(WOLVES OF WINTER’S EDGE, BOOK 1)
By T. S. JOYCE
Copyright © 2016 by T. S. Joyce
Copyright © 2016, T. S. Joyce
First electronic publication: November 2016
T. S. Joyce
All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded or distributed via the Internet or any other means, electronic or print, without the author’s permission.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental. The author does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for third-party websites or their content.
Published in the United States of America.
Cover Image: Furious Fotog
Cover Model: Zac Smith
Other Books in this Series
Roman (Book 2)
Coming December 2016
Asher (Book 3)
Coming January 2017
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Gentry Striker knelt down in the snow and narrowed his eyes at the chaos he found there. Overlapping paw prints made a mess of the white ground. Crimson was splattered here and there as if painted by an artist’s brush. Gentry huffed a frozen breath and lifted a handful of red snow to his nose, then sniffed it. So fresh.
The alpha of this pack was a pitch-black murder machine Gentry had deemed Tooth. Why? Because the wild wolf was missing one bottom canine. That didn’t seem to hinder his ability to hurt, though. Hurt other packs, hurt his own pack, hurt animals even after he’d had his fill.
Tooth reminded Gentry of his brothers, Roman and Asher. All three of them were grade-A, pain-in-the-ass, dominant-as-hell assholes.
Gentry had stalled on taking out Tooth, but shouldn’t have. Tooth had taken yet another unnecessary victim. The pack had just fed twelve hours ago, and now they’d killed another animal, at least one… No. Gentry scented the air again. Too much blood. Maybe the pack had killed two cattle this time. The ranchers in the area wouldn’t be put off anymore. Not after a month-long killing spree, and not when Tooth had grown such a fondness for the kill.
Fuck, he mouthed as he looked to the horizon, where the tree line met the deep navy sky adorned with stars. It was so beautiful here… A howl rose in the air—and so ugly all at once.
He’d memorized their voices. This one was the alpha female. He called her Eyelet because she was white with what looked like gray lace marbled into her coat. Her voice faded to nothing, then started up again. When the others in the pack didn’t join, Gentry huffed a dark laugh and stood. Tonight it was then. The alpha was onto him and didn’t like being hunted. Oh, the wolves knew what he was, even if the humans did not. Werewolf. They could probably smell him from a mile away. Tooth thought putting his precious Eyelet out as a lure would work on a creature like Gentry. He tossed the bloody snow to the side and strode over the crunching ground up a shallow incline. Wolf tracks were everywhere, and in the distance, the stressed bawling of cattle still sounded. They were probably against a fence on the edge of the property, eyes rolling and so wide the whites showed at the edges. A wave of protective instincts washed through him as he made his way over unmarred ground. A soft snarl rattled up his throat. Cattle shouldn’t have his instincts up like this. They were prey, and he was a predator. This town had made him soft. He’d been here too long, gotten to know the people, begun to feel.
Fuck that. He was here on a job to decide which wolves needed to be culled. He would paint the snow with Tooth’s blood, bring the pack under control. Wait for them to decide on a new alpha and then scare the ever-living-shit out of the wolves so they would stay far away from their new taste for beef.
Screw those whiney cattle. He wasn’t here for them. He was here to get paid and to keep as many of this pack alive as he was able. Another howl rose up louder than before. He hoped he could save Eyelet. Tooth was the problem wolf here, but Eyelet would go to war for her man.
The snow sparkled a soft blue color in the moonlight, and his boots sunk in up to his ankles. Above the crunching sound of his footsteps, his phone dinged softly. Seriously? Snarling under his breath, Gentry ripped his phone out of his back pocket and checked the caller ID. Some unknown number was calling him at three in the morning.
Gentry turned it to vibrate and shoved the phone back where it belonged. Unreasonably pissed to have a hunt interrupted, he unzipped his jacket, yanked it off, and then tossed it to the ground. Balls, it was cold.
His phone was vibrating again. “I swear to God…” he muttered, prepared to curse out whatever telemarketer thought this was a good time to call.
This time the caller ID read Roman. What the hell? Why would his brother be calling him? They didn’t talk. They weren’t okay. Something rustled in the woods, and he jerked his attention to the right, but saw nothing. Roman was going to get him killed. Asshole would probably dance on his grave.
Gentry ignored the call like a champ, but right as he was pulling his shirt off to Change, a text came through.
Answer the phone, Gentry. It’s dad’s lawyer.
Those last three words did something awful inside of him.
Not a good time. Send.
Chest heaving, frozen breath chugging in front of his face like steam from a train, Gentry stared at the unknown number flashing across the screen again.
ANSWER THE FUCKING PHONE, Roman texted.
Gentry’s fingers were already tingling with the Change, and Eyelet was still calling to him. She thought he was a real wolf and not a monster. Monsters didn’t get tricked as easily, but the ghosts from his past were keeping him distracted and vulnerable. Bad place to be out here.
His phone vibrated again.
With a growl, Gentry connected the call. “What?” he murmured low.
“Gentry?” Terry Grant, Dad’s long-term lawyer asked. Gentry hadn’t heard his voice in years. Not since he was a kid. “I have your brothers on the phone with us.”
Gentry shook his head over and over in disbelief as he scanned the woods. “Asher, too?” he asked, trying desperately to keep the hate from his voice.
“Yeah,” Asher growled. “Dad’s dead. Time for the prodigal son to return home.”
“More tact,” Terry ground out.
“Sorry,” Asher said in a completely unapologetic tone. “Dad got his throat ripped out. Bled out in an alpha fight. Alone, fuck you very much. Where were you, Favori
Dad was dead. Gentry couldn’t breathe. It felt like a Mack truck was sitting on his chest, slowly crushing him, slowly suffocating him. He held his breath so they wouldn’t hear it shaking and squatted down in the snow. Eyelet was still singing. She thought she was a siren. His heart was pounding too loud in his ears.
“You boys need to come home.”
“That ain’t home,” Roman growled.
In a careful voice, Terry murmured, “It was once. You have a duty to your father. There are things that need to be settled.”
“Like the pack?” Gentry asked. “Hell no.”
“It’s not the Striker Pack anymore, Gentry,” Terry said. “There’s a new alpha.”
“Who?” Asher asked.
“Fuck!” Roman said too loud into the phone.
Gentry winced away. His ears were too sensitive this close to a Change.
Rhett was going to drive that pack into the ground. Probably expose them to the humans in a year or less. He was about as careful as a wild wolf. Worse even than Tooth. And Rhett had killed Dad.
A vision of Dad’s charcoal gray wolf bleeding out on the sticky floor of that old Winter’s Edge tavern back home made Gentry buckle in on himself. That’s where the alpha fight would’ve been. Maybe Asher was right. Maybe he should’ve been there. He’d bet everything he owned Dad was only still fighting alpha wars to protect his people from Rhett. Why hadn’t he told Gentry? Why had he kept quiet about it? Gentry hadn’t even gotten to say goodbye.
“Stop with the snarling, Favorite,” Asher gritted out. “You’ll force us all to Change, and I’m in a public place. This is on you. You go home, you fix it. Roman and I are good with where we are.”
“Which is where?” Gentry asked.
“Kicked out!” Roman yelled. “That’s where. The destination doesn’t matter, does it? When you get kicked out of your own fucking pack by your own fucking father, it doesn’t matter where you are. It’s all Hell. I’ll be at the funeral, Terry. Whatever he left us, I don’t want it. Gentry can have it all. I’ll be on the first flight out of there.” The line clicked.
“Same,” Asher said blandly before the line clicked again.
And then there were two.
Terry sighed into the phone. “It sounds windy where you are. Your dad told me you hunt the wild wolves now. Are you hunting tonight?”
Gentry felt numb. It felt like he’d buried himself in the snow and fallen asleep, only to wake to a frostbitten body. Dad. Eyelet’s howl lifted again, and this time it was close. Too close.
“I was hunting.” Gentry swallowed hard. “Now I’m being hunted.”
Gentry hung up the phone and barely resisted chucking it into the woods at the lanky black wolf with the missing tooth that stepped from the shadows.
Gentry was being hunted by wild wolves, yeah, but that’s not what he’d meant.
He was being hunted by his destiny, too.
His head wasn’t in the right place for a fight right now. He was too sluggish, too slow. His inner wolf was in shock, and his insides were a tornado. Tooth, sensing weakness, bolted for him before he could even stand up. Gentry braced for impact and rolled with him, kicking up as he did and shoving Tooth behind him. Hurry Wolf!
His back broke. Ribs rippled and cracked like gunfire. Fingers, neck, legs, muscle, sinew, cells, everything reshaped with excruciating pain in a matter of seconds as the wolf ripped out of his skin. Tooth was already back on him, teeth clamped on his neck. That missing tooth was saving his jugular right now. No help for it, Gentry ripped away from his jaws, the pain blinding for a moment before he spun toward the alpha and engaged.
This wasn’t a bar brawl, though. This wasn’t one on one. It wasn’t dominant monster versus the same. Wild wolves didn’t understand honor. Hell, most werewolves didn’t either. Out here, it was Gentry, Tooth, and the entire pack of eight that landed on him like flood waters.
Eyelet yipped a death chant.
Tooth’s snarling promise of demise filled Gentry’s entire mind.
And the pain had him fighting for his life.
His wolf looked just like Dad’s. Dad. Laying there on the floor alone. Alone like Gentry.
Maybe his destiny wasn’t in Rangeley like everyone had always said.
Maybe his destiny was right here.
Blaire Hayward was utterly lost, which was shocking because she could spit from one side of this teeny town to the other.
She’d passed the darned Welcome to Rangeley sign half a dozen times now and had to turn back time and time again. She still could not find the right road, and GPS was being a snarky ho who kept changing her mind on direction. It didn’t help that Rangeley, Maine was one of the most confusing places on planet Earth. It was a small town, but as far as she could understand, it was made up of three villages. And possibly a plantation or two. All the signs were getting truly confounding now. The area was called the Rangeley Lakes Region because of all the bodies of water, but the more ponds and lakes she passed, the more everything started to look the same.
When the tires of her rental car slipped on the frozen road, Blaire gripped the steering wheel tighter and muttered, “Take a break, Ashlyn said. It’ll be fun, Ashlyn said. I’ve arranged everything, Ashlyn said.”
Bullcaca. Blaire was not convinced this supposed rental cabin on the outskirts of town even existed. Ashlyn had been scammed.
An older gentleman in a thick winter coat with his hands shoved deep in his pockets nodded his chin to her and stepped off the curb toward the car. Blaire slowed and rolled down the passenger’s side window.
Blaire’s cheeks heated, and she gave a self-deprecating laugh. “Is it that obvious?”
The man’s nose flared slightly as he inhaled, but his almost smile faded to a frown in an instant. “You should stay that way.”
He twitched his head in the opposite direction she was parked. “It’s best if you get on to where you’re going. It isn’t here.”
“Uuuh…” Rude. She pulled the paperwork out from under her purse on the passenger seat. “I’m looking for the Hunter Cove Inn.”
The man huffed a breath and arched his bushy gray eyebrows. “No you aren’t. Trust me, that place is closed to people like you.”
“People like me,” she murmured, glaring. What did that mean? Women? Red-heads? Non-jerk-faces? “I think I’ll take my chances,” she said as she rolled up her window. She could forget her manners, too.
“It’s your funeral,” the guy sang as he backed off from the car for her to pull away.
Now, as a rule, Blaire didn’t cuss and didn’t flip people off because her momma had been strict about raising her a demure lady, but that man had both her middle fingers itching to rise up.
She fought the urge, though, waved instead, gave a polite smile, and muttered, “Bye-bye now, Captain Crazy.”
Saying “Hunter Cove Inn” out loud had wrestled something loose. She’d seen a sign for a Hunter Cove Wildlife Sanctuary on the other side of town. GPS was squawking like Mr. Manners for her to turn back, so she pointed her finger and poked GPS in her glowing little face to turn her off. Why? Because Blaire had traveled halfway across the country to spend a week in a secluded cabin where there was beautiful snow and scenery. That, and she hadn’t taken a vacation in five years. Five. Years. She’d been going stir crazy with the stress of her job and all the drama and trauma that went down with her ex, Matt. If she was perfectly honest, she needed this. She needed a break from her life. The second her best friend and co-worker, Ashlyn, had handed her the vacation information for her birthday, something had felt right about this. Blaire never did anything crazy. She’d been an all-A student, graduated college with honors, never got rebellious in her youth other than the occasional F-bomb when she was Hulk-smash-mad. She didn’t drink and had never even tried a cigarette. She’d never called into work sick, and she’d married
Plus, Ashlyn had put a lot of work into planning this trip for her. She was an amazing friend who had seen her struggling and came up with a plan. That was what she did. Ashlyn planned and got crap done, and if she saw how hard it had been on Blaire lately doing the same old thing day in and day out, then there must be a problem. Ashlyn was sensitive to everything.
“Eeeek,” she squealed as she slid into the wrong lane on a sharp turn in the road. The street had been newly sanded and salted, but it was getting late in the day, the temperature was dropping, and the light snowfall was making the streets slick again.
The town was cute. Main Street wasn’t huge, but it had a vast array of restaurants and specialty shops. Most houses looked like brightly-colored dollhouses, and the others were log cabins. The town was quaint. Homey even. She bet the trees around here were beautiful in the fall.
She drove along the edge of Hunter Cove Wildlife Sanctuary until she saw salvation in a sign. It was dilapidated and hanging on its side, but if she angled her head, she could read it easily enough.
Hunter Cove Inn
1010 Heath Way
A Part of Rangeley Lakes
Established in 1905
The sign sure looked old enough to be from that year. The wood was practically petrified, and the carved letters were shallow and almost unreadable, like the weather had scraped off the top several layers of the sign over time. Hopefully the cabin had been updated.
Somebody should really fix that sign, though, put it on a better post or something so tourists could read it easier. Blaire eased onto the gas and coasted down a steep, icy drive. The road wasn’t long, but it wound this way and that until it dumped her into a big open parking area surrounded by three cabins, each in different stages of disrepair.