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About the Author
Also by Kara James
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Wolf Binding – Book 1
This ebook license is for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you would like to share it with. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting copyright laws and the hard work of the author.
Copyright © 2016 Kara James
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage or retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical without the express written permission of the author. The scanning, uploading, or distribution of this book via the Internet or via other means without permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic additions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials.
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Jessica jumped as a lightning bolt crackled overhead. Rain pelted her clothes and glued her hair to her face. She was certain she resembled a wet rat. If she didn’t get this new position, she’d give up on her dream of becoming a real reporter and go back to waitressing. At least that allowed her to see daylight, rather than working in a basement all day. Still, the ions from the thunderstorm electrified the air and her heart hammered in her chest as she jogged down the sidewalk. Why did it have to rain, today of all holy days? The weatherman had promised sunny bright skies over Sydney.
Somewhere up there, God was laughing his butt off. Like usual, her luck was tarnished. Even her boyfriend had left her at her cousin’s wedding. Or, rather, she’d left him when she had walked in on him humping one of the bridesmaids she’d been sent to find for pictures. Fate hadn’t improved when she’d changed jobs either. She’d thought landing the obituary section in the paper would be her stepping stone to make her way to the top. So far, all it had done was make her co-workers shun her at meetings and parties, like she carried the plague and they’d risk ending up in her column if they got too close to her.
She juggled her briefcase and the latch clicked open, spilling her previous articles into a puddle.
“You gotta be kidding me!” She bent and gathered the scattered pages. Damn, one fluttered on a gust of wind into the middle of the street. A Jeep rolled over it, crushing it into a pothole.
Jessica gritted her teeth and stuffed the nearby pages into her briefcase and waited for the light to change. She slammed her briefcase closed, holding it under her arm, then scrambled across the road and snatched up the soaking paper. Great, it was her favorite freelance piece she’d written for the Sydney Morning Herald for their weekend edition. Maybe this was a sign she should go back to her cubicle job at the obituary department instead of applying for the entertainment reporter job.
She hustled up the block toward the News Corp Australian building. Inside was her potential new boss; that is, if she got the job working for The Australian newspaper.
Inside, the air conditioner hit her and her teeth chattered. After a nod to the security guard, she shuffled to the ladies’ restroom. One look in the mirror and she wasn't sure if she should laugh or cry. Her auburn hair was plastered to her head. All her makeup had washed away except her mascara, which was now thick lines under her gray eyes like she was trying to be an American linebacker or something. Her white blouse was completely see-through. At least her navy skirt was intact, but mud streaked down her left leg and her new pumps had scratches across the top.
Damn! She took a breath and shook her head. No way was she giving up. The fates should've made that lightning bolt strike her if they expected her to cower. She was landing this reporter job and show both her ex-boyfriends and all her co-workers that she was going to make it big.
Grabbing a wad of paper towels, she wet them in the sink, then cleaned the black lines from under her eyes and wiped the mud off her shin. Letting her blouse dry, she opened her briefcase and laid out the papers, reorganizing and tidying them up as best she could. Her cell phone dinged. Crap, five minutes until her interview. Again, her cell beeped. She checked the display. Her friend Amber. Did you get the job?
Not yet. Appt in five. She typed back.
Okay, she still looked horrible and her shirt was still trying to be in a wet T-shirt contest. She yanked another handful of paper towels out of the dispenser and ran them over her shirt. No luck, and white debris now clung to the cotton material. “Great, I've made it worse.”
Her cell alarm went off and she flinched. Then she switched off the reminder and tossed all the dirty towels into the trash and snatched her belongings up. She strode out the restroom with her head high.
Water dripped down her back from her hair and she scanned her badge to walk past security. At the elevator, she pushed the button to the top floor. Several people glanced her way, but she stared at the slowly climbing numbers on the lift. Finally, the doors opened and her heels clicked across the linoleum flooring to the receptionist.
“Hi, I have an appointment, with Mr. Casey.” She smiled at the young woman behind the desk.
She shuffled through an appointment book. “Mr. Casey is waiting for you in conference room 28C.”
“Thanks.” She spun and the maze of cubicles and meeting rooms grew. “Um... which one?” Despite working here, she'd never been on this floor except once before when she’d interviewed for the reporter position, and got stuck with the basement and obituaries.
The receptionist sighed. “Down on the left, second door past the coffee bar.”
Jessica nodded and hurried to follow the directions before she forgot them. Too bad they didn't make people GPS for navigationally-challenged people like her. She'd be forever lost if ever dropped in the middle of the woods.
At the conference door, she knocked twice and cracked the door open. “Mr. Casey?”
“Come in. Mrs. Martin, I assume?” The corners of his mouth twisted in a smile.
“Yes. Miss, please. Sorry, I'm late.” She squeezed past the door and grabbed an empty seat across from him.
He appeared different in person than in his black and white photo. His father had interviewed her when she first applied, then turned the newspaper over to his son after suffering a stroke last year. Phillip Casey was in his early thirties, with dark brown eyes the color of river rocks and dirty blond hair.
“You do realize you're late.” His gaze strayed down to her breasts once, then back up to her face. “Rainstorm?”
“Yes.” Heat burned her cheeks. “That's the last time I trust the weatherman.”
“Indeed.” He shifted through a folder stuffed with papers. “What makes you think you're qualified for the reporter position?”
“I received high marks in my college classes and have been working on the first floor for almost three years.”
Leaning back in his chair, he raised an eyebrow. “So you deal with dead people. How does that compare with getting answers out of live people?”
“Just because my subjects are deceased,” she squared her shoulders, “doesn’t mean that I don’t deal with live people. Their family members can be quite difficult and I have to work through their grief, shock, anger and more to get a view of their loved one and present them in a positive, respectful light.”
He scratched his jawline, and faint gray stubble shadowed one spot as if he had missed that area while shaving this morning. “Meaning you lie?”
“Never.” She brushed her hands down her skirt. “I just focus on the beneficial and factual information whenever I can. There haven’t been any complaints filed at HR about me, have there? Or did you thoroughly check my files and background check?” And hopefully, he was okay with her past of getting too drunk after her parents died when she was in college. That lasted six months until her friend Amber sobered her up and told her to get a life or her parents had wasted theirs raising her.
“Touché.” He set the papers aside, his sports jacket sleeve crinkling. “Your marks are high, but you’ve got no real field experience.”
“I interviewed that retiree for the seniors’ bowling league.”
“That’s hardly the level of professional journalism with sports stars, celebrities—”
“Please.” She clenched her trembling hands into fists on her lap. “Give me a chance. Just one. I promise I won’t disappoint you.”
“What if you were faced with reporting the news or ruining someone’s reputation? Which would you chose?”
“I would feel sad for the person, but reporting the facts is my job. It’s what I’ve wanted to do my entire life.”
“And what if the person bribed you not to report all the facts?”
She straightened her shoulders. “I assure you, sir, my integrity is my fatal flaw.”
For the next half hour, he grilled her with similar questions. She guessed he was trying to trip her up, but she was more mature than her twenty three years belied. She had taken care of her parents in high school.
She opened her briefcase and smoothed out a few papers on the table, pushing them toward him. “Here’s a few more of my articles that have been accepted at various magazines. I’m not afraid of the truth.” One paper was about her volunteering to cover the stories in Africa during the Ebola outbreaks. She couldn’t go back to obituary writing, and no way was she going to slosh back to the deli and beg for her old job back. It was this career bump or nothing.
“Tell you what, you remind me of myself when I was in college. Full of ambition and hope. We’ve got several excellent prospective reporters we’re considering and I’ve given them each a task to show off their skills. However, I just received notice that the Hellion Rugby is hosting a Christmas fundraiser in three weeks. We’ll fly you to New Zealand. Meet with the leader of the team, Ryan Taylor, and find out if this is a push to smooth over his fighting record with opposing teams or if there’s something else going on.”
“So you want me to find out if it’s a stunt or he’s sincere?” She’d heard of Ryan many times before. The bad boy rugby player would rather fight than play, it seemed. He’d been arrested last month for cutting a man in a bar. Before that, he’d been seen fleeing a house of a married woman. And the hot-tub pictures of him with three women and his tattooed ass had been a sensation all over the tabloids for months. Amber would totally flip. Her best friend breathed in the Rugby tournaments.
“Yes. Find out whatever you can about the team, and especially Ryan. This will be one of many times that I want the truth. The ugly, raw side of it, not protecting people’s feelings. If what your findings are newsworthy, you’ll have the job.” He stood and held out his hand. “Do we have a deal, Miss Martin?”
Sweat beaded down Ryan’s back as he concentrated on driving the wolf deeper inside him. This wasn’t the time to go feral on the man outside his car, who was yelling while he pounded on the driver’s side window. Ryan’s hands gripped the steering wheel.
“What drugs are you on that you nearly flatten me?”
“Sorry.” Ryan mouthed, not trusting his voice to sound human, or he’d probably unleash a guttural growl, then the guy outside would freak. Wasn’t the man’s fault that Ryan had glanced down at his cell rather than keeping his eyes on the road, and the light had changed too fast.
Keep it together. Focus. Breathe. Wasn’t that the mantra he’d taught his fellow rugby players this last year? And they’d done it. Placed third in the championship, despite thinking they’d never be able to play again after their camping accident. His team… his pack.
The guy at his window flicked him off, then jogged across the street.
Ryan let out a breath, then took another. In the past, Ryan would’ve at least tore into the guy verbally. But he couldn’t risk that now… not with his life turned upside down from a stupid trip to Romania over the winter holidays. Then this past April at a local bar, he’d lost his temper and partially transformed. A flanker from an opposing rugby team had kept pinching a waitress’s ass, even after she told him to fuck off. Ryan and the dickhead had got into a shouting match before Ryan’s claws had raked across the man’s head. It had happened so fast that no one around them had realized what had occurred. To cover up his mistake, Ryan quickly sliced open a beer bottle and pretended he’d used that on the man’s head before anyone could blink. It had been too close. He’d had to pay a fine and was on probation for weeks, and he’d only rejoined the team in late June. Couldn’t let that happen again. His rugby players needed him. But why the hell they kept him as captain was anyone’s guess.
The light changed, and Ryan loosened his grip on the wheel. He eased his silver Stingray forward. No way was he going to get thrown out of the league. He had to maintain control, no matter what it took. Rugby was the only thing he’d ever known since he was a teen. He wasn’t about to let one shitty night ruin his life or all of his teammates’ lives.
He pulled into the burger drive-thru and ordered twenty-two triple meat burger combos and shakes. The team would devour these in no time since Ryan was already running late with their lunch. Constantly, they had to train. Not just in rugby, but in keeping their tempers. It was a dangerous game they played, but that was the thrill of it. Most of the guys didn’t have other skills besides the game. How could he expect them to give up the limelight just because of his careless mistake? He wished he’d never suggested they have a group trip to that godforsaken Hoia-Baciu forest - the Bermuda Triangle of Romania.
Burgers wafted through his small car, and he adjusted his position as he raced down the road to his home, in order to snatch one of the burgers from the bag. That was another thing that could trigger an attack, severe hunger. Starving for food or sex would end up with him on all fours and covered with fur while he prowled the night. He’d wake the next morning still aching sexually, but with rabbit blood covering his skin and mouth. He’d puked the first time he found himself like that, not knowing whose blood it was, but his wolf sense told him it was an animal.
Eating lots of red meat helped ease the constant ache to hunt and kill. Some.
Finishing out a burger, he pulled into his driveway and relaxed. He’d made it without a huge incident and without spilling any of the shakes filling his passenger floorboard.
“You swim to the mainland for our food?” Carmen stomped up to the car. His curly black hair hit his neck. “I’m starving, man.”
Ryan smirked. “And you can bring it inside.”
“What? And have some of them to bite my fingers off trying to get their food?” He shook his head. “No way.”
“Then why’d you even come out here?” Ryan shut his door and stomped to the other side to get the food out.
“To get my own.” Carmen shoved Ryan aside with a laugh and, after grabbing one of the burgers and shakes, he strolled back into the house.
Well, at least this way, I should have more help soon. As if by magic, nine of the guys squeezed through his front door and barreled down the driveway.
“Thanks for picking up food,” one said, but he couldn’t tell who as he finished his own food. A few of the men picked up the extra shakes and sacks, carrying them inside.
Ryan removed the last two drink holders and nudged the car door closed with his hip. The late November sun warmed his skin, promising another hot Christmas this year. Maybe they’d chip in for a visit to Europe, or even the States, and take in a bit of snow and skiing.
For the bulk of this rugby season, they’d stayed to themselves. But with his bar fight, they needed to ramp up their good reputation.
Across the street, a camera clicked and Ryan waved.
He was a magnet for trouble and he didn’t know how long he could keep his team’s true existence under wraps with all the publicity hounds following them all the time. He juggled the drinks as he opened the front door. “Well, don’t anyone bother to let me in.”
“It’s your house.” Carman tossed his empty wrapper in the trash. “Figured you had a key.”
A few of the guys bounded forward, snatching the drinks out of his hands.
With all the drinks gone, Ryan tossed the holders into the trash. “Wait, where’s my shake?”
“Sorry, mate.” Neal ran a hand over his face. “I got carried away and had two. Can I get you something else?”
“No. I’ll get a beer.” His muscles ached from his earlier encounter with the jaywalker. He wanted to get drunk and lay naked in his bed without worrying about anything. They were too popular. And one day, one of them was going to slip. It was just a matter of time. But what could they do? If the entire squad retired, people would question. If they dispersed into different teams, the chance of discovery became even greater. Scientists would swoop down and experiment on them. Dissect them.
He’d volunteered to host this year’s Christmas fund for children in hopes of building the public’s trust, but it was all a ruse. If the people discovered the truth about their underdog, the Hellion Rugby Team, the women and children would scream in fright and the men would defend themselves, and lives would be lost. And it would be his fault for craving acceptance, normality - even if it was false.
He crushed the beer can in his hand, then threw it into the trash.
“Hey man, you okay?” Brady’s dark brows furrowed.
“Yeah. Just tired. I’m gonna hit the hay.”
“Whoa, what’s the matter with you?” Carmen asked. “Dropping out while the sun is still shining?”
He shrugged but gave a twisted smile. “Guess you guys aren’t exciting enough to keep me entertained.”
“Did he just insult us?” Carmen waved out a hand. “Maybe it’s time for a night run. Let’s see if this old man can keep up with the younger members of the pack.”
“Try it and see,” Ryan snarled, hunching his shoulders.
Carmen glared but took a more submissive posture.
Note to self, take this mutt down a notch, and soon.
The doorbell rang, and half the guys jerked to attention. Their fingers curled into fists. Everyone knew Ryan didn’t get visitors. Ever. He even had a Post Office Box at the mail station so no delivery drivers surprised him. Wouldn’t do any good to order a pizza then transform into a wolf while the delivery guy screamed like a girl and ran. Even if he wasn’t hungry, the instinct to chase and kill would be too strong in his animal form.
“I’ll get it. Probably someone lost.” And how had they gotten past his ten-foot-tall security gate? He swung open the door, wearing his best scowl. “What?”
Before him stood a buxom, auburn haired beauty. She straightened her shoulders, her pinstriped suit smeared with grass stains and mud. Twigs clung to one side of her hair and one of her heels was twisted so much it looked like it might snap off at any moment.
“Hi! I’m Jessica Martin from The Australian newspaper. We have an appointment.”
“We do?” He leaned against the doorframe and crossed his arms.
She lifted her chin, her mouth forming a thin line. “Yes, I’m here to interview you.”