They are the Arctic Brotherhood.
They are deadly fighters, fierce protectors and loyal mates.
Elliott Wilder is a mild mannered Alaskan college professor. Wilder craves the things most people find boring. Seclusion. Monotony. Anonymity. But what Wilder craves most of all is the thing he can’t have… memory loss. Four hundred years ago, Wilder and the other members of the Arctic Brotherhood were captured and tortured by the leader of the Siberian werewolves. Wilder is still haunted by memories of that night, when he wasn’t able to protect his leader.
Now the Siberian wolf is on the loose and seeking revenge. Not only must Wilder lead the brotherhood, he must fight the attraction he feels toward its newest recruit, Jenny Piper. Jenny offers Wilder a glimpse of the life he can’t have. As the brotherhood races against time to save humanity from the horror their enemies unleashed on the world, Wilder must reach inside himself to find the leader the brotherhood needs and the mate Jenny craves.
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The Arctic Brotherhood Series Book One
By Jane Godman
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2017 Jane Godman
All rights reserved.
Four hundred years ago
We can take twenty-four of these bastards.
The seven men were naked, kneeling in a circle, and facing outward. Their hands and feet were shackled by iron chains, and each had been beaten until he was bruised and bloody. Their leader had fared the worst. He appeared close to unconsciousness.
Being forced to kneel upright for hours had taken its toll on their posture, but each time one of them sagged a guard would jerk him upright by the tight leather thong about his neck.
"Hounds on a leash." It was a lazy drawl from the man who lounged in a chair set on a raised dais overlooking the scene. "That's how we teach them obedience. It's also how we train our slaves."
Outside the long windows the sky was dark. Not with night. Never with that. Black clouds caressed the tree tops and the whole world glittered within its covering of white.
Our land. Ice and snow is what we do best.
In the center of the circle a fire blazed and sweat mingled with the blood trickling down the flayed flesh of the captives.
One of the guards approached the youngest prisoner, jerking his chin upward and tracking a grimy finger down a blood-streaked cheek. Wide amber eyes gazed unwaveringly into the jeering face.
"Pretty boy. I like you." The man's hand dropped to his groin in an obscene gesture. "I could have some fun with this one, Santin."
Stay strong. Our time approaches.
"He is yours ... later." The man in the chair was clearly in charge.
Reluctantly, the guard moved away, resuming his position inside the circle. The waiting continued. Torchlight flickered. Tension deepened in time with the shadows. In the distance a lone dog howled, the sound dying away to a plaintive yelp before the animal fell silent.
At last night fell. Arctic night. Through the windows, the clouds cleared and the midnight sun gleamed on the snow. Inside the room the atmosphere changed.
Breaking his bonds as easily as if they had been paper chains, the leader of the captives rose to his feet. His men followed one by one. Standing poised to attention, they awaited his commands. Each was over six feet of rippling muscle, possessed of the same thick silver-white hair and golden eyes.
"I said we should have killed them while we had the chance." It was the man who had taunted the young prisoner. He licked his lips as he cast a longing glance toward the door.
"They cannot be killed in daylight," another guard spoke up.
True Arctic werewolves could only shift by the light of the midnight sun. They could also only be killed under its unique glow, although they could be damaged elsewhere. But the midnight sun meant more to them. It called to them in the same way that the moon called to other werewolves. It was theirs, creating a mystical, magical bond among them and between them.
"How can we tell what time it is when the gods have forsaken this place so that it has no night or day?" A third guard joined the conversation. A low growl emitted by one of the prisoners made him turn his head sharply. "Why don't we take them to the dungeons and secure them there?"
"Cease this meaningless drivel." The man called Santin rose gracefully from his chair and strolled forward, his full-length coat of white fox pelts swirling about his ankles. He stepped close to the leader of the prisoners, standing face to face with him. "Have you missed me, Gunnar?" With a movement faster than quicksilver, Gunnar's hand shot out, gripping the other man's throat. "You and me, Santin." His voice was a barely human snarl. "Here and now."
Although his guards hurried to assist him, Santin signaled for them to stand back. "My men outnumber yours four to one. You'll take those odds?" His voice betrayed only a slight tightening of his throat muscles.
"Take them? I like them." Gunnar's lips drew back in a smile that showed lengthening canines. He spoke over his shoulder to his pack. "Now."
The room erupted into violence as both packs shifted instantly. The huge white wolves of Gunnar's Arctic pack fought with a strength and fury that couldn't be matched by Santin's smaller, darker Siberians. Trampling and tearing, they inflicted terrible wounds on each opponent before tossing him aside and moving on to the next. The floor became slippery with blood and littered with bodies of the dead and dying.
Gunnar, his grip as strong as ever on Santin's throat, growled low. The message was clear. His pack could have taken more than twenty-four. Santin seemed content to watch the carnage. A slight smile played about his lips. He alone had not shifted into wolf form.
Reaching into one of the capacious sleeves of his coat, Santin withdrew a slim knife. Gunnar recoiled, releasing his grip on his adversary instantly. The golden light shining through the window glinted on the blade. The gleam was unmistakable, the strident verdigris-tinged scent even more so.
A werewolf with immunity to silver? What the fuck is going on here?
Santin's smile changed, his lips drawing back in a silent snarl. Sacrificing his pack to keep Gunnar's wolves occupied, he stalked his opponent, blade extended before him. With the silver burning his nostrils and stinging his eyes, Gunnar backed away. Until he was cornered and there was nowhere else to go.
"Cower before your new alpha and prepare to die, Arctic bastard." Santin raised the blade high.
Gunnar, his back to the wall, dropped onto all fours, protecting his heart. The blade came down in an arc, straight for his jugular ... just as the youngest wolf threw himself on top of Santin.
* * *
The start of the fall semester brought with it a sense of optimism and forward momentum shared by students and teachers alike. That was what Elliott Wilder thought as he walked across the campus of the University of Alaska. It was the same talk he gave himself every year. Sometimes the upbeat effects of the message lasted all the way through to lunchtime on the first day.
I like my job, he reminded himself firmly. I just don't love it. To Wilder, life wasn't about extremes. Anonymity. Routine. Boredom. The things that other people considered dull were the things he craved. He knew his colleagues regarded him as an oddity, and not just because of his appearance. His muscular build, handsome aristocratic features, and Nordic coloring would draw attention in any company, but it was his determination to keep his distance that set him apart. "Loner," they whispered. "Eccentric." Fine by me. Anything that gets you to leave me alone.
There were no classes on this first day, but students were doing that milling-about-aimlessly thing that passed for registration. Avoiding them, Wilder entered his building and made his way up to the second floor. Unlocking his office, he inhaled the familiar scent. Old periodicals and dusty artifacts. It was his home away from home.
Nothing new. Nothing except for the man sitting with his back to the door. Even if Wilder hadn't recognized his scent, he would have known him by the silver-white hair, so like Wilder's own.
"Gunnar." His voice was half wary, half welcoming. He wished he could have given more emphasis to the welcome.
Gunnar turned his head, a smile warming the golden depths of his eyes. "Arctic anthropology? You know what they say."
Laughing, Wilder held up a hand. "You can take the boy out of the Arctic? Don't go there."
"They will never take the Arctic out of any of us. As your choice of profession reveals. Is this a large department?"
Wilder took the only other seat in the room, on the opposite side of the desk. It was a strange sensation, looking into the face of his mentor after all this time. "I'm it. It's a small, but growing, program."
"A shame, since you will need to take a lengthy leave of absence."
Wilder shook his head. "Not happening."
Gunnar's expression was regretful. "He is back."
Wilder didn't need to ask who "he" was. Nor did he ask any of the dozens of questions that sprang into his head. He would never question the truth of what Gunnar was telling him any more than he would doubt the sun's ability to set. Here. But Wilder came from a place where the sun didn't set. So he asked the simplest, most important question, and yet it was one he knew would be the most difficult to answer. "How?" Gunnar spread his good hand palm-upward in a helpless gesture. "I don't know. We always knew Santin had powerful allies. My guess is that he has called upon one of these to assist his escape. We need you, Wilder. I can supervise, but I cannot join the fight this time."
"You don't understand. After what happened that night, Santin has threatened you personally."
Wilder's laughter was genuinely amused. "He's going to kill the mild- mannered college professor?" He held up his arms, elbows bent. "I even have the old-fashioned leather patches to prove my credentials."
"This is not a joke. He will get to you by harming those closest to you."
"I have no friends or family. I'm the original lone wolf."
Gunnar shook his head. "That saddens me. It is not our way."
"It's my way." He sighed. "Look, Gunnar, I can't change who I am inside. I don't want to. As you said, I chose the Arctic as my career. I live in Alaska, for God's sake. You're never going to catch me vacationing on a Florida beach. But that part of my life is over. I'm not going back."
"You don't choose the midnight sun." Gunnar's voice was proud. "It chooses you."
"Any tourist with the price of a ticket can choose the midnight sun. Walk down the street and you can get yourself a bus, van, or plane from Fairbanks to the Arctic Circle. We're not exclusive anymore, Gunnar. The brotherhood has had its day."
Gunnar rose from his seat. He flexed his prosthetic hand, drawing attention to it ... as if Wilder needed any reminder. "I'll be back when Santin has found you. At which point, I only hope there will be something left of you so we can resume this conversation."
* * *
For a day that started out badly, it went downhill fast. The crap coming Wilder's way included his email crashing; students who had not registered for his program suddenly deciding they wanted in on his classes; and a research scientist who had been pestering him for a meeting not bothering to turn up.
On top of all that, he felt bad about turning down Gunnar so abruptly. It nagged away at him throughout the day like an untreated toothache. Should he have come clean? He doubted Gunnar had heard of, let alone would understand, post-traumatic stress disorder. Wilder himself had only known what he was suffering from for the last fifty years. Which meant for about three hundred and fifty years, he'd believed he was losing his mind. Even if Gunnar did acknowledge the existence of the illness, would he accept that one of his elite brotherhood could suffer from it, or would Gunnar, the ultimate alpha, see it as pathetic? A towering example of weakness, and a betrayal of everything an Arctic werewolf stood for? It doesn't matter. I'm not going there. Wilder still suffered flashbacks. Images of Santin's silver knife arcing down toward Gunnar's throat. Santin throwing Wilder up against the wall and preparing to rip out his throat. He woke sweating every night, reliving each minute in his nightmares.
Seven and only seven Arctic werewolves. The bravest and strongest alphas. That was the Arctic Brotherhood Creed. No. He pushed the thought aside. I'm not brave or strong. Not anymore. The others will get the job done.
But Wilder knew the others could not do the job without him. Ever since the brotherhood had been formed, the rules had been simple. Why seven? Who knew? It was a magical number. The first choice "lucky number" of humans, beloved of the gods and favored by nature. There were seven days in a week, seven colors in a rainbow, seven notes on a musical scale, seven seas, seven continents ... and seven members of the brotherhood.
Wilder shrugged an impatient shoulder. He didn't have time to debate the mysteries of the universe, and his brotherhood days were behind him. Gunnar will find someone to take my place. At long last, the hands of the clock crawled around to five thirty. Grabbing his laptop case and keys, Wilder almost ran the short distance across to the parking lot. He had just opened his car door, almost made it into the driver's seat, when a voice halted him.
Resisting the temptation to groan, he swung around to face the speaker. Shock thrummed through him as his gaze took in the young woman who was walking across the asphalt toward him. She's one of us. The thick, shoulder-length, silver-white hair and amber eyes were the giveaway, along with the lithe, muscled strength of her slender body.
"I'm Jenny Piper. I emailed you about meeting up to discuss collaboration between our departments."
Professor J. E. Piper. He'd made a hugely sexist assumption about that email, picturing a balding, middle-aged man.
Wilder made an elaborate show of checking his watch. "You're about three hours late."
Her smile was unrepentant. And pretty damn irresistible. "I got caught up in something." Just that? No apology? He got the feeling that smile meant Jenny Piper never had to apologize for much. "Can I buy you a coffee to make up for it? We can talk while we drink."
And for the first time in forever, Wilder was tempted. Whoa. You don't do this. You don't do coffee with the attractive would-be colleague. Remember? "Sorry. I have plans."
No you don't, you lying bastard. Her eyes said it, even as her lips snapped shut. Very nice lips. Just a little fuller than he'd have expected in contrast to her slightly pointed, decidedly stubborn chin. The lower lip was a delectable cushion. It would feel like heaven to suck on that lip, or run his tongue just inside it ...
"You do know you have a flat tire, right?" Her voice drew his attention back to reality. Did he imagine the hint of smugness in her tone?
He did groan then. "That just about sums up my day."
"Look" — Jenny produced her cell phone from her bag — "I have a friend who runs a repair shop. How about I get him to pick up your car, fix it, and deliver it back here tomorrow? Then I can run you home." That smile, the one he'd been waiting for without knowing it, dawned. "Maybe we can get the coffee to go and drink it on the way."
"Why?" He realized he sounded suspicious to the point of paranoia. "I mean, why are you being helpful?" No. That didn't make him sound a whole lot better.
"It's the least I can do for messing up your schedule." She cast him a sidelong glance. "And we should stick together, right?"
The comment jolted him, but he didn't know why. Had he expected her to be unaware of who she was? Or not recognize who he was? Or not mention it? Like the white hair, pale skin, and golden eyes they shared were commonplace. He decided to ignore it. I won't get into this. Not even for a girl with lips I want to make love to.
"Thanks." He knew he sounded clumsy and formal. "It's very kind of you."
Within minutes, Jenny had rung her friend, arranged for him to repair Wilder's car, and was running across to the cafeteria to get coffee. Wilder felt as if a small whirlwind had just taken control of his life.
The drive to his apartment was surprisingly easy. Because Jenny was driving, Wilder was able to watch her profile without having to make eye contact. He liked the way her eyelashes swept down over her cheek, the upward tilt to her nose, and the curve of her lower lip. When his eyes strayed lower, he also liked the fullness of her breasts against her striped shirt. She reminded him he was male, something he generally did his best to forget, or at least put to the back of his mind. Jenny Piper had brought it to the forefront in the most wonderful, unexpected, and zipper-straining way imaginable.
"So, is this something you think we can collaborate on?" Jenny asked, having outlined her proposal.
What she was suggesting was fairly straightforward: a sharing of resources and expertise. But it would involve them spending one afternoon a week together over the next semester. And Wilder wasn't convinced regular proximity to Jenny would be good for his equilibrium. He was good at saying no, so the next words out of his mouth amazed him. "My schedule is fairly tight; let me see what I can do."
"Great." She grinned as though he'd given her a definite yes. He got the feeling that was because Jenny usually got her own way. "I'll look forward to it. This is your building, right?"
In an encounter full of surprises, the thing that astonished Wilder most of all was the feeling of disappointment he felt as he watched Jenny drive away. There was a sense of a missed opportunity or that he wouldn't be seeing her again. Because there was no way he was going to collaborate on her project.
Excerpted from Ice Wolf by Jane Godman. Copyright © 2017 Jane Godman. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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