Opening your eyes to find that you’re upside down can’t be good, can it?
Through the cobwebs clouding her mind, Roni Axton realized that it wasn’t just she who was upside down. The car had toppled over.
Well that sucked. Clearly the fuck-up fairy had made an appearance.
Strangely, Roni felt no rush of panic, no fear. And despite that she was pretty sure her head was bleeding, there was no pain. There was only a feeling of weightlessness. Even the fact that her wolf was frantic didn’t disturb Roni in this dreamlike moment.
Her brain distantly registered that the car kept leaning sideways, as if something was repeatedly pulling at it. But it was the various sounds that penetrated her mental fog: low moans, a phone ringing, a child crying, and strange voices arguing.
Sensing that the ringtone and the moans were coming from her left, Roni turned her head to find a male wolf shifter in the driver’s seat, eyes closed. Tao. Huh. Odd that the Phoenix Pack’s Head Enforcer was with her. She rarely hung out with anyone outside her pack. In truth, Roni counted very few people as friends.
Sadly, she was very like her brother, Alpha of their recently formed Mercury Pack, in thatshe found social situations uncomfortable. In Nick’s case, it was because he didn’t like most people. In Roni’s case, it was because most people didn’t like her. Even when she was a kid, she’d found making friends difficult, especially at school. It was kind of hard to fit in when you were a tomboy with a higher IQ than that of your teachers.
It probably made things worse that she didn’t “get” her own gender. But she just didn’t see the appeal behind constantly gossiping, shopping endlessly, asking deep personal questions, or having different lotions for different body parts.
Roni was more comfortable around guys, particularly her two brothers and her Beta male, Derren. Men didn’t care that she wasn’t a people pleaser, or that she didn’t know how to satisfy social niceties, or that she preferred chocolate to living beings of any species. The only female she thought of as a friend was her Alpha female, Shaya, who—
A succession of memories suddenly hit Roni hard: Shaya singing to a toddler in the backseat, Tao playfully grumbling about the noise, the sound of tires screeching, an unexpected impact to the side of the vehicle, a blow to her head that made everything go black.
Grasping onto those threads of memory, Roni remembered how she had escorted Shaya—who was two months pregnant—on a daytrip to the zoo with Shaya’s godson, Kye, and his bodyguard, Tao. The Alpha female had wanted a break from Nick and his extreme overprotectiveness. It was during the drive back to Phoenix Pack territory when a car had slammed into theirs.
And then she’d gone and passed out like a girl. How embarrassing.
Blinking rapidly, she swiveled her head as much as she could. She might have winced at the sharp pain that lanced through her neck if she hadn’t been distracted by the fact that Shaya wasn’t in the backseat beside a still crying Kye. That was when Roni noticed the female body sprawled like a ragdoll on the grass a few feet away from the vehicle. Fuck.
The dreamy quality of the moment disappeared as reality crashed into Roni, and her wolf howled in fear and rage. One word dominated Roni’s thoughts: Out. She had to get out.
Forcing a reassuring smile for Kye, who was squirming in his safety seat and reaching for her, she crooned, “It’s okay, little man. Give me a second and I’ll—”
The car wobbled sideways again. “This crowbar is a piece of shit!” griped an unfamiliar voice.
“Hurry up!” ordered an equally unfamiliar voice. “We don’t have much time before someone shows up. Coleman and Axton will sense through their pack links that something’s wrong with their wolves.”
The stranger was right about that: she could sense Nick’s rage and anxiety. She could also sense Shaya through the pack link; she was alive, but unconscious.
“I can’t open the door, it’s jammed.”
A growl. “Move. I’ll do it.” The car swayed again. That was when Roni understood what was happening. Someone was yanking at one of the rear door handles, trying desperately to get inside . . . trying to get to . . . Kye. Oh the fuck no.
Roni awkwardly fought to unclip her seatbelt. It eventually snapped open, and she cried out at the sensation of falling onto a bed of glass. She shelved the pain as she righted herself and began to slide toward the backseat on her stomach. “Tao, wake up! Get to Shaya!” All she received was another moan.
“Shit! One of them is awake!” Rather than flee, the strangers redoubled their efforts to open the door.
Their efforts paid off.
Just as the top half of Roni’s body wriggled through the gap between the seats, the door was yanked open, and a tanned arm reached for Kye.
Roni unsheathed her claws and sliced at the limb, causing it to flinch away. Her wolf growled her approval. “I swear to God, if any part of your body tries to touch him again, you won’t get it back intact!”
“You bitch!” Two arms reached inside this time, both sporting claws of their own. One set of claws acted as a barricade between her and Kye while the other set cut through the belt that secured Kye’s safety seat to the car. In a lightning fast motion, the arms caught him before he and his seat could crash to the floor.
Roni stabbed her claws through one long, muscled arm, past bone, and all the way into the rear seat, pinning the arm in place. He howled in pain, hurling obscenities at her. Well, she had warned him; he’d chosen to ignore her, so there was really no need for that kind of language.
With her free hand, Roni worked Kye’s belt open. His little body toppled out of the safety seat and onto her outstretched arm. If her wolf could have sighed in relief, she would have. Curling her arm around him, Roni pulled him tight against her body. Only then did she release the would-be-kidnapper from the grip of her claws.
She was feeling a hint of victory when someone grabbed a fistful of her hair from behind. Turning her head as much as the strong grip would allow, she realized that the second male had come at her from the other side of the car. He held her in place by her hair while the other shifter frantically struggled to drag Kye from her grasp. The toddler was wailing and clinging tightly to her, absolutely terrified. When two large hands got a firm grip on his little waist, panic bit into her. No, no, she wouldn’t let—
Her hair was suddenly released, and a scream mingled with a familiar animal growl thatmeant Shaya had shifted into her wolf form. While Roni was relieved that she was conscious again, Roni did not want the pregnant female, ruthless or not, fighting a male shifter.
“Don’t shift!” the other male yelled. “A car’s coming!”
Footsteps thudded along the ground as the two males disappeared from view. Seconds later, there was the sound of a car speeding away, and a heavy sense of relief surged through Roni.
Hearing Shaya’s wolf pawing at the vehicle, whining, Roni assured her, “We’re fine.” But, really, Roni wasn’t fine. Her head was now throbbing, her body ached in several places, and her vision was starting to blur and darken. If she passed out again, she would be seriously unhappy. Dominant females did not pass out, dammit.
“Roni, how badly are you guys hurt?” Shaya asked, back in her human form.
Roni wanted to answer her Alpha female; wanted to ask Shaya how injured she was and reassure her that everything would be fine. But Roni’s mouth suddenly felt stuffed with cotton, her chest felt tight, and black spots were dancing before her eyes. Worse, there was a horrible ringing sound that made her head pound even more.
She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Her wolf began to panic once more as the ringing became deafening and a dark veil fell over Roni’s vision.
Then there was only blackness.
© Suzanne Wright