First bite tdw 1, p.1

First Bite tdw-1, page 1

 part  #1 of  The Dark Wolf Series

 

First Bite tdw-1
 


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First Bite tdw-1


  First Bite

  ( The Dark Wolf - 1 )

  Dani Harper

  Geneva “Neva” Ross doesn’t want to die. But now that she’s been turned into a werewolf against her will, she’ll do anything to protect her family and friends…even if that means taking her own life.

  After witnessing Neva’s leap from a high ledge, Travis Williamson—a Changeling with a dark past—uses his powers to save her life. He feels a connection to the strong-willed woman whose eyes flash that familiar Changeling green. While Neva is hospitalized, Travis risks everything to kidnap her, knowing the approaching full moon will put everyone in jeopardy.

  Bickering constantly to hide their growing attraction, Travis and Neva run from the authorities…and from Neva’s sinister sire, Meredith de la Ronde. Meredith delights in creating new shape-shifters and compelling them to do her dark bidding; now Neva must join Meredith’s murderous wolf pack…or die.

  Intensely suspenseful with deliciously sexy twists, this paranormal romance—the first in (the title of series)—intertwines sensual passion with an epic, thrilling battle between good and evil.

  First Bite

  Dark Wolf 1

  by

  Dani Harper

  DEDICATION

  I’ve had a lifelong fascination with books that started long before I could read. I credit my parents, Bill and June, for taking me to the library at an early age and making sure there were always books in the house for me. As for my obsession with the paranormal, it was probably a rogue gene.

  “Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.”

  Mark Twain

  ONE

  At least she’d picked a scenic place for her last night.

  Geneva Rayne Ross—Neva—hugged herself tightly against the night wind as the waxing moon rose like a frosted pearl overhead. It silvered the wide river far below, lighting its serpentine path along the feet of the Blue Mountains. Frozen sparks of light glittered in the blue-black sky. Was it Van Gogh who said the sight of stars made him dream?

  She used to have dreams, too, for herself, for her life…But as Neva gazed at the sky, she felt a tug within her, a deep longing and an excited recognition by something inside her, something that was wild and alien and other. It scared the hell out of her. That’s what had brought her to this beautiful place, driven her to her lonely purpose.

  Only a few more nights till the moon is full…And she wouldn’t see it. Not here, not anywhere. The enormity of that fact chilled her much more than the wind, and she shivered. How was she supposed to do this?

  I don’t want to die.

  Well, duh, that was a given. But she couldn’t live with what she’d become, either. She had to protect her family, her friends, all the people whom she loved. All the people who wouldn’t understand what was happening to her.

  And why she was killing them.

  She sat on a large square boulder, one of many that jutted from the grassy hillside. These mountains were filled with memories for her—clambering on the rocks as a child, sunning on them with a book as a teenager. She’d grieved her first broken heart right here, where the breeze in the tall pines breathed peace. The hilltop was considered sacred by the local natives, and she could see why. But Neva had always thought of it as her own special place. And it was the first place she thought of when she made the most difficult decision of her life.

  She stared determinedly at the edge of the cliff, at the path she intended to take. They’ll just think I slipped. That wouldn’t be hard for anyone to imagine. Neva had always been, well, a little on the awkward side. Earlier this year she’d managed to trip on a sidewalk crack and ended up with a cast on her wrist. Of course, that was before. Lately she couldn’t help but notice a new agility, an almost feline grace to her step. She hadn’t needed so much as a Band-Aid for weeks. There could be real advantages to—

  No. She wouldn’t be swayed. Neva didn’t think of herself as a particularly brave person, but she had to find some shred of courage in her, something that would allow her to do what she had come here to do. And she should do it now, she really should. She’d never be able to make herself climb the steep, rocky trail to this isolated spot again, knowing what she was coming here for.

  Neva stood on shaky legs, her focus on the cliff’s edge. It was maybe a couple dozen steps if she ran, and she was going to have to run if she wanted to clear the chalky sandstone side of the hill. She blanked out that dreadful image and took a step forward.

  Two steps. Three.

  Her heart was pounding so hard that she could hear it throbbing in her ears, feel it in her throat. There were tears streaming down her face now, but she took another step. And another. Her knees were jelly, and if she didn’t hurry, her legs might give way—

  Suddenly, that something deep within her stirred again. She heard it call out to her as she took another wobbly step, but she dared not listen, she dared not heed.

  Six steps. Seven.

  He didn’t know why his lupine persona had brought him here. Travis Williamson had wanted, no, needed to go for a run, and he’d simply given his inner wolf its head.

  You damn well better know the way back. His alter ego ignored him, too busy enjoying its freedom to respond. Boxy boulders erupted through the steep, grassy hillsides like a giant’s molars, and pine trees punctuated the slopes, their roots clinging to the sharp incline. As he trotted along the ridgeline, he felt himself relax. The air was clear and cool, the pale moon’s light throwing every plant, every rock, and every tree into sharp relief. It was a perfect night to be a wolf, and Travis couldn’t help but enjoy the view—until he saw a human figure emerge from the trees on a narrow plateau far ahead of him.

  Even with the moon’s help and the night vision common to his kind, the distance made it difficult to see much detail. He could tell that the person was pacing as if agitated. But there was something more, something about the way they moved—

  A woman? What the hell’s a woman doing all the way out here, alone? And in the dark, no less. Curious, he headed in her direction.

  As he got closer, she stopped pacing and faced the valley, hugging herself with her arms as if she was cold. Or maybe comforting herself, although Travis wasn’t sure why he thought that. Was she nervous because of the height? The plateau topped a section of hill that was steeper than the rest and jutted like a stone chin over the forested valley. The vantage point would be a photographer’s dream, but as the stranger suddenly took a shaky step in the direction of the edge, his gut said she wasn’t there for the view. Her body language spoke of fear and terrible resolve as she took a second step. A third.

  And he wasn’t nearly close enough to stop her.

  He wasn’t waiting around for his human brain to come up with an idea, however. He was already running flat out with all the speed his kind was capable of. If only he could distract the woman, Travis thought, make her stop, give him time, goddammit. In this form he couldn’t yell at her, but he let loose with a flurry of yips and barks as if he was an excited yearling on a pack hunt.

  The woman froze, and her shoulder-length hair whipped around as she scanned the hillside for the source of the lupine sound. It was unlikely she’d see him at this distance—his tawny-gold coat blended with the dry grass, day or night. Yet she did. She stared directly at him, and he was close enough to see her dark eyes widen with terror. Then she ran—

  “No,” he yelled as she vaulted from the edge. But all that came from his throat was an agonized howl as he skidded to a stop a scant few feet from where she had disappeared. Unbidden, the wolf howled, too, long and loud until it echoed over the valley and drew answering cries from the natural wolves that roamed there.

  Shit. Shit. Shit. He’d known he cou
ldn’t save her. He’d known he was too far away. Knowing didn’t prevent the bare-knuckled punch to his heart, though. A drop like that was guaranteed fatal to a fragile human. All that was left was to walk away…But at that, a snarl broke from his lips, a clear message from his ever-rebellious animal side. Forget it, Travis argued with his lupine self. There’s nothing more I can do here.

  But his damn wolf wasn’t taking no for an answer. Trotting to the west side of the promontory, it was already picking its way down the sheer hillside. There were narrow goat trails hidden in the grassy rocks, most just a few inches wide. One misstep and Travis would reach the valley floor in a helluva hurry. Worse, he’d probably live through it—and wouldn’t that be fun? His species could survive a lot of damage, thanks to regenerative healing powers, but that didn’t mean it was a painless process.

  No broken body lay among the rocks at the base of the cliff. Travis breathed a sigh of relief—he hadn’t been looking forward to finding what was left of the woman. But where the hell had she gone? Baffled, he looked around and tried to catch a scent. Suddenly the wolf took him toward a thick stand of pines, a family group with the tallest tree in the center, the ancient giant surrounded by dozens upon dozens of younger trees that had sprung from its cones over the decades. Not possible, thought Travis. She couldn’t be there; it was too damn far from the cliff.

  Yet as he approached, he caught a whiff of newly released sap. Cautious, he pushed his way through into the heart of the forest, where a falling twig suddenly made him look up. Overhead, a few of the trees had freshly broken branches from crown to floor, their jagged edges exposing moist wood that gleamed white in the moonlight. It marked the path of descent as surely as if a small comet had crashed to earth here—only it wasn’t a comet. Swallowing hard, Travis lowered his gaze and cast his nose over the needled floor. The tang of blood was in the air now, mixed with the heady pine.

  He found her beside a rotted-out stump that was feeding a tall stand of maidenhair ferns. Her dark clothing and dark hair made her a crumpled shadow in the tangle of broken branches and crushed fronds. Only her pale, drawn face caught what little light filtered down to the forest floor. She was young, maybe just twenty-five or so…

  What a goddamn waste. Travis gently nosed the pine needles and leaves from her fine features as he wondered what to do. He could bury the poor girl, he supposed, but someone out there was probably missing her. He didn’t relish the thought of having to call the cops. They’d want to know who he was, and try to pinpoint the call, and—

  She opened her eyes, and Travis nearly yelped in surprise. And then he did yelp as the knife struck his chest.

  TWO

  The tawny wolf leaped backward and landed several feet away, growling and baring its teeth. A sudden flurry of pine needles and dead leaves flew up from the forest floor, forming a whirling vortex around the snarling creature. Seconds later, the plant debris fell back to the ground, accompanied by a scattering of tiny blue sparks that winked out as they struck the earth. The wolf was gone. Travis stood in his human form, a small knife protruding from his sternum.

  “What the fucking hell was that for?” he shouted as he grabbed the hilt and yanked. Then yanked harder since the damn blade was wedged in the bone. “Ow, dammit!” He pressed the pad of his thumb hard against the hole in the front of his favorite T-shirt to stop the bleeding as he regarded her with narrowed eyes. She could have stabbed him in worse places, he supposed glumly. He threw the knife into the forest and most of his anger with it, then approached her cautiously and knelt beside her. “Got any more surprises on you?”

  She was terrified but defiant, and Travis was reminded of an animal gone to ground, backed into a corner with no chance of escape, yet determined to battle on. “I wish I did,” she spat out, her voice raspy. “I’d kill you. I’d kill me. You’re not taking me back.”

  Right. In that case, Travis was almost glad that she had stabbed him—at least he’d gotten the weapon away from her. What if she’d chosen to do herself in first? He couldn’t have reacted fast enough to stop her. But why the hell was she so damn determined to die? And what was so terrible that she felt she had to jump off a damn cliff to escape it? Of course, she couldn’t be in her right mind at the moment, not after that landing. He’d just shape-shifted right in front of her, and she hadn’t turned a hair.

  “You’re in shock,” he said. “And you’re hurt.” Nothing like stating the obvious, but maybe she didn’t realize how bad off she was. He could see from here that her left leg was broken. Her left arm was broken, too. And she was bleeding from scrapes and gashes in a dozen places that he could see and goddess knew how many places he couldn’t. “You’re not going anywhere but a hospital.”

  He ignored her protests as he pulled his cell phone from his pocket, thankful anew for that little Changeling quirk that allowed him to retain his clothes and everything that was within his aura each time he shifted. Christ, if life was like the movies, he’d end up naked and penniless every damn time he ran as a wolf. No wonder Hollywood werewolves were insane with rage. Probably pissed off at the sheer inconvenience of their lives.

  Travis dialed 911 on just two bars—it was amazing he had any at all—and thanked all the stars when someone answered. He spelled out the location, described the woman’s injuries.

  “What happened to her?” asked the dispatcher.

  He considered revealing exactly how she’d gotten her injuries; he really did. Then after Search and Rescue delivered her to a hospital and she was treated, she’d be held for seventy-two hours in a psych ward to protect her from herself. But it didn’t feel right. Maybe his inner wolf was repelled by the thought of the woman being locked up, or maybe his human side was just getting soft in the head, but Travis heard himself say, “She fell out of a tree.”

  When he was asked for his name, he gave the one that the phone was registered to. No one would know until much, much later that it didn’t belong to him.

  “Please stay on the line until the crew arrives,” said the dispatcher.

  “No problem,” he said. He didn’t plan to hang around, though. Instead, he positioned the phone on top of the stump, where it glowed like a beacon—the rescuers would be able to zero in on the cell’s location. “There,” he said to the injured woman. “Help is on its way.”

  “I don’t want help,” she hissed.

  “You’re welcome.” The flippant remark fell flat as he looked at her drawn face. A strange greenish light shone momentarily in the depths of her big dark eyes. What the hell? He inhaled sharply, but her scent hadn’t changed. Human.

  In his whole long life, he’d only seen that flash of green in the eyes of one other creature—a Changeling like himself. The glow vanished as fast as it had appeared, however, leaving her eyes as human as before. Apparently he was imagining things, likely because he was spooked by the whole situation. He was no medic. He knew enough not to move the injured woman and that was about it. He had no supplies, no equipment. And if he did, where the hell would he start? Best to leave it to the pros. In fact, he’d done his good deed for the year, so he should probably just leave, right?

  Wrong. She was pale and her teeth had started to chatter. He understood that shock was dangerous, but how did he treat it? Warmth? That sounded right, she needed to be kept warm. She needed blankets, lots of them. The only things at hand were pine boughs, however—and how helpful would that be? His inner wolf whined softly, urging a different course of action. No. He’d already done plenty, and nothing good ever came of getting too cozy with humans. No way.

  Unable to come up with another solution, Travis sighed and resumed his wolfen form. This time, though, he was careful to approach her from the left. Her good hand, the one she’d stabbed him with, was her right. Even if she came up with another weapon, it was unlikely she’d be able to reach across her battered body.

  “Get away from me.” Her voice was a faint whisper now, her head was lolling, and she had to fight to keep her eyes open. Care
fully, he used his front claws to scrape away the branches and debris from her left side and made a place where he could lie down with the full length of his large body pressed against her shivering one. A Changeling’s core temperature ran much higher than a human’s, giving him far more body heat to share. Despite his efforts, however, his heightened senses told him that it wasn’t going to be enough.

  She wasn’t going to live long enough for her rescuers to find her.

  It was a damn shame. She was pretty and young, and her whole life had been ahead of her…Just like him. His whole life had been ahead of him once, too—and like her, he had contemplated ending it all. Only he hadn’t been trying to escape anything. He’d been trying to atone for what he’d done.

  Shit. Travis shook his great wolfen head, making his long ruff stand out almost like a mane. He didn’t like unscheduled trips down memory lane, and it pissed him off when he was blindsided with one.

  Atone. He needed to make amends where none were possible. Restore harmony where none could exist.

  He sighed, feeling every ounce of the crushing weight he carried on his shoulders. What had driven this young woman to such extremes? Maybe he wasn’t doing her any favors by interfering, but he was going to anyway. It was time to pull his last card out of his pocket.

  It took a helluva lot of energy for the human body to transform into a wolf. Changelings learned to draw it from their surroundings, particularly from the earth. It led to an enormous buildup of static electricity, which was why shifts often ended in a flurry of blue sparks. But in times of extremity, Changelings could sometimes collect that energy for another purpose. When he was lying this close to the injured woman, his aura and hers intersected. It would allow him to give her an infusion, not just of energy, but also—if his wolfen side permitted it—of a portion of his life essence.

 
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