An Alpha Pack Novel
Meet the Alpha Pack, a top-secret military team of wolf-shifters fighting the most dangerous predators in the world, human and nonhuman. After a massacre leaves Jaxon Law crippled, he must relearn how to fight-and battle the anger and guilt threatening to overwhelm him. But when Jax rescues a beautiful woman who awakens his primal instincts, he is unprepared for the dangers that lie ahead. Soon he must decide if the deep connection he feels with Kira is worth defying the ultimate shifter law...
Jaxon Law crouched behind a Dumpster at the rear of the old brick building, wishing he’d worn gloves to protect his hands. And not just because of the stinking garbage overflowing from the top to litter the pavement around him.
Gloves would have shielded him from the stain of the past, in the most literal sense. If he could stand wearing them, but he couldn’t. They were too hot, made his hands sweat.
Too bad, because there was a time and place to utilize his RetroCog gift and this wasn’t it. None of the Alpha Pack team, including himself, could afford a single distraction tonight. Something wasn’t right. A strange heaviness weighted the air, the sky an eerie yellow-green at midnight. A warning of wickedness. Of evil.
“We’ve got no business being here,” he muttered, eyes fixed on the building.
Beside him, Zander Cole gave a quiet huff in the darkness. “Tell that to Terry. He thinks we’re indestructible fucking superheroes—or at least he’s convinced he is.”
His best friend paused and Jaxon glanced over to see those strange onyx eyes glittering, body tense. “Got any vibes?”
“I’m just a Healer, man, remember? The only woo-woo shit I’m getting is the common sense let’s get the fuck out of here kind.”
Zan was much more than “just a Healer,” but now wasn’t the time to argue the point. Every instinct Jax possessed, both human and wolf, was screaming at him to turn and run. Fast and far, no stopping until he’d put this godforsaken place—and the reality of what he’d become—far behind him. He wouldn’t, of course. Like his Pack brothers, he simply wasn’t made to do anything but stand and fight. Protect the unsuspecting world of humans from horrors they never dreamed could possibly exist.
Even at the cost of his own death, if necessary. But all his life he’d been protecting those who couldn’t defend themselves, so the prospect of dying didn’t bother him too much and it wasn’t what urged him to flee now. It was the inescapable fact that he’d graduated from battling human monsters to real ones, and the team rarely knew what type of slavering beast lurked behind door number three. It was the awful anticipation, and then the sinking in his gut when they encountered yet another deadly creature they had no idea how to defeat.
Sort of like playing Russian roulette with a loaded pistol.
Bullets, knives, and bombs were pretty straightforward—a soldier knows what to expect and who’s wielding them. Fangs, claws, and flesh-eating venom? Not so much. Those types of weapons sorta got left out of the manual.
But over the past five years, they’d learned, and fast. Do or die.
Ryon Hunter, the team’s Telepath and Channeler, pushed the order into their heads. Terry says go!
They converged on the building from all sides—Jax, Zan, Ryon, Terry, Aric, Micah, Jonas, Ari, and Phoenix, or Nix, as they called him. Soon they’d learn whether their source was accurate. If so, a human family was being held captive by a coven of vampires, used as food and slave labor. They were probably terrified out of their wits, running out of hope that help would arrive in time.
Sidling up to the wall, Jax wrapped a towel around his fist to muffle the sound of the window breaking. He cleared the jagged edges; then he and Zan entered through it, letting their eyes adjust to the gloom. They didn’t need flashlights—their animal halves saw perfectly well in the dark.
They listened, but there was no sound. The storage room they were standing in was dirty, piled with boxes and other junk. From the stale smell, nobody had used this place in a long while. The bad feeling between his shoulder blades increased.
“This isn’t right,” he whispered to Zan. “I don’t think there’s anyone here.”
“Let’s keep looking.”
He wanted to run. But if there was any chance innocent lives could be saved, they had to check every inch.
A few minutes later, the team met in the large, open area of the building. None of them had found a trace of anyone, living or otherwise. And in their business, “otherwise” didn’t necessarily mean dead—but perhaps worse than dead.
“There’s not a single fucking soul here,” Terry snapped. Their boss was pissed. “What a goddamned waste of time.”
“We need to leave,” Jax said, glancing around. “I’ve got a bad vibe.”
The boss snorted. “Yeah? Right, like there’s—”
A crack sounded and Terry made a soft noise, dark wetness blooming on his chest. His eyes widened in surprise, and then he crumpled to the dirty floor.
“Get down!” Jax yelled.
He and his friends dove for cover, but there was precious little to be found. Jax crawled toward a pile of palettes, but a searing pain in his back drove him to his stomach. The burn spread outward, encompassing his torso, his limbs. The heat fried his muscles, and then seemed to numb his entire body.
Silver. Oh, God.
“Silver! They’re using...” He tried to shout the warning, but as he rolled to his back, the words died in his throat. There was movement in the rafters of the building. Dozens of dark shapes taking flight.
The things swooped down, and he saw huge creatures. Leathery and black, with gaping jaws full of jagged teeth. Not demons or vampires. Not ghouls. Nothing he’d ever seen in the five years since they’d been dropped headfirst into Psycholand.
He tried to scramble backward, to shift into his wolf, but could do nothing but watch in horror as the things converged on his teammates. His best friends and brothers. Teeth ripped into flesh, the screams of the dying tearing out his heart.
A thud shook the floor and one of the beasts galloped to him on all fours, yellow eyes gleaming with malice, saliva dripping from its maw in a sticky stream to the floor. Jax’s pulse pounded in his throat, and terror froze him to the bone.
Then the beast grabbed his right leg in its huge mouth and clamped down, crushing bone and muscle. Jax’s scream joined his brothers’ as the thing shook him like a dog with a bone. He had to do something. Anything. He concentrated on his right hand. Just that. Sweat poured down his face as his fingernails shifted into claws.
Surging forward, he slit the beast’s throat. It fell backward, clutching its gullet in a futile attempt to stop the flow. And then fell dead, twitching.
All around him, his comrades were fighting a losing battle. Some of the beasts were dead, but not nearly enough of them. He had to help. Had to get to them.
Across the space, near the opposite wall, Aric sent balls of fire at the remaining beasts, helping to turn the tide, Jax hoped. But the fire was spreading, the boxes and palettes going up like the dry tinder they were.
First the beasts. Kill them, get his team out.
One of them had Zan pinned, ready to tear into his throat. Jax launched himself the few feet to them and barreled into the thing, taking him to the floor. This one met the same end as his first one, and Jax felt a small satisfaction.
“The others,” Zan croaked, coughing.
They looked around, and saw the remaining creatures were dead. Some must’ve flown, frightened off by the fire. Others had been dispatched by their friends.
Somehow, he and Zan dragged their teammates, one by one, from the hungry flames. Some weren’t moving. When Zan tried to use his healing powers to work on his mangled leg, Jax stopped him.
“I’ll be okay. Get the worst ones.”
Zan’s mouth tightened into a grim line, but he nodded and moved off. And proceeded to almost kill himself by doing the impossible.
He couldn’t save them all.
Jax drifted, wishing he were in Beryl’s arms. That all of this was over, or had never happened at all. He imagined being buried between her thighs, giving them what they both wanted. He could almost hear her laughter.
After a few moments, he realized the sound was real, not his imagination. He opened his eyes to see Beryl standing over him, a wicked smile on her lovely face. Except the cruelty transformed her face into something ugly, mocking.
“Beryl? My team, how are they?”
She laughed again. “Dead. How else?”
“What?” He stared at her, uncomprehending.
Crouching next to him, she ran a bloodred nail down his cheek. “Haven’t you figured it out? Terry’s contact was actually working for me.”
She wouldn’t have. The Beryl he knew was loving, fun. Insatiable.
“Why? Why did you do this?” Agony lanced his chest. The pain of betrayal and loss.
“Don’t you wish you knew? Someone really important has big plans, and that’s all you need to know. Thanks for the good times, lover.”
Agony became rage. Sitting up, he ignored the pain, pushed to his feet. Grabbed the front of her blouse and shook her. “Who are you working for? Tell me!”
“Fuck you,” she spat.
A red haze came down, obliterating all reason. Limping, half-dragging his injured leg, he pulled her toward the burning building. She’d murdered his team. The men he loved like brothers.
“Burn in hell, whore.”
With the last of his strength, he threw the traitorous bitch into the fire. Fell to his knees.
Her scream of outrage, promising vengeance, and the moans of his dying teammates chased him into the darkness.
Six months later...
Kira Locke had thirty seconds to lift the samples and get the hell out. Every second counted.
And then, technically, she’d be a thief. A criminal. The police wouldn’t know quite what to do with the items she’d stolen should she be caught, any more than she knew what to do with them if she wasn’t. Her brilliant plan had included getting them out of here, not where to go afterward. Or who to give them to. Who did she dare to trust when she offered little more than some dead tissue and a couple of wild accusations? Who would believe her?
A metallic scraping noise from somewhere down the hallway caused her to jump, her hands trembling so hard she nearly dropped the precious containers. Scratch that thirty seconds. Shit. Quickly, she checked the lids once more to make sure the formaldehyde didn’t leak out, and then slipped the small film-sized canisters into her purse.
There. Let’s see what Dr. Jekyll and the ghouls are up to.
The scraping sound came again, louder this time. Closer. The steady, heavy tread of boot heels on concrete, the systematic opening and closing of screeching metal doors announced that one of the night guards was making his rounds. Checking all of the labs and other rooms in this restricted area of her place of employment that she had no clearance to breach.
Make that former place of employment, if she got caught.
The footsteps came nearer, another door squealed open, and she silently cursed the bad luck that A.J. had called in sick tonight. The young guard would’ve covered for her, considering that he harbored the same suspicions Kira did about something being hidden in this place. Something terrible. Then again, it was probably good that her friend hadn’t known what she’d planned to do tonight because now he couldn’t be accused of helping her.
Heart in her throat, she considered her options—find a spot to hide and hope the guard moved on, or stroll nonchalantly from the room and try to fool him into thinking she had every right to be here. Play it cool, and then get lost.
A sinking feeling in her gut told her the second choice was out of the question, and that the cops were the least of her worries. Glancing around the lab, she zeroed in on the long worktable built on a solid base, the only object large enough to shield her from view. After switching off the light, she skirted the edge, moved to put the table between herself and the door, and crouched. Just in time.
The door swung open, the light flipping on again. The guard paused and she could picture him eyeing the area, trying to decide if anything appeared out of place. His boots scraped the floor as he moved inside a bit farther, and she huddled like a frightened rabbit in a hole, certain that any moment he’d decide to step around the table. Catch her there and call her boss, Dr. Gene Bowman. And if the pompous prick knew she was snooping, what was in her possession, and what she suspected...
Go away, please. Please. Her pulse hammered at the hollow of her throat and she was certain he could sense her fear. Smell it, sour and thick in the dank air.
Gradually, his steps retreated after he flipped the lights off again, and closed the door. Only when his tread faded down the corridor did she slump in relief, dragging a hand through her hair. Taking a few deep breaths, she stood, the temporary reprieve at an end. She still had to get out of the damned building unseen, though at almost midnight with nothing but a skeleton crew, the odds were slightly better.
Right. Keep telling yourself that.
Clutching her purse straps in a death grip, she eased toward the door. Turned the knob and slowly inched the weighty metal door open. A bit at a time, just enough to slip out and close it again. Her patience was rewarded with the tiniest squeak of hinges, but even that small noise sounded like a trumpet blast to her ears.
The corridor was clear. Of course it couldn’t be dimly lit with lots of inky shadows to hide in, like in the movies. The tunnel-like space was as brightly lit as a football field at halftime, and if the guard came back, she was toast. At least the lack of cover meant no one could sneak up on her, either.
Walking fast, she forced herself not to break into a run. Just a few more yards and—
She froze, heart thundering, eyes wide. “Jesus Christ,” she whispered.
Straining her ears, she listened. Nothing. The faint wail of despair might’ve been her imagination—the product of nerves and too little sleep. For a crazy second, she felt compelled to turn around and search for the source. To find out once and for all whether the spirit that constantly begged for help at all hours of the day and night was real, or if she was out of her mind.
A door opened at the end of the corridor and a burly guard stepped into view. “Hey! What’re you doing down here? I need to see some ID.”
Kira turned and ran, ignoring the man’s angry shout. Fast as her feet could carry her, scrambling to think of another way out, she hit the door at the far end and kept going. A service elevator loomed ahead, which she assumed was for deliveries, being located at the back of the building and away from the general staff.
And if it was for deliveries, it should open near the parking lot.
She punched the button, nearly frantic. The elevator doors slid open, but the guard wasn’t far behind. Leaping inside, she hit the button marked L—oh, God, let it mean “Loading Zone”—then the one to close the doors, slapping it repeatedly.
The fat guard rounded the corner, belly jiggling, face red, hand on the butt of his gun. “Stop!” He drew the weapon, kept coming, one pudgy hand reaching out to catch the doors.
Too late. He missed, ruddy mug disappearing from view, and the box lurched, started upward. According to the panel the ride was only one level, but it seemed an eternity. Right now, the guard was probably on his radio calling for backup to stop her from getting away with...whatever it was she had in her purse.
And if her suspicions were correct, and she was apprehended? Bye-bye Kira, never to be heard from again.
The elevator stopped, and she held her breath as the doors opened. Nothing but dark, empty space greeted her and she hurried out, scanning the large area. It did, in fact, appear to be some sort of loading area, or garage. A couple of vans emblazoned with the NewLife Technology logo sat empty on the far left. Those were pretty much the contents of the cavernous space, save for a few discarded boxes.
Across the way, there were two big bay doors wide enough for just about any kind of truck to pull through, and to the right of those, a regular door with a lit exit sign above it. She took off, not caring how much noise she made. She had to get the hell out of there and to her car, now.
She pushed outside, into the night, the heat of June in Las Vegas hitting her like a slap. The still-soaring temperature, however, was the least of her worries. As she ran around the corner of the building toward the main employee parking lot, shouts sounded from just ahead and to her right.
Two guards, including the burly one, burst from a different exit, clearly intending to cut her off. Her old Camry was just a few yards ahead, and she sprinted faster, fumbling with her key chain, pressing the button to unlock it. As she yanked open the driver’s door, a series of loud pops rang out, pelting the side of her car.
“Oh, God!” Jumping inside, she slammed the door, tossed her purse onto the other seat, shoved the key in the ignition, and fired it up.
She peeled out, fishtailed, then straightened the vehicle and sped toward the company’s entrance. A glance in the rearview mirror revealed that a couple of men in suits had joined the guards, who were waving their arms in agitation. The men broke off from the guards and jogged toward a dark sedan parked close to the building.
Kira turned her attention to the small guardhouse at the entrance, the orange-and-white-striped arms extending across both the in and out lanes. Normally, she’d stop and swipe her badge to raise the arm, but with two goons chasing her who were probably also armed and ready to shoot first, ask questions later? She’d skip the formalities.
Flooring the accelerator, she gripped the steering wheel tight and rammed through the barrier, cringing at the awful crunch of wood and metal. She risked another look to see the arm go flying, snapped like a toothpick. The dark sedan was now in hot pursuit.
And unshakable. Whatever the sleek model was the assholes were driving, it obviously had more juice than an ancient Camry held together by wire and duct tape. She was lucky it had crashed the gate and come through in one piece, and from the sound of the gears grinding and the engine wheezing, her dubious fortune wasn’t going to last much longer.
Correction: Her luck had run out weeks ago when she’d started hallucinating visions of a sexy dead guy—was that an oxymoron?—begging for help, and she’d actually listened.
Where in the hell could she go? The police station wasn’t far. She knew a couple of officers, one a detective. And she’d tell them, what? That she was in possession of stolen property and being shot at? That would turn away her pursuers for now, but she’d likely be arrested, the property returned to NewLife, and she’d have nothing to prove her claims. Such as they were.
So the police were out. Which left the airport. If she could just lose these pit bulls, she’d go there, buy a ticket to anywhere. Somewhere random, get a hotel room. Then she’d call a colleague who was a doctor specializing in genetics, arrange to meet him. With someone in the medical field on her side, she might have a chance at getting somewhere with proving what the docs at NewLife were up to.
Which would have been a great plan if the Camry hadn’t given up the ghost. The damned thing coughed, sputtered . . . and died.
“No!” Yanking the steering wheel, she guided the car off the side street and into a darkened parking lot. Coasting to a stop, she put the car in park and took in her surroundings.
She was one street off the Strip, behind one of the casinos and off the beaten path. And the bad guys had just screeched to a stop next to her car, on the driver’s side.
Both of them emerged from the sedan, the moonlight reflecting off the guns in their hands. They exchanged a look and then approached with slow, confident strides, wearing identical expressions of malicious triumph.
The man who’d been the passenger opened her door, grabbed her by the arm, and jerked her out, slamming her back against the side of her car.
“Seems you’ve been snooping where you don’t belong,” he sneered into her face. “The underground level is restricted for a reason. Why don’t you tell us what you hoped to discover down there? Or maybe you did find something you shouldn’t have.” He turned his head, called to his partner. “See what Sweet Cheeks has in her purse.”
Kira took advantage of his momentary distraction and brought her knee up hard between his spread legs, doing her best to relocate his balls. Letting out a hoarse cry, the man clutched his crotch and fell to his knees.
Kira took a deep breath, and released a scream loud enough to wake the dead.
“Did anyone ask Hammer if he wanted to ride along this trip?”
Jaxon Law studied Zander Cole’s profile as the dark-haired man guided the Mercedes SUV through heavy traffic on the Strip. True to his nature as a Healer, his best friend was always thinking of those who were broken—and how to fix them. Not that Hammer was necessarily broken; the big, quiet man was just...scary different. “I did. He said he wanted to go to bed early and read.”
From the back, Aric snorted. “Jesus. Is he going to do his knitting, too?”
Beside Aric, Ryon piped up. “Quilting.”
Jaxon craned his neck and eyed the pair, snickering at Aric’s puzzled expression. The big redhead was frowning at Ryon as though he’d uttered a foreign word.
“He doesn’t knit—he quilts,” Ryon said slowly, as though speaking to a three-year-old. “Says it calms him. He’s pretty good at it, too. You should see the detail in his designs—”
“Calms him?” Zan interrupted, brows lifting. “God, if he was any more laid-back he’d be dead.”
Jaxon put in his two cents. “I think what we see on the outside of that guy is a carefully controlled mask. Wouldn’t surprise me if he’s the most dangerous dude any of us know.”
On that point, he got no argument. Jaxon, Zander, Aric, and Ryon had been together since they were Navy SEALs—a promising career cut short years ago when their unit was attacked by rogue weres, more than half of them slaughtered and the rest, including the four of them, turned into wolf shifters. But Hammer, along with their new boss Nick Westfall, had only been with Alpha Pack for a few months. Those two were born shifters, a fact that had the team and the doctors and scientists at the Institute of Parapsychology completely fascinated.
Nick, a rare white wolf, had replaced the deceased Terry Noble and brought Hammer with him to the team when they both left the FBI, and Jax had to admit the newbies were working out pretty well. Nick was tough-as-nails, but fair, and knew how to laugh at himself when the situation called for it. Unlike Terry, he wasn’t above having a beer with the guys, and he sometimes joined them when their wolves needed to run and hunt. He had their backs, always.
Hammer was cut from the same cloth as Nick, though he was more of a mystery. The huge gray wolf preferred to keep to himself and remain ensconced with their leader at their compound deep in the Shoshone National Forest rather than make the trek to Vegas to blow off steam and get laid.
“Quilting,” Aric muttered with a short laugh. “Man, I’m gonna give him hell about this.”
Zan shook his head. “Probably not a good idea to harass a guy who can kill you with one blow from his fist. Ease up, Savage.” Zan made a right, toward the Bellagio, and grinned. “Here we are. Reservations are under my name. We’ve got four nonsmoking rooms with king-sized beds and the weekend off, boys. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
This prompted a round of cheers and whistles.
As Zan found a parking space, Jaxon addressed the group. “Keep your cell phones charged and handy. Is anybody besides me going off by themselves?”
Aric laughed. “Are you kidding? I don’t know about these two,” he said, indicating Ryon and Zan, “but if I don’t find a hot woman with loose morals PDQ, I’m going to self-combust and torch half the Strip.” Considering his particular Psy gifts, the man was only half-joking.
“No shit,” Ryon eagerly agreed.
“I’m going to hit the casino for a while, just relax, maybe play some blackjack,” Zan put in. “There’s something to be said for going slow and anticipating the ride.”
“I’ll go slow the second time. Or maybe the third. Let’s go, ladies.” Jaxon got out of the SUV carrying his duffel bag, scenting the air. His blood thrummed hot in his veins, his cock already half-hard at the prospect of burying himself between a pair of silky thighs, sliding deep. Fucking all night long, in every position. It had been weeks since they’d been able to make it to Vegas, and like his friends, he was feeling the burn.
Inside the hotel, Jaxon and the others checked into their rooms and dropped off their bags, but didn’t linger. Zan had booked them all on the same floor, so they rode down together again and then split up. Zan went looking for the blackjack tables, Aric and Ryon heading for the front doors and disappearing into the night. Jaxon skirted the gaming area and strolled to the nearest bar, ordering a Jack and cola. He sat with his back to the bar, sipping his drink and scanning the crowd, waiting.
She’d be here. Right on the dot, like before.
Jaxon wasn’t one to waste valuable time searching for a “date” when he had only two nights off, and Alexa had been not only reliable on their two previous weekends together, but extremely talented in bed. The blond call girl had taught him naughty things he’d never considered doing or allowing to be done to him, and some of those tasty memories had him squirming on his stool. Damn, the woman loved her job. Lucky me.
As if he conjured her, she stepped around an older couple and came toward him wearing a wide smile, a little black halter dress, matching heels, and nothing else. He knew that from experience. Her long blond mane tumbled over her shoulders, full and teased, in a dramatic style that never failed to call to mind an eighties rocker. But the fluff framed a pair of nice full breasts, the nipples even now peeked through the thin material of her dress and awaiting his tongue. Her face was overdone with makeup in his opinion, and she had the hard look of a girl who’d already seen too much of the crap life had to offer. But even so, she was still attractive.
“Hey, hot stuff,” she greeted him in a sultry voice. Stepping between his knees, she twined her arms around his neck, pushed her breasts against his chest, and captured his mouth with hers.
Her tongue slipped inside and dueled with his, seeking and tasting. Her nipples grazed him though his dark T-shirt, begging to be appreciated. Wrapping an arm around her waist, he broke the kiss. “My room.”
He frowned. “Why not?”
“I have an idea.” Her eyes sparkled with mischief. “Let’s go for a walk.”
“I’m not paying you to take me for a stroll down the Strip, gorgeous.”
“There’s plenty of time to play in your room, but this is different. Just trust me.”
He hesitated. Inside, his wolf growled suspiciously, not trusting her or any situation that was “different.” The man, however, was ready and willing to be led by his cock, especially if she came through once again with her love of the daring and kinky.
“All right.” Sliding off the stool, he offered her his arm. “Have it your way.”
Raking him up and down with her eyes, she ran her tongue over her lips in an exaggerated come-hither gesture. “If you insist.”
Pushing down another ripple of unease, Jaxon let her pull him away from the bar and through the front doors, outside. He wondered what game she had in mind as they walked in silence, away from the Bellagio and down a side street to the next block, leaving the hordes of people behind.
He didn’t have long to speculate. Tugging his hand, she led him across a dark parking lot dotted with only a few cars, toward the back of small abandoned building that used to be a club or something. At the back wall, she pulled him around the corner to where the side of the store was shielded from view of the neighboring business by a tall wooden fence. She backed him against the brick, attacking the fly of his jeans. Which, admittedly, was bulging with excitement.
“Alexa,” he began, shaking his head.
“Shush. This is gonna be so good.” Expertly, she freed him, stroked his erection. “You ever had public sex? It’s quite a thrill.”
“Yeah, but who’s going to see us? There’s nobody around.” There was something wrong with her logic in this, but damned if he could think what it was.
Because at that moment she sank to her knees and manipulated his aching balls with clever fingers tipped in bloodred nails. Swiped the head of his leaking cock with that pretty pink tongue. Began to lick his shaft, laving him like he was the last ice-cream cone in the Mojave Desert. He moaned, burying his fingers in her hair, not caring about the gallon of hair spray making the strands stick to his palm like a damned spiderweb. All that mattered was her mouth, sliding down over his rod, the heat, the suction, taking him deep—
A scream ripped through the night, shattering the mood. Jaxon straightened with a gasp, disengaging himself from his date more abruptly than he intended, pushing her back. He listened, ignoring the hooker’s muttered protests. Another scream went through him like a bolt of electricity, the sheer terror in the female’s voice calling to something primal within him.
Quickly, he tucked his flagging erection into his jeans and zipped up, and then pulled Alexa to her feet. “I have to see about this. Go back to the hotel, where it’s safe.”
“Oh, come on,” she began, pouting. “It ain’t your problem. Let someone else deal with it.”
Spinning her around, he gave her a push toward the corner. “Go, now, and don’t follow me. I’ll call you.” In that moment, he knew he never would, but the reason eluded him.
Digging his iPhone from his jeans pocket, he took off at a jog, wincing at the stab of pain in his mangled leg. In human form he could walk with barely a limp, but more strenuous activity such as jogging, running, or sparring with his teammates still caused the injured limb a great deal of agony.
Ignoring the pain, he scented the air. Fear. The unknown woman’s panic clawed at his chest, more than a stranger’s should. He had to get to her, make sure she was all right. Following the scent, he slowed long enough to ring Zander. Thankfully, his friend answered right away.
“My hookup, Alexa. You’ve met her.”
“We went for a walk, but something’s going down and I had to send her back. She’s coming your way.” He gave Zan her location and the intersection he’d just passed.
“I’ll call the others and send them as backup. After I make sure she’s safe, I’ll head there myself. What’s going on?”
“Not sure, but I heard a woman scream twice.”
“Be there soon.”
“Thanks, man.” Ending the call, he stuffed the phone into his pocket again and picked up the pace. He didn’t understand this driving need to hurry, to get between this woman and whatever threat she faced. He ran full out, knowing by the sweet scent that must be hers that he was almost there. She was nearby.
His route took him farther from the Strip, across another parking lot and past more darkened buildings. Not an area where anyone should wander alone. What had brought the woman to such a desolate part of the city? He’d learn soon enough.
As he rounded another building, he spotted her. The woman whose scent would likely drive him mad if he had a few seconds to savor it. The petite blonde was struggling in the hold of a man in a dark suit, fighting like a rabid wildcat, biting, scratching, and kicking. A second man rose to his feet, gun in one hand, cupping his crotch with the other, and Jaxon felt a surge of pride knowing she’d put him on the ground. Then the first man slammed her against the side of a car and delivered a blow to her face that snapped her head back and made her cry out in pain and terror.
Tear out his fucking heart and feast on it while it beats.
Jaxon’s beast rose with a vengeance, burst from his skin without conscious thought. His roar shook the earth, brought the tableau before him to a complete standstill. He stripped off his shirt, was barely aware of the rest of his clothes falling away as skin became fur, muscles and bones contorting and reshaping, the usual pain little more than a whisper in his mind. Hands changed to paws, fingernails to claws, man to pure, raging gray wolf.
All zeroed in on the man who’d struck the small, pretty blonde.
The soldier in him knew the smart move would be to go for the man with the gun; the beast demanded blood from the one with his hands on her. The one who’d hit her.
The one who now let her go, twisted around to confront the new threat . . . and stared at him in horror. The predator in him felt a surge of satisfaction. His wolf wasn’t nearly as hampered by his leg injury as the man.
The wolf sped across the distance, leaped, and the man screamed, the last sound he’d ever make. His forepaws struck the bastard square in the chest, knocking him backward, into the side of the car. Off-balance, the man stumbled and fell, and Jaxon took him to the ground. Lunging, he went for the kill, snapped his jaws around the vulnerable neck, teeth sinking into flesh, through muscle and bone. The man’s scream ended in a rough gurgle, his hands grabbing desperately at the wolf’s fur, trying to dislodge him. To no avail.
The struggles weakened as blood filled the wolf’s mouth, rich and sweet, and he was hardly aware of the man’s companion shouting in terror. The beast longed to linger over his prize, to rip into the savory meat and take his fill. To howl his triumph over the man who’d dared to strike his—
A muffled pop and a searing pain in his shoulder brought him around snarling, his kill abandoned as he faced the remaining threat. This asshole had also wanted to harm the woman, and for that he was fucking dead. The wolf launched himself at the second man, who backpedaled with a yell, pointed the gun and fired again. His shot went wide, and Jaxon took him down as easily as he had the first goon, tearing out his throat. The urge to feed was strong, almost unbearable, now that they were no longer a threat to the woman.
Again, the scent of her invaded his senses. With the danger past, he let his limp prey drop from his jaws and finally took stock, letting the aroma of citrus and vanilla fill him, the crisp, clean essence of her imprinting on every cell of his being. A strange rush fired his blood, as though the man inside the beast had mainlined a load of coke, a comparison he could honestly make. A much younger, more reckless Jaxon had flirted with the edge of no return before he’d gotten his act together and joined the Marines.
Instinct told him that the effect of this woman’s scent had the potential to be twice as intoxicating as any drug, and much more dangerous to the man and to the wolf.
Turning, he saw her. Edging around the front of the dilapidated car with her hands on the hood, eyes wide with shock, trying to put the vehicle between them. The predator in him tensed, focused his attention solely on the woman, and he moved forward slowly. Began to stalk her—but not for the reason she might think.
She was slim and small, fine-boned, with a delicate face that was all angles and dominated by big sky blue eyes. Almost an elfin face, especially with the shoulder-length pale blond hair framing those sweet features. He doubted her head would reach his chin, and all things considered, she’d tuck against his chest and mold perfectly against his much bigger body.
And why the hell would he go all possessive over a woman he didn’t know? His irritation with himself emerged as a growl.
“N-nice puppy,” she stammered, stumbling as she kept moving backward, around the car. “Good puppy. Aren’t you p-pretty?”
The wolf snorted, which came out like a sneeze. He’d been called a lot of things, very few of them complimentary, and certainly never pretty. But from her? He could live with that.
She grabbed for the passenger door handle and tugged, only to find it locked on that side. Eyes round with fear, she stared at him, and he recognized the moment she realized she was trapped. There was nowhere to go, no escape.
The woman was his.
Kira stared at the . . . dog? Husky? Wolf?
No. She had not seen a pissed-off Rambo wannabe burst from the shadows, strip off his shirt, and turn into a big ball of fuzz. That image had to have been a product of her terrified, overwrought mind. But it had seemed so real. She blinked, studying the animal warily as it returned her regard.
The creature was huge, with creamy white fur tipped in black and gray around its face, ears, shoulders, and back. His eyes were a steely blue-gray and seemed to look straight into her soul. Despite the blood marring his coat on his right shoulder, he was beautiful.
And he’d easily ripped apart two grown men, one of them armed. Another glance at the gore confirmed that part was definitely no figment of her imagination.
He continued to advance on her, and she shrank against the passenger’s side of her Camry, heart hammering in her throat. She couldn’t outrun him if she tried, a fact reflected in those piercing eyes. They were eerily intelligent, almost daring her to try so he could enjoy the thrill of chasing her down.
“Nice puppy,” she crooned again, voice wobbling. Holding out a shaking hand, she tried a command. “Stay!” The beast stopped, cocked his head, an almost bemused expression on his canine face. “Good boy. Sit!”
Some of her fear began to ease and she wondered how well trained the animal was. Maybe he was someone’s guard dog that got lost? He’d certainly protected her from those bastards. “Roll over.”
At that, the creature’s form began to waver. Sort of reshape. She blinked rapidly, thinking there must be something wrong with her vision. But no, she was simply losing her mind after all, because fur retracted, became skin. Paws became hands and feet with very human limbs attached. Tufted black ears went away; the snout disappeared and was suddenly a regal nose.
And now a black-haired man crouched where the wolf had been seconds ago. A big, very naked man who unfolded his tall body and gazed down at her, one corner of his mouth quirking upward.
“I’ll do a lot of things on command,” he drawled lazily. “But I don’t roll over for anyone, sweetheart.”
Her brain fritzed. “I—I…you…” She trailed off helplessly, unable to form a coherent response.
Her eyes raked his body, and she thought he had to be about six-foot-four and more than two hundred pounds. He was pretty well ripped, his chest, long limbs, and torso sculpted with muscle. Thick, strong shoulders led to defined collarbones and a broad chest sprinkled with springy dark hair and graced by two bronzed male nipples. His right shoulder was marred by a bloody gouge, just stopping at the edge of a large tribal tattoo of gorgeous scrollwork that spilled over the deltoid area and ran down his arm. Did it extend down his back as well? There also appeared to be some sort of design worked into the swirls on his shoulder, but she didn’t pause to study it.
Her scrutiny drifted lower to his taut, ridged stomach, the dip of his hips. Skimmed down mile-long athletic legs. A network of scars twisted around his right thigh, knee, and calf, and she wondered how the terrible injury had happened, but it did nothing to detract from his physical potency. Inevitably, her attention settled at the apex of his thighs, to the proof that whatever else he might be, one hundred percent pure male stood before her now. A well-endowed man, even in repose, his impressive sex nestled in a neat thatch of curly dark hair.
A hysterical giggle escaped before she could stop it. Her wolf manscaped. How courteous, since he obviously didn’t have a problem with public nudity.
“See something amusing?”
The frown in his tone brought her head up and she studied his face for the first time. A single word whispered through her brain, made her shiver—lethal.
If she hadn’t already known he was seriously badass, his looks confirmed the impression. He was no model-perfect pretty boy. His spiky black hair seemed to defy gravity, somehow arranging itself into an artfully messy style that reminded her of tangled sheets. Dark brows were arched above a prominent nose and full mouth with lush lips. His ears each bore a piercing of a shiny black stud. His jaw was strong, dusky with a five o’clock shadow, and a soul patch graced his chin. Normally, she preferred men without facial hair, but on this guy? It fit him.
No, not pretty at all.
Raw. Stunning. Untamed.
He spoke, and it took her a second to realize he’d repeated the question. “No, not really. I was just thinking it’s so nice that you find time to stay well groomed. When you’re not tearing out people’s throats.” What am I saying? Shut up, idiot! “Are you going to do that to me? ’Cause I gotta tell ya, I’m probably a little gamey. Really, really stringy and—”
“Relax,” he said, reaching out to caress her cheek. “I’m not going to hurt you. I heard you scream and I…” Suddenly he went rigid, staring deeply into her eyes. Lowering his hand, he grasped her wrist, his hold gentle but firm. His eyes glazed and he seemed to be looking beyond her somehow. Into her soul.
“What are you doing?” She tugged, trying to pull free, hyperaware of the warmth of his palm, his manly scent. A mix of fresh leaves, the outdoors, and sweat. God, he smelled good.
He shook his head, the weird moment broken. Just as quickly, his expression darkened, his mouth thinning in anger. “What are you hiding? Tell me what you stole from those bastards—the ones I killed to save your ass.”
The blood drained from her face. Oh, shit. Did he work for them, too? “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
His eyes were flinty. “Sure you do. Spill it.”
“Fuck, man. What happened here? Can’t leave you alone for a goddamned hour.”
Startled, Kira twisted and peered over the roof of her car to see two tall men—one redhead and one blond—step into the circle of light and eye the dead suits with grim expressions. The blond pushed a strand of silvery hair from his eyes and whistled.
“Shit. Cleanup on aisle six.” His voice held a note of humor, and his expression was kind as he looked up, spotting her. “Ran into a bit of trouble, huh?” So it was the pissed-off guy with the long, dark auburn hair who’d first spoken.
She nodded, windpipe shrinking to the size of a pinhole.
“Well, don’t worry, honey. We’ll take care of you,” he said gently.
Hours, make that days, of fear and worry caught up with her in a rush, and she was suddenly exhausted. The empathy from this stranger in the middle of all the chaos, not to mention the anger radiating from his two buddies, just about did her in. Tears stung her eyes and she struggled not to let them fall as her captor dragged her around the side of the car to meet his companions.
“Don’t look at them,” he ordered her, nodding toward the sprawled bodies.
Which, of course, made her look again. And almost get sick.
“For God’s sake, Law, put on some damned clothes before my eyes bleed,” the redhead growled.
“Yeah, well, it’s kinda hard not to lose the threads when we get furry, dickhead.”
Get furry. We?
Red cut her a sharp look. “She see you change?”
“Oh, fantastic. You do realize Sweet Thing is now our special guest?” At Red’s venomous glare, she pressed backward, into the man who’d come to her rescue. “We. Are. Fucked. Nick’s going to shred our asses.”
“For what?” A fourth man joined the party, jogging from the darkness. The dark-haired newcomer halted, scanning the scene. “Christ.”
“Trust me, it gets better,” Red informed him, curling his lip. He flicked a hand at Kira and the man—Law?—who now placed his body protectively between her and the others. “The fair damsel got herself into some shit. Our friend here got his hero goin’ on, wiped out the vermin, but oh, wait—the chick saw him do his White Fang impression. So now she goes with us, whereupon we can look forward to a reaming from the boss. That about right?” He snarled the question at Law.
“You got it in one,” he said coolly, eyes like steel. A muscle in his jaw ticced. “And I’d do it again. So now we deal with the mess, and if you don’t like it, tough. After the cleanup, she’s my responsibility. I’ll field the heat from Nick and take care of her.”
“Damned right you will.”
“Knock it off, you two.” The blond tossed a pile of clothes at Law. “Get dressed so we can ghost out of here. I’ll go get the SUV.”
The dark-haired guy palmed a set of keys and tossed them to the blond.
Law let her go and pulled on a pair of jeans, followed by his black T-shirt. As he tugged on a pair of heavy lace-up boots, Kira found her voice. “Hang on a second,” she said, edging away from them. “Take care of me? Like you took care of them? No, thanks. I’ll be fine on my own.”
“No longer an option.” Law straightened, shot her a feral grin. "Welcome to Alpha Pack, sweetheart."
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