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Moira Rogers
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Impulse

Southern Arcana, Book Five
Series Info:

Digital

Reissued
November 23rd

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Sera Sinclaire is a submissive coyote trapped in a town overrun by dominant shapeshifters. She can’t turn away the alphas-in-shining-armor who need her soothing presence–even when their protectiveness threatens to crush her hard-won self-reliance. But when an obsessive ex endangers her life, it’s time to get out of town for a while.

Julio Mendoza doesn’t have the luxury of indulging in a vacation, thanks to his new responsibilities as a member of the wolves’ Southeast council. But protecting Sera from her ex isn’t optional–it’s instinct. Watching her come to life outside the city makes him feel like he’s finally done something right, and her touch ignites a desire he can’t ignore.

Soon, lighthearted flirting turns into a dangerous game of seduction, where every day spent falling into each other is another day of avoiding the truth. Sera’s ex isn’t the only one who’d disapprove of their relationship. There are wolves who would kill to get Sera out of Julio’s life—starting with his own blood kin.

Read an Excerpt


Prologue

Thirteen months earlier

“Try to relax, sweetheart.”

Sera curled her fingers around the edge of the stool and studied the spell caster in front of her. She’d never met Jackson Holt before, but she’d heard enough stories. He was trustworthy and solid, and he carried the scent of a shapeshifter on his skin. A cat, maybe a lion or cougar, though both breeds were so rare she couldn’t be sure.

Whichever it was, Jackson was clearly a man who understood shapeshifters. He smiled easily and waited like he had no place else to be, and it made it possible for her to take deep breaths and bring instinct under control. “I’m okay. Just had a long night.”

“You bet.” His lazy tone betrayed nothing, but his mouth firmed into a tense line.

No mysteries there. The throbbing in her face had settled into a dull ache, but one of her eyes had begun to swell. Jackson could play casual all he wanted, but he couldn’t look at her without seeing a victim.

None of them would, not until the bruises were gone. “I’m ready.”

“You sure? It’s not going to be a walk in the park for you.” His voice held the steely ring of harsh, necessary truth.

Not merely a victim. Weak. “I’m ready,” she said again, trying to put force behind the words. “I can handle it, I promise.”

The door closed, startling her. “He’s worried you’ll freak out,” said a new voice. Sera leaned to one side and saw Julio, the doctor’s brother. The one who possessed all the edgy power of a dominant, dangerous shifter but none of the disdain she’d come to expect from wolves.

He stepped deeper into the room and shoved his hands into his pockets. “If your dad hears you, he’ll try to come running, and he’ll hurt himself.”

Her dad was in an operating room somewhere, being prepared for hours of painful surgery. He needed her–but he needed her whole. One glimpse at her face and he’d crawl on his broken legs back to Arkansas, back to Josh, and finish the job she’d started.

So she’d get her face fixed. She’d stay quiet. She’d be there for her father in a way she hadn’t been in years.

She couldn’t quite bring herself to meet Julio’s eyes, but resting her gaze on his chin felt safe enough. Respectful, nothing that could be interpreted as a challenge. “I’m not going to freak out. I’m stronger than I look.” And she’d had to say those words so many times tonight she was starting to doubt them. For them to have a hope of being true, someone had to believe her.

He watched her silently until her gaze skipped up to his, just for a moment. Then he smiled a little. “Yeah, you are. You’re going to be fine.”

It wasn’t a question. Wasn’t even a statement. The words were a command, backed by magic and power, and all the parts of her that weren’t strong twisted in on her, eager to obey. It didn’t matter that he was a wolf and she was a coyote, or that he was a stranger and she was so emotionally drained she was practically numb.

Julio Mendoza was dominant, and she was…

“Fine,” Sera whispered, closing her eyes. “I’m going to be fine.”

“And I’ll be here to help you,” he murmured.

He had a voice you could fall into. A soft hint of a Southern accent–the pretty Hollywood kind, not the backwoods drawl she lapsed into at her worst moments. When the magic started, it could be good to have something to concentrate on. “Can you tell me what happened to my father? While Jackson fixes my face, I mean.”

“Okay.” The wizard touched her cheek and a low buzz of magic gathered, but Julio’s steady voice drowned it out. “There was an explosion at the clinic. He was hurt, but Carmen and I–Carmen, that’s my sister. Remember her?”

Her skin felt too tight. She fidgeted uncomfortably but forced herself to focus on Julio’s question. “Yes. She seemed nice.”

“Great, she’s got you snowed too.” His amusement faded. “We were there. Your father was hurt, but Carmen was able to stabilize him until we could get him and Lily out of there.”

“You helped save–” Pain splintered through her, and the rest of her words disappeared in a hissed breath. Her coyote stirred, nervous and fretful, but her instinct wasn’t to fight.

“It’s what I do.” Closer now, and she realized he’d walked over to stand beside her. “Pulling people out of wrecked and burning buildings isn’t anything special. My typical Thursday night.”

“A firefighter?” Her face ached. Jackson’s magic wound tighter, and she let it. A stronger shapeshifter wouldn’t have been able to quell panic and the urge to flee, but if there was one thing she was good at, it was bending to someone else’s will.

“That’s right.” Julio’s hand closed around hers.

She didn’t need his comfort, but she liked it. It soothed the battering press of instinct and eased the sting of fear.

Julio was safe, and that made him dangerous. The bruises on her face were a harsh lesson about the perils of blind submission to instinct. Strong men with strong magic could soothe and woo and build pretty cages, and she’d always end up trapped, no matter how much she liked it.

Even now, with her own blood on her clothing and a controlling husband turned abusive asshole out to get her–even now, with her life in shambles…

Oh, she could drown in Julio’s magic. If she threw herself on his mercy, he’d catch her. He wouldn’t be able to help himself. He’d wrap her up like a princess, and it wouldn’t even be about men and women and sex. It would be another chance to hide from the world, just like she’d done at seventeen when she’d let Josh coax her away from school and family with whispered promises of being safe and cherished forever.

She wasn’t a princess, and it was time to grow up. Even if the first step was staying the hell away from men like Julio Mendoza.

Chapter One

Something was wrong.

The skin on the back of Julio’s neck prickled, and he stood in the middle of the first-floor kitchen of the council warehouse, trying to put his finger on it. The place was quiet–almost silent, in fact, save for the low mechanical hum of the refrigerator. Andrew was out of town, everything was shut down for the night, nothing.

No one.

His unease grew, and he slid open a kitchen drawer and withdrew the Glock 23 he kept on hand. A quick check confirmed it was loaded, and he chambered a round as he crept out into the cavernous main area of the first floor. Still only silence, then the prickle exploded into nausea, and his single deep breath preceded a loud noise.

Two door-rattling knocks, a pause and two more. A familiar voice, laced with tight pain. “Let me in, Mendoza, or I’ll bleed to death on the sidewalk.”

Shit. Julio tucked the pistol in the back waistband of his jeans and hurried to open the door. “Jesus, Patrick. What–” He fell inside, and Julio’s tension ratcheted up a notch. “What’d you get into this time?”

“Shifters.” Patrick righted himself, but his leather jacket gaped open far enough to show a rough bandage wrapped around his upper arm. “Never expected the bastard to pull a gun. The rogue fuckers usually like teeth and claws.”

“Can you blame us?” Julio asked shortly, lifting Patrick’s good arm around his neck. “It’s damn hard to drop either of those, and they don’t jam. It makes a bullet one hell of a surprise, though.”

“Lucky for me, my gun’s bigger.”

“Yeah? Next time, work on using it first.” Worry laced the words, but Julio couldn’t help it. The sick scent of blood filled the air, strong enough to make him wonder if this would be the time he couldn’t patch his friend up.

Patrick laughed, a borderline-crazy sound that ripped through the stillness. “Nice to know you care.”

It would have been easier to laugh if it wasn’t the fourth time in five months he’d shown up, ripped to pieces and almost manic. “You’re going to get your ass killed, Patrick.”

“I’m doing my job. Just like I always did my job.”

Except that he wasn’t operating at a hundred percent, and he knew it. “So you’re saying nothing’s different.”

The fake grin slipped away, leaving Patrick looking more exhausted than anything. “If you had a weak side, would you be showing it to the wolves who’ve been sniffing around your council seat?”

“No.” Julio helped him into a chair at the kitchen table, flipped on the overhead light and grabbed the first aid kit from the cabinet. “But I would get some reliable backup, for fuck’s sake.”

“Yeah.” Underneath his jacket, Patrick wore a black T-shirt that had seen better days and jeans as scuffed and dirty as the shirt. He winced as Julio peeled away the makeshift bandage. “I’ll slow down. These were the last ones.”

The last of the mercenaries involved with the cult that had killed his kid brother. “Don’t think I don’t sympathize, man, but would Ben have wanted you to take these chances?”

“If Ben were alive, he’d be taking them too.” The deep furrow cutting through the tattoos had to hurt, but Patrick showed no sign beyond that tiny flinch. “They didn’t just kill him. They killed the love of his life.”

“I won’t argue with that.” Julio saturated a gauze pad with saline and patted the wound. “What happens to your tattoos after these things heal? Do they…work again?” It was the closest word he could think of for the undeniable thread of magic that buzzed through the ink, the buzz that was noticeably absent from Patrick’s damaged skin.

The silence went on too long. Finally, Patrick looked away. “Not so far.”

No wonder he was getting his ass kicked. “Can the Shrink fix it?”

A heartbeat. Two. This time, the words sounded tired. “Not so far.”

At least, with the last of the mercenaries gone, he might not be rushing right out into danger again. “You going to stick around for a while? I bet Anna would let you have the apartment over the bar.”

Anna’s name did what a bullet wound couldn’t–made Patrick shift uncomfortably in the chair. “I need to go to Atlanta to sign some paperwork about Ben’s estate.”

“For how long?”

“I don’t know. A few days, maybe a week. You want me to check in on your aunt while I’m there?”

Aunt Teresa loved having Patrick visit, and she never missed an opportunity to tell Julio to encourage him to do it more. “She likes cooking for you. She says you eat more than any non-shifter she’s ever seen.”

Patrick pursed his lips, as if he was fighting a smile. “Who wouldn’t, when the food’s that good? Especially when you’re like me and used to living on gas-station chili dogs.”

If they both enjoyed that, all the better. “Is she doing okay? From what you can tell, I mean. Is she happy?”

“I think so. Her new boyfriend’s so damn charming I wanted to run a background check on him.” Patrick shot him a guilty, almost challenging look. “So I did. He’s quite the Romeo, but squeaky clean. He’s making your aunt happy too.”

She’d had so little of that, and Julio couldn’t help his relief. “Good. That’s what matters.”

“Maybe your cousin will be there when I drop by,” Patrick said, obviously trying for a breezy smile–an effect ruined by his pallor. “I could try to flirt my way into the Mendoza extended family.”

“She knows better than to fall for your crap.” And so did Julio. If Patrick had the slightest bit of interest in Veronica, he wouldn’t have flinched at the mere mention of Anna.

Judging by the tight set of Patrick’s eyes, he knew as much. He waited for a moment, but when Julio didn’t press the issue, some of the tension eased from his body. “Yeah, I’m full of it. I’ll check in on them when I make it to Atlanta.”

And while he was gone, Julio would handle sweet-talking Anna. “I’ll ask about the apartment before you get back.”

“Only if she’s not staying there,” Patrick amended. “She’s living with the little redheaded coyote, now, isn’t she? Franklin Sinclaire’s daughter?”

It was Julio’s turn to tense–at the mention of Sera. “I wouldn’t have suggested it if it was going to be you and Anna crammed into one bedroom. You’d kill each other–or worse.”

“Most likely.” Patrick dropped his good arm to the table, scratching at one of the scuff marks. “I did it for all of you, not only the ones who died. The ones who had to live with what happened too.”

Panic rose in a tumultuous wave, threatening to drown Julio before he crushed it down with a slow, deep breath. “You don’t owe anybody anything, McNamara, and thinking you do is going to drive you nuts. Worry about yourself. Hell, worry about Ben too. But let the rest of us worry about ourselves.”

“Aren’t you a cheerful hypocrite?”

“Uh-huh. I’m also the hypocrite patching you up at the moment, so spare me the lecture.”

“I lasted six weeks in-between injuries this time. That was some damn epic self-restraint.”

“Maybe.” And maybe they were all just spinning. God knew therapy sessions with Callum had barely put a dent in his nightmares, the ones where he woke with his heart in his throat, the sheets soaked with sweat.

“It’s over, Julio.” Patrick twisted far enough to meet his eyes. “They’re dead. The ones who kidnapped you, the ones who helped, even the ones who took their fucking money and ran. It’s over.”

Julio kept his mouth shut as he cleaned the wound and bandaged it again. “This’ll hold, but you should go to the clinic. I’ll drive.”

The truth was difficult, far more complex than Patrick’s simple vengeance would allow.

It was never really over.

* * *

Her father had been gone for twenty-four hours and mild panic had set in.

So much for independence.

Sera rubbed her thumb over the caller ID display on the phone, as if cleaning the tiny plastic window would change Blocked to something else. A name, a phone number. Some information about whoever had felt the need to call–twice–only to hang up when she answered the phone.

Panic was silly. She lived with a bounty hunter and had a half-dozen of the scariest supernaturals in New Orleans on speed-dial. Her apartment had sufficient wards to keep out anyone short of God himself, and He might not get past them fast enough to avoid the cavalry. One phone call, and Sera would have rescuers piling onto her doorstep, ready to eviscerate anyone who made so much as a threatening noise at her.

Even that knowledge couldn’t keep sick dread from twisting in her gut until the scent of freshly baked brownies drifting out of the kitchen made her queasy.

Twenty-four hours. Long enough for an ex-husband to decide it was safe to come courting.

The front door rattled under a quick, efficient knock, and Sera started, her fingers clenching around the phone until the casing creaked. A second later sense kicked in, and she rose from the table and took two steps toward the door, close enough to get a feel for the person standing on the other side.

Wolf, partially obscured by the scent from the kitchen but unmistakable. Power pulsed on the other side of the door, not the angry, aggressive magic of an alpha trying to set someone in their place, but a steely dominance that flowed from only two wolves currently living in New Orleans.

Andrew was clear across the country, which left… “Julio?” The door was heavy, but he’d hear her.

A pause. “Yeah. Can I come in, Sera?”

Wards aside, there were still lots of locks. Two deadbolts and a chain, remnants of the days when Kat had lived here on her own, and she’d come home to more than one break-in. Kat was gone now–living with Andrew, even if her name was still on the lease–but the locks remained, a reminder that the people who had broken in had upped their game to kidnapping.

And Julio had been one of their victims.

Sera eased open the door and tried to smile as her stomach flip-flopped again, this time for an entirely different reason. Julio Mendoza was a beautiful man. Broad and solid, built like a wrestler but graced with the dark good looks of a playboy. And that was only the physical, the shell for all that delicious alpha power. Even a coyote knew what to do in the face of such unchecked magic–roll to her back and pray the wolf felt merciful.

Looking at him was such a mistake. Words tumbled out, the human equivalent of baring her belly. “Come on in. Can I get you a drink or something? I just took some brownies out of the oven.”

“No, thanks. I’ve eaten.” He cast a glance around the room and frowned. “Is Anna here?”

Sera closed the door and was proud when she managed to only refasten one lock. “She had some errands to run. She’ll be back in an hour, maybe less.”

“You know where she went?”

As if Anna ever told anyone her plans. “No. But she usually has her phone, if it’s important…?”

His brows drew together as he stared at the phone clenched in her hand. “Is everything okay?”

“I’m–” She forcibly relaxed her hand, concentrating on each finger until she could set the cordless phone on the counter. “I’m probably just jumpy,” she admitted, silently begging him to agree. “I had a couple hang-ups from a blocked number. It could be some contact of Anna’s who doesn’t want to talk to me, though.”

“Could be,” he agreed easily before nodding to the sofa. “I’ll wait for Anna, if that’s all right.”

Silent question. Unspoken answer. She didn’t need to tell Julio how much she needed soothing, because he’d always know. Sera smiled. “You sure you don’t want brownies?”

He stretched his legs out before her and shook his head. “I’ll take a beer, though.”

When Kat had lived there, she’d stocked the fridge with imported beers and a collection of questionable wine coolers. Anna was more likely to bring home expensive liquors. Sera had nothing more exotic than Bud Lite. She retrieved two bottles and offered him one before retreating to the loveseat. “Nothing bad’s happened, right? I mean, that’s not why you need to find Anna?”

“Patrick McNamara’s in town,” he explained. “He needs a place to rest up for a while, so I was going to ask about the apartment over the bar.”

Anna was liable to do everything short of toss Sera into the street to give Patrick a safe place to stay–and admitting as much would betray a weakness Anna fought bitterly to hide. “She probably won’t mind. No one really stays there most of the time.”

“Nick wanted it free for emergencies, and Andrew said she couldn’t rent it out short-term. Some kind of zoning thing.”

“Then it should be fine.” Sera studied Julio, looking for signs that Patrick’s arrival had unsettled him. Instead he seemed as steady as ever. Tired, a little stressed…but if Patrick had shown up in the usual condition, that was understandable.

It wasn’t her place to ask. Wasn’t her business, since Julio’s care of her was probably a favor to her father or his sister, or simply a member of the Southeast council taking care of another shifter in his town. Reading too much into it would be asking for a bruised heart.

He sipped his beer. “How have you been, Sera?”

“Okay.” Which was the truth, as far as it went. Life was okay. Not good, not bad. Status quo. “Keeping busy at work. And taking cooking lessons.”

“Yeah? From John?”

“He says I’m not too bad.” What polite, banal small talk. She balanced her unopened beer on her knee. “You don’t think it’s one of Anna’s contacts calling, do you?”

He watched her, unblinking. “Does it matter what I think?”

“Yes.” Because he was strong. And because he’d seen her at her worst, the day she’d walked–run–away from her husband.

Julio finally shrugged. “None of Anna’s contacts have a reason to call her on the landline. It doesn’t mean the calls were ominous, but there you have it.”

She closed her eyes and exhaled slowly. “I feel like I’m overreacting and not worrying enough.”

“Can’t hurt to let Anna know, all the same.”

It was a relief, knowing Anna would protect her, and a twisting pain in her chest that Julio was so willing to let her. “I will, I promise.”

He drained half his beer, then leaned forward and set the bottle on the coffee table with a thump. “If it keeps happening, you need to call your dad.”

“He’s busy.” She wanted to lean in too, close enough to let his aura brush hers, to steal safety from him. “And my dad’s…” Even thinking it was a betrayal. She couldn’t bring herself to say it. Not even to Julio.

“Recovering,” he murmured. “I know.”

He knew. Everyone knew, and still she flinched. “He’s recovered enough for daily life, not to be fighting challenges.”

“So you think it’s him.”

Him. Sera shuddered. “If it’s anyone, it’s him. No one else gives a shit about me.”

“I don’t think that’s true.” There was something intense about the words, oddly certain, but before she could press him, he retrieved his beer and finished it.

Hers was unopened, so she held it out. “No one else is stupid enough to start trouble in New Orleans over me.”

He accepted the proffered second beer and twisted off the cap in one skilled motion, but didn’t comment on her words. Instead, he asked, “Have you talked to Kat lately?”

A safe topic. “Yeah, she calls or texts every few days. Either I scared her into regular check-ins, or her cousin did.”

Julio swirled the brew in the amber-colored bottle. “Either one’s possible.”

With Kat’s overprotective cousin married to a very pregnant, very snarly alpha wolf, Sera didn’t have any doubts. “By the time Nicole has that baby, no one’s going to want to get near the state of Wyoming. I guess that’s the downside of dominant shifters having babies together. Hormones and instincts.”

“Always fighting to see who comes out on top?”

“Always fighting just because.” Sera brought one heel up to rest on the edge of the loveseat and dropped her chin to her knee. “Because y’all don’t know how to stop.”

That earned her a rusty chuckle. “No. No, I guess we sure the hell don’t.”

His laugh raised goose bumps on her arms, the kind that preceded arousal instead of fear. She clung to the conversation out of self-defense. “Alphas having babies together makes sense if you’re wolves living in the wild. Doesn’t work so well all pent up in human society. Not enough danger.” Usually.

“Isn’t that the point, Seraphina?” He leaned forward, letting the beer bottle dangle between his fingers. “We’re human too. It’s easy to please a wolf–or a coyote. It’s everything else that muddies the water.”

Oh yes, her coyote was easy to please. Wasn’t that why she’d avoided him to begin with? Such casual, arrogant self-assurance, the kind that tugged at those instinctive places inside her. She was probably blushing, splotchy pink cheeks that would clash with her red hair and make her head look like a freckled tomato.

Too bad she couldn’t think of a coherent response. “Don’t call me Seraphina.”

One dark eyebrow crept up in a slow arch. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you.”

He wasn’t an idiot. She wasn’t an innocent. Men were a game she’d played plenty, and this one was teasing her.

Damn, she liked it. “If you do it again, I’ll bite you.”

He grinned and shook his head. “I don’t think I’m man enough for a woman like you.”

If he believed it for a second, he never would have admitted it. He was a cocky bastard, all right. Too damn cocky. “Yeah, but you’re still young. Maybe you’ll grow into it.”

You’re calling me young? What’re you? Twenty?”

He sounded amused. Curious, like he didn’t actually know, which made her feel stupid for knowing he’d turned thirty-one on his last birthday–and when his birthday had been. “Twenty-two. But I’m old for my age. Facing the extinction of your species can do that.”

That sobered him. “I guess it could.”

From teasing banter to uncomfortable silence in twenty words or less. So much for being good with men. “I didn’t mean it like that. I know some coyotes care, but I don’t. I’d just as soon any kids I had weren’t coyotes.”

“It doesn’t bother you that soon there won’t be any more of your kind left?”

There was no way to answer the question without revealing too much. Julio made her instincts sing. He made her body melt. But in over a year, this was one of the few real conversations they’d had. She didn’t know him.

So she lied. “It does, I guess. But there’s nothing to do about it, right?”

He shrugged. “I suppose not.”

Awkward silence fell, and this time she wasn’t sure how to break it, or if she should.

He drained the second beer, gathered both bottles and rose. “I’ll toss these, if you’ll show me where.”

The door rattled and opened, and Anna stepped in with a jangle of keys. “Hey, Sera. Julio.” She blinked at him. “Something up?”

She could confess her worries to Anna later. For now, she hopped to her feet and snagged the bottles from Julio. “He was waiting to talk to you about the apartment. I’m going to go clean up and start dinner. Mac and cheese sound good?”

Anna frowned as she dropped her bag beside the couch. “Did my dog die?” She said it jokingly, but the tension underlying the flippant question was unmistakable.

Maybe Sera had overplayed her hand, picking Anna’s favorite comfort food. “No one’s dead. This week.”

“That’s something, anyway.”

Julio slipped his hands in his pockets. “I need the apartment for a while. I’d call Nick, but she’d just tell me to ask you.”

Anna’s jaw clenched. “For?”

Sera freed a hand to touch her arm before the bristling power could overflow into a challenge that would leave them both snarling. “Patrick’s back in town, and he needs a safe place to crash. I told Julio it might be all right.”

“It’s fine,” Anna snapped. “It’s what the place is there for, right?”

Julio nodded. After an uncomfortable silence, he cleared his throat. “I guess I’ll go. Thanks for the beer, Sera.”

“Of course.” Sera let Julio get to the door before she spoke again. “If Patrick needs anything, let me know? I could bring him some food, or check in on him.” For Kat’s sake, because Patrick’s younger brother had been her friend, and for Anna’s peace of mind, because she needed to know the man was healthy and safe, whether she could admit it or not.

“I’ll tell him.” Julio lingered with his hand on the doorknob, and Sera knew his words were meant as much for Anna as for her. “This should be the last of it. He’s taken care of the mercenaries involved in his brother’s death, and I’m hoping I can talk him into slowing down.”

“Good.” She wanted to keep talking, to find words that would make him linger a bit longer. Choking back the urge, she smiled. “Thanks. For staying, I mean.”

“You’re welcome.” He pulled open the door. “And Sera? Remember what I said.”

When he was gone, Sera tossed the beer bottles into the trash before returning to Anna’s side. “You okay?”

“I’m peachy.” She sank to the couch and dragged her hands through her hair. “I should have told him Miguel owes me fifty bucks. He probably would have paid up.”

“Maybe.” Miguel was the Mendoza brother Sera should have been flirting with. He was her age. He wasn’t an overwhelming alpha bastard who’d bring back memories of a too-controlling ex-husband. But Miguel was nice. Edgy and a little feral, but lacking the core of steely dominance that stirred her blood.

“What did he say?”

“Who, Miguel?”

“Julio. He told you to remember what he said.”

“Oh.” Sera perched on the edge of the couch and nodded toward the phone. “Someone called and hung up a couple times. I was worried.”

Anna straightened on the sofa. “Caller ID?”

“Blocked.”

“When, exactly?”

Sera retrieved the phone and handed it to Anna. “In the last couple hours. One right before Julio showed up. That’s why he stayed, I think. I was rattled.”

She shook her head as she scanned through the stored call history on the handset. “I could have come back sooner.”

“I know.” Sera nudged Anna with her elbow. “Maybe I just wanted to flirt with the hottie.”

Anna snorted. “I thought you were on the wagon.”

“You’re my alpha-jackass patch.” With Anna’s friendship grounding her, it was easier to resist the lure of the dominant wolves. Most of the time.

“Uh-huh.” She frowned at the phone and tossed it aside. “I have a friend who can get me the number that made those calls. All it takes is a few days and a nice bottle of bourbon.”

“I was hoping you would. I don’t want to freak Kat out about weird calls to her apartment unless we have to.”

“I’ll handle it, but only if you make me that mac and cheese.”

“Deal.” Sera rose and started for the kitchen, then hesitated. “After dinner? I think I’m ready for my own gun.”

“Okay.” Anna gave her an appraising look. “Jackson’s an approved instructor for the state. Spend a Saturday with him, fire some rounds, and you’ll be ready to file for your carry permit. It’ll take a while to come through, though, and the paperwork’s a bitch.”

The paperwork could be hell on earth, but it was still time. She’d gotten a divorce and a GED. She’d gotten a job to fill her savings account, a few measly dollars at a time, and with Anna and Kat’s help, she’d gotten her independence.

None of it would matter if her ex was back in town. Josh could corner her and drown her in shapeshifter magic, and everything she wanted would fade away under the purest driving need of all.

The coyotes had a few generations left, at most, and desperation pulsed in her blood. She didn’t need to love Josh. She didn’t even need to like him. The instinctive parts of her would always submit to him, because nothing was more important to the coyote than the survival of their species.

He’d take her. She’d let him. Together, they’d recreate the worst nightmares of her family’s past.

Shooting him would be a lot less painful. For both of them.