When werewolf Erin Balfour learns that her father has been murdered by his pack’s new alpha male, the pack’s welfare demands that she embrace the beast heritage she never wanted. She must pose as the mate of lone wolf Raoul, her father’s protégé, and deal with the magnetic allure between them. If she wants Raoul for her true mate, must she also embrace her role as heir to the alpha bloodline?
Green eyes glinted among the trees. From the edge of the woods, Raoul watched the beast lurking in the shadows. His animal vision had no trouble spotting the auburn she-wolf by the light of the half-full moon. Having tracked her many times before, he knew her routine. She regularly visited this park near her home, where the patch of tame forest gave her space to run. She believed she'd found a safe way to live with her double nature. He hated knowing he'd have to shatter that illusion.
When she turned her head in his direction, he froze. He watched her glance from side to side and sniff the air. Did she sense his nearness? In all the times he'd shadowed her, in both her wolf and woman forms, he'd never confronted her face-to-face. Tonight he would have to take that step. He quivered with eagerness for that meeting.
He abandoned caution and sprinted toward the she-wolf. As he had feared, she broke into a run as soon as she sighted him. His longer legs closed the distance in seconds. With a torturous wrench, he forced his body into human form.
The female halted, clearly stunned by his change.
"Erin, wait!" he called.
She paused, tremulous with uncertainty, her lips curled in a silent snarl.
He raised his hands, palms out. "Don't run from me. I know what you are."
A ridge of hair stood up along her spine. His nostrils flared at her clean, wild scent, a blend of curiosity and fear, flavored with hints of citrus and cinnamon. He lowered his voice almost to a whisper. "I'm a friend of your father."
Now she snarled aloud. He couldn't blame her if she bristled at any mention of the man who'd sired her.
Another pace brought Raoul within arm's reach of her. He stretched out a hand. Saliva gleamed on her bared fangs. Though he longed to touch her and rub her thick fur, he decided indulging that desire wouldn't be worth the risk of her sinking those teeth into his flesh. He lowered his arm to his side. The touching he craved would have to come later, if at all.
"I have bad news. Your father is dead."
* * * *
Erin silently raged at the bad luck that had let the strange wolf catch her off guard. The breeze had blown his oddly familiar scent away from her until the last second. Even in a human body, he smelled like no other man she'd ever met. Leaf-loam, salt, and spices that reminded her of hot mulled cider, seasoned with a tang of animal musk. To her annoyance, she wanted to inhale deeper and savor that scent. Unwelcome passion sizzled in her veins. On top of that disturbingly erotic excitement, a turbulent mix of anger and fear made her lightheaded.
So he knew her father. If she'd had the ability to speak at that moment, she'd have retorted, "Why should I care?"
If this man who towered over her on his long legs was her father's friend, that fact didn't give her any reason to trust him. Just the opposite, if anything. Too bad he smelled delicious enough to lick like an ice-cream cone and looked equally intriguing. Apparently in his thirties, he had curly, black hair trimmed to just below his ears. His thick eyebrows, dark and diabolically slanted, met over the bridge of his nose, though a little thinner there. She'd never met anyone else who shared that oddity with her.
When he spoke again, she struggled to listen more closely. His accent hinted at a New England origin. "I have bad news. Your father is dead."
She growled, a sound that segued into a whine before she could swallow it. She hardly knew the man who'd left her mother right after Erin's birth. Yet a lump of sadness congealed in her chest. Now she'd never have another chance to rage at him and demand why he'd left her with so little guidance in handling her wild nature. Dead? How?
"I've got a lot to tell you, and this isn't the place. Meet me at your house as soon as you can get there."
She bristled at the casual order. He knew where she lived?
As if he guessed her unspoken question, he said, "Don't worry, I know where it is."
Before he finished answering, she caught on. He was the wolf whose baying she'd heard while she prowled by night, whose scent had drifted to her on the wind. How long had he been stalking her?
His lean body loomed over her, poised as if to pounce. She couldn't stop her eyes from wandering down the front of his torso to his partial erection. Torn between indignation and alarm, she turned and raced toward home.