Phoebe McKinn knew she’d made a mistake when she found herself out past sundown on the night of the new moon. She hated new moons. The total darkness made her too vulnerable. Walking from the bus station to the exclusive neighborhood where the late congressman’s house was located wasn’t the smartest thing she’d ever done. Yes, she had her quarterstaff, so she wasn’t completely unarmed, but shifting was her best weapon.
The metro bus stop was only two blocks from the entrance to the gated community. Reaching the kiosk should have been safe enough given the neighborhood, but tonight a group of young men congregated nearby. Numbers gave them courage. The catcalls didn’t bother her—no self-respecting werewolf paid attention to cats or vampires—but this night, when she couldn’t shift, not even in self-defense, she mentally kicked herself for not securing shelter for the evening. She wouldn’t find her own kind in the Peters’ family enclave.
Not that she couldn’t take her harassers. She was strong. Werewolf strong. Her quarterstaff gave her an advantage.
Sure enough, the band of hoodlums lurked, almost as if they could sniff her vulnerability.
If only they knew that ‘bitch’ wasn’t an insult in her world.
A few whistles pierced the darkness.
The gauntlet began.
Phoebe held her head high. She was stronger than the standard issue non-lycan female. A gang of men bent on teaching a woman what they thought of her was something she should be able to handle without breaking a sweat. On any other night.
She bared her teeth, but it didn’t have the same effect it would have should she have been able to shift. She kept walking, every one of her senses focused on her surroundings: the scent of freshly turned soil; crickets counting out the temperature of the next day; the chill of a late spring evening brushing her skin; the moonless sky.
There. Footsteps behind her.
“You ignoring me? I don’t like being ignored.”
His friends laughed their support.
The bus stop was only a few yards ahead of her, clearly marked by a puddle of light from the streetlamp. She didn’t know what time the next bus would be coming through. Waiting for it would be the same as inviting the young men to continue harassing her. She’d have to keep walking.
Except someone stepped from the shadows onto the sidewalk in front of her.
Phoebe stopped. The young man was thin. Short. A brutal smile distorted his face.
“Come on, bitch. Be nice to us, and we’ll be nice to you.”
Then she was surrounded. Completely encircled by a tightening ring of beasts on the prowl. On any other night of the month, she could shift and be done with this clump of yakked up hairballs.
She refused to surrender to the fear nipping at her. Terror had its own aura. She would not give these bottom dwellers the gift of knowing they’d rattled her. The new moon sapped her strength.
She clutched her quarterstaff with both hands.
Just like hunters of any species, the ring tightened around the target, preparing to go in for the kill. Someone caught her arm. “How about a kiss?”
Phoebe wrenched free, but there was a second, a third, a fourth hand reaching for her. Touching her with callused fingers. Someone’s hangnail scraped her wrist.
The wood of her quarterstaff cracked against someone’s forearm, followed by a shriek. Not hers.
And they stank. Her head filled with the stench of unwashed body, rotting teeth, clothes in desperate need of soap and water. A recently eaten garlic sausage haunted someone’s breath.
“Be friendly, and we won’t hurt you,” a disembodied voice promised. As if the creature had any honor. Sure enough, something grabbed her breast.
Phoebe screamed and swung her weapon.
She hadn’t been trained in mob control.
A foul-tasting hand clamped over her mouth. She bit down hard enough to draw blood, which under other circumstances might have satisfied her rage, but not tonight.
Someone yanked her denim jacket down her arms, disabling her hands. “Get rid of the stick,” a rough voice commanded. Someone else wrung her breasts hard enough for her eyes to water. She tried to kick. Scream. Flail her way out of her jacket.
Fabric hissed as it separated. Pain seared her thigh. The roar in her head muted the filth spewing from her attackers’ mouths.
Except it wasn’t all filth. Cries of . . . surprise. Shock. Fear.
Phoebe opened her eyes—she hadn’t realized she’d squeezed them shut—and saw a tall, dark haired man swing his fist at the jaw of Sausage Breath. Heard the smack and crunch as knuckles met flesh and bone. Catcalls turned to a glorious symphony of whimpers. Several of her attackers ran into the darkness which had spawned them. At least two sprawled in crumpled splendor on the sidewalk.
She snatched up her quarterstaff and inhaled deeply. The scent of her rescuer filled her head. She knew that aroma: the earthy spice of lycan blood. A fellow werewolf had come to her rescue. Her exhale sang of relief.
But there was more to his presence than werewolf. Instinct tingled in her blood. Unfamiliar, but undeniable. She knew. Werewolves always knew.
He kicked the bodies lying on the concrete before straightening and looking at her. His eyes glittered like midnight diamonds in the reflection of the streetlamp. Dark hair clung to his cheeks. He shook his head, and the fine strands flew out of his way. Shadows defined the contours of his face.
Giddy delight urged her to rush to him, but she held back. “Oh. It’s you. It’s about time you showed up,” she said. After all, a female waited her entire life to meet her mate.
“Your leg,” he replied as he walked toward her.
His voice. Oh, Creator, his voice was the male version of a siren’s song.
She limped toward him, using the quarterstaff as a cane, but he held up his hand. “You’re bleeding.”
That would explain the wet sensation on her jeans. Probably was responsible for the queasiness roiling in her stomach, too. “I think one of them had a knife.”
He scooped her off her feet, tossed her over his shoulder, and headed back in the direction from which he came.
“Um, excuse me?” She tried to keep the quarterstaff off his body.
“I need to get your pants off—”
Well then. He was kind of rushing things, but she was okay with that.
“—so I can look at that leg.”
Oh. That. “It’s just a scratch,” she said, even though her thigh was beginning to throb. “It’s probably already starting to heal. I can think of better things to do when my pants are gone.”
“Not subtle, are you?”
She had a nice view of a fabulous male butt working his jeans. “Why waste time? We both know we’re mates. Let’s get the marking out of the way so we can get on with the other things we have to do.”
Maybe it was the way her head was bouncing around, but her world view was getting wonky. Fading in and out. Swirling. Sparkling.
Something was desperately wrong with this scenario. Didn’t male blood leave their brains and flood their penises, rendering them incapable of rational thought? That’s what the grannies always claimed.
Then why was she the one whose head was light?
“We don’t even know each other’s name,” her future mate said.
“Phoebe,” she replied. “Phoebe McKinn.”
“Parker Rowe of the Loup Garou pack in Colorado.”
“You’re a long way from home, Parker Rowe. Looking for me?” Please, please be looking for me. Phoebe Rowe. The perfect name for me.
“Actually,” he said, “no.”