Genre = Paranormal, Fantasy, Romance
LENGTH: 63,000 words, 252 pages
Heidi was a lover, not a fighter, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t take care of herself.
Heidi liked her new life as a Healer in the Gray Wolf Pack. She liked Ryan Calder too. But liking didn’t mean she wanted to be his mate. She was just finding her personal freedom—just finally doing what she felt she’d always been meant to do. Why did Ryan have to keep pressuring her?
She’d badly wanted a break from his pursuit of her, but being kidnapped wasn’t what she had in mind. Help would be coming for her. Her Alpha and her Beta would not stop until she was found. Unfortunately, they might be too late to save her from being dissected. Scientist Diane Crane was determined to learn all her secrets.
Her pack sees her as a liability when it comes to fighting. Does she have what it takes to save herself? Heidi’s about to find out.
READ AN EXCERPT
Heidi sighed and climbed from their still warm bed as she watched Ryan pace the confines of her room at the inn. Though she’d never seen her lover’s animal side in reality, it was easy to see the restless wolf prowling inside the even more restless man. Ryan continued complaining as he dressed.
She went to the bathroom to wash her face but left to the door slightly open to be polite.
Ryan’s blind persistence about the state of their relationship left no room for her to express any feelings of doubt she still had. She felt pressured by his constant demands for more than she wanted to give at that moment. Was she fond of Ryan? Yes, of course. Did she love him? Her answer was always a big “I don’t know” which was the core of her problem and more than enough reason to slow things down.
She was tired of fighting and trying to get him to see she needed time, space, and the freedom to figure things out. Instead, they’d been having this exact argument every day since she’d finally found a way to move out of the inn and into her own place. Not that she’d found her perfect sanctuary to live in yet, but apparently her intention to do so was more independence from her than Ryan could handle. He insisted she had to live with him and refused to hear anything to the contrary.
“Tell me the truth, Heidi. Do you want someone else in the pack? I know you see nearly every male come through the healing center at some point.”
Heidi fisted a hand on her hip and glared at her jealous lover. “How many times are you going to ask me that stupid question? One possessive werewolf is more than enough for any sane woman to want to deal with. You know you’re more than enough male in bed. Some nights you barely let me sleep, Ryan. What more could I want?”
Ryan growled, unable to hold it back. “If I’m so great in bed, then why won’t you talk about moving in with me?”
Heidi snorted at the sound. It took more than a bunch of growling to intimidate her these days. Ariel and Brandi growled constantly. She wasn’t immune yet, but she was damn close.
“I’m not going to move in with a man just because of great sex. I’ve had my share of sleeping with men and the ghosts of their former lovers. I think we both need some space to work through things before we can talk about any sort of real future.”
“Fine. I’ll buy a new bed, one I never shared with any other female. See? Ghosts all gone. Problem solved,” Ryan said, lifting a hand.
Heidi shook her head. “Are you not hearing my words? Closure is about a lot more than a piece of furniture, Ryan. You’re not just going to slide me into your mate’s old house and make me an echo of a dead woman—wolf—whatever.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. My mate’s been gone for years now. I’m ready to mate again—with you. Come live with me and change whatever you want,” Ryan insisted.
Heidi growled, the sound rumbling in her chest as it surprised her. She seemed to growl a lot when she was aggravated. “I don’t know who I am yet, so there’s no way you could know if I’m right for you. I need time to figure things out, not constant pressure. That’s not unreasonable given all I’ve been through, now is it?”
Ryan huffed out a breath and then snorted. “I know you went through a lot being changed into a werewolf, but your pack mates have both adapted and taken mates. Why can’t you?”
Heidi swallowed the hurt she felt at being unfavorably compared to two women she greatly admired. “In case it has escaped your wolf senses, I’m not Ariel or Brandi. And if you think their lives are a bed of roses with their so-called mates, they’re not. They make things work on their own terms.”
“Mating is simply two people wanting to be together. It doesn’t have terms,” Ryan said firmly.
“You’re twisting my words because you’re not hearing what I’m saying. I can’t fight with you every day and also be calm enough to do the healing work at the center. I need time for myself, and… and my Alpha said I could have it. One way or the other, I intend to create a living space where I can grow into the person I was meant to be. Right now I don’t see that being with you when all we do is argue.”
“Is that your final word on the matter?” Ryan asked, tugging on his coat and hat.
Heidi nodded tightly. “Yes. Whether you understand my reasons or not, I’m taking the time I need to sort myself out.”
“Fine,” Ryan said, marching out the door and slamming it behind him.
“Fine to you, too!” Heidi yelled, knowing his werewolf hearing would pick up her sarcastic echo.
She was still glaring when the door suddenly opened again. Her whole body relaxed when she saw it was Brandi. Her pack mate and friend came in and perched on the edge of her bed.
“Trouble with your Calder triplet of choice?” Brandi asked.
Heidi snorted. “I should have just picked stupid Junior, but no, I had to pick the needy, serious one.”
Brandi chuckled. “I passed Ryan as I came up the stairs. He looked upset.”
Heidi grabbed two handfuls of her hair and yanked as she growled loudly. Brandi’s laughter had her releasing her inner bitch who was still seething mad at him.
“I will not be pressured into becoming Ryan’s mate. I don’t even need Ariel’s directive against it anymore. He’s made me so mad now that all I want to do is stay the Hello Pete away from him.”
“Hello Pete?” Brandi repeated, laughing at the phrase. “Is that how you swear?”
“Yes. I was raised in a conservative town,” Heidi explained.
“Me too,” Brandi said. “But it didn’t fucking take in my case. The military wiped the rest away.”
Heidi snickered. “You think I’m a big wimp, don’t you?”
“No.” Brandi rose and walked close enough to put a hand on Heidi’s shoulder. “No, you’re definitely not a wimp. A wimp would never have run with us that day. A wimp would have turned herself in to the authorities by now. You are hell and far from being a wimp.”
“Yeah? So what am I then?” Heidi asked, her confidence frayed. “I wish someone would tell me because I sure as the sun shines don’t know.”
“You’re going to be whatever the hell you choose to be, which is what I always see in my visions of your future. And speaking of visions… that’s why I’m here this morning. Can you call Eva and come out with me instead? I need to check on something I saw last night.”
Heidi’s anger disappeared as fast as it had built within her. She’d always seen her ability to set anger aside as a gift, but it had sometimes made her an emotional doormat. There had to be something in-between the two extremes. There just had to be.
She nodded and grabbed a jacket from the closet. Eva would have to understand because the needs of her primary pack came first.
“What did you see in your vision?”
She watched Brandi run a hand through her now shoulder length hair that she had to cut every five days. It was a big change from the short, choppy bob Brandi had worn when they met. For reasons none of them could explain, their nanos chose certain aspects of their personal appearance to tweak. Brandi’s nanos evidently liked her with long hair. Gareth did too, but then wasn’t that true of all males?
“I don’t know if what I had was a vision or just a very strange dream. I couldn’t tell this time. But if I don’t go see the place I saw in my head, the wondering over it will drive me crazy.”
Heidi nodded to show her acceptance. “Okay. Let’s go. I’ll call Eva on the way. Is Ariel going with us?”
“Of course. She’s downstairs waiting now.”
The helicopter blades still whirled quietly overhead as Katarina Volkov ducked and ran under them. She did not turn to look at the dead pilot she’d left on the ground, nor did she lift her middle finger to salute the blasted flying machine. She wanted to do both but did neither because there was no time to vent her frustration in the usual ways.
She’d killed the pilot to escape. What was done—was done. Now all she could do was run before the pilot’s boss came back.
The silver collar her captor had put on her was still doing its job very well. Although it had kept her from shifting to a wolf, it had not drained her determination to flee when she saw the chance. Her handsome abductor would not be happy to return and find his expensive pilot dead. The one he called “boss” on the phone would not be happy either.
Of course, if she ended up dying in her escape, she would be the least happy of all… which she was smart enough to know could still happen. The collar burned her neck so badly it felt like she was choking. Perhaps it was all in her mind. She was still woozy from the drugs they’d used on her when they’d stolen her from her modest professorial home at Moscow State University.
If she could have shifted to a wolf, it would have improved her weakened condition, but wishing for the impossible would not help her survive. It was up to her human form and that was always a bit of a challenge in dire circumstances.
Curse her luck with men. Her handsome abductor possessed hair of midnight black and eyes like green jewels. Waking to see him standing over her had seemed a fantasy come true until she noticed his eyes held absolutely no delight. He gave her some water and eventually some food. Then he drugged her again, jabbing the syringe into her arm with no remorse at all.
He’d even refused to give her his name and brusquely told her she didn’t need to know.
Her inner wolf had worked hard to push away the drugs from her organs because she woke up to find the plane resting on the ground. She listened to her captor tell the pilot how he had to go into Anchorage. The idea of escape seemed destined once she knew where she was. The pilot’s attempt to accost her had provided the last motivation her wolf side had needed to find the energy to strike.
Alaska was not her motherland, but it was close in many ways. She decided if she didn’t die, she would run. She would run across Alaska until she found the pack that the visionary, Nicolai Vashchenko, had joined during her grandfather’s time. Before her father had banished her, the grandfather she’d liked had filled her head with tales about him, tales her mother had often punished her for repeating.
From Russia to Alaska, Nicolai had roamed across continents until he’d found a new pack—one that appreciated his gifts of prophecy and second sight. Once settled, he’d sent word back to one or two friends that he was doing fine. He did not care enough at that point to tell the family who’d shunned him. He also did not tell the woman who’d said she loved him but had no faith in his calling.
Giving up on Nicolai, her grandmother had eventually taken another mate, Katarina’s own grandfather, which is why she now existed. Yet her grandmother had not given her grandfather a mating that was a whole love. It was Nicolai Vashchenko’s name on her grandmother’s lips when her final breath left her. Only after Katarina was fully grown did she realize her grandmother’s deathbed utterance had broken what was left of her grandfather’s heart.
Yet why had it surprised? Even as a child, Katarina had known her existence came from one heartache chasing after another. Her mother conceived her without a true mating and her biological father refused to admit she was his. In her pack, giving birth to a female Alpha was mostly seen as a curse on your family.
Perhaps it was true.
No one had stepped forward to claim her as a mate or to help her defend her right to rule the pack. But everyone had supported her father in getting rid of her.
Her father hated her. She knew it for truth because he’d said so often and with great passion.
She’d seen surprise—and what she wished was pride—in her father’s eyes only once. His sons by a female not her mother were not borne Alphas, but both had attempted to be one to please the unhappy male who sired them all. She’d emerged the victor from their public attack only to be immediately sent away in shame.
Shunned, Katarina had gone to nearby Moscow and resigned herself to live among humans until her destiny changed. She had lacked Nicolai’s courage to venture so far from what she’d known all her life… and she secretly hoped to be missed and asked to return. Years passed though—over fifty years—with no changes. She’d heard nothing from her pack in all that time, other than a brief message telling her that her biological mother had died. She’d grieved alone and then she’d gone on.
Until the day a handsome wolf had taken her from her home.
Katarina slowed her jog as her vision blurred. Her throat tightened painfully, obstructing her breathing more than ever. Her wolf urged her on, saying help was close, but how would her wolf know such a thing? Her monthly shifts had never been enough to appease the restless animal inside her. Unhappiness had eventually turned inward to become unpleasant traits like irritation and impatience with everyone. She fought a daily battle to push away the despair of being alone.
Humbled by the true possibility of death, she found herself praying Nicolai’s Alaskan pack might find and help her, but life had taught her prayers often went unanswered. After years of no werewolf company but her own, she’d come to her own conclusions about the hierarchy of her species. Alphas got discouraged just like regular pack members. They were just hard-wired not to show it, which was the only reason her protesting feet still carried her forward. It was the one thing about herself she trusted implicitly.
A jolt of electricity shot through the collar and the blazing pain stole what was left of her bravery. The rising black behind her eyelids overshadowed her deep disappointment in herself for not succeeding in her escape. She thought wistfully of her grandfather’s home in Balashikha. She thought of Moscow, St. Petersburg, and all the places she’d miss in her motherland when she was no more.
No one was coming for her. No one cared. She’d lived alone. Now it seemed she would die that way as well.
On her knees, Katarina called once more to the spirit of her grandmother’s true love. She did so in English, which might have been the language of his new people. In either case, it was the only other one she half-way knew.
“Nicolai Vashchenko in the great ever after, I ask you to meet me on other side,” Katarina whispered.
Gritting her teeth, she screamed, but it only came out a croak. Her hands stung like fire as she made one last attempt to rip the silver collar off before she hit the ground.
Ariel drove them in the SUV Matt bought for her so she wouldn’t have to shift and run everywhere she needed to go while he was busy in town. Brandi sat in the passenger seat pointing out turns.
Heidi’s comfort level with the two women still amazed her even after all the months that had passed since their turning. They said “let’s go” and without question she climbed into vehicles with them and just went. Why? She wasn’t sure. Reed told her innate trust was just a natural part of pack mentality.
Brandi pointed up ahead. “There… see that grove of trees off to the right. There’s a field just beyond it. I think there’s a path from the roads to the woods. Pull along the edge if you can’t find a place to park.”
Ariel glanced at her excited Beta. “Thought I was the Alpha in this group.”
“I have three words for you,” Brandi said, her smile widening as she pointed a finger at her own chest. “Agent. Bossy. Visionary.” She reached out and patted Ariel’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, Doc. You’re still the smartest among us.”
“Is that sarcasm?” Ariel demanded, trying not to laugh.
In the backseat, Heidi decided Brandi was like a werewolf GPS. The woman never got lost, and even when madder than Heidi had ever seen anyone get except Ariel, Brandi always remained in control. She secretly longed for just a little of that emotional cool—or whatever the quality was.
Ariel pulled off the road into a grassy lane and put the vehicle against the edge as much as possible. “That’s the best I can do. If someone comes along, they’ll never get by us.”
“Not likely. From the looks of things, this road hasn’t been used in ages. I’m guessing three years or more,” Brandi said, walking ahead of them.
Heidi zipped up her jacket and stuck her hands in both her pockets. She matched her stride to Ariel’s. Brandi walked quickly ahead, soon disappearing among the trees in her hunt.
“You and Ryan have a bad morning?” Ariel asked.
Heidi sighed as they walked. Guess everyone in the inn had heard at least part of their fight.
“I’ve worked enough hours at the center to get my own place. Apparently, healers earn their living differently than normal people. The rest of what I take in will be in store credit and donations. Basically, I have accounts with money in them all over town. It took me some time to get used to that sort of bartering goods for my services, but I’m ready to own it now. Several people are even looking out for the perfect house for me.”
“I’m guessing Ryan doesn’t like you being so independent,” Ariel said.
Brandi sighed. “I don’t know what his problem is. It’s like Ryan wants me to be completely dependent on him. Maybe he thinks it gives him a convenient excuse to keep suggesting we move in together. We’ve been having the same argument for a month now. I want… space. I need time to figure myself out. He wants a commitment I’m not ready for—that I may never be ready for.”
Ariel shrugged. “Then you should take all the time you need.”
Heidi nodded. “I know. I’m going to take the time, no matter how mad Ryan gets at me over it.”
Ariel reached out an arm and let it rest lightly around Heidi’s shoulders. “If he truly loves you, he’ll deal with letting you find your way.”
“Do you think he really loves me?” Heidi asked.
“Don’t you?” Ariel asked back.
Heidi sighed and shrugged. Ariel moved her arm and Heidi instantly missed the comfort of it. Her need for her Alpha’s approval was strong. “All I know for sure is that sex and love are two different things.”
“Don’t you mean two parts of the same thing?” Ariel asked, putting her hands in her coat pockets to keep them warm. “When my human marriage starting falling apart, my husband and I lost our sex life first. He rationalized it by saying I was boring in bed. Maybe I was at that time. Whatever the case, divorce soon followed for us. But I can’t even imagine having sexual issues with Matt other than his intention to make me pregnant if he can. Our life is balanced with our mutual need of each other. I think this is the way it’s supposed to work.”
Heidi put her hand on Ariel’s arm and made them both stop. “But he knows a baby might not even be possible. Are you sure Matt’s trying to get you pregnant?”
Ariel nodded. “Yes. He makes no secret of it. Luckily, I’ve only been in heat that one time. He was supposed to tell me when it happened, but he conveniently forgot until the third night I’d kept him up and busy. He obviously didn’t think my human self-control could hold out during that phase, but changed his tune after I slept in his guest room for the remaining two nights of the cycle.”
Wide-eyed at the news her Alpha was sharing, Heidi let her hand slip away. “Eva and I talked about werewolf heat cycles. I haven’t had one yet. Brandi thinks she may have had one when she and Gareth mated, but no babies resulted. Do you think Brandi would tell us if she got another cycle?”
Ariel chuckled. “Yes. Us… Gareth… and whoever else upset her while it was happening. It makes PMS look like a small headache. When it happens to you, you’re going to know, Heidi. Unless some scheming male tells you that you have the equivalent of a werewolf flu. If Nanuka hadn’t come by to visit, I might never have known the truth. She glared at Matt and didn’t back down or leave until I’d processed what was happening for myself.”
“Wow. He must want children very badly,” Heidi whispered as they started walking again.
“Or he wants to prove my scientific theory about it being impossible is wrong,” Ariel suggested.
Heidi sighed again. “Are all males just controlling jackwagons?”
“Jackwagons?” Ariel asked, chuckling over the term.
Rolling her eyes, Heidi picked up her pace. “Yeah. Yeah. I know my swearing sucks. I’m a wimp.”
Ariel laughed loudly. “You are hell and far from being a wimp. You may be behind a bit in your personal evolution, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. You saved my life when it was supposed to be impossible. Who knows what you’re capable of doing? Cut yourself a break and just be happy to be you, honey.”
“Thank you, Ariel.” Heidi launched herself at her Alpha who laughed as she pulled her in for a comforting hug.
Brandi’s yell and subsequent swearing had them both pushing away from each other to run in the direction of her voice.
“Hey, I found her! Ouch—damn silver! You sorry ass motherfuckers. Shit, that hurts like a mad bitch.”
They cut through the trees and brush in the short stretch of woods separating the road from the grassy field behind it. They found Brandi bent over something hidden in a bunch of tall grass.
Heidi was almost completely out of breath by the time she stopped running. Her Alpha was hard to keep up with when she was moving at top speed, even in human form. She dropped to her knees beside the woman Brandi had rolled over. The werewolf was medium height with a curvy, no-nonsense kind of female build. A mile of long, reddish brown curls had been woven into a braid and slung over one shoulder to fall down the front of her.
She wore a silver collar around her neck, which had left burn marks against any skin the silver had touched.
The three of them looked up at the same time and stared at each other. Shared memories of their time with Crazy Crane precluded the need to talk. Someone had made sure this woman couldn’t shift. The question was… why?
Brandi dug out her phone. Seconds later, she said in a rush. “Gareth, check on the kids. Tell Jesse and Marilyn that someone may be after them. The kids know the drill to disappear and stay gone until they hear from us. We found the collared female werewolf I dreamed about and someone’s obviously…”
Interrupted by a loud growl, Heidi watched Brandi hold the phone away as Gareth yelled through the connection, and then she pulled it back to her ear.
While Brandi argued with her mate, Heidi examined the woman. Did Ryan really expect her to jump into mating madness with him? No thank you. She needed a much calmer life and she intended to have one—even if it meant living alone.
“Gareth—if you’ll shut up for a minute, I’ll explain. I didn’t tell you about the vision because I thought it was a damn dream. Stewart didn’t say anything this morning, and you know he always does when I’ve had a real vision. I couldn’t stop thinking about it though, so I talked Ariel and Heidi into taking a little road trip with me just to check. Now I have to go because this person I’ve found may actually be dying. Next time don’t freaking yell at me when I call and need your help. Okay. Good. I love you too. Check on the kids.”
Brandi flipped the phone closed. “Gareth should be grateful he’s so good in bed because most of the time he’s hell to live with outside of it. Him and his stupid cows drive me fucking crazy on the best of days. Cattle farmer, my ass. Controlling werewolf bastard is more like it.”
Ariel cleared her throat and looked over Heidi’s bowed head. “Ix-nay on the astard-bay stuff, Brandi.”
Heidi grunted in disgust. “Pig Latin? What am I? Two?” She shook her head as she tried to ground herself to the earth as Eva taught her. “Could I please have some quiet so I can concentrate here? I may have to shift if I can’t get centered as a human.”
From the beginning, Eva had taught her to diagnose without shifting. They did a meditation to call her wolf power up without becoming a full wolf. What she hadn’t told Eva is that her nanos scrambled anyway, preparing her body for the transmutation whether she went through with it or not. Using the power of her wolf sent a million ants crawling just under her skin. She’d often had to learn to ignore their clamoring to fix what wasn’t broken.
Heidi held her hands above the woman’s midsection. “She has bruising on her spleen and two cracked ribs. I’m also sensing there’s some internal bleeding which could kill her. Seems like she had to fight to get away from whoever had her. The internal bleeding is bad news, but the real problem is that collar. It’s keeping her wolf from helping. We need to get it off.”
“I tried to break it,” Brandi said, showing her wounded fingers. Silver caused what looked like third-degree burns on all werewolves.
Heidi looked at Ariel, who just shook her head sadly. Ariel couldn’t do it either. “We’ll have to take her to Eva. She has tools to remove the collar safely.”
Now it was Heidi’s turn to shake her head. “No. She’s fading too much. I don’t think she has that long. But I have a theory about how to get it off.”
“Her breathing is getting more shallow. Better try something fast,” Brandi added, still crouching by the woman.
Nodding again, Heidi rose to her knees, leaning over the woman. She closed her eyes, but instead of calling her wolf, she called to the human side of herself. She thought about being a human teenager. Her best friend at the time had given her a sterling silver necklace with half a heart that fit like a puzzle with the other half her friend wore. She mentally put on the silver friendship necklace again, envisioning the silver chain resting comfortably around her neck. Her nanos went on high alert for the task, scrambling so hard under her skin that they made her wince in pain.
“What is it? What are you doing?” Ariel demanded.
“Shush,” Heidi ordered, not opening her eyes. “I’m fine. I’m talking to my nanos.”
Then she opened her eyes, reached behind the woman’s neck, and felt for a clasp. The silver was cool to her touch. She unclipped the latch of the collar, amazed that it came undone so easily. The woman gasped, rolled to her side, and coughed as she fought to breathe normally again.
Ariel pulled off her t-shirt and held it out. Heidi dropped the silver collar in the middle of it. They watched the woman open her eyes and stare at them.
“Shift to wolf so you can heal,” Heidi ordered.
“Collar,” the woman said hoarsely.
“It’s gone now,” Heidi answered. She also nodded to emphasize it was true. “You’re safe with us. I promise. Now shift to heal.”
Nodding briefly, the woman crawled to her knees and morphed into a stunning silver wolf, quite surprising since her human coloring was just the opposite.
“Is it me or does she remind you of someone?” Brandi asked, watching the large wolf walk around.
“Her wolf is an unusual color for around here, but everything else looks like she could be one of Reed’s pack,” Ariel supplied.
Heidi raised an eyebrow as she watched the silver she-wolf now attempt to run. Empathy had her remembering how it felt to let your animal side roam freely. Her nanos instantly scrambled again, changing her body back to a werewolf. She accepted that now as just normal. It had felt strange being completely human again anyway, even for such a short time. How strange it had felt had surprised her. Her wolf side made her stronger, wiser, better. That was evident in her healing work.
The last of her resentment about her fate drifted away on the breeze blowing by them all. It was one of those moments you treasure quietly and tuck away inside you as profound. Heidi sighed as her gaze came back to the silver wolf who looked at her and whined.
“You’re fine. I’m a pack healer. You can trust what I say. Shifting should be enough to get you functional again. Do it a couple more times.”
Heidi turned to see Ariel and Brandi looking at her instead of the werewolf they’d just rescued. “What?” she asked, slightly uncomfortable with their intense interest.
“You sound just like Eva when she’s giving orders,” Ariel finally said.
Heidi smiled, and then she laughed. “You always say the nicest things to me, Ariel.”
She swung her gaze and grinned at Brandi, nearly smirking—okay, maybe completely smirking—over her Alpha’s compliment. “Want to say something nice to me as well?”
“No,” Brandi said, fighting her twitching mouth. “I want to know how in hell you removed that silver collar without burning your fingers to the bone.”
Ariel chuckled. Heidi’s smile for both of them was wide. “Healing secret,” Heidi declared.
A naked woman walking up to them wearing only her shoes interrupted their private conversation. The size of the silver wolf seemed out of proportion compared to what the small female looked like in human form. They stared, each fighting her own reaction to seeing such big breasts on someone shorter than any of the three of them. Unable to fight off the urge, they each looked down at their own much smaller breasts and then back at the stranger’s.
Brandi looked off and said nothing. Heidi bit her lip to stop herself from giggling when Ariel covered her mouth with her hand to keep from laughing. The woman facing them didn’t seem embarrassed a bit, just uncomfortable to be standing there nude in front of them.
“Forgive please my nudeness. Clothes are back on plane they used to steal me. Soon the handsome one will come. We go now so I do not have to kill again, yes?”
“Kill again?” Brandi asked carefully.
“Yes. I kill pilot who help steal me from home,” she said.
“Are you Russian?” Brandi asked.
“Some would say. Mostly I am werewolf without country or pack. My name is Katarina Volkov. My thanks for you to save me,” she said.
When Brandi spoke to her in her native language, Katarina lifted both eyebrows but answered back. Then she held up a hand. “No wish to be rude. I speak English to honor all those the great Nicolai sent to rescue me.”
“Nicolai?” Ariel asked, her brow furrowing.
Katarina nodded. “Da. Nicolai Vashchenko, great werewolf who left his pack and found a new home in Alaska. I prayed to him to help me. He sent you.”
Brandi laughed. “Actually…”
Ariel cleared her throat and shook her head. “I’ve heard that name before. Nicolai was a visionary like Brandi. He joined the Black Wolf pack and knew Reed’s grandfather. Are you looking for Reed?”
“Reed? Who is this Reed?”
“He’s the Black Wolf Alpha now. His grandfather was Nicolai’s friend—I think.”
Katarina nodded. “Reed,” she said again, letting it settle in her mind. “Is good name, yes?”
The three of them nodded in answer.
Ariel smiled. “We’re part of Reed’s pack too… and we also have our own just the three of us. To complicate matters further, two of us have taken mates in the Gray Wolf pack as well.”
Katarina snorted. “Is very complicated.”
“You’re safe with us, but let’s get back to town,” Ariel said, turning the way they needed to go. “I have some spare clothes in the car you can wear. They might be too big for you, but they’ll beat being naked and cold.”
Katarina sighed and fell into step beside the tall, blonde Alpha. “This is for me—how you say—great humiliation. Shift then—no clothes. Just shoes. Always.”
Ariel snickered. “Welcome to the club, Sister.”
“Club? What is this club?” Katarina asked.
Heidi giggled. “Ariel shifts and loses her clothes too. She only keeps her boots. Brandi and I get to keep our clothes.”
Katarina elbowed Ariel. “You are Alpha. Why you allow them such disrespect?”
No longer surprised when any werewolf immediately knew what she was, Ariel shrugged. “These women are more than my pack. They are my friends. I disrespect them back when the mood hits me.”
Katarina nodded. “Understood. Nice to have pack. Better to have friends.”
“Yes, it is,” Ariel agreed.
“It’s not fancy, but it’s clean and far enough away from the heathens that you should have a modest amount of peace.”
Heidi smiled at her pack mate and friend. “What are you talking about? It’s every bit as nice as the room at the inn. I had credit built up for several more weeks, so I was happy to let Katarina have it. Poor thing fell asleep as soon as she hit the bed. I appreciate you and Gareth letting me stay with you for a while.”
Brandi waved the thanks away. “It’s no problem having you here and we have plenty of room. The kids have their own barracks now—I mean, wing of the house.”
Heidi giggled at Brandi’s slip. “Is being a mother harder than being an agent?”
“Only by a factor of a hundred. Lately, it’s been made worse by my absentee mate who has to periodically get personal with his cattle. Apparently, it’s breeding season. Gareth lets the bull into the pasture, then stands there to make sure he treats the cows right. Yes, I mean that in every sense of the statement.”
Heidi laughed. “Bet Gareth comes home in an interesting mood on those days.”
Laughing herself, Brandi made a face, but smiled when she thought about it further, and then shrugged. “I won’t deny it. I’m just glad we have our privacy back. We get a little loud sometimes.”
Silence descended as their conspiratorial laughter faded guiltily away.
Brandi’s head suddenly lifted in alarm as she strained to listen. “I have to go check on them. This much quiet is not good with those three.”
Heidi waved her away. “Go. I’m fine. The only things I have to unpack are what I pulled out of Matt’s donation bin. Everything I own is all in the one bag I brought with me. I’ve been too busy at the Healing Center to go shopping.”
Brandi nodded absently as she jogged away.
Heidi snickered as she looked around the inviting guest room. It was impossible to think of Brandi choosing the homey decorations, so it had to have been Gareth that chose the lavender patchwork quilt and decorative pillows.
Though both her packmates offered their homes to her, staying with Brandi and Gareth had seemed a better choice than staying with Ariel and Matt. The dual Alphas would never leave her alone to ponder her next step. Whereas Brandi would probably forget she was around like she did just now when she took off in a run to check on her hybrid werewolf kids.
If only Ryan could be a little more like that. Would he ever leave her alone long enough to figure herself out?
Her sigh was loud as she thought of the man she was avoiding. She missed sleeping with him, but he had to understand that she needed time alone—time to think.
What did she want out of this strange new life they all now had in freezing cold Alaska? Was she never going to go to the beach again? Never visit a park? Never go see a ball game?
The last thing she had time to deal with was figuring out how to be mated. Intuiting what was going on inside a person who was hurt or sick still overwhelmed her.
She was fond of Ryan and they had great chemistry. However, chasing physical chemistry from the lower forty-nine to Anchorage was what had stranded her jobless and penniless several years ago. It had not been fun and games to work as an escort just to survive. She didn’t regret what she’d done to get by. She regretted being so desperate for love that she’d followed her stupid boyfriend to Alaska where he left her stranded.
Life taught her the hard way that great sex was not the same as real love. Love was… well, she wasn’t sure what it was, since she had never found it. Her birth family hadn’t exactly been populated with women in solid relationships. Becoming a werewolf hadn’t changed the fact that she’d been born and bred to be a weak-hearted human female.
“Which is exactly why I need time to figure this whole werewolf thing out for myself. I don’t want to keep being that kind of person,” Heidi said aloud, sighing as she carried her single bag of belongings into the room.
“Stop fretting, Ryan. Brandi told us Heidi really likes you. That woman wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true. Gareth’s mate is simply not that kind of person.”
Ryan frowned at his mother. “Why is that good news? Great—so Heidi likes me. Is that what I should want in a mate, Mom? Should I want the woman I love to merely like me?”
He yelped at his father’s hard tap on the back of his head with a rolled up newspaper.
“Liking your mate is just as important as the bedding, son. I know I’ve told you boys that since you discovered your man parts were for more important things than pissing in the snow. As the oldest child in this family, you should be the one setting the proper example for your two younger brothers.”
Ryan glared as he mulled over their reasoning. He ran a restless hand over his face. Why did no one but him realize that he’d just lost the second woman he’d ever loved?
“I don’t see how being born a mere two minutes before Carson and barely four minutes before Dillon makes me the oldest.”
“You came out first. That’s just the way it works,” his father replied.
Ryan glared even harder when his mother laughed at their argument. “I don’t know why I’m here. You two are no help at all.”
“Well, your father and I don’t want to make you more unhappy. You can always go stay with your brothers until Heidi comes around,” his mother suggested.
Ryan huffed out a breath. “No. I can’t. They’re messy and irritating. I need my own space.”
Marilyn rolled her eyes before eyeballing her son. “Then why can’t you see Heidi wants that for herself.”
“Because I know I’m supposed to be with her,” Ryan said, glaring back at his mother.
“Speaking of personal space, I thought you were looking at the Holton’s property that’s for sale. It’s past time you got yourself a different place to live, boy. Where you are holds too many memories for you.”
Ryan shrugged before sighing in defeat. “I have to wait until my current house sells before I can buy. In the meantime, Heidi refuses to spend the night in a place where I’ve slept with another woman. She’s moving someplace without me.”
His mother’s laugh had him glaring again. “What’s so funny about that?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t blame Heidi for feeling that way. She doesn’t want to be a replacement for a dead woman. Any woman would feel the same.”
Ryan spread his hands. “Which is why I’m selling the freaking house, but these things take time. The realtor said the house was more likely to move quickly if I wasn’t messing it up on a daily basis.”
“You never messed anything up in your life,” his father said. “You’re just a little hard-headed… nothing bad though.”
His father’s faint praise brought a smile to his mouth. “Well, I’ve messed up my relationship with Heidi. How is it my fault she turned out to be my mate? I never wanted to get so attached to her.”
“You think that way because you’re a smart man… ouch, Mari. I wasn’t talking about me and you,” his father protested, rubbing the back of his head where his mother had smacked him.
Their mock fighting brought on a real smile. Ryan sighed as he laughed. “I have to share Heidi with her work. Is that enough torture?”
“Torture? Her work is very important, Ryan. A healer like Heidi is a very worthy mate to care for,” his mother said.
Ryan nodded. “True, but Heidi would be a worthy mate for me even if she was nothing more than a store clerk. The healing will always put a demand on her time and energy that I won’t be able to fight against. The best I can say is that it truly brings her joy to help people. I just sometimes wish she was like a regular werewolf female. I hate having no idea where I stand.”
“You’re a worthy mate too, Ryan. I can see why you waited for her to come along before dating again. I think that was a smart move for you,” his father said.
The unexpected comment caught him off-guard. Ryan nodded. “Heidi is the first woman to interest me since Claire died. If I get lucky, Heidi will be my last woman. Thanks for saying that though, Dad. It means a lot to me. I never planned on wanting to take a mate again at all.”
“You’re a good man and a good wolf—all your mother and I could have asked you to grow up to be. Now your brothers… Dillon and Carson still need a bit more work. All we can do is pray for the right females to come along.”
Brandi panted from exertion as she turned her face from where it was hidden in the pillow. It had almost smothered her, but it had kept her from screaming. Gareth had been in rare form this evening. His rumbling soft growl as he reluctantly slid out of her from behind was just more solid proof. In certain moods, the man was nearly insatiable.
She stretched and gathered her pillow into her arms, sighing and getting comfortable. Gareth wrapped an arm around her and then slid one muscular thigh over the back of her legs.
He idly rubbed her butt with interest, which sent her giggling. “Aren’t you supposed to be an old man?”
It was all she could do to stifle her response as Gareth nipped her shoulder sharply. He’d been a gentle, thorough lover during her burning time. He’d been an aggressive, demanding lover when she’d rejected him. Now he could turn that aggressive side on and off at will and did so just to mess with her. She’d bet money on it.
She rolled her head and smiled at the low-lidded, lust-filled look he gave her. “I’m not complaining, just curious.”
“You’ve been very introspective lately. What’s that about?” Gareth demanded softly.
Brandi held his gaze as he idly rubbed his fingers over her rounded but very toned ass. Muscle tone without workouts was one of just many werewolf perks to her way of thinking.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been introspective in my life,” she answered.
“Well, you are now,” Gareth said. “Out with whatever it is you’re brooding about. Don’t make me get rough with you. The kids have gotten used to you yelling at me, but we have a house guest. Heidi might actually come to investigate if we start fighting.”
Another giggle escaped before she could stifle it. Damn the man. “The three hoodlums we’re raising nearly set the house on fire this afternoon. You watch your cattle getting it on all day and come home to me horny as hell, which I have to deal with no matter how tired I am. And now I’ve got a depressed pack mate bunking in my guest room. What kind of problems could I possibly have to be introspective about, Gareth?”
“Are you whining about getting laid so well? Or just mad I didn’t give you that fourth orgasm you were straining after?” Gareth demanded.
Brandi raised up on her arms, whipped her pillow out from under her head, and smacked it over Gareth’s face. Leaning over him, she put her weight into it, pretending to smother him just to prove she could. His laughter used up a lot of his air, and before too long she found herself flat on her back. Now Gareth was the one panting as he glared down at her.
She arched an eyebrow. “Let’s get something straight, Longfeather. I do not whine. I inform you of my emotional status. You need to make me feel better like you promised. My life is hard and it sucks to be me right now.”
Gareth sputtered with laughter as his head fell to his mate’s breasts. “I swear I love you like no other. This is about Heidi, isn’t it? Because if it’s about the kids, you’re shit out of luck. They’re getting smarter, bigger, and stronger every blessed day. I can’t stop that process. They’re thriving here.”
Brandi snorted and ran a hand through Gareth’s hair. “I can handle the kids, but I have no idea what to say to Heidi. She seems so confused.”
Gareth moved down and kissed Brandi’s stomach. “You say nothing. You hug. You pat. You stand by until she figures it out. There is nothing to do but stand guard.”
“Is that official Pack Beta advice?” Brandi asked.
Gareth nodded against the soft skin under his cheek. “Yes. It’s also friend advice. You can’t make her decisions for her. All you can do is stand by her side while she comes to terms with her own power. Heidi is undergoing an evolution within herself—something you and Ariel breezed through without even realizing it was happening.”
Brandi’s sigh filled their silent bedroom. “Okay,” she said at last. “Any chance I could get that fourth orgasm? I could use the distraction.”
Gareth laughed softly as he kissed his way down.
“I’m glad to be finding shifter books lately that are unique to their own genre. This didn’t feel like all the other shifter/werewolf books out there. And best of all, we have possessive mates in this series!” -NetGalley Reviewer
“I really liked Heidi, and she has a lot more strength than everyone was giving her as well as morals. This was a unique take on a new wolf pack with nano tech. I really liked Donna’s writing style and will definitely check out more of her work when I can afford it. Awesome storyline and action packed with all sorts of new ideas! I highly recommend this to any wolf shifter fans who want a new adventure!” -NetGalley Reviewer
“This was a new take on the werewolves for me, but I found it really interesting. Katrina was one of the best characters I have ever read and when Yana came I was dying laughing. I would recommend starting from the beginning of the series since the author doesn’t recap the previous books. This being my first read in this series I was left with a ton of questions, so I will be reading the first two books and I’m really looking forward to reading Reed’s story in the next book.” -NetGalley Reviewer
“I really enjoyed this book. It does not disappoint. A super addition to a great series, cannot wait for the next one!” -NetGalley Reviewer
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