The radio call came in just as Gil was about to bite into his roast beef sandwich. He did love him some tender, rare beef on white bread. With a tiny bit of mayo.
“Gil? Come in, Gil.”
Gil closed his mouth, set his sandwich aside, then sighed. He picked up the handset. “Yeah. Go ahead, dispatch.”
“Got a report of a rabid wolf on the north mountain, over by the McCarthy place.”
“No shit. What’s the basis of the rabid status?” He hated that anytime someone over that way saw a wolf they classified it as rabid.
“You know Marge, Gil. She sees a coyote and there’s a rabid wolf. I know you’re bored. Go get it.”
“Can I eat my lunch first?” That sandwich was still crisp now, but in another hour it would go soggy.
“I won’t tell on you, man.” George knew how he loved his little moments.
“Excellent. Gimme ten and I’ll be on my way. I’ll call it in once I chase off the coyote.”
“You’re a good man, no matter what they say about you down at the jail.”
“They say lots of things, buddy. I used to be a cop.”
“Uh-huh. Eat your lunch.”
“Turner out.” He clicked the handset back into place before picking up his sandwich. He took that crucial first bite.
Roast beef was proof there was a higher power. Tiny bit of mayo. Soft bread, a bag of chips, which he opened after bite three of the sandwich. Life was good.
Except there was a coyote wandering too close to civilization.
He finished up his lunch, then tucked the wrappers back into his cooler. He never left food trash out in the cans at the rest stops or picnic areas.
He chuckled at himself and climbed up into his truck, heading down the road to see what he could see. The fifteen-minute drive let him sing along with the Eagles and Creedence, and he slowed when he reached the area where the animal had been seen. He scanned the sides of the road, wishing he had his binoculars.
Seriously, if there was a coyote out right now, it would have run when it heard his truck. Unless they really were sick, which he doubted, they avoided people…
Okay, there was a flash of gray and red fur on the right-hand side of the road, right along the tree line. Gil switched on his emergency blinkers and coasted to a stop on the narrow shoulder.
He grabbed his tranq gun, just in case, and slid out of the pickup, inhaling deep.
Wolf scent, for sure. The animal was too big to be a coyote. Gil chuckled. Good thing he wasn’t afraid of wolves. He did hope the wolf wasn’t rabid. They could just relocate him. Find him a nice home and —
He sniffed, then sniffed again, rocking back on his heels.
“Rafe?” He knew that scent. Knew it as well as anyone he’d ever met, and he also knew that was impossible.
Rafe was dead.
A trapper had caught him. The ground and the trap had been soaked with Rafe’s blood. Too much blood for anyone — man or beast — to survive.
That scent, though… It couldn’t lie to him. He charged into the trees. “Rafe!”
A low growl answered him, an emaciated wolf on spindly legs staring him down, unafraid, willing to take him on.
The body was all wrong. Rafe was strong. Muscled. Healthy. But those eyes…”Rafe.” He lowered his weapon. “Oh, God.”
Rafe tilted his head, watching him like a hawk.
Gil stayed where he was, not wanting to make any sudden moves. Something was terribly wrong. “You know me, honey. I know you do. People are reporting you as rabid. You’re gonna get yourself shot.”
Rafe’s nostrils were flaring madly, his mate scenting him, and he nodded. “It’s me, honey. It’s me. You found me.”
His smart, stubborn, amazing mate. One leg had scars carved deep into it, even their amazing healing power not able to fix what the hunter’s trap had done. It didn’t seem to cause a limp, so that was good.
“Come on, honey. Come get in my truck. I’ll call you in as relocated after a bit, and we can see what’s what.” Please. Oh, please. Hear me.
Rafe bowed for him, eyes never leaving his.
“Good. Good. Come on.” They didn’t have to cross the road or anything. No one would see.
His heart was pounding and he felt dizzy, dazed. Good thing he was pretty amazing at walking because he barely knew he was putting one foot in front of the other.
Rafe stayed behind him, cautious and careful, ears rotating, nose working hard.
What happened to you, baby? What took you away from me?