Shift Out of Luck (Brimstone Inc. #2) – Chapter 1 Excerpt
There is a prologue, but it’s too explicit to post on this website. 😉
Tala hurled a knife at the target twenty feet away and pictured her mate’s head.
It had been a month. Thirty-ish days of the most amazing, hot-as-sin, give-and-take nights followed by the most hair-rending, teeth-gnashing, beyond frustrating days.
Ironic, those nights, given how her own pack had written her off as a frigid ice queen before. She’d been too focused on becoming alpha to give men much thought until now. Every pack handled the selection of alpha differently. In her pack, all contenders fought until only one remained standing. She understood Marrok’s pack based theirs more on bloodlines, as did many others. Hers found that led to bias, murder of siblings in the ruling family, and lack of adaptation to the ever-changing world around them.
Another knife flew, only this one missed wide, embedding in a nearby tree, sinking deep with the force of the emotions behind the throw.
Damn. She never missed like that.
Was the problem the emotions or her clothes?
She’d come from another meeting that hadn’t ended well for her. As usual, for meetings, she’d dressed professionally. A sleeveless top with a square neckline and pencil skirt, she’d paired the outfit with killer black stilettos. Always present the image you want to be known by. She made sure her clothes screamed class, control, and power. Plus, the heels on her stilettos doubled as weapons in a pinch.
Marrok did the same, dressing for meetings in power suits meant to drive home his position in the pack. But the second they were alone, the jacket and tie came off and sleeves were rolled up, as though he didn’t enjoy the confinement.
She kicked off her heels, set, and threw again, this knife going exactly where she wanted.
Tala gave a grim smile. At least she could control something in her life. Part of the reason she was alpha was that no one saw her coming, even when they thought they did. Secrecy and innovation were key to her brand of fighting.
She’d earned alpha, but, as a woman, she found she had to earn it over and over again. Every damn day.
Another knife struck true.
I have to make this mating work. But how?
Given the way things were going so far, only one month into her arranged mating, peace for the Canis pack was apparently coming at the cost of losing all the respect she’d fought for.
The faked sign from the gods had helped, but it hadn’t fixed everything. If Marrok disagreed with her one more time in public, no matter how small or even reasonable, she was going to have to do something about it.
Like unleash her wolf on the man.
Not surprisingly, her inner animal gave a small growl of approval at the thought. When she’d gotten her first whiff of the Alpha of the Banes pack—mountains and rum—Tala’s wolf had been practically begging for a good fucking. Hell, the hussy would’ve gladly rolled over and exposed her belly to him. But after the night of their mating she’d done a one-eighty, turning downright surly when it came to Marrok. Tala still hadn’t figured out why. Personally, if she were less self-controlled, Tala could get drunk on his scent alone.
Granted, her mate had yet to catch on to how his taking charge in every single thing, no matter how many times she pointed out the issue in private, and it was causing her big problems. But he also treated her as though she was important to him, both publicly and privately. And the things he did to her body…
She hurled another knife, which hit the target with a satisfying thud, her aim true.
Maybe this had been his plan all along? Combine the packs and take over the weak female alpha. Though she couldn’t see Marrok doing that.
Her pack members, however, didn’t trust him as readily. After the last meeting, Sandalio, the most ancient member of her pack, had pulled her roughly to the side.
“You are making the Canis Pack look like fools,” he’d hissed at her, his canines elongating. “Your new mate is making every decision without you. As our alpha, you should be showing the Canis dominance.”
She damn well wasn’t about to get into yet another debate about the combining of the packs meaning they were no longer on opposite sides. However, the need to display dominance ran strong in male wolf shifters. No wonder her kind couldn’t figure out how to live in peace.
She’d yanked her arm out of his tight grasp, drew to her full height, and faced him down. “Do not assume I don’t have a plan, Sandalio. And I suggest you draw in your teeth before I take that as a challenge.”
The last was a command, something she tried not to use often. She refused to be a dictator. However, sometimes she found the males in her pack needed reminding about who was boss.
Sandalio had glared but slowly retracted the razor-sharp teeth, resuming his human appearance. “We’re watching.” His warning had hung in the air as he’d slunk away, metaphorical tail tucked between his legs.
He’d never had the guts to challenge for alpha himself, but sure loved to throw his weight around. As an elder he should support his alpha and give her advice. Not threats.
A knife whistled past her ear to thud into the target she’d been using, and Tala stiffened before slowly turning to find Marrok standing behind her, an amused smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
She had to admit, she’d lucked out in the mate department. The man was a walking cliché, with his blue eyes and dark hair. Only the gray at the temples saved him from being too pretty. That and a slightly crooked smile.
But for her it wasn’t his pretty face that snagged her attention, it was his physique. At six foot four, with his broad shoulders and muscled form, Marrok was an intimidating specimen. One who knew how to use his body—in combat, in the bedroom. Hell, the way he walked was pure power.
A small part of her, goaded by her wolf, wanted to rattle his cage. Dangerous, messing with an alpha male, but she was more than capable of dealing with him.
She turned and set her feet shoulder-width apart, then raised one arm, pointing straight out, lining up the tips of her fingers with the target. Tala raised her other arm, bent at the elbow, with her hand behind her head, ready to throw.
“You forgot your knife,” Marrok pointed out as he walked around to watch her from the side.
She couldn’t have set it up better. With a flick of her hand, Tala produced a knife, seemingly from thin air, and hurled it.
Rather than react with shock, Marrok crossed his arms, his gaze zeroing in on her with what she might have described as deadly intent if she wasn’t his mate. And, just like that, he was every inch the alpha.
And damn it all if she didn’t find him even hotter.
Her wolf, however, growled inside her. She didn’t appreciate the subtle display of power one bit.
Tala ignored her animal. Rather than be intimidated, she drew on the subtle challenge, her competitive side coming to the fore. Time to show him why he should never underestimate her.
Another flick of her wrist, another knife appeared in her hand, which she threw with unerring accuracy. He narrowed his eyes and she delivered the sweetest smile, right before she flicked her wrist and drew forth another knife.
Her pack had learned—several of them the hard way—that Tala was never without a weapon, usually more than one, hidden all over her. Trickier in some of the couture clothing she preferred, especially the dresses.
Rather than take the hint, Marrok chuckled. “How do you do that?”
“Sleight of hand,” she tossed back. After a pause, when neither of them said a word, Tala left him there to go collect her knives. “We should go back.”
Not that she wanted to go back. Back to the watchful eyes and how every act, every decision, every word—or even if she did or said nothing—pissed someone off. Both packs seemed determined to fight this change with passive-aggressive resistance and a whole lot of bitching. But did the complainers step forward with a solution? Nope. Just left that for the alpha.
“I’ve got a better idea.” Marrok cocked his head. “Let’s go for a run.”
Every cell in her body quickened at the idea. Other than a nightly solo run to check the perimeter, a habit she’d gotten into when she’d been one of the guards for her own pack, she hadn’t had many opportunities to shift since her mating. Her wolf popped to her feet and snapped her teeth a couple times in eager anticipation.
Maybe a run was a good idea. Get some of this excess tension out of her system before going back at it. “Actually, that sounds lovely.”
A playful grin lit his features. Immediately, Marrok started his shift, his body shimmering in the daylight, almost like seeing a mirage, as the shift pivoted around his soul, his innermost being, absorbing everything human about him to reveal the wolf.
Marrok, in wolf form, was impressive. More than that, but words escaped her. A pure black wolf with piercing blue eyes; the sheer size of him was enough to make most shifters hesitate to attack.
Lowering her gaze, Tala did the same, taking a deep breath then willing the change. Her body readjusted, spine realigning, along with shoulders, hips, elbows, knees. Technically, the process came with no sensation beyond a change in perspective, lower to the ground and pitched forward. But she swore her skin tingled every time the fur sprang forth in millions of tiny pinpricks.
Wolf in control for the moment, she lifted her face to the sun, enjoying the warmth, letting her senses reach out around her—feeling the solid earth under her paws, the breeze ruffling her fur, and the scent of…her damn mate.
His eager wolf practically burst from his body, forcing the shift faster than Marrok liked. He’d been wanting to play with Tala’s wolf for weeks. Months even.
Taking her in now, he gave a happy wag of his tail. Tala was a lovely wolf, all white with gray socks and gray around her face, slender and lean, shorter than he and smaller by at least 30 percent. No wonder she had chosen to become a weapons expert as her preferred form of fighting. He’d seen her wolf before, of course, but they’d been busy with a battle against a werewolf at the time.
Marrok loosed a playful growl, bunching his muscles to pounce. But Tala turned on him, dropped her head, her ears flattened, and she exposed her teeth. A menacing growl, nothing like the playful one he’d issued, ripped from her throat.
What the hell?
“Tala?” He reached out with the telepathic connection all shifters shared when in animal form.
She didn’t answer. Staying low to the ground, she inched forward, her threat clear. Get away or pay with your life.
Marrok stood his ground and did his best not to react to her aggression even as a reverberation of shock passed through him. He couldn’t believe his mate was posturing to attack.
“Tala?” he tried again. “Talk to me.”
With a suddenness that upped his shock to cannon-blast levels, she lunged. He turned in time to keep those deadly teeth from ripping out his throat.
His mate had gone mad.
He couldn’t let her kill him. Marrok used his experience fighting in this form to twist around her. With a burst of strength and speed, he barreled into her side, knocking her to the ground. In a flash, he was on top of her. Using his greater bulk, he pinned her down. She went berserk, thrashing underneath him, snapping at him. Somehow—not easy with her snarling jaws and trying not to actually harm her—Marrok managed to get her neck between his teeth. He applied just enough pressure to force her to stillness, her sides heaving.
“Don’t make me do this.” He shoved the thought as hard as he could, hoping to get through.
It took forever. Tala had to be fighting her animal from inside, but the rage that could overcome a wolf shifter had clamped down on her like a vise, constricting her, snuffing out her humanity, and making it damn near impossible to shift back. Finally, the telltale shimmering hovered around her form, blurring her in his vision this close up.
Once she was human enough, Marrok released her and backed off, making the change himself.
Breathing hard, they stared at each other.
“What the hell was that, Tala?”
Her pale face reminded him of the moon—cold, remote, and unreachable. “I don’t know. She took over completely. I could hear you and see what was happening, but I couldn’t…” She shook her head. “I mean, she’s been standoffish about you lately, but why would my wolf want to attack her mate?”
She might be playing it cool, but through their tenuous connection as mates, her panic was sharp.
Marrok’s gut twisted. Fuck. “We’ll figure it out. Okay?”