He runs alone...
Ryker Grey is used to being on the outside looking in. For more than fifty years, he has worked as Pack Enforcer for the Black Hills Wolves, rising to his rank swiftly. Compelled by duty and devotion to his people, he fought to keep them protected from within and without—earning a few enemies and fewer friends. Drew’s return has sparked healing in the fraying pack, but Ryker remains vigilant.
She needs a place to call her own...
Saja Lyons has spent her life studying cultures, but never really being a part of them. Completing a double specialty in psychology and sociology, she decides to take the three months after her graduation to find herself on a cross-country drive. She embraces the nomadic road trip until her car breaks down on a deserted stretch of road in the middle of nowhere South Dakota.
Two lonely lives collide in the cold...
Ryker catches Saja’s scent from a mile away, loneliness edged in fear, frustration, and utter femininity. He approaches her in order to lend her a hand and get her out of the pack’s way...the sooner she’s gone from Los Lobos, the safer the pack will be. When their gazes meet, her playful hostility arouses the hunter in him, and for the first time in fifty years, the enforcer tastes what it’s like to not be alone...
But what if the best thing that ever happened to him is a danger to the Black Hills Wolves?
Read the first chapter now!
The bite of snow curled through the winter wind. Any other time, Ryker would be in Wolf form, racing through the hills. Unlike so many in the broken pack, the moon had never bound him. Though her sway didn’t call to him as it did to the others, the lack had never prevented him from joining the hunt each month, when the moon-called shifted, and shadowing their progress.
Few were those who ventured out unless they had to, and less was their joy—until Drew finally came home. The boy had—did—provide a fresh resource for the pack. Though desperately frayed and facing challenges on all sides, the pack bonds had begun to heal. But it would take time.
Of course, anything worth having should take time. Magnum hadn’t decimated them overnight. Just the thought of the previous Alpha was enough to have Ryker’s upper lip curling. His death should have been celebrated for months, but they’d only been able to sigh in deep relief.
A relief he, the deadly, highly-feared enforcer, shared. He had given thanks for every bloodless evening since. Even chastising three over-exuberant youths, who’d been caught on camera, hadn’t diminished his contentment.
The death of Magnum had freed Ryker from a blood oath that bound him in a chokehold, preventing him from killing the demented beast himself. He could walk amongst the pack, see them in the light of day, without worry Magnum would forget himself, giving an order so specific Ryker couldn’t find a work-around.
Killing had never troubled the enforcer. Death was a natural product of life—to protect the Black Hills, the wolves in the pack, their mates, and their children? Ryker would hunt, maim, and even kill as needed.
Magnum had only known how to butcher. More than once, he’d thought Ryker’s place was to be the vicious attack dog. Isolating himself had been the only option—distancing himself from the pack until all he could do was protect from afar, averting threats before Magnum knew about them…and wait.
Fortunately, the madness in the old Alpha had prevented him from realizing that, without utter specificity, Ryker could turn most kill orders into something else. He’d gotten really fucking good at it.
He smiled briefly at the scent of cinnamon touching the air. Tasha had been in the area recently. Most likely on another stealthy visit to his cabin. The little Beta appeared at random times. After her visits, he would find a torn shirt had been mended, his dry goods had been restocked, and a plate of cookies awaited him.
Always cookies. Depending on her mood, the type of cookie varied. Though not a fan of those types of sweets, Ryker always ate them. She was the only Beta to give a damn about him since he’d sent his sister and her family—along with so many others—away to safety. If Tasha wanted to make them for him so he wasn’t so alone, then he would eat them.
Sometimes, she came just to get away from the sadness of the town. His cabin was miles from Los Lobos, deeper into the woods—as far from Magnum as he could get yet still be close enough to help the pack if they needed him. In a way, allowing Tasha to care for him was her way of allowing him to care for her. Damaged and scarred after a vicious attack, her soul needed more than he to heal.
Movement in the chill night reached his ears. In the hush of the oncoming storm, it was a faint sound.
A claw on stone, the barest crackle of dead leaves combined with the rustle of the breeze along fur—all of these things scraped his senses. The stealth held the promise the danger. Something hunted and had tried to stay downwind to avoid his detection, but the incoming storm shifted the wind, swirling through the trees.
Fools. Lifting his chin, he waited. The hunter would know he had lost the element of surprise, so Ryker allowed him a choice. If he retreated, the other wolf might live to see the beauty of the snow-kissed land.
A huff of breath followed by the explosion of sound as a deep gray-colored wolf rushed him from the west was the wrong answer. It took only a moment for Ryker to recognize the scent—less still to respond. He caught the animal in mid-leap, using the beast’s momentum against him as he twisted and flung the beast away. Garrick slammed into a tree, the crack of his spine breaking severing the silence.
The gray wolf slumped to the ground, his back legs useless, his front weakly scrabbling against the land. Ryker paced over, meeting the pain-filled eyes of the other. Squatting down, he read the riot of emotion. Garrick had chosen death rather than obey Drew. The Alpha had given the mad wolf one chance to prove his loyalty by returning to the pack—no more hunting people, no more drinking…no more threatening females.
One chance. Instead, he’d chosen suicide by Ryker.
“Good journey to your next life. May it be more forgiving than I.” With a twist, he snapped Garrick’s neck, ending him. Garrick’s attack was the third such suicide in as many weeks. How many more would he have to kill before the last of the broken threads fell away?
Shouldering the wolf’s weight, he rose. He would bury him before he let the Alpha know what Garrick’s answer had been. Mad or not, the choice would leave the new Alpha a bit bruised. Drew felt for his pack, even the more deranged members, and each loss left the younger Tao a little bloodied. It would make him a better Alpha in the long run, but that didn’t mean Ryker had to enjoy telling him.
Five more steps and a new sound reached his ears. One promising a different kind of trouble.
A car on the road. Either another of the pack had found their way home—to challenge or to return, who knew?—or, worse, some errant traveler was making their way through what would soon be a whiteout. The sound continued, not slowing for the only turnoff leading to Los Lobos.
With a grunt, Ryker began walking again. Fat flakes had already begun to fall. The retreat of the engine noise sputtered twice, metal grinding on metal, then the sound shuddered and choked off into silence.
Sighing, he adjusted the weight of the wolf before continuing. He’d traveled less than a half-dozen yards when another scent reached him.
It took him a minute to find a hollow to stash Garrick’s limp body—rigor wouldn’t set in for some time. But if he took too long, the body would stiffen. When rigor passed, then and only then, would Garrick resume his human form. Ryker would rather bury the wolf. At least it had chosen an honorable death over the man’s pathetic existence. The human’s scent continued to surround him in the gusts of wind battering the landscape.
As his senses had promised, snow fell steadily, sticking to the frozen ground without struggle. Picking up his pace, Ryker jogged toward the road, following the direction he’d last heard the engine. Covering the distance at a brisk pace, he barely noticed the strain. While he’d rather be on four feet than two, this was at least a run through the snow.
Metal slammed against metal ahead of him.
“Now. You’ll work….” Low and husky, the feminine voice added a lilt of conjuring to her statement. Keys rattled. Clicking snapped in the intervening silence. “Son of a futher mucker.” Flesh slapped a surface. A door slammed. “Cold. Cold. Cold. Cold. Cold.”
More metal banging off metal.
“Work you piece of crap. I just spent my last five hundred dollars on you. Work.” Bang. Slam. Bang.
Slowing as the woods gave way to a long stretch of field ending at the blacktopped old highway, he studied the vehicle parked askew on the side of the road. Askew was a generous description. The four-door sedan sat at a nearly ninety-degree angle to the road with the back tires parked in grass.
“Okay. So, count to ten,” the feminine voice continued. The sound of her shoes slapping the pavement came in time to the numbers. When she reached ten, metal crashed against metal, the clang loud and sharp enough to hurt his ears. “Work!”
A slender figure popped out from behind the raised hood to dart to the driver’s side door. He paused mid-step as she squinted her eyes closed then whispered, “You will work. You will work. You will work.”
With a twist of the key, the only thing he heard working was some rapid-fire clicks of the ignition switch trying to fire. Then, even that ceased when what remained of her power leached away.
“Fuck. Fuck. Fuckity fuck.” The woman flung back against the seat, bashing her closed fists on the steering wheel. “‘Woman dies in freak snowstorm perfectly preserving her remains’ should make a sharable story on Huffington Post sometime next spring.” Even with the defeatist words, the fight in her tone continued to boil.
Fascinated, despite himself, he watched as she tapped her head against the back of the seat then bounced out of the car in a surge of energy. She raced around the vehicle, jerked the trunk open, and began to rummage through….
A wild assortment of scents raced across his nose—older scents, sweat, metal, books, chalk, dust, burned paper, sulfur—underscoring it all was a distinctly feminine musk, exotic and heady, but not too sweet. It carried more of a bite, one not altogether unpleasant. His distracted quarry whirled to face his direction, a small black gun braced in both of her hands.
Good. She wasn’t utterly defenseless. He approved.
“You shouldn’t sneak up on people on the side of the road,” she called out in lieu of a greeting. Nothing in her stance betrayed the chill overtaking her fragile form, but a blue tinge touched the edges of her lips, while her face was a shade too pale. She clenched her jaw to keep her teeth from chattering. “Who are you?”
If she were a Wolf, she would have snapped at him.
Of course, if she were a Wolf, she’d probably have tucked tail with her attitude by now. Only the insane challenged him openly, and he tasted no illness in her musk. Odd. Most women had a fruit or floral scent—some like Tasha smelled of spices. He couldn’t quite identify this one’s scent, no matter how attractive.
Intriguing, but he couldn’t afford the puzzle. Humans were not welcome in Los Lobos—not that they were anywhere near town.
“I suppose you don’t look dangerous.” Which went to show how questionable her judgment was. Her gun lowered a fraction. “I hope you live close and aren’t stranded like me—not that I’m stranded. I’ll have the car fixed in a minute. You can keep your distance.” She didn’t take a breath or to give him a chance to answer. Two steps later, she paused, glancing at him again. The gun was still in her hand, but she didn’t bother pointing it at him. “Aren’t you cold? Of course you’re cold. You don’t have a jacket on. Though I hardly think this is T-shirt weather.”
Leave her to die or fix her car. She posed no threat, yet he didn’t walk away. The cold felt good to him, but he hardly needed to tell her the truth. Returning to her trunk, she rifled through the contents.
“Aha. Here.” She held up a jacket, waving it in the air. A foreign scent—masculine in origin—wafted toward him. “This should be big enough for you. Not like old Denny will mind. He doesn’t even know he left it with me. Well? Aren’t you going to take it?” Another pause when she glanced at the gun in her hand. “Oh, yeah. Sorry about the weapon. I’ve been traveling for a while, and you don’t know who you’ll run into. I carry this strictly for security.” After tucking the weapon into the waistband of her jeans, giving Ryker an eyeful of smooth stomach, she took a half-dozen steps in his direction. “I won’t bite. Seriously. It’s freezing out here.”
The chances of him putting on another man’s scent were slim to none. She’d be better off wearing it herself—then the other man’s scent would be on her. Ryker’s upper lip curled. No.
Instead of leaving her, he met her halfway. After taking the jacket out of her hands, he bypassed her to go to her vehicle. Glancing at the engine, he studied the faint hint of steam rising from the hoses.
Two were cut nearly clean through. This close, he couldn’t miss the sweeter scent of ethylene glycol.
Crouching, he glanced at the blacktop beneath the engine. Sure enough, a green, viscous fluid dripped steadily down. It would leave an oily-looking stain. A shadow blocked the snowfall. He spared a look at the waifish woman. Up close, she was even tinier and more fragile-looking than she had been at a distance. Hollows pulled at her cheekbones.
No one fed her well. Another black mark against the male whose coat he held. He’d seen enough starved under his watch to taste the acrid stink of failure. This Denny had apparently bathed in it regularly.
“It’s a mess,” she said. “I paid some scam artist three towns back to fix this, but apparently he didn’t. So, I’ll have to find a mechanic. I tried to call Triple A, but no signal. Though, if you’re here, I must be close to some town, right? Maybe you have a landline I could use?” With that, she canted her head back to look toward the sky. Los Lobos was the closest town—the last place he could take her. “Though, I imagine at the rate this is falling landlines will go down soon.”
The flakes caught on her cheeks. Another landed on her lashes. They glittered against her skin, offering an odd play to what light remained. The clouds darkened ominously overhead. The promise of winter’s kiss delivered in full. Even the dusting along the road had already obscured the blacktop. Any tracks he may have left on his way to her vehicle.
No. Without the right equipment and time, her vehicle was going nowhere. She wouldn’t even have the engine to run to keep her warm. Freezing to death wasn’t a bad way to go. She’d fall asleep. Taking care of her wasn’t his problem.
“Yeah, it’s bad. Sorry.” The apology caught him off guard. In a world where very little did, it made it worth examining.
Sparing a look toward her, he rose to his feet. He’d allowed her not only to approach him, but to loom over him in a position more suited to a dominant.
She barely came up to his shoulder. “It’s okay if nowhere is close. There are two of us, so we can figure this out together. You put on the jacket while I grab one for me.” While she spoke, she’d actually started to shiver, the blue tinge to her lips deepening.
After closing the hood, he followed her around the vehicle to the trunk. She’d dug out another jacket, slipping it on. But even the soft leather wouldn’t keep the wind out as the force of gusts increased.
After eyeing the contents, he picked up the only bag looking like a suitcase. “Come,” he ordered as he closed the trunk. No one would disturb the car out here. Most travelers would avoid the long distances between stops in winter. As for the locals, they would catch his scent on the car.
They knew better than to touch what was his.
Instead of following him, however, the female remained where she was and stared. “Wow. Do you live close?”
Nodding once, he then pointed to the woods. It would still take time to get to his cabin, and the snow accumulated at a rapid rate. “Come,” he said again, unaccustomed to having to repeat himself.
His order had the desired effect. She moved, but instead of joining him, she headed back to the car. “I need to get my purse. Oh, and my phone charger.” Based on a list of two items, her packing should have been quick, but she stuffed more things into the bag in her front seat, all the while her shivers continuing.
“Enough.” He reached past her, scooped up the bag then tugged her out of the car before shutting the door. She fit under his arm perfectly, and he gave her a gentle push to get moving. “That way.”
“You don’t have to be so grumpy,” she muttered, but at least she walked where he wanted her to go.
“My name is Saja, by the way. Saja Lyons.”
Saja. The name fit her. He nodded. “Ryker.”
Five more steps. “Just Ryker? Kind of like Madonna?” She mock-lowered her voice, making a grumbly sound. “Ryker. The name says it all.”
Seeing no reason to respond to the tease, he merely lifted his brows. “Grey.”
“Ryker Grey.” No longer mocking, she rolled the name around. He liked the way she said it. “Fits. Sort of mysterious, kind of moody. Though you look Native American to me. Yes, I am aware it’s rude to point it out, but I don’t think people need to pretend to not be who they are.”
Fair enough. He shortened his pace as the snow deepened. Her jeans soaked through, as did his. The cold crusted up against his skin, while the fabric stiffened. But not once did she complain. Once they were under the cover of the trees, the density of the snowpack lightened. But the storm was fully upon them, and not even the woods would keep it off them for long.
With a bounce, Saja banged her red, chapped hands together. A reddish hue had hit her cheeks, as well. It was too cold to travel this slowly. He’d buried his fair share of foolish hikers who’d tempted nature’s fury, thinking the cold wouldn’t hurt them if they kept walking.
Shifting his grip on her bags, he plucked the gun out of her waistband and stuffed it into the open top of her purse. Before she could react to that, he picked her up, swinging her over his shoulder. Her yelp of surprise turned into a grunt.
“Hold on.” He ran, flying through the snow as he’d longed to earlier. She let out another cry then fisted the back of his shirt, burying her face against him. His body would block most of the wind, and they would be at his cabin in less than a third of the time her walking would have taken.
Inside, his Wolf let out a howl, and he ran faster.