So…. I wrapped up another story this past week—just in the nick of time. It releases next week! The puzzle is related (hint-hint!). I had already set up a pre-order for the story but had to change the description slightly, as well as the price (it’s cheaper!), because it turned out to be more of a novelette than a novella. I don’t think you’ll mind. For this writer, I begin a story, thinking it’s going to go a certain way, and then stuff happens. Crazy stuff I didn’t see until the characters encounter something surprising (right along with me!), and the story takes off in another direction. This story will require a sequel. But you’ll have to read it, and then you’ll get an idea of why. Hate being a tease, but hey, that’s my job, right?
In the meantime, I have to move onto other projects, like a certain SEAL stepbrother and a wedding…another bounty hunter adventure… I’m editing three stories for other authors—all due by the end of this month! I’ll be revising an old story I based very loosely on a Russian fairytale and releasing that this month—so be watching for it!
Play the puzzle—then I have a question for you.
Answer in the comments, and you might win a $5 Amazon gift card!
Which of my series would you like to see continued? Check this page for a reminder of what’s already there!
(Shame on me, I haven’t updated that page to show the Montana Bounty Hunters!)
Don’t miss out on FREE STORIES! Again, here’s the deal…
Throughout December, leading up to Christmas on the Delilah’s Collections website, I and some of the wonderful authors who’ve appeared in my collections will be giving away our stories! My suggestion, if you’re interested in collecting them, is to subscribe to the Collections blog. Look for the sign-up in the right column on that website. It says “Subscribe To Blog Via Email”—easy, right? That way you won’t miss a single offering. And beware! These free stories will only be available for a short time, so jump on them!
All things Footloose seem to be coming to roost at my house this year. The Kevin Bacon classic debuted in 1984. 12 years old at the time, I remember going to the opening day at a small theater, by myself, wearing white jeans and a multi-colored top. I wasn’t the only teen or pre-teen in the audience, and I wasn’t the only kid who got up to dance during a lot of the scenes.
Looking back on those days, three things stand out—the music, the freedom, and the rising tide of emotional nostalgia for when life was simply a battle between the desire to dance and the desire to keep kids safe. Yes, there’s a lot more to the argument, though admittedly the idea that dancing led to drinking and drugs was always a stretch for me.
Holding Out for a Hero
Let’s get back to the music, Bonnie Tyler’s Holding out for a Hero was a huge part of Footloose. Looking back, I have to wonder at the choice. The song served as the score for the showdown between Ren (Kevin Bacon) and Ariel’s (Lori Singer) abusive boyfriend, Chuck (Jim Youngs). So the song fits that aspect, but the showdown is played out as a glorified game of chicken on tractors.
My 12 year old self thought that was badass, but my 45 year old self looks back and says, “Tractors? Really?” So was the showdown badass because of the tractors or the song?
Of course, flash forward a couple of decades to Shrek 2 and suddenly we have a new version of Holding out for a Hero courtesy of Jennifer Saunders. The music did for Shrek exactly what it did for Footloose, conveyed heroism on our erstwhile heroes whether they fit the “common” conception or not.
The Song Remains the Same
I’m pretty sure what made both scenes badass was the song. And from that point forward, Bonnie Tyler’s song was ever-present in the back of my mind from my first viewing to the present. The song suggested heroism whether you’re talking superheroes, military men, shifters, and more. It can’t come as any surprise that the song would then become background music for every single book I’ve written including When Danger Bites which married military and shifter romance into one novel.
The story is right there in the lyrics:
Where have all the good men gone
And where are all the gods
Where’s the street-wise Hercules
To fight the rising odds
Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed
Late at night toss and turn and dream of what I need
I need a hero
I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night
He’s gotta be strong
And he’s gotta be fast
And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight
I need a hero
Are you singing it in your head? I know I am. I even cranked up both versions when I began writing this blog. So if you are holding out for a hero, who is strong and fast, and fresh from the fight? I present to you Captain Jax Raymond of Bravo Team WOLF.
Oh and the second Footloose connection? It’s the high school musical for Mini’s junior year. We’re going to be holding out for more than a hero, we’re going to be holding out for a part.
One lucky commentator will win a $10 GC from Amazon, so tell me, what about you? Are you holding out for a hero?
Bravo Team WOLF WHEN DANGER BITES
Buttoned-up Corporal Kaitlyn Amador is dangerous on every level. As a human, she poses a threat to Marine Captain Jax Raymond’s special Force Recon unit. Though the team has a reputation among the other recon units, only their commanding officer knows their secret. As a woman, the danger posed is entirely different. Jax can survive the temptation for only so long before his wolf takes over and pursues what it wants.
Military intelligence specialist Corporal Kaitlyn Amador is the first woman in the Marines to be assigned to a recon team. And everyone’s watching her. Her mission? Not only prove herself worthy of her place in the group, but uncover the mystery of why Bravo Team is so successful. A mission that gets more difficult every time she’s near Jax…
USA Today bestselling author, Heather Long, likes long walks in the park, science fiction, superheroes, Marines, and men who aren’t douche bags. Her books are filled with heroes and heroines tangled in romance as hot as Texas summertime.
From paranormal historical westerns to contemporary military romance, Heather might switch genres, but one thing is true in all of her stories—her characters drive the books. When she’s not wrangling her menagerie of animals, she devotes her time to family and friends she considers family.
She believes if you like your heroes so real you could lick the grit off their chest, and your heroines so likable, you’re sure you’ve been friends with women just like them, you’ll enjoy her worlds as much as she does.
Heather is best known for her 18-book paranormal romance series Wolves of Willow Bend, which begins:
Prequel: Wolf at Law
1: Wolf Bite
2: Caged Wolf
3: Wolf Claim
3.5: Wolf Next Door
4: Rogue Wolf
5: Bayou Wolf
6: Untamed Wolf
Heather’s other fantasy romance series include the paranormal westerns Fevered Hearts starting with Marshal of Hel Dorado, Black Hill Wolves which start with What a Wolf Wants, Witches of Mane Street, Mongrels, and the forthcoming Bravo Team WOLF series.
Her contemporary romance series include: Always a Marine, Going Royal, Elite Warriors, The Love Thieves, beginning with Catch Me and Lone Star Leathernecks, beginning with Semper Fi Cowboy.
Heather is well-represented in fantasy with her superhero series Boomers, a sci-fi western called Space Cowboy Survival Guide, an urban fantasy series called the Chance Monroe Adventures, and a stand-alone ghost novel titled Haunt Me.
Captain Jasper “Jax” Raymond leaned his motorcycle into the turn. The wind ripping past him filled him with a sense of exhilaration, and the engine’s roar satisfied a more primal urge, the growl echoing that of his inner animal. His wolf.
Heading back to base after leave always felt a little like shedding his wild freedom for a leash. Not his favorite analogy. Fortunately, Jax liked the other wolves assigned to his squad.
Training and fighting together had forged them into a cohesive team—a team he ran. At home, he was just a wolf, a member of the pack, a strong dominant with only his family to protect and his alpha to follow. When his alpha had asked Jax to serve and protect the pack, Jax had risen to the occasion. Leading had never been his goal in life, but now on base he was the alpha, and he was responsible for all of them.
As he came out of the curve, he zipped past an SUV on the side of the road. It took his mind a few seconds to process why the car had halted there. The vehicle had a flat tire and sat almost drunkenly in the grass off the blacktopped edge. A woman in full dress uniform had the rear of the SUV open and was reaching inside, presumably for the jack.
Slowing the bike, he checked the road behind him. No oncoming vehicles. He turned the bike around and headed back. No way an officer in Class As should be changing their tire on the side of the road. The fact she was a woman might have played into his desire to render aid, but mainly, he was in jeans and a T-shirt. If anyone should be getting dirty, it was him.
Parking the bike in front of her SUV, he shut off the engine then dismounted. “Afternoon, ma’am.” He kept his tone polite. Uniform or not, he was a big guy, and politeness went a long way to setting strangers at ease.
The officer in question stepped out from behind her SUV and eyed him. His wolf went on point the moment their gazes collided. She was gorgeous. But more, her deep, whiskey-brown eyes had a fierceness to them. His wolf recognized that ferocity, and it filled the man with the need to respond. The point of Class As was to provide a severe, if uniform, look to all officers and enlisted. From her buttoned-up jacket to her formfitting skirt, she proved alluringly female. The dark tan of her skin reminded him of a bronzed statue, but a hell of a lot warmer. Her dark hair held the promise of red where the sun struck it, but she had it all confined into a serviceable bun.
The image of freeing all that hair and satisfying his curiosity about the color and the texture flashed across his mind’s eye. Wolves were tactile creatures, and she was so damn put together. Reminding himself her bun wasn’t a ball of yarn and he wasn’t a cat didn’t a do damn thing for the mental suggestion.
“I’m fine,” she said, her clipped tone perfectly polite. The chill in her voice jerked him out of his gawking. “Thank you for stopping.”
“I’m sure you are…Corporal.” He zeroed in on the bars on her uniform. “It would be a shame to get the uniform messed up, especially since I’m right here, and I’d be happy to change the tire for you.”
Her brows raised a fraction, and the corners of her lips tightened. They were full, pretty lips with only the barest hint of gloss. Maybe she’d licked them? He liked the lower lip; it was plump and completely kissable… Why the fuck am I leering at her like some dumbass?
Yeah, his wolf had rather basic standards.
“I appreciate you making the offer, but I really can handle it.” Dismissal hung in her tone as she returned to the rear of the SUV, but a quick grin softened the sting. “Really, I can…” Were those last three words for him? Or herself?
She paused then blew out a breath.
One part of him said to leave it alone. If she thought she could change the tire without fucking up her uniform, fine. She was a big girl. The rest of him vibrated with the need to overcome her objection and take care of it for her.
The wolf won; it usually did in moments like this. Human or not, she was a Marine. It didn’t matter that he served because his alpha had asked for volunteers, he’d been a Marine for five years, and he had two more years on his contract. He’d always been a wolf, and the wolf would always win.
For all intents and purposes, the Marines were his pack. He wouldn’t leave a packmate to change her own damn tire, would he? Not when he was right there. The big question hovering in the back of his mind as he cleared the rear of her vehicle was, did he make it an order since he outranked her, or did he go for charm?
“You have trouble listening?” she asked him as she pulled the jack out and set it to the side. She had on a pair of work gloves. He admired the choice, but they clashed completely with the uniform and were a hell of a long way out of dress code. If she had the misfortune of encountering a senior officer—like him—she could get in trouble.
“No trouble at all, ma’am.” Hoping a smile and a bit of a coaxing tone would charm her out of her reticence, he grinned. The temperature hovered somewhere in the mid-80s. Perfect for a ride on his bike, even better for hanging out to have a cool drink, but standing there in the sun while she changed the tire would have her sweating through the uniform. “If you’ll forgive me for not just leaving you here on the side of the road, I would be honored to render assistance. My mama would take my head off if I let you tell me no.”
Instead of being impressed, she gave him a sideways glance. “You’re not southern enough to pull off the mama, and I don’t think she would take your head off.”
Jax blinked. It was rare for anyone human to call him on one of his stories. The other wolves could smell a lie, but humans? They generally went with it. His mother had told him once he had a face made for sin and a mouth to go along with it—or at least to get him out of trouble.
Reclaiming the jack, she chuckled, and the sound teased along his spine like a caress. Following her, he wanted to growl when she squatted with care. She wore three-inch heels. Perfectly within regs, but the fact she could squat so gracefully in them did wonders for his libido. “Sorry, friend. You can’t bullshit a bullshitter.”
“Huh.” The wolf might want to pet her, but the man liked her. “Fair enough. My mother would kick my ass, though.” And then some. His mother had taught him to hunt—she could track circles around his father.
I have a sister who is less than two years older than me, but we never really had any sibling rivalry. I think it’s because we were so totally different. She was outgoing, I was a quiet homebody. If she liked something in clothing or jewelry, chances were I hated it. So we never borrowed each other’s clothing. She was a night owl, I was a morning person. We actually got along well for sisters and often hung out with one another. We still do.
I also have a younger brother. He’s almost ten years younger than I was. There was never any resentment when he came along, even though I’d been the youngest for almost a decade. My sister and I were thrilled. We had a real live doll to play with. LOL I can remember my sister and I arguing over whose turn it was to take him for a walk in his carriage. Today, my brother and I are great friends. We often have breakfast out on Saturday mornings and hit the thrift stores together.
So although a lot of people talk about sibling rivalry, it’s really something I can’t relate to. I love my siblings. But as much as I love them, I can’t even begin to imagine what it must feel like to be part of a set of twins—the closeness, the connection. But that’s exactly what I’ve done in my Salvation Pack series.
Sage and Reece Gallagher are not only twins, they’re werewolves. Well, they’re half-breed werewolves. (Three-quarter-breeds if you want to get technical.) Reece can shift while his brother can’t. They have no idea why. That’s a huge difference, but it’s never come between them and the bond they share.
Will a woman be the one to come between them? Reece has finally found the woman he wants to mate with—a half-breed living on her own in the city who is being hunted by a killer. What will happen if she decides she can’t live with his pack? And then there is the not so little matter of the killer to deal with…
Wolf in her Soul
She’s ready to run, but so tempted to stay…
Salvation Pack, Book 8
Detective Reece Gallagher is a long way from Salvation, North Carolina. He’s spent a decade in Chicago searching for her—the elusive red-haired woman who haunts his dreams. He knows nothing about her, only that she’s in trouble. After ten fruitless years, he’s ready to give up and go home.
Hannah Burdette is burdened with a secret that won’t allow her to get close to anyone. She’s a half-breed werewolf, targeted by a stalker who wants those of impure blood eliminated.
There’s something different about the arson/murder case Reece and his partner are working on. His heightened senses tell him there’s a werewolf involved. Even more shocking, it’s related to an assault case involving a beautiful redhead in trouble. A scared, wounded woman his wolf wants to protect as his own.
But first Reece must convince her she doesn’t have to be alone anymore. And he’s going to have to talk fast, because the killer has upped the ante—and now they’re both in danger.
N.J. Walters is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who has always been a voracious reader, and now she spends her days writing novels of her own. Vampires, werewolves, dragons, time-travelers, seductive handymen, and next-door neighbors with smoldering good looks—all vie for her attention. It’s a tough life, but someone’s got to live it.
I remember the summers from when I was a kid. I’d spend the days outside running wild around the neighborhood with my friends. We’d run through the sprinkler on the lawn, play jump rope and hopscotch. We’d play tag at night when the sun went down and stay out as late as we could, only going home when our mothers stood on the front steps and called our names.
There were homemade popsicles, barbecues, and laughter. There were days spent visiting family in other towns. I’d often sneak off to the beach to wander. There were bubbles and marbles and made-up games.
On rainy days we’d play with our dolls under the veranda on the front porch of my house. I remember my father coming home from work and stepping over us on his way to the front door.
There were also comic books. There was no bookstore where I grew up, but my father would take us to the drugstore every Sunday and buy my sister and I a comic—Archie, Richie Rich, Little Lulu, and Casper when we were younger. We also had Classic Illustrated and Classic Illustrated Junior comics. I wish I still had those. As I grew older I started reading the Boris Karloff and other “horror” comics. I also read the romance comics as well. Never got into the superhero ones, but my sister was a big fan of Wonder Woman.
I credit my father with my love of reading. We always had magazine subscriptions coming to our home—Humpty Dumpty, National Geographic, Reader’s Digest, Newsweek, Time, and more. I read many of his Louis L’Amour westerns. I loved The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and Trixie Beldon. I stopped reading for a few years and picked it up again in my early twenties. Then I discovered romance novels and my life would never be the same.
If you’re looking for a good book to read in the hammock in the backyard, check out Wolf in his Heart, the latest book in my Salvation Pack series.
Wolf in his Heart
He’s a wolf where it counts—in his heart and in her bed. Salvation Pack, Book 7
Exiled from her wolf pack for rejecting her parents’ choice for a mate, Rina Matheson has been on her own for over a year. Now she’s running for her life from a man who knows what she is and is obsessed with hunting her down.
Sage Gallagher—organic farmer, half-breed werewolf, and member of the Salvation Pack—finds more than a lost hiker while camping in the Great Smoky Mountains. So much more. Instant attraction slams through him with knee-buckling power the minute he sees Rina. His first instinct is to get her home where he and his pack can protect her.
Rina doesn’t trust easily. Especially not half-breeds, who she was raised to consider abominations. But Sage’s quiet strength calls to her lonely soul, and amazingly enough, her wolf responds. As he slowly works his way past her guard, she is soon in danger of losing her heart—even as danger draws closer to taking her life.
N.J. Walters is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who has always been a voracious reader, and now she spends her days writing novels of her own. Vampires, werewolves, dragons, time-travelers, seductive handymen, and next-door neighbors with smoldering good looks—all vie for her attention. It’s a tough life, but someone’s got to live it.
I have a new release in my SWAT Series called TO LOVE A WOLF and I’m so excited! Because this is Cooper’s story!
I know, I always say I don’t have a favorite hero in my books, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say SWAT officer/werewolf Landry Cooper doesn’t hold a special place in my heart. Because Cooper is inspired by my hubby!
Like Cooper, Hubby is former Army EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal— twenty years), and has a lot of the same personality quirks as Cooper. He can be a bit snarky, seems to have a somewhat laissez-faire attitude toward explosives, is steady when things get stressful, and is usually a calm sounding board for people who want to talk about their problems.
I guess it makes sense that when I started thinking about Cooper’s love interest, I patterned Everly after me. She’s certainly in line with the kick- butt heroines I’ve portrayed in my other books, and when those she loves are in danger, she can be fierce in her own way. But Everly also has a soft side. Like me, she draws and paints. She also seems to have a thing for doing nude figure studies. That was my favorite class in art school too, by the way. Everly has a very boho style, she’s emotional, and is quick to give her heart, which means she can fall for a guy really fast (like I did with Hubby!). In addition to all that, she’s somewhat of a free spirit, just like me.
For readers who know my hubby and me well, I hope you see a bit of us in Cooper and Everly. And for readers who don’t know us, I hope I gave you a glimpse!
HE’S FOUND THE ONE…
SWAT officer Landry Cooper is certain Everly Danu is The One. The problem is, she has no idea what Cooper really is. And as much as he wants to trust her, he’s not sure he can share his deepest secret…
BUT CAN HE KEEP HER?
When Everly’s family discovers Cooper’s a werewolf, her brothers will do anything to keep them apart-they’ll kill him if they have to. Everly is falling hard for the ridiculously handsome SWAT officer, and she’s not about to let her brothers tell her who she can love… Until Cooper’s secret is exposed and she discovers the man she thought she knew is a monster in disguise.
So High Tide at Harvest Moon is set in the valley I grew up in. I figured it would be a perfect place, given that it has tons of ghost stories, love stories, war stories…you get the picture. One of my first steps was to interview the characters. Here’s a snippet of my hero’s interview. I hope you enjoy!
Interview with Kerr MacDonald
How long have you been a werewolf?
Umm, I was born in 1840, so…
See, that’s the thing. This whole biting nonsense. Don’t get me wrong, I like a love nip as much as the next wolf, but it ain’t gonna make you grow fur and howl. I’d like to find the Unaware that started that whole business.
Are there many others like you?
What, I’m not pretty enough for you?
Do you enjoy being a werewolf?
How do you feel about humans?
Unawares, especially if they are as sexy as you? I get along just fine, sweet thing.
Hunters, as long as they keep the Weltanschauung, er, to the code, got no issue with.
Skinners? Let’s just say we haven’t seen any in the Bay of Fundy for a loooong time.
“Lexi. Lexi, wake up.” Rough hands shook her awake. Snapped on her light. Lexi clawed at the hands, flipped over in a hurry, pulled away from whoever was in her room.
“Shh, it’s OK. It’s Kerr. Lexi. I need you to put on some clothes and come with me. Now.” Kerr sat on the edge of her bed, a pair of jeans and a shirt in one hand, his other on her blanketed legs. He was patting her through her covers absently. He looked around the room and she had a wild thought he might see her gifts before they were ready until she realized she’d tucked them under her bed.
Lexi rubbed at her eyes. “I thought you weren’t going to push me to meet your Alpha.”
“I’m not. This is something else. Please?” No jokes. Not a smirk in sight. Nothing but deadly seriousness in his gaze.
Lexi blinked. Had he just said please?
“I need your help, Lexi. Please?”
That did it. She couldn’t very well say no now, could she? Not without seeming like an even bigger jack hole than she’d been earlier today.
“Where are we going?” She flipped back the blankets and held out her hands for the clothes. His eyes wandered down her frame and she felt her cheeks flush. “My eyes are up here, Kerr.”
“There’s a lot of you I’ve never seen down there, though.”
She frowned. “Was that a comment about my weight?”
“No.” His voice was thick, husky and he hadn’t hesitated in the slightest. He gave his head a sharp shake.
“Right,” he said aloud. But he didn’t hand her the clothes. He stared at her body and his eyes took on a yellow hue.
“Kerr?” She crossed her arms over her breasts and pulled her knees up. A frisson of something crawled up her spine. Not entirely unpleasant. Kerr’s breathing increased, as if he was fighting for control. That was never good. On instinct, she leaned forward and stroked his arm lightly.
“Kerr. I need Kerr, not the wolf.”
Kerr caught her fingers and brought them to his mouth. Nibbled at the tips, his eyes never leaving her face. “You’ve got me.” He glanced down at her hand in his and she wondered if he realized at the same time she did that she had touched him, not the other way around.
“I’m going to protect you, Lexi. Remember that.”
High Tide at Harvest Moon
She’s haunted. He’s lethal. Trust issues, anyone?
Finally, Lexi Coolen has a home. Or so she thinks. Bouncing around for over 10 years, she’s discovered she’s safest on her own. Shaking off the shadow of being a teen amongst werewolves has been tough, but she’s always managed. Until she met Kerr.
Kerr MacDonald messed up. Letting a rival pack’s pet human move into town without permission is bad for business. Fixing things should be easy, except he’s torn. Force her out or claim her as his own?
High Tide at Harvest Moon is the first installment in the Fundy Bay Pack series. If you like strong, independent heroines, sexy heroes too used to getting their own way and small-town quirkiness, you’ll love Taryn Blackthorne’s new paranormal romance. Buy your copy today!
Cassius, Alpha of Sutter Butte, leads the most ruthless and dangerous pack in the United States. Misfits, castoffs, and forgotten wolves, they rose to create a pack more than a century ago in utter defiance of the order of the day. Seen as pitiless and cruel, Cassius wants more for his people than a yearly bloodbath as they fight for a better spot in the pecking order. To change his pack means to change himself, and he will find rebellion on all sides, not to mention from his own defiant heart.
Sovvan Stark, Omega of Delta Crescent, lives a cherished, beloved life in the center of her pack—a delicate and hard won balance. Though she is not the only Omega, she is the most experienced with the tremors of pack upset when power shifts from Alpha to Alpha. When her Alpha approaches her about Sutter Butte’s request, Sovvan considers the matter for several months. While she might hold within her the key to helping the Sutter Butte Alpha, the undertaking could very well kill her.
Accompanied by a single Hound, Sovvan begins a journey to help Cassius rebuild the foundation of his pack, but first she will have to transform him…
Find excerpt for Heather Long’s Desert Wolf below
Amazon: http://amzn.to/1JRKhd4 All Romance: https://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-desertwolf-1887378-168.html Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1122640051?ean=2940150834033 iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/desert-wolf/id1039163980?mt=11 Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/desert-wolf Don’t miss our party today as we celebrate the release of Desert Wolf!
Focus on Willow Bend
Series Reading Order:
Wolf at Law (Prequel) Book 1: Wolf Bite Book 2: Caged Wolf Book 3: Wolf Claim Book 3.5: Wolf Next Door Book 4: Rogue Wolf Book 5: Bayou Wolf Book 6: Untamed Wolf Book 6.5: Wolf with Benefits Book 7: River Wolf Book 7.5: Single, Wicked Wolf Book 8: Desert Wolf Book 9: Snow Wolf (February 2016)
National bestselling author, Heather Long, likes long walks in the park, science fiction, superheroes, Marines, and men who aren’t douche bags. Her books are filled with heroes and heroines tangled in romance as hot as Texas summertime. From paranormal historical westerns to contemporary military romance, Heather might switch genres, but one thing is true in all of her stories—her characters drive the books. When she’s not wrangling her menagerie of animals, she devotes her time to family and friends she considers family. She believes if you like your heroes so real you could lick the grit off their chest, and your heroines so likable, you’re sure you’ve been friends with women just like them, you’ll enjoy her worlds as much as she does.
Heat rolled in waves from the blacktop of the old highway. Around him, the desert sprawled in its painted glory, seemingly melting into the horizon where it kissed the sky. The colors streaked past him as he accelerated, blowing past the old trading posts and bypassing the interstate with its smoother surface and promise of civilization in the distance. If one sought to journey through the decades, the old highway east of Holbrook was the place to start.
Sweat slicked his back beneath his leather jacket and the motorcycle vibrated between his thighs. Clocking over a hundred, he barely noticed the machine’s growl echoing his wolf’s. Cassius Lucera del Alba, Alpha of Sutter Butte, squinted to catch sight of the town he sought ahead.
Town was a generous description for the collection of ramshackle structures—of which a filling station with a decrepit market attached and a lone bar were clearly detailed. Time hadn’t forgotten the town, it had left it in the dust doing a hundred and sixty and never looked back. If the location had a name, no map detailed it, not even Google. The poor bastards didn’t even have a ghost to call their own.
Though they might when he finished.
He didn’t slow until he reached the main drag, all eighty-five feet of it, and parked his bike in front of the bar. A handful of vehicles were scattered amongst the cracked pavement and gravel. Three he recognized, two he didn’t. Like the bar, the cars were in sad shape and far more popular in earlier decades. Killing the engine, he dropped the kickstand and slid off his baby. Road dust coated her paint and chrome. With a stroke of his gloved hand over the seat, he promised her a bath later.
Leaving the bike, he strode toward the building. No one moved outside, but one wolf stood inside the filling station. He was a smart wolf—he’d spotted Cassius, yet didn’t reach for a phone or make any move other than retrieving his newspaper and flipping it open.
Inside, cool air rushed over his sweaty face like a sweet kiss. The scents of stale beer, body odor, remnants of the blood spilled throughout the years, and fear stained the experience. The population of the bar—easily a dozen wolves, though Cassius scented at least four more in the back—glanced up from their places scattered around the room. Three played pool, four others huddled around a card game, while the rest sat in various spots, including two drinking at the bar. The couple in the corner paused, though her hand stayed down his pants. The bartender—a tall, broad wolf with a balding pate and a world-weary expression—raised his eyebrows in silent inquiry.
“Beer. Cold,” Cassius said, and the bartender nodded. A moment later, he set a tall bottle of Corona on the weathered bar top. The sides frosted and a hint of vapor escaped the top. Condensation formed almost immediately on the sides, slicking along the glass in rivulets.
Stripping off his fingerless gloves, Cassius then set them on the bar. Next, he shed his jacket. The old leather moulded him perfectly after the many years he’d spent wearing it. Only after setting it on the bar next to his gloves did he peel off three one hundred dollar bills and lay them next to the bottle. The bartender didn’t say a word as he took the bills, tucked them into his pocket, then locked his register and exited through the double doors behind the bar.
Leaning against the aged wood, Cassius swept the room with his gaze. “If any of you are still sitting on your asses, disobeying the direct orders I sent last week…then when I finish this beer, I’ll kill you.” He didn’t raise his voice. Shouting accomplished nothing. Yelling indicated the battle was lost before it began.
Chair legs scraping across the floor splintered the silence. The couple in the corner disengaged. The she-wolf grabbed her purse as she stood. Boots striking the floor punctuated her exodus. No sooner did the door slam shut behind her than the four wolves playing cards toss them down, abandoning their game. The men muttered, but they divvied the pot, then bowed their heads to him one at a time before hurrying out.
Tipping the bottle up, he took a long pull of the cold drink. It soothed his parched throat. One of the pool players threw down his stick. One of the wolves tried to stop him with a hand on his arm, but he shook it off. Then like the other wolves before him, he hurried out the door.
From nearly twenty to only ten—behind him feet stomped on the stairs followed by another door slamming. Make that eight. One of the upstairs wolves strode into the bar, and stood in the center of it. Surprise filled his scent at the emptiness in the room. The others waited, their attention divided between Cassius and Finch.
Stupid fucking name for a wolf. After another long pull from his beer, and Cassius was three quarters finished. One by one he met the gazes of the wolves around the room. The smarter ones lowered their eyes immediately, the dumbasses fought to hold his gaze—even Finch.
Focusing on him last, Cassius studied him. Fresh beads of sweat began to trickle along Finch’s cheeks. The wolf swore, then stomped out and slammed the door with enough force, one of the hinges cracked.
Then there were seven.
Seven wolves who’d gathered in the desert in direct contradiction to his orders to appear at the landing. He’d called his wolves to him. Most came. Some—like these dumbasses—refused. Reaping was still another six weeks away. They all knew it, but they hadn’t come.
Cassius didn’t forgive disobedience. Anxiety with hints of aggression spiked in the sourness around him spoiling his appetite. One last swallow of beer awaited him. The wolf to his left rushed him as he lifted the bottle. Fool.
His beer ruined anyway, he smashed the bottle into the wolf’s face. The man’s roar ended in a scream. Slamming his booted foot into the other wolf’s knee, he listened to the satisfying crunch. Not wasting time enjoying the sound, he hooked his arm around the wolf’s neck then twisted and silenced his pain-filled screams. The pool players came next, wielding their sticks. He blocked one blow, ignoring the reverberation of it shattering on his forearm.
A throat punch to the second wolf dropped him, and he head butted the first. A third wolf rushed him. With a snarl and extended claws, he sliced his throat. The wolf went down with a gurgle. Whirling, he seized a stool and shattered the wood as he beat the first one. Bones snapped and the wolf cried out. Another wolf ran for the door, but Cassius had given them their warning.
He flung the stool leg, and it struck—jagged end first—into the fleeing wolf’s back, which penetrated his rib cage. The wolf was dead before he hit the floor. Completing the turn, he faced the last two wolves.
The first one went to his knees. “Cassius…I’m—” His last words ended on a gurgle as Venosky, the only other living wolf in the bar slammed a knife through his compatriot’s throat. Blood sprayed from the wound and the wolf went down.
Cracking his knuckles one at a time, Venosky braced himself. “I won’t go down easy.”
“Good.” His wolf roused to the scent of true battle. Unlike his friends, Venosky didn’t rush him. The wolf held his ground. One of the downed wolves reached for Cassius’ leg so the Alpha slammed his foot down on the downed man’s throat. The crunch told him the bones snapped.
Anticipating Venosky’s opportunistic nature, Cassius caught his incoming fist and twisted. The arm broke, but he wasn’t done. Pivoting, he slammed his elbow into the other man’s gut then turned and caught him by his throat. Lifting the wolf from his feet, Cassius stared at him.
“I’m sorry,” the other wolf managed to push out on what few wheezes of his air he’d been allowed.
“Not good enough.” Cassius squeezed, then tore out his throat. The wolf crumbled to land on the floor atop his friends. After sweeping a glance over all the downed wolves. Cassius listened—no other heartbeats. The bartender made good on the silent order—he’d left the building. Stepping over the bodies, he retrieved their phones and checked them.
Sure enough, each one had a message about the incoming wolf to their territory and the suggestion that she not reach her destination. Fools. Every fucking one of them. He sent a message to the same loop via the captured phones.
Your Alpha knows.
Dropping the devices, he retrieved his jacket and gloves then stepped out onto the porch. He was halfway through a cigar before his Lieutenants arrived—the three wolves closest to the top of the food chain—the three most likely to face him at the Reaping if they claimed the right.
Johnny Blaze. Laurel Jacobs. Monty Spence. Johnny dismounted his bike first, and his nostrils flared. “Goddamn, boss. You couldn’t wait for us to get here?”
“Don’t be so slow next time.” He blew out a stream of smoke. The three wolves were as close as he came to trust. They wanted to challenge him. They wanted to control Sutter Butte, but they wanted everyone to know they had a legitimate claim.
Laurel laughed. Johnny and Monty superseded her in rank and both glared at her. She ignored their disdain and slid off her bike, more catlike than wolf. Strolling toward him, she swayed her hips in a provocative invitation he ignored. “It takes a while to burn a body, you know.”
“Then you’ll be busy.” He jerked his head toward the bar. “Clean it up. Check on the others in town.” Her expression tightened at the dismissive order, but she obeyed.
Monty grunted and followed her. Johnny checked his phone at the ding and glanced at him. Meeting the younger wolf’s gaze, Cassius smiled slowly and the other wolf paled.
“I didn’t tell anyone.”
“I know you didn’t, Johnny. I also know you didn’t tell them not to be stupid.” Grinding out the cigar, he descended a step. The other wolf backed off, his bravado gone and his head tilted, throat bared. “You think if they get themselves killed, you’ll have an easier time at the Reaping. You think if they sabotage the plan, it might inconvenience me in some way and give you an easier time at the Reaping.”
After narrowing the distance between them, he caught Johnny’s chin in his hand and forced the other wolf to meet his gaze.
“Don’t cross me, Johnny. I’m not in the mood.”
“Yes, Alpha. What do you wish?” The wolf caved. If Cassius released him he had no doubt Johnny would bare his belly. A vicious fighter, Johnny hadn’t grasped the full benefits of loyalty. Then again, none of his wolves had. They were too busy fighting for position, yet they’d forgotten what they were fighting for. Only one wolf had grasped what Cassius desired for his pack. Only one had been willing to meet his eyes, then proved she was exactly what his pack needed.
And she left.
The others had to learn. If they couldn’t learn, he’d have to bring them to heel.
“Make it clear their plans are over. If they refuse, kill them. My word is law. If they don’t like it, the Reaping is in six weeks.”
Releasing him, Cassius went to his bike. “Help the others. Then return to Summit. Secure it.”
Relief and gratitude twined in Johnny’s scent as he raked his hand through his hair. “Yes, Alpha…where will you be?”
Straddling his bike, Cassius merely stared at him. The other wolf bowed, his whole body lowering in deference. Yeah, he didn’t think Johnny had the right to an answer either. Engaging the ignition, he smiled at the rumble of his bike. He had a lot of miles to cover. Hopefully it would give his temper time to cool.
Johnny’s phone dinged again and he glanced at it, then at his Alpha. “They aren’t giving up.”
“Then they’ll die.”
Accelerating away from the freshly blooded ghost town, he headed east. Apparently he had more wolves to kill.