Time came to a screeching halt. Vanda couldn't breathe. Couldn't think. She was plastered against the cabin wall, unable to move.
A werewolf. Her beautiful Phil was a werewolf.
She began to shake. Panic swirled in her gut, then shot through her chest and erupted from her mouth with a strangled cry.
The werewolf turned to her. How many times had she seen those vicious jaws and snapping teeth? Always coming after her. Hunting her relentlessly.
She dashed into the cabin and slammed the door shut. With trembling hands she slid the bolt across the door. She stepped back, her knees shaking. Her gaze darted to the windows. He could crash right through the glass. That's how the wolves had invaded the safe house where she and Karl had taken shelter. The wolves had ripped him apart.
Footsteps pounded up the porch steps. Vanda stepped back. Her heart raced, thundering in her ears.
The doorknob turned. The door shook. She pressed a hand to her mouth as a terrified sob escaped.
"Vanda." His voice was soft. "Let me in."
She moved back. Thoughts jumbled in her head. She'd never heard of a werewolf who could talk. Or turn a doorknob. He had to be human.
But she'd seen him change. Or rather, she'd seen half of him change. He'd definitely had the head of a wolf. And the teeth.
Dammit, how could he do this to her? Rage flooded through her, a welcome relief from the terror that had made her weak.
"Go away!" she screamed.
The door shook again. "We need to talk."
"Go to hell!" Dammit. She'd made love to him. She'd let him inside her body. Inside her heart. A sense of betrayal twisted in her gut. First her sister, and now Phil.
She wanted to throw something. Rip something apart. She spotted the wooden ladder propped against the loft, the same ladder Phil had inserted through the trapdoor to descend into the cellar. She kicked a boot through some wooden rungs, then grasped the ladder in her hands and snapped it in two.
She spun toward his voice. He'd raised a window and was peering in at her. How dare he look so normal? He'd completely fooled her.
"As your anger management sponsor, I have to say—"
"Leave me alone!" She hurled a splintered piece of wood at him.
He dodged the missile and it flew through the window. He peered inside again. "We're going to talk. There's no escaping it."
No escape? She opened the trapdoor and floated down into the cellar. She paced back and forth. She could teleport away, but where? Her apartment wasn't safe. The Carpathian Mountains were probably in daylight. London might be, too, so that left out Pamela and Cora Lee. She had no idea where Ian and Toni were. Maggie?
Vanda winced. She was still on that hit list. She couldn't put Maggie and her family in danger. But wasn't there a cave on their property? She could hide there. Unfortunately, she'd never been to Maggie's ranch, so she didn't know the way. She needed to call. She needed Phil's cell phone.
"Vanda, come back."
She glanced at the trapdoor. Phil was there.
She scanned the cellar and spotted a shovel. That would keep him away. Keep his paws off her. She grasped the handle.
He jumped. Her heart clenched as she watched. He landed, his cowboy boots hitting the wooden floor with a thud, his knees bending to absorb the shock.
He straightened slowly. The jeans hung low on his hips. His bare torso and chest rippled with muscles. Oh God, how she had loved his hard chest and broad shoulders. There was no trace of the injuries he'd suffered the night before.
His thick brown hair gleamed in the light that filtered down from the open trapdoor. Highlights of gold and auburn glinted. His pale blue eyes watched her, glimmering with strong emotion.
He was so gorgeous. How could he be a werewolf? And how could he be human now? The only time she had seen a wolf change back to human form was when Karl had killed one. As far as she knew, once a werewolf became a wolf, it stayed that way for the entire night. She'd certainly never seen one that could change only half of its body.
She pointed the shovel at him. "What are you?"
His gaze flitted to the shovel, and his mouth thinned. "I'm Phil Jones, the same man I was yesterday." He stepped toward her.
"Stay back!" She raised the shovel. "What are you?"
His chin lifted. "I'm an Alpha werewolf. I can change completely or partially whenever I wish, day or night. I have super strength and speed and heightened sensibilities. If I'm cut, I can change and instantly be healed. I can call on the power of my inner wolf without changing physical form. And one more thing…"
He leaped toward her so quickly, she barely had time to jab the shovel at him. He grasped the handle and yanked, pulling her toward him. In a tug of war, she dug in her heels and pulled the handle back. He yanked even harder, throwing her off balance. When she stumbled forward, he tossed the shovel aside, swung an arm around her and slammed her hard against his chest.
"One more thing," he growled. "I love you."
She shoved at his chest. "Let go of me. You—You lied to me."
"I was going to tell you tonight. Hell, I tried to tell you the other night at Howard's cabin, but when I mentioned wolves, you refused to talk."
She winced. She'd been so intent on keeping her own secrets, she hadn't let Phil tell his. "But you should have told me." She pounded at his chest.
"Why? So you'd have an excuse not to fall in love with me?" He grabbed her hands and pinned them behind her back. "Whatever happened to my love being enough?"
Her eyes burned with tears. "But I hate wolves. I hate shape shifters."
"You love this one."
She shook her head. "I–I can't. You scare me."
His mouth ticked. "Haven't I saved your life enough times for you to trust me? I love you, Vanda. I will always be there for you."
A tear escaped, rolling down her cheek. It was true. He had saved her. Several times. He'd stopped Max the Mega Member at the club. He'd killed the snake. He'd detected the bomb. He must have been able to smell it with his heightened werewolf sensibilities. But how could she get past him being a werewolf?
She shook her head. "I've been afraid of your kind for too long."
His grip tightened on her hands. "What exactly scares you? Is it my teeth? I've nibbled on you before without hurting you."
"Is it the claws?" He released her hands. With one arm wrapped around her shoulders, he showed her his other arm. It shimmered with a bluish light. Fur sprouted on his hand, and it changed into a paw. Claws extended, sharp and deadly.
Vanda flinched. She turned her head away and squeezed her eyes shut. "Don't."
"Don't what? Do you really think I would hurt you?"
She jumped when she felt something touch her cheek. Fur. Soft and warm. He stroked her cheek, then skimmed down her neck. She sneaked a peek and saw him caressing her with the back of his paw.
"I'm in complete control," he said softly. "Trust me."
He turned his paw and slipped a claw beneath the zipper of her catsuit. He pulled it down and sliced right through her bra.
The paw shimmered and turned back into a hand. He peeled back the catsuit and bra to reveal her breasts. Her nipples tightened. Her breasts heaved as she struggled to catch her breath. Her skin tingled, aching for him to touch her.
She shook her head. How could she want him now? But there was something about him. An animal magnetism that overwhelmed her senses. He was raw and powerful, and it made her ache for him. Even her fear made it seem more exciting.
He cupped her breast and squeezed gently. She moaned.
He rubbed a thumb over the hardened tip. "I think, in time, you'll come to appreciate my dual nature. I can make love like a gentleman. Or I can rut like a beast." He tweaked her nipple.
She jolted. Moisture pooled between her legs. God help her, she wanted him.
"Which would you prefer tonight? The gentleman or the beast?" His mouth twitched. "In human form, of course."
She smoothed her hands over his broad shoulders. "I'd like one of each."
He smiled slowly. "That can be done." He leaned closer and whispered in her ear, "But the beast wants to go first."
Before she could even react, he had unwrapped her whip, dropped it on the floor, and tugged her catsuit and underwear down to her ankles. "You do have super speed."
"And strength." He picked her up and lay her on the blanket. In another second he had her boots off, as well as his own cowboy boots.
She eyed the bulge in his jeans. "You appear to be super-sized, too."
He smiled as his jeans and underwear hit the floor. "It's the animal in me." He crouched at her feet. His nostrils flared. "I can smell your heat."
Her thighs squeezed together as more moisture seeped from her.
He lifted a foot and nuzzled the arch. Then he licked her toes and nipped at them. Her leg twitched.
"Are—Are you sure you should bite?" She thought that was how a werewolf was made.
He nipped at her ankle. "Are you afraid of turning furry, sweetheart?"
"Well, I think I have enough problems already, just being me."
He chuckled. "I love you just the way you are." He licked a path up her calf. "I would have to bite hard, break the skin, and get my saliva into your bloodstream."
He tickled the back of her knee with his tongue. "And I'd have to be in wolf form at the time. So, you're reasonably safe."
"You can't reason with a beast."
Her heart stuttered when he growled low in his throat. He moved around her body on his hands and knees, nuzzling her naked body, rubbing his nose across her tingling skin, licking her, tasting her. No part was off limits. Her ears, her neck, her armpits.
With another growl, he pounced on her breasts. He licked them, squeezed them, suckled the nipples hard. They turned red, the tips distended and tender. She groaned, arching up into his mouth.
And then, with a push of his hands and his nose, he flipped her over. Her breasts, overly sensitized, scraped against the horsehair blanket. She pressed her legs together, close to climaxing.
He nuzzled the back of her neck, tickling the tiny hairs and making her shiver. Then he licked a path down her spine. He kneaded her rump, licked and nipped till she was squirming.
She gasped when he pulled her onto her side and nudged his head between her legs. With his head pillowed on her thigh, he lapped at her.
She squealed and pressed her thighs against his head. With a growl, he nuzzled his face deeper into her. His tongue seemed to also have super speed. She screamed, her body shattering with a massive convulsion.
"You're mine." He nipped at her bottom, then pulled her onto her knees.
"Wait." Her knees were rubbery. Her body was still throbbing with aftershocks. She rested her forehead against the blanket, struggling to catch her breath.
"I've got you." He grabbed her hips, supporting her with his hands as he plunged into her from behind.
She cried out. He was incredible. He filled her completely. He pulled out slowly, dragging the sensation, setting her on fire. "Phil!"
He plunged back into her. He supported her with one arm, then leaned forward to nuzzle her neck and hold her hand. He pumped faster. The tension started to build once more. He growled in her ear, then reared up onto his knees, taking her with him.
She leaned back against his chest. His hands slid up her body and squeezed her breasts.
"You're mine," he whispered in her ear.
He reached between her legs and tweaked her clitoris as he ground into her vagina from the back. She screamed when the orgasm slammed into her. He let out a hoarse cry, eerily similar to the howl of a wolf. As he tumbled onto the blanket with her, she knew her future had been decided. The beast had claimed his mate.
"Are you all right?" Phil asked when her breathing finally slowed.
"Yes." She cuddled against his body.
He was flat on his back, still in the cellar. He wrapped his arms around Vanda and rubbed her back. He was relieved she knew his secret, but now he had another problem.
Brynley had seen his display of Alpha power. She'd been the leader of that damned group that had scared Vanda so badly. No doubt that had been Bryn's intention—to scare Vanda out of his life. Where his sister had managed to find the rest of those young cubs, he had no idea.
They were probably in the woods now, hunting fox or rabbit. As normal werewolves, they would be in wolf form all night, changing back to their human bodies shortly before sunrise.
The last thing he'd wanted was to let Brynley in on his secret. Achieving Alpha status was a major event in the Lycan World. She'd let Dad know about it as soon as possible.
The firstborn son was Alpha. Phil had proven his worthiness to be Heir Apparent.
"How did you become a werewolf?" Vanda whispered.
"I was born this way."
"So you were a beastly child?"
He snorted. "Lycan children don't usually have their first change until puberty. I was thirteen."
"It must have been scary. And painful."
"Yeah, a little. But we were prepared for it. When you've heard the stories all your life, about the rush of freedom you'll feel when running through the woods, the thrill of the hunt, and the victory of the first kill, then you're really happy when it finally happens."
She stroked her fingers through his chest hair. "How did werewolves get started? Was there some kind of strange, rabid wolf that bit a human?"
"It's a very old story. I remember sitting in front of the fire, listening to my parents tell it." He rubbed her back. "Would you like to hear it?"
"Yes." She rested her head on his chest. "Tell me."
"My family are the descendants of an ancient line of Welsh royalty."
She raised her head. "So you're a prince?"
"I wouldn't go that far. These ancestors were more like wizards than kings. They possessed many strange powers, and one of them was the ability to transform into any sort of animal. Over time they developed personal tastes for what sort of animal they liked to change into. The favorites were wolf, bear, wildcat, and hawk."
"The hunting animals," Vanda murmured.
"Exactly. Why change into a mouse when you can be a lion? My direct ancestors preferred the wolf. Everything was fine until the Romans invaded. The Celtic tribes were falling in defeat. My ancestors realized they could escape Roman rule by living as wolves."
"Did others live as bears, wildcats, and hawks?" she asked.
"Yes." Phil assumed that was the beginning of Howard's family of were-bears. "While my ancestors were in wolf form, they mated. They discovered those children were bound permanently to the wolf. They could no longer choose which animal they wanted to turn into."
"And werewolves were born," Vanda whispered.
"Yes. Every now and then the Romans would kill a werewolf, and it turned back into human form. They were superstitious and fearful of some sort of supernatural retaliation if they didn't keep our secret. They called our tribe the Philupus for those who loved wolves. The name has been passed down in my family for centuries. It's my name, actually."
She gave him an incredulous look. "Philupus?"
"Now you know why I prefer Phil. After the Romans left, my ancestors thought it would be safe to go back to living in human form. But a few generations had passed and they found they couldn't stay human all the time. They changed on the first night of a full moon."
"So they were doomed to turn into wolves every month for eternity," she whispered.
He smiled. "I wouldn't call it 'doomed. I've never met a werewolf who didn't love that burst of freedom we get every month when we can toss all human rules and conventions out the window and act like…animals."
"You find it liberating."
"Yes." Phil sighed. "Or it should be. There are some among the Lycan World who think we should adhere to our own traditions. Supreme Pack Masters can be very powerful, and they try to force everyone to do as they say."
Vanda sat up. "You had trouble with someone like that?"
He nodded. "My father."
She winced. "I'm sorry."
"It's all right." He caressed her arm.
"He wouldn't approve of me. Your sister doesn't either." Vanda glanced at the trapdoor. "When is she getting back? That's an awfully long hike—Oh." She slapped her forehead. "Your sister's a werewolf."
"She was one of those wolves who scared you."
Vanda made a face. "She really doesn't like me."
"She doesn't know you yet. And don't worry about her. I'll have a good talk with her."
"Were all of those wolves werewolves?"
"Yes, but they won't bother you again. They know you're under my protection." Phil sat up. "So how come you're so afraid of werewolves?"
She flinched. "I–I told you. They were hunting me."
"You never said why."
She slipped her underwear on. "You know, you ruined my bra. I hope your sister has one I can borrow."
"She bought some clothes for us. Come on, Vanda. I told you my secrets. It's time you told yours."
"You'll hate me." She stood and walked away.