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Chapter One

“Jon!” Romeo’s deep voice follows as I stride quickly down the hall. “Get back here.”

I round the top of the stairs and descend at full speed, skipping steps in my haste to leave. Anger pulses like a living beast beneath my skin. If I don’t get the hell out of here, my alpha and I will come to blows.

The urge to
fight, to answer the call of my inner wolf, colors my vision, tinting the werewolf pack’s large home in a wash of red haze. Claws itch to descend through my clenched fists, and the brush of fur waiting to erupt tingles my skin.

“This is not over.” Romeo’s booming shout thunders through the house. “Get back here now, or don’t ever come back!”

This time he’s getting what he threatens. What’s so crazy about suggesting a support network for wolves? Why am I suddenly the object of scorn and ridicule? Is organizing packs somehow a threatening concept to our way of life?

A tiny voice inside whispers,
Your suggestion of such a change goes against everything a werewolf pack stands for.

Could that be true? Would instilling communication among hundreds of Weres hurt us as a species?

I block the denials I’ve heard for months. Doesn’t make sense. Could Romeo’s resistance stem from something bigger? Should I listen to the gossip saying I’ve evolved into an alpha faster than anyone expected? There is only one male alpha per pack, not two; one mated pair deciding the fate of their wolves, and those who don’t agree must leave. Or fight for supremacy.

I barrel out the front door and sprint toward the detached garage, where a few of the single wolves have bedrooms in the space above the cars. I throw open the door, the heavy steel bouncing off the siding in my unchecked rage. I need to talk to Lori, my werewolf girlfriend in the pack. I’m ready to leave and want her with me.

My inner beast gnashes its teeth, ready for a challenge, eager to return and face the man who saved my life over a year ago. Tamping down the temptation, I rush the inner stairs three at a time. The scent of half a dozen wolves lies heavy in the confined space, confusing the rational part of my mind struggling to remain in control.

I recall the past in an effort to still my raging desires—I owe this man my life. Romeo found me lost and afraid when I awoke in the hospital, uncertain of what I’d become. Elsa, his wife, sensed immediately I was different, discouraging her mate to allow me into their pack. Romeo didn’t care. He recognized me for what I truly was—a scared college kid who didn’t know what the fuck happened to his well-ordered life.

When I reach the upper hall, I’m jolted out of my calming reverie by sounds of passion. I smile, wondering who Kotsana has lured to his waterbed now.

“That’s it, baby,” a familiar female voice coos softly. “You know I like it good and deep.”

The instant anger near the surface of my mind threatens to overwhelm me. I stop cold—leaning a hand on the wall, gasping to catch my breath—while my packmate screws my girlfriend beyond his shut bedroom door. I close my eyes for a moment, trying to block images conjured by the sound of the big wolf making waves on his water mattress.

A soft panting noise reaches my ears and I know what’s next—Lori’s about to peak and scream to the high heavens. I wasn’t sure if I loved her or if my feelings were caught up in the passion of our relationship. But all I feel right now is a white hot fury and a desire to tear someone apart with my bare hands, limb from limb.

Before I think through my actions, the doorknob to Kotsana’s room is in my hand and I tear the door off the frame. The sound of splintering wood rips through the air and freezes them both on the bed. Lori’s mouth opens in a silent
O of shock.

I surge into the room and loom over their naked, sweating bodies. “Two-timing bitch!”

Lori grabs a sheet to cover herself as Kotsana looks at me with cool, calm eyes.

The Were hoists himself off her pliant body to lean against the headboard. “Careful, Jon.” His deep voice rumbles across the space between us as he raises his hands in a placating gesture. “She’s not your mate and she wanted this.”

I look at the silky dark hair framing Lori’s elfin face. Her huge cornflower blue eyes shimmer with excitement. My heart hardens when she reaches a hand to fondle her own nipple.

“Want to join us, Jon?” Her other hand snakes to stroke Kotsana’s still erect cock. “I bet the three of us could have some fun.” Her head tilts to the side and she looks at her lover, perhaps trying to judge if he’s game.

I knew she was a randy bitch, and she’s certainly been pouring off sexual pheromones every waking hour of the day, but I honestly thought I satisfied her and we were building something.

Kotsana looks my way, recognizes my slow burn of barely controlled rage, and moves her hand from his body.

The second she’s no longer touching him, I lunge across the bed, lugging her off the mattress by her arms. “You think it’s funny to play more than one guy, don’t you?” I grasp her shoulders and shake her hard, hoping her brain rattles in that pretty little head. “Just because you can fuck every unattached wolf you meet, doesn’t mean you should.”

I toss her unresisting form in the direction of the door and advance on Kotsana. “You knew she was with me.”

His dark brown eyes flit to the floor, not meeting mine. “She smelled so damn good.”

My hands curl over the bigger man’s biceps and, in a move I’m sure I’ll regret in a few minutes, I haul his naked ass from the bed and drag him toward the closed window. “Next time you bed a horny werewolf, make sure
she’s not sleeping with someone higher than you in your own freakin’ pack.” Kotsana’s face changes to fear as he looks over his shoulder, working out what I plan to do. Panic pours off his larger frame, goading me to savagery at his show of weakness. “You’ll have time to think about the wisdom of bed-hopping while you heal.”

And with that, muscles bunch in my thighs and across my back as I throw the heavier man through the glass window. I turn back to Lori as she’s scrambling into her discarded clothing. The tinkle of falling glass and a dull thud reach my ears, followed by screams of pain. The big man lies shrieking on the asphalt driveway below, and I couldn’t care less.

“Jon, please.” Fear etches the delicate lines of her face. “Let me explain.”

I push by her, resisting the urge to pick her up and toss out her cheating ass with Kotsana. “What is left to explain? That the sex we had this morning wasn’t enough for you? That the three orgasms I gave you while you screamed your love for me left you wanting?” I storm away, past two bedrooms, to the one we shared.

“Wait, Jon. Please!”

My fists clench at my side, anger boiling within me as I spin around to face her. “We’re through! I’m done with this pack and the sex free-for-all you take as the status quo.” Moisture gathers in my eyes, blurring my vision. “And to think, I came here hoping to take you with me. What a fucking joke.”

Lori’s face collapses and she starts to bawl. “Jon, no, don’t go like this. We can work it out.”

I slam my fist into the wall near her head, destroying the dry wall and the two-by-four behind it. “How can we possibly move beyond this when I still envision you reaching for his dick and inviting me to join?” I pull my hand from the hole, staring at the dry wall dust while ragged breaths steal past my lips. “Who the hell does that?” I whisper while looking into her clear blue eyes. “Who would twist what we had the way you did?”

She turns her face away, unable to meet my gaze any longer. Not having her with me is for the best. I can’t imagine how in the hell I thought she was a good choice, in any sense of the word.

Lori hugs her arms around her curvy torso and sinks to the floor in the hall. I leave her to wallow in tears and quickly pack my bags, grabbing anything of personal value and all the clothes I can cram into the two large duffels.

The whole encounter, from tossing Kotsana out the window to making my way to the driveway, took less than five minutes. One of the other female Weres, Deneishia, crouches over the injured man on the asphalt.

Uncaring, I ignore his moans of pain and her calls for assistance. I stalk past them, climb inside my jeep, start it, and peel out of the Manitoba pack compound as fast as I can.

Romeo will get his wish.

I’ll never come back—no matter what.

Chapter Two

I drive for hours that stretch into days. No clear destination in mind besides crossing the Canadian border into the States. The idea of heading to my hometown in Williamsburg, Virginia occurs to me, but I dismiss it realizing the unanswerable questions I’d be faced with.

My folks think I died over a year ago in the hospital due to complications during the night I was attacked. Romeo and Elsa advised that my family was unsafe with me near them, and helped to feign my death.

Slowing to a stop for the red light ahead, a burn bubbles from my stomach at the thought of Romeo. Damn stubborn man. We’re in the twenty first century, for Christ’s sake. Who the hell wouldn’t think organizing fellow supernaturals might be a smart idea? Oh, that’s right, every damn alpha stuck in the nineteenth century.

My fingers tighten around the steering wheel, frustration and Were strength threatening to break the plastic. I loosen my grip when a horn honks behind me. The traffic light is green and I’m not sure how long I’ve been sitting here ignoring it. Maybe it’s time for a break. A glance at the dashboard clock reveals it’s way past noon and I haven’t eaten since the last refill for gas around dawn.

Awareness of my surroundings leaks back into perspective, diminishing the dull anger and some of the resentment I left in Canada. The clear May day shines on the green-shrouded highway, lush trees crowding the two-lane stretch. A road sign comes into view proclaiming I’m ten miles from Lucketsville.

Holy shit, I’m in northern Virginia. Huh. Guess I did unconsciously drive to where I’m most comfortable.

Lucketsville is several hours from my folks, so I’m unlikely to run into anyone here who knows me. Sounds like a good place to stop for a meal.

After a few minutes I angle my dust-covered jeep into a parking spot outside an old-fashioned diner. I cut the engine and ease open the truck door. Humidity hits me like a wet glove and the air seems heavier in my lungs. The sweet smell of new growth and distant tilled earth greet my sensitive nose. The warmth of the sun heats my skin while I stretch the miles from my aching muscles.

The parking lot contains eight cars, not bad for after two o’clock. Maybe the food here will be decent. Anything’s better than the gas station food I’ve had for two days straight. Last night I stayed in a cheap motel after a cop told me I couldn’t sleep in the cab of my jeep, even if he did agree it was silly law. The shower did me good and the change of clothes was well needed after days of hard driving.

A quaint bell jangles above the glass door at my entrance. Vacant stools line the counter, but I make my way to a booth. Hours of concentrated focus on the road have left me jittery and wired, yet physically weary and exhausted. I’m not used to feeling anything other than extreme mellowness within the pack.

Maybe coming back to Virginia was not a good idea. Being here feels familiar and yet awkward all at once.

A plastic coated menu slides across the table into view, pulling me out of the déjà vu moment. A throat clears nearby and draws my gaze up the pink dress of the waitress who brought the menu.

A slim woman, with a becoming smile, a blush to her cheeks, and a cap of shiny dark hair waits patiently with an order pad at the ready. “What can I get for you, hon?” She smiles again, revealing a dimple near one corner of her upturned mouth.

I smile in response, the reaction automatic. “Coffee first, please. Black.” She dips her chin in acknowledgment. I gesture toward the menu. “Do you have any recommendations?”

“For today’s lunch special we’ve got marinated chicken—grilled and served over fresh greens.” She smiles again. “But anything you get will be good. The cook does a great job.”

I nod, careful to squash the frown I instinctively feel forming at the thought of ordering only a salad, and open the menu to see what else they offer.

“I’ll get your coffee and come back for your order.” She bustles away, trailing a faint whiff of werewolf pheromones in her wake. I sit up straighter and turn in the booth, following her retreat behind the counter.

Holy crap. She’s like me. What are the chances my first real meal since Canada is served by a werewolf? Was I pulled here subconsciously? Like pheromones in the air or something?

Or fate. Maybe this is where you were meant to be.

I tense, worried I’ll be discovered by my scent and that I might be infringing on another pack’s territory. I’ve got to get her alone to question her.

Yeah, like that’s going to be easy. What young waitress wouldn’t welcome a private talk with a stranger?

A casual examination of the restaurant reveals it isn’t as full as the parking lot would indicate. The closest diner to me sits three booths down.

Maybe I could ask about the local pack situation out here in the open? Or should I push my own scent into the air and see if she responds?

She’s returning with my coffee and I make a split decision. I reach inside and mentally call up an image of my old pack. Cool dark woods zip by as I race in my wolf form, surrounded by the well-known bodies that my inner beast naturally trusts.

She sets the coffee on the table, and stares. Her nostrils flare and pupils dilate. “Well, what do we have here?” Interest leaps into her eyes. “You don’t look familiar. New in town?”

I nod, reaching for my cup of coffee. The warmth from the ceramic seeps into my grasp, spreading up my hands. “Just stopping for a meal.” I keep my tone neutral, hoping to not alarm her. “Not poaching land.”

Sadness sweeps across her face, quickly replaced by good humor. “You don’t need to worry about that. There’s no claim here.”

My eyebrows jump up my forehead. “Really?” She nods and a stillness steals over me. How could she be a lone wolf on her own? Or are there others but no alpha?

Innate instinct creeps up, startling me with the depth of desire coiling in my gut. The need to rule and dominate other wolves washes through me, surprising me with its ferocity.
She will bow to my wolf.

Where the hell did that come from? I’m not eager to lead a pack, nor do I know enough to keep one safe.

After a slight hesitation, a warm invitation crosses her face. “Sure you don’t want to stay in town a while? Get to know the area? There’s lots of open ground to run.”

A feeling of
home, so long suppressed under Romeo’s lead, warms my heart. “Maybe I will.” Impulsively, I extend a hand in greeting. “Hi, I’m Jon.”

That adorable blush I noticed earlier comes back, spreading up her neck as she reaches for my hand. Hers eyes dart toward the floor before briefly returning to me and flitting away. “Raine.”

Oh, she’s familiar with a pack, all right. That was definitely a submissive wolf reaction. “Pretty name for an even prettier lady.”

She smiles, a flirtatious look lighting her eyes. “Thanks. Now, what can I get you to eat?”

My stomach grumbles right on cue. I laugh, the stress from Manitoba rolling off my shoulders like it never existed. “I’ll start with two steaks. Medium rare, please.”

She winks and nods, sashaying her hips as she walks away to place my order.

About fifteen minutes later, Raine returns with my meal. I clear my throat as the full platter slides across the table. “You wouldn’t know of any place hiring, would you?”

“Are you okay with manual labor?” Her dark blue eyes linger on my torso as I nod. “There’s a huge construction boom in the county. Good money. If you don’t own tools you could hire on to an existing crew or find landscaping work pretty easy.”

I studied botany at James Madison University, the campus farther south, where the werewolf attack changed my life forever. My dream at school was to someday own a nursery and landscaping company. Hope for a new life blossoms in me for the first time since leaving Canada. Maybe it
was fate that brought me back to Virginia. “Does the diner keep a recent newspaper behind the counter?”

Chapter Three

I start work immediately with a local landscaper and am quickly promoted to leading a crew—my knowledge of plants and ability to speak Spanish the driving forces behind the advancement. Today is Friday and I plan to ask out the cute waitress for dinner. I had breakfast at the diner this morning, when she first arrived at work, so I know she’s got the evening shift off.

The bell over the door jingles when I enter, sending my nerves into overdrive. A warm smile lights Raine’s face when she sees me.

“Nice to see you again, Jon.” She glances at her watch. “My shift is almost over.” A faint flash of disappoint flashes over her features. “Damn. Looks like someone else will serve you.”

“I was hoping you might join me for dinner.” I clear my throat, nervous for the first time in months. “You know—someplace else—not here. Like a date.”

Raine glances down my body, noting my freshly changed clothes. “I’d like that, Jon.” The gleam in her eye turns predatory, triggering an answering heat low in my middle. “I’ve only got a casual sundress with me, is that okay?”

“You could be dressed in rags and I’d still be happy to take you out.”

“Aren’t you sweet.” She smiles, the humor only halfway reaching her eyes. “Give me ten minutes.”

The young Were retreats to the back hall where the employee lockers stand near the manager’s office. There was a lurking sadness in her eyes when she agreed to dinner. I hope over our meal I can coax out of her whatever brought it on. My wolf wants to make her
mine, and the human part of me doesn’t quite know what to do with the new urges.

The noise of the Blue Ridge Grill fades into the background as I watch Raine polish off her second burger. “For a tiny little thing, you sure can keep up.” My face freezes in horror as I realize I just told the attractive woman I brought to dinner that she eats a lot.

Raine’s laughter trips from her lips in the first show of genuine humor I’ve seen from her all night. “Oh my God—you should see your face right now, Jon. Classic!” She wipes the tears from her eyes with the end of her napkin. “No one would accuse you of being a silver-tongued devil, that’s for sure.” She smiles to show she’s teasing then shrugs a slim shoulder under her pale blue sundress. “What can I say? I work so much it’s hard to keep the pounds on.” Her face sobers, the humor draining as fast as it came, and she looks away. “We do have an excellent metabolism.”

Something doesn’t add up. Waitressing might be hard work and a lot of hours on your feet, but a healthy werewolf who eats like she just did shouldn’t be waif-like thin. Maybe she has a second job. Trying to make ends meet on tips can’t be easy. Especially without a pack for support or a werewolf roomie to share the rent.

I want to ask how she’s doing financially, curious if she does indeed have a second job and why, but something holds me back. We don’t know each other well enough for me to start prying, and asking might scare her off. If I want to start over here in Virginia, I’ll need to slowly bring wolves to me, and that won’t happen if I come on too strong.

Slowly bring wolves to me? Where the hell are these thoughts coming from? That sounds a lot like alpha tendencies rearing an ugly head. Am I ready for my own pack? After Manitoba, I sure as hell don’t want to join another one. Could I become a true alpha and protect others of my kind?

The memories of Romeo—breaking up fights, mentoring others unhappy with their dual nature, and financially supporting ones who needed it—flare bright across my mind. We may have clashed, but he took good care of his wolves.

No, I’m not ready for another pack, even one of my own. Maybe that will change in the coming months, who knows.

After a moment, Raine’s tinge of sadness disappears and a slow seductive smile crosses her face. The sexual pheromones I’ve suppressed all week seep out little by little. There’s no denying that even sad, she’s delectable to my raging libido. Raine’s bare foot rubs my calf toward my knee. Instantly, the room narrows to the beguiling young woman and her seductive smile. Her arousal taints the air, calling me to act.

I reach across the distance between us and pull her slim fingers to my lips. “I could just eat you up.”

Her brows rise. “Really, now?” A saucy superiority burns from her eyes. “You sound suspiciously like the Big Bad Wolf hitting on Red Riding Hood.”

A sharp bark of laughter erupts from me, breaking the tension. I really suck at flirting. “Can’t blame a guy for trying.” Resigned to the fact we may not have any fun tonight if based on my flirting skills, and her wandering foot could be her way of teasing, I rise from the table and offer my hand. “Want to go out for a night cap or should you take me back to my jeep at the diner?”

“I know of a nice bar in downtown Leesburg.” She winks and takes my hand. “It’s not far.”

Hope stirs in my heart as we exit the restaurant. Maybe things are picking up.

An hour later in a dimly lit bar, there’s no way I’m mistaking Raine’s intentions. She’s been stroking my growing erection through my jeans for the last ten minutes. Randy bitch—and I say that with the utmost respect for the fascinating werewolf—just nibbled on my ear and told me to kiss her.

I stare into her midnight blue depths and whisper, “Not here.” I brush my lips faintly over hers, promising more to come in private. I’ve never been one for public displays of affection and I don’t want our first kiss to be surrounded by strangers.

She nods and stands, adjusting her dress as she rises. The shift of fabric releases her aroused scent into the air. A hard fist of want punches me in the gut, requiring me to use all the restraint I possess to not dart out the doors toward the parking lot, dragging the tempting woman with me.

The steady sexual partners available in a large wolf pack are both a curse and a blessing. On one hand, having an increased libido and a host of willing single partners is great. On the other, trying to establish any kind of true intimacy or a real relationship is next to impossible.

Maybe that’s why many Weres find their life mates outside their pack. Summer hunting expeditions, the rare regional pack gatherings I’ve heard tales of, or dating humans seem to be the best way to find a lifelong mate. No one ever mentioned the idea of two loners, like me and Raine, hooking up—but it certainly seems possible now that I’m living it.

The late May night wraps it’s moist hold around us as we exit the bar and make our way to Riane’s car. Short pants of breath reach my ears in the dark, indicating she’s as turned on as I am at the prospect of being together. Her warm hand links with mine as hot coils of anticipation writhe in my gut.

Raine tugs our clasped hands, changing our direction from her car door to the nose of her vehicle, where the shadows from the building lie deep. She presses my back against the wood siding, leaning in to kiss me. Our raging desires, carefully held in check inside the bar, explode. Her hot mouth latches onto mine as her soft body molds to my front.

Eager hands reach under my t-shirt, lingering over my abs on their path upward. Raine breaks our kiss, whispering in a husky voice, “My, my, my, Jon.” Her nimble fingers find my hardened nipples and she tweaks them with a twist. “You’re hiding quite a nice body under here.”

Heat races over me, along with a flash of Lori touching me like this a mere two weeks ago. I clasp her hands, settling mine firmly over hers to help block the unwanted memories. “What do you expect from a man who works outside for a living? A soft body and pasty complexion?”

The sexy Were nips my bottom lip lightly. “I guess I wasn’t expecting you to be so… hard.” Her hand slips free of my hold and skims down to cup my erection through my pants.

A soft growl erupts from me as I pivot, reversing our position and pinning her supple body to the wall. “You like to move fast, don’t you, Raine?” I press forward with my hips, rubbing my arousal against her middle, effectively pushing her hand away as well.

I bow to gently bite the tender flesh between her ear and shoulder. “All ‘pretty in pink’ in that waitress outfit…” Another nip to her heated flesh draws a gasp from the young woman. “I never would’ve expected the fire…”

She reaches two hands to grab my hair, pulling me up to her mouth. “Well then, Jon, looks like you underestimated me.” Raine plasters her mouth to mine, ratcheting up my already raised hormones. Lust courses through me, pushing to barrel ahead, to take her—wherever she wants me—even if it’s in a parking lot.

In a few moments our kiss breaks, leaving us both panting and grasping at the other’s body, desperate to rein our passion despite the waves of desire crashing over us. “Want to come back to my place?” she asks. There’s a desperate edge to her voice that gives me pause. “It’s out past Purcellville.”

It would be so easy to take her offer. To follow her the distance to wherever she lives and make love to her all night. But things went fast with Lori, too. And look where that got me—dangling on the end of her raw sex appeal and oblivious to her baser nature of a two-timing horny Were.

I take a small step back and reach up to cup Raine’s cheeks in my hands. “Would you hate me if I said ‘no’?” Confusion mixes with the lust in her eyes. “I like you, Raine.” I kiss her again. “I want to go slow.”

Her spine straightens. “Uh… what?” She makes a last grab for my pants. “You want me. Why deny it?” She wraps a hot hand over me and begins to stroke. “We can make all the noise we want and no one will hear us.” A cold, evaluating look comes into her eyes, making me wonder why she’s so desperate for my attention.

I kiss her once more, ignoring the warning bells that she could be another manipulating she-wolf out to break my heart, and pour my pent up sexual frustration into the kiss before I break away. “I definitely want you.” My breath pants in the darkness as I seek her eyes in the dim light. “You know that, right? You deserve more than a night of lust on our first date—
we deserve more.” Her calculating look fades, to be replaced by one of disbelief. “I want to make a life here, and I’d like to see if that can be a life that has you in it for longer than just a few hours of sex.”

Raine slumps against the wall, her aggression and passion draining out of her at my words. “Wow, you really know how to take the wind out of a girl’s sail—but, in a classy sort of way.” She runs a hand through her short hair, pushing it back from her face. A small smile lights her features in the night. “At least I know you want me and it could lead to more.”

“What do you say?” I can’t believe I’m talking this woman out of jumping my bones, but until I get to know her better, it’s for the best. “Want to go on a second date?”

Her face closes and she looks into the distance. “Sure. I might be up for a going out again.”

Chapter Four

Next week I ask her out again. “How about it, Riane? Ready for date number two?” I wiggle my eyebrows suggestively, hoping to make her smile.

She’s been distant the past few days when I visited the diner to eat. Something has changed on her end, and I’m not sure what.

Her eyes dart away before she answers. “Sorry, Jon, I’m busy tonight.”

My stomach plummets. “How about tomorrow?”

A sadness creeps into her gaze as she shakes her head. “I’m busy all weekend. Sorry.”

I nod as she leaves to wait on a customer, taking her refusal like an adult, but curious to find out what happened. She was climbing all over me last Friday. It makes no sense.

I’ve eaten at the diner every day, even if Raine wasn’t working. Some days we don’t get to do more than exchange a few pleasantries, but it’s worth it. Being in her presence soothes me. I’ve never been away from other wolves for this long and hadn’t realized how much I needed her companionship.

Last week our flirting was intense. But I was still two raw from Lori’s betrayal to want to leap into anything—did I screw things up by waiting too long to ask her out again? Getting to know her through casual conversation felt refreshing, something I lacked with every other wolf I’d been with prior.

I wasn’t ready to follow through on the lust we explored on our first date. But now I am. I’ve rented a small apartment and acquired some decent furnishings. I have the beginnings of my own den to share. We may not turn into anything permanent, but I aim to find out.

There’s something about the young woman that calls to me. Resigned to the fact she said no for tonight, I grab a free spot at the counter and settle in for dinner. Determined to not act like a jerk, I wave to the young Were when she glances my way. Her shoulders relax and her face softens. She’s pinned her short dark hair behind her ears with butterfly barrettes, the style making her look even younger than her twenty-one years.

Unlike the robust health and curves of Lori, and most of the other female Weres in Manitoba, Raine has a delicacy to her. I’m not normally attracted to overly slender women, but she pulls my protective alpha nature to the surface. I want to coddle and cosset her, protect her from harm and wrap myself around her while she sleeps.

Every time she walks past me, my wolf leaps to the surface, eager to rub against her for companionship. I like this casual state of arousal I’m in when around her. My senses feel heightened and the world looks fresher. Is it being free from the burden of the Manitoba pack or the stirrings of what will be a brighter future here in Virginia?

My meal arrives and the smell of homemade cobbler drifting from the kitchen reminds me of home with my folks. Could I approach them now that I’m stronger and no longer a risk to their safety? Was Romeo’s suggestion of severing all contact with family truly the only option available? I tamp down the slow burn of anger coiling in my gut. No purpose in dwelling on the past.

Raine’s eyes lock with mine across the length of the counter. She’s pouring coffee for a patron, allowing her attention to wander my way. I deliberately focus on lustful thoughts, encouraging my sexual pheromones to blanket the air. Raine becomes distracted by the scent, and over pours, spilling coffee to the saucer below the cup.

Her face flushes while she reaches for extra napkins, her eyes flick my way, a desperate edge in their depths. She finishes cleaning and scurries to the back room, avoiding me. Interesting reaction. I wonder what has her so jumpy. Female Weres don’t normally react to an alpha’s heat by running away. Within a few heartbeats everyone near me is smiling, their sexual energies higher than normal. I tone down the pressure; worried I may have overplayed my hand.

She’s a tough nut to crack.

Are you going to let a scrumptious werewolf ripe for the picking slip from your grasp so easily?

Damn. I’m used to female werewolves chasing me. This hard-to-get crap is a whole new experience, especially after her blatant invitation in the parking lot.

You could have bruised her ego when you turned her down.

But then why the flirting since then?

Are you an alpha or a puppy? Show her what you want.

Decision made, I toss my napkin on my plate and make my way to the back hallway. The tingling awareness of hunting prey stretches across my skin, enticing my wolf to draw closer to the surface. This is fun.

Wait a minute—there’s a back door at the end of the corridor I was unaware of. Hmm… I wonder if she was planning to slip out unseen to avoid me. Definitely time to find out what the hell is going on.

The ladies room door opens three feet away and Raine emerges. She’s changed into a snug pair of hip-hugging jeans and a tight t-shirt. A strip of honey colored skin is exposed between the two, the flat planes of her stomach teasing me to touch. A small squeak escapes her when she sees me.

I push out sexual lust when I whisper her name. “Hi, Raine.” She shudders at the sound. “You weren’t going to ditch me without saying goodnight, were you?”

She stumbles away to press against the rear door. “Uh… no. I have to be somewhere.” Her breath huffs out, her gaze sliding away from me, to her escape.

I nod, shifting position against the wall, bringing her attention back to me without having to step any closer. “You seem to be avoiding me lately. Then the refusal for another date. What’s going on?”

The scent of her arousal drifts in the air toward me, proving she’s not as unaffected by me as she’d like me to believe. “Can you tone down the sexual vibe?” Her voice cracks with the strain. “I’m barely hanging by a thread, here.”

Immediately I cut off the outpouring of pheromones. The air clears in the space of a few heartbeats. “Done. Now, come clean. I know you’re interested and yet you’ve refused me for a second date. Did you lie about having a boyfriend?”

A shadow crosses her face. “No, I don’t have a boyfriend, that was true. I just changed my mind about going out with you again so soon.”

Her puckered nipples strain against the tight fabric of her shirt. Her breasts are small enough that she doesn’t need a bra. Not wearing one works to my advantage—she can’t hide her response to me.

A slow smile spreads across my mouth. I glance down at her chest and back up, purposely calling attention to her arousal. “Really? Your body begs to differ.”

Heat suffuses her cheeks. She shrugs and her tone comes out flat. “We can’t always get what we want.”

I push off the wall and cross the hall to stand in front of her. “What happened, Raine? Last week you invited me back to your place.”

Her eyes flick to the door again, her discomfort at my nearness quite clear. “And you refused!” One tiny hand comes to my chest, halting my advance when I would have pressed against her. “It turned out to be for the best.” Her face shuts down. “I need to go.”

The metallic click of the releasing door lock shatters the silence, spurring me into action at the sight of her disappearing form. I’m not giving up without a fight. I feel something for her dammit, even if I’m not sure what it is.

“Raine, wait!” I rush after her, catching the door before it closes, and leap down the three stairs to the back parking lot.

She turns, keys clutched in her hand, ready to get in her car. The anguish on her face fuels me forward. I close the space and pull her stiff form into my arms. Before I have a chance to think things through, I lower my lips to hers and capture her mouth in a kiss.

Ignoring the desire to plunder her softness, I hold back my animal instincts, tasting her sweetness in a tender brush of skin on skin. A spark of yearning burns between us and I deepen my pressure, gently running my tongue along her lower lip. With a soft moan she succumbs, opening her mouth to mine as stress melts from her body.

Running a hand over her silky cap of hair, I lightly cup her skull, angling her head for better access. Eager for more, my tongue ventures inside, licking her top teeth and sparring with her own shy advances.

Very soon our ragged breathing is the only sound in the deserted lot. I playfully nip her bottom lip and an anguished cry rips from her throat, right before she pushes me away.

“I like you, Jon. A lot.” She raises a stiff arm to hold me at a distance. “But there are things going on that you’re unaware of.”

The passion boiling through my veins makes my voice harsher than I’d like. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

She jolts, like I’ve physically smacked her. Fear skitters across her face, chased away by firm resolve. “You need to leave northern Virginia.” She yanks open her car door and rushes inside. The engine turns over while I stand with my mouth agape. “Trust me. It’s for your own good.”

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