Some leave because, in their hearts, they can’t bear to stay. Some leave because they see no way to go back…
Amelia Sullivan couldn’t stay in Willow Bend, not after her sister embraced the life she’d always wanted. It aggravated her that Shiloh’s defiance earned her a free pass from their family, and parents who’d raised them all to reject the idea of going wolf. Taking the first excuse she can to go to a cooking school on the west coast, she flees. The last thing she expected was an order to return home within three months of her getting away. She wasn’t a wolf, she doesn’t have to obey. Of course, not following the rules proves even more costly than she can imagine when she finds herself a prisoner and the change she always thought she wanted forced upon her...
Rescuing Amelia seemed a straightforward job until Mitch realizes what they’ve done, then saving her life proves to be the easier task as she undergoes her first transformation far from any alpha. Can a happy go lucky Enforcer find the strength to keep her sane.
Read Chapter One right now!
Harsh hands dragged her through the muddy darkness, like demons pulling her into hell. What little light leaked through the burlap bag over her head vanished quickly as they hauled her down what seemed an endless hall. In the distance, water dripped, and the scent of mold and damp pervaded everything. She had no idea how long she’d been unconscious. She’d been returning to her little apartment from a run when the van pulled alongside her.
Somewhere in the dazed portion of her mind, she recognized how ludicrous her situation was. How many crime shows had she watched were someone jogging was simply snatched off the road? The van pulls up, someone reaches out, Taser in their hand or a quick jab with a needle. The poor person running has this momentary expression of terror before they collapse and are hauled inside as the door slams shut, never to be seen again.
Or worse, they were found later, skinned alive or turned into a human doll with strings embedded in them like they were a puppet. A shudder worked its way up her spine and she convulsed.
Was she afraid? Or simply reacting to the manhandling she received? Worse, was she having some kind of drug trip? It was like she was divorced from her own body.
She never understood it. How come no one ever saw when these poor people were taken? Why didn’t they respond? Even in the midst of a busy park—why didn’t anyone see the poor victim’s struggle as they were ripped from their lives? Why didn’t they rush to help?
Had anyone seen her struggle? It hadn’t been especially early. The sun was up. She’d passed numerous joggers on the trail she’d come to love.
Would she ever see her family again? Would her family even care?
The wolves might notice, if she were a wolf.
No, she was screwed. Some monster was about to do horrible things to her. There was a grunt, then a metal door clanged open before they her dragged into a new room with fresh smells—a stink that made her stomach churn.
Urine was the most recognizable, but there was also a sour stench, as if someone had been throwing up. Bile rose in her throat as her stomach rebelled, then the rough hands dragging her flung her against a wall. At least, she thought it was a wall.
The hard surface jarred her already aching bones, and her head smacked against what felt like stone. The guttural voices that had spoken quietly as they dragged her into the pits of hell abandoned her. The door shut with a clang and a clank.
Amelia didn’t know how long she lay there. It taken her this long to at least remember her own name. Her hands hurt. Her knees hurt. Everything hurt.
The bag on her head suffocated her. With every gasp for breath it drew against her mouth, making the air hotter and more difficult to inhale. The stench didn’t go away. If anything, it stuck in her throat, growing more cloying.
A distant whump, whump, whump invaded her consciousness. Was it a fan? How long had she been lying there? One hour? One day? One week? Time kept eddying away from her. When they grabbed her, she remembered a sharp pain in her shoulder like needles piercing her flesh.
Had they drugged her? If so, how long were they planning to leave her there? Was anyone even aware she was gone yet?
The bag’s rough fabric clung to her face and it hurt. Slowly she pushed off the wall and rolled to a sitting position. Everything swam sickeningly. She wanted to vomit. Desperate to keep it together, she leaned her back against the wall and fought to take another breath.
She’d been in California only a few weeks. Had it really been a few weeks? Maybe the losing track of time didn’t have anything to do the drugs affecting her. In truth, she’d been going through the motions of life. When she’d told Mason she wanted to move to California for a time and go to school, it hadn’t been a total lie. She really did want some new opportunities. A chance to better herself. And she’d wanted to go as far away from pack lands as she could get. Portions of California were claimed by the Sutter Butte pack—the Willow Bend pack’s new best friends. Other portions remained unclaimed territory and, although Lone Wolves might wander, they didn’t really settle. It was land wholly left to humans like Amelia herself.
What she hadn’t said to Mason was, not only did she want to go to California to go to school, she didn’t want to ever come home. Not after watching Shiloh mate Matt. Worse, not after watching Shiloh take the bite.
Her imperfect baby sister—who did everything wrong, who behaved selfishly and without regard for family or pack—not only violated the laws of the very pack they were supposed to be a part of, but also received a welcome home from the so-called love of her life before she received the bite, violating family tradition. Did her family then disown her as they’d often threatened? Of course not.
The tangled bundle of envy, resentment, and jealousy bound so tightly with her affection and love for her little sister, Amelia had been left floundering. How did someone do everything wrong then get everything they wanted?
It wasn’t fair. More than that, how did she spit in the face of family tradition, go against their mother completely, and still win over her affection and approval?
Amelia had needed to get out of Willow Bend. She needed to be away from her family, away from the pack, their politics, and she needed to be away from the wolves. Away from the taunting of everything she ever wanted, everything she’d ever denied herself for her family—especially after they handed it to Shiloh on a silver platter.
Waves of dizziness sent another sickening pulse through Amelia’s body. The desire to throw up was combated only by the fact that she wore stupid bag over her head. She didn’t want to puke on herself. Her hands were bound, wrist to wrist, but the palms faced each other, which meant she could…
Belatedly, it dawned on her that she could pull the mask off her head. How long had she been wrestling with the darkness in her own memories while struggling to breathe the fetid air through burlap? Even as those thoughts bounced around inside of her already aching and sore head, a new thought emerged. Did she really want to take the bag off? If she did, would her nightmare become real? Or would she wake up?
Surely someone had seen her being taken. Even now, there was probably a team of specialists flying in from another state to work out the behavioral pattern behind her kidnappers. Then again, if she was one of the first, they probably wouldn’t find her until her flayed body had been displayed in some grotesque symbology that only they would be able to decipher. Because God knew she wasn’t the ingénue. She wasn’t the innocent one.
Why hadn’t they just killed her? What fresh hell had they intended to leave her in this place?
The water continued to drip and the whump, whump, whump of that distant fan continued its rhythmic flow. The air seemed to grow stale and even more foul, if that were possible.
Stop being a coward. Take the damn mask off, figure out where you are, and survive.
No one was coming for her, she wasn’t anyone special. Just a hateful, vicious woman and jealous sister who abandoned her family because she had to get away from those damn wolves and everything they represented.
Take the mask off, figure out where you are, and get the hell out of here.
Blinking back tears, Amelia finally willed her hands up, grasped the bag on her head, and yanked. It tugged at her hair and stuck to something on her shoulder even as she pulled it off. As soon as it came free, the air seemed cooler and it rushed against her sweat dampened cheeks. At least she hoped it was sweat, but she refused to consider any other fluid. Not tears. Certainly not blood.
Blinking, she stared around the dank, dark room. What little light leaked in came from a small grate near the ceiling, but her eyes were already dilated. It was then that she noticed a figure on the floor. Squinting, she pushed away from the wall. Was it another victim? Someone else like her?
Her ankles were still tied, as were her wrists, but they hadn’t bound her in any other way.
Inspired by a fresh wave of determination, she fell onto her side and began to crawl. The dirty and dusty floor left a splinter in her hand as she dragged herself forward. The scrape on her thigh screamed with every inch forward she made. It took her a minute to reach the body.
Her breathing labored, and what hadn’t hurt before certainly hurt now. More, the exhaustion invading her very bones seemed to steal her ability to take a deep breath, so she panted. The closer she came to the figure, the worse the stench.
Her mind helpfully supplied any number of possibilities, all of which she wanted to ignore. Because they all made her situation that much worse.
She finally achieved her goal. She tried to squint in the gloom as she reached out with a hand to tap the person on the shoulder.
“Hello?” The sad little word came out strained then she coughed, her voice was dusty with disuse. She’d never been much of a screamer, and she hadn’t yelled when they grabbed her. She hadn’t shouted. She barely fought back. Why hadn’t she fought more?
Oh yeah, the sting at her shoulder and the sudden violent weakness flooding her. That was why she hadn’t fought back
Tapping the figure again, Amelia searched for any response, but they didn’t move.
“Please don’t be dead,” she whispered into the darkness. As soon as the words escaped, she wished she could take them back. Of course they were dead. They didn’t move, they were cold, and there was that horrible smell.
Hurting everywhere, she forced herself into a sitting position, then grasped the other person’s shoulder and tugged. In a grayish half-light, she made out a woman’s face—her tortured and frozen into a mask of pure fear face.
She was dead.
Amelia didn’t know whether to laugh, to scream, or to cry. With trembling fingers, she closed the corpse’s eyes. The sightless, milky appearance of them seemed worse somehow than the rest.
With agonizing slowness, she backed all the way to the wall again.
She was gonna die in this place. This hellish, dark, damp, and hideous place. She was gonna die alone. No one would know what happened to her. No one would care.
After the scene she’d made with Shiloh, they’d all assume she chose life away from pack permanently. She was just a human, no one important. The wolves wouldn’t care.
Hot tears slid down her face, even as her anger soured her stomach. Why should they care? What had she ever done for them?
A scream split the ugly silence—and it came from much farther away. But Amelia could hear the sheer terror in the cry, in the begging and the pleading before the scream suddenly cut off.
Closing her eyes, she thought about her mother, her father, and her siblings. She would give anything to see them again. Just one more time. Even if it was only to argue, and fight.
She didn’t want to die.
The sound of the door clanking invaded the fog in her brain. Her heart jackhammered, sending a thick knot of fear through her veins. Terror jerked her back from the darkness. Her eyes opened, awareness dragging her awake with icy fingers. Awake? When had she gone to sleep? Had it just been a nightmare? Then she turned her head, the concrete floor rasped her cheek. Not a nightmare—at least not one she woke in her bed from.
Whoever they were, they were back.
They’d been coming for her, before, hadn’t they? Her heart thudded, punching her with every beat.
Fighting the cloud of confusion, she tried to focus on where she was. She lay face down on the floor next to the corpse. Pushing her palms against the floor, she shoved herself upright, then fell in her haste to retreat. How much time had she lost?
Wait. This corpse was face down. She’d turned the other one over. It didn’t make her feel better to realize she had discovered a second corpse. Or that they dragged her from the one room to another and it was still dank, damp and disgusting. The addition of lights turned on in this one didn’t make it better. In fact, it made it worse.
Shoes entered her line of sight. Ignoring the screaming in her shoulder, the one she was pretty sure they’d dislocated, she rolled onto her side and dared to look up. If the monsters wanted to kill her, they were going to look her in the eye when they did it.
The figure crouched, bringing her face into sharp relief. And it was definitely a woman. Long limbed, and somewhat tall, at least from Amelia’s angle, her captor had a narrow, angular face framed by short, sharp blonde hair. It was spiked almost, as though the different strands had been honed to a fine point.
Belatedly, Amelia realized the woman reminded her of one of those anime characters her brothers liked to watch. The woman grasped her face in cold, brutal fingers turning her cheeks from side to side then forced her mouth open as though she were examining her teeth.
“Who are you?” Couldn’t hurt to ask. The woman’s sharp slap caught her off guard and sent stinging pain to clear away the clouds of confusion in her brain. Okay, maybe it could hurt to ask. But the pain did more to restore her alertness than it did to dissuade her from pursuing any line of rebellion.
“Who are you?” She spat blood before she repeated the question. She’d cut the inside of her mouth against her teeth with the force of that slap. The woman narrowed her eyes then leaned closer. Her eyes were ice blue. Cold and frosty.
She said something in a language Amelia didn’t recognize. Great, foreigners kidnapped me.
The woman let loose with a stream of conversation, each word sharp and staccato in its formation. It sounded like orders even, although Amelia had no idea what she said. Movement behind her alerted her to the presence of another.
Rolling onto her back, Amelia stole a glance around the room. They were definitely not alone; two large men stood only a couple of feet away. Billy Bob and Frank must’ve been the two who dragged her from the other room. They were huge, and forbidding with expressions both distant and cruel.
The big dude on the left had a scar extending from his forehead all the way to his chin. It was puckered, ugly, and seemed to distort the whole symmetry of his face. The other just seemed mean, like one of those guys perfectly cast as a criminal pretty much every movie ever made.
The woman continued speaking to them, then she grasped Amelia and dragged her upright. Amelia barely had time to adjust to the change of position before the woman hauled her completely off the floor, away from the corpse, and deposited her into a chair.
“Thank you, I think.” She looked nervously around, worried that they were just setting her up for more torture. At least they had taken her away from the corpse. She couldn’t see the other woman’s face, but she could imagine it was as terrified as the first woman’s had been. Where the first woman had brown hair, this one had kind of reddish brown. She did know either one, but she wasn’t sure whether that was a good thing or bad thing. Not that she’d seen the second woman’s face, but believing them alike helped in some twisted fashion. Maybe it was grasping at straws, but in her current situation, Amelia would take just about anything.
The Icelandic bitch began to prowl in a circle around Amelia. She grasped her hair jerked her head backward, forcing her to cry out. She tried to hold it back but it escaped on a harsh breath. The woman said something else and one of the men responded in the same language.
“I don’t suppose any of you speak English.” It’d been meant as an observation not a question. It was bad enough that she’d been dragged off the street and kidnapped. Now foreign serial killers were holding her. At least, if they were serial killers, it meant that they were going to kill her eventually. Hopefully before they caused her hideous amounts of pain.
The woman stopped in front of her once more. Her inscrutable gaze rested firmly on Amelia’s and Amelia refused to look away. Didn’t matter that there was terror clawing its way up inside of her, or that she was horrified by her current situation. Whoever this bitch was, she didn’t know who she was messing with. Bravado or not, Amelia was a Sullivan, and she’d grown up around wolves. She’d seen them the beat the living shit out of each other, then shake bloodied hands and become the best of friends. No way she was going to crawl and cry just because this—whoever the hell she was—woman wanted to her to feel fear.
Without a word, the woman nodded slowly then rubbed two perfectly manicured fingers against her jawline. If Amelia didn’t know better, she would think this lady was assessing her in some way.
“If you wanted an interview, you could’ve asked. Given me time to shower and change, even make myself presentable.” She’d seen other wolves do this. Talk, often using humor, to alleviate the tension in the situation. It could go a long way toward making their opponent laugh rather than growl. Unfortunately, her audience couldn’t understand a word she said—that, or her audience didn’t care.
The woman snapped out in order. The two behind her lunged forward, seized the corpse, then dragged it from the room. Amelia couldn’t suppress the jumpstart her heart took at their sudden action, nor the relief that had her sweating through her shirt when they didn’t come for her.
The bitch in front of her just smiled. She’d known exactly what her reactions had been.
Coughing, Amelia turned her head and spat blood on the floor. Then she looked back at her audience. The woman was dressed in exquisite clothing, but the light didn’t do it justice. It was a sheath dress, hugging every curve, and she wore stiletto heels. Unusual choice for their craptastic location.
“Hope I’m not holding you up,” Amelia said.
The woman said nothing, just continued to stare. When she was a kid, Amelia’s aunt had a cat. They didn’t have a lot of cats in Willow Bend, but her aunt had lived in Michigan City. Now and again, when the family went to visit, the cat would put on an appearance and just sit there and stare at them.
She wouldn’t approach, nor would she command affection, nor ask for anything, she would just stare. Her aunt used to laugh and say it was because the family probably smelled like wolves and the cat was asserting its authority. The animal didn’t have to demand anything; it simply knew it was in charge.
Maybe this bitch was a cat.
“The flooring here can’t be good for your shoes. And you should be careful of getting dirt on that dress. Something that costly probably requires some very strict dry-cleaning rules.”
Still no response. Amelia sighed. At least they weren’t torturing her. Yet. She shifted on the chair that they sat her on, trying to ease the pressure on her spine. Her ankles were still bound together, as were her wrists. Her arms burned from being trapped in the same position. Of course, it had nothing on the throbbing in her shoulder.
The door slammed open, and Amelia jumped again. The two brutish thugs returned, and they corralled—Amelia’s heart sank—two wolves into the room ahead of them.
The animals staggered, their heads bobbing and weaving even as they tucked their tails close. One of them shied away from the men, and the other looked drunk.
Apparently, that was what the woman was waiting for, because she pivoted to face the newcomers.
Amelia blinked then closed her eyes, and counted to ten before she opened them again. Hoping against hope that, when she opened them, she’d be awake in her own bed, having jerked herself out of a nightmare. But, nope, the tableaux remained the same. The woman in her finery, the brutish looking men, and the wolves.
The poor creatures didn’t like the look of the woman any more than Amelia did. As soon as they spotted her, they immediately fled toward the other corner of the room. One wolf stepped in front of the other. Its body language was protective—afraid, but protective. The woman said something, and the men began to laugh. When she glanced back at Amelia, nothing friendly lived in her expression.
Moving faster than Amelia could follow, she spun and gripped Amelia’s jaw then whispered three words. When she bent down and pressed a kiss to Amelia’s lips, Amelia froze. Afterward, the bitch smiled, the affection in her manner utterly at odds with the ice in her eyes.
“Fuck you, too.” It didn’t matter what she’d said, because Amelia didn’t understand her language, and she didn’t seem to get English.
With a faint smile, the woman abandoned her then strode out. Her heels clicked as she walked. Despite the uneven flooring and the disgusting shape of the room, she didn’t stumble once. The men stepped aside for her then followed her out. The door clanked, the bar locking as it shut.
Amelia glanced over at the wolves in the corner. Like her, they stared at the door. Slowly, their gazes switched to her.
So, maybe they weren’t going to torture her to death.
Maybe they just left her to be eaten.