Please, don't throw us to the wolves.
Icy air blasted Megan Moraine as she pulled open Casa del Sol's etched glass door. The hotel's sprawling lobby gleamed with polished wood and mirrored columns. Beneath the cracked soles of her secondhand tennis shoes, the marble floor sparkled.
Motioning the twins to remain outside in the sticky Florida heat, she scanned for threats. The restaurant here was a safe house, but so was the oceanfront Naples, Florida, mansion they'd visited last night. When Megan had exposed the silver crescent moon birthmark, the homeowner's expression had turned ice cold.
"I don't like Shadows, but I'm generous. I'll give you sixty seconds to leave before I call an Enforcer or send my mate after you," the Draicon werewolf had warned.
Sixty seconds didn't allow enough time to reach the car's hiding spot. Chased by a brutish male waving a meat cleaver, she and the girls raced down the beach. Megan spent the night guarding the twins, two sevenyearold girls who should have been tucked into soft beds instead of curling up on wet sand. As dawn streaked the gray skies, they'd snuck back to fetch the car.
More hostile Draicon could be inside, but she had no choice. Her jeans pocket held a few crumpled dollars. The aging Ford she'd hotwired was running on fumes. She needed help to reach New Orleans and Alexandre Robichaux. The kindly Draicon secretly gave escaped Shadow Wolves new identities. He wasn't a soulless creature like his legendary Enforcer brother, Gabriel, who liked to make his captives bleed.
The girls' blue eyes widened as they scurried past the hotel lobby into the arched hallway. Megan felt more conspicuous when she saw the restaurant's linendraped tables and polished silverware. The trick to blending was all in the act. Act like you belong, and people treated you that way. In a voice as impervious as a Palm Beach matron, she asked for seating on the terrace.
Their granitetopped table was halfhidden by a terra cotta planter. The terrace overlooked a lush garden of palms, ferns and tropical flowers. Best, she had a good view of the hotel entrance to eye new arrivals.
A smiling waitress in black trousers and starched white shirt sailed over, pen and pad in hand. Her gaze fell to Megan's right hand.
Damn. Megan clapped her left hand over the birthmark she'd forgotten to cover with cosmetics. She couldn't risk exposing her identity until they knew this was a safe house. But the waitress only smiled.
Megan glanced down at the heavy leather menu and cringed at the dollar signs. "One small glass of milk for them, and water for me, please."
"Cousin Megan, can't we have sausage and eggs?" Jenny pleaded.
"We can share," piped in Jillian.
The girls stared at the tabletop. Her heart broke at their crestfallen expressions. I'm doing the best I can. I'm sorry I can't do better.
The waitress hesitated. Megan lifted her chin. "That's all, thanks."
A lump clogged her throat as she studied her young cousins. Hair dye had turned their soft whiteblond curls coarse and dull.
Their shoulders were thin, their blue eyes glazed with sleeplessness. The matching strawberry shorts and flowered shirts she'd bought at a thrift shop were faded and ragged. Ever since they'd escaped the island prison, they'd been too quiet, forced to act far too old.
Soon. Sausage and eggs and heaps of whatever you want to eat. If we can just make it until our escort shows up.
Searching for hostiles, Megan scanned her surroundings. Only one customer had looked up at their arrival. The silverhaired man seemed more absorbed in his newspaper. Resentment and old hurt surfaced as she scented Draicon werewolves. Clustered together at a large table, they laughed as they dug into a big plate of sausage. They were her people, yet not.
Why do you hate us so much? We 're not so different.
Not different, but feared, taunted and shunned by ordinary Draicon. Tired of being treated as inferior, Shadow Wolves had retreated to a small Caribbean island to raise their young. Six years ago, rogue Shadowshoping to force their Draicon brethren into acknowledging them as equalsnearly exposed their race to humans. Worse, they sold their story to a popular American talk show. The program was stopped before it aired and a Draicon with the ability of mind control convinced network executives the story was fake.
Afterward, the influential Council of Draicon feared that all Shadow Wolves wished to embrace sedition and establish a new order. To contain Shadows, they raised a force field around the island. A steep bounty was placed on the heads of any escaped Shadow.
The waitress returned with a tray on her outstretched palms. She set down two large glasses of milk, a mug of steaming coffee, and three plates piled with sausage and eggs. Megan protested. The woman held up a hand.
"Someone canceled an order. Can't let good food go to waste. It's on the house." She winked.
The girls beamed and a chorus of thankyous followed. Megan swallowed past a sudden lump in her throat at the woman's compassion.
"Thanks," she managed to say.
Caution returned as the waitress scribbled on her pad, then handed the check to Megan. "Enjoy. My name's Mitzi."
When the waitress walked off, Megan read the note. "You're among friends. Remain here and someone will be along to help you get out of shadow."
Even though the code phrase was correct, Megan hedged. There was a fat reward for capturing an escaped Shadow Wolf. Enforcers didn't care if the escapees were beaten and raped before being turned over.
Hot coffee burned her mouth as she took a deep swallow. Megan took a bite of the food. It was delicious, but she had no appetite.
The roar of a powerful motorcycle drew her attention to the hotel entrance. A man parked the Harley, drew off a black helmet and swung a muscled leg over the saddle. Megan's heart raced. The rider's face was permanently stamped into memory from the photos circulated among Shadows of their worst enemies.
Black liquid sloshed as she slammed down her coffee cup. Her mouth opened and closed like a fish gasping for oxygen.
Oh God. She'd walked straight into a trap.
Megan looked around, desperate to escape, but it was too late. If they left now, surely he'd see them. She slid down her seat.
The power and raw charisma he exuded felt like a tornado as he ambled onto the terrace. Tight black leather pants hugged each inch of his rock hard thighs and taut buttocks. A HarleyDavidson Tshirt and steeltoed scuffed boots gave him a dangerous air. Stubble shadowing his angular jaw contrasted with his classical good looks, like a biker with the face of an angel. Dark brown hair curled down to his wide shoulders. His mouth was sultry and mobile. Four women sitting at a nearby table gave him the twiceover.
If they only knew what exactly he was, they'd run away screaming. Draicon, like her. Only not like her. Not Shadow, outcast and shunned. He was an Enforcer, who returned escaped Shadow Wolves to their island prison.
No Shadow ever escaped the powerful Gabriel.
Megan glanced at the girls.
"Jenny, Jilly, remember how I told you Enforcers are the bad ones? How they hunt down our people and return them to the island prison?" When they nodded, she whispered to the girls. They nodded. Plan all set.
Megan sauntered toward the restroom. She had to pass him. Her palms went clammy as she felt him glance in her direction. Peripheral vision caught Mitzi nudging Gabriel.
Palms sweating, she raced into the women's room. Megan drew in a trembling breath. He could inconspicuously follow her in here, but at least she had a few moments.
Bracing her palms on the counter, she studied her reflection. The face in the mirror was strained and framed by dull black hair that hid her natural honey blond. Shadows edged eyes the color of deep lake water. The secondhand clothing was streaked with sand, but at least it wasn't the hated purple tunic Shadows were required to wear.
Megan summoned her magick. Unlike the twins, she was a Halfling and required energy to shift. Her body screamed, the starved cells needing nourishment from rare meat. Burning pain scraped across her raw flesh, but she focused. For the girls, she had to do this, had to become
As if in slow motion, her hands and arms vanished. Megan squeezed her eyes shut. When she opened them, nothing showed in the spotless mirror.
She was invisible.
Until someone else came to use the restroom, she was stuck. A door opening by itself would raise suspicion.
By now the twins, shadows themselves, would be waiting by the car. Even though they were young, their powers were far more advanced. Come on, come on, Megan silently implored. Someone use the restroom.
The door creaked open and she started forward, then stopped. Her knees felt like cooked spaghetti. Megan trembled wildly.
Hardened with ruthless intent, the face of a male Draicon poked inside. Gabriel.
He entered, looking beneath the stall doors. Stunned, she inched backward until hitting the wall. His nostrils flared as he straightened.
Oh dear heavens, he'd caught her scent.
Panic flared as he strode in her direction with smooth grace and stealth. Gabriel's dark brown eyes widened. They flashed amber, signaling the emergence of his wolf. Her gaze traveled from the chiseled jaw and hollowed cheeks, down to the Tshirt stretched tight over his broad chest, to his long, muscled legs.
Tight leather snugly cupped his bulging sex. Megan acknowledged her sudden flare of sexual interest. Sheer biology. He was the enemy, the one she feared most, but striking in his innate masculinity. The air sizzled between them, the chemistry so intense she couldn't ignore it.
Biting back a hiss, she b...