When a gamer wolf searches for love, only an odd mate will do.
Charly spends his days working in a used video game shop and most of his nights as the second to one of the rarest of their kind—a female Alpha. Most of the pack figured he and Dara had a thing, but her recent mating wakens a wave of unwelcome pity. He can't exactly admit the one wolf he ever loved left him years ago. At least, he can’t until she reappears close enough for him to try again.
Gretchen fell in love with a sweet, nerdy bear of a man, but ran from his side when she realized he'd hate her for something she couldn't change. Now she's back in town and drawn to his side. A twist of fate leaves her with no choice—she can be near the man she’s always loved again, but she must betray him and everything he holds dear.
Can a wolf sworn to destroy all coyotes claim a coywolf mate or will he be forced to obliterate the only girl he ever loved?
Everyone knows a good story doesn’t begin with a dream sequence. Due to that simple rule of storytelling, Charly knew he wasn’t dreaming when he spotted her sitting cross-legged on the small dividing wall between the college campus and the parking lot. It was her, it had to be.
Lifting an arm to wave, he called out, “Hey, Gretchen!”
She didn’t turn, didn’t even seem to hear him, her golden head bent to look at something in her lap. Even from a distance, he recognized her profile and couldn’t resist calling again, “Gretchen!”
His heart accelerated, a direct and immediate reaction to finally putting his eyes on the one woman who ever managed to make him want to be the kind of guy he read about—some comic book hero hell bent on saving the world who could say the right thing and sweep the perfect girl off her scantily clad feet.
Not that Gretchen was nearly naked, but a guy could wish.
Closer up, he could see the cord that likely impeded her ability to hear him. She wore some kind of earbuds and a hoodie covered in cartoon characters. Her jeans were ratty and her hair as brilliant as he remembered. A trace of her scent—wild and a little heady—made it to him and he sucked in the familiar bouquet with a twist of bittersweet joy. He didn’t know why she’d just vanished one day, no trace left behind for him to track and no word on where she’d gone, but she had. He wasn’t letting her slip away so easily a second time.
Losing her once in a lifetime was enough to let him know he didn’t want it to happen a second time. Reaching out one hand, he planned to nudge her shoulder, get her attention, and maybe ask her out.
But a ball of fur in his periphery distracted him moments before wet and fangs closed on his arm.
Who would dare attack him in broad daylight?
The wild musky scent of the attacker alerted him before his human brain caught up with the program. Coywolf.
The dangerous breed of shifter was a combination of coyote and wolf, but not actually either anymore. Coywolves were bigger than wolves, more suited to urban terrain and altogether meaner than shit.
Not to mention Charly was in human form, it was daytime, and they were on a college campus, and if he did a thing to defend himself, his professors might see. Nothing ensured an A faster than a prof finding out their student could shift into a four-legged death machine, but he preferred his grades be based on his actual performance rather than sheer terror on the part of the humans.
Besides, it would really piss off Dara if he shifted in public. She’d never proved terribly understanding about that sort of thing.
Fending off the attack to the best of his ability, considering, he tried to also scan the area to see if any other coywolves were around. Last thing he needed was for one to attack Gretchen while he was distracted, meaning he’d shift to protect her and worry about apologizing to his Alpha later if he had to.
But he saw neither other wolves nor Gretchen. She’d vanished. Again.
Not sure if he was more pissed that he’d been attacked or that he’d lost sight of the girl of his dreams, Charly closed both hands over the snapping muzzle mere inches from his face. “You picked the wrong wolf to tangle with, Hybrid.”
The other animal didn’t answer, more focused on trying to tear out his throat than conversation.
Pinching down hard on the pressure points at the joint of the jaw, Charly managed to pry the creature off him in stages. Humans gathered, all gasping in horror and one pulling out their cellphone—yeah, a Vine of their interaction wasn’t on his list of things to do, either. He needed to end this and fast. One snap and he’d managed to boink the coywolf’s head off the pavement, stunning the creature. Once it was distracted, Charly shoved up and away and ran fast and hard toward the parking lot. Tugging up his hoodie to hide his face a bit, he ducked between cars, sneaking a look back towards the main hall of the school.
The coywolf shook off his stupor then turned to lope, looking unconcerned, away from the humans, most of which had cell phones out to snap pictures. Stupid animal—attention from the humans weren’t in its best interest any more than it was in Charly’s. As it vanished, Charly again scented the air, searching for a trace of her, but all he could smell was the reek of the coywolf, now rubbed into his clothes. He’d need a shower.
His phone chirped and he pulled it out to unlock the screen with a swipe of his finger.
Something going on at the campus of the community college. Twitter blowing up. You near there?
Scowling at the phone, he loped to his car, got in, and revved the engine before bothering to reply. I was the ruckus, got attacked by coywolf.
What? You okay? Dara’s text was short and to the point, a sign his Alpha worried.
Fine or I wouldn’t be texting, he replied.
Get to the warehouse. Emergency meeting.
KO, he typed back and shifted the car into gear. Looked like he’d be skipping another class.
Not that it was unusual. As beta to the local Alpha, Charly missed about as many classes as he managed to attend due to pack duties. Most of his profs found him to be a little lazy, thinking he slept through classes or spent his spare time gaming or something.
Wouldn’t they shit if he told them the truth? Doc, I’m a werewolf and I had pack business to attend to.
Yeah, that’d fly like Iron Man minus the rockets. But those worries were for another day. Today? His pack needed him and pack came first. Always.
It had to. He didn’t have anything else.
Gretchen accepted the fast and rough punch to the side of her head as her due. After all, she’d nearly let Charly walk right up to her. She’d been an idiot and she deserved to be punished. Garret didn’t have to look so damned happy about hitting her, though. Then again, she’d long ago accepted the leader of the coywolf’s dominance and bipolar behavior as part and parcel with the protection the pack of misfits offered her.
“I can’t believe you let him spot you. The timing is all wrong. The wolves can’t know we’re hedging in on their territory and can’t know we plan to expand into town. The fact I had to come save your ass is just another in a long line of failures on your part, Gretchen. How do you defend yourself?” Garret spit the words into her face, the reek of his unwashed body pungent and disturbing to both her beast and her human side.
“Look, I’ve told you, I can pass for wolf. I did it for a long time before I joined your pack and could do it again if I had to. You’re the one that shifted and attacked a wolf in broad daylight, not me. I was just sitting there minding my own business and—”
She didn’t duck away from his second punch, either, knowing before she did it that sassing him would likely result in another blow. He could punch her all day if it floated his boat. She would heal from punches.
Plus, she deserved them. She’d wanted to defend Charly, to attack her alpha. No wolf or coyote with a sane mind would dare something like that, yet she’d actually had to forcefully restrain her beast to keep from attacking the man who protected her.
Which meant she wasn’t sane, really. When she’d realized what it meant to be coywolf, she accepted that it meant she likely wasn’t sane. Better to stay away from Charly and keep her taint—and insanity—to herself so he could go on with his life and maybe settle down with some nice she-bitch who wasn’t bad blood.
Gritting her teeth, the pain of Garret’s punch still ringing through her head like a klaxon, she blinked back tears. The alpha would likely think they were tears of pain, and they were.
Pain at leaving the man she thought might be her mate behind for his own good. Maybe if Garret hit her enough times, she’d quit being stupid enough to risk Charly. He deserved better, would have better. Even if the idea of him with someone else cut her soul like shards of swallowed glass.
“Wait, I have an idea,” Garrett spun away from her and she took the respite as a moment to breathe. To try to clear her mind of the chaos seeing him—of seeing him being attacked on top of it—caused inside her.
“Yeah? I hope it doesn’t involve me.” She mumbled the response, half hoping that Garett forgot she was even there. He did that sometimes, forgot they were around. For an alpha, he sure got distracted a lot. She reminded herself to find that charming—that he followed the beat and voices of another drummer, one playing just for him in his head. It was the mark of a creative mind, after all.
Or someone totally batshit crazy.
Shaking her head, she tried to shove the disloyal thought down. The pack was her family, they stood by her when wolves would’ve likely torn her throat out because she was an abomination. Regardless of her ability to pass, to blend into wolf society, she wasn’t wolf.
She was coywolf, other, hybrid, bad blood and any number of other unsavory titles.
“It does involve you, actually.” When he turned his animal yellow eyes on her, Garret had a smile that was a little too cheerful stretching his lips. Madness, she thought again, but that wasn’t unusual. That was what the wolves called them, after all. Mad.
“How so?” she asked.
“You can pass, you have passed before, like you said, for pure wolf, right?” Garret came close to her again, too close. Her animal clawed at her guts, wanting to scrabble away from him and the power he radiated. She shouldn’t want that—she should want to be close to her alpha and the fact she didn’t was simply more proof stacking up in the column which said she was wrong, not right in the head.
“Yeah, so what?” Closing her eyes, she hoped the bubble of nausea turning her stomach radiated from the pain of his punches, not the stink of rotted meat on his breath.
“You infiltrate their pack, you apply for membership and you watch them. You learn their weaknesses, earn their trust…then, when they’re least expecting it, we hit them where it hurts. We shove them out of this territory and we take it for our pack.” Garret’s voice was hardly more than a whisper of sound, but it rang in her head as loud as if he’d spoken on a megaphone.
“No, I can’t do that. It isn’t right and—”
“Do you want our people to have a home? To have someplace safe to be where we aren’t constantly shoved around by wolf packs? Or do you want to be the one responsible for the fact we have no homeland, have no place to call our own? There are children, weak ones, people who need protected, people who need the security of their own space. Are you going to stand in the way of me protecting our people, Gretchen?” His hand stroked down her chin, a movement intended to soothe her, no doubt, and sway her to his way of thinking. Her beast cringed away from the contact, not wanting a thing to do with Garret or his half-baked plans.
“No buts, girly-girl. You go in there and you help me save this pack. That is an order.”
Swallowing hard, she couldn’t help the tiny part of her that surged in joy. She’d get to see him again, be near him again.
But to betray him?
The command in the alpha’s tone sizzled home, grinding its way into her bones and settling like a mantle of unwanted responsibility. “Yes, Alpha.”Garret’s smile didn’t make her feel better about the plan, but what choice did she have?