Natural selection is a bitch. Our world is built on the survival of the fittest, and that’s a fact whether we like it or not. No matter how hard we try we can’t change it, it just keeps happening. We’re all animals when it comes down to it. I learned that the hard way when my father was killed, and I got a reminder when I left home in the middle of the night, never to return.
But that was years ago. I’m smarter now than I was then. At least, I thought I was. While I was fighting for my own survival, I forgot about something vital. Family. My father was dead and my mother absentee, but I wasn’t without family.
I wanted to lie and say I thought she could protect herself, that I couldn’t have stopped the drunk driver that sent my world into a tailspin. I wanted to believe that was what led to me parking outside The Neon Bar again.
When I’d left, hitchhiking my way down the east coast and over to New Orleans, I never imagined I’d be back here. I didn’t want to come back, but here I was. Dressed in black. Home to say goodbye to the one person who meant the world to me. My grandmother, Annabelle Corwin.
The indomitable Annie was the best of us. She was the best wolf, the best mother, the best friend. When my mother was too concerned with her own troubles to take care of me, Annie raised me. She taught me everything about what it meant to be a wolf, she taught me how our family operated, and how to survive a male dominated pack.
It was because of her that I’d gone to New Orleans, and because of her that I was back. There was so much history in this town that I’d have preferred to stay away from, but I had to—
Someone knocked sharply on the window, inches from my head, and I jumped with a loud yelp. I pressed a hand to my heart and looked up into the amused face of my older brother. He’d filled out in the years that I’d been away, and grown his beard, but his smirk still carried that same smug attitude that made me want to rip his face off.
Gesturing for him to move out of the way, I got out of the car, and stood to my full height, glaring at him. It only made me angrier that that height was still a foot and a half shorter than his. “Dammit Zach, you scared the bejezus out of me. What were you thinking?”
“That you looked like you’d fallen asleep in the parking lot, and you’re already twenty minutes late for this thing,” he said, barely suppressing his laughter.
“Why are you even out here?” I sighed, pulling the tie from my hair, to shake it out. Parts were still wet from the last-minute shower I’d taken before I left the motel in Delaware.
He brandished a cigarette carton. “Came out to smoke.”
“I thought you quit?” I said, arching an eyebrow at him. Zach was the only one who’d kept in touch over the years. We weren’t close by any means. He’d proven himself to be the type of guy who’d sell his own sister out to the cops many times. Whether it was because we were only half siblings, or because he just cared more about himself, I’d never stopped to ask. But he was family just like Annie. Family I cared about.
“I did.” He chuckled. “If you’d let me finish, I said I came out to smoke. Didn’t say that I had.”
I rolled my eyes and glanced past him to the door. “Is everyone inside?”
“Pretty much. A few of the cousins couldn’t make it in from Montana and Colorado, but the usual suspects are here. Annie was well loved,” he said.
“That she was.” I sighed again. This was going to be a long hard night.
“Awe, buck up, darling,” he said. “I don’t think they’re even expecting you. So just slip in real quiet. Pay your respects and you’re home free.”
I laughed. “You think a room full of Cape wolves are gonna ignore a new scent walking through the door?”
“You’re not new,” he scoffed.
I gave him a deadpan glare. “I’ve been gone for ten years, Zach.”
“Scents don’t change,” he shrugged. “But whatever. I’m going in. Ma will tan my hide if I miss the service.”
He turned to walk away from me, and I hesitated. His Ma was my mother. Veronica “Ronnie” Bishop-Corwin. Ex-princess of the defunct Bishop clan. Failed recovering alcoholic bartender, and mother of the year eighteen years running. She was not going to be happy I’d come back, and it would be even worse when she found out I was sticking around for the reading of the will.
“Hey, Space Cadet,” Zach called out with his hand on the door. “You coming?”
I jumped. “Yeah, I’m comin.”
Crossing the parking lot to the door, I tensed my shoulders and tugged my black tee-shirt straight beneath my leather jacket. I knew I’d get some looks for wearing something so informal, but Annie would understand. To face these people, I was going to need all the armor I could get.
Slipping inside, behind Zach, I took a deep breath. Faint strains of the Celtic Sisters rang through the speakers, and there were layers upon layers of voices around every corner of the room. There were at least twenty to thirty werewolves standing along the bar that took up most of the right wall, and spread-out playing pool beyond that, and sitting at the tables to the left.
All of them were in the middle of something, a conversation, a game, a drink, but the moment Zach stepped to the side, leaving me alone at the entrance, every single one of them turned to stare at me. All bathed in the light of about a hundred neon signs lining the walls.
I felt my cheeks burn and ducked my head intent on darting for the bar, but a loud shriek erupted from the crowd. A small brunette popped out from behind a large man I vaguely recognized and in the blink of an eye I was enveloped in a bone crushing hug.
“Oh my goodness, oh my goodness, Evie! I didn’t know you were coming back. It’s so good to see you,” the girl screeched.
I blinked. “Maria? I didn’t think you’d be here.”
“What?” She laughed, releasing me just enough to see my face. “Of course, I’m here. Annie was good to me too.”
Her mentioning Annie hit me right in the heart. Tears gathered at the corners of my eyes. “Yes. Yes, she was.”
“Oh honey,” she pouted, wiping away the water trailing over my cheeks.
She hadn’t changed a bit. Her chocolate-colored hair was curled just past her chin. Her wrists were covered in bangles and handwoven bracelets, and her white nail polish looked as pristine as her beach worthy tan.
I exhaled a long breath. “I don’t know about you, but I need a drink.”
“Then let’s get you one.” Looping her arm through mine, she turned back to the bar and towed me over to one of the few empty spaces nearest the door. “Do you still drink tequila sunrises?”
“Screw the sunrise,” I said. “I’ll take it straight.”
Maria’s lips curled in a smile, and she waved down a girl working behind the bar that I didn’t recognize. She was small, blonde, and smelled like a human.
“Hey girls, what can I get ya,” she asked, glancing between Maria and I.
“Four shots of tequila, please.” Maria smiled. “Thanks, Sloane.”
The girl nodded and set out the glasses in front of us, pouring each evenly with stunning accuracy. “One, two, three and four.”
“Thanks,” I said, helping her slide them carefully in our direction. “That was impressive.”
“Thank you.” Sloane smiled walking away to one of the other wolves waving her down from the end of the bar.
“I have something for you,” Maria said, distracting me.
“What?” I frowned, noticing the three brooding guys staring at me from over her shoulder. I recognized them as some of the distant Bishop men who’d joined the pack after my parents got married, but I couldn’t remember all their names. Barney or Bailey came to mind when I looked at the tall red head in the center. He reminded me of the spa dude from Frozen, but I couldn’t be sure I was remembering the right person or the right name.
“Hey, don’t let them get to you,” Maria said, reaching across the bar to squeeze my hand.
I smiled at her and threw back the first of my shots. The alcohol burned in my throat, and I fought the urge to groan. It’d been too long since I’d had a decent drink. I only prayed that this one would give me a buzz sooner rather than later.
“Sorry,” I croaked, turning back to Maria. “You said you had something for me?”
“Yeah,” she held up her hand and wiggled one of the woven bracelets free from the chaotic tangle around her wrist. Made from purple and blue thread it was a dizzying pattern of my favorite colors.
“It’s pretty,” I said, letting her slip it around my right wrist. “Thank you.”
“I was thinking about you after I heard what happened to Annie. So, I did what I do best. I made a bracelet.”
I took my second shot and let the alcohol burn before I asked the question that had been nagging at me since Zach’s cryptic call summoning me home.
“What did happen, Maria? What was she doing on that bridge so late at night? No one told me,” I said, keeping my voice low. It was pointless to try and go unheard. If they cared to every wolf in the building could hear what I was saying, and I was positive one or two had to be listening.
Her face paled. “I don’t think that’s really a conversation for Annie’s wake.”
“No, it’s not,” announced a familiar voice from behind the bar.
Blinking, I looked up and watched as Ronnie came walking out of the back room, wiping her hands on an old red dish cloth.
I swallowed around the sudden lump in my throat. I’d pictured seeing her again a hundred times, and practiced all the nasty things I wanted to say after how she’d treated me, but all I could manage was, “Hi, Mom.”
Her eyebrows rose. “Mom? Well, things have changed. Now haven’t they.”
“It’s been a long time,” I said, and liked she’d read my mind, Maria slid one of her shots over to me.
I glanced sideways at her smiling and swallowed it whole as she drank her own. We set our glasses down in unison and Ronnie snatched the four of them up. She wiped the bar and then set about pouring two glasses of tequila to replace them.
She let Maria take hers and then as I tipped mine back against my lips, she struck with her first question. “What are you doing here, Evie?”
I choked on the tequila and coughed. “Why wouldn’t I be here? Annie raised me.”
“You didn’t seem to care about that when you left. You were only worried about yourself back then,” she said, folding her arms over her chest.
It took everything I had not to groan again when I realized her outfit was near identical to my own. The only difference between them being she wore an old denim vest over her tee shirt.
“I’m here to pay my respects,” I said. “That’s all that matters.”
She narrowed her eyes at me. “If you say so.”
“Ronnie,” Maria interrupted, clearing her throat. “When are we starting the service?”
My mother stared blankly at her. “In a few minutes. We’re just waiting for Adrian and the boys to finish their game in the corner.”
The mention of the Alpha’s name set my teeth on edge, and my hand tightened dangerously around my glass. “He’s playing pool? This is supposed to be a wake to honor Annie. She was one of the elders, and your new husband can’t even stop his game to pay his respects?”
“Easy,” Maria hissed. “You’ve been gone too long to talk like that.”
“You should listen to your friend. Maybe she’ll keep you out of trouble.” Ronnie laughed once without humor and started walking back down the bar to where Sloane stood chatting with someone I couldn’t see.
I forced myself to close my eyes and take a deep breath. If I wasn’t careful, someone was going to set me off and all hell would break loose. A raging wolf in the middle of a pack that despised her was nothing but a recipe for chaos.
“Why don’t we go blow off some steam on the other side of the building. Walk around the old arcade games, and then come back for the service?” Maria offered. “How’s that sound?”
“Better than sitting here getting stared at.” I sighed, slipping off my stool.
“Good.” she hopped off with me and looped her arm through mine again, towing me back toward the door I’d entered through.
Instead of going outside, she turned us abruptly to the right at the end of the bar and slid open the sliding glass door with one hand, gesturing for me to step through ahead of her.
I did, and as she shut the door behind us, we were plunged into a muted silence, bathed in the haze of the dim pink, blue and green neon lights lining the walls. Safely tucked away in The Neon Arcade.
Some of the games were still lit up, resting on their timers, but most things were dark. Waiting for the next morning when the local kids would come traipsing through the door to spend their allowance or whatever changed they’d stolen from their mother’s purse. The Neon catered to all types.
“Do you remember spending our summers here? Flirting with the guys, threatening the little kids who tried to beat our high scores?” Maria chuckled.
“MCR and EVC always and forever.” I laughed. “Ronnie lost her shit when we carved that into the side of the Miss Pac-Man game. I wonder if it’s still there.”
Maria smiled and turned on her heel. “Let’s find out.”
Trailing her down the first aisle of games, I could almost hear the echoes of our laughter, and smell the stale syrup from our sodas. The Neon arcade was our kingdom, our world.
Pausing at the next aisle Maria crouched in front of the Ms. Pac-Man game and slid it just enough out of place to reveal the side panel.
“Do you have your phone?” she asked.
“Uh, yeah.” I fished it out of my back pocket, and clicked on the flashlight, shining it over her shoulder.
“Look!” She cheered, tapping the game. “It’s still here.”
“I’m surprised. I thought Ronnie would’ve erased all signs of my existence the moment I left town. “She was so happy I chose to leave.”
“You chose to leave?” chuckled a deep voice from the shadows.
I jumped turning my flashlight in the direction and every thought inside my head came to a screeching halt.
Jamieson Hart stood holding a bottle of whiskey in his hand squinting at me. Jamieson “Jamie” Hart the man I despised most in the world. The man who’d teased, tortured, and tormented me since I was eight years old. He’d done everything from literally pulling my pigtails to stealing my clothes out of the girl’s locker room while I was showering at school.
He’d pushed me around, challenged me, called me names, and beat me to a bloody pulp during our combat training classes. For about fifteen years he specialized in making my life a living hell. He took great care in causing me pain, and he loved every minute of it.
But this wasn’t the Jamie I remembered. The Jamie I remembered was thin, lithe, and pale. A bully who didn’t appreciate that I wasn’t in love with him.
This Jamie was tan, and his muscles had tripled, rounding out his wide chest with a pair of broad shoulders, sculpted biceps, and hips that even in the low light I could tell had a delicious V-shape hiding beneath his shirt.
My cheeks burned and a rogue wave of desire made my toes curl inside my boots. “Jamie, what are you doing in here?”
“I could ask you the same question, Snowball.” He smiled, lifting his bottle to his lips for a second. “I work here, and Ronnie asked me to check on the stock. What’s your excuse?”
A growl ripped from my throat, and I felt the hairs standing up along the back of my neck. “My hair isn’t even blonde, asshole.”
“No.” He chuckled. “But your fur is.”
Something warm coiled deep inside my gut, and I forced it away, in favor of scrubbing my hands over my face and turning back to Maria. “Maybe we should go back to the bar. It’s feeling a little crowded in here.”
“Awe, don’t be like that, Snow. It’s a compliment for Christ’s sake. You’re the only white wolf in the pack.” He sighed. “Even Annie had a few patches of other colors.”
A wolf’s color was an outward expression of their soul, their emotions, their heart. The more mottled their look, the more dangerous and unstable the animal.
Maria opened her mouth to say something, but the sound of the sliding glass door stopped her in her tracks, and we all turned in time to see Sloane coming around the corner of the aisle at the front of the building.
“Hey guys, sorry to interrupt, but Adrian needs you, Maria. He wants to talk about something for the service,” she said without bothering to raise her voice. She was clearly a human who knew she was surrounded by werewolves. Having us all in one place would’ve bothered the hell out of anyone who wasn’t well informed. Our energies are too intense to go unnoticed if we’re in a large group.
“Uhhh,” Maria glanced between Jamie and I. “I’ll be right there, Sloane. Thank you.”
“Go,” Jamie said. “We’ll play nice.”
“You wish.” I snorted.
He ignored me and put a hand to his heart. “I promise.”
Maria pursed her lips in thought for a second, and then gave him a curt nod. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
I wanted to protest as I watched her walk away, but even Jamie’s presence was more pleasant then talking to Adrian.
I wasn’t anywhere near ready for that lecture yet. Still, I didn’t want to see Jamie either. I just wanted to be left alone, allowed to grieve for Annie on my own.
“I think I’m gonna go out back, and just wait for the service to start,” I said, turning in the direction of the back wall, where the row of Skeeball lanes sat beside the employee’s entrance.
I made it two inches before Jamie sidestepped cutting off my path. My feet came up short, and reflexively my hands landed on his chest, as I tried to stop myself from running into him. He’d grown about a foot taller than I remembered. Easily six one or two. Looking up into his hooded eyes, I swallowed. His skin radiated warmth, and his breath smelled like whiskey as it curled across my cheeks. My fingers curled into his shirt, and shivered.
His mouth turned up at the corner. “I knew it.”
“What?” I asked, hating myself for the breathy tone.
“It doesn’t matter.” He shrugged reaching up with his free hand to brush his fingers along my jaw. “All that matters is that while you can hate me as much as you want, I know the truth.”
I rolled my eyes and made to step back, but he struck fast as a viper. His free arm wrapped around my back, and we spun, tipping downward until he had me laid out on the closest Skeeball lane beneath him, the whiskey bottle safely set down out of sight.
I gasped in shock, and moved my hands to push him away, but as he leaned in, running his nose along the line of my jaw, and down over my neck, his fingers gently guided my wrists up over my head, where he pressed my knuckles into the smooth wood beneath me.
“You smell so damn good,” he growled in my ear. “I could eat you up Snowball.”
His tongue traced my carotid artery, and I moaned, arching my back to press my chest against his. He rocked his hips forward and my entire body shivered, turning my insides to smoke and tingles. I hooked my leg around his hip, pulling him closer, and—
His teeth closed on my earlobe, biting down hard, and it was enough of a shock to bring me back to reality. Yanking my hands from his grasp, I smacked him hard on the shoulders.
“No, get off me. Get off.”
He stood up without hesitation, chuckling under his breath. “Sorry, couldn’t help myself.”
“You never could, could you?” I snarled at him. “Wolves never change.”
Something strange crossed his face, a shadow danced behind his eyes, and his smile fell. “You don’t know me anymore, Snowball, and don’t act like you didn’t enjoy that. I know you did.”
I tried to think of some sort of retort, but all that came out was a frustrated growl as I turned away and marched out the back door of the building, sparing him one final glance as I stepped out of sight.
The door shut behind me and I let out a strangled breath I didn’t know I was holding back. I hated that man. Jamieson-fucking-Hart. He was the most frustrating, insufferable, and chaotic man I’d ever met. But most of all, I hated him for the fact that he was right.
PREORDER NOW TO READ THE REST OF THE STORY
Evie Corwin never wanted to come home. But back in Cape Luna for a family funeral, she soon finds that the wolf pack is as insufferable as ever. None more so than Jamie Hart. Or is he? Something seems diffrent about him that Evie can’t ignore. But can wolves really change? Has he?
Nothing is as it seems in the wolf pack.
TWs: Explicit sexual content, curse words, scary or possibly terror inducing depicitions.
US Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09DWF19NS
CA Link: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B09DWF19NS