Angel Kane had seen enough male shifters begging to be her mate to last a lifetime. Sitting down at the truck stop diner, surrounded by the sounds of the highway outside, she ran a hand through her dark-as-night black hair and wondered if she had finally lost them.
Julian Vincent and Houston Darvill were the most persistent of the pain-in-the-ass men she had encountered lately. They’d been chasing her since she left New Orleans two weeks earlier. She’d thought she’d lost them when she got to Maryland but she’d been wrong. They’d shown up two days later, much to her chagrin.
So she’d run. Again.
You don’t have to run. I told you. We can take them. All of them. Easily.
Angel signaled to the waitress that she wanted coffee before sinking further into her seat and tried to ignore the smell of grease wafting from the kitchen. Her wolf was always so sure of herself, so capable, so completely confident that they could kick the butt of anyone who threatened them.
But Angel had seen enough violence to last a lifetime. She shivered at the thought. After her pack leader’s death, her wolf pack had dissolved into near chaos. The wolves had run amok through the streets of New Orleans, causing havoc everywhere they went, particularly to the women. A wolf pack was supposed to be a safe place for females, but that wasn’t the case when the guys got to simply pick you out and pronounce you their mate whether you or your wolf wanted them at all.
Then again, it sounded like the New Orleans pack was a walk in the park compared to what happened in her native pack on Westervelt Island when she’d been a baby. They’d butchered all their women, including her mother, who had barely managed to send her off to New Orleans for safekeeping before she’d been killed. Even though Angel had recently found out that she had brothers on Westervelt, she didn’t dare go there and find them for help.
No, that would be like exchanging one bad situation for another one. The answer wasn’t just no, it was hell no.
“What can I get you?”
Angel smiled at the waitress. She was a fifty-something woman who wore her bottle-blonde hair in a high ponytail. It wasn’t a good look for her since it made her dyed roots much more evident than they would otherwise be.
Her wolf sat up in rapt attention. Should we make her feel good?
Angel hadn’t used her powers since they’d gone on the run. She’d been terrified to. What if it brought Houston and Julian right to her side? Still, not using them hadn’t exactly kept them away.
Placing her fingers lightly on the waitress’ white apron, so gently no one would notice, she smiled as she sent her power into the nice lady serving her.
“I’d like a ham and cheese sandwich, please. No french fries, but I will take the coleslaw and maybe you better make it a pot of coffee instead of just one cup.”
It was a multi-cup-of-coffee day. There was no question.
“Oh.” The waitress smiled and swayed slightly on her feet. It was okay, that was a perfectly natural reaction to Angel’s use of power on a human. She’d be okay in a second. “I’m sorry, for a second I was a little bit dizzy but now—oh wow, I feel fantastic. I feel like I could fly to the moon if I needed to and—oh—I don’t want to wear my hair this way anymore. I think I’m going to go back to my natural brown or, better yet, maybe I’ll let myself show the grey. It would look very chic on me.” The woman closed her mouth abruptly. “I’m so sorry. I’m talking your ear off. I have no idea what has come over me.”
“You’re fine.” Angel couldn’t help grinning. “I’m glad you’re feeling so well and, please, wear your hair however you prefer.”
Still grinning, the waitress went away to put Angel’s order in to the kitchen. Or at least that’s what Angel thought she did. She couldn’t read the woman’s mind. She might be going back to the kitchen to dance a jig for all she knew. The only thing that mattered was that she’d made the woman feel wonderful for today. The rest of Nancy the waitress’ day would be a happy, uplifting experience. Angel had been told it was a bit like walking on sunshine.
She rolled her eyes at her wolf. Why did you tell her to change her hair? That was my private thought.
Her wolf lay down, growling low at Angel’s reprimand. You were right about the hair issue. I thought to help her. Don’t you get huffy with me. We’re running away, which makes me mad at you already.
Nancy returned with the coffee pot and set it down. Smiling as she heard the other woman humming to herself, Angel tried to feel satisfied with her own lot in life. Things weren’t really that bad. So what if she currently had no place to call home? She had money thanks to the businesses she ran, and she would find some place that was hers.
Maybe if she went out west…
A sudden scent wafted into the room, catching Angel’s attention. Usually she could ignore the smells that defined the human world. She’d learned how as a child. Some shifters went nuts due to the constant assault on their nasal passages, but not Angel. She knew she was made of stronger stuff.
But this she couldn’t ignore. This was the smell of woods, of man, of hope. She stood up. This was wolf. She took a deep breath. Yes, there was a male shifter somewhere in here and she’d caught his scent.
Breathing deeply, she wanted to grin. She’d never smelled anyone who made her senses feel like this. Usually male shifters, especially ones who wanted her, made her want to gag. This scent was like heaven. She’d had a taste and she wanted more.
She shook her head. Wow, she’d not even seen this guy yet. What was the matter with her?
Her wolf’s voice stopped her in her tracks.
Oh no. She knew what that entailed. Soon, she’d be dragged off and locked up never to see the free world again while he screwed her until he got her pregnant. She closed her eyes. No. No. No. She wasn’t doing that. No frickin way.
Her wolf interrupted her internal rant. You have the wrong idea of mating.
Angel sat back down in her seat. She wasn’t going to find the guy. No, in fact, as soon as her food arrived, she was leaving. As fast as possible.
Oh yeah? I have the wrong idea? I’ve watched it for thirty-five years. I don’t want it.
Her wolf huffed. That’s a distorted version of mating.
Mating led to killing on Westervelt.
And thinking of that reminded her that where she was, somewhere in New Jersey, would be as close to Maine as she was going to get. Any nearer and she’d be too close for comfort to Westervelt Island. Yes, she was definitely going west.
A crash sounded in the kitchen and Angel stood up again. It was the scent wafting through the room. It was making her jumpy. She moved quickly toward the scent.
Nancy came out from the kitchen carrying her tray with a dance in her step. “Now Bob, don’t come down hard on him. It’s my fault, I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing.”
“Everything okay?” Angel asked.
“Oh,” Nancy laughed. “Did you hear that crash? Yes, everything is fine. I knocked over a bunch of glasses. Come sit down.” Angel did as she said following the older woman back to her table. “I’m only concerned Bob, that’s our owner, is going to come down too hard on Parker. It’s not his fault.”
Angel really hoped that Bob—the owner—wasn’t the one giving off the lovely scent that played games with her sanity. He didn’t sound like a nice guy.
The door to the kitchen swung open, slamming against the wall behind it. A man stomped out of the kitchen and Angel caught her breath at her first sight of him.
“Oh dear,” Nancy muttered. “Looks like he gave him hell anyway.”
“Who is that?” Angel could hardly utter the words.
“That’s Parker.” Nancy said his name like it made her sad to do so as she shook her head. “He washes the dishes.”
Parker was tall, maybe the tallest man Angel had ever seen. Well over six and a half feet tall, he towered over everyone else in the place. His hair was cut short, military style, and he had dark eyes to match his dark hair. Built like a linebacker, he had a presence the likes of which she had never encountered before. It was like he took up all the space in the room just by being in it.
His features were hard, like his dark eyes, and she shivered as he walked further into the room. Every part of his visible arms seemed to be marked with some kind of tattoo. She wished she was closer so she could see what they were.
Taking a deep breath, he seemed to jump backwards a step before righting himself. His head darted left and right as he tried to identify what he smelled. Angel was familiar with the look; she did it herself whenever she couldn’t find what triggered a response in her.
And she had a pretty good idea what he was smelling. He had caught her scent the same way she had caught his. Yep, there was no question about it. The huge hunk with the scary eyes and the pissed-off demeanor was her mate.
She narrowed her eyes at her wolf. No way. No how.
We do not determine these things. They’re made in the heavens. Just because the pack you were raised with distorted the natural way that doesn’t mean you get to just decide you don’t want anything to do with it.
Angel raised an eyebrow. Wanna bet?
As if he’d zoomed in on what he smelled, his head turned and he stared straight at her. Angel caught her breath. The linebacker wolf, who might be her mate if she let it happen, didn’t seem any happier about seeing her than she was to see him. In fact, he made a growling sound in his throat that stated his opinion clearly: he hated the idea.
Angel’s cheeks heated as she watched him turn around and storm back into the kitchen. She hadn’t necessarily wanted him but he had outright rejected her on sight. She rubbed a hand over her face.
Sure, she wasn’t looking her best. She’d been on the run for weeks and she was tired. Bone-weary tired. But she’d spent the night before in a motel and she was showered and clean. In the past, all the men had found her attractive enough.
Was she so ugly he’d dismissed her out of hand?
Her heart pounded hard. This was unacceptable. She was Angel Kane. He didn’t get to turn around and walk away like he didn’t know she was his mate.
“Poor guy. He’s never had it easy.”
Angel turned her fuming attention back to Nancy who grinned from ear to ear, thanks to Angel’s magic making. “Oh no?”
“No.” Nancy shook her head. “He can’t speak.”
Angel knocked over her coffee. “Oh, sorry!” Jumping up, she grabbed the napkins before Nancy could and started cleaning up her mess. “Did you say he can’t speak?”
“Not a word.”
Angel tried to digest this news. Her mate was mute? “Is there something wrong with his vocal cords? Has he seen a doctor?”
“No, it’s not a physical thing. I mean let’s face it—the man is a prime specimen of health. He doesn’t appear a day over thirty even though Bob swears he’s got to be close to forty now.”
Angel could have explained that to Nancy. Wolf shifters didn’t age past thirty until they mated. They could live forever looking like they were thirty years old.
“Go on. If it’s not physical, why can’t he speak?”
“Oh now, I don’t like to gossip…”
“Of course not.” Angel touched her arm. “You can trust me”
“Bob says that a social worker came to him with Parker twenty years ago. Told him he was twenty years old and he needed a job.” Nancy stared down at her. “According to Bob, the man said Parker was smart and capable but hadn’t uttered one word to communicate with anyone ever.” Picking up the dirty napkins, Nancy glanced back at the kitchen. “He does a good job, lives upstairs for a deduction in pay, and never utters a word. All I can think is something bad must have happened to him. Something so bad he can’t—or won’t—speak.”
Nancy finished talking and turned to go back to the kitchen.
That seemed kind of dramatic to Angel. Stopped speaking all together? No, he was a wolf, even if his co-workers didn’t know it. There was something magical going on here and, even if she didn’t want to mate, she wasn’t leaving until she found out what it was. Maybe she could help. Yes, that would be her gift to him. They wouldn’t mate—he didn’t seem to want to anyway—but she would fix his magical issues before she left to go out west.
Yes, that was a plan. She nodded her head feeling good about that.
Two repugnant odors wafted through the door and she darted to her feet. Oh no. How had they caught up to her so fast?
Julian and Houston stood staring at her from the doorway of the diner, like they’d stepped out of a Wild West movie side by side ready for a fight.
This is not going to be good.
Her wolf growled. We can take them.
In the diner? In front of all of these people?
Her wolf paced inside of her, itching for a fight. Angel tried her damndest to not lose her cool. If she had to shift and fight, it would be outside. Still, maybe there was a chance left to reason with Cole’s deranged enforcers before she had to resort to violence.
“Listen boys, I get it. Cole sent you after me. He wants to look tough. He told you whichever one of you got me, could keep me as a mate.”
She raised her hands hoping they weren’t getting too many stares from the other patrons. Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dumb were not the brightest wolf-shifters to ever grace the planet. The fact that they worked for Cole, who only made women servants and didn’t rape them, as opposed to Zack who kept his females locked in the basement, made them only slightly less disgusting to her.
“You really don’t want me as yours. I’m not worth it. Truth is, I’m a big pain in the ass.”
Houston nodded and she wanted to deck him. Okay, maybe her priorities were warped but she didn’t want him agreeing. Screw him. He was an imbecile. He had the nerve to think anything but highly of her?
“We agree.” Houston rubbed his chin. “That’s why me and Julian, we think we’re gonna share you.”
She looked between them. Neither of them was taller than her five foot ten frame. Julian had red hair and freckles that might be cute on someone else and Houston had blond hair and blue eyes. They didn’t do it for her. Not in the least.
Her wolf might be right. She could probably take them.
“You’re going to share me? Doesn’t that kind of go against the grain in terms of mating? Isn’t the purpose of mating to own me?”
The door to the kitchen swung open and she had one second to scent him before Parker was in front of her and picking up Houston and Julian by the back of their collars. Three seconds later and they were both out on their behinds in the parking lot.
Parker turned around, not even glancing at her, and walked back into the kitchen. Angel was so confused. What had happened? She turned to follow him and walked into Nancy instead.
“Don’t worry about that. Bob has a standing policy, if anyone bothers a customer, we’re to kick them out. Parker handles this type of thing all the time.”
“He does, does he?”
So he hadn’t come out of the kitchen and charged to her rescue because he had some sort of sense about her? Well, this had to stop. With the two idiots temporarily handled, she moved past Nancy to enter the kitchen.
“I want to say thank you,” she called over her shoulder to Nancy.
The kitchen was surprisingly small, barely ten feet across, but clean and well organized. She’d stomped into it like she owned the place but now that she was inside she felt her nerve leave her. She rocked on the balls of her feet. What was it she wanted to say, exactly?
Clearing her throat, she looked at Parker who kept his back to her even though she was certain he knew she was there. Her scent would have told him if nothing else and she knew he could hear just fine so he had to have heard her enter.
Turning to her left to the scent of the other man in the room, she smiled. “Are you Bob?”
He was older, she would guess from the sounds of his heart struggling and the way his bones creaked when he moved even a little that he wasn’t much longer for this earth. Smiling, she walked to him and placed a hand on his shoulder letting some of her magic make him feel better.
His smile was practically instantaneous and she let go of his arm. “Are you Bob?”
He nodded, moving back to the oven to flip the eggs simmering there. “I am.”
“Would it be okay, sir, if I thanked your dish washer for helping me out back there?”
Bob shrugged. “You can thank him but he won’t answer you. He’s not dumb.” Bob shouted presumably so Parker could hear him clearer. Angel could have told him Parker could have heard him blocks away if he’d wanted to concentrate. “Just stubborn.”
“Okay,” she smiled. “Thank you, sir.”
Angel walked from Bob to the other side of the kitchen where Parker washed dishes. She moved up next to him until she stood directly at his side. He smelled better than heaven; he was like ambrosia and her wolf rolled around like she wanted to ingest his aroma.
Angel cleared her throat. “Um, Parker. I wanted to thank you.”
Nothing. Parker didn’t even look up or stop what he was doing to acknowledge she was there.
Try again. Her wolf encouraged. Maybe he’s shy.
“My name is Angel. Those men out there, well, they’ve been chasing me for some time and you are the first person to ever help me. Thank you.”
Parker glanced at her from the side of his eyes. It wasn’t much, but halfway to full eye contact was better than nothing.
“Um…” She gazed at Bob and decided he was busy but not wanting to risk exposure, lowered her voice. “I think you and I both know that we’re the same in a very important way. I’m wondering if it would be possible for me to speak to you, alone, at another time? I can wait. The truck driver who is going to take me from here to some place called Poughkeepsie isn’t leaving until tomorrow. I’m supposed to spend the night out in his haul if I can’t find a motel room.”
Silence met her query but really what had she expected? He didn’t speak.
“Would that be okay? Could you meet me whenever it is that you get off work?”
Parker growled and stormed from the room out the backdoor.
Apparently that was a no.
Yeah, sometimes her wolf was the queen of understatement.