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Authors: Jenna Kernan

The Shifter's Choice

BOOK: The Shifter's Choice
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They took his humanity…but left a hero’s heart.

Feisty and street-wise, Private Sofia Touma has too much at stake to risk being distracted from her duty to the marine corps. That is, until she’s assigned to help the compelling and disabled veteran Johnny Lam. More than a war hero, he’s also a werewolf who can’t shift back to human form. And Sofia is quickly, inexplicably drawn to him. Unlike Sofia, Johnny understands the risks involved in her loving a monster. But with each day bringing them closer together, he isn’t sure he’ll be able to continue to do the honorable thing…or protect her from the enemies intent on keeping him a werewolf forever.

Don’t worry. I’ll keep you safe.

“Yes. I know that.” Sophia set aside the sketch and rubbed her hands together.

“Johnny, they are going to figure it out. And when they do, you are taking me out for dinner and dancing.”

His gaze snapped to hers and his brow lifted as if he was checking to see if she was making fun of him. She wasn’t.

“I’m serious. When you turn back, I want you to take me out.”

He nodded slowly.
A d-a-t-e.
Then he lifted his brows.

“Yes. A date.” She took his hand, happy to see the hope in his eyes and feel the warm reassurance of his strong grip.

They stared at each other. That was what this was about, really. Overcoming fear. He was afraid of waiting for a cure that would never come. She was afraid of screwing up again.

Books by Jenna Kernan

Harlequin Nocturne

  The Shifter’s Choice
#197
  The Vampire’s Wolf
#187
*Beauty’s Beast
#158
*Soul Whisperer
#126
*Ghost Stalker
#111
*Dream Stalker
#78

*The Trackers

Jenna Kernan

writes fast-paced romantic adventures that are set in out-of-the-way places and populated by larger-than-life characters.

Happily married to her college sweetheart, Jenna shares a love of the outdoors with her husband. The couple enjoys treasure hunting all over the country, searching for natural gold nuggets and precious and semiprecious stones.

Jenna has been nominated for two RITA® Awards for her Western romances and received the Book Buyers Best Award for paranormal romance in 2010. Visit Jenna at her internet home,
www.jennakernan.com
, or at
twitter.com/jennakernan
for up-to-the-minute news.

THE SHIFTER’S
CHOICE

Jenna Kernan

Dear Reader,

Some of you have already met the hero of this story and know him as Mac’s friend and fellow shifter in
The Vampire’s Wolf
. If you haven’t met him, let me say that Johnny Lam is a wonderful, dark and dangerous hero. An injured marine bitten by a shifter, Johnny wakes in werewolf form and can’t change back.

Sonia Touma is the new recruit who enlisted solely to stay out of prison. Her assignment is to teach a wounded soldier, now likely deaf, how to sign. But Johnny Lam isn’t some unfortunate warrior. He’s a giant, vicious-looking animal who thinks that learning to sign is an admission that he’ll never be human again.

If she quits, she goes to jail. And Johnny is determined to make her quit. But Sonia is as stubborn as Johnny. As their intimacy deepens, they must remember that he may never be human again. There’s a chance for them, but the cure could kill him. That’s one of the reasons I call this story
The Shifter’s Choice
. The other reason, a second choice, is even more agonizing than the first. But marines are nothing if not tough!

Please tell me what you think of my latest story on Twitter,
@jennakernan
, or by writing a review on
www.goodreads.com
or
www.amazon.com
. And if you would like to learn more about a sneak peek of my next story, please visit my web home at
www.jennakernan.com
.

Jenna Kernan

For Jim, always.

Chapter 1

Kamakou Preserve, Molokai, Hawaii

P
rivate Sonia Touma’s helicopter touched down on the landing pad at a marine base that didn’t officially exist. Her orders read Oahu, which lay just past Maui, but instead she’d been rerouted here. The copilot slid the door open wide enough to heave her duffel and footlocker to the tarmac then motioned with his thumb that she should get out. The pilot cut the engine. The rotors slowed as she hopped down.

She kept low and moved out of range of the blades, then straightened to glance about. Beyond the landing pad lay a dirt road. Parallel to the road stood a twenty-foot-tall security perimeter fence that stretched as far as she could see in both directions.
Keeping folks out or in?
she wondered. The cameras and other electronics topping the fence posts indicated in.

The hot, humid air rose from the tarmac and the yellow grass surrounding the landing pad. Sweat already beaded on her brow and she wiped it away with the sleeve of her uniform. October sure was different here than in Yonkers, New York.

Why was she here? It made no sense. She didn’t have one single solitary skill that she could think of that would lift her above her fellow marines for a special assignment, unless you counted a criminal record, hitting people and a proclivity for telling people in authority to fuck off.

Her ears pricked up at the sound of an engine. She stared past the dry grass dotted with monstrous yucca plants until she sighted an approaching Jeep.

She eyed the driver, spotting the captain’s stripes on his arm, and snapped to attention. The Jeep rolled to a stop beside her.

“Private Touma?”

She replied as expected, “Sir. Yes, sir.”

Sonia waited until the captain’s hand touched his forehead below the brim of his hat and then snapped her hand back to her side.

“I’m Captain MacConnelly. You’ll be reporting to me.” He looked her up and down, his brow etched with wrinkles. Whatever he’d been expecting, she had the feeling that she was not it.

He thumbed at the empty passenger seat. She lifted her duffel.

“Leave it.”

Sonia dropped the heavy bag beside the footlocker and glanced back at the helo. The pilots peered past her to the captain who lifted a hand ordering them to wait. Her skin prickled as she faced the captain. It looked like there was an entrance exam.

“Get in,” he said.

She did. Sonia eyed her new superior officer from the passenger seat. The first thing she noticed was his left hand on the steering wheel and the shiny gold wedding band there, so bright and new it glowed. The second was the tight coil of muscle at his bunching jaw. The captain looked ready to grind nails between his teeth.

Her supervisor cut the engine, shifted in his seat and stared directly at her.

“I believe in getting right to it, Touma,” he narrowed his eyes on her. “I’ve read your file.”

His words sent a chill down her spine that cut through the tropical heat. She glanced at her belongings broiling on the tarmac and then back to the captain.

“Thick file.” He showed her the width with his thumb and index finger. “Mostly just reports of you quitting. You a quitter, Private?”

His summary of her life hit her like a slap. “I finished basic and I’ll finish my service, sir.”

He snorted. “Like you had a choice. Back to the wall, right? Well, just so we understand each other, let me assure you that if you quit this time, you go back to prison.”

And there it was. The reason she was a marine in the first place. Not by choice, but by picking the lesser of two evils, while this man probably enlisted in the Corps. That was obvious by his distaste of her. Right now she needed to get her gear in this Jeep and that meant being whatever he needed her to be.

The captain swept her with his cold blue eyes, his lip curling at what he saw. “Wearing the uniform doesn’t make you a marine. You don’t have the first idea of the code.”

She was not going back to prison. “Duty, honor—”

“Oh, stow it.”

She closed her mouth before saying country.

If he thought she was such a screwup, why was she here? It occurred to her that maybe it wasn’t his choice. That he might be following orders he didn’t like any better than she liked hers. That would make this just a show of strength. The thought gave her a glimmer of hope. But she had to be sure in order to know how to play this.

“Our security check didn’t turn up one person who knew you well enough to complete a simple questionnaire about you. You have any explanation for that?”

Let’s see whose orders she was really following. “If I’m such a substandard marine, sir, why am I here?”

His brows shot up as if this was the first thing she’d said or done that surprised him.

“You aren’t here yet, Private. And you don’t get on base until we finish our chat. You’re a contender for this assignment, that’s all, and only because you have the necessary skill set and because my wife thinks you can do this despite all evidence to the contrary.”

She didn’t have any skills. This was a mistake. Wait...had he said his wife picked her? Was that who was calling the shots? She must be a general or something. Well, that would explain why he looked so pissed. “But you don’t, sir.”

“I think you’ll last about thirty seconds.”

She pictured herself in an orange jumpsuit and settled into her seat. She’d make thirty seconds, all right, and she’d make it past this guy. Sonia stared at the captain. “I’ll have to agree with your wife, sir.”

“Your assignment is to teach an injured marine. He’s depressed and occasionally suicidal and he is disinclined to learn sign language.”

Warning bells rang in her head like church bells on Christmas Eve. An injured marine, likely deaf, angry, suicidal and possibly in denial.
This
was her assignment? Oh, she
was
fucked.

“I don’t think I’m qualified to deal with someone with those kinds of emotional issues, sir.”

“You don’t?” The captain’s cool eyes regarded her and he held her gaze a moment before flicking his attention out at the empty road. When he spoke his voice was sardonic. “Well, I’m sorry if I gave you the impression that I give a goddamn what you think, Private. You are a marine, at least that’s a U.S. Marine’s uniform. That means you follow orders. Maybe you didn’t understand how that works.”

What if her assignment was an emotionally shattered, unpredictable time bomb, like she was?

“Sergeant John Loc Lam had two teachers just this month. He chased them both off.”

Did he say Lock? What kind of middle name was Lock?

“It’s your job to make him want to learn how to sign.”

Sign language? She’d never even considered she’d be asked to use that as one of her skills. She’d learned to sign right alongside her sister, Marianna, who was born deaf.

“My wife suggested I hire a woman this time.”

Sonia wondered how many others had tried and failed at this shit job before they scraped the barrel and came up with her? Now she was frowning right back at the captain who hadn’t missed a beat.

“I think you’ll fall on your face or run, just like always. Might shit yourself first. But your assignment is to do everything and anything to get him on board.”

She wondered how the hell was she supposed to do that. But she said, “Yes, sir.”

MacConnelly made a sound that might have been a laugh.

“Despite his appearance, Lam needs sympathy and understanding. What he doesn’t need is a woman who is going to hit and run. You understand?”

Appearance?
Was he scarred?

“I do, sir.” Of course she didn’t understand.

“You run and he’s won.”

“I won’t run, sir.”

He made a sound deep in his throat. “That’s what the others said, too. Both made it up the mountain to meet Lam.” He reached to the seat behind him and retrieved a laptop. Sonia’s stomach tied itself in progressively tighter knots while he booted up his computer. What was wrong with Lam that made the other’s run? When the screen glowed a vivid blue he turned his attention back to her.

“Everyone here on base knows Sergeant Lam’s situation. But every word I’m about to tell you is classified. Off base, you tell no one. This goes with you to your grave. Any violation will result in a court-martial and I will personally see that you go to prison for a lot longer than six years. Got it?” He lifted his brows so they disappeared above the rim of his hat.

Sonia’s insides went icy as she nodded her understanding.

“I need to hear you say it out loud, Touma.”

“I understand, sir.”

He opened a presentation titled Sergeant John Loc Lam. He set the computer on the dashboard between them and adjusted the angle of the screen.

“Can you see this?”

“Yes, sir.” She could also see her duffel on the tarmac. Somehow, she needed to get that bag into this Jeep.

The first slide was of a young, thin soldier grinning as he leaned on the hood of a Humvee. His helmet obscured most of his face. “This is what Lam looked like when he was in my command in Afghanistan.”

So the captain had skin in the game. Sonia braced for what she expected next, the deformed face of a man struck by fire or lead or jagged bits of metal. Instead the next slide was the traditional graduation photo taken after boot camp. Lam was in full dress blues. She stared at the rich brown eyes, narrow brow, full lips and the short-cropped black hair, and her stomach did a little drop as if she’d looked down from somewhere very high and a little bit dangerous. The man was a knockout with film-star good looks, she decided. What had happened to that handsome face, she wondered as she braced for what was inevitable.

She pressed her lips together and waited but he didn’t change the slide. She noticed suddenly that the captain was staring at her, instead of the screen.

“Problem?” he asked.

What could she say, that she was taken by his good looks? She glanced back at the image before she said the first thing she could think of to avoid admitting her physical reaction to Lam.

“He’s Asian.”

“He’s American,” said the captain, not hiding his annoyance at her observation. “His mother is naturalized from Hong Kong. His father is also of Chinese descent, but he is third generation, born in California. Mother is alive and father is deceased, heart attack. His dad ran a restaurant in San Francisco. He has a younger sister named Julia, legal name Joon. She’s seventeen now.”

Sonia wanted to ask what happened to Lam, but now she was afraid to find out. Had the other teachers quit because their student was unwilling or because of his current appearance? If it was his appearance, that was just wrong. He couldn’t help what had happened or the results. But what
had
happened?

“Lam entered a building in Koppel at night under my order.”

Here it comes, she realized, gripping the dashboard as if preparing for a crash.

“Two fire teams had already gone in and all died. Lam and I entered with the last team. We were the only two survivors. This is what attacked us.” He pressed a button and there stood a huge gray animal standing on hind legs like an ape. But the body was elongated, wolfish, with a pronounced snout and back feet that more resembled paws. The hands seemed like a bear’s with wicked curved black claws. She gaped for a moment and then laughed. The captain didn’t even crack a smile.

She pointed at the image. “That’s a joke, right? You’re kidding me. Photoshopped it?”

Her captain shook his head. Her breath caught and she peered at the screen taking careful note of the creature’s yellow eyes and the dangerous fangs.

“That’s not a real animal,” she said, trying to assure herself more than inform him.

“It is. I saw it when it attacked Lam and this is the result.” The captain pressed a key and the image of a black-furred monster’s face filled the screen. “This is John Lam today.”

Sonia glanced at the screen and then the captain and then the screen again.

She didn’t recall scrambling out the passenger side but found herself standing on the tarmac clinging to the doorframe. The heat rising from the tarmac baked right through her thick-soled shoes. She stared at the captain realizing he’d been right. Her stubborn side kept her anchored for a moment like a shipwreck survivor clinging to a piece of waterlogged debris. Then she pushed off.

“Hell, no.” Sonia backed away from the Jeep.

“Touma!”

She kept walking toward the helo, running away from the captain, that monster and her very last chance.

When she reached the closed door of the helicopter her brain reengaged. The pilot and copilot stared at her through the thick glass. She stiffened, with one hand on the lever. What was she going to do, order them to fly her home to Yonkers?

Hit and run, that’s what the captain said. But no one would blame her. That thing was a monster. She glanced back to see the captain now leaning against the fender staring at his watch.

“Thirty seconds. And you didn’t even make it onto the base. Have fun in prison, Touma.”

She turned and swayed on her feet. The captain lifted his radio making a call. Sonia walked to her gear and hoisted her duffel to her shoulder as if planning to hitchhike. She needed to go. Somehow she needed to get out of here.

A second Jeep arrived and two burly MPs climbed out. Sonia dropped her bag as the reality of her situation hit her like a punch. Her stomach pitched and she thought she might throw up.

The captain held up two fingers. “Two choices, Touma. Do the job or do the time.”

Sonia stood with her chin raised in a stubborn attitude that had rarely brought her anything good. He couldn’t make her. She’d appeal or something. But it was top secret. She couldn’t tell anyone. Not even a military court.

“Fine,” said the captain. “MPs! Take her to the brig.”

Seeing the two marines approach, with jaws set in determination, knocked the stubborn right out of her. She pictured the cell. Felt the walls closing in around her and her mind slipped to that terrible place in her childhood, dark and smelling of plastic and urine, her urine. She recalled her cold, wet clothing chaffing her skin until she pulled it off, waiting in the dark like an animal.

BOOK: The Shifter's Choice
12.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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