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Mastered by the Wolf by Jinx Neale – Sample

Chapter One

Adirondack Park, New York

The girl blinked in the moonlight streaming across the rough floor. Where was she? Nothing looked familiar, and, shit, everything hurt. She tried to stand, collapsing back on the floor. Wait, her ankles were bound. Her naked ankles. Wrists, too. No clothes. Panicked, she flopped on the boards like a stranded fish. When she opened her mouth to call for help, only a hoarse moan escaped her swollen lips. Her throat was on fire.

Okay, take a moment. Deep breath, in and out. She scanned her surroundings. Log cabin, a dirty window set on the far wall opposite the door. The girl closed her eyes, inhaling. Alone, but faint traces of scent remained. A wolf, one she didn’t know. Another one—no, something else, something strange. Fear rippled down her spine. She had to get out of here, now.

Concentrating, she willed herself to shift, but her wolf didn’t answer. Something bad was going on. She hunched over, worrying at the rope binding her ankles, fingers slick with nervous sweat. There, the knot loosened. The girl tossed the rope aside and lurched to her feet, muscles protesting and cramping. She tottered across the floor and bumped into a table. Knives glittered on a cloth, set out like a bizarre chef’s collection. The odor of old blood clung to them.

Horror froze her in place. They were meant for her. She listened carefully. Only the sounds of nature reached her straining senses. The girl chose a knife, sawing awkwardly at the rope around her wrists. The blade slipped and nicked her arm. Damn. She tried again. Finally, the strands parted, and she tore off the rope. Go. Now. Instinct urged her out the door and into an unfamiliar forest, full of captivating scents. There was one she sought, the man she had followed from… ah, the memory slid away. Focus. A path wound deeper into the trees, opposite the lingering odor of the bad wolf and the other. That way.

After several minutes, a hint of wood smoke drifted through the air. Humans. She might be safe there, at least find some clothes and hide from them. Ignoring the pain, she stumbled through the night. At last, voices rose in the darkness. Laughter, singing. Good sounds. The gloom in the forest lightened just up ahead. She’d made it.

Suddenly, a hard hand clamped on her shoulder, shoving the girl to her knees. His scent burned her nose—the bad wolf.

“There you are, pretty girl.” His cruel smile gleamed in the night. “I’ve been looking for you.”

Ryder Forrest crammed the phone in his pocket and strode along the path, cursing silently. This damned summit was the worse idea ever from his perspective. The gathering of the Northern Council Assembly of Wolf Clans was nothing but a logistical nightmare. He sighed, shoving a hand through his hair. As pack enforcer and head of security, he couldn’t exactly leave. Uncle Alec wouldn’t stand for it. No, he’d see this through, the way he always did.

A soft, anguished cry cut through the night. Human, when there shouldn’t be any around, especially out here. There, a faint crack, as branches snapped. Ryder ran, ducking through the trees and jumping over low-lying bushes.

Something white glimmered in the gloom. A body, lying on the ground. Fuck, no. This was the last thing he needed. Another sound, footsteps receding in the distance. The woman at his feet moaned, hurt. He bent closer. She was naked. Shit, what was that smell? Like laundry at his grandma’s house. Bleach. The woman was soaked in it. He ran his hands over her deftly and impersonally, searching for injuries. A trace of blood on her wrists, but she was barely conscious.

He picked her up. She was slight, dark hair tumbling over his shirt as he carried her back to the campsite. Almost there. Light from the bonfire ahead illuminated her fine features—and the bruises on her face and neck. Dried blood clung to her long hair, darkened her swollen mouth, and spread over her chin. Someone had attacked her.

A line of canvas tents erected on wooden platforms for the summit appeared on his right. He would stash her in a tent and call Clara for help. She was calm, efficient in a crisis. Ryder eased the woman through the tent flap and onto the lower bunk. She groaned as her back hit the narrow mattress, and he covered her with a thin blanket. Even with her injuries, she was beautiful, and so small. What kind of man would hurt her like this? Rage threatened to overwhelm him, but he fought it back. Helping her was his first priority. Digging out his phone, he pressed the contact for Clara. It went straight to voicemail.

He found a bottle of water and a towel, wetting a corner and wiping the blood from her face. Her eyes fluttered open, a light, luminous hazel, wide with shock and incomprehension.

“Okay, you’re safe now.”

She reared up, scrabbling backwards until she hit the tent. Voices floated through the air outside. Clara and Brock. The girl must have heard them, too. Too much white showed in her eyes. She was going to bolt.

“Relax, they’re friends of mine.”

She sniffed the air. Growling, she sprang from the bed and flew at him, claws erupting from her fingertips. She swiped at his face, narrowly missing marking him as Ryder ducked to one side. She snarled, revealing her lengthening canines, and snapped at him savagely.

“That’s enough,” Ryder commanded, though he took a step backward. She was out of control. Bending her knees, she jumped on him, claws raised, her thighs clamping around his waist as she fought to bite his throat.

Ryder grabbed her wrists and flung her down on the floor. “Stop.”

The she-wolf cringed away from him, whining. Shit, he’d hurt her. He let her go.

“I’m sorry… you have to calm down.”

She slumped on the bunk, trembling and hunched over.

“I’ll be right back.” He hurried out of the tent. “Clara, over here.” Ryder waved them over. “I tried to reach you, but you didn’t answer your phone.”

“I forgot it in the car. What’s the matter?”

“Come in. Brock, you’d better stay outside and stand guard.”

Brock frowned, automatically taking up his position. Ryder held open the tent flap for Clara. “Quietly, please. She may be in shock.”

Clara walked into the tent, peering through the gloom. She stiffened when she caught sight of the girl. “What happened?”

“I found her like this in the woods. When I tried to go get help, she lost it.”

Clara bent closer. “What’s your name, honey?” she asked gently.

The red-haired woman called Clara was a wolf. The perfume of the wild lay under her skin. Clara’s voice was quiet, soothing. Still, the girl hunched away. Could she trust this stranger?

Clara sat down on the floor beside her—too close. The girl lurched backwards, out of reach.

“I just want to help you,” Clara said. “Can you tell me who hurt you, honey?”

“She hasn’t said a word since I found her,” the man said, voice rumbling.

“Ryder, her scent… she’s wolf.” The woman sniffed her. “I smell something chemical. Oh, God, bleach. Somebody washed her with bleach.”

“To hide his scent,” the man snarled. Ryder.

Clara’s gaze dropped immediately, not meeting the man’s shining gold eyes. “She needs a doctor.”

The girl covered her face with her hands, rocking back and forth, keening. She was past all words.

“No doctors.”

“Fine. But I need to talk to Brock.” Clara disappeared for moment. “Brock, over here.”

She couldn’t hear anything else over the pounding of her heart. Who were these people? A low growl rose from outside the tent. Another man-wolf. Danger. The girl jumped off the bed, already shifting, as she charged out of the tent. And then she was wolf, her human half dissolving into oblivion.

Chapter Two

Two months later

The man was late. Eve whined, pawing at the door of her kennel. The chain-link fence offered a view of the empty road in front of the man’s house. It was pleasantly cool in the shade of the tall maple, despite the warmth of the late summer day. Ryder always took care that she was sheltered and comfortable before he left. Today, it was not enough.

Bored and impatient, Eve paced back and forth across the grass. His scent, fading throughout the day, now was faint. Anxiety twisted through her guts. She prowled the length of her kennel remembering the day she had first come to this place.

“This is your cage, Eve. You will be safe in here. I promise.” Ryder loomed over her, big and wide, hair tangled over his eyes, teeth gleaming in a thick beard. He found her in the woods on that horrible night she still couldn’t completely remember, promising to take care of her. He had named her Eve, and somehow it felt right.

Eve approached the cage, her nose wrinkling at the tang of metal. She poked her head inside briefly, before backing up, whimpering.

“I won’t be home all the time. When I’m not home, you’ll stay in the cage or your kennel. I’ll let you out when I get back. If I can’t be here, then someone else will. Someone you trust, like Clara.”

Eve’s ears pricked as she recognized the name.

“Yeah, you like Clara, I know. She’ll help you, just like I will.”

The man approached, his hand outstretched. Eve growled low in her throat; her lip lifted above her canines.

“Relax, Eve. I’m not going to hurt you. I know you’re confused and in pain. Your spirit is savage,” Ryder continued, “and I will tame it, teach you how to behave. I’m going to break you, little wolf, like a wild horse. You will be collared and leashed until you learn how to behave.”

Eve dropped her shoulders, scratching at the floor.

“Look at me, Eve. This is for your own protection.”

She glanced at him, unable to maintain his gaze. His eyes glowed amber, and she shivered, her wolf’s heart urging her to submit to him. No, she shook her head. She couldn’t trust him—couldn’t trust anyone. Eve darted past him to the open door, clearing the stairs in a single graceful arc.

“Eve, come back.”

She sped across the yard toward the edge of the woods where the ground rose at a steep angle. There, she halted, glancing back over her shoulder. Ryder ran toward her. She shivered in anticipation. She would not stop for the man-wolf. He had not claimed her, he did not have the right to command her. Haunches quivering, she launched herself toward the top of the bank, gaining the high ground.

He called her again. “Eve.”

Her tail twitched defiantly as she sped off through the trees, a streak of smoke gray, barely visible among the trunks of pine and poplar. And then, she heard him. A howl cut through the still air. Ryder. He had shifted and he was coming after her. Fear shivered along her spine. If he caught her, there would be hell to pay. She ran faster than ever, belly low to the ground. The woods smelled of him. This was his territory.

Eve spied a narrow gap in the blueberry bushes, an animal trail. She ducked into it, following it toward the scent of water. If she made it there, she could lose him. He was bigger, stronger, but she was small and fast.

There—a shallow brook slid past the bank. She was tiring. Putting on a last, desperate burst, she charged into the water. Something moved through the air behind her. Ryder collided with her, bearing her out of the water and down to the damp ground. His teeth closed around the back of her neck. Instantly, Eve stilled as he branded her with his mark. The swift pain made her clench with the need to mate. He must have smelled her arousal, but he didn’t take her, only changed back to human and lifted her over his shoulder, carrying her to his house once again.

He had not tamed her, not yet, Eve thought, returning to the present. Still, she missed him. Where was he? Her kennel felt unbearably small. Eve pressed against the fence, sniffing desperately. She thrust her nose into the air, howling, calling for the man. She had to get out.

Eve scrabbled at the dirt near the gate, loosening it with her claws. This was the way the man always led her out. She scratched harder, digging furiously until she could reach under the fence to the other side, where the soil was loose and sandy. After some time, she was able to wiggle into the hole she’d dug and under the fence. A stray link caught her fur. Eve lunged forward, yelping as she left a chunk of smoke gray behind her. She was free.

Across the road, beneath the darkening sky lay a field, where sometimes she watched Ryder working. Beyond that, a line of dark trees marked the end of Ryder’s land and the path leading to an old quarry.

Eve’s nose twitched. A tantalizing aroma teased her. Food. Not the nasty human messes the man made her, but fresh game. Eve trotted across the road, making her way through the field, where things grew in neat rows. Not meat. She dismissed it.

A flicker of movement in the woods caught her eye. Rabbit? Eve bolted toward the trees, a silent predator on the hunt. All human thoughts fell away. She was wolf. Eve ran beneath the trees and was lost in the shadows.

Ryder scrubbed his hands over his face. Hell of a day—time to go home. The thought of Eve waiting for him lightened his heart. If often he wished she would remember how to transform back to human, he kept it to himself. Eve was his now, to care for and protect. If that meant she stayed wolf forever, then he’d deal. Just like he did with everything else.

He sped through the night, eager to see her again. At last, he rounded the final curve of his driveway, and the sprawling clapboard farmhouse stretched before him. The windows were dark. Eve was locked up outside in her kennel. It was safer than leaving her in the cage if he had to be absent for a long time. She’d injured herself trying to break out the last time.

He’d been alone since his family died. Women had come and gone, but they’d never stayed. Hell, he’d never wanted them to.

Ryder climbed down from the truck and stretched, remembering the night he’d brought her home. How wary she’d been, scared and angry. He had shown her the cage, and Eve ran right past him and out the door. Spotting her smoky gray form streak across the field, he’d chased her, excitement roaring through his blood. Eve changed direction, glancing over her shoulder. Her tail flicked, showing the white fur underneath, flirting with him, even if she didn’t know it.

Once he caught her, his wolf marked her as his own. Eve belonged to him, ever since the first moment Ryder found her in the woods that night, broken and bruised. Now he had only to look at Eve or scent her, and the urge to possess her grabbed him by the throat. She was still suspicious, frightened. It would take time to earn her trust and make her feel safe. Time he had—for her. All the time in the world. Once he found the bastard who attacked her… there wouldn’t be enough of him left to bury.

Now, he slammed the door and headed to the kennel, body tightening in anticipation. A couple of pack members had checked on her during the day. Eve was still too feral to be allowed to run loose on her own. They had a long way to go before that could happen.

A howl shivered through the still air. It was Eve, calling for him. Her cry was so mournful that he opened his mouth to respond, his human throat answering. Her cry cut off abruptly. It came from the direction of the woods. Ryder spun around and took off running, already shifting into wolf form.

Instinct took over. Eve belonged to him, and he would protect her with everything he had, including his last breath if necessary. If Eve didn’t understand that, it was up to him to make her see the light. He would keep her safe, even from herself.

He found her near the quarry, limping along the path. Eve froze at the sight of him, until her nose quivered when she recognized his scent. She sat down and lifted her right forepaw.

“Bad girl. You ran away and hurt yourself. Let me see.” Ryder knelt to examine her paw. A rock lodged between the pads was the culprit. She lifted her lip as he removed it, but his answering growl made her bow her head. “Let’s get you home.” He scooped her up and over his shoulder and started back along the path. At least wolf Eve seemed to trust him. If only he could reach the human part of her, to make her whole once again. At times, he despaired of that ever happening.

Jack, a shaman and friend of Alec, the pack’s alpha, had visited several times to try to help Eve. Alec himself, one of the strongest alphas in the Northern Assembly, also made the attempt, but Eve wasn’t a member of the Hunter pack. He couldn’t call her human self and pull it forth. Jack thought a spell was blocking their efforts, though he had hoped it was broken when the demon’s human shell was killed by Alec’s mate, Janet, to save her son, Brock. The demon’s evil spirit had been forced from his host, dispersing on the wind.

Reaching the house, Ryder kicked open the door and carried Eve inside. He considered the cage but couldn’t bring himself to leave her in there. Instead, he laid her carefully on his bed. She looked up at him trustingly, and his heart clenched. He went to the bathroom to get antiseptic to clean the abrasions the rock had left. She whimpered through his ministrations, falling asleep when he was finished. Ryder stroked her neck, smoothing the ruffled fur—if only he could solve all her problems that easily.

“The spell isn’t in effect, not anymore,” Jack had told him on his last visit. “I fear Eve herself is preventing her two selves from integrating. The psychic shock of the attack crippled her mind. Only Eve can heal herself, no matter how much you want to help her.”

Ryder left her, striding over to the window to stare out at the night, illuminated only by the three-quarter moon. He had to save her, she needed him, and he needed his little wolf whole and happy. If she wasn’t safe and content, what was the point of anything?

A muffled noise made him turn around. Eve was awake, trying to jump off the bed. He picked her up and set her down. She limped past him and down the hall to the kitchen where she headed to her water bowl, drinking thirstily.

“Hungry, girl?”

She stared at him patiently and then hobbled back to his room. Amused by her behavior, Ryder followed her. Eve looked at the bed and then at him, her intention clear.

Ryder laughed softly. “All right. You can sleep here, but just for tonight.” He placed Eve on the mattress, where she turned around and around until plonking down in the middle of the bed. “Hey,” he protested, “you have to leave me some room.” He shoved her over gently and slid under the comforter. Once he turned off the light, the country dark settled over them like a cloud. He liked having her here beside him; the wolf scent of her was comforting.

Sleep stole sweetly over him, and Ryder dreamed. A girl stood at the edge of the forest, her long hair curling over her shoulders. She turned and walked through the trees, glancing at him over one shoulder. Eve. He tried to call her, but no sound came from his lips. He ran after her, a feeling of dread coiling in his gut. Danger. Ryder ran along a twisting path and up a small rise. He paused at the top, but she was gone. A wolf howl shivered in the air.

Ryder woke up, stretching his arms wide. His fingers touched something warm and soft. Startled, he opened his eyes. A beautiful naked girl lay curled up beside him, her bottom snuggled into his hip. Eve.

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