Authors: Kristen Strassel
Tags: #alpha male, #werewolves, #shapeshifters, #bbw, #fated mates, #action adventure, #pack loyalty, #family saga
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This is a work of fiction. Likenesses to any people, living or dead, is purely coincidental. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please do so through your retailer’s “lend” function. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. To obtain permission to excerpt portions of the text, please contact the author at [email protected]
Forever Home, (Sawtooth Shifters, #1) Copyright 2015
Photographer: Jenn LeBlanc/Illustrated Romance, Design by Sotia Lazu
Shadow Channing is in chains.
Pack rivalries have imprisoned his family in chains beside their enemies. They’re forced to fight for survival each month in a dog fighting ring. Shadow assures his brother they’ll escape, but to do so they must either team up with the rival pack that led them to their capture, or fight to the death for their freedom in front of a cheering crowd.
Trina is in recovery.
When rumors of dog fights start swirling around town, the owner of Forever Home Animal Shelter determined to put a stop to them and bring the dogs to safety. Even when they turn out to be wolves. Trina knows that everyone deserves a second chance at life, especially after a car accident ripped hers away from her.
Shadow will do anything to repay Trina for saving his life, but soon he realizes he’s not the only one who needs saving.
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The plan didn’t change because we were prisoners.
We weren’t meant to be in one place for this long. Wolves needed to move, needed to hunt. Ryker, the bastard who captured us, knew it, and he’d set it up so we could only hunt each other. Chained, starving, and wallowing in our own filth. The worst part of it was that we’d been outsmarted by one of our own.
We had the three Lowe brothers in our sights when we’d been caught. We’d meant to scare them away from Ryker’s farm, and avoid a pack war. Little did we know what horrors were actually harbored here. Now we were all in a fight to survive.
A sliver of the moon lit the open doorway. The dull roar of the crowd rose with the old man’s arrival. No surprise. Nothing on Ryker Farm happened by accident.
“All right, beasts, I’m upping the ante this month.” Ryker curled his tobacco-stained lips in a nasty smile. Still in his human form, he was skinny as we were, meanness consuming him. All that was left was flesh, bone, and a black heart. No soul. Ryker had every advantage over us. He knew our secrets, our traditions. He knew how to keep us weak. The new moon did us no favors, we relied on its power for our energy. Every month he starved us, beat us, and kept us in complete darkness when we should have been reveling in the moon’s full beauty. It kept us from shifting back to pissed off men. “Whoever wins gets set free.”
My brothers and I looked at each other, wary. We never saw eye to eye with the Lowes, but they were on the same page with us on this one. Ryker’s promise wouldn’t come without a catch.
Ryker threw food on the ground. Fucking kibble. The Lowe brothers scrambled for it, pride replaced long ago by the need to survive. Anticipation gnawed at my empty belly. Growls rose from the other side of the pen. Probably made for pigs, we didn’t have room to turn around without hitting another body. Even if we did, our chains were too short to allow it. No place to get away from anyone’s thoughts, especially my own.
The old farmer cackled as he brought the bag closer to us. My brother Baron nipped at the sack. For that he was rewarded with a boot in the face. Kibble spilled from the torn burlap. “You want to be greedy? That’s all you savages get.”
Good. We’d be hungry for the fight.
“Who are we sending out?” my brother Dallas asked, gaze fixed on me. My brothers expected me to have the answers, but it was impossible to think straight with the chain cutting into the skin on my neck. Anger and hunger swirled through my body, mixing together and becoming a dizzy anger. Every time I looked at my brothers, the less I thought I could save them. I couldn’t show weakness, especially with the Lowe brothers close enough to smell it. They’d been calling us weak for years. They’d be picking us out from between what was left of their teeth if I gave them the chance. Dallas lowered his voice, so only the four of us could hear it. “Are we going with speed or strength?”
He was dying for me to say speed. Last month Ryker had paired him against Xavier, and the fight got called with X’s paw on Dallas’ throat. X hadn’t shut up about it all month. Both wolves were raw, bloody, and barely breathing when they were thrown back in the pen, chained so healing properly was a luxury. I wouldn’t exactly call it a victory, but revenge would be so sweet.
I whacked Dallas, my paw still sore from last night’s scuffle for food. Ryker had thrown chickens into the pen and the chance at actual meat had all of us slobbering, baring our teeth at each other, brother or not. The spilled kibble still littered the ground below our feet, dirty as we were. Ryker was treating us like livestock, planning to slaughter us in a different manner.
“Doesn’t fucking matter what you do.” Xavier, no it was Major, called out from the other side of the pen. Xavier was too chicken shit to talk out of turn. “Every single one of us can fuck you up.” Major had trained his brothers to be bloodthirsty, to take what they needed and not look back. Search and destroy.
I couldn’t argue, it was a pretty good philosophy, and it was shared by most of the werewolf packs in Sawtooth Forest. We were dying out, killing each other. Now in Granger Falls we weren’t much more than a legend. Ghosts. No food and a lack of female wolves insured we’d be history by the end of this generation. I wanted a future, and we needed to change everything or else all we’d have was a past.
We’d been brought up differently. Yeah, we hunted and killed, but we didn’t destroy. We protected our own. Less prey in the wild had me scared more for my brothers than myself. That mindset didn’t make the Channing pack popular in Sawtooth, but it wasn’t going to matter what anyone thought if we were all dead.
But what really scared me was being without a mate.
“I’ll take him,” I growled, pulling on my chain to get as close Major as I could. I’d had enough of his mouth over the last six months. I’d enjoy stomping on it. “Fight to the death.” I’d sunk to Major’s level, but hard time in Hell did that to even the strongest wolf.
There was no reasoning with anyone during a dogfight.
Archer nudged my haunch with his snout. “No,” my baby brother whispered. He’d taken my name, Shadow, to heart and become mine as soon as he was old enough to venture away from our mother.
Major roared with laughter, angry pink skin visible where the chains had worn away his fur. We could understand each other when we spoke, but a human spectator would only hear barking and growling. I glared at Archer. He was weak, there was no hiding it. He hadn’t been a liability until we’d been captured. “You lose, Shadow, and your little pup belongs to me. I’ll make him a man. Somebody’s gotta do it. I don’t have time for the babying bullshit.”
“He’ll never follow you.” Major and I stood snout to snout. The edges of his nose were dry and his threat was empty. My brothers were restless behind me. If I turned around, the Lowes would know my family doubted me. “I don’t plan on losing.”
“I don’t either.” One side of Major’s lip turned up in a feral smirk. “He’ll be my slave. You can go to Hell with that on your conscience.”
After a few more rounds of grunts and huffs, both Major and I retreated to our sides of the pen. If we’d had the chance, we’d settle it here. That bastard Ryker made sure our chains were too short to do any real damage to each other. He knew we’d have plenty of pent-up rage for the paying customers.
They’d get their money’s worth tonight.
“Eat,” I huffed at my brothers, kibble catching in my dry throat.
“This shit?” Dallas said, kicking at the kibble. “It’s barely food.”
No kidding, brother. “We need to be prepared.”
“I thought you were going in?” Archer’s eyes widened. I pushed more of the kibble toward him. I’d been too busy scarfing down chicken last night to notice if Archer got anything more than feathers stuck to his tongue. Omegas ate last, and I was ashamed I hadn’t taken better care of him so close to the fights.
“What’s your plan if Ryker actually lets you out of here, Shadow?” Baron asked quietly, not to be overheard by the Lowes. We learned long ago we could only trust each other.
I glared at Major, speaking loudly enough for him to hear me. “I’m bringing that bastard down.”
e might be emaciated and humbled, but no one would mistake us for meek or common as we were paraded to the ring by Ryker’s thug farmhands. Heads held high, nothing to hide. Even in chains we were stronger than these bastards. We were still proud.
So close to freedom.
The air was thick with beer, weed, and sweat. I’d dreamed of this moment since Ryker and his thugs had shot us all with tranquilizer guns and enslaved us.
It was our own frigging fault. The Lowes had set their sights on Ryker’s barn. They’d started a livestock smuggling business. Hunting was harder every season with Granger Falls expanding into our territory. Farms were easy prey and that kind of meat went for serious money in the forest.
They’d been stupid and lazy about it. Ryker was an old bastard, but he was one of the first wolves who managed to acclimate with humans in Granger Falls. I had no doubt he was running his livestock on the black market. Otherwise, he’d never have all these meatheads doing security for them. Had the Lowes been caught with Ryker’s livestock, it would’ve started a war between the packs. We were minutes away from stopping them when we got caught. The Channings had always kept order in the forest. For generations, our family had been the peacekeepers.
Now Ryker was using that to his advantage with his very own gladiator ring.
Blood and bad decisions packed the stands every month. No two fights were the same. Over the last six months, we’d been conditioned to be prepared for the worst case scenario at all times.
Ryker scanned over the seven of us. “You.” He pulled on Shea’s chain. Fuck, Shea didn’t have any limits or any conscience. He’d been a bloodthirsty lunatic since we were kids. I considered it a weakness. Major needed to get a rein on his brother. The pack only had room for one alpha.
I didn’t care which one of them I fought, but tonight it looked like the opponents were already chosen. Ryker hated a fair fight. The crowd had already placed their bets and Ryker loved to protect house money.
“And you.” Our chains were tangled, and all four of us skidded forward. Ryker exhaled loudly, pushing one of his thugs out of the way so he could untangle the chains, pulling roughly on them while he worked. We all stumbled off balance as the chains came free. One more tug made it clear who he wanted. Archer.
“No!” I dove at Ryker, who responded by kicking me in the ribs. The old man was rattled when I latched onto his ankle; he pried his bloody leg free of my grip. My neck snapped back, and a boot landed on my head. The thug didn’t press down hard enough to break anything, just held me down as Ryker landed one last blow to my stomach.
Archer refused to move, digging his paws in the dirt and staring at me, Baron, and Dallas. “Save it for the ring,” I yelled to my little brother. The pain in those blue eyes would haunt me forever. Ryker dragged him through the dirt, and I nodded to him. Six months in captivity left me weak, but I’d give my brother everything I had. Archer understood. He picked up his feet, tail up, prancing with all the pride a beaten wolf could muster beside Ryker.
The thugs pulled us to the side of the ring. The crowd roared at the sight of us, and every month I was disgusted to see so many familiar faces come out to watch us fight. When we were human, we called some of these people friends. Or we had. If they had any idea what we were, they’d see this for what it was. Murder.
“I’m sorry, man,” Major said to me as the thugs hooked us into our places along the side of the ring. “Archer doesn’t deserve this. Shea won’t show him any mercy. He wants his freedom.”
Straining against the chain one more time, at my best I would’ve broke right through it. “I wouldn’t respect him if he gave any less than his best.”