BY THE LIGHT OF THE MOON
Rise of the Arkansas Werewolves
Table of Contents
Also by Jodi Vaughn
Damon Trahan shoved a hand in his jeans pocket and leaned against his black Harley-Davidson Breakout. For three long hours, he’d been standing watch outside the dilapidated bar constructed of cinder block walls, rusted tin roof, and grim desperation. The seedy bar was a well-known hangout for rogue wolves that had no respect for Wolf Law, making it the perfect place for his suspect to hide.
He grimaced as the scent of stale urine and fresh vomit wafted over him, making his stomach clench in a violent spasm. He regretted parking in the dark alley away from the blinding security light, but tonight’s mission required stealth, so he’d sacrificed fresh air and comfort. His saving grace from the repugnant odor was the occasional breeze carried on the October wind.
He narrowed his gaze on the door, as if willing Raymond Wilson to exit so he could apprehend him. Why any werewolf would risk outing their species to the world for easy drug money was beyond his comprehension. Risky behavior, whether criminal or not, wasn’t tolerated by the Pack. The U.S. Government knew about the existence of werewolves. In fact, some of the military’s best soldiers were werewolves. On the other hand, the civilian human population had no clue their species even existed. If humans discovered them, it would be an all-out war. Werewolves would be hunted down, one by one, until they were eliminated.
No one deserved to live their life in fear. No one.
His cell phone hummed against his thigh. Gritting his teeth, Damon fished it out of his pocket. “I’m a little busy right now, Barrett.”
“Damon, we need to talk.”
Damon bristled at the sharp command of his Pack Master. Since he’d moved to the Natural State, Barrett Middleton regulated his schedule, day and night, twenty-four seven. That’s what happened when a wolf joined the elite ranks of the Guardians. You gave up your life to protect the Pack and watch over civilian werewolves.
Damon wasn’t complaining. Being a Guardian had given him a purpose, a reason to keep going. He was ready to lay down his life for the better of the Pack.
Their small community of werewolves, located just outside of Little Rock, Arkansas, functioned like a military compound to the human world. In reality, it was a training base for elite werewolf soldiers, also known as Guardians. Barrett was Pack Master over Arkansas, but he still answered to the General and the Council. The power was too great for any one wolf to rule alone.
A white male shoved the exit door of the bar with such force, it bounced against the wall with a bang and the resounding boom ricocheted in Damon’s ears. Country music from the jukebox bled out into the night on the wisps of cigarette smoke.
Damon clenched his hands, his gaze never wavering from the suspect. “Can this conversation wait? Your culprit is leaving.”
The suspect, in his late thirties with muddy brown hair, hurried out of the bar. Dressed in a red flannel shirt and ripped jeans, the male made a beeline for a beat-up blue and white truck. He cast a few nervous glances toward the shadows where Damon crouched.
Damon tilted his head back and sniffed the brittle air. His nostrils flared as the familiar scent of wolf hit him. The drug dealer might look human, but there was no denying his scent was all wolf.
“I need to go.” He straddled his Harley.
“Goddamn, Damon. Forget about him.”
“Why?” He shifted in his seat while his gaze darted from his suspect back to the bar. Something was wrong.
Barrett never left an assignment unfinished. His Pack Master was relentless when it came to keeping order and protecting the werewolves in Arkansas. Calling off the investigation when they were so close to catching a suspect was completely out of character.
Unless Damon was being pulled off the case and being reassigned to another Pack.
Damon rolled his neck side to side in an attempt to loosen the tension that had suddenly blossomed. Not again. His last Pack in Louisiana had thrown him out without warning, leaving him on his own to find another state, another pack, another home. He thought he’d found a home in Arkansas. For once, he almost let himself believe he’d been accepted.
He’d been a fucking fool to entertain such a thought.
“Which Pack are you reassigning me to? Alaska? Antarctica?” The comment smacked of sarcasm and he winced at the lingering bitterness his words left behind.
“I don’t think you understand,” Barrett’s tone lowered, the same way a mother might do when she was about to discipline an unruly child. “An emergency assignment has come up. I’m putting you on it. Alone.” The grimness in Barrett’s voice had unease snaking up Damon’s spine like a night crawler.
He’d never been on assignment alone. Barrett had always put him with at least four other Pack members. In fact, the other three Guardians, Zane, Lucien and Jaxon, were probably tailing the suspect and bitching about Damon’s absence.
“One of our females has been abducted.” Barrett’s voice came out low and laced with deadly intent.
“Who was it?” Damon’s lips curled a feral snarl as his pulse raced. Some things were punishable by death, and taking a female ranked number one.
The blood drained from his face and pooled in his stomach in a nauseating rush. The rest of the conversation turned to white buzzing noise between his ears.
Ava Renfroe was the General’s daughter.
She lived near Jonesboro and he had only seen her once, from a distance, when she visited the General over the holidays. With silky black hair, eyes the color of emeralds, and a body made for sin, Ava was a female any male would fight over.
“What are the demands?” Damon tightened his grip on the cell phone. The plastic squeaked, threatening to break under his sweaty palm.
“The kidnappers have made no demands. No demands for money, prisoner exchanges, or territory.”
The only thing a wolf Pack needed more than food and territory was a female. A female to ensure their population and increase their numbers. He knew exactly what kind of hell that would be for a female as beautiful as Ava Renfroe.
“Why did you call me, Barrett? Why not call one of the other Guardians?”
“The other Guardians are too far away.”
Didn’t that just warm the fucking heart? He was Barrett’s last choice. Or maybe he was Barrett’s only choice.
“You have the skills and the ability to infiltrate the compound where we believe she’s being held.”
“You mean they won’t be able to smell the scent of your Pack on me.” Fully belonging to a Pack always seemed beyond his reach. What was the use in trying anymore?
“This is your Pack, too, Damon. Once your trial period is over, you’ll be initiated into the Arkansas Pack.”
“Yeah, right. You keep believing the shit that’s coming out of your mouth, Barrett,” he snarled.
“Watch your tone when you address me,” Barrett growled.
Barrett always called him on his shit. For that, Damon respected his leader.
“Right now, my main concern is getting this female back before they can do God knows what to her.” Damon clenched his muscles, fighting the anger racing through every cell of his body. This wasn’t the time to shift into a wolf.
“It’s an isolated wooded area. I’ll text you the coordinates to the compound. According to the Intel from our surveillance planes, that place is locked up tighter than Fort fucking Knox.”
“I’ll be ready to go within the hour.” He slipped his phone into his leather jacket and glanced at the yellow glow of his Luminox watch. He needed to run home and grab a few items. Thankfully, he was already packing most of his weapons. Two Sig Sauer 45’s holstered to his chest, a ten-inch blade in his right boot, and some thin strips of C4 in his pocket.
All he needed were a few detonator caps, a remote control, and he was in business.
Lethargy seeped into the recesses of Ava Renfroe’s foggy mind and threatened to pull her back into the blackness she was so desperately trying to escape. She’d never felt this tired, so drained of energy, and she wondered if she might have a bad case of the flu. It was too much to fight and she was sucked back into unconscious oblivion.
An eternity later, she pried open her heavy eyelids.
She blinked, letting her eyes get adjusted and glanced around. Cold, musty air stung her nose and each breath made her lungs ache. A cold sweat popped up across her skin as she gaped at her bleak surroundings.
Pushing herself up to a sitting position, she hissed as a deep pain shot through her back from lying on the concrete floor. Where the hell was she? She clamped a hand over her mouth to keep from being sick and focused on taking slow, even breaths.
The last time she felt this bad was a few years ago, after a night of shooting tequila. After that, she’d sworn never to touch the stuff again.
Wincing from the glare above, she cradled her throbbing head between her hands. An ancient, incandescent light bulb hung overhead, illuminating rusted tin walls that soared upward to a metal beamed roof. She was in some sort of warehouse.
How the hell did she end up in a warehouse?
“What the hell is going on?” She flinched as her voice reverberated throughout the cavernous space. She closed her eyes and tried to calm her racing heart.
Think, Ava, think.
She remembered getting up at dawn, drinking coffee, and reading the newspaper on the back deck of her tiny country house. Nothing special happened on her noon shift at the Golden Lair Restaurant and bar. After that, she had gone home.
She remembered her doorbell ringing. A shiver raced down to her toes as the next memory came into focus. She’d opened the door to a figure standing on the other side, dressed completely in black. Then she remembered . . . nothing.
Her eyes popped open. Icy, wet fear trickled through her veins like a winter stream.
Why the hell couldn’t she remember what happened next?
A door creaked open somewhere in the shadows. She jerked her head up and immediately wished she hadn’t. Her stomach churned at the sudden motion.
“Glad to see you’re awake, female.” The man’s deep voice slithered across the room, making the hair on her arms stand up.
“Who are you? Where am I?” Her voice cracked. “How did I get here?”
“We brought you here. You’re our special guest.” His accent was more redneck than southern. Raised in the South, she could tell the slight difference.
“I think it’s time I left.” A chill skipped across her heart, hard and quick, like a pebble on a frozen pond. What had happened in the last few hours that she had ended up here, alone?
“It doesn’t matter what you want.”
“My family knows I’m gone. They’ll be looking for me.” Anger and terror paraded up her spine, racking her body with tremors.
Evil laughter, echoing against the metal walls, hung over her like a vile promise of what was to come. Booted footsteps tapped against the concrete floor as her captor circled her in the safety of the shadows, his identity concealed.
“Your family has no idea you’re missing. And when they do, they may try to come for you, but it’ll be too late. We’ll be long gone.”
Rage pumped through her body. This asshole had another thing coming if he thought he could keep her here like a prisoner.
“You’re the key to our survival, Ava.”
“What the hell are you talking about? Survival of what? I’m just a bartender.” She squinted, trying to make out the dimensions of the room and find a way out.
“We need to increase our numbers, Ava. We need children. We need you to provide those children for us.”
She froze. Her breath whooshed out of her lungs like a deflating balloon.
She shook her head. This wasn’t happening. She must be trapped in some kind of nightmare.
Nausea engulfed her. She dropped to her hands and knees and emptied the contents of her stomach.
“That’s it. Get that nasty drug out of your system.”
Sitting back, she dragged the back of her hand across her mouth, and glared into the shadows. “You drugged me?” It would explain the drowsiness she felt earlier.
“It was the only way to get you here without a fight.” The shadow chuckled. “I hope you’re ready. It’s almost time.”
She squinted, trying to make out his features. “Time for what?”