To my readers, who mean the world to me and who have given me countless hours of laughter and smiles online and at appearances. Thank you so much!
To my team at SMP, who works so hard to get the books out, and especially Monique, whose insights and support are the stuff of legends.
To my friends, who are always there when I need them, especially Kim and Dianna, who never shirk at the proofreading and brainstorming sessions.
And to my family, who never complain about eating a lot of pizza and who understand why Mom has to spend so much time locked in her room. Most of all to my hubby, without whom I could never do what I do, and who really is the wind beneath my wings.
God bless and keep all of you.
You can take my life, but you’ll never break me.
So bring me your worst….
And I will definitely give you mine.
Those words, written in French, still remained on the top of Nicolette Peltier’s desk where she’d carved them with her bear’s claw after the death of two of her sons. It wasn’t just a motto, it was her angry declaration to the world that had taken her sons from her. A ruthless tragedy that had spurred her on to create the most renowned of the shapeshifter havens.
For over a century, she’d owned the famed Sanctuary bar and restaurant that rested on the corner of Ursulines and Chartres in New Orleans. There she’d reigned as the queen of her kingdom. The mother bear of her remaining twelve cubs who struggled hard every day with the grief over the sons she’d buried.
Not a day had passed that she hadn’t mourned them.
Until the day war had come to their door. True to her nature and the words she’d carved as a permanent reminder of her spirit, she had done her worst and she’d protected her children with everything she had.
But that love for them had cost her her life. When her enemies moved to kill her daughter’s mate, she’d protected the lycanthrope with the last of her strength and she’d given her life to save her daughter Aimee the agony of burying the wolf were she loved.
The tragedy of her loss was felt throughout the entire Were-Hunter counsel. Nicolette had been as much a legend as the club she’d owned. A club that had welcomed all creatures and promised them safety and protection so long as they obeyed her one simple rule:
Come in peace.
Or leave in pieces.
Since the night of her death, her cubs have sought to carry on without her support and guidance. No longer an official haven recognized by the Omegrion council, Sanctuary now stands outside the laws that had once shielded them and her patrons.
And that was fine with Dev Peltier. He’d never liked rules anyway.
But the war that had come to their door wasn’t over.
They had only fought the opening battle….
“Is it just me or has the entire world gone stump stupid?”
Dev Peltier laughed as he heard his brother Remi’s voice in his ear while he stood outside the front door of the Sanctuary club his family owned. He and Remi were half of a set of identical quads…and that comment was so out of character for his surly brother that Dev had to shake his head. “Since when you channel Simi?” he asked into the headset he wore so much that it felt weird whenever he didn’t have it in his ear.
Remi snorted. “Yeah…like I’m a friggin’ Goth demon chick dressed in a corset, frilly skirt, and tights trying to eat my way through the menu…and staff.”
That was definitely Simi to a T.
But Dev couldn’t resist ribbing him. “I always knew you were a freak, mon frère. This just proves it. Maybe we should rename you Frank-N-Furter and throw little wienies at you whenever you walk past.”
“Shut up, Dev, before I come out there and make myself a triplet.”
As if. Remi had obviously forgotten who’d taught him how to fight. “Bring it, punk. I got a new pair of boots itching to head up someone’s—”
“Would you two stop fighting over the open channel?…And grow up while you’re at it. I swear I’m going to make bear stew out of both of you tonight if you don’t stop.” Aimee broke off into a round of French, their native language, so that she could continue insulting and emasculating them.
Dev bit back a smart-ass response to his sister’s hostile tone that was punctuated by several cheers of approval from the rest of the crew, whose headsets allowed them to overhear every word.
To be honest, he and his family didn’t need the headsets to communicate. Part of being shapeshifting bears was that they could project their thoughts so long as they were within a reasonable distance from each other—though some of them were better at that than others. But that tended to raise suspicion among the mundane humans who worked for them and especially the ones who patronized their business. So they wore the sets in an attempt to at least appear normal.
Yeah, right. Normality had waved bye-bye to his family and his species a long time ago. But what the hell?
He rocked the headset look.
Even so, Dev pulled it off his head as his sister’s ranting in French reminded him of his mother’s and an unexpected surge of grief tore through him. How he missed the sound of his mother bitching at him in French….
Who would have ever thought? Of all the things to miss.
I must be sick in the head. And yet his mother’s sharp voice haunted him from the past.
You need to grow up, Devereaux…. You’re not a cub anymore. Haven’t been one in over two hundred years. Why you bait your brothers so and make me lose my mind? Mon Dieu! You are ever my bane when you misbehave. Just once, can’t you counsel your tongue and do as I ask? How can we rely on you if you insist on acting like a boy child? Did you learn nothing? Dev flinched as he saw her face in his mind while she read him his daily riot act.
It was a face he’d never see again and a voice that would one day all too soon fade completely from his memory.
How he hated change.
For over a hundred years, he’d taken his post at Sanctuary’s door, watching as all manner of beings came and went. A sentinel in more ways than one, he’d let the humans pass without stopping them. But to the preternatural patrons who came here, he always explained the rules of Sanctuary and interrogated them to determine how much of a threat they’d be if they attacked—as well as determine who their allies were.
Just in case.
Now he stood post to make sure their enemies didn’t finish destroying the club they’d only just put back together from the fight that had scarred them all.
I miss you, Maman. He missed his father just as much.
Stuff they could replace. Boards could be nailed back in place and counters remade. Smoke damage repaired.
But his parents…
They were gone forever.
And that made him furious as more grief racked him. It’d taken all of his strength not to go after the lycanthrope pack that had attacked them. If not for the knowledge of it causing the Omegrion—the ruling council for the werebeasts—to hunt down his remaining family and kill them in retaliation, he wouldn’t have hesitated. But that he could never chance. He would not be responsible for the death of a single family member.
Not even his brother Remi.
He’d seen too many of his family killed in front of him….
I really want to leave.
It was a thought that was becoming more and more appealing. Ever since they’d reopened Sanctuary after the battle and fire, he’d been struck hard with wanderlust. The only reason he’d stayed here as long as he had was that his mother had asked him to remain with the family and help protect his younger sister.
Now that his mother was dead and Aimee was mated…
Staying wasn’t as necessary as it’d been before. Every day he felt the pull to leave and make his own way in the world. He was a bear and it was the nature for most males to find a mate and start their own pack.
What am I doing here?
They didn’t really need him. When the battle had come to their door, they’d learned fast just how many allies they had. And that number had been impressive. Sanctuary would stand forever. He didn’t have to stay here to protect the door.
I really hate change.
You’re just restless. You’ll get over it. You’ll see. Besides, he didn’t want a mate. Ever. Life was difficult enough trying to please himself. Gods help him if he ever had to try and please someone else.
It was just so much had happened over the last few months that it’d shaken his foundation. He felt lost…like his moorings had been sliced and he was left adrift without an engine or paddle. He’d never dealt well with change and so many changes had been thrust on him that he just wanted to leave it all behind and start fresh somewhere else.
Find someplace where he felt like he belonged again—even if he had to go to the past to do it. Someplace where he wasn’t looking for his parents to come around the corner or be sitting in their favorite seats. Where memories didn’t haunt him.
Or more to the point, hurt him.
The roaring sound of a racing bike broke through his melancholy thoughts as it approached from down the street. It was a Busa. He could tell by the throaty groan of the engine—they had a unique sound that was unmistakable to anyone who knew their bikes. Many of his Were-Hunter brethren used motorcycles as a means of transportation, including him and his brothers. Unlike a car, it was easier to teleport with their powers, and on the street, there was nothing faster that could maneuver out of the way of their enemies.
Or after them.
But this one growled with a specific tone that said she’d been modified for maximum speed and performance.
Expecting to see the Dark-Hunter leader Acheron on his black Hyabusa heading in, Dev frowned as a red one came up the street so fast, he was surprised it wasn’t leading a few squad cars. The driver went past the entrance, then slammed on the brakes, sliding the bike sideways and leaving a cloud of burned rubber in its wake. The front wheel popped up before it headed toward him. Just as it reached the curb, the front tire slammed down and the rider parked it right in front of him with a jerking bounce that caused the rear wheel to lift up.
Even though the rider was tall and stoutly built, Dev could tell by her shapely curves that were covered in protective leather she was a woman.
Most likely a hot one too, and that definitely got his attention.
Unwilling to show her he was impressed with her biker skills, Dev crossed his arms over his chest as she pulled her helmet off and set loose a cascade of unruly honey blond curls that fell just past her shoulders. Curls that framed an adorable face. Not stunning or perfect, but exotic. Different. Most of all, her features were beguiling and he couldn’t help wondering what she’d look like first thing in the morning with that riot of curls spilling all around her naked body.
She held an air of fierce joie de vivre and it was infectious—as if she savored every heartbeat she was lucky enough to have. However, she rode the bike like a person with a death wish. “You keep driving like that, you’re going to kill someone.”
She slung one long leg around the seat before she sauntered up to him with a hot, seductive stride he was sure had sent a few men to their graves from heart attacks. She wore a pair of flat New Rock biker boots with flames coming up the sides. Her dark brown, almond-shaped eyes glowed with mischief as she unzipped her jacket and gave him a heated once-over. “I only kill the ones who deserve it, and those I gut with relish.”
Damn, she was about as sexy as any woman he’d ever seen. His body reacted to her instantly. And it made him wonder if she’d be so open in the bedroom.
She shrugged her jacket off and slung it over her shoulder to hold it there with one gloved hand, showing him a tight black knit shirt before she leaned in closer to him. The warm scent of woman and leather made the bear inside him sit up and purr and it was all he could do not to nuzzle that soft neck that seemed to invite him in for a taste.
“To answer your question, Bear…I am as fierce in the sack as I am on the street. Just so you know.” She winked at him.
Those words caused his cock to jerk against his will as he made a mental note that she could read his thoughts. His gaze fell from her eyes to the deep cleavage that was pushed up by her black bra. And at the swell of her right breast was the double bow-and-arrow mark that told him exactly who and what she was—not that he hadn’t guessed that from her powers or the small glimpse of her fangs when she spoke. Damn, it looked like not even the goddess Artemis had been able to resist copping a feel of that hot body when she brought her over. “I’m not familiar with you, Dark-Hunter.”
She straightened the layered row of black skull necklaces that hung around her neck. “We’ve met before. Very briefly. Not even enough time to exchange names.”
Dev scowled as he tried to recall it.
No, definitely not. He’d have remembered this particular Huntress had he ever laid eyes on her before—even if it’d been centuries ago. Even if he’d been dead. She wasn’t the kind of woman a man easily forgot meeting. “You must have met one of my brothers.” Most people couldn’t tell them apart. It went with the whole being identical thing and both Cherif and Quinn took turns at the door when Dev had time off. No doubt she had him confused with one of them. “We’re identical quadruplets and I look a lot like my other brothers too.”
She shook her head in denial. “I know. I met all of you. I was here the night the wolves attacked.” Her gaze went up to where the roof still bore a small trace of fire damage from their fight and her eyes darkened with sympathy. “I’m really sorry about your parents…and that we didn’t do a better job of protecting them.”
He didn’t know why, but that touched him. “Thanks for the assist. I know all of you did your best.” They all had. But the number of their enemies had been overwhelming. In all honesty, it was a miracle any of them had survived.
But for the Dark-Hunters and their allies, they wouldn’t have.
A shadow of pain masked her expression as if she had her own demons buried in those words. “Yeah, but sometimes it’s just not good enough and no amount of sincere apologies ever makes it okay. That being said, I really am sorry. For everything.” She glanced inside the bar before she recovered her earlier zest. “Name’s Sam Savage.”
That was a name he’d heard bandied about by other Dark-Hunters over the centuries. She was one of their fiercest—hence the surname the other Dark-Hunters had given her several hundred years ago as an homage to her brutality in a fight. As immortal slayers who protected humans, all Dark-Hunters came from horrific backgrounds. Each one different, they all had one thing in common: Someone had betrayed and killed them in a manner so foul that they sold their souls to the Greek goddess Artemis for a single act of vengeance against their betrayer. Not something someone undertook lightly and he couldn’t help wondering what had happened to Sam to make her sell her soul.