EXCERPT: Haunted Sanctuary by Moira Rogers

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 13:00
Posted in category Excerpt

Book Cover

You’re going to need a glass of iced tea, cup of coffee, whatever your poison is so you can get comfortable for this excerpt. Fluff up those pillows, grab a blanket and throw it over your lap. Hey, get the fire going in the fireplace if you want to. Ready?

Jay and Eden are the mated alpha wolves of the new sanctuary they’re building in Clover, Tennessee. All due to crazy circumstances neither of them saw coming by a long shot. Their lives are changed in a heartbeat. Set?

Action-packed scenes with werewolves’ snapping jaws drawing blood and making the kill. Tenderness and gentleness for traumatized wolves who’ve seen what no other pack should ever experience. Lust, love, and romance fierce and unfettered under a full moon turns naturally wild.

Go!

Chapter One

Practically the whole damn town was asleep already.

Here and there, tiny pockets of activity caught Jay Ancheta’s eye as he maneuvered his SUV through the darkened streets. A handful of high school kids drifted out of the athletics building behind the football field, undoubtedly players leaving a late practice. A few storefronts still glowed with faint light, owners sticking around to handle inventory or bookkeeping, and he made a mental note to check again on his way back into town.

For now, he had a destination in mind, and he could only wish the adrenaline pumping through his veins had more to do with the job at hand…and less to do with seeing Eden Green.

He pulled into the parking lot on the east side of the library. The windows upstairs were dark, but before he could wonder where Eden might be, he spotted her coming out the back exit. She wore no sweater or jacket, only slacks and a lightweight white shirt, though the breeze tossed her blonde hair as she paused to lock the door.

As soon as Jay stepped out of his vehicle, he caught the sweet citrus scent of her shampoo. “Eden.”

She whirled with a sharp, in-drawn breath, but the tension in her face vanished when she squinted through the darkness and caught sight of him. “Jay, thank God. You startled me.”

“Sorry about that.” He leaned against the front fender of his SUV, adopting the least threatening pose he could manage. “I was hoping to catch you before you locked up for the night.”

Blushing, she turned back to the door and turned the key with a click. “If no one’s here, sometimes I lock up a little early. There’s a television show I like to watch…” Her voice trailed off as she reached the parking lot, her gaze taking in his uniform. “Is this official business? Nothing’s happened, has it? My father—”

“Hale and hardy when I saw him this afternoon,” Jay cut in. “It’s nothing like that. I had a question, that’s all, about Green Pines.”

“About the farm?” She stopped a few paces shy of him and tilted her head. “What do you need to know?”

Her heart was beating fast, and Jay drew in another breath, grateful for the shift in the wind that carried her scent away this time. “I’d have asked your dad when I was at the diner today, but you’re listed as the property owner of record. The Wilsons called me, said they heard car engines and commotion out there a couple nights ago. Do you know anything about that?”

“A commotion?” She frowned. “No, there shouldn’t be anyone out there. Unless the teenagers you ran off last summer decided it was safe again…”

“No, I doubt that.” Damn it. “Just to be safe, I’ll ride out tonight and take a look around.”

She lifted her keys. “I’ll follow you.”

Eden Green might look every inch the bashful small-town librarian, but she’d reportedly inherited her mother’s legendary stubborn streak, and forbidding her from joining him would only get her back up. “I’d rather you didn’t. An abandoned farm’s mighty attractive to someone looking for a place to conduct all kinds of illegal business. It could be dangerous.”

For a moment she considered him, her teeth working at her lower lip. “I’d like to come,” she said finally. “I can ride with you, if you prefer, and stay in the SUV until you’re sure there aren’t any criminals.”

Her blue eyes were clouded, but with something more complex than mere curiosity or even outrage that someone might be trespassing on her property. She had reasons for asking, reasons that left anxiety and a strange sort of expectation hanging in the air, and Jay found himself nodding. “It’s your place. Ride with me and I’ll make sure you stay safe.”

“I know you will.” She smiled and tucked her keys into her purse. “Thank you, Jay. It means a lot to know you’re keeping an eye on things. I keep hoping my father will let me at least try to sell the farm, but…well. Family is complicated.”

“So I hear.” Family, he knew little about. Pack, on the other hand, could be both simple and tragically convoluted. “And looking out for you is my job. Now hop in.”

Eden circled the car and slid onto the passenger seat, fiddling with the belt long after she’d buckled it. Her fingers slid up and down the nylon in near-silent strokes he could hear as clearly as her still-racing heart.

She was hiding something.

Jay cranked the engine and pulled onto the main road before speaking. “Anything you want to tell me, Eden?”

She started and shook her head with a shaky laugh. “I’m nervous, that’s all. When I was a kid, I thought the farm was haunted, you know.”

“Uh-huh.” The place looked it, spooky and practically abandoned, but it also wasn’t the true motivation for her galloping pulse. “Try again?”

She sighed softly. “Do you listen to town gossip? The older stories?”

“On occasion.”

“Green Pines Farm has provided its share over the years.”

They could talk in circles all the way out of town, but it would get them nowhere. “Sweetheart, why don’t you just tell me who you expect us to find out there?”

“I don’t expect anyone,” she protested. “But my father always hopes that my cousin will come back. That’s why he doesn’t want me to sell the farm. He wants Zack’s inheritance intact.”

Zack Green, not quite the prodigal son. Town gossip held that his father, Eden’s uncle, had run him out of town at eighteen—all because he suspected another man had really fathered the boy. “How much of it is true? The talk about Zack’s mother?”

“All of it, and then some.” Eden’s voice held a sharp edge, but as she continued, it mellowed into sadness. “My uncle wasn’t Zack’s father, and everyone in the family knew it. But he took it out on Zack more often than not, and my father didn’t care for that.”

Jay slowed for a red light and turned his upper body to face Eden’s. “Good. Circumstances of birth aren’t exactly within a kid’s control.”

Eden glanced at him, her features only clear in the darkness because of his sharpened vision. She probably thought he couldn’t see the way she opened her mouth and closed it several times before wetting her lips nervously. “Uncle Albus—” Her fingers tightened into fists. “He was an angry man. Once his wife ran off, the only kindness Zack ever saw was from my parents.”

And she felt guilty about that, though she’d been no more to blame for Zack’s situation than he himself had. “Eden, if your cousin is out at the farm, we’ll help him. Whatever he needs.”

“It’s probably not him. I don’t think he’d come back here unless he had no other choice. But thank you.”

They’d reached the edge of town already, and Jay took the right-hand turn that led toward the farm. “Don’t mention it.”

She hadn’t told him everything. He could hear it in the slightly high-pitched tone of her voice, see it in her unwillingness to meet his eyes. Little Eden Green was still hiding something, but Jay had no high ground there.

After all, he’d never told her he was a werewolf.

Next to him, Eden fidgeted. “If it is him…”

“What is it? Drugs?”

“No! No, not drugs. Not Zack.” She hesitated, and he knew from her pounding heart and shallow breath that she was getting ready to lie to him again. “I think he’s involved with people who are into them, though. Dangerous people.”

Soft moonlight drifted through the canopy of trees bending over the disused drive. “People you think might have come here with him?”

“Maybe.”

God damn it. “Then I shouldn’t have brought you along.”

“I’m probably overreacting,” she said quickly, as if concerned he’d turn the car around. “It’s probably those teenagers, breaking into the old barn to party again.”

She might be jumping to conclusions, but her fear was real. It prickled over his skin and raised the hairs on the back of his neck, and his unease deepened as he pulled up the long, gravel drive.

Everything looked dark from a distance, but not completely. At second glance, Jay could see the farmhouse’s windows glowing with faint flickers of light, as if candles or kerosene lamps were burning beyond the tattered curtains.

It wasn’t until they were a third of the way up the driveway that the moon illuminated the vehicles parked at haphazard angles across the front lawn of the main house—two trucks and a shiny silver sedan. Jay stared at the trucks as he parked his own SUV and cut the engine. “Shelby County plates,” he murmured. “Has your cousin been in Memphis?”

“I don’t know.” That, at least, sounded like the truth. “I think he called my father from there once.”

“Do you think his friends are—” A slice of sound caught his attention, and he jerked at his seatbelt as he tried to pinpoint its source.

Snarls. Whines. The snap of jaws and teeth.

“Stay here,” he told Eden. Too clipped, brusque, but he needed for her to understand. “Get down and stay here, no matter what happens. Say it.”

Her eyes blazed with irritation, as if she wasn’t used to orders, but she wasn’t stupid, either. She unfastened her belt and hunched low in the seat. “I’ll stay here.”

Did she know? Her warnings had been vague but desperate, as if she suspected the truth and wanted to tell him but didn’t know how. “If things go south, get your ass over here behind the wheel and get back to town.” But Jay trembled, his hand on the door. He couldn’t leave her alone and unarmed, so he unsnapped his holster and held out his pistol. “If you have to, if anything comes after you—”

Her fingers brushed his, but she didn’t take the gun. “You hear something.”

She knew, all right. “Anything, Eden. Point and shoot, then get the hell out of here.”

His need to protect her still at odds with his duty, Jay took off around the side of the house. The sounds of fighting grew louder as he approached the woods behind the barn, and he stopped and stripped off his clothes as quickly as possible.

As soon as he knelt and coaxed the slow burn of magic inside him into the conflagration that would bring his change, Jay caught sight of a man dragging a woman out of the trees. Her pink hair stood out in the moonlight, a bright spot of color against the dark forest.

Her attacker jerked to a halt, his head whipping toward Jay. His mouth curved into a feral smile, undoubtedly at catching Jay in the vulnerable moments just before a shift. But as the stranger took a step forward, the girl twisted, raking her nails across his cheek in a desperate attempt to escape.

He slapped her hard enough to drive her to her knees, and Jay took advantage of the man’s distraction to finish his transformation. Wild, instinctive satisfaction filled him. If the stranger thought him weak, that it would take him long minutes to struggle through the change from man to wolf, he’d be fatally disappointed.

Jay sprang forward with a growl.

The man spun, wrenching his body out of the path of Jay’s charge with an angry roar. The girl scrambled to her feet with the speed of a werewolf and bolted.

“Mae!” The shouted name rode an angry command, sizzling dominant power that ghosted past Jay and slammed into the girl’s back like a physical blow. She hit the ground on her knees, shaking. “Don’t run, darling. You and I are going to have a talk about all this disobedience.” The man whipped a knife out of his boot as he turned on Jay. “Just as soon as I teach this packless mutt a lesson.”

The knife looked normal, but it felt like magic. Jay circled, his teeth bared in a snarl as the man watched him, no hint of fear in his cruel eyes. When he moved, it was blindingly fast, the blade slashing toward Jay’s side.

The wicked edge found its mark, slicing a burning but shallow line across Jay’s ribs. Definitely magic, because a heaviness accompanied the pain, a stagnant weight instead of the delicate tickle of near-instantaneous healing. Jay twisted and snapped at the man’s arm, grazing skin with teeth just as sharp as the knife.

His opponent jerked back with a laugh. “Yeah, you feel it, don’t you? You can bite me and I’ll heal. You’ll just keep bleed—” Twigs snapped to their left, and the man lunged fast enough to get a handful of the girl’s pink hair and jerk her off her feet as she tried to run. “You treacherous bitch!”

The lunge stretched out the line of his body, leaving him low and open to attack. Jay dug his back legs into the soft earth and launched himself at the man’s throat. He closed his teeth on the vulnerable spot and felt flesh give and blood run hot as his momentum carried them both to the ground.

Another wolf snarled at the edge of the trees. Beneath Jay, his enemy struggled weakly. The girl kicked the knife away from his outstretched hand and grabbed it as she rolled to her feet. She held the blade awkwardly, as if she didn’t know how to use it, and backed away, brandishing the weapon at the new wolf.

The wolf ignored her and charged at Jay. The girl shouted one word, her voice high and panicked. “Zack!”

Jay took the full weight of the charging wolf in the shoulder and rolled. He snapped viciously at the wolf’s back legs and pushed up on his paws just in time to see three more wolves break out of the woods, a tall, bloodied man at their heels.

One of the new wolves dove toward Jay. A second lunged at the disheveled man, who caught the animal by the scruff of its neck and threw it toward the tree line with a roar of fury.

The creature hit a tree with a crack and fell to the ground, limp and twitching, but the man didn’t stop or even slow down. He reached for another, and the fight turned quick and ugly as the remaining wolves attacked low, over and over, desperate to gain an advantage.

Teeth tore at flesh. Claws raked through clothes and skin alike. The man seemed as oblivious to the pain as he was to the pink-haired girl’s broken noises of protest. He snapped necks and tore wolves apart, and when no more surged to take the place of the fallen, he whirled on Jay.

“Zack, no—” The girl stumbled forward. “He saved me. He killed Scott.”

The change was hard, sometimes impossible, when a fight had Jay riding high on adrenaline. He called it anyway, and the effort hit him like a sprint, left him clutching a stitch in one side and the fiery cut on the other. “Zack?” he panted in disbelief. “Zack Green?”

The man’s chest heaved. He wiped blood from his mouth before spitting on the ground. “Did you take care of the rest of them?”

Jay grabbed his pants and glanced around at the bodies scattered on the grass. “There are more?” As soon as his brain processed the thought, a cold chill gripped him. “Fuck.”

Eden.

* * *

Eden watched the spot by the house where Jay had disappeared and cursed her cowardice.

She should have told him. There’d been a moment when she’d wondered if he knew already, and she should have seized it. Spilled out the truth—the messy, unbelievable truth—even if it meant he’d never look at her the same way again.

All her starry-eyed daydreams of him would mean nothing if a werewolf tore out his throat.

Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

The painful silence stretched out until Eden couldn’t handle it anymore. Had Jay heard something? If so, it had been too quiet for her to pick up, but what else could have driven him from the car? She’d read stories of cops having hunches, gut instincts that seemed to border on psychic ability, but almost all seemed based on subconscious recognition of clues and the voice of experience.

Maybe Jay had experience with werewolves.

Maybe he was one.

She choked on a hysterical laugh and sank lower in the seat. It should have been ridiculous to imagine the Chief of Police as a big bad wolf, but the more she thought about it, the less she wanted to laugh.

Grace. Strength. Power. Her cousin had shared all of those traits, along with Jay’s knack for knowing when trouble was near. But if Jay was a wolf, he was better at hiding his darker side than Zack had been. Everyone in town had recognized the feral edge under her cousin’s anger. They’d treated him like a dangerous animal, one that might maul them at any second.

And, to be fair, he could have.

“Jay Ancheta might be a werewolf,” she muttered out loud, forcing herself to acknowledge the absurdity of her own thoughts by giving them voice. Cringe-inducing, maybe…but with the night heavy and still around her, it didn’t feel absurd.

She eased her hand away from the gun and reached into her purse in search of her phone. Her fingers had just brushed the edge of the case when a low snarl broke the silence.

“Shit.” She dropped her purse and snatched up the gun, her pulse pounding. A man with dark hair slammed against the driver’s side window, and she couldn’t hold back her shriek of fear. Another clawed its way free of her throat as the man tugged at the door handle.

Locked. She’d remembered to lock them when Jay left, and her relief lasted all of five seconds before the man tore the door from its hinges in a screech of protesting metal.

Werewolves. It had to be. The only part of her mind not shaking in terror knew that nothing else explained the strength it would take to rip pieces from the vehicle.

It was that cool, calm part of her mind that pulled the trigger.

She’d braced herself as well as she could, but she still wasn’t prepared for the recoil. Her hands jerked, sending her second shot through the windshield, and the wolf lunged into the car and ripped the gun from her hands before she could hiss out a pained breath. By the time she realized what had happened, his hands had closed around her upper arms.

Her shoulder crashed into the steering wheel as he dragged her across the seat. Fighting his grip was futile; he pulled her into the open and hoisted her up so she was face to face with his glowing yellow eyes.

Those eyes narrowed as he buried his nose in her neck and inhaled. “You don’t smell like his bitch,” the man muttered. “You’re just a lousy fucking human.”

The words didn’t make sense. Had he expected her to smell like her cousin? Or could he smell another wolf in the SUV? Jay—

Jay should have come back by now.

She pushed the useless thought away and rammed her knee into her attacker’s balls. He howled his pain, his rage, and threw her to the ground like a broken toy. His clothes ripped as he shifted, and he hit the ground on all fours, his hands and feet already turning to paws. Eden found herself staring into an open, snarling muzzle full of razor-sharp teeth.

She scrambled back, kicking at his nose when he lunged. His teeth closed on the heel of her boot, and she twisted and tried to jerk away, wrenching her ankle in the process.

Tears sprung to her eyes, but she bit her lip and pulled again, dragging her foot free of her shoe. Hope surged as she twisted again and landed on her hands and knees. If she could get under the car or to the house—

A growl ripped through the air a second before a heavy weight crashed into her, driving her to the ground. Claws dug into her body, but the pain disappeared under a flood of agony as the wolf sank sharp teeth into her arm.

Screaming. Running. A woman, a brunette dressed in flannel, yelling as she kicked at the wolf. “No!”

The wolf reared back, and the woman swung the butt end of a shotgun so hard it sounded like a solid home run when it connected with the animal’s head. He tumbled off Eden and rolled away just far enough for the woman to ready the shotgun as he rose.

She fired once and the wolf staggered back with a howling whine. She worked the slide, fired again, and the wolf fell.

Eden struggled to her knees, her back on fire and her arm throbbing. “Where’s Jay? The man I came with—”

The woman tore off her flannel shirt and wrapped it around Eden’s wound. “We have to find Zack.”

“Zack’s here?” It was a stupid question, but it was hard to think when every heartbeat made the pain worse. “You’re with him?”

“You’re Eden.” It wasn’t a question. The brunette pulled her to her feet. “Can you walk?”

“I don’t know.” She took one tentative step and hissed as her ankle buckled. She pitched against the side of the SUV with a groan. “I need to find Jay. I didn’t warn him, and I should have. I need to warn him.”

“Shh.” The woman tilted her head, then wrapped Eden’s arm around her shoulders. “Come on, this way.”

The world went gray with every step. Eden couldn’t feel her fingers anymore, couldn’t feel much of her hand at all on her bitten arm.

A bite. “Oh crap, the wolf bit me. Is that bad?”

Before the woman could answer, Jay ran out of the trees, barefoot with his shirt hanging open. “Jesus Christ. Eden?”

She stared at his chest. Beautiful light-brown skin and dark hair, muscles and strength, and if he’d been undressed, unarmed, he couldn’t be human. “You’re a wolf.”

“You’re bleeding.” His gaze dropped to her arm, and he stepped forward to hold her up.

He hadn’t denied it. He hadn’t even blinked. “You’re a wolf,” she said again, more quietly this time. “I got bitten. Does that mean anything?”

He blanched. “Eden—”

The brunette cried out, a wordless noise of relief and worry tangled together. She jerked away and ran toward the trees, where Zack had walked out of the shadows, and threw her arms around his neck.

That it was Zack, Eden had no doubt. The eighteen-year-old hero she remembered was there, buried under blood and stress and numerous tattoos that circled his arms, crept up his shoulders and across his chest. He looked as if he’d only aged ten of the last twenty-two years, but pain had carved its mark in his eyes.

They held little recognition as they studied her, but that made sense. She’d been only ten years old the day he’d finally fled his father’s temper.

She wet her dry lips. “Hi, Zack.”

“Eden. Are you all right?” His gaze snapped to Jay, and something dangerous stirred in his eyes.

She didn’t know how to answer.

“She’s been bitten,” Jay said evenly. “I need to take her to the hospital.”

Finally, a normal suggestion. She clung to it with both hands, fighting back the feeling that the ground had turned to shifting sand beneath her. “Soon? I’m not doing so well.”

“Scott’s friend got to her,” the brunette blurted in a desperate rush. “I know you told us to stay inside, but I had to stop him, Zack. I had to try.”

Zack smoothed his hands over the girl’s hair without taking his eyes off Jay and Eden. “Take her. We’ll deal with the bodies.”

Jay peeled back the edge of the makeshift flannel bandage and grimaced. “Let’s go, honey. You’ll do fine ’til we get there, but you’ll need stitches.” He lifted Eden off her feet and carried her to the battered SUV.

Holding back pained whimpers kept her distracted while he settled her on the front seat and buckled her in. By the time she’d gotten her breath, Jay was pulling down the driveway.

“You don’t have a door,” she protested belatedly.

He glanced at her, his jaw tight. “What are they going to do, arrest me?”

She couldn’t help it. Whether it was pain or shock or the series of emotional blows she couldn’t say, but it was too much. A hysterical, gasping laugh rasped out of her. “God, none of them would dare.”

“I hope not.” He pulled onto the main road and reached over to pat her leg. “You’re going to be fine, Eden. The bleeding isn’t severe. They’ll be able to fix you right up.”

Eden caught his hand and clung to it, scared that her good fingers had started to tingle. “Even though I was attacked by something they think doesn’t exist?”

He hesitated. “As far as anyone at the ER will be able to tell, a dog bit you, okay?”

Still avoiding. She squeezed his hand. “Are you a werewolf, Jay?”

“I am.” He slowed for a turn toward the highway. “So’s your cousin, I guess. And the dangerous people after him?”

Swallowing hard, Eden closed her eyes. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know how to tell you. I don’t—I don’t know much about werewolves, or what Zack’s tangled up in. He tries to keep me and Dad out of it.”

“I get it. You told me as much as you could without sounding crazy.”

The tingling spread to her entire hand. If it hadn’t been so intense, she might have suspected it was nothing more than her body’s pleasure in touching Jay. Handsome, intelligent, wonderful Jay.

The werewolf.

“You didn’t answer me,” she said, trying to keep her voice calm. “Neither did the girl. I got bitten by a werewolf. Am I—” No, those words weren’t going to come out sounding serene, no matter what she did.

He drew to a stop at a red light and sighed. “Eden, I don’t know. It’s not that simple. I’ve seen people with bites turn out to be completely unaffected. It doesn’t mean you’re going to turn into a werewolf.”

“But I could.”

“You could,” he acknowledged.

Her toes started to itch. The pins-and-needles sensation from her arm jumped to her spine, rippling down her body in a liquid rush that made her gasp and arch. “Jay—”

He caught her by the shoulders and turned her to look at him. “What’s happening, Eden?”

It should have been agony. His fingers brushed the flannel wrapped around her upper arm, and she whimpered. Not pain. Prickling. Wild sensitivity so severe she wrenched away and tore the makeshift bandage free.

Her fingers encountered sticky blood and unbroken skin.

Jay pulled her arm toward him and ran his fingers over her flesh. “This isn’t possible.”

She could feel the individual ridges of his fingerprints. Time seemed frozen, his stroking touch overwhelming. “Jay—Jay I don’t feel okay. I don’t feel real.”

His fingertips settled over the pulse in her wrist. Then he drew away with a curse and whirled the vehicle in a tight U-turn. “We’re going to my place.”

Her heart was racing. She couldn’t just feel it, she could hear it. Muscle constricting, blood rushing, the air rasping in and out of her lungs. The roar could have originated inside her, or it could have been the wind whipping by the missing door of the SUV.

The streetlights wobbled and danced, so she squeezed her eyes shut and groped for the seat and the door. Splaying her hands against something solid made it seem less like she was spinning. “What’s happening to me?”

He cursed again. “Something that shouldn’t be. Not yet, damn it.”

Oh God. She was turning into a werewolf.

“Make it stop.” When she clenched her fingers, her nails scraped over the seat so loudly her head throbbed. “Please. Please, Jay, I don’t want to be a werewolf. I’m not strong enough.”

“Yes, you are,” he argued. The firm words brooked no argument, so certain she could feel them in her gut. The pinpricks up and down her spine eased as something warmer took their place. It melted the tension in her shoulders and trickled down, light and teasing enough to raise goose bumps.

Her nipples tightened. Arousal kindled, embarrassingly abrupt, and she pressed her thighs together. Jay was touching her everywhere and nowhere, stroking along her skin and inside her mind with an intimacy that made her squirm.

Not touch. Not sight or smell or taste, and definitely not a sound. She couldn’t hear anything over the roar of the wind and her pounding pulse. But she could sense him, and she wanted to roll in him. Drown in him.

Then he did touch her, strong hands sliding over her back, under her legs. “Come on.”

She jerked away, disoriented that he was reaching for her from the right. The seat beside her was empty and the SUV was parked. “Where are we?”

“My house.” He lifted her in his arms and kicked the passenger door shut. “We’ve got to get you inside.”

The world dipped again, and color exploded behind her eyes. Dazzling greens and vivid golds twisted and danced as she hid her face against his throat with a not very human whimper.

Jay pressed his lips to her temple and another wave of heat washed over her.

Stroking. Coaxing. He was surrounding her, pushing in from all sides, and some foreign part of her pushed back. The forces collided at her skin and sparked lightning. She cried out and struggled in his arms, driven by the sudden urge to fight, to flee, to run.

Another door slammed, and Eden felt cool wood under her hands. Jay was still whispering, only this time his fingers moved busily, tugging open the buttons on her shirt.

Good. Her shirt was claustrophobic. Clutching, clinging fabric, trapping her in her body. Her fingers felt too clumsy, but his glided over the buttons, freeing one after another with a gentle rasp of fabric over plastic.

Patient. She had to be patient. But when he slipped his hands under the fabric to guide it down her arms, he leaned close enough to put the vulnerable expanse of his throat at risk.

Clumsy, arrogant male. Snarling, she lunged for him, intent on setting her teeth in his skin.

He stopped her short with a firm hand wound in her hair. “Bite me and I’ll spank you.”

She panted, sucking in short, sharp breaths that only served to drag his scent into her lungs. She’d never noticed it before, not really. Not enough to pick apart the clean smell of soap from the sharp undertones of his aftershave. And she’d never imagined the lower notes, the earth, the rain—like the wind when it ripped through town ahead of a bad storm. Wild nature, unchecked.

Seductive. She strained against his grip on her hair, yearning toward his throat with a different purpose now. To bury her face in the crook of his neck and wallow in that wildness, to rub her cheek against his skin so the intoxicating memory of it would linger after he was gone.

Instead of loosening his hold on her hair, he tugged her head back, baring the line of her throat. A brush of lips, almost like a kiss—and then he bit her.

She only had a moment to register the stinging pain of his teeth before satisfaction roared up to consume it. Every muscle in her body melted like warm taffy as the urge to fight him dissolved.

Quiet. So quiet. She almost remembered words. “Jay?”

“I’m here,” he rasped. “I’ve got you.” His hand dropped to her pants and pulled them open.

Human modesty slammed against the wall of madness, and she wriggled away with an alarmed noise. “What, why—”

He held up both hands. “If you don’t get them off now, you’ll get tangled up in them and freak out.”

She couldn’t make sense of the words, could barely understand them, but she understood the retreat in his upheld hands, the worry and care in his tone. Jay wouldn’t hurt her. Closing her eyes, she eased out of her shoes, pants and underwear, tossing the clothing aside until she knelt shivering and naked on the hardwood floor.

He wrapped his arms around her and bit her again, this time a gentle press of teeth to the back of her neck. “Don’t be afraid, and don’t fight. Just feel her. Let her out.”

The words vibrated through the room, a command and a soothing order, neither of which she knew how to obey. An anxious pressure built inside her, one uncomfortably like arousal. “Help. Help me.”

“She’s in there, honey, I know she is. Find her.”

Her. The wild strangeness. Eden shivered. “She’s calm now.”

“Yeah.” He stroked a hand over her hair.

She shivered again, only this time it didn’t stop. Shivers turned to trembling, and trembling to shaking. The tension inside seized tight without warning, bowing her back as her nails scraped helplessly over the floor.

Pain shot down her spine. Bones cracked. Eden tried to scream and couldn’t get enough air into her burning lungs. Her body tore apart in slick, wrenching agony.

Broken.

Dying.

No, not dying. Remade. Reborn. Power rode the pain, swelled and swelled until there was no way to contain the sweetness, the glory. Her wolf swept aside the last bit of human thought in a rush to claim her, and the sound of her own triumphant howl chased her into the wild.

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