an excerpt

Chapter 1



Leland looked around and wondered what on earth he was doing trudging through the woods to Drew's place at a little after six on a Sunday morning. He knew what had caused him to don his hat, coat and gloves to stumble out of his house, but he didn't think he was wise to expect anything but a grumble and a string of swear words if he showed up at his friend's place so early. Not the ideal beginning to what would prove to be a very difficult conversation.

Sighing, Leland leaned back against one of the big trees just off the trail. Even though he was aware what had made his sleep so unsettled recently, it was the first time he'd had such a rough night. When, at last, he managed to drop off and grab some precious sleep, it was disturbed by a mixed-up dream of terrifying images, more frightening because they had a touch of truth to them.

He'd been unable to stay in bed one moment longer and was sitting downstairs drinking strong coffee not long after five. Even though he wasn't one bit rested, he didn't feel able to sit in his lonely house, listening to the clock tick past each minute. He just had to get out of there. Of course, he hadn't been walking for long before he realized it wasn't the house he needed to get away from. It was his own disquiet and his footsteps taking him through Dean State Forest toward the one place he felt he would normally find some peace. Drew could always be relied upon to make him feel better, and Leland had long since stopped trying to decide why that was. He simply accepted it gratefully. He prayed he wouldn't lose that when Drew finally knew the truth.

Yet, he knew there was no way he could disturb Drew so early. He'd been a fool to think otherwise. He shoved his hands farther down into his pockets and turned back toward home. He would have to postpone his talk with Drew until later. Even as the thought occurred, he wished it didn't have to be so, but keeping the truth locked away inside all this time hadn't helped -- not really. Perhaps fate had decided enough was enough and given him that proverbial kick on the backside, letting him know it was time to tell Drew everything. He sighed. It was the last thing he wanted, but the time had come; he could put it off no longer.

He was just about to step out into a small clearing when he saw it--a large grey wolf, so dark as to be almost black. It was a beautiful specimen. Leland kept very still, not wanting to draw the animal's attention. It looked as if the wolf already trailed something by the way it behaved. Even as he watched, the wolf sniffed the air and quickened its pace. Apparently, it had found its prey. As Leland slipped back behind the tree, shock slid through him as he spied the wolf's target. It was a man.

Leland was of two minds what to do. His immediate reaction was to shout a warning, but that could induce the wolf to attack sooner. Cursing himself for being a fool, Leland ran as quietly and swiftly as he could around the clearing toward the unsuspecting victim. Sliding to a halt behind a large tree, Leland saw the wolf lowering itself, as if getting set to spring. Leland opened his mouth to yell a warning, but the man was not as unaware as Leland assumed. The man spun to face the wolf, snarling and growling as he tore the clothes from his body. Leland, his mouth still hanging open, watched in total shock.

Almost too fast for Leland to follow, the man's form shifted and changed. From two feet, he dropped to all fours, fingers and toes becoming sharp claws. His pale skin sprouted dark brown fur as his face elongated and his teeth became sharp points frothed with saliva.

The two wolves leaped at each other, meeting mid-flight to clash and fall to the earth, landing on steady feet, teeth bared as they snarled at each other. They circled, gazes locked, until they charged again.

Leland gripped the tree so tightly the bark dug into his palms as he watched the two animals fight it out. He was battling the urge to run for safety, not sure if the wolves would break apart and come after him instead. His body was telling him to stay where he was, hopefully well and truly hidden, but his brain debated how safe it would be when one of the animals won and sensed a new victim nearby. Even though he knew one of them was, in fact, a man who had changed--shifted?--into a wolf, Leland found it hard to think of it as anything but an animal. He certainly wasn't behaving like a human as he bit and tore at the other wolf's hide. Leland also wondered what sort of condition the man-wolf would be in, assuming he survived the fight. His body was already streaked with blood from the attack.

It appeared the two wolves were well matched; neither seemed able to gain the upper hand in the battle. The dark grey wolf suddenly leaped and landed hard on the man-wolf's back and he let out a howl, which soon turned into a snarl as he fought his way from beneath the dark grey animal. With a snap of his jaws and a growl, the man-wolf turned and ran for the cover of the trees opposite where Leland was hiding. The dark grey wolf tensed, as if to follow, before it limped a few steps back, eyes constantly searching the surrounding trees to ensure the other wolf didn't return. After a few minutes, the wolf sat on its haunches and began to lick at its wounds.

Leland allowed himself to relax a little, deciding it was best he stay where he was. He was pretty sure the wolf would sneak off to its den as soon as the animal felt secure enough to move on. He kept a close eye on it, not allowing his caution to slide, though after a minute or so, he did wonder if perhaps he was more shocked than he'd thought or if maybe he was more tired than he'd realized and his vision was affected. He couldn't be seeing what he thought; he couldn't!

But as he watched Drew Horton climb to his feet from where a second ago a dark grey wolf had sat, still rubbing at the long gash on his thigh, Leland could no longer refute what his eyes showed him.

Unable to move, even if he'd wanted to since his limbs refused to react to the panicked instructions issuing from his confused mind, Leland watched as Drew shook out first one leg, then the other, shaking out the injured leg a second time, as if to be sure it would hold him. Leland still managed to admire the beautiful image the naked Drew presented and he couldn't help but recall that was exactly the word he'd used to describe the animal when he'd first seen the large dark grey wolf: beautiful. And it sure fit Drew. Six feet one inches tall, with hair black as night, except for the few strands of silver already showing at his temples; it was normal in his family for hair to go grey early. Drew's eyes were also grey, but that dusky grey of a storm at sea.

Leland's musing came to an abrupt end as Drew must have decided all was well with his leg because he turned and ran off in the direction of his home, leaving a confused Leland to gaze after him.

As Leland stared after his friend, his immediate reaction was to follow him, but then he realized he wouldn't know what to say or how to broach the subject. How do you ask a thirty-one-year-old you've known since he was eight, if you really saw him change back from being a wolf? It sounded so crazy now that he stood there alone in the early morning light. Had he really seen what he thought he had? Not only two men shift into vicious animals, but one of them his oldest friend?

Shaking his head in disbelief, Leland slowly turned away, heading back to his place. Perhaps there, in his own territory, he could get his head around what he really saw.

****

Drew slammed the door behind him and hurried toward his bathroom. The wolf part helped him fight the cold slicing through him as he'd made his way home, but his human body was desperately in need of heat. As usual, he'd left his clothes in the outhouse on the edge of his property, but this time he bypassed them to get home as soon as he could to check out his wounds. He'd never been hurt like that before and he was unnerved.

He turned on the shower, stepping under it as soon as it was hot. He sucked in a breath as the hot water hit his icy skin, sighing as the warmth slowly spread through his body. He was relieved to see his injuries were healing well and would likely be gone by the time he was dried and dressed. As soon as he felt wholly human again, he got out of the shower, wrapped himself in a big bath towel and headed for the main room. The fire was banked, but he quickly threw a few logs onto it, knowing it would soon be blazing.

Then he hurried to his bedroom, where he rubbed himself down with the towel before getting dressed. He hastened to the kitchen and was soon back in front of the fire warming his hands around his coffee mug. He sat on the rug, leaning back against his sofa and staring into the flames as they danced before him. When had his life become so complicated? He tipped his head back and stared at the ceiling. He knew the answer and hated it.

He closed his eyes and allowed the images to form...let the memory flow. For a time, he'd fought against the recollection, as if trying to forget could change anything. Then he learned the power of those memories and drawing on them kept him focused. Part of him hated that so much of his energy was centered on the need for revenge, but even his human side accepted James should pay for what he'd done; for what he might do to some other unsuspecting soul who let his defenses down enough to trust him. Though Drew couldn't deny his own culpability, he'd gone looking for someone strong and sexy he could lose himself in. His mistake had been in choosing James.

Drew remembered walking into Pascoe's Club in Huntington that Friday night, same as he did about every four to six weeks when his itch needed a particular kind of scratching. He'd argued with Leland that afternoon, nothing dramatic, but it was the last straw after a particularly demanding week and Drew knew what he required. He wished it was something he could share with Leland, but that day seemed as far off as ever.

Pascoe's was busy, full of men drinking and dancing. Men of every description imaginable, some of them half-naked; bears and twinks sprinkled among the heaving crowd. Drew got himself a beer and leaned against the end of the bar, scanning the crowd for a likely prospect. A man approached him, and Drew hoped he was interested because Drew certainly was; a tall, well-built guy, but not overtly so. Drew liked his men muscular but well balanced. This one had dark brown hair, longish with a lock falling over his eyes--green Drew thought, though it was hard to tell in the dim light.

"Hi," the guy said. "Name's James. Wanna dance?" His gaze swept over Drew and he grinned, adding, "Or perhaps something a bit more exciting?"

Drew returned the grin. "What you got in mind?"

James moved closer and whispered, "Depends how far you're willing to go."

Drew told the guy his name and they got the feel of each other in the club's bathroom before James suggested they split the cost for one of the private rooms in the club. Drew couldn't deny the sex had been great and James was as accommodating as Drew himself. They both liked to switch and it was a very successful night, so much so they agreed to a rematch. They met again a couple of weeks later and rented a room.

Drew found the second session hotter than the first. James was more aggressive this time, but it only ramped up Drew's need until he was begging James for more, harder. James was only too happy to oblige. Drew discovered James liked to use his tongue -- everywhere. Drew had never been rimmed so thoroughly before. Then Drew found himself flat on his back, his ankles on James' shoulders as James drove deeply into him, Drew moaning as each thrust brushed his prostate.

James smiled at him, and Drew couldn't help but think the man looked positively feral. When James leaned down and kissed his neck, Drew's gaze met James' as the kiss turned to a nibble and then a lick. Drew arched his neck, giving James better access as he pounded inside Drew. Then James growled. The sound sent shivers along Drew's spine. James licked him once more and then abruptly bit Drew's neck, and Drew shuddered. James lifted his head, and Drew saw the look of need wash over James, but James wasn't looking at his face. He was staring at Drew's neck and Drew guessed he hadn't realized he'd bit him until he saw the mark.

"No worries," Drew said, but James didn't respond, just licked his lips instead.

Suddenly, Drew was transported as James drove into his ass with such passion, such power. He'd never felt anything like it. Without warning James bit him again, and this time it hurt so much that Drew cried out, panicking as he felt the heat of his blood slide down his neck. Drew reared up to push James away, but James hung on, hands digging into Drew's shoulders as his teeth clung to Drew's neck. Drew cried out again, screaming James' name and thumping his back. James climaxed inside Drew, but Drew's cock had deflated due to the pain and fear coursing through him.

James flopped down on the bed beside him, gasping for breath, a wide smile on his face.

"What the fuck was that?" Drew demanded, his hand going to his neck and coming away bloody. He stared at the red mess on his hand, hardly believing what he saw.

"I lost control," James said. "Didn't mean that. I shouldn't have--" He stopped. "Don't make a fuss. A bandage and you'll be fine."

"What the hell do you mean, I'll be fine?" Drew demanded, still angry, but James wouldn't be drawn out.

James got dressed quickly and headed for the door. "Fuck! I didn't hurt you that bad. So you didn't get off this time. You've had lots of fun."

"Fun? You nearly tore my neck out!"

"Jesus, it was a bite, a love bite!" Shrugging James added, "So, I got a bit carried away. Sorry. I admit I shouldn't have bitten you. But get off my back!"

Drew just stared at him, not sure what to say. James had apologized and admitted he got carried away. Drew had never been fucked so...so fiercely and he'd really been getting off on it until James went too far and bit him.

Drew held up his hands. "Okay, okay. I know it wasn't intentional, but you gotta admit--"

"The sex was so damn hot, I couldn't help it," James interrupted with a grin. Drew shrugged, and James added, "So, in a couple of weeks?"

"Maybe," Drew was feeling a little too edgy to agree just like that.

"I'll be here either way. I'll look out for you." James whistled as he left.

Drew collapsed back on the bed, heart still pounding, confused as to why he still felt so...confused. He glanced at the clock on the wall and saw he still had a half-hour before he needed to vacate the room. He took a few deep breaths to try to calm down and gradually things returned to normal. Drew knew he'd been angry at James, but was surprised his body had reacted so strongly to James' ministrations before he bit him for the second time. He went to the small bathroom to clean up, then he dressed and left.

It wasn't until ten days later that Drew learned things hadn't returned to normal at all. His life would never be normal again.