Authors: Carol Davis
“That’s already done. What do you want
She was silent for so long that he thought she might not answer at all. Then, looking off into the distance, she said, “I can’t make decisions for all of you. This is your home, and those old men are in charge. But—”
“Speak your mind. I’m listening.”
“I want you to find another way.”
“And if I can’t?”
“Find another way, Aaron. Do for him what you’re doing for Micah. Lane hasn’t stabbed anyone. Give him a chance.”
That was all he could get her to say. Firmly, she turned him around and pointed him toward his packmates.
He was somewhat surprised that they had done nothing, that the elders hadn’t already given the pack a command. He saw his father among them now, standing near Luca. Katrin was there too. The murmuring had stopped; the entire group was watching him.
Waiting, as he’d asked.
Waiting… for him.
He marveled at that for a moment, because it was something that had never happened to him before, except as part of a training run.
The weight of it was enormous, and he began to understand what the elders went through each time they had to make a determination. He wondered why they weren’t stepping in now—and then realized exactly why they weren’t.
Like Abby, they were waiting to see what instructions he would give, how he thought this should be handled.
They’d laid the entire wellbeing of the pack on his shoulders, and would use the events of this night to help them decide what should be done not only with the human man Lane, but with Abby.
And with Aaron himself.
He took a long look at his mate, who’d begun to shiver in the cool night breeze, then looked at his brother, who had been so close to death only a couple of days before. At his father, who had been fierce and unbending more often than Aaron had thought was necessary.
Then he looked at the wolves who had gathered to do his bidding, most of them very young and very eager.
They were silent now, for the moment.
“Give chase,” he said quietly. “Pursue him, no matter where he goes. Make him understand who we are. Run him until he’s exhausted. Let him see your teeth. Your eyes. But do not kill. Let me—” His voice caught in his throat. “When the chase is finished, leave him to me.”
The three elders exchanged a look that was hard to interpret.
Then Caleb said with a nod, “As you wish, son of Jeremiah.”
Aaron nodded in return, in thanks. “Then,” he said, feeling a surge of very ancient strength, “let the wolves go free.”
It was one thing to let his wolf out simply so it could stretch and run and breathe, another thing entirely to unleash it in pursuit of prey. Aaron felt every bit of the animal’s excitement as he stepped back and let it break through the walls that normally held it at bay.
It knew and understood more of what was happening than a pureblood wolf would, but its thoughts and needs were simple.
Show your power. Make the challenger surrender.
He was relieved to see Katrin approach as the other wolves began to shift. Abby might have been fine remaining where she was, but she’d be safer in Katrin’s care. Beyond that, she trusted and liked Katrin, and Katrin would answer honestly any questions Abby might have.
Certain that his mate was in good hands, he let the wolf have full control of their shared body and settled back into what he thought a human might call “the passenger seat.”
While they were still all in human form, they had blended into the woods as if they were headed back toward the settlement. The wind and the sound of the sea would have prevented the man from hearing what was being said, and now, his eyes would tell him that they were all walking away, and taking Abby with them.
That would present the man with a different problem: how to wrest Abby away from not just Aaron, but an entire group of people.
He’d be off-guard now. Trying to put together a new plan.
Once the members of the pack were well out of the man’s sight, they’d begun to change. Nathan and Dash first, of course; they were the most eager, but the others had quickly followed suit.
With Luca at his side, Aaron charged into the woods, following the trail of scent the man had left behind.
Nearest the clearing, the man had been both angry and sexually excited, which was a bad combination. If Aaron hadn’t noticed him first, he might well have come out into the clearing to confront the woman he was determined to have, might have tried to tear her away from Aaron and carry her back to his boat.
He’d had no weapon before, back at the cabin, but he might well have one now, and Aaron’s wolf took a moment to warn the others of that possibility with a series of short, fierce yips and a growl. They all answered immediately, giving Aaron a solid idea of where they were as his wolf plunged ahead.
The woods were rich with smells: rotting leaves, small animals both living and dead, the foliage. Even so, it was easy to pick out the scent of the human, who’d sat for a while in a couple of places but was now moving away.
If Aaron had wanted to bring him quickly to ground, he would have had the others circle around and cut the man off, but his goal was exactly the opposite: to make him run until he was exhausted and terrified. That wouldn’t be hard to accomplish; the man might think he was cunning, but he wasn’t.
After a couple of minutes, Aaron had the pack halt where they were so he could listen. He picked up the sound of the man moving through the woods a few hundred yards ahead, in the general direction of the settlement. The last of the sunlight was gone, turning the woods into a deceptive, frightening place for someone who was ill-equipped to be there, full of protruding roots and holes and thick thorns that could inflict painful wounds.
Aaron caught sight of a beam of light—a small flashlight. Something kept in a pocket.
It would do the man little good out here in the woods.
With a few low sounds, Aaron told the pack to hang back, to allow him to move closer alone.
He approached carefully, delaying revealing himself until just the right moment, when the beam of that tiny flashlight would find him at just the right angle.
When it would reveal his eyes.
This would be a good chase.
* * *
“What will they—”
Katrin lifted a finger to her lips to cut off Abby’s question. A few steps later she stopped walking and gestured for Abby to stop too. “You need to focus on the path,” she said quietly. “When we get back to the settlement, you can ask all the questions you like. Aaron would be unhappy with me if I let you fall and hurt yourself.”
“You must trust him.”
There was a weight in Abby’s chest that grew larger the farther they walked. It would suit her just fine never to see Lane again, and she couldn’t say she’d be upset if
tripped and fell and sprained an ankle or smacked his head on something, but she was deeply worried that, in spite of Aaron’s assurances to her, the pack had something else in mind.
“Trust,” Katrin said again.
Katrin took hold of Abby’s hand and squeezed it. “We need to get back to the settlement. We can’t be out here during the hunt.”
That didn’t sound encouraging at all.
* * *
There were drops of fresh blood on the ground.
The wolf stopped to sniff them. Human; there was no doubt of that, and since Abby had gone in the other direction, they were certainly the man’s blood. That gave Aaron a surge of pleasure.
One by one, the other wolves nosed in for a sniff, responding to it with yips and growls. With this scent added to the mix, they’d be able to track the human easily.
Now, they’d have to maneuver him around so that he couldn’t reach the boats, either his own or theirs. They couldn’t allow him to escape the island until he knew not to come back—and not to send anyone in his place.
They moved through the woods carefully and silently, sometimes drawing closer to the man, sometimes backing away, always guiding him exactly where they wanted him to go. They found more blood on the ground, smeared on a rock, spattered on the leaves. He’d cut his leg, Aaron decided: had fallen and gashed it on a rock, and the wound had slowed him down considerably.
Something like that had happened when Aaron was a boy, when the pack had pursued a hunter who’d ignored all the No Trespassing signs and seemed likely to return with comrades if they let him go. That man had bled badly, and had wounded one of the wolves with his gun. Getting rid of him had been complicated. They’d let him bleed to death, then took him back to the mainland and recreated the scene of his death there, bit by careful bit, so no one would suspect he had died somewhere else.
They couldn’t do that this time. This man plainly did not frequent the woods. It wasn’t likely he’d be out roaming around by himself, looking to shoot something whose head he could mount on the wall.
Luca yipped a question and moved in close to his brother.
They could smell the man’s anger and fear. He was talking to himself, mostly berating Abby for making him return when the two of them could be at home now, enjoying a good dinner and watching a movie.
He called her a number of things Aaron knew were demeaning and cruel, vicious enough that Aaron began to think about putting the man in a boat without a motor or oars and letting him die alone out on the ocean.
Or perhaps, feeding him to the sharks. They’d appreciate that he was bleeding so profusely.
Aaron didn’t need to give the pack much direction; even the youngest ones knew what their goal was and how best to achieve it. It was thrilling to work this way, running through the trees, jumping from the heaps of rock that formed small cliffs all over the island, then holding back and creeping silently through the shadows.
As time went on, the man stank more and more of fear, of rage.
He would have hurt Abby eventually, Aaron decided. Sooner or later, he would have delivered a blow.
He urged his wolf to creep closer, to come within a few yards of the man. Enough time had gone by that the moon was rising, which gave him enough light to see clearly that the man’s pants leg was soaked with blood and he was limping badly. The man had lost both his little flashlight and his sense of direction—along with most of his common sense, if he’d had any to begin with—and was for the most part moving in circles.
Aaron nudged his wolf again, and it took a few more steps, to a place where the moonlight would catch its eyes.
Then he and the wolf waited for the man to turn and see them.
The man froze for a moment. Then he crouched down painfully and fumbled around until he had closed his fist around a rock.
Neither Aaron nor any of the other wolves moved a muscle.
The rock would do no damage. Even if the man’s aim was true and he put every bit of his strength behind the throw, it would simply bounce off his target. It was too small to do any real harm. But the man held it as if it were the most deadly of weapons. Aaron had to give him a little credit for that; standing tall and acting fierce had gotten him out of a few scrapes during his own childhood, and after all, this man was nothing more than a blustering child.
Aaron shifted his head, let the light hit his eyes again.
“Come and get me,” the man said, his breath coming in big heaves. “You think you’re nasty? You’re nothing but an overgrown dog. What are you, the
of those people?”
Maybe, Aaron thought, he should approach the man as a dog would, tail wagging, tongue lolling, head rolling cheerfully from side to side. Disarm this foul-mouthed brute with his charm, even though it was likely the man hated dogs.
When he got close enough, he’d…
A few paces behind him, Luca’s wolf made a rumbling sound in his throat.
True; they weren’t here to toy with the man, to stand here and ponder whether the man liked canines.
The man must have heard the sound, because his body jerked and he grunted in pain. An instant later the rock was flying through the air with an impressive amount of power behind it, but its trajectory was wrong, and all Aaron’s wolf had to do was move its head a few inches to one side.
The rock grazed its ear—which Aaron had recommended—and that was enough of a victory that the man whooped with satisfaction.
“There!” he screamed. “There! Take that, you bastard!”
He fumbled for another rock, this one more jagged than the first, and struggled to stand upright again so he could throw it. He still wasn’t likely to inflict any damage, but allowing him to go on throwing stones would give him time to regain some energy, would give him a sense of victory.
So the wolves moved forward.
It didn’t seem possible that the man had thought he was only being pursued by a single wolf, but his eyes popped open with astonishment as more and more pairs of eyes shone golden in the moonlight.
Dash and Nathan, who’d moved around to flank him and were well within striking distance, crouched and snarled at him. That took him completely by surprise, and he yelped and sprang back from where he’d been standing.
“Get back!” the man shrieked. “You get back!”
The young wolf snarled again.
And the man bolted and ran.
They chased him through the woods for almost an hour, steering him so that he truly was running in circles, well away from both the settlement and the docks. He’d find nothing that would help him, nowhere to hide.
He ran impressively well for someone who was injured, fueled by pure adrenaline, the kind of prey the wolves rarely had the opportunity to chase. He stumbled several times, but each time managed to get back up and flee again.
He had more light to assist him now that the moon had risen above the trees, but it wasn’t nearly enough; he had no idea which path was best, which route offered the fewest obstacles.
The wolves took turns with him, driving him from one place to another, allowing him no more than a breath or two of relief before they plunged toward him again.
Each time his wolf got close enough, Aaron could hear the man gasping and groaning, making a deep moan of pain each time he stepped awkwardly and wrenched his injured leg.
Aaron listened carefully, gauging how weak the man was growing. He’d have to choose exactly the right moment; too soon, and the man might decide to renew the battle another time.
Too late, and he would likely die from blood loss.
Finally, the time came.
The man seemed truly pathetic now, smeared with mud, his skin and clothing badly torn. Now he was bleeding not only from his leg but from a gash on his chin, and the blood had mixed with the gooey mud on his hands.
He tried to inch away, but the rocks blocked his path. With his back up against them, he began to whine low in his throat.
In days long past, the wolves would have killed him and shared the meat amongst the pack.
The thought of eating this sad excuse for a man turned Aaron’s stomach. He stared at the man through the eyes of the wolf for a minute, trying to feel some satisfaction at the man’s cowering and whimpering, but it wouldn’t come. This wasn’t a battle well won, a victory over a worthy opponent. It was no more satisfying than besting a terrified rabbit.
The others began to gather around, flanking Aaron on both sides, their glittering, golden gaze directed at the sniveling human they’d trapped among the rocks.