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In the Glowing

From the author of The Ties That Bind.

Cassidy is an orphan at twenty-four, but she never realized how alone she was until she found out she was the last double shifter on earth. Can the touch of Alpha Slayde fill that void, or will the leader of the cats be the one to trigger the mysterious Glowing…

Age Rating: 18+

Note: This story is the author’s original version and does not have sound.

 

In the Glowing by Sherry Graham is now available to read on the Galatea app! Read the first two chapters below, or download Galatea for the full experience.

 


 

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Read the full uncensored books on the Galatea iOS app!

1

From the author of The Ties That Bind.

Cassidy is an orphan at twenty-four, but she never realized how alone she was until she found out she was the last double shifter on earth. Can the touch of Alpha Slayde fill that void, or will the leader of the cats be the one to trigger the mysterious Glowing…

Age Rating: 18+

Original Author: Sherry Graham

Note: This story is the author’s original version and does not have sound.

CASSIDY

Cassidy huffed for the third time as she rearranged the map spread across half her front seat.

Her finger found the spot where she’d been several hours ago, but she just couldn’t find her current resting place.

Why oh why had her phone battery died? Why oh why had she forgotten her charger in the bathroom of her apartment…the apartment she wasn’t going back to??

Why oh why did her friend live a thousand miles from said apartment?

Well, she could be thankful that her mother had always kept a map in the glove compartment…not that it was doing her much good.

Who could understand all these squiggle lines anyway?

That was why there was an app for that, not that an app was any good to anybody if your phone was dead.

“Holy crap, I am never going to get to Carol’s place before my job interview.”

She peered out her window to the darkening sky and knew she had to find someplace for the night…and soon.

She threw the offending paper into the passenger seat and got out of her car.

She left the door ajar as she slowly walked the length of her beater, stretching muscles that had been cramped up way too long.

A pain in her stomach caused her to wince. She held her breath, knowing it would pass within moments.

Lately, that cramping was becoming a familiar part of her daily routine, basically showing up when it felt like it…

As it eased off, she let her breath escape, “Jeez, that was a good one.”

As she straightened her body, her stomach rumbled ferociously. Her hand covered the roar. “Okay, okay, we will get something to eat.”

SISKA
Good, we are both hungry.

The voice inside her, which had been with her forever, agreed. She laughed loudly. “Yeah, sorry about that, Siska. Almost forgot you were there.”

She felt a shifting, like someone stretching, deep inside her mind. She had long grown used to her imaginary friend riding shotgun inside her.

When she was young, she had asked her mother why there was someone talking to her inside her head, and her mother had told her that it was her guardian angel, there to protect her.

When she grew older, she didn’t believe in guardian angels, and she didn’t mention her imaginary friend anymore either.

She decided guardian angels weren’t looking out for her, not when they took her father away when she was eight…

Cassidy stared into the distance, listening to the dead silence, breathing deeply, as she thought about the changes in her life during the past year.

Her life had turned upside down, but these mountains remain unchanged, and this road was unchanged. She didn’t like change…too unpredictable.

SISKA
We have to go.

Her voice urged her to move as her stomach rumbled again. “I know, I know, Sis. I just need a couple of moments.”

SISKA
You cannot change what has happened.

Cassidy blew out another breath as tears formed in her eyes. “I know, Sis, but I can’t help wishing…”

She felt her inner self rub against her heart, soothing, whining gently. She chuckled at the kind gesture.

“What would I do without you, Sis? You always make everything all better, you know that?”

SISKA
Everything will be better in a few days, Cassidy, I promise.

Cassidy looked down and kicked an errant stone. “I know it will be better, but it will probably take more than a few days…”

There was more caressing inside. No, just a couple of days, and then we will both be free…

Cassidy looked up suddenly. The voice that had always been a comfort seemed almost alive, which was crazy.

Maybe she was crazy, finally giving in to all the stress she had been under for the last year since her mother had taken ill and, upon her deathbed, told her about a past she never remembered.

Cassidy wasn’t her mother’s daughter, biologically anyway.

She was adopted when she was four, having been pulled from a car wreck that had killed both her parents.

No family had been found, and she was placed into foster care until she found a home a couple of months later with a wonderful couple who could not have children of their own.

She also found out that Cassidy Rose Thompson had been born Cassidy Rose MacTire.

The small bracelet that had been found around her wrist had been saved, and it now resided in the front pocket of her jeans.

She made sure that was the one thing that would never get left behind.

SISKA
Cass? Are you okay?

She shook her head and replied out loud, “Yes, I am okay, Siska. Just thinking.”

Although she’d carried on long conversations with the voice inside her for years, today was the first day that she started to actually worry about it.

She was on her way to stay with her friend from high school, a thousand miles away on the east coast of the country.

She had no family, no job, and her car had seen better days.

She could only hope it would make the trip since she did not want to abandon what little she had left on the side of the highway.

Wow, not the way she had ever pictured her life at twenty-four…

Her stomach growled again, and she sighed. One thing at a time…

Cassidy jumped back into her car and started it up. She mentally high-fived her inner self every time it roared to life again.

“Okay, let’s find someplace to eat, Sis. I am starved too.”

An hour later she spied a small sign announcing she would be entering Terravane Valley in ten miles.

She didn’t remember seeing that name on her map, and she really didn’t care.

She was overtired and hungry and just needed a place to lay her head.

Her car took that as a cue to cough. She jerked and glanced down at the dashboard. “No, no, no, please don’t die on me here, old girl.”

The car seemed to hear her and continued to roar toward her destination.

Cassidy breathed a sigh of relief. It was way too dark to be stranded on the side of any highway.

Although she wasn’t a religious person, she started to pray to anyone that wanted to listen.

“Please, please get me to the next town. That’s all I ask. Don’t leave me out here in the dark.”

SISKA
We will make it, Cass.

Sis’s voice held a note of excitement.

“Well, I hope so, Sis. I don’t want us to be stuck out here alone,” she answered, hoping her little voice knew something she didn’t, which was crazy, really.

Another sign glowed in the headlights, assuring her that Terravane Valley was only two miles down the road.

Instinctively, she pressed harder on the accelerator, hoping to make it before the car gave her any more death wheezes.

Upon the extra charge of gas, the car coughed again and shuddered, but it still kept going, determined not to fail its owner.

Cassie breathed a sigh of relief when the edge of town rose up out of the dark.

Lights brightened numerous houses as she slowed down to examine the small buildings.

Her eyes scanned the front street, trying to find something that looked like a hotel.

She sighed as she spotted the word INN written on a large wooden sign on the lawn of a large white, non-descript house perched on the corner of an adjoining street.

“Thank goodness, please say there is room at the inn…”

She parked outside the large building and turned off her beater. It coughed twice and died.

Cassie didn’t want to know if it would ever start again, so she didn’t bother to push her luck, at least not tonight.

She got out, grabbed her purse, and pulled a small overnight bag from her backseat.

She glanced at the rest of her things still sitting within the car and whispered, “Well, if they want it that bad, they can have it,” as she locked the doors and went up the front step of the well-kept building.

She opened the front door and quietly walked in. The decor was early nineteenth century, with not a lick of modern conveniences anywhere.

Oh God, please let them have a bathroom…

“Hello there, just getting in?” a friendly voice piped up from a young girl coming out of a room behind a large desk.

Cassidy nodded. “Umm, yeah, I’m just parked outside. I don’t have a reservation…”

The girl grinned wider. “Well, you are in luck. We just had a cancelation.

It’s probably the last room in town.” She was so friendly.

“Really?” Cassie couldn’t think why everything would be booked up out in the middle of nowhere.

“Uh-huh, is this your first time?”

First time for what?

“Um, yeah, sorry, I would have…”

The girl waved her hand. “No biggie, it happens, no problem. My name is Bethany.” She extended her hand.

Cassie shook it and realized how nice it was to see a friendly face. “Nice to meet you, Bethany. My name is Cassidy.”

“Bethany! Can you help me with this?” a voice yelled through from behind the desk.

The girl’s eyes widened. “Oops, duty calls.” She turned and grabbed a key off of a hook and placed it on the desk.

“Just sign the registry and your room is next floor up on the right.” And with that, she disappeared back from whence she came.

Cassie felt perplexed. Didn’t Bethany want a credit card or something?

Cassie didn’t even know how long she would be staying.

Well, she wasn’t going to dwell on it. She was too tired and too hungry, and if it didn’t concern Bethany, it wasn’t going to concern her either.

She grabbed a pen lying next to the open registry—how quaint that was—and began to fill it out…

Name. Cassidy Th— No, MacTire. She was starting a new life, so she might as well start it right.

Address. Hmmm, tricky question. Should she put in her previous address or her new one?

Hmm, Kansas or Georgia? She decided new life, new address, so Georgia it is.

Pack. What? Cassie read it again, squinting closer in case she read it wrong. Pack…

Pack of what? What did that mean? She glanced up to the entry above. Ridgeback. Hmmm…

Her overnight bag shifted on her shoulder, and she swung it down to rest on the floor. She caught a glimpse of the name, Southern Oaks.

Oh, maybe that was the name of their luggage. Why would they want the name of people’s luggage?

Well, I suppose it would help if they had to deliver luggage to the rooms. Hmmm… Strange custom….

So she scribbled Southern Oaks down in the space under PACK and shrugged her shoulders. She scooped up the key to her room and grabbed her “pack” and climbed the stairs to the second floor.

The number on her key was four, and she found it at the end of the hallway.

“Please, please let there be a bathroom,” she whispered under her breath.

The door opened into a beautiful, clean bedroom dominated by a large antique four-poster bed.

A coverlet in deep blue topped a huge mattress that just begged to be jumped on.

Cassie couldn’t resist. She closed the door and ran for the bed, jumping and landing right in the middle, sighing at the softness swallowing her.

She closed her eyes…

SISKA
Cassidy, are we going to eat?

Cassie sighed, sometimes her inner self was such a pest. “Yes, yes, we are going to get something to eat, but first I am going to have a shower, if they have a bathroom. And then I need to call Carol to let her know what is going on. Then we can go eat, okay?”

She felt her insides smile.

She jumped up and found the adjoining bathroom, and to her delight, it had a full working bathtub with shower. Thank goodness!

She quickly took the elastic from her strawberry-gold hair and let it fall in a cascade down her back.

She usually tied it up to keep it out of the way, but tonight, after she washed it, she was going to let it free.

She grabbed her shampoo and conditioner out of her pack and jumped under the warm rain in the tub.

She made quick work of washing her long hair and body and got out, putting on the housecoat that had been thoughtfully provided by the inn.

Everything smelled so nice and clean!

She sat on the bed and combed out her hair and glanced at the clock beside her bed. 9:00 p.m. Crap, it had been a long day… Better call Carol.

She picked up the phone and dialed her friend.

After several rings, a message let her know that Carol couldn’t come to the phone right now. Damn….

BEEP!

“Carol, this is Cassie. Listen, my phone died, I forgot my charger, and I am stuck in some little town called Terra something.

I am at an inn—don’t ask me the name—and I am staying the night. I have to get my car looked at tomorrow. I think she died…”

BEEP!

Damn, I hate answering machines…

Cassie quickly redialed and listed to the phone spiel again and left another message. “You really need a longer message time, Carol.

Anyways, I have to get the old girl checked out tomorrow.

Hopefully, something is open on Saturday and I can get a new charger for my phone so you can reach me…”

BEEP!

Damn, I hate answering machines. Screw it, I’ll call her tomorrow. She’s probably out partying or something. Woot! Friday night in a small town…

Well, I can at least get my stomach fed tonight.

She quickly dressed in her jeans and a tight T-shirt and bounced out of her room, hoping to catch the girl at the front desk to get a recommendation on a nice place to eat.

At the bottom of the stairs, she was out of luck. No one was manning the fort.

How in the world did people expect to run a business that way?

Oh well, no sense in waiting around. Time to go out and see what excitement there was in small-town America on a Friday night.

Maybe all the people in town were as friendly as Bethany was…not that it made a difference.

Her stomach suddenly started to cramp again, and she clutched it, waiting for it to pass.

This time, a flush of heat swept over her from her head to her feet.

Whoa, that was new. Maybe she would be taking a trip to the clinic tomorrow, too, before she got back on the road.

The episode passed, and she blew out the breath she had been holding.

SISKA
It won’t be much longer, Cass.

There it was again, that change in her inner voice, almost like another person…

Crap, she hoped this wasn’t what it was like to have a split personality, although she thought they shouldn’t know each other if it was…

Should they?

Cassidy pushed the door open into the darkness and glanced up and down the street.

There were a few people on the street, a nice normal town for a Friday night.

She thought she saw a neon sign down to her right and started walking.

She was soon rewarded with bright lights declaring the best pie in town, and she smiled as she entered.

Inside it was toasty warm, with a lunch counter and several booths in front of the windows.

She seated herself and grabbed a menu lying on the table in front of her.

Typical diner fare was listed, and she quickly made her decision as an older woman with dark hair approached her.

“Well hello, young miss. What can I get you to drink?”

“Umm, I think I’ll just have a Coke thanks.”

Cassidy smiled, glad the person seemed very friendly. “And I will also have a BLT.” She folded up the menu and handed it to her waitress.

The woman didn’t write anything down. “And that’s everything, hon? We have some very good pie for dessert.”

Cass didn’t want to disappoint such a friendly face. “Umm, yeah, that sounds awesome. You can surprise me.” And she gave her best smile in return.

“Sure thing, honey, won’t be a moment.” She took the menu and left.

Cassidy looked around the diner, admiring the decor, feeling like she’d just gone back in time about fifty years.

Very inviting and…friendly. Which actually struck her as kind of odd.

She glanced out the window to people watch.

She loved to sit and eat while watching the people go by outside, wondering where they were going, what they did for a living…

“Here is your drink and sandwich, hon, and I will bring you your pie.”

A large glass and plate was set before her, and her stomach growled in anticipation.

SISKA
MMMM…this looks yummy, Cass.

She was about to reply when her waitress placed a huge slice of lemon meringue pie next to her sandwich. “The best pie in the east,” she declared.

Cassidy looked up and smiled. “It looks delicious, thank you very much.”

“You’re very welcome. Is this your first time?” she inquired.

“Umm, yes, it is. I just got in.” Wow, these people were really taking friendly to a whole new level.

“What pack, hon?” The woman was still smiling.

Cassidy had been taking a drink of her Coke and almost spit it up as the odd question came out of her waitress’s mouth.

What was with these people and luggage???

So, she said the first thing that came to mind. “Southern Oaks.”

The woman looked up as if thinking. “Hmmm, I don’t know that one, sugar, and I thought I knew them all.”

Cassidy threw in, “Well, I think it is fairly new.”

Her stomach had started to cramp again, and she struggled not to show the pain, not wanting to alarm the woman.

All she had to do was breathe in deep and clench her muscles…

“Are you all right, honey?” A very concerned face was staring at her as she opened her clenched eyes.

“Uh, yeah, fine, I just haven’t eaten all day and my stomach is complaining.” She hoped the smile she gave was reassuring.

The woman nodded. “Of course, I am so sorry. You just go ahead and get that into you and you’ll feel a lot better. And you know what they say. Gotta feed the beast.”

She chuckled as she left Cassidy to her meal.

Who says “gotta feed the beast”? Maybe these people weren’t friendly.

Maybe they all were just shy of loco.

She felt her imaginary friend stretch and smile. She’s right. Gotta feed the beast…so start eating…

Cassidy dug in. Things would look better with a full stomach….

 

Read the full uncensored books on the Galatea iOS app!

2

SLAYDE

“Alpha, hey wait up,” a voice called behind him.

He stopped on his way through the bar and waited for the young pup to catch up. “Hey, just wanted to know when the next run was.”

Slayde MacMichael was the alpha in charge. This was his territory, and he was the lucky shifter whose land was hosting this year’s gathering of the packs.

He’d never realized the work that went into hosting one of these.

Pack houses and rooms had to be found for everyone, being careful about placement of clans next to each other.

Some just didn’t get along, no matter what you threatened them with.

And of course, he was on call for every emergency or question going, like the one from this young pup, who seemed to continually be following him.

He raked his hand through his black locks and pinned the youngster in place with, “Didn’t you get a schedule, Ryan?”

“Yeah, yeah, sorry, but I lost it, Alpha.” The young whelp blushed.

“Then you talk to your alpha and get another one,” he ground out and then felt bad as Ryan’s eyes fell in shame.

God, sometimes these youngsters needed to grow some fucking thicker skin. He placed his hand on the small shoulder.

“Sorry, Ryan, it’s just been a long day. Check with Clint to see if he has an extra copy, and if he doesn’t, come by my office tomorrow. Okay?”

His words brightened the eyes of the young shifter. “Yeah, sure, sure, thanks, Alpha,” and he turned away.

Slayde called after him, “Oh, pup, the next run is tomorrow night around seven. Okay?”

He watched as the boy nodded vigorously and turned to make his way through the crowd in the bar.

Slayde smiled to himself, remembering when he was that young and impressionable, but that was a long time ago…

He turned back to survey the crowd, looking for his second-in-command, Riordan. The bar hadn’t been this crowded in years.

Testosterone dripped from the rafters, emanating from the hundred or so males drinking and joking around the tables.

He recognized most of the faces, having met them at several different gatherings over the years.

So far, about twenty different packs had registered from all over the eastern seaboard and two from the West Coast.

Usually the West Coast had their own gathering, but sometimes they liked to mingle with the east, usually when they were looking to introduce new blood into their packs.

These gatherings were a great way to find available females to mix up the gene pool in a pack.

Several nods met his ice-blue eyes, acknowledging his dominant role in the community. He took time to silently acknowledge each greeting in return.

With each familiar face, he mentally made notes on their pack’s name, number of members, mating status, and family.

He wondered what they saw when they looked at him.

Slayde Asher MacMichael, alpha, nice territory, great pack, no mate, no pups, not where he thought he would be at his age.

Sigh.

“That’s a mighty heavy load you’re carrying, Alpha.” A hand descended onto his muscular shoulder.

Slayde turned to his beta and grimaced. “That obvious?”

Riordan, his second-in-command, stood six-and-a-half feet Where Slayde’s hair was as thick and black as midnight, Riordan had soft blond locks that were nearly white.

His green eyes enchanted many a woman with their bright intensity.

Slayde was surprised he still had not found a mate and started a litter of his own.

“Maybe this year, Slayde. There is a lot of new blood here this time.”

He was uncanny with his ability to know the desires of his pack leader. But then again, wasn’t that what they all wanted?

A warm hearth, an even warmer mate, and a litter of pups crawling around their feet?

“Yeah, yeah, that is the least of my worries. I will just be happy if all hell doesn’t break loose over the next few days,” he replied as he gazed around the bar again.

“We’ve got a full house tonight, I see.”

Riordan gazed over the crowd too. “Yeah, and the other two bars are pretty full too.”

“The hall ready for Sunday?” Slayde asked him for the tenth time.

“Yeah, everything’s ready, and the mixer is a go. It should be a howling good time.” He chuckled at his joke.

Slayde looked at him drily. “Really? That’s what you’ve got?”

Riordan chuckled again. “Come on Slayde, that was funny.”

Slayde grunted and looked away.

“And I heard there is quite a group of eligible females that are looking to be available to new packs, maybe we will even get a couple of new breeds,” Riordan added helpfully.

Slayde grunted again. “As long as the damn pre-shifts stay home.”

Pre-shifts were the wolves who had yet to make their first transition.

The males were just plain stupid in that state, and the females were just plain crazy, as they tried to attract the most powerful within the packs.

Not a good combination at all. Guaranteed to make trouble, which was something he just wanted to avoid…at all costs.

“I don’t think any actually came this year,” Riordan assured him.

“Good,” Slayde breathed out. “Thank fucking God…”

His phone took that time to start vibrating at his hip. That could only mean another pain-in-the-ass problem.

He answered, “Yeah, Slayde here…yeah, I know…no, not that part… They did what? Damn! Yeah, I’ll be right there.”

He turned off his phone and said, “It’s starting already. You would think they could at least wait until the moon turnover to run naked across the front lawn of the town hall.”

He leaned in close to his beta. “Look after things here, don’t let anything get out of hand. I will be back as soon as I can.”

Riordan looked over the drunken crowd of shifters, gradually getting even drunker. “Yeah, thanks, buddy, sure, no problem.”

As Slayde left the loud boisterous crowd, Riordan heard his name called. “Rory! Come see this!”

CASSIDY

Cassie leaned back in the booth and sighed with contentment.

That had to be the best pie she had ever tasted! If she could have stuffed another piece in, she would have gladly ordered another.

Maybe she should get a to-go order…

“How was it, honey?” The waitress was back to clear away her dishes.

Cassie rolled her eyes in delight. “It was absolutely heavenly. I couldn’t eat another bite.”

The woman chuckled. “Well, I am glad you liked it. You can come back anytime and try another. We have blueberry tomorrow.”

Cassie could see herself gaining about a hundred pounds if she stayed here any length of time.

“Well, I probably will be gone tomorrow, but if I wasn’t, I would definitely come back for that.”

“You aren’t staying for the whole gathering?” The woman seemed surprised. “A pretty little thing like you? Oh, you must already have a—”

“Maisie!” a loud voice boomed through the door. “Where is some of that pie?”

Cassie looked over to see a big burly redheaded giant come through the door. Wow, they sure made them big here…

“Oh, that’s just Big Red, honey. He might look like he would take a bite out of you, but he’s really a big softy.”

She turned to greet her new customer. “Just sit down, Red. I will be right over.”

She turned again to Cassie. “Sorry, hon, gotta go. You can just pay Inez at the register.” She indicated that petite redhead cleaning the counter.

Cassie watched her hurry off to Big Red. Soft was not the word that came to mind when he walked in the door.

Holy crap, that man was built like a linebacker, a really big linebacker…

She pulled her attention away and grabbed her purse, fishing for her credit card.

She pulled it out and went to the cash register to pay for her meal.

As the girl was punching in the amounts, Cassie asked her,

“Umm, do you have like a place where I could get a glass of wine or something?”

Lord knew she needed it after today, and she would keep it to only the one.

She didn’t drink a lot, and it wouldn’t take much to put her over the edge, which was definitely not what she wanted in a strange town…

The girl looked at her strangely. “Are you sure?”

What happened to them being friendly?

“Uh, yeah, just a quick glass of wine before I go back to my room.”

The girl looked toward Maisie but didn’t seem to want to interrupt the lively conversation between her and Big Red.

Now that her stomach was full, Cassie felt her strength returning in waves.

“Listen, just point me in the right direction, and I will find it.”

The girl bit her lip indecisively.

“Okay, I will find someplace on my own.”

“The Den is just down the street on your right,” the girl finally supplied.

Cassie thought it would have been easier to pull teeth than get an answer to a very simple question from her.

She took back her card and nodded. “Thank you very much, Inez, I appreciate that.” She turned to leave.

As she got almost to the door, conversation between Maisie and Big Red ground to a halt.

Cassie hesitated as Big Red raised his head and….sniffed in her direction.

Had he just smelled her???

Cassie felt a blush steal over her. Surely she hadn’t sweated that much in the last hour?

Suddenly, her imaginary friend took that time to contribute her two cents.

SISKA
Mmmmm, I like Big Red…I wonder what else is big….

Cassie was sure she was now as red as a stop sign, and she mentally shook her friend as she hissed, “What is wrong with you? We are not looking for anything Big Red has to offer.”

SISKA
I would like something ~Big Red~ has to offer….

Cassie pushed the door and escaped into the welcoming darkness. She had never been so embarrassed at her thoughts…Siska’s thoughts.

Who was she kidding? Siska’s thoughts were her thoughts, but why would she be attracted to that bear of a man?

He was good looking in a rough sort of way, but…

SISKA
Come on, Cass, let’s have some fun.

Cassie breathed deeply. What was going on? Siska was just a voice. She wasn’t a person or anything. She didn’t control anything…

SISKA
Cass…

“No!” she hissed under her breath. “We are not going to have fun…not tonight…and certainly not with Big Red.”

She felt the disappointment and whine inside her as her friend fell to the back of her mind.

She kind of felt sorry for her…

God, what was she thinking?

She really needed help.

She was going to have to break down and talk to someone about her imaginary friend… before said friend got her into real trouble.

“Sorry, Sis, I didn’t mean it. It’s just been a long day.”

She couldn’t help but apologize to herself. “Why don’t we go have that glass of wine?”

Her friend slowly came forward.

SISKA
Okay, I forgive you. Let’s go have that drink.

Cassie smiled and started off down the sidewalk.

For some strange reason, she looked back and was surprised that Big Red was still looking out of the diner’s large window, straight at her and wearing a very wolfish smile.

Cassie frowned and walked faster.

SLAYDE

Slayde shook his head as he left one of the pack houses, having just “escorted” three drunk and naked men back to their rooms.

They all still bore claw marks where he grabbed them as they shifted back into their human skin, minus any clothes of course.

When they saw they were caught by the town’s alpha, they couldn’t apologize fast enough, promising not to do it again.

Although shifting was permitted, running around in your human skin, sans clothes, was highly discouraged.

One giant problem solved.

His phone rang again. “Damn! Not another one!”

He punched the screen and gritted his teeth as he spoke. “Slayde here, what’s the problem? Oh, sorry, Vivien, what can I do for you?”

His jaw dropped as he listened to the owner of the inn up the street. He shook his head. “Can you repeat that?”

He shook his head again. “Are you sure it says MacTire?”

He listened to the info again. “What was the name of her pack? Southern Oaks? No, never heard of it. Something’s not right. I am coming right over.”

He shut off his phone, and it rang again. Damn! When was it going to end? He glanced at the number, saw it was his beta, and answered.

“Yeah, Riordan, what’s up? Please tell me everything is okay. Well, throw him out and tell him to go back to his house. Yeah, I have to deal with something important that just came up. No, I will tell you when I get there. Yeah, see you soon.”

He hung up and looked up at the moon sitting low in the sky. MacTire…can’t be right. That whole pack was wiped out a long while back.

Someone must be playing a joke, only it wasn’t very funny.

If there truly was a MacTire here in his town, this was going to be a gathering to remember and not in a good way.

He started up the street to Viv’s inn, his mind jumping on itself. He really needed a good run.

CASSIDY

Cassie looked up at the neon sign indicating she’d arrived at The Den.

The two large windows in the front were blacked out, so she couldn’t see inside.

The door also had no glass, so she couldn’t see what she was walking into.

She could hear music blaring inside, and she hesitated. Didn’t seem like the place to get a quiet glass of wine.

Well, if it wasn’t she would just leave.

SISKA
Come on, Cass, you said we could have a glass of wine…to relax.

She could swear Siska was causing her skin to itch like she wanted to crawl out and go in without her.

And she did want that wine, and she could always leave.

SISKA
~Go!~

She jumped as her voice yelled then grabbed the handle and pulled.

The place was dark, except for some small lighting at the bar that ran the whole left side of the room.

She could see several tables scattered haphazardly and also an opening that obviously led into another packed room.

Then she noticed a most peculiar thing.

It was packed with men, nothing but men. There weren’t even any women servers. Just men….

“My God, only I could come into a one-horse town and find a gay bar.”

She glanced around at all the slapping and touching that was going on around her as the voices competed with the rock music blaring from something in the other room.

SISKA
~Yes!~

She heard her voice loud and clear and laughed to herself.

“Hold your horses, sunshine, you and I just walked into a small-town gay watering hole. There is no reason to get excited…unless you want decorating tips.”

Well, at least she should be safe among them, although they were the roughest bunch of gay males she had ever seen.

At least they weren’t as big as Big Red.

Her thoughts were cut off as another customer came in the door behind her and squeezed his six-four-frame by her.

She was momentarily taken aback when the man suddenly stopped and she could see his nose twitch as his head turned toward her.

She could clearly see interest flare in his dark eyes.

Maybe they weren’t all gay….

She quickly excused herself and made a line for the one empty stool at the bar.

She really needed that drink now. She wasn’t too worried about the crowd.

What could happen in public, in a room full of gay men, or mostly gay men?

The bartender strolled over to her and looked at her questioningly. “Shouldn’t you be back at your house?”

Cassie clenched her jaw. She had thought the people here were friendly, but obviously some of them hadn’t gotten the memo.

“I don’t live here. I’m just passing through. Now, can I have a glass of red please?”

An image of Big Red flashed in her mind, and she shook her head to clear it.

The bartender clenched his jaw, and she could see his nose twitching.

She almost caught herself leaning down to smell her armpits. Maybe it was her clothes.

She hadn’t exactly had time to air them out after being packed up in her hot car.

Then, surprisingly, the man poured her a large glass of red wine and placed it with a large napkin on the bar in front of her.

“You should really go back to your house.”

Cassie grabbed the glass and swallowed it down in one long pull. She wasn’t sure if she was trying to prove to him that she was a big girl or what.

She also missed the sigh of satisfaction from the friend in her head.

She pushed the glass toward him again. “And you should just get me another glass.”

The man’s eyes hardened, and he looked like he was going to say something nasty in return, but again, he merely re-filled her glass and slid it back.

“Whatever the lady wants, the lady gets.”

Cassie didn’t know if he was being sarcastic as he drawled the word “lady,” but she sure didn’t appreciate it.

She smiled anyway and thanked him for the drink.

This time she just took a large swallow, already feeling the effects from the first glass.

A hot flush caressed her from her head to her toes, and she finally started to relax. The voice inside her had quieted too. Thank God.

Cassie turned around halfway in order to get a better look at the local patrons, always enjoying her people-watching experience.

She was looking into the other room, watching a DJ spin some upbeat tunes to an empty dance floor, and barely noticed several conversations had suddenly stopped.

You would think that at least a few of these guys would be up dancing with their dates.

Suddenly, a tall lanky rough-cut male was standing beside her, giving his best come-to-me-baby smile.

Cassie glanced up and gave him a halfhearted smile, trying not to encourage what was going on in his mind.

“Can I buy you another, little pre-shift?” He had a distinct southern drawl that was not unsexy.

Cassie’s head was already floating enough that she wasn’t sure that she’d heard exactly what he said. “Excuse me?” Had she just slurred?

Suddenly another large male appeared on her other side.

“Don’t pay any attention to him. He’s a little wet behind the ears. You need a real howler.”

These people weren’t making any sense. “I d-do?” she stammered out.

The second male took her answer as an excuse to lean forward and take a long drag of her hair.

Cassie was transfixed as she watched him inhale the scent of her shampoo.

He opened his eyes and smiled. “Are you looking for something new?”

Cass was feeling really confused, and the wine probably wasn’t helping either. “Uh, no, thanks, I like my shampoo just fine.”

Both men started chuckling before the first one introduced himself. “My name is Lane, Dusky Sky.”

Cassidy gave a slight smile. “Hi, Lane Dusky Sky.”

Her other admirer broke in. “No, no, you don’t want that. Ridgeback is what you need, darlin’.”

His words brought back the memory from the inn. Ridgeback… What was it about luggage that these people found so fascinating?

“Back off, Harper. I saw her first.” A deep growl sounded from the throat of Lane Dusky Sky.

What was going on? Cassie knew she was passably pretty, but never had two men seemed so interested in her.

“Okay, whelps, you can both back off and let a few of the rest of us introduce ourselves,” another voice broke in.

Cassie blinked several times, not sure what was going on, not sure either whether she liked being the center of attention or not.

She took another drink from her glass and was almost surprised that it, too, was empty.

Her new admirer, upon seeing the empty glass, waved to the bartender.

“Give her another one, Rick. She is looking mighty dry.”

Suddenly Cassie felt her imaginary friend bolt inside her.

SISKA
Yes, yes, this is fantastic!

“No, no it isn’t,” she replied as she watched the crowd around her getting larger.

“Don’t pay any attention to the rest of these dogs, honey. They can’t protect you like we can.”

Her third admirer was trying to impress her with his wolfish smile.

She found another glass of wine being pushed into her empty hand and hastily took another sip—or was it a little more?.

She stammered out, “P-protect me from wh-what?”

“Precisely, you moron, this little luna doesn’t need any protection. She can handle herself,” another voice broke through the throng.

Did they just call her loony?

SISKA
Isn’t this fun, Cass? Look at all of them!

Fun was not the word she would use.

“And who are you calling a dog?” A snarl accompanied that gritty question.

This can’t be good, Cass thought as her head continued to swim. Gay men should not be fighting over her. Unless they weren’t gay…?

“Okay, how about mutt?” The challenge was unmistakable.

As Cassie downed her third glass of wine, she could almost cut the tension in the room with a knife.

Even a drunk could see that this was going to get bad.

She decided it was definitely time to leave.

She stood up and teetered. Immediately, several pairs of hands grasped her arms and body to help.

Then all hell broke loose….

RIORDAN

Riordan was in the other room, enjoying a beer, when the first punch was thrown.

He looked up in exasperation as a scuffle started in the other room. What the hell were they fighting about this time?

As the crowd parted, his eyes fell on a gorgeous young woman, swaying on her feet.

It was obvious she was well intoxicated. He lifted his nose to the air and understood what had happened.

A damn pre-shift had walked into the bar, and now every unattached male in the place was trying to lay claim. Which included just about all of them….

Slayde was going to be so pissed.

As the scent of the pre-shift wafted into his room, probably brought on by the amount of testosterone raging in the air, his own wolf woke up and howled inside.

Riordan snarled at him, telling him to sit and be quiet, but it was hard to quiet any red-blooded male when there was a pre-shift in heat just begging to be taken.

“Damn, not even one quiet night.” He swore as he fought his way to the bar.

After pushing several big males out of the way and barking orders as he made his way through, he wasted no time in grabbing the woman’s arm and hissing in her ear, “You should not be here!”

CASSIDY

Cassie was enthralled by the six-foot-six wall of muscle coming through the crowd toward her, and he didn’t look the least bit friendly.

Her inner voice almost starting panting, and Cassie was worried she was starting to hyperventilate…at least until the Adonis opened his mouth.

Suddenly it didn’t matter that the bar had turned into a free-for-all with punches being thrown. Were they actually biting each other?

“You need to come with me!” her rescuer growled loudly.

Cassidy suddenly pulled back. “I’m not going anywhere with you!”

A voice out of nowhere broke in. “Take your grubby paws off her…”

RIORDAN

The voice died out when Riordan turned and growled viciously in response, feeling his eyes turning red. He had just about enough of this craziness.

The man who was protesting her manhandling suddenly turned and slipped back into the crowd.

The girl muttered, “So much for a knight in shining armor…”

Riordan practically lifted her from her feet as he propelled her over broken chairs and wrestling bodies out into the cool night.

She seemed quite happy to feel the cool breeze lifting the hair off her neck.

“Now to go home…or back to the inn. Where is my bag? Oh yeah…”

Riordan found his wolf fighting to the surface again, needing to smell this new female. Rory growled to keep his wolf in his place.

“Would you stop that? You sound like an old bear!”

The girl had the nerve to admonish him, her rescuer, or maybe he was her captor? He hadn’t let go of her arm yet.

“Where is your alpha?” He squeezed her arm, feeling frustration and arousal at the same time.

She seemed to be having a hard time understanding what he was asking. “My what?”

Rory was battling his wolf again as he spit out, “Your pack, where are they?”

The girl stood still and gave him her best “what the fuck” face and asked a question that made no sense.

“What is up with you people and your luggage?”

Now it was Rory’s turn to be confused. “What?!”

“That’s all anybody here seems to care about—what is the name of your luggage?”

She suddenly deflated, as though the wine was now urging her to lie down.

Somewhere… Anywhere… She looked around.

“Where are you staying?” He tried another tactic.

“I might be drunk, but I’m certainly not telling a stranger where I’m staying. Do you think I’m stupid?”

Then, in a complete reversal, she sort of vaguely pointed up the street. “There.”

Riordan tried to follow her inebriated finger. This was not working.

He needed help. He hoped Slayde had some ideas….

 

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