Seven shifter clans call the Montana mountains home. But a new evil will stop at nothing to tear their world apart.
For centuries, the shifters that roam Big Sky country have honored a pact to keep the peace. Even bad-boy rancher Wes Calhoun, former leader of a renegade pack, has given up his violent ways and sworn loyalty to the Grey Wolves. But his dark past keeps catching up with him…
Human rancher Naomi Evans cares only about saving the ranch that was her father’s legacy. Until a clash with Wes opens up a whole new world—a supernatural world on the verge of war—and Naomi, her ranch, and the sexy cowboy wolf stealing her heart are smack dab in the middle of it.
It was more than a hunger for fresh steak that filled Wes Calhoun’s belly. Violence brewed in the night air, and he sensed it. As he prowled through the stable, rays of moonlight lit his path, flooding in through the open doors. The scent of freshly baled hay, mucked stalls, and the oiled grooming polish he’d brushed into the foals’ coats this morning hung heavy in the air.
When he reached the wrought-iron gate of Black Jack’s stall, he paused. He had half a mind to turn back now. Just a pivot of his foot, and he could walk back into Wolf Pack Run and listen to the voice of reason. He could already hear the roar of Maverick’s rage. When the Grey Wolf packmaster returned from the western packlands, he wouldn’t take Wes defying his direct orders lightly. But as hard as Wes’s logic yelled his life would be a helluva lot easier if he marched his ass back inside, he couldn’t do it.
Kyle would be waiting, and Wes needed to know. For the Grey Wolves. For the safety of the Seven Range Pact. For his own twisted reasons. Black Jack let out a frustrated huff, the heat of the horse’s breath swirling in a visible dance around his face.
Shit. Wes jumped back, anticipating the blow before it came.
The horse reared up on his hind legs and kicked open the old stall gate with elegant ease. The weight of the massive beast fell back to the ground with a thud of his hooves, his long, black mane whipping about his face. The fierce mustang trotted out of his stall and pegged Wes with a look of I haven’t got all night, as if it were normal for a horse to regularly escape his hold. Though Wes supposed for this animal, it was.
He was damn near untrainable.
A devilish smirk crossed Wes’s face as he placed his hands on Black Jack’s shining coat and mounted the horse bareback. Black Jack had never been very good at following the rules.
And neither was he.
As soon as Wes’s leg was over his back, the horse bolted out the open stable door and into the night. Wes buried his hands in the mustang’s mane for leverage, leaned forward, and gripped hard with his muscled thighs, trying his best to move with the galloping beast. The cool night air washed over his face. The fresh scent of the mountain evergreens, hinted with pine and cedar, filled his nose along with the earthy dampness of moss upon shale rock. The encroaching cold of the coming winter’s first frost hung in the air.
Yes, this was what he needed, despite the trouble it would cause him. With each pounding leap, Wes felt all four of Jack’s hooves connect with the cold mountain ground as they bounded into the trees, running with an abandon that only fueled Wes’s defiance. Maverick refused to see the danger right in front of him, but Wes knew firsthand what waited in that darkness.
Black Jack bounded through the mountains with speed and agility the likes of which Wes couldn’t replicate, even as his wolf. When Wes finally caught Kyle’s scent on the distant breeze, he pulled back on the wild horse’s mane, and they skidded to a stop among a dense band of evergreen trees. His ears pricked for the slightest hint of noise. Nothing but the sounds of the forest. It was a quiet October night. With the light of the supermoon bright in the night sky, hunger filled Wes, and the forest’s cacophony of sounds echoed in his ears—birds snuggled in their nests, a far-off stream just starting to slow and ice around the edges in the mountain cold, a nearby fox hunkered in wait for an approaching hare.
Quickly, Wes dismounted, then inspected Black Jack with a firm stare. “Stay close.”
The horse let out a pissed-off huff and started to rear up on his back legs. Wes’s eyes flashed to his wolf’s, and he leveled a don’t-fuck-with-me stare at Black Jack.
Not tonight, bud.
The horse released an angered whinny before stomping off to forage on the remaining autumn short grass.
Wes rolled his eyes before he headed down the mountainside on two feet, slipping through the familiar pines in search of the clearing where he and Kyle had agreed to meet. The surrounding noises of the forest filled his wolf with keen, sharp awareness. He stepped through the opening in the tree line and into the clearing.
Kyle waited for him. “How goes it, my man?” Kyle extended his hand and his other arm for a brotherly half shake, half hug.
Wes towered over Kyle by nearly four inches. With a bandanna under his flat-brimmed hat and tattoos peeking out from underneath his heavy winter coat, Kyle looked like the city slicker he was. Judging from the abundance of clothing, he must have driven up on the nearby highway. Something about the oddity of that raised the hairs on the back of Wes’s neck in warning suspicion. A lone wolf from Los Angeles who’d moved up to the mountains several years earlier, Kyle maintained close ties to the Wild Eight but had never sworn in. Wes saw Kyle for exactly what he was: a two-faced snitch who played any side to fuel his raging coke addiction.
True men, fierce werewolves and warriors who fought real battles, formed the Grey Wolf Pack versus the violent wolves who comprised the new members and associates of the Wild Eight, men who were now barely better than loosely organized street thugs. They were lost and weak in the absence of Wes’s leadership. It was his fault. His decisions that had led to the demise of his once-mighty pack and the shared dream of freedom they’d fought for.
Seven mountain ranges surrounded Billings for seven shifter packs—grey wolves, black bears, bobcats, grizzly bears, coyotes, lynx, and mountain lions alike. Since as far back as their history was written, the shifters who roamed Big Sky Country and called Montana’s vast mountain ranges their own relied on the Seven Range Pact to govern their law, enforced by the Grey Wolf Pack’s rule.
Wes’s great-great-grandfather had formed the Wild Eight faction, the eighth and only illegitimate pack among these mountains. Residing in downtown Billings, the Wild Eight had wreaked havoc on the inner city and the humans dwelling there in opposition to the Seven Range Pact’s sanctions. But with Wes’s surrender as packmaster of the Wild Eight, the war within their species had become dormant. The packmaster of the Grey Wolves, Maverick Grey, interpreted this to mean the eventual dissolution of the Wild Eight in the absence of a Calhoun to lead, the end of their civil war. But Wes knew better. The Wild Eight would resurge, even in his absence. And when they did, they wouldn’t stop until they’d claimed Wes’s life for his betrayal.
“How’s life?” Kyle asked, as if they were there to shoot the breeze.
Wes ignored the question, pulled the cash out of the pocket of his jeans, and held it up for Kyle to see. “You said you had information for me.”
“Always down to business, huh, Wes?” Kyle swiped under his nose with an obnoxious sniff. He was jonesing alright. “So I was at the clubhouse the other day when I heard Donnie saying that there’s a new alliance forming.”
Wes’s eyebrows climbed toward his hairline. “Between who?”
Donnie’s name alone pissed off Wes. All too quickly, his one-time loyal friend had jumped in as the Wild Eight’s packmaster in his absence. Under Donnie’s leadership, the Wild Eight had become street scum.
Kyle leaned forward and whispered as if they weren’t alone. A sly grin crossed his lips. “Word on the street is the vamps.”
Wes saw red. Lies. He shoved Kyle squarely in the chest. “You call me all the way out here to tell me this bullshit? You think this is funny?”
Kyle backed up. He threw his hands up as if in surrender.“I shit you not, man. That’s the truth.” He laughed. “Donnie went to that side of town the very next day for a private meeting, if you catch my drift.”
Wes raged. No, it couldn’t be true. If it was, that meant everything he had worked for, everything he had sacrificed, was for nothing. He knew Donnie was scum. He knew every member of that pack was in some way scum, but there had been a time when he’d been one of them, when he’d thought better of them, expected better. He may have led the rebellion against the Grey Wolves to live by his own rules, but he never would have allowed the Wild Eight to betray their own kind. Not with the likes of those bloodsuckers. He’d given up everything to ensure that.
If Donnie was partnering with the vamps, that meant the peace the Grey Wolves had enjoyed after Wes’s surrender would soon be over. For the Seven Range Pact, this would mean war.
Wes crossed the clearing to where a small stream ran. He crouched down, reached into the icy-cold water, and splashed some on his face. But it didn’t help. The moonlight hit the water, causing his reflection to stare back at him. He was one of those monsters. He’d been their leader, the worst of them all. All before the night he’d trekked up this godforsaken mountainside and surrendered himself to Maverick. The blood of his father and an innocent woman had still been fresh on his cowboy boots. His anger and shame filled him like an empty vessel, screaming for release. Hunt. He needed to hunt. His tendency for violence, the impulsive rage he barely contained, was how he’d thrived as their packmaster for so long.
During the daylight hours, the physical labor of herding and caring for the Grey Wolves’ wild horses and yearlings and working with his hands on their cow-calf operation kept Wes busy, unable to dwell on the wrongs of his past. But when night fell, hunting was his only release, and with the supermoon blazing in the night sky above him, calling out his wolf, he intended to do exactly that.
“Any more news on this, and you report to me, understood?” As the words left Wes’s lips, he caught a familiar scent on the breeze. A mixture of whiskey, the gasoline of the cars in downtown Billings, and the musk of a male werewolf. The snarl that rumbled in Wes’s throat was barely contained. He’d recognize that scent anywhere.
Wes honed in on the sounds flanking the clearing. The occasional rustle told him the Wild Eight wolves were nearby, hidden in the darkness of the trees. Now that he was aware of them, he felt their eyes on him. Kyle had sold him out, the ignorant little shit.
Slowly, Wes stood, his anger simmering. He would battle them, spill their blood for ever daring to attack him, which they clearly planned to do. But one sharp move would alert them, and he needed to gain the upper hand. First, he’d take out the weakest link in a show of ruthless dominance, a reminder that he was still alpha, their leader or not.
Prowling toward Kyle, he extended to his full height. He placed his hands squarely on either side of Kyle’s neck, as if he were about to pull him into a brotherly hug. His eyes trained on the area of the tree line above Kyle’s head where he now sensed movement. His wolf threatened to burst from beneath his skin as he felt an approaching presence from behind.
They would attack when his back was turned. It was typical of Donnie’s tactics and of what the Wild Eight had now become. When he’d been packmaster, Wes had never been so cowardly. Ruthless, brutal, wild, and unpredictable, but never a coward. He smiled. Their cowardice meant they still feared him. That was why they needed to attack when they thought his defenses were down. Though they had waited three years, he’d always known they wouldn’t stop until they saw him dead.
But clearly, though time hadn’t lessened their fear, it had made them forget that Wes never let his guard down.
Kyle reached for his knife, but Wes easily blocked it. With one swift move, he twisted Kyle’s neck until it snapped. Kyle crumpled to the ground.
Wes didn’t think. His wolf tore from his skin in a painfully satisfying release, shifting bones and sinew. Another wolf darted from the trees behind where Kyle had stood. Wes didn’t recognize the newbie’s scent. But it was no matter. In a bounding leap, Wes collided with the other wolf midair. They landed in a mix of snarling teeth and tangled limbs. The other wolf lunged for Wes’s throat. It took all of two seconds for Wes to overpower the lesser beast, pinning him to the ground with his paws. He was the alpha. He had been their leader. But they had attacked when his back was turned, a weak strategy unbecoming of his legacy. And for that, he would spill their blood without remorse.
He ripped into the other wolf’s throat. Blood dripped from his sharp fangs in a salty, iron-filled heat. Wes didn’t stop to think. He had only one true target. He rounded in search of Donnie, who crouched in wolf form at the other side of the clearing. Both wolves snarled.
Slowly, they circled each other. Wes charged. The two wolves collided in a clash of claws and teeth. Wes sank his fangs in first, ripping into the fur of Donnie’s shoulder. Donnie yelped in pain. In retaliation, Donnie caught Wes’s front leg in the weight of his powerful jaw. Pain seared through the limb. The bite knocked Wes off-balance. Donnie used his front paws, along with Wes’s momentum, to slam Wes onto his back, sending the two rolling in a fit of limbs and snarls. Paws to chests, they rolled until Wes emerged on top.
Donnie lunged forward, teeth snapping, but Wes knew how to end this. Donnie would hide behind his wolf as long as Wes let him, because he was a coward, because he feared the increased pain of his human form. But Wes knew pain. As Nolan Calhoun’s son, he’d known pain his whole life, and he didn’t fear it. He embraced it.
Without warning, Wes shifted, his paws changing to hands that were against the fur of Donnie’s chest. He gripped the snarling beast, digging and crushing Donnie’s throat with his large hands. Steadying his feet on the ground, Wes lifted the snarling wolf by the front scruff of his neck, his hand threatening to crush Donnie’s windpipe with one sharp squeeze. Donnie shifted beneath his hands, clutching at Wes’s grip against his throat. Bloodlust coursed through Wes’s veins. He had killed so many times in his life and never thought twice. But the fear, the hurt, the betrayal reflected back in Donnie’s eyes stopped Wes short. He couldn’t bring himself to crush the other wolf’s trachea. Wes hated what Donnie had become, loathed it with every fiber of his being, but his enemy had once been his friend, his brother.
Wes’s betrayal of their pack, then Donnie’s attempt on Wes’s life. Wounds deeper than knives had cut both of them to the quick. Now, they would be even.
“This is your one and only chance,” Wes growled. “Next time, I’ll kill you.” Wes released him.
Donnie crumpled to the ground, gasping for air.
From the enraged look in Donnie’s dark eyes, Wes half expected the bastard to attack him again right then and there. Donnie shifted back into wolf form, and Wes followed suit.
A loud howl suddenly echoed through the forest. Wes and Donnie froze. The scent of the Grey Wolf packmembers who were on tonight’s patrol drifted on the night air. Immediately, Donnie and his men sprinted from the clearing, scattering into the darkness behind Wes in several directions.
Lips curled into a snarl, Wes bolted toward the trees. He may have spared Donnie, but he held no loyalty to the new members. His opponents made no attempt to hide now. He heard them, smelled them, tasted their filthy blood in his jaws. He hunted them anew, because if Maverick ever found out Wes had spared the life of a former friend on Grey Wolf packlands, the Grey Wolf packmaster would kill Wes himself.
Wes barreled behind the Wild Eight wolves at full speed, darting around trees, over rocks, under low branches. He acted on pure instinct. He and his wolf fused into one tonight. He felt it in the marrow of his bones, and his wolf was hungry.
The gamy scent of livestock drifted overhead. The Wild Eight wolves were headed toward a ranch at the bottom of the mountain. Wes saw them now, two of them up ahead. An old wooden ranch fence lay beyond.
They leaped over the fence, Wes close on their heels. Clearing the fence, he ran forward without hesitation until, with a loud metallic snap, pain shot through his front leg and paw. A yelp tore from his jaws. Uselessly, he tried to pull his paw back, only to find metal digging farther into his fur and flesh. The pain was hardly worse than the realization that the Wild Eight wolves’ scent now trailed in front of him, retreating, and he couldn’t follow.
A trap. The rancher had set a fucking trap. Damn it all to hell.
Blood poured from the wound. But it would heal. Wes could deal with the pain. It was how he was going to get the hell out of this trap that concerned him. His fellow Grey Wolves likely wouldn’t find him for hours.
Their focus would be on the Wild Eight wolves, not keeping tabs on him, and it would take Black Jack at least an hour to track his scent. He snarled. The night was quickly taking a turn for the worst.
About thirty yards away, a porch light flicked on, blazing and searing his nocturnal retinas. As the sound of the Wild Eight’s paws against the ground faded away, the noise of a different challenge thudded in his ears. Approaching footsteps followed by the quiet click of shotgun shells being loaded into the barrel. Shit.
Adrenaline pulsed through him. Pack law forbade human knowledge of their kind. His choices were limited.
Kill to save himself and preserve his kind as pack law allowed, or shift and risk them all for the sake of one human life. The hair on his haunches raised as his wolf prepared to fight.
Shame and regret immediately filled him. No, he couldn’t. Not again. He had already taken one innocent human life too many. Three years, and he still felt as if the blood were fresh on his hands…
As the footsteps drew closer, an internal war raged inside Wes. Teeth bared, he ignored the pain coursing through his paw and focused on the only real decision he had.
The only choice that ensured his survival.