“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…”
Maximus vibrated with excessive energy, droning out the minister. Standing there like a stuffed turkey in his dove-gray morning coat and tails, waiting for his brother and mate to conclude the official ceremony, all he could think was sign the damn contract already. The sooner he got out of this godawful monkey suit and had an extended run in the clear, crisp desert air, the better.
He stretched his neck under the stiff white collar. There wasn’t much call for such attire in the sacred halls of a dusty library, researching ancient writings, seeking clues to the whereabouts of sacred objects, in particular the House of Luceres’ holiest of grails, the Lupus Sanguis Chalice. Just thinking of laying his hands on the priceless item made his pulse quicken.
Lives spent in the higher halls of learning was a calling he and his twin Alessandro were well suited to. He didn’t want the unenviable job of being CEO of a string of worldwide casinos, like the ones his soon-to-be married brother reigned over, though he admired how his sibling managed the position with such style and grace.
But even Cristaldo had to release his wolf on occasion, to manage his beast effectively. Maximus hid a grin at the reminder of how off-the-rails his alpha sibling had become when he’d first met up with the lovely, all-too-human Everly. He’d nearly lost it, according to their brother Lucius—Cristaldo’s twin—who took great glee in reminding everyone of the fact.
“And do you, Everly Joy Affini, take this man, Cristaldo Maximus Luceres, to be your lawfully wedded husband, until you are reborn?”
The words sounded so final, albeit quite accurate, and were accompanied by a few notes of surprise from amongst the human wedding guests. They’d have been even more shocked if they understood what it truly meant—that once mated werewolves died after finding their Forever Mate, they reincarnated and came back and searched until they found each other. All they needed was a plan to meet up again, although the fragrance of their mate and the call of lust it created seemed to be sufficient in most cases. It was a fascinating world to be part of, one that would shock human sensibilities to their foundations. Reason why we have to live in secret among them. Pack rule number one.
“And do you, Cristaldo Maximus Luceres, take this woman, Everly Joy Affini, to be your lawfully wedded wife, until you are both reborn?”
His brother raised his mate’s veil and the look of adoration and love so clear in his eyes made Maximus glance away. Sly, sitting in the first row of pews as acting majordomo of the House of Luceres, let out a loud sob, his kindly face creased with contentment as he pressed a snowy-white handkerchief to his mouth.
A sense of need and envy stirred deep inside Maximus, its rawness taking him by surprise. What is this? He ran a finger between his shirt collar and his neck in an effort to loosen it. Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to remain still and see the final part of the ceremony to its expected conclusion. His twin Alessandro stirred at his side, apparently needing a deep breath of his own. The church was too hot and too stifling by half.
He held on, encouraged by a vision in his mind’s eye of the pair of them racing across the desert floor, the crescent moon overhead lighting the way. He couldn’t even begin to think of him and Alessandro finding their Forever Mate, though she haunted their dreams on occasion. The one who will love us both. Does she even exist?
His mind revisited an intoxicating scent he’d experienced for a couple of brief seconds a few months back while visiting their holdings in Milan. Who was that female? The fragrance had vanished before he could track her, an annoyance that still plagued him.
“You may now kiss your bride.” The gleam in the minister’s eyes expressed his understanding of who they were and the importance of the pair he was joining together for all eternity. Of course—he was their father, Cesare, home with their mother, Sophia, from traveling abroad. Their entire extended community was in attendance, from all corners of the globe. More than two hundred in total from their side of the family alone sat patiently, and some—mostly the male attendees—impatiently in the pews.
“I have to get out of here.”
“Soon, bro. There’s time between the ceremony and the reception for a good run.”
The clock began to tick ever louder in his head. If it were just supernatural beings present, he could have got away with leaving before the bride and groom made their way down the aisle to be greeted by well-wishers and rice. But humans were a different matter.
By the time his father had finished his blessing of the newly married pair and the documents were signed, his entire body felt about to vanish into one of the multiverses where they became wolves…and this time not come back. Run forever free on the other side.
Not that he had caught more than a glimpse of that special dimension in his decades plus of shifting. He’d studied the phenomenon of course, understanding that in physics energy was never lost and that werewolves became altered at the quantum level due to their special DNA.
He imagined explaining that to a physics professor at the Sapienza in Rome where he and his twin were currently scholars in residence. But understanding it and preventing it were two different things. He had no more control at times than a chameleon that changed color in a new environment, especially when the full moon called.
A new energy in the air woke him from his musings. The agony was over and everyone was moving, following the newly married pair down the red carpet to the open doorway. He took a big breath of fresh air into his starved lungs outside the church doors, watching the crowd mill about, vying for their chance to speak to the happy couple.
“Let’s nab the ’copter before anyone else gets the same idea,” Maximus said, jerking off his black tie and thrusting it into his jacket pocket. Undoing a few buttons on his white shirt front, his muscles tight with the urgent need to release the pent-up strain of the past few days, he thumped his twin on the back. Alessandro stood beside him on the church steps, his expression calm. He’d always been the more patient one, from the moment of birth when he’d let his twin exit first. “Let’s go.”
Less than ten minutes later, they were buckling themselves into the seats of the helicopter. It was gassed and ready, perched like a sleek beast on the roof of the Glitter Palace casino.
Maximus took over the controls and the rush of lift from the powerful engine quickly soared them high above the desert floor. He set course for the vast desert property the pack also owned near Sin City. Not that his twin was any less proficient, but Alessandro tended to let him lead, a situation that alleviated brotherly rivalries…most of the time.
“Perhaps we’ll be next,” Alessandro mused, his expression distant when Maximus glanced over at him.
He snorted at the idea while keeping a close eye on the numerous gauges that lined the cockpit, glancing out through the side window for the landing pad. “Not likely, bro. Not many women want two men in their bed. At least, not many that will admit it. Besides, she’ll like me best once I show her my considerable assets.” He added a wolfish grin for good measure, wanting to ensure his twin didn’t experience the slump that the festivities tended to bring to unmated pack members.
“It’s not what you have, bro, it’s knowing how to use it. And it’s not all about the cock. Your tongue can be mightier. And my talent in that direction is legendary.”
The reply surprised him. This mate they spoke of was a fantasy, and yet here was his brother testing him.
“When she takes my knot, it’ll be all over but the fat lady singing.”
Alessandro remained quiet while Maximus set down the whirlybird on the pad and killed the motor. Unbuckling his harness, Maximus reminded them why they were there. “Mate or no mate, time to hunt.”
“Oh yeah, you’re on.”
They both jumped to the ground and began shedding their clothing as if they were on fire. When Alessandro was naked, his warrior body revealed in all its glory in the moonlight, from his wide chest to his muscled abs to his strong thighs, Maximus knew he was seeing a mirror image of himself. A very satisfying image. They also had in common thick dark hair that refused to be tamed and cocks that wouldn’t quit.
But now was the time to be free. Anticipation took over and he embraced the change. In seconds, he was through the portal that glinted with sparks of light when he entered it, every cell of his body shifting to a new form, before he was thrown back through again.
Changed. To a wolf.
He stretched and blinked, his keen senses honed to a deadly sharpness. He lifted his muzzle to catch the faint breeze, testing, hungry for distraction. The arid landscape was enhanced with his new vision, mutated to an array of shades unknown to the human eye. Subtle hues of blacks, browns and grays. Movements of tiny creatures caught his attention before he caught the scent of a big horn sheep.
He led the chase, his big paws closing the distance in leaps and bounds. It was good to be wolf. So good that he allowed himself the luxury of a resounding howl of wolf song, meant to tighten the senses of all creatures of the desert.
“You’ll frighten our prey away.”
He didn’t like the reminder. Sure, he was spontaneous at times, but it beat taking too long to make a decision—one of Alessandro’s characteristics that could bite them in the ass one day if he hesitated at the wrong moment.
“There will be lots of others, bro. Stand down.”
He used his powerful body to give his sibling a solid nudge on the upper shoulder. Alessandro hit back, harder than he had.
“Bring it on.” Sibling rivalry helped keep them in top physical form and he was more than ready for the challenge.
Their hard bodies twisted and slammed together with a loud resounding thud, both of them hitting the hard-packed sand as one snarling, swirling mass of limbs and fur. He fought hard, looking for an opening. All he needed was a slight pause in the action where he could take his brother down. Make him submit. Seconds ticked by as each sought the advantage, strutting and sending out telepathic taunts.
“I have the bigger knot.”
“I have the most talented tongue.”
The wrestling match, fueled by the week’s limiting formal events, continued unabated for far longer than usual. Neither of them could win without doing the other harm. And that was not the point. But still they fought, past the time they should have stopped. The lust for a mate. That was at the base of this primal drive. Maximus sensed this even as he couldn’t stop himself from asserting his alpha pride over his brother’s.
His flanks shuddering with exhaustion, he locked his jaws onto the back of Alessandro’s neck to get him under control.
A long loud growl of warning caused him to break his hold in an instant. He tensed and peered into the darkness, legs bracing for combat with the intruder. Alessandro stood at his side, prepared as well to rise to the challenge. Over there, near a Joshua tree, a gleam of bright blue pin points—a third wolf. And behind him, other dark shadows appeared, eyes shining in the darkness, a solid line of danger.
“Recognize any of them?” Alessandro asked.
Maximus bristled, growling a warning deep inside his massive chest. The line of gray wolves descended closer toward the brothers, their huge paws closing the gap between them in a matter of seconds.
“Stand down. We need your help.”
Raising his muzzle to test the air, he recognized the scent of pack visiting for the wedding.
“What do you want?”
“We have a wolf-bit female. She’s dying. We come to implore you to redouble your efforts to find the chalice. To offer our help.”
He understood now which cousins he and Alessandro faced. The group from Los Angeles that normally kept to themselves, preferring to keep apart from the Vegas pack.
“We work alone.” No one wanted the artifact as badly as he and Alessandro. Not after what had happened—a devastating event that had torn them apart and was never to be spoken of again.
Low growls from the wolves opposite him followed his words, making the ruff bristle on his neck.
“We will share what we know.” Alessandro, ever the peacemaker, reassured the other pack.
“Good.” The largest of the wolves gave a nod of his huge head. “It’s too late for our female, but others may be saved. Come and see her. Tonight. Then you will know how bad it is.”
Yes, he knew all too well how bad it could be. A terrible sense of foreboding, like a living, evil presence that sucked up all the oxygen in the air, placed a cold hand on his heart. Fear of the worst thing that could happen.
The loss of a true mate can end a wolf…and turn them into a creature of death and destruction.