RELEASE DATE: APRIL 21, 2021
Phoebe McKinn knew she’d made a mistake when she found herself out past sundown on the night of the new moon. New moons brought bad things. The darkness not only increased her vulnerability, but also abetted the criminal.
Walking from the bus station to the most exclusive neighborhood in Warwick, Minnesota might not be the smartest thing she’d ever done. Yes, she carried her quarterstaff, so she wasn’t totally unarmed, but shifting would always be her best weapon. Besides, she needed to know . . .
The metro bus stop sat only two blocks from the entrance to the gated community. Waiting in the kiosk should have been safe enough given the neighborhood, but tonight a gang of young men congregated nearby. Their catcalls didn’t bother her—no self-respecting werewolf paid attention to cats or other paranormal creatures—but this night, when she couldn’t shift, not even in self-defense, she mentally kicked herself for not heading straight to the youth hostel she’d located online. She had no business scoping out the exclusive Elysian Estates . . . yet.
The hoodlums lurked as if they could sniff her vulnerability. Not that she couldn’t take her harassers. She was strong. Werewolf strong. Her quarterstaff gave her an advantage.
If only they knew being called ‘bitch’ wasn’t an insult in her world.
A few whistles pierced the darkness.
The gauntlet began.
Phoebe held her head high. Her strength surpassed the standard issue non-lycan female. Males bent on teaching a female her place ought to be something she could handle without breaking a sweat. On any other night.
She bared her teeth, but it didn’t have the same effect as when she traveled four-legged. She kept walking, every sense focused on her surroundings: the scent of freshly turned soil; crickets counting out the next day’s temperature; the late summer evening chill brushing her skin; the moonless sky.
There. Footsteps behind her.
“You ignoring me? I don’t like being ignored.”
His cohorts laughed.
A few yards separated her from the bus stop, clearly marked by light puddling from the streetlamp. She didn’t know what time the next bus would be coming through. Waiting for it would be the same as inviting the young men to continue harassing her. She’d have to locate another kiosk. She didn’t mind. Her muscles begged to move after long hours spent on a bus.
Except someone emerged from the shadows onto the sidewalk in front of her.
Phoebe stopped. Light and dark played on the thin young man’s face, distorting his features.
“Come on, bitch. Be nice to us, and we’ll be nice to you.”
The males surrounded her, a tightening ring of beasts on the prowl. On any other night, she could shift and be done with these yakked-up hairballs.
She refused to surrender to the fear nipping at her. Terror cast its own aura. She would not give these bottom dwellers the satisfaction.
She clutched her quarterstaff with both hands.
The ring tightened around her, preparing to go in for the kill. Someone caught her arm. “How about a kiss?”
Phoebe wrenched free, but a second, a third, a fourth hand grabbed her. Touched her with callused fingers. Someone’s hangnail scraped her wrist.
The oak quarterstaff cracked against a forearm, followed by a shriek. Not hers.
And they stank. Her head filled with the stench of unwashed bodies, rotting teeth, clothes desperately needing soap and water. Garlic sausage haunted someone’s breath.
“Be friendly, and we won’t hurt you,” a disembodied voice promised. As if honor bound these creatures. Sure enough, something grabbed her breast.
Phoebe screamed and swung her weapon.
She hadn’t trained in mob control.
A foul-tasting hand clamped over her mouth. She bit down hard enough to draw blood, which might have satisfied her rage in other circumstances, but not tonight.
Someone yanked her denim jacket down her arms, disabling her hands. “Toss the stick,” a rough voice commanded. Someone else wrung her breast hard enough to squeeze tears from her eyes. She tried to kick. Scream. Flail her way free of her jacket.
Fabric hissed as it separated. The slash seared her thigh. The roar in her head muted the filth spewing from her attackers’ mouths.
Except not all the cries were filth. Surprise. Shock. Fear.
Phoebe opened her eyes—not realizing she’d scrunched them shut—in time to see a tall, dark haired man swing his fist at Sausage Breath’s jaw. Heard the smack and crunch as knuckles met flesh and bone. Catcalls turned to whimpers. Several attackers ran into the darkness which spawned them. At least two sprawled in crumpled splendor on the sidewalk.
She snatched up her quarterstaff and sniffed the air. Her rescuer’s scent filled her head. She recognized his aroma, although she hadn’t been caressed by it in years: the earthy spice of werewolf blood. A fellow homo lupus rescued her.
She scented more than werewolf on her rescuer. Instinct tingled in her blood. Unfamiliar, but undeniable. She knew. Her kind always knew.
He kicked the bodies lying on the concrete before straightening and looking at her. His eyes glittered like smoky quartz. Dark hair clung to his cheeks. He shook his head, and the fine strands flew off his face, leaving only shadows to define its contours.
Giddy delight urged her to rush to him, but she held back. “Oh. It’s you. It’s about time you showed up.” A lifetime ago her grandmother told her a female waited her entire life to meet her mate.
“Your leg,” he replied as he approached her.
His voice. Oh, Goddess, his voice created the male version of a siren’s song.
She limped toward him, using the quarterstaff as a cane, but he held up his hand. “You’re bleeding.”
Blood loss would explain the wet sensation on her leg and the queasiness roiling in her stomach. “I think one of them used a knife.”
He scooped her off her feet, tossed her over his shoulder, and headed back in the direction from which he came.
“Um, excuse me?” She tried to keep the quarterstaff off his body.
“I need to get your pants off—”
Well, then. He was rushing things, but she didn’t mind.
“—so I can look at your leg.”
Oh. That. “Are you a doctor or something?”
“It’s only a scratch.” Her thigh throbbed. “I’m starting to heal. I can think of better things to do when my pants are gone.”
“Not subtle, are you?”
She appreciated her view of a fabulous male butt working his jeans. “Why waste time? We both know we’re mates. Let’s get the marking done so we can get on with the other things we have to do.”
Maybe the way her head bounced around upset her world view. Wonky. Fading in and out. Swirling. Sparkling.
Something was desperately wrong with this scenario. Corbie, her foster mother, claimed male blood left their brains, flooded their penises, and prevented rational thought. Lycan or sapien, men were the same when it came to sex. Then why was Phoebe the one plagued with lightheadedness?
“We don’t even know each other’s names,” her future mate pointed out.
“Parker Rowe, Loup Garou, Colorado.”
“You’re a long way from home, Parker Rowe. Looking for me?” Please, please be looking for me. Phoebe Rowe. The perfect name for me. Oh, Goddess, any name will do. Even one from Loup Garou.
“Actually,” he said, “no.”