Possessed by a Wolf

Possessed by a Wolf
Editions:Paperback
ISBN: 9780373009459
Kindle
ISBN: B00PQJI8WW
ePub
ISBN: 9781460381229

2016 RITA® Nominee,
Best Paranormal Romance

Wolves mate for life…and wolves never forget their first love.

Royal photographer Lexie Haven wasn’t expecting to see her ex-boyfriend Faran ever again. She could accept that he was a spy, but a werewolf? No way. No matter how good they had been together, she has very personal reasons for steering clear of monsters. That is, until he literally crashes into a royal gathering in all his furry glory—and with a gunman on his tail.

Within minutes of seeing each other again, the two estranged lovers are on a collision course. For now, Lexie is a prime suspect in the heist of a priceless ring, and only Faran can help her find the jewel and restore peace to the royal kingdom. But first, Lexie needs to trust in second chances and the supernatural.

Published: May 1, 2015
Publisher: Harlequin
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Excerpt:

Chapter 1

Something cracked, a snapping sound that shot up Lexie Haven’s spine with an icy, instinctive foreboding.

She looked up from her Nikon, still absorbed in photographing the wedding ring on its black velvet pillow. Her concentration had been absolute, and it took a moment to come back to reality and wonder what had disturbed her. Curious, she glanced around the room, but the portable lights she’d rigged up sank everything and everyone else into darkness. The night outside turned the floor-to-ceiling windows into mirrors. She was far away, but could see herself move—a figure in an emerald silk tunic and slacks, her pale face framed by a hip-length tumble of fiery hair. And then someone moved, blotting out her reflection.

“What was that?” she said to no one in particular. No one replied. She looked around, almost ready to dismiss the noise from her mind. She had work to do.

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The dim room crowded with party guests made it next to impossible to take good photographs, but royalty paid well. In return, Lexie took plenty of shots of the attendees and their bling, and that included the celebrated wedding band. Although not every palace official wanted a photographer at the party, Lexie was the compromise choice between no coverage and a tabloid free-for-all. Hers would be the first photographs to hit the press. The royal couple had unveiled the ring only half an hour ago.

Which was why Lexie was standing beside the marble fountain, camera pointed at the display case where the ring was being shown. For Lexie’s convenience, the case’s glass top had been removed and the security alarms switched off. Nevertheless, security guards stood to either side of the case. Until that moment they’d been polite yet bored, but at the cracking sound they stiffened like dogs catching a scent.

Other people must have heard the noise as well. Voices rose above the splashing of the central fountain, no longer the polite murmur of ambassadors and celebrities deemed worthy to visit the Palace of Marcari. The hundred-odd A-list guests were now just ordinary people, shrill and afraid. Only the classical pianist carried on as usual from his Steinway in the corner, but then musicians were trained to keep going no matter what.

Another cracking noise came, sharper this time. A woman screamed—a short, horrified yelp of surprise. Lexie switched off the portable lights, bringing the rest of the room into better view, and stopped cold. The three south walls of the octagonal room were almost all glass, giving a view of the gardens. A spiderweb of fractures radiated across the center pane, leading away from a tiny hole. Gunshots. That’s what they’d heard. Fear came like a crashing wave, and Lexie’s whole body turned cold. Who was out there in the darkness, looking—shooting—in?

Both the guards drew their guns and joined the scatter of security bolting toward the prince and princess, who stood just in front of the fountain. Lexie’s hands had gone slippery with fear, and she set the Nikon down, some part of her still sane enough to worry about dropping it. She grabbed the edge of the display case to steady herself.

The crowd was scattering—or trying to. The west doors that led to the rest of the palace were flung open, but rather than offering escape, more gunshots rang outside the open door. Someone shut the doors again, and the noise of the crowd escalated.

“What’s going on?” Lexie’s friend, Chloe Anderson, appeared at her elbow. She was dressed in a silk suit with her fine hair swept up in a twist. Her normally fair coloring had turned ghostly pale.

“Someone is shooting. We need to get people out of here.” Lexie’s voice shook. The room suddenly felt smaller than it had a minute ago, as if the walls were being sucked inward.

“There’s got to be another exit.” Chloe’s eyes were wide with shock. And no wonder—she was the princess’s wedding planner, responsible for making sure the event went off without a hitch. Whatever was going on definitely wasn’t part of Chloe’s plans.

“I think we’re trapped,” was all Lexie could say.

The room was packed, making it hotter than it should have been. Lexie swallowed hard and forced herself to breathe. A jittering edge of panic danced at the edges of her self-control. She slammed it down. She needed her wits sharp. Lexie passed a hand over her forehead, trying to ignore her clammy skin. Get it together. She made herself stand straighter. “How are we going to keep these people calm?”

She was just a photographer, but job titles didn’t count at moments like this. Fortunately, she wasn’t the only one thinking ahead. Right then, the knot of security around the prince and princess broke apart. Princess Amelie of Marcari had one hand on her future bridegroom’s arm. Kyle Alphonse Adraio, Crown Prince of Vidon and future king of both countries, was waving a hand as if insisting the guards leave his side and help deal with the shooters. The guards, who wore the green uniforms of Vidon, didn’t look happy. Nor did Prince Kyle’s younger brother, Leo, who had gone the pale gray of moldy cheese.

Another shot punched through the window and smashed one of the crystal chandeliers, making Lexie jump. In the next moment, the central window shattered into tiny fragments. Cries of fright and pain tore the air as shards smashed to the marble tiles, sending up a dazzling shower of glass. Lexie grabbed Chloe and ducked behind the display case. Needle-sharp glass fragments left a stinging kiss against her skin.

The crash still echoed as an enormous wolf leaped through the gaping window frame. The beast cleared most of the fallen glass in one graceful bound, landing a dozen yards away from Lexie, its claws skidding as it turned to face the broken window with a savage snarl. The creature had pale gold eyes, its coat shading from white fur at the muzzle to black at the tips of its ears. It was huge, at least four feet at the shoulder.

There were wolves in Marcari’s mountains—they were on the crest of the royal family—but this one’s size gave him away as something more. The beast was not just a wolf, but a werewolf, and she knew his markings. More than that, she inexplicably knew it was Faran Kenyon as clearly as if he had called her name.

Faran. Her ex-boyfriend really was the big bad wolf.

The room—even the piano—fell into a horrified, fixed silence. Lexie’s heart, already speeding, nearly pounded through her ribs. Memory speared her, adding old terror to new. She’d seen those razor-sharp fangs tear a limb off.

The silence ended as every one of the prince’s guards drew their weapons and pointed them at the beast. Lexie leaped to her feet and thrust out a hand. “Stop!”

Her voice rang with command. Everyone turned to stare. Even the wolf looked surprised.

So was Lexie. Why am I saving Faran? I ran across a continent to get away from him. And yet, there was nothing else she could bear to do. With a terrible, desperate surge of dismay, she understood that not even a world of distance had broken the essential bonds between them.

“Be careful!” Chloe said in alarm, though Lexie couldn’t tell whether it was the guns or the fangs that worried her.

“I know what I’m doing,” she replied tightly. It was an utter lie. Lexie’s heart was pounding so hard she felt dizzy, but she moved until the guards would have to shoot through her to get to the wolf. And then she turned and faced him. The wolf—Faran—was watching her with his cool yellow gaze, sniffing the air. Lexie wondered if he would recall her scent, and how he would react when he did. She’d never been sure how much humanity Faran kept in wolf form and besides that, their parting had been awful.

Glass clung to his coat in glittering fragments, his muzzle scratched and oozing blood. There was a wound in his flank, too—deep enough that the fur was matted and dark. Lexie felt a wrench, guessing that was where at least one bullet had gone. The wolf rose, taking a step toward her.

“No,” she said sharply. “Sit. Stay.”

He sat, ears going back as if she’d ticked him off. Faran never had liked being told what to do.

Too bad. Lexie was shaking. She had memories of watching him fight, teeth and claws rending flesh with unthinkable, wet sounds. The sight of blood didn’t bother her much, but the warmth and smell of it had undone her that night. She’d never heard a man scream like that before. They weren’t memories she’d ever shared much less tried to figure out. It had been easier to run, and keep running. I knew there was a chance he might be in Marcari. I should never have come.

But there were other memories of Faran Kenyon. Like the fact that he’d brought her champagne in bed and listened to her talk about the career she’d have one day, the beautiful photographs she’d take. We did love one another. Until she’d found out what he was.

Their history was a painful tangle, but this moment—here, now—was simple. She refused to watch him die.

“Ma’am,” said one of the guards, his weapon raised. “Step away.”

“I don’t think so.” She stepped closer instead, wiping her sweating palms on the green silk of her tunic. Her stomach felt like a bag of writhing snakes.

At the sound of the guard’s voice, Faran snarled again, showing long, curving canines. He began to stand, but Lexie ordered him down with a gesture. There was no question Faran would protect her, but that would just put him in harm’s way again.

Why had he come through the window, and who had shot him?

“Listen to Ms. Haven,” said Princess Amelie from across the room. “Unless the creature attacks, do not harm it.”

“Your Royal Highness, please!” one of the guards protested, glancing at the prince for direction. “There is enough danger without this!”

“You will respect her wish,” Prince Kyle ordered in a tone that brooked no argument. The prince and princess were well aware of Faran’s secret.

A whisper ran through the crowd, and not a happy one. They saw only a wolf.

Lexie swallowed hard. Panting, Faran regarded her with that unreadable yellow gaze, giving away nothing. She could feel the eyes of the guards on them both, waiting for an excuse to shoot. A sudden image of Faran’s smile, the private one he’d kept for her alone, stabbed through her.

Chloe was still crouched behind the display case. She spoke, low and soft. “I hear dogs.”

So did Lexie, and the baying was getting louder, breaking into the deep bell of bloodhounds and the growling snarl of coursers bred to bring down prey. Lexie’s breath caught. She raised her chin, forcing authority into her voice. “That’s a hunting pack. What’s it doing on the palace grounds?”

One of the guards looked up, his eyes cool. “I don’t know, ma’am.” Since the wolf wasn’t moving, a few of them stepped away, trying to get a better look out the windows. Lexie watched them suspiciously. Had the guard just lied?

And why are they—whoever they are—chasing a werewolf? she added silently. And who is doing the shooting?

Faran was looking at the broken window and giving off a slow, steady rumble of threat. Enough light spilled across the lawn that Lexie could make out what was happening outside. The pack was just beyond the gaping hole where the window used to be. Despite the gunfire, some of the guests had been escaping through the shattered opening. Now they scattered out of the way. At least two dozen dogs were coming fast, straining at their leashes. Their handlers also wore the green coats of the visiting Vidonese.

That was the clue Lexie needed. “Oh!”

Chloe shot her a curious look. “What?”

Lexie dropped her voice. “Does Vidon still hate the supernatural?”

Chloe blinked and gave a single nod. The wolf made a chuffing noise that sounded sarcastic. Lexie swore under her breath, doing her best to still the trembling in her hands.

Until Faran had finally taken her into his confidence, Lexie’s knowledge of the supernatural was limited to B movies and horror novels. Only a handful knew that the King of Marcari had vampire soldiers at his beck and call, or that the King of Vidon had a company of knights sworn to destroy them. And they’re still fighting. Brilliant.

The disagreement between Team Vampire and Team Slayer had kept the two tiny countries at war since the Crusades. The marriage between Amelie and Kyle—a true love match, by all accounts—was supposed to unite the kingdoms and end the hostilities. That was why all this—the party, the ring and the photos—was happening.

But if the Vidonese were hunting a werewolf on Marcari soil, all bets were off.

The hounds spilled over the window frame, howling in fury. Faran was on his feet, suddenly between Lexie and the dogs. The guards flinched, and the wolf froze, stopping just out of reach of his opponents. But he growled so deep and low that she felt it through the floor.

The hounds exploded toward him, but the rush didn’t last. At the last moment, the handlers realized there was a sea of broken glass. Swearing, they hauled on the leashes. The dogs whined and yipped and howled, denied their prey.

Faran stalked back and forth just beyond the litter of shards, limping from the wound in his side. Blood spotted the floor behind him. Still, his jaws dripped with saliva, upper lip curling to show long ivory fangs. One particularly ambitious hound strained forward, front paws rising as it fought the leash. Faran snapped, taunting the howling dogs. Guarding Lexie.

The tension in the room spiraled upward. Several of the Vidonese guards looked ready to start shooting, no matter what the princess had said. “Wolf,” Lexie commanded, fear sharpening her tone. “Heel!”

He gave her a look that sent ice down her spine. “Heel your alpha ass,” she muttered under her breath, dizzy with terror but showing none of it. “Now. Please.”

Faran stubbornly remained standing, but he fell quiet.

“Get those dogs out of here!” Prince Kyle thundered. “This is a palace, not a kennel.”

The west entrance to the rest of the palace slammed open again, the heavy oak doors swinging as if they were no more than paper. Lexie realized that the gunshots both inside and outside the palace had stopped. A tall, dark-haired man with a rifle stood poised on the threshold, looking stern and businesslike in a perfectly tailored black suit.

“Sam!” Chloe exclaimed softly.

For the first time, hope warmed Lexie. Sam Ralston was Chloe’s fiancé and like most of the warriors serving La Compagnie des Morts—the Company of the Dead—Sam was a vampire. He was also utterly reliable, exactly the sort of good guy one wanted on one’s side when the world turned upside down.

Sam was one of Princess Amelie’s personal bodyguards. Lexie frowned, doubt eroding her sense of relief. Why hadn’t he been at the party, guarding the princess? Why were the only guards here Prince Kyle’s?

Sam had clearly been fighting, the collar of his jacket ripped and the front of his shirt smeared with dirt. He strode forward, looking disheveled but in control. His cool regard took in the wolf, the hounds, the royals, and only faltered when he saw Chloe huddled on the floor. His expression grew even darker. A handful of other armed men arrived in his wake, all wearing black. They were vampires, too, judging by their pale faces and graceful movements.

Princess Amelie watched them approach with a somber expression at odds with her bright yellow party dress. She was delicately beautiful, with long dark hair and wide violet eyes. Prince Kyle kept a protective hand on her waist.

At the prince’s order, the handlers had removed the dogs. The baying of the hounds was fading, but many of the green-coated Vidonese had remained. Now they stepped forward. They were less graceful than the vampires, but made up for it with coiled, angry tension. And then one of the green-coated men pushed forward, gesturing to the others to fall in behind him. Clearly, he was their captain—and it wasn’t just his air of authority that set him apart. An elaborate design of a serpent and crossed daggers was embroidered in gold on his jacket sleeve. Those aren’t just ordinary guardsmen, Lexie realized with a fresh bolt of alarm. They’re Knights of Vidon! Both sides of the supernatural war were right in front of her, facing off before her eyes.

The knights were closest to Kyle and Leo, the vampires to Amelie. The two groups—so clearly representing the kingdoms of Vidon and Marcari—seemed to pull the couple apart with the weight of their hostility. Anger hung in the air like lightning waiting to strike.

Sam stopped before the princess and dropped to one knee, the gesture reminiscent of a warrior of old—which he was. He bowed his head, and the room fell silent once more.

Faran moved to stand close to Lexie, the heat from his body like a warm blanket. His rough fur brushed her hand. For a moment, with him beside her, she forgot to be afraid—forgot that she’d done her best to break the bonds between them.

Then Sam spoke.

“My lady, we have been betrayed.”

Faran sent up a howl, long and heartbroken, that stole Lexie’s breath.

Chapter 2

Lexie watched the closed faces of the knights and vampires and wished for her camera—and not just to take pictures. Somehow she saw things more clearly through a lens, and right now she desperately wanted to understand what was going on.

Apparently, she wasn’t the only one.

“Explain yourselves,” Kyle said, his gaze roaming from the captain of the knights to Sam and back again. The room felt unnaturally quiet in the ringing emptiness left by the wolf’s howl.

The prince was young and athletic, looking more like a striker for one of the Italian football teams than he did royalty. His brown hair curled past his collar, and normally his mobile mouth was ready to laugh. But right now, he was furious. “Tell me why there is violence here? Why you are making accusations on a night when my bride and I should be toasting a united and peaceful future?”

Nobody spoke for a moment, the vampires still as waxwork. It was Faran who broke the silence with a low woof. He roused himself, his ruff brushing against Lexie’s hand as he limped slowly toward the royal couple. With a touch of panic for his safety, she reached out, her fingers tangling in his coat. Faran paused, looking over his shoulder. His eyes caught the light, reflecting an unearthly yellow glow—but the wolfish stare gave nothing away.

Gooseflesh rose along her arms. She had left him for good reasons—only some of them to do with his furry side. Her courage suddenly draining away, she dropped her hand.

The wolf huffed and carried on, padding wearily forward. He was safe now, Lexie decided. With so much tension in the room, no one was drawing a weapon without good cause. Still, everyone in Faran’s path moved away as if pulled by an invisible string.

The wolf sat down next to Sam, ears pricked forward as if ready to join the conversation. Sam put one hand on his back, a gesture of solidarity. To the onlookers, it appeared as if the wolf was Sam’s pet.

“Your Royal Highness,” Sam said, addressing Princess Amelie. “The Knights of Vidon struck at the loyal members of the Company. They claim our presence here is treason. We were forced to defend ourselves.”

Before anyone could respond, the captain of the Vidonese Knights gave a sharp, military bow. “There was clearly a mistake, Your Highness. When it became clear to me that the orders had been given too soon, I commanded our men to stand down. The hostilities have ceased.”

Too soon? Lexie’s entire body chilled until she was light-headed. Did that mean there was a correct time to open fire on Sam and the rest of Marcari’s trusted bodyguards?

The princess wheeled on the knight. “Captain Gregori, when is it ever suitable to fire on my people? Who gave those orders?”

A shocked murmur ran through the room. Lexie moved quickly to Chloe’s side, grasping her friend’s hand. Chloe returned her grip as if she needed comfort just as badly.

“Where is my father?” the princess demanded, fear sharpening her tone.

Captain Gregori gave a slight bow. “Your Highness, the Kings of Marcari and Vidon have been in a private conference at the summer palace.”

“I know that. Where is he now?

“They are still there, Your Highness.”

And they didn’t even break for their own heirs’ engagement party? Lexie wondered. Both the queens had passed away, which made the absence of the royal fathers even more pointed. What’s so important that it’s keeping them locked away in the countryside?

The storm of voices grew louder. Kyle held up a hand for silence, waiting out the crescendo of exclamations until the room fell quiet again. “Many of our honored guests have left, but some still remain. Captain Gregori, would you please order your men to see those still here safely back to their rooms. You, however, will remain. Once this chamber is cleared, we shall receive your full report and a thorough explanation.”

“Shots have been fired,” the princess protested. “My people attacked. I want more than words!”

Prince Kyle gave a firm nod. “So do I, my love. But we must think first of the safety of our guests. Captain Gregori, order a sweep of the grounds. Ensure there are no more misinformed marksmen lurking in the bushes. And bring those dog handlers to me. I want to know what possessed anyone to bring a dog pack into the city. The last time I looked, downtown was woefully short of wild boar.”

Although the prince’s words were polite, his tone said heads would roll. Still, there was an uncomfortable pause where no one moved a muscle. But then Sam pointed to two of his own men. “Start helping.”

Obediently, the dark-suited members of the Company turned and approached the shocked crowd of onlookers.

It was like a switch flipped. Suddenly everyone moved, the scene dissolving into commotion. People streamed past Lexie as they pushed toward the doors, many not even waiting for an escort back to their rooms.

Lexie swept up her cameras and equipment, packing as quickly as she could. Now that the threat of danger was past, an intense weariness flooded her. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the kind of tired that promised a good sleep. She could already feel nightmares coming on.

Winding an extension cord, she looked around the room. Even though she was moving at top speed, she was one of the last ones out. Even Faran was gone, vanishing when her back was turned. There was only a trail of blood from his wound.

She still felt a treacherous pang of disappointment. Knowing Faran, that would be the last glimpse she’d have of him. Once he’d made a decision, he stuck to it. Her vision blurred a moment, but she blinked the tears away. She’d already cried enough over the way things had ended between them—enough to last a lifetime.

“Ms. Haven,” said a male voice beside her, making her start.

She looked up. It was Prince Leo. He wore a dark suit, his style and manner as impeccable as an aftershave commercial. He was holding another extension cord, neatly bundled. He gave her a faint smile. “I thought you could use some assistance.”

She accepted the cord. It was a polite way of hurrying her out the door, but it was graciously done. “Thank you, Your Highness.”

“Have you got everything?”

She put the cords in her bag and glanced around. “I think that’s it.”

His fingertips brushed her sleeve. The contact was barely there, but it made her shiver, and not in a good way. The gesture reminded her of her brother, who’d been the perfect gentleman in public and something else when her parents’ backs were turned.

“Then I bid you good night, Ms. Haven. I must say I admire your spirit. I’m not fond of large dogs, to say nothing of wild animals.” Without waiting for a reply, Prince Leo gave a brief nod and went to join the other royals.

Her spirit. Just a suave way of saying that her particular brand of crazy had some entertainment value.

Lexie bent and zipped up her duffel bag, then hitched the strap over her shoulder. It was heavy, but the familiar weight was a comfort. Chloe, who had been speaking with Princess Amelie, finished the conversation and joined her. Together they left the reception room for the corridor, the heavy oak doors slamming behind them. The sound echoed along the marble palace floors.

“I can’t believe any of this,” Chloe said, pale with anger. Her heels clicked on the marble floor, the sound like snapping teeth. “Their wedding is just weeks away.”

Lexie frowned. “What was all that about Kyle’s knights going after the Company? Did you follow any of the conversation?”

“I don’t think it was Kyle’s idea. He looked ready to strangle Captain Gregori.”

And then they stopped walking. The corridor was crammed shoulder to shoulder with people—guests, palace employees and medical personnel tending to those with cuts from the broken glass. Lexie hated enclosed spaces. “We’ll never get through this.”

Chloe glanced around, noticing that Lexie was standing motionless behind her. “You can dive out of an airplane, but you hate a crowded room.”

Lexie shrugged. “I want somewhere private to hash this all over. A jam-packed hallway isn’t the place.”

“Follow me.” Chloe took a left turn and led her down a different, less populated corridor. Eventually they came to a narrow door. She pushed it open, revealing the palace garden beyond.

Lexie followed her out. A walk across the soft, springy grass wasn’t ideal—Lexie’s bag was heavy and Chloe had to take off her spike heels, but the open air was a relief. The dogs were absent, and a few guardsmen patrolled at a distance. Otherwise, it was quiet.

“Well?” Lexie asked after a moment. “Do you have any idea what’s going on?”

“There is a disagreement between the two royal houses,” Chloe said, keeping her voice down although there was no one close by. “Sam won’t tell me anything.”

At that, her cheeks darkened to a brighter pink.

“Has he even hinted what it’s about?” The breeze whipped Lexie’s hair across her face. She brushed it away.

“I don’t think he knows the details, but it’s to do with the wedding. It’s all wedding, all day. No one thinks about anything else.”

Lexie shifted the strap of her bag. “Still, it’s a wedding. What’s so wrong that they’re shooting at each other? Did someone order the wrong napkins?”

Chloe gave a derisive laugh. “This isn’t like an ordinary marriage, sweetie. With royal families involved, it’s as much a treaty as anything else. The politics are above my pay grade, but even I know everything could fall apart in a blink.”

The wing of the palace where they slept was just ahead, and Lexie’s spirits began to recover a little. They walked without speaking, the way old friends could, and she caught the scent of the sea. The Mediterranean was visible from the upper balconies of the palace, but here there were only trees and pale stone walls.

“Who’s that?” Chloe asked, pointing ahead.

Lexie squinted. Someone was sitting on a rock wall, hunched over as if he was resting. The waist-high wall—according to the official palace guidebook—was part of an ancient fortification no longer in use. The breeze gusted again, rustling leaves. The ambient light caught a shock of fair hair. Lexie stopped, dumbfounded for a second. Faran.

Chloe gestured with the hand that held her shoes. “I’m sure you two have something to say to each other. I should go.”

“Don’t you dare!” Lexie reached out to catch her arm.

But Chloe was too fast. “I’ll see you in the morning. Maybe Sam will actually tell me something by then.” She retreated across the lawn.

“No, wait!” But Lexie’s feet were glued to the earth, and it felt as if that earth was opening up to swallow her whole. Defeated, she set her bag of equipment on the ground.

Slowly, Faran slid from the wall and landed with easy grace, although he seemed to favor his right side. Lexie felt the same tug of recognition as when she’d seen him inside. Now that he was in human form, he was terrifying in a completely different way.

Faran had shaggy fair hair and strong-boned features that reminded her of a Viking. But it was the memory of what she couldn’t see beneath the black T-shirt and jeans that made her mouth go dry. Faran Kenyon was tall, with a warrior’s lean and muscular body that had made Lexie reach for her camera time and again because she barely trusted what her naked eyes told her. She could have made a fortune from those photos. For a moment, she drifted in memory, recalling the hot, hard feel of him beneath her hands.

They’d met in Cannes when she’d been photographing a swimwear collection. He’d been catering private events, and looking as sexy as sin fresh out of the box. When he’d turned on the charm, it had been a full-on sensory assault.

Two months later, they’d been living together in Paris. She’d had no idea he’d been working undercover the whole time, hunting down a ring of rogue vampires who dealt in the traffic of runaway girls. Not until the end, when she was halfway out the door.

“Hey,” he said, watching her warily. It was too dark to see the color of his eyes, but she knew they would be blue now, and not wolfish gold.

“Hey,” she returned, hot embarrassment stealing over her. She groped for something to say that wouldn’t be inane. “You got dressed fast.”

So much for sounding cool and collected.

His eyebrows gave a slight lift. “The guardhouse has lockers.”

“Oh. So you’re prepared.”

He gave her an exasperated look. “Normally I’m a prepared kind of guy. Though I didn’t expect to see you here.”

There wasn’t anything to say to that. “Are you hurt? Did they use…” she trailed off. “I should stop talking now.”

His mouth flattened with anger. The next words came out hot and fast. “Silver bullets? Yeah. Thirty-eight hollow point ammo and hunting dogs. Way to make a guy feel special. I was lucky it wasn’t a direct hit.”

“What are you saying?” she asked in a small voice.

“I’ve been patrolling the grounds every night after dark. They knew I was coming. I ran to the one place I could think of where they would have to stop shooting.”

“Inside the palace.” She realized they were talking as if years hadn’t passed since their last conversation.

“Leaping through the window was not my best move, but I’d tried everything else and I’d been hit.” He ran a hand through his fair hair. “I appreciate that you stood up for me.”

“No problem.” She wasn’t sure what she expected, but appreciate felt lukewarm. Then again, she was talking to a werewolf ex-boyfriend who’d never been a stickler for etiquette. “Do you know what’s going on?”

“No.” His voice held a ring of bitter truth. “But it’s nasty.”

He touched his ribs, probing gently. His breath hissed inward, surprising her. Faran rarely showed pain or any kind of vulnerability, so it must have really hurt. Her hand rose, automatically reaching out to comfort him, but she dropped it before he noticed.

“I thought you healed when you changed form,” said Lexie.

“Wounds from silver are different.”

“Do you need a doctor?”

He gave her a narrow look, his expression changing as if he suddenly remembered how everything had ended between them. “In a human hospital? That would go well, don’t you think?”

She took a step back. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think.” Hollowness opened up in her, recalling everything that she’d lost when she’d slipped out of their apartment, leaving no more than a note behind.

His tone grew sharper. “What are you doing here, Lexie?”

“Chloe hired me as the wedding photographer.”

“I don’t mean that, I mean…” He gestured from her to him. “I mean why are you talking to me? I don’t exist for you.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” she shot back, irritation rushing in to salve her hurt. “If I close my eyes, you’ll disappear?”

His glare reminded her of why she had left him. Beneath his charming exterior was a predator. That beast was fully present now.

“But one day I did vanish, didn’t I?” The resentment was thick in his voice. “The day you learned what I really was, you just stopped seeing me. It didn’t matter if I was standing right in front of you.”

“That was years ago, Faran,” Lexie said, fresh shock rising in her. She’d expected time to blunt emotion, but clearly that hadn’t happened for either of them. “Why are you still so angry?”

He stood with one hand over his side and a stubborn glower on his face. “Why am I still angry?” he repeated softly. “Do you have to ask?”

She matched stubborn for stubborn. “Yes.”

He closed his eyes. “Lexie, what does happiness look like to you?”

The question caught her off guard. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“Just answer me.”

“I’m an artist,” she said automatically. “Taking pictures is what makes me happy.”

He moved so fast she never saw it. All at once, his hands were on her arms, pulling her close until their bodies all but touched. Werewolves ran hot, their body temperatures a degree or two above humans’. A long line of heat vibrated between them, tantalizing Lexie through the silk of her tunic and slacks.

She didn’t like being trapped in his grip. It was far too unexpected and intimate for comfort, putting him in control in a way that sent every alarm bell ringing. She squirmed, but his fingers were like iron.

Faran looked down into her face, his human eyes as impassive as the wolf’s had been. She could almost touch his resentment. He wore it like a scar over the hurt she’d left behind. “This was all I wanted. To be close to you, even with you knowing what I am. I thought maybe you could eventually get past the wolf.”

Lexie’s hands found his chest. It was familiar territory, bringing back a flood of sensory reminders. Suddenly she felt flushed and aching with memory. Her first thought was to push him away, but the crack in his voice stopped her. Her heart was pounding so fast she felt breathless, her face nearly numb. “I’m sorry.”

Her hands slid down his shirt, feeling the quivering muscle beneath. He was holding himself in check so hard, it felt as if he might explode. Her fingers became clumsy, unequal to whatever it was she was trying to do. Comfort? Fend off? She’d lost all sense of direction.

And then her hand found hot, sticky wetness. She gasped. “Faran, you’re bleeding.”

He exhaled, his breath warm against her cheek. “That wasn’t what you said in my fantasy of this moment.”

“Faran…”

He pulled away, walking backward. Cold air flooded in to take his place. “Go home, Lexie. Get out of here. Whatever’s going on is just going to get worse. Believe it or not, I don’t want to see you hurt.”

Of course she believed him. Whatever else he was, Faran had never been cruel. “But aren’t you in danger?”

He stopped moving, his hand over his injury again. “That’s got nothing to do with you.”

Lexie couldn’t help feeling that he was very, very wrong. “What are you going to do?”

He didn’t answer. Instead, he turned and walked away. It was exactly what she’d done to him back in Paris.

It was what she wanted.

She was absolutely sure of it.

Almost.

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Smart Bitches, Trashy Books wrote:

Both a murder mystery and a romance, this novel hit a lot of fun points for me. The mystery was mysterious, and had a great twist. And even better the supernatural element to the story felt natural, and seemed to add rather than take away. The romance was sizzling.

All Things Urban Fantasy wrote:

I enjoyed the tension and political machinations the characters have to work through while bullets fly, people are put in deadly peril, and things go boom.We get mystery, doppelgangers, fae, and ghosts to keep us on our toes trying to figure out just whodunnit. Thrilling action and much property damage aside the romance between Faran and Lexie was filled with mixed emotions and some wicked
humor.