To Hunt A Wolf

A dozen motorcycles are parked at the curb outside Inferno, each one painted with a fiery skull across the tank. The red and black gloss gleams underneath the flood lights. In this seedy part of town, nothing is sacred, but even out here where theft and vandalism are commonplace, no one touches the bikes. Not the ones with the skulls, anyway.

A lump forms in my throat as I study the painted emblem. Once upon a time, I rode shotgun on something very similar. Not anymore.

Never again.

 

Ignoring the pang in my chest, I scan the row again and then zero in on the one bike that matters. A black Harley with orange tassels hanging from the handlebars.

 

Bingo.

 

Looks like my mark has arrived, and that means it’s show time. When I reach for the seat belt buckle, a dainty hand grabs my wrist with surprising strength.

 

“You don’t have to do this.”

 

I look over at my best friend, Kari, who sits in the driver’s seat. Her curly brown hair is a mess after riding here with the windows down. Dark brown eyes that remind me of Bambi for all their innocence stare back at me.

 

I look away again, unable to hold her soft gaze. Inhaling, I note how her SUV is new enough to still smell like stiff leather; a gift from Daddy for her twentieth birthday. I don’t know what that’s like—no gifts for me and no Daddy either—but Kari’s never made me feel weird about how much economic privilege separates us. She’s the only person in our entire pack I call a friend. She gets me. And she never makes me feel cast aside, not like the others.

Not like him.

 

She’s also my complete opposite. I am my mother’s daughter—tough, fearless, and reckless enough for us both. Kari, on the other hand, is kind, caring, and way too trusting for her own good. In this moment, the divide between us is very obvious, and it has nothing to do with the fact that she’s the only one of us who currently owns a car.

 

With her hand still gripping my wrist, she tries again.

 

“I mean it, Mac. Inferno’s a cesspool. You really don’t have to go in there.” Her brown eyes are so wide and intense that they gleam in the street light we’re parked under.

 

I shake my head at her, resigned. “You know I do.”

“Is this about the money?” she asks. “Because I know you’re saving up to travel but—”

 

“Who told you that?”

 

She softens. “You suck at keeping secrets from me, Mackenzie Quinn. I know you too well. And I saw your browsing history when I used your laptop to look up when the next season of Euphoria comes out.” I sigh. Busted. “If you need money, you know you can just ask me—”

 

“Absolutely not,” I tell her. “Besides, it’s nothing. Just a fun getaway I was thinking of.”

 

“You’re a terrible liar.” She flashes a rueful smile, but it turns sad. “I know you want out. And you deserve so much better than this pack has given you. You should go somewhere. Start over. Forget this pack of assholes who’ve done nothing but hurt you.”

She stops short of saying his name, and I’m grateful. Even after three years, I can’t bring myself to admit he’s the reason I want to disappear. Besides, Kari’s forgetting one important thing.

 

“You know I’m not going anywhere,” I tell her. “Not without you.”

 

She hesitates. “I can’t just leave,” she says quietly.

 

I scowl. “I know you still feel loyal to your father.”

 

“He’s a hard man, but he’s my family—”

 

“Your brothers are your family too, and they would kill you if they could,” I snap, but even after a thousand arguments just like this one, I can see her mind is still made up.

 

If she won’t leave, neither will I.

I can’t abandon my friend to the cruelty of her family. But I don’t know how to save her from them either.

 

I lean back again. “Your father’s offer included too many zeroes to pass up. And I need to provide for my future—wherever that takes me.” There. I can at least admit that.

 

She scowls, her nose crinkling in disgust as she lets me go and stares out the windshield.

“My dad’s a dick for making you do this.”

 

“First of all, even if I wanted to agree, I’m abstaining since talking bad about my alpha will get me locked up,” I remind her, noting the current pack law prohibiting alpha-bashing. “And second, this is my job, Kar. So, yeah, I kind of have to do it.”

 

“You could tell him the mark left town.”

 

Her voice is so hopeful it makes my heart hurt.

 

Kari might be the alpha’s daughter, but she’s the sweetest, kindest person I’ve ever met. Kind of crazy considering her father is one of the cruelest. Then again, I’m definitely no innocent, either.

 

“If I do that,” I tell her, “Your dad will just order me to leave town to chase him down.”

 

Kari huffs.

Neither of us presses that idea. We both know my presence here is the only thing keeping Kari safe these days. Her family is Grade-A psycho-pants when it comes to hierarchy and inheritances. Kari is third in line for the alpha seat, but that hasn’t stopped her two older brothers from threatening her life in order to keep their spots secure. Their lifelong obsession with stepping on one another to climb to the top has only gotten worse as we’ve gotten older. Kari’s friends have deserted her. Except me. I’m just crazy enough to stay and stand between her and them.

 

Yeah, the Black Moon pack is kind of a shit show. We’re complicated, dark-hearted bastards, every one of us. Except for maybe Kari. If we’re the monsters who slither in the dark, she’s dawn’s light. Except, one of these days, even she won’t be able to chase away the shadows that lie in wait.

 

On a sigh, I unclip my seat belt and reach for the door handle.

 

“Mac, listen.”

 

Kari’s voice stopping me yet again elicits a groan. “I know, I know. You hate this,” I say, but she shakes her head, her brown eyes pinched in worry.

 

“I do, but that’s not what I was going to say. Listen, my dad’s been weird lately. Angrier and grumpier than usual.”

 

I snort. “That’s saying a lot.”

 

“I know. That’s my point. Something’s up. His security teams have been replaced twice in the last week.”

 

“Why? Did something else happen? I mean other than…”

 

I can’t bring myself to finish the sentence.

 

Kari’s face falls, and I curse myself for being an idiot.

 

But she just shrugs and forces her gaze back to mine. “I don’t know. But whatever’s going on… Just keep your eyes open, okay?”

 

“Head on a swivel, got it.”

 

She sighs. “I wish Vicki were here.”

 

My chest pangs at her words.

 

If anyone else said that to me, I’d be offended. My mother’s reputation as the best bounty hunter this side of the Mississippi leaves me as second best, no matter what I do. Growing up in her shadow wasn’t exactly rainbows and unicorns. But on this, Kari and I agree. For once, I’d be happy to pass this job offer on to her instead. Except that we both know that wouldn’t work.

 

“Your dad asked for me specifically,” I remind her.

 

“Yeah.” She tries—and fails—to give me a smile. Instead, it’s a grimace. But I know she means it when she says, “That’s because you’re the best there is, Mac. Now go hunt bounty and stuff.”

 

“Fine, but only because you asked nicely.”

 

I grin as I climb out into the darkness. The air is cool. Early spring in the mountains has a sharpness to it that nips at my skin. My tank top and tight pants aren’t just a costume to help me blend in; they’re a staple of my wardrobe. Seriously, the day I show up in a dress is the day to check Hell for ice.

 

Propping the door with one hand, I turn to peer in at Kari. “Don’t wait up, Mother.”

 

She snorts and gives me the finger.

 

I shut the door and head for the club.

 

Behind me, I listen to Kari start her car and pull out of the lot. I don’t exhale until I hear her make the turn onto the main road. Crigger would flip if he knew his precious princess came even this far with me. On this, we agree. Kari doesn’t need to be involved in what I do.

 

Hell, I probably shouldn’t be in this line of work either, but no one told my mom not to bring her kid on the job all these years, so here we are.

Inferno is a biker bar meets dive meets techno club. Except without the techno music. Instead, the owner, some biker chick named Rita, who apparently won the place in a poker game twenty years ago, only plays country music remixed to a dance beat. The result is a weird mix of “my dog died but I’m going to shake my booty about it.”

The bouncer at the door, a giant, hulking man in overalls—no shirt—

glares at me as I approach. His underarm hair is long enough to peek out from between his folded arms. Classy, dude.

“Got ID?” he says gruffly.

 

This close, I can already hear a George Strait club remix wafting out from inside. Cringing internally, I paste on a smile and hand over my ID.

 

He peers down at it.

 

“Mackenzie Montgomery. Name sounds familiar.”

 

“I get that a lot.”

 

He squints at me, and I note the lines at the corners of his eyes. “You related to Vicki Montgomery?”

 

“Depends. Are you going to let me in if I say yes?”

 

His gaze hardens. “You hunting tonight?”

 

I flash him my fiercest, most cunning smile and wink. “Does it matter? Long as it’s not you.”

 

He grunts then motions to the door. “You break anything, you pay for it. That’s Rita’s rules.”

 

“Noted.” I push past him and through the scarred door that is stained with things I would rather not identify or think too hard about. Wiping my hands on my pants, I let the door swing shut behind me and plant my feet so the force of the music doesn’t knock me on my ass.

 

Rita loves her some bass.

 

The very walls pump and grind along to the beat.

 

It’s impressive.

 

If it weren’t paired with a crooning male vocalist desperate to win his lover back by explaining how pitiful he is without her.

I don’t do love.

Or pity.

No one in my pack does.

So I guess that’s irony for you considering there are nothing but Black Moon wolves here tonight.

When I’ve adjusted to the onslaught of sound and the dim lighting, I stalk slowly into the club’s main room. There are two levels—the ground floor and one above it that’s mostly just a balcony wrapped with a metal railing where people can watch the dancers below while getting their own groove on.

I pause along the wall and take it all in, using the moment to pull the ball cap from my back pocket and stuff it onto my head.

No one I recognize, though it wouldn’t matter much if I did spot someone who knows me. Chances are, they wouldn’t want to admit knowing me anyway. I’m not exactly Miss Popular among my pack. If my mother’s reputation weren’t enough, what Levi did to me all those years ago, the way I fell apart over it—it’s something I’ve never recovered from. And it certainly never won me any friends.

“Oh, shit, it’s Big Mac.”

I stand corrected. Apparently, there is someone I know in here. Someone I really, really wish I didn’t.

“Hilarious as always, Guy.” I roll my eyes, but he’s grinning like the stupid nickname is still just as funny as it was back in middle school. Guy is still just as immature, so I can see where he’d think so.

“You here to party, Big Mac? Because, I don’t care if you’re a Romantic, I’ll party with you.”

“Mac and Cheese!”

Before I can answer, another male swoops in, looping his arm around Guy’s shoulders. Their movements are loose, fluid, like they’ve already had plenty to drink. Wolves tend to burn alcohol quickly, so these two must be really knocking them back for the effects to show like this.

“Lenny,” I say, tensing at the sight of him and Guy together.

One of them alone I can handle. But both of them together have a knack for getting under my skin in a way that always leaves me miserable afterward. Maybe it’s the fact that they were there—ground zero, front row seat—the day my life went to shit.

“You out here looking for a new mate?” Lenny asks, eyes gleaming with what is sure to be a joke at my expense.

“Nah, bro, she’s a Romantic, remember?” Guy nudges him.

“I don’t know, she looks like a Reject to me.”

I ball my fists as the usual taunts are tossed at me. Their banter clearly amuses them, and I silently run through every curse word I know, willing them to get bored and give up.

Finally, they do.

“Rejects are what I do, Mac, don’t forget that.” Guy winks at me as he follows Lenny back to the dance floor.

I watch them go, breathing hard against the hollow pit in my stomach.

Fuck Levi Wild.

Fuck what he did to me.

And fuck those assholes for making me relive it every time I see them.

If it weren’t for Kari, I would have left this town in my rear view long ago.

I refocus on the crowd, my eyes drawn upward mostly so I don’t track Guy and Lenny as they retreat. The rope and duct tape I stashed out back earlier is meant for my mark but it can just as easily be used on them instead.

Let it go. They’re not worth it.

From the balcony, catcalls are tossed out along with—is that? Yep, it is—a push-up bra. Red lace from the glimpse I get. It falls, disappearing among the dance floor crowd, and someone hoots like they’ve won a prize.

Gross.

But it’s a successful distraction from the raging anger boiling my blood. My temper cools, and I shove all thoughts of Lenny and Guy aside.

My wolf hearing is on overdrive, thanks to the noise, but I force my senses to remain heightened and alert. Somewhere in this thirst trap is my mark, Dirk Fletcher. Wanted for crimes against the alpha. Whatever that means.

The charge itself is a broad bucket Crigger gets to fill with anyone who talks shit about him.

Honestly, the guy could have just called Crigger an asshole to the wrong bar buddy. These days, our alpha doesn’t need much of an excuse to come after anyone. Kari wasn’t wrong. He’s on a hair-trigger, and we all know why.

Jadick Clemons is missing.

The heir to the alpha’s throne. Crigger’s firstborn. His pride and joy.

Right.

Jadick is a lot of things, but “pride and joy” aren’t on the list.

I don’t care if he never comes back except that, until he’s found, Crigger is going to make all our lives miserable as hell, mine included.

Maybe bringing Dirk in will win me some brownie points.

I almost snort out loud at the thought.

Crigger doesn’t even know what brownie points are.

Still, if I don’t bring Dirk in, there’ll be hell to pay.

Better get it done.

I scan the club again, concentrating this time.

It doesn’t take me long to spot him.

 

As predicted, thanks to the intel I was given, he’s at the bar, clinging to a longneck bottle. I watch from the shadows for several minutes, assessing. The crowd is older in this place. I’m probably the youngest by a decade. No one my age parties at Inferno—well, except for my high school bullies evidently—so it makes sense the bouncer recognized my mother’s name. Most of these people will too.

 

I have to be careful.

 

Do this right.

 

My brain thrives on strategy and logic, and the next five minutes go by with me

calculating possible exit points, counter-attacks, and contingencies. Every single scenario I run ends with me dragging Dirk’s ass to the meeting point Crigger instructed. Though, one stands out as easier than the others. Fewer potential casualties.

 

The place is packed by the time I make my move—perfect for blending into the shadows. I weave in and out, head down. No one stops me. In my dark jeans and ball cap, I’m not eye-catching enough to become a target. Not with so many scantily clad women to choose from instead. I make it through the crowd with only two ass-grabs to my name. My wolf rears up at them both, pissed as hell and gunning for revenge, but I force her back down again.

 

Teaching these assholes a lesson about consent is not on the agenda for tonight.

 

Another time.

 

At the bar, a woman in a leather vest cackles loudly at something her friend says and leans into him. I use the opening to slide in between her and Dirk, deftly pulling my cap off and tucking it into my back pocket.

 

Despite the anticipation of what’s to come—or what could happen if I’m caught—my heart thuds at a steady rhythm. My tendency for adrenaline, or worse, fear, died a long time ago. A drunk dissident at a bar isn’t nearly enough to make me sweat anymore.

 

“Hey.”

 

My voice is quiet against the chaos and noise, but in a club full of wolf shifters, it’s enough.

 

“Hey, yourself, darlin’.” Dirk’s eyes are glassy and unfocused, but he manages to leer at me.

 

Perfect.

 

I lean in. Just a bit. Barely anything at all, really. Then I flutter my lashes. “Can you tell me where the bathroom is?”

 

Disappointment clouds his eyes. Then they spark again with exactly what I expected from a guy like him. “Kinda loud in here. How about I show ya?”

 

I nod, and he gets up from his stool, but not before he drains the rest of his beer. Waste not, want not, I guess.

 

Dirk leads the way, pushing through the bodies that stand between us and his destination. I quickly realize he is not, in fact, taking me to the bathroom. Mostly evidenced by the fact that we’ve already passed the doors marked with the restroom signs. He doesn’t even try to hide the fact, either. Like he thinks I won’t notice. He’s either stupid or drunk—or both.

 

Finally, at the very back of the darkest hallway, he pushes through an unmarked door.

 

Night air washes over my skin, and I shake my head at the utter predictability. Not to mention the audacity. Don’t get me wrong, I expect nothing less from Black Moon scum, but seriously? Is chivalry really this fucking dead?

 

The door shuts behind us, and Dirk whirls on me.

 

I widen my eyes and let my lips part in feigned surprise.

 

“Um, I think we took a wrong turn,” I say.

 

Dirk offers what I think is supposed to be a disarming smile.

 

“Sweetheart, if this is wrong, I don’t want to be right.”

 

He sidles closer, and I back away, both of us doing this creepy dance until my back hits the club wall. When I can’t go any farther, I hold my breath to keep from smelling him.

 

Beer. Old cigarettes. And body odor that could peel walls.

 

Crigger really owes me for this.

 

“You ain’t been here before, have you?” Dirk asks.

 

“Nope.”

 

I shove the word out while trying not to let the stench in.

 

“Well, then, let me give you a proper Inferno welcome.”

 

He leans in, and my knee slams hard into his groin.

 

“Argh.” He doubles over.

 

I wrench away, mostly to avoid actual physical contact with the smelly parts of him, and bring my fist down on his back, sending him to the ground at my feet.

 

He sputters and groans, completely focused on his throbbing balls.

 

That makes one of us.

 

“What the fuck,” he spits when he finds use of his voice.

 

I stand over him, a little disappointed he was so easy to take down.

 

“You were really going to force yourself on me, weren’t you?”

 

When he looks up at me, I use my heel to shove him back down again. My eyes catch on the dumpster in the corner.

 

“Trash like you deserves to be taken out,” I tell him. “Unfortunately for you, it’s not going to be that simple. Come on.” I nudge him. “On your feet, Dirk.”

 

His eyes widen, and he peers up at me, hands still cupped around the goods. “How do you know my name?”

 

A bit of indignation—and maybe worry—creeps into his pained voice.

 

“Because unlike you, I do my homework on a mark before trying to drag them off and trying to assault them.”

 

His eyes narrow, and I can’t help but goad him. Any asshole who hurts women deserves a lot worse than a kick in the balls.

 

“I know several things about you, Dirk Fletcher of seven-forty-one Wichita Road, member of the Hellions biker club since age sixteen.” At my words, he backs away, on all fours now. I let him. He’s not going anywhere. “In fact,” I add, “I know something you don’t.”

 

He glares up at me. “Yeah, and what’s that?”

 

“There’s a bounty on your head, Dirk. A pretty penny, too, which makes me wonder what in the hell you did to piss Crigger off so badly.”

 

His expression twists. Anger. Righteous disbelief.

 

He realizes what I am; why I’m here.

 

Except judging from the look in his eye, he thinks I’m incapable of doing it.

 

“Fuck Crigger, and fuck you, girl. You won’t take me in. And you’re going to regret ever trying.”

 

He thinks I don’t see the shadow on my left, but I do.

 

A blur of movement. A silent attack.

 

Dirk’s friends are fast, but I’m faster.

 

One, two, three; I put down the trio of Dirk supporters just as quickly as I did him. In the chaos, Dirk tries to make a run for it, but I drop his friends and then slide in front of him, blocking his exit.

 

His eyes are wide now, full of real fear.

 

“What are you going to do with me?” he asks.

 

“Well, I’m not going to do what you were going to do to me,” I say dryly.

 

It takes me all of two minutes to knock Dirk on his ass again, and this time, I restrain him.

He fights me, but it doesn’t change anything. He still ends up as my prisoner. And his Hellion friends are still useless to stop me.

 

When I’m done, Dirk struggles against the ropes I bound him with like his life depends on it. Considering the mood I’m in, it kind of does. I finish him off by pressing a rectangle piece of duct tape over his mouth and then straightening. He looks up at me from where he’s slouched against the dumpster.

 

“Mmorfghoh.”

 

I roll my eyes at his attempt to talk through the tape.

 

“No questions until the end of the show,” I tell him.

 

His three Hellion buddies are lying around us in varying states of consciousness. My right ribs still sting from the brass knuckles the last guy surprised me with. I nearly shifted right then, but in the end, my wolf wasn’t necessary. I took these assholes down while on two legs like my mom taught me.

 

Four drifters for the price of one.

 

But I don’t bother with Dirk’s friends. Crigger doesn’t care about them, so neither do I.

Dirk doesn’t go willingly, though, and it’s honestly more exhausting to drag his ass to the back of the alley than it was to fight him and all three of his biker gang friends.

 

Finally, I make it to the warehouse door.

 

It’s non-descript and half-covered up with trash, old boxes, and a scrap of drywall beginning to blacken with mold. The area looks deserted at best. Dangerous at worst.

 

We’re close enough to Inferno to still hear a low hum of music, mostly bass. It covers any small sounds, including my footsteps and Dirk’s muffled pleas. But underneath the music is a stillness that leaves an eerie chill in its wake. Nothing else moves. Nothing else even breathes in this place. Whether it’s from the awful music or the sense of death hanging about, not even the rats come back this far.

 

This is why Crigger picked it.

 

No one will look for him here.

 

And that means, if this goes badly, no one will look for me.

 

A dramatic thought, but our alpha isn’t exactly known for level thinking. And with Jadick missing and the fact that he requested me specifically for this job, I can’t help but think there’s more to this than just a shit-talking biker with a warrant.

 

I shove the door open, and it creaks on its hinges. Despite the inky darkness looming, my senses tell me what lies ahead is a large, empty space. Dirk’s muffled attempts to cuss me out echo off the walls, the sound of his voice pinging back and forth only confirming my suspicions about the emptiness.

 

Somewhere in this old, forgotten warehouse is my alpha. And my payout.

 

My eyes slowly adjust, and I start forward.

 

I’ve gone several steps when a grunt sounds from deeper inside the space. It’s followed quickly by a gasp and then a wet, gnashing sort of sound that makes me think of a blade scraping against bone.

 

I freeze.

 

Beside me, Dirk continues to struggle.

 

I punch him in the stomach hard enough to knock the wind from his lungs. In the ensuing quiet, I listen.

 

“You will not… get away with this… not this time.”

 

The voice is pained and sharp—and fading.

 

It’s Crigger, but not like I’ve ever heard before.

 

He sounds weak.

 

And very, very injured.

 

I drop Dirk, who is now wheezing, and race toward Crigger’s voice.

 

As I run, a shoulder hits mine hard enough to make me stumble. The force of his body slamming into mine is enough to send me reeling, but it’s more than that.

It’s the scent.

 

I know that scent like I know my own reflection.

 

What it’s doing—what he’s doing—here now is a horrific question.

I catch myself and straighten, whirling toward the footsteps still racing away. They reach the door I came through a moment ago, and a figure steps into the opening.

 

He stops and looks back.

 

Behind me, Crigger’s breathing is ragged and wet.

 

He’s not going to make it. I don’t need my wolf senses to tell me that. Death is all over this place. It’s hovering over my alpha. And reflected back at me in the gaze still holding mine from the exit.

 

Levi fucking Wild himself.

 

Speak of the devil, and the devil shall appear.

 

“Mac,” he says, and the pain that scrapes over his tongue as he says my name is like a brand against my soul. “What are you doing here?”

 

When I find my voice, the words that spill out are full of condemnation. “Did you just kill the alpha?”

 

“Mac,” he says again, this time in defeat.

 

The sound of another door banging open drowns out whatever else Levi might have said. I jerk toward it just as bright spotlights click on to reveal a dozen men pouring into the space. They fan out, combing the area with flashlights and headlamps. One of them sees Crigger and shouts for the others.

 

Dread curls in my gut as their eyes land on me.

 

“Stop,” one of them shouts.

 

“Don’t move,” commands another.

 

Even though I haven’t.

 

“The alpha’s down,” announces a third.

 

One by one, they begin putting pieces together.

 

Crigger on the ground covered in his own blood.

 

Me standing here like a deer in headlights.

 

Another man bound and gagged at my feet.

 

I don’t have time to process how bad this will be before a familiar figure walks in behind the security team.

 

Thiago Clemons, Crigger’s youngest son. He’s a year older than Kari and me, just far enough ahead that I mostly escaped his torture in high school. I’ve heard the stories, though, and they aren’t pretty. Not to mention everything Kari has told me. His cruel eyes assess the scene faster than the others. Not a shred of emotion registers on his stony face as he studies his father’s now lifeless body.

 

“Is he dead?” Thiago asks.

 

“Yes, sir.” The security agent who answers him manages to sound sad.

 

Thiago doesn’t react to the news that his own father has just been murdered. His eyes rake me over, and he snaps at the men closest to him.

“Take her into custody,” he tells them.

 

Fear grips me.

 

This is bad. Like really, horribly, life-threatening bad.

 

“It wasn’t me,” I say quickly. “It was…”

 

When I look back, Levi is gone.

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