Dark Wolf Page 18

He wore a long coat that fell to his ankles, but flared out, giving him plenty of room to fight. She could see the trousers and shirt were loose enough to move, but tight enough not to get caught on anything. His chest was thick and rippled with muscles beneath the thin shirt. His arms could have been those of a bodybuilder, but she would bet everything she had that he’d never been anywhere near a gym. When he moved she caught the glitter of silver from the many weapons he carried inside his coat and around his belt.

She tried to rise, clutching her boot like a weapon. He held up both hands as if to show he didn’t mean her harm, that he’d come in peace. He halted a small distance from her.

“I came across your tracks about an hour ago. What are you doing out here alone?” he asked in Russian.

Skyler pressed her lips together as if wondering if she could trust him or not. “I’m an intern, working for the All Things Wolf Foundation.” She spoke in halting Russian, although she spoke the language fluently. “I was setting up a camera and I got turned around.”

“Are you English?” He spoke in English, moving a little closer to her.

Skyler lifted her boot in a reflex action. It seemed a little silly since she was certain he was Lycan and could move far faster than she could, but still, she couldn’t help herself.

She nodded, switching to English as well. “I twisted my ankle. I thought if I put it in the cold of the stream it would give me a little relief.”

“You’re far from your camp.”

Her face brightened. “Do you know where it is? Which direction? I know I could find it if I wasn’t so turned around. Everything starts looking the same after a while.”

“Didn’t they tell you not to go wandering off by yourself?” the Lycan asked. “My name is Zev Hunter. What’s yours?”

He sounded friendly enough. He didn’t appear particularly hungry, as if he had been searching for a meal. “Skyler,” she answered, suddenly remembering she couldn’t provide a surname. He would recognize Daratrazanoff.

“I’d like to take a look at your ankle, but I’d rather not get clobbered over the head by that wicked-looking boot.”

She forced herself to lower her boot to her side. “I’m sorry. You startled me. It never occurred to me that anyone would be out in these woods. The others are probably out looking for me right now. There are only three of us at the moment, but more will be bringing in supplies in a few days. We came early to set up camp.” She talked fast, a woman still nervous and chatting too much.

He crouched low, one hand reaching for her ankle. Around his wrist was a strip of cloth, bloodied as if he’d been seriously wounded. Relief swept through her. Dimitri told her one of the Lycans had shown compassion and had given him blood. This had to be that same one. Dimitri had definitely put the idea in his head to go looking for Fen and a rescue party.

She couldn’t help herself. She inhaled deeply, reaching for Dimitri’s woodsy scent. It was faint, but she caught it, still lingering on the Lycan’s wrist. She took that familiar scent into her lungs and just held it there, suddenly desperate to see him.

“Your ankle is very swollen. This must hurt.”

“I walked more than I should have on it,” Skyler admitted, putting one hand on his shoulder to steady herself. Deliberately she wobbled and clutched his arm a little lower to keep from falling.

Her heart began to beat hard again. In her fist was the tiny little tracking device Josef had made. She just needed an opportunity to sweep her hand down that coat to one of the side pockets. She had a feeling this particular man would be tough to fool.

“The cold stream will be good for it,” Zev told her. “We’ll give it a few minutes, and then I’ll take you back to your camp. It isn’t safe in these woods. The forest is home to many predators and you’re just about snack size for some of them. The very wolf pack you’re trying to study would be happy to give you a firsthand experience.”

Skyler managed a small smile. “I have a very vivid imagination. Believe me, I thought of that many times.”

She sank down onto the rock, allowing her hand to naturally brush down his coat as if she was still unsteady and afraid of falling. The flap was over the pocket but she was well versed in making small objects obey her. The flap lifted and the transfer was smooth and complete.

Josef had told her many times that he couldn’t feel her energy when she used her art on objects, but still, she held her breath, afraid this very savvy Lycan would pick it up.

“You can’t be very old; why would your parents allow you to come to such a remote area where it’s so dangerous?” His concern was genuine.

Skyler smiled again, this time more naturally. “I just look very young. I’m actually twenty-five. I’ve got my degree and am working toward my master’s. I volunteer at the various wildlife research centers as a way to travel. I mean, I’m genuinely interested in the work, but I’ve gotten to go to so many countries and see many amazing places, as well as meet some very cool people.”

Zev raised his eyebrow. “In a million years I wouldn’t have guessed your age. If anything, I thought maybe fourteen or fifteen.”

Skyler shrugged. “I get that all the time. At least I’ve reached the fourteen or fifteen mark instead of the ten or twelve.”

He laughed, suddenly relaxing. The tension completely eased from his body and he sank down into the grass beside her while she bathed her swollen ankle in the icy stream.

“That must be annoying, having everyone tell you you look so young.”

“In some ways. Especially when I’m traveling. There are a lot of creeps in the world and having some man who preys on children . . .” She trailed off, realizing genuine anger had crept into her voice.

Zev was quick. She saw knowledge in his eyes and knew she’d given away too much information. Cursing silently to herself, she idly picked up a pebble and tossed it downstream.

“The forest is oppressive at times, isn’t it?” she asked. “I find it so beautiful, all the colors, but sometimes it’s hard to breathe when you’re deep in the middle of it.”

His eyes focused on her, all that piercing intelligence. She had to fight to stay relaxed. He looked as if he could see right into her soul. “You’re very sensitive.”

“That’s what my mother always says,” Skyler said. That much was true. Francesca said it all the time. She indicated his hand. Let him fish around for something plausible. “What happened to you?”

Zev didn’t so much as flinch. He lifted his wrist for her inspection. “I was working and got a little careless. I tore my wrist on a nail. It’s not a big deal but it was deep enough to bleed a lot. I put this cloth around it and it stopped.”

“There’s a first-aid kit at the camp. When we get there, I could put some antibiotic cream on it so the laceration doesn’t get infected.”

He nodded. “If we don’t run out of time. We should get moving soon or night will fall. Here in the forest it tends to get dark fast.”

She was happy to get moving. The faster they made camp, the faster she could heal her ankle and set out to follow the Lycan back to Dimitri.

“Do you live close by?”

“I’m camping with some friends a few kilometers from here,” Zev explained. “Although I’ve been coming to these woods since I was a boy, so I’m very familiar with them.”

She frowned at him as she pulled her throbbing foot from the stream. Her wince was very genuine. She was going to have to throttle Josef for making her injury so real. “You don’t hunt here, do you? The wolves are protected in this preserve.” She managed her most schoolmarmish voice, the one that always made Josef sit up and take notice—or topple over in gales of laughter.

“Sometimes with a camera, although when we were kids, we hunted for food. Not wolves, but other creatures, mostly wild fowl, partridge, things we could manage when we were pretty small. If we killed it, we had to carry it.”

He was telling the absolute truth, which was why he was so good at intrigue. He mixed truth with implication—not outright lies. She tried to pull her boot back over her swollen ankle. It hurt like hell.

“I’ll carry you.”

“You will not,” Skyler said. “I can walk. Just give me a minute to get my boot back on.” Who knew what a Lycan might discern that close? “How far away is the camp? Have I been walking in circles? Sometimes I was pretty certain I’d been to the same place more than once.”

“I thought all you researchers always carried a GPS with you.”

She called on her mad nonexistent acting skills to blush, her long lashes sweeping down deliberately. “We’re supposed to. It’s my first time with this group and my partners are both . . .” She trailed off, doing her best to look ashamed and guilty.

“Men,” he finished for her. Zev took the boot from her hands and gently eased it over her ankle.

“I know I don’t have anything to prove, and this isn’t going to get me off to a good start, but I guess I wanted to look good. I got up early and set up the cameras. In my haste to be helpful, I completely forgot the GPS. It’s probably still clipped to my hammock.”

He stood up and reached down to lift her easily into his arms, ignoring her protest. “I’m sorry, young Skyler, but it’s getting late. I need to be somewhere and I’ve got to get you back to your camp.”

She had no choice but to be gracious. In any case, she hadn’t been looking forward to walking on her swollen ankle. “Thanks, Zev, I appreciate it, although I feel a little silly.”

“Walking around alone in these woods is silly,” he said sternly.

Skyler was used to being around physically strong men. Gabriel, her adopted father, was extremely strong, being Carpathian. Dimitri certainly was. Even Josef, as young as he was, had the Carpathian strength, but Zev was amazing. He moved through the forest absolutely sure-footed. He was graceful even. He didn’t breathe hard and he never once acted as if he needed a rest. He was born and bred for the forest, and he was every bit as strong as a Carpathian.

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