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Merrick Wood is a wild man–literally. For six decades he’s stalked the Rocky Mountains as a bloodhound, fighting a losing battle against the vampires who have taken over most of the American frontier. He’s sure he’s seen it all, until an airship crash leaves him caught behind enemy lines with a concussion and a mate he doesn’t remember taking.
Paralee Colton is a wild woman. She enjoys her freedom and makes a good living flying over the Deadlands. Until, that is, bloodsuckers shoot down her ship, and she’s forced to deal with an irritatingly attractive man who isn’t a man at all.
Trapped together in the wilderness, Merrick and Paralee must fight to find a safe camp before the new moon drags Merrick into three days of sexual madness. But as enticing as Paralee finds the bloodhound, she doesn’t realize the stakes of their courtship game.
Getting out of the Deadlands is only half of Merrick’s battle for survival. If he can’t convince Paralee to stay with him, he’ll follow the footsteps of every bloodhound who’s ever lost a mate–straight into the grave.
The first time Merrick Wood laid eyes on his mate, she was sitting on top of him, her hands sliding quickly over his chest.
“Come on,” she muttered, immediately following the entreaty with a string of blistering curses. “Come on, wake up. You weigh a ton, and we’ve got to move.”
His mate, to be sure. No other possibility explained why his first instinct upon waking was to wrap his hands around her waist and hold her in place. Anyone else would have been under him by now, her face in the dirt and his knee at the small of her back. A bloodhound’s training left little room for error, and he’d been a bloodhound for enough decades for the ache in his bones to feel like old age, finally coming to claim him.
He was too old to do something as damn-fool stupid as get himself mated, even if the foul-mouthed chit straddling him was a pretty little thing. Strong thighs, too. He could feel them on either side of his body, and sliding his hands down revealed they were encased in leather.
No sweet lady, not spewing obscenities that would put color in the cheeks of the hardest border outlaw. Not a lady, and not a whore, either–he’d never met one who covered her best assets in men’s clothing, in heavy knit shirts and sturdy vests.
Not a lady. Not a whore. His mate–and a complete stranger. “Where the hell am I?”
The woman groaned. “Oh, fuck me. You’re addlebrained, that’s for sure, but can you walk?”
Good damn question. He tried to turn his head and hissed out a breath as the world throbbed in time with his heartbeat. Judging from the ache in his skull, he’d hit the ground hard. His inability to recollect how he’d ended up with a spitfire mate was undoubtedly connected.
But he was a bloodhound, not a man. Ignoring the pain, he gripped her waist again and held her aloft as he sat up. Every muscle in his body protested the abuse, but nothing seemed broken. Especially not his dick, which expressed ill-timed approval of how she felt in his lap.
Maybe it wasn’t the first time. Maybe he’d hit his head hard enough to concuss a hound, and he’d have to wait for his amplified healing to fill in the memories of all the times she’d been astride him.
A simple question could solve the mystery. “What’s your name, sweetheart?”
“P-Paralee–” She sputtered the answer, then shook her head. “We don’t have time for this. I didn’t make it past the Black Hills before I had to bring her down. We’re in the Deadlands, honey. And that–” She cupped his face and turned his head to the right. “–is going to draw every scavenging bloodsucker for miles.”
A hundred yards to his right, fire surged toward the sky. The shattered remains of what must have been a sleek airship littered the ground, broken wood and twisted brass turning black as the flames crept toward the back end of the ship. Much farther, and the whole thing was liable to explode.
Heavy drag marks trailed from the side of the ship to where they sat. The slip of a girl in his lap must have hauled him clear before the fire started, though he had to weigh twice what she did.
No wonder she was cursing her fool head off. A smart person would have left him to die already, and rage drove him to his feet. Blind fury at her for risking herself. He caught her arm and propelled her toward the hill rising away from the wreckage. “Move your ass.”
She snatched up a heavy leather satchel and scrambled over the rise just as the first explosion rocked the night.
Every step was agony, but Merrick had stopped being bothered by agony when he’d become a hound. Magic and science had torn apart his broken body, and the Bloodhound Guild had put it back together. Stronger, capable of healing with a speed that made pain an irrelevant warning.
They’d made him fast too. As nimble as Paralee was, Merrick caught up to her before the second explosion blew shrapnel and flames skyward. When the first piece of burning wood hit the ground next to him, instinct overcame reason. He caught her around the waist and bore her to the ground, covering her body with his own as pieces of the crashed airship rained down around them.
She grunted and shoved up against him. “Are you going to keep doing that?”
Interesting. “This isn’t the first time?”
“Not hardly. You grabbed me when the ship was going down too.”
The words brought a scrap of memory, an image riding protective terror. He could see his own hands closing over hers, dragging her from the ship’s wheel as the fabric above their heads caught fire amidst prayers and screams. “What happened to the rest of the crew?”
“They’re dead. The ones I could find–” Pain twisted her features into a grimace. “They’re dead.”
Insensitive bastard. He mentally kicked himself as he pushed up on his arms, giving her space without letting her up. More jagged bits of memory intruded–her seated at a table, the lone woman in a sea of men, laughing uproariously at an off-color joke. “I’m sorry.”
“I don’t want you to be sorry,” she snapped. “I want you to have your wits about you. You’re a bloodhound, and we’re stuck in the Deadlands. I need you.”
Merrick gritted his teeth against the swell of feral satisfaction the words brought. His beastly half had the sense of an animal in heat, and no wit to appreciate nuance. Her I need you wasn’t sweet submission. It was ruthless practicality, and the plain truth. They were stranded in the Deadlands after dark. Vampires ventured forth with sunset, joining their ghouls in the hunt.
He rose to his feet and took stock of his injuries. A throbbing head. A scrambled memory. Enough bruises and scrapes to turn him all the colors of the rainbow. A damn near overwhelming need to strip Miss Paralee bare and examine her body for the same scrapes and bruises.
Shelter first. Then he’d explain the unfortunate realities of being stuck in the Deadlands with a riled bloodhound. Maybe not the part about being mated to one, though, not until he could remember how in hell it’d happened. “We went down in the Black Hills, you said?”
“Just shy of.” She brushed her hair from her face and looked around. “That has to be the start of the Laramie Range to the south, there. If we head that way, we’ll hit the north fork of the Platte.”
If that was true, they wouldn’t have far to walk to reach familiar territory. He’d lived in these mountains as a human, and worked them for decades as a hound. “Let’s step quickly, then. We need shelter to ride out the night, and for me to heal up a little.”
“I managed to salvage some supplies.” She stood and looped the strap of the satchel around her neck. “No weapons but my sidearm, though. Well, and you, I suppose.”
Laughing hurt, but that didn’t stop him. His coat was missing, but at least he’d been wearing his gun belt when they crashed. A quick check proved his boot knives had survived the adventure, along with the flint and twine resting in the pockets sewn alongside his calves.
He’d survived with less, but a glance upward showed only a quarter moon. “Shit.”
“What’s the…” She followed his gaze and snorted. “New moon, huh? All the more reason to make it back to civilization. There’s a lovely whorehouse in Denver, you know–wall-to-wall French women who’ll gladly stick their tongues places you didn’t even know you had. Or so I hear.”
“Sounds good.” Sounded fucking well miserable. Three days of sexual fury were coming for him, one way or another. He’d lost count of the number of new moons he’d passed–nearly six decades worth, by now. Sexual debauchery enough for ten lifetimes, and never a whisper of regret on the fourth day, when the fever broke and he rose from the tangled sheets as a man with a job.
One stupid moment had changed all that. Somehow she’d done what those other women never had. Dug hooks into his soul, become the something he’d always need more than breath. If she turned him away when the moon went dark, he’d feel the emptiness in his gut. He’d ache. Suffer.
If she never accepted him, the crazy beast inside him would pine itself to death, and take him with it.
God damn, he had to seduce the life out of her, get those sleek thighs wrapped around his hips again. And then he had to figure out how he’d ended up mated to her to begin with.
Well, maybe not in that order.