Today’s question for the $10 ARe GC: What is your favorite holiday candy?
NOTE: This is a previously published work. The title, author, and/or publisher may have changed.
This is a re-release with minimal changes.
While at a kennel purchasing guard dogs, Valor discovers a shifter who pleads for release. Intrigued, the master vampire pays to free the werehound, unaware his moment of compassion will change his life.
Caden’s goal is to get as far away from the area as possible. His brother’s pack beat him and left him for dead, and he needs to put distance between them before Jameson realizes he’s still alive and comes after him again. Little does he realize the vampire who freed him has other intentions.
Valor walked through the kennel, amused by the sudden silence. The animals knew a dangerous predator moved into their midst and were careful not to draw his attention.
Beside him, the keeper of the animals cast him fearful sideways glances. It was rare for a master vampire to pick out his own dogs, but Valor wanted to ensure he could bond with the creatures that guarded him while he slept. If the beasts had a connection to him, they were more likely to protect him with their lives.
He hadn’t lived over two thousand years by being careless. With an increase in hunter activity, he needed additional security. These new hunters didn’t care what they caught as long as it was non-human, and the stories told by the few who escaped capture were enough to make everyone in the paranormal community bump up security and pull their families closer.
No one was going to capture a vampire under Valor’s watch.
He watched out for his own.
A pair of steely-eyed Dobermans caught his attention. “What about those two?”
The keeper gave a nod. “They’re good security animals; they’re here because the company they were trained for went out of business.”
“Ahh. Their loss, my gain. Stephan, add them to the total.”
The dark-haired vamp trailing behind him made a quiet sound of assent. Stephan wasn’t the most vocal of companions, but he was loyal. The vamp had been at Valor’s side for over three hundred years. He trusted Stephan to guard his back and oversee the security detail while Valor concentrated on ruling the vampire tribe under his control. After another walk-through, four more dogs were added: two Rottweilers and two mixes.
Valor was pleased.
“Good selection,” he told the trembling human beside him.
“Th-thank you, sir.” The keeper kept his eyes averted from the vampire’s gaze. Valor didn’t bother hiding his amusement. The idea that a vampire needed to meet the eyes of his prey was a myth. Valor could’ve controlled the guy from across the state if he wanted. Fool.
He had almost left the kennel area when he heard a low whimper.
The sound tugged at him, the noise soft and needy, impossible to ignore. Valor turned, scanning the area, but even with his excellent night vision, he couldn’t make out the far cages.
“What’s back there?”
“Nothing, sir,” the keeper said with suspicious speed, “just a mutt we caught a few weeks ago. He was half-starved, and something had ripped him apart badly. He sets off the other dogs, so we keep him separated from them so there’s no fighting. He’s a sweet pup, not the type you’re looking for.”
The keeper’s fast response raised Valor’s interest.
Another whimper called to Valor. “Let me be the judge of that.”
Following the sound, he reached a large cage with a golden brown dog inside. Well-muscled, the creature had a shiny coat that glowed even in the darkness. Its large amber eyes looked up at him imploringly.
“Help me,” the words whispered into his mind.
Valor’s head snapped back, instinctively trying to repel the mental invasion. It took him a moment to realize what it must mean.
He looked into the dog’s eyes and saw the intelligence shining out of them. There was something more in the creature’s gaze than in the other animals’ he’d chosen that night.
“I’ll take this one.”
“But, sir, he wouldn’t make a very good guard dog. He doesn’t have a mean bone in him.” Valor turned to discover the keeper had dredged up the courage to meet his eyes in order to protect the beautiful animal.
Valor gave him a smile he knew humans found irresistibly appealing. “I won’t use him as a guard; I want him for a pet.” He pushed some persuasion into his voice.
Relief crossed the human’s face. “In that case, I’d be happy to let you have him. He needs a good home. I’d adopt him myself, but the missus said if I brought home another animal she’d put me in the doghouse.”
“We can’t have that now, can we?” he agreed amiably. Valor nodded toward the dog. “What’s his name?”
“I call him Prince.” Valor could see the human blush even in the dim lighting. “I know it’s a common name for dogs, but for some reason, it really suits him.”
“Hmmm.” Valor looked at the creature for a moment. “Let’s get Prince out of there so I can take him to his new home.”
The dog’s attention snapped to Valor when the cage door opened.
Instinctively, the shifter leapt for freedom. Before he could get far, Valor grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, preventing his escape. “Not so fast, my pretty animal.” Valor snapped a leash on the collar around Prince’s neck. He wasn’t going to let the pretty werehound escape so easily.
The dog growled his displeasure.
“I’ve never seen him growl before, even when we put salve on his open wounds,” the keeper said in a worried tone.
“He’ll be fine.” Valor petted the werehound behind his ear ignoring the beast’s glare.
“You be a good boy, Prince, and Mr Valor will take good care of you.” The keeper placed a sloppy kiss on Prince’s head. Valor hid his amusement when the shifter rumbled his annoyance over the human’s sappy affection.
“Don’t worry about Prince. He’ll have a happy life at my side,” Valor assured the human.
The werehound gave a low, disgruntled bark.
Valor jerked his leash. “Behave, boy.”
“Don’t make me bite you,” the words whispered into Valor’s head.
“Don’t think that can’t work both ways.” Valor chuckled. Not the least bit fooled, he watched as the werehound lowered his head submissively. The young shapeshifter had more tricks than a circus pony. It didn’t escape Valor’s notice that the isolation cage Prince slept in was three times larger than the other animals’ or that he had a padded bed and prime dog food not seen in the other cages. This was one puppy who liked his luxuries.
Valor stroked a hand across the werehound’s back and felt a strange, soothing sensation go through him from the contact. Valor’s old age made him susceptible to blood rage. Anger festered inside him, and the urge to kill everyone built up over time. Most vamps his age went mad from pure fury and eventually were put down by their brethren to preserve the vampire society’s secrets. There were only a few other vamps his age who had yet to succumb.
He scratched the animal’s ears and felt a ripple of pleasure. Not desire, but pure, unadulterated joy. It buried his eternal fury with a blanket of simple contentment that had him smiling.
What in the hell was that?
The pup tilted his head at him, a universal doggy look of inquiry.
“Did you feel that?” Valor sent the question to Prince telepathically.
The werehound sounded young. Although the shifter was a full-grown dog, he might still be a child in human years.
“Come, let’s get you home.” He gently pulled on the leash.
“And the others, sir?” Stephan asked deferentially.
Valor stroked the golden head beneath his hand. “Hmmm. Yes, of course, the others, too.”
With a tug, he led Prince through the corridor of cages. He could feel the creature’s desire for escape, and he was oddly reluctant to let him go. Although there was generally bad blood between the two species, when he’d heard the shifter’s voice in his head, instead of feeling smug at the young creature’s predicament, Valor had felt sympathy. However, he wasn’t empathetic enough to let the kid go before he saw him in his human form.
They walked to the limo in silence.
“Put the dogs in the truck,” he ordered the human he brought to drive the dogs back. The large, four-wheel drive truck parked behind the limo had more than enough room for the animals he’d picked out.
The driver held out his hand for Prince’s leash.
“Not this one.” Valor yanked the lead out of reach. Possessiveness filled him as he triple-wrapped the length around his hand. “I’ll take him with me.”
“Into the limousine?” Stephan asked, his voice betraying his horror. “What if he pees in there or, worse, gets dog hair on everything?”
Valor smirked. Stephan was a good backup man, but he had an overwhelming concern for his clothing.
“Trust me, my dog is not going to pee in the limo.”
“You better not,” he sent silently to Prince.
“And the dog hair?”
“You can change when we get home.” Valor didn’t care what happened to his clothing.
Someone would clean it.
Stephan stared at him in disbelief, but Valor didn’t dare break his gaze. He’d be damned if he let the other vamp make him back down.
Stephan looked away first.
“I don’t know why we have to take the damned dog with us,” Stephan muttered as he opened the limousine door for Valor.
“Get in, boy.”
The werehound balked at the order, giving Valor an insolent glare before putting just his head inside the vehicle. After a careful sniff at the limo’s interior, the golden animal jumped in and settled on the seat. Valor scooted in beside him, leaving Stephan the opposite bench.
“Can’t he sit on the floor?”
Prince growled. “Can we put a muzzle on him?”
The words, whispered through Valor’s mind, made him laugh.
“No, he can’t sit on the floor.” He ignored Stephan’s startled look.
Idly he stroked the soft fur. The same feeling of calm filled him, wiping away the constant worries that weighed on him as the leader of his people.
“I thought you only liked dogs as guards. I quote, ‘animals are only good if they are useful’.”
“This one is useful.” Valor stroked the Prince’s head. “He calms me.”
A strange expression crossed Stephan’s face. “Then by all means, let’s get a dozen.”
Valor smiled, tension pouring off him like water. He couldn’t remember feeling this good…ever.
The miles flew by, but it remained quiet in the limo. Finally, Stephan broke the silence. “What are you going to name him?”
Valor looked at the werehound.
“Caden,” the soft voice whispered in his head.
“Caden,” he repeated. “I’m going to name him Caden.”
“Any particular reason? That’s kind of a strange name for a dog.”
Valor pulled gently on the werehound’s ears. “It suits him.”
Stephan sighed. “If you say so, but the others are going to wonder about your new pet.”
“Let them.” Valor wasn’t giving up his shifter. His fingers sank possessively into the fur as he scratched the pup’s back. Caden’s gold eyes crossed, and his long pink tongue stuck out from the pleasure.
As they approached the gates to his estate, the iron barrier swung open in response to the sensor mounted on the car. With his mind on the werehound, Valor examined the grounds with new eyes. There was plenty of room for a pack of dogs, but he wondered if werekin had different needs.
“Do you think you’ll have enough room to run?” he asked the animal.
Caden lifted his head and surveyed the view outside.
“Yes.” He gave a soft bark.
Stephan shook his head in amusement, but Valor pretended to ignore him. His people would have to get used to him talking to his dog. Valor had a feeling it would be a constant event for as long as he could convince Caden to stay with him.
They exited the limo with Valor keeping a tight grip on the leash. He could feel Caden bunching his thick muscles to make a run for it.
“No, you don’t.” He reeled the animal in tight. “You belong to me now.”
Eager to see what his pup looked like in human form, Valor all but ran up the steps to his mansion. Keeping a firm grip on the leash, he brushed past his people and continued straight toward the upper floor that contained his rooms.
“Master,” Cella called out in her bell-like voice. “Aren’t you going to introduce us to your werekin pet?”
Valor stopped in his tracks and turned around. The look of shock on Stephan’s face was almost worth the irritation of not going straight to his rooms.
“This is Caden. I am going to take him to my chambers and get to know him.”
There were a few chuckles in the crowd.
“Can I have him when you’re done?” He recognized Donaldo’s voice. Before his mind processed his movement, he was holding Donaldo in the air by his throat with his free hand. Squeezing hard, he watched with satisfaction as Donaldo’s eyes bulged from the pressure. Anger roared through him, energizing his body and enhancing his power.
“If you ever think of touching, tasting, or even looking at my werehound, I will tear you apart and feast on your entrails. Is that clear enough for you?”
“Y-y-e-e-s-s,” Donaldo hissed out through his constricted throat.
Fierce anger gripped Valor as he threw Donaldo over the crowd and slammed him into the far wall. Throwing back his head, Valor screamed a raw, primal sound. They would recognize him as master, or he would kill them all. A dark haze covered his vision as rage carried him off toward madness.
Slim, callused fingers slipped between his, instantly draining his anger like a whirlpool sucking away the excessive emotions gripping his soul.
Valor let out a slow breath. As his vision cleared, he saw his entire household kneeling before him.
“It’s all right,” a soft, sultry voice whispered beside him. “I’m pretty sure they know who’s in charge.”
Turning, Valor looked down at the young man who barely reached the top of his shoulder. Shaggy, caramel-colored hair framed a flawless face and a pair of stunning gold eyes that sparkled with bits of emerald and ruby. High cheekbones, a pointed chin, and lush, kissable lips shifted Valor’s rush of fury into a tsunami of desire. The only thing that stopped the man beside him from appearing feminine was the aura of masculine power oozing from him like the finest aphrodisiac.
Valor’s canines elongated and moisture pooled in his mouth. Unable to stop himself, he lifted the young werehound and plunged his teeth into the tender jugular of Caden’s neck.
“Oh, fuck,” he heard the werehound curse. He would have to tell the young man that swearing wasn’t allowed, but later, when he wasn’t overwhelmed by Caden’s amazing flavor. Never had anyone’s blood tasted so powerful and vibrant, like he was sipping from the pool of life.
Enthralled, it wasn’t until he heard the slowing of the younger man’s heart that he lifted his mouth and lapped at the wound to close it, only to find it had already healed.
“Wow.” The soft exclamation sent shivers of need up and down Valor’s spine.
“Are you all right?” Valor asked even though he could hear Caden’s heart pick back up to a normal beating rhythm.
The werehound had remarkable recovery time. A human would have been out for days with that kind of blood loss.
“I’m fine,” was Caden’s soft reply.
Valor felt incredible. Power filled his veins with the strength of Caden’s blood, and his head felt clear and calm. It wasn’t until that moment he realized how foggy his thinking had become. He glanced at the other vampires kneeling on the floor but quickly returned his focus to the werehound in his grip.
Licking his lips, he regarded the gorgeous creature beside him. Something about this small, sexy shapeshifter spun his senses.
“Come, let’s go to my suite.”