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Strength of the Pack
(Book #1, Tameness of the Wolf)
2014 BOOKIE AWARD NOMINEE
BEST LGBT NOVEL
Lieutenant Lucas Young doesn’t know much about shifters. When Sergeant Noah Hammond is assigned to Lucas’ platoon, the Marine Corps’ True Alpha werewolf challenges the Lieutenant’s authority and his self-control. As Lucas learns to dominate and command Noah, he struggles against a strong attraction and deepening emotional bond.
During their combat deployment to Afghanistan, Lucas and Noah begin mirroring legendary partnerships. Their bond and their power grow as they survive dangerous combat and ambushes. When one of them is wounded in battle, they both must embrace the strength of their bond before they lose each other forever.
Lucas pulled his SUV into the parking lot. The sun blazed orange and hung low over the ocean, streaking the sky with shades of red and purple. Lucas estimated it was about forty-five minutes before sunset. There were several vehicles already parked, but Lucas knew there would be many more rolling in.
Noah was easy to spot, leaning against the spare tire of a Jeep, legs crossed at the ankles. A thrill ran the length of Lucas’ spine as he took the parking place beside the Jeep. Stepping out into the still warm evening, he realized he wouldn’t need the jacket he’d brought.
“I will admit, Lieutenant,” Noah said by way of greeting, “I didn’t think you’d actually show up.” His eyes were glittering silver.
“I said I would, Sergeant,” Lucas replied. “Why would you doubt it?”
“Not a mistake I will make again,” Noah drawled laconically.
Lucas knew there was more meaning behind that statement than was immediately obvious. He held out the clipboard with the roster of werewolves expected to show tonight. “Do you already have one of these?”
Noah glanced at the list and back up into Lucas’ eyes. “I won’t need that, sir. But if it makes you feel better to use it as a back-up, by all means.”
He knew Noah was laughing at him, and Lucas bristled. “You can keep track of exactly who shows up tonight and if they make it back in the morning, without writing anything down?”
“Yes, sir, I can.” It was a simple statement of fact, devoid of any arrogance.
“Since we’re off duty, we can set rank aside for the evening,” Lucas said, wondering at the wisdom of his words even as he spoke them. “Explain to me how you keep track of such a large group of shifters.”
“Yes…Lucas,” Noah replied. His face was expressionless, but his voice was laced with humor. “At the end of the night there will be two distinct scent trails for everyone who turns out for the run. If there’s any trail that goes out but doesn’t return, I’ll use that to track down the missing werewolf.”
Lucas ignored the tug of attraction he felt at Noah’s subtle amusement. “Does that happen often?” he asked brusquely.
“No, Lucas. Not very.”
Lucas suppressed a shiver at the husky, suggestive way Noah said his name. It had to be due to his impending shift into wolf form. He watched as Noah’s nostrils flared slightly.
“When it does,” Noah continued. “It’s usually a case of someone misjudging how far out they’ve run. Occasionally, I have to deal with trapped legs or lacerated paw pads.”
Lucas thought of how Noah always seemed to be scenting him. “Is that how you all keep track of each other?” He silently chastised himself for hoping he was something special.
Noah’s eyes narrowed as he studied Lucas for several seconds. “Are you asking if every werewolf is able to differentiate between over a hundred individual scent trails and identify the age of each trail?”
Not really. “Yes.”
The abrupt answer took Lucas by surprise. He waited for Noah to elaborate but quickly realized he didn’t intend to.
“So it’s a skill unique to Alphas?” Lucas persisted.
“Having the ability to monitor several different scent trails contributes to an Alpha being able to successfully lead a pack.”
Lucas forced himself to be patient. It was like pulling fucking teeth. He decided to meet Noah’s silence with his own.
Finally, Noah pushed off from the Jeep and said, “True Alphas can track and monitor larger packs. It manifests naturally; we don’t have to develop it.”
Lucas nodded thoughtfully. That was a hell of a useful skill to have.
“Listen up,” Noah suddenly shouted, causing Lucas to jump. “Everybody check in and out with my Lieutenant, here. He’s standing Sentinel, so make it easy for him.”
Lucas looked around, abashed that the parking lot had begun to fill up while they’d stood there talking, and he hadn’t noticed. How such a large group had remained so quiet baffled him.
As the Marines passed by, each one called out his or her name. Lucas checked the first box for each one on his alphabetized list. The entire process went quick and smooth. As the group checking in dwindled, Lucas turned to find Noah kicking off his shoes.
“Now what?” Lucas asked, surprised at his own informality.
Noah opened the back of the Jeep and pulled out several plastic tarps that he handed off to other Marines. “We walk out into the setting sun, get naked and shift into wolves.”
Lucas’ mouth went dry at the mental picture of Noah stripping himself naked. “And the tarps?” he asked distractedly.
“Nobody likes putting on clothes that have lain in the dirt all night.” Noah’s grin made Lucas’ chest tighten.
“Of course,” Lucas replied, wondering when he’d lost the power of deductive reasoning.
The large group had almost all moved out into the growing dusk. “I should warn you; some of us are going to show back up in different states of…arousal,” Noah said, looking like he was avoiding meeting Lucas’ eyes. “There could be squabbling. There will definitely be some fucking. It’s typical. Just ignore it.”
Lucas wasn’t sure how to respond. He stared wordlessly at Noah for several long moments. “Seriously?”
“Ever been in combat?” Noah asked, finally looking directly at Lucas with his silver eyes.
“Yes.” Lucas wondered what that had to do with anything.
“Similar reaction,” Noah replied.
Lucas suddenly understood. “Copy that.”
“Are you really going to sit in your car all night waiting for us to come back?” Noah asked abruptly.
Why was this so fucking hard to believe? “I’ve got a book, a thermos and a cell phone. If something goes wrong out there, send someone with a message, and I can get help.”
Noah gave a slight shake of his head. “Are you for real?” he muttered.
“Excuse me?” Lucas had no clue how to answer, or if he even should.
“The first of us should start showing back up just as it gets light,” Noah said over his shoulder as he walked into the dark, his hips rolling slowly, broad shoulders cutting a defined silhouette.
Lucas locked down the sudden spike of lust that rocketed through him. “What’s the appropriate thing to say, right now?” he asked, hoping levity would dispel the sudden awkwardness. “Good luck? Stay safe? Play nice with the other wolves, and don’t pick up any strange fleas?”
Noah stopped in his tracks and slowly turned back. Lucas was sure he’d crossed some sort of line of inappropriateness. He mentally berated himself for openly flirting with an NCO under his command.
Relief washed over him when Noah suddenly grinned. “I wondered if there was any spirit to go with that brain.”
Lucas stayed rooted to his spot, speechless, blood thundering in his ears, as he watched Noah walk into the darkness.
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