Soul Bonded
Author:Meghan Malone

chapter SEVEN

After Katie made her decision, she moved fast. Rushing back to the guest room, she put on her heaviest winter clothes and the fleece jacket, then made a terrible discovery. Her shoes were nowhere to be found. She hadn’t even looked for them before, not wanting to make noise while she skulked around the cabin. It had never occurred to her that they wouldn’t be nearby. Rafe had obviously taken them off when he undressed her, but he hadn’t left them in her room. Her cynical side urged her to see that as yet another sign of his ill intent. Luckily, she’d seen a pair of his boots near the front door. They would be far too big and make walking more difficult, but they would have to do.

She tucked the food from the kitchen into one of the large pockets in Rafe’s coat, the flashlight and two-way radio in the other. Shilah sat next to the guest room door and watched her preparations, wagging his tail in excitement. She frowned at him, worried that his enthusiasm would give away her escape. At the door, she reached into her pocket and tore off a piece of jerky, then tossed it into the far corner of the room. Shilah looked at the spot where it landed, then at her, tongue lolling.

“Go get it!” Katie whispered. “And then stay.”

Shilah took off running, but she didn’t linger to watch him enjoy his treat. Instead she slipped out of the room and sprinted past Rafe’s bedroom to the front door. She pulled on his boots, certain that at any moment, his door would click open down the hallway. She was surprised when it didn’t, and even more shocked when she pulled open the front door and slipped outside without eliciting any barking or activity from any of the cabin’s occupants. A frigid blast of wind stole her breath and large flurries landed wetly on her face, but Katie had never been so relieved to be out in the cold.

She was free.

In the guest room, her plan had been to carefully survey the landscape and identify where the snow-covered road began. But that wasn’t how it went down. The noise of the cabin door closing behind her triggered a fearful, primitive reaction. She ran for her life.

Or at least she tried. Thigh-deep snow sent her toppling forward when her lower body didn’t move as fast as she expected. Cursing under her breath, she picked herself up and brushed off the front of her coat. This was going to be a difficult walk.

Rafe’s truck was parked to her right, trapped in snow that had piled up over the bottom of the tires. She could only assume that he’d parked in the driveway, and that he’d driven straight in. There was a clearing in the trees behind the truck, probably a road. She trudged in that direction, clumsy in Rafe’s oversized boots, and concentrated on walking in a straight line. It didn’t take long before she had trouble seeing where the road ended and dirt and trees began. Panic kept her walking forward even when she grew less confident that she was going in the right direction. By the time she lost sight of the cabin behind her, she had no idea where she was. She’d somehow wandered off the clear path through the trees, and when she pivoted in place after finally stopping short in confusion, she realized that she had absolutely no idea which direction to go.

Oh, God. This was a bad idea.

“No,” Katie whispered under her breath. “No, this was my only choice.”

But was it? Maybe she had misjudged Rafe. Maybe he’d only humored a crazy neighbor, played along with his delusion. It was possible. She looked back over her shoulder, in the direction she thought the cabin might be. No longer in motion, the cold settled into her bones and she shivered. Maybe she should go back.

“Don’t be stupid.” She swiped at her face when her eyes teared up, partially from the cold, but also from frustration. Life had placed her in an impossible situation and she’d made a choice. Now she just had to make the best of it. She exhaled, watched her breath drift out into the night, and agonized over what to do next. Rafe could be awake by now. He could even be looking for her.

That’s when she remembered the two-way radio in her pocket. She pulled it out with trembling, glove-covered hands and turned it on. The beep sounded startlingly loud in the middle of the peaceful woods and the display glowed like a giant, neon-green beacon. Paranoid, she glanced around, then squinted at the controls frantically. It took her only seconds to realize that she had no idea how to work the device. She pushed a couple of buttons and watched names flash across the display. Cooper. Dale. Alpha. She frowned, not exactly relishing the idea of calling up one of Rafe’s buddies. She already knew what the friend who’d stopped by earlier thought Rafe should’ve done with her. He wasn’t going to help her if she called him up.

Cooper. Dale. Alpha. Which one sounded the least threatening? She decided on Cooper, for no other reason than the face she conjured up for that name seemed kinder than the others. She pushed a couple more buttons, cringing at every beep. “Hello? Is anyone there?” She scanned the trees around her as she waited for an answer, half expecting Rafe to burst onto the scene. Engaging the talk button again, she whispered, “Please, I need help.”

She was about to twist the dial to call ‘Dale’ when a familiar voice came over the radio. “Does Rafe know you’re calling me, little girl?”

Katie gasped and dropped the handset. An eerie green light emanated from the snow where it landed, transforming the dark woods into a spooky, almost alien landscape. Her throat went dry as she cursed her instincts. She’d just called the man who’d told Rafe she was going to end up raped, tortured, and murdered—maybe even by Rafe himself.

“You there, girl?” The snow muffled his gruff voice. “Listen to me. Turn off the radio, go back to bed, and trust that Rafe will protect you. He’s the only chance you’ve got.”

A mournful howl in the distance snapped Katie out of her temporary paralysis. She snatched up the radio and twisted the knob to power it down, then walked in a small circle, scanning the woods. She could try to call Dale or Alpha and hope for a better result, attempt a blind walk out of the woods, or simply make her way back to Rafe’s cabin. Her jaw chattered as she struggled with indecision. Another howl cut through the stillness of the night, much closer than the last.

All at once, she realized that her biggest danger might not be getting lost. Despite the weather, she wasn’t alone in the woods. She hadn’t realized that the Sierra Nevada mountains even had a wolf population, but now she worried about a whole new threat. She would have to walk for hours to find help. What were her chances that the wolves she was hearing wouldn’t find her before then?

Shit. Katie turned back in the direction of her own footprints, determined to retrace her steps. She was disheartened to see the deep imprints from her boots already filling with drifting snow, becoming less and less visible every second it took her to slog her way through the powder. She’d only taken a few steps when an ear-piercing howl rose up all around her. The sound bounced off the trees, making it impossible to pinpoint the source. Her heart thundered in her chest and she stumbled before she regained her balance and continued her frantic high-stepping through the snow.

It was official. This was a very, very bad idea.

A large white wolf leapt out from behind a tree in front of her, blocking the path made by her disappearing bootprints. She opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came out. Only a puffy white cloud of terror, which floated away uselessly into the atmosphere. Unable to move, she stood frozen in place and waited to see what would happen next. Maybe it would decide to go away if she didn’t move. Part of her yearned to bolt in the opposite direction, but she could never outrun a wolf and even if she did, she would only end up more lost.

The wolf stared at her. She averted her eyes, not wanting to challenge it in any way. The hair on the back of her neck stood up at movement in her peripheral vision. She turned her head, horrified at the sight of another wolf—this one gray—standing even closer than the first. Before she could react, the gray wolf surged forward and caught her leg in its mouth. Her many layers of clothing offered some protection, but sharp teeth tore into her flesh deep enough to pull a hoarse cry from her too-dry throat. Burning agony shot through her calf as the wolf jerked her violently enough to throw her off balance and into the snow. It released her leg only to reclaim it seconds later in an even fiercer grip. He shook his head back and forth, ripping her flesh.

The bloodcurdling horror inside her finally burst free from her mouth in a scream that sounded like it came from a stranger. The surreal vocalization of her own fear and suffering echoing through the desolate cold frightened her even more than the malevolence in the wolf’s soulless eyes. Just when she thought he was going to tear her apart, the wolf retreated. Her stomach turned over at the sight of blood oozing from a ragged tear in her pants.

Adrenaline coursed through her veins. She scrambled to her feet and took a slow, hobbling step backward. She didn’t want to encourage the wolves to chase, but she was too frightened to play dead. Both wolves drew closer, making her tremble so violently that she nearly lost her balance again. The wolf that had bitten her advanced, baring blood-stained teeth in a terrible grin.

Then the impossible happened. In one fluid, surreal motion, the wolf’s shape changed. Fur receded, smoothing into tanned skin. Paws turned into hands and feet. Rising up on its back legs, the wolf became a man.

A very naked man, whose large erection jutted out from between his legs like a weapon.

In a single breath, Katie’s terror deepened beyond anything she could have imagined. Her entire sense of reality shattered at the sheer insanity of watching beast turn into man. The wolf-man licked her blood off his lips. “It tastes delicious.”

The white wolf morphed into a well-built blond man whose arousal rivaled his friend’s. “It smells delicious, too.”

It. She was nothing to these two—only prey. Katie turned and tried to run, but a solid shape hit her from behind and knocked her forward into the snow. The gray wolf, a man no longer, grabbed onto her other leg, wrenching a pained gasp from her lungs.

“Hey!” The blond man yanked his partner away from her leg. “Don’t chew it up until I have a chance to fuck it.”

The gray wolf shifted back into human form, his mouth dripping with her blood. “Chewing’s my favorite part.”

“Well, fucking’s mine.” The blond bent and rolled her onto her back, pressing her deep into the snow. Claustrophobia overwhelmed her as cold surrounded her on all sides. The man ripped open Rafe’s coat, then wrenched it off her shoulders. “Just give me a few minutes and then you can do whatever you want. But I’m not screwing your leftovers.”

Katie twisted away from the blond man’s hands, but without leverage, she couldn’t pull herself out of the snow grave he’d created using the weight of her body. Tears spilled over and she sobbed as both men began to tear away her clothing.

“Fuck, you’re overdressed.” The man who’d bitten her released his handful of her ripped shirt and backhanded her across the face. “Stupid bitch.”

She squeezed her eyes shut as tight as she could. She didn’t want to watch. She couldn’t stand to see what they were doing. They’d barely even started and already she wished they would just kill her.

A vicious snarl arose from somewhere near. Katie opened her eyes in time to see a dark shape slam into the blond man, taking him down into the snow beside her. The newcomer, a jet black wolf, bit the blond man, who changed back into his beast form and threw himself into the tussle. Their enraged snarls filled the air as the fight migrated away from where she was entombed.

“Fuck this.” The biter continued to pull down her pants. “I’m not waiting around so some other wolf can use you up.”

She pushed against his chest in a futile attempt to fend him off. He caught her across the face with his knuckles, lazily, as though swatting away an insect. Then he went back to work, grabbing her thin undershirt and rending the material with his hands.

A sharp, keening whimper caught the biter’s attention. He released her and stood up, growling in the direction of the other wolves. “The fuck?”

A familiar voice responded. “She’s mine.”

Katie’s muscles turned to water. Rafe had found her.

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