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Secret Seduction

Secret Seduction

Liv Brywood

 

Book Description

 

When a tall, dark, and dangerously sexy Alpha werewolf rescues Diana from a vicious attack, she doesn’t know who to fear more—her attacker or the wolf. She’s heard whispered legends of a powerful werewolf but never believed such a creature could exist. Captured by the wolf, she’s taken to his den, and to his bed. But as their relationship heats up, she struggles to compete with a ghost from his past. His haunted eyes tear at her soul, but she knows she can heal him if he’ll let her.

 

Five years ago, a tragedy shattered Ryker’s heart. As Alpha of the Silver Creek Pack, his duty to protect the pack compelled him to institute a new law—never bring a human to the den. But after saving Diana, he can’t abandon the curvaceous woman alone in the woods, so he violates the law. He’ll take her back to the town of Full Moon Bay as soon as night falls. But as the hours dwindle and his desire for her grows, a dark force builds a powerful weapon to use against the wolves.

 

Excerpt…

 

Ryker resisted the urge to nibble on the edge of her pouty bottom lip. His hands wrapped around the small of her back just above the tempting curve of her hips. He pulled her against his body. Heat surged from deep inside him, daring him to seduce her.

The scent of her sticky skin intoxicated him. Pheromones radiated from her body, coaxing him into a state of arousal more intense than anything he’d felt in the last few years.

He stepped back as if scalded. “You need a bath.”

Confusion marred her pretty features. A dark blush crept up her neck into her face. “I’d take one if you had it.”

He backed into the shadow of the doorway, hoping she didn’t see how much he desired her. “I’ll have Leah come and take you to the river.”

“Thank you.” Her bold gaze traveled from his face down until it rested at the apex of his thighs. She must have liked what she saw because she bit the edge of her lip in the most alluring way.

He pivoted and raced out of the chamber. He couldn’t risk staying another second, because at the slightest invitation he would have led her to the bed and done everything in his power to enflame and then soothe every inch of her.

 

 

Secret Seduction

 

Liv Brywood

 

 

Secret Seduction

Copyright© 2014 Liv Brywood

Barnes and Noble Edition

All rights reserved.

 

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

 

Table of Contents

 

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

A Note from Liv

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Diana scooted across the worn vinyl seat in an attempt to get as far away as possible from Zane. Her sister Luna warned her to meet the charming man she’d met through an online dating site in a public place. But being stubborn, Diana chose to ignore her younger sister’s advice.

Zane’s pickup truck bumped along a back road she had never traveled. The vast woods surrounding the small town of Full Moon Bay were considered off-limits by the locals.

Something about the way Zane stared forward without looking at her seemed off. With each passing minute, a spark of dread grew. The greasy pizza and beer she’d had for dinner churned in her stomach. She regretted letting him talk her into picking her up at home.

Slashes of moonlight cut across the road. She stared out into the shadowy woods. He should have turned toward the east by now, but continued north. She glanced at the moon. It rose high above the tree line.

A furtive glance at her cell phone gave her no hope. No signal.

She wanted to brush off the unease as a side effect of watching too many true-life serial killer shows, but couldn’t. She tried to remember the tips law enforcement told viewers. Try to make him think of you as a person.

“My sister Luna is waiting for me back at the house. She expects me home by midnight.” She lied.

He grunted.

“I had fun on the date. I’ve never been to Drake’s pool hall before. In fact, I’ve never even played pool before.” She laughed nervously.

“I go there a lot.”

She didn’t doubt it. When he’d walked into the bar, half the men turned to greet him. Some slapped him on the shoulder as he passed.

So far, so good. She just needed to keep the conversation alive until the juncture. “When did you learn how to play pool?”

“Dad taught me.”

“That was nice of him.”

“Mean son of a bitch. That’s about all he taught me. That and shooting.”

Her heart plummeted through the floor. “He couldn’t be all bad if he showed you how to do things.”

His hands gripped the steering wheel. The truck bucked and fishtailed as the paved road gave way to gravel. Diana grabbed the door handle to keep from sliding.

Zane steered the truck into a sharp turn. Off to the right, the tree line gave way to a high cliff. Hundreds of feet below, an inky bay rippled. Suddenly she knew exactly where they were, Hangman’s Bluff overlooking the town’s namesake, Full Moon Bay.

She tensed as the truck skirted the edge of the cliff. Pale tendrils of fog reached up from the waterfront to clutch at the cliffs. The first wisps breached the granite walls and writhed against the sea breeze.

“Are we almost to the turn off?” She failed to keep her voice steady and hoped he didn’t pick up on the change in tone.

“Have you read The Bible?”

“What?”

“The book of The Lord.”

“Yes. Why?”

“Do you know the story of Delilah?”

She whispered. “The temptress.”

His steely gaze poured over her. “God warned men about women like her, but they didn’t listen.”

The hair at the nape of her neck stood on end. The last serial killer show she’d watched detailed the murders committed by Albert Fish, the Werewolf of Wisteria. Obsessed with the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac, he’d sacrificed and ate his victims as a form of communion.

Adrenaline rushed through her body, making her fingers and toes tingle. She needed to escape immediately.

She studied the space where the headlights illuminated the road. The same pockmarked road and endless tree line continued into the murky darkness.

In a shrill voice, he continued. “Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.”

Her bottom lip quivered. She wiped her damp palms on her jeans. She had to pull it together if she had any chance of escaping.

She glanced at the speedometer—twenty-five miles an hour. At least the terrible road forced him to drive slowly.

“Give me any plague, but the plague of the heart, and any wickedness, but the wickedness of a woman.”

She inched her hand toward the lock. She’d only have seconds to escape. Over the pulse of blood through her ears, he droned on.

“Of the woman came the beginning of sin, and through her we all die.”

She sucked in a breath then flung her left arm across her chest. Time slowed to a crawl as she ripped open the lock. Her nails scraped across the handle as she shoved the door open. Without stopping, she hurled herself out of the car.

In the second she spent airborne, the faces of her family flashed before her eyes. She couldn’t die. Her sisters needed her.

Her body slammed against the ground and rolled to a stop. Ten yards ahead, a cloud of dust and rock rushed from behind the braking truck.

She scrambled to her feet. One stiletto fell off. She wobbled for a second before kicking the other shoe off. She raced into the woods.

Trees clawed at her lightweight sweater. Jagged rocks tore into the flesh on her feet. She didn’t stop, didn’t look back.

Breath exploded from her chest and crystallized in the chilly air. Behind her, the madman crashed through the bushes. She didn’t dare look back. She forced every ounce of strength into her aching legs and cursed the extra forty pounds she carried. She would’ve stayed in better shape if she’d known she’d have to outrun a psychopath.

She veered to the right and hoped she could lose him. Bark exploded off a tree three feet in front of her. Confusion only lasted a second before another loud crack sounded from a few yards behind her. Gunshots.

She gasped. Her lungs ached as she sucked in breath after breath. She didn’t know how much longer she could last.

Crack. Another gunshot blasted the ground at her feet.

She screamed.

His footfalls thundered in the dirt. A shot ricocheted off a boulder.

She surged forward and burst into a large moon-shadowed meadow. Her primal scream shattered the air. She couldn’t stop screaming as she bolted toward the distant tree line.

Halfway across the meadow, a searing pain crippled one leg. She collapsed against the grass.

She stared at the trail of blood oozing from her calf.

Zane sauntered out of the forest. “A shameless woman shall be counted as a dog; but she that is shamefaced will fear The Lord.”

She forced herself onto one knee and crawled away from him. Her lame leg dragged through the dirt.

“And I will make them eat the flesh of their sons, and the flesh of their daughters.”

She whimpered. The strain of pulling herself along took its toll. Only moving a few inches at a time, she prayed for a miracle.

“Stop.” His voice boomed in the silence.

She froze. Every cell in her body screamed keep going! but terror paralyzed her.

“I find more bitter than death, the woman who is a snare, whose heart is a trap and whose hands are chains. The man who pleases God will escape her, but the sinner she will ensnare.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” she cried.

“Confess your sins woman, and God will have mercy.”

Her nostrils flared. She had nothing to confess. She’d only ever had one boyfriend, didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, and had no other vices.

He lowered the gun to the level of her head. “If you have nothing to confess, there is no mercy.”

Transfixed by the glint of moonlight on the barrel of the gun, she almost didn’t notice the rustling in the bushes at the edge of the meadow.

Zane turned his attention toward the sound. His mouth formed a grim line.

She spotted a wolf with a magnificent silver coat. Bigger than any wolf she’d ever seen before, it stalked toward them. Powerful muscles rippled across the animal’s back. An air of majestic power radiated from the creature.

The wolf’s gaze rested on her and a shiver traveled up her spine. An otherworldly intelligence sparkled in its luminous eyes.

Zane trained the gun on the enormous wolf.

The animal seemed somehow aware of the danger and darted into the woods. In her desperation, she’d hoped the animal could somehow sense her fear and chase the murderer away.

Despair enveloped her. She’d never see her sisters again. Never again visit her parent’s grave. Never see another sunrise.

Zane pointed the gun at her. She squeezed her eyes closed. If she was lucky, she’d die instantly.

At the edge of the forest, a branch cracked. Zane peered in the direction of the sound. She turned her head to the side and spotted a pair of glowing eyes.

The wolf bounded out of the forest and lunged for Zane’s throat. The madman fired the gun and narrowly missed the wolf. It growled and pounced on Zane, crushing him to the ground.

Zane cursed and smashed the butt of the gun against the wolf’s head. The wolf yelped and fell to the side. Zane scurried to his feet and fled the meadow.

The wolf leapt to its feet, but didn’t move to chase him. Instead, he stood by her side like a sentry.

Confused, she stayed motionless on the ground. She didn’t want to make any sudden movements. With any luck, the wolf would leave her alone and she could escape into the woods.

The wolf backed away. A cloud passed over the moon, plunging the meadow into darkness.

Her eyes had adjusted enough that she could still make out the outline of the wolf. A mournful howl pierced the air. The creature’s bones cracked and twisted.

She blinked. Impossible. She looked on in horror as the wolf’s form distorted and shrunk. Its fur receded. The front paws transformed into arms, the back paws into legs. And when the transformation was complete, a totally naked man stood before her.

Her eyes rolled back and the starry sky was last thing she saw before darkness enveloped her.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

Ryker placed his palm on his chin and pushed his neck to one side. A satisfying crack released the tension caused by the shift.

He sniffed the air. If the woman hadn’t been hurt, he would have chased the man with the gun and ripped out his throat. Instead, an overwhelming need to protect her forced him to stay. He’d try following the scent trail later, but for now, he needed to stop the woman’s bleeding.

He dropped to his knees and pulled the hem of her dress up enough to reveal the wound. He’d seen injuries like this on other wolves in his pack when they encountered hunters. They were rarely life-threatening as long as they were treated immediately.

Instinct told him to carry her back to the den, but he’d be breaking the number one law in the pack—no humans were allowed in the den, ever. As alpha, he’d instituted the law, and for very good reason. If he violated this law, then what would stop the other wolves from violating the other laws he’d set down?

On the ground, the woman moaned. She was losing blood fast. He had no other choice; he had to break the law.

He’d make it back to the den faster in his wolf form, so he shifted. His muscles stretched and grew. To transform from human to wolf was much less painful than transforming from wolf to human.

With his nose, he nudged the woman. Out cold.

He gently wrapped his mouth around her, then lifted her onto his back. She fell forward, her arms dangling, one on each side of him.

Satisfied that she was sufficiently balanced, he took off at a quick pace. He carefully measured each stride so she wouldn’t fall off. He didn’t want to cause any more damage.

The trip back to the den took just under an hour. He hoped she’d wake up, but she was still out when he reached the den.

Akila met him at the entrance. “It smells like death.”

Her eyes went wide when she saw what he carried. She quickly looked around, but no other wolves were present. “You brought a human here?”

In his wolf form, he couldn’t respond. Akila slid the woman off his back and held her up while Ryker shifted.

“She’s got a gunshot wound.”

The gray-haired wolf snorted. “Obviously, but she shouldn’t be here. We all agreed to abide by the rule. What made you think you could violate it?”

He glanced around. No other wolves were present to witness her questioning him. “She’s severely injured, so screw the rules. Are you going to help me or not?”

Akila passed the woman to Ryker, who scooped her into his arms.

Alex, another member of the pack, stepped out of the shadow of the cave and stretched. “What’s all the commotion out here?”

Shit. Ryker thought he’d be able to sneak her in since the other wolves slept during the day.

Akila tilted her head toward the woman. “He found a stray.”

Alex scurried to her side. “Can I help?”

Ryker stared him down. “Why aren’t you out hunting with the others?”

“Gwen wasn’t feeling well so I stayed back.”

Ryker couldn’t fault him wanting to take care of his sister. “How’s she doing?”

“She’s still recovering from the bites, but I think she’ll pull through.”

“Good. Any news from the trackers? Have they found out anything about where the human who attacked her went?”

“They haven’t been back yet. So, can I help?”

The young wolf showed an aptitude for healing, so Ryker nodded. “You can help, but you must keep her a secret.”

“Consider it done.”

“All right, let’s get her in and get to work.”

Akila took his cue and started barking orders at Alex. “I need water and wood to make a fire.”

Alex grabbed a gourd from a shelf just inside the cave. He sprinted off in the direction of the river.

Akila turned to Ryker. “Carry her to my chamber.”

He carried the woman into the cave. Cool air dried the thin sheen of sweat on his skin. He rarely got cold, but when he did, he was usually in human form.

The cave split into two tunnels. Light filtered into various parts of the den through holes in the rocks, but the tunnel to the healer’s chambers was completely devoid of light. He followed Akila down the path.

Five years ago, when he’d first become alpha, there was no need for a designated healer. But as the hunters encroached on their territory, more and more wolves returned from hunts with injuries. No one but Akila, Alex, and Ryker traveled into this part of the den, so it was the perfect place to hide her while she healed.

Ryker entered the chamber and noticed a new dais in the back corner of the room. “You added another bed.”

Akila nodded. “Two wasn’t enough. Leah and I carved the third while you were gone during the last council meeting. We need to be prepared for hunting season.”

She grabbed a blanket from the built-in shelf that ran the length of the room. She unfolded it and draped it over the bed.

He set the woman down and placed a feather-stuffed pillow under her head. A hole in the ceiling allowed moonlight into the room.

The woman’s makeup was streaked down her face, but under all the muck, she was beautiful. Long ebony hair framed her oval-shaped face and curled around her shoulders. Her flushed cheeks and lush red lips were so tempting, he wanted to brush his mouth across them with feather-light kisses.

A strap had slipped off of one shoulder, exposing even more of her flawlessly tanned skin. Her wickedly sexy curves made his mouth water. The rise and fall of her chest made the barely exposed swell of her breasts even more visible.

The sudden urge to touch her overwhelmed his senses. He clenched his hands at his sides. He didn’t even know the woman, but a powerful attraction tugged at the heated place between his legs.

He forgot Akila was in the room until she spoke. “Where did you find her?”

“The meadow just off the old logging road. Some psycho was chasing her with a gun. He shot her and would have killed her if I hadn’t heard the commotion and gone to investigate.”

“Humans. I swear. They can’t get along for more than five minutes without trying to kill each other.”

Ryker nodded in agreement. “That’s why we have to stay away from them.”

“And yet you brought her here.”

The muscle in his jaw twitched. He didn’t like being questioned about his decisions. As alpha, he could do as he pleased. “Look at her. Would you have left her in the woods?”

Akila sighed. “No.”

He looked down at the injured woman. Humans and wolves could never live side by side in harmony, so staying as far away as possible was their best option for survival. As soon as the human was stable enough to move, he’d take her back into town and drop her off in front of the hospital.

Alex panted as he rushed into the room carrying the gourd in one hand. A huge pile of wood was tucked under the other arm.

He skidded to an abrupt stop. Water sloshed over the side of the gourd and landed on the dirt floor. “I got the water and wood.”

“Good. Put the water by the bed and get the fire going.” Akila instructed.

After carefully placing the gourd on the ground, Alex dropped the kindling in the center of the room. He set a small ball of tinder in the fire pit. He struck a match, then cupped his hand around the flame as he brought it closer to the tinder. Smoke curled up toward a hole in the ceiling. As the fire grew, he added a few small sticks. He continued to add larger pieces of wood until the fire cracked and hissed.

While Alex built the fire, Ryker grabbed a pot and filled it with the river water. He hung the pot over the fire. Once the water reached a rolling boil, Akila tossed a few surgical instruments into the pot.

Ryker asked. “Do you think you can save her?”

Akila inspected the wound. “It’s not life-threatening. It’s actually much better than it looks. I have something special that will fix her up in no time. You should be able to get rid of her by tomorrow night.”

Relief flooded his body. For the first time since he’d encountered her and the hunter, he relaxed. He rolled his neck to release the tension.

Akila sniffed the air. “Strange.”

“What?”

“She has a scent on her that seems familiar, but I can’t place where I’ve smelled it before. Her blood is everywhere, so it’s hard for me to detect the other scent.”

“Maybe it’s a city scent.”

Akila shrugged. “Speaking of the city, I’m running low on supplies. We’re going to have to send Leah on a run soon.”

Ryker eyed the dwindling supply of gauze and made a mental note to send Leah to a hospital to steal more supplies. He’d buy them, but in a town the size of Full Moon Bay, someone would notice his frequent trips and start asking questions. He couldn’t afford to draw attention to the pack. As far as he knew, no human knew werewolves roamed the forest, and he intended to keep it that way.

The fire crackled and thick black smoke wafted up through the skylight.

Ryker turned to Alex. “Go check on your sister.”

The younger man hurried to the other side of the chamber. Ryker glanced at a stone dais to the left of the entrance. Gwen lay on her side facing the wall. The soft rise and fall of her chest was a good sign.

She’d spent the last two weeks moaning and crying out during the day. She wouldn’t tell anyone what happened. The marks on her body left no need to inquire. Every time he looked at the scratches and gouges, rage bubbled up from his gut. As soon as he was sure Akila could help the woman he found in the meadow, he’d leave to join the trackers. Whoever mauled Gwen would pay with his life.

Ryker watched Akila clean out the new patient’s wound. At least the bullet hadn’t lodged in her body. The faster she recovered, the faster he could return her to the town. He brushed a strand of hair from her face. Yes, she needed to leave before anyone in the pack became too attached to her. The last time a woman stayed with the pack for longer than a month, her life ended in tragedy. His heart clenched to remind him of the dull ache that never went away. He wouldn’t go through that again.

 

***

 

Diana groaned as she regained consciousness. Her body felt like it had been run over by a truck. She pushed herself up using what little strength she had left.

She peered into the dim room. In the center of the room, a shaft of sunlight illuminated the remnants of a fire. Red coals glowed from within a pile of ash.

In an instant, the events from the previous night rushed in. She slapped a hand over her mouth to suppress a scream. The last thing she remembered was being shot by Zane.

Her gaze darted around the room. No one lurked in the shadows. She breathed a sigh of relief and tried to remember how she ended up in a cave.

The wolf.

She shook her head to clear it. She must have passed out after the wolf saved her from Zane because the last thing she remembered was the wolf transforming into a man. A very naked, very sexy man. It had to be a hallucination.

Diana swung her good leg over the edge of the bed. A sharp pain radiated down the leg which had been shot. She stared at it. A bandage held a thick piece of gauze in place. She peeled back the edge of it and stared at her leg. The deep wound had a scab on it. She’d expected it to look much worse. Who could have healed her so quickly?

She slowly stood, putting most of her weight on her good leg. Her injured leg didn’t hurt nearly as bad as she thought it would. As she hobbled around the room, she pushed one hand against the cool stone wall for support.

Two stone daises were set several yards apart. Each platform was covered with a clean white sheet. The only other feature in the room was a shelf carved into the stone. Bottles in all shapes and sizes littered the shelf. Some of the bottles were filled with liquid and others with what looked to be dried herbs. None of the bottles were labeled.

A cool breeze stirred dirt into a mini dust devil at her feet. She staggered away from the wall and hobbled toward the only exit in the room, a curtained door.

She took a breath and then pushed the heavy fabric back. The other side was pitch-black. She hesitated. At least she was relatively safe in the room. She could defend herself if there was only one entrance. But the need to escape overrode her preservation instincts.

She stepped into the void.

Her hands scraped along the wall. She used it not only for purchase, but to find her way back to the room if necessary.

When she’d traveled about ten yards, she turned and looked behind her. Darkness enveloped her in every direction. As a wave of panic set in, she hurried down the corridor. She was just about to panic and run when she spotted a thin shaft of light streaming from around a bend.

The tunnel took a sharp turn to the right. As she rounded the corner, she slammed into a solid wall. She jumped back. The naked man from her hallucination filled the space, his exquisite body bathed in golden sunlight. She yelped and backed away.

“Don’t be afraid.” His commanding voice did nothing to calm her nerves.

“Who are you? Where am I?”

“You’re in my den.”

Den? Oh God, the wolf. The floor swayed beneath her feet. The wolf man took a step forward, but she recoiled in fear. “Stay away from me.”

The corners of his mouth turned down. “I saved you from the human that was trying to kill you.”

A chill shimmied down the backs of her thighs. She held the tattered edges of her dress together in an effort to cover her exposed skin.

In a softer voice he said, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt you.”

Something in his tone made her want to trust him, but she knew better. To trust any strange man after the date from hell would be foolish.

“I want to go home.”

A soft feminine voice came from behind the man. “You’re not going anywhere, missy, at least not until tonight.”

A naked woman with long gray hair sidestepped the man. “I’m Akila and that’s Ryker. He found you last night and I patched you up.”

Diana averted her eyes. “Thank you.”

“Do you have a name?”

“Diana.”

“Good thing for you that hunter was a bad shot.”

“He wasn’t a hunter.”

Akila cocked an eyebrow. “Did you know him?”

“I was on a date.”

“Worst date ever, or was he your boyfriend?”

Ryker’s wandering gaze snapped to attention.

“He wasn’t my boyfriend, just a guy I met through an online dating site.”

“An online what?”

“I’m guessing you don’t have internet here.”

Akila gave her a blank look. “Nope.”

Ryker watched her with inquisitive brown eyes. She couldn’t help but wonder at his sudden interest. A dull ache curled in her belly. She was hungry, but for what? As tempted as she was to let her eyes roam lower, she forced herself to keep her head up.

“We can’t let you leave yet,” he said.

“Why not?”

“You know what we are.”

She swallowed the lump in her throat. “What do you mean?”

Ryker glowered at her. “You saw me shift.”

“I’m not sure what I saw,” she lied.

“You saw me shift from wolf to man.”

“No,” she whispered. “It’s impossible. Werewolves are just a myth.”

“We’ve been around for thousands of years, but humans are afraid of us. They like to pretend we don’t exist because the alternative is too frightening, which is why we can’t let you leave.”

“You can’t keep me a prisoner.”

The muscles in his face relaxed. “We won’t, but you won’t be allowed to leave until tonight. We can’t have your people finding our den and killing us.”

“I wouldn’t tell them, I swear.” She cringed realizing she’d said the exact same words to Zane.

“We can’t take that chance. We’ll take you back to town tonight when it’s dark. But for today, you’re going back to bed to rest.”

She opened her mouth to protest, but he raised a hand.

“This is not negotiable.”

Diana shot a hopeful look at Akila, but she nodded in agreement. “Come with me.”

Ryker stepped in front of the women, blocking their path. “I’ll take her.”

Akila cocked her head to one side as if she was considering something. “Let me know if you need anything.”

The muscle in his jaw quivered as he turned and disappeared into the darkened hallway. Diana hesitated. She could turn and run the opposite direction and hope to escape into the woods. But realistically, there was no way she could outrun a wolf, or even a man. She’d tried that last night and failed miserably. She sighed and scurried after him.

Back inside the room, she sat on the bed she’d woken up in. Ryker leaned against the far wall, one leg casually draped across the other.

The skittering in her stomach slowed. He hadn’t attacked her. In fact, he’d saved her and taken care of her wounds. She relaxed slightly. Maybe she could trust him, but that didn’t mean she wanted to spend the rest of the day looking over her shoulder.

She mustered up as much courage as she could and in a firm tone said, “If I’m stuck here until tonight, I’d rather be alone.”

“I was going to offer you some food, but suit yourself.” He brushed past her on the way to the door.

“Wait. I’m sorry. This is so surreal.” She grabbed his firm upper arm to stop him, but he yanked it away.

“If you want to be alone, I get it. I can send someone to check on you from time to time. Even if you don’t think you’re hungry, you’ve lost a lot of blood and need nourishment.”

She prided herself on not being a sniveling crybaby, but the compassion in his voice destroyed the last thread of control. She hung her head as a tear rolled down her cheek.

He mumbled something under his breath as he tried to draw her into his arms. She pushed away and turned her back on him. She didn’t need another man touching her right now. She sniffed back the flood of tears that her body threatened to unleash.

Ryker spoke in a soothing voice. “You can trust me. If I’d wanted to kill you, I could have easily done it after you fainted.”

“That was so embarrassing.”

“It happens. Not everyone gets chased by a gun-wielding psycho and saved by a werewolf in one night.”

She smiled. He had a point.

He smoothed the unruly curls away from her face then gently rubbed her back. His smooth skin smelled like rain-washed pine. She didn’t push him away this time. Instead, she tilted her head up. Her cheek grazed the stubble on his chin. His lips were only inches from hers. But she couldn’t close the distance between them. She didn’t know anything about the wolf-man. For all she knew, he change back into a wolf and tear her throat out.

But the more she looked at him, the more she wondered if she could trust him. He had saved her from Zane. Why would he have done that if he’d wanted to kill her too?

 

Chapter 3

 

Ryker resisted the urge to nibble on the edge of her pouty bottom lip. His hands wrapped around the small of her back just above the tempting curve of her hips. Her eyes went wide as he pulled her against his body. She placed her palms on his chest as if ready to fight his advances, but she didn’t. Instead, her eyebrows knitted together in confusion.

The scent of her sticky skin intoxicated him. Pheromones radiated from her body, coaxing him into a state of arousal more intense than anything he’d felt in the last few years. After he’d lost Trista, he never imagined he’d ever feel anything for another woman. The disconcerting sensation struck him like a bolt of lightning.

He stepped back as if scalded. “You probably want to get cleaned up.”

Confusion marred her pretty features. A dark blush crept up her neck into her face. “I’d take a bath if you had one.”

He backed into the shadow of the doorway hoping she didn’t see how much he desired her. “I’ll have Leah come and take you to the river.”

“Thank you.” Her bold gaze traveled from his face down until it rested on his cock. She must have liked what she saw because she bit the edge of her lip in the most alluring way.

He pivoted and raced out of the chamber. He couldn’t risk staying another second, because at the slightest invitation, he would have laid her on the bed and done everything in his power to enflame and then soothe every inch of her.

At the fork in the tunnel, he turned left to get to Leah’s chamber. Most wolves preferred to live in the communal room, but Leah liked privacy. He didn’t blame her. Sometimes constantly having to make decisions for the pack weighed on him. When that happened, he needed time alone to think.

He poked his head behind the curtain. Leah lay on her pallet under a quilt of woven cotton. He hated to wake her up during the day because the wolves were nocturnal. But Diana needed a bath and he didn’t trust himself to take her to the river.

Leah rolled toward him and propped up on one elbow. Waves of thick chestnut hair dangled across her ultra-fit body. “Well, hello, sexy. I was wondering if you’d ever be back in my bed.”

He smiled. “As much as I’d love to crawl in there with you, I need your help with something.”

Her gaze traveled to his erection. She grinned. “Having a hard time with something?”

He chuckled. No wonder she thought he was there for sex. “Yes, but not with what you’re thinking.”

She tossed back the quilt, slid off the bed, then sauntered toward him. “How could you possibly know what I’m thinking?”

She reached for him, but he grabbed her wrists in a gentle but firm hold. “Last night I found a human in the woods. She was hurt so I brought her back here.”

“You did what?”

Ryker shifted from one foot to the other. “She would have died if I hadn’t brought her back.”

“Who else knows about this?”

“Only Akila, Alex, and now you.”

Leah clucked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. “If you told Alex, everyone will find out. That boy couldn’t keep his mouth shut if his life depended on it.”

“He swore he wouldn’t say anything.” Ryker knew she was right, but there wasn’t much he could do about it now.

“Well, what’s done is done. What do you need me to do?”

“She needs a bath. I’d like you to take her to the river. Go upstream to the pool so the others don’t see her.”

“What was she doing in the woods?” Leah asked.

“Running from a lunatic with a gun.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Afraid not. The guy shot her but only hit her leg. She’s understandably on edge and I don’t know if other humans will be out searching for her, so I need you to be alert.”

“Where’s Tala? She’s alpha female and would be the best person to protect the human.”

“She’s with the tracking party.” His patience was wearing thin. As the beta female, Leah had a little more leeway to question him, but not much.

As if sensing the change in his mood, she said, “No problem. Is she in your chamber?”

Her territorial tone surprised him. Was she jealous of Diana? She’d be gone from the den that night, so Leah didn’t have anything to worry about.

He decided to ignore the loaded undertone of the questions and responded in a neutral voice. “She’s in Akila’s chambers.”

Leah flashed a seductive smile. “I’m always happy to do anything you need.”

He had no doubt about that. In the months after he’d lost Trista, he’d accepted the comfort of her body. He admired her intelligence but she wasn’t his mate. He needed a mate who could match his dominant position. Someone who could take on the position of alpha female and help oversee the pack.

“When you’re done at the river, bring her back to my chamber.”

Her smile faltered but she nodded. “Will do.”

“Thank you.”

He left the room and made his way toward the entrance to the cave. The closer he got to the light, the more he wanted to run. The tension in his body needed to be released.

Sunlight streamed through the branches of the pine trees. He inhaled the fresh air. So pure and clean. He couldn’t understand why humans insisted in living in disgusting, smelly cities.

When he shifted, he welcomed the painful crack of his bones as they elongated and stretched. Fur grew to cover his body. The canine teeth he used to rip prey apart extended.

He loved this form. It was far more comfortable and practical than the human form. He almost wished he’d been born pure wolf. But he learned never to curse his body. There was no use in fretting over something you couldn’t change. It wasted energy which could be used for other things, like running.

He raced into the forest. His paws pounded the ground as he accelerated to full speed. Wind whipped through his fur as he jumped over small boulders. Pure joy flowed through him. Even though he was alpha, he needed time to himself. Time away from the pack helped him clear his mind and relax.

As he rounded the great white oak and turned toward the meadow where he found Diana, he realized he couldn’t rest yet. Now was the perfect time to track the man with the gun.

 

***

 

Diana paced the length of the room. She’d almost kissed the werewolf. What the hell had she been thinking? Yes, he was virile in a barely domesticated kind of way, but still. She’d never been so reckless. Instead of feeling terrified by the situation, she’d turned into a hormonal schoolgirl. Nearly getting killed by Zane had clearly clouded her judgment. She’d need to be more careful until the wolves took her back to Full Moon Bay.

She glanced up at the hole in the roof. Judging by the angle of the sun, it couldn’t be much past noon. She still had to wait at least another six to eight hours.

“Hello.”

Diana jumped and turned toward the sound. A lithe woman entered the chamber. Apparently everyone walked around naked here.

The woman was a few inches taller than her, maybe five foot nine. Diana tried not to stare, but she couldn’t look away. The woman’s caramel skin radiated health. Wavy chestnut-colored hair swept down her back, ending just above her waist. She had the body of a marathon runner, tight, sleek and without an ounce of fat. She probably could have outrun Zane without breaking a sweat.

“I’m Leah. Ryker sent me to take you to the river for a bath.” She scrunched up her nose. “I can see why.”

Diana bristled. What did they expect? She’d outrun a madman and slept in a cave overnight. Of course she smelled terrible.

Diana asked. “How far is the river from here?”

“About a half a mile. Far enough to keep any predators away, but close enough for us to gather water and bathe. Let’s get going. I don’t like to get burnt and the sun’s already directly overhead.”

Diana followed her along the dark corridor. It only took about a minute to get to the entrance of the cave. She would have tried to escape if she’d known how close it was to the room they held her in.

Leah led her into the forest. “I didn’t catch your name.”

“Diana.”

“Ah, lady of the hunt.”

“More like lady of the hunted,” Diana grumbled.

“Ryker told me about that. What happened?”

Diana told her about the disastrous date and explained how she ended up in the meadow. She ended by saying, “And then a wolf scared him off.”

Leah walked alongside her. “You mean Ryker.”

“Well yes, but he’s a wolf.”

“He’s not a wild animal.” Leah smirked. “Well, sometimes he is.”

Heat crept up Diana’s face. God she wished she didn’t blush so easily.

Leah glanced at her. “He’s handsome, isn’t he?”

“I hadn’t really noticed,” she lied.

“Mm-hmm.” Leah arched a skeptical eyebrow.

“I mean, he does have a nice body… but wait, why are we even talking about this? Are you his wife?”

Leah threw back her head and laughed. “No. Not even close. I’ve mated with him in the past, but just to scratch an itch. Ryker’s the alpha of the Silver Creek Pack, our pack. He probably won’t marry. Most alphas don’t, after all. Why should they when they can have any female in the pack anytime they want?”

“What if the female doesn’t want to sleep with him?”

“Ryker would never take a woman against her will. You don’t become alpha without respecting all of the members in your pack. The position is mutually agreed upon.”

Intrigued, Diana asked, “Do you vote or hold elections?”

“No, nothing like that. Once someone becomes alpha, they hold the position for life. When they die, the new alpha is someone everyone would assume would take over as leader. Most of the time it’s the beta of the group.”

“What’s a beta?”

“Second-in-command. If Ryker were to leave to go on a hunt, the beta, Trent in our case, would take over until Ryker returned.”

Diana was silent as she processed this information. What an interesting social structure. She wondered how well it actually worked. What would stop a beta from trying to overthrow an alpha?

“We’re almost there,” Leah said.

“Do you think it’s okay to get in the river with the scab on my leg?”

Leah stopped and leaned down. “Let me see.”

Diana gingerly peeled the bandage off. “I just can’t believe how fast it’s healing.”

“Akila has some magical herbal stuff she puts on wounds. No one knows where she goes to harvest the plants, but some of the wolves think she’s more witch than wolf.”

“I can see why.”

Leah skipped ahead. “There it is.”

Just beyond the trees, the river glistened in the sun. Diana listened to the rushing river gurgling over rocks. Excited by the prospect of getting clean, she increased her pace. Once they hit the beach, hot sand squished through her toes. She mewled with pleasure.

Across the river, a sheer mountain blocked the sun from half of the beach. She covered her eyes with one hand and looked up at the rocky cliffs.

Leah jumped into the water and splashed around. “Come in, the water’s perfect.”

Diana stuck a toe in the water then recoiled. “It’s freezing.”

“You’ll get used to it once you get in.”

Diana debated whether or not to get in while still wearing her tattered dress. She hadn’t thought to ask if they had any clothes she could borrow.

A large fallen tree stump lay across the beach. She could wash the dress after she bathed, then let it dry before putting it back on.

Leah ducked her head underwater. Diana took the opportunity to strip off the filthy dress and hang it on the lone branch protruding from the stump.

She crossed her arms over her breasts and rushed into the river. The icy water took her breath away. She gasped.

Leah snickered. “Stick your head under. You’ll get used to it faster.”

Diana counted to three then ducked her head under the water. When she surfaced, she sputtered and spit water out of her mouth.

“There you go.”

“I’m going to turn into a Popsicle.”

“What I wouldn’t give for one of those.”

“You’ve had Popsicles before?”

Leah grinned. “Yep. My favorite flavor is cherry. That’s all I ate during the summer when I was a kid.”

“How did you get…wait, were you always a…” Her voice trailed off.

“Werewolf? It’s okay to say it. I’m not ashamed of it. I was born human.”

“How did you become a werewolf?” Diana asked.

“When I was sixteen, I took a walk in the woods and met the sexiest guy I’d ever seen. He was bathing in the river. I just walked over and started talking to him.”

“That was brave.”

“Or stupid. I got lucky in this case.”

“Did he turn you into a werewolf?”

“Not at first. I didn’t even know Stryde was a wolf until one day when I followed him. He wouldn’t tell me where he lived so I tracked him back to the den. He shifted to his wolf form just inside the entrance. I was fascinated. I stepped out of the woods and that’s when he saw me. He shifted back and warned me that I couldn’t go into the den. He said he was sorry that he hadn’t told me the truth, but by then it was too late. I was completely in love.” Leah smiled at the memory.

“What happened after that? Did you see him again?”

“Yes. We spent the entire summer together. At the end of the summer I couldn’t stand the idea of being apart from him so I begged him to turn me.”

“And he did?” Diana asked.

“At first, Stryde refused to turn me. But I pleaded with him and eventually he gave in. He loved me too and couldn’t stand the thought of being apart.”

“How did he turn you?”

“He bit me.”

“Is that the only way to become a wolf?”

“No, you can be born a wolf if one of your parents is one.”

“Does Stryde live in the den also?”

A dark shadow passed over Leah’s face. “No. Stryde and Ryker were best friends, but only one could become alpha. The den chose Ryker. When he became alpha, Stryde left for the mountains and formed the Dark Moon Pack.”

“Why didn’t you go with him?”

“Stryde was so bitter and angry that he wasn’t chosen. I waited for him to calm down, but he kept pushing me away. One day, he told me he didn’t love me anymore.” Leah pressed her palm against her heart.

“And you believed him?”

“No. But I couldn’t take his anger anymore. His den is high in Howling Mountain and very isolated. I couldn’t live like that, so I returned to the Silver Creek Pack. I haven’t seen or talked to Stryde in over a year. When he comes to the den for council meetings, I hide in my room. I can’t bear to see him.”

“Do you still love him?”

Leah wiped a tear from her cheek. “I’ll always love him.”

Diana placed a hand on her arm. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you cry.”

“You didn’t. But you know something? I have no regrets. I love being half-human, half-wolf. It’s like getting the best of both worlds.”

“How so?”

Leah swam to a calm pool of water that was surrounded by rocks. She floated on her back. “When I’m a wolf, I can run faster than I can in human form. I can roughhouse with the other wolves and no one gets hurt. When I’m human, I can work with my hands and make things out of wood and stone. I’ve always liked to create functional art.”

“I’ve never been much of an artist. I’m going to a college of dentistry.”

Leah sat up. “You should see Trent’s mouth. Talk about a disaster.”

“What’s wrong with him?”

“He likes to gnaw on sticks. I’ve told him it’s not good for his teeth but he doesn’t listen. He’s so stubborn about listening to anyone’s advice.”

“Maybe I can take a look to see if there’s anything I can do to help.” She hadn’t been paying attention to any of the werewolves’ teeth, but now that Leah mentioned it, Ryker’s seemed unusually sharp.

 

***

 

Ryker tracked the scent of the gun-wielding human to the town of Full Moon Bay. At the edge of the forest, he surveyed the people walking down Main Street. There were too many out right now so he couldn’t continue his search in town. He’d have to continue tonight after he brought Diana back.

He had to find the man and kill him. He couldn’t risk word getting out about werewolves in the forest. He wasn’t sure how much the man had seen after he took off, but he wasn’t taking any chances.

After studying the faces on Main Street one more time, he backed into the woods and then turned and ran.

The deeper he got into the forest, the more sure he was about where he was headed. He reached the base of Howling Mountain. As he ascended the steep trail, he carefully chose each step. Wind whipped through the narrow passes. An ever-present mournful howling sound snaked through scattered pine trees.

Most wolves refused to climb the mountain out of respect for the Dark Moon Pack. But Ryker had known Stryde, the pack’s alpha, since they were children. The council agreement between the tribes allowed wolves to pass through other territories without harm, but they were strictly forbidden from approaching the other wolves or hunting in their territory.

Ryker didn’t plan on violating the treaty. He only broke rules when it was absolutely necessary.

He continued up the switchback trail that lead to his favorite place in the world. When he reached the overhang, he quickly checked the small cave. He kept a few supplies here for when he needed a place to think. Everything seemed to be in its place.

Thirsty from the climb, he nudged the lid off a large gourd and lapped up water. When he was done, he picked the lid up with his teeth and secured it.

He pawed toward the edge of the overhang and stared down at the river below. Diana and Leah splashed in the pool at the edge of the river. The women were both in their human form and he couldn’t help but notice their differences. Leah’s stomach was a smooth plane which ended at her narrow hips. He’d enjoyed mating with her over the years, but beyond that, he didn’t feel anything more than friendship toward her. She seemed more interested in Trent anyway. The beta didn’t mind sharing since he also had a wandering eye, so the arrangement worked well.

In contrast to Leah, Diana’s belly was soft and round. Her hips were curvaceous and tantalizing. It had only been about an hour since his hands held those luscious hips, but his body remembered. The stirring between his legs distracted him. In his wolf form, desire often overrode common sense. He’d have to be very careful about shifting too close to her, especially if they were alone.

Even from a thousand feet above, he could smell the sweet essence of her. The river had worked wonders and the foul city smell was gone, and so was the scent of fear. He lowered down to the ground and rested his head on his forepaws, content to simply watch her.

 

***

 

Zane clamped the custom steel bullet mold into place. A bead of sweat worked its way down his forehead and dripped into his eye. The workshop in his garage didn’t have any climate control but only the wicked needed such worldly things.

He needed to line the mold with a thin layer of carbon. If he poured pure silver into the mold, it would react with the steel and ruin the finish on the bullet. He could probably have gotten away with skipping this step, but people who cut corners were weak, lazy creatures.

He lit a Bunsen burner then turned off the supply of oxygen. A yellow flame bloomed. He waved the mold over the flame a few times to create the carbon layer.

Satisfied with his work, he turned off the burner. He carefully set the mold on the refractory brick on the table, then used a clamp to hold it in place. He opened the furnace and used industrial grade tongs to pull out the crucible filled with silver.

As he poured the molten silver into the bullet mold, he prayed over it. “Lord, make me the instrument of your wrath. Let these bullets pierce the werewolves’ evil souls and send them to hell where abominations against God belong.”

When the molds were filled, he put the crucible to the side and waited. He’d hunt the wolves tonight. He almost couldn’t believe his eyes when the wolf who attacked him transformed into a man, but suddenly everything made sense. Women were only part of the evil walking the earth.

As a boy, he hadn’t realized the extent of their wickedness until the first time his mother beat him over the head with her thick, leather Bible. She’d hit him so hard his head had cracked against the kitchen table. As blood oozed from the growing lump on his scalp, God spoke to him.

At ten years old, he thought he’d known his purpose, but now he knew better. God made him an instrument of His will and he’d never stop until he killed every werewolf in the woods.

 

Chapter 4

 

Diana froze at the sudden shiver of awareness. The distinct feeling of being watched washed over her, sending her heart skittering in her chest.

Leah frowned. “What is it?”

“I feel like…never mind, it’s silly.”

“Come on, you can tell me.” Leah playfully splashed her.

Diana stared up the mountain. Someone was definitely watching her, but she couldn’t see who it was. A shadowy movement caught her attention. On a ridge high above the river, she spotted a wolf peeking over the side of a shelf in the cliff.

She whispered, “Someone’s watching us.”

Leah followed her gaze. She fell over laughing. “Figures.”

“What?”

Leah cupped her hands around her mouth and screamed, “Hey, Ryker, why don’t you come down and join us?”

Diana sunk down into the water until only her head stuck out. “Why’s he doing that? It’s so creepy.”

“He’s just watching over us. He likes to go up there and watch over the valley.”

Diana eyed the filthy dress draped over the log. There was no way she could reach it unless he saw her naked. She laughed when she realized how ridiculous her reasoning was. He’d already seen her in the shredded dress and probably in the river too. There really wasn’t much left that he hadn’t seen. She was a little on the chunky side, but she was proud of her curves.

Besides, what difference did it make at this point? She’d be leaving in a few short hours, never to return.

Sadness wove a band around her heart. She’d only been with the werewolves for a few hours, but they were fascinating. She wanted to know more about them. Like how did they manage to live in the woods for hundreds of years without being spotted? She’d heard myths and legends of werewolves but no one actually believed them.

She trudged through the water and stepped onto the shore. She grabbed the dress with every intention of slipping it over her head, but one whiff of the garment and she knew it needed a good dip in the river.

She scanned the rock face as she waded back into the water. There was no sign of him. As she dunked the garment in and out of the water, she smiled and wondered what he thought about her body. Did he like thin, fit women like Leah? Or did he like a woman with a few extra curves?

Leah swam over to her. “I think the dress is shot.”

Diana held the mangled dress up and sighed. She needed something to wear for the trip home. “You don’t happen to have a clean dress in the den, do you?”

“I have pants and a shirt.”

“You’re kidding.”

Leah said, “I go into town sometimes to get the supplies. I’m one of the only wolves in our pack to have lived as a human, so it makes sense to send me. Akila lived as a human for a while too, but we can’t risk losing her, so she stays at the den. I can give you some of the clothes I wear during those trips.”

“How do you pay for the clothes and supplies?”

She shrugged. “I don’t. We try not to take very much, mostly medical supplies for Akila. We can get everything else we need from the land.”

“But that’s stealing.”

Leah crossed her arms under her breasts. “Well, I can’t exactly get a job to pay for everything. I haven’t seen any ‘werewolves wanted’ signs anywhere. Have you?”

Diana shook her head no.

Leah took the dress from her. “We can bury this on the way back. We don’t want other wolves to scent you and come to investigate. Let’s get back to the den. Ryker will be waiting.”

Diana followed Leah out of the river. She’d lost her shoes while running from Zane, so by the time they got back to the den, she was limping from small cuts and bruises.

Back inside the den, Leah led her down the right-hand tunnel. “Walk as quickly as you can and stay quiet. The fewer wolves that see you, the better off we’ll be.”

Diana nodded her head in agreement.

As the tunnel continued deeper into the mountain, it opened into a large room. Wolves of all shapes and colors lay sprawled across the floor. Some lay side by side, while others were tucked into the corners away from the rest of the pack.

Diana slowed her pace. Most of the wolves slept, but a few awakened as she drew nearer and watched her with shimmering eyes. Some seemed mildly curious, while others glared at her.

She wished she could to talk to them so they would know why she was in their den, but Leah turned and motioned for her to hurry up.

Diana caught up with her. “How many wolves are in your pack?”

“About forty.”

“That’s a lot of wolves.”

“Not really. The Phantom Lake Pack has over one hundred wolves.”

Intrigued, Dina asked, “How many other packs live in this area?”

“Three. Ours, the Phantom Lake Pack and the Dark Moon Pack. The Phantom Lake Pack lives around Phantom Lake. It’s a huge lake so it can support a larger pack. The Dark Moon Pack is about the same size as ours. They live up on Howling Mountain where you saw Ryker.”

“Aren’t wolves territorial?”

A deep masculine voice sounded from behind her. “They are.”

Diana spun to find Ryker on her heels. She’d been so engrossed in listening to Leah she hadn’t heard him sneak up from behind.

Ryker’s eyes blazed a trail from her face across her body and all the way to her toes before returning to her eyes. She held her head high during the inspection.

“You look much cleaner.” He sniffed the air. “And smell better too.”

Leah grinned. “Mission accomplished. Like I said, anything you need, I’ll do.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Ryker said.

Leah’s silvery laughter echoed down the hall as she left.

“You’ll have to excuse her. She tends to get a little territorial.”

“I asked her but she said she wasn’t your wife.”

Ryker pushed back a curtain and waved for her to enter the room. “She’s not. I don’t have one. Anyway, welcome to my home.”

Diana stepped into the immaculately clean room. The floor looked recently swept and not a single item seemed out of place. A round redwood table and several chairs sat in one corner. She wondered if he held meetings here.

A well-used fire pit took up the center of the room. It had been cleaned out, but charcoal still peppered the bottom.

Situated at the back of the room was a large dais covered in animal pelts and feather-stuffed pillows. Still tired from the ordeal of the last twenty-four hours, she stared at it longingly.

Ryker pulled a chair out from the table. “I brought you some food.”

She sat as he pushed the chair in. “Thank you.”

A platter of meat sat on the table. He skewered a slab of raw meat then offered it to her. She wrinkled her nose. “That’s raw.”

He looked from the stick of meat to her and back. “Oh, right, I forgot that humans prefer to have it cooked.”

“So, you’ve always been a werewolf?”

“I was born a werewolf. I never lived with humans, so I don’t always remember their customs. Like cooking meat.”

He dropped the meat back onto the platter. The wet sound it made when it landed made her stomach churn. She turned away and studied Ryker as he built the fire.

She’d been too afraid to really look at him before now. Flames rose up from the fire and lit up his amber eyes. She wanted to run the tips of her fingers along his strong jawline and brush the back of her hand across the five o’clock shadow on his face. So sexy. She had a weakness for men who had that dark, dangerous look. No wonder he was the alpha.

He squatted on firm, muscular legs. His chiseled stomach clenched as he leaned over to grab more wood. For a second, she imagined his body covering hers. What would it feel like to have him on top of her? Inside of her?

God she wanted a boyfriend. It had been over a year since she’d dumped Steve. A girl had needs and her hormones were making her crazy. Just watching Ryker stoke the fire sent flames of desire licking their way up her body. The molten heat between her thighs made her shift with discomfort. As soon as she got home, she planned on relieving the ache. She just had to hold out for a few more hours.

 

***

 

The scent of her arousal tested every ounce of strength in Ryker’s body. She already smelled like a clear mountain stream, and with the added essence of pure desire, he could hardly focus.

When the fire reached a foot high, he grabbed the stick of meat from the table. He circled the fire until it was between them. From this vantage point, he could drink in each of her sensual curves. He was hyperaware of every move she made. The light from the fire flickered across her body, making him hard. He knew she could see his arousal, but she didn’t look away.

Instead, she met his gaze and held it. He loved the spark of awareness in her eyes. He wanted to carry her to bed, but that was impossible. In a few hours, she’d be leaving the den and he’d never see her again.

“What are you thinking?” she asked in a soft voice.

“I’m trying to decide when we should leave.”

“Oh.” A hint of disappointment flashed across her face but disappeared so fast he wasn’t sure if it was just a trick of the light.

“The meat’s almost ready. I don’t know how hot you want it.” He inwardly cringed. Could he be any more obvious?

In a seductive voice she replied, “Scorching hot.”

Her unwavering gaze melted the last thread of resolve. He stalked toward her. He wanted to throw her over his shoulder and carry her to bed, but instead, he held the stick out. “Try it.”

She leaned forward and bit off a small piece. Her eyes closed as she moaned with pleasure. “That is amazing.”

He watched her devour the piece of meat. When she finished, she stood and took the stick from him. She laid it on the table then wrapped her arms around him. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For rescuing me, for taking care of my leg, for cooking for me.”

She caressed his back as she spoke. The long, soft strokes enflamed his skin. It tingled all the way down to his toes.

“After tonight, we’ll never see each other again,” she murmured.

He tangled his fingers in her hair and drew her close. Her tongue flicked out to moisten her lips. The puffy bottom lip beckoned, just waiting to be nibbled.

He lowered his mouth and brushed a feathery kiss across her lips. This was madness. He shouldn’t be touching a human. He pulled back slightly, but she cupped the back of his head and pressed her lips against his.

He groaned and deepened the kiss. His tongue slid between her pliant lips to taste her. The tip of his tongue touched hers. She sighed and pressed her breasts against his chest.

He wanted to savor every kiss, every caress because he’d never see her again. At least he’d have something to remember her by when she was gone. He’d only known her for a few hours, but he wished they could have more time together.

She fascinated him. Sometimes she seemed vulnerable enough to shatter into a million pieces, but other times, like when she’d attempted to escape the man who was trying to kill her, she showed immense bravery.

He wanted to know more about her. But rather than dwell on the inevitable loss, he scooped her up and carried her to his bed.

He lay by her side and caressed the curve of her hip. “If you want me to stop, now would be the time.”

“Don’t stop.”

He rolled her onto her back. He leaned over her and spread gentle kisses along the side of her jaw. When he moved to her neck, she moaned and arched into him.

He wanted to go slow, so he laid his palm flat on her belly and took a breath. The musky scent of her arousal swirled up from the juncture of her thighs. His kisses traveled from her neck to the swell of her perfect breasts. He gently stroked her heated flesh until the sound of someone clearing their throat stopped him.

Ryker rolled toward the entrance to his chamber. When he saw who caused the interruption, his annoyance evaporated.

Trent leaned against the door with a shit-eating grin on his face. “Busy?”

Diana sat up quickly and pulled a pelt across her body. “Oh my God this is so embarrassing.”

Ryker slid off the bed and padded across the room. “Do you have news from the tracking party?”

“Yes, but I feel like you have a far more interesting story to tell me.” Trent leaned to one side to look at Diana.

“Did you find out who attacked Gwen?”

Trent nodded. “Her scent led us right to the town. Which reminds me, what the hell is a human doing in the den?”

Ryker glowered at his beta as he backed out of the room. “Wait for me outside. I’ll be right out.”

He returned to Diana. “Trent just got back with the tracking party. Unfortunately, I have to deal with this immediately. It shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours. When I get back, it should be time to take you home.”

“He sounds pissed that I’m here.”

“He’s just agitated from tracking Gwen’s attacker. Don’t worry about it.”

He turned and left the room before he could climb back into bed with her. Giving in to the erotic pull of her pheromones was a terrible mistake. Bringing a human into the den was a mistake too. He needed to get his shit together.

The horrific image of the last human woman he’d loved popped into his head. He’d already saved Diana once and didn’t want to tempt fate by putting her or his tribe in danger. Besides, he didn’t deserve to love anyone. Not after what he’d done.

 

Chapter 5

 

Well that was a disaster. Diana fell back against the bed and kicked off the soft pelt she’d used to cover herself. She shouldn’t be entirely disappointed because she knew the severity of the situation, but still, why did Trent have to show up at that exact moment?

She sighed. When they’d walked through this section of the den, there had been enough daylight to be able to see the other wolves. She could spend the last few hours in the den exploring.

She peeked into the hallway. No one was wandering around so she tiptoed out and started farther down the hallway in the opposite direction from where all the wolves were gathered.

She counted the individual rooms that lined both sides of the passageway as she passed. Most doorways were covered with a makeshift curtain, but some were open. She lingered near the ones that were open.

Most consisted of a dais, a fire pit, and other random items. Most had large gourds somewhere in their den.

She’d just turned a sharp corner when she heard a low moan coming from one of the rooms. It wasn’t a sound of pleasure; it was one of pain.

Diana stopped in front of the den, tempted to investigate. She reached for the curtain just as someone bounded down the hall. A wolf rounded the corner and stopped short. It stared at her with shimmering green eyes.

Before she could react, the wolf shifted. Its bones cracked and twisted. The fur shortened and then disappeared into its body.

The shift only lasted about thirty seconds and when it was complete, Akila stood in front of her.

“What are you doing down here?” Akila asked.

“I’m… I was just… curious.”

“You shouldn’t be wandering around. Ryker’s already going to have to explain himself to the wolves that saw you coming back from the river.”

“Why? I thought he was the alpha wolf.”

Akila frowned. “He is. But he’s also the one who made the number one rule in the den. Never allow a human near or in the den.”

“I didn’t know.”

“Of course you didn’t. But he’s going to have to answer to a lot of wolves once word gets around that you’re here.”

“I’m sorry. Ryker left me in his room and I was bored so I just decided to have a look around.”

“Well you can come in with me, but then you’re going back to his room. How’s the leg?”

“It’s healing so fast, it’s amazing. What did you use on it?” Diana asked.

A mischievous smile spread across her face, making the corners of her eyes crinkle. “A little of this and a little of that. I don’t like to give up all my secrets.”

“Leah said you’re more witch than wolf,” she blurted. She wanted to slap her palm across her mouth. She hated it when something flew out of her mouth before she knew what she was saying.

Akila chuckled. “You throw a poultice and some healing herbs on a wound and suddenly you’re a witch. Some things never change.”

Relieved that Akila didn’t get mad at her, Diana relaxed slightly.

Akila gave her a funny look. “Ryker sure as heck marked you while you were with him.”

Diana blushed. She guessed it made sense that they all had heightened scent detection, but she wished his scent wasn’t all over her body. Akila probably thought she was a total slut.

Akila waved a hand through the air. “Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me. Well, and anyone else you walk past right now.”

“But nothing happened.”

Akila gave her a look that said she knew Diana was lying, but she didn’t pursue the issue. Another long groan came from within the room.

“Come in with me. You can make yourself useful.”

Diana followed Akila into the room. A young woman who looked to be in her early twenties lay on a bed. She writhed on the bed, shoving pelts onto the floor. Her eyes were closed.

“Gwen’s having another nightmare.”

Angry red slashes cut across the woman’s back. Black and blue bruises marred her skin. Sweat matted her short blonde hair to her face.

“No. Please, stop.”

Gwen screamed and sat up straight. She folded her legs up and wrapped her arms around them. Her gazed darted around the room as she cringed against the wall.

Akila spoke to her in a soothing voice “It’s all right Gwen. You’re home. No one can hurt you now.”

The woman stared at them with huge eyes. She pointed to Diana. “Who’s that?”

“Diana. Ryker found her being attacked by a man last night. He saved her and brought her back to the den for the day.”

Diana said, “He’s taking me home tonight.”

Gwen studied her. “Who attacked you?”

“Zane. A total psycho I went on a date with. Some people say internet dating is safe, but that’s just not true. I should have listened to my sister and met him instead of—” She realized she was rambling and stopped. What happened to her was nothing compared to what this woman apparently endured.

Gwen stared at her but didn’t say anything.

Akila sat on the edge of the bed. “Can I examine you to see how things are healing?”

Gwen nodded and lay back. Diana tried not to stare at the bite marks on the woman’s breast. She’d seen enough crime TV to know that the bites were human.

Ligature marks, evidence of torture, marked her wrists and ankles. The woman had been to hell and back but she lived through it.

Akila said, “Please turn over.”

Gwen complied and Akila peered at the deep scratches on the woman’s back. Akila crossed the room and pulled a small opaque jar off a shelf.

“I need to put more ointment on your back.”

Gwen put her face in her pillow. Akila scooped a thick glob of a yellowish cream out of the jar. She smoothed it over the slashes starting from her neck and worked her way down to her ankles.

A thick blanket of silence hung over the room. Diana understood why Ryker had left her in the middle of their steamy tryst. Whoever did this to Gwen would feel the wrath of the entire pack. She hoped they’d find justice for the girl as quickly as possible.

 

***

 

Ryker paced the great room in the center of the den. Even though the sun hadn’t yet dropped behind the mountains, the other wolves were all awake and listening to Trent’s report.

The beta wolf continued, “…we got as far as the town limits before the scent blended in with the town filth.”

“So you don’t know who it was?” Ryker asked.

Trent’s chest puffed with pride. “We know. We traced the man to a bar on the outskirts of town. We couldn’t attack because there were too many other humans in the vicinity. The risk was too great. But now that we have his scent and know where to find him, we can attack tonight.”

“Great. After we drop Diana off, we’ll find this man and kill him.”

One of the young wolves yelled from the back of the room. “Are you talking about the human you brought back to the den?”

Several wolves gasped then started chattering amongst themselves.

Ryker held up his hand. “Silence.”

The wolves immediately complied.

Ryker addressed the crowd. “She’s was attacked by a man last night. If I hadn’t brought her here, she would have died. Now if any of you have a problem with this, come and talk to me when this meeting is adjourned.”

The same young wolf yelled. “You broke the number one rule by bringing her here. It was your rule. If one of us had broken it, you would have kicked us out of the den.”

Ryker clenched his teeth, then took a deep breath. “Yes, I did break the law. But I used my judgment and I stand by my decision. I haven’t brought a human to the den in almost five years and I won’t bring another one back. You have my word.”

The wolves seemed satisfied with his pronouncement so he decided to end the meeting. “We’re taking a pack of ten wolves plus me and Trent to hunt the man who hurt Gwen. If you want to join the group, please see Trent and he’ll give you details. We’ll meet at sundown.”

He stalked away from the group. Humans. Most of them weren’t worthy of living. All they seemed to bring was death. It was good that he was returning Diana to the town. As much as he wanted to spend more time with her, he knew it would never work. Humans and wolves couldn’t co-exist. History proved that fact.

He stopped at the central juncture. If he went down the right-hand path, he could go back to his room, but then she’d be there. He wasn’t convinced he could resist her tempting body, so he shifted and bounded out of the den and into the forest.

 

***

 

Shadows stretched across the floor of Gwen’s room. Diana knew it wouldn’t be long before Ryker came for her.

As if reading her thoughts, Akila stood. “We should get you back to Ryker’s room before he gets back. I don’t want him to have to go searching for you.”

“I can’t believe I’ll be leaving soon. I feel like I’m just getting to know everyone.”

Akila patted her hand. “It’s for the best. We have enough trouble keeping everyone in the pack safe from the humans who try to hunt us. There was a human woman here once. Gosh, it’s almost the five-year anniversary of her…well anyway, it’s not a good idea for humans and wolves to mix.”

Diana followed Akila back to Ryker’s room. Diana noticed a pile of clothes on the bed. Leah must have brought them while she was in Gwen’s room.

Akila hugged Diana. “You were great with the poor girl. You’d make a great assistant.”

“I’m actually studying to be a dentist.”

“Really? Trent could sure use a teeth cleaning.”

“So I’ve heard.”

Akila smiled. “Goodbye. I wish you luck.”

“Thank you.”

After Akila left the room, Diana pulled on the pants and shirt. They were a little snug but she couldn’t walk into town naked, even in the dead of night.

At least two hours passed before Ryker entered the room. Diana was ready to go looking for him when he padded into the room in wolf form. He lay on the ground and motioned with his head for her to climb on.

Disappointed that she couldn’t talk to him, she mounted him and held onto his thick fur. He maneuvered along the corridor, careful to slow when she started to slip too far to one side or the other. By the time they reached the entrance to the den, she’d gotten the hang of riding him.

Ryker strode to the front of the pack. She quickly counted eleven other wolves in the gathering near the entrance. They were all in their wolf form. Apparently they already knew the plan and didn’t need to communicate further.

As Ryker trotted into the woods, she tightened her grip in anticipation. She felt the tension coiled in his body and within seconds, he’d broken into a full stride. The trees rushed past her on both sides. He leapt over logs and dashed around outcroppings of rocks.

He ran in circles and loops until she couldn’t figure out which way they’d come from. It was probably part of his plan. He’d said he needed to be sure no one would be able to find the way back to the den.

As they finally reached the edge of the woods, Ryker’s pace slowed. He seemed reluctant to approach the edge of civilization.

He stopped and lowered himself to the ground. She climbed off his back and stood in front of him. She wanted to tell him she’d miss him and thank him again for saving her life, but he looked away. She could feel the other wolves staring, but she had to do something to say goodbye.

She smoothed the fur on his head with her hand. Her voice shook as she whispered, “Thank you for everything.”

As she turned to leave, she felt a tug on her sleeve. Ryker had the edge of it in his mouth. He licked her hand then rubbed his head against it as if marking her.

“Goodbye, Ryker.”

She turned and stepped out of the woods. When she looked up, she froze. Directly across the street, Zane leaned against the wall at Tommy’s Quick Stop Mart. He tipped back a bottle of beer and chugged. When half the beer was gone, he stopped drinking. He wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve and looked up.

She couldn’t move as a slow smile spread across his face. He hurled the bottle against the side of the store. It shattered into a million pieces as he ran toward her.

Consumed with terror, she could only stand and stare as he closed in on her. Someone slammed into her from behind.

She cried out and turned to find Ryker, still in wolf form, standing behind her. He dropped down and she jumped onto his back. They turned just as the first shot rang out.

The other wolves scattered. A bullet whizzed by her head. Ryker shot forward. She dug her fingers into his fur and held on.

Another bullet cut through the air. A few yards ahead, one of the wolves jerked then tumbled, casting up a cloud of dust.

Ryker didn’t stop for him. He raced toward the mountain. Diana turned to look over her shoulder as the downed wolf howled.

Zane stood over the wolf and fired a shot point blank. The wolf’s head exploded.

“No!” she screamed.

The pack rushed into the woods at full speed. When the sound of Zane crashing through the bushes stopped, so did the wolves.

Ryker tipped to one side and she slid off. She staggered and sat down hard on a nearby boulder.

Ryker and the others shifted.

“Who are we missing?” He looked frantically around the group.

She counted seven other wolves. Oh God, four were missing.

One of the men spoke, “I saw Idan go down.”

“Lonan too.”

“And Jax.”

Ryker paled. “Where’s Trent?”

Diana looked around the group. He wasn’t there.

“Did anyone see him go down?” Ryker asked frantically.

Several wolves responded at once. “No.”

Ryker took two steps in the direction they’d come from then stopped.

Trent staggered out from a thick patch of trees. He bent over with his hands on his thighs. He panted as he struggled to speak. “It was him…the man who attacked us…also attacked Gwen.”

One of the older men stepped forward. “I’m going back for my son. I want to bury his body.”

Ryker held up a hand. “Wait. We should split up just in case Zane’s still out there.”

Surprised he’d remembered his name, Diana perked up. “What can I do to help?”

“Nothing,” snapped the older man. “You’ve done enough.”

Ryker addressed the grieving father. “Clyde, it wasn’t her fault. With or without her, we still would have gone into the town tonight to look for Gwen’s attacker.”

Clyde grunted.

Trent stepped forward. “He’s right. It wasn’t her fault. Let’s take a minute to get our heads together then we’ll go back. Ryker, can I speak with you privately?”

The two men walked out of earshot. Diana knew they were talking about her because they kept gesturing in her direction.

Finally Ryker stepped back into the group. “Trent’s going to take Diana back to the den.”

“What?” Clyde gave her a look filled with so much malice, she cowered against a boulder.

Ryker put a hand on Clyde’s shoulder. “I’ll make this right. I don’t care what it takes. We’ll find and kill the man who murdered your son.”

Clyde pressed his lips together until they formed a thin, pale slash across his mouth. He nodded and turned his back on the group. His shoulders shook as if he was crying, but he didn’t make a sound.

Ryker turned to Trent. “I’ll be back within the hour. Do not let her out of your sight.”

 

Chapter 6

 

More than an hour had passed since Ryker left Diana in Trent’s custody. The beta wolf took his job very seriously and paced back and forth just inside the entrance to Ryker’s room.

Diana also couldn’t sit still, so she wandered around the room. Finally she couldn’t stand the silence anymore. “He’s been gone too long. Do you think something happened?”

Trent ran his hand through his hair. “I don’t know.”

“If something happens to him…”

“Nothing will happen to him. He’s twice as smart as anyone in the pack, and twice as fast.”

Ryker pushed back the curtain. “I never thought I’d hear you say that.”

“Oh thank God.” Diana flung herself into his arms.

She stepped back and scrutinized every inch of his body.

“Did you catch him?” Trent asked.

“No. He was gone by the time we got back, which might be a good thing.” Ryker opened his fist. In the center of his palm lay a large leaf. He carefully peeled it back to reveal two crushed bullets.

Trent peered down at them. “Silver?”

“Yes.”

“I haven’t seen silver bullets in years. Where did you find them?”

“Lodged in trees. We brought the wolves’ bodies back. I asked Akila to look to see if the bullets that killed them were silver too.”

Trent frowned. “We have to be extra careful now. We can’t get hit by those at all. A simple flesh wound will be fatal.”

“I know. That’s why we need to wait and regroup before attacking again. We need a plan to catch the man off guard. Lure him into the woods and get the gun away from him.”

“Do you want to call a council meeting? The other packs should at least be warned about the bullets.”

Ryker nodded. “I want to call a council meeting as soon as possible.”

Trent punched his fist against his other palm. “Then we create a plan to kill him.”

“Get some rest. We’re going to need it to fight the enemy.”

Trent exited the room leaving her alone with Ryker. She hurried to his side. “What can I do to help?”

Ryker sat on the edge of his bed and patted the empty space next to him. “Just lie here with me. The only thing I need right now is to know that you’re safe.”

 

***

 

As the night dragged on, Diana tossed and turned on the dais. Every time she closed her eyes she watched the wolves die over and over. Tears dripped down her face. She’d put the wolves in jeopardy by running back into the forest. Because of her, three wolves were dead.

Ryker shifted in the bed beside her. “Can’t sleep?”

She rolled over to face him. “No. I keep seeing their faces. This is all my fault.”

His strong arms pulled her close. “No, you couldn’t have known he was armed with silver bullets.”

“But, when he ran toward me, if I hadn’t run into the—”

“—if you hadn’t run, he would have killed you and still killed the other wolves. I don’t know what I would have done if I’d lost you too.”

The hollow pit in her stomach ached, but it was nothing compared to the anguish in his eyes. She’d give anything to take his pain away.

She reached out to graze his cheek with her hand.

He closed his eyes. “We should get some sleep.”

In the day she’d spent with him, something magical had happened and she wasn’t ready to let him go.

She cupped his face and pressed her lips firmly against his. He groaned and parted his lips. She took it as an invitation and deepened the kiss.

The first electric shock of his tongue against hers ratcheted up her desire. She wanted to capture his tongue, ravish him with her mouth, and send him to a place so filled with pleasure he’d never want to return.

She didn’t know what had come over her. She wasn’t ever this aggressive in or out of bed. But this felt so natural and so right, she refused to question it.

Ryker laced his hands behind her neck and drew her on top of him. Afraid she would crush him, she tried to pull away.

“Lie on me.” His voice was rough with need.

“I’ll crush you.”

He laughed. “Not a chance. You’re perfect, and I want you.”

She lowered herself until they melted together. Skin to skin, she took in a shuddering breath. She’d never felt so eager, so hungry for a man’s touch.

His hands smoothed across her back and slid lower to cup her butt. The hard length of him pressed against her belly. She smiled, knowing she’d made him as hard as stone.

As much as she wanted to take him deep inside, she didn’t want to rush. She wanted to taste every inch of him.

Starting with his neck, she nibbled along the side of his throat. He moaned and pulled her tighter against him.

As she traveled lower, she tasted the ridge of his collar bone. The salty heated skin enflamed her desire. Her hands kneaded and stroked his muscular chest. She started to slide lower but he rolled her underneath him.

His breath tickled her neck. “My turn.”

She opened her legs to let him nestle between them. His cock pressed against her, but he didn’t make a move to enter.

Instead, he nuzzled the side of her neck just below her ear. She gasped as his hands found her taut nipples. He gently ran his nails across her breasts in ever-increasing circles.

She needed him to smooth away the horrible images locked in her mind. With every kiss, with every caress of his hands, he transformed her despair into a hunger so intense it threatened to consume her.

“Please.” She whimpered.

“Not yet, not until I’ve tasted you.”

At first she didn’t understand what he meant, but as he kneeled between her legs and dipped his head toward the apex of her thighs, she knew.

His tongue brushed against her. A moan borne of pure lust escaped her lips. He swirled and dipped and took his time coaxing her to the point of climax, then stopped.

He didn’t make her wait.

He crawled up and sealed her lips with a hungry kiss. As he eased into her, she arched to take all of him. He stayed still for a moment, allowing her body to adjust to him.

She quivered against him. He took her with long strokes filled with passion. No one had ever made love to her like this. In that moment, she felt as if their souls melded together into one.

The look in his eyes told her he felt the same. He murmured something she couldn’t make out against her lips.

The sweetness of her release came perfectly timed with his. He held her close as he shuddered and spilled into her.

He rolled onto his side then pulled her into the curve of his body. With a content sigh, she fell asleep in his arms.

 

***

 

Zane parked his truck in the place where Diana ran into the woods. He grabbed the silver-bullet-loaded gun from the glove box. A pair of binoculars dangled around his neck. He zipped his coat against the chill in the air and stalked into the forest.

It took him an hour to find the meadow where the wolf man had kept him from fulfilling his sacred duty of smiting the wicked. A wolf howled in the distance. His lips twitched into a smile as he turned toward the sound. He trudged through the forest. He’d never stop until he sent every last werewolf to hell.

 

Chapter 7

 

In a sleepy haze, Diana pressed her back against Ryker’s warm chest. A hint of light filtered down from the skylight in the ceiling of the room, illuminating specks of dust in the air. She couldn’t have been asleep for more than a few hours. Filled with passion, Ryker had made love to her most of the night. Like a sex-starved nymphet, she’d matched his intensity until she’d melted into a puddle of ecstasy.

She snuggled against him as he wrapped a strong arm around her. She hadn’t noticed the workout he’d given her until now. Her thighs still burned from where she’d wrapped them around his hips. Her arms hung limp at her side. She’d probably done the equivalent of a thousand pushups during the last few hours.

Ryker’s slow, easy breaths meant he was awake. She wondered if he was thinking about her, or about the attack on the other wolves. Their wounded cries still rang in her ears, but she tried to push the phantom sounds away. If she could go back, she’d have gone to town herself and not led the pack into danger.

He pulled her tightly against him. “I could stay like this forever.”

She turned to face him and searched for any hint of anger in his eyes. He’d told her the attack wasn’t her fault and intellectually she believed him, but emotionally, she still felt responsible.

She propped herself up on one arm. “What if we could stay like this? Ignore the town, never go back.”

He sighed. “You can’t stay here. The other wolves are furious that I brought you back to the den.”

“Trent didn’t seem angry.”

“Even when he doesn’t agree with me, he never defies my orders. He’d never disagree with me in public.”

She looked away. “Oh.”

His fingers clasped her chin gently as he turned her face toward him. “We both know it could never work between us. You’re human, I’m wolf. We’re not meant to live together.”

“So last night was a mistake?”

As he caressed her cheek, his eyes shimmered in the pale sunlight. “Not a mistake, but we shouldn’t pretend we could ever be more.”

She rolled toward the wall to hide her face. She couldn’t let him see the despair in her eyes. He was right; they were from different worlds and it was delusional to think she could live with the pack. But she was here with him now. She could enjoy the solace of his touch now and worry about forgetting him later.

She turned back to him and ran her fingers over the ridges and valleys of his six-pack abs. “Well then, we should enjoy what little time we do have together.”

He groaned and pulled her on top of him. She dipped her head and licked the outer edge of his earlobe. She loved the way he shivered beneath her. To think that she could reduce an alpha wolf to a quivering, needy man filled her with a potent sense of power.

She lightly raked her nails across his chest as she nibbled the side of his neck. His cock pressed against her inner thigh. Slick with desire, she rubbed against him but didn’t move to let him inside.

His deep voice rumbled in his chest. “You’re such a tease.”

“But you like it.” She nipped at his throat with her teeth.

He growled and scrambled to his knees. He maneuvered her until she was on her hands and knees, then wrapped an arm around her torso. Damp heat from his breath caressed the nape of her neck. With his knee, he parted her thighs. She leaned forward knowing exactly what he wanted.

As he entered her from behind, she rocked back to meet him. His hands slid up from her belly to clutch her breasts. He teased the plump nipples until she cried out.

Intoxicated, she ignored the soreness in her thighs. She battled with her balance as he took her with rough, deep strokes. His animalistic nature shone through in the way he clutched her hips, in the way he panted against her shoulder, in the way he buried himself deep inside her.

The spark of pleasure nestled in her moist flesh grew until she couldn’t hold back another second. Tremors racked her body as electric waves of release rippled throughout every inch of her being.

Behind her, Ryker swore as he spilled into her. His hands held her hips against his as he shuddered and moaned. Spent, he rolled onto his back and pulled her down to cover him.

She laid her head on his chest and listened to the pounding of his heart. The drumbeat reminded her to be careful; she couldn’t risk falling for the werewolf.

 

***

 

Ryker cradled Diana in his arms and cursed his lack of control. He knew better than to lead her on, but when she’d come at him with those bright brown eyes and delicious lips, he couldn’t resist.

The heady scent of her slick heat made him want to devour every inch of her with his ravenous sexual appetite. It had been too long. That’s why he was out of control. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d given in to the dark pull of his feral desires.

In the five years since Trista’s death, he’d been with other wolves, but never another human. What the hell was he thinking? He’d failed to protect Trista and he’d fail Diana too. He needed to get his head together before his failures destroyed another innocent woman.

He slid out of Diana’s tangled embrace. “I should get going. We can’t wait until dark to warn the other packs. I should have sent Trent last night, but he was too shaken up. I should be back by sundown if everything goes well.”

Diana sat up and leaned against the wall. “Do you think the others will help us?”

He wanted to remind her that there was no “us” but let it go. “It would be in the best interest of the other packs if their alphas agree to send additional wolves to help fight Zane.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

“No. Just stay here and don’t leave the room. I’ll have Akila bring you some food.”

As he turned to leave, he heard her jump off the bed. He stopped at the curtain that closed off the entrance to the room.

“Wait,” she called.

He turned to watch her slink across the room. With each step, her full hips swung from side to side. His mouth went dry as her full breasts swayed. He’d never seen anyone so sexy, so beautiful. His heart pounded as she stood on tiptoes and pressed a warm, wet kiss to his lips.

“For luck,” she whispered.

He tasted the sweetness of her lips. He inhaled the raw scent of his seed mingling with her sweat. As much as he wanted to carry her back to bed, his duty was to his pack. They had to come first.

Reluctantly, he ended the kiss. “I’ll be back by sundown.”

Before he could change his mind, he spun and hurried out of the room. The dark corridor gradually grew lighter as he approached the center of the den. He didn’t want to take a huge team into the other pack’s territory, so he carefully stepped over the sleeping wolves as he made his way toward Trent.

As if sensing his presence, Trent’s eyes opened. He was in wolf form so he couldn’t talk, but Ryker knew he could understand him when he said, “Let’s go. If we leave now, we can reach both packs by sundown.”

Trent bobbed his head in acknowledgement, then stood and gingerly walked between the others. While Ryker waited, he shifted into wolf form. The cracking, expanding pressure in his bones sent searing pain down his back. He shook his body vigorously to get the knots out of his muscles. An image flashed through his mind of Diana rubbing and kneading his body, coaxing all the soreness away.

He panted for a second and then slapped his jaw closed. He couldn’t let the other wolves know how she’d affected him. Her scent already radiated from his body, but in the pack sex could mean anything from a deep, loving relationship to a meaningless romp. He cast a sideways glance at Trent and swore he saw the wolf smirk. Whatever. The other wolf probably thought he’d taken Diana in a fit of lust. Let him think what he will. Only Ryker knew the true depth of longing in his heart.

Outside the den, sunlight blazed against the dirt-covered trail. Ryker bounded through the forest toward Phantom Lake where the Phantom Lake Pack lived. At the edge of the pack’s territory, he stopped and sniffed the ground. The wolves had marked the boundary well. Ryker hesitated for a second. The protocol dictated that he stay at the marked boundary until a wolf from the Phantom Lake Pack gave him permission to enter.

To hell with it; he could ask forgiveness later. He leapt over an ancient oak which had been split by lightning. Trent whined but followed close behind. Another rule broken. How many would he break before he returned Diana to Full Moon Bay?

As they rounded a huge gnarled oak, five wolves burst out of the surrounding bushes. Ryker skidded to a halt and Trent collided with him.

One of the other wolves shifted into human form. Ryker recognized Hakan’s perfectly smooth ebony skin and shoulder-length black hair. As he drew closer, Ryker spotted subtle streaks of silver in the man’s hair. The beta of the Phantom Lake pack was aging well for a man in his late forties.

“You better have a very good reason for crossing into our territory without pack permission,” Hakan snapped.

Ryker quickly shifted. “I do. I need to see Kyran. I have news that puts us all in danger.”

“What news?”

“There’s a hunter in Full Moon Bay. He attacked a human woman and one of the women in our pack. When we tried to return the human to her home, Zane, the hunter, shot and killed three of the wolves in my pack.”

Hakan massaged his beard. “We’ve dealt with hunters before, just stay clear of them and eventually they go away.”

“He shot at us with silver bullets.”

Hakan froze. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, I had Akila examine the bodies. All three were killed by silver bullets.”

“We haven’t seen that kind of weapon used in this area in over a hundred years.”

“I know. We have a serious problem. As long as Zane is alive, none of the wolves are safe.”

The other wolves howled and paced closer to their beta.

“Silence.” Hakan snapped his fingers and the wolves immediately complied. “I’ll bring you to Kyran.”

Hakan stalked into the woods. Ryker and Trent followed him as the other wolves brought up the rear.

They traveled about twenty minutes before a break in the trees revealed the pack’s namesake, Phantom Lake. With over fifty miles of shoreline, the huge lake dominated the landscape. A swift breeze curled tiny waves into whitecaps. The rolling water glistened with a thousand starbursts of light.

Ryker envied the pack’s resources. Granted, his pack controlled the river, but he wished he’d secured part of the lake when they’d defined pack territories.

They skirted the edge of the lake for about a mile, and then Hakan turned inland. A huge rock formation rose up from the forest floor. Even though the formation looked natural, Ryker could tell it was created by the pack. The boulders fit together a little too well and the entrance was small enough that only one wolf needed to stand guard.

Hakan yelled to the guard. “Stand down.”

The guard sat on his hind legs and watched the group enter the den. The narrow entrance opened to the central room. Ryker had been to the den a few times for council meetings, but he still marveled at the immensity of the space.

Dozens of wolves in all shapes, sizes, and colors slept on the dirt floor. Some wolves curled around their mates while others rested alone.

In the center of the room, a huge raised dais overlooked the pack. Kyran rose to his full human form height of six foot three.

Kyran’s voice boomed in the cavern. “Ryker, to what do we owe the honor?”

“We have a problem.”

“Clearly, otherwise you would have sent Trent instead of coming here yourself.”

Hakan spoke up. “He violated the southern boundary.”

Kyran raised a brow. “Really? This must be important if he’s disregarding the rules he helped create.”

Ryker glanced around the room. Several wolves were awake and staring at him. “I mean no disrespect, but I have an urgent issue. I think its best that we speak privately.”

“Whatever news you have can be shared with my den. There are no secrets here.”

“I really think we should speak privately.”

Kyran tapped his fingers on his leg. The tone in his voice held an angry undertone. “Speak up or get out.”

Ryker didn’t want to start a riot, but Kyran left him no choice. “There’s a hunter from Full Moon Bay who’s killing wolves with silver bullets.”

Pandemonium broke out. All the wolves in human form started shouting questions.

“How did he get the bullets?”

“How many hunters are there?”

“Are we under attack?”

“Silence.” Kyran’s voice boomed over the others.

The crowd’s cries dropped to whispered speculation.

A nerve twitched in Kyran’s cheek. “My room, now.”

Ryker wanted to say, “I told you so,” but kept his mouth shut. He wouldn’t disrespect another alpha, especially in front of the wolf’s pack.

When they were safely inside Kyran’s room, Ryker continued. “We don’t know much about the man other than his name: Zane. We also have a little bit of information from the human he tried to kill, but we don’t know where he lives, or if and when he’ll strike again. Last night he killed three of the strongest wolves in my pack.”

“How do you know he’ll come back?”

“I saw the man’s eyes. Cold, filled with rage. I’ve never seen anything like it before. It reminds me of the tales the grandmothers used to tell us when we were kids about soulless humans who would ambush our villages with the intent of eradicating all werewolves.”

Trent spoke up. “It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when.”

“What do you need from us?” Kyran asked.

“I want to gather the strongest wolves from each pack and track the man. We need to prevent him from killing any more wolves.”

Kyran nodded, a grave look marring his face. “Done. You can take ten of my strongest wolves. When are you planning the attack?”

“I want to wait until the next full moon. We’ll be at our strongest when the moon is full and I have a feeling we’re going to need all of our strength to defeat him.”

Kyran’s brows pulled in. “Have you spoken with Stryde yet?”

A muscle twitched in Ryker’s jaw. “We’re going to see him next.”

“Do you think he’ll agree to help us after what happened between you and Leah?”

“Nothing happened.” Ryker insisted.

“No one believes you.”

Ryker huffed. “I know, but there’s more than just his bruised ego riding on this. All of our lives are at stake.”

 

Chapter 8

 

Footsteps sounded in the hall outside of Ryker’s room. Diana’s heart skipped a beat. “Who’s there?”

Leah pushed back the curtain. She carried a huge basket of fruit into the room and set it on the table. “Room service.”

Diana breathed a sigh. It had only been an hour since Ryker left, but she worried about him more and more with every passing second.

Leah sniffed the air then handed her an apple. A wry smile brightened her face. “Need another bath?”

Diana cringed. “Is it that obvious?”

“Does a wolf howl at the moon?”

“This is so embarrassing. Does everyone know every time someone has sex in the den?” Diana bit into the apple. Sweet juice dribbled down her chin. She tried to discretely wipe it with the palm of her hand.

Leah said, “If the wolf doesn’t take a dip in the river, we all know. Before Ryker took over as alpha, there was a lot of infighting over mates. He put a stop to it by making the fighting factions work together. And if they still couldn’t get along, they’d be forced out of the pack.”

“That seems rather drastic.”

“Peace is important in maintaining a pack. I don’t fault Ryker for his rules; I just wish he’d follow them himself.”

“The other wolves don’t want me here, do they?”

Leah shot her a sidelong glance. “No. They know what happened the last time a human lived in the den. Ryker almost didn’t recover from the loss and we can’t risk losing our alpha.”

“What happened?”

Leah eyed the doorway. “I think Ryker needs to be the one to tell you. He’d be angry if it came from me. Besides, he’s already going to be furious with me when he finds out what I remembered last night.”

Diana swallowed a bite of apple. “What did you remember?”

“I really shouldn’t say anymore. Let’s get you to the river.” Leah’s attempt at a smile didn’t reach beyond her lips. Fear clouded her eyes.

Diana wished the woman would confide in her, but it made sense that Leah wouldn’t trust someone she hardly knew. She wondered if anyone in the pack could ever trust her. Maybe Ryker was right—maybe she needed to stop thinking about him as more than just a temporary protector.

As soon as they reached the river, a dark cloud passed across the noon sun. Diana shivered. The temperature had dropped ten degrees in the last ten minutes. She quickly waded into the river and splashed water over her face, then ducked under the surface. The icy water rippled overhead, nearly stealing her breath.

When she surfaced, Leah was staring at the darkening sky. “I can usually keep things to myself, but this is killing me. I need to tell someone, but you have to swear to me that you won’t tell Ryker.”

Diana hated keeping secrets, but one look at the tormented woman made the decision easy. “I swear. I won’t tell.”

Leah shivered. “I can’t tell you everything because it’s about Trista.”

“Who’s Trista?”

“The woman—the human—and the reason Ryker created the law.”

“The law forbidding wolves from bringing humans to the den?”

Leah nodded. “Trista was attacked. I never told Ryker, but I kept the clothes she wore the day she died…”

Riveted, Diana was afraid to breathe as the rest of the story spilled out.

“Stryde found out and forced me to give them to him. The killer’s scent was all over the clothes. Stryde memorized the scent and went to town to find the man. He wanted to avenge his best friend’s fiancée’s death.”

“Fiancée?” Diana covered her throat with her hand.

Leah continued, “No one knew they were engaged except for me and Stryde. Graydon, the previous pack alpha, was dying and the new alpha hadn’t been chosen yet. Some of the other members in the pack think marriage makes a man vulnerable because he thinks more about his immediate family than the pack. They see it a sign of weakness. Ryker, Stryde, Trent, and I agreed to keep the secret until after the alpha choosing ceremony. Stryde was in town looking for Trista’s murderer when Ryker was chosen to be the new alpha.” Leah stopped and scratched her neck.

“What did Stryde do when he got back?”

“He went into a rage. He’d kept Ryker’s secret because he didn’t think Ryker had a chance of becoming alpha. Stryde lived with the humans for years and had military training. He assumed he’d be chosen for his ability to protect the pack.”

“But it’s not all about protecting the pack, is it?” Diana asked.

“No, you have to be a good leader, someone others will follow without question. Stryde was always too hot-headed. I still think he would have made a good leader, but he changed after the ceremony.”

“That’s when he left to go to the mountain to start his own pack?”

Leah looked through her, as if looking into the past. “Yes. And when he left, he took Trista’s clothes with him. He keeps them in a basket in his room in the den as a reminder of that day. He never forgave Ryker for keeping the engagement a secret. Stryde still thinks that if everyone knew about the engagement, he would have become alpha instead of Ryker.”

“Why would Ryker be angry about the clothes now?”

“If we’d told him back then, his obsession would have destroyed the entire pack. Ryker was insane with grief. He would have abandoned his role as alpha and spent all his time tracking Trista’s killer.”

“Wouldn’t Stryde have wanted that? He could have taken over as alpha.”

“The rest of the pack never would have accepted him.”

“I still don’t see why the clothes are an issue now. If you think it’s going to send him into an obsessive spiral, why tell him after all these years?”

Leah paused then looked into her eyes. “Last night, when they brought the wolves’ bodies to the healing room, I smelled the same scent that was on Trista’s clothes. The man who killed Trista also tried to kill Gwen, and he was the same man who attacked you.”

 

***

 

Zane slammed the empty shot glass onto the long, shoddy wooden bar. “Another.”

Hank, the daytime bartender at Drake’s Pool Hall, placed both palms on the bar. “I think you’ve had enough. It’s only early afternoon and you’re drinking like it’s last call.”

Zane’s words slurred. “If you’d seen what I seen, you’d be drinkin’ too.”

The Old West-style twin doors swung open to the pool hall. Haloed by sunlight, Zane couldn’t make out who the man was until he stepped further into the bar.

When he recognized his friend Bill, he said, “Glad you came. I got somethin’ important to talk to you about.”

Bill bellied up to the bar next to Zane. “Two fingers of Jim Beam, rocks.”

Hank set a clean glass on the bar. “You boys playin’ hooky from work? It’s the middle of the day in the middle of the week.”

Zane leaned forward. “We got some important business. There’s wolves in those woods.”

Hank finished pouring the whiskey then pushed the glass toward Bill. “Are you setting up a hunt?”

Zane held his empty glass up. “Give me another and I’ll tell ya.”

The bartender filled the shot glass with tequila. The liquid burned Zane’s throat, but he didn’t care. The burning in his soul was far worse. As long as the demons lived in the woods, he’d never be able to rest. Now that he knew God’s plan, he intended to make good on it. He needed some men he could trust to go on a hunting party.

He glanced around the bar. The pool tables sat empty. The small round tables were vacant. The only other person in the bar was a woman huddled in a booth in the back. She nursed a glass of red wine and stared out a dusty window. Brown hair, big sad eyes, not his type, but she looked familiar. He studied her until she turned and met his eyes. He quickly looked away.

Hank wiped the bar down with a musky towel. “Well?”

Zane licked the rim of his glass then set it on the bar, upside down. “There are werewolves in the woods.”

The ice in Bill’s glass clanked as he took a long drink. Skepticism crept into his face.

Hank stopped mid-swipe. “Werewolves?”

Zane nodded. “Big ones. I saw one two nights ago in the woods. Then last night, there had to be at least ten of them.”

Bill smirked. “Did they have big teeth and big eyes?”

“Yes, and fur.”

Hank slapped the bar and howled with laughter. “Let me get this straight. You went into the woods and saw werewolves, not once, but twice in the last two nights?”

Anger simmered in his belly. He knew he’d have a hard time convincing them that the creatures existed, but they shouldn’t be mocking him.

Hank wiped the back of his hand across his closed eyes. “That’s a good one. Usually you’re spouting off about the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Werewolves, now that’s somethin’ new.”

Zane’s hands clenched under the bar. “I saw them. They were coming to attack us. You don’t believe me, fine, but when they swarm our town, you’ll wish you’d struck first.”

The smile left Bill’s face. “You sound pretty convinced. What makes you so sure they’re werewolves?”

“Two nights ago I went on a date. Everything was going great until I drove her home. Halfway there, she jumped out of the car and ran into the woods.”

“That girl that was in here with you the other night? Why would she do that?” Hank asked.

“Women, who knows. Anyway, I followed her to try to help her. I didn’t want her getting lost in the woods. I found her in a clearing, I was about to take her back to the truck and a wolf jumped out of the bushes. I about had a heart attack. I ran like hell, but as soon as I got into the tree line, I turned back and that’s when I saw it change. The fur sunk back into the wolf’s skin. It stood up on its back legs and its front paws turned to hands. The back paws turned into feet. It was a man all right. A wolfman.”

Bill held his glass inches from his lips. “A wolfman?”

“Yep, like something out of Revelations.”

Hank asked. “What happened to the girl?”

“Diana? The wolfman took her. I tried to track them the next morning, but there were too many tracks. There’s more than just one out there. My guess? Hundreds.”

“If there are hundreds out there, why haven’t they been spotted?” Bill asked.

“Oh they have. Think about all the old stories. Our ancestors knew about them, but over time we lost our vigilance. We lost our way and stopped fighting the unholy creatures that roam our woods.”

Hank said, “If there are hundreds of those creatures out there, we’re going to need more than three men. But I don’t think we should go running around trying to convince people without any proof.”

Zane nodded in agreement. “We can do that, get proof. If we can find their den, we can take some pictures and show the others.”

“What about Diana?”

Zane spun on his stool. The woman who had been sitting near the rear of the bar stood behind him. Hands on her hips, she glared at him.

“If we find her, we’ll rescue her,” Zane lied.

The woman jabbed a finger into his chest. “You better find her, you coward. The girl you’re talking about is my sister.”

 

Chapter 9

 

As Ryker and Trent exited Kyran’s den, a tepid gloom greeted them. Ryker gazed up at the sky. Huge black clouds rolled in from the north. There was no way they’d make it to the Dark Moon Pack’s den before the storm broke.

“We need to head back.”

Trent nodded. “We can leave once the storm breaks.”

Ryker shifted to his wolf form and Trent followed suit. They raced back toward their den and made it just inside the entrance when the first jagged bolt of lightning slashed across the sky.

Trent trotted toward the center of the den. He curled up in a ball of fur and closed his eyes.

As he walked to his room, Ryker shifted back into his human form. He pushed the curtain back and glanced at the skylight. One of the other wolves had covered it with a large woven mat of leaves to keep the water out.

Diana lay on his bed with her back to him. He couldn’t tell if she was awake. Exhausted from the run and the lack of sleep the previous night, he crawled into bed with her.

“Did you make it to both dens?” she asked.

“You’re awake.”

She turned and wrapped an arm around him. “I couldn’t sleep. I worried about you while you were gone.”

His skin tingled where their bodies touched. As much as he wanted to kiss her plump, luscious lips, he restrained himself.

“We made it to Kyran, alpha of the Phantom Lake Pack. He’s agreed to send ten of his best wolves to help fight Zane.”

“And Stryde? Did he agree too?”

Ryker shook his head. “We didn’t make it. The storm broke and we decided to return to the den to wait it out. I can’t risk losing any more wolves. They’re my family, my responsibility, and I can’t be reckless with their lives.”

Diana traced his bicep with a finger. “I understand. I’m worried about my sisters. I wish I could get a message to them somehow.”

“How many sisters do you have?”

Sadness masked her face. “Two, Luna and Brigit. Luna lives in Full Moon Bay with her boyfriend Peter. Brigit lives on the East Coast with her husband. I don’t see her very much, but I see Luna every Sunday for supper. We usually call each other every day, so she must be worried.”

“I could try to send Trent to tell her what’s going on.” He pulled her closer until her head rested under his chin.

“It’s too dangerous.”

“He’s very careful. If he sees any sign of danger, he’ll have to retreat. But it’s worth a shot if it will give your sister peace of mind.”

She gazed up at him. “Do you have any family? I mean, close family like brothers and sisters?”

“No. My mother died giving birth to me.”

“I’m sorry.”

He caressed the smooth skin on her back. “My father never forgave me. He blamed me for killing her.”

She frowned. “That’s ridiculous. You didn’t cause her death.”

“I know. My father would never admit it, but I could feel his scorn every time he looked at me. I vowed to protect the pack, my family, because I couldn’t protect my mother. I couldn’t save her.” The weight of a legacy of failure crushed against his chest.

“It wasn’t your fault.” She pushed a lock of hair behind his ear.

“I failed to protect her. I failed to protect Trista, and I…” He stopped before he could admit his greatest fear, his inability to protect her. “…I shouldn’t even be alpha anymore. I don’t know why they don’t send me away.”

Her hand rested on his chest. “They don’t see you the way you see yourself. To them, you’re a powerful leader. You’ve kept your pack safe for years. You couldn’t have foreseen Zane’s attack.”

“But I couldn’t defend against it either.”

“Not then, but with the help of Kyran and Stryde, you can capture Zane. I’ll tell the police what he did to me and they’ll lock him up for the rest of his life.”

Thoughts of tearing the man apart scorched his mind. But he couldn’t give in to rage. Diana was right; he needed to capture Zane and bring him to justice. He didn’t believe in vigilantism. He believed in laws and consequences.

His hand slid lower on her back. “How did you get to be so smart?”

She laughed and playfully punched his shoulder. “I read a lot of books.”

Smart, beautiful, sexy as hell. As he gazed into her eyes, the lipid pools of desire enflamed his soul. He was drowning, unable to resist her enchantment.

The soft caress of her breath on his neck sent shivers of need straight to his cock. He laced his fingers in her hair and drew her into a kiss so erotic he could hardly catch his breath.

“We’re playing with fire,” she whispered.

“I know.”

What he felt for her tore at his heart. As much as he wanted to resist her, he couldn’t. Her scent called to him. No other woman in the world made his heart soar with such happiness and quiver with such fear. Even Trista hadn’t enraptured him like this.

A twinge of pain twisted his heart as he realized that as much as he’d cared about Trista, he cared about Diana a hundred times more. The revelation shocked him.

He sucked in a breath then let it out slowly. Could it be possible that Diana was his true mate?

He pushed aside the fleeting thought. Now wasn’t the time for deep thought, now was the time to indulge his mate’s every wicked desire.

The voluptuous curve of her hips enticed him. He laid his hand there and wondered if the sculptor who had created Venus felt like this when molding his creation.

She leaned into his chest and captured his lips with hers. The salty-sweetness of her tongue lingered in his mouth as she deepened the kiss.

As her hand wrapped around the hard length of him, a low growl rumbled in his throat. He’d never been with such a sensual, aggressive woman. She seemed so passive and frightened outside of his bed, but the second she touched him, a wild woman emerged.

As she stroked him, he kissed the valley between her breasts. The fullness of her body made him fantasize about what life would be like with a wife and kids. Her wide hips would be perfect for childbearing. He could almost see the faces of his pups frolicking in the woods. Diana, his beloved wife, would run after them telling them to be careful while he hunted for their dinner.

“I need you.” Diana whispered.

He needed her too, more than she could ever imagine. They’d only been together for two days, but in that time, something changed inside him. The perpetual sadness of losing Trista dulled from acute agony to an almost bearable ache.

Diana lay back and guided him across her body. “Now Ryker.”

He lowered onto her, careful to balance his weight on his forearms and knees. His voice choked with emotion. “I’ve needed you since before I even met you.”

As he slid into her slick heat, her eyes closed and her lips parted. Her hands gripped his butt to draw him deeper. He buried his face in her silky hair and inhaled the fresh pine scent.

He moved against her, taking his time, enjoying the rock of her hips against his. Little cries of ecstasy tumbled from her lips. He luxuriated in the sound of pleasure. His gentle thrusts grew harder as a rapturous haze engulfed him.

Suddenly, her thighs clamped onto his hips. Her breath stopped and she went rigid beneath him. The rolling pulses sent her over the edge. She squeezed him against her as she cried out.

He couldn’t hold back another second. As he spilled his seed into her, a sense of pure relaxation overcame him. Nothing had ever felt so right before.

Spent, he curled his body against hers. He laid his palm flat on her belly and wondered if they should have taken precautions. There was so much he wanted to say, but his lips refused to form the words. How could he possibly explain how much she meant to him without sounding like a fool?

 

***

 

Dusk fell but the storm raged on. Rain beat against the woven mat, waking Diana. She slid out from underneath Ryker’s arm as she rolled toward the skylight. She could barely make out the edge of the hole in the ceiling, but it appeared waterproof.

Her bladder felt ready to burst, so she quietly eased off of the bed. She padded to the curtain and pushed it aside. The long hallway was pitch black, but she’d been down it enough times that she could feel her way along the wall.

Trent stood guard at the entrance. “Where are you going?”

“I need to go to the bathroom.”

“Where’s Ryker? I don’t feel comfortable letting you go alone.”

Diana crossed her legs and squeezed. “There really isn’t time to argue. I either pee in the den, or not. Your choice.”

“Fine. Go, but don’t go too far. I need to be able to hear you over the storm in case you run into trouble.”

She hurried past him into the torrential rain. “Will do.”

The saturated ground formed a muddy paste that seemed to suck her back into the earth with each step. She walked about ten feet into the forest, just far enough to hide behind a thicket.

When she was finished, she listened to the cadence of the raindrops on the leaves. The sound always soothed her nerves. She smoothed her hand across the slight curve of her belly. She’d only been without her birth control pills for a few days so she was probably just being paranoid, but she felt different.

As unlikely as it was, she wondered what she’d do if she were pregnant. And what would Ryker think?

She was so confused by him. When they were alone in his room, she felt him opening up to her. He’d lowered his defenses and told her about his family. He’d even mentioned Trista. Diana wanted to ask a thousand questions about her, but she was afraid he’d shut down again.

He only changed when other pack members were present. He became distant, cold. Maybe he did it to maintain his position as alpha, but she wished he’d publicly acknowledge what he felt for her in private. Maybe then the others would accept her presence.

Lost in thought, she jumped when a branch cracked a few feet behind her. She spun and squinted into the shadowy night. She rounded the thicket and backed toward the entrance to the den.

A strong hand clamped over her mouth. A thick forearm grasped her waist and dragged her backward. She bit the man’s finger.

He yelped. “Dammit.”

“Trent, is that you?”

“Yes,” he whispered.

“Someone’s out there.”

“I know. Be quiet.”

Safely inside the entrance to the den, she peered over Trent’s shoulder. A flash of lightning illuminated the woods for a second.

Diana almost fainted with relief as a doe looked up from the bush she nibbled on. But her reprieve only lasted until a second, smaller flash illuminated three men. She screamed as Trent shifted and bounded into trees.

Another flash blinded her for a few seconds. But as the effect wore off, she realized one of the men had a camera. They were taking pictures of Trent.

She rushed into the woods behind him. She couldn’t let the hunters take the pictures back to the town. There were enough men in town with hunting rifles that they could kill the pack fifty times over.

Crooked branches scratched at her face and arms as she followed the sound of men crashing through the trees. She raced off in a direction she’d never been before, but didn’t stop. If the hunters made it to town with the photos, the den was doomed.

A bolt of lightning arced down from the sky to strike a tree on a nearby hill. Diana realized the hunters were only one of the dangers within the forest. Within minutes, the scent of burning wood sifted through the trees.

Disoriented, she spun in a circle to try to find a landmark. The cacophony of thunder swallowed the sound of the retreating men.

She shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. Rivulets of water streamed down her face and body.

Panic set in as her gaze darted from tree to tree. Everything looked the same. She couldn’t figure out which direction she’d come from.

She staggered forward, hoping to find shelter. Thirty minutes passed as she searched for any indication of a path. Her teeth chattered. Icy spikes of rain stabbed at her from every side. If she didn’t find shelter soon, hypothermia would set in and she’d die.

She’d almost given up hope when she stumbled out of the woods. A huge mountain rose up before her. She looked for an overhang or cave but couldn’t see anything. A barely visible path led up the side of the mountain. She knew she wasn’t going in the direction of the den, but if she got up high enough, she might be able to see the valley in the morning and find her way back.

Hundreds of feet up the mountain, the path forked. She held her hand over her eyes to block the rain and studied the path leading to the left. The storm obstructed the rising moon and she couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of her.

She looked up the path to the right and tried to find any indication of which way to take. She’d just stepped onto the left path when the subtle slog of paws against mud sounded behind her. She turned and spotted Ryker in wolf form.

She immediately collapsed to her knees. “Thank God you’re here.”

Ryker trotted toward her and brushed his furry wolf body against her. She climbed onto his back and held onto his neck. Instead of going back into the forest, he took the path to the right and climbed farther up the mountain.

Within minutes, he’d crested a shallow overhang. He gingerly stepped along the edge, then approached the well-hidden entrance to a cave. He lowered himself to the floor so she could slide down his back.

She edged closer to the precipice and looked into the void. A break in the clouds revealed the waxing moon. It cast a ghostly glow on the winding black snake of the river below.

She realized Ryker had brought her to the place where he’d watched her bathe the first time she’d been to the river with Leah.

Behind her, Ryker shifted to his human form. He rushed toward her and pulled her quaking body into his arms. “I thought I’d lost you.”

She tried to hold back tears, but they trickled down her face. “They came and I tried to chase them and Trent was gone and—”

“Wait. Slow down. Come over here. Let me dry you off and get you warmed up.” He motioned for her to sit on a small raised dais.

She sat still as he wrapped a large fur blanket around her. He grabbed a few pieces of wood and a box of matches. He started a fire in a small pit in the center of the cave. As soon as the fire could sustain itself, he returned to her side.

He cradled her in his arms. She snuggled against him, trying to capture some of his warmth. If he hadn’t found her, she could have died from hypothermia. A shiver of anxiety snaked down her spine.

As Ryker spoke, an undertone of disapproval infused his voice. “Now, tell me what happened. All I know is that Trent ran into the den barking like a maniac. He said you went into the woods to relieve yourself and then all hell broke loose.”

She quickly relayed the story.

He shook his head. “I swear I can’t leave you alone for a second. If what you’re saying is true, we’re in even deeper trouble than I first thought. We’ll stay the night and when the storm breaks we’ll go see Stryde. With any luck he’ll have already scented us and will meet us here.”

“We’re that close to his territory?”

He chuckled. “We’re in his territory. Welcome to Howling Mountain, home to the Dark Moon Pack. At least you got lost in a useful place.”

“How can you laugh about this?”

His expression turned serious. “If I don’t laugh, I’m going to lose my mind. The hunters know where we live. Trent said they had cameras and now they have proof we exist. They’re probably planning to massacre the pack. I don’t know how this situation can get any worse. If we can’t convince Stryde to help us, we won’t be strong enough to fight them off.”

 

Chapter 10

 

Zane held a stack of fliers high above the crowd inside Drake’s. “I have proof. Werewolves live in our woods and we’re going to hunt them down and take back our land.”

The men gathered around Zane. He’d been surprised by the turnout. About a hundred men stood shoulder to shoulder in the bar. Almost every able-bodied man in Full Moon Bay was present. Most of them were hunters, but a few businessmen were from the city council and mayor’s office.

Good. He’d be able to get the news out quickly. “Take one and pass it back. Bill, Hank, and I went into the woods last night. Bill took these with his camera.”

One of the young Patterson boys yelled from the back. “How do we know these aren’t Photoshopped?”

Bill stepped forward. “I wouldn’t have believed it either if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.”

Hank joined them in the center. “The wolf stood about five feet high. Taller than any wolf I’ve ever seen in the woods.”

Murmurs of shock rippled through the crowd.

An older man standing near Zane asked, “Who’s the woman in the picture? Is she a wolf too?”

Zane cleared his throat. “That’s Diana Baxter. She was with me when the wolves captured her. She’s their prisoner and we must free her before they kill her. Who knows what they’ve done to her already.”

Several men shouted their rage and vowed to rescue her. Zane let them speak their minds. He didn’t need to get them riled up. They were good, God-fearing men who would help him rid the woods of the demonic creatures.

As the anger reached a boiling point, Zane held up his hands to silence the men. “We can’t leave tonight. We can’t risk a failed rescue attempt. If we wait until the full moon, we’ll have more light and a better chance of capturing them.”

“Why don’t we just go during the day?”

Bill responded. “Not enough cover. They could be up the mountain tracking our movement toward their den. If we go at night, we can use the darkness to our advantage. Zane has a few pairs of night vision goggles. Does anyone else have any?”

A few men confirmed they had at least a pair.

Zane said, “The full moon is five days away. Bill, Hank, and I will be the team leaders. We want to break into a few groups so if the wolves plan an ambush, they only attack one group. The other two groups can circle around and come in from other angles.”

“What if they stay in their den? Can we just smoke them out?”

“No, we can’t risk hurting Diana.” Zane’s jaw twitched. He’d have to find her before the others did. The Jezebel would tell everyone he’d tried to kill her and ruin his credibility. “We’ll meet back here the night before the attack to review the plan.”

As the crowd dispersed, Zane retreated to the rear of the bar with Bill and Hank.

Bill slapped him on the back. “Hell of a turnout. Too bad your father died in ‘Nam. He’d be proud if he saw you now.”

Zane gritted his teeth. He’d lied to Bill years ago because he couldn’t stand the truth. He never knew who his father was thanks to his whore of a mother. He doubted she even knew who’d knocked her up.

“Thanks, Bill.”

Hank stepped behind the bar. “What can I get you? It’s on the house.”

“I’ll take your best cognac.”

Hank’s mouth twisted into a smile. “You got it, boss.”

Zane swirled the glass and watched the play of light as it filtered through the amber liquid. As he sipped the drink, he crafted a secret strategy. He’d take a select group of men aside and let them in on the plan to use Luna to bait a trap. He’d have to kidnap the woman and tie her to a tree to lure the wolves out. She’d probably become a casualty in the holy war. But if it was God’s will, He’d save her during the battle, and maybe even save her from him.

 

***

 

As dawn broke over the valley, Ryker paced on the edge of the cliff outside his hideaway. Drops of water trickled down from trees, carrying a fresh pine scent throughout the forest.

A stone tumbled down the mountain. It careened over the precipice and fell hundreds of feet before splashing in the river. When another stone followed, he knew Stryde was coming down the mountain to meet him.

Ryker focused on his sleeping mate. It was so easy to forget she was human and not part of the pack. In a few days, the full moon would be upon them. If everything went well, Diana would walk back into her life and leave him without a backward glance.

But what if she wanted to stay? Maybe she liked being with the wolves. Maybe she enjoyed the open space and clean air. Maybe she…he let the thought go. This was all just wishful thinking. Why would she give up her entire life to be with him, a werewolf?

She’d never be able to lead a normal human life living with the pack. Hell, most of the other wolves would be happy to see her go. And after Trista, he should know better.

He sat on the edge of the dais and fingered a lock of her silky black hair. She was so beautiful and sexy. Unbelievably sexy. Could he ever be happy again knowing that she was out in the world, living a life without him?

Before he could fall deeper into despair, steps sounded in the dirt just outside the cave. He looked up. Stryde’s imposing wolf form blocked the light. At almost six feet tall, Stryde towered over most wolves. A lethal hunter, his huge jaw could snap a deer’s neck in seconds.

As Stryde shifted to his human form, his red-brown coat receded to reveal coppery skin. His piercing gray eyes surveyed Ryker. “It’s a few weeks too early for the next council meeting.”

Ryker stood tall. “I’ve come to ask for help.”

“You want my help?” Stryde smiled as if amused by the idea.

“Yes.” He related the events of the past few days, starting with Diana’s attack and ending with the previous night’s storm. As he spoke, Stryde’s expression changed from skeptical to one of concern.

“You saw the bullets? You’re sure they’re silver?” he asked.

Ryker nodded. “Yes. I had Akila and Leah check the bodies to make sure the bullets were silver.”

As soon as Leah’s name flew out of his mouth, he regretted it. Stryde’s entire demeanor shifted. His previously casual stance changed. Instead of leaning against the cave wall, he’d moved forward into a subtle fighter’s stance. His fists contracted at his sides.

As if noticing the sleeping woman for the first time, Stryde asked, “Is that Leah?”

Diana’s back was to them so Stryde couldn’t see her face. But even from across the room, he should have been able to recognize the difference. Where Diana was rounded and soft, Leah was firm and muscular. Their body types were totally different.

“No. That’s Diana. I told you, I followed her scent trail to the mountain. We took shelter from the storm in here.”

Stryde crossed his arms over his chest. “Why should I help you when you’ve taken everything from me? I only tolerate the council meetings because it benefits my pack.”

Ryker wanted to grab him and shake him. “I didn’t take anything from you. The council meetings on hunting restrictions and pack politics mean nothing compared to this. We’re in a life-or-death situation. Can’t you get past your ego to see that?”

“My ego? Are you kidding me? I should have become pack alpha, but you lied, cheated, and stole your way into that position. If I had told everyone that you were engaged, you wouldn’t have even been in the running. But I tried to be a good friend and kept your secret from the others.”

Stryde’s voice rose with each word. A vein in his neck bulged as his venomous words filled the den. On the dais, Diana stirred but didn’t move to get up.

Ryker glared at the other man. “They never would have chosen you because you can’t handle your temper. An alpha should be able to control himself, but you’ve never been able to do that. Why do you think Leah left you?”

Stryde lunged forward. His fist smashed into the side of Ryker’s jaw. Pain radiated down his face. Ryker returned the blow then shoved Stryde against the wall. Blood pounded in Ryker’s ears. Adrenaline coursed through his veins. Sick of listening to Stryde blame him for the past, Ryker roared and charged him.

Quick on his feet, Stryde dashed to one side and Ryker flew past him. He skidded to a halt on the ledge. Before he could move back into the cave, Stryde rushed forward and tackled him.

They rolled to the edge of the ledge. Dirt and rocks careened to crash down the mountain. Stryde’s fist smashed into Ryker’s stomach.

“Stop it!” Diana screamed.

Momentarily dazed, Ryker turned while gasping for air. Stryde straddled him. His fist hung in the air, coiled and ready to strike.

She continued. “Why are you still fighting about the past? What difference does any of that make if hunters are coming into the forest with silver bullets to kill all of you? They won’t care about who belongs to which pack or who became alpha over someone else. They’ll shoot to kill any wolf.”

She put her hands on her hips and glared at both men. “You’re acting like children. It’s a wonder either of you are allowed to be leader of anything.”

Stryde’s eyes went wide. Ryker almost wanted to laugh at his reaction, but she had a point. He shoved Stryde off of him and scrambled to his feet.

Ryker reached down to offer a hand to Stryde but he ignored it. Ryker dropped his hand. “If you won’t help us, fine. But you can’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Stryde stood and wiped dirt off his torso. He jabbed a finger in their direction. “I want you off of my mountain. Any alliance we had is finished.”

 

Chapter 11

 

Diana paced Ryker’s room. After returning to the main den, he’d left to find Trent to update him on the disastrous meeting with Stryde. The trip back from the mountain had been filled with tension. The muscles in her neck knotted hard enough to give her a headache.

She needed to find Akila and see if she had any medicine which would help with the pain. As she traversed the dark tunnel to Akila’s healing room, she worried about the fate of the pack. Without Stryde’s help, they wouldn’t be able to defend against an invasion.

She pushed the terrifying thought to the back of her mind. The thought of losing any other members of the pack made her stomach churn.

As she rounded the last corner, she heard Akila talking with someone in the healing room. Diana slowly pushed back the curtain.

Akila noticed her standing at the door and motioned for her to enter. Gwen sat on one of the daises. The scars on her back had faded slightly, but evidence of the attack still marred her skin. Diana’s heart went out to the woman. She knew the terror involved in being attacked and wished she could do something to ease the other woman’s fear.

Akila smiled. “I was just checking up on Gwen. How are you doing, sweetie?”

Gwen cringed as Akila applied a salve to her back. “Better. Your medicine is healing me faster than I expected.”

“I used my special blend. How are the nightmares?”

Gwen glanced at Diana. “I still have them.”

Diana tried to fade into the background. She didn’t want to make Gwen uncomfortable.

Akila held the young woman’s hand. “I expect you might still have them for a while. But now that we know who attacked you, Ryker’s going to catch him and bring him to justice.”

“I just…I wish he was dead. Zane.” Gwen whispered her attacker’s name.

Diana inched closer. “I know how you feel. He attacked me too and I want to see him behind bars for what he did to us.”

“I shouldn’t have wandered off so far. I just wanted to find some strawberries…” Gwen choked back a sob.

Akila rubbed her back. “You didn’t do anything wrong. This man, Zane, is pure evil. He would have attacked any woman who crossed his path.”

Gwen’s eyes glazed. “I just hope…I just hope that he didn’t…that nothing took hold.”

Diana shot a glance at Akila. The older woman wrapped an arm around the trembling girl.

In a soft tone, Akila said, “I gave you special medicine. I didn’t know if he…I didn’t know exactly what he did, but I suspected. So I gave you a dose of a special herb which prevents pregnancy.”

Gwen sobbed. “Thank you.”

Akila gently laid the crying woman on the dais. “I’ll fix you up something to help you sleep.”

Diana sat next to Gwen. She didn’t know what to do or say to make the other woman feel better, so she simply held her hand.

Akila returned with a glass of milky liquid. “You’ll have to drink this fast because, honestly, it tastes terrible.”

Gwen’s lips twitched into a slight smile. She took the drink then sniffed it. Her nose scrunched up as she tipped back the glass. When she was finished, she handed the glass to Akila.

“Stay here as long as you like, sweetie. You’re safe here.” Akila said.

Diana asked, “Do you happen to have anything to treat a headache?”

Akila smiled. “White willow bark tincture will fix you right up.”

After placing a few drops under her tongue, Diana handed the bottle back to Akila. “I’m surprised you don’t have aspirin since Leah makes runs to the hospital for supplies.”

“I try to use natural remedies whenever possible. It’s much better for your body.”

“That makes sense.”

Akila said, “Humans probably wouldn’t even need hospitals if they’d stop putting all kinds of synthetic chemicals in and on their bodies. We only use hospital supplies for serious injuries like gunshot wounds. Which reminds me, I need to find Ryker. We need to send Leah on a run before the attack on Zane. I’ll need supplies for any injuries.”

Diana followed Akila into the passageway outside the room. “Do you think Gwen will be all right?”

Akila nodded. “Yes. Time will heal her wounds, both the physical ones and the mental ones.”

 

***

 

Wolves milled about in the central room in the den. Ryker turned as if sensing her presence.

Akila addressed him. “We need to stock up on supplies before the hunt for Zane. We should send Leah tonight.”

Ryker shook his head. “Not Leah. I can send Trent and some other men to town.”

Leah stepped out from behind a group of wolves. “They won’t know what supplies we need or where they are, and I can’t exactly write them a list.”

“True. I just need you to be extra careful. I’m still sending Trent with you for extra protection.”

Leah shrugged. “Works for me.”

Trent walked up to Leah. “I’m ready whenever you are, but it might be safer if we wait until sundown. Let’s meet back at the entrance to the den in an hour. Ouch!”

Trent cradled his jaw in his hand.

“Tooth acting up again?” Ryker asked.

“Damned thing will be the death of me.” Trent looked up at Ryker. “Sorry, bad word choice.”

Diana approached him. “Why don’t you let me have a look? I’m studying to be a dentist. I might be able to help.”

Akila said, “Feel free to use my room if you need it.”

Diana waved Trent over. “Let’s go.”

Trent and Ryker followed her down the passage back to Akila’s healing room. Gwen softly snored on the dais. The sleeping potion worked fast.

“I’m going to need some light. Do you have any candles?” Diana went to the pot of freshly boiled water. It was still extremely hot, but she poured it over her hands anyway.

Ryker rummaged through the shelves and found a beeswax candle. “Got one.”

“Light it and come here. Hold it close to his mouth.”

“Try not to light me on fire,” Trent joked.

“Open wide and hold still.” Diana pulled back the edge of his gum.

Good God, no wonder his mouth hurt. One tooth pushed up from underneath another at a weird angle. The pressure must be excruciating. She’d need to pull the top tooth to make room for the bottom tooth.

“How long has it been like this?” she asked.

“A couple of months.”

“I can fix it, but it’s going to hurt a little bit.” It was going to hurt like hell, but she didn’t want to frighten him.

Akila walked into the room. “How’s the patient? I’m surprised he let you near him. I’ve been trying to get him in here for months.”

“His tooth needs to be pulled. I’m going to need something to grip his tooth with. You don’t happen to have any pliers, do you?”

“I don’t have pliers, but I have surgical string. We could tie it around the tooth and yank it out.”

Trent paled and swayed.

Ryker rushed over and guided him to the nearest dais. “Here you go, buddy. You might want to sit down for this.”

“Are you sure it won’t just fall out on its own?” Trent’s voice went up an octave.

“It’s wedged in there at an angle where it can’t fall out. I’ll be fast.”

Diana took the surgical string from Akila and looped it around the tooth. Trent whimpered. His eyelids crushed closed and his face scrunched up in anticipation of the pain.

Diana checked to make sure the loop was secure. “I’m going to count to three.”

Trent hunched forward slightly.

“One, two…” She yanked with all her strength. The tooth popped loose and flew out of the string. It landed with a clang across the room.

Trent cracked one eye open. In a garbled voice he asked, “Is it out?”

Diana smiled. “Yep.”

“Why does it still hurt?”

“I’m guessing you have an infection. The other tooth should move into place now that it has some room. But when you go on the hospital run with Leah, you need to be sure to get antibiotics. If the infection spreads, it could become life-threatening.”

Akila approached with a bottle of white willow bark tincture. “Here, put a few drops of this under your tongue. It will help with the pain.”

After following her instructions, Trent turned to Diana. “Thank you for helping me. I didn’t think… well, because you’re human, that you’d want to help a wolf.”

Sadness swelled her chest. “These past few days of living with the pack have been amazing. At first, I was terrified. But the more I get to know the wolves in the pack, the more I want to…well, I wouldn’t be able to stay. The other wolves aren’t exactly happy about my presence.”

Trent tilted his head to one side. “What makes you say that?”

Ryker watched her intently.

She hesitated. “I know humans aren’t allowed in the den and Ryker broke the rules to bring me here. The other wolves resent me. I’m a daily reminder that pack rules are not being upheld by your leader. If the rules don’t apply to him, they why should they have to follow them?”

“Faulty logic. Anyone would have done what Ryker did. No one faults you for that.” The swelling in Trent’s jaw made it hard to understand him, but she was able to make out most of the words.

“Clyde hates me.”

Ryker spoke up. “Clyde hates everyone right now. His son was killed in the attack and you’re the easiest person to use as a scapegoat.”

“So the others don’t hate me?” Diana asked.

Akila answered. “While you and Ryker were on the mountain with Stryde, I talked to most of the pack. They understand why Ryker broke the law. You’ll be returning home soon, so they will tolerate having you stay with us for a few more days.”

Diana’s heart sank. The wolves still wanted her gone. Any hope she had of staying with Ryker evaporated. She sighed. She should have known nothing could change the pack’s minds. She needed to let go of her foolish hopes and dreams because she’d never be a member of Ryker’s family.

Ryker turned to Diana. “Are we all set here?”

“Yes.”

“Let’s get some rest.” Ryker slid his arm around her shoulders and walked her to the door.

“Thanks again.” Trent called.

Diana forced a smile. “Don’t forget to get antibiotics.”

Ryker led her to his room. Once inside, he added a log to the smoldering embers in the fire pit.

The air crackled with tension. She couldn’t read the emotions on his face.

“I’m sorry you can’t stay,” he said.

Hope bloomed in her heart, but she proceeded with caution. “Would you want me to stay?”

“Unfortunately, it’s not about what I want. I have to think of the pack.” He stared into the fire.

The next question tripped off her tongue before she could stop it. “But if I could stay, would you want me to?”

His voice was thick with emotion. “We shouldn’t speculate on the impossible.”

“You’ve broken the law once. Why not again?”

“That was different. You were injured. I couldn’t let you die. The pack understands why I did what I did. But Akila’s right, you can’t stay. It doesn’t matter what I want.”

“What about what I want?” she asked.

“How can you even know what you want? You hardly know me.”

Diana’s voice took on a sultry tone as she took a step toward him. “I know that you’d die to protect a stranger, that you are loyal and trustworthy, that you’re kind, and strong, and incredibly sexy. I know what I want, and it’s you.”

Ryker’s gaze turned to Diana. She read thinly veiled desire in his eyes and warmed as if he’d reached out and caressed her.

 

Chapter Twelve

 

Ryker stalked across the room toward Diana. She wanted him. This defiant, stunning goddess of a woman wanted to stay with him and he couldn’t do anything about it. With the full moon just days away, he could lament the inevitable loss of her, or he could enjoy the time they had left together.

Her scent curled into his nose to torment him. As long as he lived, he’d never forget the feel of her, the smell of her, and the taste of her.

A storm of longing brewed in his heart. It was madness to keep touching her. Every time she walked into the room, he wanted to drown in her luxurious curves. His hands sought the fullness of her hips. The warmth of her skin seeped into him as he molded his body against hers. After the full moon, he’d never be able to touch her again. He’d never feel the press of her breasts against his chest, or the crush of her hungry lips against his.

Eyes wide open, lips parted, the expression on her face was one of quiet desperation. He groaned and bent to capture her lips. Her arms wrapped around his neck. She drew him closer, parted her lips, and drew his tongue into her mouth.

He indulged her ravenous desire, letting her kiss him with wild abandon. As minutes passed, the fierce barrage of kisses slowed. Her tongue danced against his. Long, languid kisses melted into the soft brush of her lips against his throat.

He groaned and whispered her name. The gentle sweep of her hair across his belly made his stomach clench. He swept her into his arms and carried her to bed.

After setting her down, he feasted on the sight of her naked, sensual body. He traced a finger in ever-tightening spirals across each breast.

She caught his hand in hers and brought his fingers to her lips. She kissed the pad of his thumb then sucked it into her mouth. The erotic gesture sent blood rushing into the length of him. He wanted to go slow, to savor her, so he drew back.

“This may be out last time together,” she whispered.

“I know. That’s why I want it to last.”

“I wish it could be forever.”

He buried his head in the valley of her breasts and sighed as she smoothed his hair with her hand. “We only have a few days left together. We should enjoy what little time we have left.”

“You’re right,” she murmured.

He wanted to show her how much he treasured her, so he bent to spread kisses across her chest and belly. As he traveled lower, she moaned and curled her fingers in his hair. When he reached the damp heat between her thighs, her ragged breath caught then whooshed out.

With his tongue, he tasted the moistened heat of her sex. She arched into him and trembled as he stroked her with the intent of wringing every ounce of pleasure out of her center.

 

***

 

Diana clutched at the edge of the bed. Her fingers curled into pelts of fur but she needed something solid to cling to—she needed him.

She pushed the pelts aside and reached for Ryker’s hands. After uncurling his fingers from her hips, she laced her hands into his. The rough scratch of his skin against hers reminded her how wild and forbidden their lovemaking was. She abandoned thoughts of loss and regret and surrendered to a misty state of unimaginable bliss.

As he angled his tongue, the first pulse of her release erupted from somewhere deep inside. She cried out and clutched his hands. He held on, coaxing the already decadent orgasm to a final peak.

For a few seconds, the only sound in the room was the beating of her heart and the gasp of her breath. He watched her with lustful eyes.

She caught her breath, and then in her most beguiling voice said, “I want more. I want all of you.”

He bent to kiss her. The heady scent of their lovemaking hung in the air. The feral scent of salty sweat connected her to him. Even before their bodies joined, she knew with utter certainty that they were meant to be together. Rules and laws couldn’t destroy their love. She needed to convince Ryker to let her stay. Somehow, they could make things work.

The gradual, deliberate slide of his thick, hard cock into her stole every coherent thought. Without stopping to consider the consequences, she murmured, “I love you.”

He froze, poised over her. His gaze locked with hers, his mouth twitched, but no sound escaped.

The moment passed.

As he pressed his cheek against hers, her heart ached. Didn’t he feel the same? Maybe she’d underestimated the level of his commitment.

She tensed slightly. He responded to the change in her by slowing his thrusts. Taking her with him, he rolled onto his back. As she settled over him, she searched his face for an indication of what he felt for her. His rapturous gaze gave her hope.

She moved over him, twisting and rolling her hips until he grabbed her waist. As she sank down, his eyes snapped shut. A low, guttural moan rumbled in his throat. His back arched as he spilled into her.

As the last shudder racked his body, he pulled her down. She rested her head on his chest.

His heart pounded against his ribcage. She watched his mouth open, then shut, as if he was about to speak but then thought better of it.

Her eyelids dropped. She wanted to stay awake to memorize every inch of his face, but exhaustion took over.

As she drifted to sleep, she thought she heard him say, “I love you, too.”

 

***

 

Zane lifted the binoculars to his face. Diana’s sister stood in the kitchen window of her cottage at the edge of the woods. Her long brown hair hung from a high ponytail. The same sad look that she’d had in the bar hooded her eyes.

He’d staked out the house the last four nights. The full moon was tomorrow, so he needed to capture her tonight.

He turned to Bill. “We’ll wait until she goes to sleep, then we’ll take her.”

Bill rubbed the back of his neck. “Man, I don’t know about this. It’s kidnapping.”

“It’s necessary. We need to use her as bait to draw the wolves out of their den.”

“We could go to jail for this.”

Zane clasped his friend’s shoulder. “Not a chance. You think the sheriff’s going to haul us in for being instrumental in catching the werewolves?”

Bill shook his head. “No.”

“Good. Now we wait. We have the Lord on our side. Tomorrow night we’re sending those demons back to hell where they belong.” Zane leaned against a tree. He pulled a toothpick out of his back pocket and jabbed it between his teeth.

Thirty minutes later, the lights went out.

Zane flicked the toothpick into the forest. “Let’s go. You watch the front, I’ll take the back.”

He left Bill and circled to the rear of the house. The back porch light cast a faint yellow glow, so he quickly ran to the light and unscrewed it.

He waited thirty seconds for his eyes to readjust to the darkness, and then he carefully turned the back doorknob. It was unlocked as it had been the last four nights. He slipped into the laundry room and closed the door.

He’d scouted the inside of the house twice before, so he knew the layout. The last door on the right led to the master bedroom.

The wooden floor creaked as he stalked the corridor. As he approached the room, he smiled at the open door. Now he wouldn’t have to worry about waking her up by opening it.

He crept to the edge of the bed. Moonlight streamed through an open window. Women always looked so innocent as they slept, but he knew evil lurked in their souls.

He pulled a plastic bag out of his waistband. He opened it and removed a chloroform-laden rag.

Her eyes flew open when he clamped it over her mouth. As she flailed on the bed, her hands clawed at his. Terror filled her eyes until the chemical forced her back to sleep.

He peeled back the sheet and stared down at her scantily clad form. A decent woman would never sleep in just a tank top and sheer panties. Another Jezebel.

He thanked God for such a clear sign.

“As the Lord said in Proverbs chapter four, verse eighteen, ‘the path of righteous people is like the light of dawn that becomes brighter and brighter until it reaches midday.’”

Now he knew without question that he was on the path of righteousness. He averted his eyes as he scooped her up and flung her over his shoulder.

Bill met him at the edge of the woods. He grabbed the woman’s legs and helped Zane carry her to his pickup.

As the truck bounced along the road, Bill asked, “Where are you going to keep her?”

“I made a place for her in my home.”

“Won’t she try to escape?”

Zane’s lip twitched into a half-smile. He’d worked all day constructing a steel cage in his garage. Escape was impossible.

 

***

 

Ryker cursed his tongue as he paced the beach along the river. At midday, he should have been sleeping, but the restless tug of his heart kept him awake.

The last four days had consisted of tense conversations with Diana. She probably hated him for confessing his love, if she’d even heard him. He thought she’d been asleep when he’d spoken, but with the way she’d been avoiding him, he couldn’t be sure.

He’d avoided sleeping with her since the night of his confession. He didn’t know how to tell her that his revelation meant nothing, given their situation. The other wolves still wanted her gone and he couldn’t change their minds. He understood why they insisted on maintaining the law. Every time a human interacted with the pack, someone died.

If he lost her, his heart would break worse than it had with Trista. But he couldn’t allow Diana to stay with the pack. Deep in thought, he almost didn’t hear the other wolf approach.

“The moon is full tonight.”

Ryker turned to face Clyde. As one of the oldest members of the pack, his opinions held a lot of weight with the group. Clyde had been one of the most vocal against allowing Diana to stay. Ryker suspected that his son Jax’s death during Zane’s attack would prevent him from ever accepting another human into the pack.

“We’ll leave at midnight. Kyran’s men are arriving before sundown.” Ryker said.

“You weren’t able to convince Stryde to send anyone?”

Ryker’s jaw clenched. “No. But we don’t need him. We’ve sent scouts to town to try to find Zane. We found out that he’s organized a militia. They plan on attacking tonight. We estimate about twenty-five men, but we only need to capture one. Zane.”

“You think the others will leave you alone once you capture him?” Clyde asked.

“I doubt it. But as long as we stay hidden, we can wait for them to approach the den and then come in from behind.”

“You should just kill them all. Be done with the humans.”

Ryker shook his head. “They’re not all bad.”

“Maybe not the women, but they’re the ones who show up and cause all kinds of problems in the pack.” Clyde kicked a rock into the rushing river.

Anger simmered in his belly. “Diana didn’t cause problems in the pack. She was trying to outrun a madman when I found her. If I hadn’t brought her to the den, she would have died.”

Venom infused Clyde’s voice. “You should have let her die. Jax would still be alive and the humans wouldn’t have found our den.”

Ryker advanced toward him. “I would never have let her die, never. How can you even think I could do that?”

Clyde stepped back and held up his hands. “She’s really got you whipped, doesn’t she?”

Ryker didn’t respond.

“It’s not in your nature to let the weak suffer. You’re a better man than I am. I would have left her to die and I sure as hell wouldn’t have fallen in love with her.”

Ryker’s head snapped up. “I’m not in love with her.”

Clyde smirked. “You are. Everyone can see it. Some of the other wolves believe you can’t protect the pack anymore.”

“Then I should step down as alpha. If I can’t protect the pack, what good am I?” Ryker asked.

“You can’t step down. The position of alpha is for life. Forget the human. Send her back to her people and move on. You survived Trista, you’ll survive this one too.”

Ryker watched him walk away. No one knew the abyss he’d descended into after Trista. He almost didn’t make it out. If he lost Diana, he’d be useless to the pack because his heart would never survive.

 

Chapter 13

 

As the sun set, fire blazed across the sky. Diana stood at the entrance to the den. She hadn’t seen Ryker all day. He’d slipped out of bed before she woke. Over the last few days they hadn’t spoken more than a few words to each other. When she tried to talk to him about their relationship, he’d mumble excuses and leave the room.

Wolves from the Phantom Lake Pack had arrived midafternoon. She’d expected Ryker to be at the den to greet them, but he hadn’t made an appearance.

Leah approached her. “Ryker asked me to take you up to his private den on the mountain.”

“I won’t see him before we leave?”

Leah shook her head. “Sorry, sweetie. I don’t know what’s gotten into him.”

“He’s been so distant.”

“Maybe it’s his way of dealing with you leaving.”

“I wouldn’t be leaving if he’d let me stay.” A twinge of pain sliced through her heart.

A deep voice sounded behind her. “You can’t stay. I thought we’d already established that fact.”

Diana spun to face Ryker. “You could at least take me to the den yourself.”

“I have to be here with the pack. Leah’s very capable of taking you to my private den until this is over. She knows Dark Moon Pack territory well and I doubt Stryde will bother you as long as Leah’s with you. I’ll send a scout when it’s safe and Leah can take you home.”

The entire time he spoke, he looked everywhere but her face. She tried to capture his gaze to no avail.

Diana grabbed his forearm. “Can I speak with you privately?”

His lips pressed into a thin line. “You can have one minute.”

She led him into the woods to gain some privacy. “Why are you acting like this?”

Ryker sighed and ran his hand through his hair. “We need a clean break. It’s for the best.”

“But I thought…” She couldn’t bring herself to finish the sentence.

He swallowed and looked past her. “I can never leave my pack, and they will never accept your presence.”

Tears formed in her eyes. “So this is it?”

He nodded. “You’ll find someone else. Get married, raise babies.”

Her hand reflexively covered her belly.

Ryker began to walk away, then stopped. He turned and folded her into an awkward hug. “You take care of yourself. Find another man, someone who can make you happy. Someone who can give you everything I can’t.”

He released her and stalked into the woods. As she watched his figure retreat, she whispered, “But I don’t want anyone else.”

Two hours later, Diana sat on the dais in Ryker’s private den on the mountain.

Leah hadn’t said much on the trip.

Diana couldn’t stand the unending silence. “Do you think Stryde will scent you and come for us?”

“I don’t think he’ll bother us. When I left him, he swore he’d never speak to me again.”

“People can change.”

Leah laughed bitterly. “Not Stryde. He’d die before he admitted he was wrong.”

Diana sighed. “Why do men insist on making everything so complicated?”

“They say the same about us.”

“True.”

An owl hooted somewhere in the valley; the sound echoed up the mountain. Diana shivered. She wished she could do something to help capture Zane, but Ryker insisted on keeping her safe.

Her nerves frayed as hours passed. The full moon rose high in the sky to cast shadows over the landscape.

Leah said, “Come away from the entrance. We need to stay hidden until the scouts arrive.”

“I just feel so helpless waiting here. We should be down there helping them. We could be bringing the wounded back to the den for treatment. Something, anything is better than sitting here doing nothing.”

A small avalanche of rocks skittered down the face of the mountain.

Diana froze. “Someone’s up there.”

Leah whispered, “Come to the back, hide behind the bed.”

Diana hurried to Leah’s side and ducked down. Her heart pounded in time to the approaching footsteps.

Diana peered around the edge. A shadowy figure stepped into the entrance of the cave. “I know you’re in there.”

Leah slowly rose, but Diana grabbed her arm and whispered, “What are you doing?”

“Stryde, is that you?”

“Well, you’d be in a hell of a lot of trouble if it wasn’t.” Stryde responded.

Leah stood and put her hands on her hips. “Why’d you sneak in here? You could have at least called out to tell us it was you.”

Stryde’s gaze settled on Leah. “I didn’t know who was in the cave. I smelled a human and didn’t want to announce myself until I had some idea of what I was dealing with. You look good.”

“Thanks,” she stammered.

“What are you two doing in here?” he asked.

“Hiding,” Diana responded. Ryker and the rest of the pack went to capture Zane. They found out he’d gathered a militia and planned to attack the pack tonight.”

“Ryker thought we’d be safer here than in the den.” Leah added.

“Well at least he’s not a complete moron,” Stryde said.

Leah stepped forward and jabbed a finger in his direction. “At least he’s not a coward. He told me you refused to help him. You’re still the same bitter, jealous, selfish jerk you’ve always been.”

“Selfish? Ryker stole the alpha position from me. I have far more tactical experience and I would have been a far better leader. If I had been alpha, the pack wouldn’t be in danger right now.”

Leah snorted. “It’s been five years. Get over it. Maybe you should try caring about someone other than yourself for once and help them.”

Diana stepped between them. “I know there’s bad blood between you and Ryker, but this is far more important that a feud over who should have been the rightful alpha. If Zane’s militia kills Ryker’s pack, how long do you think it will be before he’s climbing the mountain to kill your pack too?”

Stryde frowned. “How badly do you think they’re outnumbered?”

“I’d guess four to one.”

“Dammit.” Stryde paced the room.

Diana observed the conflict in his face and pressed on. “Four to one, Stryde. Can’t you set the past aside for one night?”

He stopped and stared at Leah. She approached him and set her hand on his bulging bicep.

“If you don’t do it for him, do it for me,” Leah said.

Diana felt as if she were intruding on a private moment. She stayed as still and silent as possible.

“Why won’t you come back?” Stryde whispered.

Leah cupped his face. “I couldn’t stand to see you angry all the time. If you let the past go, I’d gladly come back to you. Please, help Ryker and we can talk when you get back.”

“I’ll go. But not for him. For you.” He bent down to kiss Leah.

She wrapped her arms around his neck and drew him closer. Diana looked away.

He slowly backed out of Leah’s embrace. “I’ll come back for you. I promise.”

Diana breathed a sigh of relief as Stryde shifted into his wolf form. He stepped onto the ledge and disappeared around the corner.

 

***

 

Ryker sniffed the noxious fumes wafting off the humans. In wolf form, he usually enjoyed his heightened sense of smell. But even three hundred yards away, the scent of the human’s chemical culture singed his nose.

Ten paces to his right, Trent motioned to him with a slight shake of his head. Ryker turned to the wolf to his left and passed the signal down the line.

The wolves stepped closer. The humans hadn’t spotted them yet, so the pack still had the advantage of surprise. Ryker wanted to be as close as possible before closing in.

Two hundred yards to go.

Suddenly a shot rang out in the darkness. Ryker bounded forward on his strong hind legs. The other wolves attacked the group of about twenty humans. He’d ordered them to try to capture the humans and only kill if absolutely necessary.

Shouting and gunshots filled the air. He surged into the crowd and tackled a man. Ryker wrestled with him until the man fell against a rock. He was knocked unconscious, so Ryker moved to the next target.

A bullet whizzed past his head. He ducked into a nearby bush and waited for the shooter to pass. Ryker attacked from behind. He snapped and growled until the man dropped his gun and put his hands in the air.

Trent corralled another man together with his as other wolves brought their captives into the center clearing.

Ryker raced back into the woods to round up more humans. He hadn’t seen Zane yet and knew he was out there somewhere.

A branch snapped behind him. He turned to stare down the barrel of a sawed-off shotgun.

“Now you die, wolf.”

The hunter’s cackle cut short as Stryde rushed him from the side. The gun went off before it fell against a tree.

Stryde growled at the hunter who backed up toward the clearing. He turned and ran to join the other captives.

Ryker dipped his head to acknowledge Stryde. He had no idea what prompted the other alpha to join the fight, but he was eternally grateful.

One of the men in his pack shifted. “That’s the last of them.”

As Ryker circled the captives, he searched their faces. Something wasn’t right. He’d expected double the number of men in the militia. He trotted around the group double checking their faces.

His gut clenched. Zane wasn’t among them.

 

***

 

“Did you hear that?” Leah stepped closer to the entrance to the den.

Diana walked to her side. “What?”

“It sounded like someone screaming.”

“I don’t hear—” Diana stopped and cocked her head to one side.

Leah said, “There it is again.”

A shrill cry echoed up the mountain.

“It sounds like a woman. We need to help her.” Diana moved closer to the entrance but stopped when Leah grabbed her arm.

“Wait. We don’t know what’s going on out there. It could be a trap.”

Diana bit her bottom lip. She hated to stay and do nothing. What if someone was in trouble? But she also didn’t want to do anything stupid, so she turned and walked back into the cave.

Leah stiffened. “That sounded like…”

“My name,” Diana finished.

They rushed toward the entrance to the cave.

“I can’t tell where it’s coming from,” Leah said.

“We’ll go together, slowly. As long as we don’t split up, we should be fine.” Diana nodded as if to convince herself of her own statement.

Leah shot her a skeptical look but followed her into the night. Loose gravel made the descent twice as hard as the ascent.

Every few feet, Diana paused to listen for the woman’s cries. They’d almost reached the bottom as another scream echoed through the forest.

Leah whispered, “It sounds like it’s coming from near the river.”

“Stay close. Let’s try to find her from a distance before we approach.”

Diana picked a path through the forest, edging closer to the beach. She was careful to stay behind the tree line instead of walking in the open.

She rounded a sharp curve and spotted a funny-looking tree. As she squinted, she realized there was a woman tied to the tree.

A cloud briefly obscured the light on the woman’s face, but as the moon returned, Diana stifled a scream. Her sister Luna struggled against the ropes.

Diana gave up on being stealthy and ran toward her sister. Leah’s footfalls pounded in the sand behind her. Ten feet from her imprisoned sister, a shot ricocheted off a boulder.

Leah screamed. Diana spun and watched in horror as a bullet tore through the woman’s chest. Leah landed face down on the beach like a rag doll. Blood seeped from a bullet hole in her back. Diana didn’t need to get any closer to know Leah was dead.

Diana scrambled into the tree line. She scanned the beach, but couldn’t spot the shooter. She turned toward Luna who thrashed against the bonds. Diana couldn’t leave her tied to a tree, so she wove a path through the bushes.

As she closed in on her sister, Diana trembled. She wished Ryker was here with her, but he was off fighting for the pack. She’d have to do this alone.

She inched forward. The shooter could be anywhere, just waiting to ambush her. Whoever was trying to kill her was using Luna as bait.

Three trees away from her sister, Diana stopped and listened. The only sound in the night came from the raging river. No other creatures stirred. Even the beetles were silent.

Diana closed the distance between her and Luna. “Be quiet. I’ll untie you.”

Luna gasped. “I thought you were dead.”

“She’s not dead yet.”

Diana whipped around to find Zane standing behind her. He pointed a wicked-looking gun at her chest. Her heart stopped and a wave of nausea crashed over her.

Zane’s teeth gleamed in the moonlight. “Untie your sister. You’re both coming with me.”

Diana had no choice but to comply.

As Zane shoved her along a hidden path, her heart ripped apart. She sent up a silent prayer that Ryker would somehow find them.

 

Chapter 14

 

Diana stumbled along the river bank. With only the full moon to illuminate the path, she couldn’t see the ground well enough to avoid any sudden dips.

Zane jabbed the gun into her back. “Stop stalling and move. I want to get out of the woods before those werewolves circle back for you.”

“When Ryker finds you, he’ll kill you for this,” Diana snapped.

Luna whimpered and shot her a pleading look before picking up the pace. Diana had no idea how her younger sister ended up in the woods, but she’d do anything to protect her, so she bit back the litany of curses she’d intended to scream at him. Right now she had no choice but to cooperate with Zane.

Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Leah’s crumpled body. A bolt of pain sliced through her heart. The horrific sound of Leah’s last scream still echoed in her ears. Zane had murdered her and left her body on the beach like she was a piece of trash.

Diana shuddered. Would she be next? She couldn’t figure out why he hadn’t shot her or her sister. He obviously had some other plan for them.

She searched the tree line for any sign of the wolf pack. Moonlight transformed the dark, gnarled branches of the oak trees into ghostly figures. Their shadowy fingers stretched to claw at the night sky. The silent forest took away any hope of rescue.

For a fleeting moment, she considered trying to race into the woods. But one glance at her sister made her reconsider the foolish plan. Diana wouldn’t leave her sister and she wasn’t convinced Luna could overcome her terror long enough to escape into the woods.

“We’ll get through this,” Diana said.

Luna’s voice trembled. “He’s going to kill us like he killed that other woman. He’s insane.”

“Shut up,” Zane yelled.

Diana turned her head and glared at him. “Where are you taking us?”

“I have plans for you. God has given me instructions on how to punish the unrighteous. You will meet the same fate as Jezebel.”

Diana frowned. “From the Bible?”

“Yes.” Zane’s eyes shone like twin beacons of insanity in the gloomy light.

Luna spoke up. “But Jezebel gets eaten by dogs.”

Zane nodded. “The only righteous death for an infidel.”

“We’re not infidels. What the hell are you even talking about? We’re just two, normal women,” Diana said.

“No, you’re like all the other heathen woman living on the earth these days. You walk around with your painted faces and your tight-fitting clothes tempting men into all manner of sin. You should be ashamed of your immoral ways. Instead, you choose to flaunt your wickedness.”

Diana’s fists clenched at her sides. “That’s insane. You’re basically saying men can’t control themselves, so woman should cover up and be as plain as possible. That argument should have died a millennium ago, but men like you choose to blame women for their lack of self-control. Men like you make me sick.”

Zane lunged forward and shoved Diana to the ground. Spittle burst from his lips as he towered over her and snarled. “The devil spins lies from your lips. Shut up.”

Diana used her hands and feet to scramble backward like a crab. Zane pounced on her, pinning her to the ground.

With the hand holding the gun, he smacked her across the face. “Harlot. You were out here many nights, fornicating with the werewolves. Tell me, how many did you let lie with you? Was it one, two, ten?”

Blood trickled from her lips into her mouth. A coppery taste settled on her tongue. Her jaw throbbed. She moved it slowly to test it, but it wasn’t broken. She hadn’t understood the depth of his delusion until now. She needed to escape before he could enact his plan.

“Get up. And if you speak another word, I’ll kill you.” Zane glowered at her.

Diana rolled onto her knees and slowly stood. Her head pounded and acid churned in her stomach. Hunched over slightly, she continued down the beach. She’d have to be more careful until a chance to escape presented itself.

Zane directed them through the forest to an old logging road. He ushered them into his filthy truck, then climbed in himself.

Zane turned onto the main highway and headed away from town. Along the road, the trees grew less dense and eventually gave way to farmland.

Diana stared out the window, carefully noting any passing landmarks. She’d driven through this part of the countryside a few times, but didn’t know it very well.

After thirty minutes, Zane turned off the highway onto a gravel road. He stopped in front of a large wrought-iron gate. The ironwork depicted angels locked in an epic battle with demons. Next to the gate, two large angel statues stood guard, as if protecting the farm from evil.

Zane hopped out of the driver’s side. “If you try to escape, I’ll kill you.”

Diana dropped her gaze to the floor in an attempt to look meek. She wanted him to think she’d given up, even as a new resolve surged through her. She’d do whatever it took to save her sister and to escape.

Zane hurried to the gate. It screeched as it swung open. He drove the truck through, then closed it. The truck rocked along a dirt road and eventually stopped behind a large red barn.

“Get out,” Zane said.

Diana grabbed her sister’s hand and helped her out of the truck. As Zane’s gaze raked over her, Diana kept her expression passive. Inside, she trembled not from fear, but from rage. How dare he kidnap her again!

The first time she’d been paralyzed with fear, but everything had changed in the last few days. She had to live because she couldn’t bear the thought of never seeing Ryker again. In the days she’d spent with him, he’d awakened her from a boring, routine life to one of pleasure and love. A lump formed in her throat. She had to see him again. She had to tell him she loved him.

As she followed Zane into the dimly lit barn, she held onto the image of Ryker as she’d first seen him. She knew in her heart that Ryker would look for her until he found her. Even if the pack refused to allow her to stay, Ryker cared about her, and maybe even loved her, too. She couldn’t risk dying. It would destroy the only man she’d ever loved.

Zane pointed toward a large barred cage. “Get in.”

Diana eyed the ten-by-ten-foot space. She dropped to all fours. The cage’s low ceiling forced her to crawl across a thin layer of scratchy hay.

Once inside, Zane slammed the door closed and dragged a large chain through the bars. He pulled a padlock off a shelf and snapped it onto the chain. As it clicked closed, Diana shivered.

Five feet away, Zane locked Luna in an identical cage. The look of anguish on her sister’s face sent a wave of guilt through Diana. If she’d listened to her sister in the first place and refused Zane’s blind date, neither of them would be in this situation. She also wouldn’t have met Ryker, but faced with causing her sister’s death, she’d give anything to go back in time and make a different choice.

A cold, repulsive smile oozed across Zane’s face. “I’ll be right back.”

Diana glared at his retreating form. As soon as he disappeared around the corner of the barn, she locked eyes with her sister. “Are you all right?”

“No. I’m trapped in a cage and held captive by a psycho. I’m not all right.” Luna snapped.

“I’m sorry. I should have listened to you…”

“You should have but you never do. I may be younger than you, but I’m sure as heck smarter. I would never have gotten into a car with that guy. What the hell were you thinking?”

“I just wanted to go on a date. Now I realize how completely stupid it was, but at the time, I just didn’t want to be alone anymore.”

“You weren’t alone. You had me.” Luna’s gaze darted toward the barn door.

Diana checked, but didn’t see Zane. “I did have you, but you’re my sister. It’s not the same as having someone to love. Men seem to fall out of the sky for you, but it’s not like that for me.”

Luna sighed. “I don’t want to fight. We need to figure out a way out of here before he comes back.”

Diana stuck her arms through the bars and grabbed the padlock. She tugged and twisted it, but he’d securely locked it.

“Check the bars, some may be loose.” Diana rattled one bar, then another as she worked her way around the cage.

Frustration saturated Luna’s tone. “Nothing is budging. We’re totally trapped here and we’re going to die.”

Diana opened her mouth to tell her to stay calm but Zane strolled back in and he wasn’t alone. Five snarling, snapping black dogs tugged relentlessly on their leashes. Their sharp canines glistened with saliva. Eyes filled with feral bloodlust fixated on Diana. She froze. In her darkest nightmares, she’d never imagined being attacked by a pack of rabid dogs.

 

Chapter 15

 

Ryker jogged around the circle of captive humans to confirm his worst fear. Zane wasn’t among them.

He turned to Stryde. “He’s not here.”

“Where else would he be?”

Ryker met his eyes and a current of fear passed between the men. “Diana.”

“I left her and Leah to find you. I never should have left them.” Panic carved a deep furrow between Stryde’s brows.

“Shift. We have to get to them before he finds them.”

Ryker immediately forced his body to contort. The searing, cracking pain arced along his spine as his bones reformed. His fingers and toes transformed into large paws. A thick pelt of fur grew to cover his body.

Stryde shifted just as quickly. Ryker sprinted into the woods, followed closely by Stryde. The trees blurred into a wash of green and brown as Ryker raced toward Howling Mountain. It took less than ten minutes to reach its base.

Ryker abandoned his usual caution and bolted up the narrow path toward his private den. As he skidded around one corner, his rear paw slipped in a pile of loose rock and he dangled over the edge for one precarious second. He threw his weight forward to avoid falling down the mountain, but he didn’t slow his pace. He had to reach the den before Zane. If he failed to protect Diana the way he’d failed to protect Trista, the guilt would send him down a dark spiral from which he’d never be able to escape.

As he approached the entrance to his den, he skidded to a stop. Stryde stopped directly behind him. If Zane was in the den with Diana and Leah, he could be waiting to ambush them.

His heart pounded as he sniffed the air. He couldn’t detect Zane’s scent, or Diana’s. He inched forward and peeked around the edge of the entrance. Dim moonlight only penetrated the first ten feet. He couldn’t see into the darkest corners.

He crept forward, careful to stay close to the wall. Impatient as always, Stryde rushed past him. Had Ryker been in human form, he would have yelled at him to stop.

Stryde reached the back of the den and zipped from one side to the other. He stopped in the center of the den and panted. Ryker looked past him at the empty space and his stomach plunged through the floor. The women had vanished.

Ryker shifted to his human form. “Where else would they be?”

Stryde shifted then responded. “I have no idea. Would they have gone back to the main den?”

Ryker stepped out of the den and onto the ledge overlooking the valley below. “It’s possible. But it would be safer if they went to your den. Leah knows the way.”

“Which one should we try first?”

“Your den is closer. They may have gone there thinking they’d have some protection. Before we left to fight the humans, I ordered all of my wolves out of the main den. Leah knew there wouldn’t be anyone there to protect them.”

“Let’s go.”

Stryde shifted and darted down the path. Ryker shifted then followed him until they reached a fork in the path. Instead of following the trail down toward the forest floor, they took the upper trail and began the arduous climb.

Ryker hadn’t been to the Dark Moon Pack’s den in years. He’d forgotten how tough the ascent was until halfway to the summit. He gulped air as they gained altitude. No wonder Stryde hated coming down the mountain.

The narrow mountain pass wound deeper into the mountainside. Tall granite walls rose up fortress-like to line the passage. Ryker caught a hint of movement along the wall. Several wolves patrolled narrow ledges.

When they reached the entrance to the den, Ryker stared at the huge wooden gate which had been constructed and installed since his last visit.

Stryde barked and the gate swung open. He strode into the den. Unlike Ryker’s den, the common area was open to the air. Wolves with jet-black coats mingled with wolves cloaked in wintery white fur.

After shifting to human form, Stryde yelled. “Has anyone seen Leah? She was traveling with a human woman.”

A few wolves raised a brow and looked at one another, but no one had seen her.

Nosh, the pack’s beta, stepped forward. “She’s missing? I thought she was living with Ryker.”

Stryde’s jaw twitched. “She was, but the humans came to wage war against the Silver Creek Pack and now she’s missing.”

Nosh pushed a swatch of long black hair over his back. His almond-shaped eyes and high cheekbones were indicative of his Native American heritage. Ryker had only met him once before, but knew the man possessed solid tracking skills.

Ryker said, “We need someone to help track the women. There were too many tracks leading out of my den on the mountainside and we can’t do it alone.”

Nosh nodded. “I’ll gather a team. Do you have anything of Leah’s that we can use to scent her?”

Stryde said, “I still have some of her clothes in my room.”

Ryker followed Stryde and Nosh into a cave. The inner rooms were set up almost identically to Ryker’s den.

When they reached Stryde’s room, Ryker couldn’t help but drop his jaw. The place was a disaster. Old bones were strewn about the chamber. A pile of ashes choked the fire pit. The pelts on his bed smelled like they hadn’t been washed in six moons. Ryker gagged.

Stryde watched his reaction. “Well, it’s not like I have women waiting on me hand and foot.”

“I don’t have women waiting on me either and my den’s not a total disaster,” Ryker snapped.

He was sick of listening to Stryde whine about women. His complaints always carried an undertone of accusation, as if Ryker had somehow enticed Leah to return to his pack.

He turned his back on Stryde and rummaged through various piles of women’s clothing. The number of different female scents in the den overwhelmed him until he pulled one very familiar dress from the pile.

He sniffed it to be sure then spun to pounce on Stryde. “You kept Trista’s dress? What the hell is wrong with you? I thought we’d buried it along with her. Why the hell do you still have it?”

Stryde shoved Ryker off of him. “Leah kept it. She scented the man who attacked Trista on the dress but was too afraid to give it to you. She knew how insane you went after Trista died and the pack needed their leader.”

“Don’t blame this on her. You knew about this and could have told me.” Ryker took a menacing step forward. His fists clenched at his sides.

“Are you kidding? If we’d given you the dress, you would have scented her murderer and never stopped until you avenged her death. You were already obsessed. We kept it from you to protect you.”

Nosh stepped between them. “Ryker, Stryde’s right. I would have done the same thing. The whole pack was on edge after Trista died. You were teetering on the brink of insanity and this would have pushed you over the edge.”

Rage surged through Ryker’s veins. How dare they keep something this important from him! “We could have found her killer if you’d given this to me.”

He turned and buried his nose in the fabric. Trista’s faint scent curled in his nostrils. If the other wolves weren’t present, he would have wept at the memories that flooded his mind. He could still feel the breeze in his hair from when he’d playfully chased Trista through tall summer grasses. He could still see her long brown hair drifting in the river as they bathed together. He could still remember every word she’d ever spoken to him. He could still feel the weight of losing her on his heart.

But beyond that, he scented something far worse. The second smell on her dress belonged to Zane. Ryker tossed his head back and howled.

He clutched the dress to his chest. “You idiot. The second scent is Zane’s. If you’d given me this dress years ago, I would have hunted him every second of every day. He wouldn’t have lived long enough to attack Gwen and Diana. Our pack wouldn’t be under attack right now if you’d just given me the dress.”

Stryde backed up a few steps and held up his hands. “I made a mistake. If I had known he’d come back to assault other women, I would have given you the dress a long time ago. After Trista died, I tried to track him myself, but once I reached town, I could never pin down his location.”

Ryker yelled. “Well, now you have a chance to make things right. If we don’t find Diana and Leah, their deaths will be your fault.”

 

***

 

Diana cowered against the back of the cage as Zane’s shrill laughter grated on her already frayed nerves.

He addressed her with scorn. “You think I’d let you die easily? No. Those werewolves will come for you. I’ll let you watch them die and then I’ll leave you to the hounds.”

Diana shivered. She couldn’t imagine Ryker and the pack be killed. She had to escape as quickly as possible, but couldn’t do anything as long as Zane remained in the barn.

Zane picked a stone off the floor and chucked it at her sister Luna. Diana screamed as if she’d been struck. Luna yelped and scurried to the far corner of the cage.

“If the wolves don’t come for you by sunrise, I’ll kill you and find another way to send them back to hell.”

Zane’s high-pitched whistle brought the dogs to his side. He leashed them then dragged the growling beasts through the barn door. He slammed it closed, sending the room into darkness.

Diana pushed her face against the cold metal bars. A cracked knot in the barn’s wall gave her a very limited view of the road. She dropped to her knees and angled her line of vision toward the sky. She tried to guess how many hours they had before sunrise, but the vast inky darkness did nothing to reveal the time.

Diana crawled to the side of the cage closest to her sister. “Did you find any loose bars?”

“No. It’s no use. We’re going to die in here.”

“No, Ryker will find us. I know he will.” Diana chewed on the edge of her lip.

“Who’s Ryker? And what the hell is Zane talking about? Werewolves?”

Diana sighed. “I don’t even know where to begin.”

Luna’s voice rose as she spoke. “Why don’t you start with your disappearance? I thought you were dead until I heard Zane talking about you at Drake’s. I told him to find you, but he kidnapped me instead. I need to know what the hell is going on.”

Diana relayed the events leading up to meeting Ryker, and then she stopped. She couldn’t figure out how to explain her relationship with Ryker. Her sister would think she was crazy.

Luna’s tone softened. “I’m sorry I yelled. I was just so scared. I thought you were dead when I couldn’t find you at home. I asked Ben… I mean Sherriff Watkins, to investigate your disappearance. He went to your house, but when nothing looked out of place, he said you probably went on a weekend trip without telling anyone. But I knew you wouldn’t do something like that without telling me.”

“You’re right. I wouldn’t have left town without telling you. This whole situation has been unreal. First I’m chased by Zane, and then he shoots me…”

“He shot you?”

“Yes, but Akila has some kind of special healing medicine which healed me extremely fast.”

“Who’s Akila?”

“She’s the pack’s healer.”

Luna waved her hand as if to dismiss the information. “And after you were shot you met Ryker?”

“He saved me. He took me to his den and…” Took care of me, made me fall in love with him? What can I tell her without sounding totally insane?

“And?” Luna prompted.

“We spent a lot of time together—and I know this is going to sound insane—but I really started to like him.” Love him. Even if I could find the words to explain it to her, would Luna understand?

Diana knew her emotions were probably all mixed up because of the extraordinary circumstances, but something about her connection with Ryker felt so real, so right, as if they were made for one another. She couldn’t imagine spending the rest of her life without him. She needed to make her sister understand the intensity of her relationship with Ryker.

Diana wished she could see her sister’s face so she could gauge her reaction to what she confessed next. “I think… I think I love him.”

Luna gasped. “That’s insane. He’s a werewolf right? How can you be in love with a monster?”

“He’s not a monster. He protected me with his life, as if I was part of his pa… his family.”

“I’m your family, not some evil creature of the night.”

Even in the hazy darkness, she sensed Luna’s distain. Diana wanted to take the confession back. Of course her sister wouldn’t understand. She’d never accept Ryker. No one would accept their relationship, not the wolves, not the humans. No matter how much they cared about each other, even if he did love her, they could never be together.

Diana sighed. “Never mind.”

“When we get out of here, you need to see a shrink. You have Stockholm syndrome. It’s happened before—women falling in love with their captors. I’m sure we can find a psychologist who specializes in the disorder.”

Chilly air seeped through the cracked walls and into the barn. Diana shivered. She’d been with the wolves for days and hadn’t considered her bizarre reaction to them. Most women would have run screaming into the woods rather than stay with the wolves. Why didn’t she do that? Could Luna be right? Could her relationship with Ryker be born of need because she would have been the wolves’ captive otherwise?

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore.” Diana pushed the questions aside, but Luna’s accusation hung in the air. Diana knew there was only one way to find out if what she felt for Ryker was real or not. She needed to escape and find him.

 

Chapter 16

 

Rage propelled Ryker down the mountain. It was well past midnight and the moon hung low on the horizon. Dark trees stood like sentinels along the path to his den. An eerie sense of foreboding, heightened by adrenaline, forced boundless energy into Ryker’s legs.

He couldn’t believe Stryde had hidden Trista’s dress all these years. As soon as he found Diana and Leah, he was done with Stryde. The wolf didn’t deserve to be alpha of any pack.

Ryker rushed through the forest. Stryde followed close behind. Nothing would stop Stryde from searching for Leah, so Ryker didn’t bother to try to get rid of him. Until they found the missing women, he was stuck with the liar.

Ryker skidded to a stop in the underbrush just outside his den. Zane could be holding the women captive here, so he needed to proceed with caution. He listened for any hint of movement, but the only sound in the night was the hoot of a lone owl.

He padded to the entrance to the den. Still no sound.

Stryde tried to pass him, but Ryker stopped him with a low growl. The reckless jerk would get them killed if they weren’t careful.

Ryker trudged forward. The fur on the back of his neck stood on end. With each step, his worst fears played like a horror movie in his mind. All manner of tortured, dismembered scenarios played through his head. Diana had to be alive. There was so much he wanted to tell her, so much he never said. He needed the chance to confess the deep longing in his heart.

As he rounded the corner to the central room, he spotted the outline of a wolf crouched low on the central dais. Two beady eyes glistened in the darkness. Ryker couldn’t make out any features of the wolf, so he couldn’t tell if it was a member of the pack or not.

Ryker bent low and growled at the wolf. He took a step forward and the wolf shifted.

“Ryker, is that you?” Trent asked.

Ryker quickly shifted. “Yes. Have you seen Diana or Leah?”

“I thought they were up on the mountain.”

Stryde shifted then pushed past Ryker. “We went up there, but they’re gone. You haven’t seen them?”

“No. After the humans were captured, I left Clyde in charge and circled back to protect the den.”

Ryker paced the room. “Dammit. If they’re not here, and they’re not in the mountain den or with the Dark Moon Pack, then where are they?”

“We need to keep searching,” Stryde said.

Ryker said, “Let’s split up and search the forest. Maybe they escaped and are hiding somewhere. Stryde, you take the river. Trent, go out to Phantom Lake Pack and see if they’re with Kyran. Sunrise is just a few hours away. If we don’t find them by first light, then let’s meet here to regroup.”

The three wolves raced out of the den then split up. Ryker roamed the forest in a zigzag pattern so he wouldn’t accidently miss them. He’d just finished the fourth pass when he heard a blood-curdling scream coming from the direction of the river.

Ryker ran toward the howling cries. The pitch was too low to be coming from a woman. Did the humans shoot one of the other wolves?

He burst through the tree line onto the beach and then stopped cold. Pale moonlight streaked out from behind a cloud to illuminate Stryde. He sat in the center of the sandy beach holding the limp body of a woman. Racked by tremors, his pitiful howls echoed up the mountain.

Ryker’s knees shook as he moved closer. His chest heaved from the strain of not being able to see the woman’s face. The closer he got, the more lightheaded he became. If the dead woman was Diana, he’d never forgive himself for leaving her alone. He should have stayed to protect them.

Ryker was within ten feet of the pair when he could finally make out Leah’s features. Coagulated blood clung to an ugly bullet hole in the center of her shirt.

Ryker fell to his knees, partially from the horror of finding a member of his pack dead, and partially from relief that it wasn’t Diana. He hated himself for thinking of Diana when Leah lay dead in Stryde’s arms. But he couldn’t help it. Diana could have met the same fate and he wouldn’t know until he found her.

Any earlier fear paled in comparison to the sudden despair that tore through Ryker. He leapt to his feet and scoured the beach. He found a piece of severed rope dangling from a tree. Three sets of tracks led away from the tree: two smaller sets followed by a large set. He dropped to all fours and sniffed the ground. He immediately recognized Diana’s scent and swayed with relief. She could still be alive.

He didn’t recognize the scent wafting from the third set of tracks. Who else would be out in the woods in the middle of the night?

On the beach, Stryde screamed. “Who did this? Who took her from me?”

Ryker hurried to his side. “Zane did this, but I think Diana’s still alive.”

“I don’t care about Diana. If you hadn’t saved her from Zane, none of this would have happened and Leah would still be alive.” Stryde sobbed and rocked Leah’s lifeless body against his.

A rustling in the forest drew Ryker’s attention.

Trent sprinted onto the beach. “What the hell happened? I heard screams.”

His jaw dropped when he spotted Stryde.

Ryker said, “Leah’s dead. But Diana’s alive and Zane has her.”

Trent approached Stryde. “I can’t believe she’s dead. We have to find Diana immediately.”

“We could track them, we have a trail.”

Stryde scooped Leah up and started into the forest.

“Where are you going?” Ryker asked.

Stryde’s voice cracked as he spoke. “I’m not leaving her out here. I’m taking her to the den.”

“We’re going to track Zane. Catch up with us when you can,” Ryker said.

Trent pointed to the trail of footprints leading into the woods. “Let’s go.”

They followed the trail to the old logging road. Ryker walked in circles trying to pick up the scent trail, but it had disappeared.

“Dammit.” Ryker kicked a rock across the road.

Trent said, “We captured a lot of humans. One of them has to know where Zane could be holding her.”

Ryker nodded. “Good idea. Let’s go.”

When they reached the captives, Ryker approached the group. “A woman is missing and I need to know where Zane took her. I’ll release the man who tells me where he’s holding her.”

“I ain’t sayin’ shit,” one man said before spitting on the ground.

Ryker circled the men. “Zane killed a woman. Are you going to stay silent and protect a murderer?”

A few men whispered amongst themselves, but no one responded to Ryker. Frustrated, he was about to take a different approach when Stryde appeared in the clearing. The wild look in his eyes reminded Ryker of the insanity in Zane’s eyes.

Stryde grabbed one of the men and dragged him out of the group. He punched the man in the face. “Where’s Zane?”

His fists curled and he swung again, catching the man under the jaw. “You tell me, or I’ll kill every single one of you. I have nothing left to lose, so tell me before I kill you.”

Ryker stepped between Stryde and the captive. Stryde pushed him away.

“Get the hell out of my way. You think you can reason with humans?” Stryde’s dark laugh ended with the crack of his fist against the human’s nose.

Blood spurted out and the man crumpled to the ground. For a second, Ryker thought he was dead, but then the man groaned and curled into a ball.

Stryde stalked toward the group. “Who’s next?”

“Wait.” One of the captives stepped forward and held up both hands in surrender.

Stryde got within inches of the man’s face. “Where’s Zane?”

The man retreated a few feet. “He’s got a farm out on Route 39. It’s about ten miles out of town on the right side of the road. It has a big red barn. He might be keeping them there.”

“Them?” Ryker asked.

The man shuffled from one foot to the other. “Zane took Diana’s sister, too.”

Ryker grabbed the man’s upper arm. “You’re coming with us.”

Stryde shifted to his wolf form, causing the captives to jump back. Their faces displayed a mixture of fear and disbelief.

“Stay and guard them,” Ryker told Trent. “We’ll be back as soon as we capture Zane.”

 

Chapter 17

 

Diana crawled around the cage looking for anything that she could use to pick the lock. A few years ago, she’d watched a video on how to pick a lock because she kept locking herself out of her house. She’d become an expert lock-picker, which saved her a ton of money instead of hiring a locksmith.

But she couldn’t find anything to use as a pick. “Do you have anything in your hair? A clip or bobby pin?”

Luna said, “No, nothing.”

“Does your bra have an underwire in it?”

“Yes.”

“Take it off and throw it over here. Maybe I can use it.”

Luna removed her bra then tossed it toward Diana. It fell into the hay outside of the cage. Diana leaned out as far as she could reach. Her fingers brushed the edge of one strap but she couldn’t get a grip.

She felt around and found a piece of hay that was stronger and longer than the others. She hooked it in the bra strap and used it to drag it closer. When her fingers closed around the fabric, elation surged through her.

Diana inspected the bra. Each cup contained one curved underwire. She tore the edge of the bra with her fingernail and pulled the underwire out.

She worked one piece of the metal into a tension wrench and the other piece into a pick. With one piece in each hand, she reached through the bars. She stuck the tension wrench in the bottom of the lock. As she held it down, she used the pick to push the pins up until they were set. The padlock used four pins and it only took her a few seconds to unlock it.

She scrambled out of the cage and rushed to the lock on Luna’s cage.

“Hurry, we have to get out of here before he comes back,” Luna whispered.

“I’m going as fast as I can.”

Diana shoved the tension wrench in the lock and used the pick to set the pins. As she turned the tension wrench to open the lock, the thin metal snapped off.

“Shit.”

“What happened? Why isn’t it working?”

“It broke in the lock.” Diana tried to extract the broken piece, but it was wedged in.

“Hurry, he said he’s coming back at sunrise and it’s starting to get lighter outside.”

Diana glanced through a hole in the barn. The sky had lightened from black to charcoal and a hint of orange played on the horizon.

Sweat coated her fingers as she worked to remove the broken piece. She tilted the lock and used her nail to pry it out. When it fell into the hay, footsteps sounded outside the barn door.

As the barn door creaked open, Diana dove behind a tower of hay bales. She couldn’t have snuck back to the cage without Zane spotting her.

“Sunrise.” Zane called in a sing-song voice.

Diana peeked around the corner. Zane strolled into the barn. A shotgun lay in the crook of his arm. He cradled it like a baby.

“It’s time for the unholy to return to hell.” His light cackle rose into a crescendo of madness.

Diana gauged how far she’d have to run before she could tackle Zane. The plan was stupid, but she couldn’t think of anything else. She was about to step out from behind the hay when Zane pulled up short.

“What the hell?” He inspected the open lock on Diana’s cage.

His gaze darted around the barn as he stepped back toward the door. “Show yourself woman.”

Diana froze. She couldn’t possibly run fast enough to tackle him before he shot her.

Zane stalked toward Luna. He raised the gun and pointed the double barrels at her. “Get out here or I’ll kill your sister.”

Diana raised her hands and reluctantly stepped out from behind the hay. She was about to surrender when a desperate plan took hold. She turned and hurled her body against the tower of hay. At first, the bales didn’t budge, but when she rammed it a second time, the columns fell like dominos.

Zane cursed and ran toward the door. Before he disappeared around the corner, his key ring fell to the floor.

Diana dove for the keys, and then she ran back to her sister. Her fingers shook so hard, she could hardly get the first key in the lock.

She swore. “Come on, come on.”

She shoved another key into the lock, then another, but none of them worked. She looked over her shoulder to make sure Zane hadn’t returned. The last key fit perfectly. When she turned it, the lock popped open.

She quickly removed the lock and tossed it toward the back of the barn.

“Hurry, we have to get out of here before he comes back.” Diana helped Luna to her feet.

The two women raced to the barn door. Diana stuck her head out and looked left then right. With no sign of Zane, she grabbed her sister’s hand and raced down the road that led to the main highway.

Halfway down the road, a shotgun blast sounded in the air. Diana spun to find Zane sprinting toward them. The sun rose over the mountain to bathe him in an apocalyptic red haze.

In the distance, a car rumbled down the highway. Zane’s eyes went wide as he stared at something behind her. He rushed forward and hooked his arm around Diana’s neck. The force of his chokehold stole her breath.

As he dragged her back toward the barn, a pickup swerved from the highway onto the driveway. She could barely make out the passengers, but she would have known Ryker’s form anywhere. Her heart lurched. She struggled to get away from Zane, but his vise-like grip tightened.

As the truck skidded to a halt, a hail of rocks clattered against its underside. Stryde leapt out from the back of the truck and bounded toward Zane.

Ryker jumped out of the truck and raced along the road. Diana kicked and screamed as Zane pulled her behind the house where she lost sight of Ryker and Stryde.

“Shut up,” Zane snarled as he clamped a hand over her mouth. He lifted the shotgun with his free arm.

She thrashed violently. She couldn’t let Zane shoot them. The stench from his filthy palm made her gag. She reared back which threw him off balance for a second. She chomped down on this finger.

The second he released his grip, she screamed. “Look out. He’s got a gun.”

A single set of stealthy footsteps crunched in the gravel. Only one set. Where had the other wolf disappeared to?

Sirens sounded in the distance. Had her sister found help and called the sheriff?

A rush of steps crunched in the gravel behind her. Zane’s grip tightened as he spun to face the attacker. Diana’s eyes went wide as Ryker rushed straight for her. He slammed into her and Zane, knocking all three of them off balance.

Ryker pushed to his knees and locked an arm around Zane’s neck. “Stop moving and I won’t kill you.”

Zane snarled. “I’ll never surrender to evil.”

Zane’s head snapped back and caught Ryker’s chin. The sudden movement knocked Ryker back and he lost his grip. Zane jabbed an elbow into his gut. Ryker grunted and pitched forward onto his stomach. He went still.

Diana screamed. She spotted the gun on the ground and lunged for it. Her fingers hooked around the barrel, but Zane grabbed her wrist and twisted it. She couldn’t let him get it, but pain shot up her arm and she had no choice but to release it. Zane grabbed the gun from her and stepped back.

Suddenly, Stryde raced toward them. As he threw Zane against the side of the barn, the gun went off and a bullet whizzed past her head. Stryde knocked the gun out of Zane’s hands and it clattered to the floor.

Neither man stopped fighting. As Zane tried to stand, Stryde punched him over and over.

Diana scrambled toward Ryker and rolled him onto his back. “Please wake up.”

His eyes fluttered open and he jerked up. He scanned the surroundings until his gaze locked on the fight between Stryde and Zane. He rolled over and staggered to one knee.

Diana stepped in front of him and put her hands on his shoulders. “Wait. You’re too weak. Stay here.”

Ryker grumbled. “No, I’m going to kill him for kidnapping you.”

Diana watched in horror as he stumbled toward Stryde and Zane. She pushed past him and ran toward the shotgun. She grabbed it and pointed it at Zane but couldn’t get a good shot.

“Freeze.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted the sheriff. Relief made her drop her guard for a split second. Zane shoved Stryde to the ground and tackled her. He twisted her wrist in an effort to steal the gun. As they wrestled, she hooked the shotgun’s trigger with the end of her finger.

Boom!

The blast punched her in the stomach. She fell backward and knocked her head against the hard ground. The rosy sky faded in and out of focus.

“No!” Ryker screamed.

Stryde dove for the gun and flipped onto his back just as Zane jumped toward him. He fired. Zane jerked like a dancing marionette before falling to the ground.

Diana clenched her teeth and waited for the horrible pain to come, but after sucking in a breath, nothing happened. She stared at the place on her shirt where she expected to see blood, but it was only covered in dust.

Ryker dropped to his knees alongside her. His hands yanked up her shirt and roamed her torso searching for the bullet hole.

He didn’t find one. She hadn’t been shot.

“Oh thank you, thank you.” He pulled her into his arms and squeezed her tight against his chest.

“Can’t breathe,” she gasped.

Ryker released his grip. “I’m sorry.”

Sheriff Watkins trained his gun on Stryde and approached him slowly. “You’re under arrest. Put your hands up.”

Diana scrambled to her feet. “No, Sheriff Watkins. He was just defending me. Zane tried to kill me and Luna.”

As if she’d been summoned, Luna ran around the corner. “I heard shooting.”

Behind them, Zane groaned. Diana jumped. She’d thought he was dead.

Zane’s garbled words came out a whisper. “Kill the werewolves.”

“What werewolves?” Watkins kept his gun pointed at Stryde as he inched back toward Zane.

Diana stepped between Zane and the sheriff. “He’s insane. He tried to kill us.”

Watkins glared at Stryde. “Move a muscle and I’ll shoot you.”

Diana hurried to the sheriff’s side. “He’s still alive?”

The sheriff put two fingers on Zane’s wrist and studied the wound on his stomach. “For now, but there’s no way emergency services will get here in time. Zane, you need to confess before you die. What do you have to say for yourself?”

Zane sputtered. “I only did what the good Lord wanted. What he told me to do.”

The sheriff scowled. “God wanted you to kidnap these women?”

“He speaks to me. I’m an instrument in the holy war with the wicked.” He lifted a shaky finger and pointed to Ryker. “These things are pure evil. They stalk the woods waiting to eat our women and children. I know; I’ve seen it.”

“That’s a lie,” Diana exclaimed.

The sheriff silenced her with a look. “You’ve seen the werewolves eating children?”

Zane coughed. Droplets of blood sprayed the ground. He gurgled for a second before his head lolled to the side. Diana knew he was finally dead by the blank look in his eyes.

As Sheriff Watkins lowered Zane’s eyelids, the man who’d driven Ryker and Stryde to the farm stepped out from behind the side of the house.

The sheriff motioned for him to come closer. “Hank, dispatch called me after you called the station. What do you know about this?”

Hank scowled. “They are werewolves. I’ve seen ‘em change with my own eyes. I don’t know anything else but what I seen.”

The sheriff turned his gaze on Luna. The look he gave her seemed more than just friendly.

His tone softened. “Luna, what do you think? Are these dangerous creatures like Zane claims?”

Her sister shifted uncomfortably and looked at her. Diana pleaded with her eyes. Please don’t say anything to make the sheriff want to kill the wolves.

Luna nodded stiffly. “The werewolves seem harmless to us. But I don’t think they should be allowed in town.”

Diana groaned. Couldn’t her sister stick to the facts and keep her opinions to herself for once?

A deputy rounded the corner with his gun drawn. The sheriff motioned to Zane and the deputy holstered his weapon. “Get a bus down here. Zane’s dead.”

Relief flooded Diana. The nightmare was finally over.

“Thank you for believing us.” Diana wanted to leave before the sheriff could arrest Ryker.

The sheriff held up a hand. “Hang on, Diana. Hank claims your friend’s a werewolf. I find it hard to believe, but if it’s true, I can’t have dangerous animals roaming the woods attacking humans. When I left the office, I had a whole lobby full of men saying werewolves attacked them and rounded them up. I thought they were playing a joke on me.”

“We don’t attack humans,” Ryker said. “Those men were trying to kill my family. I had every right to defend my territory.”

“Territory? You really do think you’re a werewolf.”

Ryker snorted. “I’ll prove it to you.”

“No.” Diana pulled Ryker to the side and whispered. “Just tell him you made it up. Who knows what they’ll do if they find out the truth.”

“What could they do that they haven’t already done? Maybe we can come to some sort of agreement if I prove to them that werewolves exist and that we’re not dangerous unless provoked.”

The sheriff said, “If werewolves actually exist, I don’t want them in my town. I don’t want any deaths on my watch and I don’t want werewolves roaming my streets.”

Diana pleaded with her eyes, but Ryker ignored her and shifted.

The sheriff’s hand flicked against the butt of his gun. His jaw dropped. “I’ll be damned.”

As Diana pet Ryker’s thick coat of fur, he nuzzled her hand with his cold nose. Luna snorted in disgust. Diana ignored her.

“That’s all the proof I need. Don’t ever step foot in my town. If I catch you there, I’ll shoot to kill.”

“He can’t talk when he’s in wolf form,” Diana snapped.

“Too bad, that would be a hell of a thing to see.” The sheriff continued to stare at Ryker.

Ryker shifted back to his human form. “You’re not afraid?”

“When I was in the Army, I saw things you wouldn’t believe. I’ll believe anything that someone can prove to me. What you just did, that’s proof enough for me.”

“So now what?” Diana asked.

“I think I made myself very clear. Werewolves are not welcome in my town.”

Ryker eyed him warily. “We don’t want to be in your town, but we also don’t want you roaming around the woods hunting us.”

“I don’t negotiate when my town’s safety is at risk. But I don’t want a war between humans and werewolves. I’d like to come see where you live. You said there are others like you?”

“Three packs in this area. I could call a council meeting and we could discuss ways we can all live together. I think we both want peace. Maybe we can come to an arrangement,” Ryker said.

The sheriff rubbed his jaw reflectively. “You have council meetings? Interesting. If you’re as organized as you say you are, we might be able to come to an agreement. When can you get the council together?”

“Give me a few days. I’ll go into town to let you know when we’re meeting.”

The sheriff shook his head. “No. I’ll give you two weeks from today and I choose the meeting place.”

Ryker’s jaw clenched. “Agreed. But keep your people out of the woods until we meet.”

“I’ll do what I can.” The sheriff tipped his hat and walked away.

 

Chapter 18

 

Diana watched the EMTs zip Zane’s body into a black bag. She took a deep breath and let it whoosh out through her teeth. She couldn’t wait to get home to take a hot bath and sleep in her own bed. Luna stood on the sidewalk watching her with suspicious eyes.

Ryker gave Diana an awkward smile. “So I guess you’re headed home?”

“Yes, home.” As soon as she said it, Diana realized she didn’t know where home was anymore. She immediately thought of Ryker’s room in the den. In the time she’d spent with him, his room had become home for her. But it wasn’t really her home. She needed to remember that up until a few days ago, she lived in town, alone.

“Can I walk you home?” Ryker asked.

“Sure.”

When they reached her small cottage-style house, Ryker pulled her into his arms. She buried her face in the crook of his neck to avoid the look of disapproval on her sister’s face. Even though she needed time away, she never wanted to leave his side again.

There was so much she wanted to ask, so much she wanted to say. But she couldn’t forget her sister’s accusation that she only cared about Ryker because she’d depended on him for her safety. Now that she didn’t depend on him, could she walk away? Maybe in a few days, the feeling she had for him would fade.

Ryker spread damp kisses across her face and cheeks. “I never should have left you.”

“You didn’t know.”

“I’m so sorry. I swear I’ll never leave you again.”

His lips found hers but she pulled back slightly. She wanted to believe what they shared was something magical, something real and good, but how could she know for certain until she spent some time away from him?

As if sensing her change in mood, he asked, “What’s wrong?”

Diana stepped out of his embrace. She needed time to figure out if what she felt for him was real. Maybe her sister was right and she’d only fallen for him because of the extraordinary circumstances.

She gave him a weak smile. “I’m just… really tired. I need to get some rest.”

Luna stepped in. “It’s time to say your goodbyes.”

Ryker shot her a look. “Can we have a minute?”

Diana sighed as Luna walked away. She hated the hostility in her sister’s tone.

“I’m sorry, she’s just really protective.”

Ryker searched her face. “I don’t want to say goodbye. Come back with me. Come back to the den.”

She looked away. “I need some time to figure things out.”

“What things? You know there’s something between us. I’ve never felt so…”

“So what?” She leaned forward, hoping he’d say the words she needed to hear.

“Never mind, I just thought you’d want to come back with me.”

Diana sighed. “Go home, Ryker. Go back to where you belong.”

Ryker hung his head as he backed into the forest. He watched her from the tree line for a moment before shifting and leaving.

Exhaustion pulled on every muscle in her body. She didn’t want to deal with Luna’s inevitable interrogation.

“I’m tired. I need to sleep.”

Luna balked. “I’m glad you got rid of him. I think we need to talk about what happened. I don’t want you wandering off into the forest in search of that werewolf. That’s not the kind of man you get married to and have children with. Zane may have been totally insane, but he was right about one thing. Werewolves are unnatural creatures. Stay away from him and you’ll forget this whole ordeal in no time.”

“Why do you hate him so much? He saved my life. If he hadn’t stopped Zane from attacking me in the woods, I’d be dead right now.”

Luna grabbed both of her sister’s hands. “What kind of future do you really think you can have with him? What about the big wedding you always wanted? Or kids? Who knows if you can even have kids with a werewolf? And if you did, you’d be shunned by the entire town. No one would accept your children. They’d be bullied and ridiculed their entire lives.”

“He saved me twice. He cared for me and made sure I was safe and comfortable the entire time I was in his den. I love him and I know he loves me too.”

Luna dropped her hands to her sides. “Has he told you he loves you?”

Diana shifted uncomfortably. “Not exactly.”

Luna smirked. “You might want to get that figured out before you set up house in his damp, bug-infested cave. He might not even want you to live with him. I can’t imagine the other werewolves like having a human around.”

Diana frowned. “I’m sure he can convince the others to let me live with him.”

“You’re clutching at straws. You can’t honestly tell me you’re going to give up all the comforts of modern life, watching television, going to the movies, telephone calls with me, microwave mac and cheese? And coffee? Really? You’re going to trade that all for him?”

Diana didn’t care about those things. Luna didn’t understand that the magic of the forest made city life pale in comparison.

The soothing sound of the wind as it whispered through the trees, the gurgle of water cascading over river rocks, the hoot of the owl at midnight, and the scent of fresh, clean air did more than soothe her frayed nerves, they awakened a spark of magic in her soul.

Diana didn’t feel like arguing. “I’m tired and need a good night’s sleep.”

“I’ll come and check on you in the morning.”

Diana stepped into her house and closed the door. She sagged against the wall. The anxiety and stress of the last few days finally caught up with her.

She took a long, hot bath filled with lavender-scented bubbles. The warm water relaxed her aching muscles. As the water cooled, she ran through every moment she spent with Ryker. Every touch, every kiss, every time he’d taken her to his bed replayed in vivid color. What they’d shared felt so real, so right. Her sister meant well, but Diana couldn’t help but think she was completely off-base.

She reluctantly left the bath, toweled off, and then climbed into bed. Wrapped in silence, she missed the sounds of the raging river and the wind through the trees. But most of all, she missed the way Ryker wrapped his arms around her and held her close.

 

***

 

Ryker flinched. He’d never expected her to reject him. Then he realized why. She probably hated him now. He never should have left her. What kind of a protector was he? He’d failed to protect Trista, Leah, and now Diana. No wonder she’d turned away from him.

Ryker took the longest route to the den. He couldn’t imagine going back without her, but maybe after she rested she’d change her mind.

As he approached the den, he spotted Stryde standing at the edge of a clearing. Great, the last think he wanted to do was talk to him. Anger still simmered in Ryker’s gut. How could Stryde have hidden such a huge secret about Trista’s killer from him all these years?

Stryde shifted from one foot to the other, then lowered his gaze to the ground in a display of submission. “I want to clear the air.”

“Now’s not a good time.”

Stryde held out Trista’s rumpled dress. “I went to your den and asked Trent to bring it out.”

Ryker snatched the dress. “What the hell gives you the right to go to my den and ask for my property?”

Stryde’s shoulders slumped. “I made a huge mistake not telling you about the dress. I thought I was helping, but I…”

“You were wrong. I lost Diana because of you,” Ryker blurted.

“What are you talking about?”

“She thinks I can’t protect her. None of this would have happened if you hadn’t stolen this dress years ago.”

“Did she tell you that?” Stryde asked.

“No, but she didn’t have to. Why else would she leave? If I had been a better protector, she would have stayed.”

Stryde shook his head. “I doubt that’s why she left you. She knows humans aren’t welcome in the pack. Maybe you should break another rule and bring her home. I saw the way she looked at you. She loves you. Don’t be stupid. Don’t let her get away the way I let Leah get away.”

“Did you bury her?” Ryker asked.

“I made a tomb on the mountain in a place where no one can disturb her. I didn’t want some stray to dig her up.” Stryde’s shoulders slumped forward.

For a moment, Ryker felt the other wolf’s pain as if it were his own. Stryde had made a bad choice years ago, but before Trista died they’d been like brothers.

Ryker didn’t want to hold onto the past anymore. He stepped forward and clasped Stryde’s shoulder. “I forgive you.”

Stryde looked up at him. “I swear I won’t keep secrets from you ever again.”

Ryker embraced him, then slapped him on the back. “Let’s move on. I miss our old hunting trips.”

“And fishing in Silver Creek.” Stryde grinned.

Ryker smiled as he remembered watching Diana swimming in the river the first day after he’d brought her to the den. He still had a chance to win her heart. He just had to stop being such a coward and go to her.

Stryde glanced at the dress. “Bury the past. You only get so many chances before fate twists you into a new path. Don’t miss this chance with Diana.”

As Ryker watched Stryde’s retreating form, he held Trista’s dress against his chest. He’d always remember her, but Stryde was right.

Ryker shifted to his wolf form and clawed at the ground. He dug deeper and deeper into the cold earth until he couldn’t see over the edge of the small pit. He jumped out and took Trista’s dress in his teeth. He dropped it into the hole and kicked dirt onto it. As each clump of earth hit the ground, the heaviness in his heart lifted.

With the dirt back in place, he picked some branches up with his mouth and dropped them to hide the uneven earth. Covered in dirt, he hurried to the river. He wanted to be clean when he returned to her house.

 

Chapter 19

 

The creepy sense of being watched woke Diana. Startled, she glanced around her dark bedroom. She’d fallen asleep late in the afternoon, but must have been out for hours. Night had fallen and darkness pressed against the windows.

As her eyes slowly adjusted to the gloom, she spotted a naked man standing at the foot of her bed. She opened her mouth to scream.

“It’s me,” Ryker whispered.

“You almost gave me a heart attack. What are you doing here in the middle of the night?” She dragged the covers up to her neck.

He ran a trembling hand through his hair. “I just came to talk to you.”

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to see you, but couldn’t you wait until morning?”

He perched on the edge of the bed. “I couldn’t wait. I needed to see you because I need to tell you… I don’t know how to say this.”

Her breath caught in her chest. “Whatever it is, just say it.”

Ryker fidgeted on the bed. “When I met you, I never thought I’d care about anyone the way I cared about Trista. But something about you stole my heart. From the minute I met you, I couldn’t breathe without knowing you were safe. When Zane kidnapped you, I almost went out of my mind trying to find you. If he’d killed you… if you’d have died, I never would have forgiven myself.”

Diana clasped his hand. “I didn’t die. I’m right here.”

Ryker smiled at her in a way that melted her heart. “I love you. I’ve loved you from the moment I met you and I know now that I can’t live without you.”

Diana’s pulse raced. “But the other wolves, they won’t let me live with you.”

“I don’t care what they say. If they can’t accept you, I’ll leave the pack. As long as I have you, nothing else matters.”

“You can’t leave your family for me.”

He rubbed the back of her hand with his thumb. “I want to stay pack alpha, but I can’t protect a pack who doesn’t respect my mate.”

“Is that what I am? Your mate?”

“If you’ll have me.” The yearning in his eyes made any last thread of hesitation unravel.

“I love you and I want to be your mate.”

As she leaned forward, her tongue flicked out to wet her bottom lip. His kiss started out soft and tentative at first, but as she moved into his arms, he grew bold. His hands roamed the hills and valleys of her voluptuous body.

As he lowered her against the pillows he murmured, “I love every inch of you.”

She closed her hand around the rigid length of him. “I love every inch of you, too.”

His throaty laughter vibrated against her neck. She laced her fingers in his hair and dragged his face to hers.

He pulled back slightly. “Let’s go slow. I want to kiss you everywhere.”

She sighed as his lips left a trail of fire across her collarbone. He kissed and licked and nipped at the swell of her breasts. As he slid lower, heat coiled in her soft belly. She almost couldn’t believe someone as irresistibly sexy as Ryker wanted her. But then she realized she deserved him. She’d waited her whole life to find someone to treasure her and she’d finally found him.

His wickedly skillful tongue traveled to the deep V between her quivering hips. When he kissed her, she groaned. She was the luckiest woman in the world.

His hands molded to her breasts then slid to hold her hips. She writhed against him, meeting his lips then retreating. The exquisite pleasure seemed to last forever until he did something that sent her spiraling over the edge. She exploded in a shuddering orgasm that stole her breath.

She pushed him onto his back. “Relax, it’s my turn now.”

Even though they’d only been lovers a few times, she knew the exact spot to kiss just behind his right ear to make him moan. She wrapped her hand around him and stroked lightly. She teased him with a fast tempo followed by a slow, leisurely pace.

She smiled down at him and his face lit up with joy. So she had no warning when he flipped her onto her back and climbed over her.

He pressed hungry kisses against her mouth as he entered her hot, moist center. She pressed against him and drew him in. Each gentle thrust brought her closer to another release. She raked her nails down his back and he arched deeper.

He pulled her tightly against his chest. Slick sweat dampened their skin. He glided across her while murmuring unintelligible words in her ear.

She wanted their lovemaking to last forever, but as she gazed into his eyes, she knew he was close. The tingling in her body spread until she became a mass of sensation.

As the first tender spasm racked her body, he cried out. Warmth filled her as he spilled into her over and over. As her own sweet release came to a shuddering end, she kissed him. He responded by drawing her even closer.

A minute passed before he pulled back and rolled over to lie next to her. He turned and propped himself up on one arm. Satisfaction washed over his face.

He brushed a wisp of hair from her face and whispered, “I’ll find a way for the den to accept you.”

 

***

 

The next morning, Diana slid out from beneath Ryker’s arm. She tiptoed into the living room and looked around. As soon as she knew for sure she could live with Ryker, she’d sell the house.

She picked up the silver-framed picture of her parents. She wished they’d lived long enough to know that she’d finally found a man worth giving her heart to.

She padded into the kitchen. A tin of French roast coffee sat on the counter next to her beloved espresso machine. She sighed. Her sister was right about one thing, she’d miss her daily cup of morning coffee.

As she scooped the coffee into the filter, she decided there was no reason why she couldn’t enjoy a cup now and then at the den. She’d just have to research how cowboys made it before modern day appliances existed.

With the coffee percolating, she went to the refrigerator and took out eggs and bacon. God she’d miss bacon. Maybe they could catch a wild pig. She giggled. Anything seemed possible now that she knew Ryker loved her.

She cracked the eggs into a skillet, and then added the bacon. Her mouth watered as she realized this might be one of the last times she’d cook breakfast like this.

Ryker padded into the kitchen and wrapped an arm around her. “I missed you.”

She turned and kissed him. “I was just thinking, we need to make a few improvements to the den.”

He laughed. “You haven’t even moved in yet.”

She pointed the spatula at him. “But I can still make plans.”

“I suppose.” He sniffed the air. “That smells amazing.”

“So plan number one, find a pig.”

“A pig?” He raised a brow.

She scraped the eggs and bacon onto two plates then took them to the table. “Yes, because I’ll miss bacon.”

“Anything else you’ll miss?”

She poured two cups of coffee then handed him one. “Coffee, but I got that covered. It might not be as magical as this, but I’ll figure it out.”

Ryker bit into a piece of bacon. “Mmm, good.”

His face lit up like a kid at Christmas. She didn’t doubt they’d have a few sows penned up before winter.

“You make it seem like it’s easy for you to leave,” he said while he watched her over the edge of his cup.

“It’s going to be weird selling all my things. I also have to go to school to let them know I won’t be finishing out the semester. But as long as we’re together, it will be worth it.”

“What about your sister?”

Diana sighed. “She doesn’t understand why I want to move in with a werewolf. We’re two totally different people and sometimes I wonder if we even came from the same parents.”

“She’s just worried about you.”

“Once I get settled, maybe I can invite her to see that you’re not a pack of rabid animals.”

Ryker stopped eating. “I just hope I can convince the pack to let you stay. There are some members who will argue against allowing you in.”

“Like Clyde?”

Ryker nodded. “After Zane killed his son, he blamed you. It’s totally misplaced anger, but I still have to find a way to make him see that I can’t continue to be their alpha if they won’t welcome you to the pack.”

 

***

 

Ryker approached the den with trepidation. Even with Diana at his side, he had no idea how he could persuade the wolves to allow her to stay.

As he entered the den, he grabbed Diana’s hand. “It might take a while to convince them. Do you want to go to my room while I talk to them?”

Diana squeezed his hand. “Whatever you’re more comfortable with. You know them better than I do, so if you think they are more likely to listen to you without my presence, then I’ll wait in your room. But if you want me there for support, I’ll stay.”

Ryker stopped and wrapped his arms around her. “You’re such an amazing woman. How did I get this lucky?”

“We deserve each other. As much as I hate what Zane did, if he hadn’t attacked me, I never would have found you. It’s funny how fate works.”

He bent to kiss her. She responded by throwing her hands around his neck and pulling him close. The sweetness of her scent tempted him to bypass the debate he needed to have with the members of his den and take her straight to bed. But he needed to ensure she’d be welcomed as his mate.

“What is she doing here?” Clyde asked in a harsh tone.

Ryker quickly drew back. “I’m taking her to my room and then I’m calling a den meeting to discuss her permanent residence.”

Clyde’s mouth turned down. “Humans are not welcome in our den. It’s rule number one and just because you chose to violate it once doesn’t mean you can continue to violate it.”

Diana spoke up. “Sometimes laws need to be changed. Things change in the world, and laws need to be updated to accommodate those changes. It happens all the time in the human world.”

“This isn’t the human world and you don’t belong here.” Clyde glared at her.

Ryker stepped between them. “We’re not going to solve this right now and this is a den matter that doesn’t involve her.”

“This has everything to do with her. If we make an exception, it will be for all humans, not just one.”

“Not necessarily. Gather the pack in the main room. I’ll be there shortly and we can discuss this matter as a group,” Ryker said.

Clyde grumbled, “I don’t take orders from you. This isn’t a dictatorship.”

“Which is precisely why I’m calling a meeting for all members of the den. Please gather the group. This isn’t an order, it’s a request.”

“Fine.” Clyde stomped off in the direction of the den’s main room.

Ryker ran a hand through his hair. Damned stubborn man. How could he convince him to let Diana stay with him?

He turned to Diana. “Do you remember the way to my room?”

“Yes.” She placed her open palm on his chest. “You can do this Ryker.”

His heart warmed. To have someone believe in him again made all the sadness and anger from the past disappear. He’d made some terrible judgment errors in the past, like underestimating Zane and getting three members of his pack killed, but he couldn’t dwell on the past. With Diana at his side, he looked forward to a future filled with love.

He watched Diana disappear around the corner. He sucked in a deep breath, then let it out through his nostrils. Fighting Zane was nothing compared to the fight he was prepared to wage to keep her by his side.

 

Chapter 20

 

Diana stared down the tunnel into the hazy light. A slight figure stood outside Ryker’s room. As she drew closer, Diana recognized Gwen.

“Is it true? Is Zane dead?” Gwen asked.

“Yes, he’s dead.”

Relief flooded the young woman’s face. “I haven’t felt safe since he attacked me. Maybe now I’ll be able to sleep at night.”

Diana hugged her. “We’re all safe now that he’s gone.”

“Are you staying in the den?” Gwen asked.

Diana chewed the inside of her lip. “I don’t know. Ryker’s called a meeting in the great room to try to convince the pack to let me stay.”

“I don’t see why they wouldn’t let you.”

“What about the rule?”

“Ryker created that rule years ago in a moment of grief. I think he was trying to protect his heart after Trista died. Maybe he doesn’t have to protect it anymore. I see the way you two look at each other. Are you in love?”

A smile stretched across Diana’s face. “We’re in love. I just wish wolves married. I always wanted a big wedding.”

Gwen laughed. Diana hadn’t ever seen her even crack a smile before, so to see her laughing filled Diana with gratitude. She was glad the man that had caused so many members of the pack so much pain was dead.

Gwen said, “We don’t get married in the traditional sense, but we do a life-mate ceremony. It’s rare for a wolf to declare one life-mate, but it happens from time to time. A few years ago at Phantom Lake, Lonato, from our pack, and Doli, from their pack, were married. The celebration was attended by all the wolves from the three packs in the area. Well, everyone except Stryde. Anyway, we don’t get together very often, but when we do, it’s for one of three things: a life-mate ceremony, a funeral, or a council meeting.”

“There’s so much I still don’t know about your pack.”

Gwen smiled. “If Ryker takes you as his life-mate, you’ll have the rest of your life to learn about us.”

Diana hoped Ryker could convince the pack to let her stay. She couldn’t imagine life without him. She’d waited so long and dated so many jerks. To finally find someone and then to lose him would rip her heart apart.

Gwen gave Diana’s shoulder a squeeze. “I’m sure Ryker will be able to convince them. Don’t be so worried.”

“Maybe you could go to the meeting, just in case he needs another voice on his side,” Diana suggested.

Gwen stilled and her gazed dropped to the floor. “I don’t know. I still get really anxious and large groups make things worse. I’d rather be alone most of the time. I don’t know if I could handle the group.”

“I know you’ve been through a lot, but you can’t stay scared forever.”

Gwen raised her head and met Diana’s encouraging smile. “You’re right. But can you come with me?”

“I don’t know. I think Ryker would prefer it if I stayed out of sight while he talks to the pack.”

“We can stay in the tunnel. You can hear everything and not be seen,” Gwen said.

“All right, as long as we’re not seen, I think it will be okay.”

Diana followed Gwen down the tunnel back toward the main part of the den. Gwen was right. Diana could hear everything happening in the great room as clearly as if she were standing in the center of it.

Ryker’s brisk tone echoed down the tunnel. “I made that rule years ago when things were different. There’s no reason why we can’t change it, or at least let Diana stay.”

An older female wolf said, “You can’t just change the rules on a whim, Ryker. What good are rules if they’re easily changed?”

“This isn’t a whim. Diana deserves to stay with the pack. We’ve become close and I want her here.”

A young male yelled, “I want delivery pizza, but I’m not getting what I want either.”

Some of the wolves snickered until Ryker silenced them. “Very funny, Bran.”

Diana recognized the next man’s voice. Clyde said, “Jokes aside, having that human here got my boy killed. It’s better if we stay separate from the humans. We’re two different kinds and we’re not meant to mix.”

As the crowd murmured their assent, Diana snuck closer to the opening to the great room.

Ryker sighed. “I’m sorry for your loss Clyde, but that wasn’t her fault.”

Trent spoke up. “He’s right. Diana was just trying to get home when Zane attacked us. She didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt. Heck, she even helped me with that damned toothache I’ve had for months. She seems like a nice person and Ryker vouches for her, so I think she should be allowed to stay.”

“I agree.” Akila stepped out of the crowd and made her way to the dais where Ryker stood.

“Why?” Clyde asked.

“She’s done nothing to hurt the group. She was running for her life when Ryker found her, and in time they got to know each other. The threat to our pack, Zane, is dead. I see no reason why we can’t allow a human into the pack.”

Some of the wolves murmured in agreement.

Akila continued, “And besides, we all know what Ryker went through when Trista was killed—”

“But that’s exactly my point,” Clyde interrupted.

Akila put her hands on her hips. “What point?”

“Humans are weak. She’d only slow us down and cause problems. Ryker would be too busy protecting her and not doing his duty. An alpha protects the pack above all else. She’ll just distract him and put us all in danger.”

Trent said, “I disagree. Ryker will be an even better protector with her at his side. He’ll have more to protect.”

Akila’s strong voice carried across the room. “Is she your life-mate?”

The bickering wolves stopped yipping. Diana swore she could have heard a pin drop as everyone in the room waited for his answer.

Ryker responded instantly. “Yes. She’s my life-mate and I intend to marry her.”

“Does she know this?” Akila asked.

Diana stepped into the room. “I do now and I love him too. I want to stay in the den and be his life-mate. I know some of you are afraid to have a human in the den, but I swear to you, I will do everything in my power to make sure I don’t put anyone in jeopardy.”

A thick silence coated the room. To break the tension, she used a joking tone to say, “I don’t usually have serial killers chasing me with silver bullets in their guns.”

The younger wolves laughed while the older wolves whispered amongst themselves.

“We should vote,” Clyde said.

Ryker nodded slowly. “I agree. Everyone in favor of allowing humans into the den, raise your hand.”

Diana studied the ratio of raised to unraised hands. About seventy percent of the pack was in favor of allowing her to stay.

“Who opposes it?” Ryker asked.

A few hands slowly inched up.

Akila frowned. “I know everyone didn’t vote. We’re not leaving this room until it’s unanimous. What if we compromise? What if every time someone wants to bring a human into the den, we have to hold a vote? If we aren’t unanimous in our agreement, the human won’t be allowed to stay?”

Gwen shuffled into the room. Until now, she’d been hiding in the tunnel. She raised her head slowly and looked around the room. Her gaze stopped on each wolf.

Finally, she spoke. “Diana saved my life and I think she saved Ryker too. I never told anyone what happened to me when Zane attacked me, and it doesn’t really matter now that he’s dead. But I never thought I’d want to live again, until now. Diana brings me hope. She should bring all of us hope that the darkness we had to fight is behind us. I want her to stay. I need her to stay because even though I haven’t known her very long, I consider her part of our pack.

“Clyde, I know you’re directing your grief at her. You blame her for Jax’s death, but that was Zane’s fault, not Diana’s. Your misplaced blame is going to cost Ryker his life-mate. Do you really want that? Do you want to destroy another man’s happiness because of your grief?”

Clyde shuffled his feet. “No.”

Gwen said, “Then accept Diana. Even if you don’t want any other humans in the den, accept her. She’s given us more than she’s taken away.”

“But my son…” Clyde’s voice cracked.

Ryker stepped down from the dais and put his hand on Clyde’s shoulder. “If I could do anything to bring him back, I would. I’d give anything to have him back, but we can’t change the past.”

Clyde sniffed and wiped moisture from his eyes. “I’ll agree, but only for Diana. I don’t want any other humans coming into the den.”

Akila approached him. “Can you also agree that we vote anytime someone else wants to bring a human into the den?”

Clyde glanced at the other wolves. “As long as everyone agrees, I can go along with it.”

Diana pressed a hand to her stomach. A thousand tingles of happiness sparked in her belly. She beamed as Ryker approached her. The love reflected in his eyes was more than she ever hoped for.

Akila clapped her hands together. “Then let’s revote. All in favor of making Diana a member of the pack raise your hands.”

Every hand shot up except for Clyde’s. As he slowly raised his hand, Diana breathed a sigh of relief.

Ryker dropped to one knee in front of Diana. “I’ve loved you since the moment I met you and I can’t imagine my life without you. I don’t have all the trappings of modern life to give you, but I can give you my heart. Will you join me as my life-mate?”

“Yes.” She threw herself into Ryker’s arms and laughed as he spun her around.

The pack clapped and yelled in approval.

The celebration came to an abrupt halt when the wolf who’d been standing guard announced, “There are humans outside, and they have guns. One of them claims to be the sheriff of Full Moon Bay.”

 

Chapter 21

 

Ryker jumped to his feet. “Clyde, grab a group of wolves and follow me. Diana, go to my room and wait for me.”

“No, I’m staying with you.” Diana insisted.

His jaw clenched. “Fine, but stay behind me until we figure out what they want.”

Ryker stalked to the front of the den. Ten humans dressed in nearly identical uniforms formed a semi-circle at the entrance. Diana’s sister Luna stood behind the group.

Ryker recognized Sheriff Watkins with a nod. “I thought we’d agreed to wait to talk until we could call a council meeting.”

The sheriff hooked his thumbs in his gun belt. “I changed my mind. I think it will be best for everyone if you and your pack stay out of my town.”

Ryker narrowed his eyes. “And what about keeping your people out of my woods?”

“I can’t ask the townsfolk to stay out of the woods. They’re hunters and entitled to kill anything they want here,” Watkins said.

“So men can run into the woods with guns and shoot up the place and there’s nothing we can do about it?” Diana asked.

“It’s their God-given right to own guns,” Watkins said. “Who am I to stop a man from hunting animals? We don’t have licensing restrictions like they do in other towns.

Diana glared at the sheriff. “I thought you wanted peace. Are you telling me that those men aren’t going to get in trouble for trying to kill us?”

“They weren’t shooting at you,” the sheriff said. “They were shooting at animals.”

“We do want peace, but wolves and humans shouldn’t mix,” Luna said. “It’s not right. It’s time for you to come home, Diana.”

Diana looped an arm around Ryker’s waist. The possessiveness of her claim to him made his heart soar.

“I am home. Ryker and I are getting married.”

“That’s insane. You’re going to marry a wolf and be his breeder? What do you think he really wants you for? A warm bed and a woman to bear his children.”

Ryker snarled. “Why are you so narrow-minded? Diana and I are in love. Why can’t you accept that?”

Luna ignored him and appealed to her sister. “Come home with me now and we can forget all of this nonsense. There are plenty of good men who’d love to marry you. You don’t have to settle for a beast.”

Diana shook her head. “I pity you, Luna. You’ve always claimed to want the best for me, and now that I have someone to love, you want me to leave him. How can you ask me to abandon the man I love?”

“He’s got you brainwashed. You need a shrink and time away to get your brain back on straight.”

Diana said, “No. I’m exactly where I belong. If you can’t accept that, then I’m sorry.”

“If you don’t leave right now, you’re dead to me. I won’t have a sister married to an animal,” Luna yelled.

Diana’s tone came out low and controlled. “I’m sorry you’re making me choose, but I choose Ryker. If you ever change your mind, you know where to find me. And as for you, Sheriff, you should be ashamed of yourself. You’re supposed to uphold the law. The pack might not be fully human, but they should be protected by the same laws as humans.”

The sheriff grimaced. “I can’t force everyone to stay out of the woods. Some of the younger men have a vendetta against the wolves. It would be impossible for me to send men to patrol the woods in addition to patrolling town.”

“You can’t force them,” Ryker said, “but maybe you can pass a law that makes it illegal to hunt wolves.”

“It would take a two-thirds majority vote. I don’t know if I could convince enough people.”

“If you want peace, you’ll find a way to convince them,” Diana said.

The sheriff nodded. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Ryker stepped forward and offered his hand. “I think we can work together to maintain peace between our people.”

The sheriff shook his hand. “We’ll see. And one more thing, thank you for saving Luna, she means a great deal to me.”

Ryker wrapped an arm around Diana. “Have a safe trip back.”

He touched the brim of his hat. “Good luck to you.”

Luna cast one last disappointed look at her sister before looping her arm through the sheriff’s and walking away.

 

***

 

It hurt to watch Luna turn her back on her, but Diana wouldn’t let it wreck her happiness.

Concern marked Ryker’s face. “Are you going to be all right?”

“As long as I have you.”

She stood on tiptoes and kissed her future mate. He returned her kiss with unbridled passion and soon swept her into his arms and carried her over the threshold into the den.

In his room, he carefully laid her on the bed. “I’ll never be able to get enough of you.”

Diana chuckled. “Well don’t give up trying.”

With a mischievous grin, he said, “I don’t intend to.”

He slid onto the bed and pulled her on top of him. His hands cupped her butt then slid to tease the backs of her thighs.

Diana tried to shift her weight off of him, but he held her tightly against him. “I love the feel of you on top of me. I get to be lazy and let you do all the work.”

“All the work?” She arched a brow.

“Well, maybe only half the work.” He nibbled the curve of her neck.

She giggled and trailed her fingers across the fine hair on his chest. “I wouldn’t ever call this work.”

“Enough talking.”

He kissed the soft flesh between her breasts then gently licked the ultra-sensitive skin around her nipples. She shivered and pressed her chin against the top of his head. She couldn’t believe she’d get to spend the rest of her life with this man.

As he’d teased her nipples into taut peaks, she moaned. Intense pleasure radiated down every nerve ending in her spine.

She grabbed his hands and pinned them next to his shoulders. As she crawled down his body, she licked and nibbled the edges of his six-pack abs and brushed her lips across the edge of his pelvis.

“Don’t torture me,” he begged.

She licked the edge of his hardness then took him into her mouth. His earthy scent invaded her senses. He tasted like a wild summer thunderstorm. The way his back arched when he went rigid filled her with power. She had him exactly where she wanted him. The rapid rise and fall of his chest signaled a surge of his desire.

Damp need spiraled up to dissolve her control. She couldn’t wait a second longer. She climbed up and positioned herself over him.

He groaned as she slowly lowered herself onto him. The tight, perfect fit made her knees tremble. The inside of her thighs ached, but she couldn’t stop moving in perfect rhythm with him.

Love filled the room. Ready to burst, she gasped when he sat up slightly and pulled her legs behind him. She’d never sat in his lap like this before and the increased friction destroyed her.

The rush of her orgasm hit her so hard she had to cling to him to keep from falling off the dais. Through half-closed eyes, she watched as a triumphant smile spread across his face. She lurched forward as waves of release racked her body. She bit the edge of his shoulder and held on as he arched deep inside.

His moans became feral and dark. Intensity washed over his face as he made one final deep thrust. He buried his face in her hair and quivered through his release.

He held her like that until his breath slowed. She’d never felt more cherished in her life.

When he finally released her, she slid into the crook of his arm.

“That was amazing,” she whispered.

“It only gets better each time we’re together,” he murmured.

Content, she lay next to him for several minutes. The scent of their lovemaking hung in the air. She smiled and wondered if they’d make love again in the river. They sure as heck needed a bath.

Ryker rolled to face her. As he twirled a lock of her hair around his fingers, a serious expression knitted his brows together. “What do you think about kids?”

“What about them?” She held her breath.

He stammered. “Would you like to have them?”

“Yes.”

“With me?”

She grinned. “Of course. Why are you acting so strange?”

“I’m not acting strange. I just wondered…”

She propped her elbows on the bed and rested her head in her hands. “Why wouldn’t I want kids?”

“Some women don’t.”

“I want a child, but let me get through the first one and decide if I want more than one.”

The tension in his features eased. “I’ll give you as many children as you want, and if you only want one, that’s fine too.”

She leaned forward and kissed him, then lowered her ear to his heart. The thumping rhythm filled her with a sense of wonder. Together, they could make another person. They could create a child together. But the idea also scared her a little. Giving birth to a human child was hard enough; what would it be like to give birth to a half-human, half-werewolf?

“Would it hurt more, you know, because his father’s a werewolf?”

Ryker stroked her cheek. “Not any more than a human birth.”

“And the child would be a werewolf?”

“There’s a fifty-fifty chance. We won’t know until he or she is born.”

“What if we have a human? Could you love him the way you’d love a werewolf child?”

Ryker tilted her head up to look into her eyes. “If we created a child, I’d love him no matter how he came out.”

Diana took his hand and placed it on her belly. “He may already be in there.”

Ryker grinned wolfishly. “I think we should keep practicing until we’re sure.”

She shrieked as he pinned her to the bed. As she looked into his eyes, she knew she’d found her perfect mate and that they’d live a long and happy life together.

 

The End

 

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Don’t miss the other books in the series:

 

Secret Seduction (Wolf Pack Protectors, Book 1)

Feral Seduction (Wolf Pack Protectors, Book 2)

Deadly Seduction (Wolf Pack Protectors, Book 3)

 

 

Don’t miss the next book in the series:

 

Feral Seduction

(Wolf Pack Protectors, Book 2)

 

 

Forced to take refuge in an abandoned cabin in the middle of the woods, Brandy thinks she’s finally escaped her stalker. But she quickly realizes she’s not alone. An unimaginably sexy—and very naked—man appears in the middle of the night to offer her protection. She’s captivated by his stormy eyes, until she learns his dark secret. She knows she could never tame him, but when he makes the ultimate sacrifice for her, she knows she can’t live without him. The more he tries to resist her, the more she wants him and for once in her life, she intends to get what she wants.

 

Stryde, the reclusive alpha wolf of the Dark Moon Pack, doesn’t believe in love. Fate claimed the life of his mate and he refuses to spend more than a few nights with any woman. But when he meets Brandy, she turns his world inside out. Haunted by the failures of his past, he’s compelled to help her. Even though he wants to return to his reclusive life, he can’t. Her dangerously sexy curves and feral seduction awaken his body, but he can’t offer her more than a few nights of fleeting pleasure. There isn’t a woman in the world that can heal his shattered soul.

 

Excerpt

 

Hours passed. Pent-up lust ravaged her sense of control, but so far, she was winning the battle. Only a few hours to go and she’d be free.

A soft scrape of a footstep near the door drew her attention. “Stryde?”

Her ears pricked. On full alert, she scrambled to her feet and pressed her back to the wall. As she made her way toward the entrance, she cautiously avoided the moonlight. When she reached the line of light, she stopped. To be so close and not to touch it buckled her knees.

A gruff voice spoke. “Be careful.”

Stryde! She gripped the stone wall and growled, “What are you doing here? The moon’s still up.”

He stepped onto the ledge. Moonlight washed over his chiseled muscles. “I couldn’t stay away.”

She backed up a step. “I have it under control. You can’t be here right now.”

The thread of control she’d clung to all night frayed.

“Your scent, it’s irresistible.”

She matched each step he took forward with a retreating step. “You really shouldn’t be here.”

“I can’t stay away.” His voice, thick like honey, wrapped her in its sticky-sweet embrace.

“Don’t come any closer.”

She backed into the rear wall. A part of her resolved cracked, but she clung to the memory of his rejection. He only wanted her because she was in heat. This wasn’t about love; it was pure, unadulterated lust.

 

Buy Feral Seduction

You might also enjoy…

 

8 Panty-Melting Werewolves and BBW Witches:

A Short Story Holiday Paranormal Romance Collection

 

 

Description

 

A collection of eight scorching-hot paranormal romance short stories filled with panty-melting werewolves and the BBW witches they love. This paranormal romance collection includes: Werewolf Shifter Romance, Ménage Romance, and more!

 

The stories included in the collection:

 

1. Claimed by the Wolf Kings

2. Midsummer Night’s Alpha

3. Bewitching the Alpha

4. Fall of the Alpha

5. Enthralled by the Alpha

6. Midwinter Night’s Alpha

7. Tempting the Alphas

8. Rise of the Alpha

 

Excerpt from Claimed by the Wolf Kings

 

Kane stood behind her. His rock hard body brushed against her as he poured water down her back. “You have the hips and body of a Goddess. Women should be round and soft. And you… you’re absolutely what we’re looking for.”

Raff closed the distance between them and brushed a feather-light kiss across her mouth. She moaned as Kane used one finger to draw a line from the nape of her neck to the base of her spine. She pressed her breasts against Raff’s chest. Behind her, Kane moved closer.

Sandwiched between the men, she lost track of whose hands caressed her hips and whose lips burned a trail of kisses across the hollow of her throat.

Lost in an orgy of sensation, she closed her eyes and fell into their arms. She recognized Raff’s lips as they captured hers again. She returned the passionate kiss with fervor. As her lips parted to welcome his tongue, Kane slid his hand across the lowest part of her belly. She tensed.

Kane whispered. “Relax. Let us worship you.”

 

Buy 8 Panty-Melting Werewolves and BBW Witches: A Short Story Holiday Paranormal Romance Collection

 

 

A Note from Liv

 

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To find out more about me, please check out my website.

 

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Secret Seduction

When a tall, dark and dangerously sexy Alpha werewolf rescues Diana from a vicious attack, she doesn't know who to fear more - her attacker or the wolf. She's heard whispered legends of a powerful werewolf but never believed such a creature could exist. Captured by the wolf, she's taken to his den, and to his bed. Five years ago, a tragedy shattered Ryker's heart. As Alpha of the Silver Creek Pack, his duty to protect the pack compelled him to institute a new law - never bring a human to the den. But after saving Diana, he can't abandon the curvaceous woman alone in the woods, so he violates the law. He'll take her back to the town of Full Moon Bay as soon as night falls. But as the hours dwindle and his desire for her grows, a dark force builds a powerful weapon to use against the wolves. This is the first book in the paranormal romance series - Wolf Pack Protectors. This is a stand-alone book with no cliffhangers. Love scenes are fully realized and at times include explicit language.

  • ISBN: 9781370340255
  • Author: Phantom Monkey Productions
  • Published: 2016-11-07 10:52:22
  • Words: 47670
Secret Seduction Secret Seduction