Merle isn’t the wolf he was before, and who could blame him? He was sold to the labs, then Tom, Alpha Erskine’s second, kidnapped and tortured him, leaving him for dead. Merle’s body has been healed, but his mind hasn’t, and he’s struggling with everyday life and nightmares. Add to that an overbearing mother, and his life is a mess.
Nootaw left his wendigo tribe a year before, but even though he hasn’t hurt anyone since then, people still regard him with fear and disgust. Not even moving to Gillham changed that, but he’s use to it by now. When Nootaw is asked to help find Merle, he doesn’t expect Merle to take a sniff at him and tell him they’re mates. Nootaw isn’t sure what to do with Merle, because everyone knows wendigoes don’t have mates.
Merle insists on giving Nootaw a chance, even though he might lose his mother over it. Then Nootaw disappears, reappearing with someone Merle hadn’t expected. Will Merle be able to leave his nightmares behind and be the man Nootaw needs him to be? And will Nootaw manage to get used to a life he’d never thought he could have?
Merle jerked up in his bed and looked around the room. He recognized it, knew it was his, but that didn’t help reduce the fear that made his heart beat so fast and hard.
He clutched at his sheet even though he was too warm and sweaty, but it didn’t help. He still wanted to run away from his mind, from the nightmares that haunted him.
Merle pushed the sheet away and didn’t bother putting on clean clothes. He hurried to the back door, praying his mother wouldn’t hear him, and exited the house. He stood on the porch and tried to breathe, but even outside, he could still feel the panic crawling under his skin, making him want to run as far and fast as he could.
He pulled his T-shirt and the briefs he’d worn to bed off and threw them on the floor. He shifted, needing to be free, to be able to run and forget.
Merle launched himself down the porch and ran. He didn’t know for how long, but he made sure he stayed in pack territory. The last thing he wanted was to be captured again, to be tortured like he’d been so recently.
He stayed away from the houses and the people sleeping in them. The only sounds around him were the ones of the night—owls, small animals scurrying around the woods. Merle lost himself to his wolf and pushed away his humanity. It was the easiest way to forget, and sometimes he wished he could just become his wolf.
He didn’t do that only because of his family. His mother would be distraught, and it was the last thing Merle wanted. She’d already suffered so much when he’d been sold, then when Tom had taken him. Merle could see the fear in her eyes every time he left the house, the relief every time he came back safe.
Merle slowed down, then stopped. He was breathless and his legs felt like jelly, but he’d finally managed to forget, at least for now. Not that the thoughts of what he’d been through ever left him, but they were easier to ignore when he was very tired.
He looked around and tried to understand where he was. He usually had a good grip on where in the woods he ended up, but this time, whether for the fear he’d felt or something else, he had no idea.
Merle could smell familiar scents, though, so he knew he wasn’t too far away. He knew he still was in pack territory, and that was the only thing that mattered right now. He wouldn’t be taken if he stayed there, so he sat down, then went down onto his belly.
The cool forest ground felt nice, not as soft as Merle’s bed would be, but enough for him to relax. He could still hear the rush of blood in his ears, but it slowly calmed down and left Merle feeling sleepy. He knew he should get up and go back home, but he didn’t want to yet.
He blinked at the trees in front of him and his eyes slowly closed. He sighed and felt himself drift into sleep, promising himself he’d get up in a few minutes.
Something poked at Merle’s nose and he wrinkled it. “Hey, wake up. I need to know if you’re the wolf I’m looking for or if you’re going to try to eat my face.”
Merle didn’t want to wake up. He liked the place he was in right now, all sleepy and carefree, and he wanted to stay there for as long as he could.
Another poke. “Merle? Is that you or not?”
Merle wrinkled his nose again. He wanted whoever was bugging him to go away, so he curled up tighter and stuck his nose against his hind leg. Someone chuckled and walked closer. There was a soft touch on Merle’s head. “I think we can safely say it’s him.”
Merle recognized that voice. It belonged to Craig, the man who was supposed to train Merle to become a soldier for his pack. Supposed to, because Merle had never gone back to training after he’d been taken the second time.
Merle didn’t want to see him. He didn’t want to see the worry and disappointment on yet another face, so he kept his eyes closed tightly, even when Craig stroked between his eyes and Merle wanted to expose his chin to be scratched there.
“I’ll call Kameron, then,” the other voice replied. The man walked away, his steps scrunching against the forest ground.
“What are you doing out here, Wolfy?” Craig asked gently.
Merle huffed and untucked himself. He stretched out and Craig moved away to give him space. Merle yawned and sighed. He wasn’t tired anymore, and from the light, he could tell it was late, probably around midday. He hadn’t meant to fall asleep in the forest, and he knew his mom was probably going crazy with worry.