Chapter 1

Laura shut off the engine on her car with a loud thump. She made a mental note to get it fixed as she grabbed her purse and groceries and climbed out of the car. She had arrived at both home and work, having just moved into an apartment over her new clinic. It was small, but it was her first real place. She had been here less than a month, but it already felt like home.

She began mentally adding other chores to her to do list: She needed to put out an ad and fliers about her clinic. Contact some of her old patients. Call her landlord and ask about that leaky faucet. Get new paint for the living room-the thought of that pea green disgusted her. She was so immersed in her thoughts that she almost bumped into the animal lying on her doorstep.

It was a wolf. A gigantic wolf.

She dropped one of her bags and stumbled back several steps. Laura was not a screamer, but she was definitely a heavy gasper. She fumbled about for her phone, her hands shaking badly. Who to call when a wolf the size of a horse shows up? The police? The army?

She stopped, her professional curiosity overwhelming her. This wolf was far too large. And, she realized belatedly as she caught her breath, it was covered in blood and there was more of it leading away. She stopped short, horrified. Was it dead? Was this a terrible prank?

After a long moment, its sides rose and fell heavily.

Laura snapped into action. She needed to get it inside to a clean surface. Its wounds needed to be disinfected and dressed. It needed to be tranquilized so it didn't attack her. It—he, she corrected after a quick check—needed to be noted to authorities as a wild animal in a residential area.

Laura ran to the business next door and grabbed two thirds of the Pizza Brothers, who were just opening for the day and looked bemused by her arrival until they saw the huge creature. One of them crept up to touch it and she heard him whisper to the other, "How much do you think that's worth?"

"It's a wild animal; it's priceless," Laura snapped. "Don't touch him until I get back," she ordered.

She ran upstairs and returned with an old blanket and some sedatives. With some difficulty, they rolled the beast onto the blanket and hauled him inside to the examining room. Almost immediately afterward, her teenage receptionist Katie walked in and gasped loudly, stopping mid-text.

"Cancel my morning appointments," Laura said briskly, without greeting her. "I'll be in room three. "

"Do you need any help with it? Looks like a lot of work," one of the Pizza Brothers—Tony maybe?—offered.

Laura didn't have time to worry if he had ulterior motives or if his lack of experience would be a problem. "I've got it, thanks for your help," she said quickly, washing her hands and rummaging for plastic gloves and a hair tie. Where were all of her hair ties lately? She looked up and he was still standing there, watching her. "Thanks," she repeated in dismissal.

He finally nodded and left.

She eyeballed the amount of sedatives he would need, and stuck the syringe into the animal's neck. It was unconscious now, but she didn't need him waking up while she was sewing up his legs. The wolf had deep cuts on his back thigh, and smaller lacerations elsewhere on his body. At first glance she had thought one of his ribs was broken, but once he was up on the table it seemed fine. She cleaned and sanitized the biggest wound and then set to work stitching it up. It was a fairly clean cut; no claw marks, no bits of metal. She wondered what this wolf had fought.

Part way through working, the wolf picked its head up and gazed at her sleepily. Laura felt a brief stab of panic; the amount of sedatives she had given him should have kept him out for the whole day, not an hour. She was in the middle of stitching up his side, though. She didn't have time to get any more sedatives and she couldn't have him moving. She held the wound closed with one hand awkwardly, and stroked his back like a big dog. "There, there, you're safe now. I've got you, and I'm going to fix you up, hmm?" She continued to pet him, and started humming a lullaby. She felt utterly ridiculous, but Dr. Freeman swore it worked for his dogs when she had done her observations there.

The wolf slowly settled under her hands, resting his big head back down on his paws and yawning. Laura didn't dare let out a breath; she quickly went back to work, humming all the while.

By the time she was done, he was sleeping again.

The next day, the wolf was healing up nicely when Laura arrived at work. She didn't have long to check on him, though; she'd had to cancel a few appointments yesterday and her secretary had unhelpfully scheduled them all to come in today. She was incredibly busy for most of the morning with her usual crowd: two cats, a woman from Port Angeles with a turtle, and a man that came in after his guinea pig swallowed several coins.

"Laura?" she heard Katie call from the hallway. "You have a visitor?"

Laura huffed in annoyance. Katie was supposed to tell them that she was busy with a patient when she was actually busy with a patient. That was why she had a secretary. She rolled her eyes and looked at Mrs. Carter apologetically. "Sorry, this will just take a moment."

Outside in the waiting room, she found tow huge men waiting. Laura looked around for an animal and found none. "Hi, I'm Dr. Karl. What can I do for you?" she asked briskly.

The taller of the two men stepped forward, a bit too close. He had a friendly smile on, but there was also an aura of authority around him. This man was powerful, and he was used to being obeyed. "Hello, I'm Sam Ulley," he said with a firm handshake. He wanted to intimidate her, or impress her, she decided. "I'm from the La Push Reservation down the road. We heard you had some wolf trouble here yesterday."

Laura raised her eyebrows. She hadn't called anyone about the wolf yet. How had they known? "I have an injured wolf in the back, yes," she said tentatively.

"Well thank you. See, he's actually my wolf, but he got away from me two days ago." He put some weird emphasis on "my wolf." "I'll pay you for your services, and take him now if I can."

She pulled herself up. "Wolves are wild animals, not pets, Mr. Ulley. Unless you have some sort of proof, a license of some sort, that says that you own him, then I cannot transfer custody."

He raised his eyebrows, as if shocked to be turned down. "Surely you don't ask that of all of your patients. He's no different than a stray dog."

She frowned. "He's very different than a stray dog. I'm not even sure if Washington state law would allow you to own a wolf. It is a wild animal." Neither of the men seemed phased by these problems. "Either way, I'd need to keep him for a few days to watch for infection. He was very severely injured when he showed up at my door."She peered up at them. "Would you know why 'your' wolf had such deep lacerations on his leg and side? Or why he was in Forks?"

Ulley shrugged. "He probably got into a fight with a bear, another wolf maybe. When can I pick him up?"

She was annoyed by how casual he seemed to be about the potentially fatal injuries his "pet" had sustained. "When you can prove legal ownership," she responded firmly.

"Can we see him?" the shorter man finally asked. He was barely more than a boy, twenty at most.

There was something very sincere in the question that Laura couldn't deny, even though she had another patient waiting. She silently opened the door to the back room where the wolf was sleeping.

"He's in a cage," the shorter man observed with a frown.

"Wild animal," Laura repeated for the millionth time. "I can't put someone's pet parakeet back here and find out that the wolf wanted a snack."

"He's not-" the shorter one started to protest, before stopping himself. Instead, he moved over to the cage and somehow fit his hand in through the bars to touch the wolf. Laura felt a touch of remorse at seeing that, but had to stick to her morals, to procedure, to the law.

"We're coming back for him," Ulley said in a final tone. His companion stood up reluctantly, recognizing the unsaid order, and they left.

Not three hours later, Laura had her second unexpected visitors of the day. They were two middle-aged Native Americans, both quiet and unassuming.

"Hello, my name is Billy Black, and this is Sue Clearwater," said the man with a polite smile. "We wanted to discuss the wolf you found."

"What is there to discuss?"Laura asked shortly. The amount of people coming in and meddling was making this wild animal more trouble than he was worth.

"What are your plans with him?" the older man responded patiently.

"Standard procedure is that I report it to regional wildlife authorities and follow their recommendations." She didn't say what those recommendations could be, she was avoiding thinking about it.

"Have you reported him yet?" Sue asked quietly. She looked very worried about the possibility.

She shook her head. "It's a lot of paperwork, and if I find out that he has a good, responsible, legal home already, then I may…overlook procedure for the moment."

Sue smiled serenely. "We take very good care of our wolves down in La Push, and I can assure you that if anyone comes forward to claim him, then they would be trustworthy."

Laura tried to contain her skeptical look.

"We aren't the regional authorities, but we are on the Council of Elders on the reservation, and you understand that we like to be kept aware of incidents like these in the area," Billy cut in smoothly. "If anything like this ever occurs again, we'd like you to feel comfortable contacting us. We have a local…law enforcement unit that sometimes does animal rehabilitation, and we would be happy to take any unclaimed animals and set them free in the our forests."

She nodded without smiling. "I'll be sure to keep you in mind," she promised. "Now if you wouldn't mind, I have an appointment waiting."

Sue smiled brightly. "Excellent. We'll just leave our number with your secretary, dear. It was lovely meeting you."

Laura couldn't believe this. It was all clearly bald-faced lies. What kind of police force also rehabilitated wildlife? Why was everyone in this town after one wolf?

And then there was the wolf itself. It was almost twice the size of any wolf that she'd ever seen. She was far from a wolf expert, but she knew that wolves shouldn't be as large as horses. It was only by chance that she had a cage large enough to contain him, but she was worried that it was a bit too small.

The next day, Laura had her third wolf-seekers. These ones came in nice black suits with shiny sunglasses and even shinier government badges. "Doctor Karl," the first one said with a hard smile. He didn't introduce himself. "We heard that you had had some wolf trouble up in this area recently."

Someone felt off about them to Laura. She didn't want to tell them about the wolf that was sleeping in her back room. She didn't even want them standing in her waiting room. "The wolves are native to the area. We haven't had any cases of attacks," she answered honestly. "Regional Wildlife authorities would know more about it than I would."

They both scanned her waiting room, as if looking for anything suspicious. "Do you mind if we take a look around?"

Laura frowned. "Yes, actually, I would. Which department did you say you were from?"

They shook their heads. "Surely you don't have anything to hide back there, though?"

Laura raised an eyebrow. "No I don't. However, you'll have to get a warrant if you want to see it. Thanks for your time, gentlemen." She ushered them out the door.

"Who was that?"Katie asked.

"No one," Laura said. "If anyone else comes in wanting to talk to me about a wolf, tell them I'm busy."

Laura was doing her paperwork in her office late at night when she heard a soft noise in the other room. It happened all the time; the animals that stayed overnight were constantly pacing and squawking and pawing and rattling. But something made that noise in particular stand out. Laura felt drawn to the next room; something was happening in there, and her instincts never lied. If nothing else, she could check on the animals.

She slid open the office door and slipped into the hallway. It was far too quiet in the back room. She had the wolf in there and Mrs. Carter's elderly greyhound, but it was completely silent. She stilled herself and stopped to wonder if she should have a weapon. She was here alone, at night, and it could be anything in there.

Part of her balked at that thought. This was her practice that they broke into. Her territory. And she would show who or whatever it was in there that Laura Karl was a force to be reckoned with.

Laura threw the door open, and it hit the opposite wall with a bang, startling the two men that were in there, leaned over the cage with the wolf. Part of Laura's righteous anger fled at the sight of them: they were both huge and muscled and definitely Native American. Part of Laura was annoyed though. Who did Sam Ulley think he was?

"What the hell are you doing in my office?" Laura gritted out. She grabbed a board behind the door, meant to become part of the molding in the examination room but now makeshift weapon. She held it over her shoulder like a baseball bat, stepping farther into the room. "That wolf is a wild animal. Get away from it this instant."

They both straightened up, but neither looked alarmed, more just annoyed too. Standing straight, they loomed over the short veterinarian, but she refused to back down.

"Look, we asked for the wolf back, but you wouldn't give him up. We already told you; he's our wolf; he's completely trained. We'll pay you for the treatment, but we just want him back," the one in front said authoritatively. "You have no right to kidnap this creature."

Laura glared at him. The nerve! "I already told Ulley that he has to prove that he owned it for me to hand him over! For all I know, you're poachers after his skin!" She hefted the flimsy wood in her hands threateningly, but he didn't flinch. "I called the cops. They're on their way here," Laura bluffed quickly.

"You're lying," It was the second man who spoke, his voice quiet and sure.

Laura contained the shiver that went down her spine at the sound of it and turned to him, ready to yell.

Their eyes locked.