"She's barely past her first heat, and it's your Alpha's duty to protect her." The newcomer spat on the ground at Jeff's feet, his wrinkled face twisted in anger. "She's my only living blood, and if he lets anything happen to her, I'll rip his heart out with my bare hands."
Jeff raised his brows, amused at the elderly man's nerve. "Quite a statement from an old man. We're not in the protection business and the girl isn't part of our pack. Why doesn't her own pack protect her? And where is she, anyway?"
"Somewhere safe. The bastard son of a mutt back in New York thought he could just take her, use her to improve his bloodline. I'll see him in hell first, and you along with him if you don't do right by her." The older man paced the floor, his agitation showing with every move. His gaze flicked to the doorway. "You'll meet her soon enough. I expect you and your Alpha to look after her." Turning on his heel, he strode out the door without another word.
Jeff turned down the gas flame under the pot of melting chocolate, and followed at a more leisurely pace. Bright sunlight blinded him when he stepped outside, and he raised his hand to shade his eyes. Squinting, he looked around. Where the heck had the old man disappeared to?
Shrugging, he turned to go back inside. He'd never heard of a werewolf losing his grip on reality, but there was definitely something odd about this werewolf. A movement in the shadows beside the house caught his eye. What the hell?
He stepped toward the clump of shrubbery, every nerve on high alert as he scanned his surroundings for a possible ambush. As he got closer, the vague shape coalesced into a woman who lay partially hidden behind the low cedar bushes, trussed up like a turkey ready for the spit. A very petite, very pissed off woman whose startling blue eyes blazed with impotent anger.
This day was getting more bizarre every minute. Jeff hesitated. He decided it would be safer to deal with the woman out of sight of the small town's population, so he used his werewolf strength to hoist her over one shoulder.
Her scent smacked him square in the groin. Werewolf. Female werewolf. He staggered at the unexpected assault on his nerves, almost dropping her on the ground. With his mouth twisting grimly, he made a supreme effort to clamp down on his libido with the iron will that had convinced Jack to make him his Second.
Four swift strides brought him to the doorway and he shouldered his way inside, kicking the door shut behind him. The girl on his shoulder squirmed, enraged grunts issuing from behind her gag. He suspected that once he removed that bit of cloth, he'd wish he hadn't. He kept a firm grip on her until he reached the back room and could drop her on the overstuffed sofa resting against the far wall.
Her breath escaped in an explosive whoosh and she glared at him. Long blonde hair fell about her face in disarray, emphasizing the deep blue of those eyes. He paused, feeling the hot blood stirring in his loins. Her scent drifted up to him; female werewolf in her prime. He'd heard the others talking about the moment when they'd first set eyes on their life-mates, but he'd dismissed it as the ravings of sentimental fools. Now he wasn't so sure. He reached for the bindings on the gag and pulled the strip of cloth away from her mouth.
"I'm going to tear that geriatric old fool apart with my bare hands and teeth!" The girl twisted herself into a sitting position and tossed her head. Silky blonde tresses flowed down her back, and Jeff flexed his fingers, resisting the urge to run them through the thick waves. She moved her hands in his direction, impatience showing on her face. "Don't just stand there like a dumb puppy. Untie me so I can go after the idiot."
Jeff pulled out his pocketknife and snapped the blade open. "Hold still. I don't want to cut you. And if you're talking about an old guy with a few loose marbles, he's long gone. Weird fellow." He pulled the fabric away from her skin and sliced it apart. Idiot perhaps, but the old fart had used Thai silk for the bonds, suggesting he'd planned this abduction in detail and didn't want to hurt her.
His wayward imagination drew a picture of her spread naked on his antique bed, her limbs fixed to the ornate posts with scarves just like these, her magnificent hair spread over his pillows. He blinked and stared warily into her annoyed eyes, thankful she couldn't read his thoughts. Crouching down, he freed her feet, wincing as she let out a little whimper.
"I tried to work my feet loose so I could run, but I think all I managed to do was get rope burns on my ankles." She reached down and pulled her pants leg up to reveal raw red marks. "I'll have to shift to let them heal. He kept me trussed up so tight I couldn't walk, let alone shift." She raised her head and stared straight into his eyes. "The question is, can I trust you to watch my back? I don't know the area well enough to pick a safe spot and I'm not the biggest wolf in any pack."
Jeff tossed the scraps of silk aside. "Before you conveniently turn into a wolf, maybe you can enlighten me as to what the hell is going on. Was that old fart your grandfather?"
"Hell, no. What gave you that idea?" She shook her head and the lights reflected over her hair, causing it to shine. "He showed up on my doorstep last week and started mumbling about breeding lines and blood feuds. Made no sense at all, but I thought he seemed harmless." She rubbed absently at the marks around her ankles. "That was my first mistake. He might be deranged, but he managed to jump me just after my morning run yesterday. I didn't even see him coming. He had me on the ground and trussed up tight before I had time to realize what was going on. He tossed me into his jeep and drove me here, wherever here is." She glanced around. "Where is this, anyway? It felt like we were driving for days."
Jeff ignored the question. Her explanation didn't make sense. "What about the rest of your pack? Didn't you tell them about him when he first showed up?"
She snorted. "I don't exactly belong to a pack. The locals are a bunch of sadistic animals, and my mom made sure they had nothing to do with me."
Despite her brave words, he could see the tension in her stance. Something scared her and he doubted it was his mysterious visitor. "All wolves belong to a pack, especially the females."
"Well, I don't." She stood up, her lips curled back in a snarl. "They know enough to leave me alone." Her legs buckled and Jeff automatically reached out to catch her, drawing her up against him.
She fit as though she'd been made just for him, tucking neatly under his chin. He inhaled deeply, drawing her sweet scent into his lungs. He closed his arms around her, and he enjoyed the feel of the lean muscles on her deceptively slender frame sliding along his length.
She raised her head, her blue eyes startled as she stared up at him. Small, white teeth worried her bottom lip, drawing his attention to it. Slowly, he dipped his head, his tongue ghosting across her lips in the most tender of caresses.