Fire Creek Shifters 1 – Taming Her Wolf
For disgraced physician Kim Sharpe, Fire Creek was supposed to be a sanctuary, a place to hide from media scrutiny and the public eye. But when a group of wolf shifters breaks into her clinic and demands she save the life of a packmate, her serene world unravels. And when the wolf dies despite Kim’s efforts, she’s dragged into a hunt she can’t control, led by a man she desperately wants to understand.
All shifters live with their beasts, but Chris “Brick” Preston’s is dangerously close to the surface. And it wants Kim. Sex keeps the beast sated for now, but unless Kim can help him find a more permanent solution, Brick risks becoming a feral, banished—or put down—by his pack.
With each incredibly intense encounter, Brick and Kim grow closer. But time is not on their side. When Kim is faced with betraying the pack in order to save Brick’s life, the consequences may be more than they can survive.
The sounds of blood pounding through his ears and the thumping of multiple pairs of feet crashing down on fragile twigs and dry leaves kept Brick Preston focused. It kept him from checking behind him, specifically to monitor the status of the adolescent, to see if he was still breathing.
The moon hung low in the sky, its creamy and pale yellow not yet at its full potential, still vying with the sun for dominance. Brick’s wolf paced inside him, the scent of blood agitating them both.
How much fucking farther?
Instinct prickled his skin, the urge to shift into something faster, stronger and harder screaming along each centimeter of his nerves. If Abe had any chance of surviving, they had to get him to help.
In minutes, Doc Casper would be closing up shop. Every attempt to reach him on a cell resulted in an automated voice suggesting the caller leave a message. If they got there too late, the young man would succumb to his wounds. So much blood.
“How’s he doing?” he shouted over his shoulder. The run should have made him pant a little harder, but the punishing pace put them that much closer to medical care. The humidity of a dying summer thickened the air, not helping matters any. Burning lungs wouldn’t be enough to stop any of them.
“Hang on, Abe.” Whispered words, not answering Brick. Directed at the kid.
Hang on, Abe.
The adolescent’s sobs had ended a while ago, each of the men coming to an abrupt stop when the last cry had sounded. Brick’s heart had hammered as he’d backtracked at a jog, not wanting to know, but needing to know Abe’s fate. But then Rowan had called out, “Go!”
Brick had turned and broken into a full run again. All of them had. They’d picked up pace, none of them questioning the urgency. It couldn’t have been more than three or so miles to the clinic and faster to carry him directly there than to backtrack to one of the vehicles. He questioned that decision now, especially with the thick air, like breathing through pea soup, slowing them all.
Brick looked back in time to catch Rowan jostling the boy’s body as he struggled to clear a split log. The branch snagged his trouser leg, but he maintained his grip. Despite the rough handling, a barely audible grunt was the only sound Abe made.
What the hell had he been doing way out here in the middle of God’s nowhere, anyhow? Their Alpha had placed a curfew on all the adolescents for a reason. God damn the coward killing their kids. Brick was determined for Abe not to be included in the fatality count.
“Do you need me to take him?” he called.
“Right behind you.” Unlike him, Rowan sounded out of breath, no doubt from handling the extra one hundred twenty pounds of dead weight, but steel determination strengthened his words. He wouldn’t drop his younger cousin, and he’d be damned if he gave him up until close to his own last breath. Brick couldn’t blame him.
Using the fading sunlight, partially hidden by the canopy of trees, he scoped ahead of them. With every whip-thin tree they passed, he expected to see the little clinic that had served their pack for at least thirty years. Casper understood their need for secrecy and somehow kept his meager staff silent about what they saw too.
He hadn’t been this way in a while, though. Now, being unable to reach the physician, regret shoved its way forward. Over the past year, they’d lost half a dozen adolescents to a serial murderer with no apparent rhyme or reason to his choice of victims. The only commonality among the group was the fact that they belonged to the pack. Were the pack’s young to care for.
“I’m going ahead,” a quiet voice said. Brick shifted his attention to the man who’d sped up to run alongside him. Of all the men who’d convened to help, Morris’s presence surprised him the most. He kept to himself mostly, like Brick. Why had Morris been in the wilds? “It’s not much farther, and it’ll give him time to prep.”
Brick nodded and almost immediately, the younger man shifted. His wolf’s tawny coat sprouted, while an expression of extreme pain flickered across Morris’s face. The fleeting transformation felt like the skin of the entire body splitting open and all bones buckling simultaneously, but the moment of agony passed so quickly, it was hardly remembered. Once the wolf was set free, overwhelming joy infused the body, demolishing any memory of what had transpired during the shift.
He followed the sight of black-tipped ears before the wolf itself was lost from his human sight. His own wolf whined before yelping at him twice. Brick understood how he felt. It made more sense for the wolf to join his packmate on four legs than the slower man on two.
Then the other entity inside him—the beast—lunged.
Brick stumbled, caught off guard by the force that crashed into the metaphysical barrier keeping the beast and wolf contained. He didn’t claim to understand how it worked—hell, he wasn’t sure anyone knew—but the son of a bitch was testing Brick’s patience with its animosity.
He went down hard on one knee, gritting his teeth against the sharp punch of pain. His head snapped up and he pushed himself back into a run before the others trampled over him. The sensation of pinpricks raced along his skin, the beast once again trying to break out. Sweat beaded along his forehead, his body unused to the ill-timed punishment.
Although a small part of him wanted to turn around, to see who’d noticed the fall, Brick faced forward. He was thankful for being in motion. It kept the fine tremor in his hands from being evident.
He didn’t need this shit right now, and damned if he knew how to put a stop to it. If the others found out, the consequences would be dire.
“There,” he shouted. The soft blue of the painted building peeked at them from behind a wall of trees. A chimney stack made it an unusual building, and not once could Brick ever remember seeing the fireplace lit, but right now, the brick structure felt like home base. Once they broke past the tree barrier, several feet of clearing would make the final stretch less taxing. So close…
Everyone knew the way to the back entrance, closest to the inside examination rooms. Rowan and Danny headed in that direction, while Brick decided to move to the front of the building. He wanted to see if Morris had any luck in locating Dr. Casper and if for some reason he hadn’t, maybe he would run into the older man himself.
He’d just turned the corner when Morris’s voice stopped him. “Think we’re too late.”
“Nobody here?” Brick gulped down air, reminding himself to spend more time running on two legs.
“Not a one.” Morris stood nude, comfortable in the humid evening air. He sniffled, then wiped beneath his nose with the back of his arm. “At least the front door’s locked. There’s a car in the lot, but I haven’t seen or heard anyone.”
Dread wormed its way through Brick’s insides. “Go around back, see if they need your help. Kid was looking worse last time we checked.”
If push came to shove, they’d break in, forcing themselves inside to deal with the consequences later. If they went from a full-on shove to straight-on ass kicking, they could pop the lock on the car and borrow it for the hour-long drive into the city. He’d never say it out loud, but Abe would more than likely not survive the trip.
Brick searched his mind for options, couldn’t come up with any that were more reasonable. Fuck. He hated this.
By the time he got back, Rowan and Danny had Abe on the ground. Rowan was on his knees, his face hovering just above Abe’s. Brick gasped when he looked at the paleness of Abe’s face. The color around his dry lips was unnatural and for a split second, he was certain the boy was already dead.
Rowan strode toward them from the direction of the woods with a determined and fierce look. He held a large rock in one hand and before Brick could ask him what he was doing, or what he intended, he hurled the rock against the window. The window smashed, glass shattering into the building. If anyone remained inside, there was no way they didn’t hear the noise. One glance at Abe’s prone body, and Brick brutally extinguished any guilt that tried to flicker to life.
Rowan thrust his arm into the window, oblivious to the shards of glass protruding from the metal frame. A quick flick of the wrist resulted in a soft snick as the latch released and he could yank open the door from the outside.
“Ready,” he called to the men on the ground.
Danny pulled Abe’s flaccid body into a sitting position and then hauled him over his shoulder, fireman-carry style.
“Get him patched,” Brick said, his heart a thunderclap in his chest. “Then Morris, see if you can locate some keys for that vehicle.”
“Gonna get started on getting it running without keys, in case they ain’t around.” All of the men had very rudimentary training for trauma, but Brick knew their combined knowledge couldn’t replace a real doctor.
When this was all over, they’d find Casper and figure out what went wrong, why he hadn’t returned their distress calls, but until then, the next best thing meant transporting Abe out of there.
As he was leaving, Brick glanced back to where the body had lain. The pool of bright red blood caught the reflection of the rising moon. It would have been a beautiful painting if it hadn’t meant that a young man edged that much closer to death.
Kim stared at the balance in her accounts and fought back a surge of panic. Just under six hundred dollars. Over ten years as a physician, and that meager amount made up what remained of her career. She glanced at the phone, sending it mental vibes to ring with a job offer, sighing when it stared back at her in glaring silence.
Once upon a time, she’d pulled in over three hundred thousand in a slow year.
Once upon a time, people had actually trusted her to take care of them.
Once upon a time was gone now, and would never return. The most she could hope for was living in peace. Maybe with some luck, the reporters wouldn’t figure out to where she’d disappeared. If that same luck held, she’d dodge angry mobs attempting to drive her out of practice again.
The small town of Fire Creek couldn’t pay her well, but the Town Council hadn’t asked many questions. Neither had she. But they could have prepared her better. The patients were kind enough, the staff competent, but she couldn’t pay her bills off runny noses and GI upsets. Especially when the patients brought in a dozen freshly laid eggs as payment for services rendered.
Glancing at the cartons stacked on her desk, she tried to muster up some gratitude for them. When Mrs. Abrose, friendly but wearing threadbare clothes, had given them to her earlier, she’d beamed with pride as Kim had taken the “payment.”
Heaven help her.
Kim glanced at her savings account again, winced, and then shut down the depressing page. There were other spreadsheets needing her attention.
How the mighty had fallen. If things didn’t change soon, she’d have to give up the place she rented and perhaps turn one of the exam rooms into a living space. The clinic was small, had been well maintained and was located out in the middle of BFE. It appeared relatively safe. A coat of paint or two—
Kim straightened. What was that noise?
She strained her hearing. Alert. Searching. Nothing came though and, by increments, she relaxed. Just a normal, everyday sound.
She typed. Waited. Another keystroke. Paused. So close to finishing the payroll numbers for her three employees.
This was insane. Too much binge-watching of zombie shows must have rattled her nerves, making her jumpy. Maybe dial back the late-night horror and spend more time on HGTV. To go all panicked and dumb over hearing a noise? In the woods, no less? Hello! It’s what the woods did.
Seconds passed, and then a good minute of nothing but the sound of her own breathing. Tense muscles eased. Fingers began typing again, momentum building.
Fire Creek meant quiet and mundane. Nothing to worry about at all.
The four-thousand-person population guaranteed small-town living, small-town issues and smaller-than-small-town crime. The real estate agent swore a single woman would find her neighbors friendly and life simple.
After a day like today—a sprained ankle, two stomach viruses and one pediatric fever—her rumbling stomach seemed to think it had earned a reward. Sorry, baby. A bacon cheeseburger with crispy fried jalapenos, grilled onions and barbecue sauce might only be a forty-five minute drive from the clinic, but the best she could do was a bowl of cold cereal. Or a fried egg. Lots and lots of fried eggs in her future.
Amused at her own expense, she pushed away.
And glass exploded in one of the exam rooms.
Shit. Shit. Shit!
Kim jumped to her feet, the sensation of ice splintering inside her veins. Her heart kicked against her ribs, the ham sandwich she’d eaten earlier rancid in her stomach.
Okay, maybe that was a little melodramatic. There was no need to panic. Not yet.
She made her way to the door of her office, torn on her next steps.
A small instinct, the kind harboring no common sense whatsoever, insisted she calmly, but cautiously, make her way to the rooms and investigate the source of the noise. The much larger, more rational and less suicidal instinct ordered her to hit the front door running and not return until she had the sheriff in tow.
She peered down the hallway, afraid of what she might find.
Her medical school diploma hung in between black-and-white portraits of the wilds surrounding Fire Creek. At first, she couldn’t figure out why the décor caught her attention. She froze as her brain caught up to her sense of self-preservation.
Lights in all of the exam rooms were off, but there were reflections in the pictures. Shapes shifted in the glass, the outline of several men.
Don’t scream. Oh, but the urge clawed the back of her throat. It scrabbled there, a moment away from breaking free.
Her mind fractured, making it impossible to decide on her next action. If she moved, they’d see her. If she didn’t move, they’d see her. Because she didn’t move, goose bumps rode along her skin. Because she didn’t move, she watched them. Their slow, deliberate movements.
These men searched for something. Probably drugs. Didn’t Newsweek do some sort of documentary recently on small-town crimes? Meth heads taking over America.
She had to go. No drugs on premises, but the men were more than welcome to the eggs. She’d simply do them the convenience of not being there while they pillaged.
Thankful she’d worn uniform clogs instead of typical squeaky sneakers, Kim drew a deep breath and then eased down the hall toward the front door. Her heart throbbed in her neck, but she swallowed past the fear and kept moving.
Along the way she mentally focused on the location of her car. Her keys. She practiced in her head how to turn the knob and whether she should fling open the door or slip through it with the stealth of an adulterous lover.
The loud moans of a wounded person in obvious pain rippled toward her, putting a temporary pause on her escape. Was she leaving someone in trouble?
The thought hadn’t fully formed before a broken sob punctuated the air. There was something off about it, but she couldn’t put her finger on what. The sound seemed distorted somehow.
The men had brought in someone who needed help, but they’d broken into her clinic to get it. What kind of right-thinking people did that?
“Easy, Abe,” a deep voice rumbled.
Kim solidified her plan. She’d leave for help and come back with the sheriff’s office. When they returned, she’d see to whomever needed her assistance, but she wasn’t about to stay and hope the men had arrived with good intentions. If they somehow returned too late, she’d find a way to forgive herself for it later.
She kept moving, holding the flaps of her lab coat close. It prevented her keys from jangling and giving her away. The door stood only a few feet ahead of her, and she had no plan of being discovered while freedom was within grasp.
Taking the time for one quick glimpse over her shoulder, she reached for the knob and then turned it. The metal was cool and slick beneath her sweating palms, but her grip remained firm. The universe stayed on her side, the door swinging away without a sound.
Kim slipped outside. She expected to hear shouts demanding that she stop or halt. Maybe the rough tackle of a burly body into hers, making sure she didn’t go anywhere. But when she pushed the door closed, hiding that she’d made it through in the first place, a ray of hope deep in her soul began to shine.
Her car waited directly in front of her, and she tasted freedom. After she finally crossed the paved lot and then touched warm metal, she could have whooped in relief.
She slid the key into the lock, exhaling as she did. Soon this would all be over, and she’d be laughing about it. Being silly for no reason. Or surviving very well.
The crunch of footsteps on the gravel behind her stopped every thought cold.
“Chock-full of passionate sex, this romance from Carney (Once Burned) keeps readers satisfied. Highly recommended.—Henry Bankhead” Starred Review, Library Journal
“Hot paranormal Romance to the Max…. Hawoooooo…Great start for a first book for a series. We love to read more. I dont know if it will be about this couple again or if the stories continues with a other couple… But it will be on our TO-READ list. Cant wait.” 4.5 Stars, Paranormal Cravings
“If you enjoy Paranormal Romance, particularly Shifters then you are going to want to get into this series starting at the very beginning. Taming Her Wolf is intense, engaging with a well defined history of the pack and an equally believable reason for the beast in them all. I was deep in the story with only a few pages. Yes, there is world building since this is the first story with a new type of shifter, I completely expected that so it did not take away from the story – it enhanced it and gave me the chance to understand these people, enjoy their story so much more. I would highly recommend Taming Her Wolf and look forward to the next story in this series.” 5 Stars, Keeper Bookshelf
“I loved Brick and the men we got to meet from the pack…It was an interesting book and a great start to this series. I definitely plan to read more as they release. ” B+, Smitten with Reading
“The attraction between Kim and Brick is palpable. And the sexual fire between them is satisfying. I liked watching their relationship progress and while the emotions worked pretty fast, I believed in the volatile shifter thing that helped fuel that.” B/B-, Red Hot Books