For longer than she can remember, Veronica has been wolf. Dreams give her a name and the image of a brother. Memory gives her nothing and no one.
Book Two of the Strength series.
One late winter day, David Hardway saves a malnourished wolf from a trap and takes her in. During her time with David, the wolf finds in herself the desire to be human again.
David loves the wolf he saved, but dislikes the strange woman who asks for his help. Still, he is incapable of turning away someone in need and despite himself, David becomes intrigued. As Veronica strives to remember why she abandoned humanity for wolfdom, David becomes determined to save her from her violent past.
But others are in danger and Veronica will have to act to protect her newfound pack.
She wanted the dreams. They gave her a brother who named her Veronica.
She didn’t want the dreams. Their violence disturbed her.
Had men always frightened her? She should know. But all she knew were wolf observations—the snow was beginning to melt and the days were longer—and wolf feelings. The she-wolf felt skittish this close to houses and cars.
She trotted, not allowing herself to dash in panic. Though the smells were wrong. Her nostrils quivered with gasoline and pollution, and even the distinctive musk of man. Her lip curled.
She moved forward. The smell turned abruptly to metal. Metal touched her paw and pain slammed down.
The bones crunched together. In her shock she yipped high, one time. Reflexively she pulled away, to no avail. She tried to make sense of the event. But it was happening again, this separation from her wolf’s body, as if it weren’t her own paw crushed between metal teeth, as if she were watching herself.
Her heart threw itself against her ribs and picked up speed, urging her to run. But when she pulled, the foot’s ligaments tore.
Think! She froze, crouching, ignoring the fire in her foot. Despite everything she’d lost, she was a thinking being. The trapper would find and kill the wolf. There was nothing for it but to turn human.
And freeze to death.
With a will that threatened to break, she forced herself to look at the trap, to touch it with the other forepaw. Possibly she could shift to human and use her left hand to free the broken one. She closed her eyes and worked her way towards a shift. But it was too soon. The panic would not allow any kind of focus and her body, with the temperature falling below zero, resisted the change.
She heard whining. Her throat betrayed her with a noise she couldn’t quite stop. To struggle all winter, to look forward to spring and the chance to be human again, and then to end like this. To stay wolf would get her killed.
It was dusk. No one, surely, would come till tomorrow. She had time to calm down, to concentrate on the change she must make.
Numb with pain and lack of circulation, her captured paw began to freeze. Her brain refused to focus on the shift. The whining didn’t stop though she tried to close her throat.
Time, she repeated to herself, when she could think that clearly. Panic does not last forever.
Then she smelled man.
Spring was late this year, which suited David Hardway just fine. He didn’t always get to snowshoe in mid-March and he’d set out this morning for one last hurrah. Soon the snow would be gone and visitors—the human kind—would invade the park. He didn’t consider himself a visitor, even if he lived and worked in southern Ontario. He’d grown up near Canoe Park and he allowed himself a proprietary sense of place.
He loved being here, even in drizzle, like the freezing kind that had just ended. Not that his snowshoes would be useful for much longer in these conditions. Good thing the truck was nearby. Just when he picked up speed, an animal cried out, high-pitched with pain. David stopped in his tracks. He waited to hear it again and perhaps locate it.
The park remained silent, except for the occasional car passing by. David turned and walked, straining to catch the sound of an animal in distress. The whining was so soft, it took a minute to register.
He listened carefully, then broke through the bush to make his way towards the creature. This wasn’t a poor-me sound, this was an I-hurt-bad sound.
The whining stopped. As he came upon a narrow deer path, he saw a wolf jerk, trying to get away.
It couldn’t. Its leg was caught in a trap. He moved closer. The trap was steel-jawed, not rubber-lined. This creature was doomed to death, not radio-collar and research. Or had been. He was going to change that. And report this to the park. Goddamn traps. He set aside his anger and focused on the quivering wolf.
“Hey,” he called.
It whined. Its entire body cowered, ears flattened, while its lips pulled back into a snarl.
“That’s right. Don’t go down without a fight. The thing is, I’m on your side.”
He crouched, not close enough for it to bite, and it growled and snarled, showing its teeth.
“Good. You haven’t been here too long if you’re willing to fight, right?”
It shut off its threats, as if realizing they were futile. Its eyes pleaded with him.
“I bet that hurts like hell. Those damn things usually break the paw. Listen, I want you to get used to me for a minute while I figure out how I’m going to help you.”
Its skinny body trembled. This past winter it hadn’t prospered. Shoulders jutted and the coat was decidedly lackluster. Despite its large size, he thought it too delicate to be male, but maybe that was just starvation.
He swore, though softly, so as not to alarm the wolf. Her large gold eyes seemed to glow at him, and he stared back, waiting for her to break eye contact.
After a time, she did. He had to establish the upper hand, though that in itself would not free the wolf from the trap.
“These traps are illegal, you know. The park is supposed to protect you guys, not kill you.”
“That’s right. I want to help. Let me free you before the trapper comes back with his shotgun. Or before that paw of yours is ruined. Your life isn’t going to amount to much if you lose a paw.”
He edged forward, still out of reach of those teeth. She didn’t move. He opened his bag and took out his thick gloves. They wouldn’t fully protect his hands from a wolf bite, but they’d help.
He pulled them on. “My name’s David.”
As he approached, she began to shake again.
“Easy.” He braced for her to rush at him. Her whole body was vibrating. But she just stayed there, ears laid flat, crouched as low to the ground as possible.
Carefully, he placed his left snowshoe on top of her body. Not a lot of weight, but enough to prevent her from lunging at him.
She froze, whimpered.
“If you hurt me, I won’t be able to help you, okay?”
She wouldn’t look at him now, though her constant low whine wound through his nerves.
He talked, repeating himself, about friendship and help and trust, commiserating with her pain, making his voice a low, soothing vibration as he reached for the wolf’s damaged paw, always aware that she could snap at him.
He examined the metal trap and found the release. His sister’s boyfriend had demonstrated how they worked. In order not to further damage the paw, he moved as little as possible as he clipped the mechanism open and pulled the teeth apart. He eased her paw free and snapped the trap shut again so it wouldn’t clamp onto another unsuspecting animal. Winter had been hard enough for the four-legged without traps to worry about.
Moving slowly and deliberately, he backed away, taking his weight off her, retracing his steps so he was a good five feet from her.
She didn’t stir.
“If you were a dog, I’d take you into my sister’s to fix that paw. Are you going to get up and return to your pack?”
She lay still and he walked around to see that her eyes were closed, as if she was unconscious.
Damn. Now she might freeze to death, if the trapper didn’t come back and shoot her first. He wished his sister were here with a tranquilizer.
Once again he inched towards the wolf and after five minutes of ever increasing physical proximity, which included touching her pretty much all over, he concluded that she—definitely a she—was out cold.
Well, he might be an idiot to carry a wild, unsedated animal, but he couldn’t leave her. He bent down, lifted her over his head and placed her on his shoulders so her legs hung down in front. With his heavy load, he trudged towards his truck. For a skinny wolf, she was big. In fact, now that he had a moment to think about it, her large frame and black fur were unlike the park wolves he’d seen.
“Where are you from, girl?” he murmured. “We’re off to my sister’s, in case you’re wondering. Nell will look after you.”
Nell was a vet and though she’d scold David for being a stranger, she had a soft heart. She’d help.
The trap, he’d report later. He hoped they nailed the bastard who’d set it.
Coming soon: Puma