River Wolf

Wolves of Willow Bend #7

Brett Dalton, Alpha of Hudson River, isolated himself from his pack mates after one betrayed him. The once, easygoing Alpha has become taciturn, remote and unforgiving. His pack worries for him, but they too have suffered a devastating blow. When several members leave to join Three Rivers, the pack faces the threat of dissolution until Brett’s best friend and Lone Wolf, Luc Danes returns to Hudson River accompanied by a beautiful young human—or is she? Something about the woman consumes Brett. Has Luc come home to help or to take the pack from Brett?

Colby Jensen wrapped up thousands of hours of community service working at the hospital in Maine when an injured Luc Danes rolled through the door. The impossible patient drove the nurses crazy, but when Danes offered her money no strings attached to drive him to New York, she agreed. The last thing she expected was to arrive in the small Westchester County town and to meet the craziest collection of residents—especially the devastatingly sexy Brett Dalton. Part of her wants to hit the road, the rest wants to make him smile and he keeps making excuses for her to stay.

Then she sees the wolves…and is exposed to a world she can barely imagine. When Brett discovers a secret about her, nothing will be the same again. Now she will find herself torn between a world she isn’t sure she can understand and the man who has taken her heart hostage…

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River Wolf

EXCERPT

Brett had been on a call when the car pulled into his drive. His pack knew to let themselves in, and he didn’t have time for strangers so he’d ignored the knock and the doorbell ring. The unfamiliar feminine call of ‘hello’ alerted him to the stranger entering his house. Surprise followed by fury rushed through him. Then she called again, but he missed the rest of her sentence thanks to three people talking at once on the conference call. Ending it, he informed his executives he’d call them back.

Her “Hallelujah!” beckoned him.  Silent, he stalked through the house to the kitchen and discovered the young woman dripping water on the tile floor as she lifted the handset from the cradle. Instead of dialing, however, she stared at the phone with a troubled expression.

Everything about her assaulted him—her fresh raindrops on blades of green grass aroma occluded by the scent of gasoline, male wolf, and injury. The male he identified almost immediately, despite the troubling mixture. Luc.

“What the hell am I doing here?” she asked aloud. The last word came out more heyah than here, but he understood.

“That’s a very good question.” No artifice disguised her shock. She flung the phone at him and he caught it. The force of the throw impressed him, as the phone slapped against the palm of his hand. Her pulse beat a frenetic pace and her eyes widened as she locked gazes with him.

Close enough to touch her, he stilled. If she were Luc’s ride, she might have a reason for being present—then again where the hell was Luc? Zeroing in on the flare of her dilating pupils, his wolf surged beneath his skin. The rush of his animal powered through him. Inhaling a lungful of her scent, he tested what he’d already learned about her and couldn’t identify what agitated the fuck out of his wolf.

Not discounting his wolf’s intuition, he narrowed his focus. Strangers were all suspect until proven otherwise. “I’ll only ask you nicely once. Who are you and what are you doing here?” Stephen warned him when she and Luc stopped at the service station, but he’d been under the impression Luc was awake.

“I…” She choked on the word, paling beneath her natural skin tone. No tan would give her the look of brushed amaretto though the deep black of her hair and the natural slant of her eyes suggested an Asian origin. All fascination with her appearance aside, she still hadn’t answered.

Raising his eyebrows, he held her gaze. More impressive, she didn’t look away. However, her fascination didn’t provide him with a response any quicker.

“I’m—I brought Luc.” The stutter underscored her honesty. Point to her.

“Where is he then?”

The second question managed what the first failed. She shook off her stupor. With a blink, she jerked her gaze from his. “He’s in the car and he’s unconscious. I was calling for an ambulance.” The shaken tone vanished to be replaced by one far more capable. “He needs assistance. This whole fool’s errand has endangered him.” Reclaiming the phone, she muttered. “Damn man got me into this mess…”

“Put the phone down.” Her irritation satisfied him. No one else he knew could engender equal parts of affection and irritation as Luc did. “We’ll help him here.”

“Did you not hear me? He’s unconscious.” Worry tinged the words.

After narrowing the distance between them, he took the phone from her and replaced it in the cradle. “I heard you. I’ll take care of him. You’re damp, and you seem a bit cold. Come, we’ll get him inside then you can warm up with a fire.”

Her scent offered more confusion—hope flared beneath layers of disbelief and annoyance. “He needs a doctor.

Enough. “We have what we need.” His wolf roused to the challenge in her eyes when her gaze clashed with his, but neither he nor his wolf backed down. Impressively, neither did the woman. Who the hell was she?

“Look, I’m not a doctor. I didn’t even finish my certification for registered nurse, but I’ve worked in enough hospitals. He put himself through hell in the car to get here—stupid man—and he needs real medical assistance.” Fear spiked through her scent. Whether it was fear for Luc or fear of him, Brett didn’t have time to parse. One thing was certain—she had no idea about wolves.

“Miss…” Goddammit, he didn’t know her name.

“Colby. Colby Jensen. We need to call…”

“Colby,” he tested the name on his tongue, and he liked the way it formed. Locking gazes, he relied on his strength as an Alpha. Her pupils dilated then contracted to pin points. “We will take care of him. Go sit down. I’ll get Luc from the car.”

Cupping her elbow, he ignored the bite of static electricity that jumped from her skin to his. The woman needed to be managed and, when Luc was safe, he needed a good thump in the head. What the hell was he thinking bringing a human into the middle of the mess?

The softness of her skin teased his wolf, and the animal within him prowled forward. It wanted a bite, to test and taste. She needed to go. His pack had experienced enough trouble. They didn’t need a human…

“Colby,” he repeated her name more for himself than for her. She was a person—a living, vibrant woman with a life, and a history and a purpose. “We can argue about care and treatment later, but we need to get him from the car.” He needed to get a grip. They didn’t eliminate potential threats before they actually became threats. The weather had the potential to suck; it didn’t mean it did.

“Okay,” she exhaled. “Good point.” Tugging her arm away, she strode toward the door and Brett followed, palming his cell phone along the way. He fired off a text to Owen alerting he and Gillian to Luc’s arrival in Hudson River. The mated pair were due to return the following evening, and unless Luc was critical…

Owen answered almost immediately. Critical?

He replied, Unknown. Standby.

Arriving at the door a step ahead of Colby, he opened it for her. The skies continued to pour a dreary rain. “Stay on the porch,” he ordered. No sense in both of them getting soaked.

“You might need me. He’s got heavy casts on and we don’t want the plaster to get wet.” Then without waiting for his response, she strode out into the rain. Her white cotton shirt, already moulded to her like a second skin, turned virtually transparent. Her black hair slicked to her neck and he hurried after her. Instead of opening the passenger side door, however, she opened the backdoor and withdrew an umbrella. Popping it open, she held it over their heads and met his gaze. “Are you sure you want to take him out here? We might be better off transporting him to a hospital or at least calling the ambulance before we take him out.”

“I’m sure.” He nudged her to the side so he could open the passenger door. Luc’s eyes fluttered open, the yellow-gold of his wolf glaring at him. A snarl issued from his throat as his gaze darted once to Colby then to Brett again. Despite his injuries he surged forward and the skin on his cheeks rippled. “No.” No pretense and no denying the order in his voice, Brett gripped Luc’s jaw. His wolf would obey, pack mate or not. His wolf knew him, and the beast snarled but Brett didn’t retreat. “I’m going to take you into the house and you’re going to keep it together, got it?”

“Got it.” The words were ground out between his teeth.

“Damn, you have the bedside manner of an ogre.” Colby’s disgust echoed behind.

“Hush,” Brett said. He had no time to soften his manner. Luc’s wolf was rising and it wanted out. The injuries were severe and he should have long since shifted, but in the human hospital he couldn’t. A lot of he should haves rolled through Brett’s mind and he ignored them all. Should have, would have, could have—what mattered was what he’d chosen. Freeing the seatbelt, he slid an arm beneath Luc’s injured legs and then around his back.

Though his friend was a big man, Brett matched him in height and had more in bulk around his shoulders. He could carry him for miles if necessary. As gentle as he could, he lifted him. Colby winced, but the arm holding the umbrella over them remained steady. Luc let out a low groan.

“I have you,” he told him. Agony contorted Luc’s features, but Brett kept his gait steady. “Shut the door.” Colby nodded and pushed it to then kept pace with him to the porch. She swept aside the umbrella and shook it off. Not waiting for her, he carried his friend into the house and then up the stairs. “You’ve put on weight,” he told Luc. If his friend was even a little aware of him, he’d appreciate the lie of the joke. If anything, Luc had lost a few pounds.

In the guest room, he set him down slowly. Luc released another pained exhale. The casts were the first things that had to go. “Give me a minute,” he told the wolf watching him from within Luc’s eyes. “We’ll get the casts off.”

“That’s a bad idea. He’s got some severe breaks.” Colby challenged him as she came into the room. Water dripped from her long black hair.

“I understand,” he told her. His phone rang and Gillian’s number flashed on the screen. Perfect. Answering it, he said, “Gillian, I have Colby Jensen here. She brought Luc from a hospital in Maine. I’m going to pass her over so she can fill you in on his condition.” Read between the lines, little wolf.

“You need to assess him, and she doesn’t know he’s a wolf.”

Damn, she is good. “Yes, please.” The addition of the last word earned him a pause from Gillian.

“I’ll take care of her. Should we head back today?” They’d left only a few hours before and couldn’t have had very long at Niagara.

“I’ll let you know.” He glanced Colby as he extended the phone to her. “Dr. Chase is our personal physician. Can you fill her in on everything.” It wasn’t a request.

“Of course.” Despite her unease with him, she responded with professionalism. Her fingers brushed his as she took the phone and another static crackle raced over him. His wolf lunged forward and Luc’s low, almost sub vocal growl gained intensity. “Don’t take the casts off.” The order glanced off him and he could hear Gillian’s laughter as Colby carried his phone from the room and the quiet, steady murmur as she recited Luc’s condition.

“Whatever you do,” Luc growled in a low voice. “Don’t let her leave.”

“You need to rest. You’re in way worse condition than you let on.” His nose told him infection existed somewhere in Luc’s blood. The mixture of sweat and musk didn’t hide the sour scent of sickness. “And you need to shift.”

“She can’t see the wolf yet. She’s not ready.” Despite the strain, he reached out to grasp Brett’s arm. “Keep her here.”

Yes. He would kidnap the human. Gripping Luc’s hand he gave it a gentle squeeze. “Lie still.” Reinforcing his will into the sentence, he set Luc’s hand down then went to the first cast on his arm. Splitting it as carefully as he could, he removed it. These weren’t the first casts he’d ever seen. “You know,” he spoke, keeping his voice low. His ears told him Colby had moved to the stairwell. Whatever Gillian did, she kept her busy. “The first time I had to break a cast was your fault, too.”