Savage Retribution

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Savage Australis, Book 1

Lexxie Couper

Published 2016 by Book Boutiques.

ISBN: 978-1-944003-32-6

Copyright © 2016, Lexxie Couper.

All rights reserved.

Prologue

Dublin—Four Months Ago

The stink of sex, sin and death seeped into Declan O’Connell’s nostrils, overripe and acrid all at once. His lips curled into a silent snarl and he stepped deeper into the dank, dim building, the hair on his nape prickling.

This is not right.

The thought sent a ripple of tension through his already tight muscles. It wasn’t right. The whole night hadn’t been right; the anonymous tip about his sister’s killer, the insistence he be here—at this place—at this time, the derelict, abandoned condition of the building. It didn’t add up.

McCoy’s not here, Dec. Shit, he’s never been here. You can’t even smell him on the air. Face it—this was a set up. And you’ve just walked right into it.

The snarl on his lips turned into a low growl and he felt the muscles in his body begin to coil tighter. Stretch. Grow.

Change.

Teeth grinding, Declan forced back the beast, denying it control of his body. He didn’t know who had brought him here under false pretence—more than one person wanted him dead, and not all of them knew what he truly was. Better to walk out of the situation, not lope out on all fours.

A soft sound—barely louder than the snap of a dry blade of grass—shattered the silence of the derelict brothel and Declan froze.

He wasn’t alone. Someone was—

The dark blur hit him from the left. Hard.

Something large and heavy crashed him to the ground. Teeth, long, sharp and slick with saliva, snapped at his face. He was barreled across the debris-strewn floor, chunks of concrete and shards of broken glass grinding into his knees and elbows, biting into his flesh even through the leather of his jacket. His favorite Levi’s tore but he didn’t give a rat’s ass. Not with a fucking huge, black wolf trying to tear his throat out.

The animal lashed out, razor-sharp teeth missing his neck by a hair’s width. Declan felt hot saliva splatter his cheek. He struggled on his back, pinned to the crap-covered floor by the wolf’s writhing, savage weight. The stench of urine attacked his breath, invaded his senses with the mark of an animal Declan had tasted before.

His eyes snapped wide open, locked on the burning, iridescent gold stare of the wolf attacking him.

You!

The word formed in Declan’s head. Cold. Furious.

Seconds before the beast in his own blood roared into existence and he changed. Human muscle into canine. Man into wolf.

He bucked the animal off him, snapping at its soft underbelly as it flipped and twisted to the side. Warm, coppery blood filled his mouth and throat. He leapt onto all fours, staring at the black loup garou, smelling apprehension and pain leech from it in thick, sickly waves.

Baring his teeth, he held its gold stare, his growl low. You’ve fucked with the wrong wolf, asshole.

“Gotcha.”

The voice—low, smug and female—sounded to Declan’s left at the exact second something sharp, pointed and icy sank into his neck, right at the spot where vein became jugular. Intense cold, like the breath of Death itself, consumed him. His muscles contracted, his heart seemed to swell and, wracked in pain, he collapsed to the floor.

Incapable of movement.

Trapped. And utterly vulnerable.

Chapter 1

Sydney, Australia

Regan Thomas hated the dark. The dark kept secrets. Hideous secrets. Secrets of pain and torture and human brutality. The dark allowed man to commit all sorts of horrendous acts in the name of progress. In the name of science. The dark allowed rich men to get richer on the corpses of creatures unable to defend themselves.

Men like Nathan Epoc.

Turning the narrow beam of her flashlight on the solid, steel door before her, Regan felt her hackles rise. Of all the arrogant men of power in this country, Epoc was the worst. Every day his labs in Sydney discarded close to a hundred animal corpses—all maimed, sliced, injected and tortured to death.

A snarl curled Regan’s lip. Science. To this day, she still could not decipher what Nathan Epoc produced in the name of science, apart from dead animals. Despite only arriving in the country two years ago, he was now one of the wealthiest men in Australia. No one, however, seemed to know what the hell he actually did. Mystery shrouded what went on behind the electrified fences and impenetrable walls of his windowless buildings, out here in the southern suburbs of Sydney.

Regan placed her black-gloved fingers on the door’s security panel—flashlight beam a narrow point of illumination in the pitch black of the corridor—and keyed in a five-digit sequence. It had taken five tedious dinners with Epoc Industries’ chief of security to procure the password: one night of bad food, bad personal hygiene and very bad wandering hands for each digit.

A chill of revulsion shot up Regan’s spine at the memory but she shoved it aside. What was on the other side of the door was worth it. Seeing the animals running free from Epoc’s building was worth it. Seeing the bastard’s normally smug and composed face twisted with rage tomorrow night on the six o’clock news was worth it. Completely.

A soft click sounded and the door’s locking mechanism deactivated, followed by a faint hiss of escaped, artificial air—rank with animal faeces and disinfectant.

Regan’s lips spread into a grim smile. Bingo.

Muscles and nerves coiled, she gave the door a gentle and oh-so-minute push. So far, her “romance” of the security guard had landed her all the codes and schedules required to get to the main lab undetected, but she wasn’t stupid. Being stupid led to being caught. Or shot.

She stood frozen, on the balls of her feet, ready to run. Or fight.

Nothing.

Except the low and mournful whimpers of animals locked in cages awaiting a slow and agonizing death.

“Not anymore.”

Her voice was barely a breath. She pushed the door wider and stepped into the guts of Epoc Industries’ Scientific Division, flashlight seeking those she had come to rescue.

The animals.

“Oh, shit.”

A German Shepherd cowered in a cage before her, tail tucked between its bent hind legs. The sharp outlines of its ribs jutted out beside the hollow pit of its gut, the raw pink skin of its shaved neck and chest festered with weeping sores. It turned a sunken brown stare on her, its misery and pain clear in the liquid depths. Various tubes punctured its neck and chest, feeding something in and out of the emaciated dog.

“Epoc.” Regan shook her head. “You bastard.”

Stomach heavy, she took another step into the lab, moving her flashlight from one poor animal to another, throwing each into stark illumination as she did so. Here a bank of nine white cats, strapped into a device rendering them incapable of movement, eyelids wired open, a murky orange liquid dripping in slow, even drops onto the exposed eyeballs of each. Here a chimpanzee in a small cage, wires protruding from four stitched incisions on its spine, connecting the primate to what appeared to be a Geiger counter. Over there another bank of cats—these ones with their mouths braced shut around fat tubes filled with a black, viscous fluid.

Regan’s stomach rolled and her grip on the flashlight grew hard. Fury surged through her. Fury and burning helplessness.

It didn’t take a Zoology degree to see the animals in this lab would never run anywhere again.

Their eyes—their miserable, beseeching, dying eyes—held her. And asked for help.

Regan swallowed down the sudden lump in her throat and she thought of the small vial of Rimadyl in her backpack. It wasn’t enough. Nothing would save these animals from their pain. Nothing. Epoc. You inhuman bas—

A low groan to her far right cut the dark thought short. Fear and adrenaline scorching through her veins like electricity, Regan swung around. “Holy shit!”

The wolf was massive. Bigger than any Regan had ever seen. At least half the size of a buffalo, it stood on all fours in a heavily barred cage, bound by multiple leather straps completely restricting its movement. Two clear tubes jutted from a neat, little cut high on the base of its neck—one pumping in a thick, black liquid, the other empty, as if waiting for its use to commence.

Regan took a step forward, moving her flashlight over the wolf’s muscled form.

It was sick. Possibly dying—the rapid, shallow breath, the dullness of its steel grey coat told her the animal was suffering. Big time. Yet even unwell, it still exuded primitive strength—a wild power almost frightening to behold. Regan’s heart pounded in her chest and she slid the flashlight’s beam to its head, careful to avoid shining the narrow but powerful light directly in the animal’s eyes.

The wolf snarled silently, long teeth glistening, the twin silver discs of its eyes fixed on her.

Silver?

A slight frown pulled at Regan’s eyebrows and her apprehension vanished immediately. A canine’s eyes reflected green light in the dark, not silver, regardless of the genus. She shook her head, despair making her heart ache. “You poor thing,” she whispered, throat tight. “What has Epoc done to you?”

The wolf’s strange eyes stared at her. Seemed to delve into her soul. She pulled in a long, slow breath, unable to look away. Wolf? Is it really a wolf?

The wolf watched her from its cage, radiating power and rage.

And pain.

Regan blinked, shaking herself. What the hell was she doing standing around? God, did she want to get caught?

She placed the flashlight’s barrel between her teeth before pulling her backpack from her shoulder. The heavy-duty bolt cutters tucked away inside would free the animals—she tossed a quick look at the still-staring wolf—all the animals of their metal-barred prisons.

Her hand brushed the hard plastic case of her anaesthetizing kit and she turned to the shepherd. At least the poor thing wouldn’t die behind bars, even if its freedom only lasted a few moments.

On silent feet she crossed to the caged dog, holding her head down and to the side, right hand held out. She doubted the animal had the strength to bite but she wasn’t taking any chances. Everything about her body language was by design: I am not a threat to you.

The dog’s sad, brown eyes watched her approach, its tail giving a small, almost desperate wag as she drew closer and Regan’s heart clenched again. She let her lips pull into a soft smile, careful not to show her teeth. “Yes, I know, boy,” she murmured. “I’m going to take the pain away. I promise.” Tail wagging weakly, the dog watched her.

As did the wolf.

Regan felt its silver gaze study her every move. It was unnerving somehow. Like the wolf judged her actions. She gave it a hurried look over her shoulder, butterflies flapping into frantic activity in her stomach. It looked like it could tear her apart with one simple snap of its jaws, sick or not. Lord, was she really going to set it free?

Of course you are. Would you really leave it behind? After seeing what Epoc is doing?

She turned back to the shepherd and quickened her pace. No. She wouldn’t leave it behind, regardless of how it unnerved her. Reaching the dog, she placed her right hand through the bars of its cage, slowly raising it to the level of the dog’s muzzle, allowing it to smell her scent. “It’s okay, mate,” she soothed. “I’m going to help.” The dog’s nose—drier than parchment—touched the small strip of exposed flesh between her glove and sleeve and its tail thumped weakly again.

Damn, I hate you, Nathan Epoc.

A soft snarl shattered the tense silence and Regan turned her head, the wolf catching her eye in the powerful glow of her flashlight. Its steady, silver stare bored into her before flicking to the left.

Her stomach twisted with unease. Pulling her bolt-cutters from her backpack, she severed the chain on the shepherd’s cage, the noise like a gunshot in the silent lab. Hurry, Woman. Hurry. Pulling the chain free, she unlatched the lock and swung the door wide.

The dog stared at her, sunken eyes unblinking, tail wagging weakly.

Time pressing down on her, the weight of the wolf’s gaze like a branding iron on her back, she withdrew her hypo kit from her backpack. “This won’t hurt,” she whispered, reaching into the cage. “I promise.” The dog cowered, tail thumping in nervous swipes against the bars, its eyes fixed on her. With gentle fingers, she pinched a fold of skin on the back of its neck and injected the painkiller directly into its blood system. Tucking her torch under her armpit, she placed the hypodermic between her teeth and ran her hand down the dog’s chest, feeling its wildly beating heart. “I’ll do this as painlessly as I can,” she said, her throat growing tighter at the animal’s implicit faith. She moved her hands to one of the thick tubes inserted into dog’s neck, readying to withdraw it.

A low grumble sounded behind her. Like a warning.

Muscles tense, Regan looked at the wolf again. I’m coming. I can’t rush this.

The wolf studied her, before flicking its silver stare to the left again.

A chill shot up Regan’s spine and the hair at the back of her neck stood on end. Fair dinkum, it was like the animal was trying to tell her something.

Yeah. To hurry up! Pull your finger out, Woman or you’re going to get caught!

Gnawing on her bottom lip, she turned back to the shepherd. Hoping against hope the Rimadyl had started to take effect, she removed one tube. The dog whimpered but didn’t flinch. “Good boy,” she murmured, giving it a soft smile. Another tube followed. Another. Another. The dog gazed up at her, the thumps of its tail growing weaker. Regan’s throat constricted. It wasn’t going to last much longer.

“I need you to stay here for a moment, mate,” she whispered, scratching it behind the ear. “Just until I see to the other animals. Then we’re outta here, okay?”

Another tail wag, weaker this time. As if it knew what she wanted, the dog dropped into the down position and rested its muzzle on its extended front paws, liquid-brown eyes still locked on her. Trusting. Hopeful.

Tears burned at the back of Regan’s eyes. She placed her palm on the shepherd’s head…

And the wolf growled again.

“I’ll be back,” she said, knowing the high dose of painkiller would end the dog’s misery before she returned. Blinking, refusing to let the tears fall, she moved silently. Across the lab. To the wolf.

A flash of white in the dark told her its teeth were bared, but she continued forward. Pulling the bolt cutters from her backpack, she quickly severed a link in the chain wrapped around the cage’s locked door.

A soft growl emanated from behind the bars and she looked up, her breath catching at the silver eyes staring at her. This close, the wolf’s power was almost suffocating, as was its pain. “Not much longer,” she muttered around the barrel of the flashlight. She slipped the bolt-cutter blades around one thick, shiny metal bar and—with considerable effort—managed to slice into the metal. Half an inch. She tried again. Maybe a bit more this time, but not much.

Regan scowled. This was going to take longer than she thought.

The wolf watched her, silent, before its hackles rose and it swung its head to the left. Seconds later, the chimp burst into screeching wails and a concealed door in the far left wall flung open.

Three armed security guards barged into the lab, guns and flashlights aimed at her. “Hands up, missy!”

Ah, shit!

“Hands up, now!”

Shit! Shit!

A whine filled the air, followed by the acrid stench of urine as the shepherd emptied its bladder.

“C’mon, girly,” the largest of the three guards barked, something black and ominously shaped like a gun pointed straight at her chest. “Don’t be stupid.”

A wave of cold calm rolled through Regan. She gave the guards a slow smile, feeling the black paint smudged across her face stretch and crack. “Someone should tell Nathan Epoc his security sucks.” She pitched her flashlight at the largest guard’s head.

Twenty-six years being the baby sister to one hulking, older brother stood Regan in good stead. When it came to defending herself, she was an expert.

The flashlight cut across the dark lab like a lethal pinwheel, narrow, white beam turning the room into a crazy lightshow. There was a loud clunk—metal on bone—as the flashlight struck the largest guard’s forehead, followed by a bellowed, “Mother fucker!”

But Regan wasn’t listening. She ran straight at the stunned and indignant man, flinging herself into a reverse spinning kick and smashing her booted heel against his thick jaw.

The guard went down. With a solid and somehow wet thud.

Blue eyes wild, Glock raised, the guard to Regan’s left leapt at her. “Bitch!”

Without thought, she dropped into a crouch, taking out his legs with a tight, savage foot sweep. She was up before he hit the floor, scooping up her torch and sprinting across the lab to the far door, the chimp’s screeching wails like a Klaxon alarm in her head.

“Freeze, bitch!”

Shit, shit, shit!

The third guard—the rookie, if she remembered the schedule correctly—began running after her, stumbling over one of his fallen partners as he did so. God help me if he remembers he has a—

A shot fired, shattering the grim thought, and the rack of glass test tubes on the counter to Regan’s immediate right.

SHIT!

“Shoot the fucking bitch!”

A metal chair flew through the air—Christ! They’re throwing furniture at me?—before something large and heavy smashed into her, driving her to the floor.

Hot, wet breath snorted in her ear. “Gotcha, cunt.” The largest guard—the one she’d hit with her flashlight—ground his flabby, sweaty bulk against her back, pinning her to the chilly, lab floor. “I’m gonna show you who sucks around here,” he sneered. He dug his fingers into the soft underside of her wrists, ramming his hips against her ass. “You. On my hard cock.”

“Shit!” A high-pitched shout cut across the guard’s snarl. “She’s let the dog out!”

Regan twisted her head, in time to see the shepherd, weak and trembling, launch itself from the cage, teeth bared, hackles up. Oh, no!

A gunshot split the air. Blood spurted from the dog’s side, bright red and thick. Regan screamed, the anguished sound drowned out by loud, raucous laughter as the shepherd’s lifeless body thudded to the floor.

“Got the fucker!” the tallest of the guards smirked, re-holstering his gun. Piercing blue eyes fell on Regan and his grin stretched wider. “Now, back to the fun.”

Cold dread curdled in her throat. She bucked, trying to dislodge the guard pinning her to the floor. “Get off me, you fat fuck!”

He chuckled, dick grinding against her writhing butt. “Only when I’m done, cunt. Then my partners are gonna have their go.” He pressed his open mouth to her ear and shoved his tongue into its shallow shell. “And you can scream all you want ’cause there ain’t nobody here to hear you except these dumb-fuck animals.” With a grunt, he flipped her onto her back and shoved his engorged dick hard against her crotch. “And they ain’t gonna help you one little bit.”

Regan stared up into his red, pudgy face, her dread turning to fear. Oh please, no. Help me!

“Hurry up, mate,” the second guard said, stepping up beside his partner to leer down at her, depraved hunger burning in his blue eyes. “Shooting that mutt has made me hornier than—”

A low, savage growl cut him short.

“Aaah, Trev?” The rookie squeaked from across the lab, and even though Regan couldn’t see him she heard something close to confused terror in his voice. “Trev, the wolf’s gettin’ bigger!”

The guard grinding his dick between Regan’s thighs rolled his eyes. “It’s in a fucking cage, Hicks. What’s it gonna do? Join in?”

The wolf’s growl filled the air—louder, longer. Two sets of flashlight beams fell on it immediately and, lying trapped under the grotesque and hideously aroused Trev, Regan watched the animal contort. Twist. Somehow grow bigger. The tubes poking from its neck quivered as, with an audible pop, they tore free, spurting black liquid all over the wolf’s steel-grey fur. Regan’s heart stopped. Oh, my God…

There was a low snarl, a sharp creak and the leather straps imprisoning it in the cage snapped. Just like that.

The rookie let out a yelp.

Trev stared at the snarling wolf, too stunned to get to his feet. “Jesus fuckin’ Christ,” he whispered. With a howl of brutal rage, the wolf burst through the bars of its cage. As if they were made of tin foil.

The rookie screamed. Blue Eyes stumbled backward. “Fucking hell!”

“Shoot it, shoot it!” squealed Trev, trying to scramble upright and grab his gun at the same time.

He didn’t make it.

The wolf smashed into him, driving him across the floor of the lab in a screaming blur of flailing arms and legs.

Regan scurried backward and stumbled to her feet, Trev’s screams and the wolf’s low, savage growls punching at her ears.

“Trev! Oh, fuck, Trev!” The rookie continued to wail, Glock completely forgotten.

“Shoot the wolf, you dumb fuck!” Blue Eyes shouted, throwing the rookie a murderous glare.

For a split second, Regan stood frozen, staring at the chaos around her. The smell of blood and piss stung her sinuses—What in the name of God is going on?—before primitive self-preservation kicked in and she turned and bolted for the exit door. Hot disgust rolled through her. She hadn’t saved one single animal tonight. Not one.

Trev’s screams, raw and wet and gurgling, rose above the rookie’s wails and the chimp’s screeching. Regan heard blood in the guard’s throat and an image of the wolf’s long teeth flashed through her head. Bloody hell, she’d caused this. Her feet faltered. She’d caused it all to—

A gun went off. Twice.

Trev howled. As did the wolf.

Get the fucking bitch!” Blue Eyes screamed.

Regan didn’t need any further prompting. Guilt bubbling like acid in her gut, she fled the room, the image of the dead German Shepherd haunting her. I’m sorry, boy. I’m so sorry.

Another scream pierced the terrible cacophony and the chimp screeched, manic and insane. A third gunshot rang out, a fourth, and the wolf howled again—long, loud and deadly—as Epoc Industries’ high-tech security system finally activated, a shrieking Klaxon squeal shattered the chaos.

Regan tore along the corridor, bleached in flooding white light. All around her, she heard the sound of metal cages rattling and shaking as the animals inside squealed and howled and tried to break free. She ran, their terrified calls drilling into her head, her heart. Another gunshot sounded behind her, a high-pitched scream rent the air, the wolf howled one more time…

And she burst from the building, wrapped immediately in the warm night air of an Australian summer.

Blinding spotlights swam across the surrounding walkways, slashing through the darkness like blades. Regan sprinted for the back entry gate, the same one she’d used to gain access to the secured grounds what felt like a lifetime ago. If someone had discovered it ajar, she was screwed. There was no way she could scale the twenty foot razor-wire fences enclosing Epoc’s labs, no matter how loud the egging voice of her brother in her head. She looked over her shoulder, convinced she would see Trev, the rookie and Ol’ Blue Eyes coming after her.

Nothing.

Except the stripping, swirling spotlights and the ear-piercing wail of the building’s alarm, killing the peaceful stillness of pre-dawn.

Regan kept running. Until she cleared the perimeter, she was in danger. Even then, she couldn’t relax. The black smudges on her face may have hid her true appearance in the lab, but it made her conspicuous as all hell out on the streets. An early morning jogger may wear all black—a stupid early morning jogger—but they wouldn’t cover their faces in black shoe polish. If Epoc’s men found her, they’d know who she was.

Run faster!

Her car was parked three blocks away, tank full, engine tuned to perfection. All she had to do to get away was get through the—

“Freeze, cunt!”

SHIT! Ol’ Blue Eyes.

“Stop or I’ll fuckin’ shoot you down and fuck you as you die!”

Regan ran harder, the gate coming into sight. The open gate. Yes!

“I mean it, bitch!” Blue Eyes screeched. “The next thing you’ll feel is my—”

He didn’t finish. Regan prepared her body for the bullet but it never came. Throwing a look over her shoulder, she saw something that looked like a wolf but wasn’t—something huge—thrash Blue Eyes’s limp body about on the ground, its powerful jaws clamped around the security guard’s blood-pissing throat.

Her blood ran cold. Jesus! What is that?

Feet stumbling, she fell to the ground, staring at the nightmarish sight as though hypnotized. God. What IS that?

“Over there!”

The furious shout snapped her out of her trance. Whipping her head around, she saw them. Five armed guards running towards her.

“Over there! Over there!”

She flung her stare back to the wolf, watched it raise its massive head from Blue Eyes’s mutilated throat to regard her. Their eyes connected for a brief moment before it threw its head back and howled.

“There! There!” The approaching guards screamed. “Shit! Get it! Get it!”

They changed course, running at the wolf—the beast—instead. Guns raised and aimed.

Blood flicking from its muzzle, the animal swung its silver stare to her once more before it ran away. Disappearing around the corner of the building, the yelling, bellowing guards close on its tail.

Regan stared at the motionless body of Ol’ Blue Eyes—for exactly two seconds. Blood roaring in her ears, she scrambled to her feet and sprinted through the gate. Off Epoc Industries’ grounds. Into the darkness of the street. Heading for her waiting car.

She was speeding through the quiet streets of North Sydney before her heartbeat returned to normal. “Holy shit!” Long dark fingers of pre-dawn shadows reached out for her car as she turned the wheel and sped down a narrow lane. “Holy shit!”

Had the wolf done what she thought? Had it saved her?

Regan shook her head and tried to force some calm into her screaming muscles. Wolves were smart, possibly the most intelligent of the canine genus, but that smart?

Was it really a wolf, though?

The question flitted through her stunned mind and her heart started thumping again.

She had no answer.

Not without seeing the animal again.

Turning the wheel once more, she pulled into her short driveway. Killing the engine, she stared out the windscreen at the closed door of her garage. Everything in her studies told her what she’d seen was lunacy. Wolves did not grow that big. They did not exhibit self-sacrificing behavior, especially not to protect a human. She made her living working with animals. She was Sydney’s leading animal physiotherapist, damn it! She knew animals. And what she saw tonight wasn’t normal.

But you did see it. The wolf did draw the guards’ attention from you. It did save you. It did stop Trev.

A shiver raced up Regan’s spine and her flesh broke out in goose bumps. Christ, what a fuckup. She pulled a deep breath and the cloying stench of Trev’s sweat assaulted her senses. Urgh, she needed a shower.

She climbed from the car and began to cross the small patch of lawn she proudly called her front yard. She needed a shower and sleep. She needed normalcy again. In only a few hours she had an appointment with the director of Taronga Zoo. Following that a physio session with the Prime Minister’s aging dachshund, after which came lunch with Rick at his…

A low and distant howl cut her thought dead.

A wolf’s howl.

Regan spun around, expecting to see the steel-grey wolf behind her, its muzzle dripping with blood, its silver eyes burning into her soul.

Nothing.

As if there would be! Get a grip!

She stood still, ears straining to hear…

Nothing except the gentle roar of Bondi Beach half a mile away and the soft warbles of a nearby magpie out searching for breakfast.

Shaking her head, Regan climbed the steps of her porch and unlocked her front door. She entered her home, closed the door behind her and headed straight for the shower, stripping as she went. It was time for normal life to resume.

For her, at least.

* * * *

The early-morning sun streamed into her bedroom through the open side window like a stroke of brilliant gold paint, casting everything in a warm hue and turning the dust motes on the air into dancing points of white-gold light.

Eyes still closed, Regan stretched, arms extending up and out, back bowing into a deep curve. Rick Deluca—a vet she’d known since her university days and had dated off and on for the past three months—had commented more than once how cat-like she looked when first waking. Regan took it as a compliment. She liked cats. They were creatures of grace and feline beauty. If she had to be compared to animal, a cat was fine and dandy with her.

A gust of warm wind blew through the window and the organza curtains billowed, brushing against her bare legs and tummy. Groaning low, Regan opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling. Why did her body ache like she’d been hit by a bus?

Her tired mind drew a complete blank.

For a disoriented second.

“Oh, bloody hell!” She smacked her palm to her forehead and dragged her hand down her face. “Epoc’s lab.”

Shit! What a complete cock up.

An image of a sad and dying German Shepherd filled her head and guilt flooded through her. She’d failed too many creatures this morning. The shepherd’s brown eyes grew light, cooler, and suddenly it was the wolf’s silver gaze staring at her. The wolf that saved her.

Saved her by ripping out the throat of a human.

A twinge of cold apprehension fluttered in her stomach and she swallowed. The guard, Blue Eyes, was never going to be a potential Nobel Peace Prize recipient, but no one deserved being mauled to death by a wolf, no matter how hideous they were.

Squinting against the bright morning sun, wishing like hell she could turn back time, Regan peered at her alarm clock.

Six twenty-seven.

She groaned again. “You’ve got to be kidding!” She’d only been asleep for two hours? What the hell woke her?

For a moment, Regan listened to the call of slumber beckoning her again: Another thirty minutes, that’s all. C’mon, y’know you want to. She wiggled on the sheets, the cool cotton caressing her bare skin like soft kisses. Oh, how tempting…

Her stomach however, had other ideas. She had after all neglected it for the last twelve hours. Now it grumbled loud enough she expected the neighbors to run from their homes screaming “earthquake”. With a very unladylike snort, she shook her head. There was no way she was going back to sleep now.

She climbed from her bed and padded barefoot across the polished floorboards of her bedroom, heading for the small but very cozy living room. Sydney wasn’t the cheapest city in Australia to live. Finding an affordable place halfway decent had been almost as draining and traumatic as her regular lab raids. Her home, tucked high on the northern hill overlooking Bondi Beach, may be the size of a postage stamp, but it was hers, not the bank’s and she loved it. Big enough for her king-size bed, third-hand sofa, old TV and a terrarium in the corner for Rex when he wanted to soak up some heat-lamp rays.

She studied the living room, wondering if the adult frill-neck lizard was waiting for his breakfast.

Nope.

A small grin pulled at her lips. He was probably sulking under the fridge. “Let me get my caffeine fix first, Rex!” she called to the absent lizard, shuffling toward the kitchen and its already percolating coffee machine. “Then I’ll get dressed and tell you about the nightmare—”

A low whine stopped her dead.

With a frown creasing her brow, Regan turned.

And saw the wolf.

Chapter 2

Nathan Epoc stormed across the expansive floor of his opulent bedroom, his head aching with enraged agony.

Fucking do-gooder, animal-rights activists.

ActivIST, Nathan. ActivIST. There was only one. A female. A single, unarmed female.

Hot blood pulsed through his head like a molten trip-hammer and he scowled, running his palms over the smooth dome of his scalp. One little bitch. One little do-gooder, animal-rights activist bitch causing all this trouble. He glared out the glass wall of his bedroom.

Sydney Harbor sprawled before him, so blue it almost hurt to look at—a cerulean blanket bejeweled by the dazzling dawn sun and gleaming white boats. The bone-white arcs of the Sydney Opera House curved up and over the horizon to his right, a defining monument of architectural brilliance for a young country. Money could not buy the view afforded through every window of his home, only power. Absolute power. And he—Nathan Epoc—had absolute power. Had it. Wielded it. Was it.

He turned from the window, the sight of the arching Harbor Bridge in the distance catching his attention. The construction spanned the rippling channel dividing North Sydney from the commercial epicenter, another marvel of man’s engineering genius.

Huh! If the world knew what he had achieved, these pitiful man-made constructions would be scorned for the triflings they were. If the world knew…

He ground his teeth. If the bitch who invaded his lab last night spoke of what she saw the world would know, well, begin to suspect, and that was not acceptable. He’d worked hard to present an immaculate, benevolent image to the people of this country and one little bitch could ruin it all.

A low growl rumbled in his chest and he felt his canines lengthen, digging into his lower lip. A ripple passed over his flesh. Fuck! Just thinking of the cunt and the trouble she could cause and he was close to shifting.

The drilling fire in his head flared and he growled again. Not at the pain, but at the thought of the female and the grief she could bring down on him. If she took photos while in the lab… If she had evidence…

He spun about, glaring out the window at the sublime day. “Fucking do-gooder bitch!”

He hadn’t been this angry since Aine’s death. Since the night the Onchú clan butchered her. The night his sweet lifemate was lost to him forever.

Bitter rage ripped through him, as fresh and biting as it had been over two hundred years ago. That night began a war unlike any the lycanthrope clans of the world had seen. A war led by him. His rivals had caught him off-guard once. They wouldn’t do it again. He wouldn’t let them. Any of them.

But now… Now this human

He had to find her. Find her, find out what she knew and silence her.

And the second she was no longer a problem, find Declan O’Connell again. He wasn’t done with the Irish werewolf. The conriocht. Not this close to success. Not this close to punishment.

He crossed to his personal bureau and jabbed at a key recessed in the rose-cedar surface, impatience coursing through his veins.

“Yes, Mr. Epoc?” a husky voice sounded from the wall speaker above the bureau, both reverent and submissive—the way he expected all his staff and pack members to be.

“I want the bitch brought in,” he said, canines growing longer, thicker with each word. “And I want her brought in now.”

* * * *

Regan’s heart hammered.

The wolf lay on its side, taking up most of her old sofa, its eyes closed, its rib cage rising and falling with rapid, shallow breaths. Dry blood smattered the grey fur on its neck, cracked and thick like black mud. The cushions of her sofa bowed and compressed under the animal’s massive bulk and, as she had in the lab, Regan wondered what species it was. None she was familiar with.

How can that be?

She frowned. She was at least passingly familiar with just about every species in existence—she had to be in her line of work. How could she not—

The wolf whined again, softer, weaker, and Regan’s puzzlement vanished.

In a heartbeat she crossed the room and crouched by the wounded animal, skimming her hands over its body. A wave of awe rolled through the cold worry knotted in her chest. It was unwell. Its limbs trembled and each breath seemed weaker than the last, yet its feral strength was undeniable. She’d thought it a creature of primitive power back in Epoc’s lab but now, here in her room with its corded muscles under her examining fingers, its mana seemed almost tangible. “What genus are you, my friend?” she whispered, running her hands over steely quadriceps much bigger and longer than any wolf species she knew. Quadriceps turned to femur, femur to pelvic bone.

Regan frowned, confusion squirming in her gut. The animal’s pelvis felt wrong, like some sick bastard with a Doctor Moreau complex had taken to it with a bone grinder in an attempt to reshape it into a human hipbone. “What have they been doing to you, mate?” she murmured, tracing the distorted bone. “My God, how can you even walk?”

She moved her hands up the wolf’s spine, counting vertebrae, looking for wounds or injuries. Curiosity ate at her concern. Where had the creature come from? Wolves were not native to Australia and as far as she knew, the only ones in the country were those housed in zoos and animal enclosures. For this lone wolf to be in Epoc’s lab…?

Imported illegally, perhaps?

But from where?

Her seeking fingers slid through a patch of wet fur low on the wolf’s rib cage and Regan stilled her investigation. She parted the animal’s dense coat, looking for… “There it is.”

Fresh blood, bright red and warm on her fingers, seeped from a ragged hole puncturing the wolf’s side. Regan prodded the surrounding flesh gently, worrying the bullet may be embedded in bone beneath. She’d have to get the animal to Rick. Whether the bullet was there or not, the wound needed to be—

The wolf whined. Low. Almost human.

“I’m sorry, mate,” Regan soothed, removing her fingers from its rib cage. Chewing on her bottom lip, she smoothed her palms over its scapular and down first one foreleg and then the other. Both rippled with muscle and once again, uneasy wonderment wriggled in Regan’s stomach. The humerus seemed too close to human in structure to be possible. She ran her hands over it and it seemed to shift. Grow longer. Straighter.

Regan scrubbed the back of her hand against her eyes. She must be sleep deprived. Bones didn’t change structure. With a slight shake of her head, she went back to her examination. As soon as she was convinced the animal could be moved, she’d call Rick. He’d give his left nut to help her out, any excuse to try and impress her into his bed. But quite frankly, she had no hope of moving the animal herself, even if it would fit in her car.

Another whine whispered on the air, so soft Regan almost missed it. “Not much longer, my mysterious friend,” she whispered, letting her hands settle on the wolf’s rib cage again, careful to avoid its wound. Its coat felt like fine velvet under her palms and for a dreamlike moment, she felt like pressing her face to the animal’s side. She leant forward, sliding her hands to its shoulder joint in search of wounds unseen and her bare nipples brushed against the wolf’s chest, flesh to fur. Soft. Cool. So much more than she’d expected. So much more than any animal species she knew.

What type of wolf are you?

She returned her attention to the wolf’s body. With the exception of the bullet wound, it seemed physically uninjured, but who knew what Epoc’s scientists had been doing to it. She smoothed her hands over the silken fur, a distant more detached part of her mind admiring the wolf’s superb biomechanical construct. It was a creature evolved for one purpose only—to kill—yet its beauty was undeniable. Strength, menace and deadly purpose all combined in the majestic somehow romantic form of—

The thigh muscle below her palm shifted, elongated, and Regan stumbled backward, landing flat on her bare butt with an ignominious thud. She stared at the massive, powerful and utterly lupine form. Watched it contort. Shudder.

The dense fur rippled, each strand seemingly alive with its own energy. The back legs grew long, straight. Thick, corded thigh muscles formed on bones no longer short and crooked. “What the…” Regan’s stunned whisper barely left her lips.

Another shudder wracked the wolf’s contorting form. Another. And another. Its fur grew thin, retracting into the flesh beneath, disappearing with each violent convulsion until its coat no longer existed and instead…

Regan’s heart froze and she stared at the naked man laying full-length on her sofa.

The naked, trembling, gasping man laying full-length on her sofa.

Looking at her.

“What the hell?”

The man’s eyes—the angry color of a stormy winter’s sky—flicked over her face. Like oiled smoke, he was on his feet, hard, lean body coiling, pale flesh glistening with a faint sheen of sweat in the sun-filled room. Regan stared at him. Speechless. Unable to move.

Shaggy ink black hair fell across his forehead, brushed straight eyebrows of the same color, cheekbones high and angular. Smooth, curved pecs cut down to a hairless torso sculpted in muscle. Nothing detracted from the perfection of his body, not even the mean scar slashing his pale skin from navel to groin. Regan traced the ragged white line with her eye, her stomach clenching as it disappeared into a thick thatch of black pubic hair just above—

Oh, my God! He’s huge!

A sharp intake of breath jerked her gaze back up to his face, in time to see nostrils flaring on a nose almost too long, almost too large. Those stormy eyes held hers. Kept her naked ass on the carpet. Frozen.

Compelling.

The word flittered through her head, disconnected and surreal and with it came a tight throb, low in the pit of her stomach. A clenching, warm beat between her thighs.

Shit, Woman! Have you lost your mind?

She sucked in her own swift breath, tasting his sweat on the air. “Who…” She began.

Those grey eyes flickered. Grew wild. Dangerous. “You’re in a lotta trouble, love,” he growled, a soft brogue lacing the foreboding words seconds before every muscle in his perfect body coiled and he leapt.

At her.

He slammed into her, flattening her to the floor. Back, shoulders, skull. Bright pain spiked through her head, cold and hot at the same time, and she cried out. Strong, long-fingered hands clamped around her wrists, pinning them to the floor beside her head with a grip so fierce her brother would have been jealous. Regan squealed, glaring up into grey, burning eyes. “Get off me, you bastard!” She bucked—all too aware of the muscled body pressed to hers. The naked body.

Fair Dinkum, Woman! Only seconds earlier he was a wolf! Wake up!

A hot breath feathered her face, ruffled her hair and she bucked again. This was no dream. He was no dream. “Get off me, you freak!”

Grey eyes flashed, all the more intense for the thick, black lashes framing them. “I’m no freak, lady.”

The words flowed from well-defined lips, the soft Irish accent she’d heard earlier cut with anger. Long, corded legs battled hers, pinned them to the floor with a brutal strength. His knees shoved at hers, spreading her thighs wide until her lower body was completely trapped by his.

A rock-hard pressure nudged at the soft lips of her sex and Regan sucked in a sharp breath. Oh no, he was aroused!

Aren’t you?

Hot, terrified shame tore through her. Yes. She was. “Get off me!” she screamed, thrashing underneath him in desperate fury. “Get off me! Get off me! Get off me!”

Declan stared down at the woman beneath him, fighting like hell to keep her in his hold. Christ, she was a wild cat. Even with her legs trapped under the considerable weight of his own, she’d almost thrown him off more than once. What the hell did she do for a living? Wrestle rhinos?

No, Dec. She takes on security guards.

“Get off me!” she screamed again, body like a live current of electricity. He pressed into her, trying to hold her still, trying not to think about the lithe muscles of her limbs and tummy, the sweat-slicked smoothness of her bare skin, the velvet heat between her thighs mashing against his ever-growing shaft with each whiplash buck she gave.

Should’ve thought about the fact you were both naked before you jumped on her.

“Listen, love,” he growled, trying to shove the delicious sensations stirring in his groin from his mind. “Just calm down and—”

Seismic rage erupted in her ice-green eyes. “GET! OFF! ME!”

Her body tensed with each bellowed word, thrusting her soft, damp heat harder against his now-throbbing cock.

Declan’s head swam, the change still too fresh in his system, the primitive, elemental instincts of the werewolf still too powerful. The musky scent of her sweat and sex threaded into his every breath. Intoxicating. Potent. She was a fighter, a warrior… She’d risked her life to save those incapable of saving themselves. The wolf in his blood growled in ancient appreciation, in hunger…

Unable not to, he leant down to kiss her.

One second he stared down at her, struggling to hold her still, the next he captured her lips with his and tasted her with his tongue.

For a moment, she lay beneath him, her exquisitely bare body locked frozen with shock. And why not? A man she’d never met before was kissing her, a man who—only seconds earlier—had been a bloody, great big wolf stretched out on her sofa. He almost pulled away, rational thought smashing down on him. But then, a slight tremble rippled through her, her arms snaked up around his neck and she was kissing him back. Deeply.

Her tongue battled his, curled and delved and flicked. Her teeth nipped at his bottom lip and a jolt of liquid heat shot straight to his groin, bringing a low and utterly raw groan to his throat. He dragged his hands from her wrists, down the smooth columns of her arms, his thumbs brushing the heavy swell of her breasts pressed flat against his body. The contact, light and fleeting, sent another surge of wet heat into his balls and his already-hard cock pulsed with new, eager blood.

What are you doing?

He didn’t know. The change had never left him so vulnerable to his werewolf’s desires, so manipulated by those animalistic cravings before. All he knew, all he cared about at that very moment, was how wonderfully warm and sensual the woman beneath him felt. How completely she returned his kiss.

He plunged his tongue into her mouth again, shifting his weight to smooth a hand up the delicious curve of her breast. The soft feel of it under his palm, the puckered peak of her nipple under his fingertips made him groan again, made his breath catch in his tight throat. Praise Mary, she felt so damn wonder—

Something hard and small smacked into his temple.

Explosive, white-hot pain erupted in Declan’s head. Eyes blurring, he rolled to the side. Christ, she’d hit him!

“Get off me!”

She lashed out, completely dislodging his weight before he recovered. She’d hit him! Christ, she’d almost knocked him out.

“Get the fuck off me!”

Another savage blow thumped against his head, this one narrowly missing his nose. He reeled back, pain and blood roaring in his ears. She’d hit him! While he was drowning in her taste and feel, she’d hit him!

Almost stumbling across the floor, Declan reached for his throbbing head, eyes still incapable of focusing. The blurred shape of the woman leapt to her feet, and he got the sense she was on the verge of kicking into him. A squirming wave of admiration rolled through him and his cock, still too full of hungry blood, twitched. “Shit, love, do you know how to throw a punch!”

The blurred shape loomed over him. “What the bloody hell are you and what have you done with my lizard?”

Declan blinked, both in confusion and in an attempt to clear his vision. “Your what?”

“Where the hell’s my lizard?” Long, bare legs came into focus—briefly—drawing his attention up to their apex and a distant, devious part of Declan’s mind—the part not in pain—noticed she not only knew how to punch, she also knew how to handle a razor.

Get your head out of the gutter. “Lady, I don’t know anything about a—”

“Where’s my lizard, you goddamn freak?”

Her roar split the room and sharp pain pounded through Declan’s head. Hell, he liked it better when she thought he was a wolf. “I haven’t seen your bloody lizard,” he growled, staggering to his feet. He squinted at her, relief flooding through him when she appeared sharp. In focus. “Praise Mary, I thought you’d buggered up my sight for good!”

She stared at him, gloriously naked, her lithe, toned and very perfect body shaking with what he assumed was rage. Her hands were clenched into rock-hard fists beside her thighs, her legs spread, knees bent slightly. Her hair tumbled across her straight, tensed shoulders in a shaggy curtain of rich-chocolate waves, falling to her nipples, drawing his gaze to her heaving breasts. She looked ready to attack. To rip him limb from limb. Such a different creature to the one only moments earlier smoothing her soft, gentle hands over said limbs in an attempt to find any injuries. What a contradiction.

What a—

Where. Is. My. Lizard?”

Hands raised, he took a step forward. “Listen, love. I don’t know anything about a lizard, I haven’t seen a lizard, I haven’t even smelt a lizard.” He stared at her, saw confusion shimmer in her ice-green eyes, saw her muscles tense with each word he said. He returned his eyes to her face, needing to keep his attention away from her body. It was too flawless. Too distracting. “Now, you need to listen to me because while you did a very brave and noble thing breaking into Epoc’s lab, you also did a very stupid thing.”

Her jaw clenched, and those striking eyes narrowed. “I’m beginning to realize that.”

Declan didn’t miss the caustic insinuation. He was a journalist, after all. Well, had been a journalist back in Dublin. Who knows what he’d call himself now? Lone wolf? He cringed at the cliché. And the black look of murder on the woman’s face. “I’m going to say this as plainly as possible,” he went on, risking another step closer, “and I don’t want you to start screaming about your bloody lizard again. We have to get out of here. You have to come with me. Right now.”

She straightened, and he swore he heard her spine snap straight. The fact she was stark naked seemed to have completely slipped her mind. She glared at him, bunched fists on hips too smooth and curved for Declan’s peace of mind. “One kiss and you think I’m ready to elope?” She cocked a dark, arched eyebrow. “You had more chance when you were a wolf.”

Declan raised one of his own eyebrows. “Yeah, I noticed.”

Cool eyes bored into him. “What are you?”

“It’s usual practice to ask ‘who’ are you, the answer to which, is the man you just kissed.”

The woman crossed her arms, stare flat and decidedly icy. “Put it down to temporary insanity. I’m not in the habit of kissing strange men.”

Declan’s lips twitched. “And yet…”

A dusky pink blush painted the woman’s cheeks, a vision so innocent and beguiling a swelling wave of heat rolled through him and pooled low in his gut.

“I don’t know who or what you are. But it’s time for you to go.”

The desire to step forward, curl his fingers around her arms and pull her to his body crashed over him. Christ, it had been so long since a female affected him like this. The search for Maggie’s killer had consumed him. Nothing but finding his sister’s murderer had existed—or mattered. Yet here he was, in—based on the accents he’d heard since being captured—Australia, the other side of the world, and he was horny.

And stupid. You think Epoc hasn’t tracked you both down yet? Stop standing around thinking with your dick and start using your head. Her life depends on you now. Whether she likes it or not.

“You’re right. It is time to go.” He destroyed the distance between them, closed his hands around her arms and fixed her with a level stare. “Both of us.”

Her reaction was swift and immediate. She kicked him.

The ball of her foot rammed straight into his shin. Bright pain shot up his leg, making his balls shrink. He bit back a shout, sinking his fingers harder into her biceps and glaring down at her. “Stop it. I’m not going to hurt you.”

Green eyes flashed fury and—goddamn it—fear. “Let me go.”

“I—”

She struck out before he finished, jerking her knee up fast and hard, and it was only the grace of God—and his preternatural reflexes—that saved his balls being mashed up into the base of his spine. He twisted his body, right thigh taking the blow, the awkward action making the bullet wound in his side erupt with fresh, blistering pain. Jesus Christ!

Declan’s patience snapped. In one fluid move he spun about, flung the woman onto the cushions of the sofa he’d been lying on only minutes earlier and followed the path of her body with his own, pinning her to the piece of furniture with his hands, hips and legs. A growl burst from his throat and, temper boiling, he bared his teeth. “Listen to me, love. We don’t have time for this. Nathan Epoc’s mongrels will be here any second and if they find us, they’ll kill you.” He tightened his grip on her wrists, staring hard at her. “After they rape you. As men and then as wolves.”

The blood drained from the woman’s face and she froze, body stiller than a statue. “Wolves…” The word fell from her lips in a stunned breath. “My God, what the hell is going on?”

Declan clenched his jaw. “Unfortunately, more than you ever wanted to know.” He relaxed his hold on her wrists. A little. “Now you have exactly sixty seconds to pull on some clothes and get ready to leave. After that we’re out of here, dressed or not.”

The woman tensed and he saw rage ignite in her eyes again. “I’m not going anywhere with you. My lizard… The cops…”

Declan shook his head. “Epoc owns the cops. Perhaps you didn’t hear me earlier when I said rape and murder. I wasn’t kidding. They will do things to you no human mind could imagine. Unless you come with me.” He shifted his weight, tight impatience eating at him. “Trust me, I’ll explain everything I can later, but we have to go. Now.”

He rose to his feet, hoping to God he’d made his point. His heart hammered and his blood roared. He tried to tell himself it was adrenaline making his body behave so, but he knew otherwise. Lust scorched through his veins—and at that very moment, lust was almost more dangerous than Epoc.

The woman stared up at him, naked body vulnerable, sharp eyes defiant. A second passed before, with fluid grace, she leapt to her feet, sprinting across the room to disappear through a far door, the flexing muscles of her toned ass playing merry hell with his senses. He studied the door she’d passed through, listening to what was happening in the room. The sound of drawers opening and clothes rustling satisfied him and, dragging his hands through his hair, he turned and surveyed the room around him. She didn’t trust him, yet—and really, was there any wonder? But maybe if he found this missing lizard of hers…

A very faint click sounded in his ear and he flicked his head slightly to the left, tuning into the noises emanating from her room. His eyes narrowed. Damn it, she’d picked up a phone.

He crossed the room to her bedroom in two leaps, the urge to transform like a weight on his chest. Flinging open the door, he stepped in, fists balled, nostrils flaring. “Not sure we have time for a phone call, love.”

She spun about, staring at him with wide eyes, looking for all the world like a small animal frozen in the lights of a speeding truck. A small animal holding the handset of a cordless phone, that was. “How did you—?”

He ignored her question. She’d figure the answer out in due course. If she was what he thought she was—an animal expert of some kind—it wouldn’t take long for the penny to drop. No matter what form he was in, his hearing was phenomenal. It came with the whole werewolf package. He stormed across the room, taking in the short running shorts and black tank top she now wore with a surreal mix of disappointment and relief. “I’m full of surprises.”

The woman’s muscles flexed and her grip on the handset tightened. “So am I.”

Declan gave her a bleak scowl. The low, almost inaudible beep beep of a dial tone spilled from the phone in her hand and his scowl turned to a frustrated snarl. Shit. She’d called someone. “As much as I’m enjoying this whole tête-à-tête,” he said, reaching for the handset, “there are more important things we have to be doing. Like…”

He didn’t finish. The low sound of an engine thrummed into his head, vibrated through his body into his gut. He sucked in a swift breath and the scent of wolf assaulted his sinuses. Bad wolf. He spun about, staring through the door across the woman’s living room, watching as a large, black van slowed to a complete stop by the curb out the front of her house. Fuck. Spinning back to the woman, he shook his head. “Time’s up.”

“Time’s up?” Her forehead creased. “What does that mean?”

Declan gave her a level look. “It means this. Sorry.” And he smashed his fist against her jaw.

Stunned rage filled her eyes—a heartbeat before her body went limp and she slumped forward. The phone fell from her hand, hitting the floor with a soft thud.

He grabbed her and threw her over his shoulder, her unconscious frame like pliable rubber. “This is not how I wanted to do this,” he growled, hitching her weight closer to his head and anchoring his arm snugly around her waist. He shot a look over his shoulder, blood hot with the need to transform. He stared at the van on the street through the gauzy length of curtain hanging over the living room window. Watched its doors swing open. Watched a hulking shape he knew all too well climb out of the passenger side seat. Watched the man with flaming red hair and muscles on muscles bend his short, wide neck to the side in an action designed to intimidate. McCoy.

He bared his teeth and turned back to the woman’s bedroom. In time to see a greenish-grey lizard roughly the size of a small dog, go skittering across the floor and disappear under the far wardrobe. A short, sharp snort escaped Declan. “You’re on your own, lizard.”

And without further adieu, he crossed the room, kicked out the fly-screen of the main window, leapt through it and took off across the woman’s small backyard. The sound of the van door slamming shut behind him thumped at his senses as he cleared the dividing fence in a single bound, sprinting across the neighbor’s lawn. Just a naked Irishman with a bleeding side, running through the early-morning streets with an unconscious, animal liberationist slung over his shoulder. Nothing unusual about that.

Nothing unusual at all.

Chapter 3

Peter frowned at the phone in his hand. What the bloody hell was going on? “Hello?”

Nothing.

His frown pulled deeper. The caller ID display told him it was his baby sister on the other end, but since when did Reggie think it was funny to call and not say anything?

She wouldn’t.

Unease twisted in Peter’s gut—cold and tight. She’d pulled a lab raid last night. She hadn’t told him which lab she was hitting in their last conversation but he knew when she was going in and when she’d planned to be out. He made it his business to know when she went on one of her freedom missions. No one else in the family knew what she got up to in the wee hours of the morning. Dad would kill her, even if he did agree with her motives, and Mum would chain her to the sofa, but someone had to be there for her if she was ever—God forbid—arrested, or worse yet, shot. She didn’t like it, but too bloody bad. It’s what big brothers did; they pissed off their little sisters, even if it was for their own good.

Peter placed the phone back to his ear. “Reggie? Can you hear me?”

Still nothing. Well, nothing except the irritating scratch and hum of the connection. His gut twisted again. Damn it. What if she was in trouble?

In trouble? Reggie’s always in trouble.

Peter shook his head. She’d been after someone big last night. He’d seen it in her eyes. Someone she considered the enemy. Perhaps she’d finally been caught. Goddamn it, what if she was—

“You’re on your own, lizard.”

The muffled words, almost inaudible, fell from the phone. Male? Irish? Peter snapped straight in his chair. Lizard? Shit. Rex. “Hey?” His sharp shout lifted the heads of quite a few people surrounding him but he ignored their curious stares. They were in a cop shop, for Christ sake. Someone shouted down a phone just about every other minute. “Hey? Regan?”

Nothing.

Cold worry gnawed at him, joining the tension squirming in his gut. Fuck.

For a terrible moment, he didn’t know what to do. His gut, as churned as it was, told him to get over to Regan’s house now, but to do so meant hanging up the phone in his hand and what if his little sister was in her home, was on the other end trying to talk to him, needing his help?

“Thomas?”

Peter stared at the far window, the blue, cloudless sky outside seeming to mock him. Goddamn it, what the hell should he do? Was Reggie—

“Thomas!”

A gruff and very belligerent voice barking his name yanked Peter’s attention away from the window and the ominous thought of his sister’s silent phone. He stared up into his boss’s bloodshot eyes, unable to miss the sour expression on his round, unshaven face. “Yeah, Inspector?”

“Your wife’s been tryin’ to call you for the last ten minutes.” Tony Muriciano glared at him, leathery skin yellow and dry from far too many cigarettes.

Ex-wife, Inspector,” Peter corrected, his grip on his phone curling tight.

Fat, nicotine-stained fingers jerked on the waistline of wrinkled chinos and Muriciano’s ample gut wobbled under his white shirt. “Whatever. Tell her next time she’s tryin’ to get hold of you to call the switch. I’m too busy to deal with her shit.”

Peter looked up at his boss, suppressing a snarl of frustration. Reggie. What was going on with Reggie?

Muriciano managed to look annoyed. “How the fuck she get my number anyhow?”

Maybe it was when you hit on her last Christmas party, you fat fuck. “I don’t know, Inspector.”

Muriciano’s lips pulled away from yellow teeth in a snide smile. “Of course.” His red-rimmed eyes glinted. “So, was that your sister’s name I heard you shoutin’ out a second ago? She okay?” He swiped a hand over his pate, licking his lips. “You can give her my number anytime. I’d hate for such a pretty young thing to be in trouble.” He snorted, mouth stretching into a wide leer. “Unless it’s trouble with me.”

Peter’s fist clenched and he shoved aside the urge to pull his own gun from its holster and shoot his captain in the head. “She’s fine, Inspector.” He held up the phone still clenched in his grip. “Just a lousy connection.”

Muriciano gave his head a nod. “Hmmm. Well, if she needs a hand…” He chuckled, the sound both low and crude, and Peter had to sink his nails into his palm to keep his hand from wrapping around his Glock.

The Inspector turned and began weaving his way back to his office on the other side of the room, barking orders and insults at various detectives and uniformed officers as he went. “Your wife’s on line ten, Thomas,” he shot back over his shoulder. “She sounds pissed.”

Ex-wife,” Peter growled, returning the phone in his hand to his ear. How the hell the man ever made detective, let alone Insp—

“Fuck! She’s not here!”

The harsh shout spat from the handset and Peter jumped.

“The bitch isn’t here! They’re not here! Where the fuck is O’Connell?”

“McCoy, look! Near the bed. On the floor. Why’s that red light blinking on the phone?”

There was a scuffle, the distinctive sound of cotton sheets being disturbed followed by a guttural male voice with a broad Scottish accent saying, “Hello?”

The phone creaked as Peter’s grip curled harder. “Who’s this? Where’s my sister?”

“Now? Or after I fuck her?”

Peter’s blood ran cold. “You touch my sister and you’re—”

A sharp clunk stabbed at Peter’s ear, followed by the drilling beep of a disconnect tone. Shit! He leapt to his feet, chair tumbling over. Shit!

It would take approximately forty-five minutes to get to Reggie’s house, thirty with the blue and reds on. Too long. He’d have to call in a Bondi unit.

Snatching up his wallet and badge, he grabbed his jacket from under his chair and took off across the room. Blood roared in his ears. Christ, what had Reggie got herself into now?

“Thomas! What the fuck you think you’re doin’?”

Muriciano’s bellow bounced around the room, and more cops lifted their heads from their paperwork.

Hot impatience tore through Peter and he slowed down, scowling at his boss. “Gotta go, Inspector.”

“Detective Thomas!”

Grinding his teeth, Peter stopped, turning to watch Muriciano lumber toward him. “Sorry, Inspector. I’ve got to—”

“Just received a call from HQ, Thomas.” Muriciano gave him a smug grin and for a second Peter saw utter belligerence flare in the man’s eyes. “Williams broke his shoulder. Ya getting a new partner. They’ll be here within the hour. Unless someone’s dying, you’re not going anywhere.” The grin stretched wider and Muriciano chuckled, flabby gut wobbling like jello. “Understand?”

Jaw clenched, Peter nodded. “Understand, Inspector.” And, before rational thought took over, he punched his superior in the nose and sent the fat fuck to the floor. “But as I said before, I’ve got to go.”

* * * *

Regan’s house was a shambles. More than a shambles. When Peter crossed the threshold, he felt as though he’d stepped into a scene from a cliché-ridden movie—one of those where a house is ransacked by a crazed criminal looking for something highly important and highly illegal. A crazed criminal who smelt like a filthy animal. Jesus! What was that stench?

A chill ran up his spine and, nose creasing at the pungent smell, his hand moved toward his gun.

“There was no one here when we arrived, Detective. Just the mess and the smell.”

Peter turned to the uniformed cop stepping up beside him, not missing the trepidation in the young man’s face. “What’s causing the stench? Do you know?”

The cop’s face scrunched in distaste. “From what I can tell, someone’s pissed all over the furniture. Especially the bed. But I can’t be sure.”

Cold worry thumped through Peter’s chest. “Piss?” He took a step deeper into his sister’s house. “Nothing’s been touched?”

The cop shook his head. “No.”

Peter surveyed the mess around him. Whoever had done this, had done so out of anger. There were no signs of struggle. Overturned furniture littered the room, the cushions were shredded, and the curtains ripped from the windows but nothing in the chaos told him Reggie had been involved in its making. Someone angry had done this. Peter hoped to Christ they were angry because his sister had not been here. The piss could be a disgusting, infantile response to their failure, although to Peter’s farm-boy nose it smelt more animalistic than human.

You’re on your own, lizard. The words floated through his head and he gripped his gun harder.

“Detective Thomas?”

Peter started, swinging his attention back to the cop waiting beside him. “Sorry, Officer…?”

“Paterson. Detective, shall I call in a CSU?”

Peter looked around the mayhem of his sister’s normally tidy home. He highly doubted the crime scene guys would find anything but, after punching Muriciano in the face, he’d better stick to protocol.

Yeah, not a wise move back at Command. You ready to be suspended?

A dry snort burst from Peter’s nose. Muriciano wouldn’t suspend him. He’d bluster and rant and rave and pour a ton of public humiliation down on Peter, but he wouldn’t suspend him. Peter knew where Muriciano had buried the bodies—figuratively speaking. His superior wouldn’t risk the skeletons tumbling from the closet, no matter how shattered his nose and pride.

“Detective? The CSU?”

Peter nodded, re-holstering his gun. “Do that, Officer Paterson. The Bondi crew can handle it. I’m outta my jurisdiction here.”

He scanned the overturned room, trying like hell to ignore the sparks of cold fear in his chest. Jesus, what a mess. I’m coming, Reggie. Just be safe until I get there.

But where was she?

Peter’s fists clenched. He didn’t know. But he’d find out.

“Can I ask whose house this is, Detective?”

The young cop hovered beside him and Peter gave him a quick look. “Yes you can.” He crossed the room, stepping over upended side tables, shattered lamps, gutted cushions and their exposed innards on his way to the sofa. Something had caught his eye. Something…

He stopped at the overturned piece of furniture, the overpowering stench of urine almost making him gag. Which was saying something, considering he’d grown up crutching sheep. Crouching down, he ran a slow inspection over the abused sofa, feeling his chest grow tight. Reggie loved the sofa. It had been their great-grandparents’ and their father told—to their mother’s absolute dismay—quite a bawdy tale of Reggie’s conception involving the old, paisley-covered cushions and too many bottles of champagne. She’d be heartbroken to see it in such a degraded state.

Yeah, but what caught your eyes? What made you come over here?

A frown pulled at Peter’s forehead and he reached out, removing something small and soft from the armrest of the sofa. This is what caught his eye. Still crouching, he studied the tuft of grey fur, rubbing the soft, almost silken strands between thumb and forefinger. An animal had been laying on the sofa recently. He brought the tuft closer, eyes narrowing at the still slightly tacky, faint crimson stain coloring a few of the soft strands. A bleeding animal. He flicked his gaze to the sofa, knowing what he hoped to find wouldn’t be there.

Shit.

Either the Irishman he’d heard talking to Rex had taken the cushions or whoever destroyed Regan’s house had. Peter’s gut twisted. Something told him it was the latter. It seemed they didn’t want the cops finding the injured animal’s blood.

And yet they piss everywhere?

Peter’s frown deepened. Something very odd was going on here. And Reggie was right in the middle of—

A gunshot shattered the air.

Peter sprang to his feet, spinning toward the direction of the report, Glock drawn.

“What the fuck was that?” The young cop screeched, aiming his weapon—waveringly, Peter was disgusted to see—at the kitchen entryway.

Gun raised, breath even, Peter crossed the room, staring hard at the opening before him.

“There it is again!” Paterson’s gun swung wide, aimed straight at Peter’s feet.

Peter dropped his gaze to see what Paterson was about to shoot and the breath gushed out of him in a raw laugh. Lips twitching, he dropped into another crouch, scooping up the long, grey-green, scaly creature casually walking toward him. “G’day, Rex,” he said, lifting the lizard up to his face to give it a slight smile. “You wouldn’t be able to tell me what happened to that sister of mine, would you?”

Rex looked back at him, flat tongue flicking out in nervous, little jabs at the air.

Peter’s smile disappeared. “No. I didn’t think so.”

Shit.

* * * *

Regan opened her eyes. Slowly. She peered around the dark room, squinting at the thin shards of bright light pushing through a narrow crack in the curtains on the far wall. Where was she?

She pressed her palms to the spongy mattress beneath her and struggled into a sitting position, taking in the kitsch, framed prints on the wall and the sunken bed beside her. A hotel room? Was she in a hotel room? The sound of traffic hummed beyond the walls; cars, trucks, motorcycles, and behind those typical urban noises the distant cries and squawks of seagulls. God, she could be anywhere.

Swinging her legs around, she placed her bare feet on the floor and pushed herself upright. Black swirling stars filled her head immediately and she flopped back down to the bed, a dull throb pounding up her jaw into her temple. She lifted her hand, running her fingers along the aching beat.

Damn it! He’d hit her! He’d actually hit her.

“I’m sorry about that.”

The softly spoken words with their even softer accent caressed her ears and she spun around, staring through a fresh wave of black stars at the man sitting in the armchair behind her.

At some stage he’d found himself some clothes. A pair of very faded blue jeans hugged his long, lean legs, emphasizing the corded strength of his thighs and impressive bulge between them, and a black Ramones t-shirt covered a torso Regan remembered being hard and smooth and wonderful to touch. A squeezing sensation rolled through her belly into the warm centre between her legs. Regan scowled. Goddamn it! The man had kidnapped her and here she was feeling horny? She steadied herself on the bed, giving her abductor a mean glare. “Yeah, well sorry doesn’t cut it, mate. If you wanted me to leave that badly you could’ve asked.”

To her surprise, the man laughed, the sound rich and relaxed. “I did ask. You decided to make a phone call, remember?”

Regan closed her eyes. Shit. Peter would be going out of his mind. Probably had the entire Sydney City Police Force out looking for her.

And with good reason?

She flicked a shuttered gaze to the man watching her. She didn’t know. Yet.

“I truly am sorry about the jaw.” The Irish lilt played over her senses like a feather and she suppressed a shiver. She really needed to get her act together. Who knew what he had in store for her? “But we had to go. I couldn’t wait.” Grey storm-cloud eyes grew intense. “We couldn’t wait.”

Regan edged into a more comfortable, but easy-to-spring-from position on the bed, checking out how close and easy to reach the phone was in case she needed to swing it. “What are you?”

The blunt question didn’t seem to offend him. In fact, those defined lips curled into a small smile. “Apart from a freak, you mean?”

Regan didn’t bat an eyelid. “Yes. Apart from that.”

“A werewolf.”

It was Regan’s turn to laugh. “Oh, right. A werewolf. Of course. Why didn’t I think of that?”

The man’s smile stretched wider. “I thought it was pretty obvious myself, love. Considering one minute you were stroking my fur and running your fingers up and down my four legs—which I enjoyed immensely, I might add—and the next I was standing before you on two. Furless.”

A very large, hard lump suddenly stuck in Regan’s throat and her head swam again. The memory of the wolf’s unusual humerus and pelvic bone crashed over her, as did her surreal response to the animal’s inherent power. Her skin prickled into clammy gooseflesh. She stared at the man still watching her from his chair, her pulse a rapid hammer pounding in her neck. “Holy shit.”

The man’s smile turned dry. “There’s nothing holy about werewolves, love.”

Frazzled anger shot through Regan and she gave her abductor a glare. “Stop calling me love.”

Even blacker eyebrows shot up, a light she could only describe as mischievous glinting in his grey eyes. His smile grew wider. Wolfish. “And what would you be having me call you, then?”

“My name’s Regan.”

With a speed she’d seen from him before, both as man and wolf, he was on his feet, across the short distance between them and beside the bed. He extended his right hand, the mischievous light in his eyes now devilish. “Declan O’Connell. Your kidnapper for the day.”

Regan ignored his hand, even as a tight, wet heat unfurled in the pit of her stomach at his proximity. His clean but musky scent threaded through her breath and she pressed her thighs closer together, trying her best to ignore the constricting pressure between them. “For the day?” she repeated, looking at him squarely in the face. “So this is just a twenty-four hour thing? Like a twenty-four hour flu?” She paused. “Only more annoying?”

The man—Declan—chuckled, but Regan didn’t miss the dark tension in his gaze. “Perhaps ‘for the day’ was a poor choice of words.”

Regan clenched her fists and jaw. “Perhaps you should tell me what the hell is going on. Because at this point in time, I’m very close to picking up the phone and braining you with it. Hard.” She narrowed her eyes. “I’m still not convinced this isn’t all just a bad dream left over from my run-in with Epoc’s security guards.”

Strong fingers pinched her shoulder before she could move. “Feel that?”

Damn, he’s fast. The thought sent a chill straight up her spine. How the hell was she to get away when he moved like a…

Like an animal?

Stomach fluttering, Regan looked up into the smoldering grey eyes. Damn it, she was in trouble. A heavy lump formed in her throat again and she swallowed. “What’s going on? No bullshit, no Irish charm, okay?”

Declan’s face turned serious and he perched on the edge of the bed, studying her with a look so intent the muscles in the pit of her stomach twisted. “Nathan Epoc is a lycanthrope. A werewolf. The Alpha male of the Eudeyrn clan, an ancient and sadistic pack. He’s been experimenting on our species for centuries, trying to perfect a way to extract our croí, our life essence.” His expression turned deadly and for a brief moment his grey eyes shimmered with a rancorous silver glow. “The process drains the victim of their life-force, sucking their spirit from their body in an agonizing and protracted process until they’re an empty, inert shell. Not dead, but not living either.” His eyes slid to her. “The dog you tried to save in Epoc’s lab was in the early stages of the extraction.”

Stomach churning, Regan stared at Declan. Disbelief and horror coursed through her veins. She shook her head. “But that dog was a German Shepherd, not a wolf. You said…”

“I said ‘trying to perfect’.” He swallowed, Adam’s apple rising and falling with the harsh action. “Every living thing has a life essence, Regan. Epoc has killed more than one animal, more than one person, to reach the stage he’s at now. The dog was in the latter stages of the procedure, the last animal tested, before the bastard moved onto his real subject.”

Regan’s mouth felt coated in dust. “Which was…?”

A bleak, frightening smile pulled at Declan’s lips. “Not which, Regan. Who. Nathan Epoc and I have a very long history. None of it amicable.”

She looked at him for a long moment, heart trying to beat its way from her chest. “Why?”

“Why do we have a history?”

“Why the tests? Why the…” She stopped, unable to continue.

Declan’s jaw bunched. “For the creation of an elixir. The drinker—Epoc—will not only gain the victim’s strength but their croí as well, making them virtually immortal. Invulnerable.” His grey eyes flashed with cold rage. “Unstoppable.”

No! It couldn’t be true. Could it? She shook her head, scrambling off the bed. “No. I don’t believe it.” She backed across the room, hugging herself. “I can’t believe it.”

Declan rose to his feet, watching her from the other side of the bed. “Why not, Regan? You saw with your own eyes what I am. You felt with your own hands…”

“Okay, I’ve seen you change, so maybe it’s true—or maybe you just hypnotized me—but c’mon! You want me to believe Australia is riddled with werewolves plotting to take over the world?” Her skin prickled with what felt like a million biting ants. She’d fallen into a cheesy, fifties horror movie and she wanted out. “I’ve seen Nathan Epoc. He’s no wolf. Blood-sucking, demon-spawn from Hell, maybe—but werewolf?” She shook her head. “Not possible. I can’t believe it.”

Declan didn’t move, but his eyes seemed to reach for her. Hold her frozen. “Yes, you can, Regan. You have to. Because Epoc won’t only be after me now.”

It was too much. Regan turned and, heart hammering, sprinted for the door.

Declan smashed into her before her fingers closed around the door knob, his incredibly hard body crushing her against the solid wooden door with such force her teeth clicked shut. Strong fingers curled around her wrists and rammed them beside her head, thighs she already knew impossible to escape pinned hers still. “I can’t let you go, Regan. Not now.”

“Why not?” she snapped. Declan’s heat melted into her, made her breath short. She glared at him—but her pussy was throbbing a traitorous beat. “You think Nathan Epoc’s really going to come after me? An insignificant human?”

His eyes were grey, turbulent pools. “I know he will. You’ve seen too much. You know too much. He will send the meanest mongrels of his pack to hunt you down and make the last few moments of your life the worst you’ve ever imagined. I can protect you. Only I can protect you. Keep you safe.”

Regan tilted her chin. “Safe? That’s why you can’t let me go?”

Declan’s nostrils flared. “No, Regan.” He pressed closer into her. “This is.” And his mouth claimed hers.

A jolt of exquisite tension stabbed into the pit of Regan’s stomach. Her pussy fluttered an erratic pulse equal to the frantic beat of her heart. A growl rumbled deep in Declan’s chest and he plunged his tongue further into her mouth, demanding she return the kiss. His body pressed her to the door, thighs to thighs, hips to hips. The contact felt like a branding iron. Left her dizzy and wet with want. The thick, solid length of desire between his thighs ground against her belly, as undeniable as his hold was inescapable. Regan whimpered, the sensations roaring through her both intoxicating and petrifying. What the hell was going on? She was in a hotel room who knows where, she’d been abducted by a man she’d first met as a wolf and she was more wet with lust than she’d ever been in her entire life. Nothing made sense.

Does it matter?

Regan’s heart froze. Yes. It did. It had too.

She shoved against his weight, dismay and delight ripping through her when he didn’t budge. His mouth continued its assault, his heat continued to seep into her body. His teeth nipped at her bottom lip and she whimpered again, eyes fluttering closed, tongue mating with his.

God, Woman. What are you doing?

Drowning? Or dreaming?

Declan’s hands left her wrists and scorched a path down her arms. For one brief moment the thought of escape shot through Regan’s head—all she’d need do was slam her palms against his ears and shatter his eardrums. But then his large, strong hands closed over her breasts and the thought, like reality, vanished.

He squeezed. Hard. Shots of pleasure stabbed into Regan’s stomach, igniting squirming spasms of tension in her pussy. She moaned, arching into his grip, her breasts growing heavy with a desire she knew was wrong but couldn’t deny. His fingers found her nipples and pinched them through her shirt, the soft friction from the material adding to the blistering rapture of the savage caress. Hell, Woman. You’ve lost your mind.

Who cared when it feels like this?

She arched again, wrapping her right leg around his left. Holding him as surely as he held her. Wanting to feel the molten shaft of steel pressed to her belly pressed instead to something far wetter and more intimate.

A very low gnarr rumbled up Declan’s chest and he tore his mouth from hers, staring down into her face, chest heaving. “Christ, Regan.” His eyes burned. “Who are you? What have you done to me?”

Regan rolled her hips, grinding her mons to the thick shaft between his thighs contained only by snug, stolen denim. “I’m asking you the same question.”

He dragged in a ragged breath. “The answers need greater consideration, then.” Without breaking eye contact, he raked his hands down her rib cage, under her tank and took complete possession of her breasts. Skin to skin, flesh to fevered flesh. “Starting here.”

“Hell, yes.” The words burst from Regan’s lips. She threw back her head, the hotel door behind her resounding with a dull thud as her skull smacked against it but she didn’t care. Nothing existed except Declan’s hands cupping her breasts, fondling them with languid attention. “Oh, yes.”

His mouth found her neck, scorched a line up to her ear. He sucked and bit at her lobe, sending a tiny shard of painful bliss into her constricting sex. She writhed beneath him, shoving her pussy to his cock with greater force. Declan squeezed her breasts again, knuckles pinching her nipples with almost brutal force until she whimpered with impatient pleasure. Every muscle in her body quivered, thrummed with raw, base energy. She stared sightlessly at the ceiling, feeling like she was about to explode.

How can that be? All he’s doing is squeezing your—

With savage speed, Declan ripped her tank top open and captured her right nipple with his mouth.

Regan sank her nails into his bunched shoulders. Oh, God. Yes.

Sharp teeth closed down on the puckered peak, flooding her pussy with cream. He drew her breast deeper into his mouth, suckled on its distended tip. His tongue laved her sensitive flesh with rapid strokes, flicked and circled her aching nipple. She tossed her head from side to side, eyes closed, lips parted, her throbbing sex greedily closing down on a phantom cock she wished was there.

Declan’s lips scorched a line from her right breast to her left, replacing his mouth on the heavy, abandoned swell of flesh with his masterful hand. He pulled at her nipples, with teeth and fingers, and Regan’s pussy gushed with eager moisture.

She shoved her hips harder into his rigid cock. “Please…” The single word fell from her lips, barely more than a breath.

Declan’s mouth continued to feast on her breast. He tortured her nipple with his teeth, sucked it so hard she saw stars. She gasped and drove her nails into his shoulders. A distant part of her mind screamed at her to stop him, get away from him, get away now. A louder, more primitive part however, squealed in ecstasy at each drawing pressure on her nipple and demanded she rip the shirt from his torso, granting her access to skin she knew to be smooth and perfect under her palms. Granting her access to the small circles of his nipples, tracing them with first her fingertips and then her tongue.

The thought sent a sizzling stab of liquid heat into her core and she moaned, both in frustration and rapture. She’d never wanted someone like this. It was wild. Animalistic. Consuming and overwhelming. She wanted him. Every mysterious, reality-bending inch of him.

As if Declan heard her craving, he slid his palms down her torso. Long-fingered hands wavered at the elasticized waistband of her running shorts for a frozen second before, with an abrupt move, he jerked her harder to his cock, plunged his hands into her shorts and grabbed the cheeks of her ass.

Regan’s heart skipped a beat and she sucked in a swift breath. “Holy fuck!”

Declan lifted his head from her breast with an audible pop. “I keep telling you, Regan, there’s nothing holy about me.”

His eyes seemed to glow silver. They bored into her like a drill, making her sex constrict and her head giddy. Trapped her as surely as his hands and body did. Nothing holy…

She stared back at him. Felt the branding heat of his hands on her ass sink into her core. Felt the thick, turgid length of his impressive cock press to her mons, just as branding, just as commanding. The crisp cotton of her shorts served as no barrier, no protection. A shiver rippled up her spine and a soft moan sounded in her throat.

The sound shattered the heavy silence and in a heartbeat, Declan’s eyes—those untamed, thunderous eyes—dilated. Became an animal’s eyes. A wolf’s eyes. An utterly inhuman growl filled the air.

Regan’s throat squeezed tight. Oh, no.

The wolf’s eyes stared at her from Declan’s face. His fingers sank into her ass and, as he pulled her sex closer to his, she felt his short blunt nails grow harder, longer.

Her heart stopped. Her pussy constricted. And, before her wanton body could take charge of her actions, she swung her arms into two sharp arcs and whacked them against Declan’s head, smacking her flattened palms to his ears.

He threw back his head and howled, staggering backward, clawed hands pressed to each side of his head, eyes squeezed shut, agony etching his face.

Regan watched him. For a split second. Heart pounding, throat tight, she grabbed the doorknob and flung the door open. Running out into the sun-filled car park of the motel and sprinting down the footpath.

Away from Declan O’Connell. Away from the creature he was becoming.

End of Extended Sample

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