Read an Excerpt
Claimed by the Mate, Vol. 3
Kate Douglas; A. C. Arthur
Saturday, midday in late September, Trinity Alps, Northern California ...
Darnell Deya stared through the dusty windshield, fully aware she'd made a horrible mistake. There was no denying the obvious — this was definitely not the road to Feral Passions. The one and only other time she'd been anywhere near the Trinity Alps, she'd flown up from LA and, once they'd gotten the rental car, Darnell had spent the twisty mountain drive out to the isolated resort hanging out the back window trying not to puke.
She'd done okay on this trip, to some extent. All the way to the north end of California from LA, turned west in Redding after spending the night in a nice motel, turned north again at a wide spot in the road that appeared to be Douglas City, and drove to Weaverville. Then she'd gone west again, following her lying GPS, and turned right. Only this didn't look like the right right, because it wasn't anything like the road that had led them to that beautiful resort hidden back in the woods.
The one with all the hunky guys. Well, with one guy in particular. If she could have gotten Evan Dark out of her head she wouldn't even be here, but months of lusting after a guy she hadn't even had sex with was so not fair. Now, if she could just find a wide enough place to turn the car around, she'd head back into town and find someone who could tell her how to find Feral Passions Resort.
Home to wolves and really gorgeous guys, and the most unique vacation she'd ever had in her life. Who could have imagined a resort where wolves roamed free and interacted with guests? The wolves were amazing, but not nearly as amazing as the men of Feral Passions.
She'd tried. Really she had, but she couldn't forget Evan. Somehow, he'd gotten that sexy smile of his lodged tightly inside every memory she had of her week in paradise.
A smile that, even now when she was totally lost in the boonies, had her squirming in her seat. Darnell drove slowly, looking for something — anything — familiar, but so far all she saw was wilderness. She was so not used to country like this. Empty country. Lots of nature, no people. Maybe around the next turn she'd find a spot to turn the car without falling off a frickin' cliff or running into a mountain. Weaverville wasn't much of a town, at least not compared to LA, but it did have people. And a couple of really nice-looking hotels.
Ah. Wide spot. There. Just ahead. She swung wide, made the turn, and was congratulating herself when the back end of the car shuddered and sort of shifted. She pulled to the side of the road, and as much as she'd hoped to see signs of humanity, this wasn't the best spot to look.
There wasn't enough room to pull over and get entirely off of the road.
She glanced in the rearview mirror and then looked forward and hoped anyone who might be coming her way was paying attention. Parking as far off the asphalt as she could, Darnell set the brake, got out, and walked around the back of her Honda Civic. She glared at and then kicked the fucking flat tire hard enough to bruise her toes, but damn it all, she'd never changed a tire in her life. You called road service for something like that. She'd be lucky to get a signal on her cell phone out here in the middle of nowhere.
She dug the phone out of her purse and stared at the screen. No service. Well, crap.
She kicked the tire again, just because.
* * *
Pack alpha Traker Jakes and his pack mate Evan Dark stood in front of the Feral Passions lodge and waved as the last carload of female guests pulled out of the parking lot and headed for the main road. Smiling, waving, the men remained until the car was out of sight.
Trak turned to Evan, shaking his head. "Damn. I thought they'd never leave."
Laughing softly, Evan slapped him on the shoulder. "C'mon. Drew's got Growl opened. How about I buy you a beer?"
"Before lunch?" Trak raised one eyebrow.
"So I buy you a sandwich to go with it."
"That works." The two turned away from the resort. Unfortunately, not fast enough.
"Hey, Trak. I need a minute."
Cain Boudin. Trak sighed and turned. "What's up?"
Cain laughed and glanced toward the road leading to the main highway. "I thought they'd never leave."
At least Trak could agree with Cain on that one.
Cain turned and focused on Trak, lowering his gaze at first, as was befitting a submissive member of the pack. Cain was damned good at the submissive role, always carefully masking his dominant side. It had taken Trak a long time to accept that Cain honestly wanted nothing more than to be a member of the Trinity Alps pack, not its leader. It wasn't easy, believing an alpha as strong as Cain wasn't going to challenge him at some point. He still didn't quite trust the guy.
"You were talking about wanting a pack meeting," Cain said. "You two up for a lunch meeting at Growl? We don't want to meet at the lodge because Cherry's working, though she said she'd man the phones and forward anything important to you at the bar. Thing is, the guys and I are anxious to find out what's next and Lawz is going to be here for a couple of hours."
Startled, Trak focused on Cain. "What's he doing in town? Isn't he building a bridge somewhere?" Trak's older brother was a successful engineer with a number of projects along the north coast under his belt. He didn't make it back to their home base nearly often enough. As convoluted as their relationship could be, Trak missed the guy. Mostly.
"Darian's got a story she's working on that brought her to Weaverville. He's hanging out down at the bar while she's meeting with some folks in town."
"That's good, then. Really good. It's better to meet when we can get everyone together. Can the rest of the pack be there in half an hour?"
"Sooner, if you like. Brad's already got sandwiches made."
Nodding, Trak turned toward the road. "Evan and I are on our way down there now."
"I'll get the rest of the guys." Cain tipped a salute and headed back to the lodge.
Trak watched him go. Then, shaking his head, he followed Evan toward the bar. One of these days, he really had to start trusting the guy.
* * *
Darnell kicked the flat tire on her car one more time, as if that might somehow convince the blasted thing to inflate. She stared at her phone, at the lack of bars and no service symbol that hadn't changed since she'd been stuck out here, and figured it was probably all she could expect in this godforsaken wilderness. What in the hell had made her think she could actually find the stupid resort on her own?
Not a single car or pickup truck had passed in over an hour. She glanced at her phone again, grabbed a bottle of water, turned on her emergency blinkers, and hoped no one would run into her car. Then she locked the doors and checked the road as far as she could see in both directions, which wasn't nearly far enough. Sticking her keys in her pocket, she started hiking up the hill that stretched above the car. If she could get above the steep hillside, she might find a signal.
She had the number for Feral Passions, but what if Evan didn't remember her? He'd had plenty of women come through — a new group every single week — all summer long. How the hell had she hoped to stand out?
She'd never been attracted to any man the way she had to Evan. He was a big, solid guy with broad shoulders and some amazing tattoos that absolutely fit his personality. Muscular without being overbuilt, he looked like he could probably lift her car with one hand and change the tire with the other one. But the one thing that had attracted her the most? He made her feel safe. He was protective and gentle, but she knew he would never let anything hurt her.
She'd grown up in East LA. She knew what it was like to be afraid. That was a time she preferred not to dwell on, though the dark memories were always there, lurking.
She preferred her memories of Evan.
He'd filled her dreams day and night. Of course, Evan probably had women calling him all hours of the day or night.
She was such an idiot, coming up here like this, no warning, no invitation. They'd spent a lot of time together that week she was at the resort, but in spite of all the teasing, even a few quite memorable kisses, they'd never taken that next step. Maybe he wasn't serious about wanting her. Maybe it was all part of the Feral Passions promise of a good time.
Maybe she was being a complete idiot and a coward to boot.
She was sucking air by the time she reached the top of the hill, but when she checked her phone she had two bars. So what should she do? Call road service or call Evan? She thought about it just long enough to tap on the number for the resort. She'd put it in her favorites before they left that final day but wondered if she'd ever use it.
This was as good a time as any. As much as her one short week in paradise had cost, someone had damned well better come out here and change her frickin' tire.
"Feral Passions Resort. May I help you?"
Wow. The woman picked up on the first ring. Darnell didn't remember any women employees when she'd stayed there. This one sounded familiar.
"Cherry? Is that you?"
"Yes. Who's calling?"
"Darnell. Darnell Deya. Remember me? I was at the resort the same week you were there."
"Of course I remember. Wow, it's good to hear from you. What's up?"
"Well ... ya see, that's why I'm calling ..."
* * *
Drew was bartending today, but he put a "Closed" sign up on the bar and the whole pack of them took over the small dining area. It was rare when they were all available to meet like this. Trak took the beer that Drew handed to him and grabbed half a sandwich off the big tray in the center of the table. Last time they'd had a serious meeting, none of these guys had yet found mates. Now all but he and Evan had someone to call their own. In that respect, Feral Passions had been a huge success — the whole point of the resort had been to give their pack of single werewolves a chance to meet women.
Except that Trak and Evan were still unmated and the season was officially over. It was time to figure out where they were going with this.
Trak nodded to Tuck and then to his older brother, Lawz. "We don't often get the two of you to show up at the same time. Glad you could make it." Lawz was usually off on a job somewhere, and Tuck was the only vet covering a large section of the area west of Weaverville, though now with Elle, his new mate and able-bodied assistant, he was able to handle a lot more cases in less time.
Lawz took a sip of his beer and grinned at Trak. "Sorry, little bro, but you can't get a rise out of me today, not when I've got Darian in the same county with me for once. That girl's been following stories up and down the north coast since she took on the news job. I think she's found her true calling. But you, dear brother? You need to find a woman. We going to give this resort business another year?"
Trak laughed. "I really wasn't trying to get a rise out of you, Lawson. I hate to admit it, but I've missed you." Then he shook his head and glanced at Evan. "Might feel differently if I had a woman, but Evan and I are the only two left. Evan, unless you want to give it another shot, I hate to keep everyone tied up with the resort when you and I are the only ones here who couldn't manage to find anyone during an entire season. On the other hand, we've built a really nice little retreat out here, sunk a bunch of money into it. It's got to be good for something. What are your feelings about it?"
Evan merely shrugged. Before he said anything, the phone rang.
Brad answered, listened for a moment, said, "Yeah, babe. He's here." Cupped his palm over the receiver and added, "It's Cherry, Evan. You might want to take it outside." Brad handed the portable phone to him. Then he winked.
Frowning, Evan grabbed the phone, saying hello to Brad and Cain's mate, Cherry, as he walked out of Growl and shut the door behind him.
* * *
"Where the hell is Evan going?" Trak stood at the front window, watching as Evan's truck peeled out of the parking lot, headed toward the main road. He'd taken the call far enough from the bar that none of them could hear Cherry's side of the call; then he'd stepped back inside, tossed the phone to Lawz, and was gone before they'd had a chance to ask him what the call was about. Trak turned to his brother and held out his hand. "Let me have the phone."
Lawz tossed it to him. Trak dialed the lodge. Cherry picked it up on the first ring.
"Where's Evan headed?"
"Well, hello to you, too, Mr. Alpha." Cherry laughed.
Trak knew better than to think she was insulting him. He also knew to wait her out. Cherry couldn't not respond. It hadn't taken him long to figure out the girl hated empty air space.
She laughed again and caved. "Okay. I give. Darnell called. Remember her? She was the Hollywood makeup artist who was here the same week I was. She's not all that far from here, stuck on the side of the road with a flat tire. I just sent Evan to the rescue."
"What's she doing up here?" He remembered Darnell. Cute little thing with a wacky sense of humor. Couldn't hold her booze, though.
"I think she's looking for Evan." Cherry laughed again. "Trak, I'll lay you ten to one that you're going to be the last man standing."
"Well, shit." He thanked Cherry — for nothing — and hung up. Handed the phone to Brad and realized everyone was staring at him. With their wolf hearing, they'd obviously heard the entire conversation, but the least he could do was confirm. Shrugging, he said, "It appears that the young woman who came up with the group from Hollywood — remember the makeup artist? — has come in search of Evan."
Cain and Brad high-fived each other. Everyone else was laughing.
Manny stood up, swept one arm out, and made an impressive bow. "All hail to Traker Jakes, the last man standing."
"Eat your lunch," he said, sitting back down at the table, though he couldn't help but smile. If anyone deserved a mate it was Evan. He was a good man with a lot of love to give some lucky woman, but he needed a female willing to run the show, something the guy freely admitted.
Trak had no idea what he needed in a woman. He'd always figured he'd know when the right one came along, but in spite of the dozens of women he'd met after a fully booked season at the resort, not a single one had caught his attention. He took a bite, chewing slowly, but that delicious roast beef sandwich Brad had fixed for him suddenly tasted like dust. He forced another bite and listened while the guys talked, and he got the feeling that the novelty of running a resort had sort of worn off.
A good alpha paid attention to the mood of the pack, and the men had worked their tails off to make the resort a huge success. They all had women of their own now, and if Cherry and Manny were right Evan would soon be with Darnell and Trak quite literally would be the last man standing. There really wasn't any point in continuing with the resort if it was just for him.
Closing down made sense. The resort was a lot of work, and since the guys now had mates, it wasn't nearly as much fun as when they were still looking. Trak had pretty much given up about midway through the summer. He hadn't clicked with any particular woman.
"So, Trak. What do you think?"
Raising his head, he realized everyone was gazing expectantly in his direction. "About what?"
Cain raised his eyebrow. "We're talking about ending the resort business and doing as Zach and Meg suggested, turning Feral Passions into a wedding venue. Weeks would be mostly free, weekends a bit hectic, but we could offer the cabins for wedding party members and there're enough hotels and motels in the area to take care of overflow. For that alone, you know it would go over well in town."
Trak leaned back in his chair. He actually sort of liked this idea. "Well, we'll get an easy trial run with Zach and Meg's wedding next weekend. Meg hired a wedding planner to handle all the details, including the food. We just need to watch what they do and learn how to do it."
The door to Growl opened as he finished his comment. Cherry stepped into the bar. "Not gonna be all that easy, Trak."
"What happened? You okay, Cherry?" Cain headed across the room to his mate.
It was obvious she was fighting tears. "Meg just called. Their wedding planner took the money and ran, quite literally. She and her boyfriend skipped last week. They didn't show up at a wedding they were supposed to do today in Portland, and Meg said word is they've left the country with deposits for at least a dozen weddings."
"That's horrible." Brad reached Cherry ahead of Cain. He pulled her into his arms as she lost her battle with the tears. She and Meg had gotten to be really close during the week Meg and her friends were here.
"I hope I didn't make things worse." She took the handkerchief Cain grabbed out of his pocket. "I told her we could take care of everything. I know you and Cain can get the food together, but what about flowers? Or someone to help the wedding party get it together?"
Trak caught Tuck's eye. "You go into town more than any of us, Doc. Is there a florist in Weaverville?"
Tuck nodded. "I think there is." He checked his wristwatch. "I've got to go in and check on a patient. Elle and I'll see what we can find."