Lone Wolf Dawn, chapter 1

Lone Wolf Dawn teaserLone Wolf Dawn is coming to Amazon very soon. While you wait, here’s the first chapter to pique your interest.

But first, a warning: Reading this chapter will totally spoil book 1 in the series. So if you haven’t read Half Wolf yet, hurry up! Then come back here once you’re done.

***

L is for love.

And for laughable, lost, and—ultimately—lonely.

Twelve years ago, I said the L word one last time…and was promptly tossed to the curb for my efforts. After learning that lesson the hard way, I definitely wasn’t planning to backslide into stupidity anytime soon.

Not even when my mate looked at me with those penetrating amber eyes and murmured: “We make a good team.” Then ignored the fact that we were stalking prey and instead leaned forward as if for a kiss.

I certainly didn’t mind Hunter’s kisses. But something about the set of his shoulders suggested he was looking for more than simple physical pleasure this time around.

Darn Hunter anyway for his overwhelming cuteness, for his thoughtfulness, and for the way he gently but constantly begged me to reciprocate his affections.

The uber-alpha had named himself my mate a month earlier and had since waited on me hand and foot as I recovered from a gunshot wound. He’d been the rock I clung to as I dealt with losing both my small band of shifters and the alpha mantle that had allowed me to lead said pack in the first place.

The charmer had even brought home a wicked set of throwing knives to cheer me up in lieu of flowers. How sweet was that?

Still, there was no reason to descend into mushland. We were mates—we worked together and we played together. Why risk everything with words neither of us actually meant?

So, instead of giving in to my companion’s silent request, I deflected the discussion back onto the hulking warehouse in front of us. “A puppy mill for werewolves. Who exactly thought this was a good idea?”

Once again, Hunter accepted my diversion with only a faint sigh before his lips curled upward into an answering smile. “I assume the human has no clue what he’s gotten himself into.”

Something about Hunter’s tone suggested he wasn’t merely referring to the fact that the cuddly puppies inside the nearby warehouse would abruptly change into human form fourteen years after being sold to unsuspecting new pet owners. Instead, as my companion’s glance flicked to the knife I was absently tossing up into the air and then catching repeatedly, I couldn’t resist grinning in reply.

Hunter was right—the law-breaking human had no idea what he’d gotten himself into.

“Now?” I asked, glancing down at my watch. The puppy-mill owner had been inside for a good ten minutes already and he rarely waited around after feeding time ended. If we wanted to catch our prey as he emerged from the front door, then Hunter and I needed to stop canoodling and start moving into place.

“Sure,” my mate answered, already stripping out of his clothes and stashing them in the brush where we’d been hiding. After dealing with several minor and not-so-minor criminals together, we’d gotten our partnership down to a science. Hunter went in as a wolf, intimidating shifters with his sheer alpha dominance or scaring humans shitless with the size of his tremendous fangs. I stayed human and used my best weapons—words first, edged blades second.

We hadn’t lost a scuffle yet.

Of course, the current job was a little trickier. The puppy-mill owner was a one-body—human only—and thus couldn’t be made aware of Hunter’s and my dual nature. Plus, the security cameras over the door threatened to bust our world wide open if they caught a shift on tape.

Still, I wasn’t worried. Two werewolves against one weak human? The one-body’s chances were laughable.

Well, I wasn’t worried until I caught the reek of urine, feces, and unwashed mutt oozing out through the cracks between sheet-metal walls. Three werewolf pups, my inner wolf informed me, using our shared nostrils to gather sensory data that my human brain wouldn’t have been able to decipher on its own. And dozens of dogs.

I didn’t bother passing the information along to Hunter. My mate’s growl proved that he was well aware of the contents of the metal building.

Aware and thoroughly displeased about the matter. The wolf pups were bloodlings, born in wolf rather than human form and often cast out of their clans as a result. But even though they looked like animals, the puppies possessed two-legger brains within those four-legger bodies.

Hunter knew very well what that scenario felt like since he’d begun life as a bloodling himself.

The two of us were now crouched behind a row of shrubs on the left side of the front door, and I took advantage of being out of camera range to drop a hand onto Hunter’s head in a silent show of solidarity. But there was no time to soothe my mate further because heavy footsteps quickly approached the opposite side of the metal barrier. With a screech, the garage-type door rolled upward and our opponent came into view between the leaves that shielded our faces.

The owner looked like an ordinary, middle-aged guy with a receding hairline, slight paunch, and unshaven jawline. But my wolf snarled within my belly as we took in his odor. It was subtly off, reeking of greed and sadistic pleasure with just a hint of madness swirling deep down underneath.

So I didn’t hesitate to pull my second knife out of its boot sheath and step up behind our mark. Then I crossed both blades over the human’s Adam’s apple and pulled in so tightly that they indented the skin.

“Not so fast,” I whisper-growled as the man tried to jerk free.

My inner wolf begged me to let the sharp edges bite deeper, to draw a little blood. But I shushed her and merely shoved the human back through the doorway he’d been about to draw closed.

“It’s time for us to have a little chat,” I informed him.

***

The interior of the warehouse was in an even more disreputable state than I’d initially imagined. The building was small and windowless, with barely enough space for me to walk between two rows of cages. And the stench now that we’d entered was overwhelming. I actually had to ask my wolf to turn off our nose for a moment to prevent myself from gagging.

But that wasn’t the worst of it.

An emaciated female dog hovered against the back wall of one cage, her lip curling upwards into a snarl as she strove to protect her litter. Above her head, a frightened puppy released his bladder. Liquid splattered down to land on offspring and mother alike.

There were dogs everywhere. Half a dozen crammed into a cage too small to house a single beast. Others with matted fur and open sores where animals had been left to fight over the bare minimum daily ration.

The air filled with coughs every bit as loud as the growls and barks. And then there were the eyes. Dark, begging eyes. Liquid, terrified eyes. Crusted, infected eyes.

Amber, sparkling eyes so much like my mate’s that I gasped and released the proprietor before I realized what I was doing. I only came to myself when the first bloodling pup licked my hand, his tiny teeth following up with a bite to my thumb. Pay attention, he seemed to be saying. Your job here isn’t done quite yet.

I rose from my knees with murder on my mind. The puppy-mill owner was standing in one corner, a large, adult wolf growling in front of him as Hunter made up for my lapse by keeping the offender in line. “This is private property…” the human began.

This,” I said, waving my hands to encompass the two rows of reeking cages, “is a travesty. You’re breaking so many laws you could spend the rest of your life in prison.”

I expected the man to cower in the face of Hunter’s teeth even if my rage made little impact. But, instead, he smirked. “And who are you to pass judgment?” he demanded.

“We’re with the…” I paused, trying to remember the name of the human organization that dealt with puppy mills. “We’re with the, um, AARP?”

I closed my eyes for a split second in frustration. I hated that my sentence had risen at the end into a question, our cover story abruptly forgotten in the face of the bloodlings’ eyes.

Worse, the puppy-mill owner laughed at me. “I think you mean the ASPCA,” he offered, side-stepping Hunter as if he knew my companion possessed a human intellect within that lupine body and wouldn’t lunge forward instinctively the way a real wolf might.

“But you aren’t really affiliated with any organization at all, are you?” the man purred, stepping into my personal space and forcing me to backpedal until my spine settled against the metal bars of the closest cages. “You have secrets of your own to keep and you can’t afford to harm a human, hmm?”

I gasped, shaking my head in negation. This money-grubbing two-legger couldn’t really know that he was trafficking in werewolves, could he? Hunter’s job as Tribunal enforcer had set us on the one-body’s trail, but the rules were clear—we couldn’t out shifter-kind to the larger human world and we didn’t have the authority to punish a human the way we might want to.

But if the human already knew about werewolves? That was a gray area I didn’t know how to navigate.

Hunter, apparently, lacked my scruples. Despite the security cameras I’d seen in each corner of the room, he shifted without warning and strode toward my assailant two-legged. “Stay away from my mate,” he growled, an unconscious alpha compulsion turning his words into daggers of command.

Of course, alpha compulsions only worked on werewolves. Still, the human’s eyes widened with the first faint inkling of fear as he took in Hunter’s massive, muscular, form. “Shit,” he muttered. “I didn’t think they were really real.”

Then, slowly, the one-body’s brain caught up with his eyes and his scent morphed into the terror I’d expected from the get-go. But the puppy-mill owner still tried to tough his way out of what he must have realized was an increasingly hairy situation.

No pun intended. Okay, maybe I did intend that pun just a little bit after all.

“You know more than you should know,” Hunter whispered into the man’s ear, his words so deep they resonated in my belly. Even when he’d fought by my side against serial-killing shifters, I’d never heard the uber-alpha sound quite so wolf-like.

In fact, I wasn’t entirely sure his human brain was involved in determining his current actions at all anymore. So I set one hand on Hunter’s bare forearm in hopes a simple touch would prevent my mate from doing something he’d later regret.

Amber eyes the exact same shade as those of the caged bloodling puppies flicked over to meet mine before darting away. The tiniest dimple formed on Hunter’s right cheek and I released my pent-up breath. No, my mate was still in there. He was just doing his job—making sure this puppy-mill owner didn’t turn into a repeat offender.

“Human law believes in three strikes you’re out,” my mate continued, his voice becoming even quieter as he leaned in closer. On the final word, his teeth snapped together a millimeter away from the puppy-mill owner’s ear and, to my satisfaction, the man jerked away as if he’d been struck. The human wasn’t so brave after all.

Smirking, Hunter finished his train of thought more loudly. “Our law believes in one strike you’re dead.

The bloodling paused to let his words sink in. Then he stepped back, releasing the human from his over-powering presence. Abruptly, Hunter became the epitome of a cordial—if naked—businessman sealing a deal, and immediately the human’s tension eased.

“We’re taking the puppies, plus your records about any other ‘dogs’ you’ve rehomed. Then we’re burning the building,” my mate continued, his light tone suggesting that he was talking about baking cookies rather than planning arson. “In the future, I’ll be checking up on you at intervals. If you even think about bringing home a goldfish, you’re out of the realm of human law and into the realm of our law. Do you understand?”

The puppy-mill owner gulped, then nodded. Hunter clearly had everything under control, so I took advantage of our opponent’s stunned silence to snatch the cage-keys out of his hands and head toward the kennel that housed the bloodling pups. We’d save all of the residents of this reeking shed, of course, but the shifters came first.

Especially the biggest male with the dash of white fur on his forehead who had nibbled on my fingers a moment earlier. I’d bonded with him instantly and was already starting to call him by a pet name within my mind—Star.

But to my surprise, the bloodling in question bared his tiny teeth when I reached forward to pull him out. Only when Star began nudging his weaker companions toward the front of the cage did I realize that he wasn’t resisting my advances. He was merely making sure his less able cage mates were rescued first.

And wasn’t that all werewolf?

Shooting one last glance toward the one-body who considered shifters and dogs alike unworthy of his compassion, I once again thanked my lucky stars that I’d been abandoned by my parents. After all, I’d lost that easy familial love at a far too tender age but had gained something unimaginably more valuable in the process.

Despite my half-human heritage, I’d enjoyed the distinct advantage of being raised by wolves.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.