Be sure to read the beginning before continuing on…
The bitter taste created by my own actions sat heavy on my tongue. But half a dozen beers plus a double dose of Stooge’s antics finally did away with both my regrets and the pain in my gut.
“How about that window?” my wingman asked, gesturing with his beer bottle toward an aperture twenty feet above our heads. The bar we’d selected for our evening’s entertainment had begun its life as a four-story row house and the owners chose to gut the interior and create one huge open space complete with internal balconies rather than renovating all four floors. The neck-risking opportunities for thrill junkies were endless.
No wonder this was our favorite spot to relax after a long day’s work.
“You’re going to get us all thrown out,” I complained. Then I tacked on the clincher: “Again.”
“Aw, don’t be such a spoilsport,” Ian countered. “That just happened the one time when tall, scary dude was manning the bar. Cute, perky girl over there likes me. She wouldn’t evict us for a little extracurricular climbing.”
Our youngest team member waved, and sure enough the bartender in question fluttered her fingers by way of reply. Someone was getting lucky tonight.
Ian was probably right about the lady bartender’s willingness to look the other way too. Still, I kept my wallet firmly rooted in my pocket while twenties rained down onto the table as a reward for the victor. “I’ll stay here and judge the race,” I offered by way of explanation when Stooge paused and glanced back in my direction.
My wingman’s brow furrowed as he assessed the state of my mind. Unlike my other team mates, Stooge knew that my second tour of duty was nearly complete and that I was mulling over the idea of throwing my hat back into the civilian arena. Not that I minded my job as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal tech. I’d just gotten a little bit too good at defusing bombs and had started wondering whether there was more to life than going through the motions every day.
On the other hand, stumbling across an outpack shifter just hours earlier had reminded me why I’d joined the Navy in the first place. Military life might have lost a bit of its luster, but at least I didn’t have to worry about whether or not I could keep my inner beast in check while on the human-only base.
In other words, I was far too deeply engrossed in mental gymnastics to take proper care of my physical body, which is why I chose to remain glued to my seat rather than joining my numbskull companions in a pointless game of one-up-manship. Waving Stooge back to the challenge at hand, I added a healthy dose of forced enthusiasm into my voice as I counted down for the six remaining participants. “Three, two, one…go!”
Five men swarmed up the wall like a herd of monkeys, but Trevor chose a different approach. Taking the stairs two at a time, he dashed for the nearest balcony, then clambered over the railing so he could work his way horizontally toward the target.
Before I could get a handle on who was likely to be the final victor, though, a heavy hand fell onto my shoulder. And when I swiveled with a polite smile on my lips, a seemingly harmless older gentleman met my gaze. “May I help you?” I asked.
I hadn’t bothered to wake my wolf and sniff at the air when faced with what appeared to be a middle-aged businessman out for drinks with work colleagues. But once the older male’s teeth sharpened ever so slightly and a spark of territoriality came into his eyes, I inhaled deeply then wrinkled up my nose in distaste.
Yep, this was yet another werewolf nosing around my butt.
Sighing, I rose to my feet while carefully placing my beer bottle on the table behind me. I’d want the refreshment when I was done, if only to soothe the resulting case of self-loathing. Because I knew what was coming next—yet another shifter dominance battle.
Words this time, I resolved. But the older werewolf didn’t even give me the chance to get my mouth open. Instead, he speared me with an alpha glare much like the ones I’d withstood from every other male shifter I’d ever come in contact with.
Annoying but not unexpected.
After all, stare-downs had become a regular fact of life ever since I entered werewolf society as a young teenager. And I had to admit (albeit grumpily) that the dominance contests made a certain sort of grim sense. Establishing relative ranks based on willpower instead of on teeth and claws meant that the weaker wolf only slunk away with a virtual black eye rather than with a real one.
Still, the inevitable staring contests were annoying because I always won. Couldn’t the males around me learn to take a hint?
My current opponent was no exception to the insta-challenge rule, but it soon became evident that he was pretty powerful. Out of the corner of one eye, I caught movement as a pair of lackeys I hadn’t even realized existed shuddered in the face of the mere overflow of energy originally intended to cow their chief’s opponent. In fact, I think I saw the youngest one lose control over his knees for a split second before the male peered pointedly in the opposite direction and found the strength to remain erect.
I, on the other hand, was bored stiff by the dominance display. And since matching my opponent’s aggression only required about a quarter of my brain power, I was able to expend the rest of my computing energy assessing the older male the way I really should have the moment he entered the room.
My enemy was obviously a pack leader, merely passing through the city that I called home. He was well-dressed and apparently cultured, and I had a sneaking suspicion that the two henchmen flanking his broad form were the least of the entourage waiting on his beck and call. No wonder he’d figured a stare-down with a younger wolf would be an easy battle to win without breaking a sweat.
Unfortunately for my opponent, he was long past the sweating stage and fast approaching the time of whimpering for mercy. And as I took in the aromas emanating from the weaker shifters hovering behind his back, I realized that their leader’s bad judgment was going to have serious repercussions.
Because while a lone wolf might submit to a stronger alpha with impunity, my win over an established clan head would likely set the male before me up for a long line of challenges from within his ranks. Meanwhile, the younger of the two bodyguards boasted the same square jaw and sandy hair as his boss. A son being shown the ropes of alpha asshole-dom? That plan would definitely backfire if our current contest continued to its inevitable conclusion.
Well, old guy’s in luck because I have better things to do with my time than to beat up on a shifter who’s already crested the hill of middle age and is now rolling relentlessly down the other side.
So instead of crushing my opponent beneath my metaphorical boot heel, I held the other alpha’s gaze just long enough to ensure he wouldn’t attempt to come after me in a dim alley later in the evening. Then I rolled my eyes and turned aside.
I expected my new companion to flee once released from my scowl just like every other shifter I’d ever traded stares with. But, instead, his hand landed on my shoulder yet again as I sank down into the hard metal chair, back exposed to an enemy who I deemed too unimportant to monitor as he walked away.
What happens next between the challenger and our uber-alpha? Finish Chapter Two by downloading Dark Wolf Adrift today. I hope you enjoyed this sneak peek. Thanks for reading!