Crimson Hollow Book Five

Noah Jones is adjusting to his new role as Captain of the Crimson Hollow’s Deputy’s guards. It’s his duty to protect Sin, and with the new threats from The Saviors, that task becomes harder with each passing day, especially when his charge doesn’t listen to his commands. When a call comes in about an attack near their tribe, he’s sent to investigate. He expects to find carnage—just like with previous attacks. What he never expects is to find her.

Karri Mallory finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. A small party in the woods turns disastrous when gunfire erupts around her. Terrified as she watches her friends get shot, she cowers behind a group of trees, hoping no one will spot her. Even after the gunfire stops, she can’t bring herself to move, until he comes along.

When The Saviors find out someone witnessed their attack, they won’t stop until she’s dead. Even if she doesn’t trust him, it’s Noah’s job to keep her safe—but first he must prove he isn’t her enemy.

The night was unusually silent as Noah Jones made his way deeper into the dense woods. The stench of gunpowder lingered in the air and the bangs from the gunshots scared off the animals, leaving only eeriness in the attack’s wake. As he inched closer to where the incident happened, he scanned the area, searching for anyone who might still be lingering. He didn’t expect anybody from The Humankind Saviors—also known as The Saviors—but he couldn’t be too careful. They were determined to kill anyone they suspected might be shifters, but tonight’s attack took it further. The party in the woods wasn’t a shifter only event and innocent humans had been killed because of The Saviors’ hatred for shifters.

He crept through the woods, sensing the only scent that hung in the air. He wasn’t sure if the sheriff and his men had missed an injured or killed partier but as soon as he made it around these trees, he’d find out. As he moved on, he could hear the frantic heartbeat of someone. A faint hint of perfume made him think the person he was going to find was a woman—a terrified woman. He wanted to holster his weapon so he didn’t scare her but to keep them both safe, he couldn’t do that. If anyone from The Saviors happened to be in these woods still, letting his guard down would put both of their lives in jeopardy.

He eased around the tree, far enough away that he wouldn’t terrify her any more than she already was. “Miss…are you injured?”

“Please…” She held her hands out in front of her, as if surrendering. “Don’t hurt me. I didn’t see anything. I won’t tell anybody.”

“They’ve been gone for hours. The sheriff and his men have already been here. Crime scene techs and medical examiners—they’ve already processed the area. How is it that no one found you?”

“I…I don’t know.” As he crept closer, she cowered against the tree. “Okay. I’ll tell you, just please don’t hurt me. I was up in the tree.”

“Why?” Her blonde hair fell just past her shoulders, but it was her eyes that captured him. The fear shining through those deep brown eyes made him want to reach out and touch her. He could tell her that everything was going to be fine but he didn’t know that to be true. Lying to her wouldn’t put them on the right footing.

“I don’t know. When I heard people coming, I thought it was them coming back, maybe to clean up the mess. I didn’t want them to see me and the tree was the first thing I thought of. Once I realized who they were, I…I just couldn’t bring myself to face them. They’d question me and if I told them what had happened, me being the only witness, the shooters would want me dead. I didn’t go through everything tonight just to have them kill me.” She put her hands down and looked at him. “Are you one of them?”

“No, and I’m not with the police either.” He went towards her, wanting both to comfort her and interrogate her. “I need to know what you saw here tonight.”

“If I tell you, I’m as good as dead. So why don’t you just kill me? I’d rather die here and now where my friend did, than run and be chased like a mouse. I saw them tonight; the sheer number of manpower they had behind them. I don’t know who they are but I know they’re not people you fuck with.”

“I can protect you.” He couldn’t smell any blood from her and if she’d been fit enough to climb the high tree so no one would see her, then she could stand. He held his hand out to her. “Let’s get you out of here before anyone comes back.”

“Who are you?”

“The name’s Noah Jones. What’s yours?” She took his hand and his lion surged forward. Shit.

“Karri…Karri Mallory.” She rose to her feet. “If I didn’t tell the police because I didn’t think they could protect me from these killers, why do you think you can?”

His lion snarled. You’re mine, that’s why—but he stifled it. “I have resources the police department doesn’t have.”

“What are those?” Keeping her back against the tree, she glanced around into the darkness.

“There’s no one else here,” he reassured her. “I’ve already scouted the area before I came to you. But we should be moving on. There’s no guarantee they won’t circle back here to make sure they didn’t leave any evidence behind that the police missed.” It was doubtful but he didn’t want to have this conversation with her while they were standing in the middle of the woods, with the scent of blood still lingering in the air.

“I…I’m not sure.” She glanced around the area again but the vibes coming from her changed. She was nervous but he couldn’t put his finger on any of it.

“Karri?” Needing to get to the root of her unease, he placed his hand on her forearm, intensifying the dull connection between them. “What is it?”

“I came with a friend. We’re not even from here. We just drove down to see her boyfriend.”

“Good.” He slipped off his jacket and wrapped it around her shoulders. Not so much because he suspected that she was cold but to help mask her scent. If other shifters came into the area, he didn’t want them to question the lone female scent that led away from the incident. The only scent that wouldn’t have the stench of gunpowder or blood came from the emergency personnel that had shown up earlier. If he could keep her existence a secret from anyone outside of Crimson Hollow, it would ensure her safety. “No one knows you were supposed to be here, so no one will come looking for you.”

“What?” She stepped back from him, her eyes wide with fear.

“That’s not what I mean,” he reassured her when he realized what she was thinking. “Karri, I’m not going to hurt you. I meant the people that attacked tonight. They don’t know you were supposed to be here and that will make it easier for me to ensure your safety. But we need to go.”

“Go where?”

“Back to my place where you’ll be safe.” He kept his hand on her back, partially to keep the jacket in place but also to help mask her scent. “You need to lay low for a bit until we’re sure it’s safe.”

“I’m not going home with you. I don’t even know you.” She tried to pull away from him but he adjusted his position so his arm was around her, keeping her right there next to him.

“Listen to me, Karri. You’re a witness to what happened here tonight; you’re the one person that could possibly throw them in prison. Do you think they’d let you continue breathing if they found out about you? Unless you want to end up dead, you need to come with me.”

“The police…” Her voice broke, forcing her to swallow before she could continue. “They can protect me.”

“Not from these people.” Crimson Hollow Police Department might not have any of The Saviors in their ranks, at least none the tribe knew about, but Noah wasn’t willing to take the chance. Even if they were directly connected to the department, there was no way the local outfit could handle this murder investigation. Crimson Hollow was a quiet town; it had been more than ten years since someone had been murdered. There was no way they could handle a crime scene this big, or with this many dead. They’d have to seek help from outside agencies and that was where Noah’s trust ended. He wasn’t about to risk his mate.

“Who are they?” A howl in the distance sent a shiver through her and he wrapped his arm tighter around her in reassurance. “If you want me to trust you, then answer me.”

“Not here.” Keeping his arm around her, he took a step, forcing her to move with him. Garret’s howl was letting Noah and the others know he had found nothing and would head back to the tribe’s land.

“Why now?”

“Trust me for a little bit longer and I’ll tell you what you want to know.” His lion could sense no one around, but he didn’t want to have this conversation here, not where it was possible for someone to overhear them. He couldn’t tell her everything but he’d tell her what he could.

“I’m just supposed to trust you.” She shook her head but continued to allow him to lead the way back to his car.

“Would you prefer I leave you here and when they come back they can find you waiting for them?” He voiced the question knowing there wasn’t a chance in hell he’d allow that. He’d throw her over his shoulder and carry her back to the tribe if he had to.

“How do I know I’m not putting myself in a worse situation?” She stopped and turned slightly toward him. “Maybe you’re part of this or maybe you’re some type of serial killer who likes to torture his victims. If that’s the case, I’m better off with them since they just gun down people.”

“Bullshit, sugar.” He stepped toward her, forcing her to take a step back. Exactly what he wanted, so he could trap her between the tree and his body. “Now you listen to me and you listen well. I’m not like those assholes. I protect those I care about. I’m not a serial killer and I sure as hell would never torture a woman for my own amusement.”

“But you would torture them to gain something.”

“Don’t twist my words.” It came out more as a growl than he planned. He’d never hurt a woman if he could help it. But if it came down to it and they were threatening his charge, mate, or lifestyle, he would end them as quickly as possible. There was no doubt in his mind that women could be just as deadly as men.

“What could you gain from me?”

Happiness. A mate. Rather than voice his thoughts aloud, he tipped his head. “We need to go. Let’s get out of the woods and we’ll talk. If you don’t like what I can offer you, I’ll drop you off at the police station and you can figure shit out on your own.” Even though he knew he wouldn’t do it, he made the suggestion to put her at ease.

A loud moan of a bear echoed through the air, causing him to pause a moment to listen for the second and third bear to join in. When they did, he was able to let out a deep sigh of relief and breathe easier. The Chief of the Crimson Hollow Tribe, Jase, was out searching the area because he refused to stay home and wait. Noah didn’t like it; the Chief wasn’t supposed to risk himself, but at least he had agreed to take Ari and Kaden along with him.

While the Chief was out searching for The Saviors, at least his charge, Sin, was safe back with the tribe. Sin had wanted to come and as the Deputy of the tribe she had tried to force Noah to take her. He was after all her guard and her orders were law, at least until Jase overruled her. Jase and Sin’s mate, Garret, had vetoed her leaving their land. It would prove too dangerous and all of them were tired of her risking herself for little reward.

“Did you hear me?”

“What?” He stopped his in tracks and turned toward her.

“I asked what was that? Instead of answering me, you continued to move along toward the car as if you hadn’t heard the sound when I know you did. Your body tensed for a moment before relaxing. So either you’re going to tell me what’s going on or I’m out of here.”

“Where are you going to go? You came down with a friend and she’s dead. You were too scared to even get out of the tree when law enforcement was hovering around, makes me wonder if you’re not hiding something.”

“Fuck you!” She pulled away from him. “I didn’t even want to be here tonight. I told you I was here with a friend. She dragged me here.” She squeezed the bridge of her nose and she could feel the throbbing pain behind her eyes, a warning of a nasty headache.

He took a deep breath and the chemical scent hit him full force. How he’d missed it before he wasn’t sure but now that he smelled it, everything clicked into place. His lion snarled within, ready to attack whoever had done this to his mate. “You were drugged.”