Rosita awoke with the scream held tightly behind her lips. It was her third night after the rape, and her second nightmare. She had thought it wouldn’t come back, after her night with Marshal Jones. Rosita blushed, as she suddenly realized she had never asked for his first name. After making love to her, he had tucked her into bed and held her gently throughout the night. She had had no dreams, only healing slumber. She looked at the mattress beside her, the moonlight illuminating the empty sheets. Timidly, she got up, the long night dress slithering against her skin as it fell down to her knees. She peeked into her grandmother’s living room and sighed with relief as she saw him, a silent sentinel, peering out the window. Knowing Jones was protecting her, she climbed back into bed, the dream forgotten, and fell back asleep.
The next morning, Rosita awoke to the smell of cinnamon. Going into the kitchen she found a pot of cinnamon oatmeal, still warm, and a note.
Checking the perimeter. I will return shortly.
Rosita sighed and scooped oatmeal into her bowl. As she licked the spoon, swallowing the sweet, mushy cereal, she thought about what to do now. Jones had warned her not to leave the cabin. The werewolf’s threat to return was still looming over her head, and he told her he planned to stake out the house until the monster’s arrival. While washing her bowl in the sink, Rosita came to a decision. She couldn’t wait.
Her grandmother was already safe, under observation in the hospital because of her chemotherapy. Jones had mentioned that the werewolf had been to her apartment, and Gina had made the connection, realizing that her mother’s new boyfriend must be the wolf. She thought of his eyes as he’d leered at her in the kitchen the first morning, then the eyes of the werewolf as it loomed over her. There was no doubt in her mind that they were the same.
Knowing Jones would be able to come after her well before she reached her home, she picked up the phone and dialed her mother’s cell phone. It was much too early in the morning for Gina. Normally she would expect the phone to go to voicemail, but something told her that this morning, it wouldn’t. She wasn’t the least surprised when a sultry male voice answered.
“Gina’s phone. Sorry she can’t come to the phone right now. Is that you, chica?”
Rosita struggled to keep the anger and revulsion from her voice as she replied.
“Uh, yeah. It is. Hey, tell my mom that Abuela is in the hospital? I’m alone at her house, right now. I got a flat tire on my bike. I need her to pick me up.”
Rosita could practically hear the wheels in the man’s head as they whirred with this new information. He only paused a moment, however, before replying.
“I can come get you. Your mom’s asleep.”
Rosita leapt at the opening she was waiting for.
“Could you, really? I’m so glad. I don’t want to be alone right now.”
The man’s chuckle was pure evil, and a shiver ran up Rosita’s spine. She felt goose bumps on her arm as he promised to come down and get her as soon as possible. Hanging up the phone, Rosita took several deep breaths to steady herself. She didn’t know when Hunter would be back. She expected him any minute, but his idea of perimeter might be larger than she thought.
Not wanting to be caught unawares, Rosita threw on a pair of jeans and a tank top then, slipping into her red poncho last, the comforting feel of the familiar material bolstering her nerves. Next she went into the pantry and pulled out her grandmother’s shotgun. Unloading it, she looked at the shells laid out on the table with a frown. Werewolves were tough. She knew the stories. Supposedly you needed silver bullets. Abuela didn’t have silver bullets. Staring at the large shells, Rosita suddenly had an idea. Going into her grandmother’s bedroom, she opened her jewelry box and found what she was looking for: three heavy silver chains. Bringing the chains into the kitchen, she got a small paring knife and gently pulled the caps from the cartridges. Dumping the pellets into an empty cup, she began breaking the soft silver chain into pieces and filling the cartridges. Carefully, she pushed the caps back into the shell and loaded the gun.
Rosita’s timing was perfect. She heard the distinct sounds of tires crunching on the gravel drive. She pumped the shotgun, and calmly walked to the door. She opened it just as Raoul was closing the door to the convertible. The wide, wicked grin on his face turned slack as she wasted no time, swinging the barrel towards his body and taking aim for his heart. Those eyes. She would never forget those eyes. Rosita was fast, but the wolf was faster, ducking just as she squeezed the trigger. Instead of hitting him square in the chest, the fast moving chains buried themselves into his shoulder. Rosita fired again, missing him entirely as Raoul shifted into his wolf, his clothes and shoes shredding from his furry body. While she was distracted trying to load the next two rounds, Raoul took the opportunity to lunge. She saw him coming and dropped the shells, swinging the barrel at his open jaws.
It probably wouldn’t have stopped him at all except that in the moment before she made contact, a thundering roar shook the trees. The wolf’s gaze left his prey for just long enough that the sudden thud of metal on flesh left him temporarily startled. Rosita was able to scramble back into the house and deadbolt the door. The werewolf’s body crashed into it, the wood cracking against his weight. She waited for it to shatter, but instead, the whole cabin shuddered as the wolf’s body was sent careening into a support stud for the porch roof, causing it to partially collapse. Peeking out the window, Rosita saw Marshal Jones’s tiger quietly stalking towards the prone wolf, who was scrambling to untangle himself from the splinters of wood and roof tiles. The two collided in a thrashing of fur, claws and teeth, and Rosita had difficulty telling who was who as the two bodies zipped across the yard. Gathering her courage, Rosita loaded two more shells and unlocked the door, stepping out onto the porch.
She didn’t have a clear shot. The tiger and the werewolf were locked together in fierce battle, both were covered with blood. Rosita couldn’t even tell who was winning as the two circled each other with viscous snarls on their lips. Then she noticed the limp. The wolf’s shoulder would give slightly as he padded over the ground. She could see that their wounds were all healing rapidly, and most were nothing more than bloodied, but otherwise unmarred fur. Raoul’s shoulder was a different story. Instead of rapidly healing, it looked as if the shoulder she’d hit with the chains was rapidly festering. It was swollen and bleeding copiously. Jones was taking full advantage of the werewolf’s weakness, clawing and scratching the wound whenever he had an opening. Raoul’s howls of pain and rage were beginning to sound desperate.
Suddenly, Raoul was on top of Jones, his jaws clamped tightly against the tiger’s throat while the tiger’s frantic claws tried to pry the vice from his windpipe. Rosita knew she couldn’t miss, and dashed forward, towards the struggling monsters, thrusting the shotgun between them and firing at the werewolf’s chest at point blank range. The grunt of pain as Raoul’s eyes widened in surprise was enough to give Jones’s fingers a chance to slip between the massive jaws. He threw the wolf from his body as Rosita took aim a second time. She fired at the wolf, the chain pellets sinking into multiple points along his chest and stomach, and he howled in anger and fear. Scrambling to his feet, he turned tail and ran, limping into the forest, towards the mountains.
Hunter rushed to Rosita’s side, admiring the rise and fall of her bosom as she panted, the gun still gripped firmly in her hands. He gently touched her face, tilting her chin to look up at him, trying to gauge if she was alright, or about to have a break down. Staring into her hard eyes, he smiled grimly, and she nodded in agreement. Hunter knew she would be fine, and loped off after the fleeing werewolf.
The tracks were easy enough to find, and he quickly caught up with Raoul. The werewolf had shifted into his human form and made a bee line for the road. Hunter scowled. The man would try to find some poor human to use for cover. Hunter would never attack him with a human present, and he knew it. Shifting into his human form as well, Hunter reached for the silver plated knife he had strapped to his leg with an elastic band. It was his secret weapon, and it always took the other were’s by surprise. After the shift, he was left completely naked, and, they always supposed, helpless when among witnesses. However, Hunter had learned to be resourceful after his first quarry had tried to hide in plain sight. The naked man limping down the highway would certainly gain the sympathy of any approaching car, and Hunter knew that if he exposed any bystanders to his weretiger form, the local pack would hunt him down for potentially exposing their pack and putting them all in danger.
Hunter didn’t like attacking a man who wasn’t facing him, but he was running out of time and opportunity. Coming up behind the naked man, he slipped the silver knife between his ribs and pierced the heart. The wolf tried to howl in rage, but not a sound came from his parted lips. Then he slumped to the ground, the knife sizzling slightly as the werewolf blood reacted to the silver lining.
Before he could grab a hold of the corpse and pull it into the woods, he heard a motor and looked up to see a silver car fast approaching. Hunter winced. He wasn’t prepared to kill a human today, but he also couldn’t be report to the local police. Keeping his knife behind his back and out of sight, he crouched down next to the body and tried to look concerned. When the car stopped next to him, he suddenly recognized it. It was the werewolf’s convertible. Then he heard Rosita’s voice urging him to hurry.
“Let’s go! There aren’t a lot of people on this road, but I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to stay here much longer.”
Hunter nodded his agreement and grabbed the werewolf, heaving the body over his shoulders. He heard the pop of the trunk opening and went to the rear of the vehicle, dumping the man in his own trunk. Then he slipped into the back seat, his skin slapping against the leather interior. Rosita giggled nervously.
“He left the keys in his pants pocket. They fell out when it got ripped during his change. I grabbed you a spare shirt and sweatpants. They’re in the bag. They’re for a girl, but you might be able to squeeze into them.”
Hunter felt around for the plastic bag that held a gray tee shirt and black track pants. Both materials were very stretchy and although they hugged his frame tightly, he was able to cover himself. Good thing, too, since they saw red and blue lights begin to flash behind them.
Rosita didn’t start slowing down. She was panicked. This was essentially a stolen vehicle, and they had a dead body in the trunk. She could hear Hunter growling in frustration as he let loose another string of curses.
“Pull over Rosita. We can’t afford a high speed chase through the mountains.”
“But what will we say?”
“When we stop, jump into the back seat. I’ll get in the front and answer the cop.”
Rosita nodded, her hands trembling as she slid into the dirt at the side of the road and then quickly vaulted into the back seat. Hunter was able to wiggle into the driver’s seat before the cop had even opened his door. He quickly adjusted his seat and unlocked the door. Rolling the window down, he put on a bright smile and addressed the cop.
“How’s your day going, officer?”
When the policeman leaned down to meet Hunter’s gaze, Rosita swore she could see the hairs on the back of his neck raise. The low growl from the cop was not the answer they were expecting. The two faced off, growling at one another for a full minute before Rosita decided to clear her throat and end the macho staring contest. The cop’s eyes darted to hers and he seemed genuinely startled to see her. Then his whole face seemed to sink as his eyes widened and his jaw dropped. He looked quite terrified of the tiny 5’2″ girl sitting tensely on the leather seat.
“Her family was attacked by the rogue. She assisted in my capture.”
The cop’s growl returned, but only in his voice as he spoke.
“Capture? He’s still alive?”
“Ah, no. He is quite dead. You can check for yourself, if you like. He’s in the trunk.”
The cop simply grunted, then flicked his eyes to Rosita, his gaze no longer afraid, but still tense.
“You aren’t allowed to leave witnesses, hunter.”
Hunter stiffened, then realized the man was calling him by his occupation, not his name. Settling his sternest expression on his face, Hunter let his tiger’s growl creep back into his voice.
“She will not be touched.”
The officer looked a little surprised, then smug.
“We’ll have to see what the Alpha says.”
Hunter was so agitated, the pupils of his eyes turned to slits as he replied.
“She will notbe touched.”
The cop returned the growl and motioned for Hunter to follow him. Hunter waited for the cruiser to pull in front of him, and grudgingly trailed the car up into the mountains. This was a disaster. The Alpha would see the human bystanders as a threat. A threat he was responsible for. Hunter had never been very good with responsibility, at least not in the long run. He’d always taken the quick fix, then moved on, leaving his problems behind. This time, however, he felt a strange compulsion to make things right. It probably had something to do with the young woman sitting behind him. She hadn’t said a word once the cop pulled them over, and he knew she must be both terrified and confused. It was several minutes before Rosita was able to calm herself enough to voice her questions.
“That cop, he’s a werewolf, isn’t he?”
Hunter eyed Rosita warily. She was tense, gripping edges of the leather seats like they were a life line. He wasn’t sure if she had been sitting in the front, if she might have simply made a run for it. He found himself embarrassingly glad that she couldn’t reach a door.
“Yes. That was one of the Betas to the pack in this region. They’re actually the ones who hired me to find the rogue werewolf. He’s been causing problems for weeks now.”
“Why did they hire you? Couldn’t they have killed him themselves?”
“If they wanted to risk the exposure of the entire pack, sure. But hiring a bounty hunter, someone they aren’t responsible for, takes a lot of risk out of the equation. They aren’t prepared to kill one of their own if he messes up and exposes himself. Me, they don’t care too much. It’s one of the reasons I ask for half my money up front. If they think I’m compromised, then I can bolt, and still have made something off the deal.”
Rosita was silent for a long time.
“Where are we going?”
Hunter licked his lips nervously. They were going into the pack’s den, probably the most dangerous place in the state for a lone tiger and a human to be. He didn’t want to worry her even more than she already was, but it wouldn’t do any good to lie either.
“We’re going to meet the pack’s Alpha. As I said, one of the reasons they hired me was to keep human involvement to a minimum. The pack doesn’t like it when humans know about them.”
“So what happens when we meet him?”
Hunter took so long to answer, Rosita was sure he wouldn’t. At least fifty different ideas were bouncing in her mind, each one worse than the last. She worried about her grandmother, her mother, would they be punished also?
“Most of the time a pack will try to turn any humans who have discovered them. That way, the person shares the risk to the pack if they tell. However, exceptions have been made in the past. I’m sure I can get the pack Alpha to see reason. You and your family are no threat to them. I’ll make them understand that.”
Rosita was surprised by the determination in his voice. Hunter hadn’t known her for very long, and yet, his resolve to protect her was profound. She felt like crying with gratitude, but instead, leaned forward and put her hands on his shoulders, caressing the stiff muscles, her hands sliding down to his chest, nearly in an embrace. He shuddered at her touch, leaning into her caress when one hand cupped his cheek.
“Thank you, Marshal Jones.”
The whispered gratitude completely undid him. Any chance that he would have backed out and thrown her and hers to the wolves, literally, as an act of self preservation vanished. He’d left everything and everyone behind too many times. This time, he would stand and fight.
Her hands stilled their stroking.
“My first name, it’s Hunter.”
Her soft voice whispered his name, trying it out against her tongue. He suddenly had a vision of himself, pounding into her supple body as she screamed his name in passion. He vowed that if they lived through this, he would see that fantasy come true.
They followed the car in silence the rest of the way. When they were deep into the mountain preserve, having passed through two gates, the tree line suddenly disappeared and they were on a long driveway that led to a sprawling ranch. The building looked like it had had many additions over the years, making it larger and larger until it almost resembled a small apartment complex. The cruiser parked in a dirt field with several other vehicles, and Hunter did the same. He climbed out and pushed the seat back, holding his hand out to Rosita. She took his hand quick enough, but he nearly had to drag her from the car. Hunter spared a brief moment to pull her in a tight embrace, placing a tender kiss on her forehead.
“I will protect you. I promise.”
He felt her shoulders relax slightly, but when her chin tilted up to meet his gaze, he wasn’t able to read the tense expression on her face. Shaking a rather ominous feeling, he held her hand again, and the two of them walked towards the ranch, following the werewolf officer who had barely spared them a second glance.
Rosita gripped Hunter’s fingers tightly, trying to decide how to play this. It would be so easy to just let Hunter keep his promise to protect her and her family. She had no doubts that he would try, but one weretiger against a whole pack of werewolves, it wasn’t a fair fight. She had little to offer in the way of helping him. The shotgun and its silver chain filled shells were both in the backseat, but when she moved to take them with her, Hunter shook his head. It looked like fighting would be a last resort, and he intended to keep her out of it entirely. Rosita didn’t like that. She wanted to be part of defending her family, and surprisingly, defending him as well. He promised to save her, but at what cost? Did she expect him to die for her? Could she accept that? Rosita didn’t think she could. Hunter had given her something that no other man in her life ever had: honesty. He said what he meant and he meant what he said. He was reliable. It didn’t matter that she had known him a total of two days, he was already the best man she’d ever met. She could trust him to protect her, and more, she could trust him not to hurt her. Regardless of whether she would ever see him again after this was all over, she would not allow the world to lose such a man.
The cop left the front door open, so they simply walked right in. The front room seemed to be a lounge area, decorated in light wood paneling deep hunter green paint. Several lanky young men were all draped over worn leather furniture in front of a huge flat screen, watching a soccer game. A few others were playing darts or pool, and one beefy redhead was actually twirling the cord of an old phone in his fingers while chatting, a goofy smile on his lips. Everyone immediately stopped what they were doing and glared at the two interlopers to their den. Hunter met their challenging gazes with a hard, but indirect stare. He didn’t directly meet the gazes of the men, but he wouldn’t look at the floor either. It seemed pretty obvious, he didn’t want to return their challenge, but he wasn’t going to back down either. Rosita wasn’t as brave, she kept her gaze firmly rooted on a spot on the floor where she could just make out the rest of the room with her peripheral vision. She wasn’t going to let her guard down completely, but she couldn’t stand to see those feral, glowing eyes.
No one moved until the man who was on the phone broke the silence.
“I’ll call you back.”
The phone clicked as it sat on the receiver, and that was the signal for the other men to go back to their various distractions. When the redhead stood, he was enormous. Hunter was well muscled and fit, but this guy looked like he spent most of his time lifting weights. Rosita had been surprised when she heard his voice. She’d expected it to be deep, rough, but his voice was soft, almost feminine. It made her pay more attention to his words, and put her at ease, even though she wasn’t happy about what he had to say.
“So, this is the girl I’m going to be accepting into my pack, hmm?”
Hunter growled softly. He supposed it was a good thing that the Alpha hadn’t simply declared his intentions to kill Rosita, but he didn’t want her forced into the tight knit werewolf society, where her blossoming individuality would be absorbed by the pack. It was his experience with werewolves that the close family structure of the pack made all of the wolves very similar to each other. Oh, they had different interests, different ways of handling situations, but on a very basic level, they were all the same. It had to be that way. The wolves were ruled by their Alpha, and any discord among them caused serious rifts. They all eventually came to his way of thinking, and if they disagreed, it was always done with deference to his commands. Some days Hunter felt it would be comforting, to be surrounded by such a supportive and understanding group. But most often he thought it would be stifling. He wasn’t sure if Rosita, who had never had a real, close family, with the exception of her grandmother, would want this life. But he was damn sure he was going to make sure it was herchoice if she did.
The Alpha laughed softly as he faced them off, taking in Hunter’s defensive posture, and Rosita’s determined stance. She looked like she desperately wanted to flee, but was forcing herself to be still. He admired that. The red poncho was just too much, Little Red Riding Hood, come to do battle. He let it go.
“So, the rogue is dead then?”
Hunter was briefly caught off guard by the change in topic. He had to take two deep breaths to clear the growl in his throat before answering.
“Silver knife to the heart. He’s in the trunk.”
The Alpha’s lips stretched into a smile, tiny dimples appearing, making him seem boyish and approachable. Rosita wanted to laugh, and was horrified as her own lips began twitching. This man, who seemed so nice and unassuming, was going to turn her into a monster once a month. Then he was going to assert himself as her Alpha, a master who she would have to obey in all things. The tight knot of nervousness in her stomach was threatening to bubble over into her throat. She fought to keep it down, clamping her jaw tightly, but it didn’t work. The nervous laughter tumbled from her lips in short little bursts. The men all stared at her strangely. She just shook her head, unable to verbalize her emotions. When she felt Hunter’s hand reach out and take hers, she clasped his fingers tightly and leaned into his shoulder. They would get through this.
The Alpha gestured for them to follow him, and led to another room adjacent to the lounge area. It also had wood panels and comfy looking leather, as well as a huge desk set against a picture window with a view of the woods. The room was painted a pale blue, however, and felt relaxed and welcoming. Without waiting for any instructions, Rosita practically stumbled to a chair and sank gratefully into the seat. She was terrified that her knees wouldn’t hold her any longer if they began talking about her becoming a wolf again.
Hunter didn’t sit. Instead, he stood protectively over her chair, one arm on the cushion, the other on her shoulder. The Alpha sat behind the desk, his reassuringly boyish smile prompting another smothered giggle from Rosita. He quirked a brow at her before speaking to Hunter.
“So, now that you have killed the rogue, I suppose the only issues left are the human bystanders and the second half of your payment. You do realize that there are penalties involved because of the indiscretion, yes?”
Indiscretion. Rosita wanted to giggle again. She was a bystander and an indiscretion. And here she thought she and Hunter had been very discrete.
“I am willing to forgo the second installment in exchange for full control in handling the oversight.”
The Alpha now looked like he was the one who couldn’t control an errant giggle.
“Oh really? You think I should just let you take responsibility for the safety of my pack in this matter? I’ve never met a tiger with such aspirations. Ballsy, man, just ballsy!”
Rosita heard the ripping of leather behind her head. She glanced at her shoulder and saw that Hunter had grown claws. The one on her was simply balled in a fist. She reached up to take his hand and gently stroked it with her thumb. Fighting the Alpha in his den was a bad idea. She had to keep him calm.
Her whispered plea seemed to calm him, as did her hand on his. The claws shifted back to fingers, but she noticed his eyes remained slits.
The Alpha’s voice startled her, and she returned her gaze to him.
“How long have you been fucking her, hunter?”
That did it. Rosita didn’t even have a moment to blink. Hunter was sailing through the air as he lunged at the Alpha, smashing through the window and onto the grass. His borrowed clothes ripped to shreds as he shifted into a full tiger, not weretiger, and began clawing and ripping at the werewolf. The Alpha had shifted almost as quickly, and was using his claws to try and untangle the ferocious cat. It was obvious that the Alpha wasn’t used to fighting a tiger. It was a stroke of genius on Hunter’s part. A were tiger wasn’t much different from a werewolf, except for the stripes and whiskers. A tiger, however bore almost no resemblance to a wolf in fighting styles. Wolves fought with their teeth, and werewolves fought with teeth and clawed fists. The tiger was a mass of twisting, wiggling fur, the jaws and claws locking onto flesh while the hind quarters tried to slash the unprotected underbelly. At first, Rosita thought it was no contest. Then she noticed something she should have seen before. The werewolf was bigger.
Normal tigers were ten feet long in body and 650 lbs or more. As a man, Hunter was probably closer to 250. He was tall, so it didn’t make him overly muscled. The Alpha was probably three inches shorter than Hunter, but he outweighed him by at least 50 lbs. When they shifted, they conserved mass, making the Alpha a burly werewolf and Hunter a very tiny tiger. Hunter was fast, and inflicting serious damage. Every time the werewolf grabbed him, he’d slip away and dash back for another stealthy attack. But his speed wasn’t enough. The Alpha caught his tale and gave a vicious yank. Hunter yowled in pain and the werewolf was able to grab him from behind and get the tiger in a lock under the arms and behind his head. Hunter tried to wiggle free, but the Alpha held him to the ground, pinning him tightly. Neither man could move, but that didn’t matter much to the Alpha. He wasn’t alone. Rosita saw the rest of the pack closing in. She didn’t know what they would do to Hunter, but she did know what they planned for her. It was the moment she had been waiting for. Decision time.
Without thinking beyond the desired result, Rosita rushed forward and threw her arms around the Alpha’s neck. She wasn’t trying to choke him, just get his attention. Trying to fight the monster of a man with her tiny 5’2″ 114 lbs would have been pointless.
“Let him go, please! I’ll do whatever you want, just stop!”
Both men stilled. The tiger let out a whine. Then his eyes focused on the rest of the pack who had circled the two fighters and some of the fight left his body. She hated to see the look of defeat creep into his gaze.
Hunter knew it was over. If Rosita hadn’t thrown herself into the fight, it might have taken him longer, but his futile struggles in the Alpha’s grip were draining him. When he saw the twenty odd werewolves that had formed a circle around the fight, there was nothing left to do but submit. He just couldn’t, though. He couldn’t force his body to relax. The best he was able to do was shift into his weakest form, but his human body remained tense, hands fisted, teeth grit, with slitted pupils that refused to turn round. When the Alpha released him, he slumped to the ground, crouching, ready to spring, but with his eyes focused on the torn up grass beneath his feet. All he could hear was the panting breath of his opponent, until a soft shuffle caught his attention. Rosita’s feet crept into his vision. Hunter’s hands were so tight he could feel his nails breaking the skin.
“I’m so sorry, Rosita.”
She didn’t acknowledge his apology. Instead, she dropped to her knees in front of him and wrapped her arms around his tense shoulders. She could feel his anger, it was making him shake. The soft hair tickling his face as she lay her head against him, the sweet smell of homemade soap, it was too much, and he sagged against her. As Hunter relaxed in her arms, his own wrapping around her waist, she realized the extent of his defeat. If this fight had been fair, Hunter might have actually won. It would have been close, but eventually the Alpha wouldn’t have been able to keep holding him. Then it would have been a matter of who recovered the fastest. But with the pack in the wings, and Rosita constantly threatened by their presence, he knew they wouldn’t have survived if he’d bested the Alpha. The only way the wolf would have given up was with his last breath, and the pack wouldn’t have suffered the loss well.
The Alpha changed back into a man and watched as the girl comforted the bounty hunter. He was sure that the girl had saved one of their lives. If the Alpha was honest, he wasn’t entirely sure if it was his or the tiger’s. The fight had been brutal, and with more time, and fair odds, could have gone either way. He didn’t like using his pack to win his battles, he much preferred to shoulder the responsibility on his own. But his Betas knew that the safety of the pack was paramount, and losing to an outsider, and a cat at that, would have been disastrous. He nodded to Jack, the beta who had brought them to the den, assuring the nervous man that he’d done the right thing. Now, if only he could figure out what the right thing was now.
Standing a few feet from the defeated couple, the Alpha decided it was time to get more information, and he knew the bounty hunter would interfere.
“Girl, I think it’s time you and I had a little chat. Hunter, if you value her life, you will remain here. I promise you, no harm will come to her. I just want to talk, understand?”
Hunter hugged Rosita tightly before releasing her with a brief nod. She stood, holding her head high as she followed the Alpha inside. Briefly, she looked back at Hunter, who hadn’t moved, except to follow her with his blue cats eyes. The Alpha led them into a small library. He sat in one overstuffed chair and motioned for her to do the same. After an excruciating minute of silence, he finally spoke.
“Do you know why we insist on turning or killing any human who discovers us?”
Rosita shook her head, so the Alpha continued.
“Humans, and all sentient beings for that matter, are generally afraid of the unknown. But the benefit of not knowing is that you can’t do anything about it. You have to trust that things will work out, because you’re powerless against something you don’t understand. When humans meet us, we’re monsters from that unknown, suddenly come to life. You will spend the rest of your years looking over your shoulder and carrying silver bullets in your pocket. You will make assumptions that are wrong, and dangerous to my pack, if you ever feel threatened again. You will expose us, eventually, because of your fears. Or you’ll end up paranoid delusional, imagining that every unknown fear you have had is real. You may think that you can handle it. I know your grandmother saw the rogue wolf also. She is old and nearing the end of her years. We aren’t concerned about her revealing us. No one would believe her anyhow, it would likely be seen as a result of her condition. You, however, have many, many years in which to make a mistake. I’m more than willing to sacrifice your life to keep my pack safe. So that leaves you with the choice of joining us, or death. It would be so sad for your grandmother to lose you at such a critical time in her life.”
Rosita stared blankly at the Alpha. He’d neatly stripped away any argument she could make, and then left her feeling guilty about her grandmother. At least he hadn’t insisted they change her too. Rosita still had one ace up her sleeve, however, and decided this was the time to pull it.
“Sir, may I ask you something?”
The Alpha nodded, so she continued.
“Hunter isn’t part of your pack, but he doesn’t pose a threat to you, does he?”
The Alpha chuckled. He supposed that depended on how you defined ‘threat.’ He chose his words carefully.
“He is not a threat to exposing my pack, no. Exposing us would expose him. He’s part of our world, just not part of our pack.”
Rosita nodded. Time to play her cards.
“I will not join your pack. I will not submit to your authority. I will keep my independence.”
The Alpha frowned.
“I don’t suffer rogue wolves, they’re too dangerous.”
Rosita cut him off.
“I have no intentions of becoming a werewolf.”
It took a few seconds for the Alpha to respond. He rolled their conversation around in his mind until it clicked. Understanding filled his expression, and he grinned.
“You are a feisty little thing. But just to be sure I understand you, I want you to lay it out for me.”
Rosita took a deep breath.
“I want Hunter to change me into a weretiger. I don’t want to join your pack.”
The Alpha nearly laughed. Hunter? The bounty hunter’s name was Hunter?
“I want to be sure of two things before I agree. First, I want to make sure you aren’t refusing to join my pack because you have a prejudice against werewolves as a result of the rogue’s… attack.”
Rosita shook her head. She didn’t even pause. He was satisfied that she was telling the truth.
“Second, if Hunter refuses, you must choose the pack or death. I want to know which one it will be, now, before you speak to your man.”
Her man. Rosita got tingles at the thought. She hadn’t intended to be possessive of him. She figured this would only be a fling anyhow. Their emotions for one another were based greatly on a shared trauma, and weren’t likely to last. Still…
“I will join the pack. You are right, I’m not ready to leave my grandmother just yet. I would ask you not to tell Hunter of this decision, though. I don’t want it to sway his.”
The Alpha clapped his hands and grinned gleefully.
“Excellent! Now that that is all settled, let’s go ask Tiny, shall we!”
Rosita shook her head and followed the Alpha. Hunter was still kneeling in the grass when they returned to the yard. When he saw the look of triumph on the Alpha’s face, his whole body seemed to deflate. He’d liked Rosita. He really had. She was special. And now she would become a member of the pack, and her uniqueness would be absorbed into family until she was just a little less of an individual, defined by the association. Worse, she would love it, being part of such a close and loyal family, and never mourn the independent streak she’d lost. Let us not also forget the fact that the Alpha would never let her leave the area, and he would not be suffered to stay with them. He would never see her again, after the next full moon.
Hunter wouldn’t meet her gaze as Rosita knelt down beside him. However, he did accept her outstretched hand and rose with her.
“Jack, show them to a guest room. Our new friends have much to discuss.”
They followed the werewolf cop into an addition to the ranch, and Rosita noticed that the additions created a sort of courtyard in the middle, circling the outdoor space. She caught a glimpse of some wooden benches and wild flowers, as well as many young trees. It was a taste of the wild, enclosed in the space.
The guest room was pretty boring. It had white walls and the same light wood paneling as the lounge. A wardrobe, large bed with a plain white duvet, and a flat screen mounted to the wall were all that the room could boast. Hunter went straight to the window and twisted the blinds so he could peer into the courtyard. Jack gave her a thumbs up sign before he closed the door, and the two of them were completely alone.
Rosita had no idea how to start this conversation. Hunter was so tense at the window, she wasn’t sure if he’d listen anyhow. Instead of speaking, she simply walked over and wrapped her arms around him, rubbing her cheek against his bare back. He was still naked, and she was suddenly very aware of the heat that rolled off his body. Pushing herself closer to him, she felt his body stiffen. At first she was certain he’d reject her embrace, then positive, as he pulled her hands from his body and turned to face her. He didn’t release her wrists as he stared deeply into her eyes. Rosita choked back a sob when she saw the raw emotion in his slitted orbs. She couldn’t identify it, and mistook it for anger. When his mouth came crashing down on hers, she responded with equal intensity, relief coursing through to mingle with her desire.
Hunter couldn’t stand the tortured look in her eyes. Even though it meant they never would have met, he would have given anything to go back in time and catch the rogue before his attack. Anything to spare her the pain, both from the rape and from losing her life to the pack. The best he could do, however, was to show her how much he had come to care for her, and beg her forgiveness for failing to save her.
While Hunter’s lips continued to explore her mouth his hands began slipping under her poncho and tank top, feeling the swell of her breasts, then her pert nipples, hardening in his palms. When his hands pushed the material higher, she obligingly lifted her arms and the whole thing slid from her body. He made quick work of the jeans and panties. Soon she was as naked as he. Pressing his heated flesh against hers, he felt her shiver in anticipation. It was all too much. He couldn’t wait.
She squeaked in surprised when Hunter knocked Rosita’s knees from under her, lifting her bodily and laying her on the bed. Their first time together he had been achingly gentle. She sensed that this time would be different. It scared her a little, but she still trusted him completely. Her own raging desire was quickly melting away her fears as well. When she felt his body cover hers, she arched into him, moaning when his mouth descended on an aching nipple. His lips and tongue assaulted the tender nub, and when his teeth grazed her skin, Rosita cried out, her hands flying to tangle into his silky blond hair. He kept up the assault on her nipple, pinning her with the weight of his body, his squirming captive. When he smelled the gush of sweet female heat soaking between her legs, he lifted his head. She was panting in relief from the break of his relentless mouth. It was short lived. His lips then closed in on the other nipple. She gasped, fingers fisting tightly in his hair. It had to hurt him, but Hunter didn’t seem fazed. His mouth never paused. She felt his tongue suddenly change in texture, becoming rougher. The friction was maddening. The silken feel of his hair changed subtly. Rosita didn’t have to open her eyes to know that the weretiger was making love to her now. Finally he released her nipple. Rosita had a mere moment to suck in a breath as his furred body separated from hers. She felt cold, bereft, and a tiny whine slipped from her lips in protest.