The scent of pine pulled at something inside my chest. It awakened me straight into the nightmare of the last couple of days. Finding myself on the floor, I shifted in panic. My eyes nearly fell out of my head at the sight of the magnificent wolf. Thick dark fur gleamed in the sunlight. Intelligent coal-black eyes stared at me, and if it was possible, the wolf grinned as he silently stepped closer. His scent was so alluring I struggled to breathe, yet the sight of his huge, sharp teeth held me in place. As a child, there was something about the creature that fascinated me. Up close and personal…that was a whole different bag of potatoes.
Was he going to bite me?
“Shoo!” I screeched as loud as possible to get the huge wolf, who was definitely looking at me like I could be his next meal, to move back.
How had I gotten myself into this predicament? Frenchie, that’s how. I’d always been curious. Too curious. It was proven when I’d gone to check out the unfamiliar truck. That’s when it had all gone potato-shaped. I’d witnessed Jem hand Frenchie over to the unknown shifter, and I’d gotten a harebrained idea to help Frenchie. The shifter clearly had no idea at the time what Frenchie was. The wrinkle between his brows showed his confusion, but Jem knew what he was doing, the traitor.
Had this all been part of Jem’s big plan? Was he selling our kind to shifters?
My heart skidded to an abrupt stop at the thought.
Why had I thought hiding in the back of the truck was a clever idea? Why?
The huge wolf holding Frenchie shifted his attention to me and the wolf who was sniffing at parts of me that were taking way too much notice of the damp nose touching me. The wolf’s whole body shook with what appeared to be…I couldn’t say, but he needed to stop.
“Fucking Jem! He’s…”
Frenchie roused himself sufficiently to lift his head off the big wolf’s chest, and the wolf stopped talking. Why weren’t they coming to help me?
“Russ, what on earth? How did you get here?” The shocked expression Frenchie wore was priceless, but I couldn’t answer. No, I was too busy waving my hands at the wolf who wasn’t getting the hint and backing off.
“Olowin, can’t you see you’re frightening him? Shift for damned sake so he can see you.”
When wolf became man, my whole body went into some sort of meltdown, and my brain decided it was all too much. I slid into the darkness, hoping like hell that when I woke, I’d be back home in the field and not in this crazy place.
But the universe wasn’t listening or helping with my dilemma because mere seconds later, voices floated into my subconscious. “Congratulations, brother.”
“Fuck you,” someone grumbled.
The awareness continued to creep back around the edges of my mind, right along with the potent scent of the huge—and naked—man holding me. A naked man is touching me!
No, I was definitely dreaming this. When in my world did someone want to touch me? As one of the smaller Fingerlings, I was often criticized and ridiculed by others. The chances of me being naked with someone meant I was back in Crazyville.
“Isn’t this so cool? Maybe there are others in your pack mated to a potato.” The words drifted through my head, not making a whole lot of sense. This was the weirdest day of my life.
A burst of deep, rumbly laughter sounded close by. Was this real? I attempted to think past the buzzing inside my head that competed with the conversation evidently happening around me.
A deep voice came from above me as a breeze ran over my naked skin. “Okay, you two, a little help here would be good.”
What did he need help with? Was I moving? My brain contemplated the delicious scent while everyone talked as if I wasn’t present. Was I invisible?
“Before you get any ideas of leaving me with him, you can forget it,” a deep voice said from above. Hurt pierced my heart at the disgruntled tone.
“Put him on the sofa then,” another deep voice said.
My pulse skipped around like my younger brother, Blue, tended to do when he got excited about something.
“Are you sure he doesn’t need the dirt? Why isn’t he waking up?”
“Russ is a little sensitive. What can I say? It’s scary to find out your mate is a massive alpha wolf with a big…”
The wave of panic drove out any confusion and seemed to make utter nonsense pour right out of my mouth at the beautiful dark eyes staring down at me. “What…oh my…you…crap… Frenchie, help save me from the monster.” I wriggled in distress as a blank expression slipped into place.
Mother Earth, save me from my own stupidness and loose lips.
There was no time to do more than cling on for a second when the soft fabric of cushions touched my back as I was placed carefully on an empty sofa.
The wolf never once looked at me as he stood tall and spoke. “If everything is okay, I’ll leave you to it?”
Why is he leaving?
The other wolf nodded, and wide-eyed, I watched a gorgeous naked man shift back into a wolf before he disappeared through open glass doors leading to a lush forest.
“You’re so silly sometimes, Russ. He’s your mate,” Frenchie reprimanded with a snap of anger.
Confusion and hurt took over as my heart ached from being left behind. “No, I’m going to meet a nice potato,” I said stupidly, continuing to tremble at the loss of the big, strong arms attached to my wolf shifter. “That’s what the elders say will happen.”
Was the wolf really my mate?
The hurt and discomfort weighing on my chest and the need to get up and go after the wolf answered my question. Although that did little to get rid of the unsettled feelings swarming through me like hornets about to attack.
For so long, I’d secretly yearned to find my fated mate. After years of waiting, quite a few Fingerlings in our town had chosen a mate purely for convenience. This had been my secret dread. The elders talked about many things, some I knew were lies, but I’d never questioned them for fear of what it would mean for me. Some of our kind were gifted. Frenchie could calm a situation with his presence and shift into his human form clothed. I’d always been envious of that one. I’d kept quiet about my lie detector gift. Who wanted to land in extremely hot water or boiling fat if folks found out and got pissed at me?
Was this why the elders lied? Were they scared about what it would mean for our kind if we were discovered? It was a big deal to them to keep our existence a secret, not that they’d ever explained why. Our town rarely got visitors, and if they came, no one was allowed to reveal what we were. It was strictly forbidden.
My thoughts jumped back to Jem. Was he selling potatoes to other shifters in the hopes they’d find their mates? Was that why the wolf had come to town?
Eyeing the sack of potatoes and dirt I’d hidden in, part of me wished I’d remained oblivious to all of this. An ache deep in my center said I was lying only to myself. No mate could be denied. Yet, I’d just done that.
In the meantime, while I continued to fret about what it all meant, Frenchie wiggled off the lap he was sitting on. There was an angry growl, and I shivered.
“The elders are full of shit. They’ve lied and hidden the fact we have true mates outside of Potatoville.” His voice softened as he crouched in front of the sofa, naked.
The scent of arousal thickened the air and put front and center that Frenchie was telling the truth. Not that I detected any deceit coming from him. Over the years, my family tried to pull the wool over my eyes to no avail. In other species, they could scent when someone was lying, but I had a unique gift of being able to detect a lie from the first word spoken. It was as if I was tuned into their brain. Weird but true.
The snap to Frenchie’s voice brought my attention back to my predicament. “Stop it. I can’t concentrate when you fill my head with naughty thoughts. I need to talk some sense into my brother.”
“No, you don’t. I want to go home and forget this happened.”
Sounding whiney, I understood why the big wolf snapped, “You can’t go home.” But that didn’t stop the flood of tears.
Frenchie patted my arm. “We’ll figure it out, Russ. But Tala is right. You can read what Jem has written. Once we leave the boundary lands, we can’t go back.”
The wolf couldn’t escape fast enough when my tears started in earnest. What was I going to do? The wolf clearly wasn’t interested in being mated to me, or why would he have left like that?
You were rude to him and hurt his feelings. He’ll come round. Frenchie pointed out.
I’m not sure I want a wolf as a mate. I dreamed of settling down with a nice potato and having my own land to raise a family. It was easier to communicate through our bond because the tears weren’t stopping.
You can have all of that with your wolf. They can be a little grumpy, I suppose, but being with your true mate changes everything. Tala is wonderful. Olowin is his brother, and I’m sure he’s great. He’s the alpha of the pack. Isn’t that great? You get to be mates with someone so powerful.
Frenchie continued talking as noises came from the kitchen, along with the scent of blood. So lost in my own misery, I hadn’t noticed it earlier.
What happened to you?
I’m not sure. Anyway, I’m fine now, so let’s not get distracted by that and focus on you. Come on, I’ll take you upstairs. I’m sure after spending days stuck in your potato form, you’ll want a bath and a nice cozy bed.
There was no point arguing because I did. I wanted something more, but I’d rejected it. The never-ending tears continued. Even with Frenchie’s assurance things would work out, I wasn’t so sure. Hours ticked by, and when there was no sign of the wolf, it only restored my belief that he didn’t want me. In the center of my chest was this strange feeling that hadn’t been there before the wolf touched me.
Could he feel the pull between us? I eyed the closed bedroom door.