Authors: N. J. Walters
Tags: #Romance, #Paranormal, #Werewolves & Shifters, #Werewolves, #Hot Romance, #shapeshifters, #Paranormal Romance
In the hunt for love, there’s no going halfway.
, Book 5
Drawn to Salvation by her passion for nature, Gray Everson’s looking forward to some peace and quiet to work on her paintings. She didn’t expect hunters shooting up the forest around the cabin she rented. And she certainly didn’t expect to find a wounded wolf.
It’s only after Gray sends the hunters packing that she realizes the creature hidden in her cabin is no ordinary wolf. He’s a ruggedly handsome man with an extraordinary ability Gray thought only existed in fiction.
Louis LaForge has given up on finding a mate and channels all his energy into protecting his pack. But his instant attraction to a skittish artist is more than simple lust. There’s something about Gray he just can’t put his finger on—until he gets close enough to touch her.
Louis is sure of what he wants, but pushing Gray too far, too fast is risky. The hunters aren’t going away peacefully, and Louis’s former pack is coming for him. When the final battle comes, there will be only one way to protect everyone he loves.
Warning: Contains an artist who has a secret even she doesn’t know she’s hiding, and a werewolf who’s resigned to being lonely—until she fills his life with vibrant color.
Wolf on the Hunt
Over the course of my career, I’ve come to know many wonderful writers who I now count as friends. There are far too many of you to name here, but I want to acknowledge the difference you’ve made in my life.
A very special thanks to Nicole Austin, T.J. Michaels, Ciana Stone, Cynthia Sax, Laurann Dohner, Anny Cook, Charlene Teglia, Donna Gallagher, Nina Pierce and Kat Holmes. You ladies all rock!
Louis LaForge drove the final roofing nail home. He stood and wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. A sense of satisfaction welled up inside him as he gazed at the finished roof.
“You want some iced tea?” Sylvie called up. His cousin was looking much healthier and happier than she had when she’d arrived six weeks ago. Being with Gator obviously agreed with her, and Louis had never seen his friend so content in his life.
“Love some.” Louis gathered his tools and nimbly made his way to the end of the roof. He stopped at the edge and stared out over the lush forest to the mountains beyond. This was Salvation Pack land. This was home.
“Hey, you gonna stand there all day or are you coming down?” Gator yelled up at him.
Louis raised his middle finger and grinned when Gator laughed. He took his time climbing down the ladder and put his tools away before joining the others. Where there had been only bare ground before, now there was a picnic table with chairs and a fire pit beyond. The women had certainly changed how the men had lived.
And Louis wouldn’t have it any other way.
Gwen had arrived first. He glanced at his brother’s mate and was glad he no longer felt the twinge of loss that had haunted him for months. Gwen belonged to Jacque, no doubt about it. Louis smiled when his brother and alpha nuzzled her neck.
No, what he felt now was a sense of envy. Not only of Jacque, but of the rest of his packmates as well. As unlikely and impossible as it should have been, they’d all found women of their own. Mates. Cole had Cherise, Armand had Anny, and Gator had Sylvie.
Louis was still alone.
“Here you go.” Sylvie held out the tall glass of cold iced tea. The day was hot and roofing was a bitch. Condensation coated the outside of the tall plastic cup.
“Thanks.” He took it and downed it in one long swallow. It helped quench his thirst and wet the dryness in his throat.
Louis wandered closer to the others, set his empty glass on the table and leaned against a sturdy birch, enjoying the shade the leaves offered him.
“What do you think?” Jacque asked Cherise. This first of the two homes they were building was for Cole and Cherise. It wasn’t large, just one bedroom, a bathroom, and a combined kitchen, dining and living area. It was about 600 square feet but was more than enough to give the couple the privacy they needed. They could always add on rooms down the road if they were needed.
He glanced at it with a critical eye and decided it was as damn near perfect as they could make it. The finishes were top-notch with hardwood floors throughout and stone countertops in the kitchen and bathroom. The shower in the bathroom was huge, as was the tub. They’d even built a small porch across the front. It was empty now, but Louis knew Cole had built two new chairs that were just waiting to go there.
The two homes the men had built when they’d first arrived on this land several years ago had become crowded with the arrival of the women. Not that they minded living together. They were pack after all. Werewolves enjoyed being together. But it got a little too close for comfort when you had three couples sharing a house and they all had enhanced hearing. Wasn’t much privacy to be had, especially when you wanted to have a little alone time.
“I love it.” Cherise did a little happy dance and grabbed Cole by the arm and squeezed. “I can’t believe we’ve done all this in six weeks. Isn’t it perfect?”
Cole stared at his mate and nodded. “Perfect.” Louis knew his friend wasn’t talking about the house. Cole was the oldest and quietest of the bunch. He was also the largest. Louis had never pictured his friend settling into mated bliss quite so easily, but Cole had taken one look at Cherise and fallen hard. Then he’d fought like hell to keep her.
“Let’s check out the inside.” Cherise pulled Cole behind her and waved at the rest of them to follow. Jacque grinned and fell into line behind them and the rest of the pack followed.
Yeah, Louis could just imagine his father, the alpha of the Louisiana Pack, falling into line behind a female werewolf, especially one who was challenged in the way Cherise was. Wouldn’t happen. His father was a nasty son of a bitch. Just thinking about him soured Louis’s gut.
“You okay?” Gator sidled up to him as the others went on inside.
Louis nodded and glanced around the woods. “It’s just been so quiet.” Too quiet for his liking. They’d been warring with their former pack since they’d left, but the hostilities had really heated up over the past ten months. Their last encounter had ended in the death of Travis Dubois when he’d attacked Sylvie. It had been calm in the weeks since. That worried Louis. He knew the old man wasn’t going to give up and let them live in peace. It simply wasn’t in him. He’d fight to the bitter end to prove he was right, that he was alpha.
Jacque was more of a leader than their father could ever dream of being. Strong, independent men followed Louis’s brother. Not because they were afraid of him but because they respected him. And Jacque showed his respect for them constantly.
No, they were building something unique here. Something unlike any of them had ever known or had even dreamed existed. They were building a pack based on commitment to one another, not on pack hierarchy or fear. There were no fights for status, no need to constantly be on guard for attack. They stood together and fought together and were the stronger for it.
“I hear you,” Gator answered. “It’s coming. And soon.”
Louis respected Gator’s opinion. He sometimes thought his friend might be a bit psychic. If Gator said an attack was coming soon, it was. Simple as that.
“We need to be ready for it.” They hadn’t lost anyone yet, but it had been close several times. He followed Gator into the new house and his gaze immediately went to his brother and Gwen. They’d almost lost Gwen last fall, but somehow she’d managed to survive and thrive in her new life.
The walls of the new home were log, giving the place a rustic feel. A cast-iron woodstove sat on a slab in one corner of the living area. They’d wanted to build a fireplace, but the woodstove was quicker and easier to install and would give off a lot of heat come winter. That along with electric heat would keep the couple nice and warm.
There were still some finishing touches needed on the inside, but they’d accomplished an almost impossible task by building the place in just six weeks. It wouldn’t have been possible if they hadn’t already had all the logs cut, notched and stored in one of their sheds. Plus, they were all much stronger than any human could ever hope to be. Being able to pick up a big log on their own and manhandle it into position had allowed the frame to go up in record time. Armand had handled the electrical and Gator the plumbing, while the rest of them had dealt with all other aspects of the build.
The women had been surprisingly adept once they’d been shown what to do. Gwen and Cherise had laid all the flooring, and Sylvie had proved to be a whiz at tiling. Anny had been invaluable as site manager, ordering cabinets, fixtures and whatever else they’d needed online. Deliveries had been a daily occurrence for a while. Not that they’d allowed the trucks to come and go as they pleased. Hell no. Anything that they couldn’t drive to town to pick up themselves had been delivered to the pack parking area, well away from the houses.
Security was always a priority.
Louis wandered out onto the front porch and enjoyed the view. The house was a good distance from the one Armand and Gator would share with their mates for a while longer, but close enough to see. Their next task would be to build a similar place for Gator and Sylvie. Their pack was growing.
Louis knew when his brother joined him. He’d been expecting it. No one knew him better than Jacque.
“What’s on your mind?” Jacque asked.
What could he tell him?
I’m envious of the happiness you and the others have found
. He didn’t want to feel this way. He was happy for his brother and friends, but it left him feeling set apart. Alone.
“We’re building something special here.” Better to focus on his more positive thoughts.
Jacque leaned against the railing and stared at him through golden-brown eyes that missed nothing. “We are,” he agreed.
“It’s been too quiet.”
Jacque raked his fingers through his hair. “Yeah, it has been. I’m just grateful we got this house up. It’s been hell trying to watch security with all the comings and goings.” He leaned back and rested his hands on the rail. “I’m also glad we have the materials for the second place already on site.”
That had been Anny’s idea. The woman was a gem when it came to organization and planning. Between her and Armand, they didn’t miss a detail. “She was smart to think of it. Just double up the orders on everything and store it until we’re ready to go.” They no longer had a garage to house their vehicles, but they usually only used it in winter anyway. The plan was to have the other home built before the first snow flew. They still had at least three months, if not a little longer to get it done.
“We need some time off before we break ground on the second house.” Jacque smiled when Gwen’s laughter trailed out of the house. “We all need some downtime to spend with our mates. We should also beef up security.”
“I agree.” Louis sat on the porch steps and shucked his boots. He hated wearing them, but they were mandatory on a construction site. The ground felt warm and comforting against the soles of his feet.
“Gator’s got a turkey in the oven at his place and roast beef cooking at ours. They’re planning a picnic to celebrate. Anny’s spent half the day making salads and bread and dessert. That girl sure does love to spend time in the kitchen.”
“And thank the Lord for that.”
Jacque laughed. “Can’t disagree with you there.” He patted his stomach. “I love to eat too much.”
All werewolves had a fast metabolism and required a lot of calories, especially when they shifted. Gator was a hell of a cook, but Anny liked to bake. Bread, rolls, pies, cakes and cookies rolled out of her kitchen on a regular basis.
Louis stood and glanced over his shoulder before he shucked his jeans and tossed them over the railing. As werewolves, they were used to nudity and didn’t think much about it. Or at least they hadn’t. Having the women here now changed things, and they tried to be a little more circumspect.
He stretched his arms over his head to work out the kinks. Jacque was right. It had been a hell of a long six weeks. They’d worked like demons to finish this house, sacrificing sleep and, for the mated pairs, time together.
Louis embraced the change and called his wolf to the fore. The beast jumped forward, eager to run. His limbs contorted and fur burst from beneath his skin. His jaw lengthened and his forehead flattened. In the blink of an eye, the man was gone, and in his place was a giant wolf.
Gwen stepped out onto the deck to join Jacque. “Where’s Louis going?”
Louis hated that she always seemed so worried about him. How could he explain that he was no longer infatuated with her? That it was the idea of her that kept him up late at night in his lonely bed. His wolf yearned for a mate. He ached to have a woman in his bed. Not just any woman, but one who would stick beside him in good times and bad, one who would accept him for what he was and love him in spite of his shortcomings.
He snorted. His chances of finding her in the middle of nowhere weren’t great.
“He’s going out for a quick run and patrol. He’ll be back in an hour for dinner.”
Louis heard the message underlining Jacque’s words and knew they were an order. He didn’t bristle because he knew it came from a place of caring. His brother wanted his mate happy, and he wanted Louis content as well.
He nodded his understanding before he turned and headed into the surrounding woods. He needed to run, to try to outpace his negative thoughts. He set a brisk pace, always aware of his surroundings. It wouldn’t do to get lax.
It didn’t matter if he never found a mate. His wolf growled at the thought, but Louis knew he was right. He had his pack, his family. They were one and the same here. They were his heart and soul. As his brother’s right-hand man, it was his responsibility to ensure the safety of the pack. Sure, they all handled security, but Louis felt the calling more deeply. If they’d stayed in their home pack, Jacque probably would have replaced their father eventually, and Louis would have been his enforcer, his assassin.
That was not how they did things in their new pack. There was no need for an enforcer. Still, instincts couldn’t be denied. Instead, Louis had channeled his into protecting his new pack. Salvation was their home, and he knew he’d give his last drop of blood to protect it.
That made him a very dangerous wolf.
Louis forced himself to slow down and really listen to the woods. He twitched his ears and heard the familiar songs of the birds and the skittering of small animals in the brush. He turned right, knowing a small river ran not too far from here. It was cooler beneath the thick canopy of the trees. The light through the leaves created patterned shadows, a living work of art, ever changing.
At this point, he didn’t know if his father wanted them to come back to Louisiana or if he simply wanted them all dead. Not that it mattered. None of them were going anywhere. This was their home and where they’d make their stand.
He stopped when he reached the bank of the river. The water was low. Not surprising given the weeks of hot weather they’d had. It was August, but there was no sign of cooling temperatures yet.
Louis didn’t mind. He enjoyed both the hot weather and the cold. If there was one thing his hellish childhood had taught him, it was to enjoy the pleasures at hand, because you never knew when they would be gone.
He shifted and the wolf receded until the man crouched beside the running water. It was just over two feet deep near the middle. He waded out, stepping carefully on the stones. The water came to just above his knees. He lay back and let the cool liquid flow over him, washing away the sweat of his labors. Roofing was hard, dirty work.
He drifted a few feet before his feet hit a large rock, stopping his progress. Floating, he tried to wash away the memories of the past, but they stubbornly clung to him.