Book 2 in The Night Breed Series
Released: April 2011
THE CALLING changed Rayna Ford’s life forever, now in THE GATHERING, she will find out what she’s truly become.
Rayna Ford didn’t believe in monsters, until she became one herself. As a newly turned werewolf awaiting her first shift, Rayna puts all her trust in Garrett Kincaid, the man who accidentally infected her and changed her life forever. But when old enemies resurface and take her from the one man who vowed to protect her, Rayna must face her fears alone.
The Collective, the Breed leaders of all the preternatural species, haven’t abandoned the dream of announcing their presence to the world and they still want Rayna to be the one who integrate them into human society. Her only chance at survival is to reveal the secret the breed leaders want her to show the world, but in doing so, she may alienate the very creatures she wants to protect and endanger her own life in the process.
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The wolf was coming.
Rayna burst through the tree line, pain racing through her limbs like fire eating at her flesh. Her heart raced, the sensation of not being in control of her body caused a terror so immense it blurred her vision until she couldn’t see anything but shadows.
She looked down as heat spread through her fingertips. The sight of her nails growing into what could only be described as claws made the world go fuzzy. She stumbled before coming to a stop and stared at her hands. Watched, as those claws grew longer and hair sprouted on the back of her fingers.
A scream tore from her throat, the sound tinged with a rumbling growl. Her name being shouted repeatedly, and the heavy footfalls of someone behind her, grew closer.
Pain ripped through her body in blinding flashes and she staggered as the wolf tried to claw its way from her flesh. She ran again, racing through the trees. Heat caused her skin to slick with perspiration as tears clouded her vision.
Someone grabbed her and tackled her to the ground, the air in her body leaving in a whoosh upon impact with the leafy forest floor. She gasped, filling her lungs before screaming and clawing at moist soil. Her name rang repeatedly through her head as she was flipped over onto her back.
“Rayna! What’s wrong? Hold still!”
She kicked, slapped and clawed, barely grabbing enough air to scream as she felt those hideous claws protruding from the end of her fingers tear into soft flesh. The scent of fresh blood hit her seconds before a warm spray splashed across her face. A pained yell followed.
Her hands were thrust above her head and held to the ground with enough force her vision blurred as pain raced up her arms. Weight fell on top of her, effectively stilling her movement’s moments later. A low growl sounded by her ear and slowly, the panic started to recede, her vision cleared and the pain and heat in her body dissipated.
The wolf retreated back into her body to lay dormant again.
Garrett, pack leader in Wolf’s Creek and mate to the wolf lurking beneath her flesh, hovered over her, his lips pinched together so tight they looked bloodless. His eyes weren’t the tawny brown she was used to seeing but the eerie amber of the wolf. Rayna blinked at him. “Garrett?”
He exhaled and closed his eyes, laying his forehead against hers. He sucked in several deep breaths and released some of the pressure on her arms before raising his head again. His eyes looked normal now, the color also coming back to his lips as he sat up, climbed off of her, and pulled her into his arms. “Don’t ever run from me again.” His voice sounded garbled. The wolf wasn’t far from the surface.
His arms felt like bands of steel wrapped around her and Rayna stared at the surrounding trees as he stroked the back of her head. Her pulse started to slow to normal, the restless pushing she’d felt inside her body slowly dying away. She fell limp against him before tears she couldn’t hold back fell from her eyes.
“Shhh. It’s all right now. I’ve got you.”
“I don’t know what happened.” Rayna blinked, trying to clear her vision. “I was watching Mitch and the wolf… it just started and I couldn’t stop it.”
Mitch Pierson, Rayna’s old newsroom partner and friend from Bluff’s Point, was now one of the monsters. The moon was full and with the help of Bryce, Garrett’s second in command, Mitch’s wolf was brought to the surface. She’d watched in horror as the change took him, his bones shifting under his flesh while his screams echoed through the forest. Screams she’d hear every night for the rest of her life.
She shuddered at the memories. “I felt her, Garrett.” Rayna sniffed back tears and took a deep breath. “I did more than feel her. She tried to get out.” She pulled away from him and held up her hands. “Look.”
The claws that had been present were now gone. Nothing but her short clipped fingernails remained, dirt shining in ugly half-moons under the tips. “I had claws,” she said, softly.
She looked up at him and saw the torn flesh and blood on his neck. “Garrett! Your neck!” Rayna reached up, clamping her hand over the wound before grabbing the ripped edge of his shirt and tried to staunch the bleeding.
He winced, sucking in a harsh breath before turning his head to the side. “It’ll stop bleeding in a minute. I’m sure it looks worse than it is.”
Rayna leaned back and stared at the ragged cuts. They started just under his ear and slashed down the length of his neck to the center of his chest. Four jagged wounds made by her claws. Tears burnt her eyes as she glanced at his face. “I’m sorry.”
“I know.” He pulled her back into his arms when the first tear fell. “Shhh, stop crying. I’m fine.”
“I don’t know what happened.” She clung to him, closing her eyes to try and stop the tears. “I haven’t felt her once in all this time. Why now?”
“Watching Mitch probably triggered the change. You should have stayed at the house like I told you to.”
In the two months since she’d been infected, Rayna had waited for her own wolf, the one lurking beneath her flesh to make her presence known. Before tonight, she hadn’t felt her. Watching Mitch shift, knowing his fate would soon be her own, had been gut wrenching.
She’d sat on the rock face, listening to his screams, watching his bones shift beneath his flesh and felt her own beast answer. The pain had been intense; the terror she’d felt erased every thought other than getting away. To stop whatever was coming.
“You shouldn’t have fought it, Rayna. It’s going to happen whether you want it to or not.”
“Why shouldn’t I fight it?”
She pushed away from him when he said her name, the soft tone of his voice angering her more than it should have. “Garrett, I don’t want this! I’ve never wanted it.” Turning her head, she stared into the forest and fought another round of tears. “The thought of it makes me sick. I want my old life back.” She swallowed the lump in her throat and faced him again. “I don’t want to be one of the monsters.”
The look that crossed his face pierced her heart. He stared at her with such regret and guilt it was almost a tangible thing. She opened her mouth to take the words back but a commotion in the trees caught her attention. Three wolves walked into the clearing. The one in front was Judith, one of the oldest pack members in Wolf’s Creek. Rayna could tell by the patch of gray hair around her ears. The wolf’s head was low to the ground. She approached them cautiously, her steps slowing the nearer she got.
Garrett stood without a word and walked toward the two wolves still near the tree line, saying, “Stay with her,” as he passed Judith. Rayna watched him go. He never turned to look at her before he disappeared into the trees. The wolves turned and followed him.
Rayna looked over at Judith. She was still slowly advancing, her body tucked low to the ground. When she reached her, she lay down by her side, nudging Rayna’s leg until she lifted a hand and laid it on the wolf’s head. She sighed and looked back toward the trees.
Since the day she’d been infected, Rayna had never blamed Garrett, even though it was by his hand she was now a creature she still feared to some degree. His guilt was evident every time she spoke of turning into a wolf and she’d spent hours reassuring him that she held him blameless. Now, he knew differently, and so did she.
Her guilt at throwing those hurtful words at him was like a knife to the gut. Tears fell freely down her face and her heart felt as if it was breaking. “I hurt him.” She wiped her face and knew nothing she said would ever erase what she’d said. “I practically threw the blame in his face and called him a monster.”
Judith nudged Rayna’s leg with her nose again and whined. She glanced down at her, those large amber eyes shining wetly, and she knew, if Judith had been able to talk, she would have told her not to worry. That Garrett knew she didn’t mean it.
She wasn’t so sure about that, though.
A series of howls echoed through the trees and Rayna watched the moons ray’s dance across a cloudless sky. Since coming to Wolf’s Creek, this was the first time Garrett had left her to run with the pack. She felt bereft at his absence. She wasn’t exactly sure what the wolves did once they ran for the forest. Hunt and mate, she’d been told, and the thought of Garrett chasing another wolf with the intention of mating her….
The anger that followed the thought brought her to her feet. She paced the small clearing, visions filling her minds eye of him doing just that. When she turned to look back at Judith, she saw her standing. “A mated wolf won’t look for another, will they?”
Judith’s lips curled back, exposing her teeth, before she growled.
“You don’t think Garrett would…” Rayna sighed before rubbing a hand over her face. Visions of him with someone else flashed before her mind’s eye again. Charlotte, a redheaded woman who everyone said was Malcolm’s favorite came to mind. Rayna had never spoken to her personally but Garrett had. How many times had she walked up on the two of them while they laughed about something neither felt the need to share? “I guess I wouldn’t really blame him if he did.” She laughed to keep from crying again. “Some mate I turned out to be. He’s probably regretting that decision as we speak.”
She didn’t know what was expected of her being the mate of the pack leader. She was sure some of the looks she got from the others were due to their disappointment in her. Garrett was the one they turned to, the one they trusted. She was just the human who was on the verge of becoming a wolf. Becoming something they all knew she didn’t want to be. A werewolf. One of the monsters.
Crossing her arms under her breasts, Rayna turned to Judith. “Will you walk me back to the house? I don’t think Garrett is coming back.”
The digital clock on the nightstand by the bed read four fifty-five. Rayna had lain awake half the night, waiting for Garrett to come back. The house had filled with the noise of others returning from the hunt but so far, her door hadn’t opened.
Tossing the blankets back, she dressed, slipped on her sneakers, and walked across the room to the door. She stopped as she reached it, picking up Garrett’s scent. She was amazed at how easily she could distinguish it now. She could tell every nuance of it, how long it had been since he’d been there and from what she was sensing now, she knew she must have fallen asleep at some point. The scent was fresh. Only hours old.
She opened the door, following the small trace of Garrett’s scent down the stairs and out of the house. The moon was still shining brightly, leaving the earth washed in iridescent light. The treetops were painted with a soft glow, the dew settling on the branches shimmering like small diamonds.
Rayna traced his steps to the forest before stopping. She stared past the tree line and listened for any sign of movement. The thought of walking into the forest, alone, was unsettling. She had no reason to be afraid. There wasn’t anything waiting for her in the darkened forest scarier than she was. A newly turned werewolf, just waiting to be born, lurked beneath her skin.
Glancing behind her at the house, she debated on going back to her room and waiting, but the small thread of doubt she’d created in thinking Garrett would leave her for someone else wouldn’t let her. Choking down her fear, she turned and walked into the forest.
His scent led her in a weaving pattern that told her he hadn’t known where he was going. He’d walked aimlessly through the woods, turning several times to go back the way he’d come before his scent led her in the other direction again.
When the sound of the creek reached her ears, she quickened her pace. She spotted him moments later.
He was sitting in the shallow creek bed, elbows propped on his knees, with his hands buried in his hair. His tanned flesh looked pale under the glow of the moon, beads of water still shining on his skin. As she neared him she could see the slick remnants of the wolf still present on his back.
Rayna walked into the water, mindless of it filling her shoes, and sat down on her knees behind him. She washed his back, her hands sliding over his skin and erasing every trace of the slimy substance the wolf always left behind. When she’d removed the last of it, she touched the claw marks she’d left on the side of his neck. The gash had closed, already healing, leaving only angry red lines as evidence to what she’d done to him.
She leaned forward, wrapping her arms around his shoulders before tracing the healing cuts with her lips, peppering small kisses against the side of his neck. “I’m sorry.”
He moved then, raising his head and turning to look at her. His eyes were bloodshot, the guilt and remorse she’d seen earlier still present. “You shouldn’t be out here.”
“Neither should you. It’s five in the morning. The others have been back for hours.”
Garrett stared at her for long moments before turning and wrapping his arms around her waist then pulling her down to sit in his lap. He stared at her, his fingers threading into her hair before he leaned down and kissed her, forcing his tongue into her mouth. She wrapped her arms around his neck, kissing him back until the soft growls coming from his chest grew louder.
He broke the kiss and lifted her shirt over her head, unsnapping her bra before removing it and tossing the garments to the creek bank. His gaze devoured her bare flesh, his fingers teasing her nipples until they stiffened and ached for his touch.
“I never wanted you hurt, Rayna. I’d take a bullet to the head first.”
He looked up at her face and the sadness in his eyes broke her heart all over again. “I love you.”
“And I love you. I didn’t mean what I said.”
He watched her for long moments. “Yes, you did.” He kissed her again, his palms flattening over her breast and squeezing it gently. He pinched her nipple between his fingers, breaking the kiss and lowering his head. The feel of his tongue swirling against her skin caused a shiver to race up her spine. She arched her back, moaning when he pulled her closer, his mouth covering as much of her breast as he could suck in.
He unsnapped her jeans, his hand delving inside the material and into her damp curls, her moans becoming louder as he flicked her clit with one finger.
She let him do as he pleased, never once trying to stop him when he placed her on her feet, stood and ushered her to the creek bank. He pulled her jeans off, her soggy shoes and socks, and covered her body with his own before he slid inside her warmth moments later.
Rayna stared up at him when he started to move. He was still watching her, his gaze locked with hers, and the pain she saw in his eyes slowly began to recede. His thrusts came harder, his arm tight around her waist and never once did he look away from her.
The moon caused a bright halo around his body, the light making him look ethereal. Shadows fell across his features, the stubble on his jaw a dark edging that framed his face. She reached up, her fingers sliding into his hair before pulling his head to her and kissing him.
Garrett’s hand slipped between, his fingers finding her clit. They both came together moments later; their mingled shouts the only sound in the forest. When he rolled off of her, Rayna stared up into the lightening sky and tried to catch her breath.
She looked over at him a few minutes later. His eyes were closed, his chest rising quickly as he gulped in lungs full of air. The claw marks on his neck looked swollen, the skin puffy. Those angry red slashes forever changed the landscape of his body. She noticed the marks ended over his heart. “That cut looks nasty.”
He opened his eyes, turning his head to look at her. “It doesn’t hurt, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
He smiled, the first she’d seen from him since before the meeting at the ritual grounds. “I’m not.”
She raised an eyebrow as he leaned over and pulled her into his arms. “You’re not sorry I nearly ripped your throat out?”
He chuckled, his lips teasing the mark he’d given her the night he claimed her as his own. “No. There won’t be a female who ever looks at me who won’t know I’m taken now.” His tongue swiped across the mark he’d given her before he sucked the skin into his mouth. “You’ve marked me for life, Rayna. It might have hurt like hell at the time, but I’ll wear it with pride.”
She shook her head at him. “Leave it to you to turn something so brutal into a love bite.”
He laughed and hugged her to him, resting his head against hers. They lay there for long minutes, just enjoying the silence. Rayna’s head was still filled with doubts. “You’re not mad at me, then?”
The entire night replayed in her minds eye and the reason for getting out of bed left her stomach queasy again. She could faintly smell other wolves on him. Their scents were mingled. They’d brushed against him at some point and she hated not being able to distinguish who exactly they were. “What did you do tonight?”
He grinned. “Chase anything that moved.”
“Oh.” Rayna ran her fingers lightly over the claw marks on his chest. “Did you chase anything in particular?”
“Not that I can recall.”
She made a “humph” noise in response. Thoughts of Charlotte played at the edge of her mind and Rayna bit her lip. “Did you see Charlotte?”
“Was she out here?”
Garrett lifted his head and Rayna lowered hers, avoiding eye contact. “Everyone was out here, Rayna. What’s with the twenty questions?”
“No reason.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Just curious.”
His hand under her chin brought her head up and she had no choice but to look at him. “Whatever it is you want to know, just ask. I don’t have anything to hide.”
Laughter was dancing in the tawny depths of his eyes and anger flashed hot and vibrant across Rayna’s skin. She tried to rein it in but failed miserably. “Did you chase another wolf?”
“I might have.”
She felt her own wolf then. It slid against her bones and the noise that suddenly came from deep in her chest startled even her. “Any of those female? Did you chase Charlotte?”
He chuckled, his eyes sparking bright amber before returning to normal. “You sound like a jealous wolf, Rayna.”
Rayna grunted at him before pushing away and standing. She searched for her clothes, picking the soggy garments up off the ground while Garrett’s light laughter rang through her head. She shook out her jeans, wrung the water out of them best she could, and gasped when she was grabbed from behind, Garrett’s arms wrapping around her waist.
“There’s only one female I want.” He kissed her neck, his tongue darting out to caress the mark he’d given her.
She dropped her clothes and turned in his arms. “Promise?”
He kissed her, a smile playing at his lips as he peppered kisses across her face. “I only want you, Rayna. You don’t ever have to worry about me straying. I promise. The wolf wouldn’t let me if I tried.”
Her muscles relaxed, the irritation she felt slowly ebbing away. She smiled up at him, feeling ridiculous all of a sudden and wondered if her cheeks turned red when her face heated. She wrapped her arms around him, hugged him to her, and glanced over his shoulder. Her pulse leaped when she saw someone watching them from the trees. It only took her seconds to realize who it was. Jacob, the young wolf who had been missing since the day Malcolm had captured her and Garrett. When he turned and ran, she yelled his name. “Jacob!”
Garrett turned, looking behind him. “What?”
“It was Jacob.”
“Standing just beyond those trees.” She raised her arm, pointing out where he was before turning to grab her clothes. She jerked her pants on, jumping to get the wet denim up over her hips. Garrett ran to the trees as she slipped her shirt on, her bra forgotten. She’d just stepped into her sneakers when Garrett disappeared into the forest.
Her newfound skills, thanks to the wolf, allowed her to keep up with Garrett as he streaked through the woods. His naked backside was easy to follow. She smiled as she watched him, pumping her arms at her side to try and catch up.
They ran half the mountain and Rayna heaved in a deep breath of air when she saw where Jacob’s scent had taken them.
She followed Garrett into the cabin Jacob lived in. “He hasn’t been here all this time, has he?”
“No. We’ve been checking in case he came back.” They entered the small cabin, Rayna flipping on the lights when Garrett disappeared into the hall.
The cabin looked exactly as it had the last time she’d been there. Nothing seemed out of place. It was still unlived in. The musty smell told her no one had bothered taking up residence.
Since the day her and Garrett had been captured three months ago, Jacob’s whereabouts had been a mystery. They’d searched the mountain with no trace of him. And now, here he was. Back in Wolf’s Creek.
What was he doing on the mountain and not living in his cabin? Why hadn’t he come home? Come to them when Malcolm was destroyed and the pack fell under Garrett’s protection?
She wandered down the hall, stopping at the bedroom Jacob had used and peeked in. Garrett was standing in the middle of the room, his brows drawn down over his eyes. “What is it?”
He turned toward her, frowning, before motioning her back into the hall. He grabbed her arm above the elbow and led her back to the living room. “What’s wrong?”
“He’s been here.” Garrett flipped the lights out and stepped onto the porch. The sun had come up, the first rays shining above the mountain and painting the sky in brilliant shades of pink and orange.
Rayna turned to him when he shut the door behind them. He had a worried expression on his face. He’d scented something inside the cabin. Something he wasn’t going to share with her.
She stared at him, her gaze lingering on the set of his shoulders, his bare chest rising quickly before she looked down the line of his body. “Are you going back to the house like that?”
He looked down at himself before shrugging his shoulder. “It isn’t like they haven’t seen me naked before.”
Folding her arms under her breast, Rayna raised an eyebrow at him. “That may have been true in the past but I’d prefer you didn’t go flaunting yourself in front of the entire pack.”
He grinned. “Still jealous?”
She scowled at him and walked back to the door, flinging it open. “Go find something to put on. We’re not leaving until you do.”
Garrett laughed and walked back into the house, his quiet, “yes, dear,” causing her to finally smile. When he came back out a few minutes later, he was wearing a pair of jogging pants, obviously belonging to Jacob if the length and size of them were any indication. “Better?”
Rayna snorted a laugh. “Not really but at least your dangly bits are covered.” She looked at his crotch and grinned. The pants were definitely a size too small. “Barely.”
He growled and grabbed her arm. “Let’s go. I want to get Bryce and the others looking for Jacob. He couldn’t have gotten far.”
End of excerpt
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