bonnie vanak

The Empath

The Empath

December 2007
Silhouette Nocturne
ISBN-10: 0-373-61777-1
ISBN-13: 978-0-373-61777-7

Nicolas was the strongest and fiercest of the Draicon, until he was banished for a trumped-up crime.

Now the werewolf has only one path to redemption: find the Draicon's long-lost empath, the woman who will save the pack--and Nicolas himself--from terrible danger.

Maggie Sinclair is a veterinarian, dedicated to healing. She has no idea of her true nature, the magic waiting in her soul--or the man coming to claim her.

The survival of their pack depends on them finding each other, on their ability to become one. But their enemies have also found Maggie, and will kill to stop her awakening to an all-consuming passion...

Reviews : Excerpt

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"Bonnie Vanak's wonderful, fast-paced tale, successfully sets the backdrop for two new warring races of paranormal creatures." —RT BookClub, 4 stars

The Empath

"Nicolas is a powerful warrior and the male Beta of his lycanthropic family. He is tough as nails, but an outcast for breaking pack laws. But to Nicolas these things don't matter as long as he finds the one person that can possibly cure his packs alpha male. Maggie has always sought her answers under a microscope. Trading one night of work for fun and relaxation throws Maggie right into Nicolas's path. Male DNA has never looked so gorgeous up close and in the flesh!

Nicolas must quickly convince Maggie of her true identity and must persuade her to accept her fate as the foretold legend of their people and as Nicolas's true mate. Their enemies, the Morphs, are relentless in their pursuit of Maggie and would like nothing better than to eliminate the packs only hope. Vowing never to use violence can Maggie embrace and release the raging beast that lies dormant within her? Will Nicolas wholly give himself to his mate to ensue the exchange of power and physical bonding during their delicate ritual of mating?

Being the first book this reviewer has read by Ms. Vanak, THE EMPATH is a remarkably sensational and highly entertaining story that prompted this reader to hang on for a worthwhile ride. From the moment we meet the sexy and mouth watering Nicolas complimented by the lovely and tender Maggie you cannot help but cheer and sympathize with these two characters along their path of pain, love and discovery.

Paranormal readers take notice! Ms. Vanak's THE EMPATH is a force to be reckoned with as this author has concocted a smooth and sensual story guaranteed to please readers longing for strong characters intertwined with magical and mystical beings. This story is a recommended read and I will definitely be looking for other releases by Ms. Vanak!"
Night Owl Romance, Little Sunshine Reviewer 5/5

"Great paranormal romantic suspense fantasy! Fans will appreciate Bonnie Vanak's engaging thriller as her world is a dangerous place to live, let alone fall in love."
Harriet Klausner




Copyright 2007 Bonnie Vanak

Death with fangs and long talons stalked him.

The enemy hunted him. Nicolas, the powerful warrior. The pack’s best fighter. The ostracized.

Nicolas Keenan lifted his muzzle, sniffed the wind. Caught his pack leader’s scent marking a nearby oak tree. His Wolf form stiffened with longing. Pack. Home. Family.

Family no more. Even though he continued to quietly patrol their territory, protecting his people. Even though his loyalty would never die.

He was Draicon, werewolves who once used their magick to learn of the earth and its wonders. Now, hunted by the more powerful Morphs, they used their powers in a desperate attempt to survive.

Morphs. The very word made his hackles rise. They had been Draicon like him. Draicon who willingly embraced evil, entering the ranks of the Morphs by killing one of their own. Nicolas had spent nearly his whole life destroying Morphs. When some in his pack turned, he’d been forced to kill them as well.

He would always be Draicon, Nicolas silently promised, remembering the tiny mark at his neck. He would never surrender to the Morph’s alluring power.

A cooling breeze shifted, rustling the leaves and chilling the air. In this part of northern New Mexico, fall draped the trees in vivid colors. Thirty minutes ago, after he’d left his ranch to take a walk in the woods, he’d sensed danger. The familiar warrior instinct surfaced. He’d shifted to lure the enemy away from the pack’s homes and hearths.

New scents filled his nostrils. He went absolutely still, smelling evil.

Nicolas caught a faint whiff of rotting seaweed mixed with raw sewage. Enemy. Danger.

Ah Maggie, what am I dragging you into? What if they find you as well?

He reached out, silently slipped into her thoughts. Mitosis. Carcinogenic cells. She was studying a sample under the microscope. He slipped out, not wanting to jar her concentration. Margaret, the pack’s long-lost empath. The Draicon foretold to destroy the Morph leader, she was the pack’s last hope and Nicolas’s destined mate. She was safe. For now.

In the branches of a sprawling oak, a brown-draped deer blind sat cloaked from view. A pale of moonlight dappled dying oak and maple leaves with silver. Dead undergrowth soaked in the evening dew. In the distance, a doe crashed through brush. His ears pricked forward.

They were coming. Once solitary, the enemy had combined their numbers. Nicolas didn’t dare shift. Not now. His Change left trace elements of magick, clear as muddied paw prints to his enemies.

Standing still, he inhaled the air. The scent grew fainter. A new smell filled his senses. Body odor. Fake deer scent. Stale beer. Humans. Loud, obnoxious voices crashed through the woods.

“There! Did you see that wolf? Let’s get him!”

The humans who had spotted him earlier had taken chase. Out to bag anything tonight. Such as Wolf de la Nicolas.

No choice now. Had to risk it. Nicolas shifted, muscles bulging, stretching, bones lengthening. Fur melted away. Wolfskin vanished, replaced by bronzed human flesh.

Naked man meets eager hunters with loaded rifles. Not good. He dove for the rotting tree trunk and the clothing stockpiled beneath the sprawling roots. Damian had laid similar caches all over pack territory for emergencies like this. He dressed, grabbed the whiskey bottle, gave a liberal splash over his bright orange clothing.

Nicolas sank down against the tree and waited. He chuckled, glancing at the half-filled amber bottle. “I never drink anything less than 12-year-old scotch, Damian, you cheapskate.”

Shouting victoriously, the hunters crashed through the woods like clumsy oxen. He smelled cruelty heaving with every excited breath.

They entered the clearing. Pale silver light from the full moon struck their camouflage outfits. Nicolas hiccupped loudly. He raised the bottle in a drunken salute.

“Here’s to my shooting a 12-point rack today!”

Disbelief flashed over their faces. The men shifted their rifles, narrowed their gazes. “Get lost,” the shorter one in plaid asserted. “We paid good money to hunt on this land.”

Ignoring them, Nicolas pretended to belt a few swallows.

The fat one snorted, shifted his rifle. His potbelly sagged over olive trousers like jowls. “Listen mister, you’re trespassing. Get out, before we toss you out. We’re on the tail of a lone wolf.”

Grinning at them, he dropped the whiskey and made to leave. And then the scent slammed into him like a locomotive.

They were coming straight in his direction.

He went absolutely still. Hair rose along the back of his neck. He flexed his muscles and stood. “Leave,” he growled. “They’re coming.”

But the hunters simply gawked. “What the hell is wrong with your voice?” one demanded.

“Run,” Nicolas warned.

Too late. They entered the tiny glen, not bothering to cloak their numbers. Shuffling forward, they advanced, disguised as human beings. The enemy resembled young women, sullen teenagers, elderly people and businessmen in suits. But for their scent, they looked perfectly normal. The scent of rotting seaweed and raw sewage slammed into him. Damn. Hordes of them. Too many to fight alone. His mind strategized. Surprise remained his best defense. Magick would give him away. Silently he cursed, wishing for his daggers.

If he remained blended with the hunters, perhaps the enemy would not see him.

The human hunters turned, saw them. One tipped back his cap, scratched his forehead. “What the hell is this, a party?”

He pointed to a stooped gray-hair wearing round glasses, leaning on a wood cane. “You lost, Gramps? Nursing home is that way. It’s way past your bedtime.”

The elderly one lifted his head. Smiled. Gleaming white teeth flashed. Crocodile teeth, sharp, pointed.

“Jesus,” whispered the fat hunter. “What the hell is that?”

“Early Halloween party,” his friend joked, his voice cracking. “Or cheap dentures?”

Nicolas smelled the men’s fear. He knew his enemy smelled it too. It stank like sour sweat.

“Enough,” said the elderly mage softly. He signaled.

They advanced as one unit, like a column of army ants. One by one they shapeshifted, clothing vanishing from their human forms, fur erupting on their bodies. Their magick, dark and powerful, transformed them far easier than Nicolas’ powers.

Silent as fog, eyes glowing like hot coals, they prowled forward on four legs. One blinked slowly. Night vision registered the eyes turning black as empty pits.

The eyes, always the eyes, told their true nature, no matter what their form.

Wolf in him rose up, thirsting for blood, action. Caught between revealing himself to outsiders, and needing Wolf to attack, he hesitated.

Instinct urged him to run, wait for better odds. Humans had caused this evil. Still, he felt a flickering compassion for the hunters. He scanned the approaching enemy for the weak link.

The humans’ fear turned to terror. “Holy mother of God,” the taller one screamed. “Wolves!”

They fired.

Gunfire crackled. Bullets fell before meeting their target. Jaws agape, the humans stared. Identical masks of fear tightened their faces. The pungent odor of helpless urine filled the air.

In that instant, the Morphs attacked.

Now. Daggers materialized in his hands as he sprang forward to engage them. Six Morphs jumped him. Razor sharp teeth sank into his neck; claws swiped his legs and torso. Cloth shredded like thin paper. He grunted, swung out with the knives, stabbing their hearts. They died, screaming. He sliced, stabbed again, wincing as their acid blood splashed over him. Again. No use. Each time he struck one down, another materialized. Cloning themselves.

A damn animal army.

Warmth dribbled down his throat. Nicolas ignored the burning pain, struggled with his clothing to shift. The hell with the mortals. They were dead already.

As he tore off his clothing, they fell on him, shifting once more. Fur erupted on their bodies; claws grew, shifting yet again. He cursed their ability to Change into any animal form. Enormous brown bears roared. Four slammed him against the tree trunk. Pinned, his arms and legs useless, Nicolas could not summon his magick.

“Good God Almighty,” one hunter screamed.

Struggling in the Morphs’ grip, Nicolas felt blood drain, bones ache.

The others turned to the human prey. Nicolas struggled harder, wanting to save the hunters’ sorry asses. Knowing it was too late.

Jaws yawning open, saliva dripping from their yellowed fangs, the pack converged on the hapless men. Screams mingled with the sounds of tearing flesh. Blood splattered on the oaks, dripping viscous black.

The Morphs shifted into their true shapes. Bent over, skin sagging on bone, more animal than human. Wisps of hair clung to fleshy scalps. Pointed, sharp teeth grinned. Their fetid stench filled the air.

They whined, drew in deep breaths. Absorbing their victims’ terror and dying breaths, they fed on their energy. The Morphs holding him back loosened their grip on his arms. Taking advantage of their distraction, he broke free and shifted. Surprised, his captors drew back. Wolf greeted them, eager for the fight, desperate to carve his claws into them. He lashed out with razor sharp canines, snarling. He downed one, as the others came for him silently.

There were too many. He had lost too much blood.

“Stop,” an authoritative voice ordered. “Leave him be.”

Blood trickled down his flanks, warm in the chilly air. Nicolas ignored the stinging pain and the burning in his side. Moonlight gilded features sharp as his daggers. He steadily regarded the Morph’s secret weapon. Confident. Arrogant.

He snarled, jerked against his captors’ hold. Instantly the Morphs closed ranks against Jamie. They’d die protecting the human who’d formed them into an army. The mortal whose blood manufactured disease and death.

He would not die as wolf. Nicolas shifted back into his human form to address the mortal. Because of Jamie, Damian was dying.

Naked, vulnerable, he refused to cower. “Jamie,” he uttered. “Your time will come.”

Low, amused laughter rippled through the air. Jamie pushed past the glowering bodyguards. “You can barely stand. We’ll destroy your leader, Nicolas. We already have, thanks to your help.”

Nicolas remained silent. Disobeying pack rules, he’d taught Jamie magick and she used it to join the Morphs and increase her powers. From her blood, they’d manufactured a disease that was killing his leader.

Another Morph shifted into human form. Greasy brown hair, empty eyes, cruel twist to his mouth. Kane. The leader. Salvia dripped from Kane’s parted lips. Talons grew from his fingernails.

Nicolas tensed as Kane approached.

“Nicolas,” the Morph leader drawled. “Join us. You know you want to.”

“I’ll die first,” he grated out.

“I have powers you’ll never have as a Draicon, Nicolas. Join us and see.” The Morph spread his long, thin arms. “I can take to the air as an eagle, swim the seas as a shark, race through the jungle as a jaguar. Can you do the same?”

Nicolas steeled his spine. “And you smell like the bottom of a garbage can. No thanks. I’d rather be a corpse. Then again, you are a corpse. No, something less pleasant.” He added colorful verbiage comparing Kane to a natural bodily function.

But Kane only laughed. “Words can’t hurt me. But you can. Do you dare?”

Nicolas remained silent, hands clenched into fists.

“Let’s kill him,” one Morph suggested.

“No,” Kane countered. “Do not touch him. We need him alive for Margaret, if she is the true empath. He’ll reawaken her powers when he seeks her to mate.”

Dread clawed at Nicolas’ chest. He had not feared them, even faced with death. He feared now for Maggie. “You’ll never find her. I’ll die fighting before you get your claws on her.”

Kane flashed an obscene grin. “We already found her, Nicolas. We infected her dog with our new disease. And you can’t stay away. The mating urge is claiming you even now. You can’t fight your nature.”

A mocking snort came from the Morph leader. Nicolas steeled himself against reaching out to strangle Kane. The Morph leader gave a thin, mocking smile.

“Leave the bodies. The law will blame the Draicon. Again.” Kane laughed.

Clever twist. More ammunition to hunt wolves, destroy his dwindling pack. Pain wracked him. Slumping against the oak tree familiar with his scent and Damian’s, he watched the Morphs vanish into the forest. They would continue growing in power and strength, continuing their assaults. He couldn’t stop them.

He needed Maggie. Margaret, the empath prophesied to become the force capable of eliminating the Morph leader. His destined mate, who didn’t realize she was Draicon.

Dead leaves crunched beneath their feet. He waited until their stench no longer fouled his nostrils. On the wind, silent laughter followed his noiseless crawling out of the glen.

An hour later, his wounds healed. Nicolas hid beneath the recesses of an overhanging rock. He rested, staring at his beloved moon, listening to wind rustle the branches and stir the dead leaves. Hunger scraped his insides. Power he’d lost needed replenishing either by ingesting food, or sharing his body with a woman and absorbing the rich energy emitted during sex.

He needed to hunt. Too weak to Change, he ignored the growling of his empty stomach. Must think of other matters. Focus. Softly, he began singing in desperate hope of easing the agonizing hunger. It didn’t work. He switched his thoughts to Maggie.

Sweet, lovely Maggie. His draicara, his destined mate. Naked in the shower when he’d sunk into her mind yesterday.

A wave of desire rocked him as he remembered. Slender figure, full, rounded breasts and that mouth, ah, made for kissing. Nicolas felt his body tighten, thinking of the delicious things her mouth could do. Those legs, slightly padded with muscle, curved, silky smooth. He’d felt the brisk, impersonal glide of her hand as she’d soaped one thigh, bubbles frothing and popping. In her indifferent eyes he’d seen the thatch of dark red curls hiding her cleft, and he’d gone wild.

Nicolas had howled with lust, driven by the fierce need to claim her. Run his hands over her silky flesh, cupping her breasts, watching the nipples harden and peak. Gently parting her female flesh, testing her readiness, feeling that wetness as he slid a finger into her tight sheath. Then spreading those silky thighs wide open, mounting her, her yielding body pressed beneath his hard one, sinking into her wet, waiting flesh…

Hunger abated, replaced by lust as he focused on Margaret. Seeping into her mind like water percolating into the ground.

New agony assailed him. He raised his nose. Wolf inside him silently whined. Lust vanished. Thousands of miles away, he felt her stabbing pain as if it sank into his own chest.

She was crying over the dog again.

Last week, after years of searching, he’d found Maggie by pure accident. He’d been baling hay on his ranch when a wave of grief suddenly slammed into him, sharp as the pitchfork tines. Nicolas had sunk to his knees and moaned.

When he recovered from the initial shock, he’d sorted out the thoughts invading his mind. And realized he’d found his mate. Under extreme duress, a female draicara sometimes subconsciously projected emotions to her intended mate, as if to summon him to her side at last. When he’d explored the mental trail she’d sent out, he realized who it was.

Margaret, the pack’s missing empath.

Nicolas drew in a deep breath, struggling to maintain his identity even as he now sank fully into hers. Absorbing her, sinking into every cell. Her breath as his. Her heart thudding rapidly, increasing his heart rate.

Her emotions his own.

Sweat erupted on his brow. His inner wolf whimpered, anxious to calm the spreading agony, human emotions twining with raw animal pain. So alone, as if all the world were oblivious.

He didn’t like feeling like this; open, vulnerable and exposed. Nicolas reminded himself it was Maggie, not him. Unlike his draicara, he could guard his emotions.

She perched over the sink, clasping it with whitened knuckles. Tension strained the heart-shaped face reflected in the wavy mirror. Her full, pouty mouth thinned with pain. Nicolas felt as if poison had seeped into his very bones.

Tears streamed down her cheeks.

Trying to hold them back, oh she tried, so as not to upset the animal she carefully tended. But the grief, it washed over her in cresting waves. She hung her head over the sink and sobbed.

Nicolas struggled to hold back his own tears.

Finally she splashed cold water on her face, and dried it. Forced a wobbly smile on her face, and went out to tend to her patient. The little brown dog lifted her head.

Across the white tile floor of Maggie’s kitchen, a small brown cockroach scurried, then went still... He tensed, for the roach might be a Morph in disguise come to kill her. But it did not show any signs of shifting. After a minute he relaxed. Just an ordinary insect.

Nicolas felt Maggie’s natural disgust. He figured she’d scream, slam down a broom. Instead, he felt her stride over to the loathsome insect. She fumbled for a jar on the counter, trapped it, turned the jar over. Just as quickly, she released the roach outside. Through Maggie’s eyes, Nicolas watched it crawl over the white beach sands.

His jaw went slack.

From its fluffy pillow, Misha barked weakly in protest. Damn straight, dog, Nicolas agreed. I’d kill it, too.

“You know the rules, Misha. Everything lives,” Maggie said softly. “Even roaches. I swore never to hurt another living thing. Ever.”

Damn. This was going to be far harder than he’d ever imagined. How the hell could he turn this woman into a cocked weapon ready to kill Morphs when she was rescuing bugs?

Nicolas drew in another deep breath, severed the connection so cleanly he could almost hear the snap. He dropped his head into the thick cushion of dead leaves and moss.

He didn’t want to break away. Part of him wanted to remain. Comfort her. Enfold her in his strong embrace and never let go.

Those emotions were his own, he thought grimly. Dangerous emotions but natural. Every male Draicon was born with the instinct to protect his mate. Even though his particular mate had no idea of his existence or that of his people. Their people.

Minutes passed. Or was it hours? A familiar scent approached noiselessly. Moonlight gilded a pair of polished brown boots. Naked and vulnerable, he sat up to face his leader.

“You look like crap,” Damian observed. The soft New Orleans drawl he’d acquired from a childhood in the bayou accented his words. “They came for you again because you were protecting us. Why do you insist on staying when you know you’re banished?”

Nicolas made no reply. He knew Damian had smelled the death, heard the screams. He had sensed what happened.

“Nicolas… one day one will kill you. If you stay,” Damian said gently.

“I won’t abandon you, Dai. You need me. The pack needs me.” He grated out the words, locking gazes with the older male.

As Damian’s Beta, Nicolas was responsible for carrying out the leader’s orders. He was the pack’s best hunter. When the pack was in danger of being eliminated by the Morphs, Nicolas had stepped in and taught them the best way to destroy the enemy. He had studied the Morph’s weak spots and succeeded in destroying hundreds. Nicolas, the killing machine.

He knew nothing else.

Pale green eyes observed him silently. Damian waved his hands. A covered metal plate materialized on the ground before Nicolas. Nicolas sprang forward as Damian winced.

“Damnit, you shouldn’t be doing this. Not in your condition. Don’t waste your energy.”

His leader offered a rueful smile, dragged in a breath. Sweat glistened on his brow. With the flair of a gourmet chef, Damian whipped off the plate’s cover.

Voila. I knew you needed food. Or sex.” The pack leader regarded Nicolas with a level look. “But you know the rules.”

No sex with pack females. Not for Nicolas, the banished. What irony. Damian often joked about Nicolas’ “harem,” the unmated, sexually experienced pack females eager to copulate with him. After a Morph fight, he’d pace before those presenting themselves to him. Dark eyes brooding, his muscular body tense and aggressive, he’d select one for the night. Then he’d claim her, using her sexual heat to restore his lost energy.

Now no pack female could touch him.

Salivating, Nicolas eyed the bloodied, raw meat. He shot a worried glance at Damian’s pale face, the flash of pain in his green eyes.

“Wolf it down,” Damian advised, a half smile touching his mouth at the old joke.

His hunger a live, writhing need, Nicolas hesitated. Trying to disguise his weakness before his leader, he couldn’t hold back his howling need for energy. Damian delicately turned his back. Grateful, Nicolas abandoned any pretense. Picking up the elk steak with his hands, he ripped into the meat. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he then replaced up the cover. It clanged against the metal plate.

“Thank you,” Nicolas managed.

Stronger now, he used his magick to cover his nudity with jeans, black T-shirt and boots. Damian turned. He sat on his haunches, silent.

“Dai, you’re getting worse.” The matter-of-fact statement cloaked his concern.

“I have time.” Damian’s cocky grin seemed forced. “Two months, maybe, at the rate my body is deteriorating…” He shrugged, glancing away.

Two months and Damian would be dead? After the agony, the cancer-like disease wracking his body with pain ate its way through his internal organs. Nicolas clenched his fists. Damnit. He had to find Maggie. Fast.

“Dai…” His throat closed with emotion. Nicolas clamped a lid on his feelings and arranged a blank look on his face.

Damian seemed to understand, for he waved a hand, dismissing the topic. Never one to complain, more concerned about the pack.

“Tell me about Margaret.” The name slipped out in a soft slur. Mah-gah-rhett. “You made contact with her again. She was crying.” His sharp green gaze focused on dried tears streaking Nicolas’ cheeks.

Nicolas scrubbed his face with a clenched fist. “The dog is dying.” Always the dog as Maggie sought a logical solution to a problem caused by something not logical in the human world. Then, in private, the tears would flow, because she could not heal the animal she loved.

“Ah. Her pet. Difficult.”

“A friend. Not a pet. She can’t cure Misha. She’s trying to find the mutation in the cells. The Morphs infected the dog.”

Damian rubbed the back of his neck absently. “A test of Margaret’s powers to draw her out. They’ve found her.”

Nicolas drew in another breath, feeling his lungs expand with clean, pure air. The dog had been Maggie’s constant companion. Serving as canine nurse, helping her calm the animals Maggie treated.

Now Misha was dying, succumbing to a new disease baffling Maggie.

The very same disease eating away Damian’s insides.

He felt an ache reverberate down to his very soul. His spirit crying out to be with hers. He threw back his head, feeling the beast emerge, the wolf howling to be released, and run. To avoid the pain. Find a dark place and seek comfort.

He could not, just as he could not sever the tie between himself and Maggie. Maggie, their last hope. Damian’s last hope.

“She’s unaware of her true identity.” Nicolas stated it as fact. “I discovered that much by mind-bonding with her. Something happened when her parents died, and she blocked out all prior memories. She thinks she’s mortal, not Draicon. Convincing her will be difficult.”

“You know your duty, Nicolas. You must mate with her soon and bring her home. Before the Morphs destroy her.”

Damian stood, leaning his six-foot tall body against a tree. Beneath the casual air lurked coiled tension, power. Ready to spring into action, if necessary. Their leader never released his guard. Or trusted easily, outside of his pack.

“I know. I know the risks.” To him and to Maggie. “But if it means saving you…”

“Forget me.” Damian made a slashing gesture. “It’s too late. But if she can heal our people when the Morphs infect them, that’s all that matters.”

“I’ll get her here in time,” Nicolas said fiercely. “Don’t doubt it. Trust me.”

Emotion flared in Damian’s eyes. “It’s not good for you to face this alone. You need our people.”

Nicolas lifted his head, regarding him calmly. “You know that’s impossible. They blame me for what happened to Jamie. As they should. When I get Maggie, then I’ll return. Until then…”

The casual lift of his shoulders hid his pain. For the good of the pack, Damian had banished him. Maggie was his way back to acceptance, back to the warmth and comfort of his family.

Maggie was much more. Maggie was the weapon destined to vanquish Kane. She was the empath, whose healing touch could cure the dying Damian.

“Do it,” Damian said softly. “Make her yours.” He watched Nicolas stand, and went to embrace him in the usual brotherly fashion, then pulled back.

“I can’t touch you,” he said thickly.

“I know,” Nicolas agreed. His scent would mark Damian, whose word was law, but the pack would question. Whisper. Worry.

“May the moonspirit guide and protect you on your journey,” his leader said in the formal blessing. “Stay safe, stay strong.”

A thick lump rose in his throat. “Up yours,” Nicolas said cheerfully, hiding his emotions.

Damian flashed another half grin. More pain knifed through Nicolas as he watched his friend slip into the woods, heading back home.

Home for him no longer.

He drew in another breath, began softly singing beneath his breath and trotted in the opposite direction. Maggie, Maggie. He needed to get to Florida.

Every day the danger of exposure to Maggie intensified. Visits to her veterinarian clinic resulted in calmer animals. Maggie had a special healing ability, like a horse whisperer. Only it wasn’t her voice.

But her hands, her soothing touch.

Maggie was an empath, born once every 100 years. She was their last hope. She belonged with the pack, her family.

He’d mate with her, his hard male flesh sinking into her female softness, his warrior’s aggression sinking into her gentleness. Male and female, exchanging powers, becoming one. He’d perform his duty, then mold her into the warrior they needed to fight their enemy. And bring her home, even if she fought and kicked and screamed the whole way.

She had no choice.

Just like him.


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