Release Date and Excerpt for The Leopard Who Claimed A Wolf
Not too much longer until The Leopard Who Claimed A Wolf is released! It’ll come out at the midpoint of next month, January 2019.
The driveway leading up to the Scottish Pack’s massive headquarters stretched almost half a mile. I rested my chin on my arms and stared out of the Alpha’s window on the second story, overlooking the circular section of the drive. The Pack’s castle came complete with its very own dungeon, but at least they weren’t keeping me in there anymore. Alistair’s craggy face loomed over me every time I closed my eyes, his fists hammering against my face, ribs, and stomach.
Tension radiated through my shoulders, and I balled my hands into fists. No, Alistair—Colin’s father—was dead. Dougal had protected me, and my brother, from that monster when I didn’t have the strength to fight back.
Not that it mattered.
Two days had passed since my brother’s sudden departure. Now Colin was on his own, without anyone to watch his back. How could he leave without saying anything to me? I flexed my fists again, welcoming the anger as it bubbled up in my chest and replaced my sadness.
The heavy weight of a man’s hand descended on my back. I twisted around, my knuckles connecting with a solid jaw lined with dark, coarse stubble. A familiar jaw. Shite.
Dougal stumbled back half a step, but then he planted his feet like a tree with strong roots, not budging any further. Sharp power flared outward from him before he squelched it, stretching the muscles in his jaw. A frown tugged at his lips, and the corners of his eyes creased, either in pain or displeasure.
“Dougal! I’m so sorry.” The sudden movement of punching him had shot a searing ache through my battered ribs again. The pain stole my breath away, but I tried to force it down. How could I have been so careless? If he’d been anyone else in the Pack, I would’ve caused World War III.
“Dinnae fash. The punch bloody well hurt, though. I didn’t realize you were so strong.” Dougal’s frown melted away as he pulled me closer and pressed a kiss to my forehead. “Seems like you’re recovering your strength.” His gaze drifted past me to the long gravel driveway of the estate. “How are you doing, love?”
The emotions I’d been stomping down now came bubbling up to the surface again. “I cannae believe Colin left me. He left before I even regained consciousness. How could he?” With anyone else, I wouldn’t show weakness, but I rested my forehead against Dougal’s chest, needing his touch and savoring his warmth. “I barely got a chance to talk with him, and when I did, it wasn’t a good time to ask how he was doing after the months he’d spent in that bloody research facility—or even to ask where he was going to go to heal…”
Tears welled in my eyes, but I held them back, refusing to cry. “I gave up so much—my job, my flat, my life—while trying to track him down and bring him home. What if my sacrifices were all for naught?”
“Nae, they weren’t for naught, love.” Dougal kissed the top of my head. “I know you’re hurting. You have plenty of reasons to be, but the man who came back wasn’t the same one who left for the United States.” He lifted my chin, forcing me to see the sincerity in his clear blue eyes. “Whatever those scientists did affected him in ways neither of us will likely ever know. Waiting at the window won’t make him return any sooner.” He wrapped his arms around me and gently pulled me against his chest again. “Let me draw you a bath. Remember, I’m here if you need to talk.”
He was right, even if I didn’t want to admit it. Waiting at the window for Colin’s return wouldn’t help, but what else could I do? “I know, but that doesn’t make this any easier for me. He’s my younger brother. I feel helpless that I cannae be there for him…again.” A heavy ached settled on my heart, and I pulled away hating the awkward emotions crushing me. “Sorry.”
Dougal turned away from me and stared out of the window again. His jaw clenched and unclenched, as if he were trying hard to hold in his words. A lot was going on in his life too, and yet he was making a strong effort to support me through my problems. Things had become increasingly strained between him and his Pack since my arrival and Duncan and Alistair’s subsequent deaths. He didn’t talk about what he faced, and I didn’t want to pressure him.
After a few moments of silence, he released a sigh and turned back toward me. “You’ve done what you could for him, lass.” The ghost of a grin spread across his lips. “Would you still like the bath?”
I couldn’t help but nod. When I’d awakened from unconsciousness, Dougal had been there for me. We’d made love, and he brought me to new heights of pleasure. We also became intimately acquainted with the fancy Jacuzzi bathtub that could likely fit three or four humans…or one big, scary werewolf. The perks of being mated to the Alpha of the Scottish Pack.
“Aye, a bath sounds delish.” I wrapped my arms around his waist, bringing him back to me and drawing in his musky lupine scent. “Thanks for the talk. I really wish I could’ve spoken with him before he left. It would’ve made me feel better about him going.”
“Love, I talked with him before he left.” He trailed his fingertips over my back in light, soothing strokes. “If I wasn’t confident that he presented no danger to others, I wouldn’t have let him go. He would’ve stayed here whether he favored the idea or not.” The muscles in his lower back tensed beneath my touch, and his hand paused over my spine.
Something didn’t feel right. I lifted my gaze to meet Dougal’s. Was he not telling me something? We hadn’t known each other for long, but my sharp, feline instincts knew when someone told an untruth. He wasn’t outright lying to me, but he was holding something back. What could it be?
I bit my lower lip, instantly regretting it as my teeth sank into one of the nearly healed spots where Alistair had punched me in the face. Instead of confronting Dougal, I turned my attention toward the window. “You would tell me if he was dangerous to himself, wouldn’t you?”
“Aye, I would.” His tone of voice wasn’t as convincing as I’d wanted. He leaned away, putting me at arm’s length. “Enough of that, I suppose. I’ll draw the bath for you.” Without another word, he strode to the en-suite bathroom. His hands clenched and unclenched at his sides all the way. The door snapped shut behind him, and he started the water running a few moments later.
Nausea churned inside me, and I held my stomach. Should I actually believe Dougal? Something about his words didn’t feel right. The Jacuzzi tub would take a few minutes to fill, and I needed to get out of this bloody bedroom and away from him. The strain of standing there and trying to keep myself calm was becoming too much.
My stomach growled, and I glanced up at the round wrought-iron clock on the wall. It was almost one o’clock in the afternoon.
Many of the werewolves didn’t like that their Alpha was mating with a wereleopard, so I usually skipped the mealtime rushes in an attempt to keep my distance. It wasn’t easy, because several of the wolves lived here in this honest-to-God castle full time. Apparently, that was how many Packs operated. The thought boggled my mind. How did they stand to be around one another all the time? How would I survive being the sole feline in this house full of wolves?
Every urge for solitude within me roared to run as fast and as far away from this place as I could. Too much held me here, though. Besides, if Colin returned from his trip, I wanted to be around to greet him. Maybe throttle him, too, but it’d be a greeting nonetheless…
I slid my leather jacket on over the white tank top, not wanting to reveal too much bruised skin, then headed for the kitchen to grab some leftovers. Dougal had tried to convince me to eat with him and everyone else. He wanted me to get to know the wolves and socialize. Getting friendly with the Pack might be a nice idea, but I couldn’t do it. Not with how his Pack watched me when they thought I wasn’t looking. Even Dougal’s second-in-command wasn’t a fan of mine. The sentiment was mutual, really. For as long as I could remember, I’d hated werewolves. One of my main reasons would soon be resting six feet underground. Their hatred of me for Alistair’s death just added to my reluctance to get to know them.
Shaking away those thoughts, I turned the corner to enter the kitchen. If my sharp feline reflexes hadn’t kicked in, I would’ve run straight into a towering werewolf. I leapt back at the last minute to prevent Kerr from spilling his plate of food. The already agonizing ache in my side intensified from moving so quickly, but I kept my arms at my sides and my face neutral.
“Afternoon, lass. Ye look like yer recoverin’ well.” Kerr nodded, looking more than a little curiously at me.
“Thanks, Kerr. I’m trying.” I flashed him an uncomfortable smile, then edged past the broad, barrel-chested man into the kitchen. Maybe he wasn’t as bad as the others, but I couldn’t shake the overwhelming feeling that he strongly disagreed with Dougal’s decision to mate with me.
Kerr placed a heavy hand on my shoulder. My spine stiffened, and I tightly gripped the sleeves of my jacket to keep from swinging on him too. “Keep tryin’, then.” His deep voice rumbled through the kitchen. I glanced pointedly at his hand, but he didn’t move it. “Sooner or later ye need to overcome yer fear, hatred, or whatever it is ye feel toward my kind. If ye cannae, ye won’t last long here, lass.” With that, he walked toward the massive grand hall down the corridor, where the wolves held their meetings and ate.
My shoulders slumped. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so hungry, but my leopard still needed to be fed. We couldn’t skip any more meals. It hindered our healing process and weakened us too much. Right now, I couldn’t afford weakness, not while I was amongst a pack of wolves.
If only I didn’t have to be constantly looking over my shoulder with the Pack but such was life for now.
Shite. I didn’t have much time before Dougal noticed I was gone.
The leftovers were neatly arranged on the clean counter top. There wasn’t much food left, but I grabbed a bag of crisps and one of the last club sandwiches. One of the female wolves—Mairi, I think—ran a catering company, so she always brought by food to keep the Pack well fed. She was one of the nicer wolves.
Instead of following Kerr toward the dining room, where I was sure to find the rowdy werewolves laughing and talking, I remained in the kitchen. I sat on the counter farthest away from the entrance, hidden from anyone who might walk by.
As I finished up my sandwich, footsteps in the hall became louder as someone approached the kitchen. The sound of soft sniffing tensed every muscle in my body, then Dougal stepped into the room. His gaze slid over me, and desire darkened his blue eyes.
“Your bath is ready. If I’d known you were hungry, I would’ve brought something earlier when I ate.”
I shrugged a shoulder. “It’s all right. I’m eating now.”
“Aye, so you are.” He looked down the hallway as if checking to make sure no one else was near. When he turned back to me, he wore a frown that creased the corners of his lips and eyes. “You shouldn’t be in here all alone, love. Things are tense right now within the Pack. Let’s go back to the bedroom.”
I tilted my chin up, not in the mood to be bossed around again. “I’m not alone. You’re here.” I opened the bag of crisps and munched on one.
His nostrils flared, and he crossed his arms over his broad chest. The move might’ve been scary as hell if it wasn’t him doing it. “That’s not the point. Come on.”
Bloody hell. First I’d been his prisoner in the cage, and now I’d become a prisoner in his bedroom. Not in a fun way, either. Why was this happening?
I clenched my fists, crushing a few of my crisps as tears burned in my eyes, but I refused to let them show. The flood of emotions I’d experienced over the past week was becoming too much to all push down at once. As soon as I dealt with certain fears or emotions, others popped up to take their place, like some horrible version of whack-a-mole.
Life just wasn’t fair. All I’d wanted to do was return to Scotland to be here for my brother. In that time, I’d been reintroduced to a childhood nightmare, imprisoned in a dungeon, and now I was the prisoner/mate of a werewolf Alpha. When would the roller coaster end?
Dougal crossed the space between us in a few long strides. He pulled me from the counter into his arms.
A feline hiss ripped from my throat, sounding every bit as feral as I felt. Once again, anger rescued me from my moodiness. “Set me down this minute!”
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Until next week,