In Heat: A Werewolf Romance
In Heat will be hitting Amazon on Tuesday, June 19. This book has gone through several upheavals since it was first published in 2010 as Possession, and little more than barely disguised fanfiction. I was fresh out of fandom at that time and trying to establish my voice independent of Whedon’s, and it didn’t take. The book was republished in 2012 as Insatiable Heat after undergoing a massive makeover that managed to strip out the lingering fandom fingerprints.
There was a lot of potential with that book, but it stalled when shit hit the fan at Ellora’s Cave. I received the rights back in 2015, and have sat on the book ever since. I wanted to expand it. I was also interested in unifying it with another universe. It took two years to actually put these plans into motion, but I am pleased to say that the book is ready to debut. It consists of nearly half of new content, and I have never been happier with it.
A couple things, though. My hero, Zeth, is an alphahole. His original incarnation and portrayal were downright disgusting (some characters don’t translate well out of fandom, though I still love the character he was based on). While I tamed him considerably, I’m expecting some readers to hate him. There is also significant non-con in the story (similar to the non-con in Captive, in that neither the hero nor the heroine is in control). I advise anyone not comfortable with either of these things to skip it. There will be more books in this universe, but all will be written as stand-alones.
WARNING: Contains non-consensual themes with an alpha hero with a runaway mouth, a feisty reporter with a monster vendetta, magic-induced sex that neither of them asked for, lots of snark and the horror of falling for the enemy.
Tabloid reporter Reegan Pritchett hates her job, but writing about fake hauntings and satanic rituals is the easiest way to keep tabs on the paranormal world. And if she ever wants to find the werewolf who murdered her best friend, she has to follow every lead, no matter how bogus.
Private Investigator Zeth McDowell’s life comes down to three things: making money, chasing tail, and looking good. While he’s not a “pack” werewolf, he’s fiercely loyal to his kind, and nothing infuriates him more than a bad wolf who escaped punishment. Lone wolves face enough stigma without the help.
When an assignment brings Reegan to his office, Zeth reacts on a primal level. Never has his wolf fixated on a woman. Trouble is, she seems to hate him, but that doesn’t stop him from wanting to peel off her clothes.
To Reegan, Zeth is a means to an end. But when the story she’s working on ends up involving conspiracy and witchcraft, she must rely on him to stop a dangerous spell. One that makes it impossible for either of them to keep their hands off each other. No matter how hard they try.
“So, I take it you got the assignment?”
Reegan glanced up, meeting the twinkling eyes of her work husband. “Cows,” she said. “Higgins wants me to investigate a bunch of cows.”
“Are the cows doing anything interesting?”
“Well, they’re dying.”
Colin arched an eyebrow. “I hear cows do that on occasion.”
“As in being slaughtered.”
“But by people who aren’t the farmers.”
“And you’re sad because…? Sounds like it could be a werewolf to me.”
Reegan aimed a glare at him, not surprised but still annoyed when he grinned unrepentantly. Colin might be her work husband—and pretty much her only friend at the offices of All the Above, Missouri’s number one aggregator of supernatural bullshit—but he could be such an ass.
For the millionth time, she wished she could hop into a Delorean and stop herself before she’d spilled the beans about her werewolf fixation. It had provided Colin with nothing but a steady stream of ready jabs.
Colin shrugged, leaning back in his desk chair and tapping a pen against his chin. “What? Wolves are carnivores, aren’t they? Bunch of cows would be like a steak buffet to them.”
“This isn’t a werewolf.” This she said more out of self-preservation than anything else. In truth, Reegan wouldn’t write anything off until she arrived at the scene and talked to the locals. Until she found the werewolf she was after, no leaf would go unturned.
Still, if she let on that she viewed this assignment as anything other than a colossal waste of time, the ribbing from Colin would be nonstop.
“I know,” he replied dryly. “They’d have to exist for that to be the case.”
Reegan aimed another scowl at him before walking to her desk—the desk that was pressed tight against his in the cubicle they shared. She was against the wall, of course. Colin had somehow convinced her to allow him the end nearest the escape route.
“Whatever it is,” Reegan said a moment later, “there have been sightings in that area. Funky lights in the sky, unexplained animal noises—”
“If you know they’re animal noises, then they’re not exactly unexplained, are they?”
“You know what I mean.”
Colin shook his head. “I hardly ever know what you mean when it comes to stuff like this.”
She released a long, put-upon sigh. “Three years and I still don’t know why you work here.”
He shrugged. “I get paid to be creative.”
“And sell what you think is bullshit to people who believe it’s not.”
“Yeah, but the people who read it and believe it are already the converted.”
“When it comes to morally gray reasoning, I maintain that you get a gold medal in mental gymnastics.”
“Only gold medal I’ve ever won.” Colin tilted his head, narrowing his brown eyes behind his glasses and a bit of his untamable brown hair sweeping across his forehead. “So,” he said, “if you don’t think it’s a werewolf…”
He was using his peacemaker tone, which meant he likely knew he’d walked the fine line between playful jabbing and all-out douchery. It was a line he knew intimately.
Reegan considered him for a moment, then shrugged. “Honestly? Probably a couple of high school kids. The reports are all over the place. Weird lights and animal sounds typically don’t go together in a bona fide sighting. And…” She plucked her notes off her desk and squinted at them. “I forgot this. Pentagrams have been discovered carved into trees near the cow slaughters. It’s like whoever’s doing this can’t decide if they want to be aliens, Big Foot, or Satanists.”
At that, Colin’s face fell and he pouted. “That’s not fair.”
“You get to link all of that into your story? A Satanist alien teams up with a yeti?” He shook his head. “Now that would be fun to write.”
At this, Reegan smirked. That was the thing about being a believer—though not in everything she reported on in All the Above. In fact, she was more than aware that the bulk of her job was weaving pieces of the story together in a convincing narrative, using just enough of the truth to make it believable while embellishing the rest to comic proportions.
But actually believing in things like werewolves definitely gave her an edge in Higgins’s eyes. It provided more credibility in what she wrote, he said, because she was speaking to her own people. The jury was out on whether or not that was a compliment.
“Well,” she said at length, flashing him an obnoxious grin, “that’s what you get for being an ass.”
“Words hurt, you know.” Colin gave a put-upon sigh, then checked his watch and grinned. It was a move so subtle someone who didn’t know him well might have missed it. But Reegan did know him, and that grin gave her the right ammunition to change the subject before he circled back around to being such an ass that the only recourse was to strangle him.
He nodded, looking up. “Sera will be here in a few.”
“You going to tell her today?”
“Tell her what?”
“That you’re in love with her?”
The grin faded abruptly, taking with it the light that had filled Colin’s eyes. “I’m not in love with her.”
“You’re not fooling anyone, you know.”
“You broke up with Harlee because of her.”
“I broke up with Harlee because that relationship was going nowhere.”
“Because you’re secretly in love with Sera. Only it’s not so much a secret as it is incredibly obvious.”
“Friend. Right. But you wish you could be orgasm friends.”
Colin glowered, and though he was the more experienced nuisance between them, Reegan couldn’t say she didn’t deserve it. But hell, it was obvious to anyone who saw Colin and his BFF together that he was hopelessly in love with her and had been ever since Reegan had known him. Even when he’d been in a somewhat serious relationship with another woman… Well, that relationship had been doomed from the start, which was a shame since Harlee had been a peach. Hell, she might have ended up being Mrs. Pain in Reegan’s Ass if it weren’t for Sera.
“You better get this out of your system before she gets here,” Colin said at last.
Reegan offered an unrepentant shrug. “I always do. But seriously, you should really—”
“We’re not having this conversation.”
She released a long, put-upon sigh but dropped the subject. It was a shame, though. Colin and Sera were completely perfect for each other. And who knew? Maybe they would When Harry Met Sally their way to an actual relationship someday.
“Well,” Reegan said at length, “don’t be surprised if I’m not here when you two get back. I’m heading out to Springdale this afternoon and if all goes well, I’ll be there for the rest of the afternoon.”
“Looking for Sasquatch?”
“Or whatever killed the cows.”
“Well, let me know if you need any help.”
Reegan arched an eyebrow. “Help?”
“Yeah. Linking the cow killings and the wacky lights and the animal sounds together.” He threw her a grin. “I know how hard it is for you to think outside the werewolf-shaped box.”
She rolled her eyes, leaned back in her chair, and turned her attention to her computer. “Ass.”
“Who’s an ass?” asked a familiar voice.
Reegan looked up in time to see the unrequited love of Colin’s life enter the bullpen, looking fabulous in an effortless way that would have been easy to hate had Sera not been one of Reegan’s favorite people. Sera had long red hair that she seldom put up; apparently, unlike other lesser mortals, she was immune to wind and exertion, because said hair never ceased to look amazing. Like she might have walked off a Hollywood set. That combined with the dressed-up casual look she was rocking… Yeah, it would have been easy to hate Sera.
Reegan shot her grin. “You’re seriously asking? Who do you think?”
“Good point,” Sera said, hitching her purse higher on her shoulder. She aimed a glare at Colin. “You’re an ass?”
“Why do you assume that?”
“Lots of experience.”
Colin smirked and rose to his feet. “Higgins has Reegan on the story of the century.” He raised his hands and wiggled his fingers. “Cow massacre.”
Sera frowned and turned to Reegan. “The ones out by Springdale?”
Reegan blinked. “You’ve heard of this?”
“I hear everything.”
That she could believe. For someone who wasn’t in the field of crackpot journalism—and didn’t seem all that interested in the topic—Sera did seem to know a little about pretty much everything that happened in the area, from the tragically mundane to the downright bizarre. Reegan had relied on her more than once for background information on the pieces she submitted for publication.
Or just elaborate bullshitting. Sera was good at that too—even better than Colin—and Higgins didn’t much care either way. As long as the tabloid sold copies, he encouraged people to make up as much nonsense as they could. Colin’s best friend just happened to be rather talented at creating nonsense details.
“I don’t suppose you heard anything about this that might scream werewolf, have you?” Colin asked Sera, but made sure to send Reegan a smug, self-satisfied look.
Sera snorted and rolled her eyes. “So that’s how you’re being an ass.”
He answered with his best who me? grin.
Sera smacked him upside the head and turned back to Reegan. “Are you going up there?”
“Yeah. Gonna grab some lunch and hit the road.”
“Well, don’t get your hopes up too much. Springdale people are a little weird.”
“Cow slaughtering weird?” Colin offered. “You know, for reasons other than steak and hamburger meat.”
Sera didn’t bother acknowledging him, rather kept her gaze on Reegan. “Have you ever done a story on that area before?”
“Nope. This is a first.”
“Well, don’t be surprised if you don’t get very far with the locals. They’re oddly superstitious. Which is totally weird because they plan everything around Whistler’s.”
Whistler’s World of Wondrous Wonders was the annual carnival known for both its regular fair-type attractions as well as its collection of occult objects. When it came to the area, Higgins pretty much mandated that all pieces for the month be centered around mysterious happenings regarding various attractions. Or so that was the office gossip. Having only joined the team at All the Above after the previous year’s carnival, Reegan had yet to experience this firsthand.
Springdale, a larger city than Highfield, was the carnival’s dedicated home in this corner of Missouri. The city’s population advantage plus the fanaticism surrounding Whistler’s was an odd combination if the locals were as superstitious as Sera indicated. It was typically smaller places that slammed doors in Reegan’s face when she came sniffing around for an interview.
“That’s a good point,” Colin was saying when Reegan tuned back into the conversation. “It’s probably a publicity stunt. Get everyone amped for next month.”
Sera shrugged. “Could be. Who knows?” She looked back to Reegan. “Anyhoo, I have a client who could help if you find yourself talking to one too many slammed doors. He owes me a favor so let me know if you need me to cash that in for you.”
Colin looked at her. “Which client is this?”
“Zeth McDowell.” An exaggerated, however dreamy smile spread across Sera’s lips. “His code name is Mr. Man Candy.”
Reegan experienced a jolt of sympathy pain at the scowl that seized Colin’s face.
“He’s a client?” she asked.
“Yeah. We do small stuff for him, mostly. Business cards, the occasional press release, and website updates.” Sera paused. “He’s a PI, though seriously, the man could be a male pinup model on the side if he needed some extra cash. And he’s hella smart too. From what I hear, he can get people to talk like it’s nobody’s business.”
“And he walks on water in his spare time,” Colin mumbled.
Sera smacked him upside the head again. “What’s your problem?”
“I just think it’s unprofessional,” he said, rubbing the back of his head, his scowl deepening. “You shouldn’t ogle your clients.”
Reegan had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from smiling. Honestly, if Colin thought he was fooling anyone, he was seriously deluded.
“Looking is allowed. Touching is not.” Sera rolled her eyes and shifted back to Reegan. “Just let me know and I’ll give you Zeth’s number.”
“Can’t she just find it written on the wall in the girl’s bathroom?”
“All right,” Sera said, raising her hands. “Let’s go. I forget how cranky you get when you’re hungry.”
Colin snorted and pushed back his chair. He met Reegan’s eyes fleetingly but looked away almost at once, his cheeks coloring.
Yeah. The boy had it bad. Real bad. And it likely wasn’t very sporting of her to point it out as she had earlier.
Yet given that he couldn’t seem to stop giving her shit for werewolves, even knowing her reasons, made the guilt a bit more bearable.
“Have a good lunch, you two,” Reegan said, likewise rising from her seat. “I’ll be knee-deep in dead cow for the rest of the afternoon.”
Sera nodded. “Some girls have all the fun. Good luck.”
Something told her she was going to need it.
* * * * *
You know what they say. The eleventh time’s the charm.
Reegan snorted and shook her head, eying the walkway that would take her to the next stop on her list. The last stop, actually, because she figured she’d made a good effort on her own—good enough, at least, to justify to Higgins the need for additional help. Because holy cow, Sera hadn’t been kidding. The folks in Springdale didn’t want to talk. The moment the word reporter left her lips, the insults would fly and the door would slam.
It was so different than Highfield, which made zero sense to Reegan’s modern line of thinking. Small towns were the ones that didn’t trust, that refused to talk, that made with the threats when someone unwanted came snooping around their business. Especially if the purpose was a trashy tabloid like All the Above. But no, for whatever reason, Highfield was proud of the paper. Hell, there had even been several petitions from locals to include that their town was home to the tabloid on the welcome signs.
Reegan drew in a deep breath, then shook her head. “Let’s get this over with,” she muttered, seizing her trusty and—today—unused notepad from its place of honor on the passenger seat. There was no point in taking it, of course, but the part of her that was superstitious warned that not taking it would be a mistake. Knowing her luck, she’d get someone to consent to an interview the second she left her notepad behind.
Granted, there was always the recording app on her phone, but people tended to be more skittish around technology. With the Springdale folk, she needed to start slow.
Reegan gave herself one last look in the rearview mirror. Makeup was not as perfect as it had been that morning, but more or less in place. Her hair had seen better days—she couldn’t pull off the effortless chic look that Sera seemed to have patented—but it also wasn’t a lost cause.
But yeah, totally throwing in the towel after this.
After she’d stalled to the point of obnoxiousness, she sighed, stepped out of her car, and maneuvered up the walkway toward the front door of stop number eleven.
She knocked and counted to ten. Then she mentally rehearsed her opening line and counted to ten again.
Just when she was ready to call it quits, the unmistakable rattle of a security latch sliding open tickled her ears. Reegan perked, straightened her shoulders, and plastered on her megawatt smile that had, today, proven about as effective as a punch to the face.
The door opened, revealing a young woman who, in proper lighting, was probably what the boys called a looker, with long black hair and bright blue eyes. She peered at Reegan as others might peer at moldy bread and, rather than say anything in greeting, waited.
Yeah, this wasn’t going to go well.
“Hi. My name is Reegan Pritchett. I’m a reporter from All the—”
Cue door slam.
Reegan dropped her shoulders, releasing a long groan that turned into a sigh. She waited for a moment—though for what, she had no idea—before forcing her feet to turn back toward her vehicle.
Once she was behind the wheel again, she reached for her phone. A promise was a promise, even if it was one to herself.
She opened her text messages and selected the thread she had going with Sera.
Reegan: You have the man-candy’s number handy?
She didn’t have to wait long for a response.
Sera: #2 in my speed-dial, baby.
Sera: No, of course not. He’s a client. What’s wrong with you?
Reegan blinked at the screen, unsure of what to say.
Thankfully, she didn’t have to come up with anything.
Sera: Colin says I need to tell you that was a joke. But yes, I have Mr. Man Candy’s digits.
She grinned, then released a long breath. When the next text came, she copied the number and saved it to her contacts under the name Sera had given him.
Even if this assignment ended up being the wildest of the goose chases her boss had sent her on, at least she had pretty scenery to look forward to.