Dark Wolf: 1 (Spirit Wild)

Paranormal Romance by Kate Douglas
“Crystal Dreams” in
Erotic Romance by Kate Douglas
Wolf Tales
“Chanku Rising” in
Sexy Beast
Wolf Tales II
“Camille’s Dawn” in
Wild Nights
Wolf Tales III
“Chanku Fallen” in
Sexy Beast II
Wolf Tales IV
“Chanku Journey” in
Sexy Beast III
Wolf Tales V
“Chanku Destiny” in
Sexy Beast IV
Wolf Tales VI
“Chanku Wild” in
Sexy Beast V
Wolf Tales VII
“Chanku Honor” in
Sexy Beast VI
Wolf Tales VIII
“Chanku Challenge” in
Sexy Beast VII
Wolf Tales 9
“Chanku Spirit” in
Sexy Beast VIII
Wolf Tales 10
Wolf Tales 11
Wolf Tales 12
“Dream Catcher” in
Dream Bound
Dream Unchained
Dark Wolf
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
Dark Wolf
The Spirit Wild Series
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
If not for the amazing response to my original Wolf Tales series, this new series, Spirit Wild, would not exist. And so, I very humbly dedicate the first story,
Dark Wolf
, to you, the readers, who have made Lily’s story possible.
I’ve wanted to write this series since the day I typed the final page of
Wolf Tales 12,
but for a long time I wasn’t sure if I’d have that chance. Publishing is a fascinating and sometimes frustrating business, but it’s one I’ve grown to love with all my heart—along with the wonderful people I’ve met along the way.
I want to thank my agent, Jessica Faust, of BookEnds Literary Agency, for her support, her advice, and her ability to get me pointed in the right direction. It’s not an easy job, believe me! I also want to thank my editor at Kensington, Audrey La Fehr, who bought my very first Wolf Tales in 2005 and is still reading my convoluted tales of the sexy Chanku shapeshifters. She’s been amazingly supportive, which is a wonderful confidence builder for an author. But most importantly, she has encouraged me to write my stories my way, and that alone is a gift beyond price. My sincere thanks also to Martin Biro, assistant editor extraordinaire—if I have a question, Martin can answer it, and if I need something, he takes care of it. He keeps me sane . . . relatively speaking.
This first book of the second generation of Chanku has truly been a labor of love, but I always need someone to read for the inconsistencies and gaffes that can so easily slip through. My wonderful beta readers read, commented, and critiqued on a tight schedule without complaint. Many thanks to Nicole Passante of sharearead.com, Rhonda Wilson, Lynne Thomas, Kerry Parker, Rose Toubbeh, Jan Takane, Ann Jacobs, Karen Woods, and Lynn Sicoli, who not only gave me a really fast turnaround, but also asked the right questions. I just hope I found the right answers.
The original idea might be the author’s, but the final book goes through many hands. Thanks to the many hands who have left and will leave their fingerprints on Lily and Sebastian’s story.
rickets chirped. An owl hooted. A dusting of starlight shimmered faintly against granite peaks, but here at the forest’s edge, all was dark. Shivering slightly in the cool night air, Sebastian Xenakis stood beneath the gnarled oak, just one more shadow among many. With great humility and as much confidence as he could muster while standing naked in the darkness, he raised his arms, drew on the magic coursing through his veins, and once more called on the spirit within the tree, one he affectionately thought of as
the lady,
humbly asking for her strength.
“Damn it all.” He exhaled, accepting the rush of air for what it was—a huge blast of frustration at the serendipitous nature of his magic. He stared at the massive tree towering overhead and methodically emptied his mind of all thoughts, all distractions. He put aside anger and frustration, fears and hopes, leaving room for nothing but
. Focusing everything within, he opened his heart to possibilities, and waited.
A few long, frustrating minutes later, he felt her warmth envelop him. An unexpected frisson raced across his bare shoulders, along his arms. It caressed his naked buttocks and swirled over his belly, lifting the dark line of body hair that trailed from navel to groin. Then it slithered along his thighs, circled his calves, and tickled across his bare feet. His cock, flush with hot blood, swelled high and hard against his belly, giving homage to the gift of power.
Then, sliding away as soft as a whisper, the intimate sense of touch, of sentient communion, bled off into the damp loam and returned to its source through thickly tangled roots. Sebastian sighed, a shuddering acceptance of sensual pleasure, the gift of contact with such a powerful force.
The lady of the oak.
His erection remained, strong evidence of her touch, the visceral connection he’d made with a spirit ancient beyond recorded memory. His body thrummed with her life force, with her power, until Sebastian felt each and every one of her thick and twisted branches spreading far and wide, until he bowed beneath the age and innate wisdom of the ancient tree. This mother oak must have stood here, a silent sentinel of the forest since long before the dawn of modern history. A few heavy branches had fallen over time, but he knew her roots were strong, her branches healthy. As if challenging time itself, the graceful beauty and symmetry of the tree remained.
He remembered the first time he saw the oak, recalled the sense of life, the sure knowledge of the tree’s spiritual power. It was on that day he’d learned his father wielded the kind of power Sebastian had quickly grown to crave.
Standing just beyond the reach of the great branches, unsure of his relationship with a man he barely knew, Sebastian had watched Aldo Xenakis call lightning out of a clear, star-filled sky—call it and control it with the deft hands of a master.
He’d been seduced so easily, so quickly by that flashy show of fire and magic. Of power. Immeasurable power. So thoroughly seduced he knew he might never break free of its siren call.
Might never break free of the man he’d consciously sought, despite his mother’s warning. Now it was much too late. His die had been cast, commitments made, and he was almost glad his mother was dead.
Glad she couldn’t see what he’d become.
Sebastian quickly shoved thoughts of his moral weakness, his failures—and his father—aside. There was no need to mar the beauty of this night. He took a deep breath and then, almost as an afterthought, cleared his mind of all obstructions and drew more power to him. Pulled it from the earth, from the sky, from the water of a nearby stream, from the mountain itself. The fire must come from within, but he called on that as well and felt the power build.
Then he buffered the swirling energy with the strength of the oak until it was entirely under his control. Until he was the one holding the power.
Unlike his father, unwilling to display or even acknowledge such arrogance, Sebastian turned and bowed his head toward the oak, giving the tree’s spirit his grateful thanks for her help. Then, spreading his fingers wide, he consciously breathed deeply and opened himself to the energy flowing into him from all directions. A brilliant glow surrounded him, but it wasn’t lightning that lit the dark night.
It was power. Raw power he’d pulled from the earth, from the air and water. From the spirit in the tree and the fire burning in his soul.
Within seconds, the light blinked out. Gone as if it had never existed at all.
As was the man. In his place, a wolf darker than night raised its head and sniffed the air. Then it turned away and raced into the forest.
“Lily? Have you seen this morning’s news?”
Lily Cheval fumbled with the phone and squinted at the bedside clock in the early morning darkness. Blue numbers blurred into focus. Her best buddy looked at her out of the screen on her phone. “Alex, it’s six fifteen in the morning. On a Sunday. What can possibly be important enough to . . .”
“There’s been another one, Lil. Just inside the entrance to the park this time.”
Lily bit back a growl and sat up. The last body, discovered less than a week ago, had been found along the highway leading into Glacier National Park in Montana. Much too close to the Chanku pack’s main residence. The one before that had been on the outskirts of Kalispell. “What have you got?”
Alex sighed and wiped a hand across his eyes. Poor Alex. How he’d ever ended up as the pack’s liaison to the Flathead County sheriff’s department was beyond understanding. He might be brilliant and charismatic—not to mention drop-dead gorgeous—but he was not cut out to deal with, much less deliver, bad news, especially early on a Sunday morning.
She wondered if he’d even made it to bed the night before. His eyes looked bloodshot, and Alex did love his social life on a Saturday night.
Even in Kalispell.
“Same as the last seven,” he said, pulling her back into the conversation. “Young woman, beaten, brutally raped. Throat torn out. Just like the others, probably killed somewhere else and dumped. A park ranger found her body beside the road.”
“Shit. I hope you’ve got an alibi.” She hated having to ask, but with public sentiment the way it had been heading . . .
“I was with Jennifer last night. I got the call on the way home this morning.”
Jennifer. Poor choice of woman, but at least she could account for Alex’s time when the attack occurred. Frustrated, Lily dug her fingers into her tangled hair and tugged. Anything to help focus her thoughts. “Let me know what you find out. Check with the pack. See if they’ve got any new leads. I’m stuck in San Francisco until after the reception, but I’ll try and get up there by the weekend.”
“Okay. Sorry to wake you, but I just wanted to warn you. Be careful. Whoever’s behind this, they’ve hit the Bay Area just as hard. I’ll find out what I can. Thanks, Lil.”
Quietly Lily set the phone back in the charger and leaned against the headboard. Another young woman dead. Another murder with all the signs of a wild animal attack—except for the rape.
Just like the other seven.
Eight young women, dead by a combination of man and beast. Five in or near Glacier National Park. Three in the San Francisco Bay Area.
And where were the largest populations of Chanku shapeshifters?
“Glacier National Park and the San Francisco Bay Area. Shit.” A chilling sense of premonition shuddered along Lily’s spine. If they didn’t find the one behind this, and find him soon, someone was going to be hunting Chanku.
The sharp click of Lily’s heels echoed against the pale gray walls of Cheval International, one of the more profitable branches of Chanku Global Industries. She walked quickly toward her office, wishing she could ignore the tension headache pounding in sharp counterpoint to her footsteps.
Her father insisted headaches were purely psychosomatic—according to Anton Cheval, Chanku shapeshifters were impervious to human frailties. “Tell that to my head,” she muttered, timing the steady throbbing between her eyes against the click of her heels.
Damn. She did not need a headache. Not on a Monday, not with a full day of meetings ahead, including lunch with the mayor and a one-on-one with the head of security.
Resentment of the long-lived Chanku shapeshifters had been simmering for years, but the recent series of attacks against young women had brought that simmer to a boil. It didn’t help that a local celebrity had taken a very public stance against the Chanku, blaming them for everything from the current downturn in the economy to the vicious rapes and murders.
Aldo Xenakis had been a thorn in Lily’s side ever since she’d assumed leadership of Cheval International. Recently, his verbal attacks had taken on a frighteningly personal slant.
It didn’t help that he owned a massive amount of land that abutted her father’s vast holdings in Montana. It was bad enough he was stirring up resentment here in California, but Montana was home. Having longtime friends and neighbors turn against them hurt Lily and the rest of the pack on a much more personal level. They’d worked hard at being good neighbors, at integrating themselves into the community.
Now this.
“Good morning, Ms. Cheval.”
“G’morning, Jean.” Lily paused in front of her assistant’s desk. “Have you got today’s calendar?”
Jean nodded. Gray haired, round-faced, and very human, she’d been Lily’s assistant since Lily’d been named CEO of the company seven years earlier. And, while Jean continued to age, Lily still looked as youthful and fresh as the day she’d walked out of UC Berkeley with her MBA.
One more reason for humans to resent shapeshifters, though she’d never noticed any resentment at all from Jean. Considering the good pay and generous benefit packages all CGI employees—including all Cheval International hires—received, she didn’t expect it to become an issue.
Lily glanced over the daily calendar Jean handed to her. The morning wasn’t too busy, but . . . “Why have you got a question mark by my lunch date with the mayor?”
Jean shook her head. “Her office called a few minutes ago. When the mayor’s schedule went out to the media yesterday, they forgot to black out your lunch appointment. Reporters know when and where you’re meeting, and the mayor said she’d understand if you decide to cancel.”
The pounding between her eyes got worse. Goddess, but it had been too long since she’d shifted and run. Right now, Lily really wanted to chase down something furry and kill it. “Not necessary,” she said, rubbing her temple. “We really need to talk. Maybe I’ll wear a disguise.”
Jean grinned as she gave her an appraising look. “Don’t think that would help. You’re hard to miss.”
Lily raised her eyebrows and glanced at Jean. “Thank you. I think.” She grabbed the mail Jean handed to her and headed toward her office, but paused at the door. “I’m expecting a call from Alex Aragat. Be sure and put him through even if I’m on something else.”
“Okay.” The phone rang, but before answering it, Jean added, “You’ll find a list of the calls you need to return on your desk. Uhm, more than a few from your father.” Lily just shook her head when Jean laughed and said, “He wanted to remind you not to forget the reception Thursday night.”
“I wish,” Lily muttered, but she turned and smiled at Jean. “I won’t. And even if I wanted to, dear old Dad would make sure I got there on time.”
Lily shut the office door as Jean took her call. She glanced at the clock over the bookcase. Seven thirty, which meant that with any luck, she’d have time to get her desk cleared before lunch. Her head was still pounding like a damned jackhammer, but she flopped down in the comfortable chair behind her desk and read through Jean’s messages. All were carefully organized by importance. The stack from her father—and damn, but how many times had the man called?—was set off to one side.
Obviously, he was already awake. Might as well check in with the boss first. The phone rang as she reached for it. She glanced at the caller ID, sighed, and flipped on the video.
“Hello, Dad. I was just getting ready to call you.”
“How’s your headache?”
She frowned at his smug image. “How do you know I’ve got a headache?”
“Because I’ve been trying to mindspeak all morning and I know you’re blocking me.”
“Oh.” No wonder her head hurt. She’d developed the habit of keeping her shields high and tight since she was just a child, but that never kept her father from trying. He’d rarely managed to give her a headache, though. “Well, if you knew you were giving me a headache, why’d you keep pushing?”
No answer. Typical. She was convinced he only heard what he wanted to hear.
“You’ve talked to Alex.”
Not a question. He’d know, of course. Anton Cheval knew everything. “Yes. He called first thing yesterday morning, but he didn’t have any details. I expect to hear more today. Have you learned anything else?”

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