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Crimson Moon, Paranormal Romance

Marked
The Wolf's Den, Book One

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Fantasy becomes reality if you carry the mark...

Chloe Bryant doesn’t know what to expect when she enters The Wolf’s Den. Drawn to the werewolf tattoo parlor for reasons she can’t explain, she soon discovers the sexy man from her dreams isn’t a figment of her imagination. Not only is Jackson Donovan real, but he explains the dreams they shared are due to their destined mating. It can’t be possible. She’s not a werewolf. Even if he swears the mark on her wrist indicates otherwise.

Jackson is stunned to discover the beautiful minx from his dreams isn’t a full-blooded werewolf but a Halfling. The only way to uncover Chloe’s past is to stake a claim to her future. By taking the delectable female into his bed, he’ll unlock every secret she has to hide -- as well as awaken the passion she’s tucked away for too long -- by exploring her mind, body and soul one sweet inch at a time.

Excerpt

Chloe Bryant studied the moon, shivering despite the fact the glowing orb wasn’t entirely full—yet. For two more nights it was safe for the average person to venture into the city. Although supernatural creatures would be out and about, none would slip into violent tendencies.

At least, she hoped they wouldn’t.

A loud, ear-piercing shrill attracted her attention. She looked out the window of the cab, watching a police car rush by. The blue and red lights on the top flashed like Christmas lights, bright and blinding. Sadly, the sight didn’t give her a large measure of comfort. Mortal law enforcement could only serve and protect in a limited capacity. She hadn’t been born before the world discovered things like vampires and werewolves were real but she’d heard about how things used to be. Human governments had changed decades ago, after they’d discovered they were pretty much powerless against things that went bump in the night.

When you couldn’t fight an enemy, you acclimated.

Fight the fights you could win. Turn a blind eye to those you’d lose.

The cabbie shifted in his seat and hit the meter. “Cash or credit?”

“Credit.”

She tried not to fidget as the driver—a man who wasn’t entirely human—pushed a few buttons on the dash. The device for credit cards bolted into the mesh screen separating the front and back seats blinked to life. Trying not to wince at the ungodly cost, she swiped her card and pushed the necessary buttons to complete the transaction. Her heart raced, fear and anxiety bleeding together.

The driver looked at her through the rearview mirror, his eyes an iridescent shade of red. “It’s not too late to go home, Little Red,” he said quietly, the words a throaty whisper. “The big, bad wolves will eat you up.”

“Excuse me?”

“A human shouldn’t be alone around here.”

She started, her gaze meeting his through the mirror. “How did you know?”

“That you’re human?” When she nodded, staring at the man in horror, he laughed. “Are you kidding?” Rotating in his seat, he studied her. “Have you looked in a mirror recently? You scream young, innocent and human. Those eyes of yours might fool some people but not me.” He tapped the tip of his nose and sniffed. “My sense of smell is better than most. You’re different but you’re definitely human.”

She felt a blush heat her cheeks. So he’d noticed her oddly colored green irises—irises that had started to change recently. Yes, she was different. How? She didn’t know. She was only aware of the mark on her wrist that had seemed to come to life in the last few weeks. Strange sensations and occurrences had soon followed, starting with sensitivity to scents. After she’d gotten her nose under control, her sense of taste kicked in.

Gorging on meat? Fine and dandy. Nibbling on salad and leafy veggies? No way in hell. Even slathered in dressing, a salad tasted like sandpaper. Her stomach and taste buds rebelled, modifying her food choices.

Then the changes in her body had started.

Her skin had started itching without warning, and the mark etched into her flesh sometimes burned horribly. Her grandparents had become concerned, noticing the changes in her behavior and the lightening of her irises when she became angry or upset. Their constant staring at her birthmark—at dinner, when she helped with chores or when she was relaxing in the living room—prompted her to venture to a tattoo parlor in a dangerous area to remove any trace of the dark crescent shape decorating her pale skin.

As though reminding her of its presence, her birthmark started to itch. Despite becoming a recent habit, she managed not to rub the spot. It felt as though the skin heated from the inside when she thought about the inch-long crescent shape, throbbing in harmony with the drumming of her heart. Since her mother had died when she was only a baby—leaving her in the care of her grandparents—she was afraid to ask too many questions about the damn thing.

Gram and Gramps didn’t like the reddened skin and told her she could never let anyone see it. To complicate matters, the only person she could talk to was her best friend. Of course, personal conversations of the kooky-kind only happened when Rachel was in the mood to discuss such things. Her childhood confidant seemed as skeeved-out by the strange mark as her family. Not to mention Rachel tended to avoid things that made her feel uncomfortable—meaning all things preternatural. That was the primary reason Chloe had made the trip to The Wolf’s Den alone, without asking Rachel to tag along.

“Listen.” The driver cocked his head, watching her closely. She tried not to stare at his slightly pointed ears, wondering for a moment precisely what kind of creature he was. “Once you leave this car, you’re on your own. A temptation like you won’t make it out of The Wolf’s Den. Is what you’re here for worth the risk?”

A shiver ran down her spine and she averted her eyes.

Was it worth the risk? Hell if she knew.

She hadn’t thought coming to Atrum Hill—a dangerous part of Black County—would be that dangerous. All she wanted was to slap a tattoo over the mark on her wrist. She didn’t plan on sticking around. In fact, she’d programmed the cab company’s phone number into her cell. Her grandparents were celebrating their anniversary with dinner and a movie so time wasn’t an issue. If she stayed inside the parlor, no one would see her. She just had to make it inside, get what she came for and return home before midnight like a modern day Cinderella.

But why do you want to make it inside? What is it about this place you can’t shake?

“It’s worth the risk,” she mumbled, getting back on track. She was here now. There was no way she was running like a coward.

“You’re sure?”

No, she wasn’t sure. That was the reason she hadn’t climbed out of the vehicle. She was waiting for a dose of courage to kick in. Her birthmark ached, a sharp, biting burn like needles in her skin. An inner compulsion told her she was doing the right thing, even though she had no idea what the right thing was.

Damn it.

Hiding the mark wouldn’t stop the weird things she’d been experiencing recently—things her doctor hadn’t been able to explain. Anxiety. An increased appetite. Dreams of a man who made her heart race and her body tingle.

She’d never seen her dream lover’s face, but she couldn’t deny the connection they shared. Somehow she knew him, and it was more than dreams of sexual grandeur. Deep down the man felt far more important. It wasn’t about sex. It was about a deeper bond, bringing them closer and closer together. She knew one day the dreams would take on an importance in her life. She just didn’t know how or why. If she were being honest, during the last few weeks nothing seemed to make a whole lot of sense.

“If money is an issue,” the driver offered when she didn’t respond, “I know of a parlor you can visit in the county. But I have to warn you, you get what you pay for.”

What he said was true enough. Human tattoo artists could give her what she wanted. However, they didn’t appeal to her—they didn’t call to her—like The Wolf’s Den. Something deep inside her felt drawn to the place. Why? It was another mystery she’d yet to solve. She’d never ventured to Atrum Hill before, viewing the city only through the television when she watched the news. Her friends avoided the area and her grandfather would kill her for even thinking about coming here.

If Gramps finds out, there’ll be hell to pay.

“Thank you for the concern but money isn’t an issue.” She tried to sound amicable but the man’s interference was beginning to annoy her. “I’ve waited weeks for this appointment. I’m not backing out.”

The driver’s eyes narrowed. He pulled his lips back and she saw pointed canines. “Then by all means.” He motioned to the door and snapped his fingers. “Go get what you came for. I have a job to do.”

Asshole.

“We don’t want to keep you from that, do we?” she snapped, flustered by her aggravation and spider web-thin nerves. “You were the one who wanted to talk. I was being polite.”

Her shaking fingers slipped on the handle but she managed to open the door. Cold autumn air slapped her in the face, taking her breath away. Atrum Hill was aptly named—a small city nestled on top of a mountain. The temperatures were always lower here, although she didn’t believe the rumors it was due to the supernatural residents and not Mother Nature. Placing her feet on the cement, she steadied herself and climbed out. Her jacket wasn’t enough to ward off the elements, allowing the wind to cut through her clothing.

“Give the company a call if you decide it’s too much for you. We can have a driver here in ten minutes.” He reached for the gearshift and put the car into drive, waiting for her to close the door. “Good luck, babe. You’re going to need it.”

She scowled at the nosey man and used all the strength she possessed to slam the door. To her extreme disappointment, he didn’t seem bothered by her outburst. The cab took off, traveling toward the heart of the city. Lifting her head, she looked at the building directly in front of her. For a split second an odd blast of heat swept through her, obliterating the cold.

The Wolf’s Den.