BundlesDown & Dirty Bundle
Thomas Crawford is Lonely River’s Beta, and it’s high time he settled down. He’s had his eye on Charlotte Daniel, the owner of the Full Moon Saloon–and independent cuss of a woman–for months, but she either hasn’t noticed his gentle courting… or she’s ignoring him. But when some local wolves lodge a complaint about her questionable business practices it’s Thomas’ job to investigate, even if it means the woman he wants will hate him forever.
Lottie has noticed Thomas’ courting, all right, but it’s a little too polite for her tastes. She wants a man with fire and sensuality, not daisies and poetry. Then he kisses her. Once she gets a glimpse of the passion burning in him, Lottie decides a slow, careful seduction isn’t a bad idea at all. But she’ll do it her way.
Originally published in May, 2009. Reissued by the author in June 2012 with an updated cover. Currently exclusive to Amazon.
Read an Excerpt
It was too late for a social call, so the pounding on the front door could mean nothing good. Thomas’ suspicions were confirmed when a tense voice called out, “Open up, Crawford! We’ve got a grievance.”
When Jack had lived in this house, werewolves had approached with respect and humans not at all. No one felt the same awe for Thomas, though, that they afforded the alpha. Sighing, Thomas set aside his book and resolved himself to another evening spent soothing angry werewolves who thought that permission to run in the woods behind the house meant permission to intrude at all hours instead of waiting for him to be in his office in town.
Tonight’s angry visitors proved to be a trio of businessmen. It took him several moments to make the connection between them, but it clicked into place in his head as he rested his hand on the edge of the door. Between them, the three men owned two brothels in town. The only proprietor of liquor and ladies not present and accounted for was Charlotte Daniel.
This is going nowhere good.
The tallest man cleared his throat. “We’re having what you could call a business problem, Crawford, and we’d like for Jack to check it out.”
It didn’t take a genius to guess what their problem would be, but Thomas had a job to do — one that involved listening to even the most absurd complaints. He pulled the door open and stepped back, gesturing for the men to step inside. “It’s late, but I have a few minutes if you’d like to talk.”
The second man thanked him and fidgeted with his hat. “It’s about Miss Lottie over at the Full Moon. She’s bribing all the best girls to come over and work for her. Plus, she’s brazen about them servicing humans.”
Translation: she’s making more money than we are. Thomas kept his expression serene even in the face of the irrational protective anger that rose inside him. “Do you have any evidence she’s bribing anyone?” he asked, tackling the easier question first.
“Just one girl. Said Miss Lottie had offered her something I hadn’t.” His eyes darkened. “I asked her how much, but she wouldn’t say.”
Probably security. Jack made sure all of the girls in town were safe — the one man who’d tried to open a brothel where the women weren’t protected had ended up in pieces — but safe didn’t always equal content.
Before Thomas could reply, the third man, who had remained silent so far, spoke up. “Nobody really gives a damn about the bribes. It’s low, but it ain’t against the law. The humans, that’s the real problem.”
Of course it was, because it involved female werewolves letting human men into their beds. Not a one of them got up in arms when male wolves found a sweet young human to romance. Hypocrites. “Far as I can recall, gentlemen, there aren’t any laws about humans and werewolves keeping their hands to themselves.”
“There ain’t no laws, but it ain’t right, either.”
The second man held up a hand to quiet his friend. “Look, Crawford. I got nothing against humans. Let ‘em do whatever they want. But there’s rules about what can go on with the girls and what can’t, rules we all agreed on and follow. All the wolves know the penalties for acting a fool when they’re visiting upstairs. But Jack ain’t got no jurisdiction over the humans.”
Thomas fought back a snort at the idea of any human man surviving the sort of wrath Lottie brought down on anyone who misbehaved in her establishment. Instead he nodded. “True, there’s no technical jurisdiction. But I think you’re underestimating how much the Mayor and the Sheriff pay attention to Jack’s opinion on things.” Which was the nice, politically correct way of pointing out that Jack might as well run the damn town.
The tall man shook his head. “I told you all this was a waste of time.”
The reasonable one was starting to look a bit panicked around the eyes, so Thomas cleared his throat. “Not saying that. You brought a complaint, and Jack will look into it. What sort of resolution would satisfy you?”
They shifted uncomfortably, none of them willing to say it. Finally, the spokesman inclined his head. “It might be easier for us to keep our girls if we knew what Lottie was offering. And — And if we could maybe all come to an agreement about wages–”
Irritation flashed through Thomas again, more insistent this time. “You might not want Jack involved in any agreement you make about wages. If the Alpha lays down a law, you can be sure he’ll stay busy making sure everyone follows it.” Which I’m sure none of you plan to.
The man held up his hand. “We’ll work it out amongst ourselves, I suppose. But we still need to know there’s nothing untoward happening to the girls over there.”
Which was an insult in and of itself, and explained why they’d come to him instead of Jack. He went out of his way to seem affable and easygoing — the kind of man you could insult to his face and live to tell about it. And if that weren’t the best way to protect my pack, I’d kick all of your asses here and now.
Knowing that his job required a certain demeanor didn’t make it easier to stay calm. He felt his power flare with his temper and could tell by the way they fidgeted that they had too. He cursed silently and forced his power back into its carefully locked box. “I’ll look into it, gentlemen.”
“Thank you, Crawford.” The other two men mumbled grudging thanks, as well, and they disappeared through the door and into the night.
Thomas considered indulging himself by slamming the door shut behind them, but he’d slipped enough by letting his temper off the leash. He was supposed to be the polite one. The civilized one. His approachability made it possible for Jack to rule with the sort of brutal strength it took to keep the wilder werewolves in line.
Few besides Jack had any inkling that the pack’s beta had that same strength in him. Thomas didn’t mind playing second-fiddle to Jack’s tough and manly routine, but it got considerably less tolerable when people took it as license to insult him to his face. As if we’d let any of the women in Lottie’s place be mistreated, even if she allowed it.
But it wasn’t about that, and they all knew it. Lottie made money hand over fist with her smart business practices and her careful treatment of the people in her employ, and it drove the men crazy. They wanted that income, and they’d do anything to get it.
And their complaint tonight had been a trap. He remembered the muttered words of the angriest man: I told you all this was a waste of time. His interest in Charlotte was hardly a secret. If he didn’t make a lot of fuss in investigating their allegations, the people who hated Lottie would take it as proof that she got to do whatever she wanted because she had the beta tucked in her pocket. They’d assume the only way to get to her would be outside the law.
People making that same assumption about Virginia Howard had led to bloodshed and death a few short months ago. Jack had been forced to kill a member of the pack, and resentment still seethed under the surface. Add in the possessive distaste most male wolves had for the idea of humans touching their women, and Thomas was sitting on a powder keg that could explode at any minute.
Which meant paying Lottie a visit tomorrow. And not the kind he’d hoped to, where he asked her on a walk and tried to ascertain if he was wasting his time with his careful courtship. The kind that would pretty much ensure she’d never think kindly of him again.
Sometimes I hate my job.