Ghost Wolf

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Most Lone Wolves have a story—a pack they left behind, a love they lost, or worse, one they buried. Some leave their packs to roam because they crave freedom, and independence. Some leave because in their hearts, they can’t bear to stay. Some leave because they see no way to go back…

Packs attacked. Humans forced to turn. Enforcers murdered. Following near miss assassination attempts on several prominent wolves. The packs are furious, out for blood and ready for war. Julian has been juggling  the conflict without a real target for months, they always seem to be just one step behind the volchitsa and even the wolves they’ve captured can’t tell them enough. With the fate of the packs resting squarely on his shoulders, Julian, the Chief Enforcer, will swallow his pride to seek out the one wolf he knows can help them all, the one who seems to know all the players, who can think like them…if anyone can find the Volchitsa it’s the ghost he’s hunted for decades…

Dallas Dalton has lived on the run so long, she doesn’t really remember any other way of life. For an all too brief time, she had her daughter with her and the feeling of family until Julian got to too close once again. The damn wolf wouldn’t leave her be, no matter how much she’d sacrificed for him. Seeing him in Russia had been both a blessing and a curse, because no matter what she did, she couldn’t get him out of her system. Then he asked her for help…

Now side-by-side, the Enforcer and the Rogue will have to work together to deal with the Volchitsa once and for all, but can they keep from killing each other in the process?

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Excerpt:

The crowded diner, filled with delectable scents of sizzling meat, baked confections, and grilled potatoes, enveloped Dallas Dalton from the moment she stepped inside. Four waitresses hustled to manage more than a hundred already seated customers and nearly a dozen waited for a free table. A hostess met her gaze with a cheerful smile as the bell over the door rang when it closed behind her.

“Good morning, welcome to the Pullman. I’ll be right with you.” Sunshine and welcome shimmered within every syllable of the hostess’s tone. With so many in front of her, Dallas settled in to wait. There were three exits from the Pullman car diner.  Set inside a genuine modified Pullman car, it managed to be cozy and yet spacious. The main entrance to her left, another to the west end of the car where the kitchen was located, and an emergency exit on the east end with a security bar along it. The windows were thick, but there were sturdy chairs. If necessary, she could shatter one and make her own exit.

Confident in her options, she let her eyes drift half-closed and let her mind rest. By the time the waitress said her seat was ready, she’d catalogued the scents in the room.

Thirty minutes after taking possession of the corner booth, she sipped her coffee and watched the door. Arriving early gave her the advantage of setting the terms. The waitress came by and topped off her coffee. “You sure I can’t get you something while you wait?”

The crowd at the door had diminished and they had a couple of open tables.

“I’ll wait a little longer,” Dallas told her, though her empty stomach twisted. Civility required she show at least a modicum of deference. Power rippled as the door jangled announcing a new arrival. Goosebumps shivered over her skin, but she only lifted her chin. After so many years, she had long since mastered her physical reactions. No matter what she felt, those emotions wouldn’t be found in her scent or her expression.

It kept her alive.

The dark-haired wolf swept his gaze over the patrons. The act wasn’t because he failed to notice her. Like her, he wanted the measure of the room he entered. Tall, broad shouldered and with only a hint of scars along his clean-shaven jaw, Brett Dalton appeared fit and healthy.  Authority wreathed him as he nodded to the waitress, then weaved through the tables to her little corner booth.

Rising, she met and held his gaze. The strength of him rolled over her, surrounding her. Brett Dalton, the alpha of Hudson River, commanded attention.

“Thank you for coming,” she said, keeping her tone carefully modulated. As much as it grated her pride, she’d reached out to him.

“Come here,” he said, brushing aside her gratitude before he pulled her into his arms. The embrace caught her off-guard, and she didn’t know how to respond. With trepidation like she hadn’t experienced in years, she wrapped her arms around him. “Cousin, it’s been too long.”

The welcome, the familiar scent of family and pack—it represented something she hadn’t allowed herself to contemplate in decades. “You’re getting sentimental in your old age.”

The tease earned her a tight squeeze, then he set her away from him. His hands on her shoulders kept her still as he looked her over. “You are not eating enough.”

Mouth compressing, she shook him off then gestured to the table. “I’m starving, but I waited for you to order.”

One corner of his mouth curved into the hint of a smile. The other seemed taut, but the scarring there was so faint she wouldn’t have noticed if not for his half grin. “Then lets get you fed.”

The waitress hustled over, with a fresh cup of coffee for Brett and another refill for her. They placed their orders for stacks of pancakes, bacon and sausage, fried potatoes and scrambled eggs. After she left, Brett leaned back in the booth and took a sip of his coffee as he studied her.

With no time for games, Dallas said, “I asked you to meet me because I need your help.”

His enigmatic gaze rested on her, but she didn’t mind the scrutiny. The alpha had every right to study her, to question her presence, her choices—hell, her life in general. Family or not, she’d left too many years before and a great deal of water had flowed beneath the bridge separating them.

“Name it.” Permission framed in a command. Her cousin really had blossomed in his role as alpha. It suited him.

“How much do you want to know?” She would only share so much and refused to tell him anything that might compromise the alliances he’d formed. It was only fair.

“That’s a stupid question from a smart woman,” he said slowly, then paused as their breakfast arrived.

The heaping plates smelled fantastic, and she didn’t waste time spreading some butter onto the pancakes then pouring maple syrup over them. After a few rapid bites, she eased back on devouring the meal as Brett’s eyebrows rose.

“How long has it been since you last ate?”

Probing question or not, she simply shrugged. “A couple of days won’t kill me.” She’d gone hungrier for far longer when necessity demanded it. “Besides, the pancakes smell fantastic and they taste better.”

“They do,” Brett agreed with her, then speared a piece of his sausage. “Tell me what’s wrong, Dallas.”

“That list is far too long and messy to go into all of it. Julian contacted Chrystal.” She paused, then took a swallow of coffee. Eating and drinking helped her maintain her equilibrium. “She, in turn, called me.”

“So you are not as out of touch with your daughter as I was led to believe.” Reproach discolored the words.

“I’ve always known where she is and whom she is with.” Dallas would make no apologies for it. “Her mate is a good one, and she is safe in Willow Bend.”

“She could have been safe in Hudson River.” The verbal slap wasn’t lost on her. More tables emptied around them as the breakfast crush finished their meals and headed off to their jobs. Regular people living in a regulated world. Dallas could barely imagine.

“Perhaps, but that is the past, and I am dealing with the present.” He wasn’t the only one who could deliver a verbal jab. “Julian wants a meeting with me.”

“That can’t possibly be news. It’s my understanding he’s been hunting you for decades.” A trace of amusement glittered in his eyes. “You are the Rogue who got away.”

In more ways than one, she supposed. “True, but he’s never offered amnesty before, nor asked for a face-to-face on neutral territory.” She blamed Russia. Maybe she’d hit him too hard. The memory of belting him surged through her with a kind of satisfaction she couldn’t express.

“Interesting.” An unreadable expression slid through Brett’s eyes. “How much do you know about what’s going on?”

She wouldn’t pretend to misunderstand the question. “Enough. The threat of the Volchitsa isn’t going to go away. Once they take a job or a mission, they don’t stop. It’s a blood thing. As long as one is breathing, they will keep coming.” The need for pack aside, the Volchitsa were an entirely other kind of animal when it came to the tasks they undertook.  “I’ve never seen them take on something of this scale, but…life at home can’t be a picnic either.”

Draining her coffee, she wished it had a shot of whiskey in it. The waitress swung by to clear away some of their plates then refilled their coffee. Dallas could have gone for a second course, but she also had miles to travel, so she was better off pacing herself.

“Then you’re aware they’ve set their sights on the Enforcers.” It wasn’t a question. “They’ve lost a few, too.”

Yes, she was aware. “I spoke to two Enforcers a week ago.” Across the country, on the doorstep of another lifetime. “Julian put them in my path.” That house always drew her, it was one of the reasons he’d never let it go.

“You have history with him, don’t you?” Brett leaned forward, his expression sobering.

“Not what I’m here to talk about,” she said, dodging the question. “What I want to know is if Julian’s spoken to the alphas about his amnesty. If I choose to accept it and it’s a trap, will Hudson River stand for me?” Even making the request felt like pulling teeth. She didn’t want to lean on the family connection, or put Brett in the middle of her choices.

“What do you know that he needs?” Brett didn’t miss a beat.

“I know a lot of things about a lot people.” It could be anything, or it could be…

“Luc said you knew the Russians Diesel went to meet…and that, apparently, Diesel also offers you sanctuary.” The last carried the weight of judgment. She’d gone to a different alpha. He didn’t like that.

“Diesel and I go way back, to a time before you were alpha.” When their grandfather ruled Hudson River, he’d made it clear he didn’t approve of her choices. The day she’d chosen to leave and roam, he’d told her if she walked away, to not come back. Her father had argued with him, but their grandfather had been adamant. He didn’t think women had any business running wild, wolf or not.

His attitude had made her decision far easier at the time. She didn’t want to live in the chokehold of expectation. Most days, she didn’t regret the choice. Turning her coffee mug on the table, she caught sight of the movement beyond the window. Luc winked at her from where he leaned against a car in the parking lot.

Of course Brett didn’t come alone, even in his own territory. They were not safe from a possible attempt on his life.

“It doesn’t matter when you developed the relationship; it matters you went to him first.”

Shock rippled through her. What was more injured by her choice, his heart or his pride? Shoving aside the uncharitable thought, Dallas leaned forward and lowered her voice. “Brett, I owed him a debt. He sent word to me that he needed my assistance because he also knew I’d spent three years in Russia. I have relationships there. Contacts I could call on and protocols I could follow. I repay my debts.”

The answer mollified him, and Brett blew out a breath. “You are always welcome in Hudson River, an offer I extended to your daughter when I learned of her existence.” Another verbal smack to the head. If they kept this up, she would be virtually black and blue by the time she finished her third cup of coffee. The black brew was strong and hot, and sipping it kept her rebellious temper in check.

She’d come to ask for Brett’s assistance, and since they hadn’t talked in more than four decades, he had every right to be annoyed with her.

Didn’t mean she had to like it.

“In my defense,” she offered an olive branch. “You were seven years old when I left.” Seven to her eighteen, and an adorable, sweet natured little boy. He’d been so full of life. Even then he’d been intense in his need to protect and care for those around them. She often thought it had to have come to him from his other grandfather, Hatcher. The healer had been a genuinely loving man, free with his affections, advice, and play. Their shared one had been an ass.

“I don’t care how old I was—if you need something, you come to me. Not Diesel.” The grumpiness in the statement pulled a reluctant smile from her.

“Well, my debt to Diesel is paid. That said,” she continued, holding up a finger to ask for his patience. In all fairness, she didn’t need to explain anything, but Brett was family. Although he’d grown up and assumed a powerful role in her absence, she hadn’t forgotten the little boy she used to look after, whom she’d taken on his first hunt, and whom she’d kill to protect. “The favor he did me all those years ago—it’s one I can never repay in full, no matter what he says. If he asks for my help again, I will give it.”

“That’s fair,” Brett said, his magnanimous acceptance sincere. Another smile worked its way free.

“You know you’re as adorable now as you were when you were little,” she said, not even trying to disguise her smile. “All bossy and in charge.”

A low growl rumbled in his throat, and she laughed.

“You take being told about it just as well.” The last earned grudging chuckle.

“Maybe it’s good you’re not around to tell those stories. Babette and Mom are bad enough.” Then the bridge between them widened and her wolf, always on point, always ready for battle, relaxed a fraction.

Stretching across the table he caught her hand in his, and the electric connection of pack sizzled over her. It was so alien, a feeling she only half-remembered in the dark hours of night when she was alone. Better to keep it hidden away than to recall. He didn’t claim her, but his power seemed to sniff around her, reacquainting itself, and her wolf responded to the pull.

Blinking, she felt the surge of her wolf rise, and then they stared at the alpha across the table. No aggression rippled with in the power eddying from him. Gold bled into his eyes, and his wolf stared back. Their wolves knew each other, but his had grown, matured, and no longer needed their shelter. Instead, a smile curved his lips. They might be family. She might have looked after him as a cub. They’d never been friends.

Until now.

“You always have a home in Hudson River,” he repeated, the emphasis clear. “The pack will stand for you. I will inform Julian, as well.” Then he blinked and his wolf retreated. As his eyes darkened once more, her wolf withdrew—pensive.

“That’ll go over well.” No humor flowed through her at the thought. Julian would hate being called on the carpet by an alpha—any of them. Then again, as Brett had said, he’d changed. The world had changed.

Maybe it was time for Dallas to change, too.

Her wolf snorted, then curled up. As long as they were close to an alpha, surrounded by his Hunters, she could afford to rest.

The sensation caught her off guard, and she leaned back in the booth. “You know, I’m still hungry.”

“Then let’s get more food,” Brett answered, before pulling out his phone. She hadn’t heard a text, but his scent altered and affection softened the tense line of his jaw.

“Your mate?”

“That obvious?” He typed in a quick reply.

“It looks good on you.” Even making small talk was hard. She was too out of practice, especially with someone who mattered.

The waitress took their order with no small amount of surprise when they asked for another round of pancakes, eggs and the rest. With a shake of her head she retreated, then Brett focused on her again.

“Dallas?”

Somehow, she’d known she wouldn’t escape this conversation without a difficult question or three. “Yes?”

“Why did you owe Diesel a debt?”

That truth hurt no one… now. “Because he gave me a place to have my child, asked me no questions, and allowed me safe passage when I recovered. Afterward, he kept my secret.” Diesel had saved her life because he’d saved Chrystal’s. He’d shielded her presence, even from his wolves. Only his healer had known she was there, and the healer had sworn a similar oath.

Without him, they would have died. Her baby would have died. Her wolf roused and rubbed against the inside of her skin. Resolved, she lifted her chin, but she didn’t look at Brett. She looked in the one direction she swore she never would.

The past.