When the brown wolf lunged wildly at Alaric her heart rate tripled. She shoved the door the rest of the way open and rushed onto the patio. She raised the gun but couldn’t get a clear shot. At least her hand didn’t shake.

The dark brown wolf lowered his head and tried to charge Alaric. But he dodged out of the way so quickly it looked as if he were floating. For such a large animal, Alaric moved with a fluid grace that shocked Felicia.

As Alaric easily escaped, he ripped fur and skin from the brown wolf’s side with his teeth.

The unknown wolf let out an angry snarl and lunged at Alaric again. This time the other wolf didn’t bother to protect his neck. As Alaric pinned him to the ground and went for his throat, another wolf appeared from behind one of the oak trees.

Felicia couldn’t believe she hadn’t scented it. The light gray animal was smaller than the other two but he was fast. He flanked Alaric from the back and effectively blocked himself from her line of fire.

Felicia leaped off the porch. “Alaric!”

He lifted his head. When their gazes collided, she realized her mistake. The brown wolf lurched upward and wiggled out from Alaric’s hold.

The light gray wolf jumped at him from behind, displaying his chest and belly. She didn’t think about anything other than saving Alaric. She lifted the weapon and aimed. Everything seemed to funnel out around her as she narrowed in on her target.

Pop. Pop. Pop.

She heard the shots but it was almost as if they came from a distance.

Her aim was true. She hit him directly in the chest. The gun kicked but she barely flinched as she watched him jerk back then fall to the ground. Blood poured out of the holes like small rivers. Her practice had paid off.

She couldn’t believe he’d tried to attack Alaric with her a few feet away. The animal had been fast but maybe he hadn’t seen her weapon. Or maybe he had underestimated her aim. She stared as a lake of crimson spread across the animal’s fur and leaked onto the earth beneath it.

She blinked and things weren’t moving in slow motion anymore.

Before she could think about what she’d done, Alaric avoided the open jaw of the brown wolf, rolled over and jumped back up onto all fours. He bared his teeth and this time he didn’t retreat or go on the defensive.

He used his steely muscle and sharp teeth to intimidate and push the other wolf back against the fence. Growling low in his throat, he took a small step back once he’d cornered him and gave the other wolf the chance to forfeit and submit. It was a common sign among their kind. Alaric was allowing him the chance to give up without further bloodshed.

Felicia gripped the weapon tight in her hand just the same. These two wolves had tried to launch a sneak attack without properly challenging Alaric. They obviously didn’t care about fighting fair.

Her heart pounded wildly as she waited for the brown wolf to make a move.

Finally, it bowed its head in submission. But instead of giving up, it darted away toward the side of the house.

Instead of chasing after it, Alaric turned toward her and changed to his human form. He shifted faster than she’d ever seen another werewolf do. His bones cracked, broke and realigned with remarkable speed. All his fur receded until nothing but over six feet of taut lines, lean muscles and a lot of nakedness stood before her.

Fighting the blush she felt creeping up her cheeks, she hurried to his side. “Why didn’t you go after him?”

He brushed a few flecks of dirt off his arm before taking her weapon. “My brother will stop him.”

“What? How do you know?”

“He’s waiting out front with a couple of other wolves.”

“Oh.” She still didn’t understand how they knew about the attack, but she bit back the question.

He tapped his head once as if he’d read her thoughts. “My brothers and I communicate telepathically. After what happened earlier one of them has been nearby in case I needed him. I let all of them know we might have trouble.”

She’d heard that some wolves with familial ties had that ability but she’d never met one who did. “That’s a handy gift.”

“Tell me about it.” The corner of his mouth pulled into a slight grin. Just as quickly, that smile dropped. “Are you okay? Why didn’t you stay put? You could have been hurt.”

Ignoring his questions, she shot a nervous glance at the dead wolf then looked back at Alaric. “What happens now? I killed that wolf. What if his pack Alpha wants reparations or to punish me or—”

Alaric shook his head. “You killed him to protect me. I’ll stand by your side and so will my Alpha. Your Alpha. I know you’ve only got Lamont’s example, but Knox stands by his pack and we’ll all protect you if it becomes necessary.”

Relief forked through her. Before she could ask what the next move was, a man who looked vaguely familiar emerged from the direction of the front yard carrying a bundle of clothes. He had the same dark hair and dark eyes as Alaric but his features were softer. More boyish.

Alaric nodded once at him as he took the T-shirt and jeans, then looked back at her. “This is Rainer, my youngest brother. You need to go with him.”

“What? Why?” Leaving Alaric right now made her feel strangely empty inside.

“I need to clean up this mess. If any of the neighbors heard the shots they might have already called the cops. We need to make sure this place is clean.”

She didn’t want to go, but she couldn’t think of a reason to argue. The adrenaline high was wearing off and as the reality of what she’d just done set in, she started to shake. It wasn’t from guilt either. That wolf had wanted to kill Alaric and something primal inside her had howled, demanding to be set free. It had been violent and angry and she didn’t know what to do with those emotions.

Embarrassment joined in with her trembling. Alaric came at her fast. Just like in the house. Seemingly uncaring about his state of undress, he wrapped his arms around her in a tight embrace. He was so warm and comforting. She wanted to simply meld against him and let him hold her. Going against her normally immediate instinct to pull away from anyone, she slid her arms around him and held tight.

After what felt like forever, Alaric pulled back and gently cupped her face. His hand was as warm as the expression in his dark eyes. “I’ll join you soon and we’re going to finish what we started, I promise.” He glanced at his brother and she was under the impression that they were communicating with each other.

When Rainer nodded at him, she knew she was right. Silently, she fell in step with his brother. There were two SUVs in front of the house. Two men had bound the wolf who’d tried to run and were putting him into the back of one of the vehicles. She fought off a shiver at the thought of riding in the same vehicle as him.

“We’re not riding with them.” Rainer answered her unspoken question.

She risked a quick glance at him as they neared the other SUV. “Where are you taking me?”

“Back to the compound.”

Compound? Her heart started pounding a staccato beat again as she slid into the passenger seat.

Rainer chuckled under his breath and started the ignition. “It’s not as ominous as it sounds.”

“Are you a mind reader or something?” She gripped the armrest and resisted the urge to scoot away from him. If he and his brothers could communicate telepathically she wouldn’t put anything past any of these shifters. The thought of someone being able to read her thoughts…she shuddered.

He shook his head. “No. You don’t hide your emotions very well.” Then he frowned. “Didn’t anyone ever teach you how to mask your feelings?”

“No.” The answer came out so quickly she didn’t have time to censor herself. She swallowed hard and glanced out the window. She’d been given food and shelter growing up. Nothing more. Throughout her life she’d picked up on certain things but there was a lot she still didn’t know. No matter how hard she’d tried to fit in with her old pack they’d always treated her like an outsider. It shouldn’t affect her now, but if she allowed herself to dwell on the past, it cut deep.

* * *

Alaric scrubbed a hand over his face—though it did nothing to wipe away his growing impatience. He was beyond pissed at what he’d just learned.

“Calm down, brother.” Rainer’s voice did little to soothe him as they walked up the stone steps to the last house on the planet he wanted to visit.

He grunted a nonresponse. Nothing could calm him at this point. Not until he’d taken care of a certain problem. Someone had wanted to kill his future mate simply because of who she was. If he’d known Felicia would have become a target, he would have kept her return a secret from the pack—his Alpha and brothers excluded. According to the wolf he’d just interrogated, the attacks had nothing to do with the upcoming treaty. And Alaric was going to clean up this mess right now before it went any further.

Alaric knocked on the heavy oak door. Part of him wished she wouldn’t answer, but he knew she would. He could sense the traitor inside.

After a long pause, the door swung open. Amanda Lamont—former mate to the now deceased Wilson Lamont—opened the door wearing tight, skimpy white shorts and an even tighter halter top despite the cool weather outside. The tall blonde looked him and his brother up and down like they were slabs of porterhouse steak then narrowed her gaze on his face with a slow smile he was sure she meant to be sexy. Even though she was ninety in shifter years, she appeared to be in her late twenties. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Alaric didn’t waste any time. “Are you alone?”

Her smile faltered a fraction. “Yes.”

“Good. We need to talk.” He kept all inflection out of his voice. Keeping a tight control on his emotions was the only reason she was still breathing.

Now her smile fell. She knew why they were there. Standing to the side, she let them enter, but didn’t invite them farther than the foyer. Crossing her arms over her chest, she stood motionless but he could see the wheels turning inside her manipulative head.