Henry’s painful past had him keeping everyone at a distance. Settling into life in the pack was the only thing keeping him sane. When a broken-hearted wolf with the shape of a human comes seeking sanctuary, Henry can’t resist.
Dakota had never wished to be human. The victim of a mad scientist Dakota had transformed from a happy wolf to a miserable man. Will the big scarred chef be able to make everything all right or will he always long for his four-pawed form.
Lorus Korl looked at the vial of blood, examining it for flaws.
After a year of careful research and experimentation, he’d finally found the perfect animal test subject. All the results corroborated the small, white wolf in his cage had a shifter somewhere in his family tree. Looking over at the beautiful creature who watched him with uncomprehending blue eyes, Lorus almost felt sorry for it, but science deserved no boundaries. Besides, the fae kingdom couldn’t be overthrown with only the meager amount of mutants he currently had under his control, and the pool for conversion kept getting smaller.
“Sorry, pal, but you’re the next step now that those damned shifters are starting to avoid me.” He’d exhausted most of his genetic master list to find this particular animal. Alerted to his experiments, full shifters were now guarding their more distant cousins. Except this guy, he was an anomaly. Lorus had captured the entire pack, because indications said they might have genetic material to convert to mutants.
This wolf was one of a handful left.
Setting the blood sample aside, he reached into the mini-fridge and pulled out the conversion liquid. If this worked like it should, the little wolf would soon be a large mutant.
Punching a needle through the serum’s vial, he pulled back the plunger and filled the cavity with yellow fluid. Holding the needle carefully, he indicated to his helpers to grab the wolf.
One of his mutants reached in to grab the animal. The wolf whimpered as they put him on the operating table. Its claws scrabbled for purchase. “Shhh, little guy.” Lorus pushed a bit of calming magic at the creature. It would be too difficult to inject the wolf if he moved around. With careful precision, he plunged the needle into the meaty part of the wolf’s thigh.
It let out a high yelp.
“Put him in the big cage,” Lorus ordered. “We’ll name him Dakota.” After all, they found him in that particular state.
If the wolf turned out as big as he hoped, they’d need a larger cage for this new strain of soldier. Giving a triumphant smile to his assistant, he tossed the needle in the sharps container.
“Should I get the next wolf prepared?”
Ah, Blake, one of Lorus’ greatest successes. Blake was one of the few Lorus bothered to know, the mutant was a good second in command, making sure everything went smoothly.
“No. Let’s see what happens with this one. We don’t want to inject a bunch of wolves at once before we know their reaction time.”
“What are you going to do if he transforms?” Blake asked.
“Start a new army. A few hundred mutants are no match for the king’s fae forces. We must recruit others to our cause. You were the first step. This wolf is our next. Then we need to persuade more shifters of the benefit of being a mutant. If I can convert at least one werekin pack, I’ll have the upper hand. I’m hoping to get the Moon pack on board. Once I depose King Linnel, I’m going to need a new figurehead. Anthony Carrow will be the perfect king, and once I have his mate under my control, he won’t be able to say no.”
The beauty of controlling Silver would be having a ready-made pack to convert and holding the desired king by the short hairs. “Yes, Anthony will be perfect.” Whistling under his breath, Lorus leaned over his chemistry set, ready to make more serum.
* * * *
He woke up shivering, with no fur.
A whimper escaped his throat like a trapped fox with nowhere to go. Where was his coat?
“Shhh, take it easy,” a deep voice murmured.
The sound calmed him a bit. He understood what the poor almost-wolf said. Blinking, he tried to adjust to the bright world around him. “Wh-what’s going on?”
“You can talk!” The mutant leaned close to the cage. “Your name is Dakota. Listen to me very carefully. If you want to survive, this is what you’re going have to do…”
Henry Moon slid a pecan pie into the oven and closed the door. He knew his boss’ mate, Anthony Carrow, would give him a pleased smile when the demigod got a look at the dessert for the night; it was his favorite. If the alpha mate worked late, well, Henry would send it by courier to his office. As the main cook at the pack house, Henry took his responsibilities seriously.
He had heard Silver Moon, the pack leader, telling Anthony to hire an assistant. Henry hoped the alpha mate listened. Silver might be the wolf alpha, but Anthony could just as easily take someone down and do it with a charming smile. The demigod used his charisma to coax people to do things his way while Silver used the strength of his alpha abilities to bend others to his will.
Henry rubbed his neck, pleased at the slight tingle. A few months ago, Anthony learned he could place a lightning bolt brand on pack members to call them to him in times of trouble. Last night, Henry had requested Anthony mark him. Anthony complied, knowing how much Henry needed to feel like he belonged with the pack. Now Henry felt like one of the family. Not the pack. If he could, Henry would leave his wolf part behind forever. Being a wolf had never brought him anything but scars and grief. However, the Moon pack was more than a group of wolves, they were a family who took care of each other and supported their community as a group. Henry could do enough to pay back the people who took him in when he was battered and broken.
Silver had saved him.
When the Moon pack alpha discovered Henry’s former pack leader’s abusive ways, Silver had dismantled the entire pack and allowed Henry to kill the alpha himself. For that act alone, Silver would always hold a special place in Henry’s heart, even if Henry felt more comfortable around Anthony.
In general, Henry stayed away from the others unless they needed something to eat. He wasn’t a recluse, he mingled with others when they came to the kitchen, but he didn’t go up to the club. Ever. The feel of hundreds of bodies surrounding him on all sides brought back memories better left in the past or during bedtime nightmares.
Anthony offered to find him a therapist who specialized in shifters, but Henry refused. He couldn’t discuss his past; talking about his time in his old pack made the memories too real. He preferred them shoved into the farthest corner of his mind, even if they did occasionally escape and visit him in his dreams. Pushing things below the surface had to be all right sometimes. No one gave memory suppression the credit it deserved.
A knock at the back door pulled his mind away from his maudlin thoughts. Occasionally, pack members came through the rear kitchen entrance to grab a snack and avoid the madness of the busy club. Not that he blamed them, but they didn’t always pick a convenient time.
Sighing, Henry wiped off his hands before walking around the counter and pulling open the outside door. He half-expected to see the big tiger shifter, Dare, who came through the back entrance most often.
“I swear I’m going to get you a key to wear around your neck,” Henry grumbled good-naturedly. He could never stay mad at Dare. The big lunk had a kind nature and a ready smile for anyone who crossed his path, unlike Dare’s cranky mate, Steven.
Swinging the door open, he froze.
There wasn’t a tiger on his doorstep, but two men who were an odd study of contrasts. One man, tall with brown hair and black eyes, wore worn jeans and a T-shirt and smelled vaguely of bird. The second, smaller man reeked of wolf with his white hair, arctic blue eyes, and blue scrubs.
The bird-scented man spoke first. “I’m Leif, a friend of Dare’s. I found this wolf and didn’t know where else to take him. I called Dare, and he said to bring him here. Anthony and Silver are on their way. The guy says his name is Dakota.”
Dakota looked so cold that his skin tone almost overtook his eyes in its intensity of blueness.
“Come in.” Henry was more than happy to let the sad-eyed creature into his kitchen. Although he would’ve let the poor shivering man in anyway, Henry let out a sigh of relief, glad he didn’t have to worry about Silver’s response to letting a strange wolf in his territory. “Have a seat. I’ll get you something to eat.”
Leif shook his head. “I can’t stay. I just wanted to make sure Dakota was safe before I left. I’ve got an appointment.”
“Oh, all right. I’ll watch out for him.” Henry couldn’t very well toss the wolf shifter outside. Shivers racked the blond man’s body as he stood in the heated kitchen.
Henry absently stroked the shaking wolf’s head. He stopped when he realized his actions were not only too familiar but that Dakota’s head wasn’t covered in hair, but fur. How was that even possible? Every shifter he’d ever known had always shifted completely back to human. Sure, they could change hands to claws if needed, but hair always converted back.
Henry took another sniff. The smaller man smelled of the rain outside, wolf, and an additional elusive scent Henry found overwhelmingly appealing.
Oh no. He wouldn’t go there. He couldn’t be the small wolf’s mate. He had too many scars in his mind and on his body to be a good match for any man. Henry stepped away from the tempting Dakota.
“Tell Dare to call me if he needs anything more,” Leif said
Henry gave him an odd look. “Will do.”
There was an odd awkward moment after the bird shifter left, and the two men stared at each other. Henry didn’t know what to do with his unusual visitor. The man didn’t smell like a shifter, human with accents of wolf. He smelled more like a wolf with hints of human.
Henry’s inner wolf nudged him again with a yip of glee. Reflexively, he stepped back from the man. Ice encased his soul. He couldn’t have a mate! He could barely take care of himself, and from the looks of the shivering man before him, the smaller guy needed a lot of care. Not to mention the hospital scrubs didn’t inspire any confidence. The man could be an escapee from a mental hospital for all Henry knew.
“What are you?”
“I am a wolf,” the man said in halting English.
“Not like any wolf shifter I’ve ever seen,” Henry replied.
Dakota shook his head. “Not a shifter, a wolf.”
Henry stared at the stranger for a moment, unable to think of a response to Dakota’s announcement. He went into default mode. “Are you hungry?” Everything was better with a full stomach.
Dakota gave a hesitant nod.
“Let’s feed you, then we’ll figure out what to do.”
A slight smile covered the other man’s face, making Henry’s heart patter in his chest. Damn, he needed to get Dakota out of his kitchen before his wolf forced him to do something irreversible like mate with the confused man.
Henry pulled a rare steak from the refrigerator. After warming it slightly on his grill, he presented it to Dakota. Without waiting for a knife and fork, the man picked the meat up with his hands and ripped it apart with his teeth. Seconds later, there was no sign of the steak.
“Do you want another one?”
A blush crossed the man’s cheeks. “No, thank you.” Dakota’s pink tongue came out, swiping the cow’s blood from his mouth. Henry’s cock hardened so fast he had to hold back a groan. Dakota licked his lips again, and Henry swallowed a moan as lust clouded his thought process.
“Um. Let me put this away.” Snatching up the plate, he rushed over to the dishwasher and set it inside with the other dishes before adding detergent and starting the machine. He needed the distraction because his wolf was more than ready to come out and play, and by play, his wolf meant jump on the sexy man and claim him as his mate.
The door slammed open then Silver and Anthony walked in.
“Is this Dakota?” Anthony asked, his eyes lit with curiosity.
Silver growled at the other man until Dakota tilted his head in submission. The white-haired wolf’s scent reeked of terror at seeing the large alpha, and Henry’s inner animal gave a protective growl. Unfortunately, he did it out loud.
When Silver’s eyes flashed his way, Henry immediately tilted his neck submissively. His wolf would get him in trouble over a man he didn’t even know. It didn’t matter if he suspected Dakota was his mate, Henry wouldn’t ruin his life over anyone he just met. He didn’t relax until Silver turned his attention back to Dakota.
“I-I’m sorry. I didn’t know where to go. The bird shifter told me he called, and it was all right for me to come here. I smelled wolves and thought you’d be like me. I mean, I didn’t t-think,” Dakota stammered. The man turned so pale Henry thought he was going to pass out.
“Take it easy,” Anthony said, walking over to the man.
Henry felt the jolt of Anthony’s magic as the alpha mate examined and soothed the stranger.
Anthony’s eyes were wide as he turned back to Silver. “He’s not a shifter. He’s a wolf forced into a human body.”
“What do you mean?” Henry blurted out the question, unable to resist finding out more about the mysterious man who’d just wandered into his life.
“It means he’s really a wolf with the genetic code to be a human instead of a human with the genetic code to be a wolf,” Anthony said, stepping back from the other man. “Who did this to you?”
“I don’t know. My pack was captured and caged. They separated me from the others and put me in a white room with a metal table. My paws froze from the cold surface while I waited. A man came into the room, he smelled different. Not good. I remember him saying things I didn’t understand, then there was a sharp pain. When I woke up, I was alone and human. The only other people I saw before I escaped were mutants.”
“Would you recognize the man who stabbed you if you saw him again?” Anthony asked.
Dakota shrugged. “Maybe.”
“Do you think it’s the scientist?” Silver asked his mate.
“Possibly.” Anthony stared at Dakota so intently Henry wanted to rush over and intervene; he trusted the alpha mate, but his stare could be unsettling.
“I’m thinking if they discovered some wolves with suppressed human genetics, then Korl would love to get his hands on one. With the word out on the street to travel in groups, he must be having a harder time snatching werekin. What if he’s turning to natural animals? Those that might have a shifter somewhere in their family tree.”
“How is it you can speak?” Silver asked, his hard gaze unmoving from the shivering wolf.
Dakota shrugged. “I lived in a reserve, but the gamekeepers came by every once in a while. I picked up their language but couldn’t speak it.”
Anthony patted him on the arm. “I’m sure they did, but I think the reason you can talk is part of the transformation. Werekin can understand wolves when they transform. There’s no reason a wolf couldn’t understand humans. The shift isn’t completely biological; there’s also a magical element involved.”
“Can’t you just change him back?” Silver asked his mate. “You changed back the mutants.”
Anthony shook his head. “He’s like Gabe. I couldn’t revert the trigger of Gabe’s genetics to wolf, only the mutation. I think Dakota’s human genetics were triggered, but for some reason they dumped him after injecting him with the mutation.”
“Why would they dump him? They killed the others Korl experimented on in the fae realm,” Silver argued.
“Maybe he was in a hurry.” Henry’s wolf shifted restlessly beneath the surface, pacing with the need to protect his mate, even as his human-half fought the urge to bond with the smaller wolf.
Dakota broke into the conversation going around him. “They didn’t dump me. I escaped. My cuffs weren’t properly secured the last time Blake brought me food. It was surprisingly easy.”
Anthony turned to Silver. “Blake was also the mutant who told Gabe he couldn’t be re-mutated because he had a mate. He’s oddly helpful for the enemy.”
“Maybe there’s more than one reason Dakota so easily escaped.” Silver examined Dakota with his cold, gray eyes as if he could see straight into Dakota’s soul. “If it’s the same mutant, I’m not sure whose side he’s on. He didn’t fight us last time, but he says he’s in charge of the mutants who’ve been militant in the past. We need to discover more about Blake and find out if he is truly the leader, and if he is, what he’s up to. No offense, Dakota, but you might be a mutant plant whether you know it or not.” Silver growled, his hand curling as if he wished he could get hold of the mutant and ask his questions directly.
“Calm down, honey. It isn’t Dakota’s fault.” Anthony smiled encouragingly at the smaller man. “The question is what do we do with Dakota now?”
Tears filled Dakota’s eyes, and he started to tremble. “I-I can’t shift back.”
Anthony gave him a sympathetic smile. “I don’t think that’s a permanent problem. We’ll know at the next full moon tomorrow night. You might need a stronger trigger since your shift is a little different than everyone else’s, but we won’t know until you try to change.” Anthony turned to the chef. “Henry, maybe you could find Dakota a place to sleep. I’m sure once he’s had some rest, and a few good meals, he’ll feel better.”
Henry nodded. “I have a spare room he can use.” He gave Anthony a grateful smile. Henry wasn’t completely convinced Silver wouldn’t have tossed the wolf out without his alpha mate standing there. Even Henry had to admit if he were the pack alpha, he might not have allowed Dakota inside the pack home. Dakota could be a spy, but with his shoddy cover story, Henry doubted it.
“Come on. Let’s get you to my place so you can get some rest.”