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December McIntyre managed to smile at her date as he pulled out her chair for her. Her cheeks hurt from all the fake smiles and forced laughter. She should never have agreed to this date when she’d rather be anywhere else. Withsomeone else. But she and Liam had no future, and going out with a random guy was the only way to show Liam and herself that she was serious about that.
“Have you been here before?” her date— Mike something— asked. As a tourist from the nearby ski lodge, he wasn’t a local of her smaller mountain community, so it made sense he’d never eaten at the cozy Italian restau¬rant.
She nodded. “The bucatini puttanesca is really good. So is the pollo caprese. Actually, everything on the menu is good.” The Russo family had settled in Fontana, North Carolina, decades ago, many years before she’d been born, and Russo Ristorante had become a staple in the mountain community. The locals loved it and so did the tourists. Occasionally they even got tourists from not just Fontana Mountain but their neighbors, Beech and Sugar mountains.
Almost immediately after they ordered drinks, her date excused himself. He was a broker or something and had to take an important call. Normally that would have bothered her in a date, but she didn’t really care about this one. The brief reprieve was fine with her. She wanted to get through the meal, get home, and just go to bed. Going out with this guy had been a colossal mistake no matter how nice he seemed to be. She’d known it the second after she’d said yes. Regret had surged through her, but it had been too late then.
All she could think about was Liam. Liam with his broad shoulders, dark hair, and coffee brown, deep, knowing eyes. When that man looked at her, she got shivers. The good kind. Heat bloomed between her legs when he was around. He didn’t have to do anything other than train that heated gaze on her and she wanted to melt into his arms. He might be built like a linebacker, but his hands were gentle. At least the few times he’d caressed her face, they had been.
Her image of him was so clear she could almost see him now. In front of her. As she stared into space, she frowned. Then blinked. Good God, he was in front of her. Walking straight toward her.
“Crap,” she muttered. Tensing, she braced herself. She’d thought if he saw her leaving her bookstore— because she’d seen him watching— with another guy on a Friday night, he’d get the hint and leave her alone. If it was anyone else, she might think he was acting like some sort of creepy stalker, but she knew him better than that. As one of the few lupine shifters who lived in their town, Liam had tried to warn her about some crazy fanatic group that wanted to hurt humans involved with shifters. At twenty-eight she’d been taking care of herself for a long time—and besides, they weren’t involved, so there was no reason for some fanatics to come after her.
Should have known Liam wouldn’t give up so easily. The maître d’ led him and another huge guy directly to the table next to hers. There was a decent amount of space between them, but for the way he was drilling his gaze into her, he might as well have been sitting at the same table.
“Hello, December.” Liam’s deep, intoxicating voice forced her to acknowledge him.
She flicked a quick look at his dark-haired friend, who cracked a small, almost amused smile until she glared at him— then she focused on Liam. “What are you doing here?” she asked through gritted teeth. It wasn’t for the damn food. That much she knew.
He shrugged as if it should be obvious. “Eating.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “You know what I mean. I’m on a date, Liam.”
At the word “date” those espresso eyes of his got even darker. Under normal circumstances she might have thought it was the light playing tricks on her, but she knew better. She’d seen him enraged once before when a man had tried to mug her. His eyes had changed then. The whites had almost disappeared and she’d found herself staring into not-quite-human eyes. He’d later explained that it sometimes happened when his inner wolf wanted to take over. It had scared her then but not now. She knew he wouldn’t hurt her. Not physically. He might be dominating and sometimes too pushy, but he cared for her. In another world she might allow herself to care for him too. But they had no chance and she wasn’t going to risk getting her heart broken and losing her only family due to involvement with Liam. Especially when anything that happened between them couldn’t last. He barely looked thirty, but she knew he was over a hundred years old.
“Get rid of him.” He didn’t raise his voice, but there was a razor-sharp edge to it.
Maybe his tone should have made her nervous, but it just infuriated her. He infuriated her with all his arrogance. “Or what?”
“Or I’ll do it for you.”
She balled her hands into fists under the table. “You are so . . . so . . .”
In a fluid, graceful motion that reminded her he was more than human, he stood up and slid into the chair across from her. As if he had every right to do so. He half smiled and her traitorous libido roared to life. Why did the soft candlelight have to play off his features, making him even better looking? “Charming, handsome—”
His smart-ass response annoyed her even more, but it also allowed her to find her voice. “Arrogant and annoying,” she said in a loud whisper, barely containing the need to shout at him. “Why would you think on any level of normalcy that it was okay to interrupt my date when I’ve made it perfectly clear nothing is going to happen between you and me?”
His eyes darkened. “I’m not interrupting. I’m just eating. Or don’t you think shifters should be allowed in the same restaurants as humans?”
His words were like a slap. Shocked, she jerked back. She had issues with his kind— issues he didn’t even know about— but the thought of restricting someone, anyone, access to a public place was horrifying.
Her dismay must have shown because he cursed under his breath. “I didn’t mean that, December. I know you don’t think like that.”
“Then why’d you say it?”
“Because you’re driving me crazy, woman. Why are you out with this loser?”
“He’s not a loser.”
“He’s a fu— loser for leaving you all alone. And he’s not me. He’ll never be able to give you what I can. I can smell how much you want me even now. Just give us a chance, December.” His voice dropped slightly, taking on that sensuous quality that made her legs tremble and heat spread across her lower abdomen.
“Too different. Yeah, that line is getting really old, Red.”
A flush hit her cheeks. “Don’t call me that.”
“It’s too . . . familiar.” Unfortunately she very much liked the intimate way the nickname rolled off his tongue. And that was bad.
“I plan to get very familiar with you soon, Red.” He reached out and fingered one of her bright red curls.
Her stomach muscles clenched with need as his knuckles brushed against her cheek. As his masculine, earthy scent rolled over her, she struggled to remind herself why things would never work between them. When he looked at her with those captivating eyes, it was hard to remember her own name.
The sound of a man clearing his throat jerked her back to reality. Her date stood next to the table, looking between her and Liam with slightly narrowed eyes. “I didn’t think I’d been gone that long,” he said semi-jokingly.
“I’m sorry . . .” Oh God, what was his name? “. . . Mike. This is a friend of mine. And he’s leaving.”
Liam snorted loudly and glared at her. “Friend?”
He wasn’t going to make this easy for her. Holding her breath, she waited for him to move.
After what felt like an eternity, he finally stood. Completely ignoring her date, he looked at her. Anyone else would have said a few polite words or excused himself, but not Liam. It wasn’t in his DNA. He wouldn’t be civil or polite if he didn’t mean it. “This isn’t over, Red.”
Mercifully, instead of sitting back down, Liam nodded at the guy he’d arrived with. His friend dropped a bill on the table and they left without even having touched their drinks.
As her date slid back into his seat, she blew out a shaky breath.
“Ex-boyfriend?” Mike asked.
She shook her head. “Not exactly. I’m really sorry that happened.”
He shrugged but she could see the annoyance in his expression. Not that she blamed him. In his position she’d be ticked off too. When their server came back to take their order, she knew she couldn’t sit through a meal with this guy. Seeing Liam had shaken her to her core and made it clear she wasn’t interested in dating anyone else. Until she could purge him from her system, she might not ever be ready. Just knowing he was out there and available made everyone else pale in comparison. After asking their server to give her a few more minutes, she looked at her date. She was ready to bail, but he beat her to the punch.
“You want to leave, don’t you?” he asked, his voice wry.
Embarrassment flooded her but not enough that she changed her mind. She nodded and pulled a few bills out of her pants pocket. Removing one, she dropped a twenty on the table. It would more than cover their drinks. “I’m so sorry to have ruined your evening. There’s no excuse for my behavior. I know you don’t want all the details and I’m just . . . sorry. Would you mind taking me back to my store?” She’d let him pick her up there instead of home mainly because she’d wanted Liam to see them leaving together, but also because she didn’t like giving her address out to too many people. Curse of being a cop’s sister, she supposed.
“It’s no problem and you don’t have to pay.” He placed a clammy hand over hers. His hands were soft, unlike Liam’s callused, roughened ones. She didn’t know what it was, but the feel of this guy touching her made her feel ill. He slightly tightened his hold and something akin to fear jumped inside her. Which made no sense. He seemed like a nice man. He’d held open her doors and pulled out her chair and been perfectly polite. But he wasn’t Liam.
Somehow Liam had ruined her for anyone else and they’d never even kissed. She wanted to curse his name for that. December stood, using it as an excuse to take her hand back. “I spoiled our date. At least let me pay for the drinks.”
Mike hadn’t attempted to pull out his wallet, so she figured he didn’t actually mind her paying. The walk to the parking lot was quiet. Politely, he held open the passenger door of his BMW.
As they steered out of the parking lot, the need to apologize again overwhelmed her. She’d never been so rude to a date before. “I know I said it already, but I really am sorry for messing up your evening.”
Without looking at her, he pulled onto the two-lane highway that led back to the small downtown area. His shoulders hitched slightly in a casual shrug. “It’s no problem. That guy obviously upset you.”
She started to relax against the leather seat when he continued.
“I don’t know why you’d expect anything less when you’re associating with animals.” The last word dripped with disdain and there was an unexpected rise in the pitch of his voice.
It took a moment for the significance of his words to register. She’d never said anything about Liam being a shifter. And it wasn’t as if people could tell what they were by simply looking at them. But the way Mike said “animals,” it was obvious he knew what Liam was without a doubt. She frowned at the knowledge. “Excuse me—”
She jerked back toward the door when he suddenly brought his right hand up. She saw the flash of the syringe and reacted. Barely had time to think.
Adrenaline swelled through her as he swung the needle at her shoulder. She used her arm to deflect the blow, her wrist jolting as their forearms collided with a solid thud. He still held the small weapon in his strong grip, but he hadn’t managed to pierce her.
A bolt of terror splintered through her veins as she stared at the needle. She wasn’t sure if it was poison or some sort of sedative, but whatever he planned to do, it wasn’t good. If he knocked her out, he could do whatever he wanted. Take her anywhere. The knowledge sent another jolt of fear spiraling through her. Despite the confines of the car, she turned, pressing her back against the door. Then she lifted her leg and kicked out at him. Her winter boots were thick and sturdy and had a two-inch heel that could do some damage. They were still barreling down the highway and he had to keep his eyes on the road, putting him at a huge disadvantage.
“Bitch,” he snarled, and tried to stab her leg while keeping the wheel steady.
He missed, so she kicked again. This time she twisted completely and raised both legs. The roads were icy and it was obvious he wasn’t used to the snow. If he were, he’d have already gotten chains on his tires. His inexperience was probably why he’d attempted to stab her while driving. Idiot.
The vehicle swerved across the road and the syringe flew out of his hand. While he grappled with the wheel, she kicked out at him again, all fury and anger. This time her booted heel slammed against the side of his face and her other foot shoved the wheel wildly to the left. He grunted and expelled a string of nasty curses as the car bucked sideways, but she didn’t care.
All the air rushed from her lungs as they fishtailed out of control. Everything slowed. She heard the sound of a horn blaring in the distance, tires screeching, and braced herself for the impact. For the pain.
On instinct she held on tight and crouched low in her seat. Her stomach shot into her throat as they flew off the road onto a snowy, icy embankment. She felt like she was on a roller-coaster ride except she knew the ending was going to be worse. The car spun wildly out of control for what seemed like forever until it skidded to a smooth stop on a bunch of fluffy snow.
Like a miracle, they didn’t flip or ram into anything. Mike shook his head and looked around, a dazed expression on his face.
He might be in a state of shock, but December knew it wouldn’t last long. She had to get out now, no matter how shaky she felt. She was twisted at an odd angle and sitting low, so she slowly reached behind her with one hand and felt for the handle. As she did, she unsnapped her seat belt with the other.
The door swung open and Mike finally realized what she was doing. She fell back into the snow and he lunged at her. But his seat belt snapped him back into the seat.
Rolling over, she scrambled to her feet and started running. Or tried to. Her boots pressed into the white thickness as she struggled to make it up the steep embankment to the road, away from the forest they’d almost plowed into.
She heard him shouting behind her, but she kept going. It was dark, but if she could flag down a car before Mike caught her, she knew she’d be okay. She tripped and fell but clawed at the icy ground and pushed herself back up. Her heart hammered against her ribs and her skin crawled as she fought to get away.
Even though she wanted to look behind her, she didn’t dare. It would only slow her down. When her boots touched the asphalt, a new burst of energy detonated through her. As fast as she could, she ran along the icy edge of the road. Her coat and jeans were dark, so she prayed any drivers had their lights on.
She’d gone only a few feet when two bright headlights shone in the distance. Waving her arms around like a madwoman, she continued running. She slipped again and tumbled backward. The ground was icy and hard, but she barely felt the impact on her hip.
Her survival instinct told her to haul ass if she didn’t want to be killed. Or worse. As she started to push up, strong hands gripped her arms and pulled her to her feet.
A scream tore from her throat. Twisting around, she tried to break free until she suddenly recognized Liam towering over her in the darkness. She stared at him in confusion. Why is he here? “What are you—”
“What happened? Are you all right?”
Her heart thumped a staccato beat against her chest as she stared into Liam’s dark eyes. “Where did you come from?” She started to involuntarily shake and his grip tightened. He was warm and safe.
“I saw you running down the side of the road. What the hell happened, December?”
She frantically glanced behind her, expecting to see Mike running at them, but no one was there. Turning to Liam, she opened her mouth but no words came out. Instead, the shaking intensified. She didn’t know what had happened exactly. It had all been so fast. Suddenly she needed more air. It was as if her lungs had shrunk. She sucked in a deep breath, trying to steady herself.
Liam took one of her wrists, concern in his expression. “Your pulse is erratic,” he murmured.
Of course it was. Her date had just tried to kill her. Or maybe he hadn’t wanted her dead. He might have wanted to . . . “My date,” she gasped out. “I told him I wanted to leave the restaurant. He had a syringe. He tried to stab me while he was driving and I kicked him and the wheel. I didn’t even think about it. We flew off the road and I escaped. . . .” She shook her head and turned around again. It was too dark to see how far she’d run. “I don’t think it was far from here. I just started running.”
Still holding on to her wrist, he looked past her into the darkness. “I want you to stay here with Ryan, okay?”
No! She grabbed his arm. “Who’s Ryan?” She felt disoriented and a little confused. And she couldn’t stop the chills skittering over her skin.
“I won’t let her out of my sight.” The male voice from behind her made her jump, but when she turned to face the other shifter, all she saw was compassion in his dark eyes.
Liam hated leaving December, but he hurried down the embankment to find the piece of shit that had attacked her. Other than the fresh smells of the forest, he scented slightly burned rubber and December’s date. His canines throbbed just from thinking about her out with someone else, but knowing she’d been attacked made his inner wolf almost blind with rage. He’d tried to warn her that members of the Antiparanormal League might target her because of her association with him. Not that he had the kind of “association” he wanted with her. He’d recently discovered that the APL somehow knew he cared for her, so they wanted to use that against him or his pack. Or both. It didn’t matter that they weren’t physically involved— or involved at all really. Which was why he’d been watching her. Even thinking about what might have happened if he hadn’t been nearby tonight . . . his inner wolf rattled dangerously, so he shut down those thoughts.
As he neared the car, he saw the passenger’s and driver’s doors open. December’s footprints led back the way he’d just come, but there was another set leading away into the woods. He stared toward the tree line, fighting back the primal growl trying to claw its way out of his throat. The key was still in the ignition, the car still running. Leaning over and careful to take it by the edges, he slipped the key out and dropped it into his jacket pocket. The contents of her purse had been dumped onto her seat. A small makeup bag, a book, and a planner. No wallet. His frown deepened.
His most primal side wanted to hunt this guy down and tear him apart limb from limb. Slowly. But he couldn’t leave December. Liam still wasn’t sure what had happened, but she’d been close to going into shock. If she hadn’t already.
Pushing down the need to hunt and protect what was his, he gathered her stuff and shoved it in her purse. After checking the glove compartment to see if he could find some paperwork with an address on it, he came up empty, so he headed back to the road.
Ryan had already taken her back to the truck. From their silhouettes he could see December sitting in the middle of the bench seat and Ryan in the driver’s seat. Normally Liam preferred to drive, but right now all he wanted to do was comfort her.
She kept pushing him away, but he didn’t think she would now. She might try to deny she wanted him, but every time she fixed those baby blues on him, he could see lust and confusion battling inside her. He didn’t care that she was human and he was a lupine shifter. Differences like that didn’t matter. At least not to him. Obviously some people cared enough to want to hurt her.
At the moment she was vulnerable and he knew she might actually let him comfort her. Maybe he should feel guilty about taking advantage of her emotional state, but he didn’t. He’d touch and hold her any way he could get her.
As he slid into the seat next to her, she immediately scooted closer to him. Reaching out, he tucked a red curl behind one of her ears. Her ivory skin was soft and slightly flushed, and her breathing was still erratic. Brushing his hand against her cheek, he let one of his fingers stray to her pulse point below her earlobe. Still erratic. Not good.
“Honey, look at me.” He waited until her eyes focused on him. “Have you called your brother?” He might not get along with the sheriff, but Parker loved his sister and had more resources than Liam did at the moment.
“No. And I don’t want to.” Her voice shook but it was still strong.
“Some guy just attacked you. We need to report this.”
She stuck her chin out mutinously, but he didn’t miss the raw fear that had bled into her eyes. “I’m not going down to the station.”
He sighed and looked at Ryan over her head. “Go to her store,” he murmured. Then he refocused his attention on December. “We’re still calling him, Red.”
“Don’t call me that,” she snapped.
The burst of annoyance that rolled off her was exactly what he wanted. She didn’t seem to be in actual shock, but after what she’d been through, she’d be coming down from an adrenaline high. She needed to find a balance. And he needed her to answer some questions. “Where did you meet this guy?”
“Uh, my store. He’s just a tourist on a short ski vacation— or he told me he was. I’m sure that was a lie. I thought it would be a harmless date and a way to . . .” Her blue eyes widened as she trailed off.
“A way to what?”
“A way to convince you to leave me alone.” Her cheeks flushed, staining her ivory cheeks a deeper shade of red.
Her words stung. He didn’t want them to, but they did anyway. All he wanted to do was protect her. Yeah, they came from different worlds, but it shouldn’t matter. His inner wolf growled at him and in that moment he hated his primal side. The side that told him to just take what he wanted. His human side cared a hell of a lot more about December to ever hurt her and he didn’t like the turn his thoughts were taking. Veering the conversation in a different direction, he said, “Your purse had been dumped out and I didn’t see a wallet. He probably has your address anyway, but you’re going to need to cancel your credit cards.”
“I don’t carry a wallet. I keep my driver’s license, cash and a credit card on me. Parker drilled that into me years ago. In case I ever got mugged or something. He’s really particular about stuff like that.” She patted her coat pocket, then stilled, presumably as the rest of his words sank in. “What do you mean he probably has my address? He picked me up from my store.”
“You were attacked in your house a few weeks ago.” Even thinking about that got his heart racing. If her brother hadn’t been there and scared off the guy, anything could have happened.
“Your date and that guy are probably part of the same organization.”
She lifted an eyebrow. “Are you going to start in with that APL stuff again?”
“After tonight I wouldn’t think you’d need as much convincing. This is a small town and it’s not hard to find out where someone lives anyway.” With enough money anything was possible.
She started to say something, then snapped her mouth shut. A frown marred her pretty face as her eyebrows knit together in concentration.
“What is it?”
“He said something about you being an animal. I can’t remember exactly what it was, but I never said anything about you being a shifter. Still, he knew you were. Right after he said that, he pulled out the syringe. Then everything sort of went crazy.” Shuddering, she wrapped her arms around herself and he couldn’t help it. He slid an arm around her shoulder and pulled her tight against him. She needed comforting. Whether she admitted it or not. To his utter surprise, she didn’t fight him. For a brief moment she stiffened, then melted against him.
Like warm silk, she sank into his side and buried her head against his neck. Her jasmine scent twined around him, making him dizzy for a moment. The feel of her warm breath on his skin made the ache between his legs impossibly painful. Reaching out his other arm, he pulled her completely against him. The position was awkward for him, but he didn’t give a shit.
Liam battled his disappointment as Ryan steered into the parking spot next to December’s car. He didn’t want to let her go. Wanted to keep holding on to her like this as long as she’d let him. But he needed to get her home.
When she realized they’d stopped, she pulled back and looked at him questioningly.
Sighing, he fished out the car keys from her purse and handed them to his packmate. “Follow me back to her place.”
“What do you think you’re doing?” she asked.
Liam ignored her as he rounded the vehicle and slid into the driver’s seat. He didn’t want to move her and he didn’t want her driving. She might not be in shock, but she was shaken up pretty bad.
“Liam, what are you doing?”
“What does it look like? We’re going back to your place and I’m calling your brother.” He’d have already made the call if he hadn’t thought it would upset her.
He found it interesting that instead of moving into the free passenger seat, she stayed where she was, in the middle seat. If anything, she actually moved a little closer toward him.
She might try to deny the chemistry they had, but she instinctively knew he’d protect her. December might not even realize it, but her most primal side trusted him. Her desire to be near him proved it. That knowledge soothed his inner wolf. And he would protect her. No matter the cost.
“You think it’s safe there?” Her voice was a whisper.
He gripped the wheel tighter. “Hell no, I don’t think it’s safe, but unless you want to come back to the ranch with me—”
“All right, then. We’re going back to your place and I’m staying over until we can figure out what the next move is.” He knew what his next move was. Convince her to move to the ranch with him. Temporarily at least. Then he’d convince her to stay long enough for him to prove to her once and for all that they belonged together. That was the plan anyway.
“What?” Shock laced her voice.
He stole a quick glance at her. She’d gotten most of her color back. “You think I’m leaving you alone to¬night?” Not that he actually cared what she said. He was staying with her.
“Maybe we should call my brother,” she hedged.
He knew what direction she was headed and he didn’t like it. “We’re going to call him, but I’m still staying over. Someone broke into your house a few weeks ago, then someone tried to kidnap you outside your store a week ago, and now some psycho tried to stab you with God knows what.”
“The guy at the store just wanted to rob me. There’s not a conspiracy behind every door, Liam. I run a business and it’s one of the risks.” Her voice was defensive.
Liam snorted at her words. That guy hadn’t wanted to rob her. He’d wanted to kidnap her. Liam knew because he’d gotten the piece-of-shit APL member to tell him exactly what he’d been up to. All it had taken to get that information was a broken thumb. Then he’d threatened to do worse if the guy told the cops the real reason he’d been at December’s store. Liam and his pack didn’t want the cops involved with the APL. Their involvement could scare the extremists into going underground. Liam and his brother, Connor, didn’t want that. They wanted to stop the APL before their influence grew and before they hurt anyone else. And they planned to do it their way. Humans and government agencies had too many rules and regulations. Something his pack didn’t have to deal with.
As they pulled into her drive, another thought occurred to him. “Do you have your cell?”
“Yeah. I usually keep that on me too.”
“Can I see it?”
Frowning, she nodded, but at least she handed it to him.
When their fingers brushed, he cursed himself for the shock that went through him. They barely touched and his entire body reacted. “Will you stay here while I search your house?”
For a moment he thought she might argue, but she finally nodded. “Fine, whatever. You’re going to do it anyway.”
Damn right he was. “Stay here with her,” he said to Ryan as he took her key ring.
The second he stepped inside, he was accosted by her soft jasmine scent. It always subtly lingered on her and in her house it was more potent. Probably not to humans, but with his heightened senses it almost enveloped him with its purity.
As he moved from room to room, it was easy to see December’s feminine touches. Most of the rooms had pale earth tones. Soothing and soft, like her. Once he’d checked each room, every window, and all entrances, he allowed himself a small amount of relief. There were no signs of a break-in and he couldn’t smell the remnant scent of an intruder.
After the attempted kidnapping at her store Liam had tried to convince her to let him have an alarm installed there and at her house. Even her brother, who basically detested him, had agreed. But December was stubborn. Of course it might have something to do with the fact that he’d ordered her to let him take care of it instead of asking her. As second-in-command of his pack— well, technically third now that his brother was mated— he wasn’t used to asking for things, though. Especially not when he knew he was right.
December might not have accepted that she was his intended mate, but he knew it with every fiber inside him. He didn’t know how he knew— he just did. It was as if something inside him flared to life the moment they’d met. A hundred years ago— before his father had turned into a shell of a wolf due to his mate’s death and before Liam’s pack had been slaughtered— his father had told him he’d likely know his mate on sight. Not all shifters recognized their intended mates right away, but Armstrongs usually did. Just like his brother had recognized Ana as his other half. If only Liam could figure out a smoother approach with December. She didn’t come from their world and didn’t understand anything about pack law or . . . him. And he wanted to change that.
He might look like he was in his early thirties, but he was over a century old. In all that time Liam and his brother had lived apart from humans. They intermingled with them for business purposes, and as of twenty years ago humans had learned of their existence, thanks to the decision of his Council and a few other shifter Councils around the world. It didn’t mean he’d completely embraced his civilized, human side, however. When he wanted something, his wolf side threatened to take over. The battle between beast and man sometimes seemed never ending.
Sighing, he flipped open her phone and scrolled to her brother’s name. Bracing himself for the reaction he’d get, he held it up to his ear.
“Hey, I was just about to call you.” Parker’s voice was friendly as he answered.
“This is Liam.”
Like a switch flipping, he went from friendly to hostile in an instant. “Why do you have December’s phone? What the hell is going on? Is she okay?”
“Someone tried to attack your sister. Again.”
“On the way home tonight her date tried to stab her with a syringe. She doesn’t know what was in it or what he wanted, but she managed to stop him. From what I can tell, she got him to run off the road and she escaped. I found her running down the highway.”
“Were you following her?”
Liam didn’t bother to deny it. “I waited until she left the restaurant with that guy but kept my distance. I wanted to make sure she got home safe, and hell, someone needs to protect her.”
“Are you saying I can’t?” Parker snapped.
“Damn it, man. You know that’s not what I’m saying. I only meant I’ve been keeping an eye on her. After that bullshit with Dr. Graham and those assholes who tried to attack Ana, I just want to make sure December is safe.” Over two months ago a local doctor had poisoned the local Cordona pack, killing all the males and pregnant females. Ana Cordona— now his brother’s mate— had become leader of an all-female pack by default. Since his brother and Alpha, Connor, had been in love with Ana for over half a century, Liam and the rest of their small pack had recently come to North Carolina and united her pack with theirs. And the poisonings had started up again. That’s when they’d discovered that the person trying to poison their pack wasn’t their only problem. The APL had targeted any humans associated with shifters or anyone they thought meant something to shifters.
“I know. . . . I appreciate it.” The bitter tone of his voice told Liam it had taken a lot for Parker to admit that. “So where is she?”
“We’re at her house. She’s outside with one of my packmates. I just swept her place and it’s clean. The guy she was out with tonight left his car right off the highway. It’s about two miles from Russo Ristorante on the west side of the road, down the embankment. It’s a BMW.” He quickly rattled off the license plate he’d committed to memory.
Parker swore softly. “You’re sure she’s okay?”
“She’s shaken up and I thought she might go into shock, but she’s tougher than that. I got the keys out of the ignition and I was careful to pull it out by the edges.”
“I’ll send a couple of my guys to check out the car and I’ll come by to take a statement from her. I’m going to post someone outside her place tonight, but will you be there until someone arrives?”
His mouth pulled into a thin line. Apparently even Parker didn’t understand his intentions toward December. That all changed now. “I’ll be here and I’m staying the night. Until we figure out what the hell is going on, I’m not leaving her side.”
Liam expected a fight but Parker was surprisingly silent. The moment seemed to stretch on forever. Finally he spoke. “All right. I’ll see you in a few.”
As they disconnected, Liam let his gaze linger on December’s bed. The queen-sized bed was a lot smaller than his own, but if he was in it with her, it wouldn’t mat¬ter. Nothing else would matter other than holding her, sliding his hard length into her hot, tight sheath. Taking care of her. Claiming her. From the moment he’d seen her, it was all he’d been able to think about.
All his life he’d heard about what happened to males when they found their mates, but he’d never bought into that bullshit. The overwhelming need to protect. To mate. To bond. He’d never believed it until he met December.
Sighing, he shut her bedroom door behind him. One way or another he was going to find his way between her sheets and into her life. He was going to ingrain himself so deeply into her world she’d never want him to leave. Maybe not tonight, but soon. Very, very soon.