“You smell like my mate.” ~Aiden
Sometimes, even the big bad wolf can be oh-so-good!
Rose Merrin is attracted to the one man in Dark Forest suspected of murder. Self-preservation and the townsfolk’s eagle eyes keep her from knowing his touch, even when everything about him calls to her. But when another murder shocks Dark Forest, and a girl who could be her sister disappears, her life becomes dependent on the one man no one trusts.
Aiden Hyde holds a dark secret. Proving his innocence would reveal his werewolf heritage. When a new werewolf in town sets his sights on Rose, he has no choice but to step in and protect his mate—whether she knows it or not.
Secret Blood Book 1
Aiden paused, his paws silent on the loamy forest soil, as a splash of red and blue flashed through the thick summer foliage. He padded out of the tree line, and onto the lawn.
Sheriff Jones didn’t come out this far unless there was a problem the humans couldn’t handle.
He felt the shimmer of his change overtake him, and then he was man instead of wolf, a man sliding into a pair of Levis he’d stashed, striding toward his back door.
Sheriff Jones rounded the corner of the house as Aiden fastened his jeans.
“Sheriff,” he said. “Is there something I can help you with?”
Jones pulled at his pointed chin before letting out a sigh. “Normally I would say yes, but…” He took off his hat and slapped it on his thigh. The man was tall and lank with a craggy face and silver grey hair. His brown eyes were troubled. “Kiera Harper is missing, and her boyfriend was found torn apart by an animal about a mile from Asher’s place.”
“Could be a rogue shifter,” Aiden began to unbutton his pants. He’d need to shift for this. “I know Kiera’s scent. I—”
“No,” Jones interrupted. “Davis Baker is already demanding I pin this on you, and the rest of the town is starting to clamor behind him. It’s best for you to lay low.”
Aiden growled. Since the mauling death of his brother and sister-in-law five years before, the townspeople had viewed him as a murderer. They believed he’d killed his family, and then let a wolf tear them up to hide the evidence. Some even suspected he might be a werewolf and had done the shredding himself.
Which was very, very dangerous, since humans weren’t supposed to have the first idea about shifters or any other supernaturals. That secrecy was something both the High Council, who held court over all supernatural beings, and the Wolf Council, who governed the werewolf packs, guarded ferociously. He could never let the citizens of Dark Forest know what he was, even if they suspected him of fratricide.
He understood the sheriff’s concern, but this was his territory, his responsibility. “I don’t care what this damn town thinks about me. If you have a rogue shifter snatching women and killing men out there, I need to find him before more people get hurt.”
“I know,” Jones said. “But we need you here, and not locked up in the county jail. Promise me you’ll sit this one out, at least until I’m sure it was a shifter.”
“You know I can’t.” If a rogue shifter was hunting in his territory, the High Council would put a hit out on him if he didn’t handle the problem. Murdering a human was a death sentence for any shifter. It was his responsibility to put down the rogue. The Council enforced its own laws. One of those laws was preserving human life.
“Give me more time,” Jones said. “It’s my job to protect the people of this town, and you are one of those people.”
“I can find Kiera faster than anyone you’ve got.”
“Look,” Jones said. “I don’t need to deal with you getting yourself lynched on top of this. Stay out of it.”
Damn it! Aiden took to a pacing prowl. His mate lived in this town. Not that he’d ever tell her because she was human. It didn’t matter. Rose and her grandmother had to stay safe. An angry mob of townspeople chasing him with pitchforks and torches wouldn’t help Rose. He let out a snarl and stopped in front of Jones. “Fine, but if anyone else goes missing or gets killed, I will have to act.”
One Week Later
“That man has it bad for you!”
“Another one?” Rose twisted in her chair. The column of her honey blonde hair fell over her shoulder as she turned. A brawny, well-built man sat at the diner counter sipping his morning coffee while he stared at her. She pulled her red hoodie tighter in defense against his gaze as she turned back to Grams and made a face. One man already had it bad for her, and it hadn’t gone anywhere in the three years she’d been home from college. “I’ll have to check his no-proof criminal record to make sure he’s not a stalker.”
“Don’t be glib, dear,” Grams said. “I wasn’t talking about the newcomer, anyway. Look, Aiden is on the other side of that man.”
Rose peeked over her shoulder. In an odd, mental way, she liked having Aiden guarding her. It didn’t matter he was the town’s only murder suspect in the last hundred years, with his brother supposedly being killed by a wild animal. The medical examiner said it was a wolf, but it was doubtful since wolves hadn’t been indigenous to Pennsylvania since the last time they’d had a murder in Dark Forest—one hundred years ago.
Yeah, there’d been that one time she had a close encounter with a giant black wolf, but she tried not to think about it. It had been the same day her parents died in a flood, nine years ago, and the pain of the memory still speared through her.
Aiden’s reputation wasn’t helped any with one woman missing, and another man found dead in an animal attack just last week. “Well, maybe being the object of obsession for the town’s resident psychopath will keep the new one from killing me?”
“Rose Merrin!” Grams snapped. “Aiden is not a psychopath. We live in a small town with smaller minds. Don’t be one of them.”
Rose did her best not to roll her eyes at Grams. Everyone knew Aiden had killed his brother and sister-in-law because he had the magical ability to turn into a wolf. Her eyes did roll, and she let out a small sigh. People were idiots. “And yet he still hasn’t asked me out on a date.”
Grams gave her the look. She pointed a fork full of chocolate pie at her. “What century are you living in?”
Rose slurped her cherry milkshake. “This one, but Grams, he has enough to deal with when it comes to just surviving in Dark Forest. Whenever he’s ready to deal with ‘us’, he’ll let me know.
Until then, I am not going to force him into any kind of relationship with me.”
“You don’t like him,” Grams admonished before taking the bit of pie off her fork.
“I hardly know him. Everyone hardly knows him.” Which was odd because he’d lived here for the last fifteen years. In a town as small as Dark Forest, she should know what brand of underwear he wore.
Grams didn’t look convinced, but it didn’t really matter to Rose.
Aiden was still suspected of murder, even without proof. No one knew exactly what happened in the woods that day, and just because a ‘wolf’ tore apart the bodies, didn’t mean something or someone else hadn’t killed the young couple first.
Being cautious kept her safe. Even if it kept her alone.
She peeked over her shoulder again. Aiden Hyde was one hell of a fine-looking man, though, regardless of the crazy, with his tall, strong frame and broad shoulders. Dark hair hung down to his shoulders, and his icy blue eyes always smoldered with heat.
But no matter how good he looked, she still didn’t know whether there was any truth to the accusations or not.
The new guy stood and walked toward her.
“Oh crap,” Rose muttered. She jerked her head around and fixated on her milkshake.
Grams’ lethal gaze zeroed in on him.
He stopped at the table. “Hi, ladies. I’m Julian Hathaway. I’m new here.”
She snorted, and then cleared her throat. “Really?”
“Rose!” Grams chided. “Hello, Mr. Hathaway. Everyone calls me Grams, and this is…” Grams stared behind Rose.
Everyone turned to see what Grams was looking at.
Aiden stood behind Rose’s chair. He wasn’t beefy, but the man had an awesome build. A dark expression clouded his beautiful face, and he shoved his hands into his pockets. “Grams,” he said in a deep, guttural voice. “I have time to look at your sink today, if you still want me to.”
Julian’s gaze narrowed on Aiden.
Aiden ignored him.
Grams glanced between the two men before she smiled at Aiden. “Perfect. Rose is staying with me for a while.”
For a moment Rose thought Aiden had growled, but he couldn’t have. Humans didn’t make those sounds.
“Rose, you have pretty green eyes,” Julian said, dropping his voice. “It was a pleasure to meet you.” He winked at her. “I’ll be seeing you around.”
The men stared at each other for a long, tense moment before Julian turned and walked out.
“That was unnecessary,” Grams said in a chipper tone. “Aiden, did you want to join us?”
Rose made the mistake of looking up at him. His icy blue eyes met hers. Sparks sizzled between them. She jerked her head around.
“I, um, that is…” Aiden started.
“Stay. Rose’s apartment has termites, so she has to move back in with me for a while. I was wondering if you could get her luggage into the car. Of course only if it’s not too much trouble.”
“I’ll help her,” he said in a softer rumble. “I need to take care of something. Can I meet you back here in half an hour?”
“That would be lovely!” Grams said with a bright smile. “Rose’s apartment is across the street, so why don’t we just meet there?”
“Sure thing, Grams.” He nodded once. “Rose.” Then he walked out of the diner.
Rose stretched her head into the aisle to watch his magnificent butt. She’d give anything to see what those solid, well-honed muscles in his back looked like without the hindrance of a shirt. If his arms were anything to go by, she was in for a real treat.
“Good view,” Grams said. “Isn’t it?”
Rose jerked back. “How many times do we need to have this conversation?”
Grams lifted a silver brow. “As soon as you get yourself a boyfriend I’ll stop.”
“I’m not…” She stopped talking. Grams wanted great-grandbabies, and it was never going to happen if Rose didn’t settle down. They’d had the same discussion a thousand times, and each time it ended in Grams accusing Rose of waiting for Aiden. Maybe she was. She’d had a mad crush on him since she’d turned fifteen. It hadn’t mattered he was five years older. He hadn’t noticed her until they were both much older. By the time they could have done anything about their attraction, his brother was dead, and the town thought he was a werewolf. Now at twenty-five and thirty, their ages didn’t matter, but with another person dead and a woman missing, there was way too much pressure on him already. She was either crazy, or the only person in this town who sensed the truth every time she looked at him. He was no murderer. At least she didn’t think so. “If he wanted something with me, he’d talk to me about it.”
“Finish your milkshake. We need to finish getting you packed before he gets back.”
It never failed. No matter how much time she’d spent at school in New York City, or how many years she’d lived on her own, Grams had this way about her. She got everyone to do what she said when she said it. Rose finished her milkshake. A nervous flutter filled her belly as they walked across the street. Grams had tried to hook up Rose and Aiden ever since Rose turned eighteen. While it was a nice fantasy, there was too much mystery surrounding the man.
And even though he’d never been anything but kind and gentle dealing with both her and Grams, he was still the town outcast, still suspected of murder. And now there were others dead.
She shook off the morbid thoughts as she unlocked the main door of the converted Victorian. It had been her writing haven, the place her muse found her, at least until the termites. Ick. Now the vibe was ruined.
“I just have to get my bags. Why don’t you stay here?” She stopped herself from adding there wasn’t a reason for Aiden to help them, but…She turned to give her grandmother a direct look.
“Why is he helping me?”
Grams did an innocent one-shoulder shrug. “Our town owes Aiden more than they know, and they repay him by shunning him. The old biddies at my bridge club are already whispering about how Aiden probably kidnapped that poor woman and killed her boyfriend.”
“Grams,” Rose started, but Grams would hear none of it.
She brushed her arm out as if sweeping away any argument. “Nonsense. Rose, you have been unhappy ever since you came back from school. Aiden is harmless.” Grams pressed her lips together. “Well, for the mostly honest, decent folk of this town. Take my advice about him. Don’t let small minds ruin the good thing we have.”
“Never you mind.” Grams shoved her toward the door. “I’ll just wait right here. Though I’m sure Aiden wouldn’t mind carrying your bags down for you.”
“How do you know he’s safe?”
Grams smiled. “A grandmother knows these things. Aiden is the best possible match for you.”
The magic is in their DNA.
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