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The only good predator is a dead one, as far as Joe Lowther is concerned.
That is until the day he shoots a wolf, only to watch the animal turn into a naked Callum Pope. Cal is being hunted by a group of humans who eradicate shifter packs for sport.
Joe makes a decision to help Cal and discovers a deeper connection with the young shifter. One which he’d like to explore. If they live that long.
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The barn door was ajar, and from Joe’s position just inside, he had a good view of the whole yard. He sighed and shifted restlessly, his ass already dead, and he’d only been there an hour. It was gonna be a long night. It was hot and stuffy inside the barn, and he sipped at iced tea in the vain hope of cooling down.
“Show your face, you son of a bitch, and your hide will be gracing my floor come fall,” he muttered. Joe hated wolves for the sheep they stole. The ranch was making little enough profit as it was. He couldn’t understand his father’s soft attitude to wolves. It didn’t extend to other predators.
Two hours gone, and his back, still sore from the hospital visit, was aching even more. He was rubbing his lower back in a futile gesture and contemplating seeking his bed when his attention was caught by the whisper of movement in the far corner of the yard. Without hesitation, he aimed and fired. The animal hit the ground with a startlingly human cry.
Worried that he’d shot a person instead of a wolf, Joe approached cautiously, keeping the gun trained on it, intending to dispatch the creature if it wasn’t dead. To his shock, the animal, definitely a wolf, rolled over to look at him, its eyes glowing in the half-light. The almost human expression of fear and pain in the wolf’s eyes made him uncomfortable, but it had to be done. If it came back once, it would come back again, and Joe couldn’t have it hunting the livestock. The wolf wriggled, futilely trying to get away from the gun.
Joe took aim. “It’ll be all over soon, bud.”
Before he could pull the trigger again, Joe heard a metallic clink. He paused, unable to place the sound, then he took aim again, only to be confronted by a naked man on the ground and no sign of the wolf. Joe blinked rapidly, convinced he was hallucinating, but the man was still there. The hair on the back of his neck stood up. Hell, every hair on his body stood on end. He squinted into the darkest corners of the yard, expecting to see the predator slinking away.
“What the fuck just happened, Lowther? Where the hell’s the wolf gone?” Joe tugged at his hair in confusion as he looked around. What had he seen? A wolf? A man in a wolf suit? His subconscious told him he was being stupid. He’d shot a damn wolf, not a man in a freaking furry suit.
Joe blinked at the unknown voice in his head. “Now I know I’m going insane. Voices in my head? Where’s the wolf?”
“Bleeding at your feet!”
The voice was more urgent that time. Joe’s attention snapped back to the young man at his feet. Shit, he’d forgotten that he’d shot him. But he’d shot a wolf! Brain whirling at what the hell he had shot, Joe dropped to his knees. There was a bullet hole although it didn’t seem to be bleeding that much. He turned him gently and cursed when he saw the bullet hadn’t gone straight through.
“I’ve got to get you to a hospital. You need a doctor.”
Joe was shocked when the man grasped his wrist with surprising strength, staring at him with huge eyes. “No.” In the dim light, he looked lean, and, Christ, Joe’s mind had to be playing tricks on him, he looked wolf-like. What the hell did a human/wolf—werewolf—look like?
“You need a doctor to get the bullet out or the wound will get infected.”
“Wolf. Don’t… need… a doctor.” The boy gasped as he tried to get the words out.
“Don’t be fucking ridiculous. You’ve got a bullet inside you.”
The man sounded so young. Joe looked at him closely for the first time and mentally downgraded him from man to boy. Joe was twenty-eight. This kid looked barely old enough to scratch his own ass, so smooth and slim Joe was pretty sure he could easily span his waist with both his hands.
“We’ve got to get the bullet out or…” Joe didn’t finish the sentence, figuring the boy was smart enough to know what he meant.
The boy flopped weakly back onto the dirt. “It’s already out.”
“Bullet. Out.” He fumbled around by his side.
Confused, Joe pushed the boy’s fingers away and searched in the same area. His fingers closed around a wet, sharp object. Joe squinted at the mangled bullet in his palm. How the hell had the boy managed to get the bullet out?
“Hurts.” The boy let out a groan.
“Gotta stop the bleeding now. It’s gonna hurt.” Joe ripped off his shirt to pack against the hole.
The boy coughed. “Already fuckin’ hurts.”
“You need to see a doctor.”
“Healing. I’ll be ’kay soon. Need to rest.”
Joe couldn’t leave a stranger bleeding and alone in his yard, so, much against his better judgment, he worked his arms around the boy and got to his feet, staggering against the unaccustomed weight. The boy snuggled against Joe’s chest like a small child as Joe carried him into the one-story ranch house. Joe hesitated between the sofa and the bed—the only available bed—and eventually decided the boy’s need was greater.
Joe pulled back his mother’s comforter and laid his burden down on the sheet. The boy didn’t even open his eyes. He was a mess, but it was the wound Joe was more interested in.
The bullet hole that wasn’t there.
Joe frowned and poked at the boy’s side. “Uh, the hole. It’s gone.”
“It’s healed?” The boy didn’t sound surprised. “I heal fast.”
“Nobody heals that fast.”
“I do.” He yawned and closed his eyes.
“Do you need anything?”
“Well then…” Joe ran out of things to say. He stood and pulled the cover over the boy, mentally apologizing to his mama for soiling her nice comforter. The boy appeared to be asleep before it covered his shoulders.
Joe took his time to look at his unexpected visitor. He was slim, with dark, tousled hair, and filthy dirty. He looked so young but had a hint of a dark shadow on his chin that saved him from looking about twelve.
“Who are you?” he asked out loud. “What the fuck are you?”
“What did you say?”
But all Joe got was a choked-off snore and the boy smacking his mouth a couple of times.
Joe retreated to his kitchen, poured a tall glass of tea and took it to the table. He took the bullet out and placed it on the table. “How did you manage to expel this motherfucker all by your lonesome?” He rested his forehead on the heel of his hand as he pushed the crushed piece of metal around the table. What the hell just happened? He swore he’d heard the boy say “werewolf”, which was fucking ridiculous, even if Joe had thought the same thing earlier. Werewolves were mythical creatures. He’d done his share of reading about mythical creatures for his history degree, but they were fantasy, not real creatures. Wolves didn’t turn into men—naked men—and a bullet didn’t push out of flesh—animal or human. Yet he’d seen it with his own eyes. The boy should be dead, or at least seriously wounded and in agony, not sleeping the sleep of the young in Joe’s bed.
How the hell was he going to explain this to his daddy? How the hell could he explain it to himself?