A Place to Hide

PROLOGUE (Valerie)

***AUTHOR'S NOTE***          This entire prologue is basically just one long NSFW scene.

There's tons of plot-relevant stuff happening, but there's also LOTS of sexy-times happening too.


Ungh, brightness. Ew. I moved my arm away from my face and squinted against the daylight invading my living room. The sunbeams drove spikes into my head with needle-like precision. Last night had been a hell of a party. How many hours of sleep had I managed to get in? I sat up with a yawn, my vision hazy and unfocused as I swung my legs heavily off the couch and reached to check the time on my cell laying face down on the coffee table.


Two in the afternoon. 


And I’d gotten in as dawn started to light the sky. So … what? Like seven-ish? I counted it out on my fingers. Seven hours. I shrugged. Good enough. 


I wiped at my face with both hands, pushing sleep-mussed rainbow strands of hair back and out of my face. I needed to get something into my system to kick out this dull throbbing in my head.

I opened the music app on my phone for inspiration. Eptic? Nah, dubstep is better for sex or dancing than for waking up. Nirvana? Mmm, no. Not enough weed in my system for that yet. Diamante …? Hmm … yeah, actually. That’d be perfect. Punchy rock music with female vocals. I added some Halestorm and New Year’s Day into the mix, and—a few taps later—the heavily distorted guitars of Diamante’s “Bulletproof” sang from my home sound system and pounded into my hangover headache as I padded into my kitchen.


The bottle of Cuervo next to the coffeemaker caught my eye. Hair of the dog, that’s what I needed. Elias wouldn’t approve, but he wasn’t here, was he? Besides, there was only a little left in the bottle. It seemed a shame to leave it all by its lonesome.


I twisted off the lid and took a shot straight from the bottle as I started the coffeemaker. As the coffee percolated into the carafe, I rolled myself a fat blunt. Thank God the Colorado lawmakers had the good sense to make this shit legal. I lit it as I leaned back against my kitchen counter, closing my eyes in anticipation of the hit as I took the first long inhale. I pulled another long drag and held it until I became aware of the fact that the coffee had stopped dribbling into the pot. 


About damn time. If I didn’t drink so many cups of coffee to keep going during the day, I’d get one of those stupid single-cup coffeemakers. At least those didn’t take half an eternity.


I poured most of a cup of caffeinated goodness for myself, topping off the mug with more tequila. That left the Cuervo bottle just this side of empty, so I finished it off and tossed it into the recycle bin before heading back to the couch, coffee in hand. I took another long drag of my blunt before setting my mug down on the squat table, letting the guitars and drums of the music wash over me as the high started to hit my system. I flopped onto the couch and dialed the volume higher, aching to feel the thump of the bass in my chest. I threw my arm over my face again as I lay back into the cushions, pulling another long drag from my blunt.


I had it finished and half the spiked coffee down when my head finally started to clear. But I couldn’t be sure if the thump I’d just heard was a part of Halestorm’s “Do Not Disturb” or if it’d come from my front door. I sat up and listened more carefully, not yet turning down the music.


Thump thump thump. 


Well, that was between lines in the next verse. Had to be my door. 


“Yeah, yeah, keep your pants on.” I gulped down another mouthful of tequila-laced coffee and got up from the couch. I didn’t get a lot of visitors, so my curiosity was piqued.


I opened the door as the next knock started and found myself face-to-face with First Lieutenant Elias Clark. He was probably the hottest lupine the Buck had on that base, which was saying something, as most of the lupines on base were hot as fuck. I hadn’t seen him in a while, but he was still the same—strong jaw, cheekbones that could cut glass, sun-kissed pale skin, dark hair, and smoldering dark eyes, all on a deceptively slim frame that practically towered over me. His olive shirt was tucked into his camo pants which were, in turn, tucked against the top of his boots. He had a manila folder tucked against his side, under his left elbow, and it looked like he hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep since the last time he’d stayed over.


He took in my appearance with a slow scan from my bare toes up, drinking in the sight of me like a starving man. I was only in an oversized shirt and neon green panties, and his gaze on my body sent warmth straight to the spot between my legs. That he hadn’t touched me yet spoke volumes about his control. And, since I liked to tease him, I leaned alluringly against my doorframe, running my fingers lightly up the top of my thigh before propping my hand on my hip. 


“New ink.” His dark eyes met mine and flicked down to my latest tattoo: a patch of intricate black lace on my right thigh with delicate chains supporting a richly detailed heart-shaped gemstone in a kaleidoscope of colors. “It suits you.”


I arched my back, watching his eyes follow the motion of my hips, and licked my lips. “Glad you think so. It’s been a while, Lieutenant Clark. I thought you’d forgotten about me.”


He closed the distance between us then, his control slipping as he attempted to crowd me back inside. His chest pressed against me—and I was only a little slip of a thing at just barely over five feet tall—but I didn’t let him move me, not just yet.


“You and I both know that’s a lie.” It was a little hard to hear him over the music, but his voice was dark as he reached a hand for my face, his fingers brushing against my cheek before burying themselves against my scalp. 


His eyes were on my mouth, which I tantalizingly parted for just a breath as his heart pounded against me. He bent his head, clearly intending to kiss me, but I gave ground with a smirk, backing into my entryway. His answering smile as he followed me was somehow both radiant and dark. My panties were going to be soaked before he even touched me.


He shut the door behind him with a soft click as I stepped over to my phone on the coffee table, turning down the music with a few taps on the screen. The distance broke the moment between us, but that was almost certainly only temporary. At least, it was if I had anything to say about it.


He cleared his throat, apparently feeling the same break. “How’s life?”


He meant, ‘How’s life on the bench?’ At least he had the decency not to rub it in my face. Didn’t make General Buckheim any less of a dick, though.


“Oh, y’know. Same old, same old.” I picked up my coffee and downed the last of it as he moved toward me with the awkwardness of someone who wasn’t sure where we stood.


He reached a hand out and brushed more of my rainbow hair from my face, cupping my cheek lightly before brushing his hand down to my shoulder. Warmth followed the trail his hand traced, a faint tingle in its wake.




It’d be a positively intimate gesture if it didn’t immediately sober me up. But that was reliable healer Elias, ruining my highs ever since the Buck swept me off into this identity. At least he had the good grace to take the hangover with the high.


I sighed and headed for the kitchen, empty coffee mug in hand. “Business call, huh?” My voice was clipped.


He growled low in his throat. “Val …”


I turned and arched an eyebrow at him as I put my mug in the sink. I couldn’t be sure, but he may have been slimmer than he’d been before. “Y’know, I think those pants would fit me.”


He matched my arched brow. “Are you trying to get into my pants?”


Now, there’s an idea. Not that it hadn’t already crossed my mind.


I sauntered back over to him. “I wouldn’t be so sideways about it.” I grabbed the waistband of his pants and tugged him close, running the ball of my tongue piercing along my lips. “But now that you mention it,” I murmured, unbuckling his belt and pulling it free in one smooth motion.


Look. If he was gonna ruin my high with business, the least he could do was give me a few O’s for the trouble.


His lips twisted upward as he plopped the file on my coffee table and stripped his shirt off. He may have been built slim, but he was solid muscle. He wrapped an arm around my waist, grasping me firmly against him as his mouth crashed against mine.


Well, good. We were on the same page. And fuck, did he ever taste good. I practically melted against him as the space between my legs turned molten. And then his thumb brushed across my hardened nipple, and I could think of nothing beyond how badly I wanted him inside of me.


Pulling away as he rucked my shirt up my body, he practically tore it off me and ran his big warm hands along my bare skin. Despite being a lifetime member of the itty bitty titty club, his hands felt amazing as they cupped each of my little girls, though they didn’t even fill one of his palms each. I leaned into his touch, sighing with pleasure at the warmth of him as I felt him come to full attention in his pants. I ran my tongue along his lip and pulled away to work on the fly of his pants, but he caught my hands before I made any real progress.


He fished a contacts case from his pocket and offered it to me. “For you.”


I frowned at him. “I don’t need contacts; I can see just fine.”


“They’re colored contacts.” He smiled and jerked his chin toward the file. “I need you to make contact with this girl.”


Was the Buck putting me back in play? Really? And how the fuck could Elias still keep a damn level head when he clearly wanted my body as bad as I wanted his?


“Get as much intel as you can about where she comes from and what she’s capable of,” he continued. “Then get her in the path of the purgatum.”


I tapped the contact case against the palm of my other hand and pouted at him. “All work and no play?” I tried to ignore the niggling question that dangled at the thought of taking someone to the one who’d fixed me, more or less.


With a husky chuckle, he plucked the contact case from my hand and dropped it on top of the manila folder before gripping my hips. He pulled me to him, licking a line up my neck and nipping gently at my ear as he thumbed my hardened nipple again. “Plenty of play, but there’s still work to do, too.”


I pushed him to sit on the couch. At least he was closer to my height there. His hands cupped my ass, pulling me closer to him so he could lick another line up between my breasts, sending more heat thrumming through me.


“Fine,” I said, trying to play it cool despite his hands and mouth on me. “So, you want me to play spy? What’s her deal?”


He nipped gently at the tender skin below my breast as he slipped my panties to the floor. He sat back and admired me for a moment before bending to pull off his boots. “We haven’t seen wereleopards before, and that’s a variable we can’t have as an unknown out there.” He spoke more to the ground than to me, but the words still sent a chill down my spine and cooled my jets.


My fingers found the scars on my stomach, and I traced the ragged edges of the four parallel pink lines, staring at him until he looked back at me.


“There’s wereleopards?” There was decidedly more anxiety in the question than I wanted.


He stood quickly then, grabbing my jaw firmly and tilting my head back as he towered over me. He placed gentle kisses against my neck as he spread a hand across my scars, lining a finger up on each of the shiny pink marks and holding his warm palm firmly against me until my heart finally stopped trying to keep time like the happy hardcore beats of the rave last night.


“She needs to be the last,” he said quietly against my hair. “We don’t need more of her kind.”


The hand that had been over my scars crept lower as his other hand held me firmly against him, instantly reigniting the warmth that had gone out. Fuck, if I didn’t love his hands on me.


And then his fingers found the pearl among my folds, and I panted against his neck as he ran circles around my clit. Steady, unrelenting circles that I ground into and against. I bit his neck as my orgasm crashed into me, turning my knees to jelly.


“There’s my good girl,” he whispered as I shuddered against his hand. I’m a damn sucker for praise during sex.


Well, two can play at that game. I was far from done with him.


I reached up to pull his face down to mine as I released his truly impressive dick from his pants. I ran my hand over it a few times, pumping his length until drops of precum slicked my palm.


I looked up at him with a wicked smile and pushed him back onto the couch. I followed him down, straddling his lap and guiding him into my still sensitive core.


His eyes rolled back in pleasure. “God, I’ve been away from you too long.”


I bounced on his dick a couple of times, reveling in the way that he filled me almost to bursting. “Mmhmm. It’s only been about a month.”


I bent my mouth to his as I ground my hips against his lap. Running my hands up his chest, I clawed at the back of his head, seeking purchase in the close-cropped hair there. He twitched inside me as I moved against him, and I finally closed my fingers around the dark hair at the top of his head, my nails scraping against his scalp as I yanked his head back and away from me.


He smiled at the rough play, making a pleased little noise deep in his throat.


“Maybe you shouldn’t have let the old Buck bench me.” I licked his Adam’s apple, tracing a line up his throat. “I miss fucking you in the exam room.”


He hummed agreeably as he wrapped an arm around my waist, lifting me from his lap and plopping me on my back beneath him on the couch. He buried himself in me again in a single stroke.


“I miss fucking you in the back of the humvee,” he replied, gripping my left ankle and lifting it over his shoulder for better access. He held my leg up with a firm grip on my thigh as the thumb of his other hand found my clit. “But now, I want you to come for me. Again.”


It was his specialty. He knew exactly how to touch me to make me fall apart for him. And as his thumb fell into sync with his hips pumping against me, I came loudly, my hips bucking against his hand with decidedly wet noises. 


“Yes,” he cooed. “Good girl.”


He kept his hand on me, kept pumping into me as I ground against him until the aftershocks subsided, at which point he pulled out, despite the needy little whine I gave him.


“Oh, there’s more,” he said, throwing me easily over his shoulder. “But I want a little more space.”


Sure. More space. Wetness dripped down my thigh. I watched his firm ass from where I was draped over his shoulder as he padded into my bedroom.


“No hospital corners for you, huh?” He swatted my butt once, and the spot he slapped wasn’t the only thing that warmed.


I snorted and propped my chin in my hand, my elbow braced against his shoulder blade. “Since when do I do anything at all neat and orderly?”


With another little chuckle, he dropped me onto the mess of pillows and blankets on my bed. “Fair.”


He lowered himself on top of me again, kissing me until I gently pushed him away. I was two orgasms in; I could at least try to get my head a little clear. He wanted me to pretend to make friends with some girl—some wereleopard. She wasn’t mooncrazed, was she? A cold finger of ice flicked at my spine.


He rolled onto his side and propped himself on his elbow. He watched me think as he traced a hand over the bright rose vine and dark chain tattoo that twisted around my left arm from shoulder to hand. “What thoughts lurk behind those eyes?”


I hooked a leg over his hip, mirroring him with my head in my right hand. “Why me?”


He rolled a shoulder. “Because I’ll be missed.”


“Isn’t the old Buck the one who wants this info? Wants her to stop being a leopard?”


“Mmm, I’m sure he wants the info,” Elias replied. “But I’m not sure he’d want her to stop being a leopard.”


I studied his face. He was masking something there, I was sure of it. “He doesn’t know about her yet, does he?”


It would make sense. Buckheim would probably want her for himself. Test her skills and endurance, and then see if she’s pack material. Did leopards even pack bond?


He pressed his lips into a line before leaning forward to kiss my temple. “Please don’t make me lie to you, Val. I need you to do this for me.” He pressed his forehead against mine. “And I need you to just trust me. With any luck, it’ll get you off the bench for good.”


“Hmm.” I pushed him over and straddled him, letting his rock-hard length lay along his body instead of pressing into me. “What if I like the bench?” I rolled my hips along his shaft, slicking him with my considerable wetness.


With a laugh that twitched along his length under me, he propped his arm behind his head, resting the other hand on my tattooed thigh. “You only like the bench because you can sit around here getting high all the time.”


I wriggled and readjusted until he was inside me again, rolling my eyes back at the delicious sensation of fullness. “And fuck hot ass werewolves whenever I want.” I slid up and down his length a couple of times.


His left eyebrow shot up as he grabbed my hips with both of his big warm hands, thrusting hard into me. “Werewolves, plural, huh?”


“Well …” I fell forward, brushing my lips against his without quite kissing him. “Maybe just the one, for now,” I whispered against his mouth.


He tightened his grip on my hips and gave me another hard thrust. “I see.”


I couldn’t help but love the way he didn’t try to be terribly gentle with me. And as he pumped into me, he left little scratches on my butt and teeth marks in my collarbone that would have bruised if he hadn’t immediately healed them. But he left the teeth marks. He always left the teeth marks. And I fucking loved it. I loved knowing I was his. I loved knowing how much he liked having me.


And I really loved the sounds he made when my next orgasm drove him over the edge.


As his dick slowed its twitching, I rolled from the bed and stepped into my obnoxiously large bathroom. It had Jack and Jill sinks and a huge claw-foot bathtub along with a shower stall with two oversized rainshower heads. It was entirely too much for just me, but I hadn’t had the chance yet to pull Elias into the shower with me.


I called to him from the bathroom. “So, how do you want me to do this?” I pulled a washcloth from the basket on the counter and ran water onto it, which I wiped over my face before rinsing it and wringing it out again. “Do I need to dye my hair and cover my ink?” Hopefully not, I liked my rainbow hair.


He made a deep pleased sound that rumbled from his chest before replying. “You don’t have to go that far. What we know of her so far is in the file on your coffee table. She just got dropped into Saint Dymphna’s Institute for Behavioral Health in Dallas. I’ll get you admitted there for rehab.”


I narrowed my eyes as I cleaned myself up with the damp cloth. “Win-win for you, huh?”


“Look,” he said, “you get clean, Buck pulls you off the bench, whether you get the intel or not. It’s not like former werewolves are easy to come by.”


I tossed a towel to Elias as I leaned against the doorframe, pressing my right shoulder against the cool wood. “Easier now that Lynn’s around.”


He cleaned himself off. “Val … come on, you just gotta learn what you can and earn her trust enough that she’ll go with you when I send my guys. They’ll be in suits. You’ll know them by their orange pocket squares.” He tapped his left pec.


I bit my lip. “It’s just … I’m not a spy, Elias. She’s gonna see through me.”


“Maybe if you’re stupid about it.”


I threw my damp washcloth at him. “I’m serious! If she’s anything like you lupines, she’s gonna see through any lie I tell her, colored contacts or no.” 


In almost a single motion, he stood and threw an arm around my waist. He pulled me to him as he gripped my chin with a little growl that sent heat coursing through me again. He kissed me then, biting my lip where I had just a moment ago.


“So, don’t lie,” he said, releasing me and taking a step back.


And then he doubled over, his body contorting into impossible angles and proportions as he shifted to his wolf form.


My heart rate spiked, my spine hit sub-zero, and my jaw went slack at the creature he became. His wolf was black-streaked grey on top with creamy white on his legs, belly, and the underside of his tail. But all I could think about was the thing that turned me into a manic, slavering creature of violence. My vision unfocused as I crossed my arms tightly over my belly, hunching into myself and taking a single step backward before clenching my eyes shut and forcing air as deep as I could into my lungs. I forced myself to hold my ground, reminding myself that if I ran, he would chase, and that would be worse. 


Except he wouldn’t.


He wasn’t mooncrazed. He had control. He’d had control for longer than I’d even been alive.


I heard the cracking of joints and bones rearranging themselves as he shifted back. And then the warmth of him pressed against me, wrapped around me. It melted the fear I was working so hard to drive away with logic. There was my Elias. He wouldn’t let that happen to me again.


“See?” His voice was a gentle whisper of breath against my ear. “Shifted creatures are terrifying. Better she get rid of the leopard anyway.” He kissed my temple. “And you do have a drug problem. You abuse the shit out of your Ambien and Xanax, and you know it. One of these days, you’re gonna end up dead. And that’s unacceptable. Rehab will be good for you.”


I hummed a noncommittal noise and opened my eyes. He wasn’t wrong, I just liked it better when I was using an off-label strength of my meds.


“Please, Val. Just get her to the purgatum and call me when she’s human.”

He lifted me from the floor with his casual strength and dumped me onto the bed, following me down onto the sheets. He was already hardening against me again. But I wasn’t sure I was ready to let him have me. Not after that stunt of his. I hooked a leg over him and forcefully switched our positions. Well. He probably let me. 


“What a rude trick to pull, scaring me like that. You’ll have to make it up to me before you go running back to the Buck.” Mischief dripped through my tone as I wrapped my tattooed hand around his dick. I lowered my mouth to that magnificent shaft and circled the tip with my tongue, flicking the ball of my piercing against the sensitive little spot just under the head.


“Ffffuuuuck, Val.” His voice was breathless. “It’s not like I was gonna get you all hot and bothered just to leave you playing DJ to the little man in the boat.”


I nearly choked on my laughter as I sat up. “Holy shit, where the hell did you learn that one?”


He laughed with me, throwing his arm behind his head again. “Jones said it to Lawson the other day. I wasn’t sure what he meant until she kneed him in the groin for it.”


I continued laughing. “That’s fucking hilarious.”


“No,” he said, shaking his head as he rolled over back on top of me again. “What’s really hilarious is how many more times I’m going to make you come before I take you to the airport and put you on a plane to Dallas.”


Fifteen was the number. Seven more that day, three in the middle of the night, four in the morning, and once more in the car in the garage at the airport. 


Fuck, I was gonna miss the feel of his hands on me. 


But there was work to do, and the sooner I got it done, the sooner I’d be back in his arms.


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