Authors: Liv Brywood
Tags: #Werewolf, #Wolf, #Shifters, #Paranormal, #Contemporary, #Romance, #Fiction, #Action, #Adventure, #Psychics, #Fantasy, #Series, #Protectors, #Alpha Male, #Adult, #Erotic, #Feral Protectors, #Danger, #Suspense, #Romantic Suspense, #Protection, #Silver Creek Pack, #Full Moon Bay, #Small Town, #Abandoned Cabin, #Stalker, #Dark Secrets, #Sacrifice, #Reclusive Wolf, #Haunted Past, #Deceased Mate, #Fleeting Pleasure, #Shattered Soul
Forced to take refuge in an abandoned cabin in the middle of the woods, Brandy thinks she's finally escaped her stalker. But she quickly realizes, she's not alone. An unimaginably sexy, and very naked, man appears in the middle of the night to offer her protection. She's captivated by his stormy eyes, until she learns his dark secret. She knows she could never tame him, but when he makes the ultimate sacrifice for her, she knows she can't live without him. The more he tries to resist her, the more she wants him and for once in her life, she intends to get what she wants.
Stryde, the reclusive alpha wolf of the Dark Moon Pack, doesn’t believe in love. Fate claimed the life of his mate and he refuses to spend more than a few nights with any woman. But when he meets Brandy, she turns his world inside out. Haunted by the failures of his past, he's compelled to help her. Even though he wants to return to his reclusive life, he can't. Her dangerously sexy curves and feral seduction awaken his body, but he can't offer her more than a few nights of fleeting pleasure. There isn't a woman in the world that can heal his shattered soul.
Hours passed. Pent-up lust ravaged her sense of control, but so far, she was winning the battle. Only a few hours to go and she’d be free.
A soft scrape of a footstep near the door drew her attention. “Stryde?”
Her ears pricked. On full alert, she scrambled to her feet and pressed her back to the wall. As she made her way toward the entrance, she cautiously avoided the moonlight. When she reached the line of light, she stopped. To be so close and not to touch it buckled her knees.
A gruff voice spoke. “Be careful.”
Stryde! She gripped the stone wall and growled, “What are you doing here? The moon’s still up.”
He stepped onto the ledge. Moonlight washed over his chiseled muscles. “I couldn’t stay away.”
She backed up a step. “I have it under control. You can’t be here right now.”
The thread of control she’d clung to all night frayed.
“Your scent, it’s irresistible.”
She matched each step he took forward with a retreating step. “You really shouldn’t be here.”
“I can’t stay away.” His voice, thick like honey, wrapped her in its sticky-sweet embrace.
“Don’t come any closer.”
She backed into the rear wall. A part of her resolved cracked, but she clung to the memory of his rejection. He only wanted her because she was in heat. This wasn’t about love; it was pure, unadulterated lust.
Copyright© 2015 Liv Brywood
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Brandy wrapped the only coat she owned across her chest to block the harsh wind that whipped through the narrow pass on Howling Mountain. Her fingers trembled as she pulled a single sheet of paper from the pocket of her jeans.
The map to her uncle’s house crackled in the wind. A sudden gust raced up the sheer cliff and tore it from her fingers. She rushed after it, but it rode the updraft until the branch of a pine tree skewered it ten feet overhead.
Brandy kicked a rock over the edge of the narrow trail. It clattered down the mountain, then shattered when it impacted another ledge. When would she catch a break? Not only was she running from a madman, but she was also completely lost.
Another gale force wind rushed through the canyon. With it came the spectral echo of the warning a deep male voice had left on her answering machine the previous night. “You’ll pay for what your father did. I’m coming for you, and I intend to get justice.”
She shuddered. Usually her father’s drunken rampages resulted in a few nights in jail and a large fine. Not this time. Three months ago, he’d killed a woman. The entire town of Joshua Village hated her family and she had no one to turn to but her uncle. As sheriff of Full Moon Bay, he should be able to do something to help her.
A raindrop startled her as it landed on her hand. Thunder rumbled across the cloud-burdened sky. Great, not only was she lost, but she was about to get soaked. She should have listened to Marge, her friend and co-worker at the diner. Marge had warned her not to take a shortcut through the dangerous forest. But did she ever listen? No. Now, lost and trapped on a precarious cliff, she wished she’d paid attention to her friend.
Maybe that was her problem. At only twenty-one years old, she could already weave a blanket out of her string of failures. She kept hoping something would change her luck. But one thing she knew for sure was that she couldn’t give up. If she did, she’d be just like her father, and she refused to be anything like him.
As angry black storm clouds continued to gather overhead, thunder rumbled in the distance. She needed to find shelter, fast. She hurried along the path, careful not to get too close to the edge. One sharp curve turned into another along the endless trail.
As Brandy rounded a corner, the path opened into a narrow valley. Lodgepole pine trees dotted the landscape and acted as windbreaks to slow the relentless gale. Brandy ran toward the closest tree and hid beneath its branches just as the sky unleashed its pent-up fury.
Ominous shadows stretched across the forest floor. Rain beat the ground. Large puddles devoured smaller ones until a stream formed in the center of the valley. If she didn’t get to higher ground soon, she’d be in serious trouble.
Trees loomed overhead. Their branches stretched toward the sky like lightning rods. As she stepped out from under the tree, lightning slashed the sky. A second later, thunder boomed. Her teeth rattled as she darted through a string of open spaces.
Within minutes, sweat gathered on her forehead. She regretted ditching her exercise routine. She hated sweating and didn’t mind carrying a few extra pounds.
The valley floor rose gradually. After navigating a thick cluster of trees, she discovered a small log cabin in the center of a clearing. Wooden blinds covered the front windows. A tall, red brick chimney jutted up one side of the cabin. She checked for smoke; not a wisp.
Brandy stood in the torrential rain searching for any sign of life. If a hunter was holed up in there, she’d rather take her chances with the elements. Men couldn’t be trusted. She’d learned that the hard way and she’d never put herself in a vulnerable position again.
Chilled by the storm, she envisioned sitting in front of a roaring fire and drying off. She could hardly wait to get inside, but she needed to remain cautious, alert.
She approached the cabin from the rear. If she could find one unobscured window, she’d be able to determine whether or not a hunter lurked inside.
She circled the building. As she stepped onto the wooden porch, a loose plank creaked under her weight. She cringed. So much for being stealthy. Frozen in place, she listened for telltale footsteps. Nothing.
She tiptoed to the only uncovered window and peered inside. A small coatroom led into a kitchen. A living room sat just beyond the kitchen. No matter how many angles she tried, she couldn’t see into an open doorway halfway between the kitchen and living room. It had to be the bedroom. A hunter would be wise to sleep through the storm. If someone was sleeping inside, at least she’d have the element of surprise on her side.
She grabbed the latch on the screen door. It squeaked open. Her fingers touched the doorknob just as a clap of thunder sounded overhead. She jerked her hand back as the windows rattled.
When the cabin stopped shaking, Brandy turned the doorknob. Locked. Great. If she couldn’t get inside, her plan was useless. She’d have to come up with another way in. Maybe the key was hidden somewhere on the porch. If more than one hunter shared the cabin, they might leave the key here for easy access. Her father had shared a cabin with a friend and they used to hide the key somewhere near the back door.
After turning over the doormat and looking in the flowerpot, she was about to give up hope. Lightning arced across the sky. The flash of silvery light revealed a key wedged between two logs in the cabin’s wall. She grabbed it and slid it into the lock. Bingo.
She quickly opened the door and stepped inside. She held her breath so she wouldn’t make a sound. She paused, listening for movement. Again, nothing.
But she couldn’t let her guard down yet; a hunter could still be sleeping in the bedroom.
She tiptoed across the kitchen toward the only room she couldn’t see from outside. If someone was in the room, she was screwed, but what choice did she have at this point? She couldn’t risk being hit by lightning or getting caught up in a flash flood.
The handle of a carving knife poked out of a wooden block on the counter. As she slid it from its sheath, the blade scratched against the wood. Her heart pounded against her ribcage. The weapon trembled in her fist as she stalked toward the room.
Stryde frowned at the swollen river. It shouldn’t be this wide or this deep so early in the season. The first snowfall wasn’t expected for a few more weeks. Usually, the Salmon River ran slower as it meandered through the mountains and then picked up speed as it descended into the valley below.
He should have followed the Silver Creek River out of the mountain, but then he’d have been forced to trek across the beach where Leah died. His heart clenched. Even after six months, he still couldn’t close his eyes without seeing her crumpled body lying in the sand. Her glassy, lifeless eyes haunted his dreams. If only he’d found her sooner, maybe he could have saved her.
Stryde shook the image out of his head and returned his attention to the river. In human form, he’d never make the jump and survive, but in wolf form, it might be possible.
He backed away from the river. As he shifted, bones cracked and ground against each other. The fine hair on his body grew coarse and long. His hands and feet formed paws. Thick, taut muscles rippled beneath his fur.
He dipped his head and sniffed the ground. With all of his senses heightened, the scent of other forest animals wafted up from the pine-needle-covered riverbank. A bear had passed through the area hours ago and its foul odor still hung in the air.
Wind whipped across the rushing water. Stryde crouched and gathered all the energy he could muster. He rushed forward, sprinting toward the river. As his front paws touched the edge of the water, he pushed off with his back paws and leapt into the air.
For a second, time stood still. He was so convinced that he would make it across without any problem that the sudden splash of frigid water stole his breath. The river came alive, dragging him under. He paddled frantically, but couldn’t escape the undercurrent.
A boulder loomed ahead. He attempted to swim around it, but couldn’t maneuver fast enough. His entire body slammed into the rock. In a daze, he barely registered the rumble coming from downstream. Suddenly, he realized where the river was headed—Black Hawk Falls.
He kicked with his hind legs and struggled toward the shore. Twice, his front paws dug into the riverbed, only to be ripped away within seconds.
As the roar reached a deafening pitch, he spun to face downstream. A fine mist obscured the horizon. As he tumbled over the falls, he sucked in a breath. If he were to have any chance at survival, he had to have enough oxygen to reach the surface.
He plunged through a layer of green algae into a deep pool. His head slammed against a rock and the churning swirls of blue water turned black. The injury forced his body to shift into human form. Pain ricocheted through every joint, but it wasn’t enough to stop a swift descent into darkness.
As he sunk into the abyss, a siren whispered. “Come with me. Come to the other side, my love.”
A ghostly mermaid appeared before him. Her hair floated on the water like lily pads. Her eyes gleamed with an otherworldly light. A gauzy scarlet-colored dress clung to her breasts and hips. Her lips moved, and even though he couldn’t decipher the words, the sound of her voice still echoed from his nightmares.
He whispered, “Leah.”
Her pale pink lips moved, but the water captured the words and held them just beyond his grasp.
He called to her. “My love, my angel, let me come to the other side so I can be with you forever.”
Her spectral lips moved. “Why didn’t you save me? Why did you leave my side?”
“I should have been there. I should have protected you, but I was a fool. I’ve give anything to be able to change what happened.”
He reached for her, but his fingers slipped through hers.
Her eyes flashed as she murmured, “And now we’ll never be together.”
As her image faded, he screamed, “No! Don’t leave me, Leah.”
“You don’t deserve me. You don’t deserve to ever love again.” Her haunting voice sliced through his heart.
As she vanished, Stryde relinquished the overwhelming need to struggle to the surface to suck in a breath of lifesaving oxygen. He relaxed into the water’s deadly embrace. It was the only way he’d ever be with the woman he’d loved since he was sixteen years old.
The world constricted into a single black dot. Seconds away from succumbing to the river, he heard his best friend Ryker’s voice boom. “Don’t take the coward’s way out.”
Stryde’s feet brushed the sandy riverbed. The downward momentum stopped and he had two choices: give up and die in the river, or fight to live.
Seconds passed as he struggled to decide. What good was he to anyone now? He’d failed Leah and he’d fail everyone else.
But… what about Ryker and his new wife Diana? What would they think about him taking the coward’s way out? What would his little niece or nephew think?
He’d never get to meet their child if he gave in to the despair that clung to him like a second skin. He couldn’t let down the people in his life who loved him, so he kicked toward the surface.
He exploded out of the water and gasped for breath. The river twisted around a wall of granite, then slowed enough for him to escape the current.
He swam to the riverbank and collapsed on the pebbled shore. Rocks pressed against his back. Gray clouds swirled across the sky and a storm blackened the horizon.
He stared at the surrounding mountains. The river had taken him far away from the trail, and he contemplated abandoning the trip. But Ryker would kill him if he didn’t show up for his friend’s life-mate ceremony with Diana.
As much as Stryde wanted to attend, seeing Ryker’s love for Diana would only serve as a reminder of his own lost love. He could have chosen to stay holed up in the den, but Ryker would be angry if he didn’t attend.
Over the last six months, Stryde had become a lone wolf. He’d abandoned his pack when they’d pushed him to move on from Leah’s death. How could they possibly understand his loss? How could they possibly understand his guilt?
Stryde rolled onto his stomach and pushed up to stand on his feet. He couldn’t lie around feeling sorry for himself if he intended to reach Ryker’s den by nightfall. Clouds partially obscured the afternoon sun, which hung low on the horizon.
He only had a few hours before total darkness blanketed the valley. He needed to make up time, so he shifted into wolf form and trotted west.
A wicked headache erupted from behind his eyes. He slowed his pace as he carefully navigated a narrow mountain pass. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d taken this route, and for a moment, he wondered if the accident had affected his memory.
The threatening storm hurled lightning bolts across the top of the pass. The sky had changed so quickly that Stryde didn’t have a chance to take cover. Icy raindrops struck his fur and within minutes, he was soaking wet. He needed to find shelter.
Brandy rushed into the bedroom. Empty.
No one lurked in the closet or under the bed. Convinced she was alone, she pulled a cord to lower the wooden blinds. She set the knife on the nightstand and eyed the perfectly made bed. She’d have to spend the night here to wait out the storm.