FIRST THREE CHAPTERS
This book has been particularly challenging to write, thanks to the new setting! I've been to Mexico, but I've never been to Chiapas, so there's been a lot of Google Earthing and mapping and research. Oh boy, so much of all that. But, I'm excited to bring you Harley's story, finally. Poor guy has been through the wringer, and things aren't yet looking up. I hope you enjoy these first three chapters! But do remember that Wolffe Peak is a bit of a darker series, involving possible trigger scenes such as kidnapping and murder.
The putrid stench of humans burned the inside of Jasmine Pierce’s nose.
A week had passed since she’d been forcibly changed into a shifter, and already, she could tell the difference between the two species. Even semi-conscious, she recognized a new, distinctive animalistic smell about herself. This wild, earthy aroma that clung to her hair and skin. Markedly different from the nearby sweaty assholes who stunk of little more than desperation and lust.
It was a fetor that wouldn’t abate, one she clung to with the hope of using it to claw her way free of this hell she’d fallen into. If only her eyes weren’t so heavy. If only she could force them open or muster even a semblance of strength to save herself. All side effects from the drugs they continuously pumped into her system. She’d never smelled anesthesia before—but now, it was a scent she’d never forget.
A boot nudged her thigh. “Wake up.”
When she didn’t respond, something sharp struck her cheek, and her head snapped to the side.
“I said, wake up.”
Jasmine peeled open her droopy eyes, still enthralled by the sedatives rushing through her blood. She had to wake up. Her survival depended on it. Though, she couldn’t quite remember why. It wasn’t until her captor wrenched on the rope garrotting her throat that she remembered.
Before all this, she’d never heard of silver rope, but her captors had since introduced her to a whole new world of pain since they’d changed her. The second she’d shown the first sign of shifting, they’d slung a noose embedded with silver fibers around her neck and strung her up from the rafters. One wrong move and she’d be swinging from the gallows.
At least it’d make for a pretty picture.
“Wake up!” Another hard slap.
A pained cry escaped her cracked, bleeding lips. She’d long since sworn she wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of hearing her cry. But she’d broken that promise soon after being bitten. There weren’t many injuries Jasmine hadn’t experienced, thanks to her time spent as a recreational skier. But the pain of that bite had been like every injury she’d ever sustained combined together in a cocktail of misery.
“Boss needs you conscious,” her captor snapped. “We ain’t gonna get a cent out of Daddy unless we can prove we ain’t gut ya.”
Jasmine’s head drooped as she muttered something incoherent.
“Think we dosed her too much?”
“Nah…” Rank breath grazed her tingling cheek. “Bitch just can’t handle her drugs, eh? Time to wake up, princess. Or Daddy’s gonna get a whole lot more than a lock of hair in the mail.”
The noose around her neck suddenly constricted, the fibers ripping through her flesh. Jasmine’s eyes shot open as she choked on the musty air, her fingers clawing at her throat.
“There she is.” Her captor gave another hard jerk before slackening the rope. “Up and at it, princess. Someone wants to speak with you.”
Jasmine sucked in a lungful of air, her chest burning as she coughed it back up.
“Jasmine? Sweetheart? Can you hear me?”
“Dad?” she rasped, her vision swimming with unshed tears. One of her abductors held a phone against her ear, and the sound of her father’s voice sent a rush of relief through her battered body. “Daddy?”
“Aw, how sweet.” Her kidnapper leered at her before yanking the phone back. “See, Daddy, your precious lil’ darling is just fine. Now, about that ransom….”
Her captor stalked out of the room, taking the phone—her only sense of comfort—with him. Finally alert, Jasmine blinked away her tears and studied the room they’d been holding her in for days. For the first time since they’d dragged her into this hellhole, she could actually think. Maybe if she could figure out where they were keeping her and somehow pass that message along to her father, he could help her.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t see anything noteworthy. This shanty was nothing more than an abandoned shack. The rundown walls reeked of mold, and aged rubble dusted the floor. The ceiling sagged near the middle, giving glimpses of the sunny sky outside. The windows had long since been boarded up.
But that didn’t frighten her as much as the surrounding sounds. When they’d first tied her up, she hadn’t been able to hear much beyond the sound of her panicked breaths and broken cries. Now—now—she could hear everything. From her abductors’ heartbeats to the damn cockroaches scurrying across the broken wooden-planked floor. Amazingly enough, she could even hear a flock of birds a few miles away alongside a cacophony of excited monkeys. But the best sound in the world was that of her father’s voice pouring out of the phone outside the cabin.
“If you hurt her, this discussion is over—”
“You ain’t in any position to lecture me, old man. So, unless you wanna be finding pieces of your girl scattered through the jungle, make sure the money is ready.”
A headache spread across her brow when she frowned. The jungle?
The last thing she remembered was a cold hand clapping over her mouth right before someone dragged her into an alley. Back in Denver. Her mind might be clouded, but she couldn’t think of a single place in the States with a jungle.
“You have one week,” her kidnapper growled before disconnecting the call.
Through the open door, Jasmine watched as he turned toward his men, the setting sun illuminating his harsh profile. Something bitter mounted within her, a hatred so strong that for one brief moment, she believed it possible to break free of her bonds and snap his neck with her bare hands. If ever she had the chance, he would be the first to die—she’d make sure of that.
Her abductor stepped inside the rundown shack and lifted his head, a pair of dark eyes slamming into her. At the sight of her struggling against her restraints, his mouth curled into a cruel grin. “Time to go back to sleep, princess.”
The anger roaring through her veins screeched to a stop as panic kicked in. “No, wait—”
Before she could muster a plea, a sharp prick pierced the side of her throat. Seconds ticked by, but eventually, her body lost the battle and went slack against the restraints. She needed to resist the drugs, needed to somehow… fight them… off.
The darkness sucked her under before she could even try to resist.
Ethan “Harley” Fulton grinned at the sight of his pack alpha reciting his vows. In all the years Harley had known Wyatt Turner, he’d never believed this day would arrive. But here they all stood, clad in their bestest penguin suits, watching as their gritty, ball-busting alpha proclaimed his everlasting love to the woman who would soon become Mrs. Gritty-Ball-Buster.
Wyatt had always been the epitome of a hard-ass, a necessary evil when ruling over a group of sixty-seven misfits. He didn’t take shit from anyone, and those who tried to hand it to him often ended up in a grave. But then one Miss Skylar Callahan had crashed like a flaming meteor into his life and knocked their poor alpha right out of his bobby socks. Now, after what felt like an eternity of waiting and planning, their special day had finally arrived, and Harley couldn’t recall a single moment when he’d witnessed such a shine in his alpha’s eyes. The utter devotion he showed her with a single look was something most struggled to find. Guess it was true what they said: love conquers all. Even surly old werewolves.
Now, all that remained was the final touch.
And right on cue, the minister gave a broad grin and announced, “You may now kiss the bride.”
Wyatt didn’t hesitate. With a mischievous grin, he swept Sky into his arms and sealed the deal with the kiss of the decade. Cheers erupted from the attending audience, including Harley, who pumped his fist in the air and bellowed his approval.
Badass werewolf pack or not, there was something special about this moment, about seeing Wyatt and Sky’s love and hard work come to fruition. They’d spent months arranging the perfect wedding and dealt with more than their fair share of hiccups, from disastrous seating arrangements to inedible food platters to obstinate guests. This senator couldn’t sit by that governor, or the fish wasn’t the right type. Lord have mercy, it was enough to drive anyone insane. One glance at Sky, though, and everyone could see it’d been worth every bit of hassle.
Still cheering, Harley leaned over and nudged his fellow packmate, Axel. “Your turn next, buddy.”
Axel chuckled, his eyes lit with excitement. Chatter around the water cooler had centered predominantly on Wyatt’s wedding—the man was the alpha, after all. Not to mention, he’d chosen to marry a woman so deeply ensconced in politics she’d once attended a presidential ball on the arm of a well-known senator. Those sorts of credentials were bound to suck up all the limelight.
But now, it would be Axel’s turn.
While he and his lovely bride-to-be had recently faced their own woes—like a shootout at their engagement party—Maddie seemed determined to play through the pain. Last Harley heard, the brave woman refused to let the bastards with Humans First win and would marry a werewolf, come hell or high water. Damn admirable, if you asked him. The woman had ovaries of steel and a mouth to match.
“Et tu, mon ami? ” Axel asked in his smooth, Cajun drawl. “Got your eyes on a special lady?”
Harley watched Wyatt and Sky make their way up the aisle, hands clasped in newly-marital bliss, and shook his head. Thanks to his glorious head of ginger hair, green had never been a good color on him, but that didn’t stop a small wave of jealousy from crashing into him. Wyatt and Sky were lucky to have found each other, as were Axel and Maddie. It wasn’t their fault Harley’s love life had crumbled into dust years ago.
But now wasn’t the time for such thoughts. This was a happy occasion. And thinking of one Jasmine Pierce: Maneater always soured his mood.
Harley shook his head and forced a chuckle. “They’re all special, my brother.”
“One day, some unlucky lady is going to sweep you off your feet,” Maddie chimed in at Axel’s side. “And when that day comes….”
That day has long since come and gone, girlfriend. Harley threw her a wink. “Never gonna happen.”
“Which means you’ll be married in under a year,” Maddie teased.
Harley burst out laughing. “What crack you been smoking, girl?”
Amusement twinkled in her eyes. “Come on, you know how this goes. It’s when you aren’t looking for love that it tends to swat you on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper.”
“Don’t confuse your experiences with mine, kiddo,” he joked, ruffling her perfectly styled hair.
Maddie squealed and jumped back, the hilarity in her gaze fizzling into playful anger. “Just you wait, Harley Fulton. Mark my words.”
Oh, they’d been marked, then carefully weighed and tossed aside. Because it was kind of difficult to fall in love when he’d already fallen, long and hard, into a black pit of wretched despair. One from which there was no escape.
Once upon a time, Harley had once thought himself to be one of the lucky few. The odds of finding your mate were astronomical, but he’d beaten those odds. Or so he’d believed. Then Jasmine had gone and stomped all over his dreams. He certainly hadn’t felt so lucky after that. Unfortunately, even after all this time, his ticker refused to move on—a definite downfall to this whole mating thing. Luckily, Wyatt was the only one aware of Harley’s situation, and that was how he intended to keep it. The fewer who knew, the better.
Maddie checked her reflection in a small compact mirror then pushed both men toward the aisle. “Come on. We have a reception to get to. And if we miss the cake, I’m going to murder one of you.”
“Oh yeah?” Harley threw her a wink. “Which one?”
“I haven’t decided yet.”
“Ah, ma petite, the things you say….” Axel murmured, lifting their clasped hands to his mouth.
Heat flushed Maddie’s cheeks. “Besides, Wyatt would be mad if two of his best men stumbled in late.”
True, that. “As would all the ladies, I’m sure,” Harley teased. “I might have trouble picking out my perfect dessert with such a smorgasbord.”
“Oh my God,” Maddie groaned. “Is that all you think about?”
“Hey, it’s a wedding.” Harley walked backward up the aisle, hands raised in a half-shrug. “I was promised copious women all eager to scratch my many itches.”
Axel threw his head back and laughed. “You’re incorrigible.”
“This is true. But I’m also cute. And I do remember the ladies love cute. Especially at weddings. Who can resist a ginger in a tuxedo?”
“Last I looked?” Maddie asked, her head cocked as she playfully thought on the math equation. “All of them?”
“I’m suddenly grateful I’m engaged,” Axel commented.
“Suddenly?” Maddie scrunched up her nose like a cat and swatted his chest. “What, you weren’t thankful before?”
A loving grin tugged at Axel’s lips. With a twinkle in his eye, he leaned down and brushed his mouth against hers, silencing any further argument. “Of course, mon amour.”
Another stupid twinge tugged at Harley’s heart at the sight of their endearing banter. They made it look so easy. Ugh. He hadn’t expected such a strong bout of melancholy to spear his chest. Damn Jasmine, and damn her damn father for his damn intrusion into their love life.
No, he needed to cage these thoughts. He refused to let anything taint the merriment today. Wyatt and Sky deserved all hands on deck. A mopey Harley never amused anyone.
So, instead of further feeding the monster, Harley turned away from the happy couple and strode out of the church. An elegant crowd had gathered on the steps, all happily chatting about the wedding and upcoming reception.
Harley lifted a hand to shield against the glaring midsummer sun and took in the sight of so many beautiful ladies. Wyatt hadn’t been lying, that was for sure. Women a-plenty. All hunting for their true mate. He wasn’t that man, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t enjoy a little revelry while ringing in Wyatt and Sky’s new marital status.
Still surveying the plentiful bounty, Harley came to an abrupt stop at the sight of an all-too-familiar face. One he’d never thought he’d see again. One he’d hoped never to see again.
Better known as Jasmine’s father.
Harley swallowed his displeasure and forced a fake smile. Maybe he shouldn’t have been surprised to see him here. Wyatt and Sky’s wedding was hot-off-the-press sort of news. Especially considering Sky’s career. As a werewolf advocate, schmoozing politicians was part of her job, as was convincing them to support shifter rights.
Senator Pierce had always been a local defender of all things shifter—until those rights had extended to his daughter. Apparently, a “filthy shifter” didn’t qualify as an “acceptable partner” for any of his daughters. That was where he drew the proverbial line in the sand.
Holding Harley’s gaze, Pierce gestured toward the shiny, unmarked limo parked behind him before slipping inside.
Ooo-kay. What exactly did he expect? For Harley to just crawl in next to him like nothing had ever happened?
“Sir?” a deep voice rose next to him.
Harley turned and blinked at a suited man who seemed to have appeared from nowhere. One of Pierce’s flunkies, no doubt. Being that it was a wedding, every nearby male was sporting a dark suit, but the senator’s goon here was sporting something different from everyone else—a nifty shoulder rig complete with two Glocks if Harley’s nose was correct. And it always was.
“If you’d follow me, Senator Pierce would like a word.”
Harley’s brow rose in a slow arch. “That so?”
“Harley?” Maddie murmured.
She laid a supportive hand against his arm, but he felt the distinct ripple of tension quickly flowing from her fingers. Miss Maddison White belonged to a well-established family of precocious mountain lion shifters. If there was one thing Harley had learned about them, it was that they could go from zero to sixty in no time flat. He’d had the distinct pleasure of watching Maddie’s younger sister, Brooklyn, shift in under a minute at Axel and Maddie’s engagement party. Something about their genetics granted them an instant shift, as opposed to their werewolf brethren. It took the majority of them ten, sometimes fifteen minutes to accomplish the same task. These cat shifters were hell beasts—and Maddie would undoubtedly go to bat for him. As would Axel.
“I have nothing to say to the senator,” Harley commented. He’d never been one to hold grudges, but he’d long since made an exception for dear ol’ Pierce. An exception he had no intentions of ever overcoming.
The lackey lifted his hard gaze to Harley’s, the underside of his eye twitching ever so slightly. In that instant, Harley knew two things. One: this man was far more than a random goon, and two: going toe-to-toe with him would likely cost Harley more than he was willing to pay. Call it intuition, but he recognized that particular look in the asshat’s eyes. The one that promised silent retribution should someone ever cross him. Not that it concerned Harley. He’d been playing this game far too long to let some minion intimidate him.
“I won’t ask again, sir.” The jackass nudged aside his suit jacket, offering anyone standing nearby an eyeful of his precious hardware—and thereby solidifying his role as the stupidest SOB alive. “This would go a whole lot smoother if you simply cooperated.”
At the sight of his gun, Maddie unleashed a threatening growl, one that lifted the hairs on the back of Harley’s neck. Werewolves were frightening, no doubt. But cat shifters were aggressively terrifying. Were it not for Axel’s grip on her arm, things might have escalated right there on the church steps. After everything they’d recently been through, Axel’s beautiful fiancée had developed an all-encompassing hatred for guns. Harley couldn’t blame her. Axel had nearly died recently at the hands of a man armed with silver bullets.
Harley pinched the bridge of his nose. “What’s your name, son?”
“Woods,” the asshat responded.
Nodding, Harley gave Woods a slow once-over, unimpressed with what he saw. “Well, kid, let me start off by saying you’ve made two colossal mistakes here. The first was marching up to me, jacket blowing in the breeze, with the scent of gun oil all over you. The second was threatening me. But see, here’s the thing—and feel free to take notes for later when you’re asking yourself just where the hell everything went wrong. You’ve bitten off more than you can chew. Take a look around and read the situation here. Because you just brought a gun to a shifter fight.”
Woods’s mouth parted with what Harley assumed was some asinine retort, but before the words could come tumbling out, the man actually took a beat and glanced around. He blinked at the sight of all the surrounding shifters, silently waiting for the other shoe to drop.
One simply didn’t walk up to a group of werewolves and brandish his hardware. Not if said person wanted to live to see the next morn.
“Maybe we got off on the wrong foot,” Woods commented, the blood slowly draining from his face.
Harley smirked. “Ya think?”
“Listen…” Woods sighed then slipped his hands into his pockets. Harley tracked the movement, his senses on high alert in case the idiot decided to pull a knife or something. He wanted to think better of Woods, but a man who flashed his guns at a group of shifters clearly wasn’t the brightest cookie in the world. “Senator Pierce sent me to collect you, and only you. I haven’t been authorized to divulge any other information beyond that, other than to relay to you how appreciative he would be of your cooperation.”
Harley snorted under his breath. The last time Pierce had deigned to speak to him, he’d been so appreciative as to offer him a smooth fifty thou’ to leave his daughter and never set eyes on her again. Harley had politely told him where he could shove his bribe before storming out of the house.
Glancing at the limo, Harley studied Pierce’s silhouette through the tinted glass window. He couldn’t imagine a single reason why the man would reach out to him now. Not after everything that had transpired between them. Something dire then?
The second that thought sprung up, Harley felt something strange in his chest. A weight almost. But darker and far more dangerous. Pierce hated Harley. Loathed him. All because he believed his precious daughter deserved far better than a shifter. When Pierce learned Jasmine and Harley had planned to elope, dear ol’ dad had slapped his offer down on the table. Fifty thousand dollars for Harley, and an all-expenses-paid trip around the world for Jasmine. Harley had all but shat on the senator’s offer. Jasmine, on the other hand… well, there was a reason she and Harley were no longer together. His darling beloved had apparently taken the deal and ran without so much as a goodbye.
The blow had devastated Harley. Wyatt was the only reason he still stood. His alpha had pieced together the broken shell of a man Harley had become and made something of him. Something useful to the pack.
For Pierce to show his face here, something had to be horribly wrong.
Forcing himself to swallow, Harley shot Woods a glare. “Is Jasmine alright?”
Woods’s lack of response told Harley everything he needed to know. As an ex-fed, he’d dealt with assholes like Woods all the time. He could read them like an open book—enough to spot Woods’s subtle tell. The slightest twitch at the corner of his mouth. A nervous tic perhaps.
Harley drew in a deep breath and dug deep for a sense of calm. Clearly, Jasmine was not all right. And while he shouldn’t care about her or her well-being, he obviously still did. Stupid emotions. Stupid wolf, refusing to forget about his mate. And stupid Senator Pierce for placing him in this situation.
“Who’s Jasmine?” Maddie murmured.
“No idea, chère,” Axel responded.
Ignoring his friends, Harley stepped into Woods’s personal space. “That’s what this is about, isn’t it?”
“Sir, if you’d just follow me, Senator Pierce will fill you in on everything.”
Well, how the hell could he say no to that now? It had to be about Jasmine. Her father never would have come to him otherwise. What the hell trouble had she gotten herself into? And why did this woman still have such a hold on his life? Just the idea that she might be in trouble sent his foolish heart into a tailspin and had his wolf scratching at the surface of his mind.
“Fine,” Harley snapped, a threatening growl slipping past his lips before he could tamp it back. Muscles tight, he glanced back at Axel and gave a terse nod. “Give Wyatt and Sky my best. Just explain that Pierce came knocking and that I’ll fill him in on the rest as soon as possible. He shouldn’t need to know anything more than that.”
“Of course, mon ami.” Axel clapped him on the shoulder. “You going to be alright?”
“I’ll be fine. Have fun tonight.” Without another word, Harley followed Woods to the limo. The scent of whiskey and desperation smacked Harley in the face the second the back door popped open.
Oh yeah. Something was definitely wrong.
Guess play time was over.
Awareness slammed into Jasmine—something she hadn’t been privy to for who knew how long now. Days, most likely, if the starvation gnawing away at her gut was any indication.
God, she felt like she’d been mowed down by a Mac truck, but for some reason, she couldn’t remember why. What she did know was that every bone in her body ached. Not just hurt. Ached. Like someone had strapped her to a medieval stretching rack and pulled until every last joint had popped out of place. Just the thought of opening her eyes made her want to curl in a ball and cry.
At least she was alone. The last few wake-up calls had come coupled with a hard slap or sharp kick. Not this time though. In fact, the place seemed silent as the grave—which wasn’t exactly a pleasant thought.
Resigned to her miserable state, Jasmine blinked open her eyes. Darkness surrounded her, but through the inky blackness, she could see everything. Moonlight crept in through the broken window slats, casting a lambent glow across the rotted, termite-infested floorboards.
Nighttime then. Relief loosened her muscles, which eased the pounding in her head. It felt like she’d been smacked around by the world’s worst hangover. Likely a result of the sedatives they still continuously pumped into her. She’d heard one of her kidnappers mention ketamine mixed with silver nitrate the last time they’d put her under.
“Careful not to kill her,” he’d said. Quickly followed by his chilling laughter when she’d starting hallucinating. Apparently, these people found her torment downright hilarious.
“Shouldn’t we be inside watching the girl?” a raspy voice cut through the surrounding silence.
Jasmine twitched at the sound.
“Nah, bitch is dead to the world. Unless you wanna go inside and have a little fun with her. Boss won’t be back for hours. I could take a little walk, give you some privacy till Luis returns.”
Wet heat sprang to Jasmine’s eyes. So casually spoken, as though raping a woman meant nothing to them.
“You kiddin’ me?” A deep laugh echoed through the shack. “I ain’t touching that thing in there. Might bite my dick off.”
“I know what you mean.” More laughter. “Don’t get me wrong. The tits on that bitch are enough to almost make me take another look. But she ain’t human no more. And I don’t fuck monsters.”
She startled against the restraints, the rise and fall of her chest quickening as panic set in. And not from fear of being raped, but from something far worse. Herself. “Monster” they’d called her. She didn’t need to ponder their words for long before her memories crashed into her, from the moment she’d first woken in this forsaken shack to now.
The second they’d dragged her inside, they’d stripped her bare and shackled her to the nearest support beam. Her body trembled with the memory, the sound of her knees knocking together reminiscent of those first moments. She recalled the second they’d opened the door, how the moonlight had lit up the shack’s interior, brandishing a monstrous wildcat, one larger than any she’d ever seen in real life. It’d stalked toward her like a predatory animal, but behind its bright eyes had lurked a human intelligence.
They’d unleashed a shifter on her, all sleek black muscles and glowing green eyes. When it’d finally come to a stop, it snarled. Jasmine hadn’t been able to tear her gaze away from its gleaming white fangs, and especially not when they’d nearly taken a chunk out of her thigh. Pain had ripped through her, much like its teeth, and she’d screamed her throat bloody.
Throughout it all, they’d laughed.
These people were the true animals. They’d dragged her across country lines then unleashed an unstable shifter on her and turned her into one of them. A monster.
Anger sparked within her, like an ember stoked into a wildfire. It heated her skin and set her stomach ablaze. A sudden desire to massacre every nearby living creature evoked within her such pain. Her flesh started to itch, her bones throbbed, and deep down, something animalistic woke. Something that yearned to unleash upon them a pain unlike anything they’d ever experienced.
With a sharp cry, Jasmine rolled onto her back and screamed. Raw and gritty, it ended more like a roar than a scream.
“Shit!” someone shouted. “Lopez, get your fuckin’ ass in here!”
Jasmine writhed against the filthy floor as agony wracked her body. Her wrists and ankles were bound, but somehow, she knew, one hard pull would set her free.
Then she’d rip out their throats.
They’d created a monster all right—and she had every intention of making them suffer.
“Fuck!” Lopez yelled. “Get the kit!”
Jasmine’s back arched, her spine snapping in half and realigning. Distantly, she knew what was happening—she was shifting. They’d been keeping her drugged to avoid this inevitable moment, but her body refused to wait another moment longer.
“Hurry the hell up, would ya?”
Choking back tears, Jasmine curled into a tight ball in an attempt to ease the pain ripping her apart from inside. Please, please, please, please let this end soon. She knew plenty of shifters and had heard them talk about the change. She’d even heard it said that those bitten later in life rarely survived their first change.
And right now, she wanted to die. Anything to end this misery—to be free of this nightmare and the thing she’d become.
The beast within hovered on the brink of her consciousness, awaiting the perfect moment to burst free. But that moment never came. Instead, something sharp jabbed the side of her neck, and the hot rush of drugs invaded her system until, finally, she succumbed to sweet oblivion.
* * *
Four hours, thirty-three minutes, and fifty-two seconds. That was how long Harley had been pacing the length of this room, listening as Senator Pierce and his so-called team blathered on about the “facts.”
There were only three Harley cared about.
Fact numero uno: Jasmine had been kidnapped and was being held in southern Mexico.
Fact numero dos: Her kidnappers were demanding a hefty two-million-dollar ransom, which Harley greatly doubted the good senator possessed. Pierce’s pockets were certainly lined with silk, but they weren’t infinitely deep.
Fact numero tres: Pierce wanted Harley to accompany the extraction team.
All in all, the entire situation was—in the words of the team leader—FUBAR. And yeah, Harley agreed with that assessment. In all his years working as a fed, he could count on one hand the number of kidnappings at this level that ended well. Last he’d heard, there were over half a million missing person cases in America alone. And that didn’t take into consideration that Jasmine was a senator’s daughter.
Or his fucking mate—former mate, whatever.
Harley raked his hands down his face and sighed. These thoughts did nothing to keep him calm. Inside, his damn wolf raged, unforgiving and unrelenting. The feral beast wanted one thing, and only one thing, and it was taking every bit of strength Harley possessed to contain his animal-half.
Time to think about something else. Anything else. So, instead, he started counting backward from a hundred. Not that it soothed his wolf.
“Look, we know where they’re holding her,” Pierce muttered for the umpteenth time, the frustration evident in the sharp bite of his words. “My men have already done all the hard work. You’re simply going to assist with the extraction. Jasmine doesn’t know my men, but she’ll trust you.”
Oh, no doubt about it. Harley would be a part of the team, and leading it, if he had his way. But he couldn’t muster the words right now. Hell, if he so much as glanced at Pierce right now, his wolf would tear out his fucking throat. As far as Harley was concerned, this was all Pierce’s fault. He was the jackass who had destroyed their relationship, the one who had sent Jasmine off galivanting around the globe. If Pierce hadn’t stuck his nose where it hadn’t belonged, dollar to donuts, Jasmine would have been at his side right now. Safe and sound. Not being held for ransom in some decrepit cabin out in the middle of the damn Chiapas.
Pierce started beaking off again—something about “having a plan”—but Harley turned, his hand held up. Every soul in the room fell silent.
“If I do this, I’m in charge,” Harley announced, his voice a deep growl, thanks to his wolf.
“Yeah, no,” the soon-to-be-former team leader said, laughing. “You don’t get to barge in here and make demands like that.”
Harley eyed the man. He didn’t know a damn thing about him, other than his name and position. Gregory Wells, ex-Navy SEAL and now a professional “contractor,” or mercenary as Harley called them. To be perfectly frank, Harley didn’t need to know anything more than that. He’d worked with this sort before. Hot-headed and arrogant as fuck, but usually competent enough to finish the job. Except, this was Jasmine they were talking about. No way in hell Harley would risk her life to some stranger. Someone who didn’t know her. Love her.
Not that he still did.
Still, Harley knew how these operations worked. The extraction team would analyze the situation upon arrival, and sometimes, that was as far as they want. They either demanded more money or they simply vanished. Cash only went so far when their lives were at stake. A mercenary looked out for one person and only one person.
Harley’s lip curled. “I’m in charge. No arguments. You damn well know I’ll get the job done.”
“So will I,” Wells snapped. “You’re not even remotely qualified for this job.”
Harley gave his wolf a bit of slack and slapped his hand down on the table, a grin tugging at his mouth when the wood splintered beneath his palm. “Not qualified? Tell me something, Greggy-boy. What can you hear right now?”
Wells frowned. “What?”
“What can you hear? Right this second. It’s a simple question.”
Wells sighed and pinched his brow. “I hear you bitching and whining about something completely out of your control, and the whir of the air conditioning. What of it?”
“Do you know what I can hear?” When Wells didn’t respond, Harley scoped the room, pointedly staring at every man present. “I can hear each and every one of your heartbeats. On top of the air conditioning, I can hear every single breath you all take. I can hear the five men waiting out in the hall impatiently scuffling their feet. I can hear the secretary typing away on her keyboard out in the lobby. I can smell your individual deodorants and shampoos, smell the brand you use to wash your clothes. Hell, I can even smell what you had for lunch.”
Wells’s eyes slowly widened.
“Can you shift into an animal?” Harley pressed.
“Of course not.”
“I can. I’m sure you’d agree that’s a huge benefit when sneaking in somewhere. An even bigger benefit when that somewhere is located deep in a jungle. Animals go unnoticed. I’ll be able to tell you exactly how many men there are in proximity and sniff out Jasmine’s precise location—no drones or satellite imagery required. So don’t sit there and tell me I’m not qualified. I’m the only qualified one here on the team. Why do you think the senator came looking for me? He wants his daughter home safe, and he trusts me to accomplish that.”
Wells’s jaw tightened, but thankfully, he didn’t argue further.
Harley turned back to the senator. “I’m in charge. I’ll get her out and bring her home.”
“I’m going to hold you to that, Fulton,” Pierce grumbled. “You better be as good as you say. Because if you aren’t—”
“Yeah, yeah.” Harley waved a dismissive hand. “Save your threats for someone who gives a shit.”
He turned and stared at the nearby computer monitor, the one they’d used to show him Jasmine’s last known position. Apparently, they’d tracked her through her FitBit before losing the signal—a miracle considering they’d found her phone abandoned in her car back in Denver. Unfortunately, they hadn’t been able to secure a visual of her since, not through the surrounding copse of jungle. And that unnerved Harley. Even a glimpse would have put his wolf at ease.
A quick study of the topography showed him how close her position was to the Lacandon Jungle and the Guatemalan border. What he hadn’t mentioned to the team was that southern Mexico wasn’t an ideal travel spot for werewolves. Not when the area was almost completely inhabited by militant jaguar-shifters.
Nothing would keep him from tracking down Jasmine, not even a tribe of pissed-off kitty cats.