Shifter United Book One
After two weeks as a prisoner of The Saviors, Dave Eckhart is freed from the basement, but he’s far from the man he was before. The torture he’d experienced left his beast lingering close to the surface, threatening to break his control. The only thing soothing his wolf and his need to immediately eliminate The Saviors is the touch of the woman who’d strolled into the police station and turned out to be his mate.
With secrets of her own, Bryleigh Convel has been living her life on the run, moving from town to town anytime anyone got too close. She’d suffered at the hands of The Saviors before and had no intention of allowing it to happen again. They might have wanted her for what she could do, the help she could give them, but now that she’s supposed to be Dave’s mate their need to capture her will only grow.
The vengeful actions fueled by hate brings two destined people together, but after years of guarding her heart, can Bryleigh allow Dave in? Can she trust the very group she grew up being told was evil? Both Bryleigh and Dave have scars from people filled with hate. Can they find a way to allow love to lead them away from the horrors?
One, two, three, breathe. For what seemed like the hundredth time in the last minute, Dave Eckhart pushed his wolf down and continued to pace the police interview room. He’d been there for more than eleven hours. Most of the time had been spent pacing. There was nothing left to say, nothing left to do, but the powers that be weren’t ready to release him yet.
With every second his wolf grew anxious, the need to shift became nearly overpowering. It had been more than two weeks since the last time his beast was free, and with every second he put it off, his unease grew. So far, he’d been able to keep it to himself and protect his pack from the turmoil within him. How long would he be able to continue that? He suspected not much longer.
I can’t blame The Saviors for wanting your kind dead. You’re an abomination. A disease that will kill humanity if given the chance. The police officer’s earlier words echoed through his thoughts, reminding him once again his secret was out. By now the world would know he was a shifter, and likely if he hadn’t lost his job already, it would be coming soon. The normal life he’d worked so hard to balance in conjunction with his duties to his pack had been swept away from him by the hands of The Saviors.
As the door opened, Dave spun back to it, ready to give whichever officer who entered a piece of his mind. He was tired of being stuck in this room, but more than that, he needed to get back to his pack where it was safe for him to shift.
His gaze fell onto the young woman standing in the doorway. Unlike everyone he’d come into contact with she wasn’t wearing a police badge. Her faded blue jeans and light green sweater caught his attention, but it was her bright smile making it clear she wasn’t a police officer.
“What?” The question came out more of a growl than he’d intended.
“Umm…” She stepped into the room, and without taking her gaze off him, she pushed the door shut behind her. “Deric sent me.”
“And who are you?”
“Bryleigh.” She tucked a strand of her long whiskey-brown hair behind her ear and stepped farther into the room. “Deric asked me to get you out of here and back to your…umm…to Nebraska. He couldn’t leave and it seemed to make sense for someone in the area to come. Otherwise, it would take too much time. Time he didn’t want to waste.”
“I don’t know what your relationship with my brother is, but I can find my own way home.” The moment the door had opened, he’d become aware she was human, and after everything he’d gone through, he wasn’t about to spend any prolonged time in the company of an unknown person. Not even one his brother might know.
“Crosby, North Dakota, is a thirteen-hour drive back to Lincoln.” Seemingly unafraid, she stepped closer and kept her voice low. “It’s not a journey you should make alone, especially in your condition and with your secret out. So, there’s a little diner down the street. Why don’t we get out of here and discuss it there? No reason to give them an opportunity to keep you here any longer.”
“You think a human female is the best choice for a travel companion?” Before she had time to respond, he shook his head. “Doesn’t matter, I haven’t been released yet.”
“I took care of it before I came in here.” With a slight tip of her head toward the door, she watched him. “What do you say? Let’s get out of here.”
“I’m not making any promises.” Still, he stepped toward the door, anxious to get out of there. Freedom.
“I wouldn’t expect you to.” The corners of Bryleigh’s mouth curled upward a second before she turned back to the door.
As she turned her back to him, he had a brief moment to wonder if she was either naïve or foolish. She had to know he was a shifter and yet she seemed completely at ease, as if she knew he wouldn’t hurt her. Definitely foolish. His wolf hadn’t been freed in over two weeks, making his control over his beast a task all its own. One he was afraid he was going to lose very soon.
“Mr. Eckhart, I hear you’ll be leaving us.” Detective Ball rose from where he was leaned against the wall outside the interrogation room. “Let me give you a friendly piece of advice—get out of town before nightfall.”
“Detective Ball, isn’t it?” Bryleigh didn’t wait for him to answer before taking a step closer to him. “I suggest you do a better job concealing your ties to The Saviors, otherwise you might just find yourself in one of those jail cells soon.”
“I…” Coughing, he cleared his throat, but before he could speak again, Bryleigh cut him off.
“Don’t bother denying it.”
Dave stepped up next to her, his beast pushing against the bounds to be released. Instead, he remained in control as he kept his voice low enough, so no one overheard their exchange. “You might know what I am, but I know who you are. Remember that before you start anything.”
“Detective Ball, you need to have a long thought concerning your family and what the path you’re taking will do to them. It’s not too late to change gears, but you better do it soon,” she added as she tipped her head toward Dave. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Some of the people you count on will vanish if you continue. But you already noticed that, haven’t you?” Dave glanced down the hall toward the other officers milling about. “Yeah, they’ve already started to separate themselves from you.”
Without giving him a chance to comment, Dave strolled down the hall, Bryleigh following close to his side. The little exchange had brought his wolf closer to the surface, making his need to shift stronger. He couldn’t wait thirteen hours until he made it back to the wolf pack. He’d need to find somewhere safe to shift and run, even if only for a few minutes. Not much longer and I promise we’ll shift.
* * *
Her sanity must have finally snapped otherwise Bryleigh couldn’t figure out why she’d agreed to Deric’s request. She had been tasked with picking up the Alpha of the Lincoln, Nebraska, wolf pack. It should have been an easy task, but now that she’d found him, she realized it would be anything but easy. The moment she’d walked into the room and felt his wolf, she realized the mistake she’d made. Not only did his beast radiate more power than she’d felt before, but he was also desperate for a release. How long had it been since his wolf ran free? Was she in danger being alone with him?
No, Deric wouldn’t have sent me if he thought his brother couldn’t control his wolf. He’s an Alpha. He can control his beast, right?
Making their way out of the police station, she took in the man before her. Through his torn and bloody white dress shirt she saw his toned physique. The bruises along his chest and arms were dark enough they could be seen through the material. As an Alpha, the power he held would speed the healing, yet it looked as if they were fresh to only days’ old. What horrors had this man suffered through before help had arrived? How did that impact his control over his wolf?
Stepping out of the precinct, Dave paused near the door, tipping his head back as if to look at the sky. With the sunlight hitting off him, she was able to get a better glimpse of the marbled shades of bruising under his shirt and what appeared to be rope burns around his neck and wrists. He let out a deep sigh, breaking the spell she was under and reminding her where they were. Realizing he needed the moment, she didn’t want to interrupt, but the sooner they got him away from the area, the better it would be for both of them. It was likely someone from The Saviors was watching for him to be released. If they had the opportunity to kidnap or kill him, there was no doubt in her mind they’d do it. It would be a risk, but they’d take it to end the life of a shifter, especially one who might be able to bring charges on some of their members. This put them both in danger. The two of them alone didn’t stand a chance against a group of The Saviors if they were determined to take him captive again. They might be smart enough not to attack outside the police station, but there was still thirteen hours between them and the safety of the wolves’ compound. Many miles of open road, which left plenty of opportunities for The Saviors.
So much for my quiet life here. She glanced down the street to Bec’s Bakery. That was the place she’d miss the most. Bec had taken her under her wing and given her a job when she’d shown up in town nearly a year ago. She was leaving Crosby—like many other cities she’d stayed in over the past few years—without saying goodbye to a single person. This had been the first place that had started to feel like home and now she jeopardized it to help someone she didn’t even know.
“Which way?” Dave asked without glancing at her.
This time will be different. Determined, she strolled toward her car. “My car’s this way. Let’s go.”
“You said the diner was down the street. Why don’t we walk?” Even as he questioned her, he fell into step beside her.
“We both need something the diner can’t give us, but I know the perfect place.” Her gaze traveled over his toned body, once again taking in his torn and bloody suit. “You can shower and change after you’ve met your other needs.”
“Who are you?” He placed his hand on her arm, stopping her before she could step off the curb and go to the driver’s side of her car. “You know about shifters, but you’re not one of us. Shifters are private people and Deric takes it to more of an extreme than most, yet you claim to know him. So, if you think I’m going anywhere with you, you have some explaining to do first.”
“Do you really think this is the place to answer the questions you want to ask?” She glanced around the street, taking in those in the vicinity. “I get you don’t trust me. Why should you? How about I let you drive? I’ll explain while you drive. You’ll be in control, and we can get out of view of prying eyes.”
“Just like that you’d hand over the keys to your vehicle to a stranger?” He raised an eyebrow at her, causing the cut above his eye to pull open and fresh blood seeped from the wound.
“No, not to anyone, but…” She brought her attention back to him as she hoped he’d understand what she was trying to say without having to put it into words.
“A man like you is used to being in control. Recently, your control was robbed from you, and this is what I can do to give it back. You can drive, and if you don’t like what I have to say, you can stop and get out. I’m here to help, not to trap you. But if either of us want to get out of North Dakota alive, we need to get a move on it.” She stepped closer until their bodies nearly touched, ensuring no one overheard what she was going to say. “The Saviors have been making their presence known lately, taking over the town. Trust me when I say someone will report to them that you’ve been released, and they saw me with you. You must realize what they’d do to get their hands on you again. They might have wanted something from you before, otherwise they wouldn’t have kept you alive long enough for anyone to find you, but they’ll want you dead now. Your testimony could put some of their group in prison and they’ll do whatever they can to stop that.”
“Why are you risking yourself to help me?” He glanced around them, as if for the first time taking in the others in the area.
“Let’s continue this conversation somewhere a little less visible.” She dug the car keys out of the pocket of her jeans and then held them out to him. “You know everything I’ve said is the truth.”
“Get in.” He grabbed the keys from her and then strolled around the back of the car toward the driver’s door.
Climbing into the passenger side, she glanced toward a group of people she didn’t recognize at the far end of the street. Something about the way they stared in their direction sent alarm bells off in her mind. They needed to get out of town and on the road. This stop won’t take long and will give him the break he needs. His sanity is worth an extra few minutes at the cabin.
The driver side door opened a second before he got in beside her and then slid the key into the ignition. After he started the car, his gaze focused on the same group she’d spotted moments before. “Friends of yours?”
“No. I’m pretty sure the opposite.”
“Makes me want to give them a reason to stare.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I’m not naïve enough to think they didn’t know I’m a shifter. A shifter with a beautiful woman. If I leaned over and kissed you, they’d shit themselves.” With a shake of his head, he put the car into gear and pulled out of the parking spot. “Where are we going?”
“Follow this road. It will take us out of town. It’s a few miles before the first turn. I’ll let you know when. A friend has a cabin far enough away from prying eyes so we can do what needs to be done.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” He shot a glance toward her before turning his attention back to the road.
“I mean…it’s been a while since you’ve…well, you know what I mean.” She adjusted in her seat, allowing her to get a better look at him. The bruise on his jaw and cut under his eye made him look rugged and dangerous. Making her question once again her decision to put herself in this position.
“Shifted,” he supplied when she struggled. “Are you asking me if it’s been a while since I shifted?”
“You placed yourself in a car with a man you believe hasn’t shifted in some time. Do you realize how dangerous that could be?” The amusement was clear in his voice.
“Damn it, Dave, you’re twisting my words.” She let out a breath as she tried to regain control of the situation.
“I thought it was insane when you handed your car keys to a complete stranger. Now you’re making me certain insanity is your trademark.” He glanced at her again and shook his head. “Before, I just thought you were too trusting. Getting into a car with a shifter you don’t know is dangerous. What if I wanted to harm you? But now we’re talking about a shifter who hasn’t let his animal free in some time, and that makes the situation more dangerous for you as a human.”
“You’re talking about this as if it isn’t you. This detachment level is not healthy.” Pulling her attention away from him, she forced herself to look out the window. The outskirts of town flew by as she glanced at the road she’d have taken to go home. She already missed her cute little bungalow with flowerboxes at each of the front windows. “I can’t see you shifting while they had you captive. The raw wounds on your wrists and neck lead me to believe you were tied up. If not the whole time, some time recently. Even if you’d been free to move about, the seconds it takes to complete the transition would leave you vulnerable to attack. You’re not the type of man who would allow that weakness, no matter the cost.”
“You know nothing about me.” His voice deepened with a growl.
“Tell me I’m wrong.” She turned to glance at him, giving him a chance to deny what she’d said. When he remained silent, she continued. “I have a sense about people. The moment I came into the interrogation room, I could feel your wolf. He’s desperate to be let out of the confines of your human skin. It’s hard to explain.”
“What are you? You’re not a shifter, that much I’m sure of, but humans can’t sense a shifter nearby.”
“I don’t really know.” Not able to look at him, she glanced out the window again. “It’s the road coming up on your left. There’s no sign. Just a dirt path after this row of trees.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?” After he turned onto the dirt road, he glanced toward her.
“I think we have bigger problems at the moment. Don’t you?” She dragged a hand through her long whiskey-brown hair and pushed her frustration aside. There was no reason to take her annoyance out on him. She was the one who’d made the decision to give up everything to help him and Deric. “I brought you here because you need to shift, but we need to be quick. Do what you need to do, and when you’re done, come get me from the cabin. We really need to get on the road.”
“This conversation isn’t over.”
“No doubt.” She mumbled more to herself, but there was no doubt he’d heard her.
“I have other questions that need answered.”
“Dave…” She sucked in a deep breath and held it for a moment before letting it out with her aggravation. “Isn’t it enough to know Deric trusted me enough to get you out of Crosby?”
“You could tell me anything. You’ve offered no proof you even know Deric, let alone anything to prove he sent you.” He pressed his foot on the brake, and as the car slowed, he twisted in the driver’s seat to stare at her. “How do I know you’re not leading me into a trap? For all I know, The Saviors could be waiting for us at the end of this road.”
“You’re conflicted right now because your wolf is too close to the surface. Focus and you’ll know I’ve not lied to you. The Saviors wouldn’t just kill you. They’d kill me as well. While you might think I’d betray you, I can promise you I wouldn’t risk falling into their hands again. I wouldn’t sacrifice myself to save you no matter how indebted I might feel to Deric.” She tipped her head toward the car’s front window. “Why don’t you drive? This is private land. I’ll check the security cameras, but no one should be around, so you’ll be free to run without anyone seeing you. After you’ve shifted, you’ll feel better, and you can use my cell phone to call Deric.”
“Hell.” Easing off the brake, he turned his attention back to the road.
As he continued driving down the dirt road toward the cabin, she stayed silent, afraid anything she’d said might have him stopping again. While she understood his desire to have all his questions answered, she also didn’t want to end up dead because he was delaying their exit. It was a delicate balance, one she was still trying to find, but something told her he’d be more reasonable once his wolf wasn’t demanding a shift. Thirty minutes, that’s the longest we can stay. Either with him in the car or not, I’m out of here.
“I’ll ask again. What is she doing here?” Oswalt boomed, loud enough to shake the pictures on the wall.
“She’s Dave’s mate.” Jase’s gaze drifted from Oswalt to Dave clearly confused with Oswalt’s reaction.
“You mated Deskins’ daughter? Do you not know what Susan Deskins did to our kind?” Oswalt’s gaze focused on Bry. “The blood on your hands is so thick it will never wash away.”
“Deskins’ daughter?” Jase’s gaze shot toward her and Dave, but to his credit he kept his voice steady.
“Now let’s wait a minute.” Dave shifted his body, so he stood more in front of her than beside her.
Almost simultaneously with Dave, Convel stepped up to stand beside her, close enough she felt his wolf pulsate along his skin. His ridged posture let her know he didn’t like where this was going any more than she did. They were outnumbered. Howl was outside, but if things went sideways, there wouldn’t be time for him to make it to them.
“How do you know…” Her voice came out barely above a whisper.
“Did you ever wonder why your mother hated shifters so strongly?” Oswalt asked, ignoring her question.
“She’s Deskins’ daughter?” Jase asked again.
“I don’t see why this matters. Shifters don’t pay attention to family history in the same way humans do. Our lives are long. So long we don’t want the enemies our kin made to impact us throughout our lives. We give each other a pass at least until they prove they’re the same as their kin.” Dave kept his attention focused on Oswalt.
“We don’t give humans the same pass,” Oswalt shouted. “Nor do we overlook the actions of a murderer.”