Installment No. 31
They backtracked along the trail until the scent of livestock threaded the air.
“Wait for me here.” Saying the command was easy. Walking away was harder. Much harder. But German kept his back turned to the woman he’d left behind on the trail. Until he realized the initial yank on the invisible cord between himself and his mate wasn’t cinching tighter, trying to recoil like a living thing.
He turned around. “What the hell are you doing?”
Sofia stopped, blinking, then her eyes grew hard, her stance determined. “I don’t take orders.”
“You don’t take…? Wait. I didn’t order you.” Did I?
“Yeah, you did. Wait for me here,” she mimicked, her chin tucked to make her voice deep. To make it sound like his. It came out sounding pretty dumb. Exactly like she’d meant it to.
He dug deep for a growl, but pursed his lips to foil a rising grin instead. “We’re almost at the farm. Take a sniff.”
“Ordering me around again?” But she pushed her pert, little nose into the air to test the wind currents. “Shit.”
“Yep. Lots of it.” Along with rotting corpses. Her dog wasn’t far away. Bad enough she was staying away from the farmhouse because she didn’t trust herself. German didn’t think she needed the kick to forget her self-restraint. Not that he would blame her if she gave in to the murderous urge. He understood better than anyone how Sol was family to her, but he didn’t need her turning to wolf in front of a dozen human witnesses.
“I knew it stunk, I just never realized how bad.”
“Your wolf is getting stronger. Which is why you need to stay here and I’ll come back for you.”
I’ll come back for you. A promise. Green eyes intent, sharp. German meant it, and Sofia felt a funny tumbling in her belly that took her breath. “Okay.” She no sooner said the word and he was standing in her space, his lips brushing hers, his gaze still intense.
Then he stepped back, the air a little chillier for it. “Can you follow the trail the hiker took to get in these woods?”
She wasn’t sure, but nodded. Mainly to keep herself from erasing the chill, the distance between them.
“Good.” German reached up as if to touch her hair then dropped his hand. “His scent may actually get spottier the closer to the trailhead you get. Think you can still do it?”
“I can only try, right?” She held his gaze, refusing to lean forward to encourage his touch. If he wanted to, he would, and she wasn’t going to make the first move: he had enough of her heart already.
“I’ll find you.” He had such confidence. Then he turned, wolf-like in his quickness, and headed for the far pasture. God, the guy was gorgeous. Now that she’d the seen it for herself, she realized he moved differently when he was around people, like he masked his wolfiness so it wouldn’t show.
Smart. He was so fluid, his confidence draping him like a second skin, as if his body knew it was the strongest and quickest animal around. Which it was, but she understood why he hid it: people would instinctively cut him a wide berth. Huh. If she’d known just how different she really was, maybe she would have learned the same trick. Maybe then she wouldn’t have been shunned during her childhood.
But those days were behind her. She watched German skirt the field, his lope effortless, ground covering. He ran like a wolf on two legs, the ease of it showing his joy. So beautiful.
One day, she hoped that grace would be hers, that the love of freedom would shine out of her the way it did in German.
Hope rose inside her so she felt like a frigging helium balloon. A birthday one: all happy and crap. Because she was going to a place where there were people like German. Like her. They would teach her to embrace this wolf lurking inside her, help her master her new senses. She bet she’d even get to run with them, full of jaunty strength like German was doing now.
But she’d stay mostly with the man who found her. She didn’t think she’d be able to do otherwise: as German’s body shrunk and finally disappeared in the distance, Sofia’s sense of well-being took a swan dive into the crapper. She didn’t realize she was following him until the four strands of high tensile wire blocked her from getting in the pasture.
Get a load of that. She tailed him like they were physically connected by an invisible rope. A wolf thing? Or was she just being needy? She didn’t know, given she’d never been in an intimate relationship before.
Sofia shook her head and backed away from the open field into the woods where she should stay in case she lost control of herself like she had earlier. German was right: remaining behind in the protection of the forest was safer. Besides, it was cooler in the shade of the big spruce trees. Since she was running a little hotter than what had once been normal, she welcomed the darkening closeness.
Damn, she was full of cravings. Ignoring the strongest one, she went in search of the trailhead, sticking her nose up and around trying to pick up the scent of the hiker. She felt a little subconscious doing it her methods were so obvious. So awkward. Like she was a toddler learning about balance. It will get better. She’d learned to walk, right? So, she’d learn how to follow a scent trail without looking like a moron doing it. She could watch the wolf-people at the Minnesota compound as she honed her skills—observe and copy. Why not? God only knew where she would’ve ended up if she hadn’t figured out how to do that. She could adapt somewhat. At least, this time there wouldn’t be revulsion. The people in Minnesota would know she was a wolf and not care. Because they were too, even if they masked it as well as German did.
God, she couldn’t believe her luck. Family. A jewel which had always hovered out of her reach, like the North Star: shining so bright and beautiful, but beyond her grasp. Not this time. Maybe she was being naïve and too damned hopeful. But right then, with the image of German running so primal still searing itself upon her brain, she embraced the idea with her heart flooding wide open.
And why not? She’d once thought people turning into wolves was a myth. Finally being part of an accepting family could come true, too. Right?
~Installment #32 coming Saturday, March 1, 2014.