Loving Her Alphas Excerpt

Copyright © 2017 by Ari Thatcher.

Chapter One

With imposing cedar and pine trees growing just beyond the shoulder, Rayne Adler found comfort in the narrow mountain road leading to her grandparents’ old place, like she was returning to the womb. Her windshield wipers could barely keep up with the downpour, and the heavy rain caused streams of muddy water on both sides of her, but the center of the road was clear. Luckily there’d been no traffic in either direction since she passed through the town of Silver Bear about eight miles back.

The road curved to the right as the left side dropped off. As a child, she’d always closed her eyes when they came down the mountain—if she couldn’t see the edge, they wouldn’t fall off. But with the road so wet, the possibility of losing traction was too great, so she couldn’t block out her awareness of the cliff.

Instead, she forced herself to concentrate on the slippery pavement, until something large and black leaped out in front of her.

Wolf.

Heart racing, she jerked the wheel to the right, sending the car into a spin. Fearing the drop-off, she overcorrected and slid directly into the rocky bank. Her front end hit with a loud crunch, and a white pillow enveloped her. She bounced off the solid cloud and settled back in her seat.

As the air bag deflated, she could see the front end of the car, which hardly looked wrinkled. The rattle of the engine told a different story.

Damn.

Rayne shut off the motor, and with her heart pounding in her ears, she searched the road for the wolf. Twisting to look where she’d first seen it, she wasn’t surprised to find it was gone. The question was—which direction had it run? Was it safe to get out of her car? She was stupid to think she could sit there until help came, given the lack of traffic, so she had little choice.

She unbuckled her seatbelt but didn’t reach for the door handle. Get out? Stay safe. Get out? No way. Finally she steeled her nerves, pulled up the hood of her coat, and got out to examine the damage. The bumper and fenders were pushed back against the tires and steam rose from the radiator, warning her the car wasn’t drivable. She hadn’t hit hard enough to smash it that badly, but regardless, she was stuck.
Inhaling a deep breath tainted with the sweet chemical smell of radiator fluid, she kicked the tire. Damn, damn, damn.

Climbing back into her car, she pulled her phone from her purse. No bars. Terrific. It’d be dark before she slogged back to Silver Bear, and she dreaded the idea of walking alone at night in the woods. The pouring rain would ruin her wool coat, and the mud would destroy her Gucci flats, but she gritted her teeth and pressed a fist against the painful flare-up of her ulcer.

She’d passed a dirt road not too far back. The Whitmore brothers used to live there, their house maybe a half mile from the road. They’d been Grandpa Joe and Grandma Gina’s nearest neighbors, always lending a helping hand. But the wolf could be lurking somewhere between here and there.

What had she been thinking, coming to the mountain? She wasn’t cut out for this life. Her idea of a tough decision was whether to wear red heels or nude flats with her little black dress.

After shoving her phone into her pocket and grabbing her purse, she trudged down the center of the road to avoid as much of the muck as possible, her eyes darting back and forth watching for the wolf. When she turned up the rutted lane, darkness thickened around her, covering her like a shroud, and she swore she was entering a different world—somewhere between falling down Alice’s rabbit hole and stepping into the arena with Katniss.

The temperature dropped. The trees closed in. She tugged her coat more tightly around her, like a safety barrier.

If she was this freaked out just walking a few yards off the road, there was no way she could live alone in Grandpa’s old lodge. Her best friend Vivie had warned her not to come. Hire someone to sell her grandparents’ land and stay in Chicago, she’d said. When she heard about tonight, she’d jump on the chance to say, “I told you so.”

A hundred yards from the road, a deep growl came from her left, jolting her to attention. She froze.
Her nerves had to be playing games with her—it was most likely the chatter of a squirrel, —but she couldn’t convince herself the wolf wasn’t stalking her. With her heart pounding loudly in her ears, she took a hesitant step forward, then another.

Something snapped amid the trees behind her; her breathing hitched. She was definitely being followed.
Rayne wasn’t sure which was scarier—the idea of being trailed by a person or an animal. She’d had no fear when she spent summers here with her grandparents. Sitting around the fire roasting marshmallows and singing with the lodge guests, she’d been safe. To be honest, she’d felt like she was part of the mountain itself. Silly childhood imagination.

This trepidation needed to stop. She tried to convince herself she’d heard a deer or a fox, something more afraid of her than she was of the unknown. The rain washed away her scent, so the animals wouldn’t know she was there—she almost believed it for all of a few seconds. Her arms were tense; her thighs trembled in preparation for flight.

She searched the darkness for a light, something to tell her where safety lay, but the heavy rain screened her view of the woods Another crack sounded closer and she jumped, tripping over her feet and almost tumbling into the mud. She began to shake and fought the ridiculous urge to cry.

The low, steady growl reached her ears again.

Deer didn’t growl.

She was going to die.

Breathing deeply in an attempt to calm herself, Rayne inched her way to the right edge of the twin dirt ruts. Big deal. The wolf would have to leap half a foot farther when it launched at her neck.
The snarling moved closer, growing deeper, even more threatening.

Her stomach in a knot, Rayne slowly took her keys from her purse and held them with one between each finger like she’d learned. Poke it in the eye…if its teeth didn’t crunch her bones first. The way her hands shook the keys wouldn’t help much, but it was all she had.

A humongous black wolf lunged from between the trees, landing in front of her and baring his teeth. Heartbeat hammering in her ears, Rayne screamed and stopped dead. The animal was close enough that the low hum of his growl vibrated down her spine.

She couldn’t recall what Grandpa had said—stand still or slowly back away? Playing dead was just stupid. She’d be dinner on a platter. Her heart beat faster still.

Tears welled in her eyes, knowing she was defenseless.

“Get!” With no other weapon available, she threw her keys at him, but he just snarled. Swinging with both hands, she sent her purse flying. It caught his shoulder and bounced off.

Nausea and fear made her head spin.

She’d never seen such a huge wolf; its shoulders were almost higher than she was tall. It crouched and launched at her. As she turned to run, his jaws clamped onto her shoulder, the sharp darts of his teeth cutting through her coat to rake across her skin.

Rayne screamed again, poking at its eyes. She lost her footing and fell, landing with the wolf on top of her. Kicking and pounding with her fists, she yelled, “Get off! Go!” but he let go only to bite lower on her arm. She gasped, her lungs burning. “Help! Someone, please. Help!”

Somewhere beyond the snarling of the wolf came a louder, deeper growl.

More wolves.

“Oh God, no, please.” With a sudden surge of adrenaline, she fought harder to escape even as she prayed death would come quickly.

As it stood over her, the wolf dropped her arm, snarling and snapping at another wolf bounding toward them. Rayne cradled her shoulder and curled into a ball, waiting for the next attack. Terror fought with pain for her attention, and black spots filled her vision. She hugged her elbow to her side, afraid to move her arm—afraid to draw either wolf’s attention.

The second wolf attacked the first one, near her feet. She peered through narrowed eyes to see which would claim her for dinner. The second wolf was even larger, lighter in color, and twice as mean. His jaw latched tightly on the other wolf’s flank and yanked the beast away from her. The first one yelped, but then went on the attack. The two became a blur of fur and fangs, of yips and barks.

Rayne pushed against the mud with her heels to distance herself from the fight. As distracted as they were, maybe she could get away. She rolled onto one knee, swallowed a cry, then stumbled to her feet, the snapping jaws and high-pitched yelps echoing behind her. Her head spun and her stomach roiled. Forcing herself to move through the agony, she ran up the road and deeper into the woods.

Eventually slowing, she listened for the animals, her throat burning from the cold air. Hearing nothing, she bent over to catch her breath, realizing she should have walked to town in the first place instead of heading farther into the woods. The Whitmores might not even be home.

As she considered which direction to go, she saw the light from their cabin through the trees.

Yes! Her vision blurred with relief, her legs suddenly felt like overcooked noodles. All she had to do was make it to the light.

Wait. Wasn’t that what they told dying people? Go to the light? She wasn’t injured badly enough to die, but she’d likely not seen the last of those wolves.

###

When his opponent finally backed off, Nick Whitmore shifted back to human form. Swiping the blood away from his mouth, he yelled, “What the fuck were you thinking?”

Jagger Emmerson, alpha of an outlaw wolf pack, favored his right leg where Nick had bitten him. “She has to go. She’s a Lowell. Do you really want to chance her having the gene?”

Nick slicked his hair back in a vain effort to keep the rain from dripping into his eyes. “She hasn’t been here in almost ten years, so I doubt she’s back to stay. She never showed signs of having the shifter gene when she was a kid. Her father never shifted. You’re worried over something that might never happen.”

He left out the part about how he and his brothers had already had this conversation.

“Her father didn’t spend enough time up here for us to know whether he had the gene to pass on to her,” Jagger argued.

“He grew up here. His wolf would have appeared at some point.” Shivering at the cold now that he didn’t have fur to keep the rain off his skin, Nick shook his head. “Whether she’s a hybrid or not doesn’t matter as much as the fact you would have killed her if I hadn’t stopped you.”

“So? My wolf remembered how hungry it is for blood. She’s still alive. She’ll recover—and most likely do it off the mountain after tonight.”

“You made your point clear enough. Now leave her alone.” Nick snarled. Jagger was a worthless piece of shit on a good day, but attacking a human was lower than he’d gone before. “My brothers and I will take care of this. Leave her alone.”

“Just don’t be too long about it or I’ll finish it.” Jagger shifted back into a wolf and loped off.
Nick’s muscles still vibrated with anger.

Gina Lowell Adler, Rayne’s grandmother, was the last full shifter of the Lowell pack, the original settlers of Silver Bear Mountain. In marrying Joe, who didn’t have the gene, there was a 50 percent chance the trait would pass on to her offspring. While Rayne’s father hadn’t displayed any tendency to shift, he could still have passed it on to Rayne. Returning to the mountain could awaken her wolf, and if it did, her mate would be the true alpha of Silver Bear.

The battle over alpha status between the Emmersons and the Whitmores had grown increasingly savage in the years since Gina’s death. If Rayne was alpha, all their fighting would be in vain—if she had children, even hybrids, her line would reign again.

Nick had decided years ago if she ever returned to the mountain he’d claim her, wolf or no wolf. The problem was convincing her she wanted it, too—and make it happen before someone killed her.