Luca lifted his head as the smell of fresh blood flowed by with the wind. Turning his head, his ears perked as a cry echoed through the woods. Concentrating hard, he tuned his hearing to the direction from which the wind was blowing and listened as a woman cried out in pain, followed by a man's shout. A familiar smell, one that had accompanied several previous murders in his woods, wafted along the breeze. He rose, spread his wings and took off into the forest toward the problem.
There shouldn't even be one; they should not be trespassing on his land. He was going to assess the situation, and then act on it calmly. At least that was his plan until he landed on the branch and watched as a balding, short, overweight man beat a woman tied to a tree. The woman with brown shoulder-length hair and torn clothes was badly bruised and bloodied.
Luca's nostrils flared with anger as he caught the smell of the man again. This man's scent had been on three bodies he had found over the course of a year, women's bodies so badly mutilated, the only way he'd known they were females was from their scent. Not again, not in his forest. He hadn't been able to help any of the others, but this one he could, and with a horrifying screech he soared down, claws out, slashing them across the man's throat as the murderer turned with fright in his eyes.
The naked woman just lay there unmoving, her eyes following him as he walked toward her, and she whispered a plea of help. He stepped out of the shadows, and her eyes widened before she slumped down in unconsciousness. Growling, he looked around the forest with hope that someone would run out and help this woman, but as his luck would have it, no one appeared. If he left her here, she'd end up freezing tonight. Even if he untied her he doubted she'd survive with her injuries and knew for damn sure she didn't have the strength to get out of the forest. He could drop her off somewhere in town, but the chance of being spotted at this time of night was high and not to his liking.
Kneeling down, he used a claw to cut the rope tying her to the tree before he moved his gaze to her face again. She is cute. He drew the back of his knuckle along her bruised face. With a sigh he lifted her into his arms, holding her close against his chest as he spread his wings and took off above the forest.
Over the next two days Luca fed the woman, bathed her, and applied an antibiotic cream to her wounds; she was in and out of consciousness and not aware of what was happening. The night she asked a coherent question was the night he blindfolded her, and now he sat and watched as she woke again.
"Leave it," he stated softly when she lifted a hand to remove the blindfold. "You are in no harm here, but you must leave it on."
"Who-who are you?"
Luca smiled at that question. "I was not given a name, but I've taken a liking to Luca."
Chandra winced as she moved on the bed. "Where am I?"
"And where is that?"
"Stop moving. I think you have several bruised ribs, with bruises going from one end of you to the other."
"How would you know?" she asked softly, her weak hand trembling as she tried to lift the blanket higher.
Luca reached over and without touching her, lifted the covers up to her chin. "Because I have been caring for you."
"You killed him?" she whispered.
"It was that or let him kill you." He rose and walked to a pitcher of water. He saw her frown from the corner of his eye and knew she was gauging the sounds of his footsteps. "It's water. Drink slowly so your stomach doesn't rebel." He held the cup for her, his eyes lowering as she sipped the cool water with her battered lips, and for the first time in a long time he felt his body react to a female. He couldn't help it; there was something about her pheromones, her aura that was playing havoc with his senses, almost as if ... "What's your name?" He lowered the cup.
"Chandra, Chandra Burke."
"Well, Chandra Burke, you're new to the Pinelands."
"Why did he go after you?"
"I don't know, but I don't think I was the first. He mentioned several times that I was the best chase he'd had."
"You're not. You were just the first I could get to in time to help."
"Are we still inside the barrens?"
"The Pine Barrens, yes." He smiled. "Why?"
"My grandmother ... she used to tell me stories about it being..."
"Yes, and haunted by the..."
"The Jersey Devil?"
Luca grinned. "And what do you suppose the Jersey Devil is?"
"A mythical creature, like werewolves and vampires. Don't get me wrong, there's always a little truth to mythology, so maybe someone with birth defects was cast out and it started like that."
"What about all the sightings?"
Chandra snorted. "Kids in costumes messing around."
"So you don't believe that the Jersey Devil is a real creature of Hell, demons, or just a cursed soul?"
"Then I take it you haven't seen or heard anything ... out of the ordinary."
"I don't know ... I haven't been here long enough to see anything strange."
"You may want to rethink that after the other night."
"That wasn't strange, that was just a psychotic bastard." She shivered. "A woman can't even leave the doors open to air her house out without the fear of being attacked."
Luca chuckled at that. "You have a way with words, Ms. Burke, but true, very true."
His lips lifted with a quirky smile as her stomach growled. "Yes, so I can hear," he replied as he walked back to the small alcove. "I hope venison stew is all right with you."
"I've never had it."
"Then you're in for a surprise." He strode back over to sit on the chair by his bed. "A friend of mine brought it over for you." His gaze remained on her as he touched the edge of the spoon to her lips, his cock thickening as they parted, letting him slip the spoon and food in.
Damn it, not again. He shouldn't be getting excited over her, especially not with her wounded as she was. This wasn't just a case of lust; no, it was something more powerful. His body was reacting to her like he'd known her forever.
"It's good," she whispered.
Luca stayed silent as he fed her and knew she wondered why by the crease on her forehead.
"You should get some sleep," Luca said softly, as he walked to the alcove to wash the dishes in a pan of water. "You have a long way to heal."
"Why didn't you take me to a hospital?"
"This was closer."
"Sleep. I'll be back in a while," he stated as he headed toward the tunnel that would take him to the entrance of his home.
"No," she called out quickly. "Don't leave me, please."
Luca watched as she tried to sit up. "You are safe here, Chandra, no one will bother you."
Luca could tell she was tiring and with a sigh he turned to her. "I will stay until you have fallen asleep and then I must go hunt."
"Yes, now close your eyes and sleep." He could tell she wanted to question him more, but she couldn't evade the exhaustion from taking over as her eyes fluttered. Luca lifted the covers just as she placed her hand over his, and wondered if she thought it strange that her fingers stroked fur as sleep claimed her.
Luca looked down at her bruised hand as it lay over his; she had the most perfect fingers he had seen on a woman. True, he hadn't seen many but the ones he had were nothing to think about and yet this woman, this one woman who lay bruised and battered on his bed, had him doing things he never would have done.
Lifting his hand to entwine his fingers with hers, he watched as her small hand was engulfed by his. She was petite compared to him. He stood seven feet tall, and his fingers and toes held retractable claws. A thin layer of soft black fur covered his body, and horns protruded from the top of his head.
She was not the smallest human woman he had seen or the largest. She had a little weight on her, but not enough to make her fat. As he lowered their hands so he could lift a lock of the chestnut-colored shoulder-length tresses was as soft as a rabbit and curled just like a new fern as the end wrapped around his finger.
Jerking back quickly, stunned with the way his thoughts had turned, Luca growled as he jumped up and left his home without looking back. He could not get involved with this woman. Beside Chandra being human, it was pure foolishness to think that she would want to be involved with a cursed creature such as he.