Read an Excerpt
Elise Drake hated weddingseven ones torn straight from the pages of a fairy tale.
Not that the pure-blooded Lycan had anything personal against the institution of marriage. It was the event itself that she couldn't stand: gloms of people gathering around, smiling and incandescent with happiness, while she had to plaster on a beaming smile, doing her best to disguise the truth. To pretend that she wasn't freaking out at being in a crowd where everyone was expected to act friendly and sociable.
Brittle. On edge. About to crack at any moment, shattering like a crystal goblet slammed against a craggy surface. That was how she really felt, screaming inside her head, wanting to flee, to run, but forced to play a part, projecting an outward look of cheerful, joyful celebration. Smile, wave, laugh. And all the while thinking that she would do anythinganythingto escape. Twist an ankle. Fake a headache. Hell, at that point she'd have jabbed a freaking pencil in her eye if she thought it would get her out of there.
But none of those things were going to save her tonight. She was surrounded by too many who "cared"who made it their mission in life to protect, rather than destroy. Unless, of course, the thing they were hunting deserved to be destroyed. Though years of bad blood stood between the Runners and their birth pack, the Sil-vercrest Lycans, the werewolves owed their survival to the half-human hunters.
After all, it was the Runners who had put an end to the gruesome events that Elise's own father, Stefan Drake, had set in motion the previous autumn. Events that had not only decimated the political structure of the pack, but which had also left the Silvercrest vulnerable to outside forces, with a new set of enemies sniffing at their borders, eager to take advantage of their weaknesses. With her brother's and the Runners' help, the Silvercrest were finally entering a new era that would modernize their archaic social structure, and hopefully lead to a day when the pack's racial injustices against the half-human Runners would become a thing of the past. But it would be a long while before they were the powerhouse they had once been.
The winter had been rough, rife with lingering animosity and grief, until the snow had finally bled away to reveal a new sense of hope that came with the spring. One not without trouble, but at least the Runners were now allowed in the pack's mountaintop home of Shadow Peak without it leading to a call for violence.
Tonight, in light of the occasion, the Runners, along with their friends and families, had agreed to put their troubles behind themand yet, her brother's wedding or not, Elise knew they were all keeping a close eye on her, which was why she was trying so damn hard to act normal. After the craziness of the past few monthswith all the murder and mayhem, the betrayal and blood-lust and strange occurrencesthe protective alphas had her in their sights, waiting for the moment when they'd need to rush to her rescue.
But Elise didn't want them to save her.
All she wanted was to be left alone.
Brave words, but it's too bad they're a crock. You don't really want to be left all by your lonesome. Not really. Every chance you get, you 're eating him up from the corner of your eye, soaking up every detail mooning like a pathetic love-struck puppy.
"Not going there," she muttered under her breath, frustrated at herself for even thinking about himthe one particular Runner who'd snagged her attention and whose image wouldn't leave her in peace. Tall, dark and dangerously sexy, Wyatt Pallaton was too goddamn good to be true. The first night she'd set eyes on him, last fall, Elise had decided that the fascinating hunter was a taboo subject, even within the privacy of her own mind. Being near him was impossible, and even thinking about him made her too tensejust one more thing that she couldn't deal with right now.
No matter how badly she wished things could be different, the mesmerizing Runner was a complication she couldn't afford, and so she'd vowed to stay clear of him.
It should have been simple, except for the frustrating fact that he showed up everywhere. Now that her brother Eric had become a Runner, she and Wyatt seemed to be thrown together with unbelievable frequency. Too often they were at the same dinners, celebrating the same birthdays, showing up at the same meetings. And each time she was forced to be near him, her maddening fascination grew more intense.
But that wasn't the worst of it. No, the worst was that she'd started wishing for the impossible, thinking of what could have been if she'd only met him sooner. Despite the fact they lived only miles apart from one another, Elise had never met the gorgeous Runner until a few months ago. A sad fact, but one that attested to the separation that had existed for so many years between the Silvercrest werewolf pack and the Bloodrunners, who not only handled the unsavory task of hunting down the pack's rogue wolves, but who also protected the secret of their existence from the human world.
Aside from Eric, who was as pure-blooded as a Lycan could be, the Bloodrunners were comprised of half-human, half-werewolf hunters. It was because of their human blood that they were denied the privilege of being Silvercrest members, until, according to the Bloodrunners' Law, they completed a designated number of rogue kills. Of course, that had all started to change after her father destroyed the pack's governing League of Elders. Now that the League was gone and a new era of democratic government was being chartered in, Eric had tried to have the Bloodrunners' Law abolished, but the Runners were still resisting. They had no more desire to be members of the pack than the Silvercrest wanted to share their town with them, and so while relations had marginally improved, they remained strained.
Still, some significant progress had been made, and the Runners were now in charge of securing the pack's borders. With time, Elise believed that the two sides would learn to accept one another.
Of course, that also meant that no matter how hard she tried to avoid him, the odds were strong that she and Wyatt Pallaton would be seeing more of each other.
And when that happens, you 'll be going right off the deep end.
She did her best to shake off the unsettling thought and took a heavy sip of her wine, forcing her mind back to the celebration happening around her. So far, Elise had managed to avoid what seemed to be a neverending stream of nuptials taking place in Bloodrunner Alleya small, picturesque glade located several miles south of Shadow Peakbut there'd been no excuse that could get her out of her own brother's bliss-filled ceremony. Now that Eric had become a Runner and moved into the Alley with Chelsea, his human life mate, he'd been accepted as one of their own. The other hunters wouldn't hear of the ceremony being held anywhere but in the center of the secluded glade, surrounded by their cabins and the majestic beauty of the Maryland mountains, as was custom for the Bloodrunners.
Despite its rustic setting, everyone had done an amazing job of transforming the Alley into a flower-filled paradise worthy of any society wedding. There were white-linen-covered tables, a free-flowing bar, mouthwatering food, good music and even a gleaming parquet dance floor. It was the kind of fairy-tale wedding that Elise had once dreamed of someday having for herself, before her world had been painfully torn apart. Her body had mended, thanks to the miraculous healing powers of Jillian Burns, one of her closest friends, but the emotional wounds were still bleeding and raw, like a festering sickness in her soul.
It was all so ironic, considering her bloodline. As a Dark Wolf, the offspring of two powerful pure-blooded Lycan lines, she should have been one of the most dominant females in her pack, and instead she'd been reduced to someone spooked by her own shadow, startled by every sound, completely disconnected from those around her. She could hide behind her sarcastic mouth and attitude all she wanted, but she wasn't fooling anyone. Now that she'd spent time around the Runners, they'd slowly learned to see past her bravado and had begun treating her with care, like something unspeakably fragile that they were afraid of bruising with their rough-edged masculinity. Even Cian Hennessey, the irreverent Irishman, was going out of his way not to be his usual arrogant, smart-ass self when around her.
There were times when it all just made her want to screamand at others, it simply made her want to pack up her car and start driving, heading down the open highway, until she'd left it all behind her.
For the love of God, do you even hear yourself? that tired internal voice grumbled within her mind. Can we get off the pity train already? Because in case you didn't notice, it's taking us nowhere.
The wind picked up, blowing through the glade, bringing with it the crisp, heady scents of the spring forest, as well as the damp promise of rain. On the one hand, Elise hoped the approaching spring showers would hold off for just a little longer, enabling Eric and Chelsea to enjoy their reception. On the other, she couldn't help but think that if it rained, then the night would come to an early end and she could finally leave.
Dressed in her sleeveless bridesmaid gown, the chill of the air quickly bled into her bones. Shivering, Elise looked out across the crowded glade, and Chelsea caught her eye from the dance floor, where Eric, looking dev-astatingly handsome in his tux, held his wife in a tight, possessive hold as they swayed to a sultry love song. The brunette gave her a friendly wave, accompanied by a genuinely warm smile. Radiant in an ivory gown that made her look like a princess, Chelsea's contagious happiness was almost enough to soothe Elise's brittle nerves. She managed to smile in return, angry at herself for having to force an expression of pleasure onto her face. Damn it, she liked Chelsea and couldn't have been happier that her brother had fallen in love with such a warmhearted, amazing woman. She was truly thrilled for them, and she honestly wanted their wedding to be perfect. She just she just didn't want to have to be a part of it.
Stop whining, you big ol' baby. Just suck it up and stop acting like a pathetic bitch.
Wishing that know-itall voice in her head would shut up and leave her the hell alone, Elise took another sip of wine while her gaze wandered over the crowd, until she came to the table where Wyatt sat. Unable to get her fill of him, she secretly watched the dark-haired Runner, same as she'd been doing all through the night. He leaned back in his chair, a cold beer in his right hand, his head tilted back as he laughed at something his Blood-running partner, Carla Reyes, was saying. The pretty, petite blonde looked like a golden little angel, but Elise knew Carla could be deadly when she needed to be, and she envied the lone female Runner that power. She'd have given anything to be like Carla, fearless and free to do as she pleased.
Wyatt rumbled something that Elise couldn't quite hear but which had everyone at his table laughing, the scene like one of those idyllic beer commercials, with close friends enjoying good times together, a harsh contrast to her own situation. It wasn't lost on her that she was the only person sitting at a table by herself. Guests had come and gone throughout the evening, trying to engage her in conversation, only to eventually move on when it became obvious she didn't really want their company.
Suddenly, someone at Wyatt's table roared with laughter, and Elise watched as Carla leaned to the side, one delicate hand pressed to her partner's firm shoulder as she nearly doubled over with giggles. In that moment, the same helpless rise ofjealousy Elise had experienced each and every time he'd danced with a beautiful woman that night burned through her system, making her feel sick inside. Struggling to hide the uncomfortable emotion, she shifted her gaze back to his face, wanting to see the glitter of humor in his dark eyes, to witness the white flash of his teeth as he smiledand almost died when she found him staring right back at her.
Oh, my God
Panicked, Elise quickly tore her gaze away, staring anywhere and everywhere, so long as it wasn't at Wyatt. When she spotted Jillian heading her way, she nearly gasped with relief. The pack's golden-haired Spirit Walker, also known as a healer or witch, took the seat on her left, and the entire time they chatted, Elise could have sworn she could feel Wyatt's gaze lingering on her, watching waiting for her to look back in his direction. But as Jillian's grinning, gorgeous husband finally pulled her away to the dance floor and Elise slanted another quick look toward the table where Wyatt had been sitting, he was gone.
Okay, lady. It's time to blow this joint before you make a fool of yourself.
Draining the last of her wine, Elise set down the glass, pushed back from the table and moved to her feet, already working up the lame excuse she'd give to Eric and Chelsea for bailing early. Bending down to get her purse from the neighboring chair, she'd just straightened and was starting to turn when someone walked up behind her. Caught off guard, she stiffened in alarm and dropped her purse onto the table.
"Dance with me, El."
Jesus, Joseph and Mary.
The low, husky words had been whispered just behind her ear, Wyatt's warm breath brushing against the sensitive skin bared by the upswept style of her hair, and she closed her eyes, nearly reeling as a stunning jolt of shock and lust and terror swept through her veins like a wildfire. He stood so close that she could feel his heat at her back, though he wasn't quite touching her, a whisper of air still separating their bodies.
Wondering what the hell she should do, Elise drew in a deep, shuddering breath and opened her eyes just as he placed a warm, slightly rough hand on her arm, took a step back and then turned her around so that she faced him. She was tall for a woman, and in her heels she found herself staring eye level with the bronzed skin of his strong, corded throat. It was madness, but she couldn't deny that she wanted to lean forward and press her mouth against that dark, silken skin. Wanted to feel his pulse against the tingling surface of her lips the blistering intensity of his heat against her face.