Travis watched as Heidi climbed from a car and sent it off. It was strange any werewolf would have just left a mostly defenseless female out here in the middle of nowhere without arguing with her first. Whatever she’d told the driver must have been a damn good story.
The Healer didn’t even look back to see if the car turned around. Instead, she took off walking down the dirt road toward him like someone out for a leisurely stroll. It pleased him she was following his directions precisely.
When he was sure she hadn’t been followed, Travis left his lookout post and went back into the barn where he’d stashed the Healer’s lovesick wolf mate. Or partial mate. They smelled like each other, but there wasn’t a mark on him. Maybe she was holding out. That would explain their fight, but not explain the kids being with her instead of him. His grandfather’s scientific abominations were strange though. None of the three were normal in any respect.
“Guess what, Calder? Your reluctant mate’s finally on her way to us. Looks like she loves you after all,” Travis said, grinning at the man.
Ryan’s head pounded from the drugs that were still in his system. And his throat was on fire. “Do you really think Heidi’s pack is going to let her come here alone? You’re dead, Black Wolf. It’s just a matter of time.”
Travis grinned and shrugged. “Her pathetic excuse for a pack is not my concern. I need a female werewolf of breeding age. She could have given up the Russian bitch instead. Coming herself was her choice—not mine. At least now you know for sure she loves you enough to save your life. I saw the two of you fighting out at Longfeather’s. She cried for an hour after you left, in case you still care.”
Ryan frowned over hearing Heidi had been crying. She’d brought it on herself for what she’d tried to do, but the idea of hurting her was more painful than anything Travis Black Wolf had done to him so far.
“If this is about money, I’ll give you money,” Ryan said coldly. “I can get you three hundred thousand this afternoon.”
Travis laughed. “Not enough. She’s worth half a million to me—more if you count future retrievals. A packless wolf has to make ends meet as best he can. I’m sure you understand.”
“Your grandfather would let you back into the Black Wolf pack if you did the right things. You don’t have to betray your own kind. You don’t have to hurt Heidi. Those people you work for are the ones who deserve to die.”
Travis smirked. “Dangling my old pack as an incentive is a waste of time. They’re still living in the dark ages. They don’t know anything going on outside the town. Let me tell you something, Calder. That cute scientific piece of werewolf ass you’ve been tapping is merely the tip of what’s happening to shifters out in the real world. I’m surprised Longfeather hasn’t bothered to warn the Gray Wolf pack about what’s going on.”
Ryan wondered that too now, but he didn’t think his situation merited getting mad at his pack Beta. Gareth and Brandi might be the only two people capable of freeing him and Heidi.
“She doesn’t deserve this Travis. Don’t force her to be another scientific experiment.”
“No one deserves any of this, but it’s happening anyway,” Travis said flatly. “A smart wolf can only capitalize on it, and that’s what I’m doing.”
Heidi’s nervousness grew with every step, but there was no turning back from the decision. She needed to free Ryan and make sure Travis left the area. Her plan was weak, but it was all she had. As soon as it was possible, she’d find a way to get close enough to Travis to plant a few healthy suggestions in his demented brain.
The barn door cracked open for her as she approached. Fighting the urge to run in the other direction, Heidi slipped inside it. The first thing she saw was a still bound Ryan propped up against a tractor wheel.
“Ryan!” She ran to his side, stooping down to check him for injuries.
“Heidi, you shouldn’t be here,” Ryan growled.
“You know I had to come,” she whispered. “I wasn’t about to turn Katarina over to Travis. She escaped him once, but it almost cost her life. I’m here because there was no choice. I couldn’t let anything happen to you.”
“This is all very touching, but there’s no time for long discussions. I’ve got a helicopter waiting and an angry backer keeping tabs on me.”
Heidi stood and faced Travis. She hadn’t seen him since Ariel’s challenge fight at the Black Wolf pack. He looked so much like Reed that her heart instinctively tried to soften toward him.
But he was not like Reed.
She’d heard the story of what he’d done to Brandi and she easily believed every word of how far he’d veered from doing right.
“I’m here now, so you can let Ryan go,” Heidi said.
Travis rolled his eyes. “Just because we’re family doesn’t mean I intend to do something so stupid. Here’s how this is going to work. I’ll knock lover boy out one more time. You and I will leave. Calder can find his own way home long after we’re gone. Be grateful I haven’t killed him yet. In fact, I’m not sure why I haven’t. I knew you’d see the picture and do as I asked. If he’d been the bitchy type, he’d likely be dead already.”
Heidi didn’t know what to say. Her sensibilities were obvious to everyone. It wasn’t like she could hide the fact that she cared what happened to people. She also couldn’t hide how appalled she was about Travis being so willing to kill in cold blood. Her terror was no doubt evident to both him and Ryan.
“Will you remove the silver collar if I agree to go peacefully?”
“No can do, Heidi-Ho. He can get the other Gray Wolf pack Healer to take it off when he gets back to town.”
“What if it kills him before Eva can remove it?” Heidi asked.
“His possible death is a risk I’m willing to take. Of course, I could kill him right now and then you’d know for sure he was dead. That would end the wondering, right?”
“No,” Heidi said quickly, looking at the shock on Ryan’s face. She looked back at Travis. “I’m ready to go with you. Let’s do this now.”
Though it pained her to see Ryan in pain, the alternative was worse. What Travis was suggesting would have to work. She needed to keep him happy until they were away from the people she loved.
“Could I have a moment to say goodbye?” she asked softly.
Travis snickered. “Of course. I’m not a complete monster.” He stepped out of the barn and left the two of them alone.
Ryan looked up at her. “For fuck’s sake, Heidi. Run,” he demanded.
Heidi swallowed the lump his harsh order caused in her throat and knelt at his side. She wouldn’t let him intimidate her into leaving. She couldn’t.
“He’ll kill you for sure if I run. And we both know he’d eventually outrun me and get me too. That’s not a good plan that ends well for anyone. I have no choice but to go with him.”
Ryan swore and struggled against the ropes keeping him bound. His wolf wasn’t able to help him because of the stupid collar around his neck.
Heidi put her hands in her lap. “Look—I’m sorry I got you into this. You’ve been nothing but wonderful to me. You’re the nicest man I’ve ever… ”
“Shut up with that nice stuff. I love you, Heidi. I told you nothing would change that and it hasn’t,” Ryan said roughly. “Now kiss me before Travis comes back and don’t do any of that shit you did to me the other day. It will only piss me off. I know what I feel for you.”
“Ryan, I’m so, so sorry,” she began.
Then choking on a sob, Heidi pressed her trembling mouth to Ryan’s. Their lips fused in relief, even in the midst of so much trouble. He tasted familiar—like home and comfort and all the things she’d thought he’d never genuinely be able to give her.
How had she been so completely wrong about their connection? It was too late to change what she’d done out of fear, but oh how she wished now that she’d never sent Ryan away from her bed.
Putting her hands behind Ryan’s head, she focused on becoming human so she could safely undo the collar. Nanos scrambled inside her to answer her call for help. She felt a partial click in the collar’s lock at the same time another click happened nearby. Ryan’s body jerked separating their kiss. Her head turned as Ryan’s body fell sideways, a long dart sticking out of his leg.
“Don’t you just hate long goodbyes?” Travis asked.
Heidi put her hand on Ryan’s chest, sobbed once, and then reluctantly climbed to her feet. Her body was already returning to werewolf. Apparently her nanos were aware of the danger Travis presented. They were making decisions way ahead of her conscious ones.
She wished she knew if she’d unlocked the silver collar or not. Checking would only clue Travis into what she’d tried to do. She took one step away from Ryan, then another. Soon she was at the side of her would-be kidnapper. The most she could hope for now was that Katarina was coming to her senses enough to contact Ariel.
“Katarina was right. You really are a bastard,” Heidi said.
Travis snorted. “Flattery is not going to stop me from tranquilizing you if you give me any shit, but thanks for the compliment. Out the door, my sweet little werewolf experiment. Time to meet your new mad scientist.”
Heidi looked at Ryan one last time and hoped he came around soon.
Hope was all she had left.