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ELIZABETH PETERS WRITING AS BARBARA MICHAELS To Kay and Carol with love Contents Chapter 1 THIS MORNING I STOOD B
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Generated by ABC Amber LIT Converter, http://www.processtext.com/abclit.html Karen Whiddon This book is dedicated to
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Rise of the Wolf
“She won’t always have your protection,” Creepy Fangs sneered. “She won’t always need it.” “What the hell is going on here? Who are you guys?” Hilary demanded. She forgot about the whole undead-drink-your-blood imminent danger and stepped out between her boss and the vampire. Nathan Sutton grabbed her arm and pushed her behind him. She found herself pressed up tightly against his back. Even through their clothes she recognized the feel of his body, the warmth of him, the scent. And she remembered where she had seen those damn blue eyes of his before: looking up at her when he’d been the wolf. “What the hell is going on here?” she repeated in a completely different tone. “He hasn’t told you yet?” the vamp asked with his shiny, pointy grin. “Isn’t that just like a werewolf?” Bloodcurdling howls, vampires, werewolves? Help me! I’ve fallen into a nightmare of gothic clichés, and I can’t get out! She hated to admit it, even to herself, but in a situation like this, it was nice to have a man’s broad, muscular back and shoulders to lean on. At least, it was broad and manly at the moment. “Werewolf? My boss is a werewolf?”
Kat Duarte Rise of the Wolf © 2008 by Kat Duarte
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. This book is a work of fiction. Characters, names, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. An Eternal Press Production
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Cover Art © 2008 by Dawne Dominique Edited by Stephanie Parent Copyedited by Erin Cramer Layout and Book Production by Ally Robertson
eBook ISBN: 978-1-897559-29-1
First Edition * August 2008
Production by Eternal Press Printed in Canada and The United States of America.
Rise of the Wolf
Dedication: To old friends and new readers. To Sue, Gabrina, and Linda for all their support. To the Monday night ladies, especially Beth and Sloane. To D.K. And to P.D.W., who has been there from the start.
Rise of the Wolf
Chapter One He was Cary Grant: suave, tall, handsome, and all that—and she was in complete control. How did she want it to go tonight? What did she want him to do? Rough and hard, his broad hands supporting her weight and her back pressed up against the wall? Or sensual caresses on a soft bed, with his slow thrusts and strokes taking her over into ecstasy? It was all in her hands—or would be as soon as she got his shirt off, his pants off, his… He brushed his lips across hers and then planted a trail of kisses along her cheek, down her neck. His hands cupped her breasts, his thumbs working insistent circles over their peaks. Trapped behind her silk blouse and the thin lace of her bra, her hardening nipples sent tiny shocks downward through the core of her body. Her limbs seem to melt, tighten, melt again in pulsing waves as her head dropped back, allowing him to move lower, run his kisses along her collarbone, slip his tongue into the V of her cleavage, and trace the tops of her breasts where flesh met lace. He licked his way back to the base of her neck, nipping his way along her jawline until his hot breath breezed across her ear. His tongue dipped inside, a tease of more exploration to come. Then back to square one. His mouth ravaged her lips until they parted, hungry for more. Their tongues gently circled, probing deeper as, in the same rhythm, he pressed his hips into hers, his cock straining against his trousers, against the thin wool of her skirt— One angry blast of a horn, and Hilary Samuel’s fantasy dissolved faster than cotton candy on a windy carousel. Wouldn’t you know it? The only other car on the road at this hour, and it ends up right behind me at the one stop light in this Podunk town. And I was just getting to the good part. Fantasy or not, it was the only sex she’d almost had in months. Hilary hit the gas a bit harder than necessary and started her drive out of the business district, which ended in about three seconds. McKenna was hardly a pinprick on the map of Chicagoland, a town some still considered
Kat Duarte one of the city’s suburbs, but far enough away to be surrounded by cornfields and populated by people who thought good jeans paired with a new top constituted formal wear. Okay. So maybe she was being a little harsh. It was one a.m. She’d put in another hard day at the café, and now she had to contend with a three-mile drive in pitch dark to her lonely condo out in the middle of more nowhere. As long as she kept her ultimate goal in mind, she’d be fine. Really. The bonus for this necessity-imposed exile from civilization would be a transfer as manager to the upscale, uptown ChiTown Café Lotti set to open next September. Part coffee shop, part swanky restaurant, it was a small Chicago-based business just starting a so-far-brilliant expansion. She had moved to McKenna from Chicago to open the newest Café Lotti— the only one in the far southwest suburbs. If she made a success of this one, she’d get the promotion and move back to Chicago. A couple of years in upper management there, and she’d have enough of a nest egg to do whatever she wanted. And maybe have some type of love life as well. Right now, she’d settle for a hot shower and bed. Hilary drove over a small rise and found herself staring into a big, bright, round light on the horizon. Stories about spaceships and alien abductions flashed into her mind—just another reason to avoid rural areas. It was just the moon, but who knew it could look so large? She seldom looked up at the sky in the city—the skyline, yes, but that was completely different. The first full moon this October…what was it I heard the customers call it? A Hunter’s Moon, maybe? Should I be wearing something bright orange for safety? She hoped not. Orange was definitely not a good color for her. Okay, so it wasn’t completely dark out here beyond the town limits. But hadn’t the thought occurred to anyone yet to put up some street lights, even intermittently, for the people who lived out here now? Hell, there wasn’t even a white stripe painted to show where the blacktop ended and the gravel shoulder began. Oh, enough with the bitching. I’ll never get through this tour of duty if I don’t put a positive spin on things. My condo complex is just a couple more miles, just at the end of this lovely country road that winds through the woods and the cornfields. The exile from civilization is just six months total. Only five months and two weeks to go. Wait. It’s after midnight! Make that five months, thirteen days to go. I can do this. Think only happy thoughts. She felt moderately better already and should have known Murphy’s Law would kick in. Her right rear tire blew out. The car crunched rapidly across the gravel shoulder, and luckily—if you counted being surrounded by dead cornstalks at one a.m. in the middle of nowhere as a good thing—it ended up smack in a cornfield via some tractor trail instead of crashing headlong into a drainage ditch.
Rise of the Wolf Hilary cursed and pounded the steering wheel; then, with exaggerated calm, she put the car in park and turned it off. So much for the easy part. The back end of her car was still in the open, but the front end? Not so much. Elephant-eye-high cornstalks pressed against both front doors. By the time she shoved her door open and battled her way out to the road, leaves and bits of husk covered her from hair to hemline. She so regretted that she hadn’t changed into her off-hours gear of jeans and comfy sweater before she’d left work. But, no, she still wore her manager/hostess rig of mid-calf skirt, silk blouse, and one-inch heels. She walked up to the road and gave a good look up and down. No traffic, no lights, no sign of human life as far as she could see in either direction. Lovely. Just because she knew how to change a tire didn’t mean she wanted to do it herself. “Fucking, fucking shit,” she said, shoving aside cornstalks as she headed back to her trunk. The full moon gave her enough light to do the dirty work without wasting her emergency flashlight’s batteries. Twenty minutes, two broken nails, and one hopelessly grease-stained A-line skirt later, what was left of her old tire had been hoisted and stowed in the trunk, and the spare had taken its place for the rest of the drive home. She picked up the jack and leaned back against the passenger side of her car to shake the last cornhusk flakes out of her hair and catch her breath. “I hate my life.” The man in the moon had no comment. But the man who’d come up soundlessly behind her did. “I’d be more than happy to help with that.” Hilary spun toward the voice and promptly dropped the jack on her foot. Cursing and hopping like a lunatic with Tourette’s syndrome, she nonetheless noted his wavy black shoulder-length hair and the ample pecs playing peekaboo beneath his unbuttoned white silk shirt that glowed and glistened— both the shirt and his pecs—in the bright moonlight. He also sported some mighty tight black trousers and an impeccably tailored black coat that reached past his well-muscled thighs to end mid-calf. The quality of his clothes shouted serious money—although his fashion sense was just as seriously stuck somewhere in the 1800s. “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m already finished,” Hilary snarled. “I’m well aware of that fact. Perhaps, though, I have something more to offer.” Maybe this guy’s Lamborghini was parked back on the road. Maybe she was passing up the opportunity to schmooze some eccentric billionaire who was out for an evening drive, but wasn’t it just like a man to come along and expect kudos for offering to help after all the hard work was done? She bent over to pick up the jack—no mean feat while balancing on one foot—just in case this guy wanted to offer her more than a lift.
Kat Duarte “Listen, I wouldn’t mind if you’d stick around to be sure I get back out on the road, okay? But beyond that, I really don’t need any help.” The guy just smiled at her. Well, leered, actually. His gaze slid slowly down her body. Hilary couldn’t help but look down herself, to find out what seemed to delight him so much. Oh. Half the buttons of her gold shantung silk blouse had popped open during her wrestle with the tires, and her see-through beige bra left nothing to the imagination. On top of that, the night was getting chilly. Okay, so maybe she was sending out conflicting signals. She noticed the growing bulge in his pants as her gaze swept the length of his torso—his gorgeous torso—and back to his face. What was wrong with her? Hello, Hilary! Alone with a stranger in a cornfield in the dead of night! Definitely time to wrap this up fast and get away. “Listen,” she began while shaking the jack in Mr. Tall, Dark, and Creepy’s direction. Her other hand flew to the front of her blouse. But then, instead of buttoning up, she felt her fingers popping open the last three buttons and pushing the fabric back to expose more of her flesh. He still stared at her. She couldn’t seem to stop staring at him. After all, he had such dark, deep, glowing red eyes. What? Wait a minute. But why should you wait? Your skin in the moonlight looks as soft and radiant as a pearl. Do you not yearn to be caressed? She would have sworn his lips didn’t move. His voice was so gentle, warm, sensuous and intimate, as though he were inside her thoughts, her soul. Then somehow, without moving, he had covered the space between them and stood next to her, pressed against her, leaning over her. His soft hair tickled her cheek. His breath whispered across her lips as he parted them with a flick of his hot tongue. The kiss was light, soft, then firmer and deeper, the deft movement filling her with the promise of such delights to come that her knees actually began to give way. He caught her, one of his arms bracing her at the deepest curve of her back, the other wrapped so that he cradled her neck in the palm of his hand. Her arms hung limply for a moment. Then she felt his cock harden against her belly. The reverie of his kiss began to fade, and she tore hungrily at his coat. Nothing was more important to her now than the desire to press flesh against flesh. He released her long enough to shrug off the coat and rip open the front of his shirt. His chest muscles were sculpted white marble in the moonlight, like some statue from the ancient world, but he was warm to her eager touch. His muscles rippled as she snaked her nails under white silk and up his back. She wanted to feel him pressed hard between her legs. She grasped his shoulders, desperate to make their bodies fit together as one.
Rise of the Wolf He picked her up as if she were light as a cornstalk, then carried her until her back was against the car. He placed her perfectly so that his cock pressed against her clit as his tongue worked in moist circles along her jaw and neck. She writhed between him and the car, her wetness dampening her panties. She moaned in protest when he set her down. Then he gripped the slit in her skirt and ripped it open. His hands dove down inside her pantyhose, tearing them away in one quick motion. Then they were back, one hand stroking her inner thighs, the other insinuating its way under her panties, fingers parting her, quickly driving her to the edge of climax. She wanted him inside her so much that the longing was like a physical pain. She heard herself screaming for him to fuck her, fuck her, drive himself into her—and didn’t recognize her own voice. The great rush of desire squealed to a halt as if a switch had been turned off. This isn’t me! Sure I’m horny, sex-starved, and I’ve been watching and drooling over too many hot guy movies lately, but I wouldn’t do something like this. Well…maybe in my wildest fantasies, yes. But not for real. Definitely not with a stranger on a back road! What is going on? Reality shifted. Or what had seemed like reality until a split second before. She stood by the car with the jack in her hand, and Mr. Tall, Dark, and Creepy stood a few paces away, where he’d been previously. His skin still looked like white marble, but she didn’t recall any of Michelangelo’s works sporting shiny, pointy fangs. Mindfuck. Bastard’s an honest-to-goodness vampire, and he’s just been fucking with my mind! She’d seen it in movies, read about it in books—the whole mind control thing. Dark night, lone female, sharp fangs, the mesmerizing voice: “Look deep into my eyes. I vant to drink your blood.” Well, okay, so he didn’t talk like Count Dracula in the movies—but it did explain the outdated attire. Hilary couldn’t decide if she was more scared or angry. Virtual sexual fantasies were one thing, and she didn’t mind indulging in them at all, but when the guy was more into dining on her instead of taking her to dinner afterwards? Then she noticed he wasn’t even looking at her anymore. Now that had to be considered rude, even in the book of vampire etiquette. Stalk your prey; seduce your prey; then…what? What could be more important? You forgot to pick up your coffin at the dry cleaners? Anger was definitely winning out. She tested the jack’s weight in her hand. So what if it wouldn’t kill him? She figured she was as good as dead—or undead—anyway, and it would sure feel mighty good to give him a whack on the head before running him over with her car, even if the escape attempt would probably be futile. A howl axed its way through the softer sounds of the night. She’d never really understood the idea of “bloodcurdling” before. A second howl rang out, much closer than the first, and the hair on the back of her neck stood up.
Kat Duarte Scared had just turned the tables and won out over angry. Considering current events—a vampire, fangs out, in front of her—what now? Mr. Creepy Fangs seemed to be the one mesmerized at the moment, she noticed. She followed his gaze back to the road, where the sound had originated. The shadows there seemed to be getting darker. Then the darkness resolved into the shape of a huge wolf.
Rise of the Wolf
Chapter Two Okay, so if this is his pet just catching up to join in the fun, I am totally screwed. And not in the good way. Hilary could not for the life of her—and it seemed to be coming down to just that—figure out what to do. Run through the cornfield? Stay where she was? Try to get in the car? All those possibilities had been tried and failed in stories and movies. The wolf moved forward in slow stealth mode. With each step, the silvery highlights on his shoulders and flanks shifted as powerful muscles rippled beneath his fur. Hilary moved slowly back. She heard a low growl, but it came from the vamp, not the wolf. So, not buddies. Were things looking up for her? The vamp raised his arms, hands turned toward the wolf, fingers taut and curved like talons. The wolf’s back bristled with raised fur; then it leapt straight at the vamp’s face. To Hilary, it almost seemed as if she were leaping along with him. She’d never seen such power and grace. The bulk of his flexing muscles moved in moon-silvered waves along his body, and her heart soared at the sight of him hurtling through the air, throwing himself into the path of unspeakable danger in an attempt to keep her from harm. Suddenly, she had a front row seat to Dracula vs. the Wolfman. The shock of that thought was nothing compared to seeing the vampire fling the huge beast to one side, nothing compared to the canine yelp of pain that cut through the air as the wolf crashed into the rear bumper of her car. She thought she heard the crack of bone, but seconds later the wolf was on his feet, teeth bared, and again placed himself between her and what seemed to be their mutual foe. “Your timing’s a bit off,” the vampire said to the wolf. “Getting rusty, old friend?” Then he was gone. The vampire, that was. Hilary blinked, looked again just to be sure, but Mr. Creepy Fangs had definitely left the cornfield. “Wow. Damn vamps do move fast,” she said.
Kat Duarte A loud thump at her feet made her look down. The wolf had tumbled into a heap of limp fur where only seconds before he had been standing tall, ready to fight. His side rose and fell with labored breathing. The soft huffs he made sent small clouds of mist spiraling into the chill night air. It was a no-brainer to Hilary. Lord, he weighed a ton! She knew her awkward movements must be hurting him, but she managed to get him into the backseat of her car. Once she got the car back onto the road, she sat there with the engine idling and the occasional heart-wrenching whine from the hurt animal urging her to take action. Okay. Now what? Call 411 and ask for the number of a veterinary clinic? Did vets treat wolves? They were pretty much the same as dogs, so it seemed a good bet. But what would they do with him afterwards? Besides, she didn’t even know the nearest vet or animal hospital’s location. Deep in thought, she began to drive, her mind switched to automatic pilot. Next thing she knew, she was pulling into her parking spot. Might as well go in and use the phone book to find the best help. Better check on him first, though. When she opened the car’s back door, the wolf’s head came up. He looked at her with his big dark blue eyes and then crawled forward to nuzzle his head into her hand. Dark blue eyes? Couldn’t be. But they were, so…not a wolf? Or not all wolf then. Some dogs had blue eyes. An old boyfriend of hers in college had a husky mix with one blue and one brown eye… He managed to crawl out of the backseat by himself. He moved cautiously, obviously hurting, but with a little help, he made it up the front stairs to her condo. By the time they were inside, Hilary had convinced herself he was just a big dog. A brave, kind-hearted, enormous dog that had saved her from a vampire. Or a stalker dressed as a vampire. Or…at nearly two-thirty a.m., her brain was getting very fuzzy. She put out a bowl of water for him and began to look through the Yellow Pages for a vet while she rummaged through her fridge for something a dog would eat. She’d just decided a quick plate of scrambled eggs came as close to dog food as she could get when she noticed his absence. From the kitchen, that is. After a short, panicked search, she found him sound asleep in the middle of her bed. “Oh no,” she said, “you can stay the night, but…oof.” That last sound popped out of her as she tried to move him off, or at all. Suddenly he’d become three tons of cement disguised as a warm furball, all immoveable and snuggled up on her satin comforter. After a few more minutes of shoving, grunting, and some swearing, she gave up. At almost three o’clock, her head hit the pillow. She’d finally pushed and prodded her way onto a small portion of her queen mattress, but the sleeping beast still took up most of the space. “Fine. Be that way. But this is for tonight only. Tomorrow, you’re going back to the farm—or wherever you belong.”
Rise of the Wolf Her guest just sighed and rolled over a bit, back toward her side of the bed, of course.
Chapter Three In spite of her exhaustion—partly from vamp encounter or whatever, partly just a long, hard day at work before the terror-filled portion of the evening— she didn’t sleep like a baby or like the dead. She slept like a woman with a very large wolf in her bed. He wasn’t all warm and soft fur either. Those long, strong legs weren’t at all cuddly when he stretched them out full-length and they jabbed into her side. And wolf breath? Not the greatest. She tossed and turned most of the night. Except… At some point, sleep came. There was a moment that she still remembered on waking, when she had felt the soft, silky warmth of human flesh tucked around her back and legs as she lay on her side—a lover’s spoon, the cradle of strong arms wrapped around her waist and shoulders, the musky scent of a man, his soft breath on her neck. When her alarm went off and she woke with a start, that unmistakable touch lingered in her mind. The dog, or wolf, had departed. He wasn’t in the bed or anywhere else in the condo this time. The front door stood opened though, just a crack, so maybe she hadn’t shut it tight last night and the dog had gotten out. And where had she found him? Along the road when…? Right. Flat tire, cornfield. Had the dog been hit by the rear bumper when she tried to get back on the road? A scene from an old horror flick flashed into her thoughts, with some bad Dracula-wannabe in the middle of a cornfield. Had she watched part of one of the Underworld films before going to bed? I have got to get more sleep! **** “You look like hell,” April said when she got to the Lotti that afternoon. “Don’t get me started. And just when do you think they’ll put up some streetlights along the road, for Pete’s sake?” “For Pete’s sake or yours? And I thought you didn’t want to get started? What happened, Baby Boss?”
Rise of the Wolf Hilary smiled. She let April get away with the “Baby Boss” label because they were both the same age, and because under her assistant manager’s small-town trappings, there existed a very sharp and clever woman like herself. April was one of the few people here in the boondocks who could make her day. At first, moving to McKenna had felt like moving from a penthouse into a walk-in closet—claustrophobic, to say the least—but she’d soon come to not loathe the small-town atmosphere, mainly because of April. Her assistant manager had quickly filled her in on the fact that a fairly good-sized shopping mall did exist only twenty miles away. One of the stores actually carried Anne Klein, though sadly, not Donna Karan. A supersized Farm and Fleet store had also been built just ten miles in the opposite direction, which, while muchlauded by the locals, Hilary would probably never visit. Due to the mall, the Wi-Fi at the Lotti, and April, she decided she could stick it out for the time it took to establish a steady customer base and train her successor. She’d have no problem leaving the Lotti in April’s hands when she moved up in the company. April followed her back into the office, and Hilary gave her the lowdown while she put away her purse and coat. “I had a flat on the way out of here last night and almost hit a dog. Is there anyone around here who owns a fat Irish wolfhound or a really tall husky?” She’d looked for the dog all during the drive into work that afternoon. A farm near where she’d gone off the road showed no sign of anything like her overnight guest in its yard. “Don’t think so. I could ask around. You didn’t hit it though, right?” April waited till the shake of her head, then added, “You didn’t get hurt either, did you?” “Me? Not a scratch. But my skirt? Ruined.” “We shall mourn the passing of the Anne Klein A-line, but there shall be much rejoicing at the mall when you shop for a replacement.” Hilary rolled her eyes at April’s bad British accent, but laughed in spite of—or because of—the truth in what she’d said. “Oh, by the way, we’ve got one of those ‘special’ customers waiting to be seated,” April warned in a much more subdued tone as they walked out toward the restaurant’s hostess station. Hilary surveyed the line of customers in the waiting area and tried to guess which one April meant. Business had been good ever since the grand opening. Seemed the people of the far south suburbs had been starved for some place like Café Lotti, somewhere they could get a fine cup of Arabica brew. But that wasn’t what made them come back instead of going to the coffee franchise at the mall. “Coffee is just the beginning” was the Lotti motto and what separated them from the typical coffee, dessert, and sandwich
Kat Duarte places. The Lotti’s customers also had the lunch and dinner menu of a fine restaurant, not to mention the same service and atmosphere. “The older couple in the matching windbreakers?” April shook her head. “The handsome one in the red plaid shirt and brown suede jacket.” “Mmm. What kind of trouble do we have here?” Hilary thought of two kinds while she looked him over—the problem-customer kind and the handsome-man kind. Not that every woman would think him attractive, now that she took inventory. He had a bit of stubble happening, which was fine by her. His medium brown hair was short, but a bit shaggy on top, in need of a good trim. He wore it swept back, which emphasized the broad forehead that had clearly seen some worry through the years. He had deep-set eyes, the color of which she couldn’t tell from this distance, a largish nose that fit with the long, strong angles of his face, and a mouth that was—well, fairly small, but definitely kissable. And he had some nice muscular shoulders under that suede jacket. But what about that red plaid shirt? Farmer boy? Wannabe cowpoke? When the Monty Python gang lumberjack song popped into her head, she slammed on the mental brakes and brought her thoughts back to business. “Let me guess. He doesn’t know whether or not our highfalutin gormet kwezeen is going to be enough for a grown man to eat?” April choked back a laugh. “If my manager heard you say something like that about a customer…Oh. Wait. You are my manager. Shame on you! But you did pretty much hit the nail on the head. Should we seat him somewhere in the back?” April pointed to a very out-of-the-way table tucked in near the bakery counter and the few shelves of foods and giftware near the register. Hilary shook her head. “We put him up front, right in the window. That way, anyone passing by can see that we have all kinds of people as our customers—and, if we do our job right, they’re also going to see how much he loves eating here.” “Wow,” April said. “You’re good. I’m learning a lot here.” “Continue to watch the master, and you’ll go far.” As she said it, the turn of phrase sent a chill up Hilary’s spine. It made her think of Dracula again. This whole vampire flashback thing she had going was really beginning to creep her out. She couldn’t figure out why it was on her mind. She hadn’t even been watching Buffy reruns lately. Concentrate, concentrate. Keep your mind on the prize. Business before…whatever. She picked up a menu, studied the station chart to find an open table, and marked it off. Then she put on her game face and moved in on her prey. “If you’ll follow me, sir? I’m sorry it took so long to get your table ready.” Lumberjack Guy looked down at her—in the literal sense, because he stood a good six inches taller. His face was crinkled up cutely in confusion. As well it should be. She was seating him ahead of both a party of three and a couple
Rise of the Wolf who’d been there before he’d probably walked in the door. Their tables would be ready within minutes anyway—she’d checked on that too while she was at it—so she took the gamble they’d still be happy with the Lotti’s service. Now, because he wasn’t budging, she gave him a look that was all innocent request and wonder on her part, a sort of “Sir, did I do anything wrong?” look that usually worked for her in situations like this. Her real thoughts, Just follow me, Plaid Man, and don’t say a word, didn’t show on her face at all. She moved off in a fast slalom through the tables, hoping he’d take the hint. He did, but was no for match her. By the time he caught up, he found her waiting next to the table with the menu held out and ready for him to take. She’d already pulled out the chair that would give him the best view. He took that hint, too, and sat down, frowning but silent for the moment. “Our specials for the day are roast duck in plum sauce with fresh—” “Ah, wasn’t that couple here ahead of me?” Hilary played innocent again, looking back to the waiting area. Luckily, April was leading the aforementioned couple to their table—the one in back by the bakery counter and gift area. “Why, yes, they were, but they were waiting for something a little more cozy and out-of-the-way. Not everyone’s happy with a window seat. Oh. If you’re not, I could…” “This is fine for me. Now what I’d like to know is—” “Oh! I’m so sorry! The rest of the specials! But…is this your first time to Café Lotti?” “It is, and I’m not sure—” Hilary cut him off by leaning down conspiratorially. Two steps ahead of you, cowboy. “All the specials are really good, but personally? Can I recommend something? The braised short ribs with the garlic mashed potatoes is my all-time favorite.” “What if I’m a vegetarian?” The nasty in his tone didn’t seem to suit him, and besides that, he was wasting his breath; it didn’t even faze her. Well, it did, but not in the way he’d intended. Unless… No, if he meant this as flirting, he was way off the mark. Although, all stern and gruff like this, she thought he was even more handsome than before. In spite of the plaid shirt. Want to fight, Plaid Man? I wouldn’t mind a tussle with you, especially if afterwards we— What was she thinking? Stick to business. Promotion, large salary, large savings, European retreat. Her mantra only took a split second. Coupled with the other second of trying to figure out his intentions, she barely missed a beat. “Then you have to try the vegetable lasagna. But I have to warn you, we serve a huge portion so don’t fill up on salad and rolls, although they are great. And the salad dressing? Made fresh daily and to die for.”
Kat Duarte She smiled and, to sell her spiel, looked straight into his eyes. They were dark blue—sea blue, midnight sky and moonlight blue—and she could swear she’d looked into them before. He squinted at her. What did that mean? Did he have that déjà vu thing, too? More realistically, was he going to try her patience with another nasty remark? Possibly he’s just confused that you’ve been staring at him so long. Snap out of it, Hilary. Luckily, her super manager sense told her that one of her waitstaff had just arrived at the table. “Well, I’ll leave you to look over the menu now. Cyndi’s your waitress, and she’ll be happy to fill you in on the rest of the specials, if you’d like.”
Rise of the Wolf
Chapter Four “He’s still here?” Hilary’s tone had enough heat to singe lava. April chuckled as her boss smacked the stack of menus down on the back counter to vent her annoyance. “He’s still here,” she confirmed in more admiring tones, amazed at the way the man had made it seem natural to spend three hours to eat dinner. Plaid Man, as her boss had nicknamed him, had ordered the braised ribs, eaten his fill, had dessert, and lingered over coffee longer than any customer she’d ever known. Then he’d ordered more coffee. And another dessert. He’d already paid his bill, but still he sat where he’d plunked down at the beginning of the dinner rush. The man definitely had staying power. Cyndi, his waitress, secretly pissed that he’d hogged one of her tables for so long, had named him Best Customer Ever after he handed her a supersized tip just minutes ago so she could go home. April hadn’t minded his molasses-slow dining habits at all. She’d been savoring the sight of him ever since he sat down, his table near the front window in clear view from her hostess station. Damn nice window dressing, if you asked her. The last couple they’d seated for dinner had just been skillfully ushered to the door, and she knew Hilary was antsy to lock up. Now that she saw Plaid Man planned to become part of the permanent décor, April wondered if she’d finally see the city-chic manager lose her cool. “Okay.” Hilary killed the next half minute rat-a-tatting a rhythm on the counter with her well-polished nails. They suddenly fell silent. “You close out the register, and I’ll handle this.” “You want I should hang around, boss?” she replied in what she knew to be a truly bad Rocky Balboa imitation. “Thanks. Just till I find out what’s what, at least.” She gave Hilary the thumbs-up as her boss started over to their special customer of the night and decided to linger over tallying up the receipts. She so wanted a front row seat for this confrontation.
Kat Duarte **** “Sir, we are closed now. Is there anything I can do for you before you leave?” Okay, here we go. You can decide to be a gentleman or a real jerk. It’s your choice, Plaid Man. “You certainly pay a lot of attention to your customers. I’ve been watching you making the rounds all evening, making a point to stop and chat with people.” “It’s part of the job.” “Yes, I suppose it is. But you like it, don’t you?” She suspected he was working up to something, but what? How could she phrase this response so it didn’t sound like a come-on? She began to pick up the chairs nearby and upended them onto the already cleared tabletops. “It’s always good to get to know our patrons, learn about the customer base in the community. And, yes, I do like to make sure that people leave my restaurant having felt welcomed.” “Nathan.” Plaid Man stuck out his hand for her to shake. Just where was this going? “Well. Nathan…” “Sutton.” The last name hit her like a brick. That, and the voice that said it. Nathan Sutton was the owner and CEO of all the Café Lotti restaurants, her ultimate boss. He wasn’t the one who had supplied the last name, though. It was the voice of the vampire from last night. The vampire, the mindfuck, the giant wolf. All the memories came pouring back into her now. Nathan Sutton rose slowly from the table as Hilary turned toward the voice. And there he was, still in his period vamp costume, all white marble skin and black wavy hair and— She saw April, her assistant and new friend, still waiting loyally by the cash register. “April, run! Get out of here!” “Yes, run, sweet April. Time to go home now,” the vampire crooned in a cloying, sweet tone, his eyes still locked on Hilary’s. For an eternity of a second, she couldn’t move or look away, but then she thought, “Screw that!” and pulled her gaze back to April, prepared to stand between her and the vamp, run to her, push her out the door, or something, anything— April was already walking out the door and locking up just as if it were any other normal night, not aware of the three of them at all. As if she were in a trance. “How did you…” But then, it made sense. He’d used the same mindcontrol thingy on her last night. Hilary had to swallow down some of her fear
Rise of the Wolf before going on. “…did you get in? I thought vampires had to be invited before they could—” “I came here earlier to inquire about this evening’s specials. Your lovely assistant invited me in while she checked on the menu.” “Damn me for pounding excellent customer service into her head!” Hilary muttered. “Don’t beat yourself up over it,” Nathan Sutton said as he brushed past and put himself between her and the vampire. “Public venues are always easy access for vampires. There’s always someone who invites them across the threshold.” “She won’t always have your protection,” Creepy Fangs sneered. “She won’t always need it.” Oh, isn’t the CEO just oh-so-noble. But the poor guy couldn’t know what he was getting into. Acting as if he knew about—wait just a damn minute! “What the hell is going on here? Who are you guys?” Hilary demanded. She didn’t often lose her temper, but when she did, nothing could stop her. She moved quickly from fear to feeling all-powerful and invincible. She forgot about the whole undead-drink-your-blood imminent danger and stepped out between her boss and the vampire. Nathan Sutton grabbed her arm and pushed her back behind him. She struggled and protested, but he held her firm. She soon found herself pressed up tightly against his back. Then she stopped struggling. Even through their clothes, she recognized the feel of his body, the warmth of him, the scent. And now she remembered where she’d seen those damn blue eyes of his before: looking up at her when he had been the wolf. “What the hell is going on here?” she repeated in a completely different tone of voice. She might have found herself a new mantra. “He hasn’t told you yet?” the vamp asked, flashing a shiny, pointy grin. “Isn’t that just like a werewolf? So secretive. But then, he and his kin haven’t ever been socially acceptable, have they? They certainly don’t have any fashion sense. Not like my kind.” The vamp was definitely looking down his nose at Nathan. It made Hilary feel a bit queasy about her own superficial concern for fashion. Or it could just be her insides turning to jelly and her mind to mush. Dismayed, she realized her knees were now actually knocking together as she contemplated how this night might end. Blood-curdling howls, knocking knees, vampires, werewolves? Help me. I’ve fallen into a nightmare of gothic clichés, and I can’t get out! She hated to admit it, even to herself, but in a situation like this, it was nice to have a man’s broad, muscular back and shoulders to lean on. At least, it was broad and manly at the moment. “Werewolf? My boss is a werewolf?” Her voice climbed at least two octaves in as many seconds. Actually, she had squeaked more than spoken.
Kat Duarte “I can see that the two of you have much to discuss. Adieu. Until we meet again.” The vampire vanished. “That was so cheesy,” Nathan said. “And he has the gall to insult my taste. Ow!” Hilary had whacked him on the back with both hands. Probably not a good move for climbing the corporate ladder, but she continued to slap him in time with her next words. “What…the hell…is going on…here?” “Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow! Will you please cut that out?” She stopped, but only because he had both of her wrists locked tight in his grip. And his voice and face had gone all stern again. And…she’d gone sort of limp looking into his eyes. She laid her hands gently on his chest. Maybe she could get used to flannel shirts? Soft flannel shirts over nice—now that she could feel them—hard and well-defined pecs. She swallowed hard, took in a deep breath, let it out in a long sigh, and could feel herself melting just a little more into his grasp. “I’m going to take you”—he paused and swallowed hard himself— “…home, so I know you’re safe. From him. For the night.” “Okay.” Long pause. On both their parts. Then the corner of Hilary’s mouth curved up into just the tiniest hint of a smile. Oh, yeah. She wasn’t the only one who had gotten distracted. Werewolf or not, Mr. Nathan Sutton was also having trouble keeping his mind on business. **** On this night, the drive home seemed to take forever. She was in her car, he was in his SUV right behind her, and time seemed to slow down every minute they were on the road. He followed her up the front stairs in silence. They remained silent as she unlocked the door and turned to face him. He spoke, finally. “You’ll be all right. Just don’t invite him in. Which…you…already know. Not to do, that is.” He was very cute when flustered. Boyish and all deliciously vulnerable, Hilary noted. And the physical hotness? He had that in abundance. She grabbed the front of his red plaid flannel shirt, which she had hated just hours ago but now adored, and dragged him inside. He followed—halfwilling, half-resisting—shut the door behind them, and kept his back pressed against it, working hard to keep some space between them. His hands grasped her shoulders, let go, grabbed them again. He had decided after a prolonged, vampire and fear-filled interlude to be the gentleman, it seemed. But there was no way he was getting off that easy.
Rise of the Wolf
“Nathan?” She twisted a handful of soft flannel shirtfront and pulled herself closer. He tried to back away, but the door solidly blocked any further retreat. He tried to avert his eyes, but, forced to look down, his gaze became fixed on the peekaboo of cleavage just inside the collar of her blouse. His Adam’s apple slid up and down as he swallowed hard. She waited for the low “Hmmm?” in his throat to rumble to a halt. “You got some ’splainin to do.” His half-lidded dark blue eyes popped open as her purse landed with a loud thump on the foyer table near the door. She released her grip on his shirtfront, stalked to the center of the living room, and placed fisted hands on her hips. “First. What a nasty, evil thing to do—coming into my restaurant under false pretenses and acting like a jerk just to see if I’m doing my job to your satisfaction!” He took one step forward and held up a pointed finger in protest. “Now, it just happens that’s part of my job, to check up on how my restaurant is being run. And…I wasn’t that much of a jerk. Was I?” “Oh no, not at all. ‘What if I’m a vegetarian?’” She mimicked his tone of voice. “And by all accounts, you gave April a hard time even before I got there. It might be your restaurant, but it’s my staff. I look after the people who work for me.” “An admirable quality, and one I appreciate. They work for me, too. So do you, though, and…” He stopped himself before spitting out whatever else had been on his mind. In a completely different tone, he added, “You’re all doing a fine job, by the way.” “Well, thanks. But I’m not done.” Hilary took a step toward him. It was her turn to point a finger, which she did, and poked it right at the middle of his plaid-covered chest. “Second, you’re a werewolf!” Nathan shrugged and held up his hands in surrender. “I don’t know what to say to that. It’s true. Yes, I am. Which was a very good thing for you last night, I might add.” She took a deep breath, prepared to yell, but had to concede his point. “Right. But later, um, when you were in my bed? You weren’t in wolf shape all night, were you? Or even on top of the covers all night. Am I right?”
Kat Duarte So, werewolves can blush. More cuteness. Hilary raised an eyebrow and waited him out. “I…there’s…” He stammered to a halt. “Not everything is under my control. And…um…” She couldn’t decide how long to let him squirm. Or how long she could endure it herself, especially when he pulled at his collar in that move guys did when they were put on the spot. Then he undid the top button. It suddenly occurred to her that the little hollow where a man’s neck met his collarbone was very sexy indeed. And it looked extremely kissable. “And listen here,” he continued, squaring his shoulders. “You’re not the only one who needs to say…things. You need to know about the Lycanths. And that vampire—why he’s come for you.” He’d gone all serious again. She figured she should, too, for the time being. He scrunched up his forehead on that last bit. The deep lines between his brows hinted at genuine concern for her safety. “Go on.” “First, let me set things straight about Lycanths.” “Lycanths?” “That’s the preferred name, not werewolves. And we’re not the servants of vampires the way so many of the popular stories tell it. The legends and most of the stories are right about vampires, though. They are monsters. They do prey on humankind. Except in very rare cases, humans are just a food source for them.” “Yeah. Got that. I’ve read the books and seen movies where the vamp is all romantic and misunderstood, but…last night? Definitely not romantic. I hate that he controlled my mind, even my feelings. Then, forgetting the whole thing until I saw him again tonight…that made it even worse.” It hit Hilary then. “Why is it I’m remembering it all so clearly now?” “Well, part of that is because of me.” Nathan paused, but when she scowled suspiciously, quickly continued, “I’m not using any mind control, if that’s what you’re wondering. It’s simply that…Well, it’s not that simple, really. Part of the reason will be clearer after you let me finish with the explanation.” “Okay, then. You’ve got the floor. For the time being.” He scowled at her then, but nodded. “Both Lycanths and vampires are able to control human minds to a certain extent, but we don’t do it for the same purpose. For Lycanths, it’s not a control issue, not exploitation. It’s our way of protecting humans from the shock of what they’ve sometimes witnessed. Lycanths are the protectors of mankind. We’re the natural predators of vampires.” “So werewolves have just gotten a bad rap in the media?” Nathan’s smile was not a happy one. The anger there sent his deep blues glimmering like sapphires, with emphasis on the “fires” part. “Like I said,
Rise of the Wolf we‘re here to protect, not control. The vampires, on the other hand, have been very effective in putting a good spin on their public image during the last century.” “Seems irresponsible that Lycanths haven’t done the same, then.” “We’ve had other problems to contend with.” Nathan looked down at his shoes and dug his hands into his jeans pockets. After a long, uneasy pause, he launched back into his version of Werewolf 101, still not quite meeting her eyes. “It’s easy for one vampire to create another, almost instantaneous—one of the perks of being undead. Lycanths, though…” He circled her, his eyes downcast, looking not at the floor but somewhere beyond it. “We have extremely long, natural life spans. We mate, grow old, and die just like any other living species. Having children goes about the same as it does with humans, same time frame for bearing and rearing. “Our numbers have been dwindling in the last centuries. Some of us dying from natural causes, most killed off in our battles with the enemy. On top of that, it’s not often someone with the Lycanth strain is born, not often they’re allowed to grow to maturity, no matter how we try to protect our young.” He looked up then and went silent for way too long, staring straight at her, way too intently. “What?” Uh oh. He’s working himself up to saying something again. He moved in close, slid one hand onto her shoulder, and tilted her chin up with the other. “Hilary, you were raised by your godparents, told that your parents had died.” She got it. Really. He had been there to protect her. Her, with the Lycanth strain in her blood. She examined her mind for signs of panic and found none. The only shock came from not being shocked. Maybe later the anxiety about her heritage would sink in, but she was aware of something else in her blood now. Something warm and wonderful that had been filling her heart just a little more each time she looked into Nathan’s eyes. She was so terrified this was going to be a Luke-I-am-your-father moment that she couldn’t speak. “We’ve been watching over you, trying our best to give you time to have a normal life before taking up your responsibilities as a Lycanth. You’re a werewolf, Hilary.” She nodded silently, waiting for the other shoe to drop—or paw, or whatever. It didn’t. “That’s it?” He nearly choked in surprise. “That’s not enough? I just told you that you’re a werewolf!” “So, we’ve got something else in common then. But not too much in common, though—just part of the same species, right? Not close family ties? Like, I’m not your long lost daughter or anything. Yes? No?”
Kat Duarte He blanched. “No! You don’t think I’d…not with the kissing and the…Oh God, no! On the whole family tree thing, I swear we’re not even as close as kissing cousins.” She wrapped her arms around him. And one of her legs, and then pulled him close. “So, if we have a responsibility to increase the Lycanth population…You’re not already taken, are you?” “I—” His eyes closed as she pressed herself against him. She saw that he fought hard to get the next words out. “I had a mate once. She was killed. And there’s been no one since then. Not for a long time.” “Okay, then. Nod once if it matters that you’re my boss.” She arched up higher on her toes to get closer to his mouth and to fit their bodies more snugly together. He shook his head, and she moved against him, undulating her hips, feeling the ever-growing and hardening bulge in his pants. “You don’t know what you’re doing,” he said in something near a whisper. “Oh, believe me, I know exactly what I’m doing,” she whispered back and ran her tongue along one side of his neck. She opened more of the buttons on his shirt, pushed the soft flannel collars to the sides, ran her fingers lightly along the even softer skin of his neck, and began planting little kisses along that delicious collarbone of his. He moaned, which she took as a good sign until he pushed her away. He pried her hands from his shirt and pushed her back to separate them at arm’s length. She hadn’t let go easily, and the result was a couple more buttons popping loose. Oh my. She didn’t normally like hairless chests on men—and with the whole werewolf thing, she’d thought there would be lots—but his was indeed the exception. Struggle all you want, Plaid Man. From all you’ve said, we were made for each other. “You won’t go through the change until you mate with one of your own kind,” he said in a tortured voice. “So, it’s not that you’re not attracted to me, then?” “Good and holy gods, woman. I think you already know that’s not the problem.” She could see it, too, very clearly, now that she had a good view. The next thing that popped open was going to be his fly, whether she helped it along or not. Bare-chested, but well-hung. She hadn’t noticed that about the wolf. Evidently, during “the change,” as he called it, some things got larger and others got smaller. Hmmm. “Is it painful?” He gave her a look of pure frustration. “This changing into a wolf thing. Is it painful like they show it in the movies? Is that why you’re trying to hold me back?”
Rise of the Wolf “It’s not that. It is painful, but there’s a joy in it, too.” Nathan’s grip on her went gentle as his face did. “The joy of running through the night, the earth flying past beneath your feet, the pleasure in all that power coming from your own transformed body…” His face seemed lighted from within as he spoke. He loved what he was, that much she could see. But she couldn’t imagine the joy of what he told her. Not yet. “But once you change, your normal human life is over. It’s not easy to juggle the everyday with your Lycanth duties, believe me. That’s why what time I can give to my businesses is finding the right people to run them for me.” “Like April.” “April…may just turn out to be one of those people, yes.” “But it’s worth it? The responsibilities of being a Lycanth?” “Wouldn’t trade it for the world.” Now this was seduction, this beautiful man and his passion for a life that could not be easy, for his duty, and his compassion for her, and trying to protect her from how the Lycanth responsibility would change her life. Damn vampire doesn’t know squat about seducing women compared with this. “So…there is no problem, then,” she said, moving past his hands and into his arms. “Your career, though.” “My career?” “There’ll be training, a whole education about your kind. You won’t have time to run a business hands-on. And we send the new Lycanths to Europe for their education. I’ll have to give the new Lotti to someone else.” The concern on his face was genuine, almost painful to see. She just had to set him straight. “You’ve got it all wrong, Wolfie. How would you know, though? The only thing I really wanted at the downtown Lotti was the salary. I was planning to do the job for a few years so I could save the money to go to back to school and study art history. Somewhere in Europe! And the going-to-live-in-Europe was the most important part in the plan. Which you’ve just handed to me on a silver platter!” This time she wrapped not one, but both legs around him. It didn’t work too well with her outfit, though. He wound one arm around her waist so he could sweep the other down her back, along her thigh, to fumble until he found the side split in her skirt. “You’re sure?” he asked. “I want you to be sure.” He got his answer when her hand moved intently down his chest and abs to his jeans, popped open the snap, and unzipped the fly. With a violent rip, the seam of her skirt split open all the way to the waistband. Her legs tightened around him. Her lips opened to his, and their
Kat Duarte tongues greedily explored each others’ mouths. Their body heat combined, sending fiery shimmers along her skin. She combed her fingers through his hair till they met at the back of his head. His pungent scent, pure male pheromones, was driving her mad. She slipped one hand down to cup the back of his neck and used the other to brace herself on his shoulder, pushing herself higher, then slid down the length of his hardened cock. She shuddered violently, on the brink of orgasm, but she wanted him inside her. She wanted him skin-on-skin the length of her. “Why the hell do we all wear so many clothes?” she groaned and began pulling at his shirt. “Wait. Wait.” His voice was a hot breath in her ear, which he nipped, sending a shiver of desire through her as he lowered her to the floor. He pulled her blouse apart, more buttons flying—she’d have no wardrobe left at this rate—and bent to suckle her nipples through her bra. Then his thumbs took the place of his mouth, rubbing across the hardened nubs still trapped beneath lace. Soft, quick kisses tickled their way across the tops of her breasts, along her collarbone, up her neck. He seemed to know her fantasies without being told. As his mouth climbed higher, his hands went lower, strong but nimble fingers unfastening the band of her skirt, pulling off what was left of it. And her pantyhose. And her panties. The right side of his lips quirked at the sight of the practical cotton briefs. He stepped back a pace to look at her, naked now except for her lacy black bra. “A woman of contrasts,” he said, savoring the words as though a first sip of wine had provided him with an unexpected and enticing new taste. She unfastened the back of her bra and let it slither down her belly to fall to the floor. He reached out toward her naked breast to the point where she could feel the heat of his hands hovering near, but didn’t make contact. He placed them instead on her waist, used them to trace the mounds and hollows from hip bones to belly and down her legs. His broad, warm hands stroked her thighs as he knelt before her, then worked their way back to hold her from behind. He gently nudged her legs apart and kissed the inside of her thighs. He shifted, right hand moving forward to part the dampened curls of her dark mound. One by one, his fingers gently probed, and her lips parted, both below and above, as his hot breath, then his tongue thrust inside her. She came too soon, too soon, and groaned at the quickness of it. He swept her off her feet then, literally, and before she knew it, she was being lowered to the satin comforter on her bed. She’d forgotten that he already knew his way around, but still… “How did you manage that?” “Oh,” he said innocently. A wicked gleam came to his eyes as he stripped off his jeans. One hand dipped into a pocket before he threw them into the corner of the room. With studied nonchalance, he said, “Did I forget to
Rise of the Wolf mention the superhuman agility and stamina Lycanths develop after they mature?” He tossed his underwear into a corner, and when she saw just how maturely he had developed, it took her breath away. She had ample time to appreciate the fact as she watched him peel the foil off a condom and roll it snugly upward over the length and breadth of that maturity. What have I gotten myself into? And when will he put it into me? Her legs spread wide as he eased himself down onto the bed, onto and into her. He thrust deep, staying there through an eternity of kisses. His tongue probed gently at first, and then he went deeper. He abandoned her lips suddenly, working his way downward, taking his time until he had fully savaged her breasts to move back to her mouth for more. When she couldn’t stand it any longer and began to squirm below him, desperately trying to push his cock deeper inside her, he finally answered that ultimate need. She met his rhythmic thrusts with those of her own, raked her fingernails gently, then not so gently, over his back and buttocks until he matched her moan for moan. They came together, the release so explosive they fell into sleep still locked in each other’s embrace.
Chapter Six Hilary found herself a bit disappointed in the morning. Oh, he’d stayed the night. She had woken up with him curled around her, and he’d been more than ready for a very pleasurable round two of wakeup sex, but still. She felt there had been something missing. They talked a bit in the morning about how soon she could leave her Café Lotti and go into training. Nathan had also given her a brief rundown on the basics, the fact versus fiction introduction to her future lifestyle. He’d given her a lot to think about, which she did as she made a supersized breakfast for them to share. By the time she’d served it up and brought it in on a tray to the bedroom, he was sound asleep again. He looked so cute and sexy it seemed a shame to wake him, so she didn’t. She ate the whole breakfast herself—a six-egg cheese omelet, two pieces of toast, the strawberry garnish, and both glasses of orange juice. Hilary hadn’t had this much sex in a while, but she didn’t recall that it had ever made her this hungry before. Part of her wanted to curl up by Nathan’s side till he woke up for round three, but she felt too restless. Even though it was supposed to be her day off, she decided to drop in anyway with a detour to the health club beforehand to work off some of this excess energy. She felt slightly guilty about the box of cereal she set out with the note that she’d left for Nathan, but not too much. You snooze, you lose, Plaid Man. Besides, she assumed a man who built and ran a chain of restaurants would know enough to throw together a meal for himself. **** The health club idea didn’t go so well. She mulled that over as she attempted to inventory the back storeroom at the Lotti. “You really think we need fourteen cases of sesame oil?” April asked. Hilary looked up at her, dumbfounded.
Rise of the Wolf “Not unless you plan to change the entire menu over to stir fry and battered fish,” Nathan said as he stuck his head around the door. “Um, April? This is Nathan Sutton, CEO of Café Lotti. Nathan, this is April Garza, my manager-in-training.” “Manager-in-training extraordinaire,” April added with a wink. “Pleased to meet you officially. And before I have the wrath of your immediate boss crash down on my head, let me apologize for my deception last night. Let me also say that the entire staff passed the test with flying colors. I couldn’t be more pleased with the way things are going.” He turned their handshake into a courtly kiss on the back of April’s hand. Is old-world charm part of the curriculum in that Lycanth school in Europe? And why didn’t he use some of that on me? Oh yeah. I didn’t give him time. “Well, thank you, Mr. Sutton.” April blushed slightly as she turned her back to him and mouthed, “Nathan?” with a wicked waggle of her eyebrows. Hilary cleared her throat. “Maybe I’ll just do the counting and let you do the ordering later.” “Maybe you could make that much later, April,” Nathan said, handing her the clipboard with the purchase order forms. “I need a few moments of private conversation with Ms. Samuels, if it’s not too much trouble.” “No problem.” April mouthed “cute” and made the OK sign over Nathan’s shoulder as she left. “I take it she doesn’t remember a thing about our visitor last night?” Hilary asked warily. “Not a thing. Not unless he wants her to.” “And might he? Will he come back here? I mean, we can do those protection spells you told me about this morning, but he’ll just get someone to invite him in again, won’t he?” “He might. It’s you he’s after, and as long as you’re here…” Nathan wandered up to her, then stopped to fiddle with a can of tomato paste, studying it as though it were the most interesting artifact he’d ever seen. “Speaking of this morning and last night…” “We were?” “We should.” She crossed her arms and leaned back against one of the metal shelving units. “Lots to talk about, I guess.” She paused. “I nearly killed my kickboxing partner this morning at the gym.” The tomato paste slid out of his hand and hit the floor with a thud. “What?” “She’s fine—was fine—after she regained consciousness. I sort of knocked her out. Seems I’ve got some superhuman chops all of a sudden. You didn’t tell me things would start developing so soon. I mean, does it usually start,
Kat Duarte even before I…” She didn’t say it out loud, just in case April or someone else was within hearing distance. “Not that I’m aware. The effects usually don’t start until after the first change.” He pushed a strand of hair behind her ear and stroked her cheek with his thumb. “I knew the moment I saw you that you were exceptional.” “Nice of you to think so.” She played with the buttons on his shirt— another flannel one, but at least this one was solid blue. The color made his eyes bluer, which made her knees weaker. “And was I? Exceptional? Speaking of this morning and last night. His kiss had her pulse racing and sent a keen thread of desire shooting up through her heart. The sound of April clearing her throat loudly, then the exaggerated knock on the door, made Hilary’s face blaze with embarrassment. “Sorry to disturb your meeting, but there’s a call for Mr. Sutton.” Nathan smiled and cleared his throat playfully. He kissed Hilary on the forehead before turning away. “Thank you, April. Why don’t you call me Nathan, seeing as we’ll be working together from now on? Hilary will be leaving a bit sooner than expected, but I hear you’re more than ready to take over as manager.” Once he left the room, April’s jaw dropped open, and she did a little victory dance. “I got it? I really got it?” Hilary just nodded and grinned back. “And…he’s not such a jerk, huh? You and he…” Hilary rolled her eyes and scrunched up her face before nodding. She shushed her assistant when the girl let out a happy squeal. April didn’t let that dampen her excitement. “He’s pretty hot, you know? In spite of, or because of, the whole flannel-shirted CEO thing he’s got going. So, have you two ‘known’ each other long?” Sure, her cheeks had gone red as the tomato paste, but Hilary still tried to sound composed. “Well, we did meet once before, but—” “Didn’t click until last night, huh? By the way, you two look good together. Like a perfect fit, ya know?” “Listen, it’s still so…I don’t know what it is yet. So do me a favor and try to keep it quiet?” “Will do. But it’s not entirely in my fault if word gets out. Not if you two keep on the way you were going here in the backroom.”
Rise of the Wolf
Chapter Seven After closing that night, Nathan and Hilary cast the protection spells together. At first, the words felt strange on her tongue—a mixture of Latin and Romany, neither of which she’d spoken before. Nathan rolled them off in the same tones he used for any serious discussion they’d had, whether he was tutoring her in the best ways to kill a vamp or confirming the extra toppings they’d decided on for a late-night pizza. He was such a guy, and her guy, for now at least. As they intoned the last words together, she felt an electric charge run along her limbs and felt another as she looked into Nathan’s eyes. Evidently the spells worked. The vampire stayed away for three nights, and Nathan made himself at home in Hilary’s condo. “Is it possible he’s given up?” She wore one of his flannel shirts—and nothing else. They were cuddled up together on the sofa gathering strength for round… Who was she kidding? She’d lost track a couple days ago, which was a really nice change in her life. As to the other, she hadn’t gone through the whole woman-into-wolf thing yet, and anxiety over her first change made her more and more high-strung as the days went by. Nathan said it would happen when the time was right. But still. He’d had centuries to get used to it. Three, in fact. And counting. Who knew she could be so attracted to such an old man? Not that he looked it. Centuries for werewolves seemed to be comparable to decades in regular human years. He hadn’t changed again yet, either. Which hadn’t stopped them from doing it doggie-style once. Or was it twice? Ho hum. Sex, sex, sex. Am I getting bored? Not on your lovely Lycanth ass, Nathan Sutton. The TV flickered dimly with some old black-and-white love story that had come on after the second late-night talk show they had not been watching. So little time, so many ways to make love…
Kat Duarte She smiled one of those satisfied female smiles when she turned her head to look at him, and he raised an inquiring and inviting eyebrow. Her hand was just beginning to tease its way up his naked thigh when the doorbell rang. “Hold that thought,” he called after her as she reluctantly went to see who it was. She put her eye to the peephole and saw April’s distorted but still clearly anxious face. “Who is it?” Nathan called. “April. Something must be up with tomorrow’s schedule. Something serious, or else she’d have called.” Hilary turned the deadlock, and Nathan was at her side before she heard the click. “It’s far past closing time,” he said into her ear. “Give me half a minute before you open it.” The doorbell rang again, four times in quick succession as a cold puff of air tickled Hilary’s naked legs. She looked behind her. Nathan was nowhere to be seen. “Hilary?” April’s voice was strained, unnaturally high. Hilary jumped at the sound of a fist pounding on the wood. Half a minute or not, she didn’t care. She disengaged the other lock and pulled the door wide open. His hand was locked around her throat—the vamp’s, of course. “I’ve brought a little late-night snack. Care to invite me in?” “Don’t you...April?” Her friend clawed at the vamp’s hand, her eyes bulging. He wasn’t even trying to do his mindfuck thing on her. She was terrified and fully aware of the pain he caused. Hilary took a step forward, reaching out for April’s arms. “You really think you can?” The vamp and April were two feet away, then less than half a foot in the blink of an eye. April’s feet were off the ground, her legs kicking like a woman on the gallows. Then she suddenly went still. Hilary froze. Her eyes shot to April’s face, which now wore a look of rapture. She was still alive, but he was in her mind. “You think you’re fast enough to pull her from my grasp, get her safe inside, before I slice her open from collarbone to cunt?” He held April in her face so she could see the sharpened nail on his index finger pierce the delicate flesh at the hollow of her neck, smell the metallic scent of blood as it began to flow from the deep but narrow wound. “Don’t. You want me.” Hilary stood her ground just inside the threshold. “Put her down and tell her to walk inside. And stay there. I’ll come out. You have my word.”
Rise of the Wolf He lowered April, released his grip, and just as she walked close enough for Hilary to take hold of her arms, the vamp was swept off the steps by a flying missile of fur and white fangs. Hilary hustled April the rest of the way through the door. When she let go, her friend just stood like a block of wood in the foyer, oblivious to the brawl outside. Fur, fang, cheap velvet cape. They were so fast her eye saw only a blur. Anyone looking out their window might miss it entirely. Not the noise, though. Howls and growls and vengeful oaths filled the air, then stopped. The vamp, frock coat in tatters, stood on the lawn facing Nathan-turned-alphawolf. Oh, the tenant guild is gonna love me now. Please, God, let them all be out of town for the weekend. It went that way for awhile: blur-fest then timeout, blur-fest then— Wolf-Nathan was bleeding, a huge gash torn into his side. His right rear leg buckled beneath him. Hilary’s heart rose into her throat, cutting off the scream she wanted so badly to release. The vamp disappeared and reappeared right at Nathan’s side. He rose up and hovered over her wolf, poised for the kill. The wolf, in a haze of pain, seemed unaware. Then a funny thing happened. Or not so funny, considering the flash of pain. One minute Hilary stood frozen in her doorway, unable to scream; the next thing she knew, fur and claws were bursting through her skin, while bones bent and pushed their way into strange but familiar angles. Powerful muscles contracted, gathering for the leap, and she sailed into the night air, covering the distance between her and the vampire and Nathan faster than the vamp could say…well, whatever he would have said if she hadn’t landed claws first onto his chest. They went tumbling end over end in the air, separating as they both hit the ground. She bounded to her feet—her four feet now—and turned to face him. He did his disappearing act again—tried to, at least—but her reflexes were almost equal to his now. Her eyes followed him, tracked his flight, and she ran after him. Her ground-eating strides brought her inches from his back by the time he had landed deep in the woods behind the condo parking lot. She reached and felt steeled claws push past flesh and cut through the skin and tendon of his legs. The vamp went down, and she clamped on to one of his shoulders with her massive jaws. Her teeth sunk deep into foul-tasting flesh. She lifted him enough to turn him face up, dropped him, and pulled back, gathering herself to lunge forward again and rip out his filthy heart. But she hesitated. There was a Hilary inside her who was not a werewolf yet, one who felt the need to protect her mate and her friend, but who had cried for an hour the
Kat Duarte first time she killed a trespassing field mouse in a trap. This body had once been a human being. If she killed him, what would she be? Then she thought of Nathan, bleeding and broken somewhere behind them. She arched back, shifted balance for the lethal strike…but she’d waited too long. The vamp’s nails dug into her neck. Thick fur prevented him from breaking skin with the first blow. He struck at her again, harder. Untrained, unprepared, she was startled by his strength. She suddenly felt as vulnerable as she had in human form. A howl of fear erupted from her throat. An answering howl cut through the night. Then Nathan was at her side. He didn’t hesitate. His fangs sank deep into the vamp’s flesh, ripping skin, snapping ribs. He cleared the way, and she went in for the kill. Her fangs closed around the exposed heart. Arteries snapped like old rope as she tore it loose. She dropped it on the ground at his feet, then sprang back to her mate’s side. As a matched pair they retreated, their eyes flashing red as the vamp exploded into flame. Their triumphant howls rose as he sank away to ash. **** April snapped awake to the sound of howling wolves. She stood alone in the foyer of Hilary’s condo. Why, she didn’t know. She’d never had a sleepwalking problem before, but that must be it. She hoped she had a sleepdriving problem, too, or else it would be a long walk back to her car, which could only be back at the Lotti. She remembered saying good-bye to Cyndi and the rest of the staff, but nothing after that. The murmur of voices and music floated out from the living room around the corner, and she could see the flicker of the TV screen against the hallway wall. Maybe Hilary and Nathan were snoozing, or…well, not the time to indulge that thought now. Sneaking out before both her bosses saw her and decided she wasn’t management material seemed the best plan. Quietly, slowly, she backed out and shut the door. She stood and listened for a moment. No raised voices, no lights snapped on in a panic, no sign that her unexpected visit had been noticed. April sighed with relief that didn’t last long. There was no sign of her car in Hilary’s parking lot. On the other hand, her cell phone was in her pocket. She speed-dialed Cyndi, who picked up on the second ring, and arranged for a ride. How she’d explain her car being back at the Lotti with her at Hilary’s condo, April hadn’t a clue. Then again, Cyndi had always been flaky and might not even ask. When she did get the manager position after Hilary left, there would really be no one capable to fill her own shoes as assistant manager. That fact had rattled around in her head for some time. She decided that not admitting how stressed out that made her might be the reason behind her blackout tonight.
Rise of the Wolf A chill wind blew down April’s blouse. She pulled her collar up around her neck and held it closed with one hand. Something wet soaked through a spot just above her collarbone. She stopped under one of the lampposts. Although it looked darker than blood, she felt sure that’s what came away on her fingertips when she examined them. Where she’d gotten a cut on her neck, she sure didn’t know. She’d have to get that looked at in the morning at the doctor’s, along with the latest literature on stress-induced sleep disorder.
Chapter Eight There was a pond at a nearby farm. They waded in and swam until the vamp’s blood and ashes washed away. Fur glistened in the moonlight, and water droplets fell like crystal rain as the wolves shook off the wet and the weariness of the kill. He nuzzled her and licked the smooth fur of her muzzle dry, then circled and tried to mount. She bounded away, sailed across the clearing and into the woods. He followed after her, and they ran through the dark, swift shadows passing beneath the barren autumn branches of the trees. Under the sheltering bank of a dried riverbed, she slowed and turned to wait for him. She allowed him to clamp his mouth around her neck, then braced herself to take his weight and held in place as he thrust into her from behind. With each thrust, the change quickened. Claws retracted, fangs shortened to human incisors, fur became skin. Nathan’s teeth grazed the back of her neck and shoulder as his balance shifted. He pushed himself upright, his hands cupping her breasts, pulling her toward him as he slid himself deep within her inner walls. She tightened around him, wanting him to fill her, wanting more than sex, more than desire, all precautions abandoned now as her heart blazed with the knowledge that he was meant for her—only her. She had felt it with a primal certainty in her wolf form; as a human, she felt it as a certainty in her soul. Her fingers clawed into the moist earth as a feral moan rose in her throat. Their naked skin glistened with the heat of mating under the silver light of the moon. Nathan continued to thrust from behind as his fingers found her clit. One hand stroked her thigh, and one hand brought her to climax—the first of several, she hoped. A deep moan caught in her throat. Her lungs would only draw in the smallest of breaths, and she began to pant. He pulled out of her, his stiffened shaft sliding along the engorged surface of her labia. She rocked back into him, desperate for him to thrust inside her again. She cried out, a
Rise of the Wolf wordless plea. He shifted his stance behind her, then drove his cock in at a new angle. The tip of his penis found a place inside her where she knew she’d never been touched before. Her head dropped forward and her arms went limp as he drove in harder with the next and the second and the third thrust. She climaxed again, deeper this time, waves of pleasure rushing up through her core. He shifted, moved his hands to her hips and slowed his rhythm, then relentlessly, methodically, brought her again to the edge, but not over. She licked her lips, tasted the salt of her sweat, and waited for those final thrusts to drive into her for his own release and hers. His hands left her sides. “No,” she panted and pushed back against his strong thighs. You can’t leave me here. Not like… She felt his change begin. Felt the soft, slick warmth of skin along her buttocks transforming to silky fur. His muscles hardened, and the strong sinews of his legs surged with the power of the wolf. As he drove himself inside, she began to match his change, and her breath caught in her throat as she braced herself for the pain of transformation. But this time, there was no pain. There was just the tingle of skin rippling, of soft hair growing into a warm cloak of fur, of strength and power flowing into her muscles and bones. With renewed energy, her forelegs thrust her back. She came with a howl as they locked together. Then fur changed back to sweat-slicked skin, and they found their rhythm again, plunging into climax as his howl filled the night. A little while later, when she’d found her breath and combed the dry leaves out of her hair for the most part, she said, “Can we do it again?” Nathan moaned.
About the Author Kat Duarte is a gypsy at heart, a romantic by nature, and lover of all things otherworldly. The first time she saw Frankenstein with Boris Karloff, she cried when the monster died. Is it any wonder she writes stories that feature heroes with preternatural powers and heroines who see past rough exteriors and straight into hearts? Born and raised in Chicago, Kat has traveled extensively through Europe. Her heart however, remains in the Windy City. She receives most of her creative inspiration late at night after being walked by her dog, Rosie. Her cat, Gondor, helps iron out the details. Rise of the Wolf is Kat’s first published novella. Please visit her at: www.katduarte.com and www.myspace.com/writerkatdurate
Rise of the Wolf
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By :Laura Elliot Think it's tough finding the right guy? Try having red eyes and a spiked tail. When an escaped Draconis starts turning houses into kindling, Wing is ordered to track him down. With her spiked tail, flame-resistant skin, and ability to breathe fire, she's got the right tools for the job. She's not the only one on the hunt—bullets fly when a military commando, Stallioon, mistakes her for the pyro. Wing must convince him to stop trying to kill her and combine forces to catch the rampaging Draconis. But she gets a little more than she bargained for when the very sexy, very armed human male agrees. You'll need flame resistant skin of your own when you read this ret hot romance!
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By Sommer Marsden My worst payment ever consisted of twenty dollars and a hand-knitted afghan. The woman who gave it to me needed me to release several confused, yet harmless, spirits in her house. I did the job and hugged her after she paid me. That afghan is damn warm, too. "Here they come" Trip stubbed out his cigarette and zipped his jacket. "Looks like Lizzie brought fresh brew." I mouthed a silent 'Thank you,' and heard a faint tinkling in my left ear. That's the angels signaling that I'm not alone. I'm hardly ever alone. I'm used to it now. "Gang's all here!" Mikey hopped from foot to foot on the shattered concrete. "What're we looking at, Trip? Spill it fast, 'cause I'm freezing my balls off." Liz gave him a stern look for his language and passed out scalding hot cups of coffee. "Bless you, Liz. I was dying. I need a caffeine fix." I took a sip and burned my tongue. After a curse, I took another. "Let it cool," Liz scolded. Always the mother hen. She does daycare on the side to supplement her meager Seekers' income.
Rise of the Wolf "Screw it. I just need the jolt. Doesn't matter if I taste it." "Listen up, ladies" Trip's breath feathered out in white plumes. "The current owner, Mr. David Richards, says he's heard women laughing. No women currently live with Mr. Richards. On more than one occasion he's also smelled pipe smoke. He's not a smoker. At night, when he sleeps, the furniture is rearranged to resembles the original owner's layout. He found a box of photos in the basement furnace room this week. Needless to say, he's unsettled. Not necessarily scared, but wary." "That's not too bad," Mikey said. "No ectoplasm, flying furniture, or otherworldly booby traps this time. We're dealing with an afterlife Martha Stewart." This earned him a giggle and blush from Missy. Missy wants to get in Mikey's pants so bad it's sick. The sad part is I'm an empath. I pick up on people's emotions. It's such a strong gift that if I'm not careful, I can mistake them for my own. A surge of excitement blossomed in my belly and a quick zing of arousal shot through my groin. I was picking up on Missy's feelings. I said a quick prayer and closed my eyes. Imagined myself surrounded by bright white light, and blocked her out. Once I got in the house I'd have to shut the defenses down. For the time being, it would keep me from dryhumping Mikey on Missy's behalf. "You okay?" Trip asked. His bright blue eyes looked tired and glassy. The fatigue didn't stop them from being gorgeous. Picture perfect recollection flooded my brain. I saw in perfect detail our last steamy night together. Those blue eyes looking so serious as he thrust into me. For a moment, I felt his mouth on my nipple, his hands holding my hips firmly. The grand finale had taken place on the sturdy butcher block in my kitchen. I felt a flare of arousal all my own and pushed it away. Bright lights wouldn't fix this one. I owned these feelings.
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By Alysha Ellis The three men certainly were tapped in to her fantasies. Adam lounged against the wall, all black leather and bad boy attitude. Benedict’s long lean legs were covered in faded denim, complete with scuffed cowboy boots and a faded stress patch to draw attention to his magnificent package. Chad’s blond good looks morphed into divine beauty when set against the severity of the formal black and white of his tuxedo. Kelsie looked and evaluated. “You know, I’ve got to say, I never realized just how much my fantasies had embraced the whole romantic cliché. Still, I suppose it’s because those images are so attractive that they become clichés in the first place. I think the only thing I’m missing here is the kilt clad Highland warrior.” Adam’s leathers began to go blurry and look a little wooly. “I can change.”