/ Language: English / Genre:antique, / Series: Spellbound Moon

Once Bitten

Loribelle Hunt

antiqueLoribelleHuntOnce BittenengLoribelleHuntcalibre 0.8.4118.3.20120973cff6-9ada-4115-9008-b5ce2db1b3b91.0

Spellbound Moon 1:

Once Bitten

Loribelle Hunt

Spellbound Moon 1: Once Bitten

Copyright © February 2010 by Loribelle Hunt

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eISBN 978-1-60737-538-8

Editor: Mary Harper

Cover Artist: April Martinez

Printed in the United States of America

Published by

Loose Id LLC

PO Box 425960

San Francisco CA 94142-5960


This e-book is a work of fiction. While reference might be made to actual historical events or existing locations, the names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


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Chapter One

Oh yeah.” It was more one long groan than two distinct words. “Just like that.” Teeth slid, just barely, along the underside of Caleb's cock before lips tightened around him, making his hips jerk up. Zach held him down easily, one arm pressed over his pelvis, the other hand wrapped around the base of his erection.

Zach knew just what Caleb wanted tonight, knew he had to expel the edginess, the unexplained neediness that had been riding him lately. Especially the last couple of days. He sucked Caleb hard. His mouth and tongue and teeth were punishing, demanding. Almost brutal.

But Caleb was a werewolf; he could take whatever Zach dished out. And more.

Caleb came like a rocket, but after one swallow, Zach pulled away. Using his cum, the other werewolf rubbed it around Caleb's asshole. Used it as lube before pushing the head of his cock inside. Caleb clenched his fists.

It was rare that he let Zach top him like this. Of the two, Caleb was more dominant, but Zach wasn't exactly a wimp either. Right now Caleb read too much concern, too many questions in his lover's eyes. He squeezed his muscles a bit, enough to distract him, and Zach's eyes yellowed, turning wolf as he slammed home.

The first few strokes were rough. Caleb was hard again by the time Zach slowed to a more steady, controlled rhythm. When Caleb met his gaze, he saw tenderness and tonight…that just wouldn't do. Wrapping his hand around the back of Zach's neck, he yanked him down.

“Maybe I should be fucking you.”

He growled when he got the reaction he wanted. Zach's mouth crushing his. His cock slamming in and out of him. Neither could last long this way. Neither really wanted to. As soon as Zach came, Caleb flipped him over and took him from behind. It was over in seconds. They lay next to each other for a long time. Panting and sweaty and quiet.

It wasn't until much later, after they'd showered and dressed, that Zach broke the silence.

“We should find a woman tonight.”


It sounded good. Anything to burn off the need still riding him hard. It was like his body knew something he didn't. Like it was revving up in anticipation. He looked up to catch Zach's thoughtful expression before he could hide it, and Caleb rolled his eyes. He really wasn't in the mood to be psychoanalyzed tonight.

“Did you call yet?”

Fuck. Zach wasn't going to let it go. “No,” Caleb answered curtly. Earlier Zach had shared his theory that something was wrong in Caleb's pack. That Caleb was experiencing some kind of weird sixth sense. It was a dangerous supposition to make about a werewolf even if his pack didn't have the same hang-ups about witches that the rest did.

The thought alone was enough to bring her image to Caleb's mind. Liza. He had the usual mix of emotions when remembering her. Lust and anger. Fury and possession. He took a deep breath to compose himself. He couldn't have her. Hell, she'd probably mated someone else by now. His wolf rose close to the surface of his mind and growled its displeasure.

“Well?” Zach asked.

“We'll find someone tomorrow.” He ignored the second question and answered the first.

He couldn't take a woman in his current state. Even with Zach around to rein him in, he couldn't be sure he wouldn't damage her.

“Stubborn,” Zach muttered. “I'm going to get a drink. You know where to find me when you snap out of this.”

He grinned. “And if I don't you'll start without me?”

“Exactly.” Zach left, but his chuckles still filled the air.

Caleb picked up his phone and started to dial, but hung up before he finished. If something was wrong in Redhawke, someone would have called him, right? Either his father, Grant, the alpha, or his beta, Henry. Or hell, even Liza. According to his sources, she was paladin now, a kind of cross between security expert, police chief, and gatekeeper. According to werewolf lore, the paladins were werewolf knights who protected Charlemagne. Not only were they heroic, they also could not be corrupted. Could not be turned away from their cause. Every modern werewolf pack had one paladin. They filled so many jobs that Caleb wasn't sure he could list them all.

Perhaps the most important was that as the pack's knight, the paladin was defender against not only pretenders to the throne but also threats from outside. Threats from other packs. No one would gain access to the alpha or beta without her approval first. Unless, like him, they had private numbers and family ties that couldn't be denied.

He had mixed feelings about her occupying the paladin position. Her devotion to the pack had never been questioned. She'd never endanger it. The future alpha in him approved. The man and wolf, not so much. He would never be as important to her as the pack. He would never be the center of her world. Yet, he was proud of her accomplishments too. He knew that of all the pack's senior soldiers, she was the best qualified. The smartest. The superior fighter. Hell, she ought to be. He'd helped train her.

With a growl, he grabbed a beer from the fridge, twisted off the cap, and tossed it into the garbage as he paced. Alpha heirs often spent a few years traveling and living among other packs.

It helped cement alliances among the packs. But he'd been here in Maine for five years, and that was excessive. He was on borrowed time. Eventually he'd have to go home to Florida and take over the pack. He'd always known that. But eventually was drawing closer every day.

Not because anything was wrong at Redhawke, but because he and Zach were starting to make the pack nervous. They were the two strongest males, stronger than the alpha and the beta, and their heirs. There was a simple solution—a blood oath to Zach's father. But that easy answer was impossible. To do so, he'd have to forfeit his claim to Redhawke, his father's pack, and that wasn't happening. But it was clear his welcome in Maine was wearing thin. There'd been some pretty pointed hints after the last council meeting. It was only family ties that prevented him and Zach from getting tossed out since he was the alpha's and beta's youngest son. Which just further complicated the situation.

When Caleb went home, Zach would go with him as his beta, and he could let his dominant nature loose. It would be good for both of them. So why did they hesitate?

He poured out the rest of the beer and forced himself to be brutally honest. Two reasons.

Zach would have to swear a blood oath to Redhawke to officially take his place in the pack.

Caleb was loath to force that on him and he knew Zach wouldn't hesitate to do it when the time came. Caleb loved him too much not to feel guilty about being the cause of Zach's break with his family.

Then there was Liza. He'd left because of her, put as much distance between them as he could, and had hoped like hell to get her out of his system. The anger and bitterness and sense of betrayal hadn't left him the way he'd expected though. Was it idiocy to stay away so long because of a woman? Yeah. But it was the only armor his heart and soul had. Because if, when, he went home, he knew he'd want her, crave her just as strongly as ever. After tossing the empty bottle, he grabbed his keys. Maybe if he joined Zach for a little carnal fun, he'd quit seeing her in his mind.

Not fucking likely.

Chapter Two

Being a witch in a bar full of unfamiliar werewolves should have made her edgy. If they knew what she was, she wouldn't be welcome. Not that they'd greeted her with wide smiles and open arms. Sidelong looks spoke of caution and curiosity. Instead of worrying about possible hostilities though, she sat brooding into her beer at a small round table in a dark corner.

It's not that she wasn't uneasy. Hell, right now she could redefine the word. But for all the wrong reasons. The door opened, letting a burst of icy winter wind whirl through the room, and her head snapped up. Watching, waiting to see who would come through the opening. Her sigh of relief was misplaced considering her mission.

Find Caleb. Bring him home.

She remembered the alpha's order. Use whatever means necessary. Her heart twisted in her chest. She'd stood shivering on his front porch and tried to explain that she shouldn't be the one to go, that he'd left home because of her in the first place, but Grant refused to hear it, insisted she was the one to bring his son home.

The door opened again, and she shoved aside the longing to see his familiar face, reminded herself she was here to do a job. Nothing more. Nothing less. In and out, Liza, minimal heartbreak.

Around her, the bar filled up and the crowd got rowdier. She watched the females with barely restrained jealousy. Remembered the way Caleb had thrust her away from him after their only night together. His insistence, his furious vow, that he wouldn't risk mating with a human, and a witch at that, wouldn't take the risk his sons might be…less than him. Oh, he'd known exactly where to strike her with that. Right at her pride, right at the insecurity that drove her.

Usually a child of a human-lupine mating was wolf. Almost always. Occasionally one was born with latent abilities. Latency came in many forms, however. Some could only shift when the moon was close to full. Some could shift partially. Some had the strength and speed of a werewolf, but couldn't shift at all. Like her.

Her lips moved, a twisted parody of a smile. She knew all too well how rare those children were and was surprised at the bitterness that rose, sharp and piercing in her chest, thought she'd conquered it years ago. Being sent after Caleb Michaelson was bringing up insecurities she thought were in her past.

Even worse than being born human to a wolf were her useless talents, the powers she always felt just out of reach yet for some reason couldn't unlock. Her mother swore the dam would break one day, but she'd long since given up that hope and instead had molded herself into a person who could be useful to the pack despite her shortcomings. It didn't help that they should be sworn enemies. Witches and werewolves did not mingle. Her own mother had been banished for mating with a shifter.

She shook away the memories and concentrated on her job. It had been easy to track down Caleb. As the pack's paladin—the first ever female and not even a wolf—it was her job to know where everyone was at all times. She'd always known Caleb was here in this northern pack. He had a reputation as a playboy. That knowledge bit a little. Okay, a lot. She wasn't enough for him. But apparently no one else was either. That tiny bit of vindication had carried her through five years of lonely nights.

The door opened at the same time someone sat at her table blocking her view. He set a beer down in front her, and she realized with a jolt of shock that she'd actually finished hers. Maybe that explained the tightening in her throat, the sudden dryness. But there was also alarm. Maybe a little fear. He'd approached without her noticing. She hoped the magnolia that masked her natural scent was enough to conceal her genetics from him. Get with the program, Liza.

“Now what's such a pretty lady like you doing in our out-of-the-way little bar?” he murmured.

The interest in his tone was unmistakable. Under any other circumstances, she would have flirted with him, might have taken the time to see if he shared his species' suspicion of witches, even powerless ones. But not now. Not when she felt Caleb's presence close by, knew despite the dark corner she hid in that he saw her.

But maybe that worked to her advantage. Knowing that Caleb watched, she leaned forward in her seat, exposing her too-ample cleavage. She glanced around, bit her bottom lip as she mentally prepared herself to flirt with the stranger. Her gaze fell on Caleb though and his eyes snared her, pinned her in place. She sucked in a deep breath, determined not to fold to that icy disapproving glare.

She swore she could smell him. Feel him around her. The sudden memory of him thrusting inside her, claiming her, had her sucking in deep breaths. Wrenching her eyes away, she saw the other man had followed her line of sight. His fingers covered hers as she gripped the neck of the beer bottle.

“You're going to ignore me for Caleb?” He put a hand over his heart dramatically. “You wound me, sweetheart.”

He startled a laugh out of her, and she wished circumstances were different.

“I don't think that's possible.”

His hand was big and hot on hers. She looked up into his eyes. They were warm and inviting, his smile slight but oh so sexy. She wished she could take him up on his invitation, certain she wouldn't regret a night in bed with him.

“Back off, Zach. This one isn't available.”

Astonished, she jerked up her head to meet Caleb's gaze. He sounded possessive, territorial. The other man, Zach, leaned back in his chair and folded his arms over his chest.

Indolence and self-assurance oozed from his pores. If her soul didn't already belong elsewhere, she'd jump him and never look back. Zach arched an eyebrow.

“Changing the rules, Caleb?” All the teasing left his voice as he studied her. “Isn't that interesting? I don't think you should get to keep her all for yourself.” She caught her breath at the implied proposal, but before she could think about it, Caleb leaned over her shoulder and got in Zach's face. The air charged, electricity arcing among the three of them. She should speak up, get Caleb to back down, but his chest rubbed against her back and the contact she'd longed for for so long held her frozen in place.

“Off. Limits.”

He growled and she wondered what the hell was going on. Zach just cocked his head to the side and gave them both a considering look while he sniffed the air.

“Like that is it?”

“Yes. It's like that.”

Zach held up his hands, his arms spread wide. An appeasing gesture, but his body was tense and his eyes were hard. Dangerous. He obviously knew Caleb well. She wanted to question him. Find out who he was. He met her gaze briefly, and she wondered if it really was pain that flashed through his eyes. What kind of relationship did he and Caleb have?

“This isn't like you.”

“I know. Doesn't change anything. She's mine.”

Zach stood and jerked his head to the side for Caleb to follow. Already engaged in a heated conversation, they stopped a few feet away. Too far for her to listen in. Both turned to glare at her a couple times, and as they spoke, they edged closer together until they brushed against each other. It wasn't until they didn't separate that she realized what she was witnessing. A lovers' quarrel. No wonder Caleb was never linked with anyone for long. Zach had implied they shared women. For Caleb to deny him that must have bit. Hard. He was jealous and she wondered if he'd believe that was a bond of kinship between them. How many times had she been jealous of one of Caleb's women? And she couldn't even call Caleb hers. Poor guy. She needed to say her piece and get the hell out.

They both stopped speaking abruptly when she approached. “Listen, I don't mean to cause any problems. I just need a minute of Caleb's time,” she told Zach.

“Go sit down. I'll deal with you in a minute,” Caleb ordered.

Zach rolled his eyes and she narrowed hers. “There are two people in the world I take orders from and you aren't one of them.”

Zach barked a laugh. “Well, isn't that interesting. Your little human has claws.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “Tell you what. Why don't you deal with her first; then I'll deal with you.”

Oh hell no. She was not getting in the middle of that. Caleb gripped her shoulder when she spun around to leave. The look he gave her and Zach was furious, eyes glowing yellow, the wolf so close that she was surprised she didn't feel his claws on her shoulder.

“I'm not setting anything of mine free.”

She didn't notice Zach's reaction to that statement, Caleb's words pissed her off so bad. She didn't belong to him. He'd made damned sure she understood that when he walked out on her.

Before she could protest, he was leading her to the small dance floor. His arms were around her, pulling her into his tight embrace. His arousal was hard against her belly, and her nipples tightened in response. She squeezed her eyes shut. This was not happening. He didn't want her really. Before she knew it, they were swaying to the music and her body was heating up despite how she fought it.

“What are you doing here, Liza?”

She swallowed, wished she'd had another drink of that beer before he dragged her out here.

“I came to bring you home.”

He arched an eyebrow.

“So you finally came after me?”

She snorted. Only in his dreams would she beg to get him back. She had more pride than that and he'd made his opinion of her clear. Besides, he had a life here. A boyfriend. She was not a poacher. “Your father wants you to come home. He sent me to get you.” His eyes narrowed, the chill of his anger washing over her. His tone was mocking. “So you're just here to do the alpha's bidding, huh?”

Her anger rose to meet his, and her spine tingled, her useless psychic abilities making themselves known. She stomped it down, all of it, reminding herself she was there to do a job, not have the same old argument with Caleb. Don't let him get to you. Obviously neither of them had changed one damned bit over the years.

“I'm here to do my job.”

He stared at her several long heartbeats; then he smiled, a slow, sultry spread of his lips.

Her breath caught in her lungs as she remembered what he could do with that mouth. She reminded herself with a sharp stab the awful things he could say with it too. The reminder didn't help.

“Your job.” He paused with an assessing gleam in his eyes. “Your job is to convince me to come home?”

She nodded, her voice deserting her, but she had enough working brain cells left to be leery of his changed demeanor. He leaned forward, his lips grazing her neck in the lightest of kisses, the barest brush. His cock thrust against her belly.

“Convince me, Liza,” he whispered. “Entice me to come home.” He nipped at the sensitive skin under her ear and she gasped. In outrage. In lust. Her head fell back to give him better access. One of his hands was on her ass holding her against his hard thighs while the other worked up the back of her shirt, slid over bare skin in a firm caress.

Somehow she found the strength to push away from him, only a little disappointed when he let her go.

“So you're saying if I sleep with you, you'll come home?” It hurt that he thought so little of her, but it enraged her at the same time. His eyes glittered, hot and full of lust and anger.

“And you'll sleep with me when I'm back. I'll need a reason to stay, won't I?”

“What about Zach? Doesn't he get a say?”

Caleb cocked an eyebrow. “Zach likes to share women just as much as I do. You can't deny you were interested, baby.”

So she was just another warm body, was she? The man had a lot of nerve, and her palm itched with the need to slap the smug look off his face.

“I'll tell your father you wouldn't come.”

She spun around, prepared to get the hell out before she gave into the demands of her body, still clamoring for him despite how much her brain and heart protested. Zach hadn't moved from where he leaned against the wall, and she turned in his direction when he met her gaze.

Those eyes promised hot, sweaty sex. Not a distraction she needed, but she wanted to assure him that she wasn't a threat to his relationship with Caleb.

Caleb grabbed her elbow before she could stalk off, but instead of spinning her back around he led her out of the bar and into the frigid night air. Shit. Nothing was going her way tonight. Might as well escape while she could. She dug her keys out of her pocket and tried to pull free of his grasp. He didn't release her.

“Let me go, Caleb. I'll be out of your life before you know it.”

“Like hell you will,” he muttered.

He turned right into the parking lot, and she tried to dig in her heels.

“I'm not parked over here.”

He stopped at a truck, opened the door. “I am. Get in.”

“My stuff is inside. My coat? My purse?”

“Zach will bring them. Get. In. The. Truck. Liza.”

Did he have to emphasize that order so clearly? She considered refusing, but one look at his severe expression and she knew it wouldn't do her any good. Sighing, she got in the truck and buckled the seatbelt in silence while she waited for him to walk around and get in the driver's side. A couple of miles from the bar, he turned onto a driveway that twisted up the side of a mountain. It ended in front of a small, dark cabin and he got out, glaring at her until she too exited the relative safety of the cab. He ushered her inside, and she shivered.

“I'll get a fire going. It'll warm up quick in here.” She watched his broad back as he bent to the task, piling wood in the fireplace, striking a match. He stood and slowly turned to look at her. He stared, his gaze traveling up and down the length of her body several times as if memorizing her. Or comparing the reality of her to his memory of her. She shivered again, wondering what he saw. The form-fitting V-necked sweater did nothing to hide her hard nipples, and his eyes lingered over them. She ignored the temptation to cross her arms and hide her breasts from his view.

“What's wrong with Dad?”

It was just about the last thing she'd expected him to ask, and she frowned.

“Nothing. He just wants you to come home.”

He chuckled. “He could have sent you after me before if that was all.” She shrugged. She wasn't discussing the alpha's plans with anyone, not even his son. Caleb approached her, a slow stalk that kept her frozen in place. He reached out and pushed a stray strand of hair out of her face.

“He knew I couldn't resist you. Never could,” he whispered, leaning down, crowding in.

His mouth hovered over hers, close but not touching. Her breath hitched, then increased to a rapid rhythm. Anticipation overtook her. He was going to kiss her, and it had been so long since she'd let anyone kiss her. No one did it like Caleb. No one did anything like Caleb. She tilted her head to meet him, rose up on her toes, and he jerked back as if slapped.

She took a deep breath, struggled to steady her pounding heart. Okay. So he didn't want her. She'd known that, but it still hurt. He kept his back to her.

“There's a shower down the hall. First door on the left.” What the hell?

“Excuse me?”

He straightened, slowly turned to face her. She couldn't read his expression.

“You reek of magnolias. Stupid.” He shook his head. “You shouldn't have been in that bar, Liza. It didn't take Zach long to figure out what you are. How long before someone else would have?”

She scowled. She didn't need Caleb to tell her how to do her job or give her safety tips. It had been an acceptable risk. She was the Redhawke paladin and the beta's daughter—it afforded her more protection than most, and if it didn't, she could take care of herself.

“Just go take a shower. Or am I stuck with it? Is it one of your mother's spells?” Sort of. She'd bathed in the scent and her mother used her power to ensure it clung to her, but spells only went so far. Water would rinse it off. She didn't bother explaining that, just turned and walked down the hall.

Chapter Three

The door slammed behind her, and Caleb exhaled a pent-up breath, sagging with his forehead pressed against the wall. He shook with bitter disappointment. She hadn't come on her own. Hadn't finally stood up to her father and his to assert her independence. He may not have seen her in five years, but he could still read her, could still guess at her motivation. She wanted him sure, but she wanted to be fully accepted by the pack more. She'd never seemed to realize she already was.

He remembered the look on her face the last time he'd seen her, recalled his own fury and bitterness when he'd realized she'd come to him, seduced him because it was what his father wanted. His father wanted to join his family with his beta's family. Caleb had said the worst thing he could, the last thing he'd really meant, certain it would ignite her own anger, make her see how she was being manipulated.

The stupid, foolish words had the exact opposite effect. He squeezed his eyes shut, not wanting to remember, but damned if the past was going to let him go that easily. Her shattered expression. The tears in her eyes she refused to shed. He'd been about to step forward, to apologize and comfort, when she'd nodded and left him.

And he'd known he couldn't stay with Redhawke. She was already progressing fast through the soldier ranks. She was everywhere he turned. Strong. Beautiful and smart. His. And he couldn't have her, because he could never be sure if she was truly his, if that was what she really wanted. It was better to remove himself from temptation.

At first, he'd secretly hoped she'd come to her senses and follow him. He'd nurtured that hope for a good three years before giving up. But now here she was. Again, at his father's bidding. His hands clenched when he heard the shower turn on, and he turned to look down the hall towards the closed bathroom door. The hell with that.

She was in his home.

His territory.

Far from what she knew.

He could keep her here. Could convince her she belonged to him and not because someone else thought it was a good idea. She couldn't hide her body's response to him. She still wanted him. Physically, at least. He just had to convince her it was more than that. So much more.

Before he could join her, however, there was a soft tapping on the door. Only one werewolf could have approached without his knowledge. Zach didn't wait for an invitation before entering. Shutting the door softly behind him, he set Liza's purse and coat on the side table.

Caleb couldn't help but smile. “How'd I know you'd get those?”

“'Cause I'm the details guy?” It was clear that Zach wasn't in the mood to joke around though.

He crossed his arms over his chest, his expression closed and no sign of his usual roguish charm.

Fuck. Caleb's reaction to Liza had been so over the top that he didn't blame Zach for being pissed and jealous. If the situation were reversed, he'd feel the same way. He was going to have to do some groveling to get back in Zach's good graces.

“So that's your witch.”

Caleb didn't bother with a response. In a drunken moment of pure idiocy when they'd first met, five years ago when he'd arrived here, he'd told Zach about Liza. They'd talk about her in a minute.

“I'm sorry about back there.”

Zach only nodded, giving no sign of the hurt or jealousy he must be feeling.

“Never seen you go possessive over a woman. It took me a minute to figure out.” He shook his head. “You can't let anyone know about her, man. You need to get her out of the area ASAP.”

No shit. And no way. He wasn't letting her go. “I wasn't planning on taking out a newspaper notice,” he said sarcastically.

Zach's eyes narrowed. “But you also weren't planning on sending her off, were you?”

He shrugged. What could he say? Zach knew him well enough that he'd see through a lie.

Instead of berating him, though, Zach smiled. Slow and wicked.

“Hard to blame you. She is a pretty morsel. Witch or not.” Caleb knew what he was thinking, and thankfully, unlike at the bar, his first instinct was not to smash his fist into Zach's face.

Zach spread his arms in a placating gesture, misreading Caleb's expression. “Hey, man, it's cool. You don't want to share. I get it.”

But his face made it clear that he didn't really get it and he didn't like it. They shared women all the time, and he'd told Zach about Liza, but he hadn't told him she was his mate. He hadn't told him because it was a truth he'd refused to see. Now it couldn't be denied. She was his.

He shook his head. “That's not it. Zach. I really am…sorry about the bar.” Zach laughed. “Just kills you to apologize, doesn't it?” He growled. “Keep pushing.”

Zach sobered, but it wasn't from the threat. “This changes things.”

“Not between us, it doesn't.”

He got a quick grin and short nod for his effort.

“Right. But either we're both taking a new lover or just you.” He didn't miss the question in Zach's statement and the more he thought about it, the less concerned he was about sharing her. But only with Zach. He wasn't sure how Liza would feel about that, but Caleb thought she might be willing to try it out at least. He'd seen the interest on her face when he'd interrupted Zach at the bar. Hell, he had no intention of giving Zach up either.

How would she feel about that?

Zach sent him a questioning look. “Stick around,” Caleb said, stepping forward for a hard kiss. “I really am sorry.”

One corner of Zach's mouth curved up. “You'll make it up to me.” He laughed, wondering how Zach intended to exact his payment. It was a relief to know they were still solid. His behavior at the bar hadn't changed that. Bringing Liza into the relationship would change things, but not that.

“This is a group relationship, not me involved in two separate relationships,” he murmured before kissing Zach again, letting it go slow and deep and sultry. They pulled apart when the shower turned off.

Liza didn't dally and a couple minutes later, he heard the door open, caught her clean, fresh scent. It affected him the way it had since she was a teenager, sending a carnal explosion of need through him. He'd learned to repress it, but now he let it free, embraced it, and power surged through him. That was a shock, because it wasn't his. He'd long suspected that it would be sex that unleashed her powers, but maybe it wasn't that simple. Maybe it was them together. He was so caught up in his musings, he didn't notice her enter the room until he smelled her fear.

He focused on her, saw her intense stare at Zach, and knew she had to feel at a distinct disadvantage, but her expression was almost serene. The scent of fear was already dissipating.

Her voice was light when she addressed him, and he doubted even Zach heard the tremor under it. “Turning me over?”

She moved to put her hands in her back pockets, and he knew instinctively he'd misjudged her. She wasn't the same girl he remembered, and that tremor in her voice wasn't from fear.

“I'll turn you over my knee if you draw that knife,” he drawled.

She turned her focused glare from Zach to him. “Is that right? I would suggest you keep dreaming.”

But she did lift and spread her hands so he could see she was unarmed. “I just want to go home. You stay here. We'll both die happy.”

Her words were conciliatory but her stance…that stance was a loose fighter's stance.

Ready to move. Ready to react. He had to smile. Where had she found this backbone?

“I don't think so, baby. You and I have a few past issues to work through.” She stepped farther into the room. “No, Caleb, we don't. Let me go before someone gets hurt.”

If any other woman had said that to him, he would have laughed. But he'd seen this one fight full-grown werewolves and come out on top. Zach, however, wasn't as smart. His chuckles broke the silence. Without completely turning her focus from him, she speared Zach with a look that would have made most men cry. Caleb shook his head as Zach realized his mistake. He held his hands out again and shook his head.

“Yeah. Not me. You want to mess his face up a little bit, he's all yours. I like mine fine the way it is.” Caleb watched in amazement as Zach gave a courtly bow. “Your reputation precedes you.”

“My reputation for pissing him off?” she asked with a jerk of her chin in Caleb's direction.

“That's the one,” Zach responded with a grin.

It wasn't until he saw her lips twitch in a repressed smile that he realized Zach had done just the thing to defuse the situation. His amusement mixed with respect put her at ease in a way Caleb hadn't. Caleb watched as her gaze swept over Zach's body, not bothering to hide her appreciation. She shook her head. “You're dangerous, aren't you?” she murmured.

“Never to you,” Zach responded almost as softly.

Her body language completely changed, going from alert soldier to soft woman in a second. Sighing, she turned her back on both of them and went to take a seat on the couch. Then she looked up and met Caleb's gaze with a look so full of longing all the air rushed from his lungs and his cock throbbed in insistent demand. He wanted inside her again. Now.

If they were already mated, if she'd already accepted him, he might have expected to make the demand and get it. But at this juncture, the situation definitely required more finesse. Each step he made toward the couch was painful. She was frowning by the time he sat down next to her.

“What's wrong?”

“Nothing you can't fix,” he said as he took her hand and placed it on his cock. Her fingers convulsed around him a moment before she jerked her hand away. Even through his clothing, her touch had been hot and arousing. He gritted his teeth against the need threatening to spill in his jeans.

“Just—” She halted midthought, and he hoped her next words would be let me get my clothes off. He wasn't that lucky. “Let me leave. I need to leave, Caleb. I promise you will never see me again.”

He growled and pinned her to the back of the couch when she tried to run. “No.” He almost reconsidered when he looked into her eyes. Pools of emotion. Fear and disquiet and sorrow. But he knew he was responsible for that and suddenly his stubborn need for her to just come to him on her own didn't seem so damned important. Did it matter so much how he got her as long as he had her?

Fuck. Yes. Yes, it was that damned important, and he'd screwed it up before. He'd lashed out instead of explaining. But the past couldn't be changed. The only thing he could do now was make the future better.

“I'm not letting you go,” he whispered, lips just inches from hers, dying for a taste. He didn't wait for her to answer before doing just that.

She didn't respond when his lips pressed against hers. Didn't respond when he used his tongue to trace their outline. But when he used his teeth, when he closed them around her bottom lip, she shuddered and gasped, allowing him to thrust his tongue into her mouth. She tasted just as sweet as he remembered, felt just as hot. But her response was not the same untried timidity he remembered, and he repressed a savage surge of jealousy. Who the hell had taught her this woman's response? Who had taught her about lust and demand?

And then it didn't matter. Her tongue was in his mouth, her fingers in his hair and digging against his scalp as she moaned her pleasure.

Chapter Four

Prudence and self-preservation demanded she stop, but it felt so good she couldn't help herself. Caleb kissing her. Caleb pressed against her. Caleb's throbbing erection leaving no doubt that, whether he liked it or not, he wanted her as much as she wanted him.

Letting the kiss, the contact, continue was probably a mistake she'd regret later, but for now, who cared? She hadn't felt so alive in ages. Hadn't felt this fire, this wanton desire in five long, cold years. Throwing caution out the window, she kissed him harder. She didn't even worry that she might cause problems between Caleb and Zach. Zach was in the room. He hadn't uttered one word of protest. She knew it would come, but she'd worry about remorse later. Much later.

She got so lost in the heat between them she barely registered the couch dipping as Zach sat next to her, until Caleb moved just enough that Zach could slip his hand between them and cup her breast. The shock of another man touching her so intimately while the only one she'd ever really wanted was right there kissing her was enough to partially break the spell.

She jerked her mouth from Caleb's, opening her eyes to meet his gaze, but held immobile as Zach's lips moved to suck the skin on her neck. She couldn't contain a moan of pleasure, but not just at the other werewolf's touches. She'd been ready to get up and run like hell when Zach joined in, but the look on Caleb's face stopped her. He wasn't hiding any of his desire now, and not even trying to tame his wolf. His eyes glowed with the eerie gold of half change.

He rolled off her to her side, no longer caging her to the sofa with his body. Zach also moved. His hand and lips gone. She was surprised by the sense of loss. He wasn't the one she wanted after all. Right? Caleb stretched a hand out to stroke her cheek, a caress she couldn't help turning and rubbing her face against. Then he stood and held his hand out.

“Last chance to say no, baby.” He made the offer but she got the feeling if she did say no, he'd spend the rest of the night trying to change her mind. He stopped her as she lifted her hand to place it in his. “Be sure you know what you're getting into, Liza.”

His gaze went to Zach's and she turned her head to look at him. There was no denying the desire in his eyes, though he seemed in much better control of it than Caleb. That should have reassured her. She couldn't handle two intense werewolves on the edge of control.

At any other time, she'd have laughed at the situation. It was surreal. She knew plenty of werewolves who engaged in threesomes. Hell, there were several females in Redhawke who had two mates. It wasn't uncommon at all. But she'd never expected to be in the middle of a ménage.

She was just a little too inhibited for that. And damn, this was Caleb. He was more than enough for her.

“Come on, baby,” he said softly. “Live a little. I promise no one will push you farther than you can handle.”

It was an impossible offer to refuse, and meeting his gaze, she put her hand in his and let him pull her to her feet while ignoring another moment of misgiving when she looked into his eyes. He said he wouldn't push her more than she could take, but one look in his eyes and she knew he lied. He didn't have any intention of letting her hold anything back. He wanted her complete submission.

The idea excited her more than it should. She should be worried about her heart surviving another desertion, but she'd decided to go through with this. It was her last chance to be with Caleb, and it was damned sure her only shot at experiencing a threesome.

No one spoke as he led her down the hall, but he stopped her at the door. Behind him she could see a huge bed covered in a thick, rich-looking comforter. Her heart raced.


She looked up at him, but didn't say a word. She didn't trust her voice, especially when he lifted both hands to cup her face. He looked too serious. This was just supposed to be a final fling.

“Leave everything at the door, baby. The past. Your mission.” His thumbs stroked over her cheekbones, and she couldn't believe how good it felt, the fluttering in her belly. “Your need for control stays out here too.”

She'd been expecting that, but it was still hard to agree. She never would have dreamed of it with anyone else, but as angry as she sensed he still was with her, she knew he'd never hurt her. She nodded her acquiescence, and dropping his hands to his sides, he stepped aside to let her enter. She thought she understood why. He wanted her surrender, but he wanted it willingly.


She walked straight to the bed, sat down, and bent to unlace her boots before she could chicken out. When they were removed, both men crowded her. Big, strong, reeking of pheromones even she could smell in the quiet room. She squashed a burst of fear. Caleb wouldn't allow her to be hurt. Overwhelmed maybe, but there was a line he wouldn't allow crossed.

He smiled at her, a smile filled with male satisfaction and triumph, bending to brush her lips with his. “So you do trust me.”

“You were the one who never trusted me, Caleb,” she whispered, amazed at the breathy response. Only Caleb could bring that softness out of her. Only Caleb made her feel more like a woman than a soldier. Irritation crossed his face.

“No past in here, remember?”

She nodded. He was right. She didn't want to taint this night with anything that had come before. She had every intention of enjoying herself.

She leaned back, propping on her elbows, and smiled, pleased when she saw by his expression she'd achieved the sultry look she was going for.

“So what next, oh lord and master,” she teased, thrilled with his grinning response. God, she'd missed him. He must have realized, as she did, there was no way they were keeping the past out of this room. He set his knees outside hers on the bed, leaning over her and laughing.

“You have never shown the proper respect.”

She shrugged one shoulder. “You'd be bored if I did.”

“Mmm.” He bent his head to nuzzle her neck. “Probably.” She dug her hands into his hair and bowed her body, trying to press against him. She wanted all that hard male heat against her. Skin to skin. She let go of his head and grabbed the bottom edge of his shirt, tugging until he sat up long enough to toss it aside. Then he went to work on hers. The sweater was gone in seconds, followed by her bra. He stared at her breasts a moment before diving in, sucking her nipple into his mouth hard enough to make her cry out at the pleasure.

She wasn't sure she'd survive it and in desperation looked around the room for something to focus on. Her gaze landed on Zach. He'd stripped down and stood at the end of the bed watching them, an avaricious look on his face as his hand pumped his cock. Her mouth watered and she licked her lips as a drop of precum pearled on its head. He smiled.

“Do I get to join in the fun?”

Caleb released her nipple after one last hard pull and turned to look at his friend. She brushed the hair out of his eyes, a little unnerved at what she saw there. Something dark and dangerous. Feral and possessive. Zach just waited patiently, waiting for Caleb's decision, obviously ready to accept whatever it was, and eventually Caleb nodded.

He stood and removed his clothes while Zach climbed onto the bed next to her and lay on his back. His hand went right back to his cock and she couldn't help following the motion with her gaze. Caleb's bare chest brushed up behind her, and he reached around to cup her breasts. His fingers flicked over her nipples and returned to squeeze when she moaned and rocked into his hands. Still, she couldn't remove her eyes from Zach and his big hand wrapped around his bigger cock. Who knew a man pleasuring himself would be such a turn-on?

“Do you want to taste him?” Caleb whispered against her ear as one of his hands abandoned her breast and slid down her body, through the curls covering her sex to dip inside her. Groaning, she moved against him, trying to force his finger deeper while nodding. “Yes? You want a taste?”

He pushed a second finger inside her. “Answer me, Liza.”

“Yes.” Both fingers thrust together. Hard. Deep. “Yes!” And then his hand was gone. She wanted to weep at the loss. “Then do it, baby.” She looked at the man waiting for her. Was she really doing this? Could she with Caleb sitting there watching?

“Think of the pleasure,” he said softly coaxed. “I want to see you take him in your mouth.” Startled, she met Caleb's gaze, surprised to see he was telling the truth. She shifted to move between Zach's legs, but Caleb stopped her, situated her so that her legs straddled Zach's shoulders, her pussy hovered just over his mouth. Then he moved to the other end so he could see her face, and she got it. He wanted to watch her come, wanted to watch her pleasure his lover.

Wrapping one hand around Zach's cock, she slowly lowered her mouth to the head, holding Caleb's eyes as she did. When she licked the weeping slit, Zach gripped her hips and pulled her pussy closer to his mouth, blowing a hot breath over her. Even expecting it, she was so surprised at the almost contact she froze.

“Shh,” Caleb said while moving to her side. He lifted her hair to nuzzle her neck while one hand found a hard aching nipple. “Relax and enjoy it, baby. Take what we give you.” The last was said so commandingly that she gave in and let herself just feel.

“That's it. Now suck his cock.”

She liked the way Zach tasted. Masculine and salty and wild. She pulled the head of his cock into her mouth and swirled her tongue around it like a lollipop before releasing him to explore his shaft. Licking up one side and down another, she found every swollen vein, every tiny ridge and pleasure point. It wasn't until he moaned, driving into her hand, that she took him back into her mouth. When she did, he pulled her pussy to his mouth, his tongue pushing inside her. Her eyes slid closed.

“No. Eyes on me, baby,” Caleb ordered. “Don't come until you have permission.” Gods, was he serious? Of course he was. His eyes were dark and demanding, skin drawn tight over his face. How could she have forgotten this part? He'd demanded submission and she'd given it. Willingly. With abandon.

Zach withdrew his tongue from her pussy and flicked it over her clit, which made sensation shoot through her body. She froze, muscles locking as she struggled not to come, struggled to keep her eyes open and on Caleb. Her whimper was muffled by the cock in her mouth.

“Very nice, baby.” There was approval in his voice.

His hands stroked her side before moving between her body and Zach's. He found her nipple and squeezed, rocketing her back to the verge of orgasm. She gasped when he twisted, his hand on her back the only thing keeping her from releasing Zach.


She wanted to weep when Zach turned his head, stopping the ministrations on her clit.

“Let's see how much pain my little mate can take.”

Pain? Did he say mate? She must be having aural hallucinations. He'd never take her as his mate.

“Mmm,” Zach hummed, his fingers slowly stroking in and out of her cunt. “Let's see.” Caleb rolled off the side of the bed, and she started to lift her head, but he sent her a commanding look that twisted up her insides and sent electricity arcing through her system.

“Mouth on his cock. Eyes on me,” he ordered. Why the hell did she comply?

Oh yeah. The way he made her feel. Not just her body, but in her soul. She could let go with Caleb. Like this. She knew he'd catch her if she fell. Under any other circumstance, the idea would make her frown. Here, sexually, she could count on him to take care of her. But in the rest of her life, he couldn't give her what she really needed. She didn't think there was a man out there that could. One who was confident enough to handle her public life and was strong enough to take her over in the bedroom. Such a man didn't exist.

She'd kept her eyes on him, but she was distracted as he rummaged through a drawer until he turned back to face her, a chain clinking as it dangled from his fingers. Her inner muscles spasmed, and Zach growled a protest as her fist tightened on his cock. She consciously loosened her grip.

“I think she likes the idea,” Zach said.

“She does,” Caleb replied, walking toward her, unscrewing one nipple clamp as he approached. Damn him. She choked back a sob. She didn't want to give him that much of herself, but he was going to leave her nothing. No secrets. No boundaries.

He sat next to her and with a hand on her shoulder nudged her up. “Just for a minute, baby.”

He met her scrutiny, and she was afraid those dark, intense eyes saw straight to her soul.

“Do you trust me?”

Here it was. Her chance to bring this scene down a notch, to protect her heart in the process. Or try to. She was realizing there was no way in hell she was walking out of this room in full possession of it.

“Liza.” He paused until she focused on him again. “Do you trust me to take care of you?”

He gripped her chin with his fingers before she could answer. “No hiding, baby,” he said softly. “I want everything.”

And God help her, she wanted to give it. She took a deep breath and nodded her head. He didn't wait for verbal permission, moving quickly and efficiently to attach the first clamp. The stinging built as he tightened the screw. He stopped just when the pain became too much, before she could protest, and then he did the same with the other clamp. The chain was heavy between her breasts, and after a couple deep breaths, the pain began to recede. Then he pushed on her lower back, urging her to lean forward.

“Now. I believe you have a task to complete.”

A task. She would have snickered but her clamped nipples brushed against Zach's belly.

Pain and pleasure mingled and she tried to ignore it as she took his cock back into her mouth. His tongue returned to push into her pussy while his fingers rubbed her clit. Her body grew more frantic with each stroke, and she sucked him harder, knowing Caleb wanted her to hold back, wanted Zach to come before she did.

She tried to ignore what he was doing to her, ignore the pleasure/pain in her nipples and concentrated on him, on his cock, thrilled when she felt his desperation rise. She had one hand around the base of his shaft and used the other to support herself. His thigh tensed under her hand, muscles bunching, and she knew he was close to losing control. She sucked him harder, faster, and in seconds, his hips were rising to meet her. His hands gripped her ass, hard enough that she knew she'd have bruises, and with a loud groan, he froze, his cock deep in her throat as he came. She barely got a taste of it before Caleb lifted her off the bed.

Chapter Five

Caleb pressed her front to the wall and plunged into her from behind with a growl. “Now you can come, baby.”

And she did, with a low cry, her pussy milking his cock as he pumped into her. He'd forgotten how good that felt. How good her surrender felt. There was no way he was ever letting her go again.

His spine tingled and he slowed his thrusts. He wasn't ready to come yet. Wanted, needed, her to come apart for him again. Better to use a bed for that, or at least turn her around, but his wolf side was riding him hard. It wanted to dominate its mate. Wanted to mark her. Brand her.

He was in complete agreement and his incisors lengthened.

With his hands gripping her hips, holding her still, he moved in slow, lazy movements, his teeth gently scraping the skin on the vulnerable column of her neck. Her breath quickened. She let her head fall back to rest against his chest completely exposing her neck to his bite. The ultimate show of submission. He rewarded her with a hard slam, moving one hand to the chain that hung between her breasts. When he tugged it, she held her breath and froze, her pussy clamping around him as she came again. He didn't wait for her shudders to subside, didn't wait for her brain to reengage.

He hammered into her hard, with a fast driving rhythm, and he was coming in seconds, biting down on her neck. When he tasted her blood, he drew back, knowing that mark would never go away. Never fade. She was his now.

Sometime while he'd been inside her, Zach had left the room. Good. He wanted some time alone with her. Sometime soon, Zach would insist on the same thing. Caleb lifted her easily and carried her to the bed. Her expression was open, vulnerable, and dazed. He was hard again in a second. This time he entered her slowly, face-to-face and horizontal.

Neither of them spoke, but he could see the questions in her eyes. He wasn't ready to answer them and was pretty sure she wasn't ready to hear his answers. Watching her closely, he removed the first nipple clamp. Pain flashed across her face and she gasped. He took the sore point into his mouth, rolled his tongue over it until her breathing evened. Then he did the same with the other one.

By the time he was done, her eyes were dazed again, questions no longer easy to read in them. He rocked in her. Harder. Faster. Bringing them both back to the peak. She moved with him, wrapping her legs around him, digging her heels into his lower back to urge him when he slowed. He grinned. “Greedy.”

“Hell yes.” She ended on a gasp when he hit her G-spot. “Again.” It was so easy to give in to his mate when she had that look on her face, so he did. Over and over again until she was keening, until she was milking him. He followed her over that ledge, his face buried against her neck, taking in her scent now mingled with his, as his semen jetted into her.

When he could finally move again, she murmured a sleepy protest. He soothed her with a kiss. “Rest.”

He waited until she drifted to sleep before rising and dressing. He pulled her keys and phone out of her pockets before he joined Zach in the kitchen and tossed the keys to him.

“Let's go get her car.”

They went in Caleb's truck. The ride was short and silent. Zach paused with his hand on the door. “I'll pick up some food. I didn't get the impression Liza's eaten much in the last couple of days.”

He was right, and Caleb was glad to be reminded. It hadn't even occurred to him. Newly mated and already falling down on the job.

“I'll do it. You go back. I don't want her to wake up alone, and I have someone to call,” he said darkly. And he was going to make it damned clear to the alpha and beta of Redhawke that she wasn't theirs anymore. Zach nodded, but Caleb could easily read his approval and stepped out without a word.

Caleb pulled out, drove into town, stopped first at the new sushi place, and then went on to the fast-food joint. He pulled out her cell phone while he waited in the drive-through line, scrolling through until he found his father's number. It was answered on the first ring, but not by his father.

“Liza, why the hell haven't you checked in?” Her father sounded more exasperated than upset.

“Hey, Henry. Where's my dad?” He was too pissed to bother with pleasantries.

There was a long pause while the phone changed hands and probably went on speaker.



“Where's Liza?” Henry again, sounding suspicious. Caleb rolled his eyes.

“She's fine. Sleeping. What I want to know is why the fuck y'all sent her here? An unknown witch in lupine territory? That's suicide.”

The idea of what could have happened if someone had discovered her made his blood run cold. Damn it. Had they thought of her safety at all?

Henry snorted. “Liza can take care of herself.”

“Something you'd know if you bothered to keep in touch,” his father grumbled.

With a nod, he accepted bags from a clerk at the window and pulled into a parking spot.

“I'm in touch now. What's wrong?”

“She didn't say anything?”

He growled. It took a couple minutes of struggling to regain control before he was calm enough to answer. They simply waited him out.

“She didn't say anything.”

There was another longer pause and he heard his father's sigh. “I'm ready to retire. It's time for you to come home.”

He snorted. Yeah right. He wasn't buying that for a minute. “Fine. Keep your reasons to yourself. But I'm keeping Liza, and this time I won't tolerate any interference.” It was hard to ignore Henry's barked laughter while he put the car in reverse and got on the road going back to his cabin. To her.

“Good luck with that, son.” His father's amusement was clear, like he knew something Caleb didn't. Like he didn't think Caleb could keep her. He ground his teeth together.

“I don't need luck,” he said through clenched teeth. “She's mine. She always has been.”

“Hell, I know that boy. 'Bout damned time you figured it out.” He stared at the phone a moment before flipping it closed, refusing to answer when they called back. Shit. What the fuck was he supposed to do now? He didn't want to take her back there, but he'd heard something in his dad's voice. Fatigue maybe. He should have kept in better touch. Should know what was going on in his pack.

He'd left, sure, but he'd always intended to go back and take his place. He'd hoped to have worked Liza out of his system first. That definitely wasn't going to happen. The decision was mostly made, but first he needed information and she, as paladin, was the most logical source to obtain it from.

He grinned as he drove up the cabin's drive and parked. She was his mate and he would soon be her alpha. She wouldn't be able to deny him anything. Her body, her strength, her knowledge. Her heart and soul. They were far from that level of acceptance, but he sure as hell looked forward to the hunt.

Chapter Six

Zach was back at the cabin in record time. He didn't want Liza to wake alone. Not that he expected her to be happy finding him there instead of Caleb. And not that it mattered. He and Caleb would discuss it later after he recovered from the shock of this situation.

Zach should have known by Caleb's overreaction back at the bar what Liza meant to him, but it wasn't until he saw Caleb mark her that it all made sense. She didn't just belong to Caleb.

She also belonged to Zach. He wouldn't be happy sharing a mate with anyone else.

Hearing her stir in the bedroom, he sighed and entered the kitchen. He didn't know what brought her to them now, but he was sure the rest of the night would call for coffee. He started a fresh pot and waited for her to come out.

She'd dressed, and again he was hit by that same sense of unreality as when he'd first seen her. Her raven hair was pulled into a ponytail and with no makeup on she looked impossibly young and feminine. Until his gaze drifted down. The woman was all dangerous curves. That was his first thought when he saw her. It wasn't until he saw her naked, saw her sleekly muscled body that he realized how accurate an assessment that was.

He scowled. She certainly looked competent, but he wasn't real keen on his mate, his human mate, being a high-ranking soldier much less paladin. Standing in the doorway she went very still and he made an effort to school any emotion from his face. Relaxing marginally, she entered the room and helped herself to a cup of coffee but kept at a distance from him.

“Where's Caleb?”

“He went to get food. And I brought your car. Ready to tell us why you're here, sweetheart?”

She frowned. “It doesn't have anything to do with you.”

“Hmm.” Letting the heat show in his eyes, he approached her slowly and was relieved to see she felt it too. She froze, gasped when he stretched out a hand to stroke the mark Caleb had left on her neck. Soon enough she'd have a matching one. “We'll have to agree to disagree about that. For now.”

His words snapped her from the spell and she moved away. It was an easy, casual step but her back was stiff. He wanted to put his hands on her and rub away the tension, and he got the feeling she would reject the offer. But why? He thought it was more than loyalty to Caleb.

He searched for a way to put her at ease, but realized he knew almost nothing about her.

After pouring a cup of coffee, he sat at the table and gestured for her to take the chair next to him. He repressed a smile when with a suspicious look she sat at the opposite side of the table.

Okay, you got her sitting. Now what?

He needed to get to know her on his own, without going through Caleb. So what did he know? She had a past with Caleb. She was a soldier. And a witch in a werewolf pack. Unheard of.

“Do you know the story of how we became enemies?”

She smiled. “The Little Red Riding Hood story? Of course.”

“Tell me.”

“Don't you already know it?” she teased, one eyebrow cocked. He'd seen her tease Caleb, but this time that carefree smile was for him. He thought his heart might burst from his chest.

“Maybe your version is different.”

She laughed. “Zach, I grew up in a werewolf pack. It's the same.” Her first test. He wondered if she'd lie to him. “Didn't you ever have contact with your own kind?”

Ah, he'd finally ignited her temper. Her eyes literally flashed—a brilliant silver—

reminding him she may be only half wolf but she was definitely all witch. “I see my mother almost every day. As for the others…” She hesitated so long that he didn't expect her to answer.

When she did, her eyes were sad. He'd do damned near anything to get rid of that look. “I saw my mother's family a couple of times when I was a child.” She was silent a long time, and while he watched, it was like she donned a mask. Hiding the hurts from the past. Hiding from him. He'd do something about that. Later.

“Tell me your story, Liza,” he said softly, somehow keeping himself from reaching for her to offer the comfort he knew she wasn't ready to accept yet. It was a way to distract her, to wipe that forlorn look from her face. She recovered quickly, sending him a quick grin that hit him right in the groin.

“Why not? Once upon a time… You sure you want to hear this?”

“Of course.” He had to know how she would teach it to their pups. Gods, was he really thinking that far ahead?

“Okay. Once upon a time, there was a girl called Little Red Riding Hood. Except she wasn't really a girl. She wasn't a woman either. She was at that in-between stage. Young enough to still be charmed by childhood, yet old enough to yearn for adulthood.” So far, their stories matched.

“You want the witch version?”

He nodded.

“The wolf telling is better,” she said softly with a shake of her head before going on. “Red wasn't only young, but beautiful. Light and carefree. Every man and boy in the village was half in love with her, and as she grew she came to prefer one in particular. The woodsman who often escorted her to see her grandmother.”

And here their myths diverged. He rested his chin on his fist, caught up in her story. She told it like they were sitting around a campfire.

“Her heart was set. Most accepted she would never be theirs and wished her well. Most but not all. One young man was determined she would be his.

“He came up with a plan to save her, convinced that if he saved her from the wolf known to haunt their woods, her affections would switch to him.

“He watched and waited for his chance. Then one day he saw her set off on the forest path alone. He raced for a different path, donned the wolf skin he'd hidden, and lay in wait. When she appeared around the bend, he jumped out and howled. But instead of turning back on the path, she ran into the woods.

“Forgetting to toss aside the wolf skin, the boy gave chase, for there were not only wolves in these forests but bear and boar. But Red, being the gentle soul she was, didn't know how they were trapped and killed. A fate, as it turned out, she would share.

“It was too late when she discovered the trap, a deep hole in the ground filled with sharpened stakes. Alas, the boy couldn't save her, and he howled his sorrow and rage to the sky, falling to his knees beside the pit.

“And that is how they found him, the woodsman and the grandmother. Her lover wanted to slay her killer, but the grandmother stayed his hand. She couldn't bear the thought of living out the rest of her life without her precious Red, and she knew the boy couldn't either. But she also knew the woodsman wouldn't be happy without his revenge. She wanted the boy to suffer as they would, all his life. He would have no easy death. No quick end.

“And so she cursed not just the boy, but all of his line who followed, to be half man and half wolf, a reminder of Red's death he could never forget or ignore.

“Since that time witches and wolves have been mortal enemies. So it is. And so it shall always be.”

“I can't believe you got her to tell that version.”

Zach jumped. He hadn't even heard the car pull up, much less Caleb come in. The other werewolf set three bags on the table, two from the local hamburger joint and one from the sushi place that had just opened. Why the hell was Caleb buying raw fish? The mystery was answered when Liza grabbed the bag and unloaded two containers. The smell of rice and undercooked fish assaulted his nostrils. She looked up, saw his expression, and laughed.

Chapter Seven

Caleb watched Liza struggle not to laugh at Zach's disgusted expression. She must realize people only fell into two camps with sushi, because she didn't continue to tease. They either loved it or hated the idea of it so much they refused to try it. There were no chopsticks, but Caleb handed her a fork. She speared a bite and offered it to Zach. “Wanna a bite? It's good.” So much for not teasing. Zach shuddered while unwrapping a burger, and Caleb sent her a stern look. Rather than egg either one of them on anymore, she ate in silence. She'd just pushed both cartons away when her phone rang. Eyes narrowing, she looked around for it, her eyes suspicious when Caleb brought it out of his pocket. She held her hand out for it, but he just shook his head, sent the call to voice mail, and set it by his cup on the table. Out of her reach.

“So what's wrong with Dad?” he asked while reaching for a fry. She had that stubborn look that even five years hadn't erased from his memory. Damn it. She picked the worst times to be difficult.

“It's pack business.”

He couldn't deny she had a point there. He stood and dragged Zach into the other room. “I hate to admit it, man, but she's right.”

He expected his old friend to take offense, but he just smiled. “She is my business. Just as much as you are.”

The inflection he used, the possession and determination and heat in his eyes, could only mean one thing. He'd never seen that look from Zach before. Possession and heat sure, but not protectiveness. Neither one of them needed a protector. Hell, only one woman in the world made Caleb react that way. Apparently she also pushed Zach's buttons.

“She is not going to appreciate having two mates.” At least not at first. But it pleased Caleb immensely, solidly tying the three of them together.

Zach shrugged. “She'll get over it.”

Caleb smiled, knew Zach had reached the same conclusion as he. “She can be convinced.”

“Oh yeah,” his friend answered in a voice gone deep with arousal.

Liza grabbed her phone when they left the room. The missed call was from Grant, the pack alpha. The line was busy when she called back, but her phone rang again as soon as she flipped it shut. A glance at the screen confirmed her suspicion. Since the alpha hadn't been able to reach her, the beta was trying.

“Hey, Dad.”

Caleb reentered the room with Zach on heels. Both looked pissed. She so didn't have the patience for them right now.

“Did you find him?”



“No progress.” She sighed. She'd told them Caleb wouldn't come home if she asked. Why hadn't they believed her? Her father responded after a brief muffled conversation on his side.

“Fine. Leave him there and come home.”

She blinked. They were going to give up that quickly?


“We're going to pick a successor. You need to be here for that.”

“I'll see if I can charter a plane. Otherwise, it'll take two days to drive back.”

“No, don't do that. Just drive. This decision is going to take at least that long anyway.”

“Okay. I'm on my way.”

“Good.” She heard him take a deep breath. “Be careful.”

“Always,” she answered, but he'd already hung up. She stared at the phone, not believing they were actually going to bypass Caleb in the new hierarchy. That could spell disaster for the pack. She needed to hurry home, and convince Caleb to come with her.

“What is it?”

She wanted to tell him everything, but Zach was still there, and no matter how attracted she was to the other werewolf, he wasn't Redhawke.

“Zach is with us. Spill it, Liza.”

She rolled her eyes. Leave it to Caleb to know just what she was thinking and try to steamroll right over her. And fuck it. She was tired, and it would be days more before she could even consider rest.

“If you care anything about Redhawke, you'll come home.”

“Dad said the same thing.”

“You talked to him?”

“Yeah. I don't know what game y'all are playing, but I don't believe for one minute his rule is in jeopardy.”

“You've been gone a long time.”

He didn't answer, but his disbelief and suspicion were easy to read. She grabbed her keys from where he'd dropped them on the table. “Right. Believe what you want. I have to get home.” Caleb stepped aside, and she ignored the pain in her heart that he was going to let her go so easily. But when she got to the kitchen door, Zach blocked her, his arms crossed over his chest and his expression making it damned clear she wasn't getting out so easy. Damn it, they were really starting to piss her off. She turned back to Caleb, tongue sharp and caution forgotten.

“Even werewolves age. And even alphas get weaker.”

“He's not old,” Caleb scoffed.

“He's seventy.”

“Your father—”

She cut him off. “Is older than yours.” She took a steadying breath, tried to get control of her anger and her fear. “Look, there are only four soldiers strong enough to hold the pack.

Maybe. At least two of them will try to force me to leave. An unmated human female with influence? Who's regularly overruled them?” She snorted. Yeah, if either Jonas or Baker became alpha, she'd be gone. “Your father won't appoint them, but if it comes down to a challenge?” She shrugged. “You know how unpredictable those things are.”

She watched his face carefully, saw the exact moment he started to take her and the situation seriously. And he was definitely not happy about it. Growling, he paced across the small room, stopped in front of her to set his hands on her shoulders. He gave her a small shake that should have intimidated her but instead made her body clench with excited need.

“You should have come to me sooner, Liza.”

“I'm here now.” She tried to make her words firm, but they weren't. Light and breathy, the sexual need unmistakable. He noticed. His nostrils flared to take in her scent and his eyes were as hot as she knew hers would be. He let her go abruptly, and she just restrained herself from stomping her frustration. She'd thought he was over the disgust he felt for his desire for her. So much for that thought.

He turned to Zach, who leaned against the doorframe, his ankles crossed, his hands stuffed in his pockets. He met her eyes briefly, not even attempting to hide his desire or the arousal bulging the front of his jeans, before turning back to Caleb.

“Welcome to Redhawke,” Caleb said. “Gimme ten minutes to throw a bag together; then we'll get going.”

Zach nodded, his gaze returning to her. His smile was slow and sexy. “Take your time,” he said to Caleb, and she didn't have to wonder if Caleb knew why his friend made the suggestion or if he was going to protest. He chuckled.

“Sure. I should gas up before we leave anyway, right?”

“Yep,” Zach responded but didn't turn away from her, waited until Caleb was out of sight before slowly approaching her. Steps careful, smooth, and measured. Stalking. Her arousal escalated to a level that made her tremble.

She moved back with each step he took forward until her butt bumped into the counter.

Reaching her hands behind her, she gripped the edges. He stopped in front of her and lifted one hand to stroke the side of her face.


Her vocal cords refused to work, so she shook her head rather than embarrass herself.

“You sure?” His smile was so promising, so sexy her knees turned to jelly.

“I'm sure,” she managed to whisper.

His hand slid down her neck, over her collarbone to graze the bite mark Caleb had left there earlier. She couldn't figure out why Caleb had done that. A mate mark. When he'd made it so damned clear he wouldn't take her as a mate. Her confusion must have shown. Zach shook his head slightly then bent it to the opposite side of her neck, brushed kisses down her collarbone before sucking her skin into his mouth.

It wasn't quite hard enough to leave a mark, but God, it turned her on. He rammed his hand through her hair, held the back of her head. When he lifted his face to meet her gaze, she gasped.

She hadn't seen him in wolf form, but she knew his eyes would take on this bright blue glow.

“Caleb is your mate.” His voice was guttural, as if half changed, as if the wolf was struggling to get free. “And so am I.”

She realized with a jolt of mortification that she'd had his cock in her mouth but he'd never even kissed her.

“You can't know that,” she whispered. “You've never even kissed me.” God, she wanted him to. Wanted to know if his mouth would fuse over hers with the same wildness she saw in his eyes. He didn't bother to respond, just lowered his lips to hers, tugged on her bottom lip until she opened her mouth for him. And it was a wild, untamed kiss. His tongue thrust between her teeth, stroking hers until she groaned and clung to him.

A kiss was not enough to satisfy him, however. He broke it long enough to pull the sweater over her head and was kissing her again while he fumbled with her bra. An excellent idea. She shoved his hand away and unsnapped it herself, yelping when his hand closed over her breast before she'd even let the garment fall to the floor.

But then he was squeezing, rolling her nipple between his fingers until it was a hard painful point while kissing his way down her body. When his lips closed over it, when he sucked it hard into his hot mouth, she thought she'd come then and there. She felt the sensation all the way to the soft place between her legs, her pussy already wet and convulsing in welcome when he slid his hand down, unsnapped her jeans, and pushed his finger inside her.

There was no holding the orgasm back. She became nothing but sensation. Nothing but pleasure, and the pleasure was so intense she didn't notice him removing her boots until he urged her to slip out of her jeans and underwear. He laid her across the kitchen table.

“I wish we had more time, sweetheart.” He grunted and she wondered why. Then he was pushing at her entrance, longer and thicker than Caleb, and she decided thinking was overrated.

Even as wet and ready as she was, there was a hint of pain, a need to pause and let her body adjust to him. He gripped her hips and held still, mouth pressed tightly closed, control etched in every line on his face. It wasn't until she tried to move beneath him, tried to take him deeper that she realized they had an audience.

“I think she's ready,” Caleb drawled. Maybe it was a sign she was accepting this thing among the three of them that she didn't feel an ounce of embarrassment when she tilted her head back to look at him.

“I'll decide when she's ready,” Zach growled.

Caleb strolled into the kitchen and sat at the table to watch while Zach slowly, oh so slowly withdrew until only the head of his cock was left inside her. She moaned with each lost inch, trying to arch her hips up to recapture him.

“Oh yeah,” Caleb said, watching the movements of their bodies with a gleam that could only be described as ravenous. “She's ready.”

Zach was sure as hell ready, but he wanted, needed, her desperate. Needed her out of control. Surrendering. Ready to take whatever he felt she needed. Caleb started to reach for her breast but paused, met his gaze, and waited for Zach to invite him to join in. Caleb had made his claim earlier, and Zach hadn't stood in the way. Now that it was his turn, Caleb wouldn't stand in his. It was the first time he felt certain they could share a woman for more than just a few nights.

Both were dominant. Commanding. Both would demand some private one-on-one time with her, and they'd make it work. He nodded, watched as Caleb's hand covered her breast. Squeezing a little, giving it that bite of pain they'd both discovered she liked, and building her arousal.

He waited until she was shaking her head back and forth, until her moans grew loud and sweet, before thrusting back in. Her cry was harsh, her cunt wringing his cock, trying to milk him dry, forcing him to grit his teeth and fight his body from coming too soon.

He didn't normally suffer this lack of control, could normally go all night. But this was the first time the woman beneath him was his mate, the first time he felt the excitement, the anticipation of marking her. When she left the cabin later, anyone who saw her would know she belonged to him. And Caleb. That she had not one, but two mates. That paladin or not, Redhawke or not, witch or not, she was protected. Cherished. And gods help anyone who got out of line. The knowledge of who and what she was, the feel of her already wrapping herself around his heart and soul, was the last tie snapping his control.

Her tremors had begun to subside, the orgasm releasing her from its grip, and a sated beautiful smile crossed her lips. He loved that expression, wanted to see it every day in his hopefully very long life. But when he bit that sweet spot on her collarbone, he wanted her coming with him, wanted her crying out the joy of it with him.

And Caleb knew. Just as Zach had done earlier in the evening, while his best friend and lover fucked her senseless and marked her, Caleb slid his hand down her body until his finger brushed her clit. Caleb watched as Zach had watched. Fascinated to see this woman they shared in the grip of passion. As Zach's thrusts increased and quickened, so did Caleb's ministrations.

As his thrusts became hurried and rough and hard, so Caleb's attention to her clit.

And when she was keening, when her cunt tightened and froze around him making it hard to move through the convulsions that began, as if reluctant to release and unable to prevent it, Caleb stopping the movement of his fingers, instead simply squeezing her clit while she gasped and bowed her back up off the table.

Zach slid his hand under her and lifted her torso, unable to stop now, feeling the orgasm tighten in the small of his back and knowing there was no more holding back. He lifted her to him, his other hand supporting her neck when she seemed unable to do so until Caleb sat on the table behind him and took over. His friend kept one hand on her pelvis, finger still rubbing her clit, while the other cupped her breast. It was such a damned turn-on, and he had no idea why.

His canines erupted from his gums, and looking at her, he felt a little guilty. There was no going back now and she wasn't exactly in a position to make a decision. Then her eyes snapped open and she met his gaze. Her body was tight and tense again. While he delayed, Caleb was keeping her on edge, keeping her flying and there was only one way off that particular cliff. She knew it too. She was dazed, riding the razor's edge of orgasm, but the knowledge was clear on her face.

“Do it now, Zach. Please.” The last was finished on a groan, and he didn't hesitate any longer. His mouth closed over her, teeth sinking deep in her skin. They both jerked, crying out their release to the night. When he was spent, every bit of cum ripped from his body by hers, he released her, licking the raw wound he'd left on her neck. He was dismayed seeing it. He hadn't meant to be so rough. She wasn't wolf. She was human. He raised guilt-ridden eyes to look at Caleb, who just shook his head and mouthed, “She's tougher than she looks.” Maybe, but that didn't lessen his guilt, didn't make him less determined to make it up to her.

He withdrew from her slowly, smiling at her murmured complaint and picked her up, taking her with him when he sank into one of the kitchen chairs. She curled up on his lap the way a kitten would, all purring contentment, and he could only describe what he was feeling as bemusement.

“I thought she was some badass warrior,” he said to Caleb, who cocked an eyebrow.

“She is. Don't be fooled.”

“Yeah, man, I'm really seeing that.”

She raised her head and scowled, her nails scraping across his abdomen. His cock jerked, and he was pretty damned sure that wasn't the response she wanted. “You're not going to like it when you're proved wrong.”

His growl was one of enjoyment—she was rubbing her ass over his cock after all—and not at all what she going for. She punched his shoulder, shocking him enough to let her wriggle off his lap, which didn't help at all. All he could think of was getting her back where he wanted her, while she traipsed around the kitchen pulling on clothes.

She didn't face him until she was dressed, and he wondered if she thought it was some kind of armor. If she did, she was in for a rude awakening. She was almost as sexy in the tight jeans and sweater as out of them. Like she could read his mind, she set her hands on her hips and glared at him.

“You're coming home with us?”

He nodded and she turned to Caleb. “You're gonna make him your beta?”


For the first time, he saw a hint of uncertainty cross her face. “Are you going to fire me?”

Caleb took a long time to answer, and Zach knew he wanted to say yes. Hell, that's what he wanted. She was their mate. Theirs to protect. The trick was to not smother her in the course of protection.

“No,” Caleb finally answered, and while Zach understood why, he wanted to howl his outrage. “You're a symbol of my father's strength in the pack. And mine. Ours,” he added, meeting Zach's eyes.

She glanced at both of them and then turned her gaze to the floor while shaking her head.

“Not a very good one. Human. A witch with no powers.” He stared at her wondering if the sex was good enough to make her lose her mind. When he looked at Caleb, he saw the same expression.

“Kitten,” he said taking her hand. “Your power is pulsing in the room.” And it was. He'd felt it earlier when they'd shared her. It was stronger now. She snorted and jerked away.

“Sex magic. That'll be real useful in a fight,” she said sarcastically. “Hold on a minute, dude, while I go fuck one of my mates. Yeah. That's gonna happen.”

“Well,” Caleb started drily, but his tone turned inflexible. “If you're getting fucked several times a day, and I promise you will be, you should be just fine, baby.” He clearly had an issue with calling what they shared simply fucking. Zach could relate.

He did too.

“What do you expect me to call it, Caleb?”

He was watching as Caleb's expression just…shut down and he felt Liza's presence again, pulsing through the room. Zach wondered what the hell her powers were because the look she turned on Caleb was shocked and full of a lot of “wow, I'm sorry.” He didn't know all the details of what had happened with them other than Caleb had left her letting her believe he didn't want her. As much as he might want to intervene, he knew better. That was something they needed to work out on their own.

“I've got things to take care of before I can leave. I'll be a couple hours behind you two.” Caleb just nodded, but Liza looked panicked once his words sank in. “I'll see you tomorrow, kitten,” Zach said softly and turned to leave.

She caught him on the front porch, her arms crossed over her torso as a feeble barrier against the cold. “We can wait for you.”

He studied her a moment before answering, wondering what the hell had happened with Caleb to turn a normally confident woman into someone who needed a shield?

“I can't get in the middle of that, Liza. You need to work this out with Caleb. Whatever the problem is.”

She shut down. He saw it. Every emotion fled from her eyes, her face settled into that serene, tuning-him-out expression. No way in hell. He pulled her close, wrapped her in his embrace even while she resisted responding.

“Kitten.” His heart ached for her, and he seriously considered kicking Caleb's ass. “I don't know what happened, but he loves you. He would not have marked you otherwise.” Her forehead was pressed against his chest, and she shook her head. Her voice was as shaky as her body. “No. He wants me. But he doesn't want to.” He pulled away enough to make her look up at him. “He wouldn't have marked you if he didn't want you with everything in him, Liza, and that's about more than lust.” He sighed when he saw she didn't believe him and kissed her. Keeping it gentle and chaste.

Anything else would just delay everyone's departure. He set her away from him and turned toward his truck. “I'll see you tomorrow.”

She stayed on the porch, and he watched her as he backed down the long drive until she was out of sight. Now the hard part of the evening was coming. He turned left on the highway and wasn't surprised when thirty minutes later the house he'd come to was still lit up.

Normally, he wouldn't knock. But this night was the furthest from normal he'd ever experienced. They wouldn't deny his request, no, but they could in the end deny him his family.

He'd hate to give that up, but for Liza and Caleb, he'd do damned near anything.

He hesitated before knocking, straightened his spine, and plunged in. He had no idea how his fathers would take the news and saw only a second of question on his oldest brother's face when he answered the door.

Zach followed Matthew down the hall to the large study where everyone was hanging out.

There were two large desks in the room. They were placed in an L shape against the back wall where alpha and beta could both easily see anyone who entered. Both were there now, leaning back, relaxed, and drinking a beer. His mother was in the room too, her back against a pillow on the deep window seat. When he crossed the room, leaned down, and kissed her cheek, she looked up and smiled, her sharp knowing eyes searching his face. He shook his head, not responding to her unasked questions, but she wouldn't be put off.

She turned her stare back to the knitting on her lap, and Zach let a moment of sadness wash over him. He'd miss his mother most. No one who looked in on the scene would imagine she was anything other than gentle and lovely. They'd be wrong. She'd run herd over five boys, had a spine of steel, and eyes in the back of her head. She looked up and met his gaze again.

“What's her name?” No way. Had to be mother ESP. How could she know about the woman who'd become his world in only a few hours' time?


“Human?” Uh-oh. Dangerous ground. The question should have been innocent since there was no one named Liza in their pack, but he got the impression his mother knew a lot more than she was letting on.

“Yes,” he answered. It wasn't a lie. She was human, just had a lot more thrown in.

“I suppose this has something to do with the woman you and Caleb almost came to blows over at the bar,” Michael, the beta and one of his fathers, said with amusement.

Busted. He gave up. If they knew that much, they probably knew it all. “That's the one.” He took a deep breath. “Caleb is returning to Redhawke. I'm going with him. Tonight.”

“As his beta?” Donald, the alpha, asked.


“So your woman is their witch.”

His back stiffened as his senses went on guard. He didn't feel any danger in the room. Hell, they were family, but hatred against witches ran deep throughout the lupine world.

“Our woman. She is. Is that a problem?”

Michael chuckled. “Might keep you on your toes.”

“About time someone did,” his mother teased.

“Grant and Henry trust her,” Donald said. “From what I hear, she's earned that trust. You won't hear any objections from me.”

Leaving only his brothers, the oldest of which, the next alpha and second oldest, the next beta, were in the room.

Matthew shrugged when Zach turned to look at him. “Your woman, man.” But his second-oldest brother was grinning like an idiot. “It'll be good for you. She's not one of those helpless wolves you seem to like so much.” He sobered in an instant. “And, brother, it would be bad if you forgot that. Better to learn that right from the start. She doesn't need protection.”

And he would know. David's mate was one of the highest-ranking soldiers in the pack.

Zach's ears still hurt from some of the fights David and his mate had had in the beginning of their relationship over whether she needed him to fight for her.

Chapter Eight

Liza let Caleb herd her to the car. She could have stopped him, could have gone her own way, but what was the point? He'd decided that he was going home, and this way, she got to keep an eye on him. It didn't hurt that the eyeful was so…nice. Man. Time to get her mind on something else.

She turned sideways in her seat. “So.” She didn't continue until he glanced over and met her gaze. “You and Zach. What exactly is going on there?” His hands convulsed on the wheel. “You have a problem with Zach?” Not if I get to watch. Instead of voicing the opinion—some werewolves weren't as open-minded as she was, and she could understand where his attitude was coming from—she shrugged.

“I have a right to know. You both marked me.” She muttered, “I have no idea why.”

“Zach is my best friend. He's also my lover. For three years now.”

“I didn't have any idea,” she said softly. “All my reports just mentioned brief flings with women.”

“You were getting reports on me?” He sounded more interested than pissed.

She shrugged. “You're the alpha's heir. Plus, I get reports on everyone who leaves the pack.” She paused. “So you and Zach? That's not a friends-with-benefits thing, is it? You love him.”

He grunted and she figured it was all the answer she would get.

“That's why there was never any steady woman. Why bring me into the mix then? You were obviously happy before without bringing someone in you don't particularly even like.” He didn't respond, and sighing, she leaned back in her seat and pretended to sleep. Her stomach was a tight knot of emotions. Anger. Desire. Confusion. The last few hours had brought about such big changes. Caleb coming home. Caleb and Zach claiming her. She should be freaking out about all of it, but it felt right. All except the animosity she still felt from Caleb.

Over the past.

She was so distracted she didn't react when he picked up her hand, lifted it to his face, and licked her palm. Then he chuckled. “I know you're awake.” Well, hell. In that case, she might as well get some answers. “Why the change of heart?

What's different now? You're still gonna be alpha and I'm still just as likely to have human babies.”

Anger rose and with it a pang of disappointment. Of sorrow. He'd really been willing to throw them away, and whatever children they might have had, over an ability to shift. What was different now? Pack politics? She yanked her hand back.

“Fuck, Liza. I never cared about that.”

“Excuse me?” What an asshole. She remembered that conversation too well. If they weren't going eighty miles per hour down the expressway, she might have strangled him. She still might.

“I was furious. And hurt,” he added softly. “I was lashing back.” She tried to retrieve her hand, but he wouldn't let go. She took a deep breath, struggling to keep her voice low and controlled, but man was she pissed. “Furious at me?” she countered.

“You practically attacked me when you opened the door!”

“How did that conversation with my dad go anyway? Liza, I really want you to mate with my son. Go seduce him?”

His rage vibrated in the SUV, but hers matched it. He really believed this nonsense? That she'd slept with him because she was ordered to? She was so stunned that she couldn't do more than huff and try to free herself again. A lost cause.

“If you think so little of me, why now?”

“Because you're mine,” he snarled. “You always were; you just didn't see it because of your damned devotion to the pack.”

She couldn't help it. She laughed until it hurt, until just glaring at her response wasn't enough and he pulled off onto the shoulder. He leaned over, caging her between the seat and door.

“What's so damned funny?”

“You.” Her laughter was gone with his sudden move. “Your dad told me once you were an idiot for leaving me. I thought you were just being honest about what you wanted.” She took a deep breath that made her breasts rub against his chest. “You wasted five very long years because of that misconception.”

He glared. “Explain.”

“Why bother? You already know everything, remember?”

“Start talking before I turn you over my knee, baby.” She would have destroyed any other man that dared make that threat. But not Caleb. Never Caleb. His voice dropped to one promising sensual fulfillment, a kind of play she wouldn't accept from anyone but him or Zach.

“Yes, I was devoted to the pack.” She lifted her hand to stroke the side of his face. “But Caleb, you were at the core of the pack.”

“And when I left?”

She let him see the bewilderment she'd never shown before, never understood before. “I don't get this, Caleb. All the females are devoted to the pack whether they're dominant, beta, or omega.”

He gave her a hard considering look.

“There was nothing else,” she said softly. “I couldn't leave, and I couldn't stay and do nothing.”

“Don't worry, baby. When we get home, I'll give you plenty to occupy your time.” His low sexy voice set her body to a slow burn and damn him, he knew it. He grinned. “You stayed because you hoped I'd come back.” That arrogance, that assumption she'd just fall at his feet, made her teeth ache.

“Watch it, bubba. You won't be able to fit that ego through the door,” she snapped.

Laughing, he kissed her quickly, then pulled back on to the road. “I'm sure you'll keep it in line.”

They hadn't gone far before he pulled off the road and into a motel parking lot.

“I can drive if you need some sleep,” she offered.

“That's gonna be hard to do with my cock inside you.” Crude words but they made her instantly needy. She tried to trample it, control it, while he exited the vehicle and entered the small office. He returned in minutes, drove around the corner of the building, and carried her inside.

“We don't have time for this,” she said breathlessly.

He nudged her towards the bed and fell on top of her. “Can't wait,” he said, his voice low and guttural.

And gods help her, neither could she.

Chapter Nine

Liza was tempted to tug on the collar of her sweater when she entered the house, but knew it wouldn't do any good. Even if no one noticed the marks, they'd be able to smell Caleb and Zach on her.

She heard voices coming from the office down the hall, and led the way, not surprised when Caleb held her back and entered first. Rolling her eyes, she stepped around him to take stock. Alpha, her dad, two others, and Jonas and Baker, looked up expectantly. Their curiosity quickly changed to shock when they took in Caleb. She hid her smirk at the look Jonas and Baker exchanged. They were not happy about Caleb's return. She could feel the animosity rolling off both of them.

Her father stood and smiled, holding his arms out, but Caleb held her back when she tried to step forward. She turned her back on the room to face him. “What are you doing?” she whispered harshly.

He didn't even look at her as he responded. “Protecting what's mine.” She glanced over her shoulder and saw both Jonas and Baker standing. Eyes narrowing, she took in the tense, wide-legged fighting stance both had adopted. “I'll deal with you two later,” she said while shoving Caleb's chest until he stepped back into the empty hall. She slammed the door behind them and almost laughed at his expression. He looked a little shell-shocked that he'd taken her direction. Hell, that was her job. Alpha and beta cared for the pack, and she was the gatekeeper.

“What the hell are you doing? 'Cause until you fire me, I still serve a purpose here. I can handle both those idiots. You don't have to do that for me.” God, she'd forgotten how fast he could move. One minute she was blocking the door, bitching with her hands on her hips, and the next he had her pressed to the wall, wrists held in one of his hands over her head. His hips pressed against her belly, his cock thick and hard, and she forgot what they were fighting about. Leaning forward, he kissed her neck, sucking her skin into his mouth as he growled.

“I outrank you here, baby. I can and will interfere if I feel the need.” Damn it. He was making it impossible to think. She bucked against him, trying to push him away, but he just growled in reprimand. Power filled the air as her anger spiked. When she shoved his chest again, he reluctantly stepped back, a wary expression on his face.

“I think that answers that question.”

“What?” she grumbled, but didn't pay much attention as she struggled to regain control of her magic.

“You don't need sex to access your magic anymore.”

He was right. She'd expected her power to dissipate or get locked up again within a couple hours of having sex, but they'd just spent twelve hours in a car. She probed the power in her mind and breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn't sex magic after all. Her mother had been right about one day setting it free. She scowled. But she had no idea how to work it, how to mold it to her uses. She'd start practicing tomorrow. For now…

She didn't tell him what she was doing, didn't say another word to him. He didn't try to stop her when she reentered the room, but he couldn't help displaying his dominance. One hand rested on her hip, while he wrapped his arm across the front of her shoulders, pinning her back against his chest. She set her hands on his forearm but didn't try to break his hold. Sometimes it was better to let an alpha male have his way. At least he wasn't trying to stand in front of her anymore.

Grant, the current alpha, looked Caleb up and down slowly before turning his gaze to her.

His voice was dry and full of amusement. “No broken bones or blood. I'm not sure if I should be relieved you let him live or worried he won't survive the night.” Caleb barked a laugh and rubbed his chin on the top of her head. “She likes me enough to let me live at least a couple more days, Pop.”

Her dad grinned and winked at her. “You sure about that, boy? Never known our girl to back down from a fight.”

They hadn't closed the office door, and she might have jumped just a bit when she heard the hard, angry voice behind her.

“What fight?”

Zach entered and Caleb let him pull her away and into his arms. After a short kiss that curled her toes, he stood behind her and put his hands in her front pockets, tugging until she leaned her back against him.

“What fight?” he asked again, softly, leaning close to her ear. His warm breath against her skin made her shiver. She shook her head, forcing her body to behave.

“Nothing. It was a joke.”

“Bad one,” he said, sliding one hand out of her pocket and under her sweater. His palm rested flat against her abdomen. The simple contact was enough to make her heart pound. Her subtle move to extricate herself only garnered a tighter hold and a low growl. She jabbed him with her elbow but didn't try to get free again.

Grant chuckled but didn't tease her about her predicament. Good thing. She was off balance enough as it was. Getting pissed at her alpha wouldn't help matters. Though, she thought, frowning, how exactly was that going to work when Caleb took over? He spoke before she could worry about it.

“Since you apparently have mated with my paladin, I assume you're staying?” Caleb turned to look at her, gave her that slow sultry smile that made her panties melt, before answering. “Actually, I believe she's my paladin now.”

“Not so fast, boyo,” Henry said. “There're a few formalities to take care of first.” Jonas stood and gave her a malicious smile that made her want to bare her teeth. “That there are,” he said, holding her gaze but speaking to her father. His challenge had to go through the pack beta. “I claim challenge rights.”

Zach jerked, but she held onto him and dug her boot heel into his foot. “Still,” she hissed.

Jonas could make a challenge against the new alpha, but it would first go through the existing hierarchy, starting with her.

“The last time you challenged me, you limped out with a broken arm and four shattered ribs,” she reminded him with saccharine sweetness.

Her statement only gave him a moment's pause. “In an alpha challenge, you can't use any weapons.”

Idiot. She'd only used a short asp last time because she'd been trying to head off future problems by allowing him to save face, to let him believe she'd defeated him with help.

“I don't need any. But you'll need a body bag if you don't withdraw.” She shook her head in mock concern. “After I make you yield, and you will yield, the incoming beta has a right to challenge you. And he'll win.”

“I don't think so.” He clearly thought he had the advantage. “Let me know when and where.” He left with Baker following him. Her two remaining soldiers stood and approached.

“You want me to make the arrangements?”

“Yes. Tomorrow afternoon. Let's get this over with.” They left. She could feel the outrage pouring from both Caleb and Zach, but waited to speak until she heard the front door close. Zach let her pull free, and she went to perch on the edge of Grant's desk.

“This is the way things are,” she said to them before either could find his voice.

“No fucking way.” It was Zach who spoke, anger and concern and dominance thickening his voice.

She sighed and turned her gaze to Caleb. His conflict was easy to read. “Tell him,” she said softly. His snarl filled the room, and he paced before responding.

“She can do it,” he finally told Zach, who looked completely incredulous.

“She's human.”

“She's a little more than that,” her father said softly, and she turned to find him sitting in the ugly green chair he'd claimed for his own years ago, one leg crossed over his knee and a mischievous grin on his face. Something in his tone got everyone's attention. When the room focused on him, he continued. “She's a latent werewolf and a witch who's come into her full power, right, baby girl?”

How did he know? She nodded. “So it would seem.”

Instead of responding to her, Henry turned to Zach. “Which means, as good a fighter as she was before, she'll be better now. Faster. Stronger. Smarter.” Caleb cocked his head to one side and looked her over. “Is that true?” She didn't really know, but it felt right. “Yeah. I think so.”

Zach shook his head. “That's not good enough.”

“Well, we'll find out tomorrow, won't we?” she snapped.

His eyes turned hot and carnal. Promised to follow through. “Watch it, kitten. I'm your mate, not one of your soldiers.”

If her father and alpha weren't sitting in the room, she'd have ripped her clothes off and offered herself to him. And he knew it too, the big jerk. His nostrils flared and he strode toward her. She skipped out of way just in time.

“That can wait,” she said forcefully.

“The longer you put me off, the worse it's going to be for you, kitten.” His smile was all kinds of devilish promise and hit her like a punch in the gut. Dear gods. What had she got herself into? She ground her molars together to keep from biting back at him, from goading him into action.

“I think we can deal with the details in the morning,” Grant said, rising to his feet, dismissal clear. “Caleb's place isn't exactly habitable right now, Liza.” She nodded. No one had touched the place since he'd left five years ago. “Mine's fine.” She caught her father's scowl. “Pretty isolated though.” She smiled and didn't even try to hide her dry amusement. “I think I'll be fine.” He snorted. “Maybe I was more concerned for their safety. All alone with you in the woods.”

Caleb laughed and Zach choked while her dad kissed her on the cheek. “See you tomorrow.”

It wasn't until they were inside her small house that she really focused on Zach again. None of them had bothered to stop for dinner, and he prowled the front room while she put together some sandwiches. She put them on a plate on the kitchen table and, leaning against the counter with hers, waited for the explosion. When he finally spoke, it wasn't to her.

“You can't seriously be planning on letting her go through with this. It's crazy.” He shoved a hand through his hair. “She's human.”

She swallowed her last bite and took a long drink of water. “Does he need a demonstration?” she asked Caleb.

He shook his head. “No. We can't risk you getting hurt before tomorrow.”

“Can't risk?” Zach sputtered. “We're not going to risk her at all!” That did it. His attention was focused on the wrong person. She stalked across the room and poked him in the chest with her finger. “You listen, you big oaf. I am not paladin because the alpha likes me. I fought my way into this job the same way it's done in every other pack.” She got his attention all right, but it was more than she bargained for. His hand was on the back of her neck, yanking her to him, before she could dodge. Shit, he was as fast as Caleb.

“One scratch, kitten,” he whispered, lips scant millimeters from hers, “and I promise you won't be able to sit for a week.”

It wasn't much in the way of acceptance, but it was a start. Her exhalation was pure relief, but her pride wouldn't allow her to not push back. “I can't guarantee that.”

“That doesn't change anything, kitten.”

His voice rumbled against her chest, turned her nipples hard and throbbing, brought her body screaming to life. She rubbed against him without responding. What could she say even if her voice was working?

“She's got a tough day tomorrow. I think she should get some rest,” Caleb said to Zach, but when she turned to look at him, she felt anything but tired. His grin was wicked. “Or maybe she's too keyed up to sleep. We should help her relax.”


Caleb led the way down the short hall to her bedroom and Zach followed her. He closed the door behind him. Caleb looked around. “Where do you keep your toys, baby?” Sucking in a deep breath, she felt a hot blush spread up her neck to her face. “What toys?” He cocked en eyebrow, his expression saying she damned well knew what toys he meant.

“Where, Liza?”

“Bottom drawer.”

She mentally reviewed everything in it and groaned. Mortified, she sank on to the edge of the bed as Caleb and Zach, with their backs to her, opened the drawer and started lining its contents across the top of the dresser.

Grinning, Caleb looked over his shoulder at her. “You got kinky while I was gone, baby. I like it.”

Zach laughed. “Now that is an understatement. You should get naked, kitten,” he said when his hot gaze met hers.

Her stomach clenched in knots, but she did as he said. She carried her clothes to the hamper in the bathroom. When she returned to the bedroom, Zach was waiting for her with restraints. She trembled, but it was with anticipation not fear. His smile was small and tight as he nudged her to the bed. He put on the soft leather wrist cuffs, then moved to her ankles. After positioning her on her back in the center of the bed, he secured her to the posts, limb by limb.

He sat back on heels and looked her over. “Worried?”

“A little.” She bit her lip when his hand stroked up the inside of her leg. He paused over her pussy until she looked up at him, then slowly pushed a finger inside. She was wet already.

With a smile, he lifted the finger to his mouth and sucked it.

“A little worried, but a lot turned on, kitten.”

Instead of returning to her, he stood up and joined Caleb looking over her toys.

“What do you want to start with?” Caleb asked.

“How about this?”

“Do I get a vote?” They both ignored her. She craned her neck to see what Zach suggested, but couldn't.

Caleb chuckled. “Nice. Or this one?”

She heard a buzz and wondered which vibrator they were thinking about torturing her with.

Zach picked up a flogger and it swished when he flicked his wrist.

“That'll have to wait until after the challenge.” He turned to give her a hard look. “Of course if she gets herself hurt I'll have to wait until she heals to punish her.” She got wetter. Hell, she might get a scratch on purpose with that promise. Zach didn't miss her arousal. His eyes lit with heat. “When was the last time someone flogged you, kitten?

Or restrained you?”

If she answered that honestly, Caleb would realize she hadn't moved on when he left, but when she opened her mouth, the truth came out anyway. “Five years,” she said softly.

He gave her an odd look, half disbelief, half triumph. “Why?” She shook her head. There was no way she was answering that. Sure, he'd marked her, but she still believed he might change his mind about her later.

“Liza.” He demanded her answer, and she turned pleading eyes to Zach, but he just shook his head. He picked up two items from the dresser top and approached. When he sat on the edge, she saw he had an anal vibe and lube. He flipped the lid and squeezed some on to his fingertips.

“We're waiting, kitten,” he reminded her gently, but she was focused on him, on his fingers rimming her hole. Then one pushed inside her. Slowly, so slowly. She squirmed, not sure if she wanted more or less, and Caleb sat on the bed on her opposite side. He set his hand flat on abdomen and held her still.

“Tell me why, Liza.”

Oh hell, he wasn't going to let it go was he? “I didn't trust anyone else,” she snapped.

“That's what I thought. It wasn't so hard to admit, was it, baby?” She opened her mouth to respond, but during the brief exchange, Zach had lubed the anal plug and slowly pushed it inside her. Gasping, she squirmed again, this time definitely because of the invasion. Caleb didn't remove his palm and Zach didn't stop. She breathed a sigh of relief when it was in place and the pain receded. Then one of them flipped a switch, and it buzzed to life.


Caleb leaned over and sucked one of her nipples. When he bit, she arched her back wanting more. His fingers closed over the other point and pinched. She cried out.

“Very nice, kitten,” Zach said.

She pried her eyes open to see him kneeling between her spread legs, naked, watching her respond to Caleb. He worked one finger into her pussy, then two. The vibration in her ass kicked up a notch, and she trembled. He fucked her with his fingers, slow at first but with a steady increasing rhythm.

“Hmm,” he murmured. “So hot. So wet.”

He stroked over sensitive tissue, bumped against her G-spot. Her hips lifted, demanding, but he didn't give her more. He just slowly worked her up, slowly drove her body to the peak of arousal and held her there. She could have cried. Would he fuck her already? Oh gods, she hadn't meant to say that aloud.

His laughter was joined by Caleb's. “You're a demanding little thing.” She glared at him when he stopped and withdrew his fingers. Damn it. He moved into position between her thighs, his cock nudged at her entrance, and she held her breath in anticipation. But he didn't move. No hard thrusts. No easy strokes. It was enough to make a girl sob with need.

He was watching her face closely and finally nodded, before pushing inside her. She moaned with relief and pleasure. Caleb released her nipple. He straightened as Zach started to move in shallow, slow strokes, meeting her gaze with a smile that said he had a secret. She was charmed and amused despite the desire building in her body, building among the three of them.


His smile broadened, and as he turned his head to face Zach, his eyes turned yellow with barely restrained lust. She didn't know who moved first but the kiss was hard and hot.

Smoldering. Everything inside her flexed watching it. They broke apart, Caleb leaving one last lingering lick across Zach's bottom lip.


Zach grinned. “Oh, she definitely liked seeing that.” Caleb looked her and cocked an eyebrow, obviously wanted confirmation. She fought the urge to giggle. “Maybe you should do it again,” she gasped as Zach moved deeper, harder. “Just so I can be sure, you know.”

He didn't respond the way she expected. Eyes narrowed, he looked back and forth between her and Zach. “Still capable of thinking. And being a smart-ass.” Zach grunted and fucked her harder. “We can take care of that.” He didn't slow as he reached under her for the edge of the anal plug, but she didn't notice until it withdrew a couple of inches before thrusting back in. Then he did it again. And again.

Until she was moaning, thrashing her head back and forth, begging for release.

“That's more like it,” Caleb said smugly.

Each time she came close to coming, Zach stopped her. He slowed or changed his angle of strokes. It wasn't until she actually felt tears leaking from her eyes that they took pity on her. His rhythm became fast and hard, the anal plug ignored. Caleb reached between them at first only grazing her clit, then rubbing, then pinching. She didn't even attempt to fight the orgasm rising in her, rushing through her nerve endings. She screamed embarrassingly loud, but she didn't care.

Her shudders continued through Zach's climax, hadn't quite stopped when they unstrapped her and cuddled her between them. Tender hands caressed her. Her hair, her back and hips, until she came down from the high. Sighing in contentment, she opened her eyes and met Zach's smiling gaze. She lifted her hand to trace his strong cheekbone while nestling farther back against Caleb, sucking in a deep breath when she felt his erection pressing against her ass. She hadn't even noticed them removing the plug. Turning her head over her shoulder, she met his eyes.

“You didn't…”

“I will.” He looked at Zach then returned his gaze to her. “Do you want to watch or do we get kicked out of your bed for this?”

There was zero emotion in his voice, and she realized that must have happened to him before. She could settle his mind about that at least. “You're not going anywhere. Either one of you.”

Zach grinned. “I told you she wouldn't have an issue with us.” She couldn't repress the slight feeling of uneasiness at his words. Were they equals here?

The three of them? Or was she just a biological imperative?

“It's not like that, kitten.” Zach stroked the side of her face. She was learning he never missed anything.

“Tell me what it is like,” she whispered. She wanted both of them and she honestly didn't care if they wanted each other, but she couldn't help wondering if that included her. He smiled at Caleb before he answered her.

“We've been together a long time, Liza. It would hurt to be forced to give it up. We would, for you, but we'd rather you become part of us.”

Caleb took over, and she turned as much as he'd let her to watch him speak.

“Sex…sometimes I'm gonna want him and sometimes he'll want me. That's not any reflection on how we feel about you. It's just the three of us expressing our love for each other in different ways at different times.”

She nodded, trying to process everything that had happened, everything that had been said.

She'd known they had a relationship. Had steeled herself for the possibility of being firmly barred from it.

Zach leaned forward and kissed her. It was tender and deep, yet full of exhilaration.

Caleb's cock pressed her ass, gentle rocking movements that were as exciting as they were frightening. He was huge. There was no way she was ready to take him there yet. That knowledge was in Zach's eyes when he broke the kiss. He kept her between them when he reached over, grabbed Caleb by the nape, and yanked him closer for a kiss. She couldn't believe how damned hot that was. Caleb groaned and his fingers convulsed on her hips. She laughed. “I think I need to get out of the middle soon.”

He slapped her ass as he rolled away and pulled her out the way. “Such a smart-ass,” he grumbled, but she knew he preferred her that way. She stuck her tongue out at him.

“You like me that way.”

“Keep it up, baby.” His eyes narrowed. “After the challenge tomorrow, you're fair game.” She didn't even try to hide the way anticipation made her heart race. She'd ignore him.

Ignore the promise. For now. She focused on Zach. He hadn't moved. He still lay on his side facing her, giving her a lazy, amused smile. He tensed for a moment when Caleb, having walked around the bed, moved into position behind him.

“It's just me,” he said softly, running a hand down Zach's side to his flank. She scowled and Zach answered her question before she could formulate it.

“Male lupines really, really don't like being approached from the back.”

“I know that.” Did he think she was an idiot? “This isn't just any male.” Zach grinned. “No. But that animal instinct doesn't ever go away.” Then he was sucking in a breath, holding it, and she knew Caleb had touched him more intimately than before. Caleb moved, pushing Zach onto his stomach, and rising between his legs behind him. He'd gripped one hip and growled, before she noticed he had two fingers buried in Zach's ass. “Up.”

With an answering growl, Zach rose to his knees. She watched mesmerized as those fingers slowly withdrew. When the head of Caleb's cock, shiny with lube, nudged his asshole, Zach met her gaze. “You sure you want to watch this?” Oh, hell yeah. She wasn't going anywhere. She replied with mock seriousness. “Well, as paladin, I feel it's my duty to witness. To make sure no one gets hurt, you understand.” Caleb laughed. “That would just turn you on more.”

She couldn't deny it. “Yeah.” She nodded. “Probably.” He didn't say another word, just slammed into Zach, and the expression on his face, on both their faces, was almost enough to make her come. In a word, wow.

Caleb worked him with long slow thrusts. Zack straightened so his back was pressed against Caleb's chest. Zach crooked a finger at her, and she realized her own rising desire would be easy for them to see and smell.

“C'mere, kitten.”

On her knees, she walked to him and stopped just an inch before his chest. He wrapped a hand around her nape, pulled her close for a kiss. Then he took her hand, wrapped it around his cock, and pumped it a few times before he left her to do it on her own. The kiss intensified as she concentrated on even strokes of his cock.

Each of Caleb's thrusts pushed Zach a little closer to her and his grunts filled her mouth.

She knew he was close to coming. He broke the kiss.

“Still thinking,” he murmured, then inserted two fingers into her, stroked in and out, before withdrawing and pushing on her shoulder. “On your back.” How could she argue? When he lowered himself over her, Caleb moved with him and her arousal grew. Was he going to fuck her as Caleb fucked him? Why did she find that such a damned turn-on?

He braced himself on one elbow and with the other hand guided his cock to her entrance.

She had her hands on his hips and felt his muscles tighten as Caleb withdrew, and then she was incapable of thought. When Caleb rammed back into Zach, he drove into her. In seconds the strokes were fast, hard. Almost punishing.

She never thought beyond the perfect union among the three of them. Beyond the trinity.

Strong, stable, and theirs alone. It was much later that she worried it was only a physical response, that maybe one leg was stronger than the other two.

Chapter Ten

Liza woke alone. Ears straining for sounds of Caleb and Zach, she rolled out of bed, coming to rest lightly on the balls of her feet with a scowl. They were gone. The nightstand clock glowed five a.m., and she raised the blinds as she walked by the window. The sky was just beginning to lighten.

She hurried through the shower trying to ignore their absence, trying to ignore the niggling worry they might be up to no good this early in the morning. There was no time for those concerns. She'd been gone nearly a week; there was no telling how much work was piled up on her desk.

And she had a challenge to deal with.

Back in her bedroom, she pulled on loose pants and a tight, thin long-sleeved shirt over a tank top. Thank God she was back in the Deep South. She'd thought she would freeze to death in Maine. Last, she pulled on socks and boots. She delayed in the kitchen only long enough to pour a cup of coffee. There would be food at the alpha's house, where her office was.

Hopefully, she would find Caleb and Zach there too. She told herself it was because she was worried about them not following the pack laws of challenge, but knew it was a lie. She just wanted to see them. Might have a thing or two to say about them sneaking out of her bed before dawn too.

She was frowning when she entered the house and followed the murmur of voices to the kitchen at the end of the long center hall.

“Ah, there she is.” Her mother hugged her tightly, briefly, before stepping back and looking her over with narrow eyes. She pushed her to a chair. “Sit. Did they forget to feed you?” More like she'd spent most of the last few days too wound up to eat, but she wasn't about to tell her mother that.

Liza pulled a chair out and sat, gaze taking in the crowded room. Measuring. Zach, standing near the back door with her father, met her eyes with a nod, his face expressionless as he focused on whatever Henry was saying. Caleb was at the stove, flipping bacon and arguing good-naturedly with Ethan, one of her soldiers. As if he felt her watching, he turned and winked at her.

Her mother had moved to one of the wall ovens and was pulling out a sheet of homemade biscuits. Liza drew the familiar smell into her lungs. It was good to be home. When she stood to help, her mom tried to wave her back to her seat, but she ignored her and helped set up the sideboard. Platters of biscuits, eggs and bacon, and a bowl of fruit were set out. Unsurprisingly, she found herself seated between Caleb and Zach.

She was rinsing her plate when Gabby came in. The other woman gave Ethan a dark look and approached her. “Thank gods, you're back,” she muttered.

Liza cocked an eyebrow. Gabby was one of her few good friends, another soldier, and perennially cheerful. “Problems?”

“Nothing I can't handle,” she answered darkly.

Ooo-kay. There was definitely a problem, but she'd wait to push Gabby about it when they were alone in her office. She grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge. “Are you eating?” Gabby shook her head. “Already did.”

Caleb and Zach had already left, so she went to her office, Gabby and Ethan tagging along.

Inside, Gabby kept several feet between them and avoided looking at him while he watched her with heavy-hooded eyes. Liza sighed. If she had to guess, her money was on a recent horizontal tango between the two of them. The problem was werewolves tended to go possessive under those circumstances. Gabby would have ended the affair the minute that started to happen.

“Is this going to be a problem?” Liza asked them sharply.

Ethan grinned, and Liza bit her lip at Gabby's sharp intake of breath. Not as unaffected as she'd like to pretend. “Nothing I can't handle,” Ethan said.

She rolled her eyes. The man was delusional if he thought he could handle Gabby pissed off at him. Professionally? Sure. As an angry lover? Not so easy.

“I really don't have time to referee right now, Ethan.”

He immediately sobered and nodded. “Understood. The challenge is scheduled for one this afternoon at the circle.” With a considering look for Gabby that made it clear he wasn't backing down, he went on. “I'm going to head over there and make sure everything is set up.”

“Okay. Go ahead.”

Liza waved him out, and Gabby shut the door behind him with a little more force than necessary. Her desk was piled with reports and message slips, but she ignored them and, leaning back against the front edge, crossed her arms over her chest.

“Spill,” she ordered her friend and lieutenant.

Gabby paced, finally shrugged, and sank into one of the chairs in front of the desk.

“Nothing to tell, really. I had an itch. He scratched it. End of story.”

“Uh huh.”

“You know how they get.” Gabby narrowed her gaze on Liza's neck. “Both of them? Ethan filled me in last night, but I didn't believe it.”

“Last night, huh?” And here she'd been under the impression the affair, or one-night stand, or whatever Gabby was calling it, had been several days ago.

Gabby groaned. “I keep saying this is the last time, but then he'll show up just in time for dinner and I figure, fine. I'll feed him and send him on his way.” Liza laughed when instead of continuing, Gabby blushed. “You can't resist him?” she teased. “What's the problem then?”

The blush faded as quickly as it had come on, and growling, Gabby jerked to her feet and stalked to the window. “He's the worst playboy in the pack. You know that. He'll move on when he gets bored.”

As much as Liza hated to admit it, her friend was probably right. In which case it would have been better for Gabby and Ethan to leave their friendship strictly platonic. Gabby had always had a soft spot for him. Liza sighed. This wasn't something she could mediate for the good of the pack. “I'm sorry,” she said softly.

Gabby looked over her shoulder to meet Liza's eyes and nodded. “Me too.” She went back to her chair and sat. “Let's get to work.”

Liza let her change the subject and started sifting through the papers on her desk. She sighed. For all intents and purposes, she was the pack's police chief and administrator, and as such not much more than a bureaucrat. What had made her think she actually wanted this job?

The papers were nothing but busy work. Patrol reports. Incident reports. Requests for new training equipment. The hours passed at a crawl, but finally it was late enough to head down to the pack circle.

A small crowd was already hanging out, including both alphas and her father. She couldn't help but be suspicious when she couldn't find Zach or Jonas. She glanced at her watch constantly while she chatted with Gabby. Fifteen minutes. Ten. They finally entered the clearing with three minutes to spare. Neither appeared injured, but Zach's smirk was too satisfied for something not to be going on.

Jonas bowed low to her. “I withdraw my challenge.”

What the fuck? Jonas had been gunning for her for years and he was passing up his chance now? She glared at Zach. Her power pulsed through her, and for a minute she was afraid she would lose control of it. Caleb said something, she missed the words while she struggled for control, and the crowd slipped away until only she, Caleb, and Zach were left.

“You shouldn't have interfered,” she told Zach. “That was mine to deal with.” She was proud of herself for saying it so calmly, and he had the good sense to look a little nervous.


“Don't!” She held a hand up to forestall his excuses and took a deep breath. “Just leave before I decide to beat up on you instead. I need to calm down before I can talk to you.” Caleb snickered, and she spun around to glare at him. “You were in on this?”

“Oh no.” He waved a hand between her and Zach. “This is between you two. A demonstration might be exactly what he needs.”

“You're on her side?” Zach's voice was incredulous.

Caleb shrugged. “You can't protect her by undermining her position in the pack.” Zach growled and pulled his sweater over his head. “Fine. Let's see what she can do.”

Laughing, she flexed her hands and circled him. After the last few days, this was exactly what she needed. She watched him move, studied him before she considered her first shot. He moved with fluid grace, but he favored his right side. It was subtle but there. In a serious fight, she would have taken advantage of it.

Instead she spun around him and hit him in the kidney, hard enough to debilitate another man but just enough to piss him off. She barely avoided his return attack, his heel just grazing her shin.

“Remember what I said about scratches? That applies now too.”

“Well, that's hardly fair,” she said softly letting her voice go husky, letting her powers amplify the attraction that was always there between them. He stumbled and she took advantage of his distraction. She hit him in the chest before he recovered.

That wasn't fair.”

She shrugged. She'd fight dirty if that was the difference between life and death. Or proving she could take on those fights. But she felt so guilty using her power against her mate that she vowed not to do it again.

They continued to circle each other, to occasionally jab or kick. It was clear they were both holding back. She wasn't sure why. Measuring each other? Wearing each other down? Or was it because, as mates, neither really wanted to fight the other?

She let her thoughts distract her and he caught it, moved in with a quick sweep of her legs that landed her on her ass. She rolled out of the way just in time and didn't realize until that moment that though Caleb had sent the onlookers away, they'd returned.

Ethan yelled at her. “Oh, come on, Liza! If it was me, you'd be beating me into the ground!”

Shaking her head, she grinned at him. He was right. Gabby, standing at his side, slapped him in the chest with the back of her hand. “Shut up. She doesn't need you to distract her.” Ethan snickered. “He's doing that well enough on his own. I don't need to help.” Insulting, aggravating words, but they were absolutely right. She was reluctant to really fight Zach. She was holding back.

“Am I distracting you, kitten?” Zach asked with a grin. “Are you holding back?”

He clearly thought she wasn't. She shrugged and walked around him. “I'd hate to hurt you and have to listen to you whine in bed tonight.”

Caleb laughed. She ignored him, but Zach turned to glare. “You aren't helping.”

“Was I supposed to?” Caleb asked with an innocent look. “Liza, darling, could we get this over with? I skipped lunch.”

“With pleasure,” she answered, smiling much too sweetly. Zach flinched.

Her next strikes were harder, faster, and so were his. She felt a hint of claws on her throat and knew he'd drawn blood, but she also knew by his horrified expression he hadn't meant to. It didn't matter. It wasn't like she hadn't felt claws and teeth in a challenge before. The only thing that mattered was ending this quickly.

But it went on. Neither willing to yield and neither using their full strength. And slowly she came to realize that it didn't matter. The only way she could defeat him was with her full strength, and in a quick decisive fight. If she were lucky.

She was tiring. Slowly wearing down. He hadn't even broken a sweat. She could get really dirty and go for his leg, that bad right knee, but she didn't think even that would be enough. Then she realized. He was born to be alpha, just like Caleb. Only circumstance had him second on the totem pole. That made her panic a little. It was quickly squelched, but still there.

She barely ducked his next jab. Her return punch caught his shoulder as he turned into another strike. His eyes glowed and she grinned. She'd caught him by surprise with that one, but she could tell by his expression he wasn't about to let her get away with it, mate or not. His next series of attacks was fast and furious, his hands and feet making contact twice as often as hers.

Sweat dripped down her neck. Her face was hot with exertion. She jumped back, and again they circled each other. Ethan still called from the sidelines and she caught a glimpse of Caleb's face. Intent. Watchful. As if he was ready to call an end to the match at any moment.

She focused on Zach. He just looked…resigned. Her powers were growing, and she thought she knew what he was thinking. He didn't want to fight her, but he figured it was the best way to prove she couldn't handle being paladin. It pissed her off. Okay. Fine. He was stronger and faster than she was. So was Caleb. But Caleb and Zach were supposed be stronger than her.

You couldn't have pack leaders of equal strength with anyone else in the pack. There would be constant war.

Worry crept into Zach's expression and she took advantage of it. Lashing out with her left leg, she caught him in the sternum. He staggered but kept his feet. His eyes were intent and determined when he circled again. This time he attacked first, the punch hitting her back just high of her kidney.

It stung. To that point, she hadn't really felt the hurts of the fight, adrenaline flooding her system like a shield. This one she felt and other dull throbs were beginning to make themselves known. She didn't want the match to continue until she was so worn down that she couldn't fight back. How humiliating would that be? She wasn't about to concede unless she was forced to either. Her pride wouldn't stand for that.

Again she thought of his right knee. Was it his Achilles' heel? She'd half decided to find out when he moved close, so fast she reacted much too late, and he swept her legs out from under her. She fell hard, but his big hand cradled her head as she went down. Her breath left her body in a whoosh, and he pressed her into the hard-packed earth.

“Do you yield?” he asked softly.

It should have bothered her. Should have pissed her off. No one had taken her down in a fight in longer than she could remember. But all she was aware of was his warm breath feathering over her face, his hot eyes boring into hers. The erection pressed against her belly as he held her down. She couldn't answer. Couldn't get her lungs or her vocal cords working right.

She just lay under him, breathing hard, trying to remember what she'd been trying to prove.

“Should we do this the old-fashioned way, kitten?” His knee nudged her legs apart so he was nestled between her thighs. She gasped, suddenly so hot and horny it was an effort to make her brain function.

“I'd prefer not to have an audience,” she whispered.

“You should have gone for my knee. I could see you wanted to.” His voice was just as soft as hers had been, soft enough to not carry to the crowd.


He sighed. “You can't hesitate, Liza. Ever.”

“I know.” She nodded. He was right. “Could we get up now?”

He just watched her until she huffed. She didn't want to fight him anymore anyway. Her body had…other ideas. “Fine. I yield.” She let her voice carry to the onlookers, and he stood, pulled her to her feet with him.

He traced the scratch down her throat to her collarbone. “I thought I warned you about this.” His grin was slow, full of sin and promise. She fought the urge to press her legs together.

“Mmm. I believe you did,” Caleb whispered behind her, his hands settling on her hips.

People approached and introduced themselves to Zach, but she found it hard to focus on them. It took her several minutes to get a grip on the need raging through her body, to figure out it was their pheromones swamping her with lust. She hissed her displeasure, and Zach shot her a guilty look. They'd done it on purpose to knock her off balance. She was ready to break free of Caleb's grip and stalk off when Jonas walked up. She immediately went on alert, tensing for a fight.

He nodded at her, then Zach, his face and eyes wary. “I forgot how well you handle yourself, Liza.”

Was that supposed to be a compliment? She didn't say a word, just waited him out.

His lips curved in the slightest grin. “I suppose I should thank someone for saving my ass from humiliation.”

“I suppose you should.” She couldn't help the way her lips twitched in response.

He glanced at Zach, but didn't say the words. “I'm going wandering a bit. I'll drop by your office in the morning to fill you in on my patrol area and team.” She nodded. “Okay.”

She stared after him as he left. Her nemesis gone? Just like that?

“What the hell did you say to him?” she asked Zach as they turned towards her house.

“Kitten, you don't really expect me to answer that, do you?” His expression was so pained and guilty she laughed.

“Yes,” she replied, tucking her hand in his back jeans pocket. “I do.”

Chapter Eleven

It was a long time later, lying naked and sweaty between them, that she brought it up once more.

“You can't do that again, Zach.”

He lifted her hand to his mouth and nipped her palm. Heat instantly unfurled in her stomach. She made her voice firm.

“You aren't going to distract me.”


Damn werewolf senses. She could scent her growing desire. Of course, he could too. Caleb remained still and quiet, and she turned her head to look at him. She didn't have a clue from his expression what he was thinking, but he definitely was.


He shrugged. “I already said this is between y'all.” She smiled. She knew him better than anyone. “And it's killing you to stay out of it, isn't it?”

“Maybe.” His lips curled in a teasing half smile. “I'd like to make you quit. I'd like to keep you close where I can always protect you.”

“Exactly,” Zach added, but Caleb glared at him and he didn't continue. Wasn't that interesting?

He went on before she could protest. “But I know that would make you miserable and I know you can take care of yourself.” He reached across her and tapped Zach's chest. “Unlike some people.”

Zach rolled his eyes. And just like that, she felt like a spectator at a tennis match. It would have been funny if they weren't dissecting her life as if she weren't even there.

“Fine. She can fend for herself. The point is she doesn't have to.”

“She does have to. That's who she is.”

“She'll get over it.”

“You wouldn't expect her, or me for that matter, to make you change who you are to make our lives less complicated.”

“You're different,” Zach said darkly. “And you know it.”

“Enough!” She sat up and glared first at Caleb before turning to Zach. “You did not get a tame puppy for a mate. Get over it.”

She took a deep breath and forced herself to wait a few seconds before she said something she'd regret later. “Caleb is right. I wouldn't ask you to change. I need you to accept me as I am.” That he didn't want her as she was hurt as much as thinking Caleb didn't want her because she couldn't shift.

“Oh, kitten, that's not it,” he whispered, pulling her down and wrapping his arms around her. “You're perfect the way you are. I couldn't stand to lose you.”

“And you don't trust me to take care of myself.”

“I trust you,” he said grudgingly. “It's everyone else I don't trust.” She sighed. “I really can take care of myself, you know.” He waited so long she didn't expect him to reply. “I know. But if you ever again hesitate like you did today, I swear I'll spank your pretty ass and you won't be able to sit for two weeks.” His hands slid down her back to grip and knead her butt. She laughed. The threat didn't have the effect he was going for. It sounded more like a promise to her. His responding growl was low and not at all menacing.

He rolled over and pressed her into the mattress, holding her hips still when she wiggled to get free. His erection nudged her sex, and she held her breath, waiting for him to enter her.

“The question is…how much do you trust us, sweetheart?” Caleb drawled.

Oh gods. She knew that tone. She turned her head to meet his gaze and her heart started to race. “What did you have in mind?”

He wasn't smiling anymore, wasn't teasing anymore or badgering Zach to accept her as she was. There was pure male demand in his eyes, a refusal to be denied, and every cell in her body came alive seeing it.

Without a word, he left the bed and went to the dresser drawer that held her toy collection.

Worried about what he'd come back with—some of that stuff was not for the faint of heart—she bit her bottom lip. She had to. If she didn't, she'd demand answers and they were playing by his rules now. He returned and dropped several items on the bedside table.

“Up,” he ordered.

With a reluctant sigh, Zach moved and helped her sit up, but cocked an eyebrow in interest when he looked at the nightstand. “Kinky it is,” he said softly.

Caleb gave him a considering look. “You know, you're the one with the bigger trust issues here.”

Zach laughed. “Forget it, babe. I'll do a lot for you. Submission isn't one of them.”

“He gets to choose and I don't? That's hardly fair.” It wasn't really a complaint, and Caleb knew it. He snorted and returned to the drawer. She took the chance to look over at what he'd already got out. Vibrator, cuffs, one—no, two—floggers. He returned with nipple clamps.

“Zach doesn't have a submissive bone in his body, but you my dear…” He didn't have to finish the sentence, and they both knew it. Still, she didn't want anyone to get the impression this was normal for her. “Only with you.” He smiled, unscrewing the clamp and kneeling down before her. “I know.” Then there was that rushing bite of pain as he retightened the clamp. His tongue stroked over her, soothing, before he moved to her other breast and repeated the process. He stood and pulled her to her feet.

“Zach, go grab a stool from the kitchen.”

While Zach hurried out, Caleb picked up an anal plug and tube of lubricant. He smiled when he turned back to her, and Zach walked in with the stool. He set it in the middle of the room, and she wondered if he knew what Caleb was up to. Had they done this together before?

With whom? She repressed a surge of jealousy. It was before me. It doesn't matter. If she didn't know better, she'd think Caleb could read her mind though.

“Wondering if we've done this before?”

She shrugged. “It doesn't matter. You're mine now.”

He gave her a cocky grin while sliding a hand up the inside of her leg. From her knee to thigh, he left of trail of awareness. He rotated his wrist and his fingers brushed over the tiny curls covering her pussy, then returned to spread the lips. She groaned and shifted closer, but he denied her with a chuckle that was heavy with satisfaction.

“Not yet, baby.”

She heard the squirting of the tube, but still jumped when his slick fingers rimmed her.

“Widen your stance.”

She shivered and complied. How could she not? One at a time, he pushed two fingers inside working them back and forth before withdrawing and reaching for the plug. Once it was lubed, he put it in place quick, not allowing her body time to protest the invasion. She felt full and expectant. The chain connecting the clamps was heavy and tugging on her nipples. She wasn't sure how much of it she could take.

Caleb looked her over, nodded, and stepped out of the way. Zach brought the stool with him when he approached. He set it in front of her, a couple feet from the side of the bed, and helped her get on it. One of them turned on the anal plug. Then Caleb picked up the flogger.

He flicked his wrist and the soft leather straps grazed her stomach. Soft as butterfly wings.

Teasing. Promising. She tried to bite back a moan of anticipation, but was unsuccessful and he grinned at her.

The different between tonight and the last time he'd used a flogger on her five years ago was so vast that she marveled at the change. Last time was so serious and intense, as if they'd known it would be many years before they'd come together again. It was nothing like his light mood now. He was different. She was different. And then she realized that even without their previous conflict, a relationship between them would not have worked five years ago.

“We didn't waste all those years. We needed them apart,” she blurted out.

He scowled. The flogger wasn't so soft this time when it contacted her skin.

“Why do you say that?”

Another swish, this one hard enough to sting. She had to suck in a deep breath before she could answer.

“Too young. Neither of us would be who we are now. I might not be paladin, and eventually I'd resent you for it.”

“Maybe.” His answer was distracted, but the strokes of the flogger were focused, coming harder and faster. They left her gasping. Burning.

When he paused, she smiled. “Besides, we wouldn't have met Zach.”

“That would be a real tragedy,” Zach drawled, easily adopting their Southern accents. He stepped closer with a second flogger. “Now, no more talking, kitten.” She couldn't have if she'd wanted to. They both worked her with alternating strokes of the floggers. Sometimes soft, sometimes with a light sting. But building, always building to something more, something more intense until leather strips bit and left her gasping for more.

Caleb continued while Zach removed the nipple clamps, timing them with Caleb's swings so that the biting pleasure/pain merged. When the second clamp came off, she cried out, every muscle tensed as an orgasm overwhelmed her. She gripped the edges of the stool as she rocked with the force of it, panting as the aftershocks shook her.

Zach dropped the flogger and lurched forward. His chest pressed against hers and he gripped the back of her head, stole a hard, ravaging kiss. After urging her to her feet, he backed up to the bed and sat down, pulling her with him. It was instinct to line her body up to his, to kiss him back while her pussy rubbed over his cock. With one decisive thrust, he filled her. Still kissing her, robbing her mind and body of everything but sensation, he urged her down with him so she lay flat against his chest.

She was so consumed by Zach, she didn't even notice when Caleb moved behind her, barely registered the removal of the anal plug or the squeaking sound of the tube of lube. Until the broad head of his cock began to push inside of her. She gasped. Squirmed. She could hear Caleb grinding his teeth while Zach whispered soothing nonsense, hands gently stroking her until she relaxed.

“That's it, baby,” Caleb whispered, his voice almost guttural as he eased into her. Holding still, she took deep breaths through the sensation that was a bit too much pain to be pleasurable.

But then Zach moved, slowly withdrawing from her pussy, each inch rasping over sensitive, inflamed skin, and just like that, the pain was gone. As she tried to move with Zach, to recapture him, she moved against Caleb.

In one smooth surge, he filled her, then slowly withdrew while Caleb filled her. They kept up the maddening, unhurried rhythm until she begged. It was too much. Too much feeling. Too much sensation. She wanted to come, but she also didn't want such sharp pleasure to ever end.

Her body came without her mind's permission, and she fell against Zach's chest, gasping, muscles frozen. He wasn't far behind her. With a low growl, he dug his fingers into her waist hard enough that she knew she'd have bruises in the morning, but who cared? And then there was Caleb, thrusting into her one last time, his roar filling the air, before collapsing onto the bed with them.

Pressed between them, slick with sweat and her body filled with bone-deep satisfaction, she closed her eyes and let the magic fill her. She was learning magic had a different feel, a different taste, from person to person. Each was individual, and hers was changing. Becoming infused with a bit of both of her mates. It felt good. Right.

It made her leery. What if she lost one of them? What if Zach decided he couldn't accept her as she was after all? How would she recover? She fell asleep worried about what the morning would bring.

Chapter Twelve

The call came as she left the house for her office, and she hurried to change directions, Caleb and Zach following. Jonas had the juveniles separated, the fight stopped, but there were angry looks all around. Six teenage boys. Three visiting for training from another pack. All six needed some sense knocked into their thick skulls.

“What's going on, guys?”

No one answered. The ones from her pack had the good sense to look embarrassed.

“Fine. Extra duty until someone cares to explain.” She narrowed her eyes and spoke to Jonas. “Pair them up. Maybe they'll learn to work together that way. The southern fence needs repairs.”

That got Jay's, one of their visitors, interest. “I won't take orders from a witch.”

“You will if you expect to stay here.”

“Oh yeah? What are you going to do? Get your mate to beat me up?” Surprise startled a short laugh out of her. “Puppy, you really are as dumb as you look, aren't you? I can handle any beatings myself.”

Ignoring him, she turned to Jonas. “When you leave, escort anyone who has a problem with my authority out of our territory.”

“You can't do that! My father will…”

She gave him a cruel smile. “What? Ask your father what happened the last time he pushed me too far. Do you honestly think he'd send you to a weak pack for training? You do realize who's in charge of training around here?”

The kid's face took on a mulish expression. She sighed and met Jonas's gaze with a slight nod. “Sometimes a little pain is necessary to hammer home a point.”

She heard shifting behind her, knew it was Zach even though she refused to turn around and look at him. What happened next would probably totally change the way he looked at her.

He hadn't really accepted what she was. Who she was. She hadn't really expected to be confronted with her fears of the previous night so soon. It made her sad to contemplate how this would change things, but it couldn't be helped.

The stronger juveniles, the ones who would grow to be the pack's defenders, were her responsibility. She hated this part of her job, but she had to teach them self-control and respect for authority. It was necessary, if distasteful. She stepped into the small clearing and crooked her finger.

“Give it your best shot, puppy.”

From the corner of her eye, she saw Caleb grab Zach's elbow and hold him still. Caleb knew it wasn't necessary to interfere. Zach would figure it out soon enough. That would have to be dealt with later. She concentrated on the kid.

The fight was short and brutal. In the end, after the third time she'd knocked him on his ass, she stood over him with her hands on her hips. He hadn't got one hit in; she, on the other, hadn't missed one. His lip was cut, his nose probably broken. He held his arm close to his chest, and she knew it was also broken. The crack had been loud in the quiet clearing. He started to roll to his feet, and she put one booted foot on his stomach.

“Don't get up.”

After a second, he nodded. She looked at the juveniles milling around. Time to send for the healer. “Go get Mick.”

When he arrived, he took in the scene in a quick measured glance. “A lesson learned, I hope,” he said mildly to the kid as he kneeled next to him and helped him sit up.

She shrugged. “We'll see.”

She motioned for Jonas to follow her and left. He fell into step beside her while Caleb and Zach brought up the rear.

“Was that because you're leaving?”

He looked surprised. “No. That's been brewing for a while. Teenagers. Not much in the way of brains yet.”

She made a noncommittal sound. “Still. I think it's a bad idea for you to leave right now.

We haven't been vigilant enough in the training of the older juveniles.” She held up a hand to forestall his protest. “I did say we.”

The silence stretched a moment. “We were friends once. I'm not sure exactly how or when or why that changed, and it doesn't matter. The welfare of the pack comes first.” She watched him as she spoke. His expression went from angry to pained to wistful. No, that didn't make sense. She had to be imagining it.

“I'd never do anything to jeopardize the pack.” He turned and gave Zach a look she couldn't read. Almost defiant. She sighed. Pissing contests were not limited to juveniles. “I'll stick around as long as you need me.”

“Good. New training schedules. I want that group so exhausted they can't think straight, much less harass each other.”

He grinned. “You got it, boss.”

After a few minutes, he peeled off onto another path, leaving her alone with Caleb and Zach. A few yards later, another trail veered in the opposite direction leading to Caleb's house.

She took it, ignoring the activity around the place when it came into sight. They were making it habitable again and making good progress. She walked around back where the patio set looked like it hadn't been abandoned for years. Knowing she couldn't avoid Zach's gaze any longer, she looked at him, steeling herself against what she might find there. Rejection? Revulsion?

Zach forced himself to breathe normally while he waited for Liza and Caleb to look at him.

To finally meet his gaze. He'd almost been expecting it, but the wariness that stared back still shocked him. He'd been with Caleb long enough his body language was easy to read—protective—and knew he was more worried about Liza than Zach's reaction to Liza.

He was getting to where he could read her too. Her jaw was clenched. She was stubborn.

And stoic. She fully expected him to reject her. He couldn't deny it was difficult to reconcile the hard warrior woman he'd seen today with the soft loving woman who came apart in his arms at night.

She wasn't what he'd expected. She didn't need his protection, and his wolf side needed to protect its mate. She was just like Caleb. Strong. Smart. Stubborn as hell. But right now she looked worried. A little scared and beaten down. He couldn't stand that look but didn't know what to say. He pulled her into his arms, held tight until she sighed and rested her head against his chest.

“I love you, Liza,” he whispered. “I'm not going anywhere.” Then Caleb was with them, arms embracing them both. It was enough for now. Zach's heart swelled. It was more than enough, the two people he loved most in the world in his arms.

The rest would come later.


Jonas paused at the tree line. It was late afternoon, not quite dusk, and the pack hadn't arrived yet for the celebration. The young ones were gathered, though, around a small campfire and Liza.

She glowed in the fire's light, the swell of her belly easy to see. Soon the next generation of alphas would be born. Twins. Both boys according to the ultrasound and their witch mother. It was considered a good omen, a sign of continued prosperity, and hence the reason for tonight's party.

She was an excellent fighter, a superb paladin, and he knew she'd be just as capable as a mother. He was relieved the jealousy of a year ago had faded to faint longing. She still had no idea that he'd loved her for years.

She was telling the story of Little Red Riding Hood, and he noticed that even some of the older juveniles, those done with training or work, lingered to listen. Why wouldn't they? The story came complete with a magic show.

Despite the magic, it was not the witch version of the tale, something he was too well aware of after the last week. He scowled down at the slight woman by his side.

“Wow,” she murmured. There was awe in her voice, appreciation on her face. “She's very good.”

Suddenly he realized this exiled witch who'd come to them begging for sanctuary was very pretty. Her sexy, curvy body made his heart pound and his mouth water. He stood frozen in place and studied her. Her expression was rapt, while he fought the response of his body to her proximity.

Finally Liza ended her tale. She looked up and met his gaze in the gathering darkness.

“And now it's your turn, old friend.”

Loribelle Hunt

Loribelle is like the South she calls home. Hot and sultry. Languid and sexy. Magnolias and gardenias scent her silk-lined boudoir, and men and children alike bow to her magnificence…

Okay, maybe it isn't quite that glamorous. She does have two smart and lovely daughters who give her a run for her money and a son that will one day be someone's model of a romance hero. (She promises.) Her husband is a real-life hero, and Loribelle just tries to keep up with the demands of military life. In between, she writes a book or two.

She's had every job under the sun, but haven't most writers? That Army military police, bookstore manager, waitress, wedding photographer, website designer experience has to come in useful sometimes. As they say in the South, it all washes out in the end.

She loves hearing from her readers and can be found at http://www.loribellehunt.com.

Table of Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve