Okay, this is every last word I have written on Alpha Curves to date (beyond planning notes). I know my wolves aren’t as popular as my billionaires, but I hope there are enough shifter fans out there the kick my but through the month until this bad boy is finished. Here’s your incentive, hope you like what’s there so far.
Rain fell on Columbus in thick sheets, muting the city’s odors and chasing the last of the natural light from the sky. Head sticking out the van’s window, Cade Mercer inhaled slowly, filling his lungs to capacity as his face grew wet. Nostrils flaring and twitching, he searched for something — someone. A female, maybe a wolf cub or human and older.
Immediately west of downtown in an area called The Bottoms, he stuck his tongue out, cautiously catching the flavor of the surrounding area and its inhabitants. Palpable emotions of fear and anger coated his taste buds and soured his stomach. Beneath it all, he detected lingering traces of feminine appeal, but none felt like the woman he had been sent to find.
Whoever she was, he didn’t want to find the female in the Bottoms. He jerked his head inside the van and closed the window.
Mathis, his driver, shoved a paper towel at him. “Damn, boss, you look like you just stepped out of a shower.”
“Thanks.” Grunting, Cade dried off then grabbed the radio set. “Tanner, anything on your end?”
Waiting for Tanner’s reply, Cade shifted restlessly in his seat. Counting his own warm body, he had a four-wolf team split between two tactical vans. More than a hundred miles from clan lands in a city of almost a million humans, he didn’t like the numbers for the night’s mission.
Hell, he wasn’t even sure he understood the mission.
Tanner’s gravelly voice crackled over the radio. “Nothing, boss.”
“Keep looking.” Cade dropped the radio into the cup holder.
“Gotta take a piss.” Mathis signaled a right turn half a heartbeat before he pulled into the parking lot of a Starbucks. “You think she’s wrong on this one?”
“She” was Esme Foster, soon to be Esme Gladwin once her bonding ceremony with the new leader of the Tennessee clan was held. Cade had known Esme and Dana from childhood. Both had been outcasts the first time he met them — a round, pretty witch-in-training and the orphaned cub always at her side. Now they were among the most powerful people in the seven North American clans. Certainly, Esme was the most powerful witch across all the clans, this generation or any other.
He grunted. Powerful, lovely to look at and bossy as hell — she had all but ordered Cade to Columbus in search of a mystery woman.
“Can’t imagine her being wrong.” Seeing that the rain had lessened, Cade opened his window as Mathis parked. “We just need to wait until the woman settles down for the night. Once she does, Esme will get us better coordinates.”
“So it is a latent we’re looking for?” Mathis’ voice dropped in speculation and a small grin pushed up one bristly cheek before he swiped it from his face. “Maybe more than one?”
“Who the hell knows, but I haven’t heard Esme this excited about finding someone before.” Cade shrugged and stepped from the van to stretch his legs. “She said something was way off about the energy — maybe more than one latent, maybe a female cub. ”
Mathis’ grin disappeared at the mention of a cub. Too many orphaned wolves had been found in the last few months, all of them male. No one could identify the boys, they appeared out of nowhere with memories as clean as the day they were born.
No question about it — Mathis and the rest of the team would much prefer to find a nubile woman who didn’t realize she had enough shifter DNA in her genetic makeup to mate with a wolf shifter and bear his children. Finding a cub would add another layer of dread to the already immense cloud hanging over the clans.
The thought had been rolling around inside Cade’s head like an iron-spiked bowling ball the entire drive and he forcefully shoved it aside as he climbed out of the van. “Hey, get me a triple with extra cream while you’re in there.”
“Sure thing, pussycat.” Mathis disappeared into the coffee shop with a grin.
Cade used the time alone to pace, loosening the muscles that had cramped on the two-hour drive and a third hour spent searching the city with little guidance from Esme beyond a twenty-block sector to search in the worst neighborhood Columbus offered. He paced for several minutes, circling the van half a dozen times before he finally saw Mathis ordering the coffee.
His cell phone vibrated in his jeans pocket as he completed his seventh slow circuit of the van, jolting him from the mental haze he’d paced his way into. He fished the phone from his pocket and opened it to find new GPS coordinates from Esme. The twenty-block area had narrowed to one precise location. Stomach dropping like a load of bricks, he sent the coordinates to Tanner.
Each extraction carried its own unique risks. The latent could be unwilling or she might have drawn Hunters to her. Powerful enemies skilled in magic, murder and mayhem, Hunters were out to harvest the energy in wolves and latents before driving both to extinction. Two vans carrying two wolves each left no margin for error if they encountered Hunters on the mission.
Feeling the hairs rise along the nape of his neck, Cade climbed into the van and plugged the coordinates into the GPS. The route appeared with a few lines of text next to it. He read them, a fresh growl rumbling through his chest. No cub tonight — not when the destination was a strip club. So a woman, in a bar, surrounded by men and liquor with bouncers at the door.
Apprehension ghostwalked the length of his spine then settled in his testicles. If he was lucky, the woman wouldn’t be compatible with any of the men on his team. Otherwise, all hell would break loose if a wolf’s mating response was triggered while some human male had a hand on the chick’s ass. Heaven forbid a lap dance was in progress — the scent of arousal on the human male was as good as a signed death warrant.
Mathis opened the driver side door, interrupting the scenario running through Cade’s head. He handed a coffee to Cade then climbed into the van. “Got anything?”
Bringing the coffee to his lips, Cade nodded and tapped the GPS screen. “New location — looks like a latent.”
“Yummy.” Mathis pulled the seatbelt across his chest before noticing the scowl on his alpha’s face. “Problem?”
“She’s at a strip club.” Cade couldn’t keep the growl from his voice.
“Not a problem.” Mathis laughed the location off, his face splitting into a glittering, wolfish grin. “You know what all the latents say — once you go wolf, you never go back!”
Seeing that the joke hadn’t cracked Cade’s granite façade, Mathis tried again. “Come on, boss. This might be your night to find a mate.”
“Just get the fucking van moving.” Cade checked his sidearm then fastened his seatbelt. “I want to know what we’re dealing with before Tanner and Remus show up with their dicks out and guns blazing.”
“Seriously, dude, you should at least try to get some pussy before the decade is over.” Mathis threw the van in reverse, grumbling as he pulled from the parking space. “We’d all be a lot happier.”
Cade answered with a side glare that ended the conversation. Satisfied Mathis would stay quiet until they reached their location, Cade eased back against the seat and kept one eye on the GPS while he tried to calm his wolf.
The latent didn’t interest him, just her extraction.
No matter how many women Esme located, he held no illusion about finding one with whom he was compatible. He’d met his mate when he was six. The she-wolf had rejected him and left the clan when he was twenty. A dozen years’ distance didn’t make her any less his mate. He couldn’t unpromise his heart to her — even if she never really wanted it.
Lights strobed red and blue against the brick façade of the Pony Express Gentlemen’s Club. A crowd had gathered near the entrance, drawn either by the cop cars with their flashing lights or whatever had drawn the police.
“Tonight just keeps getting better.” Mathis drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. The menacing rumble underlying his words a contradiction to the chipper tone. “Maybe we just throw this one back in the latent pool. What do you say, boss?”
“You know we can’t. If she’s a latent and discoverable, it’s only a matter of time before the Hunters locate her.” Stepping from the vehicle, Cade pushed the radio set at Mathis. “Tell Tanner and Remus to hold position. Keep the engine running while I–”
The instruction died on Cade’s tongue as he caught his first whiff of the female. Even unseen, she defied all expectations — not a latent nor a cub but a she-wolf in heat.
A meaty chuckle vibrated low in his throat as his cock surged a hard line to kiss at his navel. “Heat” was the wrong fucking word, better reserved for the tepid breeding periods of the last decade among the clan’s women. Inhaling, he growled. This was not heat — the woman’s scent scorched his face and made his tongue and balls sweat.
Hearing Mathis opening the driver side door, Cade growled. “I said stay.”
Mathis challenged with a low snarl.
Cade turned to glare his subordinate into an uneasy submission. The situation was far beyond the worst-case scenario Cade had imagined earlier. A she-wolf didn’t need a signature match with an unmated male to attract him, she only needed to be in her breeding cycle without a life mate.
Instead of one lust-filled wolf, he would have four — surrounded by cops with guns and rifles.
Cade stepped away from the van. A dozen more steps and he felt the rustle of Mathis close behind. Cade issued another growl, the sound far below the range of human hearing and meant to snap like jaws around Mathis’ neck and throttle the other man’s wolf until it turned belly up and whined in submission.
“We can’t rescue her like this,” Cade warned. “Get back in the damn van and start the engine before I take your head off.”
Mathis hesitated then his gaze flicked toward something beyond Cade’s shoulder. With a grunt, he turned to the vehicle. Pivoting toward the club, Cade noticed the approaching police officer. Forcing the tension from his muscles, he waited for the cop to reach him.
“My girlfriend’s in there,” he said before the man could open his mouth. “Are the girls okay?”
“Yeah. Can’t say the same for the bouncer with a knife sticking from his gut.” Straining to see over Cade’s shoulder, the cop eyeballed the van. “Which one’s yours?”
“Mandy.” Cade managed a smile. He couldn’t do anything about his throbbing balls or rigid dick, but his canines had retracted to a human length. “I’d tell you she was the blonde with the really nice–”
His hands came up as if balancing two heavy watermelons before his smile cracked wider.
“Yeah, that would describe half the ladies in there.” The cop laughed. “It could be an hour or more before the homicide detectives release them. You need to park that thing if you’re gonna wait.”
Cade nodded, his mind running in one direction while his senses ran in another. The she-wolf’s scent was on the man, along with a dozen other women and as many males. His wolf dug past the distracting odors to find hers.
He inhaled, balls swelling bigger. She smelled like the finest cut of meat dressed in oranges and cloves.
Oranges and cloves.
He knew the scent like he knew his own face.
The cop’s attention caught on the name. His gaze narrowed at the same time his hand eased to the firearm attached to his belt. “You know Detective Wilkes?”
“Wilkes?” Cade blinked for a few seconds, each flick another layer of the complicated situation processed. He had riled the cop’s suspicion saying the name — her name, although the Wilkes half was wrong, unless she changed it because she married.
The possibility struck him like a chainsaw in his chest. He blinked slowly and forced his canines to retreat once more before he smiled at the cop, his voice a low rumble as he spoke. “Take me to her.”
The cop caressed the butt of his gun as the woman in question exited the building, her nose discreetly pushed up to scent the crowd. Beyond the intoxicating fragrance of her wolf and heat, he recognized the thick, dark russet waves of hair and the creamy rounded flesh he had once caressed and nibbled at in trying his damnedest to coax her willing surrender to his wolf.
Wilkes, he reminded himself and nodded beyond the cop’s shoulder. “There she is, how long has she been Wilkes?”
Iris froze, her nose lifting a little higher. Cade knew she had a full snout of him. Would she recognize him or think there was an unknown male shifter in her vicinity? Joints rolled and popped along Cade’s body, the urge to shift running just below the flesh at the idea of his mate scenting him as if he were a stranger. Heat hissed low in his belly and he growled.
“I asked how long has she been Wilkes?” he growled.
Staggering backward, the cop reached for his gun as Iris spotted Cade. Her expression widening, she quickstepped toward him. Her body deep in heat, each step closer magnified her primal draw on him. Coarse hair popped along the back of his neck and along his knuckles, his nails sharpening to points as he eased his hands out of the cop’s view.
Her heat was his to claim. Not another wolf’s and certainly not the human male protectively trailing close behind Iris, his soft body draped in the kind of inexpensive dress suit standard for police detectives.
Behind Cade, Mathis started the van.
The cop raised his gun. “Turn the vehicle off!”
All hell was about to break loose and Cade just grinned. His hand darted out, twisting the gun from the cop’s grip and making the man squeal. Patrol officers started shouting as more guns were unholstered.
Beneath the chaos, Iris tried to get Cade to stand down, her high-frequency supplication broken and clearly out of practice.
Calm down and I’ll get you out of here.
Cade growled again. His canines extended, the urge to bare them at the patrol officer and the suited detective like hooks gouging and raising his top lip. She was out of her mind if she thought she could disappear without a word for a dozen years then order him around.
Iris stepped around the patrol officer, her body blocking Cade.
Damn it, Cade. Stand down!
The detective behind Iris, his body so close he almost pushed into the she-wolf, dropped to the ground as the crack of a high-powered rifle whipped through the air. Half the man’s face exploded across the patrol cop, Iris and Cade.
Hunters on the roof, boss!
Mathis threw the van in reverse. Cade shot his arm out, his hard grip seizing Iris around the waist as she reached for her gun. Spinning, he threw his body backwards as the van slammed to a stop next to him with the side door open. Twisting as he fell, Cade pinned her to the floor of the van as Mathis threw the vehicle into drive and hit the gas.
A quick jerk on her wrist disarmed her. He tossed the gun out of the van before shutting the door as another rifle shot ricocheted off the bumper. Hearing the shot, Cade threw himself across Iris.
She fought, twisting and jerking, her nails swiping at him to draw thin streams of blood across his cheek as her knee searched for a shot at his groin. He wrapped a hand around her throat, his breath steaming against her face as he forced her to stop kicking.
When she finally quieted, he shook his head at her and laughed.
“Baby, you’re not supposed to smell like this.”
Iris North blinked then her mouth went slack. Her partner for the last three years was dead, fragments of the man’s brain stinking up her clothes, and Cade Mercer wanted to talk about her scent?
“Get off me!” She pushed at the thick chest but he didn’t budge.
“Not happening.” Growling, he buried his face against her neck and inhaled. “Or don’t you realize those were Hunters shooting at you?”
The van shuddered as Mathis took a hard right. Tanner’s voice squealched over the radio that shots were still being fired outside the club, the Hunters holding positions on two rooftops as the police scrambled for cover.
“Clear!” Tanner squealched again. “Going down the hole!”
The “hole” was Cherry Alley and a quick shot at the expressway.
Cade lifted his head and barked at Mathis. “Follow them.”
With the Hunters busy holding the cops back, Cade let his weight settle against the warm, feminine body beneath him. His wolf smiled at her, hungry and horny.
She didn’t smile back. She jerked then snapped. “That’s my partner back here!”
“Yeah, and going back won’t make him any less dead.” Cade leaned in, sniffing again with the need to know how deep her partner’s scent went on her clothing. Cold metal touched his lips and he jerked back. “Silver? You’re shielding yourself with silver?
Reaching beneath the collar of the blouse Iris wore, Cade yanked a thick silver chain from her neck. The van jerked, the frame almost buckling as a low whine of need sounded from the driver’s seat.
“Boss, whatever you just did…fucking fix it.”
“It” was Iris unmasked. With the chain broken, her heat permeated the van. Energy poured from her body, the waves turning to a carnal scream. Unmated, she was a ticking bomb ready to go off on his mission, jeopardizing her life and those of his team.
Cade growled and reached between them.
“No.” Iris shook her head, her deep purple gaze pleading with Cade.
He tugged at the front of her pants. the fabric shredding beneath his claws. She wasn’t unmated, just unfucked. She was his and if he needed Mathis to calm down in the front of the van and finish the rescue mission, then Cade needed to claim her.
“No,” she whispered.
“Then control your heat,” Cade snapped. “Or I will.”