Rifter needed a woman, Brother Wolf needed to run wild, and their appetites for sex and destruction mingled, rose with a hot howl as Rifter’s Harley roared through the winter night.
Both knew which appetite would have to be sated first—the fucking; then the running. Rifter and his wolf were usually on the same page in that regard. Tonight was no different, and he slammed his Harley to a stop in front of Bite, one of the many bars along the strip, because he smelled danger. He stomped inside, ignoring the way the room stilled and everyone turned to watch him. After hundreds of years, that shit got old, and he was well aware of what he looked like.
He was also well aware that no one in this room would want to be him, if given the chance. He could only pray no one ever would be put in that position again.
No, he was already part of a pack of the last six living Dire wolves, who cursed their immortality and wore their ferocity on their sleeves because they literally had nothing to lose.
Created by Hati, son of a Norse god, and watched over by a mystical clan of Elders, Rifter was six feet eight inches of raw muscle and more than seven feet, three hundred pounds when he was Brother Wolf, which explained the pain of the transition..
Brother Wolf was part of him—when he was driving the ship, Rifter could request things, and vice versa, but they were both equal in power. It was the only way they could inhabit one body. He had a great deal of respect for his wolf, knew what Brother needed and when he needed it. Brother did the same for him.
If one of them died, the other would too.
We should be that lucky, he thought, and Brother howled in response inside his head, reminding him of why they’d come here in the first place.
Brother Wolf’s biggest goal—beyond chasing moons—was to become Father Wolf. That could happen only by mating, and that shit was not happening anytime soon.
Rifter’s main goal was to die, but again, he’d be waiting on that one forever.
One of the female Weres, laced into a black bustier, caught up to him when he was halfway to the bar and rubbed her body against his. “Where’ve you been, Rift?” she purred.
“Prison,” he said as he pushed past her, semidisgusted that his response seemed to turn her on. Prison couldn’t hold Rifter and Brother Wolf, and God knew humans had tried more than once over the last centuries.
He took in the human motorcycle gang and the pack of wolves who’d started their own version of Hells Angels, only far more deadly, and then his nose led him to the young woman sitting alone at the bar. She was doing shots and swaying to the music, and she’d caught the bikers’ attention—human and wolf—neither of which was a good thing.
He knew immediately from the rumblings that she’d been here too long.
Typically, the wolves stayed among their own, but lately, they’d been mixing it up with the locals, and that wasn’t going over all that well with the weretrappers. This bar was owned and operated by a Were—but catered to humans as well. The thing was, most humans beyond the weretrappers didn’t believe that Weres existed at all, and the Weres and the Dires had been able to pass as full human for as long as they could remember.
He could deal with a fight to get his blood going. But first things first. He moved next to her, watched her turn to him, look up at him. Her eyes widened—appreciation rather than fear, and yeah, what the hell?
“You’re not in a good place,” he growled over the music.
“I’ve got a seat at the bar—that’s the best place,” she told him, not slurring her words yet, but by the way she was motioning to the bartender, she’d find herself doing so soon enough.
She was human and he was drawn to her.
Making sure she’s safe.
Right, because he was a goddamned Boy Scout. He didn’t give a shit about humans—those who knew about the existence of Weres were either terrified, or idiot groupies, or hunting his kind. The wider the berth, the safer for all involved. But there was something that yanked him to her, a zing right to his cock that had him by her side, watching her lick the salt from her hand, down the tequila and suck on the lemon while staring at him with green eyes that were far from innocent.
“I’m Gwen,” she said, her voice all hot and smoky sounding even though there wasn’t a cigarette in sight. She leaned back and stared at him again and let a smile tug one corner of her lips.
He knew she wanted to comment on the name, but she didn’t. Instead, she reached out and played with a zipper on his black leather jacket, then let a long finger roam over the soft, smooth fabric. He could picture the black against her creamy skin.
“I want to wear this,” she murmured.
“Later. Naked,” he told her and she stared at him, her neck graceful, her body more so, and she looked like some kind of aristocrat, like she should be in a ballroom instead of here.
But she was here. There would be no female Weres for him tonight, even though more were already circling. He picked up on the low growls, because Dires never went for humans. Everyone was confused, and he was president of the club.
He expected this to be all over fucking Facebook within the hour. “I want to take you home,” he emphasized, in case the naked part hadn’t been enough of a clue.
Have to. Need to. Fuck, he felt like dropping to his knees and howling and it had nothing to do with the full moon.
She tilted her head and continued to study him.
“I’m not into anything beyond sex.” Blunt for sure, but he had to make that clear.
A small smile played on her lips. “Don’t worry—I won’t be around long enough to stalk your tall ass.”
“Dying.” Rifter froze and she shrugged. “You’re not going to let a little thing like that stop you from coming home with me, right?”
“No, I don’t joke about death. Well, that’s not true—I’m a doctor—we have to. Gallows humor keeps us from getting too emotional.”
“You’re dying and so you’ve decided to pick up strange men in dangerous bars.”
“It’s like one of those bad game-show questions—if you found out you only had a short time left to live, what would you do?” She laughed but there was little humor behind it. “I have no idea what I want to do, besides not die.”
She looked healthy to him—healthy and beautiful, with long blond hair, wearing leather, and she did fit in here, in a weird way. And Christ, he could think of nothing more he wanted to do than die. I-fucking-ronic, as Vice would say. “How long do you have?”
“At least through the night. And it’s not catching,” she added as an afterthought. “Are you worth it?”
He didn’t know how the hell to answer that. So he did so truthfully. “Hell yes.”
“Then let’s go.”
Rifter checked to see if Vice was hanging around, because women sometimes acted this way with his packmate, who was a walking ball of sin. But no, Vice was nowhere in sight and everyone was antsy.
Goddamned full fucking moon. Like a bitch with a whip.
He didn’t bother to fight the urge to pick her up, and he slung her over his shoulder, caveman-style, grabbing her jacket off the back of her chair. He heard her startled, soft gasp, but she didn’t protest as he walked out with her, daring any of the wolves to follow him.
They all knew what he was—they may not like him, but they sure as hell knew to respect his power.
When he got to his bike, he set her down and handed her the coat. Her hair tumbled over her shoulders, her black tank top had ridden up a little along her belly and her cheeks flushed from the cold. “Thanks for the ride.”
“That was nothing.”
She refused the helmet he offered, instead wrapping her arms around as much of his waist as she could, and off they went. Normally, he didn’t give a shit about the icy roads, but his passenger wasn’t as indestructible as he was. Though he gave the bike lots of gas, he didn’t get stupid on icy corners and snowy shoulders. After a while, she was no longer holding on and had put her hands in the air, yelling into the wind. He went faster because it seemed to excite her.
When he stopped in front of her house, a pretty little Victorian in the middle of nowhere, she hopped off and he followed her as she walked up the path. Before she could get to the door, he took her arm and pulled her close and brought his mouth down on hers before he could stop himself. She tasted like sugar and cranberries—tart and sweet—and he wanted more. Wanted it all, and Brother Wolf seemed to agree, as he was ignoring the running in favor of letting Rifter take his time.
When he pulled back, her lips were swollen and she was breathing hard and he was glad about that. “Every guy in that bar wanted to take you home tonight. Why me?”
Her eyes flicked over him coolly. “You were the biggest.”
He couldn’t tell if she was joking.
Gwen wasn’t. He was huge. Really freaking huge—built like a brick shithouse, long, shaggy blond hair, hard jaw, cut cheekbones and those eyes—holy hell, they were gorgeous. Gray and blue and black and brown, all speckled like a kaleidoscope that could pull her really far in.
She’d more than noticed him when he’d walked in—no, she’d felt him.
Rifter. Even the name tugged at her.
He wouldn’t be gentle, and she was so tired of being treated carefully. She just needed to get through the next few hours without a seizure.
“Just give me a few minutes, okay?” she asked, and he nodded, his gaze raking over her as he stripped off his leather jacket and threw it across her couch. Looked between it and her, and my God, she already felt naked.
He made her already small house seem like it was made for dolls, but somehow, she’d fit against him surprisingly well, despite the height difference. Her lips felt well kissed and her body strummed in anticipation of more.
“Just a minute,” she repeated and backed out of the room before she stripped down and jumped him. A little tequila and all her carefully held self-control obviously had disintegrated.
In the privacy of her bedroom, she downed a couple of extra pills, the newest in a long line prescribed by the neuro, but they wouldn’t work. None of them ever worked for long, which was why she’d had to choose between med school and having a life. Well, more so than the average med student, because the damned seizures got in the way of everything and the meds made her stupid or silly or sleepy.
She was tempted to throw them away, but then functioning would be gone. She was already living with a death sentence, so why make it harder?
God, the morning’s neuro appointment couldn’t have been any worse. She’d demanded the truth and she’d gotten it.
“The seizures will kill you,” he’d said. “You’re close to OD’ing on the meds and they’re not helping. The activity is everywhere. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The MRI film left little doubt: The length and increasing severity of each episode debilitated her—inside her brain was the perfect storm of electrical impulses.
“Feel free to use my case as a write-up,” she’d told him, and the doctor’s mouth had twisted in empathy and pain.
He’d been frank but not unsympathetic.
She’d gone straight to the bar from the consult.
Tomorrow, she’d go back to work for a twenty-four-hour shift because what else was she supposed to do? Stay in bed with this man for the next few weeks?
She peeked out at Rifter, the breadth of his back taking her breath away. The leather jacket lay on her couch and she shivered, thinking about the way she’d be wearing it.
There were definitely worse ways to go.
He was looking out the window, no doubt because there was nothing else to look at, unless he liked medical textbooks. For the first time, she saw her place through someone else’s eyes and realized how stark it was.
The house was white walls, bare floors. Rented. Even the furniture wasn’t hers. The linens were bought on the cheap—without much thought, at the closest store when they’d had a sale. Everything was disposable because she never wanted to get that attached to anything—or even anyone, something she admitted to herself only in moments of extreme honesty—again.
She didn’t want roommates—didn’t want to live in a dorm or an apartment with people. In the past years, being around them had made her feel crowded, like she wanted to jump out of her own skin.
No, the only thing that had given her peace over the past years had been her daily runs. Sometimes she went twice, if only to feel the freedom of the wind on her face, the road before her open, her feet flying across the ground.
She wondered what would happen if she simply continued running without looking back, running until she literally dropped.
She’d lost so much and now she was literally losing time, sand through an hourglass that slipped through her hands no matter how tightly she fisted it. And her house mocked her now, a blank slate, much like her life. She’d thrown herself into medicine, wanting a way to make people feel better in the way no doctor had ever really been able to help her.
At first, the seizures hadn’t been an issue. They’d been well controlled, almost suppressed while she was growing up, but when she’d hit twenty-one, they exploded, and four years later they were daily occurrences. She’d been so good—slept as much as she could, ate well, exercised.
Being good was so overrated. No one ever looked back on their lives and thought, Well, at least I was good.
She’d bet even Mother Teresa had regrets about that.
And so, when she’d gone to the bar tonight, she’d been looking to feed those long-buried instincts, her nerve endings tingling as she’d downed the tequila, as if her body was thanking her for finally allowing it some enjoyment.
How long had it been for her? Felt like forever since she’d had to choose between medicine and men. She couldn’t believe she was still a goddamned virgin.
She’d made her bed and now she was so ready to undo it and experience it all.
Funny thing—she didn’t feel like a virgin. It was like her body knew what it needed, and now that she was finally giving in to that baser set of pleasures, it would guide her with touchstones every step of the way, starting with the man she’d brought home.
And so she went back out to Rifter. “Can I get you anything?”
“You.” He tugged her to him without further preamble. She liked that—having spent her life dealing with logic and science, and with her disease these last years, it was wonderful simply to give in.
Tonight she’d worn black leather pants, boots and a tight black top and had felt more like herself than she had in a long time. But now she just wanted skin to skin—needed to strip all the clothes off and roll around with this man. She reached up to twine her hands in his hair, pulling his face to hers for a kiss.
He tasted better than any drug or drink—instant intoxication.
His hands skimmed her body, cupped her breasts and then lifted her shirt and broke the kiss to pull it off her. It flew over her head with a soft breeze as his hands cupped her ass, his arousal thick against her belly.
“Beautiful.” His voice was husky, and for a minute she was sure she couldn’t breathe, because he looked at her with such hunger . . . she’d never felt more wanted in her entire life.
She tilted her head up, sure he would kiss her again, or touch her breasts, take her pants off before she got more frantic, but he didn’t.
Instead, he tilted his head, but only to look at her strangely. Narrowed his eyes and moved his hands from her ass to her waist, as if holding her up.
“I understand if you’re freaked. But I’m not going to die in bed with you. At least I don’t think so,” she muttered.
“Death doesn’t scare me.”
“I suspect not much does.”
He nodded his agreement but he still didn’t move.
It took her another thirty seconds to understand why, and by then it was far too late to stop anything.
Brother Wolf caught the scent first—the bitter, cloying tang of trouble—and then Rifter smelled it as well. It was the odor of a shift from human to wolf form. But the shift wasn’t his, and Rifter went on full alert, a low growl rumbling up from his chest. He tensed, prepared to bolt outside to find whatever stray wolf was prowling nearby, but a heartbeat later, Gwen collapsed in his arms and the scent dissipated.
Brother Wolf howled, wanted to pace restlessly, and it was then that Rifter understood.
Seizure. Shit, in all his years, had he really never been around a seizing human before to notice that a seizure smelled like a wolf shift? Quickly, he lowered her to the bed, kept her on her side facing him and watched her body struggle, fighting with itself for control. Gwen would hate him for witnessing this, but he couldn’t leave her. And goddamn, that bothered the shit out of him, since he’d known this human for less than an hour.
He looked toward the night table, checked the drawer as he kept a hand on her and rifled through the pill bottles, wondering if any of these might help. But Brother Wolf was calming down a little now, and Rifter hoped that was a good sign.
She was still helpless—she probably hated that most of all.
The only thing he could do to comfort her was sometimes not a comfort at all. He had the ability to dreamwalk, which made him a sort of human dream catcher by default. He could hold someone’s nightmare at bay or help them through it by absorbing the fear and pain.
His curse alternately freaked and pissed off the Dires, and the Weres who knew about it. But his pull was strong and there wasn’t a whole hell of a lot his family of Dires could do about it when he would involuntarily walk through their dreams in order to capture their nightmares.
The pack hated being so vulnerable to him, hated that he was forced to carry all their fears, but that had been his ability since he’d been born. He’d learned to deal with the burdens he carried and the fallout that came with them.
As a child, he’d been confused by the ability, but as he got older, his mother explained, It’s a blessing. It was only before his Running that he’d been told that he’d actually been cursed with the ability, not born with it, and that he’d never be free of it.
Still, it helped him to keep track of what was happening in his pack.
While Jinx didn’t love it, he was used to it—his own born ability of being able to talk to ghosts and helping them pass over into the spirit world meant someone was always fucking with his mind, and he would typically tell Rifter to just get the fuck out.
Vice was usually too busy indulging in one of his vices to give a shit what Rifter did. The man was born with seven deadly sins rolled into one sinful-as-hell body that women and men—both human and wolf—couldn’t get enough of. And although he couldn’t be separated from the sins that ruled his life, his ability let him use those extremes to help others find their balance.
Stray’s dreams were almost completely quiet—centered more on hiding and being caught—and Rifter often wondered if he had the power to block Rifter from them, but he never asked. No, Stray was jumpy enough, having been found fifty years earlier in some back alley. He’d been separated from the pack after what the Elders called the Extinction, when they had smote all living Dire wolves except for them during the Viking Age Extinction, and ended up nearly losing his mind from lack of pack company.
These days, he spent most of his time hanging at the house, listing to old-school eighties metal and keeping up with the latest technology. But man, Rifter would let Stray have his back during a fight any damned time.
If the man had an ability beyond being an immortal Dire, he hadn’t let anyone in on it, although Rifter had his suspicions.
And then there was Rogue—Jinx’s twin, who could contact spirits. Rogue, who’d been captured months earlier by the weretrappers, a group not unlike homegrown terrorists who wanted to experiment on Weres and Dires. Lately, there were rumors that the trappers planned to clone the Weres for some kind of superarmy to use for their own purposes.
The weretrappers were humans, but they’d made a deal with the witches—one of whom was Rifter’s former best friend, Seb, and now the trappers had some powerful spells on their side.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Rifter and the other Dires were charged with keeping the rest of the humans safe from the evil that could entail.
But he didn’t want to think about Seb right now. Not when Rifter could close his eyes and still hear Rogue’s howls in the night. They’d gotten him back, but not until terrible things had been done to him.
Rifter knew from personal experience what kinds of horrors the man and his wolf had endured. He’d been with Rogue that night six months earlier. Both had been captured and taken to separate cells. It took Rifter three weeks to escape and take Rogue with him.
By that time, the man was a shell of his former self.
Now Rogue remained in the attic of the house, as comfortable as they could make an immortal in a coma. Whether he would come out of it—and how he would be when he did—remained to be seen.
Rogue’s mind was a terrifying blank, and Rifter couldn’t get inside, no matter how hard he tried.
And then there was the one they rarely spoke of: Harm—aka Harmony—the Dire who could calm the masses or incite riots with his singing, who’d gone out on his own thousands of years earlier and most recently made a name for himself as the unpredictable superstar singer of a rock band and who now lived as a recluse. Rifter would rip his fucking head off if he ever found the man—rip it off every day for the rest of his miserable life for the danger he’d put all of them in.
Along with the six of them were the Weres they’d let into their Dire pack, mainly those who’d gone rogue from their own packs because they were too mean or rowdy or didn’t follow direction well . . . or they were still moon crazed, like the young twins Jinx had taken under his wing.
They listened to the Dires. Had their backs. The Weres weren’t nearly as strong as the Dires, but they were formidable powers in their own right.
And oh yeah, no female Dires, because there were none. The Extinction that occurred in the eleventh century, toward the end of the Viking Age had taken care of that, left the remaining male Dires with immortality and a shitload of gifts they did not want.
The female Weres they hung with as part of their group were cool, and they could handle the Dires moderately well, sexually and otherwise, if they weren’t newly shifted. It took a hell of a lot for a Dire to be with a human. Rifter couldn’t remember the last time he’d let that happen but suspected it was right after he’d shifted for the first time, the moon craze making him goddamned insane with lust and hunger, and Brother Wolf hadn’t had any measure of control either. Slowly, the two of them pulled back, got some form of measured control and agreed to keep their shit together.
Brother Wolf tugged—rightfully so, because Rifter was encroaching on his time—but he couldn’t leave Gwen now. She was still twitching, a restless combination of sleep and unconsciousness, and nowhere near peaceful. He remained firmly rooted in reality, not attempting to enter her dreams like he itched to.
The dreamwalking had become worse in the months leading up to his capture. Since Rogue’s coma, it had only gone downhill. Rifter had always been able to control it, but lately, his own dreams had been stranger. He’d wake up speaking the old language, unable to remember where he’d been.
The dreams were draining him. He wasn’t scared of anything, but they freaked him the fuck out.
Jinx did what he could to help keep the dreams at bay, which included the use of Native American dream catchers, while Rifter actively tried not to sleep. Much. And even though he’d promised Jinx and the others that he wouldn’t do this because they couldn’t be sure the new dreams weren’t the insidious work of Seb and his witches, Rifter pulled off the dream-catcher necklace and put it around Gwen’s neck instead. Then he prepared to put himself in a danger he’d sworn not to.
He closed his eyes, her hand in his large one, her skin soft and smooth and cool, and goddamn, it would feel good on his cock. But this wasn’t about him, and he had nothing but time, so he could afford to be magnanimous.
He settled into a light sleep. The push into her subconscious wasn’t effortless, which was strange, because in her state, there should have been no resistance.
But very few could resist him for long, especially humans.
Finally he broke through and began the dreamwalk—a combination of actually walking through the person’s dreams and then influencing said dreams. A handy skill. Inside Gwen’s dreams, he got sucked into a swirling mass of terror and confusion and . . . hope. Strangely enough, there was more of that than anything.
Rifter didn’t know how the hell it all worked, but somehow, with the dreamwalk, he was both by Gwen’s side physically while his dream self walked with Gwen inside her mind.
In that dream state—suspended from the reality of her world—he took her away from the pain and fear and put his leather jacket on her, over her bra and underwear, even though she wouldn’t really feel the cold, and holy Mother of God, she looked fine. He almost stayed on the bed next to her, but instead, he put her back on his bike . . . and because they were in the dream, he rode faster than he ever would with her in real life. She laughed, her hands in the air the way they’d been before, and the vibrations rang through both like a fever.
But Brother Wolf’s needs were becoming increasingly hard to ignore, what with the white round bitch hanging in the sky, and he needed to run. Had no choice but to take Gwen with him.
Rifter’s skin tightened, and he didn’t fight the change from man to beast. He reveled in it. Letting the wolf take over was sometimes the easiest thing in the world . . . would be so damned easy to let him take over full-time. And so he was now Brother Wolf both in Gwen’s bedroom and in her dream, and Brother Wolf complied by keeping his paw on Gwen’s hand to not break Rifter’s way into her dream.
In the dream, though, Brother Wolf was free, and he stopped and howled, and Gwen was watching warily. He smelled the fear on her skin, watched her face pale and her mouth gape in a frightened O, because, yeah, Brother Wolf was a big, scary-looking motherfucker, although a hell of a looker too. He shook his head and the fur around his neck shifted, and then he bared his neck and howled, his way of telling Gwen she was safe, although she wouldn’t know that. And obviously she didn’t because just then she backed up and began to run from him.
He caught up to her and for a while they ran side by side, until he stopped smelling her fear . . . until he saw the smile on her face. Brother Wolf dusted up the leaves from the ground, and they swirled around their feet, crunching in the night. And when Brother Wolf sat, she even reached out—hesitantly—and patted his back.
He gave a contented whimper in response. Bastard.
It was after one in the morning when Brother Wolf conceded. Rifter stood naked in front of her as she lay on the forest ground on a blanket of old leaves untouched by the snow, thanks to the thick covering of trees. She could see pinpricks of moonlight coming from above, her body sated from the run. As she gazed at him as if he was the best thing she’d ever seen, it made him feel like beating his chest.
Father Wolf, Brother Wolf whispered in his ear.
His cock jutted out toward her, and in response she reached to unhook her bra and stripped it and her underwear and lay on the soft ground naked under the moonlight, waiting for him.
In the dream state, he was supposed to lead her through a higher reality, a place she couldn’t get to herself. He wasn’t supposed to gain pleasure from it, but he couldn’t help himself, not when her nipples tightened into perfect buds the color of ripe berries, her breasts a little more than a handful. A perfect blond triangle between her legs.
She had a runner’s body—lithe, long, finely muscled, and his hand dipped between her thighs, a finger exploring the wet heat. She would feel this to her core. Her hips already began to rock against his hand in response to his touch, her fingers moved across her belly and her body thrashed, this time for pure pleasure.
He couldn’t remember wanting a woman this much. He wouldn’t take her like this, felt badly about doing this to her, but judging by the length of her orgasm, she needed it.
She’d remember none of this—if she had a vague memory, she’d think it was a hot dream.
He’d remember everything and it would haunt him for a hell of a long time.