Cougarville's mechanic, and resident Alpha fox, shelters a mysterious woman who ignites his protective animal instincts when evil forces try to tear them apart.
Jo Ferrell has been cast out of her home for reasons she doesn’t understand. The grey streak in her hair is gone, her body is younger, and there’s an ominous shadow chasing her. With nowhere else to go, Jo finds shelter in a shed whose owner she wants nothing to do with—but he’s too much to resist.
Reese Cooper has never felt a pull towards a woman like he does towards Jo and his Fox is desperate to claim her as their mate. After offering her a place to stay, Reese finds it difficult to resist his beautiful new roommate. But when dark magic threatens their happiness, Reese will use all of his strength to protect the woman he loves…if he’s not too late.
Stone Cold Fox is a fun, sexy, exciting read from Evangeline Anderson that will make readers want to revisit Cougarville again and again.
*Author's Note: Though I have tried to handle the subject sensitively, certain events in this book may make anyone with a history of past abuse upset. Please read responsibly.*
About the Author
Evangeline Anderson is the author of the Brides of the Kindred, Alien Mate Index, and Born to Darkness series. She lives in Florida, and, to her delight, she gets paid for having a dirty mind.
Read an Excerpt
Reese Cooper heard the soft sound of sobbing long before he got to the entrance of the ramshackle shed in his backyard. It was a low, broken sound that tugged at his heart and froze him in his tracks.
Damn ... He clutched the brown paper bag filled with the bacon cheeseburger and fries he'd ordered from the Cougar's Den, his friend Liam Keller's bar, and shifted uncertainly from foot to foot. He'd wanted to eat the food there with his friends. Keller and his new mate, Samantha, and her sister Sadie and her mate Mathis had all been eating lunch. But then Fiona Shadow Tree, the town's resident pharmacist-slash-wise woman, had informed him that he had to take the food to go because there was someone crying in his back garden shed.
How she had that information, Reese had no idea and he didn't ask. Fiona wasn't someone you ignored, though, so he got the food packed up and left. But despite the wise woman's words, he still hadn't really expected to find a damsel in distress sitting between his lawnmower and the bag of potash he kept to fertilize the hydrangeas. And yet, the sounds coming from the broken-down garden shed were unmistakable.
Not that he was sure it was a damsel — he still hadn't looked into the shed, after all. But the soft sobbing sounded feminine. Reese, who had grown up in a house full of sisters, knew the sounds of an upset female better than the average single guy would.
Inside himself, he felt the Fox, his other half, lifting its pointed nose to sniff with interest. Who was this intruder and what did she want with him? People always said, "sly as a fox," but Reese thought that was a misrepresentation of his kind, who were extremely rare even in Shifter country.
True, Foxes could be sly and cunning when it came to protecting themselves and the mates they claimed, but his own beast was more curious than crafty. The soft feminine sounds of distress tugged at his Fox as much as they did on Reese.
Hang on, he told it. We'll check it out but we don't want to scare her — whoever she is.
Taking quiet, cautious steps, he approached the front of the shed where the warped wooden door, which was hanging halfway off its hinges, was only partially shut.
Sitting inside, in a dark corner, was a petite girl with long red hair and a pale face smudged with dirt and tracked with tears. She'd rubbed some kind of gray dust on her skin that smelled strange and made his nose itch. Reese couldn't see what color her eyes were because they were cast down, looking at what she was holding in her hand. Which was ...
Holy shit! Reese's eyes widened. The girl had a long silver dagger with a black handle in one hand and she was holding the wickedly sharp-looking blade over her wrist. Her hand wavered and the knife dipped — it looked like she was trying to nerve herself up to slice into the tender bracelet of blue veins that pulsed under her pale, scratched skin.
Reese felt a surge of distress from his Fox, which echoed his own emotion. This poor girl, whoever she was, was clearly at the end of her rope and she'd somehow decided his garden shed was the right place to off herself. He couldn't let that happen.
"Hang on now, honey," he said, taking a step into the shed. "Don't do that. Whatever it is, it can't be that bad. Just stop and think a minute before you do something you can't take back."
The girl started and the knife jumped in her hand, making a long but hopefully non-lethal slice in the pale skin of her arm. She looked up and her eyes grew huge with fear as she stared at Reese looming over her.
"Get back!" She jumped to her feet and the wickedly sharp blade was suddenly pointed at his heart. "Get back you ... you man!"
As a curse word it wasn't very cutting — not nearly as much as the dagger in her hand would be, Reese was certain — but he had the idea she said it with the same venom anyone else might have called him a bastard or a son of a bitch.
"Now look, darlin'," he said, trying to make his voice low and appeasing. "I'm not going to hurt you —"
"I know you're not because if you come one step closer I'm going to stab you through the heart!"
There was a wild, fierce light in her eyes that told Reese she was absolutely serious even though the top of her head didn't quite reach his shoulder and she was probably only about a hundred pounds soaking wet.
"I mean it!" she said, waving the knife threateningly. "Get away — get back! I may look helpless but I'm not and I won't let you ... let you do that to me no matter what. I'd rather die first."
Reese frowned. "Do what to you? And this is my shed you're in, you know. I have a right to be in here."
"Don't pretend you don't know what I mean, you man," she spat, using the word as a curse again. "I know what you want — I've been through it before but I'm never going through it again. I'll kill you and then myself if you try it! I swear I will!"
"Whoa ... okay, all right ..." She was serious, Reese could tell and not just by the fire in her red-rimmed eyes. Under the strangely scented dust she'd rubbed on her skin, his sensitive Shifter nose detected the smell of fear and desperation like a strong perfume. The girl was nearly suicidal and it wouldn't take much to push her into being homicidal too.
Then her words began to sink in. "I won't let you do that to me," she'd said. "I'd rather die first." And she seemed to think he was a threat just because he was a man.
Someone hurt her in the past — hurt her bad, he thought, and a surge of anger went through him. Growing up as the only brother in a houseful of sisters meant his protective instinct towards females was strong and well developed. If someone — some male — had hurt or abused the little red-haired female in the past, no wonder she was frightened now.
It also probably doesn't help that you're looming over her like a fucking monster, Reese, muttered a voice in his head. She's so tiny and you're so big — she's already upset and now you're scaring her half to death just being so close. You need to back up — give her some space.
His Fox agreed with the idea and Reese knew it was the right thing to do.
"Look," he said, raising his hands, one of which was still gripping the bag with the cheeseburger and fries in it. "I'm backing up. I'm not going to hurt you." He took a step back and the fries inside the bag rattled as the warm scent of the cheeseburger wafted from the sides of the paper sack.
The girl's eyes tracked the bag and Reese saw for the first time how skinny she was. She had on a tattered black dress with thin straps that showed her dust-smeared arms and he swore he could see her ribs through it. Her collarbones, as delicate and fragile as a bird's, were clearly visible above the rounded neckline.
It gave Reese a sudden idea.
"Hey, are you hungry?" he asked, trying to make his voice low and coaxing. "Want some food?" He rattled the bag again, deliberately this time. "Why don't you come out of the shed and into the house with me? We'll split this cheeseburger and get that cut on your arm taken care of, and you can tell me why you decided my garden shed was the right place to shuffle off your mortal coil."
For a moment the dagger she held sagged and Reese saw her lick her lips hungrily. He felt a surge of pity. Oh yeah, she was starving. She looked like she hadn't eaten in a week, if not longer.
But then her gaze hardened and she lifted the silver blade of the dagger again.
"Go into the house with you? I don't think so," she snapped. "If you want me out of your shed, fine, I'll go. Just don't try to stop me."
"I'll let you go," Reese said, taking another step back. "As long as you tell me you've got someplace to go. Where do you belong, anyway?"
The girl's eyes went wide and her lush lower lip trembled for a moment.
"Nowhere," she whispered. "I ... I don't belong anywhere anymore. I just know I can't ... can't go back into the forest. Not at night, anyway."
Reese's heart fisted in his chest.
"Look, honey —" he began but the girl waved her dagger at him threateningly, a motion that caused the blood dripping from the cut on her arm to spatter on the ground below.
"I said I'll go — I'll leave your shed and you won't even know I was here. Just leave me alone."
Reese felt a surge of frustration. Clearly she wasn't going to trust him. He was too big — too male. He was six foot seven and muscular, as most Shifter males were. If she'd been hurt by a man before, someone his size was going to look scary, no matter what he said to try and assuage her fears.
Someone your size, yes, whispered the Fox in his head. But what about me?
It was a good idea — Reese felt it in his bones.
"I'll go," he said to the girl. "But I'm not kicking you out. In fact, I wish you'd stay — as long as you don't kill yourself, I mean," he added hastily.
"Why would you want me to stay?" Her eyes narrowed with suspicion. They were amber, Reese saw as she moved into the light slanting in through the half-open shed door. When they flashed with fear and anger they were almost gold. Her hair, when the sunlight fell across it, lit up like a flame — it was a pale red with hints of orange, not unlike the color of his Fox's coat when he Shifted.
Gorgeous, he couldn't help thinking. Despite the dirt and tattered clothing and the tear tracks down her cheeks, she was so beautiful it took his breath away. But this was no time to start handing out compliments — it would only make her more suspicious.
"I just don't want to push you out in the cold with no place to go," he said. "Okay — I'm leaving now," he added when she waved the knife at him again.
Turning, he walked quickly across his lawn towards the backdoor of his house, which was a big, rambling Victorian with a wrap-around porch he'd inherited from his dad. Leaving the brown paper sack on his back steps, he stepped around the side of the house and began rapidly shedding his clothes.
The girl was never going to trust him — not in his human form, anyway. But he'd rarely seen a female who could resist a cute, cuddly little animal and that was exactly what Reese intended to become.
It was late afternoon and the moon was nowhere near full yet, but Reese was an Alpha, able to Shift anywhere and anytime he needed or wanted. Of course, it hurt — Shifting was an agonizingly painful process, made worse by the fact that Lady Moon wasn't out to help him — but Reese managed.
He felt his bones bending in different directions and his muscles shifting even as his mass decreased dramatically. With most other Shifters, the change would have gone a different way and their mass would have increased. That was because when most Shifters turned into their animal counterparts, they became much, much larger than they were in human form.
Reese's friend Liam Keller, for instance, turned into a cougar the size of a draft horse with six-inch serrated fangs. Mathis Blackwell became an Irish Elk — the largest deer to ever roam the planet. It had gone extinct around eleven thousand years ago, as had the kind of saber-tooth cougar Keller became — except among the Shifter community.
The Shifter race had started back in the Stone Age — the Paleolithic Era, technically. That was when Lady Moon — the goddess who lived in the moon and watched over the world at night — had consecrated a special cave where only the bravest and fiercest warriors could enter. The legend went that on full moon nights when a warrior entered the holy cave and painted the shape of the animal he wished to become on the wall, Lady Moon would endow him with that animal's shape and strength on the nights when she was full.
Reese didn't know if the story was true but he figured Shifters must have started somewhere and it was certainly true that it was easier to Shift during the full moon.
He considered his size in his Fox form and then made himself a little smaller — until he was about the size of a Chihuahua. Reese had the extra benefit of size control, unlike most Shifters. There was even a neat little addendum to the Shifter legend to explain it — Reese's father used to tell it to him at bedtime when he was a kid.
The story was that one full moon night a brave warrior made his way to the holy cave. On its walls rather than painting the massive cave bear or the fierce saber tooth tiger or even the swift and deadly dire wolf — instead, he painted the fox. A plain, red fox which was only a little larger back in the Stone Age than its modern counterpart today.
On seeing the fox, Lady Moon spoke and asked in her silvery voice, "Warrior, why do you seek to become such a small creature when the world is filled with predators much larger and fiercer than the fox?"
"Lady Moon," the warrior — presumably Reese's very distant ancestor replied — "the fox may be small but he is also swift and cunning. He is fast enough to stay out of the way of larger predators but fierce enough to fight for his mate if need be. And he can get into places larger animals cannot and needs much less food to sustain himself. The Fox is also wise — I want wisdom and knowledge, not just brute strength. Given all this, why would anyone wish to be other than a Fox?"
Lady Moon had given a silvery laugh.
"Why indeed, Warrior?" she replied. "Wise you shall be, but never defenseless. I grant you the ability to change your Shifted form. You will be able to shrink to the size of the smallest mouse or grow as big as the cave lion at will. Go and use your power wisely."
Reese hoped he was using his power wisely now. His instinct told him that the girl in his shed would respond better to him in Fox form than as a human. Also, he was taking care to use what he thought of as his "little" size. He thought for a moment of going tiny — the size of a mouse — but rejected it. She would think that size was strange and he was too vulnerable in it. Likewise, he wasn't about to show her his largest form — what he thought of as his "holy shit!" size. Seeing a red fox the size of a cave lion — which had been a huge prehistoric beast that put modern lions to shame — would only scare her.
No, Chihuahua size was about right, he decided. Leaving his discarded clothing in a pile, he trotted out from around the side of the house and headed back to the shed.
Jo kept a firm grip on her athame and watched the door of the shed alertly to see if the huge man with the reddish-brown hair was coming back. She didn't trust his seeming kindness or his promises not to hurt her. She'd heard such promises before — many years ago.
"What's the matter, baby? Where are you going? Stay here and just talk to us — come on, we won't hurt you," whispered a voice from her past.
Jo shook her head, her long hair whipping around her dirty face as she tried to push the memory back. No — I won't think of that now. I swore never to think of it again!
It had been so much easier when she lived with her coven. Back at Avalon, the all-female retreat and commune she'd lived in for the past twenty-two years, she knew her place and her station in relation to her sister Wiccans. She'd had the Elders to look up to and the respect of the younger members of the community as she taught them spell-craft, weaving, meditation, and healing. On every Tuesday and Thursday she had ventured into town to teach a children's Yoga class at the local YWCA. And best of all, she'd never had to come into contact with any men.
Men. Jo shivered with disgust. Since being kicked out of Avalon, it seemed like men were the only people she saw. She'd been traveling in the forest alone in fear for her life for what felt like years — though it was really closer to two weeks. In that time she'd been attacked three times — every time by men.
Jo frowned. Well, she thought all the attackers were male. The group in the forest certainly were men ... until they suddenly weren't human anymore.
Excerpted from "Stone Cold Fox"
Copyright © 2017 Evangeline Anderson.
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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