The White House, infiltrated.
The president, running for his life.
A traitorous general, intent on burning the world to the ground.
When everything falls apart, who do you trust?
President Jack Spiers fled Washington DC on the heels of a devastating attack on CIA headquarters, masterminded by one of America’s own, former General Porter Madigan. While the world believes Jack was killed in the bombing, he embarks on a wild infiltration mission, smuggling himself into occupied Russia to rescue the love of his life: former Secret Service Agent and First Gentleman Ethan Reichenbach.
Reunited, Jack, Ethan, and deposed Russian president Sergey Puchkov, along with President Elizabeth Wall—the only person left in Washington DC who Jack trusts—must work together. They piece together a desperate plan, hunting Madigan to the ends of the earth and the bitter frigidity of the Arctic, where Madigan’s world-shattering doomsday plan comes together.
Outnumbered, outmaneuvered, and outgunned, Jack, Ethan, Sergey, and the rest of the team struggle to put a stop to Madigan and his army. In the desolate extremes of the Arctic, their resolve, their strength, and even their love is tested, pushed to the absolute limits as choices must be made: choices that pit the fate of the world against the love in their hearts, and the loves of their life.
As the world crumbles around them, Jack and Ethan find themselves waging a war on two fronts—against an enemy they can see, and another, hiding within their ranks.
Who can be trusted when the enemy is within you?
The sounds of the convoy coming alive in the frosty morning started clattering through their patch of snowy forest. Grumbled Russian, slamming doors and squeaky metal hinges, the crackle of logs in a fire, and the clang of pots and pans that Vasily insisted on bringing from Volga.
Jack nuzzled at Ethan’s neck, and the roughness of his beard, grown thick in the five days they’d been on the road, scratched over Ethan’s skin just before Jack dropped a kiss beneath his jaw. “Morning, love.”
Ethan smiled down at him, de-cocked his pistol, and slid it into his hip holster beneath their blankets. He wrapped both arms around Jack as Jack turned and faced him. “How are you? Are you warm enough?” As Ethan spoke, his breath clouded the air between them.
“I’m good.” Jack peeled off his gloves beneath the blankets and snaked his warm hands up under Ethan’s jacket and sweater. His gentle, searching fingers found the long line of ragged stitches in Ethan’s side.
“Sorry. You know we need to check them.” Carefully, Jack felt around the stitches, testing the skin, and then rested his palm over the top of the mostly-healed wound. “No heat. No swelling. No pus. No infection.” He smiled. “You had me worried after yesterday.”
Ethan ducked his head, his cheeks warming. While rummaging through an abandoned barn, he’d walked right through a rotted-out baseboard and fallen into a cellar, into the rough, loose earth. Not his finest moment. They’d wrangled some supplies, but he’d come away filthy and bruised, his ego smarting. Jack’s worried eyes and his gentle ministrations after they’d stopped for the night had helped sooth the ache.
Jack’s gaze darted over Ethan’s face, searching. He frowned. “Did you get any sleep?”
“Liar.” Arching an eyebrow, Jack sat back but kept his hands under Ethan’s clothes and on his skin. “You should let me watch over you at night, too.”
“I’d rather do it. I have you close to me.” He patted his hip and his holstered weapon. “I have constant protection on you all night long. There’s no way anyone can get to you. Not without going through me.”
“Literally.” Jack smiled, but it faded fast. “I’ll drive during the day again. Rest, and let me watch over you.” He squeezed Ethan’s hip as if to emphasize his point.
Ethan nodded, and the corners of his lips quirked up. This was new, this give and take of caretaking and watching out for each other. In DC, at the White House, there had been their jobs and their duties and the world to react to. They took care of slights and wounds inflicted by the press, their suits and ties a kind of armor against the world. Out in the wilderness, in the forest, they’d fallen into a different kind of caretaking. A sharing of two lives, each supporting the other’s existence. It was primal, in a way, how they had fused together. Half of his life was in Jack’s hands, and instead of feeling vulnerable, it was the most natural feeling in the world. “Deal.” Leaning forward, he pressed a kiss to Jack’s lips.
A question hovered in the forefront of Ethan’s mind, weighing on his thoughts. Every morning, he felt the weight of his secret resting over his heart: two rings, made before the world fell apart around them. Some moments, asking Jack was on the tip of his tongue, ready to tumble from his lips with his next breath. He forced himself to swallow the words. Not yet. It wasn’t the right time. Not yet.
Jack leaned into Ethan, and his hands wound around Ethan’s back beneath his sweater. “At some point, we won’t be sleeping in this jeep anymore,” he whispered into their kiss. “We’ll have room to stretch out… share a sleeping bag…”
Smiling, Ethan pulled off his gloves and brought his hands up to Jack’s face, his thumbs caressing Jack’s cheeks. “We don’t need a sleeping bag…” One hand snaked around Jack’s neck, and the other dropped to his hip.
In a flash, he flipped Jack, laying him on his back across the bench seat. Jack wrapped his legs around Ethan’s waist as Ethan slid his hands through Jack’s blond strands.
Jack grabbed his shoulders and pulled Ethan closer, his legs tightening and holding Ethan in place. He captured Ethan’s lips, kissing greedily as his hips rocked upward. Even through the layers they wore, Ethan felt Jack’s hard cock, pressing against his own.
“I want you,” Jack breathed. “I want you to make love to me.”
Ethan’s blood burned, searing through his body from his head to his toes, and part of him wanted to tilt Jack’s head back and ravage his throat, work his way down, unwrap him like a present until he found his cock. Suck him deep. Work him open with his tongue until Jack begged for more, and then sink his cock into Jack’s warm, tight body. Jesus, he wanted Jack. So much.
The springs on the jeep’s suspension squeaked with their rocking, and the tires groaned and crunched against the snow on the ground. In the distance, low chuckles sounded, and one catcall.
Deflating, Ethan dropped his forehead to Jack’s chest. He rode Jack’s deep, heaving breaths and listened to his racing heartbeat. “I don’t want an audience when I make love to you again.”
Jack’s legs dropped, one falling over the back of the front seat, and the other squishing against the window. His hands stroked over Ethan’s back and tangled in his hair. “I don’t want to have to be quiet.”
“Jesus.” Ethan gripped Jack and surged against him, thrusting against his hard cock once more. “That’s not helping.”
Smiling, Jack rocked his hips up once and then scooted backward, propping himself up on his elbows as Ethan sat back and tried to straighten out his clothes. A prominent bulge strained the front of his cargo pants. He ached, nearly painfully hard for Jack.
From the center of the camp, Scott called, “Coffee’s ready if you are!”
Rumbling laughter, deep and throaty, from nearly all the men.
Shaking his head, Jack started to pull himself together next to Ethan and fished out his balaclava from the pocket of his cargo pants. Outside of the jeep, he wore a full-face balaclava and, on their drive, he kept everything but his eyes covered. Ethan insisted, and Scott and Sergey both backed him up. The members of their convoy, of course, knew who Jack was, and just after Jack had shown up, Sergey had delivered a scathing speech in Russian to his people that had had even Ethan flinching, though he didn’t understand a word that had been said. But, they were traveling through a war zone, parts of Russia that were contested in the coup, under attack from Moroshkin’s forces, and that had been bombed by the United States and other nations, all trying to stop Moroshkin.
Who knew what was out there, or who was out there. Jack was, to the world, brain dead in Bethesda Naval Hospital. A front-page picture of him alive and well in Russia would go over as well as a nuclear bomb.
“Scott came by?” Jack tucked his undershirt into his pants, taking a moment to readjust. His cheeks were dusted crimson, a faint flush that Ethan wanted to nibble.
“Yeah.” He tore his eyes away from Jack and fanned the bottom of his sweater, trying to cool his body.
“How’d the scouting go?”
“The route is clear for the morning. More abandoned villages. They found fuel and some supplies. Vasily is cooking eggs.” Ethan reached out, and his fingers traced Jack’s spine through his sweater and jacket. “And you should talk to Sergey.”
Turning, Jack stared at Ethan.
“I think Scott’s worried about him.” A tight, strained smile, curved his lips. “And that’s saying something.” Scott’s trust in Sergey, and in their Russian allies, extended from meal to meal. Day to day, hour by hour. If everything came apart, Scott would be the first to say “I knew it”.
“He hasn’t wanted to talk to me.” Swallowing, Jack leaned back with a sigh. His hands dropped to his lap, and he picked at the wool fibers of the balaclava. “He’s kept his distance since Volga. I’m not sure I’m the person he wants to see right now.”
Nodding slowly, Ethan frowned. Sergey’s harsh accusations, thrown at Jack at Volga air base, had been the last direct contact the two had. “After all this time, you think he’s pulling away because of…”
Because of their love? Because he and Jack were together? Because Sergey had been loved by a gay man? Was this some kind of reaction, a fear that falling in love with another man “was contagious”, as he’d hurled at Jack?
“He’s pulled back before.” Jack sat forward, slipped the balaclava over his head. He tugged it down around his neck. “I want to do the right thing by him. I don’t want to piss him off.” He frowned, deep lines furrowing his brow. “But, no matter what else is going on, he’s devastated about losing Sasha. I remember what it felt like when I thought you were dead. I can at least try to talk to him about that.”
Ethan’s chest constricted, and his heart almost seized. Was it only a week ago that he’d thought Jack was dead and gone as well? Never, ever, again. He’d do everything in his power to keep Jack safe, keep him from ever coming to harm. And, he’d never lose faith like that again, either. The darkness that had swallowed him on his race from Saudi Arabia to Russia. The emptiness, the silent scream within his soul. The way he had wanted to die, had begged the world to kill him.
Together. They’d face everything together from now on. No matter what.
Adjusting the balaclava, Jack leaned over and pressed a chaste kiss to Ethan’s lips. “Time to face the music, love.”
Ethan pulled out his own balaclava, tugged it down around his neck, and gripped the door handle. They piled out of the back of the jeep, and Ethan caught the smothered grins and barks of laughter sent their way. Scott raised a dented metal mug toward them both. Jack headed for him, and for the small fire on which Vasily was cooking.
One of the Russians who went out with Scott every morning, Aleksey, slid up to Ethan. Middle-aged, Aleksey had been a federal police officer in Sochi and had fought back with Sergey against Moroshkin and Madigan’s forces the night of the coup. Now, he was one of Sergey’s officers in the insurgency. He had a small beer gut and a thick salt and pepper mustache beneath ruddy, pockmarked cheeks, a quick, sharp smile, and perpetually messy hair.
His eyes glittered as he clapped Ethan on the back. “You are good Russian lover!” he crowed. “Quick!”
Others laughed, and Ethan spied Jack smothering his grin and rolling his eyes as he took the coffee Scott offered. Scott shrugged and hid his smile in his next sip.
Ethan clapped Aleksey on the upper arm, smiling along with the others. When he and Jack had first met the men in Sergey’s insurgency, they’d worried about how they would be received. Two men in love in a country where only months before, Sasha had almost been killed for being gay. Another man, Evgeni Konnikov, had been murdered.
Sergey’s men, however, had been nothing but accepting. They were believers in Sergey’s government, after all, and Sergey had made equality a foundational platform of his politics and administration.
They just showed that acceptance through good Russian ribbing and teasing. The more ribald the better.
“If we had actually got going,” Ethan began, winking first at Jack and then sending Aleksey a grin, “we’d be here for days.”
More laughter. Aleksey wagged his finger in Ethan’s face and squeezed his elbow before handing him a cup of bitter, sludgy coffee. Vasily waved him and Jack over, and he scooped the last of the eggs into a scavenged plastic bowl they shared. “I save for you,” Vasily said, pointing to them both.
Jack thanked him. As they ate, Ethan spotted Sergey standing in front of his jeep, his hands resting flat on a spread-out map of Russia draped over the hood with his head bowed low. He looked up, and his piercing gaze fell on Jack. There was a moment where his face flickered, something dark passing through his eyes, but it was gone before Ethan could catch it.
And then, Sergey folded up his map and climbed into the driver’s side of his jeep. He kept his eyes downcast, not once looking at Jack again.
Tal Bauer is an award-winning and best-selling author of LGBT romantic thrillers, bringing together a career in law enforcement and international humanitarian aid to create dynamic characters, intriguing plots, and exotic locations. Tal is a member of the Romance Writers of America and the Mystery Writers of America.
Pronouns: They/them & he/him
Cozzi Cove, Book 4
Welcome back to the romantic and magical place called Cozzi Cove, seven guest bungalows on the New Jersey Shore.
This summer, Cal and his new husband, Michael, along with sister, Taylor, and her wife, Carla, prepare for the first in the next generation of Cozzis. To add to the action: Cal finds his great-grandfather’s diary, exposing a shocking surprise; Michael and Taylor weigh new job opportunities that could take them far away from Cozzi Cove; red-letter Christian and new houseboy, Billy Dean, gets his wish when meeting Jesus and John at the cove; summer guest, Nijad, can’t decide which sibling he prefers—Annabel or Andrew; and Jonathan, an occult enthusiast, encounters a sexy vampire.
As usual, nothing is as it seems when romance blossoms once again at Cozzi Cove. What secrets, mysteries, and passions lie waiting to unfold? Find out in Book Four of the Cozzi Cove series.
Joe Cosentino was voted 2nd Place Favorite MM Author of the Year in Divine Magazine’s Readers’ Choice Awards. He is the author of the Cozzi Cove series: Cozzi Cove: Bouncing Back (Rainbow Award Honorable Mention/TBR Pile Favorite Book of the Month), Cozzi Cove: Moving Forward, Cozzi Cove: Stepping Out, Cozzi Cove: New Beginnings (NineStar Press); the Nicky and Noah mysteries: Drama Queen (Divine Magazine Readers’ Favorite LGBT Mystery Novel, Humorous Novel, and Contemporary Novel), Drama Muscle (Rainbow Award Honorable Mention), Drama Cruise, Drama Luau, Drama Detective (Lethe Press); the Dreamspinner Press novellas: In My Heart/An Infatuation & A Shooting Star (Rainbow Award Honorable Mention), The Naked Prince and Other Tales from Fairyland (Open Skye Book Reviews Favorite Audiobook of the Month), A Home for the Holidays; and the Jana Lane mysteries: Paper Doll, Porcelain Doll, Satin Doll, China Doll, Rag Doll (The Wild Rose Press). He has appeared in principal acting roles in film, television, and theatre, opposite stars such as Bruce Willis, Rosie O’Donnell, Nathan Lane, Holland Taylor, and Jason Robards. Joe is currently Head of the Department/Professor at a college in upstate New York, and is happily married.
Can a dedicated top really learn to bottom? Tony wants to find out but he’s scared another die-hard top will just plow through him, instead of taking it nice and slow on a newbie.
Enter Butch, a bear who’ll try anything, and Ford, a guy whose curiosity is tempting him to cheat on his boyfriend. Like Tony, both are dedicated tops wanting to try something new, and on this journey of physical self discovery, all will find that being open means more than taking it doggie-style.
Kevin lives with his long-term partner, Warren, in their humble apartment (affectionately named Sabrina), in Australia’s own ‘Emerald City,’ Sydney.
From an early age, Kevin had a passion for writing, jotting down stories and plays until it came time to confront puberty. After dealing with pimple creams and facial hair, Kevin didn’t pick up a pen again until he was in his thirties. His handwritten manuscript was being committed to paper when his work commitments changed, giving him no time to write. Concerned, his partner, Warren, secretly passed the notebook to a friend who in turn came back and demanded Kevin finish his story. It wasn’t long before Kevin’s active imagination was let loose again.
His first novel spawned a secondary character named Guy, an insecure gay angel, but many readers argue that he is the star of the Actors and Angels book series. Guy’s popularity surprised the author.
So with his fictional guardian angel guiding him, Kevin hopes to bring more whimsical tales of love, life and friendship to his readers.
Q: How long did it
take you to write The Alpha’s Prey?
A: That’s a hard question to answer since writing m/m isn’t
my primary job. It took me over a year to finish the book, but part of the reason
it took me so long is that I have to fit my writing time in between other
Q: Did you do any
research for this novel?
A: Surprisingly, yes! Even though this is a shifter story,
the paranormal elements of the shifter world operate within the bounds of the
modern world. One of the main characters, Devon, is a world champion figure
skater, so I had to do a lot of research into how the figure skating
competitions are run and how competitors qualify for various competitions.
Q: Was there a scene
that was a favorite to write?
A: So many of them! I
loved writing the opening chapters because the book begins at an intense time,
so it was fun writing such suspenseful scenes right away. I loved writing the
scenes where Devon’s wolf phobia clashes with the wolf culture of Aaron’s pack,
and I had a blast writing the part where Elton gets his “Alpha” on! (No
Q: What was the
hardest part of writing this novel?
A: The most difficult part was deciding how much to push the
boundaries. I know this book is a bit darker than what many people are used to.
No puppies, bakeries, or babies in this story! I didn’t want to turn readers
off, but at the same time, the story demanded a certain level of intensity, so
it was hard to strike the correct balance – like walking a tight rope!
Q: What was the best
part of writing The Alpha’s Prey?
A: Falling in love with the main characters, Devon and
Aaron. That’s always my favorite part of writing, and I hope my readers will
fall in love with them, too.
If there’s one thing Devon O’Leary hates, it’s wolves. Everyone thinks the wolfman he remembers as his abductor is a figment of his imagination, but Devon knows the truth and he has the scars to prove it. Wolf shifters are real; they have sharp claws, horrible fangs, and show no mercy to their victims. And one of their Alphas has claimed him as its prey.
Can two men overcome impossible odds to claim the love that was meant to be theirs? Or will Devon’s past cause him to reject the mate who would do anything to keep him safe?
Aaron Lowell had a splitting headache. Again.
Actually, this was a migraine. Even the gentle lamplight in his log home made his forehead crease with pain and his fists clench. If he were fully human, the fact that he'd been getting migraines would suck, but he'd take some medication and visit his doctor. Maybe get an MRI. The problem was, Aaron was a wolf shifter, and shifters did not get migraines. Alphas in peak condition did not salivate for Percaset on the day of the full moon.
And yet, jesus, mary, and joseph, Aaron's head fucking hurt.
The television was blaring in the living room and Aaron forced himself to walk the few feet to shut it off, but a national news promo was on, interrupting the hockey game to inform viewers that there’d been a break in the Devon O'Leary case.
Headache or no headache, there was zero chance he was shutting off the television now.
Devon O'Leary was a figure skater, dubbed America's prince after his gold medal win at the World Championships. He'd been abducted almost four weeks ago, and ever since, Aaron hadn't been able to stop thinking about the guy. Any abduction was horrific, but there was something about this one that tore at Aaron's guts and wouldn't let go.
Maybe he was obsessed with the story because he’d always nursed a secret crush on Devon. Who wouldn't? Devon was a breathtakingly beautiful Irish twenty-two year old with chestnut curls, striking blue eyes, a perfect ass, and a smile that brought dimples to both cheeks. He had an amazing build, masculine, and yet completely graceful on the ice. As far as Aaron could tell, the kid was perfect: gorgeous, bashful, and talented.
Around here, in the mountains of Holland, North Dakota, Devon was also a hometown hero because he'd grown up in the area and trained at the local Ice Hut, making his way up the ranks by scrubbing floors to pay for rink time until he won his first national competition. Like everyone else in Holland, Aaron had loved watching Devon skate, even though his pack teased him mercilessly. Not that Aaron cared about a little teasing. He was an Alpha, and he could watch figure skating if he damn well wanted to.
Except, now Devon might be dead.
Please don't say they found his body.
Aaron couldn't tell whether his nausea was due to the migraine or the news report. Ever since the abduction his wolf had been howling to get loose and rip someone's throat out. He guessed most people felt that way, minus the wolf part, of course. Something precious had been stolen from them.
Aaron took a deep breath, trying to steady himself. Honestly, if this was the report where they announced they'd found Devon's mutilated corpse, Aaron thought his wolf might go crazy.
Finally, the breaking news promo ended and a blonde reporter came on screen, standing in front of a tiny, nondescript hunting shack blocked off with yellow tape. She was obviously deep in the woods, bundled in a hooded fur coat, trying not to shiver in the snow.
The blood in Aaron's ears pounded so loud he could hardly make out a word the reporter was saying, but he got the gist of the recap as she filled the audience in on Devon's abduction from the ice rink after one of his training sessions. A photograph of Devon flashed onto the screen, followed by a three second cut of him spinning on ice, a flash of him receiving a gold medal at January's National Skating Competition, and then a fragment of an interview in which Devon laughed, blushed a gorgeous pink, and shook his reddish brown curls in an unconscious gesture that was so endearing Aaron nearly wept.
Fuck. He was really losing control.
“At long last, there's a lead regarding the abduction of Devon O'Leary,” the reporter said. “Police have located a remote hunting shack where they believe Devon was being held, maybe even as recently as this morning. The break came after a hunter reported seeing a bound figure being carried to a flatbed truck, and police have been scouring the area since the report came in. What they've turned up has been, to say the least, disturbing.
“Although police aren't commenting on the specifics of what was found inside this shack, they have confirmed that blood and other sources of DNA have been brought to a lab where technicians will determine if they belong to Devon O'Leary. As to whether the bound figure was dead or alive, the witness couldn't be sure.
“Devon's only surviving relative, his grandmother, Layla O'Leary, and his coach, Ivan Jacobowitz, have both been in constant contact with authorities and have said that this news gives them hope that Devon will be found. They're pleading with the public to be on alert for anything that might bring Devon home.”
The reporter looked forlorn, and Aaron wondered if that was due to the news about Devon or the freezing temperatures on the mountain.
“According to the witness,” she continued, “the truck was a rusted, blue Chevrolet without plates and the man carrying the bound figure was described as Caucasian, approximately six foot four, abnormally large and muscular with red hair, a full beard, and a scar across one cheek. Police are asking the public to be on alert for signs of this man or his vehicle.”
Police sketches covered the screen and Aaron drew in a sharp breath at the sight.
No. No, no, no.
The sketch of the abductor had the classic profile of a wolf shifter. Large and muscular were the same two words people used to describe Aaron when they first met him, but there was more: a certain sharp cut of the features that spoke of an Alpha wolf. The shoulders were too broad, the facial features more chiseled, and the eyes … even in a black-and-white sketch, the eyes seemed to glow.
“No.” Aaron repeated the only word his aching brain could conjure. “Please, no.” He ran his fingertips down the length of the television screen as if he could reach inside and pull Devon out. Rescue him from his tormentor.
The sound of his front door slamming shut pulled Aaron's attention back to reality. His Beta and best friend, Georgia, stepped inside, shaking snow out of her waist length, curly brown hair and removing her pale pink parka. She glanced at Aaron, and then at the television.
“I came as soon as I could,” she said. “Heard the news report on the radio and I had a feeling you'd be melting down.”
Aaron grunted. “Why would you think that?”
Georgia's eyes strayed to Aaron's living room wall. Newspaper articles and photographs of Devon were pinned to every wooden beam, even taped to the window pane. Each lead the police had produced thus far – not that any of them had panned out – were pinpointed on a large map tacked between Aaron's framed college diploma and his UND Hockey poster. A glossy, color cut-out from Skating magazine showed Devon's smiling face.
“Okay. Maybe I've been a bit obsessive,” he admitted, “but the guy's a local. I know his grandmother, for god's sake.”
“You know his grandmother because you started visiting her at the assisted living facility after Devon's abduction,” Georgia reminded him. Gently. For someone whose wolf form was as big as her Alpha's, Georgia was surprisingly gentle. Even in human form she stood only slightly smaller than Aaron's broad, six foot four frame, yet she still came across as delicate.
Aaron shook his head. “Yeah. I guess that's true. I feel like I've known her forever.” Over the past month he'd found this sort of thing happening a lot. His head felt muddled, as if every thought had to travel through a thick layer of fog before an idea could emerge. “She's an amazing woman. She's already lost a husband, a son, and a daughter-in-law. I can't imagine how she's surviving. Maybe I'll stop by tonight and –”
Georgia cleared her throat, reaching over to shut off the television. “Don't tell me you've forgotten what night this is.”
“What? Oh. Right. Of course not.” But for a moment, Aaron had forgotten. How the hell had he forgotten about the full moon? For shifters, the full moon beat in their veins, literally speeding up the flow of blood so their whole body felt vibrant and alive, ready to split open at any moment. Not a feeling one could easily forget.
“The pack is looking forward to running. You know your mood has been affecting them over the past few weeks. They need this release, Aaron.”
“Yeah. I know.”
He did know. He'd had his first nightmare after the previous full moon waned, quickly followed by his first migraine the next day, and in the weeks since he'd been sluggish, irritable, and nearly incapable of making a decision. Basically, the opposite of everything his pack deserved from their leader.
“Relax,” Georgia said, as if she could read his mind. “No one expects you to be perfect. You're a damn good Alpha and five years of doing everything right isn't going to be erased by one bad month. Especially not when there's clearly something wrong with you.” She paused. “Uh, medically, I mean. The pack is worried, that's all. We want to see you healthy and it's scary that Doc doesn't know how to treat you. Everyone's hoping that shifting on the full moon will help.”
Aaron couldn't deny that he'd been hoping for the same thing. Shifters were supposed to heal quickly. Long term illnesses weren't a part of shifter life until they grew old, but for him, there was even more resting on the full moon shift because the truth was, Doc not only couldn't cure him, he couldn't find anything wrong with Aaron in the first place, which meant that whatever was going on was probably in his head.
Even now he could hear Doc's patient voice. “You took over this pack real young, Aaron. I understand your father wanted to take the position with the council up in Canada, but you're not mated and you were just out of grad school. Running a pack and a business is a lot of stress for someone your age.”
According to Doc, Aaron had latched onto Devon's case in an attempt to channel his own latent anxiety into something concrete. Maybe that was true, but Aaron hadn't been conscious of any out-of-the-ordinary stress before everything fell apart. The pack ran a business building custom log homes, and sales were booming. He'd been able to use his MBA to bring in new customers and nearly double their clientele. Sure, he missed his father, but he loved being Alpha. Leadership was in his blood. Literally.
“Have you eaten anything today?” Georgia asked, walking into his kitchen. She didn't wait for an answer, rummaging through his refrigerator and stacking mounds of leftover bacon, baked beans, and a pile of carrots onto a paper plate. “You need fuel for tonight.”
She walked back out and set the plate on his coffee table, but Aaron ignored her. He took a red pushpin and stuck it onto the map at the location where the hunting shack had been found. Aaron stared at the pin. The spot was about three hours north in rugged terrain, but it would be possible to get there by nightfall.
“What are you thinking?” Georgia asked, reaching over to massage his shoulders. Aaron was suddenly aware that he'd been wearing the same shirt for three days straight, and he hadn't shaved, so dark stubble was turning into a full beard. He kept his black hair cut short most of the time, but it had grown out into a ragged, unkempt look, made worse by the circles under his eyes.
“I, uh … we're going to run here tonight.” He reached out and placed a finger on an area just north of the pushpin where a single dotted line indicated a logging road. Georgia stopped massaging.
“Aaron, I know you want to find this guy, but …”
Aaron whirled on her. “It's not that I want to find Devon. I need to find him. And he needs to be found. This area isn't claimed by any pack, so there's no reason we can't run here.”
“No reason except that the whole mountain is probably crawling with police.”
“You know humans, they'll stop searching at nightfall, especially with the temperature dropping.”
Georgia pursed her lips. “Then there's the three hour drive there and back. Parents with pups will have to get childcare at the last minute, or else we'll have to leave someone behind to watch the little ones.”
“Ask a few of the elders to stay. Tell them it's a personal favor for their Alpha.”
“You should also consider the pack’s feelings. They’re already confused about why you're so obsessed with Devon's disappearance, and this sudden change in plans won’t help matters.”
“Enough!” The word came out in a stifled roar and ended on a growl. “I'm still the Alpha, and if I say we run here tonight, then that's where we run. Unless anyone wants to challenge me for my position, in which case they can try their best.”
Georgia made a startled yelp and lowered her eyes to the floor, tilting her head to show her submission. “Of course not, Aaron. No one is challenging your leadership. We love you and support you. I'm just saying it will be difficult to pull everything together at such late notice.”
“I don't care,” Aaron said. “Do whatever it takes. Anyone who has a valid reason to stay home can run here with a smaller pack or stay with the kids, but I expect everyone else to be ready to leave by four o'clock. We'll fan out around the base of the mountain and work our way up. This isn't a request; it's an order.”
Georgia nodded, but they both knew she wouldn't have to repeat the last part. Even now the pack could probably sense Aaron's intensity. They'd feel it in rippling waves of emotion, capped off with the need to obey.
“I better get started then,” she said, reaching for the parka she'd just discarded. She paused, looking back up. “Aaron, is there something you're not telling me? Something else driving your desire to run in that territory? I mean, besides the obvious.”
Georgia could always tell when he was holding back. That was part of what made her an ideal Beta.
Aaron sighed. “I didn’t like the sketch of the possible abductor that the police released.” He shrugged. “I know it's just a composite and the witness could be wrong about what he saw, but …”
“The guy looks like a wolf shifter. An Alpha.”
Georgia's eyebrows climbed up her forehead.
“I realize this probably sounds insane considering I've only seen one pencil sketch,” Aaron said, “but if you think about it, the whole scenario points to a shifter. Devon was abducted on the morning after the full moon ended. If he's been alive this whole time, that means someone has kept him hidden, and now he's been moved right before the next full moon ascends. I know it's not much, but I think we have to check things out.”
Georgia set her hand on his arm. “Actually,” she said, “it’s a lot. If there's even a chance that you're right, we need to take that shifter down.”
Aaron let out a breath. “Thank you.” There were so many reasons to love Georgia he couldn't count them all. Her unconditional support was in the top ten.
“I'll rally the troops,” she said. “Worst thing that happens, we rule out the idea that Devon's being kept in that area. Best thing? We save that kid's life, take down a rogue Alpha, and become the heroes of Holland, North Dakota.” She grinned, flashing the wide smile that could rival any Hollywood actress.
Aaron reached over and pulled her close, planting a kiss on her cheek. “Tell me again why we're not mated?”
She winked, bumping him with her hip. “Could be because Walt would complain. I swear, he gets the Mate-of-the-Year award for coming in second place all the time and not leaving me. If you didn't prefer men, he'd have dragged me off to another pack ages ago.” She paused, giving Aaron a look. “You know, Walt has this theory that Devon is really your mate and that's why you're so drawn to his case. He says your wolf is in pain because it has a psychic link with its soul mate. Might explain the migraines.”
Aaron laughed. “Nice theory, except for the minor detail about the guy being fully human. Trust me, I sniffed around his old apartment and didn't find even a trace of wolf scent.”
“I don't know,” Georgia said. “I've heard of other wolves being mated to humans. It's pretty rare, but it happens.”
“Not to Alphas,” Aaron said, shaking his head. “Doc says we're genetically designed to be mated with female wolves so we can continue the pack. He's sworn up and down that when the time comes and I meet my mate I'll feel attracted to her. I told him that if I was going to be attracted to any woman it would be you.”
Georgia laughed. “You put too much stock in Doc's opinions. He's a sweet old man, Aaron, but he's been the only wolf doctor in this tiny, backwater town since before we were born. I don't even know if he got a medical degree or if he just learned the art from his grandfather.”
“So what are you saying?”
“Nothing. Just that Doc's been wrong before and crazier things have happened.” She pulled on her coat and headed to the door. “I'll see you later,” she said. “If Devon's out there, we'll find him.”
Long after the door shut, Aaron stood in the same exact spot, staring at the wall. He tried to hold the idea of Devon being his mate in his mind, but the thought brought his migraine back full-force. If he were to believe that was true, it would mean that someone had taken away the man meant to be his soul mate and held that man captive in a hunting shack for a month, while he did god only knew what to him.
Aaron's head spun. No. Better not to go there. The idea was crazy to begin with, and there was nothing to be gained from entertaining the thought. He needed to sleep for an hour or two before the pack headed out. Give in to his body's demands before he exerted himself.
Slowly, Aaron crawled up the stairs and flung his tired form onto his bed. He closed his eyes, knowing he'd dream about dimples and chestnut curls, arms reaching out to him, desperate and in pain, pleading for his help.
Begging to be found.
Lou Kelly loves a great romance. Having honed her skills as an author through a decade of writing and publishing, she discovered m/m fiction and fell in love. What does she like best? The slow burn.
“No insta-love for me. I adore a well-developed full-length novel with characters who are believable and sympathetic. My favorite relationships are the kind where suppressed desire sizzles with sexual tension struggling for release. Give me a strong Alpha male who has to fight for his mate, or enemies who are shocked when hate turns into love, or a mysterious stranger who doesn’t want his secrets revealed … I crave books that keep me up past my bedtime.”
When she isn’t writing, Lou Kelly loves to travel. Sadly, most of her traveling these days happens between the pages of books, but top on her wish list is a trip to Greece. Followed by New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, and Iceland. *sigh* Someday she hopes to explore them all. Until then, you can find her reading! – Lou Kelly is a member of RWA (Romance Writers of America), and a proud member of RRW (Rainbow Romance Writers).
“You don’t ever have to keep anything you feel locked up, Clay. I’m your Dom, and whatever you need from me, I’ll gladly give to you.”
- Sergeant Logan Pierce
Police Officer Clay Foster is finally at peace and happy with his life. He enjoys his career as a member of Houston’s SWAT team, and he loves submitting to his Dom in the bedroom. His life is perfect, until one cruel act destroys Clay’s bubble of happiness. Shattered trust forces Clay to reevaluate his career, his relationship, and himself.
Sergeant Logan Pierce is the leader of Houston’s elite SWAT team. On the force, he’s the best at what he does. In private, the most important thing in his life is taking care of his submissive, Clay. Clay is his whole world, and Logan will do whatever is necessary to keep him safe. Even if that means going up against Clay’s stubbornness in order to help him heal.
Can Logan and Clay work together to rebuild their happiness? Can they find their way back to the shared passion of Dominance and submission? Or will their love and relationship end before it’s truly begun?
“It’s good to be back home.”
Logan looked down at him with an eyebrow raised. “Home?”
Clay snorted a laugh. As usual, they were at Logan’s house. When he thought about it, he realized he hadn’t been back to his apartment in weeks. In fact, his bags from their recent trip to Colorado were here at Logan’s. He hadn’t bothered to take them back to his place after their return.
“If I’m in your space too much, I can throw all my stuff in the car and head back to my apartment,” he said as he pretended to pull away.
Logan tightened his grip on his foot. “You’re not going anywhere.”
Clay bit his lip to hold back a grin. “I didn’t think you wanted me to. But what I meant is, I feel good about life. That trip was awesome. I got to play in the snow, just like I wanted.”
“And I got to warm you up when you were done.”
“You did a very good job. You might have gotten me a little overheated a few times,” he teased. He wiggled his toes as Logan squeezed his foot again. “You and I are in a great place. And I think things are going to be better at work now too. We redid Hayden’s ridiculous course and passed with flying colors this time. I’m hoping the fact that we passed the redo means Hayden will get off our backs and quit fucking with our schedule.”
“The team is gelling again. And we’re hoping Hayden will finally move on and give up on his pet project of tormenting our team. Anything else?”
Clay shifted, looking at the TV instead of Logan. “What else is there?”
“Are you still blaming yourself for that idiot making those fake calls to our team?”
Clay pulled his feet off Logan’s lap for real this time and got up from the couch. “Why wouldn’t I blame myself? It was my fault.”
“It wasn’t your fault. And I don’t like hearing you say that it was.”
“C’mon, Sarge. You know that was on me.” Clay roughly ran a hand through his hair, turning his back on his lover. “If I hadn’t gone to that convention and went on camera bragging about how badass our team was, that whacko would have never taken it as a challenge to try and prove he was better than us.” He turned back around as Logan grabbed his hand and pulled him to stand in between his legs.
“Maybe not. But maybe he would have taken his anger out in another way.”
“What do you mean?”
“You read the report Roberts put together on the guy. He was looking for revenge because he felt he’d been slighted too many times. What if he’d physically attacked the people he wanted revenge against? Someone or several someones could have been hurt. At least with the revenge tactics he chose, no one was. We managed to catch the idiot, and hopefully he’ll be granted some time to think about what he did.”
“Are you forgetting he tried to kill me?” Clay saw a muscle tic in Logan’s jaw at the question, his hazel eyes going hard before he answered.
“No, I’m not forgetting.”
Clay tilted his head to the side as he studied his lover. “You know, I noticed that the perp seemed a little worse for wear before you got him loaded in the patrol car. Did you do anything to cause that?”
“I’ll never let anyone hurt you.”
Logan’s response was a non-answer, but it confirmed Clay’s suspicions. “I’m a cop. On occasion, I might get hurt. And you can’t go after people because of that.”
“And you’re mine. Did you forget that?”
Clay shook his head. “No, Sir.”
“Come here.” Clay followed the gentle pull Logan gave his hand to drop down to the couch and straddle his lap.
“You’re my lover. My submissive. It’s my right and my pleasure to protect you, always.” He brought a hand up, his thumb sliding across the metal collar that circled Clay’s neck. “I won’t let anything or anyone hurt you or take you away from me.”
A thrill shot through Clay at that declaration. Logan’s unapologetic possessiveness had caused problems early on in their relationship, but they’d worked on it and come to an understanding on boundaries. Now, he was able to revel in Logan’s possessiveness and caring, because he knew it wouldn’t get out of hand. Clay pressed his forehead to Logan’s and closed his eyes. “I love when you talk to me like that.”
Logan’s hand moved to grip the back of his neck. “Do you?”
His eyes still closed, Clay nodded.
“Tell me why.”
“Because it makes me feel like the most important thing in your world. I’ve never felt like that with anyone.”
“It’s true. You are the most important thing to me. Having you in my life, wearing my collar, means everything to me.”
Clay opened his eyes and looked into his lover’s gaze, seeing the sincerity there. Not that he doubted him. Logan had proven time and time again how much he loved him. “I don’t deserve you, Sir. And I don’t do enough to show you how much I love you in return.”
“You don’t have to do anything to deserve me. I’m with you because I don’t ever want to be with anyone else.”
“Well, maybe I can show you what I feel tonight. Physically.”
Christa Tomlinson is an exciting up and coming author in erotic romance. Christa graduated from The University of Missouri-St. Louis with a degree in history. She loves to create stories that are emotional and lovely with sex that is integral to the characters' romantic arc. Her books include straight couples, curvy couples, gay, and multicultural couples. Love is love and everyone should have their story told.
Christa lives in Houston, Texas with her two dogs, and is a retired roller derby player. She enjoys hearing from readers, other authors and aspiring writers. For more on Christa's work, including deleted scenes, excerpts, and free reads, visit www.ChristaTomlinson.com
Nameless and without an identity, she wakes on the streets of Shapertown, an abandoned city that defies the laws of physics. She’s fleeing a threat she can’t remember. One woman holds the key to unlocking her memories and the dangerous truth: She is the threat.