To cement the leadership of his North Carolina Shiftertown, Bowman O’Donnell agreed to a “mating of convenience.” Two powerful wolf shifters, he and Kenzie keep the pack in order and are adored by all. Bowman would do anything to protect Kenzie, for in each other’s arms they’ve found far more than friendship. But as strong as their attachment is, they still haven’t formed the elusive mate bond—the almost magical joining of true mates.
Now with a monster ravaging the countryside and threatening the Shiftertown community, some in the pack fear that a pair without a true mate bond isn’t strong enough to lead. Bowman and Kenzie will have to rely on their instinctive trust in one another to save their Shifters—and the ensuing battle will either destroy them or give them the chance to seize the love they’ve always craved.
About the Author
Jennifer Ashley is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Shifters Unbound novels, including Wild Wolf, Tiger Magic and Mate Claimed and the Mackenzie historical romances, including The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie, The Seduction of Elliot McBride, and The Duke's Perfect Wife. A winner of the Romance Writers of America RITA Award, she also writes as national bestselling and award-winning author Allyson James. She lives in the Southwest with her husband and cats, and spends most of her time in the wonderful worlds of her stories.
Read an Excerpt
The Shifter groupie was new.
Kenzie had never seen her before, anyway. The woman stood with a knot of friends who’d clumped together for reassurance but turned excited gazes toward the male Shifters roaming the roadhouse tonight.
Kenzie watched Bowman size up the woman while he appeared to be merely leaning on the bar talking to his friends. She saw him conclude, as Kenzie had, that the new girl wasn’t a real groupie.
No one but Kenzie would have known, given Bowman’s posture, that he’d even noticed the woman. He rested both elbows on the bar as he conversed with Cade on one side of him, Jamie on the other. Even as they laughed and joked, Cade, his second, and Jamie, one of his trackers, kept a little space between themselves and their leader. Bowman dominated the whole damn place without even standing upright.
His casual position stretched his jeans over his great ass, outlining narrow hips and strong legs, one knee bent as he rested his motorcycle-booted foot on the lower rail of the bar. His black T-shirt was smoothed over his broad shoulders, outlining every muscle from neck to shoulder blades and all the way down his spine.
Kenzie couldn’t take her eyes off him. She absently held an untasted bottle of beer, half listening to two of her female cousins chatter. Bowman turned his head to say something to Cade, giving Kenzie a glimpse of his strong, square jaw and the nose he considered too large for his face but Kenzie thought just right. He was a wolf, after all.
Bowman’s gray eyes flashed at something Cade said, a quick ripple of a smile tipping his mouth. A strong mouth, equally good at snarling orders or kissing.
He was going to teach the fake groupie, whoever she was, a lesson, Kenzie deduced from his quick glance in the woman’s direction. Would be fun to watch . . . and painful too.
Bowman pushed himself off the bar, giving a nod to those around him. Cade, a big grizzly Shifter, acknowledged it without moving. Cade and Bowman, in spite of being different species, were so wired to each other that they communicated without words or even gestures.
Kenzie’s heart squeezed as she watched Bowman walk in a slow, even pace to the new young woman. The fake ears the girl wore were wolf instead of cat—a signal she was into Lupines—and both she and one of her friends had wolf tails fastened to their backsides. When the friend saw Bowman coming over, she started excitedly patting the new girl’s arm.
Bowman could charm. Didn’t Kenzie know it? Just by walking toward them, he had the cluster of young women smiling, beaming, melting at his feet, before he even spoke.
The new young woman imitated her friends, but there was something calculating in her eyes, watchful. She might be a reporter, come to dish the dirt on the Shifter groupie scene, or she could be an informer for the human police.
When Bowman gave the new girl a jerk of his chin to follow him, the true groupies dissolved into excited laughter mixed with looks of furious envy.
Kenzie knew how they felt. She set down her beer, told her cousin Bianca she was using the ladies’—alone—and walked away.
She knew she wasn’t fooling them. The other two Shifter women exchanged knowing looks and let her go. They knew way too much about Kenzie—everyone in Shiftertown did.
Bowman and the groupie had reached the darkest part of the parking lot by the time Kenzie emerged. It was cold; a North Carolina winter at its peak. The roadhouse was ten miles from Shiftertown, halfway between Asheville and the Tennessee border, popular on a Saturday night.
Kenzie heard the two before she saw them. Bowman’s voice, imprinted on her heart, came to her from a deep shadow between the generator-run lights. “So you want to be with a Shifter, do you?” He was growling, and it was not really a question.
The woman answered nervously, her high-pitched voice grating on Kenzie’s nerves. Kenzie didn’t pay much attention to her actual words—the woman’s tone said she was afraid of Bowman but determined to get her story, whatever that story happened to be.
Kenzie edged close enough to be in scent range of Bowman, which meant the woman’s cloying perfume came to her loud and clear. Why did human women douse themselves like that? Made Kenzie want to sneeze.
She knew Bowman would be able scent Kenzie skulking in the darkness, even over the perfume. She also knew Bowman wouldn’t care that she was there. Those thoughts hurt, but Kenzie remained in the shadows, watching.
“Shifters are dangerous, sweetheart,” Bowman was saying. He leaned against the back of a dusty SUV and stretched out his long legs, crossing them at the ankles. Bowman’s arms were folded, both shutting himself off and giving the groupie and Kenzie a view of his sculpted muscles. He hadn’t bothered with a coat—Bowman often didn’t. “Better be sure you know what you’re getting into.”
He was angry, even if his slow drawl didn’t betray it. He hated anyone spying on his Shifters, and with good reason. The young woman couldn’t scent his fury as Kenzie did, but some instinct inside her knew to be worried.
“I’ve always wanted to do a Lupine.” The pseudo-groupie was trying to sound as though she stalked Shifters to have sex with them all the time, but Kenzie—and Bowman—knew better.
Bowman remained silent and motionless for a long moment, while the girl grew more and more nervous. Then Bowman moved—the movement was slow and casual, but all the more devastating for that.
He reached down and undid his belt, the clink of it coming to Kenzie. Next, she heard the whisper of his jeans’ zipper.
Kenzie froze, riveted in place, as Bowman languidly slid his jeans and underwear halfway down his thighs and leaned back again on the SUV.
Kenzie couldn’t breathe. His half-lifted shirt showed a slice of hard abdomen, and his large Shifter cock stood straight up between his strong, sun-bronzed legs. The brush of dark hair that cradled his shaft was lost in shadow, but Kenzie knew exactly what he looked like.
The young woman made a strangled sound that Kenzie wanted to echo. Bowman erect was a beautiful sight.
“Come on, sweetheart,” Bowman said impatiently. “I haven’t got all night.”
The young woman opened and closed her mouth a couple times and took a few shaky steps backward. “I don’t . . . I don’t know.”
Bowman came off the SUV with a suddenness only a Shifter could manage. One moment he was reclining, ready, and the next he was nearly on top of the woman, his big hands on her shoulders.
“Here’s what I know,” he said in a fierce voice. “You came to look at Shifters, for whatever reason. So here I am. We look human, but we aren’t—not even close.” His jeans were still around his knees, his tight backside bare under the lights of the parking lot. But he didn’t look ridiculous—Bowman never could. He was as decadent and enticing as ever. Kenzie’s mating need, never very far away, flared.
The groupie’s words choked in her throat, her nervousness turning to full-blown fear. “I wanted . . . I just wanted to talk . . .”
Bowman shoved her away. “I know what you wanted.” He leaned down and pulled up his jeans, taking his time. “You wanted to come here and get all up in our shit and go tell the world about it. I don’t know if you’re a reporter or a detective or a do-gooder, but I want you out of here, away from my Shifters.”
The pseudo-groupie had the presence of mind to point out the obvious. “You don’t own this place. This isn’t Shiftertown. You can’t tell me to leave.”
Her breathless groupie eagerness had gone, replaced by the hard, nasally voice of a woman who liked having her own way. Bowman wasn’t impressed. His hands clamped down on her shoulders again, and a very wolf growl came out of his throat.
“I might not own the bar.” His voice went low, as it did when he was truly angry. “But I know the owner, and he doesn’t like people coming here and giving Shifters trouble. Let me give you a tip—I’m way nicer than he is. So get out, or I’ll let him and his bouncers take you off the property in a more forceful way.”
“Now you’re threatening me?”
Bowman said nothing. He only looked at the pseudo-groupie, and Kenzie scented the wolf in him getting ready to come out. Bowman was careful, but he was still pretty close to wild, and he didn’t like his authority challenged in any way.
He hadn’t said so—the woman wouldn’t understand—but Bowman considered this roadhouse to be part of his territory. Humans might have confined Shifters to Shiftertowns and restricted them from owning places like this bar, but true Shifter territory stretched from one Shiftertown to the next. There was another Shiftertown far to the west of them in the middle of Tennessee, and Bowman considered that his territory ended about fifty miles from that, where the other leader’s territory began.
By Shifter thinking, Bowman had a perfect right to sling this woman out. Humans wouldn’t see it that way though.
The woman started to reach for something in her purse. Pepper spray? A gun? Bowman caught her hand, his growl rumbling across the empty parking lot, vibrating the ground.
Shit. If Bowman hurt the woman, or even scared her bad enough, the human cops would be all over this place in a heartbeat. Bowman would be dragged away in cuffs spelled to contain Shifters, and probably every Shifter in the roadhouse would be arrested along with him.
Only one thing to do. Kenzie hurried out of the shadows, making for the two of them. At the last minute, she slowed and pretended to be out for a nonchalant stroll. She put a sway in her hips as she eased herself up to Bowman and draped her arm around his neck.
The heat of him came to her, along with his wild scent. The strength of him quivering under her touch made Kenzie flush with warmth.
Bowman’s entire body went rigid. No one touched an alpha when he was at the height of his anger, especially not when he was this close to shifting.
No one but his mate.
“Hey, Bowman,” Kenzie said, letting her voice drawl in a sultry way. “You seeing someone else now? I’m going to get jealous.”
Kenzie, her arm still around Bowman, pinned the pseudo-groupie with a stare that she hoped showed a hint of feral red.
The woman backed a step under their collective gazes, and Bowman, thank the Goddess, released the woman’s wrist. Kenzie remained draped over him, pretending not to feel every bit of tension in his body that told her he did not want her there.
The woman opened her mouth to deliver a final word. Her wolf ears had slid back on her head, and her makeup was running with her sweat. But she apparently thought better of speaking, and turned and walked hurriedly away. Her fake wolf tail waved as she went.
As soon as she disappeared back into the roadhouse, Bowman spun around. He did it so fast, Kenzie didn’t have time to let go of him.
She found herself holding six-feet-eight of enraged Shifter. Bowman’s body was tight, his gray eyes almost white with the suppressed change. The wolf in him was furious and wanted to hunt, to bring down and tear apart prey.
With any other Lupine, Kenzie might laugh and suggest he needed a beer—she’d buy. But Bowman wasn’t going to calm down. While Kenzie didn’t blame him—that woman was up to no good and might be dangerous—he had to stand down, or he might do something that would get them all into trouble.
Only one thing could soothe a wolf as dominant as Bowman. The touch of a mate.
Kenzie ran her hands over Bowman’s shoulders, the tension in him incredible. He didn’t want to calm down. He wanted a run.
Well, he could do that, but not right now. Other people were coming out of the roadhouse, paying no attention to them in the darkness. Some got into trucks and cars to drive home or on to the next bar; others lingered to talk and laugh. Bowman was too close to wild not to try to turn one of them into prey.
Bowman glared at Kenzie, but she didn’t ease off. She skimmed her hands down his hard chest, feeling his heart beating crazily, his skin hot under his shirt. His growls continued to rumble—if anything, growing louder.
She kept up her massage, moving her hands in circles on his chest, pressing her body against his. He was incredibly warm in the January cold, his mating heat starting to take over the killing need.
Bowman seized her wrists in a grip that would have hurt anyone else. “Kenzie, you need to stop.”
Kenzie flattened herself against him. She felt him with her whole body now, his heartbeat against hers, his breath on her skin, the hardness of his entire body.
“Not until you can walk inside without throwing people all over the tables.”
Bowman’s growl rumbled. “I don’t like anyone watching my Shifters.”
“I get that. But she’s gone.”
“People like that always come back.”
If he’d been anyone else, Kenzie might be tempted to get up in his face, wag her finger at him, bean him with sarcasm or bitchy words, but she knew better than to try it with Bowman. She knew him, and what he’d respond to.
Bowman’s eyes at least had lost their spark of killing rage. Another spark flared in him, though, and Kenzie knew she was in trouble. Not that she minded. It had been a while. Too long.
Bowman’s grip on her wrists tightened, his growl returning, but softer now, with a different note. Kenzie responded with a low growl of her own.
That was all it took. Bowman hauled her against him, arms coming around her to scoop her into him. She saw his eyes, still white gray, before he closed them on his way to parting her lips with a searing kiss. Kenzie bent back under his onslaught, curling her fingers against his chest.
She wanted this. Every time they came together, Kenzie was so hopeful, not only for the intense pleasure he could bestow, but for what might come of their mating frenzy. Another cub, maybe. Or the mate bond.
Bowman wanted these things too. He never said so, but she knew.
Kenzie sank into the kiss, but Bowman broke it all too soon and started pulling her toward the darkness at the edge of the parking lot. He nearly hauled Kenzie off her feet, he moved so fast, but he would never slow his pace for her. She was Lupine, and alpha, and he knew she could keep up with him. He expected it, which was both flattering and frustrating at the same time.
The parking lot ended in the beginning of a dense woods of old pine trees whose boles rose a hundred feet in the air before they sprouted branches. Kenzie found the rough bark of one at her back as Bowman shoved her against it.
His mouth came down on hers, his eyes closing again as his kiss turned savage. Bowman jammed his hands to the tree trunk, pinning her in place with his body. His heat embraced her, and his low growls vibrated through her.
Kenzie’s mating frenzy rose to meet his. They were always like this, unable to come together without wanting to tear into each other. She clutched the back of his shirt as Bowman kissed her, his mouth opening hers. He had her trapped—she couldn’t get away. Not that she wanted to.
Bowman’s fingers became claws that shredded her new cropped top, bought today. He never touched her skin beneath, but Kenzie’s shirt and bra became so much scrap. She’d be pissed off about that later, but right now, she didn’t care.
Kenzie plucked at Bowman’s shirt, tight across his shoulders, until Bowman broke the kiss long enough to yank it off.
She and Bowman came together, skin to skin, the heat of his chest burning her bare flesh. Never mind that it was about thirty degrees outside and their breath steamed in the cold. Kenzie and Bowman were already sweating. They’d burn down the woods if they weren’t careful.
Kenzie stroked his shoulders and his short black hair, using her touch and her pliant body to soothe him. No one else could touch Bowman when he got this crazed. Only Kenzie. No other Shifter could calm him like she could, which was why they’d ended up becoming mates. They’d done it for the safety of not only their wolf packs but all of Shiftertown.
Bowman didn’t want calm right now. He yanked Kenzie away from the tree, and she found herself on the ground, though she’d never felt the fall.
She landed in his arms, both of them now stretched full length on frozen dirt. Snow from last week had melted, leaving mud that had hardened with this temperature drop. The frozen earth pressed against Kenzie’s back while Bowman lay over her, his mouth on her neck.
His teeth scraped her skin, then she felt the pain of a love bite. Kenzie arched into her mate, needy for him. Bowman’s mouth was a place of fire, hurting and wonderful at the same time. The hard ridge she felt beneath his jeans excited her, and she wanted him.
He wanted it too. Bowman jerked at the button of her pants, ripping the zipper. He’d never fastened his jeans again, and very soon Kenzie felt his cock, bare and hot, against her abdomen.
Right here, right now, in this woods with music thumping in the roadhouse and humans in the parking lot. Never mind soothing him. Bowman always made it so exciting.
He raised his head, his smoke gray eyes light, his breath a snarl in his throat. “Damn you, Kenz,” he whispered.
Kenzie’s heart thumped in painful and excited need. There was so much between them, and yet so much wrong, that she was never sure how she felt with him.
Sometimes, when they started this, Bowman would stop, jerk himself from her, and walk away. He’d shift into wolf and depart deep into the woods, returning to their home in Shiftertown after many hours. He’d never abandon them completely; she knew that. Bowman was a leader, and he’d never leave his Shifters to fend for themselves, nor would he leave his family, his son.
As Kenzie held her breath, waiting to see what he’d do—thrust himself into her or get off and walk away—a growl came out of the woods, one so menacing that both Bowman and Kenzie froze.
The night around them went deathly still—no rustle of birds or small animals in the undergrowth. It was cold, yes, but animals often foraged for early shoots and overlooked seeds even this late at night. Kenzie had assumed the animals had shut up and hidden because of the two noisy Shifters come to mate on their doorstep.
Now she realized. There was something out here with them.
The snarl came again, like a beast in slow anger. Warning now, rather than attacking. Promising it would stop warning soon.
Kenzie had never heard anything like it before. Shifters made all kinds of sounds—snarling, growling, howling, even shrieking—in anger, fear, mating need, fighting craze. She’d heard it all—Feline, Lupine, and bear.
This was nothing like that. Nor did it sound like a wild animal, a bear maybe, come down out of the mountains to wander in this woods looking for easier pickings.
Bowman, in near silence, released Kenzie and got to his feet. He didn’t reach down to help her rise—Bowman knew she’d get up on her own, unhampered, in silence.
Which she did. They stood together, shoulder to shoulder, peering out into the blackness of the woods, their breaths streaming fog into the night.
Bowman’s tension said what Kenzie’s did: What the fuck was that? But neither of them spoke; neither moved.
The growl came again, with a hint of something salivating for its next meal. Something very large.
Bowman’s voice sounded in Kenzie’s ear, so low it tickled deep inside her, so close that his breath burned. “Go back to the roadhouse. Get everyone inside and have them lock the doors.”
And what are you going to do? Kenzie wanted to ask. Bowman knew she did, because he added firmly, “Go. Now.”
Everything Shifter inside Kenzie scrambled to obey when Bowman commanded. She’d been programmed to that from cubhood. She was more dominant than most females out there, and many males too, but a true pack leader like Bowman made her instincts want to stand up and snap off a salute.
On the other hand, the mate in her needed to shout at him, Are you crazy? You want me to leave you here to face whatever the hell that is alone?
Bowman had his gaze on her, the hard Shifter stare that made the instincts win over the mate’s worry. At least this time.
Kenzie also knew that Bowman wanted her gone so that she could look after the others—Shifters and humans alike—while he figured out what this menace was and how to deal with it.
She glanced at herself. “I can’t go in there,” she whispered, even in the face of his gray white stare. “You tore up my shirt. They have a policy.” She fought the hysterical laugh that came up with the words.
In a swift and economical move, Bowman swept his T-shirt from the ground and thrust it into her hands. The cloth still held his heat, and his scent.
Kenzie took the shirt and backed slowly away from him. She didn’t run—whatever was in the woods sounded in the mood for a chase.
She made it to the edge of the parking lot, the men and women there having already gotten into vehicles and gone. Tears stung her eyes as she pulled on the black T-shirt that still held Bowman’s heat. Once under the glare of the lot’s lights, she could no longer see her mate.
This was wrong. All wrong. She had to go back to him, to fight with him. Kenzie couldn’t stand by while he stayed to face the danger alone, perhaps to be killed.
Another human couple came out of the roadhouse, the man and woman wrapped around each other, laughing. There was no doubt what they were leaving the bar to do. The noise from the open door spilled out behind them.
A rumbling growl came from the woods and rolled over the ground, sweeping all other sound away with it.
The couple stopped. “Shit,” the guy said. “What the hell was that?”
Kenzie’s indecision fled, the alpha female in her taking over. “Get back inside,” she snapped in her best commanding voice. “Now.”
The man and woman looked startled, but obeyed her, their eyes wide with fear.
Kenzie took one last look at the darkness beyond the parking lot, scenting both Bowman and something overwhelming behind him. Heart racing and aching, she herded the humans into the bar and shut the door on them, then turned back to Bowman.
She still couldn’t see him, but she heard his snarl. “Kenzie, inside.”
It was the command of a leader. She needed to help his trackers be his backup, to keep the civilians protected. Bowman knew she’d handle it all better than anybody.
He was no longer trying to be quiet—no point. Kenzie forced herself to stop being sentimental and think like a warrior. She silently offered up a prayer to the Goddess, yanked open the door, and ran into the roadhouse, calling for Cade.
Bowman knew exactly when Kenzie closed the door to the roadhouse. Her scent cut off, as did the sound of her voice, and the presence of her. Bowman always knew when Kenzie was near.
He’d known when he’d dragged the fake groupie out to the parking lot that Kenzie had followed. He’d pulled the stunt of yanking down his jeans because he’d been aware of Kenzie watching from the shadows. He’d wanted to scare the woman in the stupid Lupine ears and tail, but he’d also wanted to challenge Kenzie. He always did. His mate could bring out the worst in him.
But his challenge had backfired, because Bowman’s mating frenzy had shot high. His hard-on had been for Kenzie alone. The only way to relieve the frenzy had been to get rid of the fake groupie woman and run into the woods with Kenzie to scratch that itch.
Thank the Goddess for this unknown foe. Best distraction he could hope for.
Which left the question—what was it?
Bowman slid off his boots and shucked his jeans and underwear. Naked in his socks, he gazed into the woods, his Shifter sight trying to penetrate the blackness under the trees.
Nothing. No shadows moving, no eyes. Just the soft snarling of an animal not afraid of the lone Shifter waiting at the edge of the woods.
Bowman got rid of the socks and let his wolf come. He could shift quickly, though not painlessly, but his tension was so high tonight he barely noticed the ache as his bones changed form.
The edges of objects curved as his eyes became wolf, colors growing muted but at the same time lighter and more precise. Shifters didn’t necessarily see better than humans, just differently. They could discern things outside the range of human sight, and scent added another layer.
Whatever was out there stank like a sewer. Bad scent could be used to confuse trackers or disgust them so much they abandoned the prey. Or maybe this thing had simply been spawned in a cesspit.
Bowman had no desire to put his nose down and follow its trail, but he had to know what he was dealing with. Was it seriously dangerous? Or just smelly?
The snarl built up into a roar, and something huge charged Bowman. At least, at the place where Bowman had been. He was gone by the time the thing came barreling out of the trees, then he cut back sharply into the woods to draw it away from the roadhouse.
He needed backup, and lots of it. Kenzie would be organizing that, he knew, letting him get on with the fight. She knew her job. His heart warmed at the thought.
The thing swung around, following Bowman unerringly between the trees. The growls increased, and underbrush snapped and broke as it came.
One of the giant trees behind Bowman started to fall toward him. He couldn’t see it clearly in the dark, but he heard the breaking branches and pop of roots, smelled the explosion of sap and resin as a pine tree that had stood strong for hundreds of years now rushed at the ground.
Bowman sprang out of the way, and the woods shuddered as the tree came down, tangling in its brothers on the way. The tree never made it to the forest floor, but came to a rocking halt above Bowman, trapped in a cradle of close-growing branches.
Not Bowman’s worry right now. His worry was the enormous thing that had pushed the tree aside to get to him.
The animal’s stink canceled out the rest of the forest smells, and its shadow cut off all light. Bowman looked up into darkness that contained a flash of red eyes, the glint of giant teeth, and claws that would frighten a feral bear.
He flung himself out of the way of its plunging fist, his wolf moving fast, but not fast enough. One huge clawed hand caught Bowman’s hindquarters as he leapt away.
Pain jolted through him—ripped flesh, snapped bone. Bowman’s Collar went off, activating the shock implant that theoretically kept Shifters from violence. Bowman tried to ignore it as he let his momentum carry him away from the creature, but the Collar beat pain into his spine. He stumbled toward the edge of the woods, emerging after an agonizingly long time from under the trees into the roadhouse’s parking lot.
He realized that if Kenzie brought backup outside, they’d be shredded. He had to warn them. Bowman’s cell phone, though, was in the jeans he’d stripped off and left at the edge of the woods, and the monster chasing him had just stepped on it. He had backup phones, but they were at home, and couldn’t help him now.
He still couldn’t see what the thing was. Hard to when he was running, limping, and trying to look over his shoulder at the same time, all while his Collar sizzled the fur around his neck. He only knew that whatever came behind him was big, deadly, and mad as hell.
Makes two of us, shithead.
Bowman hurled himself at the back door of the roadhouse. Pain and flight reaction took away his presence of mind to shift to human, so he howled and scratched at the door like a pathetic pup.
The door was wrenched open, and two large hands grabbed him by the scruff and pulled him inside. The scent that came to Bowman’s pain-crazed brain was bear, and he had just enough functioning thought to keep himself from attacking.
The big hands belonged to a giant of a man who slammed the door and dragged Bowman into the tiny back hall. Bowman collapsed to smooth, cold, polished cement, panting hard, pain blotting out all thought.
“Son of a bitch,” Cade said. “What the hell was that? Bowman? Bowman—damn it, stay with me . . .”
* * *
Kenzie pushed her way through the frightened crowd, knowing before she reached the back hall that Bowman was hurt. She scented it, she sensed it—she’d suspected it before he’d even made it inside.
Cade was sitting cross-legged beside a big timber wolf, who lay bleeding on the floor. He’d grabbed a towel from somewhere, not a very clean one, and was pressing it to Bowman’s back right leg.
The leg was broken. Bone protruded through red flesh, and Bowman’s dark gray fur was matted with blood. His Collar emitted one shock, his reaction to Cade touching his injury, then went silent.
Kenzie said nothing. She knew Bowman didn’t like wailing females, didn’t want her to fling herself on top of him and bawl. He’d expect her to quit whimpering and do something useful.
She made herself kneel calmly beside Cade, who shot her a worried look. Cade’s short hair was mottled black and brown—grizzly colors—his eyes a darker brown. He was a huge man, with hands twice the size of Kenzie’s and a hard body she knew women liked to climb. A tatt of interlocking Celtic knot designs flowed down his right arm.
“Hold that on him,” Cade said, handing her the towel. “I’ll try to find something clean.”
“How about an ambulance and someone to set his bones?” Kenzie said, even as she pressed the towel to Bowman’s wound.
“Not with whatever that is prowling out there. I saw something as I hauled his ass inside.” Cade’s brown eyes were white around the edges, his face stark. Nothing scared Cade, who was bigger than anyone in Shiftertown—bigger than anyone, period. Humans took one look at him and ran the other way.
“What was it?” Kenzie asked him.
Cade hauled himself to his feet. “Hard to say. Huge. Fast. Stinky. Probably could knock over any ambulance that came out here. If we can get one to come out here.”
“No clue. Bigger than a Shifter.”
That’s what Kenzie had thought too. She felt cold.
Under her touch, Bowman moved, but weakly. He needed a healer. Needed one now. If he could shift back to human, a hospital might be able to work on him, though Shifters were tough for most doctors to treat.
“Touch of a mate,” Cade said. He was looking at Kenzie with a mixture of sympathy, worry, and understanding.
“Doesn’t always work,” Kenzie said irritably. The subject was a sensitive one for her. “You know that.”
“We got a choice right now?”
Bowman rumbled something, and Kenzie leaned down to look him in his eyes. His flat wolf face held such beauty, though she’d never say so to him.
Now his gray eyes were filled with vast pain and, behind that, frustration. He needed to tell her something, but he couldn’t shift to speak words.
Kenzie stroked his head. “We’re going to try to fix you up,” she said. “Me and Cade. Don’t worry too much.”
Bowman’s muzzle wrinkled in annoyance. Stupid thing to say, and Kenzie knew it. She might as well have bleated, There’s an unknown monster stalking around outside, you’ve broken your leg, we can’t get medical help, and all I can do is pet you. But don’t worry, everything will be fine.
Bowman rumbled again, holding her gaze. He was willing her to understand, but she followed his body language much better when they were both the same species.
“Hang on.” Kenzie rose to her feet, unsteady in the new turquoise cowboy boots she’d bought to dance in tonight. She’d been so proud of the damn things, and the sexy top that was now so much scrap in the woods, when she’d brought them home from her shopping trip today. “Cade, turn your back.”
Cade scowled. “I’m Shifter, woman. I’ve seen naked Shifters before.”
Kenzie planted her hands on her hips. “I want to see your back, grizzly. Now.”
“Touchy, touchy.” Cade swung around and stared at pipes and dirty walls. His well-muscled back in its tight T-shirt quivered, but Kenzie couldn’t tell if he were laughing or letting his concern about Bowman get to him.
Kenzie peeled off the shirt Bowman had lent her, not liking to take his scent from her skin. Next, the pretty new boots came off, then her jeans and underwear.
She envied Bowman’s ability to shift so easily—it came harder for her. The wolf in her began to growl and protest as her limbs transformed, her skin itching as it stretched and changed. After a few long and painful moments, Kenzie landed on four big paws, shaking out the light gray fur of her wolf.
Bowman’s scent slammed into her. She smelled his pain, his fear, his concern that he wouldn’t be able to figure out how to fight this unknown menace. The Collar around Kenzie’s neck, which had expanded to fit her wolf, wanted to spark to match his agitation.
She tried to calm herself, to block out the waves of complicated worry that came with his scent and his nearness as she lowered herself next to him. Kenzie moved her face in front of Bowman’s and touched his nose with hers. No other wolf in the pack could do that—Bowman might touch them, but not the other way around. Not without his permission.
Kenzie was wolf enough now to give him a lick. His fur tasted of blood and dirt, and the tang that was Bowman. She whined a little, but when wolves whined, it didn’t necessarily mean submission or fear. Right now, she asked a question.
Bowman answered her in a series of rumbles and flicks of his eyes. What came to Kenzie were impressions and images rather than exact words, but they would roughly translate as, Big. Deadly. Don’t know what it is. Can’t fight it. Pain. Damn. Fucking pain. Can’t think.
I’ll try to help you, Kenzie conveyed back. I have to touch you. It might hurt.
You think? Bowman growled.
Kenzie licked his face again. She let her tongue move behind his ears, her mate’s pain coming to her through the tiny link they shared. They had nothing like the magical, all-consuming mate bond other pairs developed, but at least they had something, even if it was only the understanding between two alphas.
Fifteen years ago, when Kenzie and Bowman had mated to keep the Shifters in the North Carolina Shiftertown under control and the humans from closing the place down, Kenzie had hoped the two of them would form the mate bond. It didn’t always happen right away—a couple could be together for a year and more before the true bond came. Sometimes it happened only after the first cub. Kenzie had been hopeful once Ryan had been born. She knew Bowman had been hopeful too, but still the mate bond hadn’t formed.
Hadn’t formed yet, Kenzie hastily amended in her head.
The way Shifter rules worked, though, if Bowman met a female—Shifter, human, or otherwise—with whom he did form the mate bond, Kenzie would be expected to step aside and let him go. Her clan leader, her uncle Cristian in this case, would officially dissolve Kenzie and Bowman’s mating, and that would be that. Shiftertown would rejoice that a Shifter had found his true mate, and Kenzie would be expected to congratulate him.
Likewise Bowman would have to step aside for Kenzie if she found the bond with someone else, though historically it had been rare that a male let his mate go to pursue a mate bond. The whole situation was rare, Kenzie knew, but that didn’t comfort her much.
Knowing she could lose Bowman anytime to anyone out there made Kenzie jealous and protective, which couldn’t make Bowman very happy. She drove him crazy, and he didn’t hesitate to tell her so.
Not that Kenzie stuck her tail between her legs and cowered under his admonishments. Kenzie’s and Bowman’s furious fights could make their neighbors run into the woods—literally—until the two of them calmed down again.
Now Kenzie smoothed Bowman’s fur with her tongue, gradually sliding her wolf’s body on top of his. Cade crouched behind Bowman, with a cleaner towel this time, sopping up blood.
Kenzie was dimly aware of others coming into the back, both human and Shifter. The man who owned the place, who liked Shifters and didn’t mind them filling up his bar, arrived first. A few Shifters who were high enough in the hierarchy to see their leader injured followed, along with a human groupie or two who’d slipped by the bouncer.
One groupie pushed her way past the Shifters. Like the pseudo-groupie Bowman had banished, this woman had decided to douse herself with perfume. Kenzie’s nose wrinkled at the obnoxious smell.
“Can I help?” the groupie asked. “I’m a doctor. A vet, I mean.”
Cade rumbled something in answer. Kenzie didn’t take her attention from soothing and licking Bowman, and her impression of the woman came only through scent. Under the perfume—they should know better than to wear it around Shifters—Kenzie smelled a hint of antiseptic, antibacterial scrub, and competence. How she could smell competence, she didn’t question—her wolf sensed things she never would in human form.
When the woman touched Bowman, he growled, and Kenzie did too. Cade put his hand on Bowman’s side. “Easy.”
Kenzie added an encouraging rumble to Cade’s. She did not like the woman putting her hands on her mate—not only in a jealous way, but in a primal fear that animals had for danger—but she convinced herself the vet could help.
“The bone needs to be set, and quickly,” the woman said. “If we can get him to my clinic . . .”
“Are you kidding?” Cade asked. “You didn’t see what was out there?”
“Yes, what is that?” the vet asked him. “Escaped animal from a zoo? Bear from the mountains?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. Escaped from a horror movie, maybe.”
Kenzie scented the vet’s fear, but the woman tried to bury it to do her job. “I can splint it, at least, but it will need serious medical attention. Can you find me a . . . ?”
She started reeling off things she wanted, giving orders to the humans and Shifters standing around. A woman used to being in charge. So why had she decided to be a groupie tonight? Did she like animals so much she wanted to be around people who turned into them?
Bowman was ignoring the vet, or trying to. He’d closed his eyes, grunting a little as Kenzie managed to lie down fully on top of him. She carefully didn’t touch his hindquarters, but she nuzzled his cheek, continuing to lick his face. A she-wolf protecting her mate.
The Shifters and the bar’s owner returned with what the vet needed, and the woman ordered Cade to hold Bowman down. “Can you get the other wolf off him?” the vet asked.
Cade laughed, even as Kenzie gave a snarl of fury. “She stays. It’s a Shifter thing. Her being here helps him.”
“All right.” The vet sounded doubtful. “Do you have any kind of tranquilizer? Something to knock him out with?”
The bar’s owner cut in. “Nothing but some pretty hefty tequila.”
“Anesthetics don’t always work on Shifters,” Cade said. “We need powerful tranqs to keep us down, and we don’t carry them around with us.”
Well, not to a bar anyway. Bowman had tranq guns at home, in case he needed them for an unruly Shifter, but he wouldn’t take them to where humans could get their hands on them.
“Hold him down, then, please,” the vet said crisply.
Kenzie had no idea what the woman was doing, but Bowman jerked, his growls turning to ones of rage. Kenzie let herself grow heavy on him, helping Cade hold him in place.
Let her, she tried to convey.
Bowman struggled. He was one of the strongest Lupines around, even injured, and Kenzie felt her hold slip. Cade was swearing at him, telling him to keep his wolf ass down.
No use. Bowman’s instincts had taken over, and he was about to throw off Kenzie and turn on the vet.
Kenzie could think of only one thing to do. She shifted back to human.
Cade bellowed at her, “Kenz, are you crazy?”
Kenzie, a human woman once more, leaned to Bowman’s snarling mouth and started petting him, putting her vulnerable face close to his and nuzzling him.
The red-hot rage began to fade from Bowman’s eyes. He was still angry, and Kenzie would hear about this later, but, as she’d hoped, Bowman started curtailing his reaction so he wouldn’t hurt Kenzie in this form. When Kenzie was wolf, she was stronger and could take a lot from him. Her human form was more vulnerable, and Bowman understood that he could hurt her, or even kill her. He rumbled at her, annoyed at her ploy.
“Almost done,” the vet said from behind them. “Tell me you have some Ace bandages and that they’re clean.”
The bar’s owner handed her whatever he had from his first aid kit, and she started working again. At the same time, one of the younger Shifters, a cub really, though he was old enough to come to a human bar, came charging into the back.
“Kenzie,” he yelled. He stopped short, his scent betraying fear as he saw Bowman with a mangled leg, Cade holding him down, and Kenzie naked on top of him. Kenzie slid off Bowman, though she kept her hand firmly on his fur.
“It’s all right,” she said in a steady voice. “Bowman’s hurt, but he’s being helped. He’s fine.”
Bowman added his growl, trying to reassure, but the cub had stark fear in his eyes. “That thing out there,” he said. He couldn’t be more than twenty-one, a wolf Shifter who thought he’d be safe at this bar where his pack leader hung out. “It’s trying to get in.”
A loud bang sounded from the front of the bar, something huge pounding on the big metal door that was the club’s entrance.
Bowman rumbled at Kenzie, urgent, angry. She didn’t need to be wolf this time to know what he meant. Get out there and make sure everyone’s all right.
“Go,” Cade said to her. “I’ll join you as soon as she’s done.”
Kenzie hesitated, hating to leave Bowman, but she knew she had to. Cade was good in a fight, but the pack needed the leader’s mate right now to reassure them. She had to hold it together, in spite of her worry for Bowman, so the Shifters would fight alongside her and not scatter in panic.
She got to her feet, earning a startled look from the vet. The vet looked bizarre herself, wearing fake cat’s ears, whiskers penciled in across her cheeks. She was competently wrapping a bandage around Bowman’s leg, the two aspects of her incongruous.
Kenzie, stark naked, walked by her and into the bar proper. When the Shifters in there saw her coming, they started to relax.
The humans gaped at her nudity, men looking their fill, women blinking in surprise or giving her how-dare-she? looks. The only Shifter who gave her the once-over was Jamie, who was probably the highest-ranking Shifter in the place right now, besides Kenzie and Cade. He was the highest-ranking Feline, anyway.
Jamie was reputed to screw anything female, and he didn’t pretend not to look at Kenzie. He’d never touch her, though—he wasn’t that foolish—but he looked, and later he’d tease.
Tonight, Jamie’s expression also included fear. It took a lot to scare Jamie, who was a lithe cheetah and a mean fighter, but his golden eyes clouded as the beast outside threw itself at the solid front door once again, with hideous force.
Jamie reached Kenzie and spoke in a low voice. “What the fuck is that?”
“I don’t know.” Kenzie tried to match his soft tone, but she was in a room full of Shifters who were listening hard. “I’ll just say we can’t let it get in here.”
“Or we’re toast,” Jamie said, not bothering anymore to be quiet. “You, and you two—over there. You three on the right of the door.” Jamie arranged the strongest Shifters where they’d have the best fighting advantage. He was good at it, though Shifters rarely fought as a team. Shifter battle strategy was more like Don’t mess with me or my family, or I’ll kill you and walk away.
But tonight they’d have to fight together. One Shifter alone, even two, wouldn’t be enough to make a dent in something that could so easily take down Bowman.
Kenzie and Jamie got everyone organized, the Shifters moving into fighting positions. Jamie’s cousin Marcus, another cheetah, put himself in charge of herding the humans well back, and getting the women under and behind pool tables.
Kenzie’s battle plan, when she outlined it, brought swearing and protests, but Kenzie remained firm until the Shifters reluctantly agreed. Jamie backed her up. “She’s right. Suck it up.”
Another enormous boom sounded on the front door. The door was heavy steel, the kind that rolled back, and right now it was barred and locked. A Shifter with great strength could break through it, given time, and Kenzie already knew that whatever was out there had great strength.
She became wolf as Jamie shucked his clothes and shifted into a leggy cheetah about twice the size of a non-Shifter one. He snarled a big cat snarl, ready.
At a growled command from Kenzie, one of the bigger Shifters threw the bolt on the door and shoved it open.
Shouts and swearing sounded from Shifters and humans alike as the stench rolled in. But Kenzie had decided it would be better to rush out and attack the thing head-on than to wait to be trapped inside the roadhouse and picked off one by one. If they pushed the creature into the middle of the empty parking lot, together the Shifters could surround it and take it down.
Now that she saw it, though, Kenzie wasn’t so sure. She looked up into a horrible face—like a cross between several Shifters rolled into one. Red eyes fixed on her from above the muzzle of a gigantic wolf. The ears, if the things on top of its head were ears, were more like a cat’s, its body big like a bear’s. A ginormous bear, Ryan, her son, would say. Kenzie let herself take a moment’s relief that Ryan was far away, at home in Shiftertown with his great-grandmother.
Unless there were more than one of the things out there.
The monster stank like a feral Shifter. Plus it was as crazed as one and three times the size.
Kenzie drew a breath, took strength from the tension of Jamie beside her and the Shifters around her at the ready, and launched her attack.
Bowman heard the roar of the attack even through his agony.
The vet, though she wore the stupid costume of a groupie, had efficiently shoved his bones back into position and wrapped his leg, but it fucking hurt. Bowman’s Collar had gone off, the shock trying to keep him from rolling over and gutting her, but had only succeeded in making the pain worse. Cade’s weight on his side didn’t help either. Kenzie had been so much sexier.
Bowman knew he shouldn’t attempt to shift back until he was more healed—he’d risk snapping the bones in the splint apart. But he wished he could communicate better with Cade, find out what was happening.
He snarled as the draft brought the smell of the beast down the hall, not that he hadn’t smelled it the instant the front door opened. Even the vet winced, and Cade growled.
Bowman snarled back at him. Cross-species communication was sorely lacking among Shifters, but Cade had known Bowman long enough to understand him. He gave Bowman a nod and left him for the main part of the bar.
Bowman started to push himself up, but the vet said sternly, “No, you need to stay down.”
Bowman sent her a growl. He knew Kenzie was out there, in front of the others, leading them. He didn’t need a mate bond to tell him that. Kenzie knew what to do. Cade was now with her, and Jamie and Marcus. They had it covered.
Except—every instinct in Bowman told him they didn’t. This monster was something new, something they’d never faced before. The screech and boom of the front door giving way, and the howls and cries of hurt Shifters reinforced that conviction.
Bowman dragged himself up. The splint held. Though it hurt like hell, Bowman’s natural ability to heal was kicking in. Kenzie lying on him had helped a lot. The touch of a mate, though no one could explain the process, seemed to work.
Bowman easily pushed past the vet, in spite of her protests, and staggered down the hall to the main part of the bar. What he saw made every human thought in him flee and his wolf take over.
His mate and friends were battling the thing that had broken the doorframe it had shoved itself through. Cade had turned bear, the grizzly on his back legs, ears flat, roaring his power. The beast coming at them was three times Cade’s size.
Jamie, with the lightning speed of the cheetah, was darting around the creature, trying to get under it for attack in vulnerable places. The beast caught Jamie with a swipe of a giant hand and threw him across the room. Jamie let out a cat screech, more pissed off than terrified. He hit the wall with a crunch, slid down it, and went still.
Bowman dragged himself over to Jamie, who was out cold. Damn it. Kenzie had the right idea, but not enough Shifters to make it work.
He had to do something, or this would turn into a bloodbath, all Shifters down. He snarled at the nearest Shifter, the cub who’d begged Kenzie to come help. The cub was a Lupine, one of Bowman’s clan. Bowman made him understand that he should look after Jamie, then Bowman left them and hobbled down the back hall again.
He growled at the bar’s owner, who was cowering with the vet against the far wall, until the man got the idea and unlocked and opened the back door.
The rear parking lot was still mostly empty, only a few cars and trucks left. None of the vehicles were what Bowman needed, so he crept around to the front of the roadhouse, keeping to the shadows.
A row of cars in the front lot had been flattened by the attacking creature. The trucks had fared a little better, but most were dented and shoved askew.
The truck Bowman sought rested at the edge of the lot, untouched. The pickup was a giant of a thing with a huge cab, raised body, and oversized tires made for off-roading.
Cade’s truck. His baby. Cade had bought it used from a guy who ran monster trucks, and spent his days happily tinkering it into a honed machine.
The beast paid no attention to Bowman as he crept across the lot, making for the truck, which told Bowman the creature wasn’t very smart. Even an ordinary animal made sure it knew what threat was behind it.
Bowman reached the pickup and stopped a moment to rest in its shadow. For the next step, he’d have to shift back to human, which he knew was going to hurt.
Shifters usually healed fast. Cuts closed rapidly and bruises vanished as the Shifter’s metabolism strove to make them whole again. They’d been bred to be fighters ages ago—battle beasts, they’d been called—meant to fight wars for others without suffering too many casualties.
Nice idea. Hadn’t worked. Shifters had died being forced to fight other Shifters, until the Shifters had decided to combine forces and turn on their masters.
Shifter physique had remained unchanged through the passing centuries, though, even if these days Shifters preferred to watch TV, drink beer, and get laid instead of fighting battles to the death for the Fae. Bowman knew his leg had already begun its healing process, bones and muscles knitting. Even so, this shift was going to be a bitch.
Bowman suppressed a howl, then a groan as he moved from wolf form to human. His body protested, sinews not wanting to change and stretch. Pain lanced his broken leg but Bowman ended up human once more, panting against the side of the pickup, holding on to it and fighting not to pass out.
Cade had locked his truck, but it was an older model, with no fancy electronic locks to foil would-be thieves. He’d locked it against humans, anyway; Shifters could easily break in, but they never would. Shifters didn’t touch one another’s things. They respected territory—violating it was deadly dangerous and bone-headed stupid.
Bowman took a few more breaths, waiting until he could pull himself all the way up, then drew back his fist and punched out the window. He clenched his teeth against that pain, shaking blood from his hand. Then he brushed aside broken glass and flipped the latch to unlock the door.
Another breath as he yanked the door open and used it to lever his body into the cab. He landed on the seat, then clutched the steering wheel and rested his forehead on it, searing pain making him want to pass out again.
Bowman’s speculations had been right—when the splint had fallen away as he shifted, his leg had twisted in the setting, and it was broken again. But he’d have to live with it for now.
Cade had the truck’s keys, but that fact didn’t slow Bowman down. He had the steering column broken and the wires tapped together in a matter of seconds. The truck roared to life.
The beast spun around at the sudden sound, at last taking its attention from the roadhouse. Bowman turned on all the truck’s lights—headlights, fog lights, spotlights—every gimmicky piece Cade had bolted to the thing—put the truck in gear, and rammed his good foot to the gas pedal.
The truck’s tires spun on the dirt, then caught, and the truck leapt forward. The monster hesitated, red eyes staring, then it snarled and charged at Bowman. The Shifters who were still whole poured out of the bar after it.
The beast rushed the truck, and Bowman drove straight for it, never wavering.
He hit the creature at fifty miles an hour. The truck’s windshield shattered as the monster slammed across the hood and onto the cab, crushing the roof under its weight. Bowman dove down onto the seat, his foot coming off the gas, but the truck kept moving of its own momentum, the weight on the cab sending it into a tailspin.
The truck whirled until the bed met the side of the roadhouse. The beast was flung off, but the huge thing gained its feet, and a nightmare horror stared into the broken cab at Bowman.
Someone had engineered a monster, but it was not put together from parts. This thing was whole—born, not made—with the giant claws of a bear, the maw of a wolf, and the face of a lion. And it was very, very big.
The impact with the truck had cost the beast, though. Blood ran down its side, and one of its arms dangled uselessly. It pulled at the driver’s-side door of the broken cab with its good hand and managed to rip the door off. Then the wave of Shifters—wolves, big cats, and one huge, angry grizzly—were upon it.
The creature threw the pickup’s door at the crowd, then turned around and ran for the woods. Ran fast. The Shifters sprinted after it, but they stopped just inside the edge of the trees, sitting on haunches or standing with hackles raised, in both fear and frustration.
The beast had vanished. The stench of it faded on a cool breeze, and the sounds of a normal night started up again. A car drove by on the highway beyond, as though nothing were out of the ordinary.
Cade, now in human form, yanked open the still-intact passenger door. He was naked, smelling of sweat, fighting adrenaline, and fear. “Holy shit, Bowman.”
Kenzie came to the driver’s side, reaching in through the opening that used to be the door. She was naked too, the parking lot’s lights sending golden light over her full breasts and their dusky tips. She had a strong body, skin taut over muscle, and curves Bowman lost himself in whenever he touched her. Curves that hugged him now, swallowing him in softness.
A hell of a lot more appealing than Cade, he thought wryly. Kenzie stroked Bowman’s hair, her long-fingered hand moving over his pounding skull, soothing, cutting through pain.
Behind him, Cade slammed both fists on the top of the dented cab. “Son of a bitch. Do you know how much work it will take to fix this? If I even can fix it. Hell, if the frame is bent . . .”
“Cade,” Bowman said, his voice rasping. He leaned into Kenzie’s touch, the scent of her warm over the tang of the dying truck.
“What?” Cade snarled, leaning in to listen.
“Shut the fuck up,” Bowman said.
He dropped his head back and slipped into blissful, empty darkness. The last sensation he felt was Kenzie’s hand on his hair, and the softness of her body as she bent down to kiss him.
* * *
“Anyone want to take any guesses what that thing was?”
Bowman lay back against his pillows in his bed, one hand behind his head. He looked awful, his face blotchy, healing cuts all over his exposed skin, but his voice was plenty strong. His leg was in another splint, one for humans this time, sticking out over the covers.
Kenzie knew Bowman felt better. He’d snarled at her when she’d tried to make him eat the chicken soup she’d made, so she’d snarled back at him, plopped herself down on a chair, and ate it herself.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for the Shifters Unbound novels:
“A riveting read, with intriguing characters, page-turning action, and danger lurking around every turn. Ashley’s Shifter world is exciting, sexy, and magical.”—Yasmine Galenorn, New York Times bestselling author
“Danger, desire, and sizzling hot action!”—Alyssa Day, New York Times bestselling author
“[A] sexually charged and imaginative tale.”—Publishers Weekly
“A must-buy series for paranormal romance lovers.”—Fiction Vixen
“Scorchingly sensual...High-adrenaline suspense.”—Booklist
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Jennifer Ashley's Shifters Unbound series is fast becoming one of my favorites in the paranormal romance genre. Her latest book Mate Bond is ultimately my favorite of the series so far. Readers who looking for a mature romance, with couple who has been married for some time will love this one. Bowman and Kenzie may have a wonderful relationship but they do not share the mate bond that will keep them together forever. Their struggle to find an illusive foe hinges on their relationship and readers won't be able to put it down for a minute. A great addition to the series! Ohhhh, I really liked this one! Jennifer Ashley is sooo good at world building. In Mate Bond readers get to see what the North Carolina pack's Shiftertown is like. We have seen other Shiftertown's in previous books, but this one was really interesting. If you are unfamiliar with the series, a Shiftertown is kind of like an Indian Reservation. The shifters have been forced to live in these towns away from the human population. Each one is unique and I loved learning about the Bowman and Kenzie's town. Ashley never ceases to amaze when it comes to her mythology and world building, it's one of the best parts of this series. I liked the fact that this book wasn't a boy meets girl and falls in love story. Kenzie and Bowman have been together for a long time and even have a son, Ryan, who will one day lead the pack. It was a marriage of convenience that united the dissident parts of the pack, but it turned into something more. It is obvious that this couple loves each other very much, but they have yet to form the elusive mate bond that will ensure that they will be together forever. I liked the maturity of the story here. There problems were a lot more dynamic and deep than the problems a reader generally finds with a new relationship. I thought that was a great idea for the book and loved how it worked out. Kenzie and Bowman are up against a really devious villain and the things he does are simply gut wrenching. He made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. That part of the book was cleverly put together and I think readers who like a story with substance will really find this one up their alley. This guy was a real piece of work and the way the hero and heroine solve the problems that comes with the bad guy was simply awe inspiring. I loved that part! The romance is hot and steamy in this one and it seemed completely natural. You have two alpha shifters, which is a volatile combination in the first place. They have a lot of passion in and out of the bedroom and readers who like a little heat will not be disappointed. Ashley seems to really understand the kind of aggressive and fierce relationship that needs to happen in this kind of shifter society. Very well done. Bottom Line: This is my favorite book in the series so far. I am becoming a huge fan of this author and I think anyone who loves a good were story will fall in love with this one. Kenzie and Bowman were a mature couple with mature problems and I liked the fact that they knew exactly where they stood with each other. The romance was hot, the action was fast and readers will just have to hold on for dear life. A great new book from a very talented author.
The actual “bad guy” plot of this book is secondary to the story. The real focus is on Bowman and Kenzie - two strong, alpha wolves who love each other and are not afraid to show it. They’ve been together for fifteen years and have a wonderful cub named Ryan. What they don’t have is a mate bond. The mate bond is a magical link between two shifters and overrides all other relationships. And that is the problem. Although they don’t discuss it, Bowman and Kenzie both fear that the other will meet their “true” mate and their family will be torn apart. Now this a romance, so I can tell you that they do not get torn apart without it being a spoiler. However,the author certainly keeps you wondering how they will manage to keep their family together. Oh yes, everything else - mutant shifters, time mists, FAE, and non FAE, new friends and old - All these make for an excellent story, but it is the relationship between Bowman and Kenzie that make this book. This is the seventh book in the Shifters Unbound series. It is set in a different ShifterTown than the earlier books which would make it easier to read as a standalone. I wouldn’t though. This series is great enough that you should read them all. Actually, I’m jealous of new readers. You have seven books to read at once. I had to wait for each one. That’s okay though. They’re worth it. One last thing, anyone else want to try naked ziplining? This book was sent to me by NetGalley in return for an honest review.
This series just gets better and better. 300+ pages. Can be read as a stand alone but the previous books add so much to the experience. It was great to see old friends. This is a complete book and worth every penny. Can't wait to see Ryan's story. Absolutely impatiently waiting for the next book.
The world of this series has gotten bigger. With this first foray into North Carolina's Shifterown we are treated to a differrent side of romance, a scary new mystery, and meeting some old friends older enemies and perhaps new perspectives on all of the above. A excellent addition to the series and a delight to read.
Bowman and Kenzie have been mated 15 years and have one son, but the mate bond has not taken effect leaving them, and those under Bowman's leadership, questioning the strength of the Alpha and his chosen mate. Kenzie knows he is it for her but she does worry that another woman could catch his eye and have that elusive mate bond. Bowman also knows she is the woman he wants but he worries she could leave him for another man. This fear brings tension to the relationship and jealousy raises its ugly head a time or two, or three. While dealing with whether they are each other's true mate, they have a beast that shouldn't even exist in their world rampage and attack them at a local hangout. Bowman is injured badly but the beast is strong and it gets away. A human cop wants to work with Bowman, and Kenzie specifically, to stop the beast. Bowman has to contend with Kenzie's uncle constantly questioning his leadership and getting in the way. When Bowman and Kenzie's relationship is put into question, will they go their separate ways or fight for what they both want, regardless of a mate bond. Along the way, we have a human female vet, a human male college professor, a trapped Fae female warrior, and a goblin. The story was strong and complex. The villain wasn't revealed too soon and Ryan, their son, stood out as one of the cutest and smartest characters in the story. The conflict was different and entertaining, the emotional struggles between Kenzie and Bowman added to the tension, and their passion and love for each other was explosive. I enjoyed the story and the character diversity added to the story dynamic.
I have enjoyed all 6,5 books this far
**Book provided by the author for an honest review** Mate Bond was an interesting twist on a storyline based on a shifter community. The various shifters in this story were forced by the human government to live in "Shifter Towns" in order to keep a close eye on them and keep the masses safe from the very powerful and dangerous creatures, (according to the humans). Each town has a pack leader, and Bowman of the North Carolina Shifter Town is the focal point of this book. I have never read any of the books in this series, but it can be a stand alone book. It was love at first sight for Bowman and Kenzi, so why the mate bond has eluded them is beyond anyone's understanding. After several years together and a cub, Ryan, they are as passionate about each other as the first day of the mating frenzy, but are deathly afraid of not having experienced the undeniable feeling of the mate bond. While they are constantly struggling with this, an unknown creature comes into town looking for a fight. The hunt is on to try and figure out what the hell that thing is and find out where it came from! The sleuthing involved was intriguing. The background of the relationships and development of the shifter towns and characters was very entertaining. During the course of the investigation, we are given the history of how the shifters were born, who bred them, and the nasty evil that tore them from their homes. I really enjoyed this part of the story. However, what I found quite annoying, which is how my potential 5 star rating came to be 3, is that the constant mention and worry over this mate bond and the hatred Bowman and Cristian have for one another. Every single time Bowman and Cristian were in the same space it was a pissing contest! As for Bowman and Kenzi, my GOD! For two people who've had the hots for each other from day one and have mind blowing sex to this day, how could you be so blind! I get what the author was going for here, really I do, but it overshadowed the plot of the story a bit for me. On a high note, the ending was fantastic! I can and will recommend this book, only if you can stand some repetitiveness over the main characters' worrisome mate bond issue.
~ 4.5 Mate Bond Stars ~ Mate Bond is book seven in the Shifters Unbound series by Jennifer Ashely. It can be read as a standalone. We are brought to a new Shiftertown (North Caroline) and the troubles they face. Another amazing read. The plot, action, and secondary characters are all fabulous. I love the Shifter Unbound series. Each book brings us new and exciting couples and adventures. The world-building is remarkable. We get an assortment of shifters to fall in love with and great dynamics between the shifters, packs, and couples. The plot was interesting and kept me engrossed. All the secondary characters are captivating. They leave you wanting to read their stories and to see what will happen next. This novel brings in a whole new mate concept that has not shown up yet in this series. I am not sure how to put this relationship into words. Bowman & Kenzie got married to unite Shiftertown, but they never formed that special Mate Bond that can happen when they find their one and only mate. After fifteen years they still have not formed this bond and each still holds a little back from the other, but it is clear that they love each other deeply. I felt sorry for this couple throughout the novel. It was so hard to read about them. It’s complicated and that is what made it so gut-wrenchingly emotional. Mate Bond was an wondrous read. I highly recommend picking up this series. I am looking forward to more.
Couldn't put it down
Love this book. Maybe one of my favorite in the series. Highly recommend it :)
Loved it, action packed from the first chapter. It was nice reading about the shifters in No Carolina.
I loved the story but was confused in the beginning. Totally new group so it took a while to catch the ends and outs of the characters. Still great
WOW I need to re-read the rest of the series before I can say this is my favorite of the series. But I couldn't put it down and only stopped when I had about 20 pages to go. I will say Kenzie is absolutely my favorite female lead so far. You see in her and Bowman the first true Alpha Male / Female Shifter pairing and they are truly equal partners throughout the entire book. Which is a great surprise for me : When Bowman has shown up in previous books he has such an attitude you can't help but think he's a ..... and hope he gets it in the end. He does and it is everything you could hope for.
Thoroughly enjoyed! I have never been disappointed by this series and cannot wait for the next book!