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Tarnished

Wolf Gatherings Book 1

Author(s): Becca Jameson

Wolf shifter Mackenzie Davis has no interest in mating with another wolf. A horrific experience in her past has hardened her to this resolve. She loves her life as is, with the perfect job, the perfect friends, and the perfect boyfriend—a human one. Nevertheless, her mother implores her to attend this year’s Wolf Gathering. Reluctantly dragging her feet, she agrees to one day only.

Drake Spencer has come to the gathering from Texas with his family. He’s twenty-eight and believes his chances of finding a mate are slim to none, especially since he saw the woman he felt connected to leave with another man at the last gathering. But what if the woman who has consumed his dreams for the last two years is not actually mated?

When Mackenzie and Drake meet, sparks fly. Kenzie hopes to deny the claim on her. But can she? The call of mates is stronger than she expected. What will happen to her sense of self if she follows this man to Texas? Not to mention Drake. Can he live with the mental scars of her past?

Excerpt


Tarnished by Becca Jameson – Excerpt

Chapter One
“Have fun. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” Mackenzie Rogers snorted in her sister’s direction and took another bite of her Lucky Charms. No matter how old she got, she’d never be too old for the perfect bite of marshmallows and cereal.
“You’re kidding, right?” Kathleen stopped midstride between the fridge and the table. “You aren’t really going to skip the gathering, are you? Mom and Dad will have a fit.”
“They can fly a kite for all I care. That stupid bi-annual event makes me want to vomit. No way in hell am I going to participate in such a farce again this year.” Mackenzie took another bite, crunching into the cereal and spooning up a balanced combo for her next bite.
Kath took a seat next to Kenzie and grabbed for the red box of sugary goodness. “Hey, you ate almost all of this.”
Kenzie smiled through a mouthful. “Uh-huh.” She swallowed. “And it’s the last box too.”
“Who peed in your cereal this morning?” Kath scowled.
“Nobody. I’m perfectly happy. I have a nice human boyfriend, a college degree, a job, and plenty of friends. I’m about as fantastic as a person can get.” She smiled at her sister. “I sure don’t need to attend some match festival to find some barbaric mate. Been there. Done that. Have the mental scars to prove it.”
Kathleen narrowed her gaze at Kenzie. “I don’t know what happened to you two years ago, but that was last time. How do you know this gathering will be the same? You were only twenty-one last festival. Now, you’re more … mature … sometimes.” Kath ducked when Kenzie swung at her sister’s head, managing to swat her on the top.
“And now I’m wiser. Older. Less stupid. And in no need of a matchmaking service. Boyfriend, remember? Human boyfriend. Sexy, human boyfriend who has a job and likes me for who I am.” Kath had no idea that Kenzie’s mental scars went way deeper than just the last gathering. The events of two years ago paled in comparison to what happened four years ago. Mackenzie kept those details to herself, buried deep inside.
“Really? And who does he think you are exactly? Have you told him about your tendency to shift into a wolf now and then and run free in the forest?” Kath grinned big.
Of course Kenzie hadn’t told him anything of the sort. And she never intended to. “What makes you such an expert? How many guys have you dated, smarty pants?” Kenzie knew her sister hadn’t dated a single guy. She was just twenty-one herself.
“That’s why I’m going to the gathering, smartass. Dating humans is a pain in the butt. It can’t go anywhere long term. Sure, you have a degree and a pseudo-job, but your human boyfriend is a farce, and all those friends you claim to have are really his.” Kathleen’s honesty was over-the-top.
“When I need your opinion next time, I’ll ask for it.”
It was tough being a shapeshifter and living among regular humans. Stressful at best. Downright annoying most of the time. Wolves could scent almost anything. Fear. Anxiety. Stress. Arousal… It gave them both an advantage and a disadvantage. It sucked royally when Kenzie was out with friends and realized one of them didn’t like her. That was why wolves tended to mate with their own kind. It was so much easier than dealing with the nuances of the human world.
But Kenzie had no interest in following wolf tradition and allowing some supposed ruling of fate to determine who, where, and when she mated. It sickened her. She was in control of her own destiny. Definitely.
And lately, things were looking up. Darrell adored her. He was the first man she’d ever dated who truly enjoyed her company, didn’t pressure her to have sex, and smelled fantastically of … well, Darrell. Nothing was going to ruin the human high she was enjoying.
“Have you told Mom and Dad this decision yet?” Kath tipped her bowl and drank the rest of the sugary milk.
“Nope.” She was putting it off.
“We’re leaving in about an hour, ya know. For the opening day.”
“Yep. And like I said, have fun.” Kenzie scooted her chair back, letting it scrape against the floor with an annoying screech that always pissed her sister off.
“Mackenzie Renae, how many times have I asked you not to do that? It scratches the wood floor and…” Kenzie’s mother, Carina, paused midsentence. “Why aren’t you dressed?”
Kathleen chuckled. “’Cause she isn’t going with us.” She ran from the room. The bitch.
Their youngest sister, nineteen-year-old Cassidy, came in on her mother’s heels. “What’s going on? Why is Kath running?”
Kenzie’s mother didn’t look amused. As Kenzie deposited her bowl in the sink, her mother stared her down. “Tell me this is some sort of joke? What, are you sick?”
“Nope. But I would be if I let you drag me to the mating event of the year.” Kenzie skirted her mother and hoped to escape the room before World War III broke out.
“Sit down.” Her mother was taking prisoners today. Great.
“Mom, I’m twenty-three. Don’t you think I should be allowed to make my own choices by now?” Kenzie worked hard to keep a whine out of her voice as she plopped back into the chair she’d vacated, careful not to scrape the floor. That wouldn’t make her sound as grown up as she insisted, and it sure wouldn’t help her case.
“As the oldest in this family, don’t you think you owe it to your sisters to attend with them? They’re counting on you for guidance. Reassurance.” Her mother sat in the chair Kath had vacated while Cassidy grabbed the orange juice and joined the bantering.
“Mom, they’re both grown adults themselves. They do not need me for anything. That’s ridiculous and you know it.”
“It’s typical for the oldest child to pave the way, so to speak.” Her mom lowered her voice to übercalm, as though it would change Kenzie’s mind. “Besides, we are so fortunate to live only fifteen minutes from the gathering. People come from all over the country to this event, and you take it for granted. You’re not getting any younger.”
“Good grief. Are we seriously having this conversation? Do you realize how absurd you sound? By human standards, I’m young.”
“You aren’t human, Mackenzie.” Her mother eyed her over the top of her glasses after she lowered them from her hair. They were a constant hairband when she wasn’t reading. Forever stuck in the soft brown curls all the women in the family sported.
“I don’t have any interest in playing nice with the other wolves in the mating dance, Mom. Sniffing each other out in that stupid replica of the one-minute dating game is barbaric.” She shivered as the thought and memories of the disaster from two years ago assaulted her. That event had not been kind to her.
No one knew what had happened when Kenzie was only nineteen, either. And she intended to keep it that way. Suffice it to say, she had no interest in the mating ritual.
“You do realize we live in the middle of Oklahoma, right? This isn’t exactly a prime area for finding a mate. If you don’t attend the gathering, you’re just blowing another opportunity.” Her mother shook her head in dismay.
Kenzie sighed. “I have a boyfriend. He’s perfect. I don’t need a wolf sticking his nose all up in my business.”
“Darrell’s gay,” Cassidy interjected. “And you know it. If you would stop spreading your feathers like a peacock for one minute, you’d see the truth of it.”
What the fuck? Sweet innocent Cassidy weighs in, and this is what she has to say? And what is this, gang up on Kenzie’s boyfriend day?
“Cassidy,” her mother admonished. “Watch your language.”
Cassidy smirked. “Gay? Mom, what’s wrong with the word gay?”
Her mother chose to ignore the comment.
Kenzie did not. “Why on earth would you say that?” Kathleen had implied something similar.
“Come on, Kenz. I have excellent gaydar, and you apparently do not.” Cassidy rolled her eyes.
“Stop it, girls. Listen, your father is going to be downstairs any minute. Please go get ready.” Her mother stood and turned toward the sink.
Kenzie narrowed her gaze at her mother’s back and fumed. She crossed her arms over her chest. She still wore a simple T-shirt and cotton shorts, the same thing she’d worn to bed last night. She’d have a longer leg to stand on if she didn’t still live with her parents. As it was, her degree in early childhood development had landed her a job at the local YMCA working with disabled children. She loved the work, but it didn’t pay well enough for her to move out of the house.
Her mother turned and leaned warily against the counter. “Why, Kenzie? Why can’t you just go along with the family and try to enjoy yourself?”
Because the stupid thing is a farce, and I can’t stand men pawing at me like I’m some kind of candy. It unnerved her. Especially after that crazy he-wolf had tried to corner her in the hall and make out with her, insisting she was “the one.” His breath had been revolting, and she’d had no feelings for him whatsoever. And she wasn’t even going to dip further back in the memory bank to the gathering before that one. A wise woman would seal that experience off eternally. She shivered. “I have a date with Darrell this evening.”
“Doing what?” Cass asked. “Hanging out with his friends, most of whom are girls, none of whom are really your friends. Just his. Don’t you realize why he has so many girl friends?”
“No, Cass. But do tell me,” Kenzie mocked.
“Because girls like to hang out with gay guys. They’re safe.” Cass ducked and fled the room when Kenzie threw the empty box of cereal at her.
Kenzie’s cell phone vibrated on the table. She glanced at the text from Darrell.
“Kenz, sorry, can’t make it tonight, family plans. Rain check?”
Shit. She groaned and glanced back at her mother. “One day. I’m not attending tomorrow. Just today. And only so long as nobody tries to claim me. If they do, I’m out of there.”
Her mother smiled. “Agreed.”
— • —
Drake Spencer dragged himself out of the hotel bed and headed for the adjoining bathroom without opening his eyes more than a slit. It was late—later than he ever slept at home—but he’d needed the catch-up sleep, and now he felt groggy because of it.
“What time is it?” his brother asked.
“Sorry, man. Didn’t mean to wake you. It’s about ten. We need to get a move on. Dan and Scott are probably wondering what the heck we’re doing in here. I’m jumping in the shower.” Their brothers were in the next room down. He didn’t hear a sound coming through that wall. Perhaps they were sleeping late also. His parents had the room on the other side, and he knew they’d left earlier.
“’K.” Jerrod flopped back down and pulled the blanket over his head. He was only eleven, the baby in the family and an accident of maximum proportions, but Drake adored him, as did everyone else.
A quick shower and Drake was back in the room, tugging on his favorite jeans. “Move it, buster.” He swatted his brother on the back. “We don’t have all day.” Though, Lord, he wished they did.
The stupid gathering he attended with his family every other year made him groan in frustration. It wasn’t as though he would find a mate. Unless some unknown wolf clan from some distant planet suddenly made an appearance, he couldn’t imagine how there would be a match for him. He’d met everyone over the years. And the only woman that had made him raise an eyebrow left with another wolf at the last gathering. Drake hadn’t been quick enough.
At twenty-eight, he was a seasoned bachelor and proud of it. His life was perfect. Raised on his family’s dude ranch in northwest Texas, he had everything he could ever want. Space. Freedom. Trees. The perfect life. Several years ago, he’d built his own place on the property and lived alone. He’d never wanted to be anywhere else but right where he was, tending horses and assisting visitors with their once-in-a-lifetime vacations.
Jerrod climbed out of bed, his hair a tussled mess. He didn’t say a word as he clamored to the bathroom and shut the door.
Drake sat on the edge of his bed and pulled on his socks and boots. He flopped backward to stare at the ceiling. It was going to be a long two days. Even though he found the gathering to be a waste of his time, he was still expected to attend. Plus, his parents relied on him to be a good example for Jerrod and keep an eye on him. Daniel, twenty-five, and Scott, twenty-three, were adults. They could handle themselves, but realistically, the two of them would probably abandon Jerrod and forget about him. They weren’t as reliable. They had one goal in mind. Finding a woman.
Did Drake even want a mate? Not after the last gathering. He’d spotted the perfect woman from across the room only briefly, but he could picture her in his mind as though it had been just yesterday. Long, brown curls hung down her back, making her distinct from any other woman in the room. At least in his eyes.
He’d not noticed her before that meeting, but perhaps she’d been too young. She’d seemed rather young even that day. What stood out in his mind was the way she turned and met his gaze from across the room as though she’d felt him staring at her back. Her smile had been tentative, and she’d lowered her eyes quickly, but he’d felt something nevertheless. He’d sucked in a breath and closed his eyes for several seconds as he honed in on her scent and separated her from everyone in the room.
When he opened his eyes again, he found her being led from the room by a young guy with a huge grin. Drake had nearly groaned out loud. Fuck.
She’d never resurfaced after that, and he had to assume she’d been claimed by the quicker man. In any case, her image was burned into Drake’s retinas, preventing anyone else from taking her spot. He’d know her scent anywhere and prayed she didn’t show up this weekend to torment him.
She’d undoubtedly be at the gathering, but not likely at the meetings where young single people mingled. A claimed woman would have other seminars to attend.
When the bathroom door banged open, Drake flinched. God, I’m losing my mind.
“I’m ready,” Jerrod declared.
He looked anything but with his hair dripping uncombed and his collar tucked under his shirt. The kid wasn’t even in puberty yet. He had no sense of fashion or care for conformity. His pureness made Drake smile.
“Let’s go then.” Drake tugged a dark T-shirt over his head and grabbed his jacket. It was spring in Oklahoma but still chilly in the morning.
With a sigh of resignation, Drake led Jerrod out the door.


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ISBN (Print):
ISBN (Electronic): 978-1-62916-001-6
Genre: Erotic Romance
Date Published: 08/01/2013
Publisher: Taliesin Publishing

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