What a Wolf Desires
The inside of the Lodge was brighter than Lizette remembered, the foyer spiraling up a dizzying sixty feet. Twin staircases graced either side, each one leading to a catwalk that appeared to float across the impressive space.
The foyer opened onto a massive great room dominated by a huge stone fireplace. She’d spent many an evening lying in front of it, chin propped on her hand, studying the flames.
She longed to sink into one of the big leather couches in front of the fireplace, but she had her instructions. Her orders. She was to report directly to the Alpha as soon as she set foot in the building. Disobeying wouldn’t be a good way to start her visit.
And a visit is exactly what it’s going to be. As she walked the familiar path to Max’s study, his presence was like a beating heart in the huge Lodge. Each pulse dragged her closer to him, even though every nerve screamed for her to run back out the door and never stop.
“Lizette?” a young, feminine voice called behind her.
She stopped and pivoted toward it. “Haley?”
A dark blur shot from the other end of the hallway. Before she could say anything else, Haley threw itself into Lizette’s arms, wrapping her in a tight, perfumed hug with surprising strength.
She patted her friend’s springy, light brown curls. “Have you been working out?”
Haley laughed and pulled back so they were face-to-face. “It’s the wolf,” she said, her white, even teeth bisected by the thin metal wire of her retainer. “I can’t believe how much it’s changed me in such a short time.”
Six weeks earlier, Haley had convinced her guardians to let her spend a weekend with Lizette. Haley turned seventeen that past Christmas with no sign of her wolf emerging. The Turn happened at different ages for everyone, but it usually happened by puberty—and because girls tended to mature faster than boys, females usually Turned earlier. But Haley hadn’t made the change, and her guardians worried she never would. Among werewolves, such wolves were called latents.
Latents had a wolf counterpart, but they couldn’t Turn. They felt the pull of the wolf’s instincts but had no outlet for them. Lizette had heard it described as being a pianist with your hands permanently tied behind your back.
It was a sad, frustrating existence for wolves, cursed to live trapped inside their human bodies, unable to transform into their other selves. The hope of finding a mate was slim, since they lacked the ability to form the lifelong bonds so treasured by the wolves, and many couldn’t bear to be around normal werewolves.
The problem had even spilled over from werewolf society and trickled down into the human world. Every now and then news headlines told of a madman or killer who’d committed some unspeakable crime. In some cases, it was just a random crazy human. But in others it was a latent who’d lost his or her grip on reality, and the local Alpha would dispatch a group of wolves to quietly take care of the problem.
In the morning the human police would find the defendant hanged in his cell. Was it murder? Yes, but it was too risky to allow those wolves to live.
The human word lunatic was a lot closer to the truth than most people realized.
At first Haley’s guardians thought she might simply be a late bloomer. But when puberty came and went and she still hadn’t Turned, they were desperate. So they sent her to Lizette, hoping some time with another female around her own age might relieve some of the Haley’s anxieties. What if she never Turned? Latents often lived a sort of half-life. Cut off from the werewolf community, many committed suicide.
To everyone’s delight, Haley Turned for the first time during her stay at Lizette’s place. She and Lizette had danced around the apartment blasting One Direction and Taylor Swift until Lizette got a migraine and the downstairs neighbor pounded on the ceiling to shut them up.
Lizette squeezed Haley’s bicep. “I’m impressed. You have Madonna arms.”
Haley laughed, her pretty face lit up with joy. It made Lizette’s heart happy to see her like this. In a way she felt protective of her, and not just because Lizette was there the first time Haley Turned. Like Lizette, Haley lost her parents as a child. Although Haley was raised in a werewolf community, they’d both been foster kids of a sort. Haley knew what it felt like to be an outsider.
Haley’s expression grew abruptly serious. “Have you seen him yet?”
Lizette swallowed. Of course Haley knew why Lizette was here. There was only one thing—or rather one person—who could have compelled her to return. “Not yet. Soon.”
They stared at each other. Even at seventeen, Haley understood that being summoned to appear before the Alpha was serious business. Everyone did. In Lizette’s case, however, it held a special significance.
“I should go.”
“You should go.”
They both laughed.
Lizette took a reluctant step toward the foyer. “I’m sure I’ll see you later. We have a ton of things to catch up on.” She dropped her voice to a whisper. “Like boys.” Although goodness knew Lizette had little advice to offer in that area. Aside from one brief—and that was generous—relationship as a teen, her love life was DOA.
“Definitely,” Haley said. “And I want to run together before you go.”
Lizette gave Haley a little wave and tried to ignore the way her stomach lurched as she headed back the way she’d come. She stopped in front of a set of big double doors and wiped her palms on her jeans. She angled her chin down and took in her sweater and mint green Chucks. Was Aiden right? Maybe she should have changed.
This is ridiculous. She was twenty-four years old, not fifteen…so why did she feel like a teenager reporting to the principal’s office?
Or a woman on a first date.
Not going there. She’d see what he wanted and then go home. Simple as that. She took a deep breath and knocked.
“Come,” said a low voice from behind the door.
The sound ripped through her like a thunderclap, and her knees almost gave out. She clenched her fists and pressed her fingernails into her palms—a trick she learned from Dom. The pain steadied her. She pushed the door open…
…and locked gazes with the Alpha. Her Alpha. Maxime Alexandre Simard.
He sat behind his desk, his posture relaxed. A lord in command of his domain.
And in the werewolf world, that’s exactly what he was.
The first time she saw him was in the back of a Los Angeles County courtroom. Her caseworker had called her foster parents the day before, breathless, saying a relative had come forward—a distant cousin of Lizette’s mother. He was flying in from New York and would be there the next day to file the paperwork.
In court he wore a charcoal gray suit and a dark blue tie. His jacket sleeves rode up when he shook her foster father’s hand, exposing his shirt cuffs and the strange metal jewelry he wore there instead of buttons. When she slid past him to climb into the limo, she accidentally brushed his sleeve, and the fabric felt like a cloud against her skin. He’d smelled of pine and soap and something…darker…a rich spice she couldn’t identify.
Lizette knew right away that he wasn’t human. There was something other about him. At fifteen, she’d been old enough to see through a disguise, even a convincing one. As soon as the door closed, she’d blurted, “Are you human?”
Her heart had pounded so hard her chest had hurt. “Will you hurt me?”
“Never. I promise you.”
“Are you…” She thought back to the stash of vampire novels she kept hidden under her bed at her foster parents’ house. “Are you immortal?”
“I’m afraid not.”
Disappointment washed over her…followed by renewed curiosity. “How old are you, then?”
“Twenty-seven.” She must have looked surprised, because he smiled. “You expected me to be older?”
“If you’re not human, then what are you?” He spoke perfect English, but he had an accent…something refined and Old World. It curled around her brain like a lazy cat. She caught herself leaning toward him, hoping he’d speak again.
“Ah.” He looked thoughtful for a minute. “What do you think I am, petite?”
He tapped on the glass dividing the back seat from the front, and the car rumbled to life and slid into traffic. When he turned back to her, his light blue eyes were different. Sharper. “What if I told you that you and I are the same…”
Sitting behind his desk now, Max looked exactly as he had in the courtroom nine years ago. Knowing what she did today, Lizette knew he’d look more or less the same for the rest of his long life.
His face was aristocratic and refined—his patrician nose set between straight black eyebrows. He wore his thick black hair brushed back from a broad, unlined forehead, and his jaw was shadowed by what looked like several days’ growth of beard. But his light blue eyes were his most arresting feature. Pale as a spring sky, they focused on her as if she was the only creature on earth.
He was the only wolf she knew whose eyes changed very little between forms. To notice any difference, a person had to be standing toe-to-toe with him.
Or kissing him.
Her breath hitched. She realized she was staring and dropped her gaze to the thick patterned carpet. Shit. First she challenged Dom. Now she just challenged Max. With Dom, she’d breached protocol because she was angry. This time she hadn’t even realized she was doing it.
“Sit,” Max said, his voice curt. He remained seated as she approached the leather chairs in front of his desk. That didn’t surprise her. Alphas stood for no one—especially this Alpha.
She perched on the edge of one of the chairs, her gaze on the space near his right shoulder. He sat with his elbows on the desk, studying her. He’d rolled back the long sleeves of his starched white button-down, revealing muscled forearms sprinkled with black hairs. The casual style should have made him look less intimidating, but it did the opposite.
She felt his gaze wander across her body, its heat like a spotlight against her skin. All thoughts of controlling her heart rate fled—the meditation she practiced during the drive scattering like a flock of birds.
As if drawn by a magnet, she locked gazes with him again. The back of her neck tingled as they stared at each other. If he felt anything in the soft skin of his right thumb, he gave no indication.
After a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, he let his wolf creep into his eyes. “You think to challenge me?” he asked softly, sounding merely curious.
She lowered her gaze to his collarbone. “No.”
His chair creaked as he leaned back. “You’ve been too long in the human world. You forget our ways.”
“So I’ve heard,” she muttered. The thing was, it was true when Dom said it. This time, though, she hadn’t forgotten. Normally the wolf’s instinct kicked in and compelled her to drop her gaze whenever a more dominant wolf was around. Max was the most dominant wolf in any room, which meant her instinct should have been firing on all cylinders. But it had deserted her just now.
For a brief moment she’d forgotten to avoid staring directly into his eyes. She was surprised she was able to maintain eye contact as long as she had. Apparently the usual rules didn’t apply to them.
“Well,” he continued, “we shall remedy that now that you’re here.”
She cleared her throat. “Since you brought it up, I’d actually like to know why I’m here.”
He rose and walked to the floor-to-ceiling windows facing the gorge a hundred feet below. The windows took up the entire wall—a feature that repeated across most of the rear of the Lodge, which had been built to take advantage of the area’s natural beauty. The wall behind his desk displayed a large map of the United States and Canada. Instead of showing the usual boundary lines, however, it was sectioned into sixty territories—each marked with a capital no human would have recognized. They sat in the New York Territory which, predictably, included all of New York. Unlike the human version, Max’s domain extended all the way north to Quebec.
She tore her gaze away from the map. She didn’t need another reminder of his power. It was literally in the room with her, almost like an aura shining around him. She’d never felt it so strongly before. All high-ranking wolves oozed power, but most wielded incredible control over it. If they chose, they could also mute their power so it wasn’t so obnoxious.
Was he displaying his on purpose to intimidate her? But no, displays weren’t really Max’s style. He was far too subtle for that.
“How are your headaches?” he asked without turning around.
She closed her eyes. “Fine.”
“I can smell your lie from here.”
It was impossible to reply without telling the truth—or getting caught in another lie—so she clamped her mouth shut. She had a feeling he was going to say whatever he wanted to say anyway.
“You’ve lost weight.”
She gritted her teeth. “In the human world, that’s generally considered a good thing. Women are always trying to lose weight.”
“You’re not a human.” He rolled his neck on his shoulders, the movement drawing her gaze. She’d forgotten how big he was. Even if he wasn’t an Alpha, he’d still command any room he entered, and not just because of his physical size. The fabric of his shirt stretched tight over powerful shoulders and a broad back that tapered to lean hips. Her stare sank lower…until she realized where it was headed and tore her eyes away.
What was she doing?
She must have made a sound, because he turned away from the window. She had his full attention now.
Crap, crap, crap.
She pressed her damp palms against her jeans as his denim-clad legs appeared before her. He stopped in front of his desk, his body inches from hers. A warm hand lifted her chin and kept lifting her, gently pulling her to her feet.
Her heart threatened to leap out of her chest. He tipped her chin up. He’d stuffed his wolf down so deep, he appeared as a normal man—or as normal as Maxime Simard would ever get. In a blink, his demeanor changed. The wolf bled from his eyes, and his gaze dipped to her mouth. They were no longer speaking Alpha-to-subject. This was something entirely different.
She knew this Max. He was more terrifying than the Alpha.
“You want to know why I called you back.” He made it a statement.
She swallowed. “Yes.”
His eyes glittered. “That’s easy. I wanted to speak with my wife.”