Passion and reason collide with explosive force in the newest installment of Nalini Singh’s “mesmerizing”* Psy/Changeling series. As a conflict with Pure Psy looms on the horizon, two powerful wolves fight a far more intimate war of their own…
In his position as tracker for the SnowDancer pack, it’s up to Drew Kincaid to rein in rogue changelings who have lost control of their animal halves—even if it means killing those who have gone too far. But nothing in his life has prepared him for the battle he must now wage to win the heart of a woman who makes his body ignite…and who threatens to enslave his wolf.
Lieutenant Indigo Riviere doesn’t easily allow skin privileges, especially of the sensual kind—and the last person she expects to find herself craving is the most wickedly playful male in the den. Everything she knows tells her to pull back before the flames burn them both to ash…but she hasn’t counted on Drew’s will.
Now, two of SnowDancer’s most stubborn wolves find themselves playing a hot, sexy game even as lethal danger stalks the very place they call home…
*The Road to Romance
Indigo wiped the rain off her face, clearing it for a split-second, if that. The torrential downpour continued with relentless fury, slamming ice-cold bullets against her skin and turning the night-dark of the forest impenetrable.
Ducking her head, she spoke into the waterproof microphone attached to the sodden collar of her black T-shirt. “Do you have him in your sights?”
The voice that came back was deep, familiar, and at that instant, lethally focused. “Northwest, half a mile. I’m coming your way.”
“Northwest, half a mile,” she repeated to ensure they were both on the same page. Changeling hearing was incredibly acute, but the rain was savage, drumming against her skull until even the high-tech receiver she’d tucked into her ear buzzed with noise.
“Indy, be careful. He’s functioning on the level of a feral wolf.”
Under normal circumstances, she’d have snarled at him for using that ridiculous nickname. Tonight, she was too worried. “That goes double for you. He hurt you in that first tangle.”
“It’s only a flesh wound. I’m going quiet now.”
Slicking back her hair, she took a deep breath of the watery air and began to stalk toward their prey. Her fellow hunter was right—a pincer maneuver was their best bet of taking Joshua down without damage. Indigo’s gut clenched, pain blooming in her heart. She didn’t want to have to hurt him. Neither did the tracker on the boy’s trail—the reason why the bigger, stronger wolf had been injured in the earlier clash.
But he’d have to if they couldn’t bring Joshua back from the edge; the boy was so lost in anguish and torment that he’d given in to his wolf. And the wolf, young and out of control, had taken those emotions, turned them into rage. Joshua was now a threat to the pack. But he was also their own. They’d bleed, they’d drown in this endless rain, but they would not execute him until they’d exhausted every other option.
A branch raked across her cheek when she didn’t move fast enough in the stormy weather.
Sharp. Iron. Blood.
Indigo swore low under her breath. Joshua would catch her scent if she wasn’t careful. Turning her face up to the rain, she let it wash away the blood from the cut. But it was still too bright, too unmistakable a scent. Wincing—their healer would strip her hide for this—she went to the earth and slathered mud over the superficial injury. The scent dulled, became sodden with earth.
It would do. Joshua was so far gone that he wouldn’t detect the subtle scent.
“Where are you?” It was a soundless whisper as she stalked through the rain-lashed night. Joshua hadn’t taken a life yet, hadn’t killed or maimed. He could be brought back—if his pain, the vivid, overwhelming pain of a young male on the cusp of adulthood, allowed him to return.
A slashing wind…bringing with it the scent of her prey. Indigo stepped up her pace, trusting the eyes of the wolf who was her other half, its vision stronger in the dark. She was gaining on the scent when a wolf’s enraged howl split the air.
Growls, the sickening clash of teeth, more iron in the air.
“No!” Pushing her speed to dangerous levels, she jumped over fallen logs and new-made streams of mud and water without really seeing them, heading toward the scene of the fight. It took her maybe twenty seconds and a lifetime.
Lightning flashed the instant she reached the small clearing where they fought and she saw them framed against the electric-dark sky, two changelings in full wolf form, locked in combat. They fell to earth as the lightning died, but she could still see them, her eyes tracking with lethal purpose.
The tracker, the hunter, was bigger, his normally stunning silver-colored fur sodden almost black, but it was the smaller wolf, his pelt a reddish hue, who was winning—because the hunter was holding back, trying not to kill.
Aware her drenched clothing would make stripping difficult, Indigo shifted as she was. It was a searing pain and an agonizing joy, her clothes disintegrating off her, her body turning into a shower of light before forming into a sleek wolf with a body built for running.
She jumped into the fight just as the red wolf—Joshua—slashed a line into his opponent’s side. The bigger wolf gripped the teenager’s neck. He could’ve killed then, as he could have earlier, but he was attempting only to subdue.
Joshua was too far gone to listen; he reached out, trying to go for the hunter’s belly. Teeth bared, Indigo leapt. Her paws came down on the smaller wolf, holding his struggling, snarling body to the earth.
She didn’t know how long they stood there, holding the violent wolf down, refusing to let him go over that final destructive edge. The hunter’s eyes met hers. A brilliant copper in his wolf form, they were so unusual she’d never seen the like in any other wolf, changeling or feral. She glimpsed a piercing intelligence in that gaze, one that many people missed because he laughed so easily, charmed with such open wickedness.
Most didn’t even realize he was SnowDancer’s tracker, able to trace rogue wolves through snow, wind, and tonight, endless rain. And though it was not their practice to call him Hunter, he was that, too, charged with executing those they could not save. But Joshua understood who it was he faced. Because he went silent at long last, his body limp beneath theirs.
Indigo released her grip with care, but he didn’t spring up, even when the larger wolf let go. Worried, she shifted back into human form, her hair plastered to her naked back between one instant and the next. The tracker stood guard next to her, his fur rubbing wet against her skin.
“Joshua,” she said, leaning down to speak to the boy, determined to bring him back from his wolf. “Your sister is alive. We got her to the infirmary in time.”
No recognition in those dark yellow eyes, but Indigo wasn’t a SnowDancer lieutenant because she gave up easily.
“She’s asking for you, so you better snap out of it and get up.” She put every ounce of her dominance in her next command. “Right now.”
A blink from the wolf, a cocked head. As Indigo watched, he rose shakily to his feet. When she reached for him, he lowered his head, whimpering. “Shh,” she said, gripping his muzzle and staring straight into those wolf-bright eyes. His gaze slid away. Joshua was too young, too submissive in comparison to her strength, to challenge her in that way.
“I’m not angry,” Indigo said, ensuring he heard the truth in her words, in the way she held him—firm, but not in a grip that would cause pain. “But I need you to become human.”
Still no eye-contact. But he heard her. Because the next instant, the air filled with sparks of light and a split second after that, a young male barely past his fourteenth birthday was kneeling naked on the earth, his face drawn. “Is she really okay?” It was a rasp, the wolf in his voice.
“Have I ever lied to you?”
“I was meant to be watching her, except I—”
“You weren’t at fault.” She put her fingers on his jaw, anchoring him with touch, with Pack. “It was a rockfall—nothing you could’ve done. She’s got a broken arm, two broken ribs and a pretty cool scar on her eyebrow that she’s already showing off like a peacock.”
The recital of injuries seemed to stabilize Joshua. “That sounds like her.” A wavering smile, a quick, wary glimpse up at her before he dropped his gaze.
Smiling—because if he was scared about the consequences of his actions, he was back—Indigo gave in to her relief and nipped the pup sharply on the ear. He cried out. Then buried his face in her neck. “I’m sorry.”
She ran her hand down his back. “It’s okay. But if you ever do this again, I’ll strip your hide and use it to make new sofa cushions. Got it?”
Another shaky smile, a quick nod. “I want to go home.” He swallowed, turned to look at the tracker. “Thanks for not killing me. I’m sorry I made you come out in the rain.”
The huge wolf beside Indigo, its tail raised in a gesture of dominance, closed its very dangerous teeth around the boy’s throat. The boy stayed immobile, quiescent, until the tracker let go. Apology accepted.
Making a futile effort to shake the rain from her hair, Indigo looked at the boy. “I don’t want you turning wolf for one week.” When he looked shattered, she touched his shoulder. “It’s not punishment. You went too close to the edge tonight. No use taking chances.”
“Okay, yeah.” A pause, a whisper of shame in his eyes. “The wolf’s getting hard to control. Like I’m a kid again.”
That, Indigo thought, explained his irrational response to his sister’s accident. She made a mental note to kick some ass on the heels of that thought. Adolescents and young teens did occasionally have control issues—Joshua’s teachers should’ve picked up the signs. “It happens sometimes,” she said to the boy, keeping her tone calm and matter-of-fact, “did to me when I was around your age, so it’s nothing to be ashamed of. You come directly to me if you feel the wolf taking over again.” She shifted into her other form as he nodded, his relief obvious.
The journey home to the den—a huge network of tunnels hidden deep underground in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, out of sight of enemy eyes—was quiet, the rain letting up about ten minutes after they began. A human might’ve slipped and fallen a hundred times on the slippery terrain, but the wolf was sure-footed, its paws designed for increased stability—and it found the easiest route for Joshua.
Indigo, with the tracker taking position behind the boy, herded Joshua all the way to the wide-open door in the side of what would otherwise appear to be a sheer rockface—where his shaken mother was waiting with another wolf, a silver-gold one with eyes of such pale, pale blue, they were almost ice.
The boy fell to his knees in front of the SnowDancer alpha.
Indigo and the tracker backed away, their tasks complete. The pup was safe—and would be taken care of. Now, they needed to run off some of the strain of tonight. She’d really thought they’d have to kill Joshua. The boy had been all but insane when they’d managed to corner him earlier. Glancing toward her companion at the memory—the larger wolf having kept pace with ease—she realized he was bleeding.
She came to a halt with a snarl. He stopped only a step later, circling back to nudge her nose with his. Shifting into human form, she bent over him, pushing back her rain-wet hair. “You need to see Lara.” Their healer would be better able to check his wounds, ensure they weren’t serious.
The wolf nipped at her jaw, growling low in his throat. She pushed him away. “Don’t make me pull rank on you.” Though to be honest, she wasn’t sure she could—and that disturbed both woman and wolf. He occupied an odd space in their hierarchy. Younger than her, he wasn’t a lieutenant, but he reported directly and only to their alpha. And as their tracker, his skills were critical to the safety and well-being of the pack.
Another growl, another nip—this one on her shoulder.
She narrowed her eyes. “Watch it or I’ll nip that nose right off.”
He made a growling sound of disagreement, his canines flashing.
Reaching out, she tapped him sharply on the muzzle. “We’re heading back right now.”
Color under her hands, the wolf with fur the distinctive color of silver-birch bark shifting into a human with lake-blue eyes and rain-slick hair. “I don’t think so.” He was on her before she knew it, cupping her face in his hands, his mouth on hers.
The caress was hot, hard, a slamming fist that held her motionless. And then…an inferno punching through her body, making her tangle her hand in that thick brown hair, tug back his head. “What,” she said on a gasping breath, “are you doing?”
“I thought it’d be obvious.” Laughter in his eyes, the lake seared by sunshine as his thumbs stroked over her cheekbones. “I want to lick you up right now.”
She didn’t take it personally. “You’re high on adrenaline from the hunt.” Pushing off his hands, she angled her head. “And loss of blood.” It ran a clean, water-diluted line down his side. “You definitely need stitches.”
“No, I don’t.” He kissed her again, pushing her down to the earth.
This time, she didn’t back away at once. And got the full impact of the kiss…and of the rigid arousal nudging at the sensitive dip of her abdomen. Her heartbeat accelerated, startling her enough that she bit hard at his lip. “It’s cold down here.” Though the snow had melted away in this part of the range, the Sierra Nevada retained the chill kiss of winter even in the blush of spring.
A repentant look. She found herself on top an instant later. Still being kissed. Groaning at the stubborn wolf—who could kiss so insanely well that she was tempted to let him have at it—she pushed at his shoulders. “Get up before you die of blood loss, you lunatic.”
A scowl. And then Drew kissed her again.