Of Secrets and Wolves (Winsford Shifters #1) by Alice Winters

Chapter One





ROWAN





“If the convicts are anywhere, it’d be there,” Nathan Scott says with a nod, like he knows everything. The issue is, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t. This is only the second time I’ve worked with him and I’m positive about this.

Hill, the local sheriff, rubs the back of his neck, clearly a bit uncertain about this fact. Three days ago, two convicts escaped a prison about twenty miles from here. To my understanding, the two who escaped managed to slip past the guards and make off into the night—which was easy for them since the prison is nearly surrounded by a national forest. Multiple search crews have been unable to track them down using any means necessary, which is why I was called in.

I’m not part of the police but I worked for years in the military and have gotten a reputation for my ability to track, so I work as an on-call tracker for local police. What I didn’t imagine is that I’d ever be pulled five hours from my home and sent out to track some convicts. I would enjoy tracking out in the gorgeous forest if Scott weren’t involved. Now I’m just reluctant to hear what he wants me to do.

Sheriff Hill is older than both Scott and me with graying hair and a round belly that tells me he doesn’t do too much around here. It’s not surprising. While his jurisdiction is wide, it’s not well populated—not much is with the mountainous and wooded range. “You think they’re hiding in Winsford Village?” Sheriff Hill says uncertainly. “You know that’s pack run, right?”

Of course Scott assumed the pack was involved the moment he heard there was a pack-run village within fifty miles of the prison—he pointed his fingers at it and nothing could change his mind.

“We got a glimpse of the prisoners on a security cam about ten miles from Winsford Village; where else do you think they could be?” Scott asks, a bit sharply if I might add.

He’s a short-tempered man that prides himself on being in charge of the West County Tactical Tracking Team. The team specializes in tracking people within the state and surrounding areas, specifically armed or dangerous men. In this case, two convicts that escaped the prison. But currently, he can’t seem to think about much beyond the fact that he’s certain the fugitives are hiding out in a shifter village.

That leads me to question his tracking abilities which might be why I was called in.

Sheriff Hill waves to the rugged landscape around us. “They could literally be ten feet from us, and with the trees as thick as they are, you wouldn’t see them until you tripped over them. But I’ll take ya there. Follow me.”

Hill heads over to his sheriff’s car as Scott and I walk back to our own vehicles. I’d brought my truck and trailer with my horse Maze inside who will allow me to cover this rugged land that a four-wheeler or any other all-terrain vehicle couldn’t. In the passenger seat sits Talon, my tracking dog, a long-haired Belgian Tervuren. He has a black face that fades to mahogany before blending into a soft reddish-fawn on his rump. He’s a striking dog who is currently trying to see if he can fit his massive body through the three-inch crack in the window if he turns his head sideways far enough.

Once inside the truck, I follow the train of vehicles through a winding path and into a small village. The way Scott spoke, I assumed the village would be run down and poverty-stricken, but as we drive through the main road, which isn’t much of a road at all, there are small houses and businesses that line the street. Flowers in large pots are displayed throughout the village, making it seem welcoming. The moment I park and roll the window down a crack, Talon rushes it and stuffs his nose against it before breathing in the air.

I’m sure he can smell them. The place has to stink of shifters.

I push open my truck door and get out as Talon rushes to escape with me. He looks devastated when I shut the door and follow Scott over to where Sheriff Hill is getting out of his car.

“I asked their alpha to meet us and he said he’d be waiting in Dandy’s Diner,” Hill says as he motions to a small diner.

“We can take it from here,” Scott says.

Hill hesitates. “You want me to stay out here?” he asks, reasonably uncertain.

Scott waves him off like he couldn’t be bothered with him. “You can leave if you want. We’re good from here.”

I can tell Hill doesn’t like this idea much as he leans against his car door. “You don’t want to piss the alpha off.”