Authors: Jodi Vaughn
Darkside of the Moon
By Jodi Vaughn
Little Rock, Ark.
Zane Steele rubbed his aching thigh as he waited in the hallway for admittance into his Pack Master’s office. Despite being Barrett Middleton’s second-in-command over the Arkansas werewolves, Zane still had to wait like every other fucker when he was summoned.
Life of being an Arkansas Guardian.
Guardians were the elite werewolves who protected the Pack and civilian Weres from discovery. Although the military knew about werewolves and used them in the armed forces, the rest of the human population had no idea they even existed.
It was better for everyone this way.
“What’s up, man?” Jaxon, his fellow Guardian, ambled down the hall from the direction of the gym as sweat dripped off his massive body and onto the concrete floor. He was shirtless, and his black gym shorts hung low on his hips, revealing a wall of muscle.
The Guardian Quarters housed not only the Pack Master’s office but also the Guardian barracks and a state-of-the-art gym where the alphas could release some steam in between missions.
“I’m here to see Barrett.” He narrowed his eyes at Jaxon and wondered why he hadn’t scented the Were before he’d seen him. His leg wound must be distracting him more than he liked to admit.
“When you’re done, come out to the gym. I need someone I can spar with that I won’t hurt.” Jaxon grinned over his shoulder as Lucien approached them.
“Whatever, fucker. I totally had your ass.” Lucien shot Jaxon the bird before giving Zane a “what’s up” nod.
“If we fought, I’d break you in two, Jaxon.” Zane gave his Pack brother a rare grin.
“Well, we can’t all be as bad-ass as you. Some of us have to be charming and damn good-looking.” Jaxon smirked and his blue eyes flashed.
“Yeah, that’s where I come in.” Lucien shoved Jaxon hard into the wall. Jaxon stumbled but quickly regained his balance and snarled.
“Easy, children. I don’t have time to break up a fight before my meeting.” Zane disparaged them as his hand brushed his sore thigh.
“Always the enforcer.” Jaxon’s gaze dipped to Zane’s thigh.
He stopped rubbing his wound as he realized Jaxon was staring at him.
“Is your leg not healed yet?” Jaxon frowned.
“Just taking its sweet-ass time. That’s all.” Zane shrugged, crossed his arms over his massive chest, and tried to ignore the pain.
A Guardian should be in control of himself at all times. Even in control of his pain. He was one of the highest-ranking Guardians in Arkansas, and he wasn’t about to let a leg injury inflicted from some meth head turn him into a pussy.
A few days ago, Zane had taken Lucien and Jaxon on a recon mission to investigate a werewolf who was suspected of making crystal meth. A dilapidated house in rural Arkansas had been the base for the drug operation. Barrett had given Zane the green light to take down the suspect and destroy the drugs before they could be circulated in the werewolf population.
They’d busted into the old house and soon realized that the suspect was not alone. There’d been fifteen wolves crammed into the tiny house, and judging from their stench, they were all red wolves. The wolves had drawn on them and, without backup, the Guardians were forced to fight for their lives.
They’d managed to take out and kill eight of the wolves immediately upon entry. Five Weres made it out the door, but Jaxon and Lucien had quickly caught up to them. They’d shifted and fought, eventually killing all five Weres.
Zane had stayed in the house with the other two wolves. The Weres, sensing they couldn’t take him in their human form, both shifted and attacked him. He’d fought them off in his human form before deciding to shift to give himself a better advantage. Right before he shifted, one of the wolves had shoved him backwards into the table where they’d been cooking meth. The cylinder that held the drug had shattered, and a shard of glass had gone into his thigh.
The pain had only pissed him off further.
He’d dug the glass out of his thigh and then looked up as he gave them a slow, evil grin. Anger pulsed through his body. One werewolf shot out the door and escaped. Zane launched himself at the other werewolf before he could follow suit. He shoved the shard from his thigh into the drug dealer’s neck. Blood spurted out like a fountain. The scent fueled his rage, and he proceeded to rip the red wolf’s throat out.
That was weeks ago. As a werewolf, he should have healed by now, but his injury was still bothering him. He couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off.
Barrett’s door swung open, and the imposing leader stepped out of his office.
The Guardians all stood a bit straighter as their Pack Master, Barrett Middleton, stood in the doorway. Well over six feet five inches, Barrett looked a bit like the Viking god Thor with his shoulder-length blonde hair and intense eyes.
“What the hell is this? A tampon convention? Don’t you all have something to do?” Barrett glared at Jaxon and Lucien.
“Yes, sir.” Jaxon fought a grin before he and Lucien strode off in the direction of the barracks, leaving Zane standing alone.
“Zane, come on in.” Barrett stepped aside and motioned with a nod to enter.
Zane made his way to the chair in front of Barrett’s massive desk. His gaze flitted to the Arkansas Guardian shield that hung on the wall before meeting Barrett’s gaze.
He waited for his Leader to speak. A mission. That’s exactly what he needed. Being on a mission always made him feel his best. He needed this to get his mind off his thigh and focus on what was important. His work. He needed something where he could shut down some miscreant werewolves and get to feeling normal. To feel in control.
“I need you to do something for me.” Barrett eased his large, muscled body into the chair behind his desk and slid a brown file over to Zane.
“A mission?” Zane frowned as he picked up the file. He wondered why he hadn’t heard anything through the grapevine about any upcoming trouble in Arkansas. Usually he had some idea of what was about to go down before it did. He didn’t like to be left out of the loop.
“Not exactly.” Barrett rubbed his hand across his face and met Zane’s gaze. “I’ve got to host the Pack Master meeting here in Little Rock. I’ve got the Pack Masters of Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana coming in, and I can’t leave.”
“Sounds like a recipe for a good time.” Zane snorted.
“Sounds more like a dick-measuring contest,” Barrett deadpanned.
“Well, boss, if that’s the case, then you don’t have any competition.” Zane laughed.
“Damn right I don’t.” Barrett reached his arms up and rested them behind his head.
“So what is it you need me to do?” Zane leaned forward with interest. Politics of the Packs always interested him. As a high-ranking Guardian, he had ambitions to one day be Pack Master himself.
“I’ve got some new recruits who need their Guardian ink.”
Zane curled his hands into fists and struggled to keep his expression neutral. His heart rate sped up.
“You’re talking about Braxton and Jayden.” He forced the words out of his mouth.
“Yeah.” Barrett lifted his chin. “You got a problem with that?”
“No problem,” he lied. He had a big fucking problem. Not with Braxton. He liked the tattooed-up werewolf with the blue hair. Braxton had a protective streak a continent wide when it came to women, and Zane could respect that.
“Come on, Zane. I’ve known you for years. I may be your Pack Master, but I know you better than anyone else in the Guardians. I know you even better than those two lunkheads, Jaxon and Lucien.” Barrett lasered his gaze on him. “Do you have a problem with your assignment?”
“Like I said, there’s no problem.” His history with Jayden was nobody’s business. Zane was loyal to Barrett to a fault, but when it came to his family, that was a whole other animal. Where Zane had grown up with an intact family that had rules and structure, Jayden had been raised by his granny, who didn’t exactly follow the rules. He’d realized from his brief interaction with the old lady that she didn’t have a filter and didn’t know the meaning of discipline.
“Perfect.” Barrett eased back into the chair, resting his elbows on the leather armrests, and steepled his fingers. His blond hair brushed his shoulders as he cocked his head and studied Zane.
“The appointment has already been made. Since we’ve got two Guardians and each tatt is time-consuming, it’s going to take a while. So you’ll need to leave tonight for Jonesboro.”
“Anyone else going?” Zane remembered getting his Guardian tattoo. The symbolic tattoo of wings that spanned his back with eyes that peered out meant you belonged to the Guardians, the elite werewolf soldiers. Being a Guardian was a high honor that involved sacrificing yourself for your Pack and maintaining control of yourself at all times.
All the more reason it rankled him that Jayden was about to get his ink. Control was not a word he would ever deem fit for Jayden.
“You can take Lucien.” Barrett shrugged. “I need Jaxon to go check out a situation in the southern part of the state.”
“Sounds good.” He stood, and his thigh screamed in protest. He forced his expression to remain neutral under the ache of his thigh. He had hoped a weekend of rest would facilitate the healing of it, but now that wasn’t happening.
Maybe a hard ride on his Harley was just the thing to work the soreness out of his thigh and the anger out of his soul.
Skylar Wade stood in the middle of the metal shed and forced back the angry tears threatening to fall. She’d erected the shed in the backyard of the house she was currently reconstructing so she’d have a safe place to lock up her tools at the end of each workday.
She fingered the lock that had been cut away with bolt cutters and swallowed a growl. She’d had the shed delivered and set up when she started working on the house to keep drug addicts from stealing her tools at night. There’d been a recent string of robberies at construction sites, so she’d taken precautions. Or so she’d thought. In the end, even the lock hadn’t deterred the thieves. They were like rats determined to get into a refrigerator filled with cheese.
“Assholes.” She slammed the door of the shed. The metal clanged loudly, along with the beat of her heart echoing in her ears.
She was on deadline to get this house finished, and now, because some of her tools were gone, she was going to fall behind.
She was counting on the money from this job so she could place a bid on the old abandoned apartment building on the south side of town. Her vision of remodeling the apartments as a home for runaway girls who needed a safe place had been her mission in life.
Having grown up neglected, where she’d been raised by an abusive father, Skylar wanted to give girls a different life. She wanted to give them a different childhood.
In giving back, maybe she could set her ghosts to rest and finally have some peace.
She pulled out her cell phone and pulled up her list of workers. She needed to let them know that there was going to be a late start on the workday. No need to tell them about the break-in. It would only worry them, and they might start looking for work somewhere else.
She glanced at the time on her phone. She had just enough time to replace the tools before the workers got there.
And this time, she was adding a heavy chain and lock to her list of supplies.
“I packed some cookies.” Granny, in her orange and pink muumuu, ambled over to their group of bikers and proceeded to hand out brown paper sacks to each of the Guardians.
Zane frowned but didn’t make eye contact. He figured it was best not to encourage the old woman.
“Granny, it’s not a picnic.” Jayden grimaced as his grandmother handed him a bag and patted his cheek.
“But these are your favorites. Snickerdoodles.” Granny pursed her lips together.
“Thanks, Granny.” Jayden smiled and unrolled the top of the bag to peer inside.
Zane clenched his teeth. Just being around the ass-kisser, Jayden, made him want to pummel him in the face.
If they didn’t leave soon, he was going to do just that.
Granny stopped in front of him and held out a bag. He grunted but didn’t take the bag.
“Come on, son. You need to keep up your energy.” Granny smiled.
“Thanks, but I’m good,” Zane insisted. He was acquainted with Jayden’s sex-toy-selling granny. What the hell did she think this was? Going off to day camp?
There was no love lost between him and Jayden Parker. Zane had caught the Were with his sister, Katy, doing the nasty. He’d come over to check on Katy only to find Jayden buck-ass naked and in her bed. Before he could get his hands on the asshole, Jayden had jumped out the window. Without his clothes.
“Are you diabetic? Gluten intolerant? Have an allergy?” Granny cocked her head and tapped a finger to her lips as she tried to diagnose him.
Braxton and Lucien snorted behind him. He turned and shot them the bird over his shoulder before turning his attention back to the elderly woman.
“I’m not diabetic, gluten intolerant, or allergic. I just don’t want any,” he snarled.
“Granny, give them to me,” Jayden called out after he straddled his Harley Davidson Breakout. He smiled as Granny passed him a second bag.