Read an Excerpt
"Missing? The show starts in fifteen minutes. What do you mean he's missing?" Elena Cabrera stared at her older sister, Joy, who worked part-time helping Elena run her nightclub. Even dressed in a black silk evening gown, per Fantasies' strict dress code, Joy managed to look nurturing rather than sexy, something that irked her to no end.
"No one can find him." Joy twisted her hands. "I even called his grandmother's apartment. His brother said he hadn't seen him since yesterday."
They both knew it was only a ten-minute walk from the apartment to Fantasies. Damien usually enjoyed the exercise.
Elena struggled to hold back panic. Ever since she'd seen a man she'd trusted change into something else, her world had been shaky. If men could become beasts shuddering, she pushed away the thought. If she kept worrying about it, soon she'd be scrutinizing everyone, looking for signs that they were like Charles Watkins.
"I'm worried." Elena bit her lip. "This is so not like him. Damien's reliable."
"Damien's weird. And now, he's disappeared," Joy repeated. "Ever since you fired Dr. Watkins, all the employees have been restless."
"Restless?" This was the first she'd heard about that. "What do you mean?"
Joy shrugged. "Unsettled. Uneasy. I've even heard them mention something about discrimination."
Discrimination? Elena nearly snorted. As if one could discriminate against a monster! Of course, her sister didn't know about Watkins. Elena hadn't told anyone what she'd seen. If she had, the men in white coats would be coming for her with a straitjacket. "I didn't fire him. After all, he didn't work for me."
"Same difference. You let him run his clinic here. Then you two fought." Joy crossed her arms. "And he disappeared." Leaning close, she eyed her sister. "I know there's something you're not telling me."
Oh, was there ever. But no way could Elena ever reveal the truth. Werewolves didn't exist. Or did they?
Belatedly she realized Joy's frown had deepened. "Elena, what really happened with you two?"
"Nothing. We dated a few times. Nothing serious." He'd only told her he loved her, and then shown her what he could become. For a man who preferred to be called by his last name, he'd moved into intimacy fast.
Joy knew how Elena felt about rash decisions. After all, Elena still blamed herself for their younger cousin's death years ago when they'd all been children. Though the family had told her repeatedly over the years that there'd been nothing she could have done to save him, she still carried the guilt inside her. Never mind that he'd been born with an undetected congenital heart defect the fact that she'd been playing tag with him when he collapsed made her believe she'd inadvertently killed him.
Elena had been a solemn child, a studious teenager, determined to make no waves, cause no one pain. She'd shunned casual affairs, eschewed dating, preferring her studies instead. She'd been the first in her family to graduate from high school as valedictorian, the first to attend college.
Then her aunt had died and, to the surprise of everyone, left Fantasies to Elena. Though running a male strip club had been a far cry from the career she'd planned in medicine, Elena had felt this was another way to atone for the loss of her cousin, that same aunt's son. She'd dropped out of college and taken over Fantasies, where she strived to be a friend and/or mother figure to all her employees.
Blinking, she forced her thoughts back to the present. "We can talk about Watkins later. I'm seriously worried about Damien. Something must have happened to him." Werewolf attack? "He's never been late before."
"Maybe he went looking for Dr. Watkins."
Elena stared. "Why would he do that?"
"They were friends. A lot of the dancers liked him. Since no one's heard from him, maybe Damien thought he could find him."
Picking up the phone, Elena dialed the front desk. One of the hostesses answered. "Any sign of Damien?"
"No, Miss Elena. He hasn't checked in. I talked with Bob a couple of minutes ago and he hasn't seen him, either."
Bob was her full-time security guard. An ex-cop, he patrolled the place as if he were guarding a harem. Which he was, in a way. Did Bob know about Watkins? Was Bob like Watkins? She had to stop. If she kept thinking like this, she'd drive herself crazy.
"Call me if he shows," Elena ordered.
After hanging up, she fished her cell phone from her pocket and scrolled down until she saw Damien's name. This time, she let it ring twenty-two times. No answer. She knew they didn't have an answering machine. Mama DeLeon must not be near the phone.
"Damn it!" She frowned at Joy. It was Monday night, the slowest of the week, but still, the show must go on. "Tell Ryan and the rest of the guys to move up their spots to cover Damien's."
Joy nodded. "What are you going to do?" She checked her watch. "We open in fifteen minutes."
"Find him, of course. Watch things for me." Already moving, Elena snatched her sweater off the back of her chair as she headed out the door.
Because Fantasies opened at nine, the late-March sky had already turned black. The cool air felt good, so she tied the sweater around her waist. Dirty streetlights illuminated her small parking lot as she crossed the aisles, heading toward the sidewalk.
Her stilettos tapped the concrete. Her long, maroon evening gown would have looked completely out of place, if people hadn't known who she was. But this block of downtown Dallas completely emptied after the office workers went home, and most visitors to the area were there for her club.
Elena focused on her goal. She had to find Damien. The youngest of her dancers, he was more like an adopted son than an employee.
Damien's mother had been a hard-core crack addict. His father had been in the penitentiary since before Damien's birth, and Damien lived with his grandmother, a kindhearted, elderly woman known as Mama DeLeon. Damien had been broke, afraid and strung out when he'd stumbled into the back door of her club looking for a handout.
Becoming first his friend, then a mother figure, Elena knew Damien would never skip out on her. He'd call if he couldn't make it. Something was wrongshe only hoped whatever it was wasn't as bad as her overactive imagination conjured up.
She kept seeing Watkins, his body changing, his bones becoming different shapes, his skin growing a covering of dark hair. No longer human, but wolf.
A werewolf. Watkins had been an honest-to-God werewolf. She shuddered. Damien had hung around him. She couldn't help but wonder if werewolves ate humans. For Damien's sake, she hoped not.
Damien's grandmother's apartment was four blocks from Fantasies. Though the area got rougher away from the club, she wasn't worried. Everyone around here knew her, and those who didn't soon learned the others watched out for her. Anyone noting her long-legged stride could see she had a destination, a purpose. No one would mess with her.
Intent on her goal, crossing the deserted street, she didn't notice the black Mercedes swerving around the curve. Neither she nor the car hesitated, only missing a beat at the moment of impact, the force of which flung her onto the hood of the Mercedes hard enough to crack the windshield.
Christ! Dr. Jared Gies never saw the woman, not until the instant his right front bumper caught her squarely in the hip. He slammed on his brakes but it was too lateshe'd been doomed from the second she'd stepped in front of his car.
His fault. He'd been driving too fast, intent on too much else but the roadhell hounds! He was a doctor. Sworn to save and heal, not kill. If he'd killed this woman he might as well take a gun to his own head. He hadn't hit her that hard, had he? Had he?
Pulling over to the curb, he climbed from his car, grabbed his cane and rushed to her crumpled body. Don't let her be dead, don't let her be dead repeated over and over inside his head, a frantic litany.
Sometimes being a medical doctor had its pluses, even if he hadn't done emergency-room work in years. He located a pulse and then began checking for broken bones. The possibility of internal injuries he could do nothing about now. Not here, not without X-rays and CTs and MRIs.
She was alive. No doubt the impact had given her a concussion, but miraculously he saw no obvious injuries. He needed to get her to the hospital immediately. Standing, he glanced around for help.
No one. The accident hadn't drawn one single bystander. Without witnesses, he had no way to prove she'd stepped right in front of his car and that hitting her had been unavoidable. Figured. His normal lack of luck, rearing its ugly head.
He should have gone the direct route to Fantasies from the freeway, but he'd wanted to check out the area. His bad luck. And hersthe woman he'd hit.
But she was alive. Her pulse was steady, normal even. Her breathing was fine, not labored or shallow. Excellent signs.
Pulling his cell phone from his pocket, he flipped it openand realized the battery had gone dead. "Damn it." He must have forgotten to charge the stupid thing. Unlike most other men he knew, electronics never worked for him. Everything either ran down or blew up, and he lacked the patience to make repairs.
Cursing, he shoved the phone back in his jacket pocket. Okay, fine. He didn't need paramedics anywayhe was a doctor after all. He'd take care of this quietly, without incident. No way this patienter, womanwas dying on him. He wasn't about to add murder to his extensive litany of sins.
With the dispassionate gaze of a seasoned physician, he looked her over. Why was a beautiful woman in an evening gown strolling the sidewalks downtown at night?
Hah. Why else? Cynical, he let his gaze roam over her, taking in her tiny waist and high breasts. She was Hispanic, lovely, and damned if something about her didn't look familiar. Since lately he'd avoided the hospital like the plague and hadn't seen any patients just before the hospital administrators suspended him, he knew he hadn't diagnosed her at the hospital. They assigned him only the weird cases, the ones no one else could figure out. He tended to remember those.
Then why ? No. He did a double take. What the hell? Her. The very woman he'd come looking for. He recognized her from Fantasies's Web site photos. Elena Cabrera herself. And he'd managed to run her down. Stone-cold sober, too.
Could fate slap him in the face any harder?
Again he studied her. She was more beautiful than he'd expectedthe photographs didn't do her justice. On the Web, she'd looked merely attractive. But now, under the soft glow of the streetlight, her thick, dark hair complemented her creamy, olive skin. Even unconscious, in person she was compellingly beautiful.
Inside, his wolf stirred, restless. Shockedhe hadn't felt his alter ego at all in the weeks since he'd completed his court-ordered rehabhe rocked back on his heels.
Could it be he was ready to try and change? What was it about Elena Cabrera that brought his wolf self to life?
Staring at her, something clicked inside him. For the space of a heartbeat, he felt the oddest sense of connection, as though he'd been waiting for this woman his entire life.
Wha ? He snorted. Those stupid rose-colored glasses they'd forced on him in rehab must have rubbed off after all.
She was nothing to him. He didn't know her, had never met her, and if she seemed amazingly attractive, it was only his libido talking. Too bad she wasn't a prostitute. He hadn't had sex since before he'd entered rehab and gone clean.
Nor would he. Yet. Until he could find one of his own kind, willing to have a bit of recreational sex, he'd stay celibate. Relationships with humans were too damn messy. His life was complicated enough without adding that to the mix, thank you.
And this woman was definitely human.
She moaned, her eyelids fluttering.
Inside, his wolf whimpered.
Weird. Rubbing the back of his neck, he suppressed the ever-constant urge to pop a pill. He often wondered why no one else seemed to realize that life was a lot stranger without the numbing haze of pain meds.
Again she stirred. He slid his hand under her head, willing her to wake. "It's all right," he soothed. "I'm a doctor. You're safe."
"Who are you?" Long-lashed eyes the color of caramel stared at him, blinking in confusion. She lifted her small hand, placing her fingers along his jaw, making him shudder. "What happened?"
"Don't move." Gently he removed her hand and restrained her. "You were hurt. I don't know how badly."
"I'm fine." Pushing him away, she tried to sit up. When her third try failed, he grabbed her elbow to help her, his heart hammering in his throat as her velvet gaze met his.
"Do I know you?" she asked. "You look familiar."