Jackson has problems. His most trusted friends are gone, his Beta is convinced another werewolf stole his mate, someone in his pack is trying to steal his job, and his woman is on the run. When everything comes to a head at once, the situation quickly escalates to deadly levels.
Summer Lambert, the last single hold out of the witch cousins, has a relaxing and solitary two-week mountain vacation planned. She is outraged to learn the whole trip was a ruse by Jackson to get her to his home. Once there, she is trapped and finds herself increasingly drawn into his world.
As the sparks fly between Jackson and Summer, his enemies move into position. Will he be able to outmaneuver them before it’s too late?
This book has been revised and expanded.
Summer found a small empty table in a back shadow of the reception hall and slipped her shoes off. She hated wearing heels, but it was kind of hard to avoid at her cousins’ double wedding. Seriously, who still did double weddings? At least she only had to do it once. She wasn’t thrilled to be in Haven anyway, so the shoes just irritated her.
She was happy for Meg and Tara, and normally she wouldn’t have any reservations about attending a werewolf wedding, which was basically just an excuse to make a mating legal in mainstream human society. She had a lot of friends in werewolf packs, had for years, and she was a member of the Panhandle pack, though no one here knew that including her cousins. She’d hoped to keep them out of that world. Too late now.
The Haven pack was new and there weren’t a lot of them. Six months ago the alpha of the Appalachian pack had died without leaving a clear heir. As a result the other alphas across the country had to choose between the two strongest wolves in that pack. One had been given the pack. The other given the chance of starting new in what were abandoned lands. Here. She’d spent her teenage years in Haven, and the locals considered her one of theirs but to her it had never been home. She’d left as fast as her car would take her when she’d graduated high school and only came back to visit her cousins. A pack moving into town shouldn’t even register on her radar.
It was the two her cousins had mated that made her nervous as hell to be in this room. Well, not them in particular but one of their friends, who happened to be the new alpha of the Appalachian pack. She’d been on the lookout for him all day, but Jackson had stuck to his promise. He wasn’t there. She felt a little guilty about that and squashed it down. She’d half expected him to show up anyway. Darius and Trey were two of his best friends after all. They’d all grown up in the same pack, had only split apart in the last months.
She’d only encountered the man in person one time, but the way he’d looked at her? No way in hell. She was all for a hot and heavy affair with a werewolf. She’d had a couple. But Jackson wanted more. He wanted everything, and she did not have the temperament to be mated to an alpha werewolf. The matching leg shackles were not for her. She’d leave that to her cousins. Not that he’d left her alone. He’d managed to get his hands on her email address and her cell phone number. Probably from Meg but her cousin wouldn’t cop to it.
Broad shoulders suddenly blocked her view and she sighed when Gage Rylon sat down. She shouldn’t have been surprised to see him at the wedding. He was the alpha of the Panhandle pack, the strongest of all the alphas, and they rarely discussed why. Though if her visions and dreams were to be trusted the time for that to change might be sooner than she expected.
He’d been keeping an eye on Darius and Jackson in this first year of controlling their own packs, but she hadn’t realized he was friendly enough with Darius and Trey to get an invitation to this wedding.
“Hello, Gage.” There was no point in being rude, and he wouldn’t go away until he’d said whatever he’d come over for. Besides, they were friends and he was her alpha.
“Where’s your mate? I expected him to be here.”
“I don’t have a mate,” she answered, feigning an indifference she didn’t feel, and he knew it.
“Liar.” He cocked his eyebrows and waited for her to respond.
“Where’s yours,” she said instead.
“I don’t have one,” he said with a smile that dared her to argue. Most people wouldn’t, but she’d spent enough time with him to know he’d never hurt a woman and she was part of his inner circle, so she didn’t hold back.
“You know I’m not buying that,” she said softly. “It’s the most open secret in the pack, Gage.”
“Is it?” She couldn’t read his expression, but he had to know she was right. It was one of those things they never talked about. She wasn’t surprised when he changed the subject. “How long are you going to run from Jackson?”
She narrowed her eyes. “Why do you care?”
“He’s distracted right now and I don’t want to see him fail. You know why.”
Because Gage would need strong allies. “You think I should sacrifice myself for your benefit?”
He looked at her with clear eyes and no mask. “You’re one of mine, Summer. You know I would never do that.” He paused. “Your grandparents made each other miserable, but you know it’s not like that with most mated pairs.”
“Gage,” she stopped him before he could leave. “Have you thought about how that could force me to divide my loyalties? About what it would mean if I ever had to choose between a mate and…”
She didn’t have to finish the sentence. “I wouldn’t ask you to make that choice.”
“You wouldn’t have to,” she said softly.
They were connected by her magic and they both knew it. He exhaled roughly. “Let’s hope it never comes to that then.” He paused. “He’s your mate. No matter what happens, I wouldn’t ask you to turn away from that. Think about it,” he said, standing up and then moving into the crowd.
Damn him. She hadn’t been thinking about anything else. Thankfully, the reception was winding down, and she could make her escape without hurting anyone’s feelings. If she could just track down her cousins to say goodbye, she could then swing by Tara’s, grab Tinnie’s journals, and be on her way. Both couples had disappeared a while ago, though. She snorted. She knew exactly what they were doing. It was just a question of where and how badly she wanted to interrupt once she found them.
“Excuse me. Summer?”
She turned to see a tall handsome werewolf standing behind her. He looked friendly enough, and he was wearing a wedding band. He looked familiar.
“Yes?” Slipping the hated heels on, she stood to face him.
He held his hand out. “I’m Eric. I work for Darius.”
Nodding, she shook his hand. She knew who he was now and where she’d seen him, at Meg’s bar with the others. “His beta.”
He grinned. “And here I was, under the impression you spooked easy.”
Her eyebrows shot up. She did not spook easily. She just recognized the danger one werewolf in particular posed to her freedom. Fuck. Were they all talking about her and Jackson? “That’s not exactly how I would phrase it.”
He cocked his head to one side and gave her a quizzical look. “Why keep avoiding him then? Eventually Jackson is going to catch up with you.”
She shrugged. Not if she could help it. “All y’all need to mind your own business.”
“Keep dreaming.” He grinned. “Anyway, Darius asked me to make sure you get to your plane tonight, and Tara left a box for you. Just let me know when you’re ready, and I’ll give you a lift.”
They hadn’t forgotten about her in the rush to rip off their clothes, after all. Thank God. She was desperate to dive into her grandmother’s journals. The secret to breaking a werewolf mate bond was in there somewhere. Tara had destroyed the spell, but Summer hoped if she was given enough time and peace, she could reproduce it or find another copy. So when the eccentric old benefactor that ran the non-profit she worked for offered her the company jet and lodge as a bonus, she’d jumped at the chance. Two secluded weeks in the Smokies should give her ample time to figure out Tinnie’s secrets, even if it was a little too close to Jackson for comfort. If she had any sense, she’d get the box and head south. Crash in Gage’s spare room for a couple weeks but she needed a break from wolves, and she wouldn’t get it there.
She smiled, probably her first real one of the day for anyone other than Meg and Tara. “I just need the box. I made arrangements to leave my car rental at the airport.”
“You want the box now?”
“That would be great.”
She followed him out of the reception hall. As soon as she stepped into the parking lot, the hair on the nape of her neck stood on end. She felt hunted and let her senses flare to isolate the danger. It faded away instantly, and she shook her head. Maybe she’d imagined it. She was getting more and more paranoid lately.
The box was quickly transferred and she was off to the tiny airport that served the local area. There was no fighting for a parking spot at this airport. She pulled right in front of the building and grinned at the sight of the small gleaming jet on the runway. It may be a small town airport, but it was big enough to handle most private jets. She pulled her bag from the trunk and slung the strap over her shoulder, then lifted the box and nudged the lid shut with her elbow.
As she approached the terminal–though giving it the lofty name was a stretch–the door opened automatically. The long building had a car rental counter at one end, a ticket counter at the other, and a small snack bar crammed in between. Doors on the opposite wall led out the boarding area.
“You must be Summer Lambert. Let me take those for you,” a waiting man said, reaching for the box and her bag. She almost didn’t let the cardboard carton go, but relented after looking into friendly eyes. His looks didn’t hurt either. He was a few years older than her and gorgeous. George Clooney’s slightly younger, much better looking double would be her guess.
“I’m Clint Osborn,” he said. “Your pilot.”
She’d been told to expect him, but for a second she was suspicious. She didn’t get an impression of danger when she opened her senses, but he was definitely hiding something. Shrugging it off, she returned his smile. People were entitled to their secrets after all, and she’d just come from a reception full of werewolves. That would make anyone wary.
“Nice to meet you, Clint. I just need to drop the car key off and we can get going.”
“Sure thing,” he answered. “Take your time. I’ll take your stuff out to the plane.”
She let him take her bag and the box, and then she hurried to drop off the car key. Outside, the plane’s engines were already whirring, and she again got the impression something wasn’t quite right. She shook it off and chalked it up to fatigue when she couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary. She was either losing it or more tired than she thought.
As soon as she got to the lodge, she was going to sleep for twenty-four hours. Since meeting Jackson a few months ago, she’d thrown herself into work, staying so busy that exhaustion rode her hard now. Mr. Hardy had offered her the use of the jet and the lodge as a bonus for finishing a project early, but she knew better. He’d done it because he knew she needed a break before the stress she’d inflicted on herself made her snap. Would she finally meet the old man in person? She imagined sitting down to talk to the boss who cared about wolves as much as she did and smiled. She climbed up the steps to the plane.
The inside was small but plush, with a couch along one wall and two captain’s chairs on the other. The cockpit was to her left, and she assumed the door on the opposite side led to a bathroom and maybe a small galley. The floors were carpeted in a thick pile, and she slipped her shoes off with a sigh. The cockpit door opened and a younger man stepped out. He came closer and extended his hand while a friendly grin crossed his face. Hardy’s human resources person must have a thing for good looking guys. He was as tall and built as the pilot but she figured in his late twenties compared to Clint’s late thirties.
“Summer. I’m Billy.”
The cutie pie had a name, and better yet was someone she’d wanted to meet. They’d exchanged a lot of emails over the past few months.
“Hey, Billy. It’s nice to finally meet you in person.”
“Yes, it is. We’ll be taking off soon. Can I get you something first? Something to eat? A drink?”
He seemed eager to please and she hated to say no to such a friendly welcome. “Sure. Something to drink would be great.”
“I can handle that.”
She followed him the length of the cabin, curious what the closed door concealed. It opened onto a narrow hall with a restroom on the left side and galley at the end. He opened the mini-fridge and poked around.
“Is wine okay?”
She nodded in response.
“Red or white?”
Definitely not red. She’d had a couple glasses of champagne at the reception. If she risked red wine now, she’d probably end up with a raging migraine within a couple of hours. “White is good.”
She looked in the door to her side and knew she’d better use the facilities before they took off. While Billy uncorked the wine, she stepped in and splashed water on her face then made the mistake of looking into the mirror. Her makeup was good, but it didn’t entirely conceal the black circles under her eyes or fine lines creasing her forehead. No wonder he was offering her wine. She looked tired and stressed out.
When she came out, he handed her a glass. The wine was excellent. Sweet with just a bit of tang. She sat on the couch and tucked her legs up under her, knowing she ought to change, but unable to dredge up the energy. The dress was going to be ruined, but hell, it wasn’t like she was planning to wear it again. She tipped the glass back for another drink and was surprised to find it empty.
She couldn’t recall the last evening she’d had two drinks, much less three. Getting up in the morning would be hell and the flight tonight would probably make it worse. She looked up and caught Billy’s intent expression, as if he was waiting for a reaction, and finally realized something was wrong. She wasn’t just being paranoid. She should be curious about that, but she was suddenly exhausted. She panicked and swayed on her feet when she stood. He caught her shoulders, letting go as soon as she stilled.
“Steady there. I think you drank that a little too fast.”
She shook her head, trying to clear the growing haze in her mind and puzzle this out. Then she caught sight of something under the open collar of his shirt. A small silver disc. It threw off a hazy vibe, interfering with her senses when she tried to use them. She hadn’t seen one in more years than she could remember.
“That’s a witch’s talisman. Why do you have one of those, Billy?”
A shadow blocked the open cabin door. Why was it still open? Why weren’t they preparing to get in the air?
“I think she’s feeling a little woozy.”
Who was he talking to? She leaned around Billy and squinted, but her eyes weren’t working right. The shadow moved closer and took over, plucking the glass out of her hand and passing it to Billy.
“I’ve got it from here,” he said with Jackson’s voice.
She’d know that voice anywhere. It haunted her daydreams and kept her up nights, but how could he be here? She struggled to think and get her eyes to focus on him. Yep. It was definitely Jackson.
“What are you doing here, Jackson?” Her mouth felt like cotton, and she had to force the words out.
“Don’t worry, sweetheart. You’re gonna be fine.” He looked over his shoulder and spoke to Billy. “Shut the door and tell Clint we’re ready to take off.”
Pure, unadulterated fury cleared her mind for a moment. She knew what he’d done and she sat down hard on the couch. He moved closer, reaching a hand out to balance her, but she jerked out of his reach. “You drugged me.”
The moment of lucidity didn’t last long though, and she stifled a yawn once the words were out, her eyelids sinking closed no matter how hard she fought against it. Before the drug took her, she was aware of being pulled into his lap and cradled in his arms like a lost lover. She couldn’t find the will to struggle. Besides, it was kind of nice to stop fighting and sink into his warmth. He smoothed the hair away from her face, and she wasn’t sure if his response was real or imagined.
“You didn’t give me much choice, sweetheart.”