Authors: Vivian Wood,Amelie Hunt
opyright Vivian Wood
May not be replicated or reproduced in any manner without express and written permission from the author. 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 return to author and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author
there any chance we can just not talk about this right now?” Brooke asked, pulling a face. “I haven’t exactly been my best self tonight.”
Pax’s lips twitched, and Brooke could tell that she’d been forgiven.
“I guess I’m okay with any self you want to be, as long as it’s wearing this dress,” he said, reaching out and running his fingertips down her hip, tugging at the hem of the ridiculously short garment.
“Yeah?” Brooke asked, catching his hand and pulling him toward the packed dance floor. “Come see it in action.”
Pax let her tow him into the crush of gyrating bodies, surprisingly unresistant. She could tell from the look on his face that the bar wasn’t playing his kind of music. At the moment a sultry remix of a Nine Inch Nails song was playing. The bass was low and persistent, the song’s lyrics were more than a little suggestive, and the crowd was writhing enthusiastically along.
Pax took the lead, pulling Brooke up against his body as they swayed to the beat. He pressed one muscular thigh between hers, his hand splayed against her lower back to hold her close. Brooke bit her lip and stared up at him, their gazes connecting and holding, tension building between them.
It was like stoking a banked fire, flames leaping to life again like no time had passed. Like the last six years never happened, like she and Paxton hadn’t missed a single moment together. Even now, past and present blurred, the memory of Pax’s lips on hers so fresh in her mind that she wasn’t sure where they were, what they were doing.
The song shifted and Pax turned her around, pulling her ass back against his body as he swayed his hips. He was hard, and the feel of him made Brooke’s mouth go dry. Pax’s hands guided the movement of her hips, squeezing her flesh, reminding her of how dominant and confident he was in bed.
Damn, the man was pure sex.
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his book is for Jesse
, Nate, Kat, and Jessica. Y’all are just the BEST. For serious.
I’d also like to thank John and Katie, for being so awesome and supportive and wonderful. I am so lucky to have you guys in my life.
Thanks again to Lena and Crystal and Cassandra for helping me get all the little details right… especially the spelling. Y’all rock!
very Burke stood
, the gun weighing heavy in her hand, as she pointed it directly down at the gorgeous werewolf kneeling a few feet from the tips of her toes. Awaiting her judgement, it seemed. His ash blonde head was bowed, hair clipped so short that she could almost see his scalp, the style left over from his long years of active military duty.
Soldier, stranger, lover… Chase Harbin was so many things, all conflicting with one another. Avery swallowed, easing her finger over the trigger.
If only her hand wouldn't shake so much. If only her heart wouldn't thunder quite so loudly. If only Chase would look at her, raise his head and look her in the eyes, maybe…
Maybe what? Maybe she would… shoot him? End the life of the gorgeous unarmed man prostrating himself at her feet? End this thing between them, once and for all? Kill ten birds with one stone, possibly saving her life in the process?
"I should kill you."
Avery's words rang out like the tolling of a bell, falling leaden in the silence that lay between them. Only then did Chase raise his head, staring up at her with those eerily-lit emerald eyes, his gaze seeming to sink right into her soul.
“You won’t kill me,” Chase uttered. The surety and his voice only shook Avery more, made the choice harder. As if what she needed to do wasn't already impossible, after what they'd shared…
When Avery was silent for several long beats, Chase spoke again.
"You're too good inside, Avery," he told her, again with that same unnerving confidence. "No matter what you believe. I know you, Avery."
"You know nothing," Avery hissed. "You're not the only one the secrets. I may not be perfect, my family… The Hunters…" She paused. “None of that changes what you
. You know that, don't you? None of that changes the fact that you're a…"
Chase stared up at her, his jaw tensing, anger flashing in those gorgeous green eyes.
"A what? Say it, Avery."
"A monster," Avery whispered. "What you are, the curse you carry… Your kind should not exist."
Chase stared directly at her gun for several long seconds, considering.
"You don't really believe that," he told her. "If you did, we wouldn't be having this conversation. There would be no moral dilemma for you, Avery. In fact, you don't hate me at all. No, the problem is that you l—"
“Don't you dare!” Avery snapped. Heart pounding, mouth dry, she begged herself to pull the trigger, end this before the danger grew even greater.
"Lust. You lust after me," Chase said, an undercurrent of humor in his tone. "Or is it more than that, little Hunter? What are you really afraid of, Avery?”
“My father's command is already in jeopardy. Killing you would only solidify his power in the eyes of the other Hunters. And if he found out about… this thing between us… He'd string me up as a traitor in the blink of an eye. No questions asked," Avery said. It was completely true. Her father would be the least of her worries if anyone found out that she'd consorted with a werewolf. If her uncle got so much as a whiff of it, Avery would be a dead woman walking.
"So fuck them, Avery. There's a reason I found you shooting tequila and trying to chase away your worries at the bar that night. You’re miserable," Chase said.
Avery shook her head, lowering the gun a few inches.
"Yeah, thanks for pointing that out." A humorless smile lit her lips.
"Run away with me, Avery," Chase said. "Start a new life. You deserve it."
Avery's hand fell to her side, the gun pointing at the floor, her finger leaving the trigger entirely.
"It would be like signing both our death warrants," she told him somberly.
"I can keep you safe, Avery. I'll protect you–"
A bubble of laughter escaped Avery's lips, quickly turning into a muted sob. Tears brimmed in her eyes at the very idea of all that he offered — freedom, a life that was her own. It was… unthinkable. A fantasy.
"Get out," Avery told Chase, unable to meet his gaze. "I can't bring myself to kill you, but you have to leave. Don't make me decide between my own life and yours."
"Avery—" Chase tried.
"Don't come back. I mean it, Chase. If I lay eyes on you again, if I see you near the Compound, near my apartment, even at the bar where we met… I will kill you, Chase. I won't think twice about it next time."
Chase rose, towering over Avery's own five and a half foot frame. She watched him for a long beat, drinking in the sight of him. That big frame, thickly muscled, pure and lean just like the wolf inside him. That ruggedly handsome face, chiseled jaw, and those startling green eyes… She memorized every detail, knowing she'd never encounter another man quite like Chase.
Chase turned and walked to the door, pausing with one hand on the door frame, the barest moment away from crossing the threshold of her apartment and vanishing from her life forever. When he hesitated, almost starting to look back at her, something broke inside Avery. She raised the gun again and fired a shot, deliberately missing him and instead hitting the wall just inches away from his shoulder.
Chase tensed, determination filling his stance. He strode out of the apartment without a backward glance, giving Avery exactly what she asked for…
And yet, somehow, still breaking her heart at the same time.
The gun fell from her hand and clattered to the floor. Avery's knees went out from under her. She let herself sink to the floor, mirroring the same position Chase had been in only minutes before. A strangled sob poured from her throat, a soft keen of anguish.
As hard as it was to see him go, the practical part of Avery was glad, relieved. Though she ached, hands trembling, tears tracking down her face, in her heart she knew.
She’d done the only thing she could, the only thing that would save them both.
her eyes and squinted up at the mattress of the top bunk bed above her head, swimming up from the inky blackness of sleep. She rolled over in her cramped dorm-style bed, frowning at the deep ache in every muscle of her body. Why was she awake? She'd intentionally put herself through the ringer all through the day, taking advantage of the Compound’s ropes course and obstacle course before working herself into a fine frenzy as she ran eight miles flat out on the indoor track. Though the Compound served mainly as a paramilitary bunker and command center for the Hunters, some smart person had insisted that the Hunters install every manner of state-of-the-art workout equipment possible.
Whoever that person was, they were probably Avery’s only friend at this point.
Make that imaginary friend
Avery shivered, brushing her hands over her sweat-dampened t-shirt and cotton leggings, standard issue sleepwear for Hunter women. Standard issue pillow, standard issue blanket, standard issue bunk room even though she was one of only three women staying in this particular dormitory. There were at least four more dormitories just like it on the other side of the Compound for the men… Perhaps this bunk room had been set aside with the idea that more women would gradually join the Hunters ranks over time.
Then again… When it came to werewolf-hating, conspiracy-theory-loving, pseudo-military crazies like the entirety of Avery's family, it was impossible to know what they were really thinking, what they had planned.
A soft buzz startled her. Her illicit burner cell phone, buzzing under her pillow. That must've been what awakened her from an otherwise deep and dreamless night's sleep. Avery slipped her hand under her pillow and grasped the phone, carefully silencing the buzzing alert. Biting her lip and holding her breath, Avery stilled and listened for signs of movement or awareness around her.
The other two women in her bunk, mysterious new recruits that Avery barely knew except to say that they were unmarried female Hunters like herself, slept on in blissful silence. Once Avery's heart slowed, she sat up and slipped her feet into her shoes. She rose and snuck from the dormitory out into the warmth of the late spring evening air.
She looked down at the phone in her hands, biting her lip. Very few people had access to this phone number. People she trusted, people from her life before, back when her father was still alive. Before her uncle took over the Hunters and demanded that all unwed soldiers must live in the Compound’s dormitories.
Once upon a time, Avery’d had her own apartment. A job at the local library, even a few close friends to confide in. A whole life of her own, hard-fought and more satisfying with each step.
No longer, though… she’d allowed herself to be drawn back into this place. So here she was…
Pacing a safe distance from the dormitory, Avery glanced round one more time before she selected the missed call on her cell phone and dialed the number.
Someone picked up at the other end. Avery could hear a whisper of breath, knew that someone waited…
"Hello?" Avery whispered.
"Avery, it's Chase. Don't hang up."
"Son of a
," Avery said, her heart leaping into her throat.
Of all the people that can be calling, of all the ridiculously bad moments for this to be happening…
"You can't be calling me," Avery told him flat out, keeping her voice as quiet as possible.
"I promise you, Avery, this is an absolute last resort for me. I haven't forgotten anything you said to me," Chase swore.
"I don't think you understand. My situation is… precarious… at best. There is nothing good that can possibly come out of this phone call."
Understatement of the
"I know, Avery," Chase said, his tone urgent. "I would never put you in that situation if it wasn't life or death, I swear. It's just—"
There was something in his voice,. Something broken, something desperate.
“The Hunters took my sister Brooke," Chase said. the image of his face, expression anguish, flashed in Avery's mind. Her heart flip-flopped in her chest, reminding her all too well of the weakness that Chase brought out in her.
"What you mean took her?" Avery asked. "Took her where?"
"Abducted her," Chase breathed. "They invaded Winter Pass Lodge, shot her with a tranquilizer dart, and stuffed her in a Humvee."
Avery wanted to protest, wished that her heart would rebel against the idea of such a thing happening, wished she didn't believe every single word Chase was saying. Unfortunately, in light of her recent discoveries, it was all too likely.
Her eyes drifted over to the large, windowless bunker at the far east side of the Compound. Newly constructed, top-secret, heavily guarded. None of the Hunters’ foot soldiers knew what actually happened in there, but Avery had heard the whispers.
The black site
, they called it.
“Shit,” Avery said. "When did—How long has she been gone?"
"Half a day," she said. "She vanished this morning, and it took us a while to…
the situation here. Brooke has a new mate. Well, my buddy Paxton, actually. It doesn't matter. My point is, he's not handling it very well, and if I don't figure something out soon, I won't be able to keep him from a one-man suicide mission to take down every Hunter he can find."
"Yeah… Well, we've definitely stepped up our game here at the Compound. He wouldn’t be getting very far," Avery said. "We're getting more and more recruits every day, more fanatical anti-werewolf agitators, filling the Hunter ranks, giving us more money and more bodies on the ground."
There is a silence.
"Now you know why I called." Simple and direct. Very Chase.
"Yeah," Avery said. She hesitated, uncertain how to tell him no, that she couldn't help. It seemed an impossible thing, telling this man that Avery couldn't be swayed to help him save his own sister. Even the fact that she wanted to say that…
Just who was she these days?
"All I'm asking is that you meet me in person somewhere," Chase said. His voice broke on the word asking, making Avery's heart ache in a way that it hadn't done in so, so long. "Otherwise, Avery, you will be seeing me soon anyway. I'll be the one right behind Paxton, kicking down the door to the Compound. And I won't be leaving without you and Brooke, unless I’m leaving in a body bag."
Avery didn't respond, her mind whirring, hurt heart filling with fear and doubt and no small amount of anger. How dare he do this, demand this of her? If only he understood…
"Avery," Chase said, deadly serious. “Just say you'll meet me, hear me out. Please. Please. I'm begging you."
How could she say no to that?
"Roxie's Diner," Avery blurted out. "6 AM. Don't be late. Don't bring anyone else."
She heard Chase is sharp intake of breath, and she could sense the profuse thanks he was about to give, but she simply ended the call instead of waiting to hear it. Chase’s gratitude was the last thing in the world that Avery needed right now.
Chest tight, Avery slipped the phone into the waistband of her pants and headed back for her dormitory. Though there is no way she'd ever sleep now, it was more important than ever that she keep her head down, keep her schedule, keep everyone fooled.
If she did as she’s agreed, if she really met with Chase…
Avery Burke, dutiful Hunter, was about to brand herself a traitor.