Duty, protection, desire, and secrecy clash as the darkness within Zev rises to the surface, and only Tobias can save his mate—even if he never plans to tell Pete that’s what they are.
Darkness was falling fast. Pete turned toward a rustling sound behind him before hurrying away from it. He was freaking out and he knew it.
He wanted to kill his best friend, Roger, a million times over. “Go out west, see something different—it’ll inspire you.” Roger’s voice in his head was a full octave higher than normal, and Pete wanted to strangle it.
He just wanted to find his way back to the trail or to any sign of humanity. But that wasn’t going to happen. He’d only stepped off the trail because he’d seen an amazing grove of wildflowers. How dangerous could that be? He must have gotten turned around in the damned glen and left it from a different spot than he’d come in. Now he was wandering alone at night in the middle of the wilderness. How stupid could he get?
“Don’t answer that,” he said to an owl calling in the trees above him.
Pete stopped under a large tree to catch his breath and held it for support because his lungs burned. He needed to think. But all he could think was that he was going to die and no one would ever find his body. The only people to care would be his editor and his publisher, who would wonder where his next book was. That’s all. Well, and Roger, but if Pete died, he fully intended to haunt the bastard for the rest of his life. Maybe he’d crack open each can of beer in Roger’s fridge so it went flat every time. Or maybe he’d poke him with a stick just when he was starting to fall asleep. Yeah, he liked that idea.
“Take that, you bastard.”
He had checked his phone long ago and found no signal at all. He pulled it out again and saw a single bar. Praying to God, he dialed 911, but the bar disappeared and the call dropped. In the dying light, he looked around, and through a slight clearing in the trees, he spotted a hill and figured he should make for it. He might get a signal up there and then he could call someone. They could send a helicopter and pluck him off the edge of the precipice and just out of reach of a bear who thought he was dinner—okay, this wasn’t one of his book plots. He needed to get his head in the game. In a few minutes, the light would be gone completely, so he slipped off his pack and rummaged inside it. Making the hill before nightfall was out of the question. He guessed he was stuck here for the night.
“Matches, matches….” His fingers curled around a plastic container. “Thank God.” Pete looked around, found some sticks, and pulled them together in the center of a relatively clear area. That should do for him to build a fire. At least he’d have some light and a way to keep warm. He gathered tinder and some smaller sticks, opened the container of matches, struck one, and lit his kindling. The leaves caught, and Pete placed tiny sticks on top, then added a few more until he had a fire going.
“Thank you,” he said, sending his vibes up toward the heavens.
Of course, the universe decided to answer and not in a good way. The sky flashed and thunder rolled over the land around him. Just what he needed.
Pete packed away the matches and continued to feed the flames, hoping the storm would go around him. As he added more sticks, the flames leaped upward enough to let him see the woodland floor around him. Lightning flashed again; the thunder grew louder and the earth vibrated with the roar of sound that died away to a growl.
It took a full second for Pete remember thunder didn’t growl. He looked up from the flames, across the clearing, and into a set of yellow eyes. That was all he could see until the cat prowled low and closer, catching the light in his thick tawny coat. A cougar. Great, just what he fucking needed. He added more sticks to the fire, then grabbed the end of a burning one, and thrust it at the cat, who seemed bold and probably hungry.
Pete’s first instinct was to run, but the cat would be faster than him and pounce on his back. He had seen enough movies where the stupid kids did just that and one of them ended up as cat food.
He put a stick in the fire and added a second and a third, then pulled flaming pokers from the fire, and held them in both hands. He knew it was probably stupid, but it was the only defense he had.
The cat prowled the edge of the clearing, getting closer, mouth open, displaying huge teeth. Pete jumped back and swung as the cat leaped toward him. He missed, but the cat retreated and resumed prowling and stalking him. Pete hoped there weren’t more of them waiting to pounce on his back. He thought big cats like this were solitary hunters. At least he hoped to hell they were.
“Go away. Shoo.” He started yelling and making noise. It was all he could think to do, waving the sticks in his hands to make himself look as big as possible. The cat hunched down, and Pete knew he was coiling his muscles for a strike. He swung both hands as the cat leaped off the ground, propelling himself toward Pete. The hot ends of the sticks connected with the cat’s head, and he heard a searing sound and the scent of burning hair. The cat yelped and fell, then bounded off into the woods just as the sky opened up and drenched the area. The leaves of the tree overhead held off the water for a few minutes, but eventually it was too much and water poured through the thick branches.
The fire sputtered and made a valiant effort against the water, but soon it faded out, not hot enough to last. Pete took refuge close to the tree trunk, hoping for some shelter, but receiving little. He was soaked through in minutes, cold, shivering, and shaken by the nearby lightning and thunder.