“Did you see that video about the buffalo stampeding here?” Zane asked as Aidan turned onto the back road they’d spent over an hour trying to find. Aidan had cussed the GPS so vehemently Zane had been surprised the misguiding piece of equipment hadn’t been thrown out the window. Or through the window.
“Snopes.com disproved that,” Aidan muttered. “Was an older video clip and some guy had posted it online with an explanation that they buffalo do that shit all the time.”
Zane huffed a little. “Well. There’s still the possibility of a super-volcanic explosion that would destroy this country. Or most of it. Speaking of which, we could move further south, you know? Texas is supposed to be safe. Ish. Except for the politicians, but those are bad everywhere.”
“I need to keep you so busy you don’t have time to hunt up conspiracies online,” Aidan mused. “I can think of many ways to occupy your time.” He sent Zane a heated look that went right to Zane’s dick.
Considering the way he was sitting, his burgeoning erection ended up getting pinched between folds of denim. Zane hissed as he wiggled in his seat, tugging at his jeans.
“No underwear today?” Aidan asked.
Zane glared at him. “You know I’m not wearing any. You shredded the last two pairs I had.”
Aidan beamed at him. “Well, yeah, but to be fair, I didn’t know you’d forgotten the others back in New Mexico.”
“We could have stopped and bought more.”
“Where’s the fun in that?” Aidan reached over and palmed Zane’s bulge. “I like knowing there’s nothing more than these jeans between me and this.” He squeezed.
Zane’s eyes rolled a little. “Aw, hell. Aidan…”
“I have plans for you once we get to wherever the hell Arturo will be putting us up,” Aidan said. “Dirty, filthy plans for you. If alpha Arturo ever shows up.”
Zane shivered and almost whimpered when Aidan left off touching him. But, they did have a job to do. “We could be in the wrong spot. Maybe Arturo isn’t late. Maybe we’re still lost.”
“We’re not lost,” Aidan grumbled.
They weren’t late, either, since the original plan had been to arrive early enough to do some snooping. However, the GPS had screwed that plan over.
Zane slanted Aidan a look. “Are you sure about that?”
Aidan was sexy as hell when he got all puffy.
“Yes, I’m sure.” Aidan jutted his chin in that stubborn way he did when he felt his masculinity was being challenged. “Roll down the windows. I bet we smell shifters.”
Zane winked at Aidan. “You’re so easy.” He rolled down the window.
Aidan glowered then leered. “I’m easy? Last night—“
“Oh, I never said I wasn’t easy for you,” Zane interrupted, arousal threatening as he recalled the way Aidan had fucked him last night. Twice. “Just like you can’t keep your hands off me.”
Which was true, as Aidan had put his hand on Zane’s left thigh. And Zane, in turn, rested his hand on top of Aidan’s.
“Why would I ever want to?” Aidan asked.
Zane felt like he was glowing. Aidan always made sure he knew he was loved, wanted. It came through verbally, physically, telepathically. Zane never had a doubt that he was Aidan’s world.
Before he got too sappy, a pungent odor entered the vehicle. It brought back dark memories Zane wished he could be rid of forever.
“Jesus—“ Zane covered his mouth and nose with his free hand. “What the—“ He stopped, because he knew what that smell was even if he didn’t want to admit it.
Aidan stopped the suv, all trace of happiness and teasing gone from his expression. “Shit.” He rolled both windows up.
Zane nodded. He hoped they hadn’t just found Arturo. “When did anyone last hear from Arturo?”
“Marcus talked to him last week and set up the meeting,” Aidan said. “Arturo is a good alpha. I’ve met him a couple of times years back. He was honest, and strong enough to lead a pack.”
Zane didn’t ask if the fetid scent held any lingering traces of Arturo. He doubted even Aidan could tell at this point.
They’d been sent to investigate rumors that a few shifters in Arturo’s pack were planning on going rogue. One of Arturo’s guards had said he’d heard another shifter talking about overhearing yet another shifter that she’d grown tired of Arturo’s dominance and of being led by a queer Alpha Anax.
But that guard had disappeared without a trace, and Arturo had run into dead end after dead end. Then he’d called Marcus.
“Could be the guard,” Zane posited.
“No. The guard’s been missing for weeks now. This is…fresher.” “And someone is watching us. I feel it, Zane.”
Zane felt it, too, like an icy finger tracing a path just above his spine. His mouth watered as bile burbled in his gut. Stupid, since he’d seen and smelled death many times in his life. Still, the sun-ripened scent of rotting flesh had a unique and atrocious aroma to it that was nauseating.
Zane swallowed, willing himself not to cough or otherwise show what could be perceived by other shifters as a sign of weakness.
Aidan shut the truck off. He looked at Zane and nodded.
Yes, they were in this together. Someone was watching, likely more than one person, even, and chances were, this was a trap for Zane and Aidan.
“Maybe we shouldn’t get out.” Part of being a good guard was knowing when to take risks. Zane wasn’t certain this was the time.
“I don’t want to drag this out.”
Aidan watched him.
Zane finally nodded. They were deadly together; anyone who thought to ambush them would find that out.
They unbuckled and opened the doors. The heat wasn’t so bad, but the smell certainly was.
The buzzing of flies seemed inordinately loud. Zane noted the lack of buzzards. There was definitely bigger prey around if even those death eaters were hiding. None were even circling overhead.
Zane pressed his back to the side of the SUV while keeping an eye on Aidan as he approached. Whatever—whoever—was dead was approximately thirty feet away from Zane. The grass was tall, the trees lush and dense. Anyone, anything, could be waiting for them.
Aidan’s nose twitched. So did Zane’s. He sent a positive thought to Aidan—yes, he smelled it too. Past the dead body, shifters waited. Zane caught the scents of four, including a female. Maybe she was the one Arturo had been told of.
“Let’s play it like we can’t smell past the decay,” Aidan advised.
Zane thought that best. They slowly walked toward the horrid scent. The sound of flies grew louder, and a thick, black cloud of them shot up when Zane and Aidan reached the body.
“Arturo, goddamn it!” Aidan swatted at the flies.
Zane didn’t know how Aidan could tell who that bloated corpse had once been. Between the bruising, the swelling, and the ripped flesh, there was little left that even looked human.
“There’s the faintest hint of him, and the necklace—he never went anywhere without it. Said it was his talisman.”
Zane didn’t see a necklace at first. He saw lots of dried blood, ants, and those damned flies. Then he did see the glint of gold, and he nodded.
“He was superstitious about it,” Aidan said out loud.
Zane guessed it would seem suspicious if they didn’t speak. The shifters watching them might parse out that Aidan and Zane were onto them.
“What’s it of?” Zane asked.
Aidan squatted and lifted the charm on the necklace. “It’s a moon with a wolf howling in it. His father had it before him. Arturo believed in family, in pack.” Aidan growled that last part out, anger beginning to pour off of him. “Someone took advantage of that and I’ll make sure they die for it.”
“Who is the new alpha here?” Zane asked. “And why haven’t they reported in to Marcus? Something is very wrong, Aidan.”
Which they both knew, but for the sake of their audience, playing dumb or at least un-informed seemed wise.
“Marcus is going to come down on this pack like the wrath of every god ever imagined.” Aidan let go of the necklace and stood. “But first—“
That was all the warning their observers were going to get. Aidan and Zane shifted mid-stride and hit the ground running on four paws.
Aidan sent up a vengeful howl and Zane joined in. They didn’t even make it a dozen feet into the forest before four large wolves came at them.
Zane was very flexible, in either of his forms. As a wolf, it made him a very difficult target.
Aidan was just mean and dangerous, and taking him on was a sign of severe inbreeding in an opponent.
The first shifter to come directly at Zane died a moment later, with Zane easily twisting aside and ripping out the male’s throat.
The second one didn’t go down nearly as fast. The female was vicious, snarling and spitting, clawing and getting a couple of good swipes in.
Zane growled and barked at her, trying to get her to surrender. They needed someone left alive to tell them why Arturo was dead.
But it wasn’t meant to be. The female seemed to go mad with blood lust. Whatever fighting skill she had vanished in favor of trying to kill Zane at all cost. Unfortunately for her, that meant not protecting herself. Zane tore into the soft belly when she reared up at him.
Aidan was just letting go of his second kill. They looked at each other.
“I tried to leave one alive,” Zane thought to his mate.
“It doesn’t matter,” Aidan sent back to him. “The why of it, I mean. They were all going to die regardless.”
Zane knew that. Of course he did. They’d been dead from the moment Aidan had discovered Arturo dead.
He took a step toward Aidan and shook his coat out. Something stung him, which was odd given his thick fur.
And Aidan was trying to say something, push something through their mental bond, but it was coming in all blurry and gibberish-like.
Zane couldn’t make sense of anything. Then the ground rose up and hit him, and Zane had one second of full clarity. He’d been tranq’d.
It pissed him off badly. Zane tried to howl as he forced his legs to stiffen, to push him upright. His vision was wonked, with everything appearing as multiples and blurs.
Aidan was engaged in another fight, somehow. A dart stuck out of Aidan’s shoulder, but it didn’t seem to be slowing him down any.
Zane wasn’t going to be outdone, nor did he intend to be the mate in distress. He lurched fully to his paws and stumbled into the foray.
Aidan wasn’t fighting just one wolf, but many. Or maybe only two, Zane couldn’t tell. He knew there were at least two, because they had different colored coats. One brown, one grey. There could be several of each color.
Or just the two. Zane thrust himself forward and directly against the side of the brown one.
He fought, having to use every ounce of his determination to stay upright, but he wouldn’t let his mate do this on his own.
Zane didn’t make any more kills. He didn’t need to. Aidan tore the two wolves to shreds, then threw his head back and howled.
Even drugged, Zane knew what that song meant. It was a warning, a promise. It was retribution and reprisal, and it was coming, soon.
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