Brynn Atwood is a low-level Magus whose unpredictable precognitive powers have made her an outcast among her people—and an embarrassment to her highly-regarded father. After a frightening vision in which her father is murdered by a loup garou man, Brynn decides to prove herself by finding the killer, and stopping them at any cost.
Her target is Rook McQueen, the son of a small-town loup garou Alpha. Despite being the youngest of three, Rook is first in line to inherit the role of Alpha, a duty he isn't sure he's capable of fulfilling. When Brynn finally meets Rook, she doesn't expect the attraction that draws her to him—and him to her.
No longer believing him a murderer, Brynn and Rook strike an alliance to find her father's real killer. But when his older brother is targeted by an unknown enemy, Rook will have to choose between his growing feelings for Brynn and his duty as the future Alpha of his community.
INCLUDES A PREVIEW OF THE NEXT TITLE IN THE CORNERSTONE TRILOGY, GRAY BISHOP
“Kelly Meding is a real storyteller and I look forward to reading more of her work.”—Patricia Briggs, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author
Raised on a steady diet of Star Wars, Freddy Krueger and "Fear Street" novels, Kelly Meade developed a love for all things paranormal at a very young age. The stealthy adolescent theft of a tattered paperback from her grandmother's collection of Harlequins sparked an interest in romance that has continued to this day. Writing as Kelly Meding, Meade is the author of the Dreg City urban fantasy and the MetaWars books.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Brynn Atwood observed the entrance to McQueen’s Auction House, as she had done for the past few minutes while she gathered the courage she needed to leave the safety of her rental car. A steady stream of vehicles entered the parking lot and ejected browsers and buyers, all eager to view today’s auction and visit with acquaintances seen only during these once-a-week sales. Not Brynn. She was certainly the only person who’d showed up today intending to prevent a murder.
Walking alone into a town populated with and run by loup garou wasn’t the smartest thing she had ever done in her twenty-four years, but it certainly counted as the bravest. If she managed to achieve her goal, even her father would have to admit to her courage and to the validity of her visions. He didn’t trust in her seer ability, nor did he believe that her vision of him being murdered by a loup garou would come true.
“Surely you know I would never put myself into a situation that would result in such a calamitous outcome,” her father, Archimedes Atwood, had said the previous day. And as with every chilly encounter between them in the last few months, he’d spoken with the impatience of a strict teacher correcting a belligerent child. “Perhaps some of your visions have come true on occasion, but do not use me to distract attention from your own disgrace. I have no more time for this nonsense.”
Her visions were always nonsense.
Archimedes was a Prime Magus in the Congress of Magi, one of four, as well as a powerful practitioner of elemental magic. He’d never hidden his disappointment over Brynn’s uncontrollable precognitive powers—powers he had yet to acknowledge were real—or her inability to one day claim his spot on the Congress. She was too weak, a failure as a Magus. She couldn’t even manage to keep her job as a Congress tutor for more than two years. All she had left were her infrequent visions, in whatever time or manner they chose to come.
And worse yet, he had all but accused her of fabricating this vision and the need to save him in order to make up for the shame she’d brought to their name when she was fired. She didn’t want the vision to be true. She wanted her father alive for many years to come.
She would figure out how to save him on her own. She would prove her value.
Brynn climbed out of her car and surveyed the quickly filling parking lot. In any new situation, her best first step was to observe her surroundings, study others, and discover the way to best fit in. She had never before attended a public auction of any sort; she knew only that antiques and other goods were bid upon and purchased, sometimes at outrageous prices. Some patrons walked into the building carrying their own boxes, clearly expecting to purchase items. Others entered carrying only cups of coffee or soda, or small children.
The variety of patrons surprised her: young and old, scruffy and well-kempt, couples and singles and large groups, and families. Some drove up with pickups and vans; some parked expensive cars in the narrow, crowded lot. Everyone seemed at ease.
I must stick out like a smoking vampire in daylight.
Standing there like a fool would only garner her unwanted attention. Subtlety was the route to accomplishing her task. Brynn forced her feet to carry her forward, past other vehicles, toward the main entrance. Everyone seemed to be entering the large, barnlike building through those glass double doors. A few people came back to the parking lot from the side of the building, which indicated a back entrance/exit, as well. She’d tried to find blueprints of the layout before her arrival, but getting any sort of in-depth information on Cornerstone, Pennsylvania, was next to impossible.
The town had a small population of six hundred forty-one residents, and Brynn could guess that about ten percent were human. Cornerstone was founded by a run of loup garou nearly two centuries ago, and was one of a dozen similar safe havens around the country. Much like the Congress of Magi and a few surviving nests of vampires, loup garou runs required secrecy and anonymity to survive in the modern world. The weekly auctions at McQueen’s brought outside income to the town without the interference of tourism or industry, and it kept them from appearing too insular to the outside world.
Her father stubbornly refused to have any faith in her abilities, but Brynn’s visions of the future came true without fail, and the most recent had led her here to McQueen’s Auction House. Led her to the loup garou she’d seen standing over her father’s broken body. The man her careful research told her was named Rook McQueen.
The boy, she corrected.
As a general rule, her people did not trust technology. The Magi trusted tradition and magic above all else. Growing up an only child with few friends, Brynn spent hundreds of hours on her computer—a gift awarded by her father on her twelfth birthday, as a means to keep her mind occupied beyond the limited resources of their home’s physical library. Only weeks before, she had spoken to him of her first vision. In the middle of reading a book, she had seen a clear image of a baby bird falling from a nest. It disturbed her so much that she’d fled into the backyard in time to see it happen. She scooped the tiny robin up and climbed the tree where she spotted the nest, returning the lost baby to its siblings.
She was so proud when she told her father about it that night—not only the bird, but the premonition. Her very first display of a Magus power. “Manifestations of a child’s overactive imagination,” he had scoffed. “Do not bother me with these small things, daughter.”
The computer became her gateway to the outside world, a link to knowledge far beyond the borders of her home in Chestnut Hill. And like the young sleuths in the slim novels she’d loved so much, Brynn taught herself how to research and investigate—skills that had served her well these last few days as she raced to identify her father’s killer.
One of three sons of Thomas McQueen, the auction house’s owner, Rook was two years younger than herself, a recent college graduate, and the former lead singer of a popular local rock band—not exactly the portrait of a killer, loup garou or otherwise. And yet the brief glimpse of him in her vision, skin marked with tattoos, human teeth bared, and hands covered in her father’s blood, showed him capable of violence, as all loup garou inevitably were.
She would not allow her father to become Rook McQueen’s victim. Archimedes Atwood was too important, not only to herself but to the Congress of Magi. The Magi were small in number, and they relied on their leaders to protect them from their enemies, including the volatile, deadly loup garou. And as an elemental Magi, he was among the most powerful. Few others shared his ability to manipulate fire. Their people needed him, so Brynn needed to protect him. She had to find a way to prevent her father’s murder before it occurred.
The biggest blank in her research was Rook’s relationship to the run’s Alpha. Brynn had no access to the Congress’s files on the loup garou, and she couldn’t directly ask her father for the name of Cornerstone’s Alpha—her father had no idea she’d identified his would-be assassin, or that she was in central Pennsylvania doing reconnaissance on said assassin, instead of at the family home wallowing in her professional disgrace.
A random loup killing her father carried a very different meaning than a loup from within the higher ranks of the run’s Alpha family—the latter could easily be considered an act of war against the Congress of Magi. A foolishly begun war, as the Magi and loup had maintained an uneasy peace for the last sixty years.
Concentrate, foolish girl, before you get yourself killed. This isn’t one of your novels, this is real.
Brynn smoothed her palms down the front of her green t-shirt and tugged at the hem. She stopped, recognizing the nervous gesture, a habit from the two years she’d worked as a Congress tutor, which required skirts and blouses and high heels. The t-shirt, denim shorts, and Keds combination she’d chosen for today’s mission had been partly for comfort in the August heat and partly to blend in. The final piece of her costume was the Magus pendant hidden behind the t-shirt, which would act as a sensory mirror and hide her natural scent—any loup sniffing her for signs of “other” would smell a common human female, instead of a Magus. The auction attracted dozens of human buyers, but the people who ran it and worked there were still loup. The pendant was her only real protection against their sense of smell.
The stolen pendant, you fool. Plucking it from her father’s office had nearly given her fits, and her father would be apoplectic when he discovered it was missing—yet another reason to finish her task and return home posthaste. Maybe, just maybe, she could prevent this vision from coming true. She had to try.
Nerves twisted her stomach into a tight ball that nearly squeezed the air from her lungs. The thump of music and drone of voices greeted her as Brynn pushed open the door and stepped inside McQueen’s Auction House.
Avesta, protect me, your loyal daughter.
Plea to the Magi’s patron sent, Brynn forced her anxiety into the background and paid closer attention to her surroundings. The entrance was spacious, with a short hallway and a brightly painted “Restrooms” sign on her immediate right. On the left was a bulletin board covered in layers of posters and flyers advertising yard sales and on-site auctions. Past it was a roped-off stairwell going up to parts unknown. A handsome young man in cowboy boots and a matching leather hat leaned near the stairwell, sipping from a Styrofoam cup, as though he lived solely to hold up that particular wall.
His intent gaze landed on her, and she didn’t have to search for the copper flecks in his brown eyes to know he was loup garou. Brynn’s insides froze, but she forced out a calm, flirty smile. She knew she was attractive enough to gather a few second glances, and he was what she might hesitantly call beautiful—if a man could be considered so—with a slim nose and perfectly symmetrical features. However beautiful, this man was also her enemy. His body was fit, impeccably toned, and even at ease he thrummed with the power of his caged beast. He also wasn’t Rook McQueen, so although he was quite pleasant to look at, he did not hold her interest.
He tilted his head in a friendly gesture, then winked. Brynn blushed and ducked her head, a reaction she did not have to fake. Male attention of any sort nowadays left her insides squirrely, a sense of bitter panic residing where her confidence had once dwelled. She also needed to remain inconspicuous while here, and flirting with a local cowboy was not the way to stay alive.
Brynn followed an elderly couple out into the main room. She slipped over to her left, out of the flow of traffic, and absorbed the scene of orderly chaos. An elevated pair of cash registers stood near the entrance, with lines on each side. The customers in line traded personal information for a large index card with a number written in black marker. Cards in hand, the customers went to one of many places in the cavernous room.
Dozens of tables of merchandise were set up along the perimeter of the room, three rows deep, and at the center of it all was a dais, two stools, and a microphone. Directly behind the dais was a long row of antique furniture and four glass cases. Rows of mismatched chairs covered the rest of the floor space, facing the dais. At least half the chairs were marked by either sitting bodies or empty boxes waiting for their owners. In the far back of the room, close to Brynn’s position, was a food counter advertising sandwiches and chips and cold sodas, and it produced the bitter scent of over-brewed coffee. Opposite Brynn was another set of propped-open double doors, and a steady stream of people moved in and out of a second room that seemed crowded with boxes.
Someone jostled past on a waft of coffee-scented air, alerting Brynn to the competing odors in the room. The food counter fought with the tang of human body odor, as well as the musty stink of old paper and leather. A damp smell, like rain, hung over everything else, reminding her that even though she was surrounded by human beings, nonhumans also mingled. Every loup in the room posed a threat to her safety.
Brynn walked along the back wall, out of the heavier flow of people, alert for her prey. She spotted three other men who set off her loup alarms. Each wore a black t-shirt and jeans, just like the man outside in the cowboy boots.
McQueen employees. They must be.
One of them lingered near the dais, chatting with an older woman in a purple caftan, giving her his full attention while still managing to observe the room. He had a strong facial resemblance to the loup in the entrance, and a stronger resemblance to the photo she’d found of Rook. Each could easily be one of Rook’s two brothers. Brynn swallowed hard, mouth dry. If two of the three McQueen brothers worked here, maybe Rook did, as well. He could appear at any moment.
Your brother may one day murder my father.
The thought saddened her. Rook wasn’t just a potential murderer. He was also a brother and a son, and his family would miss him if he were gone. They would also fight to protect him the moment they considered her a threat.
You can’t think about that now, foolish girl.
Brynn inhaled a steadying breath. She palmed her right hand in her left, the fingers of her left hand smoothing over the gold band of the ring she wore on her right index finger. The top of the ring appeared to be a piece of costume jewelry, a blue gem the size of a nickel. A blue gem filled with a paralytic poison, developed decades ago to specifically target the loup garou’s nervous system. One tap of the ring would send a dose of poison down the ring’s band to her hand, and one firm handshake with any loup would put enough on his skin to kill him within an hour. No one would suspect such an innocuous item to be a deadly weapon, which was exactly the reason she’d stolen it from her father’s study.
As a small child, she had once overheard him boasting to another Magus of using the ring to drug an unsuspecting loup garou, and they were none the wiser. She had thought this made her father particularly clever, and the moment had stayed with her. Brynn Atwood might walk alone into a loup sanctuary town, but she wouldn’t walk in unarmed.
She had a single dose of the antidote hidden in her car in case she accidentally poisoned someone—no sense in leaving that to chance. She might be willing to kill to protect her father and she would defend herself if attacked, but she would not hurt an innocent loup.
If loup could be considered innocent. Her father would scoff at the notion.
She had considered her plan a dozen different ways before engaging. She didn’t rush blindly ahead. She rarely undertook any sort of action without having first clearly considered the potential outcomes. The only action guaranteeing her vision never came true was her removing Rook from the equation. Murdering him first. That was, however, a last resort action that almost guaranteed her own death at loup garou hands, as well as bringing the full power of her father’s anger down on their run.
She preferred the plan where she observed, gathered information, possibly discovered who the run Alpha was so she could introduce herself, and then took steps to prevent her vision that left all involved happy and healthy—her father especially.
Awareness prickled up her spine just as a male voice said, “You look a bit lost, miss.”
Brynn turned, not terribly surprised to find the cowboy from the entrance watching her. The cup was gone, but he still wore the silly leather hat, which cast a shadow over his eyes. It didn’t hide his beauty, though.
“I was supposed to meet someone here, but I don’t see them yet,” she said, the rehearsed lie falling easily from her lips.
“That explains it, then.” His tone was light, his voice lyrical and calming, but it still held a hint of danger. And challenge.
“Why you looked like you were casing the place.”
She laughed without forcing it, finding actual humor in the comment. “Do you often have problems with armed robbers staging stickups here?”
“No, but we’ve caught a few thieves over the years, trying to break in and steal items before they go up for sale.”
“Are you saying I look like a thief?”
“You just looked a little lost, that’s all. This your first time here?”
“It’s that obvious?”
He lifted his left shoulder in a shrug. “My father owns the place, and I’ve worked for him since I was a kid. I know all of the regulars, and most of the semi-regulars. New faces are easy to spot, especially faces as pretty as yours.”
Two things solidified for Brynn then: this man was definitely one of the McQueen brothers, and he was definitely flirting with her. Inbred disgust at the loup’s attention seized her, and she barely managed to stall a physical reaction.
He jumped, then his hand went to his jeans pocket. Brynn’s rising alarm calmed when he whipped out a vibrating cell phone and checked a message. “Damn,” he said as he tucked the phone away again. “Work calls.”
“Don’t let me keep you.”
“I hope your friend shows soon. In the meantime, take a look around. We’ve got a lot of great stuff today.”
He eased past her and walked straight up the center aisle of chairs to the dais, directly to the other man she suspected of being a McQueen. She watched them from the corner of her eye, but the other man gestured at the furniture behind the dais. They didn’t seem to be talking about her. She’d just had a conversation with her target’s brother and no one suspected a thing.
Don’t get cocky. Things could still go badly in a moment’s time.
She pushed away the voice of reason. A little more confident now, Brynn gave herself permission to look around. It was her first auction, after all. She wandered to the other side of the room, as much to make a show of belonging as to check out some of the items for sale. She’d always assumed auctions were full of dirty antiques and shiny glass baubles, but the table nearest her was covered with books. Boxes and boxes of books—hardcovers, paperbacks, textbooks, in all genres and on all subjects. The reams of knowledge in those boxes made her chest ache for the satisfaction she used to get from teaching.
Until last month, when she was fired from her tutor position and found herself with zero standing among her people, and with no hope for her future.
Maybe after this you’ll find a new calling as a Congress investigator.
Smiling at the ridiculous notion, she picked up a thick copy of the annotated works of Homer and smoothed back the torn corner of its dust jacket. Nostalgia for school and learning settled heavily in her chest, so heavily it tried to force up tears. She’d briefly considered returning to school and earning a new degree, since history and education hadn’t served her very well. Briefly. If the Alpha reacted badly to her presence in his town, or Rook took issue with her allegations, she’d never get the chance to reconsider her education more thoroughly.
She’d never get the chance to do a lot of things. Her father once said that loup justice was swift and merciless.
She put the book down and pinched the bridge of her nose, damming the tears and steeling her nerves. She would not cry, not here in public. Not when she needed to accomplish a job that required her full attention.
A flash of movement caught her attention, and Brynn turned her head toward the entrance. Her gaze drifted up. Above the entrance, probably accessible from that roped-off staircase, was a large window and a room behind. Two men stood at the window, talking and gesturing, in what looked like an office. Probably the manager’s office, which gave him a bird’s-eye view of his business.
The shorter of the two men captured and held her attention. Hints of a tattoo peeked out from beneath the sleeve of his black t-shirt. Metal glinted in his right earlobe, and another tattoo—or possibly the same—crept down his ear to his neck and disappeared into the collar of his shirt.
Even in profile, Brynn knew him. Fear and rage collided in a storm of cold and heat, and she clenched her hands into tight fists.
Rook McQueen. Her father’s future killer.
Blood rushed hot in her veins, and her heart thumped harder. He wasn’t just a face in a vision any longer. He was real.
“Ma’am?” The strange male voice alarmed Brynn into spinning around too fast. Her elbow clipped the voice owner in the chest and he grunted. Brynn’s stomach bottomed out. The man from the front of the room, her second McQueen brother suspect, frowned darkly, and she saw her own death there.
“I’m so sorry,” Brynn said. “Are you all right?”
“Fine. I’m sorry to bother you, but do you drive a white Dodge Neon?”
She blinked at the odd question about her rental car. “Yes, I do.”
“Someone reported that they backed into your car. You may want to come with me and exchange insurance information.”
“Oh for Av—God’s sake.” Brynn mentally slapped herself for the near slip. Using “Avesta’s sake” in the presence of a loup garou was as obvious as wearing a t-shirt that said “Yes, I’m a Magus Spy. Kill Me.”
“Small lot, so it happens once in a while,” the man said. Up close, she better saw the resemblance to the cowboy-wannabe in his narrow nose and hooded eyes. However, the slight roundness in his cheekbones and higher forehead showed a more pronounced similarity to Rook. And he was definitely older than the other two. “The auction doesn’t start for another forty minutes, if you’re worried about missing something.”
“No, it’s fine,” Brynn said, even though it wasn’t. The coincidence unnerved her, but she had no choice except to see how this played out.
He stepped to the side. “After you.”
She walked to the end of the row of chairs and made her way back toward the auction house entrance, keenly aware of her shadow’s presence, and that she’d just turned her back on one of her people’s greatest enemies.
“I didn’t tell you about the fight because it had barely started before I stopped it,” Rook McQueen said, repeating the same thing to his father that he’d told Bishop not twenty minutes ago. If he’d known he’d get his ears chewed off for not reporting that morning’s minor non-scuffle, he’d have done so right after the incident occurred.
So much for big brother Bishop telling him to use his head, his common sense, and to start making his own decisions. Most of the time, Rook’s decisions were picked apart and declared wrong, anyway. Or foolish—that was his favorite. He really shouldn’t have expected this one to be any different.
Thomas McQueen, Rook’s father and run Alpha, turned away from the broad window that looked out over the auction floor. Thick arms crossed over his chest, dark eyes narrowed and hidden behind bushy eyebrows, Father made an imposing figure even when he wasn’t trying to intimidate. Of all the other loup in town, Father was hardest on his sons because—as he said over and over—they were his legacy. And he was hardest of all, as always, on Rook.
The first six chords of “Black Sheep Son” played through his mind. He’d written the song in high school, and it was the first original tune performed by his college band once they started making a name for themselves doing covers. Remembering his music kept him calm and focused.
“What was the fight about?” Father asked.
“The usual. Two teenage boys posturing over a girl, even though she’s made it clear her interest is elsewhere.”
In a town as small as Cornerstone, dating was often more difficult than a novice guitarist learning barre chords. Its two-room school educated fewer than fifty children at any given time, and you were lucky to have a handful of friends in your grade. Luckier still if one of them was of the opposite sex and interested in you—but that luck could be shattered by the color of your Wolf and the expectations that your color carried. As a Black Wolf, Rook had spent his teenage years in a firm, frustrated state of “look, don’t touch.” College had been another kind of nightmare. But this fight wasn’t about him.
“Who hit first?” Father asked.
“They moved at the same time. I saw it coming before they could actually strike each other, and I got in between. Technically, there wasn’t a fight, so I didn’t see a reason to bother you, especially on an auction day.”
“Run business doesn’t stop for auction day, son.”
“I know that, but I made the call.” Rook’s ability to stand up for himself had improved dramatically in the three months since he graduated college, but his father still intimidated him. As did the role of Alpha and everything it entailed—a role that Rook, as a Black Wolf, had a right to claim one day. Becoming Alpha was looking less and less likely with each decision his father and brother questioned.
Rook moved to the other side of the desk to stand opposite his father. The bustle of auction day continued below them, the noise a muffled rumble on the other side of the glass. A flash of black hair caught his attention as it bobbed through the crowd. The angle gave him only a cursory view of a slim female body, pale arms, and the back of a green t-shirt. Her hair was so black it actually glinted with blue highlights. His skin prickled with impossible interest, and he watched her, hoping she’d turn around—
He snapped his head around. “I’m sorry, what?”
Father glanced out the window, then shook his head. “It sounds as though you handled the situation well, and you may have been right that it wasn’t something I needed to hear about.”
“But?” There was always a but.
“Bishop brought it up so that I could make that judgment call.”
“Bishop brought it up because he doesn’t trust my judgment and never has. He didn’t trust that I handled the fight or my assessment that it wasn’t worth bringing to you.”
“It isn’t about trust, son.”
“Then what is it about? You both keep telling me to take initiative. So I make a call, he questions it, and then he comes to you so that I have to explain myself.”
“It’s how we learn.” Father unfolded his arms and tucked his hands into his trouser pockets—in all his life, Rook had never seen his father wear jeans. “It’s how Bishop and I discover what you know and what you can do. There’s no written exam for this kind of work, Rook. You learn it on the job, just as I did.”
Rook frowned, not wanting to concede the argument, but his father had a good point. As the oldest son, Bishop was traditionally first in line to inherit the role of Alpha, despite being born a common Gray Wolf. As the third son, Rook had surprised everyone by being a Black Wolf—stronger, faster, fiercer, and typically the firstborn of a Black Wolf like their father. And as the Black son of the Alpha, he could one day claim the role of Alpha without physically challenging his elder brother for it.
Therein lay the friction.
Bishop had been training to take over as Alpha his entire life, working hard to overcome the handicap of being Gray. He’d been ten years old when Rook was born, and fourteen the first time Rook shifted and revealed his Black Wolf. His kid brother had innocently changed Bishop’s future, and he’d been punishing Rook for it ever since. Nothing Rook did was ever good enough—not even his music.
“I know you’re frustrated,” Father said, and the sympathy in his voice surprised Rook. “Right now it feels like we don’t trust you, but that’s only because you’re still learning. One day no one will go behind your back to bring matters to me, because everyone will know that your word is mine. Just like they know this with Bishop.”
Rook nodded. He understood all of that; it had been drilled into his head for years. And Rook knew he still had a long way to go to prove himself worthy of voicing the Alpha’s word. He also knew he didn’t possess an overabundance of patience, which fueled his daily frustration.
Footsteps creaked up the stairs, alerting them both to the interruption before a fist ever landed on wood. After two sharp knocks, the office door swung open. Knight came inside, his favorite Stetson in his hands instead of on his head. “Minor problem,” he said.
“What sort of problem?” Father asked.
Knight stepped further into the room, boot heels snapping on the wood. Rook resisted rolling his eyes at his middle brother’s choice of footwear. Knight only wore them on auction day, as a running joke about wearing a disguise for their human customers. Women liked it, though, and even if they didn’t come to buy at the auction, they spent their money at the concession stand while hanging around and hoping to flirt with him.
“There’s a young lady downstairs who’s giving off the strangest scent. It’s human, but there’s also an undercurrent of something else, almost loup. And she’s extremely agitated. Her pulse is all over the place.”
Having a human woman running around the auction house on sale day wasn’t uncommon, but a human scent mixed with loup was. “Half-breed?” Rook asked.
While run loup were forbidden from marrying humans without special dispensation from their run Alpha, some rogue loup lived with and married humans anyway, producing run-less half-breed children. Despite being born sterile and often without the ability to shift into beast form, half-breeds were the biggest threat to loup garou secrecy because of their mixed biology. They weren’t welcome in sanctuary towns like Cornerstone, and most were smart enough to stay away.
“I don’t think so,” Knight replied. “I’ve smelled half-breeds, and I was able to get close to her. Speak with her. Her scent was different. That and the agitation . . . Bishop is escorting her upstairs.”
Rook glanced out at the auction floor in time to see Bishop and the black-haired woman disappear beneath them, heading for the stairs. He moved around to the other side of the desk and stood next to Knight, while Father arranged himself behind the desk. Knight elbowed him in the ribs, then nodded at their father. He knew why Rook had been summoned. Rook rolled his eyes; he’d tell his brother all about it later. Only three years younger than Knight, Rook and he had always been close, often putting them both at odds with the much older Bishop.
Until it came to run matters. Then all three McQueen brothers came together as a solid, immoveable force.
Two sets of footsteps ascended the stairs at a steady clip. The scuff of the first was lighter than the clump of the second, and a waft of something sweet, floral, and decidedly female trickled into the office. The scent put all of Rook’s senses on high alert. Once again, awareness prickled across his skin.
And then the onyx-haired woman stepped into the room. She met Rook’s eyes immediately and froze in place, and he stared right back, his heart beating a bit faster. She was beautiful, with long lashes, eyebrows the same black as her hair, and flawless pale skin with no trace of makeup. And younger than he’d originally thought, guessing her to be around his age. She came up to Bishop’s shoulder, which would put her at about Rook’s chin. She was exquisite—a china doll come to life, cursed with a blank stare instead of a smile.
He wanted to touch her, needed to touch her, and his right hand lifted a few inches before he snatched it back, alarmed. Bishop had brought her up here for a reason, damn it. She could be a threat, and he was checking her out like a love-struck idiot.
She stared back at him with an expression that waffled between alarm and suspicion, and her eyes carried a lingering accusation. He didn’t know her (was positive he’d remember having met her at any point in his life) but she seemed pissed off at him for something. Maybe she didn’t like tattoos? Or the 00-gauge steel studs in both of his earlobes offended her beyond reason. They had certainly offended Bishop when he showed up two years ago with both lobes pierced. Whatever it was, her stormy expression squashed most of the interest rising from points south.
She blinked hard and the animosity disappeared behind a curious smile that she turned and directed at Father. “I was told there was an accident involving my car,” she said. Her voice was carefully controlled, devoid of accent, and sensual enough to drive a spike of heat right into Rook’s guts. Even his beast, usually silent unless threatened, stirred at the sound of her voice.
Father didn’t even blink at whatever lie Bishop had used to lure her upstairs. Bishop was smart enough to not close the office door yet, but he stood in it, his height and size blocking her only escape route. “Please, have a seat, Miss . . . ?” Father indicated one of the two wicker chairs across from his desk.
“Jones,” she said. “Brynn Jones. And I’ll stand, thank you. Mr. McQueen, I assume?”
“Thomas McQueen. Pleasure.”
“Likewise.” A slight trickle of sarcasm hinted at an unspoken “not.”
Rook inhaled hard, trying to her figure out. She did have a vague, indistinguishable human scent on the surface, but Knight was right—beneath it, threaded through, was something other. Almost definitely loup. Only she was doing everything a run loup (and most half-breeds, for that matter) wouldn’t dare do. She was looking an Alpha in the eye, for one thing. And she’d walked right into their town without permission, and without immediately introducing herself to the Alpha.
Even deeper below the other two things lingered that sweet female scent that drew Rook to her. Made him want to get closer, to breath that scent in deeper. Instead, he caught hold of his common sense and held still.
Father made a gesture, and Bishop closed the office door. Brynn took a few steps toward the center of the room, putting herself at equal distance from all of them, even though she kept her gaze trained on the Alpha. She fiddled with a ring on her right hand, its blue gem glinting in the office light.
“Ms. Jones, your car is fine,” Father said. “But we have a private matter to discuss with you.”
“Why are you here?”
“You’re having a public auction. Do you interrogate everyone who attends for the first time?”
“Only when they give me a reason to do so.”
“What exactly have I done, Mr. McQueen?”
“According to all human laws, not a thing. But a few of our laws take exception to your presence here.”
“You seem too intelligent for word games, Ms. Jones, so allow me to be blunt. Your people should have told you it’s bad form to enter a sanctuary town without permission.”
Her jaw twitched, but she made no move to deny the fact that she wasn’t entirely human. Brave girl. “My apologies, then. I know my auction attendance is unusual, but I wasn’t aware of any laws requiring a Magus to ask permission to enter a sanctuary town.”
Magus? Rook inhaled deeply, catching Brynn’s scent again. He clearly identified human and loup, but not the bitter orange scent he associated with the arrogant magic users who called themselves Magi. What was she playing at?
Even Father frowned, his thick eyebrows furrowing in a deep vee. “You don’t smell like a Magus,” he said.
She reached beneath the collar of her shirt. Next to him, Knight stiffened, and Rook took a step forward. Brynn pulled a gold necklace out of her shirt and slipped the chain over her head. Her shoulder-length black hair fell back down in an obsidian wave and another blast of that floral scent wafted around the room. She put the necklace on the back of the nearest chair.
“It has a reflective spell,” she said. “The medallion was supposed to mimic the identifying scents of the humans around me and hide the fact that I’m Magi. I’m impressed you could smell through it.”
All four loup noses in the room flared at the same time as they reassessed the woman in front of them. The soft, earthy human scent was gone, and Rook caught a strong whiff of bitter orange.
Knight made a quiet, strangled sound. He gaped at Brynn with something like horror on his face. Bishop came closer, attention firmly on Knight. Bishop stopped within an arm’s reach of Brynn, and that’s when Rook scented it, too. Beneath the strong fragrance that marked Brynn as Magus remained the distinct smell of loup.
Brynn turned to face them, right hand clutched to her chest, tense. “What?”
“It’s a trick,” Bishop said. “It has to be.”
“What’s a trick? The necklace?” A blush stained her cheeks and her pulse jumped. “It was only meant for protection.”
“Protection from whom?” Father asked.
Her chest lifted higher as her breathing increased, her agitation rising to fear. She’d been caught in some sort of subterfuge and was fumbling to cover. As much as Rook wanted to calm her down and tell her she wouldn’t be hurt, he couldn’t speak up. Something about Brynn was wrong. Impossible, even. Protecting the run came miles ahead of comforting a woman he’d known for three minutes.
Father leaned slightly forward and planted his knuckles on the top of the desk, eyes hard. “Who sent you?”
“No one,” she said, the two words a plea. “I swear, I’m here on my own.”
She squared her shoulders and lifted her chin, but didn’t speak. Fine tremors shook her arms and shoulders. Rook didn’t pretend to know a lot about women, but he knew a scared rabbit cornered by a wolf when he saw one. The very first time his band performed at a music festival for a cash prize, the bass player had looked just like that in the final few minutes before they went onstage.
“Knight,” Father said quietly.
Brynn lurched to the side, but had nowhere to run. She pressed her back against the bookshelf holding Father’s collection of vintage textbooks and primers, eyes wide and hands up in a stop gesture. “I didn’t do anything.”
“I won’t hurt you.” Knight moved to the center of the room. “I promise. I just want to help you calm down.”
She tilted her head and glared at him, hands close to her neck, twisting that ring again. “You’re the one scaring me right now.”
“Touch me and I’ll scream.”
“I don’t have to touch you, Ms. Jones.” Knight’s voice adopted the soothing tone he used when calling upon his gift. “Look at me, okay?”
She did, and the moment her eyes met Knight’s, her entire body stilled. Something in the air crackled with energy, like static electricity, as her Magus nature fought against the part of her responding instinctively to Knight’s call.
Knight was the rarest of all loup garou: a White Wolf. Loup populations were relatively small, and one in five hundred had a chance of being born White. White Wolves had the unique ability to calm other loup, to soothe tensions and prevent the primal, base nature of their inner beasts from taking over. Having a White Wolf in a run kept them civilized. For that reason, and because of the rarity of their births, White Wolves were often treated more like precious commodities than run members. Runs were not allowed to have more than one if another run was currently without. A majority vote from the thirteen run Alphas across the country could change a White Wolf’s life in an instant, and the loup in question would have no say.
Their mother, Andrea, had been a White Wolf and, according to the stories Rook had been told, was devastated to discover her second-born carried the mark of the White. Once Knight reached the age of four and shifted for the first time, he could have been sent to another run in need. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on the point of view), their mother was killed when Knight was three, just a few months after Rook was born, in a skirmish with the volatile West Virginia run. Her death left them without a mother, but it also ensured the three brothers would never be separated.
Whatever magic existed in a White Wolf and allowed them to calm other loup had always worked on half-breeds in the past. The difference was that all known half-breeds were from a human and loup pairing. To Rook’s knowledge, no one had ever seen a loup-Magus offspring before. And until they got her story, this small girl was the biggest threat in the room.
“What are you doing?” Brynn asked, her voice pitched high with fear.
“Calming you, if you’ll allow me,” Knight said. “It’s painless, I promise.”
She blinked rapidly several times. “You’re a White Wolf, aren’t you?”
Rook glanced at his father, who seemed just as surprised. The Magi were more educated in loup matters than Rook realized, and that worried him. If the Congress of Magi ever wanted to turn the loup against each other, targeting their White Wolves was the most effective way to create chaos within the runs. Rook didn’t like this stranger, attractive as she was, knowing his brother’s secret.
“I thought Whites could only calm other loup,” Brynn said. Her genuine fear and confusion, in both the pitch of her voice and the look on her face, slammed something home for Rook. Something that stunned his mind into stalling out for a few seconds.
Knight broke eye contact and looked at their father. From his spot behind Knight, Rook couldn’t see Knight’s face, but he imagined it mirrored Bishop’s and his own. Shocked. Confused. No one spoke. They didn’t have to: either she was an excellent actress, or she had no idea that she had loup garou blood.
Brynn was a hair’s breadth from screaming, and not just because she was trapped in a room with four brawny loup garou males, or because they seemed to be having trouble deciding how to handle her. She didn’t really care that she’d given away a Magi secret by revealing her knowledge of the White Wolf’s ability to calm other loup; she didn’t understand why he was trying it on her, or why she’d felt him in her mind, attempting to soothe her fraying nerves, when he shouldn’t have been able to do so.
No, she was quietly melting down because she’d failed to diffuse the situation immediately by revealing her purpose in Cornerstone. Her cover had been seen through too easily, and as she’d stepped into the office, she had realized that she’d failed in her self-imposed reconnaissance mission. Her hesitation and nervousness, caused in no small part by the four large and powerful men crowding her, only made her look like a threat to their kind. And until she prevented Rook from murdering her father, then by Avesta she was a threat.
The moment she’d seen Rook up close, as punkish and charming in person as he’d been in his band photos, Brynn had faltered. While she’d stared at him with hostility, he’d gazed at her with interest. Genuine, open interest from an attractive male. Something she hadn’t had in a long time. Because of her status as a second daughter, she’d grown up knowing she would never be as powerful as her father, nor accepted as a member of the Congress. Her weak, inconsistent seer abilities impressed no one, especially not the courtship of male Magi her own age. The one time her teenage self had forgotten her place and put her hope into the affections of a boy, he’d broken her heart and spirit in one cruel blow.
No, as much as she craved attention, she would not fail her father because of a loup garou’s wide-eyed appraisal. Or his good looks and perfectly toned body. She had more sense than that. And she was now ninety-nine percent certain that Thomas McQueen was Alpha of the Cornerstone run. And she could not bluntly accuse the son of the Alpha of murder without consequences for the Congress—especially now that they’d identified her as a Magus.
She had to talk her way out of this. The loup garou had keen enough senses to figure out if she was lying through her teeth, and she wasn’t a very good liar anyway. She never had been, even when it came to self-preservation. The truth was her only viable option.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “Coming here was a mistake.”
Her statement earned the attention of all four men, and of the four, the suspicious glare coming from Rook unnerved her the most. Knight backed up a few steps, and she felt more able to breathe in the extra space between them. Until Thomas stepped out from behind his desk and overtook the spot in front of her, a large obstacle she had no hope of defeating. He was not a man she wanted as an enemy. He could snap her neck with one hand. Brynn dropped her own hands down, keenly aware of the ring on her finger and the lethal dose of poison hiding inside of it. The last thing she needed was his attention on that ring.
“Why did you come here?” Thomas asked. “The truth, if you don’t mind.”
“I really am here on my own. No one sent me. No other Magus knows I’m even here.”
“All right, I believe you. But you must know this is a sanctuary town, and I imagine there are plenty of auctions elsewhere that you could attend. So why mine?”
Sink or swim time, foolish girl.
She turned her head and caught Rook’s gaze. Even from a few feet away, bright flecks of copper glinted in dark brown eyes that watched from an expressionless face, and she was struck by the irrational urge to make him smile. Or at least to stop looking at her as if she’d been scraped from the bottom of his shoe. “I wanted to meet you,” she said to him.
“Me?” Rook gave her a disdainful look that made her want to melt into the floor. “Don’t tell me you’re a band groupie.”
She nearly laughed, and that amusement buoyed her waning confidence. “Hardly. I didn’t even know who you were until a few days ago, much less that you’re a musician.”
His frown deepened, and if a man could physically bristle, he managed it. “Then why me? I’m positive I don’t know you.”
“What do you want with Rook?” Thomas asked, his tone protective. Deadly.
Brynn kept her gaze steadily trained on Rook, too nervous to look away and see the suspicion and accusation coming from the loup surrounding her. She squared her shoulders and lifted her chin, determined to tell as much of the truth as she could. “I’m here because I want to look into the eyes of the man who kills my father.”
“Huh?” The grunted word wasn’t Rook’s most intelligent response ever, but it was about all he could manage. The man who kills my father swirled through his mind like a sixteen-measure chorus, spoken by Brynn with the conviction of someone who’d already witnessed the crime. But he didn’t know Brynn or her father, and he sure as hell had never killed anyone.
His father growled—a low tone that he used as a message of warning when his run members were testing his patience. “That’s a very serious allegation,” he said. “Accusing someone of murder.”
Brynn’s entire body was trembling, and she looked as though she wanted to climb inside the bookcase and hide. She stood there, though, head up. “I didn’t say it was murder.”
“You said ‘kills’,” Knight said. “As in future, right?”
She glanced at him, nodded. “Yes.”
“What makes you so sure?”
“I saw it in a vision last week. Him”—she pointed at Rook—“standing over my father’s mangled body with blood all over his hands.”
Rook’s guts tightened with disgust. Being accused of killing someone was bad enough, but she made it sound as though he’d ripped the man apart with his bare hands. And while beating a man to death was, as a Black Wolf, theoretically possible, he couldn’t ever imagine a scenario in which he’d actually do it.
No, that wasn’t completely true. He could imagine killing a man in defense of his family or his run’s safety. Hypothetically and in self-defense. Not murder.
“And you interpreted this vision to mean that Rook kills him?” Father asked.
“No one else was in the vision. He was covered in my father’s blood. How would you have interpreted it?”
“You don’t know me,” Rook snapped, finding his voice again. “But because I’m loup garou you assume I’m a killer? Or is it just the tattoos?” In the band, the markings and piercings had made him cool, made him part of the scene. At home in Cornerstone, it made him scary and different, especially when he shifted and the gauges remained in his ears.
Brynn flinched, and her façade of confidence cracked. “I assume you’re a killer because of what I saw.”
“These visions,” Father said. “Do you see futures that will happen, or futures that may happen unless a course is altered?” Perfect redirect of the conversation.
She gave her attention back to him. “I see what will happen, but the ability isn’t well-defined, and I can’t control it. Sometimes I see things months in advance. Other times, I see things that happen seconds later, so there’s no possibility of trying to change them.”
“Not well-defined?” Bishop asked with a derisive snort. “I call shenanigans. I’ve yet to hear any Magus admit to being in less than perfect control of his or her power.”
The furious expression Brynn leveled at Bishop made him take a half step backward. “Are you calling me a liar?”
“Just making an observation.”
“If your father is the supposed victim,” Father said, “why are you here, and not him?”
“Because he refuses to believe I’ve had this vision, much less that it will come true,” Brynn said. “He cannot foresee himself in the middle of the woods, much less allowing himself to become the victim of a loup garou.” She seemed about to add more, then thought better of it.
The phone on his father’s desk buzzed, and then Amber’s voice came over. “Thomas? We’re starting in five minutes.”
He reached across the desk and pressed the intercom button on the phone. “I’ll be down shortly, thank you.” He turned back to Brynn. “I hope you understand that this conversation isn’t over, but I do have a business to run.”
“Which means?” she asked.
“It means that Bishop, Knight, and I need to get downstairs. For now, you’ll remain here with Rook.”
“Sir?” Rook asked. The last thing he wanted to do was spend the entire auction stuck in his father’s office with a Magus who thought him a murderer, based solely on visions she admitted weren’t under her control.
Father crowded him to the other side of the office, and Rook didn’t protest. “Talk to her,” Father said in a low voice. “Get her to describe the vision in detail, especially where it happens. Anything she says could be helpful.”
Rook squashed the impulse to protest babysitting the Magus. Father was putting a huge amount of trust in him to both keep an eye on her and to get answers. Besides, Rook was the one that Brynn had come to see. Maybe she’d talk to him more openly without the others around.
He wasn’t the subtlest of people or the best listener, but he’d give it a try. “All right,” Rook said. “I’ll do my best.”
“I know you will.” Father turned around. “Ms. Jones, if you require anything to eat or drink, just let Rook know and it will be brought up.”
Brynn frowned. “So I’m a prisoner now?”
“Not at all, but this discussion must wait for a few hours, and to be honest, you’re safer up here than wandering around town.”
Safe from the other loup who’d react poorly to her mixed Magus-loup scent—something she seemed unaware of, and they hadn’t shared yet. Rook would have to be careful to not let that bit of information slip out before they decided what to do with it.
“Yes,” Father said. He left with Bishop and Knight in tow, and they closed the door behind them.
Brynn watched him from her spot by the bookshelves, hands once again up by her chin, fingers twisting away at that ring. The nervous tic was starting to irritate Rook. With the loss of three other large bodies, the room seemed to fill with her scent. Floral and sweet, with that strange mix of Magus and loup. Beneath it all, though, came the faint, sour scent of fear.
“You might as well have a seat.” Rook gestured at the wicker chairs. “We’re going to be up here for a few hours.”
“I’d rather stand, thank you.”
“Suit yourself.” He moved to the window overlooking the auction floor and all of the activity he couldn’t take part in today. “Just don’t try to bolt out the door, okay? I’m faster than you, even from over here.”
Her mouth dropped open, and she actually seemed offended. “I’d never run away like a caught thief. I’ve done nothing wrong, except perhaps not introduce myself to your father, who I did not, by the way, know was the Alpha.”
“No. The names of the run Alphas isn’t information that I have access to.”
“You couldn’t ask Daddy? Or doesn’t he know that I’m supposed to kill him?”
“I told him of the vision, but he didn’t believe me. Not even when I figured out who you were and that you were loup garou.”
“How did you figure that out, anyway?”
“I have a good memory for faces. I’ve spent many years amusing myself with research, investigating small mysteries, absorbing knowledge. You can discover almost anything on the internet, if you know where to look.”
“So you have magical internet hacking skills?”
“Hardly. I found a band photo online, and I tracked you from there. You should have used a stage name, Rook McQueen.”
“That’s really creepy.”
She shrugged—her only response.
“You keep mentioning your father,” he said. “What does your mother think of all this?”
“Nothing. She died when I was an infant.”
Rook looked out over the auction floor. His father had taken his seat up on the dais between Butch, their auctioneer, and Amber, the office manager. Father didn’t need to be up there for the auction to run smoothly, but he always was, unless he was absolutely needed elsewhere. He teased and joked with the audience, and the friendly rapport often helped drive prices. The higher the prices, the more the seller earned—and the more the house kept.
Knight and Bishop had joined Devlin and Winston Burke by the tables to work as runners, buyers were taking their seats, and everyone seemed primed to go. He knew this performance by heart and he hated being apart from it.
Brynn’s scent shifted, drawing closer, and he startled when she stepped up to the window, keeping a good two-arm’s reach of distance between them. Her presence rippled over him as though she’d caressed his skin. He’d never felt anything like it. Had she felt it, too, or was it all his imagination?
“What’s happening down there?” she asked.
Rook arched an eyebrow at her. “You’ve never been to an auction?”
“Just asking.” Her bristling over the simple question was kind of cute, and he couldn’t resist asking another. “Don’t they have auctions where you grew up?”
“Of course they did,” she replied to the window glass. “Auctions simply weren’t something my father was interested in, so I never attended one.”
“Too busy with his Magi friends to take his daughter on a field trip?”
Rook didn’t expect her to agree with his comment so fast, and it left him grasping for words. She hadn’t sounded angry or insulted by her father’s lack of attention—resigned was more like it. Coming in second was simply part of her life. Unlike Rook, who could always count on his father’s attention whenever he needed it (and often when he didn’t want it).
“Did you ever do anything fun with your father?” Rook asked.
Brynn flashed him a hard stare, and he realized her eyes were a striking shade of blue. “My father . . .” She looked down at her feet before returning her gaze to Rook. The scent of fear had faded. “He has time for little beyond the Congress of Magi, and that’s simply the way it is. It’s the way it’s always been. Perhaps my childhood isn’t to your liking, but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t make fun of me.”
“Hey.” Rook held up his hands in a gesture of surrender, impressed by the way she’d held her ground and snapped at him. Wilting flowers were not attractive, and without the others around, Brynn Jones was definitely coming out of her shell. “I wasn’t making fun of you. Swear. I’m just curious. I mean, you went to a lot of trouble to find me because you think I’m going to kill a man I don’t know, and who doesn’t seem to give you the time of day.”
She crossed her arms over her chest, and light glinted off the large blue stone of her ring. “No matter how you see our relationship, he’s still my father.”
Rook got that. No matter how many times he argued with Bishop or with his father, they were still his family and he’d do anything to protect them. Still . . . “He didn’t believe you about your vision.”
“All that matters is I believe it, and that you—” She snapped her jaw shut, then looked out over the floor, where Knight was holding up a tray of ruby Depression glass candy dishes.
Rook wasn’t letting her not finish that sentence. “That I what? Don’t go all loup-rage and kill your old man? Done. I don’t spend much time away from Cornerstone nowadays, so tell him to keep his Magus nose out of our town and we’re golden. Problem solved.”
“It’s not that easy, Mr. McQueen.”
“Rook. And why isn’t it that easy?”
“Because I don’t know if the vision is supposed to happen next week or next year, and the location is so unclear.”
His father’s request rang in Rook’s head. “Can you describe it to me? The place where you saw this happen?”
“The woods. All I can really see are trees and brush. No snow, so I don’t think it’s winter, but there aren’t a lot of fallen leaves, either.”
“Well, it’s August eighth now, so if the vision comes true this year, it’ll happen before October. That’s usually when the leaves change around here.”
“So what else?”
“What else can you tell me about the vision? I’m featured in it, so I’d like to know exactly what’s going on.”
Brynn looked away from the window and, for an instant, her guard was down. Her naked expression held confusion and grief, as well as something he’d bet was relief. Relief, maybe, to be talking about her vision with someone who believed her. She looked so young and twice as beautiful, and he once again fought the urge to reach out and touch her. Hug her. Hold her until she felt safe. An odd reaction to a woman who was, by her Magi blood alone, his enemy.
Rook had dated before, and he’d been attracted to different girls in college, but this pull he felt toward Brynn wasn’t like those other times. It was stronger, more focused. He didn’t understand the difference between then and now—only that anything beyond friendship with Brynn was hopeless anyway. She was a Magus.
As Brynn’s emotional guard went back up, she began to speak. “The vision only lasts a few seconds. It’s more like a snapshot of a moment than a show of action. I always see my father on the forest floor in a pool of blood, blood on his clothes and his face, his chest torn up.” She cleared her throat. “He’s pale and still, and the damage is so terrible that he must be dead. His skin is . . . flayed. And you’re kneeling next to him, bending over him, his blood coating your hands. I can only see the right side of your face.”
Rook’s stomach rumbled uneasily at the descriptions. He needed more details than that, though. “Did you see any sort of weapon?”
“Not that I noticed.”
The lack of weapon ruled out him murdering the man in his human skin. That sort of physical damage could be caused by a loup garou in beast form, especially if the loup was provoked into a rage, but skin needed a weapon to tear up flesh like that. Rook was strong, but he wasn’t that strong. And something else occurred to him. “This may sound odd, but was I clothed?”
Brynn’s eyebrows drew together. “Clothed?”
“In the vision. What was I wearing?”
She closed her eyes as though trying to summon up her memory of the event. “Jeans, I think. And a light-colored t-shirt that had some blood splattered on it. I could see your tattoos much as they are now.”
Relief floated through Rook like a wave of cool air, and he smiled. “Good.”
“Good? What do your clothes have to do with anything?”
“Timing. You didn’t see a weapon—”
“You could have tossed it.”
Rook rolled his eyes. “In the woods so close to the body? Even if I was to kill a man, I’m not stupid enough to leave the murder weapon behind.”
Brynn lifted her eyebrows, but didn’t reply.
“Without a weapon, I couldn’t have killed your father like you described without being in my beast form, not with those kinds of wounds. And even if I’d just killed a man as beast and shifted back to skin, there are two other things wrong with your scenario.”
“Which are what?”
“First, beasts fight more with their teeth than their paws, so I’d have blood all over my face, not my hands. Plus the wounds would have been around his neck, not his chest. And second, even if by some chance I actually had attacked him and was stopping to make sure he was dead, I probably wouldn’t have taken the time to get dressed first. I’d have checked, grabbed my clothes if they were nearby, and bolted.”
Brynn’s lips had parted as he began, and by the time he finished, her mouth was open, jaw working, trying to reply. Her eyes unfocused as she considered his words. Everything he’d said was completely true. Mostly. If he’d wanted to kill a man as beast, then the man would be dead; he’d have no reason to stop and double-check. He just couldn’t make himself say that to Brynn. It made him sound like a cold-blooded killer. And he wasn’t.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is the first of a new werewolf PNR series by Kelley Meade. I loved this book. I loved that the werewolf lore is different from anything that we've ever read in the past. Here, black wolves are born alphas. White wolves have a calming power to the pack (think Alpha & Omega series by Patricia Briggs if you've read it). Then there are grey wolves, which is where the vast majority of the population lies. The weird thing in Cornerstone, is that Rook is born a black wolf after his brother, a grey wolf, has been training to be alpha for many years. Grey wolves can be alphas, but usually only if a black wolf isn't available. Our heroine is a mage and they are enemies of the wolves. She goes to Cornerstone to confront Rook after she had a vision of him standing over her dead father covered in blood. She quickly learns that Rook had no plans to kill her father and that there was a misunderstanding. But a mage and vampires appear to be killing packs. They must work together to save everyone. Can't wait to read book two and even more, book three. I really want to read more about the white wolves.
Our review, by LITERAL ADDICTION's Vivacious Valkyrie - Marta: *Copy gifted in exchange for an honest review A new name to me and this is the first book in the Cornerstone Run trilogy. If you enjoy reading about wolf shifters, vampires and those with the power of Magic with a dash of romance then be sure to snap this up. An intruiging beginning to a world that twists and turns this looks set to be a very original and imaginative set of books and it's a delight to just dig in and wallow in this authors imagination. Brynn is a Magus but as she's the second child her precognitive ability is quite weak and unpredictable . Brynn has grown up feeling very much an embarrassment to her powerful father but when she has a vision of him dying at the hands of one of the infamous loupe garou she refuses to just ignore it. She tracks down Rook the wolf from her vision but he's not the cold blooded murderer she expected and in fact she nearly kills him! Struggling to set differences aside there's just something about Brynn that Rook finds tantalising but Brynn is a very special type of woman. As the youngest son of the Alpha Rook has responsibilities but before he can find out what really makes Brynn tick there's a massacre that pulls Rook and his brothers Bishop and Knight into a world of danger. The events that follow will change everything the shifters had believed! I found this to be fresh and completely different to other paranormal books out there. It is technically I suppose a paranormal romance, but it's easy to see that this author has a foot in urban fantasy. There's a lot of world building taking place here and arcs are being laid down that will surely be followed up in subsequent books. This is certainly a book that paints the wolf shifters in a good light but I'm keen to see more from the Magi and Vampire community as our heroine is a Magus and I've had liked to see more interaction with her peers. Speaking of heroines, Brynn is quite a remarkable young woman. She has spent almost her entire life subjugated and often belittled and yet she has the strength to search out the wolves alone and quite literally beard them in their den! I have to admire her loyalty and commitment to her father even though it would seem he doesn't really deserve it. Rook is at a crossroads in his life as his entire future is in the balance. He is the youngest son of the Alpha and yet as a black wolf is perceived as one of the strongest and amidst all that turmoil he finds Brynn , a woman his pack would reject but whose very essence calls to him. This book was a revelation . I never knew just what would happen next or how it would end and I loved that it wasn't predictable . Brynn deserves love and Rook is just so sweet with her. It's not the sexiest book I've read but that does not diminish the romance in any way. The supporting characters are so interesting and it's quite intense at times. Two more brothers left to find their happy ending but this story set amongst the loup garou is far from done. I look forward very much to the next book and hope that the author treats us to Bishop's story soon but confess to a soft spot for Knight! Recommended!
When a series leaves you wanting more; you know its a great read
Brynn Atwood, is the second child of a powerful Magus and leader, and as such, she is considered weak with little power...but she has one that is powerful ,she can see visions of the future. When she sees a vision of her father dead and a man, Rook Mcqueen, with her fathers blood on him, she knows he must be the killer and must find him first before he can get to her father. So she heads to Cornerstone, and some truths become unraveled and she learns that he isn't her fathers killer. As they join forces to find out what is really going on, they find answers to questions that only lead to more questions, as they search for the real truth, a powerful desire builds between Brynn and Rook, and soon Rook will have to decide what is more important his status as Alpha of the pack, or Brynn as his mate... After reading a review and recommendation from a friend, I began to see that I really needed to pick this one up. So I did, and I was so stunned by how well I enjoyed this one. I wasn't sure how I would, considering this is a new author for me, but Black Rook was tantalizing and intense and packed with everything I expect in a steamy shifter romance and then some. This isn't just a shifter romance, it does have some additions paranormal elements mixed in there, and it really adds some dramatic flair to the plot. The author does a stunning job of describing the world she has created, and the way that she stuns us with the creative scenes and the in depth characters. The story begins with a misunderstanding, and what a misunderstanding, the heroine here well she has courage...willing to die to save the father that has never cared much for her. I loved her tenacity and courage, she has that inner strength that you can't help but admire. She has 'balls" that is for sure, she surely knows how to carry how a task that she puts her mind to. You see how she grows in this story, and I loved seeing her change into a woman of sacrifice and doing what is right even if its hurts the ones you love. Rook, is not the first child, but because he is a black wolf, he can be alpha if he desires. He has worked hard, to prove himself to be the obvious choice. He knows that he would be a leader and a good one. But when Brynn lands in his lap, his priorities change, one to where pursuing her earnestly with honest intent is more important than being the alpha. Their relationship from working together, turns into a slow courtship. They have sparks from the beginning, but not just physically, the author does a wonderful job in creating a bond between them that goes deeper than sex. (Although those parts were pretty sexy and fun), but we also see the development of their relationship, emotionally. This first book in the series, sets the stage for the rest of the series, where we find out that there are some villains, that are dangerous, and it will take a miracle for them to come out alive. I so enjoyed the action, the suspense, the sensuality, the focus on their intimate relationship, and the bond between the brothers, and the way that this story was written was sexy, sensual and stunning in detail. A must read for paranormal romance lovers!!!
The Cornerstone Run Trilogy was a wonderful series. I enjoyed "Black Rook". I liked the relationship between the brothers as well as their relationship with the women in their life. I am waiting for the 2nd and 3rd book in the series.
This is the first of the trilogy, A Cornerstone Run and is a fantastic series. This series features brothers Bishop, Knight and Rook who are full blood Weres. The characters, both male and female, are well thought out, strong, funny, courageous. I will not give out the plot, but if you are into paranormal romance and mystery, this is the series.
When Brynn gets a vision of her fathers murder she knows she has to stop it, even if her father thinks her visions are unreliable and useless! She sees the face of his attacker and now has to go about finding him. When she finds that he is a Loup Garou named Rook McQueen and he lives in a Loup Garou safe village she has no choice but to stop him. Heading into a village filled with Loup Garou should terrify Brynn but she has a job to do. She is wearing an amulet to mask her Magus scent and she has the ring that will kill this Rook person if she finds he is guilty. She should be fine, right!! Wrong. What happens next sets off a string of incidents that she has no control over. Brynns life as she knew it is gone and she is thrown into Rooks life with a bang. When I started this I didn't know what to expect as I hadn't heard of it before. Well all I can say is wow! This grabbed me from the very first page and didn't let go. I love those McQueen brothers!! From the start you see that Brynn is an amazing heroine. Despite being a laughing stock of the Magus because she doesn't have many abilities, she is strong, determined, loyal and totally kick ass. Her father treats her badly but yet she goes into a village of Loup Garou just to stop the vision. From the start I immediately liked her. Then we have the McQueen Brothers!! *Sigh*. Bishop is the oldest and has been training since he was young to become Alpha, Knight is a rare White Wolf and is emphatic and the glue that stabilizes the whole group. Rook is the youngest but he is a Black Wolf and first in line to inherit the Alpha title if he wishes. Usually the first born is a black wolf but not for them. Rook struggles with the decision of becoming Alpha or not. Bishop has been training for it all his life so what right has he to take it off him. I loved the whole mythology of the Loup Garou and loved how the author put her own spin on the werewolf genre. There are so many werewolf books out there that its hard to create your own niche in it but Kelly Meade has managed to. She has created a world that I know I will revisit time and time again!! I also loved how she named the characters after chess pieces because the whole book is full of moves and counter moves that have characters constantly shifting. It truly is a master piece!! So overall I fell in love with this world and all the people in it. I loved the brothers and Im glad to see that it looks like each brother gets his story. Personally I cant wait for Knights one, he stole a piece of my heart. Everything about Black Rook was amazing, from the colourful characters to the fast paced plot, it is a must read. Its a breathtakingly action packed book. The romance is slow to get going but I loved that fact. I loved how they took time to think things through despite their sizzling chemistry. Parts of the book broke my heart and parts had me on the edge of my seat! I flew through this and I absolutely cant wait for the next installment!! Highly recommend :)