When Stephanie shifts into wolf form for the first time on live TV, she flees to the one man who can protect her from were-hunters, Micah Salway. As attracted as she'd been to him four years ago when they'd met, she'd run scared at the changes he awakened in her after just one kiss. Was it possible he'd turned her into a werewolf?
Micah can hide Stephanie in the caves known as Devil's Promenade, but the dangers there are worse than facing down the hunter. His choices are few when faced with keeping Stephanie alive: fight the hunter alone or kiss the asses of his former pack-mates and ask for help. His wolf had claimed her the night they met. There was no way he would lose her again.
He smelled fear.
Above the odors of sweat, arousal and beer, the bitter tang of fear was undeniable. Micah couldn't identify the source, but someone inside the Rusty Bucket was afraid of something. The usual Saturday night crowd filled the bar, along with a face or two he didn't recognize. As he glanced around, he saw nothing to explain the fear. No one showed any signs of confrontation or agitation.
His gaze kept returning to one spot, but it had nothing to do with what he sensed. He couldn't take his eyes off the redhead sitting two tables over laughing at something her companion said. Micah watched her face, wondering at the level of connection between her and the man. Was she interested? Already attached?
Kane's voice brought him back to his own table. "Are you going to follow through this time?"
"What are you talking about?"
His friend tipped his head in the girl's direction.
"Follow through on what? I was only looking." Micah took a swig of his beer and let the bottle hang loosely in his grip.
Enya, the tiny black-haired nymph, laughed and snuggled closer to Kane. "Hey, even I recognize that spark. It couldn't hurt to talk to her."
He wasn't looking for a new woman, but couldn't deny the tug he felt toward the redhead. Enya was right. Talk to the girl, confirm she wasn't for him, and let it go.
Micah tried not to look again, but he saw the young woman stand and reach for her purse. Her friend was already gone. When she turned toward the exit, Micah stood. "I'll be back."
He shut out whatever smartass remarks his friends offered and focused on the wavy red hair weaving through the packed crowd. She reached the door only a moment before he did.
Outside, in the light from the lamps near the door, he saw her at the end of the building talking to two men who looked a bit unsteady on their feet, their backs to him. He waited and watched. The scent of fear drifted to him on the breeze and he now knew its source. The woman was afraid of something.
Instinct had him on edge from the smell, and it took effort to keep his inner wolf quiet. The animal itched to pace.
One of the men raised his voice and grabbed the redhead's arm. She tried to jerk away.
Micah walked toward them on the balls of his feet, keeping the heels of his cowboy boots from making a sound, staying close to the building.
The cloudy, moonless Ozark night seemed to swallow up the light from the parking lot, but if they happened to look they would have seen him.
"Billy, knock it off," the woman said.
"Yeah," added one of the men. "Let's take her home like she wants."
Still holding tightly to her upper arm, Billy slurred his reply. "I just asked for a kiss before we get in the car. What's wrong with that?"
The woman got in his face. "You're drunk. And I'm not interested. Either of those work for you?" She jerked her arm again to no avail.
Billy tugged her close but Micah had seen enough. He reached out and grabbed the collar of Billy's t-shirt, yanking him away. The woman staggered a moment but didn't fall.
Spinning with surprising dexterity, Billy blindly threw a punch. Micah caught the fist, twisted, and shoved the guy against the building. The friend yelled and charged, tackling Micah to the ground.
They rolled in the gravel, each clinging to the other man's shoulders, reaching for the neck. With a move ingrained into his being during basic training, Micah broke free and landed a punch to the man's temple. The guy went limp.
Shit. Never knocked a guy cold before.
His EMT training rose into action and he checked the man's pulse. Steady and strong. Then he looked at Billy who lay slumped against the wall. Rolling to his feet, Micah turned the man to lie on the ground so the blood flow to his brain wouldn't be cut off.
As he straightened, he ran his hands over the sides of his military-short hair and wiped away the sweat. The air reeked of fear, much more than before, and its source stood wide-eyed, tense, watching him. Micah placed his hands on his hips and asked, "Are you okay?" She blinked, looking at him incredulously. "What are you doing? You could have killed them."
His jaw loosened but he tried not to show his shock. "He was pawing at you. You said no. End of story."
"I could have handled it. Billy always acts like that when he's drunk. Now how am I supposed to get home?" She folded her arms and stomped her foot in a diva-like move.
So much for first impressions.
"I'll give you a ride."
Her laugh was like a slap on his face. "Like I'm going to get in the car with a stranger who just beat up two of my friends. Get real." She stepped back, pulled a cell phone from her tiny purse and tapped the screen.
Micah reached for his wallet as she thumbed through files on her phone. He took out his work ID, his Christian County first responder ID and his driver's license and gave a moment's thought to wondering why he felt the need to push the issue. "Here. They've done the background check already. And so did the U.S. Government when I enlisted. If that's not good enough for you, go back inside the Bucket and look for a little-bitty thing with long black hair and a giant-sized man on her arm. They'll vouch for me."
She glanced at the cards in his hand but didn't move to take them. He should walk away. Go back inside and just let her call a friend. He had no iron in this fire. She was just a pretty thing who caught his eye.
The breeze stirred again, whispering past, bringing a new scent.