WELCOME TO ALPHAVILLE, where the she-wolves and alpha-males play. . .for keeps.
Renny Landry is a wolf on the run. Pursued by a shapeshifting stalker and his slobbering pack of killer coyotes, she is forced to flee her job as a librarian to find sanctuary in the wooded hills of Alpha, Washington. A well-secluded safe space for troubled shifters, Alpha is Renny’s last hope. But the first person she meets there is a gorgeous alpha male with fiery eyes, fierce tattoos, and one ferocious appetite—for her…
Mick Fischer thought he left his past behind when he moved to Alpha. But fate has a way of biting him in the tail when a female wolf shows up on his property. Wounded, desperate—and disarmingly hot—Renny brings out the snarling, protective alpha beast in Mick like no other woman he’s known. Can these two haunted, hunted wolves manage to mate for life…even as the deadliest past demons howl at their heels?
Worldbuilding: I love the sense of community that Alphaville, Washington gives me. There’s some small town magic going on.
Characters: Renny’s entrance is exciting and suspenseful. Plus she’s a librarian. Add those things, and you have instant girl-crush material. I mean, how much cuter could she be?
Mick is a grumpy hot alpha who lost his first mate years ago, plus he’s a famous graphic novelist, with hot tattoos and everything. Hello, book boyfriend! And he’s got a stellar snarky personality. I mean, come on! I loved his dynamics with Zeke and Jaeger too. The whole cast is really good.
The pair had instant chemistry, hotness galore. I love this animal magnetism thing xD
Plot: The trope is a really cool twist on the insta-mates/reluctant werewolf mate, since the reluctant one is the guy here. You can imagine how much tension there was in the story, with the stalker part very active and engaging too.
Writing: Third person, past tense narrative, his/her POV. I actually enjoyed Mick’s voice more – the man is a riot! A grumpy riot aka the best kind.
Curb Appeal: Cool cover, hooking blurb – werewolves PNR impulsive buy material.
I recommend Baby, I’m Howling For You to fans of PNR that involves groups/communities of cool characters, nice action outside of the romance, and insta-mate stories with a nice twist.
The valiant old Nissan ran out of gas thirteen miles short of her destination. Renny would ponder the irony of that number some other time. Right now, she needed to run, and run fast.
She jumped from the car the minute it stopped moving, abandoning the vehicle on the shoulder of the two-lane highway. Before she reached the tree line, she was already tearing off her shirt, ignoring the chilly bite of the pre-spring March air. She threw the garment aside and immediately reached for the button of her jeans. She continued to hop forward as she struggled out of the confining denim, but the minute that last restriction fell away, she shifted.
Fur replaced skin, arms became forelegs. Between desperate breaths, humanity slid away, and in the place of the panicked woman, a sleek red wolf began to weave through the trunks of the trees.
Her claws dug through the lingering patches of wet, heavy snow and soft leaf litter to the soil of the forest floor, flinging small clumps of mud into the air in her wake. She needed to put as much distance as she could between herself and her pursuers. She might not have seen them on her tail from the highway, but it wouldn’t take much longer. They were the reason she hadn’t been able to stop for gas for the last couple of hours. They’d already chased her across two state lines and more than five hundred miles, and that was just this time. Somehow, she couldn’t picture them giving up now.
She didn’t bother to think about what she’d left behind on the roadside. If the pack caught up to her, it wouldn’t matter whether or not someone ransacked her car and stole all of her worldly possessions. She didn’t think she’d need a good book or many changes of clothes in the afterlife.
If there was such a thing. Frankly, Renny wasn’t all that anxious to find out.
Keeping her head down and her feet moving, she continued to track north and west from the roadside, calling up the map in her head to guide her in the right direction. The last road sign she’d seen had put the Snoqualmie Pass about twenty-five miles northwest by the highway. Heading directly north instead should put the town center of her destination somewhere in that thirteen-mile range, so she had to keep running. Just a little farther.
Alphaville, or die trying.
* * *
A scream of canine pain hit him like a sucker punch to the back of his head.
Mick jumped to his feet, his hand already reaching for his rifle before his mind could grasp what was bothering him. He’d lived out here in these woods long enough to have become used to the sounds they made at all hours of the day and night. He could tell a gust of wind from the rustle of the underbrush, the step of a buck deer from the footfalls of the rare moose calf.
He also knew which of the locals had the balls to run and hunt on his property in the middle of the night, and none of them had given him a heads-up about their presence. Which meant that somewhere outside his small house, he had some uninvited guests.
Cursing under his breath, Mick almost put down the rifle and flung open his door bare-handed. If the teenagers of Alpha were daring one another to play chase in his woods again, a bullet would probably be overkill. Most of them were so scared of him, he wouldn’t even have to raise his voice to send them scattering like frightened bunnies. Seeing a gun in his hand might make the little shits pass out, and then it could be hours before they got the hell off his property. Besides, that scream had indicated someone was injured. He couldn’t shoot a wounded kid, no matter how much they’d pissed him off.
A distinctive bark-howl cut off that line of thinking and had his fingers tightening around the barrel of the weapon. He recognized that sound, as out of place as it was, and it had the hair on the back of his neck standing on end. That was a coyote calling his pack to the hunt. Last time he’d checked, they didn’t have any coyotes in Alpha, let alone a pack of them. So what the hell were they doing in his woods?
He shifted his grip on the rifle and checked through the front window before opening the door and stepping out onto his unlit front porch. The room behind him remained illuminated only by the fire, but something had triggered the motion sensors that activated the spotlight near the roof. It shone onto the hard-packed dirt of the drive, but the glow managed to extend a little way across the scattered islands of lingering snow toward the edge of the woods to his right.
Mick faced that way and peered into the darkness. At first, he couldn’t see worth a damn, but his eyes adjusted quickly and his ears were already picking up the sounds of flight and pursuit through the dense northwestern forest. Two more short, sharp cries answered the first bark-howl, followed by a third and a fourth. Definitely a pack, or at least a hunting party. But what were they doing here, in Alpha, on his land?
And what the hell were they hunting?
He got his answer an instant later. A sleek, fur-covered form launched itself from the trees into the cleared area around the cabin. Reflex had the rifle to his shoulder, but instinct kept him from pulling the trigger.
The calls he’d already heard had him thinking coyote, and if the animal hadn’t landed near enough to the edge of the light, he might have kept thinking it. But something about that shape bothered him.
It looked on the large size for a ’yote, maybe seventy or seventy-five pounds, and sturdy as much as lithe, too substantial for the average coyote. Its ears seemed out of proportion to its skull, too large for the breadth of it. Then the light caught its fur, and he could see the russet coloring around its ears and neck, a rusty shade that seemed to darken to near black along its spine. That same rich red also decorated its flank near the site of a bloody tear in the muscle.
That was no coyote. It was a wolf, or a hybrid at best, half wolf and half coyote. He should recognize one when he saw it. Instinct had him drawing in a breath, and the scent cleared up his confusion. His yard had been invaded by another wolf shifter, a red wolf, he realized, and she was badly injured.
His supposition was confirmed when another shape crashed into the yard, this one lighter and leaner, looking almost delicate when he compared it with the wounded shape. This one was pure coyote shaped, and the dark, wet stains around its muzzle identified it as the cause of the female wolf’s injuries.
He squeezed the trigger almost before the reality finished registering and felt the rifle’s stock nudge back into his shoulder. The bullet grazed the side of the coyote’s shoulder, making it yelp in pain and surprise. Its head swung around, yellow gaze fixing on him for an instant before it turned tail and dove back into the cover of the trees.
Mick waited for a minute to see if any of the others in the hunting party felt like trying their luck to get to the she-wolf. Driven by the instinct to kill or mate, a regular coyote might press its luck, but a shifter would think twice. When no other animals appeared, he slowly lowered his gun and stepped down into the yard.
The female was unconscious, but her sides still heaved as if she’d been running a marathon. The sharp aroma of blood hit him first, and he knew from the way it almost overwhelmed her natural scent that she was losing a dangerous amount of it.
He also knew from one more deep inhalation that he’d been correct in identifying her species. She was more than a rare red wolf; she was a red wolf shifter, and she was in serious trouble.
He muttered the word even as he crouched down beside her, setting his rifle near his feet within easy grabbing distance. A swift rake of his gaze took in her condition—good muscle tone, healthy size, but clearly exhausted—as well as the extent of her wounds. In addition to the gash he’d noticed on her rear leg, he could see blood saturating the cream-colored fur of her belly where her side pressed against the ground.
He rolled her gently over and muttered an even stronger curse. The wound on her flank had looked ragged and bloody, but the damage to her side made it seem like a love bite.
Fangs had torn deep under her fur and opened a laceration almost as long as his forearm. It extended from just behind her shoulder, across her rib cage, and nearly to her groin. The ugly slash had been ripped open by her exertions and it continued to bleed heavily under the layer of mud and debris that now clung to the surface. Shifter or not, it looked deep enough to need stitches.
Damn it, he’d have to make a phone call.
But first things first.
He scooped the limp wolf into his arms, catching his rifle in his fingers as he rose. She flopped in his hold like a sack of grain, but he’d hauled heavier burdens on one shoulder, so the weight didn’t bother him. What bothered him was her stillness and the way she didn’t even twitch when he lifted her.
It took just a minute or two to carry her into the cabin and kick the door closed behind them. After depositing her on his sofa, he returned immediately to bolt the door and engage the security system he’d installed the first day he’d moved in. If those coyotes decided to try for her again, Mick wanted some advanced warning.
Secured inside, he strode into the hall to grab a stack of clean towels from the closet. On the way, he snagged his cell phone from the coffee table and dialed a familiar number.
Mick ignored the annoyed tone of the greeting, filled his arms with terry cloth, and returned to the sofa. “I need you out at my place. Now.”
Zeke Buchanan muttered something foul under his breath. “It’s fucking three o’clock in the morning, asshole, and I’m not on duty. Call the office.”
“I’ve got an injured shifter in my living room, and I just shot the coyote who was trying to kill her. Only grazed him, but it sounded like he had friends, and I don’t know how determined they might be. Get out here. And send an ambulance.”
He didn’t bother to listen while Zeke swore again. The snap and rustle of fabric and the squeak of mattress springs told him what he needed to know. The sheriff’s deputy would be here as soon as he got some pants on. In the meantime, Mick needed to stop the she-wolf on his sofa from bleeding to death until help arrived.
His knees hit the floor, his hands reaching to press a folded towel to the more severe of her wounds, when the air around her wavered and fell out of focus. While he blinked, the figure of a wolf blurred and shifted, leaving a petite, naked, and badly injured woman passed out in his living room.
A very attractive naked woman.
He told himself to avert his eyes, but damned if the damage hadn’t already been done. His man and wolf had already both sat up and taken notice. He could almost feel the twitch of a whiskered black nose in the back of his head as the beast pushed itself forward to take in her scent.
She smelled amazing. Under the sweet coppery note of her blood, he could detect notes of citrus and green leaves and something deeper and spicier that simply reminded him of home. He hadn’t smelled anything like it in more than eight years, not since—
He cut that speculation off at the knees—not boarding that train of thought, thanks—and made himself focus on assessing the female’s wounds.
Her change of shape had jump-started her shifter ability to heal quickly, but it would take more than one trip from fur to skin to close a wound as serious as the one on her side. The ragged gash now covered a swath of milky skin from just to the side of a pretty, pink-tipped breast, all along her torso to the crease between her hip and thigh on the right-hand side.
Dirt still clung to the torn and bloody flesh, which Mick almost found a relief. It helped pull his attention away from all the uninjured bits he could see and focus it where it needed to be—on helping her, not ogling her.
Gritting his teeth and fixing his gaze on the injury, Mick pressed a towel hard against her ribs with one hand and used the other to tuck more towels under her opposite hip where he’d seen the less serious laceration. Her weight should provide the necessary pressure to stop the bleeding on that side, but he had to lean into the deeper wound. Thank fuck she remained unconscious, because if she’d been awake, she’d probably have been screaming from the pain.
He lost track of time while he knelt there applying pressure and waiting for help to arrive. Even if Zeke floored it all the way from town, it was at least a ten-minute drive out to Mick’s place, which left way too much time for him to get a good, long look at his uninvited guest.
It made him feel like a pervert, staring at her while she remained completely out of it, but he couldn’t help himself. Something about her drew his gaze like a magnet, and he really wished his subconscious weren’t so anxious to needle him about what it was.
Her wolf looked like Beth.
A corner of his mind gave thanks that she had shifted back to her skin, because it cut the resemblance considerably, but when he’d first seen her burst out of the forest, he’d thought for one wild, insane second that his mate had come back from the dead. It had nearly stopped his heart.
The two animals had the same delicate build, the same pointed muzzles, the same creamy coloring on their chests. Beth had been a little taller, a little more muscular, but she’d been mistaken for a red wolf more than a few times in her shifted life. She hadn’t been just a hybrid—half gray wolf like him, half coyote like her father—but her looks in her furred form bore a strong resemblance to the woman who had almost died tonight in his front yard.
That was an image he had never wanted to see again—a woman bloody and broken, torn apart, and left for him to find. He’d left that nightmare behind him, buried it in California before he’d moved north and settled here in Alpha. Not even the devil himself had the power to drag him back to the town where he’d been born. Not on the coldest day in hell.
A pounding fist shook his front door in the frame, jerking Mick back to the present. His wolf sprang to attention, ready to tear out the throats of any coyote who tried to get inside his home. It took a second for him to realize that it had been long enough for Zeke to have arrived. He opened his mouth to call for his friend to come in, then remembered how he’d double-locked the door as a precaution. He’d have to go open it himself.
A quick check at the underside of the towel revealed way too much red soaked into the cotton, but the active bleeding appeared to have slowed to a trickle. At least it looked safe enough for Mick to step away for the seconds it took to disarm the alarm system and flip a couple of locks.
Zeke pushed inside almost before Mick released the dead bolt, and the aggressive move ripped a snarl from his wolf before he managed to get hold of himself. He’d known who was on the other side of the door from both the knock and the smell, but the night’s events had riled up his beast, and the wolf didn’t like another male forcing his way into its den, even if he’d been invited.
Mick smacked the animal down and stepped back to let the other man enter. “C’mon in.”
Zeke grunted and moved aside to reveal a second, much smaller form standing behind him. Molly Buchanan smiled and waved with one hand. In the other, she carried a large plastic case like her brother’s favorite tackle box, only this one was bright yellow and had a big red cross emblazoned on the lid.
“Hey, Mick,” she chirped, bouncing on her toes as if it weren’t the middle of the night and she hadn’t been dragged from her bed minutes ago to come racing out into the woods. “You called for the cavalry?”
Mick supposed that, as an EMT, racing places in the middle of the night wasn’t so odd an experience for Molly. He waved her inside. She might not be in an ambulance, but she rode in one most other nights. She’d be able to help the she-wolf.
Molly stepped inside while her brother laid a hand on Mick’s shoulder and squeezed.
“Okay,” Zeke grumbled. “Why don’t you tell me exactly what the hell is going on? Injured shifters? Coyotes? And you shot one of them? What the fuck, Mick?”
“Yeah, Mick. What the fuck?”
The third figure to appear in his front door caused the greatest surprise. John Jaeger had dropped by Mick’s house on precisely two previous occasions. The first had been a thinly veiled evaluation when he’d first arrived in town. As mayor of Alpha, Jaeger took his duty to protect and manage his town seriously. To have a new, lone wolf move in but refuse all attempts from the locals to integrate him into their community had raised an alarm for the mountain lion shifter. He had wanted to ensure that Mick didn’t intend to make trouble.
The second visit had been harder to anticipate but infinitely more entertaining. Jaeger had dropped by to return a pair of boxer briefs he had found in his truck bed after the woman he’d been seeing had borrowed the vehicle to “move some furniture.” The only thing that had gotten moved were the bodies in the bed of the pickup when she’d invited Mick out for a moonlit picnic. The boxers came with an offer to let Mick keep the woman, too, but as it turned out, neither he nor the mayor had much keeping in mind for the woman in question. They had all gone their separate ways, and the two men had never spoken of the incident again.
“Jaeger.” The growl rumbled up in Mick’s throat before he could stop it. Adrenaline still rode him enough that his beast was expressing its displeasure at both the man’s unexpected appearance in his territory and the deputy’s belligerent manner. “What are you doing here?”
The man lifted an eyebrow and jerked a thumb toward the woods behind him. “Zeke told me you had some trouble out here tonight. Something about injured strangers, coyotes, and bullets. I came to make sure it wasn’t the kind of ruckus that called for shovels.”
Molly cleared her throat loudly. “Um, not to inconvenience anyone, but I heard someone was bleeding around here. Would any of you big, strong men like to point me in that direction before the patient runs out of the red stuff? You know, if it’s no trouble.”
The lioness might be a head shorter than the smallest male in the room, but such an insignificant detail never had done much to hinder that smart mouth of hers. Mick gritted his teeth and swallowed another rumble of displeasure. His wolf seemed ready to go on a tear.
Of shifters’ throats.
“She’s in here.” He turned on his heel and led Molly and the others into the living room.
The lioness strode to the sofa and crouched in the same spot where Mick had been kneeling. In seconds, she had her fingers on the woman’s pulse and her kit open on the floor beside her. She nodded to herself, then snapped on a pair of bright blue gloves before she briskly and competently began to examine the unconscious woman’s side.
“Her temp’s a little low, but it’s cold out tonight, so I imagine that will come up on its own. That last snowfall just won’t go away, will it? The wounds look messy and painful, but not life-threatening,” Molly proclaimed, poking gingerly at the lacerated tissue. “Not for a shifter, anyway. I can clean it up and bandage it, but it should heal on its own.”
Mick scowled. “No stitches?”
“You know stitches just piss shifters off. They itch like crazy, and they pull at all sorts of weird angles when we try to shift. Bandages are better.”
She didn’t bother to look up, just reached for a bottle of clear liquid and a handful of gauze. She began irrigating the wound, washing away the mud and debris that had contaminated it when the wolf collapsed. Her calm manner and sure movements seemed to calm Mick’s wolf, and he felt himself take his first deep breath in what felt like hours. It had probably been less than twenty minutes.
Jaeger shifted his weight and stepped forward, peering over Mick’s shoulder at the injured woman. “Who is she?”
Mick shrugged one shoulder, the movement still short and tense. “No idea. She just showed up in the yard, bleeding like a butcher’s hog, and keeled over. Didn’t stop to exchange pleasantries.”
“And at what point did you find yourself shooting at strange coyotes?”
“When one of them came after her with her blood on his jaw and a few friends at his back.”
The mayor looked grim. “You sure you hit him?”
“I saw blood in the snow, and it wasn’t all hers. He yelped, too. I figure I at least grazed him.”
“It was a male?”
“The one I saw was. I didn’t see any others, but I could hear them coming through the woods. They must have backed off when they heard the gunshot.”
Zeke didn’t look up from the small pad where he’d been jotting down notes. “They were definitely shifters, not regular coyotes?”
“Like I said, I only saw the one, but I got a look at his eyes, and I got a whiff of him. He was Other, which means his buddies probably were, too.”
Jaeger agreed. “Most likely. We’ve got our share of coyotes in this state, but not many in the area around Alpha. They know they can’t compete with the bigger predators we have roaming these woods, so they tend to give us a pretty wide berth.”
“Right.” Zeke snapped his notebook shut and shoved it into a pocket. “I’m going to take a look around outside while Molly bandages up the victim. I’ll need to ask her a hell of a lot of questions, but they can wait till she’s conscious.”
“You’ll get better answers that way,” Jaeger said, mouth curving.
The lion shifter shot the mayor the bird on his way out the front door. The other man just chuckled, then turned back to Mick. “So.” He rocked back on his heels and hooked his thumbs into the front pockets of his jeans. “It’s three thirty in the morning, you have an unconscious and wounded female on your sofa, an EMT patching her up, a deputy nosing around your property, and a mayor in your living room who’d be willing to consider performing several illegal acts for a good hit of caffeine. Ideas?”
Mick rolled his eyes. “I’ll make coffee.”
He spun around and stalked toward the kitchen, Jaeger hot on his heels. What else was there to do? Molly was treating the she-wolf, Zeke was playing cop, and his wolf had no intention of letting him sleep anytime soon. Not with that intriguingly scented female currently passed out in his living room.
Might as well drink a pot of coffee. He’d take it black, like his mood at having all these uninvited guests in his den. So much for his wolf feeling lonely.
Copyright © 2018 by Christine Warren in Baby, I’m Howling For You and reprinted with permission from St. Martin’s Paperbacks.
About the Author & Links:
CHRISTINE WARREN is the bestselling author of The Others series, including Wolf at the Door, Big Bad Wolf, Born to Be Wild, Prince Charming Doesn’t Live Here, and Black Magic Woman. Born and raised in coastal New England, she now lives as a transplant in the Pacific Northwest. (She completely bypassed those states in the middle due to her phobia of being landlocked). When not writing, she enjoys horseback riding, playing with her pets, identifying dogs from photos of their underbellies, and most of all reading things someone else had to agonize over.