Michael Kane took a swig from his Abita beer and tried not to choke on the smoke that wafted into the bar from the open door to his left. The hot New Orleans humidity did nothing to lessen the stench of cigarette smoke on his wolf senses. He rolled his eyes. These humans, they killed themselves with their vices. Well--he inwardly shrugged--it wasn’t just humans who smoked. His brother Gabriel had picked up the dirty habit except it wasn’t going to kill him. It just made him stink.
What kind of wolf wanted to meet someone in a bar? He looked around the room for the fortieth time since his arrival half-an-hour earlier and sniffed deeply. Truthfully, he didn’t think it was possible that the smell of smoke and humans could mask a wolf shifter from him but it was never a bad idea to be careful. He had been on time in his arrival and now his contact was downright late.
Patience. We don’t have anywhere else to go tonight, his wolf interjected into his thoughts and Michael smiled.
To anyone watching it would seem as if he was lost in his thoughts, smiling at something he’d remembered. They’d have no idea that his inner wolf spoke to him; they’d have no clue that he was never alone.
He finally answered his wolf. Lateness is rude, no matter what my personal schedule is like.
Taking another swig of the cold, bitter taste of the local brew, he looked around the room, noticing the signed pictures of various jazz musicians who must have, at some time, either visited or played in the bar. From the outside, Floozies’ seemed a typical dive bar, located on the outskirts of the famed French Quarter in an area called the Marigny. It was unassuming. The kind of place you might see in any town, anywhere in the city. The sort of business that drew the locals and not the tourists.
Inside, however, was a different story.
It had felt like stepping back in time to the 1920s with its bench seats and low lit ambiance, not to mention the mirrors on the wall that led the eye straight to the stage where whatever live performer was expected would hold court for the evening. The effect had left him a little bit disoriented when he’d first walked in. For a second he’d thought he’d walked into his past--or that he’d somehow lost the last ninety years.
As he contemplated the oddity of the sensation, the truth hit him over the head. Today was his birthday. Today he was two hundred and ten years old. He took another swig of his brown amber beer.
Happy-frickin-birthday to me.
His wolf laughed. To us.
You’re a little bit younger than me. You didn’t show until later.
I was always with you, Michael. You just couldn’t hear me until you were ready.
His senses hit high alert as the scent of wolf wafted through the door seconds before the woman herself appeared. She darted into the room looking left and right and then left and right again. In an obvious fashion that made him wince for her lack of subtlety, she sniffed the air and turned in his direction.
For a moment, he stopped breathing. Small, to the point of being downright teeny, she looked to be about thirty years old. Michael knew that was deceptive. He appeared to be the same age, but wolf-shifters stopped physically aging at the age of thirty until they mated. She could be centuries old for all he knew or she could actually be thirty.
Jet black hair fell in long curled ringlets down her back. She had graceful movements, like a dancer, and her arms held well-defined muscles that indicated she probably exercised regularly. From a distance, he admired her high cheekbones on a heart shaped face. Her lips were pink and ... puffy?
She stepped up to his chair and he became aware of two things simultaneously. One, someone had beat the hell out of this woman. Her face was a mixture of bruises displaying all kinds of colors, meaning that each bruise was in a different stage of healing. That meant someone had done this repeatedly and over the course of time. Two, she was his mate. Her scent filled him up inside, awakening a side of him he thought, after two hundred ten long years, long dead.
He growled, jumping off the chair as he felt his eyes turn wolf. Who the hell would dare to lay hands on his mate?
His wolf laughed. Guess you’re no longer considering committing ritual suicide, are you?
His soon-to-be-fulfilled destiny widened her eyes as he ceased making his territorial noise. She sniffed the air again. Gods, she still hadn’t spoken. Did she sense it too? What was her name?
She placed a hand on his arm and squeezed gently. He gazed down at her tiny hand. Her fingers were so small; they barely made it around his bicep muscles.
His gaze moved back to her face. Staring at him with eyes that could only be called amber, she clearly pleaded with him for something even without using words.
Can she talk?
“Sweetheart,” he still had no name to use, but already that name seemed to fit her. “Can you speak?”
She wrinkled her eyebrows and squeezed his arm again. This time as if she needed support. Using her other hand, she touched the back of her jaw. Opening her mouth, he watched tears come to her eyes. Gods, she was really injured. Even opening her mouth to speak caused her excruciating pain. As soon as they mated, he would be able to communicate with her telepathically. Until then, as much as she was wolf, she was not pack. They couldn’t speak mind-to-mind yet.
“Are you Kane?” Her words sounded slurred as if she couldn’t quite get her mouth and tongue to function properly.
“I’m Michael Kane.”
he nodded. “I was told to come get you.”
Someone had sent her out this battered to come pick him up from a bar? Was this how this other pack of wolf shifters treated their women? How dare they? This was his mate. They had an obligation to keep her safe until her other half was found.
He placed his hand on top of hers and let his warm fingers stroke hers that were surprisingly cold, considering the heat both inside and outside of the bar. “Do you know who I am?”
That was a loaded question. It could be answered two ways. First, did she know he was the oldest royal brother of the Westervelt pack and second, did she realize she was his mate?
Her mouth crunched open again. Gods, she needed to shift to heal those injuries. Why hadn’t she?
“You’re here to find your sister, Angel. That’s what Cole told me.”
Cole? “I spoke to someone named Nero. He said he was the Alpha of your pack.”
One lone tear escaped from her swollen eye and she gasped as if it burned her. She grabbed her face as she shook her head. “Dead.”
“And Cole is Alpha now?” So it was Cole who he would be taking to task for letting his woman out and about when she was this injured.
She shook her head. “No Alpha. Sorry I’m talking so funny. It hurts.”
“I gathered that.” He gave into the urge and ran his hand through her soft black strands. “What is your name, sweetheart?”
His heart leapt at the sound of her name. It was so ... exotic. “Like in the book?”
“My mother really liked it.”
“Alright.” He took her arm. They still hadn’t discussed the fact that they were mates. He started to wonder if she was aware. “Let’s get you somewhere so you can shift.”
She shook her head. “We should go but not so I can shift.”
Under his fingers, he could feel her tremble as every word, every step she took, caused her physical pain. They walked out together into the hot night air and immediately a layer of sweat appeared on his body. The air conditioning in the bar had helped with the heat and even then it had still felt hot inside. He’d forgotten that the deep South was like this. It had been too many years since he’d left Maine.
“Why don’t you want to shift?”
She made a sound that was somewhere in between a laugh and a groan. “It’s not that I don’t want to shift, there is nothing I would like to do more in the world.” She paused as she looked left and right like she had when she entered the bar. “It’s that I can’t shift. I never could. I’m a half-shifter and I’m latent.”
He nodded as he took her arm more tightly in his grasp. If she wasn’t a full shifter then he needed to handle her, physically, with more gentleness. “We need you to get to a hospital then.”
“No hospital. They’ll call the police.”
“Fine, a doctor you can trust. Someone human who can heal you.”
“There’s no one.” She stopped moving and turned to regard him. Lights from the bar were the only illumination in the darkness except for the occasional glare off a headlight on the slowly driven street. “I know what you were asking before.” She stared down at her well-worn shoes. He could see the lining coming through the top of the leather on the front of the left one. First thing he was going to do was buy her some new ones. “I know that I’m your mate. I could smell it when I came in the bar. My sense of smell is about the only wolf trait that I actually got. I’m sorry.”
He clasped her cheek in his hand. So she did know. He wanted to grin from ear to ear. Gods, what a gift she was to him. She existed. She lived in the world. He wasn’t alone. He didn’t know what mating meant except that it had changed the male members of his pack irrevocably. Now he was actually going to get to know. “What are you sorry for, Scarlett?” He said her name because he wanted to hear it on his tongue. His wolf wanted to howl with delight.
“I’m sorry that I’m your mate. You can bring me to the pack wielder and for a price he’ll take the magic off. You can make it so I’m not your mate and then someday you’ll get another one.”
It was the most she’d said since he’d met her and now he wanted to take her out back and spank her perfect little ass for uttering those words. Get the magic off? Not her mate?
“What are you talking about?” He knew he asked the words through clenched teeth.
“I’ve known my whole life I was going to have to utter these words to my mate someday. Don’t make it harder.”
“Scarlett.” He forced himself not to yell her name and instead pulled into his embrace so he hugged her. His mouth pressed close to her ear as he had to all but bend over to speak to her. “Destiny chose for me. You are mine. There is no undoing this. We’re meant for each other. When you die, I will follow or if I die, you will. We will live forever in each other’s minds, each other’s souls. You are my one true love, the one I’ve waited to meet for two hundred and ten years.”
He heard her intake of breath. “Michael.” It was the first time she’d said his name. “Shifters get out of unwanted mates all the time.”
No, they didn’t. “Not where I’m from.”
“You guys just accept who you’re given?”
He nodded. “You don’t?”
“Men alter it to suit their needs all the time. No one wants to have to breed with an undesirable.”
It was as if she spoke a foreign language. “Scarlett, this is all very strange to me.” He ran a hand through her long hair. “I’m going to need you to explain it to me, later. Right now, I have to find you some medical help.”
She cleared her throat. “Do you have a hotel room?”
He nodded his head. “I do.”
“Then after we see Cole and he tells you about your sister we can go there. I can try to make more sense at that point.”
Scarlett looked down at the ground as she spoke. It was a gesture of submission and it made him furious.
Someone has hurt her, Michael. Someone has hurt her repeatedly.
He trusted his wolf on these issues. They’d been together so long. The dominance struggle that younger shifters faced with their wolves, he no longer did. They worked almost as one unit now.
She’s not an Alpha wolf, Michael. Or at least she’s not anymore.
Inwardly, Michael shook his head. She’s not a wolf at all. She’s latent. That makes her basically human.
“Look me in the eyes when you talk to me, pretty lady. I don’t bite.” Unless she asked him to.
She still didn’t meet his gaze. “You’re a wolf. A royal wolf, at that. I can’t look you in the eyes.”
Yes, she could and she would, but Michael wasn’t going to batter her into doing so by screaming. Instead, he pulled her against him.
“We’ll wait on seeing Cole. You’ll come with me to my hotel room now. I’ll get you off your feet and figure out what to do about the doctor situation.”
Maybe he could get one of the females from his pack to come down and help him...
She shook her head and the long strands of her hair whispered against his arms. “Cole will be furious.”
Dealing with his newly discovered mate was a little bit like putting together an old jigsaw puzzle. He had to find all the pieces first before he could even attempt to recreate the picture.
Trying to keep his voice steady, he moved them down the dark street. “Is Cole the one who beats you?”
He waited a second for her to continue and when she didn’t he patiently asked her the next question. “Who hurt you?”
“So many people. The pack is at war with each other. I don’t even know everyone who was involved. I shouldn’t have been there. I know better than to try to involve myself. It just makes the men mad to see me.”
“I’m trying to figure out who I need to kill for putting their hands on you, Scarlett. Help me out here.”
She sucked in a gasp of air and finally met his eyes. “You would do that? For me?”
We need to take her home and wrap her up in our sheets and just hold her for months and months.
“I would take on the whole world for you.”
Just then, he caught scents in the air. It was like a light popping on in a room inside his brain. He could smell them. There were five shifters and they moved on them fast.
Scarlett’s eyes widened. “Oh gods.”
“I assume you know these guys who are coming this way?”
“They want to be Alpha.”
He digested this. “All five of them want to be Alpha?”
“Nero never designated a successor and no true Alpha was called upon his death. All the men have to fight for the spot now. A few have already backed down. They’re old or their mates don’t want them to be it. But almost everyone else is still in contention. All the women--well, not me because I don’t count--but all the others have taken up sides.”
Her long explanation tired her and she nearly collapsed against him. Picking her up in his arms, he moved quickly toward a more crowded street. He wasn’t afraid of the shifters. Not at all. You didn’t live your life fighting your own father, and not come out capable of giving a beat down to five testosterone laced wolves. No, he needed to get Scarlett to safety before he could adequately handle the threat.
Moving onto Canal Street, he moved her into a one-arm embrace and hailed a taxi.
“Michael, what are you doing? Are we running?”
Was that disappointment he heard in her voice? Interesting, so she wasn’t Alpha herself but she didn’t want him to be Beta. That was fine. He might not have been the Alpha wolf of Westervelt, but he was no fleeing pack member. He was a Kane and he remembered when that was an honored last name. It would be again, if he had anything to say about it.
He set her down on the seat in the back. Pulling out his wallet, he took out a wad of money and his hotel key. He handed her both even as she stared at them in confusion. Turning to the driver, he gave instructions to take her to his Uptown hotel.
“Scarlett, I’m in room 228. Wait for me.”
She nodded but bit on her lower lip, which made her wince in pain.
“Just tell me one thing. Were these men involved in any of your beatings?”
Watching her look at the floor was the only answer he got. The cab driver seemed to be getting annoyed at their long conversation but Michael couldn’t care less.
“Tell me, Scarlett.”
“I don’t want them to hurt you.”
So they were.
“If you believe nothing else, believe this--they will not hurt me. They’re bullies. I’m not and that makes me more of a threat to them than they are to me. I teach men to fight.” He emphasized the word because the driver was in earshot, hoping she would know he meant shifters. “Take a hot bath, get in bed and wait for me. I won’t be long.”
He closed the door and watched as the taxi drove away. His mate was going to need lots of care. It was a good thing he was never in a hurry. Except for now, he thought. Right now, he was going to deliver a beating.
Turning his back on Canal Street, he let his nose direct him toward the shifters. They waited, as he suspected they would, in one of the quiet alleyways that littered this part of town.
He took two more steps forward. “Gentlemen, would you like to stop skulking in the corner and come out or shall I come in there?”
One of them moved forward in his direction. He was tall, broad shouldered and tattooed. He wore his brown hair spiked up like out of some movie where one of the characters was supposed to be a punk. His shirt was cut to the shoulders revealing a skull and bones tattoo. Hell, the idiot was like one bad cliché after another.
Just the fact that he’d moved forward first meant he thought he was a tough guy.
Are we shifting?
Michael looked left and right. The street was clear. It so often was when these things happened. He wasn’t an expert on magic by any means, but it seemed to him that the level of magic it took for a shifter fight sent out some sort of adverse signal to humans that they instinctually stayed away.
Calling the warm white light onto himself, he shifted into his wolf form. He knew he looked impressive when he let the wolf out. His canine-self was big, at least two feet taller than most of his brothers, and dark black except for white stripes around his ears and eyes. His belly also had a circle of white. These fools wouldn’t be seeing it today when they fought. None of them were getting anywhere near his stomach.
As he watched, his opponent also shifted. The white light surrounded him. At least he was able to call the light. That meant he was a real magical wolf. Not one of Kendrick’s miscreant wolves for whom the shift was painful and wrong.
Growling, Michael leapt, landing hard on the other man’s back. With an oomph and a whimper the “tough” wolf hit the ground hard. With very little fanfare, the wolf who had challenged him, who had very likely beat up Michael’s latent mate, whimpered and whined, moving his body until he lay flat beneath Michael in a gesture that screamed subservience and defeat.
Michael snapped at him as he jumped off his back. He wanted--no needed--more of a fight than that. They’d hurt Scarlett. He arched as he felt the hair on the top of his spine stand straight up. Turning around, he regarded the four other men still in their human form. There was nothing he wanted more than a good fight.
As if moving in unison, they backed up into the wall behind them, raising their arms in surrender. None of them had shifted.
Finally, one of them spoke. “We’re sorry.”
Michael called the shift onto himself, returning to his human form. He stared at the men in front of him. The wolf he’d easily bested shifted and joined his friends.
Regarding them each with a cold stare, he found not one of them to be more than a pipsqueak pretending to be a man. But then even a pipsqueak could beat up a human and had when they’d attacked his woman.
“What are you sorry for?”
The one farthest to the left, who had blond hair and a goatee, spoke first. “For stalking you.”
Michael waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. “I don’t care if you stalk me. Stalk me all day if it makes you feel like a man.” He pointed at each of them. “The four of you hurt my mate. You’ll answer for it in blood.”
The one he’d beat up gaped at him. “The latent? Scarlett?”
Michael growled as his wolf took over his eyes. “That is my mate you speak of. You will never speak of her in disrespectful terms again, and out of your mouth, the word latent doesn’t sound okay.”
The man fell to his knees. “I didn’t realize a wolf of your abilities would be interested in a creature that should have been killed at birth.” Michael lunged forward. This time he would kill.
Dipshit fell flat on the ground before Michael could even speak. “I apologize.”
Michael decided he didn’t feel like accepting his apology.
© Rebecca Royce
The Westervelt Wolves Book 5
Author: Rebecca Royce
Publisher: Liquid Silver
Genre – Paranormal Were
In search of his sister in New Orleans, Michael finds his mate instead. But Scarlett is broken, nearly destroyed. With doom around the corner, Michael Kane has no time to lose. If he can save his mate, perhaps there will be a chance for all of them. Or maybe it’s already too late.
Left with no other choice, Michael will have to teach the wolves in the New Orleans pack how real Alpha shifters behave, while showing his mate he is a man of his word.