Excerpt for Midnight Kiss by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Tales of the Were ~ Were-Fey Love Story #3


Midnight Kiss


by


Bianca D’Arc



This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.


This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Copyright © 2018 Bianca D’Arc

Published by Hawk Publishing, LLC

Smashwords Edition February 2018


All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.



Dedication


With many thanks to my friend, Peggy McChesney for her enthusiasm about this project. Big kudos to my editor, Jess Bimberg as well, since she went above and beyond, playing hurt and then sick to finish this one.

Special thanks to Dad who put up with my distraction while writing this, and a lot of poorly prepared meals, dirty dishes stacking up, and un-vacuumed carpets because of it! LOL. I tend to get a little, um…focused…when a book really speaks to me the way this one did. I think it was all worth it.



Table of Contents


Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Epilogue

Excerpt from Phoenix Rising

About the Author

Other Books by Bianca D’Arc




Prologue


Margo Mahigan surveyed the campground in rural Pennsylvania with amusement Her Pack had moved in and taken it over completely for the past week. The kids were having a ball, trying to catch fish in the little stream that separated the campground—which had been closed for the season before her family descended—and the cow pasture on the other side. The adults had created conversation areas in various parts of the campground, and at night, if there were an abnormally large number of huge “dogs” on the loose, nobody said anything.

The owners of the property were being paid handsomely for the exclusive off-season rental. They weren’t on site at night, so the campers could do as they pleased. That nearly the entire Pack had chosen to travel to the United States from Canada at this time of year to welcome back two lost members said a lot about their desire for unity and reunion.

The Pack had nearly fallen apart completely twenty years ago when the leadership had come under the magical influence of a human named Mathias Bolivar. That Bolivar had since been discovered to have magical powers wasn’t entirely surprising to Margo. Only a mage could have influenced the Alpha pair so greatly that they lost complete contact with their only daughter.

Evie had run away, believing her family had disowned her for daring to mate with a fey warrior. In truth, they had begun looking for her the moment she left, but her trail had been magically fouled. Even the Alpha wolf could not pick up Evie’s scent.

For twenty years, Evie had been lost to her family and the wider Pack. Her disappearance had been a wound that had never healed. From time to time, various members of the Pack would try to pick up the trail, to no avail. Margo had first been drawn to detective work because she had participated in several of the efforts to try to find Evie in the human world.

Margo had turned her interest into a career. She hadn’t been the one to find Evie, much to her chagrin, but she had helped many other families in similar circumstances since becoming an agent of the foremost shifter detective agency in North America. In fact, she had just been promoted to head up the Canadian operations of Collin Hastings’ agency. It was a great honor, and a great responsibility.

She had taken a little time off, though, once word of Evie’s reappearance—with her grown son, Joshua—had spread. The fact that Josh had found his mate and was getting married in the human way, with a ceremony and a big party, was cause for celebration. The entire Pack had wanted to come, to show their support and re-forge ties that should never have been broken. Not everybody could take off at a moment’s notice, but those who could had packed up and driven close to a thousand miles from Canada to southeastern Pennsylvania, to be there for Josh’s big day.

The ceremony had taken place on the winter solstice. It had been a beautiful, romantic ritual, shared among family from both sides. The bride was a powerful priestess, from a long line of holy women with fey blood and magical men who had passed muster to join such a lineage. The ceremony itself had been presided over by the High Priestess, Bettina, who was called simply grandmother by everyone in the bride’s family.

Josh had been raised as a lone wolf by his mother, Evie. His father hadn’t been in the picture. In fact, his sire, Sir Rayburne, had only recently been reunited with his mate, Evie. He’d spent the last twenty years as a prisoner in the fey realm.

Margo still couldn’t really imagine going it alone for all those years. She had a lot of respect for Evie, and she was really beginning to like her cousin, Josh. He was a steadfast sort of guy, with a deep core of goodness about him. And his mate, Deena, was a little spooky, but also a lot of fun.

Her family, though… They were all very nice, but her younger brother was… Margo wasn’t sure how, exactly, to describe Gabriel Llewellyn. Infuriating? No. He wasn’t that bad. Intriguing? Definitely. Sexy as all get out? Hmm. Yeah. If she was being honest with herself, she was very attracted to the rogue.

But he was a mage. Born of a union between a priestess and a mage. That combination confused Margo’s inner wolf, who was a bit of a monster. Margo had been born with more than her fair share of Alpha tendencies, which made her a great detective who wouldn’t let anything stand in the way of finding what she was looking for or protecting those who needed her help, but it also made her wolf a little unmanageable at times. Like when it didn’t really understand where someone stood in the hierarchy of the Pack.

Gabe was not Pack. He might be related by marriage now, but he wasn’t a shifter. Her inner wolf didn’t know what to do with that. How strong was he considered among his fellow mages? Was he a power to be reckoned with? Was he the equivalent of an Alpha? Until her wolf could get a bead on exactly where he fit into the social structure, she would feel uncomfortable around him. As if someone was stroking her fur the wrong way. Not entirely unpleasant, but definitely a little off.

“Auntie Margo! Come look what we caught!” The plaintive little voice piped up from somewhere around Margo’s knee.

She looked down to find her brother’s youngest boy had snuck up on her again. Little Angus was going to be one hell of a tracker when his time came. Margo reached down to scoop the child up in her arms and walked him down to the bank of the creek where the rest of his siblings were playing with makeshift fishing poles, plastic buckets bought at the dollar store and making a huge, muddy mess. It sure looked like fun.


Gabe watched his woman from afar. He was visiting the campground in order to finalize plans for a big New Year’s Eve party he was helping coordinate. He was hoping to arrange some surprises for the newlyweds on the farm where the party was going to be held. In order to have any chance at maintaining secrecy until the big day, he’d been granted special permission to enter the Pack’s temporary territory at the campground.

What he saw made him smile as Margo—the delectable Margo—bent down to pick up a muddy child with a heartbreakingly tender expression on her beautiful face. She was going to be a great mother herself, someday, and Gabe had big plans to make sure that any children she had would be theirs—together.

He wanted Margo for his mate. It was just as simple as that. He’d taken one look at her and fallen hard. Something about her spoke to him on a basic level, and he knew she was the only one for him. Now all he had to do was get her to see it, too.



Chapter One


The New Year’s Eve party was rockin’, and Gabe was very pleased with the results of his planning and scheming over the past few days. They’d managed to cobble together a respectable band between the shifters and those of his family who played instruments. He’d even found a werewolf DJ among Margo’s Pack to fill in when the band needed a break.

Family members from both sides took turns singing, and everyone cheered them on. It was a good old-fashioned party with plenty to eat and drink. Gabe had sourced that stuff locally, as well. He’d financed this little shindig as a gift for his sister’s wedding.

Deena was pretty much tied to her farm because of the animals she’d taken in and her very special and demanding magical gift. She did best away from crowds of humans and living more or less sequestered on the farm with her animals. Which was why she and her new mate, Josh, hadn’t gone away on a honeymoon trip.

It had to be a little bit of a drag for them to still be surrounded by the whole extended family at this point, but Gabe hoped the party would help make up for it in some small way. Besides, after New Year’s, most of the wolf Pack would probably start heading back to Canada. His family would head back to their homes, as well. They’d all gathered here for Deena, but the newlyweds probably wanted some alone time, and the celebration of their mating had stretched on long enough.

Gabe, though… He had plans.

He wasn’t going home with the rest of his family. Nor was he going to allow one wolf in particular to go off without him. No, he was making plans to go on a manhunt with the luscious Margo. Where the trail would lead them, ultimately, he didn’t know, but he was eager to find out.

Not only did he want to help capture or permanently neutralize the mage who had done so much harm to Josh’s family, but Gabe wanted to spend time with Margo. That he could do both at the same time was a win-win, as far as he was concerned.

“You did a great job with this party.” A female voice came from Gabe’s side. He looked over to find Jacki Mahigan—Evie’s mother and matriarch of the wolf Pack—coming up beside him.

“Thank you, ma’am. I’m glad it all worked out. Did you have any of the shrimp? I’m sorry I didn’t order more. I had no idea your family would be so fond of seafood.” Was he babbling? Maybe. But this woman was somewhat intimidating.

Gabe had grown up in a family full of strong females, but human magic was old hat to him. Shifter magic… Now, that was something different. For some reason, it set him a little on edge, but in a good way. It was exciting. Sort of.

If he was being honest with himself, it was Margo that he found exciting. The rest of the wolf Pack was still a bit of an unknown quantity. In dealing with magic users, Gabe had learned to be cautious until he fully understood the group dynamics in any new situation. Meeting the Mahigan family of werewolves was no exception.

“We’re pretty serious carnivores, and sometimes, it’s nice to mix it up with seafood since we live inland,” the Alpha female told him. “Don’t worry, you did great, and everyone’s having a wonderful time.”

Gabe had already said thanks, so rather than repeat himself, he nodded respectfully. They stood side-by-side for a few minutes, watching the proceedings in companionable silence. The Alpha female seemed to be happy, which made Gabe happy. Her Pack had been through a lot of sorrow. They deserved a bit of happiness.

“You’ll have to run fast to catch up with our Margo,” Jacki said out of the blue after they’d been standing there some time. Gabe was surprised, but not in doubt of his ability to woo the magnificent Margo.

“When something is meant to be, it’s meant to be,” he replied softly, knowing the werewolf woman would hear him with her sensitive shifter hearing.

He could see her head turn toward him in his peripheral vision, so he swiveled his head to meet her gaze. It wouldn’t do to show a lack of confidence to the predator that lived inside the petite woman—especially since Gabe was feeling the hand of fate on his shoulder where Margo was concerned.

“I didn’t believe it before I met your sister, but your people can form mate bonds like mine, can they not?” Jacki wanted to know. Her stance said she wouldn’t go away until she had the information she wanted.

“There are a few theories floating around, but most of us believe it has something to do with the mix of fey blood and human magic in our ancestry.” Gabe kept his words low so as not to share this conversation with any of the other nearby werewolves. “All that magic, along with the fact that the Goddess takes more interest in our family than in most others, seems to lead us to our perfect mates. Like my sister, Deena, found your grandson, Josh. Surely, you’ve noticed how strong their bond is?”

The Alpha female looked over at the couple dancing a few yards away. Deena and Josh were gazing deeply into each other’s eyes, as if only they two existed in the entire world. Their devotion was easy to see, and the magic that swirled around them was something Gabe had seen before among the members of his family who were mated. That was a bond that would last the ages.

“What does it look like to you?” Jacki surprised him again by asking.

“Magic,” Gabe replied. “Swirling. Meshing. Twining together in ways that will never be undone. Utter devotion and perfect partnership.” He looked back at Jacki. “Isn’t that what mating among your kind is like?”

Her head tilted to the side. “Something like that, but it’s not visible to the eye. Not the same way you see the magic. It’s something we sense.”

“And what do you sense when you look at Deena and Josh?” Gabe challenged.

The Alpha female smiled gently as she looked at the young couple. “Mating,” she said softly, then turned back to meet Gabe’s gaze. “You’re right. They are as mated as if they were both shifters. So, tell me. Is that what you wish for with our Margo?”

Gabe swallowed, knowing Margo’s Pack was important to her, and vice versa. He would have to be straight with them, no matter what. The last thing he wanted was to alienate the Alpha female. A direct question deserved a direct answer.

“She draws me,” Gabe replied boldly. “I feel the pull of the bond that could form, given the slightest chance. I am compelled to be near her.”

Jacki regarded him for a long time then finally nodded. “Then, I wish you luck, young man. She is a strong woman, but I sense you’re no lightweight either. If she wants you, I doubt the Pack will raise any objection. Your family has been good to ours.”

“That goes both ways, ma’am,” Gabe said politely. “Your family is part of our extended family now, through this marriage. I hope to draw the ties even closer if I can convince Margo of what I believe in my heart.”

“Then, why are you standing here talking to me? Go out there, boy, and get her.” Jacki shooed him toward Margo, who stood on the other side of the dance floor, watching the crowd and talking with some of the others.

It was nearing midnight, so Jacki’s prodding fit very well with Gabe’s plans. He wanted to be the man holding Margo at midnight. He wanted to start their New Year off with the first of many kisses they would share…but he had to time it just right.

“May I have this dance?” Gabe asked Margo as he approached.

Gabe had arranged with the DJ, who had taken over from the impromptu band, to play a few slow dances around midnight. The werewolves seemed to universally enjoy dancing, so the chances were good that Margo would agree to his request. If she didn’t, he still planned to be at her side at midnight. He’d prepared a few topics of conversation to keep her talking until the countdown. He had it all worked out.


Margo tilted her head and gave a moment of thought to Gabe’s question. He was asking her to dance? While Deena’s family was mixing and mingling pretty liberally with the wolf Pack, those dancing were mostly wolves. The occasional human couple would try their luck with the slower songs, but for sheer rambunctiousness, you couldn’t beat a werewolf Pack.

“Are you sure you’re up to it?” Margo asked the all-too-human—okay, he was a tiny bit fey, too, but mostly human—male.

She looked pointedly at the mosh pit that passed for a dance floor as the younger set jammed to some noise they called music. Margo wasn’t old, but she was a little more discerning than her teenage Packmates.

Gabe held one finger to his temple and squinted as if listening to something only he could hear. “I predict a sudden change in tempo coming…right about…” He nodded to the DJ, and like magic, the music changed. “Now.”

Margo had to laugh. He’d set her up for that, but she couldn’t fault him. The music he’d chosen was perfect. A gentle, almost sexy beat that two people could dance to. Together. Not jumping around in a crowd, but face to face, body to body. Close. Intimate.

Her inner wolf woke up and took notice of the male in front of her. While her furry side still wasn’t sure what they thought about him, neither of her forms could argue with his choice in music. The wolf liked the beat, which sounded like the rhythm of a heart. Soothing. Warm. Home.

Gabe held out his hand to her, and Margo felt compelled to take it. He led her toward the dance floor, which had been abandoned by the teens and reclaimed by the older couples. She and Josh wouldn’t be the only ones dancing. Far from it.

She stepped into his arms and was immediately entranced. He knew just how to lead her, just how to touch her. He was a good dancer. Masterful, yet not pushy. Margo often had problems following anyone’s lead. She was too Alpha herself to take kindly to being led, but there was something about the way Gabe held her that made it less of a battle for dominance, and much more of a cooperative thing. Two bodies working together to achieve beauty of movement and harmony of minds.

The two of them together just worked. She didn’t know how or why. They just did. Something she totally hadn’t expected. Not in a million years.

Margo mixed with humans at times in her work as a private investigator, but she seldom socialized with them outside of work. Following leads in investigations was one thing. Hanging out with humans for fun was something altogether out of her experience. She’d never imagined this kind of situation, but her cousin had gone and married a human mage. Okay, Deena was a little fey too—as was most of her family—which made them somewhat special, but at heart, they were still humans who wielded magic.

Generally speaking, shifters didn’t socialize with mages or vampires. All of the supernatural races kept mostly to themselves. Although, more and more, Margo had been hearing about marriages like Josh and Deena’s that crossed the lines and merged different kinds of magic. There were a lot of theories floating around about why that was happening so much right now.

Most of the theories were kind of scary and involved preparation for the coming of evil into the world. The priestesses were all giving out warnings to be on the lookout for agents of evil. The Lords who governed shifters all over the world had also put out warnings and requests for information about anything happening that was out of the ordinary. The Lords and priestesses were collating the reports. Margo wondered what they would find.

She supposed they would all hear about it eventually. Frankly, her mind was wandering, in search of distraction from the way Gabe’s touch made her feel. She was trying so hard to ignore it, but the sensations were cutting through her attempts to distract herself.

She’d been trying so hard to not feel the things being in Gabe’s arms evoked that they’d sort of snuck up on her. Her body moved with his of its own volition. Her breasts pressed against his chest, her legs rubbed up against his as they moved together in time. Her fingers wove into the hair at the back of his neck as she twined her arms around his strong shoulders.

How had she managed to wrap herself around him? Damn. She should have kept her wits about her. Gabe Llewellyn was pure seduction. He had a magnetism about him that she couldn’t explain. He drew her in ways she didn’t fully understand.

There was the draw of a handsome man, of course, but there was more to it than that. If she’d only been dealing with plain old male-female attraction, he would have been easier to dismiss. This, however, was something much stronger. Something she had never dealt with before.

It confused her inner wolf. It confused her human mind, too. Gabe set her senses on fire, and she couldn’t explain why to her own satisfaction. He was a mystery. And there was nothing Margo liked more than a mystery. Hell, she’d become a private eye because of her fascination with solving puzzles, figuring out riddles and finding things—and people—that were lost.

Right now, she was lost to all reason as Gabe danced her around the edge of the dance floor to a dark spot where the lighting didn’t quite reach. Was it on purpose? She had a sneaking suspicion it was. Gabe had planned this party down to the last detail. Sure, he’d had lots of help, but this whole shindig was his baby. He’d probably deliberately set up this dark corner, and the way he’d maneuvered her into it was darn smooth, if she was being honest.

She’d go with the flow for now. See where it led. If he tried something she didn’t like, she was strong enough to take care of it herself. Being a werewolf meant having superior strength and senses. Margo was in no danger physically from the human mage. It was her heart she had to worry about. She didn’t want to lose it to a man who couldn’t commit to her the way she needed. Only a were mate could form the kind of bond she needed. Of that, she was convinced.

It might be all right for Josh. He wasn’t a full-blooded Alpha werewolf. Her cousin’s father was totally fey, which made Josh a half-breed. His new mate was also part fey, and somehow, they had connected in the forever kind of way most shifters dreamed about. The strange mixed bloodlines had worked for them, but Margo didn’t believe a true mating could happen for her with a man who wasn’t a shifter.

Gabe sure was pretty to look at, though. Handsome as sin and twice as compelling. He danced like a dream and touched her in a way that made her feel special. Respected and desired, all at the same time. It was heady stuff.

She rested her cheek against his shoulder. He was just the right height for her, and he was a lot more muscular than she’d expected for someone with no animal inside him. Was she a shifter snob? Maybe. But Gabe was quickly disabusing her of her unflattering notions about humans.

The music cut out, and the DJ—her cousin, Barry—started to speak.

“Ten seconds to midnight. Everybody, countdown! Ten. Nine. Eight…”

Gabe didn’t let her go, despite the lack of music. Instead, he looked down into her eyes and held her tight while he counted down with the rest of the crowd. Margo was mesmerized by the look in his eyes. Was it some kind of magic spell? She wasn’t sure, but she couldn’t move. Further, she didn’t want to move.

What?

“Three. Two. One. Happy New Year!” Barry shouted, and everyone cheered.

Then, Gabe moved closer, his lips leaning into hers, and then… They were kissing while Barry put on a recording of Auld Lang Syne, and everyone sang along, rocking and cheering while couples kissed in the New Year.

Sweet Mother of All! The man could kiss. Sparks ran through Margo’s system as her brain short-circuited and her blood was set on fire. Gabe’s kiss affected her like no other she’d ever experienced. Was this the way all humans kissed? All mages? She suspected not. Just like every other thing about him, Gabe’s kiss was a law unto itself.

At length—and not before he was good and ready—Gabe ended the kiss and pulled back slightly. His blue eyes bore into her like lasers. She could actually see the magic swirling in them, marking him as more than human. Or maybe that was just her imagination? She wasn’t sure. Her senses were scrambled by pleasure overload.

All from just a kiss. Wow. That had been one stunner of a kiss.

“Happy New Year, Margo,” he whispered in a low, sexy tone.

“Happy New Year, Gabe,” she answered automatically, still dazed.

He reached behind him to one of the small tables that had been set up around the area and brought out two half-filled champagne glasses. He handed her one, keeping one arm around her and raised his glass.

“May every day be as bright as this moment, and may all our dreams come true.” He clinked glasses with her, and then, she drank with him, moving robotically as her mind tried to deal with this charming side of Gabe.

He was like some sort of suave secret agent type all of a sudden. Was this the real Gabe, after all? Had she not given herself a chance to get to know him over the past days while the two families had been together celebrating so much happiness?

“Who are you?” she asked, voicing her thoughts aloud after they’d sipped the champagne.

Her question apparently caught Gabe off guard because he barked a laugh that made her want to join in. She watched him chuckle, still wondering how she hadn’t noticed this rather compelling side of him before. Sure, she’d been well aware of his hunky exterior and his willingness to work with her Pack on the party plans. She’d even noticed how good he was with the pups. He was patient and kind with the Pack’s smallest and most curious little members.

What she hadn’t observed was the mature male animal that knew just how to push a woman’s buttons to get the desired result. It was pretty clear he’d planned this little interlude right down to the champagne bubbles. She was flattered and a bit miffed that she hadn’t realized he’d been leading her into a trap of sorts. A very sexy trap with a very sexy man waiting for her inside it.

Hmm. We’ll just see about that.

Margo was an Alpha female. She wouldn’t be so easily cornered. If he really wanted to catch her, he was going to have to show a bit more effort than this, though she had to concede this had been a really good first try. Her inner wolf was impressed by his cunning, which was definitely a stroke in his favor. Maybe she’d give him a chance to chase her a bit and see where it would lead.



Chapter Two


Gabe thought he’d prepared himself for the various reactions Margo might give to his plot, but she’d taken him by surprise. He could see the New Year well-wishers making their way around the room to their dark little corner. They wouldn’t have any more privacy in a few moments, but he was at a loss as to how to recapture the seductive mood he’d been coaxing along.

She’d made him laugh, and although, he, personally, found laughter among lovers just another aspect of a fully rounded relationship, it was probably too soon for her to feel the same. The mood was broken, but maybe that was for the best. On reflection, her words indicated that she hadn’t really been seeing him before.

That he’d been able to take her so unawares was food for thought. Oh, they’d talked a number of times over the past weeks, but never about anything serious. They hadn’t shared stories of their pasts or dreams of their futures. They’d been mere acquaintances, rubbing along together in space…along with the rest of her Pack and his extended family.

Her question meant she hadn’t really been seeing him. He’d surprised her. Lulled her to the extent that she went along with his plans almost to the very end. He’d caught her off guard, which wasn’t really fair of him, but he’d take what he could get with a cunning Alpha female like Margo.

He’d caught her attention now. She’d be looking at him more closely. That, perhaps, was the best result he could have hoped for in this scenario. First, he had to make her aware of him as a man. A man who wanted her on every level. Then, maybe, they might be able to approach each other on more even footing.

He could see well-wishers heading their way, all wanting to spread the cheer of ringing in another year. His alone time with Margo was quickly coming to a close, so he tried to recapture what he could and leave her with a parting thought. He raised his glass, which still had a bit of champagne in it. She reflexively did the same.

“Happy New Year, Margo. I hope we’ll be seeing a lot more of each other.”

They clinked glasses, but she still wore that sort of half-stunned, half-curious look on her face as she watched him down the rest of his bubbly in one swallow. Time was up as her Packmates surrounded her, crowding close in the way wolves sometimes did and giving each other hugs and friendly nuzzles like wolves in human form.

Gabe backed off, allowing the werewolves their moment. He disappeared into the crowd of his family, who were all exchanging hugs and kisses on the cheek, as was their custom. He tracked her in the crowd, stealing glances at her every once in a while as she danced in the New Year surrounded by both of their families. It was as if, now that they’d kissed, he was able to home in on her signal no matter where she was. He found that even more intriguing than the woman herself.

He’d already pretty much decided that she was the one for him. The kiss had only confirmed what his magical senses had been telling him since the moment he first laid eyes on her. Phase one of his plan had been a success. Now, on to phase two.


Margo felt Gabe’s eyes on her over the next hour as the adults kept the party going, first with loud cheers and happy embraces then, as the first hour of the New Year wore on, growing quieter and mellower. The kids were bedded down in human-sized puppy piles, a few of the younger set having shifted into their wolf forms to snuggle with their friends and siblings.

The older couples were swaying together gently on the dance floor, and some of the singles had paired up to enjoy the party. Margo danced with everyone who asked, spreading good wishes for the year ahead, even as one very large part of her mind was preoccupied by thoughts of that amazing kiss.

Gabe had surprised her in every way. He was passionate. Skilled. Suave and much subtler than she ever would have expected. The ardor that had risen between them was startling in its intensity. She’d never felt such a quick-fire conflagration of desire before. He’d taken her breath away. Literally. Both physically and mentally.

The man ought to come with a warning label!

He’d kicked her awareness of him into high gear, and her inner wolf was intrigued. Not good. Her wolf hadn’t been all that interested in any man. Not like this. They were either too predictable, too overbearing, too wimpy or just too…not the right guy to make any sort of lasting impression on her finicky inner wolf.

Then, there was Gabe.

But this would never do. Margo left the party, deliberately not glancing toward Gabe for one last lingering look. She wouldn’t be that sappy. She refused to give in to the unprecedented feelings inside her. Feelings she didn’t quite understand. Feelings she would rather have remained unstirred and asleep.

She went to sleep that night, and against her own conscious will, her last thoughts before unconsciousness claimed her were of that amazing kiss…and the puzzling man who had given it to her.


*


January first dawned bright and clear. It was cold, to be sure, but nothing like their home territory in Canada. Compared to their mountains, rural Pennsylvania was positively summery. Any time the winter temperatures were above freezing, it felt downright balmy to the hardened and hearty members of the Stony Ridge Pack.

Everyone was a little slower moving this morning than usual because of the holiday. Plus, they were all away from home, essentially on an extended vacation trip. That would be changing soon, however, as the Pack migrated back to Canada. The newlyweds didn’t need a lot of family hanging around during their honeymoon period, after all.

Circumstances, though, had required a big demonstration of acceptance for Evie and her son, Josh. They’d been lost to the Pack for far too long and needed the reassurance of this grand gesture.

Now that family ties had been reconnected, it was time to leave the happy couples in peace. At least for a little while.

There was still the matter of Mathias Bolivar. The fact he remained at large was a thorn in Margo’s side. As far as she was concerned, Bolivar had to answer for his crimes. She had vowed to never let the case rest.

Finding him had been one of her highest priorities since she was just a girl, with no real investigative skills or experience. Now that she was older, she had exactly the right knowledge to get the job done. All she needed was a lead.

The trail wasn’t just cold. It had been obliterated by Bolivar’s magic. He’d run off after chasing Evie away and making it impossible for her family to find her. In the same way, he’d made his own trail disappear, and all of Margo’s attempts to find the evil mage had come to naught. That didn’t mean she would ever give up trying.

No, Bolivar still had a date with destiny coming to him. It was just a matter of time. Margo felt confident that, at some point, she would get a break. She just had to have a little more faith.

To that end, Margo was making plans to return to Canada and her job as head of the Canadian branch of Collin Hastings’ very exclusive private investigation firm. She’d been his lead investigator in Canada for the past couple of years after serving an apprenticeship with the man himself on the West Coast of the United States.

Collin was truly a master at finding people who didn’t want to be found. He knew every trick in the book and had probably written most of the chapters in that proverbial book himself. He’d taught her just about everything she knew, and more than that, he’d given her a chance to work at a job she loved in her home region where she could be near her family.

Hastings was a bird shifter. A giant hawk, when he chose to shapeshift. His people weren’t as big on extended family as werewolves, but he seemed understanding of Margo’s desire, and need, to be back with her Pack as much as possible while still working for him. He’d been more than fair with her and had been glad to have her open a branch of his agency in Canada. The fact that he’d trusted her with his reputation in that way meant more than she could say.

She often wished her inner wolf had been attracted to the sandy-haired werehawk, but it wasn’t meant to be. Collin was a compelling man. A former Army Ranger with skills she couldn’t even guess at, but, although he was a good friend and great boss, he just didn’t spark any interest in her wolf. There wasn’t any flaming attraction between them. They were more like siblings than possible romantic interests, unfortunately.

She regretted that, because he would have been perfect. He treated her with respect and didn’t try to mollycoddle her in any way. He’d always been fair in his dealings and truthful—which was very important to her. He was also a shifter, which would have made things easy. If they’d felt drawn to each other and formed that elusive bond that would tie them together for the rest of their lives as mates, she wouldn’t have minded at all. Even though he wasn’t a wolf. She could have made it work. But there was nothing. No spark.

Not like the immediate attraction she felt for the most unsuitable Gabe Llewellyn. The very last thing she needed in her life was a magic user. After all, it had been a mage who had caused so much misery in her Pack. She didn’t like mages on principle, though she had to admit, Deena and the women in her family were okay. They were priestesses. Blessed and consecrated by the Mother of All. Even Margo couldn’t doubt their innate goodness.

The men in the Llewellyn Clan… She wasn’t so sure about. Especially that handsome rogue, Gabe. The more she thought about it, the more she realized he had to be a master manipulator to have concocted that entire scenario at the party last night. How could she have been so easily led? Had he used his magic on her? If so, that was a really low blow and totally unethical as far as she was concerned.

Margo was working up a good head of steam when her cellphone rang. She knew the customized ringtone. It was her boss.

Margo frowned. Why would he be calling her on a holiday when he knew she was on vacation with her family? Something must be up.

She tapped her phone to answer the call. “Happy New Year,” she said quickly. “What’s up?”

“A lead. It’s not much, but I know how important this is to you, so I figured you’d want to know right away.” Collin wasn’t much on idle conversation when he was in search-and-rescue mode.

“Okay. Which case?” She had several open cases right now, but nothing that couldn’t have waited until her return to Canada. Or so she’d thought.

“Your case… Your family’s case… Bolivar,” he told her.

Her heart almost stopped for a moment, then she caught her breath. “What have you heard?”

Margo was all business now. She might finally have that lead she needed so desperately. On today of all days, her patience and tenacity might finally be rewarded.

“I put some feelers out since your last call, and I got a response from a friend in Seattle. Seems there was a mage problem that was rumored to have been solved by a fellow named Hiram, who is the Master vampire of the Seattle area.”

“A bloodletter?” Margo didn’t like the sound of that.

Some of those guys were so old they were completely unpredictable and prone to sudden changes in mood and intent. Shifters didn’t often mix with vampires because shifter blood was like a drug to them.

“This one is okay. In fact, I have it on good authority that he’s the silent partner of a bear shifter in a little town down the coast a ways from Seattle. I think you should start with Hiram, and if you need any kind of support—trackers, muscle, paramilitary troops, or even magical help—I might be able to get you an introduction to the Alpha bear in Grizzly Cove. It’s a new community made up mostly of bear shifters from an ex-military unit.”

Margo’s curiosity was piqued. Collin wasn’t usually quite so chatty. He talked when necessary, of course, but he didn’t usually volunteer so much extra information. News of a community of notoriously solitary bear shifters was startling enough. The fact that Collin seemed to be on good terms with them was even more intriguing.

Perhaps some of the bears were old friends from Collin’s days as an Army Ranger. She’d run across former colleagues of his before. They were usually quite helpful with whatever case she was pursuing, and they always had extraordinary skills—and not always the ones you would expect.

“I assume you can also get me a meeting with this Hiram guy?” Margo asked.

“Yeah, I can. I’ll set it up as soon as you have your itinerary. You’re going, right?”

“You bet I am. It’s been a long time since I had even a hint of a lead on Bolivar. Even if this turns out to be nothing, I have to pursue it,” she told him honestly.

“I figured that would be your answer. I’ll text you the details. Text me back with your ETA to Seattle. I’ll set up the meet with the vampire.” Collin sounded resigned. He knew he wouldn’t get her back working on his cases until this lead was followed to its end. “Just be careful. Hiram’s a good guy, by all accounts, but you know how bloodletters can be. Don’t take any chances.”

“I won’t,” she promised her boss. “And thanks, Collin. I owe you one.”

Margo ended the call, contemplating what she should do. Sir Rayburne, the fey warrior who was Josh’s dad, had suggested rather strongly that she team up with Gabe for this hunt. She’d even gone so far as to meet with Gabe to discuss the status of the case about a week ago, but since then, there had been no further progression.

Until now. After meeting with Gabe, Margo had called Collin and asked for a favor. Oh, her boss had always known about the mystery that had inspired her to become an investigator, and the personal stake she had in finding Bolivar and bringing him to justice. Werewolf justice, that is.

Bolivar had messed with her family in one of the worst possible ways. He’d severed familial bonds that should never have been tested. He’d done so with apparent disregard for the fate of the shifters involved.

Because of Bolivar, Josh had grown up without a family. He’d been forced to be a lone wolf. That wasn’t a normal state of affairs for their kind. Margo could only imagine how difficult it must’ve been for him as a child, and for his mother, to be shut off from their family when they needed them most.

For that, Bolivar needed to pay. It didn’t matter how much time had passed. What had been done to the Stony Ridge Pack had to be avenged, and Bolivar had to be stopped. Who knew what other grief he had caused in the intervening years. Margo felt as if her inability to find the troublesome mage might have caused incalculable harm to others that she would never know. It was a burden of guilt she carried with her always.

She had always intended to end this hunt on her own, but all the advice she had been given recently pointed to the fact that she would need magical backup. Gabe was a mage, and he also had a personal stake in finding Bolivar. His family had been harmed, as well. He had a right to the hunt, too.

That didn’t sit too well with Margo. She’d become something of a lone wolf herself—at least when it came to her work. She didn’t often need backup on her investigations. She was a bit of a maverick, and liked it that way.

But now, she had a decision to make. Should she ignore the advice and counsel of her elders? Or should she suck up her pride and share the hunt with Gabe?

Just a few weeks ago, she would never have imagined herself teaming up with a mage. Nope. Never in a million years.

Now? After getting to know Deena and the rest of her family, Margo had radically revised her opinion of magic users. She was willing to concede that not all of them were bad. In fact, some of them were aligned with the Goddess, like Deena and all her priestess relatives. You couldn’t find better people. They served the Light. There was no higher recommendation or qualification.

And Gabe was of that family. He might be a guy, and therefore not specifically part of the long, unbroken line of priestesses in his ancestral line, but he was of that stock. He had been raised by a priestess. His sister was a priestess. If he was a bad guy, they’d know it, and probably fry him into submission or something. Margo smiled at her own silly thoughts.

So. Should she call him? Did she really want a partner on this hunt? Did she need one?

According to those who should know, she did. To hunt a mage, she would need a mage. It made sense. Particularly in light of the fact that Bolivar seemed to have a special ability to hide his trail. After all, he’d hidden Evie’s trail so well all those years ago that her family—an entire Pack of werewolves—hadn’t been able to track her.

Much as Margo hated to admit it, her skills alone might not be enough this time. And this hunt was way too important to screw it up because of foolish pride.

Margo shook her head, even as she made the call. Gabe answered on the first ring.

“Are you up for a trip to the West Coast?” she asked him, feeling a weird sort of excitement just knowing that she was committing to traveling with him and spending a few days running down this lead with him at her side.

“I’ll go anywhere with you, Margo,” came Gabe’s seductively-voiced reply.

His daring made her smile. The rogue.



Chapter Three


On the second of January, Margo found herself sitting in an airplane—along with hundreds of humans—headed for Seattle. Gabe was next to her, and his tendency to smile at her was getting on her nerves.

Margo wasn’t used to men smiling at her all the time. Most of the Pack didn’t see her as an equal or someone to pal around with. Not anymore. Not since she’d been a pup, actually. As she’d matured into a powerful female with major Alpha tendencies, even her own Pack had changed in their regard toward her. It wasn’t a bad change, per se.

Mostly, they just treated her with a lot more respect. Some were afraid of her, sometimes. She wasn’t too pleased with that, but she tried to remind herself that it was their problem—their submissiveness—that led those few Pack members to cower. It was the nature of their beasts. Just as she couldn’t help her own dominance. That was the way her wolf was, and her human side was no shrinking violet either. Together, they made one very capable, highly trained investigator who very rarely took no for an answer.


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