The Wolf Within
Publication date January 2014
Second edition October 2014
When your past finally catches up to you, the smart thing to do is start running. Me? Apparently I’m not so smart. I just sat and stared at the man my PA was ushering into my office. The man I’d never wanted to see again. “What the he—”
“Ash,” Jase interrupted, looking nervous, “this is Dan—”
“Daniel Gibson, I know.” The question was why in hell he was here. I glared at Jase. If he hadn’t already been dead, I would’ve strangled him. He did his best “I’m not here” impersonation. I turned my glare onto the man who most definitely was here.
“Ashley. How are you?” Dan asked, with a grin that could’ve melted the Titanic’s iceberg.
I curled my fingers around my silver pen, hoping like hell I’d fallen asleep and this was a nightmare. But Dan didn’t disappear in a poof of smoke or turn into a talking rabbit. He just stood there in a slightly rumpled dark blue suit, looking even better than I remembered.
I’d always liked him in blue.
He needed a shave and his dark hair was, just like it had been when I’d last seen him four years ago, too long.
He looked like Dan. Like memories I couldn’t afford to think about. Not a dream. More like a nightmare. And I was wide awake. Maybe I should just stab myself through the heart with the pen. It would be less painful than letting Dan back into my life. Not that I was going to do that. As soon as I kicked him out he could be just a memory again.
I stood. “I have nothing to say to you.” I had to fight to keep my voice steady. “Jason, please show Mr. Gibson out.”
Jase stood his ground. He’d adopted that blank unreadable expression vamps are so good at. He wasn’t giving me any clues what was going on. “He’s with the FBI. I think you should hear him out.”
“Yeah, Ash,” Dan drawled as he dropped into my visitor’s chair. “Hear me out.”
The look I shot at Jase had him backing out of the office in a hurry, closing the door with a decisive click. Leaving me alone with the one person in the world I didn’t want to be alone with. I got a waft of the familiar spicy smell of his aftershave and the tantalizing something that was pure Dan. I gripped the pen harder. “There’s nothing you can say to me that I’d be interested in.”
“Really?” he said. His eyes caught mine and I tried not to fall into the silvery gray depths.
“Really,” I said, looking down at my desk. Avoiding his gaze felt stupid but stupid was better than sorry. His eyes had always been my weakness. But I was in no mood to be charmed.
“How about the name McCallister Tate?”
My eyes snapped back to his as my stomach lurched. “What are you saying?”
A slow smile rolled over his face. “So maybe there is something I can say that would interest you?”
“Daniel, I will hurt you, I swear.” My heart kicked into overdrive. The mention of McCallister Tate’s name had sent enough adrenalin shooting into my system that I figured I could take Dan if I had to. Or at least get in one good punch. “What about Tate? They said he was dead.”
“No body was ever found. No staking. No burning.”
“I know that. What’s changed?” I lowered myself back into my chair, not breaking eye contact. The pen rolled through my fingers and clattered onto the desk, coming to a rest against the pile of spreadsheets I’d been working on.
“One of his accounts was accessed.”
“How do you know?”
“I have my sources.”
He was asking to be punched, truly. “What’s it got to do with me?”
“I’m on the taskforce. We need some help tracing the transaction.”
No way was that the whole truth. “The FBI doesn’t have forensic accountants?”
“Yes, we do. But I told them I wanted the best.”
The best? I narrowed my eyes at him. I knew gratuitous flattery when I heard it. I was good: good enough to break away from the big firm I’d started with, take eighty percent of my clients with me and keep growing from there. Ashley Keenan. Untangling the finances of vamps, weres and humans across Seattle. My own little niche. “You have the best.” I worked with the top IT guys, investigators and the police—but the FBI had access to things I’d never dreamed of.
“Maybe.” He shrugged, a particularly fluid Dan gesture so familiar it made my stomach hurt. “But it’s not personal for them.”
The ache in my stomach doubled. Shit. He had me. He’d had me from the moment he’d waltzed through my door. Like the past four years had never happened.
Because it was personal. McCallister Tate ripped a hole in my life twelve years ago and I’d never been able to fill it. Not completely. If I could help catch him…
“This isn’t fair, Dan.” Catching Tate was one thing. Helping Dan to do it might just come with another price. One too high for me to pay.
He shrugged again. “Life’s a bitch, Ash. You know that. But this is a chance to make it less so.”
No, it was only a chance to swap old, old pain for newer pain. One way or another. “This doesn’t change anything.”
The smile—that old familiar steal-my-heart-away smile—bloomed again. “I take it, that’s a yes?”
“I charge eight hundred an hour.” And where Dan was concerned, that wasn’t nearly enough.
“Don’t worry, we can pay.” He folded his arms, straining the lines of his suit as his biceps flexed. “You look good, Ash.”
I bared my teeth at him. “If you’re going to flirt, it’ll be double. Like I said, this doesn’t change anything.”
He nodded, one eyebrow lifting slightly. “Yes, you did.”
It was hardly a promise to behave. My nerves were zinging like I’d just mainlined a triple espresso and every instinct I had told me this was a bad, bad idea. But he had me over a barrel. For anything else but Tate I could’ve kicked Dan out of my office and back out of my life. But a chance to take down Tate? That was the offer I couldn’t refuse.
But first, I needed some time. “Are we done?”
“Ash, honey, we’re only just getting started.” His voice rumbled slightly and I couldn’t stop the tiny flip of my pulse at the sound. I could, however, recognize the stupidity of the reaction.
I stood. I wasn’t going to sit here and let him weave that voice around me. “Oh no, I think we’re done. You can have your people call my assistant and set things up.”
Dan just grinned at me, not going anywhere. I could tell he was enjoying this. Bastard.
“I think you’re out of luck. I’m the official accounting liaison.”
“You wouldn’t know a balance sheet if it bit you on the ass.”
“Yeah, but I’m the one who deals with the humans mostly. You are still human, aren’t you Ash?”
I bared my teeth at him again as the implications sank in. He wasn’t just on a taskforce. He was on the Taskforce. The FBI’s Supernatural Crime Taskforce. The one staffed mainly by vamps and weres. Shit.
“Yes. You still a werewolf?” Stupid question. There’s no going back once you changed. One little bite and everything’s different. Whether you like it or not.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m okay with supernaturals, mostly. I’d worked hard to be okay with them after Tate. After all, unless I wanted to live like a hermit, it was hard to avoid them. And I wasn’t going to let Tate turn me into a recluse. So I did therapy and then did my best to fight the fear and treat them like everybody else. But my hard won live-and-let-live attitude didn’t mean I wanted to become one. I get my shots—my Dad was an immunologist and big on vaccination—but we all know they’re hardly perfect protection against either virus. Dan was proof of that.
“Furry and lovin’ it.” He laughed, a rumble that stroked across my skin. I told myself it was basic were energy that made him sound so good. Made me want to curl up in the sound until all the bad stuff went away. Which was a lie because he’d made me feel that way long before he’d become a werewolf.
It wasn’t funny to me. It felt like getting my heart broken all over again. And stomped on. I looked down at my desk again and swallowed until I knew my voice would be steady. Then I looked back up. “Well, then,” I said coolly. “Like I said. Nothing’s changed.”
One dark eyebrow arched up. “Is that so?”
“Yes.” I hoped he’d believe me.
For a few long seconds he just looked at me, and then something that might have been pain shimmered through his eyes. Shimmered then disappeared, leaving cool silver glass behind. He nodded once. “If that’s the way you want it.”
I felt like screaming at him. Nothing was the way I wanted it when it came to me and Dan. Nothing could be that way ever again. And I’d worked a long time on convincing myself that was fine by me.
Why hadn’t he just left me alone?
No snappy comeback rose to my lips. No pithy little phrase to casually let him know that he was less than nothing to me now. I was never that good a liar. I just dug deep for the poker face that let me regularly fleece my friends at our monthly card games and hoped he wouldn’t push things any further.
He didn’t. Instead he reached into his jacket pocket and tossed a business card down onto my desk. “Meet me at my office. Nine a.m. tomorrow.”
Nine a.m.? Was he joking? My office hours are set to deal with my clientele. All species. Most of the vamps work around the sun but there are some who stick to tradition. I work midday to midnight. “Fat chance, I’ll be asleep.”
“This is important.”
I shrugged. He was right but I wasn’t going to let him push me around. Not even for Tate. I’d agree to help. I’d agree to spend more time with Dan than I wanted to. But I wasn’t going to let him order me around. “And I need my beauty sleep. I have a business to run here, Daniel.” My voice should’ve frozen him to the chair.
“I have murders to solve.” His voice rose a little.
“Then get one of your little FBI accountants to help you. I can’t just drop everything because you crook your finger.”
His fingers dug into the arms of the chair, the leather denting. I was surprised the arms didn’t crack. Weres are strong, even in human form. But most of them have pretty good self-control. Particularly the ones that work for the FBI. So it was interesting that Mr. Cool, Calm and Collected was showing the strain. I wondered whether it was the case or me. Then cursed myself for even thinking it.
“Fine,” he gritted. “What time can you come?”
I took my time consulting my calendar. I still had a long night of trawling through balance sheets, asset listings and many, many pages full of tiny numbers trying to unravel the Anderson mess ahead of me. Divorce is ugly at the best of times. But being undead adds a whole new dimension. That of long, long, periods of time.
In the Anderson’s case, both spouses had been squirreling away assets for over a century and now didn’t want to share. I was meeting Mrs. Anderson—who prided herself on being the modern vamp—at one p.m. the following day. I’d planned a couple of free hours after that for a massage and a workout. I’d need both after dealing with Elena Anderson. Now it looked like I’d get neither. “I can do two thirty.”
Dan nodded again. “Good. I’ll see you then.”
He stood and I did the same, fighting against the little pang inside that said, “Don’t go. Stay. Tell me what you’ve been up to. Do you miss me?” That little pang was the voice of insanity. I locked it back up in the mental rubber room it deserved.
“I guess you will.” Hardly a zingy goodbye but it was better than nothing. Dan sighed, sounding more irritated than upset, then he shrugged and walked out. Leaving me staring blankly at the door. For a whole thirty seconds until Jase opened it.
“Before you say anything,” he said. “I brought you chocolate.” He put a brownie in front of me and then plopped himself down in the chair Dan had just vacated, looking penitent.
“Chocolate doesn’t come anywhere near close.” But I took a bite anyway, figuring sugar might calm my pounding heart. I was too thrown from seeing Dan to yell at Jase for not being a mind reader and knowing not to let Dan in.
“So that’s the guy, huh?”
I choked on my brownie. Then coughed and spluttered. “What do you mean?”
“The one who got away or whatever.”
I took a mouthful of cold coffee to wash down the brownie crumbs and shook my head as I swallowed. “Dan is old news.”
“You still have a picture of him in your house.”
“I do?” I frowned, trying to remember.
Jase nodded. “Yep. There’s a group photo on your mantel. He’s the guy next to you. The one hugging you.”
Oh, that picture. Stupid vampire eyes. And memory. Not much got past Jase. It made him a great PA but an annoying friend. It also explained why Jase had let Dan into my office. He was matchmaking. He thought I needed a life. Maybe he was right but I couldn’t have one with Dan.
I’d tried that. It hadn’t worked.
“Group pictures don’t count.” Or at least, that’s what I told myself every time I attempted to throw that picture away. I never could. I’d pick it up, even get so far as the trash can but then I’d look at it and remember being happy. And carefully carry it back inside.
My answer earned me an eye roll from Jase. Jase was very good at eye rolls. Normally they made me laugh. Today not so much. Still, I summoned a smile to try and prove—probably to myself more than Jase—that I was okay. Jase was one of the few exceptions to my ‘let’s keep the supernaturals to business only’ rule. We’d been friends before he’d been turned. And after? Well, I’d lost too many people to supernaturals in one way or another. I didn’t want to lose another. Besides, vamps are safer than werewolves. They can’t infect you with just one bite. Besides which, Jase wasn’t likely to want to bite me—I needed a Y chromosome to be his type. He was safe. I needed safe.
“Uh huh. So what does Mr. Old News want?”
I pushed what was left of the brownie around the plate. “He needs some help with a case.”
I shook my head. Fraud would be easy. But McCallister Tate was nothing as ordinary as fraud. “Murder. A rogue.”
Jase frowned, looking suddenly less like a safe best friend and more like an overprotective vampire. “Why do they need an accountant?”
“Cold case. The guy vanished. They froze his assets and now someone’s finally tried to tap one of the accounts.”
Jase looked even less happy. “Cold? How cold…wait a minute, old flame. Cold case. Tell me it’s not Tate?”
I looked down at my computer screen.
“Fuck, Ashley. Tell me you’re not stupid enough to go after Tate. He’s not a normal vamp. He’s pure evil. I never would have let him in if I’d known it was about Tate.”
He’d gone pale—hard for a vampire. In fact, he looked so horrified I figured he really hadn’t known why Dan had wanted an appointment. That made me feel a little better. “What do you know about McCallister Tate?” It was hard to say the name without letting my mind summon the images. But I managed—just. I knew I wouldn’t be so lucky once I was lying in bed alone in the dark.
“I read the newspapers the same as everybody.” He tugged at his immaculate pale green silk tie, loosening it and pulling it off-center. Which meant he was really upset.
“Tate’s old news,” I said. I hoped. Hoped the FBI was wrong and Tate was dead.
“He might be old news but I remember. And vamps talk. There are some scary mothers who don’t like to say Tate’s name too loud.”
I shivered. I couldn’t help it. A rogue vampire was bad, bad trouble. And Tate was one of the most sadistic on record even though in vamp terms he was young—not even fifty. Supposedly he’d been a psychopath before he’d been turned. Some vamp had made a huge mistake in picking him as a good candidate to become a vampire. It was said that one of the first things he’d done after turning had been killing the vamp who’d made him. Which was pretty much unheard of in vamp society.
Tate was the real deal. The big bad. A bogeyman to all species. Or he had been until he’d disappeared twelve years ago after committing his worst atrocity. Thirty murders in one small town in one night. Including my parents, my little sister and my best friend.
I shivered again. It didn’t matter how scary Tate was, or what going after him might do to my life, I couldn’t pass up the chance to bring him down.
Back when I first started writing, I was writing contemporary romance. I’ve always loved fantasy and romance but had to pick one to start off with. I had the odd inkling of a fantasy idea but I ignored it. Then I did a voice course with the lovely Barbara O’Neal and I realised I really did want to try my hand at some fantasy as well as the romances. At the same time, I was reading a lot of paranormal romances or lighter urban fantasy type books where the heroine got turned into a vampire and was all “oh, cool, no problem.” They were fun but I started wondering what my reaction would be…and then wondered what sort of heroine would have a hard time in a world with vamps and weres. That’s when Ashley popped up in my head, waved a hand and kind of said “here, write about me.”
The Wolf Within was one of those write in a white hot frenzy books that just came pouring out. I thought I must be onto something. And while it finalled in the Golden Heart and won the Romance Writers of Australia Emerald and STALI awards and got me my agent, it just didn’t sell, which happens sometimes. So I put it aside (and the second book in the trilogy which I wrote while TWW was out on submission) to one side while I wrote new things. Then Shadow Kin sold and I was writing alt-world dark fantasy which I love but Ashley kept hanging around saying “What about me? When do I get a turn?” (Not the most patient of characters) and I knew I wanted to finish her story. Besides which, I love writing good old Urban Fantasy as well. So when I decided I wanted to try some self-published books as well as my traditionally published books, The Wolf Within seemed the obvious place to start. I pulled it out, revised it, revised it again and now, finally, here it is….
I make a soundtrack for each book…here’s what I listened to over and over again writing The Wolf Within.
Without You – Rent Adam Pascal / Rosario Dawson
Ghosts – Robbie Williams
Rest in Peace – Buffy – The Musical
I’m The Only One – Melissa Etheridge
Wicked Game – Chris Isaak
The Blower’s Daughter – Damien Rice
Sail Away – David Gray
Brothers In Arms – Dire Straits
Wild Is The Wind – George Michael
Tiger – ABBA
Solid Rock – Goanna
We’re No Angels – John Farnham
Confide in me – Kylie Minogue
Teardrop – Massive Attack
The End Of My Pirate Days – Mary Chapin Carpenter
Lying To The Moon – Matraca Berg
The Boy Feels Strange – Melissa Etheridge
Turn Me On – Norah Jones
When Doves Cry – Prince
Sin Sin Sin – Robbie Williams
Shivers – The Screaming Jets
Moon Over Bourbon Street – Sting
Love Is Blindness – U2
Angel – Massive Attack