Authors: Selena Illyria
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Romantic Suspense, #Mystery & Suspense, #Suspense, #Werewolves & Shifters, #Erotica
She leaned over to Caroline. “We need to leave. I need to get home before Michael notices I’m gone.”
Caroline agreed. “Stan will need his dinner. Do you see anyone who can help us set up our bake sale in the feline areas?”
Poppy grinned and tilted her head toward the lion-shifter who’d given her the look; he didn’t disappoint in person. “Indeed I do.” She held up her cell phone, and the man nodded. “Let’s leave. Too bad
couldn’t come with us, but then again, she wasn’t exactly a permanent member of our little team.” Poppy linked her arms through Janice’s and guided them to the exit, with Caroline bringing up the rear. She didn’t bother to tell them that their team was about to get smaller.
* * * *
Urban clicked on the Werewolf Summit website and examined the names of attending packs listed. All the alphas were powerful names in the community. It interested him that the
Pack was not only choosing a new alpha but also requesting a name change. As his substitute alpha, Urban would be able to approve the request. However, he did have one issue. There were three nominations for the position of alpha, and they were all demanding trial by combat.
wouldn’t allow it, no matter how traditional it was. Bloodshed and possible death weren’t going to impress the Council, should word get back to them. They might try to impose sanctions against the town: increase taxes, add more demands for security, and possibly put limits on tourist travel. All things that would send
ape shit. He was already working with limited sleep and very little in the way of good news. Urban didn’t want to be the harbinger of another stressor.
own stress level rose as he went through the list of requests waiting for answers. His stomach rumbled and his ass ached from sitting too long.
Time for a break.
He stood up and stretched. He could hear the vertebrae in his back cracking, and his aches pinged around his shoulders and down his spine. He groaned, went to the fridge, and grabbed a beer before settling back down to look over the list again. Urban needed to familiarize himself with all these people. He hadn’t been to a werewolf summit since he was a pup. Everyone he saw, with the exception of
, was a stranger. He clicked on the name Michael Porter. He was the most powerful alpha next to
. Looking at the rugged werewolf in the picture made
stomach sour. There was something off with the guy. He had cold, brown eyes and weather-beaten skin. His profile said he was an outdoor guide, married to a Poppy Porter; they had no children, and he was the head of the Jagged Pass Pack.
The name sounded familiar. For a second he racked his brain for answers and came up with some gossip he’d heard while in Nevada. The Jagged Pass Pack was considered violent, abusive toward women, homophobic, and misogynistic. Urban shook his head. The Jagged Pass Pack wouldn’t be happy about
Capper, who had won the right to become the alpha of her pack, and her brother, who was gay, was her chosen beta. He decided that more security would be necessary around that particular pack. Urban jotted that note down on his notepad and went back to the list of alphas. More red flags popped up as he read bios, old skirmishes in the past, problems with authority, and demands to go back to the old ways, such as hunting humans for sport. Urban groaned. He could see that the older werewolves who no longer held the alpha position were staying out of things, which wouldn’t help. Basically the inmates were running the asylum in some packs, and that could end up hurting everyone in the end.
Urban needed some help, but since he was barely in
Crossing as it was and didn’t know very many
he wasn’t sure who to call. All the werewolves would be engaged in the Summit. Urban considered enlisting Branson, the
Pack alpha. As he read the man’s bio, he was impressed with how modern the man was, although from the gossip on the member’s message board, he was fighting off every available unmated female left and right, and there was some speculation on his sexuality.
Urban snorted. There was so much gossip about Urban and
that he was surprised that no one had caught on to
until now. And then there seemed to be a careful sense of joy at welcoming a dragon-shifter into the pack life. To Urban they didn’t have a choice; too many werewolves were scared she’d shift and barbeque their asses, something he wasn’t opposed to. If he could convince her to do it to the current class of pack alphas then he’d be grateful, although
all the mess and bother of selecting new alphas, which neither he nor
would want to do. The work involved in declaring winners and such.
Urban slumped in his chair and ran a hand over his face.
Thanks so much,
, for handing this assignment off to me
. He rose from the table and headed back to the fridge. His brother was working late, and
was trying to deal with putting together segments on the Council picks for a new representative. As much as he needed to learn who was who, he decided it’d be better if he matched faces to names at the campsite rather than stare at a screen all night. He grabbed a beer and returned to the table. After scanning the rest of the list of alphas expected to appear, he shut down the site and logged into e-mail. Part of him hoped that he’d get a message from Nadia to meet him somewhere. As far as he knew,
Crossing’s red-light district didn’t have much in the way of anything appealing to him, and pulling some random werewolf to waste time with was about as exciting as a hairball.
With a sigh, he faced facts. He was completely gone on Nadia and had been since he’d first laid eyes on her. She owned him heart and soul, but how to reach her and convince her to give them a chance? There didn’t seem to be an answer or time enough to strengthen the connection. Neither of them was in one place long enough, and Urban knew that he could be out of the country for weeks, months, and years if his mission called for it. It would be hard on both of them, but it would be worth it, in his opinion, knowing he had someone back home to call his own.
The only problem he could see was what exactly Nadia did for a living. He had his suspicions, but no actual proof. She seemed to mostly work in Europe, which was where they met most of the time. The last time they were both in the USA was in
and what she was doing there he didn’t know. She’d left there was a report floating around the Agency that the feline representative from England had reported important documents missing. They’d turned up weeks later, much to the embarrassment of the rep, but for a while
gut had told him that Nadia had something to do with it. No one said anything to confirm his ideas, and he didn’t ask. If he did, they’d wonder if he had connection to Nadia and might look into her, and then she’d get a visit, and well…shit would hit the fan, and he’d be in trouble with both the company and her, losing one while being watched by the other. No fun.
He wondered if Nadia spent her free time away from him alone, like he did. If the operation called for flirting or sex he bit the bullet, but other than that, on his own time, he didn’t want anyone else in his bed. Nadia was a beautiful, intelligent woman; what man could resist that? An idiot, that’s
. There was also an aura of mystery around her that could draw anyone in. Jealousy broiled in his gut at the thought of men hitting on her and being unable to intercede. Nadia was
“I need a distraction.” He brought up the Summit site again and decided to buckle down and study, even if it drove him crazy.
Anything to escape the green-eyed monster, his imagination, and the deep-seated yearning for her.
“Why does my husband have to die next?” Caroline demanded. “He’s not going to endanger us in any way, and besides, he’s too stupid to realize what he saw.” Her gaze darted around, but there was no one in the room with them; Poppy had made sure of that.
Irritation darted along Poppy’s nerves in spurts. She resisted the urge to grind her teeth, and instead answered, “Seeing is enough. Besides, the insurance policy will make it worth it, and he has info on Michael and his money dealings. I can’t have that. And don’t you want the FCC investigation to go away, Caro?” Poppy marshaled her expression so as not to smile as frustration darted across Caroline’s face.
The FCC had started an investigation into Caroline’s husband’s financial dealings. They’d gone so far as to freeze some of their assets. The result had turned Caroline’s life upside down. Creditors called night and day. There were whispers of whether Stan would be able to keep his alpha status from prison.
All this because of her husband’s less than legal dealings in the stock market and investments.
There were accusations of insider trading as well as possible embezzlement and money laundering. The only reason Stan had been allowed to leave New York for
Crossing was because he was one of the heads of the financial board of the werewolf community and knew all the details of their financial stability, things that he’d insisted couldn’t be faxed or e-mailed or talked about over the phone. He also had some friends in the FCC and in political circles, but they’d had to check in at certain times of the day to ensure that they were indeed where they said they would be, plus wear trackers that had been placed on their clothes.
None of that mattered to Caroline. Poppy didn’t care about Caroline and Stan’s FCC issues. It would all go to Caroline’s alibi as far as Poppy was concerned. The fact that Stan had seen Caroline accepting bags of the
disguised as packages of flour was what had led to Poppy’s decision to solicit his elimination. He’d already helped them load bags of flour into the van. If he began to wonder why they needed so much flour, he could stumble upon more of their setup. Poppy couldn’t afford that. Besides that, the werewolf packs couldn’t afford to have their finances looked at too
or more questions would be asked as to where the money was going or where it was coming from. The plan was so close to coming into fruition, they couldn’t afford hiccups now.
Poppy narrowed her eyes. “You gave him the map to the mushroom greenhouse, yes?”
Caro better not have flaked out on her. Bad enough that
had had to leave them, but if Caro fucked this up, there’d be one more body left behind in this godforsaken town. Poppy hated all the bodies that were piling up around her; it was so messy.
All this for her grand plan to restructure the pack and the female place in it.
Poppy accepted that answer and gave Caroline’s shoulder a squeeze. “No worries; I’ll handle it all. And neither of us will be implicated.
and his buffoon of a brother won’t be able to rule it murder. Now let’s start mixing the batter for the cakes.”
Hours later, exhausted and coated in sweat, they were done with the first batch of cakes and pies. Their bake stand would be open in time and they already had customers waiting for their goods, including some feline-shifters who’d asked for
cakes, pies, and cookies. Caroline left for the hotel for their planned spa days. Now was as good a time as any to see Stan. He’d told everyone that he would be staying home to make his infamous cream of mushroom soup with local herbs and that Caro would be doing some spa stuff with the girls. The other alphas had told him he was lucky because at least his wife was leaving him alone.
Poppy thought as she knocked on the door.
Stan answered the door and grinned, his smile so wide it looked
. Poppy almost felt bad.
He continued to beam at her.
Good to see
. Caro isn’t here at the moment.”
Poppy pouted. “Drat it. Caro left this at my cabin.” She held up Caroline’s purse. “I’ll leave it here.” Poppy darted around Stan before he could stop her or question why she didn’t bring it to the hotel. She spotted the kitchen. “
, something smells divine! Are you making that yummy cream of mushroom soup? I’m starving; all this work on our bake sale, you know. Mind if I have a bowl? A small one, please; I’m watching my waist.” She rubbed her tummy. Not that she was overweight. Because of Michael’s attention to appearance, she couldn’t gain a single pound; lose it, yes, but gain, no. But she wouldn’t be eating that calorie-laden soup.
Stan gave her a winning smile.
And you look fine, but don’t let Michael hear me say that.” With an awkward chuckle, he turned and strode into the kitchen. As he went through the cabinets pulling out bowls and spoons and other utensils, she moved to the stove, where she stood over the pot. Poppy fidgeted with the large cocktail ring on her forefinger,
she went to the table. Her phone buzzed, and she checked the caller ID.
“Drat it; I’m so sorry, I have to get back to my cabin. Michael is waiting.” She kissed him on the cheek before she rushed out of the cabin; things would right themselves.
With a little help from her, of course.
In a few hours, the problem of Stan would be solved. Now if only subtracting Michael from the equation were so easy. She left the camp grounds to go meet with her lion-shifter.
* * * *
Seven o’clock was too damn early to meet anyone for anything, even breakfast.
Especially when Nadia had spent a sleepless night tossing and turning before finding the Sandman at around two thirty.
Her dreams had been plagued with Urban and her father. One minute she’d be safe, and the next she’d find herself running and hiding. She woke up with soaked sheets and her heart trying to thud its way out of her chest. Now she was tired and grumpy. Nadia was in no mood to put up with bullshit, but she was sure a little coffee would keep her awake. Her plan was to talk to
contact and then go canvass the feline-shifter families who’d been affected by the introduction of
. She’d heard of one family whose son had fallen into a coma after one hit. She wanted to talk to the victim’s mother. The woman had told the police that her son had spoken to a woman, and she’d given him a brownie. How could a brownie have done something like this to him? Nadia had her suspicions, but she wanted to talk to the woman first.
Nadia didn’t leave immediately for her meeting, instead doing some research about the area she was about to go into. La Lune Bakery/Cafe was on the border of feline and werewolf territory. It allowed the two species to mix in a peaceful environment. Nadia settled on her bed with her laptop, wearing a T-shirt, jeans, and socks. She sat against a pile of pillows and clicked through several websites. The sites showed how the feline-shifter community was oriented in
Crossing. The feline-shifters were third in the most prosperous paranormal bracket, werewolves came in second, and the first were vampires. She read the reports and news stories on the
“epidemic,” as one reporter called it. In the previous year, the number of cases of
overdoses had grown from less than one percent up to fifteen percent. Recently, twenty-five percent of the feline population had had to deal with either losing a loved one to the drug or having to deal with someone they loved being in a coma. The DCPD had no clue where the drug was coming from and no leads on who exactly was selling or supplying the victims. Nadia didn’t have much faith that they were working hard on the case.
After a bit more research she found that with the increase in cases, more
“rehab” facilities had opened up all over Europe and the US. How they made money, she had no clue. Most users died after one hit, no matter how small or large it was, or they fell into a coma. With a sigh, she slammed shut the lid of her laptop and placed it on the nightstand. She was missing something big. The rehab centers couldn’t possibly make money, and yet they were. From what she’d read, parents were enrolling their children and susceptible family members into programs with the purpose of preventing them from falling prey to the drug. How could you prevent something when you didn’t know where the drug was coming from?
Thoughts bounced around her mind with all sorts of conjecture and theories on why someone would come in and sell
Crossing, especially with the Council visiting and the Summit going on. The police were worn thin and being pulled in all sorts of directions. They couldn’t get a handle on all the issues that would pop up. It was a blessing for her; she could move around without
breathing down her neck.
But what about Urban?
Why she’d never done a background check on him was beyond her. She didn’t want to know anything about him, wanted to treat him like a fuck-and-run and get no attachments. But now that she had some ties to him, she didn’t know what to do about it. With a groan, her mind produced images of Urban sometimes dressed, sometimes beautifully nude. Heat flooded her belly and slipped down to fill her pussy. Her breasts grew heavy as she allowed her mind to play over the memories. Urban always looked tanned, even in the dead of winter. Scars webbed his back and crossed his chest, stomach, and arms, thin white stripes that could have come from either animal scratches or human nails. He had bullet wounds in both his shoulders, his chest, and in his right thigh. Instead of detracting from his beauty, it increased it. This was a man who’d faced death and danger and lived.
His face was a study of angles. His lips wouldn’t be considered sensual or lush by any standards, but they were still kissable. He had golden brown stubble and jade-green eyes that would darken to gold when he was on the verge of the shift. He always smelled like a forest laced with moonlight and spice and wolf musk under the soap he used and the lightly spiced cologne he’d slap on after a night of being up without sleep. But even with all those scents there was always a hint of sex, something that told her he was ready for her every time, all the time. His blond hair was cut short, almost military-like, but the top was longer than the sides. She would always muss his hair, allowing the softness to tickle her palms.
He was a work of art, muscular, always fit.
Just her type.
If only she could resist him. She had a craving to be near him. Hearing that sexy, rough voice in her ear made her vaginal muscles quiver and her nipples tighten to hardened peaks. And now he was in town, so near, so close. Everything in her wanted to pick up that phone and call him, get him to come over, but the other part of her didn’t want him to know where she lived. Urban was a human lie detector; explaining why she had a place in
Crossing would use up what little brain cells were active around him. There was also the small tingle of fear that opening this part of
would increase their connection. Could she handle more strings? What would happen if and when he found out about her family life? No one would want to be related to the kind of instability
brought into their lives, not to her.
With a sigh, she sent up a prayer to Artemis that they not cross paths. Urban would distract her and set her on edge, plus he had enough to deal with as the replacement alpha for
. She’d do this quickly, get the name and info for
, and get out of Dodge. At least that’s what she told herself. Nadia turned to her right, grabbed her phone, and turned it on. Her phone background was a picture of a waterfall. After entering her password, she brought up her pictures section and scrolled through the various photos she’d taken of Urban. He had no clue how many she’d taken. Every time they were around each other she would take a shot to document any changes in him. She preferred, as
as it was, to take pictures of him nude and asleep. He’d never know it; at least she hoped that was the case. When they were separated, she’d have something visual to use when the urge for sex overwhelmed her. A sense of guilt tugged at her gut as she remembered when she’d last spoken to Urban and had to put him off.
She’d been in bed trying to get off with a vibrator and her fingers. She’d lied and told him that she was on a job and couldn’t see him.
Running away, as usual.
Nadia had pretended to be waking
when in reality she’d been awake for hours trying to ease the longing for Urban with any means necessary, even porn. None of it compared to her love, and nothing and no one ever would.
Talking to him only made things worse.
Nadia doubted she could run away from him for long, especially not now.