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Disorderly Cowboys by J. Rose Allister
Siren Bookstrand Menage Amour
Copyright © 2014
Fear had become such a frequent companion that Lana shouldn’t have been the least bit fazed by having to navigate silent, unfamiliar woods. Nevertheless, she shuddered at the pins-and-needles sensation creeping down her spine.
“Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea,” she muttered while she fought to drag her rolling suitcase over pinecones, rocks, and assorted other obstacles. “I should have called for road service.”
Sage, who was crouched unhappily in the carrier Lana held tight, gave a low yowl in agreement. Getting lost in the woods would really top things off, especially with the afternoon rapidly waning. Anything could be lurking among the trees, watching. Waiting. Ready to take advantage of the stupid female wandering around the middle of nowhere with nothing but battered luggage and a reluctant feline. But she hadn’t wanted to risk sitting alone and vulnerable in her broken-down car, either.
“Better that we get to the cabin before nightfall,” she said. Talking to the cat helped ease the knot of tension tightening in her stomach. “It can’t be much farther.”
She set the suitcase upright and pulled out her phone, but the GPS signal had dropped out fifteen minutes before. At least she’d had cellular service back on the main road. Here, under the thick cover of pine trees, she had zero bars. Meaning zero chance of calling for help if she needed it, and no guidance to help her find her lodging. Still, she’d looked over the directions before setting out, so she knew the cabin was roughly a straight shot from where the car had died. Cutting through the woods would get her there in a mile and a half, whereas the winding highway route would have meant a six-mile hike.
With a sigh, she tucked the phone inside the pocket of her black blazer and rubbed a sweaty palm on her slacks. Soon after, the rolling case hit another rock and wrenched sideways, pulling her off balance with it. She stumbled and nearly let go of the carrier, but she managed to recover it and upright the bag for the twentieth time.
“Sorry, Sage,” she said. “Goddess alive, why did I pack so much?”
She sat on the suitcase for a moment to catch her breath, setting the carrier beside her. Sage’s inquisitive green eyes peered out from between the bars while Lana looked around for some sign of the cabin. “Nothing yet but trees and more trees,” she said.
Lana picked up the reassuring weight of the pendant around her neck and fiddled with it while she surveyed the woods around her. A bird trilled a foreign, yet pleasing tune overhead, and she glanced up to see a hint of afternoon sky through the tall canopy of trees. It would have been a beautiful spot, really, if she wasn’t in such a hurry to get out of it. It was peaceful and serene, with crisp, clean air and the ripe scent of rich earth and invigorating pine. A lovely place for a ritual, perhaps, or some meditation. The calm hand of nature was evident here, which was partly why she’d chosen Shay Falls. If she opened herself to it, she knew this place would fill her with buoyant energy. Somewhere close by there was even a waterfall that had given the town its name. Here in the middle of such beauty, maybe she would feel safe again. Maybe the bad dreams would stop. For the time being, however, her personal shields were at full power. And despite the lovely view, the only sight she was currently interested in seeing was that of a little cabin residing at 214 Pine Grove Lane.
She was just standing up to resume her trek when she heard a thumping noise. She whirled around with a gasp, her eyes scanning the area in a panic. She saw nothing but forest.
“A pinecone must have fallen,” she whispered, eyeing the numerous cones studding the trees.
Sage had heard the noise too, and her ears perked up while her gaze fixed on a spot that was indeed littered with cones.
“Trees,” Lana said. “See? Nothing to be afraid of.”
Lana had barely relaxed when she heard the other sound. Scuffling noises came from somewhere off to her left, noises that sounded a lot more like something coming. Her heart rate shot up as she listened.
The shuffling of leaves returned, closer this time.
Lana reached for the telescoping handle on her suitcase, thought about it for a second, and then let it go. She grabbed the carrier and began to run.
Familiar sensations hit her in a rush—the panic, the sick flood of adrenaline, the instinct to flee as fast as she could. Considering the uneven ground, this was neither an easy nor a graceful prospect, but she focused on her escape until all she heard was the ragged sound of frightened breaths and her footfalls hitting leaves and dirt. She left the rustling, scrabbling sounds far behind her, but she kept running. At one point she tripped and nearly fell, and she pictured a man’s arm reaching out and grabbing her.
She threw a look over her shoulder at the thought and sped up. To her relief, she saw no one behind her. Sage let out a wild yowl and began hissing, however, and when Lana whipped back around, her eyes widened at the reason right before running smack into it. The pale gray wolf was large and seemed just as shocked at her sudden appearance. The force of their collision sent them both tumbling to the ground and the cat carrier flying.
“Oh!” Lana cried out.
An explosion of stars hit when she landed, and for a time she heard and saw nothing. There was just an incredibly warm sensation, an odd current of rightness that she floated on for several moments until she realized the warmth was coming from the very bare-skinned, very human male body she was on top of.
Her eyes flew wide as she drew back. Lying on a naked man was something of an emergency, really, but she had even bigger problems. She tossed a panicked look behind her once more, but nothing seemed to be chasing her. Then she sought out the carrier, which had landed more or less upright. The cat was shaking herself vigorously, as though she’d gotten wet.
“I’m so sorry, Sagie,” Lana said. “Are you all right?”
Assured the cat had survived and no one was about to snatch her up, Lana glanced down at the man beneath her. A naked man was beneath her! Twenty-three years old, and this was the first time she’d experienced any such thing. He was sprawled on his back with his eyes closed. Strawberry blond bangs were flung carelessly across his forehead. His chiseled jaw was dotted with a scant amount of pale stubble. He was hot and hard-bodied, and he looked so unforgivably attractive lying there asleep that her stomach did a little cheerleader flip.
Somewhere through her mental fog, it registered that he wasn’t really lying there asleep. He was unconscious. She’d been more worried about her cat than the man she’d knocked clean out.
“Oh, God,” she whispered. Her limbs felt weak and rubbery when she tried to get up, so she stayed more or less put and patted the man’s cheek. “Hello? Hey, Mister. Wake up.”
Another hiss from Sage shot Lana’s head around just as the snap of a twig drew her attention. Gold eyes, narrow and alien, penetrated her from maybe ten feet away. The wolf they belonged to wasn’t the one who’d somehow escaped after she’d run into it. This one was larger, pure black, and imposing, a creature she would have absolutely loved to have seen anywhere except while alone with it in the woods.
Lana froze stiff, eyeing the carrier. Sage had pressed herself as far back as she could, letting out a long, quiet growl as if that would help matters any. The wolf ignored the cage, stepping closer to Lana. She shrieked and slid off the sleeping hunk she was still on top of, landing in front of him and spreading her arms like a shield. It was a stupid instinct, she knew. She should be worried about herself. Still, she couldn’t just leave the stranger unprotected. It was her fault he was about to become wolf kibble.
She reached behind her to slap harder at the guy’s face. “Come on,” she said in a sharp whisper so as not to startle the animal drawing closer. “Please wake up.”
Then she remembered a fact she’d read many times about wolves. It would be more afraid of her than she was of it.
Heartened, she sat up and waved her arms. “Go away!” she shouted. “Scat! Go on, now. Get away from him.”
She froze when the wolf peeled its lip back in a low growl. Its fur puffed out around the neck as it advanced slowly, like a king approaching his throne. It seemed calm and inquisitive as it drew near—and very definitely not afraid.
Lana shrank back, every muscle rigid, when the wolf stopped in front of her. She sucked in a breath while it leaned close and pressed its snout to her hair. Its breath was hot and damp as it scented her deeply. The urge to fight or run was undeniable, but both ideas were buried beneath her utter shock.
“Please don’t hurt him,” she whispered when it pulled back and growled. “Don’t hurt me.”
The animal backed off and began to shake oddly. Fur stood up all over its body, and as it retreated, it rose up on hind legs. Lana pressed herself tighter to the hot flesh behind her and gawked at the impossible.
The wolf’s limbs lengthened as its fur pulled back to expose bare flesh, and out from within the dark wolf stepped a human male. He was as naked and magnificent as the man she was trying to protect, although the two looked nothing alike. This man was clearly Native American, with dark, glittering eyes and a mane of glossy, black hair that hung loose behind him. A scar ran diagonally from his collar bone across a smooth, powerful chest, but a more intriguing part of him drew her attention between his thighs. His cock was long, thick, and much closer to her current vantage point than she was comfortable with.
“Oh, shit,” she whispered, barely managing to breathe.
Good hell, he was gorgeous, much like the Indian who occasionally turned up in her dreams to save her from the villain. Sometimes it was a cowboy, though, not an Indian. Those were the good dreams, when the hero saved her. Then they would ride off someplace private. Perhaps this was a dream too. Wolves didn’t rise up and turn into gods.
She blinked at him, only vaguely aware he was speaking.
The man knelt in front of her. “Can you hear me?” he asked.
She nodded mutely.
“Are you all right, ma’am?”
The twang in his words was strange. The cowboy lilt seemed disconnected from his sleek profile and naturally tanned skin.
“Ma’am?” he repeated. “Are you hurt?”
“I’m okay,” she said, sitting up and brushing off her palms.
“What were you runnin’ from?”
She glanced at him. “I thought someone was chasing me. Was it you?”
“No. I was standin’ right over there behind that brush.” His eyes lifted to the woods around her and sniffed. “I didn’t see anyone chasin’ you.”
Yes, he had a definite western twang. So, the Indian was a cowboy. Interesting. And he was a wolf. Maybe the man behind her wasn’t the one who was unconscious.
“Am I dreaming?” she asked.
“I must be. You can’t really be a wolf.”
And he said it so casually.
“There’s no such thing.”
His eyes glittered with yellow flecks, remnants of the animal buried within. “You just saw for yourself.”
She shook her head. “How could I have seen something that doesn’t exist?”
“Because I let you.”
This prompted a smile. “See? That proves my point. If werewolves were real, they wouldn’t go around transforming in front of strangers, would they?”
Unless maybe they were about to eat them. She swallowed hard.
“You ain’t a stranger.” He leaned around her and grunted down at the unconscious man. “Damn. He’s really out.”
She shifted around to look while worry and guilt tugged at her chest. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think I bumped him that hard.”
“The back of his head hit the tree on the way down.” Another calm remark, as though he were commenting on the weather.
“It did?” She gasped and scanned the pine needles scattered around his head for any sign of blood. “Jesus, I’m so stupid. I should have been watching where I was going.” She yanked out her cell phone and held it up. “This thing is useless. There’s still no signal.”
“Who would you call?”
“An ambulance, obviously. He needs help.”
“He’ll be fine.”
“What if he has a concussion?”
“He’s used to gettin’ knocked down. He’ll survive.”
Her next objection faded while she watched the way he stroked his hand over the other man’s forehead. There was a tenderness about it that struck her as less than platonic.
“Why did you say I’m not a stranger?” she found herself asking.
Their eyes locked. “Why did you risk yourself to protect him from me?”
She blinked. “I don’t know. It was just a reflex. I thought you were going to hurt him.”
He nodded as though he understood.
“Are you going to hurt me?” she asked.
He paused. “No.”
His deep voice gave her stomach a pleasant squeeze.
“I barely saw him before we crashed,” she said, nervous energy erupting in the form of babble. “He’s a wolf, too isn’t he? A gray wolf. Otherwise it wouldn’t make sense, me bumping into a wolf and finding a naked man in the middle of the woods.”
“Or findin’ a fancy lady in the middle of the woods,” came a hoarse reply, but it wasn’t from the Indian.
She twisted around to find pale green eyes peeking through heavy lids.
“Thank heavens,” she said. “You’re awake.”
His mouth twitched into a smile. “You all right, ma’am?”
Goddess help her, he had a cowboy accent too.
“Me?” she asked. “What about you?”
“I’m fine.” Nevertheless, he winced and dabbed a palm to the back of his head while he sat himself up. “They need to watch where they stick these damn trees, though.”
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “Are you bleeding?”
He got to his feet and extended a hand to her. She stared at it briefly, although it was so close to his cock she didn’t dare look for long. She took the cowboy’s hand, and he pulled her to her feet. Sage crashed around in her carrier, yowling as Lana got up. When she teetered unsteadily, the cowboy grabbed for her and pulled her close. She began to struggle as soon as his powerful hands closed over her upper arms.
“Stop!” she shouted. “Let me go.”
The hands released her immediately. She sprang back, gaping at the two men while she tried to regain equilibrium. Cowboys and Indians, she thought. Wa-hoo. But then, this wasn’t one of her dreams. What she had here was trouble. Hot, naked trouble that was staring at her all too intensely. Maybe there hadn’t been anyone chasing her before, but now she was alone with two large, quite strong-looking men. Just because cowboys and Indians were the heroes of her good dreams didn’t mean they couldn’t be villains in real life.
And oh, yes, they were apparently werewolves.
She backed away. “I guess if you’re all right, I’ll just get out of your way. Again, I’m so sorry.”
She’d barely turned to head for Sage when the blond whipped in front of her. “You ain’t exactly dressed for a casual hike. Are you lost?”
Internal alarms were blaring. “I’m not lost,” she said.
“Why are you out here, then?”
Some of her alarm gave way to irritation. “Why are you so nosy?” She picked up the carrier. “You’ll notice I’m not asking why you’re hanging around the woods naked.”
The glitter in his eyes made her wish she hadn’t brought it up. “Dyin’ to know, ain’t you?”
“No.” She started around him again. “I have to go.”
He cut her off again, and Sage howled in protest. “Weren’t you headed the other way?”
“I left my suitcase behind when I started running. I’m just going back for it.”
Holding her gaze, he said, “Zane, you’re faster than me. What say you go grab the lady’s suitcase?”
“Oh, no, that’s not necessary,” she began, but the other man was already out of sight. “Hey, where’d he go?”
“Told you he’s fast. I’m Jayson,” the cowboy added quickly, thrusting out his hand. Sage leapt back in her cage as though she was being attacked. “Jayson Turk. Zane Larson’s the one who just went to play fetch. And you are?”
Wishing I was safely in my cabin, she thought. After a pause, she took his hand again. His was warm and slightly rough, and a wave of panic accompanied his touch.
He brought her hand to his lips, watching her all the while. The faint brush of a kiss set off an electrical charge that sparked something decidedly naughty in her stomach.
The cat was thrashing in the carrier now. The motion jerked the cage roughly as Lana clutched it, but she wasn’t able to focus on that. She couldn’t shake herself loose from Jayson’s stare.
“Your name?” he asked again, his breath tickling the hairs on her hand.
The V sound that automatically sprang to her lips almost gave away the identity she’d left eight hundred miles behind. That finally broke the spell, and she pulled her hand away. “I’m Lana Smith.”
“Lana.” The word caressed her like a lover’s endearment. “And what was the hurry that sent you straight into my arms?”
She broke eye contact and found herself gaping at the organ that was lifting itself to stare at her. For just the briefest of moments, she actually felt her will split in two. Half wanted to run away. The other half wondered what it would be like to reach out and touch a big, meaty cock.
Distance was the smarter choice, and she took a step back while averting her gaze. “Look, if we’re going to make small talk, could you turn around or stand behind a tree or something?”
He glanced down at himself. “I reckon that’d be the polite thing.”
He strode to a clump of barely waist-high brush. More of his stellar body than was prudent still showed when he stepped behind it, but at least his dick was out of sight. As a bonus, Sage settled down once Jayson was away from her.
Lana lifted the cage to peer inside. “Hey, now, calm down. It’s okay.” Still, she had to wonder about that. Animals had keen senses, and the fact that Sage hated Jayson could be a red flag. Or maybe the cat just took exception to the idea of a human sprouting fur and a tail.
“Now,” he went on, “tell me why you mowed me down like the head of a cattle stampede.”
She sighed and set down the carrier. “I heard something in the woods.”
His brow lifted. “The woods are full of things to hear.”
“It was a thumping sound, like a foot.” She demonstrated with her own.
“Probably a pinecone hittin’ the ground.”
She pressed her lips together. “I thought of that. But then I heard scuffling in the leaves like someone was coming. Pinecones don’t scuffle that I’m aware of.”
His eyes narrowed. “And?”
“And I picked up Sage and ran.”
“Did you see anyone?”
“No. After I ran into you, Zane said he hadn’t seen anything either.”
“Might have been squirrels. Lots of ’em scamperin’ around out here.”
She thought about that and felt a stab of foolishness. “I don’t know. Maybe.”
“You still shouldn’t be out here alone in these woods,” he said. “It ain’t safe.”
“You were out here alone in these woods.”
The dimple in his smile weakened her knees. “I wasn’t alone. Anyway, I’m different.”
She lifted her chin and decided to come out with it. “I’ll say. Aren’t you a werewolf too?”
That grin widened. “I see Zane didn’t waste any time givin’ up our secrets. What else did I miss while I was passed out?”
“You didn’t answer the question.”
“Want to see for yourself?” His eyes brightened, gleaming with an alien yellow she recognized.
“No,” she spat out. “You being naked pretty much confirms it.”
“Thought you weren’t askin’ about that?”
She felt her cheeks flush as she looked away. “I’m not.”
“I got no problem showin’ you what I am.”
“No, wait.” Her eyes flicked back to see Jayson was gone. Damn it, she thought. Was a gray wolf hiding behind that shrub?
“I said I don’t want to see,” she called out. “Don’t you dare come out of there on all fours.”
“I ain’t on all fours, darlin’.” His voice was right behind her.
She whirled around with a scream and jumped back. So did the cat. “Gods, you scared the shit out of me.” Tears stung her eyes as she pressed her palm to her chest, waiting for her heart to restart. “Don’t ever sneak up on me like that.”
His smart-ass grin slipped into a frown. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t tryin’ to give you a fright.”
“What the hell did you think you’d give a woman you were sliding in behind?”
There was a distinct flash of amusement in his eyes at the remark. When he saw how her hand shook while she tried to smooth back a rebel strand of hair, however, the grin faded.
“You’re really scared,” he said, and he stepped forward. “Come here.”
She stepped away. “No. Just stay where you are.”
Sage concurred by spitting and hissing.
“I’m sorry I scared you. I didn’t mean no harm.”
“I’m the idiot who asked what you were.” Lana glanced at the wild-eyed feline. “Although I suppose Sage’s reaction is clue enough.”
With that, Jayson knelt down to peer at the brown-and-white striped cat through the thin wire bars. “I ain’t surprised he don’t like me. Most animals don’t take to my kind.”
Sage proved it, too, by letting out an obnoxious howl. She shoved curved claws briefly through the bars at him before flattening herself in the back corner.
“She,” Lana corrected. “I guess she knows what you are, then.”
Jayson straightened up, and Lana stiffened. “The real question ain’t what I am, but who you are.”
She eyed him warily. “I told you. I’m Lana Smith.”
“That ain’t what I meant.” He sniffed the air between them. “Your scent tells me why you wound up on top of me.”
Folding her arms headed off an annoyingly pleasant shiver. “If that’s supposed to be a pick-up line, it’s about the worst I’ve ever heard. And trust me, I’ve been treated to some real hall-of-shamers.” Her eyes flicked downward and saw his dick climbing higher. “And why aren’t you standing behind that bush like we agreed?”
He made no move to cover himself. “You asked what I was, so I showed you.”
“You’re showing me too much. I’ve seen enough strange sights for one day.”
He reached between his legs. “So, my fancy lady thinks I’m strange-lookin’. I’m mighty sorry to hear that.”
She jerked backward. “Stop touching yourself. And why do you keep calling me fancy?”
He eyed her up and down and walked closer. “A business suit and high heels ain’t what most women wear on a hike.”
She stepped away. “It’s just a pantsuit, and the heels on these pumps are only two inches high. Besides, I wasn’t expecting to be hiking in them.”
His eyes focused on the open neckline of her white blouse. “Interestin’ necklace. A wolf’s head, ain’t it?”
Her hand closed over the pendant self-consciously and shrugged. “Maybe.”
“So, you got a thing for wolves.”
She found herself backed against the tree he’d bashed his head on. “I don’t have a thing for them,” she said. “It’s more like a hobby. I mean, I collect wolves.”
“You collect wolves,” he echoed as he stopped inches away. “Ain’t that somethin’.”
She breathed in a heady male scent her body longed to experience more of. The way he was staring at her produced another hot rush in her stomach, and she couldn’t speak.
“When I was comin’ to,” he said, “I heard Zane sayin’ you were tryin’ to protect me.”
The sudden change in topic threw her, although not as much as the heat radiating off his body. “So what if I was?”
“Do you know why you were driven to keep me from harm? Or the other urges you’re feelin’ now?”
She slid away from the tree. “I don’t have urges,” she stammered.
A chuckle came from low inside him. “Is that a fact?”
A lie came quickly. “Look, I have a friend waiting who will send out the troops if I don’t show up soon. I should go.”
He cocked his head. “A friend.”
She nodded. “My car died out on the main road. Cutting straight through the woods was the faster way to meet up.”
He seemed to chew on that for a moment. “Then I reckon Zane and I best make sure you find your way.”
She felt a stab of fear. True, she wasn’t thrilled about being in the woods alone, but she certainly didn’t want werewolves tagging along. Especially with the way Jayson kept staring at her.
“I really can’t trouble you any farther,” she said.
“And you shouldn’t have sent Zane after my luggage. What if he gets lost looking for it?”
“He’s already back.”
“What?” She leaned around Jayson in surprise to see the other man setting down her suitcase and a pair of boots. Zane nodded at her and tossed a pair of jeans at his partner.
In the short time he’d been gone, Zane had managed to not only grab her luggage, but to get dressed in the process. He wore a black thermal shirt that stretched tight over his broad torso. Black jeans hugged his muscled thighs, his boots were black leather and square-toed, and he wore a gray Stetson. Her stomach tightened just looking at him.
“I checked around while I was out there,” he said. “But yours was the only scent I picked up.”
He had time for recon too? She heaved a sigh. “Thank you. Jayson thinks it may have just been squirrels. Guess I’m out of my element.”
Jayson zipped up his criminally tight blue jeans. “My shirt?” he asked, and Zane held out a blue plaid button-down he’d had tucked under his arm.
Lana goggled at Jayson like a fool while he finished dressing. Then he looked as much like a cowboy as he sounded, all the way from the brown Stetson he was straightening to his snakeskin boots. Hot damn, she thought.
When she could finally drag her eyes off the two of them, she glanced over at her bag. “How did you find that and get dressed so fast?”
“I think you already know,” Jayson said as he tucked in the tails of his shirt.
“Well, I wish I had your speed—and strength,” she added when Zane hefted the bag onto one shoulder with ease. “I had trouble dragging that thing.”
“He’ll carry it while we take you to your friend,” Jayson said.
“You really don’t have to,” she tried again. “I should let you get back to whatever you were doing.”
“It can wait,” Jayson replied, and while his eyes held a glint of humor, the words were firm and unyielding.
She glared at him. “Oh, fine.”
“Did you see her necklace?” Jayson asked Zane.
“A wolf’s head,” Zane replied.
Jayson walked toward her and reached for it. “Is it pure gold?”
“Why, are you planning to steal it?” She yanked back from his seeking fingers. “It’s just cheap gold plate over silver.”
At the mention of silver, he pulled back with a sour face. “Oh, and she collects wolves,” he went on, waggling a brow at her. “Though I ain’t had a chance to ask whether she means real ones.”
“Of course not real wolves,” she snapped. “Just statues and artwork, that sort of thing.” Plus throw pillows, T-shirts, mugs, sheets, and two shelves of books. An assortment she’d spent years collecting, most of which she’d had to leave behind when she’d gone on the run.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “but I really have to go.”
“Let’s go, then,” Jayson said, waving her in the direction she’d been headed when their worlds collided. “Ladies first.”
She started toward the carrier, but stopped and blinked in surprise when Zane picked it up. Sage showed no sign of freaking out. In fact, her pink nose twitched against the bars as she sniffed at him in idle curiosity.
Jayson stepped forward, his expression a fair approximation of Lana’s. “How are you doin’ that?” he asked.
Zane eyed the two who were staring at him. “What?”
“Jayson said animals hate werewolves,” Lana replied. She glanced at him. “Or is it just you?”
Zane shrugged. “No, he’s right. It’s just that I got a certain way with animals.”
Jayson frowned. “So I see. How?”
“It didn’t come natural, not at first. But you can learn to push the wolf far enough behind your human side so animals don’t see you as a threat.”
“I didn’t know you could do that,” Jayson said in awe. He walked forward, but he stopped when Sage recoiled and spat at him. “Reckon you got a few surprises in you that I ain’t been privy to.”
“I’ll teach you sometime, if you want,” Zane said. “It’s just a matter of time and practice.”
“That’s great, Dr. Doolittle,” Lana said. “But can we please get going now? It’s going to start getting dark pretty soon.”
She started marching forward again, ignoring the looks both men were throwing her way.
“Is this friend of yours far?” Zane asked, heading after her.
“Or a wolf?” Jayson added.
She huffed in frustration. “It’s not much farther. It should be straight ahead.”
Despite Lana’s attempt to march in front of them, Jayson came alongside and kept pace as they crunched through leaves and pine needles. “Your friend is an ‘it’?” he asked with a grin that showed his dimple again. “You said ‘it’ should be straight ahead.”
She shot him a glance. “My friend’s place is just ahead.”
And what would happen when they arrived at her destination? Would they expect to meet the alleged “friend,” maybe be invited in for a doggie treat and a pat on the head because they’d helped her? Worse, maybe they were hoping to dine on scared rabbit. Although if they’d been planning on making her a meal, they could have done so easily enough by now.
Maybe they were hungry for something else, like an easy male opportunity. She thought of Jayson’s suggestive words and the way his cock hardened when he got near her.
“Look, I really don’t need an escort,” she went on, rubbing absently at the hand he’d kissed.
Jayson eyed her. “You seem in a bigger hurry to get rid of us than you were to crash into me in the first place.”
She lifted her chin. “I’m just not sure I should be hanging around strange men.”
“We’re walkin’, not hangin’,” he said. “And we ain’t strange.”
“Well, I wouldn’t say that,” Zane cut in from behind. “Especially not you.”
Lana turned her head in surprise. She wouldn’t have expected humor from him.
He gave her a brief, lopsided grin that sent a happy tingle down her spine. She spun back around to get out of targeting range, but it did little good. She could feel his presence keenly behind her, as urgent and alarming as a stalking predator. Which he was, of course. No one in their right mind would dare turn their back on that.
“Speak for yourself, Zany Boy,” Jayson said. “Or should I tell our lady friend here how you’re just a big old sheep in wolf’s clothin’?”
“Here, Jayson,” Zane said. Jayson turned just in time for her luggage to come hurtling into his midsection. “Why don’t you carry that for a while and stop hoggin’ our company to yourself?”
Jayson caught it with a small grunt. “Fair enough. No reason you should be the only one showin’ off your manly muscles.” Jayson heaved the bag onto his shoulder and gave Lana a wink.
“Don’t mind him,” Zane said as he came up on her other side, forcing Jayson to move back to avoid ploughing into a tree. “No one does. He’s always been too sure of himself for his own good.”
“Not always,” Jayson said from closer behind them than Zane had been. “Only when I’m fated for a sure thing. As you well know.”
The suggestive smolder in those words almost turned her head around on her shoulders. She flicked Zane a sidelong look and saw a simmer that warmed her cheeks. Another spot on her felt warm too, one that rarely registered. She thought of the way Zane had stroked Jayson’s hair and wondered whether she was mistaken about them. Maybe they didn’t think of her as an easy male opportunity. Maybe their hats stood up for a different team entirely. Or partly, at least. Jayson’s had certainly saluted her.
“So, how long you had the hots for wolves?” Jayson asked.
Lana turned and made a face. “I don’t have ‘the hots’ for them,” she said.
“Really.” His eyes were literally glittering with challenge.
A new prickle of sweat broke out on her brow. Hot for wolves, no. Cowboys and Indians were another matter entirely.
“I just like wolves a lot. I don’t know why.”
“Bet a nickel I do,” he said.
Zane cleared his throat loudly. “Are we headed for the rental cabins?”
“That’s right,” she said. “If you’ll just get me within visual range, I can take it from there.”
That would be best. She was tired of trying to figure out these two, including how much male interest was pointed at her from beneath their brass belt buckles.
“Don’t want us knowin’ where you live, eh?” Jayson asked.
She hadn’t had a chance to counter when he stopped abruptly. Zane seemed to notice the change in his partner’s mood a split second before it happened, and he turned to him.
“What is it?” Zane asked.
Jayson was frozen in place, his head tilted upward while he sniffed the air. “Shh,” he said. Then he sniffed again and set Lana’s bag slowly on the ground.
Lana tried inhaling as well, but she only smelled the same rich, earthy scent that had filled her nostrils since getting out of her car. “What’s wrong?” she asked in a whisper.
Now Jayson was acting truly weird, his piercing eyes scanning the area as he headed for the nearest tree and smelled it. Then he backtracked to the tree opposite and did the same.
“Jayson,” Zane said pointedly.
“It was here, right here,” he said, wandering around the other two in circles. “I caught the scent, but now it’s gone.” He bent to examine something on the ground and then stood up. “Help me, Zane.”
If she hadn’t already known their secret, this bizarre scene would raise all sorts of questions about their animal behavior. She caught a glimpse of something promising through the trees and decided the time had come to part ways.
“I’ll just go on ahead,” she said. “You guys finish sniffing around.”
Zane’s eyes flicked between her and Jayson, his face taut and clearly conflicted. Jayson, who moments before seemed determined to never leave Lana alone, no longer seemed to care she existed. She wasn’t sure whether to feel rebuffed or relieved.
“I ain’t gettin’ anythin’,” Zane said, but he set Sage’s carrier down.
“Trust me, I know that scent better than anyone,” Jayson said. Now he was turning circles in one spot. “Zane, come on. We have to pick it up again and track it. Now.”
With a heaving sigh, Zane began searching—and sniffing—in a different area. “It’ll be easier if we shift.”
The men shrank away before her eyes, and the black and gray wolves were busy sniffing the forest floor. All but forgotten, Lana just stood there a moment, staring with raised brows, while Sage loudly protested the reappearance of fangs and fur. Then she shook herself free and lunged for her bags, pulling up the telescoping handle and grabbing the carrier.
“Okay, then,” she muttered as she headed away. “Thanks for everything.”
Lana yanked the suitcase after her as fast as she could and half ran away, praying they wouldn’t suddenly change their minds and chase her down on all fours.
Her eyes lifted high along the tree line and found the roof she’d spotted. As she headed for it, the gradual slope they’d been descending leveled and began rising. When she came out of the thick press of trees, she saw a cabin off to her left, along with something she hadn’t planned for.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” she said.
The cabin rested atop a steep incline. A clump of trees stood on either side, and to the left of that she caught sight of another cabin. The closest had a tall, asymmetrical roof and was far grander than the one she’d rented. Hers was hopefully close by, but she’d have to climb the slope in order to find out.
Eyeing her route more closely, she saw boulders and a line of young trees on the way up that she could use to help pull herself along. That was something, anyway. The suitcase and Sage, however, would be major ass pains.
“Oh, well,” she said. “Guess we just have to get this done.”
She began to climb, immediately regretting her “fancy” pumps. What she wouldn’t have given for a pair of hiking boots. Or maybe a helicopter. Her calves felt the strain as she leaned forward to get uphill, shoving the bag and carrier through dirt and leaves ahead of her. She pushed them in front of the various trees and rocks along the way, freeing her hands for the climb. Pine needles, sap, and dirt stuck to her palms and shoes, her back ached in protest, and she slipped backward twice. Finally, she managed to get topside.
“Gods, I hope this is Pine Grove Lane,” she said, rubbing her hands together in a futile effort to clean and warm them. “I’ve had about as much fun as I can stand.”
Sage’s whiskers poked out of the bars as she mewed an unhappy reply.
They were on an old asphalt road full of cracks and potholes. Lana rolled her ruined suitcase along until she could make out the nearest cabin’s address. “202,” she said, glancing up and down the road. “Question is, what street?”
There were other cabins, each a fair distance apart and surrounded by trees. She was wondering whether to head up the slanted street or down when a muffled voice came from her pocket.
“What was that?” she asked, fumbling for the phone she’d stuffed away. Her GPS was back on and announcing her cabin was a thousand feet away.
“Yes! Thank God.” She had been promised cellular service at the cabin, and apparently it hadn’t been a lie. It was one thing to go somewhat off the grid, but not having a working phone with her was out of the question.
She headed up the street, out of breath from the altitude. Her arms and legs burned with fatigue, and the sharp tang of chilled air stung her face while she passed two other cabins. At last, she stopped in front of 214 and dug out the keys.
The cabin was bigger than it appeared in photos. It was sided with large logs painted green and, as she had wanted, windows that were small and scarce. There was a quaint wraparound porch with an inviting swing out front, and inside would be two bedrooms, one bath, a den, living room, and kitchen—all furnished. There was even a small laundry. It was more than she needed, but the cheapest available on short notice.
“Here we are,” she said, half out of breath. “Home sweet rental.”
She headed up a short driveway, which was nice. Assuming she ever got the car running again, she wouldn’t have to park on the street.
Two wooden steps brought her onto the porch, where a cord of firewood was piled beside the door. She scrubbed her feet on a thick, bristly mat before tugging open the screen. Once inside, she flipped a switch and found herself in a small front entryway.
“This is cute,” she said, setting the carrier and suitcase beside a wooden hall tree with a built-in seat and coat hooks. She’d have a look around and wash the sticky sap off her hands before letting the cat out.
The floor was nicely stained hardwood, and she felt a stab of regret at the thought of her now-dirty luggage mucking up the shiny boards. Straight ahead was the living room, and she wandered through it to a charming brick fireplace. That would definitely see some use, although not right then. She was too exhausted for anything other than a bath and a cup of the herbal tea she’d stashed in her suitcase.
A large mirror was centered over the fireplace, and she glanced at it warily, not eager to seeing her bedraggled reflection. Instead, she spotted something far more frightening.
Someone was pointing a gun at her back.