The days pass in flashes of pain, sweat, ice and sleep. Alice and Jasper appear in the kitchen sometime during my last circuit of weight lifting machines. Tanya hands me a protein smoothie and places a kiss on my lips. This is the calmest I have seen her since I woke up in the cabin.
"Drink up. I have plans to wash the sweat from your body and get a firsthand account of your rejuvenating progress. After you rest, we begin the hunt."
Hoping I get to reciprocate in the shower, I down the peanut butter smoothie—it's the only flavor that covers up the nasty tasting powders and supplements Rosalie likes to throw in them. With a wave to the newcomers, I grab Tanya's hand and lead her upstairs.
I reach for the hem of her blouse only to get my hand smacked. "I get to take care of you until I say you are fit. Until then, I expect your complete cooperation. How many times are we going to have to go over this?" The frustration leaks through each of her words.
I just don't understand how she expects me to act like an invalid. If I knew anything about knots, I would bind her to a chair and force her to admit that I have been perfectly capable of doing the mundane tasks required to care for myself since a few days after she laid eyes on me.
I open my mouth ready to take her down a peg or three when a tinkling voice carries through the closed doors. "Leah, give her ten more minutes, and then both you and Jasper will calm down. As soon as she sees that your leg is back to natural strength, Tanya will finally see reason again."
I never thought I would end up trusting, let alone liking, so many vampires. I count down from one hundred in my head as she undresses us. There is nothing romantic in the movements. They almost seem robotic.
The mirror has started to steam over as we enter the glass enclosed shower. Twenty-five, twenty-four… Around the time I reach thirteen, a purr drowns out the thudding of the water. Instead of the methodical wash that has taken place the past few days, soft kisses are being placed along my spine. With so many ups and downs in the last week, I'm not sure how to respond. When her arms encircle my waist and her fingers brush through my curls, I decide her sanity has returned. I spin around and pin her to the wall. Surprise flashes over her face prior to me capturing her lips with my own. My left hand seizes her right, bringing both to rest above her head. With my other hand, I trace the curves of her body. Deciding she needs to be teased a bit, I avoid the more obvious spots. I trace along her lower ribs and the small protrusions of her hipbones. When her curls impede my exploration, I graze the outline of her folds. Not being able to restrain myself any longer, I drop to my knees and swipe my tongue along the same lines my fingers previously traveled. The amount of wetness I find there alerts me to arousal. Unable to deny her much longer, I put to use all the know-how I've picked up with others. Her moans echo around us, driving me to push her over the edge. Adding a third finger does the job. The muscles convulsing and pulling my fingers further into her force me onward to my own release. I pinch my clit and join her in the throes of passion.
The water is cut off while I come down from my high. A towel is draped over my shoulders. Her hands gently encourage the fabric to absorb the droplets from my body. As my other sense return, I notice other moans from around the house. I finally catch on to Alice's comment about Jasper's release. At least the others get to benefit from our amorous feelings.
Eventually everyone reassembles in the living room. Apparently while Emmett and Rosalie kicked my ass into shape, Alice and Jasper have been running around the continental forty-eight trying to find the deviants who decided it was acceptable to kill creatures on land set aside for them to thrive. They have discovered that there are two men ultimately responsible: one in South Dakota and one in Wyoming, not far from where I was captured.
Jasper goes on to explain how the Fish and Wildlife Service are aware that there have been traps being set on the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming and on Lake Andes Refuge in South Dakota but haven't spotted evidence elsewhere. "The step-brothers have been taking care to clean up after themselves, not leaving much tangible evidence for the government to locate let alone prosecute them. However, after some snooping in the house in South Dakota, there is plenty of evidence to tie at least one brother to the poaching in his state. It will be easy for us to clue the authorities in on him. The brother who left the trap that captured Leah has done a better job of keeping all evidence bottled up. We just lucked into finding him checking the traps while we traversed the area. Besides, I figured you would want something a bit more hands-on when it comes to his penance." Jasper directed the last remark directly at Tanya. "Did you want us to take care of the brother in South Dakota from here? It would be easy to contact the right authorities and leave an anonymous hint saying we spotted his truck leaving the refuge with a dead animal. That should give them more than enough for a warrant to search his house and find the rest of the incriminating evidence."
"That should be all right. He isn't directly responsible for my Leah's injury. The one in Wyoming is mine. I will rip his head off his shoulders after turning every hair on his head gray."
I comb my fingers through Tanya's hair. Her black eyes jump to mine as I say, "Tanya, I won't let you kill him."
"What do you mean you won't let me kill him? He hurt you! He dies! This isn't something open for debate."
"I am a protector of mankind. I can't let you kill him. Feel free to scare him out of his mind and drive him insane, even place the torture devices on him forcing him to have a permanent limp, or turn him over to the authorities like you are with his step-brother, but please don't put me in a position where I will be forced to protect the one that harmed me." I all but beg her to understand my dilemma.
She jerks up and lunges through the back door. Her destruction of the surrounding spruce trees echoes within the room. I wish I could find it in me to allow her the revenge she wants. However, no matter how far I run from my heritage or how much the others I ran from hurt me, I know that I still have a duty to uphold.
Listening to her pain thunder around me causes the wolf to erupt. A howl splinters through the mayhem from outside. Unable to command the conflicting thoughts running through my mind, I back into a corner and try to shut out the pain I know I've inflicted on my imprint.
I can hear and feel the others move around the room. There is enough commotion that they must be devising a solution to the situation I have managed to put us in. I wish I was strong enough to help, to let the morals imparted on me as a child slide away to make her happy.
Hours seem to slip by without any change. My wolf starts to convince me of the inevitable—we always knew we would end up dying alone, the wolf reminds me. I just never imagined it would be because I drove my imprint away.
One of the other vampires edges toward me. A savage growl leaves my throat. I know they want to punish me. How could they not? I drove one of their own into a frenzied, deranged state. Maybe that is the answer: let Tanya end me fast. That seems like justice. The wolf finds a way out of the encroaching walls. If I won't allow her to have her revenge on the poacher, at least she can take out her fury on me.
I follow the trail of destruction. She looks glorious in her livid state. I take a single last breath, close my eyes, and step in front of her.
Silence rings in my ears. Afraid that I have missed my own death, I cautiously lift an eyelid. She is on her knees in front of me, hands outstretched, but not touching me, as if she is unsure how to proceed. I peel open my second eye, taking in the full picture. Debris from the destroyed foliage is scattered around us and in her hair.
I don't move. Why isn't she taking her revenge on me? I am the one preventing her from going after the one she wants.
She carefully places a hand on the side of my face. "Leah, are you okay? What's wrong?"
Her petting and concern is making the wolf's instincts recede. As more of my humanity comes back, I am disgusted at my reaction to the events. How could I have thought having her ending my life would make her feel better?
"I need you to calm down. Nobody is mad at you. Please shift back. I can't help you like this." She is almost hugging me; her eyes are back to their golden hue. How can I explain to her the wolf's thought process? That both halves of my conscious are bent?
I've known since I first imprinted on her that she deserves someone without the cargo container's worth of baggage that weighs in my mind.
"Leah, please shift back. I won't kill him. I promise. I'll let the others find a way to stop him. Just please… you are scaring me."
For the first time, I shift close to another being. Her hands never leave my mutating body. Once back in my human form, she pulls my body close to hers. Her body shakes with sobs.
I notice that the others have formed a circle around us. I expect to see hatred and anger in their eyes. I end up seeing worse—pity. I hide my face in Tanya's hair until she calms back down. Most of the others have returned inside, leaving only Carmen and Eleazar with us.
Carmen breaks the silence. "Would you like to explain to us what just happened? I know, Leah, you are new to us and haven't been in a family setting for quite some time. However, backing into a corner only to growl and snap at us when we try to help is not acceptable. It was as if the wolf to complete control of you.
"And you, Tanya! You are over a thousand years old acting like an infant not getting her way. Yes, your bonds are new, but that doesn't give either of you the right to scare us the way you have today."
We sit unmoving long enough that the native wildlife has started to fill the void. I glance at Tanya. Her eyes are focusing on our hands in her lap. Guess this means I should respond.
I close my eyes and take the leap. "I… umm… I think I need to find a therapist. I… um… the wolf convinced me that the only logical solution to hurting my imprint was to allow her to kill me." I force the words from my lungs. The gasps around me cause me to sink further into myself; Tanya's grip on my hand tightens, threatening to cut off the blood circulation.
Eleazar breaks the uncomfortable atmosphere. "I will be happy to work with you, or I am sure Jasper would be willing to help once he, Emmett and Kate take care of the current problems. I know he has studied psychology."
Quiet overcomes us a second time. Eventually Tanya speaks up. "I think I need to be there when the bastard responsible for injuring my Leah is taken down. I need to see with my own eyes that he suffers. I can't leave it to the humans.
"As for losing it, I think therapy might be a good idea. I've been stuck in the same status for so long, I'm not sure how to deal with caring for another and not having final say in everything."
"Those both sound like reasonable actions," Eleazar responds. "Why don't the two of you take a few minutes to compose yourselves before we head back inside? Hopefully Kate and Jasper have concocted some sort of strategy for dealing with the poacher."
Left alone, I want to both pull away from Tanya and squeeze the air from her lungs. I end up doing neither and remain where I am.
"I'm sorry I flipped out on you. There have been very few times in the past few centuries when I've been told I can't do something once I get it into my head as the proper solution to an issue. I understand where you are coming from, and I think it is noble of you to stand up for the one who harmed you. I'm glad you are the one I've given my heart to."
I am in awe by her confession. How am I supposed to respond to that kind of declaration? The universe finally takes pity on me; Tanya kisses the back of my hand and stands up without waiting for me to reply. "Come on. Let's go see what the plans are. You will join us on this excursion, right? I'm not sure I can handle any distance between us."
I nod and join her standing. A breeze passes by and reminds me that I've shredded my clothes. Sigh. I guess it shouldn't bother me. They all have already seen me in this state. It's just that it has been so long since I last shredded the only clothes I had with me. Tanya picks up where my head is at.
"Don't worry. I'm sure most of them are pouring over maps at the table. We can sneak upstairs and clean up before we join them."
"Okay." Doing exactly as Tanya planned, we reemerge downstairs clean and dressed.
"Eleazar said that you two don't want to have an active part in this. Are you sure? We pretty much have everything figured out, but we can easily change things to include you. Most of us are remaining here. That is also an option for you." Kate gesticulates wildly, just missing Garrett by millimeters.
"We are going to be there but just as bystanders this time. I think I want to eat before we take off, if we have time."
"Go ahead. Emmett reminded us to schedule stops to feed you."
"Great, now I sound like a pet dog," I grumble.
"Now, wolf-girl, don't think of it that way. I just know how grumpy you get when hungry." Emmett shrugs as if that is a perfectly decent justification for the current conversation.
I ignore them all and head to the kitchen, tugging Tanya behind me.
It takes four days to make the run down to Wyoming and another two before we spot our target on the refuge. As he checks the first trap, Kate comes up behind him. She sends an electric pulse through him, forcing him to fall onto the trap.
I squeeze Tanya closer to me, ducking my head behind her. I try to focus on the birds' calls and not the screams coming from the man. Minutes pass. I count the breaths I take between each cry of pain.
I feel a pleased rumble go through her body. I glance up and see Kate and Emmett strolling back toward us, laughing and smiling like they just saw a movie. In the distance the poacher stands up, the trap still around his wrist and a wet streak down the front of his pants mimicking the tracks down his face.
Kate throws her arm around us. "Let's go home. I heard a rumor that you two need to start weekly visits with the family shrink. Have fun with that."
My jaw drops open, and Emmett's joyful laughter scares the birds into flight around us. I really hope this isn't how life is going to be living with a coven. Maybe I'll be able to convince Tanya we need our own space.
"Come on, my Leah. You helped me get through this. We will help each other with everything else."
The gods must have an odd sense of humor. A month ago I begged Emmett to end my life in this refuge. I guess in a way he did. I am no longer the lonely wolf running from everything with no connections to anything. Now I have a beautiful woman who wants to take care of and fight for me, one who is willing to let me do the same for her.