Wolf Tempted by Eliza Gayle

 

Chapter One

King lifted his head and sniffed the air. He was no longer alone. With a hint of sulphur making his nose itch, he realized the person he'd come to meet wasn't the friendly sort.

He emerged from the trees and entered the moonlight-bathed clearing amidst gusts of wind and falling leaves. Fall had come in early this year, and the crisp, cool air was already settling in the mountains. Soon enough, winter would arrive, and the snow would soon follow.

The others of his pack seemed to appreciate the change in seasons, but he did not. He hated the cold almost as much as he hated the isolation that came from living here. He longed for something more, which was why he was willing to take these kinds of assignments.

His wolf was a natural-born predator who loved to hunt. He needed to exercise that skill almost as much as he needed to breathe. More often than not, he was asked to hunt down humans, and that work nearly bored him to tears. They were too easy. His wolf wanted more of a challenge.

Hunting in a city, where he had to hide his true nature, presented a little more challenge and generally satisfied the wolf—temporarily. Hence, he'd come this far out to meet someone he didn't know. A move that generally made him uneasy. He preferred to get his assignments via text or the occasional email. Talking to others in person annoyed him. Everyone knew to avoid him, including his own pack.

"This had better be good," he growled under his breath, knowing full well the man heard every word.

"It's important to us."

"I don't care about that." And he didn't. Whatever their reasons for calling this meeting mattered little. He only needed the details of the job to decide. "What is it you want from me?"

"We need someone found. A woman."

He turned away. This already didn't sound like the challenge he was looking for.

"Wait. You haven't even heard what I have to say."

"I had my doubts about this before I came. This only solidifies it. I don't hunt women.”

"Why not? Too difficult for you?" The sarcasm in the man’s tone set him further on edge.

"Hardly," he growled. "Too easy."

The man he didn't know from Adam hummed. "Maybe you should hear what I have to say before you decide. This one won't be as easy as you might think."

He doubted that, but he took no further steps to leave. Instead, he let his curiosity take over and waited for more.

When it was clear he wasn't going to speak or leave, the man continued. "This one's been impossible. We've hired three other trackers to locate her, and so far, they can't find her."

Now that had his attention. Shifter trackers, like himself, were good at their jobs. Some better than others, but most could get the job done--eventually. "Go on," he ordered gruffly, tired of waiting for the man to offer more. He loathed people who couldn't get straight to the point.

"She's been missing for weeks. We last saw her in a town called Enigma Falls. That's in--"

"I know where it is." he interrupted. What the hell kind of tracker would he be if he wasn't familiar with a predominantly bear shifter town located just hours away?

"Fine," the man huffed. "Her sisters, Jami and Violet, live there with their mates. Although the one named Jami travels a lot. Her mate has homes and businesses all over the world." He was flipping through a file of printed papers and a few photographs and it was all King could do not to snatch it from him and rifle through it on his own. He could wait. Later, when he was alone and in a secure location, he would study all the information and put together his own profile on the missing woman. It was what he did.

"Is everything you are telling me in that file?"

The man looked up, startled by his abrupt question. "I...uhh...guess."

"Good. Then I will read it for myself. Is there anything not in there that I need to know? What have the other trackers been able to report?" He doubted that information was compiled quite so neatly and efficiently. Plus, the vibe he was getting off his contact was not sitting well with the wolf.

He could sense the other man’s unease, and worse, he could tell he didn't want to be here. That sulfur he’d scented was a distinct air of superiority that clung to him like a second skin, and despite the fresh, cool air of the forest, it irritated both his nose and his eyes.

It was downright offensive.

There was also the fact of where he’d come from. The psy clan kept to themselves. But it was a widely known fact that they considered shifters inferior creatures. They were rarely seen outside their own borders, save for the few times their council met with the other clan's leadership when necessary.

The fact they'd come to him now spoke volumes about their current level of desperation. And then there was the money. They were offering far more than they should for a simple hunt. Money he desperately needed to get him and his nephew away from the dangerous Blackwood Pack and somewhere nice for him to grow up.

So, what was it about this woman?

It wasn’t unusual for his jobs to be missing the proper context, and rarely did it matter to him.

He had a bad feeling this one would be the exception…

"Her trail was possibly picked up in Alabama and Mississippi, but it went cold after that. There's also been no sign of her back in South Carolina or Texas with her family."

He narrowed his eyes and waited for him to reveal more. When nothing else came, he frowned. He scented no overt deceit, but a lie of omission was easy enough to disguise. His sister would have told him he was too suspicious.

Still, he had a lot of questions that he chose not to ask. He didn't trust this man to give him the facts he sought, and honestly, he preferred to uncover them himself. He liked his data clean and neat, not tainted with misinformation or hate.

Although there was one question he wanted an answer to.

"What do you want me to do with her when I find her?" If they wanted her eliminated they were going to have a problem. He wasn't an enforcer, no matter how much the job paid.

Not that they needed to know that up front. As far as they were concerned, he could be an enigma himself. They could speculate until the end of time and never know for sure what he was capable of. It was that kind of mysterious aura that made his skills so valuable.

"Bring her home, of course." The statement dripped with offense, as if to say how dare he imply they would want anything else. If King was the sort to laugh at anything, he would have howled in this man's face. He wasn't here to placate him. If he agreed to the job, he would do that and nothing else. He kept it simple because that's the way he preferred his life.

Although that ship had pretty much sailed the moment his sister died.

"Of course," he replied, keeping all but a tiny bite of sarcasm out of his voice. As much as he loathed games, he understood them well. "What else?" There had to be more. He didn’t read minds, but he understood body language, and this guy’s spoke volumes. He definitely had information to hide.

"Nothing besides what's in the file," he said, handing it over. “In addition to the financial terms already agreed upon, we are willing to offer a bonus if you can get her here in less than a week."

"Why the hurry?" he grumbled, louder than he'd meant to. Producing someone out of thin air often took time.

"That's none of your business."

He shrugged. "S'pose not. I just like to gather as much information as I can. The more details I have about the person I'm hunting, the more likely I am to find them quick. People are creatures of habit, humans more than most. But I've already got enough to get me started. If I need something else from you, I will get in touch."

"No!" he practically yelled, hysteria evident in his voice. He looked away and cleared his throat. "Sorry, but no, I'd rather not be in touch again until if and when you have the girl."

Everything inside him, including his wolf, told him this case was bad news. If he didn’t already have a bad feeling, that weird, kneejerk reaction solidified it. He should toss the folder back and wish this fucker good luck in finding her.

But dammit. He needed the cash. "Fine." He turned on his heel and slipped back into the cover of the forest.

The guy had left him with an unnatural unease, and the sooner he put some space between them, the better. It was shit like this that made him never want to meet face to face with the people who often hired him. If every potential employer gave him the creeps, he would never get enough work.

Fortunately, most agreed with his no in-person policy. He wasn't exactly the kind of hunter who signed on for cases that were on the up and up. They didn't pay enough.

Soon though, he wouldn't have to answer to an alpha that didn't deserve his allegiance. He scrubbed at his face and contemplated a shift and a hard run to relieve the tension building inside him. His wolf needed the freedom as much as he did.

By the time he got back to his truck, the itch underneath his skin had reached an unbearable stage and he'd decided that was exactly what he had to do. He did a quick flip through the folder, jerking to a stop at a drawing that caught his eye. The woman on the page was simply identified as Savannah Raye. His gut churned with unease as a strange sensation climbed up his spine.

He slammed the case file closed and locked it in his glove box. Now was not the time to examine any details. Later, when he was alone, he would study every detail. First, he would give the wolf what he needed. He toed off his boots and removed his clothes.

There was no need to tear up any pants or shirts this time around. By the time he was naked, the magic of the shift was already underway. His bones popped and cracked, forcing him to his hands and knees as he ceded control and gave way to the wolf.

Every day, they lived together as one, but at certain times, one or the other took over.

A sense of freedom he only got when he let his wolf loose washed over him, soothing some of the irritation and anger that were his constant companions. It wasn't quite a full moon, but it was close enough. He lifted his snout and let loose with a long, loud howl that warned every creature in the forest that it was time to run and hide. While he didn't need to be at or near a full moon to transform, there was still something about a full moon that made everything stronger and sharper, and getting this close still enhanced all his other senses.

Tonight, the scent of the forest was strong.  More so than usual. The dirt beneath his paws had that especially pungent, earthy scent, the leaves were a combination of smoke and sunshine, and the trees were strong with pine and magic. The forest had a way of absorbing what ran through it.

He stood for a few minutes longer, thinking about the man in the clearing and what his motives might be. There was little to no hard information about their clan. Even their hierarchy remained a mystery. But he couldn't shake the unsettled feeling the meeting had given him, and the wolf felt it too.

I know, buddy. You just need to run it off.

There was something about the drawing of the woman he couldn't shake. It wasn't even a real picture, and yet, there was something about her. The shape of her eyes, maybe? Or the curve of her neck. Whoever the artist was, they'd captured the woman quite well. She’d practically leapt off the page and into his head, and he was having trouble shaking her back out.

Normally, he cared little why he hunted someone. In this case, however, he wanted to know everything. When he found her, and he would, he planned to take a day or two to observe her before turning her in. Which meant that if he wanted his bonus he needed to find her within the next four to five days.

He sprang forward, his heart pounding as the wolf picked up speed. The rough and uneven terrain compressed hard against the pads of his paws. Familiar heat built in his chest and the cool night air did little to assuage it. He knew from experience when he finished and shifted back to human, his skin would be coated with sweat. Still, he pushed harder--faster. Trees passed him in a blur as his senses guided the way.

By the time he reached the river at least six miles away, he needed a break. Opening to the magic, he shifted back to human and walked into the cold water until it was up to his waist. Something was very wrong and while he couldn't quite pinpoint it, his gut told him it had everything to do with this case. If he was smart, he'd email the client and refuse to go any further.

Just walk away.

He sank into the water until it hit his chin, pictured the woman in his head, and accepted the truth as he knew it. Whatever was going on, he wasn't walking away. Not until he met her and figured out why he couldn't shake the feeling that nothing would ever be the same again.