Madison had stayed in the town of Ithaca for too long. The trouble with running, was the moment she caught her breath, she wanted to be running again. Summer in Upstate New York was beautiful, and the peace of camping under the stars the past few nights had been a pleasure.
As a healer, her genetic makeup told her she should stay in one place and build a family. Her genes also told her to join a Hand, but she was determined that would never happen. Neither a family nor a Hand were an option, and she could only keep running.
A Hand is a small group of magic-wielders and shape-shifters dedicated to each other. These groups are linked for life. They may belong to a larger community, but their loyalty would always be to each other. An individual Hand has five members. No one knew why the number five worked, but any other number made the Hand weaker, out of balance.
Three years ago, Madison had been forced into a Hand against her will. Comprised of four weresnakes, one of them doubling as a wizard, and herself. She escaped a few months ago after the wizard was killed, and she’d been running ever since.
Just the thought of the weresnakes made her look over her shoulder. Yup, it’s definitely time to move on. Rummaging through her backpack, she took stock of what supplies she needed. She’d checked out the map of New York the night before, and had already decided to head east toward the Adirondacks.
Eager to get back on the road, she walked toward the highway.
The forests next to the interstate were ten degrees cooler than the pavement of the highway, and Madison stuck to them as she followed the general direction of the road. A combined smell of pine and earth welcomed her into the trees. Mosquitoes whined through the air, but they didn’t bite her. She’d spent an easy summer traveling, but she would have to decide soon about where she wanted to be before winter set in.
An hour later, her thoughts were interrupted by a familiar pull off to her right. A vibration in her bones combined with a physical need to move west. Energy pulsed through her blood and would speed up or slow down depending on the need of whomever was injured. This pulse was steady as she tasted metal.
Despite not having felt it in a long time, she knew what the pull meant. No! She didn’t want someone to be injured nearby, but they were anyway.
Whatever being she felt, bleeding out farther in the woods, was not likely human or animal. From its bright energy, it seemed some sort of magical being. She tended to feel them more readily than mundane humans. As a healer she couldn’t heal everyone, and she healed magical beings more easily than humans. A type of radar ping would tell her when an injured being was nearby. The feeling was not like a pull or an itch alone, but a combination of both.
She stayed away from heavily populated areas, not wanting to heal anyone, let alone deal with the scrutiny a miraculous recovery at the hands of a mysterious stranger would garner.
The force of the pull doubled, with no way to ignore the need to heal. The injured being was either coming closer, or injured further. Scanning the area, she found a large tree with several unusual stones on one side. Staring hard at the tree and the surrounding stones, she took off her backpack. While stuffing it between the rocks and the tree, she committed the location to memory.
Now lighter on her feet, she picked up her pace toward the injured being. The woods became thicker, and the ambient animal noises quieted. That made it all the more startling, when a child screamed.
No stranger to screams, Madison didn’t run. Instead, she crouched down, duck-walking with her body close to the ground. The screams continued, coming from the other side of several large bushes.
After carefully separating branches between two of those bushes, she took in the scene in front of her from one heartbeat to the next. The injured animal wasn’t harmed accidentally and the aggressor continued inflicting damage as she watched. Fighting down her fear, she stepped through the bushes and into the small clearing.
Never having seen a troll before, Madison believed the figure in front of her fit her understanding of those beings. When he heard her, the young troll stopped jamming the tree branch into the small dog. The troll dropped the tree branch as his two large eyes rolled in different directions before coordinating to focus on her. It would have been cartoonish except for the whimpering, blood covered dog at his feet.
Keeping her attention on the troll, she sent a small amount of healing energy to the dog. She realized the dog was just a puppy. Her energy would take the pain away first, then work on its wounds. Her best opening would be aggression. She did her best to speak slowly. “My name is Madison, and I am a healer. The puppy is under my protection. Harm him further and you will regret it.”
The troll looked like a teenage human boy who played quarterback on the High School football team. With a body more square than a human’s, his eyes worked independently of each other, while several of his teeth jutted at an impossible angle. He looked like a jigsaw puzzle where several pieces were replaced with pieces from a different puzzle.
She wondered whether the troll would hurt her. Supposedly, healers are protected from harm. There were so few of them. They are treated as sacred by all magical creatures. Madison had learned the hard way this rule didn’t always hold. Her memory of troll stories made her think they didn’t follow rules anyway.
The troll spoke for the first time. “I caught him, fair and square.”
The troll looked behind her, searching for her re-enforcements. He’s wondering where my Hand is. She needed to cut off that line of questioning. “My Hand is on their way. They’ll be here in three minutes. You know what I am. I don’t want you hurt.”
Luckily, the troll couldn’t sense the lie in the last sentence. She wouldn’t enjoy hurting the troll, but she would do it if it meant stopping him from harming the puppy. Seeing how the troll had harmed the small animal brought out the protective instincts of her healer, and she steeled herself against the violence to come. The troll shifted his weight, clearly unsure whether to run, or to cause more havoc.
The puppy’s healing was nearly completed. He (she sensed he was a young male) kept his head down, staying still. Listening to the conversation, his eyes bounced back and forth between the healer and the troll. The way he followed whoever was speaking, made her think he wasn’t a normal young dog. He was likely a werewolf. Just the type of problem, she didn’t want or need.
Unfortunately for them both, the troll must have decided to cause more havoc, as he picked up the sharp tree branch he held earlier. Typical teenage boy. The troll repeated, “I caught him fair and square.”
Here we go. She hoped the werepuppy would run when the action started. Shifting her weight to her back leg, at the same time she drew a silver stiletto blade from her back. One of the troll’s eyes grew large, while the other troll eye shrank smaller. “You’re no healer!”
Not bothering to correct him, she threw the knife as hard as she could. Healers weren’t known for their speed, but she made up for her pace with practice. Having done this move by herself so many times, the stiletto became imbedded in the troll’s neck before he even took a step.
Blood oozed from the hole in the square neck, but the majority of the wound was plugged by the stiletto. Obviously never having been in battle before, the troll made the mistake of pulling out the knife. The gaping hole now gushed the troll’s lifeblood out onto the forest floor. The troll put his hand to his wound, to slow the bleeding.
Wasting no time, the werepuppy ran past the troll, heading into the thickest part of the woods. Even though she could heal the troll, Madison hardened her heart against it. If she healed him, he could catch up with the werepuppy and harm him again. Having injured the troll enough to save the werepuppy, she still didn’t want the troll’s death. She caught both his eyes before she spoke. “Keep the pressure on your neck as hard as you can and go home.”
Taking the opposite direction of the werepuppy, the troll wobbled off. As she lost sight of him, a howl came from miles away. Another howl came from a different direction, followed by a third wolf. Time to leave.
Madison ran as fast as the woods would allow. She found the backpack easily. Not taking the time to put it on her back, she held it in front of her and kept running. The location of the howling moved in the direction the troll had gone.
Minutes after the howling continued its retreat, she stopped to catch her breath and put on the backpack. Clicking the waist straps together, she started toward the highway.
The tone of the howling changed, growing deeper and fiercer. Seconds later, screams came through the trees for the second time that day. These screams weren’t puppy screams - they came from a larger body. At first they sounded more masculine, but then they became shrill. The terrible sounds ended after a few seconds.
In the sudden silence, she scrambled up a ravine and burst onto the highway. Her healer sense confirmed what her heart knew - the young troll had died. Even though he would have killed her and the werepuppy she couldn’t bring herself to be glad of his death.
Growing up with dire warnings against what happens to hitchhikers, she’d kept from hitchhiking as an adult. Breaking her own rule, she stuck out her thumb while facing oncoming traffic. A stranger in a car wasn’t as frightening as what was in the woods she’d just left.
Within twenty minutes an SUV pulled over near her. The passengers were a young couple and two children. Slowing her breathing, she opened the passenger back door before climbing in.
The family had started their vacation two days ago. A thirty-ish woman with natural red hair and freckles to match, explained they didn’t normally pick up hitchhikers, but they were worried for her safety. Me too. Madison reassured them her car had died in the previous town and she didn’t have far to go to meet her family.
A forty-something man drove the car at exactly the speed limit, dividing his gaze between the road and the stranger they’d picked up. His gaze was cautious, as if he didn’t quite trust her with his family. The young girl in the backseat watched a movie on her portable DVD, while she ignored Madison. The red-headed boy stared out the window but also watched her out of the corner of his eye.
Under the eagle-eye of the driver and not sensing any danger, Madison relaxed for the next thirty miles. When the group pulled off for gas at a large truck stop, she thanked them before ducking into the nearby woods.
The exit had the one truck stop, but otherwise there were no stores. Heading away from the exit, she walked onto a two lane road with rural surroundings. The homes ranged from trailers to small cabins. After three hours of walking, and two offers of a ride, she found an old campground.
Tired, she set up her tent but decided against a fire. Eating two granola bars and a beef jerky stick, she thought about the troll and werewolves. At first she kicked herself for not grabbing her stiletto after the troll pulled it out, but on second thought she didn’t want the weapon anymore.
The sun set as Madison crawled into the tent and fell asleep on top of her sleeping bag. After only a few hours of sleep, her dreams changed to nightmares. Snakes curled around her legs, biting her hands as she tried to bat them away.
She woke with the taste of blood in her mouth. Grabbing her remaining weapons from under the sleeping bag didn’t decrease her anxiety. Her breathing sounded loud in the darkness as she tried to slow it down. No more sleep tonight.
The dark didn’t bother her, and the moon gave off enough light for her to take down the tent and re-pack her backpack. Her anxiety threatened to turn into a full-blown panic attack. Having learned more about panic attacks in the past few months than she would have liked, her only hope of diverting an attack would be activity. Exercise helped some sufferers of panic attacks, but for her any movement gave her focus.
Retracing her steps brought her back to the road much faster than she’d come in. After thirty minutes she arrived at a house which had looked deserted earlier in the afternoon. The small cabin was well cared for, but the lawn was three weeks past due for mowing. There were two cars at the bottom of the driveway, and both had short weeds around the tires.
Sliding off her backpack, she leaned against a nearby tree. During her captivity by the weresnakes, modes of transportation were often taken. Stealing a car again made her think of that horrible time in her life, but she wanted more distance from the woods the previous morning. No more meandering.
Several dogs barked farther down the road, but no similar barks echoed from the house she watched. After thirty minutes the house remained quiet and without movement. The two cars sat under the moonlight, temptingly close.
Eeny-meeny, miny-mo. She chose the older Chevy because it had the least chance of having electronic alarms. The front doors were locked, but the back passenger side opened without sound. Sliding in, she crawled into the front driver’s seat.
The eight wires under the steering wheel pulled down in a jumble. Taking a risk, she turned on her pocket flashlight for a few seconds. Identifying the four wires she needed, the wires were separated by her fingers as she turned off the flashlight.
First, she scraped the coating off the metal. Twisting two wires together, then two more wires, she held her breath as the engine clicked once. After a pause it started up, running smoothly. Now, the getaway. Glad her grandmother had taught her to drive on a stick-shift, she eased the car into first gear. She was careful to keep the car dark by not touching the brakes. Instead, she rolled down the rest of the driveway and onto the road in first gear.
The lights stayed off and her foot kept off the brake until she’d gotten a mile from the house. At that point, the chance of her hitting a deer in the dark outweighed the chance of someone from the house seeing her, so she flipped on the headlights. Careful to stay under the speed limit, it took five minutes before she turned from the road onto the highway.
The car had only a quarter tank of gas, but it would still have to be ditched before it got to empty. Not wanting to risk stopping at a gas station, she drove until the low-gas light came on. The car had surprisingly good fuel-efficiency, and dawn had just brightened the sky when she left it on the side of the road.
Tired of being in the woods, she used a cell phone she bought the week before to look up local motels. The phone showed a cluster of them two exits ahead of her. Hot and mosquito-bitten from walking along the asphalt, her shoulders unclenched when she reached the desired exit.
The parking lot at the first motel was empty, and two windows near the ‘check-in’ sign were boarded up. At the second motel, two groups of eight or nine young men stood in the shade of trees, their movements furtive as they looked at each other over their shoulders. A bright blue motel had promise. Campers out front and children running around in the back reassured her.
The kid at the front desk wasn’t thrilled when she didn’t have a credit card for a security deposit. After paying an additional “fee” to the young man, he was content to give her a room key while he pocketed the additional cash in his jeans.
Before checking out room 112, she bought junk food from the vending machine in the front lobby. Once in her room, a cool shower and a change into her least-dirty clothes settled her. I have to hit a laundromat soon.
While eating a bag of Doritos, she replayed her encounter with the troll and werepuppy. Coming across two magical beings so close together had to be a bad sign. Neither would come after her but where there was one magical being, there were always others.
Throwing away the empty Dorito bag first, she walked to the only window in the room. It had taken her longer to travel the two exits than she’d realized, as shadows lengthened from the trees nearby. By the time she had finished stretching through yoga, the streetlamps outside had turned on in response to the dusk.
After all these months, are the weresnakes still looking for me? Instinct, and the never-ending tension in the back of her neck said yes. The constant running had become like a weight. The temptation to just stop and let them find her increased daily.
Those dark thoughts would get her nowhere, so she set clean towels out on the bed and laid on top of them. Sleep found her within moments.
Her eyes were open before her mind caught up to realizing she was awake. Her next breath found her hand on the gun under the pillow, then she sat up on the side of the bed. A sound woke me. Sitting, she kept one hand on the Ruger and one hand flat on the bed.
After waiting ten minutes, there was still no explanation as to what woke her. It was likely a tourist walking by the motel room. The clock on her phone read 01:20 AM. Instead of trying to sleep, she pulled everything out of her backpack, took stock, and put it all back. The routine of repacking helped calm her. The motel offered a breakfast bar, but not until 05:30, which seemed very far away.
If anyone (or anything) waited for her, it wouldn’t go away until she did. She picked up the empty ice bucket from a table by the door, while holding her right hand under it to conceal the gun. A quick look out the window revealed an empty street. The darkness was thick where the light from the street lamps didn’t reach.
After opening the door, she strolled outside casually, as if she only needed ice. She stayed on a concrete walkway which ran parallel to the parking lot. The walkway ended with the ice machine on the left. Pushing the lever for the ice with the bucket itself, the sound of the ice crashing out of the machine’s chute was loud in her ears.
Still not rushing, she headed back to her room. There were no night sounds, leaving the area too quiet.
Two weeks after she’d escaped the snakes, they had almost caught her. That night had also been too quiet. Hiding in a church basement, she had woken to a similar silence. Her mind blank, she had run without thought. Two blocks away from the church she’d hot-wired a car. Stomping on the gas, she had watched the snakes pour out of the church in the rearview mirror. That night taught her to listen to her instincts.
I need to run. Uncaring who watched now, she picked up her pace back to the room. Unlocking the door, she pushed it open with the ice bucket. Back inside, the door closed behind her with a soft ‘click’. There was movement in the bathroom as she stretched out her arm to set the ice bucket down.
Before her next breath, a man walked out of the bathroom. The air pressure in the room dropped, and a roaring filled Madison’s ears. The man held her stiletto out, handle first. His voice was soft in the quiet as he explained, “I came to return this to you.”
Flinging the ice bucket at the man, Madison raised her right arm. The gun held steady as she pointed it at the man’s head. Neither of them flinched as ice cubes and the metal ice bucket clanged off the wall before hitting the floor with a gong and clatter.
The man had let the ice bucket bounce off his chest as if he hadn’t noticed it. He continued to hold the stiletto out toward her, but he made no other movement. He could have been offering her a cup of coffee from the bland expression his face.
Debating whether to run or shoot the man, Madison shifted her weight to her back leg. The man’s whole demeanor changed as he smiled. The kindness in his smile surprised her. In the same soft voice from a moment ago, he said, “If you shoot me, it will be loud and our neighbors will call the police. Plus, this is my favorite jacket. I only wanted to say thank you and return your weapon to you.”
He must mean the mess it would make of his jacket if she shot him. Inspecting the man, she decided against running. He was likely a werewolf, and no one outruns a werewolf. A gunshot would definitely bring the police, and his brown leather jacket was a nice jacket.
Sigh. I will regret this. Still keeping the gun trained on the man, she stepped forward and took the stiletto from him. Other than lowering his arm, the man didn’t move. They watched each other for a moment.
This must be how two wild animals act when they surprise each other in the forest. It could also be how a bear acts when he comes upon a wounded squirrel.
“Please, let me, introduce myself. My name is Alex Spiros. The pup you saved yesterday, belongs to my pack. We are in your debt. And you are?”
She could hear the sharpness in her tone, but her fear wouldn’t let her soften. “None of your damn business. If you think you owe me, you can repay your debt by turning around and leaving.”
Alex smiled again, still kind. She took a closer look at him. The ‘man’ didn’t present as bulky or physically imposing at around 6’2”. With close-cropped light brown hair, hazel eyes and tanned skin, he looked the same as any thirty-ish businessman. You could take him for a family man if you walked by him on the street. Probably with a wife, children, and Golden Retriever waiting for him at home.
As if aware of her scrutiny, Alex straightened and turned around slowly, showing her he meant no harm. As soon as he moved, she knew him for what he was: a killer. An Alpha werewolf and a killer.
She had only been around one Alpha werewolf in her life, and the childhood memory burned in her brain. Not because of anything the Alpha had done, but because of how he’d moved. There had been a slow quality - a caution- and a danger to his movements, echoed now in Alex’s motions.
The slow quality indicated he had to concentrate on moving slowly so everyone else could follow his motions. The caution indicated he thought about it so his strength didn’t harm anyone or break anything accidentally. And the danger indicated when he was not-so-slow and not-so-careful, it would be because someone needed to die.
The Alpha must have seen the fear in her eyes. “Truly, I am not here to harm you. You smell like a healer. How can that be? And if you are a healer, then you should know I would protect you with my life. Why are you afraid?”
She couldn’t say anything without giving herself away. There must be rumors in the magical community about a healer who had been forced into a Hand and later escaped. She didn’t need to help him connect the dots faster than necessary.
A deep breath didn’t steady her, and of course, the werewolf could hear how fast her heart beat. After lowering her gun, she glanced at her backpack. It was still by the bed where she’d left it. “You say you mean me no harm, but I think I might not be free to leave.”
Alex nodded, once. He put both hands out, palms up. “I admit, I would like to have answers to my questions before you leave. I won’t stop you, but I just might travel in whatever direction you are going.”
Dammit. I shouldn’t have stopped to help that cub. “So you’ll punish me for helping a pup in your pack? You have a funny way of showing your appreciation.”
Alex winced as if she had slapped him. He must see himself as honorable, and wouldn’t like someone questioning his role as protector. His voice sharpened. “Are you in danger? I am here with my Hand. We can protect you.”
She never had much of a poker face. Her fear must have shown in her eyes. She didn’t believe he’d made a lucky guess. Grab the backpack and run! There were several cars in the parking lot she could hot-wire and be hours away before the owner woke up.
Alex’s face and tone softened. “Don’t run. Let’s make a deal. If you’ll give us thirty minutes, we’ll drive you wherever you want to go and drop you off. And we won’t follow you when you leave.”
The werewolf’s words reminded her - Alex belonged to a Hand. There would be four more magical beings outside. No way would she get past them. Her shoulders slumped. Her own actions had brought her to this. Screw her healer genes - they had never led her to a good outcome. Never.
“Okay, thirty minutes. And you give me your word, you will leave me alone?”
The Alpha nodded his head. “May we talk outside? It’s a little cramped in here. There is a small grove of trees across the street. Standing this close to you is bringing out the male part of my wolf.”
Crap! She did not need to be standing next to a turned-on werewolf in a room with a queen-sized bed. Werewolves were known for their directness around mating, and Alex’s statement confirmed that. “Step back into the bathroom please, and let me get my backpack.”
Without another word, Alex took two steps back. The gun tucked into Madison’s waistband. Keeping to the far wall, she grabbed her backpack, then opened the door. Alex said from behind her, “Don’t be afraid. They also owe you.”
He’s talking about the rest of the Hand. Great, just great.
Wondering briefly about the makeup of his Hand, she’d know soon enough. There would be at least one magic-wielder and one healer. The other two team-members could be anything: were, witch, elf or anything else magical. Stepping outside, she looked around. Alex would certainly have a way of communicating with his Hand, so they would know why the duo headed for the trees.
A large shadow already jutted out from the darker shadows, so she headed in that direction. Even without any noise behind her she knew Alex stayed a step away. A tall, thin shape separated itself from behind a car and paralleled her path. That makes three. There are two more out there.
Entering the trees took only seconds. Needing her hands free, she leaned the backpack against a tree. Alex appeared to her left. The blob in the trees became a large, square man. Werewolf. The outline from the car solidified into a tall, thin man with curly gray hair. His amulet and rings glittered with power. Magician.
Every team must have a healer to be complete, which meant one would be hiding nearby. The rule everywhere, was to protect healers at all costs. They weren’t fighters. In any battle, the healers only focus had to be healing those who were the fighters. Stupid rule.
Alex cleared his throat. “Our mage is Daniel. He doesn’t talk much.”
The magician nodded to her, his face arrogant. “Thomas is the brains of the group.”
The block of concrete with a head smiled at her. The smile showed a dimple. I don’t know about the brains, but I bet he’s the charmer of the group.
She waited for an explanation about where the other two members of the Hand were. Instead of explanations, the three looked at her with questions on their faces.
“I’m Madison. You have twenty-five minutes.”
Thomas gave what he probably thought of as his most charming smile. “Thank you for helping Kennedy. He is my sister’s child. You smell like a healer, but you don’t act like a healer, and you are by yourself.”
“Is there a question in there?”
She heard how argumentative her voice sounded as Thomas’ smile decreased two notches. She wasn’t going to make this easy.
Daniel watched her, his head tilted sideways like a bird. Alex didn’t waste any more time. “You’re a healer, and you’re in hiding. We can help you. We owe you, and we wouldn’t let anyone harm a healer anyway. Our pack lives in the Adirondacks. Come stay with us and we’ll help you.”
Wow. He got right to the point. She would do the same. “I don’t work with a Hand. I have my reasons. I appreciate the offer, but it’s just not possible. You can pay me back by never mentioning me to anyone. Also, I could use a car.”
The three Hand members looked at each other, probably communicating so she couldn’t hear. She jumped at a female voice behind her. “Alex - just tell her. She won’t trust us if we don’t trust her first.”
A small, dark female came around from the right. At first Madison mistook the woman for the Hand’s healer but her movements were more animal than human, which made little sense. A werewolf rarely made demands of the Alpha.
Alex made the introduction. “Madison, this is Lana. She is the fourth member of our Hand, and my sister.”
Being sister to the Alpha explained how the woman could speak her mind without worry. “And what is it Lana wants you to tell me? You have twenty minutes left.”
“We do not have a healer. We haven’t had one for more than a hundred years.”
The Alpha said nothing else and all four Hand members watched her quietly. Her brain struggled to process this information. How had they existed without a healer? Every Hand had to have a healer. Without a healer, a Hand couldn’t survive a battle against another Hand who had a healer. You can’t win against an enemy who can heal their wounds while you continue to bleed.
Maybe they’d been hiding also. Alex didn’t give off the impression he ever hid from anyone, but she could be wrong. Once she accepted that the Hand in front of her didn’t have a healer, she tried to control her panic. Not again. Never again.
The last (and only) time she’d encountered a Hand without a healer, she and her best friend had been held hostage by the Hand for three years. The Hand forced her to heal for them, through violence and torture. She only got away by killing the Hand’s magician, and she’d been in hiding since then.
It made sense now why this Hand followed her. They must be desperate to have a healer with them. And there was no telling what a desperate Hand would do. She needed to get far, far away from here. This couldn’t happen again.
The sound of a train filled her ears, and she remotely realized the noise matched her hyperventilating. Lightheaded, she dropped to her knees. Her vision narrowed to a small tunnel of grass. She would’ve run if she had the strength.
Knowing she couldn’t show weakness, there was no other choice. It took all her strength to keep from vomiting at the overwhelming memories of the snake-Hand. Everything she had endured from the snakes had been because they also needed a healer.
An unknown amount of time later, her breathing slowed. A heat next to her spread across her body. A comforting heat, it reminded her of the warmth under her blankets when she woke up in bed on a cold morning as a child.
As her breathing quieted, another noise came through. This sounded like the beating of a drum. Steadied by the rhythm of the sound and the surrounding warmth, she let her mind go blank. There was no running, no fear, and no looking over her shoulder.
“...safe. You’re safe. You’re not alone. We’re here with you. You’re safe.”
The voice came through strong and gentle at the same time, making it easy to believe. She would be unable to pretend much longer, but she pushed reality away a few more minutes because of those words and that voice.
She couldn’t remember the last time she felt safe. It had to be many years ago; back before her friend was murdered, and she stood alone in a cave full of weresnakes. The memory brought her head up.
She sat in a lap, on the grass. The drumming must have been a heartbeat which meant the warmth was body heat. She shifted so she could stand, but the arms around her tightened. Her body tensed to fight back when the arms lifted her to her feet. Alex spoke quickly. “I’m not trying to hold you against your will, I just don’t want you to fall.”
She stood, and Alex stood with her at the same time. Feeling the Alpha’s body move so smoothly from sitting to standing distracted her from thoughts of leaving. The heat Alex’s body had been sharing translated into another kind of heat for them both.
The other three members of the Hand were within sight, but there were all turned away. They gave the impression they were trying to give her privacy.
Alex talked as if Madison hadn’t just had a full-blown panic attack and meltdown in front of everyone. “We’re about a three-hour drive from our home base. It’s almost dawn. There’s a pancake place across the road. Let’s get breakfast before we do anything else.”