Book 2: Takhini Shifters Series
A thin spray of water rose behind the wheels of his bike as Damon Black powered down a lonely stretch of Scottish highway and considered all possible meanings of the phrase one hell of a ride.
The second wave of the storm rumbled louder than the pathetic engine under him, thunderclouds roiling overhead like some National Geographic feature played at high speed. As he closed in on the imposing Sterling-Wylde Manor, it looked as if his shitty luck was going to continue.
His last-minute flight from New York to Inverness had turned into a redeye after being delayed on the tarmac for six hours, putting him into the Scottish airport at five a.m. The classic custom bike he’d booked wasn’t there for some reason, and he’d snatched up the only thing they had on the lot. The best Damon could say about his mode of transportation was it had two wheels and an engine not powered by hamsters.
Still, with a sense of urgency driving him, instead of wasting time, he’d headed into the middle of nowhere on his rescue mission. The first rain shower had gotten him wet, but the highway had been well maintained, and he’d pushed on. Now with the sky turning cobalt and shots of silver reflecting off the surface of the distant lake, Damon figured he was about to be completely drenched.
June in Scotland. Lovely.
The road was no longer smooth, and he swerved to avoid massive potholes, his teeth chattering as his entire body vibrated. Mud lifted off the bumpy asphalt, sticking to him as the wind blew in violently from the north. Only the heat of his shifter body kept him from going into hypothermia.
He put his head down and ignored the rolling Scottish landscape, which under better circumstances might have registered as pretty. All he wanted was to get to his destination and make sure Addie MacShay was safe.
This is what friendship meant. It meant he was headed into the middle of bloody nowhere in northern Scotland to rescue the best friend of his best friend’s wife. He’d never met the woman, but here he was, jetlagged and hungry, and if he wasn’t mistaken, three seconds away from swimming in his clothes.
Damon curled up tighter behind the handlebars and increased his speed to maximum, screaming around the sharp curves leading toward what was admittedly an impressive estate. Whatever had brought Addie to this godforsaken place, the people had money.
He adjusted his mindset a few moments later as he passed through the gated entranceway. One side of the massive rock wall held its twisted iron gate in position, albeit rusted and worn, but the other side lay toppled in the grass. An octopus of bent metal reached skyward.
The faint drizzle increased in volume, and Damon cursed harder. He was going to show up looking like a vagabond no matter what he did.
As if trying to increase his level of misery, the back tire on his lame beast of a bike chose that instant to blow, sending the motorcycle skidding from under him. He bounced over the cracked asphalt and onto the grass, momentum propelling him like a rock from a slingshot as he rolled out of control over the torn-up lawn.
He landed in an inglorious heap, waist deep in a sludge-bottomed fishpond.
Damon sat there for a moment, rain pouring down on his head, his helmet tossed aside to let the fresh water wash away some of the duckweed. Strands of hair stuck to his face, and everything from his pants to his boots were filled with water.
His wolf was not amused.
He chuckled. Yup, this trip had been one hell of a ride so far, and he’d barely started.
No luggage—it had decided to go somewhere in India instead of Inverness. According to his research, there was limited if any phone service in the area, which meant if he was in the wrong place it would be hell to get directions, and now here he sat.
At least his day couldn’t get any more fucked up.
Motion from the front door of the enormous edifice pulled his attention to the building towering over him. He couldn’t fault the architecture—his best friend Jim would love to see it. The massive stone bricks that made up the entrance of the keep gave it an old-world flair while the vines curling around masonry softened the imposing castle-like structure.
He hoped to God it had modern plumbing.
Damon dragged himself from the pond and sloshed back to his bike, hauling the broken beast to vertical and manhandling it down the road to the base of the wide staircase.
He kicked the stand into position then turned, glancing up the stairs to discover two men in their late fifties watching him. One might’ve stepped out of the pages of a Harry Potter book, his long, crimson robes enveloping a thin body. A thin, pointy nose was barely visible from under the cowl covering his head, but even from a distance Damon sensed his disapproval.
“You can’t put that pile of trash there.” The second man spoke, a distinctively feline lilt to his smooth voice. He stepped into the light and gave Damon a clear shot of groomed masculine perfection.
GQ dressers didn’t impress him much, but Damon supposed the other man might turn a few female heads, at least if they were into the crisp, tailored-suit thing. But he’d look more in place in a New York office tower, or in the Inverness business sector, than here in the highlands.
The dude gave Damon a perfunctory glance before sniffing, pulling a handkerchief from the pocket of his immaculate suit jacket and dabbing it against his mouth. “This is a private residence. You’ll have to leave. Now.”
Damon’s wolf bared its teeth, ready and willing for them to deal with the situation in a more physically satisfying and bloody manner. The human side fought for dominance, not letting the internal battle he was waging show.
Damn, hot-tempered wolf. Everything that was wrong about the day would flare to nuclear-meltdown levels if he let the beast have its way. He had to turn this around before things got out of control. Damon clenched his fists and attempted diplomacy. “I—”
The suit waved a hand in dismissal, turning as if to leave. “Get out of here.”
It wasn’t the best time to poke at Damon, or Damon’s wolf. He slammed the beast down before snapping a response. “I know this is a private residence. I’m here for Addie.”
Both men blinked, the professor-type shifting uneasily from side to side as Damon made his way up the stairs to the landing. “She didn’t tell us anyone was coming to visit.”
“Is it a problem? Her having visitors?” Damon didn’t bother to keep the growl out of his question. He understood their hesitation. He looked like a tramp, but expecting anyone in his condition to just get the hell out without offering help hadn’t made a good first impression.
The fact his wolf really wanted to chase them both made it difficult to stay attentive. Damon forced his animal side under control as he wondered what kind of shifters he was dealing with. He couldn’t pinpoint their scent, other than definitely feline.
The asshole in the suit came to a decision. He made a movement as if he was about to offer his hand in greeting before noticing the weeds and muck clinging to Damon and casually tucking his hands into his pockets. “I’m Alastair, and this is my brother Niall. We’re the owners of Sterling-Wylde Manor.”
“One of us is the owner,” Niall snapped as he stepped forward, his fingers linked together as he stared down the bridge of his nose at Damon before offering a sniff of his own. His lips twisted, but he nodded. “I’ll summon Addie for you.”
“Tell her Damon is here.”
Damon folded his arms over his chest, taking a defensive stance against one of the columns supporting the grand entranceway they stood under. He wasn’t sure the message had gotten through that he was coming. He hoped she didn’t screw things up and deny knowing any Damon.
Niall paused next to an ancient intercom system mounted beside the imposing dual-front doors and poked at the buttons. His summons sent, Niall glowered from beside the door, while Alastair stood just out of arm’s reach and stared unblinkingly.
Damon ignored them. Instead, he removed his leather jacket and T-shirt then used the soaking fabric to wipe away the mud and weeds clinging to his face and arms.
Damn cats. Self-righteous, egotistical and no damn sense of humour. Then again, his wolf was pacing back and forth under his skin like a rabid animal that longed to sink its teeth into someone.
Damon twisted the shirt in his hands, wringing out the water. He returned Alastair’s stare as he rotated his hands slowly, a feral smile curling his lips as he refused to break eye contact.
He figured they were about three seconds away from Alastair peeing his expensive pants right there on the marble landing when the door to the side of Niall creaked open and a small woman stepped out.
He’d seen pictures of her, but they paled in comparison to the real thing. Her dark brown hair was pulled back in a neat braid, her skin a smooth, creamy bronze. High cheekbones sat below a pair of whisky-coloured eyes Damon desperately wanted to peer into more closely. He’d also like to examine in great detail her perfect red lips that were pulling into an O of surprise.
She barely came up to the middle of his chest, but he figured that would be okay. He’d be able to lift her, probably with one arm. Heck, if he got her into the right position? With a sturdy wall behind her, and the legs currently peeking out below the edge of the pristine pencil skirt wrapped around his hips…
Damon’s wolf was at high alert and ready to pounce, and for once in his life the man agreed one hundred percent with the animal. Everything about Addie made him hard.
She’d been checking him over as well in the brief moment it’d taken to fall in lust. Her gaze darted over his messy hair before traveling down his naked chest and landing firmly on the growing erection behind his jeans. Her throat moved in a hard swallow as her eyes widened, then before he could say a word, she rushed across the distance and threw herself into his arms.
Addie had been laying personal bets how her best friend would come to her rescue. Considering Lillie had married a billionaire, some of those scenarios had involved Skyfall-worthy helicopter chases, where men in camouflage gear swarmed the Sterling-Wylde estate and pulled her to safety. Or a more romantic fantasy, where a mysterious, dark stranger would slip in unannounced one night, sneak up to her bedroom in the tower, and after proving he was worthy of her trust, become her shadowy protector as she went through her daily tasks.
Never in a million years could even her fertile imagination have dreamt up a soaking-wet beggar with sky-blue eyes and a body built for sin. But if this was what she got?
Holy moly, she’d take him.
Which was why she’d gone on the attack, clutching his neck as she curled herself around him like a twist tie. He opened his mouth, probably to protest, so she did the only thing she could think of before he blew it and said something that messed up her skimpy plans.
She kissed him. Hard. Locking their lips together as she used her full strength to tighten her legs around his hips and keep him close.
She braced herself for the impact of physical contact. With her unique talents—thank you so very much, Mom and Dad—getting close to someone always had repercussions. She refused to focus on what might happen, utterly aware that the Sterling-Wylde boys were watching in slack-jawed astonishment. So she concentrated on Damon and making a convincing job of the kiss. Everything would fall apart if he didn’t go along with her charade.
Two seconds later she wasn’t worried about him giving them away. Instead she was captivated by his kiss. In the way he’d placed one hand under her hips to hold her close, the other sliding intimately up her back until his fingers were buried in her hair. His lips moved enticingly against hers as his tongue danced past her teeth.
Sensation flooded in as the fuzzy curtain between them began to disappear. She’d surprised him—it had been enough to stop the rush of emotions from overwhelming her, but his excitement and curiosity were slicing through the barrier.
Addie broke off the kiss as quickly as she could, forcing a smile to her lips as she pressed both hands against his chest—oh my goodness, his naked chest. She’d seen pictures of Damon while visiting her best friend, but the shots of him with Lillie’s husband had all been fully clothed. Now she was up close and personal with rock-solid muscles covered with golden skin, a hint of blond curls dusting his pectorals that she wanted to drag her fingertips through—
It took every bit of willpower possible to push back until he set her feet on the ground and there was air between them. She dragged her hands free and locked her fingers together to stop from petting him again. “Damon. What an awesome surprise.”
His lips curled as he offered her a cocky, confident smile. “You should’ve known I’d visit.”
Addie twirled on the spot, glancing between her hosts. “Alastair, Niall, I’d like you to meet Damon Black. My boyfriend.”
Three simultaneous noises greeted her, the low chuckle at her back less expected than the rapidly hidden gasps of dismay from the Sterling-Wylde boys.
Damon placed his hands firmly on her shoulders and laughter danced in his voice as he spoke. “That’s what I am. Yup. Addie’s boyfriend. Nice to meet you both.”
“Did you plan on staying, Mr. Black?” Niall intoned, ignoring the pleasantries.
“I’m so sorry.” Addie rushed forward, removing Damon’s hands from her shoulders and creating a barrier between the cats and the wolf who was bristling with disapproval. “I should’ve spoken with both of you before, but Damon wasn’t sure he would be able to get away, and I didn’t think it was worthwhile asking before his trip became certain.”
“It’s most inconvenient,” Alastair protested, his voice rising. “This is a terrible time—”
“It’s fine,” Niall interrupted, glaring at his brother. “I’m sure Addie will continue to work diligently. There’s no reason why she shouldn’t have a visitor.”
Alastair hissed his disapproval. “Says you.”
The boys stepped toward each other, circling to choose places for their catfight. Addie took advantage of their distraction, glancing over her shoulder at Damon before tilting her head toward the door.
He got the message, picking up his things then joining her.
Niall shook his head, his cowl falling back to reveal sandy-coloured hair shot with grey, pulled into a thin ponytail. “Very well, send him on his way, Alastair. Typically cruel of you. Probably catch his death of pneumonia. It’ll be on your head.”
“He’s not going to die.”
“If you’re lucky. I can already see the newspaper. Another suspicious death at the Manor, it’ll say, and then—”
“I’ll just take him to get cleaned up,” Addie interrupted. God, the brothers could go on forever when they started arguing, like two little boys, which is what she’d relegated them to in her mind. “Such a terrible storm, I hope nothing in the garden got crushed.”
The Sterling-Wylde boys barely glanced at her, eager to get back to their fight. Niall waved a hand dismissively. “Keep him off the expensive carpets.”
“Wait. Where’s your luggage?” Alastair demanded, whirling on them as if delighted to have found something else out of place.
“Airline lost it.” Damon pulled on his leather jacket, covering up the wide expanse of drool-worthy skin. Addie didn’t know if she was happy or sad about that.
Alastair hesitated, narrowing his eyes at his brother before turning back with a wide grin and becoming the consummate host. “I’ll send someone around with clothing you can borrow,” he offered. “Unless you’d prefer to spend your time in wolf form.”
Niall made a noise like he was bringing up a hairball. “Not in the house. Anything else, but no dogs in the house.”
“Timber wolf,” Damon corrected. “Thank you for the clothes. Your hospitality is truly magnificent. I’m humbled by your gallant offer. I shall treat your possessions with the utmost care.”
Good grief. Addie grabbed his arm, hauling him through the grand entrance toward her tower.
The instant they were out of sight she freed herself, striding toward the first set of stairs then dashing up them two at a time.
She raced ahead to discourage conversation. Silent at her side, Damon cased the joint as they crossed marble hallways and skipped past enormous side rooms. Addie eyed their surroundings with appreciation. The interior of the grand estate had been modernized enough it was comfortable, if still on the slightly rustic side.
But the history…that’s what she loved. The enormous rooms they passed spoke of grand balls and hunting trips with royalty. Both a political and social playground for the upper class during centuries past, the manor had lost only part of its glory.
And now it was the site of yet another battle, luckily one Addie didn’t have to fight.
She guided Damon through the labyrinth of passageways to the staircase leading to her bedroom. They were halfway up the spiral before he spoke.
“Do you have some kind of Rapunzel fantasy?”
Addie shivered, tempted by the other fantasies his deep, growly voice instilled in her far too quickly. “It’s the only room I found with a working lock.”
“And you had a reason to lock yourself in?”
Deadly anger laced his question. She was pretty sure if she answered yes, Alastair and Niall would be bleeding within moments.
Addie paused on the landing outside her door, sending as much calm toward Damon as possible. “No reason, but I was uncomfortable. Pull in your claws, wolf.”
He smiled, showing his teeth. “Yes, sweetheart.”
Oh dear. The boyfriend thing.
She’d have to explain, and soon, but first he was still dripping, a trail of water marking their route through the manor. On the other side of the tower, modern plumbing had been installed in the adjoining room. Decadence spread before them like a chrome-and-marble pleasure garden. Another reason she’d picked the location for her own.
She gestured toward the shower. “You must be freezing. Get cleaned up, and I’ll find you something to wear until the clothes arrive.”
Damon tossed his leather jacket to the side, his bright blue T-shirt abandoned with it. He popped open the top button on his jeans and lowered the zipper. Addie snapped her gaze back to his face when she realized she was watching him strip with far too much fascination.
Getting naked wasn’t a problem for most shifters. It came with the territory, along with bonus goodies like disease-free sex and a keen sense of fertility—i.e. no condoms necessary. At their age no strings attached sex was fun, most of the time.
But she wasn’t the type to tumble every Big Bad Wolf she met, which was why even though her cheeks were flaming hot, it was definitely time for her to put some space between them.
Too bad that wasn’t his agenda.
Nope. He was staring, the deep rumble of his voice trapping her and nailing her feet to one spot. “Awww, sweetheart, don’t go. I could really use your help. You can soap all my hard-to-reach places.”
His jeans joined the rest of the clothing in the pile. His boots were there too, black with metal straps. There didn’t seem to be any underwear, and yes, she was totally examining his clothing to keep from looking at naked him.
“I’m not showering with you right now,” Addie said as evenly as possible.
Another rumble greeted her—damn that was sexy—but thank goodness, the water flicked on.
“Not now means sometime. I like that idea. Showers are more environmentally friendly when you share. I’m surprised you’re not interested in conservation.”
“Right. Like you’re really environmentally concerned—”
Drat, his distraction had worked. She’d turned to face him and got a full frontal as a reward. For a moment all she could do was flap her jaw. The ripped muscles she’d witnessed all over his upper body weren’t alone. They carried on down past the mumble-mumble in the middle she wasn’t ready to let register in her brain to muscular thighs and calves, and, as he turned, a set of ass cheeks she wanted to dig her teeth into.
“Lordy, your butt is a thing of beauty.”
She slammed her mouth closed before she said something specific regarding his other assets.
Damon offered an amused grin over his shoulder. “On that note, I’ll stop teasing. I am cold, and I’m hungry too, if that’s not being a pain in the ass. I didn’t stop for breakfast before I left the airport.”
She was a fool, spending time ogling him when she should have been taking care of him. “As soon as you’re dressed, we’ll go down for breakfast. It’s nearly time.”
Damon caught her eye. The power of an alpha wolf stroked her as he offered a confident promise. “It’s going to be okay, Addie. I’ll take care of you.”
She scurried out of the bathroom, a little concerned with how hard the butterflies in her stomach were dancing at his announcement. Her wolf stretched inside, expressing interest in being cared for, and there was no way for Addie to deny it.
His promises, all of them, spoken or implied, sounded damn good to her as well.