Hunted in Darkness - Carrie Ann Ryan
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Hunted in Darkness

Book 2 in the Aspen Pack Series

I knew I wanted her the first time I saw her. Only problem? She can’t be my mate.

I’m a son of a traitor and former Alpha and I know it’s the legacy people see.

But I must be the Alpha of my Pack and protect them from the new threat to our world: Vampires.

Valac and the others are still in the shadows, and we must find their lairs before we lose more than we already have.

Only every time the enemy attacks, Skye puts herself in jeopardy. I’m the dominant wolf, but she’s the one with the most to lose.

She’s the Pack princess. The daughter of legends.

And I know she’s not my mate.

But I want her. I need her. And now I must convince my wolf. Or break the most sacred rules of the moon goddess.

Again.

 

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Hunted in Darkness is Book 2 in the Aspen Pack series

Hunted in Darkness Characters Profiles

Hunted in Darkness

While I would’ve preferred my paws to touch the ground, for the dirt to sink in between my toes as I leapt over a fallen log and wound between the trees, I needed to be human for this. I had to go back and meet with the council, as well as a visiting Beta. There were things to do with an upcoming war on the horizon, like the fact that we wouldn’t be able to hide the vampires from the humans for much longer. As it was, we were certain that the government already knew something was changing. How had the vampires hidden for so long—at least thirty years from what I could tell—and were now rolling out so quickly?

They were doing this for a reason.

That worried me.

Because we weren’t ready, we were barely rising from the ashes as it was, but we needed to be better than this. We needed to focus and push through.

And that meant I needed to be at the top of my game.

I needed to stop with the nightmares. I needed to sleep through an entire night without waking up in a cold sweat, the feel of silver and metal against my back as I screamed in agony. I shouldn’t have those dreams any longer.

I couldn’t.

I had to be the Alpha the Aspens deserved.

I jumped over another log, my wolf at the forefront. He was pacing, eager for a hunt, but I knew it wasn’t time yet. We would go on a hunt for the full moon in the coming days with the rest of the Pack. They would wait for me, and I would lead them.

They needed me to be their leader.

I had been the Heir who hadn’t been allowed to be that person for so long. I’d been hidden away and hadn’t saved my people.

But now I would lead them, and I would protect them.

There wasn’t another choice.

I leapt over another log and kept going, annoyed with myself for letting the gloom hit me. I had so much energy, this rage that had been beaten and hidden within me for the years I was caged and locked away.

I still remembered Audrey’s screams when she had been tortured next to me, stabbed over and over again in places that wouldn’t damage any organs, but would still hurt her. We had been caged together, metal separating us, and I hadn’t been able to save my best friend.

And she hadn’t even known I was alive there.

The world had thought I was dead, hidden, but I had been there.

Somehow, I had survived. Maybe not whole, but enough.

I needed to survive.

I needed to protect my Pack.

I turned the corner, heading back to the den. They needed me, and while Steele didn’t appreciate the fact that I was running alone, I was still within the den’s reach. Anybody could get to me in less than five minutes. But I was an Alpha, and I could hold my own.

Far more than most people thought.

The first scent hit me, and my wolf went on alert as I slowed.

The moment I turned the corner, they moved.

As if they had been waiting.

Oh, they had known where I would be. They had to have. But how? How had they known?

I looked around, searching.

Vampires slid out of the darkness, but they were not overcome with blood hunger. No, these were sentient, with angry red eyes and immaculate control.

And they were waiting.

For me.

As they circled me, my claws slid out of my fingertips. I wouldn’t have time to change into my wolf form, even though I was faster than most.

No, I would have to fight as human.

A wolf howled to the moon behind me, so close that I could scent her, and I hoped she would be quick enough.

Because I knew who was coming for me.

Who was going to try to save me.

I just didn’t know if she would make it in time.

When the first vampire sliced at me, far quicker than any other vampire I had seen, I took the cuts to the arm with its claw, evading its fangs, and wondered if this was my end.

And then the rest of the vampires lunged, and I could think of nothing else.

I ducked out of the way of the closest black-tipped talon-like nails. My wolf pushed at me, coming to the surface.

My eyes glowed gold, the dominance of my animal far more than the vampire in front of me. It didn’t matter that this looked to be one of the most sentient and powerful vampires I had ever seen. I was going to defeat him and all his little buddies.

Though their red eyes were narrowed into slits, they were still sentient. This one wasn’t the type who rampaged and was without thought or intelligence. No, this one had the power to make decisions even if they weren’t the one in full control. I ducked the next swipe, hooked my hand, claws out, and sliced through the belly of the closest vampire. As the creature let out a startled shout I reached up, my hand covered in blood, and twisted the thing’s neck. It fell to the ground, twitching, before I went at another vampire.

One of them came at me, fangs bared. I slammed my hand into its throat and it staggered back. I twisted, going at another just as one of the damn vampires slid its fangs into my flesh. I half-shouted, half-howled, as I pried the vamp’s mouth off me and twisted its neck. It fell into a dead heap of flesh at my feet.

Venom sliced through my veins, and I cursed. I knew this couldn’t turn me, not from what we’d learned so far, but I didn’t know if it could weaken me. I needed to get to my Healer so Wren could work the poison out of my system.

We honestly didn’t know what happened to wolves or other shifters once a vampire bit into them. We only knew that like turning a human into shifter, it took near death to turn a human into a vampire. That’s what we had gleaned from the vampire general and his cronies like the dead Jagger. That vampire had killed himself rather than answer our questions.

My arm throbbing, my body radiating with tension, I came at the other vampire. One jumped onto my back, more vampires coming out of the woods, and I had to hope the fight was making enough noise that the Aspens on duty would come. I could damn well take these, bite notwithstanding, I just didn’t want anybody to get hurt because of me.

Not again.

Before I could twist to tear the vampire off of my back, a silver bullet shot past me. Not the weapon, but a small wolf, not too dominant, but not submissive either.

Skye ripped the vampire off my back, growled, and tore into its neck, twisting its head off its body. I ducked the claw of another vampire and then Skye and I were working as a team, the two of us fighting off the vampires as if we had been fighting against our enemies side by side for generations, rather than the single other battle we had ever fought together.

Considering none of the Aspens on patrol had come yet, the vampires had to be using their magic to keep others from getting through their personal wards. Because my sentries would be here—hell, my Enforcer, Steele, would be here if they could hear what was happening. Someone had known where I would be tonight and was making damn sure no one would be able to get to me.

It was just the two of us, and I was grateful Skye seemed to have been within the barrier of magic when the attack came. That was the only way she could have been through the vampire magic which seemed to be stronger than the shifters and witches combined.

It worried me because we did not have the coven’s support, as the coven did not have the magic needed to protect us. Nor did the shifters have the same connections to this demon that the vampires did. There were either witches working with the vampires, or demon magic was stronger and worked in different ways than we had ever seen before. Either way, we needed to find a way to become stronger in magic.

I couldn’t think of that right then. No, that was something for the Alpha part of me to work on later. Not the wolf part that needed to keep Skye and me safe. And that wasn’t only because she was the daughter of a powerful Redwood family. The granddaughter of the former Alpha before he had been slain by the demon.

No, she was also a friend. One who I was not going to let die trying to protect me.

She did not deserve to get hurt because I wasn’t strong enough to protect myself.

Finally, as the last vampire came at us, blood coating Skye’s silver fur, as well as most of my body, I looked into the bright gold and green eyes of Skye as she gave me a tight nod, and we lunged.

The vampire grinned and shook his head. “Not today.”

And then he turned, running full tilt, faster than any other vampire I’d seen—other than Valac and Sunny, the general of the vampire army and his wife. He tossed magic behind him, and black smoke filled the bubble of magic that Skye and I had found ourselves in.

I threw myself over the silver wolf, protecting her as shards of painful magic slid into my skin and threatened both of us. I knew that those icy shards of pain would dissolve quickly, as they were just there to stun, but I was stronger than Skye, and it would take longer for her to heal.

She growled low as I cradled her to my chest, covering her with my entire body before she wiggled and nipped at my ear. I pulled back and ran my hands down her fur, checking for injuries, before I slid my hands over her flank and between her ears.

“Are you okay?”

She narrowed her eyes at me. Her eyes were no longer gold with power but green with anger. She stood back and lowered her head, as if remembering I was an Alpha. I always found it odd that she could meet my gaze. I was an Alpha, and most shifters did not have the dominance to meet my gaze. Skye shouldn’t either, as she wasn’t a full dominant.

She was somewhere in the middle of the hierarchy, someone who could aid with the submissives and not scare them, but she wasn’t a maternal either. Maternals had a set place within the Pack and cared for our young, their personal dominance of protection and caring in an interesting and needed combination.

Skye, by contrast, was somewhat odd in the structure of Packs, but it was the strength of her human self that allowed her to connect with so many of the dominants in every Pack in the Pacific Northwest.

I also had a feeling it had to do with her being the granddaughter of an Alpha and the daughter of two dominants herself. Her uncle was the current Alpha, and her cousins and aunts and uncles were all part of the hierarchy, too.

She glared at me before she began to shift her shoulders back, her body slowly going from wolf to human.

It wasn’t a flash of light or a painless process. Some people could shift quickly, as if they were just breathing from one step to the next, but many took a good five minutes to break bones and tendons and twist their bodies into a new form. As our new ways of connecting to the moon goddess and Supreme Alphas settled into us, we were starting to shift far more quickly than before, but it still wasn’t an easy process.

Skye was decently swift, but from the whimper that escaped from her mouth, I knew there wasn’t a lack of pain from that quickness. She didn’t shift as rapidly as me or her cousins.

And, by the time she knelt in her human form, her body covered in blood and sweat and grime, I could hear the footsteps of the others running towards us. Only they couldn’t get through the bubble of protection, not yet, and we had to either wait for the vampire magic to subside or for one of our witches to get through. I wasn’t sure when that would happen, but this did give us some privacy so Skye could finish her shift and find her balance.

I tore off my bloody shirt and tossed it to her when she looked up at me. She caught it, then stood up, naked and free, and I did my best not to look at her.

We shifters weren’t supposed to notice nudity. When we shifted from one part of ourselves to the next, we didn’t bring our clothes with us. It was easier to shift while we were naked, so we didn’t have to tear through our clothing or end up as an awkward wolf in a shirt and pants.

Skye just tilted her head at me, and I didn’t look down at the shape of her breasts, or slope of her waist, or the thatch of curls between her legs. I knew better than that, though I had seen briefly, and my mouth had watered. I couldn’t help it, the urge of the hunt was still upon us, and my wolf was at the forefront, wanting her.

She might not be my mate and would never be, but Skye Anderson was beautiful. Only, I couldn’t notice that just then. It wouldn’t do us any good. She sighed, then slid my shirt over her shoulders.

“Are you okay?” I asked as her body was finally covered. It was easier to think that way. My wolf wanted her because it was horny, and hell, the urge of the hunt was so strong, it was probably riding her just as well. If we both hadn’t been hurt, then maybe we could have let off some steam as wolves were prone to do, but now wasn’t the time. And especially not with this wolf.

“I’m fine. Just a few claw marks. You need to get that looked after.” She pointed to the bite mark on my arm, and I shrugged it off.

“The burn’s almost all gone now. Wren won’t even need to heal it.”

“We don’t know exactly what happens to bite marks. Other than sometimes they go away.” She walked up towards me barefoot, her long toned legs still bare. “The last thing we need is an Alpha going down.”

“I’m fine, Skye. Thank you for being out here.” I frowned. “Why are you out here?”

She narrowed her eyes at me, once again meeting my gaze. No other wolf could do that unless they were as dominant as me. The Alphas could. They were as strong if not stronger than me. But Skye shouldn’t be able to. There was just something about her. The way that she folded in between magics spoke of the blood running through her veins, maybe not the dominance of her wolf.

“I was on a roam. I’ve been staying with Adalyn for the past week going through training.”

I nodded. “I remember now. You work with knives, right?”

She nodded tightly. “My mother is the best there is at swords, and she taught me, but smaller knives I’m learning from Audrey and Adalyn. It’s easier to stay with Adalyn than the newlyweds.” She rolled her eyes, speaking of my Beta, Audrey, and her mate, my Tracker, Gavin.

Adalyn was a hunter for the Aspen wolves and lived alone on the far side of the den. She and Skye seemed to have become friends recently, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.

Not because it was Skye, but because of the alliance. The Pacific Northwest Pack Alliance was something of a new construct. The Redwood Pack and the Talon Pack became friends and had nearly blended into one den over the past thirty years of mating between one another and forming bonds of friendship and trust.

The Central Pack, the fourth Pack in our little grouping of territory, was relatively new after being decimated from the Redwood War. The Centrals had brought it on themselves, and those innocents that had survived were now a new Pack with a new Alpha. Cole was my friend, and we were learning our roles as leaders of our Packs together. Cole had connections with the Talon Pack because of his sister who had mated into that den.

The Aspens, however, we were a little different. Because we had been the enemy most recently. Because of my father and the blood running through my veins. My wolf pushed at me, angry that I was even thinking about Blade, but I couldn’t help it. It was in every movement and decision that we made. Because we needed to prove to the other Packs that we deserved to be within the alliance. That we weren’t the enemy, or the weak ones.

Forming these relationships like Adalyn was doing with Skye was good. It was connecting us to the Redwoods, just like Audrey was connected to the Talons through the person she had turned into a cat shifter like her. Only we didn’t have the same connections that the other Packs did. We were still too new in our healing and in our redemption.

If one could be redeemed from the atrocities my father had committed.

I knew that Skye being here was a form of trust from the Redwoods. I still wasn’t sure how I felt about it because I didn’t know exactly how long we could remain in the alliance if we were the ones the vampires constantly attacked. And if Skye had died or been hurt irrevocably in this fight? I didn’t know what the Redwoods would do. Because Skye’s mother was the original Redwood Pack princess, the only daughter of the former Alpha.

That meant Skye was just as much of a princess of that line as well. She might not look pampered, but I knew she was loved, cherished, and part of the Jamenson family, a tangled connection between hierarchy, dominance, strength, and blood.

And my only family was long dead, and a traitor to us all.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” Skye asked, frowning.

“I’m not looking at you like anything.”

“Whatever you say.” She scowled at me before looking around the weakening vampire wards. “Come on, let’s get through this bubble of magic and hopefully figure out a way to make this not happen again.”

“I know that your uncle’s working on it, as are the rest of your family, but we are too.”

Skye gave me a weird look. “I know. We have witches just like you.”

“You have more witches.”

She shrugged, as if unconcerned with the fact I’d mentioned our weakness—not something I tended to do. Ever. “For now. You’re still regrowing your Pack. It’s going to take a lot of time in order to settle yourselves. And these vampires have different magic than the witches that we know. We’re all in the same boat, Chase. Remember that.”

I wasn’t sure I liked the fact that she was trying to settle me. It was weird. She wasn’t Pack, wasn’t in my hierarchy. And yet, while everybody else stepped on eggshells when it came to certain parts of my past, they also worked on protecting the Pack. They didn’t worry about my own wolf. Because I was supposed to be steady, the sane one.

Only Skye seemed to want to protect me. Or maybe I was just seeing too much into it because of the vampire venom or toxin or whatever the fuck it was running through my veins.

I shook off the pain that seemed to radiate back into my system, and Skye narrowed her eyes.

“Come on, let’s go get to your Healer.”

We took a step forward, and I watched Steele glare at us as Dara, our harvester witch, stood next to him. She had her hands out before she sighed, sinking into my Enforcer’s arms. Steele steadied her, and she shook off his touch and anyone else that was trying to help before she nodded tightly and moved past us.

“Is Dara okay?” Skye asked, her voice barely above a whisper.

I shook my head. “I don’t know. She’s our strongest witch, but I don’t think she is taking the time she needs for herself to rest.” That would be something I’d fix soon if Audrey or Hayes didn’t do it first.

“I can talk to her if you want.” She hopped over a fallen log, as smooth as she would have in her wolf form.

I shook my head. “It’s okay. I’ll do it. Or Audrey will.”

Skye just shrugged. “Anything you need. We are one big alliance. I might not be Pack, but I can help.”

“Thank you for your help today,” I answered, my voice a little too formal.

She gave me a look, and I wanted to lean down and nip her lip, with just one fang, to tell her to stop looking at me like that. At that odd sensation, I figured it had to be because of the venom and not anything else.

“What happened?” Steele asked before Wren slid in between us, the lynx shifter frowning.

“You know I’m a Healer, but you are taking a lot of my time these days, Alpha,” she joked, trying to ease her own tension. She didn’t like being surrounded by so many dominants, even if she was the Healer.

As the others came out, and we told them the story of the vampires, the teams began to do their work at cleanup, study, and investigation. The fact that we had a routine for vampire cleanup was worrying.

Wren put her hand over my arm and squeezed. My eyes crossed, and I tried not to pass out. Having me—the Alpha—fall on my knees in pain wasn’t a look I needed.

I looked around my den and knew that this was only the beginning. I was not going to fall. I was not going to break. I was the Alpha. Only, something was changing. And we needed to fight. We needed to protect our den.

Skye slid past me before I could say anything, still wearing my shirt, and went to Adalyn’s side, both of them talking in hushed tones.

“More vampires?” Cruz, my Heir and second in command, asked.

I nodded. “More vampires. But we got them all.”

“And you were bitten,” Wren whispered. “But you’re going to be fine. You’re all healed. In fact, your wolf has already taken care of all of it. I just did the cosmetic part.”

I studied her face, wondering if she was telling the truth. She rolled her eyes but didn’t meet my gaze. She was far more submissive than anyone else on my team, but she was still damn strong. My wolf would never make her back down, but her lynx did what it needed to do as well.

“They’re putting their damn army right on our doorstep,” Steele growled.

I nodded tightly. “They think to overpower us. To use magic that they have been hiding and cultivating for years. But we will find a way.” I looked across the others and met Skye’s gaze because she did not back down, did not blink, and I needed that connection. I didn’t know why, but right then, I knew I needed it. I wouldn’t let myself need it for long. That much I vowed.

“We are stronger. We are the Aspens. We will find out who did this and why they’re here.” And we would find out how they knew exactly where I was. Or how long they had been watching me. But that was something for another time.

“And will we be safe?” one of the maternals asked. “Can we leave the den?”

I looked at all of them, the scent of their fear acrid in my nostrils. “We are resilient. We are Pack. We will protect each other. And we will find a way to stop these attacks. We have always been fiercer than we’ve thought. We will not forget who we are. We will not let them win.”

As my words seemed to relax most of those who had gathered, I pulled my gaze from Skye and the maternal, and I turned towards my team. “This has to stop. We have to meet with the other Alphas.”

“And we have to fight. Because we are not losing our Alpha,” Steele added.

I nodded slightly, but I couldn’t help but wonder exactly what would happen if I was the one who was lost. What would happen to my den? Or would they be stronger because of it? I had seen the uncertainty in some gazes, and I knew I wasn’t the one that they wanted to be Alpha.

I knew that they were wondering if I was Alpha enough to save them.

Because I hadn’t been strong enough before. Not when I was the son of the Alpha. The son of the man who had tried to kill them all. The son of the man who had been the traitor to all shifters.

The vampires were the outside force, the ones who wanted to end us.

But, in the end, I wasn’t sure if I could be the one to lead them, or if I would still be just the son who had nearly destroyed them all.

end of excerpt

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Content Warning:

Battles, emotional and physical abuse in the past, assault