The Wolf I Want for Christmas – Chapter 1 Excerpt
Dear Santa, Before I explain…how much do you already know?
The sharp knock on Shyla’s door was not expected…which meant not wanted.
She frowned as she cautiously approached, her socked feet silent on the hardwood floors of her cozy cabin. She knew for a fact that no deliveries were happening today, and no plans had been made for visitors. Her friends and family knew to call ahead.
So, what the hell?
“Shyla?” a deep, instantly recognizable voice sounded—a voice she hadn’t heard in ten years. “It’s Cade Campbell. Sean sent me over.”
She stopped stalking toward the door like a cat and straightened, spine stiff, eyes wide.
Her body froze like the icicles that hung off her roof in the winter as memories flashed through her mind. Laughing blue eyes. Dark hair flopped over his forehead. Constantly throwing him out of her room. Helping a bloodied boy of sixteen through dark woods. A soft kiss.
Before he’d disappeared from town without a word.
Drool worthy, tease her until she screamed, make her want to orgasm with a single look Cade Campbell was standing on the other side of her door.
And her dumbass brother had sent him.
What was Sean thinking? That he’d send her an early Christmas present? How would he know? She’d certainly never shared the fact that every sexy dream she’d had featured Cade since the day he’d disappeared from town.
She made a mental note to kill her brother next time she saw him.
“I can hear you, Shyla,” Cade called through the door.
Right. Wolf shifter. How could she ever forget that bit?
This time his voice sounded amused, like he was holding in a laugh. At her expense. Some things never changed. With a shake of her head, teeth gritted, she managed to shake off her paralysis and move to the door.
“One, two, three,” she whispered as she flicked the bolt three times. Only if she did that would the pressure in her chest ease enough to let her do the next thing. She repeated the action with the bolt that shot into the floor but left the chain on when she opened the door. A chain no wolf shifter could break.
She’d made sure of that.
Through the gap, she looked up, and up, and up—over work boots, jeans, and a black t-shirt under a well-worn leather jacket—until she reached familiar light blue eyes. Eyes under thick black brows that were raised. Eyes that twinkled with suppressed laughter.
“Merry Christmas, Shyla. Remember me?”
Dumbest question ever. But, while some things might not change, some clearly did. Cade Campbell was not sixteen anymore, that was for damn sure. Neither was she for that matter.
The last time she’d seen Cade, he’d been a scrawny boy, all limbs and gangly. Still bigger than any of the human boys at school, but rail thin with it. Now his jet-black hair was short instead of floppy. His shoulders had filled out. So had his face, despite the uncompromising square jaw.
A wave of attraction caught her on the raw. She’d had a thing for Cade since she’d been ten and realized boys gave her butterflies. That had grown into an almighty crush that she’d hidden as best she could as she’d hit high school. Every girl had wanted Cade. She knew because they had asked her about him all the time since he was always at her house.
He’d never seen her as anything but Sean’s little sister. Someone he alternately drove nuts with pranks and helped in the way that big brothers did in books. The first mean girl incident in high school had ended up with her crying on Cade’s shoulder. She suspected he’d also got his own back at the girl, because a few months later she’d apologized to Shyla and muttered something about how maybe they could all put this behind them. Maybe that’s why his leaving, cutting every tie so hard, had hurt so damn much.
That and the fact that he hadn’t been there for her through the worst thing.
Now she did her best to shove those memories aside. “Hi, Cade. It’s been a while. Can I help you with something?”
He tipped his head. “That’s all the greeting I get? It’s been ten years, Shy.”
He was the only one who’d ever called her that and gotten away with it.
“Has it?” She pretended to think. Ten years, four months, and a few days. But who was counting? “Yeah. I guess it has.”
He searched her expression for a second. “You seem mad at me.”
She tried a calm smile. “Of course not, but ten years is a long time. I guess I’m surprised to see you. Unfortunately, I’m in the middle of work. Maybe we could catch up later…”
He glanced down and actually scuffed his boot on her wide door mat. “It’s been too long.” If she didn’t know better, she’d swear that was regret in his voice. Except when he raised his head, his gaze was clear. “Mind if I come in? Sean sent me over to help you.”
“Oh. Um. I don’t need help.” She did, but no way was she letting it come from Cade. Ten years of secretly pining for a man while she holed up in here wasn’t something she wanted to make worse with a fly by visit. Better if she sent him on his way. She had her life in her control now, exactly how she wanted it. He had a habit—or at least he used to—of tipping her orderly life upside down and dumping the box on the ground.
“Something about a busted pipe? No water?” He wasn’t giving up.
Shyla pursed her lips. “I don’t know why Sean sent you, but I’ve got this handled.”
His eyes narrowed and that intense look came over him—like he could see into her soul and pull the truth out. Damn. She’d forgotten how he could make her confess things with that look. She did her best not to squirm, as her hormones zoomed into hyperdrive. Heat, both familiar and embarrassing, flooded her veins, pooling at her core.
“I can smell the standing water, Shy.” He spoke the words quietly.
Could he smell her arousal, too? Good thing she wasn’t a blusher, or she would be bright as Santa’s coat right now.
“Here’s the thing… It’s damn cold out here. How about you let me in? I’ll take a look while I warm up. Okay?”
She barely held in a sigh even as eager anticipation tried to sneak inside her and get her blood pumping.
“Just a sec.” She shut the door in his face and slid the chain back, counting to three again with each slide, before she released it.
Couldn’t be too careful. She lived alone on her tiny mountain after all. Granted, in her version of a fortress. Not that anyone but familiar faces, and Chuck, who she paid to deliver her mail and packages, ever came out this way. The humans weren’t who she was worried about anyway. Holly Hill, Montana, boasted a large shifter population of several different kinds, and they loved to roam the woods.
Her woods. Eventually. Taking a small portion of land near the wolves’ territory was her way of taking control back, showing whoever had come at her that she wouldn’t buckle to the fear. Not completely, at least.
With an odd combination of reluctance and a buzzing anticipation, she swung the door open and waved him inside. He wiped his boots on the mat first, but she still cringed at the small water marks left on her pristine floor by the bits of snow still clinging to the tread. If she could hurry him to the kitchen, she’d come back and wipe that up while he was busy. He didn’t have to know.
“What’s with the chain and all the bolts?” he asked.
She managed to peel her gaze from the water marks only to land on his face. Heavens, what a face—deep set eyes, thick brows she wanted to trace with her fingertips, and a mouth she wanted…
What is wrong with me?
Almost ten years since she’d seen him, and he still drew her like the full moon drew the wolves out to play every single month. “I live alone in the woods with no neighbors. Can’t be too safe.”
A flicker of something darker, concern maybe, was there, then gone, in his eyes. Then his lips quirked. “Not even a hug for an old friend?”
Shyla grimaced as contrition stung. She was being such a bitch, letting memories and fears drive her actions. “Sorry, Cade. You surprised me, and I wasn’t ready for visitors. It’s…good to see you.”
A lame excuse, but the best she had. She went in for a quick hug only to be dragged closer by broad arms. He smelled of fresh snow and spice and something utterly Cade that kicked in a dozen memories of watching scary movies, and jumping on the trampoline, and doing homework, and that one kiss…
She stepped back and hoped her expression wasn’t as stiff as it felt. Except she’d messed up his clothes. Without thinking about it, she reached out and tweaked them into place, smoothing his shirt under his jacket, until the warmth of his skin through the material penetrated the automatic action and she jerked back as though she’d been snake-bit.
Damn. First, I’m a bitch to him, and then I maul him in the name of neat clothing. What next?
She forced herself to look him in the eye and found him watching.
“Good to see you, too.” His eyes crinkled around the corners with his smile. That was new. “Even in these circumstances.”
What circumstances? Her lack of water? Shyla blinked, thinking over the news that had trickled her way lately. Then winced as her mind finally cut through her shock that he was here. Without thinking, she put a hand on his arm. “You must be here for the funeral? I heard about your uncle.”
He dropped his gaze to her hand, then covered it with his own larger one, and that driving heat surged through her again.
“I’m not here for the funeral.”
The low rumble of his words barely penetrated the fog clouding up her mind. She raised her gaze to his, and steel bands locked down on her lungs, making it hard to breathe. Were his eyes glowing?
“You’re not?” she managed to ask.
He shook his head slowly. “He was a bastard and the reason I had to leave for so long. I wasn’t safe anywhere near here while he was in power, and neither was my…were the people I care for.”
Her mind fell back to that night in the woods. Cade had refused to tell her who’d hurt him so badly. Cade’s father, the previous alpha, had died suddenly shortly before that—she remembered that much. His uncle, Garrett Campbell, had taken over and, until a short time ago, had been the head of the local wolf pack. She’d had little to do with him, but on the few occasions she’d encountered him, his dead stare had left her cold.
Had his uncle been the one to attack him?
“I see,” she said. Though she didn’t. Not really.
The wolves kept to themselves for the most part. A few had claimed mates from among other groups in town, including the humans, turning them with the power of a bite. They sent their kids to the same schools, abided by the laws, and never had many problems, at least not more than any others.
Other than that one night, after Cade had left.
“You don’t think I’m a bad person? Saying that?” His dipped his head, watching her as though her opinion mattered.
“Bad?” She blinked. “Is this about that night in the woods?”
This time she was sure of the something darker in his expression. “You remember that?”
“Remember the night I found my brother’s best friend lying in the woods with horrible cuts and blood all over him? Not something I’m likely to forget.”
A mental image surfaced. One of sitting beside him at the kitchen table, holding his hand, both their heads laying on the table facing each other in silence as he’d waited for his body to heal, watching the color come back into his face.
He frowned now. “I hated that you had to see that.”
This was why she’d had that crush. He was the one who’d been beaten up and he was sorry for her? That protective instinct of his was a mile wide and still sexy as anything. She squeezed his arm. “I’m so sorry you had to go through that. I would never think of you as a bad person, Cade.” She shot him a grin. “Annoying as fuck, but not bad.”
His hold on her hand jerked at her swear word.
“Shyla Mason. What would your mother think to hear words like that?” He tsked and somehow that only made her want to laugh.
“She’d probably be impressed.”
The tingle in her nose hit about two seconds before she sneezed violently. Damn allergies. Wolf shifters always triggered them. She considered it her version of Spidey-sense.
Cade chuckled as she lifted watery eyes to him. “Bless you.”
“Thanks. I’m pretty sure I’m still allergic to you.”
His expression comically froze in a half grimace, half laugh. “I’d forgotten about that,” he finally said.
She shrugged. With a reluctance that shocked her given her initial reaction to his landing on her doorstep, she pulled her hand away. “The kitchen is this way.”