Hunter Reborn (Moon Shifter Series #5)

Hunter Reborn (Moon Shifter Series #5)

by Katie Reus

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Overview

The thrilling new Moon Shifter novel from New York Times bestselling author Katie Reus.

Losing her was the hardest thing he’d ever endured....

Warrior shifter Aiden’s investigation of the trafficking of vampire blood leads to a startling discovery: the beautiful vampire bondmate he thought was dead. Decades ago, they’d defied their powerful families to be together, but then Larissa disappeared without a trace. When their mating link broke, it nearly destroyed Aiden. Now she’s back with no memory of where she’s been. Even more shattering—Larissa claims she has no idea who Aiden is.

Now she’s back....

It’s a race against time to bring down an operation more evil than his pack ever suspected, and Aiden finds himself working side by side with a mate who no longer trusts him—and she wants out. But he lost her once, and he won’t let her go again. Unfortunately, Larissa’s blood is the key to a powerful monster’s dangerous plan—and he’ll stop at nothing to destroy her, sparking off a war between the supernaturals and humans that no one will win.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780451417961
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/03/2015
Series: Moon Shifter Series , #5
Pages: 368
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.50(h) x 3.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Katie Reus is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Deadly Ops series, which began with Targeted, as well as the Moon Shifter series. She has a degree in psychology and lives near Biloxi, Mississippi, with her husband, who was a Marine scout/sniper and currently works as a police officer and SWAT team sniper.

Read an Excerpt

PRAISE FOR THE MOON SHIFTER SERIES

Also by Katie Reus

SIGNET ECLIPSE

Chapter 1

Aiden leaned against the front door of the SUV, arms crossed over his chest, as he waited for some of his other packmates to join him. Connor, Jayce, Erin, and Noah had already left for Winston-Salem, which was only a couple of hours away. Barely. With the aggressive way Erin drove they’d probably arrive sooner than expected.

At the soft sound of approaching footsteps, he straightened. When he saw Teresa enter the parking structure, he grinned. Her knee-high heeled boots barely made a sound on the hard ground as she strode toward the SUV.

Her dark eyes flashed in annoyance when they landed on him, the normally indiscernible flecks of amber seeming brighter under the soft glow of the moonlight streaming in through the skylights. “Don’t even start,” she growled. The petite dark-haired shifter clenched her jaw tightly as she eyed him.

“Start what? You look hot. . . . Did Natalia dress you?” he asked teasingly, knowing it was probably the truth.

“I wish I could be offended, but yes. She left this dress plus a threatening note on my bed that I’d better be wearing this tonight.” Teresa looked down at herself, then grimaced. She had on a short leather jacket over the dress that did little to hide how fitted it was. “Do I . . . look ridiculous?”

Aiden was surprised by the very real thread of insecurity that rolled off her. Teresa was truly a beautiful woman, but a sharp scent spiked in the air. The female was closer in age to Ana, her cousin and their pack Alpha’s mate, so he knew she was around seventy—even though she looked like she was in her twenties. As lupine shifters they aged a hell of a lot slower than their human counterparts. But Teresa had been born in a different time, unlike her younger sisters, and he’d never seen her in anything other than jeans, T-shirts, and work boots.

“No, you look—”

“What the hell are you wearing?” Ryan called out as he entered the parking structure, Kat hot on his heels.

The four of them were heading to Winston-Salem together as part of their pack’s recon mission of a supernatural club they suspected of trafficking vampire blood. Aiden loved Ryan like a brother, but he wanted to beat the shit out of him for the stricken look he’d just put on Teresa’s face. The warrior male was a computer genius but when it came to Teresa, he was an idiot.

She paled and looked down at the impossibly tight black dress that was secured by some sort of chain thing around the back of her neck. It hung a little looser around her chest—Aiden was pretty sure that was called a cowl—showing off all sorts of cleavage he knew Ryan didn’t want the world to see. But Ryan was too big of a coward to make a move on Teresa and Aiden wasn’t going to let the bastard hurt her feelings because of some territorial vibe the guy had going on over her.

Aiden whirled on the tall cowboy. “What the fuck’s your problem? Teresa looks like sex on heels so pull that stick out of your ass.” Without waiting for a response, he opened the back door to the SUV and motioned to Teresa. “Come on, sweetheart, you can sit in my lap. We need to get ready for our role as a couple. It probably wouldn’t hurt if we kissed as practice—”

On an angry growl, Ryan dropped the bag he was carrying and rushed him, claws already unsheathed. Teresa let out a yelp as Kat dragged her out of the way. Aiden had been ready for the attack. He didn’t want Teresa in a sexual way—he didn’t want any female other than the one he’d lost—but he liked to rile up his jackass packmates fighting their mating instinct. Ryan had a future mate literally dropped into his lap but the male was too damn stubborn to embrace the gift he’d been given with Teresa. For that alone Aiden wanted to slice him up. Provoking him allowed Aiden to let loose his beast.

Aiden didn’t try to avoid the attack, but embraced Ryan’s tackle. Letting the other lupine grab him, Aiden slammed his fist into Ryan’s ribs. As he started pummeling his packmate, Ryan turned and slammed an elbow across Aiden’s face.

Instead of fighting the pain, he savored it. Nothing could compare to the agony he’d been carrying around for decades. He might put on a happy face for packmates, but every morning he woke up and that invisible knife embedded in his chest was still there.

Time was supposed to lessen the pain of loss. Or at least that’s the bullshit he’d been told. And that’s exactly what it was. Bullshit. Time just made it worse. He died a little every fucking day. Right now he wanted to make someone else hurt and Ryan was a convenient target.

Rolling into the face slam, he came back strong, plowing his other fist across Ryan’s jaw. His packmate flew back against the SUV with a loud thud, but bounced back immediately.

Before Aiden could attack him again, something hard slammed against the side of his head. What the hell? He turned to see Kat with a long wooden sparring stick in her hands.

Ryan laughed, then held up his hands protectively as Kat brought down the stick on him too. It rapped against his knuckles, making the other male cry out in annoyance.

“What the hell is wrong with you two? We’ve got shit to do and you’re acting like cubs!” Kat held the sparring stick firmly in one hand as she glared at both of them.

She’d been turned only a few months ago and was just in her twenties. She was young by human and shifter standards. Considering both he and Ryan were close to two hundred years old, their behavior was that much more shameful.

Out of the corner of his eye Aiden kept tabs on Ryan, but watched Kat warily. He deserved everything she had to dish out. They shouldn’t have been fighting right before a mission. Before either of them could respond, she held up a hand in warning.

“I don’t even want to hear it! Both of you, get in the car. Ryan, front seat, Aiden back seat with Teresa. I am driving.”

Aiden could tell Ryan wanted to argue, but he nodded instead. His expression dark, the other shifter grabbed the laptop bag he’d dropped and rounded the vehicle without looking at Teresa. Aiden, however, wrapped an arm around her shoulders and squeezed. She looked close to tears, but she didn’t say anything as she got in before him.

Most of his male packmates thought he was a flirt and a player. Nothing could be further from the truth. He just hated seeing any female in pain, especially someone as sweet as Teresa.

The drive to Winston-Salem was long and awkward. Thankfully Kat turned on the radio, but that was pretty much the only conversation. Normally they all played around with one another, but after what had happened, Aiden wasn’t surprised at the silence. He also wasn’t sorry for what he’d instigated.

He was fucking tired of scenting Teresa’s pain whenever Ryan gave her the cold shoulder or said something to hurt her feelings. It didn’t even matter that it was unintentional. The thing was, Ryan was one of the most decent males that Aiden knew. He’d taken in an abandoned cub and adopted him as his own. And it was clear he had feelings—strong ones—for Teresa. It wasn’t like he went out of his way to hurt her, but it seemed like he did more often than not lately.

“We’re almost there,” Ryan said quietly as he clacked away at his laptop. He was going to stay behind and monitor their movements in the secret club that catered to supernaturals.

Most of the others had already arrived and planned to break in to the nonpublic area of the place, but Aiden, Teresa, and Kat were going to infiltrate the club and place hidden cameras wherever they could. Natalia was meeting them there and she and Teresa were going to be more of a distraction than anything, if necessary. It was why Teresa was dressed so skimpily.

Without turning around, Ryan reached back and held out two small earpieces. One for Aiden and one for Teresa. The technology was impressively small and undetectable to the eye because of how they settled in the ear canal. Everyone had already tested these so they were ready to go once Kat parked.

The energy in the SUV shifted as they continued down a long dirt path surrounded by woods on either side. It was time to work and everyone knew it. No matter what conflict Aiden had with Ryan at the moment, he wasn’t worried about his packmate being unprofessional. Up ahead, Aiden could see the taillights of another vehicle that must have turned off the highway before they had.

Once they reached the end of the path, it opened up into a giant field where the industrial-building-turned-nightclub sat. High-end vehicles were parked everywhere around the makeshift gravel parking lot.

“Everyone have what they need?” Ryan asked as Kat maneuvered to a dark corner.

The vehicle stopped and they all murmured affirmations. Kat and Teresa each had six small video cameras in the lining of their clutch purses—in case they were searched on the way in. That didn’t seem to be the norm, based on previous experiences, but they weren’t taking any chances this time.

“Everyone, turn on your earpieces,” Ryan said.

Once they made sure they were all on the same feed, everyone opened their doors except for Ryan, who remained glued to his laptop. The rest of the group had gone completely dark per their Alpha’s orders. Connor didn’t want his team to have any distractions or any possible way for them to be discovered. Plus, Jayce and Kat could communicate telepathically, so if there was an emergency Kat would just let the other team know through Jayce.

Teresa hovered outside her door; then her chin tipped up almost mutinously as she slipped her leather jacket off. It was February and freezing cold with a dusting of light snow on the ground, but as shifters they had much higher body temperatures. He knew that wasn’t why Teresa was taking off the jacket though.

Without looking at Ryan, she tossed it onto her seat, then slammed the door. Aiden’s eyes widened when she sauntered away. The back of the dress dipped dangerously low, all the way to the top of her butt. One wrong move and she’d be showing off everything.

Grinning, Aiden threw an arm around her shoulder. Since Ryan could still see them and hear every word they said, he tugged her closer. “You should let Natalia dress you more often,” he murmured.

Teresa nudged him with her elbow, but she smiled. A real one. And that painful scent wasn’t rolling off her anymore. He hated seeing any female in pain and that smile soothed his inner wolf immensely.

As they drew closer to the front doors, he straightened and so did Kat and Teresa. They might be posing as partygoers, but everything about this mission was serious to them. There’d been mass reports of humans doing violent and illegal things while under the influence of vampire blood. The humans—who were still alive—all said they felt as if they weren’t in control of themselves, as if someone else was pulling their strings.

After some research they’d discovered reports of vamp blood deals going down here. Winston-Salem was too damn close to Aiden’s pack’s ranch in Fontana Mountain. And Connor Armstrong wouldn’t let any of that shit encroach on his territory.

Next to Aiden, Teresa pulled her buzzing cell phone out of her pocket. “Natalia’s on her way. She’ll be here in twenty minutes,” she said after glancing at the screen.

“Good—according to Jayce, everyone else is inside. They’re slowly searching the place but haven’t run into any snags,” Kat said.

If they did, at least there was enough of the pack here as backup. With supernatural beings there was never any telling when a threat could escalate out of control. If someone was dealing vamp blood out of this club and they got wind that the Armstrong pack was looking to shut them down, there was no telling what could happen.

Chapter 2

Raw energy hummed through Natalia Cordona as her boots crunched over the gravel of the crude parking lot. There were too many vehicles to count outside the industrial building that had been turned into a club. She was running late because one of her sisters had had some sort of crisis so she’d gotten stuck on the phone. While she loved her sisters, her Alpha Connor had given her a chance to be part of this recon mission and there was no way in hell she wanted to screw this up. Not when she was one of the youngest—translation, coddled—of the pack. As she stepped inside the entryway, she scented another shifter nearby.

Next to a vintage elevator a tall shifter with a military-short buzz cut stood waiting, his arms crossed over his huge chest. He flicked her a quick, dismissive glance.

She frowned as she headed his way. Not standing too close as to crowd his personal space, she didn’t hide that she was studying his profile. He was a lupine like her and there was something oddly familiar about him. Which was strange for her since she hadn’t spent much time off the ranch except for when she’d been away at college.

His jaw clenched once and she realized she’d been staring too hard.

She averted her gaze forward when the elevator jerked to a halt. Even though it looked vintage on the outside, once the doors whooshed open it was all sleek and shiny on the inside. Whoever owned this place had definitely refurbished part of it. Her boots clicked on the flooring, but his were silent.

Natalia couldn’t help another sneak peek at him as they stepped inside. “You look . . . Have we met before? Did you go to Duke?” That was where she’d gone to college. She hated not being able to figure something out, and this guy was seriously making her radar ping.

He snorted and looked at her as if she was disgusting. “Not interested.”

Her eyes widened when she realized what he meant and she laughed. “Go fuck yourself. I wasn’t hitting on you.” That was when it clicked into place. He looked like Jayce-freaking-Kazan, Kat’s mate. “You just look like my friend’s mate Jayce, but . . . okay then, whatever.” She trailed off and turned to face the doors when it was clear that 1) the guy was ignoring her and 2) there was no way Jayce Kazan had any relatives.

Or she didn’t think he did. He’d never mentioned any—not that he would ever have a reason to talk to her in a one-on-one situation. He was hundreds of years older and an enforcer for the Council. But Kat hadn’t said anything either and Natalia and the tall, gorgeous female shifter had become friends ever since she and Jayce had moved permanently to the ranch.

Natalia pulled out her cell phone to text Kat to let her know she’d be arriving in a minute when the elevator jerked to a halt and an alarm blared. Whipping her head around, she glared at the tall jackass who’d pressed the emergency stop. He wasn’t putting off any hostile vibes or attempting to crowd her and it was the only reason she was containing herself. “What’s the matter with you?”

His eyes narrowed. “Did you say Jayce?”

“I swear to God, if you don’t release that button I’m going to flay you alive.” If some asshole thought he could trap her in an elevator he was in for a surprise. She knew she probably shouldn’t have started in with the threats right away but she couldn’t help it. Before her mom died she’d always told her she needed to get ahold of her temper—and her sailor mouth. Natalia didn’t bother trying to watch her mouth. And her temper, hell, she came by that honestly. Her mother had no one to blame but herself for that trait.

Taking her by surprise, the giant shifter’s mouth quirked up. “You’re quick-tempered for such a little thing.”

Her canines and claws descended. “You want to find out what this little thing can do?” She had no idea why she was getting so worked up but this guy was bringing out the crazy in her. She felt edgy and restless being near him. It was unsettling and she didn’t like it.

He let the red button go, but eyed her as the elevator jerked into motion again. “Were you referring to Jayce Kazan a moment ago?” Now he was all politeness and civility. But she wasn’t fooled. This guy was a class A predator. She could see it in every taut line of his muscular body.

The truth was, she hadn’t been hitting on him but now she noticed that he was actually pretty good-looking. Okay, more than pretty good. And for some reason, that annoyed her. “So what if I was?” Turning away from him, she shoved her phone back in her pocket and watched the numbers fly by on the elevator and pretended to ignore him.

“He’s mated?”

God, what rock was this guy living under? Okay, maybe it wasn’t exactly common knowledge so she should give the guy a break, but he rubbed her the wrong way. And he’d been rude to her so he could suck it. She shrugged noncommittally.

The elevator stopped on level nine and she could feel the pulsing beat of the club music even before the doors whooshed open. Hell yeah, time to work. Her entire body hummed with anticipation. She couldn’t believe her Alpha had okayed letting her be part of this mission and there was no way she’d screw it up. She was tired of life on the ranch. Her old Alpha had tried to keep the entire pack sequestered from society, and it wasn’t like she was happy he was dead, but she liked Connor as an Alpha a hell of a lot better. He understood that they needed to interact more with humans and he seemed to genuinely like the other species. She did too. Humans were amazing. They were fragile compared to supernatural beings but so many lived like they’d never die. It was inspiring.

“So what are you doing here by yourself, little wolf?” the guy asked as she stepped out of the elevator.

Immediately she was blasted with too many sensory things. Music, smells, voices . . . it was all so much. This place was supposedly owned by someone supernatural so why did they have the music so loud? With their sensitive hearing it was aggravating. Most supernatural-owned places she’d been to in the past had been conscious of their clientele and kept the music at a lower level.

She glanced up at the male, but didn’t stop walking toward the entrance where a security guy stood next to a roped-off entryway. It actually wasn’t a condescending question—though the “little” part annoyed her. Most shifters traveled in packs so maybe he was just being curious. “I’m not by myself.” Well, she wouldn’t be in a few minutes. She was meeting Aiden, Teresa, and Kat. Jayce, Connor, Erin, and Noah were also here, but they weren’t going to interact with her group. They were doing their own reconnaissance and breaking into the offices and back rooms of this club while she, Aiden, Teresa, and Kat were simply hanging out, drinking and pretending to party while they surveyed the club surroundings. She almost asked this shifter why he was by himself but she didn’t want to open herself up for any more conversation.

The bouncer—who was definitely a vampire—didn’t even card them as they approached, just smelled them. It was subtle but Natalia recognized what he was doing. He gave them a quick nod, then unhooked the heavy, velvet rope and let them pass.

“Let me buy you a drink,” the male said as he kept pace with her.

“No, thank you.” She glanced around the expansive room. It was three stories and the first floor had three bars and a dance floor. High-top tables surrounded three sides of the dance area. From her position she could see private areas on the second floor—which was technically the tenth floor overall of the industrial building. But supposedly no one could get to the lower floors except through internal stairwells from this dance area.

The sectioned-off rooms looked like opera boxes. Some had curtains pulled back, revealing that they were empty, while others blocked whatever was going on inside. Natalia could only guess for what. On the floor above that she saw flashes of purple strobe lights, but glass encased the balcony areas overlooking the first-floor dance area. She couldn’t hear any extra music so maybe that floor was insulated well.

As she scanned the crowd she spotted Aiden and Teresa dancing among the throng of shifters, vamps, fae, and some other creatures whose origins she didn’t even want to guess. Kat was sitting at one of the high-top tables and when she spotted her, the tall female smiled.

The male next to her sighed. “Listen, I just . . . do you seriously know Jayce Kazan?”

Natalia looked at him, assessing him. She had no clue who this stranger was or what his intentions might be and she sure as hell wasn’t leading him to Jayce’s new mate. Kat could take care of herself but Natalia wasn’t going to point her out to anyone. She shrugged. “Kind of. I met him a while ago. It’s not like we hang out or anything. What’s your deal? And what’s your name?”

The male watched her as if he didn’t believe her. Which he shouldn’t since she was lying. Sort of. She’d worded her answer so she wouldn’t put off that metallic scent associated with lies.

“My name’s Aldric.” Now he watched her even more intently, those grayish green eyes turning mercurial. He stared as if he expected some sort of recognition. She just raised her eyebrows, unsure how to respond. She didn’t want to give him her name. After a few long moments, he stepped back. “I’m sorry I bothered you. Enjoy your evening.” Then he disappeared into the crowd.

Natalia watched him walk away, then glanced at Kat. Instead of fighting through the crowds she texted her friend. Something weird just happened. Going to the restroom on the west side. Meet me there in ten minutes.

Kat checked her phone, answered okay, and didn’t look in Natalia’s direction again. They were going to act as if they didn’t know each other. Which was all part of their plan if anything out of the ordinary happened. It wasn’t like her conversation had been particularly strange but it had been odd enough and she wanted to let Kat know. Then Kat could easily let her mate know through their telepathic bondmate link.

This floor of the club was thick with supernatural beings. The scent of sex filled the air and as she walked past the dance floor she realized there were actually people having sex on it. Vamps, of course. Hedonistic maniacs. She shook her head and kept her pace steady, but not too fast as to draw attention to herself.

As she made her way through the crowd she passed a couple of vamp cocktail waitresses on roller skates carrying trays of drinks—some of which she could tell were blood. They wore skirts that might as well be Band-Aids and had little pasties over their nipples. Why even bother wearing them?

At the west side exit, she pushed open a heavy metal door and stepped into a brightly lit hallway. When the door shut, all the sound and scents from before faded. Damn, that was some serious insulation. From the recon her pack had done and the map Ryan had given everyone a couple of days ago to study, she knew there was a bathroom down this hallway on the right side. There were a lot of other doorways though and the pack wasn’t yet sure what was behind them.

She quickly ducked into the bathroom and was relieved to find the three stalls empty. The place was all marble, mirrors, and gold finishing touches. After a few minutes passed she sat on one of the cream tufted settees and checked her phone again. No message. She was supposed to get an earpiece from Kat, but until then she was in the dark.

When she realized she’d been tapping her booted foot against the tile at a rapid rate she forced herself to stop. Another glance at her phone told her ten minutes had passed. Feeling uneasy, she stood and started to head for the door when the sound of a woman screaming outside the bathroom rent the air.

Natalia raced out the door to find a half-naked woman covered in blood running down the hall. Her eyes were wide and her blond hair was tangled all around her face. “Help me!” she screamed.

Out of an instinct to help, Natalia unsheathed her claws. When the human woman saw them, however, she screamed even louder and jerked to a halt. Cringing, Natalia drew them back in and held up her hands to show she meant no harm. “I can help you. What’s—”

She stopped talking as two angry-looking vampires rounded the corner at the end of the hallway, blood dripping down their faces and bare chests. They slowly stalked down the hall, looking like rabid but very deadly predators. Something was wrong with their eyes. They glowed bright amber in the way of vamps, but . . . something was off about both males. She just couldn’t figure out what it was.

Oh, shit.

The woman looked back and forth between the vamps and Natalia, raw fear in her eyes. Natalia wanted to move between the female and the two males but didn’t want to spook her. She held out a hand. “Come to me.” The human just stared at her, as if frozen in a state of shock.

At the sound of a door opening, Natalia swiveled. Her claws once again unsheathed as she turned to face the new danger. Instead of a threat she found Kat slipping into the hallway. Her pale blue eyes widened and went pure wolf as she saw the woman and the vamps. Without pause, she unzipped her black jacket and tossed a blade to Natalia.

With her quick reflexes she caught it midair.

“Take the human to the restroom!” Kat ordered. “Jayce and the others are on their way,” she murmured low enough for only Natalia to hear.

Holding the blade tightly she nodded and faced the human again. “We can help you.”

The female took a jerky step forward, her eyes still wide and a little manic, but it was clear she’d decided to trust them. Probably thought they were the lesser of two evils. Holding out her blade-free hand, Natalia wrapped an arm around the bleeding woman and started to usher her down the hall. As soon as she got her to relative safety she was coming back to help Kat.

She knew for a fact that the enforcer’s mate could take care of herself—she trained with her mate and his enforcers-in-training almost every damn day of the week—but Natalia would do anything to help a packmate and she wouldn’t let Kat fight alone.

As she practically dragged the now-sobbing human down the hallway another door burst open. A male vampire with descended fangs appeared in the doorway. Natalia shoved the human behind her. The vamp moved like the wind, slamming Natalia against the wall.

Her back ached as plaster splintered behind her but before she could move, the vamp’s eyes widened, turning bright amber as he looked down between their bodies.

The blade Kat had given her was embedded in his chest. Natalia shoved forward deeper and twisted it hard. Shock registered on his face—right before he turned to ash.

Chapter 3

Aiden casually leaned back against the edge of one of the polished wooden bars. It was the only one not in use on this floor of the club. He had a drink in one hand as he surveyed their surroundings. Though his stance was casual, he was wound tight.

Kat had disappeared a few seconds ago, telling him and Teresa that she was meeting Natalia in one of the restrooms. He knew Teresa wanted to go because Natalia was her youngest sister, but she’d stayed with him to give Natalia the space she’d been craving. Teresa’s sister was starting to assert her independence and his Alpha wanted to give it to her. Something Aiden respected. Not all Alphas were like that. No, they still had ridiculously archaic ideas about how their pack members, especially the females, should be treated.

Teresa came in from the dance floor after having been dancing with a couple of female vamps, her eyes alert even though she fake-stumbled once for show as she headed toward him. Tonight, they were just partygoers. Technically Aiden could have come in here and put all the cameras in place himself, but without a cover date, he’d known females would have been coming on to him all night. It wasn’t arrogance, just experience. The thought of any strange female sidling up to him made him nauseous and they couldn’t afford to be noticed.

As Teresa reached him, she snuggled in close and wrapped her arms around him as he placed the final video camera on the underside of the lip of the bar. With her covering his movements, there was no way anyone would see what he was doing. The device was small and the same dark color as the bar. Ryan had chosen them specifically for this mission. “Visual?” he asked Ryan through the earpiece once he felt the camera lock into place with the fast-acting adhesive.

“Once Teresa moves . . .”

Teresa gracefully stepped around Aiden, moving to the other side of him where she leaned against the bar next to him. Now that the last camera was in place they didn’t have to playact anymore. She took the same casual pose as Aiden as she watched the dance floor.

“Perfect angle,” Ryan said. “Good work, you guys. When Kat and Natalia get back you all can get out of there.”

With the nearly undetectable cameras in place Ryan would be trying to get shots of anyone and anything they could use to figure out just who the hell was selling some weird type of vamp blood that was having a strange effect on humans. “Kat?” he murmured.

When she didn’t respond, he inwardly frowned. “Can you hear her, Teresa?”

“No.”

“Neither can I,” Ryan muttered. “I think it might be some sort of interference.”

Aiden straightened, ready to go find both her and Natalia. But he wanted Teresa out of there first. “Teresa, why don’t you head out . . .” Aiden trailed off as a flash of dark hair caught his eye.

The blue-black color shimmered under the moving strobe lights. All he could see was the back of the female’s head, but something inside his chest started to tingle.

The sensation was odd, almost painful. Ignoring it, he pushed off the bar, as if pulled toward her by a magnet.

“Aiden?” Teresa asked, her voice filled with concern.

He ignored her and kept walking. Right now he needed to see the woman’s face. His inner wolf clawed at him, more agitated than he’d ever been, demanding that he hunt down the dark-haired female. It didn’t matter that he knew she was dead. That whatever the hell he was thinking was fucking impossible. He was like a puppet on a string as he shoved his way across the dance floor. Or more like a possessed madman.

He could have circled around it, but didn’t want to waste the time. Heart pounding, he pushed right through a vamp couple screwing on the dance floor. The male shouted at him, but Aiden turned on him, canines bared. He was barely leashing his inner wolf at this point.

Whatever he looked like was enough to make the male back off and scramble away. When Aiden looked back across the dance floor, he couldn’t see the female anymore.

No!

A small part of him knew that he was completely risking the mission, but he couldn’t stop his actions. His heart beat out of control and that odd sensation had intensified. It wasn’t just a tingling anymore, but full-fledged adrenaline raging through him, punching out to all his nerve endings like a battering ram. Everything around him was out of focus as his wolf threatened to take over. He’d never been out of control like this. Not even as a cub. The crushing hope intermixed with the agony of reality telling him this wasn’t real. What he was seeing simply couldn’t be. Maybe he was having some sort of breakdown.

As he reached the edge of the dance floor, he jumped onto the nearest high-top table. Oh yeah, his Alpha was going to be pissed about this later, but Aiden didn’t care. He had to find the female. Where had she gone . . . ? His gaze landed on her profile. And there was no mistaking who he was looking at.

Larissa Danesti. His dead bondmate.

Everything around him funneled out as he stared in awe. Even his wolf went completely still for a few heartbeats. Everything around him fell away. The club, the patrons, the scents and sounds, until all he could see was Larissa. Grief tightened his throat. He hadn’t even dared to think her name for over sixty years. It hurt too much.

Her blue-black hair fell in soft waves halfway down her back. Exactly the same length it had been the last fateful day he’d seen her. From one of the purest vampire bloodlines, Larissa was a bloodborn. A daywalker. Impossibly strong.

Both her parents had been royalty and she’d been everything to them. Until he’d come along and she’d dared to sully herself with a mindless animal—as they’d considered him. Royal bloodborns like that considered anyone not a vampire beneath them.

But she’d died. He hadn’t seen it, but he’d felt the bondmate link between them shatter into a million pieces. Even that hadn’t stopped him from searching for her, from following her and hearing from her parents that she was indeed dead. The best part of him had died that day. If he hadn’t joined Connor’s pack when he did, he’d probably be dead by now. He’d been on a dark path of destruction for years after her death and his own demise had been inevitable.

As if she felt his stare, Larissa turned to look at him. The indigo-blue eyes he remembered as being fierce were filled with confusion . . . and fear as they locked on him.

The fear was too much. He tried to take a step forward, but his surroundings rushed back in an instant and that adrenaline surge slammed right into his heart. He wasn’t sure what was happening. All his muscles pulled tight as he half shifted to his lupine form.

Larissa clutched her chest, staring at him as if she didn’t know him. When her eyes rolled back in her head and she collapsed he could feel her pain shooting through him just as agonizing as his own.

Shit. It was the bonding link clicking back into place. He had no doubt in his mind that was what had happened. He might not know how the fuck it had happened, but that wasn’t some look-alike. The female was Larissa.

His.

His wolf clawed at him, demanding he go to her, protect her. He was in complete agreement. His clothes tore and he cried out in pain, but it was more of a growl as he tumbled from the table. He barely felt it as he slammed against the hard floor. Writhing in pain as he struggled for control of his wolf, he was vaguely aware of the music shutting off and everyone around them scattering.

Except Teresa.

She was there, staring down at him in concern as she spoke to someone. Must be Ryan. Or maybe Kat.

“We have a big problem,” Teresa said, as if from the other end of a tunnel.

He ignored his packmate.

Right now he didn’t care about anything or anyone but his bondmate. He needed to get to Larissa. Forcing himself to sit up, he took a deep breath and got his wolf under control. The fur that had sprouted on his hands receded. For a moment he was completely in charge. That adrenaline rush that had spiked in his system was evening out.

Until a male picked Larissa up from the club floor. Daring to touch what was Aiden’s.

Then he lost his shit.

Giving up control to his beast, he roared in rage. Though it felt like an eternity, only seconds passed as his bones shifted and realigned and his wolf took over. By now everyone had been smart enough to scatter.

Except the stupid vamp trying to take Larissa away. He held her limp body in his arms, using her as a shield as he slowly tried to step backward.

There was nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. Keeping a pulse on his surroundings so he wouldn’t be ambushed, Aiden stalked toward the male and Larissa. He swatted a stool out of the way with a large front paw. It splintered, the pieces clattering to the floor noisily.

The fear rolling off the vamp was pungent. Aiden snarled and jumped onto a large round table barely fifteen feet away from them. It creaked, but held his weight. It wouldn’t take much for him to reach the vamp now. And he had no doubt he could kill that fucker without grazing a hair on Larissa’s head. Because he’d die before hurting her.

The vamp must have sensed his intent because he dropped Larissa and ran, sprinting through the club with a preternatural speed. The predator in Aiden wanted to give chase, to hunt him down, but he reined it in for the stronger impulse to protect what was his.

Using all the strength in his hind legs, he jumped from the table and landed right next to Larissa’s still form. Her chest rose and fell steadily and she appeared unharmed. But he wouldn’t be satisfied until he knew for sure.

“Aiden, look at me.” He heard Teresa’s soft voice nearby, but he couldn’t look at her. He refused. All his attention was on Larissa.

“You need to shift back,” Teresa whispered urgently.

He ignored her. That wasn’t happening. Stepping closer to Larissa, he stopped only when her body was completely under him. No one could get to her without going through him. They’d have to kill him first.

“Aiden!” a strong, familiar voice shouted.

His head whipped around to see Connor and Noah moving around the middle bar. Connor had something in his hand. A gun. But that didn’t make sense.

“Aiden, snap out of it. Shift back. Now!” his Alpha commanded with authority.

Part of him was compelled to listen, but . . . no. He could protect Larissa better as a wolf. His inner animal latched on and dug deep, refusing to give up control. Aiden snarled at Connor, baring his canines in a clearly aggressive, defiant display.

The room, which had already quieted down, went deathly silent. Connor’s eyes went wide in shock before they narrowed. He thought he heard someone murmur something about him going feral.

Feral? That’s when it registered what he must look like. Drawing on strength he didn’t know he had, Aiden forced the change. No matter how much he needed to protect Larissa he had to explain to his pack what was going on. So they would protect her. She was all that mattered.

Agony pierced through him as his bones shifted against his wolf’s will until he was crouching naked over Larissa’s still unconscious body. He attempted to stand when something slammed into his chest. He stumbled back from the force of it and saw the raised gun in Connor’s hand.

The deepest sense of betrayal ricocheted through him until he looked down and realized it was a tranquilizer dart. Connor was trying to control the situation, not kill him. It meant he could be trusted. Something his human side knew completely, but his wolf was agitated and wanted to take Larissa far away from everyone and everything. Including his Alpha.

“Bondmate,” Aiden managed to rasp out before a bitter blackness engulfed him.

Chapter 4

Teresa stared in horror as Aiden fell back, unconscious. The scent of his link to the female vampire was unmistakable. It reminded her of a cold winter night. Crisp, fresh, and . . . powerful. Whoever that female was, she retained a lot of power. Teresa didn’t understand how this was possible when Aiden had never been bonded before. It was clear Connor was just as confused so she didn’t question him.

Before any of them could move, six huge vamps jumped down into the middle of the dance floor from one of the balconies above and faced off with her and her packmates. She controlled her fear as the few stragglers who’d been lingering after Aiden’s freak-out scattered toward the elevators.

“Ryan?” she said quietly through the earpiece, but got no answer.

Connor, Noah, and Erin, who’d appeared only a second ago, were the only ones here. She wanted to know where Jayce, Kat, and more important, her sister Natalia were. Natalia was so young and she hated that her youngest sister had insisted on coming tonight. But their Alpha had allowed it so she’d had no choice.

It was clear her earpiece wasn’t working so Teresa did the only thing she could. She strode toward Connor and lined up next to him along with their other packmates. They were all warriors, unlike her, but that didn’t mean she was going to tuck tail and run if these vamps wanted to challenge them.

Because that’s what it appeared these vamps were doing. Their posture was tense, their vibes hostile. Of the six, one stepped forward, his boots thudding ominously against the wood dance floor as he glared at Connor. He was clearly the leader. “Connor Armstrong.” He practically spat the name, his amber eyes glowing bright and unnaturally dilated. He looked almost stoned, but she wasn’t sure if vampires could even get high. Something was off about the tall male.

Her Alpha just stood there, perfectly calm, though she could feel the power radiating off him. She’d seen him in action only a couple of times, but it was enough to know that he could rip most of these vamps apart with ease. “Do I know you?” Connor’s voice was a deadly blade.

“We haven’t met.” And it was clear the vamp didn’t plan on introducing himself as he continued. “But I’m going to give you the courtesy of getting the fuck out of my club in the next sixty seconds unharmed. Take your wolf and go, but the female vamp stays.”

“They’re bondmates. She comes with us.” It didn’t matter that Connor had never met the female, that none of the pack had known about her—if she was Aiden’s, she was one of theirs.

Simple as that. It was one of the reasons Teresa was proud to have Connor as an Alpha. The male was absolutely loyal.

“Then it seems we have a problem.” The vamp made a quick gesture with his hand and his warriors fanned out.

Teresa turned to the left, keeping her focus on one of the vamps. He watched her closely and made a gross flicking gesture with his tongue as he grabbed his crotch.

Ugh. She kept her expression cool, not wanting anyone to know she was afraid.

“Why do you want the female?” Connor asked, his voice still calm, though his stance was tense.

Instead of answering, the lead vampire took a menacing step toward Aiden and the female.

In the span of a heartbeat Connor shifted to his wolf form. Teresa followed suit, letting the change come over her. She bit back a cry of discomfort as her wolf took over, shredding her barely there dress. Everything around her came into sharper focus. By the time she’d shifted, so had the others—except for Erin, who remained in her human form. With two blades in her hands, it was clear the female enforcer knew how to use them.

Teresa focused on the snarling vampire closest to her. His claws and fangs had extended and she could see the hilt of a blade peeking out from his partially unzipped jacket. So he had at least one weapon, probably more.

“One more chance to leave—”

Clearly done listening to threats, Connor lunged at the vamp. All hell broke loose. Out of the corner of her eye Teresa could see her Alpha and Erin taking on two vamps while Noah grappled with one. Knowing they were more than capable, Teresa kept her focus on the vampire in front of her.

He wore dark pants, a dark shirt, boots, and a leather jacket. His black hair was cropped close and he had that same bleary-eyed look in his bright amber eyes as the other vampires. “Why don’t you shift back, little wolf? You and I can have some fun,” he crooned in a creepy singsong voice.

Gross. She had no doubt what kind of fun he referred to. Baring her canines, she growled low in her throat. She may be small for a shifter, but she could take on one vamp.

Whipping out the blade with an impressive speed, he lunged at her. She dodged to the side, missing what would have been a blow to the chest. Dancing away from him, she tried to tune out the growling and cries of pain around her. It sounded like the vamps were losing.

When the vampire rushed her again, she jumped onto a tabletop, using it to propel herself away from him. She landed on the far side of the dance floor and spun to face him. If she could tire this vamp out she would. Or at least frustrate him enough into letting his guard down. Then she’d strike hard and fast. It was something her deceased father had taught her and her sisters. Even though she wasn’t the strongest she could fight smart.

Though it felt like an eternity passed as she dodged his attempted attacks, she knew it hadn’t even been a full minute when the vampire started to show annoyance.

Letting out a snarl of rage, he rushed at her, fangs descended and blade held firmly in his hand. This time she wasn’t going to evade him. Crouching low, she prepared to strike when a large dark brown wolf came out of nowhere, slamming into the vampire.

Ryan.

The male wrapped his jaws around the vamp’s neck and cut all the way to the bone, ripping the creature’s head free in seconds. The vamp hadn’t even had time to struggle or fight. If she’d been in her human form, she would have gasped at the beauty of Ryan’s impressive display of power.

In her peripheral vision she was aware that the fighting was over and her pack had dominated, but she had eyes only for Ryan. For so damn long she’d wanted him, hungered after him, and for a brief moment when their two packs originally joined she’d thought there might be something there. The sexual tension between them was off the charts and she knew for a fact that he’d warned a few males away from asking her out—but he’d never made a move.

He didn’t glance back at the dead vampire as he hurried to her. Taking her by surprise, he nuzzled his nose against hers before he circled her body, checking to make sure she was unharmed. She didn’t even think to stop him, though his actions were those of a mated male. Ryan drove her insane with his hot and cold routine, but right now her adrenaline was pumping and she didn’t mind a little overprotectiveness. Unlike the others here she wasn’t used to fighting. Technically she hadn’t even fought the vamp, but her insides were shaking something fierce and Ryan’s presence comforted her. She wished they were in human form so he could hold her, but she figured he probably wouldn’t anyway. Not if his past behavior was any indication. Even when she’d been poisoned he’d stayed away from her. That sudden thought brought up a rush of pain and she automatically tried to back away from him.

But Ryan wouldn’t let her. Once he was sure she was okay, he sidled up next to her and stood so that their shoulders touched as they faced the others. His ears were pricked forward. Clearly he was alert for more danger. Dragging her gaze away, Teresa looked at the others.

Erin stood with her blade against one vampire’s neck and Connor had his jaws wrapped around another male’s throat. Still in wolf form, Noah growled menacingly at the vamp Erin had pinned. Three more vamps lay dead at their feet.

Connor made a growling sound low in his throat and Noah immediately moved to stand near him. Her Alpha released the vamp and shifted back to his human form. The vampire seemed as if he was in shock as he slumped against the floor.

“Change back,” Connor ordered everyone.

Though Teresa wasn’t keen on being naked in front of Ryan, she didn’t have a choice and knew she had more important things to worry about anyway. Her packmates had just killed some unknown vamps and she still didn’t know where her sister was.

After she’d shifted, she stood up and was surprised once again when Ryan went to stand in front of her. Reaching back, he held on to her hip as he tugged her close against him. With their bare bodies, her breasts rubbed against his back and a sharp spark of arousal shot through her like a lightning bolt. She placed her palms against that muscular expanse of skin and tried to step around him, but he growled. This new territorial display should have annoyed her, but she’d been craving this from him from the moment they’d met.

“Stay.” A subtle demand.

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