If there’s one thing Nik Johnson can’t stand, it’s the thought of finding his mate. Which, apparently, he’ll have to do soon, since his mating Fever has finally arrived. With his thoughts still hung up on his former lover, he’s given up the hope of ever finding a love that perfect again. Until he meets Alara….
Alara Crescent has had anything but a charmed life, despite her family’s status as high family within the werewolf world. Ridiculed constantly for her weight by her cruel mother and father, she’s beginning to wonder if she’ll ever be accepted for who she truly is. Then one fateful encounter delivers her right into the arms of the man she’s destined to have.
When someone starts assassinating the royal family, Nik takes it upon himself to protect the woman he’s marked—a woman who would as soon bite him as love him. Despite their prejudices, can the two of them find true love before the Blood Moon rises?
Series: Blood Moon Rising
Genre: Erotic romance/paranormal romance/romantic suspense/BBW
Age: 18+ for language and frequent sexy scenes
Number in series: 2 of 6
Length: full-length novel
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EXCERPT (SPOILER ALERT: Please do not continue if you haven’t read Fever, which is free, BTW!)
Fall needed to slow the hell down. Nik Johnson couldn’t believe it had already been three weeks since he, his brother, and the young werewolf Jason had fought Onyx for Danica’s life. Things had been eerily peaceful since.
And if life had taught Nik anything, it was that peace never lasted for long.
He gripped the steering wheel of the Honda Odyssey, his jaw clenching. They’d had no more leads on Mistress Black since the incident. Not even the DPI was able to uncover anything. Nik suspected the witch mafia had gone dark to cover their tracks. Smart move. He would’ve done the same in their shoes.
It still wouldn’t stop him ripping their throats out with his jaws when the time came.
You thinking about the mafia again? came Gage’s voice in his head.
Nik glanced in the rearview mirror, catching his younger brother’s worried eyes. Reading minds now, Your Highness?
Gage’s jaw ticked as it always did at the mention of his formal title. Nik liked to dig it in just for shits and giggles. Something will turn up. That’s one of the reasons we’re going to this summit.
We’re going because we have no other choice. It’s not like we can ignore a summons from the High King, Nik said, scowling. And I’m only going to bail your ass out of trouble.
Who says I’m looking for trouble?
We’re Johnson brothers. Since when does trouble not come find us?
Gage grinned. Point made.
What are you two talking about? came Danica’s voice. The lovely blonde looked more luminous than ever now that she was nearing her first Change. Nik could tell Gage was anxious; he hadn’t taken his hand off her thigh since they got in the car and started driving over an hour ago. The champagne-colored ball gown she wore flared at the hips slightly, the taffeta skirt inlaid with silver beading and glittering green vines that matched the hue of her startling eyes. Her swirling, dark-blue Mark shimmered down her arms and along her chest and upper back. She was radiant. Nik couldn’t be more proud of her, of the queen she’d become.
Nothing, lil sis, Nik assured her. Just telling my baby brother how dazzling the two of you look together. Gage’s tux and dark hair complemented Danica’s lighter look, like light and darkness.
Danica giggled. Nik enjoyed making her smile. She’d been through so much. I’m sure, tiger.
Jason put down his Nintendo 3DS and turned around in his seat beside Nik. “Man, am I missing out on a wolf conversation again?” In the tux, he looked a lot younger than he was, like he was going to prom and not a summit for all the packmasters.
“Don’t worry,” Gage said, winking at him. “You didn’t miss out on anything too exciting. Just more of Nik’s brooding.”
“I am not brooding,” Nik said. “I’m just thinking about how much I’m going to dread seeing this lot of egotistical, pompous assholes.”
Danica pouted. “We’re not egotistical.”
“Don’t worry, love,” Nik said. “You’re the only royals I can stand.”
“Hey, look on the bright side,” Gage said, slapping him on the shoulder. “Maybe you’ll find your mate. I know your Fever hasn’t come yet, but you never can tell.”
Nik swallowed hard, pasting on a devil-may-care smile. “I think our boy Jason here has a better chance at finding a mate than I do. How’s that Fever treating you? Had any more wet dreams?”
Jason’s Fever had come full-force at the beginning of the month. His face heated and he flipped them the bird, which only made Nik and Gage snicker. Jason’s reaction only reminded Nik of how young and inexperienced with women the pup was, despite his ranking within the pack. After defeating Onyx, Gage had officially promoted Nik as his Beta and Jason as his Delta. Jason may not be the strongest were in the pack, but he was far more courageous and loyal than those other sons of bitches they called packmates.
Gage sat back, talking quietly with his mate. He tenderly brushed a blond curl from her face, and she giggled, kissing him.
Nik smiled sadly and focused on the open road, on the late afternoon sunshine warming his face, on anything but finding his mate. Truth was, his Fever had come at the start of the month too—he just hadn’t told Gage. His chest tightened. Gage and he shared everything, but this was the one thing he wouldn’t understand. He didn’t know what it was like to have burned with love for someone so deeply it reached your core, only to have them torn away from you because it wasn’t what was written in the werewolf laws. He and Verika, no matter how perfect, were never meant to be.
And that knowledge killed a little bit more of him every day whenever he thought of her smile or her red hair. Nik didn’t care what the damn Fever said—whomever he marked would never be Verika. Nik knew, if he were being honest with himself, that was another reason he hadn’t told Gage about getting his Fever. He didn’t want Gage pressuring him into finding a mate, which he knew he would be inclined to do now that he’d found his. Nik had been dreading this moment ever since he and Verika broke up. He was tempted to not even try and just let the Blood Moon come and go, cursing him with the inability to ever fall in love again. That was a lovely little spin the bitch of a witch who created the Curse of the Moon decided to throw in.
“Whoa,” Danica said, sitting up and pointing. “Is that it? The High King’s castle?”
“Castle Crescent,” Gage said, eyeing the fifteenth-century replica, complete with turrets and torches. “He had it brought over from Scotland, stone by stone, and rebuilt here.”
“It’s beautiful,” Danica said, then she smiled. “You guys have a thing for naming places after the moon, don’t you?”
Gage shrugged. “The night is in our blood, though we can shift at any time.”
Nik drummed his fingers along the steering wheel. He was almost grateful to see the sprawling castle. A party meant booze, and he was in dire need of a drink right about now.
He pulled into the drive, past rows of pruned rosebushes, and drove to the front of the castle, where a veritable drawbridge sat. Traffic moved along steadily as more werewolves arrived for the gathering, and Nik parked up front. Valets opened their doors, and Nik handed one the keys.
“Wow,” Danica said, her arm looped through her mate’s as they walked across the drawbridge. “This is incredible.” She peered over the side into the stream flowing past.
“Don’t worry,” Nik said with a wink. “No alligators. Only koi.”
Butlers decked out in tuxedos and wearing the golden crescent-shaped pin of the House of Crescent, the ruling werewolf family, handed out champagne flutes at the door as guests entered the foyer.
It had been a long time since Nik had been to Castle Crescent. Despite his reservations about the people who lived here, he had to admit the place was pretty cool. It was just like stepping back in time and entering a medieval castle. All the architecture had been restored. Frescoes of the heavens, with skies swirling with angels at war, dominated the ceilings. Grand iron chandeliers set with electric candles hung from the ceiling, though torches and candelabra lit with real fire dotted the walls. Tapestries that cost more money than Crescent Manor’s mortgage hung along the walls, and indigo banners bearing the House Crescent coat of arms—a crescent moon, a sword, and a rose—hung from the wooden rafters. The air smelled of roses, enormous vases of which lined the room. People dressed in gowns of silk and tuxedos stood about the room, making polite conversation. From the grand ballroom beyond, Nik could see dancers twirling away to the lilting waltz provided by the live orchestra.
The high family sure didn’t spare any expense at these things. It seemed like such a waste of money, all the packmasters gathered here so they could kiss ass with the High King and learn things they already knew. The werewolf community didn’t exactly have a monthly werewolf e-zine or anything, but word got around about important things.
Like Gage’s mate almost being murdered in cold blood.
Nik felt Gage tense as an elegant man with jet-black hair streaked with gray approached. The silver flower of the Nightshade Pack was pinned to his lapel. Gage and Nik stepped in front of Danica, Jason standing guard next to her. The three of them moved at once, a well-trained unit, finely attuned to one another’s emotions and movements.
The man paused, blinked, then chuckled. “Come now, Gage. Surely you aren’t going to sic your watchdogs on me?”
Nik growled and Jason coughed, “Bastard.”
“That depends on the reason you’re approaching me, Norman,” Gage said with icy formality. “Come to explain to me why one of your pack tried to kill my mate last month?”
“Did you not receive my letter?” Norman said, feigning surprise. “Must have gotten lost in the mail.”
“There’s this thing we use in the twenty-first century called email. Or the telephone,” Nik added. “Hell, even a text would’ve been better than nothing. You do know how to text, right, Grandpa?”
Norman sneered at him. “Do not address me so informally, Beta. I am still an Alpha, regardless of your distaste for me.” He turned his granite eyes back on Gage. “I do not know anything about Onyx’s activities with the witches. I do not police my pack’s personal affairs.”
“Maybe you should,” Gage growled. “Then we might have avoided all this. And I’m still waiting on you to say you’re sorry, that you’re glad my mate’s alive.” Gage took a step forward so only a few inches stood between their eyes. “You are glad she’s alive, aren’t you?”
“Are you insinuating I had something to do with this?”
“You tell me.”
Everyone turned toward the grand staircase, seeing a tall man with a graying beard staring down at them. He wore what appeared to be a military uniform, complete with gold brocade and a sword at his side. A crimson sash was secured across his chest, seeming brighter against the indigo of his jacket and white pants.
A trumpet sounded and someone announced, “Your king! His Highness Victor Crescent!”
The whole room bowed or curtsied. Danica glanced around, looking nervous. Nik whispered in her ear, “You’re doing great. Just breathe.”
She smiled back. Thanks, she said through their pack-link.
“Please, carry on,” Victor said, and the orchestra picked up its tune again. The room was once more filled with multiple conversations, though several curious eyes lingered on Gage and Nik, anticipating a fight, no doubt.
Nik eyed Norman with loathing, hating to disappoint. He wondered how long it would take the guards to wrestle him to the floor if he were to get in one good punch….
Don’t even think about it, Gage warned.
What? Little innocent me? I’m docile as a kitten.
As Victor approached, their party turned and bowed. “Your Majesty,” Norman said, “what an extravagant—”
“Save it, Black,” Victor snapped with a careless flick of his wrist. “Your flattery will not work on me.”
Norman’s thin lips pinched shut as heat rose to his cheeks. Nik resisted the urge to snicker.
Victor’s sharp gaze roved over them, landing on Danica. They narrowed slightly. “So this is the queen who’s caused such a stir among our community.”
Danica swallowed hard, going rigid as the High King motioned her forward. Nik gave her an encouraging nudge, and she took a few hesitant steps. She began to curtsy, keeping her eyes on the floor, but Victor stopped her.
“No need for formalities, my dear,” he said, not without kindness. “I just wanted a better look at you. It’s unusual for a human to be marked by an Alpha.”
“So I’m told,” she said, a little breathier, a nervous habit of hers, Nik noted.
Victor smiled. “You’re well worth the trouble, I’m sure. Though I’m sorry to hear we lost so many wolves in that senseless battle.”
“As am I, Your Majesty,” Gage said quietly.
“And I,” Norman added quickly.
Nik rolled his eyes. Of course he was sorry now. He was just putting on a show for the king, that’s all.
“Good,” Victor said. “You can show how sorry you are by paying the retribution tax to the Moonstruck Pack. Since I’ve been in touch with the DPI’s Chief of Police, there is no need to go to trial because we know for a fact Onyx was guilty. The standard penalty for an attack on another pack’s members is one hundred thousand dollars.”
“What?” Norman roared. “That’s outrageous! She’s just a human!”
The guards rested their hands on the guns at their holsters as Victor drew himself to his full height. “But not anymore,” he said in a low tone. “You either obey my laws or lose your position as Alpha within your pack. Which is it?”
Norman’s face turned red with fury, and his fists shook at his sides. “Very well,” he said tightly, downing the last of his champagne. “I shall have our secretary forward the money over.” With that, he bowed to the king, muttering, “Your Majesty,” then spun on his heel and stormed out the doors.
Victor slapped a hand on Gage’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about the Nightshade Pack. I’ve been aware of Norman’s shady dealings in the Underworld for years, but we never seem to have enough evidence to officially charge him with anything. I will say, the man is clever when it comes to getting others to do his dirty work for him. You have any trouble out of him, come straight to me, understand?”
“Yes, Your Highness,” Gage said, nodding. “Thank you.”
Victor nodded curtly, then turned on a smile for his other guests as he walked away, surrounded by his guards.
Danica’s shoulders slumped with relief. “Oh, my gosh, he’s so intimidating! I felt like Cinderella standing before the king.”
“Good thing it’s the prince who matters in that tale,” Gage said, pulling her to his side and kissing her forehead.
“Get a room!” Nik said dramatically when a sultry voice stopped him cold.
“You son of a bitch.”
He turned just in time to see a hand flying toward his face. With lightning-quick reflexes, he grabbed the woman’s thin wrist before she could slap him. She was well-muscled, typical of she-wolves, with light brown hair that shone with gold highlights. Her blue eyes stared back at him with fury. “Shawna,” Nik said with an inward grimace.
“Oh, so you do remember me.” She jerked her hand free of his grasp and crossed her arms, making her small breasts bunch against the fabric of her violet gown. “Where the hell do you get off sleeping with me, then leaving before the sun’s even risen?”
A gentleman whistled low nearby, and Nik shot him a warning glare. He hastily turned around and walked his date back in the opposite direction.
Nik forced patience into his voice. “Shawna, you knew what you were getting into when you came home with me from Howl that night. You know I’m not a cuddling, breakfast-in-bed kind of guy.”
“No, you’re apparently a bag ’em and leave ’em kind of guy.” She spit in his face. “I sure hope whoever your mate is knows what the hell she’s getting herself into with you—a lifetime of hurt.”
Nik felt that cut to the bone, and he had to fight not to show it. He’d often wondered since Verika left if maybe he just wasn’t good enough—maybe not for anyone. He wasn’t enough. It was ludicrous because of the laws of the Fever and marking a mate, but the little voice of doubt liked to whittle away at his already tarnished self-esteem.
Shawna turned and stalked off in the other direction.
Gage sighed, shaking his head. “Shawna, Nik? Really?”
Nik pushed aside his inner turmoil and pasted on a charming smile, just like he always did. “What? She was drunk. I was drunk. We were horny. It seemed like a win-win situation.”
“She’s an Alpha, one of the few female Alphas in our region.”
“I know. And let me tell you, she’s not that dominant in bed.”
“Nik,” Danica chastised.
“All right, all right, I’ll drop it.” Nik took a sip of his champagne, looking around. “Where’s the kid?”
“I dunno,” Gage said, glancing around as well. “He said something about slipping off to find the bathroom, and I haven’t seen him since.”
“Slacking on the job already,” Nik said with a wink.
Gage cast him a look that said, “You’re impossible,” then his gaze turned troubled.
Nik didn’t have to ask to know what he was thinking about. “Yeah, so shall we mingle and shit and find some leads on our witch mafia friends?”
“I’m not sure how much help the other leaders will be,” Gage said doubtfully. “Malachite burned a lot of bridges while he was Alpha.”
“But you’re not Malachite,” Nik said, slapping a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “And bridges can be rebuilt.”
Gage smiled gratefully at him, straightening and looking more like the King of Wolves Nik knew him to be. “Right. Got to start somewhere.”
Danica rested her hand on his arm and smiled up at her mate. “I’ll go with you. I’m not afraid of some men, not in this dress.”
Nik laughed. “There’s my girl.”
Gage glanced at his watch. “What do you say we circle the room, then meet back here in half an hour?”
“Sounds good. I’ll start with the drink bar.”
“I know, I know. I won’t get drunk and embarrass you. I’ll be on my best behavior.” He grinned and Gage shook his head.
“Why doesn’t that make me feel any better?” he muttered.
Danica tugged at his arm. “Come on. Let’s mingle.”
Gage smiled at her adoringly and gave Nik one last nod as he led his mate away to a group of older pack leaders standing nearby.
Wise move, Nik thought as the group greeted Gage and Danica with smiles as he introduced the newest addition to his pack. The older werewolves were more secure in their power, having ruled for a few decades. They weren’t intimidated by newcomers like some of the younger packmasters were, who could still be easily dislodged from power.
Nik was grateful at times like these that he wasn’t an Alpha, nor did he ever want to be. He’d been leading for so long, taking care of Gage while they were growing up and all, that he’d lost an appetite for it. Let someone else lead for a change. He was content with sitting back and watching.
Glancing at his now-empty champagne flute, he made his way toward the refreshment bar, tuning his ears to any gossip that might give them a lead on the witch mafia.
And tuning his inner wolf away from searching for the mate he didn’t want.
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