Prologue: The Sweetest Trap
The residents of Everlasting Springs didn’t know they lived a few decades behind everyone else. They had zero interest in figuring out what went on beyond our borders. They happily lived slow, analog lives, unaware of the fast-paced digital world that surrounded them. It was the enchantment of the place, and I don’t mean that word in a good way. It’s a dark magic that envelops my hometown.
Everlasting Springs was a ‘Venus flytrap’ sort of place. Even those with little magical blood flowing through their veins got stuck. They were forgotten—and they forgot. All that mattered to them was The Circle with its gazebo for town gatherings, and a pleasant life within the triangle boundaries of water and bougainvillea.
I’m Amalia Ruíz, a witchy sort of wolf, mate to the alpha of Everlasting Springs, and owner of Circle Books. I tried my best to unravel the knots of our odd little town as we prepared for the blood moon ritual, but I didn’t do it alone.
The magical residents of Everlasting Springs had to bring the elements together in time for the blood moon. Our long path to the decisive moment when nature and magic would guide our fate involved leaping over many hurdles.
Some tripped and fell along the way. Others… fell in love.
This is the story of the great heartache and sacrifice that brought us to a new life during the blood moon.
Chapter One: A Rumble and a Rebel
Four months before the Blood Moon
From their colorful tanks, the fish at Frank’s Ribs ignored the wolf couples embracing on the other side of the glass. A warm amber light played off the polished wood of every surface. The air was heavy with the scent of grilled meat, beer, smoke, and musk. The music coming from the jukebox kept time running smooth and slow as a warm summer night.
Sitting next to me, Andrew Finn, the chief of the Everlasting Springs Fire Department, uttered a deep, animalistic rumble that lit my fire wonderfully. His raw wolf’s nature vibrated through my body, the waves of sound stroking my skin like loving fingers heating my core. My pussy tingled and released enough warm honey to soak my panties.
I pressed my thighs together and caressed his hand with my pinky, as close as I dared come in mixed company. Andrew’s growl intensified, which made me smile. I’d noted all the wolves’ sounds over the years, and catalogued in my mind the full range from murderous to blissful. This sound was desire, hunger, longing. I felt it too, even if my reaction to him was silent. There was no doubt in my mind that when Andrew and I finally connected, we’d make plenty of noise and set the world ablaze.
The prospect didn’t frighten me but he would have to make the first move. That wasn’t prudishness or shyness on my part. Neither of those really fit me, no matter what people thought. But I was a proud woman, and I knew my worth. I would never beg Andrew to satisfy the lust I felt whenever he was near. He’d have to take charge and claim me, if that was what he really wanted.
We’d all gone to Frank’s Ribs to celebrate my sister Lola being freed from the evil spirit who had taken over her, after she’d stumbled over the body of Richard Cummings at the Everlasting Springs country club.
Lola now sat across from me at the table, on the lap of our chief of police, Bob McKenzie, who had finally given up his many girlfriends in town and claimed my sister as his one true mate. She smiled as he fed her slices of his prime rib. It was a little weird, but also sweet to see both of them openly exchanging affection. I knew Lola was absolutely loopy over Bob, and the satisfaction on his face suggested Bob was just as much in love with her.
From the head of the table, Paul Arrow, the alpha of the Florida wolf pack and guardian of Everlasting Springs, announced that Bob and Lola would have their mating ceremony at a future pack meeting. It was the wolf’s way. I was more than curious about the ritual, for my own reasons. Andrew’s firm muscular body kept emitting heat and those tendrils of vibrations that wrapped around my body and my mind were arousing me and making me crazy at the same time. He looked gorgeous, even while tearing into a rack of baby back ribs with his sharp teeth, as if he hadn’t eaten in years. Andrew always looked good to me. Damn him.
Of course, Andrew wasn’t the only wolf in the restaurant emitting that deeply sensual sound. I gave Lola a sharp look.
I think my younger sister wasn’t aware of the intensity of her powers of arousal, the excitement she elicited in others when she herself was turned on. Lola gave me an innocent smile and turned her attention back to her mate. Bob whispered something in her ear and she whispered something back, then he took her margarita away and ordered her an iced tea.
That wouldn’t do any good. I didn’t think it was my place to interfere on a conversation between the new lovers but alcohol wasn’t the problem. We Vazquezes don’t get drunk. The problem was Bob. My sister had ached for him for years and now she sat on his lap, feeling blissful. Her powers were bound to act up.
I tried not to be resentful of the few inches between Andrew and me as everyone else in the place turned to their mate with affection. Even Cliff Summers, the delta of the wolf pack, who was also single, found a playmate. He excused himself from the table to follow the giggling she-wolf into the back room.
That lustful rumble now filled the restaurant, throbbing like a sped-up heartbeat, reverberating in the air as the crowd responded to my sister’s warm magic with a frenzy of sexual excitement. A chorus of horny wolves sang their sultry song at Frank’s Bar and Ribs, and I could only long for Andrew to give in to the effect Lola’s magic must be having on him.
I didn’t know how Andrew had fought the attraction between us for so many years. We came close many times, but he always pulled himself away at the last moment. It made me angry and sad, but unfortunately, it didn’t make me want him any less. It was as if we were bound somehow, destined to be with each other, but he was preventing it from happening.
Perhaps that was just something I told myself. Maybe he didn’t feel what I felt when we got near each other—that vibrant static and the deep hunger that no meal could satisfy. Or maybe he felt it, but didn’t like that I was the source. After all, I was a Vazquez. Most men in town avoided us.
Except my sister Suzy had found her match with the town’s vampire, Inigo. Now Bob and Lola were together. It was just me and the twins who were single now, but the twins didn’t count. They were only eleven.
I took a bitter bite of a thick fry, then pushed my plate with what remained of my meal away. The burgers were superb at Frank’s, but I wasn’t hungry for food anymore. I wanted Andrew.
Bob scanned the room, his brow furrowed. “We have to leave now, Lola,” he said. “Consuelo, if you want, we can drop you off at home on the way to our place.”
“Yeah, it’s time to split.” Andrew’s face scrunched up with concern, the permanent furrow between his light blond eyebrows deepening, as if he was expecting the place to blow up any minute. I thought they were both probably overreacting, but I knew wolves didn’t like to let their true natures out in front of strangers. That’s why they put up the ‘Wolves Only’ sign on the door at Frank’s after midnight, or whenever they had a pack meeting. Still, I wouldn’t have minded staying behind to watch it all play out.
“I’m fine to drive, Bob.” Andrew rose from his chair to help me out of mine. “I’ll get Consuelo home safely.”
I took his hand without hesitation and felt an electric charge run between us, as if lightning had struck us. My mind hummed, and a vision flashed before my eyes, one where my body ignited and I became a phoenix aflame.
I couldn’t explain it, but it was as if just by holding hands we had set off some sort of weird magic perpetually binding our fates. Andrew felt it too. When I looked in his face, his eyes lit up, his striking blue irises turning to a shimmering gold.
“In for a penny,” he said, shaking his head. I didn’t have time to ask what he meant, before he added, “Let’s go, beautiful.” Then he led me out of Frank’s, gripping my hand as if I might float away.
We walked to his striking yellow GTO with the bold black stripe running down the center. I had always wanted to ride in it, but Andrew had never asked. Determined to prove himself a gentleman, Andrew held the door for me and finally let go of my hand to let me enter. I slipped onto the seat, running my palm along the soft tan leather of the quilted cushion.
“Can we go for a fast drive first?” I asked as soon as he got behind the wheel.
Andrew smiled, his canines extended. “Really?”
“Yes, please,” I said. “If you could floor it, that would be great.”
He raised an eyebrow at me, and the corners of his lips curled into a sly smile that deepened the dimples of his cheeks. “I don’t know… I might get a ticket racing through town at this hour.”
“I think the chief of police will have his hands full with Lola, and Jesse looked pretty busy herself with that tall, dark, and handsome wolf back at the bar. No one else on the force would dare stop you, so you can get away with speeding.”
“Consuelo Vazquez, you are a rebel.” Andrew’s grin widened to reveal more of his sharp teeth.
“You sound surprised.”
He laughed. “You’ve got to admit, this is not a side of yourself that you put out there often.”
“I put nothing out there, Andrew,” I said. “If you really want to get to know me, put in the work.”
Andrew nodded, then revved up his engine and burned rubber up the road. He drove around the town Circle twice, fast enough to pull me right up against him in the seat, before really flooring the pedal and racing down Ponce de Leon Boulevard. I laughed all the way, screeching with delight, until he came to a hard stop at the edge of town.
“How much of a rebel are you really, Consuelo?”
I gave him the same suspicious look I gave my students when I thought they might be up to no good. “How do you mean?”
“If you really want to race, we should be on the highway. That means leaving town. But I warn you, if the pull of the town’s magic works on you the same way it does on Amalia, who knows what might happen.”
“What’s the matter? Are you scared?”
He shook his head and caressed my cheek. “I wouldn’t want you getting hurt.” It touched me that Andrew seemed genuinely concerned over my welfare, but I felt wicked and carefree just then.
“Nothing can hurt me, Andrew,” I assured him. “I’m an immortal, don’t you know?”
“Maybe.” I shrugged and laughed. “We could find out, anyway.”
Andrew’s face shone under the streetlamp, the light and shadows emphasizing his chiseled features and his firm jaw. His blue eyes were now shimmering gold and wide open. “I don’t know you at all. Do I, Consuelo Vazquez?” His tone hinted that he’d like to get to know me much better.
“You’ve been very lazy, Andrew Finn.” I swirled my finger around the hollow of his neck and then followed the path of his neck tracing a straight line over his Adam’s apple and under his chin, to tap the dimple there. “You’ve hardly tried.” He snarled at me, that lustful rumble reaching a crescendo that made my pussy weep. “You can still make up for it, though, if you think you can handle what you find out.”
Andrew crouched over me with menace, the tip of his nose brushing mine. Then he kissed my cheek, trailing more kisses along the edge of my jaw. He bit my earlobe, sending a wave of pleasure rippling down my spine and making my core spark. “Consuelo, darling,” he whispered in my ear, his breath hot and his voice thick with lust. “I can handle anything you send my way.”
“Prove it,” I sighed.
Andrew sat straight up and gripped the steering wheel hard, then burned rubber to breach the border of bougainvillea that separated us from the rest of the world. It went by so quickly. I barely noticed when the magic faded and the world began.
Chapter Two: Modern War
Compared to Everlasting Springs, everything in the modern world looked washed out and faded to me, as if it had been too long blanching in the sun. There were more lights everywhere, but the colors lacked substance. It was the lack of magic. After the last Great War, I’d happily followed my best friend Bob McKenzie out of Alabama, to join the Florida pack and make my home in the lost town, where things were constantly colorful. I never intended to live anywhere else.
Still, if Consuelo wanted adventure, I could give her that. I raced all the way to Orlando, with her cheering like a schoolgirl as the wind whipped her lush dark hair all around to cover her perfect face. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Her maker had taken time to design a woman no one could resist, though most feared approaching her. I had known for many years that she was my fated mate, but unfortunately I couldn’t claim her. That didn’t mean I couldn’t show Consuelo a good time, though.
I parked my GTO near Church Street downtown, which was still packed with tourists. We joined the crowd and walked past the shops, bars, and restaurants. It wasn’t really my scene, but I thought Consuelo might like to see how people her age lived outside our borders.
“What are those things?” she asked, looking at a group of friends crammed together, grinning and posing for the camera on their phones. “What are they doing?”
“Taking selfies,” I said.
“Photographs that you don’t have to develop.”
Reading the confusion on her face, I pulled my cell phone out of the pocket of my black leather jacket and showed her the screen.
“All the wolves have one for when we go out of town. These are telephones, televisions, cameras, and post office boxes all in one. It’s how the outside world communicates.”
“Is this what we’re missing?” she asked.
“Part of it, yes,” I said. There was more, of course, not all of it good, but she had lit up like a child at Christmas and I didn’t want to ruin her fun. “We’re not missing it because the wolves can live in both worlds. Apparently so can you, since we haven’t run into any trouble yet. We’re far enough away that the pull of Everlasting should have kicked in by now.”
“Yeah, I have a theory that Anastasia’s magic has no effect on us,” Consuelo confided. “Mama’s magic is much more powerful.”
Whether or not she was right, I had a good grip on her shoulder to prevent her from getting lost or disturbed by the crowd. Consuelo had surprised me by being bolder than I had imagined, but I wouldn’t take any risks with her safety on open territory.
“So if the blood moon ritual lifts the spell on Everlasting Springs, the town would be part of all of this,” she said.
“That’s the idea.”
Nobody really knew for a fact how the blood moon ritual would play out, but the theory was that the curse on Everlasting Springs would be lifted and we’d all join the rest of the world. On the other hand, the spell could be reinforced, and we’d be more lost than before.
“I’m sure there are more than a few people in town who would love it,” Consuelo mused, her head turning like a fan to take in all the surrounding details.
“But you wouldn’t?”
“It’s… I’m not sure, really,” she admitted. “I like our town the way it is, and I’m not sure it would be safe for some people if we lost our cover. Then again, if the ritual goes the other way, people would miss out on so much more. Who knows how far behind our world would be then?”
I was about to tell her I would rather keep the town as it is forever, but suddenly a gang of young men surrounded us. The tallest of them, with slicked back black hair and tattoos on his neck, got right in my face. From his scent, I knew immediately he was a panther.
“You’re trespassing,” he hissed.
I tightened my grip on Consuelo, moving my hand to lock around her waist. “Orlando is neutral territory,” I said calmly.
He snarled. “Not anymore. Your alpha’s deal died with Frederik. The south has always belonged to the panthers. You wolves have overstayed your welcome.” Then he looked at Consuelo, his head tilting as if he were trying to read a sign sideways, his lips down-turned in a grimace, his nostrils flared. “And she doesn’t belong anywhere.”
“Wrong again.” I pressed Consuelo against my body. “She belongs wherever she damn pleases. Now move along. Whoever leads your pack now won’t thank you for making a scene in a public place.”
The man laughed, though he backed up and his friends widened their circle around us. “Tell your alpha this is the age of Nox and all pacts have ended. You’ve got five months to clear out of the south, or we will wipe you from our territory for good. Personally, I’m hoping you wolves overstay your welcome. Tell your alpha to remember Alabama.”
“No one has forgotten Alabama.” Though I couldn’t keep the edge out of my voice, I knew this young panther wanted to provoke me into doing something foolish. I wasn’t about to fall for it with Consuelo here. “I’ll remind you that wolves won that battle in the end.”
“A truce isn’t a win, dog,” he said.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Dirk,” he said, pulling out a switchblade. “You want me to carve it on your hide so you won’t forget?”
I almost lost my cool and shifted until Consuelo put her hand over my chest. My heartbeat had sped up as it always did when the werewolf wanted to take over, but Consuelo’s soothing gift worked its magic on me.
I smiled at the young panther, my fangs extended. “Go home.”
Another member of his pack, who apparently had an ounce of sense, tapped the young panther’s shoulder and encouraged him to move on. The others followed, clearing a path through the crowds and disappearing into the bright, loud night.
“What was that about?” Consuelo asked, pressing herself against me and looping her arms over my shoulders.
I’d been playing a stupid game, ignoring the call of my fated mate, though it killed me to do so. But she was a Vazquez, and we had the whole blood moon thing to deal with, and then she’d gone out with that son of a bitch Richard Cummings. There just hadn’t been a good time to change my mind. Now, if the panther situation heated, it might never happen. Claiming Consuelo was a terrible idea, and I knew it, but having her so close, her body pressed against me, her blue eyes focused on mine, nearly broke my resolve to hold back.
“It may just be the curse of Everlasting Springs at work,” I said. “Do you mind if we head back? I know you hardly got to enjoy this.”
“I enjoyed it enough,” Consuelo said. “You need to alert Paul about this threat immediately, don’t you?”
“Yes, I should.”
She smiled at me. “So, let’s go. The drive was the fun part and now we have a good reason to race back home.” Her face glowed with a subtle white light that emphasized her flawless skin. Her scent of gardenias, jasmine, and vanilla intensified. I aroused her as much as she aroused me. The pressure of my jeans on my engorged cock was killing me.
I took advantage of the moment and kissed her. She opened up to me completely, allowing me to claim her mouth, her tongue dancing with mine, submitting then teasing, encouraging me to go further. She tasted wonderful, like an orange Creamsicle. For a moment, it was as if the surrounding crowd had vanished, and all I was aware of was her racing pulse under my fingers as I stroked her swan’s neck.
“I’m sorry, Consuelo,” I whispered against her lips. “I’ve been an ass.”
She nipped my lower lip with her teeth then grinned at me. “Yes, you have, Andrew Finn. It’s about time you owned up to that.”
“It’s not that I don’t want you. I’ve wanted you desperately for years. It’s just… complicated.”
“No, dummy, it isn’t. I’m a grown woman. All you have to do is take charge, and take me to bed.”
“You have better plans tonight?”
In that moment, every good reason I had not to claim Consuelo vanished from my mind. “Hell, no.”
I raced back to Everlasting Springs smiling like an asshole all the way. Consuelo cheered as we completely ignored the speed limit on the turnpike. She stretched her arm out through the open window to test the wind, her scent magnified in the car, causing my cock to swell close to bursting with an uncomfortable knot building at the base. There was no way for me to suppress it at this point. I wanted her desperately. I was used to the sweet torture of longing for Consuelo. Now, it seemed, I might finally get some release.
All I could ask myself was why had I hesitated for so long to act. Who cared if her mother was like a poison apple stuffed with razor blades and wrapped in a hard salt candy shell? Consuelo was not her mother. Some thought she was prim and cold, but Consuelo was an open flame, a furnace of passion. And so what if Paul had banned pairings out of concern over what might come from the blood moon? He’d reversed that decision the moment he claimed Amalia. I couldn’t use that excuse anymore. And honestly, who gave a shit at this point if she had dated Richard Cummings? The asshole was dead. Well, at least his body was. We’d learned at the cemetery that his soul had transferred to another body, so he was still around, but I wasn’t too worried about his new incarnation.
The problem was I was no ordinary man. I was the chief of the fire department and beta of the Florida pack. That meant I had certain obligations that prevented me from pairing on a whim. But this wasn’t a whim. I was her fucking fated mate, and I was sick of waiting to enjoy what was rightfully mine.
I’d have to call Paul as soon as we got back to town. The threat from the panthers was serious, but we would have to wait until morning to plan a response. I fully intended to spend the night entwined between Consuelo’s long, shapely legs.