I'm not good at keeping secrets. So I've got to let a little bit of Running Wild slip before release day. Enjoy the first three chapters!
On paper, it looked simple. If I took this contract with the Alaska Bloodhounds, I’d die.
Seven years ago, my twin brother Stefan ran me out of out of my pack with one promise. Come back to Alaska, and we’ll do to you what you wouldn’t do to your best friend. Kill you. My brother didn’t make false promises.
Without a pack, I wasn’t a wolf anymore. I was just a football player. One with a bad knee who’d run out of choices.
The Bloodhounds were the only ones who offered me a contract after I tore my ACL. I was playing on borrowed time, and I couldn’t afford to make any mistakes. Cameras were everywhere—a brand new expansion team in the Continental Football Association meant a ton of press. Local guys, regular football reporters, and our very own reality show.
The Real Werewives of Alaska. The Bloodhounds were an all-shifter team, and someone thought it would be cute if they found us mates. Didn’t know how that was gonna work. As a wolf, I had one fated mate, and chances were pretty good she didn’t make it to the audition.
Once my brother found out I was here, I’d give the show plenty of drama.
These guys were solid. It was fucking surreal to be playing the game at this level, where everyone was the best of the best. I convinced myself the expansion draft was the leftovers and the losers, and I was a fucking moron. Every position had been filled to compliment the guys he’d be working most closely with. We’d been set up for success. Failure would be catastrophic.
I couldn’t fail these guys. Football was the only thing that worked for me.
“We’re running a fade route to Sebastian.” Landon Fox was a living legend. My brother and I used to fight about which one of us would pretend to be him when we played pick-up games. And now he was my quarterback. Shit like this was worth risking my life for. “Block the first guy and get off him. The defense will cover the receivers and you’ll get a lane. Keep an eye out for the ball.”
He clapped, signaling the end of the huddle. Everyone headed to their positions for the next play. It was a scrimmage, but we were all fighting for top billing. A chance at the starting lineup. I could not fuck this up.
Block, then get in the lane. I’d done it a thousand times.
Landon barked out the play. Everyone around me was moving at warp speed, and my feet were in concrete shoes. The players in the CFA were bigger and stronger than the guys I played against. I ran into a mountain of a man and attempted to keep him the hell away from my idol.
Get in the lane.
I couldn’t get off this guy. He matched every move I made. Landon called my name, begging me to get open. His voice kept getting louder as the lineman backed me into the quarterback.
I would’ve got half credit for the sack if I hadn’t knocked down my own guy.
“Sorry, man.” I held out my hand to help him up.
Landon didn’t take it. “Figured a pro knew how to fucking tackle.”
“Sebastian, get over here,” Coach yelled from the sideline. “Watch Landon run the play a couple times.”
Fuck. It took me exactly one series to relegate myself to bench warming status. The rumors were true, and I lost something after the injury. The game moved faster in the CFA, too fast for my excuses.
After practice, only a few guys were still in the locker room. Some of them were like me, their squirrelly eyes darting everywhere, afraid to leave and never be asked back. Then there was Landon Fox, who had no reason to worry about his job.
I headed to the gym; lifting weights would get my head straight, and give me a chance to end the day better than I began.
“Need a spotter?” I recognized that voice. It was the same one that barked my name before I got backed into him on the field. I almost dropped the weight when I turned around to find myself alone with Landon.
I’d never let him think he intimidated me. He might not be a wolf, but he was all alpha. Guys like that ate fear for breakfast. There was a reason I wore this guy’s shirt when I was a kid. I wanted to be like him in more ways than one. I’d been run out of Alaska once and I’d be damned if I let it happen again.
“I’d like that.” I racked the weight I was using and grabbed a heavier one. I lay down on the bench, Landon stood behind me. Even with the silver streaks in his hair, the guy was still impressive. The muscles strained underneath his shirt to conquer the iron. But this game wasn’t about strength or speed. It was about smarts.
“Let me know when you’re ready,” he said.
“I was born ready.”
I cursed under my breath as my muscles trembled. Not the time to show any weakness. Mind over matter. I’d been human too long, and with all these shifters around me, my wolf was begging to come out. My wolf hated weakness, and I pushed through the last rep.
“I watched your films,” Landon said as he racked the weight. “Not something I usually do for a rookie. I let you guys prove who you are on the field. What you did in college ball doesn’t mean shit in the pros. But Coach said you were special, and I wanted to see what the hype was about. I wanted to know what you could do. We need to have total trust in each other if we’re going to win games.”
“Film doesn’t mean shit. What happens on the field matters. I couldn’t block that guy.” I wrapped my hands around the bar again. “I deserved to be benched.”
“One bad play won’t kill your career. Unless you let it get in your head. You’ve got to set yourself up for success instead of expecting failure.”
“I’ve got no room for failure.” He had no idea what was on the line for me. Or that I was playing on borrowed time.
“None of us do. That doesn’t make you special. You’re part of this team now. We’re only as good as our weakest player.”
And today, that was me. “Won’t let it happen again.”
“I treat every guy in the locker room the same, no matter what people are saying about them.” Landon sat on the bench beside me. “There are a lot of people who are excited for you to be here. Coach is probably your biggest fan. But your confidence faded when he pulled you out. You’ve got real talent. Don’t let the other guys think they’ve got your number. The absolute best have terrible games. The ones that can come back are the ones who rise above it.”
If he dug deep enough on me, chances were good he knew what happened with my brother. “I’m not supposed to be here.”
He squinted in confusion. “What are you talking about?”
“My brother kicked me out of my pack. Said he’d kill me if I ever came back to Alaska.” I’d never said it out loud before. Just told everyone I wanted to concentrate on football. The only wolves who knew the truth were in a place I could never go back to. My home.
My wolf rumbled in approval. Been a long time since I heard from him.
“Guess that’s in my head a little bit,” I added when he didn’t say anything. I just told the guy I was a ticking time bomb.
“Give your all to this team, and you’ll get it back.” After all his time in the league, Landon couldn’t be a stranger to pack wars. “You fight for these guys, and they’ll fight for you.”
It had been a long time since anyone said they’d fight for me. “I’ll be better tomorrow.”
“You’re not starting at less than zero tomorrow because you had a shitty practice today. Same if you blow it out of the water. Every day, it’s a new game.”
He’s giving you a second chance, my wolf said, in case I was too thick-headed to get it.
Landon didn’t lead by fear and intimidation like my brother did. This was the kind of leader I wanted to be. A piece of me wanted my pack back. “Thanks for coming to talk to me. I needed to hear that.”
He grinned. “Get the fuck out of the gym, you’ve worked hard enough today. We’ve got a party to go to.”
“That’s right. The Real Werewives.” I’d been handed an itinerary by a smiling woman on the way into practice but I left it in my locker. I’d been considering skipping the party to focus on tomorrow’s practice, but Landon expected me there. “What’s your take on that?”
He offered his hand to help me off the bench. “Should be interesting. The team’s worried about having us so far away from home. They think we’ll be motivated to stay and play in Alaska for the long haul if they find us women.”
“Have you met any of them yet?” Some of the guys in the locker room had been interviewed by the show. Not me. They didn’t care about a rookie. Yet. But that worked to my advantage. The less my brother knew about my whereabouts, the better.
“Not yet. Looking forward to the party. I’ve always said the game is my mistress, but having a few pretty ladies fighting over me never hurts.”
“That’s for sure.” I laughed.
“You have no idea what you’re in for.” Landon grinned. “This isn’t a frat party. You’ll have more women fighting over you tonight than you know what to do with.”
My wolf growled. Fuck yes. “I’m not sure how it’s going to work. Wolves have fated mates.”
I wasn’t opposed to having a little fun, but there was no way any of these women could be forever.
“You’re not just a wolf, you’re a Bloodhound.” Landon smacked my shoulder. “But you’re more than football. Get your ass out of the gym and I’ll see you at the party tonight. You need a distraction.”
I missed my flight, which was completely embarrassing for someone who travelled for a living. All because I made the mistake of letting Mom drive me to the airport.
“I’m so excited,” she kept saying. “I can’t wait to see who you meet. Have you checked out the roster yet?”
There were certain sounds only dogs could hear. Others that only mothers could hear. Like my biological clock ticking. I’d just turned thirty and Mom feared I was at risk for spinsterhood. And that was how she tricked me into becoming a Real Werewife of Alaska.
There’s a new reality show filming in Alaska. You’ve always wanted to go there. Want me to put your name in? she said, neglecting to mention that the premise of the show was to find mates for a shapeshifting football team. I said yes, completely forgetting to question her motives. I ran a travel blog, Naomi Harts Travel, and I operated on a shoestring budget. Most of my adventures so far were day trips from my New Hampshire home, and places like Costa Rica during hurricane season when the rates were dirt cheap.
Alaska was a bucket list adventure for me, so I didn’t back out even when I realized I might get a souvenir with fangs. There had to be some way to get eliminated before I got stuck with some furry jock for the rest of my life.
“Nope. But I’ve checked out Holiday Falls, Juneau, all the barrier islands, and Anchorage. Should be able to do those as day trips. I’m so excited to see them in person.”
And even better, get to explore like a local. My aim was to take my readers on real adventures that were slightly offbeat. Like me.
“Behave yourself, Naomi,” Mom said as she dropped me off.
“What fun would that be?”
Now I was scrambling through the Holiday Falls airport, looking for the van that was supposed to pick me up and bring me to the Werewife Compound. That was really what they called it. I was out of breath by the time I got to the pickup area. And sweaty. That wasn’t supposed to happen in Alaska.
A perky blond woman waved a sign that read Welcome, Naomi Hart to the Real Werewives of Alaska! I was tempted to walk right by her, rent a car, and find a hotel for the night, but my credit cards were almost maxed out and I couldn’t run out of money before I got to see all the stuff I came for.
“I’m Tessa, the producer of the Real Werewives.” She gave me a stiff hug that I wasn’t ready to reciprocate. “You’re just in time. The welcome party is about to start.”
“It is?” I climbed into the van, greeted by women in tiny dresses and big hair. I looked like someone used my ponytail to clean the plane and I was in sweatpants. “I’ll have time to get ready first, right?”
I hadn’t even shaved my legs.
“We can’t rearrange the whole schedule for you because you’re late.” A girl with bubble gum lips snapped at me. “Didn’t you read the itinerary?”
Hell no. The contract was still in my to-be-read pile. “Thought I’d have a minute to get settled.”
“Don’t pay attention to Lulu. She just wants first dibs on all the hot shifters.” The woman next to me gave me an apologetic smile. “I’m Delilah.”
She looked to be a little older than me, but pin-up girl stunning with her dark hair piled on top of her head. Mom had me convinced I’d be the oldest Werewife on the show.
“Nice to meet you.” Fuck, I was so out of my league. I hadn’t even packed a dress close to what these ladies were wearing. I thought Alaska was too cold for that.
“Sorry to put you on the spot, Naomi, but we’ve got to get your confessional before the party starts.” Tessa blinded me with a light.
“What the hell is that?” It was like a police officer shining his flashlight in my face. At least with the law, I had a chance of talking my way out of trouble. There was no hope of that with the Real Werewives.
“It’s the camera. After a few days, you’ll forget it’s even around.” Her hand appeared in front of the light. “Can you clip that onto your jacket? It’s a little microphone. You’ll get used to having that, too.”
“Anything you say can be used against you,” Delilah muttered as I clipped the microphone to my jacket. I couldn’t imagine where the rest of the Werewives stuck their microphones.
“First thing you need to know is that the audience will never hear my questions. Make sure you repeat the question back in your answer,” Tessa said. “Ready?”
Oh, this was going to be fun. “Never been readier.”
“What kind of guy are you hoping to meet at the party tonight?”
All eyes in the van were fixed on me—except for the driver, of course. I licked my travel-chapped lips and gave the camera my best smile. This wasn’t any different than filming for the blog, I reminded myself. My readers liked it when I kept things real. My main goal for being on the Real Werewives was to get my own travel show, but I couldn’t tell them that.
“I’m hoping to meet the guy with the hors d’ oeuvres platter. All I’ve had since I left New Hampshire is a bag of peanuts and I’m starving.”
“Thanks for your honest answer.” Tessa shut the camera off. I was expecting more than one question, but apparently she didn’t share my sense of humor. Whatever. I wasn’t everyone’s favorite flavor. If I couldn’t manage to get myself eliminated, I could probably get the camera crew to avoid me like the plague.
But I could probably manage to get myself eliminated.
The party was at the Alaska Bloodhounds’ practice facility. Kind of an odd choice, and I expected it to smell like the inside of a used jockstrap. Which would actually work in my favor, since I hadn’t had a chance to rinse away my travel funk. No one would be able to pin it on me. But luck hadn’t been my strong suit since I landed in Alaska, and the facility was way more elegant than it looked from the outside. Pounding bass sucked us into a dark room rimmed with couches and plenty of hidden corners.
We weren’t the only van full of Werewives, and all the ladies scattered as soon as they entered the room. I never went to parties if I didn’t know anyone. If I didn’t have my sweatpants tucked into my fuzzy boots and a freaking hoodie on, I would’ve tried to stick to Delilah. She seemed like she could be an ally. But I couldn’t even play wing woman tonight. I wouldn’t hurt her chances at finding true love because she got saddled with the girl who looked like she just rolled out of bed. With a hangover.
It was a long season, and from what I understood, I was stuck here for all of it. After my confessional, Tessa explained that they wanted us to meet a variety of guys so we could see who we hit it off best with. I could do that. One-night stands were my specialty. It usually guaranteed no second date.
I was in a committed relationship with my blog and had no plans of changing my status.
The room was full of gorgeous men and promise. Shifter or not, everyone was on the prowl. We had shifters in New Hampshire, but they lived up north in the mountains and kept to themselves. This was the closest I’d ever been to one. I bumped into a couple guys, all in tuxes. They were huge, and I wouldn’t want to tangle with them on a football field.
But between the sheets? Absolutely. I wasn’t a little girl, but a guy like that could throw me around without thinking twice. Yes, please. But none of them were going to give me a second look tonight, which was fine. I was starving and exhausted and would probably say something epically stupid with a camera in my face.
I wouldn’t even get to practice my cheesy lines on a waiter, because they’d put all the food on a buffet table. There wasn’t much, and I was going to get real friendly with the pizza guy if this was how they fed us. I popped a scallop wrapped in bacon in my mouth and made a beeline for the punch bowl. I filled my glass and downed it in one swig. My only regret was that I’d taken the last of it.
“The punch bowl’s empty.” The most beautiful man I’d laid eyes on since I walked in the room stood next to me, empty cup in hand. His dark hair was cropped close to his head, except on top where he hadn’t bothered to tame his unruly curls. He blew one of them out of his eyes. It had to be the flashing lights, or jet lag, but I’d swear they glowed. They were like honey, and I wanted to lick it from my fingers.
What the hell did they put in that punch?
“I swear, I didn’t drink it all.” I held my hands up, still clutching my own empty plastic cup.
He cocked his head and crossed his thick arms against his chest. He was the only guy in the room not wearing a tux. Instead he had a black button-down shirt and jeans. He wasn’t that much taller than me, and not an inch of him had been wasted. “They let you do that?” he said.
“Do what? They haven’t told me all the rules yet.” And there seemed to be a lot of them.
“Drink on the job.” He motioned to Tessa, who managed to zero in on us. Now would be a great time to tell me those rules, Tessa. I glanced over at her, but she waved her hand to say keep going.
“Isn’t that the point? To get us loaded enough to get into bed with a football player we’ve just met?”
“Naomi,” Tessa sighed. Apparently that was against the rules.
He raised his eyebrows. “You’re one of the Werewives? I thought you were crew.”
“I missed my flight.” I shrugged, looking down at my glorified pajamas. “Not that it makes that much of a difference. I would’ve just worn my good jeans. Probably would’ve brushed my hair before I came.”
Truth in advertising never hurt.
He grinned. “You look great.”
“Liar.” I wished there was more of that punch. “I’ll let you get back to the party. And I’ll make sure someone attends to the punch situation. We can’t let emergencies like that go for too long.”
“No we can’t.” He put his cup down on the table and turned back to me. “I’m Sebastian. I play running back. What’s your name?”
“Naomi.” I accepted his handshake. His fingers were rough, sure, and strong around mine. That bright gaze locked me in. Tessa was right. It was possible to forget all about the cameras.
You’re my mate.
My wolf hadn’t been so close to the surface of my skin in years. He howled inside me as soon as I laid eyes on this woman. Naomi. Damn it, wolf, not now. I’d been looking forward to a night full of pretty women everywhere I looked. Just because I didn’t plan to find my mate didn’t mean I couldn’t enjoy the attention.
Problem was, I couldn’t afford to be distracted. I had no plans of staying in Alaska past this season. If I made it that long. Still couldn’t get that sack at practice today out of my head, but I had bigger problems than football. Like my brother, and a pack that told me not to let the door hit my ass on the way out. Yeah, a Werewife was the last thing I needed.
But damn if this woman with the ponytail and the sweatpants didn’t have my wolf wagging his tail. I expected him to go for the tits and ass, www.porn-hd.xxx -esque girls that were everywhere in the room. This wasn’t the type of woman who chased after football players. “What made you want to be a Werewife, Naomi?”
Pink hair escaped her ponytail, but it only made her blue eyes shine brighter in this dark room. There was trouble written all over this woman. I certainly didn’t need more of that. She bit her lip. “Is this like the confessional room? I haven’t been there yet.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Naomi put her hands on her hips and glared at the camerawoman. She played it up for the camera, and I waited for her to give it hell. “You mean no one stuck a camera in your face and asked you what kind of woman you hoped to meet at the party?”
“Nope.” And I would’ve never guessed it was someone like her.
“There’s a double standard for you,” she huffed, giving me a devilish grin. The right kind of trouble, my wolf said. “To answer your question, I’m a travel blogger. My blog is Naomi Harts Travel. I’d never been to Alaska before, and I thought this was the perfect opportunity to expand my horizons.”
No mention of a man. Interesting. “Maybe I can help you out with that. I’m from Alaska.”
Fuck. I should’ve never said that on camera. My wolf had no intention of letting this woman out of its grip, and I couldn’t risk putting her in danger. There was no telling what my brother would do when he found out I was here. Last time he asked me to kill my best friend to prove my loyalty. A mate was a whole different ballgame.
You just met this woman, I reminded my wolf. No need to get all alpha male on her ass. I wondered what her ass looked like under those sweats. The curves of her body. My wolf needed to cool it. She had an agenda for being on the show that had nothing to do with finding a mate. Maybe it was wise to hang out with her, to keep the all the potential Werewives safe from my brother’s wrath.
Because she’s your mate, fool, my wolf growled. That’s why it’s a good idea to hang out with her.
Naomi waved her hand in front of my face. “Did you hear me? I said I’d love a tour guide.”
“Tuesdays are our days off. But I can give you some ideas of places you should check out.” We were still standing in front of the empty punch bowl. “Want to sit down?”
Naomi nodded and I took her hand again. It was little in mine, and I liked the way she squeezed it.
A woman in a fishnet mini dress didn’t get out of our way when we passed. She hooked her arm around mine, coming between me and Naomi. “Can I steal you for a minute?” she asked.
My wolf snapped at her. My brother wasn’t the only predator I had to worry about.
Naomi glared at her. “Go away, Lulu.”
But my wolf liked that. A lot.
“I didn’t want you to think you were stuck with the first person you talked to all night.” Lulu’s lips moved against my ear, the tip of her tongue making contact with my skin. “You’re supposed to mingle. Have some fun.”
“I am having fun.” I slipped out of her grip and took Naomi’s hand again. “Why don’t you go mingle?”
The woman turned on her heel and stomped off.
“She got lipstick on your ear.” Naomi reached up and rubbed it off. Damn, that felt good. Better than the drive-by tongue kiss. “So now you can say you’ve had the pleasure of meeting Lulu. I think she’s one of my housemates.”
The couches were mostly full. My wolf vision was back, and this woman had me dangerously close to shifting. I thought when I lost my pack I’d forfeited the chance to find my mate. But Naomi proved that theory was bullshit. Or it was the energy in the room, thick with lust. All that was visible on most of the couches were tangled limbs.
Naomi shrugged as she sat on an empty couch. “I can put up with almost anything for a little while. I figure I’ll probably be the first to be eliminated, anyway.”
No. “Why’s that?”
“Look around. I’m not cut out for this. I couldn’t be rolling around on one of these couches like the other women. I didn’t even shave my legs.” She clapped her hand over her mouth. “Forget I said that. But seriously. I’ve spent so long trying not to have a boyfriend, I don’t remember how to get one.”
Interesting. “Then why did you agree to come on the show? Besides the blogging thing.”
She rolled her eyes. “My mother tricked me into it. She’s forever trying to set me up. With the guy at the bank, her yoga teacher, and the guy she bought her car from. Used. So I saw her challenge, and I upped the ante. I brought home the president of a local motorcycle club and a garbage collector. In his defense, he was a really nice guy, but we couldn’t the smell out of the couch for like a week.”
This woman was too much. “What’s she gonna say about you bringing home a wolf?”
“All the better to bite you with. She actually said that.” A waiter appeared with a tray of drinks and Naomi downed hers in one gulp. “Do wolves actually bite people?”
My mouth watered at the thought of it. I waved off the waiter. My wolf was too unpredictable tonight and I needed to have my wits about me. “We mark our mates.”
“Oh.” Her eyebrows raised, and she shifted beside me. Don’t scare her away, wolf. “So why did you agree to come on the show?”
“I got drafted by the Bloodhounds. I’m just here to play football.” I wouldn’t tell her this was the last place on earth I wanted to be. I had to protect her from my past as long as I could. My wolf had been dormant for the last seven years and it was possible he didn’t know what the fuck he was talking about.
Not a chance.
“Your family must be thrilled that you’re back,” she said.
“I don’t have any family anymore.” It wasn’t exactly a lie. But it was easier than the truth.
“I’m sorry to hear that.” She frowned, and I willed her to touch me. To reach over and put her hand on mine again. I couldn’t make that move. She was still ready to jump out of her skin over the marked mate thing. She was skittish, and not interested in what I wanted to offer her. Forever.
It fucking sounded crazy to me.
“But on the bright side, at least no one can trick you into an arranged marriage on a reality show.” The corners of her mouth quivered as she fought her smile. “So you won’t have to get yourself eliminated from the team to avoid it.”
“Haven’t made the team yet.” Especially after today’s practice. Nothing was guaranteed.
“I think you’ll be sticking around.” She nudged me. Yes, my wolf rumbled. It worked.
“What makes you think that? You a big football fan?”
“I know enough not to make a fool out of myself.” She flipped her ponytail off her shoulder. “But sometimes, I just know things. And I think you’re going to be a star.”
“Oh yeah?” If only she could get her to talk to Coach. “Well, I think you’re going to be sticking around for a while, too.”
She shook her head. “I’m on the first train to eliminationville.”
“No way.” Not if my wolf had anything to do with it. “I think you’re going to be a star, too.”
“What gives you that idea?”
Because you’re my mate.
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