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River Wolf

By´╝ÜHeather Long

Prologue


Hudson River Valley

Full moon…


His wolves raced together through the state forest. For the last eight weeks, the healer from Willow Bend focused on Trent’s education, yet she’d managed to find time to bully Brett into pack-building exercises. The pack embraced her latest suggestion—a run together.

Despite the frolicking taking place below, Brett remained watchful and distant, overseeing the games from a hill where he could survey the valley and the old state road running parallel to the park. It was well after midnight, though the run began at sunset with Brett leading the way.

The families peeled away first, ushering their young children home for bed and school the next day. Exhausted and flushed with pleasure, the young healer-in-training, Trent, left with his parents. The seniors followed over the next hour, wreathed in satisfaction from playing together. The young adults, bachelors, and single females remained to play. Owen and Gillian continued to run with Brett’s wolves, but he’d excused himself once it was down to only the singles, after a handful of the females began to cast speculative looks in his direction.

He didn’t know who to trust in his pack, so the last thing he needed was a lover or the wrath incurred if he spurned one for another. Better to not involve himself at all. A faint rustle along the path behind him alerted him to the arrival of one of his Hunters. The scent of humanity twined with the wolf’s natural aroma, revealing the Hunter walked on two legs rather than four.

Pierce.

One of the four trusted with the protection of the pack, Pierce earned his place within Brett’s inner circle following the debacle with Marco. Releasing a sub-vocal woof, he granted the Hunter permission to approach. The man appeared out of the surrounding foliage and dropped to a knee next to him. Dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, Pierce was adept at blending into his surroundings. “We received a call from one of the Enforcers in Maine.”

Brett flicked an ear toward him, a silent order for him to proceed.

“Luc Danes was struck by a car and has been admitted to a hospital.” Once a part of Hudson River, the Lone Wolf left not long after Brett’s ascension as Alpha. The wolf had been Brett’s best friend—still was, in some ways. They occasionally got a beer together when Luc was in the vicinity. Their friendship survived Luc’s exodus from the pack, and it was because of Luc that Brett welcomed Mason Clayborne as a guest in the first few months when the current Alpha of Willow Bend had gone Lone Wolf several years before.

An irritatingly cheerful and charismatic wolf, Luc enjoyed living life on his terms. He was also clever and aware of his surroundings. Hit by a car? It didn’t fit.

“The Enforcer said they would monitor his recovery, but he’s in a coma.”

Brett’s gut clenched. Coma? How serious was the accident?

“The Enforcer is investigating the so-called accident but, as near as he could tell, Luc was in wolf form when he was hit. He’d shifted to human by the time he was found. We’re not in danger of discovery, but he may need a pack to lean on for full recovery…” Pierce trailed off, not adding the unspoken if he recovers.

Switching his attention to the healer, Brett considered his options. Gillian’s link to him gave her access to his energy and her boundless enthusiasm for caring had made her an ideal fill-in healer while she trained Trent. The young man, though, was years away from assuming his full duties as pack healer. Hudson River didn’t possess a full-time healer. Could he ask Gillian and her mate to travel to Maine and check on the Lone Wolf?

They were due to return to their pack in a couple of short weeks, and they would take Trent with them. They would return in the winter and continue to divide their time between the two packs. A perfectly equitable—he stifled the growl before it formed in his chest. Nothing about the solution is equitable, but demanding more would be an insult to Mason. Worse, it would be an insult to Gillian.

Adoring the healer compromised his emotions. The desire to see her happy conflicted with his desire to protect his pack. If he could lure Gillian into not only leaving Willow Bend permanently and attaching herself to Hudson River, but also to being happy about it… Enough. She loves her pack and has every right to refuse the concessions she’s already provided.

Pierce cleared his throat, a subtle reminder that he waited for a response. The trouble was, Brett had no quick response. He had no healer to send to Maine. Another failure on his part—no, Luc wasn’t a part of his pack, but he was a friend. The churn in his stomach soured his disposition further. Letting the fur slip away, he shifted while trusting Pierce to hold his post on bended knee.

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