WELCOME TO ALPHAVILLE, where the she-wolves and alpha-males play. . .for keeps, in a brand-new paranormal romance series from New York Times bestselling author Christine Warren.
Dr. Annie Cryer has been called many things: Genius. Child prodigy. Scientific wonder.
Banished from her pack years ago, Annie’s lone wolf wandering has brought her to Alpha, Washington, home to all shifters who don't quite fit in in the "normal" shifter word. Now Annie has the chance to go back home...if only she can make good on a favor her alpha owes the mayor of “Alphaville.” But it's not much of a favor when you're helping the hottest shifter in town...
Grizzly shifter Jonas Browning has a clan in trouble. They haven't had a child born in over a hundred years...and their clan faces going completely extinct. Genetic scientist Anne Cryer has been sent to help save them. But what Jonas doesn't count on is being irresistibly drawn to the small wolf shifter, and his bear isn't about to let her go...
About the Author
Born and raised in coastal New England, Christine Warren now lives as a transplant in the Pacific Northwest, where she gets ocean, mountains, forests, and farmland all in one pretty package. When not writing (as if that ever happens), she enjoys spoiling her horse, playing with her dogs, concocting all sorts of yummies (both liquid and solid), and most of all reading things someone else had to agonize over.
Christine is the author of the Gargoyles series, including Hard to Handle and Rocked by Love.
Christine Warren is the bestselling author of The Others series, including Wolf at the Door, Big Bad Wolf, Born to Be Wild, Prince Charming Doesn’t Live Here, and Black Magic Woman. Born and raised in coastal New England, she now lives as a transplant in the Pacific Northwest. (She completely bypassed those states in the middle due to her phobia of being landlocked). When not writing, she enjoys horseback riding, playing with her pets, identifying dogs from photos of their underbellies, and most of all reading things someone else had to agonize over.
Read an Excerpt
"Hi. Welcome to Alphaville, home of the freaks, the losers, and the emotionally challenged. How can I help you?"
Annie had never made a habit of calling her inner wolf "Toto," but after a greeting like that, she had to ask herself about not being in Kansas anymore. Damn the clichés.
"Um, hi." She managed a smile. "I think I have an appointment with the mayor. John Jaeger?"
Her greeter lifted a perfectly penciled brow and took a moment to give Annie a thorough once-over, so Annie gave a mental shrug and did the same. Despite the teenaged chipperness in her short speech, the woman enthroned behind the wide counter in the lobby of Alpha, Washington's town hall had to be pushing sixty-five. If she was a shifter, Annie would revise that upward by a good ten years. She wore a pastel plaid oxford with the collar popped high, cat-eye glasses on a chain around her neck, and makeup straight from the pages of Seventeen magazine.
By contrast, Annie's bare face, faded jeans, and blue-striped blouse barely qualified her as dressed for public viewing, let alone meeting a mayor. No matter how small a town he governed.
She tugged at the hem of her shirt and caught her shoulders trying to hunch forward. She rolled them back, ordering herself to get a grip. If she'd had better, she'd have worn it, but living basically out of two battered suitcases for the last three years had severely limited her wardrobe choices.
Annie dropped her hand and shifted her backpack strap over her shoulder. "Is Mr. Jaeger in?"
The woman tilted her head and pursed her lips, clearly thinking about her response. After a few more seconds, she exhaled a puff of air and nodded. "Let me buzz him and tell him you're here, honey. What's your name?"
"Dr. Annie Cryer. I was told he'd be expecting me."
"Well, I'm Vonnie Milner. You just have yourself a seat while I call up." Picking up the telephone with one hand, the woman used the other to shoo Annie toward a small, old-fashioned sofa beneath the window.
As was her habit, Annie followed orders and took a seat.
Her fingers wanted to clench into fists in her lap, so she made a point of flexing them open and shut while she took a look around. The distraction might keep her brain too occupied to slip its leash.
Alpha's town hall occupied a converted house in the center of the infamous shifter enclave in Washington's Cascade Mountain range. The craftsman-style building featured an appealing front porch, beautiful original woodwork, and a gorgeous stairway snaking up the left-hand side of the front room-turned-lobby. Vonnie's desk was nestled into its corner, and the large window behind Annie's seat offered a view across the porch and onto Main Street.
A large open archway opposite lead to a dining room that looked as if it were still used for meetings, with pocket doors left intact to seal it off for privacy. Another door led to what Annie presumed was the original kitchen, and a smaller arch in the dining room wall opened into a room she couldn't see. Maybe a study? If this were Annie's house, she'd put her office in that back corner. Position her desk for a view of the garden behind the house. That would give her something pretty to look at, if she ever remembered to take the breaks she was supposed to from staring at her computer screen.
The clatter of the phone receiver being replaced in the cradle yanked Annie back out of her musings. She'd found herself entertaining those kind of fantasies more often in the last few months. Every time she found herself in a house or a cottage, she'd imagine how it would be if she lived there. Hazards of the nomadic life, she guessed.
"Dr. Cryer, John said you can go on up." Vonnie leaned forward and gestured toward the stairway beside her. "Second floor, end of the hall, door on the right."
Gathering her nerve and her backpack, Annie rose to follow the directions. She had one hand on the newel and one foot on the first tread when Vonnie spoke again.
"You going to be staying with us long, Doctor?"
Startled, Annie glanced over her shoulder. The receptionist had her gaze on her computer screen and her long, painted nails poised over her keyboard, but her attention still held Annie in place until she'd answered.
"It's just Annie," she said. "And, um, I doubt it. I don't do much staying."
Vonnie's gaze slid to the younger woman and her lips drew into a faint moue. "Hmph. Well, I hope you take some time to look around while you're here. We started out telling humans we were a lumber town, you know. Even had a working mill up until the sixties, before they moved it up the river to a bigger site. So we've got lots of trees around here. Always had an eye on replanting what got cut. It's a good spot for planting roots."
* * *
"What do you know about this girl?"
Jonas watched Jaeger lean back in his desk chair and shake his head. The two might be the oldest of old friends, but the mayor still did a lot of head shaking around him.
"For God's sake, Jonas. You can't call her a girl. Not only is she thirty years old, but she's a doctor. Hell, she's got two doctorates, a handful of master's degrees, and more letters after her name than I have in mine. And since you're about to ask her to save your clan, you might want to consider not insulting her in the first two minutes after you meet her."
"You see her in the room right now?" Jonas deliberately swept his gaze around every corner of his friend's office. "She hiding under your desk? Or does she shift into a bat, and she can hear us from wherever she's parking her car right now? She won't be here for ten minutes. So you've got time to answer the damn question."
Jaeger ignored his surly tone — hell, make friends with a bear and you'd better get used to surly, especially in the winter — and shook his head.
"You got the same information I got. Genius IQ, child prodigy, scientific wonder, brilliant research career." The cougar shifter shrugged. "Other than the brief bio I managed to pry out of Graham Winters, the only information I could find on the woman deals with her work, not her personal life."
Jonas grumbled. "So for all you know, I'm putting the fate of my clan and my species in the hands of some arrogant egghead with a god complex and the manners of a rabid wolverine."
"Well, if that's true, you two sound perfect for each other," Jaeger shot back.
"Damn it." Jonas shoved out of his chair and stalked toward the window. "This isn't a joke for me, John. You ought to know that. I'm trying to save lives here."
He heard his friend sigh, chair squeaking as he spun it to face Jonas. "Of course I know it, but you gotta calm down, brother. Who cares if the woman has bad manners and a face like Old Man Pollard's nutsack? She's a certified genius in genetics, shifter biology, and biochemistry. Every single person I talked to on this said she is the best hope you've got."
Jonas leaned a forearm against the window frame, fingers tightening into a fist. "Yeah, I know."
"Then why are you being such a dick? She'll be here any minute, and you can ask her any damn thing you want once she is. Okay?"
"Thank God." Jaeger rolled his eyes and spun his chair back toward his desk. "Much more whining from you, and I was gonna have to shift and kick your ass."
Jonas snorted and turned back to face the room, shoving his hands into his pockets. "Yeah, 'cause that was gonna happen. Mountain lion versus grizzly, dude. Lion goes splat."
The buzz of the phone's intercom system cut off the familiar routine. Jaeger pressed the speaker function.
"Yo, Vonnie. What's up?"
"John, there's a young woman here to see you. Smells like wolf. She says her name is Doctor Annie Cryer, and that you're expecting her."
"Yeah, Von, I am. Send her up."
"Is Jonas still there with you?"
"Yeah, he is. He needs to meet the doctor, too."
The woman, a seventy-two-year-old beaver who had lived in Alpha for the whole of her life, liked to consider herself the town's unofficial mother hen. And if her nagging finally got through, she'd have Jaeger make it official. He'd seen her shopping for letterhead more than once.
Now, she sighed into her extension. "John Jacob Jaeger, what have I told you about making appointments for yourself and not entering them into the calendar where I can see them? Do we need to review the procedure again?"
Jonas rolled his eyes, but Jaeger just bowed his head. He had to work with the woman. Luckily, Jonas ran his family's company, and his dad had been too smart to hire Vonnie back in the day.
"No, ma'am," Jaeger mumbled.
"Because they offer night classes on the calendar software out at the community college, if you need to take another one."
"No, ma'am." Jaeger let a hiss escape and had to cover it up with a cough. "Um, Ms. Milner, could you send Dr. Cryer up to my office? I'd hate to keep her waiting, after all."
"Good boy. I'll send her right on up, but you two remember your manners, you hear me? The girl looks as nervous as a salmon at a teddy-bear picnic."
When Annie had seen Graham's name pop up on her cell phone screen, she'd nearly driven her car into a tree. Only the blast of another driver's horn and the amped-up reflexes of a wolf shifter had allowed her to avoid plowing off the road and into an immovable object. As it was, she hadn't needed the double shot of adrenaline to make her voice squeak when she clicked on her hands-free headset to answer the call.
"Annie. It's Graham."
She hadn't needed the introduction. Even if she hadn't seen his name on the caller ID, she'd have recognized his voice in the first syllable. After all, this was a man she'd known for her entire life, her cousin (of one remove or another), her packmate. Her alpha.
"I need to talk to you."
How long had she been waiting to hear those words? Annie wondered.
Two years, ten months, fifteen days, twelve hours, and forty-two minutes, the voice inside her promptly replied.
Wow. She hadn't even realized she'd been keeping count. But it shouldn't surprise her, since the moment had seared itself into her brain like a lesion. It had altered the course of her life, after all. She could be forgiven for remembering it vividly.
"All right." The calm, even tone of her voice sounded like it came from outside of her, as if someone on the car radio was having the conversation for her. "Would you like to schedule a time, or did you want to speak now?"
Always the alpha, Graham had chosen the now. Annie had found herself driving through the Michigan countryside while the leader of the Silverback Clan made her an offer the Godfather could have taken a lesson from. Not only could Annie not refuse, she had to exert every ounce of her self-control not to leap on it like a starving wolf on a fresh kill.
"Go see John Jaeger in Alphaville," he had told her. "Do this favor for him, and I'll consider it an act of contrition. Your banishment will be lifted, and you'll be free to come back to New York. If you want."
If she wanted.
If she had any interest in fulfilling the dream she'd held tight to her heart since the moment she'd been cast out of the pack of her birth.
Gee, she'd have to give it some thought.
The irony of the situation didn't escape her. For almost three years, she'd been wandering aimlessly around the country moving from state to state, region to region, usually stopping for only a few months at a time. She bounced between research facilities that caught her interest and colleagues whose work intrigued her, but she hadn't even tried to make herself a place anywhere. Because she'd known no place but New York was home.
In all that time, she'd never considered making her way to Alpha. Stubborn pride, she figured. Every shifter in America knew about the town. It was where they sent their problems, like an open-air asylum for damaged Others. Shifters who couldn't shift, or who couldn't control the process. Ones with anger issues, or who had survived trauma. Even ones who needed to recover from grave physical injuries.
And, of course, the outcasts. The ones who had been shunned by their packs, prides, clans, or family groups.
Paging Dr. Freud. She didn't need a degree in psychology to diagnose her own neuroses in this case. She supposed that if she had gone to Alpha — known to shifters one and all as Alphaville — she would have had to admit to her own status as outcast. Going to the place where outcasts went meant she believed she belonged there, that she deserved the punishment Graham had meted out.
But, after all her resistance, all her mental kicking and screaming, in the end, she delivered herself to the place. And into the office of the mayor, no less. Her former alpha certainly knew which carrot to dangle to get her to move fast.
She followed the receptionist's directions to the door with the brass plaque engraved, simply, MAYOR. Lifting a hand, she rapped three times before she could talk herself out of it.
The voice, masculine but muffled, had no special qualities other than the distinct subliminal buzz of alpha power. Her innate gamma nature (a middle-of-the-pack wolf) made it impossible to refuse the order. Even if she had wanted to.
Still, she took a deep breath before she turned the knob and opened the dark panel. In her head, the "Imperial March" from Star Wars played, all minor chords and tonal dissonance. It could have been her theme song.
She stepped forward and scanned the space, gaze automatically fixing on the man behind the desk. "Mayor Jaeger?"
The man stood, all lean, feline grace and masculine power. He smiled, wide and charming, and circled the end of his desk to greet her.
She took his hand automatically and shook it, instinct making her size him up in an instant. He stood an inch or two over six feet and carried it with the lazy, precise balance that marked him unmistakably as a cat shifter. Years of practice let her inhale discreetly, just enough to identify the stone-and-pine forest scent of mountain lion. Or cougar, she thought they called them out here.
It explained the light tan to his skin and the black-streaked sandy color of his hair. Add in the dark, mossy green of his eyes, the chiseled features, and that big, broad grin, and the man was enough to catch any female shifter's eye.
So why did Annie's keep straying to the huge, burly shape silhouetted against the bright light streaming through the windows?
"Welcome to Alpha." The mayor had a politician's handshake — firm, brisk, and dry — and the manners to keep it brief and friendly. "We're excited you were able to make it all the way out here to see us."
Annie yanked her attention where it belonged. She even had to angle her body away from the window to bolster her self-control. What in the name of Crick and Watson was the matter with her?
"Thank you, Mayor Jaeger." She forced a polite smile and ignored the way the hair on the back of her neck stood on end. "I enjoyed the drive. I haven't gotten much chance to see this part of the country."
"Well, we like it, rain and all. Hopefully, you'll have some time to tour around a little bit. See some sights."
"That would be great."
Inside, Annie's wolf snarled and raised its hackles. It had no use for small talk and an intense desire to face the man by the window and sniff him from head to toe.
Force of will might be keeping her gaze on Jaeger, but every other one of her senses was focused on the stranger. So much so, that she noticed the instant he gathered himself to step forward. She was already turning before her host lifted a hand to motion to the other man. So much for self-control. She'd just have to hope no one had noticed.
"Dr. Cryer, I'd like you to meet a good friend of mine. This is Jonas Browning. Jonas, Dr. Annie Cryer."
Her wolf growled it. Not in the menacing way of a predator detecting a potential threat, but with a sense of surprised satisfaction that made Annie think if her inner beast had been a cat, it would be purring.
Jonas Browning, of the huge frame and mayoral friendship, was definitely a bear; her wolf was right about that. He bore the earthy, woodsy, pleasantly musty scent of that species, but there was something different about it. Annie couldn't quite put her finger on it, but he smelled just a little different from the bears she had met in the past. A wilder, rockier scent that struck her as pleasant as it was unexpected.
Excerpted from "Something to Howl About"
Copyright © 2018 Christine Warren.
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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.