When good girls go bad, they go wolf.
Shapeshifter Monty GrayClaw has lived a wild life. A youth spent in Cougar Falls hadn’t prepared him for the outside world, or for Hunters—humans who capture and slaughter Ac-taw. They nearly killed him before he escaped years of torture. Now living safely in Cougar Falls once more, he’s trying to put the past behind him and look toward the future.
That future includes Sophie Tanner, a shy woman new to both her Ac-taw heritage and the town. Sophie is a sweet, lovely young wolf who calls to everything inside him. When an enemy from Monty’s past tracks him down, it will take the gentle woman with a will of iron to save the day. But when their shared history comes to haunt them both, can Monty save his mate, or will she leave him and Cougar Falls behind forever?
Monty GrayClaw’s heart raced and his palms sweated. Years spent in captivity paled next to the dread spreading like a toxin through his system.
A wolf in human clothing, Monty should have felt far more confident than he did. He was Ac-taw, a born Shifter who could take the form of the noblest creature on the planet—a gray wolf of estimable grace, power and control. Yet he trembled. Hell. He couldn’t screw this up, not if he wanted to remain sane. One false step would be the end of him.
He glanced over his shoulder, expecting a trap. It was too quiet, too easy. All the months of lying in wait, the subtle stalking, being patient while his prey turned ripe for the plucking…it boiled down to how he maneuvered tonight.
The moon shone brightly overhead, the sweet smells of pine and rosemary making the cool, late-August air crisp with flavor, but not sharp enough to hide the creature moving within the antiquated Victorian still in sad need of repair.
Monty tightened his grip and swore when he cut himself. The scent of blood would carry. Damn it. He’d been waiting so long. He needed to act now. But what if he’d read the signs wrong? He’d already tried twice and had been rebuffed. What if he screwed up and set himself back even further? He couldn’t go through this again. Not after all his preparation, the sleepless nights, the new interference from the Gray Wolf Order…
A sound—footsteps—froze him in place as the scent of his prey approached. Creaks and groans of aging wood grew louder until only a solid plank of oak separated them. He tightened his grip, bore down on his nerves and readied to spring as the door slowly creaked open.
He moved before he could think about what the hell he was doing and stuck out his arm.
“Hello? Monty?” Sophie Tanner, the prettiest she-wolf Monty had ever seen and the star of his nightly fantasies, brightened like a sunbeam as she blinked at him. “Flowers. For me?” She gushed over the crumpled bouquet still extended in her direction. “Oh, you’re bleeding.”
The stupid roses had thorns. Trust Rachel, his pride leader’s female, to grow flowers with teeth. Friggin’ cats.
“Come in here and let me have a look.” She took the bouquet from him and led him into her kitchen.
He followed like a docile lamb, willing to do whatever it took to get her hands on him again.
Oh man, he wanted this woman bad. His stomach did somersaults whenever he was around her and his tongue ignored his brain. He’d been unable to ask her out on a date for fear of being rejected again. Him, Monty friggin’ GrayClaw, denied—the thought boggled the mind. It would have been funny if he hadn’t already sensed she was and would be the most important thing in his life. Knowing she had a history almost as rough as his own had slowed his pursuit way down. But Christ on a crutch, Monty was no saint, and waiting two years for her to get settled into town and over her fear of male Ac-taw had worn thin.
The woman needed to overcome her past and deal with him. Tonight. Right now. Before he lost his nerve and bolted for the door. Hell. Maybe it wasn’t the right time after all…
He swore as cold water stung his scarred palm. Hell, he was marked up like a chew toy. He hoped she didn’t mind a few abrasions…scars…whip marks.
“Big baby,” she teased, a blush on her cheeks. Her gray eyes gleamed like diamonds against skin that saw the sun often. She’d braided her long brown hair down her back, and that thick stuff teased him with images of what it would look like soft around her shoulders and curled around those tantalizing breasts. Not too big, not too small, just perfect to put his hands around…
She gave a polite cough and he brought his head up with a snap, flushing with guilt when she gave him a look.
“I, er, thanks for the water.”
Sophie pried the thorn out of his hand. In a soft voice, she said, “I’m glad you came over. You said you might stop by, but you always…” She cleared her throat and patted his palm with a towel. “The flowers are beautiful.”
Crumpled and smashed, but if she liked them, who was he to say differently? He grinned. “Sure thing. Pretty flowers for a pretty girl.”
His pridemates would have laughed their butts off at the lame compliment. Grady and Dean, cat pranksters and ladies’ men during their bachelor days, would have tried to work the she-wolf out of her panties on the first date. But Monty wanted more from the gentle wolf than a quick tumble. He wanted kisses and hugs, tenderness, pups…
“Are you okay?” She pressed her small hand to his forehead and he fought not to groan. “You feel hot to me.”
As usual around this particular female, he was caught between wanting to bend her over and defending her from the world—including himself.
The protector, as usual, won out. Monty leaned back, away from her touch, and forced another smile. Slow and gentle would win the race, or so he kept telling himself.
“I always run hot.” Around you. “I’m good. We going out to dinner, then?” Their first official date. He’d been hanging around her for months. Lending support, just being there, waiting for her to need him. He’d gone so far as to attack a few bears when they’d roughhoused in her grocery store and broken her arm back in March. Accident or not, they’d hurt Sophie and put his animal spirit into a frenzy. His wolf reacting so violently only reaffirmed what he’d already known—Sophie was his.
“I was kind of thinking we could eat here, if that’s okay.” So shy, she ducked her head away after asking.
Monty loved everything about her. That shyness, her soft hands, the way she skirted trouble if she could avoid it. Unlike the sly cats and foxes he lived with in the pride, Sophie didn’t ask for problems. The cats lived to antagonize. The Bermin sisters were as bad about mouthing off when they felt the need. And the foxes had a way of causing innocent mischief that somehow landed trouble at his door. He couldn’t shake the feeling one of the female foxes had sabotaged his last card game. And though Monty sincerely loved his pride leader’s woman, Rachel was pushy, no two ways about it.
So unlike his Sophie. She took his lead when they talked, and if he wished at times she would be a bit more assertive, he also liked the fact she wanted to please. The woman knew her own mind—she just needed patience, kindness and an understanding mate. Monty prayed he could be that wolf, because he didn’t plan on letting anyone else lay claim to her. Sophie Tanner belonged to him, and in time, he’d show her the way.