broken?” the man asked, sounding worried.
“I don't feel any break, but it's obviously tender. It could be a bruised tendon, torn ligament, or even a hairline fracture of the bone.”
“She can't walk on it. We're parked about five miles out.”
Eric said again, “I'm parked only a mile from here on one of the official-use-only trails. I can carry her to myâ”
“No. We don't need your help. We'll take care of it.”
we'd take care of her.”
Eric raised his hands in a sign of truce, but he wasn't leaving until he saw that they could provide her with the care she needed. “How are you going to do it? I'm trained in first aid. I can call others from my pack to help get her out of here, or I'll carry her to your vehicle.” As much as Eric hated offering, he'd carry her the five miles to their vehicle if that was the only way they'd go for it.
“All right. You can carry her to our campsite then.”
Eric let out his breath in exasperation. Every mile he moved her would cause the poor wolf more pain.
The man in charge had already shifted back into his wolf form. He and the other males were watching for signs of anyone else approaching, while the one female stood by the injured she-wolf, looking concerned. Eric made a makeshift splint, and as soon as he bound the injured she-wolf's leg, she whimpered. He hated that she was in pain and wished he could give her something for it. As gently as he could, he lifted her in his arms. This was going to be the longest hike he'd ever made. He wished the wolf in charge had listened to reason.
As a wolf, this would have been no problem, even though he was feeling some pain of his own. But as a human carrying an injured wolf, the trek was all the more difficult. He stumbled over too many exposed roots to count because he couldn't see the path, making the she-wolf whimper or yip in pain. He fought groaning himself a time or two.
Eric loved the wide open spaces in the park, the seventy-degree temps during the day, and fifty-degree temps during the nightâeven though in the summer things became rather hectic with all the visitors. He would never have expected to be dealing with this much wolf trouble in one night though, when he'd never seen any other packs in the area before.
When they drew closer to a creek, he heard feminine laughter. Despite how chilly it was, the women were splashing around, which intrigued him, although he was worried they might see him carrying a wolf, surrounded by other wolves. Then one of the wolves in the lead ran off. Eric blended in with the lodgepole pines, oaks, and shadows so the women wouldn't see him unless the wolf forced him to go to the rocky bank.