Gathering her courage, Serena crept toward her closet. A man’s silhouette passed by her window. She ducked down, laying flat against her cabin floor.
Her stomach churned.
What if they catch me?
Her ears strained to catch any sounds that suggested they were aware of her betrayal. Heart thundering in her ears, she heard nothing but her ragged breathing. At once, she clamped her mouth shut and held her breath.
An owl hooted loudly beyond her window, startling her into motion. Scooting along the floor, she made it to her closet and retrieved her duffel bag. Clasping it to her chest, she stayed against the wall, walking slowly toward the bedroom door.
Her footsteps seemed to echo loudly in the cabin as she made her way to the front door. Grabbing her keys from the hook on the wall, she reached for the knob.
What am I doing? I’ll never survive without a pack. It’s just too dangerous out there. But if I stay, will I survive him?
The thought of him sent her scurrying out of her cabin, into her SUV and racing along the only road out of Tarchannen.
Once the last cabin was out of sight, she relaxed her grip on the steering wheel.
Her eyes darted from the road to the rear view mirror. Gradually, her racing heart slowed to a normal pace.
In a moment of weakness, she decided to say goodbye to her best friend, Evie. Parking on the side of the road, she shifted and sprinted to Evie’s cabin. She scratched anxiously at the Wolf Door.
“Who is it?” Evie called out.
Serena-wolf responded with a high pitched, anxious whine.
“Come in slowly,” came the muffled response.
She pushed her head through the Wolf Door, lifting it slowly. She whined pitifully.
Serena-wolf barked softly.
“Come in, come in!” Evie insisted.
Serena-wolf entered through the Wolf Door and shifted into her human form. Naked, she shivered in the kitchen.
“I’m in trouble, Evie. Remington—” Her voice broke.
Evie held her as she cried. When her sobbing finally subsided, Evie led her to her bedroom. Evie gave her a robe then built a cozy fire.
“Are you hungry?” Evie asked.
“I haven’t eaten all day,” she confessed. “I really don’t think I can keep anything down.”
“I’ll make some ginger tea. It will help settle your stomach. Lie down and I’ll be back in a few minutes,” Evie said gently.
She curled up on the bed, staring at the fire. A few minutes later, Evie returned, carrying a small tray with two delicate tea cups.
Evie forced her to drink half a cup of tea before asking, “What kind of trouble are you in, Serena?”
“Oh, Evie! I—”
She took a deep breath and made her confession.
“I ran away from Remington,” she whispered.
Evie’s mouth hung open.
“You’re supposed to be mated tomorrow, Serena.”
“I know,” she cried.
She covered her face, sobbing loudly. Evie put her arm around her shoulders and pulled her close.
Evie asked, “Serena, what happened? Most women would be flattered to be his mate. Remington is an alpha. He is rich. Powerful. Handsome…in a rugged way. I know at least half a dozen women who are envious of you.”
“I know, Evie. Believe me, I know. I should be flattered—grateful—that his father chose me to be his mate.”
“So what happened, Serena? Why did you run away?”
“I just…I can’t be his mate, Evie. He’s so.…” She hung her head before continuing, “He’s so aggressive. S-s-sexually.”
“Oh,” Evie said.
“We’re not true mates, Evie. I feel nothing for him. No sexual attraction whatsoever. He hasn’t touched me yet, but he is so….”
She left the bed and paced in front of the fire.
Her stomach lurched.
“Every time he’s near me, when we are alone, he touches me. He’s always grabbing my ass, my breasts. He even touches me—he keeps—grabbing me—between the legs, cupping me. And that’s not the worst, Evie. He says things….about what he will do to me after we’re mated. Things he expects….”
A wave of nausea made her pause in front of the fire. She leaned against the mantle for support.
“I just can’t be his mate, Evie. The last four months have been awful. I dread his touch.”
Turning to face Evie, she confessed, “I get this feeling, deep in the pit of my stomach whenever he’s near. I can’t live the rest of my life like that, Evie. I just can’t.”
“I’m sorry, Serena. Having a mate shouldn’t be torturous, even if he isn’t your true mate,” Evie said.
Evie got off the bed and held her trembling hands.
“Serena, I hope you realize that the Tarchannen Tracker will hunt you as soon as the pack realizes you’ve left.”
“It’s not the Tracker I’m worried about,” she whispered.
She feared Remington himself would search for her.
She tasted bile.
“If he finds me….”
Her body trembled.
She refused to say aloud the penalty for her crime. According to Tarchannen Pack Law, Remington must choose between raping, killing or selling her to another pack. He could also choose to beat her in front of her pack then mate her, but knowing Remington, his ego would never allow him to mate with a wolf that abandoned him. Serena shuddered and hoped he would have the decency to kill her, rather than sell her to another pack.
“What are you going to do, Serena?”
“I’ve already done it, Evie. I’ve run away. I just have to keep running.”
“Oh, Serena, where will you go? You cannot seek refuge from another pack. Any alpha you encounter would be forced to return you to Remington.”
“I realize I will have to stay away from packs,” she said.
Evie cleared her throat.
“What happens if you run into a Rogue?”
“I will stay as far away from other wolves as possible, Evie.”
“Then how will you ever find your true mate?” Evie asked.
Her shoulders slumped.
“I…guess it will never happen for me, Evie,” she said quietly. “But it doesn’t matter. A life on the run is better than a life with Remington.”
Evie stood and walked over to her. Not knowing what to say, Evie hugged her tightly.
“I will do what I can to help you, Serena.”
Evie released her then went to her walk in closet. She returned a few minutes later with a thick envelope. Puzzled, she took the envelope and opened it. She glanced at Evie, tears filling her eyes.
“It’s ten thousand dollars. Not much, but enough to get you the hell out of here and hopefully off his radar for a while.”
“Evie.” Her voice cracked. “Thank you. Thank you.” She hugged Evie and sniffed. “I know you are taking a huge risk by helping me.”
“That’s what friends are for, Serena.”
Evie gave her a gentle squeeze before releasing her. Evie searched her room for a small bag that would fit around her neck. She took the envelope, placed it in the bag and zipped it up.
“I better get going. I want to get as much of a head start as possible.”
Serena stripped then shifted into her wolf form. Evie set the bag around Serena-wolf’s neck and they walked to the Wolf Door. Evie gave her one last hug before Serena-Wolf disappeared through the Wolf Door.
After Serena-wolf left Evie’s cabin, she dashed through the forest, anxious to return to her vehicle. Once she reached her silver SUV, she shifted and removed the bag of money that hung around her neck. Dressing quickly, she locked herself in the compact SUV.
She withdrew a thousand dollars and placed it in her purse. She stuck a few bills in her bra then hid Evie’s small bag in her duffel bag. Driving as safely as she could, she sped away from Tarchannen territory.
Knowing the Tracker and fearing Remington himself would pursue her in the morning, she had to get as far away from Tarchannen as possible. She drove nearly two hundred miles to a major city. She drove to a busy part of town and parked her SUV. Remington had purchased the SUV as a wedding gift for her and she felt slightly guilty as she abandoned the SUV. She left the SUV unlocked, the keys clearly on the passenger seat, as though she had forgotten it.
Hopefully someone will steal this SUV and Remington will waste time tracking the thief instead of me, Serena prayed.
She went into a restaurant and called a cab. Within the hour, the cab had dropped her off at a busy international airport.
This is far enough away from Tarchannen that Remington will have no power here.
She stood by the ticket counter.
No passport. That means no international flights. I’ve gotten this far. Now how do I stay ahead of him?
She chewed on her bottom lip.
“I hate waiting for connecting flights,” a high pitched voice whined.
“Quit it, Jimmy. I’m hungry. Let’s get something to eat before our next flight.”
A connecting flight. I could go from one city to the next. That should buy me some time.
She purchased her ticket, using cash that Evie had given her. She even bought several tickets for different destinations at different counters, so that if Remington ever made it to the airport, he wouldn’t know where she had gone.
Twenty four hours after Serena fled her mate, she walked into a small motel room and collapsed on the bed.
Mentally and emotionally exhausted, she slept almost twelve hours. When she awoke, she took a long hot shower and dressed in a pair of comfortable jeans.
She counted her stash.
This isn’t going to last. I need to find a job.
Her stomach grumbled, reminding her she needed to eat. She walked to a nearby diner and ordered lunch. On the way back to her motel, she picked up a local newspapers.
I need a job that will keep me safe. Invisible. Away from chance encounters with a wolf.
She opened the newspaper and went to the classifieds section.
Waitress and cashier are out.
She flipped the page.
I don’t have any training to be a medical professional.
Ah, this is perfect. Childcare Assistant at a daycare.
She scribbled down the information and consulted the map she had picked up at the front desk earlier that day. The daycare center was two blocks away.
What if someone sees me on the way to and from work?
She studied the map, searching for other routes to and from the daycare center. Finding alternative routes soothed her wolf and she began to prepare herself for the interview. She called the daycare center and an interview was scheduled for the following day.
Serena was thrilled when she was hired. Having babysat Pack children in Tarchannen, Serena was comfortable with human toddlers. Her manager told her that as soon as her background check came back, she could start work. Serena thanked her profusely and desperately wished she could call Evie to share her good news. Knowing that she couldn’t risk Remington tracing the call, she decided she would keep a journal instead.