Finley doesn’t want or need a mate. Broken Peak isn’t safe for a female or pups. His wolf has other ideas. When a female he’s never met is threatened, he’s convinced the only place she’s safe is at Broken Peak. Living with the Pack and him. As his mate.
Maggie Iotor is running for her life to a rumored place of safety and finds a sanctuary she didn’t think existed for shifters. There’s only one problem…
She needs to leave Broken Peak behind to keep the shifters who live there safe from the deranged leader of her Gaze set on bringing her back into the fold whatever cost.
Will Maggie turn her back on the wolf her animal has claimed as or mate and will Broken Peak lose its Rebel? Or can she accept everything Finley and Broken Peak can give her?
Maggie slid down between the large rock and tree when the rumble of an approaching vehicle’s reached her ears. She shirked most Gaze duties by running to this spot in the territory. It butted up against the state park along the back and Gaze members rarely wandered back there, much preferring the populated areas closer to the temple. Someone arriving by foot was rare enough, but no one ever drove up to her hiding spot since she first found it almost fifteen years ago when she had just turned ten years old.
In case the recent visitors found her, she tucked her book inside the small hole in the tree. She kept several treasures in the tree, away from the prying eyes of the Gaze and the punishing whims of Zachery, the Gaze leader.
A mauve, yes, it was mauve, luxury sedan pulled around the front of the tree and parked a good twenty-five feet away from Maggie’s hiding spot.
What the hell was he doing here? Zachery only traveled in the Mercedes S-Class and after he purchased one, the leaders of the other Gazes followed suit. No one leader could appear better than the others.
Martin, head enforcer for the Gaze and Zachery’s right hand, jumped out from the driver’s seat of the car and opened the back passenger door. Zachery climbed out of the car and immediately smoothed out the wrinkles of his blue tunic. Everyone in the Gaze wore the clothes as Zachery in a similar color of blue, but where his garments were made from luxury fabrics like cashmere and silk, most other Gaze members wore rough cotton or wool.
Maggie looked down at the hem of her own blue tunic, sticking out from beneath the scratchy blue wool sweater.
The sound of the trunk opening and closing, followed by the muffled wailings of a man, yanked Maggie away from worrying about the loose thread on the hem threatening to unravel.
She should have left right away.
She shouldn’t have succumbed to her curiosity and peeked through the small crevice between the rock and the tree.
If she hadn’t, she wouldn’t have heard Zachery telling Andy, one of the more vocal members of the Gaze, that he’d been talking out of turn and they couldn’t trust him to keep quiet anymore. She also wouldn’t have witnessed Martin lifting a gun and holding it under the struggling Andy’s chin. She wouldn’t have seen the trigger pulled or heard the gun shot. And she never would have seen Andy’s, now limp, body fall to the ground.
This was bad. This was so bad.
Before they could catch sight, or scent of her, Maggie grabbed her book from its hidey hole and crept away from the scene of the murder as quickly as possible without making noise.
She needed to get home.
She needed to tell someone. Her dad. Her dad would know what to do. She couldn’t trust her mother. The woman was too enthralled with Zachery not to turn her own daughter over to the fucker.
Once she figured she was far enough away from her secret place, that turned out to be someone else’s secret space too, Maggie broke out in a run. She enjoyed running, but this wasn’t like all those other times when she imagined racing towards something, anything found outside of the Gaze. This time she was running from something.
Away from discovery.
Away from punishment.
Away from death, that would likely be more welcoming than the punishment Martin doled out at Zachery’s command.
She couldn’t look behind her. Looking back would mean they would catch her. So indoctrinated to the idea of Zachery’s knowing all, she was convinced he was aware of her presence. Even if he wasn’t chasing after her. He didn’t have to. Zachery knew where she was headed.
Home. To her father.
Her feet pounded harder against the ground with a fresh burst of speed. Her house was in view. A few more seconds, less than fifty more steps. Her ears listened for the sound of an approaching car, but the surrounding area was silent. Her eyes scanned the distance for any one lurking in the shadows and ready to pounce before she could break through the barrier of the doorway.
Maggie’s father must have heard her approach. As soon as the rubber soles of her blue canvas shoes hit the stones of the walkway, the front door flew open.
She sprinted inside and pushed the door closed, leaning back against it. As if her weight could stop anyone from pushing their way inside.
“Margret, what’s wrong?” Her father rarely used her given name. If the hitch in his voice didn’t convince her of his worry, his use of Margret instead of Maggie would have cinched it.
Now that she was as safe as she could be for the moment, Maggie didn’t know where to begin. She stared at her father, opening and closing her mouth like a landed fish.
“Margret. Tell me.” His fingers tightened around her shoulders as he gently shook her. “Tell me what has you in such a state?”
“Zachery…” Maggie breathed in, filling her lungs with some much needed oxygen. “Martin. Martin, he killed Andy.”
Conrad Iotor closed his eyes and breathed in as deep as Maggie had a few moments before. “Did he see you?”
“No. I don’t know. Maybe.”
“We have to assume he knows, Maggie.” Her father’s fingers dug into her flesh. “You need to get out of here. It’s the only way.”
“We can both leave. We almost have enough saved for us, right? You’ll go with me.”
“No, Maggie. The bond with your mother is still there. If I leave with you now, I’ll just get sick and slow us both down until…”
“No. No, daddy, you have to come with. Zachery will kill you if you stay here.”
“He can’t. It would kill your mother too. Like I said, the bond hasn’t faded yet.” He straightened his spine and straightened hers as well. “Leave everything. Take the RV and go.”
What? Just go and leave him? Maggie blinked slowly at her father. “I don’t even know where to go.”
“War. Drive to war and stay hidden. Zachery isn’t stupid enough to risk grabbing you in public. Once in War, watch out for a shifter, maybe a fox or wolf, but he’s old. If he’s still alive, he’ll help you. He’s one of the MacAllistars and they always helped any of our kind in need.”
“Shifters, Maggie. He’s one of the good ones. Find him and no matter what happens, you can trust him.” Conrad walked away from his daughter and into the kitchen. Ducking under the sink, he reached for the old metal coffee tin, rusted with age, hidden in the damp recesses. Somewhere in the bottom of the can, buried under the nails and screws, as ancient as the can, lurked a collection of keys that would take her to her freedom. Her father fished them free and handed them over. “Go. Quick. Before Zachery or Martin gets here.”
“But what about you?” Maggie wasn’t worried about running, she had evaded being swept into Gaze practices by being quick. Leaving her father behind was something she had never considered when her father suggested they plan for a future outside of the gaze. And it wasn’t something she wanted to consider now.
“Don’t worry about me. Once the bond with your mother breaks, I’ll find you. And while we’re waiting, I’ll keep my head down and continue to play the oblivious idiot.” Conrad reached out for Maggie and hugged her tight. “Now, go, girl. You don’t have much time.”
Maggie brushed away a tear with the back of her hand and nodded her head at his words. If she opened her mouth, she’d cry even more. And it wouldn’t be a pretty cry. It’d be an ugly cry. One of those better done alone in the privacy of your shower because no one needed to witness it.
She kissed her father’s cheek and slipped out the back door, instead of heading out the front.
That had been part of the plan since they came up with it over eight years ago, when Maggie turned sixteen and Zachery’s leer found her more often than not. Not for the first time, Maggie wished her mother had died. The bond between her parents would have snapped and it would have been hell for her father, but at least they would already be far away from the Gaze and she wouldn’t be leaving him behind.
By the time she reached the storage shed with the RV, a few hours had passed. As near as she could tell, she hadn’t been followed. Though not being followed didn’t mean Zachery hadn’t sent Martin out to intercept her somewhere. She needed to get on the road and head to War, just like her father said. And the sooner the better.
Her hands shook as she slipped the smaller key into the padlock keeping the storage unit secure. It took three attempts before the hasp snapped free and another two tries before she pushed the door up. The front windshield of the small RV greeted her and Maggie let out a long breath.
Freedom was so close, she could taste it. Except it came with a hint of bittersweetness. In every scenario she had played out in her mind, her father accompanied her.
“Suck it up, Maggie. You don’t have time to wallow. And if they don’t have you, they can’t use you against Dad. He might even be safer on his own.” Great. She was talking to herself now.
She unlocked the door into the trailer part and stepped into the darkness. Dust and dampness invaded her nostrils, but she didn’t have time to worry about them at the moment. Once she was away from the Gaze and far enough from the long arm of Zachery’s reach, Maggie could worry about cleaning it.
First things first. Get out of her Gaze uniform. If she dressed like the humans she hoped to hide amongst, she had a better chance of getting away before someone spotted her. Her father and she had bought some old clothes at a thrift store. Just some old jeans and shirts, but it would do. She stripped off the blue clothing and left it in a pile on the floor. She wanted to throw it out, but she didn’t have time to burn it, and leaving it in a trash can somewhere just meant Martin had a trail to follow. Maggie kicked them away and dressed in her used clothes. She even changed shoes. Anything to never have to wear canvas shoes again, and she’d be happy.
The one item she didn’t hide away in the small bathroom in the RV was her book. She ran to Moundsville in such a rush, she completely forgot The Source was still tucked in the waist of her pants. She climbed into the front and set the book down on the console between the driver and passenger seat. Her phone landed in her cup holder and she started the engine with a wish and a prayer.
It took three tries, but the engine turned over and she pulled out of the storage unit. For ten seconds, she debated leaving the door open, but the minute it would take her to close and lock it could slow Martin down long enough for her to get safely out of Moundsville. The entire time she was out of the RV, she kept her eyes, ears, and nose open for any Gaze members who might be tracking her. She only climbed in behind the steering wheel once she was convinced no one was watching her movement.
Before she thought better of it, Maggie shifted the RV into gear and pulled out into the street that would lead to the highway that would take her to War. Without thinking twice, she grabbed her phone and pulled up directions to War. Just over five hours. It would be dark by the time she pulled into town.
Now was not the time to worry about when and where to stop. The RV had a full tank of gas and she had a lot of miles to put between her and the Gaze before she considered stopping for any reason other than filling up her gas tank.
Less than two hours and just under a hundred miles, Maggie pulled off at the southbound rest stop on 77s. So much for waiting until she got closer to War before stopping. But she needed the bathroom and could stand to grab a few bottles of water from the vending machine.
She washed her hands four times with the automated faucet in the rest stop’s bathroom because her raccoon was not going to be satisfied with just one round of washing. The air dryer, meant to conserve on paper towels, was as reliant as the stream of water. Which was to say Maggie had to contort her body just right to keep the constant stream of air coming.
She pulled the door open and almost crashed into the back of a man dressed in blue clothing. Either he was too wrapped up with his phone call or one of the true believers who sucked at his job but would do anything Zachery ordered to notice Maggie’s quick retreat back into the bathroom.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
Crouching down, she looked through the vent at the bottom of the door.
“No. No one here’s seen her…” The man paused as he listened to the voice through his phone. “I know her phone says she’s here, Martin, but I swear, she’s not.”
Well, this was a bigger shit than before.
No wonder Martin hadn’t chased after her. He didn’t need to. All he had to do was look at some app on his phone and he’d find her no matter where she went.
Maggie fell back on her bottom and skooched back against the wall covered in subway tiles. Probably easier to clean.
With a sharp shake of her head, she yanked her thoughts back to the problem at hand. How did she get to the RV while avoiding anyone else looking for her from the Gaze and what to do about the phone?
The bathroom had one window high up on the back wall, protected with a metal grate. Even if she got the grate open, she wasn’t sure the window open. The only way out of the bathroom was through the door and around the idiot Martin sent to grab her. The idiot might not recognize her scent through the bleach used to clean, but he’d smell her as soon as she walked past him.
“I’ll just be a minute while I wash my hands. Don’t touch anything and stop hitting your brother. No, just put your hands in your pockets and stand right there.” The door opened and Maggie jumped to her feet as a woman who looked as frazzled as Maggie’s nerves walked in.
The human woman’s eyes narrowed on Maggie and her lips pursed, but she didn’t say anything.
Most of the humans in Moundsville looked at the Gaze members with suspicion when they went into town, but the calculations going on behind the woman’s eyes didn’t seem to perceive Maggie as the threat.
“You better not be getting into any trouble out there!” The woman walked to the sink and washed her hands while watching Maggie in the mirror. When she finished washing the woman stepped in front of the hand dryer closest to Maggie and waved her hands under the nozzle until the motor revved and air shot from the nozzle. “I can get you a minute or two. Is that enough time?”
It took Maggie a few seconds to not only realize the woman was speaking to her, but also offering help.
Maggie nodded, not trusting herself to say anything.
“The creepy guy in blue, right?”
Again, Maggie nodded.
“Give me fifteen seconds, then head out. There’s a custodian’s office just out this door, with a door at the other end that leads outside. I saw it propped open when I came in.” The woman shook her hands free of the last droplets of water and didn’t wait for Maggie’s answer before heading out the bathroom. The high-pitched scream from a woman followed.
Maggie didn’t bother trying to decipher what the woman was carrying on about. Instead, Maggie counted back from fifteen. When she reached one, she pulled the door open. The area in front of the bathrooms was empty. Everyone in the rest stop had run to the woman who used words like pervert and creeper.
The office was right where the human said and Maggie walked in. Empty but for the cleaning supplies, an old desk along the back wall, and a filing cabinet. Maggie ignored everything, although her fingers itched to touch the knickknacks on top of the desk.
Once through the back door, she took a deep breath of freedom and then dashed to the RV. At least she had enough sense not to park right in front of the rest stop building. She hopped into the driver’s seat, grabbed the cell phone, and scampered into the living part of the vehicle.
She could toss the phone, but idiot boy’s appearance spooked her enough to decide throwing it out wouldn’t be enough. The phone had to die, and she didn’t have many options. The battery slid free, and she flushed it down the toilet first. Next came the sim card with another flush. Finally, the phone went down the toilet with the last flush. She didn’t bother filling the bowl with water before each flush, and she probably didn’t even have to separate the parts of the phone, since it all landed in the same tank. But it eased her raccoon’s anxiety and soothed some of her nerves.
As soon as the phone slid down the tubing, she got back behind the steering wheel and got the hell out of the rest stop. Frankly, it was a miracle she didn’t back into anyone or thing, but maybe luck was on her side. The tires hit the freeway and Maggie breathed. She did her best to push aside the idea that her phone was the only way she could speak with her dad.
She wouldn’t worry about that until she got to War and checked into the hotel. She’d waste sixty dollars on a room she wouldn’t stay in and a bed she wouldn’t sleep in. But if the Gaze knew she was headed to War, she could at least make them work to find her.
In retrospect, Maggie wouldn’t know for sure whether it was a good or bad thing she pulled off at the rest stop. She leaned towards it being good overall, but there were a few minutes when she regretted letting something like a full bladder push her to making a stop before she was even two hours away from Moundsville and almost getting caught and dragged back to the compound.