Cara Simmons ran as far and as fast as she could. Low branches slapped her face as she ran through the thick underbrush. Her car had broken down, which left her on foot. She'd grabbed her wallet and ran. He would have started to follow her as soon as he woke up and got dressed. There was no doubt of that. Cara knew she had an hour on him at the most. Add in time to gas-up and sleep, he could be right on her tail for all she knew. She had to keep moving.
If he caught up with her, he would take over her life. She knew he would, because she would allow it. Her people did their best to hide in plain sight. Hardly anyone knew her kind still existed. Their best chance for a long, fulfilling, and, most importantly, free life was keeping their existence a secret.
She couldn't allow him to catch her. Every time she looked into his mesmerizing green eyes, she capitulated. She'd done anything he wanted. It wasn't because he forced her compliance. If he tried to force her, she would have found the strength to resist. She would allow him to take over because she loved him.
Love. It seemed like such an innocuous thing. It brought people together, even brought out the best in most people, but not her. For Cara and her kind, love was like a drug. It was a dangerous obsession for another that robbed them of their will. It stole their individuality and made them little more than puppets.
If she stayed with him, he would become her master, plain and simple. Her only choice was to run, to hide. To leave before their bond was complete. One more kiss, one more night in his arms, would cement their bond. The invisible threads would chain her to him just as irrevocably as if someone handcuffed her to his wrist.
She stopped at a riverbank drew in great gulps of air as she clutched her side. Though her lungs ached from her mad dash through the woods, she knew she must keep moving. There was most likely nothing wrong with his car, and he would catch her easily if she couldn't maintain her distance.
Cara glanced around, hoping to find a boat, but knew it was wishful thinking. She fell to her knees and lowered her face to the cool stream. The quality of the water didn't matter. Her kind never got ill despite how they lived. Sometimes she thought of it as a curse. Longevity and health was a gift to most people. It was just too bad that she was so different.
Raising her head, she listened, intent. The sound of him calling her name carried on the breeze, his voice filled with worry and anguish over her disappearance. Pressing her lips together to keep from returning his call, she stood, staggering slightly on the edge of the soft wet bank. She was tired, so tired. She needed rest. After casting one last glance behind her, Cara stumbled into the rushing water.
How did he know which way she went after her car died? Maybe he had dogs. Perhaps he had found out about her and wanted the unique bond she could offer. God, she hoped not.
Desperate, Cara waded deeper into the stream, intending to follow the water. Hurrying over to the other side of the narrow river, she made sure to leave wet footprints on the edge before leaping back into the frigid water. With luck, the footprints would mislead him at least for a little while. Perhaps it would give her a chance to escape. The last thing she wanted was to live her life as nothing better than a mindless slave.
The stream grew wider and deeper. Cara chose to stay on the far side as she made her way down the wide ribbon of water.
Her feet grew cold and numb in the rushing water. There was naught she would like more than to lie down on her back in the strong current and let it do all the work as it carried her away. She couldn't submerse herself. As exhausted as she was, she knew that way led to hypothermia and death. There must be somewhere nearby she could rest undetected. Perhaps she could climb a tree and hide in the upper branches, the leaves blocking the vision of anyone below. It would work if he didn't have a dog. It had to work.
She's close. I can smell her. Alexander Ivanovich took a deep breath. Every step, every breath, brought him closer to her. He tried not to think of what her scent did to him. How his stomach clenched with need and his cock literally stood up and took notice. He glanced at his constant companion. Have you nothing to say?
Nicco, the ferret that had accompanied him in one shape or another for the last fifteen years, remained conspicuously silent. Alexander snorted. Now I know something is wrong. He glanced around, his senses on alert. I see nothing, and I smell nothing, but my gut tells me there is danger.
Specifically, danger to his mate--and Cara Simmons was his mate. Of that there was no doubt.
Finally, you speak, Alexander said with no little hint of disgust in his voice. Sometimes he hated the smug holier-than-thou attitude Nicco had. A shapeshifter of a different breed, Alexander kept him around for their friendship more than any other reason, but the creature could be dense with a capital D.
You would do well to remember that not all communication is necessary.
And you don't have to sound so damned superior all of the time either. Alexander watched with a scowl as Nicco scurried up a tree for a better look at the surrounding forest. Remember to keep yourself hidden. You may frighten her.
She is here. Two trees to your left. The large oak. She sits perched in the upper branches, wedged in a tight crotch.
I wouldn't mind being in her position right now. Alexander couldn't help the wayward thought as he grinned and fought the urge to look up and search the high branches. His cock pulsed against the button fly of his jeans. Damn, he'd only been without for a few days, and he could think of little else. What was wrong with him?
Nicco shook his head and bared his teeth, showing his displeasure. Why must your species always think of sex? You're almost as bad as a human.
You're wrong there. We don't always think of sex. Some of us don't think of anything for several months out of every year.
If Nicco could have snorted, Alexander was sure he would have. That's only because they are sleeping. It's not a conscious choice.
I beg to differ. Just the act of going to ground is a choice. Alexander scented the danger once again. It was closer now. Very close. Enough of the bickering. He shot Nicco a dirty look. Where is the danger, and why can I sense it but cannot feel from which direction it comes?
Nicco fell silent for a moment. He rose up onto his hind legs, his body gently swaying back and forth as he listened and reached out with whatever other senses he had. Another stalks her from above.
Alexander fought the urge to look up. If he did and Cara saw him, she would know he had found her and try to run again. Still, his mind urged him to look. To be sure she was safe. He needed to see her. To look into her soft brown eyes, caress her lovely skin, cup her cheek, and tell her everything would be all right. Whatever caused her to run from him was a minor thing they could work out. Something they must work out. She was his mate. There was no other way.
Though the urge to look was strong, he chose not to. Let her think she was safe and alone for the time being. She would know something or someone other than him stalked her soon enough unless they could deter whatever creature planned to make her his next meal.
His friend scrambled up a few more branches and scurried from tree to tree. Alexander, reached out with his senses and connected with Nicco. With their minds linked, he could see through Nicco's eyes. The foliage was thick. Ivy grew on the trees. Their ropelike vines were everywhere, growing dense and almost strangling the majestic oaks. The vines were an effective trap for the unsuspecting. The last thing Alexander wanted was for Cara to fall and strangle herself in the clinging vines.
He almost sighed with relief when he saw her. She sat on a high branch, her arms and legs wrapped around the trunk of the tree. Her cheek rested against the rough bark. Her dark hair spilled out behind her, leaves and other debris clinging to it. He willed her to open her eyes so he could see how she fared. Instead, the beautiful mahogany orbs stayed closed, avoiding his inspection.
It was no wonder it took him so long to see her sitting there. Her tanned skin and dark clothing helped her blend into her surroundings. He never would have seen her from below without knowing exactly where to look.
Alexander's slow smile didn't reach his eyes as the scent of another predator finally reached his nose. He would not lose her to a hungry beast. Not today. Cara may think to run from what they had, but he couldn't allow it. Without her, he had no life. She was his mate, and as such, she must remain with him for he would never find another. Cara may hide from him, but she could never escape him. It was inevitable that they come together. If she didn't already realize it, she soon would.
He heard the danger before he saw it. His enhanced hearing picked up the slight rustle of leaves brushing silky fur. A mountain lion crouched above her, hungry and needing sustenance. It thought to make Cara its next meal. Alexander didn't wish to kill the majestic beast. It was emaciated, nearly starved, its ribs sticking out through the thick fur. Humans encroaching on its habitat caused its troubles. It was natural for it to hunt the easiest most likely form of nourishment.
Still, he would never allow it to attack her as it planned. Instead of attacking the poor hungry beast, Alexander growled, pulling the noise from deep within his chest. The low sound drew the attention of the animal for a moment, then its hunger returned foremost in its thoughts.
When he growled again, the sound more insistent, the big cat looked up and sniffed the air, searching for its new enemy. It crouched lower in the tree, its stance aggressive. Apparently, it thought to fight for what it believed was its dinner. Alexander leaped into the tree and growled again, the sound growing more agitated, more aggressive. Still the beast looked toward Cara, its gaze filled with feral need. Nicco moved toward the large cat.
Do not get too close. The beast is starved and unpredictable.
I can outrun it, though perhaps it would be better to feed it. The offer was there. As always, Nicco put Alexander's life, his wants, his needs, before his own.
No! Just lead him away. I will arrange to feed him, but you are not to become his next meal.
Nicco stopped for a moment, turned to look into Alexander's eyes, the offer still there. When Alexander shook his head, Nicco moved slowly, coming out of the cover of trees to the cat's left. He was limping, acting wounded. The mountain lion turned his attention toward the injured ferret. With Alexander willing to protect Cara, the mountain lion obviously decided the ferret made an easier target. Nicco met the cat's gaze for a moment, then took off through the trees at a much slower rate than normal. The hungry beast, taking the bait, gave chase.