The third book in the smoldering, romantic series featuring a whole lot of fur and a whole lot of curves.
If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Gage’s worst fears have come to light. One of his own has betrayed him, nearly resulting in the death of his mate. Then he finds out the betrayer was in league with the High King of werewolves, the man who took out the hit for unknown reasons. When Alara, the king’s illegitimate daughter—and his brother’s new mate—elects Gage as a contender for the crown, he’s torn between duty and love once more. On one hand, becoming High King could allow him to get closer to the witch who’s pulling the strings—the mysterious Mistress Black. On the other hand, it almost certainly means putting his mate that much closer to danger.
And Gage isn’t the only one who’s after the crown. Werewolves of all backgrounds rise up to put their chips into play in what becomes one of the deadliest power struggles in werewolf history. The stakes are higher than ever, especially when a foe from Gage’s past shows up with the sole intention of making Danica his.
If their love is to survive, Danica and Gage will have to work together to uncover the true motives behind the witch mafia’s activity and defeat the most wicked enemy either of them has ever known. Secrets will be revealed, love will be tested, and ghosts from the past will emerge in this third exciting installment to the sexy Blood Moon Rising series.
Series: Blood Moon Rising
Genre: Erotic romance/paranormal romance/romantic suspense/BBW
Age: 18+ for language and frequent sexy scenes
Number in series: 3 of 6
Length: full-length novella
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EXCERPT (SPOILER ALERT: Please do not continue if you haven’t read the first two books. Fever, book one, is currently free!)
Danica had only a few seconds before her mate’s emotions slammed into her, the heaviest of which was shock. The sheer force of it, coupled with her own swirling feelings, held her body immobile while her mind raced to process what Alara had just said.
“I want to name you my successor.”
Alara wanted Gage to be High King of the werewolves. And that would make Danica….
Her heart began to race, rocketing from moderate to oh-my-God. She’d only recently grown accustomed to the idea of ruling a pack. Now Alara thought Danica could rule an entire nation of werewolves? Was she insane? Danica fit in with the royal crowd as much as a wolf did among sheep, no pun intended.
The silence between the four wolves stretched uncomfortably.
Danica tasted Gage’s feelings through their bond as he recovered, which was apparently one of the weird side effects of mating to another werewolf. It gave the term “soul mates” new meaning. The vibrant tang of shock briefly gave way to sweet hope and then quickly soured with fear.
“I can’t,” Gage said, his face as hard as stone.
“Brother,” Nik said carefully, taking a step toward him, “I know she’s springing this on you out of the blue, but I think you should take a moment to consider what she’s offering. Think of the good you could do.”
“Think of the damage,” Gage replied without hesitation. Danica sensed his growing bitterness and terror along with a heaping of self-loathing that made her heart ache for him. “In case you have forgotten, I single-handedly managed to slaughter a good number of my pack in one fell swoop only a short while after claiming the rank of Alpha. Even Malachite would be impressed.”
“Bullshit,” Nik spat. “Malachite’s done far worse, and we both know it. Don’t even pretend for a second you’re anything like that piece of shit.”
“But what if I am?” Gage countered, his voice growing louder. He shook his head, at a brief loss for words. “After everything we’ve been through with Malachite, I vowed never to subject my pack to that kind of mindless violence again. But I can feel it.” He stared at the trembling fist at his side. “I can feel my bloodlust surge when I’m in wolf form. I crave the taste of flesh and the snapping of bones. And I fear someday I won’t be able to control the wolf and it will consume me. Anyone near me will pay the price.”
Nik ran a hand through his hair. “You’re being paranoid.”
“Nik,” Alara chastised quietly.
“I’m being careful,” Gage said sternly, ignoring the insult. “Carnage is in our blood, Nik. Father made sure of that.”
They held each other’s eyes a long while, something unreadable passing between them. It was selfish to feel jealous of the bond between them, which in turn made her feel guilty, but she couldn’t help it. She hadn’t pressed Gage to open up about his family, aside from the CliffsNotes version he’d already relayed to her. Some hurts were best left alone. Otherwise, the wounds would never heal.
“Listen, little bro,” Nik said, stepping forward and gripping Gage’s shoulders, “how long are you going to hold on to your loathing of our father?”
“Jesus, Nik, I don’t loathe him.” Gage stepped away and pinched the bridge of his nose. With a frustrated sigh, he dropped his hand. “I don’t know how I feel about him.”
Nik gazed at his brother with concern and sympathy. “Look, whatever it is that’s holding you back from running for High King, don’t be afraid to face it. That’s all I’m saying.”
Gage didn’t say anything as he looked away, signaling the end of the conversation.
Danica sensed his urge to run and placed a hand on his arm. “Why don’t we head back to our room and let them get cleaned up before the meeting tonight?”
“Good idea,” Alara said, quickly catching on. “The meeting starts in an hour, and regardless of what you decide, as an Alpha you should be there.”
Gage gave her a curt nod.
“We’ll be by in a half hour to pick you up,” Alara said, stepping aside so they could walk out.
Nik had his arms crossed, a worried frown plastered on his face as he watched Gage head past them toward the door like he couldn’t escape fast enough.
Not wanting to leave on an awkward foot, Danica paused and smiled. “Congratulations again, you two.”
Alara smiled back, and that excited sparkle returned to Nik’s eyes as he kissed his new mate’s neck.
Danica left and softly shut the door behind her, finding her mate waiting for her in the hallway.
He leaned with his back against the wall, his arms crossed and a brooding expression on his face.
“Careful,” Danica said, gently pressing the tip of her nail into his cheek. “My aunt said if you frown too much, your face will get stuck that way.”
Gage blinked a few times as his eyes focused on her. “I’m sorry, love. What did you say?”
Danica sighed and grabbed his arm. “Come on, you. Let’s walk.”
They strode alongside each other in silence for a ways. Their room was over in the next wing, which, needless to say, was quite a walk from here. Normally she would have spent the time admiring the extravagance around them, but all she could look at was Gage. When Danica couldn’t stand the silence any longer, she said, “How are you handling all this?”
“Let’s use our bond to talk,” Gage said through their telepathic pack link. “Too many prying wolf ears in one place for my liking.”
“Oh. Gotcha.” She still didn’t want to talk through her mind by default, at least, not like Gage, Nik, and other longtime werewolves. It was yet another bizarre aspect about her new life that was starting to sink in as a reality but wasn’t quite concrete yet.
“To answer your question,” Gage went on, “I don’t know.”
Danica waited, trying to think of a way to wheedle some clarification out of him.
“What about you?” he asked. “How would you feel about being High Queen?”
Her heart sped up, and her palms went clammy. “I could handle it.”
“All right, all right, it scares the bejesus out of me. I just don’t want my fears to get in the way of you making the decision that’s best for you.” She squeezed his hand. “I’ll support whatever you decide.”
They stopped in front of their door, the conversation pausing as Gage unlocked it. Once inside, he said aloud, “See, that’s the problem. I can’t risk exposing you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about how there was a hit on you—could still be, for all we know—and Alara’s wanting to drag us into the spotlight. We might as well attach a neon sign to you!”
He cupped her face in his hands, making her breath catch. “And there is no way in hell I can be moved to ever place you in danger again. I don’t care what’s at stake. The whole damned world could be falling apart, and even if sacrificing you was the only way to save it, I’d hold you tight and watch the world burn.”
Danica searched his eyes. All she saw was desperation.
And fear. Cold, soul-corroding fear.
Taking his hands, she twined her fingers with his. She thought through what she wanted to say before she spoke. “I know you think I’m still this breakable human, but I’m not.” Determination hardened her features, and she straightened her spine. “I’m stronger than you think. Don’t underestimate me.”
“I would never be so foolish, dearest.” He kissed her forehead and then rested his cheek against her curls. “I just can’t stand to lose you too.”
Just like his father, mother, his older brother, his packmates…. Gage had suffered so much loss in his life. So had she, to be honest. Her whole family had literally vanished over the years, leaving her alone in the world.
Save for Gage. In the end, when it was all said and done, they had each other.
Danica freed her hands and wrapped her arms around him. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“Good. Because I don’t intend on ever letting you go. Werewolves tend to be possessive, especially Alphas.”
“Good,” she murmured with a smile of contentment. “Possess me all you want.”
They stayed like that a few moments, holding each other and listening to one another’s hearts beat. Since becoming an Alpha’s mate, Danica hadn’t gotten to spend much alone time with him. There was always something that needed to be done, some political treaty to look over, or a charity ball for supernaturals…. Being an Alpha’s mate was no different from being the mayor’s wife. Honestly, she didn’t know what she had been expecting. Fantastic sex at all hours of the day while they frolicked in the moonlight as wolves at night?
Thinking of moonlight made her skin tingle with that familiar itch she’d felt all afternoon. Her eyes flicked to the pale silver light spilling through the lace curtains of their balcony.
Gage followed her gaze. “You feel it calling to you, don’t you?” he murmured.
“Yes,” she said without hesitation, still transfixed by the moonlight. “It’s been just like you said it would. I feel like I could go through a whole bottle of anti-itch cream and it wouldn’t be enough.”
He chuckled, the deep sound rolling through her chest and setting her more at ease. He rubbed her arms reassuringly. “The Change is… well, let’s just say it’s an ‘out-of-body experience.’”
“Ha ha,” she said wryly, tacking a smile on at the end.
Her heart pounded just thinking about her bones shifting into something else, something wilder.
Thank God both the Change and the mating ceremony couldn’t take place on the same full moon. Having sex for the first time with her mate, and in front of their pack, no less, had been nerve-wracking enough. Turning into another creature altogether was in a totally different category of weird.
“Don’t worry,” Gage said. He took her hand and squeezed, running the rough pad of his thumb over the smooth skin along the back of her knuckles. “I’ll be there the whole time to guide you through it.”
Danica smiled up at him as confidently as she could, though her stomach still did somersaults that made her want to regurgitate her dinner.
A moment of silence passed, and Danica looked up to find her mate watching her with a wry smile.
“What?” she said.
He grinned and pulled her toward the bed. “Come away from the window before you start howling.”
She playfully nudged him and he tucked her in beside him on top of the bed. Finally tearing her eyes from the moonlight, she leaned her head against his chest and said softly, “What do you think you’re going to do about running for High King? Nik and Alara will be here soon.”
Gage was silent a moment and then he sighed hard. “I’m going to decline it.”
“What?” Danica abruptly sat up and stared down at him. “Why?”
Emotion swam in his eyes as he toyed with a curl of hers. “I have to protect you at any cost.”
“Gage, love”—she took his hand and kissed his fingers—“I’m not going to lie that becoming High Queen intimidates me. Hell, I’m still getting used to being the mate of an Alpha in a minor pack. But I can also sense how innately good you are.” She rested her hand over his chest, right where his heart was. “I’ve discovered that part of being mated to someone is knowing the color of their soul, and yours is so pure it puts mine to shame. At the summit, those people….” She shivered just thinking about it. “Not one of those Alphas possessed a tenth of caring and genuine kindness that you do. And as much as being queen frightens me, it scares me even more to think what would happen to our kind if one of them became High King.”
She cupped his face and stared intently into his eyes. “You can’t go down without a fight, even if you’re scared. We’re all scared of something, whether we admit to it or not. It’s what keeps us human. And I know you feel like you’ve been alone, because I can feel your loneliness like it’s carved a hole in my own chest. But you don’t have to be so strong and stubborn all the time. We’re in this together. Come hell or high water, I’m going to be here for you no matter what we face. So what if being king scares you? You’re Gage Johnson, an Alpha werewolf. You’re strong enough to do this, and I’m strong enough to stand by your side.”
He went silent, searching her eyes. “Danica—”
“Sssh.” She placed a finger to his lips. “You don’t have to decide right this minute. Just think about it, okay?”
He nodded once, and she resettled against his chest. For several silent minutes they lay there, lost in their own thoughts.
Danica pressed her lips together, unsure whether the indecision she felt was hers or Gage’s. Sometimes the tangle of emotions was downright maddening.
A knock came at the door.
Gage sighed and they sat up together. “That’s Nik.”
“Yeah.” She smiled. “Go kick some ass, tiger.”
The corners of his mouth pulled up into that sexy grin she’d first fallen for back at the bar. “Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to say wolf?”
She wrapped her arms around his neck and smiled against his lips. “Maybe.”
As they kissed, impatient knocking came from the door. “Gage, get your ass out here.”
They reluctantly parted, and Gage stood, straightening his collared shirt and wiping away her lipstick with a tissue. “We both know patience isn’t Nik’s strong suit,” he said with a wink. “I’ll be back for your first Change. See you soon.”
“Good luck,” Danica said, smiling. “No matter what you decide, I’ll be here.”
His eyes warmed. He nodded and then left with Nik and Alara.
Once alone, Danica fell back against the sheets with a huge sigh. Instinctively, her head turned toward the window.
Gage told her that werewolf magic—which stemmed from the curse that allowed them to shift—actually came from nature, and thus, was a type of Green Magic. From this point forward, she’d crave to be outdoors as her inner wolf was constantly drawn to the open sky and fresh air. She’d already craved that long before she’d been marked. Sunshine, lush green grass, and a vibrant blue sky were much more preferable than the dark, gloomy shack she’d lived in as a human. More than anything, that place had served as a reminder of how alone she was and that everyone had abandoned her.
Blinking away the memories of her dark past, she looked away from the moon and wondered about the prospect of living here if she became queen. The castle was beautiful, but did she really want this life? Having been the mate of an ordinary Alpha for only a month, she knew better than to think the strain of all their responsibilities would lift if they moved up the social ladder. If anything, the duties piled upon them would grow.
Would their relationship eventually snap under the weight and added pressure? Since werewolf couples technically weren’t married, they couldn’t divorce if things went south.
Sadness wrenched her heart, and she firmly shoved that depressing thought away. Losing Gage was something she most certainly did not want to think about.
Standing, she walked about the room and ran her fingers over the fine furniture and expensive items before looking out the window again.
Their suite was high up on the third floor. The forest lay below her, the tips of the trees dusted in moonlight. Several yards away, a lake shimmered like diamonds.
She imagined what she’d look like up here from the perspective of someone driving up to the castle—like a dot, a speck, or a ghost even. More like a princess locked away in a tower. Before she’d met Gage, all she’d ever wanted was to escape her old life. What if this new one caged her in just as much as her human life had? She’d been bound to a day job she’d loathed because she couldn’t find a better job that would give her enough money to pay her bills, and even then, those were so high she could barely afford the cost of living. Now she’d have to push aside her own wants because of her title within the werewolf community.
Danica leaned her head against the cool glass and sighed. When she was a little girl, she’d always dreamed of being a princess. She’d never considered what exactly that entailed. There was so much more to it than pretty dresses and living her happily-ever-after. But of course, fairy tales never got into the nitty-gritty of real-life problems.
Danica couldn’t help letting her mind wander….
What if the princess had started to feel trapped? What if eventually the castle became a prison and the crown her shackles?
Could she still bring herself to love the prince who had brought her there, or would she grow to resent him?
Would she still be free to live her own life on her own terms? Or would she forever be defined by the crown she wore while the person she was beneath the dress slowly vanished until she was forgotten?
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