Davey dashed into the Redwood forest with urgency flooding his veins. He was glad of his dog body at moments like this. With four legs, sharp eyesight and a sense of smell practically unrivaled, he was much more in tune with his surroundings and able to spring into action.
Julie was missing—the woman his Alpha male, Aleco, loved—and she had to be found. As a young male in the pack, Davey knew this was a chance to show off his skills in tracking, his speed and his solid character. He wouldn’t be shaken by a crisis or break under pressure and he was worthy of a trusted position.
The ground under Davey’s paws was spongy with softly decaying pine needles and the sunshine pierced the canopy in long, slim pencils of light. He let the air slide into his nose, sifting through it for Julie’s sweet, human smell.
But there was nothing. Not even a molecule of her unique scent.
He couldn’t let his concentration slip. The other dog shifters had gone into the town where she’d last been spotted. He was the only one out here, scanning the vast wilderness that formed a huge chunk of Redwood Pack territory.
Arriving at a natural pool created by a waterfall cascading over smooth russet rocks, he stopped for a drink. It was cool and refreshing and he paused for a moment to enjoy the rest. He made sure he was super fit, but even so, knowing time was of the essence made his heart beat faster.
He turned and admired the beauty of his surroundings. If he were in his human form he’d strip off and dive into the clear, sparkling water then lounge on the soft patch of moss to his right and dry off. Davey enjoyed his own company, which was just as well as he’d never met ‘the one’. So many of the other men in his pack had partners, ‘soul mates’, but not him. Not even a flicker of interest in any shifter or human in all the time he’d been an adult. Hell, he wasn’t even sure if he was straight, gay or bi, his attraction to anyone had been so absent.
But then again, when would he have the chance to meet someone to be attracted to? As a self-confessed loner, he spent much of his time in the forest. And when he was in company, it was with pack members who were either content and settled or blood related to him.
He sighed and carried on, making a mental note to return to the tranquil spot. Perhaps with a book, when things settled and they had Julie back—because they would. It was the only possible outcome.
Bounding east, he leaped a fallen tree then scooted past a termite mound.
Where the hell is she?
He paused in another clearing and raised his head, sniffing the air. Julie’s scent was powdery—it reminded him of flowers on a hot day. Could he detect that now?
He inhaled deep, sifting through myriad skittering smells on the breeze. There was definitely something sweet detectable.
He closed his eyes and took several steps forward, almost seeing the scent as a pink and lilac trail for him to follow.
Suddenly something snapped around his right foot. It pinched hard and a sharp unforgiving pain shot up his leg.
Yelping, he spun around, his guts clenching when he saw the trap—a hunter’s trap set to catch big prey.
He whimpered at the sight of his foot caught within the rusty jaws. The mean teeth were breaking his skin and several drips of scarlet blood seeped onto his fur. As he peered closer, he could see that he’d been very lucky. When the trap had sprung upward it had brought with it a stone the size of a golf ball which meant it couldn’t close properly.
If it had, his foot would likely be off.
But to get out of it, he’d have to shift to his human form. There was no way he could release the spring with paws. Trouble was, shifting would make his lower leg bigger and the teeth would sink deeper before he had a chance to free himself. His foot might not be off now, but shifting would mean he stood a very real chance of doing damage which might lead to amputation.
A whimper caught in his throat. It hurt…a lot. What was he going to do?
He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, trying to think straight. The sweet smell filtered toward him again and he realized it was nothing more than an azalea bush. Not Julie at all. He was all alone in the wilderness and caught in a trap.
His heart thudded. He tucked his tail beneath his belly as misery took over. The pain was clouding his thoughts and making it difficult to find a solution. He wished his pack was with him. His Alpha would know what to do.
He should know what to do.
Davey tried to steel himself and form a coherent plan. The end of his paw was going numb, the pad tingling.
There was a noise behind him—a twig snapping underfoot.
Hackles rising, he twisted. There was no one there. He smelled the air though his pain seemed to have drained his ability to concentrate. Several deep inhales later he caught a whiff of something—something strong and exotic. He knew straight away what it was.
He growled, the vibration rumbling through his throat and into his chest. He imagined the noise rippling from him, sending a warning over the forest floor the way a shock wave would and alerting every creature not to approach him.
But it seemed this creature didn’t care for warnings.
From the shadows of the trees a huge mountain lion crept into the daylight. It stopped beside a trunk, its front paws elevated on a smooth gray rock. It stilled, staring straight at him with eyes the color of moss.
Davey deepened his growl then threw in a sharp bark for good measure. The lion was built to kill, its shoulders wide and its body pure muscle. The sunshine glinted off its smooth golden fur.
If he’d been in human form and come across a beast like this, Davey would have shifted and made a run for it, or stayed to fight if cornered. But trapped, as a dog, he could do nothing except try to defend himself if the lion decided to make him its supper. But a few bites from a dog wouldn’t be a match for the lion’s wide mouth and large teeth, plus it had the advantage of not being trapped and injured.
Where the hell was his pack when he needed them? This just went to show his mother had been right when she’d reprimanded him for going into the forest alone so often.
The lion stepped down from the rock, coming closer with each pace. It moved like ink spreading over silk and didn’t take its sultry gaze from its prey.
The shot of panic going through Davey made him jerk as if he’d had an electric shock. He’d have no choice but to defend himself as best he could. There was no one else around for miles and shifting into a human wouldn’t make any difference—in fact, without his canine teeth he’d be worse off. He had to stay in his dog form and face the music.
The lion stopped just out of Davey’s reach and stared at his leg caught in the trap. It then ran its gaze up Davey’s body, over his back, his hunched shoulders and to his eyes again.
Davey kept up the low, rumbling warning in his throat. He didn’t like cats of any species at the best of times, same as the rest of his pack, but this one was throwing him for a loop.
The lion padded to the right, then the left, almost as if assessing Davey’s situation. Its eyes were bright and intelligent and it let its mouth open a little, so its pink tongue peeked out.
Davey snapped at the cat, bringing his jaws together fast and sharp. His foot hurt like hell but he knew all of him would hurt a whole lot more if the lion decided to pounce.
But it didn’t pounce. Instead it stepped backward, glanced around the clearing, then reared onto its back legs. For a split second Davey was confused but his brain was fast to kick into gear and he realized what was happening.
The lion’s face changed shape, shrinking back on itself. The taffy-colored fur shed away and in its place came tan skin. Four limbs became two strong arms and two long, lean legs. A heavy cock hung flaccid from a thick bush of blond pubic hair.
Fuck. It’s a shifter.
That thought stormed into Davey’s brain—a mountain lion shifter, in their territory. How did they not know? How did they not notice its scent?
The lion’s transformation complete, the man put one hand on his hip and frowned. “Got yourself in quite a fix, haven’t you, buddy.”
Davey reduced his growl to a low-pitched murmur. Perhaps this wasn’t so bad. Now at least there was a pair of dexterous hands that could release the trap.
Davey twisted to watch as the man bent his knees and rested with his elbows draped on his legs.
He studied the mean metal surrounding Davey’s ankle. “Not looking good, but at least that stone got caught up. Saved you losing the whole leg.”
Davey couldn’t help but admire the statuesque build this new shifter had in his human form—wide-angular shoulders that showed the indents of the muscles beneath. A broad chest with a smattering of blond hair at the center, which matched that on his head. His hands were big, his fingers were square-shaped and there was a small silvery scar on his right forearm.
He looked at Davey, direct in the eyes. “Now you’re not going to bite me if I release it, are you?”
Davey had to concentrate to stop the growl rumbling in his throat. He couldn’t speak so it was his only way to communicate. But the pain and the stress of the situation were making it hard to beat down his instinct to sound menacing.
The man didn’t seem too concerned. “Okay, buddy, keep still.”
Davey watched as his fingers worked the trap. It took a few minutes of fiddling but then with careful movements he pulled the jaws apart, releasing Davey’s leg.
Davey yelped and scooted back toward the azalea bush, putting distance between himself and the trap. The release of pressure was painful but he was thankful to be free.
“Hey, calm down. It’s not broken.” The man stood, palms facing forward as if placating Davey. “You’ll live.”
Davey knew it wasn’t broken because he could put weight on it. But the skin was torn and it ached the way a sprain would. He needed to get back to camp and have Flo look at it. His cousin’s human mate always had a stash of medicines and bandages.
He turned and gave the wound a fast lick, sensing the extent of the damage with his tongue. It would be an uncomfortable run home, but he’d make it.
“You need some help?”
Davey looked at the man standing before him. A shard of golden sunshine was piercing the canopy and rendering him in spotlight.
For a moment Davey found it hard to catch his breath—he couldn’t remember seeing a more beautiful male. With chiseled features and a body Greek gods would be jealous of, he was perfection personified.
Except the beautiful man was a damn cat.
Davey tore his attention away and stepped toward the trees. At first it was a limp, but then he broke into a lopsided trot. Heading back the way he’d come, tail at half mast, he steeled his determination to make it back home and upped his pace to a sprint.
But as he slipped into the shadows with the sound of the mountain lion shifter calling for him, a vise-like sensation wrapped around his heart. He didn’t want to go. Something was drawing him to the shifter who had just saved him. Was it his eyes, his voice, his gentle way?
Davey didn’t know, but he didn’t have the time or the energy to examine the strange feelings—the uncommon sensation of being drawn to someone. So he continued on, past the waterfall and the pond and down the side of the mountain.
His mission to find Julie had been unsuccessful. Instead he’d found a trap and a lion shifter whose face, voice and scent had imprinted on his mind.