Then she’d seen their true nature.
“A war is coming to this town, Lucas. You’re going to get slammed from both sides.” This time, she sucked in a deep, gulping breath. Confession. “I know the wolf who’s leading the charge.”
Not going to lie. A lie wouldn’t work with him. She stepped away from the stairs and headed closer to him. “He was my lover.” He’d also used her to spy. At first, she hadn’t minded. Not like spying was new for her. Besides, she’d been so happy to find someone who didn’t think she was some kind of freak.
And he’d been a wolf. It had seemed so perfect. As if he were made for her.
Then the killings had started.
She’d realized he wasn’t so perfect after all.
Sarah had gotten away from him, barely, but he was out there, and closing in—on her and Lucas.
“Your lover.” A growl. “You like to play with wolves, do you?”
Sarah kept her chin up even as her hands clenched into fists. “John died trying to save your ass.”
Black brows rose. “Sounds like he died trying to save his own ass.” He walked around her, circling like the wolf he was as he closed in on his prey. His gaze raked her, head to toe, lingering a bit too long on her breasts and hips.
Sarah was all too aware that they were alone and that Lucas could rip her apart with one swipe of his claws. She knew first-hand just how strong a wolf shifter’s claws could be. The mark on her back had only healed a few weeks ago.
He circled her once more, then stopped just behind her. His breath stirred the hair near her ear as he said, “Tell me the wolf’s name.”
Not yet. Because wolves had a tendency to stick together, and she didn’t want to find herself on the outside, with two packs sizing her up. “Do you believe me?”
“I believe you’ve managed to piss off the coyotes.”
Not close to being good enough. She turned her head a bit and met his stare. “I’m a charmer. I can read the minds of wolves.”
“Then read my mind.” A taunt, one laced with sensual menace.
Her eyes narrowed. “I can’t read you when you’re in human form, you have to shift first.”
“I’ve heard there are only a handful of charmers in the world who can read a shifter’s mind.” The doubt was obvious. “Most charmers stick to real animals.”
“Shifters are real animals.” The insult burst out automatically, but she’d seen too much to think otherwise.
His lips curled, revealing the sharp tips of his canines. “That we are.” He leaned closer and she caught the soft inhale as he scented her hair.
Sarah held her body very, very still as his mouth came close to her throat. His lips feathered over her, pressing lightly against the side of her neck.
If he wanted, he could rip her throat open. But she knew what this move was about. Damn pack rules.
Dominance. Submission. Lucas was the freaking alpha, her only hope for living out the next forty-eight hours. So she had to play the game.
Sarah tipped back her head, baring her throat in a gesture she knew he’d understand.
A rumble slipped from his mouth and seemed to vibrate on her skin. She felt the light nip of his teeth, and, damn it all, a shot of heat streaked through her body. Can’t want him. Can’t trust him. Can only use him and walk away.
His tongue swiped over her throat, licking the small wound. “His scent’s not on you.”
It took a second for his words to register, a second too long, because Lucas caught her arms and yanked her around to face him.
He bent toward her, bringing his eyes close to hers. “Babe, I know wolf shifters. If we’re fucking, we’re marking our partners. If you had a wolf lover, his scent would be all over you.”
Bastard. “Only if we’d been together in the last month. It’s been four months since I got the hell away from him.” Partial truth.
His nostrils flared. Smell a lie . . .
“I’m telling you the truth.” If she said it, maybe he’d buy it. “You’re in danger, your pack’s in danger and—”
“We’ll see.” His hand lowered and snagged her wrist. “I think a little test is in order.” He pulled her with him.
What? A test? “Lucas—”
But he didn’t stop. His grip was freaking unbreakable, because she really did try every way possible to break it. He led her through the house, dragged her outside, hauled her down the hill—and ignored her shouts to explain what the hell he was doing.
When they burst through the brush and into the small clearing and four wolves—huge, furry beasts with saliva dripping from their teeth—lunged toward them, Sarah finally understood her little “test.”
The wolves circled them. She couldn’t help it. Sarah inched closer to Lucas. Two of the wolves were black. Two were solid white. All looked like they’d been taking some kind of shifter steroids. Way too large for normal wolves. She swallowed.
“Let’s see what part of your story was true,” Lucas said, “and what part was bullshit.”
He freed her wrist. Then the guy stepped away from her. Far away. He left her in the middle of that circle of wolves and the animals closed in.
“The bitch made contact with Simone.”
The coyote leader lifted his brows at that. “So she’s dead?” Good. One less worry for him. Of course, picking up the bounty on her head would have been a nice bonus, and killing her would have given them a good in with the other wolves but . . .
The coyote shifter in front of him raised his head, and the guy’s thick, dirty brown hair scraped across his shoulders. “Simone didn’t kill her,” Marcus DePaul confessed.
Very, very slowly, Jess Ortez lowered the shot glass he’d lifted to his mouth. “He didn’t kill her,” he repeated softly. “You didn’t kill her . . . so what the fuck happened to Sarah King?”
“Sh-she’s under his protection. They were together. I-I followed ’em to the park, tried to get her—”
Oh, shit. His head began to throb. “You weren’t stupid enough to attack when Lucas Simone was there.”
But the idiot’s trembling lips told him that, yes, he had been. Fuck. The glass started to crack. “We’ve got a truce with him!” He threw the glass back over the bar.
“But Alpha, I thought you wanted—”
Jess lunged forward and caught the shifter’s head in his hands. He stared into Marcus’s eyes. “Don’t think.” One twist, that’s all it would take and he’d snap the wiry bastard’s neck. “You’re not supposed to think. You’re just supposed to do whatever the hell I tell you.”
That was the whole point in being the coyote alpha, right? He gave the orders, all the other bastards rushed to obey, and if they didn’t rush fast enough, he killed them.
Sweat trickled down the dumb bastard’s face. “P-please . . .”
“Does Lucas know I’m here?”
“I don’t th-think—”
His fingers tightened.
“No! He just—he must have figured we were just hunting! Said if he saw me or Grimes again, we were dead.”
Not as bad as it could be, but still . . . now the wolf would be on guard and if that bitch managed to get him to believe her story . . .
He drew in a long, slow breath. “Guess what?” he murmured.
Marcus blinked his watery eyes. “Wh-what?”
“You are dead.” His hands yanked hard to the right.
Lucas watched the wolves close in on her, and he crossed his arms over his chest. And waited.
Sarah stood in the middle of that tight circle, her body tense, her hands fisted at her sides. Her gaze darted from wolf to wolf, and the scent of sweat and fear teased his nose.
Again, the smell of fear didn’t tempt his wolf. But, it did have the beast inside snarling . . . and damn if he didn’t want to go back to her. Protect.
“This should be easy for you,” he called out, deliberately keeping his voice cool and expressionless. “You’re the charmer. Just tell me what they’re thinking.”
Her lips pressed together. So he wouldn’t see the tremble? Too late, he’d already seen. Sarah was scared. Charmers didn’t usually fear their linked animals, but then wolf shifters weren’t your typical beasts.
“I’ve already played this game,” she gritted. “You were there, you saw me with the boy.”
The boy. Jordan. “All you did was guess that he was a young wolf. Not a very impressive guess.” He shrugged. “This time, I want details.” Proof. “Tell me what they’re thinking.”
Because if she really was what she claimed to be . . .
Her right hand lifted and her index finger pointed to the white wolf that stood less than a foot away from her. “Piers here thinks this test is a damn waste of time, and he wants to go for my th-throat.”
The drumbeat of Lucas’s heart echoed in his ears. Could be a guess. Everyone knows my first-in-command is Piers.
Lucas lifted a brow. “You’ve got three other wolves still waiting,” he said.
But she wasn’t looking away from Piers. “Tell him to stand down. I don’t want this jerk taking a swipe at me.” She backed up a step. Not the brightest move. You didn’t show weakness to a wolf. Wolves liked weakness too much.
Lucas dropped his hands and rolled his shoulders. “Ease back, Piers.”
The white wolf immediately backed off.
Sarah’s green gaze rose to meet his. “Thank you.” No mistaking the fear in those eyes.
He inclined his head. “Three more.”
“You really are a bastard, aren’t you?”
“That’s what they say.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Right, you’re—” Her gaze shot to the left. To the big, black wolf with night-black eyes. “He says you’re a bastard, but you’re a fair bastard.”
“Michael.” Her breath heaved out. “He says I shouldn’t worry, that you don’t usually eat women.”
Then her face flushed. A dark, fiery red. Her gaze darted to the other white wolf, Caleb McKenzie. He was a little smaller than Piers. Just a little. “He says you—ah—in bed . . .” Her hand lifted and shoved back a heavy mass of her hair. “I don’t need to know this.”
Lucas never looked away from her. “One wolf to go.” She swallowed. “Dane knows I’m telling the truth, so he’s trying to keep his mind blank now so I can’t see inside.” A brittle laugh. “No dice, Dane, and yes, I do think more coyotes will be after me. I think they’ll be here by nightfall and we need to stop screwing around with these stupid tests and get ready for them.”
“Shift,” Lucas ordered.
Sarah threw up her hands. “Wait!”
Too late. The snap and crunch of shifting bones filled the air. Fur melted away from the bodies of the wolves as dark, golden flesh appeared. Hands formed from paws. Muzzles slid back into the curved features of men.
Didn’t take long. Just a few minutes, and the wolves were gone. Naked men stood surrounding Sarah. Lucas bent toward the bag Piers had brought out earlier. He pulled out the jeans and tossed them to his men. Then he marched to Sarah’s side. The pulse at the base of her throat beat far too fast.
“You play with us,” he murmured as the men dressed, “but we scare the hell out of you.”
“Trust me on this, Lucas,” she said, voice quiet, “if I could have chosen, wolves would have been the last animals I would have linked with.”
But charmers didn’t have a choice. Their gift just kicked in when the right animal was around.
His gaze was on the faint mark on her throat, his mark, when he asked, “Was she telling the truth?”
“I wanted to rip her throat out,” Piers admitted. “Yeah, she knew.”
“She plucked the exact words from my mind,” Michael Montoya said. “We all know what a fair bastard you are.”
A snort from Piers.
Dane Gentry edged closer. “She can link with us.” He whistled. “Who the hell would have thought the stories were true? A charmer who can link with shifted wolves—that’s fucking rare.”
Her shoulders were so straight they had to hurt. “So I guess this means I passed your test? You believe me now?”
“I believe you’re a charmer.” His hand lifted and brushed against her back. “I believe that—”
But Sarah had leapt away from him. When his fingers touched the base of her back, she yelped and shot forward, running and slamming right into Dane’s outstretched and scarred arms.
“Whoa, sweetheart,” Dane murmured, “there ain’t no cause for you to—”
She kneed him in the groin. Dane immediately dropped his hold and stumbled back, swearing.
Sarah whirled back around to face Lucas. He raised his hand, a command for the others to stand down. Don’t touch. He knew terror when he smelled it. They all did.
“Are all wolves the same?” she asked, voice tight. “Sure, I know most folks say you’re all psychotic killers, but, hell, some of you have to be normal, right? Some of you have to have consciences?”
He caught the faint tightening of Piers’s eyes. Years ago, they’d had to put down Piers’s father when the guy went Lone—and went on a five-state killing spree.
“We’re not all fucking psychos,” Piers snarled.
“Really?” And one brow arched. “Then why were you so worried a minute ago that you’d be crossing the line and killing? Why are you afraid that you’ll like the taste of human blood too much and—”