Joe Christie is consumed with grief and when new information about his wife and baby comes to light his first instinct is to kill.
Nick Alexander is first and foremost Joe's best friend. When Joe met Mara, Nick stood to one side and respected Joe's decision to settle down, despite being in love with the man who was his lover. Now, in the middle of a case that is murder and betrayal, he has to fight his love for Joe and the people that are trying to kill them both.
Previous in the series:
Shattered Secrets (In The Shadow of the Wolf #1)
Broken Memories (In The Shadow of the Wolf #2)
Joe Christie changed from wolf to man in a single fluid move and lay naked in the long grass at the back of his yard. The run in the forest behind the house had been exhilarating and adrenaline pumped through his system. Finally, for a few short minutes, he would be at peace. The cool air wrapped around his body and he stared up. The sky was a brilliant blue and the air smelled clean this far from the city. The branches of the large oak tree—one of many that formed a natural barrier between the open lands and the yards—were twisted and gnarled in a jigsaw of shapes. It was easy to lay here and imagine he was in a time with no death and no loss.
The kids next door were playing, it sounded like a party. His neighbors, neither of them wolves, had a mix of human kids and juvenile wolves in their backyard. Probably on paper this was a recipe for disaster but so far he didn’t scent anything other than popcorn and barbecue. No fighting. No shouting.
That was what Mara had wanted for their baby. To have a place for their children in both societies—wolf and human. She even wanted their son or daughter to go to a mixed school. Joe hadn’t argued. He never did with Mara. She was a pureblood like him but she was progressive and sought the ideal of perfect integration.
“No pretend growling!” Joe recognized the male voice as that of his neighbor as he reined in the behavior of a particularly rambunctious child. Children didn’t shift before puberty, but the knowledge they would one day added a hint of danger to preadolescent friendships for human children. A young shifter pretending to be a wolf, chasing and growling as the human kids ran away squealing, was a favorite game of kids everywhere. Joe rolled over on his front to look down on the lower yard. “And put your T-shirt back on, Thomas James!”
Thomas James was clearly the kid jumping athletically on the monkey bars. Focusing on the parents, Joe read indulgence in their expressions. The exciting game of being chased by a wolf curtailed, the children returned to what appeared to be a more conventional game of tag. Secure in the knowledge he couldn’t be seen by those in the other yard, Joe continued to watch the children interact. He was lost in thought about how easily human children were able to accept the presence of the young wolf as opposed to most adult reaction. The kid couldn’t change into a wolf, but his agility and balance were more highly developed than a human child of the same age. There were other differences as well but the children didn’t seem to notice or to care.
He hadn’t argued with Mara about the school, because he agreed. There would be a lot less violent crime between wolves and humans if kids were brought up to understand and accept one another. The idea of total integration in schools wasn’t a popular one. The youngsters would begin shifting in Jr High and High School, an idea that made many parents uncomfortable. Mara had believed with her whole heart the only way to true acceptance laid in understanding. He and Mara had been compatible even on such a controversial issue.
Returning to his position on his back, Joe scented the grass as his body crushed the fragile stems. He could lie there all day and think about how she wanted a garden with flowers and vegetables, everything that would make their child’s home a good one. Monkey bars, wading pool, trampoline, and access to the miles of open land beyond. Their first child would have had the best and so would their next babies. All of them.
Only it didn’t happen that way, Mara. Joe’s voice was only in his head. He didn’t want to speak the words aloud. He’d done all that at the funeral. Six months and he had done so damn well at keeping it all in, he didn’t know why the past week or so he’d started to feel like he might come out of his skin.
“Joe?” The sound of someone calling his name drifted from the house and Joe closed his eyes. Nick.
Over the last few weeks he had avoided running with Nick. Though no longer Joe’s partner on the force, and busy with fostering Mark, Joe’s best friend still made time to check on him every day. Joe knew Nick cared about him and he felt ashamed of the way he’d treated Nick over the last few months. But to run in the open spaces with the one person who could see right through him was a challenge he couldn’t rise to. Joe had been so close on acting on the attraction he had felt for Nick. He’d been closer to him than anyone in the world for a long time. Best friends for so long and sometime lovers, Joe had entertained thoughts of turning their relationship into something more serious when Mara had happened. Mara with her soft skin, deep brown eyes, and her promise of a family. He had made a choice, and never regretted it. The decision had been a good one. Mara had been his other half for nearly four years, and at the end of last year they had celebrated her becoming pregnant. She’d had difficulty conceiving but fertility treatment at a new office in town, had been their savior. The day Mara announced she was pregnant was the best day of his life.
“Joe?” Nick had walked around the house into the backyard and could probably scent Joe now. In a few seconds he would find him.
God. Suddenly Joe had never felt so damn vulnerable. Nick kept touching him, only trying to reassure, but if Nick laid hands on him one more time with his strange mix of emotion and raised pheromones, Joe was going to lay him out flat. He sighed. There was no way he was going to betray Mara by acting on instinct. He wasn’t some freaking wild feral wolf. He was urbane and cultured. Yes, he was naked, but he and Nick had seen each other post-shift a thousand times before. There was no need to suddenly feel vulnerable at the lack of clothes. Reluctantly he stood and walked the few steps to meet Nick on the patio. Nick didn’t look good.
“You look like shit,” Joe observed. Pushing past him and ignoring the familiar surge of lust that hit him with a powerful punch, Joe stalked into the house. Nick would scent the arousal. Joe couldn’t hide that any more than Nick could. They hadn’t acted on the attraction between them in years, since Mara came into the picture. It didn’t matter what Joe had once imagined might have been between him and Nick; he had chosen Mara and he was loyal to the core.
“You been running?” Nick ignored the statement about how he looked.
“Are we asking the obvious now, Zander?” Joe slipped into using the shortened version of Nick’s last name that had been their childhood custom.
“Making conversation is all.”
Joe stopped in his trek towards the shower. Nick had something about him that didn’t speak of good news. A scent, the way he held himself, even the forced smile added to the effect.
“Nick?” Joe faced his childhood friend and saw fear in the other man’s eyes. Fear and sorrow.
“Sorry for what?” What the hell had Nick done? Why was he sorry? Anxiety gripped Joe and he stumbled back until he could feel the solid work surface in the kitchen behind him. “Nick?”
“It’s about Mara. Rob asked for her death to be re-examined—and the baby’s.”
“Why? They died because she was hit by a car.” Grief, so visceral it took his breath, cut into him.
“Her toxicology panel was clear. The baby’s showed signs of the inhibitor drug. The one they used on Sam and the other wolves.”
Joe would have stumbled back if he hadn’t had the hard surface to grip on to. How could their baby have been exposed to that drug? Why? What? Why was Nick standing there and telling him this? Why would he do that? It had to be a joke. Nick took a step closer but the confusing scents of shared pain and the need to comfort were all too much.
“No.” He forced the single word out. “Don’t touch me.” He couldn’t bear to be touched. It would fuck with his brain and he needed to think.
“Joe, I am so sorry.”
“Sorry for what? I don’t understand. Why did Rob ask for this? What made you all think that her death… Nick? What happened?”
Tears choked his throat. Fuck. He thought he had dealt with the agony of losing Mara. Imagined he had actually made his way past some of it. His beautiful wife, her belly swollen with his son. His. Son. Joe lifted his gaze and Nick held up a hand.
“Sam, the wolf from the first part of the inhibitor case, the one with no memory, that hooked up with Doug—”
“I know who the fuck Sam is. What does he have to do with Rob and reopening Mara’s death?”
“He had information. Files. Last week he found evidence that there had been experiments on pregnant she-wolves using the same inhibitor that had been used on Sam.”
“Nothing black and white, just an email from Quent to an unnamed senator. Quent was reassuring…” Nick stopped talking, like suddenly it was too hard to continue.
“Reassuring? Spit it out, Nick.” Get to the point where someone hurt my wife.
“Quent was reassuring an unnamed senator that no one would find out they had used the drug on a sample case. A cop’s wife. Mara.”
“How long have you all known?” Suddenly it was vital that Joe knew exactly how long his supposed best friend had been keeping this secret. And what about his cop partner, Dan? Did Dan know?
“It’s just Sam and Rob and now me. I only found out for certain last night. I came straight here this morning.”
Maintaining a façade of calm, Joe pushed himself away from the counter and left the kitchen to go to his bedroom. Nick followed.
“We need to finish this, Joe. We have to find out why.”
Joe ignored his friend as the anger banked inside him began to build. Numbly he went into the bathroom and started the shower. Leaving Nick standing uncertainly at the door, Joe climbed in and let the cool water wash away the sweat from his run. Nick was staring and Joe didn’t need to scent the other man’s confusion as it was clear on his face. Shower finished, he turned off the water, roughly toweled his hair, then pushed past his friend to reach the closet. Ice trickled through his veins. The passion of fire and revenge had subsided under cold hard focus. He dressed quickly—underwear, jeans, a blue T-shirt, and his holster—then keyed in the correct sequence of numbers and pulled his SIG from the gun safe.
After checking the weapon for bullets, he ensured the safety was on and slid it into the holster. Without a single second of hesitation he faced Nick head-on.
“Tell me one thing, Nick.”
“What?” Nick appeared similarly focused.
Good to know his best friend had his back. “Who do I need to kill?”