Rebirth - Book 1 Rogues Shifter Series, страница 1
Rogues Shifter Series Book #1
By Gayle Parness
Copyright 2010 Gayle Parness
For Jessica and Alaina
Rudy, Mom, Dad, Bee Gee, Emily, Molly,
Michele, Gillian, Maria, Tracy, Ilene, Roe and Kurt
Thanks for the inspiration and encouragement!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Other Books by Gayle Parness
About the Author
I lay unconscious on the damp ground, my body still, my mind untroubled even by dreams. Awareness returned in tiny bits and pieces, each moment a battle to free myself from the mental fog. My heart pounded in my chest as I desperately gulped in small quantities of cold fresh air, burning my dry throat as it traveled to my lungs. Pine needles and rough stones dug uncomfortably into my arms and back. I shifted my body, trying to ease the ache.
Pungent scents assaulted my nose from every direction: the musky forest floor, wood smoke, the sea, a metallic odor: blood—my blood.
The shock jolted me to sit up and stare down at my body. My arms and hands were covered with splotches of dried blood. The knees of my black jeans were shredded and stained—my bare feet drenched in mud. I trailed a shaky hand over my chest and belly, finding no injuries except for the ripped state of my tee shirt. I gasped loudly then immediately slapped a hand over my mouth to stifle the sound. Someone had dumped me here, injured and unconscious. My attacker could still be nearby.
Wincing, I tried to smother my fear and concentrate on sorting out my frightening situation. Unfortunately, the sudden upright movement had my stomach competing for the gold medal on the uneven parallel bars. I lowered myself gently back to the ground and glared up at the stars, frustrated by my weakness. I swallowed hard to keep from losing my last meal—whenever and whatever that was—and shut my eyes to stop the trees from spinning.
If sitting up meant vomiting all over myself, I could hang out here on the ground for a little while longer, no problem. I took a breath and sifted through my hazy memories in the hopes of figuring out how I got here.
I remembered putting my bike in the shed after riding all day and seeing a man I hadn’t recognized sitting on my neighbor’s porch steps. It was strange, because the Reynolds had left for vacation the day before. He stood when I passed and smiled at me, so I’d smiled back automatically to be polite. He was tall, dressed in coveralls, with wavy dark hair that hung below his collar. I thought maybe he’d been hired by the Reynolds to do some yardwork while they were gone. But how much yard or construction work is done in the evening?
The squeaky gate had sounded its usual protest as I passed through and walked up the gravel path to the side entrance of the house I lived in with Justin and Maggie, the couple who’d recently adopted me. As I was putting the key into the lock, the air behind me stirred, and a pungent wintergreen scent filled my nostrils. A muscular arm had wrapped around my waist and a calloused hand covered my mouth. I struggled briefly but couldn’t call out other than to mumble a frightened grunt. Something sharp pricked my neck. Nothing else.
Still sprawled out flat on the forest floor, I shuddered. The man had drugged me and taken me—somewhere, but where? I listened intently but heard only a variety of squeaks and squawks, scratching and scurrying by the local smaller woodland inhabitants. Those creatures didn't bother me. It was the human variety that concerned me at the moment.
I was so angry with myself I could scream. A stranger on my neighbor’s porch should have set off alarms in my head. I dug my nails into my palms, forcing my mind back online.
Getting to the nearest road was my first idea, but I didn’t know where I was or even if a road passed through this remote area. I listened as carefully as I could for the hum of passing cars, but heard nothing. Maybe I could follow the stream. It would most likely lead me to a campground or a town.
Of course, to accomplish any of that I had to stand up. I shivered again, remembering my recent attempt. Although the nausea had dissipated, I was desperately cold and thirsty. Whoever had attacked me must have left me for dead out here in the woods.
Think! No matter what the guy's motives, I was alive and I intended to stay that way. I bit my lip and forced away my fear, knowing better than most that panic was as much my enemy as the stranger was.
“Where are you running, sweetheart?” The man’s breath smelled of cigarettes and beer. His hand stroked my hair.
“Stop it!” I whispered through gritted teeth. Reliving past horrors wouldn’t help me. That attack was two years ago and those men couldn’t hurt me ever again. Later, when I was safe, I could fall apart. Now, I needed to kick myself in the ass and get moving because lying here was dangerous. The smell of my blood could attract predators and I so didn’t want a run-in with a bear. People sometimes died from exposure and shock, so I needed to find shelter. I took in another lungful and noticed once again the scent of woodsmoke. There must be a hunter or a camper in the area who could help me.
I tried to sit up but I was still too dizzy, so instead I called out, as loudly as I could, “Is anyone here? Please, I need help!” My throat sounded raspy and felt sore, probably from being so dry.
The forest quieted and the hairs on my arms rose. Something was moving toward me.
I forced my arms and legs to move into a hands-and-knees position and dredged up the energy to drag my exhausted body under some nearby brush and curl into a ball. I wished myself invisible, but understood how pitifully lame my effort was. Why hadn’t I kept my big mouth shut? A frightened moan slipped through my lips, but I quickly covered them with my sticky hands and chanted mentally. Don’t panic. Don’t panic.
A pair of large hiking boots stopped inches from my feet, quickly followed by a masculine hand parting the bushes. A man crouched next to me, speaking in a soft voice, “You’re safe. Are you injured?” I didn’t speak. “Try to get up now. I won’t hurt you.”
“I’m too dizzy to stand up. I’ll fall.” I twisted around to look at his face and inhaled a too familiar whiff of wintergreen.
My breath caught in my chest as I stared at the man I’d seen earlier on the Reynolds’ porch. He seemed taller, maybe 6’2”, and was no longer dressed in coveralls. Instead he wore jeans and a brown long-sleeved tee, which fit tightly over his slim but well-muscled frame. His dark eyes took in my ragged condition and he shook his head, not smiling. Dried blood was evident on his hands and shirt and that worried me—a lot.
"If you try to run away, I'll restrain you. It’s for your own safety.”
Wow. Just what a freezing cold, thirsty girl who can barely sit up wants to hear, right? “I won’t run.” I didn’t have a chance of outrunning him barefoot in my wobbly condition.
He held out his hand and after a moment, I reluctantly reached for it. It was large and warm and might have been comforting if the circumstances were different. Pulling me up without effort, he helped me wrap the blanket around my shoulders more securely, then brushed some leaves out of my hair. I didn’t have the strength to pull away.
“I'm sorry this happened. How do you feel?”
I looked at him as if he were crazy. “How do you think? And what the hell do you care anyway?” My anger popped to the surface in a burst of venom. His mouth turned down, probably annoyed at my attitude. Well, tough. I'd rather he thought I was angry than... I looked down at my still shaking hands clutching the blanket. I was pretty much scared to death right about now, but he didn't need to know that. “Who are you?” I tried to look confident by taking a step on my own, but my traitorous knees buckled. He held my arm to steady me.
"Take it slow."
Did he just smile? Was he laughing at me? “You drugged me, right? Where am I?” Several tears ran down my cheeks. Stop crying, you wimp. If I didn’t keep my head, I may not survive the next few hours. I wiped my face roughly with a corner of the blanket.
His voice was soothing and deep, without even a hint of anger. “I’ll answer your questions in a little while. We’re heading to that cabin in the clearing. You can get cleaned up and have something to eat and drink." He held my arm so I couldn't pull away, placing his hand against my forehead. "You’re dehydrated and your body temp’s low. Just don’t try to run and everything will be fine.” I breathed in another mouthful of minty-flavored air and felt myself relax.
The cabin he'd mentioned was only twenty-five yards away, hidden behind some low hanging branches. He gestured in that direction and I found myself staring at it with longing. I was weak and thirsty. More than thirsty, my stomach was cramping up from hunger. I had no idea when I'd eaten last.
I stumbled forward with the stranger supporting my arm to help me keep my balance. As I walked up the wooden steps and across the narrow porch to enter the cabin, I shivered with fear and anticipation. One thing was clear. I had to keep my head and figure out a way to escape. He didn’t know I was more than I seemed, not just a frightened teenaged girl. I was strong and fast and I was going to get out of this forest and back home, as soon as I figured out how to walk again.