Melissa headed up the sidewalk to the rundown rental house where she and her loser, soon to be ex-boyfriend had lived for the past eight months. She couldn’t wait to be done with the place. Her heels clicked on the concrete, pencil skirt too constraining in the early June heat after a long day showing houses.
She braced herself for the annoying clutter of half-filled moving boxes. At least it meant that in less than a month Jeremy would be out of her life, forever.
The relationship never should’ve happened in the first place. She’d mistaken bonding in a crisis situation—Jeremy had saved her life after he and his buddy had kidnapped her last year—for true love. Maybe she’d just wanted what her sister had with her new husband.
In another of her classic bad judgement moves, she’d forgiven him for the kidnapping, been grateful for his change of heart. Moved in with the guy who’d put her life in danger. That f-ed up statement pretty much summed everything up. She was too loyal, too trusting. Thought that the attraction would last. It hadn’t. Four months later she’d been totally over him, but it had taken her four more to figure out how to get out of their lease, even after they’d broken up. Her stuff was already packed into boxes. By this time next month she’d be free of Jeremy and this dump.
She unlocked the door and pushed it open, then stopped dead with a gasp.
The place had been wrecked. Destroyed.
Boxes had been opened and emptied—stuff was strewn everywhere. The pottery dishes she’d bought from her artist friend in college lay in a broken heap, paintings had been torn from the walls and smashed.
A sob rose in her throat. She turned in a slow circle, her heart thumping hard in her chest. When she saw the maroon spray-painted words scrawled across the back wall, she screamed.
Pay up by Friday or you both die.
A sheet of ice flashed through her. She literally couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. Her body trembled all over. Her hand closed around her cell phone, but something stopped her from calling 911.
This wasn’t just a break-in. It was personal. And it had something to do with Jeremy. Had something happened at the dispensary? He was always afraid they’d be robbed at gunpoint—it had happened at other dispensaries because they took in a large amount of cash.
Oh, God. She should’ve known. She should’ve run fast and hard from Jeremy the moment they were free of the kidnapping trauma.
He had a knack for landing in trouble. He associated with the wrong sorts of people. He liked to party and used drugs. He might even deal harder stuff out the back door of the dispensary—she didn’t know, she’d been turning a blind eye to all that.
Would calling the cops ensure someone’s death? She gulped. Hers?
With trembling fingers, she dialed her twin sister instead. Ashley and Ben had gone to the Canary Islands for their honeymoon. She shouldn’t bother them, but… she really didn’t know what else to do.
“Hey, Mel,” her sister’s voice called gaily through the earpiece.
“I’m sorry to bother you.”
Her sister instantly picked up on the pinched, wobbly quality of her voice. “What is it, Mel? What happened?” Ashley asked sharply.
“I-I’m not sure. I just came home and the place has been wrecked. And there’s a spray-painted message on the wall.” She told her sister what it said, without having to voice her suspicions about it being some trouble of Jeremy’s. Ben and Ashley already had the lowest opinion of him.
“I’m going to check upstairs, do you mind staying on the phone with me?”
“Of course I don’t mind, but do you think you should call the police?”
She walked up the stairs, holding the phone tight against her ear, as if it somehow made her sister closer.
Ben’s sharp tones had started at the mention of police, and she listened to her sister explain to him what had happened.
The intruders had trashed the bedroom upstairs, too. Her dresser drawers had been dumped onto the floor, hamper unloaded. It looked like they’d even torn the carpet up from the floor. What had they been looking for? Money?
“Mel? Ben’s going to call someone he knows in Colorado Springs, so just sit tight, okay?”
“Okay.” She was more relieved than she cared to admit to hear that Ben knew what to do.
“I’ll call you right back,” Ashley promised.
She hung up and stared at the mess, tears burning her eyes. What should she do? She wished she could pack up all her stuff and get out that second, but she didn’t know where to go. Where could she rent a place on such short notice? And she didn’t want to rent, dammit, she’d been so excited to buy her own place.
Ben Stone, her twin sister’s wealthy new husband, had offered to help her with a down payment so she could buy a house of her own.
The sound of a car door slamming made her look out the window. Jeremy had better have a solution for—
But it wasn’t Jeremy.
Three lethal-looking guys got out of a dark blue Range Rover and strode purposefully to the front door. They didn’t bother knocking and she stupidly hadn’t locked it.
Holy hell. They were here, in the house. They were going to kill her.
Heart jammed up high in her throat, she dived for the closet, squirrelling back behind the clothes.
Please don’t let them search the house.
Her phone lit up, the first note of the ring sending her into a wild swiping frenzy to shut it off. It went silent. She held her breath, listening to hear if the men downstairs had noticed, but only heard the sound of their voices calling to each other. Were they moving in to wait for her and Jeremy?
Her hands shook so hard, she could hardly read the phone, but saw it had been Ashley calling.
She texted her back.
They’re in the house.
Cody Steele washed the plaster off his trowel and wiped everything clean. Almost finished—just a couple of quick coats of paint over this repaired hole in the wall and the house would be ready to go on the market. Buying historic buildings and homes, fixing them up and selling for a tidy profit had put his restless, hands-on personality to good use. CJ Steele properties had become well known in Colorado Springs for their real estate successes and his company provided jobs for most of the wolves in his pack.
Not bad, considering his dad had thrown him out of the pack at sixteen, saying he’d never amount to anything. It was a source of pride that he’d started and made his business successful completely on his own, starting a pack in a city where they’d previously been loose members of the Denver pack.
His cell phone buzzed and he pulled it out of his pocket and frowned. Ben Stone, the alpha from Denver. What in the hell did he want?
He answered it. “Cody speaking.”
“Cody? Ben Stone, from Denver.”
“I know who you are.”
“I need a favor from you—a big one.” There was a curt sense of urgency in the guy’s voice.
He ground his molars. Pretty presumptuous for a guy who hadn’t offered him or his pack even a hello since he took over as alpha nine months ago. “I don’t recall owing you one.”
Stone didn’t hesitate. “I’ll be the one owing. My sister-in-law lives in Colorado Springs and she’s run into trouble. I’m out of the country or I’d come down myself to handle things.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“Her place got broken into. There’s a threatening message spray-painted on the wall. Probably her loser ex-boyfriend got himself into some trouble, but she’s not involved. I need you to keep her safe.”
This was the last thing he wanted to get involved in. But having Ben Stone in his debt would only be a good thing for his pack. Ben had all kinds of resources, money being at the top of the list. He also had a large pack with members of every skill set, and being friendly with them would mean he’d never have to turn to his father’s pack for help. And he’d rather die than do that.
He blew out his breath. “Yeah, okay. What’s the address?”
“I’ll text it to you. You’ll go right now?”
“I’ll go. What’s her name?”
“Melissa. Steele—alpha’s promise you’ll give her pack protection.”
Shit. What in the hell was he getting himself into? Stone wanted him to vow his own life to protect her. Well, that’s what wolves did.
“Yeah,” he grunted. “Alpha’s promise.”
He closed his eyes and rubbed a hand across his face. He’d live to regret this.
Because his pickup was full of painting supplies, he left it in front of the house and jogged the few blocks to his own place, where he hopped on his motorcycle and checked the address Ben had texted.
His wolf instincts kicked into gear before he got there, putting him on high alert. He cut the engine and coasted silently up to a small two-story house. A dark blue Range Rover was parked in front, behind a white Toyota pickup. Tingles of warning raced across his skin.
The front door stood open and male voices barked inside. He skirted the building to peer through a window. Three guys sat on the couch. They all sported guns and one wore a fancy suit.
A chill made the hairs on the back of his neck bristle. Looked like Junior Rabago, a drug dealer out of Denver. He moved heavier drugs like cocaine and heroin through one of the local marijuana dispensaries. If Ben’s sister-in-law was tied to him, this was bigger trouble than he’d imagined.
Fuckity fuck fuck. He should not have offered an alpha’s promise to Ben for this. Now protection had just turned into a rescue. And he didn’t even have a gun on him.
Ben had said his sister-in-law was here now. Had they killed her already? Or had she managed to escape in time? He scented the air. He didn’t smell blood. Only the fresh scent of humans—mostly male, maybe one female. No wolves. He looked up the building. A window stood open on the second floor.
Was he nuts for thinking about climbing up there? Probably. But he couldn’t see what other choice he had. It was that or camp out here to wait for the guys to leave and they didn’t look likely to leave any time soon. He gripped the rain spout, hoping it was strong enough to hold his weight. It creaked, the metal scraping the side of the brick building when he swung onto it, but it didn’t pull away from the building. He scaled it to the roof, then crept to the area above the open window and lowered his body down over the side, his toes landing on the sill.
The screen came out easily and he tossed it down to the grass below. He crept into what appeared to be a bedroom, which had been completely trashed. The human female scent was stronger here—an alluring smell, despite the fact that it didn’t come from a she-wolf.
His instincts blared. Someone was in the room. He trained his sensitive ears and heard breathing. A rapid heartbeat. It came from the closet. Melissa? No—the scent was decidedly human.
He walked over and eased the door open, trying not to make any noise to alert the guys downstairs. Female clothing packed the closet—dresses and suits hung from hangers, filling the entire space. He didn’t see the woman, but the staccato beat of her heart and the metallic scent of fear drew his attention to the back corner.
With a swift movement, he yanked the clothing to the side and reached out to snatch her, clamping one hand over her mouth to keep her silent. He hadn’t planned for her knee connecting with his groin.
He doubled over, only barely preventing a groan from leaving his mouth.
The young woman tried to shove past him, but he grabbed her from behind, wrapping one arm around her waist, covering her mouth with the other hand. The contact sent a jolt of something unfamiliar through him. Like a warning, only more pleasant. The hairs stood up on the back of his neck. “Melissa?”
Maybe it wasn’t her. The human struggled with more force than he’d expect out of a woman, her body lithe and strong beneath the soft exterior. Wrestling her aroused his inner beast, his cock thickening as if this were some wild mating dance, instead of a life or death situation.
“Ben Stone sent me,” he growled low in her ear, in case she was the female he was supposed to save. Her scent filled his nostrils, exciting his body, despite the situation. Despite the fact that wolves aren’t attracted to humans.
She went still.
Okaaay. Ben Stone’s sister-in-law was human. Which meant Stone’s wife must be, too. He hadn’t heard that, although Stone’s pack would probably not be in a hurry to spread that information.
She twisted to look back at him, eyes wide with fear. Her beauty struck him like another jab to the balls. Her eyes were wide and blue, thick glossy hair hung in long reddish-brown waves. He’d never seen such a beautiful human in his life. He eased the hand from her mouth to reveal lush lips, trembling with fear.
“I’m the rescue wagon,” he said sardonically. It sounded more bitter than he felt, only because his attraction to her had taken him by surprise and he didn’t like surprises.
Her lips parted but she didn’t speak.
He didn’t have a weapon and those guys down there had guns. Which meant fighting their way out was a no-go, especially since she was a weak human. “We’ll have to go out the window. I’ll jump down and catch you when you follow.”
Her big blue eyes bugged out. “We can’t. This is a second story,” she whispered.
He turned her around to face him. “Do you know what I am?”
Please say she at least knew that her brother-in-law was a shifter.
She gave him an up and down sweep, gaze traveling over the paint-splattered clothes, the tattoos on his arms, his unshaven face. He realized his appearance was in sharp contrast to hers—she wore a tight pencil skirt and silk blouse, like some kind of young professional. Her lip curled with condescension.
It was a look he was well familiar with, the scorn for an uneducated manual laborer who looked more like a criminal than Colorado Springs’ top real estate investor. For some reason, it bothered him this time, when usually he didn’t give two fucks what people thought of him or his tough-guy appearance.
She swallowed, then licked her lips. “Wolf?”
He nodded, taking her hand and tugging her toward the window. “That’s right, princess. Your wolf in shining armor. You jump, I’ll catch.”
Doubt scrambled her features. She glanced over her shoulder at the door, perhaps wondering if there was another way out. Her skin appeared ashen, but she nodded.
He jumped out the window, landing in a crouch on the grass below. When he turned to look for her, though, she stood frozen, looking down.
Shit. Come on. He wanted to yell up, but of course couldn’t risk making a sound. A sense of urgency washed over him, his instincts roaring danger, his need to protect a pack mate—even a new foster mate like her—kicking into high gear.
He gestured urgently.
Still, she remained, looking again to the door, then down at him.
Hell, if one of the assholes from downstairs walked in there, he’d have no way to protect her now—he wouldn’t be able to climb back up quickly enough. And he’d made a sacred oath to keep her safe.
Her head whipped back from looking over the door, eyes looking wild. Someone must be approaching. She squatted on the window’s edge.
He made a frantic motion for her to jump. She twisted toward the door again and gave a scream, then launched herself into the air.
A male shout cracked the air as she plummeted toward him, but he didn’t dare take his eyes from her falling body to see who had arrived. She dropped into his arms and he staggered at the impact, but then took off running, as fast as he could.
He made it to his bike and dropped her on the back of it, wishing he had a helmet for her fragile human skull. She looked horrified, her pencil skirt forced all the way up so she could straddle the seat, revealing creamy white thighs and pink lace panties.
Too bad, princess.
He hit the ignition button and the motorcycle spluttered. Dammit.
Two men ran out of the front door, waving guns.
The bike roared to life. He hit the gas and the back wheel skidded out behind them as they charged away.