Hunter, A Thieves Series Book 4
Print Book: Amazon
About the book
On the hunt for a vicious killer, Kelsey discovers that the true threat lies closer than she could have ever imagined.
It’s been months since Trent Wilcox was sentenced to exile, but Kelsey hasn’t given up on finding a way to bring him home. Grayson Sloane doesn’t share her enthusiasm. Loving two men is challenging enough without them being at each other’s throats, and she is unwilling to compromise on the future she knows is meant for them.
Kelsey’s only hope for bringing them all together comes in the form of the Hell lord who insisted on Trent’s exile – Gray’s father. Lord Sloane is willing to acquiesce on Trent’s punishment if Kelsey will do one little job for him. A stray wolf is on a killing spree in Wyoming and he’s killed a number of witches in Lord Sloane’s service. The situation is made all the more complicated by the presence of a sinister werewolf cult in the area. Lupus Solum is known for being cruel to their own kind, and even worse to outsiders.
Caught between a craven wolf cult, a brutal killer, a Hell lord, and a mounting pile of bodies, Kelsey is going to have her work cut out for her. But if she can solve the case, she might have a chance to earn her happily ever after.
“How does that make you feel, Gray?” Felix Day was in full-on shrink mode as we sat in his office, the late afternoon light illuminating the soothing interior.
“It makes me feel like murdering Trent.” Gray was using his calmest tone. Well, his most sarcastic tone, but it was also calm. Mostly. He wasn’t pleased with his current occupation.
“And Trent, how does that make you feel?” Felix asked.
“It makes me feel like I’m wasting my day pass, man.” There was nothing calm about Trent. He was perfectly exasperated. It was obvious the day had not gone according to plan.
But then what had he expected? Probably not thruples therapy.
As for me, I just wanted my guys to get along. It had been a full six months since my wolf guy had killed my demon guy’s brother. Now that sounds worse than it really is, a fact I’ve been trying my damnedest to get Gray—the demon hottie—to see. Gray’s brother had gone by many names on the Earth plane, but Stewart had been his most frequent alias. On the demonic plane, he’d been known as Nemcox and had been totally evil. He’d learned a secret about the king’s son…
I’m moving too fast. Like I said, it’s been a while. I should catch you up. I’m Kelsey Owens. I’m this weird thing that happens when a lone wolf forgets to wear a condom and humps a human lady. I’m what’s known as a Hunter. It basically means that I’m pretty strong and have a lot of werewolf senses, but I can’t actually turn into a wolf, though I do have a demon arm—and that’s another story entirely. I work for the King of all Vampire, who also happens to be the king of the supernatural world. I’m his Nex Apparatus. It’s kind of like a combo sheriff and assassin, with a dash of therapist thrown in. I’m involved with a gorgeous half-demon named Grayson Sloan and an insanely hot alpha wolf named Trent Wilcox. We had a few super-sexy encounters together and then came the aforementioned murder. But I didn’t see why that had to mean the end of our threesome. After all, the king and his wife and partner had gone through a ton worse and still got it on all the time, and in fairly public places.
I might be horny. Super horny. And my bio clock had started ticking. I wanted some baby making, and I couldn’t do that while my men were fighting, hence the therapy.
“You’re here on sufferance, wolf.” Gray was using his super-superior voice, the one he used when he knew a suspect was guilty and he could prove it. In the last few months, he’d gone back to his original job. Gray is a Texas Ranger. Not the baseball-playing kind. He’s a cop of the highest order and he works in the Ranger’s specialized crimes unit. By special they mean weird shit no one else wants to work. Basically he deals with supernatural crimes.
We’re kind of coworkers when you think about it.
It was his other job that worried me. Gray is also a dark prophet. Every now and then his eyes go midnight black and he starts to speak in what I like to call prophet rap. It’s usually a jumble of crap that doesn’t actually make any sense at all until you’re on the other side of it, but it impresses the other demons. Especially Gray’s dad, and he’s the one I worried about.
“I thought I was here to discuss potential parole,” Trent shot back with a shake of his head. “I thought you were willing to talk to me and find a way to work this out.”
Trent used to be the head of the king’s security. He had a great career, benefits, job security. Then he met a girl.
Yeah, I kind of wrecked that for him. Again, hence the therapy.
“This? You refer to the murder of my brother as this? I don’t want to work this out with you,” Gray replied, sitting back. “You misunderstand me, wolf. There is no parole. The king is high if he thinks my father will allow that to happen. The only reason you weren’t killed in the first place was to keep the peace. You will never be allowed your former place. And I have my reasons for helping Kelsey see you on a regular basis. I want Kelsey to fuck you out of her system so we can go back to normal.”
We were far from normal.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Felix said, taking in the three of us with an academic air. “Kelsey is dual natured, as you know. Unlike most were creatures, she’s not fully integrated. I know werewolves like to talk about their ‘wolf’ as being something that lives inside them, but that’s a euphemism. For Kelsey the ‘she-wolf’ part of her soul is separate, and she has different needs from the human portion.”
Not exactly. Honestly, the longer I live and accept the fact that I’ve got this gift, the more the she-wolf and I get along. I totally don’t lose control and try to kill people anymore. She-wolf and I kill people with purpose now, and we’re in total agreement on what we needed and that was sex.
“I’m perfectly willing to take care of all her needs.” Trent got that smirk on his face, the alpha wolf smirk. I shouldn’t find it sexy, but I do. “How about you go and talk to your father about this bullshit punishment and I’ll spend the few hours I have here in bed with our woman.”
I was actually all on board with that plan with the exception of losing Gray. I’d had a taste of symmetrical fucking and I wanted more. Not that I didn’t enjoy my sexy times with each of them, but there’s something about having four hands on my body that does it for me.
Gray snarled Trent’s way, and I am not even ashamed to say that did something for me, too. “You aren’t here to fuck Kelsey. You’re here to potentially answer for your crimes.”
“I killed a demon who was going to find a way to drag the woman we both love to the Hell plane.” Every word that came out of Trent’s mouth was clipped and sharp. He’d leaned forward and I could feel his frustration. “I would think you would thank me.”
I winced because Trent wasn’t a model of diplomacy. “I think…”
Gray stood up, looming over my wolf. “Thank you? For killing my brother?”
“Gray, let’s sit back down and discuss this,” Felix said, his voice an oasis of calm. At one point in time, well, many if you think about it, he’d been an angel. The winged-from-Heaven kind. He’d fallen for a woman named Sarah. Literally. He like descended from the Heaven plane, and I’ve heard rumors that the queen herself chopped off his wings with a chainsaw. Zoey Donovan-Quinn gets to do all the cool shit.
For a moment Gray looked like he would push the issue, and then he ran a frustrated hand through his dark hair and moved to the window. Felix’s office had floor-to-ceiling windows that offered a spectacular view of the city of Dallas. The building we all live and work in is placed deep in downtown, nestled among a bunch of skyscrapers. It was bustling, but predictable for the most part, although the building across the street from us gets a lot of police attention. I don’t know what they do there, but helicopters buzz it, and a surprising amount of people get shot up in there. I think I should send a witch in to cleanse the space or something.
It was time to start an actual dialogue that had nothing to do with male posturing. “I…”
Gray turned and pointed a finger Trent’s way. “You’re the one who should be thanking me. Your head is still on your body. If my father had his way, you would be a corpse decorating his palace.”
I groaned. We’d been over this about a million times, and Gray was wrong. He hadn’t had anything to do with Papa Sloane not demanding Trent’s head. That had been all Neil Roberts. Nemcox had far more to answer for than the secret he’d learned about Lee Donovan-Quinn.
Trent stood. “You realize you’re talking about him like he’s right. Your father. The Hell lord. You know at one point I thought you were a pretty reasonable guy. I thought you understood that your demonic family is fuck-all evil.”
Trent was right, but I’d learned family can be a touchy subject for Gray. “I…”
Gray moved toward Trent like a bull about to charge. “Evil? This coming from the guy who was raised by a cult? Yeah, I found out all about that. You were Lupus Solum’s golden boy. Does Kelsey know? Does she know you were part of a specialized breeding program? That your mother became some kind of priestess? Does she know they thought you might be the wolf king?”
No. I hadn’t known that, and if Trent had wanted me to, he would have told me. I knew he’d grown up on what many would call a collective, or maybe a commune, but it was totally a cult and apparently werewolves know how to do creepy and weird. Lupus Solum stood for Wolves Alone. Stood? Stands. They’re still out there, and they don’t like half breeds like me. Or traitors like Trent. Or anyone who isn’t one of them.
Trent growled, a low sound in the back of his throat. “I got out. I left my evil as fuck family behind the first chance that came along and when they killed my wife, I took revenge on all of them. Including my father. You can’t kill him because I already did. You see the difference? You’re kissing Daddy’s ass while I’m trying to be better than mine.”
“You have no one to be loyal to,” Gray shouted back. “You have no pack. You’re the strongest alpha around and yet you don’t lead. You don’t care.”
Trent’s eyes went steely. “I have my pack. They have nothing to do with blood and everything to do with love. And I assure you I’ve been more than loyal.”
“To the king?” Gray asked. “You’re not loyal. You do his dirty work and he hands you a paycheck.”
“Well, you seem to be loyal to a Hell lord,” Trent shot back. “Damn, man, I thought you were dreading your descent, but maybe you want to go a little early. You want to wear those horns of yours full time?”
And that’s when Gray launched himself at Trent. My men went tumbling across the space, claws coming out.
It was everything I feared. I’d had some hope when Gray had been the one to drive me out to Trent and make sure he had a place to stay. I’d known he was doing it for me, but in the back of my mind there had been some hope that Gray understood what Trent had to do. That hope was lost now.
I started to get between them, but Felix shook his head.
“Let them get it out of their systems,” he said with a beatific smile, as though they were simply two toddlers pulling a toy between them and not massive, muscley supernatural creatures complete with claws and fangs and killing instincts. “There’s a reason I use this large space as my therapy room. Most human therapists use more intimate spaces, but I find my clients end up throwing down one way or another. Don’t worry. Everything in here is fortified by magic. They can’t truly damage anything but each other.”
That statement didn’t make me feel better since I hadn’t been worried about the furniture.
Trent was on his back, but he’d managed to get a hand around Gray’s neck. Blood started to seep where his claws dug in.
“I think I should break this up.” When I’d scheduled this session, I hadn’t imagined that it would end with the two of them rolling around together. Well, I kind of had, but not in a violent way, and I was supposed to be in the middle, damn it.
Felix waved me off. “They’re fine. They’ve needed this for a while. Let them punch it out and they’ll probably feel better. What Gray should remember is that you need Trent to balance out your she-wolf.”
Gray punched my “balance” right in the face. “She can find another wolf. Hell, I’ll help her. We’ll take applications and everything. Or fucking bring back Marcus. He’ll work.”
That brought a low growl from the back of Trent’s throat. “I will not be dismissed, asshole. She’s my mate. I’ll be hers long after you’re on the Hell plane serving your father.”
I groaned because they both knew where to stick the knife in. Gray is what’s called a legacy. His mother was an earthbound witch who made a deal with a demon. In exchange for hopped up Hell lord sperm and power, she’d given birth to a powerful halfling who was allowed thirty-five years on earth before descending to serve his father. Gray’s time was running out and I still had zero idea how to save him. I knew one thing. I wasn’t losing him to a contract he’d never signed.
Gray’s fangs made an appearance as Trent managed to roll him over and get a few punches of his own in.
“Do you want some tea?” Felix asked. “I’ve found these things can take a bit of time. We’ll swing back to the talk when they’re through.”
I slumped back into my chair. Nothing was going the way I wanted it to. “This isn’t going to work, is it?”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Felix replied. “You need to be patient.”
I ignored the groans from the fight. We still had some time in our hour and I wasn’t going to waste it. “I don’t understand. Gray is reasonable about everything except this. Trent is right. I was dying. I was lying there dying and Nemcox was going to let it happen. If it had been anyone else, Gray would have fought like hell to save me. He would have helped Trent.”
I could remember that day and it sat between me and Gray. It had happened quickly and Gray had always had a soft spot for his brother, but I remembered how close to death I’d come. Only Trent’s action had saved me, and because of Gray’s stubbornness it had also broken us.
It didn’t make sense to me. Gray and I had been living together since that day and he was reasonable. He was loving. He was getting along with everyone in the building, and that had not always been the case. He even facilitated my getting to see Trent, but when they were in a room together, he went a little crazy.
“Gray cared for his brother,” Felix began. “I know Nemcox was a demon, but they’re capable of love, too. It’s twisted and warped and usually ends poorly, but for Gray, his brother was the one positive thing about his family. Gray doesn’t view family in the same manner people with healthy relationships do. I actually think if they would sit down and talk it out, he and Trent would discover they have much in common. They both grew up in dysfunctional families. I knew Trent had grown up in Lupus Solum, but I didn’t realize he’d been considered one of their chosen. I would love to explore that. I’ve heard stories but never directly from a source. But I digress. We need to remember that Gray has issues with his familial relations. Nemcox was loyal and that imprinted on him at an early age. I’m sure in the back of his head, he thought if he had to go to the Hell plane, at least Nemcox would be there to help him.”
I hadn’t thought about it that way. Despite the fact that my stepdad sucked, I have two brothers and a mom who love me. Hell, my bio dad died before we could meet and I still know he loved me. I’ve learned in the last few years that having people to depend on is everything. When someone loves you it can be a protective barrier against the shitty things of the world. It’s easy for me to dismiss Nemcox because I have a lot of people to fall back on. Trent didn’t have any family he cared about, but he was practically a member of the king’s family. He’d been with them for years, and the king tended to treat Trent more like a brother than a servant.
Did Gray feel alone now?
There was a smashing sound that made me start and gave Felix no pause whatsoever. He simply leaned forward. “I believe an apology from Trent would go a long way. He doesn’t have to apologize for killing Nemcox. He merely has to make Gray believe that he understands why Gray would be angry. That anger is more about loss and fear than rage. Imagine mourning someone everyone else hates. Gray has no one to bear part of the burden.”
See, this was what we should be talking about, what we would be talking about if the guys hadn’t decided to murder each other. I ignored the long howl that shook the walls. “So I explain to Trent that he’s not getting in my panties until he apologizes.”
That seemed pretty simple. Trent liked getting in my panties. I was sure he was looking forward to doing it on a comfy bed for once. Since he’d assassinated Nemcox in order to protect the king’s son, Trent had been living in a tiny cabin north of Dallas. It wasn’t much more than a kitchen and a bedroom, and thank god someone had built a bathroom, though the hot water in the shower wasn’t reliable. I’d been spending time with him when I wasn’t working. We’ve gotten into a nice routine. I go up when the moon is full and run with him. I’ve gotten some serious knee scrapes because Trent will do me in the woods.
But I had to wonder if living alone was starting to get to him. Trent isn’t a loner. He’s used to having other wolves around him. He might not have a traditional pack, but he spent much of his time with my uncle Zack and Neil Roberts. For years he’d lived here in Dallas at the council headquarters, surrounded by people who consider him family.
“No, that’s not what I meant at all,” Felix said with a sad shake of his head. “First of all, we should talk about using sex as a manipulative tactic. That can cause serious problems in a relationship.”
Women had been doing it for thousands of years. I didn’t see why it had to stop with me. I glanced over and saw Trent had Gray on the floor. He stood over my demon and his booted foot was about to come down on a place I had use for. It was time to take control.
“Don’t you dare kick him in the balls, Trent Wilcox. I need his sperm.”
The boys stopped. I mean they went completely, utterly still. They were like statues for a moment, and a thrill went through me because I finally had their attention.
Trent broke first. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
I hadn’t exactly meant to just put it out there. I’d meant to ease them into it. And yes, I knew it was the wrong time, but Gray was on a clock. I had no idea what the Hell plane would do to his swimmers. I needed them now. It can be very difficult for a she-wolf to conceive naturally. I was planning on getting on Dev Quinn’s schedule. Or maybe offer to babysit his son Rhys. “I said I want to have a baby.”
Never had I imagined that I would think those words, much less say them out loud. I never thought I would have a family like that. It’s not that I don’t dig kids. I actually prefer them to most adults, but I couldn’t conceive of myself in a maternal role. That all changed when I was trying to help Gray through his transition to dark prophet. I acted as a balance for his mind that night, but I also had a vision of all my possible futures. The worst? Everyone dies and I’m left all alone. The best—my kids. My half-demon son and tiny she-wolf daughter. I’d seen them. At the time I’d discounted that vision as something that could never happen, but then I’d opened my heart to Trent and it all fell into place. Now I wanted that vision to be true more than I’d ever wanted anything in my life.
Trent reached out a hand, the silence in the room almost stifling. I was surprised when Gray took it and allowed himself to be helped up. He got to his feet and wiped the blood off his face, and then both my guys took their seats again. They’d found a mutual fear, and it was me.
Gray looked to Felix. “I feel confused and a little afraid.”
Trent nodded. “I feel anxious and also horny.”
Gray pointed at him. “Yeah, that’s in there, too.”
Felix gestured toward the seat I’d sat in. “I definitely think we should talk, Kelsey. Perhaps I should clear the rest of my afternoon.”
These did not look like men who were eager to hit the insta-dad button, and my stomach kind of knotted. Were they going to tell me something like “hey, you’re a nice lay, but I don’t know about kids.” I knew I was pushing them, but something deep inside was telling me this was the time. I needed to do this or it might not happen.
It couldn’t not happen.
How did I tell them I’d seen our babies and I wanted them now?
There was a knock on the door and I practically breathed a sigh of relief when my uncle walked in.
Zack Owens was a handsome man who looked like he was about twenty-five years old. He was closer to forty, but he was also the king’s servant, and that meant he took the king’s blood. The vampire king’s blood was way better than Botox. “Kelsey, Trent, Daniel needs to see you. Gray, you’re more than welcome to come along, but Lord Sloane will be here soon and we have a development Daniel wants to talk about before he gets here to discuss Trent’s status.”
Saved by the freaking bell. Someone had died or was going to make someone else die or planned to blow up shit that made a lot of people die, and I welcomed it because it meant I could put this discussion off.
I wasn’t sure how I would look either of them in the eyes again, but I was more than willing to put off the moment when they told me they didn’t want to have kids.
“Don’t you think we should discuss this?” Felix asked, looking concerned for the first time.
“Gotta work. The king calls,” I said as I ran out the door.
I felt my men behind me but just kept on walking. Therapy would have to wait.
“How are you, bella?” Marcus Vorenus asked as I walked into the king’s office. He smiled my way but his eyes went to the painting on his left.
The king had received the painting as a gift from the wizard known as Myrddin. You would probably know him as Merlin, the dude who helped out Arthur. Apparently King Daniel is the latest in a long line of Earth plane warriors known as King of the Sword. Myrddin is a halfling demon tied to the sword. When a king rises, the wizard takes him under his wing and they do whatever fate has told them to do. Or something like that. It didn’t precisely work that way for Daniel. Myrddin had claimed it wasn’t “their time” and he’d gone on a tour of the world. He sometimes sent Daniel things from his travels, and the painting Marcus was fascinated with was one of his gifts. I glanced over and could see the woman in the painting had moved again. She was further from the forest, moving toward the viewer, though we still couldn’t make out her face. I had the oddest feeling she was running from something.
Myrddin arranged for my father, Lee Owens, to be killed because he’d learned the lone wolf was one of two creatures on the plane who could take him down. From what I understood, he’d sent the other away to another plane because he was a baby. But he’d made sure my father died, and the secret I couldn’t reveal, couldn’t allow Nemcox to give up, was that my father’s soul now resided in Lee Donovan-Quinn.
I was going to kill Myrddin one day.
“I’m good. It’s nice to see you.” I looked him over. He’d gone to his home in Venice for a while but came back to advise the king. I hadn’t seen him in several weeks. Once we’d been inseparable. He’d been my trainer. Marcus is what’s known as an academic. There are various classes of vampires, and academics in particular are attuned to work with Hunters like me. The relationship is intense and it doesn’t last forever. Marcus was the first man I’d had a genuine good relationship with, and there would always be a part of me that loved him, but our bond had broken when Trent had claimed half my heart.
His eyes left the painting for a moment and settled on me. He always reminded me of a gorgeous hawk. A graceful, intelligent predator. “It’s good to see you, too. What are we doing? Come here to me, cara.”
He opened his arms and I walked into them. That was when I heard the low growl.
Marcus still hugged me to him. “She’s not your property, Mr. Wilcox, and I’m only being friendly. We were very close once and she still means the world to me. You won the woman. Be more considerate.”
Marcus rarely pulled punches. Well, the verbal kind at least. He was more of a lover than a fighter. All the academics are. I feel at home with the academics, likely because of the odd connection our species have. Vampires like Marcus can calm me down when my men aren’t around.
“That doesn’t seem like a friendly hug, Vorenus. And she has a name. You should use it sometime.” That hadn’t come from Trent. Gray didn’t like my old mentor either.
“You see,” Marcus whispered in my ear, “they can agree on some things.”
He was also an incredibly smart man, and he always knew what was going on. Of course he’s the oldest walking vampire on the Earth plane, so he’s learned a few things over the millennia. He let me go and stepped back.
“What does the king need?” Trent asked, his tone impatient. “I’ve got a meeting with Hugo Wells in an hour. I would like to spend some time with Kelsey before I have to go out into the wilderness again. We apparently have a lot to talk about.”
“You’re not talking to her in private, if that’s what you’re thinking,” Gray shot back.
And we were back to fighting. I had planned on attending that meeting with Hugo. Hugo Wells was another academic. I treat them as my team, in a way. Academics tend to obsess about subjects. Marcus knows pretty much everything about history a brain can stand. Henri Jacobs was the resident medical expert. He knows more about supernatural physiology than anyone. And Hugo is our go-to for all things legal. Hugo had been trying to negotiate a way for Trent to come home.
“You’re wasting Hugo’s time. My father will never agree to allow you to come back to council headquarters,” Gray said, his jaw tight. “Now what does the king need from my fiancée?”
“Excuse me?” Trent looked at Gray like he’d gone insane.
I was with him on that one. I didn’t have a ring on my finger. I turned to him, but Gray stopped me.
“Do you want to have this out in front of Marcus and your uncle? Because I can explain why we’ll be getting married soon to both of them,” he promised.
Trent frowned my way. “Actually, he’s right. After that last bombshell of yours we’re going to talk about a proper mating ceremony.”
I hadn’t discussed my baby craziness with anyone but Liv yet. I certainly didn’t want to hash it out in front of my uncle.
“Where is the king?” I needed him to save me and fast.
“I’m here. Why don’t you have a seat.” The King of all Vampire strode into the room. Daniel Donovan looked like he was roughly twenty-one or twenty-two, but that was only when he wasn’t talking or being serious—and he almost always was. When he simply smiled, one might think he was a college kid. But there was no doubt he was the ultimate authority figure in my world. “Trent, it’s good to see you. I’m hoping we can work something out today. My wife is still pissed at me.”
Zoey Donovan-Quinn had been incredibly angry that Daniel had used Trent to take care of the Nemcox problem. I was and I wasn’t. I wished the king could have found someone else to do his dirty work, but I knew why he’d trusted Trent. His son’s life had been at stake. I would have done it myself, and that was precisely why Trent had taken the burden from me. I doubt Trent would have allowed anyone else to have done that particular job since if failed I would have either died or descended to hell. He hadn’t known why I was willing to sign the contract with Nemcox. I hadn’t explained that Little Lee’s life was in danger. No one but Marcus knew that I had offered to go to the Hell plane with Gray in exchange for Nemcox’s silence on the truth about Little Lee’s soul.
Trent shook the king’s hand and took a place on the couch. Gray did the same, sitting opposite from him and leaving a nice space for me between them. I plopped myself down and immediately felt Gray’s arm go around the back of the couch, brushing against my shoulders. Trent just put a hand on my knee, but both men felt tense.
The king shook his head. “Ah, I remember those days. Give it up, you two. The faster you get on the same page, the easier it’s going to be on you both. Anyway, we’ve got a problem and I need Kelsey and Trent to help me with it.”
“Classified?” Trent asked. “Because we should clear the room if there’s sensitive information.”
I sighed because there wouldn’t be any clearing of the room. Marcus, Trent, and my uncle all served as advisers to the king. They would be in on anything “classified.” Gray would be the only one asked to leave.
The king looked straight at me. “You want to bring Lieutenant Sloane in? He could be helpful. After all, his father is the one who brought this problem to the council, and I wonder if helping to solve it won’t change his mind about a few things.”
Gray frowned. “My father brought a problem to the council?”
I was surprised, too. “I didn’t think he particularly liked the council.”
“Lord Sloane has been actively working with us,” Marcus explained. “It’s why I came back to Dallas. Gray’s father and I have been negotiating. Our contracts have already expired. The mandatory extension time will expire faster than anyone would like, and there are things to deal with. The supernatural world has changed much since our last contract.”
Because the last contract had been signed by the old council head and had only covered vampires and demons. Donovan’s council had to represent all supernatural creatures on the Earth plane, and that was a tricky thing to do. I’d been the one to convince him to go into these negotiations in order to spare the plane from the probable war that would come without rules to govern us all. The least I could do was help him out and, hey, if it brought Trent home, I was definitely cool with that.
“What could be so bad that my father would negotiate with my brother’s murderer?” Gray asked, his voice a low growl.
Donovan’s brow rose in that regal “did you just say that in my presence” way. “He’s negotiating with me, Lieutenant. Do we have a problem? Because you do not have to remain.”
The king glanced my way as though asking me what I wanted to do.
The king and I have come a long way since those first harsh meetings when he’d considered both locking me in a cage and putting me down. The fact that he gave me the choice meant he trusted me. “Gray, I would like it if you would stay, but if the conversation upsets you, maybe you should wait for us outside.”
Gray frowned as though having some kind of internal struggle. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that. I want to stay and help. I’m sorry, Your Highness.”
There was a knock on the door as Donovan accepted my honey’s apology. The king nodded and my uncle opened the door.
Lord Sloane stood there in all his Hell lord glory. He looked a bit like his son, though older in a deeply distinguished way. To me he looks like the TV politician version of Gray. I’d never seen his demonic self. I was pretty sure I didn’t want to. Today he was dressed in his typical three-piece designer suit.
“Excellent, you’re all here,” he said like he’d been the one to call the meeting. He nodded his son’s way. “Grayson, it’s good to see you. I’m surprised you’re here with the wolf. The last I heard, you weren’t pleased your destined wife was still fucking around with the wolf who killed your brother.”
I could practically feel the rage rise in Gray. I put a hand on his thigh.
He eased back, taking a deep breath.
What the hell was I going to do if I couldn’t get him to see reason when it came to Trent?
The king took a seat in one of the wingback chairs and my uncle sat across from him. Marcus remained standing, his eyes trailing to the painting that dominated one wall of the king’s office suite.
“Mr. Wilcox is necessary to the Hunter’s well-being,” Marcus explained. “Though I think you are well aware of this fact. Without her wolf mate, she could become unbalanced and a danger to this plane. Given the reason you’re here today, I think you would be conscious of this.”
Papa Sloane sighed and took a seat. “I wish I didn’t have to be here at all, but we do have a problem and I can’t take care of it without putting our negotiations at risk. I’ve been ordered by my boss to do everything I can to ensure a settlement between our planes is arranged. I’m willing to put Mr. Wilcox’s status as outcast on the table.”
Given that his “boss” was Lucifer himself, I bet he was going to try not to let the dude down. I’ve heard he can be hard during the yearly performance review.
“I’m more than willing to talk,” Trent said. “What’s going on?”
“We believe we’ve located a stray wolf,” my uncle began. “There have been reported sightings of a wolf in the woods outside of a small town in Wyoming. That in and of itself isn’t a big deal. Unfortunately we’ve also got a trail of bodies.”
Marcus passed me a folder. Naturally it was filled with crime scene photos. Just once I’d love to get a folder full of happy face stickers or something. Gray and Trent both leaned in as I flipped through my pile of horror.
“This was obviously some kind of animal attack,” Gray said. “Do we have reason to think we’re looking at a supernatural killer?”
“Oh, yes,” the king said. “We’re fairly certain because the first victim was a woman named Hester Miller. She’s a bit of a mystery, but we’re fairly certain she’s a supe since her body was destroyed in some kind of chemical reaction in the morgue.”
Gray sighed. “Damn, I wish my CSI could have gotten hold of that. She’s quite good with soup.”
Soup was what we called corpses that had disintegrated. Supernatural bodies break down quickly. Some of them do it immediately. Vamps either turn to dust or explode in the nastiest way possible. Were creatures break down over the course of a few hours, a couple of days at the most. It tends to confound the police and medical examiners who have to deal with them. If it happened in Texas, Gray would be called in and he had a team to handle it. His CSI, a lovely woman named Nicole who had recently started dating my brother, Jamie, could take some soup and tell us the species in minutes. But I was certain in this case the material had been destroyed for fear of contamination.
I glanced through the photos. It looked like there were eight victims. “The rest of these look human.”
“Only because witches’ bodies don’t rot the way the rest of ours do,” Lord Sloane said. “Three of the victims were witches. The reason I’m involved is I am the patron to a coven in the area.”
“By patron he means they sold their souls to him,” my uncle offered with a shake of his head.
“Father, what have you done?” Gray asked.
Sloane shrugged. “What I do, son. Normally I wouldn’t care that a couple of their contracts came up early, but these particular witches are doing work I need them to do. I need thirteen skilled witches for this particular project, and it’s surprisingly hard to find decent witches who are willing to sell their souls these days.”
I didn’t even ask what they were doing because the man’s a Hell lord and he lies. “Why do we think this is a stray wolf?”
Trent pointed to a particularly nasty picture. “I’m not sure at all. There’s not a lot of blood, though rabid wolves have been known to behave in some crazy ways. Sometimes they get caught for the simple fact that they’ll stay at a kill site for hours licking up blood. They usually eat more of their victims though. There are definitely chunks taken out, but not the way I would expect.”
“If you’ll turn to the back of your folders, you’ll find the newspaper stories and police reports I’ve pulled about the wolf sightings,” Marcus explained. “I’ve had Mr. Lane working on this since yesterday. He believes the trail began at the cabin of Hester and Christopher Miller. They lived off the grid, as he puts it. She was killed three weeks ago. Her husband’s blood was found on the fireplace, but no body was found. We believe he might be the stray wolf.”
“We have a working theory,” my uncle explained. “There are a few viruses and bacteria that can affect a werewolf’s brain. They’re very rare, but they exist. We believe Miller came into contact with something that caused him to go rabid. He fought with his mate, killed her, and went on the run.”
There was something missing from the file. “Why didn’t Casey include the council records on these two?”
It might not tell me much, but the council kept detailed records of family lines. Talking to their families might give me some insight.
“They were not known to the Council,” Marcus said, a gravity to his tone.
I looked to Papa Sloane. “What am I not being told?”
The Hell lord crossed one leg over the other, the only sign that he was at all uncomfortable. “Given the route the wolf seems to be taking, I believe both Miller and his mate were likely from a town named Glenton. It’s very close to national forest land. My coven uses those woods for their rituals. They refuse to go into them again until the wolf is put down. I need them working.”
It was kind of cool that the witches had unionized, but typically the boss won these fights. “I gotta ask, man. Why don’t you just force them to?”
Trent backed me up. “Yeah, uhm, I kind of thought you guys didn’t negotiate once you had a contract.”
“Of course,” Gray huffed. “The demons only know how to use violence to get their way.”
He said it sarcastically, but it was totally true. Demons aren’t known for being reasonable bosses.
Sloane stared at his son. “If the dark prophet would do his job, I wouldn’t need the witches. Prophecy is a delicate thing. It doesn’t tend to work when the ones doing the magics are coming at it from a place of fear. Believe me I will deal with those bitches eventually.” He gave the king a smooth smile. “When they’re on my plane, of course.”
Donovan did not look amused. “Of course.” He turned to me. “At this point, the police haven’t put it all together yet. They believe this is some kind of rabid animal.”
“It is,” Trent said. “We can’t view this creature as anything but a killing machine. He might be able to change back to human and find some sanity, but the minute the moon goes full, he’ll be right back to wolf form, and there will come a point when he won’t change back. He’ll simply kill until someone kills him.”
“That’s why we’re sending you out in the morning,” Marcus explained. “The king believes that Mr. Wilcox is the best wolf to aid you in your search. He’s the strongest alpha known to the Council who has no ties to a pack.”
“And he knows I need this wolf put down,” Sloane said with a sigh. “Which is why I’ll consider loosening your outcast status if you properly do this job.”
“What’s the catch?” I asked because there was totally a catch.
Sloane rolled his eyes. “There’s no catch. If you fix my problem, Mr. Wilcox can begin to work his way back into being recognized by the Council.”
“What?” Gray asked, his whole body stiff.
“Well, I didn’t say it would be easy, son.” Sloane pointed a finger Gray’s way. “I’m doing all of this for our family. Nemcox is gone. We’re going into delicate negotiations. It’s important that I do everything I can in order to ensure our status when the contracts are signed.”
“I thought you actually cared about my brother,” Gray said bitterly. “I should have known.”
Trent turned to the king. “This is happening outside of Glenton?”
The king nodded. “Yes, it’s a tiny town but as Lord Sloane said, it’s important in a couple of ways. There are apparently ley lines in the area that aid in prophesy. The actual town itself has a population of less than two hundred.”
Trent went stiff beside me. “Less than two hundred humans, you mean. You can add about seventy werewolves, though they wouldn’t live in town. There’s a Lupus Solum stronghold in that area. They have a commune deep in the woods. It’s one of the smaller communities, but they’re dangerous.”
“Yes, I know,” the king said with a sigh. “I’m in a bind here. Our relationship with the wolf council isn’t as strong as I’d like it to be. I’ve withheld fertility rites for the last couple of years.”
“Because of the booming population of young,” Marcus said, seeming to shake something off and trying to concentrate on the issues at hand. “Devinshea’s fertility rituals have caused a ten percent increase in the wolf population in the last decade. We can’t keep that up and remain secret in the human world. They have to understand this.”
“John understands, but he’s also a politician and he can’t seem to be too involved with me,” the king pointed out.
John McKenzie was the alpha wolf, and by that I meant like the alpha. He held the wolves’ seat on the council, but like any government there was always infighting. In the past few years, there had been rumblings of the wolves breaking off. The relationship between wolves and vamps was tenuous, to say the least. It was probably because the vampires of years past were assholes who subjugated the wolves as often as they could. Daniel had done a lot to repair relations by offering his partner’s fertility magic to help the wolves conceive, but it might never be enough to make them forget the king can call wolves.
I’ve never seen it happen, but from what I understand, the king has some measure of influence over wolves. It’s a rumor in the wolf world that the king can call them. It’s an absolute truth that if a wolf takes the king’s blood like my uncle does, the king can completely take the wolf over. All it would take was a couple of drops in a punch bowl at a party and he could potentially take over entire packs. At least that’s what the crazy conspiracy theorists say.
But I didn’t like to delve into politics. I was concerned with the idea of a stray wolf. For the most part wolves need packs or they become dangerous. There are some wolves called Loners, but they’re very rare. Even I need a pack or I lose my shit from time to time. Mine was cobbled together and didn’t vaguely look like a proper pack, but they were mine and they kept me in line. If there was a solo wolf roaming the woods, I would have to do something about it. “What makes you think this is a wolf? I mean a werewolf. If they’re far out in the forest, it could be a regular old wolfy wolf. Not every animal running around the woods is a werecreature.”
My uncle shook his head. “This is definitely a were. There have been sightings of this wolf and the locals are creating urban legends about him. He’s much larger than a natural wolf by all reports.”
“Lots of people have no idea what a natural wolf really looks like,” Gray pointed out.
“The witches are certain it’s a werecreature,” Lord Sloane said.
“And we’ve got stories of the wolf going into houses.” Marcus handed me a second folder. “There are a couple of police reports about break-ins in the vicinity. They occur in roughly the same areas where the murders happened. The only thing stolen was food, particularly things like chips and ice cream. The only prints around the homes the next morning were wolf prints in the snow. Natural wolves don’t break into homes and they can’t open freezers.”
“Do we think he’s Lupus Solum?” I asked. It could make sense. From what I knew about the group, I would want to get away from them, too.
Trent shook his head. “If he’s out in the world he’s likely not from the family. Or he’s shown not to be worthy. He might have something physically wrong with him. Young males are held inside the compound until they reach their majority. They watched us closely for signs.”
“Signs of what?” the king asked. He leaned forward. “I know this is hard for you and I’ve tried to keep you out of it, but I need to know about your time with Lupus Solum.”
Trent seemed to consider the king’s request for a moment.
“Mr. Wilcox, I’ve done a thorough study of Lupus Solum,” Marcus said quietly. “I believe they could be a threat to the king if they ever decide to attempt to exert political influence over the greater werewolf population. However, I don’t think that will ever happen. They prefer to be alone.”
“Yes, where no one can see what they’re doing,” my uncle pointed out. “We all know they likely abuse their women and children.”
“See, demonkind isn’t the only problem,” Lord Sloane pointed out.
Marcus shook his head. “Daniel cannot police the entire supernatural world. If he attempts to disband Lupus Solum, other wolf factions will point to it as a harbinger of a greater war on wolves. You have to look at the politics of it. There’s a greater good to be served here.”
“Fifteen-year-old girls don’t see the greater good, Marcus. They only know they’ve been given to the alpha wolves long before they’re ready. Young boys don’t care about politics. They only care that they’re beaten and left for dead, and only if they survive are they able to join the pack. Women don’t give a shit about how the king looks when their babies are taken from them moments after birth,” Trent said, his voice a monotone that told me he was holding in his emotions.
I put my hand on his, trying to give him solace. “You were one of those boys, weren’t you?”
He was still for a moment and I worried he wouldn’t speak. Slowly his hand turned over, coming palm to palm with mine, and he threaded our fingers together. I couldn’t help but think about what Gray had said. I didn’t know a lot about the cult Trent had been raised in. They didn’t touch Council business. But maybe it was time I worried about more than the Council. I didn’t have to worry about political ramifications. I could simply do what was right.
“Yes, I was considered a potential,” Trent said. “In my world that meant I could possibly be the wolf king.”
Daniel let loose a long huff and his eyes widened. “Seriously, man? Damn. I hoped that was a rumor. They really think they can bring about a wolf king?”
“Not only do they think it, they’ve built a religion around it,” Trent explained.
“What is a wolf king?” Gray asked.
“I thought you knew everything,” Trent shot back.
Gray sighed. “I’m sorry, man. It was a cheap shot. When it became apparent that Kelsey had feelings for you, I looked into your background. I asked some questions of the few wolves I could find who would talk about the cult. They said there were breeding programs and you were part of it. I thought they were trying to create strong alphas.”
“Oh, they want strong alphas, but they also want ones who are obedient and pious,” Trent explained. “Not two things that often go together. My father found Lupus Solum when I was young. Back then they were still trying to infiltrate packs, find good breeders. My parents were both acceptable to the group, and dear Dad moved us out to the commune along with some friends of his. From there they were both placed into the breeding program and I was viewed as a potential. Turns out I not only wasn’t a wolf king, I wasn’t pious or obedient, either.”
There had been many packs over the years that had attempted to strengthen themselves through selective breeding. Basically they would pick the strongest females and mate them to alphas. It would suck because there didn’t have to be love between them, but they would form a team, lead the pack, and hopefully their sons and daughters would be alphas as well. I didn’t think that was what Gray was talking about. I had to have hope though. “Is a wolf king anything like a vampire king?”
Daniel Donovan was the latest in a super-short line of vampire kings. From what I’ve learned, every couple of thousand years or so a hyper-strong vampire rises, and this time it was Donovan. He had all the best powers of each class—he was strong like the warriors, smart like the academics, was as persuasive as any magician, and could call wereanimals like an animus. There were a couple of rare classes like the primals and elementals, but I didn’t know enough about them to say what powers they had beyond being super long-lived and tied to the Earth plane.
“Sort of,” Trent replied. “But unlike a vampire king, there’s never been a wolf king on record. The only one I can think of would be Remus, the first of our kind, and he’s mostly legend.”
Donovan shook his head. “Don’t doubt it. Millenia later and that dude’s paw was enough to control an army. If that’s what we’re looking at, I’m officially worried.”
“Ah, that makes sense,” Lord Sloane said, reminding me he was here. “The cult keeps strict genealogical records. They’re trying to find wolves with ties to historically strong packs.”
“I believe it is Remus’s DNA that they’re trying to find,” Marcus said. “Though it would likely be diluted by now. I don’t know. DNA is a funny thing. It skips around and sometimes hides for centuries. Lupus Solum believes they will find it by pairing only the purest of wolves. I find it interesting that your father didn’t start out in the family, Mr. Wilcox.”
“My father had family in the religion, but my great grandfather had gotten us all out. My father fell in with some friends who were unsatisfied with how close the wolf packs had gotten to the human world,” Trent began slowly, as if he had to work up to what he was going to say. “He connected with some of the elders who approved of both my parents’ lineage. My mother became a priestess. My father was strong and he bore several of the markers they look for in a wolf king. I know it sounds crazy but they have a whole religion based on prophecy from the ninth century or something.”
He seemed to falter and his hand came out of mine. He stood and began to pace.
“There was an alpha who led a Norwegian pack during Viking times,” Lord Sloane explained. “His name was Haldor and he launched a war against vampire kind. Trust me, it was a good time to be a demon. So much chaos.”
Marcus ignored him. “Unfortunately, we had our own problems. Vampires were stronger then. There were more of us and we turned at younger ages. The Council was waging war on all supernatural creatures, and had they been allowed to continue, they would have gone after the humans. The war with the wolves kept that from happening.”
Daniel leaned forward. “Was this during the time of the first king?”
“Yes,” Marcus replied. “Haldor was defeated in battle and his pack became slaves to the Council for many centuries. But the war had done what it needed to do.”
The Hell lord rolled his eyes. “Provide balance.”
The expression on Trent’s face was blank. “On his death bed Haldor said a bunch of shit about how a king would rise but only when the wolves were ready to accept him, only when the wolves were pure. When they were pure and unsullied by the outside world, then Lupus Rex would rise to unbind our chains to the vampires. Most wolves have something else in their line, a little Fae blood here, some werepanther there. Many of us have human blood. Lupus Solum sought to purge all the impure blood from its line. My parents were accepted because they were purebred wolves who converted. Luckily, I was the only idiot they managed to father. Had I stayed with the group, I would have been considered a beta, though I would have had the right to fight to move up in rank. I would have been bred to a priestess and any male children I fathered would have been watched for signs. Females would have been cloistered and if they weren’t selected to be priestesses, they would have become omegas.”
“What do you mean by rank?” I knew about alphas and betas, but other than the leader and his second, I’d never known rankings for the other wolves in a pack.
Marcus took over. “Lupus Solum is a stratified society. All of wolf society is in a way. It is very much as it is with natural wolf packs. Each wolf has a place in the pack, though in modern wolf packs they don’t function the way they used to when food and shelter were scarce. In the old packs the least favored, the less strong, got to eat last, were left at the outskirts of whatever shelter they found. In modern packs, the weak tend to be protected and no one calls out the lessers.”
“Lupus Solum isn’t modern,” Trent said. “Every wolf in the pack knows his or her place by the time they come into puberty. Our elderly know when it’s time to walk into the forest and die. If they don’t, the council of Three will force them. Every pack is ruled by the Three. They are the highest in the pack.”
“They cast out their elderly?” Gray’s mouth was a flat line, a sure sign of his displeasure.
“The elderly, the infirm, the difficult, anyone who commits a transgression.” Trent stared out the windows, his hands on his hips.
He knew what it meant to be outcast. How hard had this been on him? I couldn’t help it. We were in the middle of a meeting with the king. We should be professional. I was a woman in a man’s world. I had to be more professional in many ways. I had to be the baddest-ass bitch in any given room to be taken seriously, but I couldn’t think of that. All I could think of was him. I stood and moved in behind him, wrapping my arms around his waist and letting my head rest against his back. I wanted to let him know he would never be outcast with me. I would always hold him close. His hand moved, bringing mine up to rest over his heart.
“We have to find that wolf, Kelsey,” he said quietly. “He’s likely looking for other wolves. That town is in danger. The pack won’t accept a wolf wandering into their territory, and they won’t care how they get rid of him. People could get hurt.”
“We’ll find him,” I promised. We would find him because finding him meant saving people—and it meant my wolf might get to come home.
Gray came to stand beside us, but his jaw was tight as though he was resisting some instinct. “I’ll pull all the police reports and everything the Rangers have on Lupus Solum, but I warn you it’s not a lot.”
“And I’ll talk to Dev about your transportation to Wyoming in the morning.” My uncle came to my other side. “I’ll send someone up to make all the arrangements so you’re comfortable.”
I stood with Trent as the king and Lord Sloane and Marcus started talking about the possible ramifications of this or that.
I stood there, connected to him for the moment, and prayed I could bring him home.
Copyright 2018 Lexi Blake