I leaned against the wall my face falling into my hands as a sob wracked through me. I normally loved my job, but this day had been a struggle before it even started. Working as emergency room doctor meant every day was something different and challenging-which normally I loved.
Today we had a four-car accident that claimed the lives of three people. The youngest I’d just declared dead. Today had been his fifth birthday. I hated running codes on anyone, but especially someone so young. There was no sound more heartbreaking than the sound of a mother who lost their child.
My beeper sounded, pulling me from my thoughts. I rubbed my eyes and took a steadying breath before re-entering the ER. Dr. Black saw me and smiled as I approached.
“I’ve got it, Astrid. It’s two hours past the end of your shift. Thank you for your help, but we can handle it now.” He declared in his kind, soft voice.
My eyes moved to the clock above the nursing station. It was a little after nine at night. My shift ended at seven.
“Are you sure?” I asked, leaning against the counter more tired than I was willing to admit.
“Yep, I know the day was rough one. Get some rest, I’ll see you for turnover in the morning.” He said, grabbing a clipboard and moving to a bay.
I said good-bye to the nurses and went to the locker to room to change. I showered quickly before changing into jeans and a sweater before pulling my boots on. Winter in Maine could be brutal, and today we had gotten almost a foot of snow since I clocked in at seven.
It wasn’t often that I was thankful for my unique genes, but winter seemed to make me more grateful than the other seasons. I was a wolf shifter, who was raised by humans. I knew that there were other shifters like me, but I hadn’t found many as the years passed. The few I had encountered didn’t treat females well, especially if they could shift, which I could.
I zipped my jacket and pulled my gloves on. Swinging my bag over my shoulder I closed my locker and walked to the staff parking lot. It was dark and windy still. Unlocking my SUV, I dropped my bag in the passenger seat before I started the engine and blasted the heat. I reached behind my seat grabbing the snow brush and climbed out and started the process of clearing my car of snow and ice.
The night was quiet, but I felt the hair raise on the back of my neck. Something I’d learned that happened when someone was watching me. I took a deep breath through my nose and noted a mixture of scents. The strongest was pine and soap, which for some reason soothed me. Citrus and spice were in the air, along with chocolate and coffee.
I looked around, but the parking lot was dark, and I couldn’t see anything. Working faster I tried to appear calm. Rustling sounded from behind me. I cast another gaze over my shoulder, but only saw the leaves blowing in the wind. No other sounds or smells were in the air.
“It’s just the wind, crazy.” I muttered under my breath.
I continued cleaning off my car, but the feeling of being watched never left. I knew that I should feel more uneasy than I did, but for some reason I was more curious than concerned. I rounded the back of my car and that’s when I saw him.
He was tall, and broad. His hat was pulled so low I could only see his eyes, but even with the small amount of his face and body visible under the snow gear I could tell he was handsome. I froze, but only for a microsecond before I moved to my door. I barely got it open when it was forced shut, and an arm was in front of my face.
I gasped and followed the arm up its length. Somehow the man had crossed the entire parking lot faster than I thought possible. A growl sounded and I stopped moving. There was a small part of my mind that knew I should be running and screaming, but instead I found myself calm and waiting to see how this played out.
“Turn around, little one.” A deep voice sounded form behind me.
“What do you want? Money? I have it, but it’s in the car. I’ll just grab it and you can have it. But I need to open this door.” I said, staying frozen in place and forced my eyes back to the door.
“Don’t want your money.” He snarled, sounding offended.
What else could he want?
“We need to talk.” He said, he was so close I could hear his jacket rub against my own.
I felt something inside me stir. My wolf perked up and I could feel an unfamiliar burn pick up inside my veins.
“I don’t know you.” I snapped, tugging on my door handle again.
“Yet.” He replied, dropping his hand and allowing me to open the door.
He stepped back and I climbed into my driver’s seat. I moved to close my door, but before I could the sound of three other doors closing pulled my attention. My eyes snapped to my passenger seat and the back seat. Four large men were seated in my car, buckled, and waiting.
“What the fuck?” I asked.
“Language, kitten, that mouth is much too pretty to have such language pass through it.” The male from my passenger seat said.
“Who are you?” I demanded, my hand moving for my seat belt.
A warm hand closed over mine and pulled it to the middle console.
“We are yours, just as you are ours. I’m Frode, behind you is Erik, Sten, and Rune. We are from the Asketill Territory, it’s further north. We are your mates.” Frode said, smiling.
“Mates?” I asked, my eyes darting to each of the men in my car.
“Yes, you sound confused.” Rune said, leaning forward from the middle seat in the back, one black eyebrow raised.
“We aren’t friends. I don’t know you. You need to get out. You’re mistaken.” I said, searching for my bag.
It was set on my lap by Frode. I reached inside and couldn’t find my phone. I patted my pockets but couldn’t find it there either.
“Looking for this, little one?” Frode asked, holding my phone between his long fingers.
“How did you get that?” I snapped.
“We aren’t stupid, Astrid.” Sten scoffed from behind me.
“How do you know my name?” I ground out from behind my clenched teeth.
I took a steadying breath. My wolf seemed on edge, but not in a threatened sort of way. I wished I could read her better.
“Easy, you shift in here and it’ll hurt you.” Rune said, reaching for me.
“Don’t you dare touch me. How do you know about me?” I growled, shrinking back out of his reach.
“I just told you, we are mates. But I don’t think that means the same thing to you as it does to us. Can we please go somewhere warmer, and maybe with food to talk in private?” Forde asked.
“There’s a diner around the corner.” I said, facing forward.
“No, too populated. Order a pizza and we’ll go to your apartment.” Forde said, looking out his window like he was bored.
“I’m not taking you to my house. I don’t know you.” I hissed turning to face him.
“We know where you live anyway. We’ll just meet you there.” He said, moving for his seatbelt.
It was cold. I couldn’t make them walk that far. Even though these men were strangers I felt something towards them. Something that drove me to care for them and their safety.
“Fine, but to prove you know, order pizza from the pizzeria by the house and then give me directions to get there and to my apartment.” I said with finality in my voice.
This was my way of finding a middle ground between their need to talk privately and my need to know they were being honest. I didn’t to be tricked into leading them to my doors. I got the sense of them being the hunters and me their prey. Yet I didn’t feel in danger.
“Fine. Rune call Antonio’s and order whatever you want, but make it three of whatever. I’m starved.” Forde said over his shoulder.
I heard Rune order three large meat pizzas.
“That’s not the pizzeria by my apartment. You,”
“That’s your favorite place, and I’ve seen the reviews for the place by your apartment. It has shit reviews. I don’t eat shit pizza.” He said, cutting me off and leaving no room for discussion.
I drove to Antonio’s. He was right, it was my favorite place and the pizzeria by my complex had shit food. The roads were still slippery and mostly untreated, so the usual fifteen-minute drive took half an hour. Sten climbed out to get our food and then climbed back in.
“Alright, tell me how to get to my house.” I said, looking to Frode.
He guided me right to my assigned spot. Heat curled in my stomach at the number of details these wolves knew about me. I should be freaking out and in full out panic mode. These men must have been stalking me to know all this. But for some reason I was pleased and found myself drawn to them more. They had memorized little details about me and used them to treat me like they cherished me.
Rune reached forward and grabbed my bag. Frode reached over and turned off my car once it was in park, taking my keys. He threw them over the back seat to Erik, then he rounded the hood of the car and helped me out.
We followed Erik, who trudged ahead of us and unlocked my apartment. Sten walked on my other side, while Rune followed us. They’d formed a circle around me, and my wolf purred in my mind. Despite not knowing these men, I felt safe and protected. My wolf was more a peace than I'd ever felt her. I knew that whoever these men were they were going to change my life-but for better or worse?