THE smell of the incense wafted down to the basement, alerting Savage Chaucer to the time. If his pack had lit the fires, he would soon be expected to perform. Females in heat were not known for their patience.
He smiled as he stepped closer to the cage. The human inside violently shook, and the closer Savage stepped, the worse the spasms grew. It was wonderful to be frightening, especially when he knew he could live up to his well-earned reputation. He’d won San Francisco with cunning, sweat, and brutality. Holding it was a different matter altogether. His pack loved him and as long as they continued, he wasn’t going anywhere.
Savage would keep them safe. One way or another. Whatever it took.
“Doctor Robert.” Savage loved to taunt the human. Lots of nicknames, lots of ways to undermine whatever courage the filthy werewolf-killing beast still possessed. Savage would soon be done with the man. The authorities might someday pull pieces of his torn-apart body from the Pacific Ocean. By then he’d be barely a memory in anyone’s mind.
“I’m wondering if you’ve thought of any more information for me.”
“L-l-leave me alone.” The stinky human looked away from him.
When they’d first captured the balding, brown-haired, glasses-wearing peon of a man, he’d been leading a group of True Believers around the Napa Valley, ready to attack and lay havoc on Savage’s fellow werewolves. This was after torturing Chelsea, the mate of Savage’s brother Hayden, for over a decade. Any sympathy Savage might have had for the pissing-himself human started and ended there.
Chelsea was family. Robert had hurt her. Six months in the basement of Savage’s club facing the punishments of his pack was not torture enough.
“That’s not going to happen.” Savage nodded to Archie, his second-in-command. He could be done for the night and head upstairs to get ready for their festivity. His pack so enjoyed caring for the women in heat. Robert wasn’t going to spoil their time. Archie, loyal without question, walked with a steady gait to the door. Savage liked his people happy. Happy pack meant steady Alpha. Unlike the foolish individual locked up before him.
The little man wasn’t going anywhere.
Robert stammered some more. “I don’t know anything else. I swear I don’t.”
“I’m starting to believe you, which isn’t a good thing for your life expectancy.”
Savage could smell the stink of the lie on Robert’s tongue. He still held onto some information.
“You have been relatively well kept here. Haven’t you? Fed. Bathed. You have a blanket at night. Constant company. All of this after you tortured my sister-in-law for having psychic visions.” Savage shook his head. “All I want is some information. Where are the True Believers located on my territory? Where are the children who are going missing from the Lone Wolves?”
Savage didn’t owe any allegiance to non-pack members. If he really was the heartless bastard so many named him—and sometimes he thought he really was—he’d leave those Lone Wolves to their own fates. But he could never stomach a bully. The True Believers, the scummy werewolf-killing organization that had risen up so suddenly to cause pain in their lives, were the worst kind of nasty persecutors. They hunted on his land, and they’d taken innocent children.
He would not allow them to flourish while blood flowed in his body.
“You b-beat me.” Robert managed to gasp. “When I first got here.”
“Whine. Whine. Whine.”
Savage banged his hand on the bars of the cage, and the sound reverberated throughout the otherwise empty room. Until recently, he’d never had cages in the basement. He looked forward to the day when he didn’t have to hold hostages anymore. Oh, the simple days…
“You seem to have recovered from our little abuse of you. What did you think would happen when you declared war on the werewolves? We’re animals, and we like to play with our food. Or at least that’s how you see us. Here’s the truth, Doctor Robert—and I think this should make sense to you, one torturer to another—you are going to die soon. How your end happens is under your control. Tell me what I want to know first thing tomorrow, and I’ll make it fast. One of my men—or maybe myself, if I’m in the mood—will swiftly end your life. Make me wait any longer, and I’m going to make you the prey the next time we run. Full Moon is in one week.” Savage walked away, pausing only to switch the lights off before he exited, leaving Robert in the dark. “Think about it.”
Why did the human have to make things so hard for himself?
Savage preferred the stairs. Elevators made him claustrophobic. For safety reasons, there was no entrance or exit to the basement other than the lifts. He or a member of his pack could turn off those devices and effectively trap whoever was in the lower level down there, if need be. Starve out an enemy. Everyone who entered understood the possibility that he wouldn’t be coming up again.
Only the top members of the hierarchy were allowed entrance. He wasn’t going to risk any of the beta wolves or the juveniles.
Savage pushed the button, and the elevator ascended to the upper floors. He looked at his watch. It was seven, and he forced himself to breathe. Going into the club still tight from the need to get answers from the stupid human wasn’t going to make the heated females feel better.
The second and third weekends of every month were playtime, or at least that was the illusion he sought to foster. The women, who traveled hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles for his heat orgies, weren’t going to be disappointed because the Alpha couldn’t get his head in the game. If they stopped coming, the pack would take a huge revenue loss, and he refused to allow any weakness, financial or otherwise, through his doors.
The elevator opened, and the smells he’d tasted in the basement moved more fluidly around him. Werewolves generally hated false scents…except for the ones he supplied here. The whole experience from lighting to aroma had been meticulously designed over the years to place the female in heat at ease. The more she relaxed, the harder she’d come. If she walked into the club, which was open only for his private events the second and third weekends of the month, then orgasm was what she wanted—no needed—more than anything else.
His pack members who volunteered for club duty, and lately it seemed his non-mated members wanted it so badly they had a waiting list, were happy—both male and female—to see to his clientele’s needs. No money exchanged hands except through the door charge, and he didn’t pay the pack to fuck. The entrance fee went directly into pack accounts, spread out for the use for the entire community. His pack mates weren’t prostitutes; they liked the chance to improve the skills so many of his fellow werewolves lacked—the art of knowing how to make a woman’s fantasy come true.
Critics saw it differently. But Savage didn’t give a fuck.
If the women were getting what they needed at home, they’d never come to his place. No one forced them to make the trip. Packs could figure out how to better handle the heated female, or they could lose them to Savage twice a year for an orgy-filled weekend where everyone had a good time.
Everyone—except, lately, for Savage himself.
He rubbed his neck. The knot in his neck could be worked out later. His wolf prowled around inside him, wanting out, but it wasn’t full moon and he didn’t have the time. Savage pressed the need down.
After winding his way through the hallways, built as a maze to keep anyone who shouldn’t be there lost, he made his way to what essentially amounted to the front of the house. In half an hour, the doors would open, and any female with a ticket could enter. They’d be set at ease. The smell, the dark lighting, the passed foods provided a heady combination of sensations to relax the ladies. Then, as always, the females would lead the way. His pack mates were available for whatever the ladies wanted, but only what they wanted—the females’ desires dictated the course of events.
Savage would move around from group to group, making sure everyone was happy. Participating a touch here, a dab there, if the female wanted. Savage the dream maker. He knew how to add to the scene.
Yet it had been two years since he’d stuck his cock in anyone. For him, the whole thing had gotten terribly boring.
Maybe he needed to fuck to get out of his head. He did his best to hide his dissatisfaction from his scent. Soon, however, his pack was bound to notice. His phone buzzed, and he looked down at it. A message popped up from his brother, Hayden, the better of the two of them by far. Thirteen months Savage’s junior, Hayden had turned sixty-one on his last birthday. His upstanding, wine-making sibling didn’t approve of the sex club. And his lack of approval was exactly why Savage set Hayden up with his own pack when he’d finally been released from the hell which had been his life.
Hayden got to live exactly as he wanted. No more moral choices for his little brother. He was mated, successful, and in control of his own destiny. Savage could never undo the years he’d failed Hayden, but giving him peace helped.
Chelsea says you’ve entered into a very important stage in your life.
Savage shook his head. He fucking hated his sister-in-law’s visions. They were always so vague. He fired off a quick text in response.
Fantastic. I’ll look forward to the income increase.
Savage shut off his phone. As antsy as he felt, he needed all his concentration on the present. The outside world—Alpha Primes, Healer Primes, Alpha Wars, True Believers, and the screaming from the other parts of the country—would have to wait until morning. Tonight was about the ladies who came to receive attention.
He sniffed the air as his master of ceremonies, Fiona, slid next to him. The woman had no sexual boundaries. She loved her job, and since she had begun overseeing the small details of the nights, everything had gone perfectly. It had been her idea to install the fantasy rooms. Anything the females wanted behind closed doors…
Fiona was mated, but her man liked to watch. If they didn’t fit in elsewhere, they fit in with Savage.
“How’s the scent?” She smiled, inhaling a deep breath. Like Savage, she checked the ambience they’d created.
“Just the right amount of aphrodisiacs. Is that sandalwood you added this week?”
She didn’t use the same batch every night, lest anyone get too used to it. Getting pheromones right was tricky.
His father had once told him it was women’s work. Why had he wasted so much time? Did he want the other Alphas to know how weak he really was?
Savage pushed the thought from his mind. Where the fuck had the unwanted memory come from? His parents had no place in his present—especially not on heat nights.
“When I used it two months ago, it really got things pumping.”
He nodded. “You know I trust you.”
She grinned, the ring in her left eyebrow rising to meet her pink-tinted bangs. “Thank you, my Alpha. You honor me.”
“I do.” He petted her head. Werewolves needed touch from their Alpha, and his group, some of whom had been horribly rejected by their closed-minded former pack, required it even more. “You’ve earned my honor. Guards in place?”
She nodded. “Of course.”
Werewolves could judge San Francisco, roll their eyes behind his back, but none would ever take it from him. He had the best-trained, largest army of dominant wolves ready to defend or attack on his order. His men and women could fight as well as they fucked.
Even if Cyrus, Alexei, Kennedy, and the others had no idea how well he and his could protect their city. Savage smiled. He preferred their ignorance.
“Is everyone checked in?”
Fiona rocked on her feet, her excitement palpable. “As always. They never miss a night.”
“Great. Then I’ll make my rounds as usual in an hour.”
By then he should be smiling, happy, or at least better able to pretend to be. Maybe there would be a female in heat he’d feel like fucking until she felt relief, although he doubted it. His dick didn’t harden at the thought.
He had paperwork to go over in his office, things needing his signature and busy work to fill the time. He’d reapply his eye makeup. His mask kept everyone from seeing him as he really was.
Just the way he liked it.
* * * *
Sydney Dyke undid the braid from her hair and stared at her reflection in the hotel-room mirror. The woman looking at her was virtually unrecognizable from her everyday appearance. Gone were her long, shapeless skirt and too-big-on-her buttoned-up blouse, both of which were modest and bland. She understood the reason for the shapeless attire. Male werewolves couldn’t control themselves if they saw a female they found attractive. Her parents cared about her wellbeing. It was why her grandfather left his pack a century ago and why she and the others lived as they did.
Since her death seemed imminent anyway, she wanted to know relief from her heat once in her twenty-five years. No one had to ever know.
The two braids she wore every day to keep the hair out of her eyes when she milked the cows were gone. Her long, wavy red hair fell down her back, nearly touching her rear end. The women in the magazines she wasn’t allowed to read, but saw when she made supply trips like the one she was on for her father, didn’t look like she did.
Though the models were thin, Sydney wasn’t. The black pants and the dressy, sequined sleeveless top she’d purchased with her carefully hoarded money showed off her curvy and roll-filled figure. All the women in her family were built the same. Sturdy, her mother called them. Strong, to endure.
Normally she didn’t care. She would never have a true mate. The first full moon past her twenty-fifth birthday—the one coming up the following week—would be her last. The Garto-Wolf would come, and her life would be forfeit, as it had been for the first-born female of each generation.
She sighed. If she ran or fought, it wouldn’t matter. Like her cousin before her, she would still die.
Sydney pushed the thoughts away. Some things couldn’t be avoided. She didn’t have to like her impending doom, and, when the time came, she planned to fight like hell. Her body ached from need and by the Moon, she would know once what it felt like to get the release she needed.
She burned alive from the inside; her body was so…hot.
Forcing calming breaths, she planted her hands on her hips. This trip had been meticulously calculated for the last year. Her parents thought she was in Boise. If they even suspected she’d hopped a bus to San Francisco, they’d be beside themselves and certainly send one of her nineteen siblings after her—probably her brother Thaddeus. She shuddered at the thought. Out of all her siblings, holier-than-thou Thaddeus made her want to vomit the most.
The rest were fine; some she even adored and hadn’t minded raising while her mother produced more. Older brother Thaddeus could go fall in a pit.
Her wolf rubbed against her. She couldn’t shift except at Full Moons, but she’d always been lucky in that she had a constant relationship with her canine half. She was never alone, and, even when the Garto came, she’d be okay because when she died, she’d be held in her wolf-sister’s arms.
After grabbing the key to her room, she put it on a chain around her neck. She really hoped she was dressed okay. Nowhere in the instructions she’d received in the back and forth to her PO Box had she read anything about dress code. She wasn’t…sexy. Sydney could barely stand to even think the word. It brought up all sorts of stories of being rejected by the moon for unmated coupling. She knew she was risking her immortal soul by even entering the club.
She’d heard from one her cousins who had run away years earlier—and then returned so that another cousin could steal away—that in other places females didn’t have to be locked away during their heat. They could pick a man and get what they needed. Unfortunately, her cousin would never risk the wrath of Garto to do the same for Sydney. It had been up to her to take care of herself.
Surely her round body wouldn’t be too much of a barrier. Someone she liked could like her in return for one night.
Some sweet relief…
Holding her spine stiff, she marched out the front door and started down the ten blocks to the club. One night, all she wanted was one night for her, then home to fight her destiny. First, she needed some blasted relief.
Her confidence sustained her all the way through the front door. She turned her ticket into a woman who had purple hair. She’d stared a little too long, and the lady winked at her. Startled, she surged forward with the crowd of other women.
Once inside, however, insecurity crept along her spine and made her shoulders sag. The place was huge, and people were everywhere. Her cousin said they had private rooms in the rear that she could retreat to once she found a partner. How on Earth had Sydney expected to manage finding someone, much less privacy?
The place stunk. She could barely breathe. It was like she had walked into a room filled with perfume, and she might never get out again. Her eyes watered, and she shook her head, declining a drink from a half-naked man who was covered in piercings as she made her way to the corner of the room.
She swung around. Sydney didn’t even really know how to speak to a male wolf who wasn’t family. What in the hell had she been thinking? There had to be a better way than…
Her breath caught in her throat. She’d barely stepped inside and wolves were starting to pair off. One woman even had two men touching her at the same time. Sydney leaned against the wall and tried to count to three. Wasn’t she supposed to be turned on? She’d thought about all of this stuff when she’d lain in bed at night, and the imaginings alone had made her hot as steam. So why was she panicking?
Well, whatever the reason, she’d clearly been stupid in thinking she could make this work. She had to get out. That was all there was to it. Turning on her heel, she rushed for the door, only to find a huge woman blocking her path. At five-feet-eight inches tall, Sydney wasn’t small for a werewolf female. But the wolf in front of her had to be six-feet-three.
The blonde amazon spoke down to her with a voice that could only be called gentle yet commanding. “Where are you going?”
“Out.” She pointed to the door.
“You only arrived seconds ago.” The female took her by the arm and led her toward the main floor. “You can’t have found what you needed yet. I can smell your discomfort, your need for release. Anyone here would be happy to help you. Pick someone out. I’ll make an introduction.”
Sydney couldn’t breathe. “Please let me go. I want to leave. This was a terrible mistake.”
“Sometimes wolves feel the way you do at first. We always manage to show them a good time. Maybe you’d like to sit and eat something. We can talk.”
Sydney ripped her arm away. “All I want to do is go home. Thank you so much. I’m sorry. I’ve made a mistake.”
“Who’s going to make you feel better if you run away already?”
“No one.” She hated the sob in her voice. “And I think I prefer it. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
A voice preempted whatever her newfound would-be jailor intended to say. “Off Crystal.”
The tall woman nodded, her eyes widening before she retreated into the room. Sydney turned to see who on Earth could have made the tall woman run away. With all the scents in the room and her head starting to pound, she couldn’t sense who had gotten near to her.
Her heart fluttered, and she had to lean against the wall to support her. The most astonishingly beautiful man she had ever seen regarded her. He was tall with long, black hair. His eyes, which revealed nothing of his thoughts, were equally as dark, and, adding to the picture, he wore black eyeliner under his eyes which accentuated the sheer feeling of nighttime all around him. He wore two large silver earrings in each lobe.
His clothes, by contrast, were pure white. He wore loose pants that tightened around his waist, showing off how muscular he was, and a form-fitted V-neck T-shirt. Evident at the bottom of the V was a tattoo she couldn’t make out, but which looked red where it popped into view.
Sydney’s entire body went into high alert, and she had absolutely no idea what he smelled like. The heat, which had dulled with her terror, spiked to life, leaving her aching to her bones and her head swimming. She didn’t know what aroma he would give off, but she would bet money it was something dark. Intense. All consuming.
“Please don’t worry about Crystal. Getting people to stay is her job. To help those who might be feeling skittish to relax. I think she was having the opposite effect on you.”
Sydney placed a hand against her chest. Had her heart ever galloped so fast before? She’d be lucky if she survived the night. The stranger had a voice to go with his appearance, husky, low. Even without the gift of scent she knew he was powerful.
“I want to leave. She made me come further in here.”
He raised one dark eyebrow and extended his hand. “Would you allow me the courtesy of walking you out?”
He was going to let her go. The idea relieved her anxiety a notch while making her body ache even further. How could she be feeling so many things all at once?
He extended his hand, and she walked in front of him.
“Savage.” A brown-haired woman with perky breasts peeking through her black dress grabbed him by the arm. “Where are you going? I returned for more. Like last time.”
“Hello.” The man behind her spoke to the slim woman. “How nice to have you here again. I’m occupied at the moment and…”
Savage. The owner. No matter how little she knew about the place, she recognized his name. Savage Chaucer, her cousin had told her. The man who made sexual dreams come true. He had no limits. Her cousin had fanned herself when she’d talked about him. If the female wanted to see it, he’d have sex with a man in front of her.
Sydney didn’t know if she wanted to see two men having sex or not, but she did know the woman in the black dress did not want to be separated from Savage. Her brief glance at the two of them together made her want to throw something at the woman’s head.
With her hands shaking again, she ran for the door. This place did funny things to her, and, beyond her immediate reaction to the club’s owner, she didn’t want to stay around to see what else it did. She had to get out of there, fast.