The next best series in romance for 2023
“Come on Ariel, show me what you’ve got.”
Xavier’s muscular arms wrap around me, and he pushes me back against the wall.
His earthy scent is making me feel lightheaded, and it’s hard to breathe when his broad chest is pressed against mine.
I’m losing my focus, but I can’t let that happen.
I can’t give in.
I have to prove what I’m capable of.
Swiftly, I grab Xavier’s wrist, pull it over my shoulder, and then twist my body—flipping the guy flat on his back.
I smirk. “Is that what you wanted to see?”
The crowd goes wild—yeah, the crowd. Because I’m in the middle of the hardest test of my life, and everyone is waiting to see if I’ll rise to the occasion, or fall on my face.
All my squadmates are cheering me on from the sidelines, hoping I pass my final test to become a fully-fledged pack warrior.
Suddenly, I feel my legs sweep out from under me, and I land on my back, hard.
Within seconds, Xavier is on top of me—like really on top of me.
I’m just wearing a sports bra, and our sweat-slicked bodies stick together as he pins me down.
He leans over and whispers in my ear, “Just give in, Ariel. Don’t fight it.”
My heart is thumping, threatening to burst from my chest.
I’ve literally had dreams where Xavier ends up on top of me like this.
His breath is hot on my neck. “Maybe later we can do this without clothes.”
His hand slides down my stomach to my thigh, gripping it tightly, hungrily.
My body squirms underneath him, craving his touch, surrendering to the heat.
For years, I’ve wondered if he is my mate. Now would be the perfect moment to find out.
Giving in is an enticing proposition, but right now, I’ve got more important things on my mind…
I savor the look of shock on his face as I swing my legs upward and wrap them around his neck, putting him in a triangle chokehold.
More important things—like kicking his ass.
“Looks like I’m the one on top now,” I whisper back.
I squeeze my thighs as tight as I can, making sure Xavier won’t be able to break free.
Moments later he taps the ground, signaling his surrender.
The crowd erupts in cheers, and my squadmates swarm the arena, jumping, shouting, spraying sports drinks in every direction.
I fall back on the floor, dazed. Did I really just beat the future alpha? Did I actually win?
Xavier gets up before I do and extends his hand. I take it and he pulls me up, then straight into his chest.
“Well done, Ariel. Today, you proved yourself a true warrior.”
He leans down, and for a moment I think he’s going to kiss me, but then—
Xavier growls softly in my ear, “And tonight, you’ll prove yourself worthy of an alpha in other ways.” My heart leaps into my throat and I’m left utterly speechless.
Oh, my Goddess—Xavier wants ME?
The chains tightening around my wrists bring me back to consciousness.
For a moment, I can’t remember where I am. I blink my eyes open to see the cracked concrete ceiling above me.
Then it all comes back to me like a brick settling in my stomach. I fight back the urge to cry.
The silver shackles bite into my raw wrists. You would think that I would be used to the pain after two years of being treated like a worthless animal, a science experiment, but sometimes it becomes unbearable.
The first year was the worst…
The experiments—injecting microdoses of liquid wolfsbane into my veins and analyzing the effects on my body. And my wolf.
I learned in the beginning that the burning feeling coursing through my veins was the wolfsbane as it weakened and cut off my connection to my wolf.
I’ve been a whole year without her. Only feeling her faintly in the far corners of my mind, whimpering in pain and sadness.
Never in my life have I ever felt so overwhelmingly alone.
They took my family…
And my wolf.
My eyes start to flutter shut as the pain becomes too much.
I feel a sharp smack across my already bruised cheek.
“Don’t go passing out on me yet, bitch. We’ve only barely started today.” Curt, the leader of the hunters, digs his dirty fingernails into my shoulder.
“Go to hell,” I say, mustering up what little fight I have left.
Curt’s cold, gray eyes—as strange as it sounds—are the only thing that have kept me going. The thought of ripping them from his head…
I often think about the first time I saw those eyes. It was the night I’d been accepted into warrior training. The night I’ve been dreaming about.
I’d fallen asleep by the lake, and when I woke up, those eyes were hovering over me, glaring at me with absolute malice.
Our pack had never done anything violent to humankind, but that didn’t matter to hunters.
All they want is the complete eradication of werewolves.
But what they want with me—why they’ve kept me alive to experiment on me for two years—I have no idea.
“I think you need to be reminded of your place, mutt,” Curt says as he picks up a syringe filled with silver liquid.
“No… NO!” I scream as he punctures my skin.
My spine begins to stretch and a horrible cracking noise echoes throughout the room as my bones break.
He’s forcing my wolf out somehow, but the silver is keeping my body from healing during the transformation.
The pain is unreal.
I feel my ribs puncture my lungs and blood spills out of my mouth.
In fact, it’s spilling out of several places in my body as my bones penetrate my skin like a mangled mess.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck!” Curt shouts. “I think I gave her too much! Medic! Get the fuck over here!”
I want to howl so badly from the pain, but all I can muster is a pathetic raspy wheeze.
The room is beginning to blur and close in around me.
“Get her fucking stable!” Curt yells. “We can’t lose our best test subject. She’s almost perfected!”
As the darkness settles in, I hear a soft and ethereal voice…
“Don’t give up, my child.”
I’m sitting at the edge of the lake again, just like the night I was taken. But this time, there’s a mysterious woman sitting beside me.
She’s beautiful in every way—pale blue eyes, long silver hair running down her back, and milky smooth skin that almost seems to glow.
Who is this captivating woman?
“Hello, Ariel. I wish we were meeting under better circumstances,” the woman says warmly.
“Who…who are you? And how do you know me?” I ask, confused.
“My name is Selene, though some call me the Moon Goddess,” she replies with a soft laugh.
Oh my Goddess, THE Moon Goddess. Holy…
“Don’t be nervous, my child. I must apologize to you.”
The Moon Goddess apologize to me? I guess I haven’t exactly felt her presence for quite some time.
“You were never supposed to be taken by the hunters,” she says calmly, her warm smile never leaving her face.
“But my sister, Fate, can be quite vengeful and she had another plan in mind. We don’t often see eye-to-eye.”
“I know the feeling,” I say, thinking of my own sister.
“In order to right these wrongs, I’m bestowing upon you a gift—the gift of healing.”
Selene leans forward and kisses me on the forehead. “May you heal both your own pain…and the pain of others. Be a light unto those who need it most.”
As Selene sits back, she places her palm against my cheek and her eyes sparkle.
“One more thing, Ariel. This is not the life I had planned for you. You must escape this place—and find your mate.”
“My mate? Who is my mate?”
But I already have an idea who it might be…
Selene reaches out and lays a soft hand on my cheek.
I feel warmth emanating from the contact, and I lean into her touch, sighing at the pleasant sensation.
“It’s Xavier, isn’t it?” I feel excitement coursing through my veins for the first time in two years.
But then the look on her face gives me pause. She’s thoughtful, as if trying to decide how to respond.
“My dear, it isn’t that simple,” she answers slowly.
“What do you mean?” I ask, confusion clouding my mind.
I feel Selene’s caress begin to fade against my cheek and realize everything is growing hazy around me.
“Please, who is my mate?” I ask, desperation pulling at me.
“There is another… But I cannot tell you more right now, my child. You must go. Free yourself from these tyrants…”
Warmth surges through my body as the Goddess fades away completely.
“Find him, Ariel. Only you can heal him.”
I jolt awake, still shackled to the operating table, although the room is empty.
Was that just some weird fever dream?
As the haze of the dream begins to wear off, one thing becomes clear.
I should be dead.
Before passing out, my entire body was broken, my bones were jutting out of my body, I was losing so much blood…
So imagine my surprise when I crane my neck to look at my battered body and find that…
All my wounds have been healed.
I feel a strength inside me that I haven’t felt in a long, long time. Is this what she meant by the gift of healing?
Thank you, Selene. But that wasn’t all she said…
She told me that I have to escape…
That I have to find my mate. And that it might not be Xavier…
Find him. Heal him.
I wouldn’t even know where to begin looking, but he sure as hell isn’t here.
I struggle with my chains, but even though the silver isn’t irritating my skin like before, it still stings.
I hear a door open at the top of the stairs, and uneven footsteps as someone stumbles down them.
That will probably be Curt, drunk again. He loves to torment me when he’s wasted.
But he doesn’t know that I’ve regained my strength. I can use this to my advantage.
“You’re finally awake, mutt. Good. We’re gonna play a little game,” he says, slurring his speech.
Curt grabs a silver collar and clamps it around my neck, undoing the chains around my arms.
He yanks the chain attached to the collar on my neck, forcing me to my feet.
Curt stumbles as he starts climbing the stairs, pulling me behind him.
“Get a move on, bitch!” he says, tightening his grip on the chain.
Good. Hold tight, you hateful bastard.
I wait till he’s almost at the top of the stairs. I can hear the voices of other hunters coming from the other side of the door.
He thinks he’s won… Not today!
Growling, my wolf comes to the surface, and I yank the chain as hard as I can muster.
Curt loses his footing and flies backward, tumbling down the staircase like a rag doll.
At the bottom, I hear a loud crack as his back snaps from the impact.
I calmly walk to the bottom of the stairs and stand over his body as he looks up at me, pleading for mercy.
I dig into his pocket and find the key to my collar. I unlock it, letting it fall to the floor.
I stare into his cold, gray eyes. The eyes I’ve seen every day for the past two years as he’s experimented on me.
The eyes that have kept me going. For that one day, when I’d rip them from his head.
My claws lengthen from my fingertips.
“Filthy wolf. I’ll kill you. I’ll kill all of you,” he mutters as blood trickles out of his mouth.
I plunge my claws into his face and rip them back out in one swift motion.
“You won’t be hurting anyone else ever again,” I say, wiping his blood on the thin rag of a dress that I’m wearing.
I feel something inside me, but it’s not the strength of the Goddess. No, this is something different…
I am going to follow Selene’s instructions.
I’m going to find my mate, no matter where he is. And I’m going to heal him.
But first, I’m going to make these hunters pay for what they’ve done to me.