Rachel M. Raithby
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved.
Copyright 2016 © Rachel M. Raithby
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author / publisher.
Nico “Nico?” Katalina hissed. Nico looked around, spotting Katalina in a group of trees. What are you doing? “What?” he asked, joining her. She glared at his grin. Allowing his smile to fade, he asked her seriously, “What’s up?” “I need you to teach me how to use a knife.” He had no chance of keeping the smile from his face after that comment. “I’m serious,” she demanded, stomping her foot. “Oh, I can see, and I’m guessing Bass doesn’t agree and that’s why we are hiding.” “He says there’s no need.” “Maybe he’s right, Kat. You’re not a bad fighter in wolf form, and you’re dominant. Why do you need more?” “Because I can’t stay on pack land forever, Nic…please,” she begged. “Convince Bass and sure.” “Nico! He’s being all alpha, and I need this.” She took hold of his arm, stopping him from leaving. “What’s this really about, Kat?” “I’m his weakness.” She sighed, letting him go, and looking defeated. “I need to be able to protect myself. He can’t always be there.” “You’re the alpha’s mate. Someone will always protect you.” “Nico, I want to go to college someday. I need a life beyond this pack. I won’t live with a constant body guard. I’m more than just a shifter, Nico. I’d have thought, out of everybody, you’d have understood that.” “Aww, Kat.” Nico pressed the heel of his palms against his eyes. Why’d she have to use the real world against me? “All right.” Squealing, Katalina jumped up and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Thank you, thank you.” “Yeah, yeah,” Nico sighed, untangling himself from her grip. “If Bass finds out, you lied to me, and told me he’d approved.” “Oh, Nico, lying to your alpha. How very badass of you.” She laughed. “Pushing your luck, Kat.” Nico smiled. “Right, well, if there’s nothing else, I’m going to get out of this hiding spot before anyone finds us and gets the wrong idea.” “Going to go find, Olivia?” “Not a word, Kat… Not a word.” Katalina disappeared, her laughter taken by the wind. Nico shook his head, still unsure how someone so…human had managed to plant themselves so permanently into his friend’s heart.
Nico “Damn it!” Nico muttered. Stopping in his tracks, he looked around, not recognizing his surroundings. How did I end up here? His feet had guided him on instinct, but after a quick glance at his watch, he regretted not paying more attention to the direction he’d walked. He was late, so late that Bass would strip the skin from his body. “Way to go, Alpha Adviser!” he grumbled to himself. Setting off again, his feet guided him to places unknown. Nico had already been late when he’d left school. He since regretted the smartass words he’d snapped in class. The words which had earned him detention. He may have made it back, even after detention but he just couldn’t keep his mouth shut. He clenched his fists at the memory. Why did I muttered those words? Pausing again, his eyes scanning the empty streets lined with industrial buildings, broken down warehouses, and an office building here and there, Nico couldn’t understand what had drawn him here. A breeze whipped across his face, the cold biting into his skin. Nico gazed at the sky and brushed his hair from his face. Dark, angry clouds sat heavy in the distance and the air felt charged, promising a storm. His wolf shifted uneasily beneath his skin. He’d been irritable all day, and was probably the reason he’d lost control of his smart mouth. The irrational urge to hit something surged up inside of him. You are such an idiot, Nic! Bass gave you this chance and you’ve screwed it up. Alpha’s Adviser, the official title Bass — his best friend and alpha — had bestowed him. A title many thought he’d not earned. Most members of the pack were aware of their friendship, but Nico knew Bass hadn’t just given him the title because of their relationship. Bass wasn’t wired that way. He gave him the honor because he thought he could excel at the job — the job Bass made up. Nico had declined when he’d first been asked, telling Bass he’d gone crazy. It had been Katalina, Bass’s mate, who’d chased after him. He smiled, remembering the determined look in her eyes. It was the look she always wore when she planned to never let a subject go. She’d explained that it had been both of their idea’s, which really hadn’t made him feel more inclined to accept, but her next words had made him see that maybe they were right. There’s going to be a lot of change, Nico. We need someone who the pack trusts, to watch for unease, to hear their worries, to make them feel safe. He’d snapped at her, telling her that none of the enforcers trusted him, but as always, Katalina had a comeback. You’re right, they don’t, but that is exactly why we need you. You’re our eyes and ears, Nico. You can walk unseen among the people of this pack, the members, which in the past have been seen as less. We need you. The pack needs you. He accepted the title, ignored the sneers and jibes from the enforcers, and the pure bloods, because Katalina was right; she’d been the catalyst to change. A new dawn had begun within the wolves’ world, and not everyone felt easy about it. The ordinary members of the pack were scared, uncertain. They needed him to reassure them they were safe, that their concerns and wishes would be listened too. Another gust of wind circled around him. His body froze and the wolf within him stood to attention. Liv? But the scent made no sense. Why would Olivia be out there? His feet carried him, quick, light, and silent. He scented the air, following the pull he felt for her. As Nico rounded the corner, he saw her. His heart sped up, his breath catching as he looked at the girl he’d loved for as long as he could remember. He couldn’t help the swell of disappointment as a human male ran across the street to greet her. They embraced, the smile on his face, wide and genuine. Nico couldn’t see Olivia’s face, but her stance told Nico she was happy to meet him. Who is this man? Just as Nico turned to leave, deciding his heart couldn’t stand watching her with another man for much longer, he caught scent of another. That scent he recognized…it meant trouble. He was running toward Olivia when Bowen stepped from the shadows. Olivia didn’t sense him, her attention solely on the human male. As Bowen’s hand rose up above the human, Olivia saw him, yet there was no time to react. Even her shifter speed couldn’t have saved the human. The human male dropped like a sack after Bowen’s gun connected with the back of his head. Olivia’s scream carried with the wind, aggravating Nico further. Before Olivia could escape, Bowen took hold of her, and threw her to the ground with a satisfied smile. Bowen, too busy laughing at Olivia as he kicked her curled-up form, never sensed Nico leaping for him. Nico’s impact echoed around them like thunder. Taking aim, he slammed his fist into Bowen’s face, and then took satisfaction from his grunt of pain. Bowen snarled at Nico, struggling against his hold. Hitting his face again, driven by his need to protect Olivia, Nico broke Bowen’s nose, but this only enraged Bowen further. Bowen was a large man, his height and width much larger than Nico’s. His savage nature and joy of fighting made him a hard man to beat. Bowen seemed to become stronger with every hit Nico made and as the wolf flashed into Bowen’s eyes, Nico realized he’d dived into a fight he wasn’t equipped to win. The sound of a gunshot rang in his ears as fire ripped through his shoulder. The pain stole any strength he had left, and as his vision began to fade, Olivia cried his name. He wanted to tell her he’d save her, that everything would be all right, but as a heavy numbness pressed against him, dragging him into unconsciousness, Nico realized his words wouldn’t have been true.
Olivia Olivia curled up and sobbed. She wrapped her arms so tightly around her knees that she’d cut her circulation off. Tingles spread from her fingers up her arms, but she didn’t seem to notice. She stared at Nico’s pale face. Beads of sweat rolled down his forehead, collecting in the long lock of hair that had fallen forwards. Blood from the bullet wound in his shoulder, soaked his t-shirt, growing larger by the minute. Olivia trembled, her tears falling down her face and splashing onto her hands. She bit her lip, tasting the salt, wishing the broken, distraught sounds coming from her would stop. She’d never been dominant, and after a lifetime of having her father dictate every aspect of her life, she’d accepted she was never going to be a strong independent woman. Nico, why are you not healing? She whispered his name in her mind, not daring to speak. He was dying and it was her fault. No one knew where she was; her father thought she was at a study group. She’d been lying to him for months. Every time she did, she’d feel worse, but this one pleasure she couldn’t, wouldn’t, give up. Her father told her what to wear and what to study. She controlled nothing but this — a few afternoons in her life where she could truly be herself, be happy. And Nico would die because of it. The sound of glass smashing made Olivia’s eyes dart up and focus on the man who’d taken away her one piece of happiness. Bowen paced the far end of the warehouse he’d dragged her and Nico into. She hoped Mark was still alive. Bowen had left him where he’d ambushed them, as if a human wasn’t even worth kidnapping. Bowen’s anger was evident in every muscle of his body, his words harsh and full of the savage edge of his wolf. “Finally!” he snapped, pausing in his relentless pacing, “Your alpha, now!” he growled into the phone. “What do you mean he’s not there?” His snarl echoed off the walls making Olivia shrink back. Her stomach did a frightened flip as realization sunk in: help wasn’t coming. Nico coughed. Olivia scrambled toward him and gently touched his face, brushing the stray lock of blond hair from his forehead. “Nico?” she whispered, quickly glancing up to make sure Bowen was still busy shouting into the phone. “Nico? Are you all right? Can you hear me?” His eyes opened. “Nico?” she murmured, moving her face above his. His green eyes focused on her. The smallest of smiles crossed his lips before he grimaced, his hand gingerly touching his wound. “Ouch,” he moaned. “So much for my heroic rescue,” he mumbled, his eyes briefly closing. “You put up a pretty good fight. He’s twice the size of you.” Nico didn’t answer her, but mustered up a smile. He leaned up on one elbow, groaning as he moved. “Is there an exit wound?” he asked. Olivia moved behind him. The back of his t-shirt was dirty but free of blood. “No.” “Damn it. No wonder it’s not healing. Liv, I need you to get the bullet out.” “What? No I can’t!” She gasped. “Livy, please, I’ll bleed out before anyone comes for us. If it’s out, I’ll start healing.” Livy… Olivia hated when people shortened her name, yet from Nico’s lips, it sounded…right. “Okay,” she whispered, glancing up to check Bowen was still on the phone, pacing. Olivia ripped his shirt so the bullet hole was visible. Sucking in a breath, forcing herself to stay calm, she stared at the small wound she’d have to pull a bullet from. She was useless in stressful situations; her father always told her. She was a weak lamb, who could only take directions. Even her friend Tory had more backbone, and she was human. Olivia smiled, imagining Tory beside her, riled up, and ready to tackle the problem head on. “What’s so funny?” Nico asked her, his green emerald eyes boring into hers. “I was just thinking how my friend Tory would find the prospect of digging a bullet out of your shoulder thrilling.” “Tory…the human?” Olivia could guess what he was thinking, Why was precious, pure blooded Olivia friends with a filthy human? The thought sent a flash of anger through her veins; she dug her nails into his flesh. “Wh…arrh…” His words trailed off into a garbled moan. His skin visibly paled. Olivia’s fingers brushed metal as Bowen’s voice vibrated through her bones. She felt each tremor of his heavy steps as he thundered toward them, screaming for her to stop. For once, Olivia didn’t obey an instruction. Her finger curled under the bullet, pulling it free as Bowen threw her away. “Bitch,” he snarled, advancing on her. Olivia couldn’t speak for the fear closing off her airways. She scrambled back, her heart finding its way to her throat. The wolf flashed into Bowen’s eyes — savage, blood thirsty, and so desperate to rip her apart. She found air, yet the only sound from her lips was a terrified cry. “I’m going to enjoy killing you,” Bowen said with a twisted smile. Nico appeared. Barreling into Bowen, they sprawled to the floor. “Nico!” Olivia gasped, finding her way to her feet. “Stop it!” she screamed as Bowen hit Nico in the face, his blood splattering the dusty concrete floor. “You’ll kill him. Stop!” Yet he didn’t seem to hear her. Olivia’s mind raced, desperate for a solution. “He’s Sebastian’s best friend. Kill him and you’ll never get what you want.” Bowen paused. His face turned slowly toward Olivia, the smile on his face sickening. “Really? I knew they were close, but best friend?” “Yes, yes, the alpha, he —” “Liv…don’t,” Nico interrupted. Bowen turned back to Nico with a snarl. “Alpha’s adviser. He made him the Alpha’s adviser,” Olivia said in a rush. Bowen stood up, laughing, “Alpha’s adviser, that’s not even a thing.” “Sebastian made the position for him. That’s how much he cares for him. It would be a mistake to kill him,” Olivia said calmly, her eyes never leaving Bowen, despite her instinct screaming for her to look away. “I’m sure he doesn’t care,” Bowen mumbled, the look on his face saying he just wanted to spill blood. Desperate for Bowen to leave Nico, Olivia said things she didn’t mean. “Think about it, Bowen, he’s just a half blood. His father is nothing special. Why would Sebastian make up some silly position for him if he didn’t matter?” Bowen turned his attention from Nico to Olivia. A smug smile formed on his lips. “Well then, little miss, I have no use for you then, do I? I’ve been watching Dark Shadow for a while, looking for some way to reach Sebastian. You’re pureblood but not really significant, so I held off taking you in hopes I’d find someone of more worth, but it turns out you’re the only one stupid enough to be off pack land without protection. Well, apart from him.” Olivia backed away until she hit the wall. Bowen’s words taunting her. Not significant…Unworthy… Stupid… Her breathing grew heavy as he neared, and although she wished not to show Bowen how much he frightened her, it was an impossible task. “Please,” she whispered. Her eyes darted to Nico as he climbed to his feet, staggering toward them. His hand pressed against his side as he half bent over. Blood poured from the cut above his eye, but the look he held as he stumbled toward her was one of determination, of a need to save her. It was then, as Bowen towered above her, ready to deliver her death, she saw what Nico felt. She saw it written on his face, and in the deepest depths of his eyes. He loved her.
Nico He was fading, yet he had to hold on. Bowen had made a mistake in kidnapping Nico; he’d underestimated him, as many often did. Nico may only be a half blood, he might not have the same strength as Bass, but he had one talent, a talent not many knew about. A love for knives. Sliding his blade free as he forced himself upright, Nico smiled to himself. He was good at concealing weapons. He spent most of his days surrounded by humans, and normal humans didn’t carry weapons. Forcing one foot in front of the other, Nico crept up behind Bowen. His blood boiled with rage at the sight of Olivia frightened and cowering. Not naturally dominant, her wolf chose to follow, not lead, and right then, Nico could see the battle Olivia was having with herself. Stand tall or submit? Smelling her fear, Nico gripped the handle of his knife tighter, the feel of the plaited aged leather in his palm helping to calm his thundering heart. Loosening his wrist, Nico focused every inch of his body on reaching Olivia. Steps faltering, Nico’s vision swayed. Blinking, he focused on her face, and made two more steps. With the last of his energy, Nico wrapped his arm around Bowen’s front, and with his other hand, thrust the knife upwards. The sharp claw-like tip cut easily through Bowen’s clothing and skin. Sliding through flesh, Nico twisted the blade, aiming it up behind Bowen’s ribs. Forcing air into his lungs, Nico felt himself slipping into unconsciousness. No! Life drained from his limbs and his hand struggled to keep a grip on the handle of his knife. Bowen’s enraged snarl rattled around his skull. Nico heard his own gargled rasp as he fought to push the blade a little further, to twist just enough so the fine serrated edge would tear into his lungs. Yet his hand fell limp, the knife still lodged in Bowen’s side. Nico saw the next blow coming, but was helpless to defend himself. His eyes slid shut before the fist reached its target. Collapsing to the floor, Olivia’s shrill scream echoed around the warehouse. Then quieter in the background, Nico heard the distant ring of a phone. His body gave up its fight. *** “Hey,” Olivia said softly, a shy smile on her lips. Nico blinked open his eyes, and although he was in the most pain he’d ever experienced in his life, none of it seemed to matter because it had led to this point: waking with his head in Olivia’s lap. Her small hands brushed softly through his hair, almost absently, the pad of her thumb sweeping against his damp forehead. “Hey,” he rasped. They stared at each other and Nico never wanted the moment to end. For so long he’d loved her. He’d imagined her touch, he’d imagined her shy smile directed at him. None of his daydreams had a measure on the real thing. “Your shoulder’s healing,” she whispered to him, briefly glancing up. “Unfortunately, I think he’s pulverized my brain.” A flash of mischief crossed her eyes. “Ah, come on, Nico, there wasn’t much to start with.” Immediately, shock registered on Olivia’s face after she spoke. Nico laughed and a sharp pain shot through his skull. “Oh, God,” he groaned. “I’m so sorry. I’ve no idea why I said that,” Olivia replied. “You were playing. You’re allowed, even though I did just have my ass handed to me.” “Oh, I don’t know, that last attempt seems to have slowed him down.” She glanced across in Bowen’s direction again. Nico reluctantly dragged his face from Olivia’s and turned his head. Bowen was on the phone, pacing again, yet he held his other hand over his side, his fingers stained red with blood. “Missed his lung though. That’s what I was aiming for.” Looking back at Olivia, Nico made the most of being close to her. It took all his effort to not sigh from her soft strokes. “Do you know who he’s speaking too?” “Someone named Coby. They seem to be working together.” Bowen ended the call and turned his sights on them. “Good, you’re awake,” he snarled, prowling toward them. “No fun paying you back for this.” He lifted his hand, showing Nico the blood coating his skin, “When you aren’t present.” His phone rang again. “Hold that thought. Hello… It’s about time. What kind of alpha takes so long to respond when two of his pack are in trouble?” Bowen snarled. “Your adviser, and some pure-blood bitch. What’s your name?” Bowen yelled at Olivia. “O-Olivia,” she stammered. “Olivia…yeah, they’re unharmed. Boy might be a little banged up but he’ll live… Come alone, and I’ll release them… Don’t dawdle.” He ended the call. “Now where were we?” “He said unharmed,” Olivia squeaked. “He said alive,” Bowen replied. Nico struggled to his feet, surprised at how much better he felt without blood pouring from his bullet wound. He wasn’t quick enough to defend himself; he’d only just straightened up when Bowen swung his own knife at Nico. Nico shot out his palm to deflect it, but failed. The knife cut through him like butter, tearing his flesh. “That will teach ya, boy. Next time leave the fighting to the men. Oh and I’m going to keep this pretty knife you carry.” Rage surged like acid up Nico’s throat, a snarl ripping from him, full of aggression. Gritting his teeth, he refused to fall down. His blood spilled hot and thick, and in that moment, Nico knew if help didn’t arrive soon, he wouldn’t make it out alive. Nico liked knifes. They were sharp, and beautiful in their ability to cut through flesh. Yet that wasn’t why Nico loved them. Shifters so easily dismissed his blade, their ability to recover quickly from most knife wounds made them complacent, but Nico’s knifes held a deadly secret. They delivered death, with a sly silence. Nico’s blades were coated in wolfsbane, and Bowen had used Nico’s knife against him. “Found some hidden strength, have we, boy?” Bowen laughed, bracing to fight. “He said you had to be alive, so I’ll make sure you’re still breathing when he arrives.” “Nico, no,” Olivia whispered. Forcing himself to stand straighter, Nico smiled at Bowen, taunting him. “Bring it on, old man.” Bowen lunged, missing Nico by a hair’s breadth. Nico was surprised at the speed he’d moved to avoid Bowen. Guess knowing you’re likely going to die, changes things. Hearing Olivia’s frightened gasp fueled Nico’s rage. As Bowen stumbled past, Nico rammed his elbow into his back. Bowen whipped around. Snarling, he lashed out wildly, just catching Nico. It was enough though; pain erupted through Nico, stealing his breath. Before Bowen could attack again, Bass’s voice filled the warehouse. It was both powerful and demanding. “I said alive!” The anger drained from Nico as the weight of his alpha’s command pressed against him. “Just returning the favor,” Bowen replied, lifting his hand away, revealing the knife wound in his side, and the blood coating his skin. Nico watched Bass for a reaction. After years of being close, he could read him as easily as Katalina. Although he wore his mask for most of the world, Nico saw the flash of amusement cross his face, and the slight flicker of his eyes as he glanced at Nico. It was only a split second, but Nico read his message, ‘Nice work, pal.’ “I’m here alone, as asked. Let them go,” Bass demanded, his tone rough and eyes hard. He stood slightly bent, coiled to spring at any moment. Nico swayed, blacking out for the barest of seconds. Olivia was beside him a moment later. “Nico, are you going to be okay?” she murmured quietly, tucking herself against his side. Nico pulled his eyes from Bass, reading Olivia’s face. She was frightened, for him. The lie rolled easily from his tongue, “Fine, I’ll be all healed within a few days.” “Put these on first,” Bowen replied to Bass, producing handcuffs from his pocket. “They’re designed to keep naughty little wolves like you under control.” “Let them go first.” “Nope. Cuffs or our deal is off. I watched you turn on your own father. I can’t trust you to not attack the second they’re out of harm’s way.” “Very well.” Bass sighed. “Bass,” Nico hissed. “Quiet. You’ll be leaving here and returning to pack land. Understood?” Nico understood. It wasn’t often Bass used the power of the alpha wolf within him, but Nico sensed it within his words; he was powerless to protest. Nodding, Nico reluctantly watched his friend being cuffed and his legs bound. Leaning on Olivia for support, Nico left the warehouse. The pain from his injuries, nothing compared to the ache within his chest.
Katalina Katalina slipped out of the back door. She’d been at her father, Jackson’s, with Bass. Not interested in listening to the meeting, she’d hung out with the River Run members at the house. The meeting had gone on slightly longer than she’d expected. Ordering Arne to stay at the back door, she crept quietly toward the barn behind Jackson’s house, where River Run and Dark Shadow were convening. Katalina knew without even peering inside that Bass wasn’t there. Sensing someone else lurking, Katalina smiled as Toby came into view. Indicating for him to be quiet, she pointed toward the house and padded back. Once out of ear shot of the barn, Katalina spoke. “What’s going on, Toby?” “What makes you think I know?” he asked as he stroked Arne behind the ears. “Come on, Toby. It’s what you do. You’re the collector of secrets.” “Hmm…Collector of Secrets… Yeah, I like that…has a nice ring to it,” he replied, nodding in approval. “Toby.” Katalina groaned, “Focus.” Sometimes she forgot he was only fourteen. He was so often given tasks someone older should do, but many of the River Run members had grown up too quickly. War did that. Katalina was glad it was over. “If I tell you, promise me you’ll not freak out.” “Just tell me,” Katalina demanded, her hands coming to rest on her hips. Her heart picked up speed as her mind dredged up images of every possible scenario. “Okay…I’ve not heard much, I saw Bass leave —” “When?” Katalina interrupted. “Ten mins…tops. So I went to check it out. Turns out some guy back from, you know, before you came, well, his brother was killed in the takeover. He’s kidnapped Nico and some girl.” “What girl?” “Dunno.” “And Bass has gone alone to face him?” “They were the terms. Bill’s sure pissed about it though, but Bass is his alpha. What’s he gonna do?” “Where?” Kat asked, stripping off her jacket. “Some warehouse.” Toby’s eyes widened. “Kat, what are you doing?” “Going after him,” she replied, pulling her feet free of her jeans. “Come on, Kat, you promised not to overreact.” “I said no such thing.” “What the hell is that?” Toby gawked. “This?” Katalina asked, pointing to the pretty leather sheath holding her blade. Nico had given it to her a few days earlier after finally deeming her fit to carry a knife. Katalina had no idea something designed to sheaf her lethal knife could be pretty. It had a strip of plaited leather down the middle and a fine filigree pattern marked out in the leather. He’d given her a shoulder strap too so she’d always have it within easy reach. Yet she’d not quite found the words to explain to Bass why she felt the need to carry a knife and had opted instead to tuck it in the waist of her jeans, where it was easier to avoid Bass feeling it. “It’s a knife, Toby,” she continued. Stripped down to nothing but her underwear and a thin cotton slip, which had now become an everyday essential — it was small enough to roll up and carry in her wolf mouth — Katalina took her knife from its sheath. “I can’t let you go. You know that, right?” Katalina smiled. Pulling the slip from over her head, she shed her underwear. Toby tried to stay facing her, but in the end, huffed and turned around. Katalina wrapped the slip around the blade of her knife. “Jackson’s going to kill me. Best case I’ll be on patrol all night, all week…and I have plans,” he whined. Katalina laughed as she placed the wrapped knife at her feet. “How about I make it look like you tried to stop me.” “How you gonna do that?” he asked, turning back around. Katalina balled her hand into fist. Stealing herself for a task she didn’t want to do, she clocked Toby with a punch. He stumbled back with an oomph. “Stay, Arne,” she commanded before changing into her wolf. Katalina picked her bundle up with her teeth and caught one last look at Toby, hand on his jaw, a look of shock in his eyes. Arne stood obediently at his feet,. She then took off. “Follow her, Arne,” Toby ordered as Katalina disappeared into the trees. *** She broke the rules, but didn’t care. Bass had a fifteen minute head start on her so she needed to stay in her wolf form if she had any hope of reaching him in time. Her muscles burned in protest as they stretched to their limit. Her claws scraped against the bitumen beneath her paws as she raced through the streets heading toward a more industrial part of the small town of Atlanta, Michigan. Picking up Bass’s scent, she turned sharply down a street. Katalina urged her body on. Fate was on her side while she ran. The streets of Atlanta were deserted — most likely due to the rumbling storm in the distance. Its heavy clouds created a dim light and a closeness which promised rain. Taking a sharp right as she followed his scent trail, she realized he’d stayed in his human form, so maybe she had a few more minutes’ grace. Skidding between two large warehouses, Katalina came to an abrupt stop as Olivia stumbled out of a door, struggling to keep Nico upright. The coppery scent of blood coated her tongue. Her eyes focused on Nico and the wound on his side. Shifting, she held her finger to her lips. Olivia didn’t respond, yet Nico, even though he looked like he’d pass out any minute, straightened slightly, nodding. Quickly and quietly, Katalina unwrapped her knife and pulled on her slip. Blade in hand, she looked around, seeing a window above with a fire escape. Indicating to Nico and Olivia, Katalina gestured for them to close the door as she opened the window. Realization lit Nico’s eyes, his hand rested on the door waiting for her count down. One, two, three, she mouthed and pulled the window up as Nico slammed the door shut. Inside, Katalina scanned her surroundings and formulated a plan. Bass was cuffed and bound in the center of the building. Bowen walked around him talking, smug in his capture. At first glance, he looked uninjured but Katalina picked up the slight dip in his walk. She also noticed his hand clamped firmly over his bleeding stomach. Bass, sensing her as she neared the edge of the upper floor, locked his eyes with hers for a second, emotions swimming across them; surprise, anger, fear… Walking to a section of the damaged railing, which crumbled away, Katalina gripped her knife like Nico had taught her. Taking a deep breath, she allowed her wolf to the surface, and jumped. Hitting Bowen hard, they crashed to the floor. The impact knocked the air from Katalina but she forced her brain to keep functioning, and swung her knife, embedding it into his chest. Bellowing with rage, Bowen’s rough hands gripped her thigh, and flung her off. Never lose the grip of your blade. Lose it and you’re dead. With Nico’s voice in her mind, Katalina refused to let go of the handle of the knife, even as her wrist twisted painfully. Landing on her back, her head bounced off the hard concrete floor, stunning her momentarily. Gritting her teeth, Katalina jumped to her feet, bracing for Bowen’s next move. “Looky what we have, Sebastian. Looks like your bitch has come to play.” Bowen laughed. Katalina refused to look at Bass. One glance and she’d lose her nerve. Bowen outweighed and outmatched her, she knew that. Yet she also knew leaving Bass alone wasn’t an option either. “You’ve grown a pair since I saw you last. What happened to the frightened girl?” Bowen sneered. Katalina didn’t answer. She clenched her jaw, ready to diminish the confidence in his tone. “Such a shame to kill such a fine specimen. I’d keep you for myself but watching Sebastian’s face as I strangle the life from you will be so much sweeter.” Bass’s growl echoed off the walls. Katalina heard his scuffles as he tried to free himself, but again, she forced her eyes to stay on the threat. Bowen charged. Katalina emptied her mind, her breath the only thing she concentrated on…In, one, two, three…Out, one, two, three… Twisting at the last second, she used her size to her advantage, nimbly avoiding his big clunky frame. Her knife slashed across his back, enraging him further. Turning with on an animalist yell, Bowen lashed out, catching Katalina across the face with the back of his hand. The slap of the impact vibrated through her head and Bass’s fearful cry made her blood run cold. Her cheek bone cracked and her brain rattled in her skull. Yet she refused to go down. Screaming, she raced forward. Swinging wildly, his blood sprayed hot across her bare skin before Bowen hit hard. She went down. Katalina heard the clatter of her knife before she realized she’d dropped it. Stomach lurching, Bowen appeared on top of her seconds later, his calloused grubby hands squeezing around her throat, choking the life from her. Frozen, fear gripped her as she lay gasping for breath. Bowen’s triumphant smile in her face. “Katalina!” Katalina turned her head, dragging her eyes from the man who was going to kill her, to take one last glance at the man she loved. She wasn’t sure what she expected to see when she looked toward Bass, but anger wasn’t an emotion she’d imagined. She stared, detached from herself, Bass’s dark eyes her only focus. “Fight,” Bass growled at her. The weight of his command pressed against her bones. Her wolf bristled and rose, unfreezing her. Reaching blindly for her blade, Katalina struggled to throw Bowen off her. Her fingers brushed the tip of the knife handle, but she couldn’t quite reach it. Black spots floated before her eyes while her brain grew foggy from lack of oxygen. The bang of a door, the scrape of metal. “Kat,” Olivia called as she kicked her knife within reach. Grasping the blade, with the finest thread of hope running through her, Katalina forced the last of her energy into driving the blade into Bowen’s side. Stabbing him repeatedly, he reared back growling, his hands releasing her neck to hit back. Dragging in a gargled breath, Katalina swiped as she sensed another presence enter the warehouse. Her mind blacked out, her vision swaying. Bowen was ripped from her. The sound of tearing flesh and an angry bark filled her head before there was a thud and silence. Katalina pushed up on her elbows, blinking as she dragged in a deep lung full of air, and smiled at her rescuer. “Good boy,” she croaked as Arne whined, pressing his blood-stained muzzle against her face. A shadow loomed above her. “Hey.” Katalina smiled sheepishly. “Could you please find the keys to get me out of these cuffs,” Bass ground out through his teeth, the rope from around his legs broken. Katalina pushed her sore body up and checked Bowen’s pockets, her nose wrinkling as she took in his torn neck. Finding the key, she stood and released Bass. He turned to face her, the expression on his face unreadable. “Are you mad at me?” Katalina asked quietly, apprehension swirling in the pit of her stomach. “What were you thinking, Katalina? Taking him on alone?” “I was protecting what’s mine,” she replied firmly, not taking her gaze from his. Though the croak in her voice didn’t help her cause. A low rumble made its way up his chest. “You are the most stubborn, reckless —” “Hey!” Katalina rasped. “Brave woman, I know,” Bass finished, a soft smile spreading on his lips. He pulled her flush against him kissing her hard on the mouth. “Yet in future, I’d rather you’d listen and stay where it’s safe.” “Lecture me later. Nico was in a bad way when I arrived,” she answered, gingerly touching her throat, and turning toward the door.