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Moira Rogers
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Protecting Their Mate (Part One)

The Last Pack

Digital

7/24/2017

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Blake is on a mission from his alpha–to track down a werewolf whose parents dragged her into the human world years ago, one who may be in danger. He expects the lead to go nowhere, given how few wolves live among humans, but he discovers something rare indeed, caged in a basement: a beautiful, curvy woman gripped by the fever, ready to mate.

Ashley Todd has never fit in. She’s always been too much–too big, too demanding, too aware of the wolf hiding beneath her skin. She’s been locked away for months—been alone for a lifetime—and in walks Blake to save her from her prison. Her rescuer is hard, intense—a dominant wolf whose bossy attitude makes her growl…and yearn to submit.

Soothing Ashley’s mating fever is Blake’s responsibility–and his pleasure. Their passion is explosive, undeniable. But what started out as a job for Blake quickly becomes something more, and the toughest part of his mission looms: taking Ashley back to his pack so she can choose her permanent mate from amongst his brethren.

Ashley is drawn to dominant Blake, but meeting the rest of the pack reignites her desire. She is overwhelmed by her new life and all it entails, but embracing her inner wolf means embracing the truth: if she doesn’t explore her attraction to the other members of the pack, she’ll never find her forever mate.

Protecting Their Mate was originally published as an eight part serial under the penname Mia Thorne. It has been repackaged, but the story remains the same.

Read an Excerpt


Chapter One

Her hunger was a living thing.

Ashley knelt on the basement floor, the rough concrete digging into her flesh. That pain was better, kinder, than the agony clawing at her core, so she welcomed it. Anything to distract herself from counting the days.

She’d almost lost track, but the moon had swelled inside the barred window set high in the wall. The last time her father had unlocked the basement door to deliver food, that moon had just been peeking in at the edge of the window. Now, it was nearly full, casting its vibrant glow in tiger stripes over the dark room.

Three days.

“No, four,” she corrected herself, then jumped at the rusty sound of the words. She’d read about people spending so much time in silent isolation that their voices had gone hoarse from disuse, but she’d always figured it would take weeks, if not months.

Oh God, maybe it had been months. Maybe she’d gone moon-mad, like her mother had always said, and she was only imagining the soothing light washing over her skin. But she couldn’t be—the heavy moon brought a different sort of hunger, the undeniable kind her mother and father had been so afraid of.

It pulsed within her now, clenching low, lower than the rumbling in her belly. She wanted to run under that moon, her skin bare to it until it coaxed forth the animal inside her. She wanted to call out, find others. Fight. Fuck. Be one of them.

Be her.

A wolf trapped in a human body was bad enough, but for that human body to be trapped, as well? She’d been abandoned, locked in her parents’ basement for days. And, for once, both halves of her were in perfect agreement. They wanted out.

When the silence beyond her locked door had become too ominous to ignore, Ashley had spent the better part of a night pounding her fists against the steel. That earned her nothing but bloody, swollen hands. She had sat in the growing light of dawn, numb and helpless, watching her flesh heal bit by bit.

No one came. Not once did her father even yell from the other side for her to keep it down. To control herself.

Control. Ashley shuddered. For the past six years, her parents had preached little else. Ever since the first hint of hunger had begun to stir in her, and they could no longer pretend she was the perfect human daughter they’d hoped for.

She was a monster. A ravenous, defiant creature who wanted all the wrong things—the sun on her face, the night air caressing her skin and ruffling her fur. More food than most humans ate, enough to elicit shocked stares from other diners in public places. People would watch her and shake their heads sometimes, and she knew what they were thinking, the bastards, because her mother—her own mother—had said it more than once.

You wouldn’t be so fat if you stopped eating so much.

For years, Ashley believed them. Shame was her constant companion, her only one. She’d starved herself in an attempt to fit into that little box of theirs, the one labeled acceptable woman: maximum size eight. But the truth was that she wasn’t a size eight, or ten, or even twelve.

And then she’d committed the worst sin of all—she’d stopped starving herself and learned to love her body. From her breasts to her ass, arms to thighs, everything about her was soft, welcoming. A shape older than fashion magazines and runways, as old as time itself, curves that would present an unmistakable cue to her potential mate.

Mate. That word had scared them more than anything, and the day she first uttered it was the day her parents locked her up. Just until the hunger passed, they said, but she’d seen the truth in their eyes.

It would never go away. Never, because it was part of her.

And oh, how it called to her. It always swelled with the moon, but never this strong. She hadn’t eaten in three days—no, four, she reminded herself—but still the rumbling in her belly paled in comparison to this hunger.

Before her mother had died, before her father had locked her up for good, she’d spent her days surrounded by people. By men, some of whom would look at her with interest. They wanted to touch her, so they’d smile and flirt, and their attention had sometimes piqued an answering attraction in her. But it had never been something she couldn’t walk away from, forget when she left the office at the end of the day. It had never left her restless, sleepless. Desperate.

Maybe the solitude was too much, and being cut off from all contact had left her aching even more than usual.

Ashley rose and swayed a little as the room tilted. Weak, so weak, but she couldn’t sit here anymore. She reached for the iron bar she’d already pried from the bedstead and leaned on it for several dizzy moments. She had to do something, or she’d—

The door loomed at the top of the stairs, secure and damning. Worse, the last time she’d approached it to examine the solid steel for weaknesses, she’d caught the unmistakable scent of death and decay beyond it.

A sob caught in her throat. Her father was a hard man, but there was only one reason he would leave her to starve in the basement.

Steeling herself, she trudged up the wooden stairs. She held her breath as she braced one hip against the railing, lifted the iron bar, and brought it swinging down toward the door hinges as hard as she could. Sparks flew as metal slammed against metal with a deafening clang that vibrated up her arms and through her bones, rattling her teeth.

She had to do something. She didn’t want to die.

Before she could swing the bar again, something thumped outside the room. Chains rattled, clattering against themselves and the steel door, picking up speed. An unfamiliar voice followed, low and masculine. “Just hang on.”

Ashley froze, her fingers tightening around the pitted iron until it bit into her flesh. “Who are you?”

“A friend of a friend.” The door creaked, the tiniest crack appearing between it and the wall. “Stand back.”

“I don’t have any friends.” The moment the words left her lips, she wanted to snatch them back.

“Your mother did. One of them got worried.” The crack of light grew, wide enough for her to catch teasing glimpses of leather and denim. But it was the scent of him that crashed into her, something deep and dark. Wild. He smelled like the moon and the forest, smoke and pine and fur.

He smelled like heaven.

“Stand back,” he said again, a hint of a growl in his voice this time. “I have to snap the last chain.”

Ashley dropped the iron bar, and it fell to the floor with a clatter. It would be no use as a weapon anyway, not in her hands. Not against the man on the other side of the door.

Besides, if he was lying, if he wanted to kill her, it would be a mercy compared to the fate that awaited her in the basement. So she backed down the stairs, retreating behind the tall case that held her beloved books.

Something slammed against the door, and the chains gave way with a painful screech. The door swung wide, leaving the man framed in the entrance, his face in shadow. He was huge, his shoulders spanning the doorway. If the closely cropped hair on his head had been any longer, it might have brushed the top of the jamb.

He ducked anyway, like he was used to having to do it, and one heavy boot thumped on the steps. That was as far as he got before he stiffened and inhaled sharply. His head tilted. Turned. His gaze swept the room, taking in everything, the furrow between his eyes deepening when he saw the broken bed.

Ashley scrounged up her courage and stepped out into the moonlight. “Where’s my father?”

His gaze swung to her, and she saw the truth in his dark eyes, even before he spoke. “I’m sorry, sweetheart.”

It hurt so much more than she expected it to. Not only had both of her parents been lost to her in all the ways that mattered for a while now, but she’d already confronted the possibility that her father was dead, even accepted it as likely fact. And no doubt this man would think her insane for mourning her jailer.

She wrapped her arms around her middle, folding in on herself, because what she really wanted to do was throw herself in his arms. Out of pure instinct, she took a step forward to do just that—and stopped short when his scent filled her lungs again.

Her body’s reaction was immediate, visceral. The gentle ache that had been tugging at her sharpened and then snapped, sending a wave of sheer need cascading through her. It washed through her veins like a fever, heating her skin and making her tremble.

Could he tell? The thought vanished as soon as it formed, because she didn’t really care if he knew. No, that wasn’t quite right. She wanted him to know, because then he might do something about it. Something carnal, obscene—and so, so satisfying.

His nostrils flared. His big hands clenched into fists, and he erased any question of how much he knew with two tense words. “How long?”

So many ways to interpret this strange wolf’s concern. How long had she been a prisoner in her own home? How long had she been locked away, alone and starving? Or how long had this instinctive hunger been twisting her into knots?

She opened her mouth to ask which he meant, but all that escaped was a strangled moan as she swayed toward him.

He swore and descended the stairs, jumping the last three to land lightly on his feet. He crowded the basement with his presence, with his scent, even before he crossed the remaining space between them.

His hands framed her face, his thumbs resting on her cheeks and his fingertips brushing her hairline. He was so big up close, even bigger than he’d looked in the doorway, towering over her as he gently tilted her face up. “Do you know what you are?”

This close to him, she didn’t know her own damn name. He was a beautiful man underneath the hard lines and scars, and the rough growth of stubble over his jaw made her itch to touch it. His expression was so severe, but his eyes were the brightest she’d ever seen—clear blue tinged with gray, like the midsummer sky after a light rain. And he gave off heat in waves that wrapped around her, warming her from the inside out, just like his scent. Strong. Male. Yes.

Ashley.” He growled her name, and that only deepened the throbbing need inside her. He cursed again and tangled one hand in her hair. “Fucking hell, girl. Focus. Do you understand what’s happening to you?”

Her hands had found his chest somehow, and her fingers were moving, clenching in the thin, tight fabric of his T-shirt. She wanted to tug it aside, rip it. Anything to reach the searing skin beneath.

The thought brought her back to reality—barely. “No.” The answer left her on a whimper. “It’s never been this bad before.”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty.” His pulse was beating in the hollow of his throat. She stared at it, mesmerized, her mouth watering.

He tugged gently on her hair, forcing her eyes back to his. “This isn’t the same as what happens to you once a month when you’re fertile. You’re in heat, sweetheart. It isn’t going to go away in a day or two. That’s why I need to get you out of here.”

Her brain ground to a halt even as her breasts swelled against the restrictive lace of her bra. “What?”

He released her abruptly and pivoted, stalking toward the closet. “I won’t let anything happen to you. But we’ve got to get out of here before humans show up.”

Without the solid strength of his body close to hers, she almost stumbled. “I need to see my dad.”

“No, you don’t.” His short words left no room for argument. He hauled open her closet and pulled out a sweatshirt and a pair of jeans. “Trust me, Ashley. That’s not a sight to have in your head. Even if—” He bit off the words and returned with her clothes. “Put this on.”

She bristled at his commanding tone. Here was her savior—one more person who wanted to boss her around without listening. “I don’t even know your name.”

“Blake.” He held out the sweatshirt. “Humans won’t understand what’s happening to you. Do you want to end up locked up again?”

That hadn’t occurred to her, and sudden fear wrapped a cold hand around her heart. Though they turned their backs on their origins to live in the human world, her parents had both been wolves themselves. They understood her nature, even if they disapproved of it.

She couldn’t say the same for the rest of the world.

Ashley reached past the sweatshirt—her favorite, worn soft by repeated washings—and grasped his wrist. The contact exploded through her like a shock, one she saw reflected in his eyes for one mad, glorious heartbeat.

This time, she pushed down the inconvenient arousal that heated her body. She had to, before reason abandoned her altogether. “Where are you taking me? And why?”

“To my pack,” he replied gruffly. “The last pack left in this area.”

But why? The question died on her tongue. Did it matter? He was here, he was like her…and she’d been alone for so very long.

She left the sweatshirt in his hand and grabbed her jeans instead. They were too tight to fit over her pajama shorts, so she turned her back and kicked the shorts to the floor.

Behind her, his breathing roughened. “We can’t take much with us. If you need anything special, make a list. Once you’re safe, the alpha will send someone back here.”

Ashley dragged the denim up her legs. “The alpha?”

“Our leader.” His words were rough, too. Rough and edged with a rasping darkness that tingled through her.

She could feel his gaze on her, and she forced herself to breathe normally. “I meant his name.”

“Lucas.” Blake went on, in that gruff, wicked voice of his. “When the other packs broke apart to live among humans, he refused. We have a safe place in the woods, a compound. But there aren’t many of us left with strong magic.”

Every syllable tightened the knot in her belly, and she couldn’t tell anymore if it was nervousness or desire. She crossed the room to search for her shoes, grasping at any excuse to put a little distance between them. It helped, and her head was a little clearer by the time she slid her feet into her sandals and gathered her hair into a high ponytail.

With a bit of her self-control back in place, Ashley turned to respond, but her stomach interrupted her by rumbling loudly.

His frown returned. “How long have you been down here?”

An entirely different kind of heat suffused her cheeks—mortification. “Four days. I think.”

Rage flashed across his features, though he quickly suppressed it, and a shiver of warning slithered up her spine as something massive and dangerous pressed in around her.

He caught her arm, his fingers careful but firm around her elbow. “As soon as we’ve made it far enough, we’ll get some food in you. Can you make it up the stairs?”

Just like that, the gnawing arousal was back, hotter and harsher than ever. She snatched her arm away. “I’m not helpless.” To prove it, she charged up the stairs and through the busted door.

The rancid odor of death hit her full in the face, and she covered her mouth and nose. She’d almost forgotten about her father. For a moment, she stood there, torn between finding him and getting the hell out, into the fresh air.

Distressed, she turned blindly toward the front door, but Blake caught her arm again. “Out the back,” he said firmly.

Ashley squeezed her eyes shut and nodded quickly before heading through the kitchen.