Author: Tia Louise
Series: Woodland Creek
Publisher: TLM Productions
Release Date: November 15, 2015
More Info: Goodreads
Purchase: Amazon US
Purchase: Barnes & Noble
One wounded panther, one restless lynx, one insatiable hunger.
Mercy Quinlan is a whip-smart lynx and the youngest in her shifter clan. She’s tough and independent and dreams of escaping her alpha sister’s control and living life on her own terms.
When a lone black panther shows up in her hometown, Mercy is intrigued. He’s just passing through, which makes him perfect… Along with his broad shoulders, defined muscles, and sexy fighter moves.
Koa “Stitch” Raiden is picking up what’s left of his broken life. Exiled from his black panther clan, he’s running from Princeton to Seattle when he’s drawn to Woodland Creek.
He’s aware Mercy is watching him. What he doesn’t know is the sexy little vixen who sneaks through his window each night is both the trouble he doesn’t need and the hope he can’t live without.
A standalone Alpha Shifter Romance with an HEA, loosely related to the One to Hold series. Contains alluring alpha heroes, scorching-hot shifters, and panty-melting sexy times. Keep the fans nearby... Readers 18 and older only, please.
Woodland Creek Series.
30 Authors. 30 Shifter Stories.
Chapter 1: Fight
He’s strangling me…
The pressure on my neck grows stronger, and I’m pinned against the man’s chest. His arm is an iron band around my waist holding me trapped against his doughy body.
The sour stench of his perspiration fills my nostrils, and I start to choke. Adrenaline spikes in my veins, my eyes heat, my nose runs. I’m going to shift.
He would never see it coming. I’d rip his arms out of their sockets, and the pain would saturate his brain before his eyes even registered what happened.
I can’t blow my cover. As far as the humans in Woodland Creek know, I’m just as normal as they are. My shifter clan is deep undercover, and we have to keep it that way.
Scenting the air, I can tell he’s nervous. He lacks the conviction of what he’s doing. Closing my eyes and calming my thoughts, I use the crude human movements I’ve mastered—grasp his wrist and jerk it down.
Thrusting my elbow sharply back and up, I plant a solid hit to his solar plexus. At the same time I do a quick twirl under, positioning myself in front, facing him, still holding his wrist. It’s a perfectly choreographed escape move, and I execute it with ease.
A muffled grunt, and the man pitches forward at the waist gasping for air. I hold his neck and pretend to jam my knee into his nose to break it. But I stop before making contact.
“And that is how you escape an attack from behind.” I release Jim’s wrist and turn to the small audience now clapping.
A low murmur ripples across the group of mostly college-aged girls, and my assistant circulates a clipboard holding the signup sheet for Saturday’s class.
Smiling, I turn back to my demonstration partner. “You okay?” I grasp Jim’s shoulder, giving it a brief massage.
“It’s okay. I’m used to it, Mercy,” he grunts.
It’s true he’s experienced playing the role of my attacker, and while I might have winded him slightly with that elbow to the ribs, he doesn’t show any signs of discomfort now. Jim’s a big, fleshy guy, perfect for our demonstrations.
I adjust my black sports bra and smooth the waist of my black yoga pants as the clipboard continues through the small group of young women.
“Classes are every Saturday starting at nine a.m. sharp. Your life is important and so is my time.” My voice resonates with authority the way Andy taught me. “All payments are in advance, and there are no refunds for missed classes.”
I’ve just put on a show of being a badass, and the young women watch me, eyes round. When I first started this job, it used to make my insides squirm knowing I’m the same age as them or occasionally a little younger. I’m the baby of my shifter family, and not used to ordering people around, which doesn’t mean I’m a pushover. It just means I’m used to minding my own business and letting others mind theirs.
“You have to command your class,” Andy had said. In time it became easier to play drill sergeant.
Andy taught me the self-defense moves I now teach them. I hadn’t really needed to learn them, since as previously noted, I’m a shifter and stronger than any human man. Still, I suppose they’re good techniques to know.
I started hanging around the gym a few years ago during a particularly harsh winter. I tried teaching myself to kickbox, trying to burn off my excess shifter-energy. I’d spent some time punching and kicking with zero form or technique. After a while, Andy asked if I’d like to take over the self-defense courses at the gym.
I like to think it gives me a purpose, something I can do to help these human girls. The truth is, I’m bored. I want to leave this god-forsaken town so badly it hurts. I want to move to California where it’s always sunny and never snows, where I can get a small studio and a pottery wheel, and launch my career as a ceramics artist.
“Miss Mercy?” A timid blonde pulls me from my dreams.
I smile. “You can just call me Mercy.”
“Okay… Um…” Her eyes drop nervously to the mat. “I’m Sally. I’m not sure if I should sign up or not. I’m not very strong.”
I scan her body. She’s an inch shorter than I am, skinny, and her arms show zero muscle mass—unlike mine, which are lined and tight like my exposed torso.
“Strength isn’t as much a part of self-defense as technique,” I say, repeating the response Andy taught me. “It’s about surprise and evasion. Running away is as much a part of self defense as avoiding dangerous situations.”
She still looks worried, and I add, “If you want, I can work with you before or after classes on strength training.”
I’m not sure what made me say that. I’ve never offered to train anyone before.
Her pale brow relaxes, and she even smiles. “Would you? That would help me so much.”
I’m about to set up a time when the bell above the front door rings out, and a man in a suit, no tie, top button undone saunters in the gym. He’s clearly not dressed to stay.
“Dude, your boyfriend’s here,” Jim says under his breath.
Irritation flashes hot in my cheeks. “He’s not my boyfriend, and you need to wash your gym clothes. You stink.”
I instantly regret being irritable with Jim, but Hayden Cross has been the bane of my existence for the last two years, since I turned twenty-one, with his entitled attitude and knack for showing up when I don’t want to see him, which is pretty much always.
Going to the door, I ignore the appreciative rise of his pale eyebrows at the sight of my body. “What are you doing here, Hayden?”
“Your sister sent me to fetch you. She’s concerned you’ll be late for dinner tonight.”
Anger tightens my throat. “I’ve never been late for Thursday night dinner before. I don’t need your help now.”
He smiles that annoyingly sexy grin. “Either way, I don’t mind giving you a ride home. Save you from that germy tin can.”
My family (and Hayden) complain often and loudly about my use of the one city bus to get around our small town, but I don’t give a shit. I’m preparing for my life in San Francisco, when I won’t be a member of the town elite. I’ll be just like everybody else.
“Sam will worry if I don’t show up for my ride home.”
His perfect lips curl in a sneer. “And Sam would be?”
“The bus driver, of course.”
“Get your things.” His teasing manner is gone, which makes me grin. “I told Dylan I’d see you home.”
“I guess I can explain it to him tomorrow,” I sigh.
Infuriating Hayden might be the highlight of my day. I walk to the back of the large, front room. A narrow hall leads past the offices, the juice bar, and the entrances to the locker rooms, ending at the large weight room in the back. My boss is there working with a new client.
“I’m taking off, Andy!” I call. “Looks like we got a full class on Saturday.”
He gives me a brief nod between spotting the man lying back on the push-up bench. I head to the locker room to grab my bag, rolling my eyes as I go. God knows I can’t be late for Thursday night dinners at the mansion.
* * * * *
Running. Pushing. Harder. Faster. Run until the pain is only a distant memory.
Stretching out in my full panther form, I revel in the healing sensation of heat surging through my muscles as my powerful strides consume the miles.
I shouldn’t have gone back to Princeton. I should have left the past in the past. Still, I had to see what he was doing now, the ice-blue-eyed wolf whose life had ended the same night as mine.
Slayer had been my best friend back in those days. We were two shits in a pod, strutting around like we owned the city. Because we did.
Designers gave us clothes for free. Hotels gave us rooms for free, and the chicks fell back on the beds with their legs wide open, panties long gone. Everybody wanted a piece of us. They all wanted us to say we liked their shit or we stayed at their place or we wore their watches.
We were champion middleweight boxers and the only shifters. Of course, that part of the equation was not on the books. Until the night it all ended. The night our world came crashing down. Seven years later, I’m hoping to pick up the pieces.
“You look good,” Slayer had said when I entered the fancy-assed office where he now worked. “Keeping in shape.”
As if shifters have a choice. “It was a long time to do nothing.”
His wolf-eyes narrow, and I can’t resist a verbal jab. “So you’ve joined the dark side?”
“I’m a private investigator.”
Glancing around the mahogany office with its straight lines and stainless accents, I simply nod. “Pretty fancy for a private dick.”
“My boss is an important guy.”
“Right.” Clearing my throat, I say his name. “Derek Alexander.”
It’s a name as bitter on my tongue as wolfsbane, and I can’t get over the sight of my old friend working in that man’s office.
“Mr. Alexander” had made a reputation for himself in both human and paranormal justice. I’ll never forget the day he stood in the front of the panther council and had me cut off from my clan. He’d presented the evidence that left me a rogue—no family, no money, no hope for a mate.
“Is this some kind of… community service gig or something?” To say Slayer and I had diverged would be putting it mildly if he now worked for that guy voluntarily.
“What happened to us was our own fault. Derek gave me a second chance here.”
The framed picture on his desk fills in the rest of the blanks. A beautiful young woman with blue eyes and purple hair smiles back at me. On her lap is a tow-headed little boy with dimples in his cheeks.
“Well… I’m happy for you,” I lie. “Anyway, I’m taking off, headed home. Just stopped in to say goodbye.”
He leans forward in his chair and stands, rounding the desk to shake my hand. I notice he’s dressed in dark jeans and a black tee, and the old tattoos show down his arms. I guess not everything has changed.
“Take care of yourself, Stitch.”
“I go by Koa now.”
He nods as we shake, casting his eyes down to our hands. “I went to Bayville thinking I’d disappear. Instead I found everything I’d lost.”
I’m not sure what to do with that, so I simply nod, releasing his hand. “I’ll keep that in mind. See you around, Slayer.”
“It’s Slayde now.”
“Slayde,” I repeat.
Walking out, past waxed walls and etched glass, I feel a fist tighten in my chest. I’m not sure if it’s the fact my former best friend and partner in crime is now working with the man who ended my life or if it’s the fact he’s clearly found a new and better one while I remain an outsider—alone, with nothing.
All I know is the burning rage will only get out one way. I’d bought a bus ticket to California, but I won’t be using it. I don’t have anything I care to take with me, so I leave it all behind. I’ll figure out my next moves when I get to the coast.
It’s true, I’ve fallen from a great height, but if Slayde Bennett can turn his fortune around, so can I.
Stripping off my clothes, I crouch at the side of the road and spring into the darkness, disappearing in a streak of midnight, headed west.
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The Woodland Creek Series is an innovative and collaborative collection of Shifter stories set in one town, each with a guaranteed Happily Ever After.
This sexy trickster won’t let Sophia Samson slither out of his life so easily.
All she can think about is his naked body in the woods last night…and how he murdered her best friend.
Can Frankie prove her innocence with a sexy detective hot on her trail?
Love, secrets and lies make for a thrilling ride in Broken Wings.
Her powers are changing and they’re more than the bloodline inheritance from her mother.
Being stone-hard has never been this sexy and wicked before.
Blaze Riordan must find Melody Hastings before Halloween–and only a little red fox can help him do it.
All Evie wanted was to escape her family’s secret…and then Avalon walked into town.
Passion ignites, and pasts collide, when the Beast comes out to play.
She was his temptation, and he was her ultimate Sin.
After faced with crippling loss, a heartbroken raven must find her wings again….
This dog is about to have his day…
I craved normalcy, to fall in love with someone untouched by the magic of Woodland Creek, but not as much as I craved him.
What’s a good girl to do when she starts developing horns, and a hunger?
When Pia goes blind she must learn to trust what her heart can see, even if it means falling in love with two different shifters.
One sexy dragon, two strong-willed females, a family scandal, murder, and a love that requires plenty of ice.
The freedom to choose her fate is all she wants, but can she resist the draw of one wicked jackal?
One wounded panther, one restless lynx, one insatiable hunger.
Happenstance brought Kerri Harper to Woodland Creek, but will she stay for the wolf intent on mending her broken heart?
He was supposed to keep me alive after I was marked for death, but hiring the meanest Viking shifter in town might just kill me.