Home > Soul Mate

Soul Mate
Catherine Bybee

Chapter One

Kari Pierce stared up into the deep shades of the horizon. The giant sequoias of California loomed overhead in colors of black and dark grey. Above her the full moon, visible only by its bright aura, crested the mountains. The sight was tremendous, one she would have loved to enjoy. However, her time in the park wasn"t for enlightenment or pleasure.

Her time here was for work.

Massive amounts of people camped in various forms, from motor homes to tents, to hammocks under the open sky. Happy families lounged around open campfires without a care in the world. Some roasted marshmallows while others popped popcorn in Jiffy Pop containers. Several children played with the bear boxes used to place food in so the native black and brown bears wouldn"t announce themselves in the middle of the night searching for food.

The scent of harmony, relaxation, and the occasional disgruntled man hung heavy in the air. None of these were what Kari focused on.

She centered on fear.

Closing her eyes, she tuned out all the sounds of families, of laughter and focused only on fright.

Kari"s ears perked and headed north. The scent of the cloth she purposely pulled deep in her nose earlier in the day narrowed her course.

Eyes open, she bolted with all four of her legs in the direction the child appeared to be. With four legs, Kari could reach the child in half the time of a human. In wolf form, she could sense not only the child, but also the desire of the man standing over her.

The taste of his scent sickened her.

She had to hurry. The child wouldn"t be safe for long.

Rain drizzled over the fur covering her body. Still she held onto the child"s scent, her concentration so fierce her head started to pound. She couldn"t let a little thing like rain stop her from getting to the child in time.

At eight years old, Kari knew the child would understand the danger she was in. The little girl would wonder if she"d ever see her loving parents again.

Kari ran faster, the damp ferns and low-lying branches slapped against her flanks. Shifting course at the last minute, she pressed her nose to the air and stilled her legs mid-stride.

The small whimper of the child sounded like a scream in Kari"s heightened awareness.

She would save this child. Or die trying.

Crouching down, Kari eased closer. A twig snapped.

The man shot up in alarm. “Shut up!” he hollered to the child.

A frail blonde-haired girl huddled beneath the little protection her sweatshirt provided. Her eyes were red and swollen with tears as she watched the man pace.

Kari studied the surrounding forest, assessing if the man worked alone or with others. No scent or sound filled the ground other than the child, the man, and Kari.

The girl let out a shriek when the man turned.

He lifted a hand to slap the noise from the child"s lips, but Kari"s growl stopped him before his hand struck.

Pivoting, he swiveled his head back and forth in the dark night, searching for the cause of the noise. Kari felt his fear prickle. Unfortunately, the young girl"s elevated, too.

Unable to alleviate the child"s worries, Kari concentrated on the bastard standing over the girl.

He stepped closer to the child, with alert eyes. In complete silence, Kari crept away from where she made the first noise.

A small chipmunk scurrying in the dark caught his attention. The man darted his gaze south of where she actually stood.

One silent paw followed the other as Kari approached the man from behind.

As luck would have it, the chipmunk held his attention and kept him from hearing her advance.

The frightened child, on the other hand, wasn"t quite so oblivious. Her scream struck the air with a clarity that would sit with Kari for years.

The man turned and Kari pounced.

His arms moved to protect his face and neck, but she didn"t relent. Sharp teeth reached for his jugular, but quick movements kept her from sinking her sharp incisors in. Biting him would mean killing him. There was no way Kari would turn him into a beast like her.

Dripping with fear, his hands moved to protect his vital organs.

Kari attacked again; the hair on her back rose. She grazed his chin and drew first blood, not enough for a turn, she thought. Her saliva hadn"t permeated his blood stream. He recoiled and gave her another shot at his neck.

Before she could attack, intense pain penetrated her right shoulder. The bastard had a knife and sunk the blade into her flesh. She yelped but attacked again. This time her paws hit his chest with massive force. His head snapped back as he lost his balance and fell.

His body grew still when his skull hit a large boulder. The blow would render him unconscious for hours.

Kari sat back and considered giving him the death he deserved. Killing anyone, even scum like him, was always a last resort. Taking human life in the heat of battle was one thing, slaughtering him while he lay motionless on the ground proved nothing.

Fear still permeated the air. Turning, Kari noticed the child staring wide-eyed as the scene unfolded in front of her.

Kari wished for the power to remove the memories from the girl"s mind, but she didn"t have that skill.

Looking over at the stilled body of the man who kidnapped the child, Kari realized the need to befriend the little girl and get her to safety. Quickly. With any luck, the authorities would apprehend the man before he awoke.

Kari lowered her head in the most submissive form she could give, and slowly moved toward the child.

“Go away!” the girl yelled.

Kari stopped and gave her a timid look.

The girl"s eyes shifted from the unconscious man to her.

Kari cringed, hating the fear she sensed.

She took another step. The child drew back.

Kari kept her head low, ignoring the pain and blood seeping from her shoulder, and approached the frightened child with a whine.

“Shoo...”

Kari moved yet closer. Within inches of the girl"s feet, she stopped. With her head hung low, she sat back on her flanks and panted like any animal happy to see a friend.

The child visibly relaxed, her eyes never leaving Kari"s.

It took only minutes and Kari rested her head in the girl"s lap. A small hand sent a timid pat to her head, in which Kari reacted with a sigh.

“Nice, doggie,” the girl trembled when she spoke, a trace of fear in her voice.

The pain in Kari"s shoulder started to burn. She couldn"t let this meeting go long, or they both could be in trouble.

Kari stood and barked. Her head motioned away from the man. The child looked around in confusion and refused to move.

She barked again, this time moving between the girl and a small trail the man had made while dragging the child into the remote reaches of the forest.

The girl stood. Her thin arms circled her body trying to bring her warmth.

The rain had stopped but the cold and wet penetrated the air. She took one shaky step and then another in the direction Kari wanted her to go.

Relief flowed through Kari as they slowly moved down the path. As the forest grew darker, the child"s hand found her fur. Instinctively, the girl stayed close. Every noise brought her closer.

Twice the exhausted child stumbled; both times Kari nudged her to get her up and moving.

By two A.M., the soft glow of lights, which made up the command post for the search party, came into view. This was as far as Kari could go. With reluctance, she stopped.

“Come on,” the girl urged, pointing at the group of cars.

Kari looked behind her. Someone was coming.

“Let"s go.”

She backed away, intent to see the child to safety. She yipped twice and motioned as well as she could to the people mulling about the campground.

When the girl knelt down and smiled, Kari"s heart almost broke. “You"re hurt. They can help you, too.” Small hands scratched her ears. She moved forward and lapped the child"s cheek. Then, Kari scrambled free of the girl"s arms, sat back and howled.

Instantly, flashlights illuminated the forest around them.

“Hey!” A loud booming voice yelled in their direction. Kari leapt away from the child.

“Come back, wolfie. Come back.”

At the sound of her voice, Kari heard the frantic call of the child"s mother.

“Julie... Julie is that you?”

A safe distance away, far from prying eyes, Kari watched as Julie"s mother ran, weeping in the direction of her daughter. Three police officers followed, all shouting for her to stop. But nothing was going to keep Julie"s mother from running to her daughter. Nothing.

The diner was filled to capacity. Kari saw an open stool at the counter between two groups of men, three of them in uniform, two in plain clothes, all of them cops.

She snuck her five foot five frame into the seat, doing her best not to draw any attention to herself.

The gum-chewing waitress, with her hair in a bun, poured a cup of coffee without even asking. She slapped down a menu and mumbled a quick, “I"ll be right back,” before walking away. Behind the counter, the cook yelled “Order up”, and the waitress piled plates of steaming pancakes and eggs on top of each other.

Kari sprinkled sugar in the coffee and glanced at the menu, all the while listening to the conversation of the men at her side.

“So where is she now?”

“The mother insisted they fly her to Children"s in LA, not that she needed it.

The girl is physically fine.”

Kari pegged the man asking questions as a rookie. He looked to be in his early twenties, his eyes big as saucers.

“And the perp?”

“Knot on his head and talking nonsense,” the plain-clothes cop added. He lowered his voice, but Kari could hear the second hand on the man"s watch. His whispered voice sounded like a yell in an empty room.

“He"s rambling on about a rabid wolf. Personally, I think he"s setting up for an insanity plea.”

“Didn"t the kid say something about a wolf?”

The waitress walked up and poised her pen over her order tickets. “What"ll it be?”

“Short stack,” Kari replied, hoping the woman would leave quickly.

She did.

Kari grasped a forgotten newspaper from the counter and pretended to read.

“The kid had to be seeing things. A wolf wouldn"t have befriended her in the forest.”

She smiled despite herself.

“We did find a trail of blood.”

That wiped the smile off her face and made her heart pound against her chest.

“Any wounded animal at the end of it?”

“No, only tire tracks, which doesn"t make sense unless the wild life has learned how to drive.”

The rookie scratched his head. “Or the wolf was really a dog that had an owner.”

The bell on the door of the restaurant fell against the glass, alerting the staff to another customer. Kari didn"t look, but whoever it was commanded the attention of the men talking about the case. All stood a little taller and the conversation ceased.

“Murdock,” the street clothed cop greeted the newest member of the fold.

Kari absently sipped the coffee, her eyes skirted toward the door. There she saw the broad chest of a man covered in a half open dress shirt and a government issued FBI jacket. His tailored black pants told her that whoever this man was, he hadn"t expected to work when he put the pants on the night before. He appeared as if he came off a dance floor or a wedding line up.

He approached the plain-clothes detective and extended a hand in greeting.

“Bill. I didn"t expect to see you here.”

“Don"t know why not. It"s my jurisdiction.”

“I thought you"d retired.”

The waitress set Kari"s pancakes down and refilled her coffee. “Anything else?”

“No, thank you. This is fine.” After dribbling a small amount of syrup over her pancakes, Kari reached across the counter to put the sticky plastic bottle down. Pain shot through her right arm. She bit her tongue to keep from grimacing.

Maybe she should have the wound looked at? But knife injuries always raised suspicion, and questions would be asked. No, she would suck it up, keep it bandaged, and wait for time to heal. Lucky for her, she would do so quickly.

While her mind drifted and she struggled to cut her pancakes, the men at the counter started to clear out.

“Mind if I sit here?” The man in the FBI jacket asked her.

“Excuse me?”

“Is this seat taken?” he asked.

“No. Be my guest.”

His scent hit her. Pure masculinity mixed with a touch of pine. The faint smell of a woman"s perfume hovered just above the surface.

Kari felt the weight of his eyes and dared a look for herself. Grey eyes narrowed slightly and the cleft of his strong jaw twitched. One corner of his mouth turned up.

He was gorgeous. His hair was as dark as hers was blonde, and it was in dire need of a cut. A wisp fell into his eyes and Kari felt the sudden urge to push it away. Her hand actually moved to do just that.

Nick"s mouth went dry staring into the ice blue eyes of the woman at the counter. The realization he"d seen her somewhere before hit him hard enough to consider asking, „Have we met?," but that sounded too much like a line. Even though it was exactly what he thought.

Uncomfortable under his probing eyes, the woman turned her head and went about eating her breakfast dismissing him with the simple act of picking up her fork. A slight stall in her arm and tremor over her face had him wondering if she was in pain. He was about to ask when Bill interrupted his thoughts.

“Have we ID"d the perp?”

Nick dragged his eyes back to the local sheriff then around the room. No one seemed to be listening, yet he didn"t feel comfortable telling all he knew in a room full of civilians. “We"re working on it.” Nick glanced at the woman, then back to Bill. “Have you eaten?”

“Yeah, I was just headed back.”

“I"ll stop by and give you details later then.”

Getting the hint, Bill tipped his head murmuring his goodbyes.

Nick swiveled in his chair and stared at the menu.

“So, what"s good here?” he asked aloud, hoping the blonde next to him would answer. When she didn"t he added, “How are the pancakes?”

“I"m sorry?”

“The pancakes? How are they?” He put the menu down and smiled at her.

Where had he seen her before?

“I"ve had worse.”

She avoided his eyes by glancing down. This served to tighten his suspicion that she knew him or at the very least, wanted to go un-noticed. He rubbed his jaw in thought. This was his first time in the Sequoias, so if they"d met before it wasn"t here, but where?

The waitress behind the counter filled a cup of coffee, placed it in front of him, then walked away before taking his order.

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