Ranae is the youngest of the Buckleys, and the only girl amongst three powerful male siblings. Her restlessness and dominant nature has affected every relationship within Willow Bend, not to mention testing the patience of her Alpha. Apprenticeship to the Hunters fed her desire for a purpose. When her Alpha and eldest brother ask her to undertake a mission to the Yukon territory, she’s thrilled at the opportunity for a real chance to be useful. Clashing with the Alpha was the last thing she expected on the dangerous assignment.
The oldest Alpha in the U.S. packs, lives a gray existence. The loss of his mate so many decades before wears away at him, until he doesn’t give a damn about anything. The problems of the other packs are not his, and he prefers to be left to his isolation. The arrival of the Chief Enforcer annoys him, but it is the wolf traveling with him who wakes the predator in Diesel. The scent of mate clings to her, but she rejects his overtures and challenges him on every level.
Riding the high of her nearness, Diesel leaned into the force of her hand on his chest. “I know my mate’s scent. I searched for you all over Willow Bend. Why else would Mason send you?” The moment the words left his lips, he reconsidered the phrasing. Her eyes narrowed and her nostrils flared.
“I’m a Hunter of Willow Bend. I am here to deliver a message from my Alpha—and I don’t care what century you were born in old man, but we don’t arrange matings. You don’t just get to walk in here, thump your chest and say mine.” The ferocious light in her eyes sent a quiet thrill through his bloodstream. His wolf roused to the hunt, every color and nuance sharpening under their study.
“No?” He didn’t want to miss a moment of her reaction. Her dilated pupils constricted even as her mouth tightened. Anger soured her scent and her nails bit into his muscle as he pressed into the contact. Despite a faint tremble, she didn’t shift her grip or attack him. Would she? If he provoked her enough? The idea intrigued the hell out of him. No Alpha wanted a weak mate.
“No.” She withdrew the contact then retreated one step. Crowding closer, he refused to let her abandon him. “Dude…get a grip. I came here to do a job.” A muscle in her jaw twitched. “Or maybe you are trying to prove you don’t hold the Yukon?”
Challenge wound through every syllable. Canting his head to the side, he raised one eyebrow and waited.
“What? Playing crazy, eccentric keeps the other packs at bay and allows you to dictate the terms of your interactions. You don’t want to talk; you walk away or slam a door. You want to shut me down; you declare I’m yours.” Folding her arms, Ranae raised her chin and, although the gold circle on around her gray-green irises faded, it didn’t diminish completely. “It won’t work and I’m really not interested in the games. We have serious issues to discuss with you, Alpha. You can get on board or be left behind to cope on your own should the Russian packs turn their gaze on your territory and your pack.”
Amusement curved through him. Passionate determination etched into her expression. “Our pack will be fine.”
“My pack will be, absolutely. Your pack is debatable.” The aggravation in her scent muted beneath the sting of frustration. “Now you’re baiting me.” Sidestepping him, she tried to put some distance between them. He allowed her three steps before intercepting her again. He wanted her gaze on him, nowhere else. “Seriously, you have a problem.”
“No, I have a mate, but continue telling me why our pack is in danger.”
Pausing, her lips tightened and her eyes narrowed. The curl of her fingers into a fist telegraphed her next move. Would she do it? He pressed into her space, and she rewarded his effort with fresh contact in the form of a blow. It caught him square above his heart, and the second with her elbow connected with his jaw. He accepted both blows, but refused to retreat.
“Your training is incomplete.” Whatever response she’d been expecting, his comment surprised her. “Otherwise you’d understand that two hits will not take down an enraged male, if you want to escape you have to incapacitate or kill.”
“I don’t want to fight you.”
“Wonderful. I have no desire to fight you, but if you need to beat on me to make yourself feel better, go right ahead. I’m very sturdy.”
The corner of her mouth kicked into an involuntary smile, and his breath lodged in his throat, the single glimpse of sweetness a better reward than he could have imagined. “Are you insane?”
“Depends on your definition of sanity.” The tangle of her hair contrasted with the wool of her pullover. How soft would the strands be? When she failed to respond, he reached out to test his theory. She slapped his hand away, and the sting intrigued him.
“Stop.” Command reverberated through the single syllable. “I came here as a messenger, nothing else. Keep your teeth and your hands to yourself. Am I clear?”
In all things, an Alpha could command. He could take a life. He could grant it. Wolves who pledged to an Alpha could be sent into the heart of danger and forfeit all that they owned. The heart, however, could not be commanded nor could he take what she would not willingly give.
His wolf bucked at the rejection, but Diesel withdrew three steps to give her space. Clasping his hands behind his back, he studied the beautiful Hunter before him. She would not tumble easily, nor would she accept his direct pledge. Very well, if he had to learn to court, then he would find what enticed her. “Dress,” he ordered. “Several layers. We will be leaving the guest quarters.”
Expecting obedience, he turned to the entrance and pressed the code to allow Julian entry.
“Are you staying with her or leaving?” Her presence was non-negotiable.
“Since you asked so nicely…” The Chief Enforcer’s expression barely shifted, yet a smirk echoed beneath his words. “I’d be happy to stay.”
Uninterested in the old wolf’s games, Diesel spared his mate another studying look. Ranae gaped at him, and she hadn’t moved a muscle.
“Trust me when I say it will be more comfortable if you get dressed, but if you insist on testing my patience, I’ll happily take care of stripping you first then dressing you.”
The taunt did what the order would not. She moved.
His wolf rose, stretching and raking his claws. Yes, they had the scent of this hunt.
National bestselling author, Heather Long, likes long walks in the park, science fiction, superheroes, Marines, and men who aren’t douche bags. Her books are filled with heroes and heroines tangled in romance as hot as Texas summertime. From paranormal historical westerns to contemporary military romance, Heather might switch genres, but one thing is true in all of her stories—her characters drive the books. When she’s not wrangling her menagerie of animals, she devotes her time to family and friends she considers family. She believes if you like your heroes so real you could lick the grit off their chest, and your heroines so likable, you’re sure you’ve been friends with women just like them, you’ll enjoy her worlds as much as she does.