Sadie's never needed anyone, until she met an alpha werewolf determined to protect her at all costs.
Trouble has stalked Sadie since she was a little girl. Now, a lone werewolf in a wild territory, she gambles with cowboys and just hopes to keep her head down and her claws secret. When she comes to the attention of two of the deadliest hunters in the territory, she has no choice but to accept help from James, a strong alpha werewolf who seems determined to make her his mate.
They pushed on during most of the day and only stopped again that night. Sadie didn’t feel much like talking, and the buckboard’s jostling would have made it hard anyway. The day passed steadily with each hill and stream blurring together. The land seemed endless to her. Now and then the prairie became scrub with sandy patches of high desert and the sage perfuming the air, but then they would descend again through canyons to flatlands. They didn’t see a single other person, but once they spotted sheep and Richard growled.
In the evening, she set about helping with the camp, gutting and frying the trout James caught in the nearby creek and brewing the coffee cowboys seemed to drink night and day. She loved to smell the pungent stuff but couldn’t stand to drink it. The men talked of cattle and sheep and statehood, and she didn’t listen. How strange they were…acting normal and human, as if monsters didn’t slumber beneath their skin.
After the meal she set about to wash the dishes, leaving the men to their chores of horses and gathering wood. A chill came with the night that seemed to say that spring was a lie and snow would fall before morning. Well, anything was possible. She had seen many a spring garden ruined by a late frost. After the dishes, she washed her face and hands. The tumbling water was just above freezing and flowed liquid and black under the night sky.
“Are you all right?” She pulled at her shawl as James came up beside her on the creek bank. His leathery, musky smell filled her nose and tingled her senses. Warmth flooded her body against her will. What was it about James that made her head go all soft? Was it his alpha wolf? She had been around others and never felt this way once. He has a woman already, her mind reminded her. And I wouldn’t want him anyway.
“I can take care of myself. What, you think I’m going to drown in two feet of water?” She grabbed up her loose curls with both hands and tried to wind the mass up on top of her head.
“You never know.” His voice was calm, but something about it spoke of a hidden tension.
He sat beside her on the bank and stared out over the silvery landscape. Far off a coyote howled, and from camp Richard matched the sound but with more gusto. She shivered as the coyote went silent. The creatures were smart. They knew when a more dominant predator had entered their territory.
Did she? Her hands tightened on the shawl around her shoulders. “Sadie…” he started, then fell silent. “Why are you out here? With me?” Some part of her tensed at his answer. She wasn’t sure what she wanted him to say. He rubbed his face instead, as if tired. “I don’t know. I really don’t know. I just can’t stay away.” The honesty of his words pulled at her. They seemed wrenched from his soul.
“I know. This is crazy.”
James’s fingers reached out and took hold of the edge of her shawl. His touch brushed her skin, warm and slow, as if ready to be withdrawn at any moment. She didn’t speak as he caressed her shoulder. He pulled the knitted cloth higher as if to keep her warm, but then his fingers strayed. The back of his nails softly came up the side of her neck, then down, and she blinked at him, a thousand thoughts racing in her head, and yet…and yet…it felt so good. He hesitated before his fingers moved up her chin. He leaned closer. His breath warmed her face. Was she really going to let him kiss her? She stared back at him with indecision, instincts at war with her rational mind. Human versus beast. Mine to me, whispered the monster inside.
“I don’t know what I’m doing,” he murmured against her lips. “I sure as God wanted to keep my distance from you, but what you do to me…” Her monster won over her self-control, and she leaned forward to kiss him.