During the bite of the Great Depression, sole female dominant Joan Fuller struggles against the rise of cruelty among her alpha counterparts. The men tolerate her interference--until she breaks from the pack and allies with a witch and a vampire. Now the Boston alpha intends to bring them all forcibly back into the fold--and teach her a lesson she may not survive.***
Seamus Whelan and his werewolf bootleggers intend to retire from smuggling and savor their fortune, but first they must do a favor for an old friend: escort some female wolves to safety. An easy job, if their leader wasn't a prim ex-debutante with enough power to challenge Seamus himself. Chance makes them allies; powerful need makes them lovers.
Together, they have the opportunity to build a sanctuary for their kind, but first they must free themselves from Joan's past, and the powerful man who would see her destroyed.
There was no time for a proper bath, though the polished tub stood empty with its shiny new pipes gleaming and a freshly washed stack of towels beside it. For some of the girls, the ability to twist a knob and fill the tub with hot water had been a luxury more magical than the fact that they changed to wolves with every full moon.
Those were mostly Edwin's girls. Girls so poor they'd never known anything but heating pot after pot of water to fill a tub a bit at a time, if they were even that lucky. She had to credit the man with some cunning--he'd been very sure to pick girls unlikely to be missed. Orphans and farmers' daughters and maids who would be assumed to have abandoned their drudgery in favor of running off with a man. Oh yes, Edwin chose well.
Most of the time.
Joan sighed and did her best to ignore the tub as she stripped the torn, bloodstained dress from her body quickly but carefully. Even if there had been time to immerse herself in hot, clean water, she couldn't have. Simone had just changed the bandage wrapped around the wound on her calf, and it still hadn't healed. Instead Joan had stitches holding her skin together while sluggish power stirred inside her.
Not enough. Not nearly enough, and fear clawed inside her as she tried not to imagine what it could mean. The bond with Adam would take what it needed to keep their people strong, but it had never drawn so much from her before, never felt like a noose around her neck. She was the most powerful wolf. Her magic fed the pack, fed everyone.
Including the wolves left to Edwin's surely untender mercies.
Every heartbeat increased her weariness, until exhaustion weighed so heavy that even simple chores seemed insurmountable obstacles. She fumbled with the knob for the hot water, then hesitated. Their supply wasn't endless, and it might be needed for more important things before the day was done. Gritting her teeth, she twisted on the cold water instead.
Autumn had come early to Massachusetts, and washing the blood from her hair wasn't as easy as she'd hoped. It had dried into a tacky, sticky mess, tangling around her fingers until she wanted to scream with frustration.
By the time the water ran clear, she was shivering in just her undergarments. She tucked one of the thick towels around her body and used another to rub at her hair, bracing herself for the fact she still had to wash her face, arms and neck in the icy water.
"You need some help."
Joan barely bit down in time to hold back a startled noise as she spun and found herself looking into gentle blue eyes. It was the new man, the one who'd come to speak to Adam's friend. Nothing should have made her so oblivious that she disregarded the sound of footsteps in the hallway, which meant she had left weary behind and careened into recklessly exhausted.
But not so exhausted as to tolerate a man staring at her with such blatant appraisal. She gripped the towel and tried to summon her fiercest glare as she pretended his words had been a question instead of an arrogant, presumptuous statement. "I'm fine. Please close the door behind you."
"We're going to be working together." He stepped into the bathroom and, indeed, shut the door behind him. "That means we need to talk."
She'd seen women sporting dresses that bared more skin than her towel, but it didn't make her feel less naked. The press of his power didn't help--he was clearly a strong wolf, one full of rough, edgy dominance that stirred the wolf inside her with unrestrained curiosity.
She had to get rid of him. "I'll be out in a few minutes. If you or the men you brought need anything, you can ask Simone. She's in the kitchen."
"We had a lovely conversation." He smiled suddenly, not a grin or a smirk, and it transformed his face from hard to boyishly handsome. "She told me to come talk to you."
Of course she had. Humans might judge authority by gender or age or social standing or money, but wolves only cared for power. It didn't matter that she was twenty-four and female, that she'd lost her inheritance and any hope of being accepted or respected by polite society. She had raw power, so she was in charge.
The heaviness of her responsibility settled over her. Soon she'd slide to the floor under the weight of it, crushed beyond repair.