Authors: Kimberly Hunter
by Kimberly Hunter
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or
persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright© 2011 Kimberly Hunter
Cover Artist: Dara England
Editor: Haley Stokes
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations
embodied in reviews.
120 BC in what is now France
“Are you sure, Diona?”
Diona smiled, seeing Nikos in the man before her, his son in every way. “I’m sure. I made this puzzle box so you could give it to your True Mate as a First Mating gift.”
“But this is too much,” he protested. “Surely such a valuable creation should stay with you, to hand down in your family.” She watched as he eyed the exquisite box in his hands, noting the craftsmanship of every inlaid stone wolf and gold accent.
“At my age, I can pick and choose what I wish my family to have. This”—she pointed to the box—”was made for you long before you even knew you had a True Mate.”
He looked at Diona, understanding in his eyes. He nodded in acceptance.
“Good.” She smiled at him warmly. “And when your time as Alpha draws to a close, this box will go to the next Alpha for the same purpose as I’m giving it to you. Understand?”
He nodded again, his expression showing a bit of confusion, but as the Pack’s most powerful seer, Diona had her reason’s for Rynn to accept the puzzle box. He wouldn’t question her motives. All would be revealed in due time.
“Off with you, then.” She waved him away. “Your True Mate is probably wondering where you are.”
He chuckled, used to her abrupt manner. “Yes, ma’am.” He turned to leave.
He paused. “Yes?”
“I expect many babies from you and your True Mate.”
He winked at her. “Anything for you, Diona.”
She snorted at his playfulness, shooing him out her door.
He is so like his father
, she thought, hobbling over to her hide recliner on the hard-packed dirt floor.
After she eased her old bones down, she took a last look around her home, knowing it wouldn’t be long before she too ended like Nikos and his True Mate, Tala. Both gone now, but not forgotten. She had made sure of that.
She must have dozed because when next she looked, Neena stood in front of her, a crazed look in her sky-blue eyes.
“Are you ready, old woman?” Neena sneered.
“I always knew this day would come. Knew it the moment I saw you,” she replied, not afraid to die. Her work on this plane of existence was done.
“Knew I would win, did you?”
Diona smiled wanly. “So you think you have won?” She shook her head. “No, Neena, you haven’t won. Only postponed the inevitable.”
Neena growled, taking a menacing step. “What are you talking about, old crone? I’ve killed everyone who knew about your prophecy. Even that bitch Tala. Though losing Nikos was hard, Tala still had to die. And I’ve made sure both torques will never be found. Now you’re the only one left. Once you’re gone, I’ll take the Pack like I was always meant to.”
Diona shook her head again, this time with great sadness. “You were never meant to lead the Pack, Neena. Your greed and jealousy have clouded your mind.”
“No, old woman.” She grabbed Diona with one hand, brandishing a pure silver knife in the other. “It’s you who has the clouded mind. Spouting your lies, turning Nikos against me. If it wasn’t for you, we could have ruled it all.”
“You’ll never win. No matter what you do or where you go. The Pack will never accept you as their leader.” Diona tried one last time to make her understand.
Neena clutched the knife tighter, raising it to strike. “The Pack will accept me. They will, for I am the strongest, the most powerful. I’m the one who was born to lead. Me!” Then she plunged the knife into Diona’s chest. “Only you won’t be around to see me rule.”
“Nor…will you.” Diona gasped, her own silver blade stuck deep in Neena’s side. Her last attempt to save her Pack and ensure their safety. At least for now.
As she left the shell of her body behind, Diona hovered above the scene of her murder, watching and waiting. What she witnessed sent a flash of fear through her soul. She knew it was going to happen, had known, but never did she count on such hatred, such cold malice. That kind of emotion would grow, and unless it was stopped, her people would never survive.
Neena looked down at the blade piercing her flesh, letting Diona’s lifeless body fall to the floor.
“No,” she whispered, her lifeblood draining away as the silver from the blade prevented her wound from closing. Its poison spread fast. “No!”
She pulled the blade out and let it clatter to the floor, then fell to her knees. “You think you have defeated me.” She laughed, coughing up blood. “No, old woman, never. For this I vow on my own blood—I’ll return until I get what is mine, even if it takes me eternity.” A chill wind blew into the room. “Nikos and the Pack are mine. You hear me. Mine!”
A wave of pain sliced through her, clutching where the blade struck deep. Blood poured from her body, soaking the dirt floor, taking her life with it. As the last breath left her, one word escaped. “Nikos.”
“Hey, Sasha, a few of us are going to that new club tonight. You want to go?”
Sasha stood by her car in the parking lot, paycheck in hand, glad the workweek was done. “I’m not sure. Can I call you later and let you know?”
Haley just grinned. “That’s fine. But try to call before eight. We’d like to get there before the Friday night rush.”
Haley waved as she got to her own car and drove off. Sasha left as well, stopping by the bank, then went straight home. Once there, she lay around for a bit, unwinding after the hellish week at her job. But for some reason, she couldn’t relax. Even the long soak in a hot bubble bath didn’t help. Maybe she did need a night out with her friends. Decision made, she called Haley and rifled through her closet looking for something to wear.
As she was a slightly overweight woman with average features, there wasn’t too much to choose from in her wardrobe for a crazy night clubbing with the girls. She was more of a jeans-and-top girl, but two weeks ago, something caught her eye at the local boutique and begged to be bought. Who was she to turn down such a plea? Now she had the perfect excuse to wear it. She called it The Dress, and for the amount of money she paid for it, it deserved the honorific. A beautiful dark emerald-green satin, it shimmered with iridescence in the light. The bodice had five spaghetti straps tied in an intricate knot from front to back and a built-in bra that stopped under her breasts, then dropped down to just above her knees like scarves sewn together. Sexy yet elegant. She wasn’t model thin, but the dress hid the bad and showcased the good.
She wore it with her favorite jewelry. A pencil-thin gold torque with small wolf heads at each end that had emeralds for eyes, and a matching bracelet. She didn’t wear the set much, because she didn’t have too many outfits that went all that well with a torque. But The Dress was the perfect accompaniment. Then she put on a little makeup and her emerald stud earrings, slipped on her favorite high-heeled sandals of clear Lucite, and grabbed a small clutch purse for the essentials: license, fifty in cash, one credit card, lipstick, and a compact.
When she reached the club, a line snaked out the door. The place was jumping. She parked in the back of the parking lot and hiked to the front of the line where her friends stood. They didn’t have to wait long, thank goodness. They showed their IDs to the bouncer, and then went through a short hallway, where they heard muted music. They paused before a black door with
painted on it, and Sasha made sure she brought up the rear. Entering last prepared her for the onslaught of loud music when the doors opened.
Their first look of the place revealed nothing unusual. Two stories, with pool tables upstairs and a massive dance floor occupying most of the ground floor. A few tables and chairs were scattered around the edges of the dance floor, and a bar ran the length of the building.
Sasha and her friends made their way to the bar and ordered the usual: a mudslide for Sasha and beer for everybody else. She wasn’t much of a drinker, and she figured if she had only one, it might as well be something she liked. Mudslides were her favorite.
Mudslide in hand, she barely took two steps away from the bar when a hand on her arm stopped her. She turned to check out the idiot who dared touch her, ready to verbally smack him, but gorgeous blue eyes in an equally gorgeous face struck her speechless.
“Excuse me, but would you care to dance?” the Adonis asked in a deep voice as the music changed to a slow song.
All she could do was nod. Never had she seen a man like this outside of a pinup calendar. A man never made her lose her power of speech either, but there was always a first time for everything.
He took her drink and placed it on the bar, then smiled at her as he grasped her hand, lacing his fingers through hers. She actually blushed. A thirty-five-year-old woman blushing because a man ten years her junior laced his fingers through hers. She almost didn’t go with him because of that. But then he smiled again. Her brain shut down, and she followed like a lost puppy.
He guided her to the center of the dance floor and put his warm hand on her waist, gently pulling her toward him, smiling down on her the whole time. His other hand was still entwined with hers as he raised it to his chest and kept it there. Slowly, he rocked her to the music. She barely heard the song, her senses filled with the man holding her, the clean smell of him, the hard warmth of him, the steady sound of his breathing. She couldn’t help herself as she laid her head on his chest, listening to the sound of his heart beating. His chin rested on top of her head, and he nuzzled her hair. She didn’t want the song to end. She wanted to go on like that forever.
“I think our song has ended,” his velvet voice whispered in her ear.
“Hmmm?” She smiled as she opened her eyes. Somehow they had closed without her knowledge. Now she looked around at the crowded dance floor pulsating with gyrating bodies, all moving to a fast beat.
“Oh! Uh, sorry,” she stammered, blushing to the roots of her hair. Again.
“Don’t be. I’m not.” He led her off the dance floor. And not a single person jostled them as they left. Neat trick, that.
“Thank you for the dance,” she said after they reached the bar and her now undrinkable mudslide. She left it there for the bartender to take away and then struck out her hand to shake with her dance partner.
He took her hand, brought it to his lips, and lightly kissed her knuckles.
“The pleasure was all mine, I assure you,” he replied, getting another blush out of her.
Jeez, I have to stop that, or my face is going to burst into flames.
“Can I get you another drink?” He smiled as she took her hand back. “I seem to have ruined your previous one.”
Even one drink was too much around this guy. “No, thanks. I’m not much of a drinker. It’s usually just the one, and only if I’m in the mood for it.”
“Ah, very good, then. John, two Evians, please.”
The guy was smooth; she’d give him that. But she knew she had to put the brakes on. No way was she about to get picked up in a bar. Even by this Adonis. At well over six feet, blond, blue eyed, and with the body of a Greek god—no, she wasn’t about to get picked up. She wasn’t that type of woman, nor had she ever been. So she had to let this guy know before he started his little game in earnest. She didn’t like dishonest games.
“Shall we sit down?” He motioned to a side table away from the dance floor.
“Sure.” She led the way, practically feeling his gaze travel from her head to her feet. It made her a little nervous. After her lack of brains out there on the dance floor, she should feel that way.
She nodded to a corner table in plain view of the front entrance and side exit. She had always felt safer knowing the location of the exits. “This okay?”
“Just fine.” He waited for her to sit first, and then did likewise.
He opened the water and handed it to her, doing the same for himself. He touched her bottle with his, saluting her, then took a drink. She did the same.
“I guess introductions are in order. I’m Gabriel DuMont.” He reached across the table to shake her hand.
“Sasha Edwards.” She took it briefly before letting go. “And before the game even gets started, I need to tell you that talking is all you’re going to get. I’m not into one-night stands, and I’ve never been picked up in a bar. I’m not the casual sex sort, nor am I an easy mark. You’re hot, one of the hottest men I’ve ever met, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be leaving here with you tonight.” She sipped her water, watching his face for a reaction to her “no nookie” speech.
Gabriel smiled, chuckling softly, his eyes dancing in merriment. “Well, I guess my seduction plans are nixed.”
Taking another sip of water, she raised an eyebrow at his joke.
He laughed. “Sorry, just kidding. I’ll save the seduction for another night.” Then winked at her.