Angela tucked the tranq gun Knox had given her into the back of her pants. She wasn't going to use it against her own tribe members. "This whole situation is incredibly stupid," she whispered. Knox didn't respond. Instead his jaw clenched as he maintained his immobile stance by one of the giant oak trees on his expansive lawn. "I should just walk right out there and show Titus that I'm okay." But when she started to move from her position, his hand snaked around her waist. He tugged her close then pinned her back against the tree. "We don't know if these are even your coven members. It could be a bunch of rogues. You. Stay. Put." His words were barely above a whisper but still had a deadly edge. She bit her bottom lip. That was possible but not likely. The odds of a bunch of rogues showing up on his doorstep the day after she'd stormed the place...she didn't buy it. Vamps and werewolves might not like each other but unless provoked, neither side wanted a war. She shook her head. "I really don't think - " He placed a finger on her lips then touched his ear with his free hand. Keeping still, she listened, too. There was a slight movement from the surrounding forest. One of Knox's men had seen more than a handful of vampires on their video cameras so she guessed the vampires were a lot closer now. Without any wind tonight it was hard to scent anyone, but Angela could. Just barely. She could always sense her own kind, even when she didn't want to. And they were nearby. She could hear the faint rustle of their movements. Instinctively her entire body tensed. Moving to the side, she crouched next to Knox. Whatever happened next, she just hoped there was no bloodshed. Vampires and werewolves had been living in relative peace for the past decade but before that...the wars between them had been vicious. Brutal. No sane being wanted a repeat of that. If anything happened tonight, it could fracture their already tentative alliance. And with a formal peace treaty about to take place in a couple months, it could ruin everything. Taking a chance, she peered around the tree. She could see the faint outline of eight vampires moving to the edge of the trees. Thanks to being a day walker, she had the unique ability to read heat signatures of her own kind. Unfortunately it didn't extend to other beings. "Eight of them. At least. Six males. Two females. There will be more waiting deeper in the forest, though." She knew her tribe well enough and since Knox's second-in-command had seen fifteen on their video feed, she had no doubt there were more in hiding. "You're sure?" Knox murmured. "I can see their heat signatures. They're about to breach the forest line." As she eyed them, she realized they weren't alone. One of the males was dragging someone. A female maybe. She could just make out the smaller, feminine outline but she couldn't read the signature. "I think they have a hostage." "One of us?" he growled. She knew that not all his wolves had been accounted for but that could mean nothing. If one of his pack got hurt because of her, she'd never forgive herself. "Maybe. Maybe human. I can't tell until I get closer." They were still about seventy yards away. As they strode past the tree line and onto the lawn, Knox stood and over a dozen of his pack emerged from the inky darkness. Some came from the direction of the house, others from the trees but it was almost as if they appeared out of nowhere. Above them the moon and a few stars illuminated the land but that was it. He'd killed all the lights in the house and surrounding area. Not that it really mattered. They all had excellent night vision. "Stay put," Knox murmured before heading out with the rest of his pack. She bit back a snort and waited until he was a few yards in front of her then followed. "We have one of your she-wolves! Release our females!" A loud male voice boomed through the night air. Angela immediately recognized Titus. He rarely left the coven but he was almost as old as Knox and she knew he was just as powerful. She couldn't let this escalate. Brushing aside the knowledge that Knox would be pissed, she used all her lower body strength and propelled herself toward her tribe members. Behind her she heard Knox curse but ignored him as she flew through the air. Thankfully she had speed on her side. As she slid to a halt in front of the approaching vampires she had to contain her anger at their presence. He hadn't been willing to help her before. "What are you doing here?" she directed the question to her leader. Still holding the struggling woman by the neck, Titus's green eyes narrowed to slits. "To bring you and Natalia home." "You know Natalia came here of her free will. She told me, you knew." She spat the words, not caring that she was disrespecting her leader. "I didn't think you'd follow the traitor," he said quietly. There was a hint of something she'd detected from him before. Possessiveness. For her. And she hated it. "So you're here for me, not her?" He flicked a glance at the rest of his warriors. "We are here for you." But they weren't. Her coven didn't give a shit about her. Most vampires were hardwired that way, usually because they'd been self-serving humans before they'd been turned. But Titus wanted to mate with her. She'd thought he'd gotten past that since she'd told him no about a hundred times. Around them she could hear the wolves growling and growing restless but she kept her focus on Titus. She couldn't afford to be distracted. "You can see I haven't been harmed. I broke into this pack's house and they've treated me as a guest." Sort of true. She'd been trapped in Knox's room, but the more she thought about it the more she realized he wouldn't have let anyone shoot her. The possessiveness in him that she'd witnessed less than an hour ago was just as strong - if not stronger - as it had been when she'd been human. "Let the she-wolf go and I'll go with you." Behind her she heard Knox growl low in his throat. He placed a hand on her shoulder and when he did, Titus's eyes narrowed even more dangerously. "You're not going anywhere, Angel." Knox said her nickname seductively and no doubt intentionally to piss off her leader. Ignoring him, she stared at Titus. "I am not a prisoner. Please let her go. This has gone too far. You can see I'm unharmed. Anything you do against this pack now will be an act of war." Her heart pounded wildly as she watched his hand tighten on the woman's throat. All he'd have to do was extend his claws and rip her throat out. If her people shed the first blood tonight, it wouldn't end here. A new war would erupt and she didn't think either of their kind could stand that type of staggering loss. They were dwindling in numbers as it was. "I'll let her go if the wolf fights me...for you." His voice was full of pride and she realized this wasn't about her. He'd come to get her, sure. But this was about saving face in front of their warriors. "This is stupid. I'm not anyone's to fight - " "Deal," Knox said behind her. Before she could respond, he grabbed her around the waist and pulled her back tight against him. Angry at his response, she looked up at him and started to protest but he crushed his mouth over hers. The kiss wasn't light or sweet but hard and claiming. Anyone watching would recognize that he meant to mark her as his. She felt his possession straight to her toes and he wasn't even bothering to hide his scent of desire. It was potent and as overwhelming as the man himself, wrapping around her like a shroud. And she didn't fight him. When a moan started to build in her throat, he abruptly broke their connection and thrust her into Alaric's arms. "Keep her by your side." His voice was rough and uneven. She wanted to try to stop him but was too numb to move. A fight between two leaders usually meant one thing. They wouldn't stop until one of them was dead. It all depended on the final victor, but neither species was known for showing mercy. When this was over, only one of them was walking away. She couldn't deny to herself who she wanted the victor to be. Titus was okay as far as tribe leaders went. Immediately after she'd run from Knox she'd been on the move for about forty years, never staying in one place very long. Then fifty years ago Titus had given her shelter when she'd needed it but she had no loyalty to him. To any of her coven. The thought of losing Knox now that fate had dropped her into his life again...she fought off the shudder. If Titus killed Knox, she knew she'd die as well because she wouldn't be able to control herself from attacking him. The feelings Knox had evoked in her...she didn't even want to go there right now. Titus shoved the trembling she-wolf to the side and stripped off his jacket. "Weapons?" The woman scrambled toward one of her pack members as Knox shook his head. "We fight in our natural form." Titus's white toothpaste-commercial grin conflicted with the dangerous glint in his eyes. "Perfect." Angela clenched her fists at her sides, feeling helpless and hating it. Instinct told her to jump in between them and stop this madness. She must have moved in their direction because Alaric's hold tightened. "Don't interfere," he murmured to her as he tightly gripped her upper arm. Wrenching her arm away, she ignored him and his comment. All around, the rest of Knox's pack and Titus's warriors surrounded the two men. The vampires she'd known were waiting in the forest had shown themselves and now joined the rest of them. Knox stripped his long-sleeved sweater off but didn't bother with his pants or boots. Standing behind him she only got a brief view of his broad shoulders and muscular back before he underwent the change. She hadn't seen a lot of werewolves shift before but he was scary fast. Not like the males from earlier that night. No wonder he was Alpha. His bones shifted, broke and realigned before she had a chance to blink. And he was huge, probably six feet on all fours. Under the moonlight his all black coat gleamed. She'd never seen a more beautiful animal. So much power rippled through him as he snarled low in his throat and took a menacing step toward Titus. With a shockingly fluid grace, he shook off the tatters of his shredded pants. Whatever fear she had for him disappeared in that instant. It was Titus who should be quaking in his hand-made leather boots. Knox looked every inch the lethal predator and any sane being would run at that moment. A low growl emanated from Knox as he began to circle her tribe leader. As he moved, so did Titus. Their movements were slow, precise. Knox made the first blow. As fast as she'd seen any vampire strike, he lunged at Titus and struck out with one paw. Extending his sharp claws he swiped along the vampire's shoulder before landing on all fours a few yards away. The blow knocked the strongest vampire she knew back four feet. It was a show of dominance. Knox was taunting him. She had no doubt. Though it was impossible to tell in his animal form, Angela could almost swear Knox was smiling. And Titus wasn't anymore. No cocky grin. Nothing. He bared his fangs and quickly made his move. Jumping through the air, he cleared at least seven feet and landed on Knox's back. His own nails weren't as long as Knox's and they weren't claws exactly, but when they lengthened into deadly points, she bit back a cry. He speared Knox on both sides of his neck before the wolf rolled to the side and tossed him off. The fight was officially on. Her heart thumped erratically as she watched them. One struck, then the other. It seemed to go on forever. Both strong males. Both violent and dominant. Wiping her damp palms against her pants, she tried to calm her breathing but found it impossible. Watching Knox like this was too much. She had faith in his strength but seeing them fight, she also realized just how strong her tribe leader was. She hadn't realized she'd moved toward them until Alaric gripped her upper arm and pulled her back. "Don't." Even though it was a command, he said it softly. When she tried to yank out of his embrace, he continued. "You'll only distract him." The werewolf was right. Didn't mean she had to like it, though. Clenching her fists at her sides, she did the only thing she could. She watched and waited and winced with each blow Knox took. It was damn near impossible to just stand there but she knew if she acted, Knox would be distracted and possibly hurt. Or worse. Grunts and growls came from them until Knox suddenly gained the upper hand. He pinned Titus to the ground and speared his chest with his claws. Titus struggled and shoved his own pointed nails into Knox's side but the big wolf barely seemed to feel it. With his other paw, Knox had his throat pinned to the ground. Holding her breath, Angela waited for him to make the killing blow. He'd either rip his heart out or rip his head off. Maybe both. A trickle of guilt worked its way through her that she felt little concern for her leader. She knew she should be loyal to her own kind, but she didn't care about anything other than Knox coming out victorious. There wouldn't be any repercussions since this had been a fair fight with a lot of witnesses. The silence that fell over the shifters and vampires watching was deafening. Not even the wind dared to rustle around them. The blood rushing in her ears was the only sound she heard. Knox growled low in his throat. The sound of victory. Then he pushed off Titus. She gasped. It just slipped out. What the hell was he doing? Knox stepped back, still looking menacing as hell and let her tribe leader stand. Titus's eyes were slits as he clutched his bleeding chest and tentatively pushed up. No doubt because he wondered if Knox was toying with him. She didn't blame him. This was insane. Before anyone could move or even react, Knox shifted back to his human form. Again, the transformation was so quick and almost seamless. If she'd blinked she'd have missed it. With his back to her she got an even better view of him in all his naked hotness. Almost forgetting where they were, her breath quickened as her gaze tracked all those hard lines and muscled striations. Knox spoke, breaking the suffocating silence. "Get off my land. If I ever see or scent you again, I won't be so merciful." Titus glared at him but instead of responding he looked past Knox to her. His eyes seemed to glow as he stared at her. She knew he couldn't hurt her but the urge to step back under that angry stare was overwhelming. "Is this what you want? To live with these...animals?" His voice dripped with disdain. Pretty ballsy for someone who'd almost just got his head ripped off. Before she could answer he continued. "If you stay here, you'll be banned from my coven and I'll see to it that no one else will ever give you shelter once this animal is done with you." Knox made an ominous rumbling sound low in his throat that sent shivers down her spine. Thankfully it wasn't directed at her. It was almost imperceptible but she noticed when Titus took a small step back. She started to respond when Knox turned to look at her. His dark eyes were almost soft as they locked on her. He didn't have to say it out loud but she could see it in his eyes. She had his pack's protection. Even better, she had his. That knowledge made her insides melt. Angela hadn't chosen to be a vampire. The life had been thrust upon her in one violent, terrifying night. Fearful of her former lover's reaction, she'd searched out and lived among her own kind for the last ninety years. Partly by choice but more or less out of a need to survive. Living among the humans hadn't been a viable option. The next step she made would change her life and everything she'd known for so long. Tearing her gaze away from Knox's, she looked at Titus. "I'm staying." There was a low murmur of surprise from the warriors but Titus nodded as if he'd expected her answer. Covered in blood and his shredded clothes, he motioned to the rest of the vamps. Wordlessly they all turned and headed back the way they'd come. Once they'd disappeared behind the tree line, Knox turned back to her. Before she could cover the distance between them, he stood in front of her. Still totally naked. He was seemingly uncaring about his nakedness and she guessed all wolves were like that but the most primal part of her hated it. She didn't want anyone seeing what was hers. Hers? She jerked back at the abrupt thought. Before she could contemplate that, he cupped the side of her face and gently rubbed his thumb over her cheek. With his other hand he palmed her hip and tugged her close. The feel of his erection growing against her belly was impossible to miss. Feeling her cheeks heat up, she cleared her throat. "Your entire pack is watching," she whispered. "I know." Leaning down he covered her mouth with his. This time it was soft, gentle and exploratory. There was nothing crushing or demanding about it. Her nipples ached and, as his tongue danced against hers, she was vaguely aware of the rest of the pack quickly dispersing. When she clutched his shoulders, her fingers met with a slick wetness. Instantly she jerked her head back, horrified at herself. Reality overrode any of her desires. "You need medical attention." His dark eyes flared with heat. "I heal fast. What I need is you." Without waiting for a response he scooped her up. This time he didn't throw her over his shoulder. He gently held her against him and stalked across the lawn for the house. She struggled slightly against him but didn't want to fight too much because she didn't want to injure him further. "You shouldn't be carrying me. You need to see a doctor." He grunted softly which only exasperated her. Reaching up, she brushed her hand over his wounded shoulder and wiped some of his blood away. As she did she realized he really was healing. The wounds that would have shredded another wolf or vampire were almost completely sealed up. The coppery scent of his blood teased her nose and she hated herself for the light-headedness she experienced. She'd always be drawn to blood, but his blood...was different somehow. It made her crave him with a primal awareness that almost scared her. "You're mine, Angela, and I intend to claim you. Tonight." The raw possession in his voice as they reached his bedroom door jerked her out of her thoughts. He placed her on her feet, shut the door behind them and all the air rushed from her lungs. When he slid the lock into place, she could almost swear her heart stopped for a moment. Wolves didn't claim each other lightly. When they did, it was forever. But what if it was a mistake? They hadn't seen each other in so long and the reason she'd left had been because of his hatred for vampires. There was still too much to talk about. Too much they didn't know about one another. "I need to know why you ran from me," he said softly. She sighed tiredly and sat on the edge of the bed. "Of all people I knew how much you hated vampires. I'd seen you kill... I didn't want to become one of your hunted. I knew when you killed me it would be hard for you to live with it. I didn't want you to bear that pain, but mainly I really didn't want to die. And the thought of you killing me..." She shuddered as she trailed off. Knox was silent as he stared at her, only imagining what she was remembering. Though he wished she hadn't, she'd witnessed him kill more than once. Both times untamed vampires roaming the streets had tried to attack her and he'd had no choice. The first time she'd witnessed him rip apart a newly turned vampire had been within days of their first meeting. Times had been different then. New Orleans had just entered what was now known as the Jazz Age or the Roaring Twenties. At the time he'd been a furniture and wine importer, and from the moment he'd seen Angela dancing at one of the many dance clubs that had popped up around the city he'd known he would possess her. She'd been so full of life and everything about her had drawn him in. Before her he'd been all about making money and expanding his pack's power but she'd shown him how to enjoy life. She'd even convinced him to dance a few times. They'd just been in the courting stage, had barely known one another. Hadn't even kissed. But he'd still known she'd be his. She was the first human he'd ever been completely honest with. After she'd seen him kill the vampire he'd had to tell her what he was. To his surprise she hadn't panicked. She'd taken everything in stride. Maybe because of where she lived it had been easier for her to digest. Whatever the reason, he'd fallen a little in love with her in that moment. After that it had all been downhill for him. He'd told her about his pack, his true age and the reason he hated vampires so much was that they'd killed his parents and baby sister. And she'd just taken everything he'd thrown at her and only shown him love and compassion. He hated that she assumed he would have killed her. "You really think I would have killed you?" She lifted a dark eyebrow. "The only good vampire is a dead vampire," she said, quoting him in a semimocking tone. "But you and I - " She shook her head and propped up on her elbows. "You and I, nothing. You hadn't promised me any kind of future. I knew when you left New Orleans you wouldn't be taking me with you. After I was turned I was afraid I'd change into this evil being but I never did. I had to learn to control my cravings but I was still me. Something you'd never told me. You said vampires were all evil and I knew that just wasn't true. If you'd lied about that..." Her words pierced his heart with the force of a silver dagger. Everything she said was true. He'd never made her any promises because he'd assumed she'd known how he felt about her. How could she not? At the time he'd been so filled with rage and hatred toward her kind, he'd labeled them all the same. But when he learned she'd been turned - things had changed. He'd changed. He'd been forced to admit that all vampires weren't evil. Something he'd already known on an intellectual level but had refused to acknowledge even to himself. It had been too late, though. She'd already left. "I wouldn't have killed you - I couldn't have," he said quietly. The look in her eyes was skeptical and he didn't blame her. "I'm mating with you." If he said it enough maybe she'd get that he was serious.