Sniffing the air around her, she had a feeling Ethan had dumped her in his brother’s office because she could smell his familiar pine scent. She could also hear Ethan on the phone downstairs talking to who she assumed was Owen and knew her time alone was limited. Since she had on cuffs he probably didn’t think she was much of a threat. It’s not as if she could shift to her jaguar form like this. Well, she could, but her arms and legs in cat form were a lot bigger and she wasn’t positive the change would break the cuffs. If it didn’t, she’d be in serious pain.
She didn’t plan to stick around long enough to see why this crazy wolf had kidnapped her. Thankfully Ethan had cuffed her hands in the front so she had some mobility. Quietly riffling through the top drawers of the giant oak desk, she smiled when she finally found a very slim letter opener. It was as long as a screwdriver but much thinner and flatter. The cuffs on her wrist were thicker than normal and so was the lock opening. Picking up the end of the opener with her mouth, she slid the shiny tip into the circular opening.
A slam sounded from downstairs. Shouts followed. Her heart beat erratically. She recognized that voice. Owen.
No, no, no.
Forcing her hands to remain calm, she began twisting the opener with her mouth. She’d done this before—of course she’d had better tools then but she knew exactly…click. The tiny lever inside sprung free, releasing her manacles.
As they fell from her wrists, the door flew open, slamming against the back wall with a sickening crash. She felt as if her heart actually stopped for a moment. Everything around her funneled out as she stared into the clearest blue eyes she’d ever seen. Owen had always been big, but he’d grown even taller since she’d last seen him. He was probably six-foot three now. And he had that GQ thing going on. Tall, strong jaw, incredibly broad shoulders and muscles that couldn’t be disguised by a mere T-shirt. His blue-black hair and blue eyes gave him an exotic, appealing look. Of course she could see the wolf lurking beneath the surface. Just a hint of danger that even humans wouldn’t be able to ignore.
“Gabriela,” he whispered, some foreign emotion injected into that one word.
That broke the spell. Fisting the cuffs, she chucked them at his head and turned, diving for the glass window. Unlike wolf shifters, her change to animal form was seamless. Her clothes and shoes shredded as she became a jaguar. Vaguely, as if from a great distance, she heard Owen cursing behind her, but she didn’t pause in her escape. Drawing on the strength of her hind legs she used the window frame as a springboard—and tried to ignore the pain of the glass slicing into her paws—to propel herself to the oak tree.
The sun had risen farther in the sky, illuminating everything for her, not that she needed it with her extrasensory abilities. Nimbly, she jumped from branch to branch until she hit the dirt running. She could hear the sound of a growl behind her, but ignored it. If Owen or Ethan thought they could kidnap her and hold her hostage, they’d have to catch her first.
As a jaguar, she was a heck of a lot faster than them. Her family wasn’t native to this area, and with the exception of the local doctor, they were the only jaguar shifters living in Montana that she knew of. Still, she could travel these woods blind. First she needed to know she had outrun her pursuers. Then she was going to figure out why a member of the Wright pack had kidnapped her in broad daylight. And there was going to be hell to pay.
* * *
Owen wrenched his shirt off and raced out of his office, heading down the stairs.
“I’ll radio the guys on perimeter duty to track her,” Ethan said as he hurried after him.
It took all of Owen’s restraint not to knock his brother out right now. He’d actually kidnapped Gabriela in some misguided attempt to force her family to reveal who had been behind the recent jaguar killings in the area. It didn’t matter that Ethan had admitted the gun hadn’t been loaded. Gabriela hadn’t known that.
Owen barely kept from snarling. “Radio everyone and tell them to give her a wide berth. No one is to go after her.” His inner wolf was clawing at the surface and right about now he was ready to slice his brother to shreds for putting shackles on Gabriela.
Owen whipped around and had his brother slammed up against the outside wall of the cabin before he even realized he’d curled his fist around Ethan’s neck. “I’m your Alpha and you’ll do as I say. Anyone touches her, they’ll answer to me. And I’ll punish you for it, too.”
With wide eyes, his brother coughed out an “okay.”
Not bothering to wait and see if Ethan followed his orders, Owen finished stripping and shifted to his wolf form. Unlike the beauty of Gabriela’s shift, which he’d seen hundreds of times back when they’d been friends, his was more brutal. He held in a growl as his body underwent the change. Bones broke, shifted and realigned with a painful burst as fur quickly grew, covering what had once been skin.
Then he was running. He raced through the forest, tracking her sweet honeydew scent. When he’d received that call from his brother telling him what Ethan had done, Owen had seen red. He hadn’t seen Gabriela in about nine years and hadn’t spoken to her in ten. Not since he’d been seventeen years old and stupid and had screwed up the best thing in his life.
She’d been his best friend and he’d hoped they’d be more. But he’d lost even her friendship. It had made his decision to join the army at eighteen easy. Some days it was hard to believe so much time had passed since he’d spoken to her.
He bounded over icy patches of dirt and grass, barely feeling the cold. As a shifter he had a higher body temperature anyway, but right now all his focus was on finding Gabriela. He felt practically numb as he strained to run faster, faster.
That familiar sexual hunger he’d experienced when he was a teenager was back, only this time it was stronger, needier. His entire body craved her in a way he didn’t quite understand. Or didn’t want to.
Back then he’d been too stupid to realize what she was to him. Then he’d somehow hurt her and it had been too late to explore what might have been. She’d refused to see him. Absolutely wouldn’t talk to him or take his calls and hell, at seventeen he’d been full of pride. He hadn’t been willing to beg her to explain what he’d done wrong.
Now he had to talk to her. To see her and convince his inner wolf she was real. Her honey-brown hair was shorter than it had been years ago, falling a few inches below her shoulders. She was still tall, about five-feet ten, and lean and lithe. The way she moved as a human mirrored her movements as a jaguar and it had always fascinated him.
Now her speed and agility frustrated him.
The deeper into his territory he went, he realized where she was headed. Owen’s father had been Alpha before him—right up until the day he’d died five years ago—and had given the Segura family an area of the forest to hunt. With the growing attacks against humans lately, Owen had rescinded his father’s offer and taken back his pack’s land. It had been a difficult choice, but he’d needed to calm his pack’s growing anger.
But she wouldn’t know that. She probably assumed the cabin her family had once used to store extra changes of clothes and food was still protected.
Instead of following her trail toward the river bed where he knew she was headed in an attempt to try to cover her scent before doubling back to the cabin, he ran west toward the cabin in her family’s former territory. Why follow her when he could just beat her to her final destination?
Once he neared the small building, he slowly circled, making sure he was alone. Then he rolled around in pine boughs to mask his scent before he shifted to his human form. Using a side window that was unlocked, he climbed inside and found himself in one of the guest rooms. The place had the bare minimum of furniture but he found clothes that fit him and settled down to wait, bracing for the coming confrontation.
Gabriela waited until she was on the front porch of her family’s cabin before shifting to her human form. Breathing hard from the run, she glanced around the surrounding forest but didn’t see anyone lurking in the trees. She could faintly scent wolves but the smell didn’t seem recent.
Not surprisingly the front door wasn’t locked. People rarely ventured out here and there was nothing to steal inside, anyway. The first step she took inside, she realized her mistake. The scent of wolf and pine subtly hit her. Inwardly cursing that she hadn’t smelled it sooner, she tried to move back.
Before she could run, the door was slammed shut behind her and she found herself pressed up against the door by a very large, very angry-looking Owen. Thank God he was at least clothed, though it didn’t matter because she wasn’t. She could feel the heat and muscles of his body through the shirt and pants she was pretty sure he’d stolen from one of the closets.
When she swung out at him, he easily caught her wrist and pinned it against the door above her. Angry at his strength, she let out a growl. Faking a blow with her other hand, she slammed her knee into his groin when he went to grab her other wrist. She wasn’t afraid he’d physically or sexually assault her but she wasn’t going to let him hold her hostage. And she’d fight him to escape.
He let out a pained groan but didn’t lessen his hold and managed to grab her free wrist in the process.
She’d never felt so exposed or vulnerable in her life. In her clandestine profession she was used to being the one in control. Being able to get out of any situation. Of course that was because of her agility and her ability to sneak into places undetected. Not because of super strength. Right now she wished she was physically stronger. “What’s wrong? Nothing down there to hurt?” she taunted. It was definitely not true. She could feel him, but when his eyes darkened, she took perverse pleasure at pissing him off.
His eyes watered slightly and she realized he was containing his pain. “Why the hell did you throw those cuffs at my head?” he rasped out.
A burst of sharp laughter escaped despite her fear at being held captive. “Seriously?”