Sweaty gym socks. That’s what the inside of the Wilmington Police Department’s SWAT van smelled like, which, in a word, was… nasty. Tamping down on the overwhelming urge to reach over and grab the offending socks so that she could shove them down the owner’s mouth before giving him a stern warning to wash them, was downright hard. However, somehow Jenna O’Conner had managed to keep herself in check because overpowering a two hundred plus gym jock, when you were a woman of only five feet four inches, who looked as if you might weigh a hundred and thirty pounds soaking wet, would be hard to explain. So, sometimes it seriously sucked to be her.
Sitting on the steel bench seats that ran the length of the black van with its bulletproof, darkly tinted windows, she did her best to ignore the eyes that were staring at her. Being the new girl on a testosterone overloaded team was more than awkward; being sandwiched in between two guys on her left, another guy on her right and four sitting across from her made it feel as if she was drowning in caveman stupidity. It was a pain in the ass, but she couldn’t complain because it came with her dream job.
Jenna could deal with their basic Neanderthal urges of women being inferior, but she utterly hated being stared at. It was annoying, and not to mention, rude. It made her hand right hand twitchy to punch someone. Hadn’t their moms taught them some manners? She could keep calm, though. They were just curious to know if the new girl on the force could hang with the big bad-asses they all thought they were. Little did they know that little woman could kick every single one of their mammoth muscled butts. That was part of her little secret, however.
Being a woman who was also a dedicated cop was sometimes hard. People tended to assume that you were going to be the weak link in the chain. Not strong enough. Not fast enough. Too compassionate. None of that applied to Jenna, but these guys didn’t know that—yet. Perhaps she couldn’t show them that she was capable of bench pressing a hell of a lot more than all of them combined, but she had no qualms about using some of her abilities to outrun them if the need arose. She sure as hell wasn’t known back in her old department for compassion. Heck, if she hadn’t been related to the Police Chief back home, Jenna would have been arrested, or fired, for her behavior against a couple of drunk, abusive, backwoods bums.
There was none of that here, though. She had to keep her temper in check and keep her secrets safe. She was also not going to flush a Criminal Justice Bachelor’s degree, six months at the Police Academy, five years of busting her ass on-the-job experience and her life’s dream down the toilet. She had to prove to her family that she could live out from underneath their thumb, without fucking it all up.
All of that might not seem like much of an accomplishment to the other guys sitting in the van with her; yet, that was because they didn’t know her circumstances. Not that she would share those facts with them anyways. When they eventually found out how young Jenna was, they would inevitably shoot her dubious looks of disbelief. More than likely, they would begin to doubt that someone so young was really cut out for the job.
Her over-protective family had home-schooled her in their exuberant efforts to keep her hidden and safe. So, sitting at home with nothing to do except study with her mom, she had managed to obtain her high school diploma at the tender age of fifteen. After graduating, since her mother obviously didn’t trust Jenna to be out of her sight without doing something monumentally stupid to get herself ousted for what she was, Jenna enrolled in an online University where she finished a four year degree in three. So, at the age of eighteen, she had a high school diploma and a Bachelor’s degree.
When Jenna then told her mom that she wanted to be a cop like Uncle Rick, her mother had no problem shipping her off to the academy because that didn’t mean Jenna was out of her family’s sight for six whole months. No, her Uncle Rick had a friend at the academy that knew just enough to keep an eye on her, but not enough that he would be a danger to her.
Therefore, at twenty-three—almost twenty-four—Jenna was the youngest member of the SWAT team with a whole lot of job experience but almost no life experience.
Leaving the small town of River Bend for the bigger city of Wilmington, North Carolina had always been a goal of hers. It had only taken five years to prove to her Uncle Rick that she could handle what he considered to be “big city problems” without outing herself to the populace.
When his friend, who happened to be the Captain of one of the Wilmington precincts, told him that he was interviewing for a new SWAT team officer, Uncle Rick had thrown her name in.
A month after a stringent application process and many, many tests, there she was, sitting in the back of the van in black BDU’s with a bullet proof vest on. She had a standard issue duty weapon strapped to her waist, an assault rifle in her hands and a solid fifty pounds of equipment strapped to her body—just like the nine other officers in the vehicle. Black hair that fell just past the bottom of her shoulder blades was secured in a tight bun at the base of her neck and the lower part of her face was covered with a black mask that only left her eyes visible. A helmet strapped onto the top of her head completed her uniform—she was clearly ready for action.
Heat was pumping along with excitement at the thought of going out on a suspect retrieval mission on her first day on the new job. This was the kind of shit Jenna lived for. Most women wanted to bask in the luxuries of shopping, high heeled shoes, and days at the spa. That was definitely not her. Sure, she had sexy clothes and shoes in her closet; however, most of it had been bought for undercover work. Instead of the usual womanly highs, Jenna got off on the chase of a suspect. It was the best high of all. If she got to tackle the suspect to the ground and accidentally elbow them in the head, well, that was just a bonus.
Silently running through the particulars of the suspect they were going after kept her occupied so that she didn’t get the urge to look any of the guys in the eyes. It wasn’t that she was afraid of any of them. Jenna could kick their ever lovin’ asses from here to China, but she didn’t want to intimidate any of them either. Yet. Most men weren’t used to having a woman stare them down. It unnerved them. Plus, it gave them a bum rap with the other guys. So, she just stared off into space while mentally going over the facts.
The suspect was a white male in his early thirties, approximately five-feet eleven; so he was seven inches taller than her. He weighed approximately one hundred and ninety pounds; sixty pounds more than her, though that still wasn’t a problem. Blonde hair, blue eyes, and wanted for the murder of a woman whose husband was still listed as missing. Suspect was supposed to be apprehended alive to be interrogated for information regarding the missing husband.
“Hey, O’Conner, you nervous yet? Should we drop you off somewhere so you don’t piss in your pretty little pink panties?”
Moron. Note to self: trip jackass into a wall.
Oops. Did my foot get in your way?
Turning her head to look the idiot straight in the eyes, she sneered, “I’m good, Dubinski, but maybe we should stop at the store and buy you some big boy diapers so that when you scare yourself shitless, it’ll be an easier mess to clean up.” The men surrounding them snickered as Dubinski gave her a grudgingly respectful look.
With a smirk, Captain Nelson barked from the front passenger seat, “Keep it down, kids. Our ETA is three minutes, so let’s go over the basics one last time.” As the Captain rattled off the same information on the suspect that Jenna had just been going over in her head, she took the opportunity to get a subtle whiff with her nose, testing the air. The inside of the van smelled like sweat, leather, gun oil and anticipation. No one smelled scared, just a little anxious. Good. No one there was a threat of freaking out and freezing in a dangerous situation. Having a super sniffer of a nose sometimes came in handy. If one of these jerks started leaking sweat out of his pores as if he was trying to help keep up with the water supply at Niagara Falls, she’d have to worry about him accidentally shooting her in the back. That would make it hard to concentrate on the mission. Luckily, that wasn’t the case.
The van rounded a corner quickly as Captain Nelson wrapped up the specifics. “O’Conner, you’ll be right behind Kent; third through the door. The entrance is a kill box due to the enclosed space, so we have to break the door down quickly and catch the bastard before he does something stupid. After O’Conner, it’s the usual line up. Everybody ready?”
The team nodded their heads in consent as the van jerked to a stop in front of the target’s temporary residence. As one, they flew out of the van and raced towards the front door. A few seconds later, a group of bodies were piled up with Captain Nelson at the front, Kent behind him, and Jenna third in line with the rest of the team at her back. Less than ten seconds later, the Captain kicked down the door while screaming, “Police!”
Moving quickly through the entrance hall, she used her nose to smell the air again. There was a whiff of something out of the norm. Two distinctly different male scents filled her nose, and she was positive neither of them were human.
Moving quickly through the house, the SWAT team started clearing rooms as they spread out through the small ranch home. She followed where her nose happened to lead her, which was towards the back of the house. Three doors were ahead of them and she could hear sounds of a struggle coming from behind the closed door farthest down the hall. Pushing forward with Kent at her back, she kicked a foot out, knocking the door halfway off its hinges and barked, “POLICE! FREEZE!”
Before her stood a massive guy who had mussed auburn hair that stuck up in almost every direction and rippling back muscles. The blond hair, blue eyed suspect was positioned across the room from all three of them, facing Mr. Messy Head, with a gun pointed at his head. In the split second that Mr. Messy Head was distracted, the suspect took the opportunity to tighten his finger on the trigger. He was seconds from sending a bullet into his rather large opponent who still remained between them.
Dropping the aim of her rifle from the suspect’s head to his hand, Jenna squeezed off a round just as his finger started to compress the trigger of his pistol. Mr. Messy Head jerked his body to the side, avoiding the bullet by a hairsbreadth, before an explosive spray of red misted the air where half of the man’s left hand used to be. A cry of pain filled the room as the gun thudded to the carpet. The suspect stared at his remaining thumb and trigger finger connected to the remnants of jagged bones and uneven, ripped flesh that was bleeding profusely. At this point, the stranger shot into action, leaping to tackle the suspect to the floor. In less than a minute, he had their man belly down to the ground with his hands bound behind his back using flexi cuffs while she and Kent stood, blocking the door with their guns aimed at the pair.
Kent yelled, “Freeze! Hands in the air, now!”
Hands slowly lifted into the air as the red-head looked up at them. Bright amber eyes bore into Jenna’s as she looked down the barrel of her gun at him. Caught slightly off guard by his startling, strong, handsome face she dragged in a subtle breath, but what she found there made her nervous. It was a smell she hadn’t experienced in a very long time— a smell that she had been taught most of her life to avoid at all costs. It was the clean, fresh scent of the outdoors that was unique to shifters alone with an underlying spice that could only be singular to Mr. Messy Head. It wasn’t the latter of those scents that bothered her. It was the other smell that meant trouble. The guy on his knees, holding his hands calmly in the air in front of her, wasn’t human. He spent his spare time in some kind of fur. Whether it was cat, bear or wolf, she wasn’t sure, however he was definitely Other. Whatever it was, though, wasn’t beneficial for her to be around too long. She needed to get the guy away from her, pronto.
She was praying that Mr. Messy Head hadn’t caught any of her own scent. She’d been told by one of her uncles once that it was remarkably light and hard to define, but to an experienced shifter it could be figured out. Observing his sudden, subtle flaring of nostrils she guessed that he was trying to do just that. Damn.
Booted feet pounded the hall behind them as a few of the other officers poured into the room to apprehend the two men in front of her. After Mr. Messy Head had been cuffed and pulled to his feet along with the suspect, she slipped out of the room and followed Captain Nelson to the back of the van. Jenna’s keen senses were telling her that Kent was following directly behind.
Watching as two patrol cars pulled up on the street behind their van, the Captain ran his hand through his hair. “What happened, O’Conner?”
While she gave him a quick debriefing of the incident, he watched Jenna with amusement and a little bit of surprise on his face. After ending her spiel with the arrival of the rest of the team into the occupied room, Kent piped in behind her. “You’re one hell of a shot, O’Conner. That was impressive… makes me grateful that you’re on my side.”
Shooting him a smile over her shoulder, she took in the respectful gleam in his eyes. He meant what he said. It was a decent start to being accepted by her new squad.
The Captain clapped her on the shoulder. “Nice work, O’Conner. Your uncle said you were good, but damn, that was something else. Taking out his gun hand on the fly so that he was immobile long enough not to shoot anyone was quick thinking. Nice job, indeed. Beer is on me tonight. The boys will want to go out and celebrate after our shift. You’re coming, right?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world, Captain.”
“Good. You guys might as well stay here for a minute. I’ll go check on the suspect, figure out who the mystery guy is, and then we can load up and head out.” He clapped her on the shoulder again before heading to the two patrol cars behind them.
Looking back, she saw that the suspect was sitting in the back of the first patrol car while the red-head with his unusual amber eyes held something out for Captain Nelson to inspect. The rest of the team started clambering around in the back of the van so she couldn’t hear what was being said to the Captain. As much as she was curious, though, Jenna was even more anxious to put some much needed distance between herself and the tasty looking stranger whose hair resembled a red porcupine.
Taking a second, she ran her eyes from his booted feet back to his piercing gaze. He was just over six-feet tall and probably about two hundred and twenty pounds. His fitted gray t-shirt was pulled tight across his chest and well-worn denim hugged his thick thighs. He was pretty hulking, carrying more muscle in his arms and chest than most guys had in their entire body, followed by a trim waist. He cut a memorable picture; it was a shame she wasn’t the type to do a little flirting because he looked like a prime piece of virile male.
As she continued staring, the Captain handed the guy’s identification back to him while explaining something. They then shook hands and the Captain walked away from him, heading back towards the van. The stranger looked directly at Jenna and cocked an eyebrow as he crossed his arms over his chest. His stare was penetrating and demanding. It sent shivers down her spine and a rush of heat that spread though her entire body.
The instincts she’d come to rely on all her life were running amok, telling her that instead of body burning arousal, she should be feeling fear instead. She recognized the mannerisms of an Alpha exuding his dominance. It was a damn good thing her logic was kicking her body’s reactions in the metaphorical head because she was barely restraining the need to close the distance between the two of them and cover his body with her own. Or worse, bare her neck to him in submission.
Jenna snorted. They would be serving popsicles in Hell before she bore her throat to anyone.
A memory of Jenna’s only paternal family member, her Uncle Owen, flashed through her mind—them sitting on a fallen log, surrounded by the woods behind her mama’s house, patiently explaining the hierarchy of shifters and the expectations of their pack mentality.
Ol’ Alpha boy here wanted Jenna to drop her eyes and look away if she wouldn’t bare her vulnerable neck to him—that way she acknowledged who and what he was while giving him the assurance that she understood who was in charge. Instead, Jenna continued to stare back at him coolly. Silently telling him where he could take his dominance and shove it.
She had to admit, though, it took every fiber of her being to fight her natural instinct to look down and away from his piercing gaze.
He was just that damn dominant, which was kind of scary since she had never felt the urge to show submission to anyone before.
Kent’s hand landed on her shoulder from behind. “Come on, O’Conner. Get your Annie Oakley wannabe ass in here so we can go. We’ve all got paperwork to go back and fill out now.”
With no choice left, she broke eye contact and climbed in the van, closing the door behind herself to cut off any view of the stranger. If she had any good luck left, this would be the last she saw of him. If only crossing her fingers would help those chances, she would do it. Jenna didn’t think the guy had figured out what she was, or wasn’t, for that matter. Her family had tried their best to hide her and had taught her to avoid all other shifters. She silently prayed their attempts would not be in vain just because this guy had gotten curious. Her mama had always told her that, if certain shifters ever found out who or what she was, she was as good as dead.
Here was to hoping she hadn’t just stumbled onto the beginning of her funeral.
Adam watched as the black police van pulled away from the curb and speed down the street with its mysterious occupant inside. He’d come here to track down his cousin’s killer and drag him back to his turf for some pack style justice, but, instead, he had ended up having his prey snatched right out of his hands. That did not make him a happy predator. In fact, it made him kind of snarly.
Sure, the asshole would be tried and convicted for the murder of his cousin’s wife, however Adam had been looking forward to the creep facing claws instead of steel bars. The douche bag was going to get off easy in the joke that was the human justice system. It wasn’t fair. Adam stifled the growl that churned in his throat.
That was okay, though, because he had just had something else dropped into his lap. That little cop with midnight black hair, bright, arctic-blue eyes that reminded him of an Alaskan husky, and luscious, little curves, had snagged his interest. From the moment she had kicked down the door, Adam had caught the almost hidden scent of something Other in her, and after the way she’d just stared him down, he was all but itching to find out what she was. No one ever stared down an Alpha without ending up in a lot of bodily harm. Yet, she hadn’t even smelled afraid of him while she’d been doing it.
Adam was betting a shit ton of money that she knew exactly what he was. So the fact that she had openly stared down an Alpha had his blood heating in preparation for the chase. Right now, he couldn’t decide if he wanted to catch her to punish her or to pin her underneath him. Either way, he would be catching her. Maybe he could do both. Light up her pretty little ass to a nice shade of red with a well-deserved spanking and then pin her down underneath him. He kind of liked that idea.
No sooner had that thought crossed his mind when Adam’s phone rang from his pocket. Digging it out to look at the screen, he saw that it was his Beta and best friend, Clay, the second in command of his pack. “What’s up?”
“Did you get him?”
He breathed out a frustrated sigh. “Almost. I had him cornered in a room at the address you gave me, but before I could cuff and drag him off, the cops busted in. They just hauled him away in a patrol car.”
Clay’s growl rumbled over the line. “At least there will be some punishment for Ellie’s death. I just would have preferred it to have been us ripping him apart instead of the tiny cage he’ll have to live in from now on. Will you be heading home now? Perhaps I could arrange a hunt for us to burn off some of our frustration. How does that sound?”
Adam thought about heading home. As excellent as hunting sounded at the moment, all he could see were a pair of chilly blue eyes staring him down with a fierceness that couldn’t be found in any of the members from his pack. “I’ve got a hunt of a different kind to do tonight. Tell me, Clay, do you know of any blue-eyed, black-haired females of the Other variety in Wilmington?”
Clay snorted in amusement. “So, it’s that kind of hunt, is it? I gotcha. I don’t know of any females fitting that description, though. Are you sure she’s not human?”
“I’ve got no doubt she’s something, but it’s definitely not human. I just don’t know what she is. Definitely not a vampire because it’s daylight out, but her scent smells off, and I’m having a hard time figuring out what she is. I want to say she might be some kind of shifter, but if she is, she’s masking her scent somehow. I think I might follow her tonight and try to figure it out. Do we have anyone we know at the Wilmington Police Department?”
“A cop, huh? Kinky. Are you going to ask her to cuff you? That would be cool, but you might want to have her leave the night stick at home. I don’t think you’d like what she could do with that. At least, not without a lot of lube.”
“Damn it! Get your mind out of the constant gutter you wallow in. It’s not in our best interest to have some unknown Other roaming around so close to our land—in our territory. Especially, one we can’t identify.” His voice growled with irritation at his Beta and his tendency to harass Adam about his sex life. Or, his lack of one lately, which was what was amusing to Clay.
Until recently, Adam had never had any qualms about indulging in the female flesh that made itself so readily available to him all the time. Wolves were sensual creatures with an over-active sex drive. It wasn’t entirely uncommon to go to the Pack’s lodge and find a free-for-all in the middle of the night. However, for the last six months or so, no one had appealed to him. It was like he had been doused with a cold shower one day and had yet to warm back up.
“Yeah, yeah. Don’t get your fur in a bunch. We have someone at the Wilmington Police Department. Would you like me to call him or give you the number?”
“You call him. Her last name is O’Conner. Call me with whatever you find out.” Snapping his cell phone shut, Adam walked down the street and around the corner to where he had parked his black custom Harley V-Rod motorcycle. The August heat was unbearable, causing small rivulets of sweat to run down the back of his neck and soak his shirt. The roar of the engine drowned out the sounds of major traffic flow as he led his bike back to his house where he could take a cold shower. After that, he would do some research on his laptop to see if he could come up with anything on his own about the mysterious O’Conner.
The hunt was on.
Here I come, little rabbit.