ROME SIRACUSA dug his fingers into the wire of the fence and watched his best friend, Merrick Vitale, slam the tennis ball back across the net so hard it whistled. Ty Montgomery, Merrick’s opponent in every sense of the word, wasn’t ready, and the ball smashed his cheekbone before careening off into the sidelines.
“Ow, shit!” Ty grabbed for his face and staggered back, the tennis racquet flying. “You trash asshole, you did that on purpose.”
Merrick held up his hands in innocence, but his soft chuckle didn’t exactly reinforce the message. Neither did the applause of Merrick’s brothers, cousins, and friends lining the court—all members of the Siracusa pack.
Ty charged forward, and Merrick started to look worried. Montgomery had a vicious temper, and even in the “safe zone” of the country club, Merrick could be in deep shit.
PJ Havilland, one of Ty’s legion of crappy cousins, slammed past Rome, clipping his shoulder and sending him flying into the fence as he raced to stop Ty from killing somebody and getting banned from the club.
The wire dragged against the tattoos on Rome’s bare arm, scraping off the skin so red blood mixed with the black of the tats. Shit! Asshole! Rome stuck out a foot just as PJ stepped onto the tennis court, and the tall skinny guy flew through the air, coming down on his face and one arm, effectively stopping his forward movement. “Goddamn! Ow, my arm.”
Rome controlled his smile. PJ’s arm must hurt badly if he mentioned it before his face, which oozed blood across his cheek. Two fucking Havilland pack members less pretty—not that PJ would win any beauty prizes. Ty, on the other hand—he might be an enemy, but that guy was delicious in a stocky, mean-as-fuck sort of way.
Watch yourself! Rome glanced around to be sure no one had observed him lusting after a guy. Nothing pissed off his alpha-male clan more than a homosexual werewolf, aka a queer were.
Francis Chan, hired from an outside pack to serve as an official—read: guard—at the country club, ran over to Ty, who now squatted on the court holding his face. “You hurt bad?”
He pointed at Merrick, who walked jauntily toward Rome. “That bastard did it on purpose.”
“I’m sure not, Mr. Montgomery.”
“Like fucking hell.”
“Let me check on Mr. Havilland.” Francis moved his sympathy to PJ, who lay on the ground holding his arm, his face still bleeding. Francis grabbed the walkie-talkie from his belt and called into it, “Need a medic on court three.” He squatted beside PJ. “What happened?”
PJ gave Rome a glance full of hate. “He tripped me.”
Rome sauntered onto the court. “I actually might have and I apologize, but PJ ran into me and pushed me against the fence. As I was trying to keep from falling, my leg may have gotten in his way.” Hey, that might be true. Rome gave Merrick a glance to keep him from laughing.
The medic cart pulled up and two guys, also hired from outside—Dark Harbor wolves did not labor in the ranks—jumped out. One came to where Francis and PJ sat, and the other ran to Ty, who shrugged off his help like he couldn’t stand the touch of such a lowborn lackey. A helper girl spied Rome’s bleeding arm and offered assistance. He accepted a sterile wipe and a Band-Aid with thanks.
The Havilland pack members, which included the Montgomerys and many of the oldest families of the Dark Harbor beach community, pressed against the fence, glowering, their low-key, well-worn tennis clothes contrasting with the more fashionable and flashy Siracusa togs. Two of them walked onto the court and helped Ty off, but he turned back to Merrick with narrowed eyes and hissed, “The day’s coming when all you gangster scum will find yourselves back in the gutters of New York where you came from.” His gaze shifted to Rome and for a second his nostrils flared. The look said maybe he’d kill Rome—by fucking him to death.
Merrick, never one to back down, flipped Ty the bird. “Yeah, right. That’ll be after you Havillands genteelly drive yourselves to the poorhouse, loser.”
Ty’s normally muddy-brown eyes glowed gold for a second. Rome sucked wind. Only alpha-class werewolves could shift at any time other than the full moon. Shit, if Ty was alpha, that made him twice as scary—that much power with an uncontrolled temper.
But even if he was, the Dark Harbor Country Club, open to all residents of Dark Harbor for a fancy fee, was a No Shift zone. That actually applied to all of Dark Harbor, even though the enclave was surrounded by gates, fences, and heavy forest on one side to separate them from humans. Still, people could look in through the enclosures, and kids often took it as a dare to sneak into Dark Harbor. They should post a sign saying Trespassers Will Be Eaten. The enclave was too close to Newport for shifting. To get furry, the packs hauled ass north toward a huge section of old-growth forest owned by Dark Harbor, but adjacent to a state recreation area. It gave them more room to run, even if an occasional hiker got shocked by an encounter with a wolf that was presumed to be extinct in Rhode Island.
That left the Dark Harbor packs in close and very uncomfortable proximity a lot of the time. When he was smaller, Rome had asked his dad why they couldn’t just gather up the Siracusa pack and go back to New York, and always got the same answer. They’d worked their fuzzy asses off for three generations to be rich enough and prominent enough to move the pack to Dark Harbor. No way they’d give it up. Better the Havillands should move. Of course, the Havillands’ ancestors founded Dark Harbor, so that’d happen right after the temperature dropped to minus thirty in hell.
“I could use a drink. You want one?” Merrick nudged Rome as he walked toward the clubhouse. Rome cast one last look back at Ty. Intriguingly, the asshole stared at Rome like food. Of course, for a werewolf that might not be a good thing.
In the club lounge, the hostess fluttered her lashes at Rome and led them back to their usual table by the window, where a cute waitress brought them each their favorite beer. The Siracusas didn’t have the old family cachet of the Havillands, but their nouveau was very, very riche, a claim that couldn’t be made by all the Dark Harbor packs anymore, especially the Havillands.
A giggle went up from the other side of the cocktail lounge, and Merrick’s gaze followed the sound like radar. He grinned. “Rhonda sighting. Rhonda sighting.”
Rome looked across the room to a table of five females sipping pink drinks and glancing his way. Yep, there she was—Rhonda Montgomery, a first cousin of the Havillands, busty, blonde, and dumber than a pile of driftwood. She stared at him like she might look at a wild animal and fluttered her lashes over her big blue doe eyes—half in invitation and half in fear.
“Come on, Rome. Go say hello.” Merrick leaned on his bare forearms, flashing their brilliant Siracusa tattoos.
“I’ve had enough of the Havillands for one day.”
“Oh man, how could you get enough of that? I’d be there in a minute, but I’m not the much-heralded son of the alpha with the power of creating more bouncing baby alphas in my loins. Rhonda won’t look down her high-bridged Havilland nose at me.” He stared at the gaggle of females. “But I bet I can rack up some bank on one or two of the others.”
Rome shrugged. “You’ve got a death wish, my friend. I’m staying here. Hell, Rhonda wouldn’t want me any more than you.”
Merrick snorted. “Don’t shit a shitter, my man. With your daddy’s power and money and you, all dark hair and sexy eyes and tats, you could be her walk on the wild side. Maybe not highborn enough to marry, but good for a quick fuck against a giant oak.” He laughed at his own joke.
Rome released his sigh into the beer the waitress had put on the table. Man, was Merrick barking up the wrong tree—pun intended. He wished he could tell Merrick. He loved the guy. Best friend since grammar school. Hell, they’d first shifted at the same time. He told Merrick everything—except that. Not that.
Merrick drank deeply, like he was downing some courage. Then his eyes widened and he choked and tried to stand all at once.
Around him, the room got quiet. Rome looked up. Of course. “Hi, Dad.”
From a few feet away, Benedetto Siracusa surveyed the room—more like his domain. He nodded. “Rome.” After accepting dips of the head from the Siracusa pack members and glowers from the Havillands, he settled into a chair at Rome and Merrick’s table. Interesting no one smiled, but then, even Siracusa pack members feared Benedetto and the power he ruled by.
Merrick struggled back into his seat, the females obviously forgotten. Despite being Rome’s best friend, Merrick got really tongue-tied around Benedetto, and while Rome would never say so directly, it was an intelligent response. Unlike Gerard Havilland, Benedetto backed up his alpha credentials with a lot of extra human power as well—all of it dangerous. Being in Benedetto’s good graces? Definitely wise. “Can I get you a drink, sir?”
“Oh no, thank you, Merrick. I’m sure they’ll bring me my usual.” He turned his full focus on Rome. “I noticed you looking at those lovely females.”
Rome shrugged. “No harm in looking.”
“True.” Benedetto sat back and folded his hands across his big, muscular middle. “And I’m quite open to you doing more than looking.”
Rome’s heart gave a punch at his solar plexus, and he cleared his throat to cover it. “Sir, all of those girls are Havilland pack.”
“Good observation. Yes, they are.” He smiled coolly and stood to his full, though not considerable, height. If his father had been taller, his advantage over others would have been way past fair. As it was, Benedetto Siracusa stood a mighty five foot nine of total intimidation. Rome towered over him, having inherited his stature along with his bold features from his tall, willowy mother, whom he’d barely known. His dad nodded. “Just keep my approval in mind.”
What the fuck? “Very well, sir.”
With that the alpha exited the premises, ignoring the waitress who rushed toward him with a glass of Campari and soda, his previously mentioned favorite. He strode right past her without a glance, and she visibly sighed. She still probably felt like a failure. Poor kid.
Merrick slid out of his seat and into the chair next to Rome. “Shit, man, what do you think that means? He’s giving you a green light on hooking up with Rhonda.”
“He never said Rhonda.” Sipping his beer, he tried to soften the frown creeping across his face.
“You kidding? Who else would he mean?”
Rome shrugged. Of course his father meant Rhonda, and that gave him the willies.
“Do you think that means he wants an alliance with Havilland pack?”
That snapped Rome’s head up. Man, some alpha’s son he was. That should have been the first idea in his head—if he wasn’t so obsessed with hiding his kink for guys. “Interesting idea.” He stared in his beer. “Or planning a takeover.”
“Shit! You think?”
Rome shook his head. “No. Just throwing out another possibility. Your idea’s more likely. Of course, if Ty Montgomery saw me hitting on his cousin, there’d be war, not peace.”
Merrick gave him a sly grin. “But how would he tell who you are behind a mask?”
Rome snorted. “Am I planning to rob the Havillands of Rhonda?”
“Well, you could steal a kiss—since I happen to know that tonight Rhonda will be attending a costume party in honor of the homecoming of Jules Havilland, the prodigal son, right? Big family celebration at the Havilland compound. Seems like a good chance to make contact with some big boobs.” His dimples popped. “Feel me?”
Rome drank beer to cover his shudder. Hell, he fucking had to do something about covering up his lack of interest in females. Maybe being married to a girl without many brains would be a good thing. It could cement an alliance, give her access to Siracusa money, and he’d never bother her in bed. Might be a win/win. “I’d need a costume that covers me.” What am I saying?
“But still makes you look hot.” Merrick laughed.
“I can’t come up with something in a few hours. Forget it.”
“Come on, Rome, it’ll be fun. Let’s sneak into town to the costume shop and see what we can find.”
“And if Ty or one of those other Havilland pack fuckers recognizes us?”
Merrick grinned so huge his teeth shone like the Big Bad Wolf. “Then we’ll have even more fun taking them out.”
Hell. At least he’d get to admire Ty’s ass.
ROME WATCHED the cars full of people in costumes driving by them as he navigated toward the opposite end of Dark Harbor from the Siracusa homes. Havilland House occupied the top of a high ridge looking over the ocean—the most prestigious site in the complex. Built around it down the hill, the homes of the pack members lined the streets, each positioned like a commentary on their standing in the clan.
As they got close to the mansion, Rome said, “I’m going to drive past. Maybe we can see how much checking they’re doing.”
“Yeah. Okay.” Merrick turned his Darth Vader mask toward the window. Rome glanced over but had to keep his eyes on the road in the dense, slow-moving traffic.
They’d taken one of the Siracusas’ infrequently used cars so they were less likely to be spotted. He glanced around like they might be searching for a parking space, his Batman hood covering his well-known features.
Merrick said, “Damn, I just saw one of the guards lift a guy’s mask. They must be checking.”
Rome stared past Merrick. Sure enough, a female in a grand ball gown pulled off her half mask and lifted her face to the light so the guards could see her. The burly dude at the wrought-iron gate stared at her, then checked a tablet. “Jesus, maybe they have photos of all the guests.” He blew out his breath. “They’ll recognize both of us, or if they don’t, they’ll know we’re not on the list. We better give this up.”
“Hell no. I spent fifty bucks on this getup. I’m not leaving.” Merrick crossed his arms.
“How exactly do you plan to make this work?”
“Stealth, my man. Stealth.”
Rome gave Merrick a look that did no good since it was hidden by the Dark Knight, so he gave it up and drove two blocks down the hill, found a street with fewer houses, parked in a space between streetlights, and turned to Merrick. “Okay, man, what have you got in mind? I’m not willing to die for this female even if my father wants me to.”
Merrick pressed a hand against his chest in mock horror. “What? You won’t die at the alpha’s word?”
Rome glanced out the windshield at the half moon. “I’ll die for some things, maybe, but not for Rhonda Montgomery.”
“Ah me.” He fell back against his seat, eyes closed. “I’d gladly drown in her double Ds.”
“Have you got a plan for getting in there or not?”
He leaned forward. “As chance would have it, I just happened to encounter the Havilland ward, Buffy, after a night run in the forest.”
“Well, of course I did have to run four miles to catch her before that chance meeting. Nonetheless, she became very interested in my getting into her bedroom and happened to tell me about a rumored passage from the woods through an old underground corridor that the Havilland ancestors used to escape ravening hordes of vicious humans. She didn’t know where it was, but she said she’d read about it in a family diary.”
“Come on. It’s probably just a myth, or if it did exist, it’s long since collapsed.”
“Luke, I am your father. Would I lead you astray?”
Rome barked a laugh. “Are you telling me you know where this corridor is?”
“Yep. I figured if it ever came to war, it’d be useful strategic knowledge, so I went searching and—ta-da!—I found it, man. This is a way better reason to use it than war.” He laughed that raucous Merrick bray. “Come on.”
They slid out of the car and began walking down the road in full view, their costumes concealing them and making them less conspicuous than if they tried to hide. As they came up on the edge of the Havilland mansion grounds, Merrick looked around and paused until a group of costumed guests walked by, then grabbed Rome’s arm and pulled him into the bushes. The game was afoot, as the saying went. Here’s hoping we’re still on our feet by the end of the night.