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    CHAPTER ONE

    Graham McNeil slammed his massive fist into the jaw of the attacking wolf just as his cell phone rang.

    He got the wolf into a headlock and tried to reach for the phone, but the wolf fought and clawed, drawing blood, its breath like sour acid. Graham’s Collar sparked heavy pain into his throat, while the Collar on the wolf he fought was dormant.

    Was this where things were going with the stupid-ass idea that all Shifters should have their pain-shocking Collars replaced with inert ones? Shifters at the bottom of the food chain would use their fake Collars as an excuse to try to claw their way up, like this Lupine was. The shithead was from the family of one of Graham’s trackers and was supposed to be loyal to Graham, but today the wolf had decided to wait in Graham’s house until Graham walked in alone, and jump him.

    Idiot. Graham had territory advantage, even if he still wore his true Collar, which blasted pain into him with every heartbeat. Time to show the attacking wolf who was truly alpha.

    Graham’s phone kept ringing against his belt. Because Shifters were only allowed to carry “dumb” phones, he didn’t have a fancy ringtone to tell him who was calling. The damn thing just rang.

    Graham grabbed the Lupine by the throat and threw it against the wall. The wolf howled, but did it stay down? Not for long.

    As the wolf prepared another attack, Graham yanked the phone off his belt and flipped it open. “What?”

    “Graham,” came the breathless voice of his more-or-less girlfriend, a human called Misty.

    Everything slowed. Graham saw in his mind the curvy young woman with light brown hair she wore in a ponytail, her soft face, and her sweet brown eyes. Every thought of her was like a breath of air, snaking into his messed-up brain and trying to soothe him. Graham wished he was with her now, teasing her, kissing her, instead of trying to beat an insubordinate wolf into submission.

    “I’m a little busy right now, sweetheart,” Graham said loudly as the wolf landed on him. A wooden chair smashed under them as they both slammed to the floor—damn, he liked that chair. “You break my TV, you’re dead,” Graham snarled.

    “What?”

    “Not you, sweetie. I’ll have to call you back.”

    “You can’t. Graham, listen, I need you. They’re . . . Oh, crap.”

    “What?” Graham bellowed. “Slow down. What are you saying?”

    “I have to go. I don’t know when I can call you again.”

    Graham’s shift was coming. In a few seconds, he wouldn’t be able to hold the phone, let alone talk. “Wait!” he yelled at her.

    “I can’t. I’ve got to go. Graham, I lo—”

    The phone clicked, and Graham was shouting at a dead line. “What? Wait! Misty! Fuck.”

    He threw the phone across the room and lifted the attacking wolf by the scruff of the neck. “Would you stop, you ass**le?”

    The wolf snarled, teeth snapping at Graham’s throat. The wolf in Graham responded. He felt his body change, muscles becoming harder and leaner, face elongating to accommodate teeth, claws jutting from fingers that quickly became paws.

    With an ear-splitting snarl, Graham went for the other wolf’s throat, snapping teeth around fur.

    At the last minute, the alpha in him told him not to kill. Graham was this wolf’s protector, not its enemy. The wolf needed to be taught its place, not destroyed.

    Not that Graham wouldn’t rough it up a bit. But quickly. He needed to find out what was wrong with Misty. The fear in her voice had been clear, the desperation palpable. They’re . . . What? Here? Coming? Killing me?

    Graham’s Collar kept snapping arcs into his neck. He held on to the throat of the fighting wolf, not letting the Collar stop him.

    Dominance didn’t have anything to do with Collars, or pain, or fighting. Dominance was about putting full-of-themselves, arrogant Lupine Shifters in their place. Graham got the wolf on the floor and stepped on it, and then shifted to human again, breathing hard, his clothes in tatters.

    “Stay down.” The words were hard, final.

    The wolf snarled again, then became human—lanky, dark-haired, gray-eyed—typical Lupine. Except this one was female.

    She looked up at him, rage in her eyes. “This isn’t over, McNeil.”

    “Famous last words. Your dad sent you, didn’t he? Thought maybe I’d mate-claim you if you couldn’t best me, right?”

    The way she looked quickly away told Graham he’d hit upon the truth. She was naked, and not bad, but Graham hadn’t been able to think about any other female since he’d met Misty.

    He hadn’t mate-claimed Misty, or even had sex with her. Graham had never had sex with a human before, and he feared he’d not be able to gentle himself enough for Misty. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt her.

    Also, his position as leader of the Lupines in this Shiftertown was precarious. His wolves expected him to mate with a Lupine, to provide a cub who would be their next leader. If he went into mating frenzy with a human, the more old-fashioned of his wolves might try to solve the problem by killing Misty.

    But Misty’s phone call had his gut churning. Graham climbed to his feet. “I’ve got to go,” he said to the woman. “I want you out of here by the time I get back. No more ambushes. If you want a mate, go chase some bears. They’re always horny.”

    Graham turned around and walked away. The best way to show submissives they were submissive was to indicate you didn’t fear them jumping you the minute your back was turned. Making them know that if they did jump you, you’d stop them. Again.

    His heart hammered with worry, the wolf forgotten, as he detoured to his bedroom to grab clothes to replace the ones he’d shredded with his shift.

    Graham left through the back door, mounted his motorcycle, started it, and rode noisily away from his house and Shiftertown.

     • • •

    "I’m asking you one more time, where is he?”

    “I said, I don’t know.”

    The gang leader who held Misty against the wall by the throat didn’t believe her. He’d caught her running out of the back of the shop, and he’d taken her cell phone, thrown it to the ground, and smashed it with his boot heel. She’d never seen the man before, but she guessed who he was—a guy called Sam Flores who’d been in prison with her brother—and why he’d come.

    “You do know.” Flores’s breath was foul with cigarettes and beer. “That him you had on your phone?”

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