To save her pack, Rylie will have to find out who Cain is. To save herself, she’ll have to choose between the man she wants and the man she needs.
The longest journey was always the one going home. And it only seemed to take longer when Seth knew that his girlfriend was waiting for him… with his brother.
His years studying pre-med seemed to take torturous decades. But even slow time marched forward, and his endless, aching days at the university did pass.
July came, and Seth finally went home.
He stood in the middle of the Gresham Ranch house’s living room, drinking in the sights, sounds, and smells he had been missing all semester.
Aunt Gwyn’s furnishings were looking even more beat up than usual. After a few months of having werewolves play-fight, eat, and sleep on her couches, they were looking more like very sad piles of leather and wood than actual furniture.
A vase of blossoms decorated the mantel. Dried scales, taken from shedding rattlesnakes, were hung by the door. Everything smelled a little bit like wet dog, even though Seth knew Gwyn was anal about cleanliness.
But it was home. Home.
Rylie’s jacket hung on a hook by the rattlesnake scales, nestled in Abel’s duster. Seth tried not to look at them as he stacked a pile of lumber from the shed by the windows.
Preparing to fortify the ranch wasn’t enough to dampen his relief at being home; where werewolves were concerned, the threat of impending danger was pretty homey, too.
Once he had everything set down, he pulled a hammer and nails out of the closet, set them on the coffee table, and considered the room’s entry points.
The kitchen. The front windows. The hall. It wouldn’t be too hard to secure, if things got ugly.
He was about to go looking for Rylie when he realized there was one entry point he hadn’t considered: the fireplace. Seth kneeled and glanced up the chimney. It was probably too narrow for a human to squeeze inside, but he wasn’t certain that they were dealing with humans. Better to board that up, too.
As he straightened, the pictures on the mantel caught his eye. There was a picture of two wolves among the school headshots of Bekah and Levi, and the Gresham family photos. One of the wolves was slender and gold; the other was a hulking black beast. Seth would have recognized Rylie and Abel anywhere. He had spent more than enough nights running with them as a human.
He picked up the picture of the two wolves. They were seated beside each other, shoulder-to-shoulder. They looked like yin and yang.
Seth’s jaw clenched. He set the picture back down a little too hard.
He unpacked his suitcase in Rylie’s bedroom. She always saved the bottom two drawers of her dresser for him, even though he never had enough to fill them, and their laundry would end up all mixed together by the end of the week anyway.
Seth put his guns in the safe under Rylie’s bed, but left it unlocked. And then he pulled the last item out of his bag—a small jewelry box.
There was a gold ring inside, which he had bought at a shop in the town where he attended college. He hadn’t been planning to buy a ring for Rylie that day. He just happened to be passing the window when it caught his eye.
Rylie wasn’t the kind of girl who would be impressed by a diamond ring, but what he saw was something different, something special—a milky white rock that Seth had instantly recognized as a moonstone. It was bordered by clusters of tiny, sparkling diamonds. It looked like the full moon and the stars in the sky.
Perfect for Rylie.
Seth had found himself going into the shop, and a few minutes later, he had walked out with a lighter wallet and the ring in his pocket.
That had been over a month ago, and he had been thinking about the ring ever since. He spent a lot of time just opening the box to stare at it and contemplate what it meant.
He closed the box again, put it in his pocket, and went looking for Rylie.
Abel was sitting on the back patio, sharpening a hunting knife.
“How’s it going?” Seth asked, pausing at his side.
His brother glanced at him. “Fine.” That one word spoke volumes—resentful volumes.
“I put lumber by the front door. We should probably prepare to guard our rooms, too. Do you want me to put some by your bedroom window?”
“I can get Levi to do it if you’re busy,” Seth ventured.
“Yeah. Fine. That works.”
Aunt Gwyneth stepped out the back door, brushing out one of her thick gray braids. “Have either of you seen Rylie since dinner?”
Adrenaline rushed through Seth. “No. Why?”
“She’s not inside. I thought she might be with you boys.”
Abel stood, clenching the knife. “I’ll look for her.”
But Seth was already backing down the hill. “I’ve got it. She probably just went for a walk. It’s almost the new moon—she always gets restless about now.”
He jogged into the night, stretching out his senses for the tickle at the back of his neck that would tell him werewolves were nearby. He could always feel plenty of them around the ranch, but Rylie’s energy resonated with him in a different way. Seth wasn’t sure if it was the Alpha thing or if he just loved her so much that he couldn’t keep away.
Seth found her pale form by the highway. She climbed over the fence onto their property again when she saw him approach.
Every time he went away to college, he started to forget just how beautiful Rylie was. He always knew she was pretty—just thinking about her made him feel warm and possessive. But the reality of her beauty never failed to shock him.
She looked surprised to see him approach, but she extended her hands toward him anyway, and Seth caught her in an embrace.
“What are you doing out here alone?” he asked, scanning the fields without releasing her. Rylie fit under his arm perfectly.
She leaned her head on his chest. “Look at this.” She pointed to tracks in the mud on the other side of the fence. “I smell Pagan. She was here this afternoon.”
A surge of protectiveness rocked through Seth, so sudden and strong that it was hard to breathe. “She’s checking us out. You shouldn’t be out here.”
“I couldn’t sleep. I’ve been worrying.”
“Nothing’s going to hurt you,” he said. “I promise. I won’t let it happen.”
She shuddered against his chest. “But it’s already July. You’ll go back to school next month—and then what? I mean… it’s fine. But it’s easy for you to tell me not to worry when it’s not going to be your problem soon.”
Seth pressed her hand against his heart and took a long look at her.
He hadn’t told Rylie yet, but he wasn’t going back to college that fall. He had rushed through the last few semesters with almost double the normal credit load. Between his crazy schedule and the summer and winter terms, he had already completed his undergraduate degree.
He was taking the year off before entering medical school, which gave him a lot of time to be with her. There would be plenty of time to explain that later, when she wasn’t trembling with fear.
“Your safety is always my problem,” he said firmly. “You fill my mind and heart. I’m not going anywhere until I know you’re safe.”
It didn’t seem to soothe her at all. She remained tense. “We should go inside.”
The hint of sadness in her voice was just too much for Seth to bear. He felt the weight of the ring box in his pocket.
He gave her a weak smile. “Wait a second. You never asked about the surprise I have for you.”
She blinked. “Oh—what is it?”
“Well, I wanted to wait until we could go somewhere special or something, but since it sounds like things might be getting crazy soon…” Seth blew a breath out of his lips. “I’ve been thinking a lot lately. About our relationship.”
She pulled away from him and hung her head. “Yeah. Me too.”
“I want to be with you more, and I just worry we don’t have enough time. You know?” he asked.
Rylie didn’t seem to know. She gave him a blank look.
Was he speaking in a foreign language? Everything was coming out in a jumble. He was trying to tell her that he had already gotten through pre-med, just for her, but it got lost somewhere between his brain and lips.
Seth took a deep breath to try a different angle.
“And with everything happening now—this Cain thing and missing werewolves and silver bullets…”
She gave a little gasp. “You’re not breaking up with me, are you?”
He had to laugh. “Are you serious? I would never let you go, Rylie. I’d have to be stupid.”
He braced himself, dropped to one knee, and pulled out the ring box.
He watched the emotions flash over Rylie’s heart-shaped face. Confusion turned to surprise in a flash. Was that a good thing, or a bad thing?
Rylie’s white-blond hair fluttered around her face in the midsummer breeze. Her golden eyes flashed. She bit her bottom lip.
God, she was so beautiful.
He swallowed hard. He had to ask now, before he lost his nerve.
“Rylie… will you marry me?”
Her mouth moved soundlessly.
Then her eyes flicked over his shoulder, and that shock turned to fear.
“Abel!” she cried. Not exactly the response he had been hoping for.
A shot whip-cracked through the air.
Seth had heard enough guns firing to recognize it instantly.
He twisted to see what had gone wrong. Abel stood on the hill. A woman was behind him, gun drawn—Pagan.
His brother put a hand to his side and tumbled to his knees.
He had been shot.
Seth’s gun was drawn and aimed in an instant. He fired off one shot, and then another; Pagan fled down the hill, leaving Abel bleeding on the grass.
“Save him,” Rylie said with a growl, her spine hunched.
But she was already gone. With a cry, her human form erupted.
Blood sprayed. Blond hair puddled on the ground. Her clothes shredded, bones popped, and she fell to all fours.
Within moments, the girl he had just asked to marry him was a sleek, golden wolf, almost more catlike than canine.
Rylie looked at him for a moment as if to say, Don’t let him die.
And then she vanished into the night, chasing Pagan.