Calling the Bluff
BundlesDown & Dirty Bundle
Hazel Young is a rare commodity in town: a young, single female whose first mating is nearly upon her, and she’s spent the last two years fending off suitors. After all, there’s nothing flattering about being wanted for the heat in her blood instead of for herself…especially when she gave her heart away to Oliver Russell years ago. But Oliver seems to feel nothing for her but fond kindness, and the time has come to choose a mate before the wolf makes the choice for her.
When Oliver happens across Hazel being pressured by a local who wants to be her first, it awakens protective instincts he thought he’d set aside with the death of his wife five years ago. With Hazel in heat and no time to get her to safety, they wind up in a fishing shack on Lonely River. They have no choice but to ride out her mating fever together…even if the last thing he expects is to be truly tempted by her inexperienced attempts at seduction.
Originally published in January, 2009. Reissued by the author in June 2012 with a new cover. Currently exclusive to Amazon.
Read an Excerpt
Oliver picked up his third whiskey and stared at it. He hadn’t meant to put that crushed look in Hazel’s eyes, but she’d left him no choice. He couldn’t give her what she wanted of him, but she’d left him no room, either. No way to go about his own business without hurting her.
Now, a simpler woman waited for him upstairs. Melinda, who was sweet and undemanding. Melinda, who he rarely thought about until his libido grew tired of his own hand and demanded the satisfaction of sinking into something warmer. More comforting.
“People around here are doing an awful lot of angry glaring today.” Lottie leaned her elbows on the bar and smiled gently. “Melinda’s waiting.”
He lowered the glass, untouched. “Not sure I’m in the mood today, after all.”
“Mmm, I’ll bet.”
Irritation gripped him. “Spit it out.”
She smiled. “Something’s been riding you hard these last couple weeks, Oliver. When you figure out what it is, you won’t need my pithy wisdom.”
Her quiet amusement set his teeth on edge, and he tossed a bill on the counter. “Be seeing you, Lottie.”
He couldn’t be sure, but he thought he heard her laugh as he stomped out. His horse shied away from him, and he had to spend several minutes soothing the gelding before he could ride.
Oliver carefully blanked out his mind, focusing instead on the rolling land surrounding him as he headed for home. At length, he spotted a lone horse in the distance and no sign of a rider. A stray, he reasoned, unwilling to let his mind wander to grimmer conclusions.
But those conclusions were unavoidable when he drew closer and saw that the brown Morgan wore full tack, including an exquisitely worked saddle he recognized as the one Lottie had commissioned for Hazel’s eighteenth birthday.
It had been at least an hour since she’d left the bar with Noah Hampton, and the sun had begun to dip toward the horizon. Oliver’s heart seized. She could have been thrown, or –
He didn’t waste time. He clucked to his horse and rode toward Hampton’s place, his throat dry and blood pounding in his ears.
He made it within a mile of Hampton’s before he came across Hazel, barefoot and disheveled with her dress hanging off one shoulder. His horse shied again as he drew up next to her, dancing nervously away from the anger that rolled off Hazel in waves.
He jumped down and snatched his rifle from his pack. “Where the hell is he, and what the fuck did he do?”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” Hazel wouldn’t meet his eyes, but her voice sounded more frustrated than upset. “Unless you’re going to shoot my horse for throwing me, put that damn thing away.”
“A bad fall’s dangerous, even for werewolves.” His hands shook, but he stowed the rifle. “But if that’s all that happened, where are your shoes?”
Anger returned, but more dangerous was the growing warmth around her, power rising in her tiny body and drawing an answering surge from him. She trembled on the edge of the mating fever, so close it should have taken her by now.
And yet she fought it. Even as she glared up at him, she fought it so hard it had to be hurting her. “Everything went wrong.” Her voice was clipped, edged with that same tense heat. “But it wasn’t him. It’s me. And you.”
Oliver couldn’t deny the role he’d played in her frustration, even if it wasn’t his fault. “You’re going to hurt yourself,” he told her gruffly. “The fever’s nothing to play around with.”
“Play?” Her voice rose. “You think I’m playing? I went there to fuck him and I wanted to. But I can’t give in to the mating without giving in to the wolf, and she almost ripped him apart for touching me.”
“Calm down.” The hair on the back of his neck rose, along with the animal inside him. The wolf stirred, awakened as much by the power rolling off her in waves as by the Siren call of her lust. He needed to get her to safety before the fever took her, but he couldn’t touch her. He knew what would happen the moment he did. “We need to get you somewhere. To Jack’s place.”
“No!” Hazel snatched up her mud-stained skirts and circled around him, her entire body rigid. “I’m not getting near Jack, and I’m not going anywhere with you.”
He followed her. “Like it or not, I’m what you’ve got right now. So you can act like a child, or you can let me get you someplace safe.”
Hazel wheeled so quickly he almost ran into her. “If you think I’m going to let you hand me over to the alpha so he can do his duty by me and break my best friend’s heart, you’re a bigger fool than I thought.”
“That isn’t what I meant,” he protested. “He and Ginny can find a way to help you. He doesn’t have to — it’s not –” He bit off his words with a growl. His hands were starting to itch. “Damnation, if you hadn’t waited so long…”
“Yes, I’m a fool. I’m a stupid, romantic fool.” She turned again, but her body had begun to tremble. “Go away, Oliver. I’m fighting her as hard as I can right now, but it hurts. And it won’t stop until you’re gone.”
“It won’t stop at all now. That’s what I’m trying to tell you.” He had no choice, so he reached out and grasped her arm. “Hazel, stop.”
Her skin felt hot under his hand. A noise tore free of her, desperate yearning and need, and her arousal filled his senses. She took a gasping breath as her entire body went tense. “Oliver –” Her voice sounded tiny and maybe even afraid. “I don’t know what to do.”
“Shh.” He didn’t have a clue himself, aside from the obvious, but he drew her back against his chest and tried to soothe her. “Try to relax. You’ve got to — We have to get you somewhere.” There was a fishing cabin on the Lonely River, close to Ginny’s ranch. If he could get Hazel there, maybe he could help her until the fever passed. If not, Ginny and Jack wouldn’t be far away. “Just relax.”
She shivered under his hands even as she rubbed back against him in a way that was anything but innocent. “You don’t have to love me, Oliver, but please… please make it stop hurting.”