sample chapters

Chapter 1

The night of February fourth, Seattle might as well have been relocated to the North Pole.

 

Parker Berenson, alpha of the city’s werewolf pack, slammed the door to his aging brown Chevrolet Caprice. “Stay human. Stay human. Stay human,” he muttered. Hands clenched into fists, his feet pounded the icy pavement leading from the driveway to his blue-gray stucco house. He wore neither overcoat nor jacket, but he didn’t feel cold. Sweat streamed down his face and neck. His white dress shirt was soaked, as were his trousers. In the frigid air, the tiny tendrils of steam rising from his muscular shoulders made him look as if he were smoldering.

 

His wolf’s hard push against the mental bonds that held it inside their shared body and mind made him stumble. <<I want out!>> it roared.

 

Regaining his balance, Parker ignored his beast as best he could and kept walking. “Stay human. Just stay human.”

 

<<I’m—>>

 

“At least wait until we get inside,” he said through his teeth.

 

The porch light was out again, but Parker could see well enough by the streetlamps’ ambient glow. Reaching his front door, he shoved his key into the lock and gave it a savage twist. The bolt didn’t move. Using more pressure, Parker tried turning the key again and this time nearly snapped it in two. He grabbed the knob. “Open, you…” he said, jiggling the key in its slot.

 

This didn’t work either. Cursing, Parker battled with the stubborn deadbolt. <<That’s it,>> his wolf snarled and gave another hard mental shove. <<Tear the sucker off—>>

 

“No!”

 

Just then the cylinder aligned in its track, and the key turned. Parker threw the door open, stormed over the threshold, then banged the door shut.

 

<<One day, I swear-to-God, I’m gonna kill that—>>

 

Parker leaned against the door, panting. “You and me both. Now calm down, will you? Calm—”

 

<<Calm down? After what he did to us tonight? Again? Calm down my—>>

 

“Shut up. We need a drink.”

 

<<I don’t need a drink. I need—>>

 

“Shut up, I said.”

 

His wolf didn’t reply. That was a good sign. Feeling more in control over his beast now, Parker strode away from the small patch of faux-slate tiles that served as a tiny foyer. The room he marched across comprised nearly all of the main level. White walls supported glass and metal sculptures whose jagged edges appeared sharp enough to carve an Easter ham. These stood in stark contrast to the rest of the sparse furnishings scattered about—the clean, straight lines and ninety-degree angles formed by industrial-grade steel pipe. The severe black leather seat cushions on the sofa and chairs did little to soften the interior’s threatening appearance.

 

The decor wasn’t pretty, but it had its uses. The lack of furniture allowed enough space for all of his wolves to sit when the pack met at his place. And in case his neighbors discovered what he was and decided to do something about it, the wall hangings and furniture could be broken into makeshift but lethal weapons.

 

Parker headed straight for the freestanding bar about twenty feet away. Reaching it, he grabbed the jumbo-sized bottle of Jack Daniel’s from the counter then turned and snatched a double shot glass from a nearby storage rack. Pouring the glass full, he drank it in one gulp, ignoring the liquid fire searing his throat. He tossed down two more shots.

 

After his fourth drink, Parker felt at least some of the tension leave his shoulders. Holding the glass in two large, strong, and trembling—but very human—hands, he set the shot glass down on the upper counter. He leaned against the marble and closed his eyes. “Okay. We’re okay now. Right?”

 

His wolf remained silent. Another good sign. The last thing Parker wanted was to morph into his other, a gargantuan manwolf eight feet tall. A forced morph was always triggered in werewolves by the full moon and sometimes, like now, by powerful emotions run amok. And the greater the size differences between the human and were selves, the more agonizing the change. Parker-the-human stood six feet, six inches tall in his stocking feet. For him, morphing into his eight-foot were hurt like a knife-wielding bitch.

 

Parker had been just about to let out a sigh of relief when his sensitive nose caught a whiff of cologne clinging to his shirt. It wasn’t his. Revolted, he ripped the still-wet shirt off and threw it across the room. His broad, hairy chest heaving with anger, he watched the discarded garment land in a crumpled heap about ten feet away.

 

<<No, we’re not okay,>> his wolf growled. <<Human, when are you going to wake up and smell the blood? That bastard is driving us insane.>>

 

“That bastard” was Kurt, the vampire Master. Old and extremely formidable, Kurt extended preternatural protection against Seattle’s human horde to just about every exotic—zot—that lived there. The smell Parker had picked up was the vampire’s favorite scent.

 

Parker poured a fifth shot of whiskey into the glass. “Quit calling me human. Besides, what do you suggest we do about it?” he said. “We’re Kurt’s servant. Bound to him by blood. Day or night, he calls, we come, and then we do whatever he wants.” He downed his drink and grimaced. “Like we’re his damned dog or something.”

 

Parker felt his wolf’s anger surge. <<Guess you like it, huh? Like this, maybe?>> A mental picture flashed in their shared mind’s eye, one Parker would rather not have seen. Once again, he saw Kurt’s grinning face poised above him, heard the seductive whispering in his ear, and felt the sweet ecstasy of fangs piercing his flesh.

 

Parker’s face reddened. “You think I wanted to go down to Kurt’s nightclub tonight?” he shouted. “You think I wanted his hands on me? No. You know what he does. Takes over my mind and twists my head around until I’m practically begging for it.” He tossed down a sixth shot. “And while he’s doing it I sure don’t feel you trying to stop him.”

 

<<That’s bull and you know it.>>

 

“Shut up.” Parker poured himself an seventh shot and drained it, which was followed by an eighth. But Jack wasn’t doing the job. The humiliating images of what had happened to him and his wolf in Kurt’s office beneath the vampire’s Last Chance nightclub refused to fade.

 

He gripped the shot glass harder. His blood pressure skyrocketed. Rivers of sweat burst from his pores and ran down his face and chest. His wolf’s snarling inside their shared mind swelled into a howl. Parker started grinding his teeth, a sure sign he was losing it and going into a forced morph.

 

“Oh, shrrit!”

 

Chapter 2

After a Herculean effort of will, Parker had barely managed to keep his wolf at bay. He slammed the glass down on the bar’s marble countertop. It shattered into myriad shards, one of which gouged the base of his right thumb. He didn’t notice.

 

“I know how to get Kurt outta my head,” Parker muttered, his bright green eyes blazing. Dropping into a squat, he yanked open the doors to all of the lower storage cabinets, unaware of his cut thumb dripping and spattering blood on the floor. Knocking various objects out of the way, he rummaged for the marijuana stash he thought he’d put there. It wasn’t.

 

“Shit.” He stood up and loped toward his study on the other side of the house, leaving the cabinet doors hanging open. By the time he reached it, his speed hurled him through the open doorway. Parker kicked at the pile of software magazines on the floor and sent them flying. He rooted around for whatever stash he might have left in his desk and file cabinets. He even looked under the cushion of his desk chair, but there was nothing.

 

“Where is it?” Parker shouted to his house. His wolf’s growling inside his head grew louder. This was serious. On top of everything else, his frustrated searching was making it harder for him to stay human.

 

Whirling, Parker dashed out of the study and back into the great room. Then he sprinted up the stairs and crashed into the large master bedroom. He flipped the switch, and the bedroom flooded with light. Four long strides brought him to his Art Deco clothes bureau. With its intricate pattern of variously colored wood and mother-of-pearl inlay, the piece was worthy of an Erté print. He’d found it at a yard sale.

 

“Okay, okay…where?” Parker tore into the drawers’ contents. After several minutes of searching, he still hadn’t found what he was looking for—nothing, not even an old, dried-out weed stem. He stepped back from the dresser, trying to remember. Turning this way and that, his gaze swept over the rumpled king-size bed and the nightstands on either side. “I can’t have gone through a quarter pound of weed in less than two weeks.” He scratched his chin. “Could I?”

 

Giving up the hunt, Parker stumbled across the frayed blue braided rug to an overstuffed chair near his bed and fell onto its cushions. He blew a heavy breath. Propping his elbow on the armrest, he rubbed his eyes and tried to think.

 

“Ya smoke it all again, Park?” a voice from his past echoed in his head. It belonged to Frank Suggs, his werepanther friend in Arkansas who’d been skinned alive by three local men when the boys were fifteen years old. At thirteen, the two had discovered a small patch of weed growing wild in the woods behind their houses. In those last years of Frank’s life, Parker’s buddy had said that to him a lot. “Hey, Park—ya smoke it all again?”

 

Parker snorted at the memory. “Guess I did, Frank.”

 

The telephone rang. Pinching the bridge of his nose and squeezing one eye shut, Parker glared at the thing on the nightstand next to him, willing it to stop. The phone rang twice more. He snatched up the receiver. “Berenson,” he growled. “Alpha?” a young child’s timid, sexless voice said. “Alpha, it’s me, Susie.”

 

Despite his desperate state, Parker’s face relaxed, and the murderous look in his eyes softened. Crossing his left leg over his right, he smiled into the handset. “Hey, Susie.” His voice was gentle, showing no trace of rage. “Whassup?”

 

Parker-the-human and Parker-the-wolf were very fond of this darling, precocious little werewolf girl, one of the few children in his pack. Parker-the-human thought it was because the child was a lot like him at that age. Parker-the-wolf thought it was because this girl cub just might turn out to be an alpha someday. Female alphas were rare.

 

“Alpha, are you coming to my birthday party on Saturday?” she said, her voice sounding relieved now she knew Alpha wasn’t mad at her.

 

“’Course, honey. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

 

Susie had just taken a breath to say something else when Parker heard the faint sounds of a scuffle. The anxious voice of a young woman replaced the child’s. “Alpha, I’m sorry,” Susie’s mother said. “Susie knows she’s not supposed to call you, but she picked up the phone while I was out of the room, and—”

 

“Hey, it’s okay, Janet,” Parker reassured her, keeping his tone light. The child had broken an important pack rule—no one under the rank of Third contacted the alpha wolf directly unless it was a dire emergency. Anyone who did was subject to punishment. Even her mother wouldn’t have called him since she was a Sixth.

 

“She’s only four years old. Okay, almost five. The cub’s excited about her party. Can’t blame her for that.” He shifted in the chair, back to his original position.

 

“But Alpha—”

 

“No, Janet.” Parker’s voice was firm. “Susie broke a pack rule, but she’s too young to understand what it’s for. You can punish her for it any way you like, but I won’t. I’ll see you guys on Saturday. Stay human.”

 

Parker dropped the phone into its cradle. She dared to question me, he thought, annoyed. But it soon faded. He stared at the ravaged bureau drawers without seeing them, thinking. Maybe I should have been more polite?

 

<<You asking me? I would’ve—>>

 

“No, I wasn’t asking you. It’s just that—look, just because Janet is one of the lowest-ranked wolves in my pack doesn’t mean I have to treat her like it.”

 

<<Why not?>>

 

“Oh. So you would’ve pulled a Slade on her, right? Maybe beat her to a pulp while Susie watched?” Darrlyon Slade was the old alpha Parker had defeated in a death-match almost five months ago.

 

Parker felt his wolf’s anger rise. <<Don’t wanna think about him.>>

 

“Fine. So let’s just relax, huh? Think good thoughts. Say, what about our last pack hunt, when we caught that deer?”

 

His wolf calmed. <<Uhrrm. That was great, wasn’t it?>>

 

Parker sighed in relief. Between his wolf’s rage and his own, he’d had enough trouble staying human tonight. He stretched out his six-foot-six-inch frame in the chair and tented his hands over his stomach. Closing his eyes, he willed forth the memory of the big buck he and his wolf had brought down and the feast his pack had enjoyed afterward.

 

It didn’t work.

 

Chapter 3

Parker felt his body tense in his chair. Instead of the pack’s last hunt, his memory played back on his inner movie screen the night of last December third, an endless rerun of a torturously bad horror film in which the wolfman was the star.

 

“Come on, Park,” his mental soundtrack played. The voice belonged to Garrett Larkin, a witch and the woman he loved. “You have to do this. You haven’t got a choice. So you might as well get it over with.”

 

Walking along an alley, they reached the Last Chance nightclub’s back door. “I don’t see why,” Parker said. “Kurt already knows you. You two have known each other for years.”

 

“Yes, but this is different.” Garrett made a face when Parker sighed. “Look, Park—this introduction’s just protocol. You don’t like Kurt, but you know the rules. You’re alpha of the wolfpack, and the alpha is Kurt’s servant. I’m your new freyja. That doesn’t make me his servant, but I’m in charge of the pack in case something happens to you.”

 

“And if something does happen to me?”

 

He watched Garrett’s jaw set. “I won’t be Kurt’s servant, Parker. Master or not, I’ve better things to do.”

 

The remark had stung, but Parker said nothing. He turned away and searched for the loose brick near the door’s jamb. Finding it, he pulled it out and thrust his hand into the space, ignoring the mortar scratching his skin. His fingers brushed against the hard plastic button they’d been searching for and mashed it. The door’s lock clicked. Pushing it open, the two entered. After descending a flight of stairs, he unlocked and pushed open another door.

 

They walked along a long hallway then reached another staircase and ascended. Now they were at street level again. Leading Garrett through Chance’s kitchens, Parker pushed open the door leading to the nightclub proper.

 

Kurt, alone in the club, was standing on the far side of the hardwood dance floor, waiting for them. Parker and Garrett crossed until they stood about ten feet away. “Master,” Parker said as politely as he could, “I present to you Garrett Larkin, my freyja, and the mother of my pack. She is my equal in all things.”

 

Back home, on his private movie screen, Parker could almost feel how tight his throat had been while choking out the next line of his formal recital. “Ask of her whatever you would ask of me, and it shall be given.”

 

“Thank you, my servant,” Kurt said. “You have chosen well.” Parker cringed. The inflection felt like a knife twisting in his gut.

 

The Master’s amusement at Parker’s discomfort was plain to see. Turning to Garrett, he gave her a beatific smile and held out his hand. “Come with me.” Garrett took it without hesitation. “Let’s go over here, hmm?” He pointed to a table and three chairs abutting the dance floor.

 

Parker saw how Kurt’s gaze traveled up and down Garrett’s small, willowy body, lingering on those parts he apparently found intriguing. Parker tried to keep an iron grip on Garrett’s hand, but his strong fingers loosened like overcooked spaghetti.

 

Sprawled in the overstuffed chair, Parker winced hard, not wanting to face the shame he always felt at his galling weakness before the vampire. He remembered his dismay when Garrett dropped her hand from his and accepted the Master’s. Kurt had known exactly what Parker was trying to do. So Kurt, exploiting his physical control over the werewolf’s body, had freed Garrett’s hand by telekinetically forcing Parker to let go.

 

Walking Garrett to the table, Kurt turned and looked over his shoulder. “Stay there.”

 

“The hell—” Parker said. He took a step forward, but that was as far as he got. The Master had immobilized him, putting him under a stasis so he could neither move nor speak. He watched Kurt remove Garrett’s cloak and begin massaging her shoulders. “You are a beautiful woman,” he purred. “I’m pleased my servant has such good taste.”

 

Garrett smiled, her eyes shiny and vacant. “Thank you, Master.”

 

Parker had known what her look meant. He’d seen it before in other zots. The bastard had hypnotized her. Now she’d do anything he wanted. He remembered how surprised he’d been that Garrett had succumbed so easily. Garrett Larkin wasn’t just a witch—she was a mage. He’d seen her stare down vampires who’d thought she’d be easy prey. Why didn’t you fight him, Garrett? he thought for the thousandth time. Why?

 

“I’ve never had a witch servant before,” Kurt said, glancing at Parker. “Humans, weres, elves, yes. But never a witch.” Then he turned and faced him. “I want her. Frankly, I think she’d be happier with me than with you. Wouldn’t you, Garrett?”

 

“Yes, Master.”

 

Kurt’s smile was an evil grin of triumph. Parker tried to break the stasis by repeatedly throwing his mind against it, but Kurt’s hold over him wouldn’t budge. He was furious enough to force morph, but he just wasn’t able to move.

 

Kurt walked over to him. “I know how much you hate to share, wolfman,” the Master cooed in Parker’s ear. “But you’ll just have to get over it, hmm? Of course, I’ll lend Garrett to you whenever you wish as long as I’m not busy with her. I do respect she is your freyja, Parker. I really do.” He took a few steps backward. “To show my respect, wolf, I will even ask before I make her mine.” He smiled again. “Garrett, would you consent to be my servant?” he said without turning around.

 

To Parker, it sounded like some kind of sick marriage proposal.

 

“Yes,” Garrett said.

 

Kurt then returned to where Garrett stood. Looking over his shoulder, he gave Parker a lascivious smirk, took her into his arms, and sat her on the table. Then he sank his fangs into her neck. When he had his fill, he looked up, his mouth stained with her blood. The Master slowly licked his lips. “Mmm…like nectar. Let’s see if the rest of her is just as sweet, hmm?”

 

Then, to Parker’s horror, Kurt lifted Garrett’s dress and fucked her right there on the table in front of him. He took her from the front, from behind, and every other which way he chose. Parker could only stand rooted to his spot, forced to watch while his woman gave herself to the vampire. He wanted to scream but couldn’t.

 

At home now, he could and he did. “Gawwrooo!” he let loose with a howl of pure misery. Clapping his hands over his mouth to stifle the second howl welling up in his throat, he leapt from his chair and started pacing around his bedroom.

 

When the urge to howl passed, Parker removed his hands from his mouth and gripped his head. The pressure in his chest was almost unbearable. “Stay human, stay human, stay human…” he chanted, striding around in circles.

 

After his breathing returned to something approaching normal, Parker returned to his chair and fell into it a second time. Closing his eyes, he pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. “Oh, God…why did I have to see that shit again?” He gritted his teeth at the few tears that leaked from under his eyelids. “There was nothing I could do. Nothing.”

 

He slouched in his seat, feeling sorry for himself. Then he noticed his wolf was quiet, too. The memory—and the hurt—of Garrett’s betrayal had taken the wind out of its angry sails.

 

Parker sat up. “Screw this. I gotta do something.” Looking down, he noticed the healed gash in his right thumb. He licked at the dried blood, thinking. He’d planned to spend a quiet evening at home—for a change—but after all he’d been through tonight, that plan was history.

 

He slouched in the chair again. I was a good boy at Shanty’s Bar last night. That dude was being an asshole, but at least I didn’t throw him through the window like I did to that other guy at the Lion last week. He nodded once. Okay. Shanty’s it is.

<<What about the blonde? Remember her? She might be waiting for us to show up again.>>

 

Parker scowled. He’d almost forgotten. Sitting eight stools away from him at the bar counter, the blonde woman kept giving him the eye, obviously wanting him to buy her a drink. Maybe lots of drinks. He hadn’t, though. Parker knew he was built like Hollywood’s version of a hairy Norse god—werewolves like him often were—but he’d have bet his werewolf’s hairy balls the woman was a lorelei. Loreleis were human men and women who specialized in outing exotics. After gaining a zot’s trust, the lorelei would then turn her lover over to the police. When that happened, the exotic in question disappeared, never to be heard from again.

 

So what should he do, then?

 

<<I’m starving,>> his wolf blurted.

 

Parker blinked in surprise. The two of them had been so pissed off at Kurt that their shared stomach’s distress hadn’t registered until now. Whatever else they did tonight, eating had to come first. A werewolf’s metabolism was high, way off the human charts. That extraordinary metabolism was also the reason why it was so hard for a werewolf to get drunk.

 

“Me too. Lunch was a long time ago. And we’ve lost a lot of blood tonight.” He thought for a few moments. “Okay. This is what we’ll do. We go to Tina’s Place on Southwest Thomas for dinner. She always gives us extra big helpings, and we can sit in that booth way in the back in case we see any loreleis. After we eat, we make a score for a new stash, then come home and finish that program before our client fires us. Sound good?”

 

<<Uhrrm. Let’s do it.>>

 

Rising to his feet, Parker’s sensitive nose caught another whiff of Kurt’s cologne. He shoved away the memory of how the scent had gotten onto his skin. “Shower first,” he muttered. “No way I’m going out smelling like him.” He strode from the bedroom and then along a short hallway to the bath. Inside, he stripped off his remaining clothes, turned on the shower, and stepped into the tub.

 

He was out ten minutes later. Humming a paean to his expected meal, he dried himself off and then went to his bedroom. Tina’s was casual, so he dressed in an oxford cloth shirt, jeans, and a pair of loafers that hadn’t yet seen better days.

 

Parker turned out the light and loped downstairs. Pausing at the base of the staircase, he decided against wearing a coat. The night was arctic but he wouldn’t be outside long—just long enough to get in and out of his car.

 

Unlocking the deadbolt on the front door, Parker had just started to turn the doorknob when a mild, familiar trance overtook him. His eyes narrowed and his jaw tightened.

 

<<What does he want now?>>

 

The front door vanished. Parker gasped as if he’d been sucker punched. His mind’s eye filled with an intimate view of Kurt sodomizing a young man.

 

For Parker, that wasn’t even the worst part. The young man was Gerald, a minor member of his wolfpack who’d been kept as a sex slave by a human family from God-knew-when until he was fourteen years old. From what Gerald had told him, they’d used the werewolf boy for themselves, their friends, and anyone else who’d been willing to pay.

 

Parker couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Eighteen years old now, Gerald had been so traumatized by his human abusers that he appeared more or less unable to take care of himself, which was why Parker had placed him with the vampires, much as he’d hated having to do so. In Kurt’s colony, someone—human or not—was always around.

 

A wave of protective concern for this junior member of his pack surged through him. Gerald, he was sure, hadn’t consented to Kurt’s attentions.

 

Parker’s hand gripping the doorknob started to shake, and soon the quivering spread through the rest of his body. The door rattled in its frame. He knew that even if he was in the room with them, he could do nothing to stop Kurt from taking as much pleasure as he wanted from the boy, nothing at all. And this—this show—was being put on by the Master for Parker’s benefit, if only to remind him of his impotence.

 

Parker’s wave of concern turned into a tsunami of fury. He bellowed in rage. What was the point of being alpha if he couldn’t protect even the least of his pack from this sort of abuse, the very thing he’d thought the poor cub had been rescued from?

 

Then Kurt’s contemptuous, echoing voice filled his mind, silencing him. You may be king of your wolves, but really, you’re just another of my little pegboys like Gerald.

 

The vision disappeared. For a full five seconds, Parker stood stock still in shocked disbelief at what he’d just heard.

 

Parker couldn’t take anymore. His wolf erupted. A lava flow of were-strength blasted through his arms, then through the rest of him. His human eyes glowed his werewolf’s green. He heard and felt his clothes start to rip. He was morphing.

 

Hardly aware of what he was doing, Parker ripped the knob from the door. Spinning around, he hurled the brass piece across the room. It shattered a large mirror that had, until very recently, reflected his remarkably still-human image.

 

“I. Am. Not!” Parker’s maddened beast roared. He tore the door open, nearly taking it off its hinges. Leaping over the threshold, the alpha werewolf slammed the broken door shut and fled into the freezing night.