An American Werewolf in Hoboken

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Wolf Mates, Book 1

Dakota Cassidy

Published 2016 by Book Boutiques.

ISBN: 978-1-62517-889-3

Copyright © 2016, Dakota Cassidy.

All rights reserved.

Prologue

Max Adams ran as though the hounds of hell chased him, pounding the pavement with swift, measured strides. The click of his nails echoed in the rain-soaked, empty streets. Flashes of buildings passed in a blur, his nose frantically seeking food. His long tongue slipped out the side of his mouth, draping over the clumps of hair covering his chin—er, muzzle.

Panting, he eyed each alleyway from his peripheral vision, desperately searching.

The smells of the city assaulted his ultra-sensitive senses. Max sniffed the air, picking up the aroma of broiled steak; pork chops with thick brown gravy; veal medallions in a creamy white sauce with sliced onions, and a sprig of parsley for garnish; and scalloped potatoes…no wait, they were au gratin. Definitely au gratin.

His stomach roared its discontent. Good hell, he was hungry.

But could he afford to indulge in morsels of succulent calf seared to perfection right now? They’d be easy enough to snatch from some unsuspecting diner’s table.

No. There was no time to waste because he was too damn busy playing this ridiculous game of “here, doggy, doggy.” Which he wouldn’t be doing if it weren’t for the alleged vision.

A sharp whistle stopped him in his tracks and again his ears twitched to the tune of two men yelling, “Here, boy! C’mon, puppy!”

That’s Mr. Werewolf to you.

Max flared his nostrils and huffed in distaste. Puppy. He was no damn puppy.

As he sought shelter, he had to wonder, did it get any worse than this? Hoofing the streets like some desolate stray, searching for what his Aunt Eva claimed was his prophecy?

In Hoboken, New Jersey?

Yet, here he was, prophecy hunting. Because that’s what everyone in his pack did. When the call came, they all had a destiny to fulfill. No one ignored the call.

Especially not Max. Because he liked living.

He held an intense disdain for all the mumbo-jumbo folklore bullshit beaten into his psyche since he was a child, but there was no proof he wouldn’t die if he didn’t mate by the first full moon after meeting his destiny.

So mate he would.

However, unless his memory failed him, no one had ever fulfilled the journey to their soul mate while being hunted like wild boar.

The Prophecy has spoken, Eva had said. A prophecy she’d found, like usual, in a bowl of chicken noodle soup.

To say chicken noodle night was a nightmare for his family was putting it lightly.

But his family members claimed Eva knew all, so his divination lay in some murky broth and noodles.

The curse cast upon his family declared if he didn’t follow his path to his providence, he was essentially toast. He’d have to face the mojo of all mojos. So, rather than take the risk this destiny of his was flat-out bullshit, and the possibility of a bloody, ugly demise, he ran.

Fast.

Besides, who’d want to miss a two-hundred-mile trek and starvation just to get to their destiny, only to be hunted like game? This was what all those stories told around campfires were made of. It put hair on your chest, made you stronger—a real man.

Racing down a deserted, dimly lit street, he spied a chain-link fence that looked like his ticket out of this.

Except he had four paws and not a pair of legs to climb said fence.

Well, shit.

The thunderous sound of feet on blacktop diminished behind him. Maybe they’d given up? But his ears picked up mumbling as the men who pursued him continued their search.

No such luck.

A bright light cornered him as he swept past a Dumpster, only to find a dead end.

Fuck.

“Holy cow! Look at him. He’s goddamn huge, Al!” one of his potential jailors hollered from behind the glare of the flashlight. Bent at the knee, one of the men squinted at his from the darkness.

Damn right he was huge, and he was going to take a big bite out of poor Al’s ass if he came any closer.

Al followed up with a long whistle, readjusting his baseball cap. “Jesus! I’ve never seen anything that big, Len. German shepherd, ya think?”

Len’s eyes were wide in the darkened alley. He rocked back on his heels and gave his obviously professional opinion. “Mutant German shepherd, maybe.”

Fear not, good citizens of Hoboken. Animal Control’s finest are hard at work. German shepherd. Hah.

“Wait,” Al said, “I’ve got something for him.” He began to dig around in his pocket, pulling out a plastic bag. He probably had a stash of Milk Bones at the ready to entice strays.

Hardly worthy of him, when he was used to dining on filet, but Max figured he’d give Al a nod in the noble effort category.

As he watched Al skeptically from the corner he was backed into, he caught his first whiff of Al’s magic stray-catcher stash.

No. No. Not that. Anything but that. His stomach howled in violent response to the contents of the plastic bag.

Jesus, Al. That’s so unfair.

“Look, puppy…look what I have.” Al held meat—red meat—between his fingers, shaking it around to entice him.

Max liberally sniffed the air surrounding the meat. Oh, the hell. How insulting. It was going to take a helluva lot more than some cheap round steak to get him to bite. It was filet or nothing.

But his stomach growled again in another protest—meaning round steak was better than no steak.

Well, okay, he’d bite. He could easily knock this guy out while snatching the meat from him.

Max prowled closer, moving in on Al’s beefy hand, exposing his fangs with a low snarl. Teeth. It was all about showing them the teeth. Freaked everybody out.

His next move was intentionally sudden. He made a howling leap of an arc, one an Olympic pole-vaulter would envy, nabbing the meat with his teeth and gobbling until it was halfway down his throat.

That was when he felt the sting of the dart.

Son of a bitch.

If he could, Max would have rolled his eyes at how predictable the tactic had been.

As he fell to the ground with a bone-rattling thud and the world began to go black, his last thought was, two guys named Al and Len had bested him.

Christ, the shit he was gonna get from the guys back home for this.

Chapter 1

Jesus Christ in a mini skirt,” JC Jensen uttered, skidding to a halt.

The winded animal shelter director she’d lost somewhere back amongst the maze of cages finally caught up with her. Catching the look on her face, he nodded with a sad sigh and rocked back on his heels. His lined eyes were full of emotions he didn’t bother to hide. “Yeah. That’s usually the reaction he gets.”

She clucked her tongue. “He’d make Cujo hang his head in poser shame.”

“The truth.”

JC paused for a moment, still floored by the sheer size of this dog she wasn’t supposed to see, but had somehow found due to a wrong turn into a cordoned-off area.

The dog sat alone in the tight space, his chin high, his gaze piercing hers.

She’d been drawn to his cage—pulled there by some invisible, magnetic force, and she couldn’t look away.

“You know, you aren’t supposed to be back here,” the shelter director reminded, though his tone didn’t scream reprimand. Rather, JC’s ears picked up defeat mingled with some resignation.

“Wrong turn. My supreme bad,” she muttered, mesmerized by the monster sitting in the steel enclosure in front of her.

“He’s not really available for adoption, Miss…?”

“Jensen.”

“Miss Jensen. There are plenty of other far more suitable dogs available. Maybe you’d like to see them?”

JC ignored his suggestion. Nope. For some inexplicable reason, all the other cute, wiggly furballs vanished from her mind’s eye. Whatever had made her take that wrong turn had pulled her here. And she wasn’t leaving until she knew why she couldn’t look away.

Crossing her arms over her chest, she asked, “He has fleas, doesn’t he?”

“This isn’t the doggie day spa. We house and feed for a limited time only.”

“Behavioral issues?”

“Total disclosure?”

A dog that looked as if he’d just walked out of the vision of some horror novelist’s brain surely had issues. “Wait. Let me brace myself,” she only half-joked.

The director, Dan was his name, let his chin drop to his chest. “Out the wazoo.”

“Like?”

“Well, we tried to discount some of it because he was tranquilized when they brought him in last night. We thought maybe he was just disoriented at first. However, if you ignored the snarling and drooling like he’s rabid every time he tried to wake up, which he isn’t by the way—”

“Isn’t what?”

“Rabid,” Dan replied. “Anyway, his issues. I suppose turning his nose up at the food as if we were offering him something totally beneath him—food we had to lob over the cage at him—and the piercing howl he lets out every so often, and the pacing are sure indications of some sort of behavioral issues.”

JC tucked her purse under her arm. Pacing and howling, she could live with. They were probably just signs of isolation and shelter depression. Fixable, no doubt.

Her friend Viv had taught her everything she needed to know about shelter animals. It probably wasn’t something her downstairs neighbors were going to thank her for, but still workable.

“Okay, so he isn’t eating and he paces. Abuse?” Her stomach knotted tight at the word—knotted so hard she thought she might need to sit down.

Dan scoffed. “I’d like to see the guy who could abuse an animal as big as him without losing a limb. But it wouldn’t surprise me either. Our initial physical showed no signs of dog fighting, no significant scarring, and no microchip. After being out on the streets for who knows how long, he’s not much worse for the wear other than being filthy.”

The dog sent out a low hum from deep within his throat—a hum distinctly full of disapproval.

JC shot him a glance that said, “knock it off.” Though she had to wonder why she even considered it might make an impact on an unruly beast like him. But it did. He settled back with a grunt. Maybe he was just mismanaged? “How old do you think he is?”

The director scrunched up his moon-shaped face. “The vet said maybe five or six, unneutered, by the way. And he weighs in at almost a hundred and thirty-five pounds. Which is part of the reason we can’t seem to classify his breed. We got as far as German shepherd and then we were stumped—because even some of the biggest German shepherds we see aren’t anywhere near a hundred and thirty-five pounds. In all the years I’ve worked with dogs, he’s probably one of the biggest I’ve ever come across. He’s a mix of some kind. We just don’t know what.”

“Wolf, I’m tellin’ you, Dan. He’s a German shepherd, maybe some St. Bernard or malamute, and wolf.” Manny—according to his nametag, one of the volunteers at the shelter—pointed out, giving his broom a push as he shuffled up behind them. “In fact, I’d lay bets he’s part wolf. He howls like a wolf.”

JC’s ears pricked, goose bumps running along her arms. “Wolf?” Whoa, whoa, whoa.

The shelter director winced, shooting Manny a “you’re blowing this” look. “That’s just office gossip—no proof, only speculation.”

Mr. Alleged Mixed-Breed lifted his lip in a snarl when Manny positioned himself against the cage, planting his broom between his legs.

But Manny wasn’t deterred. He kept right on smiling down at Cujo. “He’s just cranky, shoved into a box like some kind of alien dog no one understands.” He leaned down toward the cage, as though he were going to share a secret. “You’re sorta like E.T., huh, old boy? You just want to go home. Manny sees.” He lifted a finger to his bespectacled eye. “I understand.”

The beast appeared to listen to Manny’s words for a brief moment, before he snapped again.

JC took a deep breath, knowing she was going to state the obvious—knowing this was why he’d been separated from the rest of the available dogs. She found she had to force the words out. “So, death row?”

The shelter director’s mouth tightened, his eyes sad, eyes that had likely seen a lifetime’s worth of euthanasia. “Unfortunately, end of business today.”

Her heart cracked a little while she stood in front of the large metal cage, skeptically eyeing the unkempt monster staring directly back at her with defiance—never blinking, not even a twitch. She estimated he must stand at least six foot when he was on his hind legs. And he stunk. Sweet baby J and a Creamsicle, he was putrid.

And if honesty were allowed to play a part in this—ugly. Wow, he was butt-ass ugly.

He was matted from head to toe, his teeth were crooked and partially hanging out the left side of his mouth, and the tip of one ear was ragged and torn, healed over now but still missing its tip. Thin white scars marred his black muzzle, indicating a battle or two.

“So no interest in him at all?”

The director sighed. “Um, no. He’s not exactly the ‘C’mere, snugglebuns, come sit on my lap’ type. And because we pride ourselves on giving you an honest evaluation before adopting out any of our pets, he’s a bad bet all ’round. Under normal circumstances, he’d be what we call rescue-only, because of his issues. We wouldn’t consider making him available to the public, but…”

“But?”

Dan shrugged his wide shoulders, driving his thumbs under his striped suspenders. “Here’s the score on dogs like this. A rescue is really his only answer at this point. But no amount of social networking today with our rescues has stirred even a little interest in him. I guess I just feel all he needs—”

“He needs a nice lady like you to adopt him,” Manny interjected. “Because Manny—”

“Sees, right? You understand.” JC gave him a conspiratorial grin.

Manny grinned back, winking at the enormous dog. “Yep. Right, pal? You just need some love and a bath—because you smell like a Porta Potty on a hot July day.”

The overgrown, odd-looking beast sent out another low, menacing growl, only this time baring his teeth as if to validate Dan’s original assessment. Or maybe a better word for those things in his mouth was fangs, yellow and jagged. They sure got his point across.

“Manny’s an old softie, Miss Jensen. He hates to see any of our—” Dan shook his head full of silver and white hair. “What I’m mean is, to say this dog needs love is an understatement. They all need love. But that’s certainly underestimating the totality of his needs. Sometimes love isn’t enough. I’m not supposed to make him available to the public. He’s rescue-only because he’s a possible danger.”

Manny slapped Dan on the shoulder with an affectionate thump. “But if a nice lady came along and wanted to take him home, and we found a way to fudge some documents about his alleged demise, who’s to say the cure isn’t love, old buddy?”

“I could lose my job, Manny,” Dan warned beneath his breath, but his warning was uninspired and weak to JC’s ears.

“Yeah,” Manny poked, his white teeth flashing a mischievous smile. “The job. You mean the one you were just talking about retiring from because you’d seen enough cases just like this one?”

Dan cleared his throat, his cheerfully pudgy face forming a frown. “What if he hurts her or someone else?”

“He won’t hurt me.” JC looked up at the two men when the words flew from her mouth. Somehow, she was sure he wouldn’t.

She couldn’t put her finger on what had made today the day she’d stopped at the shelter. She’d hemmed and hawed over it for several weeks since she’d decided to adopt a pet. But today, something from some unknown place said, do this.

She also couldn’t put her finger on what was keeping her glued to his cage. She’d seen the other available dogs on her way in and wanted to take them all home. But this guy? Something about him spoke to her, made her chest tighten until she almost couldn’t breathe from it.

Her original intent was to adopt a cat.

A nice, fuzzy, use-the-litter-box, treat-her-with-haughty-disdain-more-often-than-not cat.

It was the logical choice. Cats took care of themselves. They were aloof enough to only want your attention for as long as they deemed you worthy, and then were off to bigger and better things. They certainly suited her lifestyle better.

But no. She’d homed in on the meanest of the lot in a sea of wiggling, excited balls of fur, all vying for her attention, knowing full well before Dan or Manny had said a word that his chances for adoption were zilch.

At first glance, he was so ferocious looking, she’d almost pressed herself against the cage behind her in fear. He filled up the small space where he was confined, leaving him very little room to stretch out or even turn around, and that alone had shredded her heart.

Space was always at a premium in animal shelters, but he defied your average large-breed dog. In fact, he spit in the face of all large breeds. He needed room to run, or at the very least, someone to take him on long walks.

With caution, she’d let her fingers sneak into the small opening where his snout was pushed against the metal and had been rewarded when he’d sniffed the air with interest. Then he’d come closer, pressing his cold, wet nose against her finger just before Dan had hunted her down.

Oddly, there was no fear. Rather, JC’s heart lurched and a strange sense of tranquility spread over her.

“How’d he end up here at the shelter?” she wondered aloud, running a slow knuckle under the monster’s chin as far as she could reach.

“Animal Control found him, cornered him in an alley and brought him in. I heard that was some fight, trying to get him into the van even after the dart gun. He was darn ornery about it, too.” Dan paused, turning his soft gray gaze to hers. “Listen, if I’m honest, Manny and I are a lot alike. We both love all the animals here, no matter how hopeless they seem at first. I’ve borne witness to more than one miracle since I took this job. I guess I’d like to think with the right home…Well, maybe he can be saved from euthanasia if the right person comes along.”

Today. Right now. That person had to come along right now.

JC’s stomach did a nosedive, her heart turning over in her chest. Euthanasia. Lights out.

Damn.

She didn’t need a dog. She worked long hours, making a cat a much better choice. Yet, when she was home, she came home to nothing. It was becoming lonelier as she got older and realized Mr. Right had managed to get himself lost somewhere between her fantasy and reality. She sucked sweaty balls at picking out men—which she hoped meant her luck choosing a pet had to be better.

Companionship was what she’d come here for, and she’d done her research about adopting, and shelters, and pet rescues. None of her research told her to act on impulse and adopt the worst possible match she could find. Viv had told her to think long and hard before choosing in order to break the cycle of unwanted pets.

But there was no time to think long and hard. He was going to die.

Die.

Dogs were a lot of work. What if she couldn’t get home in time to walk him? Maybe she could pay Jonah, the kid from the apartment below hers, to walk him?

After Jonah’s mother did a full-on exorcism, of course. Because if Patricia got one look at this creature, she’d break out the rosary before she’d let Jonah anywhere near him.

Walk away now, JC. Find a nice kitten. They were a whole lot less in the way of maintenance. They amused themselves. An even bigger plus, they cleaned themselves. Sometimes they even sat in your lap and snuggled with you.

Dan was right. Cujo definitely wasn’t cut out for lap sitting.

Still, something about this mutt’s eyes, dark and earnest, screamed more laid behind his disdain for the world at large. As though understanding her uncertainty, he nudged her hand lightly as if to tell her to hurry her indecision along.

She cupped his chin through the cage, scratching the underside of his matted jaw. “You’re an ungodly mess, you know. If we do this, not a peep about bath time. Not one. Got that?” JC cocked her head at the piercing gaze he pinned her with. Her heart twisted when he nuzzled her hand again, shifting his stance to press closer to the chain-link cage.

He’d take up more space than she probably had in any one room in her apartment. Not to mention a fortune would be spent on feeding and veterinary care.

He’s also destined to die, JC.

She examined him one last time, wrinkling her nose at his stench. He continued to follow her gaze, stoic, unflinching.

“I know this is going to sound like a line, but I haven’t seen him act like this,” Dan said, cutting into her thoughts. “He’s been snarling and growling at anything that moves since the drugs wore off. No one could even get near enough to feed him properly. As I said earlier, we literally threw the food over to him.”

As if on cue, when Dan moved closer to the cage, she felt the low vibration of Tough Guy’s growl beneath her fingertips.

JC tapped his nose with the tip of her finger. “Stop that right now. If you want a home, you’re going to have to roll light and easy, buddy. Quit with the junkyard dog act and behave.”

Instantly, he backed off, standing down, his eyes still searching hers.

It was that look, the brief glimpse of compliance that cinched the deal. She sighed with resignation. Yep. Her mind was made up.

“So, riddle me this, Smells Like Unwiped Butt—am I looking for a miracle, or are you housetrained?”

Manny slapped Dan on the back with a hearty chuckle. “Winner, winner chicken dinner!”

* * * *

Looking down at her new fur-buddy, JC winced. He proved even bigger out of the confines of the small space at the shelter. When Dan had opened his cage, Cujo had literally spilled out as though he’d been freshly tumble-dried.

His hair was more deeply matted than she’d originally thought, and his breath smelled like a Jersey dump.

Manny and Dan had managed to arrange Cujo’s escape with the other volunteers, and she’d offered a hefty donation to the shelter in gratitude. They’d prepared a festive “Happy Adoption Day” mint-green gift bag for Cujo’s departure, full of all sorts of pamphlets and a six-month supply of heartworm medication.

Grabbing her purse and the leash from the gift bag, JC hooked it to the collar the shelter provided and gave it a tug. To which he responded by planting his overgrown ass firmly on the floor and refusing to budge, his wide paws pressing against the slippery tile.

Manny clucked his tongue, folding his arms over his chest. “You want help?”

JC gripped the leash in her hands and shook her head, standing her ground. “Nope. He has to learn who’s boss.” That would be her.

But Cujo begged to differ. If one could dig deeper into a tiled floor, Cujo did. So well, in fact, he was like trying to move concrete.

She tapped him on the head and gave him a pleading look, and from all the literature she’d read, thoroughly destroyed establishing herself as an alpha pack leader. “Aw c’mon, you brute, I’m going take you home and feed you. I’m saving your life, pal. You’re not going to look this gift horse in the mouth, are you?”

Solemn brown eyes gazed back at her, unblinking.

JC knelt beside him, stroking smelly tufts of fur along his back. “Look, mister, this is freedom. You’re on death row. Need I say more? That means a forever pass over the Rainbow Bridge. So, you have two choices. Move it, or lethal injection. Now don’t make an ass out of me. Let’s get the hell out of here.” She rose and tugged on the leash again, this time with a bit more force.

Nothing.

The pretty blonde receptionist held up a bag of dog cookies from behind her perch at the desk. “Dog treat?” she asked with a smile, handing them to JC. “I give them to my dogs, too. They’re good for him, and he’s been known to find his motivation with the right kind of food.”

“How would you know?” Dan asked.

The receptionist winked. “Because I’m a bad shelter worker, and I totally ignored your orders to remain unattached by tossing him a cookie over the top of his cage, okay? Oh, and I do it all the time. So there,” she said with a laugh, sticking her tongue out at him.

Dan sighed. “You’re all like unruly children.”

“Hey look, ray o’ sunshine, doggie treats.” JC sniffed the interior of the bag, pulling out a bone-shaped treat. Wiggling it under his nose, she tried to entice him.

He staunchly refused, defiantly turning his head.

JC dropped the leash and leaned toward his pointy ear. His position shifted almost as though he were really listening to her, ready and willing to absorb her words. “Okay, bud, I could just leave you here, you know. I mean, we could skip the happy ending where you get the unicorn. Totally up to you. But here’s what my happy ending includes. It’s the one where I take you home, bathe you, feed you, and let you sleep next to me on the floor beside my bed. Sorta like Timmy and Lassie, together at last. Maybe you don’t know the term Rainbow Bridge? But that bridge isn’t here on this plane, sunshine, and that’s where you’re headed. That’s the nice term for where you go when they kill you,” she whisper-yelled.

The mutt’s massive backside miraculously lifted. His long snout nuzzled her hand before he walked toward the glass doors with a slow shuffle. Turning, he looked at her as if to say, “Well?”

She gave Dan and Manny a quick smile of gratitude before following him to the doors, chucking him under the chin. “I like a dog who listens to reason. Now come on, you beast. We need to get you home and get you a bath, but first we need to think of a name for you. How do you feel about ‘Pain in the Ass’?”

Chapter 2

Okay, champ, it’s bath time, and don’t even think about pulling that act of defiance you pulled back at the shelter. You smell like the bowels of hell. No way you’re sleeping in my bedroom smelling like that. So let’s get all the shitty stuff out of the way now, and then I’ll give you a nice bowl of that kibble with lamb and rice we bought.” JC turned on the taps, adding some of the flea dip that had come so highly recommended from the pet store for good measure.

He arrogantly sniffed at her neck, wedging his big snout between her shoulder and ear.

She wrinkled her nose. “Who labeled you unsociable? You’ve been nothing but my BFF since we left the shelter.”

She’d taken him to the local store where all the in-the-know pet owners went to get the necessary must haves. He’d been unpleasant to say the least, baring his teeth and humming that low growl at everyone who passed by.

Or more specifically, every man who passed by. He was territorial and pushy, and constantly defied her directions.

The cute guy with the poodle didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of getting past Cujo. Thankfully, he’d maintained himself long enough for JC to get a dog bowl and some food. She’d also grabbed a blue doggie toothbrush to clean up his unsightly teeth.

He’d sat rather solemnly in the car on the way home, filling up the entire backseat of her small Prius with his massive body. Occasionally he sniffed her ear, making her giggle, but he seemed content to take in his surroundings, watching the scenery fly by the car window.

Each time JC took a peek at him in the rearview mirror, she began to see his potential, and her heart ached at the idea he’d been so close to being euthanized, which only served to endear him to her more.

When they’d reached her apartment, JC had let him go, fully expecting he’d want to check out his new surroundings. As long as he didn’t discover her new carpet with his leg in the air, he was free to explore.

However, he didn’t explore much. In fact, he didn’t leave her side at all. Now in her tiny blue and yellow bathroom, he was literally going to have to be surgically removed from her ass. His massive gray body sat on the bath mat, taking over the small tiled space, his eyes monitoring her every move, waiting, assessing.

JC pointed to the tub of warm water, and his gaze followed her finger. “So here’s the deal. You get in. You under no circumstances move. Not a muscle. We’re a team now. That means you help me, I help you.” Wrapping her arms around his bulky torso, she hauled him into the tub.

He didn’t fight her, but he certainly wasn’t making things breezy. He sat stiff and unblinking as she sprayed him thoroughly with the showerhead, running her hands through his thick coat of hair, loosening mats as she went.

Sitting back on her haunches, JC assessed. Some dogs looked smaller when wet, but not Cujo. He was just as enormous wet as he was dry, the muscles in his back legs bulky and wide, his chest broad and hard. “Okay, so here comes the smelly flea stuff. I have to let it sit on you for fifteen minutes according to the bottle. How about we get to know each other while we wait?”

JC began working up a soapy lather, scrubbing at his dense hair to cover all flea-riddled areas. Satisfied, she sat back on the toilet seat and scratched behind his ears to keep him occupied. He tilted his head, allowing her the best vantage to his happy spot.

“So about you. Where did you come from? I mean, did someone own you at one time, or were you always on the streets? Did you run away from home? Get lost during a family trip? Was someone cruel and abusive to you?” JC’s stomach churned at the notion. Leaning forward, she trapped his muzzle between her hands, searching his chocolate-brown eyes. “That would really piss me off.”

His big pink tongue swiped her nose in response, making her gag. “God, that breath of yours could peel my skin off. Good thing we got that toothbrush, huh?”

He reared his head back and turned away from her as though insulted.

JC scratched his ear again, smiling when he couldn’t resist the pleasure and gave in by leaning closer. “Don’t get defensive. I’m sure in all your stray-ness, toothbrushes were hard to come by.”

She reached for the blue toothbrush, squirting a liberal amount of paste on it. Holding it up, she grinned at him when he tried to make himself small by backing away. JC cupped his muzzle. “Say ‘ah’,” she teased, pressing the bristles to his mouth.

He bucked a bit, shifting his stance before giving in.

“Good boy. So, of course you want to know all about me, right?”

He gagged.

JC barked a laugh. “I’ll take that as a yes. So, I’m thirty-two, single, and I’m part owner of a salon here in Hoboken—born and raised here, by the way. Also, an only child. I work a lot because my salon is really busy, but also because my personal life is pretty uninteresting. Not much of a partier, mostly a homebody. I love to read, I crotchet a helluva doily and I love anything DIY. Was addicted to Candy Crush, but I think I’ve finally kicked the habit. Broke up with my douchenozzle of a boyfriend, Jess, about two months ago because he cheated on me. Caught him and his Jersey Shore/Snookie knock-off in bed together red-handed. The search for my knight in shining armor is on hiatus right now. That means, until further notice, it’s just you and me, Prince of Hair.” Maybe forever, the way things are looking on the romance horizon.

JC looked at him for any kind of reaction to find even he looked depressed after hearing the description of her life. “I know, I know. I’m not exactly a total scream. But listen, I’m loyal, hardworking, and though my place is small, it has to beat the smelly shelter, right?”

His nose twitched.

She raised her fist to the ceiling with a grin. “I’m going to take that as a ‘hell yeah’. Time to rinse, buddy.”

Six bath towels later, he was like a brand-new dog. She worked diligently to untangle the mats in his hair as she toweled him, and then dug around under the bathroom sink for her blow dryer.

“Now don’t get all freaked out on me, it’s noisy, and I know you’ve suffered your fair share of indignities today, but with all this hair, we need to dry you. It’s too cold out to let you air dry. So sit, okay?” That was probably the wrong way to address him. The Dog Whisperer said she had to be the alpha of her pack. But he appeared to respond best when she took a friendlier approach.

Again, he didn’t budge, patiently waiting while she plugged the dryer in and got the new dog brush from her bag of purchases. While she attacked the task of drying him, JC chatted at the dog as if he were a new girlfriend. Not that he seemed to care much. In fact, he had all the haughty disdain she’d attributed to a cat covered.

There were no happy belly rubs or sighs of contentment.

Just him and his completely unfazed, eerily quiet resolve.

And the stare. He did a lot of the stare.

Clean and dry, though, he was quite impressive. His dark gray fur lightened considerably with a good cleaning and some softer threads of black were now visible down the length of his back. The fur around his face was full and springy and he smelled a hundred times better than he had two hours ago.

Her beautician’s hands primped and scrunched, running her fingers affectionately along his body as she went. “You’ve got an impressive coat there, buddy. Very fluffy.”

Fluffy.

“That’s it! How do you feel about the name Fluffy?” She cupped his jaw, staring into his deep-brown eyes as though she expected him to answer.

More staring back at her—hard, in fact. Rather unnerving.

“What? Why the face? You don’t like it? Look, you’re one scary mothereffer. I can’t keep calling you Cujo. It only adds to your already freaky-deaky outward appearance. Maybe the name Fluffy will take some of that edge off when we go to the dog park. It implies cuddly and sweet, don’t you think? Sort of your bark is worse than your bite…don’t judge a book by its cover?”

He huffed at her when she slung her arms around his broad neck and gave him a squeeze, choosing to ignore the odd rumble he made low in his throat.

She pulled her phone from her pocket and held it up, drawing him close to her. “Selfie time, Fluff,” she said on a laugh when he twitched.

Planting a kiss on his clean muzzle, she winked at him. “Wait until I show the girls at work how gorgeous you are.”

* * * *

A selfie? Look, guys, Fluffy has a selfie.

And Fluffy? F-L-U-F-F-Y? Max ticked the letters off mentally.

Christ. Who named a “dog” of his size and stature Fluffy? A poodle made complete sense, even a Chihuahua. I got your fluffy.

Full, with a thick, luxurious coat that happened to be worn and a little travel weary? Yes.

But fluffy? No.

Catching a glimpse of himself in her full-length mirror, Max shuddered, watching the ripples of his fur shimmer on his hindquarters. Jesus, she’d made him look like some mutant Chia Pet.

Wasn’t it enough she’d shoved dog treats under his nose and tied a leash around his neck? Taken him to PetSmart and paraded him up and down the aisles with all those pampered, condescending pooches lifting their noses as he passed?

To degrade him this way, by giving him a name better suited to a bunny rabbit, was almost more than he was willing to suffer for his life mate.

Max could almost hear his pack, laughing and laughing.

Damn this woman. If she weren’t so good looking, if her scent wasn’t driving him out of his ever-loving mind, he’d pick up and go the hell home.

But he couldn’t. Whatever she had—whatever mystifying pull that drew him to her like a mesmerizing Mata Hari—just wasn’t gonna let him go.

JC was his prophecy. He’d known it ten seconds after she’d appeared in front of his cage at the shelter, even as groggy as he was from the tranquilizer.

He’d. Known.

He didn’t feel the emotional ties he was sure most felt when they found the person they’d share their lives with just yet, but he knew if he let her go, he’d suffer not just the curse, but something he hadn’t quite defined.

That as-yet-undefined emotion was what had led him to play along at the shelter.

He’d awakened too late to shift into his human form, and he had no clothes anyway. But something told him to stay put. Something invisible.

And if scent really had anything to do with finding your life mate, JC definitely smelled like his mate. Her scent was different than any other he’d ever encountered. A unique blend of female and flowers and pheromones that made his blood pump hard and his head light.

Not to mention, she was beautiful. She had the most gorgeous ass he’d ever seen, plump and round. Her firm, lush breasts, full hips and glossy pink lips were nothing to scoff at either. And her hair…Hair a man could wrap around his fist as he came. Just touching her shoulders, it fell in raven waves around her heart-shaped face.

But it was her eyes that intrigued him the most. A light brown beneath full, dark lashes that swept her cheeks when she looked down at him.

Everyone in the pack always said he’d know when he found the one. Threats of curses, his long journey here, and his hellish shelter stay aside, he had to admit, they were right.

And she’d shown up in the nick of time. As prophecies went, his was a pretty close call. While in shift, he still understood every word spoken amongst humans. He’d heard through groggy ears the sympathetic conversation shared between Manny and Dan at the start of the day—his last day. He knew he was on the chopping block.

Yet, all day long, while he waited for the unknown, in and out of his drug-induced sleep, he hadn’t experienced an ounce of fear. Because somewhere, in some unknown region of his brain, deeply embedded in his gut, he knew he wasn’t going to die.

Not today, anyway.

Though wasn’t bearing the name Fluffy much like death?

How long could a guy keep this cloak and dagger shtick up? Did the other men in his pack have to suffer this kind of humiliation while on the hunt for their life mates or was it just the curse that was making everything so hard?

How was it he’d never heard tales involving blow dryers and flea dip while they all sat around the table, playing poker and drinking beer?

Because their life mates were all fellow werewolves. JC was human. He’d like to see the explanation for that cosmic fuckup in his aunt’s chicken noodle soup.

A human. He said the words in his mind again to remind himself just how difficult the elders had made this curse.

He couldn’t think of a single human who wouldn’t curl up in a ball of terror-filled rocking when he shifted. Because it wasn’t pretty.

In fact, it was quite noisy and uncomfortable. So not only did he have to tell her she was his life mate, but that he was a bona fide werewolf.

The good times just kept rollin’ in.

“Flufffyyy! C’mon, baby boy—yum-yum time!”

He cringed. Yum-yums. All this cutesy talk, as if he were an utter imbecile, was demeaning.

She thinks you’re a dog, pal. This is the avenue you chose to take, isn’t it? All covert and sort of Teen Wolf-ish. You could’ve just shown up and rented an apartment instead of road trippin’ your way to Hoboken. It was you who said you wanted to be free to roam the woods in shift while you were still single, wasn’t it? Free and easy down the road you go—or some such country song.

You could’ve taken a bus, a train, a car, but nah. You spent your last days as a single man chasing deer and rolling in the mud amongst the pines of New Jersey’s forests. Your journey, your choice how you made that journey. That you managed to get caught by animal control is on you, brother. It was careless and your drawn-out road trip was self-indulgent.

In fact, you could just come clean right now and tell her the truth about who you are—what you are.

Right. I’m not really Fluffy your dog, pretty lady. I’m really Fluffy-slash-Max, your forever hook-up. I stayed disguised this way because if I knocked on your door, flowers in hand, and demanded you be my werewolf woman so I won’t die, I had the distinct impression you might have hesitations.

So Fluffy he’d stay, until he could call his pack or figure out how to reveal himself without putting JC into a mental institution. He could only imagine what that phone call would be like.

Ring-ring. Hey, pack members, this is Fluffy calling home base. So I found her, or she found me. In the pound. Awesome, right? Oh, and FYI, she adopted me. She thinks I’m a dog.

Max’s ears, finely tuned, listened to the sound of JC’s voice again, high and falsely sweet for his benefit. Dinner call. Shit. More kibble. He’d suffered enough inferior dog food in that shelter to last him a lifetime.

But his stomach growled, churning and twisting. He needed to feed, and if dog food was all there was on the table…

So kibble it was. At least until he could make himself known to her, unleash the man in him. Jesus, he sounded like a commercial for Viagra.

With resignation, Max shuffled down the hall to the kitchen to eat his yum-yums and answer to the most ludicrous name in all of Hoboken.

Fluffy.

Fuck. He was going to have to eat a whole cow raw just to regain a tenth of his manhood.

JC was scooping kibble into a bowl and cooking something that smelled distinctly like Nirvana when he squeezed himself between her and the table.

She grinned at him. A grin he liked a lot. One that was sometimes wide and generous, sometimes soft and flirty. “Hey handsome, you hungry?”

He sniffed her hand in response. Steak. She was making a steak. Instantly, his mouth watered.

This was a test. Yep. This was some sort of cosmic test to see how strong his fortitude was.

She rubbed the top of his head with the heel of her hand. “Dinner for two, isn’t it romantic? Pretty soon we’ll be picking out a china pattern together.” As JC set a place for herself at the small table, Max stood beside his bowl, nosing the rim.

This was god-awful. What had she called it at the pet store? Cheesy lamb something? He didn’t care how many tender, bite-sized nuggets they included, it was inhumane to expect anyone to eat it.

The aroma of the steak under the broiler wafted to his sensitive nose again, breaking him. His stomach rumbled with discontent over his bowlful of kibble, but he nudged a piece or two with his nose because JC looked on, hope written all over her pretty face.

“See? It’s good, isn’t it? The saleslady said it’ll keep you at a healthy weight, and it’s got all the nutrients you need.”

Max wasn’t hearing her words; his eyes were too busy devouring the steak as she pulled it out of the oven and set it on the counter.

Look away, Fluffy. Don’t do it. If you look, you’ll crack. If you crack, you could end up back in the shelter in a ménage of death with Manny and Dan and the gas chamber. Worse, do you want to become one of those stories they tell around the table back at home?

Picture everyone at the annual barbeque, referring to you as Fluffy.

Damn. Of all the things she could have made. A hot dog, one of those Lean Cuisine boil-in-a-bag things his mother sometimes made…anything but a steak.

The doorbell rang just as JC was putting the finishing touches on her plate, and he was forcing himself to look at something other than the juicy meat.

Wiping her hands on a towel, she gave him the same look she’d given him back at the shelter. The “don’t even” look.

She put her adorable hands on her sexy, full hips and warned, “Now hear this, Fluff, don’t go getting all territorial on me here. I know you don’t like people very much, but you’re going to have to suck it up and learn to deal. It’s probably just Viv anyway, and she’s an animal lover. Believe me when I tell you, men have not been beating down the door to my sexuality as of late. So just relax and eat your dinner. Got it?” She scratched his ears and went to answer the door.

Thank God. Now all he had to do was resist the temptation to stand on his hind legs and firmly sink his teeth into that tender steak. Hell, it smelled so good. Maybe if he just smelled it…A little whiff to help satisfy his deep need for real food.

Paws firmly planted on either side of the flowered plate, he levered himself upward and took a whiff.

A T-bone? Damn. You. Universe. He let his head fall back, clamping his muzzle tight to keep from howling his grief and instead, whimpered. A T-bone. His favorite cut of steak.

Did you just whine, Fluffy? Have your man-parts left the building?

But it’s a T-bone.

Maybe he could just lick it. She’d never know, and his teeth were clean, after all. She’d scrubbed them until his gums were raw.

One last glance and his decision was made.

Max raked his tongue over the salted surface, drawing it with a slow pass until he thought his eyeballs would roll to the back of his head.

Hell. His instinctive nature to devour it was threatening to overwhelm him. What if he took just one little bite? Just a tiny piece off the edge?

Worst case scenario? She’d scold him and they could go on about their business. She wouldn’t take him back to the shelter. If he was sure of anything, he was sure of that.

Maybe, Fluffster. Or maybe JC will take one of your privileges away. Sucks to be you.

He shook his head. No, no. She was too easy. She wouldn’t do that.

But what if she takes away those yummy, all-natural doggie treats? Or worse, she won’t buy you that T-shirt she couldn’t find in your size. You know the one. It was powder blue and read, “Mama’s Big Boy.” You don’t want that, do you?

How would he ever go on living?

Mind made up, he decided one bite and no more.

Max clamped down on the meat, holding it with one paw, tearing just a small bite off the edge. Savoring the texture on his tongue, he let it sit there for a moment. One glorious moment while his stomach rejoiced—even though it was a little overcooked for his liking.

As angels sang hallelujah in the distance, he pondered just how long it had been since he last had a decent meal.

You’d better stop now, Fluff-o-nator.

Dropping down off the counter in guilt and shame, he attempted to fend off the temptation to gorge.

The bowl of kibble stared back at him, its chunky bits of goodness and protein taunting. He sniffed the bowl again.

Nope. No damn way.

But you’ll hurt her feelings, you insensitive jerk. She went to so much trouble to pick out just the right variety of food for you.

It was true. She’d read all the ingredients on almost every package, scoured the aisles for the proper balance of all the things necessary for a healthy, happy dog.

How could you, Fluffy? Is this the way you want to start a relationship? With deceit and treachery?

He looked down at the bowl again. He couldn’t do it. He would not eat dog food and he was nobody’s pet.

He grabbed the bowl between his teeth and tipped it over behind the fridge, pushing it to the back with his paw. It was the best compromise for now.

His stomach rumbled noisily again. The steak sat on the plate, mocking him. Fluffy! Eat me, Fluffy!

Shaking it off, Max licked his chops and swallowed hard.

Must resist. Will resist.

His nose twitched.

T-bone. It’s a T-bone.

Shit. Cannot resist.

Half, that’s all he’d eat. Just half—it was too big for her anyway, he reasoned.

Finding a comfortable spot, he rested his lower body against the cabinets and dug in. Half, only half, Max reminded his overactive stomach.

A screech laced with horror invaded his love-affair with the steak. “Fluffy! What are you doing?” JC stomped toward him, her pretty eyes flashing all sorts of angry, her finger waving in the air.

There’d be crate time involved in this crime.

He just knew it.

Chapter 3

Shit. Fucked, Fluffster. You’re fucked.

He slid guiltily from the counter, turning fully to identify the male who’d entered the kitchen. His ears stood up attentively.

“His name is Fluffy?” the man asked after a guffaw of loud laughter. “You named a dog the size of Bigfoot Fluffy?”

Bigfoot is all a lie. Just ask me, the werewolf.

The man, slick and dressed in a black leather jacket and skinny jeans, whistled, rocking back on his heels. “Damn. He’s friggin’ huge, JC.”

Why thank you, intruder.

“Yeah, he’s huge all right, and in a whole lot of trouble. He ate my steak!” She grabbed his muzzle and gave him the “bad dog” eyes, her shoulders sagging. “This is bad, Fluff! No, no, no!”

Not the whole steak. He shot her his best guilty look before letting his head hang low in shame, only to catch a glimpse of her visitor’s shoes.

And who the hell was this? Max’s gaze wandered up to assess the face of the man who’d interrupted a perfectly good meal, sized him up, and in two seconds flat he wanted to chew his way through the guy’s intestines.

There was an immediate phony vibe about him—cocky and self-assured. He had that beefed-up, polished, spray-tanned look that said he cared more about making his payment to the place he pumped iron in than he did about his girlfriend. His eyes were deeply set under a hawk-like forehead, and a little on the beady side, if you asked Max. Of course, no one would ask him. He was, after all, only the dog.

Sitting back on his haunches, he narrowed his eyes at the interloper, waiting.

Grabbing JC by the arm, the man pulled her close to him. “Listen. Forget the dog. Forget the steak. Let’s go out. I’ll buy you dinner.”

She squirmed free of Muscle Man and rubbed her arms, moving closer to Fluffy. “Not gonna happen, Jess. Now, go get your spray-tan-in-a-can or whatever it is you claim you left here, and go home.”

Jess? The douchenozzle?

Jess raked a hand through his black hair and grated out a sigh. “I wish you’d just listen to reason, JC. Just let me explain what happened.”

JC crossed her arms over her chest, sucking in her cheeks. “Reason? Are you calling me unreasonable for demanding you keep your man parts inside those ridiculous skinny jeans?”

Jess’s chiseled face hardened. “Look, it was a mistake. I was drunk. She was drunk. It was a party—we were all drunk.”

He watched as JC narrowed her eyes at Jess, her spine rigid. “So not only did you cheat on me, but you were intoxicated, too. How is this working in your self-control’s favor?”

Jess moved in closer, planting himself in front of her. “It was a stupid mistake. That’s it. A one-shot deal.”

“I told you, I don’t care how many times it was. It’s. Over. Now, get whatever you left behind and go home, Jess.” She pointed toward the small hallway leading to her bedroom.

Max nodded his head in approval. Way to stand your ground. No cheaters.

“C’mon. Can’t we still be friends?” Jess coaxed, putting a charming grin on his smarmy face. Max hovered closer to JC, his thick body pushing Spray Tan Man out of the way. “Let’s be friends over dinner. It has to beat hanging out with this mutt.”

Mutt? Wanna see my big mutt teeth, asshole? Once more, Max placed his bulk between them and gave Jess a low warning growl, letting it spill from his throat slow and lazy.

“Go lay down or something, would you?” Jess nudged him hard with a knee to his hindquarters then reached again for JC, making Max bark sharply in warning.

Jess just didn’t seem to get the picture. I’ll eat your waxed eyebrows right off your fake-tanned face, slick.

JC inched back against the cabinet, letting her hand rest on his ear. He lifted his muzzle up and nuzzled it to reassure her, staying close. “Not interested—not ever.”

Jess’s face went soft, his words apologetic and pleading. He ran a finger down her cheek. “I just don’t get you, JC. We had a good thing, and now you want to throw it all away because of one stupid mistake when I was drunk?”

Now he was touching her. That changed everything. He wasn’t just going to eat this guy’s face off—he was going to decapitate him.

JC pushed at Jess’s chest, shrugging him off, the tension in her voice clear to Max’s perceptive ears. “Yeah, we had a good thing going until you decided to do Snookie. Go away, Jess.”

Jess made a sad face, full of fake remorse. “I’ve apologized over and over. What else do you want?”

JC made a face at him. “Fidelity. Crazy, right? Please, just go, Jess!” She turned her back to him, planting her trembling hands on the counter.

Jess obviously wasn’t accustomed to the word “no.” What to do, what to do? Snarl and growl some more and maybe take the risk of ending up back in the pound for his “issues”? Or attack and take his chances?

Jess put a hand on JC’s waist, sending Max’s anger into orbit. Again with the touching.

Jesus, motherfucker. Don’t you think you’ll need that hand to pump all that iron at the gym? How will you sculpt your way to perfection with only one hand after I chew it the fuck off?

Yep. Attack was the right choice.

“C’mon, JC,” he pleaded in a husky whisper. “Let’s try to work this out. I’ll take you to your favorite restaurant and we can talk. Just talk.” He slid his arms around her waist from behind and his hand grazed her breast.

Rage grew in the pit of his belly—ugly, red rage. Douchenozzle had touched her breast. That was cause for disembowelment.

Max gave a sharp growl, no longer a warning, but a clear snarling yelp of anger just before backing up and launching himself on Jess’s back, sinking his claws deep into his leather jacket. Standing as tall as Jess, he used his full weight to knock him forward and away from JC.

But Jess reacted quickly by shoving him back hard, knocking him to the ground. “Get the fuck off me, you damn mutt!” he snarled.

It was over faster than it began. With one swift motion, he righted himself, backed up against Jess and, lifting his hind leg, he let go—full stream.

A large yellow puddle formed on the kitchen tile.

JC’s eyes widened as she bit her lip to smother a giggle while Jess hopped around from foot to foot.

“He pissed on me! I’ll fucking kill him!” Jess yanked a dishtowel from the rack and dabbed at his sodden jeans. His perfectly chiseled face wrinkled with disgust.

JC began to laugh, the husky rumble making it all worthwhile. “I really think you should go now, Jess. Fluffy doesn’t like you much, do you, Fluff?”

Max answered by brushing up against her thighs protectively.

Jess beat a hasty retreat out of the kitchen, shooting a fierce look over his shoulder at Max. “You’ll miss me, JC!”

Like she’d miss having the clap.

“Well, don’t worry. If I find myself overwrought with loneliness, desperate with despair, super low on self-esteem, I’ll be sure to pick up the phone and call!” JC yelled after him as the door slammed.

Good girl.

Looking down at him, she tugged his ear gently. “You ate my steak, you heathen.”

And saved your pretty, pretty ass.

“But I’ll forgive you, because you did get rid of Jess and he’s not easy to get rid of. So I guess I’m not eating steak for dinner, am I?”

He nuzzled her hand to show his remorse, waiting for forgiveness.

JC chuckled, the warmth of it slipping into his ears. “You beast. Listen here, Knight in Shining Armor, whatever I put in your bowl is yours. If it’s on a plate, you can be pretty sure it’s mine, unless the plate is on the floor. That makes it yours. Got it?”

Well, he couldn’t in all good conscience consent to that, now could he? He was a carnivore. Max avoided her eyes and nuzzled her hand again instead.

She smiled down at him, her blue, almond-shaped eyes crinkled at the corners. “You know, that was some pretty impressive stuff there, Fluff. Very chivalrous of you to sense my discomfort and act on it. Now if only you walked on two legs instead of four, we’d make the perfect couple, don’t you think?”

* * * *

After watching three solid hours of a Downton Abbey DVD while sitting at her feet, Max got tired and trotted down to JC’s bedroom, where he sprawled out on her bed, tucking his paws under her pillows.

The blankets were a rumpled mess after he’d given himself a good back scratch, but he’d fully absorbed her sweet smell of sunshine and cinnamon. He lay there for a while, attuning his senses to her unique scent, looking around the room at the pictures on her dresser of her parents and friends, the dozens of shoes lining her open closet.

He’d spent an inordinate amount of time wondering what she looked like in the skimpy, pink, sheer nightgown hanging on the hook inside her closet door.

“Hey.” JC patted his belly. He fought off his lustful thoughts and slowly opened his eyes with a yawn.

“This,” she tapped the bed with a sleepy smile, “is mine, cookie. That,” she pointed to the mat on the floor, “is yours.”

Max lifted his head to see her more clearly. She had a towel wrapped around her head and one wrapped around her body.

Naked…she was naked beneath the blue towel. Steak and a beautiful naked woman he couldn’t touch just yet, all in one night. It was too much.

The gentle swell of her hip brushed against his legs as she sat next to him. Pouring lotion into her hand, JC smoothed it over her calves, working her way up to thighs he just knew were silky-soft.

He sniffed the air. Cucumber-melon. Nice. Her hands made circular motions, rubbing in the cream higher and higher. Lowering the towel, she let it rest at her waist as she dabbed some lotion on her shoulders. Her breasts thrust upward, her taut nipples beading from the cool air.

“Hey, Fluff,” she said.

He turned his head, averting his guilty eyes. “I told you to get on the floor, handsome.” JC stood and pointed again to his “bed.”

Max slunk off the bed, sliding to the floor and curling his big body on the mat.

Letting the towel fall to the floor, JC grabbed her nightgown from the hook inside the closet and slid it over her creamy skin, the glow of the lamp shading her soft contours.

His groin tightened and he tensed at the familiar call of his body to shift. He willed his muscles to relax and obey, focusing on remaining in his wolf form. Because shifting could be bad—not to mention traumatizing.

It was all he could do to keep from showing her he was no stray dog from a shelter. But patience was required here. He didn’t understand much more than JC was his prophesized mate, and he was wildly attracted to her. He felt her inside him. He instantly knew her soul.

He’d never believed the stories before. All the mumbo-jumbo about how you felt your life mate, like an invisible tether; you were joined and you just knew.

But he believed them now—because he knew.

Now he just had to find a way to get to know the rest of her without scaring the shit out of her. And dying. There was still the damn threat of death hanging over his head.

It wasn’t going to be easy. He couldn’t just say, “Hey, JC, glad you adopted me at the pound. Thanks for rescuing me from my first round with death. By the way, did I mention I’m not just any wolf? I’m a werewolf. Your werewolf, baby. Wanna mate? Because round two with death is coming up.

He especially couldn’t say that to a human.

Something he still didn’t understand. How could his life mate be a human? Had some of his pack mated with humans and turned them? He’d always been taught that wasn’t allowed. Ever. This hurdle had to have something to do with the curse.

Turning off the bedside lamp, JC scratched his muzzle before climbing over him and getting into bed. Her hand hung down over the edge of the mattress. He licked her palm, savoring the soft texture of her skin on his tongue.

“Night, Fluffy. Welcome home,” she whispered, her sultry voice slicing through the velvety darkness.

Goodnight.

End of Extended Sample

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