Okay, I truly think I’m closing in on the home stretch for this book. So, to tease you just a little longer, I’m showing more of the opening. If you read the opening posted earlier, remember it all and don’t want to re-read, look for the bold line below and start from there (a little has been added to the original, but not reading it shouldn’t cause any confusion).
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 passenger-side window, Cade Mercer inhaled slowly, filling his lungs to capacity as his face grew wet. Nostrils flaring and twitching, he searched for something — for 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 sampling 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.
He jerked his head inside the van and closed the window. Whoever she was, he didn’t want to find the female in a neighborhood like The Bottoms.
Mathis, his driver, shoved a paper towel at him. “Damn, boss, you look like you just stepped out of the shower.”
“Thanks.” Grunting, Cade dried his face then grabbed the radio set. “Tanner, anything on your end?”
Cade shifted restlessly in his seat as he waited for the man’s reply. 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 sure he even 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, Esme 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.”
She also had never been so vague, a fact that had its cold fingers wrapped around his intestines. Forcing the unease away with a shrug of his shoulder, Cade 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. ”
The grin on his driver’s face 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 shoved it aside as he closed the passenger door and nodded at Mathis. “Hey, get me a triple with extra cream while you’re in there.”
“Sure thing, pussycat.” Mathis disappeared into the coffee shop wearing a fresh smile.
Cade used the time alone to pace, loosening 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 prowled 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 before it 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 cup 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 snarl 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 van moving before the night gets fucking worse.” 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 if you did. I mean–”
Cade responded 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 argued with the wolf inside him.
The damn beast had been twitching since Esme’s call to action that afternoon.
The latent doesn’t interest us, he reminded it.
A tail flicked inside his skull, the fur soft as silk and caressing him in a way that reminded Cade of his hand earlier that morning in the shower.
We’re just here for the extraction.
The soft tease of fur turned to nails scratching along the back of his sternum. He grabbed his wolf by the nape of its neck and gave a hard shake.
She’s not ours. Ours is gone.
The wolf quieted at the reminder and Cade sighed. Not in relief, but in regret. 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 contradicted 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 they sought. 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 open 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 of her own.
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 heard the rustle of Mathis close behind. Cade issued another growl, the sound far below the range of human detection 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 in a fierce whisper. “Get 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 is yours?”
“Mandy.” Cade managed a smile. He couldn’t do anything about his throbbing balls or rigid dick, but his canines had retracted to human length. “I’d tell you she was the blonde with the really nice–”
His hands came up as if balancing two heavy watermelons, and then his smile cracked wider.
“Yeah, that would describe half the ladies in there.” The cop laughed. “It’ll 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 cop, along with a dozen human women and as many males. His wolf dug past the distracting odors to find the only one that interested him.
He inhaled, balls swelling bigger. She smelled like the finest cut of meat dressed in oranges and cloves.
Oranges and cloves.
The scent smacked Cade hard in the gut. He knew her smell like he knew his own face.
The cop’s attention caught on the name. Turning back to Cade, 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 by 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 the 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 just 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 to have 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 transform running just below the flesh at the idea of his mate scenting him as if he were a complete stranger.
Heat hissed low in his belly and he growled. “I asked how long has she been Wilkes?”
Staggering backward, the cop reached for his gun as Iris spotted Cade. Her expression widened and 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 Cade’s neck and along his knuckles. His nails sharpened to points as he eased his hands out of the cop’s view.
“Show me your hands!” the cop screamed.
He ignored the man, every microgram of his attention focused on Iris. Her heat was his to claim. Not another wolf’s and certainly not the human male protectively trailing close behind her, his soft body draped in the kind of inexpensive dress suit standard for police detectives.
Behind Cade, Mathis started the van.
“Turn the vehicle off!” Raising his gun, the cop pointed it at Cade. “I told you to show me your hands!”
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 felt like hooks gouging and raising his top lip. Iris was out of her mind if she thought she could disappear without a word for a dozen years then issue orders to him.
She stepped around the patrol officer, her body blocking Cade from harming the man.
Damn it, Cade. Stand down!
Before Cade could respond, the crack of a high-powered rifle whipped through the air. The plain-clothes detective, his body so close Iris he almost pushed into her, dropped to the ground, half his face exploding across the patrol cop and Iris before he collapsed.
Hunters on the roof, boss!
Mathis threw the van in reverse, the words in his high-frequency warning like a bucket of ice on Cade’s arousal. 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 Iris. He tossed the gun from the van before shutting the door as another rifle shot ricocheted off the bumper. Hearing the shot, Cade threw himself across her.
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, drew a deep breath 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? And he had said it with a smile on his face!
“Get off me!” She pushed at the thick chest. When he didn’t budge, she pushed harder, reminding herself this wasn’t a human she was dealing with but an animal. “I said get off!”
“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 more shots were 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. He tried to keep his expression stern, but his wolf — hungry and horny — smiled at her.
Struggling against him, she snapped, “That was my partner on the ground!”
“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 quickly pulled away. “Silver? You’re shielding yourself with silver?
Reaching beneath the collar of the blouse Iris wore, Cade yanked a thick chain from her neck. The van jerked right, 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,” Cade knew, was Iris unmasked. With the chain broken, her heat permeated the van. Energy poured from her body, the waves turning to a carnal scream only a wolf could hear. Unmated, she was a ticking bomb ready to go off on his mission, jeopardizing her life and those of his team.
The word stuck in his head for a second before he crushed it like a tin can. Growling, Cade reached between them.
“No.” Iris shook her head, her deep purple gaze pleading with him to stop.
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. Terror mixed with tears in the purple gaze, so that there was no she-wolf beneath him, just a frightened woman.
“Then control your heat,” Cade snapped. “Or I will.”
Every inch of his skin burning with his need for her, he reluctantly eased his weight from Iris. She scurried to the side of the van, her hands closing around the silver necklace he had torn from her. Finding the heavy clasp broken, she pinched the ends together and started murmuring. Blue light danced along her fingertips. Her flesh began to heat uncomfortably where she held the silver.
Surprised coiled around Cade’s growl and squeezed, the silence beyond her murmuring broken only by the man in the driver’s seat.
“Boss, why does she sound like Esme?”
A vague memory of a teenaged witch-in-training surfaced in Iris’s brain. She didn’t think the man was talking about any similarity in their voices. Casting words were slippery to a shifter’s ears. Wolves couldn’t catch the words, couldn’t hold them in their minds long enough to roll them off their tongues. Wolves might be magic, but they didn’t cast it, couldn’t learn it. Somehow Iris had and the ability had protected her off clan lands, shielding her for over a decade from shifters and Hunters alike.
She looked at Cade to find him staring at her in wide-eyed, slack-jawed suspicion. She pushed the distraction away and continued the chant. Beneath her fingertips, the silver melded to one unbroken length of chain around her neck. She knew the moment her heat scent faded by the fresh growl that rumbled through Cade’s chest and the way the van steered straighter beneath the driver’s steadied hands.
She released the chain then dropped her gaze to the shredded fabric around her pants’ button. No fixing that. Untucking her shirt to cover the front panel of her pants, she scowled at Cade. “Better?”
The answer was “no,” even if he didn’t say a single word. She heard it in the hot exhalation of breath as his nostrils flared, saw it in the angry shudder that rolled over his body as his gaze narrowed.
With a nervous lick to her top lip, she patted around the right side of her waistband. Her hand closed over her badge. Unclipping it, she rolled the shield at the tip of her fingers, her gaze on the curved gold edges of metal instead of the angry shifter in front of her.
Cade had every right to be angry and no right at all. He had no idea what she had done for him, just like she had no idea what lies his father had filled his head with after she disappeared from clan lands a dozen years ago.
The air in her lungs froze at the thought of the elder Mercer. She intensified her focus on the shield, her grip on it so tight the edges threatened to slice her skin. She didn’t care about the pain, knew she would heal. She wanted to stop the panic attack that threatened while she still had a chance to get Cade to turn the van around or at least stop and let her out.
She looked up, her cop facade in place. “You really think you can kidnap a homicide detective with another one dead on the ground?”
He shrugged and for a second she saw the twenty-year-old boy she had been crazy in love with instead of the hardened shifter that had thrown her in the van and clawed at her pants.
She blinked, dismissing both memories.
She jabbed her finger at the back door. “That’s my partner–”
Cade’s growl rumbled through her body, gripping her and holding her paralyzed as he closed the small distance between them.
His breath played hot over her throat as he spoke. “Don’t use that word again.”
“Joshua–” A second growl, more menacing than the first, froze her tongue for a few more seconds. She closed her eyes, tried to control the trembling she knew he could see, if not feel. She swallowed, shook her head. “Detective Harper was–”
“He’s not anything now,” Cade reminded her. “That bullet was meant for you. You’re not going back.”
“I can take care of myself.” She wanted to argue further, but his head had started to move in a familiar pattern, his nose and mouth lifting to the top of her head as she heard him inhale. His face made a slow descent to pass against her ear, and then her throat.
Iris threw her hand up. “Don’t!”
He was scenting her for another male, one whose odors went deeper than the surface to hide in intimate places. Any such trace of a man was long gone from her body.
“I let you go back and you’ll have to give up the clan. The only way to stop their questions is to give them us.” His hand closed over the badge she still played with. Taking it from her, he tucked it in his jeans pocket. “You going to do that?”
“No.” Wiggling away from him, she pressed her face against her knees in defeat, her arms wrapped around her shins.
His hands continued to move over her with all the efficiency of a street cop until he found her cell phone. Moving into the front passenger seat, he rolled down the window and threw it out.
Hearing the rear tire smash the phone’s case, Iris hugged her legs a little tighter.
Sliding open the van’s side door, Cade braced against the look on Iris’s face. He expected anger, a blazing white fury instead of the trembling fear that turned her purple gaze almost black. Slamming the door shut without removing her, he turned on his heels and barked an order at Mathis.
“Bring her inside!” Reaching in his pocket for his house key, he slowed his steps and lowered his voice to a register he hoped Iris wouldn’t hear through the van’s steel frame. “Respectfully or I’ll rip your guts out.”
Opening the door, he stepped into the house’s dark interior. His hand hovered over the light switch. He didn’t want the light on, didn’t want to look in her eyes and see that she was afraid of him.
She had no reason to be.
He blinked, his chest tightening as he remembered holding her down in the van, his claws shredding the front panel of her pants as he fought his wolf to keep from slicing deeper. She had to realize he had contained himself — contained the need triggered by the ball burning, cock gripping, full on rutting odor of a female alpha who was his mate.
With the house remaining unlit, he watched Mathis guide Iris out of the van. Her lips quivered as she said something, her face turning toward Mathis so that the words went straight into his ear.
Cade heard only one word, the only one he needed to hear.
“Dead,” Cade barked, his voice as cold and buried as his father. “A few months after you skipped out.”
He watched as her face hardened. He flipped the lights on, pushed the door open a little more and moved deeper into the living room. As soon as Iris entered, Cade held up his hand to stop Mathis. “Go to the latents’ dorm and round up some clothes.”
Iris turned toward the door, her hands and lips moving as if searching for a way to make Mathis stay. Extending his arm past her shoulder, Cade slammed the door shut. His hands found her shoulders, his fingers itching with the need to remove the necklace again. She stiffened beneath his touch.
“Time to talk.” The words rumbled through him with mixed motives. He wanted to talk her right into his bedroom, to remove the clothes that held the scent of other men, to bury himself between her soft thighs as he nuzzled her pale neck, to part her lower lips and lick her into submission.
Tightening his grip on her shoulders, he turned and directed her toward the couch. “Sit.”
She obeyed, but instantly seized one of the oversized couch pillows and drew it to her body. The fleeting anger that had lit her gaze reverted to fear. Scowling, Cade yanked the pillow from her and nodded down his hall.
“Perhaps you should shower first. You’re getting bits of Detective Harper all over my furniture.”
Violet fire erupted in her eyes as her face turned to stone.
He nodded, satisfied. An angry mate he could handle, a fearful one clawed at his gut with a burn worse than any fire or silver could conjur. He watched Iris rise silently from the couch, his posture stern and all of his senses targeted on his mate until she slammed the bathroom door shut and locked it.
Alone, he sank onto the couch and pulled the pillow to his nose. There were no actual bits of the dead man on the pillow or furniture. The fabric, however, had soaked up Iris’s scent like a sponge dipped in water. The mingling of cloves and oranges with the deeper musk of her heat stirred his cock to full hardness.
He lowered the pillow from his face, pushed it down his chest and stomach to rest firmly against his cock. He growled, the sound vibrating so low he knew it would penetrate the walls and the fall of water over her soft body. Another low, rumbling, quiver of noise moved through him to pass over his shaft like a lover’s fingers.
Eyes closed, he imagined Iris in his shower. Even as a child and teen, she had never quite looked like a wolf, her sweet body too soft, her face too round. But he could smell the wolf in her when others couldn’t, could see the shift that never came as it shimmered beneath her skin, her wolf fighting to break out. Now there was no doubt that Iris was all wolf.
In heat…down his hall…in his shower.
Tossing the pillow aside, Cade stood and took his first step toward the bathroom. His right foot dragged forward, his will fighting the desire to shift. Body shaking, he took a third step then sprang behind the couch as a tentative knock landed against his front door.
Fuck! He peeked over the edge of the couch, laughing at himself as he roughly rubbed his hand against his cheek. Maybe Mathis was right and he was turning into a pussycat. He sure as hell had just jumped like one. And how did someone make it to his front door without him sensing it?
Oh, yeah — his entire focus had been on Iris, on the lingering scent filled with her heat and the memories of her half-yielding flesh the last time the two of them had been alone in their youth.
The knock landed again, producing another startled jerk.
“Coming!” He prowled toward the door, his wolf seeking out the energy of the person beyond it. Not Mathis, whom he expected to return with the clothes. Not male at all. Female, shifter, unmated and trembling…
He yanked the door open to find Joelle Frost holding a small duffel bag of clothes in front of her like it was a silver blade that could protect her.
“Mathis said to bring this!” she blurted.
Hearing Joelle’s voice shake worse than her hands, Cade closed his eyes and cursed Mathis. He understood why his second had sent someone else, but he’d made a bad choice. He could have chosen any mated wolf, male or female, or one of the latents. Instead, Mathis had sent a nineteen-year-old wolfling who had been sniffing around Cade since her first heat — a move that reeked not of stupidity but sabotage.
Grabbing the duffel, Cade jerked it toward him. She held tight to the bag, letting the momentum pull her into the house.
She dropped her gaze, refusing to challenge a pack alpha directly, even if Cade wasn’t her alpha. “I thought all new latents were supposed to go to the Fielding house.”
Cade could hear Joelle’s question lurking beneath her statement, could see it in the way her body twitched with a poorly concealed need. She wanted to know if the woman she had brought the clothes for was a latent whose scent “matched” Cade’s.
“My guest isn’t a latent and you need to go now.” He fought the urge to growl at the wolfling, the energy running through his body too confused by Iris’s proximity for the sound to come out right. The way his day was going, Iris would exit the bathroom to find Joelle on her knees, ass bobbing in the air in supplication for Cade to take her if he risked another growl.
Joelle’s delicate nose lifted to scent the room. “A regular human?”
His right brow slowly rising as he breathed deeply, Cade shook his head. How could the girl not smell what Iris was? Did the silver mute it completely for another she-wolf? Maybe it was the water and soap covering Iris’s lush body as she washed away the evidence of her dead partner.
He wanted to tap Joelle’s pert nose and ask the girl if it was defective. There was no missing Iris’s scent. Even with the wolfling drenched between her thighs, all Cade could concentrate on was his mate’s smell, the cloves and oranges, the musky odor of the heat that would let him put a cub in her as soon as he could get Iris to spread her legs for him.
With the duffel as a barrier between them, he tried to steer Joelle outside his house. “Time for you to go, cub.”
A weak snarl bubbled past Joelle’s pouting mouth. Then her gaze flicked beyond his shoulder and her eyes went wide. “Why is that woman wearing your robe?”
A wave of heat blasted Cade’s back. He heard the sharp snap and crackle of witchlight, felt its energy run electric fingers through his hair and down his spine. Another hot blast, wolfish in form, washed over him, and then Joelle buckled to the ground.
Dropping the bag, he grabbed the wolfling by one arm and roughly hauled her to her feet. He stumbled into his drive, dragging Joelle’s half limp form. He shoved her into the cab of her truck, his hands ransacking her jacket pockets for the keys. Finding them, he shoved one into the ignition and turned it over.
“Can you drive?” He barked the question as he gave the girl a hard shake to rouse her senses.
She offered a faint nod. “Who is that?”
Another snarl, this time with a flash of canines, erupted from the girl.
She was right, technically speaking. Joelle’s alpha pair were in their fifties and managed a pack of twenty-five wolves. But the words felt right to Cade. The power rolling off Iris had been almost enough to knock him off his feet and she wasn’t even accustomed to wielding it.
When Iris finally let her wolf run free? He couldn’t imagine an alpha, male or female, who could stand up to her.
“My mate,” Cade corrected. “You’ll treat her as such. Now get the hell out of here before she fries your ass.”
He slammed the truck door and took a step back, glaring at the girl until she threw the vehicle in gear and smashed a foot down on the accelerator. Shielding his face from the loose gravel the tires kicked up, he watched until she was safely out of his drive.
Cautiously turning to the house, he saw that Iris hadn’t moved. Stiff and shaking, her arms crowded her curves and ended in clenched fists. Her wolf glowed in her gaze, a glint of silver hugging one side of each pupil like a crescent moon.
Shaking his head at her, Cade stalked toward his front door. “What the hell was that about?”
He didn’t need her to answer. Iris’s response had been pure instinct triggered by Joelle’s scent. The wolfling wasn’t in heat, but she had dripped arousal. A she-wolf wouldn’t care unless the arousal was directed at her mate — and Joelle’s sweet smelling cunt had been primed for Cade even if he wanted nothing to do with the girl.
Slamming the door shut, he continued across the room. All the anger fled from Iris as she realized they were alone again. She took a step back and Cade growled.
“You run away for twelve fucking years, years you should have been with me as my mate–” He raised his hand, warning against further retreat as Iris took another step away from him. “And you want to take a wolfling’s head off because she drops a little juice around me?”
Lips quivering, Iris didn’t answer.
Cade huffed at her, their bodies close enough that the heat of his breath curled against her face. He placed his palm on her shoulders and forced her against the wall. His gaze dipped to her throat and then his hand captured the silver necklace and jerked it from her once more.
He let the scent of her heat wash over him, rolled with its force even as his knees weakened. She had always smelled so damn delicious, but this was entirely different. This was the promise of her, forever, their cubs, a stronger pack. Hell, a stronger clan.
His hands curled around the collar of the robe she wore and he leaned in, his head angling so that his mouth could claim hers.
“No!” Her palms pushed against his chest, the strength surprising him.
The strength and the heat. Looking down, he saw her fingernails glowing.
“More silver, baby?” Absently licking his lip, Cade grabbed her hand. Willing one of his nails longer and sharper, he scratched at the dark purple polish Iris wore. The polish flaked away to reveal a layer of silver painted on beneath it.
He rolled his lips, more confused than ever. Wolves were skittish around silver, especially when paired with magic. Iris wasn’t a witch. He could see her wolf in her gaze, smell it, almost hear it scratching around inside her skull as it whined to get out. So why was his mate wearing silver, throwing witchlight and speaking in tongues?
Dropping her hand, he grabbed the collar of the robe again and pushed the edges aside. “Any more silver I should know about?”
Iris gasped, distracting his gaze from the top swell of her breasts to her trembling lips. Leaning closer, his eyes still drinking in the shape of her mouth, he let his fingertips touch her bare skin. His hips pushed forward, his cock upright and hard as it nestled against the soft curve of her stomach.
Locking his gaze with hers, Cade let his fingers surf the swell of her breasts to find the nipples. Another gasp, this one shared between them as he found the thin silver rods that pierced her flesh. Thumbing one, he felt her weight shift and knew Iris remained standing only from the force of his body against hers.
His tongue came out, tasting the air before it rested against his top lip. Giving the bar a gentle twist, he watched her eyelids flutter then shut.
He had her. Silver or not, she would yield.
His other hand drifted down. Finding the soft fur of her sex, he parted her labia, no longer surprised when he discovered more silver, this time a ring looped through her clit. The tip of his tongue quivered as he thought about snagging the ring with it, lifting and gentling tugging the little piece of jewelry before he sought out the small pearl of pleasure tucked inside the hood of her clit.
Mouth closing in on his mate’s throat, he mumbled a question before his lips sealed around the hot flesh. “How the hell did Esme even find you?”
Some ten feet from where he stood with Iris, a feminine cough froze him in place.
“I didn’t. I tracked the Hunters.”
hee…cockblockers sure do suck!!!