Heat - Chapter One
©2022 Christie Goldenwulfe
The snowmobiles roared across the winter landscape, carving their way deeper into the mountains of eastern British Columbia. A passing storm the night before had added inches to the already snow-packed road they followed, but the riders were undaunted. Nightfall was coming, and they needed to reach their destination before darkness fell.
Autumn Sullivan shivered and held onto the back of her snowmobile’s operator, wondering how her life had become so surreal in only ten days’ time.
A little over a week ago, she’d had a normal life. A life where she owned her own business—a unique coffee shop in a small, northern California town—and a cottage amongst the giant redwoods she loved so well. She’d paid her bills, tended her garden, laughed with her friends, and had dreams and goals for her life. She’d been single, and quite happy. Content with her world as it had been, blissful in her ignorance.
And now her life was in danger and she was on the run from something even her nightmares would not have conjured before. All because of the man whom she clung to the back of now. The man who had changed her world and turned it upside down.
Except he wasn’t a man, really.
He was a werewolf.
And she was hopelessly in love with him.
Kain Ulmer. Werewolf, warlock, vagabond, musician, former rock star. He’d traipsed into her life like he belonged there and seduced her in a matter of days. She’d found him alluring in his wildness, intriguing with his mysteries and devil-may-care attitude, tempting with his untamed good looks and gorgeous smile. That was until she found out he was a werewolf—among other things. She’d tried to be terrified of him, tried to hate him for misleading her, for lying to her, but her heart had other ideas. He was dangerous, a wild creature, a monster even. But terrifying as his beast might be, she’d found there was a savage beauty to it as well.
No matter how much his beast unsettled her, it paled against the horror of the the mutated werewolves that hunted her now. Creatures Kain had unwittingly brought to her doorstep. They were called Eaters, crazed and cunning monsters able to assume the form of anything, or anyone, close to their size. They were near impossible to stop or kill, and Kain had almost died twice saving her from them. The creatures wanted her for reasons no one could understand. It had forced her to leave her home, and her life behind. They had been on the run since.
In that time, she’d seen the heart of the man inside of Kain and had fallen in love with him. Though he didn’t know of her feelings. Not yet, especially since he hadn’t admitted to any of his own.
Autumn frowned and clung to him as the snowmobile lurched across a hidden obstacle in the snow, jostling her. They had sheltered in a seasonal cabin in Montana last night after the second Eater had found them and attacked. She had wounded Kain by her own panicked actions, shooting him with silver that almost killed him. Yet, somehow, she had saved his life.
They had shared a deeply emotional evening neither one of them was prepared to talk about, and Kain had been attentive yet distant since they had left the cabin in Montana hours ago. She was sure it was because of the stranger that had found them there this morning. The same stranger they now followed through the darkening winter landscape.
He was another werewolf, she’d been told, and he’d introduced himself as Bennett Marshall. He said he’d been sent to escort them to their destination, a secret werewolf colony. A place where she’d be safe from the Eaters. Some place called Haven. Kain had been trying to get them both there, following the pull of the crystal he’d been wearing. A magical navigation device of sorts, guiding them north. That was until Bennett showed up to take them the rest of the way.
Once they left the cabin, they’d driven to Kalispell where Bennett had taken them to the local airport where a small plane was waiting.
They’d then flown across the Canadian border to a remote airstrip in the mountains of eastern British Columbia that serviced the residents in the area. At the airstrip there had been a barn with the snowmobiles inside, ready and waiting for them. They’d strapped their things to the back of Bennett’s snowmobile and began making their way into the shadowy mountains.
Autumn squinted ahead at the older man’s back against the wind stinging her eyes. Bennett was tall and ruggedly handsome, with steel-gray eyes that seemed to see everything. He dressed like a cowboy — wearing an old western hat, Wrangler jeans, button-up flannel, and worn leather boots. His leather duster flapped in the wind to the sides of his machine as they followed him up some kind of road or trail that ran alongside a half-frozen creek in an ever-narrowing canyon. So far, he seemed to be no-nonsense, gruff, and to the point without being an asshole. Autumn had taken a liking to him in the few hours she had known him. She just hoped that they could trust him.
She shivered and tucked her head against Kain’s back, burying her face against his leather jacket. Although she was dressed for the weather, she wasn’t prepared for this kind of cold. She was exhausted, hungry, and freezing, but she had faith in the man she clung to.
She just hoped they would reach their destination soon.
Kain followed in the old wolf’s tracks, careful to stay on his tail. Light was fading fast, and the canyon they followed was already thick with shadows. Kain didn’t like it a bit. With the shadows came the higher possibility of danger, and the biting March cold as the temperature dropped. While that wasn’t a problem for his kind, his vulnerable human mate was shivering against his back, and that pissed him off.
He grumbled to himself and focused his thoughts on the man he followed. Bennett Marshall. The old wolf was a legend among their kind, crafty and uncanny. They also knew him in whispers as The Hunter since he hunted the Eaters and other rogue werewolves bent on destruction and trouble. Bennett was judge, jury, and executioner all in one. He had strange ways and odd magics that even Kain had never heard of before. And Bennett seemed to have either a partial or even full immunity to silver, the deadliest of substances to werewolves.
Kain could sense the waves of it coming off the various guns and other weapons hidden under Bennett’s long duster even as he followed behind him. It set him on edge, especially since Autumn had shot him with silver last night in a panic. In all the ninety years of his life, he had never been shot with silver. It was an agony he hoped to never endure again.
He smiled to himself at the thought of her. She had saved his life last night. More than that, it was how she had stood in front of his beast form, unafraid, and even awed. Accepting of who, and what, he was. Not for the first time in the last 24 hours, his stomach fluttered at the thought of her. He’d been fighting what he felt for her since last night, refusing to acknowledge it. But it was there in the way his breath caught when she smiled, or how his heart sped up when she touched him, or even when he heard her voice. The power of it frightened him, and he couldn’t afford it. Not with what they were headed toward.
Not with what he would have to do now.
Haven. The only colony of werewolves in existence, and the domain of the werewolf Queen. She wanted Kain and the magic that was his with a single-minded obsession. She’d do damned near anything to have it, to have him. She’d hunted him for years, and now he was walking right into her lair. He would bargain with her to keep Autumn safe and he was betting their lives that the Queen could not refuse his offer.
Kain grimaced and maneuvered the machine around a tight bend in the road. Eaters were after Autumn, and he needed to understand why, and how to stop them.
Then there was his other problem. His inner wolf had given her their mate bond. Something that should be impossible with a human—which Autumn very much was—but the creature inside had managed it somehow. A bite in the throes of passion, and he was tied to her until the end of his days. He felt his pull to her now through that incomplete half bond. Only a sense of where she was, and no more. For the bond to be complete she would have to mark him back. Except that was impossible since she was human and not a werewolf.
It tore at him, along with his new, deeper awareness of her now, since last night. He swallowed against the surge of emotion and clenched his jaw and refused it again. He would not open himself to it. They were heading into the worst kind of danger now, more so with the Spring Equinox so near. He couldn’t afford to be weak now. His Hunger sang along his nerve endings and pounded in his blood, and he gritted his teeth against it.
That was the biggest problem of all. The curse his kind lived under demanded a human kill every three moons, before the equinoxes and solstices, and he’d not killed yet. He’d lied to her about it, told her werewolves didn’t kill people. Only the “bad” werewolves. Except they were all bad, because they were all cursed. Cursed with the Hunger. He knew when she found out about it—that he had lied to her, and that he was a killer—she would never forgive him and would hate him for sure.
They navigated through a cut with a cliff face on one side and the creek on the other, and at last they could see a structure in the fading light ahead. A small, rustic cabin sat at the top of a rise through the trees, at the vee where two canyons converged. Kain saw that this was the end of the road since beyond this point the mountains were high and impassable. They traversed the last of the narrow road until it emptied into a large, level clearing that the cabin was on. There was another newer building next to it, even larger than the cabin, and Kain saw that it was a garage or storage building.
Kain pulled his snowmobile up next to Bennett’s and killed the engine. Autumn slumped against his back and muttered, “Thank God,” into his jacket. He turned himself around in his seat, facing her now, and checked her over. He could tell she was exhausted. Dark circles were under her clear brown eyes, and while she had pulled the hood of her parka up around her face, her nose was reddened and her cheeks were pink. She shivered with cold and smiled up at him. Her current condition was his fault. Too many days on the run, and his hunger for her he could not seem to sate. Even after their long night of passionate sex, he wasn’t satisfied. Not in the least.
She was only human, though, and fragile. She was nearing the end of her strength.
He cradled her face in his hands and bent to touch his forehead to hers, closing his eyes for a moment at the contact. There was a loud rattle as Bennett opened a sliding roll door on the storage building, but neither one of them moved. Her gloved fingers reached up and cupped his cheeks, and Kain couldn’t help but press his lips to hers. He should be getting her warm, but he had denied himself his need for her all day. He needed to feel her, his reservations be damned. It was still a wonder to him that she even allowed his touch after what she had seen last night. The monster she knew he was.
Bennett grunted as he pushed his machine into the building with a loud scrape. Kain ignored him and let the kiss linger, then slowly pulled his lips from hers and looked down at her while he still cupped her cheeks. She looked up at him with her dark eyes sparkling, and Kain almost groaned when she smiled at him.
“Better?” he asked, and she nodded, blushing.
From the doorway, Bennett stamped his boots on the concrete floor of the building to shake off the snow, then cupped a lighter to the cigarette in his mouth. Kain kissed the tip of her nose and rose from the snowmobile. He was much warmer now, too.
“Let’s get you inside,” Kain said as he helped her to her feet.
Autumn stood and stepped away from the snowmobile on unsteady feet, smiling from his kiss. He hadn’t done that since this morning, and she was beginning to feel a little hurt by his distance. Reassured, she rubbed her arms and looked around at their surroundings. Towering peaks were all around them, shrouded in deep snow. The forest was dark and ominous in the fading light, and shadows lay thick amongst the conifers. The trees stood like sentinels, watching. A vague sense of unease stole through her, and a deep shiver went through her that had nothing to do with the cold.
Her hand found the talisman she still wore under her parka, and she pulled it out gripped it for a moment. The ancient fossilized fang was warm in her palm. Kain had given it to her when they had fled California from the first Eater, and he’d told her it would keep her safe. The magic in it was supposed to hide her from the creatures… but another Eater had found them again last night in Montana. Was the talisman working, or not? Unsure, she hurried over to where Kain was pushing the snowmobile into the metal building.
She looked inside curiously while he situated the machine. Warmth was issuing out of the open door, and in the dim light she could make out that there was another snowmobile besides the two they had used. There were also three ATVs, a snow cat, a 4X4 truck, and towing sleds. The rest of the building held shelves and shelves of what looked like cans of food, sundries, fuel, and assorted odds and ends. Whoever lived here must be one of those survivalist types.
She looked at Bennett in question.
“Not my place,” the older man grunted, motioning with his cigarette, “This is the outpost for Haven. Supplies come through here that are later transported to the colony proper.”
Autumn shivered as they all backed out and Kain pulled down the roll-top door. “So where is Haven exactly?”
“About fifteen more miles up them mountains,” Bennett said, nodding up towards the peaks that towered around them. “Location is secret and kept that way. If you aren’t part of the colony, you have to be invited up,” he gestured to the crystal that hung from Kain’s neck, which they had initially been following before Bennett showed up.
“Once you leave, you won’t be able to find your way back here. Spells ensure that you’ll forget, or get confused, and it keeps out the riffraff.”
Autumn nodded, and Kain put his arm around her waist as they followed Bennett’s tall form to the cabin.
“You aren’t part of her colony, Bennett. How do you know where it is?” Kain asked.
Bennett grunted in what might have been a laugh. “Told you, call me Ben. And Larissa and I have an… understanding with one another.”
Larissa? Autumn thought. She must be the mysterious werewolf Queen. But Bennet, er, Ben didn’t elaborate further.
They entered the dark cabin and the men left her in the doorway, shivering from cold, exhaustion, and a strange unease. She hugged herself and turned around to look out at the dim forest again where night had almost fallen. The trees stood dark and silent in the wan light, like rows of black fangs. Even though this place was beautiful, it gave her the creeps. She could hear them doing something inside the cabin, and then there was a bit of light as an oil lamp was lit, and then another. Autumn turned to step inside with a shudder, closing the door behind her.
She looked over to see that Kain was arranging wood and kindling in a fireplace made of river stones. Ben lit a final oil lamp and settled the glass chimney back over the flame. “We’re on the edge of Haven’s boundary here. It’s why yer feelin’ what yer feelin’.”
Autumn hugged herself closer and pressed her back against the door. “Why is that?”
“Besides the spells that keep other werewolves out, there are also spells that specifically deter humans. She doesn’t want them poking about up here. The spells cause unease and fear, so you’ll have a time of it before we get up there.”
Autumn nodded and shivered again inside of her parka. Well, that explained her serious case of the creeps. She fingered the talisman again and turned to watch as Kain lit a match and touched it to the kindling, whispering words Autumn couldn’t make out. All at once the fire jumped as if he had added fuel to it. She gaped and smiled at the display of Kain’s magic. She doubted she would ever get used to it. Or to his other… abilities.
Within a moment the fire was roaring, and Autumn shuffled over to it in gratitude. Kain pulled a worn chair closer to the fire and Autumn settled down into it.
“You get warm. I am going to get you something hot to eat,” he said and kissed the top of her head. Then he left her there to stare into the flames, huddled as close to the heat and light as she could get.
Autumn could tell how exhausted she was, and she drifted for a while, lost to the mesmerizing dance of the flames. Some time passed and then a mug of hot soup was being pressed into her hands. She focused on Kain, who crouched in front of her while she curled her fingers around the mug.
“Eat now, then you’re going to go to sleep. We have an even longer, harder journey ahead of us tomorrow.” He stroked her face with a smile and Autumn brought the mug to her lips to taste it. She realized how ravenous she was, and she gave Kain a tired smile as she began sipping the hot soup.
She ate while Kain crouched in front of the fire and murmured to the flames, coaxing them hotter, and when she was done eating, he rose and refilled the mug again. “Eat as much as you can. Your body needs the calories right now. It will help you sleep.”
While she spooned up her soup, she watched as he pulled an old couch closer to the fire and began arranging the cushions until it satisfied him. Then he left for a while and came back with several folded blankets and a few pillows. A memory about last night came to Autumn, of blankets and pillows arranged on the floor in front of a fire, and her cheeks burned. Exhausted as she was, she wanted him again — her body craved his almost as if by instinct.
He was a gorgeous man, and she admired him as he went about his task. Strong, unshaven jaw. Eyes such a rich, electric blue she’d wondered if he were wearing contacts when she first met him. Brooding brows, and a strong, straight nose. Sensual lips that often turned up into a sardonic, sinful smile. Lips that did things that made her shiver. He was tall, with long legs and arms, and toned muscle with just the right amount of definition. Broad chest, perfect ass, and equipment to die for. And all around him fell that amazing mane of his, a wild tangle of browns and caramels that fell to his hips. She loved his hair and relished how it caressed her body when they made love.
Kain paused from where he was tucking a blanket into the cushions and looked at her with a wry grin. “I would oblige you, sunshine, but you’re too exhausted, and you need to sleep.”
Autumn blushed into her mug and bit her lower lip in chagrin. His sense of smell was keen, and he must have smelled her rising interest. Kain chuckled and slid over to her. He took the mug and placed it on the table beside her, then pushed his hands into her hair… and kissed her breathless. All thought left Autumn’s head, lost in how his lips pressed against hers with expert skill, recalling all of those other things his mouth did so well. After a moment, he pulled away and brushed her damp lips with the pad of his thumb, a satisfied grin on his face.
“Now, eat the rest of your soup and go to sleep,” he murmured and placed the mug of soup into her hands again.
Autumn stared at him in a daze as he went back to arranging her bed, lust and exhaustion warring in her. How was it that this man did what he did to her with such ease? Probably because she was head over heels for him. But she had to admit she was a little delirious, and she sighed to herself and finished up her soup.
When she was done, he took the mug from her and helped her from her parka and took off her shoes. She laid down on the soft couch and Kain pulled the blankets over her, then knelt in front of her.
“Comfortable?” he asked, brushing the hair back from her face. She smiled up at him drowsily and touched his hand with her fingers.
“I’d be more comfortable if you were in here with me,” she teased. A predatory look crossed his features.
“Woman, you have no idea,” he growled, and bent to kiss her with hungry lips again. She grinned and twined her fingers in his wild mane, wanting him closer still. But she was fed, getting warm, and in a cozy position. Sleep was winning out over desire, and Kain pulled away from her with a slow smile.
“Since you seem to be having problems falling asleep,” he chuckled as he stroked her hair, “I am going to send you to sleep now.”
He bent down to her ear and Autumn shivered at his warm breath against her skin. “You will sleep now, and you will not dream. Sleep deeply, rest, and do not be troubled. I will be nearby.”
The last thing Autumn knew before oblivion overtook her was his lips brushing hers.
Kain strode from the cabin into the blessed cold of the frigid night. Lust and the Hunger had him strung tight, both warring within him. He needed her, badly. Her aroused, human scent had been almost more than he could stand and he groaned as he pushed his claws into his hair.
Ben watched him with a dispassionate gaze from where he sat near the door, leaning back in an old wooden chair, drawing on the ever-present cigarette in his lips.
“Why haven’t you killed yet, son?” Ben drawled, his gray eyes shrewd in the darkness. “Seems awful stupid to be holding off, what with your young… human… mate in there.”
Kain growled and spun, the change calling to him, the Hunger singing in him, howling for human flesh and blood.
“I can’t, not while she’s in danger. I won’t.”
Ben grunted. “It’s got to be getting pretty painful by now, I would think. The craving and all. Her scent must be driving you crazy.” Ben watched him, waiting for his reaction.
Kain began pacing back and forth through the snow, his agitation rising. He knew the old wolf was trying to goad him, to get him to admit that he was way in over his head here. That he was the worst kind of stupid for bringing her to Haven. As if he had any choice in the matter.
He huffed out a breath and made a dismissive gesture. “Why are the Eaters after her Ben? You know them better than anyone else. Why her?”
Ben ashed his cigarette onto the snowy porch and shrugged a shoulder. “That’s the million-dollar question, ain’t it? It’s why I’m here. So far, though, I can see nothing in the girl that would be of much interest to our friends. I think it’s a fool decision to bring her anywhere near Haven. But given the circumstances, it’s probably the best thing you can do.”
Ben fell forward in the chair then and leaned towards him. “As to why you’re starvin’ yourself, though… you really think you can outrun the Hunger, boy? She may be in more danger right now from you than from anything hunting her.”
Kain growled and fisted his claws. “Don’t you think I know that? That’s why we have to get to Haven tomorrow. I can hold out until then,” he said, and turned to Ben, “but I need you to watch me, old man. If I start… if you think I might hurt her…”
Ben nodded and dropped his cigarette to the ground, putting out the cherry under his boot, then lifted his shrewd eyes to Kain. “Don’t you worry boy, I have a silver slug that’ll get your attention. No harm will come to the girl while I’m around.”
Kain swallowed and nodded understanding. “You have my thanks for that.” Then he chuckled, nervous, “Just don’t kill me unnecessarily.”
Ben grunted and rose, pulling another hand-rolled cigarette from his pocket. “If I kill you, it won’t be by mistake. You’ll deserve it. I can promise you that.”
Kain nodded again and then began taking his clothes off. “I need to change and run. I would ask a favor of you for tonight if you will oblige.”
Ben only grunted as he cupped a lighter to his cigarette, “I’ll keep her safe tonight. But I suggest you stay at least five hundred yards away until morning.”
Kain nodded and carried his bundle of clothes to the porch. He didn’t know why, but he had no fear about leaving Autumn in Ben’s care. He hardly knew the man, yet he trusted him, another male werewolf, when he should be aggravated at his mere proximity to her. Another mystery about the enigmatic hunter.
“Thank you, Ben. I am in your debt.”
Ben only took a drag on his cigarette and nodded at him. “Least I can do. Go run now, son. Leave your mate to her rest. I’ll watch over her.”
Kain gave one last look at the cabin and turned and strode into the forest to begin his change.
Autumn woke in the morning to the invigorating aroma of coffee brewing. Whatever that thing was that Kain did with his voice—she recalled that he had called it Compulsion—had done the trick. She had slept hard and without dreams all night and felt much better for it. She sat up from the couch and stretched, looking around and blinking in the weak morning light. It surprised her to see Ben in the cabin’s little kitchen instead of Kain. She looked around for him, but he didn’t seem to be there.
“He’s still out. He’ll be back soon,” Ben grumbled from the kitchen, “Coffee?”
Still out? Autumn wondered, stifling a yawn. Where had he gone?
“Yes, thank you.”
She rose and stretched gingerly, thankful for the warm wool socks on her feet. The fire was dying, and a chill was seeping into the cabin, but there seemed to be power now as there were lights on in the kitchen.
“Is there… um,” she began and cleared her throat. Ben grunted, nodding down the hall.
“There’s an actual bathroom. You can even take a shower if you wish.”
A shower! Autumn almost swooned at the idea. She looked around and spied her carry-on near the door. She did not know what they were going into, and a shower would go miles towards fortifying her for what the day held. Ben only glanced at her as she shuffled towards the bathroom and kept his attention on his coffee.
When she finished showering, she dressed in clean underclothes. two pairs of thermal leggings, snow pants, a thermal long sleeve, and a sweater. She knew they were going deeper into the mountains, into the late March cold and snow, and she would need to be as warm as possible.
She heard the grumble of male voices as she finished brushing her teeth and knew Kain had returned.
Their terse conversation stopped as soon as she stepped out of the bathroom. Autumn padded to the kitchen and found both men looking at her. She stopped at the sight of Kain. He wore only a pair of damp jeans, and his long, long hair was a wet tangle that clung to his naked skin. There were light scratches covering his chest and arms that almost looked like a pattern, though he had no blood on him. She took a step towards him, mesmerized by the way he was looking at her, but the color of his eyes brought her up short.
The whites had darkened to a rust color, and his irises were a light glacier blue with a blood-red ring around them. The eyes of the beast within, predatory and unsettling. A sudden sense of danger tingled up her spine, and she swallowed hard. Kain stepped towards her with his clawed hand raised to touch her, but he stopped himself and dropped his hand and clenched his fists. He turned from her and went to the stove, where he poured a cup of coffee.
Autumn blinked, confused, but her sudden unease waned when he turned to her and offered her a steaming mug. His eyes were once again their normal electric blue. She looked up at him in concern, then touched the marks on him with her fingertips. He only gave her a reassuring smile and folded her fingers in his.
“I’m fine, it’s nothing you need to worry about.”
She was about to argue, but he held the mug up to her. “Coffee first, and then I am going to make you a big breakfast. Eat as much as you can, because the journey will be a tough one today. I want you as warm and fed as you can be.”
Kain turned from her and began opening up cupboards and rifling around for pans and utensils. Autumn was aware of Ben’s disapproving stare as he watched Kain from where he leaned near the window. She didn’t know what was going on between the two of them, or what Kain had done to himself, but she hoped it didn’t mean trouble.
Kain made them all breakfast, which would be a lot of pancakes and several steaks he had found in the walk-in freezer in the storage building. He did his best to ignore the clean scent of his mate as she took up a chair near the kitchen to watch him. He wanted to bury his nose in her and breathe her fragrance, yet even here her all-too-human scent was taxing his control.
He had spent the night in his bestial form, running and searching for something, anything to assuage the Hunger in him. But the snows here were still deep, and the deer and other large prey would be at lower elevations for a few more weeks. Not that any such prey would have sated him in the least. The Spring Equinox was now only three days away, and the Hunger for human flesh and blood was a constant thrum in his body. If he’d only made a kill weeks ago….
He frowned and dumped an entire box of instant pancake mix into a large bowl. He had spent the early hours of the morning back in human form after another slow and agonizing shift. The marks were a spell he had carved into his skin. A kind of insurance if things got bad at Haven. He didn’t know what they were walking into, and while the other werewolves were under the Queen’s control, he still liked to have an ace up his sleeve just in case.
They ate, and Kain kept his attention on his cooking and not on his mate or her tempting human scent. He kept putting food on her plate until she protested that she could eat no more. Meanwhile, he and Ben made quick work of several steaks, and then he packaged the leftovers for their trip. When they finished and everything was cleaned and put back in its place, Kain began arranging the old leather pack he always carried and her carry-on bag into a bundle with several bungees he had found in the storage building. Autumn watched him in curiosity.
“The only way to Haven from here is on foot,” Ben commented from the kitchen where he was finishing the last of the coffee.
Autumn turned to look at him and furrowed her brow. “We have to hike? Really? The snow must be at least six feet deep out there.”
Kain grinned up at her from where he was finishing tying up their packs. “You won’t be hiking. I’ll be carrying you.”
Autumn’s mouth fell open and Ben snorted from the kitchen. Kain shot him a look, and they locked eyes for a tense moment.
“Carrying me? As… as a werewolf you mean?”
Kain tore his eyes from the other werewolf and stood. He touched her face and gave her a reassuring smile, “I’ll take care of you. You’ll be safe with me, I promise.”
Ben snorted and finished washing out his coffee cup. Kain growled in his direction, warning the old man off. Ben thought it was more than foolish for him to be carrying his mate in his condition, but he would be damned if he would let another man be responsible for her care. Not until he knew for certain he was a danger to her.
Ben ignored him and strode past them and out the front door, leaving them alone in the cabin.
With a sigh, Kain pulled Autumn close and let his mate burrow her face against his bare chest. This might be his last moment alone with her. Ever, he realized. For if he succeeded, and her safety was assured, she would remember none of this. The Queen would take her memories from her, including any memory of him. Autumn would be given her back her life, and the werewolf Queen would make Kain hers. He would be a permanent resident of Haven.
He would never see Autumn again.
He pulled back from her and studied her face, stroking it with his fingers, memorizing it. Her beguiling brown eyes, large and trusting as she looked up at him. Her heart-shaped face, delicate chin, and small, pert nose that gave her a pixieish mien. The slender curve of her neck. The small mole just next to her left ear on her cheek. And all that fire-gold hair that had caught his eye in the first place. He pushed both of his hands into it, cradling her head as he angled it just so. She closed her eyes with a shuddering sigh as he bent to seal his mouth to hers.
Emotion surged within him and he battled it with all his might. He would not put a name to those feelings that raged in him for her. Would not, and it made him kiss her harder, demanding her surrender even as she parted her lips for him. He kissed her deeply, savagely, and she yielded to him with a sigh. He forced himself to slow the kiss down, to savor her, and she whimpered against his mouth.
The scent of her arousal was maddening.
He pulled away from her in reluctance and gazed down into her unfocused eyes. He smiled and ran his thumbs across her cheeks.
“I wish we could stay,” he whispered, “but we have to go. We have to get to Haven before nightfall.”
Autumn nodded and ran her hands against his bare chest, causing him to tremble with need.
“I’m scared, Kain,” she admitted, looking up at him. He sighed and held her against him and kissed the top of her head, feeling like the worst monster in the world.
“I know, but I promise you will be safe with me. You will be safe at Haven. Please trust me in this.”
Autumn nodded against his chest, and he nuzzled her hair for one more moment before pulling back from her again.
“I have to go change now. I know you don’t like to watch, so I will go off into the trees to do it. Ben will be nearby.”
Autumn smiled wryly and traced a finger through his chest hair. “It does freak me out. I’m just a wuss I guess.”
Kain chuckled and used his fingers to tip her chin up. “You’re the bravest person I know,” he said and kissed the tip of her nose.
Autumn blushed and ducked her head as Kain let her go and stepped away, giving himself a shake as he did so. Much as he longed to have more time with her, they needed to get going. Every moment they wasted, the darkness that hunted her grew closer.
She followed him out the door where he set the bungeed pack to the side and began stripping his jeans off. Autumn’s gaze dropped, and she blushed and turned her head aside with a cough. Kain gave her a wicked grin and chuckled. “Nothing you haven’t seen before, darling.”
Autumn looked back at him from under her lashes and gave an abashed chuckle. Kain bit back a groan and kicked the pants away, standing naked before her. His half erection twitched in her direction like she was its personal lodestone. They stared at one another for a long moment, Kain fighting his need for her, and then he forced himself to turn and walk into the forest