The Gift of Love
Includes THE WOLF WATCHER’S DIET
Publisher: Berkley Trade (June 1, 2010)
Like most women, Ella Blackwood has always struggled with her weight, but she never realized the health issues her yo-yo dieting was having on her body...until she was bitten by a werewolf. Now the wolf in her won’t allow her to turn back to her human form until she’s completely healthy. But being a wolf comes with its own set of struggles—wearing fur might be sexy, but being furry...not so much.
Luke Danhurst has felt the pull of his true mate, Ella Blackwood for years, but he swears biting her was a total accident. Really! Now that he has her as a fellow werewolf, he’s determined to help Ella learn to love herself, the way he does, in any form.
You’d think after having a head-on collision with a tree in the middle of nowhere at half past one in the morning, my night couldn’t get any worse.
Right. You’d be wrong.
Hot fudge topping and rainbow jimmies were everywhere. It was like an ice cream massacre. Soft-serve swirl had smeared all over the driver’s side airbag, the dashboard, the cracked windshield, and pretty much every square inch of my face.
Gross, I had ice cream in my hair, too, which was worse than you think considering my hair is curly and coppery red. With the chocolate and vanilla swirl lacing through the kinky strands combined with the colored jimmies dangling off the ends, my head felt like a homemade
Christmas ornament. I stopped thinking about it.
The door was stuck, and I had to jam my shoulder against it twice before it creaked open, letting loose a rain of chocolate covered raisins from the floorboard. “Perfect.”
I swung my feet from under the dashboard and rocked out of the seat into the high weeds. Ice cream drizzled down the side of my face, and I wiped at it with the back of my hand. I looked. It wasn’t just ice cream. My hand and the sleeve of my white blouse were smeared with blood. I felt for the wound under my hair, and a jolt of pain pierced through my skull when my fingers touched the gash. Yeah, I know. What’d I think would happen?
“Just . . . perfect.” The dark woods around me started to spin, but I took a few deep breaths and managed to clear my head, focus. I glanced around for the dog I’d swerved to avoid. No sign of him. Of course not. The fleabag was probably off somewhere licking parts of his body he had no business licking. “Stupid dog.”
Next time the mutt was toast. Okay, it wasn’t all the dog’s fault. I may have been a little distracted. I’d dropped my plastic spoon and was trying to feel for it under my feet without dropping the sundae cup in my other hand. I’d almost had it. Yeah, that sounds bad in retrospect. Anyhoo, I had to get help. My phone was in my purse, but glancing around at the bits of stuff that had once been inside my car and were now spread all over the woods, there was no way I’d find it.
“Okay, plan B.” Get my butt up the embankment to the road and flag someone down. I started climbing. By the time I reached the top, blisters stung the palms of my hands from clawing at roots and weeds, and my lungs burned like I’d inhaled acid.
Dirty, achy, and exhausted, I just wanted to go to sleep . . . or maybe I was starting to pass out. Focus.
The wooded road was just as desolate as it’d been when I wrecked. Cutting alongside a mountain, the other side of the road was an uphill grade into the night, covered with dense woods.
The moon was little more than a slit hiding behind rolling clouds. And if that wasn’t enough, the hairs on the back of my neck kept tingling with the sensation someone was watching me. Paranoia is not my friend.
But then a low rumble crept up my spine from behind me and I turned. I didn’t want to, but I’m a sucker for my curiosity. The forest was like a wall of black with only the closest trees visible to add contrast. Whatever made the creepy sound was down the hill past the blinking lights of my car. I could hear something moving down there, dried leaves shuffling under its feet, the snap of a twig, the rustle of underbrush.
And then I realized there was more than one. My heart shot into overdrive and my body went still as stone. I thought about screaming, making noise to scare it off , but I couldn’t get past the scared rabbit reflex to stand so still I’d become invisible. Yeah, doesn’t work well for rabbits either.
Out of nowhere, headlights washed over me. I looked, but had to close my eyes against the brightness. I’d been so scared I hadn’t even heard the truck coming. I didn’t care who was behind the wheel, I just ran to the driver’s side door. He looked normal—thank God—forty s
something, short sandy hair, polo style shirt, and jeans.
I grabbed the side mirror and practically crawled through the window. “You gotta help me.”
“Where’d you come from, little lady? Is that blood?” He turned off the engine.
“Yeah. I . . . I had an accident.” I couldn’t get a good breath. I’d been holding it too long without even realizing it. I swallowed. “My car’s stuck down there against a tree and I think . . . I think there’s something in the woods.”
He opened his door, and I had to shuffle back so he could get out. My brain was starting to haze again. I couldn’t figure out why the guy was getting out of the truck instead of letting me getin.Whatever.
“Where’s your car, honey?”
Wasn’t he listening? I pointed. “Down there, but—”
“Show me. C’mon,” he said, shooing me ahead of him. Warning alarms blared in my head, but then they’d been blaring since I’d slammed into that tree. I ignored good sense and led the way to the edge of the embankment.
Staring down at my crunched car below, I said, “See?”
“Yeah.” His arm snapped around my chest, trapping my arms against my sides. His other hand clamped a smelly cloth over my mouth and nose.
Surprise sucked a deep breath into my lungs and with it whatever he’d doused on the cloth. My thoughts went fuzzy quick, but I was sharp enough not to take another breath. I squirmed, trying to get my elbows up to jam into his gut, or stomp my foot in the right spot to crush his toes. I missed. He held me too tight, and I needed to take another breath before I passed out. And then I heard it again, that weird low rumbling sound. Only this time it was closer. A lot closer.
“Oh shit.” The guy spun around, putting me between him and whatever it was. His hand slipped from my mouth and I took a fast breath before my brain identified what I saw.
A dog, probably the same mutt that’d caused this mess, stood in the middle of the road, growling at us. He was a big dog, but this close the sound of his growl rumbled through my chest like it was part of the air around us and made the hairs all over mybody vibrate. Goose bumps raced down my back. “Uh-oh.”