Authors: Annabeth Leong
“And you.” Heather turned her attention to the rival. In human form, he looked like an aging biker, his scars beginning to make him seem more tired than rugged. “I can’t even begin to tell you how much paperwork I’m going to have to fill out because of you. What in the world possessed you to initiate an illegal attack? This is not how it’s done.”
The attacker drew himself up straighter. “That’s not what I was led to believe by some of your people. I heard you were looking for a way to get rid of both of these clowns, and that you’d be grateful to anyone willing to provide a plausible end to them.”
Heather shook her head, her straight black hair barely disturbed by the gesture. “Either you’ve got an enemy you don’t know about or I’ve got some stupid subordinates. Who the hell are you?”
“I’m Cal Tomer.”
The cool investigator’s eyes narrowed. “You were banned from Montana—and you’re supposed to be on suppressants.”
The interloper set his jaw. “You people take away all a man’s options, then expect him not to act in desperation.”
Heather seemed disturbed. She gestured to her companions. “Go with them. Once I finish with our lovebird alphas, you’re going to help me figure out who needs to get fired today.”
The man seemed about to speak again, but one of Heather’s sidekicks pulled out a dart gun, and Cal acquiesced.
Heather waited until he disappeared into the Motel 6, then turned back to Neil and Juli. “Now that he can’t overhear, we need to discuss the real issue. It is blindingly obvious to me that the two of you indulged in full shift recently. I smell the dirt and greenery all over you.”
“We can’t have just been indulging in some naked hiking?” Juli smiled, but Neil didn’t think anyone could miss the wobble in it. Especially not Heather.
“Not and give each other bite marks with those teeth patterns.” Heather prodded an exposed bite on Juli’s shoulder. “Please don’t admit it to me, or I’ll have to begin an inquiry into whether you need lycanthropy suppressants. But you need to know you’re not fooling anyone. You of all people should understand the importance of upholding our regulations. Werewolves have to—”
Neil sighed and cleared his throat. “With all due respect, don’t preach that line to me again, please. Since you’re such a student of the law, I’m sure you’re aware that until about fifteen years ago when Gabriel took over leading the Council, regulations included allowances for newly mated couples. We had rules, sure, and we protected ourselves from being discovered by humans, but our system recognized our essential nature.”
Heather sneered. “Did someone start werewolf Wikipedia? Where are you getting all this?”
“I’ve been talking with some of the older members of our pack. It’s fascinating to know some of the things they take as common knowledge. Did you know that the hormones that activate when two werewolves mate make it nearly impossible to resist the shift for the first month? Some packs thought the hormones remained powerfully in effect for as long as six months. Packs used to deal with this through careful land management, not ordering people to master their basic biological processes. Certainly not trying to drug the wolf out of them.”
Heather stiffened. “I’m trying to do you a favor here. This is no time to argue philosophy with me. I would be completely within my rights to drug you to oblivion for that arm you can’t change back. You as much as told me you’re out of control of your shift.”
Juli laid her hand on Neil’s arm. “We appreciate what you’re doing for us, certainly. Everything you’ve done. I know this has taken up a lot of your time. I think my mate is just trying to point out how difficult it can be when the realities of being a werewolf conflict with the ideals that regulations present.”
“And yet, that conflict is exactly what allows us to live in society in the modern world.” Heather raised an eyebrow. “I don’t have time for adolescent debate. I have a rogue werewolf to deal with. Has everyone gone mad? It’s like every werewolf in Montana recently decided it’s okay to shift whenever they want.”
Neil didn’t feel the need to respond to that, but Juli took the bait. “What are you talking about?”
“I guess you’re not on the Council e-mail list anymore. Another of our investigators, Raul Silva, went to investigate allegations about a pack in Big Timber and ended up going native and shifting in front of a large group of human police officers. He was last seen running into the woods in full shift in broad daylight, with a human woman riding him like a horse. I’m starting to wonder if there’s something in the water.”
“Gabriel must be beside himself.”
Heather’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t act sympathetic. You two aren’t helping. And you’re going to have plenty of trouble of your own pretty soon. I heard Jesse Hoak from Helena is on his way here. He’s going to issue an official challenge for the next full moon.”
Neil squared his shoulders. “I’ve scared him off before.”
Heather made a frustrated noise. “Talk him out of it then, please. I have to get back to Lewistown or my cat won’t recognize me anymore. If you’ll excuse me, I have an idiot to interrogate.”
The investigator turned on her heel, then paused and looked back over her shoulder with a much softer expression than any Neil had yet seen from her. Did he detect a tinge of sadness in the faint lines at the corners of her eyes? Maybe regret in the slight downturn of the sides of her mouth? “Don’t make me come back to Missoula, you two. Just be happy and behave. You look... magnificent... together. Don’t ruin it.”
Neil’s jaw hung open as he watched Heather walk away.
“What was that supposed to mean?” Neil said.
At the same moment, Juli said, “How does she have a cat? They hate werewolves.”
They turned and stared at each other. “Something is going on in Lewistown,” Neil said slowly. “You sure you don’t know anything about it?”
Juli sighed. She shrugged her shoulders, took a deep breath, then took his hand. “You know what, Neil? I don’t have to. I’m here in Missoula with you, leading my father’s pack. We’ve got plenty to do right here, and I don’t plan to go anywhere. How about we let Lewistown take care of itself?”
“Sure thing,” Neil said, but it took an effort to smooth the slight frown that wrinkled his forehead. He couldn’t shake the feeling that more trouble with Lewistown lay in their future. For the time being, however, Juli was right. The pack had been through a lot the past few months, between Darrow’s sickness, and the struggle for leadership, and the Lewistown invasion. They couldn’t go looking for problems when they had plenty of responsibilities of their own right where they were.
He kissed Juli’s forehead slowly, then paused to stroke a strand of hair out of her face. The beast inside him, always close these days, longed to rise up again and take her, play with her, run with her, be with her.
They walked toward where Juli had left her truck. Longing stabbed Neil’s chest. He didn’t want to drive anywhere. He wanted the shift, the thrill of the run. It didn’t seem so terrible as long as he and Juli paid attention to where they indulged. Lewistown’s regulations had never seemed so unjust as they did now that he’d mated with Juli. He’d always counted the days until full-moon exemption, but now the waiting time threatened to drive Neil mad. It couldn’t be long before they cheated again, as they had last night. Nothing could compare to the passion and freedom he felt joining with Juli while their bodies cycled through myriad forms. He could read her emotions by the form she took, touch her in a way that brought passion literally ripping out of her. When they did shift again, he didn’t plan to feel guilty.
Neil smiled at the stirring within, knowing Juli felt it too. She gazed at him adoringly with those big blue eyes. Thanks to his mate, Missoula held more than responsibility for Neil. It also promised years of joy to come.
Neil leaned in for a kiss that led to growling and groping. “I don’t know if I can go someplace where I have to control myself.” He nipped her ear, and she shrieked. Lust clouded her eyes when she blinked up at him again.
Juli grinned. “Sarah Edmond is probably having coffee right about now, and I’m sure she’d understand what we’re feeling.”
“We’ll probably have to hear some stories about how it was for her.”
“I’m okay with that,” Juli said, slipping her arm around Neil’s waist. He mirrored the action, enjoying the feel of her body hot against his.
“It would be good to talk with her anyway. She’s probably got plenty of ideas about what we need to do for the pack.”
Juli nodded. She stopped walking and bit her lip. “There’s still so much we don’t know,” she said, “so many things we have to figure out.”
“That’s okay.” Neil gripped her hip. “I think Darrow must have known it would be this way. I’ve been thinking about why he passed the pack on to you, and why he didn’t tell me ahead of time. I think he wanted us to figure out how we stood with each other, and he must have suspected how that would end up. He knew we needed each other, and that neither of us could handle leading the pack alone.”
Juli sighed. “He told me he thought you had a lot to learn from me. Maybe he was saving his words, but I have a lot to learn from you too. I have to admit I couldn’t do this without you.”
“I couldn’t lead the pack by myself, either, no matter how much I tried to make you think otherwise. I need something in my life besides responsibility.” He squeezed her suggestively. “I think I would have buried myself under duty until I snapped, and I wouldn’t have given myself any way to feel pure pleasure.”
“Pure pleasure, eh?” Juli’s lips curled up. The tip of her delicious tongue darted out. She shook her head. “We need to lock ourselves in a room for thirty days. I can never think straight when I look at you.”
“We’ll manage somehow. We might not get any sleep, but we’ll survive anyway.”
Juli laughed. Neil allowed his mind to drift to his mentor. He hoped Darrow would approve of their union. He planned to do everything in his power to care for and support Juli, to stand by her as steadfastly as he had her father. “I think your father would be okay with this. I know he would be proud of you.”
Juli tilted her head and kissed Neil’s cheek. “He would be proud of both of us.”
Annabeth Leong has written romance and erotica of many flavors -- dark, kinky, vanilla, straight, lesbian, bi, and menage. Her titles for Breathless Press include Not His Territory, Not the Leader of the Pack, and a contribution to the Ravaged anthology. She enjoys writing about the tension between passion and control that werewolves embody. Unfortunately, when Annabeth loses control of herself, she does not gain the power to change shape. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island, blogs at annabethleong.blogspot.com, and tweets @AnnabethLeong