I tiptoed down the butler’s staircase, attempting to be stealthy in a mansion full of vampires and werewolves with superhuman hearing and an ornery grizzly bear. Even if the odds were against me, I was desperate for a moment alone, so I sought refuge in the one place I’d always been able to find it: the kitchen. But the moment I arrived, reality pulled the rug out from under me.
Knox’s pack crowded the room, which suddenly seemed much smaller than before.
It was only our second day at the mansion after arriving from Alaska, where I’d met Knox and his pack of werewolves, so my mind hadn’t fully adapted to our new living arrangements. Grizz, my furry sidekick, had taken up residence next to my bed and growled at anyone that tried to make him leave. Knox and his boys were crammed into the mansion wherever there was room, most of them sharing rooms with at least three other wolves, if not more. They didn’t seem to mind, though. They just rolled with it.
Just like they’d rolled with their home in Alaska burning to the ground and their move to New York City.
I hovered in the doorway for a moment, watching the wolves as they moved around one another as if they were extensions of Knox—each a part of the whole. One being. There was something so peaceful about being near them, getting caught up in their energy. Except for their first day in NYC. That had been a total shitshow of testosterone and rage and a whole slew of other emotions I couldn’t even begin to label, let alone understand.
It made me miss the days when things were (slightly) simpler. When there wasn’t a war among the breeds, or the Alaskan pack in the mansion, or the awkwardness looming between my mate, Merc, and me because he had tried to kill me once. Though it may not have been his fault, I was having a hard time reconciling that truth with what I’d been through. He’d nearly beaten me to death that night.
There would be no forgetting that. Ever.
“Hey Piper!” My name jarred me from my thoughts. When my focus returned to the scene before me, I saw Foust, Knox’s second in command, looking at me with concern. His eyes—ever shrewd—were assessing me, looking for something to report on, but not in a bad way.
“I didn’t know you guys would be up already,” I replied with a smile.
“Yeah, we went out early to check out the property. It’s huge; never would have guessed that.”
“The beauty of glamour, my friend. Only way to hide wilderness in the middle of the city.”
“That’s some damn impressive magic,” he said, smiling wide enough that his teeth showed through his beard. In truth, that thing was starting to look a little unruly. I needed to get him some trimmers ASAP.
“You have no idea…” I winked up at him as I started into the room, headed for the fridge and what was left of its contents. In a house full of vampires, food was scarce because they didn’t need it. Though Jase and Dean, the two enforcers that had taken me under their wings when I’d moved into the mansion, had tried their best to prep for our arrival, they’d had no idea what they were in for. They hadn’t been human in centuries.
And they’d grossly underestimated how much a pack of werewolves could eat.
“I saved you some,” a voice called out through the din. I turned to find a ginger-haired werewolf holding out a plate of food to me that he’d probably fought hard to keep. Jagger was thoughtful if nothing else.
I heard a scoff from the far side of the room and found Brunton standing there, tall and brooding as always, his rugged features homed in on Jagger.
Jagger smiled at the jab.
“Love you too, B.”
Before they could continue what promised to be a verbal war, I took Jagger’s offering and kissed him on the cheek.
“You’re the best, Jags. Did you get some too?”
His cheeks warmed to a rosy hue and he averted his gaze.
“I, uh… I ate while we were outside.”
“Oh,” I replied. “Nothing like a little wild game for breakfast. I guess you can take the wolf out of the woods, but some things just stick, huh?”
“What can I say, I like my meat rare.”
“Or still breathing.”
I didn’t bother to reply, choosing to take my plate (and my clever comeback) down the hall to the dining room. The likelihood of it being empty was slim to none, but I didn’t want a pack of hungry wolves watching me eat. The way they paced around as if they were waiting for a piece to drop was unnerving.
It was early enough in the morning that the sun was just starting to think about rising. Most of the enforcers—the vampire king’s special warriors—had likely returned, but a few of the stragglers would soon be filing through the door before the rays of the sun could touch them. I’d seen what that could do to a vampire. It was not a pleasant way to go.
As I rounded the corner to the dining room, I saw Merc’s brothers, Jase and Dean, approaching. They were covered in blood, their dark hair matted with it and other bits I tried not to analyze. I felt my body go numb. Then the sharp sound of my plate breaking into pieces on the floor echoed through the hallway.
“What happened?” I asked, rushing toward them.
“We’re fine, Piper,” Jase said, holding up his hands to ward off my panic. As if he could.
“Blood’s not ours,” Dean added, looking down at the front of his soaked tee.
“But we need to talk to you.” Jase’s eyes fell past me to where I could only assume a wall of werewolves stood, ready to pounce at the first sign of my distress. Though I was glad they had my back, Jase and Dean did too, and I didn’t want a fight breaking out between them. It was literally my worst-case scenario—unless a fight broke out between Merc and Knox.
I shuddered at the thought.
“What’s going on?” I asked, shaking my head in an attempt to clear it.
“Not here,” Jase replied, looking at the pack again.
I looked over my shoulder to find Foust and Jagger in front of the others, their expressions stern.
“I’ll be right back.”
I navigated my way through the porcelain minefield I’d created and followed the brothers down the hall and up the stairs of the main foyer until we reached the second floor and, eventually, Jase’s room. Dean led the way in, with me behind him. Jase eased the door shut behind him and locked it for good measure. Whatever they were about to tell me, it sure as hell wasn’t good.
“Piper, I need you to be calm,” Jase said, doing his best to instill the emotion that he knew I lacked as he spoke.
“You’re scaring me, Jase.”
“I know, and I’m sorry. It’s just—there’s no good way to say this.”
“Then just say it!”
“I will once you promise not to—”
“Merc is missing,” Dean blurted out, taking my hand in his. “We can’t reach him. He didn’t check in where we were supposed to meet up, and he’s not here now.”
“Are you sure? Did you check everywhere? The infirmary?” I bolted for the door, wondering if Merc was in the basement, wounded. Because the alternative was too unappealing to consider: that he was stuck somewhere out in NYC with the rising sun and his impending doom.
“Everyone has searched the premises. He’s not here.”
“Did you track his phone?”
Jase eyed Dean, and they had one of their silent internal conversations; the kind that only they and their brother could share.
“And it was in a dumpster somewhere in Times Square.”
I collapsed onto the edge of the bed, staring off at nothing as reality threatened to consume me.
“Could he have dumped his phone for some reason?” Jase’s expression tightened before he shook his head. “You think someone’s taken him?” He nodded. “Who? Who could overpower him, Jase? He’s lethal even without his mind-screwing abilities. It’s hardly like someone could walk up to him, slip a black bag over his head, and throw him into the back of a van.”
“We know, P. That’s why we’re as lost as you are.”
“Why were you guys separated? Why weren’t you with him tonight?”
“Because he got a call and said he’d meet up with us later at the park. When he didn’t, we waited as long as we could until we had to come back home.”
“Who called him?” I asked as all the blood in my face emptied. “Who did he go to see?”
A pounding on Jase’s door followed by a bevy of colorful swears from a female announced Kat’s arrival to the would-be search party. Jase unlocked the door and let her in. The feisty auburn-haired werewolf was at my side in a second.
“They told you already?” she asked. I nodded. She turned to stare down Jase and Dean, her glower telling them exactly how she felt about that. “Thanks for waiting, assholes.”
“The phone!” I shouted, grabbing Kat by the shoulders. “Did you see who Merc last spoke to tonight?” She hesitated for a second, which did nothing for my anxiety. Kat didn’t hesitate. Kat was a bulldozer of truth, whether you liked it or not. “Kat…”
“The phone was trashed, but we were able to hack into his account and look up the number of the person who called him.”
“Who was it?” Jase asked, stepping toward us.
Kat took a breath, her eyes desperate as she looked at me before turning to Jase to answer his question. But her pause did little to prepare us for what she was about to say.