Max glanced in her rearview mirror and grimaced at the flashing lights of the black and white SUV pulling up behind her. No way had she done anything wrong.
Okay, maybe she’d been going slightly over the speed limit, but she had less than twenty-four hours to make it to Salinas, California for her first teaching assignment. If she missed the first day of orientation, she could lose her position. And in this economy, that meant another six months of waiting tables and living off her ever-dwindling savings.
Mumbling under her breath about corrupt small town sheriffs, Max pulled to the side of the road and dug through her purse, searching for her wallet. She found it, pulled out her license, and then checked its meager contents. She was nearly broke, and if she had to pay a speeding ticket, she wouldn’t have enough money to buy gas. Could the day get any worse?
“License and registration, ma’am.”
At the sound of the deep voice, Max looked up into a pair of eyes the color of aged honey, and like a deer caught in a car’s headlights, she froze. His face was burnished, his jaw squared, and he had a five o’clock shadow that looked permanent. He wore a wide-brimmed Stetson, had wide shoulders and a broad chest narrowing down to gunslinger hips.
Masculinity personified, with latent aggression in every cell of his well-muscled body. And to top it off, he smelled like a man ought to smell—fresh and woodsy, with just enough spice to let a woman know he might be too hot to handle.
Max’s hormones did a little happy dance, and she almost groaned as a wave of lust rolled down her spine and settled in her pussy.
What the hell was that?
Nothing had ever happened to her like that before, and frankly, it scared her shitless. She didn’t have time for men, or the drama associated with dating.
“Ma’am, I asked for your license and registration. Is there a problem?” This time his voice had a distinct edge to it, as if something had disturbed him.
“No problem, Officer.” Max handed over her identification and did her best to keep her eyes off the sheriff as he examined her paperwork, but it was difficult. There was something about him that attracted and repelled her all at the same time. She finally gave up trying, and openly stared at him.
His nametag identified him as Sheriff Caleb McCain of Haven County, and he was undoubtedly one of the tallest and biggest men she’d ever seen. In general, Max wasn’t attracted to men who needed to buy their clothes at the big and tall shops. They usually made tactless jokes about her five-foot-one height and found it funny to prop their elbows on her head. But this guy had her shifting uncomfortably in her seat and, for the first time in her life, understanding what guys meant when they talked about needing a cold shower.
He certainly fit the description of eye candy for most women, but she’d seen plenty of good-looking men, and none of them had affected her this way. The sheriff was different. And Max knew first hand that different could mean a whole lot of things—most of them bad.
“Maxine Juneau of Houma, Louisiana,” he read from her driver’s license. “You’re a long way from home.” His gaze flicked back to her. “What brings you to California?”
Max wanted to tell him it was none of his business, but she held her tongue, hoping to avoid a ticket. “I have a teaching job in Salinas waiting for me, and frankly, Sheriff, I’m in a bit of a hurry. Do you mind telling me why you pulled me over?” She heard the challenge in her voice and wondered what had come over her. She wouldn’t avoid a ticket by pissing the man off.
He handed her license and registration back, then took a step away from the car. “Get out of the vehicle, Ms. Juneau. There’s something I’d like you to see.”
Max hesitated, more than a little afraid. Not because she thought of him as physically threatening. Quite the opposite. Despite his size and intimidating manner, she felt completely safe. What alarmed her was her body’s reaction to him.
From the moment he’d spoken, the thing buried deep within her had abruptly shifted. She’d not only experienced attraction, she now realized, she was deeply aroused. So much so her nipples had hardened, and she squeezed her thighs together to ease her discomfort.
Whatever the sheriff was, he was having one hell of an effect on her, and she didn’t like it one bit. She sensed he wasn’t completely human, but exactly what he was, she had no idea.
“Ms. Juneau, I asked you to get out of the car.” He almost growled the words, and for the first time, Max noted he kept his eyes lowered, as if he didn’t want her to see them. Yet, he watched her from beneath his lowered lids with the intensity of a born predator.
“What is it you want me to see, Sheriff?” Max opened the car door, pleased at how calm she sounded when every cell in her body was on high alert. Something about the sheriff had roused the interest of the thing deep inside her. It was fully awake for the first time in over five years, and each time the sheriff spoke, it trembled with pleasure. Max wanted to flee, to run and to never look back. But she got out of the car, not really understanding why, but knowing, like a moth drawn inexplicably to a flame, she had to.
This tiny woman with her big, hazel eyes and rich, creamed-coffee skin, was his mate.
When Caleb experienced the pull deep inside him, calling, urging him in this direction, he hadn’t known what to expect. At best, he’d thought he’d find someone who needed his help. Instead, he’d found her, and she was perfect in every way.
She had shoulder-length, dark brown curls, thick spirals, wild and untamed, and her heart-shaped face and little bow mouth made him think of an angel. But when he took note of her pointed chin and the I don’t know what the hell you are, but you better keep your distance look in her eyes, he knew his little darling was more likely to jab him with a pitchfork than to unfurl a pair of angelic wings.
Damn, he was a lucky man! Mother Nature had chosen well for him, and he was going to enjoy every inch of his mate.
First, though, he needed to mark her before the mating heat took all reason from him. He wanted to woo her gently, to give her time to accept him, but circumstances dictated he make her his on the next full moon. He had no choice but to rush things, but she wouldn’t like it. Hell, if it wasn’t for the fact her arousal filled his nostrils like the sweetest of wines, he’d doubt she even liked him. Even now, she shot guarded glances at him while trying to cope with the intense sexual need his were pheromones ignited in her.
He smiled inwardly. His mate was going to deny his claim and force his hand at every turn. She might look sweet enough to melt in the hot California sun, but he saw grit in the flash of her eyes and steel in the stiffness of her spine. Claiming her would be a wild ride, but he was an alpha male in his prime, and her denial was like fuel on a flame. In the end, she’d give him what he wanted, and he’d see to it she never regretted it.
Biting the inside of his lip to keep from grinning at his good fortune, he walked around to the back of her car and waited for her. The hunt was finally over. Time to claim his mate.
Max joined the sheriff at the back of her car and did her best to keep her mind focused on what he was saying. He was commenting on her car, something about it not being safe to drive, but each time he leaned forward to point out an area of concern, her gaze shifted to his firm backside. As derrieres went, it was definitely worth a second look, but Max was genuinely shocked when she had to shove her hands into the pockets of her jeans to keep from giving it an approving little pat.
What the hell was the matter with her? This guy wasn’t her type. The few men she’d dated spent their days behind a desk, avoided red meat, and drank bottled water. This guy looked as though he lived for the outdoors, ate whatever the hell he wanted, and washed it down with a cold beer. So why was her body so flushed with sexual need she actually ached?
“Ms. Juneau, are you listening to me?”
Max forced her gaze back to his and nodded. But since she’d missed most of what he’d said, she didn’t want to give herself away by opening her mouth.
He straightened to his full height, towering above her, and she had to tilt her head back to see his face. Up close and personal, he was even more impressive, and certainly intimidating. But he felt safe, which made absolutely no sense, since the sheriff was the most dangerous-looking man she’d ever seen.
“You have no brake lights, and it looks like someone rear ended you. Any idea when that happened?”
Max knew exactly when it had happened, but she wasn’t about to admit to Sheriff Six Feet Plus of Male Perfection that she sucked at driving a stick shift. Over the last three days, she’d shifted improperly, rolling back and banging into any number of things. And she hadn’t bothered to check for damages because one more dent in a car that looked like a rent-a-wreck wouldn’t make much of a difference.
“No idea at all,” Max lied. “But I promise to stop and get the brake lights fixed in the next town, if you let me off with a warning.”
His head titled as if he sniffed the air, and Max saw his lips twitch in amusement. He knew she was lying about the damage, and that narrowed the possibilities of what he was. Only shifters or were-folk could smell a lie.
“I’m not going to give you a ticket, Ms. Juneau. It’s clear to me you didn’t realize the full extent of the damage to your car. I do, however, expect you to stop in the next town and get your brake lights fixed. Haven’s the next town you’ll come to, about thirty miles up the road. The lights can be replaced in less than an hour, but you won’t get to Salinas today. We had a pretty bad storm last night, and it washed out the highway north of Haven. Work crews won’t have the debris cleared for at least twenty-four hours. No need to worry, though. Haven has a good motel. They’ll be able to put you up for the night.”
Max shook her head. “I’m not spending the night in Haven. I’ll just use one of the back roads around the damage.”
“There are no usable back roads. Staying the night in Haven is your only option.”
His tone was matter of fact, but Max noted the slight flaring of his nostrils when she’d dismissed his recommendation. He wanted her to spend the night in Haven, which was exactly why she wasn’t going to.
“Thanks for the help, Sheriff.” Max turned and moved toward her door, telling herself to walk, not run. With each step, she expected a hand to clamp down on her shoulder, or a muscular arm to wrap around her waist, but he did nothing to stop her. He was letting her go.
So where was the happy feeling, and why had the ache between her legs intensified?
Letting her walk away was the hardest thing Caleb had ever done, but somehow he’d managed it. She was human, and his world was not hers. He was letting her go, but only as far as Haven, and only there because it was his town, inhabited by people like him. In Haven, he could keep her safe from his enemies while easing her into his world.
He inhaled deeply, taking her lingering scent deep within him. She smelled of fear, innocence, and desire. To a predator, nothing was more arousing. She shook his control to the roots of its very foundation, and she probably always would.
Even now, his wolf was raging, demanding he claim her willing or not. But he ruthlessly forced it back. He had no choice but to mate her on the next full moon. Mother Nature demanded it, or he would become more beast than man. But he would give her what time he had, and do whatever he could to prepare her for the mating, but in the end, she would be his. It was their destiny, and after meeting her, he had no complaints about the hand dealt him.
More secure behind the locked door of her car, Max gripped the steering wheel and fought to gain control of her trembling body. She needed to leave, but her hand shook so badly she couldn’t put the key in the ignition. Had she imagined that, for just for a second when she’d turned to leave him, his eyes had actually glowed? And had her body tighten in response, flooding with need?
She took a deep breath and slowly released it. Did it matter? By noon tomorrow, she would have forgotten the sheriff and his unsettling presence.
She would have to stop in Haven though, maybe at a gas station, and only long enough to obtain a map of the back roads. Haven was, according to the map she’d consulted prior to getting on the road, a scenic little town offering many amenities for the weary traveler or historic-minded tourist.
She, however, remembered Haven for a different reason. When plotting her trip, she’d read the name of the town and felt an urgent need to go there. She’d pushed the feeling aside, determined to ignore it. It had seemed like a compulsion. And in her experience, compulsions always led to trouble.
Her grandmother, or Mama Willie as Max always called her, had taken a different tact. She’d eagerly explored such impulses, calling it her spiritual guide. She’d encouraged Max to do the same. But once Max had come of age, she took a long hard look at the nomadic, poverty-stricken life they’d led and decided to walk a different path. She’d hidden the ways she was different, and what she couldn’t hide, she’d buried deep inside herself. It was the only way she could live a normal life, and it had worked fairly well until now. Meeting the sheriff had shaken her a bit, but it changed nothing. By this time tomorrow, the sheriff and his effect on her would be a distant memory.
Once more in control of herself, Max managed to put her key in the ignition, but froze as the door to her car was ripped open.
Max looked down at the door hanging off its hinges and then up into the chillingly cold expression on the sheriff’s face. She opened her mouth to scream, but before she could utter a word, he grabbed her upper arms and dragged her from the car.
“Get your hands off me!” Max cried, struggling against him. “I’m not going anywhere with you!”
He pulled her down behind the car and used his body to pin her in place.
“Quiet. I’m not going to hurt you,” he whispered into her ear. He looked over her head, his gaze scanning a clutch of rocks on the other side of the highway. “We’re being watched.”
“So what?” Max snapped, trying to wiggle out from beneath him. “There’s no need to manhandle me.” She pressed back, trying to shift his weight, but froze in place when he growled deep in his throat. He sounded as if he was in pain, but the expanding bulge lodged between the cheeks of her buttocks told a different story.
“Okay, that does it,” Max said, managing to twist around until she faced him. “Let’s just step back and assess the situation for a moment. More than likely whoever is up there watching us is just some nosey hiker. I’ll get back in my car, and you get back in yours. We both forget this whole incident ever happened.”
When he made no comment, his gaze never shifting from the hillside, Max’s temper flared and she attempted to elbow him in the stomach. Her aim was off, and instead of connecting with his abdomen, her elbow landed considerably lower. He didn’t make a sound, but the blistering look he turned on her had Max struggling to swallow around the lump of fear in her throat.
“I’m not going to hurt you, so you can stop looking at me that way. I’d never hurt you, no matter what you did.” His gaze shifted back to the hillside. “He’s moved closer in, and when he realizes we’re alone out here, he’s going to let loose with everything he’s got.” He grasped her chin and forced her to meet his gaze. “I will keep you alive,” he said solemnly. “But you have to do exactly what I tell you. And no matter what happens, no matter what you see, stay close to me.”
When she continued to stare at him in amazement, he gripped her shoulder and gave her a none-too-gentle shake. “You got that?”
Max got it, and she was about to tell him exactly what he’d get if he didn’t stop manhandling her, when a blast exploded, bursting against her eardrums and slamming her body against his broad chest. She heard a roar—an inhuman sound filled with rage and anger—and a second later, a black fog blocked out the sun.
The last thing she saw before she lost consciousness was the sheriff’s yellow-gold eyes burning fiercely in a face that wasn’t human.
© Karen Benjamin
Her Wild Magic
Author: Karen Benjamin
Publisher: Cobblestone Press
Maxine is a witchy woman from Louisiana but she's determined to live a normal life.
Sheriff McCain is a werewolf and nothing about him is normal. But he wants her, and he's not giving up.
He recognizes her fears, and he's ready to tangle with---Her Wild Magic.