Want a glimpse inside the final book in the Alpha Underground series? Here’s Chapter One to tantalize those taste buds (but please excuse any typos — the final draft is still in the hands of the copy editor):
Ten days until All-Pack. Ten days until a counsel of my peers would claim the right to decide whether my found family was fit to exist and whether I was fit to lead said pack. Ten days until I’d either win big, or everything I’d worked so hard to create would be ripped out of my grasp forever.
Ten days until All-Pack…and my wolf was still acting like a spoiled child. Fur form now, she demanded.
I stretched my neck from side to side until it popped then inhaled a deep breath through my nose in an attempt to refrain from strangling my weaker half. Too bad my wolf was only virtually present within my skin at the present moment and not available for manual asphyxiation. Time for a little bout of channeling my previous alpha.
What would Wolfie do? I pondered. Well, that was an easy one—Wolfie would be patient. So I strove to keep my temper in check as I reined in my inner beast. No, I informed her. We can’t shift now. Don’t you see the humans standing all around us?
“Sense something, Fen?” my investigative partner asked, drawing me out of my silent conversation. For a human, Robert was awfully adept at picking up on the subtleties of body language. So I wasn’t entirely surprised that he’d noticed signs of my inner battle…despite both his feet and his face currently pointing in the opposite direction.
When I didn’t reply immediately, Robert once again proved his mettle. Rather than prodding me verbally, he simply continued scanning the crowd that had gathered beyond the expanse of yellow caution tape, hunting for the first hint of odd behavior signaling a perp returning to the scene of the crime.
Well, if my partner was going to do his job, then I might as well do mine too. Want to help me out here? I asked silently, expecting my inner animal to dive right in and increase my sensory capabilities the way she so often had in the past. Together, we’d never before had a problem determining whether murders were werewolf-related or just a grisly example of what humans did to each other without the benefit of fangs and claws.
But instead of obeying, my unruly wolf only lengthened the hairs on the backs of my arms, scrabbling at the inside of my spine as she attempted to force her way free. It was a good thing she was such a puny beast or we might have given those paranormal-activity websites something more fact-based to report on.
“Just a sec,” I said aloud, not wanting Robert to think I was ignoring him even though my wolf was refusing to pull her own weight this afternoon. I struggled for another moment, then shrugged off my inner animal’s perversity and opened my human-only senses to the air.
Luckily, I was able to smell, see, and hear better than the average one-body even without my wolf’s assistance. In fact, as soon as I focused on the blanket-covered corpse fifteen feet away, the charnel-house aroma became so intense it nearly overwhelmed me. I might as well have been standing directly on top of the body for all the barrier there was between the death scent and my churning stomach.
My immediate impulse was to cringe away from the aroma of fresh blood and meat, but my wolf bade me to lean forward instead. Savory, she suggested, licking her chops.
Lupine interest coursed through my body, straightening my spine and setting my feet into motion without conscious human consent. The pavement surrounding the corpse was bloody, a sign that another predator had been there before us. Together, my wolf and I growled our complaint at the territorial invasion as we arrowed toward our goal.
“Hey!” a policewoman exclaimed as I brushed past, my shoulder knocking into hers in my haste. With my wolf in the lead, I hadn’t even noticed another two-legger in my path until she grabbed my forearm to prevent me from continuing along my present trajectory. “Who are you?” the woman demanded.
Abruptly, my wolf subsided, slipping back down along the inside of my throat until she could rest nose to paw at the bottom of my tummy. I wanted to roll my eyes at the sudden desertion, but the woman in front of me already appeared royally pissed off. No need to annoy her further by donning facial expressions I couldn’t easily explain away.
“I’m…” I started, but the officer was uninterested in further explanations. Instead of waiting to hear an answer, she began dragging me away from the body I’d come to examine. My subtle attempts to wrest myself from her grip didn’t hinder her one bit.
Glancing back over one shoulder in search of assistance, I noticed that Robert had wandered off in the opposite direction and had already been pulled into conversation with a crime-scene tech. Great. Just what I needed—for my inner wolf to start riling up bystanders’ danger sensors with her uncharacteristically rampant behavior right when my get-out-of-jail-free card was busy elsewhere.
Because, as much as it currently cramped my style, I wasn’t entirely surprised by the policewoman’s reaction. After all, my uber-alpha mate often received the evil eye from unsuspecting humans who had no clue he was a shifter but who still sensed the extra-strong wolf simmering beneath his skin. In contrast, the inner animal of a half werewolf was generally so quiescent that she didn’t tweak anyone’s risk radar.
Not so today. As I attempted to catch Robert’s attention without antagonizing my captor further, I realized that everyone else had gravitated toward the coffee station at the far end of the roped-off area. They probably thought they’d all fallen prey to a simultaneous need to warm up frozen toes. But as the woman before me paused long enough to search my face with narrowed eyes, I had a feeling her co-workers were instead obeying their lizard brains’ impulses to flee both far and fast from a predator like myself.
Meanwhile, the bold policewoman in front of me was likely making a mental note to write me down in her files under “person of interest.” Not exactly the method of flying-beneath-the-radar I strove for when operating in one-body territory.
I opened my mouth to try reasoning with the officer, but quick bootsteps stilled me before I’d really begun. At last, rescue was on its way.
Robert stepped between us smoothly, his wallet already flipping open to reveal his ever-present ID. “We’re with the FBI, ma’am,” he said calmly, offering that same aw-shucks grin that had snookered me into thinking him harmless when we first met. My partner was entirely human…but he was far from harmless. “We won’t get in your way,” he continued. “But since we were passing through, I figured we should drop by and check on the scene.”
“There’s no reason for this case to fall under the federal jurisdiction,” our companion replied, vertical lines appearing between narrowed eyes as she released me in order to pluck the wallet out of Robert’s extended hand. “But we’re always willing to receive feedback from experienced operatives. You won’t mind me calling in to check on you, of course.”
It wasn’t a question. She was already dialing her cell phone when Robert agreed with an easy, “Of course.”
Despite his laid-back tone and manner, though, my partner took advantage of the woman’s lapse of attention to jerk his chin in the direction of the corpse. His credentials would stand up under any kind of scrutiny, but my own consultant status was only kinda-sorta on the books.
Luckily, I usually required mere moments to complete my analysis. I reached the site of the murder in a few quick strides then knelt on the ground just beyond the puddle of congealed blood. Killed on this spot, I thought absently as I brought my nose down closer to the corpse and sniffed.
And, finally, my wolf relinquished her snit and deigned to offer a helping hand. Or, rather, a helping nose. Together, we inhaled the nearly overwhelming tang of iron-rich blood mingling with the subtler aroma of the human who had covered the victim to protect the dead from the prying eyes.
Same soap, my wolf offered, noticing before I did that the policewoman currently conversing with my partner had been the one to shake out the sheet.
Relaxing into our partnership at long last, I allowed the wolf to point out a secondary minty aroma that likely matched up with the teary-eyed woman currently huddled at the far corner of the enclosed area. Robert had clued me in to the details during the two-hour car ride, so I knew the female candy-shop owner had come to open her store that morning…and stumbled across a horrifying crime scene by mistake. No wonder I could still smell the civilian’s terror-stricken emotion hovering in the air above my head even hours later.
My wolf’s nose definitely made the evidence easier to sort out, but we still hadn’t managed to answer Robert’s question. Was the murderer man or beast? So, ignoring the nightmares I’d likely summon as a result of my actions, I gingerly plucked at a corner of the sheet in an attempt to look underneath.
Immediately, my gorge rose up in my throat and I covered my mouth with one hand to keep lunch in my stomach where it belonged. The victim was unidentifiable, post-death knife wounds tearing his face up into a sea of exposed flesh. Only the thoroughly masculine clothing clued me in to his gender.
I wanted to not only look away but also to walk in the opposite direction as far and as fast as I was able. But my wolf took advantage of my lapse to seize control of our shared body, extending our arm until we were nearly touching the mass of bloody meat. Hungry, she offered.
Shit! Yanking my hand back and clutching it underneath the opposite elbow by way of restraint, I slapped my disappointment like a rolled-up newspaper against the wolf’s nose. Arguing with me was one thing. Trying to eat a human corpse was something else entirely.
It’s getting worse, I admitted to myself. I hadn’t told anyone how my attempts at nurturing a little independence in my previously weak wolf appeared to be backfiring. Instead, I’d hugged the worries close to my chest and kept my own counsel.
But now, as my gut roiled even worse than it had at the initial sign of the mangled body, I had to admit that I’d dug myself into a hole so deep I didn’t even know which direction to turn in my attempt to claw free.
Because, sure, I could chain up the wolf deep inside myself the way I used to, leaving my human brain in sole command of our shared body. But my new life required the beast’s frequent assistance, not just here on this crime scene but also within our four-month-old pack. I was trying to act as co-alpha of a cobbled-together band of traumatized bloodlings and young-adult werewolves, a process that required leading with my wolf in addition to my human brain.
I’ll deal with all that later, I promised myself. For now, I needed a lupine nose if I hoped to finish assessing the crime scene before Lady Cop asked for my driver’s license then tossed me out on my ear. So, ignoring the incipient headache forming at my temples, I instead firmly bade the wolf to: Focus. Meekly, she obeyed.
Together, we inhaled, letting fragrant air stream across the sensitive skin that formed our mouth’s upper palate. The bloody aroma was much worse now that we were located mere inches away from the corpse and I could almost taste the salty reek of urine mixed up in the last vestiges of quickly dissipating terror. Not exactly what I’d hoped to put in my mouth.
But there was no sign of wolf beyond my own. No undertone of fur and wildness that all shifters carried around even in our two-legged form.
So I stood and shook my head silently at Robert. No, I signaled, the smart policewoman was seeking a monster…but not the kind of monster I denned with on a daily basis.
And my partner understood instantly. Making his excuses, Robert veered away from the still suspicious law-enforcement officer and strode over to join me just inside the closest barrier. Then, wordlessly, we slipped beneath the caution tape and headed back to his waiting SUV.