Last week, my latest release, The Mobster's Mate, went live on Amazon (in ebook, KU, and paperback). It's the first book set in my Kincaid Pack Universe that isn't part of that series and it was so fun to write! I loved getting to explore more of the world created in the KP series but in a way that leaves the book open to anyone--even those who haven't read about Rick and his pack yet.
On the fence about reading it? Or maybe you want a taste before you pull the trigger?
I've got a hefty little excerpt for you! Check it out below to see if Caden and Quinten are your cup of tea. 😉
Caden regained consciousness slowly, his mind fighting it. Not because he wanted to stay asleep but because as he crept toward being awake, pain grew through his body. The kind of strength-stealing, soul-crushing pain he’d become achingly familiar with.
He wasn’t sure what had roused him at first. All he could focus on was how heavy his limbs were and how his throat felt torn apart like he’d been screaming for hours.
Goddess, he was so thirsty.
He couldn’t remember what had happened after the chain to the collar broke, everything just a blur of screaming pain and fear, but he could tell by the softness beneath him and the pleasant scent teasing at his nose that he was somewhere different than that freezing warehouse.
At least he wasn’t back at the Bad Place. He could tell before his eyes even opened.
There had never been anything soft or nice-smelling there.
But was he somewhere better?
Turning his head with a soundless whimper, he forced his eyes open and took in the bedroom he’d been sleeping in. It was completely unfamiliar but nicer than anywhere he’d ever stayed before.
He forced himself to sit up, despite his bones and muscles protesting vehemently, and caught a scent. Orange blossoms. He remembered that. He remembered that scent and worried hazel eyes. Dark hair sprinkled with silver. The way the others had turned to him for orders.
He’d been human, yet even the other shifters in the warehouse had deferred to him.
Taking a shuddery breath, Caden reached up with trembling fingers and found the collar that man had put on him, the one that wouldn’t let him make a single sound and hurt like hell. Even before the chain had been broken, it radiated pain through his skin, into his muscles and bones. An endless pulsing of agony seeping into him and draining him of strength and energy.
He took another deep breath, and a little of his misery eased.
Despite everything he had been through, every pain he was feeling, the scent of orange blossoms sinking into his lungs and mixing with his blood soothed him. He knew it was probably foolish, but this place—that man—felt safe.
Slowly, he scooted over until he was sitting on the edge of the bed, panting. The bedroom he was in didn’t have a lot of decorations and nothing personal that he could see, so he knew it wasn’t that man’s bedroom.
He tried to ignore the disappointment that shot through him.
A crumpled-up shadow in the corner caught his eyes. He stumbled to his feet and shuffled over, carefully bending and picking up a pair of sweats. He glanced down at the ones he was wearing and then back at the ones in his hand.
Lifting them to his nose, he took a quick sniff. They didn’t smell like orange blossoms at all. There was a hint of wolf and magic.
Oh, that was right.
He remembered the mated pair that had been part of the group who first found him in the warehouse, the curvy little witch and her scowling mate, who wouldn’t let her anywhere near him.
Which had been smart.
Caden had been out of his mind with terror and pain. He hadn’t known if they were there to hurt him more or not, and he’d been trapped, chained to the wall. Naked and vulnerable. Unable to speak or shift.
If she had gotten too close, he probably would have hurt her.
He let the sweats drop back down to the floor and spotted a door that was partially ajar. He moved over to it, grateful to find a bathroom.
After relieving himself, he washed his hands and then cupped them to hold as much water as he could. He drank and drank and drank until the fire in his throat was abated.
Sighing, he leaned his hands on the counter and dropped his head. He was so tired, his brain foggy and sluggish. He should just go back to bed. It was the middle of the night. The man who smelled like orange blossoms was probably asleep somewhere in this place.
Just as he headed back to bed, he heard a thump that paused his steps, his instincts flaring. Other people were awake. He strained much harder than he should have needed to to try and catch any words being said, but it was all indistinguishable.
He made his way out of the bedroom slowly, unsure if he should hide or confront whoever was out there. In the end, he knew he wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep until he was sure he and the human who lived here were safe.
He stood in the hallway outside his bedroom, trying to orient himself, and jolted hard when somebody screamed. Goose bumps shot down Caden’s spine, nearly dragging him under into memories of other screaming voices, pleas for help. Begs for mercy.
Sometimes his, sometimes the others in the Bad Place.
He closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths, centering himself with the comforting scents around him. He wasn’t in that place anymore. Wherever he was, it had to be better than where he’d been.
He made his way down the hallway, following the sounds of raised voices and the scent of blood. It was faint, but it was there, and it started riling his jaguar inside him despite the weakening effects of the collar.
Wherever he was, the place was enormous. The hallway was long and filled with multiple bedrooms, but the one he’d been put in was on the end. He crept forward and found a jaw-dropping living room that had a twelve-foot ceiling, the widest and most comfortable-looking couch he’d ever seen, an enormous TV mounted on a wall between two sets of bookshelves and over an enormous electric fireplace, and floor-to-ceiling windows taking up another wall.
He stepped closer and realized they were really high up, a whole city down below them.
It was breathtaking, but a man screaming, “I didn’t do anything, you fuckers!” stopped him from staying there and appreciating the view.
The voice was loud and obstinate, but the scent of fear was thick in the air, tickling at the primitive parts of Caden’s brain and triggering his own fear once more.
With small, reluctant steps, he made his way to the other side of the large apartment. He forced himself to keep moving, even though he desperately wanted to go back to his room and hide.
He didn’t use to be this way. Sure, he was cautious as he moved from pack to pack, but he’d never doubted his ability to protect himself before.
But after months of being in that place, he could barely force himself to keep moving. He had to though. He could smell orange blossoms just beneath the blood and fear. It wasn’t the man with the hazel eyes who was screaming in terror, but he was in there. He was in that room, and Caden and his jaguar couldn’t leave without making sure he was okay.
He was almost there. Just a few more steps. He could do this.
The door had been left half-open. As he approached, he heard that familiar deep voice, so smooth and calming. “Don’t bother denying it. We know what you’ve been doing.”
“You’ve got the wrong guy,” the stranger said beseechingly. “Just let me go. I swear I won’t tell anyone.”
That was a lie.
Caden could hear it in the off-rhythm beat of his heart and smell it in the souring of his scent. Whoever that man was, he wouldn’t slink off quietly.
Pressing his back to the wall, Caden carefully peered around the edge of the doorway to get a look inside. It was some sort of office. There was dark wood flooring and a small navy couch in front of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.
He could just make out the corner of a desk, but what held his attention was the man on his knees in front of the desk. His face was swollen, blood oozing from a split lip and a cut under one of his eyes. There was a tear in his T-shirt, like someone much stronger had grabbed it and used it to move the human.
Not even a foot away were two long legs that Caden instinctively recognized, though they were clad in black sweats instead of gray slacks. The man from the warehouse must have been leaning against the front of the desk, his legs stretched out in front of him in a relaxed posture.
There was a third person in the room. Caden could clearly see the wolf who had been with the human at the warehouse standing just behind and looming over the kneeling man.
He was… scary-looking.
He was enormous, both tall and broad and covered in thick, well-honed muscles. His black hair was buzzed up over his ears in a high fade, the longer bits on the top wavy. He had copper-colored skin and wore dark jeans and a plain black T-shirt.
But it was his face that sucked the breath from Caden’s lungs.
He had a scar down the left side, going all the way from his hairline through one thick brow and over his eye to the corner of his mouth, pulling it into a sneer. The iris of the injured eye was cloudy and dull despite his other one glowing hotly with rage. Caden wondered if he could see out of the eye at all. He also couldn’t help but wonder what had happened that had left a permanent scar on a shifter. It was so rare and usually was caused by wolfsbane being used.
He shuddered in sympathy. Having to walk through the world with a reminder of what was probably the worst thing to ever happen to the wolf had to be excruciating.
Caden quietly inhaled deeply to try and figure out what was happening, surprised when he picked up the scent of another shifter on the human. The faint smell of a rabbit was entwined with his own scent, making Caden think they were in a relationship or very close friends.
“Dare,” the Orange Blossom Man said softly.
The wolf grunted in acknowledgment but didn’t take his eyes off the man on the floor.
“Do we have the wrong man? Is this not Benny’s boyfriend?”
The cowering man gave himself away before Dare shook his head, spiking with shock and renewed fear.
“It’s him. Took him from Benny’s apartment,” Dare said. His voice was raspy, almost guttural.
One of the Orange Blossom Man’s feet tapped on the floor twice. “Well, you see, you are who we’re looking for.”
“Why are you doing this? Whatever Benny said I did, he’s a liar.”
Caden could practically see the hackles go up on Dare. He really didn’t like that answer.
Caden didn’t know who this Benny guy was, but it was obvious he was important to Dare and the Orange Blossom Man. He shoved down the little spike of jealousy that shot up at the idea of his human caring so much about another person.
The man wasn’t his. He didn’t even know his name, for fuck’s sake.
Nobody said anything for a moment, but those long legs moved back as the Orange Blossom Man pushed off his desk. He came fully into view, his back to Caden and blocking the man on the floor.
Caden didn’t know why, but he was a little surprised to see that he was wearing a dark red silk robe. He couldn’t stop himself from wondering if he was wearing a shirt underneath as he stared at his wide back. The robe’s tie was hanging down at his sides, so Caden knew it was open in the front. Was he bare-chested? Were Dare and the man on the floor staring at his bare skin?
Annoyance bubbled through his veins.
“Do you know who I am?” the Orange Blossom Man asked, his words deceptively calm as his anger burned in Caden’s nose.
“Yeah, you’re his boss. The gangster. Amato.”
Dare growled, but Caden barely noticed, his chest heating for some reason at the sound of the human’s name. Amato.
Holding up a hand, Amato silenced his wolf and said, “Then you should have known better than to put your hands on him.”
His words cut off, but Amato was still blocking his view, so Caden couldn’t see what Dare had done.
“Stop lying,” Amato hissed, leaning forward. “You got fucking sloppy. I saw the burn marks with my own goddamn eyes before they could heal.”
Caden’s stomach rolled, and he worried he would throw up all of the water he had chugged in the bathroom. Burn marks? They’d called this man Benny’s boyfriend, but he’d been hurting him?
Amato stood and paced away, leaving Caden’s view altogether. He kept his eyes on the man on the floor. He was watching Amato with narrowed, calculating eyes, all pretense dropping away, though his scent was still full of fear.
“So what? You and your mutt are going to scare me off, tell me to never see him again? What the fuck ever. He wasn’t that good of a lay anyway. You can have him if you want him so bad.” He sneered up at Amato as he came back into Caden’s view as he circled around behind Dare. The man was trying to look tough, but Caden could see his trembling limbs and hear his racing heart. “I don’t know why you care so much about some random camboy.”
Caden barely heard the crude words, his mouth going dry as he took in the furry chest under Amato’s open robe, the dark hair sprinkled with silver that caught in the low lighting. There was part of a tattoo visible on his left pec, just enough for Caden to guess it was his name and some sort of symbol beneath it. There were several other black-inked tattoos running down his sternum. Runes, he’d guess, not that he knew their meaning or what they’d do.
Were there more hidden secrets under that silk robe?
Goddess, the man was beautiful. There was no denying it, nor was there any denying how scary the look on his face was as he stared down his nose at the man on the floor.
“We didn’t bring you here to scare you off, no.”
“Then what?” The crack in the cruel man’s voice was undeniably satisfying to Caden and his jaguar.
Looking up, Amato locked eyes with Caden, freezing his breath in his lungs. He held his gaze as he said clearly, “I protect what’s mine.”
No sooner were the words out of his mouth than Dare’s claws were slicing through the man’s throat, blood arcing out and hitting Amato across the chest before Dare shoved the twitching body face-first onto the floor.
Amato glanced down at his stained skin and robe with irritation. “Always with the blood. You can never just snap their necks.”
Looking like a scolded puppy, Dare ducked his head, “Apologies.”
Amato waved him off, pulling a bright white handkerchief from his robe pocket and dabbing at the silk. “Forgiven. Did Benny see you take him?”
Dare shook his head, moving around the room. He pulled a large plastic sheet from somewhere and laid it on the ground next to the body, carelessly rolling him onto it. “He got called for a shoot. I’ll take care of this asshole and call the cleaners.”
Amato sighed and tossed the handkerchief onto the body, then slipped the robe from his shoulders and dropped it onto him as well.
Caden’s mouth dried at the sight of all of that smooth, white skin dotted with tattoos, his jaguar pacing restlessly inside him. He’d been right. Across his left pec was the word Amato with an infinity symbol beneath it. He wondered what it meant to him that he got it permanently inked into his skin. There were a few more tattoos of runes on each of his forearms, but it was the bright red rose on his right hip, still half hidden by his sweats it sat so low, that held his attention the longest.
His gaze darted back up when he heard Amato say, “Come here, Dare.”
Caden watched, transfixed and a little jealous, as the wolf closed the space between them and Amato laid one of his long-fingered hands on the side of his neck.
He was scenting him.
There was no other explanation for why he’d rub his palm on that spot, but why would a human do that? How’d he even know to do it?
The tension in Dare’s thick back muscles relaxed, and he let out a soft breath.
“You did well,” Amato said quietly.
Dare ducked his head, not saying anything, but his angry scent eased, turning sweet. Almost like… apple pie.
As soon as Amato removed his hand, Dare went back to working on the body. Caden was just about to slip away when Amato caught his eyes again and walked across the room toward him.
Caden was frozen in place as he watched his large body prowl toward him, more graceful than some shifters Caden had known. He was maybe only an inch taller, if that, yet his presence was full of strength and power, making Caden feel small in comparison.
“You should be in bed.”
Caden bit his lip, wanting more than anything to be able to ask him a question, to talk to him, to tell him about what the collar was going to do.
Amato cocked his head, eyes dropping to his throat. “Can you tell me your name?”
Caden shook his head.
He nodded, having obviously expected that answer. Slowly, he reached up, his hand hovering a couple of inches from Caden’s face while his hazel eyes studied him curiously.
Caden stiffened, desperately wanting the touch but also terrified of it at the same time.
Amato didn’t move, but he was so close Caden could feel the heat from his palm like a phantom touch. His eyes fluttered. He wanted nothing more than to sink into that heat and let this commanding man and his wolf protect him.
“Go back to bed, kitten. We’ll get something for you to write with in the morning, and you can tell me what the fuck happened to you.”
Caden peeled his eyes back open and nodded, turning away without hesitation.
He wondered if what had happened to him in the Bad Place had somehow broken him. Why did he feel safer with that human gangster than he had any other time in his life since his parents died?
Why was he thinking about curling up next to him instead of running?
He could find a pack. Or go off on his own. Whatever he needed to start to get his life back together.
His fingers touched the leather of the collar. No, he needed to stay. He didn’t have time to find someone else to help him, and he needed to get it removed.
Then he’d find out if it was just circumstances or something else that was drawing him to that human.
He slipped back into bed, groaning silently at the ache in his bones and then shivering as he caught the scent of orange blossoms once again.
Just as he was drifting off to sleep, he heard Amato’s smooth voice again.
I protect what’s mine.
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