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Trick hissed out a breath. “Fuck. I’m going to enjoy killing this motherfucker and his sorry excuse for a pack.” He used his sleeve to wipe at the blood dripping down his face and then shoved open the dented door, leaving bloody fingerprints. Glass tinkled as it dropped from his lap to the ground.

The others slid out of the SUV too, but Trick kept his eyes on the wolves glaring at them from the wide, rising steps. The air was bone-dry and smelled of rock and dirt.

A gray wolf let out a low howl, as if calling for his Alpha. Morelli appeared at the top of the quarry moments later, a wide grin on his face. Descending the steps, he clapped. “Damn, I wasn’t sure if you’d survive.” He said it with admiration, like they’d crashed for the thrill. “That’s one hell of a drop.” He stopped halfway down the wall and petted the head of the closest wolf.

“Hiding behind your pack, Morelli?” taunted Trey. “Is that what Alphas do now?”

Dominic snickered. “You’re forgetting, Trey—this guy’s no Alpha.”

Trey’s lips pursed. “Valid point.”

Morelli’s face tightened, but then he smiled. “Must we really resort to insults?”

“No,” said Trey. “You could fight me, Alpha to supposed Alpha.”

Trick’s wolf growled, not liking that idea. He wanted to be the one to end the bastard.

“Prove to me and your wolves here that you’re what you claim to be,” continued Trey. “Prove to them that you’re worth following. Prove to them that you’re worth dying for. Because they will die if they come at us. Come on, show them that you’re willing to protect them from that and let’s settle this, one to one.”

Morelli’s smile hardened at the edges. “But that would be depriving them of the luxury of killing the people who burned down their homes.”

“You blamed it on us?” Ryan grunted. “We thought you might.”

“It was a good idea,” said Trick. “Burn the buildings down, pin it on us, and then propose to the others that you all lay low and come up with a plan. Well, it’s not like you could tell them you wanted to hide. I’m curious, though, have you told them all that you work with an extremist?”

Morelli froze, and his wolves became edgy and restless. Trick knew why. The animals wouldn’t understand the words, but the people within them would. The human emotions would bleed out onto the wolves, making them agitated and confused.

“Drake had plenty to say before he died,” Trick told him.

Morelli snorted. “And I’ll bet he found delight in talking bullshit to you—it was really the only way to fuck with you at that point.”

“He was telling the truth,” said Trey. “You know it. We know it. By working with an extremist, you’ve betrayed your kind. You deserve to die for that alone.”

“Such bravery from someone who’s outnumbered, weakened by injury, and has no chance of a rescue.” Morelli sighed, pulled out a cigar, and lit it. “I gotta hand it to you, Trey, you really do have balls. I honestly do like you. It saddens me that you have to die tonight. We could have been allies.”

“We would never have been allies.”

“But if you’d just agreed to give it a shot, you wouldn’t be about to die, your territory wouldn’t soon be invaded, and your other pack mates wouldn’t be given the option of joining me or dying.” Morelli shrugged. “You only have yourself to blame. But while your death will sadden me, I really am looking forward to taking over that territory of yours.”

A growl rumbled out of Trick. “We won’t be the ones who die here tonight,” he warned as he and his pack mates shed their clothes, ready to shift. Sure, they were outnumbered and injured. But they were also filled with the need for vengeance. For Trick and his wolf, this fight was personal. And now that the motherfucker effectively stood between Trick and his mate when she needed him, there wasn’t a chance in hell that Morelli would survive this fight.

Morelli took another drag on his cigar and then sat on the step, settling to watch the show. Wolves sat on either side of him like sentries. “Can’t say I agree with you on that one, Trick. It really was nice knowing you all.” He signaled the waiting wolves, and then they were scrabbling down the walls.

Trick shifted. With his pack mates around him, the wolf charged at the other pack, paws thudding into the dirt. Colliding, the packs brutally slashed at each other.

There was growling, snarling, and yelping as they battled. Claws scored deep. Teeth bit hard. Blood sprayed and splattered. Dust and dirt clouded the air, causing eyes to itch and nostrils to tingle.

Adrenaline pumped through Trick’s wolf, helping him ignore the injuries from the crash. He raged as one enemy clawed at his flank while another attacked from the front. The wolf fought them both—lashed out with his big paws, snapped his powerful jaws, slammed his large body into theirs.

One attacker toppled over. The wolf pounced and tore into his throat, letting blood gush into his mouth. He didn’t take time to enjoy the victory. He whirled and lunged at his other opponent with a snarl.

The enemies were strong. Sneaky. Agile. But they hadn’t been trained to fight. Lacked the stamina and speed that the wolf and his pack mates had. Still they fought, determined. The Phoenix wolves showed no mercy. Never hesitated.

The scents of fear and rage fed the wolf’s bloodlust. As he took down yet another enemy, a heavy weight barreled into the wolf’s side, sending him crashing into a stone slab. His vision blurred. The world tilted.

His opponent was on him in a flash. The wolf swiped out his paw, clawing at his attacker’s muzzle, sinking his claws deep. Warm blood spurted. The enemy jerked back with a yelp. Taking advantage, the wolf quickly righted himself. They both pounced.

The wolf hurt. Claws and teeth ripped through skin, tore muscle, and scraped bone. His opponent was brutal. He fought just as brutally. Each yelp of pain and spray of blood from his enemy spurred the wolf on. Paws repeatedly attempted to grab the wolf’s neck and wrestle him to the ground. The wolf fought every attempt.

It was hard not to be distracted by his mate’s fear—and his fear for her. But he had to shelve it, just as he shelved his pain. His focus needed to be on the enemy in front of him, who tore yet another strip out of the wolf’s side.

With a snarl of rage, the wolf lunged. He wrestled the enemy to the ground and used a rear paw to slice open his belly while he bit down on his throat. Under him the body went lax and the heart thudded to a stop.

Triumph flooded the wolf. He leaped to his feet in time to watch his Alpha pin an enemy flat on its back and clamp his jaws around a throat he quickly he tore out. The wolf growled his approval.

He took a moment to look around. Through the dust clouds, he saw the savaged bodies sprawled on the ground, throats torn out, bellies slashed open. None belonged to his pack mates. They—

He heard a familiar yelp. Turned to see his pack mate, “Ryan,” being savagely raked by two enemies. One of the scents wrenched a snarl out of him. Morelli.

Laughing hysterically, Cruz said, “I fired at your feet on purpose, in case you’re wondering. I didn’t miss.”

Frankie’s wolf bared her teeth. “Then why bother shooting at all?”

“Once I kill you, it’s over. I’m enjoying your fear. There’s power in causing such fear in another person.”

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