Chapter One

Felicia Serna wasn’t ready for the shock of cold air that hit her when she exited the sliding glass door of Huntsville International Airport. The chilly February air was a drastic change from the dry heat of Afghanistan.

The airport was bustling but no one would be there to pick her up. She’d kept her return home to Alabama a secret. Well, home was a relative word. After the way she’d left two years ago, she didn’t think the Alpha of her pack would want to see her. And if he did, it would only be to punish her for defying him. As far as she was concerned, she didn’t belong to his pack anymore and hadn’t for a long time.

She was through with pack rules and through with being someone’s doormat. If she had to live as a lone wolf, so be it. She could take care of herself. Hell, she’d been doing fine on her own for years. The only reason she’d returned was because she had a few human friends here and had shipped most of her belongings back.

As she started to wave down a taxi, a dark SUV with even darker tinted windows pulled up to the curb, blocking her view. She grasped the handle of her suitcase and walked down a few feet so the taxi could see her. It was late and she didn’t want to risk having to wait an hour for another ride. Unlike in Kabul, at least here she didn’t have to worry about safe transportation.

When she raised her hand again, the SUV pulled up farther, effectively blocking her again.

An icy fist clasped around her heart and she tried to shake off the dread that welled up inside her. The driver couldn’t be following her. She was just being paranoid. No one knew she was back. How could they? Before she took another step, the driver’s side door opened and out stepped over six feet of pure muscle and sex appeal and the only shifter who’d ever made her panties dampen with just one look. Her mouth went dry when they made eye contact. What was he doing here? His Alpha’s territory didn’t extend this far north so there was no reason for Alaric to be here unless he was specifically checking up on her. Because she knew for a fact his Alpha had a private plane and he would have no need to be at the airport.

When Alaric, the five-hundred year old shifter who starred in all her fantasies, walked around the front of the vehicle she automatically took a step back. She inwardly cursed the sign of wariness, but if any werewolf intimidated her, it was definitely this one.

Dark hair, dark eyes, generally dark disposition. She’d never seen him in shifted form but, even as a human, the man had a way of putting others on edge in his presence. It was no wonder he was second in command to one of the strongest packs in the United States.

His espresso-colored eyes assessed her from head to foot in a slow sweep. Though she was sure the perusal was cursory, her cheeks heated just the same. She’d forgotten what his mere presence did to her nerves. Okay, maybe not forgotten exactly. Just buried the memory.

Somehow she found her voice and was surprised when it came out strong. “How…why are you here?”

“I’m picking you up.” He answered as if it should be obvious. The deep timbre of his gravelly voice sent a shock of awareness straight to her lower abdomen. She didn’t want to admit that it affected her but just hearing him… She fought off a shiver.

She hadn’t seen him in almost five years, then a few months ago he’d contacted her via email out of the blue. She’d been more shocked than anything that the sexy wolf even remembered her, since they’d only met once before that. When the last few emails had turned flirty, sexual even, it had freaked her out. At first she’d thought maybe she’d misread their tone, but then he’d gotten more blatant and she’d known there was no mistaking he was flirting with her. She’d begun to wonder if he’d maybe confused her with someone else from her old pack. It made no sense for Alaric to be interested in her. So she’d started limiting their contact.

How had he known I’d be at the airport? She wanted to ask but keeping her cool around this wolf was important. Bigger, stronger wolves pounced on any perceived weakness. She’d learned that lesson long ago. Even if Alaric seemed different, she wouldn’t forget the lessons she’d learned as a cub. Some memories went bone deep.

“Knox recently expanded and took over all of northern Alabama. That includes your old pack’s territory—now my Alpha’s territory.” There he went with that voice again.

How did he expect her to think when he talked like that? Wait, what did he just say? His Alpha had taken over? “What happened to Lamont?” Wilson Lamont. Her old Alpha. Even saying that wolf’s name left a bitter taste in her mouth.

“Dead. From vampires.”

He didn’t sound too torn up about it either. Interesting.

Despite the acute relief that splintered through her at the news, she held back her frustration at his fairly vague answer. “When?”

He shrugged in a maddeningly pure male way. “A while ago.”

She resisted the urge to growl. That was most definitely something he should have told her in their email correspondence. At the moment, she was so tired even her eyelids ached. All she wanted was a straight answer. “So your Alpha took over his territory? What about the old members of the pack? And I still don’t understand why you’re here to pick me up.”

His dark gaze narrowed for a second. “Most shifters would say ‘my’ pack, not ‘the’ pack.”

She looked away under his intense scrutiny. When Lamont had demanded she submit to him, in addition to his first mate—as if she were some whore—no one had stepped up to defend her. Screw them. They weren’t her pack. They weren’t her anything. “You didn’t answer my question.”

“No, I didn’t.”

Out of the corner of her eye she spotted a yellow cab pulling up to the curb. It didn’t look like anyone had claimed it and she didn’t want to miss her chance. She didn’t know why Alaric was here but she wasn’t going to put herself in a position to be at his mercy. “Thanks for coming to the airport, but I’m afraid you wasted your time.”

She turned away from him, but before she’d taken a step he plucked her suitcase and her carry-on from her hands and shoved them in the backseat of the SUV. She blinked once. The man moved lightning fast. Faster than any shifter she’d ever seen.

“What are you doing?” Panic laced her voice and she was unable to mask it.

“You’re coming with me, little wolf.” His voice softened slightly.

Why had his voice gone all husky like that? And why do I like it? Maybe she really was more tired than she realized. She mentally shook herself. It didn’t matter. “Why didn’t you tell me your Alpha had taken over this territory, Alaric? You’ve had plenty of opportunities.”

“Why didn’t you tell me you were leaving Afghanistan?” Now there was no softness in his voice. Just anger and something that sounded a lot like…hurt.

She swallowed hard at the surge of guilt that erupted inside her. The thought of telling him had crossed her mind, but he’d have likely wanted to see her. And after those last few emails… She couldn’t deal with that now. Didn’t want to deal with anything. All she wanted to do was sleep in a soft bed. She shifted from foot to foot as she ran over her options. He had her bags and she certainly couldn’t overpower him. Not to mention, making a scene at the airport was stupid. His reputation was fearsome, but she’d never heard that he hurt females. Not much to go on, but her inner wolf didn’t fear him and that said a lot. She ignored his question and asked another one of her own. “Where are you taking me?”

“Where you belong,” he growled softly. Possessively.

She frowned at the tone of his voice, then raked a hand through her hair. She’d been traveling for nearly thirty-six hours and didn’t have the energy to figure out his riddles. Her entire body was tired. And she desperately needed to shift and run free for a while.

When an unbidden thought assaulted her mind, her eyes narrowed on his. “Is the reason you started emailing because of the way I left my old pack? Is this about punishment for my defiance? Your Alpha’s angry with me so he sent you to deal with me?”

His jaw clenched tightly, but he didn’t respond.

When his expression transformed to an unreadable mask, she rolled her eyes to cover her nervousness. That seemed to annoy him and for some reason she took perverse pleasure in the fact. “Fine, but if you’re going to kill me or punish me make it quick.”

He muttered something that sounded German but she couldn’t be sure. Whatever he’d said, it wasn’t endearing. He sounded pissed. At least he had the decency to open the passenger door for her. When she slid inside she was surprised to find they were alone. She’d assumed as second in command for a powerful pack, he’d travel with security. Of course someone like him likely didn’t need security. He could probably kill ten wolves with his pinky toe. Or just stare them down with that penetrating gaze until they submitted.

* * *

As Alaric pulled away from the curb, he wanted to strangle and kiss the gorgeous she-wolf at the same time. Kill her? Not bloody likely. The slim, dark-haired, blue-eyed beauty brought out all his protective instincts. She always had. He’d wanted to claim her years ago but she’d been too young. Barely nineteen, she wouldn’t have been ready for him then. And he’d wanted her to spread her wings and get an education before he made his move. By the time he’d heard what that bastard Lamont wanted from her, it had been too late.

She’d been on a plane to a war zone and had ignored all attempts her pack made to contact her. That’s why he was surprised she’d returned his first attempt at contact all those months ago. A couple years had passed since she’d left the country and he’d gotten tired of waiting for her to come home. She was strong and old enough now and his inner wolf wanted her so bad he constantly ached for it. Given her distrust of her own kind, he needed to somehow convince her she was meant to be his. It surprised him she didn’t feel the same pull he did for her, but persuading her wouldn’t be a chore.