Chapter 1 of 'Accidentally Yours'
To my awesome beta readers who helped me finally get Cammie and Ian out to the world. Chrissy, Lisa, Melissa and Vickie, you guys ROCK! *muah*
“You’re such a dick. I’m out of here.” Cammie sobbed as she yanked open the front door. “So help me Ron, if you follow me or come after me again I will find someone to shoot you. We’re done. I’m not taking your shit anymore.”
She stormed out though the screen door, cringing at the screech of its hinges. A bag of frozen peas pressed to her face kept the pain of the blooming black eye down to a thunderous roar. Stumbling off the small porch, she stomped as quickly as she could to her little Neon. Pebbles from the driveway dug between her feet and the flimsy dollar store sandals she was wearing. The shakes were starting to set in, and she knew she needed to get on the road before she had a meltdown. Ron wasn’t going to let her sit in his driveway while she cried. Not after what she’d just done to him. A tremor rocked her body, causing her to stumble as she made it to her car.
Wrenching the car door open Cammie threw her purse onto the passenger seat, and fumbled her keys with trembling fingers. Come on, girlie, keep it together just a few more minutes. Shaking legs slid across the cracked pleather seat as she tried to guide the key into the slot. A sob of relief burst from her lips when it slid home. She quickly got her car turned around and out of his driveway. A rooster-tail of stones sprayed behind her as she gunned the little engine. Thank God it was a full moon. She needed the extra illumination to navigate. Tears threatened to spill and her swollen eye was useless. She knew driving was dangerous, but so would be sticking around to find out how he was going to take being beaten at his own game.
She shouldn’t have been surprised by the night’s events. Ron had been an abusive ass ever since she started seeing him, but this was the first time he’d come after her with a weapon. Granted, a miniature baseball bat might not sound like a weapon, but she was sure it would’ve broken something if it had actually connected with her body. Fear slithered icily through her mind. He was going to be furious when he sobered up and realized she’d attacked him back. The shiner she sported was so much better than what his maddened eyes had promised. Instinct had guided her hand to the broom while he’d pushed and stalked her through the house. She’d hit the hand holding the bat and forced him to drop it. Terror had fed her need to strike out. She’d continued beating at him until he fell and didn’t get back up. Before he fell though, she’d taken a fist to the face, a foot to the ribs, and a few good hits to her legs.
Why the hell she had stayed with the bastard for the last six weeks was a mystery. Liar. Even her inner voice knew when she tried to deceive herself. She’d known what he was and the type of guy he was when he finally let his guard down weeks after she started dating him. After losing her father four months before moving to Coyote Bluff, she’d needed someone to connect to, even if it was an abusive ass. Moving to a new town had sounded like a good idea, but she hadn’t factored in the loneliness of that decision. She’d arrived in town with nothing but a truck full of her stuff and an empty heart.
Coyote Bluff, Virginia was her new start, her way of turning over a new leaf and leaving the pain of the past two years behind. Her father had suffered from cancer for nineteen months, growing steadily weaker and more depressed. His passing created a gaping hole in her heart, but in the end his death had been a blessing. At least for him the pain was finally over and he’d moved on to a better place. After he died she had nothing left to keep her tied to their home. Her mother was gone, she had no siblings and, after a fight over her father’s Will, what little family she had left wanted nothing to do with her. The decision to sell everything and move hadn’t been as difficult as she’d thought it would be. The sleepy town of Coyote Bluff had the three things she craved, solitude, isolation and no one who knew her.
She still remembered the first day she’d met Ron Norte. Cammie had been filing insurance claims on her second day of work, completely absorbed in the alphabet song as she moved files from the pile on the floor into the drawers of a cabinet. She hadn’t even heard the tinkling of the bell. A firm, deep voice smoothed over her and made every nerve in her body awake.
The minutes before he walked in she’d been worried about sitting alone in her cabin. Worried that she’d be spending the evening by herself, crying over her father. After Ron sauntered in she only worried about how soon she could go to dinner with him.
Ron wasn’t model-perfect. He had the hardened, masculine look of a construction worker. With tanned skin, roughened hands and the most fabulous ass, he’d sashayed into her world. At that first meeting they both spent some time checking each other out, eyes burning with lust, skimming each other’s bodies. His shoulders had been so wide the T-shirt was stretched tight across his back. The faded denim of his jeans looked scrumptious on his long legs. He was big, strong and hard. Exactly the way Cammie liked her men.
They’d chatted and flirted openly for a few minutes. She remembered how her heart raced through the entire conversation. He was a smooth talker and his smile lightened his entire face. He’d walked out with her cell number and a promise for dinner that night. She had finally felt like herself. Happiness had bubbled along her nerves, pushing some of the bleakness away from her heart.
She’d learned quickly there were two versions of Ron. When he was sober he was a decent enough guy. He listened to her and held her when she cried. Their first few dates had been wonderful. They’d taken walks on the hiking trails, sat and laughed at old movies, snuggled on a blanket under the stars. For the first time since her father’s illness she’d felt happy and carefree. Once she’d given in and had sex with him, their relationship had spiked from fun and friendly to sexy and passionate. Sex with Ron was good, even exceptional at times. Everything had seemed to be going wonderfully.
The first problem had cropped up with an argument. She’d come to his house for dinner and he wasn’t ready. She’d seen the beer cans around his chair but hadn’t connected the anger and threatening behavior to his drinking. At least not the first time. She’d gone home crying and swearing off ever seeing him again but, like so many women in the same situation, she’d given in when he apologized. He’d been so sorry. She’d gotten flowers and cards, calls and tears.
After that, any time he was drinking she learned to steer clear. Each time he would apologize for his anger afterward. He was fantastic at apologies. His words were exactly what she wanted to hear. He loved her and promised over and over again not to do anything bad. So, she started only going out with him on nights he promised not to drink. She’d known he was bad for her, had promised herself after every bruise he left that she wouldn’t see him again. All of those promises evaporated the next day when he would show up at her work with roses, or candy, or the puppy-dog look and tears in his eyes.
What more did she really need from him? That was the thought this evening. He promised not to drink tonight, so she’d climbed into her car, knowing full well she was being stupid, and drove to his house. Something in this fight broke her, though. She could handle many things, put up with a lot, but this time she knew that she was done with him. This attack was the end of the road. She could forgive a little pushing, a pinch or two, even a slap if the cuddling and apologies were good after. She wouldn’t put up with being beaten.
Blinking rapidly, Cammie tried to clear the tears from her eyes. It wasn’t safe driving at night if you couldn’t really see, especially winding through the back roads of Virginia. The moon looked really large tonight. It was perfectly round and brilliantly white in a cloudless night sky. She knew that if she stopped and rolled her window down there would be a chaotic symphony of coyote calls. Keeping an eye out for animals hopefully would keep her safe. She could almost feel the gravitational pull on the hairs of her arm. No wonder people always said a full moon caused people to be a little nuts. Even after her clash with Ron she could feel something different, bigger, playing along her nervous system. She shook her head. Metaphysical bull shit.
She was berating herself for the millionth time about staying with Ron when she approached one of those treacherous curves in the road the locals all knew about but no one else seemed to. She slowed to a safe speed and, just as she was about to come out of the S-curves, a fast moving something careened into the passenger side of her car with a thunderous thud.
“Holy shit!” she screeched. She slammed her foot on the brakes and cursed a blue streak. Her hands shook as she pulled to the side of the road. I don’t need this. If a stupid deer had run into her car, it totally deserved to die. Darwin was pretty much right with the whole “survival of the fittest” idea, and if a deer couldn’t see her shed-sized car when she had high beams on, it totally needed to be pulled from the gene pool.
Her door squeaked as she opened it. Wobbly legs barely held her as she stepped onto the road. Her heart was racing so fast she was panting. Damn adrenaline. She skidded to a stop the moment she rounded the car. Lying in a pool of moonlight was a very big, no, a freaking huge wolf. It was on its side, still as death. Well, it looked like a wolf, although it could have been some huge dog breed that looked like a wolf. The rambling thought made her snort at herself. The animal was sporting a red bandana around its neck, so it had to be a pet. At least she hoped that’s what it meant.
This specimen could’ve been the poster child for gray wolves everywhere though. Well, hell. She lived in Virginia. Wolves weren’t supposed to be there. Maybe it was a hybrid, something that someone had bred between a wolf and a German Shepherd. Its fur looked silver in the moonlight, but she guessed it was probably in shades of gray and brown. Dark patches along its flank glistened in the moonlight. She guessed those were either blood or mud.
With slow, steady steps, Cammie approached the downed animal. It hadn’t moved since she rounded the car. Oh, God, please don’t let it be dead. She didn’t need the bad karma now. Just as she was about to bend down and touch the poor thing, it gave a breathy whimper. The sound pulled every protective instinct to the surface. Ignoring the pain in her ribs and leg, she bent and knelt next to the injured animal. It was huge, much larger than any dog she’d ever been around. In the back of her mind she knew this was a really stupid idea. Perhaps Darwin’s theory was about to be applied to her.
Touching wounded animals could cause them to attack and this one was definitely big enough to kill her. She loved watching nature movies and wolves were one of those animals every photographer wanted to use for a documentary. She knew they were supposed to be the size of a large dog, had the bite force to snap a bone in two, and lived in packs.
She was shaken from her thoughts by the eerie sound of coyotes yipping and howling. They sounded pretty close. Great. Not only was she tempting fate by touching a potentially deadly animal, but she was hanging around while other predators were nearby. With her sanity firmly in hand, she decided to check the animal and then get back in her car, call the vet in town, and go home. The vet, a friend of hers, would have the equipment needed to deal with this thing, be it a dog or wolf or something else. She stood and reached a sandaled foot out and nudged the animal’s big head. It whimpered but still didn’t move.
It’s alive and you promised yourself you’d get in the car and drive away if you didn’t die when you touched it. She just couldn’t make the move to get back in the car. The howls started again and sounded even closer. This time, when the coyote chorus rose into the night in their discord of notes, the wolf reacted. Large eyes opened and caught the moonlight, glowing eerily. It attempted to lift its head and growled deep and long. Its skin twitched as it tried to right itself. A mixture of high pitched whining and teeth-bared snarling accompanied each attempt to move. She couldn’t watch anymore without trying to do something, especially if the wolf was being hunted by the coyotes.
“Shhh, settle down baby. I can’t see from here if you’re a boy or girl, so we’ll just go with that for now, shall we? You’re hurt and need to calm down,” she cooed to the animal. It was the voice people used on stray kittens, injured kids and obviously dangerous roadside animals. She bent down, keeping her body as far from it as she could, and reached a hand out to the top of its head. She stroked softly down the coarse fur, trying to calm the animal. “Shh, I’ll help you and I think we need to get you out of here before the coyotes get here, but you need to be still for just a few more minutes. I’m making a big assumption that you belong to someone and you won’t hurt me, so let’s start proving me right and settle down.”
Her voice pulled an instant reaction from the animal. It stilled, muscles bunched maybe for attack or in expectation of an attack. Cammie didn’t know, but at least it had stopped moving. On the second stroke of her hand over its head those tense muscles relaxed. She watched the animal’s side rise slowly in the first deep breath she had seen it take. This was good. She was amazed at how coarse and thick its fur was. Now, what to do with it?
The coyotes yipped again and were so loud she actually clapped her hands over her ears. Shit. She didn’t have time to screw around. The idea came on the wings of need and desperation. She ran to her car, throwing looks repeatedly back to where the animal lay. It still hadn’t risen, so she climbed into her car and backed up until her back door was right next to the wolf’s head. Leaving the car running she jumped out and ran around to the animal. She’d feared that having her drive so closely would have it panicking, but it seemed undisturbed by the running vehicle. Another good omen? She hoped so.
“Okay, baby. I really think we have to move fast. You’re one big pup, so I’m going to try and help you up and onto the floor in the back.” She rambled to keep the fear at bay. She wasn’t sure if she was more scared of what she was doing or the almost oppressive presence of the incoming predator pack. With a quick flick of the door handle and a creak of the hinge she had the back door open. Now, how the hell am I going to lift this thing into the car? The animal had to weigh a good hundred pounds or more.
She was strong for her 5’5” frame, but not that strong. She gnawed on her lower lip. She had a blanket in the trunk, if she rolled the wolf onto it she could maybe pull it into the car, but that seemed like a good way to cause more trauma.
Before she gave herself a brain hemorrhage from her panicky thoughts, she watched in fascination as the animal slowly gathered itself onto shaky legs and stumbled into her car. It limped heavily, tail tucked tight between its legs, and cried out once it was inside, but within a few moments she had a passenger settled on the car floor.
Cammie didn’t question it.
She shut the door, shuffled around to the other side and slid into the driver’s seat. Fear constricted her throat to the point where she wasn’t sure she’d be able to drive. Sheer determination was all she had, but she got the car moving.
A few moments of driving, and some deep breathing, brought her heart rate down and a touch of reality to her mind. She was driving home with an unknown, injured animal in her car. Wow. She thought stalking out of Ron’s was crazy. That felt like days ago instead of only an hour. Her entire thought process had changed from dealing with the fallout from their fight to what to do for the poor panting creature behind her. She reached into her purse, pulled out her cell and dialed the only person that could help her.
“Margie, hey it’s Cammie. Look I may have done something really stupid, but it’s done. I hit a dog, or a wolf, or something, on the way home, and well, it’s in the back of my car now, whimpering. When you get this message can you please come over and take a look? Call me, thanks.” She shut her phone and concentrated on driving home. She didn’t need to hit anything else. Once she got there she could turn her mind to figuring out what to do with the critter behind her. One crazy step at a time.
* * * * * Ian tried to keep his breathing low and even. Pain clouded his thoughts and made the situation hard to grasp. Maybe he was dreaming. That would account for the gorgeous human woman driving him to an unknown location after he ran headfirst into her car. Dumb ass that he was, he’d been looking over his shoulder as he hit the road. He couldn’t remember all of it, but he could vaguely recall the flash of headlights and then all went black.
A whimper slipped through his clenched teeth. Christ, between his head pounding in time to his racing heart and the gash in his hind leg, he couldn’t determine which he disliked more. With miniscule movements and muscle twitches he tested each leg. Front left paw was ripped to shit, right front leg seemed fine. He could feel the broken rib as a sharp, stabbing pain with each inhalation. The rib injury he’d received when the yapping idiots jumped him. His right back leg had a deep cut, which had come from one of the coyotes, but he could tell it was healing already. Well, for being ambushed by eight shifters he’d fared well.
The scent within the little car was thick with wet fur, blood and human female. She smelled nice. Really nice. A mix between vanilla and perhaps cherries? Earthy but fruity. A yummy combination if he ever smelled one. What little he could see of her car was well kept, but it was an older model. The back windows still had crank handles. He felt bad about getting his mess all over her car, but he’d take the help she offered. If she hadn’t stopped he probably would’ve been dead by morning.
He caught a whiff of her blood and wondered if he’d lashed out at her. He couldn’t quite remember what he’d done when he first came to. He could recall the feel of her hand stroking his fur and the soft sound of her words when she spoke. If he’d harmed her he would be even more indebted to her. Already he owed her more than he’d owed anyone in a very long time. If he put a dent in her car or anything he’d be paying her for a year.
He flinched when she hit a pothole and yelped in pain. His side burned, flames of pain licked over his skin with each breath he sucked in. At least he wasn’t coughing up blood, so he probably hadn’t punctured a lung. He would heal fairly quickly, but he’d be sore for a few days. He just hoped that the stupid idiots that attacked him wouldn’t follow them to the woman’s house.
He was in no shape to defend her. Fucking coyotes. He’d moved to this town to get away from all the shifter bullshit. It seemed some of his history had followed him. At least when his last pack drove him out of their territory there had been a good reason for it. Tonight he’d just been minding his own business. Another bump in the road broke into his thoughts with a flash of agony through his chest. The pained sound that left his throat was loud in the enclosed vehicle. He tried to keep the whimpering to a minimum, afraid to distract the female. She seemed to be having a rough enough night as it was.
“Hang in there, baby. A few more minutes and we’ll be home. I don’t know how I’m going to get you out of the car, but once we get you out I’ll make you a place to lie down.” The female’s voice was shaky but calmed him. It moved over him like a caress, soothing and coaxing his muscles to relax. “Let’s hope that Margie gets my message and brings you something for the pain. I hate seeing anything in pain. What were you doing out running, huh baby? Were those coyotes chasing you? They sure sounded close.”
Ian breathed in her scent and let her words flow over and through his mind. He let his mind go, let the animal in him deal with the pain. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the smells and sounds within the vehicle. The female’s heart was racing, fear clung to her like a heavy cloud. She was afraid but still trying to help him. Amazing. She smelled faintly of pain as well. Once again he hoped he hadn’t bitten her before he came out of his pain-induced stupor. It wasn’t fresh pain, though. Perhaps she was injured when he hit her car.
Beneath the pain and fear was a wonderful feminine scent. She was crisp, like a spring breeze. Clean and pure came to mind as he pulled her into his lungs. Not a spring breeze, a sunny fall day. That is what she smelled like. Earthy, like falling leaves; fresh, like a spring-fed lake with that mouth-watering hint of vanilla. Each drag of breath brought something new to him. He could smell another male on her and he fought a growl. She wasn’t his. Shit, she was human, but there was something about her that pulled at him.
“A few more minutes. Hang in there, okay? I know you hurt, baby, but as soon as Margie comes she’ll give you something to fix it, I promise. Please don’t die on me. I’ve had a shitty night and that would just be a horrible ending. I know I’m rambling, but I’m really worried about you and I can’t seem to stop. Please be okay.” The female’s voice sounded thicker. She sniffled.
She was crying? For him? Something shook loose in his chest. A female hadn’t cried for him since he was a young boy. He felt a tug in his heart and cringed at the uncomfortable feeling. In the back of his mind a little voice whispered. You’ve found her.
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