The only trouble with getting away from it all was actually getting away from it all.
Six weeks of lazing around on secluded and luxurious Monitor Island, with nothing to do except eat, drink, and lust after the occasional hot-bod sounded like heaven itself. And it was.
For the first three weeks.
But now, with the fifth week done and dusted, the wolf within hungered for the company of my own kind. Werewolves are not, by nature, solitary souls. We tend to live in packs just as much as our animal counterparts.
My pack might now only consist of my twin brother Rhoan, his lover Liander, and my lover Kellen, but I was missing them all something fierce.
Especially Kellen. He’d been here for the first three weeks, and the result had been a deepening and strengthening of our relationship. I might be totally capable of looking after myself, but it was an absolutely delicious sensation to have such a big strong wolf wanting to take care of me. In some ways, he reminded me of an ex. Talon might have been as crazy as a march hare, but he’d also been a wolf who knew what he wanted, and who went to great lengths to get it. Kellen was built in that mode, but he was far more caring than Talon ever could have been. Add to that the fact he was a great lover, and you had an overall package that was nigh on irresistible. At least to this wolf.
Even so, I hadn’t really expected to miss him this much. Not after only a couple of months of being together--and especially considering we’d probably spent more time apart than together in those months. Of course, I knew now that a lot of that separation was due to Quinn, the enigmatic vampire who swore his feelings for me ran deep--even as he used me to achieve his aims of killing the people who had destroyed his lifelong friend and creator. Even now, despite the feelings I had for Kellen, part of me still hungered to be with Quinn. Would probably always hunger to be with him.
Because I had a connection with Quinn that I’d never found with any other man. Not even Kellen.
But Quinn was out of my life for the moment--maybe even permanently--and I couldn’t really regret that. I’d never condoned force in any relationship, and that’s basically what Quinn had done when he’d used his vampire wiles to curb my nature. His methods might have been psychic rather than physical, but in the end, it was the same thing. Anything that forced someone down a path they would not otherwise have taken was abuse, no matter how prettily the situation was wrapped.
What I needed to do was forget him. Just get on with my life, and stop remembering he was ever part of it. Even if the very thought made my soul weep.
But the last two weeks alone had left me with nothing to do except think about the people in my life and the events of the last ten months. In fact, all that I was supposedly here to forget.
I rubbed a hand across tired eyes, then leaned my forearms on the balustrade of the small patio lining the front of my pretty little villa unit.
The breeze coming off the sea was cool, teasing my short hair and sending goose bumps fleeing across my bare flesh. I briefly thought about going inside to grab a shirt, but in the end, I couldn’t be bothered.
I let my gaze roam across the waves, watching the foam hiss over the white sand. It was a peaceful sound, as peaceful as the night itself, which made me wonder what the hell had woken me in the first place.
Certainly there was little noise coming from any of the other villas that lined this half-moon section of beach. Not even the newlyweds were stirring, and they’d been at it non-stop since their arrival five days ago.
And they thought werewolves had stamina.
I smiled and plucked a leaf from the nearby eucalyptus branch that draped over the railing, then flicked the leaf skyward from the stem, watching it twirl all the way to the ground.
What I wanted was to go home. To get on with my life and my job. To spend more time with Kellen. But I had just under a week of vacation left, and while I might be going slowly insane with boredom, I couldn’t just pack up and leave. Rhoan and Liander had given me this holiday as a gift to help me rest and recuperate, and I couldn’t--wouldn’t--hurt their feelings by returning before my time was up.
My name whispered across the wind--a demand rather than a mere attempt to get my attention.
I straightened quickly, my gaze searching the moonlit night for some sign of the caller. Some hint of where the voice had come from.
A difficult task when it seemed to come from everywhere and yet nowhere at once.
Again the voice rode the night, stronger than before, and clearly male in its resonance.
It wasn’t a voice that belonged to any of the men who inhabited the five other villas in this small cove. Nor did it belong to any of the staff members who looked after the villas or who worked in the main resort complex one beach over.
But there were three other accommodations scattered across the island, and I hadn’t really had much to do with their guests or employees. But even if it had been one of them, why would they know my name? And why would they be calling me in the dead of the night?
It was odd--and the mere thought of something odd occurring had excitement racing through my veins.
Which was a rather sad statement about just how bored I was. Or perhaps how addicted I’d become to the adrenaline rush of being a guardian. Hell, I’d give away the killing any day, but not the thrill of the chase. The hunt was everything to a wolf, and no matter how long I might have denied it, I was a hunter--every bit as much as my brother.
I studied the night for a moment longer. The wind whispered through the trees, void of any voice but its own. I could sense nothing and no one near, and yet something was. The electric charge of awareness raced across my skin, making the small hairs on my arms stand on end.
I spun on my heel and walked back into my room. I didn’t mind walking around sans clothes, but most of the guests currently on the island were human, and humans tended to get a little antsy about the whole naked thing.
Though up here in Queensland, that attitude was a whole lot less noticeable than down in Victoria. Of course, the weather in my home state often precluded the desire to strip down, simply because the weather was about as predictable as a tiger snake during mating season.
I pulled on a low-cut T-shirt and a baggy pair of shorts, then returned to the patio.
The voice swirled around me, rich and arrogant. A man who used--and probably abused--power. And my wolf soul reacted to the command in that voice, but not in the way I expected. Not fiercely, with anger, but meekly. As if she wanted to do nothing more than tuck her tail between her legs and cower.
And there could be only one reason for that.
The voice belonged to a pack member. And not just any pack member, but the alpha. The wolf who ruled the pack as a whole.
Only the voice didn’t belong to my alpha, the man who had ruled the pack for as long as anyone could remember. I would have recognized the voice of my own grandfather.
So what the hell was going on?
Frowning, I walked down the steps then strode through the trees and out onto the moonlit sand. The wind was sharper out from under the cover of the eucalyptus, and filled with the scent of the sea.
And nothing else. No musky male scent, no hint of wolf. Nothing to suggest there was another soul awake and aware out here on the beach.
A shiver ran down my spine. Maybe I was imagining it. Maybe this was nothing more than a dream, and any minute now I’d wake up and laugh at my own stupidity.
After all, our pack had threatened to kill us both if we ever contacted--let alone went near--any pack members. And not even our mother had dared to contradict that particular order.
Not that I thought she’d tried. Though I had no doubt she loved us, she’d always seemed as relieved as the rest of the pack to see the back of us.
Again the order ran across the night, stronger than before. I closed my eyes, concentrating on the sound, and tried to define just where the voice was coming from.
After a moment, I turned around and padded up the beach. The villas gave way to thicker strands of eucalyptus and acacia trees, the strong scents filling the night.
It didn’t matter. I wasn’t relying on my olfactory senses to track this particular trail, but rather my ‘other’ senses. The senses that were new and somewhat unreliable.
The part of me that could see souls rise.
Of course, seeing--and hearing--the souls of dead people wasn’t a gift I particularly wanted. Hell, I had enough trouble dealing with the living dead without having to worry about the actual dead popping along anytime they pleased.
But as was often the case in my life of late, it seemed I had little choice in the matter. The experimental fertility drug I’d been forcibly given by Talon had not only kicked started some latent psychic abilities, but had given them a little twist, just for the fun of it. Clairvoyance had been one of those latent skills--until recently, anyway. Seeing dead people walk through the shadows was the not-so-tempting twist.
And I was hoping like hell it was the only twist the drug caused. I didn’t want to be like the other half-breeds who’d taken the drug. I didn’t want to gain the ability to shift into any animal or bird form I chose, simply because while such an ability might be a buzz, it came at a price. Every one of the others had lost their ability to retake human form. I might love being a wolf, but I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in that shape. Or any other shape, for that matter.
Seeing dead people wasn’t that bad by comparison. And until tonight, the dead hadn’t contacted me long range. I’d only seen them close to their bodies. Well, mostly, I thought, shivering as I remembered the lingering, insubstantial wisps in Starr’s bloody arena.
Not that I was entirely sure I was hearing the dead now, but it just seemed odd I couldn’t see or smell anyone else. My senses were wolf-sharp. If someone had been close, I would have known.
I padded along the white sand until I reached the peninsula rocks. The wind here was sharper, the sea rougher, slapping across those rocks and sending white foam flicking skyward. The tide was up, so I’d be getting wet if the voice wanted me to clamber around to the next cove.
I stopped and scanned the horizon. This section of the main island was closest to Lighthouse Island, the largest of the two small islands that sat within swimming distance of Monitor. It housed the Monitor Island Research Center, a joint government and private concern that was investigating the sea life and the reefs. I’d done the tour last week, and had been bored to tears. Sure, reefs were pretty. So were the myriad of fish that lived among them. And we surely had to know why they were all disappearing. But hey, I just couldn’t get all worked up about the science. Wolves are hunters by nature, not conservationists. We usually haven’t the patience for occupations that involve long hours of inactivity.
Awareness tingled across my skin, as sharp as needle stings. Whoever the voice belonged to, he was close.
“Riley, turn around.”
For the first time, memories stirred. I’d known that voice in the past. I turned and studied the trees.
A man stood amongst them. Though at first glance he appeared solid, a more careful study revealed an almost gossamer look to his hands and feet. As if, by the time he got to his extremities, he didn’t have the strength to maintain the illusion of substance.
He was a tall man, rangy in build, with strong arms and blunt features. Not attractive, not ugly, but somewhere in between. But even if he’d been the ugliest spud on the planet, it wouldn’t have mattered, because the sense of authority and power that shone from his grey eyes were all that would ever matter to a wolf.
And this wolf wanted to hunker down before it.
But I wasn’t just wolf, and the other half of my soul bared its teeth and got ready for a fight. I locked my knees and skimmed my gaze up to his hair. Thick and red. Definitely red pack. Definitely my red pack. But who?
As I dropped my gaze to his, recognition stirred again. I knew those eyes, knew the cold superiority behind them. But I’d be damned if I could dredge up a name.
“Why are you calling me?”
Though the question was soft, my voice seemed to echo across the silent night. A tremor ran down my spine, and I wasn’t sure whether it was due to the chill wind hitting my bare arms and legs or the sudden sense of trepidation creeping through my soul.
Amusement sparked briefly in the translucent grey depths. “You do not remember me?”
“Should I have any reason to remember you?”
This time, the amusement reached his thin lips. “I would think you’d remember the wolf who threw you off a mountainside.”
Shock rolled through me. Oh my God...
My grandfather’s second-in-command, and the wolf who would have killed us both if he could. The wolf who almost had when he’d thrown me off that cliff. Ostensibly to teach Rhoan a lesson about never back-talking the pack second.
Hate followed the shock, swirling thick and sharp. I clenched my fists, and found myself fighting the sudden urge to punch the cold amusement from his lips. But he wasn’t here, he wasn’t real, and I’d only look like a fool. So I simply said, voice low and venomous, “What right have you got to call me?”
“My right is pack-given.”
“The Jenson pack ceded its rights over me and Rhoan when they kicked us out.”
“Pack rights are never surrendered, no matter what the situation. Once a pack member, always a pack member.”
“You threatened to kill us if you ever saw us again.”
“A statement that still stands.”
“So why the hell are you contacting me? Fuck off and leave me alone. Trust me, I want as little to do with you as you with me.”
I turned on my heel and began to walk back down the beach. Part of me might have been curious as to why he was contacting me, but curiosity didn’t have a hope against old anger and hurt. None of which I wanted to relive in any way.
“You will listen to what I have to say, Riley.”
“Fuck off,” I said, without looking at him. Even as my wolf cowered deep within at my audacity.
“You will stop and listen, young wolf.”
His voice was sharp and powerful, seeming to echo through the trees. I stopped. I couldn’t help it. My very DNA was patterned with the need to obey my alpha. It would take a great deal of strength to disobey and, right now, it seemed I had none.
Even so, I didn’t turn around. Didn’t look at him. “Why the hell should I listen?”
“Because I demand it.”
I snorted softly. “I was never one to listen to demands. You of all people should know that.”
“So very true. And it was one of the reasons you and your brother were ostracized.” Amusement laced his harsh tones. “Your grandfather feared one of you would challenge him.”
Surprise rippled through me and I swung around. He was still in the trees, still in the shadows. Maybe afraid that the wind from the beach would blow him away. “Why would my grandfather fear that? Neither Rhoan nor I were allowed the illusion we were anything more than an inconvenience to our mother and the pack. And inconveniences don’t rule.” Especially if they were female. Or gay.
“You have a long pattern of doing the unexpected, Riley.”
“Yeah, and I have the scars to prove the foolishness of that.”
He chuckled softly. “You never did learn your place.”
Oh, I learned it all right. I just didn’t always cower down like I was supposed to. I thrust my hands on my hips and said impatiently, “As much as I adore reliving old times, it’s fucking cold out. Tell me what you want, or piss off.”
He studied me for a minute, grey eyes abnormally bright in the darkness, his form waving slightly as the wind swirled through the trees.
“The pack needs your help.”
“My help?” My sudden, unbelieving laugh had a cold, ugly sound. “That has to be the joke of the century.”
“There is nothing amusing about the situation, believe me.”
“So why me? There have to be hundreds of other people you could ask.”
Which wasn’t an overstatement. The Jenson pack might be one of the smaller red packs, and it might be the poorer cousin when it came to wealth and land status, but Jenson pack members were to be found in all avenues of government and throughout much of the legal system. I had no doubt those pack members could muster up something--someone--far more influential than me.
Unless, of course, the crisis was of a more personal nature. Despite everything, anxiety pulsed, and I added quickly, “Is mother all right?”
Blake’s smile was thin. “Yes. She sends her love.”
Like hell she did. We were her firstborn and her love for us unquestioned, but once we’d left the pack, contact ceased. Blake might have had pack approval to contact me, but I very much doubted she would have asked for any message to be delivered. She knew how we felt about him. She wouldn’t hurt us that way.
“You can’t sucker me with that sort of shit, Blake. Just get to the point.”
Amusement flared briefly in his eyes. “We have need of your guardian skills.”
Again, surprise rippled through me. “How would you know I was a guardian? And why would you bother keeping track of two outcast and useless pups?”
“We didn’t. It came to my attention during our investigations.”
“Investigations into what?”
He shifted his weight and his form wavered briefly, becoming as insubstantial as a ghost. Which he wasn’t, so how in the hell was he projecting himself?
“One of my granddaughters disappeared four days ago.”
He had a granddaughters? Good lord, that made me feel old. Though in wolf terms, I was still very much a youngster. “Which of your sons was careless enough to lose a daughter?”
It was a cruel thing to say, but I just couldn’t help myself. Blake and his sons had been the banes of our existence growing up--and the reason behind many of the scars Rhoan and I now bore. Of course, if I’d just shut my mouth and bowed down like I was supposed to, things might have been different.
Though I very much doubt it.
His gaze narrowed to thin slits of dangerous grey. “Adrienne is Patrin’s oldest.”
The image of a red wolf with black points came to mind, and my lip curled in response. Patrin was the youngest of Blake’s get--only a few years older than Rhoan and me. To say he delighted in following the family tradition of hassling the half-breeds would be the understatement of the century.
“How old is the daughter?”
Twenty-three? Meaning he’d been fifteen when he’d sired his first? Randy bastard. I bet daddy had been so proud--especially given the pack’s inherent fertility problems.
“If she’s missing, contact the police. The Directorate doesn’t do missing.”
“You do if there appears to be a pattern to the disappearances. And three others have disappeared the same way as Adrienne, Riley.”
I crossed my arms and tried to ignore the pulse of interest. I didn’t want to get involved with Blake or our pack, because it could only end badly--for me, if not for them. “Still no reason for the Directorate to get involved. There are specialist police units for such things. I’m sure you’ve got contacts that could give you special consideration.”
“Something bad has happened to her. Patrin’s desperate to find her.”
It was on my lips to say something smart--something along the lines of like I’m supposed to care?--but I held back. I understood such desperation, knew it could force you to do anything--including contact an outcast. I’d felt it whenever Rhoan got into trouble, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Not even someone I hated.
“Then contact the Directorate. Give them the information. There’s nothing I can do without the official go-ahead anyway.”
Which was a only a teensy lie. If I was so inclined, I could investigate just about anything. Guardians were the super-cops--the hunter-killers--of the nonhuman world, and we had free rein to investigate whatever we wanted. Though if I did investigate, and did find something, I’d have to report it back to my boss. And full investigation could only go ahead with his official approval.
“All I’m asking you to do is an initial investigation. If you feel there’s nothing the Directorate can do, then I’ll try other sources.”
He sounded altogether too reasonable, and my hackles rose. Blake and reason just didn’t go together--at least according to my memories of the man. “You were ordering me a few moments ago.”
“Perhaps I’m seeing the error of my ways.”
“And perhaps tomorrow they’ll put a woman on Mars.” I shifted from one foot to the other. I wasn’t trusting this new and improved Blake any more than the last one, but it couldn’t hurt to play along. “Why do you think her disappearance is a Directorate matter?”
“Beside Patrin feeling she’s in mortal danger, you mean?”
“There’s a pattern, as I said.”
Annoyance swirled through me. “So tell me the pattern.”
“For a start, they all vacationed at Monitor Island.”
Is that why he’d contacted me? He’d been investigating the island and discovered my presence? It’d be my luck, that was for sure. “And?”
“And they all disappeared within a week of returning home from the island.”
“Meaning the island might not be the connector.”
“Then there’s the man.”
“Human or nonhuman man?”
“Human. He works on the island, apparently.”
Which wasn’t much of a clue, considering over half the people working on the island were males of the human variety. “What as?”
Blake shrugged, and the movement made his image shimmer. “Adrienne said he worked as a bartender.”
“Blake, there’s at least five bars in this cove alone. It’d be nice if you could pin it down a little.”
“I believe his name might be Jim Denton.”
“So she danced with this Jim Denton?”
He hesitated, and annoyance flashed in his eyes. “I believe so.”
I restrained a sudden smile. So Adrienne wasn’t telling daddy and granddaddy everything. Good for her. Though I was surprised she’d gone against pack law and danced wit a human. But maybe that was the whole point. “And the others?”
“I’ve talked to one other family. They also mentioned their daughter meeting a man who worked on the island.”
“Meeting? What about bedding?”
“That I can’t say. But probably.”
“And the women were all wolves?”
Well, we werewolves did tend to get around--although I did find it surprising they’d bed the human males over the non-human. There were too many inherent risks in that sort of choice--although the mere fact that wolf-human half-breeds existed suggested there were plenty who didn’t agree with my point of view.
“That doesn’t mean they bedded the same man,” I said. “As I’ve already said, there’s more than one male working on this island.”
“His description matches the one I have from Adrienne.”
So, Adrienne wouldn’t give her grandfather a name, but she did give a description? Somehow, I doubted it. There was more going on here than what Blake was saying. “If you’ve only talked to one other family, how do you know there are three women missing?”
“I know.” His voice was grim. “Clairvoyance is a pack inheritance, remember?”
“I don’t believe anyone bothered mentioning that to the half-breeds.” Though it did at least explain where my no-longer-latent clairvoyance skills came from.
Amusement twinkled briefly in his cold, grey eyes. “An oversight, I’m sure.”
Hate swelled up, its bitter taste just about making me gag. “This isn’t a Directorate problem, Blake. Go haunt someone else, because I’m not interested in helping you or your get.”
I turned and walked away, as fast as I could. That prickle of awareness told me Blake hadn’t moved, and yet his voice reached out across the distance as easily as if he were standing right beside me.
“You will help us, Riley.”
“That impolite response I cast your way earlier still stands.”
My muscles twitched with the need to obey, but my vampire half was having none of that. It was all I could do not to break into a run to get away from his presence--though if I thought it would do any good, I probably would have.
“Riley, I’m ordering you to stop right now, or face the consequences.”
“There’s nothing you can do to me, Blake. Not anymore.”
I should have known better than to tempt fate like that. I really should have.
“If you do not stop this instant,” he said softly, “I will kill your mother.”