Book 4: Takhini Wolves Series
Evan Stone shot off the couch and scrambled to the window, clutching back the living room curtains as he stared into the darkness. His heart continued to rattle hard enough his hands shook.
It took a long time to blink away the images, for the echoes of screams to fade from his ears. To admit it was true. The flames were only in his mind. His dreams.
Instead of red and gold fingers consuming everything around him in destructive heat, outside his second-storey apartment window the streetlights of Whitehorse flickered. Their pale blue glow a faint defense against the chill of night.
As the fog in his brain cleared, the ache in his belly arrived, silent pain striking deep. The gaping hole in his soul became his single focus point. Far more than the dreams of his past, the unknown cut him apart and shot his concentration to hell.
Life as he knew it was over—but his future refused to arrive.
Somewhere out there was his mate. He’d scented her, following her trail from his hotel until she’d vanished without a trace. He’d dedicated every spare moment since to the search, but all his attempts had come up blank. Frustration led to restless nights pacing before passing out wherever he ended up. Restless sleep led to nightmares made of tortured memories.
He was past ready to move on.
A quick glance showed the clock on the counter had failed. Evan pressed his watch to check the glowing numbers. Time clicked over to twelve-ten as loud pounding sounded on his front door.
“Evan, wake up. Wake up.”
Bloody hell. “Shaun?”
Wolf-pack hierarchy said Evan was numero uno and Shaun second in command. Evan tried to maintain a light hand on the reins—he’d witnessed too intimately what happened when men and beasts allowed power to go to their heads. But laid-back ruler of his Takhini-pack kingdom that he might be, unless this was a real death-and-dying emergency?
He would happily take out his frustrations on his Beta.
Evan jerked the door open. Shaun stood there, his usual “what the fuck” attitude noticeably absent. Instead his dark hair and broad shoulders were covered with a thick layer of black and green…stuff.
“What the hell happened to you? Whoa…” Evan stepped back in self-defense as the first wave of putrescence hit him smack in the face. “Crap.”
“Not crap, it’s garbage.” Shaun knocked a handful of what looked to be half-decomposed road kill off one shoulder.
“Get a new hobby,” Evan snarled, his eyes watering. “Jeez, you reek. Stand downwind, I’ll come outside.”
“You need to get to the hotel,” Shaun insisted, even as he inched farther back on the landing. His face twisted into a horrified expression. “I can barely breathe, I stink so bad.”
Evan wasn’t sure what was going on. Their livelihood was based on the hotel, and over the past couple weeks, strange shit had been happening. He strode back to his bedroom, shouting at Shaun through the open door. “Stay there while I pull on some clothes. Tell me what’s wrong, and why the hell you look like a zombie.”
“Power is out at the hotel. Only the hotel—none of the other places on the block are affected, and the pack house three streets over is fine as well. I was in the middle of shutdown at the bar when everything went black. None of the usual fixes helped, so I thought I’d try you. But your phones are out, both your landline and your cell. And the shortcut between the hotel and your place was booby-trapped.”
Shaun grimaced at the muck-coated fingers he raised skyward as Evan joined him on the landing, fully clothed. They both turned and headed down the stairs to the street level. “Thanks for getting me. Did you turn on the generator?”
“Bullshit,” Evan snapped. “I serviced that myself last week.”
Shaun stopped beside him, bits and pieces of debris falling off to the ground as if he truly were a zombie on his final legs. “Don’t go snarly at me. I know engines too, dude—it’s busted. No bullshit.”
“That makes no bloody sense,” Evan complained. “Plus, there’s no reason for an outage this time of year in the first place.”
They skirted the area where Shaun had hit the booby trap. Evan was too keen to get to the hotel to do more than give the setup a quick glance, but even that was enough to make him whistle in admiration. “Damn, the trick-or-treaters are out in full force already. Look—”
He pointed to the neatly assembled buckets hanging empty above their heads. Shaun grumbled. “They were hidden behind the board. That’s why I didn’t see them.”
“Must have sealed the tops to stop the smell from warning you off as well.” Evan shook his head, his stomach protesting the stench wafting off Shaun. “You must be dying. I’m dying standing next to you. God, you stink like… Hell, I can’t think of anything nasty enough, actually.”
“Fuck you. You want my help tonight?”
Evan made a snap decision. “No. Go home. Get a shower. Try not to freak your mate out too much, or she might decide to light you on fire and get a newer model.”
“Har-har.” Shaun stepped away as Evan pulled open a side-entrance door to the hotel. “Seriously, though. Call if you need me.”
“We’ll be fine.” Evan waved his Beta off before turning and entering the darkness.
He strode down the hallway with no hesitation as he paced the black-as-coal passages. He was familiar with every inch of the hotel he’d turned into one of the centerpieces of the Takhini pack resources. Plus, he was a wolf. His senses were sharp enough to warn him not only of his surroundings, but that he was rapidly approaching a group of upset people who’d gathered in the lobby.
Dim light greeted him as he rounded the corner to the open foyer. Swinging flashlights sent golden beams dancing off rock walls, the wet surfaces all that earmarked the impressive waterfall that usually graced the entrance to the hotel. The feature wall was silent. Even the voices he heard remained low, although their dismay and concern carried clearly enough, echoing in the darkness.
Evan shoved behind the desk and laid a soothing hand on the shoulder of a very agitated young wolf who was supposed to have the simple task of night clerk. “What’s up, Dale?”
“Thank goodness, you’re here.” Dale didn’t get another word out before the mixed crowd of humans and shifters in the lobby all started talking at once. Demanding the power be restored.
Evan took a deep breath and used as much of his wolf power as possible to send out calming vibes. The mystical mojo wouldn’t work as well on the humans as his pack, but there was still a noticeable effect. “We’ll do our best to get things up and running ASAP. There must be a line down that services the building. Let me look into it. In the meantime, do you all have flashlights? Good—now return to your rooms, and I’m sure you’ll find we have everything fixed by the morning.”
His smooth promises didn’t erase all the grumbling. Dale and the other pack members on staff seemed to have gotten the most good from Evan’s reassurances. They worked quickly to restore peace and quiet to the entranceway.
Evan answered the summons of one of the maintenance staff who’d popped out from the basement stairwell.
“You figure out what’s wrong?” Evan asked.
Toby shook his head. He’d tilted his oversized flashlight up beneath his chin, and the resulting shadows turned his face into the feature creature on the late-night horror channel. “I’ve checked the connections. Nothing is shorted out, and there’s nothing obviously wrong inside the hotel.”
“Then we must have a problem outside.” Damn. It couldn’t be simple, could it? “There’s no one on shift with you, is there?”
Toby straightened, his attitude darkening. “I can do an exterior check by myself.”
“You know the rules. Potentially hazardous situation, you take a backup.”
“It’s stupid to wait. I’ll be fine—”
Evan jerked the flashlight forward so it shone straight at his own face to make sure Toby spotted the displeasure there. More than that, his wolf rumbled in displeasure, and Toby’s eyes widened as he caught the sensation of power rolling from his Alpha.
Evan grumbled the words softly but clearly enough he knew Toby would not ignore him. “Call for backup, then you can do the exterior check. No forgetting or ignoring the rules just because you feel like it. Do I make myself clear?”
Toby swallowed hard and backed down. “Yes, sir.”
The bit of attitude wasn’t unexpected. Toby was the age and strength where he wanted to impress his Alpha, but even as laid-back as Evan could be about some issues, safety wasn’t one of them. He would never deliberately put one of his wolf’s lives on the line—his own life would be offered up first. “Good man. Do what you can then call me. I’ll work on the other possibilities.”
He patted Toby’s shoulder for a moment, sending the young man off with a dose of acceptance and encouragement. All in a typical day for an Alpha.
Typical, if it weren’t after midnight and pitch black.
Evan cut through the Moonshine Pub to the side door to his office. His cell phone lay on the credenza where he’d forgotten it. He used the light of the screen to spotlight the emergency-phone-number list his previous office assistant had tacked to the wall with a heading IMPORTANT, Look Here First.
Damn, he missed Caroline. The human had been part of the Takhini pack for years, only she was off gallivanting with her bear-shifter hubby. While he wished her nothing but the best, he could have used her ability to troubleshoot.
“Night office, Whitehorse Power and Water, Riverside Station. How can I help you?”
Thank goodness. Not a “click one if you have a rash” answering service. “Evan Stone from the Moonshine Inn. There’s a power outage here. You got squirrels committing hari-kari on the transformer lines again?”
“No. That’s weird. Moonshine Inn? On Fourth Ave?” The kid on the other end of the phone, who must have been all of sixteen, clicked his tongue before responding with far too much “didn’t give a shit” for Evan’s taste. “According to the grid, there’s nothing wrong at our end. Full power to the entire city.”
“Oh, come on.” Evan aimed the flashlight he’d found toward the corner of his office, where an enormous pile of oversized boxes was stacked precariously halfway to the ceiling. Who the hell had made a delivery since he left at nine? “That can’t be true. The power was also off at my apartment. Third and Caribou.”
“Nope. Not us. Check with your direct power supplier.”
The kid hung up.
Fucking hung up.
“Damn customer service.” Evan strode back to the phone list, dragging his finger down the paper until he found the one labeled utilities.
Of course, this time he got an answering system and spent the next ten minutes punching numbers and pounding keys, cussing until he got a live person. While he answered her bazillion security questions, he grabbed a knife from his desk and sliced through the tape sealing one of the mystery boxes.
“Does that sound correct to you, Mr. Stone?”
“Yes, that’s my account information, my date of birth, mother’s maiden name. Unless you need more, like my blood type and a skin sample, tell me why my power is out.”
“Looks as if your service has been cancelled, Mr. Stone.”
Evan lifted the top layer of bubble wrap from the box, wondering who the heck had sent him a container full of sand. “Bullshit. I didn’t cancel it.”
“No, we did. I see a note on your account you received three warnings that your bill was overdue. There was no response, so as of midnight, your services were disconnected.”
“Wait—what?” Evan debated flinging a few choice words her direction. He opened the next box, and found this one contained row after row of Ziploc bags full of beef jerky. “You can’t cancel my service. I have the proof of payment in my bank statements. You’ve made a mistake.”
“If you have receipts, we’d be happy to look at them in person at the customer desk during regular office hours of nine through five, weekdays.”
Good grief. Evan fought to keep from shouting, which made his voice lower and his tone turn glacial. “It’s twelve-thirty a.m. on Saturday, and I’m running a hotel. What do you suggest I do until Monday morning?”
The perky response he got back was enough to make his skin crawl. “I can give you the number of our manager if you’d like.”
Unbelievable. He dragged a hand through his hair. “Yes. Do that.” A pale light blinked in the corner of his office, and Evan instinctively turned toward it. “Give me a second to grab a pen.”
He stomped to his desk, grumbling under his breath the entire time. “Bloody weekends off. Turn off the power. What the hell is going on…?”
He was writing down the number when the computer screen flashed again, this time turning all the way to bright. It was his laptop computer—the one he hated with everything in him, but Caroline had insisted he needed. The little black arrow on the screen moved to the right, and Evan jerked in surprise.
What…? He pulled his hands back to make sure he wasn’t accidentally triggering anything.
“Sir? Did you get the number?” his tormentor on the other end of the phone asked.
“Yeah, thanks.” Evan hung up, distracted by his haunted computer. How was it running with no power? Oh, right. Those things had batteries.
But why had it started?
The arrow moved to the top of the screen, and a new picture appeared. This one stated “Hotel Safety Controls”. Under the bold lettering were orderly boxes. Electric. Water. Cooling system. Sprinkler system. Fire alarms.
The arrow moved unerringly to the sprinkler label, and the box moved as if pushed. A schematic of the hotel appeared, with thick lines showing the different runs for the fire system. The arrow shifted again, pausing over the teeny picture of Evan’s office, and his confusion turned to utter dismay.
In the ceiling above him, discreetly hidden nozzles poked their silver heads into the room and extended little fanlike arms. A blast of water descended, instantly drenching him, his desk and his computer.
He slammed the top shut in some misguided idea that might reverse what had just occurred. Water wasn’t good for demon-spawn computers, was it?
The door burst open, and a half-dozen high-beam flashlights hit his face and torso, damn near blinding him.
“Freeze,” the order rang out. “We have a search warrant for these premises.”
“What the—?” Evan jerked to a stop, blinking madly to clear his vision. Why the hell were uniformed RCMP officers pouring into the room? He raised his hands skyward. “Someone want to tell me what’s going on?”
Men pushed past him to reach the mysterious boxes. “There they are, Captain, just like we were told.”
Water continued to spray everywhere, droplets sparkling in the flashlights as a crew rushed to open the cases. Two officers laid hands on Evan’s shoulders, pinning him in place. “I don’t even know where those came from,” he insisted, peering through his wet hair and the steady deluge running down his face.
“Take him to the station.” The captain held a Ziploc bag in front of Evan. “It’s illegal to transport sand and/or unlabeled meat products into the country, Mr. Stone. We’ll discuss details once you’re in a holding cell.”
This wasn’t happening. “You’re not serious. You’re arresting me?”
“Looks that way, doesn’t it?”
Moments later there were cuffs on his wrists. Firm hands gripped his upper arms as Evan was guided from the Moonshine Inn and stuffed into a police cruiser.
Confusion. Anger. Frustration. He wasn’t sure which emotion was the strongest, not to mention the sheer discomfort of being soaking wet. Evan stared out the window as they pulled away, glancing back toward his beloved hotel and ignoring the noise and questions being tossed his direction. He’d talk once he had more information.
Now? Something was hugely off, and he was damned if he didn’t figure out what, and soon.
A lone figure stood on the sidewalk, watching intently. A slim, feminine form with her arms crossed over her chest. She wore a coat with a hood, so her hair was covered, but for one second they made eye contact, and Evan jerked back at the intense anger reflected there.
What the hell?
Then she gave him the finger, and Evan’s brain fogged over.
After everything he’d had thrown at him that evening, some random stranger on the street was telling him to fuck off? Alrighty then. As if he didn’t have enough to deal with. He eased back onto the car seat and sighed.
It was going to be a long night.