Sheriff Vaughn Ellis’s very existence as a rare double-shifter defies the natural order. It also makes it extremely difficult for him to get close to anyone. To trust anyone. It’s nothing Vaughn can’t handle, until a seductively sweet woman arrives in Black Robe, and suddenly he can’t think about anything but her.
The product of a witch/werewolf pairing, Hannah Cochran gets the odd-wolf-out thing. But when she uncovers a major threat to the lycanthrope world, she finds herself playing nice with the sexy sheriff. Abiding by the law isn’t usually Hannah’s style, but nothing catches her breath quite like the commanding attraction she feels toward Vaughn.
Working closely together only intensifies their fated connection, making it impossible to deny—or resist. Hannah fears that getting involved puts Vaughn in danger. But when she becomes the target, it’s Vaughn who’ll have to decide which rules he’s willing to break to save the woman he can’t live without.
One-click with confidence. This title is part of the Carina Press Romance Promise: all the romance you’re looking for with an HEA/HFN. It’s a promise!
This book is approximately 89,000 words
Carina Press acknowledges the editorial services of Mackenzie Walton
Read an Excerpt
It's a challenge to get a werewolf drunk, let alone hung-over. Hannah thanked the goddess for that. Was there anything less attractive than a sloppy party girl teetering around the dance floor?
Lips clamped together in a desperate effort to not toss her cookies, she wished alcohol was the problem now.
"Hannah, what are you doing in there? Your father's guests are arriving." Her mother rattled the doorknob to the private bathroom in Daddy's law office.
Hannah swallowed hard. "Be out in a few ticks, Mama. Just fixing the glow on my nose." Glow. Not perspiration or — heaven forbid — sweat. Cochran women did not do anything as gauche as sweat. What would the quality people of Atlanta say?
As anticipated, her mother ceased trying to open the door. "Well, make sure you haven't smudged your mascara, too. Hurry along now."
If her pulse hadn't been pounding in her head, Hannah's preternaturally sharp hearing would have picked up the muted thump of her mother's suede Manolo Blahnik pumps sinking into the high pile of the wool carpet. But, sick as she was, even the loud click of the office door closing barely registered.
Dear goddess, she'd never been so sick. What was wrong with her? Werewolves didn't catch viruses. Had she eaten something off? Surely she would have smelled anything spoiled.
But ever since her afternoon coffee fix, she'd felt progressively worse. A shame, too, because the hottie who'd bumped into her in line at the café had been tall, blond, and built, if a little clumsy. After their awkward crash-and-dance, where he'd spun away from the counter, smacking into her and poking her in the hip with the wire of his spiral-bound notebook, she'd sent him several not-so-subtle looks. He definitely gave good eye-flirt. But just when it seemed like he might come over to her table, her stomach had rumbled, and she'd developed a world-class case of the shakes. She'd barely managed to hightail it out of the café before she'd truly embarrassed herself. Vomit was never a good accessory.
Hannah popped another antacid tablet into her mouth and grimaced at the chalky taste. How did humans stand it? With trembling fingers, she tossed the medicine back into the funky beaded clutch she'd picked up on vacation in Peru. Her mother hated it, but Hannah loved the bold, bright, one-of-a-kind bag. It's just like you, Daddy had said when she'd shown him her find.
Unless she wanted to disappoint her father, she had to pull it together now, and quick. A venerated tradition, the Crane, Cochran & Douglas annual holiday party required all hands on deck to charm those clients into generating more billable hours. Scott may have been home on break from his first year in law school at Duke, but her younger brother was completely inept at the finer points of small talk.
Hannah dabbed a tissue across her face one more time, then left the bathroom. I can do this. Just breathe and smile. She'd been charming people since birth. No upset tummy was going to spoil her fun.
Opening the office door, she winced as the genteel sounds of a high-society holiday party roared in her aching head. She stumbled — darn four-inch heels — and caught herself on the wall. Numbness spread through her hands, and she tripped again.
"Hannah!" Her father grabbed her arm and righted her. "You ladies and your heels."
She took a steadying breath, holding on to her father's comforting, familiar scent. "I'm sorry, Daddy. Were you looking for me?"
"Oh, no. I just had to put something in my safe for a client. But now I get to escort the prettiest female here — besides your mother, of course — into the party." His grin faltered and he sniffed discreetly. "What's wrong, sweetheart? You smell — forgive me — strange."
A burst of laughter from the partygoers echoed down the hall. She squared her shoulders and offered him a smile. "I'll be fine. I think I ate something a bit off." When he didn't seem convinced, she added, "We better get out there before Scott launches into a diatribe on tort reform."
That horrible thought widened her father's eyes and got him moving. He drew her along the hallway toward a group of people standing inside the library. Their forms wavered like cattails in the breeze.
To clear her bleary vision, Hannah squeezed her eyes shut tight. Under normal circumstances, she loved this room and its transformation into a bar for the annual party. It always reminded her of a scene straight from The Great Gatsby, with white-gloved waiters swirling about, bearing trays of champagne and hors d'oeuvres. The guests all decked out in their best tuxedos and evening dresses. The conversation lively and fun, fueled by tippy-top shelf liquor and superb cuisine. Tonight, though, the bustling staff and animated guests whirled together into a sickening kaleidoscope and she wanted nothing more than to escape through the patio doors, into the cold night beyond.
"Ah, Ned," a man said. "Is this the talented artist you were telling me about?"
Daddy gave her hand a gentle squeeze and she blinked open her eyes. "Crawford, here, was admiring the series of still lifes in reception you painted. He was trying to convince me to sell them to him. As if I would ever."
A wave of nausea rolled over her, nearly bringing her to her knees.
"Hannah?" The light touch of her father's hand against her back sent pins and needles crawling over her skin, into her fingertips. Hot, hot. Too hot. If she stuck her hands into the ice bucket, would they hiss and steam?
She smiled — or at least hoped she had. Achieving anything better than a grimace seemed a herculean task at the moment. Goddess, don't let me vomit on the oriental rug.
"Hannah, are you all right?" Daddy asked. His voice echoed, but she nodded once — bad idea — and tried for another smile.
"Of — of course," she said, and promptly mashed her lips together again. How could she gracefully excuse herself?
"Um, well, this is Macon Crawford," Daddy said in a rush. "He's the CEO of Genysis Labs, a new client of ours." I.e., an important client. Don't puke on him.
"Miss Cochran, a pleasure."
With great effort, Hannah focused on the man in front of her. Bespectacled, with graying brown hair, Crawford extended a manicured hand that bore a heavy gold insignia ring on the middle finger. Would he feel whatever chaos was raging within her? Could she get away with not touching him?
In the end, good Southern manners and fear of what her mother would say about such a grievous social faux pas forced Hannah's hand. Literally. She reached out a quivering hand and Macon Crawford clasped it between both of his. His ring pressed against her skin and seared her flesh as surely as if he'd electrocuted her. Nothing could have prevented the gasp that burst from her lips or the way she went absolutely rigid.
It wasn't the pain or shock that finally did her in. It was what she saw when her eyes slammed shut. Horrors she couldn't explain invaded her mind and flooded her mouth with bile. She couldn't speak. Couldn't even scream.
Those nightmares were the last thing she saw before her whole world turned black.CHAPTER 2
Eight months later
Socializing wouldn't be so bad, if it wasn't for all the people. As Vaughn Ellis threaded through the Golden Claw pub, humans and shifters alike scrambled out of his path. Per usual, he'd managed to intimidate everyone. Case in point: he nodded at a pretty werewolf female he recognized from a nearby territory. She gasped and practically climbed over a table to avoid him.
Swallowing a sigh, he continued weaving through the crowd. He wasn't even wearing his sheriff's uniform. Yeah, he had a pistol holstered on his hip, but this was rural Montana. No one batted an eye at things like that. Of course, it wouldn't matter if they did. No way was he — or any of his deputies — going without a weapon. Not after the events of the last few months.
He wouldn't bother trying, but making nice was part of his job. As sheriff, he represented not only his pack, but the whole county. Plus, his mother and aunt got annoyed when he scared their customers.
Some people found his size nerve-racking. He was a big guy, over six feet tall and muscular. Good thing, too. He needed every bit of that strength. It wasn't easy arresting pissed off shapeshifters.
Hell, it could be the scars driving people out of his path.
It took a long damn time to heal from silver bullets.
He jerked his arm back down before letting himself rub the still-pink slash that crossed the right side of his neck, or the one on his cheek. Good thing they couldn't see the puckered one on his waist.
Or maybe the pub patrons sensed the frustrated predators straining against the inside of his skin. As the offspring of werewolf and eagle shifters, he'd always freaked people out. He wasn't supposed to exist. Different were animals weren't supposed to have children together. The few that had ... well, he'd never liked horror stories anyway.
A twentysomething human wearing a faded University of Montana T-shirt bumped into him. The kid turned, took one look at Vaughn, and blanched. "Oh — oh, man. S-sorry. Didn't mean —"
"No harm." Vaughn clapped him on the shoulder and the kid paled even further, his eyes drawn to the eagle's wing tattoo spanning Vaughn's left arm.
The pungent scent of fear overpowered a hundred others fighting for dominance in his nose. His wolf stirred, stretched his claws, and considered whether the prey was worth the hunt. Less than a second later, the wolf huffed and settled back into Vaughn's skin, clearly not impressed.
The golden eagle, who'd been making his presence known more and more since the day Vaughn was shot, cocked his head and eyed the human. Vaughn received a clear image of a scrawny field mouse. Guess his eagle wasn't enthusiastic about the prospects of a decent hunt either. Just as well — he and his beasts were searching for bigger game.
He'd only made it a few feet farther into the pub when a female huffed at him. "I shouldn't be surprised."
He stiffened, recognizing the voice, and turned to face the fiftysomething blonde scowling at him. "Marianne," he said in greeting.
He would have kept moving past her, because no conversation with Marianne Townes ever went well, but she leaned closer. Voice lowered to a murmur the humans couldn't hear, she said, "Even the humans can tell."
"What you are."
The beasts inside him bristled, and he wanted to snap his teeth at her. But he'd be damned before he let her rile him in public. "What's that?"
"Unnatural," she hissed. "Luke never should have allowed you back in the territory."
Before he could respond, she was gone, sashaying through the crowd on three-inch high heels.
Anger crawled over his skin like a swarm of yellow jackets. Why the hell had he engaged with her? It didn't matter that her own daughter had betrayed the pack when Vaughn had fought for it. To Marianne, and people like her, he'd never belong here. He squeezed the copper cuff on his right arm until it dug into his flesh. He wouldn't give her the satisfaction of yelling after her. Nothing he'd say would change a thing anyway.
Ignoring his pissed off beasts, he finally reached the bar and the Alpha of the Kaniksu River Pack. Luke Wyland held court from his stool at the corner of the long, oak bar. A young wolf from their pack had just finished introducing two female fox shifters, while a trio of were-cougars waited their turn.
Unlike human VIPs who squirrelled away in semiprivate enclosures, hoping to be seen without having to interact with the common folk, Alpha wolves lived to mingle. Through all of Vaughn's travels, he'd never met a shy Alpha, no matter their beast. At the top of the job description — if shifters actually wrote those things down — it would read: introverts need not apply.
Luke reached out and clasped hands with Vaughn. "Give me a minute." He nodded to his left, toward an empty stool on the other side of his new mate. As Vaughn passed behind Izzy, Luke tucked her into his side a little more securely. The Alpha probably didn't even know he'd done it, but the instinct to claim and protect his mate from a male he was unsure about was hard to deny. Still, it made Vaughn's wolf growl. Pack. The word rang clear in his head. Yes. They were born into Luke's pack, but, Would we act any different under the circumstances? he asked his beast. Wolf grumbled, but he didn't offer any more complaints.
Vaughn sat down next to Izzy. Strangling a beer bottle in one hand, she greeted him with a terse, "'Sup?"
"Everything all right?"
"Sure. Provided Foxy Loxy here gets her hooters outta my mate's face."
He swallowed a laugh so he didn't interfere with Izzy's dominance display. The werefox had a nose on her face; she knew Luke was mated. And even a human couldn't have missed the way Luke had his arm draped over Izzy's shoulders, or how they constantly looked at one another.
The werefox huffed her outrage. Izzy laid a fist on the bar, leaned in between the female and Luke, and growled quietly. The female's eyes popped wide before she hastily looked down, her head tilted, subtly baring her throat.
"That's what I thought," Izzy said. "Move along. The Alpha's busy." She made a shooing motion and Vaughn bit down on his cheek.
Petite and, after years of malnutrition, still too skinny for a wolf, some people might have thought Izzy weak. Those people would be idiots. Vaughn didn't know her well, but he knew she was a fierce warrior who'd fought alongside them when rogues had tried to destroy their pack four months ago.
Luke picked up his mate's fist and smacked it with a kiss before setting her hand on the back of his neck. His green eyes flared into the gold of his wolf as he said, "Yours." He gave her a quick but thorough kiss as the foxes scurried away and everyone else nearby chortled.
Scarlet-faced, Izzy pushed him away with a muttered, "Jackass."
Luke beamed. The werecougars made their goodbyes and melted back into the throng to join the festivities.
"So, Vaughn," Luke said, tearing his eyes off his mate. "Just get back?"
"About an hour ago. Had to stop off at the station." He'd rather be there now, sorting through incident and arrest reports, catching up, making sure everything had been taken care of. Not that his deputies weren't competent, but it'd be nice to accomplish something concrete, unlike everything else he'd done the last few weeks.
"It's been quiet," Luke said. When his mate's eyebrows climbed up to her hairline, he added, "Relatively speaking."
"The Thunder Moon always brings out the crowds," Vaughn said. And the drunks, the troublemakers, and the testosterone-fueled just-looking-to-get-laid-and-I-don't-care-how morons. To Izzy, he said, "We'll quadruple the county's population this month."
"In weres?" Izzy asked. Though it was hard to pick out specifics, he thought he detected a touch of fear in her scent. In deference to the crowd and July heat, his mother and aunt had turned on the ceiling fans. It wreaked havoc on were senses, but kept the air conditioners from overheating.
Luke stroked Izzy's cheek. "No, sugar. This is prime hiking, fishing, and camping time for the humans, too."
"Tourists," she sniffed.
"Invaders," he agreed with a teasing grin.
Izzy rolled her eyes. "What exactly is the Thunder Moon?" She threw Vaughn a sheepish look. "I'm still learning about lycanthrope culture. There's a lot to take in."
Right. He couldn't fathom growing up as a human like she had. His own childhood hadn't been all puppies and rainbows, but suppressing her true nature must have been torture. At least Vaughn had been able to let his beast out to play. Well, one of them.
"Each month's full moon has a different name," Luke said. "July is the Thunder Moon. For us lycanthropes, it's the time of the year when we like to gather together to see old friends, meet new ones, and ... um ... well, uh ..."
"Mate," Vaughn said, enjoying the blush overtaking his Alpha's ears.
Izzy choked on a sip of beer. "Wh-what?"
Luke shot him a look. "It's a celebration of life. A time for us to thank the goddess for the moon and Earth, and all her blessings."
Izzy studied his painfully sincere face then looked at Vaughn. "So basically you all are twitterpated from the warm weather and full moon, and throw a giant Tinder party."
Vaughn nearly choked on a laugh as Luke sputtered. They were both saved from responding by someone shouting his name.
Carrying a huge tray of food, Vaughn's mother emerged through the kitchen doors. She set the tray down on the bar and slid under the pass-through, her long, dark ponytail swinging. She grabbed him in a tight hug. "So glad you're back. Your aunt Veronica's on cooking duty today. Go on and let her know you've made it home okay. We're swamped and she may not climb out from the mountain of fries she's cut until Halloween."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Touch the Sky"
Copyright © 2018 Kari Cole.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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