Prologue

 

The gold and orange hues of the late summer forest marked one of Maddox Rippington’s favorite times of year. The trees and plants were slowing down, readying themselves for a long winter slumber.

Ripp could feel the slowing down in her blood and in her bones. She walked into a clearing and took a long breath of air. Every season had its own feel, its own peculiarities, and Ripp was in tune with them all. Sometimes summer was longer and hotter, sometimes a hard winter could test the survival instincts of the animals to their limits, but nature would always win out. The animals always found a way.

As much as the forest of Willow Creek Wolf Sanctuary always gave her a feeling of peace, today was different. Today she would have to say good-bye to her family of the last seven years, the Willow Creek pack. The land on which the sanctuary stood was being sold off to developers, and the wolves sent to a new home, a new sanctuary, across the country.

The staff had spent all day sedating and crating the wolves to be transported, but one wolf managed to slip out of their grasp, the Alpha. Ripp knew instinctively that she had to be the one to find him.

She heard a noise in the bushes and dropped to her knees. Ripp listened keenly to the sounds of the forest on the breeze. She could sense him—he was there. Ripp threw her head back and gave a long howl, then waited.

Ripp waited patiently until she heard the crack of twigs under an animal’s paw, and the Alpha wolf named Apollo stepped out into the clearing. She held her position until she saw his ears prick back. It was safe to move.

Although Apollo was the wolves’ Alpha, Ripp had worked here since before he was born, and he grew up with her taking care of the pack, so he deferred to Ripp’s dominance. She approached him slowly, head down and on all fours, to give Apollo the respect he deserved, and to keep him calm. He had seen his pack and his beloved mate darted and crated. He was confused and scared, and that was not a good combination in a wild animal.

Ripp stopped in front of him and raised her head but kept her gaze to the side. She held out her hand, the back of which had an elaborate black ink tattoo of a wolf paw.

Again she waited and was rewarded with Apollo lifting his paw to touch hers. Ripp’s heart was breaking at what she had to do. These wolves were her pack. She’d spent countless nights out in the open, bedding down with them, studying their behavior, symbolically sharing their kill, and making sure they were healthy.

She looked up and started to explain why this was happening. Even though a wolf couldn’t understand words, in her experience she could convey the spirit of the words to the wolves, if she was patient.

“Apollo, I know you don’t understand what’s happening, but your pack is safe, and you will be safe. I promise. We have to send you to a new territory.” Ripp’s voice broke with emotion, and Apollo took a step forward to lick her cheek, his own wolfie way of making her feel better.

Ripp stroked his head and ruff, trying to bring calm to him. “You’ll be happy, I promise. I won’t be there, so you have to look after the pack, okay?”

Tears started to roll down Ripp’s cheeks. She was losing just as much as the wolves—her home, her job, her pack, her reason for getting up every morning. But unlike the wolves, Ripp didn’t have a home to go to, a new place to find sanctuary. She would be alone with no idea where to go for the first time since she was eighteen.

Apollo gave her one last lick and looked her in the eyes. Ripp felt in her heart that he knew he had to give in, to be with his pack. She put her arms around his neck and hugged him. “I love you, Apollo. Look after the pack for me.”

Ripp looked across the clearing and nodded. There was a whoosh, and then Apollo jerked in pain, but he didn’t struggle. As the sedative from the dart coursed its way through his body, he just slumped against Ripp and put his trust in her. She laid him on her lap and gently stroked his muzzle as he drifted to sleep.

When he closed his eyes, Ripp truly felt alone for the first time since she’d arrived at Willow Creek as an eighteen-year-old kid. Her pack was leaving her, and she had no hope of being accepted in another.

A couple of the other workers came into the clearing to help take him to his crate and the truck.

“Ripp, he’s out now. Let’s get him moved,” the man who had shot the gun said.

“No,” she replied angrily, trying to hold back the fresh tears that threatened to spill over. “I’ll take him. He’s my responsibility.”

“He’s too heavy, Ripp,” he replied.

Ripp stood up, carrying Apollo with her, surprising the two men with her strength. “I’ll take him, I said.”

Holding the large wolf in her arms, she walked out of the clearing and headed back to the sanctuary buildings.

Apart from her dog Storm, Ripp was now truly alone.

Chapter One

 

Kyra Wolfgang walked downstairs and stopped when she heard a big crash, then laughed when her sister Ava’s voice boomed, “Xander, if that’s my vase, you and Nix will be sleeping in the river tonight.”

There was silence, then the sound of laughter. Xander, her sister’s mate, always had a nose for trouble, and that was worrying considering she was Wolfgang County’s fire chief. When their daughter Nix—short for Phoenix—was born fifteen years ago, she’d gained a partner in crime.

Kyra walked past the family room and smiled at the sight of her sister-in-law and her niece wrestling on the floor. The noise and chatter of family life was something she enjoyed being a part of at her sister’s home. She walked into the kitchen and found her sister preparing dinner, her one-year-old niece, Hannah, sitting in her high chair at the table.

“Kya!” Her niece always struggled with her name.

Kyra went over and gave Hannah lots of kisses. “Hi, sweetie.”

Ava turned to her and smiled. “Hey, Ky, how was school?”

Kyra loved her job as a teacher at Wolfgang Academy, but sometimes the noise and chaos on days like today, when they were planning a science fair, got too much for her brain. She sighed and rubbed her temples.

“My head’s just a bit overloaded. It was crazy today at school, and my wolf is restless.”

Ava walked over and gave her a hug and a kiss on the head. “Why don’t you go for your evening run a bit early. Dinner is all under control.”

A run was exactly what she needed, but she felt guilty about leaving the dinner preparations to her sister. Since returning from college out of state, Kyra had been staying with her sister and her family. She used to live with her parents, but now they spent part of the year with the Scottish Wulver pack, to be close to their extended family overseas.

Kyra looked around the large kitchen, with its two industrial sized ovens roasting the meat for dinner. It took a lot to feed a werewolf family.

“Are you sure? I don’t want to leave it all to you.”

“It’s fine,” Ava said. “I got ahead early. Iris babysat Hannah today, with some of the rest of the cubs, so I’m prepared.”

Iris, the Alpha’s mother, was not only grandmother to her own grandchildren, but to all of the pack. She delighted in that role, and the pack all very much appreciated her.

They heard loud shrieks and shouts from the family room, and Ava growled, “Is it bad that sometimes I want to kill them?”

Kyra chuckled. “I think it’s normal.”

“Well, get going on your run before they tumble into the kitchen demanding food before dinner. It won’t be pretty.”

“Okay, thanks—I will.”

Kyra left the kitchen and walked into the adjoining mudroom, where the family left their clothes before shifting and running into the forest, by the way of their backyard.

As Kyra undressed she heard more shouts and crashes coming from the house. She smiled but felt that ever-familiar hint of sadness she always had being around such a loving, happy family unit. She worried that she would never find the same. The one destined to be her mate.

Once she was undressed, she headed for the back door. She caught sight of herself in the mirror as she passed and saw her eyes glowing yellow. Her wolf was close to the surface, desperate to run.

Once outside, she shifted. Her teeth burst through her gums, her claws lengthened, and then her bones began to crack and reshape themselves. Before long she had shifted to pelt and was sprinting toward the forest. Her head started to clear immediately. She ran through the trees with great speed, the rush of wind blowing through her fur, blowing the cobwebs from her mind, and the scents of the forest heightening all her senses.

After a mile or so she slowed as she approached a sacred tree, one picked out generations ago by her family. Beside it were piles of stones—the oathing stone used in a wolf couple’s mating ceremony was traditionally set by the sacred tree, to honor their ancestors and their link to the forest.

Kyra always ended up here on her nightly runs. She came to ask her ancestors to help her find her mate. Most wolves were mated by her age, but she had never found her wolf, and this caused her great sadness.

Kyra stood in front of the tree, lowered her head in respect, and said with her inner wolf voice,I pray to the Great Mother and my ancestors to help me find the one I love. I’m alone, and my wolf yearns for its mate. Please tell me I’m not meant to be alone…

 

***

 

Ripp drove past the sign Welcome to Wolfgang County and had the feeling she was entering a different world. The trees and forest were more lush and beautiful than any she had seen before. She looked over to Storm and said, “What do you think, buddy?”

Storm barked and panted excitedly. He was a wolf hybrid who had been left tied to the gates of the sanctuary one night, and Ripp had welcomed him into the pack. He’d become her best friend and companion.

The farther she drove into Wolfgang County, the deeper her need to get into the forest. Something inside was pulling her to run through the trees. She stopped at the side of the road, while Storm continued to whine and bark excitedly.

She ruffled the gray fur on his head. “Hang on. We’ll get out in a second. Let me grab my backpack.”

Ripp got out of her beat-up vehicle and walked around to the flatbed of her truck. Under what was meant to be a waterproof tarp lay all her worldly goods, which wasn’t much, mostly the camping supplies she had picked up over the years. She grabbed her backpack and water bottle. She stopped for a second and inhaled the scents in the air. A warmth spread though her body, right to her fingertips. The air smelled fresh, woody, exciting, and comforting somehow.

Ripp had an intense feeling of déjà vu. “This place…” She looked all around herself. It was like she knew it or had been here before.

When it became clear the Willow Creek sanctuary was being closed, Ripp was devastated. She had no idea what to do, or where to go. Willow Creek had been her whole world since she was eighteen and in desperate need of sanctuary herself. She’d arrived at the gates of Willow Creek after years in the foster care system, and then on the streets, with no family she ever knew, and the sanctuary took her in, just as they would a lost wolf.

With no idea where to go, she took the advice of her boss at the sanctuary, Bobby, and decided to follow the only lead to her past. She pulled out her wallet. Behind the few dollars she had to her name, she’d tucked the only link to her past, her birth certificate.

Her mother’s history was easy to find, but hard to bear. Crystal Rippington had died of a drug overdose, not long after she had given Ripp up to the care system. But her father’s information had been impossible to find. But when she told Bobby her father’s name, he’d suggested she head to Wolfgang County, where she might find some answers, and her family.

Ripp walked around the truck and opened the door for Storm. He bounded out and jumped around Ripp, so excited to be exploring a new place.

“Storm, sit,” Ripp said, and he obeyed her without question, despite his excitement.

Ripp grabbed his utility harness from the truck and put it on him. He rarely if ever wore a leash, since he was so obedient, but she liked him to wear his harness in case she needed it. She knelt and slipped it on. “Okay, buddy, are you ready to run?”

Ripp held out her hand with the wolf paw tattoo on the back, and Storm presented his paw in a high-five motion. She looked into his big blue eyes and felt guilt that she couldn’t provide him with a home, a den where they’d both find sanctuary.

“I’ll find somewhere for us, Storm. I promise—once I find out about this Ansel Wolfgang, we’ll work something out.”

Storm was panting excitedly, his big tongue lolling out the side of his mouth. Ripp dropped her hand and said, “Run, boy.”

He was off like a shot, straight into the thick forest. Rip slung on her backpack and set off behind him. Going for a run together was one of their favorite things to do. She never felt more alive than she did when she was running through woodland and forest. It soothed some part of her that was always fighting for freedom.

Ripp was particularly loving running here. There was something about this forest…The colors, the scent of the air as it filled her lungs—everything felt right, like it was bringing calm to her soul. After a mile Ripp slowed to a walk when she saw Storm pick up a scent and start to follow it.

“What is it, buddy?”

Storm was concentrating on his task and didn’t look back. Ripp followed him as slowly and as quietly as she could. When he stopped dead, she came up beside him, went down on one knee, and gave him the hand signal to stay.

Ripp closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on the subtle sounds and scents, like a hunter. She could hear what she was sure was the sound of twigs cracking underfoot, then stillness. Ripp opened her eyes and looked across the clearing. There was a tall tree with all sorts of stones, big and small, leaning up against it, almost like a shrine.

Some creature was there—she knew it.

Ripp was an expert tracker and hunter, and she could wait as long as it took. Then her patience was rewarded when the black snout of an animal came out from behind the tree, a few meters away. She didn’t move an inch and held up her hand so Storm would keep still.

A white paw, and then the most beautiful pure white wolf came out from cover. Ripp had to stop herself from gasping at the sight of it. She had never seen such a pure white wolf before, and it seemed to be bigger than a standard female wolf.

The wolf looked at her inquisitively but was submissive in her demeanor. Maybe, Ripp thought, she could get closer. She just had to see this wolf up close.

Ripp crawled a few paces, then stopped, turned sideways, and kept her head down. When the wolf didn’t appear to be aggressive or distrustful of her actions, she took another few paces and stopped again. She repeated this a few more times until she was a just a few yards from the wolf.

She held out her hand, just as she did with Storm and the Willow Creek wolves, and the white female lifted her paw tentatively and touched Ripp’s hand. Ripp felt a rush of emotions, and as she looked in the wolf’s eyes, she saw a keen intelligence behind them.

And then a howl from somewhere else in the woodland broke their moment and the white wolf sped off.

Storm ran up to her side. “Did you see that wolf, buddy? She was gorgeous, and not like any wolf I’ve ever seen.”

Storm whined and gave a sad face. Ripp laughed and ruffled his ears. “You’re my gorgeous boy too, don’t worry about that.”

She stood and brushed herself down. Maybe this trip to find out about her father would allow her to study the extraordinary wolves who lived here.

“Come on, Storm, we need to find somewhere to set up camp. We can explore the town tomorrow.”

Storm barked in response, and they began to make their way back to her truck.

 

***

 

Caden, in wolf form, stopped at the back door to her den and panted heavily after a long morning run. The forest was particularly beautiful and invigorating this morning, as the seasons started to change. The cold air brought out so many new fresh scents and made her blood thrum.

She shifted and stood upright, a light sheen of sweat covering her body. Caden smiled as she entered the house and inhaled the scent of home and family, a scent Lena had brought to her den, after they became one. Her morning runs were always fun and a way to release some tension, but in the past, when she’d returned to a lonely, empty den, a sense of sadness had always descended.

Now the ending of her run was the best part, because Lena, her mate, was waiting for her. She walked into the mudroom, one of the many new additions Caden had built to expand and renovate her den, to give Lena the home she deserved.

Lena’s scent was strong, and calling her like a siren song, and so she couldn’t help but walk past the showers in the mudroom and on through the house, naked, in search of her mate.

Dante, her Alpha and her friend, had warned her that her feelings for her mate would grow even more intense after they mated. While Caden hadn’t been able to imagine loving Lena any more than she did, Dante was right. Everything became more intense—her love, her needs, her hunger for her partner. The feelings were so intense that it hurt to be apart from her.

Caden reached the bottom of the wooden staircase and heard in her mind, Come and find me, my Big Bad Wolf, if you can…

She growled and her claws lengthened. Lena had issued a challenge and this was now a hunt. No one quite knew what effect the mate bite between Caden and Lena would have, because Lena was human. But as soon as she had given Lena her bite, they were connected. Lena’s thoughts, her feelings—Caden could feel everything.

Caden walked upstairs, following her mate’s scent, grinning. She loved these little games they played and loved how much more confident Lena had become.

When she’d first met Lena, she had been frightened of her own shadow, after years of being beaten down by her family, and she had been scared to show Caden her body when they started to become intimate. Now, through Caden’s constant love, devotion, and reassurance, Lena was becoming more confident by the day.

When Caden reached the top of the stairs, she stopped and closed her eyes. Lena’s scent was everywhere.

What’s taking you so long, Wolf? Are your hunting skills deserting you? Are you really pack Second?

Caden growled. I’m coming for you, don’t worry, Mate.

She decided to follow the strong scent to the left, toward their bedroom. Caden was surprised Lena would be so obvious, but when she reached their bedroom door she realized why she was drawn here.

One of Lena’s bras hung from the door handle. “A distraction? Clever girl.”

She picked up the bra and brought it to her nose. She closed her eyes and inhaled the intensely wonderful scent of her mate. Her sex was throbbing and she couldn’t resist the urge to take the bra in her mouth and taste everything that was her mate. It wasn’t as good as tasting Lena’s sex, but it was a good appetizer. When Caden thought about tasting her mate, she bit and ripped the bra in half. She needed Lena now.

Caden prowled along the corridor, following Lena’s scent toward their second guest bedroom. She could hear short, heavy breaths coming from the alcove adjacent to the guest bedroom, but she thought she’d play along and see what her mate did.

She heard Lena move, and Caden could have gotten out of her way, but that would ruin her final victory. Lena pounced and Caden felt her long nails dig into her throat.

“Submit, Wolf. I got you.”

Caden took a moment to enjoy the feel of Lena’s full breasts pressed against her back. Lena had captured her heart, but as a hunter she would never let her capture her in a hunt.

 

***

 

Lena tightened her hold on Caden and felt an intense rush of excitement. Her little scent decoys had worked. She was determined to try and outwit her hunter, although she never did in the end, but trying was fun. This was the closest she had gotten, but it seemed a bit too easy.

Lena had woken with an intense feeling of hunger, even though she and Caden had made love the night before, until they fell asleep. But it hadn’t sated her hunger. Caden had an extremely high sex drive, and when she married her, she had been worried that she wouldn’t be enough sexually to keep her as interested as a fellow wolf would. But ever since she’d shared the Mater’s blood after the terrible Lupa attack, the opposite had been true. She couldn’t get enough of Caden, and often Lena would initiate sex, something that had never been in her character before.

When she looked out the window this morning and saw Caden just after she had shifted to her human form, hot and hungry after her run, she knew she just had to have her.

Now she had Caden in her grasp. She dug her nails deeper into her mate’s throat, making her wince, and said, “Submit, my Big Bad Wolf. I think your prey outsmarted you.”

Lena giggled inside when she heard Caden give a deep growl. She knew that would challenge her ego, and that’s exactly what she wanted. To challenge her hunter.

Caden straightened up to her full height and turned in her arms. Lena’s heart started to pound wildly, and her mate bite throbbed. She loved to see Caden like this. Muscles taut, her predator eyes flashing yellow, and her wolf teeth elongated and fierce.

Even though Caden was out of her hold, she kept her nails at her throat.

“Your little decoys might have slowed me down, but here I am”—Caden walked her back against the wall—“bearing down on you.”

Lena was tremoring with the need to have Caden touch her, but she didn’t want her to win just so easily.

“I still have your throat, Hunter. Surrender,” Lena said, then gave Caden the softest of kisses.

Caden groaned in the kiss, but when they pulled back, she said with a smirk, “Then do your worst, Mate. I will never submit.”

Lena scratched her nails down Caden’s neck and chest. Caden roared, and in one movement lifted Lena and held both of her wrists behind her back. “You’ve been caught, Prey. Submit.”

The sight of fiery amber in Caden’s eyes caused every cell in her body to feel a rush of pleasure and excitement. She needed her. She kissed her feverishly but didn’t submit. “I need you, Cade.”

Her kiss was enough to make Caden let go of her wrists and, like her, become overcome with the need to touch. Lena grasped Caden’s hair and between kisses whispered, “Bedroom.”

Caden walked them into the spare bedroom, and they fell onto the bed, grasping at each other. Lena scratched her nails down Caden’s back. She groaned in response, and Lena felt such a rush, she turned them, so that she was on top of Caden.

Her clit was throbbing, and she was so desperate for relief that she started to rock her hips on Caden. “Oh God, touch me, Cade. It feels like I’m on fire.”

Caden grasped her breasts and squeezed, then pulled her down closer to her, so she could suck her nipple into her wet mouth. When Lena felt Caden’s sharp fangs graze her nipple, she rocked her hips faster.

“I can’t get enough, Cade. Please?” Lena moaned.

She was on her back in a second, with her wolf holding her arms above her head, and Caden’s hips between Lena’s legs.

Lena tried to grind her hips against Caden, but she couldn’t get enough contact. Caden ran her tongue over Lena’s mate bite and said, “A hunter is patient, Goddess. We can wait until we wear our prey down, and eventually they submit.” Caden kissed her throat, and while one hand held Lena’s wrists, the other grasped her thigh, and her wolf claws dug into her flesh ever so slightly. The resulting sensation went straight to Lena’s clit.

Lena couldn’t take it anymore. She had lost again, but losing was so much fun. She gasped, “I submit. Please, please, take me, bite me. I need you now.”

Caden growled and rewarded her with a kiss. Lena was shaking with need both inside and out, and when she felt Caden slip into place between her hips, she gave a low groan and pulled Caden’s face down to her mate bite.

“Bite me, fill me up, fuck me…everything, Cade.”

Caden started to thrust her hips, then sank her teeth into her mate bite. The feeling was so intense, so exquisite, that her head swam. She could never have imagined another person could make her blood run hot in her veins and her sex burn.

Lena felt the warmth of Caden’s bite spread through her body, and when it reached her sex, she knew it would be over. She wrapped her legs around Caden’s hips, making them as close as possible, and then it happened. All the fire and heat in her body culminated in her sex and exploded. It was so intense, she couldn’t even scream. She just held Caden tightly and let out a low primal groan.

Caden pulled back from her bite, blood on her sharp teeth, and thrust her hips wildly as her own orgasm took over her body.

Just watching Caden roar with pleasure made Lena’s hips thrust again, and another intense orgasm hit her in seconds.

As they lay gasping, a sheen of sweat on both their bodies, Lena knew that no matter how much it took out of her, she would just keep demanding more of Caden. And her need was becoming stronger every day.

“It’ll never be enough, Cade. I need more.”

Caden looked into her eyes and said, “I’ll always give you what you need, Goddess.”

Then Caden took her lips in a deep, passionate kiss.