Only a few know about a race of Lycans hidden deep within Miami's underground. And those who do not embrace the wolves seek to destroy them. Cameron Mitchell has sought to protect his kind at any cost. But one beautful woman may be his undoing.
Born into a family of wolf hunters, Abby Stark has never actually confronted a Lycan. Then Cameron steps out of the shadows and Abby is overcome with the need to be devoured. With her father vowing to destroy all of Cameron's kind, Abby knows they have no future. Coupling with a were is not her destiny. Yet walking away is proving impossible.
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It was only moonlight. A damn luminous light show
But Abby Stark stood frozen in a pool of it. A choice four-letter word slipped through her clenched teeth.
Tonight's recon should have been routine. It was too late to second-guess what had gone wrong. One move now, no matter how slight, and whatever was out there in the dark, whatever had stopped her in her tracks, would find her. Breaking the silence by talking into her cell phone would mean attracting any number of bad guys roaming the area.
She couldn't afford to be caught with her pants down in this notorious Miami park. Her mind brought up the words dead meat.
The thing out there in the dark, too close for comfort, didn't even begin to fit the term bad guy. Its presence left an eerie wave of ripples in the air. Otherness rolled across her skin in waves.
This visitor was not human.
Big freaking surprise.
The thing heading her way was trouble with a bite. A large male, her senses confirmed, and charismatic enough to affect her from a distance. Not just any old monster, either, according to her gut reaction. Something special. Encountering his vibe had been similar to slamming up against a brick wall face-first.
Damn it, had he come close enough to see her?
Was he paying attention?
Flicking her gaze from right to left brought up nothing out of the ordinary. Then again, most of the planet's darker things were difficult to catch a glimpse of in the darkness that bred them.
Adding to the problem was the rain of coldhearted moonlight highlighting every move she'd dare to makelike a circus spotlight pointed in her direction when she was supposed to be in stealth mode.
Step right up, folks. See the girl who's about to have her ass kicked.
Moisture began to gather in the valley between her breasts. Sweat dampened her forehead. Her skin burned beneath her black fatigues because her engine was revved but stuck in neutral.
How screwed was she, on a scale of one to ten?
There was nothing to be done now, Abby supposed, short of wishing for backup, though she couldn't decide what would be worsebeing caught by a monster, or having her father's team of elite monster hunters know she'd been found by one of those monsters.
That's what her father called the man-wolf hybrids that had recently claimed this park. Monsters.
Her head came up.
The night rustled as if something had just punched its way through the dark. More nerve endings fired as Abby strained to see what approached. This guy had turned the tables, making the watcher a target, rather than the other way around.
She didn't like anything about this.
Sensing Others was what she had always been good at, yet she'd been inexcusably late to this particular party. The hot flashes burning through her were a telling sign that she'd found the very thing she'd been seeking tonight. Werewolf. A beast that also might have found her.
Unfortunately, this sucker's presence seemed strong. It might even be a full-blooded beast, though she'd never come across one in the fourteen years she'd spent scouting for her father's team. If not one of the mysterious Lycans, this Were's pedigree had to run parallel to that status. The older the bloodline, the stronger the wolf.
Who are you?
Abby fisted her hands.
To her relief, her watcher wouldn't be a full-fledged beast tonight, since the moon wouldn't be full for another twenty-four hours, though he'd be close enough to being a beast to have set off warning signals.
Her nerves were virtually singing.
Show yourself, wolf. I know you 're there.
Abby hoped he wouldn't actually take her up on the offer. Not a creature this potent. Real toughness, a trait she'd inherited from her father, fell short of the mark when dealing with big male werewolves, a fact brought home by the ribbon of fear weaving its way up her spine over the thought of how excited this Were would be tonight, so near to a full lunar phase. He would be restless.
Hell, she was restless. And puzzled.
Whether werewolves were furred-up or not, her intuitive sense of them remained the same. She could pick Weres out of a crowd. She'd always known they were around. But the intensity of the spark igniting deep in her belly at that moment, when stumbling upon this guy, also resembled some sort of messed-up sexual craving. That was new. Brand-new.
Mixed signals between fear and lust? Had to be, because no way in hell could feelings of lust be right.
I'm no amateur, you beast.
I've been around.
In her father's private and very personal war on werewolves, a war that had started with greed before escalating to be so much more, she had been more than useful.
The going rate for a wolf hide chimed in at five hundred dollars in the European black markets. For a fully morphed werewolf pelt the dollar decibel moved over, altering that sum to a full ten grand. In another category altogether came rare, pure-blooded Lycan pelts, skinned before the wolf shifted back to its humanlike form. The grand total for remnants of the king of beasts was fifty thousand bucks. Enough to build a swimming pool.
But Sam Stark's war on Weres went deeper than dollar signs. The bigger, darker motivation for werewolf haters like her father outclassed thoughts of money and reaping vengeance on a nasty criminal element that had been feasting on humans in Miami and elsewhere for quite some time. Sam's motivation came under the classification of genocide. The elimination of beings unlike himself.
The goal of the TTD, an acronym for Take Them Down, was to cull all mutants with moon-tweaked genetics from the populationcreatures that could pass for human some of the time, but weren't really human at all.
Abby didn't like the bad stuff. She never accompanied the team when they hunted werewolves, and didn't care to witness what they brought back. Her awareness of Weres had grown more intense as time passed, and now seemed almost personal.
Heck, she was the last person to understand how that intuitive connection to Weres worked, but hoped it didn't go both ways. All she had ever wanted was for werewolf violence against humans in her own backyard to stop. And here she stood, being stalked by one of those same hybrids from a species doing real damage around town.
So, who is going to show up, and what will you do?
Without a completely full moon, Weres looked like everyone else, with human heads, shoulders, arms and legs. Some of them would speak English.
In human form, wolfmen were tall and tautly muscled, with plenty of supersize capabilities, such as being able to smell her from several yards away.
Like this one must have.
Would he eventually appear in his human skin cocoon? Fake being a jogger? Play at acting like just another guy out for a midnight stroll in a park that no one in their right mind would trespass in alone without an Uziunless that mindless sucker happened to be her, with a very special agenda that made dangerous places her job sites of necessity.
This park was a nightmare.
More human bodies were found each year in public parks than anyplace else in Miami, outside of the city center. Bodies turned up without bullet holes or knife wounds, trashed by bite marks and the deep grooves of razor-sharp clawswounds the Miami PD had no way to explain because not everyone knew about monsters, or that they actually existed.
The Starks knew.
So did handfuls of other people.
Hunters from all over the world came to Miami to join her father's underground big-game hunting expeditions. Some of those people actually believed they were doing God's work.
I know what you are, wolf.
I know you're there.
Reality hit hard. Odds being odds, Abby had figured that someday this kind of accident might happen. In all those years of service to the TTD, she'd never gotten within a couple yards of any big Were. She had never allowed herself to.
This one was getting closer by the secondclose enough to make her blood simmer. The initial quake of recognition that had rocked her backward splintered into smaller quakes. Her knees felt gummy. Her skin was hot. Weres were often volatile and always dangerous. Right then the sense of danger seemed extreme.
Come out, damn it. Let's get this over with.
As Abby saw it, she was fresh out of options. It would have been useless to try to outrun a strong male when chasing prey is what they did so well, and this guy's presence alone had nearly knocked her off her feet. There hadn't been time to find cover after her initial awareness of him. Currently, she stood in the open, completely exposed.
Why don't you come out?
Are you toying with me?
At that moment, Abby hated the moonlight that ruled these beasts more than ever. She hated everything about the moon.
Shit. How far was she from help?
She'd been cornered between two of the walls separating one of Miami's megamansions from the east end of the park. Although she had been in worse places numerous times, being stuck in the open and drenched in moonlight didn't help her chances.
Attached to her leg, above her right boot, a knife rested in its sheath. Her cell phone was keyed to her father and the rest of his hunters waiting for news at her father's bar.
Short of using the blade, throwing the phone at a beast in man form would be an unconscionably girlie thing to do.
For the record, I haven't been that kind of girl for some time now, she wanted to shout. "Damn moon. I hate you."
"In that case, this is probably the last place you'd want to be tonight," a deep masculine voice returned from the shadows.
He had spoken out loud.
Pulses of pure adrenaline, fierce and feral, skittered through Abby, producing a series of massive electrical jolts. Her stomach twisted into knots. Her teeth slammed together. Staring at what stepped out from under the trees, her hands flew to her neck in an automatic gesture of self-defense, as if in man form or not, her visitor might go for her jugular.
And God help her, part of her untimely inertia was due to the fact that her impression of this guy, from afar, hadn't been wrong.
This sucker was one hundred percent intimidating.
* * *
Abby stared in shocked silence as the Were in his human incarnation advanced in a balanced combination of hard angles and mounds of lean muscle.
He stood tall enough to tower over her, and was twice as broad. A first glance proved him to be brutally handsome. His energy was electrifying. Looking at him kicked the scalding Miami summer temperature up several notches and turned her shudders seismic. Her heartbeats thundered in a way that any Were worthy of its species would be attracted to.
Searching, she saw nothing wolfish in his outline, though an aura of Otherness radiated from him like visible radio waves. His casual, almost nonchalant stride screamed of combustible energy tightly contained in a human casing. His long limbs and wide shoulders were topped by a tanned sculpted face and thick chin-length hair that fell somewhere on the color spectrum between gold and bronze.
Oh yes. This guy was a breed unto himself, and completely unlike anything she had come across before. He was a magnetic combination of rugged and elegant.
Too gorgeous to be human.
He wore a blue long-sleeved shirt rolled at the cuffs to expose sun-kissed forearms. An open collar showed off more skin. His jeans were faded, and she caught a flash of heavy black boots, though he advanced soundlessly with his gaze riveted to her.
Abby felt color drain from her face. Mesmerizing wasn't the word to best describe him. Magnificent seemed a better choice. Also deadly. This beast, with his incredibly honed body outlined by the tight, fitted shirt, moved toward her little circle of light with the grace of an animal because he was an animal, at least in part. And the overtly masculine, almost hypnotic physical details that described him were likely some kind of built-in bait for reeling in prey.
The devil always lay in the details. Her father had warned her about this many times.
Never get close to the enemy.
Hell, she'd just smashed that golden rule to smithereens through no fault of her own.
Beneath her outward quakes, Abby's insides trembled with a mixture of fear and defiance and something else she didn't dare addressthat new thing that had no business showing up alongside this large golden wolf.
That's what she felt. Hunger. For knowledge of him. For the chance to get closer to him.
Either she'd gone insane, or this guy had the ability to hypnotize her with his wolf power, because she grappled with a spectacularly idiotic, completely suicidal compulsion to have the itch forming down deep inside her scratched by a razor-sharp claw.
The breath she exhaled after holding it for so long was steamy. Aside from her need for self-preservation, and against her better judgment, this werewolf in his human form affected her in ways that were totally wrong. The highly erotic vibrations he gave off were the epitome of a perilous death trap.
She got that. She knew better. So why did her body want to meet the animal in him? What possible explanation could account for her absurd desire to fold herself into his heat?
"What do you want?" she demanded in frustration.
He replied in a voice like soft, sifted gravel. "I was wondering if perhaps you have a death wish."
The world went white-hot beneath this Were's unwavering gaze. Moonlight seemed to amplify every sensation rippling through Abby, all of those sensations pointing to him. No doubt about it, her sexually suggestive reactions were as dangerous as the Were himself.
She'd never been an out-and-out rebel, really, she thought now, though she had lived on the edge, more or less fending for herself since her mother died of a prolonged illness when she was a kid. In the past, she'd had no reason to flaunt her father's strict authority, since he had provided, if not earnest affection, a roof over her head.
So, was there an actual rule about people having to do the right thing at the right time, or only what was good for them?
Breathlessness made her light-headed, a symptom of anticipating more trouble to come. Needing air, unable to stand the silence, Abby spoke in a voice shakier than she would have liked, given that werewolves, as with other predators, could ferret out fear.
He nodded. "Everyone in Miami is familiar with this park's unfavorable mortality statistics."
Inner warning signals went off again. Red flags waved.
If she couldn't outrun this sucker and he wished her harm, she'd have to fight.
Keep him talking. Gauge his intent.
Was he a member of the pack killing people out here? The way he rolled his shoulders reminded Abby of how much muscle lay under that cool blue cotton, and how that muscle would soon adapt to a new shape. If not an organic werewolf, known from Sam's lectures as a Lycan, he'd have to have been bitten by another werewolf, and that bite had injected the wolf virus into his bloodstream. Human and wolf particles had fused to form a freakish new entity.
Did this guy's raw, undulating maleness stem from the kick of some mystical ancient virus in his bloodstream, or had he always been a heartthrob?
"I know about the park," she said.
She hadn't really looked closely at his face. It was bad enough that the bronzed skin beneath his chin, exposed between open buttons, beckoned to her with the lure of the forbidden.
Would his flesh be smooth, so close to becoming a wolf? Abby cursed the urge to press her fingers there to find outan action that would probably add one more body count to those unfavorable statistics he'd just mentioned.
Resist the craziness.
Never get close.
"Then you do know this park is probably the last place a woman should visit, alone and at night," he said quietly. "Only women?"
"Am I alone?"
"That seems to be the case."
Abby gestured at him with a wave of one hand. "You don't count?"