As an enforcer, Margo Montgomery monitors the lone wolves. She is in the middle of investigating missing wolves from multiple territories when the order comes in to escort the Salvatore to Willow Bend. There’s bad blood between her and the current Alpha of Willow Bend, but they soon discover a new danger—a lone wolf gone rogue.
Now Margo must hunt the rogue—a pursuit made all the more dangerous because it becomes readily apparent the rogue they seek isn’t alone and Salvatore refuses to be left behind—not when wolves are vanishing without a trace…
At the exit for Bristol, Margo Montgomery followed the nava-bitch’s instructions to bear right then continue to bear right. GPS made life as an Enforcer a little simpler, but it didn’t stop her from wishing she could rip nava-bitch’s throat out. Even a moron couldn’t miss the exit since the sanctimonious little prig repeated the instructions at least three times.
Her phone buzzed with a text message three miles out from her destination. 911 where r u? After leaving Westchester County and the Hudson River Pack’s Alpha just after dinner, Margo intended to be as far from Brett Dalton’s territory as she could get before she crashed for the night. A decision she’d made before Cynthia’s first message arrived.
Not answering because her time was better spent covering the intervening miles to reach the woman, Margo tapped her fingers on the steering wheel. Dalton had always struck her as a relatively calm Alpha. She’d met him a few times, liked him well enough, but the mad wolf’s rampage through his pack darkened the Alpha. Scarred, he’d been cold, remote, and downright rude for the majority of her most recent visit to gather information on Hudson River’s missing wolves.
After the incident, they’d done a full census and then confirmed their numbers.
Four wolves missing and none found among any of the bodies or known dead. Margo gathered photographs, scent evidence and visited their homes. Brett and his Hunters stayed with her every step of the way. Most Alphas resisted using Enforcers for internal matters. Missing wolves gone from their territory, however, was no longer internal. It could affect the other packs.
Her phone rang and Margo checked the caller I.D. Julian. As Prime, he served as a tacit Alpha for the Enforcers. Though none swore allegiance to him, Margo and the other Enforcers relied on Julian as a central repository for information and wisdom. He’d earned his place through experience and longevity.
After tapping the screen to answer, she said, “I’ve only got a minute, but I can call you back if it’s important.”
“It is. Where are you?”
“Outside of Philadelphia.” The GPS demanded she should take a right at the next light. She followed the instructions.
“How soon can you be in Chicago?” Julian didn’t wait for her answer. “I need you to meet Salvatore Esposito at Midway and escort him to Willow Bend.”
“Who the fuck is Salvatore Esposito, and why can’t Mason send one of his own damn wolves to babysit?” The last place she wanted to visit was home. Her parents would insist she stop by to see them and then her kid brothers would want attention. Margo made a point of not going home so she never had to disappoint her mother. It worked for her.
Julian chuckled. “Call me back in an hour and I’ll tell you more.” With those ominous words, he disconnected. Probably just as well, since she’d arrived at Cynthia Hamilton’s house. Parallel parking the black Dodge Charger at the curb, she studied the two-story Victorian. Cynthia’s family always had money; her lifestyle hadn’t changed after she married. It didn’t seem to matter she’d tied her life to a two-bit piece of shit like David Conklin—a man who abused her. Twice before Margo had rescued her, getting her away from the bastard. She always seemed fine, then she would start to miss him.
Worse, she kept going back to him.
The front door to the house opened and Cynthia raced toward her. Wearing yoga pants and a tank top, she looked the most casual Margo had ever seen her—save for the massive black eye and split lip.
“Oh, thank God you’re here!” While the diminutive blonde possessed a flare for the dramatic, she’d been a damn good friend to Margo when Margo had no one. They’d been roommates her first year at boarding school, far away from her pack. Despite her rather shallow exterior, Cynthia proved to have mettle, but she needed protecting—and Margo needed to be needed.
It worked well for them.
“We have to go.” Cynthia was crying.
No way in hell would Margo budge, not after seeing the damage to her friend. She unlocked the passenger door and guided Cynthia into the car.
“Sit, stay.” Her animal dominance made the words a command, so Cynthia would listen to her. Retrieving her cell phone, Margo called 911 as she walked toward the house.
“Nine-one-one, what’s your emergency?”
“I’m at my friend’s house. Her husband broke in and knocked her around. He needs an ambulance. I had to stop him from hurting her.” She recited the address, then hung up before the operator could ask her any more questions.
Inside, a drunken David stumbled into the hallway. Margo didn’t slow down. She had maybe three minutes to disabuse the asshole from ever coming near Cynthia again before emergency services arrived. One of these days, she wouldn’t be in range when he came around. He gaped at her charge, and she let the wolf flash in her eyes.
His terrified scream made her very happy.
Him pissing his pants…well, that was just a perk.
An hour later, Margo pulled into the driveway of the Bellefleur House, a shelter for battered women. Tears filled Cynthia’s cornflower blue eyes. “Oh, I don’t want to go here. Why can’t I go to a hotel?”
“Because a hotel won’t help you.” The last thing she wanted to do was add to the grief the abused human had already suffered—however, enough was enough. “You need help. You’re worth a lot more than being used as his punching bag.”
“I’m really done with him this time, Margo. I promise.” Cynthia’s lower lip trembled. The trouble with her friend was she genuinely believed her own words. At the moment, she was done with her husband. Give him a few minutes to sober up, and her time to miss those fleeting moments when David grew romantic, and she’d run back to him again.
“I hope so, because I won’t be here next time.” Margo made a promise to herself the last time Cynthia called her, weeping after David put her in the hospital. He’d broken her arm that time, and she’d suffered a concussion after falling down the stairs. Instead of pressing charges, however, she’d pleaded with Margo about how David had been genuinely sorry. Margo should have killed him then, but they were both human. Pack laws decried the killing of humans for anything other than self-defense or in defense of a mate. While pack laws didn’t apply to her necessarily, Julian and the other Enforcers would retaliate if she broke them so blatantly. Her own code of ethics tied her hands—at least as far as killing him went. So, she needed to be creative.
“So, you’ll take me to a hotel?”
“No.” Falling back on her training, she let her wolf comfort her as all emotion drained from her voice. Being mean to Cynthia was like kicking a cub. Kindness, however, hadn’t helped her friend so far. “You’re going to go inside, check in for a few days, and go to the groups they offer. You’re going to get a lawyer, a restraining order, and a divorce. He signed a pre-nup. I remember your father ordering that.” Had she really attended their wedding? It seemed so very long ago. Her human ties were few and far between. “You’re going to do this because you need to be free. You need to find some strength to stand up for yourself.”
Or someone, though she didn’t say that part aloud. Cynthia’s submissive nature made her easy fodder for someone like David. Hopefully his broken bones and concussion would keep him laid up long enough for the shelter to help Cynthia plot a new course.
“Margo, I don’t know if I can…”
“I do know. I also know if you don’t—if you keep going back, if you keep letting him come back—he’s going to kill you. Go to your parents. Tell them the truth…”
“I can’t.” Weeping crested in her voice. “What will they think of me?”
“They’ll think their daughter needs help and protection, and you do.” Abuse wasn’t a human-only trait. Wolves could be equally wicked. Fortunately, most packs had a fairly brutal and efficient method for dealing with abusers. It grated on Margo that she could offer her little else.
“I don’t know.”
“I know you don’t.” The door to the shelter opened, and Cynthia’s mother stepped outside. Margo called them shortly after Cynthia’s first text and told them exactly what she planned to do.
Seeing her mother, Cynthia let out a choking sob and flew out of the car. Once in her mother’s arms, she collapsed in a fit of tears. The Hamiltons would take care of their daughter. Her wolf settled at the sight of the tender reunion unfolding before them. Satisfied, she reversed down the driveway and back onto the street.
Staying wasn’t an option. Enforcers avoided roots and long relationships. As it was, she shouldn’t have involved herself in Cynthia’s issues, but Margo always paid her debts and took care of her friends.
She had so few of them, after all.
Once she was on the highway, she called Julian back. He answered on the first ring. “You took longer than an hour.”
“I was busy,” Margo said then yawned. She scrubbed a hand over her face and studied the road. At some point, she’d need to stop for food. Tonight would probably be spent in a hotel. “Who’s Salvatore Esposito?”
“He’s Alpha of the Seven Hills Pack.” A gruff laugh peppered the words, but when Julian offered no more information, Margo frowned. They had exactly five packs in the United States—Delta Crescent, Hudson River, Sutter Butte, Willow Bend and the Yukon.
“There is no Seven Hills Pack…”
“Not in the U.S.” Julian’s amusement seemed to grow with each passing moment. If he’d been in front of her, she might have slugged him. “Then again, he’s from Italy.”
“Holy shit.” A foreign Alpha in the United States? “And he wants to go to Willow Bend?” Was this some kind of coup? Mason had been a punk at times, but from all accounts he was a damn good Alpha. Willow Bend did not need that kind of grief.
“Look, as far as I know, he contacted Mason via Ryan Huston after Brett’s pack turned down his request.” Interesting word choice—Brett’s pack, not Brett himself. Margo kept the observation to herself. “Mason granted Salvatore’s request, but…this is a first. Europeans do not enter U.S. pack territories. So, rather than play hot potato by assigning one of his Hunters to a foreign Alpha, he wants an Enforcer to handle it.”
Smart move. Bastard. She considered the angles. Any member of Mason’s pack would be hard-pressed between the dance of visiting guest and loyalty to their Alpha. Throw in Salvatore Esposito being an Alpha in his own right, and the entire situation begged for trouble. “You’re sending me, why?” It couldn’t be because she was closest, not when Philadelphia was in her rear-view mirror.
“Because you know Willow Bend—”
“Correction, I knew Willow Bend. I haven’t been home for any longer than a day or two since I was fourteen, and I haven’t set foot there since Mason killed Toman.” Mason Clayborne and she had history. Some good, mostly bad.
“Calitri and Sphinx are older school Willow Bend, and they don’t have any family left there. Hadley does, but she and her parents aren’t speaking. They asked her to come home after Mason took over, and she said no. Then her father tried to order her.” He didn’t quite sigh, but Margo grimaced.
The hardest part of being an Enforcer wasn’t hunting rogues or putting them down. Hell, it wasn’t even the inherent loneliness of being isolated from pack. The Enforcers had each other and, while they weren’t a pack per se, they had company if they needed it. None would be touched starved, lovers were accommodated, and friendships encouraged. They kept each other sane. No, the hardest obstacles were their families.
Families didn’t understand why they would choose to go Lone Wolf or why they preferred to live their lives away from pack structure. Margo was lucky in some respects. Her father not only understood, he’d encouraged her decision. Her mother and siblings, on the other hand…
“Are we sure we don’t have anyone else? I’m still working on these missing wolves—and Julian? Mason hates my guts.”
“They all hate us, Margo. He’ll get over it, particularly since he requested an Enforcer.” Which meant he hadn’t requested her, specifically.
“Yeah, you weren’t the one who took the seventeen-year-old kid and beat the shit out of him three days after his parents died and when he’d just left his pack.” Some regrets stung more than others. To that day, she hadn’t forgotten the look on his face when she’d put him down, informed him of the rules, and made it damn clear he understood she would be watching him. For the first few months, she’d been far closer than he’d likely realized. A skilled young wolf, he’d lacked seasoning and experience to cope with the initial challenges of a packless life. A point he’d proved first with his time in Hudson River and later Delta Crescent. Lone Wolves were a touchy bunch. They could hold no territory, nor make alliances or mate.
While relationships with humans weren’t covered by the rules, they were discouraged from creating permanent connections. Attachments could lead to breeding, and impregnating a human could be a death sentence for the female—as Mason learned much later.
“Margo,” Julian’s unyielding tone gentled. “I get it. You gave him a hard time when he was a kid. You taught him the lessons he needed to survive by alienating his instinctive need to latch onto another wolf. You taught him to distrust the world so he could rely on himself. It’s what we do…and he survived. He thrived. You have nothing to be sorry for.”
Excluding one key piece of information, of which even Julian remained unaware. Ryan Huston, Willow Bend’s pack attorney and Mason’s father-in-law, had tasked her with Mason’s protection. She’d owed Ryan a deep debt for her survival and protection during a time when her rising dominance could have ended both her existence and cost the lives of her family members.
She repaid Ryan by protecting Mason over the years. Later, when Ryan discovered his then-human daughter Alexis carried Mason’s child, Margo protected the secret and didn’t execute Mason as their code and laws demanded.
If Julian ever learned her secret, the Enforcers would take Margo out. But the debt to Ryan had been paid. Mason survived, Alexis survived, and now they ruled the Willow Bend pack… “Fine. Text the flight information and how many wolves I’m expected to corral. What do you want me to do about the missing wolves?”
“Keep working it as much as you can. Send whatever you’ve found to Vanya. He’s on his way back from the Yukon. Those bastards are missing wolves, too.”
“I’ll take the Italian escort job over the Yukon, any day.” Prickly wolves, the Yukon pack and their Alpha. Ugh, the less she had to do with them the better. “So, that’s at least three packs missing wolves? You should call Serafina.”
“I doubt she’d tell me anything. Internal pack matters stay internal there. Talk to Mason if you have a chance, but your priority is a peaceful entrance and exit for the Italian Alpha. The sooner he comes and goes, the better.”
No kidding. “Why is Esposito on his way here?”
“No clue. Whatever it is, let me know when you find out. Like I said, he sent a request to Dalton and it was denied.” Odd. It had to have come in while she was there. Course, Dalton had been less than forthcoming with her as well, so maybe she shouldn’t be surprised. “I’ll give Clayborne this, he’s had that pack less than two years and he’s willing to let another Alpha in his territory? Takes balls, Margo.”
Yes. Shifting her position in the car, she stretched. “I’ll head straight for Midway. Any info on Esposito you have would be appreciated. Is he coming in on an international flight?”
“I’ll find out. Check in when you get there…and, Margo?”
“Yes?” If Julian asked her for another favor, she’d…
“Be careful. I don’t know what’s going on, but when Alphas get together, bad shit can go down. There is a reason they send their Hunters to each other instead of meeting face-to-face.”
“Fortunately, I don’t have to kiss anyone’s ass. I just have to make sure those asses stay in one piece.” Sure. No problem. How hard could it be?
Five cups of coffee and over a thousand miles later, she waited against the wall in the international arrivals area of Midway airport. Julian came through with the name of the airline—a flight via Canada—and the time of arrival. They had no photo of the Alpha and only his name. Plenty of humans stood around holding placards with names written on them. Margo didn’t bother.
The number of scents trailing around her—from the over-perfumed to the under-bathed—threatened to give her a headache. She’d taken an hour at a hotel to shower and change into fresh clothes. Fortunately, she hadn’t bloodied any clothes on her current assignment. Jeans, boots and a denim jacket over a dark green turtleneck fit for the current weather outside. She didn’t stand out, though a number of human males gave her a lingering look. Ignoring them, she scanned the new arrivals passing through the sliding glass doors with their bags.
Arms folded, she braced one foot against the wall. More arrivals spilled through the doors into the early morning light. She dismissed three men immediately. One dripped sweat, the second dripped illness, and the third—her nostrils flared—he avoided looking at anyone. She may not know her target’s appearance, but no Alpha walked with their head down and their gaze on the path in front of them.
A collection of women came through, all chattering about the delicious passenger—his height, his accent, his eyes—on their flight. Home from a holiday it would seem, and apparently the view on the plane trumped anything they’d seen on the ground.
The doors swished apart and fresh odors wafted toward her. Sampling the air, she scented him before she saw him. The hint of sweet-floral fragrance with an element of citrus, but beneath it all a distinctly masculine bite of hot sun on fur, and something her wolf couldn’t sort out.
A stream of businessmen waded through the travelers. Their suits were a dead giveaway, though so were the harried looks, cell phones in hand and rumpled appearances. Dismissing one after another, she stilled.
Awareness swept over her and she canted her head slowly to find one man had stopped a half-dozen feet away. Well over six feet in height, he towered over her five-foot-ten frame. Jet black hair crowned a deeply tanned face. Black eyes—true black, so dark she couldn’t make out a pupil—stared at her.
More than one set of eyes in the room turned toward him, and the crowd parted to walk wide of him. No one dared invade his space.
“Hello, Mr. Esposito,” she said, barely raising her voice. If he were who she believed him to be, he’d hear her anyway. The corner of his beautifully formed mouth quirked, and he made his way toward her. He carried only one mid-sized bag and moved with a tireless grace. The group of women who’d been gushing only moments before fell silent.
Yes, definitely Alpha. He had every woman’s attention and the men who weren’t admiring him, did their damnedest to stay out of his way. Straightening, Margo ignored the faint hint of heat licking along her skin. As the distance between them closed, her wolf quieted further, watchful and wary. An unfamiliar wolf in their midst—would he be friend or foe?
“Buongiorno, signorina Montgomery.” Smooth. His accent stroked her senses, and she narrowed her eyes. For all the attention his looks received and the exotic bite of his scent, the handsome man before her didn’t radiate Alpha. His power didn't sweep out to encompass her like so many Alphas did on approach.
As a matter of fact— “Good morning, Mr. Esposito. Welcome to the United States.” Though the throng of the airport was heavy with new arrivals and those waiting to greet them, the crowd continued to avoid running into him. “Where is your pack?” Alphas might be the most powerful in a pack and they might rule with a velvet glove or iron fist, but they did not take sojourns into foreign lands without backup.
It wouldn’t be sane.
“They are not here,” he answered, then smiled. “You will take me to Willow Bend, yes?”
Cagey bastard. She refused to smile, however, no matter how charming his accent sounded and regardless of the way a shiver chased along her spine when he rolled his ‘r’s. “No, I’ll put your ass back on a plane if you don’t tell me where your pack is.” A lone Alpha? No.
“It is so hard to believe I would travel without an entourage?”
Holding his gaze proved a challenge, but he was not her Alpha. As an Enforcer, she bowed to no one. Keeping her posture relaxed, she raised her eyebrows. “No, not at all hard to believe if your wolves are elsewhere causing mischief.”
Pursing his lips, he squinted briefly. “Mischief—trouble? You’re worried my pack is doing something they shouldn’t?”
“We can stand here all day, Mr. Esposito. Until you tell me where your pack is, how many you brought, you’re not going anywhere. I won’t lead a Trojan Horse into any pack. If you’re a planning a coup or other trouble for any of the U.S. packs, you’ll have a problem with me. Capiche?”
His expression tightened briefly. “You do not carry the scent of pack,” he said as though it were a puzzle.
“No, I don’t. I don’t need to in order to deal with you.”
Sweat trickled down the back of her neck, and her wolf shifted within her restlessly. No power leaked from the presence within the man standing before her, but she and her wolf both knew he weighed, measured, and studied them. After a long moment, his lids dropped to half-closed and he took a step forward. The nearness amped her wariness. “Would it suffice for me to offer my word that they are performing no mischief?”
“At the risk of being insulting and challenging you directly…” She let the last three words hang in the air between them for a moment before continuing. “You are a stranger, so your word has no value.” Admittedly, he hadn’t lied to her as of yet and she gave him points for honesty.
“Admirable.” He made it sound like a compliment, if one left him perplexed. “Few would willingly oppose my desires, at least openly. Fewer still would refuse to back down.” Though his English was flawless, she didn’t let his comment sway her determination.
“Still not an answer to my question. Where is your pack, Mr. Esposito?” The perspiration sliding down her neck threatened to soak her shirt. Thankfully she’d worn the jacket, though even in the dense cloud of human bodies that made up the airport population, she didn’t doubt he would scent her distress sooner rather than later.
Neither she nor her wolf cared to rouse whatever sleeping beast the Alpha possessed, but they couldn’t afford to back down. If he proved intractable, she’d have to deal with him there and find an excuse to toss him back onto a plane. No one ever said the life of an Enforcer would be boring.
“Bella, you amuse me, but I have little time for play.” A hint of authority crept into his words. “I will, however, show you courtesy as you made a request and your assistance would be useful as you know the terrain and I do not.”
Rather than interrupt, she simply raised her eyebrows and waited.
A frown, like a swift moving storm, gathered his brows together before they relaxed and the expression erased. Yep. She was pissing him off, a talent she had in spades.
“They are in Canada, in unclaimed territory. They will not cross into the United States until I send for them.”
“What part of Canada?” She pulled out her cellphone.
“A little town on the other side of border called Pierre St. Pete.”
Weird name, but it was Canada. She dialed Hadley as, last she’d heard, Hadley was in that area. “Hey, it’s me. I’m in Chicago. We have—” She glanced Esposito. “How many?”
An aggravated sigh, and his teeth gave an almost audible click. “Four.”
Gauging his expression, she tested a theory and simply raised her eyebrows again. Something was a tad off in his scent, but the exotic richness of it worked like a drug against her tired system, so she wasn’t sure if it was quite a lie.
His eyes didn’t change color but the weight of his stare seemed to double. “Four.” He repeated, “Only four.”
Hadley didn’t interrupt, but then she could hear the conversation clearly. “Four wolves from the Seven Hills Pack, Italy, in Pierre St. Pete, Canada. Keep on them, don’t engage. They’re waiting for word from their Alpha, who is here in the States with me.”
“Why do you get all the fun assignments?” Hadley teased. “Are any of his wolves hot?”
The Alpha’s lips twitched, and his bad mood evaporated. “Ask for Giovanni. He is very popular with the ladies in Rome.”
After clearing her throat, Hadley whispered. “Will do. Should I check in with
you, Margo, or you want me to call Julian?”
Still eyeing Alpha Troublemaker, Margo said, “Julian, unless you think I need to know. I’m escorting him as far as Willow Bend.” Then because his smug smile annoyed her, she added, “Where he will be Mason’s problem and not mine.”
Goodbye, knowing smirk. Disconnecting the call, she motioned to the doors. “Shall we?”
“After you,” he said. “You know the way and, I promise, I will guard your back.”
Fantastic. A foreign Alpha with an agenda behind her, four foreign wolves waiting on the other side of the border, and she was on her way to see another Alpha who hated her.
The trip just kept getting better and better.