Bullets whizzed by Sydran’s body as the trucks parked on either side of them on the highway. Pain erupted in his right shoulder and he stumbled backward with a cry of pain. The hunters likely had scanners to read their heat signatures—werewolves had higher temperatures than humans and the hunters knew that. Still, Sydran didn’t want to change and reveal what he was.
Sydran leapt behind a tree, ducking out of the way of incoming fire. The hunters jumped from their trucks and marched toward them, rifles raised and firing at them. “Xander, you good?” Sydran shouted.
Xander replied with a profound string of curses.
“Get to the car!” Sydran sprinted through the trees, glad they had driven to the crime scene through one of the trails leading through the National Park. They’d parked on the side of the trail rather than on the highway. The urge to transform thrummed through his blood, but Sydran gritted his teeth and resisted it. Pain shot through his wounded shoulder, but he kept pushing forward.
“Get them!” One of the hunters darted after him into the trees behind him, leading the charge.
“How did they know?” Xander asked as they ran side-by-side.
Sydran twisted to the left to avoid getting smacked by a tree branch and jumped over a fallen tree. Blood poured from his bullet wound and dripped down his arm. “I don’t know. But it’s times like these that made me wish some of the legends were true and that we healed fast.”
“Tel me about it,” Xander muttered.
Gunfire popped behind them. Leaves and branches crashed from the footsteps that thundered after them.
The black Ford truck had been parked on the side of the trail. Sydran and Xander sprinted to it and darted around either side—Xander to hop into the passenger side and Sydran into the driver’s seat. Directly in front of them, the hunters emerged from the trees and onto the trail. Bullets pierced the windshield, so Sydran ducked out of the way.
“Go!” Xander ducked with another curse.
Keeping his head down, Sydran whirled the truck around and raced down the trail as fast as it could go, praying that they could outrun them.
A shot exploded and a resounding crack erupted throughout the truck. Sydran had just enough time to glance in the mirror before the entire truck flipped end-over-end. Glass shattered and agony surged through his shoulder and his arms, legs, and back. His head slammed against metal and the world stood still at last.
The sharp stench of smoke billowed into Sydran’s nostrils. He blinked several times to clear his flickering vision. The truck had landed upside down with the glass inside the windshield completely shattered. Shards littered his body, but he had no time to dwell on that—or the bullet in his right shoulder. Flames rose from beneath the hood of the truck and smoke poured into his face.
Xander snapped out a curse and crawled through the window on the passenger side. More bullets pelted trees on either side of them, so he ducked out of the way.
Sydran’s ankle throbbed in pain, so he gritted his teeth and crawled out the window on Xander’s side. Out his, the hunters charged toward them and bullets pierced the side of the truck in a hailstorm.
“We change,” Xander said, breathing heavily. “Separate. They’ll have to split up. Better chance of us getting away.”
Sydran nodded as he emerged from the truck and slipped behind a tree with Xander. “Meet at the Doc’s. May God make your feet swift.” With that, he closed his eyes and called to his inner wolf. With the adrenaline surging through his veins, his body longed and ached to be free at last. Once, the transformations had been painful, but now, as his clothing tore and his body changed, the process was seamless—relieving, like a breath of fresh air.
Sydran took off through the trees at full speed—far beyond that of a normal human. The woods belonged to him as he did to them—it was easier this way. Every branch he easily avoided; every log or fallen tree, he easily leapt over. Scents came to him from all around—telling him that the hunters gave chase, desperately trying to keep up, informing him of everything that had taken place here recently.
More importantly, his nose smelled something else—something fresh and sweet—water.
Sydran leapt into the water and, instantly, its chilly temperatures pierced his body, but he fought back a yowl of pain. It would cool his temperature down enough to keep the hunters’ scanners from picking up on his heat signature.
He sprinted inside the river, praying he made it to the doc before he bled out. Judging from the blood pooling inside the river, he didn’t have much time.
By the time Sydran arrived to the doctor’s office, the world around him viciously spun and his legs could barely hold himself upright as he staggered inside the back door. While the town had several doctor’s offices and even a hospital, Sydran and Xander couldn’t go there. A regular doctor or anyone at the hospital would force them to report it, since they had both been shot. Their only safe option was Dr. Jones. Not only was he a werewolf—and thus, would keep this incident a secret from the police—but he owned his own clinic. Which meant he was here already.
“D—doc,” Sydran muttered as he stepped through the back door. He collapsed against the wall inside the hallway.
Dr. Jones, a tall, clean-shaven ebony-skinned man with glasses, darted out of one of the patient rooms. “Sydran, thank God. Xander said you should have been here sooner.” He sprinted toward Sydran and used an arm to help stand him upright.
“Guess the bullet was worse than I thought,” Sydran muttered.
Dr. Jones shoved open a door to another patient room next to the first one he’d been in and Sydran plopped down onto the bed. He gritted his teeth and blinked to try to keep his eyes open. “Hold on, Sydran. I’m going to get that bullet out of you,” Dr. Jones said.
Sydran nodded, but his body felt safe—too safe. He tried to force his eyes open, to stay awake and alert, but he couldn’t. His brain refused to listen. “X—X… is he…?”
“Safe in the next room. I’ve already tended to him.” Dr. Jones slipped gloves over his hands and grabbed several bottles and a suture kit. “Now, rest, Sydran. You’ll be just fine.”
It was dawn when Sydran awoke and the meds Dr. Jones had given him wore off enough for him to leave. Fortunately, the doc agreed to deliver a message back to the pack—scatter until this all blew over. Sydran called a cab, keeping his right arm tucked into the sling against his chest. Though Dr. Jones had removed all the glass shards, his body still ached and throbbed all over—certain cuts stung more than others and his ankle still made him wince when he stepped on it. Then, it was hard to ignore the agony pulsing through his shoulder where the bullet had been.
His chest also ached. All he wanted was to get home and see Jindi—to make sure that she was safe, to just lie in bed beside her, hold her, and sleep. The whole way home, all he could think about was her—getting back to her, keeping her safe. He even went over in his mind what he would say to explain the situation and hopefully reassure her that he would be alright—that they would find a way to hide from the hunters.
They hadn’t seen his face, or Xander’s. So, if he laid low then chances were that the hunters wouldn’t find him—for a while, he hoped.
Sydran handed the taxi driver a wad of cash that Dr. Jones had split between he and Xander to help them and the driver took off down the dark street. A few of the streetlights were out, but Sydran stared at the street a moment too long. Something felt wrong—his gut twisted, screaming at him that it was all wrong.
No matter how hard he tried to sense for Jindi as he approached the front door, he couldn’t feel her. Nothing—it was as if she didn’t exist. He felt none of her worry and fear that should have been erupting from the couch where she had waited up for him.
“Jinds?” Sydran asked as he opened the front door.
The couch was overturned, along with the end tables. Plates in the living room had been shattered, including the decorative ones that Jindi’s family had given them on their wedding.
“Jindi?” Sydran shouted. His heart raced in his chest as he sprinted to the kitchen and briefly gazed into the dining room. The table was shattered, but nothing, not—
Blood. The foul, twisted stench reached his nostrils and made them burn. His stomach twisted, churning in time with his racing heart. Opposite of the dining table, two glass balcony doors led to the fenced in backyard.
Sydran took one step in front of the other, watching as if this wasn’t real—as if he was in someone else’s body and not his own, not here, not for this.
A body. Straight brown hair, female, lay on the concrete just in front of the balcony doors. His mind missed details he should have noticed—that the balcony doors hadn’t been tampered with, that the glass and lock on them were intact. Once, his thoughts would have guessed that the victim had fallen from the balcony on the second story, above here—either by choice or by force. But no, Sydran didn’t notice or think of any of that.
Jindi. His only thought, his only focus was on her—on the fact that their bond was missing, that he didn’t feel her anymore. The body lay twisted in an awkward position…
“J—J—” Sydran choked. His entire being shattered into pieces alongside his heart. He collapsed in front of her body, screaming unintelligibly—releasing the sheer agony and grief that clawed at him from the inside out. His stomach twisted and he collapsed onto all fours and vomited. Breathing heavily, Sydran sobbed, wailing in grief and unbelief that his bond, his mate, his love, was gone—
That Jindi… was dead.