Gage Rylon has a secret so big it will stun the werewolf world. He’s the heir of the last Regis, the king of werewolves. But more than that, his father was leader of the Society of rogues and murdered his own mate, Gage’s mother.

Orphaned and separated from his twin Gideon at the age of thirteen, sent to be fostered in an unfamiliar pack, it’s no surprise that Gage became alpha while waiting for the time to follow his mother’s dying wish.  Now that the time has arrived however, he finds his first priority is reuniting with his brother Gideon and together claiming their mate.

Marilyn Sanders has no intention of taking one mate, much less two. Throw in the fact one of them is the Regis and she is even more determined to keep her distance. If only they weren’t so damned irresistible. It can’t hurt to indulge in a night or two, right?

But there is something much more dangerous than two mates trying to claim her. As Gage makes his identity know to the werewolf world he comes under threat from those who don’t want to return to central rule. Worse the new leader of the Society considers him a threat.

Gage and Gideon struggle to protect the pack and their legacy, but will they be in time to save their mate?

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Marilyn Sanders slammed the door hard enough the whole block probably heard it. Not that she cared. The dim interior blinded her for a moment, but it didn’t matter. She located her quarry easily. Gage Rylon. Alpha of the Panhandle Pack. Tall, gorgeous and too sexy for his own good. He stood out even when he wasn’t trying. The overhead lights glinted off midnight dark hair that just brushed his shoulders. He radiated power and magnetism. Too bad he was also a cold, manipulative SOB.

He sat in his usual spot, a sort of unofficial office in a corner booth at the Half Moon Bar. Her freaking bar. They weren’t open yet, not that that ever stopped him. How the hell did he keep getting in? He claimed he didn’t have a key, yet he usually showed up before any of the staff. Worse, she lived in the apartment upstairs and she never heard him enter. He did it just to piss her off. He spent a lot of effort trying to get a rise out of her, actually. Usually she let it roll off her. As the unofficial leader of the young females in the pack, mated and unmated, she had to interact with him on a regular basis. The trick was to stay calm and ignore the pointed barbs. This time he’d stepped way over the line, though.

Her flip flops slapped an angry staccato beat over wooden floors as she stalked to his booth on the opposite wall. He ignored her until she slammed her phone on the table. Remote, indifferent eyes lifted to meet hers. Blue, glowing against tanned, bronze skin, they flared briefly with an intensity that made her stomach do a slow roll. Sometimes she felt like she could fall into that gaze, that he could give her something she’d craved all her life and make her whole. Then, inevitably, he opened his mouth and words came out.

“Yes?” he asked, cold. So cold she felt burned. Scorned and dismissed. Typical. His behavior shouldn’t surprise her anymore, but it still made her freaking crazy. There was a real person under all that frigid control. What would it take to drag him into the world where people actually showed their feelings? “Did you need something, Marilyn?”

She needed him to drop off the face of the Earth. Since that wasn’t happening she’d have to settle for venting her fury. She planted both palms on the table and leaned close to glare at him. She didn’t even try for subtle. Why should she? He hadn’t.

“Is this some kind of get-back-at-the-homecoming-queen thing? ’Cause I might get that. Even if it is completely juvenile.”

He cocked an eyebrow on that perfect face and she just wanted to deck him. His imperturbability was more infuriating than usual. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Really?” She slid into the booth across from him and picked up her phone.

“You sent out a pack email an hour ago about the Solstice auction—which you know I’m in charge of—with this snarky little comment about no mature participants. And when I asked for clarification of what you think mature is?” She paused for a calming breath so she didn’t kill him in her family’s bar. Hell, it had taken an hour to throttle her anger back enough to confront him. “You said, thirty sounded like a good cut off to you.”

He shrugged. “That’s a problem why?”

“Well, let’s see. First, you just insulted half the women in the pack because apparently only young women are attractive. And oh yeah, thirty is old.”

She gave him a second to deny that and he didn’t. Asshole. “Second?”

“The auction is tomorrow. And I’m thirty today.”

“I know,” he said, his glance briefly going to her hands.

A reminder of the present that had been waiting on her nightstand when she woke? The ruby ring, in its soft cotton pouch, burned a hole in her pocket even now. She’d been receiving the anonymous gifts for a decade. They were always thoughtful, though never so extravagant, and she’d never been brave enough to ask if they were from him. He spoke before she could and destroyed any curiosity over the gifts with his words.

“So?” Gage shrugged again. “I’m missing something here.”

She swallowed a scream. He made her insane, had since they were kids. He’d been a newcomer, a stranger. It wasn’t so much that she’d ignored him. It was more that she’d done what Andrew, the previous alpha, and her father wanted her to, which meant not befriending or later dating the orphan werewolf who’d just shown up on their steps. No matter how cute or hot he was. No matter how much he drew her, intrigued her. As an adult, she understood what a lucky escape she’d had and if she felt a twinge of regret, well, she’d count her blessings and get over it.

“You aren’t missing shit,” she scoffed. “You antagonize me on purpose. Don’t worry, babe, I’ll be out of your hair soon,” she ended as sarcastically as she could muster, somehow keeping her voice cool, though she wanted to throw the mother of all hissy fits. Not very mature of her. She refused to let him affect her this way when he felt nothing.

She slid out of the booth, but he caught her wrist before she could escape. She barely repressed a shiver. There was nothing seductive about holding her wrist, about the way his thumb brushed slowly over her pulse. Which was a cryin’ shame.

No. That was a brilliantly bad thought and she was not going there. She’d been fighting the temptation, the compulsion, for years and refused to give in now. Not that he was offering, she reminded herself bitterly. He seemed to consider everyone but her fair game.

“What are you talking about?” he asked.

“I’m leaving. I was gone a long time, remember? I only came back because Abby needed me. She doesn’t anymore.”

That might not be entirely true, but it was close. Abby had been her best friend since childhood. A couple of years ago, she’d lost both her parents and gotten divorced within months of the tragedy. Marilyn hadn’t considered it a sacrifice to come home and lend her strength as long as Abby needed her. However, her friend had been mated to Marilyn’s brothers, Rule and Lawe, for almost a year now and was expecting their first child. They were settled and happy, the three of them, and Marilyn had realized if she didn’t leave soon, she never would. So she’d accepted a job managing a new club in Jacksonville. The five hour drive wouldn’t be bad when she wanted to visit, and it was far enough away she wouldn’t have unwelcome visitors dropping in. Like a certain sexy alpha she absolutely could not have around her any longer. “You can’t leave,” he said. Marilyn laughed. She wanted nothing more. But damned if a part of her didn’t want an excuse to stay, too. “Really? And why is that?” “Because I need you more than Abby ever did,” he said softly.

She stared at him, struck silent, because she’d never in a million years seen that coming. Gage had been thirteen when he showed up, with no history, no pack, and somehow, someway, had become alpha in the Panhandle. In the proceeding twenty years he’d never accepted help. Never admitted weakness. Which might explain why he was alpha, but it did not erase anyone’s history. Or lack thereof. But maybe she was interpreting his statement wrong. Maybe he was just referring to the interference she ran between him and the weakest members of the pack, the women. She had to know. That compulsion to push him pounded through her veins.

“That chance is long come and gone, Gage,” she said softly, almost wistfully. Oh, she didn’t deny it had existed. That a needy part of her heart and soul had yearned for him. But she’d excised it long ago. Hadn’t she? He wasn’t hers. Never had been and never would be.

“So you’re going to ignore your obligations to the pack? To me?” he asked.

The unmistakable implication stole her air. She’d been fighting the attraction, the sense of connection for years, and she wouldn’t stop fighting it now. He might be her mate, but he’d never let her in. Never let her get to know him. She was nothing but a chess piece to him, albeit an integral piece. He’d use her to maintain his control of the pack and not even blink. And if she was stupid enough to let him touch her? To take him into her bed and her body? She had no doubt that he would bite her, the enzymes in his saliva would mix with her blood to create the mate bond. She would never be free of him then.

“I don’t owe you anything,” she whispered, afraid if she tried a normal tone it would just end up a scream. Another werewolf in another pack wouldn’t have asked her to sacrifice herself for the pack. Another alpha wouldn’t have used her weakness for him against her. Too bad this wasn’t another pack. “I was planning on going after the auction, but I might as well leave tonight.”

“I can make you stay.” His voice was calm and even, but the threat was obvious.

She closed her eyes and fought for reason. Control. Gage ruled the Panhandle pack with an iron fist. To be his mate would be the ultimate submission. There was no way in hell her heart would survive it. Definitely not with a man who kept everyone at an emotional arm’s length. Would his mate be any different? She didn’t think so.

“Don’t,” she said. “What you’re feeling, Gage? It’s biology. It’s just sex. And we can ignore it.”

She wanted to run. Right then and there. She was amazed she was able to hide her panic and stay calm.

“Can we? Or should we explore it?” he asked, his thumb once again stroking over her pulse. Slow. Enticing. She indulged the question because he didn’t make any aggressive moves. Explore it? She’d dreamed of it. Fantasized about it. Ultimately, she knew better. If she explored the sexual attraction between them she’d end up caught. She would never escape.

“Hell no.” She shook her head. “It would be a disaster.”

He tilted his head in a way that was so wolf-like she almost laughed. “Why?”

His question did make her laugh, though it sounded bitter even to her.

“I can’t be what you want,” she said.

“You haven’t tried,” he pointed out. “Sit down. At least tell me what you’re worried about, peaches.”

For the third time that day he surprised her. He hadn’t called that since she was a teenager. And he was actually asking? She wondered if she’d landed in a strange remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

“Who are you and what have you done with Gage Rylon?”

He grinned. “You always get sarcastic when you aren’t sure how to deal with me. Did you know that?”

His sudden transformation stunned her. When was the last time she’d seen him smile? Laugh? He looked younger, somehow lighter, and for the first time she wondered how much of a weight being alpha was. She almost asked and was glad to hear the door open behind her, still unable to break Gage’s gaze to see who had entered. Family, no doubt, since Gage didn’t react.

“Is there a problem?” Rule asked. He sounded gruff, edging on severe. He’d step in to help her if she gave any indication he should, and that would be a disaster. Brother or not, he couldn’t go up against his alpha. She tugged her hand free, sat back down across from Gage, and smiled at Rule.

“Everything’s fine. We’re just discussing the auction,” she said.

He didn’t believe her. She could see it on his face, but he nodded. Her other brother, Rule’s twin, Lawe, would show up soon. “I’m doing inventory. Holler if you need me.” He disappeared into the stock room and she turned back to Gage, who was openly amused.

“I’m guessing he’s on the phone with Lawe now.”

“Probably. So we should wrap this up and I’ll be on my way.”

“What? You want to miss your brothers grilling me about my intentions?”

She clenched her jaw hard enough it hurt and he tsked. “That’s not going to make your dentist happy, peaches.”

She faked a smile. “Rescind the age rule.”

“I will if you agree not to participate,” he said, suddenly the serious, hard predator she knew too well. She almost missed the teasing stranger. Anger and frustration trumped that foolish longing from taking hold. The temptation reminded her of how dangerous he was. To her freedom. Her heart. If he decided to pursue her he would be relentless. It was time to get the hell out of Dodge. While she still could.

“Fine, but forget about me, Gage. We’ll both be a lot happier.”

His eyes glittered and a low growl rumbled in his throat. It would have scared most people, but she knew he’d never physically hurt her. He was too damned overprotective.

“You’re wrong about that, baby,” he said, voice almost guttural as his wolf made itself known. He picked up her hand, brushed his thumb across her knuckles, and gave her a look she couldn’t decipher. “Where’s the ring, Marilyn?”

Oh God, it was him. A part of her had always known of course. Who else could it be? “Why?” she asked.

Why send her presents? Why keep it secret?

“Let’s go upstairs and I’ll explain everything.”

Where she could join a long line of his conquests? Hell no. Old, bitter fury swept through her. She jerked her hand away and stood. This time he didn’t make a grab for her, though his eyes shone with challenge.

“Where are you going? We aren’t done with this conversation.”

“I’m late for work,” she snapped. They were definitely done.

“You work here, Marilyn.”

“And I’m on the clock. Goodbye, Gage.”

She hoped it sounded as final as she meant it to be and she didn’t wait to see his reaction. She fled, intending to repair the cracks in her resolve. To bury a craving she knew in her bones would either complete her in ways she couldn’t imagine or destroy her.