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Frustrated when none of the real newspapers will hire her as a reporter, Eliza Bradley takes the only job she can get - at a paranormal magazine. Her first assignment takes her to Fairbanks, Alaska to investigate the rumors that a werewolf has killed two local men.
When she meets Hunter McCall, a local college professor and an expert on wolves, she finds herself irresistibly drawn to him and ends up spending more time in his bed than worrying about werewolves. That's when Eliza finds out Hunter isn't just an animal in the sack, he's an animal out of it, too - of the werewolf variety. Talk about a complicated relationship.
But Eliza can't dwell on Hunter's little shapeshifting issues for long. There's another werewolf out there with a taste for human blood, and she and Hunter are the only ones who can stop him. If they don't, they're likely to become his next victims.
If anyone found out she’d taken a job at Paranormal Today, her career as a serious journalist would be ruined. Eliza Bradley fought the urge to duck out the door and instead took her place at the huge conference table. But honestly, who was she kidding? She had no career to ruin. She’d never been more than a lowly fact checker. The most she’d ever gotten to write was the headline for someone else’s article.
She probably shouldn’t have complained about her job at the San Francisco Chronicle; it had paid the bills, after all. But after graduating summa cum laude from USC with a degree in journalism four years ago, she'd expected to move up the ladder at warp speed. That hadn’t happened. Finally tired of checking for typos in other reporters’ work, she'd given her boss an ultimatum. Determined to break into the ranks once and for all, she'd marched into his office and firmly told him that if he didn’t find a job for her as a reporter, she was going to quit. She'd been so sure he would give in to her demands, but instead he called her bluff. Ten minutes later, she’d cleaned out her desk and left.
Finding a job as a reporter with another newspaper had been more difficult than Eliza thought it would be. While they’d been more than impressed with her college background, they'd been less than wowed with her lack of real world experience. It had been on the tip of her tongue more than once to ask how the heck she was supposed to get real world experience when no one would give her a job, but she’d restrained herself. Barely. That was usually the point during the interview when the person conducting it mentioned the newspaper had a position open for a fact checker, if she would be interested. Right.
No one would hire her�not the big papers, not the little papers, not even any of the locally published magazines. She'd been about to give up and take one of the fact checker jobs she’d been offered when she heard Paranormal Today magazine was looking to hire a reporter. The name alone sounded so ridiculous that her first instinct had been to say forget it, but then she remembered how desperate she was and decided to at least look into it. At that point, she hadn’t cared what she wrote about, as long as she got the job.
She'd expected the interview to go the same as the others had, but Roger Brannick, the editor-in-chief of the magazine, hadn’t been put off by her lack of experience in the field. In fact, he’d told her that she was just the kind of fresh, young talent the magazine was looking for. She'd been so stunned when he offered her the job that she’d taken it without hesitation.
In retrospect, Eliza was beginning to think she should have given the whole thing a bit more consideration. Working for a magazine like Paranormal Today could destroy her credibility and make it difficult to ever get a job with a reputable newspaper. In the world of journalism, it was as bad as working for a scandal sheet.
As Roger Brannick began handing out story assignments to the other reporters attending the staff meeting, Eliza found it hard to keep a straight face. He had them investigating rumors of vampires prowling New York City’s Central Park, sightings of ghosts in a Miami hotel, tales of zombies terrorizing Los Angeles, even a sea monster living in the Great Lakes. The list, which seemed to go on and on, only got more and more bizarre. But Roger was treating them as if they were seriously newsworthy. And he wasn’t the only one. She looked around at the other reporters. My God, they were actually taking notes.
“Eliza,” Roger said, finally coming to her. “The other day, we got an email from one of our long-time readers up in Fairbanks who says he has evidence of a werewolf in the area. It seems that a couple of locals have turned up dead recently. The authorities are calling it a wild animal attack, but I want you to go up there and check it out anyway. Undercover, though. I don’t want people getting wind you’re up there looking for a werewolf. We don’t want to attract the competition. Say you’re up there doing research for a book you’re writing on wolves, or something like that.”
Werewolf? He had to be kidding. She’d definitely go in undercover. She sure as hell didn’t want anyone knowing why she was really up there. If anyone found out, they’d think she was insane.
Before she could say anything, Roger continued. “I’ve already�” he began, but was interrupted by muttering coming from the opposite end of the table. Lifting his gaze from the notepad in his hand, the gray-haired editor turned his attention in that direction. “Is there a problem, Clark?”
“Damn right there is.” The blond reporter at the far end of the table pushed his glasses higher up on his nose. “I’ve been working at this magazine for five years, and what do I get? I get a haunted house in Iowa while the new girl gets next month’s cover story.”
Eliza might have laughed if the other reporter didn’t look so pissed off about the whole thing. She sat up straighter in her chair and cleared her throat. “I don’t mind if he wants to switch assignments, Roger.”
She really didn’t mind. It was all the same to her whether she was investigating werewolves or ghosts. The idea that either one existed was ludicrous anyway. Her new boss, however, was shaking his head.
“That’s not necessary, Eliza,” Roger said, looking at her over the rim of his half-moon glasses. “I want you on the werewolf story.”
At the other end of the conference table, Clark Emery picked up his spiral notebook and pushed back his chair. “Screw this!”
Eliza cringed as the man stormed out of the conference room. Great. She'd been working here for less than a week and she was already making enemies.
“Don’t pay any attention to Clark. He’s never happy,” Roger told her. “I want you in Fairbanks ASAP. Go see Brenda in the travel department. She’ll already have your flight, hotel, and rental car all set up.”
Eliza blinked. She was impressed. For a magazine that published stories on the bizarre and ridiculous, it was certainly run efficiently. She opened her mouth to thank him, but Roger was already going down his list again, something about a fifty-foot boa constrictor in the sewers of Chicago. Thank God he hadn’t given her that story. She hated snakes�and sewers.
She ran into Clark on her way back to her desk. He glared at her, but didn't say anything. That should have been her cue to keep walking, but the reminder that she had to work with this guy had her stopping to apologize for what’d happened in the meeting. She barely got two words out before the other reporter cut her off.
“Save it,” he snapped. “Go to Alaska and chase after some stupid werewolf. I’m done with this rag anyway.”
Eliza had to backpedal out of the way to keep from falling on her butt as he pushed past her. Jerk.
“Good riddance,” said a male voice behind her.
She turned to see a tall, lanky man with shaggy, dark blond hair and wire-rimmed glasses. He was wearing faded jeans and a worn T-shirt that said Property of the San Francisco 49ers on the front.
“Clark’s a crybaby. Don’t worry about him,” the man continued. “I’m Alex Decker, by the way, the staff photographer going up to Alaska with you.”
The magazine was sending a photographer with her? Wow. It was almost enough to make her feel like she was a real reporter. Well, at least it would have if her first assignment didn’t involve writing a story about something as silly as a werewolf.
* * * * *
Their plane landed at the Fairbanks International Airport a little after three-thirty the following afternoon. Even with the hour-and-a-half layover in Seattle, Eliza had to admit they’d made surprisingly good time. Then again, she supposed that had something to do with the time change. Fairbanks was an hour behind San Francisco.
Eliza had spent most of the flight and all of the layover digging up any information she could on the two the men who had been killed. This might be a make-believe article intended for a wacko paranormal magazine, but the journalist in her insisted on treating it like a real story.
Unfortunately, the articles she’d found on the internet hadn’t said much really. Just that Jed Matthews and Mark Dunham had been killed by an animal while out in the forest. The various articles seemed to differ on exactly why the men had been in the woods in the first place. Some said the men were hikers while others said they were out hunting. There were even some who claimed the men worked for Big Oil and had been out fixing the pipeline.
The only thing the reports matched on was the dates of the animal attacks. Mark Dunham had been killed a week ago; Jed Matthews last month. One of the articles mentioned a few sheep had also been killed, but said local authorities didn’t consider it unusual, especially since grizzly bears and wolves were known to attack farm animals from time to time. She’d noticed that bear was used in the articles just as many times than the word wolf�if not more.
When she didn’t find anything useful about the killings, she’d decided to read the email from Nate Corrigan again�the guy who had contacted the magazine about the supposed werewolf. It was cryptic at best. He claimed he had proof that a werewolf killed the two men, but he didn’t want to say too much in an email. Apparently, Nate didn’t trust the internet all that much. No surprise there. He was probably a conspiracy freak as well as a paranormal nut. Then again, ever since discovering the NSA really was reading everyone's email, maybe the conspiracy freaks had a point.
By the time she and Alex got their luggage and picked up the rental car, it was well after four-thirty. After spending hours on a plane, all Eliza wanted to do was go to the hotel and fall into bed. But when her stomach growled in protest at that idea, she suggested getting something to eat first.
As they drove around looking for a restaurant, Eliza took in her new surroundings. She’d never seen so much nature in her life. There were tall trees everywhere, both evergreen and ones she thought might be birch, which made the whole place seem less citified somehow.
Of course, she would have enjoyed the view more if it was warmer. It was the middle of May and there was still a light frosting of snow on the ground. Well, she was in Alaska. And if the trees and the cold weather didn’t convince her, the moose standing in the middle of the road would have. He just stood there in the center of the highway that ran along the forest, looking at them with his big brown eyes as if wondering why they were getting in his way. She might be a big-time reporter from the city, but that didn't stop her from demanding Alex take about a hundred pictures of the big, adorable thing.
While Fairbanks wasn’t huge in comparison to San Francisco, it was still bigger than she'd imagined. The buildings ranged from one-story wood and brick shops that screamed Alaska to modern multi-story industrial looking places that seemed like they could have fit right in at home.
Eliza would have loved to do some sightseeing, but when her stomach growled again, Alex suggested they cut the tourist stuff short and find a place to eat. There were dozens of the usual fast-food restaurants to be found, but rather than go to one of those, they decided on the quaint diner down the street from their hotel. She wasn’t much of a diner person, but there was something about the rustic-looking log cabin that seemed inviting.
The place had the same rustic feel on the inside. It was all exposed logs and hardwood floors, and Eliza found herself smiling as she took in the snowshoes, wood skis, outdoor photographs, and wildlife paintings that hung on the walls. She might be up here on a wild goose chase, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t enjoy the local sights. Though she could do without all the moose heads and mounted fish�they were just plain creepy.
“Two?” asked the teenage girl behind the hostess desk. At Eliza’s nod, she grabbed a couple menus from the stack in front of her and gave them a smile. “Right this way.”
As she read over the menu a few moments later, Eliza’s mouth started to water, and she was relieved when the waitress finally came to take their order. She decided on a cheeseburger and fries. Alex ordered the same thing, though he opted for onion rings instead of fries.
Taking a sip of the iced tea the waitress brought to their table a few minutes later, Eliza looked at the photographer. “So, how long have you been working at the magazine?”
“Almost two years now.”
That took her by surprise. “You must really like it then.”
He laughed. “It’s not bad. I get to travel to a lot of different places, and the pay is decent.”
She nodded. “You don’t really believe in all this paranormal stuff, though, do you?”
It had been something she’d wanted to ask the photographer all day, but with her spending most of the flight on her laptop, and Alex listening to his iPod, she hadn’t gotten the chance.
Across the table from her, Alex shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve seen some things on this job that make me wonder.”
Her eyebrows rose. “But werewolves? That’s a little far-fetched, don’t you think?”
“Maybe,” he agreed. "Maybe not. I've learned to reserve my opinion until I see all the facts.”
She wasn't so sure about that, but she kept her doubts to herself.
“Have you always worked for Paranormal Today?” she asked.
Photographers tended to bounce around a lot, so when he shook his head, she wasn’t surprised.
“Nah. I've worked for a lot of papers, even some of the big boys in LA, New York, and Dallas. But they all bored me pretty quick. No matter where I went, they always wanted the same pictures�politicians, crime scenes, and car wrecks. It gets old. That's why I like working for PT�you never know what picture you'll be snapping next.”
Eliza wanted to ask what kinds of things he’d photographed, but the waitress came by with their burgers. The older woman gave them a smile as she set down the plates.
“Anything else I can get for you folks?” she asked.
“Ketchup?” Eliza asked.
The woman nodded. “There’s a bottle on the table right behind you, sugar. Enjoy your dinner.”
Eliza had expected the woman to bring her a new bottle of ketchup, or at least grab the one from the other table for them but instead the woman walked away. Maybe it was a diner thing. Or an Alaska thing. Either way, it seemed she’d be going to get her own bottle of ketchup.
Taking her napkin off her lap and placing it on the table, Eliza pushed back her chair. When the waitress told her there was a bottle of ketchup on the table behind theirs, she figured it was unoccupied, so she was surprised to see a man sitting there. And not just the average, run-of-the-mill guy she’d expect to find in a diner either, but a mouthwatering specimen of a man. She remembered reading in Cosmo that there was something different about Alaskan men, that living in the great white north made them more hunky and sexy. Staring at the man seated at the table, she could well believe it.
Thank God he was intent on whatever he was reading on the laptop in front of him because he’d think she was a freak standing there staring at him with her mouth hanging open. But damn, with that dark hair, chiseled, stubble-roughened jaw, and sensual mouth, how could any woman not be mesmerized?
Abruptly realizing how idiotic she must look, Eliza finally forced her feet to move. As she neared his table, the man looked up from his laptop and she felt her breath hitch as his gaze met hers. She’d never seen eyes like his before. Not quite brown, but not really hazel, either, the only way she could think to describe them was gold. Regardless, they were the sexiest pair of eyes she’d ever seen. The heat from them captivated her, pulling her into their depths, and suddenly she found it hard to breathe. Talking was completely out of the question.
When he lifted a brow in question, she finally managed to break out of her trance.
“I, um, was wondering if I could steal your ketchup,” Eliza stammered, her face coloring. “We don’t have any,” she added, glancing back at her table.
The man followed the direction of her gaze, his gold eyes settling on the photographer for a moment before he gave her a smile. “Sure.”
Picking up the bottle, he held it out to her. As she reached for it, her fingers brushed his and she almost gasped at the sensation that swept through her. It was like she’d just gotten completely and thoroughly kissed. Her knees felt weak and there was a delicious little flutter in her tummy that left her breathless. It was also entirely possible that a slight purr had started between her legs, but she was too distracted to know for sure.
It was then that she realized she hadn’t actually taken the bottle of ketchup yet. She was just standing there touching him like a doofus. She tried to cover her bizarre behavior by grabbing the bottle, but ended up almost knocking it out of his hand. They both fumbled with the thing before she finally gained control of it.
Heat rushed to her face. Could she be any more lame?
“I think your boyfriend’s waiting for the ketchup,” he said when she continued to just stand there.
Eliza’s brow furrowed in confusion at the word “boyfriend,” but then she realized he must be referring to Alex. She forced her attention away from the pleasant warmth that was indeed swirling between her thighs and gave him a smile. “Oh, you mean Alex. He’s not my boyfriend. We just work together.”
One eyebrow rose. “Really?”
Oh, God. Did he think she was trying to come on to him? Crap, she really needed to go back to her table before she did something else to embarrass herself. But she couldn’t seem to make her feet move. She had a crazy urge to reach out and touch him again to see if that same sexual spark happened again. Resisting the impulse, she instead tucked her long, dark hair behind her ear. “But you’re right. He is probably waiting for the ketchup.”
Giving the man another smile, she forced herself to turn and walk back to her table. She had to focus hard just to get one foot in front of the other. But halfway there she couldn’t resist glancing over her shoulder to take one more look at him. He was still regarding her with those incredible golden eyes of his, and her pulse skipped wildly at the intensity in that gaze.
What was going on with her? She’d never experienced anything like this in her life. She had to get control of herself. Giving him one more look over her shoulder, she turned and stumbled back to her seat in a daze, clutching the bottle of ketchup in her hand.
Across from her, Alex looked at her as if to say, what the hell is wrong with you? “You just going to sit there and hold that bottle all night, or can I use some?”
She blinked. “What? Oh, yeah. Sorry,” she mumbled, handing it to him.
Eliza watched as the photographer dumped ketchup on his onion rings, then dug into his meal. She knew she should do the same, but she couldn’t stop thinking about what had just happened. Her heart was still racing as if she’d just come back from a run. Or just had some really fantastic sex. Damn, all of that was from a mere brush of the fingers? She couldn’t keep herself from wondering what it would have been like if he really had kissed her.
It was a long time before Eliza could focus on her food, and by then, she realized she wasn’t really hungry anymore, at least not for food anyway.
* * * * *
God, she smelled incredible, Hunter McCall thought as the woman walked back to her table and sat down. With her big, dark eyes, full lips, and long, silky hair, she was gorgeous, but with his werewolf senses, scent was always the first thing he noticed about a woman. The second and third things, too. And she definitely had it in that department. The pheromones pouring off her were so arousing that just one whiff of them had his heart pounding against his chest and his cock beginning to harden.
Get a grip, dude. Another minute and you’ll be over there humping her leg.
He tried to go back to what he’d been doing before she walked up and asked to borrow the ketchup, but he couldn’t make himself take his eyes off her for long. He couldn’t ever remember being so drawn to a woman before, especially not one he’d only exchanged half a dozen words with. But there was something about her that was alluring. How the hell had he lived in Fairbanks and not noticed her before?
He hadn’t meant to chase her off with that comment about her boyfriend, but he was glad the guy with her wasn’t anything more than a coworker. Of course, if he’d been thinking straight, once he found out the guy wasn’t her boyfriend, he would have asked her to join him.
Hunter’s cell phone rang, interrupting his thoughts. Picking it up from the table where he’d left it, he checked the display, then held it to his ear. “Luke, what’s up?”
“I was about to ask you the same thing,” his brother said. “When were you planning on calling and telling me you’ve got a rogue werewolf on your hands?”
Hunter’s mouth tightened. How the hell had his brother found out about that? “Do you have to be so dramatic? It’s entirely possible it’s just a normal wolf attack, you know.”
“Sure it is.” Luke’s voice was sarcastic. “You don’t believe that, and neither do I.”
Hunter sighed. His brother knew him too well, and Luke was too sharp to make a mistake about something like this. Hunter only hoped his father hadn’t seen the newspaper articles, too. He wouldn’t even bother to call and ask if Hunter needed help�he’d just show up. Hunter appreciated the close relationship he had with both his father and brother, but sometimes he got the feeling they didn’t think he could take care of himself. Maybe it was just the pack mentality that came with being a werewolf, but his human side preferred to take care of the situation on his own.
“No, I don’t,” he admitted.
When he’d heard about the first attack, Hunter assumed it’d been a regular wolf, maybe even a bear. Though it wasn’t usual for an animal to attack humans, it did happen occasionally. But then the police had called him in to take a look at the man’s body. Even as old and chewed up as the victim had been, all it took was one glance at the size and shape of the big bite marks and he knew it hadn’t been a bear. It was a wolf�a damn big wolf. Which meant it was almost certainly a werewolf. Of course, he couldn’t tell the cops that.
Werewolves usually didn’t go around killing people, for one really simple reason�they didn't want to draw attention to themselves or their kind.
It wasn't like there was a set of laws or anything that werewolves followed, but they'd been hunted enough throughout the centuries to know that exposure wasn't good for any of their kind. So, they’d learned to hide in plain sight. And if a rogue wolf was found messing up things for all the civilized Weres, it was everyone's responsibility to deal with him. Every Were knew that if you made enough fuss to alarm humans, then every werewolf in the area would come down on your head�fast and hard. That was why trouble with rogue werewolves was rare.
But this one had obviously missed the memo. He’d killed two men for no apparent reason, then left the bodies where they could easily be found.
“Do you think this werewolf is there because he’s looking to challenge you for your territory?” Luke asked, intruding on his thoughts.
Hunter didn't know why it bothered him and every other werewolf he’d ever known to have others of their kind set up camp too close by�it simply did. Unless it was family, of course. He never minded having his brother and father around. But anyone else? That was a problem. And even though Fairbanks was a city, it was surrounded by enough wilderness to make it the perfect location for a werewolf to live. Hunter should know since he'd fought off two other Weres in the last five years looking to move into the area.
Both of those cases had been obvious, though. The Weres had shown up, made their presence known, then instigated a fight. And in both cases, the other Weres had moved on after the fight. They liked Fairbanks, but not enough to bleed to death over it.
This one didn't feel like a Were looking for territory.
“But with both attacks taking place around the full moon, my gut tells me that I have a recently turned Were on my hands�one that isn’t in full control of himself yet,” Hunter told his brother. “If he’s new and doesn't have anyone to teach him the rules, he may not even realize he’s on another Were’s territory.”
“What are you doing about it?”
“Since they think it might be a wolf, the cops have asked me to come in as a consultant, but there’s not much I can do until he strikes again. I’m hoping that if I can get to the next scene soon enough, I’ll be able to track him.”
“Do you want some backup?” his brother asked.
“Thanks, but I can handle it.”
On the other end of the line, Luke let out a sigh. “Well, if you change your mind, let me know. I’ll be on the next flight up there. Seattle is just three hours away, you know?”
“I know,” Hunter said. While he didn’t need backup, he appreciated that his brother was willing to drop everything to come and help him.
He frowned as he realized that the dark-haired beauty was heading toward the door with her coworker. Damn, she had an amazing body, he thought, admiring the way her curvy hips swayed as she walked. He’d been so caught up talking to his brother that he hadn’t realized she’d even finished dinner.
“Luke, I gotta go. I’ll talk to you later.”
Hunter hung up without waiting for a reply, but by the time he got his laptop put away and tossed some money down onto the table to pay for his meal, the woman and her friend were long gone.
Damn. You snooze, you lose, dude.