Annoyed, Lex Warden snapped his cell phone shut and let out a long breath as he took in the small cottage-style house. Once he pulled his bike onto the stand and got off, he dropped the helmet on the seat and ran his fingers through his hair to get rid of the helmet head he was sure he had after all that time riding over.
The house was light blue and someone obviously took great care of it. The lawn was neat and window boxes overflowed in a burst of red and white,
standing out in colorful relief against the blue. There were raised beds along the front walk and a climbing rose snaked up a lattice off the front porch.
On the porch, a glider swing and a small table with a citronella candle.
More pots of flowers and hanging baskets of greenery decorated the space.
It was like a nice bit of the wild right there in the city. It gave the place a sense of calm, of refuge.
Shrugging off his amazement that anyone related to Gabriel Reyes could have such a neat and organized house, he stalked to the front door.
Bypassing the doorbell, he pounded.
Moments later a tall, dark-haired woman answered and her eyes widened as she took him in.
Nina felt her mouth water as she got a load of the man standing on her porch. He was quite a specimen—well over six feet tall, blond-brown hair, deep green eyes. She swept her eyes down. His T-shirt and jeans were deceiving, they looked worn and faded but she could tell they were both designer, and the boots looked handmade. A gold Piaget watch decorated his wrist. Jeez, his hands were huge. She had to gather herself mentally as her normally ruthlessly tied down libido roared to life. She could feel her pulse flutter and she gave herself a hard mental smack. If there was one thing in the world Nina could recognize, it was trouble. And this guy was trouble. She’d placed herself on a trouble-free diet years before and she reminded herself that he was way off the menu.
Lex raked his glance over her from head to toe. The woman, most likely the sister, had on a white blouse buttoned up to the chin and slacks with low- heeled shoes. Her hair was tightly bound up into a bun on the top of her head and she was wearing glasses. He dismissed her as a sexual being immediately. “I’m looking for Rey.” His voice was blunt, manner
straightforward and slightly threatening.
She gathered herself up and stood tall, back straight. “Why?” “Why?”
“Did I mumble? You do seem to speak English. Are you having a problem with the word? Do I need to explain it to you?”
Lex barely held back a growl of annoyance. “Listen, I’m looking for Rey. It doesn’t have anything to do with you. Is he here or not?” She raised a brow but remained silent, her arms crossed over her chest.
He tried to stare her down but she just snorted and started to step back and close her door in his face. “I need to talk to him,” he added quickly. He
shifted his weight from foot to foot, feeling like he’d been called to the principal’s office.
“Is that so? He’s not here. If you want to leave him a note, I’ll give it to him when I see him next.” Again, she started to close the door, but he put a hand out to stop her.
“When’s that gonna be?”
“Just who are you?” Suspicious irritation was clear on her face as she examined him again, this time with a more critical eye.
“I’m Lex Warden. A friend of his.”
Understanding lit her eyes, which she narrowed at him. Lex knew for sure this wasn’t a good thing.
“No you’re not. I know who you are, Mr. Warden, and you are not Gabriel’s friend.
He’s had enough people in his life leading him astray. I should know, I’ve cleaned up after him long enough. Get the hell off my porch and don’t bother coming back.” She moved her arm behind the door.
He leaned in, growling, “Listen, lady, you don’t know what you’re getting in the middle of.”
She poked him hard in the middle of his chest. Her face was hard, gaze furious.
“You did not just growl at me! You listen here, I don’t care what the fuck you want.
Don’t you dare try to intimidate me with your size! Growl at me! How dare you! Get the heck out of here and do it now before I shoot you.” He’d been fascinated with her face—at the light of ferocity in her eyes, the scent of a woman in full battle mode. He stepped forward only to feel something hard poke him in the balls. He looked down and saw the shotgun she pointed at him with her free hand. With horrified fascination, he watched as she used the hand she’d poked him with to pump the gun. He heard the unmistakable click of the ammo loading. All the while, the muzzle of the gun never left the region of his balls.
She didn’t stand like a woman unused to a gun. He slid his glance back up into her face, where he met her determined and bloodthirsty gaze and felt a burst of heat bloom in his gut at the sight.
Despite his annoyance and yes, a bit of fear, he had to admit that she turned him on too. He put his hands up in surrender and took a step back. “Whoa!
Let’s not be hasty here. I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want to hurt Rey either but I need to talk to him.”
“I’m not hasty.” She moved the shotgun tighter against his balls. “Test me why don’t you? This is ready to roll and I’ve had a shitty day.” She narrowed her left eye at him and her lips—very nice lips, he noticed—
curled up at one side in a grin. 7
“Look, wolf boy, he’s gone. He came by, borrowed money,” she snorted, “took money—it’s not like I’ll ever see it again—and headed out. Told me that the Pack was looking for him, wanting to kill him. Even if I knew
where he ran to, which I don’t, I certainly wouldn’t tell someone out to hurt him.”
“I told you, I’m not gonna hurt him. I need to talk to him.” Wolf boy? He tried his sexy smile, a smile that this frigid-looking spinster should
“Yeah, I’m sure that works on all the puppies down at the shelter. But I don’t know you from Adam and the fact that you say you don’t want to hurt him means nothing to me.”
“Come on, Ms. Reyes. Give me a break. We can help each other out here, don’t you think? We can talk about it more over dinner.” He cocked his head in that adorable little boy way that his mother always melted over despite the puppies at the shelter comment.
She actually rolled her eyes at him and slammed the door in his face.
“Shit!” he hissed and walked back down the sidewalk to where his bike was parked. Casting a glance back at the house, he saw that the spinster was looking at him from the front windows. He tipped an imaginary hat at her as he put the key in and turned the ignition, firing the bike to life. He grunted a surprised laugh when she flipped him off in return.
* * * * *
Nina Reyes watched the man roar away on the Harley and closed the
curtains with a sigh. Men were all the same, even if they were freaking werewolves. Okay, delicious hunks of hot, gorgeous hard werewolf flesh that she’d love to take a ride on. Oh, did she think that out loud? She
winced and reminded herself that she had a battery-operated boyfriend and that was the best kind. No fuss, no muss and it never asked to borrow money.
With a snort, she put the shotgun back on the rack and removed the pins holding her hair in place. Chocolate brown curls shimmered down her back. She took off the clear lens glasses and placed them on the table near the door and rubbed her eyes.
She knew that she had the kind of looks that people remembered—long
curly hair, big hazel eyes, long legs and full breasts. So she put her hair up in a severe bun. She’d cut it once but it just accentuated her eyes so she’d given herself the pleasure of letting it stay long, even if she was the only one who ever saw it down. She wore fake glasses and buttoned her shirts to the neck and wore slacks and flat shoes. It was necessary not to call
attention to herself.
She wished her brother had the same caution. Damn that Gabriel! She
couldn’t believe he’d gotten her into yet another mess, and this time with
werewolves. It was bad enough when he’d gotten attacked in a bar fight and had contracted the lycanthropy virus. She’d stood by him, hoping that
surviving the adversity would make him stronger. He’d gotten involved with the local wolf Pack and had pretty much faded
from her life. She’d gotten a card here and there, he’d borrowed money a few times, but she really didn’t know much about his life. And with
Gabriel, no news was good news.
When she didn’t get calls for bail at two in the morning she took it as a sign that he was alive and well, or at least not getting caught at whatever he was doing.
But really the change had only made a morally weak man physically
stronger. It wasn’t altogether surprising when, out of the blue, he’d showed up on her doorstep the night before, looking like the devil himself was
chasing him. He said he’d seen something he wasn’t supposed to and that the Pack was going to be looking for him to kill him for it. He’d certainly seemed scared for his life. She’d begged him to call the cops but he’d only looked at her like she was crazy. In the end, she’d given him all of the cash she had on her and in her emergency kitty and he’d gone, begging her to
cover for him.
Cover for him! She snorted. Cover for him with frick-fracken werewolves. She rolled her eyes. But he was her brother, all the family she had, and she couldn’t very well just let him get killed, even if he was a turd.
No, she was all he had and that meant something to her still. He was hers, for better or for worse, and she’d haul his ass out of trouble again, if only so she could give it a swift kick.
Double checking to be sure she’d locked the doors—as if that could stop a werewolf—she shrugged and reached back to grab the shotgun and headed for bed.
* * * * *
Lex pulled his Harley into the garage and walked up the back stairs into the main house. For the first time since he’d left earlier that day, he felt relaxed. Their home was one he’d designed to serve as a refuge from Pack business. The Pack did not come to their big wooden home in the woods. There was a Pack house in town where Lex and Cade spent several nights a week but this house was theirs and theirs alone. They’d watched Pack business take over every part of their father’s life and eat at their parents’
marriage. Neither Cade nor Lex wanted to make that same mistake.
Lex walked down the grand hallway and heard his brother, the Alpha of the Pack, clicking on the keyboard, working as usual. He walked into the home office that looked out over the lake and flopped onto the couch. “Hey.”
“Hey, yourself. Did you find him?” Cade spun in his chair to look at his brother.
Lex sighed. “No. But I met his sister.”
Cade raised a brow. “Oh yeah? And? I’m guessing you charmed her into bed and she told you where he was?”
Lex barked a laugh. “Try again. She fucking pointed a shotgun at my balls and told me to get lost.”
Cade looked at him wide eyed and then burst out laughing. “No shit?” 9
“She looks like a librarian. Comes to the door in some prim and proper outfit, hair so tightly bound up she probably got a headache, and gives me the evil eye. Mouth puckered up like she’d been sucking lemons. The chick has Sunday school teacher written all over her.
“First she poked me in the chest! Then she told me that Rey showed up at her place—said he was being threatened by the Pack who wanted to kill him, grabbed some cash and took off. Then she told me to get out of there or she’d shoot me. I look down and she’s got a shotgun planted in my
crotch and the meanest look I’ve ever seen on a human on her face. She
called me wolf boy, slammed the door in my face. Oh! And flipped me off when I was driving away,” Lex said, unable to keep the admiration out of his voice.
Cade wiped a tear of mirth from his eye. “The most feared wolf in North
America and a Sunday school teacher got the jump on you? Damn, I wish I could have seen it with my own eyes. You must be slipping, Lex. Clearly getting shot at and running after Rogue wolves isn’t enough to keep your
edge.” He put his hand to his chin and pretended to think carefully.
“Perhaps this woman should be our new Enforcer. Should we ask her, Lex? You can teach her kids and she can handle the firearms and take down the bad guys.”
Lex shot his brother a dirty look. “Make fun while you can, dickweed. I’m telling you, despite her general level of homeliness and uptightness, she was fierce. It’s kinda admirable.”
“Admirable? And she’s related to Rey? How come he’s such a weasel then?”
“There’s a messed up weasel in every family. Look at you.” Lex smirked at his brother as he heaved himself off the couch and headed down the hall to the kitchen. He bent to grab a beer from the fridge and tossed one to Cade.
“Ha ha, very funny. Call me Alpha when you say that,” Cade growled.
“What’s your plan, then, oh scary Enforcer?” Cade asked, tossing the beer cap into the recycling and leaning back against the wall.
Shoving past Cade, Lex moved to sit down at the table. “We watch the
sister. You know Rey will need help. He’s going to screw up sooner or later. Hell, she admitted that she’d cleaned up after him his whole life. When he comes to her, we’ll grab him.” Lex took a sip of the beer and shrugged his
shoulders. “We have to find out what he saw.”
“Well, we’d better hope we get to him before the Rogues do,” Cade said.
“For his sake and ours. We have to find out what’s going on. Until we do, no one can be trusted, and you can’t run a Pack that way.”
* * * * *
The next morning, as Nina walked to her car, she noticed the steel-gray Mercedes parked across the street. Upon closer examination, she saw Lex Warden sitting inside 10
and sighed—partly in annoyance and partly at the picture he made there. He looked cool and dangerous and undeniably sexy with his carnal lips curled up at the corner into a smug smile. Pushing her attraction down as far as she could, she pulled out of her driveway and drove to work. He made no bones
about following her and did so openly, probably to rattle her a bit. It didn’t matter. She’d kept her cool under much scarier circumstances than some guy watching her. As long as Gabriel listened to her advice and had hightailed it out of town and kept his head low, everything would be all right.
She snorted to herself at that. Of course he wouldn’t. He’d mess up because it was simply part of his nature. No, she could only hope when it did happen that it wasn’t too catastrophic and that she got to him before the bad guys did.
With a sigh, she pulled into her space behind the florist shop and went inside to begin to prepare for the day. This was her realm. She’d built this business from the ground up and it was totally hers. Hers to make or break, and damn it, she’d made it through a heck of a lot of hard work and sixteen- hour days.
On her way through to the employee kitchen she took the place in, loving the little details. The antique pots and containers she picked up in little
shops and garage and estate sales. The potted plants and lush greenery that made the shop seem like an oasis in the middle of a metropolitan area. The stained glass panes that she’d found last year were hung in the high
windows and now morning light jeweled through them and across the floor and walls.
Smiling with satisfaction, she put her lunch into the fridge and grabbed a cup of coffee that was fresh and waiting for her, and her day officially began. Checking in with her assistant, she made sure that the wholesaler had made the early morning delivery and that everything had arrived as ordered.
Folding the doors back, she placed pretty buckets and basins of flowers directly outside of the shop, watered the hanging plants and went back inside. She made it a point to ignore Lex, who was now leaning against his car, drinking a coffee. She fell into her daily rhythm—she loved her shop, loved flowers and plants, and taking care of the daily minutiae of it all pulled her into a sort of Zen state.
Well, she’d be lying if she said she could ignore him entirely. He made quite a sight—long, muscular body lounging against that sexy car. His thighs strained the jeans he had on and all of that gorgeous hair was tied back at the nape of his neck. His large hands cradled a cup of coffee and she imagined what they’d feel like on her body. His designer sunglasses hid those beautiful green eyes but she knew his eyes followed her every move.
His casual pose did not fool her, he was tight and alert and ready for anything.
Lex watched her as she moved about her small florist shop. She had an innate grace about her. He liked watching the way she put the arrangements together so beautifully, like it was second nature to her. She had an eye for beauty and apparently quite the green thumb. She chatted with customers
and the employees and people seemed to really like her as they stopped into the shop just to say hello or to buy flowers. He hid a smile when he watched her run out to the mail carrier and tuck a bird of paradise into
his bag. There was no trace of the poker-faced uptight spinster of the night before, except for those moments when she looked up and saw him—then it returned and her entire body stiffened. He wanted to grin at her when she did that. Her ire amused him.
She amused him, and surprised him too. She was a lot tougher than she looked to stand there and act as if it were no big deal that a six-and-a-half- foot-tall werewolf was watching her every move.
He made his business calls from his cell phone as he watched her take lunch while working. He’d grown up in a family business, knew what it meant to work so hard you ate your lunch standing up and in a hurry. She seemed to be doing pretty well for herself if the traffic was any indicator. She’d had a steady flow of customers all day long and she seemed to know ninety percent of them personally.
* * * * *
At four, Brad came in and moved in and tried to drop a brief kiss on her lips. She stiffened and turned her head but as usual, he didn’t catch that. “Nina, there’s a guy across the street, he’s been there all day. I think he’s watching you.” Nina smiled at him as she stepped out of his reach. Brad Logan was the owner of the bookstore next door to the flower shop and he’d been pestering her to go out with him for months. He was actually quite good looking and Nina had no idea why he was interested in her, or
rather, the public Nina anyway. She liked him well enough but he just didn’t give her the spark of interest that would lead her to letting him into her
closely guarded personal life. It had been awfully long though, since she’d let anyone inside. She found herself yearning to be close to someone she didn’t have to save, protect or bail out of trouble. Someone who was an
equal, a partner.
“I know. It’s nothing,” she assured him.
Brad looked at Lex again. “Who is he? Do you want me to go and talk to him?” Brad asked her, still concerned.
“He’s an associate of my brother’s. Everything’s all right, Brad. Thanks for your concern though, I appreciate it.”
“Why don’t you let me escort you to your car when you close up? We could go out to dinner afterward.”
“Not tonight, Brad. I have plans, but thanks. I’ll be fine, he won’t hurt me,” she assured him and after a few minutes more of chatting, he went back next door.