The Alpha's Mark, страница 1
The Alpha’s Mark
Blackwater Alpha Series Book 1
THE ALPHA’S MARK
Copyright © 2018 by Jaime Elliott. All rights reserved. This book includes mature themes and is not suitable for anyone under the age of 18. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. No part of this eBook may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without written permission from the author.
Jaime Elliott is an active member in a variety of online communities, just trying to get by doing what she loves. If you’d like to support her, please enjoy this story, and look for the sequels coming up!
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THE SNOW CRUNCHED under Asher’s paws. He’d locked onto a scent and it had drawn him out into the thick underbrush of the uninhabited forest, off his path, his nose to the ground. Ice, cold, paws, crunch, fur, wind – blood.
Anything less than that wouldn’t have diverted his attention like this, but the scent of blood was heavy in the air, and it wasn’t animal blood. He’d travelled quite a distance from the main path back to the pack, but he still didn’t see any red staining the snow. As he got closer though, other scents began to mingle in with the cloying blood. Fear and hurt. Female, maybe? It was hard to tell without being closer, but it was beginning to come together into a clearer picture. At least now he was sure of himself; he knew there was someone out here, hurt.
He had to at least try to find her.
Finally, he saw it: blood in snow. Just a bit of it, melted pink, but it was definitely her blood.
Soon after that, another mark, bigger, darker. They kept coming, splotches of crimson, until he finally came across the source. She was curled in on herself, huddled under the low-hanging branch of a sequoia, like she had tried to find shelter from the snow, but couldn’t go any further.
Asher shifted, bare feet slipping in the snow. As soon as he lost his fur, the icy air bit at his exposed skin. The woman was naked too, which meant that she’d gotten this far as a wolf, and then shifted back. She had blood smeared across her skin, drying and tacky, but it wasn’t all her own.
He went to his knees beside her and reached out to press two fingers to her throat, seeking her pulse point, and – it felt like being struck by lightning. The world froze around him, going abruptly silent and still, the edges of his vision greying until all he could see was her.
Her skin was pale and tinged blue with cold, and her hair was such a light blonde that it almost blended in with the snow around her. It made the blood on her skin all the more shocking.
And then everything rushed back, the wind in the trees, the birds, the crunch of him shifting in the snow. And her, like a window open in the back of his mind, but it was only hollow emptiness, like the lonely sound of a drop of water falling. She was unconscious.
He jerked away, like he had suddenly regained control over his body, landing flat on his ass in the snow. The woman didn’t move. He held up his hand. He could feel his pulse pounding in his fingertips and there, the first two fingers were stained a deep black, where he’d pressed against her skin. His breath froze in his chest.
His soul-mark had activated.
Most people didn’t have a soul-mark, and those people who did kept the faint mark their whole lives. Activation almost never happened. There were so many people in the world that the chances of finding your one soulmate were so slim. Asher had always known about the faint mark on his fingertips, knew that he had someone out there, but he had always pushed the thought aside, because he probably wasn’t going to find them. And if he did, it wasn’t a guarantee that it was going to work out. Those few who had found their soulmate didn’t always stay together, and just because they were soulmates didn’t mean it was somehow easier.
But she was his.
And maybe it was stupid, but he couldn’t help the spark of frantic joy that he’d found her. His mind seemed to kick back into gear then – he had definitely felt a pulse, but she was hurt, and cold. He leaned forward and gathered her up, standing. Her head lolled against his shoulder.
It was going to be a long walk back through the snow with his human feet.
The sun had already begun setting by the time Asher made it back to the actual pack land. Most of the pack were trickling in from work or school, outside the reservation. All of the homes were clustered together, close but not invasive. He passed house after house as he made his way through to the center of it all. They were all warming up now, chimneys pouring smoke and dinner being prepared. The smell of smoke and roasting meat hung heavily in the air, mixing with the snow. Occasionally he saw young ones, not yet herded inside for dinner. The little ones didn’t often leave the reservation. They lacked the control over their shift, which would only come in time. They spent their days running free, usually in the care of a grandparent.
As he walked, a few pups waved at him, curious but not afraid. Maybe they should have been a little more wary, since he was walking through carrying an unconscious girl, but the kids all knew him, and maybe it was good that they trusted him.
He neared the center of the pack’s village. His house was the largest, afforded to the Alpha of the pack and their family. Really, the house didn’t actually belong to his family, that wasn’t the way the pack did it. It was the largest, and it had the most space, and it was supposed to be the safest. The open-door policy meant that any member of the pack who wanted or needed to be close was welcome. He’d grown up with that understanding, and it only felt natural to keep his pack close to him.
With that in mind, it made Asher smile when he scented Mo as soon as he stepped into the house. Morgan was a newer member of the Pack, having come to the area after being packless for a while. He’d been getting by, but a wolf couldn’t be without a pack for too long. Mo had been halfway to feral by the time he’d found Woodhaven. It had been almost a year, but Mo had immediately struck up a friendship with Asher, and had stuck close ever since.
Asher wouldn’t have necessarily chosen Mo out of a crowd, but he’s glad the other man had decided for him that they were going to be friends. Honestly, it was a little bit refreshing; most of the pack kept a respectful distance, even if they were friendly. Half of them watched him grow up, and his peers held him at a bit of a distance. It wasn’t to be helped, and he wouldn’t trade his position or his family for anything, so it was fine. It was just a little less lonely with Mo.
Mo said, “What the fuck, Ash.” He stood in the hallway, blocking the entry to the family room. He wore tight, dark-wash jeans and a black t-shirt with a logo on it; getting ready to go to work, then. A fire burned in the large hearth. Asher could hear it crackling, eagerly consuming the dried logs. “Who is she?”
“I don’t know,” Asher said. He walked forward, and Mo moved for him, letting him through into the family room. He bent and put the woman on the sofa. Before he’d even straightened up fully and formed the thought, Mo was there, holding out a blanket.
“She’s hurt,” he said.
“Not all the blood is her
“Don’t warm her up too quickly,” Mo said. “Hypothermia?”
“Her extremities look okay. She’s lucky.” He resisted the urge to press their soul-marks together, and primarily only succeeded because she was unconscious, and it felt like some kind of violation to do that while she wasn’t there. He curled his fingers and pressed them to his palm, pressing the soul-marks himself; it gave him a faint echo of her.
Still unconscious, not even the hollow flicker of pain. Maybe that was a kindness.
“Can you call Colin for me?” he asked Mo. He wanted the healer to see her, because while he didn’t see any major wounds, he also knew his knowledge was limited when it came to first aid. Mostly the knowledge was: get safe, find Colin.
Mo nodded and left without another word. Once he was alone again, Asher reached out and brushed her hair away from her face, smoothing it out. Despite being a mess, tangled and damp with melted snow, her hair was still silky to the touch, the palest gold Asher had ever seen. He smoothed her hair out and then pulled back.
She was his. She was his soulmate, but he didn’t know her. She didn’t know him, and he wanted to not harass her while she was hurt.
While he waited for Mo to return with Colin, he went to the sink to fill a bowl with warm water and returned with the softest wash cloth he could find. He gently cleaned the blood off as best he could, trying to only expose one part of her body at a time, keeping the majority of her covered and warm. Her forearms had a number of shallow cuts on them. Asher wiped the dried blood from around them, but they didn’t continue bleeding so, for the most part, Asher judged them not urgent. There was another injury on her thigh, this one deep and still slowly seeping blood. That was where most of the damage had been done.
He had to rinse the bowl and refresh the water three times, but eventually he got all of the blood off of her, except for what was dried into her hair.
Morgan and Colin walked in without knocking. Colin was a man in his later fifties, and he’d been a part of the Pack since before Asher was born. “This the one everyone’s talking about?”
“Everyone should mind their own business,” Asher muttered.
“If it’s your business, it is their business,” Colin shrugged. “It’s the nature of being the Alpha’s son. Everyone knows everything. Besides, you shouldn’t have carried her thorough town if you didn’t want people to talk.”
Asher felt a headache brewing just behind his eyes. “What do you mean people are talking? It’s only been like fifteen minutes.”
“Are you underestimating the efficiency of the information flow in this Pack?” Mo asked.
“No,” Asher muttered. “I would never.”
“How far out was she?” Colin asked, taking a look at the wound on her thigh. “Where did you find her?”
“Out past the west bank.”
“So definitely on our lands,” Mo said. “Not Blackwater.”
“Our lands. I can’t say that she’s not Blackwater –” and that sent a pang of worry through him. He hadn’t really considered that as an option before. “—But if she does belong to them, she was very far off her Pack’s property.”
“Stranger things have happened,” Colin muttered, bending over her to stitch the wound.
“I guess so,” Asher agreed. “Is she going to be okay?” he asked, watching Colin with an anxious twisting feeling in his chest. It was unfamiliar and new, but so was all of this.
Is this what it was going to be like to have a soulmate? This constant, gnawing worry and fear? He realized that the situation was extreme, and he didn’t know what she was doing or how she’d gotten hurt or any of that. Maybe the feeling would lessen with time and once it was clear that she wasn’t hurt.
But maybe he’d just forever be worried about her.
Maybe that’s what loving someone meant.
“She is going to be fine,” Colin said. He wrapped her thigh with a thick piece of gauze and taped it down. “The worst of it was this, and luckily she didn’t lose too much blood. You brought her in before hypothermia set claim to anything, she’s doing well in that regard. Her temp is rising back to normal. This wound on her thigh is consistent with stab wounds, or a wound from a sharp object. What I see on her arms also backs that up. Shallower cuts, and it looks like some defensive wounds. There could have easily been a struggle, perhaps for a knife, which she lost.”
“And then she ran into the woods to bleed out?” Mo asked.
Colin held his hands up. “I’m just telling you what I see.” He went to his bag and pulled out a bottle of pills, which he set on the coffee table. “For pain,” he said. “When she wakes up.”
“Thank you, doc,” Asher said. They clasped hands solidly for a few seconds, and then Colin let himself out.
It was quiet for a little while and Asher found himself staring at her intently, watching the way her chest rose and fell under the blanket. He glanced up to see Mo watching him.
“What’s up?” Mo asked.
“I don’t know. Nothing.” He didn’t know why he didn’t just tell Mo about the soul-mark. He wasn’t going to be able to keep it a secret, especially after she woke up. He sighed and held up his hand, waited for Mo to see the marks on his first two fingers.
“Oh, shit, dude.” Mo grabbed his wrist and held it closer to him. “Her?”
“Oh, wow.” He squeezed Asher’s shoulder and they both watched her sleep for a few minutes. Finally, Mo reluctantly said, “I gotta get to work.”
“Yeah, go. Please.” Asher finally kicked himself into motion. “I’m going to stay with her. I’ll set up on the loveseat.”
When Mo left, Asher spent a few minutes upstairs, gathering pillows and blankets and finding some clothes for himself. He brought everything down that he’d need to sleep. He made sure that his soulmate had enough blankets to warm her up, and he lifted her head and put a pillow under it. The fire was burning high and would keep through the evening, or at least for a solid few hours.
He set a blanket and pillow on the loveseat for himself, and then sat down. Looking down at his cell phone, he sighed. He needed to call and check in with his mother, or she was going to call him. He dialed.
The phone rang a few times, before she picked up. “Hi, baby.” Her voice sounded like the wind through leaves, and it immediately put him at ease.
“Hi, mom.” He leaned back against the sofa, letting the backrest hold his head up. He cradled the phone to his ear. “How’s it going?”
“Ah, we’re getting the fire contained but it’s slow going. You know how it is. If we can keep the barrier tonight, I think we’ll be in good shape.” She didn’t often get called away to deal with forest fires any more, preferring to stay close to her pack, but this was a pretty big one, and she didn’t like sending anyone out to something she wouldn’t go handle herself.
“But a few more days at least,” Asher said.
“I think so,” she said. “How are you holding up?”
“Come back and be Alpha,” he said.
“You’re a whiner,” she teased. “Are you really whining at me about my job that I do every day?”
He pulled at a loose thread on his sweats. “No.” Maybe he was, but he was beyond exhausted, and his feet hurt, and his emotions were ragged. “You know I don’t mind stepping in for you.”
“You sound tired, baby.”
Asher pressed his lips together and tried to judge how much to tell her. It only took a few seconds for him to reach the conclusion that lying to your Alpha never worked out, never mind when your Alpha was your mother. “Just went for a long run today.”
She hummed, encouraging without words.
“Found a girl injured in the forest, out on the west bank.”
Her tone changed, something deeper and more intent. It made Asher want to straighten his back
“A woman. She’s … I don’t know. Looks my age.” He looked across at her, wondering exactly how old she was, if she matched his twenty-four years or was younger. Maybe older, but her face was smooth and youthful.
“You should have called me right away,” his mother scolded.
“I just got back. I already had Colin look at her. There was a lot of blood on her, but she’s not seriously injured. I’m keeping her in the house, but she hasn’t woken up yet.”
“Okay,” she said. “You need to see if Blackwater has anyone missing. She may belong to them.”
“She was pretty far off their lands,” he argued. “And she was injured like she’d been attacked, mom.”
“I need you to check,” she said, still calm and assured.
“I know you hate it, but I need you to be diplomatic while I’m gone,” she said. “Please.”
“And if she is Blackwater, what? Should I just give her back to them? When they’re the ones who let her get hurt? Maybe the ones who hurt her?” He realized distantly that his tone was aggressive, and he was having a disproportionate reaction to the suggestion, but he couldn’t stop it.
His mom was quiet for a little while, and then said, “Asher.” He wondered how she packed so much implication into just his name.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
He swallowed down a swell of emotion. “Why are you acting like I’m doing something wrong?”
“You’re just having a very strong reaction, that’s all.”
He sighed, and they spent a few minutes silent, just listening to each other breathe. It calmed Asher enough that he finally admitted, “She activated my soul-mark.”
“Oh.” Her voice held a strong note of surprise. That wasn’t what she’d expected. “That complicates things, doesn’t it?”