Katherine Manitok climbed out of her ten-year-old black Ford pick-up truck and narrowed her gaze at her typically pristine white front porch.
She walked forward slowly. Her boots crunched in the slushy gravel of her driveway. The snow from last weekend’s freak storm had quickly melted and then they’d had some rain to top it off. Welcome to spring in Alaska. There would be about a week of mutant mosquitos hatching and then it would officially be summer. But the weather wasn’t what had her attention.
What had her attention was the oversized bleeding animal sprawled on her porch in front of the door. Its fur at one time had been white, but now was stained bright red and brown and matted in ugly clumps from head to foot. The poor thing looked like something had gone after it with a chain saw. The slash marks were monster-movie-worthy.
Her heart pitter-patted and her breathing sped to semi-hyperventilating. Adrenaline flooded her system sparking along her skin like mini-electrical shocks.
Wild animals came into town from time to time. They weren’t to be messed with—especially wounded ones—and her rifle was in her damn house. Not in her truck.
And not only was there a wild animal on her porch. It was wounded. And it was enormous. Larger than any wolf she’d ever seen before—in person or on TV.
A more cautious girl would call the sheriff. Or even her over-protective neighbor Harrison from next door to bring his rifle, but something inside her made her keep walking.
Something she didn’t recognize tugged deep inside her body.
Her feet kept her moving closer and closer. She needed to be closer.
“What am I doing?” The words slipped out between hurried breaths. The wolf still hadn’t moved. She was within ten feet now and the animal’s shuddering shoulders came nearly to the doorknob. “What are you? You can’t be real?”
Katherine took another step. And another. And another until she had climbed the wooden porch steps at her doorway. She knelt beside the wolf, easily twice her size, maybe closer to three times.
She wasn’t scared.
It was stupid.
This was a wounded animal.
And still she reached her hand toward the wolf’s side.
“What happened to you?” Her fingertips connected with a patch of blood-stained-dried fur. It was crusty and filthy and…then the wolf’s eyes opened, and its body changed beneath her hand. Fur became skin. His eyes changed from gold to brown. His face was covered in blood and dirt and swollen all over. He was wearing a leather kilt-looking thing, some ancient-times-looking boots and nothing else. His torso was covered in long ugly sets of gashes from some type of claw. Maybe a bear?
“Katherine,” the man’s voice groaned.
She knew that voice.
Her heart tripped over the next couple of beats, fell out of her chest, and landed on the porch next to the man she’d had a crush on since she met him. The man who’d been visiting her at the community center for weeks. The man who would barely tell her anything about himself, but always wanted to hear about her.
Now she knew.
Knox was a werewolf.
How was that a thing? Bitten couldn’t be real. All those television shows about monsters and shifters and vampires. It was all crap, right?
Katherine pulled her cell phone from her back pocket and dialed her best friend. Then hit cancel before the call went through. How the hell was she going to explain this to Tara? ‘Hey, girl, Bitten is real. I have a werewolf on my porch.’
That wouldn’t fly in a million years. Tara was cool, but there’s no way she would understand. And she was still recovering from being kidnapped and dragged up a mountain by some weirdos. And then after all that, she had immediately moved out of her parent’s house and into a cabin with her new boyfriend Owen and some other new people who had moved in Mystery, Alaska in January.
It was too much too fast in Katherine’s opinion. But Tara was her friend and if Tara wanted to move in with a guy she just met. Then that was her choice. Besides, it wasn’t like Katherine had been completely forthcoming with Tara about Knox’s visits to the community center.
She looked down at Knox again. Good thing too.
Proof of real live supernatural creature/man was definitely out of Tara’s ballpark for a while. Katherine could keep her barbarian werewolf Tarzan to herself for a while.
Yes, I can.
Katherine missed her best friend. But right now she had a dude on her porch who made her question everything she’d thought was real in the world and she couldn’t talk to Tara about it.
And she was still kneeling on her porch next to the guy—correction, a werewolf. And he was beaten and bloody and half naked and beautiful.
She wasn’t afraid of him. And he wouldn’t hurt her.
She knew it so deep in her soul that there wasn’t a closet, nook, or cranny in her heart for any doubt to hide.
“Come on, let’s get you inside and start cleaning up those gashes. You look like you’ve been outside for days without tending to them. Where have you been? Up on the mountain fighting with bears?” Katherine gingerly took his arm and slid it over her shoulder. “You’ve got to give me a little help here.”
Knox shifted his weight, biting back another groan, but he got his feet beneath him and they wobbled up to the cobalt blue front door. Katherine got her key from her pocket and got them inside quickly.
The living room wasn’t much. An old grey couch that’d come with the place. A rocker Mrs. Sampson—one of the grandmas of Mystery—had given her for making sure the knitting circle always had a place to meet at the community center. The rustic coffee table was just a few scrap boards from Harrison’s falling-down barn next door set on top of a couple of cinder blocks. But the hardwood floors were clean. The walls were a freshly painted soothing shade of sky blue. And the wood stove in the corner kept the front of the house warm and cozy.
It was a spartan type of life. But as long as she had the Community Center and her laptop, she was set. She didn’t need stuff.
“This way to the bathroom.” Katherine pushed to the right a little. The first thing that needed to happen was a shower. He was covered in dirt, dried blood, and who knew what else. Knox shuffled along, surprisingly carrying most of his own weight, though Katherine felt the sway of unbalance several times. She didn’t know how he was still able to move, but she was grateful. The man would’ve been nearly impossible for her to move by herself.
“You used your phone,” he said, his voice an angry growl. “Whoever you called…They will kill me.”
Katherine’s heart slid to a stop and she sucked in a quick breath. “I didn’t. I almost called Tara, but I didn’t. Figured we should keep the whole wolf-man thing between us. No one would’ve believed me anyway. I still barely believe it and I saw you change. Plus, she’s a mess after what happened this week between her and Owen.”
He growled again. “You know the bear? Bear will kill me.”
Katherine swallowed down the rising bile in her throat. “The bear? What bear? Owen is a guy. He’s her boyfriend. I mean, he is a giant dude, but—” Even as she said the words, she realized what Knox was revealing. Fear twisted and snaked up from her booted feet to curl and writhe in her stomach before pushing further, settling into a tight ball in her throat. Men who were…animals. All those TV shows and romance books weren’t real. They couldn’t be.
Except Knox was living proof that they kinda were.
They struggled for a few moments, Knox’s spurt of energy failing him. Finally, she was able to maneuver his enormous body in her tiny bathroom and help him sit on the padded toilet seat next to her claw-footed tub.
“He’s a—” she started again.
“Bear,” Knox said the word that she wasn’t able to yet vocalize.
Katherine wiped her clammy palms on her jeans and drew in a shaky breath. Her skin prickled. Adrenaline shot through her body like someone had fired NOS through a suped-up race car engine.
Holy shit. Holy shit. Holy fracking shit.
She took a deep breath and tried to douse the internal flames revving her instinct to flee. Calm down Manitok.
“Okay.” She forced another breath in and out. “So…”
Scenarios rushed through her head of Owen and Knox fighting. Knox didn’t have a chance. He was already beat to hell.
Did Tara know Owen was a bear? She had to call her best friend.
Or does she?
“Does Tara know Owen is a…bear?”
He drew in a slow painful breath that rattled in his chest like his lungs were wet. “Yes.”
His eyes were nearly swollen shut. Blood ran from cuts on his face. His head. Down his shoulders. He really did look like he’d been in a fight with a bear.
Katherine knelt to the floor. “Did Owen do this to you?” She gestured at his body.
The shake of his head was nearly imperceptible. “Tiger.”
“There are no tigers in Alaska. And these marks are huge. The tiger would’ve had to have been like fifteen hundred pounds and—”
Knox’s lips pressed tight.
A wave of fresh terror slipped over Katherine, tightening around her neck like a noose. A noose she couldn’t grab and pull off. Air wouldn’t come. Her heart raced until the pounding in her ears was deafening, like a train bearing down on her and she was trapped on the tracks.
She grabbed the side of the vanity and squeezed tears from her eyes, finally managing to drag in a ragged breath. In and out. In and out. In and out.
What the hell had she found herself in the middle of?
“This can’t be real. It can’t. People don’t turn into animals. They don’t tear each other to pieces and…kidnap my best friend. Oh, God! Were you involved in taking Tara?”
“Katherine.” His voice was gravelly and calm and soothing to her overwhelmed mind and body. “Do not fear me. I would die before I allow harm to come to you.” He leaned and placed his hand over hers on the counter. The warmth of his touch sent reassuring waves through her body.
“But were you? Why else would you be almost dead? Owen and his friends went after her. They did this to you, didn’t they?”
Knox’s gaze dropped from hers to the floor. “I am ashamed of my brother. Could not stop him.”
“Your brother did it? Not you?” Katherine tugged her hand away from Knox. “Tara almost died.”
“The tiger thought I hurt your friend.” He shook his head and winced. “But I tried to save her. The tiger left me for dead. After the fight ended, I dug out of the cave and came here. Most of the pack is dead. My brother is dead. I have nothing left.”
He reached for her hand again, his large palm enveloped her much smaller one. “Nothing left but you, Katherine. I found your scent in town and followed it here to this house.”