THE MALE’S fat cock stretched out in his suit pants. Yes, good. That dancer did it for him every time. Sipping his scotch, he ignored the panting, screaming, lusting crowd, both male and female, around him, and focused on the boy—the creature—on the stage. He danced like something otherworldly. Like he was an angel and the rest of the room was packed with mere animals. Of course, the boy was the sexiest angel alive—all silk and sinew. And some of the rest were literally animals—like him.
He wet his lips and waggled his fingers at the pretty blonde waitress.
“Yes, sir.” She looked scared. Good. Nothing made him hotter than fear. Except that boy.
He opened his palm and extended the five hundred-dollar bills to her. He nodded toward the stage. “For Anthony Moreau.”
Her eyes widened. “Sir, he doesn’t come to the table, uh, or….” Her face flushed a pretty pink. Like a well-beaten ass.
He smiled. “I know all about him. Just see he gets this and knows it’s from me.”
He’d lied, of course. He barely knew anything about the boy, despite a lot of well-placed investigative money. Not where he lived. Not who he really was. “And when you’ve delivered it, why don’t you come back here and have a drink with me?”
What fun watching panic flit across her face. She couldn’t say no. He was too powerful. Too rich. He smiled. Too dangerous.
She gazed out of wide blue eyes. “I’d love to, sir.” But she swallowed hard.
“Good.” He flicked his fingers in dismissal and she left, carrying the money. But she’d come back. Oh yes, and shortly after that he’d be holding her bound arms as he shoved his fat, throbbing cock into her ass and listened to her scream—and thought about the dancer.
“I’M DOING what?” Cole Harker stared at his father. The man had lost his frigging werewolf mind.
Landon Harker leaned forward in his easy chair. Shit. Cole wanted to turn the huge recliner over on his head.
His father pointed a finger at him. “You’re twenty-four and you haven’t found a mate. This treaty protects all of us. The Marketo wolves don’t just border our lands; they share business interests, as you damned well know. We’re a small and independent pack, which makes us fortunate but also vulnerable. And Eliazer is ruthless. I don’t have to tell you what he can do to us. You’re alphanta. I’m asking you to do this for me and for the pack.”
Cole shook his head. Words. He needed words. He never could find them when he needed them most. His wolf wanted to take over and rip up the drapes. He gritted his teeth. “I can’t marry Analiese Marketo.”
Landon lunged forward so his booted feet hit the floor. “Why the hell not?”
Take a deep breath and try not to bash your own father’s head. “You. Know. Why.”
His father waved a hand. “It’s not a problem.”
Cole clenched his fists. He could feel his eyes bulging. “It’s not a problem that I’m gay?”
“Give it a break, son. There’s no such thing as a gay werewolf.”
His mouth fell open. “Bullshit! You know that’s not true. It’s just a myth werewolves want to believe. It’s time we grew up.”
Landon shrugged. “Why do you think you’re gay?”
Cole walked a step toward his father. “I like men. I want to stick my cock in men’s asses. How much gayer do I need to be to convince you?”
“You’ve had plenty of girlfriends.”
God! “I was trying to be who you and the pack wanted. I didn’t like it.”
His father stood to his full six foot three, but he was still two inches shorter than Cole. Landon stared up. “Well, the females certainly did. I heard all kinds of great shit about what a terrific lover you are.”
Cole sighed. “Hell, compared to most of those idiot males, all I had to be was nice to be Casanova in the females’ eyes. Those guys have cock for brains. They don’t care where they stick it.”
Landon chuckled. “Yep. I remember those days before I met your mother.”
Cole fell into the chair on the other side of his father’s study. “Your reminiscences are charming, but this is my life you’re messing with.”
His father’s face sobered, and he took the chair opposite Cole. “Yes, it is your life. I want you to be alpha after me, Cole. You’re smart, strong, honest, and not afraid of much. And you have skills like no other werewolf in either pack. You’re alphanta. The next generation leader. The pack needs that. But the gay thing is an issue. If I could just name you my successor I would, but alphas are chosen, not born. Our wolves are not likely to choose a gay alpha. But this treaty and your marriage to the Marketo girl will seal the deal. You’ll be the linchpin in the fortunes of the whole northwest pack alliance.”
“It’s a stupid fraud.” He threw the pillow from the chair at the floor.
“No, it’s not. Since you and that female aren’t mates, you have to marry in the courts. Make it legal. Then we do the blood ceremony. After that, you can both have dalliances of your own. No one will care. The alliance is what counts. It will save us all from Eliazer. Besides, it’s a great match of packs. We’re comparable in strength and values. Think of this like the marriages of European royalty back in the day. Nobody married for love. It was all for politics. And nobody does politics like a werewolf.”
A growl rumbled past Cole’s lips. “I don’t do politics.”
Cole’s jaw hurt from gritting his teeth. “You married for love.”
Landon smiled. “Yes, my mate came early and there was no denying it. I might have wished for a few more years of wild oats, but that’s not what the powers had in store for me.”
His throat felt tight. “What if I want to feel the same way?”
His father looked at him directly. His expression was hard but the deep-blue eyes were soft. “It’s better this way. If you were to mate a man, a lot of the pack would never accept it. You’d never be alpha.”
Cole stared down at his hands. “Maybe that would be better.”
“You don’t mean that.”
Probably not. He sighed. He could feel the ground slipping out from under his feet. “I’m no great leader. Hell, I can’t even talk in groups.”
“You lead when it counts, Cole. The pack needs you, the alliance needs you, and you know you need the pack. It’s a part of you.”
Trapped. What a crappy situation. He wanted the alliance as much as his father did, and his father knew it. That was the problem. Uniting the packs in marriage was a dream come true. With marriage he’d be a part of the Marketo pack, almost as much as if he’d been born in it. And the alliance would make Pack Harker strong enough to fend off the threat. But shit! He had to spend his life with a female to make it happen.
He got up, and his father stood beside him and put a hand on his shoulder. “The betrothal party is tomorrow night.”
He shook off the hand. “Don’t I even get time to think about it?”
“We can’t wait on this. Merced Marketo said yes, and I want blood and ink on the page before the full moon. He’s canny, but he can be mercurial. Who knows how the girl feels, and she has him wound around her paw. We need this done. Eliazer Pack gets stronger every day. Do you want to give up a third of your territory to those crooks? Or more? Do you want gangsters for neighbors?”
Shit. “No, sir.”
“Make your peace.”
He clenched his fists. “But if the girl doesn’t want me either?”
Landon waved a hand. “It’s done.” Cole was dismissed.
SHIT! HIS skin burned and tingles of acid pain flicked over his body. Ow. Ow. Never shift when pissed. Cardinal rule of wolfiness.
Cole picked himself up off the grass and stumbled toward the hedge where he’d left his clothes an hour earlier. If someone caught him out here stark naked, he’d have some serious explaining to do.
He didn’t want to tell his father he’d been shifting near home. Most wolves could only shift at the full moon. They all piled into semis and headed for the backwoods of New Hampshire for the pack runs. Around here they were just humans with high body heat.
He kicked the dirt. Sometimes he couldn’t stand being a human, and, since his pure alpha blood let him shift whenever he chose, he could sink into his animal brain and run. Like when he considered spending his fucking life with a female partner. Of course, he’d never really gotten a chance to be gay. Just some back-alley hookups with random humans. No male werewolf admitted to liking guys if he could help it. At least Cole had declared his orientation out loud, even if his pack pretended he hadn’t. Him and Lindsey. The oddballs.
He grabbed his jeans and pulled them on commando. Niceties like underwear often went missing in the wardrobe of a werewolf. He pulled the long-sleeved T-shirt over his head, then sat on the ground to lace up his sneakers.
What would become of him? He hated werewolf politics. Yes, he was a lawyer like his father and knew every angle of the rights and laws governing their holdings and businesses. But all the political screwing around made him nauseous.
He got up and walked across the grass toward the club. Maybe Lindsey would be there. At least he’d understand how Cole felt.
He pushed open the door to the Way Station, the “unofficial” werewolf club. Noise—voices, music, billiard balls clacking. He looked around at the crowd. There were a few humans. They had no idea they were sitting next to supernaturals at the big bar. A werewolf owned the Way Station, and the wolves felt comfortable being together.
Pack was pack.
Lindsey stood up at a table halfway across the room and waved. His best friend. By inheritance, Lindsey was a very rich man. The thought made Cole smile. Not many people knew that the leading families of New England harbored a few secret wolves.
Cole waved back and started scooting through the tables, but this was the hard part. The part he hated. The crowd.
A hand grasped his shoulder. “Hey, Cole.”
Cole nodded at the big male. “Hi, John.”
A couple more people hailed him, and one slapped his butt.
He smiled and nodded as he walked by groups from the pack, but he could feel himself blushing. He got jumpy in front of too many people. That’s why he didn’t litigate. He just sat with his books and papers in an office and made shit happen.
A human looked up at him. The man’s eyes widened and he looked away real fast. Crap. Talk about wanting to fade into the woodwork. He’d spent his whole life being stared at because he didn’t track as human. Even in this group of big wolf males, he stood out. Not that he was huge at six feet five and two hundred twenty-five pounds. Sure, he was one of the bigger males, but mostly it was his hair and eyes that made him weird.
Officially his hair was light brown, but shine a little light on it and the color became wolfy silver, thick and shiny around his face. He wore it long because cutting it was a pain; it grew so fast. And then there were his eyes. He had to wear glasses when he was out at night so his eyes didn’t shine in the headlights. Indoors, they just looked strange. Intense, people called it. Strangers glanced at him and looked scared. No wonder he was so tongue-tied. Being a freak did that to you.
He finally got through the crush and pulled out a chair beside Lindsey.
Linds looked up and smiled. That handsome, refined, almost-human face, so different from Cole’s, crinkled in affection.
Cole nodded at the other two wolves sitting at the table. Alf Cotswale and Jim Joyner. Good guys. Not gay like him and Linds, though. Alf and Jim kind of knew that Cole and Lindsey liked guys, but they didn’t talk about it.
“I need a drink.” Cole sat heavily.
Lindsey waved the waitress over. She was pack, so she came quickly. “What’ll you have, Cole?”
“Beer. Two would be good.”
Linds put a hand on his arm. “You don’t look good, darling. What’s up?”
Should he tell? Landon hadn’t said to keep it secret. “I’m getting married.”
Lindsey had a martini glass to his lips. The contents splashed across his hand as he sputtered. “What the fuck do you mean?”
Cole took a deep breath. Even saying it out loud gave it more reality than he wanted to deal with. “Landon promised I’d marry Marketo’s daughter as part of the pack alliance.”
Alf sat forward. “Cool. That’s fantastic. It’ll be amazing for the pack.”
Cole took a breath. That was the way most of the wolves would feel. It was true. The alliance would make them strong—virtually unassailable even by the Eliazers.
Lindsey slammed his glass on the table and surrendered more vodka to the wooden surface. “Shit! They can’t do this to you.”
At least Linds understood. “He already has. The betrothal party is tomorrow night.”
“Holy fucking crap.”
Jim leaned in. “Have you met her? Is she pretty?”
Linds gave him a look of pure disdain. “What difference does it make? She could be Angelina Jolie and Cole wouldn’t care.” He flipped some money on the table as the waitress served the beers.
Alf looked down at his drink, and Jim grabbed a swallow and stared off into the room. Their response to Lindsey might as well have been “la la la.” His father was so right. In their minds, there was no such thing as a gay werewolf. They’d seen Cole with females and that was enough for them. Lindsey tested their disbelief because he was pretty flamboyant, but the whole pack just considered him eccentric. After all, he wasn’t just rich; he was part human, a relative rarity. That was bound to make anybody a little weird.
Lindsey leaned in. “What can I do?”
Cole shook his head. “Nothing I can think of.”
He lowered his voice. “We could run off together. Remember how we said we’d end up together if we didn’t find our mates?” He grinned.
Cole ruffled Lindsey’s bright-blond hair. “You’re my friend. I’d never wreck your life like that. We may be different from the others, but we’re pack animals, buddy. Besides, you’ll find your mate. I know you will.” He chugged half of one of the beers.
“Unlikely.” Lindsey knocked back the rest of the martini. “It seems to me your having all that pure alpha blood ought to have some advantages. All I ever see you make are sacrifices.” He laid a hand on Cole’s arm and squeezed. “And I can’t even come to your charade party tomorrow. I have to travel for the family.” Lindsey handled marketing for a number of his family’s companies.
“Damn. I sure would like you there for moral support.”
“Sorry, darling. I hate the idea of seeing you led to the slaughter in the name of some wolfy mystique, but you know I’d be there for you if I could and—” His mouth fell open and he closed it slowly. “Holy fucking shit. Who, or maybe I should say what, is that?”
Cole turned toward the door as Alf and Jim looked up. Alf shrugged. “Those are Marketo wolves.”
Lindsey grinned. “That ain’t like no Marketo wolf I ever saw.”
Cole faced the entrance to the club. Three big males and—oh my God. Standing in the middle of the protective circle was a creature, a male. A wolf? Like Lindsey said, not like any he’d seen. This male was maybe six feet tall—the height of a short wolf. But wolves were muscular. This creature was sinuous, lean, and graceful even standing still. He had long legs, narrow hips, and a slim chest, though his shoulders were wide. The black jeans and pale-green leather jacket he wore accentuated the long V of his body.
But most amazing was his face. “Exotic” barely described him. Fair skin set off black shining hair that fell below his shoulders, although the section around his face seemed shorter, like a frame. The hair caressed his high cheekbones, slim cheeks, and lips too large for his narrow jaw. And his eyes? Even from halfway across the room, Cole knew they were weird. Like his own but maybe more so.
What the hell was this guy? Cole wanted to smell him. Heat flashed up his spine in waves, and he shifted in his chair. Shit, he wanted to fuck him.
Lindsey laughed low. “I think you like that.”
“What is it?”
“No idea. But whatever it is, it must be precious the way those big Marketos are guarding it.”
One of the Marketo wolves speared Cole with his gaze, and Cole turned back to the table. “I wonder if this has something to do with the betrothal.”
Lindsey laughed. “What? You think the guy is a priest?”
Jim frowned. “You want me to try and find out something?”
Cole shook his head. “No. It doesn’t matter. The creature doesn’t look dangerous.” That was a lie. The guy might be very dangerous to Cole’s libido.
He drank the rest of his beers and tried to think about something else.
Lindsey leaned over. “I think I’m done for tonight. If you’re ready, I’ll walk you out. We could make a pass by the Marketo table.” He grinned, his dimples flashing.
“Okay. I’m game.” Cole glanced back to where the Marketo wolves sat with their unusual treasure. “But their table’s not exactly on the way to the front door.”
“Ah, I have a plan, my dear. We have to pee and, like true girlfriends, we have to go together. Coming out of the men’s room to the entrance will lead us right past the pretty creature.”
Cole grinned. “Excellent plan.”
Cole said good-bye to Alf and Jim and followed Lindsey to the men’s room. He did a quick stop at the urinal, washed, and waited for his friend to fish hand lotion from his pocket and use it. Cole held his nose. “The smell of that stuff may cover up their scents.”
“Not likely, darling. You can smell a tadpole at the bottom of a river.”
That was true. Another gift of his pure alpha werewolf genes.
“Of course, to my inferior nose, this stuff smells divine.” Linds waved the lotion toward Cole, who jumped back against the sink. “My human DNA may make me a poor wolf, but it does have its pleasantries.” He grinned and put the lotion back in his pocket. “Though I would love to be able to shift anytime I wanted instead of waiting for the moon.”
“Yeah, well, it’s a mixed blessing.” Cole pushed away from the sink. “Let’s go see what this thing is.”
Lindsey led the way out of the men’s room. They threaded through the tables, and just as they got to the Marketos, Lindsey oh-so-casually stopped to greet a woman at an adjoining table. “Darling Clarisse, how are you doing? How’s the family?”
Cole stopped behind Lindsey, who was madly air kissing. Trying for long-suffering, he leaned against an empty table.
He breathed deeply. What?
Another deep breath. Holy shit. No. It couldn’t be.
Again. He sorted the strains of scent coming from the table. Powerful wolf smells. Those males must be top Marketo enforcers. But under that smell. Potent, acrid.
“Well, kiss-kiss, darling. So good to see you.” Lindsey hugged the woman and headed toward the door.
Cole followed to the entrance. How could it be? He glanced over his shoulder and froze as eyes met his—golden eyes that gleamed like someone was holding a light on them. A yank on his arm pulled him away and into the cool night air.
Lindsey turned him around on the porch. “I thought I’d lost you for a minute there, darling. What, pray tell, did you learn?”
Cole leaned against the pillar in front of the club. “It’s hard to believe. I must be wrong.”
“What? Tell me.”
“He’s got wolf all right.”
“He sure doesn’t look it.”
“That’s because he’s not all wolf.”
“Oh, so what kind of human produces a creature that looks like that?”
Cole shook his head. “No human at all.”
“But you said he’s only part wolf.”
“Right.” Cole stared at Lindsey. “I think he’s at least half panther.”
Lindsey’s blue eyes widened. “Holy shit.”
“Yeah. And they say dogs and cats can’t live together.” He could joke, but this was one hell of a mystery.
Linds shook his head. “Seriously, I’ve always been told that shifters can mate but they don’t produce offspring.”
“Yep. That’s what I’ve been told too.”
“So how did this guy happen? I mean, if you’re right, and that nose is seldom wrong.”
“I don’t know. It’s pretty amazing to think about….” He sniffed the air. What the hell? Tingling in his spine usually meant danger. Was there danger here? He turned slowly and glanced across the street. If he hadn’t been an alphanta werewolf, he never would have seen the two men ducked down low in the nondescript gray car parked on the other side of the road from the club. He inhaled deeply. Humans.
Lindsey stepped closer. “What’s wrong?”
“Humans with guns.” He stared directly at the car. He wasn’t wearing his glasses, and he knew the streetlights might give his eyes an eerie glare. Good. Scare those assholes.
“Shall I go in and get the Marketo enforcers?”
“No. Not yet.”
The car engine started and the gray coupe moved slowly down the road. A hundred yards away, the headlights finally came on.
Lindsey sounded a little breathless. He didn’t fight a lot in the rarified air of Connecticut society. “What do you suppose that was about?”
“No idea. But I don’t like the weapons.”
“Maybe they’re just crazy human gun fanatics.”
Cole stared down the road. “Maybe.”