The whitetail deer plunged frantically through the forest, with the huge gray wolf in pursuit.
With no breath to spare for anything but running, Dora Lee could only curse her own carelessness mentally. This was Montana. These woods were wild, extensive, and new to her. Of course there would be wolves. How could she be so stupid?
She poured on the speed but couldn’t shake him. She had no idea where he was herding her. Toward his pack, no doubt. Any second now another wolf would burst out of the brush for his part in the relay. They would drive her to exhaustion and when she finally stumbled they would bring her down.
The seconds stretched into minutes. No other wolves appeared. Where was the rest of the pack?
Unless he had no pack?
The son of a mutt! He was a loner, chasing her for the hell of it.
Fury replaced panic. Dora Lee stopped and whirled to confront her pursuer.
The wolf skidded to a halt so fast he almost slid muzzle-first into the pine needles and leaf litter. Dora Lee pawed the ground. Her hooves were sharp and she knew where to aim to do the most serious damage. She shook her antlerless head. Her skull was hard enough to make any predator think twice about trying to put her on his menu.
The wolf stared at her. He whined uneasily.
Dora Lee charged.
The wolf spun about to flee precisely one second too late. Dora Lee hit him broadside. He rolled several feet before coming to a halt on the mossy loam, all the wind as well as any remaining desire to chase knocked out of him. Dora Lee straddled him, glaring. She lowered her muzzle to sniff.
Abruptly she shifted. She grabbed the wolf’s ruff and shook him. “You hound! You stinking hound! You’re a shifter!”
The wolf changed form. Dora Lee gripped shoulder-length ebony hair that framed a grinning, unapologetic face. A very handsome face, if maybe sharper in the nose than what she usually went for. The body was all sharp angles and wiry muscle, not like the rounded mass of a stag. He showed off a set of teeth far too pointy for her liking. “Yeah, I’m a shifter. So?”
“Y’all aren’t supposed to hunt us. That’s what they told me in town. You got a nose on that face of yours. Didn’t you know I’m a shifter?”
He leered at her body, now human and slender and dangling a pair of naked breasts right over his hairy chest. “I know it now.”
Dora Lee spat a word her mama’d never taught her. She let go of the wolfman’s hair and sat back. Something pricked her bottom. Cud! She was sitting on top of his pronger. She bolted to her feet. “Well, now that you know, you don’t have to go chasing me around any more. So quit it.”
The wolfman set himself up on his elbows. “You’re on Hancock territory. It’s my duty to check out any invaders.” He treated himself to a thorough stare. Rude and annoying as hell. “Any more of you around? Say yes.”
She hauled in a breath, then spat it out fast when she saw the effect it had on the wolf. “These woods are for everybody. The forest ranger said so. He’s a bighorn. One of us.” A tenuous connection, but she’d use any weapon at hand. “He assured me the wolves around here—the shifter ones—don’t go after other sentients.”
“We do when we’ve got questions.” He leaped to his feet in one smooth bound, faster than Dora Lee’d expected. She made herself hold her ground. If she ran he’d just chase her again. “You’re no muley, not with that hair.” He nodded at the tawny brown wavelets spilling over her shoulders. “You’re not from around here, either, not with that accent.”
“That’s because I’m a Virginia whitetail, thank you very much. Who I am and why I’m here isn’t your outlook. You tend to your business and I’ll tend to mine and we ought to get along fine.”
“You are my business when you’re on Hancock turf. When you get back to town, you have Ranger Ewing show you the boundaries of our pack. And now, miss, I’d be happy to escort you to the border of our territory. You’ll still find plenty of woods to run in.” He held out his hand to her.
Well now. Even a carnie could act the gentleman. She’d heard the males still subscribed to a code of chivalry here in the West. Dora Lee nodded agreement and took the hand he offered.
Quick as a wink he yanked her forward. His arm locked around her waist tight as a bear trap. His golden eyes bored into her brown, dancing with wicked humor. “This is for knocking me down,” he told her. “And by the way, I’m Brett.”
The wolfman kissed her, hard and rough. Pinned against that lean but hard-as-steel body of his, she had no choice but to put up with it.
Hairy dang mutt could kiss like a son of a gun, she had to give him that.
“Oh, man,” the wolf sighed when he lifted his lips at last. “I do love the taste of venison.”
She head-butted him.
Predators have teeth. Prey have speed, hooves, and heads harder than concrete. The wolfman dropped like a rock.
By the time Brett recovered enough to lever himself off the ground, she’d shifted form again. His bleary eyes focused through the sparkle of stars on the deer bounding into the distance, her white tail flashing like a flag.
Brett wiped his mouth and grinned hugely. Would you look at those legs. He’d always been a leg man, regardless of species. And white meant surrender, didn’t it?
“I’ve got your scent now, Virginia,” he murmured. “And two can play the game.” Considerate of her of mention she’d talked to the forest rangers. He climbed to his feet, wincing over the pain that stabbed through his head, and made his way back to his Jeep to give Ranger Ewing a call.